Belief In Design As Properly Basic -- By: John Jefferson Davis

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 08:2 (Fall 1987)
Article: Belief In Design As Properly Basic
Author: John Jefferson Davis


Belief In Design As Properly Basic*

John Jefferson Davis

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Wenham, Massachusetts

The thesis of this paper is that belief in design is properly basic. The phrase “belief in design” is a shorthand expression for a set of propositions such as (1) “Design implies an intelligent designer” and (2) “The world shows evidence of having been designed by God.” The focus of this discussion, then, is the set of issues generally associated with the teleological argument for the existence of God. My purpose, however, is not to propose a new form of the design argument, but rather to argue that the epistemological framework traditionally assumed by both supporters and critics of the argument is inherently flawed, and that a new approach to the issue is called for. In claiming that propositions such as (1) and (2) are “properly basic,” I intend to argue that a person could be rationally justified in holding (1) or (2) as core beliefs, foundational to one’s epistemic structure, even in the absence of compelling arguments for (1) or (2) — deductive, inductive, or otherwise. I will expound this claim that belief in design is properly basic in relation to the recent epistemological work of Alvin Plantinga, and then respond to certain objections to the approach here proposed, e.g., that such a stance amounts to groundless belief or a form of fideism immune to rational criticism.

Properly Basic Beliefs And Classic Foundationalism

As it is used here, the term “properly basic” refers to a type of proposition that is located at the core of one’s epistemic structure rather than at the periphery. The truth of such propositions is in some sense known immediately, rather than by a process of inference from other propositions known to be true. For example, the proposition

(3) The sun is shining today

may be considered properly basic. I believe (3) to be true not because of a deductive or inductive argument, but immediately from experience. It is certainly the case that one could construct an argument for (3), perhaps along the following lines:

*One of the Kenneth S. Kantzer Lectures in Systematic Theology given at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, April 27, 1988.

(4) My friend Alexander never lies;

(5) Alexander swears that the sun is shining today;

Consequently, it is very probably true that

(3) The sun is shining today.

Nevertheless, in the present instance it is the case that any such argument form as (4), (5), (3) is purely ex post facto. ...

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