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1 Without Evidence or Argument: A Defense of Reformed Epistemology Dr. Kelly James Clark Dr. Kelly James Clark, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Calvin iversity of Notre Dame where he College, earned his doctorate at Un studied with Alvin Plantinga, the most prominent defender of Reformed epistemology. Dr. Clark is author of numerous books and articles in the philosophy of religion and epistemology including When Faith Is Not Enough and Return to Reason (a defense of , Philosophers Who Believe Reformed Epistemology). Suppose a stranger, let’s call him David, sends you a note that declares that your wife is cheating on you. No pictures are included, no dates or times, no names. Just the assertion of your wife’s unfaithfulness. You have had already fifteen good, and so far as you know, faithful years with your wife. Her behavior hasn’t changed dramatically in the past few years. Except for David’s allegation, you have no reason to believe there has been a breach in the relationship. What should you do? Confront her with what you take to be the truth, straight from David’s letter? Hire a detective to follow her for a week and hope against hope the letter is a hoax? Or do you simply remain secure in the trust that you have built up all those years? Suppose, even worse, that your son Clifford comes home after taking his first philosophy course in college. He persuades you of the truth of the so-called “problem of other minds.” How do you know that other minds and, therefore, other people exist? How do you know that people are not simply cleverly constructed robots with excellent makeup jobs? How do you know that behind the person facade lies a person -- someone with thoughts, desires and feelings? You can’t experience another person’s

2 feelings; you can’t see another person’s thoughts (even if you cut off the top of their head and peered into their brain); and ev en Bill Clinton can’t really feel another lings are all essential to being a person. So person’s pain. Yet thoughts, desires, and fee you can’t tell from the outside or just by looking, so to speak, if someone is a person. I can know that I am a person because I experience my own thoughts, feelings and desires. But I can’t know, because I don’t have any access to your inner-experience, if is a person. you, or anyone else, Since you can’t know if anyone else is a person, you rightly infer that you can’t know if your wife is a person. Unsure that your wife is a person, how do you treat her? Do you hire a philosophical detective to sear ch the philosophical literature for a proof that people-like things really are people ? Do you avoid cuddling in the meantime, given your aversion to snuggling with machines? Or do you simply trust your deep- seated conviction that, in spite of the la ck of evidence, your wife is a person and deserves to be treated as such? Two final “Supposes.” Suppose that you come to believe that there is a God because your parents taught you from the cradle up that God exists. Or suppose that you are on a retreat or on the top of a mountain and have a sense of being loved by God or that God created the universe. You begin to believe in God, not because you are persuaded by the argument from design -- you are simply taken with belief in God. You just find yourself believing, what you had heretofore denied, that God exists. Now you have come across the writings of David Hume and W. K. Clifford who insist that ume raises a further point: your belief in an you base all of your beliefs on evidence. H 2

3 all-loving, omnipotent God is in consistent with the evil that there is in the world. Given this demand for evidence, do you become a the fact of evil, God cannot exist. To meet temporary agnostic and begin perusing the texts of Aquinas, Augustine and Paley for a good proof of God’s existence? Do you give up belief in God because you see Hume’s point and can’t see how God and evil could be reconciled? Or do you remain steady in your trust in God in spite of the lack of evidence and even in the face of counter- evidence? are intended to raise the problem of My Suppose-This and Suppose-That Stories the relationship of our important beliefs to evidence (and counter-evidence). Since the Enlightenment, there has been a demand to ex pose all of our beliefs to the searching criticism of reason. If a belief is unsupported by the evidence, it is irrational to believe it. It is the position of Reformed epistemology (likely the position that Calvin held) that belief in God, like belief in other persons, does not require the su pport of evidence or argument in order for it to be rational. This view has been defended by some of the t philosophers including Alvin Pl antinga, leader of the recent world’s most prominen revival in Christian philosophy. Plantinga was Reformed epistemology’s first contemporary defender and his home inst itution, Calvin College, supported the research of other prominent philosophers in its development, including Nicholas 1 The first fruits of their labors was Wolterstorff, William Alston and George Mavrodes. 2 the jointly published Faith and Rationality which, in turn, produced an entire industry of defenses of religious belief. Importan t and influential works were published on religious experience, revelation, Christian belief, epistemology and the problem of evil. 3

