Monday, June 30, 2014

Answering Austin Cline's "Argument from Religious Experience:Do We Experience God's Existence?"

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William James (1842–1910)

Atheist pundit Austin  Cline can often be found pontificating about religion on He has an article around religious experience as a God argument, [1] his prejudicial dismissal of the argument is tailormade for my new book, The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief, by Joseph Hinman (paperback, soon to be e book available on Amazon) to answer. First I want to clear the way by a knit pick. the phrase "Do we experience God's existence?" is an awkward and odd phrase. It's redundant because the only way we could actually experience God as a reality is if God is real, what we call "existing," thus even though this is a misuse of the term on his part according to Paul Tillich's theology [2] to experience God is to say that God is real and thus the idea that we are experiencing God's existence is just redundant. If we experience God as a reality then God must be real or we are not truly experiencing God's reality. We don't say that we experience the existence of things apart form experiencing those things. I've experienced losing my parents, I don't say 'I have experienced the existence of my parent's deaths.'

Be that as it may Cline opens his argument:

According to the Argument from Religious Experience, people have “religious experiences” — experiences of the supernatural, like heaven or angels or even a god. Because we believe other experiential claims people make — like that they went to the store or own a car — then we should believe these claims as well. It is also argued that when skeptics apply higher standards for claims based on religious experiences than they do for claims based on other experiences, they exhibiting a prejudice against religious claims. This prevents them from understanding and ultimately believing. 
 Here we see a totally inadequate understanding of religious experience. There is no sense here that religious experience is mystical experience or "peak" experience or that it is even a form of consciousnesses. He tries to justify the kind of dismissal tactics atheists use to reduce and mislabel religious experience. He's already demonstrated that he's mislabeling it. The understanding of super nature such that religious experience is "experience of the supernatural" is merely the modern enlightenment misunderstanding of the concept. Super nature is the power of God to raise human nature to a higher level (of consciousness) thus "the supernatural" is mystical experience. See my article "the Empirical Supernatural."[3]

 Cline bases his argument on the work of William James:

William James offers a classic version of this argument in his influential Varieties of Religious Experience. He argues that all normal persons have religious experience and, since experience is the final arbiter of truth, then God — as the object of religious experiences — must be accepted as factually true. James further observes that the religious experiences in question tend to have a profound effect on the lives of people and even whole societies, implying that such effects cannot reasonably be attributed to hallucinations. Instead, it is much more reasonable to believe that a real God is responsible for religious experiences than to attribute the profound effects of those experiences to a mere imaginary being. 
 As profoundly important as James still is in the study of religious experience, and this argument is good in so far as it goes, there are better and more updated versions of the argument. Notice he doesn't  take on William Alston, who is one of the major philosophers of religion of the late twentieth century. Nor does he deal with any of the modern empirical scientific data in favor of religious experience.[4] Cline decides to pick on James as the best example of the argument.

The first problem is in James’ assertion that “all normal people” have “religious experiences.” It is uncertain what exactly he means by this, but it is a much easier assertion to make than to support. If he means experiences of the supernatural — gods, angels, etc. — then he is wrong. If he means something much more vague, like that everyone has experienced awe when contemplating the universe, then he might be right but he isn’t supporting his claim.[5]

 I doubt that James said "normal people" I can't find where he did say it. I notice that Cline doesn't document  it. That could be crucial weather or not he ascribes it to normality. What he actually says is referenced by Wuthnow in his study (this can be seen in my book) where he says there is a continuum in experience that all people (I don't think he says "normal")

As far as the argument itself goes it is perfectly logical. We don't experience things that are not real. We could actually mistake experiences of one thing for another, so that must be answered. We might also have a false experience, that is hallucination or some other trick of the mind. These things are easily disproved in the case of mystical experience. The argument I sustain throughout the Trace of God is designed to answer this argument. The first answer I would give is:

 (1)  that I go to great lengths in my book to show that we habitually use a certain criteria for judging the reality of experience. The studies on religious experience, with the aid of Hood's M scale show us that religious experience of the mystical kind meets this criteria. Thus we must on principle accept it as real and trust it, or doubt our own existences.[6] This arguemnt is made in a simpler way on my lis of God arguments, no. 8 "The Thomas Reid argument," or "Argument from epistemic judgement."[7] The criteria is that we judge experiences real if hey are regular, consistent, shared (inter-subjective) and enable navigation in the world. If other forms of coutner causation are eliminated so that we can be fairly certain that we not expericing falsely logic forces us to conclude that we are experiencing rightly and there is something there to be experinced.

(2) the effects of the experience of are real. I go to great lengths to show (see all of chapter 2) that the outcome of having such experiences is life life transformation, that is a bold dramatic positive long term life changing result. I further argue that long term positive changes consistently are indicative of reality. Pathological states, mental illness and delusion are degenerative, they bring us down and destroy us over time. Nothing false builds us up and is vital too our well being over a long term period. These experiences are transforming over the long term.

(3) At the end of Chapter 7 I present eight tie breakers. The "tie" is conceived of as between brain chemicals as the most likely explanation for the origin of the experience, vs. brain chemistry as merely God's tool for enabling us to experience his presence. That's a stand off it could be either option. The tie breakers tell us it makes much more sense to accept the latter as the most likely possibility.

(4) I also rule out placebo effects in chapter 7. placebo requires that one expect the desired result, but in that chapter I show several ways in which religious experience does not conform to expected norms but often surprises such that it is often unsought, unexpected, a conversion experience, or also it can contradicts cherished doctrines.[8] For some of the studies as much as half the sample received their experiences in childhood. I show that children are not hung up on doctrines so they are not expecting experiences to conform to doctrines. Yet they have these uniform experiences that indicates the experiences are really of  an objective reality.[9]

Cline sticks with his sustained attack against James.In any case his arguments are easy to answer if one knows Jame's  works. My understanding of James is only passing fair. In my book I bring together a much larger body of empirical work which has been done over the last 50 years, armed with this knoweldge it is easy to pick off Cline's bromides. Cline refuses to think past cultural influence  and makes the argument that difference in religious traditions disprove the idea of one reality behind them all. Here's he's trying to play the old atheist divide and conquer game:

The second problem is in the variety of religious experiences: if there is just one God, why is there such wide variety in the reports of religious experiences? Indeed, they are mutually incompatible. They can’t all be true, so at least some must be false. How do we differentiate? What reasons can the religious believer give to accept her reports over the reports made by others? 
 I would argue that the studies on Hood's mysticism scale ("M scale") prove that mystical experience around the world is universally experienced in the same way. They are not conditioned by doctrines, even though they are explained by doctrines and culture that makes them seem different. When the explanation is ignored and the experiences themselves are compared they are the same. That means they have a good reason to assume they are expericing something real, something objectively there (since it's not just a matter of culture of psychology). A more detailed version documented by Hood's M scale studies can be found on The Religious  a priori.[10]

 Cline asserts that there is no criteria that enables us to determine false from true experiences. While I agree that there is no criteria that proves the difference, I have already demonstrated that he's wrong in his assertion:

There are no independent criteria we can use to separate the genuine experiences from false or flawed experiences — not only in the reports of others, but in ourselves. The only criteria which might exist rely upon the validity of some religious system. For example, some argue that a religious experience which does not agree with the Bible is flawed or false — but since this ultimately assumes the truth of what is supposed to be proven, such criteria are unacceptable. 
There is a criteria that we habitually use to assert the reality of experience, we go by that criteria every time: regular, consistent, sheared, navigational. We don't think about it. We dont say to ourselves "I'm going to use that criteria" we just do it. If an experience is anomalous, it's not regular or consistent we assume it's bogus. If we experience things they same way all the time we assume it's normal and its alright. It's only the stuff that stands out as rare or one of a kind that bothers us. If we want confirmation of our view we seek it in others, "is it hot in here to you?" "Did you see that?" If it works we can live by it we assume it's true. Thus we don't stand on the freeway deliberating about Cartesian doubt we get out of the way of oncoming traffic. The studies on religious experience that are discussed in the Trace of God demonstrate that religious experiences fit that criteria thus we should trust them as indicative of reality.[11]

