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Warranted Belief in God

To know in a general and confused way that God exists is implanted in us by nature. . . .

Thomas Aquinas

for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. . . .

St. Paul

The de jure challenge to Christian (or theistic) belief, as we have seen, is the claim that such belief is irrational or unreasonable or unjustified or in some other way properly subject to invidious epistemic criticism; it contrasts with the de facto challenge, according to which the belief in question is false. Put just like that, the de jure rebuke is pretty vague and general; we can’t do much by way of evaluating the proposed complaint without achieving a clearer and more specific formulation of it. As we have seen, clear and sensible formulation of the de jure criticism—at any rate of one that isn’t just obviously mistaken—has proven elusive. In the last chapter, however, we were able to make progress by considering the F&M (Freud and Marx) complaint. What we saw is that this complaint is really the claim that Christian and other theistic belief is irrational in the sense that it originates in cognitive malfunction (Marx) or in cognitive proper function that is aimed at something other than the truth (Freud)—comfort, perhaps, or the ability to soldier on in this appalling world in which we find ourselves. To put it another way, the claim is that such 168belief doesn’t originate in the proper function of cognitive faculties successfully aimed at producing true beliefs. To put it in still another way, the charge is that theistic and Christian belief lacks warrant.

By way of response, in this chapter I shall first offer a model—a model based on a claim made jointly by Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin—for a way in which theistic belief could have warrant. Once we see how theistic belief might have warrant, we can also see the futility of the F&M complaint and its contemporary successors. In the remaining chapters of part III, I shall extend the model to cover specifically Christian belief. Chapter 7 will deal with sin and its noetic results. The extended model crucially involves the notion of faith. Following Aquinas and Calvin, I shall argue that faith has both an intellectual and an affective component: chapter 8 will therefore examine the way in which, as Calvin says, the great truths of the gospel are “revealed to our minds,” and chapter 9 will examine the way in which, as he also says, they are “sealed upon our hearts.” Then in chapter 10, I’ll consider and reply to objections to the original and extended models.

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