Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"Faith and Foundationalism"


In Chapter Ten, Dr. Martin evaluates the different theistic positions regarding the relationship of faith and reason. In doing so, he successfully critiques those that hold to a form of fideism. He also looks at foundationalism, the epistemic system that holds that beliefs ultimately can be shown to rest on improvable foundations. This will be elaborated as we proceed. This is the last chapter in his negative case for atheism.

A Summary of Martin's Claims

Dr. Martin begins this chapter by asserting: "We have seen from the previous chapters that the epistemic and beneficial arguments for the existence of God fail." I would like to remind the readers here that, while Martin has done much to show that (1) many of the arguments fail altogether and (2) most of them are insufficient to demonstrate a particular deity, he has not adequately shown that these arguments all fail. For instance, I have pointed out that his criticisms of Aquinas' and Craig's Cosmological Arguments were unsuccessful. Therefore, the conclusion that God exists has been demonstrated unless a different criticism can be developed and shown to be successful. To this point, I have seen none.

Martin then moves in to describe and critique a handful of positions regarding this topic. He begins by looking at Aquinas' traditional concept of faith and reason. Aquinas believed that things can be rationally believed on faith when they are founded on principles of reason. For instance, the existence of God, miracles, prophecies, and the church are rational evidences for the reliability of Scripture. Thus we can trust, by faith, the indemonstrable propositions of Scripture such as the Trinity, the nature of Christ, and the compatibility of freedom and God's sovereignty. Belief in God and other propositions are seen as preconditions for faith. Martin notes that this position has decided advantages over more recent ones (to be elaborated later). Nonetheless, Martin believes that it fails and gives four reasons. (1) He claims to have shown in Chapter Four that the argument for God's existence fails. (2) He claims to have shown in Chapter Seven that the argument regarding miracles is lacking in necessary proof. (3) Other religious traditions have grown in the same way as Christianity. And (4) though some historical evidence can be know with certainty, the New Testament miracle accounts can not be known with any degree of certainty. These reasons will be examined in the Critique section.

Next, Martin looks at Kierkegaardian existential faith. He first notes how some believed that faith goes beyond, and sometimes against, the evidence. Soren Kierkegaard held that religious faith was more important than reason. As evidence for this, Kierkegaard pointed out that objective certainty leads to stagnation whereas faith is virtuous and that it is commitment to God that is necessary for salvation, not commitment to propositions. Martin, however, points out that Kierkegaard's faith can be condemned for three reasons. (1) It can be condemned on ethical grounds—why would faith despite negative evidence be virtuous? (2) It leads to fanaticism, which is a vice. And (3) it is inconsistent. His particular God wouldn't want this kind of faith since (a) an all good God wouldn't be all good if he required belief in the face of the actual evidence, and (b) if one should have faith in absurdities, as Kierkegaard claims, there are beliefs that should be more championed than Christianity since they are more absurd. After supporting his critique with a theist's critique (R.M. Adams), Martin concludes this section by claiming that Adams' Critique is strong, but doesn't account for the rationality of belief, especially considering the Christian faith, which is based on revelation that contradicts itself. More will be said on this in the Critique section.

Next, Martin takes a look at Wittgensteinian Fideism. Wittgenstein believed that religious belief has its own rules and logic. After a thorough explanation of Wittgenstein's theory, Martin notes that Wittgenstein is correct that it is good to get into the religious system to understand it, but his system still fails. He gives three reasons. (1) The basis for distinguishing between "language games" is unclear. If one were to take it to its extreme, where it seems it must go, then it results in absurdity. (2) This system demolishes the possibility for external criticism, thus resulting in impossibility of distinguishing between truth and falsity. And (3) real discrepancies are called illusions without justification. After presenting this critique, Martin highlights a particular Wittgensteinian fideist's (Norman Malcolm) argument and points out that his correlation between material entities and God fails.

