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This series is taking a look at an article by Erik Baldwin entitled “Could the Extended Aquinas/Calvin Model Defeat Basic Christian Belief?” In this article, Baldwin tries to highlight a major shortcoming of Plantinga’s account of properly basic Christian beliefs.
In part 1 and part 2, I gave a bare-bones outline of Plantinga’s epistemological theory. With this background material out of the way, I can now proceed to consider Baldwin’s argument. I will look at it in two stages. In this part, I will provide a complete sketch of the argument. In the next part, I will consider some objections to Baldwin’s argument and Baldwin’s responses to those objections.
The Argument in Brief
Baldwin’s argument is a rather complex beast. This will be obvious from a quick glance at the argument map provided at the end of this post. To make it easier to digest, I’ll divide it into three main parts.
The first part of the argument shows that there are multiple viable extensions (MVEs) of Plantinga’s standard A/C model. The second part of the argument shows that these MVEs give rise to a probabilistic defeater for creedal-specific basic beliefs. And the third part of the argument shows how this probabilistic defeater gives rise to a serious dilemma for the defender of properly basic Christian beliefs.
Let’s consider each of these parts in more depth.
Multiple Viable Extensions
As noted in part 2, Plantinga’s theory of warrant has both internal and external rationality components. Internally, the believer must have a consistent web of beliefs and must be open to evidence. This ensures the correct doxastic responses to experience. Externally, the four conditions of proper function must be met. If these internal and external conditions are met, then a belief can be warranted in a properly basic manner, i.e. without the need to gather evidence in its favor.
With this theory of warrant in mind, Plantinga proceeds to sketch two models that would, if true, allow for certain religious beliefs to be warranted in a properly basic way. These models are the Standard Aquinas/Calvin model, which covers nonspecific theism, and the Extended Aquinas/Calvin model, which covers Christian-specific doctrines.
For now, we can assume that the Standard A/C model is correct. But granting this, there is a problem with the extension of it to cover creedal specific beliefs, namely: several religious traditions can extend the model. This is something Plantinga himself acknowledges.
Baldwin suggests that extended models are open to four separate religious traditions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism (yes, even Hinduism). He does not provide detailed sketches of these models. Instead, he points to the philosophical literature within each tradition that could be used to construct these models.
That’s slightly disappointing, but Baldwin does take up the challenge and provide more a more detailed model of Islamic belief in another article. And even I, with my poor knowledge of Judaism, can imagine a Judaic version that would replicate the boxological models provided in part 2. I suspect that this model would pinpoint the importance of following the halakha (Jewish Law) in generating properly basic Judaic beliefs.
The Probabilistic Defeater
The second part of Baldwin’s argument follows from the first. It begins with the following realization: If there are multiple viable extensions of the standard A/C model, and if these extensions are mutually incompatible (as they are) then, at best, only one of them is internally and externally warranted in a properly basic manner.
This realization gives rise to what Baldwin calls the “probabilistic defeater” for basic Christian belief. The probabilistic defeater states that if x represents the number of mutually incompatible creedal-specific extensions of the A/C model, then the antecedent probability of a particular extension being true is 1/x. (“Antecedent probability” just means “probability of something before looking around in the world to find reasons for or against it.)
Now suppose you are religious believer, and you think you can hold your beliefs in a properly basic manner. But suppose further that you are aware of the probabilistic defeater. You would then know that, if x > 2, it is more likely than not that your beliefs are false.
Since Baldwin’s article gives four possible extensions of the A/C model, it follows that any particular extension has only a .25 probability of being correct.
This is the most contentious part of Baldwin’s argument and will be given a more detailed consideration in part 4 of this series.
The final part of Baldwin’s argument is the sting in the tail. He suggests that the foregoing probabilistic defeater presents a serious dilemma for the religious believer who wants to have properly basic warranted creedal-specific beliefs.
Recall that warrant has an internal and external rationality component. Internally ,the believer must have a coherent web of belief; externally the four conditions of proper function must be met. The probabilistic defeater has clearly upset the internal rationality component: the believer now has reasons for doubting the truth of their particular extension of the A/C model.
The only way to overcome this doubt is to find evidence in favor of your particular extension. This would mean actually trying to go out and prove the truth of Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Hinduism. But the whole point of Plantinga’s epistemology is to avoid doing that.
Hence we have a dilemma. The believer can either (a) find evidence in favour their extension, in which case their beliefs may become warranted but not in a properly basic manner, or (b) fail to find evidence, in which case they are stuck with unwarranted beliefs.
Baldwin’s argument is mapped below. For those of you who are unfamiliar with argument-mapping of this nature, the key is as follows:
- Every premise and conclusion is represented by a number in a circle (the full premises are given on the right-hand side of the image).
- The arrow represents “implies that,” “it follows that,” “if…then,” or “which leads to the conclusion that.”
- The plus symbol indicates that the premises must be considered jointly if they are to support the conclusion indicated by the arrow.
- John Danaher