SIN HAS NOETIC EFFECTS
According to the third of the characteristic themes of Reformed epistemology identified by Wolterstorff and Plantinga, sin has had an important effect on our intellectual or noetic condition.1
Among the effects mentioned by Kuyper, Van Til, Plantinga and other Reformed epistemologists are falsehood, confusion, unintentional mistakes, self–delusion and self–deception. Plantinga says that the results of sin include “all the epistemic ills to which humanity is heir”2 and he goes on to add a suggestion that is rather startling, at least on first sight, as he points to the possibility that the classical foundationalist view of knowledge might very well be appropriate to an unfallen world. He writes:
“It is the existence of sin in the world that, for many, interferes with belief in God. Were it not for the existence of sin, we should all believe in God with the same natural and wholehearted spontaneity with which we believe in other persons, the past and the external world. … If there were no sin in the world, then perhaps there wouldn’t be any irresolvable disputes or fundamental disagreements or deeply different ways of looking at the world. … If there were no sin in the world, the classical foundationalist picture of knowledge as what can be proved from common ground – ground common to all human beings – might very well be correct. It is certainly natural to think that in the absence of sin I would be able to prove whatever I know to anyone else. From this perspective, then, the classical foundationalist way of looking at knowledge is considerably out of date – not merely antediluvian but positively prelapsarian!”3
Wolterstorff writes of how sin has “darkened our capacities” for acquiring justified beliefs and attaining knowledge4 and he suggests that the effects of sin also involve the sinner’s resistance to the workings of a natural disposition to believe in God, a resistance that may become so habitual that “he may feel little or no impulse anymore to believe that God exists”.5
The picture seems to be of a cosmos which is the theatre for the divine revelation of truth not only about God himself but about everything of which humankind should spontaneously advance in knowledge. Because of sin, the capacity to see is ‘darkened’ and people are turned from creaturely submission to the Creator’s authoritative revelation to find something other than God to which they can cling by faith, a faith or ‘unfaith’ which finds expression in all aspects of life including the intellectual. The effects of sin pervade all knowing, albeit in some areas more than others.
It is impossible in the present study to attempt to go into the nature of sin or even to begin to trace out how precisely it could lead to any one of these so many and so varied effects. But there is one aspect of this subject which stands out and could serve to focus our thinking. It is strongly present in Van Til’s writings with, as we have seen,6 their recurrent theme of how man takes either God or himself as “the final point of reference in all human affairs”.7 The claim is that a significant way in which sin affects the intellectual life is in a tendency to assume some unacceptable – unacceptable from the point of view of faith in God – form of autonomy of reason. This theme is also discernible in Kuyper’s writings and in some of the things that Plantinga and other modern Reformed writers say about the effects of sin.8 Even Alston, who is certainly not given to making excessive or unwarranted claims, talks of “an illegitimate inflation” of the rightful function of human reason so that “rationalistic imperialism” seeks to bring even our cognitive faculties before the bar of human reason, all at once, and to accept only that which passes the test. He adds:
“It is not unduly fanciful to see in this demand an analogue, and more than an analogue, of the basic human sin of seeking absolute control, seeking to install man in the place of God and to sit in judgement over all things.”9
Not only is this a recurrent theme in what a number of Reformed epistemologists have to say about the noetic effects of sin (with the suggestion that it is a basic sin) but it may also have important implications for what they say about belief in God being properly basic and divine revelation being self–authenticating. As we have seen, the position taken in relation to these two issues seems to lead to the possibility of fundamental disagreement for which there seems no prospect of resolution through argument. On the one side, there may be – and are – those who claim that they need no reasons or evidence for their belief that God exists or that he speaks to them through the biblical propositions. On the other side, there may be those who insist that such beliefs should not be accepted in the absence of good reason or adequate evidence. In this way, a form of commitment to God or what he is believed to say may be fundamentally opposed to a form of commitment to reason. It is not that all commitment to God is opposed to all commitment to reason but that in some forms of both these commitments the disagreement may be basic.
This kind of basic disagreement is a form of what William Warren Bartley has termed ‘the dilemma of ultimate commitment’ and for which he has proposed a resolution in a particular form of rationalism.10 In his discussion of this, Bartley states his opposition to the commitment of several Reformed writers but his epistemological position is not one that we have yet, in this study, related to Reformed epistemology.
For these reasons it seems important to take up these related issues now. But there is another reason for doing so and this is that the whole matter also has potentially great significance for education. Not only is it the case that rational autonomy is a widely accepted aim in education and, in the light of the foregoing, some forms of it may be unacceptable from the standpoint of Reformed epistemology, but it is also the case that some philosophers of education have linked their proposals concerning rational autonomy with Bartley’s rationalism.
So it would seem that these related issues are of central importance for the whole subject of Reformed epistemology and its significance for education. In this present chapter, I shall therefore attempt to outline what might be meant by talk of rational autonomy and how it might be at odds with the themes of Reformed epistemology. I shall go on to look at Bartley’s rationalism and the way in which it deals with the problem of conflicting ultimate commitments. I shall finally attempt to show how the Reformed epistemologist might respond to all this. This chapter is not therefore an outline of all the ways in which sin might be said to have noetic effects but rather of the implications of one important alleged effect for the discussion of the two themes of Reformed epistemology already met and of how that discussion might proceed in the light of this.
It may not seem obvious how there could be a link between sin and autonomy but to attempt a thorough philosophical analysis of the theological concept of sin as well as of the idea of autonomy would seem to be altogether too much to take on within the limits of this already fairly wide–ranging study. So instead of going into such an exhaustive analysis, I shall suggest that it is initially plausible to take a certain kind of independent–mindedness to be opposed to the kind of trusting submission to the authority of God that seems to characterise (at least some) Reformed views of faith. But, it may be asked, is all independent–mindedness sinful and is mindless obedience necessarily the will of God? The answer is surely ‘no’ to both these questions so it is necessary to spell out in some detail just what kind of personal autonomy could be taken to be sinful.
