Who Shoulders the Burden of Proof? Reformed Epistemology & Properly-Basic Islamic Belief

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This essay attempts to outline both a coherent epistemic theory of knowledge, and stipulate its relationship to religious belief. In doing so, the essay argues for the following thesis: that specifically Islamic belief held in a basic way, can be sufficient for knowledge without resorting to rational argumentation, and that the those who believe in Islamic theism do not shoulder the burden of proof.


It is typically taken for granted, perhaps even assumed as a sort of self-evident principle, that the burden of proof for a believer in God – at least as far as his belief in God is concerned – rests well and truly on his shoulders to demonstrate. But what does it mean for the theist to inherit this burden (assuming for the moment that he does)? Perhaps it means something like the following: a claim to knowledge about God, could never be knowledge as such, unless there was some overwhelmingly strong evidence the theist has for that belief B. That is, evidence by way of good argument(s). Hence, B can only be known N, if and only if there is a good argument A in support of B. In simple terms, for B to be N we need A! That is, only when we have good argument(s) for our belief in God, could we ever be appraised with the “knowledge” of our belief in Him. Call this “the evidentialist objection to theism”.1 It’s put more properly perhaps like this:

  • Belief in God is justified (or warranted)2 only by way of good argument.
  • But there is no good argument for belief in God.
  • Therefore, belief in God is not justified (or warranted).

Proponents of this sort of objection think that theistic arguments alone constitute the proper or only “grounds” for belief in theism. But let us pause for the moment and consider a question: aren’t there certain beliefs which we hold, beliefs we would be content on calling knowledge or otherwise rational in upholding, without any arguments that ground these beliefs as such? Can you think of one, or two perhaps? Or is it simply that all of our rational beliefs so to speak, are upheld only by way of argument?

Take the belief in other minds for instance. We believe (or at least I hope we do!) in other conscious persons like ourselves. Indeed, it is literally without doubt that we recognise at least our own conscious experience, but for the vast majority of us, we also believe that other human beings – evidently similar to us – are also conscious and not mere artificial robot like machines. Consider also the belief in the reality of the external world “out-there”, it is pretty clear to most of us that the world “out-there” is not a matrix simulation or mere dream, but rather like we think it is when we’re of sound mind. And what about our belief in the past? We certainly give weight to our memories and things which appear to have occurred before the present moment. We don’t normally think that the world was created five minutes ago, with memories we think correspond to events that happened many years ago, were actually just implanted upon our coming to be a few minutes before now, and never really occurred. We have other beliefs too, like the belief in the non-fallaciousness of our rational faculties. That is, we believe our rational thinking processes, are more or less working toward the production of, or with a capacity to, reach true beliefs about the world. If we didn’t believe this then we couldn’t even stake a claim on our doubts about it, for how would we know that the faculties relied upon to reach such doubts are in any way accurate?

If the penny hasn’t dropped now so to speak, then I’ll try to make the point I’m getting at more explicit. Let us return to our “evidentialist objection” and specifically the first premise, namely that, “belief in God is justified (or warranted) only by way of good arguments.” You see, the sorts of beliefs noted above i.e. in other minds, memory, the external world and the non-fallaciousness of our faculties, are all beliefs which we would normally take to be rational (or even knowledge we possess), and yet we don’t seem to have any good arguments for them. Could we have good arguments for them even if we wanted to? And if we do, do we ourselves believe these things by way of arguments in any case? It appears that the answer to these questions is more or less a resounding no. Surely, I cannot prove by way of good argument that the world wasn’t created five minutes ago, or that I know I have an objective memory of such and such an event in the past simply because I remember it, for that would be to rely on the very faculty (my memory) which is in question!. Similarly, I cannot prove by way of good argument that there are all these other minds like my own, or demonstrate the non-fallaciousness of my faculties by argument without already assuming it. So, if we can hold all sorts of beliefs justifiably, the sorts of beliefs which are intuitive to us without arguments, what’s so peculiar about our belief in God? Why must this particular belief (arguably intuitive in its own right) be taken with such contempt that it isn’t immune from the same sorts of epistemic demands as these other beliefs?

In order to address such questions, this essay will attempt to defend the thesis of “Reformed Epistemology” (the idea that religious belief can be rational without arguments),3 with particular focus on the thought of Islamic theologian Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328). Drawing on his concept of fira, istidlāl bi’l āyāt (inference through sigs), and general epistemic framework.4 The essay will not only explore the ways in which belief in God can be rational without recourse to arguments, but also explore how this can be extended to Islamic belief as well. However, in order to construct our “Taymiyyan” reformed epistemological account, we will need to build this model from the ground up: starting with the necessary tools of basic epistemic concepts, then outlining the plan and constructing the model in application to belief in God, before finally brushing off the finishing touches in unique Islamic milieu. Only then will our model stand as complete. So put on your thinking cap, and let’s start by gathering our tools.

 

Gathering our conceptual toolkit:

As is already evident from the questions this paper aims to address, we are dealing fundamentally with issues of epistemology (i.e. the study of knowledge and its related concepts),5 applied to a specifically religious context. So what we aim to do, is to grasp and understand the following conceptual tools which will help us to construct our model of reformed epistemology. Namely, the concepts of: (1) the tripartite theory of knowledge and the Gettier problem, (2) the meaning of warrant and justification, (3) proper functionalism, and (4) basic & non-basic beliefs. At face value it seems like a lot to take in, however this need not be the case, as the meaning of these concepts is for the most part fairly straight forward, and by enrichening our tapestry of concepts in this way, we’ll be in a much better position to flesh out a model of reformed epistemology that stands up to scrutiny. Let us begin then with (1): the tripartite theory of knowledge.

Let’s say you have a belief. You believe that all elephants in Africa are pink in colour. Could this belief qualify for knowledge, and if not, why not? Well, it appears it misses an obvious ingredient necessary for knowledge, namely truth! Given that elephants in Africa are evidently not pink in colour, this mere belief you hold about elephants is not going to be sufficient for knowledge, unless the belief is also true. But, is true-belief alone sufficient to account for the nature of knowledge? Consider another belief you might hold: say you believe that Accrington Stanley will beat Manchester United 5-0 away from home in the FA Cup quarter-final. And let’s suppose that, lo and behold, this turns out to be the case. So (1) you had a belief and (2) that belief turned out to be true, but did you actually know that Accrington were going to win 5-0 before the game kicked off, especially given the sheer gulf in class between the two teams?

Most people would probably be inclined to say no. It appears you fell into the fortunate path of epistemic luck: you acquired a true-belief, but you didn’t have adequate grounds for that belief.6 You were missing something. Perhaps what you were missing was justification. You didn’t have any justification (reason or evidence) that sufficiently grounds this true-belief. Consider then a third belief you might have. Let’s say you believe it’s raining outside, and suppose that indeed it is actually raining outside. But unlike your belief about the football match, let’s say you do have some strong justification for this belief. By justification we mean primarily, that you’ve reached a certain conclusion based on grounds which connect the belief and the evidence together and/or you have fulfilled your epistemic duties: you have looked into the evidence and considered reasons for or against your position let’s say.7 So, perhaps in this case your justification is that you see the rain outside of your window and hear the pitter-patter sound of the raindrops bouncing off them. In this case perhaps you’ve found the magic ingredient to turn your mere true-belief into knowledge. This is known as the tripartite theory of knowledge, bearing the three conditions: (1) belief, (2) truth, and (3) justification. It gives us a helpful introduction to understanding the nature of knowledge and the discipline of epistemology itself. However, more importantly as we will come to see, we now have good reason to think that this account of knowledge doesn’t escape the problem of epistemic-luck that we have already encountered, and in considering how to fix this problem, it will enable us to consider a better account of knowledge in the contemporary literature, which very closely parallels Ibn Taymiyya’s own epistemic account.

