Phil's post this week has apparently hit a nerve with a couple of atheist internet apologists, and I wanted to pull one of the branches of the thread on God's justice up front here for the sake of filling my quota at TeamPyro this week.
Dr. Ken Pulliam has made an appearance in the comments to give us his "agnostic" view of the problem that God can order things which, if a man ordered them, he might rightly be called a genocidal maniac. However, someone called Dr. Pulliam an "atheist" in the thread, and he wanted to make sure we all knew he was actually an "agnostic".
His last comment to me in that thread was this:
I don't claim to be agnostic about every proposition only those that involve ultimate realities. I mentioned the three ways of verifying the truth of various propositions.
For example, if my wife says: "It is raining outside." How do I verify it? I step outside and see. If what I see and feel corresponds (the correspondence theory) to the accepted definitions of what constitutes rain, then I accept her proposition as true. If she says: "The lawnmower needs to be brought inside or it will rust in the rain." How do I know if her proposition is true? I know from past knowledge that if metal gets wet it will rust. Her statement coheres (the coherence theory) with other accepted and verified beliefs. If she says: "If you put a tarp over the lawnmower, it won't get wet." How do I know if that is a true proposition? I put a tarp over the lawnmower and wait till it stops raining and then see if the lawnmower is wet. If putting the tarp over the mower works (the pragmatic theory), then I know that her proposition was true.
However, if she says: "God is sending the rain." How can I verify it? I can't. Thus, I am agnostic about that proposition.
Now, do I need to believe in a deity in order to verify any of the four propositions above? Yes, the 4th one but not the first three.
Let me put it to you (Dr. Pulliam in particular, but "you-all" readers of this here bit of bloggin') this way: "agnosticism" in any form is a statement about the epistemic value of truth claims. As late as Hume the agnostic claim really placed all statements which are definitive -- statements which make a pan-physical judgments about reality; statements which are correlative of common value or nature -- in a category which requires us to have some doubt about their validity. The basis for Hume saying this was the limits of human perception and reason.
Which, let me say, is a fine bit of humility on the part of Hume, given his disdain for the idea of divine revelation. But Hume's agnosticism was an honest one which didn't limit itself to just religious claims.
This appeal to some kind of "honest" epistemological stoicism in Dr. Pulliam's examples of whether (or how) he believes his wife or not is interesting -- but really, is that how he lives? He tests the quality of the gas at the pump before he puts it in his car to make sure it is of the proper octane and isn't full of water or grit? He validates the Health Department certification of every restaurant before sitting down? You personally audit your bank to make sure they aren't doing stupid things with your money? You stop even at Green Lights because you never know who’s coming the other way?
I think he can define agnosticism, and he can parrot the theories for agnostic epistemology, but he has never spent a day in his life living that way.
When an atheist finds a Christian who lives his life like this, the word "hypocrite" comes out as if it solves the problem or wins the argument. (in fact, Dr. Pulliam has said as much in another comment in that thread -- Christians don't live the way they say they ought) I think it only identifies the problem – which is either one of dishonesty or one of immaturity. In the former case, the hypocrisy is there because it benefits the hypocrite – somehow, he is gaining something he can’t get by honest means; in the latter case, it’s a matter of discipleship – the hypocrite doesn’t mean to live against his beliefs, but he’s not really trained up rightly so he doesn’t really understand the implications of his catechism.
It’s unkind to assume the former – because I suspect that you have never made a penny from your “agnosticism”. But to assume the latter means that someday you will, in fact, act as if you really are “agnostic about every proposition that involves ultimate realities” (like whether it’s raining outside or not, or whether the lawnmower can be protected from the rain by a tarp, [as in your examples] or for that matter whether you have actually put the right octane gas in your car [which is my example using the same definition of “ultimate”]). But he will never live that way – it’s grossly impractical at best.
But here’s what gets me: it seems to me that these “ultimate” realities (things which he says he knows via correspondence or practical/utilitarian means, but for which he doesn't actually do the due diligence) are far more critical to making sure his life is impacted for his personal benefit than this debate about whether or not Jesus Christ was promised to Israel, born to a virgin, and died and resurrected to prove He was who he said he was.
So what gives? Why duck behind the "agnostic" label for "ultimate reality" when really, one is just doubtful about the claims of people with religious beliefs only?
This should be interesting ...