It is not at all easy to get clear on what might be meant by the use of the term ‘autonomy’.11 This is partly because of its relative absence from ‘ordinary language’ and partly because of the variety of technical usages it has in political theory, psychology, sociology and theology as well as in philosophy.12 Even in philosophy there is a fairly wide variety of usages of the term but common to most of them are, I think, these two central components of the idea of autonomy: authenticity and rational reflection. An autonomous person is governed in what he thinks and does by his own reasoned judgements and these must be both his own in a significant sense of ownership – rather than merely his – and reasoned rather than matters of pure fancy, obsession or the like. In other words, the ‘nomos’ must be both authentically his own (‘autos’) rather than that of another (‘heteros’) and rational rather than, say, purely emotional or voluntary. Autonomy is therefore opposed both to heteronomy and to anomie, i.e., both the condition where there is a ‘nomos’ but it is that of another and the condition of not being governed by any ‘nomos’. Perhaps the most obvious reason for the variation in accounts of autonomy has to do with the degree of relative emphasis given to these two components. The more existentialist accounts tend to emphasise authenticity while the more rationalist make more of the rationality component.
There are at least two other candidates for inclusion in a list of conditions for the exercise of personal autonomy. One of these is strength of will and this operates at the frontier between what a person thinks and what he does. Another which is often suggested is self–knowledge or self–awareness although this could be taken to be necessary for or even partly constitutive of authenticity.13
What, then, is it that makes autonomy suspect from the point of view of faith or faith from that of autonomy? I do not think that it is likely to be a matter of the presence or absence of strength of will. Although the believer may often acknowledge an inability to do what he believes he should do, he is likely to regard this as a defect and autonomy in this sense as something desirable rather than sinful or opposed to faith. Consistency of belief and action is at least as much a virtue to the believer as to anyone who holds personal autonomy as an ideal.
Self–knowledge also seems to pose no particular problem to the believer and personal autonomy, insofar as it is taken to consist in such a quality, is also likely to be regarded by him as desirable. Indeed, as we have seen,14 Calvin and other Reformed theologians have held that self–knowledge and knowledge of God are intimately related so that if the latter is taken to be something to be aimed at then, presumably, so also is the former. Although there may well be disagreement on the conditions for its existence and the reasons why it should be valued, that self–knowledge is to be valued does not seem likely to be an issue between the Reformed epistemologist and others.
Of the two central components of personal autonomy, authenticity also seems likely to be valued by the believer rather than regarded as sinful. Although there is a sense in which all our thoughts and actions are our own, the idea of authenticity seems to require a narrower and more significant sense of ownership which would exclude that which is not genuinely self–originated, e.g., the effects of drugs, hypnosis, brainwashing or other effects artificially created by other people.15 Authenticity in this sense seems to be obviously a virtue rather than a defect and, as we saw earlier, even Van Til would appear to value this component of autonomy.16
So, lastly, we come to the rationality component and if autonomy – in at least some forms – is sinful, it would appear that it is in the area of this component that the problem lies. It is upon this component that most of the fire of Reformed writers has been directed and it is this that I shall seek to analyse in this chapter.
4.2 THREE KINDS OF RATIONALISM
The rationality requirement in the ideal of personal autonomy is defined differently by different writers. I shall classify these with reference to a framework of three kinds of rationalism, within which they can be understood more clearly and within which it should also be possible to see more clearly how they might be opposed to the conception of faith as involving a properly basic belief in God or a believing response to a self–authenticating divine revelation. The third of these is Bartley’s approach mentioned earlier.
For the first of the three I shall adopt the label used by Karl Popper and some of his followers: traditional rationalism. Here ‘rationalism’ is understood as including both classical rationalism and empiricism. It is justificationist rather than fallibilist. It includes both the holistic justificationism of (at least some forms of) coherentism and the more linear approach of classical foundationalism. At its heart lies what Popper terms “the doctrine that truth is manifest” and he continues:
“Truth may perhaps be veiled. But it may reveal itself. And if it does not reveal itself, it may be revealed by us. Removing the veil may not be easy. But once the naked truth stands revealed before our eyes, we have the power to see it, to distinguish it from falsehood, and to know that is truth.”17
As Popper describes him, the traditional rationalist assumes that by the exercise of reason and use of sense observation, he will come to know what is true and that all rational people will agree that it is true. Where there are disagreements, then further exercise of reason and use of the senses should eventually dissolve them. But these are not things that can themselves be justified by reason or through the evidence of the senses so the traditional rationalist’s optimism depends on a faith in human intellectual powers – whether he be substantively foundationalist or coherentist in his view of the nature of justification. In other words, it can be claimed that traditional rationalism is fideist albeit not self–consciously so.
On the conception of rationality that this involves, a person is rationally autonomous to the degree that his important beliefs are based on reasons and evidence upon which, ideally and all other things being equal, all rational people would agree. Intuition may be permissible on this kind of account but only insofar as the intuitions are shared by all rational people as, for example, those of mathematical or logical laws or of the principle of induction.
Now, as we have seen, Reformed epistemology has much in common with traditional rationalism. It shares its justificationism and it too is optimistic in its belief that there is truth to be apprehended by man and it also rests on a faith in reason. However, its optimism is qualified by the belief that it is God who manifests truth to man and that the veil may be due to man’s sinfulness including his refusal to accept that which does not depend on reason. Its faith in reason has a ‘deeper’ basis in a faith in a Creator. In its claim that belief in God may not necessarily be properly basic for all or that an immediate awareness of God may not be universal, Reformed epistemology distances itself from traditional rationalism in a way that may be regarded from the latter perspective as irrationalist, dogmatic and the like. And although some idea of divine revelation may be acceptable to the traditional rationalist, it is only so if its acceptance can be rationally justified or if it authenticates itself to all rational people. The traditional rationalist cannot allow that there can be the epistemological chasm between the believer and the unbeliever that seems inevitable from the perspective of the Reformed epistemologist.
