Ramble. Focus. Ramble.

Plantinga Vs. Hadeel_Final Capstone Paper

Forman Christian College

Department of Philosophy

Hadeel Naeem  12-10120


PHIL499  Philosophical Research and Use Seminar

Final Paper

Dr. Myron Miller

13th of June, 2012

A formal proof of validity can be constructed for Plantinga’s main argument but the argument lacks soundness. He puts his article in the form of a perfect trail; he refutes the evidentialist viewpoints in the beginning and through that he constructs his argument. The evidentialists hold that belief in God cannot be rationally accepted because sufficient evidence is not present to hold that basic belief. From this we know that a basic belief is one that is supported by evidence, proposition or some belief. This evidence must be rooted in a properly basic belief which is a belief that needs no proof or belief for its validity.

The first refutation Plantinga gives is beliefs are not always in our control. Therefore, the evidentialist claim to abandon a belief that has no supporting evidence as a duty is wrong.[1]

Secondly, he says people can hold beliefs for no reason at all or just because nobody else holds them in which case a person holding such a belief is intellectually retarded and he should be treated with sympathy.[2] Now there can be people who claim to hold properly basic beliefs that are inconsistent with beliefs in God. How would Plantinga deal with them? He gives an argument against this refutation at the end of his article where he speaks of a Great Pumpkin which is a kind of belief one can hold for no reason at all. In response to this problem Plantinga suggests that we use induction and derive a criterion for proper basicality.[3] A criterion is a method that probably constitutes of some sort of data or evidence. And if we use an evidence or an evidence-like statement to derive a properly basic statement would it be properly basic anymore?

Maybe a line should be drawn to separate beliefs that just come to people and beliefs that should be believed in. This way, we will be able to deny both these refutations by Plantinga. Beliefs that have no reason and no evidence should not be believed in. They will qualify as beliefs because we either do not have control of them or we are intellectually retarded to hold these beliefs. Either way they should not be believed in. And if someone believes in the belief in God then they need evidence or it has to be properly basic.

Thirdly, he says an evidentialist’s or classical foundationalist’s definition of a properly basic belief is

(1)   A proposition P is properly basic for a person S if and only if P is self-evident, incorrigible (modern foundationalism) or evident to the senses (ancient foundationlism).[4]

Now (1) is either a basic belief or a properly basic belief. It cannot be a properly basic belief because it is not self-evident. Rather, what can be self-evident? Anything evident to one person is different from what is evident to another. It is not incorrigible because incorrigible is a statement that one cannot mistakenly believe or disbelieve. Also, my senses do not give me any evidence for this statement being true. Hence, this statement is not properly basic.

If (1) is basic it needs a belief or proof to support it. However, I cannot think of any evidence that could support a belief like this one. If not basic or properly basic, then what is this statement?

The argument Plantinga gives against this foundationalist criterion for properly basic belief is that the two types of foundationalism hold conflicting views.[5] He says that in a condition C, S is justified in taking P as properly basic.[6]

According to Plantinga, perceptual beliefs, memory-based beliefs and beliefs based on the mental state can be properly basic. They have no evidence but they have a condition and they are not groundless. The experience justifies one in holding this belief and that this is the ground of the belief. He gives some examples

(2)   I see a tree.

(3)   I had breakfast.

(4)   That person is angry.

The first two seem fine but don’t you need proof to believe that a person is angry? Like a person is shouting and slamming the door so he must be angry.

Plantinga takes his viewpoint, jumbles it with what Calvin thinks and says some beliefs are in us. They come to us through conditions but they are as basic as (2), (3) and (4) because they have a condition and are justified on the ground of the belief itself. He thinks the following statements are properly basic too and are parallel to (2), (3) and (4).

(5)   God is speaking to me.

(6)   God created all this.

(7)   God disapproves of what I have done.

(8)   God forgives me.

(9)   God is to be thanked and praised.

To make them look parallel to (2), (3) and (4) they should be put in this way because (2) states that I am aware of a tree and I can tell it apart because I know its attributes.

(10)     I am aware of God speaking to me.

