Properly basic beliefs

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Where am I going with this one? It doesn’t sound like the other arguments… Well it is and it isn’t.

Many Christians have talked about the Holy Spirit that moment they knew when to become a Christian and to sceptics and Christians alike, this can sometimes feel vague or not helpful for one who doesn’t know what this moment is like. Well here I’m going to give a detailed defense, a breakdown and why we can know God wholly apart from arguments.

Properly Basic Beliefs

The majority of Christians haven’t done apologetics down through the centuries, yet they know Christianity is true, are they wrong for doing so? no, and I’ll explain why.

The Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga is the expert on this question and has written a book called “Warranted Christian Belief”. Plantinga does think that when you consider the arguments for God’s existence, it is most probable that God exists. While the arguments for God’s existence are sufficient and necessary, they aren’t needed for a belief in God. You can have a warranted rational belief in God wholly apart from arguments and Plantinga calls this Reformed Epistimology

This is an argument for taking God as a properly basic belief that is appropriately grounded and may be rationally accepted as a basic belief, not grounded on arguments.

Beliefs that are rational to hold but not grounded are called properly basic beliefs. They aren’t based on some other beliefs, they are part of the foundation of a persons system of beliefs. Examples for this would be: belief in the reality of the past, that the world wasn’t created five minutes ago with built in appearances of age, belief in the external world, the presence of other minds like your own. None of these mentioned beliefs can be proved — how could you prove that the world was not created 5 minutes ago? (think about it).

Brain in a Vat of chemicals?

How could you prove you’re not a brain in a vat of chemicals wired up with electrodes by some mad scientist who is stimulating you to believe that you’re here reading this? The scientist could be stimulating you to think it’s absurd that you’re a brain in a vat of chemicals being stimulated by a mad scientist! How could you prove you are the only person and everyone else is just a detailed projection?

These sorts of beliefs are grounded, in that they’re formed in the context of having certain experiences which involve seeing, hearing and feeling. We naturally form the view that there is a world of physical objects out there and I am sensing them.

There maybe no way to prove such beliefs, but you are perfectly rational to hold them — you’d have to be crazy to think that the world was created 5 minutes ago or that you’re a brain in a vat.


Our properly basic beliefs are grounded in our experiences

What is someone says the world is just an illusion?

A Buddhist or Hindu’s would think this generally. You don’t argue with them about the external world because any evidence you provide is from the external world! You might say to them that this is a properly basic belief and in the absence of any defeater of this belief, we are perfectly rational to go with our experience and accept our experience as verification of that. So that the person who claims you are the victim of this massive delusion has a tremendous burden of proof to provide some defeater of that belief. Pressures on them to provide an answer if you’ve justified yours.

You could also ask them how they know they exist (thats properly basic). Perhaps also ask them ifthey have a schedule or a watch. This would be to show the incoherence and the unlivability of their belief. Even the Buddhist would live by the law of non-contradiction

Even in India we look both ways before we cross the street. It’s either the bus or me, not both of us”.

Ravi Zacharias

Is atheism properly basic?

What sort of experience would make belief in the non-existence of God properly basic? The Theist can particularly say that belief in God is properly basic because of the witness of the Holy Spirit to his own spirit. so we can ground our beliefs in something but what can the atheist do?

Maybe the atheist could say “confronted with horrific sufferings in the world it’s just properly basic that there is no God”. But even to this response, Christians can show that there’s no incoherence in belief in an all powerful all loving God in the face of horrendous evil.

So properly basic atheism has weak prospects because of it’s grounding problem

Belief in the Biblical God is appropriately grounded

This is how people in the Bible knew God. John Hick, a liberal philosopher says this:

“God was known to them as a dynamic will interacting with their own wills. A sheer given reality as inescapably to be reckoned with as a destructive storm or life-giving sunshine. They did not think of God as an inferred entity, but as an experienced reality. To them God was not an idea adopted by the mind, but an experiential reality which gave significance to their lives”

John Hick

So God was an experience reality, not the conclusion of a syllogism of belief. So you could be persuaded by the powerful evidence for the Kalam cosmological Argument through reasoning with the evidence, but how you come to that conclusion is simply not the same way you ground belief and trust in the Holy Spirit.


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