Reformed Epistemology in Non-Christian Religions (bibliography)

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 21, 2010 in Alvin Plantinga,Resources

One problem with Alvin Plantinga’s “if I feel it strongly in my heart it must be true” Reformed Epistemology, aka Bill Craig’s Holy Spirit Epistemology, is that lots of religions could claim the same thing.

Here’s a bibliography of papers that explore versions of Reformed Epistemology in non-Christian religions.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Haukur January 21, 2010 at 8:39 am

Very interesting, thank you.

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Josh January 21, 2010 at 10:33 am

I’ve been somewhat persuaded by Ayer and Cartesian that reformed epistemology is not meant to be an argument for the existence of god, perse. They’re more to show that no atheological argument can possibly work.

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drj January 21, 2010 at 11:04 am

Josh: I’ve been somewhat persuaded by Ayer and Cartesian that reformed epistemology is not meant to be an argument for the existence of god, perse.They’re more to show that no atheological argument can possibly work.  

I think their main goal is to establish that it can be rational to believe Christianity, unless it is decisively falsified. Plantinga takes it a step further and tries to argue that naturalism is not rational, in his evolutionary argument against naturalism.

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 11:09 am

Josh,

No, Reformed Epistemology is not an argument.

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MC January 21, 2010 at 11:19 am

Luke,

Ditto.

I’ve often said: “Reformed Epistemology is neither.”

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 11:29 am

MC,

That’s gotta be one of the shortest philosophy jokes ever!

Short non-philosophy jokes from Jimmy Carr include:

“Stationary store moves.”

and

“Dwarf shortage.”

Yours is funnier.

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breeeeeeee January 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm

“if I feel it strongly in my heart it must be true.” Shouldn’t this be amended to something like “if I feel it in my heart and i was made to feel that way by a properly functioning belief producing mechanism successfully aimed at truth, *and* the belief is in fact true, then I am warranted in my belief”? It seems to me that unless one is an internalist this should be (in rough details) uncontroversial. What many criticisms of Plantinga’s reformed epistemology (including, in this case, references to pluralism) always seem to do is smuggle in internalism. On the externalist account which Plantinga presupposes, whether other religious traditions also employ variants of reformed epistemology is irrelevant. The key question is “who is in fact correct?”

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Haukur January 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm

breeeeeeee: The key question is “who is in fact correct?”

Well, Neo-Confucianism, of course. Duh!

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urbster1 January 21, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Ah! Thanks for these reading materials on Plantinga. I will get to reading them post-haste.

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Micah Cobb January 21, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I fail to see why it is a problem for Reformed Epistemology that other religions can use similar epistemological maneuvers to justify their beliefs.

It would be a problem if it proved the existence of Yahweh -and- the existence of Hindu gods. But RE is not an argument for the existence of God.

Rather, it is an understanding of what it means to have rational religious beliefs. That RE implies the possibility that two believers with differing religious beliefs are both rational in their beliefs is not an obvious problem. Most common accounts of what it is for a belief to be rational make it possible that I could be justified in believing p and you could be justified in believing ~p.

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Justfinethanks January 21, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Micah Cobb: That RE implies the possibility that two believers with differing religious beliefs are both rational in their beliefs is not an obvious problem.

The problems are way beyond that. It allows adherents of countless contradictory claims to ALL claim equal rationality. And RE gives us no real means to sort out which is more probably true other than “defeaters,” which is nice but given how strictly RE proponenets choose to define this concept, it still allows all sorts of odd and clearly false beliefs to slip through. Plantiga himself dubbed this the “Great Pumpkin Objection,” i.e. that one could claim that the “Great Pumpkin” from Peanuts is properly basic. His response, from what I’ve read, is just to attack classical foundationalism. That’s nice, but it still doesn’t seem to address the fact that RE is too liberal to be a valuable means of assessing the truth value of propositions.

RE is really a “get out of begging the question free” card.

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Josh January 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Justfinethanks:
RE is really a “get out of begging the question free” card.  

XFD

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John D January 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I once read Robert Price’s description of it as the “What? Me worry” brand of epistemology.

I think it was in some review on internet infidels.

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exapologist January 21, 2010 at 2:29 pm

For a statement of one of the most troubling problems entailed by the applicability of Plantinga’s extended A/C model to other belief systems, see Erik Baldwin’s recent paper, “Could the Extended Aquinas/Calvin Model Defeat Basic Christian Belief?”, Philosophia Christi 8:2 (2006), pp. 383-399. Here is a link to the paper.

In brief, and as the title of the paper suggests, the applicability of the extended A/C model to other belief systems provides a defeater for the proper basicality of Christian belief.

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Micah Cobb January 21, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Justfinethanks:
The problems are way beyond that. It allows adherents of countless contradictory claims to ALL claim equal rationality. And RE gives us no real means to sort out which is more probably true other than “defeaters,” which is nice but given how strictly RE proponenets choose to define this concept, it still allows all sorts of odd and clearly false beliefs to slip through. Plantiga himself dubbed this the “Great Pumpkin Objection,” i.e. that one could claim that the “Great Pumpkin” from Peanuts is properly basic.His response, from what I’ve read, is just to attack classical foundationalism.