 From there Cline tries to disparage the link between the effects of the experience and an assumption of its truth aptness:

The third problem is in the idea that the profound effects these experiences have is any indicator of the truth. We can grant that people have some sort of experience and we can certainly grant that the experiences have a profound effect; but does this mean we must accept the reported content of these experiences — that they were of a supernatural nature? No. 
 Again he raises the false specter of the hijack version of the supernatural. Real supernatural--the original meaning of the term--referred to mystical experience not to some ookie spookie reality zone that houses all manor of stings that go "bump" in the night. Mystical experience is proved to be real. It is a real phenomena that people have such experiences and those experiences tend to have a certain effect upon the lives of those who have them. The atheists try to turn that phrase "SN" into some kind of badge of dishonor, the fantasy world one dare not believe in. In resorting to that ploy he is dogging the real issue that he himself raised, do these effects of having had such experiences indicate the truth of the object of experience? He says "no" based upon the proviso that it is indicative of the forbidden realm. But if we ask the question in terms of reality and the object of the experience we must say yes.

First of all atheists are inconsistent in that they will argue that the advantage of having an experience is not indicative of truth but then they turn around and affirm this very idea of scinece. Every time I ask atheists how do you know science is true? They always say "because it works, you are using a computer aren't you? Science produced that computer because it works." All hail science! In any case, so saying the affirm the principle that working is related to being true. This is one of my tie breakers in chapter 7. Then Cline dazzels us with more of his fallacious reasoning: "Real experiences that have a profound impact on a person can have completely natural sources without any divine connections."

That just illustrate the atheist misunderstanding of the true concept of SN and the way they use it as a ploy to ward off belief in God by lumping it into the forbidden zone of belief. They make still absurd dichotomy anything natural must lack God and could be the product of evolution. That is an assumption not in evidence. A Gambler getting 100 royal flushes in a row as random chance would be naturalistic but it would not be natural, it would be the greatest of flukes. God created the natural realm and he works in all the time. The assumption atheists make that if it's naturalistic then God can't be in it is absurd. That's why we need the tie breakers, because the naturalistic element of brain chemistry could go either way. It  could be indicative of a Godless origin or it could be God's tool in giving us a sense of his presence.

Yet Cline goes further he makes a foolish assertion that: "Mystical experiences can be reproduced in anyone, both with chemical substances and mechanical equipment. With this being the case, what reason is there to think that other reports actually stem from a supernatural, rather than a natural, cause?" Well if you really want to know:

(1) buy my book and read the end of chapter 7 for the eight tie brakers and you have eight different reasons to assume the answer to that.

(2) The assertion that religious experiences can be reproduced is not proved. There are tons of claims to that effect, but in the book I point out (ala Philosopher John Hick) that those researchers do not have a standard criteria for control in understanding what constitutes religious experience. They do not use the M scale or any other valid scale to determine this. [12] I analyze the Borg study which is hostile to religion and show that their standard is totally unsuited.[13] Because they do not use such criteria they cannot prove that ever produce religious experience. They merely take the presence of cultural icons of religion as indicative of religious experience but there's no sense of consciousness. As I have said dichotomizing bewteen natural and SN is not a valid means of determining God's handiwork since God can work int he natural as easily as he can in the SN. Rather it is God's power to life us up to a higher state of consciousness that is Super nature. The basic state of such consciousness is a matter of fact, regardless of proof about it's origin.

Cline goes on dictonomizing:

If at least some of the alleged religious experiences are wholly natural, how do we separate them from the “truly” supernatural ones? Even if an experience changes the course of a society, that does not testify that the experiences had supernatural origins. At most, it might point to the persuasiveness of the believers or the appeal of the claims. 
 As I said already we do that by buying my book and reading the end of chapter 7 where I list the tie breakers. Then at the end of the article he takes on Swinebrune's argument:
Some, like Richard Swineburne, argue that the degree to which it seems to a person that something has happened should translate into the probability that something has happened. It is true that when people say that it seems to them that a chair is in a room that, therefore, we tend to accept that a chair is in the room. It is not true, however, that every time someone genuinely and seriously believes something, we also accept that whatever they believe is probably true.
We only accept this when it comes to more mundane things which we all have experiences of. When someone says that it seems to them very strongly that an elf is in the room, we do not accept that there is probably an elf in the room, do we?
 I don't argue Swineburne's argument. I've only read it one time. So I wont try to defined it here except to say that the condition of the argument seems to be the extent to which is seem that the person has actually experinced something. We are talking about warrant. If there is a warrant to believe this then there is no logical reason to discount it on face value. That doesn't mean one can't come up with an argument, it does mean the burden of proof is on the sketpic to show that the warrant is invalid and that there is good reason to doubt. Playing dichotomy game and hinting that "O no this leads to the forbidden zone of he SN" is not going to cut it. That is an ideological assumptino that some aspect aspect of reality must be doubted because it is the aspect that it seems to be and and brings too close to God so we must doubt it.

At this point Cline leaves us with the most dubious argument of tall, that failure to obtain mystical experience is a reason to doubt it's validity.
 Even if we accept Swineburne’s argument, we must also accept that when people try to have an experience of a god and fail, that this is good reason to believe that a god probably does not exist. After all, it would be prejudiced to dismiss the experiences of nonbelievers but privilege the experiences of those who already believe.
This argument is open to immediate reversal becasue then one must accept results as indicative of truth. If this is the case then why don't successes reflect that reality of God? The fact that it works has to be understood as truth indicative. Moreover, if results are indicative the fact that the experience is transformative and that being such it fulfills the basic function religion promises to fill in the first place, offers a rational warrant for belief that it is true. I suspect that Cline based his argument upon the arrangements I make because his contains all the basic elements of mine but he didn't bother study how I defend them. Or that may be my own arrogance and conciet.

Either way the Trace of God, my book,  arms the chruch with a power body of scientific data that backs up this and all other experience based arguments. This work injects fiber into the content of experience arguments and no Christian ever need fear the atheists jibes about no facts, no God, atheism has scinece. Atheists have not touched these arguments in five years of battle on CARM. This book serves as a compindium that will enable anyone to defend experience arguments against all commers.

Order The Trace of God On AMAZON in paper back, (soon to be avaible in Hard back and Electronic).


[1] Austin Cline, "Argument from Religious Experience:Do We Experience God's Existence?" no date listed.  accessed 6/27/14

[2] Tillich famously argued that we can' use the term "existence" in relation to God becuase exist is what contingent things do. God is being itself and thus is above the level of mere "existing." see Shaking of the Foundations, by Paul Tillich.

[3] Metacrock, "The Empirical Supernatural," The Religious a priori, no date given. accessed 6/28/14.

[4] Willam Alston,Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993, no page indicated. see also The Trace of God, the entire book is about this huge body of data that has heretofore been neglected by both atheists and theists.

[5] Cline, ibid.

[6] Joseph Hinman, The Trace of God: Rational Warrant for Belief.  Colorado Springs: Grand Viaduct Publishing.2014, see the whole of chapter 2.

