DEFINITION OF THE TERM EPISTEMOLOGY
Epistemology stands for a theory of knowledge that studies the nature of knowledge and beliefs. In this paper, the issue concerning belief in God is considered to be an epistemological issue. Both Plantinga and Robins take into consideration epistemological issue, but not theological one. Both of them discuss how much latitude, epistemologically speaking, should be permitted when they identify certain beliefs as “properly basic”. (DeRose 2)
DEFINITION OF THE TERM PROPERLY BASIC BELIEF
The term properly basic belief is connected with some warranted beliefs that are sufficiently warranted by their virtue. According to the ideas of foundationalism, all basic beliefs are known as axioms of belief system that are justified. They are divided into two groups: properly basic beliefs and beliefs that are taken from one or more basic beliefs. Properly basic beliefs do not need justification of other beliefs. They are connected with the application of logic and reason and do not require testing. (DeRose 1)
ALVIN PLANTINGA’S ARGUMENT CONCERNING BELIEF IN GOD
Alvin Plantinga’s argument concerning belief in God is based on the fact that belief in God does not require evidence. It is known that many people consider that belief in God is irrational and improper if it is not supported by some evidence. Alvin Plantinga, as the founder of the Society of Christian philosophers and the well-known epistemologist, criticizes the above mentioned idea. Plantinga’s major argument is concluded in the fact that belief in God can be regarded as a properly basic belief.
DEFINITION OF HIS POSITION
Alvin Plantinga states that a belief can be properly basic only under certain conditions which include the ground of its justification and the ground of the belief itself. It means that basic beliefs are not groundless. It is difficult to say that belief in God has no justifications and that it is absolutely groundless. Alvin Plantinga refers to the ideas of John Calvin, a well-known protestant reformer, who considers that God “reveals and daily discloses himself to the whole workmanship of the universe”. Moreover, Alvin Plantinga states that Got created human beings in such a way that they have an opportunity “to see his hand in the world around”. (Plantinga 46) One more evidence is the Bible. Reading the Bible gives an opportunity to hear the words of God. When people do wrong, they can “feel guilty in God’s sight”. Alvin Plantinga’s position proves the fact that God exists. He represents some more conditions that prove the belief in God, including “guilt, gratitude, danger, a sense of God’s presence, a sense that he speaks, perception of various parts of universe.” All the above mentioned conditions are considered to be properly basic as they provide evidence that God exists. (Plantinga 46)
SUMMARY OF THE ARGUMENT
Plantinga states that not all beliefs in this world are based on evidence; some of the beliefs are basic. As not all the beliefs are properly basic, some of them are grounded on these properly basic beliefs. Alvin Plantinga calls it classical foundationalism that is the theory of knowledge. It has a structure of the well-made house, where some beliefs are placed at the foundation of this construction, and the other beliefs rest on them. It means that classical foundationalism has restricted notion of basic beliefs. Plantinga states that “the belief in God is properly basic”. (Plantinga 47) However, he is sure that not all the people will agree with this argument. He writes in his article Is Belief in God is Properly Basic? : “The Christian will of course suppose that belief in God is entirely proper and rational; if he does not accept this belief on the basis of other prepositions.” (Plantinga 50) The American analyst philosopher tries to compare belief in God and belief in the Great Pumpkin in relation to the so called “basicality”. Taking into consideration the above mentioned discussion, belief in the Great Pumpkin cannot be regarded as a properly basic belief as it is groundless and “there is no natural tendency to accept beliefs about the Great Pumpkin”. (Plantinga 51)
THE STRONGEST POINTS OF ALVIN PLANTINGA’S ARGUMENT
One of the strongest points of Alvin Plantinga’s argument is connected with the so-called “Reformed epistemology” that claims that belief in God can be rational and can be justified without any evidences and arguments concerning the existence of God. Alvin Plantinga states that today many reformed philosophers and theologians reject natural theology. It means they reject classic foundationalism. He considers that the believer has his intellectual rights to believe in God without any theistic argument, inductive or deductive. He even can believe in God if there are no any arguments at all. The reformed philosophers are sure that “it is perfectly rational to accept belief in God without accepting it on the basis of any other beliefs and propositions.” (Plantinga 42) Alvin Plantinga defends this point in his paper and successfully proves that belief in God is properly basic. In this case, I completely agree with Alvin Plantinga’s ideas.
