Have you ever wondered whether belief in God could be considered a “Properly Basic Belief”? If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t worry; I’m here to shed some light on this intriguing concept.

What is a Properly Basic Belief?

A properly basic belief is a belief that stands on its own, requiring no other beliefs or evidence to support it. It’s something that we accept without the need for justification because it’s self-evident, intuitive, and foundational. Think of it as a belief that just “is.”

The term “properly basic belief” gained popularity through the work of philosopher Alvin Plantinga, particularly in his book “God and Other Minds” published in 1967. Plantinga, a respected figure in both Christian and non-Christian circles, argues that certain beliefs are properly basic because they’re so ingrained in our cognitive makeup that we can’t help but believe in them, even if we can’t provide concrete evidence to support them.

Examples of properly basic beliefs include the law of non-contradiction, beliefs about the external world (like the existence of other minds or the reliability of our senses), and beliefs about moral truths (such as the inherent value of human life). These beliefs form the bedrock of our worldview and are beyond doubt or questioning; they underpin all our other beliefs.

In a sense, we’re born with these beliefs; they’re not learned through experience but rather shape our experience.

Rene Descartes and Properly Basic Beliefs

Remember Rene Descartes, the Father of Rationalism, who famously declared, “I think, therefore I am”? He aimed to build his knowledge from the ground up by scratching his head and doubting everything—a method known as the Cartesian method. However, did he truly doubt everything? Could he? The answer is no. He couldn’t doubt the foundational principles of logic, like the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, and the law of excluded middle. He assumed these foundational assumptions as they were Properly Basic and needed no arguments to justify their reality.

And that’s perfectly okay because, by definition, properly basic beliefs must be assumed.

Is Belief in God a Properly Basic Belief?

Now, let’s dive into the heart of the matter: Is belief in God a properly basic belief? I firmly believe it is not only properly basic but the most properly basic belief there is.

You might ask, “Why is belief in God more foundational than, say, the law of non-contradiction or the law of identity?” These principles are undeniably essential, but they don’t logically precede each other; they’re both simply assumed. Therefore, one isn’t more properly basic than the other.

However, I argue that belief in God is even more foundational than these principles. It’s the most properly basic belief of all.

Supporting the Notion of God as a Properly Basic Belief

One argument in favor of belief in God as a properly basic belief is that the experience of God is directly accessible to us, requiring no additional justification. Many people feel awe and wonder when contemplating the natural world’s beauty and complexity or find solace and guidance in prayer and Bible study. These experiences can be seen as evidence of a higher power’s existence without needing additional arguments.

Additionally, some philosophers posit that belief in God is a necessary presupposition for understanding certain aspects of our experience, such as moral values and duties or the order and regularity of the natural world. In this view, belief in God isn’t a conclusion drawn from evidence but a foundational framework for making sense of our world.

Lastly, throughout history, countless individuals have held a belief in God without demanding additional evidence or arguments. While this doesn’t definitively prove that belief in God is a properly basic belief, it suggests that such belief is a natural and intuitive part of human experience.

In Conclusion

The question of whether belief in God qualifies as a properly basic belief is intricate and debated among philosophers. Some argue for strong evidential support, while others contend that it’s an inherent aspect of human nature, requiring no such evidence. Ultimately, whether you consider belief in God a properly basic belief depends on your philosophical and religious convictions, personal experiences, and intuitions. It’s a topic that continues to captivate minds and spark lively discussions. I, myself, accept belief in God as properly basic due to the reality that He is the Properly Basic God—the Necessary Being—that makes even this debate possible. However, I don’t see this as something that is incredibly effective for most apologetic discourses. People always gravitate to the position they want, not the position that makes the most sense.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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