CPBD 018: Erik Baldwin – Plantinga and Pluralism

by Luke Muehlhauser on February 14, 2010 in Alvin Plantinga,Podcast

cpbd018

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview Christian philosopher of religion Erik Baldwin in a kind of “Alvin Plantinga 101” interview, wherein we explain the development of the epistemology of the most important philosopher of religion in the 20th century. We finish by discussing Baldwin’s own defeater for Plantinga’s model of warranted Christian belief.

Download CPBD episode 018 with Erik Baldwin. Total time is 23:54.

Erik Baldwin links:

baldwinLinks for things we discussed:

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Sabio Lantz February 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Excellent interview, Luke. Eric sounds like a great guy.

But the conclusion is diappointing. I am hoping to see how epistemology is making progress at deep understanding. But after the smoke clears, all the sophisticated epistemological philosophical knots end up cut by the sentence:

“It all hinges on if you really ‘get it’” !

So the defeat of Plantiga’s deck of cards is simply the subtitle of Luke’s blog: “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” – Stephen Roberts. Religious pluralism makes the point.

And Plantiga’s only defense is like that of the Hear-no-evil Monkey — saying, “I just don’t get it” and droning with the internal witness of the Holy Spirit just like Craig does when the arguments get tough.

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exapologist February 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Another great podcast. Thanks Luke and Erik!

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lukeprog February 14, 2010 at 2:06 pm

exapologist,

Thank YOU for turning me on to two of my guests so far: Dawes and Baldwin.

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Rob B February 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Over on your RE bibliography post a commenter wrote this:

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

But of course it’s worse than that. There are thousands of religions, all of which could use RE to claim their idiosyncratic beliefs are rational. If your method opens up the flood gates of what we consider rational, then it seems to me the RE defender does have an obvious problem. That problem being that using RE, any belief can be made rational, which renders the word “rational” meaningless.

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Briang February 15, 2010 at 8:59 am

Question for atheists.

From reading the discussions in the comments regarding RE, it seems that the thing that bothers atheists the most is that a person’s Christian faith is not open to the possibility of disconfirming evidence — the intrinsic defeater-defeater aspect of it. This is the part that bothers me as well.

It seems to me that in my discussions with atheists, that they do the same kind of thing. In response to a miracle claim, they will often use a Humean-based argument against the probability of miracles. The more extraordinary the event the less likely it is to have happened. The less extraordinary, the less likely it is that God is the cause. This creates a problem, in that it makes one wonder if God could produce evidence for his existence that would convince someone who makes this argument. Anything God might do to show his existence, would presumably be a miracle. God could produce a bigger grander miracle, but that would be more extraordinary.

Keep in mind I’m not saying that RE and Hume’s criticism of miracles are analogous arguments. However, it seems to me, that they both have a similar consequence: they make the defender immune to dis-confirming evidence.

My question is this: for those who take the above approach to miracles, do you think that this is as problematic as RE, given the similar consequences?

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Rob B February 15, 2010 at 10:19 am

Briang,

I don’t believe in any gods. But suppose I had my arms amputated at the shoulders and legs amputated at the hips. I prayed to Zeus, and the next morning awoke with new arms and legs. Also, I had video and testimony of family and hundreds of others that this indeed happened. Also, my amputated limbs had been saved, and DNA testing proved they came from my body.

Also, every amputee that prayed to Zeus had a similar outcome.

In that case, I would become a Zeus believer. I am not immune to evidence, as you seem to think.

Unfortunately for the Yahweh believer, nothing like this kind of evidence is available.

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2010 at 11:51 am

Briang: From reading the discussions in the comments regarding RE, it seems that the thing that bothers atheists the most is that a person’s Christian faith is not open to the possibility of disconfirming evidence — the intrinsic defeater-defeater aspect of it. This is the part that bothers me as well.

It seems to me that in my discussions with atheists, that they do the same kind of thing…

There are several problems with Christian miracle claims.

One is that Christians do not apply the same degree of skepticism to Christian miracles as they do to other brands of miracle claims. The lowest sort of revival wheelchair stunts are at least matched by Hindu “god-men,” who have their own repertoire. This drivel does not meet skeptical requirements for controlled conditions.

Two: the magnitude and impressiveness of current miracles in comparison to what is recorded in ancient texts. The miracles claimed in the good old days of the Bible were grand indeed. A pillar of fire hovering over a people for years on end. People raised from the dead. Lepers healed without antibiotics. How is it that now that we have developed a pretty good understanding of physical law, documentation methods, and scientific testing, such miracles no longer occur? Why are we now reduced to weeping statues and sports victories? Isn’t it reasonable indeed to point out that scientific standards at the time were inferior, and that, once again, other brands of religion reported mighty miracles as well which are dismissed as fable by Christians today?

God could produce a bigger grander miracle, but that would be more extraordinary.

Yes, and why doesn’t He? We now have standards of testing to be met. You cannot supply examples which will meet those standards, so it is moot indeed as to whether we would move the goal posts if you did.

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2010 at 11:52 am

Rob B: Also, my amputated limbs had been saved, and DNA testing proved they came from my body.

Ha! Then Briang would accuse you of carving up your identical twin.
;>

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Reginald Selkirk February 15, 2010 at 11:58 am

The most important philosopher of religion in the 20th century.

Srsly? Do you think anything he has done will hold up over time? Once people in the field have had ample time to sus out all the question-begging and special pleading?