[7] Metacrock, "8, on list of God arguments: The Thomas Reid Argument,"  Doxa, website,  accessed 6/27/14. 

[8]  Hinman,The Trace of God... op cit., 286-296.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Metacrock, "The M Scale and The Universal Nature of Mystical Experience," The Religious a priori, website, accessed 6/26/14.

 [11] Hinman, The Trace of God, op.cit, 103-127

 [12] Hinman, Ibid.,262-3, 306.

 [13] Ibid., 309


 Order The Trace of God On AMAZON

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Introducing the Trace of God blog

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I don't want to turn Metacrock's blog into just a "buy my book" blog. I have made one for my book, the Trace of God blog. Please read it and sign up as followers becuase nothing is more absurd than a blog with no followers.

On that blog I will have all stuff about my book, including criticisms and issues pertaining to the book. It wont be just a bunch of blurbs saying how great it is. I'll do the same kind of interesting (hopefully) stuff that I do here. Nor am I saying that I wont do book related stuff here.

If you have followed Metacrock's blog for a time, please help me get the other blog off the ground.


Friday, June 27, 2014

The Last Statesman Dies: Senator Howard Baker

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 Howard Henry Baker, Jr.
(November 15, 1925 – June 26, 2014)

Wait, what is this? Metacrock Lamenting the passing of a Republican? He was more than just a republican he was the last of the great statesmen. I was jarred by the words of the News anchor Brain Williams who said "we used to call them statesmen." I assume that we used to call them that because we don't any more and we don't anymore because there are no more statesmen!

The concept of the statesman was that of a politician who transcended the narrow confines of the party line and who voted as he saw best for the country. That was Backer. He is most famous as the vice-chariman of the Watergate committee who asked the most relivant question that became the focal point of the whole Watergate affair: what did the President know and when did he know it? In asking that in that context he transcended party and became a man of the people. He also showed that same kind of statesmanship in  all of his dealings in the Senate.

He was the son-in-law of the great Everett Dirksen, the "lion" of the senate. "he married former U.S. Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum, daughter of the late Kansas Governor Alfred M. Landon, who was the Republican nominee for President in 1936." [1]

Howard Henry Baker, Jr. (November 15, 1925 – June 26, 2014) was a Senate Majority Leader, Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee, White House Chief of Staff, and a United States Ambassador to Japan. He worked as a lobbyist and adviser at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz.[1]
Known in Washington, D.C. as the "Great Conciliator", Baker was often regarded as one of the most successful senators in terms of brokering compromises, enacting legislation, and maintaining civility. A story is sometimes told of a reporter telling a senior Democratic senator that privately, a plurality of his Democratic colleagues would vote for Baker for President of the United States.[2]

Williams (NBC News) said that he was so moderate as a Republican if he were running today he would be a Democrat. We have slid so far to the right that if a Republican is not a right-wing tea party lunatic he's considered a liberal.

see Youtube vido "784 days that changed America part 3"

[1] "Howard Baker,"Wikepeidia

[2] Ibid

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

James Hannam Likes The Trace of God


 James Hannam

 This is a review of my book, by James Hannam, Ph.D. in history form Cambridge, he's author of Gensis of Science, a ground breaking book that argues that religion never persecuted science in a systematic or sustained way. I think Hannam is on his way up to being a major academic force and I'm honored that he would review my book, much less favorably.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

(from his blog  Quodlibeta

The Trace of God by Joe Hinman

by James Hannam 

“Are mystical experiences real?” asks Joe Hinman in his new book, The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief. It should not be too much of a spoiler to reveal that he concludes that they are. Joe has distilled the research on mysticism since William James to determine the commonalities of these experiences and to ask how much they can tell us about aspects of reality not readily accessible to everyday experience.

There are plenty of problems with studying mystical or “peak” experiences. For a start, they are highly subjective and extremely difficult to describe. Francis Spufford gives it a go in his excellent book Unapologetic, but reading about someone else’s experience is always second best. I am a decidedly non-mystical person and so I find the subject alien, if quite fascinating. Joe introduces us to Ralph Hood Jr’s “M scale” which attempts to provide a measure of mystical experience so that they can be compared and validated. In fact, it turns out that there has been a great deal more work in this area than your might imagine. This has revealed uniformities that mean we can certainly group these experiences into a single category.

But are they real? The standard rationalist response is to dismiss mysticism was something that goes on inside our heads, often aided by illicit chemicals. It has no external cause and so it is of interest to neurologists and hippies only. It certainly can’t tell us anything about God. As Joe explains, the problem with this dismissal is that all our experiences are ultimately subjective. We never enjoy unmediated access to reality, but only the most radical solipsist would claim this means that reality doesn’t exist. We know when we are awake and quite often know when we are dreaming. Mysticism isn’t like that – it feels more real than everyday life.

Still, the strength of science, says the rationalist, is that it overcomes subjectivism by insisting on repeatability. Joe marshals Thomas Kuhn and other sociologists of science to argue that scientists are just as prone to herd mentality as the rest of us. I’m not sure this goes far enough to mean a mystical experience can claim parity of subjectivity with a laboratory experiment. But Joe doesn’t want to take things that far. He just argues that the mere fact that mystical life is subjective does not rule it out of court as a valid experience from which we can extrapolate knowledge. His basic argument is that we are justified in accepting religious truths on the ground of our own experiences (what is called the “religious a priori”). Thus, mysticism can provide us for a rational warrant for religious belief.

The bulk of The Trace of God is taken up by detailed rebuttals of sceptical arguments against mysticism: that it is just emotions and feelings, caused by drugs or brain chemistry. Joe blunts these arguments, but he would be the first to admit that he has not proved that mystic experiences are not purely internal. However, by showing that rationalists cannot invalidate mysticism, he leaves the road open to his own argument: these experiences are evidence of God in the way that a footprint is evidence of a wild animal. Mysticism provides a trace that gives us a rational warrant to postulate the existence of the being that gave rise to the spoor. We’re not dealing in proof here. In that respect, Joe’s project is similar to Alvin Plantinga’s work on warrant. But whereas Plantinga floats his justifications on rarefied philosophical air, Joe builds on the solid ground of widely experienced phenomena. No one, as far as I am aware, believes in God because of philosophy. Plenty of people base their religious faith on mystical experience.

This leaves us with two difficult questions: is belief in God warranted by someone else’s mystical experience? And where does religious doctrine fit into experiences that can be wildly inconsistent? Joe doesn’t really deal with the first of these. He concludes that the evidence of mysticism provides him with warrant for knowledge about God that he has anyway. It doesn’t seem to provide much evidence for the non-believer unless that non-believer is willing to invest in a religious interpretation of these experiences. As far as apologetics goes, this is a “come on in, the water’s lovely” argument. 

And what about doctrine? Joe, like me, is an orthodox Christian of liberal persuasion. One senses that, for him, the universal aspects of mysticism are an advantage not a problem. A Christianity that damned the rest of humanity (or worse a Christian sect that damned most Christians into the bargain) is not one that Joe or I would be comfortable with. If mystical experiences provide warrant for believing in God, they also provide evidence of God’s interest in all of humanity. Joe distinguishes between knowing God “face to face” and the knowledge of doctrine. He finds evidence for the distinction in the writings of Paul: the man who had the most famous mystical experience in history. 

