In his blog entry Ten Questions Biblical Literalists Cannot Honestly Answer, Casper Rigsby asks:
8. Is there any amount of evidence that would change your views?
i) It doesn't occur to Casper that we can't change our views in toto. Our view of the evidence is, itself a viewpoint.
But when I read Hays’ statement, I was reminded of an entire apologetic strategy executed by another Christian, Douglas Jones. In his paper titled Why & What: A Brief Introduction to Christianity, Jones begins as follows:
Imagine that you are mistaken about everything you hold dear. Suppose you wake up one morning and clearly realize that your long-held, day-to-day views of nature, social values, and self are obviously mistaken.
But perhaps here we should say: “It doesn’t occur to Jones that we can’t change our views in toto.” Indeed, according to what Hays is saying, we would still need to retain some views – such as that some views can be right and others wrong, that right views and wrong views are incompatible, that wrong views need to be corrected, etc. – in order to evaluate other views in the first place, in order for Jones’ intended exercise even to be meaningful. Unfortunately for Jones, his zeal is too strong to allow him to see that his entire scheme backfires on itself.
In order to change our views on something, we must privilege our views on other things. Not all beliefs are coequal. Some beliefs are control beliefs. They furnish the standard of comparison by which we evaluate other beliefs. Everything you believe can't up for grabs. If that were the case, you'd have no benchmark.
But what constitutes the “bedrock” of our knowledge? What is conceptually irreducible? What is the proper starting point of knowledge?
This is where the axioms and the primacy of existence come in – at the very foundation of knowledge. The axioms make explicit those fundamental recognitions which other philosophies leave implicit, which other philosophies take for granted without ever identifying formally and in their proper place in knowledge (this way it’s not obvious when they contradict them). This category of fundamental recognitions includes the recognition that existence exists (i.e., there is a reality, things exist), that things which exist are themselves, that they are distinct, and that they have identity, that I am conscious of something. The primacy of existence is the recognition that the things which I perceive are distinct from me as a knower, that they are distinct from the means by which I am aware of them, that the reality which I perceive exists and obtains independent of my conscious activity, that the objects of consciousness do not conform to the subject of consciousness, that wishing doesn’t make it so, etc. This is the core principle of objectivity. We need this defining principle from the very beginning, and the primacy of existence is what provides it.
Douglas Jones wants me to imagine that I am wrong about these fundamental recognitions, the foundations of my knowledge that I in fact do “hold dear.” Essentially, Jones wants me to think I’m mistaken in my recognition that there is a reality, that things are themselves and are distinct from other things, that I am conscious, that my wishing doesn’t make it so, that the objects of consciousness do not conform to conscious activity. Essentially, Jones wants me to imagine that I am wrong to build my knowledge on an objective basis. Jones want me to imagine that I am wrong about all these things. Presumably Jones would prefer that I imagine that I am mistaken in recognizing that there is a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination itself. But this should come as no surprise: ignoring this fundamental distinction is a sure doorway to religious belief.
By contrast, Hays insists that some views are not subject to change. Would Hays allow that the axioms and the primacy of existence are to be included in what he calls “control beliefs”? If not, why not? What could possibly be more fundamental? If yes, then how does this square with his belief in supernatural things, things that are accessible only by means of imagination?
To change your view in light of the evidence assumes an interpretive framework. What counts as evidence? What is possible, impossible, probable, or actual? That depends on what you think the world is like.
Perhaps this question answers itself.
But what evidence should I consult to suppose that what I think of the world, as outlined above, is mistaken? What evidence would tell me that I am mistaken to think that the world exists? What evidence would tell me that things are not themselves, that things are not distinct from one another, that things do not have identity? What evidence would tell me that I am not in fact conscious? What evidence would tell me that reality actually does conform to wishing, imagination, commands, and other conscious intentions?
