Plantinga's Properly Basic Beliefs

Essay by Jonus010University, Bachelor'sA, December 2002

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Alvin Plantinga's states that Christians do not need any arguments for believing in God because believing in God is a properly basic belief. He goes further to say that arguments are insufficient for the basis of a religious belief. Some beliefs are properly basic: perceptual beliefs, memory beliefs, certainly, but also: beliefs based on testimony, belief in other minds, mathematical beliefs, belief in the uniformity of nature. Other beliefs are non-basic. These are inferred from, based on more basic beliefs, or are beliefs in scientific theories. It is very common for people to hold that belief in God is irrational or improper or in some other way open to criticism if it is not based on evidence. What "based on evidence" means here is inferred from other statements, which serve as evidence. The idea is that belief in God requires some sort of justification or argument. This it is not the sort of thing that one could simply accept.

This is the idea that Plantinga rejects. Plantinga's view is that belief in God, or even more specific religious beliefs, is properly basic.

It may be thought that all beliefs require evidence, and that belief in God could hardly be an exception. However, this can't be right, given how "evidence" is understood here. Suppose, for example, that I believe I have a headache. What is my "evidence" for this belief? I don't look for some other statements that seem even more basic and then infer that I have a headache from those other statements. So not all beliefs are based on evidence; some are basic. And this, Plantinga points out, is something that is in dispute. No philosopher concerned with the theory of knowledge would claim otherwise. But many would claim that only certain special kinds of beliefs are...