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.

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