Baldwin on Basic Christian Belief (part 4)

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 27, 2010 in Alvin Plantinga,Guest Post

cross and wingsGuest blogger John D 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 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.

Last time, I outlined Baldwin’s argument. To recap, Baldwin argues that there are multiple viable extensions of the standard Aquinas/Calvin model of warranted theistic belief, that these extensions cover creedal-specific beliefs, and that these extensions are mutually incompatible: at best, only one of them is actually warranted.

This mutual incompatibility gives rise the what Baldwin calls the probabilistic defeater for basic Christian belief. For any particular set of creedal-specific beliefs, the antecedent probability of it actually being warranted is 1/x (where ‘x’ represents the number of incompatible extensions).

This probabilistic defeater presents the believer with a dilemma: either they find evidence showing that their particular extension is better than the others, in which case their belief is not properly basic, or they do nothing and concede that their beliefs are unwarranted.

The key to Baldwin’s argument is the idea of the probabilistic defeater. In this final part, I will cover Baldwin’s defence of this idea.

Is it a Defeater?

Some might object: the mere fact that there are other religious traditions that can appropriate Plantinga’s models does not in and of itself defeat basic Christian beliefs.

Baldwin begs to differ.

Plantinga says that in order for our beliefs to count as knowledge, we must have warrant. Warrant is a product of internal and external rationality. Internally, the believer must have a coherent web of beliefs and must be open to evidence when appropriate. Externally, the four conditions of proper function warrant must be met.

Baldwin argues that the probabilistic defeater is an internal rationality defeater for creedal-specific beliefs. For those who might think otherwise, the following analogy is presented.

Rolling Dice

Suppose that you and three of your friends (Jim, John and James) are playing some game that requires the rolling of a die. You roll the die, and all four of you look to see what the result is. You see a four, Jim sees a five, John sees a three and James sees a one. Something is wrong.

Each of you an adheres to the Plantingan account of warrant. So each of you reasons: “If my cognitive faculties are functioning as they ought to, then I know that the number I perceive to be on the surface of the die is the correct one, which means that my friends are mistaken and have unwarranted beliefs.”

This conditional reasoning superficially fits with the Plantingan account of warrant. But if we peer beneath the surface, we begin confront a major problem. The fact of the disagreement gives you a good (internal) reason for doubting that your cognitive faculties are functioning properly. This in turn gives you a good reason for doubting that you have knowledge of the number that was displayed on the die.

Now let’s be clear about what this means. It may well be that only one of you has properly functioning cognitive faculties, and so one of you actually does know which number is displayed. However, there is no way to tell which one of you it is without wrestling with evidence and formulating arguments. This is something you should not need to do if your belief was “properly basic.”

The Plantingans at the Post-Conference Dinner

Another example: Suppose Plantinga is attending a Notre Dame conference on the modal properties of ontologically unnecessary beings. After a grueling day listening to philosophers stumbling through outlandish possible worlds, the participants relax for dinner.

Plantinga finds himself at a table with three other philosophers. They are Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu, respectively.1 He begins by telling them all about his epistemological theory and the model of basic Christian belief to which it gives rise. Much to his surprise, they each proceed to outline analogous models of belief that are tailored to the doctrines of their religions.

Suddenly it dawns on them that they cannot all be right. At best, only one of them can have warranted creedal-specific beliefs. Indeed, one of them formulates the probabilistic defeater. The cordial atmosphere of the post-conference dinner is thereby spoiled.

The only way for these Plantingans to figure out which one of them has the warranted beliefs is for them to find evidence in favour of their models. But this would engage them in the type of natural theology that Plantinga wanted to avoid.

Conclusion

There are other potential objections to Baldwin’s argument discussed in the paper. They turn on the fact that a given believer (say, a Christian) will have psychological certitude in their beliefs thanks to certain experiences they have had. These experiences will confirm their commitment to Christianity and will render them unlikely to accept the probabilistic defeater.

