Tag Archives: Properly Basic

Another reason for believing God

31 Aug

Do you accept God for who he says he is in the Bible because the written words are true?

And do you know that the words are true because there is enough external evidence to warrant true belief?

Or do you trust God and his words because you always have and don’t really think about why you do?

I ask because I learned of another way to justify one’s belief in God.  Listening to a podcasted discussion (Unbelievable with Justin Brierley) between 2 philosophers the other day introduced me to the concept of ‘properly basic beliefs’ and ‘non-propositional’ logic.

As a layperson, I gleaned that a properly basic belief is one not based on other propositional truth or on evidence, but accepted and trusted.  These are beliefs that can’t be proven. Examples might be:

  • the sense or knowing that there is more to life than what we see
  • 2 + 2 = 4

The American philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, offers this example:

  •  I think other minds exist because I have a mind and I exist, but I can’t prove it.  All might be an illusion (remember The Matrix?).
  • Nonetheless, we humans do accept that if we exist, then others exist. And if we acknowledge THAT as a rational belief, then might we not also accept as rational the proposition that God exists?

This way of ‘argumentation’ does presuppose that we humans have the capacity to think rationally.  (to use this lingo, “the belief that humans are designed to think rationally” is properly basic)

Plantinga points to the ‘sensus divinitatis’ in every human as evidence that the existence of God is a rational conclusion.  This sense of the divine appears in every culture across the expanse of history.

So what do you think?  For Christians who are commanded by Jesus to explain the good news of God’s rescue plans to all we encounter in our daily lives, is this approach sufficient?  Probably not.  But as we live out ‘the Great Commission’ we are learning and assembling a ‘tool kit’.  I’m reassured just knowing that intelligent Christian thinkers across the centuries have vetted what is probably common to all people I meet.  There ARE convictions we hold as rational without being able to articulate any propositional or evidential reason other than, “I just believe it!”

 

Logical Gal – why do you believe what you believe?

17 Jul

Beliefs

I heard a former French atheist claim that belief in God was ‘properly basic‘.

I had to look it up to understand what was meant.

It seems that whatever belief we hold must be justifiable.  We have to supply a proper or legitimate reason for believing. That is, when we can provide a ‘proper’ reason for why we hold something to be true, then we are in our ‘intellectual rights’ for believing it to be so.    So what is a kind of reason that would lead to something being a legitimate belief?

The easiest source for a good reason or foundation is to deduce a new truth from a prior accepted truth.  Sounds cut and dry…yet…you can end up  following an ‘infinite regress’, a I believe this because of that.   And I believe THAT because of ANOTHER THAT..resulting in an unending pointing back to the prior belief  à la ‘world without end, Amen!’

Fortunately some beliefs are considered ‘properly basic’ in that you don’t have to explain WHY you believe that they are so.  These beliefs are often mathematical or logical in scope.  But some people will claim that belief in God is ‘properly basic’,  that no proof is needed. They will say, “Well  you believe that minds other than yours exist, right?  How do you prove that?  You wouldn’t even be able to THINK about whether God existed if He hadn’t created reason, so belief in God is a starting point – hence ‘properly basic’.”

So how do we sort out whether something fits the ‘properly basic’ category or not?    Just be able to answer the question: Why do you believe XYZ?

You have 2 choices:

a) you can say – I believe XYZ because it’s a properly basic belief and doesn’t need proof.  And then you EXPLAIN why that is so.

or

b) you can say – I believe XYZ for this reason….. and you provide a proper basis for your thinking.

In other words – just know what you believe and why you think it is so!

But what constitutes a ‘proper’ reason outside of one that is ‘properly basic’?  This requires making some distinctions, AKA thinking!

I just do

The above explanation might suffice for why you married your partner, but that won’t work for most anything else.  With love, you might be saying that your feelings are based on a whim. Or at best they are a result of something that you can’t put into words.

But for other issues, like why you feel hopeful about the future, or why you are a democrat, or why you eat gluten-free or why you hold to a naturalist worldview or why you have chosen to homeschool, or why you believe that human nature doesn’t change – these beliefs must be supported by something else.  Here are a few possibilities:

  • you believe because your 5 senses offer evidence that the belief is true (and you trust your senses)  – I SAW the airplane land with my own eyes!
  • you believe because you can make a logically deductive case for the belief – All men make mistakes.  John is a man.  Therefore, he makes mistakes.
  • you have probable cause to believe due to previous experiences – Every time I eat wheat bread, my stomach is upset.  When I substitute gluten-free bread, my stomach is fine.  Therefore, I do better on a gluten-free diet.
  • you believe because it is self-evident or axiomatic, as uncontroversial as “The sun always rises in the east.”
  • you believe because someone or something authoritative that you trust has claimed it to be so.  For example: George Washington was our 1st president.  I trust the history books and the oil paintings that we have portraying Washington.

Whether a belief is ‘properly basic’ or not might be more than you care to remember, and you might have to google it like I did the next time you hear it.  But, the take away is this:

  • We need to be able to articulate not only WHAT we believe, but WHY we hold something to be true.

Question: What is your strongest, most passionate belief that you are quickest to defend?  And what would you say grounds it? Or is IT, in fact, ‘properly basic’ and does not need any reason or defense?