Alvin Plantinga has argued that Christian beliefs such as the existence of God, incarnation, etc. can be warranted in a properly basic way. Those who do not believe in the existence of God have some kind of impairment in their cognitive faculties which is a result of original sin. In other words, there is something wrong with those who do not believe in God; they are blind. Can we apply them to the Catholic Church and other religions? Suppose that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ. The Church proposes:
(P) Mary was assumed into heaven.
Yet, we know that (P) does not have a lot of support from the Scriptures. The first fathers did not believe in (P) either. The Church, however, still proposes (P). If non-Catholics reject (P) because they believe there is lack of evidence, what are we to say about them? One way is recognize that there is something wrong with them. They are blind. It’s a result of original sin.
Does it have to be this way? This is analogous to a husband who simply knows that his wife is angry. The husband tells his neighbor, “Oh no, my wife is angry.” The neighbor thinks he is nuts, “How do you know?” The husband says, “I just know.” Surely the husband isn’t unreasonable to say that. He has been living with her for many years and can tell from her looks when she is angry. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to attribute knowledge to him in this case either. The reason why the neighbor does not know what the husband knows is because he does not have the relationship with her the way the husband does. It could be that if he did, he would believe the same thing. What the husband possesses is incommunicable evidence.
If a person was engaged in the Church, she would accept (P). Because non-Catholics do not possess the life of the Church, the prayer, liturgical, traditions, etc. of the Church, she cannot see the truth of (P).
This seems insufficient. Take (Q):
(Q) If person S was in the Catholic Church, S would recognize the truth of (P).
(Q) seems unlikely because there may be persons in the Church that do not recognize (P). What, then, is the problem? Are those who cannot see (P) blind? Maybe. There may be some blindness in them. However, there is another way to understand why people do not recognize (P).
Peter van Inwagen, in debating David Lewis on the topic of free will, asked himself why Lewis does not accept his libertarian position. Lewis is as intelligent as him and they have shared each other’s arguments and evidences for each position. In other words, he is an epistemic peer. Inwagen concludes,
But how can I take these positions? I don’t know. That is itself a philosophical question, and I have no firm opinion about its correct answer. I suppose my best guess is that I enjoy some sort of philosophical insight…that, for all his merits, is somehow denied to Lewis. And this would have to be an insight that is incommunicable-at least I don’t know how to communicate it-for I have done all I can to communicate it to Lewis, and he has understood perfectly everything I have said, and he has not come to share my conclusions.” (“It is Wrong, Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone, to Believe Anything upon Insufficient Evidence”)
The notion of incommunicable evidence is very likely, at least I think so. But what does it mean to possess incommunicable evidence? The notion of incommunicable evidence, it seems to me, is a judgment about the character trait of a person; he is unable to produce an argument or explain his belief so that his epistemic peer can understand and be convinced. In other words, for a person to have incommunicable evidence is to lack virtue or competence. It means in a certain occasion, the person lacks the disposition that would ensure the success of a performance issued by it. In this case, it would be the disposition to articulate.
Ernie Sosa, in his recent book A Virtue Epistemology, argues that knowledge is true apt belief. In explaining what an apt belief is, he gives the analogy of an archer. The archer aims at a target and shoots. We can see whether the shot is accurate, that is, it hits the bull’s-eye and/or see whether the shot is apt, that is, the success of the shot is “sufficiently attributable to the performer’s competence” as opposed to, say, being attributable to the wind or other conditions that would have moved the arrow to the target. Aptness requires the manifestation of a competence. So Sally can form the belief that there is a red chair in front of her and we can attribute aptness to her if her perceptual faculties are disposed in that environment to seeing what is in front of her. We can attribute knowledge to her because her belief was formed virtuously, competently, that is, by a truth-conducive faculty in that environment.
When it comes to being able to articulate, however, that is, explaining a proposition in such a way that it will produce the outcome of acceptance from the epistemic peer, we must broaden our analysis of competence a bit. An analogy will help here. A quarterback throws the football and the wide receiver catches the ball. We do not simply attribute competence to the quarterback but also the receiver. What skills or abilities did the quarterback have? What skills or abilities did the receiver have? A competent quarterback can throw a good long pass yet the wide receiver misses the ball because of his lack of competence (i.e. he is too slow). We will probably attribute incompetence to the wide receiver. Yet, it cannot be denied that the intention of the quarterback failed. What is required is the understanding of the incompetence of the wide receiver in such a way that he can throw the ball perfectly to him. This requires a strengthening of a certain competence of his as well. If a quarterback passes the ball too fast, the receiver may not catch it. The quarterback needs to pass the ball in a certain speed so that he can catch it. If the quarterback fails, then we need to attribute a lack of competence in him.
Getting back to the topic of the Church and non-Catholics, the Church needs to increase her competence, her disposition of explaining the truth of (P) so that non-Catholics can accept. At the same time, non-Catholics need to be able to increase their competence as well. Articulation is possessed when the speaker persuades the hearer. To attribute articulation, we need to attribution virtues to both speaker and hearer. What is required, it seems to me, is that the way to increase articulation is a constant engagement with the other. The more the husband engages his wife, the more he will understand her and vice versa. If the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ, it may mean that
(Q*) If person S was in the Catholic Church, S’s credence towards (P) would have increased.
What is required in (Q*) is for S to commune with the Church, to be engaged in her.