Overall, as a first book that breaks new ground in the philosophy of religion, this book represents a considerable achievement. Joe’s publishers, Grand Viaduct, also deserve credit for helping him overcome the disadvantage of dyslexia to communicate his ideas in a format such that they might achieve the recognition they deserve.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It Can't be That Hard to Understand Rational Warrant (part 2)

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 This is relevant to my book The Trace of God by Joseph Hinman: in chapter one I introduce the standard to which I argue, rational warrant for belief rather than proof. See my book available on Amazon:

Order The Trace of God (by Joseph Hinman--My book) on Aamazon

Kane Augustus's arguments on Rational Warrant, that I introduced in the last post on Monday. [1] He makes an argument to prove that warrant is a cheap trick (it's an official part of the logic of an argument--thus he shows us he does not know logic or argumentation). His first argument is:

Now, as my friend stated, and I agreed, such reasoning is fine in a debate setting because it would be a little improper to go into a debate not knowing your position on the resolution.  However, for a philosophical proof and a didactic aide, such reasoning only gives a person logical permission to assume a plausible conclusion; that is, "rational warrant."  And rational warrant, is not proof.  Rational warrant cannot firm up the link between correlation and causality, therefore it is not conclusive proof.  Rational warrant is only a fancy way of giving yourself permission to believe a given plausibility clause when the hard work of reasoning through a syllogism is over.

Yes, that's just how I described it. It's giving permission to believe something. Why? becuase it's the step in logic that justifies the thing believed,it's the evidence or the logical proof that shows that there is a good reason to think so (whatever is believed). So I am merely stopping short of trying to prove and being continent with having a reason to think God exists. Then he tries to prove it (that warrant is a cheap rhetorical trick) by an argument:

Suppose I was to say to you, "there is a 900 lbs. hungry tiger in the next room," and you realised there was no door between you and the hungry tiger.  You would suddenly have a swell of emotions that correlate to your inward ideas of a hungry tiger, what that tiger is capable of doing to a person, and your own need for safety.  You would, in fact, have what Kant described as a noumenal experience.

I suppose he means no closed door, in other words an open door. If there was no door at all then no way for the tiger to get me so I would not feel as unsafe. I also doubt it would be a noumenal experience. I don't think sheer terror is noumenal. Nevertheless that's not worth picking at.He argues that we would experience the tiger as if it were real with no proof at all that it was, other than the word of the one who tells us about it. "so you have effectively believed my proposition that "there is a 900 lbs. hungry tiger in the next room" because it was reasonable for you to believe me (at least for the purpose of this illustration!).  In effect, you had "rational warrant" to believe my claim."

This is actually not necessarily true. The claim that there is a tiger in the next room could be warranted, if the person telling us this is trusted and we know from past experience that we can trust the person's claims, and perhaps he/she seems alarmed and frightened and tells us about the tiger in a state of panic and terror then we might have a good reason to think the claim is valid if we have such a reason then it is warranted. Suppose the person seems drunk, is laughing and not alarmed at all. Suppose the open door reveals enough of the room so hat we can see it's empty. Then we have no warrant to believe it, but we do have a warrant to disbelieve it.

At this point Augustus posits the idea that we learn in a couple of days it was just a joke. "...but you would also recognise the falsity of your "rationally warranted" beliefs concerning the 900 lbs. tiger." If indeed it could be said to be warranted. I've just pointed out that not just any old claim is warranted. There has to actually be a warrant that warrant must be established by argument and data or logical demonstration something to establish a reason. Just assenting "a tiger could hurts me" is not a reaosn. It' is a telling commentary on the atheist fear of experiences. They fear emotions as deceitful things that carry us away from the truth and we can't control them. He's just asserting unwarranted that any sort of emotional connection to a proposition is a warrant.

And this is where the notion of "rational warrant" really breaks down: simply reasoning to a plausible conclusion is not proof, and that's all "rational warrant" is: reasoning to a plausible conclusion.  It is a stylised flash of rhetoric that gives a veneer of reason to a belief-claim. Because "rational warrant" is a catch-phrase or byword indicating the right of every person to believe whatever they'd like based on their subjective experience of a thing, or a proposition, it reduces even further to relativism.  That is, the notion that what I believe is just as true and valid as what you believe, even if we disagree.  Objective reality (A is A) is thrown out the window, so to speak, in favour of a solipsistic encounter with the world.  Which is fine if you're a solipsist, but for those of us who don't simply assimilate external realities into our self-projections on the world, the relativism of "rational warrant" simply doesn't supply a useful tool to interacting with the world.

No this is where his understanding of what a warrant is breaks down. He contradicts himself in this paragraph. First of all he seems to think that because warrant is not proof that it's "just a cheap trick" but he's also admitted above that "Rational warrant is only a fancy way of giving yourself permission to believe a given plausibility clause when the hard work of reasoning through a syllogism is over." That means it's a valid part of the reasoning process and so it can't be a cheap trick. It's not proof. I have always said it's not proof. That doesn't mean it's therefore BS or nothing or a cheap trick. It's a valid and necessary stop on the way to proof. I am merely advocating that we don't go all the way because we can't. God is beyond proof since we demand the sort of proof that reduces the thing proved to the status of a thing controlled by our subject/object dichotomy. God transcends our understanding. That does not mean there is no good valid reason to believe. One must have this to have a warrant. So the drunk guy telling us there's a tiger does not give a warrant for belief there is a tiger. Your father who is not senile and is greatly trusted shouting hysterically that there is a tiger becuase he saw it might give a warrant for believing it.

He says: "It is a stylized flash of rhetoric that gives a veneer of reason to a belief-claim. Because "rational warrant" is a catch-phrase or byword indicating the right of every person to believe whatever they'd like based on their subjective experience of a thing, or a proposition, it reduces even further to relativism." Where does he get all that malarkey? He's just dogmatically made up several points to define warrant (contardicting his eraliwer stament that implies that it's a part of reason) which Toulmin never authorizes:

*Stylized Flash of rhetoric


*right to believe 'whetever they would like'

*based upon subjective experience

These last two are especially irksome because nothing could be further from the truth. Toulmin defines warrant as the step between the premise and the conclusion that makes the conclusion possible. That's hardly an invitation to believe whatever you want. Toulmin never says such a thing. Actually it's "a general rule indicating the relevance of a claim: argumentation, claim, backing, data, syllogism.[2] Three examples by different people are quoted by


(1) [T]he Toulmin warrant usually consists of a specific span of text which relates directly to the argument being made. To use a well-worn example, the datum 'Harry was born in Bermuda' supports the claim 'Harry is a British subject' via the warrant 'Persons born in Bermuda are British subjects.'"
(Philippe Besnard et al., Computational Models of Argument. IOS Press, 2008)
 (2) "The connection between the data and the conclusion is created by something called a 'warrant.' One of the important points made by Toulmin is that the warrant is a kind of inference rule, and in particular not a statement of facts."
(Jaap C. Hage, Reasoning With Rules: An Essay on Legal Reasoning. Springer, 1997)
(3) "Toulmin expresses the difference between data and warrant as follows:
[ . . .] data are appealed to explicitly, warrants implicitly. (1988, p. 100)
According to Toulim (1988), there is a close relationship between the data and warrants used in any particular field of argumentation:
The data we cite if a claim is challenged depend on the warrants we are prepared to operate within that field, and the warrants to which we commit ourselves are implicit in the particular steps from data to claims we are prepared to take and to admit. (p. 100)
So, the warrant is implicitly present in the step from data to claim and, conversely, the nature of the data depends on the nature of the warrant."
(F. H. van Eemeren et al. Fundamentals of Argumentation Theory. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996)[3]

As we can see the middle example reflects what I've already said about the warrant linking premise and conclusion. In none of these examples is something wild and frivolous being exemplified. It's not a cheap trick justifying whatever one wants to think. the last one alludes to that definition.  Kane says this because atheists love to bad mouth belief in God. He has keep the ridicule going.

