Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Christian Belief: Justification, Rationality, and Warrant – Part II



In my last post I pointed out that Christian belief comes from the instigation of the Holy Spirit, rather than from unaided human reason. In this post, I am going to focus a little more attention on what I mean by the terms justification, rationality, and warrant as they are used in Christian apologetics. If you are new to this sort of study, all I can do is encourage you to stay with it. You will run across several terms and concepts that will seem confusing at first but I promise you that if you will stay with, refuse to give up, eventually, the lights bulbs will start becoming brighter and brighter.

I said in my last post that Christians will generally encounter two types of objections to Christian belief. The first kind is called de jure objections. This kind of objection argues that Christian belief is not warranted because there is something defective in it. Christian belief is irrational, or those who hold Christian beliefs are operating with deficient cognitive faculties. The second kind of objection is called de facto objections. This kind of objection argues that Christian belief is false. There is something factually wrong about the claims of Christian belief. A Christian should become familiar with both types of objections, and with the most common characteristics in both kinds of objections. In this post, I am dealing specifically with de jure objections; the claim that something is irrational, or unjustified in Christian belief. This raises the question around the meaning of the terms justified, rationality, and warrant. Moreover, how does a belief qualify for such a status? I will offer some basic definitions for these terms and then proceed to talk about the differences between how pagan philosophers thinks about these concepts and how Christians ought to think about them.

Some may argue that I ought not call pagan philosophers, pagan philosophers because it is insulting to philosophers everywhere. For the record, I am not interested in flattering men who hate God and do all they can to destroy belief in Him. I will call them what Scripture calls them and not apologize for it. I am interested in the truth, not in making sure as few a people as possible are not offended by it. I do not mean to be disrespectful for the sake of being disrespectful. If a pagan philosopher does not want to be called a pagan philosopher, then they should submit to Christ and become a Christian philosopher.

Now, let’s begin with the term justification. For starters, I am not going to get into the technical details around this term and bore you with issues like the Gettier problem (trust me, you don’t want to know). I am only going to deal with the basics. In philosophy, we would say that a person is justified in holding a belief if the belief is true, and that they have done their due diligence in what is intellectually obligatory to hold the belief in question. For instance, they have done their duty in examining the belief and have concluded it is true. Note that justification only applies to beliefs that are not basic in nature. A basic belief is a belief that does not require justification because it is self-evidently true. For instance, 2 + 2 = 4 is immediately self-evident. It requires no justification. The belief that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense is a belief that is self-justifying: we call it the law of non-contradiction. But any belief that is held on the basis of other propositions or beliefs, is not a basic belief, and requires justification. We then ask the question, does the Christian need to justify his belief in God, in Christ, in Scripture? In order to answer that question, we ask if the belief in God, in Christ, and in Scripture is occasioned by other propositions or beliefs? And I have already argued that Christian belief arises from the instigation of the Holy Spirit in the human heart/mind. Since Christian belief arises from the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, it is not based on another belief, and it is also not held on the basis of other propositions. From this one must conclude therefore, that a right understanding of Christian belief is that it is basic.

Another word often used to describe a belief is rational. Is Christian belief rational? Rationality goes to the question of whether or not Christian belief involves either, inconsistency or outright contradictions. For example, it is argued that Christian belief holds that God and evil both exist in the same world and at the same time, and such a belief is logically contradictory. Therefore, as far as they are concerned, Christian belief should be rejected on the ground that it violates the laws of logic. This is just one example of many used to claim that Christian belief is irrational.

Finally, we come to the word that Alvin Plantinga uses to define whether or not someone is in possession of true knowledge: warrant. A belief is warranted, according to Plantinga, if it is produced by our faculties functioning as they are designed to function (aiming for truth), within the right sort of cognitive environment, and we have good reason for holding a belief. Now, this definition of warrant only gets one to a high probability that the belief in question is actually true. Plantinga thinks this is sufficient for knowledge. Under this definition of knowledge, we ask the Christian, “Is Christian belief warranted?” and the answer is, yes it is! However, I should point out that it is my contention that the degree of warrant enjoyed by Christian belief comes in the highest possible degree.
Either Christian belief is basic or it is not basic. Either Christian belief is grounded in other beliefs that are eventually basic or it is not. Of course I am ruling out any coherentist view of truth in the philosophical sense. For purposes of this post, I will resist to urge to chase this rabbit. The question at hand concerns how Christian belief translates into genuinely true knowledge. How does Christian belief attain warrant?

Christian belief arises from faith. Christian belief does not arise from empirical evidence, or from rational arguments. Christian belief does is not produced by a series of logical syllogisms. Christian belief is the product of faith, this faith itself being the gift of the Holy Spirit, imparted to every Christian upon their new birth, their regeneration which effectively results in their conversion to Christianity. Genuine Christian belief then is occasioned by a supernatural work of God in the human person. The cognitive faculties of human beings, in the spiritual environment, do not and cannot function properly. Even though men’s knowledge of God via the sensus divinitatis is present and efficacious for its purpose, that knowledge is subjected to a perversion because of the curse. We call this the noetic effects of sin. For the unbeliever then, if they were to embrace some of these similar beliefs that we are calling Christian belief, they would be unable to ground those beliefs in such a way as to attain warrant for them. In other words, Christian belief so-called, is unwarranted and unwarrantable, unless it arises within the proper environment. And the only environment capable of producing genuine Christian belief is the miraculous environment of regeneration. Faith is a cognitive activity. Calvin wrote, True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

In summary, I would say, with Plantinga,
  1. When beliefs are accepted by faith and result from the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit, they are produced by cognitive processes working properly.
  2. The environment in which we find ourselves is precisely the cognitive environment for which this process is designed.
  3. The process is designed to produce true beliefs.
  4. The beliefs it produces, belief in the great things of the gospel, are in fact true.
Faith, then, is a reliable belief-producing process.


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