A critique of William Lane Craig’s invincible version of Holy Spirit epistemology

Philosopher and theologian, William Lane Craig, argues that one can be rationally justified and warranted in accepting his/her experience of God or The Holy Spirit as evidence for the truth of theism and Christian theism. In fact, this sort of belief is properly basic, not inferred from other beliefs. I agree with Craig that this sort of experience can count as rational justification or warrant. However, Dr. Craig argues something further that I don’t agree with.

Dr. Craig’s position is that the experience of The Holy Spirit can be self-authenticating, which means that The Spirit is an intrinsic defeater of any defeaters brought against a believer’s belief. In other words, The Spirit enjoys the highest warrant and overwhelms any objections brought against the Christian. I’m going to offer some concerns or objections against such a view that is espoused by Craig.

In general, Epistemologists seem to be a little worried when someone claims a basic belief to be invincible or not able to be defeated. It seems, at least in general, that we want to say that basic beliefs are prima facie justified, and not ultima facie justified. The former means that we can believe something, unless or until we are given good reasons to think otherwise, in which case we need to give up our original belief in said matters. The latter says that certain beliefs will be forever justified, and we don’t really want to say that a certain belief (except perhaps a few beliefs) are forever justified.

I don’t think The Holy Spirit can act as a defeater of every single objection. There have been many times in my life when someone claimed that God was pushing them towards X, when in fact all the evidence pointed to the contrary. You can be sure that person changed their mind  only when it was actually not possible anymore for them to accomplish their seemingly God ordained goal. A good Christian friend of mine thought that God was calling him to be a missionary overseas and that he was going to evangelize. Well, my friend died 2 weeks later in a tragic accident so he never got to accomplish what he thought was one of God’s missions for his life.

Also, there have been many times when I thought God was telling me a certain interpretation was correct in scripture, or that He was convicting me of such and such, when in fact people then pointed out how my interpretation couldn’t be right and that what I felt convicted of was really guilt, not conviction. In the case of interpretation my view was utterly incoherent, in other words, my interpretation was contradictory and thus logically impossible.

Moving on, one huge problem comes when people from other religions claim invincible or ultima facie beliefs for their religion. Dr. Craig has a response to this. Dr. Craig gives an analogy (borrowed from Alvin Plantinga) that it’s sort of like a court case where the person knows that they didn’t commit the crime even though all the evidence is against them. He knows he didn’t commit the crime even if he can’t refute the evidence. However, there are a few problems with this response.

1. We need to be careful about drawing epistemological principles from rare cases.
– Dr. Craig’s analogy is just one possible case and a rare one at that. It doesn’t seem wise to make general rules about warrant and justification from an analogy, at least most of the time. If Craig’s case is different, he needs to show why.

2. Dr. Craig’s analogy might not seem that strong after further consideration
– Holy Spirit Epistemology is primarily about belief in God being properly basic or non-inferential. However, in the court analogy it seems that the person who knows they’re innocent is presumably because of beliefs that are inferential and not because they’re basic. The person knows where they were at the time of the crime, what they were doing, why they were doing it , etc.

3. Maybe there’s a point where the person in the court case must give up belief that he’s innocent
– Suppose there was DNA evidence and so forth so that it was undeniable that the man is guilty. Furthermore, there’s also evidence showing that the man is prone to hallucinations and delusions, which explains why he thinks he’s innocent. Should he then act like an alcoholic denier and deny all the evidence against him of which also explains why it seems like he’s innocent? At this point it looks like the man needs additional reasons for thinking he’s innocent besides the fact that it seems like he’s innocent, like reasons listed in point 2.

In regards to the question of defeasibility for the Christian, Dr. Craig says,

“For it seems to me inconceivable that God would allow any believer to be in a position where he would be rationally obliged to commit apostasy and renounce Christ. It seems to me rather that in such a situation a loving God would intensify the Spirit’s witness in such a way that it becomes an intrinsic defeater of the defeaters such a person faces.”

Dr. Craig says that it might be the case that The Holy Spirit acts in a way as to defeat any defeaters brought against the believer. However, Dr. Craig gives no reason at all to think that this is plausibly what is actually going on. He say its possible or that he can’t conceive of it. Well it may also not be possible and it may also seem conceivable. My point being, we need more than logical possibilities for an argument to go through and be considered strong. Craig said that it seems to him that God would intensify the witness. Of course it seems to him this way, but what’s the argument that it is this way in reality? He doesn’t give an argument nor did he give an actual argument for thinking that his other seeming is correct regarding apostasy.

At the heart, Dr. Craig gives no good reasons to think a basic belief in God is invincible, but as I’ve already implied, Craig does (in my opinion) indeed give us good reasons for thinking that an experience of God can count as warrant for the Christian. So Craig’s work on Holy Spirit Epistemology shouldn’t be seen as a total failure. And the end of the day, Craig fails to give a convincing case to think that the basic belief in the truth of Christianity is somehow not able to be rationally defeated for the believer. Perhaps, someone will someday be able to mount a powerful argument to think that The Holy Spirit can serve as an intrinsic defeater, who counters every defeater lodged at the Christian.


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