None of the things that Augustus puts into his definition are present in Toulmin's definition of warrant.It's not subjective, it's a justification for anything you want or any of that. Most laughable of all is his claim that warrant reduces to relativism. Where does he get this stuff? he says: "That is, the notion that what I believe is just as true and valid as what you believe, even if we disagree.  Objective reality (A is A) is thrown out the window, so to speak, in favor of a solipsistic encounter with the world." He's on a slippery slope argument. Start with your opponent asserting something with which you disagree and end up with your opponent creating nuclear war. This is all manufactured out of his ignorance because he doesn't know what arguemnt is about. I've never said anything bout warrant, nor does Toulmin to imply that it has anything to do with my view being as valid as the views of another. He's making an unwarranted connection between what people say about being open minded and warrant, for some bizar reason because the two have nothing to with each other. We might take pause to consider his suspicion about the nature of fair mindedness.

After his paranoia about warrant destroying objective reason and ending in solipsism, why subjective knowledge leads to solipsism we have to discuss sometime because that's a ludicrous slippery slope fallacy. What is a "solipsistic encounter with the world?" Solipsism is not encountering the world it's explaining it away. Be that as it may, he says: "Which is fine if you're a solipsist, but for those of us who don't simply assimilate external realities into our self-projections on the world, the relativism of 'rational warrant' simply doesn't supply a useful tool to interacting with the world." Look where his tirade has taken him? He ends up equating a valid part of the logical process with solipsism. why? Because atheists are deathly afraid of having to think, to experience, and to take chances of being wrong. They have to have everything proved and totally nailed down so they don't make a mistake. Augustus whole article is a study in contradiction and hysterical ignorance.

Take the example given above: the datum 'Harry was born in Bermuda' supports the claim 'Harry is a British subject' via the warrant 'Persons born in Bermuda are British subjects." Where's the solipsism? Where's the wild frenzy to believe whatever one wishes to believe? A very simple schemata:


The Toulmin Model

  1. Claim: the position or claim being argued for; the conclusion of the argument.
  2. Grounds: reasons or supporting evidence that bolster the claim.
  3. Warrant: the principle, provision or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim. 
  4. Backing: support, justification, reasons to back up the warrant.
  5. Rebuttal/Reservation: exceptions to the claim; description and rebuttal of counter-examples and counter-arguments.
  6. Qualification: specification of limits to claim, warrant and backing.  The degree of conditionality asserted. [4]

 Augustus is going to allow his reach to exceed his grasp because he has to take warrant away form Christians so that atheists can go on saying "there is no proof for God." I think they know instinctively that belief is warranted.To accomplish this he argues that only true things can be warranted. "The idea of 'rational warrant', as I recently learned, can only apply to those beliefs which are actually true.  In effect, this means that a vast majority of beliefs held through history have not been rationally warranted." There's another contradiction, doesn't this contradict the idea that it justifies whatever you want? If it's a cheap rhetorical  trick how can it be limited to true things? Moreover, since it is a legitimate part of the process of proving the truth it can hardly be limited to the truth. That's like saying only true things can be proved true. Yes, that's a tautology. Warrant is a means of helping estabish what is true. Thus it can't be checked by the claim we can only warrant things that are true. That's like saying "that's only true if it is true." Yes. right. How does that help us?

So for a believing Christian, say, they would consider their beliefs "rationally warranted" because they are able to determine correlations between what they experience (mysticism),  the contingencies in nature, and what they already assume about supernatural realities (e.g., that God exists).  Oddly though, a believing Christian would disagree with the beliefs derived of a Muslim experience, and visa versa, even though they may agree on a good number of things, too.  And both the Christians and the Muslims would be "rationally warranted" for both their agreements and disagreements surrounding their particular metaphysic...

 Here he is doing the circular reason bit: there is no God, therefore Christians are stupid, therefore they are wrong, therefore their arguemnts are not good, therefore belief is not warranted, therefore there's no God. It makes no difference what views might or might not be warranted. That's old atheist assumption that arguments are empircal experiements. They are not. The process of logical deliberation is not determined by the success rate of those who attempt to use it. He's reasoning backwards from "I don't believe in God" to "those who believe in God use this method, therefore the method is wrong because I don't like where it leads them." The idea of corrolateing experinces with logic is the way we navigate in the world anyway.

One final comment, which came in the comment section of Monday's post, I was ask if warrant is the same as properly basic ideas. I don't so. I think properly basic ideas must have warrants. The two are similar in that they stop short of proof, but they are not exactly the same: warrant is necessary for properly basic ideas but it is not in itself proper basicality.  I know that probably doesn't sratch met where he itched but I may bet around to a further discussion on that latter.


[1] Kane Augustus, "Rational Warrant: a critique p1," Saints and Cynics, nov, 2010 blog 

accessed 6/17/14

[2], "Warrant," About Education, On line resource. accessed 6/17/14

[3]Ibid, Nordquist quoting Erlbaum (1996),Springer, (1997)  Besnard (2008).

[4] "The Toulmin Model of Argumentation,"Dandiago State University. 

accessed 6/17/14

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Monday, June 16, 2014

It Can't be That Hard to Understand Rational Warrant (part 1)


 photo Me_zps2a484328.jpg
Kane Augustus

The standard to which I argue my God arguments is to prove that belief in God is warranted, not to prove that God actually exists. That should be pretty self evident, there's a good reaosn to believe in God, or to bleieve there "might be" a God, but I have to actually prove it. Atheists have demonstrated that they are totally baffled by this concept and the phrase "ratinoal warrant." As though it's some big sneaky trick. In fact I will quote an atheist in a bit who calls it that. I usually leave criticism of atheist for my blog "Atheist Watch" and do positive pro God and Spiritual life stuff here. This is not really so much at attack on atheists as it is at attack on fuzzy understanding of logic.

a guy calling himself

An argument for belief in God attempts to establish credible evidence for a divine overseer orchestrating, or being aback of, the universe.  The direction of all argumentation concerning God's existence is to start with what we do know and extrapolate outward to the best possible conclusion concerning things we don't know. 

For example, the Cosmological Argument proposes that from matter we can extrapolate that there must have been a designer because all of what is, is contingent (i.e., dependent on other material things).  That everything material is contingent necessitates that there must have been one non-contingent, or wholly independent beginning to everything else.  This wholly independent thing is often referred to as "God."...
 Which brings us to the point of this article: I do not consider rational warrant to be anything more than begging the question (circular reasoning), or a cheap rhetorical trick that ends in relativism.

 In calling it a cheap trick he's really saying "I don't have the slightest idea what rational warrant is." He's juxtopposing it to cosmological argument which he takes to be a valid arguemnt, although I'm sure he would argue that it fails to prove that God exists. The problem is that rational warrant is nothing more than a step in logic that all arguments must include, one that merely says "there's good reason to believe that X is the case." So the cosmological argument could be put over as arguing to the warrant rather than as a proof. That means only that one stops short of trying to prove that God's existence is the case and just leaves it at the point where there's a good reason to think so. Now Kane may have actually understood this at some level and tired to head it off at the pass with the opening quotation: "The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn't. It's not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can't have your own facts." ~Ricky Gervais.

If that's the case that he does understand warrant then then why is he talking about it in terms totally foreign to what warrant is? As for the Gervias quote it has no real application, even though it implies an understanding that warrant is a logical step that doesn't follow through to proof. That quote is silly because belief in God is based upon subjective grounds, in fact there are no objective grounds in human thinking ability to base it upon. We are not capable of being truly objective. Yes either God exists or he does not that's totally different form an understanding of God's existence among creatures who are not capable of thinking objectively in an absolute sense. We can think less subjectively at some times than others that's the point of appealing to logic.

