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
184.108.40.206 Knowledge is a firm and sure cognitive state of assent to a belief that’s compelled by the evidence, and therefore isn’t free.
220.127.116.11 Opinion is a less-than-firm cognitive state of assent to a belief that’s not compelled by the evidence, and is therefore free
18.104.22.168 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
22.214.171.124 Truths about the divine demonstrable by reason
126.96.36.199.1 that God exists
188.8.131.52.2 that God created the world
184.108.40.206.3 that God is good
220.127.116.11 Truths about the divine not demonstrable by reason: (include) beliefs required for salvation
18.104.22.168 this allows saving faith to be free and worthy of merit
22.214.171.124.1 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
126.96.36.199 most people don’t have the time and training required to study and learn the arguments for these truths
188.8.131.52 and even if they did, most of them don’t have the ability required to grasp these arguments
184.108.40.206 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
220.127.116.11 faith should only assent to propositions revealed by God
18.104.22.168 but how do we tell whether such a proposition is a part of God’s revelation?
22.214.171.124 this is where reason comes in. Reason guides faith by determining which truths have been revealed by God
126.96.36.199 careful! Reason can’t show that such propositions are true.
188.8.131.52 rather, it can only indicate that such propositions are revealed by God
184.108.40.206 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:
220.127.116.11.1 arguments based on fulfilled prophecy
18.104.22.168.2 the argument from the success of the Church
22.214.171.124.3 the argument from miracles
1.1.5 in the afterlife, all divine truths will be the object of knowledge, and not faith
126.96.36.199 Can reason really demonstrate God’s existence? (Think of the arguments for theism we’ve considered, and the criticisms of them.)
188.8.131.52 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:
184.108.40.206 a ship-owner talked himself into believing that his ship was seaworthy without sufficient evidence
220.127.116.11 unfortunately, the ship sunk, and all of those on the ship drowned.
18.104.22.168 the ship-owner was blameworthy for his belief
22.214.171.124 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
126.96.36.199 the case doesn’t show that it’s wrong to believe without sufficient evidence
188.8.131.52 rather, it only shows that it’s wrong to act on beliefs that lack sufficient evidence.
1.2.4 Clifford’s first reply:
184.108.40.206 the criticism falsely assumes that it’s possible to compartmentalize belief so as to prevent its consequences in action
220.127.116.11 but it’s not possible; beliefs are intimately tied to our actions, and thus inevitably influence them
1.2.5 Clifford’s second reply:
18.104.22.168 belief without evidence also has indirect effects that are harmful
22.214.171.124 they make the believer credulous, and susceptible to deception and other types of harm
126.96.36.199 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
188.8.131.52 James thinks that there are two causes of belief: reason and the passions
184.108.40.206.1 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
220.127.116.11.2 the passions = everything else that can lead us to believe or disbelieve something (e.g., desires and preferences)
18.104.22.168 traditionally, philosophers have argued that one should suppress the passions and listen to reason alone when it comes to belief
22.214.171.124 Clifford is clearly within this tradition
126.96.36.199 James agrees with it up to a point, viz., when it comes to beliefs for which the evidence points one way or the other
188.8.131.52 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
184.108.40.206 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)
220.127.116.11 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)
18.104.22.168 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)
22.214.171.124 a choice to believe is forced if suspending judgment has the same consequences of choosing to disbelieve it (if not, the choice is avoidable
126.96.36.199 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.
188.8.131.52 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
184.108.40.206.1 Many theists think it is decidable, and in favor of theism
220.127.116.11.2 many atheists think it is decidable, and in favor of atheism
18.104.22.168.3 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
22.214.171.124.4 however, the agnostics may well be right that the evidence is too ambiguous to indicate a conclusion about theism either way
126.96.36.199.1 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
188.8.131.52.2 the same goes for atheism
184.108.40.206.3 thus, for such people, religious forms of theism are live options
220.127.116.11.1 if religious forms of theism offer great and unique benefits even if it’s false, then religious theistic belief is momentous
18.104.22.168.2 on the other hand, it’s less clear that theistic religious belief is momentous in the other two senses
22.214.171.124.2.1 do you really have just one chance to accept it?
126.96.36.199.2.2 are initial decisions really irreversible once you make them?
188.8.131.52.1 if its unique benefits only exist if religious theism is true, then it’s not forced in James’ sense
184.108.40.206.2 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
220.127.116.11.3 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
18.104.22.168 There are three possible belief policies one can adopt with respect to theism:
22.214.171.124.1 the theist: risking error for a chance at truth and a vital good
126.96.36.199.2 the agnostic: risking a loss of truth and a loss of a vital good for the certainty of avoiding error
188.8.131.52.3 the atheist: risking error and the loss of a vital good for a chance at truth
184.108.40.206 But all three policies are undecidable, and choosing one of the policies is live, momentous, and forced
220.127.116.11.1 Clifford’s mistake was to think that the agnostic’s policy is the only rational option
18.104.22.168.2 but we’ve just seen that each option is on a par with the others
22.214.171.124 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:
126.96.36.199 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
188.8.131.52 James mischaracterizes Clifford’s agnosticism -- Clifford does offer reasons to prefer the agnostic’s policy
184.108.40.206.1 it can lead to harmful actions to oneself or others
220.127.116.11.2 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
18.104.22.168 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
22.214.171.124 the need for basic beliefs: the Regress Argument
126.96.36.199 non-basic vs. basic beliefs
188.8.131.52.1 non-basic beliefs are beliefs based on arguments
184.108.40.206.2 basic beliefs are believed without being based on propositional evidence; rather, they’re occasioned by certain sorts of “belief-triggering” experiences
220.127.116.11 improper vs. properly basic beliefs
18.104.22.168.1 an improperly basic belief isn’t produced by triggering-conditions that would make the belief appropriate
22.214.171.124.2 a properly basic belief is produced by triggering-conditions that would make the belief appropriate
126.96.36.199 examples of properly basic beliefs: that there are other minds, that material objects exist, and that there is a past
188.8.131.52 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
184.108.40.206 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
220.127.116.11 Plantinga grants that religious experiences count as properly basic theistic beliefs
18.104.22.168 however, he also thinks that there is a much wider range of triggering-conditions for properly basic theistic belief
22.214.171.124.1 reading the Bible and thereby believing that God is talking to you through it
126.96.36.199.2 looking at the starry night sky and thereby believing that “God made all of this”
188.8.131.52.3 having a sense of guilt and thereby believing that “God disapproves of what I’ve done”
184.108.40.206 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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