So, is it correct then to say that knowledge just is justified-true-belief (JTB)? Well, most epistemologists are now fairly confident that this isn’t the case. It was Edmund Gettier’s famously short paper, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”,8 on the problem of the JTB account, which brought out the contemporary position and the oft spoken about “Gettier Problem(s)” which has caused the demise of the JTB theory. Let’s consider a simple case of a “Gettier Problem”. Suppose you had just entered into the waiting room at your local dentist. You rushed inside breathing heavily, panicked that you might have missed your appointment, and given that your watch is currently under repair at the jewellers, you’re quite unsure as to the time. You quickly sit yourself down and look up at the clock hanging on the wall opposite, both clock hands paired together are striking twelve, you breathe a sigh of relief knowing that your appointment isn’t for another fifteen minutes yet, you sit, and wait patiently… Let’s take a step back for the moment then, and suppose that indeed it was twelve o’clock as the clock suggested when you arrived into the waiting room. So, you had a belief B, namely that it is twelve o’clock, and this belief was indeed true T, and you had justification J, by way of the evidence brought to your senses upon observing the clock. Therefore, you had JTB. But let’s suppose that as a matter of fact, the clock was not actually working, not ticking at all, and it just so happened that both clock hands remained on twelve when you observed them. Then, in the end you were just quite fortunate.9 And although you had JTB, given that you’d fallen upon it by way of epistemic luck, it just doesn’t seem as if you knew in this case; you had JTB, but yet you lacked knowledge.

So, it appears that the JTB account isn’t an adequate way of framing the conditions for knowledge, yet again there seems to be something missing. Various attempts have and still are being offered to account for what these precise conditions look like, but arguably the strongest account of knowledge which does away with the “Gettier Problems”, and radically changes the way in which we consider the philosophical account of knowledge and its related concepts, is a thesis coined, “proper functionalism”. And it is this account of knowledge, which with striking consistency appears to fit into the Taymiyyan framework, which we will adopt to address our specifically religious concerns. But before we consider this alternative, we have to take a step back and note an important distinction between the epistemic concepts of “justification”, and what we will come to primarily consider in the remainder of this paper, “warrant”. As mentioned previously, “justification” is about duties which one fulfils concerning the grounds and evidence which support the belief in question. For instance, suppose you believe that you see a tree outside in your garden, and hence you base this belief upon that seeming delivered by your senses suitably matching it, and you have done your level-best (if the case need arise) to deal with any counter-objections that challenges this belief, we can say that you have “justification”. However, as we have also come to see, “justification” coupled with a true-belief, is not sufficient for knowledge.

Therefore, we will to refer to a concept other than justification to get at what captures those conditions which together are necessary and sufficient for knowledge, and this we refer to as “warrant.” Warrant is simply defined as, “that special property that turns true belief into knowledge”. But notice that this doesn’t mean we ought to completely cast aside justification. For it is just one of many terms of “positive epistemic appraisal”. (Concepts such as justification, warrant and rationality are all important concepts of positive epistemic appraisal which differ from each other). But let us turn now to our alternative theory of knowledge (i.e. that which confers warrant on our beliefs).

We have seen already that we hold numerous, and even quite important beliefs, not on the basis of arguments: beliefs about other minds, the past, the external world and so on. And if we can’t know these beliefs by way of arguments, yet we’re pretty certain we do know them, what we’re implying (epistemically) is that we have to, and do in fact, trust the available cognitive faculties and equipment which we have been designed with (for the theist of course this design is the result of God’s creative will, not a mere naturalistic process).10 And hence, to know, or to have “warrant”, fundamentally concerns the output and functioning of our cognitive faculties.

Let’s consider your belief that it’s raining outside again. The belief you have is obviously one which is an immediate product of your cognitive faculties, primarily in this case your perceptual faculties (i.e. eyesight and hearing). The belief isn’t the result of premises you run in your head down to a conclusion, but is of an immediate kind. You trust that you are “warranted” in cases like these because, among other things, you don’t suspect there is anything untoward with your faculties, they all appear to be working as normal, and the sight of the raindrops on the window comes to you as clear as crystal. But suppose you were suffering from some sort of cognitive malfunction: you had a strange disorder which entailed the formation of squirrel hallucinations let’s surmise. Suppose you looked out into the garden, and spotted what seemed to you to be a squirrel (a consequence of your strange cognitive malfunctioning), when in fact there wasn’t one there at all. Your belief would obviously have little by way of warrant for you. The problem being of course, that your faculties were playing tricks on you by not accurately conveying reality due to cognitive malfunction. Perhaps one may argue that this isn’t a good example, not merely because it is “unrealistic”, but because what prevented warrant in this case wasn’t the cognitive malfunction as such, it was simply because there was a lack of truth to the belief. Then, let’s alter it a bit. Suppose this time when you formed your belief that there was a squirrel in the garden (in the form of some hallucination due to cognitive malfunction), it just so happened that there was in fact a squirrel in the garden when you formed your belief. In this case, your belief doesn’t lack warrant because it isn’t true, but lacks warrant because it is simply a case of “epistemic luck”, grounded in that cognitive malfunction. Thus, given the need to relate warrant to the function and output of our cognitive faculties (for we have nowhere else to turn!), a necessary condition of warrant is that these faculties be “functioning properly” i.e. the way they have been designed in normal circumstances to do so. If not, examples like the one outlined above, give us reason to think that our beliefs would not be warranted if they resulted from malfunctioning cognitive faculties.

But, what if our faculties were not aimed at acquiring true-belief, but something else, like survival let’s say (indeed this would appear to be the case if we accepted Darwinian naturalism).11 If your faculties are functioning as they have been setup to do so, and yet those faculties are not aimed at the acquisition of true-belief, then perhaps all your beliefs are not really true, but instead simply help you achieve some other aim. If this was so, then your belief that it’s raining outside would seem to lack “warrant”, because the belief isn’t necessarily true, but rather just aids your survival. Therefore, it can’t just be that “warrant” only occurs from (1) proper functioning faculties, but it must also occur from (2) faculties aimed at true beliefs. Yet, there must be something else, for let’s suppose your cognitive faculties aimed at truth were functioning properly when you formed a belief of, say, the beautiful coastal-beach scenery outside of your hotel window, but on this occasion, it just so happened that your hotel room had a high-tech television fixated on the wall which gave a remarkably realistic depiction of the scene. In this case, you’d lack “warrant” not because of conditions (1)-(2), but rather, because something has disturbed your “cognitive environment”, your cognitive faculties and environment were not properly attuned, you’d been! So, we must add this as condition (3) to secure our account of “warrant”. Roughly speaking then, we can say that a belief is warranted, if and only if, it is produced by properly functioning truth tracking cognitive faculties, in environments to which those faculties have been designed to apply. Together these conditions roughly make up the theory of warrant coined “proper functionalism.”12

One might insist that this theory of warrant is wrong not to include an “access” condition.13 That is, one needs to “access” the reasons for him or herself as to why the belief in question is warranted, such that these reasons contribute in conferring warrant upon one’s belief. But as is already clear from our discussion of a wide range of beliefs, we simply do not have direct access to all of the conditions (reasons, arguments etc.) which would confer warrant upon our beliefs. There simply is no good (non-circular) argument that would give me reason to believe in the outputs of my memory without relying on it in the first place for instance. But nevertheless, it does seem that I have warrant for most of my memory-based beliefs. Therefore, the conditions of warrant centred on proper function, seem to make more sense of the way in which knowledge is arrived at in our case, and does not require an “access” condition.14 Finally, before applying the concepts we have learnt thus far to our model of reformed epistemology, we ought to say something briefly about the nature of beliefs and belief building (noetic) structures.15

Related beliefs can form chains. Suppose upon hearing your doorbell chime, you form the belief that someone is at your door. Here you have acquired a small chain of belief A to belief B. Belief B (that there is someone at your door), is a belief held on the basis of another, namely belief A. But belief A (that the doorbell chimed), is not held on the basis of another belief, a, it just came to you in the immediate sense upon hearing. Beliefs like this one – not held on the basis of another – are called “basic beliefs”. Beliefs held on the basis of others are called “non-basic (inferential) beliefs”. Basic beliefs then could be beliefs like our ordinary sense perceptual beliefs (i.e. seeing something in front of you), self-evident logical beliefs (i.e., that A cannot be B and not-B at the same time), beliefs by way of testimony (i.e. believing your wife’s testimony that the meal is ready and waiting), beliefs by way of memory (i.e. remembering your breakfast this morning). What is common to our basic beliefs is that they come to us in immediate fashion, and are not held on the basis of others; not held by way of argument or inference. This is crucial to note, for in responding to the evidentialist charge against theism, what we are arguing for here is that belief in God, can be (and indeed is for most believers), a basic belief. But more importantly we will be arguing that this belief is not merely basic, but also “properly basic” with respect to warrant i.e., it is a basic belief (not held on the basis of others) which is warranted for the believer.

Now, clearly not just any old basic belief can be “properly basic”. If all of a sudden you found yourself with the belief that next week it’s going to rain every other day, few would think that this belief could be warranted in the basic way i.e., properly basic without recourse to some form of inference or other beliefs you have. By contrast, if you found yourself with the belief that it is raining outside today, such a belief we tend to think can be properly basic for you. But then what marks the difference? The difference evidently relates to our particular belief-forming abilities or otherwise put, the various (sub) faculties that we have (i.e., sense perception, memory, reason) geared toward the production of certain kinds of beliefs. Indeed, we have the ability to tell without recourse to arguments that there is a computer in front of us, or beliefs about one’s thoughts/mental states (i.e., “I am experiencing pain”), or certain memory-based beliefs (“I had cereal for breakfast”), but perhaps we’re not able to tell things about what the weather will be like on alternate days next week, or come to know the thoughts of others in a basic way without recourse to inference from other beliefs because we don’t have those sorts of belief-forming abilities. Thus, our cognitive design-plan i.e., the nature of our faculties when functioning as they ought, stipulate what’s rational for us to accept in the basic way, or otherwise what must be inferred on the basis of other beliefs.16 In the case of basic beliefs formed by the appropriate faculty functioning properly and aimed at truth in environments to which such a faculty has been designed to apply, then these beliefs can be properly basic for us.

So, let us now attempt to draw on these ideas and concepts that we have learnt in this section, in establishing the grounds on which our belief in (Islamic) theism, can be among our properly basic beliefs.

 

Outlining the Plan & Constructing the Model:17

So far then, we’ve been gathering the epistemic tools to allow us to properly formulate a robust model of “reformed epistemology” in Taymiyyan-Islamic milieu. We have learnt primarily that “warrant” i.e. the special property that turns true belief into knowledge, is obtained only where a belief is produced by properly functioning truth tracking cognitive faculties, in environments to which those faculties have been designed to apply. And we have seen that the concern of the reformed epistemological model is to demonstrate how belief in God can be properly basic with respect to warrant i.e. known without recourse to arguments, in a similar fashion to other beliefs we have made mention of under the rubric of properly basic (i.e., belief in other minds etc.). In this section, we will attempt to apply these epistemic concepts in addressing the evidentialist objection to theism, and in constructing an Islamic model of reformed epistemology, focusing first on how a believers’ belief in God can be warranted in a properly basic way.

Let us consider a basic outline of the model broken down into five main points:

  • God as Creator, has instilled within human beings different faculties in order to acquire true beliefs about Him and the created world.
  • God created all human beings upon a natural constitution (fira) which urges them to recognise Him, to know Him and to worship Him.
  • Fira has been set to work in tandem with other cognitive faculties for the production of true beliefs. When one’s firafunctions as it should, it ‘triggers’ within the heart/mind (qalb) an immediate awareness of God.
  • The proper function of these faculties culminating in theistic belief, arises from the apprehension of the many ‘signs’ (āyāt) of the created world, allowing one to experience knowledge of God in a basic way.
  • Therefore, through the epistemic role of fira in conjunction with the qalb, upon the apprehension of God’s ‘signs’, belief in Him is reached immediately without recourse to arguments.

Following an elaboration on the above points, we will try to show how the conclusion is consistent with a proper function account of warrant and how this warrant account is consistent with Taymiyyan epistemology, such that one’s belief in God may be warranted in a properly basic way.

The Qur’an makes the theological position of premise (1) explicit. For instance, we read:

It is God who brought you out of your mothers’ wombs knowing nothing, and gave you hearing, sight and hearts [i.e., thinking minds] that you might be thankful.18

Thus, human beings are said to have entered into the world without any prior knowledge, but through their God given faculties, they are able to acquire knowledge such that they can come to know God and henceforth worship Him. So premise (1) is pretty evident then from an Islamic perspective, and so we can swiftly move on.

At the centre of this model and Ibn Taymiyya’s epistemology more generally, is the notion of fira, so it is crucial to further elaborate on its meaning. At the lexical level, the term fira “comes from the Arabic radicals: fa a ra, the verbal noun being farun… [which] literally means: the causing of a thing to exist for the first time and the natural constitution with which a child is created in his mother’s womb”.19 Hence, it refers to something that has been created and instilled within all humans upon their very coming into being. This is made clear from the Qur’an itself, where we read:

So [O Prophet] as a man of pure faith, stand firm and true in your devotion to the religion. This is the natural disposition [firat Allāh] that God instilled in mankind – there is no altering God’s creation – and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it.20

This verse highlights at least two key notions embedded within fira: The first is in reference to a natural constitution upon which God created man. The second is that fira is something innate. The prophetic tradition also contains reference to fira and allows us to further decipher its meaning:

Narrated [by] Abu Hurayra: God’s Messenger (), said ‘No child is born except upon a natural constitution (fira), and then his parents turn him into a Jew or a Christian or a Magian.’21

This adīth reiterates the notion that each human being is born upon a natural constitution, but also gives us the idea that when one’s surrounding environment does not corrupt this constitution, through it, human beings will acquire certain beliefs about the world naturally. In explaining the meaning of fira in the aforementioned tradition, Ibn Taymiyya states the following:

What he [the Prophet ] meant is that there is a certain nature with which God created man, and that is the nature of Islam. God endowed all human beings with this essential nature the day He addressed them saying, ‘Am I not your Lord?’, and they said, ‘Yes, we have testified’, [Qur’an 7:172]. Fira is the original nature of man, uncorrupted by later beliefs and practices, ready to accept the true notions of Islam.22

Fira then, is a state or potency disposed to the recognition of God, and primed toward the worship of Him alone. Thus, in normal circumstances human beings would naturally subscribe to belief in Islam (simpliciter), which Ibn Taymiyya describes as essentially that, “there is none worthy of worship except God”.23 Ibn Taymiyya further elucidates these ideas, by explicitly stating that fira indeed has within it, this potency to know God and moral goodness. He states: “It has been shown that in the human being’s natural disposition [i.e., fira], there exists a potency to believe in truth and to intend the beneficial … fira has a potency to know and believe in the Creator … fira [also] has a potency for His Oneness (tawīd)”.24 So, for Ibn Taymiyya, fira, is “perhaps best rendered as by the term ‘original normative disposition.’”25 That is, not simply a natural constitution or original disposition stagnant and ambiguous, but one rich with normative content: a potency that is “both moral and cognitive [i.e. epistemic]”.26 But it is also important not to think that this need mean that fira is an independent faculty in the same sense in which we think about reason or our senses, but rather, as the focal-point to which all our cognitive faculties turn to for direction: fira steers them in the direction of truth. Thus, in coming back to premise (2), namely that God created human beings upon firawith the urge to recognise Him, and in conjunction with premise (1), that God created within human beings cognitive faculties in order that they may know Him, it follows that God has created human beings upon a common nature which predisposes them toward the knowledge and recognition of Him.

Now, in his epistemic scheme Ibn Taymiyya acknowledges a number cognitive faculties, such as the faculty of sense perception (hiss), reason (‘aql) and the heart/mind (qalb) more generally as the centre of all cognition.27 In the case of fira however, as suggested above, it is not construed as being an independent faculty in the same sense. Ibn Taymiyya suggests that the residing place of fira is the heart/mind. He writes: “[God] made the fira of His servants disposed to the apprehension and understanding of the realities [of things] and to know them. And if it were not for this readiness (i.e., fira) within the hearts/minds (qalb) to know the truth, neither speculative reasoning would be possible, nor demonstration, discourse or language”.28 Ibn Taymiyya continues by adding that, “just as God made the physical bodies ready to be nourished with food and water, and had it not been for that, it would not have been possible to nourish and nurture them [i.e., the bodies], and just as the physical bodies have the faculty to distinguish between suitable nourishment and its opposite, so is there in the heart a faculty to distinguish truth and falsehood that is greater than that”.29 That ‘faculty’ residing in the heart/mind then is fira. But, in what sense are the heart/mind and firacognitively related? And what bearing does it have on the way in which theistic belief can arise for the believer? Consider the following:

Qalb  ——> Fira ——> Properly Basic Theistic Belief

The diagram above aims to highlight the cognitive relationship between the qalb and fira for the production of belief in God. First, consider the qalb’s epistemic function: Ibn Taymiyya writes: “If it [the qalb] were left in the condition in which it was created, void of any remembrance and free of any thought, then it would accept knowledge free of ignorance and see the clear truth about which there is no doubt; consequently it would believe in its Lord and turn to Him in repentance.”30 Similarly, he writes that, “the qalb in itself is not receptive except to the truth [i.e. including theistic truths]. When [nothing] is placed in it, it receives only that for which it was created.”31 The implication then, is that one can come to know of God simply by the proper function of the qalb. But how is this connected to fira? Ibn Taymiyya asserts that “when the fira is left unspoiled, the heart knows God, loves Him and worships Him alone”.32 Fira – when functioning properly then – is said to enable the qalb to come to knowledge of God in a “basic” way. Therefore, through the natural workings of fira upon the faculty of the qalb, man is able to know God. And hence, as Ibn Taymiyya puts it, “the affirmation of a Creator and His perfection is innate and necessary with respect to one whose fira remains intact”.33 Elsewhere adding that, “the acknowledgement of God’s existence, and knowledge of Him, and loving Him, and unifying Him, are from the fira, and firm in the qalb.”34 Hence, one can know in the faculty of the qalb that God exists in a basic manner, but such knowledge can only be achieved when one’s fira is functioning properly. Thus, given the above and that premises (1) through (3) outline the epistemic manner in which theistic belief may be acquired in a basic way, we ought to now consider how such belief may in fact originate.

It appears that these basic beliefs about God may arise through an apprehension of God’s ‘signs’. Thus, we must introduce at this point, Ibn Taymiyya’s theory of signs (ToS). The ToS is related to the Qur’anic term āya. The word āya is said to be a “‘sign’ in the sense of a token of God’s power and will.”35 For Ibn Taymiyya – as Anke von Kügelgen notes – an āya has a special role in being a ‘proof’ of God, it is in his understanding “‘God’s method of proof through signs’ (istidlāluhu taʿālābil-āyāt), and [he] considers it an immediate – that is a fi knowledge – insofar as the signs indicate the existence of one Creator”.36 Thus, the notion of signs (āyāt) as a ‘proof’ is intrinsically tied to fira.

Ibn Taymiyya asserts that, “proving the existence of God by way of signs (āyāt) is obligatory. This is the way of the Qur’an, and inherent in the fira of His servants”.37 In other words, acquiring belief through God’s āyāt, is the proper (and natural or fi) way in which knowledge of Him occurs. But how exactly does a ‘sign’ function as a proof of God, or as an adequate ground for theistic belief? The Qur’an makes mention of ‘signs’ in many of its verses. In fact, the Qur’an itself is made up of signs: each verse of the Qur’an is an āya. Consider some Qur’anic instances:

The night, the day, the sun, the moon, are only a few of His signs.38

There are truly signs … in the alternation of night and day, for those with understanding.39

There are signs in the heavens and earth for those who believe.40

In these Qur’anic verses, one finds mention of events or phenomena that act as ‘signs’ of God, such that upon their apprehension and contemplation, the truth of God’s existence and attributes to which they point become manifest. Ibn Taymiyya explains that God sends prophets to convey these signs to human beings in order to awaken ones fira.41 He writes: “No Prophet has ever addressed his people and asked that they should first of all know their Creator, that they should look into various arguments and infer from them His existence. Everyone is born with the fira, only that something happens afterwards which casts a veil over it.”42 Thus, ‘signs’ function as a “proof” only through their intrinsic connection to fira. When fira is sound – in conjunction with our other cognitive faculties – it apprehends these signs, and produces basic beliefs about God. These ‘signs’ are vast in the created world, and can be in terms of what Ibn Taymiyya describes as “āyāt al-anfus”: signs within one selves, or “āyāt al-āfāq”: signs within the horizon and cosmos.43 Such signs can produce a powerful sense of God’s existence and presence. This may occur upon observing the splendour and glory of the night sky, in pondering the vastness of the universe, or even upon observing the mercy of a mother toward her child. Through an apprehension of these various ‘signs’, one can acquire belief in God in an immediate and basic way. Therefore, in what we have gathered from premise (1) through (4), it seems to follow from premise (5) of the model, that through the epistemic role of fira, in conjunction with qalb and upon apprehension of God’s ‘signs’, basic belief in His existence can arise in an immediate manner without recourse to arguments.

