Stephen Wyksrta’s “Toward a Sensible Evidentialism: On the Notion of ‘Needing Evidence’”

by Max Andrews

Wykstra argues contra ‘Calvinian’ epistemology, a la Alvin Plantinga, which suggests that belief in God is properly basic.  Wykstra puts forth a case for evidentialism.  His goal was to not refute Plantinga’s view but instead relocate the discussion so that evidentialism will appear as a viable option. With this option of evidentialism he doesn’t attempt to say that it’s necessarily absent from a Calvinian point of view but that Calvinians’ need to understand the role of evidence.  It’s not that evidentialism is wrong or that the Calvinian can’t use evidentialism but it’s that Calvinians can have their claim of properly basic beliefs without completely dismissing the evidentialist position.

Logically prior to such inferential reasoning is intuition or basic beliefs.  These beliefs may also be considered properly basic.  The belief that this glass of water in front of me will quench my thirst if I drink it is not inferred back from previous experiences coupled with an application of a synthetic a priori principle of induction.  Though this example is not how we form our beliefs psychologically or historically, it can be formed via instances of past experience and induction in the logical sense.  This is how the properly basic beliefs are related to God’s existence. 

Wykstra’s argument:

  1. What Calvinians really want to say is that belief in God is evidence non-essential.
  2. Even if there is no evidential case available for it, theist belief suffers not epistemic defectiveness and should not be seen as being in being doxastic trouble.
  3. The relocation of the issue, therefore, does not reduce the disagreement between the evidentialists and the Calvinians; rather, it illuminates the disagreement, deepening our understanding of the divide between the two sides.

I would consider my epistemic position to be a moderate evidentialist.  There is a sense of deontology to it in that one ought to base their beliefs corresponding to the evidence; however, there is a sense in which one may hold a belief without sufficient evidence and still be rational.  The source of truth is the objective prime reality and our knowledge should correspond to the truth of reality.  My epistemology yields my theology in the sense of scientific theology.  What I know about reality is what I know about God.[1]

Evidentialism is quite the attractive epistemology.  I believe the method of inquiry that I have described is the most sufficient way of epistemic inquiry while maintaining a theological ethic of epistemology.  It meets its own criteria for justification more than other theories, it provides a realist understanding of the world, it correlates deontic obligations, and it is pragmatic (though not in the strict sense).

The same criteria for justification of any belief still functions in a self-confirming capacity.  Evidentialism is a robust epistemic account for one’s cognitive relation to reality.  It has a wide scope making all aspects of knowledge requiring evidence.  It seems to me that the probability that evidentialism is true, both epistemically and ethically, is the most accurate and sufficient method of epistemic inquiry and is more plausible than a non-evidentialist theory.

[1] I am not suggesting that a pantheistic of panentheistic model.  I am asserting that my epistemology makes certain entailments to my theology.  I will provide a historical development of this.

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