Kane puts forth an argument that is supposed to demonstrate the cheap trick nature of warrant. In so doing he is telling us he knows nothing about it because rational warrant the result of the argumentation theories of one the most highly respected logicians of the 20th century, Stephen Toulmin.

Stephen Edelston Toulmin,  (born March 25, 1922, London, Eng.—died Dec. 4, 2009, Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.), English philosopher and educator noted for his study of the history of ideas. In his work on ethics, Toulmin was concerned with describing prescriptive language—that is, imperative sentences and value judgments used for ethical statements—while holding that ethics, or the logical study of moral language, cannot be reduced to subjective or objective facts but is a unique expression of duty or right.
I will discuss Toulmin's theory now in order to show what rational warrant really is then I will deal with Kane's specific arguments nest time in part 2.

Skeptics usually argue for a level of absolute proof. Some skeptics may claim that they don't demand absolute proof, but the level of most God arguments and most discussions about those arguments is undertaken with an assumption that the argument has to actually prove its objective, that God exists. At least that's taken to be the objective. I understood things that way myself, yet my friends and I in our collegiate and undergraduate settings, our coffee shops and debate squad discussions always hinted at a notion that there are levels of proof. I used to describe this in terms of "not mathematical level of proof but something more on a practical level." After doctoral work, in which I had not really thought about the issue for a long time, I discovered the internet war between atheists and theists and jumped in with both fists flying. I didn't really understand how or why but for some reason it occurred to me (almost instantly) that that second order of proof was the rational warrant belief. There was an article that I can't even find now, I don't remembered who wrote it, but it talked about propositions as things in which to place confidence rather than "prove" and the ability to place confidence in  a partially proved hypothesis. The basis in justification for doing this is the "rational warrant." This soon became my standard position. I do not argue to prove the existence of God but to demonstrate the rationally warranted nature of belief.
            The levels of the term proof that I've discussed, in my internet sojourn, are "absolute" and 'practical." Rational warrant is any logical argument that warrants a belief, or a sense of placing confidence in a proposition. "rational" means there are logical reasons to support it, being a "warrant" means it's a reason to believe something. Warrant is permission. so the aspect of an argument that logically demonstrates a reason to believe something is a warrant. Rationally warranted belief is confidence placed in a proposition (the belief) that is well placed as demonstrated by the warrant; the warrant is a sort of "permission" to believe or to place confidence. The permission is grounded in inference supplied by data, backing, proof, or demonstration. The practical level of proof  as I said is based upon the daily needs of life while the absolute sense of proof is just that, that which can be demonstrated to be 100% proved. There really are almost no things in this life that can be proved that way. One of the big games the atheist play is to confuse the issue of belief by constantly demanding 100% absolute proof then denying that is their standard when pressed with the impossibly of the task. Practical level of belief is confidence placed in a proposition on the basis of an ad hoc or incomplete basis. We might also call it the "Thomas Reid level." That is, life is not going to stop and give us a chance to try out every single theory we can think of before we get back to make a decision about God belief. Life is moving on and we are going to die before we find out why we are here if we are waiting around for absolute proof. So the practical level is one that is rationally warrant, in which we can place confidence in a proposition because the proposition is justified logically even though we do not have absolute proof.
            Rational warrant is nothing more than what logicians call 'warrant.' it's an established aspect of a logical argument. Attaching the Word rational to it only means that it's arrived at through reason. There's nothing magic about the term, it’s not some ontological principle that has to be true no matter what, it's just a good old fashioned warrant for an argument. The only real difference in this and what people usually construe as logical argument is that the Aristotelian version of logic seems to demand necessity. That which is logically true is necessitated by logic as the mandatory conclusion. Rationally warranted conclusions, however, are more or less permissive rather than mandatory, in that they do not compel through absolute demonstration but provide permission for belief through the offering of a valid reason to believe. That is to say they are justified in so far as logic goes, but they are not necessarily the only logical conclusion. Atheists are always asking me "does this mean atheism could be rationally warranted too?" Theoretically it does, sure! It's still their burden of proof to show that it is. Atheists are always treating rational warrant as though it’s some sort of freak idea I made up myself that no logician would ever support. In fact all kinds of major logicians support it and it' easy to see that it's just a standard concept. If one just does a modicum of research one will see that logicians talk about warrant all the time.
            Stephen Toulimin [1](March 25, 1922-December 4, 2009) was a major logician of the 20th century who can be singled out as a major figure in the development of a permissive sort of warrant principle. He was one of the major thinkers of the twentieth century, important developing logic, ethics, moral reasoning. He was most famous for the Toulmin diagram which was a way of diagramming an argument to understand its logic, similar to a vin diagram only more complex. [2] William Keith and David Beard tell us:

"The article discusses the argument of Stephen Edelston Toulmin concerning the misunderstandings of warrant as emphasized in composition and communication literature. According to the author, Toulmin believes that a good argument can be followed by providing good justification to a claim that can support to criticism and earn a positive verdict. In The Uses of Argument (1958), Toulmin proposed a layout on warrant for analyzing arguments. Toulmin stresses that warrant is the statement that authorizes the movement from the data to the claim. The author notes that Toulmin's argument has created confusion to scholars with their understanding. The author suggests to study the first book of Toulmin "Reasons in Ethics" to fully understand the argument using Toulmin's model."[3]

Toulmin stresses that warrant is the statement that authorizes the movement from the data to the claim. That's just what I said about it. I said that before I found this article. The argument has a permissive nature but this does not mean that the ordinary burdens of logical inference are removed.

A theory of reasoning must define a principle that allows movement; in formal logic this principle is represented by the material conditional.1 Toulmin claimed, in The Uses of Argument (1958), that not all argument was reducible to logic. He offered an alternative to the material or formal conditional; he envisaged a different inference principle, which he called a warrant. He insisted that warrants, rather than being abstractions like conditionals, were bounded by institutional and disciplinary constraints, contextual boundaries he called fields. As Foss, Foss, and Trapp summarize, "the warrant assesses whether or not the trip from grounds to claim is a legitimate one" (11)--within those institutional and disciplinary constraints. In a sense, Toulmin is subtly moving ninety degrees from the classical tradition of logic. In classical logic, the term Aristotle uses to describe the character of logical inference in the syllogism, anagkhaios, is usually translated as necessary, but it might also be rendered as constrained or compulsory; in a valid syllogism the reasoner "needs to" draw the conclusion. In contrast, in a Toulmin argument, she is allowed to draw the conclusion. A warrant, normally, is permission to do something, and that permission is conditional.2 The common use of the term "warrant" in law is the prototype: a warrant to search a home is permission to search it. In many secondary texts on Toulmin's model, the warrant is called an "inference license." Despite the innovation of Toulmin's response to classical logic and the popularity of his model for argumentation theory, a problem still remains: Scholars are not in agreement on what a warrant is or how to identify it, either Philosophy and Rhetoric,. [4]

In Toulmin's concept of argument the claim is the statement you are asking to be accepted. As I put it above the "hypothesis" in which one is asked to place confidence.


Grounds (according to Toulmin)

The grounds (or data) is the basis of real persuasion and is made up of data and hard facts, plus the reasoning behind the claim. It is the 'truth' on which the claim is based. Grounds may also include proof of expertise and the basic premises on which the rest of the argument is built.

