I believe that Catholicism is true. However, Catholicism isn’t an analytic truth. One might wonder how I ‘know’ Catholicism to be true. I take it that I am justified in believing in Catholicism because it best explains my experience of the world, because I have compelling reasons to think it true, etc.
However, since my belief that Catholicism is true is similar to my belief that I am currently writing this post (i.e., possibly mistaken), what would constitute a defeater of that belief? A defeater for the belief that I am currently writing this post could be that I wake up to find that I was only dreaming about blogging instead of actually blogging. What would constitute a defeater of Catholicism? Let us ignore the fact that Catholics sometimes maintain that Catholicism is recognized to be self-evidently true in the midst of true prayer and mystical experience. Even for such people the self-evidence of the faith is not apparent when in any circumstance other than the true mystical experience they aspire to, if not momentarily achieve. Of course, Catholics could just say that the Catholic faith is, for at least some believers, properly basic, but let’s ignore that too.
I can think of a few possible defeaters, such as some demonstrated inconsistencies in the Catholic faith (though I would have to be more confident that they were legitimate inconsistencies than I am that Catholicism is true). One could also, I suppose, imagine travelling backwards in time only to encounter Jesus of Nazareth and find that he was not what the Church has made him out to be (though this would be at best empirical evidence and so would have to be weighed – was it really Jesus or was it some Satanic ploy, did you really travel back in time, was Jesus testing your faith, etc). Perhaps one could even travel back in time and find that the Apostles did not leave successors in the lineage of Peter, to whom Catholics trace the ecclesiastical genealogy of the Bishop of Rome.
The trouble with all these defeaters is that they feel constructed in such a way that the bar is so high that nobody expects to be called upon to change their beliefs when any of these occur, since they won’t occur. This is part of the reason why I think it is an exercise in futility to ask people about what motivations they have for believing what they do, as though identifying those reasons will allow one to construct some strategy for going about ridding this or that person of this or that belief.
However, here’s another way in which we might find a defeater for Catholicism: suppose that there is some belief B such that B is a properly basic belief. A properly basic belief is a belief which one is justified in maintaining even in the absence of any or all good arguments for its truth, just in case there does not exist a defeater for that belief which itself doesn’t admit of a defeater for itself (a defeater-defeater). In addition, let us imagine that:
Catholicism ⊃ ~B
Well then, one might think that one had found a defeater for Catholicism in B. For example, take B to be the A-theory of time, as some like William Lane Craig propose it to be. I find this to be an extremely compelling argument against the truth of Catholicism, but notice that it is more than that – it is a defeater for classical Theism (where classical theism includes a commitment to the metaphysical simplicity of God, which Craig, in company now with innumerable other evangelicals, rejects).
Short of demonstrating that the A-theory is not a properly basic belief, my burden of proof would seem to be to offer some defeater for the A-theory if I want to maintain Catholicism (a defeater-defeater). I probably couldn’t use Catholicism itself as a defeater for the A-theory, since A-theory is properly basic and should therefore be harder to let go of than beliefs which are not properly basic. However, perhaps I could just use Classical Theism, arguing that it is properly basic and is a defeater for the A-theory.
The trouble here is that one might raise an Epistemic problem of evil. There are a few problems of evil:
- Natural Problem of Evil
- Moral Problem of Evil
- Metaphysical Problem of Evil
- Epistemic Problem of Evil
The Natural problem of evil is that nature involves occasions of suffering. The moral problem is that free agents are able to freely cause suffering for themselves and others. The metaphysical problem of evil is that the world seems mal-constructed (for instance, that the universe is coming to an end in heat death), so that even if metaphysical evil doesn’t now occasion suffering, nor has it yet, it is still the case that it will cause suffering necessarily, and it seems that we only have God to blame for such a design. The Epistemic problem of evil might just be that we are not well equipped to find truth in this world, and we naturally err almost inevitably. If there are two properly basic beliefs which are mutually exclusive, then it seems as though we are stuck with an instance of Epistemic evil.
Descartes’ response to this possibility was to maintain that God would not allow us to err without providing a way for us to correct ourselves. Certainly there is here a way to correct ourselves, and so perhaps the epistemic problem of evil isn’t indissoluble. Could there be one which isn’t so easily solved? I maintain that there could not be any which we could not solve.
Thus, even if we admit that the A-theory is properly basic, Classical Theism might be properly basic, and it can plausibly act as a defeater for the A-theory.