Return to Reason (Kelly James Clark)

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Puritanboard Amanuensis
Review of Kelly James Clark’s Return to Reason

God and Evil

He interacts with the standard atheist argument against God because of evil. He then defines and distinguishes theodicy from defense. He proposes, following Alvin Plantinga, a “transworld defense of God’s actions in the face of evil.” In other words, “if a person suffers from a transworld depravity, then in all the worlds God can create in which that person exists and is free, that person would have freely gone wrong at least once” (73). This removes the logical contradiction in the argument from evil.

Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism

Clark takes the evidentialism of W.K. Clifford to task in this section. Clifford maintains that we can only believe something—and act on that belief—if we have proper evidence for it. Clark rebuts this using the arguments of William James and C.S. Lewis. Belief in God is a passional decision that can legitimately be made apart from Clifford’s standards of evidence. In short, if we adopt Clifford’s approach to evidence, we will have very few true beliefs. In reality no one thinks this way. We hold many beliefs—justifiedly so—apart from such evidence. Also, Clifford’s belief is itself a passional decision made apart from evidence.

Belief in God as Properly Basic

Clark, following Alvin Plantinga, argues that God has so constituted our cognitive faculties that we are perfectly rational to believe in him without regard to Enlightenment evidential criteria. This is concurrent with a discussion on Classical Foundationalism, its defects, and a turning to a Reformed Epistemology. Classical Foundationalism—the view that foundational beliefs are self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses—is self-falsifying. In its stead Clark proposes a Reidian epistemology that relies on “common sense.” For Clark, belief in God is “properly basic.” Properly basic beliefs are those that are foundational and non-inferential.


Clark has a snappy, engaging writing style. He couldn’t be boring if he tried. He will strike some readers as arrogant. The book was an excellent, succinct introduction to Reformed Epistemology. I have a few cautions:

1) I am not convinced—yet—of transworld depravity and Plantinga’s free-will defense. Maybe he is right. TWD isn't necessarily wrong, it just hasn't been fleshed out properly.

2) Is knowledge “justified” or “warranted”? Is the proof of the Christian God found in the “impossibility of the contrary” (Bahnsen) or is it found in “the God-structured cognitive faculties” of our brain (Plantinga)?

2.1) Some Reformed Epistemologists like William Alston has suggested that the line between warrant and justification is a fuzzy one. I think that is probably true.
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