The other strongest point of Alvin Plantinga’s argument is connected with “evidentialist objection” that is considered to be normative contention. Alvin Plantinga refers to Professor Blanshard’s words concerning “ethics of the intellect”. The Professor states that belief always has an ethical aspect. It means that it is always necessary to pay special attention to evidence. In case there is no evidence, it is necessary to stop believing. However, Plantinga states that it is impossible to stop believing. The reason is that most beliefs cannot be under somebody’s control. I completely agree with this statement. The American analyst philosopher writes in his paper, “the relevant obligation is not that of divesting myself of theistic belief, if I have no evidence but to try to cultivate the sorts of intellectual habits that will tend to issue in my accepting as basic only propositions that are properly basic.” It means that belief in God does not need any evidence as it is a properly basic belief. (Plantinga 43) These are the strongest points of Alvin Plantinga’s argument.
THE STRONGEST AND RATHER SIGNIFICANT OBJECTION TO PLANTINGA’S POSITION
One of the strongest and rather significant objections to Plantinga’s position is made by J. Wesley Robins in his article Is Belief in God Properly Basic? J. Wesley Robins is sure that belief in God is not properly basic. He criticizes Plantinga’s claim that “it is epistemically proper and reasonable for a person to believe certain things about God regardless of whether there are reasons for that belief in the form of other beliefs that provide evidential support for it.” (Robins 241)
J. Wesley Robins as a critic of Plantinga’s argument does not support the evidentialist objection. Moreover, he states that Alvin Plantinga who aligns himself with reformers is wrong when he exposes belief in God to epistemic evaluation and criticism” in relation to other beliefs. Robins argues that belief in God is not self-evident, that is why its epistemic evaluation should be determined according to its relation to other beliefs. When Alvin Plantinga refers to classical foundationalism, and writes about epistemic privilege of belief in God, Robins criticizes his ideas: “if someone were to do otherwise and accept this principle without its being supported by other beliefs, then their system of beliefs would be incoherent. (Robins 243)
Robins does not support Plantinga’s contention against evidentalist critics of religious beliefs according to which belief in God is immune to any type of criticism and to any evaluation in terms of its connection with other beliefs. However, Plantinga admits that the examples of epistemically privileged beliefs are considered to be “community relative”. In this case, Robins refers to Richard Rorty’s ideas concerning epistemological behaviorism which gives an opportunity to understand epistemic authority and rational acceptability. Moreover, Robins states that “epistemological behaviorism accepts the commonplace, referred to earlier, that inquiry and epistemic evaluation require some beliefs that are accepted at face value without further question”. (Robins 246)
The above mentioned objections to Plantinga’s argument prove the fact that belief in God does not qualify as a basic belief and cannot be called “properly basic”. However, I cannot agree with Robins’ discussion of this epistemological issue. Belief in God is really a properly basic belief as it is reasonable and consistent with our world view that includes belief in our senses and memory as well as belief in God.
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that beliefs that are grounded in a proper way may be accepted as properly basic beliefs that are not grounded on argument. So, belief that God exists is grounded in a proper way, therefore belief in God may be accepted as basic belief that is not grounded on argument. In his article Is Belief in God properly Basic?, Alvin Plantinga proves the fact that belief in God is properly basic. He uses a lot of simple examples which help the readers to evaluate his argument. Moreover, he refers to such well known thinker as John Calvin, and to other reformers who claim the same, that belief in god is properly basic. In other words, in order to view religious belief as properly basic, it is necessary to prove that God is known directly and there is no need to have evidence for it.
DeRose, K. Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic? American Philosophical Association. 1999. Available from:
Goetz, S. Belief in God is not Properly Basic. Religious Studies. Vol.19. 1984. Available from:< http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Goetz-Belief-in-God-Is-Not-Properly-Basic.pdf>
Plantinga, A. Is Belief in God Properly Basic? Nous, Volume 15, No.1, 1981. A.P.A. Western Division Meetings, March 1981. Available from:
Robbins, J.W. Is Belief in God Properly Basic? International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. Volume 14, No.4, 1983. Available from: