Plantinga and the Rationality of Theism

Dissertation, Michigan State University (1989)

Recently, Alvin Plantinga has put forth the provocative thesis that belief in God might well be "properly basic". That is, given the general epistemological position of foundationalism, he has argued that under certain conditions belief in God could be rational even if no evidence for God existed. This study attempts to demonstrate that Plantinga's claim does not abet the epistemic fortunes of Theism, and then tries to show that what is needed is an epistemological alternative to both foundationalism and coherentism. Given this alternative, it is concluded, belief in God will be neither evidential in the "classical foundationalist" sense nor properly basic in any foundationalist sense. ;It is argued first that the sorts of beliefs which Plantinga's weak foundationalism allows as properly basic are too easily defeasible to function as foundational beliefs, and that a case can be made for limiting proper basicality to beliefs epistemically stronger than those countenanced by weak foundationalism. Second, it is contended that even if belief in God were properly basic in some situations, as such it would too easily degenerate into an evidential belief to be of epistemic value. ;The root problem, it is claimed, is that both foundationalism and its primary rival, coherentism, are inadequate to account for all the types of beliefs which we have. I argue in agreement with Plantinga that "classical foundationalism" is untenable and that coherentism cannot satisfactorily acocunt for epistemic warrant. But the similarities between Plantinga's weak foundationalist schema for justifying what he considers properly basic beliefs and Laurence BonJour's coherentist schema for justifying his "observation beliefs" indicates that such beliefs are neither properly basic nor evidential, but a third type. ;I conclude that an alternative construal of our noetic structure is necessary and attempt to outline such a view. According to this proposal, I claim, belief in God plays a highly theoretical role in our noetic structure. Therefore, its justification requires demonstrating its essential importance within a theoretical framework which is at least as viable as its nontheistic rivals
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