The actual truth of the data may be less that 100%, as all data are based on perception and hence there is some element of assumption about it.
It is critical to the argument that the grounds are not challenged because, if they are, they may become a claim, which you will need to prove with even deeper information and further argument.
For example:

Over 70% of all people over 65 years have a hearing difficulty.
Information is usually a very powerful element of persuasion, although it does affect people differently. Those who are dogmatic, logical or rational will more likely to be persuaded by factual data. Those who argue emotionally and who are highly invested in their own position will challenge it or otherwise try to ignore it. It is often a useful test to give something factual to the other person that disproves their argument, and watch how they handle it. Some will accept it without question. Some will dismiss it out of hand. Others will dig deeper, requiring more explanation. This is where the warrant comes into its own.[5]

Warrant links the data and other grounds to the claim (Ibid). The Warrant legitimizes the Claim by showing the relevance. The Warrant can be simple or complex, it can be merely implied or explicitly stated. The warrant is further supported by "backing" additional information which adds support to the warrant. Two more terms need expliantion:


The qualifier (or modal qualifier) indicates the strength of the leap from the data to the warrant and may limit how universally the claim applies. They include words such as 'most', 'usually', 'always' or 'sometimes'. Arguments may thus range from strong assertions to generally quite floppy or largely and often rather uncertain kinds of statement.
For example:
Hearing aids help most people.
Another variant is the reservation, which may give the possibility of the claim being incorrect.
Unless there is evidence to the contrary, hearing aids do no harm to ears.
Qualifiers and reservations are much used by advertisers who are constrained not to lie. Thus they slip 'usually', 'virtually', 'unless' and so on into their claims.


Despite the careful construction of the argument, there may still be counter-arguments that can be used. These may be rebutted either through a continued dialogue, or by pre-empting the counter-argument by giving the rebuttal during the initial presentation of the argument.
For example:
There is a support desk that deals with technical problems.
Any rebuttal is an argument in itself, and thus may include a claim, warrant, backing and so on. It also, of course can have a rebuttal. Thus if you are presenting an argument, you can seek to understand both possible rebuttals and also rebuttals to the rebuttals.(Ibid)
 (see alsoToulmin, S. (1969). The Uses of Argument, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press).[6]

The aspects will be present in most arguments and will be built into a good argument, or they might be implicit, but they will be part a good argument.  Thus we can see for those who accuse my view point of being made up that it is not made by me, but it is made up at all it was made up by one of the major logicians of the twentieth century. The crucial distinction between the rational warrant and an ordinarily Aristotelian argument is that the conclusion is not so mandatory as permissive. This means one need to demonstrate beyond all doubt that God exits but in demonstrating the rational warrant for belief one has shown that good logical reasons allow for belief while they don't prove beyond a doubt that God must exist. This is very important in light of the realization that God is not given in scientific data, and being beyond human understanding cannot be demonstrated to be real, and in a Paul Tillich since is beyond existence anyway. Therefore the demonstration of a rational warrant should be valid enough to logically justify belief. That means there is no basis upon which to argue that religion is irrational or stupid. Since it is rational and not irrational or stupid this should be understood as a practical proof. That is to say, in a practical sense something as proof has been supplied, a prima facie case has been made. It is now the skeptic’s burden to show that the warrant is not rational.
            When I have tested this idea on the internet I find that skeptics most often attack it by making the unwarranted assumption that it could be used to warrant anything. Or at the very least they assume that the warrant will eventually be disproved. The idea of rational warrant as a decision making paradigm does not mean the unsupported warranting of just any old idea. The “rational” part means it’s reasoned, it’s logical, it can be supported at least to significant extent with reason; a prima facie case can be made. The “warrant” aspect means logical permission. We don’t have to wait for absolute proof (in the case of God we will be waiting forever because God is never going to become fodder for reductionism and empirical methods. That is not more the case that this can warrant anything that it would mean that logical proves anything. To argue that it might someday be disproved is true of all knowledge.


[1] Stephen E. Toulmin, Introduction to Reasoning. New York: Macmillon Publishing  company.1984
[2] William Grimes, New York Times, (December 11, 2009)   Online version: URL
[3] William Keith and David Beard, “Toulmin’s Rhetorical Logic: What’s the Warrant for Warrants,” Encyclopedia Britannica, originally published: Philosophy and Rhetoric, Vol. 41, No. 1, 2008. Copyright © 2008 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 22 Toulmin’s Rhetorical Logic: What’s the Warrant for Warrants? William Keith and David Beard. On line Britanica URL:
[4] Ibid.
[5] Chaning, “Toulmin’s Argument Model.” Website URL:
[6] Ibid.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Film Fest Friday: Revised Review of Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries."

Borg with three students

I first wrote this reveiw in 2010. This summer of 2014 I'm re-viewing all my favorite films for the summer. So I saw this one last night (today is friday the 13).

Derek Malcolm, writing for the Guardian UK (Thursday 10 June 1999 19.36 BST )
"The film I constantly go back to, however, is Wild Strawberries (1957), which, while scarcely a bag of laughs, has a compassionate view of life that best illustrates the more optimistic side of Bergman's puzzled humanity." I agree with Malcolm, I also go back to "Wild strawberries," (Smultronstalliet) again and again. In fact at one time I saw it as tying my favorite film of all times bar none, to two films equally loved, both by Bergman, "The Seventh Seal," and this one. Now I place it at number four (4) in my top 10, I still love it. It is not a bag of laughs but it does have a side of humor and though its about an old man at the end of his life it has a hopeful tone that looks to the future. It's not a heavy theologically oriented film but it even has it's God-conscious side. Bergman, though an atheist, could not let go of the idea of God, it has too many cogent connections to art and thought and life.

Realesed in 1957 This was one of Bergman's earliest successes, just on the heels of his original break out film, "Smiles of a Summer Night." The film centers around an old man,
Victor Sjöström ... Dr. Isak Borg who is at the end of his life, he's a great immanent medical researcher, still admired and loved by the populace he once tended as a country doctor, about to receive an honorary degree form a major university to crown his life time achievements. He is a crotchety old man who hides guilt, anger and aggression behind a vernier of old world charm. He has a old married couple sort of relationship with his manipulative managing house keeper, who wheedles and flatters him as she dotes on his greatness and practically worships him, but treats him like a child to do what's best for him. He has a bad relationship with his son,(Gunar Björnstrand--the squire in "the Seventh Seal") Dr. Evald Borg dividing over a loan he gave his son years ago and has never been paid back, the father doesn't have the grace to forgive the debt, spouting all sorts of pious nonsense about responsibility and morality. the son is middle ages, the father is almost 80 and the debt still divides them. Victor Sjöström who plays the old man was, in his youth, one of the early stars of Swedish silent film. He helped to establish silent film in Sweden, and was said to have been handsomest man in Sweden. At the time this film was made he was very old looking.

The film is really about Bergman's relationship with his parents. That's played out through the relationship of Dr. Borg with is entire family. The themes of the film are the loneliness that besets us when we close ourselves off from hurt by become cold toward others and toward human relationships in general. Not reduce Bergman to simplicity but it's kind of like John Lennon wrote "it's a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder" (--"Hey Jude"). The film open withe the doctor explaining who he is, we see pictures of his family including his son, Evald. His mother is still alive even though he's 78. He's talking about death and loneliness.

