Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Plantinga & God-Belief as Properly Basic

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.)

Theistic philosopher Alvin Plantinga reasons that belief in God without having arrived at such belief evidentially is still rational. In doing this he counters the evidentialism of philosophers such as W. K. Clifford. Clifford stated that it is always wrong to believe something without having evidence for that belief. Plantinga thinks this is wrong.
His reasoning: If the Christian noetic framework is true, then belief in God is properly basic (warranted).

1. Many, even most, of the things we believe and claim to know are non-evidentially arrived at. For example, consider the statement I had breakfast this morning. This statement, where “I” means “John Piippo,” is true. I know it is true, and I know this non-evidentially; i.e., I have not formulated an evidential argument using premises that infer the conclusion (Therefore) I had breakfast this morning.

A more profound example of a properly basic belief is our basic trust in our rational capacities (logic). Should we trust in them? We just do, and an evidential argument cannot be formed to conclude we can trust them, since such an argument itself will use logic and require that we trust in it. One would have to trust in and use logic and logically argue that we can trust in logic. That, of course, is question-begging (circular). So one’s trust in one’s rational capacities is bedrock and foundational. It is properly basic.

2. Plantinga then reasons this way: If Christian theism is true, then we have grounds to believe in God, such God-belief being properly basic.
If the noetic framework of Christian theism is true, then such statements are true: God made you in his image; God loves you; God wants you to know him; When you look at the creation you are looking at the handiwork of God; I experience God forgiving me of my sins; I experience God answering my prayers; and so on.

On Christian theism we have “warrant” for trusting in our rational capacities. And belief in God is itself properly basic. (Like Calvin’s sensus divinitatis.)

3. Regarding this, atheist philosopher Michael Martin objected that, if on the noetic framework of Christian theism God-belief is properly basic and rational, then it seems any person’s beliefs are rational, within their noetic framework. Martin put forth the notorious “Great Pumpkin” objection to make his point. If someone thinks this noetic framework is true, then it is rational for them to believe in the Great Pumpkin. But that seems absurd.

4. Plantinga’s response was that, on some noetic frameworks, we do not have grounds or warrant to trust in the veridicality of our rational capacities.
For example, if Voodooism is true, then surely we cannot trust our rational faculties. This is because someone may be sticking a doll with a pin, or casting a spell, and this manipulating my thoughts to say things like “David Hasselhoff is a brilliant musician.”

Plantinga also reasons that, if atheism is true, then we do not have warrant to trust our rational faculties, since the probability of the veridicality of our rational faculties on naturalistic evolution is low. Unguided, non-theistic evolution is blind, its raison d’etre solely for adaptation and survival.