Baldwin on Basic Christian Belief (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 13, 2010 in Alvin Plantinga,Guest Post

cross and wingsGuest 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.

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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.

(click image for full size so you can read the text)

(click image for full size so you can read the text)

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.

(click image for full size so you can read the text)

(click image for full size so you can read the text)

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.

(click image for full size so you can read the text)

(click image for full size so you can read the text)

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

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk April 13, 2010 at 6:07 am

This series looks at Erik Baldwin’s article…

Oh, Erik Baldwin. I thought it was going to be about Stephen Baldwin.

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Charles April 13, 2010 at 8:26 am

As a former scientist, I have a hard time finding any of this credible. If this so-called sensus divinitatus exists, then where is the evidence? If anything, we know that not everyone seems to have it. That would seem to be pretty strong evidence against.

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lukeprog April 13, 2010 at 10:46 am

Charles,

It’s not about evidence, dude, it’s about faith. Get with the program.

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John D April 13, 2010 at 11:14 am

Alas I was unaware of the whole Stephen Baldwin thing when I titled this series. Confusion could have been spared if I had simply included “Erik”.

Charles,

Plantinga would say that it doesn’t matter if his model lacks evidential support. He’s not trying to argue that it is true. Remember, he thinks Christian belief is properly basic, i.e. not in need of positive justification (just like believing you had toast for breakfast, or that other people have minds just like yours). So provided his model is epistemically possible, he does not have to justify his beliefs.

By bringing in the scientific evidence, you are trying to provide a defeater for his beliefs. My guess is that he would respond in one of two ways: (i) argue that the scientific evidence is never compelling enough to defeat what is a properly basic belief or (ii) provide some ad hoc, but logically possible explanation for why some people seem to lack a sensus divinitatus (e.g. Satan is messing with their minds). Those responses would defeat your defeaters.

For people like you and me this is incredibly frustrating. But what Baldwin tries to do in his article (as you will see in the remaining two parts) is provide a defeater that does not try to disprove Plantinga’s model on evidential grounds. This strategy is more likely to work with someone who holds to Christianity in a PB-manner (although I wouldn’t hold your breath on that front).

Luke,

I think a couple of things should be changed in this (sorry – I should have been more careful in proof-reading).

The second paragraph should end with “Plantinga’s epistemological theory” not “work”.

And also the second paragraph in the section on the standard A/C model should say “Plantinga sets out two epistemically possible models” not “plausible”.

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Silas April 13, 2010 at 11:24 am

Plantinga’s answer would be something like: “If Christians had a sensus divinitatus, then they would…”

IF Christians had all that is needed to acquire knowledge, THEN it would be possible. You don’t say Plantinga…

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lukeprog April 13, 2010 at 12:55 pm

John D,

Done.

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anon April 13, 2010 at 2:04 pm

As a former scientist, I have a hard time finding any of this credible. If this so-called sensus divinitatus exists, then where is the evidence? If anything, we know that not everyone seems to have it. That would seem to be pretty strong evidence against.  

Some people claim that there is this faculty called ‘sight’. If anything, we know that not everyone seems to have it (e.g. blind people). That would seem to be pretty strong evidence against it.

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Erika April 13, 2010 at 2:16 pm

If I am understanding correctly, Plantinga is saying that a belief is warranted if is there exists any model that is epistemically possible and which entails that belief.

I hardly see what is to prevent contradictory beliefs from being warranted by this definition. For example, belief in the contradictory propositions of other religions or belief in a trickster God or belief that human evolution was sparked by aliens visiting earth who implanted knowledge of themselves in our brains.

If any (or all) of those beliefs could be warranted, it does not seem like a terribly useful concept. I must be missing something here, because what is being claimed really cannot be as simply untenable as I think it is.

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Hermes April 13, 2010 at 2:33 pm

As a former scientist, I have a hard time finding any of this credible. If this so-called sensus divinitatus exists, then where is the evidence? If anything, we know that not everyone seems to have it. That would seem to be pretty strong evidence against.

If you detach it from reality, and reassign it as literature analysis + fan fiction along these lines [example 2] (strangely enough, even they have re-written Gilgamesh, just like the Noachian flood story in the ‘OT’.), it makes complete sense.

Imagine what 1900 years of Star Trek will result in with clever people like this…

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Kyle April 13, 2010 at 2:49 pm

If I am understanding correctly, Plantinga is saying that a belief is warranted if is there exists any model that is epistemically possible and which entails that belief.

That’s not quite right. The claim is that if the model is true (whether or not it is known to be true) then any beliefs that are warranted under that model, are in fact warranted.