After this, Martin critiques J.S. Clegg's argument that religious avowals are neither true nor false and Louis Pojman's argument that faith can be built on hope rather than belief. He makes quick work of these, so I will leave these criticisms unexplained. He then proceeds to evaluate Alvin Plantinga's theory of properly basic beliefs. Plantinga's system is developed as an answer to what he believes are the failures of classical foundationalism. He claims that (1) many of the statements we know to be true cannot be justified on foundationalist terms, and (2) that Foundationalism itself is not justified by senses, nor is it incorrigible, nor is it self evident. Hence, he developed a new kind of foundationalism that allowed for belief in God to be held as a properly basic belief. He claims that it is not universally recognized because sin is responsible for clouding this (but we may realize it while pondering sensory data). He claims that a belief can only be considered to be properly basic if it is arrived at in the right circumstances, though he doesn't give criteria for such situations since he doesn't believe that doing so is necessary. Martin gives three strong criticisms of Plantinga's system. (1) Plantinga has not proved that Classical Foundationalism fails to be self-evident. (2) He has not proved that the Classical Foundationalist model is not an inference or deduction from properly basic beliefs. And (3) He has not provided a defeater of Contemporary Foundationalism. After this, Martin points out five more problems specifically related to Plantinga's proposed model. (1) Plantinga's proposal would ultimately allow any belief to be considered as basic. (2) Plantinga's proposal assumes the truth Reformed theology. (3) Belief in God is a particularly unlikely candidate for a properly basic belief. (4) What one considers to be basic differs between Reformed and Contemporary epistemologists. And (5) Plantinga's foundationalism is radically relativistic and thus undermines the reason for foundationalism in the first place.

Martin concludes this chapter by presenting a brief version of BonJour's Position against Foundationalism, but it is underdeveloped to the point that I cannot actually explain or critique it, so I will have to make it a personal project for a later time. It will be important for me to do since I consider myself a Classical Foundationalist.

Agreements and What I Have Learned

I was more split on agreement/disagreement in this chapter than in any chapter up to this point. As for agreements, I agree with Martin's criticisms of Kierkegaard, insofar as Kierkegaard has been represented correctly. However, I do not think that Martin has the luxury of faulting him in these ways, since he is invoking objective ethics and virtues, which are inaccessible for the atheist (if he were to be consistent). Thus, at best, his criticism that Kierkegaard is inconsistent is the strongest objection he can use (though, being a theist, the other two criticisms are acceptable and useful for me).

Furthermore, I agreed wholeheartedly with Martin's critique of Wittgensteinian fideism, insofar as it was presented accurately. The idea of "language game theory" seems to presuppose that it has objective explanatory power. I also think that the criticisms of Malcolm, Clegg, and Pojman were all fair based on their views as expounded by Martin. Lastly, I think that Martin brought some excellent points forward regarding Plantinga's Reformed view of properly basic beliefs; in fact I think that his views are devastating to Plantinga's position. I am grateful for reading this section.

Most importantly, I agree with Martin's early disclosure that Aquinas' position has decided advantages over more recent ones. However, I think that his rejection of it is wrong, and that should take up a major point of my critique.


The most important criticism of Martin to this point was already stated at the beginning my summary of his arguments for this chapter: he has not sufficiently made the case against theism. Therefore, his "positive evidence" for atheism will have to have more explanatory power than the cumulative case offered by the cumulative cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments offered by theists.

Next in line for my critique is the criticism of Aquinas' concept of faith as based on reason. As earlier stated, he believes that Aquinas' view did not hold up four reasons. (1) He claims to have shown in Chapter Four that the argument for God's existence fails. (2) He claims to have shown in Chapter Seven that the argument regarding miracles is lacking in necessary proof. (3) Other religious traditions have grown in the same way as Christianity. And (4) though some historical evidence can be know with certainty, the New Testament miracle accounts can not be known with any degree of certainty. Regarding (1), I have shown this to be false already, and one could return to my critique on this chapter to see why. The same can be said regarding (2). In response to (3), I find it disturbing that he claims that other religions have grown in the same way as Christianity did. What religions? He doesn't even give an example. This is an instance of well-poisoning. I would love to see Martin give one actual example of a religion growing because of the persecution that it received. The cultural climate at the onset of Christianity was extremely hostile for the first three centuries, and grew exponentially in spite of that. Thus the third criticism is at best unsubstantiated and at worst, deceitfully wrong. Regarding the fourth criticism, I have to ask "why?" The only reason I can think of that would lead one to such a position is a presupposition against the miraculous. But can he substantiate such a presupposition? He hasn't yet. Since Martin doesn't explain his criteria this point can be seen as null and void. Furthermore, as counterevidence to his assertion, the fact that early Christianity was known to have treated the miraculous resurrection as the central tenet of the faith can be demonstrated by even hostile, yet contemporary witnesses. Thus, Martin's criticisms of Aquinas' system altogether fail.

Later, Martin makes a quick comment regarding the "contradictory nature" of the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels. It is interesting, however, that he fails to give a specific instance of contradiction, but rather simply asserts that the different Resurrection accounts are incompatible. This is a textbook case of either poisoning the well. If you are going to make a claim, support it.

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