If whatever is proposed as evidence prompting me to question these fundamental recognitions is something that exists, and that evidence is supposed to be whatever it is regardless of what I or anyone else would prefer or imagine it to be, then clearly it would fail to challenge these fundamental recognitions. If it is merely something imaginary, it would again fail to challenge my fundamental recognitions because, at minimum, I would have to exist in order to imagine it, I would have to be conscious in order to imagine it, and I’d be imagining whether I liked it or not. What could possibly serve as a defeater of the axioms and the primacy of existence?
Here is where the theist comes to the discussion utterly empty-handed.
Hays goes on:
ii) Christian faith isn't just one of those garden-variety beliefs that's subject to revision or rejection.
if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.
Consider the various gospel accounts. Scholars are in wide agreement that Mark is the earliest of the extant written gospel narratives and that Matthew and Luke were written in part as re-workings of Mark’s model. It is instructive to examine where Matthew and Luke follow and depart from Mark’s original, and - notably - where they revised certain portions of Mark for their own narratives. G. A. Wells, in his book The Jesus Legend (1996), gives many examples of where Matthew and Luke "adopt... Marcan material equally freely; and they would surely not have done this if Mark had been accepted as based on Peter's firsthand experience" (p. 76). Even more, I would add, that the authors of Matthew and Luke surely would not have revised Marcan material in their own gospel narratives if they had thought that they were handling "the Word of God."
And think of the nearly two millennia since the early days of Christianity, how many ways it has changed, how many filters it’s been run through, how many different versions there are floating around today. There’s a version (or two hundred) to suit every believer!
And yes, Christianity is very much subject to rejection. I rejected it. Many have rejected it. How could this be possible if Christianity were not subject to rejection? Hays would not be able to rail against “apostates” as he does if this were not the case. The deep chasms splintering the religious mind into compartmentalized fragments are indeed also wide!
Hays tries to support his unargued assertion:
To take a comparison, suppose I asked you: Is there any amount of evidence that would change your view concerning the reality of time? The short answer is no.
It's hard to see how my belief in the reality of time could be falsifiable. How could my experience of time be illusory? What kind of evidence could even possibly count against the reality of time? Time is too fundamental.
Hays raised a third objection:
iii) Not every view has an alternative. You can change your views if you have something to fall back on.
But in regard to the axiom of existence, what does the alternative look like? The alternative to the fundamental, explicit recognition that there is a reality is some expression of denying that there is a reality. But that’s not viable. Indeed, it performatively contradicts itself and can only lead to stolen concepts and evasions.
What is the alternative to the primacy of existence? The alternative to the primacy of existence is some expression of the primacy of consciousness, whether this takes a personal form (e.g., my consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over reality), the social form (e.g., the collective consciousness of “Society” holds metaphysical primacy over reality), or the cosmic form (e.g., a supernatural consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over reality), or any murky blend of these. But regardless of its specific expression, the primacy of consciousness performatively contradicts itself and leads to yet more stolen concepts and evasions. The primacy of consciousness intellectually disables a worldview from its very foundations.
But what if the view in question hits bedrock?
So in sum, I would say that it is possible – indeed desirable – to change one’s views if they turn out to be untrue. And I would add to this that it is also important for an individual to examine the views (or “beliefs”) he holds to determine whether or not they really are true. Thinkers should ask themselves what their starting point is, consider honestly whether or not whatever it is they consider to be their starting point is in fact conceptually irreducible, whether or not it is true, whether or not it actually anchors one’s knowledge to fact rather than imagination and emotional commitments. Is their starting point something they acquire awareness of by looking outward - i.e., at the facts we discover existing in the world independent of our conscious activity, or by looking inward - i.e., to the content of our imagination, our wishing, our feelings? How can I acquire awareness of the Christian god by looking outward? If I cannot discover and have awareness of the Christian god by looking outward, but instead must turn my attention inward and consult the contents of my mind to find the Christian god, how can I reliably distinguish the Christian god from something that is merely imaginary?
by Dawson Bethrick