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I say I propose in this chapter to give a model of theistic belief’s having warrant; but what sort of animal is a model, and what would it be good for? There are models of many different kinds: model airplanes, artists’ models, models in the sense of exemplars, models of a modern major general. There is also the logician’s sense of model in which, for example, any consistent first-order theory has a model in the natural numbers. My use of the term here is more abstract than the first and more concrete than the second. The rough idea is this: to give a model of a proposition or state of affairs S is to show how it could be that S is true or actual. The model itself will be another proposition (or state of affairs), one such that it is clear (1) that it is possible and (2) that if it is true, then so is the target proposition. From these two, of course, it follows that the target proposition is possible. In this chapter, I shall give a model of theistic belief’s having warrant: the Aquinas/Calvin (A/C) model. Then in chapters 7, 8, and 9, I will extend the A/C model to a model in which specific and full-blooded Christian belief has warrant.
I claim four things for these two models. First, they are possible, and thus show it is possible that theistic and Christian belief have warrant. The sense of possibility here, however, isn’t just broadly logical possibility—after all, such obvious falsehoods as the population of China is less than a thousand are possible in that sense—but something much stronger. I claim that these models are epistemically possible: they are consistent with what we know, where “what we know” is what all (or most) of the participants in the discussion agree on.198198 Epistemic possibility is stronger than broadly logical possibility, but also weaker. There are propositions that are epistemically possible, but not possible in the broadly logical sense—true for all we know, but nonetheless impossible. Of course I can hardly be required to produce one; but I can produce a pair one or the other of which enjoys this distinction. Thus consider existentialism: the proposition that singular states of affairs and propositions are not necessarily existent but are ontologically dependent upon the objects with respect to which they are singular. For example, according to existentialism, no proposition singular with respect to Socrates—Socrates was wise, for example—could have existed if Socrates had not. I believe existentialism is false (see my “On Existentialism,” Philosophical Studies [July 1983]), but I could scarcely claim to know that it is false, and, I believe, the same goes for everyone else. Existentialism is therefore epistemically possible. The same goes, naturally enough, for its denial. Each of these propositions, however, is necessarily true if true at all; hence one or the other is necessarily false, in the broadly logical sense, even if epistemically possible.
Second, and related to the first assertion, I claim that there aren’t any cogent objections to the model—that is, to the proposition that the model is in fact true or actual. More exactly, there are no cogent objections of a philosophic or scientific kind (or indeed any other kind) to the model that are not also cogent objections to theism or Christian belief. Another way to put it: any cogent objection to the model’s truth will also have to be a cogent objection to the truth of theistic or Christian belief. I shall go on to argue that if Christian belief is indeed true, then the model in question or one very like it is also true. If I am successful, therefore, the upshot will be that there is no viable de jure (as opposed to de facto) challenge either to theistic or to Christian belief. There is no sensible challenge to the rationality or rational justification or warrant of Christian belief that is not also a challenge to its truth. That is, there is no de jure challenge that is independent of a de facto challenge. That means that a particularly popular way of criticizing Christian belief—to be found in the evidentialist objection, in the F&M complaint, in many versions of the argument from evil, and in still other objections—is not viable. This is the sort of challenge that goes as follows: “I don’t know whether Christian (or theistic) belief is true—how could anyone know a thing like that? But I do know that it is irrational, or rationally unacceptable or unjustified or without warrant (or in some other way epistemically challenged).” If my argument is right, no objection of this sort has any force.
Third, I believe that the models I shall present are not only possible and beyond philosophical challenge but also true, or at least verisimilitudinous, close to the truth. Still, I don’t claim to show that they are true. That is because the A/C model entails the truth of theism and the extended A/C model the truth of classical Christianity. To show that these models are true, therefore, would also be to show that theism and Christianity are true; and I don’t know how to do something one could sensibly call ‘showing’ that either of these is true. I believe there are a large number (at least a couple dozen) good arguments for the existence of God; none, however, can really be thought of as a showing or demonstration. As for classical Christianity, there is even less prospect of demonstrating its truth.199199 As I shall argue below, p. 271. Of course this is nothing against either their truth or their warrant; very little of what we believe can be ‘demonstrated’ or ‘shown’.
Fourth, there is a whole range of models for the warrant of Christian belief, all different but similar to the A/C and extended A/C models. (In claiming that models I present are close to the truth, what I am claiming is that they belong to that range.) And the fourth thing to say here is that if classical Christian belief is indeed true, then one of these models is very likely also true. Alternatively, for one who thinks Christian belief true, one or more of these models (or their disjunction) is a good way in which to conceive the warrant of Christian belief.
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