But what about the question of warrant? In what sense could this model fulfil the (proper function based) account of warrant that we have discussed in the previous section? To begin with, given that this model is Taymiyyan in orientation, we ought to say something in terms of how this warrant account is consistent with Taymiyyan epistemology. As we have explained above, for Ibn Taymiyya fira is the focal point for all our cognitive faculties, for as he suggests, if it were not for the fira in the hearts/minds of people, neither discourse, inference, language and hence cognition more generally would be possible. Moreover, he writes elsewhere that, it is on the basis of sound, properly functioning fira that mans “knowledge of truth and his confirmation of it, and the recognition of falsehood, and his rejection of it”44 is grounded. And in another place he states that, “when truth is accessible to one’s mind, the fira will naturally accept it … but when it is false, it naturally turns away from it.”45 As Carl Sharif el-Tobgui puts it, in Ibn Taymiyya’s epistemic scheme then, “the proper functioning of all our epistemic faculties … is predicated in all cases on the health and proper functioning of the fira”.46 Therefore, it is the proper functioning of sound fira in conjunction with our natural cognitive faculties, which guarantee’s the warrant upon one’s belief or otherwise put, sifts out those beliefs sufficient from knowledge from those which aren’t. As Ibn Taymiyya states, “children are born with a sound fira, which if left sound and intact, will make them choose knowledge (ma’rifa) over its denial, and faith (īmān) over disbelief.”47

Thus, it is not difficult to see how this Taymiyyan scheme can meet the proper function conditions of warrant discussed above. But before we make that explicit, let us once again consider a few examples of beliefs – the sorts of which we have discussed above – that we would all generally consider to be properly basic in ordinary circumstances, in order to get clearer on how one can be warranted in their basic beliefs about God. As we saw earlier, a basic belief like our memory-based and sense perceptual beliefs, achieve warrant only when they are produced by properly functioning truth tracking cognitive faculties, in environments for which those faculties have been designed to apply. Thus, if our beliefs about what we had for breakfast or the state of the weather outside at present, are produced in that way, (i.e. produced by our faculty of memory or sense perception which is not malfunctioning or tricked in some sense, and is aimed at generating true beliefs), then our beliefs would have warrant. Of course, if we acquire some reason to suspect that we lack warrant, because say, someone has shown our belief to be defeated (perhaps because our faculties, say, our eyesight, isn’t working as it’s supposed to and we had forgotten to put on our glasses!). But in normal circumstances it seems that these basic beliefs do have warrant for us when accepted in the basic way, without arguments, and so they are “properly basic” with respect to warrant. So… what about our belief in God?

Well, on the Taymiyyan-Islamic model that we have outlined, basic belief in God is elicited through the contact and apprehension of His various signs in the world, which result from the proper function of qalb in conjunction with fira, designed by God to successfully acquire true beliefs in suitable environments for this to occur. Thus, our Islamic model can demonstrate how belief in God can be warranted in accordance with a proper function account of warrant, akin to many of our other basic beliefs.

 

Brushing off the Finishing Touches:

So far we have seen how, according to a Taymiyyan model, belief in God as described to us in the Qur’an can have warrant in a properly basic way. To complete the model, we will attempt to see how it may be extended for Islamic belief more specifically. An extension of the standard model is conceived primarily in reference to the ToS and the Qur’an. According to Ibn Taymiyya, there are two broad categories of signs (āyāt): “the signs which indicate [the existence of] the Lord may He be exalted are – [1] His spoken signs that He mentions in the Quran, and [2] signs of His creative acting which He created in the souls and the cosmos (al-anfus wa’l-āfāq).”48 Thus, the Words of God as found in His revelation, act as signs of Him of a more intimate kind: revealing to us His beautiful names, acts and purposes for humanity. Similarly, the primary disciple of Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350), writes:

“In the Qur’an, God invites His servants to know Him through two ways: one by contemplating the creation, the other by pondering over the Qur’an and contemplating its meanings. The first are His signs that are seen and witnessed; the second, His signs that are read and understood.”49

Hence, just as the Qur’an points us toward a variety of signs in the created world, the revelation itself contains signs of a more intimate nature. Through apprehending and contemplating the signs of God that are “read and understood”, belief in the truth of these ‘signs’ may be elicited by sound fira, such that the believer can have a basic belief in the existence of the Author behind them. Therefore, basic belief in the revelatory truth of the Qur’an can be arrived at in a similar fashion to which general theistic belief can be acquired: through the proper function of the qalb in conjunction with one’s fira. Indeed, as Ibn Taymiyya states, “the fira requires the religion of Islam. It demands knowledge of it and love of it.”50

Thus, we may bring the standard model together with these additional points of extension to complete the full Taymiyyan model:

  • – (5)
  • Just as God has made available an immediate apprehension of His existence through His many ‘signs’ in the created world, so too has He permitted more intimate knowledge of Him through the ‘signs’ in His revelation.
  • Upon apprehension of these revelatory ‘signs’ that are “read and understood”, human beings can acquire basic beliefs in the truth of God’s revelation, and hence the truth of His religion.
  • This immediate belief in the truth of Islam arises through the natural workings of fira in conjunction with the heart/mind upon apprehension of these ‘signs (that is, the verses of the Qur’an).
  • Therefore, full-fledged Islamic belief can be acquired in immediate and basic fashion, without recourse to arguments. And warranted in conformity with the conditions of proper functionalism

Consequently, on this extended Taymiyyan model both belief in God and Islamic belief can be elicited through an apprehension of God’s various signs in the world, and those contained in His revelation. These basic beliefs are the result of the heart’s reflection (which includes ‘aql), in conjunction with sound fira, designed by God to acquire true beliefs, without the need for formal arguments. Therefore, this model shows us how belief in God and by extension Islam itself, can be warranted in accordance with a proper function account of warrant. However, obviously the model is predicated on the conditional “if Islam is true”, but then why should a person suspect that it is in fact true?

