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What does believing without evidence mean in this context?

Reformed Epistemology’s claims about believing ‘without evidence’ or without rational argument occur in the context of its disputing certain foundationalist and evidentialist claims. The broader context is its contending against the Enlightenment claim to test religion against the bar of human reason. When Reformed Epistemology states that religious belief does not need evidence, this has to be understood in context. It does not mean that Reformed Epistemologists think there is no evidence that God exists. Far from it. What it means is that ‘evidence’, such as rational argument and especially a chain of inference from various clues to something beyond them and wholly different from them, is not the basis of religious beliefs. In the context of foundationalism, ‘evidence’ means that which supports other beliefs. So to say that belief in God is without evidence means that it is not taken to reside on the back of other and different beliefs and arguments. Belief in God is directed immediately at God, and no higher criteria than itself mediates it to the believer.

Thus, Reformed Epistemologists can argue simultaneously, and, so it says, without contradiction, that there is no ‘evidence’ for religious belief and that evidence for religious belief lies all around us. The evidence for religious belief is twofold: on the one hand, God is exhibited in and through the universe he has designed, and on the other, as noted earlier, God has created in us a tendency to believe that the world was created by him. We are surrounded by ‘evidence’ that God exists. And yet, our belief in God is ‘basic’: it is what makes us construe the evidence as evidence. The ‘warrant’ or justification which a Reformed Epistemologist gives for belief in God is an epistemological one: that the human mind is built to organize its knowledge on the basis of belief in God.

study questions

  • 1. Is it possible to prove that Reformed Epistemology is true? Is it possible to disprove it?
  • 2. Is Reformed Epistemology biblical?
  • 3. Do you think we see God ‘immediately’ or ‘mediately’, through the universe?
  • 4. Compare Plantinga’s view of ‘belief’ with Karl Barth’s idea of ‘faith’.
  • 5. Is there an analogy between knowing other people exist and knowing God exists?

Further reading

Plantinga, Alvin, ‘Reason and Belief in God’, in edited by Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1983), 16-93.

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31/07/14 6:18 PM


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