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Defeaters and Defeat

The philosophical case against theism is rather easily dealt with. There is no philosophical case against theism.

G. K. Chesterton

I’ve argued that Christian belief—the full panoply of Christian belief, including trinity, incarnation, atonement, resurrection—can, if true, have warrant, can indeed have sufficient warrant for knowledge, and can have that warrant in the basic way. There are no cogent philosophical objections to the notion that these beliefs can have warrant in this way. It is easily possible to work out an account—for example, the extended Aquinas/Calvin (A/C) model—of how it is that beliefs of these sorts do indeed have warrant. This way does not involve arguments from other beliefs. Rather, the fundamental idea is that God provides us human beings with faculties or belief-producing processes that yield these beliefs and are successfully aimed at the truth; when they work the way they were designed to in the sort of environment for which they were designed, the result is warranted belief. Indeed, if these beliefs are true and the degree of their warrant sufficiently high, they constitute knowledge.

Of course this hardly settles the issue as to whether Christian belief (even if true) has or can have warrant in the circumstances in which most of us actually find ourselves. Someone might put it like this: “Well, perhaps these beliefs can have warrant, and perhaps (if they are true) even warrant sufficient for knowledge: there are circumstances 358in which this can happen. Most of us, however—for example, most of those who read this book—are not in those circumstances. What you have really argued so far is only that theistic and Christian belief (taken in the basic way) can have warrant, absent defeaters. But defeaters are not absent.” The claim is that there are serious defeaters for Christian belief: propositions we know or believe that make Christian belief—at any rate, Christian belief held in the basic way and with anything like sufficient firmness to constitute knowledge—irrational and hence unwarranted. Philip Quinn, for example, believes that for “intellectually sophisticated adults in our culture” there are important defeaters for belief in God—at least if, as in the extended A/C model, held in the basic way. As a result, belief in God held in the basic way, as in the model, is for the most part irrational: “I conclude that many, perhaps most, intellectually sophisticated adults in our culture are seldom if ever in conditions which are right for [theistic beliefs] to be properly basic for them.”441441   “On Finding the Foundations of Theism,” Faith and Philosophy 2, no. 4 (1985), p. 481. See my “The Foundations of Theism: A Reply,” Faith and Philosophy 3, no. 3 (1986) pp. 298ff.; and Quinn’s rejoinder, “The Foundations of Theism Again,” in Rational Faith: Catholic Responses to Reformed Epistemology, ed. Linda Zagzebski (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), pp. 14ff. The defeaters that particularly impress Quinn are, first, natural evil (evil that is not due to human free will) and, second, projective theories of theistic belief, such as those of Freud, Marx, and Durkheim.

In this and the next chapters, I’ll deal with four proposed defeaters for Christian belief. In this chapter, after a brief investigation of the nature of defeaters, I’ll argue that the projective theories Quinn mentions do not in fact constitute a defeater for Christian belief. In chapter 12, I’ll argue that contemporary historical biblical criticism (‘higher criticism’) doesn’t serve as a defeater for Christian belief, even when its alleged results do not support Christian belief and, indeed, even when they go counter to it. In chapter 13 I’ll examine the claim that the facts of religious pluralism constitute a defeater for Christian belief; I’ll also look into the idea that the development of postmodern thought is, in some way, a defeater for such belief. I’ll argue that neither offers such a defeater. Finally, in chapter 14 I’ll consider what has often been seen as the most formidable challenge of all to Christian belief: the facts of suffering and evil. This challenge too, I’ll argue, does not as such constitute a defeater for Christian belief.

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