de Jure Question About Christian Belief Bishop

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    'How to answer the "de jure" Question about Christian Belief Author(s): John Bishop and Imran Aijaz Source: International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 56, No. 2/3 (Oct. - Dec., 2004), pp.

    109-129Published by: SpringerStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40021223Accessed: 11-12-2015 18:11 UTC

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  • 'How to answer the dejure question about Christian belief

    JOHN BISHOP & IMRAN AIJAZ

    International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 56: 109-129, 2004. 109 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

    Department of Philosophy, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand

    Our aims in this paper are (1) to argue that Alvin Plantinga's Reformed epistemology (PRE)1 does not provide a categorical affirmative answer to the 'de jure question' about Christian belief; (2) to argue that - on the assumption that our total independent evidence leaves it open whether Christian belief is true or false - a categorical affirmative answer to the de jure question requires defending doxastic venture in favour of Christian belief; and (3) to suggest that PRE's appeal to epistemological externalism may play a significant role in defending the epistemic propriety of doxastic venture in favour of Christian belief. By a 'doxastic venture in favour of a certain belief we understand taking that belief to be true in one's actions and way of life beyond the support of evidence for the truth of the proposition believed - believing by 'a leap of faith,' as is popularly said.

    We share with PRE the view that an affirmative answer to the dejure question will require defending the epistemic propriety of basic Christian belief - i.e., Christian belief whose truth is not arrived at by inference from the truth of other beliefs. We also agree that externalist epistemol- ogy has a contribution to make to such a defence: our objection is only that the key externalist insight of PRE cannot bear the entire weight of vindicating an affirmative answer to the dejure question. Our criticism, then, is a thesis about the limitation of PRE - it is not an allegation of wrong-headedness or unsound motivation. And our purpose is construc- tive: we seek to build on the insights of PRE by indicating the direction in which progress needs to be made in order to overcome its limitations and achieve the sort of answer to the dejure question that a defence of warranted Christian belief really needs. That direction, resting as it does on establishing that one may be within one's epistemic rights in making a doxastic venture in favour of Christian belief, is clearly too 'fideist' to appeal to Plantinga. Nonetheless, we think it is the direction in which a correct appraisal of the strengths and limitations of PRE must surely lead us.

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  • 110 JOHN BISHOP AND IMRAN AIJAZ

    1. The de jure question By 'the dejure question about Christian belief we understand the question whether it is 'intellectually respectable to accept Christian belief'2 - the question whether, in a certain sense, one is 'entitled' or 'within one's rights' to be a Christian believer.

    To fix the meaning of the dejure question further, consider a paradigm situation in which such a question arises. It is the situation of the reflective Christian believer who has come to give some weight to an 'evidentialist' claim that one should hold and act on beliefs such as Christian beliefs only to the extent that their truth is supported by one's evidence - i.e., that one is within one's rights to hold and act on Christian belief only with evidential support for its truth. Some such principle is often enough advertised as part and parcel of commitment to enlightened rationality. Our reflective Christian believer may be inclined to think that she ought to share such commitment, and that holding and acting on religious (and other) beliefs only to the extent of their evidential support may indeed be required from one who aspires to rational integrity. The question whether she is within her rights in continuing to hold and act on her Christian belief may thus become existentially pressing for her, especially if she comes to doubt whether she does in fact have adequate evidence for the truth of her Christian belief.

    We wish to consider, then, whether Plantinga's Reformed epistemol- ogy provides a satisfactory answer to this kind of dejure question about Christian belief that arises in our reflective believer's situation as described. (Hitherto, when we speak of 'the dejure question' we will mean the ques- tion of entitlement to belief that arises for our reflective Christian.3)

    Some issues about the nature of the dejure question are more or less controversial. For example, we are ourselves inclined to think that the dejure question about Christian belief is, ultimately, motivated by moral concern - that, ultimately, our reflective Christian's question is whether she is ethically within her rights in holding, and (more pertinently) acting on, Christian belief. We shall not insist on that point, however, and will be content to take it that our reflective believer's question concerns her epistemic rights in holding and acting on Christian belief.

    Another controversial area concerns the explanation of how it is possi- ble for any question about a person's right to believe to arise at all. Such a question can coherently arise only if one has a genuine option over whether to believe or not ('ought implies can'). Were we wholly passive with respect to our beliefs and their influence on our behaviour, no dejure question about belief could possibly arise. Direct voluntary control over belief does

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  • HOW TO ANSWER THE DE JURE QUESTION ABOUT CHRISTIAN BELIEF 111

    not seem coherent, however. So if a de jure question about belief is to be coherent, we must have some kind of voluntary control with respect to our believing. Plantinga himself offers an account of indirect control over belief.4 We would add to Plantinga's account the observation that, though it may not be within our reflective believer's power (her direct power, any- way) to cease holding Christian belief true, it is certainly directly within her power to cease taking it true in her actions. She can thus coherently ask whether she is within her rights to continue taking her Christian belief true in her actions and way of life - and that is the existential force of her dejure question. Under the influence of evidentialist views about rational integrity, she becomes concerned as to whether she is epistemically entitled to her Christian beliefs, and is inclined to presume that, if she is not, she should cease acting on them and at least attempt to abandon them.

    2. PRE's answer to the dejure question: An appeal to externalism How does Plantinga's Reformed epistemology seek to provide the comfort of an affirmative answer to our reflective Christian's dejure question?5

    PRE's answer to the dejure question begins from the claim that what Plantinga calls 'warrant' can be conferred on a belief in virtue of its having a certain kind of causal history - namely, being produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly in an appropriate environment according to a design-plan successfully aimed at truth.6 'Warrant,' in Plantinga's technical usage, is defined as whatever is needed to convert true belief to knowledge.7 So Plantinga's claim about how warrant can be conferred belongs to an 'externalist' epistemology that allows for beliefs to count as knowledge independently of any 'internalist' support for their truth coming from evidence accessible to the believer.

    PRE next proceeds to apply its externalist account of warrant to Chris- tian belief to produce its central claim - namely, that // Christian belief is true, then it is highly likely that Christian belief has warrant for those who hold it. PRE's central claim is supported by arguing that, if the Christian God does indeed exist, the mechanisms which actually pro- duce Christian belief - both the core theist beliefs, and specific Chris- tian doctrines - constitute the means deliberately intended by God to bring about correct, though limited, apprehension of His existence, na- ture and will. (Plantinga uses Calvin's term - sensus divinitatis - to refer to the mechanism that produces the core theist beliefs, and 'the inter- nal instigation of the Holy Spirit' as the name for the mechanism that yields specific Christian doctrinal beliefs. Plantinga calls his model for warranted Christian belief 'the extended A/C model,' after Aquinas and Calvin.8)

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  • 112 JOHN BISHOP AND IMRAN AIJAZ

    3. Does PRE's central claim resolve the dejure question? Plantinga's Reforme