The second kind of rationalism is exemplified by Popper’s own account. He regards it as being in the spirit of the Socratic tradition and as being approached by Kant in the field of ethics with his principle of moral autonomy. Popper calls his position ‘critical rationalism’ and he argues that the traditional rationalist’s questions – ‘How do we know?’, ‘How can we prove?’ and the like – are misconceived because they are “clearly authoritarian in spirit”.18 Like the traditional question of political theory – ‘Who should rule?’ – they assume the answer should be authoritarian. He proposes the replacement of such questions in epistemology by the like of ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’ to which he believes the proper answer to be ‘By criticising the theories and guesses of others and – if we can train ourselves to do so – by criticising our own theories and guesses’.19
It is of interest to note that Popper links his position with the implications of Kantian moral autonomy for religious authority. He writes:
“This principle (of autonomy) expresses his (Kant’s) realization that we must not accept the command of an authority, however exalted, as the basis of ethics. For whenever we are faced with a command by an authority, it is for us to judge, critically, whether it is moral or immoral to obey. … Kant boldly carried this idea into the field of religion: ‘… in whatever way’, he writes, ‘the Deity should be made known to you, and even … if He should reveal Himself to you: it is you … who must judge whether you are permitted to believe in Him, and to worship Him.'”20
Notwithstanding this important shift from rational justification to rational criticism, critical rationalism is evidently no less opposed than its predecessor to the idea of an authoritative divine revelation. But it has been itself criticised for retaining an irrational commitment to reason. Bartley claims to find evidence of this – he terms it “a fideism without glee”21 – in the critical rationalism of Ayer’s ‘The Problem of Knowledge’22 no less than in the traditional rationalism of his earlier ‘Language, Truth and Logic’23 and in such writers as Morton White, Hilary Putnam, Robert Nozick, W.V Quine and the later Wittgenstein. Of course, these writers differ greatly in the detail of their views of rationality but they have in common a recognition of logical limitations on rationality – that, for example, not everything can be rationally justified – and, in general, they take the task of the philosopher to be to describe, rather than justify, rationality’s frameworks, presuppositions and the like. Not all of them embrace the shift from justification to criticism as wholeheartedly as Popper but Bartley finds unacceptable elements of justificationism and fideism in some of Popper’s own writings as well. The clearest example of this is in the following from an early edition of his ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’ (he modified it in later editions apparently as a result of discussion with Bartley24):–
“Whoever adopts the rationalist attitude does so because he has adopted, consciously or unconsciously, some proposal, or decision, or belief, or behaviour; an adoption which may be called ‘irrational’. Whether this adoption is tentative or leads to a settled habit, we may describe it as an irrational faith in reason. So rationalism is necessarily far from comprehensive or self–contained. … Then why not adopt irrationalism? … But such panic action is entirely uncalled for. … For there are other tenable attitudes, notably that of critical rationalism which recognises the fact that the fundamentalist rationalist attitude results from an (at least tentative) act of faith – from faith in reason. We may choose some form of irrationalism, even some radical or comprehensive form. But we are also free to choose a critical form of rationalism, one which frankly admits its origin in an irrational decision (and which, to that extent, admits a certain priority of irrationalism).”25
Recent discussions of rational autonomy and notably those which advocate its adoption as an educational ideal are, I believe, firmly rooted in the critical rationalist tradition. This is certainly the case with Dearden’s accounts as, for example, when he writes:
“‘Rationality’ is being understood here in terms of always being open to criticism, rather than in terms of having an ultimate justification. … Everything can consistently be held open to criticism, though one cannot, of course, criticise everything at once.”26
“All criteria may be questioned, but not all at once, if intelligibility is to be preserved. … Autonomy neither does nor could require the stepping outside of all criteria to engage in some supposedly criterionless choosing.”27
The following quotations from Richard Peters and Paul Hirst respectively also show the influence of this kind of approach:
“The liberal ideal of autonomy is to be understood in contrast to unthinking conformity and rigid adherence to dogma. It does not demand making explicit everything which has been picked up from various sources and subjecting it all to constant criticism. What it does require is a willingness to learn and to revise opinions and assumptions when confronted with situations that challenge them. Logically speaking, too, criticism must take certain presuppositions for granted. Not everything can be questioned at once.”28
“It is not the case that the rationally autonomous person must himself work out every judgement on every action he undertakes, questioning things even to fundamental principles. He does in fact think things out to the extent that he has the necessary knowledge and abilities.”29
In fact, although I have linked these quotations with critical rationalism, there is evidence that a more radical and thoroughgoing kind of approach has influenced recent accounts of rational autonomy. This is Bartley’s own approach in which he claims to have carried through Popper’s critical rationalism to its logical conclusion. It is called ‘comprehensively critical rationalism’ or, more recently, ‘pancritical rationalism’. Indeed, Dearden acknowledges the influence of Bartley’s account30 and John White, in a paper on indoctrination, suggests that the principle ‘You ought to critically examine all your beliefs’ should be taught in a way that leads the pupil to apply it to itself.31 In the light of the volume of complex philosophical discussion that Bartley’s account has generated, it would seem unlikely that many pupils would ever achieve the degree of sophistication required to critically examine such a principle but to hold it as a theoretical ideal that they should is certainly in line with this third kind of approach to rationality.
From the point of view of the pancritical rationalist, both traditional rationalism and critical rationalism may be seen to evidence a fideist commitment to reason. From that of the Reformed epistemologist, if this commitment is not grounded on some deeper commitment to a God who made man with his rational powers, it may appear as an alternative to and exclusive of trusting obedience to a self–authenticating divine revelation. The difficulty for the rationalist of either kind is that he can offer no reason why his faith is to be preferred to faith in God or, for that matter, to any other kind of commitment however irrational. This poses for him what Bartley terms “the dilemma of ultimate commitment” because it is open to those who espouse any alternative to rationalism and who find themselves under attack from the rationalist to employ “a ‘tu quoque’ or boomerang argument” in response by reminding him that he too has made a commitment beyond the logical limits of rationality.32
This argument for faith in God – or, rather, counter to arguments against it – is essentially the same as the “Parity Argument” which Terence Penelhum has recently claimed to recognise in what he terms the “Evangelical Fideism” of Kierkegaard and the more modern versions of it adduced by, he says, Norman Malcolm and Plantinga.33 It is to provide an effective response to this kind of argument and what he sees as a ‘retreat to commitment’ on the part of many recent Protestant theologians who have no time for traditional natural theology that Bartley puts forward his pancritical rationalism. Not that Bartley himself would have any time for what he would see as the traditional rationalism of the natural theologian. His own position entails a complete abandonment of justification in favour of holding all positions open to criticism including that position itself. Bartley writes:
“While agreeing with Wittgenstein that principles and standards of rationality, or frameworks and ways of life, cannot be justified rationally, we regard this as a triviality and not as an indication of the limitations of rationality. For we don’t think that anything at all can be justified rationally. Not only do we not attempt to justify the standards; we do not attempt to justify anything else in terms of the standards. We do not think that there is any such thing as ‘well–founded belief’ anywhere in the system. Rather, we locate rationality in criticism. A rationalist is, for us, one who holds all his positions – including standards, goals, criteria, authorities, decisions, and especially his framework or way of life – open to criticism. He withholds nothing from examination and review. … We believe that the framework, or language–game, can be held reasonably or rationally only to the extent that it is subjected to and survives criticism. Thus we wish to enhance the role of ‘reflective acceptance’ of frameworks, not deny it.”34
Evidently, if the Reformed epistemologist is indeed guilty of such a retreat to irrational commitment and if Bartley’s rationalism is an effective response then the whole enterprise of Reformed epistemology up to the present is a failure. Bartley would then seem to have made room for an unlimited rational autonomy which would be exclusive of faith in God and untroubled by any ascription of autonomy to the noetic effects of sin.
