Notes on Rowe, Ch. 6 – “Faith and Reason”
0.1 So far, we’ve focused our discussion on the issue of whether there is a rational basis for belief in the god of classical theism.
0.2 This discussion has presupposed two ideas
0.1.1 religious beliefs should be evaluated “in the court of reason”
0.1.2 religious beliefs will find favor in this “court” only if they are supported by sufficient evidence
0.3 But a number of people have criticized these two assumptions
0.3.1 against the first assumption: religious beliefs should be accepted by faith, and not by reason
0.3.1.1Faith must be (a) a free choice, and (b) one that requires unconditional acceptance and commitment
0.1.3.2 But if faith were based on reason, then it would be either based on evidence that proves the truth of the relevant religion, or evidence that makes it probable.
0.1.3.3 if faith were based on evidence that proves the truth of the religion, then we are no longer free to accept or reject that religion (since proofs rationally compel belief)
0.1.3.4 On the other hand, if faith were based on an argument that makes the truth of the religion probable, then unconditional acceptance of and commitment to that religion would be ridiculous.
0.1.3.5 therefore, either way, faith shouldn’t be based on reason.
0.3.2 against the second assumption: some beliefs are rational without argument
0.4 These points reveal the need to explore the relationship between faith and reason:
0.4.1 we need to explore the nature of faith to see whether it’s a rationally acceptable basis for a religious form of theism
0.4.2 we need to explore whether theism is among the beliefs that are rational without argument
1. Exploring the First Question: The Nature of Faith, and its Relationship to Reason
1.1 Aquinas’ account
1.1.1 Faith is the cognitive state between knowledge and opinion
220.127.116.11 Knowledge is a firm and sure cognitive state of assent to a belief that’s compelled by the evidence, and therefore isn’t free.
18.104.22.168 Opinion is a less-than-firm cognitive state of assent to a belief that’s not compelled by the evidence, and is therefore free
22.214.171.124 Faith is a firm and sure cognitive state of assent to a belief that’s not compelled by the evidence, and is therefore free. 1.1.2 two categories of divine truth: those that are demonstrable by reason, and those that aren’t
126.96.36.199 Truths about the divine demonstrable by reason
188.8.131.52.1 that God exists
184.108.40.206.2 that God created the world
220.127.116.11.3 that God is good
18.104.22.168 Truths about the divine not demonstrable by reason: (include) beliefs required for salvation
22.214.171.124 this allows saving faith to be free and worthy of merit
126.96.36.199.1 and this, in turn, makes it appropriate for God to reward faith
1.1.3 as it turns out, however, most religious believers have to accept by faith the divine truths demonstrable by reason
188.8.131.52 most people don’t have the time and training required to study and learn the arguments for these truths
184.108.40.206 and even if they did, most of them don’t have the ability required to grasp these arguments
220.127.116.11 however, those who learn of these truths by reason cannot accept them by faith, and are thus not freely assented to by such people
1.1.4 although faith is different from reason, faith requires reason
18.104.22.168 faith should only assent to propositions revealed by God
22.214.171.124 but how do we tell whether such a proposition is a part of God’s revelation?
126.96.36.199 this is where reason comes in. Reason guides faith by determining which truths have been revealed by God
188.8.131.52 careful! Reason can’t show that such propositions are true.
184.108.40.206 rather, it can only indicate that such propositions are revealed by God
220.127.116.11 and reason can’t prove that they’re revealed by God; rather, they can only show that this with some degree of probability (thus leaving room for free will to assent to them). Arguments for revelation include:
18.104.22.168.1 arguments based on fulfilled prophecy
22.214.171.124.2 the argument from the success of the Church
126.96.36.199.3 the argument from miracles
1.1.5 in the afterlife, all divine truths will be the object of knowledge, and not faith
188.8.131.52 Can reason really demonstrate God’s existence? (Think of the arguments for theism we’ve considered, and the criticisms of them.)
184.108.40.206 it makes faith dependent upon whether reason can indicate that a religious text is from God. (This seems all the more troubling if reason can’t first demonstrate whether a god exists at all)
1.2 Clifford’s account
1.2.1 Clifford’s Thesis: “It’s wrong, always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”
1.2.2 the case for Clifford’s Thesis: the Shipowner illustration:
220.127.116.11 a ship-owner talked himself into believing that his ship was seaworthy without sufficient evidence
18.104.22.168 unfortunately, the ship sunk, and all of those on the ship drowned.
