Guest blogger John Danaher of Philosophical Disquisitions summarizes contemporary articles in philosophy of religion in plain talk so that you can be up to speed on the God debate as it ensues at the highest levels of thought. Visit John’s blog for more helpful summaries of contemporary philosophical works.
This series looks at Erik Baldwin’s article “Could the Extended Aquinas/Calvin Model Defeat Basic Christian Belief?” Baldwin’s article attempts to provide a defeater to Alvin Plantinga’s theory of properly basic Christian belief.
As noted in Part 1, Baldwin’s article presumes a familiarity with Plantinga’s work. Rather than emulating his presumptuousness, I am trying, in the first two parts, to provide a reasonable summary of Plantinga’s epistemological theory.
Part 1 covered some of the key epistemological concepts that go into Plantinga’s theory. Using these concepts, Plantinga’s goal is to present a model that shows how theistic and Christian beliefs can be warranted in a properly basic manner. In this part, I try to summarize this model.
Warrant and Proper Function
As we saw in part 1, epistemology underwent a paradigm shift in the 20th Century. It used to be thought that knowledge was justified true belief. But this account was found to be deficient: it was possible to cook up scenarios in which a belief was justified and true without counting as knowledge.
Modern epistemological theories try to find the conditions that help to plug the gap between true belief and knowledge. Usually, these theories focus on the relationship between our belief-producing mechanisms and the external circumstances that produce beliefs. There is something about this relationship that grants some beliefs that status of knowledge.
Plantinga’s version of this is based on the notion of warrant, which is the thing that makes a belief an instance of knowledge. Warrant is a function of internal and external rationality.
Internal rationality involves the willingness to establish and maintain a coherent web of belief. A person with internal rationality will have the correct responses to the external circumstances that produce warranted beliefs.
External rationality involves the creation and maintenance of those beliefs that are appropriate for one’s properly functioning cognitive faculties to produce. To be more precise, Plantinga identifies four conditions for external rationality:
(i) The belief must be produced by properly functioning cognitive faculties.
(ii) The cognitive environment in which the belief is formed must be sufficiently similar to the one for which the cognitive faculties were designed.
(iii) The cognitive faculties must be designed for the production of true beliefs.
(iv) The design plan for those cognitive faculties must be one with a high statistical or objective probability of producing true beliefs in the relevant cognitive environment.
If these conditions are met, a belief can be said to be an instance of knowledge. Actual awareness of what it is that makes your beliefs true is not necessary.
With this theory in place, Plantinga can proceed to demonstrate how theistic and Christian beliefs could be warranted in a properly basic way.
The Standard Aquinas/Calvin Model
It is at this point that Plantinga develops his models of warranted basic belief. According to Plantinga, a model is a set of propositions that shows how another (target) proposition could be true. These models must be epistemically possible, not merely logically possible. That is: it must be possible, for all we know. Also, if the model is true, then so is the target proposition.
In Plantinga’s models, the target propositions are theistic belief (TB) and Christian beliefs (CB). Plantinga sets out two epistemically possible models that can account for TB and CB. If these models are true, then TB and CB can be warranted in properly basic ways.
The model that accounts for TB is called the Standard Aquinas/Calvin Model. It goes like this: God created us with a set of cognitive faculties that are designed to reliably inform us about what is going on in the world. But God is also all-loving and wants us to come to know of his existence. To bring this about, he has endowed us with a sensus divinitatus that gives us knowledge of his existence in appropriate environmental conditions, e.g. while gazing at the stars or something like that.
This model, which satisfies the four conditions of warrant, is illustrated below in a “boxological” manner.
The Extended Aquinas/Calvin Model
The standard model covers knowledge of a nonspecific God. The extended model covers knowledge of specific Christian beliefs, such as belief in the resurrection, the doctrine of original sin, and the afterlife.
As one might expect, the extended model is a little bit more complicated than the standard model. It identifies a three-tiered cognitive process that produces Christian beliefs. The three tiers are: (i) the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit (IIHS); (ii) Scripture; and (iii) Faith.
The IIHS is an instance of divine testimony speaking directly to the individual. It gives the individual direct awareness of the truth of the main Christian doctrines. The IIHS works in conjunction with Scripture (the revealed word of the Christian God) and instills Faith (a firm commitment to Christianity).
The three-tiered cognitive process kicks into action in a variety of circumstances: when reading the Scripture, when listening to a sermon, when hearing devotional music, and so on.
The Extended A/C model, which also satisfies the four conditions of warrant, is illustrated below.
It should be noted that this is merely one plausible variant of the Christian model. Plantinga acknowledges that there could be other plausible extended models. It is this acknowledgement that Baldwin thinks is problematic.
Not an Argument?
It is an oft-repeated mantra that Plantinga’s models are not intended as arguments for the truth of TB and CB. Instead, they are merely intended to demonstrate that the believer could have a properly basic warranted belief in theism and Christianity. Yes, the believer will need to contend with potential defeaters, but once they have done this they are under no obligation to provide a positive argument for their beliefs.
In the remainder of this series, we will consider Baldwin’s objections to Plantinga’s Extended A/C model.
- John Danaher