4 The renaissance of Christian philosophy owes a great debt to the intellectual power and fertility of Reformed epistemology. The claim that belief in God is rational without the support of evidence or argument is startling for many an atheist or theist. Most atheist intellectuals feel comfort in their disbelief in God because they judge that there is li ttle or no evidence for however, in particular Roman Catholics and God’s existence. Many theistic thinkers, at belief in God requires evidence and that some recent Protestant evangelicals, insist th such a demand should and can be met. So the claim that a person does not need evidence in order to rationally believe in God runs against the grain for atheist thinkers and has raised the ire of many theists. In spite of the vitriolic response to Reformed epistemology, I believe it is eminently defensible. In order to defend it, let us examine its critique of the enlighten ment demand for evidence. The Demand for Evidence W. K. Clifford, in an oft-cited article, claims that it is wrong, alwa ys and everywhere, for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence. Such a strong claim makes one speculate on Clifford’s childhood: one imagin es young W. K. constantly pestering his parents with “Why? Why? Why?...” It is this childish atti tude toward inquiry and the risks that belief requires that leads W illiam James to chastise Clifford as an enfant terrible . But, rather than disparage his character, let’s examine the deficienies of his claim that everything must be believed only on the basis of sufficient evidence (relevance: If everything must be based on sufficient evidence, so must belief in God). 4

5 The first problem with Clifford’s univer sal demand for evidence is that it cannot meet its own demand. Clifford offers two fetching examples (a shipowner who knowingly sends an unseaworthy ship to sea and, in the first example, it sinks and, in rt of his claim. Th e examples powerfully the second example, it makes the trip) in suppo e the example, rational belief requires evidence. No one demonstrate that in cases lik require evidence for their rati onal acceptability. But all would disagree: some beliefs beliefs in every circumstance? That’s an exceedingly strong claim to make and, it turns out, one that cannot be based on evidence. Consider what someone like Clifford might allow us to take for evidence: beliefs that we acquire through sensory experience and beliefs that are self-evident like logic and mathematics. Next rainy day, make a list of all of your experiential beliefs: The sky is blue, grass is green, most trees are taller than most gra sshoppers, slugs leave a slimy trail... Now add to this list a ll of your logical and mathemat ical beliefs: 2 + 2 = 4, every proposition is either true or false, all of the even numbers that I know of are the sum of two prime numbers, in Eudiclean geometry the interior angles of triangles equal 180°. From these propositions, try to deduce the conclusion that it is wrong, always and everywhere, for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence. None of the propositions that are allowed as evidenc e have anything at all to do with the conclusion. So Clifford’s universal de mand for evidence cannot satisfy it’s own standard! Therefore, by Cli fford’s own criterion, it must be irrational. More likely, lse and it is easy to see why. however, the demand is simply fa 5

6 We, finite beings that we are, simply cannot meet such a demand. Consider all of the beliefs that you currently hold. How many of those have met Clifford’s strict intends for all of us, like a scientist in a laboratory, to demand for evidence? Clifford test all of our beliefs all of the time. Could your beliefs survive Clifford’s test? Think of how many of your beliefs, even scientific on because someone told es, are acquired just you . Not having been to Paraguay, I only have testimonial evidence that Paraguay is a country in South America. For all I know, all of the mapmakers have conspired to (and even South America!). And, since I delude us about the existence of Paraguay have been to relatively few countries around the world, I must believe in the existence of most countries (and that other people inhabit them and speak in that language) 2 and that matter is made up of tiny without support of evidence. I believe that e=mc little particles not because of experiments in a chemistry or physics lab (for all of my experiments failed) but because my science teac hers told me so. Most of the beliefs that I have acquired are based on my trust in my teachers and not on careful consideration ider adequate evidence. And in this busy day and age, I of what Clifford would cons don’t really have the time to live up to Cliffo rd’s demand for evidence! If we had the leisure to test all of our beliefs, perhaps we could meet the demand. But since we cannot meet that demand, we cannot be obligated to do so. Even if we had the time, however, we could not meet this universal demand for evidence. The demand for evidence simply cannot be met in a large number of cases with the cognitive equipment that we have. No one, as mentioned above, has ever been able to prove that we able to prove the existence of other persons. No one has ever been 6

7 were not created five minutes ago with our memories intact. No one has been able to ill rise. This list could go on that, in the future, the sun w prove the reality of the past or and on. There is a limit to the things that human beings can prove. A great deal of what we believe is based on faith, not on evidence or arguments. I use the term ‘faith’ here but I think it is misleading. I don’t mean to oppose faith to knowledge in these instances. For surely we know that the earth is more than tomorrow (although, maybe not in cloudy five minutes old and that the sun will rise stianity (and lots of other truths about Grand Rapids!) and that Paul converted to Chri the past), etc., etc., etc. In these cases, we know lots of things but we cannot prove them. We have to trust or rely on the cognitive faculties which produce these beliefs. We rely on our memory to produce memory beliefs (I remember having coffee with my breakfast this morning). We rely on an inductive faculty to produce beliefs about the veracity of natural laws (If I let go of this b ook, it will fall to the ground). We rely on our cognitive faculties when we believe that there are other person s, there is a past, there is a world independent of our mind, or what other people tell us. We can’t help but trust our cognitive faculties. It is easy to see why. Reasoning must start somewhere. Suppose we were required to offer evidence or arguments for all of our beliefs. If we offer statements 1-4 as evidence for 5, we would have to offer arguments to support 1-4. And then we would have to offer arguments in support of the arguments that are used to support 1- int. Reasoning must start 4. And then we would need arguments...You get the po 7

8 somewhere. There have to be some truths that we can just accept and reason from. Why not start with belief in God? Without Evidence or Argument We have been outfitted with cognitive faculties that produce beliefs that we can reason from. The kinds of beliefs that we do and must reason to is a small subset of the kinds of beliefs that we do and must accept without the aid of a proof. That’s the long and short of the human believing condition. We, in most cases, must rely on our God-given intellectual equipment to produce beliefs, without evidence or argument, in the appropriate circumstances. Is it reasonable to believe that God has created us with a cognitive faculty which produces belief in God without evidence or argument? There are at least three reasons to believe th at it is proper or rational for a person to accept belief in God without the need for an argument. First, there are very few people who have access to or the ability to assess most theistic arguments. It is hard to at the demand for evidence would be a requiremen t of reason. imagine, therefore, th My grandmother, a paradigm of the non-philo sophical believer, would cackle if I informed her that her belie f in God was irrational because she was unable to understand Aquinas’s second Way or to refute Hume’s version of the argument from evil. The demand for evidence is an imperi alistic attempt to make philosophers out of people who have no need to become philoso phers. It is curious that very few philosophers (like most ordinary folk) have come to belief in God on the basis of theistic a collection of spiritual autobiographies arguments. I commissioned and published 8

9 from prominent Christian philosophers just to see if philosophers were any different 3 from my Grandmother on this count. They weren’t. Second, it seems that God has given us an awareness of himself that is not dependent on theistic arguments. It is hard to imagine that God would make rational evidence contend. I belief as difficult as those that demand encourage anyone who thinks that evidence is required for rational belief in God, to study very carefully the theistic arguments, their refutations and counter-refutations, an d their increasing subtlety yet decreasing charm. Adequate assessment of these arguments would require a lengthy and tortorous tour through the history of philosophy and may require the honing of one’s logical and metaphysical sk ills beyond the capacity of most of us. Why put that sort of barrier between us and God? John Calvin (as good a Calvinist as any) a sense of the divine. He writes: believed that God had provided us with ‘There is within the human mind, and ind eed by natural instin ct, an awareness of divinity.’ This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine maje sty. Ever renewing its memory, he repeatedly sheds fresh drops...Indeed, the pervers ity of the impious, who though they struggle furiously are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God, is abundant testimony that this conviction, namely that there is some God, is naturally inborn in all, and is fixed deep within, as it were in the very marrow. a doctrine that must first be learned in From this we conclude that is is not 9

10 school, but one of which each of us is master from his mother’s womb and which nature itself permits no one to forget. Calvin contends that people are accountable to God for their unbelief not because they have failed to submit to a convincing theistic proof, but because they have suppressed minds. It is natural to suppose that if the truth that God has implanted within their God created us with cognitive faculties wh ich by and large reliably produce beliefs he would likewise provide us with a cognitive faculty without the need for evidence, thout the need for evidence. which produces belief in him wi Third, belief in God is mo re like belief in a person than belief in a scientific theory. Consider the examples that started this essay. Somehow the scientific approach -- doubt first, consider all of the available evidence, and believe la ter -- seems woefully inadequate or inappropriate to personal relations. What seems manifestly reasonable tory is desperately deficient in human relations. Human for physicists in their labora relations demand trust, commitment and faith. If belief in God is more like belief in other persons than belief in atoms, then the trust that is appropriate to persons will be appropriate to God. We cannot and should not arbitrarily insist that the scientific method is appropriate to every kind of h uman practice. The fastidious scientist, who cannot leave the demand for evidence in her laboratory, will find herself cut off from relationships that she could otherwise reasonab ly maintain -- with friends, family and, even, God. With or Without Evidence 10