Baldwin argues that these objections do not avoid the defeater he has identified. The probabilistic defeater holds irrespective of how strong your commitment to Christianity may be. After all, psychological certitude is experienced by members of other faiths as well.

The probabilistic defeater is based on the antecedent probability of a particular faith being warranted in a properly basic manner. It suggests that the only way to establish that your beliefs are more probable than the others is to find evidence in its favor. But this would mean your beliefs are not properly basic.

It seems then that Baldwin presents a reasonably compelling internal rationality defeater for properly basic Christian beliefs.

- John Danaher

  1. Baldwin gives these characters the following amusing names: al ben Plantinga, al-Plantinga, and al-Plantingachandran. []

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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

Yair April 27, 2010 at 8:49 am

But if the probability defeater is indeed a defeater, then it need not exist to be a defeater. It’s mere possibility is a defeater. Baldwin doesn’t need actual Jews or Hindus, all he needs is the possibility that other basic accounts exist. We can then evaluate the likelihood of our account only based on investigating the evidence for it over theirs. Even if there is, as a matter of fact, no good alternate account, the defeater still works.

Not that I buy Plantinga’s conditions for basic warrant/beliefs in the least.

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Mark April 27, 2010 at 9:32 am

When an Alvin Plantinga or a William Lane Craig nevertheless insist that their Christian experience and claim is the correct one, while rejecting the similar claims of their ‘intellectual (and spiritual) peers’ and ignoring this defeater, it would seem to constitute what Gary Gutting has termed (in Religious Belief and Religious Skepticism) ‘epistemological egoism.’
I would add ‘arrogance’ to the description as well.

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Jeff H April 27, 2010 at 10:51 am

Just so I have this straight…would Baldwin then claim that a person who knows of no probabilistic defeater would be warranted in believing whatever he believed? So if I’m not aware of anyone who disagrees with me that the world is flat, I’m warranted in believing it, until I come across someone who believes the world is round. Then I need evidence, etc.

Is that correct? Or am I misunderstanding?

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John D April 27, 2010 at 11:24 am

So if I’m not aware of anyone who disagrees with me that the world is flat, I’m warranted in believing it, until I come across someone who believes the world is round. Then I need evidence, etc.

I don’t know what Baldwin would say, but I’m guessing that that isn’t an acceptable analogy. You would first need to present some epistemically possible model that would allow for belief in a flat earth to be properly basic. I’m not sure that you could do that (unless that belief forms part of some religious doctrine that God would want you to know about).

Also, as far as I can tell, awareness of defeaters is important when considering whether or not someone is violating their epistemic duties. Maybe someone who knows more about the epistemology of disagreement can speak to this.

I know from my own work on the philosophy of responsibility that ignorance is a legitimate excuse unless the fact about which you are ignorant is something that all reasonable persons can be expected to know. I would be inclined to transfer this to assessments of rationality.

Luke,

In the last line I said Baldwin had presented a “reasonably compelling” defeater not a “compelling” defeater. It may seem like a minor thing but I think the qualification is important. I didn’t want to be overly zealous.

JD

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lukeprog April 27, 2010 at 2:06 pm

John D,

Fixed.

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TaiChi April 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm

John D,
I’m interested in this notion of ‘antecedent probability’ – would you be able to point me towards some material on it?

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John D April 28, 2010 at 1:10 am

TaiChi,

I am not sure I can help too much on the topic of antecedent probability. Not really my specialist area.

Baldwin uses it in the sense of “prior to any consideration of evidence”. As a result, he seems to use something equivalent to principle of indifference in assessing the probability of the creedal-specific beliefs (i.e. they are all equally likely). Although it’s important to note that they are conditional on basic theism (i.e. the standard A/C is assumed to be true).

There is a lot of dispute about the legitimacy of the principle of indifference. But the more I think about it, the more important to Baldwin’s argument it seems to be. It is the fact that the extensions are equally likely that makes the defeater work. If a given extension is thought to be more likely (even in the absence of evidential support) then Baldwin’s argument would not have the same force.

