In cruising the philosophy blogosphere I ran across an interesting post by John DePoe on whether belief in God is properly basic. John thinks that some criticism by Norman Geisler is particularly devastating. I’ll return to Geisler’s critique in a later post. For now I want to address some of John’s claims. It has been awhile since I read any Plantinga so what follows will be mostly from memory. Let me start with John’s exposition of a properly basic belief:
The criterion that designates a belief as properly basic seems to be that the belief is widely accepted or a central axiom that buttresses the central aspects of one’s life. Plantinga takes the belief that “God exists” to be properly basic.
Properly basic beliefs are not defined as those which are widely held though they may be. The notion of properly basic beliefs has existed in various forms as far back as the stoics. For Plantinga a properly basic belief is a belief that is not believed on the basis of other beliefs, but forms the basis for other beliefs. So it is likely a central axiom, but I don’t know that it need be. We come to have basic beliefs by trusting our cognitive faculties when we come to have certain beliefs. Plantinga appeals to analogies to show that we do this sort of thing all the time when we believe in other minds, believe in the past, etc. We didn’t need arguments to believe in the past or other minds we simply are inclined to have these beliefs. In similar fashion many of us are inclined to believe in God. Now it may turn out that the theist is wrong in believing in God. Properly basic beliefs are not infallible, but this doesn’t make them irrational. Of course theists may be wrong about the existence of God, but we may be wrong about other minds and the past too. One thing to be clear about is that the claim that belief in God is a properly basic belief is not to serve as a proof for God’s existence. As I recall Plantinga’s goal is to counter the claim that belief in God is irrational. So Plantinga’s approach seem a minimalist one in that he only has to show that belief in God is rational and not the harder task of proving that God exists.
This qualifies as a type of quasi-fideism since it permits one to believe that God exists without any reasons whatsoever.
This claim strikes me as simply false since it is not the case that the theist comes to have a belief in God for no reason. Plantinga thinks that there are good reasons why we come to have basic beliefs, but the reason isn’t other beliefs. John may mean arguments when he says reasons in which case I think the later portion of his statement is correct, but I don’t think it makes Plantinga a quasi-fidist. Plantinga doesn’t reject appeals to reason or arguments for God’s existence. He specifically says such actions can bring a person into the proper position to form a belief in God. Yet they are not the reason why someone comes to have such a belief. Curiously reading both Philosophers Who Believe and God and the Philosophers I don’t recall a single case of a person coming to believe in God based on arguments.