My Thoughts On Proper Basicality




Proper Basicality is a position some Christian Apologists take with regards to epistemological warrant for believing the truth of Christianity. The argument is an argument that you don’t need arguments to be justified in believing the truth of Christianity unless you have some powerful defeating reason to convince you otherwise. People like William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga makes this argument. But it is legitimate?

1: Does The Denial Of This Position Reduce Many Christians To Irrationality?

First, let me say that I can see why people would want to propound this view. To say that you need to have know of the good arguments for God’s existence in order to be justified in believing in Him would reduce a large number of Christians to a position of irrationality. Many people either don’t have the time to research the powerful evidence out there for God’s existence. This seems to make evidentialism a position of intellectual elitism. It seems to only make those have studied the evidence for the resurrection, natural theology arguments etc. the only rational Christians there are. So it seems right to argue that you don’t necessarily need to have any of these in order to be justified in believing The Bible.

On the other hand, I don’t think evidentialism necessarily reduces every Christian who hasn’t studied apologetics to a position of irrationality. The Bible says that the evidence for God’s handiwork (and thus, existence) is so clear in the natural world that human beings have no excuse in saying He doesn’t exist (Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:18-20). Even if you don’t know about the powerful evidence for a beginning, and hence a Beginner. Even if you don’t know about the fine tuning of the universe, or any of the hundreds of parameters that much be just right in order to make life possible in our localized region of the universe, even if you’ve never read how DNA points to design, or irreducible complexity, or if you’ve never head The Moral Argument for God’s existence, the evidence for God in nature is so powerful that you can come to that conclusion just by walking outside and looking around.

The evidence for creation and design is evident even on the intuitive level. While doing science does make natural revelation 1,000 times stronger, you have access to God’s natural revelation even if you didn’t have access to the scientific evidence. After all, Paul wrote Romans 1 back in the first century when they didn’t know hardly any of the design evidence we know of now. They could only see God’s handiwork in nature on the intuitive level. Thanks to science, we’ve been able to take what was evident on an intuitive level and really unpack it scientifically and philosophically.

Here’s an analogy. Anyone who looks at a car can tell based on it’s features that’s it’s been designed by an intelligent being. You can come to this conclusion just by observing the outside. You see the wheels attached to the exterior, you can see the dashboard (from looking through one of the windows) and all of it’s buttons and dials, the seats etc. From these things, you conclude somebody made the car. When you open up the hood and see all of the dozens and dozens of complex parts interconnected with one another to form working engine, you’re more than sure now. Natural Revelation is the same way. 

Most Christians who haven't studied apologetics, when you ask them why they believe in God, if they don't answer "I just have faith", they'll answer "Look around you, and in you! Look at the orderliness of nature! Look at how complex the human body is! Do you expect me to believe all this came about by chance?"

Given this, I don’t think any Christian is unreasonable for believing in God “in the absence of evidence”. In fact, they don’t believe in the absence of evidence. The created order declares His glory. By the way, this is one reason why I often wonder if anyone truly has blind faith. Although one problem that could rightfully be pointed out is that the record of nature only gets you to theism in general, not necessarily to Christian theism.

2: It’s Not A Good Apologetic. 

Regardless of whether or not belief in God is properly basic, proper basicality doesn't make for a good apologetic. I like William Lane Craig's differentiation of knowing VS. showing. He says that while you can know God exist without arguments, you can't show people God exists by appealing to your properly basic belief. Who is seriously going to be persuaded by the response "The internal witness of The Holy Spirit" in response to the question "What reason is there to think God exists?" That would rightly be as unconvincing as a Mormon saying we should believe Mormonism is true because he had a “burning in the bosom”.

I recently read a chapter in Paul Copan’s book “When God Goes To Starbucks” and he made this same distinction. Copan and Craig would both argue that while proper basic belief in God is perfectly valid and legitimate, appealing to such subjective experience isn’t very persuasive when talking to another person.

When someone says “You ask me how I know he lives? He lives in my heart” I think the response you would expect is “You’re placing your confidence of the truth of your worldview on feelings?”

3: Proper Basicality Is Not For Me

I for one am rather skeptical of the internal witness myself. How do I know this is The Holy Spirit speaking to me rather than just a gut feeling a have (is this just a hunch that Christianity might be true or is God really speaking to me)? Moreover, I’d have a hard time comparing my internal witness up against a Mormon’s “burning bosom”. Whom is The Holy Spirit really talking to? He can’t be telling me that Christianity is true and be telling the Mormon that Mormonism is true…because these beliefs have contradictory truth claims. How do I know The Holy Spirit isn’t speaking to Him and it’s something else that’s gnawing at me (some other spirit, or just self delusion)? Apart from any external, objective evidence I’d have a hard time making the differentiation.

But my personal incredulity of the witness of the Spirit shouldn’t mean that others are unjustified in their Christian belief in the absence of arguments. If there really is a Holy Spirit (as the collective evidence demonstrates) then obviously a person wouldn’t be irrational for listening to Him. But that’s the whole question for me. How do I know this is The Holy Spirit instead A) some other spirit, B) self delusion, or C) Just a hunch I feel. I need an argument to reinforce my confidence in the truth of God’s existence or the resurrection (Showing *myself* that Christianity is true). I’m just too much of a skeptic to rely on such subjective experience. I want hard facts. I want evidence, I want arguments.For me, the internal witness of The Holy Spirit works as corroborative evidence, not stand alone evidence. I prefer the objective route.