22.214.171.124 the ship-owner was blameworthy for his belief
126.96.36.199 we would still think he was blameworthy even if the ship didn’t sink, since his guilt is due to the way he formed his belief, and not its consequences
1.2.3 Criticism of the Shipowner illustration
188.8.131.52 the case doesn’t show that it’s wrong to believe without sufficient evidence
184.108.40.206 rather, it only shows that it’s wrong to act on beliefs that lack sufficient evidence.
1.2.4 Clifford’s first reply:
220.127.116.11 the criticism falsely assumes that it’s possible to compartmentalize belief so as to prevent its consequences in action
18.104.22.168 but it’s not possible; beliefs are intimately tied to our actions, and thus inevitably influence them
1.2.5 Clifford’s second reply:
22.214.171.124 belief without evidence also has indirect effects that are harmful
126.96.36.199 they make the believer credulous, and susceptible to deception and other types of harm
188.8.131.52 by putting up with unsupported claims, one contributes to a lack of intellectual standards in one’s community, reverting back to a regressive state of superstition, savagery and primitivism that took humans millennia to overcome
1.2.6 Therefore, ethically permissible belief/faith must be based on reason, where this is spelled out in terms of sufficient evidence
1.2.7 criticisms: see James’ argument for his own view below
1.3 James’ account:
1.3.1 Setup: reason, the passions, and belief
184.108.40.206 James thinks that there are two causes of belief: reason and the passions
220.127.116.11.1 reason evaluates the evidence for and against a proposition, and directs the will either to believe, disbelieve, or suspend judgment, in conformity with the evidence
18.104.22.168.2 the passions = everything else that can lead us to believe or disbelieve something (e.g., desires and preferences)
22.214.171.124 traditionally, philosophers have argued that one should suppress the passions and listen to reason alone when it comes to belief
126.96.36.199 Clifford is clearly within this tradition
188.8.131.52 James agrees with it up to a point, viz., when it comes to beliefs for which the evidence points one way or the other
184.108.40.206 however, he disagrees when it comes to beliefs for which the evidence doesn’t point one way or the other (plus some other qualifications, to be spelled out below)
1.3.2 choosing to believe an option is permissible without sufficient evidence iff it’s undecidable, live, momentous, and forced
220.127.116.11 a proposition is undecidable if the evidence for the proposition is either counterbalanced, or there is just no known relevant evidence either way (if there is at least just a little more evidence for one side of the debate than there is for the other side, then it’s decidable)
18.104.22.168 a choice to believe is live for someone if both hypotheses are appealing and are seen by them as real possibilities for their life (if not, the choice is dead to you)
22.214.171.124 a choice to believe is momentous if your decision isn’t easily reversible, something of importance depends on whether you make the right choice, and you may not have a chance to choose again at a later time (if not, the choice is trivial)
126.96.36.199 a choice to believe is forced if suspending judgment has the same consequences of choosing to disbelieve it (if not, the choice is avoidable
188.8.131.52 James agrees with Clifford that it’s never permissible to believe something if there is evidence against the proposition, and no good evidence for it.
184.108.40.206 also, he thinks it’s impermissible to believe an undecidable proposition if it’s dead, trivial, or avoidable
1.3.4 Applying the theory of permissible belief to religious belief
220.127.116.11.1 Many theists think it is decidable, and in favor of theism
18.104.22.168.2 many atheists think it is decidable, and in favor of atheism
22.214.171.124.3 if either of these two camps is right, then James’ theory doesn’t apply – it can’t be used as a basis for theistic belief
126.96.36.199.4 however, the agnostics may well be right that the evidence is too ambiguous to indicate a conclusion about theism either way
188.8.131.52.1 many in the West feel that religious forms of theism (e.g., Christianity) are live options to them – not ruled out by the evidence, and they could see a religious life as a real possibility for them
184.108.40.206.2 the same goes for atheism
220.127.116.11.3 thus, for such people, religious forms of theism are live options
18.104.22.168.1 if religious forms of theism offer great and unique benefits even if it’s false, then religious theistic belief is momentous
22.214.171.124.2 on the other hand, it’s less clear that theistic religious belief is momentous in the other two senses
126.96.36.199.2.1 do you really have just one chance to accept it?
188.8.131.52.2.2 are initial decisions really irreversible once you make them?