The old Doctor decides to drive to the University, to the alarm of his Housekeeper. But his doubter in law (Marriane Borg), played by Ingrid Thulin, just happens to be staying with him. She's left her husband but asks for a ride with him to the university, where she lived with her husband. So this film is a road trip with an old man and his daughter-in-law. An American film would pit Steve Martin and Jeniffer Lopez and they would talk about nothing and wind up destroying buildings having car chases. In this film, however, these two literally do nothing more than talk about what I'm sure appears to be "nothing" to most Americans, but actually invovles the most important things in life. The old man has had a disturbing dream, but the young woman doesn't want to hear it. She frankly tells him she doesn't like him because he hides cruelty behind his mask of old world charm, yet the two remain good matured. The film is full of dreams. Although in that conversation she tells him his son hates him because he is cold and closed off. This knowledge clearly wounds him but he retreats even deeper. The first dream was about the man walking down empty streets of a small European village (shot in old Stockholm very early in the morning so there would no one on the street). A hearse driven by horses dumps a coffin and a hand falls out of the ajar lid. The man goes near, the hand grabs him and pulls him close, the face peers out from the coffin, it's him! The man is dead and in his coffin and pulling himself toward the coffin. This dream sequence is shot in a glaring black and white that could not be done in color. It's a tribute to German silent film, loaded dream symbols and angst.

The two stop to examine a house on a lake where the old man spent many a happy summer as a child. The house is deserted and not owned by the family anymore, but the two wander about for a while looking. Sitting by himself the old man suddenly sees the house as it was and his brothers and sisters, children in old fashioned turn of the century clothes, run out of the house pursuing all manner of summer activities. He watches a scene between his cousin Sara and his brother, who we learn latter married and were still living but old in this current time 0f 1957. Dr. Borg wanders into the house and stands observing scenes of family life but the characters don't see him. We learn from this that that he was afraid to act on his feelings, he loved Sara but let her marry his brother (presumably they were third cousins) because he was stand offish. It's in this dream-like interlude with his childhood that we see the point of the title, his cousin Sara who he wants to marry is picking wild strawberries when his memory conjures up a picture of her beauty in youth. He plays in his mind a scene between her and his brother latter has such a scene with her. He is old and she is young she tells him she will marry the brother. He talks about how it hurts, we see this is the first daunting disappointment in relationship that hurt him and caused himself to close off to human relationships.

At this point they meet three young people who are hitch hiking to the University. The three are a hilarious trio, a theology student, a secular student of some kid who of course has it in for religion in the faddish way that students of the 60s hated everything established, and a girl who the two fight over the whole trip. They have a few little runs at discussing God. The Marxist student is shallow and can only think in Marxist cliches he doesn't see that the Doctor is trying to hint that God is too important and too grand a concept to dismiss outright. One of my favorite scenes in the film. he two students come to blows. They go off to fight in the woods. Their fighting looks like two beached whales trying to push off each other to get unbeached. They get back in the car, one has a black eye. The girl sits in the middle she turns to the theology student and says "so, does God exist?"

That kind of reminds me of my partcipation on message baords. Along their way after they meet the kids they almost have a wreck with a small VW bug. The married couple in the bug are friendly at first and happy to be saved and given a ride, willing to admit the almost wreck was their fault (their car winds up upside down but the Doctor's old car is fine). But the two can't stop fighting. Subtle at first then ridiculous. They wind up being put out of the car when the woman begins slapping the husband and has to be restrained by the kids because she can't stop hitting him.

While the fight was ensuing the old man and his daughter-in-law have had a very important discussion sitting in the car and he went to sleep and has the seminal dream of the film. The discussion revealed that the woman left the doctor's son because he's just like his father, cruel, demanding, cold, unfeeling. The woman is pregnant and wants the child the father categorically does not want children and refuses to continue the marriage if they have them. At a time when abortion was unthinkable in America these guys argue about that option as though they were discussing painting the din, because they are in Sweden. But the woman wants the child, she wants to have a family is going back to make one last hopeless stab and reconciling.

The dream that Dr. Borg has while asleep in the car has him ushered into the family summer house they had previously been to, but this time it was empty, dark and foreboding. The Doctor is ushered into the house by the husband who was put out of the car. In this dream, however, he's a proctor giving the old man a test as though he was again at university. Inside the family home is a long dark corridor that was not there before it leads to a very old fashioned looking lecture room in which the old man is given an examination as one might receive at University at the turn of the century. He has to look in a microscope and identify the specimen. He claims something is wrong with the microscope because all he can see looking in is his own eye. The Proctor says there's nothing wrong with it. Then he is to examine a  young woman and say what's wrong with her. He finds that the woman is dead, but she suddenly bursts into laughter. The Proctor tells him he's been found incompetent. He is then told that he has been charged with being guilty.  Grim looking students in the gallery watch and don't crack a smile despite the old man's attempts at humor. Finally he is lead to another room and when they go through the door they are outside.

  photo Wild-Strawberries-dream_400_zps27fb6bf2.jpg
 Dr. Borg's first dream sequence [1]

He stands on the edge of a glad in which his wife (now long dead) and another man play little kissy games and make love. The wife talks about how she will tell him about her day, the husband (Borg) will pretend that he's not angry and she's done wrong, but that she's to be pitied, she is sick and made a mistake. She hates him totally and utterly for this high and mighty  attitude and his refusal to become angry even though she sleeps with other men. The Proctor observes that with most men who are gazing upon an image of their long dead wives, they have a fading image of a saintly woman, but this guy remembers vividly this this scene of adultery.This is the seminal event that made him so closed off he's even alienated from relationship with himself (thus he can't recognize himself in the microscope).
 photo WildStrawberries_Bergman_zps5eb3539f.jpg
Day Dream sequence between Sara and old Dr. Borg

Despite this seeming nightmare the film ends on a hopeful note as the old man seems to have learned. As he tells Marianne "it's as though my mind is trying to tell me things I can't  face when I'm awake" The end of the film is hopeful and exudes a compassion toward the old man, human frailty in general and the young. The wind up at the University in Lund, he is seen taking the honors, and then back tot he house of his son for the night. The son and his wife are happy and seem in the process of reconciling. The son doesn't' seem to hate his father but is glad to see him. The old man tries to tell he has forgiven the debt the son wont hear of it. The three students wind up as friends cheering him on and as they say good by by singing to him as he watches them from the Balcony and waves goodby. They makes statements about how proud they are to know him. They had been popping up around corners even the ceremony for the award begins. The daughter-in-law tucks him in and there's a feeling of warmth and forgiving between them. "Wild Strawberries" is about a man facing himself, like the emblematic image of his own eye looking back at him in the microscope. He's forced to realize that he's allowed himself to be cut off from people and feelings to languish in guilt and for this reason does not forgive the debts of others. In the end he plunges into dream land where he is again in the summer house of his childhood surrounded by those he loved. In the first nostalgic sequence he could not find his parents, in this one he is reunited with them and though he's an old man  they see him this time and they do not see anything strange that he's old, he fits right in as he should. In the final scene he's a boy again, with his family in a wonderful summer at the old summer house.

  photo 220px-Bergman_Sjostrom_1957_zps7c167da8.jpg
 Bergman with Victor Sjöström

from  IMBd page:


  (Cast overview, first billed only)
Victor Sjöström... Dr. Isak Borg
Bibi Andersson... Sara
Ingrid Thulin... Marianne Borg
Gunnar Björnstrand... Dr. Evald Borg
Jullan Kindahl... Agda
Folke Sundquist... Anders
Björn Bjelfvenstam... Viktor
Naima Wifstrand... Mrs. Borg, Isak's Mother
Gunnel Broström... Mrs. Alman
Gertrud Fridh... Karin Borg, Isak's wife
Sif Ruud... Aunt Olga
Gunnar Sjöberg... Sten Alman / The Examiner
Max von Sydow... Henrik Åkerman
Åke Fridell... Karin's lover
Yngve Nordwall... Uncle Aron
See more »

[1] Darren Franich, Keith Staskiewicz  "20 Crazy Dream Sequences at the Movies," Entertainment on Jul 12, 2010,,20401120_20809515,00.html