Sunday, 27 June 2010

How does Christianity fit with reason? (6)

We're now at the end of our look at how Christianity fits with reason. I've hopefully demonstrated that the Bible describes faith in a way that accords with our sense that we should have evidence for the beliefs we hold. In fact, Biblical faith is "loyalty to God based on the evidence of his trustworthiness." In this entry, for the sake of completion, I want to say a little bit about how belief in God can be rational without evidence.

The limits of evidentialism

The idea that we should have appropriate evidence for all our beliefs is called 'evidentialism'. It is a massively influential belief but taken in its strictest sense, it cannot be entirely true. Consider your belief that you are reading a blog at this moment. Your only evidence that there really is a blog that you're reading is that you seem to be seeing one. But it does not follow that because you think you're seeing one, that you actually are seeing one. You could reason that "because I think I'm seeing a blog, probably I am seeing a blog," but you don't really think it's only probable, you believe it quite certainly and surely nobody would fault you for that. Your belief that you are reading a real blog is rational even though you don't have proper evidence for it. Surely the standards of a strict evidentialism would be too demanding here?

The biggest problem with a strict evidentialism is that it is actually self-defeating. After all what evidence do we have that evidentialism itself is true? It is hard to imagine what such evidence would look like. Philosophers generally recognise that not all of our beliefs require evidence to be held rationally. Some of our beliefs are just 'basic'. Such beliefs include those we form through the use of our senses, like your belief that you are reading a blog because you can see a blog. That is a basic belief.

Belief in God as a basic belief

The other day I was reading a transcript of a debate between a Christian philosopher and a non-Christian philosopher. The Christian assumed that the non-Christian was an atheist but in fact he wasn't. He rejected the Christian idea of God but he still believed in a God of some sort. In a question and answer session afterwards in which the audience got to give the two participants a grilling, one person asked why the non-Christian believed in God. His response was very interesting, especially for a philosopher! He said that he had no evidence or argument to support his belief that God existed, rather he couldn't help but believe in God. He described it as something he just saw as being true, like when he observed certain wonders the belief just came naturally. Many people claim to have a similar belief experience. Might there be reason to think that belief in God is a basic belief?

I think so although to properly elaborate and explain this position would require a lot more time and engagement with some deeper philosophical issues. If you're interested in reading more about this position, I invite you to read Alvin Plantinga's 'Warranted Christian Belief' which, amazingly, is online for free over here. It is a long and more technical read but it is very rewarding. While the Bible certainly describes faith as being tied up with evidence, there is no reason to think that Christianity therefore excludes belief in God in a basic way, and in fact there is reason to think that Christianity entails both.

In the next few entries I'll be looking at Bible passages that are quoted by Christians and skeptics when they aim to show that Christianity is in some manner anti-rational. I'll hopefully show you that those passages have been misunderstood! I hope also that any non-Christian readers won't be put off by looking at the Bible a bit! It's an interesting read ;)

No comments: