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Warranted Christian Belief
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III. The de Jure Question is not Independent of the de Facto Question

And here we see the ontological or metaphysical or ultimately religious roots of the question as to the rationality or warrant or lack thereof for belief in God. What you properly take to be rational, at least in the sense of warranted, depends on what sort of metaphysical and religious stance you adopt. It depends on what kind of beings you think human beings are, what sorts of beliefs you think their noetic faculties will produce when they are functioning properly, and which of their faculties or cognitive mechanisms are aimed at the truth. Your view as to what sort of creature a human being is will determine or at any rate heavily influence your views as to whether theistic belief is warranted or not warranted, rational or irrational for human beings. And so the dispute as to whether theistic belief is rational (warranted) can’t be settled just by attending to epistemological considerations; it is at bottom not merely an epistemological dispute, but an ontological or theological dispute.

You may think humankind is created by God in the image of God—and created both with a natural tendency to see God’s hand in the world about us and with a natural tendency to recognize that we have indeed been created and are beholden to our creator, owing him worship and allegiance. Then, of course, you will not think of belief in God as in the typical case a manifestation of any kind of intellectual defect. Nor will you think it is a manifestation of a belief-producing power or mechanism that is not aimed at the truth. It is instead a cognitive mechanism whereby we are put in touch with part of reality—indeed, by far the most important part of reality. It is in this regard like a deliverance of sense perception, or memory, or reason, the faculty responsible for a priori knowledge. On the other hand, you may think we human beings are the product of blind evolutionary forces; you may think there is no God and that we are part of a godless universe. Then you will be inclined to accept the sort of view according to which belief in God is an illusion of some sort, properly traced to wishful thinking or some other cognitive mechanism not aimed at the truth (Freud) or to a sort of disease or dysfunction on the part of the individual or society (Marx).

And this dependence of the question of warrant or rationality on the truth or falsehood of theism leads to a very interesting conclusion. If the warrant enjoyed by belief in God is related in this way to the truth of that belief, then the question whether theistic belief has warrant is not, after all, independent of the question whether theistic belief is true. So the de jure question we have finally found is not, after all, really independent of the de facto question; to answer the former we must answer the latter. This is important: what it shows is that a successful atheological objection will have to be to the truth of theism, not to its rationality, justification, intellectual respectability, rational justification, or whatever. Atheologians who wish to attack theistic belief will have to restrict themselves to objections like the argument from evil, the claim that theism is incoherent, or the idea that in some other way there is strong evidence against theistic belief. They can’t any longer adopt the following stance: “Well, I certainly don’t know whether theistic belief is true—who could know a thing like that?—but I do know this: it is irrational, or unjustified, or not rationally justified, or contrary to reason or intellectually irresponsible or . . .” There isn’t a sensible de jure question or criticism that is independent of the de facto question. There aren’t any de jure criticisms that are sensible when conjoined with the truth of theistic belief; all of them either fail right from the start (as with the claim that it is unjustified to accept theistic belief) or else really presuppose that theism is false. This fact by itself invalidates an enormous amount of recent and contemporary atheology; for much of that atheology is devoted to de jure complaints that are allegedly independent of the de facto question. If my argument so far is right, though, there aren’t any sensible complaints of that sort. (More modestly, none have been so far proposed; it is always possible, I suppose, that someone will come up with one.)

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