(11)     I am aware of God creating this flower.

(12)     I am aware of God disapproving of what I have done.

(13)     I am aware of God forgiving me.

(14)     I am aware that I should thank and praise God.

The propositions (10) to (13) tell us about God’s activities and (14) tells us how we should behave with God. However, (10) still does not look parallel to (2) because we cannot individuate God like we can individuate a tree. We do not know anything about his attributes and so we are not aware of him in true terms. [7]

Plantinga puts down his main argument and says I see a tree holds that there is a tree. This means that the properly basic proposition (2) which is also a perceptual belief holds because there is a tree. This can be put as another proposition.

(15)     There are trees.

(16)     There is a God.

Accordingly, says Alvin Plantinga, the parallel properly basic belief (5) God is speaking to me holds because there is a God. Therefore the properly basic belief (5) implies (16)  which is loosely properly basic too. For Plantinga, proposition (16) is loosely properly basic.

Interestingly, by putting it this way he refutes his own argument. The basic belief that did not require any evidence or belief to support it (e.g. (2) I see a tree and (5) God is speaking to me) hold only because there are other beliefs (15) and (16). Firstly, this tells us that (2) and (5) are not properly basic because they require support. This way (15) and (16) may still be properly basic but Plantinga, probably does not give a fair reason for this.

Logically, the form of Plantinga’s main argument is somewhat like this:

P.X implies Q


Therefore, P.Y implies Q

Where, P is the properly basic belief, X is I see a tree, Y is God is speaking to me and Q is it exists. There is a formal proof of validity of this symbolic equation which is why his argument is valid but it is also self-contradictory and unsound.

Plantinga thinks his awareness of a tree is similar to his awareness of God speaking to him. Now it is possible to know yourself without inferring there is a tree but you cannot know yourself without inferring there is a necessary God. We are contingent and we can know a contingent tree but we cannot know the necessary God in the same way as we can know a tree. [8]

In short, belief in God should not be considered basic because it has been inferred from a properly basic statement like I see a tree. I think the ground of his argument is not so strong.


Plantinga, A., Is Belief in God Properly Basic?, Nous, Vol. 15 (1), (1981), p. 41-51.

Goetz, Stewart C.,  Belief in God is Not Properly Basic, Rel. Stud., Vol.19, p. 475-484.

[1] Alvin Plantinga (1981), Is Belief in God Properly Basic?, Nous, Vol. 15 (1), p. 43.

[2] Ibid., p. 43.

[3] Idib., p. 50.

[4] Alvin Plantinga (1981), Is Belief in God Properly Basic?, Nous, Vol. 15 (1), p. 44.

[5] Ibid., p. 44.

[6] Ibid., p. 45.

[7] Stewart C. Goetz, Belief in God is Not Properly Basic, Rel. Stud., Vol.19, p. 479.

[8] Stewart C. Goetz, Belief in God is Not Properly Basic, Rel. Stud., Vol.19, p. 483-484.


4 comments on “Plantinga Vs. Hadeel_Final Capstone Paper

  1. Abraham
    July 9, 2012

    hey! Good job!
    i have to ask though.
    I dont see why there has to be a problem in dealing with the belief that God is talking to me and the belief that i see a tree.
    taking P F Strawson’s line, because i know and understand tree talk i can meaningfully identify trees. tree talk would not have existed if there were no trees. like wise i can identify god cuz i understand godtalk. we wouldnt have god talk if there was no god.

  2. hadeelnaeem
    July 9, 2012

    Fair argument. But again, how do you individuate like Goetz says.

  3. hadeelnaeem
    July 9, 2012

    However, my point is that my hearing of a god is properly basic and there is a god rests on that belief. Which makes there is a god basic and not properly basic. Hence the god’s existence isn’t properly basic. Plantinga, on the other hand calls it something like almost properly basic or somewhat properly basic.

  4. Pingback: Successfully avoided the treadmill but Plantinga got me. | Ramble. Focus. Ramble.

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This entry was posted on July 8, 2012 by in Philosophy and tagged , .
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