11 I haven’t said that belief in God could not or , in some cases, should not be based on to think that the theistic arguments do evidence or argument. Indeed, I am inclined nce of God’s existence. By non-coercive, I mean that provide some, non-coercive, evide the theistic arguments aren’t of such power and illumination that they should be expected to persuade all rational creatures. Rational people could rationally reject the theistic proofs. Rational people, and this is a fact that we must live with, rationally one could rationally believe in God on the disagree. Nonetheless, I believe that some basis of theistic arguments but no one needs to. I also believe, like Calvin, that the na tural knowledge of himself that God has implanted within us has been overlaid by si n. Part of the redemptive process will require the removal of the effects of sin on our minds. Attention to theistic arguments might do that. Also, some of the barriers to religious belief -- such as the problem of evil or the alleged threat of science to religion -- may need to be removed before one can see the light that has been sh ining within all along. But the scales can fall from the mind’s ‘eye’ in a wide variety of means: on a mountaintop, while listening to a sermon, through a humbling experience, or by . The list goes on yet a certain common feature should reading The Chronicles of Narnia be noticed (and not the fact that few people have ever acquired belief in God as a result of the study of theistic proofs). The primary obstacle to belief in God seems to be more moral than intellectual. On the mountains one may feel one’s smallness in relation to the grandness of it all. The sermon may convict one of sin. The loss of a job or a divorce may reveal one’s unjustified pride. And The Chronicles of Narnia may awaken 11

12 the dormant faith of a child. In all of thes e cases, the scales slide off the mind’s eye ot to mix too many metaphors!). Humility, when the overweening self is dethroned (n the realization of belief in God. not proofs, seems more appropriate to My approach to belief in God has been rather descriptive. I believe that we need to pay a lot more attention to how actual people actually acquire beliefs. The psychology of believing may tell us a lot about our cognitive equipment. The lessons liefs support the position that I have learned from observing people and their be defended: rational people may rationally belie ve in God without evide nce or argument. Reformed epistemology and the bible What is the biblical or theological basis for Reformed epistemology? Not much, I’m afraid, but I believe that Scripture woefully underdetermines most any philosophical position. By ‘underdetermines’ I mean that there is not sufficient inescapable evidence to lead us invariably to one conclusion over another; the data do not determine a particular conclusion. There is some data, but the data are consistent with a (wild) variety of differing theories. Is God inside or outside of time, simple or complex? Does God suffer or is he impassible? Can God can change the past? These, and countless other positions, affirmed by one group of Christians and just as enthusiastically rejected by others, are simply not sufficiently well-supported by Scriptural evidence to make a universally coer cive case for them. Likewise a coercive case from Scripture cannot be made for one’s apologetic approach; there is simply not 12

13 enough unambiguous evidence from Scripture to support evidentialism, Biblical view. presuppositionalism or Reformed Epistemology as the Here’s some of the evidence. Th e first sort of ev idence seems to favor evidentialism: Yahweh calls the Hebrews to reason with him (Isaiah 1:18), the Apostle n through his creation (Romans 1:20), and St. Paul claims that the creator can be know Peter tells us to be ready to give a reasoned account of the hope that is within us (I Peter 3:15). Of course, in context thes e verses do not necessarily imply that it is irrational for anyone to believe in God without first considering the evidence. The reasoning in Isaiah has nothing to do with initial belief in God, the verse from Romans could mean that knowledge of God is eith or immediately produced by er inferentially derived from the creation, and the reasoned account of St. Peter may simply be “I once was blind but now I see.” On the other hand, Scripture itself simply starts with God: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and th e earth (Genesis 1:1).” There is never, within Scripture itself, an attempt to prove the existence of God; if proving God’s existence were demanded of all believers, one might expect to find at least one of the believers in the Bible discussing theistic arguments. On the other hand, Scripture is rife with attempts to demonstrate that Yahweh is God (and not, for example, Baal). On the other hand, Paul’s and Peter’s admonitions do not settle whether or not knowledge of God is produced immediately or through inference. Is Paul claiming that when one sees a beautiful sunset from the top of a mountain and is taken with the awesome grandeur of God? Or is Paul claiming that in such a it all, that one is overwhelmed with belief in 13

