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Theistic Belief and Religious Uncertainty (Great Debate) (2008)
In what he calls his "Jamesian wager," Jeffrey Jordan argues that accepting the proposition "God exists" provides certain this-worldly benefits to the believer, regardless of whether there are any good reasons to think that the proposition is true, and thus we ought to believe that God exists in order to receive those benefits. The wager is premised on what Jordan calls the "Next Best Thing Principle," which applies when one is forced to decide in the absence of tipping evidence. The Principle maintains that if an action produces no outcome worse than the worst outcomes of its alternatives, and produces an outcome as good as the best outcomes of its alternatives, and finally has other outcomes better than that of its alternatives, then we ought to choose that action. Unlike Pascal's famous wager, on the Jamesian wager the benefits of belief in God are realized even if "God exists" turns out to be false. Turning to the evidence from social science, Jordan concludes that believing in God is probably better for the individual than not believing with regard to happiness and mortality, and moreover that disbelief does not seem to produce any greater benefits which overcome the advantages enjoyed by belief.
Jeffrey Jordan contends that there are good prudential reasons to believe that theism is true even if the evidence for or against it is indecisive. But his "Jamesian wager" fails because it is unduly dismissive of various nontheistic religious possibilities, while the pragmatic benefits of religious belief he appeals to suggest that any form of religious belief can be life-enhancing. The community support and psychological integration grounded in a cosmic optimism found in all religions surely generate the various this-worldly benefits Jordan emphasizes rather than theism per se. Moreover, no one fully cognizant that the evidence for theism is no better than the evidence against it can believe theism without fooling herself about what the evidence shows. Belief in the absence of tipping evidence amounts to belief that the evidence on one side is stronger than the evidence on the other, contrary to the facts, and thus is dishonest self-deception. The benefits of faith or hope without belief are at least as great as those of self-deception, but without retaining what is detrimental about self-deception. Thus, all things considered, it is irrational to take steps to self-deceptively induce theistic belief on pragmatic grounds when superior alternatives are available.
John Schellenberg suggests that faith (not belief) that there is some ultimate reality in relation to which an ultimate good can be attained is preferable to old-fashioned theistic belief, as theistic belief in the absence of tipping evidence amounts to self-deception. However, self-deception only arises when inculcating a belief which one takes to be false, not a belief for which there is no tipping evidence or an indeterminate probability. A belief that a proposition is probably the case is not the same as a belief that a proposition is probably the case based on the evidence at hand. Because one can generate a belief on the basis of a pragmatic reason without self-deception, Schellenberg's objection fails. Contra Schellenberg, the opportunity for hope and optimism is far greater with theism than with naturalism; and the expected benefits associated with a religious commitment swamp those of naturalism, even if religious uncertainty obtains. It would be irresponsible to forego theism's established this-worldly benefits in favor of a nontheistic religion for which there is little or no evidence of comparable this-worldly benefits. And even if non-Western religions produce comparable benefits to Western ones, it is hard to see how this would comfort the naturalist.
Key to John Schellenberg's divine hiddenness argument is the idea that a perfectly loving being would desire "explicit and positively meaningful relationship" with its creatures. But Jeffrey Jordan finds Schellenberg's argument unsound for two main reasons. First, the argument assumes that if God exists, the probability that God exists given the available evidence would have to be significantly greater than one-half. However, this presumption overlooks the possibility that God might value a free acceptance and inculcation of belief that is only possible if the probability of God's existence given the evidence is exactly one-half. Second, the argument assumes absolute evidentialism, roughly that one ought not believe a proposition if the available evidence doesn't render it more likely to be true than false. But there are possible situations in which taking steps to form or maintain a belief lacking adequate evidence is morally obligatory; consequently, it may be permissible to form a theistic belief on the basis of a pragmatic argument when one finds oneself with as much reason to believe as not to believe.
The Sounds of Silence Stilled: A Reply to Jordan on Hiddenness (Great Debate) (2008) by John Schellenberg
Jeffrey Jordan offers a solution to the divine hiddenness argument that is interesting and original, but unconvincing. For one, Jordan ignores the point that a perfectly loving God would seek a relationship with us primarily for its own sake, not simply because such a relationship is good for us. Moreover, if God wants to ensure that everyone is always in a position to participate in explicit relationship with God just by trying to, then God will provide more than merely pragmatic reasons to believe, as these take time to implement. Namely, God will provide constantly available evidence causally sufficient to engender belief, particularly for nonresistant nonbelievers. Furthermore, the pragmatic support for specifically theistic belief that Jordan's argument requires simply does not exist. Why should one align oneself with theism as against other possibilities? For there to be a clear rational choice in favor of alignment with theism, there must be good, nonpragmatic reason to prefer theism.