This doesn’t lead to contradictory beliefs being warranted because contradictory models couldn’t both be true.

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Erika April 13, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Thanks for the explanation Kyle.

I still fail to see how this is actually at all useful. Maybe that will be revealed later. =)

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Charles April 13, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Plantinga would say that it doesn’t matter if his model lacks evidential support. He’s not trying to argue that it is true.  

He isn’t? Why publish it then?

Anyhow, I wasn’t trying to provide a defeater. I merely refuse to take on the burden of proof. If he wants to keep “thinking happy thoughts” then I don’t have a problem. But he better not land on me when he tries to fly.

Batshit. Crazy.

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everettattebury April 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Some people claim that there is this faculty called ’sight’.If anything, we know that not everyone seems to have it (e.g. blind people).That would seem to be pretty strong evidence against it.  

But if I ask sighted people how many fingers I am holding up, they can tell me, and their answers will be the same. Ask religious people what their God desires and commands, and the answers are all over the map.

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Charles April 13, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Actually, I can almost grant that as plausible. (Almost.) What doesn’t work is that there seem to be an awful lot of people, an awful lot, who used to have it, and now no longer do, and the only reason they don’t have it anymore is because they stopped to think.

I guess thinking causes brain damage. *sigh*

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Torgo April 13, 2010 at 7:43 pm

anon writes:

Some people claim that there is this faculty called ’sight’.If anything, we know that not everyone seems to have it (e.g. blind people).That would seem to be pretty strong evidence against it.  

No one, not even Plantinga, claims that God endowed EVERYONE with sight. But Plantinga does make this claim about the sensus divinitatus. So, if everyone has it, yet empirical observation seems to contradict this claim, then what say you? Start you ad hoc explanations . . . NOW!

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Lorkas April 13, 2010 at 9:26 pm

@anon

If it’s true that God creates some people without a sensus divinitatus and then sends people to hell for failing to have faith in him, is he worthy of worship? The thought of such a pointless and unjust system makes me sick to my stomach.

Personally, I would rather take my integrity with me to hell than grovel before such a monster.

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Steven April 13, 2010 at 10:43 pm

(1) It’s not that God creates people without an SD. It’s that their SD is malfunctioning, and it is such that they are in some way responsible for their malfunctioning.

(2) What exactly is the evidence that some people lack an SD? And why can’t it be that the SD is simply not functioning properly in those people? I’m pretty sure Plantinga would think that everyone has an SD–he takes Romans 1 to be suggesting the fact, or at least Calvin and Aquinas take Romans 1 to suggest it, on Plantinga’s reading of them.

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TaiChi April 13, 2010 at 11:30 pm

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” ~ John D

Makes sense.

..It’s that their SD is malfunctioning, and it is such that they are in some way responsible for their malfunctioning.” ~ Steven

Makes no sense. Why provide us with a piece of equipment which will fail when, arguably, we need it the most (when we are mired in sin and most in need of recognizing the truth of theism)? Given God’s omnipotence and omniscience, you’d have to say the sensus divinatatus had been designed to fail in this way, for there seems to be no necessary connection between the failure to sense God’s existence and one’s sinful behavior. But to what purpose?

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John D April 14, 2010 at 3:09 am

Why provide us with a piece of equipment which will fail when, arguably, we need it the most (when we are mired in sin and most in need of recognizing the truth of theism)? Given God’s omnipotence and omniscience, you’d have to say the sensus divinatatus had been designed to fail in this way, for there seems to be no necessary connection between the failure to sense God’s existence and one’s sinful behavior. But to what purpose? 

We live in a fallen world…duh! There are demons everywhere!

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Charles April 14, 2010 at 4:07 am

John D and Luke,

Why do you keep coming back to us with these insane replies that you yourselves don’t believe?

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John D April 14, 2010 at 4:46 am

Well the bit about demons echoes Plantinga’s free will defence. See Luke’s discussion of that here:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=3294

More seriously, you should probably read exapologist’s post on the Plantinga-Quinn debate to get a flavour for how Plantinga deals with criticisms.

http://exapologist.blogspot.com/2010/02/intrinsic-defeaters-and-plantinga-quinn.html

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John D April 14, 2010 at 4:49 am

But he better not land on me when he tries to fly.

That was pretty funny.

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Mark April 14, 2010 at 5:13 am

John D and Luke,Why do you keep coming back to us with these insane replies that you yourselves don’t believe?  

