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.

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