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Faith and Reason Positions in L. P. Pojman’s Philosophy of Religion

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The Philosophy of Religion

Diablo Valley College

Dr. Peter Krey

Spring Semester, 2006

Faith and Reason Positions

Text: L. P. Pojman’s Philosophy of Religion

One can hold that:

  1. Faith and reason are compatible. In this position it is rational to believe in God.
  2. a. Faith can be opposed to reason. Then faith is in the area of irrationality.

b. Faith can be considered trans-rational or higher than reason.

Kierkegaard held that faith was both opposed to reason and was above it. Reason does not belong where faith reigns. Reason is the queen of all the sciences, but when it gets between the believer and God, it has gone out of its proper bounds. Karl Barth and Calvin held faith to be trans-rational or above reason. When revelation is considered self-authenticating, then it is above reason.[1] From this point of view, natural theology is inappropriate, because it seeks to meet unbelief on its own ground in ordinary, finite reasoning, e.g., placing it on the same level as science. Thus Thomas Aquinas’ natural theology would be ruled out. Thomas goes beyond reason, however, into pure faith, too.

In terms of self-authentication, Plantinga argues that we do not need evidence or arguments for religious beliefs, because they can be properly basic for us. Pojman does not consider that a philosophical position.

Like, Kant, Blaise Pascal does not believe rationality can determine whether or not God exists. It takes reason beyond its proper limits. Therefore Pascal argues for a pragmatic justification of belief. He uses pragmatic probability theory, decision-making theory, and a cost benefit analysis for his famous wager.

When Pojman quotes the Epistle of James (p.114), we have to distinguish between two senses of the word belief. Devils believe in God, knowing God exists, but they do not believe in God in the sense of trusting God, i.e., committing themselves to God, pledging their whole lives to God. Faith in God means believing in God in a trusting way.

In the Large Catechism Luther writes: Tell me what your heart clings to and trusts in, and I’ll tell you what is your god. Because that to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God (from his explanation of the first commandment in his Large Catechism).

W.K. Clifford argues that believing has moral ramifications and believing without sufficient evidence is immoral. William James takes issue with him. Two considerations need to defend fidéists in Clifford’s example of the ship-owner.

1. Moderate fidéists divide up ordinary realities from the transcendent. The ship-owner is not dealing with the transcendent, but with business and commercial realities. Reason is queen of this House, of this realm and to operate with insufficient evidence concerning the safety of the sailors and the sea-worthiness of the ship is immoral.

2. Faith requires loving others as a demonstration for the love and faithful trust of God. Therefore the example seems rather foreign to a believer, who would view this ship-owner as quite a psychopath, who is using his faith to save money at the cost of many lives. Now Clifford may argue that faith practiced before the ultimate could go out of bounds and become immoral in the proximate decisions of life, and that argument may be well-taken, just like reason can come between God and the believer and try to replace God or argue that God is the creation of human reason, rather than humanity being the creation of God. Reason turns faith upside down, but to the faithful, “It is God who has created us and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3). Reason says it is we who have created God, and God does not exist-but is a human projection of a father in the sky (Freud) or of an ordinary family into the Holy Family in heaven (Feuerbach). The latter felt theology had to become anthropology, because for him there was no God.

Some theologians speak of phenomena (as reason’s house) as opposed to noumena, the area of the sacred, (as the house of faith). Some speak of proximate decisions and practical reasoning vs. the ultimate decisions and matters of Faith, and these theologians are dialectical thinkers, like Luther, Calvin, and Barth, who are very adept at making distinctions that Clifford-and even James are unaware of. When James speaks of the Mountain climbers jump – it is still proximate and not the leap of faith required by the ultimate.

William James is getting into the true environment of faith when he writes of decisions that are live, momentous, and forced rather than empty, trivial, and optional. The latter, to an extent, relate to lineal, detached, and objective knowledge, where judgment, beliefs, or decisions can be suspended until sufficient evidence provides the indication for going one way or the other. But a proposal for marriage, for example, is live, making timing of the essence. A long delay is the same as saying “no” to the marriage proposal. Secondly, the decision is momentous, because either saying “yes” or “no” will change the future course of your life; and thirdly, it is forced, because to say “no” or to suspend judgment is also to decide against.

This kind of knowledge is committed, involved, and participates in objects to be known and it is not detached objective, and lineal. Think of Ludwig Wittgenstein entering the picture, instead of looking at it. Think of the Old Testament’s meaning of knowledge as a mutual indwelling and knowing from the inside rather than from objective detachment.

On page 116, Pojman cites William James about the mountain climber who has to believe he will make the enormous leap to the other ledge or he will become paralyzed and lost. James is opposing Clifford directly with this example. James believed that “there are cases where faith creates its own verification” (116).

Pojman claims William’s “will to believe” is direct voluntarism-where Pascal suggesting going to masses, making confession, taking holy water, etc. brings about faith-which, for Pojman, is indirect voluntarism.

James has important principles for Fidéists on p.117: objective reason is simply inappropriate for religious belief. Faith creates its own justification, its own criteria for internal assessment. One kind of fidéism states that religion appears absurd to reason. (Tertulian: “I believe it because it is absurd!” And see St. Paul’s epistle, 1 Corinthians 1: 20, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”)

In the second kind of fidéism, religion is an activity in which reason is inoperative (e.g., in Calvin).