As we have suggested previously, as human beings we have limited cognitive equipment, we are not necessarily able to prove by way of conclusive argument that there really are other persons, or that our memories correspond to an objective past, and in any case, this is just not the way we come to recognise these things, rather they occur to us immediately by the natural workings of our cognitive faculties. And yet, we’re pretty sure we do know all these things. We simply rely on our cognitive faculties and trust their output.51 In fact, this is something we cannot help but do! But then what about our belief in God and Islam? Well, if it seems to us in a variety of different circumstances, that God – as He has described Himself to us in the Qur’an – does exist, perhaps circumstances not too dissimilar from those in which we form beliefs about a whole host of other things we hold to be warranted in the absence of arguments, why ought our theistic (Islamic) belief be so different, especially when we see no good reason to abandon this belief? Thus, given that on the Islamic model we have offered, it is clear that our belief in God can meet the conditions for warrant in some comparable epistemic sense to which our memory-based and sense perceptual beliefs are warranted, the firmness of trust in our cognitive faculties for these ordinary basic beliefs appears to be naturally extendable to the case of our theistic and even Islamic belief! Such that we’re justified in suspecting these beliefs are indeed warranted. Like those more mundane beliefs, in the absence of any defeater for our theistic/Islamic belief, the believer is justified in holding his or her belief in God and Islam to be warranted.52

Finally, we may return to question of the burden of proof and the evidentialist objection to theism, with which we initiated this essay. Given our Islamic model of reformed epistemology grounded in a proper functionalist account of warrant, if successful, the atheist can no longer maintain that the theist must first demonstrate by way of arguments the truth of his theistic (and Islamic) belief if he is to be justified and/or warranted. On the contrary, providing Islam is true, then indeed it would appear that the model we have outlined gives us reason to think that the Muslim would indeed be warranted in the absence of arguments. And as we have also suggested, he is justified in taking that to be so, in the absence of defeaters, in much the same way in which he takes his other basic beliefs to be warranted. Thus, if the atheist wishes to insist that the Muslim is somehow unwarranted in accepting his Islamic belief in the basic way, he ought to show that Islamic belief itself is not true. But then the burden of doing so lays in his court, not that of the Muslim.

 

Double-Checking the Model:

To complete the paper and the model itself, we ought to consider at least one major contention. Indeed, one might respond to what we have said thus far in a number of ways, but we do not have the time to address all of these contentions. Perhaps one major concern might be the likelihood that one could mirror a similar sort of model on proper functionalist lines, within different religious traditions, and hence strip their warrant (by way of this defeater), which must in the end be settled only by way of arguments.

As a preliminary point, the contention that religious diversity in this way serves as a defeater for our basic belief in Islam appears to rest on an assumption, namely an “equal weight principle” about epistemic peers (i.e. person A and person B are equally reasonable, having access to the same evidence concerning the issue at hand). Roughly speaking, the idea is that, in the face of our religious disagreements because we are epistemic peers, in the absence of some argument to doubt the judgement of our peers, we should give equal weight to our peers’ religious opinion just as much as we give to our own. But why ought we accept such a principle?  Well, first, even if we do accept this principle, that is, even if we accept that it is correct in theory that we should give equal weight to the judgements of our epistemic peers, equal to the amount we give ours, we could still deny that those of other religious faiths are actually our epistemic peers. Certainly, if our Islamic belief is produced by the proper function of fira which we have been literally hardwired with for the production of this belief, and the truth of Islamic belief appears within us so firm such that we are overwhelmingly confident the conditions for warrant in our case are being fulfilled, we wouldn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t), regard other religious folk as our epistemic peers on this matter. It is easy to imagine for instance, how this may pan out in a case between ourselves and a radical sceptic: we’d hardly grant that he or she is our epistemic peer concerning our knowledge of something in our direct consciousness, which he or she suggests we ought to doubt, and we wouldn’t typically think an argument is needed here either.53 Indeed, if we remember from the prophetic tradition about fira itself, those veiled from the attaining the natural consequences of fira culminating in Islamic belief, have succumb to the veiling of certain social environments which literally prevent their fidispositions from being formed as they ordinarily would. So why then would the Muslim regard followers of those other traditions as his or her epistemic peer, when it comes to the beliefs and experiences he has formed concerning the truth of Islamic theism? However, there still looms a more critical stumbling block for the equal weight principle itself: it appears that an “equal weight principle” is in fact self-defeating. For if people A believe p, namely that the “equal weight principle” is true and people B believe ~p, that the principle is not true, then by this principle itself, people A would lack warrant and have to suspend their judgement on whether it is true or not, or otherwise accept it as an arbitrary subjective preference which others may simply reject.54

That being said, one may (for other reasons not hitherto mentioned), think that arguments are still in some sense necessary for the believer to secure his belief with warrant. Perhaps the suggestion is simply that although a persons’ Islamic belief may be initially warranted in a properly basic way, upon acquiring a defeater from some version of the “problem of religious diversity”, the believer must have some reason or argument to defeat the defeater, not merely having recourse to the strength of his “nonpropositional” evidence (i.e. the strength of his experiential seemings that their belief is warranted). A view along these lines, has elsewhere been coined “Bi-Evidentialism”. Roughly speaking, it makes a distinction between first and second order belief states.55 So, one may argue that at the first or initial belief state, Islamic belief is warranted in a properly basic way for a person. Then, at the second order level, one acquires a defeater for their belief about their belief at the first or lower level. Such a defeater gives the person reason to suspect that their belief at the lower level is not warranted. In order to remain warranted at that initial state, one must have a reason or argument to think that the belief acquired at the second level, does not give one reason to refrain from taking their first order belief to be warranted, and hence defeats the defeater. Therefore, one can continue to hold their belief in the basic way once more. If this strategy is successful, the believer need only have reasons to think that the defeater itself fails, not necessarily requiring positive reasons for his own Islamic beliefs. However, in this case, the warrant of one’s belief would be based partially on immediate and partially on inferential grounds. Nevertheless, much more needs to be said about these strategies, including the possibility of re-working this Taymiyyan model along the lines of what Stephen Wykstra has coined “Sensible Evidentialism”,56 (as well as other important moves which could be made, some of which I am currently in the process of developing in research papers for forthcoming publication in shā’ Allāh).

 

Conclusion:

At the beginning of this essay we saw how some people often challenge theistic belief: they assert that only arguments can ground belief in God, and that because such arguments are entirely lacking (or so they say…), belief in God is not justified, or more importantly not warranted. We can now see how this objection is misplaced. For one thing, it assumes that arguments are a necessary condition for warrant itself, which as we’ve seen, is simply not the case: we have a whole host of beliefs which can be warranted in the absence of any arguments. Hence, in considering a more reasonable account of warrant primed on the proper function of the cognitive faculties we all rely on, we have seen how in unique Islamic milieu, our theistic and Islamic belief, can meet the necessary conditions for warrant, standing as a “properly basic” belief without recourse to arguments.

Thus, we may summarise the basic ideas of this essay then, in the following points:

  1. Warrant is that “special property” which turns mere true belief into knowledge.
  2. Warrant is achieved when a belief is produced by properly functioning truth tracking faculties, in environments to which those faculties have been designed to apply.
  3. It is easy to see how warrant as thus described, can confer upon many of the beliefs we hold in the absence of arguments, like the belief in memories, other persons and the real world. But this can also be the case for our belief in God.
  4. For if God exists, He created us with a special faculty known as fira which works in tandem with our entire cognitive apparatus to produce true beliefs about Him.
  5. Through an apprehension of God’s various signs (āyāt) in the creation, we can obtain basic belief in His existence. When our fira functions according to how it was designed, this belief will fulfil the conditions for warrant, such that we have warranted properly-basic belief in God, in the absence of arguments.
  6. Similarly, upon an apprehension of God’s revelatory signs that are “read and understood”, we can have properly basic warranted Islamic belief.
  7. In the absence of any defeater, the believer will typically have justification to suspect that God does in fact exist, and that we are warranted in our Islamic belief in a similar sense in which warrant confers upon our other basic beliefs.

