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Questions on Solipsism, Logic, and the Name of God

March 22, 2021


Interesting questions on atheism and solipsism, God and logic, and the name of God.

KEVIN HARRIS: This is from China. It is from Zhang. I just want to alert our viewers and our listeners that we will unpack this question, so don’t let your eyes glaze over as we get into some of the terminology here. It says,

Hi Dr. Craig. Is the atheist empiricist’s epistemology on a deeper level really just solipsism? For illustration, if we measured by eye vision what is known to exist then visual perception is just how the brain interprets EM waves, and then abstractly turns EM waves into a figure in our minds.

DR. CRAIG: What he's abbreviating there is electromagnetic waves. Light is a form of electromagnetic radiation – visible light.


The issue with empiricism is that not all brains interpret the same electromagnetic waves the same way, as colorblind people see different colors or none. And there are many different conditions or situations one could think of to change the way the same object with the same EM waves perceives that object per person. Thus, this leads back to my question. If empiricism is knowledge from the senses, and people can sense the same objects in different ways, does that make empiricism just another type of solipsism as the self's perceptions limit what one can sense?

DR. CRAIG: Solipsism is the doctrine that you are all that exists and that everything is a projection of your mind.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. So he says, “Isn't the atheist empiricist’s epistemology just solipsism?

DR. CRAIG: No. The short answer is “no” because he recognizes that the perceptions we have of the external world are formed as a result of external stimuli – electromagnetic radiation stimulates the retina of the eye and then is transmitted to the brain and we form visual perception of the external world. Now, what his question does raise is the very disturbing question about the veridicality of our sense perception. It's certainly true that a creature, say, that was able to perceive by means of x-rays or ultraviolet rays might perceive external reality very differently than we do who are limited to visible light (that narrow range of electromagnetic radiation that we can see). So it does make you wonder about what would a creature who had different sorts of receptive capacities perceive the same external world to be, and that can induce a sort of sense of humility and modesty in our claims to know external reality. It might look very different to some other creature. But I don't think that's any reason for skepticism. That isn't a reason for denying that the perceptions of external reality that we do have are not veridical. Now, there's no way to prove the reliability of our sense perception because in order to prove it you would have to get outside of it and prove that it's reliable, and there isn't any non-circular way to do that. So you can't prove the reliability of your sense perception in any non-circular way, but that isn't any sort of argument for skepticism. That's not a proof that our sense perceptions are unreliable. So, in the absence of some sort of a defeater for our perceptual knowledge of the world, we're quite rational to assume that our perceptions are veridical. Now, sometimes we know they're not. The straw that is placed in a glass of water looks bent even though we know it's not. The highway in the distance looks like it has water on it, and we find that's just a mirage. So sense perception is not inevitably veridical; it can be corrected. But generally speaking, we don't have defeaters for our sense perception, and therefore we're perfectly rational (and the atheist is perfectly rational) to believe that it gives us genuine knowledge of the external world.

KEVIN HARRIS: I love the stories that Alvin Plantinga tells. He said he actually met a solipsist – a genuine solipsist – who really believed that he was the only thing in existence and everyone else (including Alvin Plantinga) was just a figment of his imagination. And he's walking out of the meeting and a student stopped Alvin Plantinga and said, “We take really good care of that professor because if he goes, we all go!” [laughter] I believe he also said that Bertrand Russell flirted with solipsism for a while, and that a lady wrote to him and said, “I really like that view – solipsism. I don't understand why there are not more of us.”

DR. CRAIG: [laughter] Yeah, why aren't there more solipsists! I hope folks can see that what Zhang is asking about here really has nothing to do with solipsism. It's really a question about sense perception and can we trust it? Can we trust our perceptions of the external world to tell us about the way the world is? And I think that in the absence of a defeater we are perfectly rational in trusting our sense perceptions.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. We'll go to the next question. By the way solipsism – is that the same keyword as “solo?”

DR. CRAIG: I have no idea of the etymology of the word. You'd have to look it up in a dictionary to see its derivation.

KEVIN HARRIS: I'll do. The next question is from Caleb in the United States.

Dear Dr. Craig, I recently read a paper by two Christian philosophers arguing for a case for the rational basis of the Trinity. Overall, I found the arguments to be convincing, but I still have one hang up on the concept of the Trinity. I have often heard that polytheism is impossible because it is impossible to have two omnipotent beings at the same time. In the same way, I wonder how this same logic would not apply for all three persons of the Trinity. Is it therefore possible for all three members of the Trinity to be omnipotent simultaneously? It seems that this argument could be defeated by denying the argument against polytheism. Thank you.

DR. CRAIG: This is a really interesting question, I think. The question that Caleb would need to address is: Why would it be impossible to have three omnipotent beings? He doesn't explain that. What would it be that would prevent three beings all having maximal power? Is it because they might disagree with each other and therefore thwart each other's ambitions so that at least one of them would not be omnipotent? He doesn't say. If that's the argument then there wouldn't be a problem for the Trinity because the members of the Trinity would all agree. They would be essentially one in their will just as they are one in their knowledge and their love. So I don't think there would be any difficulty in discord among the members of the Trinity. Rather, I've argued against the possibility of there being two omnipotent beings because for a being to be omnipotent it would have to have the power to create everything else in existence, and that would mean that it would have to have the power to annihilate that other being, in which case that other being is not omnipotent. So I don't think you can have two omnipotent beings because one would have to be within the creative power of the other – the truly omnipotent one. But again that argument won't apply to the members of the Trinity because you don't have more than one being, in this case the Trinity. You have three persons but only one being, and so there isn't any threat that one being might destroy the other or that one being might lie within the creative ability of the other. I think you can argue against the coherence of two omnipotent beings along the lines that I have without denying that the three persons of the Trinity are omnipotent.