Charles, the question is whether theists can construct a story based on their religion on which 1. they have a faculty for apprehending the truth of their religious beliefs analogus to our perceptual faculties, and 2. there are no facts (that even a theist subscribing to the story would have to accept) which cast the story in doubt. If you agree they can do so, Plantinga take this to show that the rationality of (some) religious belief can’t be divorced from their truth – so the mere fact that he can’t prove Christianity is true doesn’t automatically render Christian belief irrational, since for all he knows the above story is correct. Of course, we atheists know the story is false and therefore that Plantinga’s belief is indeed irrational; but for these purposes he’d be satisfied if he can just relocate a debate about rationality to a debate about truth.

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lukeprog April 14, 2010 at 5:50 am

Charles,

Huh?

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Hermes April 14, 2010 at 6:14 am

The whole ‘sensus divinitatus’ has the behavior of a mythic plot device. All comments and questions about it are along those lines. Speculative fiction fans and authors deal with these kinds of ‘what-if’ scenarios reflexively. Similar concepts show up in other religions, such as going Clear in Scientology — a stage that allows people to properly control themselves and think clearly.

Similarly, without a sensus divinitatus, the person would not be properly be able to comprehend reality and to make proper choices for themselves. This is The Force applied to theology.

What is most interesting isn’t that Scientologists and Christian theologians make up these devices, but what they are attempting to point to. No, I don’t mean that I consider the deity or soul/thetan claims to be credible, but that they require those features. It is a puzzle for someone with a good understanding of psychology and fiction writing to tackle, not those who limit their enquiry to the philosophy of theology or theology alone. A cultural anthropologist and/or mythologist may also be of some help.

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Charles April 14, 2010 at 7:09 am

Well the bit about demons echoes Plantinga’s free will defence. See Luke’s discussion of that

I’m familiar with Luke’s writing on the subject. I think demons are a rather strange thing to postulate as the cause for earthquakes and other natural disasters when we already have much simple models for how these things work. Furthermore, the problem of human and animal suffering is completely ignored. See chapter 9 of John’s book for more on that.

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Charles April 14, 2010 at 7:11 am

I was referring to this

It’s not about evidence, dude, it’s about faith. Get with the program.  

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Gabriel April 14, 2010 at 11:50 am

I am trying to wrap my mind around Plantinga’s model for Warranted belief. I understand the part about it not being an argument that he is just demonstrating that it can be true. What I don’t understand, and a few folks have suggested this, why is it so compelling. I enjoy philosophy but don’t pretend to be an expert. It seems that the rules of the model, the four functions, are arbitrarily contrived to satisfy the outcome of both TB and CB? In other words, we are going to play a game and i am going to create the rules were the only outcome is I win. Am I missing something. Please explain.

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lukeprog April 14, 2010 at 11:54 am

Gabriel,

It might make more sense if you decided to vote a long time to ‘Warrant: The Current Debate’, in which Plantinga explains the need for his account of warrant and the failures of other accounts. But that is a long, long story – a graduate seminar in contemporary epistemology, basically.

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TaiChi April 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm

We live in a fallen world…duh! There are demons everywhere!  

I don’t see how postulating demons would make palatable God’s having designed the SD to fail. Perhaps they, instead of sin itself, are responsible for its malfunctioning. The fact remains that our God-detector is prone to tampering, and that it need not be so (a demon need not be omnipotent to have free-will).

I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

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Thomas April 14, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I was referring to this
  

That would be a joke,Charles.

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DSimon April 20, 2010 at 8:11 am

That’s not quite right. The claim is that if the model is true (whether or not it is known to be true) then any beliefs that are warranted under that model, are in fact warranted.This doesn’t lead to contradictory beliefs being warranted because contradictory models couldn’t both be true.  

Isn’t that destroyed pretty handily by just thinking about Russell’s teapot? Suppose I believe that there’s a teapot orbiting the Sun between Earth and Venus, even though there’s no evidence of one existing (since no telescope is powerful enough to resolve such a tiny object). Such a belief is clearly not warranted, even if it later turned out by chance that there was such a teapot.

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Erika April 20, 2010 at 11:56 am

DSimon, I think that argument would only work if you additionally claimed that there was a sensus teapotus, that is, if this were a world where the tea pot existeded, then you would have an ability to detect it. Without that, your model is not strong enough to imply warrant.

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DSimon April 21, 2010 at 12:59 pm

But even with a model including Sensus Teapotus, is the claim of warranted belief any more viable? That is, if there was no plausibility to or evidence for the Sensus Teapotus, what made it valid to assume it to be true before it was verified?

And, even after the one teapot is discovered, would belief in something so out of the ordinary be evidentially warrented before serious scientific testing of the Sensus Teapotus was done?

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