A belief is properly basic if it is universally sanctioned. A properly basic belief is a belief which we are justified in maintaining in the absence of evidence, and which, in the absence of a defeater, we would be unjustified in abandoning. A properly basic belief is a belief which is not justified by any inference. I want to argue here that even if belief in God’s existence weren’t properly basic, one could legitimately argue that God’s existence can be inferred from other properly basic beliefs, without the need for any evidence. Take the following argument as an example:
- Belief in objective purpose is universally sanctioned
- If belief in objective purpose is universally sanctioned, then belief in objective purpose is properly basic.
- Therefore, belief in objective purpose is properly basic.
- If X is properly basic, and X entails Y, then Y should be inferred from X.
- The objectivity of purpose entails God’s existence.
- Therefore, God’s existence should be inferred from the objectivity of purpose.
There are quite a few controversial premises here. Premises 1 and 5 are, I should think, the most obviously controverted premises. However, in defense of premise 1 I think we can argue that one who denies the objectivity of purpose in thought does not do so consistently, but acts and lives exactly as though the purpose they project, which is arbitrated, is objective. That just is to live inconsistently with one’s beliefs (or at least with what one is purported to believe), but more than that it is to live as though one really does believe in the objectivity of purpose. I think people implicitly believe in the objectivity of purpose, and that failing to believe this in some implicit way would yield damaging and obnoxious consequences for any person who so disbelieved. That is sufficient to make belief in the objectivity of purpose properly basic according to the view of Sennett, Wunder and others.
The fifth premise is plausible, it seems to me. What it requires is that in the absence of God, there is not any objective purpose. For instance, the cosmos has no objective purpose, the human race has no objective purpose, and animal life has no objective purpose. Now, God’s existence is not sufficient, on it’s own, for purpose (at least, we don’t need to argue here that it is), but it is plausible to think that God’s existence is a necessary condition for there being objective purpose in life. If this is correct, then one can infer God’s existence from a properly basic belief (namely the belief in the objectivity of purpose). The argument here does nothing to prove the existence of God, much less the objectivity of purpose, but if successful it, more modestly, suggests that belief in God’s existence ought to be inferred from a belief for which we have no evidence, much less any need of evidence. If one doesn’t agree with the matter of the argument, then at least they may appreciate the form of the argument (there may just as easily be other properly basic beliefs from which we can infer God’s existence).
So, there are at least two ways to maintain a justified belief in God’s existence without any evidence for God’s existence. First, to maintain that God’s existence is itself a properly basic belief. Second, to maintain that it can be inferred from at least one other properly basic beliefs.