by Greg Krehbiel on 16 August 2013
Some Christians believe that they carry on a type of dialog with God in their minds. When a Christian says something like “then God told me ___,” they are probably referring to this inner dialog — this “inner voice.”
I suspect that most people are like me in that they have a whole lot of different voices in their heads. In my case, sometimes it’s Gordon Lightfoot singing a song, or something my father said years ago, or my inner skeptic arguing with me.
Each of these voices seems to have a different priority in my consciousness. Gordon can go on singing in the background and it doesn’t bother me, but when the skeptic pipes up, I usually enter into a dialog with him.
But … who exactly is it that’s dialoging with whom? Which one is “me”?
Generally speaking it seems that I have one voice that is the focus of my conscious experience, which I would classify as “me.” That voice is the one that’s arguing with the skeptic. So there are other voices in my head that are “not me.” Gordon singing and my dad saying something and so on.
I assume they’re all the product of my brain, and I assume it’s all going on inside my head, but I don’t think of them as “me,” which is, admittedly, somewhat of an odd thing.
I’ve also never thought of any of these voices as the voice of God, but I can certainly see how someone might think that.
So here’s the trick. I don’t need to provide any evidence for the existence of the skeptic. I have immediate knowledge of him, and I am more certain that he exists than I am that any of you exist. (I’m using “he” in a weird sense here, of course. I don’t believe he’s an actual entity — he’s just a persona in my brain — a way that certain thoughts bubble up into my consciousness.)
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that rather than having the skeptic in my head, I’d always had a voice (my superego, or my conscience, or whatever) that I associated with the voice of God. I wouldn’t have to prove that it exists. I would know that immediately. It would be a “properly basic belief.”
Associating that voice with a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth — now that would seem to be the part that requires evidence.
However, there may be distinctions in what the person means by equating this voice with God.
He could mean (Version 1) …
When I say “God” this is precisely what I mean — this voice that’s been speaking to me in my head all these years. The pastor tells me he’s also the guy who parted the Red Sea and sent ravens to feed Elijah, and I accept that, but I suppose I could be convinced out of it.
I don’t know if anybody actually feels that way (maybe the Matthew Broderick character in Ladyhawke), but it is at least possible. In Version 1, the “properly basic” belief is that “God” (as subjectively defined) exists, but whether that God corresponds to the guy who fed Elijah is another kind of belief that does require evidence.
The person who has this “God voice” could also mean (Version 2) …
I know this character who’s been speaking to me all these years, and I also believe in God, and the pastor says that voice is actually God’s voice.
Here the “properly basic” part refers to a voice which may or may not be God, and there is an independent belief in God, which may or may not be properly basic. Then there is a third belief that the voice and God are related.
Alvin Plantinga argues that the existence of God is a “properly basic belief,” which a person is justified in believing even without evidence — just as he can believe in the existence of other minds, or the rules of math or logic. You don’t need evidence for those things.
If you’re looking for some grand conclusion I don’t have one. My point here is only to note that after reflecting on the “properly basic” nature of this “inner voice,” it’s a little easier to understand how belief in God might be properly basic.
-- 2013-08-16 » Greg Krehbiel