184.108.40.206.1 if its unique benefits only exist if religious theism is true, then it’s not forced in James’ sense
220.127.116.11.2 for if theism is false, then there are no great goods to be lost and horrible suffering to be endured if we either reject it or suspend judgment
18.104.22.168.3 still, we can modify his account to allow for this conditional kind of a forced option
1.3.5 James’ argument for the permissibility of religious belief
22.214.171.124 There are three possible belief policies one can adopt with respect to theism:
126.96.36.199.1 the theist: risking error for a chance at truth and a vital good
188.8.131.52.2 the agnostic: risking a loss of truth and a loss of a vital good for the certainty of avoiding error
184.108.40.206.3 the atheist: risking error and the loss of a vital good for a chance at truth
220.127.116.11 But all three policies are undecidable, and choosing one of the policies is live, momentous, and forced
18.104.22.168.1 Clifford’s mistake was to think that the agnostic’s policy is the only rational option
22.214.171.124.2 but we’ve just seen that each option is on a par with the others
126.96.36.199 Therefore, although there is no duty to choose to believe, one is in one’s rights in doing so, if one so chooses (key quotes, p. 103)
1.3.6 Rowe’s criticisms:
188.8.131.52 it seems that choosing among the three belief policies is decidable on rational grounds. Indeed, James himself appears to be offering reasons for preferring the theistic belief policy
184.108.40.206 James mischaracterizes Clifford’s agnosticism -- Clifford does offer reasons to prefer the agnostic’s policy
220.127.116.11.1 it can lead to harmful actions to oneself or others
18.104.22.168.2 it can weaken the precious yet fragile individual and social habit of demanding evidence for beliefs, which, if lost, can lead back to a descent into the age of superstition and savagery
22.214.171.124 so, if James is to vindicate his account of permissible yet rationally groundless belief, he must show either that (a) such belief won’t weaken the habit, or (b) that the risk of weakening the habit is outweighed by the possible good from theistic belief
2. Exploring the Second Question: Can Theism Be Rational Without Argument?
2.1 Plantinga’s account
126.96.36.199 the need for basic beliefs: the Regress Argument
188.8.131.52 non-basic vs. basic beliefs
184.108.40.206.1 non-basic beliefs are beliefs based on arguments
220.127.116.11.2 basic beliefs are believed without being based on propositional evidence; rather, they’re occasioned by certain sorts of “belief-triggering” experiences
18.104.22.168 improper vs. properly basic beliefs
22.214.171.124.1 an improperly basic belief isn’t produced by triggering-conditions that would make the belief appropriate
126.96.36.199.2 a properly basic belief is produced by triggering-conditions that would make the belief appropriate
188.8.131.52 examples of properly basic beliefs: that there are other minds, that material objects exist, and that there is a past
184.108.40.206 why Plantinga says that properly basic beliefs are rational “without evidence or argument”: because he construes evidence and argument as propositional evidence, as opposed to (for example) evidence provided by being directly aware of something
220.127.116.11 just because a belief is properly basic, it doesn’t mean that it’s immune from criticism; it can be neutralized or rebutted by defeaters (recall our discussion of religious experience)
2.1.2 Plantinga’s thesis: belief in God is properly basic
18.104.22.168 Plantinga grants that religious experiences count as properly basic theistic beliefs
22.214.171.124 however, he also thinks that there is a much wider range of triggering-conditions for properly basic theistic belief
126.96.36.199.1 reading the Bible and thereby believing that God is talking to you through it
188.8.131.52.2 looking at the starry night sky and thereby believing that “God made all of this”
184.108.40.206.3 having a sense of guilt and thereby believing that “God disapproves of what I’ve done”
220.127.116.11 again, like other properly basic beliefs, theistic basic beliefs are open to defeat in principle; however, they are rational unless or until such defeaters are given
2.2 Rowe’s assessment of Plantinga’s account
2.2.1 clearly there are cases in which belief in God is properly basic, e.g., a child raised in a community of devout believers who are constantly told by them that God is good, looks out for their needs, etc.
2.2.2 however belief in God is not properly basic for sophisticated Western theists; for they are aware of a number of defeaters to theistic belief that knock it out of its properly basic status (e.g., the problem of evil, religious diversity, contemporary psychological explanations for religious belief, the success of the sciences to explain natural phenomena, etc.)
2.2.3 Plantinga’s examples of “widely realized” triggering-conditions for theistic belief might render such belief properly basic, but no more so than the “widely realized” triggering-conditions for properly basic belief in Santa Claus (cf. his example of the 14-year old theist in a community of believers)
2.2.4 Plantinga must explain why, given his thesis about the wide variety of triggering-conditions for theistic belief, there are so many people who never achieve properly basic belief in a theistic God – and why many have properly basic belief in non-theistic divine beings
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