We now proceed to discuss Philipse’s Conflict thesis and raise three issues. First, how bad is it when religious people violate R? Second, is C true?—is it correct, as Philipse claims, that religious people, to the extent that they endorse positive factual claims concerning ‘supernatural entities’, violate rule R? And third, what, if anything, speaks in favour of R?
How Bad is it When Religious People Violate R?
One rather sensible response to this question is: not very. For two of Philipse’s main claims are:
Science is defined by R,Footnote 16
Religious people, when making religious factual claims, violate R. (=C)
But all that follows from this is that when religious people are making religious factual assertions, they are not doing science. For a theist that need not be a very bad conclusion. After all, the typical theist doesn’t think her religious belief is based on, or the product of, scientific research. Seen in this way, Philipse’s charge that violating R is a very bad thing, comes to naught. Likewise, the charge that religious people, when making factual religious claims, are lacking in ‘scientific attitude’ isn’t much of a problem either. For a religious person thinks there are supports for her beliefs, also her factual religious beliefs, other than through scientific research.
But do Theists Violate R?
As we have seen in the preliminary discussion in Sect. 1, R is open or not fully defined in the following two dimensions: R doesn’t specify when a claim is and when it is not sufficiently supported by validated methods (preliminary Six); and the notion of ‘method’ is rather broadly used, so as to include perception and memory (preliminary Three).
The question we should now like to take up cannot possibly be adequately dealt with within the confines of one paper. The only thing we can do is make some preliminary and brief remarks that suggest that claim C is by no means obvious. The question is: are there ‘methods’ (in Philipse’s broad sense) that theists ‘use’ when they believe that God exists—and if so, are these methods validated along the lines of the three maxims? The answer to the first question is, yes, there may very well be such ‘methods’. Much discussed methods include: (i) reasoning that proceeds from premises that are evident to the senses (cosmological arguments); (ii) reasoning that proceeds from apriori premises (ontological arguments); (iii) putative mystical awareness of God; (iv) putative divine revelation. Are these methods validated along the lines of the three maxims?Footnote 17
It is not obvious that they aren’t. As to maxim 1: many people who have independently considered arguments for God’s existence, so many who have independently used methods (i) and (ii), have found them somewhat plausible. Furthermore, the application of methods (i) and (ii) have yielded consistent results: each token-application of these methods lead to a theistic conclusion. Hence (i) and (ii) don’t obviously fail maxim 1. The same holds for method (iii). There are surely considerable differences between what people get out of putative mystical experiences. Still, there are commonalities too, they seem to trigger belief in the existence of a being that is ‘greater’ than human beings and that transcends physical reality, and they do this in persons across times and cultures. Footnote 18Hence, (iii) does not obviously fail maxim 1 either. Something similar holds for (iv), putative divine revelations. To be sure, such alleged revelations lead persons to believe things that are sometimes hard to square with each other. Yet, those beliefs are not massively inconsistent. For example, the putative history of Jewish/Christian revelations seems to lead to beliefs that are to a fair degree consistent with each other—and many beliefs formed by this method in the Islamic tradition seem consistent with these as well. So although it is by no means clear sailing, (iv) doesn’t obviously fail maxim 1. There may be an analogy with perception here. Beliefs formed in response to visual perception may, across persons, be inconsistent. But this as such doesn’t disqualify visual perception as a method. Rather, it calls for a specification of the conditions under which it does lead to beliefs that are consistent across persons. An analogous move can be tried in the case of method (iv).
As to maxim 2: it is not clear that these methods fail this maxim either. After all, these methods yield beliefs that seem to complement and confirm each other to a certain extent: they all yield belief in a being of maximal greatness that transcends physical reality.
So we suggest that it isn’t obvious that the religious ‘methods’ do not and cannot survive maxims 1 and 2. Are the methods validated enough to support factual religious claims? In the absence of a very clear benchmark (see our preliminary Six), the proper thing to say at this point is that it is not clear that they don’t. And if we are correct here, a theist qua theist may not be violating R after all, and may hence not suffer from a lack of scientific attitude.
There is a further issue here that merits attention. In the informal presentation of Rule R, Philipse included a time index (see preliminary Five): science, he says, is “the search for factual truth by utilizing the best validated truth-conducive method available at a time.” Methods used at one time may be better validated than methods used at another (usually earlier) time. Now methods used for research in area A will typically differ from methods used in area B. Methods used in brain sciences will differ from the methods used in ecology. And it may be that the methods used in one area are better validated than the methods used in another area. And there may be a differential development of method between areas. This may mean that positive factual claims in area A can satisfy Rule R, and so can be part of science, even when the research methods that are used aren’t very well validated. For all that the time-indexed Rule requires, is that the methods be the best validated methods at that time. With respect to the Conflict thesis this has an important implication. For then the following may be the case: the methods “used” by religious believers to obtain truths about God may have the following two properties: they are not validated as well as the methods used in micro biology and they are the best validated methods currently available for this particular area.
