Is ‘God exists’ a ‘hinge proposition’ of religious belief?

Unlike many of our other beliefs which lack apriori support, however, it is often alleged that belief in the existence of God could never be epistemically supported in an empirical manner either. Suppose that one argued, àla G. E. Moore,3 that one’s belief in the existence of the external world is warranted on the grounds that one possesses suffi-cient empirical evidence to warrant one’s belief in an everyday proposition (such as “I have two hands”), which, if true, would entail the existence of the external world. – whether we believe in God or not – the latter merely attacks a significant portion of the beliefs of a person who has the requisite religious beliefs.

Take the argument proffered above concerning our belief in the external world. We are thus still lumbered with the original problem of how one can have a warranted belief in an everyday proposition when this warrant presupposes that one has a warranted belief in a hinge proposition, a proposition which is held to be unwarrantable. One does, however, find traces of the hinge proposition thesis in two sorts of anti-sceptical strategies which are adduced in defence of religious belief. One of the most famous examples of the first sort of anti-sceptical tactic can be found in John Henry Newman’s lectures on religious belief,8 texts of which were, interestingly, a major influence on Wittgenstein’s On Certainty.9 In essence, Newman’s approach to the problem of scepticism about religious belief was to argue that local scepticism about religious belief is unfounded because one has equal grounds to be sceptical about all belief. If is thus irrelevant to make a specific charge against religious belief on the basis that it is posited upon certain pivotal ungrounded beliefs (such as in the exist-ence of God), when there is nothing unique about religious belief in this respect. Rather, we should recognise that all belief is based upon ungrounded presuppositions, and therefore discharge the pervasive thought that there is any epistemic difference in kind between, say, scientific belief and religious belief. Whilst noting that the traditional sceptical argument against religious belief will fixate on this ‘presuppositional’ component of Augustine’s reasoning, Wolterstorff makes no explicit counter-response. He does not, for instance, argue that Augustine is indeed warranted in believing in God, or claim that his belief in God’s agency can be warranted in the absence of a warranted belief in God. 3. Blocking the argument

The contemporary debate about the epistemic status of religious belief thus owes a great deal to a certain pessimism about the prospects of responding to a local scepticism applied to those beliefs. There will thus be nothing to prevent, in principle, the possession of knowledge or warranted belief in the non-framework propositions which presuppose that belief in these hinge propositions is epistemically sanctioned. On the other, if one does not, in fact, have an appropriately sensitive belief in these framework propositions, then the doxastic architecture which presupposes a sufficient epistemic status for these beliefs will lack the requisite foundation. If, on the other hand, Augustine lacks a sensitive belief in God’s existence, then it will follow that, just as we would expect, his religious beliefs are indeed without warrant.

In this respect, then, religious belief is no different to any other sort of belief where one has to presuppose epistemic support for one’s conviction in certain pivotal propositions without being in a position to reflectively determine that this support obtains. There is indeed nothing epistemologically unique about religious belief. The sceptic contraposes on this principle when she argues that it follows from our lack of warrant for our belief in the external world and our knowledge that many everyday propositions entail the existence of the external world, that we must lack a warrant for our belief in these everyday propositions as well. Of related interest, however, is Norman Malcolm’s defence of the rationality of religious belief in “The Groundlessness of Belief”, Thought and Knowl-

In “Do Religious Beliefs Need Grounds?”, Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 40 (1986): 227–237, Terence Penelhum offers an excellent discussion of the manner in which some theists (he focuses on Pascal and Kierkegaard) have attempted to defend the rationality of religious belief by adducing radical sceptical arguments. On the other, there are those, such as Alston, “Is Religious Belief Rational?” In his earlier work – such as “Is Belief in God Properly Basic?”, Nous 15 (1981): 41–51; “Rationality and Religious Belief”, Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, eds. Steven M. Cahn & David Shatz (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), pp. 255–277; and ‘Reason and Belief in God’, Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, eds. A. Plantinga & N. Wolterstorff (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), pp. 127–146 – he is largely content merely to argue that there is nothing inherent to the foundationalist model that would exclude the possibility that belief in god could be epistemologically ‘basic’.

download pdf full articles here


Post a Comment

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Powered by Blogger