I teach an Intro to Philosophy class at a local college. It’s both fun and frustrating: the former stems from exploring ideas with students that they may not have yet considered; the latter from the impossibility of delving deep into specific subjects (I’m supposed to cover the four major philosophical disciplines in one semester!). Although metaphysical concepts (e.g., dualism, the existence of God, etc.) hold primary interest, epistemology is quietly approaching – attempting to supplant metaphysics as king-of-the-mountain.
Enter René Descartes.
One particular epistemological theory he espoused was Foundationalism. He employed architectural language to help describe his views about knowledge; namely, basic beliefs are the foundation of everything else we might know (i.e., superstructural or secondary beliefs). He then borrowed some geometric terms from Euclid, coupling basic beliefs with axioms and secondary beliefs with theorems. Now, I’m no mathematician; in fact, my high school geometry teacher “pity-passed” me. And yet, I’m grateful that Descartes borrowed these terms because they’re helpful as we think about epistemology.
An axiom can be defined as a statement accepted as true or a self-evident truth. A theorem can be defined as a statement deduced or to be deduced from other formulas (thanks Merriam-Webster!). In other words, Descartes believed that only self-evident truths are foundational.
So what is a self-evident truth? Cogito Ergo Sum.
Descartes’s rubric for testing beliefs is the Method of Doubt. That is, if a belief can be doubted, then it’s not foundational. His test results concluded that the only indubitable belief is “I think; therefore, I am.”
It alarms some Christians that Descartes did not consider the existence of God as foundational. But don’t be alarmed! A secondary belief is not necessarily untrue; it’s just not basic. And, if we’re intellectually honest, we should be willing to admit that the existence of God is doubtable. As Christians, though, the existence of God can move from being dubitable to indubitable (a notable difference from traditional theists [e.g., Islam, Judaism, etc.])
William Lane Craig, a leading Christian philosopher, often includes personal experience as one datum for the existence of God. He doesn’t qualify it as an argument, per se; however, he does use it as a claim that you can know God exists wholly independent from arguments – simply by experiencing him. The late Christopher Hitchens held Pastor Doug Wilson in high-esteem.
In the documentary Collision, Hitchens appreciates that Wilson actually believes what he says; namely, he has faith in what he believes to be true (hopefully I’m not overstepping my bounds by speaking for him here – you don’t want to ruffle a satirist’s feathers). For Wilson, then, it would appear that the existence of God is an indubitable truth because of faith.
Faith is a beautiful thing; a testament of God’s work in the hearts of sinners. May we affirm our personal experience of Jesus Christ; may we champion the faith of a Doug Wilson; may we bask in the evidence of God’s work in our lives. Faith can make the existence of God indubitable – even if Descartes thinks otherwise.