KEVIN HARRIS: Next question.

Hello, Dr. Craig. I am currently a student at seminary pursuing a Master of Arts in Philosophy, and God led me down this course through a crisis of faith in high school that led me to your debates and lectures on YouTube. In other words, I have you to thank both for my interest in philosophy and for God's work to save and strengthen my faith in high school. I am eternally grateful.

DR. CRAIG: Praise the Lord!


I have a question about a phrase that I've heard and affirm but find troubling. It is often said that all truth is grounded in God, and while I believe that this statement is true, it seems awfully ambiguous. For instance, it seems right to say that logic is grounded in God's nature, but how can we interpret that statement sensibly?

This is from another Kevin in the United States.

DR. CRAIG: I found Kevin's question so interesting that I have chosen it as one of my questions of the week. The original question is much longer than what you've read, and my answer therefore is much longer. So if people are interested in how logic is to be grounded in God, I would refer you to this question of the week on this issue.[1] It seems to me that those who want to ground logic in God's nature are motivated to say that logic is grounded in God's intellect rather than in his will. It's not as though God just arbitrarily made up the rules of logic. It's not up to him to do such a thing. Rather, logic is simply a description of the way God's intellect operates. The logical rules of inference are descriptive of the perfectly rational mind and thinking of God. I think that we can understand logic to be grounded in God's nature in the sense that it is a reflection of his intellect and is not grounded by his will.

KEVIN HARRIS: Two more questions today. Skipping down here – question number seven:

Dear Dr. Craig, In the interview with Unbelievable you mentioned that the universe could develop a new set of laws that govern the universe. Couldn't this be the explanation of fine-tuning? Our universe's laws have just been changing over time or through different phases? Parker in the United States.

DR. CRAIG: Parker has, I think, misunderstood what I said. I did not claim that the universe could develop a new set of laws. What I said is that the laws that govern the universe are not necessary. They're not metaphysically necessary. We can imagine a universe that would be governed by different physical laws. For example, it would be possible to have a universe governed by Newtonian physics rather than relativistic physics. So the question is just based on a misunderstanding. The laws of nature that govern our universe have always held since the beginning of the universe, and the constants and the quantities that appear in those laws are exquisitely fine-tuned to permit the existence of intelligent conscious agents. And that cries out for some sort of explanation.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Final question today.

Hello, Dr. Craig. In the past year or so I've become absolutely fascinated and obsessed with the problem of religious language, particularly how we can even speak about God or name him. I have a question for you regarding reference theory. Let's say that in any given culture the name they give to God is the name of the supreme personal being who created the world. In English and related languages, we give the word “God” to describe such a reality. However, in some cultures (for example, in Islamic culture) the word they give for God (namely Allah) is actually the name of an old pagan god that was considered the supreme God of the old Arabic pantheon. This language use was carried over into Islamic theological language. Furthermore, let's just suppose that something similar in a different language (say Japanese) happened – Japanese Christians use the name Amaterasu to describe God because this name, too, was the name of the supreme God of the ancient Japanese pantheon of gods. Now that I have laid out these hypotheticals, here is my question for you. What ground rules should a language have for naming God without becoming blasphemy? It does, after all, seem blasphemous to call God almighty by an old pagan god made in man's image. I do not believe that I have this problem because I am a classical theist. As the early church fathers so often affirmed, God transcends all categories and therefore no human-made name can fully capture God's essence. But to someone like you – a theistic personalist (I know you don't like this term, but hear me out) – you would seem to have this problem because when you use the word “God” you are referring to a specific being. Anthony in the United States.

DR. CRAIG: I almost chose this as my question of the week, but I was so offended at being called a theistic personalist that I decided not to take it! This is a false dichotomy perpetrated by Thomists who like to style themselves as classical theists and call other people who are not Thomists by this other label, and it's just inaccurate and misleading. I am a classical theist that affirms a traditional orthodox doctrine of God. Now, I don't think that there is any problem in what word a language uses to refer to the supreme personal being who created the world. That's what Anthony says the name “God” is supposed to refer to – the supreme personal being who created the world. So whatever word a language uses is conventional whether it's Dieu, Deus or Gott or, in Russian, Bog. It doesn't matter what conventions you use to vocalize the sound that refers in that language to the supreme personal being who created the world. So I think the whole question is just a non-issue. I don't think there's any problem given the conventionality of language concerning what word you use in that language to refer to God so long as the referent is clear – that the word refers to the supreme personal being who created the world. And I would note, moreover, that the classical theist as he styles himself (the Thomist) can't avoid this issue either because he takes the word “God” in English to refer to the supreme personal being who created the world or the uncaused cause or the source of all reality – pure actuality, existence itself subsisting. He also uses a conventional word “God” to refer to a specific thing. And so if that word were somehow blasphemous or inappropriate in the language, the classical theist would face exactly the same problem in using that word to refer to the being that he takes to be God. So I guess I just don't see this as an issue.

KEVIN HARRIS: We want to encourage everyone to go to the Question of the Week at[2]. Look at the archives. Some questions that you probably never even thought about are in the archives there, and they are great. Bill, thanks for answering the questions, and we’ll see you on the next podcast.

DR. CRAIG: Thank you, Kevin. OK. Bye.[3]


[3] Total Running Time: 20:20 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)