14 circumstance one reasons thusly: Here is the apparent handiwork of a really terrific creator; it is reasonable to argue from apparent handiwork to real handiwork; therefore, ndiworker exists. it is likely that a divine ha So, maybe Romans 1:20 supports a kind of argument from design. On the other hand, Paul himself never employs the kind of apologetics that a contemporary evidentialist defends (his philosoph ical arguments in ure than philosophical Acts 17 are more accomodations to Greek cult arguments, more declaration than inference) . On the other hand... There are so many other hands, I cringe when any one claims that their apologetic approach is the biblical approach. Anyone can find some support for their position in Scripture. So let a thousand apologetical flowers bloom! The reason that Scripture underdetermines any contemporary apologetic approach seems clear. The Bible was written during a time when virtually everyone assumed the existence of some god or other. The Bible does try to make a case that Yahweh is God and the New Testament tries to make a case that he has revealed himself uniquely in the Christ (in both instances, the biblical writers refer to the kinds of beliefs that people in their culture might fi nd appealing). But ev erywhere the existence of a god is assumed. That we should directly import that approach into our contemporary context s eems ill-advised. In our culture, a great many people do not believe in the existence of a god. How those people might be best approached, therefore, will require a great deal of huma n ingenuity and not me rely reflection on how it was done in bi blical times. Since so much has been left to human ingenuity and since Scripture both underdetermines one’s apologetic and was written to and for 14

15 another culture, there will be many Christ ian apologetics and not merely one. What e another’s views, is charity, intellectual Christian virtue requires, in dealing with on respect, fairness and humility 4 Postmodernism modern philosophy, define postmodernism I shall, skipping lightly over the history of phy. The early modern world was in against the backdrop of modern philoso intellectual turmoil awaiting a rational decision procedure by a Descartes, a Locke or a Kant. In science, politics and religion, revolutions were rife and the time ripe for a method of rational discernment. ssible to set a precise Although it is impo modus operandi for modern philosophy, there are some shared concerns among it key players. Foremost among these concerns nty and rational consensus. Descartes writes: “...I will was the quest for both certai follow the same path I took yesterday, putting aside everything which admits of the least doubt, as if I had discovered it to be absolutely false. I will go forward until I know something certain -- or, if nothing else, until I at least know for certain that nothing is certain.” If the foundations are certain and the principles of inference are truth- and certainty-preserving, then the resultant beliefs must also be certain. Locke was likewise devoted to certainty: “...I should only show ... how men, barely by the use of their natural faculties, may attain to all the knowledge they have, without the help of any innate impressions, and may arrive at certainty, without any of our such original notions or principles.” And Kant writes: “As regards the form 15

16 enquiry, certainty clearness are two essential requirements, rightly to be extrracted and certainty, from anyone who ventures upon so delicate an undertaking. As to I have prescribed to myself the maxim, that in this kind of invesitgation it is in no wise opinions .” The problems with the Cart esian project have been well permissible to hold 5 documented and I shan’t recount them. 6 A second pervasive assumption of the Cartesian project is internalism. The central contention of internalism is that the justifying condit ions of a belief are somehow internal to the believing agent; whatever s belief, and here the it is that justifie accounts vary widely, is something to wh ich the believer has internal access. Justification is a property of beliefs which can be seen and understood simply by careful examination of one’s own set of beliefs. If one’s set of foundational beliefs has the requisite justificational proper ties, it is a simple matter of careful attention to belief construction to determine if higher level beliefs have similar properties; if one’s higher level beliefs fail to have the right sort of lustre, they ought to be discarded. What makes internalism attractive is that it places the justification of our beliefs without our own intellectual purview. I simply need to check my foundational beliefs, the inferences that I’ve made and the resultant beliefs to see if my beliefs are justified. Beliefs wear their justification on their sleeves, so to speak, according to internalism. So, according to internalism, the entire responsibility for one’s believings belongs to oneself. I take the Cartesian project as the defining ideal of the modern period; so the postmodern period we are in now should be understood as post-Cartesian. Gone, I believe, are the prospects both for rational certainty and consensus (at least on matters 16

17 of fundamental human concern). Likewise, I believe that hopes for internalism are the conditions that illusory. We don’t have direct access to all of justify our beliefs. Here’s the rub. If internalism is a failu re, we don’t have access to the conditions necessary for the judgment of whether or not these conditions have been satisfied. Whether or not we are justified in our beliefs may not be simply up to us (even assuming we are very attentive believers). Plantinga argues that modern foundationalism has misunderstood the nature of 7 justification. Modern foundationalism is based on an unattainable quest for certainty and is unduly internalist. Plantinga calls the special property that turns true belief into knowledge “warrant.” A belief B has warrant fo r one if and only if B is produced by one’s properly functioning c ognitive faculties in circumsta nces to which those faculties are designed to apply; in addition those facu lties must be designed for the purpose of producing true beliefs. So, for instance, my belief that there is a computer screen in front of me is warranted if it is produced by my properly funct ioning perceptual faculties (and not by weariness or dreaming) an d if no one is tricking me say, by having removed my computer and replaced it with an exact painting of my computer (they have messed up my cognitive environment); and surely my perceptual faculties have been designed (by God) for the purpose of producing true beliefs. I have stated this succinctly, roughly, partially and without nuance. Note briefly the portions of Plantinga’s definition which are not within one’s immediate or direct purview -- whether or n ot one’s faculties are functioning properly, whether or not one’s faculties are designed by God, whether or not one’s faculties are 17

