Monday, May 22, 2017

Religious Belief and Reason Part 6

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.”[1] 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.”[2]
            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.”[3] 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.”[4] 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).”[5] Second, they should be willing to consider opposing beliefs or “contrary evidence to root out false beliefs.”[6] 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.”[7]
            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.”[8] First, some philosophers reject the idea that we have a sensus divinitatus “and so reject the parity argument.”[9] Second, some philosophers think that Reformed epistemology “is too latitudinarian, permitting the rational acceptability of virtually any belief.”[10] 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.”[11] Fideism is the idea that belief in God “should be held in the absence of or even in opposition to reason.”[12] 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.”[13] 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;[14] in contrast, fideism “dismiss such objections as either irrelevant or, worse, intellectual temptations.”[15] 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.”[16]
6 Conclusion
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.

[1] Ibid., 14.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 14.
[4] Ibid.

[5] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 15.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 11.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Religious Belief and Reason Part 5

5.6 Religious Experience
            Although Plantinga argues that to believe in God does not require propositional evidence or arguments to be considered rational, this does not mean that he thinks “that belief in God is not groundless.”[1] This is an important point because when Plantinga states that religious belief does not require evidence he is speaking of propositional evidence. This does not discount non-propositional evidence. Plantinga thinks that belief in God is grounded in “characteristic religious experiences such as beholding the divine majesty on the top of a mountain or the divine creativity when noticing the articulate beauty of the flower.”[2] C. Stephen Evans content that traditional theistic arguments-- “cosmic wonder,” “purposive order,” “moral obligation,” “human dignity,” and “joy”--can serve as signs that ground religious belief.[3] Other religious experiences mentioned by Plantinga “involve a sense of guilt (and forgiveness), despair, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, or direct contact with the divine (mysticism).”[4] Garcia states that Thomas Aquinas thought that “all human knowledge comes through experience, and that we do not experience God directly but only by way of his effects.”[5]Some believers describe personal religious experiences with “sensory metaphors: they claim to see, hear or be touched by God.”[6] Garcia thinks of Plantinga’s grounds “as a type of evidence and to hold that those who come to believe in God on the basis of such experiences are not in fact holding that belief as a basic belief but as a derived belief.”[7] In addition, she thinks it is difficult “to specify which triggering conditions will lead to belief in God’s existence.”[8]
            People who believe based on religious experience do not contend that their belief in God is “based on an argument (any more than belief in other persons is based on an argument).”[9] They think they have encountered God directly either through seeing or hearing and find themselves believing in God because of this experience. “Religious experience is typically taken as self-authenticating.”[10] Reformed epistemologists like Wolterstorff have been influenced by the thought of Thomas Reid and his moderate epistemology. They believe that “one might simply take it that one has a cognitive faculty that can be trusted when it produces belief in God when induced by the appropriate experiences.”[11] Richard Swinburne thinks we should trust what someone tells us unless we have good reason to doubt it. In other words, innocent until proven guilty. Evidentialist objectors seem to assume that a belief is guilty of falsehood unless proven innocent. So it seems we should trust someone’s testimony of religious experience unless we have good reason to doubt it. In addition, it seems those who do not have a religious experience can believe in God on the basis of the experience of others.[12]
            Although some philosophers do not accept religious experience as validating belief in God, Reformed epistemologists think religious experience grounds religious belief.[13] Since humans are more than mind or intelligence it seems valid to trust religious experience to ground religious belief. Is this what Pascal is asserting when he says that the heart knows some things that the mind does not. The philosophers who reject religious experience for grounding religious belief do so because they “deny that one can reliably infer from the experience that the source or cause of that experience was God.”[14] This seems like the rejection of traditional proofs because they do not give us the Biblical God; instead they give us a thin slice of God. This does not seem a valid argument. William Alston believes that perceptual beliefs face a similar problem. Yet we still trust our perceptual beliefs. Alston asserts, “if religious experiences and the beliefs they produce relevantly resemble perceptual experiences and the beliefs they produce, then we should not hold beliefs based upon religious experience to be suspect either.”[15]

[1] Ibid., 12.
[2] Ibid.

[3] C. Stephen Evans, Why Christian Faith Still Makes Sense: A Response to Contemporary Challenges (Grand Rapids:Mi, 2015), 39-57.

[4] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 12; Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 10.

[5] Garcia, “Natural Theology,” 118.

[6] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 12.

[7] Garcia, “Natural Theology,” 118.

[8] Ibid., 120.

[9] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 12.
[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.; Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 10.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.; Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 10.

