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Warranted Christian Belief
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A. Variations on Classical Foundationalism

The classical picture taken neat, therefore, is subject to devastating difficulty. Nowadays, however, it is seldom taken neat. Instead, there are many analogical extensions or analogically related alternatives for each of the three main components of the classical package: the evidentialism, the classical foundationalism, and the deontology. For example, John Mackie112112   The Miracle of Theism. retains the evidentialist component, claiming that Christian belief requires evidence on the part of the believer. But Mackie apparently construes evidence much more broadly than the classicist. In his view as in the classical picture, there is a body of knowledge—my evidence—with respect to which a belief must be probable, if it is to be justified; however, this evidence includes much more for Mackie than it does in the classical picture. It includes what is self-evident and incorrigible, of course, but it also includes ordinary perceptual judgments, memory beliefs, some basic science, some of the maxims of probability theory, and so on. Alternatively, we might follow Stephen Wykstra, who concedes that an individual Christian believer doesn’t need evidence to be justified; still, Christian belief, he suggests, is evidence-essential in the sense that there must be propositional evidence for it in the Christian community.113113   See above, footnote 38. Or we might go still further, following Norman Kretzmann114114   In Our Knowledge of God: Essays on Natural and Philosophical Theology, ed. Kelly Clark (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992). and broadening the classical requirement in such a way that what is required is only that the believer have evidence of some sort, even if the evidence in question isn’t propositional. Sensuous experience might then be evidence for perceptual belief; other sorts of experience, perhaps some of the kinds of experience that go under the rubric ‘religious experience’, could also be evidence for Christian belief. These variations are all variations on the classical foundationalist component of the classical picture: according to Mackie and Kretzmann, the believer must have evidence, but evidence is more broadly construed; according to Wykstra, on the other hand, evidence is required, but it need not be possessed by the individual believer, so long as it resides somewhere in the believer’s community. Mackie, Kretzmann, and Wykstra retain the evidentialism (with respect to Christian belief) of the classical picture, but modify the foundationalism.

It isn’t clear whether they accept the deontological component of the classical picture; suppose for the moment we keep that component fixed, modifying only the evidential requirement. It is then obvious, I think, that the believer can be justified even if there aren’t good arguments from Mackie-style evidence, even if there isn’t good propositional evidence in the community, and even if there isn’t evidence in the broad Kretzmann sense. If it seems to me very strongly that the great things of the gospel are true, if upon reading the Scriptures I find myself convinced, and if after considerable reflection—on all the objections, for example—I still find myself convinced, how could I be properly blamed for believing as I do? Again, I could be wrong, deluded, a victim of wishful thinking, subject to some kind of cognitive disorder: nevertheless, there is no duty I am flouting. If the de jure question is whether the believer can be justified, or justified without evidence, the answer is still too easy: of course she can.


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