Philipse, no doubt, will have to say many things in response to these admittedly very broad suggestions just offered. He will respond, first and foremost, that we have side stepped the entire argument of section IV of Philipse (2013, 102–104), which in turn is only a quick summary of the extended argument against a number of claims to the effect that religious belief is justified, or warranted, or rational that he has provided in Philipse (2012). We need not go into this, however, as all his criticisms of these claims have been ably dealt with by Peels (2013), De Ridder and Berger (2013), and Rutten (2013). But, as we will now proceed to argue, even if these rebuttals were to miss the mark, this would by no means render R obvious, or an acceptable ethics of belief.
Should We Adopt R?
Even if, as we have suggested, theists may be able to conform to R, it is still an open question whether R must be accepted in the first place. So, why adopt R? Interestingly, although Philipse proffers R as (part of) an ethics of belief, he doesn’t tell us why we should adopt it. In this section we argue that R as it stands faces serious problems and that there is good reason to reject it. This doesn’t mean that chisholming away on R might not lead to a modified version of R that doesn’t face these problems. But even if this could successfully be done, this doesn’t amount to an argument pro (an appropriately modified) R, which is what Philipse owes us.
A first problem for R has already been explicated in Sect. 3: certain facts, if they exist, are exempt from the application of R, viz. normative facts. Philipse owes us a criterion by means of which we can distinguish between facts that should and facts that should not be submitted to R, and he furthermore owes us an argument for the criterion. In the absence of these, R is either unmotivated or ad hoc, which are equally good reasons for not accepting R.
A second problem, along the same lines, is this. We all occasionally form beliefs about our own mental states, such as that we feel tired, or happy. Suppose now that you feel tired and claim so much, and that your claim is contested (perhaps your boss thinks you are making a lame excuse in order not to have to show up at a meeting). Then R must be applied, for what we have here is a claim concerning a disputed fact. Given R, claims to the effect that you feel tired should be endorsed only if they are sufficiently supported by the application of validated methods of research. Now what methods of research support claims about mental facts? Just to have a name, let us call this method the method of ‘inner awareness’ or ‘self-consciousness’. Has this method been validated along the lines of the three maxims—or can it even be so validated? Suppose you feel tired. Then it is a mental fact that you feel tired. Can mutually independent applications of this method yield consistent results? If you apply this method 10 times over a period of 10 min then you get consistent results; but these applications are not mutually independent. So maxim 1 can’t be satisfied here. Can different techniques yield the same result if applied to this case? Well, there don’t seem to be different techniques by the application of which you feel that you are tired—there is just this one method of inner awareness. So maxim 2 can’t be satisfied here either.Footnote 19 Hence, it seems, the method of inner awareness cannot be validated and hence must be rejected if one accepts R. Hence, I should not endorse (believe) that I feel tired. But that seems unacceptable, as inner awareness is very important to us, and there are no alternative routes to its yield. Hence, by reductio, R must be rejected.
And there is a further problem for R. Disputes about metaphysical facts are ubiquitous in philosophy. Do numbers exist? Do universals exist? Do immaterial souls exist? Peter van Inwagen has argued that universals exist, and that nominalism is, therefore, false (Van Inwagen 2004). Not everybody is convinced by this argument. Still, Van Inwagen maintains his view. What would R rule about Van Inwagen’s way of going about? It rules: the existence of universals is a disputed fact. So claims about them should be endorsed as true only if they are sufficiently supported by the application of validated methods. What method did Van Inwagen apply? Some such method as theoretical reasoning; he argues that unless one assumes the existence of universals certain other facts cannot be properly understood or explained. He applies, we may say, some form of inference to the best explanation. Is that a validated method? Well, it can be and has been contested (Van Fraassen 1989)—and so cannot uncontroversially be said to be validated. And so R rules that Van Inwagen should not endorse the existence of universals. But it also rules that nominalists should not endorse their nominalism. (Nominalism is also a factual claim, viz. the claim that our world is a world without universals). And so the effect of accepting R means one must refrain from endorsing claims about universals. In fact, the effect of applying R in philosophy in general (esp. in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and philosophy of science) is that we should stay silent. That is quite a price. If one thinks the price is too high, one must, by reductio, reject R. (Alternatively, Philipse has to provide a criterion by means of which we can distinguish areas of factual claims where R should, and areas of factual claims where R should not be applied. And the criterion should furthermore be well motivated. But as we have seen when discussing Philipse’s exempting moral facts from the jurisdiction of R, he provides no such criterion.)
Next, R is supposed to be definitive of science, or the scientific method. But the application of R to the most well developed parts of physics makes for serious trouble. R, we may assume, entails that one should not endorse factual claims P and not-P at the same time. However, it is well-known that Quantum Mechanics and Relativity Theory are incompatible with each other. And so what should scientists, given R, do? Given R, they should give up either QM or RT, or both. But of course they should do neither. Rather, as both theories are very well established indeed (even if they are incompatible), what they should do is give up R. And as R is not written in the stars, but simply proposed by a philosopher, this is something they can gladly do without any pangs of intellectual guilt, without sacrificing their ‘scientific attitude’ (although they sacrifice that attitude as described by Philipse).Footnote 20