|About the Book|
Review of Kelly James Clark’s Return to ReasonArgument and CritiqueClark begins his book by critiquing some of the more popular arguments for the existence of God. He seeks to refute the evidentialist’s standards for reason. This includes critiquing Christian arguments that assume that worldview. In short, the cosmological argument is inadequate because it arbitrarily uses the principle of sufficient reason: for every positive fact or truth there is a sufficient reason for why that fact obtains and why that statement is true. This is used to explain why the universe as a whole has a cause. So far so good. Clark critiques the Classical Method on their interaction with objections, the inadequacy of natural theology, and the fallaciousness of their proofs. Rather, good Christian argumentation is cogent and person-relative: the argument must be sound and the person must recognize it to be sound (44).God and EvilHe interacts with the standard atheist argument against God because of evil. He then defines and distinguishes theodicy from defense. He proposes, following Alvin Plantinga, a “transworld defense of God’s actions in the face of evil.” In other words, “if a person suffers from a transworld depravity, then in all the worlds God can create in which that person exists and is free, that person would have freely gone wrong at least once” (73). This removes the logical contradiction in the argument from evil.Critique of Enlightenment EvidentialismClark takes the evidentialism of W.K. Clifford to task in this section. Clifford maintains that we can only believe something—and act on that belief—if we have proper evidence for it. Clark rebuts this using the arguments of William James and C.S. Lewis. Belief in God is a passional decision that can legitimacy be made apart from Clifford’s standards of evidence. In short, if we adopt Clifford’s approach to evidence, we will have very few true beliefs. In reality no one thinks this way. We hold many beliefs—justifiedly so—apart from such evidence. Also, Clifford’s belief is itself a passional decision made apart from evidence.Belief in God as Properly BasicClark, following Alvin Plantinga, argues that God has so constituted our cognitive faculties that we are perfectly rational to believe in him without regard to Enlightenment evidential criteria. This is concurrent with a discussion on Classical Foundationalism, its defects, and a turning to a Reformed Epistemology. Classical Foundationalism—the view that foundational beliefs are self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses—is self-falsifying. In its stead Clark proposes a Reidian epistemology that relies on “common sense.” For Clark, belief in God is “properly basic.” Properly basic beliefs are those that are foundational and non-inferential.ConclusionClark has a snappy, engaging writing style. He couldn’t be boring if he tried. He will strike some readers as arrogant. The book was an excellent, succinct introduction to Reformed Epistemology. I have a few cautions:1) I am not convinced—yet—of transworld depravity and Plantinga’s free-will defense. Maybe he is right. Perhaps 6 months from now I will be won over. But I have to do more thinking on it.2) Is knowledge “justified” or “warranted”? Is the proof of the Christian God found in the “impossibility of the contrary” (Bahnsen) or is it found in “the God-structured cognitive faculties” of our brain (Plantinga)? I really can’t offer a critique at the moment. It would not be fair to Clark. He wrote this book before Plantinga wrote his trilogy. But I do have a few questions regarding it. How is the argument that “belief in God is properly basic” any less question-begging than Bahnsen claiming that the “truth of Christianity is the impossibility of the contrary?” Again, I will pull my punches. The Reformed Epistemologists have answered these questions- I haven’t gotten around to all the literature.