18 designed for the production of true beliefs, whether or not one is using one’s faculties in for their use (one might be seeing a mirage and taking it for the environment intended real). We cannot acquire warrant, according to this theory, simply by attending to our beliefs. According to Plantinga, warranted belief or knowledge is not entirely up to us. It depends crucially upon whether or not co nditions neither under our direct rational purview nor our conscious control are satisfied. Justification is by faith not by works. Warrant, to be more precis e, is not solely due to efforts on our part. Postmodern apologetics stmodern world? her faith in our po How might a Reformed epistemologist defend Here I shall primarily speak of belief in God, belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good, creator of the universe. I do not have a well worked out strategy for defending Christian belief, although I suspect that the strategy that I suggest can be 8 extended to Christian belief. Indeed, because of the intrinsic difficulties of Christian ch. But I shall leave this cryptic remark belief, I am dubious of any evidentialist approa for now and return to it only in my comments on the evidentialists. According the theory of warrant deve loped above, a person has a warranted belief in God if her belief in God is produced by her pr operly functioning cognitive faculties in circumstances to which those faculties are designed to apply. I have mentioned above that it appear s that we do have a faculty which produces belief in God in us in appropriate circumstances. This faculty, more often than not, produces belief in without the support of a theistic argument. This does not mean that God immediately 18

19 belief in God is not grounded in experience or that it cannot be based on such an ive faculty and it produces belief in God in argument. But, if we do have such a cognit d is warranted if it is not based on an the appropriate circumstances, then belief in Go argument. One good apologetic strate gy, therefore, is to encourage unbelievers to put themselves in situations where people are typically taken with belief in God: on a 9 mountain, for example, or at the sea we see God’s majesty and creative power. We are far more likely to encounter the Creator if we attend to his creation. Now I am not suggesting that a person in such a circumstance is (tacitly?) processing the argument from design. She is not saying to herself, the world appears designed, if something appears to be designed it is likely designed; therefore, the world, in all likelihood, has a designer. Her judgment that God is creator more than likely wells up within her, ineluctably, perhaps surprisingly. Sh e is taken with belief in God. There is a variety of circumstances that seem especially a ppropriate to evoking or awaking belief in God. At the birth of one’s child, watching the sunset on the mountains or the ocean, examining the beauty of a flower, noting that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, or walking through the woods in a time of quiet reflection. These situations often occasion belief in God because in these circumstances we come into contact with the creator and belief in God is quickened, enlivened, or made apparent. The scales fall from the eyes, so to speak, as we see that we are standing on holy ground. 19

20 We move from circumstances that are full of wonder to circumstances that are full of terror. Death often awakens a dormant sense of the divine. As we face our own end (which most of us repress, pretending with all our might that we are immortal), we creature. The illusion that we are gods is recognize that we are finite, impotent, mere smashed and we recognize our true impoverish ed self. Our humiliation in the face of the immense cosmos and the eternity of time which ignore and eradicate our feeble 10 to recognize our dependence. accomplishments permits us If apologetics is helping someone to see or experience God, then one part of removal of barriers to belief. We can help apologetics will be assisting people in the some of the scales fall. This is often called “negative apologetics” -- the attempt to remove intellectual obstacles to faith. Here, in our day and age, the primary issues are the problem of evil, science and religion, and the hermeneutics of suspicion. belief offered by critiques of religious By the latter, I mean the hermeneutical Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. They peer into the dark underbelly of belief and find ignoble motives. In displaying these motives -- the desire for power, the need for a father figure, the fear of death, the justification of one’s socio-economic statue -- they lieve that the hermeneutics of suspicion seek to undermine religious belief. I be 11 but, provides a much needed corrective to our natural tendency toward spiritual pride nonetheless, people still need to be shown that this secular trinity has not proven that God does not exist or th at it is irrational to believe in God. The apparent threat of science to religio n seems to have recently intensified. Richard Dawkins, whose new appointment at Oxford seems to be to destroy faith, has 20