This is why I have focussed upon rational autonomy and upon this particular account of what it is to be rational. The apparent fideism of both traditional and critical rationalism assumes that there are logical limits to rationality and to the attainment of rational autonomy. In the terms used by D.C. Phillips,35 it is logically impossible to attain to ‘autonomy 1’, i.e., to rationally challenge the framework of beliefs and practices of one’s society or, at least, of one’s own beliefs and practices. If so, the most that can be attained is ‘autonomy 2’, that of accepting a framework uncritically but, like Kuhn’s ‘normal scientists’, working autonomously within it.
This latter kind of autonomy is not a threat to faith in God and, indeed, seems quite acceptable and even desirable to the Reformed epistemologist. But to aspire to rationally justify the framework of obedient commitment to God is not acceptable to him. It is not in the finitude of reason that its corruption consists but, at least partly, in what the Reformed epistemologist may see as its arrogant refusal to admit its finitude or, if it does admit it, in going on to think and act inconsistently with this admission. The dilemma of ultimate commitment for the rationalist is the dilemma of the seeming unattainability of ‘autonomy 1’ and yet, in his hostility to the idea of a self–authenticating divine revelation that calls for obedience, he must assume that it is attainable in calling upon the Christian to justify his framework beliefs. However, if Bartley’s pancritical rationalism can be held to solve or dissolve the dilemma, then the way is open to a form of ‘autonomy 1’ and the commitment of faith must give way to openness to rational criticism. The autonomous man would then seem to have the last word.
There are, I think, at least two ways in which the Reformed epistemologist can respond to Bartley’s criticism of his basic commitment to God. One is to reply to the charge that he is irrationalist in his commitment. The other is to criticise Bartley’s position on its own terms. It is the possibilities in the first of these that I shall now investigate.
4.3 REASON AND COMMITMENT
How can the Reformed epistemologist respond to the charge that the commitment of basic belief in God or response to a self–authenticating revelation which he cannot show to be self–authenticating is not an example of irrationalism? He could, for a start, question Bartley’s (and Popper’s) assumption that rationalism and irrationalism are not only mutually exclusive but also exhaustive of the possible kinds of position available. It is only if there are no logical limits to rationality that the rationalist can rationally adopt the position that all alternatives to rationalism are, in the final analysis, irrational, i.e. contrary to reason. So if Bartley is correct about the limits to rationality, then he can go on to talk, as of course he does, of the exhaustiveness of rationalism and irrationalism. However, if there are logical limits to rationality, then a non–rational or, perhaps more accurately, asupra–rational commitment is possible. This would be a commitment which is beyond reason rather than contrary to it. Some have termed it ‘transrationalist’.36 But then there would appear to be a dilemma for all – not only for the rationalist but also for the Reformed epistemologist – in that there would seem to be nothing to choose (rationally) between any of the alternatives. The transrationalist’s commitment may not be irrational but then it is not rational either! And, as objectors to Plantinga’s proper basicality of belief in God have not been slow to point out, there is no reason why a person may not disbelieve in God. Sinful unbelief would appear to be excusable after all and the ‘tu quoque’ argument to be something of a double–edged sword. I shall return to this question of an excuse for unbelief shortly but before that there are, I think, other things the Reformed epistemologist can say in response to the charge that he is irrationalist.
For a start, the Reformed epistemologist can point to how he values reason and, in a qualified sense, autonomy. His is not an anarchic epistemology where ‘anything goes’. Indeed, Bartley speaks very highly of the reasoned approach of Karl Barth whom he regards as a leading example of one who retreats to ultimate commitment. He describes him as “far from being dogmatic in the ordinary sense of that word, … remarkably flexible, a most rational irrationalist”.37 Plantinga probably ranks as one of the foremost philosophers of religion of our day and could probably be spoken of in similar terms.
Secondly, contrary to the impression Bartley sometimes gives38 and the charges of ‘epistemological behaviourism’ that have been brought against Plantinga’s position,39 the use of the ‘tu quoque’ argument by somebody does not necessarily mean that he is committed to a relativistic stance. The kind of Reformed epistemology which Plantinga and others advocate is an example of theological realism. Their claim is that it is true in a straightforward sense that God exists notwithstanding their acknowledgement that this is not something that they can demonstrate to the non–believer. It is not a case of saying that it is ‘true for me’ and something else may be ‘true for you’. The point of the use of the ‘tu quoque’ argument can simply be to show that rational demonstration has limits which apply to the positions of all parties in the dispute. So if the Reformed epistemologist is irrational, it is not because he is guilty of the standard kind of self–refuting claim of which the relativist is commonly accused.
Thirdly, although he may believe that he cannot argue the non–believer into faith by means of appeal to reasons and evidence, the Reformed epistemologist may nevertheless engage in reasoning with the non–believer. He may attempt to demonstrate the coherence of his position and this could include an explanation of the apparent non–universality of his beliefs and even of the limitations a limited rationality and the nature of faith may impose upon his ability to argue somebody into believing. Since coherence is not sufficient for truth, leaving as it does the problem of how to choice between two mutually exclusive but equally coherent stances, this is more a matter of removing obstacles to faith rather than providing arguments for it.
The Reformed epistemologist may also engage in reasoning through attempts to show internal problems in alternative stances. Bartley says that anybody who uses the ‘tu quoque’ argument may not criticise the commitments of others40 but use of the ‘tu quoque’ is not inconsistent with criticism of the positions of others. If both as part of their commitment agree on the value of rationality and internal consistency, then one may legitimately point out to the other respects in which he believes that the other’s position lacks internal coherence. To do so would not be irrational and if these lacks could be shown to be irremediable unless basic assumptions are amended or abandoned then this fact would constitute an argument against that particular stance.
So, although he may not be able to provide arguments for faith, the believer may respond rationally to arguments against faith and provide arguments against unbelief – at least in particular forms. He does not therefore have to resort to force – brainwashing or whatever – as an alternative to argument. Nor could he do so consistently with the Christian values of respect for persons, truth and rationality. The use of such methods could lead at most to inauthentic outward conformity to a way of life but this is not at all the same as a response in faith to a self–authenticating divine revelation. It would therefore not be consistent with the content of Christian faith to resort to such methods – although it must be granted that church history contains rather too many examples of such inconsistency (and that some of the techniques used in modern evangelism may also display it). Again, this is another respect in which the approach of the Reformed epistemologist need not be subject to the charge of irrationalism.
Fourthly, the Reformed epistemologist can point out that he is not taking belief in God to be groundless. He holds that his position is indeed justified since it is immediately justified. To insist that justification is necessarily a matter of appealing to reasons or evidence is to deny the possibility of a self–authenticating divine revelation. To do so requires the support of argument to show that such revelation is impossible. The Reformed epistemologist holds that he is being rational as far as it is possible to be rational but because his commitment is not a matter of considering reasons or evidence it is not, ipso facto, nonjustificationist and, in this sense, not irrational. He has not retreated beyond justification but rather he has gone to the logical limits of the justification of this particular kind of belief. To be entitled to label this irrational, Bartley would have to show the unacceptability of an appeal to, say, immediate awareness of God mediated through the words of the Bible. It may be unacceptable as the starting–point for a rational demonstration to another person but this does not make it unacceptable as the grounding of the person’s own belief.
Admittedly, immediate justification is not to the level of an absolute guarantee – and Bartley does seem to be assuming that justification must be absolute.41 But lack of absolute guarantee does not require the abandonment of all talk of epistemic justification and its total replacement by talk of criticism. Why should justification have to provide an absolute guarantee before it can be regarded as real epistemic justification? The Reformed epistemologist attempts to give an account of justification which does not have such stringent requirements and which overcomes some of the difficulties that have been found to undermine classical foundationalism. To the extent that he is successful in this he is not irrational nor is his basic stance irrationalist.
Fifthly, we come to the objection mentioned at the beginning of this section that making use of a ‘tu quoque’ or Parity Argument provides an excuse for unbelief. The objection could be along the lines that if there is nothing to choose, from the point of view of rationality, between the alternatives of faith in God or unbelief, the unbeliever cannot be held to be responsible for his choice of unbelief and so unbelief cannot be held to be sinful. To this there are, I think, some responses available to the Reformed epistemologist. Following on from the points just made about immediate justification, he can claim that faith in God may be both rational – in a sense – and supra–rational. The parity exists in the inability of either believer or non–believer to argue the other around to his position and not in an equal resort to unjustified beliefs or, in that sense, a retreat to commitment. From the inside of the Reformed position, it is not a matter of choice between equally unjustified beliefs – there is everything to choose between them but argument into faith may not be an available option.
The Reformed epistemologist may argue further that there is room for the possibility of religious rebellion in his account. This is the possibility of willing not to believe – where belief is understood in the sense of trusting obedience – even when the revelation authenticates itself to one. (Indeed, as we saw earlier,42 Kuyper and Van Til, at least, portray the whole human race as being in a state of religious rebellion in the face of divine revelation in nature.) And if the ideal of rational autonomy is indeed exclusive of faith as trusting obedience, then this willing not to believe could find cognitive expression in the assumption of such autonomy.
However, there may be a price to pay for this turning aside of the objection in question. It seems to ascribe a centrality to the will so that if it is possible to will not to believe, it would seem possible also to will to believe or even to will to suspend judgement altogether. This lands us back with the ultimate commitment of a choice which begins to look suspiciously criterionless, a veritable leap of faith. But it may not be inevitable that we end up with this kind of commitment.
For a start, it does not follow that here the will to believe and the will not to believe differ only in content. It is possible to make a distinction between what might be termed ‘responsive freedom’ and ‘wilful freedom’.43 Responsive freedom is the kind of freedom we exercise in our response to overwhelming reasons or evidence for the truth of a claim when we freely accept that it is true. In a sense, it is a coerced freedom but, as is often pointed out,44 intellectual coercion is not inconsistent with the voluntariness of belief. On the other hand, wilful freedom is what we must exercise when we have to ‘make up our minds’ upon inconclusive grounds or when we believe ‘against the evidence’. This latter is at least possible in that we have indirect control over our believing because we can choose to engage in activities that influence the conditions under which beliefs are formed and maintained.45 It is also possible to act in ways that are inconsistent with our beliefs and this could be another form of wilful freedom.
The exercise of wilful freedom against divine revelation could therefore be seen as religious rebellion but it does not follow that responding to the revelation in trusting obedience is also wilful in this way. On the contrary, it would seem more appropriate to the kind of account of revelation that I have given that the revealer be taken to be the active one and the person to whom the revelation comes to be seen as more passively responsive. Belief in God is therefore not necessarily a case of a leap beyond reasons or evidence as it is sometimes portrayed and unbelief as wilful rejection of revelation can be sinful after all.
Sixthly, there is the question of whether a commitment of faith must be absolute. The assumption that it must seems to be one of Bartley’s main targets in his advocacy of a position that holds all beliefs open to rational criticism. He seems to link the guarantees that he thinks are necessary for knowing – if knowing were possible – with the absoluteness of ultimate commitment. This leads him to distinguish ‘conviction’ from commitment as when he writes:–
“We can assume or be convinced of the truth of something without being committed to its truth. As conceived here, a rationalist can, while eschewing intellectual commitments, retain both the courage of his convictions and the courage to go on attacking his commitments – the courage to think and go on thinking. The word ‘courage’ is appropriate here. The submission of one’s peripheral and unimportant beliefs to criticism requires no courage, but the willingness to subject to the risks of criticism the beliefs and attitudes one values most does require it.”46
From this and in the light of his rejection of justification, it would seem that ‘conviction’ should be taken as strong or firmly held belief but it cannot be knowledge nor can it be justified belief. It would also seem to follow that it must be a matter of believing that something is true rather than that we may justifiably believe it to be true. What then is it to be ‘committed’ to the truth of something? Bartley does not provide us with a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for commitment but from what he does say, it would seem that he takes it to be a matter of an irrational or dogmatic assumption in holding that some, but not all, beliefs are immune to the demand for rational justification. Commitment is therefore a matter of believing in a certain way, a way that does not hold the belief open to criticism and even shields it from criticism. Conviction may be firm but its firmness is qualified by an openness to criticism.
However, if commitment is seen as closely allied to – if not identical with – trust, then a different picture of the situation may emerge. It is not simply a matter of being committed to the truth of something but also of acting in certain ways or, at least, of being disposed to act in those ways. Trust will rest upon beliefs concerning the rightness of the action or the trust–worthiness of a person but it is more than the totality of those beliefs. In other words, faith is not merely assent to certain propositions but it does involve assent to them.
The problem that Bartley’s challenge poses for the believer is whether the core beliefs of a commitment have to be certain if the commitment is to be absolute or unconditional. Basil Mitchell meets this problem as he seeks to reconcile the probably true beliefs that rest on his cumulative case for Christianity with the unconditional faith which is characteristically held by the Christian to be the ideal, although maybe not the actual attainment of many. His response is to distinguish between the believer’s trust in God and his system of belief. He suggests that the former is unconditional but it does not follow that the latter – “the entire system of belief, including the belief that there is a God and that he is trustworthy” – could not turn out to be false in the end.47 However, this solution seems to take the system of beliefs to be all of a piece and fails to distinguish between its core beliefs and those which are more peripheral. One may accept the possibility of a fairly radical revision of one’s system of beliefs but can one trust unconditionally in a God whose existence is taken to be probable rather than certain? Some may talk of ‘fluid axioms’48 but the Reformed epistemologist may well ask whether all one’s axioms can be as fluid as this?
The Reformed epistemologist could, instead, point again to the nature of immediate justification. To hold that a belief is immediately justified is to hold that it is immune from the demand for rational justification. It is not necessary to produce any reasons or evidence in its support. But it does not follow that it is immune to rational criticism. After all, it is a case of prima facie justification. This means both that the belief is justified and that it is open to criticism. Immediate justification does not make a belief certain in the sense that it is infallible, logically indubitable, irrefutable or incorrigible. If it is grounded in some form of immediate awareness, then it is psychologically direct and so gives psychological certainty. If so, it would seem plausible to suggest that a combination of this psychological certainty with the immunity that the belief does possess – that from demands for rational justification – is sufficient for absolute commitment. That he allows the logical possibility that he is mistaken in his belief does not mean that the believer has (justified or unjustified) doubts or that he cannot have unconditional faith. Reformed epistemology can therefore be seen to differ greatly from Bartley’s pancritical rationalism. It provides for the possibility of a justifiedbelief being held open to criticism whereas for Bartley no belief is ever justified. For Bartley, commitment is not required but for the Reformed epistemologist, although it is required, it is not a problem.
Insofar as these responses to the charge of irrationalism are adequate, Reformed epistemology cannot be easily dismissed on these grounds. He does not necessarily assert anything which is contrary to reason and may indeed be thoroughly rational in many ways and to the limits of rationality. But, as we have seen, Bartley claims that there are no limits to rationality. So the second way in which a Reformed epistemologist can meet the challenge of Bartley’s arguments is to turn to criticise it on its own terms.
4.4 SOME PROBLEMS IN PANCRITICAL RATIONALISM
Most of the discussion that has arisen in relation to Bartley’s proposals has been centred on problems concerning their self–reference and on whether these are such as to render them unacceptable.49 But there are other criticisms the Reformed epistemologist can make of Bartley’s account and I shall seek to outline these before taking up the matter of self–reference.
4.4.1 ARGUMENT WITHOUT JUSTIFICATION?
I think the Reformed epistemologist can point to the difficulty of getting clear on precisely what Bartley sees himself to be doing in setting forth his proposals for a pancritical rationalism. It would seem that he ought to deny both that he is arguing for anything and that he could be successful. To be consistent with his own proposals, he has to avoid the use of justificationist terms like verify, confirm, validate, defend, show to be acceptable and many more, for, as he says, “Nothing gets justified; everything gets criticised”.50
However, reading through his book, it is at times difficult to avoid the impression that he is proclaiming a gospel hidden for ages but now revealed. Indeed, he talks of the “almost revelatory character” of an observation by Popper in his 1960 address before the British Academy, an observation that “throws a very different light on the history and problems of philosophy” – the observation that the questions asked in all the philosophies of the past “beg authoritarian answers”.51 Perhaps to suggest that Bartley presents himself as the evangelist of a new gospel is rather ad hominem but it is certainly difficult to work out exactly what he sees himself to be doing. He says that he wants to “argue” that rationality is unlimited52 and to attempt to “succeed” in resolving the dilemma of ultimate commitment.53 This he sees as the fundamental problem of modern philosophy and he defines it as the problem of how to defeat the tu quoque argument by “showing” that it is possible to choose in a nonarbitrary way among competing ways of life.54 This is the language of success and it is present elsewhere too as, for example, when he says of his book (in the introduction to the second edition):
“It delineates how it differs from earlier answers to the problems of criticism and of rationality, and it explains why such attempts failed, and how it succeeds where they failed.”55
Again, he says that if his argument is correct, he succeeds in refuting the tu quoque argument and in solving the problem of rationality in which it is rooted.56 Indeed, he thinks that his theory of rationality “satisfactorily” solves the problem.57 All of this sounds like the language of a justificationist and the Reformed epistemologist may well point out that this is only to be expected since it is difficult to see how one can argue without justifying what one says. Even though Bartley says it is inappropriate to ask or answer questions like ‘How do you know?’, what he is doing sounds very like giving answers to that kind of question. Could it be otherwise?
Admittedly, in his abandonment of what he terms “the old aim of establishing our views”, he does maintain that it is impossible to “decisively refute” theories.58 So perhaps a solution or a refutation can be ‘satisfactory’ without being ‘decisive’ but then this does not sound all that different from what one would expect from somebody who fuses justification and criticism in the critical rationalist approach that Bartley rejects.59
Perhaps Bartley is simply being inconsistent and by changing the tone of some of his remarks he could end up with something more true to the spirit of his openness to criticism. In other words, he has not carried out completely what he terms his “diacritical analysis” of language – his attempt “to eliminate from it (ordinary language) an ordinary assumption about rationality which prevented the solution of the problem that accounts of rationality were intended to solve”.60 This may be possible but the Reformed epistemologist may well still find it difficult to see how a process of argument can exist without attempts to justify statements.