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Hermes February 15, 2010 at 11:59 am

Briang: From reading the discussions in the comments regarding RE, it seems that the thing that bothers atheists the most is that a person’s Christian faith is not open to the possibility of disconfirming evidence — the intrinsic defeater-defeater aspect of it. This is the part that bothers me as well.

Well, it’s worse than that. First off, it grants what isn’t clearly a given; rationality. Second, the burden of proof is still with the claimant not the person who may or may not also have disconfirming evidence.

Briang: It seems to me that in my discussions with atheists, that they do the same kind of thing. In response to a miracle claim, they will often use a Humean-based argument against the probability of miracles. The more extraordinary the event the less likely it is to have happened. The less extraordinary, the less likely it is that God is the cause. This creates a problem, in that it makes one wonder if God could produce evidence for his existence that would convince someone who makes this argument. Anything God might do to show his existence, would presumably be a miracle. God could produce a bigger grander miracle, but that would be more extraordinary.

Personally, I’m not really interested in probability calculations in philosophy. I’m more interested in actuality; are miracles demonstrated in some unambiguous and neutral manner?

The ‘extraordinary claim … extraordinary evidence’ rule is one that is practical but not based on probability. It’s based on evidence. So, if I say I had a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich today, you would be right to shrug and say “OK, so what.” and just take it as a given that I did with no fuss at all. If I had a severe allergic reaction to peanuts, and you heard that I did, you could equally then reject my claim of having a PB&J while taking the slightly less trivial claim of me being allergic to peanuts also as a given.

Continuing into extraordinary claim territory. Let’s say I went to a local Reiki practitioner and they said they cured me of my peanut allergies, and afterward I said I ate the PB&J without any problem you would be right to start questioning some of the basic claims I’ve made and what you have heard about me. Maybe I didn’t have peanut allergies? Maybe I grew out of them, and never tested them till after going to the Reiki practitioner? Maybe each part of the story is a fabrication?

Yet, none of this dips into a probability calculation as the evidence available to you is not known to be reliable and the claim is not trivial.

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Haukur February 15, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Rob B: Also, every amputee that prayed to Zeus had a similar outcome.

But are we still talking miracles at that point? Wouldn’t this just be a normal part of how the world works? Miracles are usually thought of as one-off unexpected events. We probably need to agree on a definition for ‘miracle’ before proceeding.

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Briang February 16, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Thanks for the responses; however, I don’t feel anyone has answered the question. I was asking about how a particular type of argument against miracles compares with RE, given that they both seem to be philosophical arguments that make one’s view immune to contrary evidence. In response I got other arguments against miracles or conditions on which one might believe a miracle.

For those who think that they at least could believe in a miracle, assuming the evidence was sufficiently strong, do you think that an atheist who would never believe in a miracle (even one they saw themselves) is irrational. If, yes, do you think this similar to the problem with reformed epistemology?

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Erik B. February 17, 2010 at 11:29 am

Erik here, thanks again for having me on the show, Luke, I enjoyed it. And thanks to all for the interest in the issues here!

OK, here’s some follow up stuff about defeaters, etc., that we didn’t get into in the interview that people are concerned about in this thread.

Plantinga doesn’t think that there are in principle no defeaters to either Theistic Belief or Christian Belief, and he doesn’t think that there are no conditions under which it would be defeated. I can’t recall exactly what he’s said, but he’s expressed that if he were to discover certain historical facts — say, if someone could bring massive historical evidence that supported the view that Jesus didn’t resurrect, or something like that, he’d grant that he’d get a defeater.

Moreover, it’s not accurate to say he’s got an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Rather, he’s thought about potential defeaters, problems that people raise, and, in his estimation, he thinks they don’t cut the mustard. Going through that process, he comes to think that the potential defeater wasn’t really (or isn’t any longer) an defeater, so its’ epistemic force evaporates, as it were, and one’s belief recovers its basic warrant.

There is a lot more to the story; the entire fourth section of “Warranted Christian Belief” is devoted to explaining defeaters, the nature of epistemic defeat, and to arguments why he thinks that that these ‘potential’ defeaters don’t actually defeat Theistic or Christian Belief (CB). He deals with four types: defeaters from historical biblical criticism, postmodernism, religious pluralism, and the problem of evil and suffering. (He also deals with Freud and Marx type objections or defeaters in an early section of the book.)

So, Plantinga is open to defeaters. Moreover, having a response to potential defeaters is crucial to warrant. He says that part of being internally rational is to consider potential defeaters to your (thus undefeated) beliefs and have a cogent, satisfactory response to them. So, if you have a potential defeater and you just put your head in the sand or go “la la la la la”, THAT’S not going to cut it. You have to have a cogent response, or your belief lacks internal rationality, in which case it is no longer warranted.

It’s well worth reading this stuff; you’ll get a better understanding of what sort of project Plantinga is engaged in and why he thinks these ‘potential’ defeaters fail to defeat CB.

URL —> http://books.google.com/books?id=BypSHmoozV0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=warranted+christian+belief&client=safari&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

FYI — Chapter Six of Michael Bergmann’s “Justification Without Awareness”, ‘Defeaters’, would be helpful to understanding defeaters.

http://books.google.com/books?id=J7qzQ8Tt_GgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=bergmann+justification&client=safari&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false

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lukeprog February 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Excellent stuff. Thanks, Erik B.

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Liam Price June 20, 2010 at 12:29 am

are there any other good internet links about Reiki? i am really interested about it.`”,

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