21 12 stated that Charles Darwin tellectually fulfilled atheist. made it possible to be an in Concerning evolution, Daniel Dennett contends that those who doubt that evolution excusably ignorant and contends that such theory explains the origin of species are in 13 people should be locked up. There are at least three options for the thinking Christian 14 apologist. One option is to another is to remain agnostic resist evolutionary theory, 15 16 about the truth of evolutionary theory, and yet another is to embrace it. The latter option is often difficult for conservative Christians because it seems to remove God from the creative process entirely; God is re ndered superfluous. But Christians have progressively embraced the notion that the manner in which God acts might be explained naturalistically. We might thank God for the rain yet recognize that its antecedent causes are various high and low pressure systems. God might use the sun to cause the corn to grow. Neither the corn nor the rain require God as their immediate causes yet God may nonetheless be their ultima te cause. The same may be true of the origin of species. The problem of evil is the most formidabl e and apparently intractable obstacle to belief in God and it is easy to see why. It is difficult to imagin e that God could exist given the various kinds and amounts of evils that exist in the world today. While 17 there still Plantinga has refuted the charge that God and evil are logically inconsistent, seems to be too much evil for God to exist. The experiences that engender unbelief range from the global -- seeing thousands die in an earthquake -- to the local and personal -- the tragic suffering and death of a (one’s) child. When it comes to the trivial, the trite and the superficial. explaining evil Christians are often tempted by 21

22 The goods that are appealed to in explaining the suffering often redound to the benefit of others (and perhaps to God) but not to the sufferer herself. Even if the child’s death brought his father to believe in God, we st ill haven’t adequately explained the tragedy with respect to the child. Even if a poor country learns from the earthquake how to build stronger houses, we st ill haven’t fully explained how God could permit the any good that comes about because of some suffering of the people involved. Not just evil is an adequate explanation of that evil. We shouldn’t underestimate the suffering of the world and we shouldn’t glibly explain it away. “The world’s more full of weepin’,” according to Yeats’ haunting refrain, “than we can understand.” I can only suggest that Christian apologi sts do their homework. A great deal of recent thought has gone into the problem of evil. It is useful, I believe, to venture hear challenges in their full weight and to outside our comfortable sphere of belief -- to learn how other theistic traditions address th e problem of evil. I have found the Jewish tradition especially insightful on both counts; Jews have faced unspeakable evil and many have come out with a deeper, more reflective faith. One thing is certain, this we learn from the book of Job, we are more likely to go wrong than right in our theodicies. Intellectual humility in the face of horrific evil is called for. Again, nothing that I have said precludes the use of arguments in apologetics. I think we do best, however, when we are aw are of and admit to the limits of argument. There simply is not a belief-neutral, obvious set of beliefs upon which to base theistic arguments. That is, premises in theistic proofs are often not obvious (even though, at in theistic proofs are often first glance, they might seem to be). In addition, premises 22

23 acceptable only to those who either alread y believe or aren’t ardently opposed to religious belief. These caveats are true not only of theistic arguments but of most arguments concerning matters of fundamental human concern. I won’t rehearse the theistic arguments or their criticisms because the evidentialists in this collect ion will already have done so . I have, however, discussed 18 and defended some of the arguments as have other Reformed epistemologists. One thing seems clear: people need to be dispose es of the so-called d to accept the premis 19 We are attempting to prove something to someone and that someone has been proofs. encultered to accept certain things and to reject others. I lectured about reason and belief in Go d in Ukraine and learned first-hand the barriers to effective rational dialogue with people whose instit utionally enforced atheism began shortly after birth. How does one persuade a convinced materialist that depends upon God for it s existence? What morality requires God or that the universe beliefs do we share in common to which either of us could appeal to persuade the other 20 I recently observed one of my colleagues trying of the truth of theism or materialism? to persuade Chinese students of the moral need for atonement -- of the need to bridge 21 These the gap between our feeble moral capa cities and the severe moral demand. students had been taught, as have most Ch inese people, that humans are by nature good and resisted my colleague’s efforts to persuade them of original sin. There is an indifference to religion among th e Chinese that is not attributable to perniciousness. of their need for a saviour? How do you persuade such people 23