As a final point of conclusion, although this model has drawn primarily upon the ideas of Ibn Taymiyya, this is not to suggest that it captures the wide range of all his ideas on the topic of knowing God and by extension Islam. Rather, it has been primed to focus on just one aspect of his thought, namely knowledge by way of fira. However, Ibn Taymiyya also allows for knowledge of God by way of usn al-naar (sound reasoning). He acknowledges in particular, that this may be needed for one whose fira has become to some extent corrupted. For instance, he writes that, “the establishment and recognition of the Creator is innate [and] necessary in the souls of all people (fiarūrī fī nufūs al-nās), even though some people have done something to corrupt their nature such that they need an inference (naar) to achieve knowledge [of God]. This is the opinion of the majority of people, as well as the skilled debaters (adhāq al-nuẓẓār), that knowledge of God is sometimes achieved by necessity [i.e. in “basic” immediate fashion] and other times by inference.”57 Indeed, as Wael Hallaq also notes when commenting on Ibn Taymiyya’s approach to obtaining knowledge of God, he states that, “Ibn Taymiyya makes it quite clear in a key passage that while God’s existence is known principally by fira, it is possible that His existence may be known by naar, that is, inference or speculation.”58 Therefore, we may have taken an equally “Taymiyyan” approach to refute the “evidentialist objection”, by choosing to attack premise two (namely, the idea that there are no arguments for God’s existence), but to this we shall have to leave for another occasion.

 

References

1 See Alvin Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God.” In Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, 16-93 (1983), for a discussion on this objection and how it is grounded in classical foundationalism which he shows to be self-defeating. It is also a formidable critique of Anthony Flews famous paper, “The Presumption of Atheism” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 2, 1 (1972): 29-46.

2 The term warrant and the difference between it and justification is discussed in more detail below.

3 For a thorough introduction to Reformed Epistemology, please see the following: [1] Alvin Plantinga. “Reformed Epistemology.” In A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, edited by Charles Taliaferro, Paul Draper, and Philip L. Quinn, 674-680. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2010. [2] Michael Bergmann. “Rational Religious Belief Without Arguments.” In Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, edited by Louis Pojman & Michael Rea, 534-549. Wadsworth, 2012. [3] Clark, Kelly James. “Reformed Epistemology.” The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, 2011. [4] Andrew Moon. “Recent Work in Reformed Epistemology.” Philosophy Compass 11, no. 12 (2016): 879-891. [5] Tyler McNabb. Religious Epistemology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

4 For the most in-depth study of Ibn Taymiyya’s thought in English on his general epistemology, refer to Carl Sharif el-Tobgui’s, Ibn Taymiyya on Reason and Revelation, Brill (2020). For discussions on Ibn Taymiyya’s theory of signs refer to Hallaq, Wael. “Ibn Taymiyya on the existence of God.” Acta Orientalia 52, (1991): 49-69, and my own paper, “An Islamic Account of Reformed Epistemology.” Philosophy East and West (2019), [Pre-Print: doi:10.1353/pew.0.0193].

5 For succinct introductions to epistemology see, [1] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/, [2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_Y3utIeTPg, [3] Crumley II, Jack S. An Introduction to Epistemology, (2009), and [4] Feldman, Richard. Epistemology (2003). For a solid introduction to specifically religious epistemology see, Dougherty, Trent, and Tweedt, Chris. “Religious Epistemology.” Philosophy Compass 10, no. 8 (July 2015): 547-559.

6 One might think that this example is suspect because it involves a belief predicting future events, hence this addition of “future” into the equation sets it up to fail. However, we can easily change the scenario to eliminate this factor and still get the same result. Suppose for instance, instead of watching the football match, you went out somewhere, say, the cinema. Whilst watching the movie, the game came to an end. When you leave the cinema you remember that there was that specific match being played earlier, thereafter you form your belief that Manchester United lost 5-0, (now you have a belief about the past). You then check to find out, that, you had as it so happened, formed a true-belief. Nevertheless, this true-belief, as we have suggested, couldn’t be sufficient for knowledge. See Richard Feldman Epistemology (2003), pp. 14-15 for this point.

7 The idea that justification takes a ‘deontological’ meaning primed on the fulfilment of epistemic duties, seems to be the predominant way in which it has been used in Western philosophy. See Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant: The Current Debate. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, and Plantinga, Alvin. “Justification in the 20th Century.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (1990): 45-71.

8 Gettier, Edmund. “Is justified true belief knowledge?” Analysis 23, no. 6 (1963): 121-123.

9 This Gettier case is based on a Bertrand Russell’s own pre-Gettier example in: Russell, Bertrand. Human Knowledge: Its scopes and limits. Routledge, 2009: 170-1.

10 Please refer to Plantinga, Alvin. “Theism, Naturalism, and Rationality”, In Homo Religiosus:?: Exploring the Roots of Religion and Religious Freedom in Human Experience, edited by Timothy Samuel Shah and Jack Friedman, 120-39, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), for a succinct account of how belief in God can be rational without argument and how theism is central to grounding rationality where naturalism falters.

11 For more on this point, consider Plantinga’s ‘Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN)’, see Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

12 Technically speaking, proper functionalism has a fourth condition, namely that there is a high objective probability that the faculties aimed at true-belief do in fact acquire true beliefs successfully. In other words, it’d be no good having properly functioning true-tracking faculties, which only give us one true belief out of a hundred. For given the lack of success precluded by such faculties the one belief that we land on that is in fact true, would arguably be another case of epistemic luck. For a more thorough academic defense of proper functionalism see, Boyce, Kenneth, and Plantinga, Alvin. “Proper Functionalism.” In The Continuum Companion to Epistemology edited by Andrew Cullison, 124-140. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012. And more importantly, Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant and Proper Function. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Refer to McNabb’s (2020) monograph referenced above for an easy-to-follow introduction.

13 The idea that a theory of warrant or justification requires an “access” condition vis-à-vis not requiring it, marks the difference between internalist and externalist theories concerning warrant and justification, where the former requires an “access” condition and the latter accounts need not. The proper functionalist account of warrant is based on conditions external to a subjects’ conscious reflection or access, and hence is externalist.

14 Consider Michael Bergmann’s dilemma for internalist accounts requiring the “access” condition on justification (and/or warrant). Bergmann (2006) argues that the motivation for an internalist account rests on the notion that the subject is aware of the conditions which confer justification (or warrant) on one’s beliefs. Distinguishing between “strong” and “weak” awareness, Bergmann argues that the former refers to the idea that the subject is reflectively aware of the justificatory reasons or conditions as being relevant in some sense to the truth or justification (or warrant) of one’s beliefs. Weak awareness is a conceiving of some reasons but not in seeing them as relevant to the truth or justification (or warrant) of one’s beliefs. Evidently, the latter offers no advantage over an externalist view, and the former appears to lead to radical scepticism where no belief is justified! For the awareness of a justifier being relevant to the truth or justification (or warrant) of a belief, would involve some conceptualization which would itself then require meeting an awareness condition for justification, and so would that, and the next and so on ad infinitum. In the end, this dilemma gives us a strong reason to prefer an externalist account.

