Gilson's most recent response to me shows me how close he is to earning my respect. Gilson writes,
Note to James: if you’re right, you’re right. If not, then you’re not right. If we have no evidence-based knowledge supporting our faith, then we’re wrong. If we do, then you’re wrong. None of those conditional statements is controversial. Let’s move on to something more substantive, okay? And let’s not pretend that mere pronouncements such as you made repeatedly in your blog post can settle anything.Given the nature of our ongoing discussion--on whether or not "faith" constitutes the same kind of thing as justification warranted by evidence--I find it hard to read this statement any other way than as Tom admitting, perhaps only implicitly, that he doesn't have a way to know his religious beliefs are true (as insightful commenter Cal Metzger also pointed out).
I feel this way particularly given that I've already covered the "IF..." response. (NB: Observe that Tom's note doesn't actually say anything except a desire to retreat from this all-important point that he cannot win because religious beliefs that rely upon revelation cannot possess the epistemic high ground.) Further, in the very post he is responding to, one he argues he has studied carefully, I wrote this:
He's invited at any point he would like to clarify what that idea [God] means, but I'm quite sure he cannot do so without referencing his beliefs, making a claim to the validity of Christian scripture, or making an appeal about the objective universality of his subjective personal experience, i.e. things he's pretending to know.Instead of clarifying what he means by "God" and proceeding to illustrate how he can know of it independently of his overriding beliefs, Christian scripture, of appeals to his subjective personal experience--a point upon which his entire argument for evidential backing for his faith depends--he calls for a change of subject with a punt to a bunch of ifs that say nothing on their own. He's implicitly acknowledging that he cannot do it.
So, I'm on the edge of gaining tremendous respect for Tom Gilson on the observation that Gilson, if he is willing to pursue this matter further, is himself upon an important edge--the edge of openly admitting that he doesn't know that his beliefs are true. If he tips over that edge and does so, which would be honest, then he will win my respect in this exchange, hands down.
To help him see how close he actually is, let me quote him again and expose a small but critical point about how he is missing a key detail in my argument. He writes, boiling down my previous post to what he calls its essential argument,
Christians think they have evidence-based knowledge that supports their faith. I say they don’t. Other people outside the Christian faith tradition agree with me. Therefore Christians are necessarily wrong to believe they have knowledge supporting their faith. (italics his)I have only one quibble with this. I will correct the relevant sentence for him: "All people outside of the Christian faith tradition who consider the matter with any seriousness agree with me [that Christians do not possess sufficient evidence-based knowledge to justify their beliefs]."
It seems relatively minor to bring that up, but it isn't just that other people agree with me. It's that people in every other religious tradition, and those who have none, all agree that Christianity isn't supported by the evidence. In other words, if Christian beliefs are viewed by those outside of the tradition, unless overcome with emotional circumstances that override their ability to consider them rationally, then they are seen not as things known but as things pretended to be known.
Of course, Tom Gilson and Phil Vischer, et al., totally get this argument. How do I know this? Because the wide majority of Christians do it with regard to Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, Mormonism, and any other not-Christian faith-based position. Hell, they even do it with atheism which isn't even a faith tradition in any way!
I am willing to bet that Tom Gilson has never given a second thought to the idea that having heard of the Qur'an and claims that it is the revealed Word of God (made Flesh, even!), that he his condemned to spend eternity burning in torment in hell according to the Islamic religion. (This, of course, is a point made by Sam Harris.) The way he dismisses this claim of Islam is the way everyone outside of Christianity, not just "others," dismisses the similar Christian claim. He dismisses it because he is quite sure, living outside of the Islamic faith tradition, that Muslims are merely pretending to know this, despite their conviction.
The Muslims claim--even more firmly and belligerently than the Christians--that evidence backs their faith, that their beliefs are justifiable knowledge, and that Tom Gilson is going to burn in hell forever for ignoring the truth of the Qur'an and refusing to submit to the Will of Allah in the way therein prescribed. And Tom Gilson doesn't care a whit because he's not a Muslim, the only people on the planet preoccupied with that particular belief. He quite rightly knows they're pretending to know it.
Tom, look at that. Think about it for a minute. Consider the Islamic claim that you're going to hell for your beliefs. Think about how that makes you feel. How do you know they're wrong? Are they pretending to know something they do not know? It certainly seems that same place is that's right where you are now--you're right on that edge--about Christianity too.
Another call, then, Tom Gilson: repudiate all unreliable epistemologies, Christianity among those. Earn my respect--and Pete Boghossian's too.
Update, a little later the same day: Tom Gilson responds, initially unwilling to take this opportunity. I hope he comes around.