24 I could provide example upon example to demonstrate that a successful proof is not simply a matter of presenting true premises. In matters of fundamental human concern, truth is not obvious. Christian apologists often waive theistic arguments around as if the truth were obvious and the proofs simple. But these sorts of fundamental truths are neither obvious nor simple (witness that apparently rational people around the world disagree about ne arly every matter of fundamental human een, say, a Democrat and a Republican in concern). I have seldom seen a debate betw clare a victory for the Democrat (or the which the Democrats in the audience did not de 22 Republicans for the Republican). This is a debate among people who share a common commitment to democracy. What about a debate between a Marxist and a capitalist? How does the capitalist persuade the Marxist that people have a natural right to property? Is it really so obvious that people have a natural right to property? If so, why did nearly everyone fail to recognize this “obvious of John Locke? truth” until the time My point is not to make people skeptics. Rather it is my intention to demonstrate the obvious truth that rational people rationally disagree. What people start with determines what people will en d up with. What people reason from determines the kinds of inferences that it is rationally permissible for them to accept. There simply is no belief-neutral, obvious an d simple foundation of beliefs to which to appeal in arguing for the exis tence of God. The starting point for our beliefs is our socio-cultural upbringing. Our beliefs are situat ed in a specific his torical context. Should you embark on the reason-giving project, you need to recognize this and to try your best to find some common beliefs to appeal to. 24

25 Conclusion There is deliberate exaggeration in the title of this essay “Without Proof or Evidence”. I have argued that one can reasonably believe in God on the basis of an argument. Yet it diate fashion do not believe is also my contention that people who believe in an imme lief in God is the experience of God. The groundlessly. The basis of some people’s be circumstances described above provide the occasion of a legitimate encounter with or the evidence of religious experience. But God. So belief in God can be based in reason experience of God need not be the basis of a warranted belief in God. One’s properly lties can produce belief in God in the appropriate functioning cognitive facu 23 circumstances with or without argument, evidence or religious experience. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, This story is retold in Kelly James Clark, Philosophers Who Believe 1993), 7-16. 2 Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Faith and Rationality (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983). 3 See Kelly James Clark, Philosophers Who Believe (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993). 4 This section is conceptually difficulty and unduly compressed. But it is beyond the scope of this essay to develop it in any more detail. Feel free to skip to the next section if you like. 5 The Cartesian, Lockean and Kantian foundations proved insufficient for justifying significant beliefs; that is, there are beliefs which we surely know which are reduced to mere belief or faith on their accounts. Descartes and his followers were trying to make epistemological gold out of base metals. Belief in other minds, the past, an enduring self, just to mention a few, could not be justified on Cartesian assumptions. Given that we know that there are other persons, that we have a self that persists through time, and that world has a substantial past, Cartesian foundationalism must be wrong. 6 Although internalism is a difficult term, I shall describe some common characteristics which are agreed upon by all, or nearly all, of its adherents. 7 Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate and Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). 25

26 8 (New For a well-developed Reformed defense of Christian belief see Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief York: Oxford University Press, 1999). 9 I think Pascal’s wager is intended to persuade people that it is worth attending to one’s immortality and that given the stakes it is worth taking the effo rt to see if God exists or not. 10 I develop this in my When Faith Is Not Enough (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), Part II. 11 For a fascinating and challenging defense of the spiritual benefits of studying Marx, Freud and Nietzsche see Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998). Thinking Christians skip this book at their peril. 12 (New York: Norton, 1987) Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker 13 One hopes that Dennett was just exaggerating. At any rate, he makes these statements in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 47, 519. 14 Recent critics of evolutionary theory include Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, Maryland: Adler & Adler, 1986), Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: Touchstone, 1996) and Philip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1991). 15 For an excellent introduction to bad arguments on both sides of the issue, see Del Ratzsch, The Battle of Beginnings (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996). 16 For a Christian defense of evolutionary theory, see Howard Van Till, The Fourth Day (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986). 17 Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977), 7-64. 18 , ch. 1 and Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil , 85-112. See Clark, Return to Reason 19 I say proofs “so called”. In Return to Reason , I defend person-relative proofs. For purposes of this essay we will understand “proof” as “reasons to believe.” 20 I left hoping that God would take the circumstances of their atheism into account. Here, it seems to me, the Soviet social engineers severely distorted their cognitive environment. I also hoped that the young people, who had not been so thoroughly inculcated in atheism, might find opportunity to come to know God. 21 See his book, John Hare, The Moral Gap (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). 22 The exceptions prove the rule. If there is a concensus, on e of the debaters had to have been a dismal failure to persuade even the faithful of their deficiencies. 23 Portions of this essay were published previously. I have drawn from “Plantinga vs. Oliphint: And the Winner Is...”, Calvin Theological Journal April 1998, Vol. 33, No. 1, 160-169; and “How Real People Believe”, Modern , January/February 1998, vol. 7, no. 1, 23-26. These essays are used with permission. Reformation 26

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