Non-Inferential Justification


   Another “strategy” that theists have taken to rebut the charge there is insufficient evidence for belief that God exists is to argue that theism is simply not in need of propositional arguments to be a justified belief.  This line of thinking takes Kant’s criticism of natural theology (and other criticisms of natural theology) seriously, but argues that a person can still be justified in believing certain things--what are called “properly basic” beliefs--without them being inferred from any other propositions.  And further that theistic belief is one of those properly basic beliefs.

    One step in this argument is to attempt to show that argumentation has to stop somewhere or otherwise we would have to have need of an infinite set of arguments to support any of our beliefs.  This is because the conclusion of any valid argument can be questioned by calling into question the truthfulness of its premises and any argument for the truth value of those premises can have its premises called into question as well, and so on into infinity.  And as Plantinga has said (to paraphrase him), who has the time these busy days to do that?

    So the question is where is one properly justified to stop justification?  And the secondary question  is theism one of those beliefs that fall into the category of not needing additional propositional arguments?  These readings below, especially by Plantinga, look at that question in some detail. 

On-line Resources


Stanford Encyclopedia of Phil. Religious Epistemology & Reformed Epistemology

Kelly James Clark article: Without Evidence or Argument

Annotated Readings

Plantinga, Alvin. “Reason and Belief in God” in Faith and Rationality.

    This is an introductory, but sophisticated essay on Plantinga’s claim that belief that God exists is properly basic and does not need additional propositional arguments to make that belief rational.   He also handles a number of objections to his claims in this essay.  It’s a good place to start your readings on non-inferential justification for belief in God.

________. Warrant and Proper Function. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    A more rigorous philosophical defense of Plantinga’s position on non-inferential justification based on epistemic considerations. 

________.  Warrant: The Current Debate.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993. 

    Plantinga explains the epistemic underpinnings (internalist versus externalist intuitions) of warranted belief, including a stab at the historical development of these two major schools of thought.  It’s very helpful for understanding how and why epistemic considerations are important when one considers the nature of justification for beliefs.   A challenging read for non-professional philosophers, but a very important book to read and grasp its implications.

_______.  Warranted Christian Belief.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    The final installment of Plantinga’s trilogy on the “intellectual or rational acceptability of Christian belief.”  As big as the first two volumes of this series combined (499 pps.), but fills in important gaps from his first two books (rationality issues versus truth issues) and extends the model he’s developed beyond simple belief in God to a broader account of underpinnings of Christian beliefs (theology).  Again, a difficult read for non-professional philosophers, but Plantinga has a very clear writing style and explains and defines his terms nicely.  Mastering these three books will help take your formulated answer to the highest level, I think, of non-professional apologetic sophistication.

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