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V. Circularity?

Still, isn’t there something circular in my argument? According to Paul Noble, Jonathan Edwards’s “theistic defense of passional reason raises the spectre of epistemic circularity: the theistic metaphysics grounds one’s belief in the legitimacy of ‘spiritual perception’, and yet Edwards also appeals to such perceptions as vindicating the truth of theism.”440440   “Reason, Religion, and the Passions” (a review of William Wainwright’s Reason and the Heart: A Prolegomenon to a Critique of Passional Reason [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995]), Religious Studies (December 1996), p. 515. Wouldn’t something like the same be true of my model? Isn’t it true that my own proposal has warrant for me (or anyone who accepts it) only if theistic belief is in fact true and, indeed, warranted? I propose the extended A/C model as a model for the way in which Christian and theistic belief can have warrant, but won’t it be the case that I am warranted in proposing this model only if, in fact, the model or something like it is correct, and Christian belief does have warrant? No. What I claim for the model is only that it is (1) possible, (2) subject to no philosophical objections that do not assume that Christian belief is false, and (3) such that if Christian belief is true, the model is at least close to the truth. But obviously it is not the case that my assertion of or belief in the truth of (1), (2), or (3) has warrant only if the model is true or Christian belief is warranted.

Now suppose I proposed the model as indeed the truth (or close 352to the truth) about the way Christian belief has warrant: then, would my proposal be in some way circular? Well, why should we think so? Perhaps the idea is something like this: because central Christian beliefs are included in or entailed by the model, I am warranted in thinking the model true only if I am warranted in accepting Christian belief; those central Christian beliefs must already have warrant, for me, if my belief that the model is true is to have warrant. But then am I not involved in some kind of objectionable circle?

I can’t see how. It is indeed true that I will have to be warranted in accepting Christian belief if I am to be warranted in accepting the extended A/C model as true; that is because the former is included in the latter. It is not the case, however, that if Christian belief has warrant for me, then the model must also have warrant for me. That would be true if I argued for Christian belief by way of an argument one premise of which was the extended A/C model. More exactly, that would be true if such an argument were the only source of warrant, for me, of Christian belief. For then any warrant enjoyed by my Christian belief would accrue to it by way of warrant transfer from the premises of that argument; but one premise of that argument would be a conjunction, one conjunct of which was itself part of Christian belief. There would therefore be a vicious circle in the receives-its-warrant-from relation.

So if the source of the warrant of my Christian belief were this argument, then indeed the project would suffer from vicious circularity. But it isn’t, and it doesn’t. The source of warrant for Christian belief, according to the model, is not argument of any sort; in particular, its warrant does not arise from some argument about how Christian belief can have warrant. To show that there is circularity here, the objector would have to show that any warrant enjoyed by Christian belief must, somehow, have come from argument of some sort; and this, as we have seen, can’t be done. This objection, then, is no more successful than the others.

No doubt there are other objections, perhaps even other sensible objections. I don’t know of any, however, and am therefore obliged to refrain from responding to them until I hear about them. In the meantime, I shall provisionally take it that there aren’t any such objections. Now the objections considered in this chapter are objections to the claim that Christian belief can have warrant in the basic way. They are therefore philosophical objections to a philosophical claim. Now of course it is possible that Christian belief could have warrant in this way, even if in fact it has little or no warrant. For perhaps there is a source of warrant, for Christian belief, but the warrant in question is defeated. No doubt the belief that the earth is flat once had warrant for many. But then people encountered defeaters for this belief: for example, there is the peculiar way in which ships disappear over 353the horizon, along with the other arguments that led people to give up this belief. (Even if you are skeptical with respect to those arguments, you may be swayed by pictures of the earth taken from a satellite and by eyewitness reports as to what the earth looks like from three hundred miles away.) Might not the same be true for Christian belief? Aren’t there serious defeaters for it—defeaters that are prominent now, even if they weren’t available 250 years ago? That is the topic of the next (and last) section of this book.


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