5.7 The Rational Stance
Clark asserts, “Because of the possibility of error, those who accept belief in God as basic belief should nonetheless be concerned with evidence for and against belief in God.” Classical foundationalism is wrong to think that we can have absolute certainty in this life. It does not seem to be a valid aim in the search for truth. Reformed epistemologists think we should trust our cognitive capacities to grasp truth. We should assume our beliefs are innocent until proven guilty. However, we do get things wrong. Our cognitive faculties are finite and the whole person is affected by original sin. There must be a way to evaluate if our beliefs are correct or not. Following Thomas Reid, Reformed epistemologists believe that you should “trust the beliefs produced by your cognitive faculties in the appropriate circumstances, unless you have good reason to reject them.”
It seems true that our cognitive faculties “seem less reliable in matters of fundamental human concern such as the nature of morality, the nature of persons, social and political thought, and belief in God.” These things are closer to us and our views play a greater role in our interpretations. Believing that the goal of rationality is truth, Reformed epistemologists must do two things to make the attainment of truth more probable. First, they should seek “supporting evidence for immediately produced beliefs of fundamental human concern.” This will give them more confidence about the trustworthiness of their beliefs. This does not mean that basic beliefs are irrational without supporting evidence, but it does seem to improve the epistemic status of beliefs when they are supported with supporting evidence. This seems to make Reformed epistemology similar to the “Augustinian view of faith and reason: fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding).” Second, they should be willing to consider opposing beliefs or “contrary evidence to root out false beliefs.” Since it is possible to be wrong about their beliefs, they should be open to correction by contrary evidence. Clark thinks Reformed epistemologists should take the following position: “Trust the deliverances of reason, seek supporting evidence, and be open to contrary evidence.”
Reformed epistemologists think that belief in God does not require arguments or supporting evidence to be considered rational. But because of the problem of error, they should seek supporting evidence to add additional support for their beliefs.
5.8 Objections to Reformed Epistemology
Clark states that Reformed epistemology “has been rejected for three primary reasons.” First, some philosophers reject the idea that we have a sensus divinitatus “and so reject the parity argument.” Second, some philosophers think that Reformed epistemology “is too latitudinarian, permitting the rational acceptability of virtually any belief.” Gary Cutter claims that the argument for the sensus divinitatus could be used to defend the belief in the Great Pumpkin. Third, Reformed epistemology has been rejected because it is considered “as a form of fideism.” Fideism is the idea that belief in God “should be held in the absence of or even in opposition to reason.” Clark thinks that Reformed epistemology is not a form of fideism because “it goes to great lengths to show that belief in God is rational.” Forrest states that one difference between fideism and Reformed epistemology is that Reformed epistemology “requires defense against known objections, such as the Argument from Evil; in contrast, fideism “dismiss such objections as either irrelevant or, worse, intellectual temptations.” However, if fideism is defined as the belief in the existence of God without argument or supporting evidence, then it would be considered a “kind of fideism.”
Is religious belief rational? Do religious believers need evidence for their belief in God to count as rational? Classical Foundationalists have argued that religious belief needs evidence to be considered rational. There have been three responses to this argument. First, there is the argument that there is plenty of evidence that supports the rationality of religious belief. Second, there are believers that argue that reason has nothing to do with faith. “I believe because it is absurd.” Third, Reformed epistemologists challenge the criteria of classical foundationalism to be considered rational. It is irresponsible to argue that reason has nothing to do with faith. A proper response would be natural theology or Reformed epistemology or a combination of the two. It might be useful to look at these three responses in more detail.