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What is Your Foundation?

By Robby Gray

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“Every argument begins with an infallible dogma; you can never prove your first statement or it would not be your first.”[1]

           This month's article of the month is heavily based on a few discussions and lectures I had in my Logic class at Patrick Henry College. In my last three articles I wrote about what I believe. In this article I want to ask you what you believe. To quote G.K. Chesterton, “Much of our chaos about religion and doubt arises from this—that our modern skeptics always begin by telling us what they do not believe. But even in a skeptic we want to know first what he does believe.”[2] I would like to ask you to consider this question. What is your foundation?

            We all hold a foundational belief that we have to assume to be true. All arguments begin with an assumption. G.K Chesterton writes: “you can, of course, if you like, doubt the assumption at the beginning of your argument, but in that case you are beginning a different argument with another assumption at the beginning of it.”[3] What is your foundational assumption? I am trying here to dispel the idea that a worldview can be held, whether it is an atheistic or theistic worldview, without faith in a foundational belief that can only be held on assumptions. To quote G.K. Chesterton, “All sane men, I say, believe firmly and unalterably in a certain number of things which are unproved and unprovable.” He then lists four things:

1)      Every sane man believes that the world around him and the people in it are real, and not his own delusion or dream. No man starts burning London in the belief that his servant will soon wake him for breakfast. But that I, at any given moment, am not in a dream, is unproved and unprovable. That anything exists except myself is unproved and unprovable.

2)      All sane men believe that this world not only exists, but matters. Every man believes there is a sort of obligation on us to interest ourselves in this vision or panorama of life. He would think a man wrong who said, ‘I did not ask for this farce and it bores me. I am aware that an old lady is being murdered down-stairs, but I am going to sleep.’ That there is any such duty to improve the things we did not make is a thing unproved and unprovable.

3)      All sane men believe that there is such a thing as a self, or ego, which is continuous. There is no inch of my brain matter the same as it was ten years ago. But if I have saved a man in battle ten years ago, I am proud; if I have run away, I am ashamed. That there is such a paramount “I” is unproved and unprovable. But it is more than unproved and unprovable; it is definitely disputed by many metaphysicians.

4)      Lastly, most sane men believe, and all sane men in practice assume, that they have a power of choice and responsibility for action.[4]

 

Why do we shy away from beliefs that we cannot hold without doubt? Philosophy has a way of affecting how we all look at life even if it is the philosophy of, among others, Descartes from over 350 years ago. Descartes had four steps to truth. Even just the way he had four steps to truth, a method, is a lot like the way we like to deal with problems today. Just think of all the books boasting three easy steps to whatever. About a week ago we set up the internet at our new house using “three easy steps.” Method is everywhere. We love method. Descartes's four steps to the truth are: never accept anything to be true unless you are certain of it, divide the problem into parts, begin with the simplest and work to the hardest, show your work so you can keep checking yourself. It is the first step that is part of why we shy away from beliefs that we cannot hold without doubt. I think it is amazing how much we use Descartes's four steps to the truth even 350 or so years later.

The two main foundational starting points are the anta logical starting point and epistemological starting point. The anta logical starting point starts with God, epistemological starts fresh and builds on doubt. Descartes started with the epistemological starting point, making his ego, the foundational belief that he would build on, with his famous line “I think, therefore I am.” The Evidentialist Objection to those that say they can believe in God without any reasons is, in standard form:

1)      It is irrational or unreasonable to accept theistic belief in the absence of sufficient evidence or reasons.

2)      There is no evidence, or at any rate not sufficient evidence, for the proposition that God exists

3)      If 1 and 2, then it is irrational or unreasonable to accept theistic belief

4)      :.C It is irrational or unreasonable to accept theistic belief[5]

     

The Evidentialist Objection rests on Classical Foundationalsm which goes something like this:

1)      P (proposition) is properly basic (starting point to argue) for S (person) if and only if P is self evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses.

 

Most Christians take on the Evidentalist Objection by attacking premise two. Interestingly, though, Dr. Alvin Plantiga, philosopher and professor of philosophy at the Univesity of Notre Dame, attacks the first premise. Here is Dr. Plantiga's argument in standard form:

1)      P is properly basic for S if and only if P is self evident, incorrigible or evident to the senses.

2)      The Classical Foundationalist takes line 1 as basic or not basic

3)      If not basic, then he must present an argument supporting it from premises that are properly basic.

4)      The Classical Foundationalist does not make such an argument

5)      :. Classical Foundationalism is basic

6)      If line 1 is basic, then (according to the definition in line 1) line 1 must be either self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses

7)      1 is neither self-evident, incorrigible, nor evident to the senses

8)      :. Classical Foundationalism is not basic

9)      If line 5 and line 8 then Classical Foundationalism is self-referentially inconsistent

10)  :.C Classical Foundationalsm is self-referentially inconsistent

 

Because the Evidentialist Objection rests on Classical Foundationalsm and Classical Foundationalsm is inconsistent, the Evidentialist Objection must be false. It is totally reasonable to hold a belief on insufficient evidence and even further you have to hold a foundational belief based on an assumption or assumptions. My foundational belief is God. He is my rock. What is yours?

"I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies."

--PSALM 18:1-2

 


[1] G.K. Chesterton, “Philosophy for the Schoolroom,” http://www.dur.ac.uk/martin.ward/gkc/books/philosophy.html

 

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] The symbol ":." stands for therefore

 

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