4.4.2 COMMITMENT AND METACONTEXTS
A second line of argument that the Reformed epistemologist could take is to attempt to show that Bartley is himself committed notwithstanding his rejection of commitment in favour of having convictions. Indeed, Bartley does allow at least one “absolute presupposition” and this is the presupposition of logic “to which we are committed not as human beings, because of our biology, psychology or sociology, but as arguers about the world”. Bartley says that logic can be held open to revision and criticism and he continues:
“To be sure, to abandon logic is to abandon rationality as surely as to abandon Christ is to abandon Christianity. The two positions differ, however, in that the rationalist can, from his own rationalist point of view, consider and be moved by criticisms of logic and of rationalism, whereas the Christian cannot, from his own Christian point of view, consider and be moved by criticisms of his Christian commitment.”61
But the Reformed epistemologist can well respond to this that the Christian may well be moved by criticism to revise the content of his Christian beliefs. After all, this is part of the dialogical situation of a personal relationship that he may hold to be central to an adequate notion of revelation.62 He may also argue, as W.D. Hudson and others have done, that it is inconceivable that a person be argued out of the very practice of argument.63 The main examples that Bartley gives of being argued out of the practice of using logic are of being argued into relativism, fideism, scepticism or determinism but to be argued into what he terms an irrationalist position is hardly the same as being argued altogether out of the practice of argument.
The Reformed epistemologist may also claim that there is another commitment underlying Bartley’s writings, a commitment that has to do with truth rather than logic. It would seem that Bartley is committed to the pursuit of truth and even, judging by the volume and depth of his writings, passionately committed to it. He talks enthusiastically of the “goals of eliminating error and enhancing the advance of knowledge” as he elucidates the broad outlines of his evolutionary epistemology.64 It is not that truth can ever be finally attained but that one may get closer to it. Bartley’s approach can therefore, I think, be properly regarded as an example of what Agassi terms a ‘bootstrap theory of rationality’, i.e., one which embraces a historical relativism of rationality but rejects a historical relativism of truth.65
Bartley may object that this is not a matter of commitment to certain beliefs but rather to aims or goals but the Reformed epistemologist can plausibly urge in reply that commitment has a cognitive core and that the cognitive core here is the belief that one should seek to get nearer to truth. This core does not include the belief that openness to criticism is the best way of doing this because, according to Bartley, this position is itself held open to criticism.
This suggestion of overarching goals and beliefs brings in Bartley’s notion of ‘metacontexts’. In his first appendix to the second edition of his book, Bartley introduces a new line of thought which, he says, takes the argument of the book to “a new dimension”. He goes on to make a distinction between positions, contexts and metacontexts. Positions can be expressed in statements describing the environment or recommending ways of behaving in it. Positions are embedded in the contexts of belief–systems, ideologies and traditions which are not just the sums of positions held but are also their frameworks. A person’s real allegiance is to a context rather than a position. Metacontexts are the contexts of contexts and Bartley says there are only three of them: justification philosophy, oriental nonattachment and pancritical rationalism. He also says that people hold conflicting positions in conflicting contexts and in terms of conflicting metacontexts but that criticism is possible and, presumably, desirable at all three levels.66
Bartley distinguishes the pancritical rationalist metacontext from that of justificationism but the Reformed epistemologist can argue that the differences are not as great as all that and that both fuse justification and criticism. Both are committed to the pursuit of truth through rational means and, if so, it would seem plausible to suggest that both have an underlying faith in the power of human reason to get closer to truth (if not to see it). Perhaps this opens up the possibility of going to the level of meta–metacontexts where the meta–contexts of both justificationism and pancritical rationalism have a common context of, say, truth–orientation through reason. But then the Reformed epistemologist could just as easily propose the alternative of, say, an intuitionist divine–revelation–based meta–metacontext. To this the pancritical rationalist might object that this classification merely reflects the Reformed epistemologist’s own context to which the short response is ‘Tu quoque?’!
If the pancritical rationalist must exhibit these kinds of commitment then it would seem that he has not solved the dilemma of ultimate commitment nor has he come up with an adequate response to the tu quoque argument. Nor has he shown that rationality does not have logical limits.
4.4.3 THE ANTHROPOCENTRICISM OF BARTLEY’S ACCOUNT
The Reformed epistemologist has yet another line of objection to Bartley’s pancritical rationalism and to accounts of autonomy as an aim in life or an aim in education that are founded in it. From the perspective of the believer for whom belief in God is properly basic and divine revelation is self–authenticating, the major limitation in Bartley’s account is that it tacitly assumes that knowledge is a purely human product, i.e., that Popper was right when, towards the end of the lecture referred to earlier, he said:
“What we should do, I suggest, is to give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it be beyond our reach.”67
Popper explicitly includes supernatural sources of knowledge among those he rejects and at the same time he also dismisses the view that error may be due to human corruption.
Most of his lecture consists of description and recommendation and I can find only three reasons that he gives for this rejection, all of them rather briefly stated. First, against the “doctrine” that truth is manifest he argues that history shows us the “the simple truth is that truth is often hard to come by, and that once found it may easily be lost again”.68 But the Reformed epistemologist need not be at all moved by this observation since it is entirely provided for on the kind of account he is proposing with its emphasis on the noetic effects of sin. Secondly, as a counter to the theory of the ultimate sources of our knowledge, Popper appeals to the genetic fallacy and the need to distinguish questions of origin from questions of validity.69 But the Reformed epistemologist may well respond that this assumes that the giving of reasons is necessary for all epistemic justification and that it is impossible that men believe with justification – albeit not on the basis of reasons or evidence – that God is speaking to them. Popper finally appeals to consequences in his suggestion that the conclusion that there are super–human sources of knowledge “tends to encourage self–righteousness and the use of force against those who refuse to see the divine truth”.70 The Reformed epistemologist may allow that this can happen but deny that it necessarily does so. It would seem that Popper’s arguments are not unanswerable. But perhaps, anyway, he does not intend to justify his rejection of super–human sources and he means what he says when he includes this statement: “I propose to assume, instead, that no such ideal sources exist”.71 If it is assumed rather than argued for that supernatural sources of knowledge are impossible, then it is simply the case that the Reformed epistemologist makes no such assumption and has been presented with no reason why he should make it.
Bartley, I think, assumes that Popper has shown that divine revelation is an epistemological non–starter – if, again, it is possible from their standpoint to show that anything is the case! In an appendix on Fries’s dilemma, he does very briefly mention the possibility of justifying a proposition “non–propositionally” but only to dismiss it immediately and summarily as either “psychologism” or a matter of appeal to a decision.72 Apart from this, he seems to assume that, for the justificationist, the only alternative to the infinite regress of justification is “arbitrary dogmatic commitment”.
This assumption means that the Reformed epistemologist can validly claim that there is an implicit anthropocentricism in Bartley’s account. He may have much to say that is relevant to philosophy of religion but religion is viewed as a purely human phenomenon. Bartley’s denial of the possibility of an authoritative source of knowledge rules out from the start the theocentric alternative of self–authenticating divine revelation to which the appropriate response is trust, obedience and commitment.