15 A noetic structure is roughly, the set of propositions a subject believes together with the epistemic relations which hold among the subject and these propositions he believes. For example, some of the beliefs a subject may hold are held on the basis of other beliefs, whereas others are merely basic. One’s noetic structure accounts for how certain beliefs are related and which is nonbasic or basic for instance. A noetic structure may also include the degree of firmness or credence that we give to some beliefs over others, and where certain beliefs appear to be more important for our structure of beliefs than others, say.

16 By “rational” we mean roughly: proper function rational. That is, a belief which is the product of properly functioning faculties, not subject to some form of cognitive malfunction. Proper function rationality includes both “internal” and “external” rationality. The former refers to the proper functioning of one’s belief performing abilities ‘downstream from an experience’ and the latter refers to the proper functioning of one’s belief performing abilities ‘upstream from an experience’. For more detail on these notions of rationality see chapter 4 in Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

17 For a more detailed account of this model please see my paper from which this has been adapted, Tuner, Jamie. “An Islamic Account of Reformed Epistemology.” Philosophy East and West (2019), [Pre-Print: doi:10.1353/pew.0.0193].

18 Qur’an 16:78.

19 Yasien Mohamed, Fitrah: The Islamic Concept of Human Nature (London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd, 1996). 13-14.

20 Qur’an 30:30.

21 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (Beirut: Dār Ṭawq al-Najāt, 2001), vol. 6, 114.

22 Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Taymiyya, Majmū‘ Fatāwā Shaykh al-Islām Aḥmad b. Taymiyya (Mujamma‘ al-Malik Fahd, 1995), vol. 4, 245-46.

23 Ibid. 246.

24 Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Taymiyya, Dar’ ta‘āru al-aql wa-l-naql. (Riyadh: Dār al-Kunūz al-Adabiyya, 1979), vol. 8, 458-9.

25 Carl Sharif el-Tobgui (2020), p. 228.

26 Ibid. 260.

27 See Majmū‘ Fatāwā (1995) vol. 9, 308 on the centrality and function of qalb. Also see Dar’ ta‘āru al-aql wa-l-naql (1979) vol. 7, p. 324 on the brief general division of the sources of knowledge in his epistemic scheme.

28 Dar’ ta‘āru al-aql wa-l-naql (1979) vol. 5, p. 62.

29 Ibid. vol. 5, p. 62.

30 Majmū‘ Fatāwā (1995) vol. 9, 313.

31 Ibid. vol. 9, 313.

32 Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Taymiyya, Amrā al-qulūb wa-shifā‘uhā (Cairo: al-Maṭba’a al-Salafiyya, 2018), 26.

33 Majmū‘ Fatāwā (1995) vol. 6, 73.

34 Majmū‘ Fatāwā (1995) vol. 16, 461.

35 Afnan H. Fatani, “AYA,” The Quran: an Encyclopedia, in Oliver Leaman, ed. (New York: Routledge, 2006), 85.

36 von Kügelgen, Anke. “The Poison of Philosophy: Ibn Taymiyya’s Struggle For and Against Reason. In Islamic Theology, Philosophy and Law: Debating Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Alina Kokoschka, Birgit. Krawietz, and Georges Tamer. De Gruyter: Berlin/Boston, 2013, 323.

37 Majmū‘ Fatāwā (1995) vol. 1, 48.

38 Qur’an 41:37

39 Qur’an 3:190

40 Qur’an 45:3

41 Here it is important to note that, there may be debate concerning fira in Ibn Taymiyya’s thought, as to whether it is simply a disposition to know without prior knowledge, or instead holds some primordial knowledge within it from its very instantiation. Following Ovamir Anjum (2012) I’m committed (at least at present), to the position that fira for Ibn Taymiyya does not refer to something which already contains within it primordial knowledge, but instead acts as a natural potency to acquire certain kinds of beliefs. Those beliefs then would be appropriately termed, “fibeliefs”, not because they are prior to experience, but because they are a natural acquisition of fira functioning properly. See Ovamir Anjum: Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Movement. Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 221-222.

42 Majmū‘ Fatāwā (1995) vol. 16, 338.

43 Dar’ ta‘āru al-aql wa-l-naql (1979) vol. 3, p. 133.

44 Ibn Taymiyya, Taqī al-Dīn. al-Intiār li-ahl al-athar (naq al-mantiq). (Mecca: Dār ‘ālam al-Fawā’id, 2014), 49.

45 Ibid. 49.

46 Carl Sharif el-Tobgui (2020), p. 271.

47 Dar’ ta‘āru al-aql wa-l-naql (1979) vol. 8, p. 385.

48 Ibid. pp. 533-4.

49 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, al-Fawāʾid (Riyadh: Maktabat al-Rushd, 2001), 42-43.

50 Dar’ ta‘āru al-aql wa-l-naql (1979) vol. 8, p. 383-4.

51 On this point, I anticipate potential sceptical objectors. On the general theme of how Muslims may approach scepticism particularly within a Taymiyyan lens, refer to Dr. Nazir Khan’s article: “Atheism and Radical Skepticism: Ibn Taymiyyah’s Epistemic Critique”. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/nazir-khan/atheism-and-radical-skepticism-ibn-taymiyyahs-epistemic-critique

52 It is my personal view that justification is perhaps best construed in the terms articulated by the “phenomenal conservativist” (PC) theory of justification. PC roughly has it that, if it seems to S that p, then S thereby has at least prima facie justification for believing that p. Thus, in the absence of some special considerations, if it strongly seems to S that the second-order epistemic belief p, namely that their basic belief in Islamic theism is indeed warranted, then they are at least prima facie justified in holding that to be the case in the absence of some defeater.

53 An example of how this sort of strategy may pan out can be found in the following paper by Michael Bergmann: “Religious Disagreement and Epistemic Intuitions,” Philosophy 81 (2017), 19-43.

54 A defence of this sort of argument can be found in Joseph Kim’s Reformed Epistemology and the Problem of Religious Diversity: Proper function, Epistemic Disagreement, and Christian Exclusivism. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, (2011).

55 The distinction between higher and lower level beliefs takes into account the second order epistemic beliefs we form about our beliefs. The idea is that, at the initial or lowest level, we simply form a belief which is or is not justified/warranted for us given certain conditions. Then, reflecting on that belief we move up a level and form a second related epistemic belief such as, “that belief of mine is a justified/warranted belief”. Again – depending on the fulfilment of certain conditions – that second order epistemic belief may or may not be justified/warranted for you, and so on.

56 The notion of “Sensible Evidentialism” was initially developed by Stephen Wykstra in his “Towards a Sensible Evidentialism” in William Rowe & William Wainwright (ed.,) Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. Harcourt College Publishers, pp. 426-37 (1989). The idea is roughly that the warrant of certain beliefs does indeed depend upon evidence (of an inferential kind), but it’s not that each individual need access the evidence for themselves, but rather that the evidence be ‘somewhere’ within the epistemic community.

57 Majmū‘ Fatāwā (1995) vol. 16, 458.

58 Hallaq, Wael. “Ibn Taymiyya on the existence of God.” Acta Orientalia 52, (1991), 57.

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