No. You’re wrong. Plantinga’s response to the Great Pumpkin Objection is not *just* an attack on classical foundationalism. His attack on classical foundationalism is what gives rise to the Great Pumpkin Objection. Read (or reread) Plantinga’s “The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology.” Plantinga’s response to the Great Pumpkin Objection is to invoke Chisholm’s Problem of the Criterion to argue that a person can be a particularist about rational beliefs. So, the religious believer is permitted to have a paradigmatic type of rational belief and irrational belief, and the Great Pumpkin can be an instance of the latter.

Justfinethanks:
The problems are way beyond that. It allows adherents of countless contradictory claims to ALL claim equal rationality. And RE gives us no real means to sort out which is more probably true other than “defeaters,” which is nice but given how strictly RE proponenets choose to define this concept, it still allows all sorts of odd and clearly false beliefs to slip through.

There are several problems with this. First, defeaters are not beliefs/evidence of which belief is true. A defeater is a proposition that undermines one’s warrant for a belief. As it relates to Plantinga’s view that religious belief can be properly basic, a defeater would be a belief that undermines the religious belief’s status as properly basic. Second, an account of what it means to be a rational believer does not have to provide the means to sort through which beliefs are more likely to be true. That’s a metaphysical question, not an epistemological.

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 2:55 pm

exapologist,

Thanks, though that paper is already in my list above. :)

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exapologist January 21, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Whoops — sorry for the redundancy! I think Baldwin’s point is a powerful one, though.

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John D January 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Sorry, that should have read: ‘the “What? Me Worry?” brand of epistemology’

The second question-mark is crucial.

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Steven January 21, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Why is it a problem with the reformed epistemology approach that other religions could use similar models for their own?

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Steven,

That’s exactly what these papers explain. :)

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Steven January 21, 2010 at 9:35 pm

You mean to tell me that you expect me to *read* these papers, rather than just get the easy answer from the main man hisself?

:-(

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Maybe I’ll have time to right up a post about this one day. :)

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Micah Cobb January 21, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Luke: Which paper do you think is the best?

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lukeprog January 21, 2010 at 10:18 pm

If you read only one, read “Could the Extended Aquinas/Calvin Model Defeat Basic Christian Belief?”

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Erik B. January 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

breeeeeeee: What many criticisms of Plantinga’s reformed epistemology (including, in this case, references to pluralism) always seem to do is smuggle in internalism.

Baldwin here. Nice to see people reading my stuff! Thanks for posting it, Luke.

OK, breeeeeeee, about this objection. I don’t think my arguments have this problem, at least not obviously so or at the get go. Why? I try to motivate the problem from within Plantinga’s own views, using only those resources to generate the objection. In short, Plantinga maintains that a belief is warranted in and only if it is internally and externally rational. I argue that awareness of the fact that other’s in other religious traditions may make the same claims about their creedal specific beliefs (e.g., “Jesus is God”, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”, “Atman is Brahman”, etc), then one acquires (so I argue) an internal rationality defeater, and so they are unwarranted. Specifically, you come to see that the objective probabilities are such that even if your own creedal specific beliefs are true, even given the truth of the Standard A/C Model, is low — and the lower it is in proportion to the number of viable religious traditions there are that can make use of Plantinga’s Strategy that you are aware of, the stronger the defeater is.

I think argue that there is no basic way of getting around this defeater and rebut objections to the effect that one can.

The best strategy, I think, is to object that one doesn’t get a defeater in the first place. But it seems that one should get a defeater in this sort of case. This raises thorny issues about just when and why people do or ought to acquire an internal rationality defeater for some belief or other.

Just my two cents…

Oh, you also might want to check out another paper that me and Michael Thune (who does a lot of good work on the epistemology of disagreement) recently published in “Religious Studies”

Exapologist put a link up to not long ago: http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2009/09/baldwin-and-thunes-new-paper.html

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Erik B. January 25, 2010 at 10:55 am

Steven: You mean to tell me that you expect me to *read* these papers, rather than just get the easy answer from the main man hisself?   

lol here you go mate, previous post =p

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Erik B. January 26, 2010 at 7:56 am

A few more you might want to add,

Both are in this book: Chinese Philosophy in an Era of Globalization, Robin R. Wang, Editor, SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture, 2004.

“The Polished Mirror: Reflections on Natural Knowledge of the Way in Zhuangzi and Alvin Plantinga”, by Kelly James Clark and Liu Zongkun

“Reflections On ‘The Polished Mirror’”, by Alvin Plantinga

Very briefly, Clark and Zongkun argue that Zhuangzi (better known as Chuang Tzu)has an account of warranted belief that is in important ways analogous to Plantinga’s. Plantinga reply makes reference, approvingly, to a paper by Eric Vogelstien, that might also be worth posting. Vogelstein’s paper is itself a reply to an objection by David Silver. So, here’s citations for both:

SILVER, DAVID (2001) ‘Religious experience and the facts of religious pluralism’, International Journal for
Philosophy of Religion, 49, 1–17.

VOGELSTEIN, ERIC (2004) ‘Religious pluralism and justified Christian belief: a reply to Silver’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 55, 187–192.

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 8:32 am

Erik,

Thanks! Added.

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