[14] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 13.
[15] Ibid., 13.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Religious Belief and Reason Part 4

5.5 Reformed Epistemology
Reformed Protestant thinkers, Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff and William Alston reject the evidentialist demand for evidence because they consider belief in the existence of God as basic. Their epistemology is known as Reformed Epistemology. They argue that belief in God can be considered rational without arguments or evidence. Evans states that Plantinga accepts a form of foundationalism.[1] Plantinga argued in a paper that beliefs “are warranted without Enlightenment-approved evidence provided they are (a) grounded, and (b) defended against known objections. Such beliefs may then themselves be used as evidence for other beliefs.”[2] They argue that the evidentialist’ demand for evidence “cannot be met in a large number of cases with the cognitive equipment that we have.”[3] We cannot prove everything. Some things must be accepted as basic. Clark asserts, “No one has ever been able to offer proofs for the existence of other persons, inductive beliefs (e.g., that the sun will rise in the future), or the reality of the past.”[4] Reformed epistemologists believe that belief of God “can be among our basic beliefs.”[5] If this is true, “then natural theology that consists of arguments for God’s existence will not be necessary for reasonable belief in God.”[6] However, this does not mean Reformed epistemologists will reject giving arguments for God. Evans says that when the Reformed epistemologist argue that belief in God “can be reasonable without evidence, he is using the term evidence to mean propositional evidence.[7] Propositional evidence appeals to a proposition which can be true or false. Clark thinks that theism does not require propositional evidence to be considered rational.[8]
Second, Plantinga argues that classical foundationalism is “self-referentially inconsistent.” It fails its own test. “Is it rational, given its own conditions, to accept classical foundationalism. Classical foundationalism is not self-evident; “upon understanding it many people believe it is false.”[9] If it can be understood and rejected, then it is not self-evident. Classical Foundationalism is not evident to the senses because “one doesn’t see, taste, smell, touch or hear it.”[10] Even if one accepts classical foundationalism, they could be in error; therefore, it cannot be incorrigible. If classical foundationalism is neither self-evident, evident to the senses or incorrigible, can it be “inferred from propositions” that are self-evident, evident to the senses or incorrigible? It seems not. Therefore, classical foundationalism is irrational by its own standard.
Clark states that there are “at least” two reasons why belief in the existence of God can be considered rational even without evidence or arguments. The first is a “parity” argument. Clark asserts, “We must, by our nature, accept the deliverances of our cognitive faculties, including those that produce beliefs in the external world, other persons, that the future will be like the past, the reality of the past, and what other people tell us--just to name a few. For the sake of parity, we should trust the deliverances of the faculty that produces in us the belief in the divine (what Plantinga following John Calvin, calls the sensus divinitatus, the sense of the divine).[11] Some philosophers reject the idea that we have a sensus divinitatis “and so they reject the parity argument.”[12] Thomas Sullivan notes, “Unless grounds are cognitive grounds, unless grounds supply reason with information, having grounds says nothing about the rationality of one’s beliefs. If, however, grounds are cognitively grasped data, they would be the very stuff most people call evidence.”[13] The second reason is that believing in God “is more like belief in a person than belief in a scientific hypothesis.”[14] Relationships between people “demand trust, commitment, and faith.”[15] If believing in God is similar to believing in other persons, then trusting in God would be similar to trusting other people. Trusting in people is different from believing in an abstract concept. William James makes this argument in “The Will to Believe.”          

[1] Evans, Why the Christian Faith, 15.

[2] Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 10.

[3] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 9.

[4] Ibid., 9.

[5] Evans, Why the Christian Faith, 16.

[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.

[8] Clark, Return to Reason, 97.

[9] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 9.

[10] Ibid., 10.
[11] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 11; Laura L. Garcia, “Natural Theology and the Reformed Objection,” in Christian Perspectives on Religious Knowledge edited by C. Stephen Evans and Merold Westphal (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 114.

[12] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 11.

[13] Thomas Sullivan, “Adequate Evidence,” quoted in Laura Garcia, “Natural Theology and the Reformed Objection,” 118.

[14] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 11.

[15] Ibid.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Religious Belief and Reason Part 3

5.3 The Reasonableness of Belief in God
            There are typically two responses theists take in responding to evidentialist objections to belief in God. The first “strategy” is to argue against the claim that there is not sufficient evidence to support the belief in the existence of God. The second “strategy” is to argue against the claim that to be rational the theist must provide sufficient evidence to support his belief.
5.4 Theistic Evidentialism
            The claim that there is not sufficient evidence “for the existence of God” has been rejected by major thinkers; Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, and others. Thomas Aquinas’ Five Ways were some of his arguments intended to prove the existence of God. Aquinas tried to use evidence that was acceptable to all rational people and using that evidence to prove the existence of God. This attempt to prove the existence of God through the natural order detected by reason is called natural theology. Clark contends that the “contention and legacy of the Enlightenment is that classical theology is an abysmal failure.”[1] Is this really true? If it is such a failure, why does it continue to be practiced? Some theists today continue to argue that there is sufficient evidence to support the existence of God. They dispute the idea that theistic arguments were killed by Hume and Kant. So, these theists accept the evidentialist demand for evidence “by offering arguments that support the existence of God.”[2] If these arguments fail, would it make belief in the existence of God irrational? J. L. Mackie, an able defender of atheism, suggest that “theism requires evidential support in order” to be considered rational:

            If it is agreed that the central assertions of theism are literally meaningful,
               it must also be admitted that they are not directly verifiable. It follows that
               any rational consideration of whether they are true or not will involve
               Arguments. . . . it [whether or not God exists] must be examined either by
               Deductive reasoning or, if that yields no decision, by arguments to the best
               explanation; for in such a context nothing else can have any coherent
bearing on the issue.[3]

“Thinkers in the Enlightenment tradition” believes that every belief must be critiqued by reason, “and by reason they mean supporting beliefs with propositional evidence or arguments.” [4]Clark states, “Very few philosophical positions (and this is an understatement) enjoy the kind of evidential support that classical foundationalism demands of belief in God; yet most of these are treated as rational. No philosophical position--belief in other minds, belief in the external world, the correspondence theory of truth or Quine’s indeterminacy of translation thesis--is properly based on beliefs that are self-evident, evident to the senses, or incorrigible.”[5] What philosophical beliefs actually meet the test? Why is the belief in the existence of God held to a higher standard than other beliefs? “Some suggest that this demand is simply arbitrary at best or intellectually imperialist at worst.”[6] Clark contends that the “Enlightenment conception of rationality and its estimations of the rationality of religious belief are as mistaken as they are influential.”[7] J. L. Mackie thinks that there is not “sufficient evidence to favor theism over naturalism,”[8] so it should be rejected.
What about our moral beliefs? Are these beliefs self-evident, evident to the senses, or incorrigible. No, they do not pass the evidentialist test. Some argue that morals are mere projections of values held by individuals, but are grounded in nothing but will. What if you hold a moral belief that is rejected by the intelligentsia today? Would you be irrational? Clark states that moral beliefs “are not well-justified on the basis of argument or evidence in the classical foundationalist sense (or probably in any sense of ‘well-justified’). So, if a majority of the educational elite “reject” your moral beliefs, this does not make them irrational.

[1] Ibid.

[2] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 7.

[3] J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 4-6.
[4] Clark, Return to Reason, 5.

[5] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 8.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Clark, Return to Reason, 5.

[8] Ibid., 6.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Religious Belief and Reason Part 2

5.1 Rationality and Reason
            Reason is a finite tool for acquiring truth. Reason is not always successful in its search for truth. Rationality is more about “how” one believes rather than “what” they believe. Another important point made by Clark is that rationality “is person and situation specific: what is rational for one person at a particular socio-historical time and place might not be rational for another person at a different time and place.”[1] This is an important point because of the assumption that the believer’s argument must be convincing to everyone to be rational. This is an absurd requirement. Instead, the appropriate question is, “Is belief in God rational for this person in that time and place?”[2] The author is stating that theistic proofs are person-related. It is unreasonable to think that all rational people will accept them. It is not a realistic standard.
5.2 The Evidentialist Objection
            There are two main reasons why non-theists evidentialists argue that belief in God is not rational: “lack of evidence and evidence to the contrary (usually the problem of evil).”[3] Bertrand Russell when asked what he would tell God if he asked him why he did not believe in God. Russell stated that he would tell God, “not enough evidence.” The origins of evidentialism is in the Enlightenment “demand that all beliefs be subjected to the searching criticism of reason; if a belief cannot survive the scrutiny of reason, it is irrational.”[4] Kant’s instruction was “dare to use your own reason.”[5] It is a disputable matter whether “evidentialism applies to religious beliefs, or whether we should instead adopt a more permissive epistemology.”[6] The evidentialist argument is not a proof proving that God does not exist. Instead, it is the argument that it is not rational to believe in God. “Enlightenment thinkers typically contend that belief in God lacks sufficient evidence or arguments.”[7] Evidentialism is the position that a belief “is justified only if it is proportioned to the evidence.”[8]
            The claim that there is not sufficient evidence for belief in God was based on arguments made by Hume and Kant that theistic proofs were unsuccessful.The argument that belief in the existence of God requires evidence “is usually rooted in a view of the structure of knowledge that has come to be known as classical foundationalism.”[9] Classical foundationalists often use the the metaphor of a house for their conception of rationality. The ground floor are foundational beliefs and all the floors of the house are built on this foundation. In addition, this foundation is based on the idea of certainty which began with Descartes. The foundational beliefs must be self-evident, evident to the senses, or incorrigible. Religious or mystical experience is not counted as evidence.[10] No beliefs that cannot pass these tests are accepted as foundational beliefs. The problem is that this belief does not pass the test because it is not self-evident, evident to the senses, or incorrigible.[11] Based on this standard, belief in God would not be considered rational. Since belief in God is not foundational according to classical foundationalism, it must be supported by arguments or evidence. Clark states that classical foundationalism, rooted in the Enlightenment, “elevated theistic arguments to a status never held before in the history of Western thought.”[12]

[1] Ibid., 2.
[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 3.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Peter Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Religion (Retrieved April 11, 2017), 1.

[7] Clark, Return to Reason, 4.

[8] Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 1.
[9] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 4.

[10] Forrest, “The Epistemology of Religion,” 4.

[11] Ibid., 6.

[12] Clark, “Religious Epistemology,” 6.