4.4.4 SELF–REFERENTIAL INCOHERENCE IN BARTLEY’S ACCOUNT
The issue of self–reference and paradox has received a fair amount of attention in the discussions there have been of pancritical rationalism.73 The Reformed epistemologist may well feel he has sufficient reason to reject Bartley’s position – especially on the issue of anthropocentricism – without going into this. And he may not gain much by going into it because the presence of paradox in an account does not mean that it is incoherent.74 Bartley allows that paradox is virtually inevitable in an account like his but he goes on to point out that the mere possibility of a solution to these paradoxes is sufficient to show that his position can itself be held open to criticism. In order to show that Bartley’s position is uncriticisable, his critics would have to demonstrate that all attempts to solve such paradoxes have failed and that they could not succeed.75 This would seem a major task for the Reformed epistemologist even to embark upon and considerations of space in the present study make it impossible for me to do so even assuming that there could be a lot to be gained thereby, which I doubt.
There is a separate issue which has arisen in the literature in the course of the discussion on paradox and this has to do with whether criticisability and survival of criticism are necessary or sufficient conditions of rationality. In the appendix to the second edition of his book, Bartley states that “nonjustificational criticizability” is a sufficient condition for rationality.76 This would seem to expose his position to a criticism that he may not be able, with consistency, to refute and this is related to a comment made by Agassi, Jarvie and Settle early on in the debate about paradox:
“Bartley does not specify sufficient conditions for holding beliefs rationally – sufficient conditions would be specifications for justification and thus for victory – Bartley rather specifies as far as he can some necessary conditions – which (in the event of their being unfulfilled) are specifications for defeat”.77
So if Bartley does provide sufficient conditions as he now says he does, then upon fulfilment of such conditions he can with justification say that he is being rational. This again casts doubt upon the possibility of completely unfusing justification and criticism.
4.5 SUMMARY AND SOME CONCLUDING REMARKS
In this chapter, I have focussed upon the suggestion that the assumption of rational autonomy, in some of its forms, is a noetic effect of sin. It is suggested that it manifests an unwarranted imperialism of reason and is opposed to the notion of a self–authenticating authoritative divine revelation. A revelation cannot be accepted as coming with divine authority in the absence of adequate reasons and evidence or so, it seems, the proponent of some forms of the autonomy ideal maintain. But the Reformed epistemologist holds that he need not adduce or possess any reasons or evidence for his belief.
I have looked at this fundamental disagreement with reference to the Popperian framework of different kinds of rationalism. Traditional rationalism with its insistence upon the rational justification of all beliefs apparently cannot meet its own standards and, failing to recognise that its rationality is necessarily limited, rests on what is by its own standards an irrational faith in the powers of unaided human reason to decide upon truth and falsity. Critical rationalism recognises that justification must come to an end and, contenting itself with the description of its framework beliefs, presuppositions and the like, acknowledges its basic reliance upon the competence of human reason to get closer to truth if not to reach it. On both of these positions human reason is therefore held to be autonomous and claims to divine revelation must be judged at its bar. Faith as a trusting submission to an authoritative self–authenticating revelation from God is held to be unacceptable because it fails to satisfy the demand for rational justification.
The remaining account of rationality considered has been that of pancritical rationalism. It makes an attempt to completely replace justification by criticism in a position that insists that all positions including that of pancritical rationalism itself can be held open to rational criticism. This is held to solve the problem of a retreat to commitment discerned by Bartley in both its predecessors as accounts of rationality and, if it does so, this kind of rationality is unlimited, rational autonomy can be reinstated as an ideal without theoretical limits and commitments of all kinds are rightly regarded as irrational. But I have suggested that there is reason to believe that Bartley, as the leading proponent of this version of rationalism, does not succeed in completely unfusing justification and criticism or in altogether avoiding commitment to reason as a means of getting closer to truth. It would seem that such a reliance upon unaided human reason means that the position is anthropocentric and that it therefore assumes from the outset the impossibility of the kind of self–revealing activity of God referred to above.
Against this ideal of unlimited rational autonomy the Reformed epistemologist posits the alternative of trusting response to the self–revealing activity of God. A convenient label for this notion is the term theonomy.78 The nomos is that of another rather than one that originates in the self but the other is unique in being God rather than man. Man being finite and sinful cannot ultimately rely on his own powers nor can he find in other finite and sinful beings appropriate objects for complete trust or obedience. So, from the standpoint of faith in God, neither autonomy nor heteronomy is acceptable. But if there is an infinite Creator who is altogether good, he is uniquely worthy of such reliance and obedience and, indeed, of worship.79 To this it may be objected that even if it be allowed that God is necessarily infinite and good, man cannot evade his responsibility to decide for himself that this God is speaking to him and, a fortiori, that he exists.80 But this objection assumes the impossibility of a self–authenticating divine revelation. On the basis of an account in terms of responsive freedom, it is not a matter of deciding in the sense of weighing up reasons and evidences and then coming to a decision. A person may be convinced that God is speaking to him and may be immediately justified in this belief. Of course, it is another matter to work out what God is saying to him and how it applies to the circumstances of his life. That a revelation is self–authenticating does not mean that there are no hermeneutical problems. And it is here that the exercise of reason may be of central significance as a person wrestles with complex problems of biblical interpretation and with real moral dilemmas – to say nothing of such noetic effects of sin as self–deception – in the application of biblical principles to life.
The whole issue seems to depend on the starting–point of the discussion. From the perspective of the assumption of unlimited rational autonomy, faith in the sense that I have taken it is not an option. From the perspective that allows the possibility of God speaking to man in a way that does not require rational reflection for justified belief, the assumption of autonomy is unacceptable and, since it is exclusive of faith, it is a manifestation of human sinfulness. These starting–points are mutually exclusive. They may also be ultimately exhaustive but I cannot attempt to show here that this is so. The choice between them is not a matter of arbitrary commitment because the believer may find himself confronted with a self–authenticating revelation to which he freely responds or else he wilfully rejects. It is no more arbitrary or dogmatic than belief in tables and chairs. However, it is likely to appear dogmatic to the non–believer who does not find himself with such beliefs. The believer can attempt to show the coherence of his own perspective on the basis of – for this purpose – a hypothetical assumption of his starting–point. He may also attempt to show incoherence in the autonomy–based perspective. For some this may be necessary for faith but it cannot be sufficient for it.