Kierkegaard held both versions of fidéism. He held that reason was [determined by] the limits of religion alone, the way Kant argued that religion should be in the limits of reason alone (Pojman 118). Kierkegaard thought that faith and not reason went to the deepest reaches of the human being. Through a dialectic, through a series of contradictions, a person ascended into higher stages of maturity. The three stages are the aesthetic, ethical, and religious levels. In the first a person wants to experience every pleasure, have a good time, and avoid boredom. Yet the emptiness and boredom became unbearable, partying is no longer interesting, and a person moves into the ethical responsible stage-where one marries, has children, takes a responsible job, has a house and a car and sometimes comes to ask, “What is it all for?” Suddenly there is no point to this life of reason and responsibility. With the leap of faith a person then experiences an encounter with the living God. Here the person has broken through a superficial and shallow existence into the life of an authentic self before God. Such a “knight if Faith” brings about a person, who transcends others, having understanding and commitment far beyond them, much like an adult playing with children but having adult reaches of experience they have not yet had.

This is Kierkegaard’s subjectivity experienced as truth. It is not just knowing the truth, but being formed and shaped by the truth through faith. Being in the truth is what Kierkegaard calls faith.

Alvin Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology comes from John Calvin, the French Reformer who systematized Martin Luther. The tenets of Foundationalism are that all justified beliefs must either be properly basic by fulfilling certain criteria, or be based on other beliefs. Thus you have a tree-like construction with properly basic beliefs resting at the bottom. A proposition is properly basic if and only if it is either self evident, or incorrigible, or evident to the senses (p. 121) (or is remembered, Pojman adds). It is the noetic structure in their epistemic relations that I compared with a paradigm (of Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, 1962). Beliefs can also be at the periphery or they can be completely central- at the core of our belief system, and when revisions are called for, we usually choose the belief that revises our system the least. (Also see W.V.O. Quine, Methods of Logic, New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1952), p. xiii.) Kuhn and Quine relate to what Planginta describes as classifying the contents of our noetic structure:

1. in terms of basicality

2. in terms of the degree of belief

3. in terms of the depth of ingress of belief.

Pojman explains this classification on page 122.

A basic belief is bedrock upon which all the other ideas rest. Plantinga argues there is more to the intensity of belief than just the strength of the evidence for it, the way Hume would have it. By the depth of ingress, Plantinga means that beliefs play different roles in our noetic structure (or paradigm?) because some are more central and others peripheral to our belief system. Losing some beliefs have a much greater effect on our belief system than losing others.

Some philosophers argue that belief in God is neither self-evident, incorrigible, nor evident to the senses. Thus, from this point of view, a foundationalist could argue there is no God. Hume would say that belief in God is not an analytic statement, as in “all bachelors are unmarried men.” To negate that statement entails a contradiction, while to say God does not exist, does not. (On the other hand, remember how the subtle strategy of St. Anselm’s ontological argument was to equate denying God’s existence with a denial of rationality?)

Plantinga notes that the most devastating criticism of the formula of classical foundationalism is that it is self-referentially incoherent (p. 123). Thus Reformed Theologians have argued that they do not wish to prove theism, nor does the believer’s confidence rest on arguments. Everything proceeds from God as the starting point. So that to believe that God exists, is like believing that other minds exist, the universe is real, and I had breakfast this morning (Pojman). No arguments are required before the existence of God can be considered properly basic and belief in God is at the foundation of a believer’s noetic structure. This is the position of Reformed Epistemology along the lines of foundationalism.

Plantinga argues that extreme fideism disparages and denigrates reason, whereas moderate fideism simply prefers faith over reason in religious matters.

(See the distinction above between dialectical theologians, who assign faith and reason to different nuances of existence, and extreme fidéists, who reject reason utterly. Some critics do not distinguish the former theologians from the latter.)

Pojman criticizes Plantinga first by shifting the burden of proof to those who question the basicality of believing in God. But if Plantinga claims basicality,

1. then he has the burden of proof or he could be guilty of epistemological egoism.

2. Believing without the need for evidence is questionable.

Why cannot the great pumpkin also be basic to one’s noetic structure? Pojman asks. Pojman claims Plantinga is not a foundationalist at all but a coherentist. Coherentism as opposed to foundationalism or basicality justifies each belief by its relationship with all the other beliefs in the system, and thus Pojmans argues that Plantinga lacks a grounding in empirical data (p. 130). Plantinga does not provide any experiment or indications even to confirm or deny the existence of God. Plantinga seems to make his basicality theory immune from the reasoning process, which would exclude it from philosophy. Pojman concludes with a good summary on page 131.

[1] The Isaiah passage –My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my thoughts above your thoughts and my ways above your ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). To interpolate: Biblical science is very primitive compared to ours, but we can postulate a science of God that far surpasses our science of today.


Written by peterkrey

July 28, 2007 at 9:27 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I apologize that this reply doesn’t relate to your sermon. However, I felt this is the best way—for now—to contact you.
    I’m writing both a historical journal article and a historical romance novel. One of the real characters is Madame Rosalie de la Val. Below is the record of her marriage to the Dutch ambassador to the United States:

    ST. MICHAEL’S AND ZION CHURCH. 411 March 31, 1794 Franco Peter Van Berckel (minister to the United States from the Netherlands) and Rosalie Josephe Bacler de Leval.

    Is it possible to receive a copy of this marriage certificate/record? And in which of the two churches would the couple have been wed?

    Franco Peter Van Berckle was the son of Heer de Heer Van Berckle, whose term as Minister Plenipotentiary from their Great and Mighty Lords, the States General of the United Netherlands, preceded that of Franco’s term in the same office.

    Would there be other records on either Rosalie or either Van Berckle? Especially Van Berckle, since I surmise his family was the one associated with your church.

    It would certainly be of help.

    Carolyn C. Holland 724 238 3493
    P. O. Box 300
    Laughlintown, PA. 15650


    August 6, 2007 at 3:41 pm

  2. […] Faith and Reason Positions in L. P. Pojman’s Philosophy of Religion […]

  3. […] Faith and Reason Positions in L. P. Pojman’s Philosophy of Religion […]

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