Reformed epistemology emphasizes that a theist (or Christian in particular) can have epistemic justification for their belief in God, but the justification doesn’t have to be by way of argument or external/independent evidence. I say “external evidence” because reformed epistemology is not fideism; it might be better to describe one as having “grounds” for their belief. Specifically, the grounds for one’s belief can be non-inferential, meaning that it is not based on other beliefs. Rather, it is what is called a basic belief. In addition, the reformed epistemologist would want to call said belief a properly basic belief. Typically, we could see such a belief arising from what we normally think of as a religious experience (e.g. dream, vision, etc.). However, we don’t have to think of such experiences in narrow terms. Furthermore, as some philosophers have argued, we don’t have to think of religious experience as necessarily being non-inferential, and at the same time, we can still say that one has grounds or reasons for their belief in God’s existence.
One problem I have with this is that I think reformed epistemology (or anything similar) is superfluous. In other words, I think it is unnecessary. Why is that? Well, most theists (and even a lot of atheists, if not most atheists) think that the arguments for God’s existence provide prima facie support/justification for belief in God’s existence. Sure, the arguments might not be very compelling to a lot of nonbelievers, but the issue here is not epistemic obligation; rather, the issue is epistemic permissibility.
Some Christians, perhaps a minority, might object that the average believer doesn’t really understand the arguments in very much detail, but why is that a problem? The average person also doesn’t understand special relativity in much detail. Maybe the typical individual doesn’t really grasp it at all, instead, they rely on experts and authorities on the subject.
Finally, one might say that some Christians might still not find the arguments to be very persuasive. But do they not find a single argument to be good? If not, do they also not find any argument to be even somewhat strong? If not, do they think that there isn’t a cumulative case to be made for God, such that, each individual argument (or piece of data) is weak, but once we combine the arguments we have a relatively strong case for God’s existence? In other words, reality is mostly what you would expect it to look like if there is a God.
If a Christian can’t say that, I question whether they really are rational in their belief that God exists. That’s because you’d essentially be saying that you have no idea whether reality should look the way it does if God exists. In that case, you should suspend judgment about whether God exists. Or worse, you think the world looks like it would if God does not exist, yet you continue to believe that God exists!
The fact is that we at least have some general idea what the world would like if there were a God. For instance, we would expect there not to be a universe where there is non-stop suffering or torture from beginning to end. Luckily, we don’t live in a world where there is only pain. If there was only pain, that would be evidence of an evil god!
But, my main problem with reformed epistemology is that it would justify all sorts of beliefs, including beliefs that many Christians wouldn’t want to say have epistemic justification like belief in Islam. One might try to lessen the blow here by suggesting that Muslims only have prima facie justification for their belief in God based on religious experience (just like the Christian). Even if this is true, it would have the further implication that convincing someone from another religion is going to be difficult. Not to mention, reformed epistemology would seem to justify crazy beliefs like belief in voodoo. This means that something is wrong with reformed epistemology….even if we don’t know exactly what it is.
Another problem I see is the problem of conflicting religious experiences. Maybe conflicting religious experiences isn’t enough to defeat belief in everyone’s particular experience. But, the problem of conflicting religious experiences seems to defeat some/ a lot of such experiences. It would be akin to being convinced that you saw Q in the woods, but all your other friends respectively saw R, S ,T ,U ,V ,W, X ,Y, Z. In that case, you and all of your friends should look for independent evidence of what was seen (if anything was there). And, perhaps, you and your friends are also given evidence that nothing was there in the woods. You would be sensible to really doubt that you saw Q in the woods, especially if your friends are just as sane and intelligent as you. It would be odd and implausible to suggest you shouldn’t at least seriously consider suspending judgment on the matter. But in the case of religious experience, not many people seem to realize how serious this problem really is. One might object that some believers have never really come across the problem. Okay, but many have come across the problem of religious diversity. And, most people in western society seem to be aware of the problem, even if they are not aware of it in a very formal way; they still know that other people from different religions have experiences too.
Fundamentally, one shouldn’t be asking whether their belief can be rational or reasonable. Rather, a person should be more focused on whether their belief is actually true. One might find themselves with a particular belief, and one might find the belief to be reasonable at face value. On the other hand, one is still under an epistemic obligation to find out whether that belief is actually true. If one isn’t required to “error check”, then one can justify all sorts of things based on their seemings. For example, one can say it just seems like Obama isn’t a U.S. Citizen, or a jury member can say it just seems like the defendant is guilty. Even if one is prima facie justified in believing these things, that does not entail they aren’t obligated to seek out independent evidence for their respective beliefs.
In fact, one might even come across good evidence that one’s belief is false. Someone might object that a person’s religious belief is like the person who believes they are innocent when all the evidence shows that they are guilty. But, this analogy is somewhat misleading. One can think of an analogy where one initially thinks they are innocent, but they are shown very good evidence that they are guilty. It might be further objected that belief in God’s existence is non-inferentially justified, so it doesn’t matter what the total evidence indicates about God’s existence. This is false. Just because a belief is not based on another belief, doesn’t mean that the belief can’t be defeated by evidence. That would be like saying my belief that there is clown or monster outside my window can’t be defeated because it is basic/non-inferential belief. If the total evidence indicates that God doesn’t exist, I should not dig in my heels and appeal to my seeming. Rather, I should say that my seeming ended up being wrong. After all, seemings are not even close to being infallible.