Of course, that’s a problem since each believer thinks that their faith is more likely to be true than the others (due, for example, to the strength of their religious experiences – in the previous thread on this topic, someone pointed out that William Lane Craig might be using this type of argument). So they would need to be convinced about the legitimacy of the PoI in this instance. Here’s an article about the principle (h/t to aigbusted for this link):

http://www.andrew.cmu.edu/org/conference/2003/magidor.pdf

In general, on the philosophy of probability, I recommend any of Ian Hacking’s books. He has one excellent introductory text (An Introduction to Probability and Induction) and two historical texts (The Taming of Chance and The Emergence of Probability).

I’m sorry if that is a bit too basic for you. I’m guessing from your blog that you already know quite a bit about the uses of probability in epistemology.

JD

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John D April 28, 2010 at 1:26 am

Just so I have this straight…would Baldwin then claim that a person who knows of no probabilistic defeater would be warranted in believing whatever he believed?

Jeff,

I think I may have skipped over an important issue in my previous reply. I think I’m right in what I said about a person not violating their epistemic duties and being above criticism if they are unaware of a defeater.

But you asked whether they would be warranted, which is a slightly different question. To answer that you need to consider the external aspect of Plantinga’s theory of warrant. He argues that there are certain conditions (proper function conditions) that must be met in order for a belief to count as knowledge. They were discussed in part 2 of this series.

One of the key features of the externalist account is that, if it is epistemically possible for your belief to be properly basic, you need not be subjectively aware of the truth of the external conditions in order for your belief to count as knowledge.

So I think this leads to the same conclusion: a person could be warranted in their beliefs (provided it is possible for them to be properly basic) when they are unaware of any defeaters.

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Alex April 28, 2010 at 6:01 am

*Sigh* So this is what’s going on at the highest levels of thought. Talk about a theological fast one, who exactly does Platinga think he’s fooling? In any case, as ridiculous as the whole conversation is, it’s nice that this Balwin chap donned his superhero suit and translated the intuitive, ‘ahem, what about those other religions?’ response into fancy academese.

No shitty piece of apologetics left uneviscerated, just lovely.

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Tony Hoffman April 28, 2010 at 8:21 am

Yes, I appreciate all the diagrams and tightly worded descriptions, but I think that “special pleading” also describes Plantinga’s argument quite nicely.

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Jeff H April 28, 2010 at 10:02 am

Alright, thanks John D. I think that clears things up for me. I’ll have to read all of it over again to make sure it sinks in, but thanks :)

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Rups900 April 28, 2010 at 10:09 am

TaiChi,

In his “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists”, Paul Draper says, “By the “antecedent” probability of O, I mean O’s probability, independent of (rather than temporally prior to) the observations and testimony it reports.” (p333).

He then discusses it at further length in response to Richard Otte’s criticisms in his chapter in ‘Christian faith and the problem of evil’, pp.50-56:
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=TxfVTJpfgiAC&printsec=frontcover&dq=christian+faith+and+the+problem+of+evil&hl=en&ei=X3jYS_P4GoKOOMX1qO8G&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

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Josh April 28, 2010 at 2:24 pm

The best resource on “prior” probabilities is the Bayesian literature. I mean the real Bayesian literature, not philosophers pretending to be statisticians ;-)

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TaiChi April 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm

John D, Rups900, Josh,

Thanks for your help.

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Bill Maher April 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm

John D, when I get my Ph.D (it is going to be a while, lol) and teach philosophy of religion, I am going to use this. You did a great job.

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ayer April 28, 2010 at 8:23 pm

It is the fact that the extensions are equally likely that makes the defeater work. If a given extension is thought to be more likely (even in the absence of evidential support) then Baldwin’s argument would not have the same force.

Of course, that’s a problem since each believer thinks that their faith is more likely to be true than the others (due, for example, to the strength of their religious experiences – in the previous thread on this topic, someone pointed out that William Lane Craig might be using this type of argument).

Yes, that’s the point I was making in the previous thread. The extensions cannot be thought to be equally likely because they are qualitatively different. First, a model involving “the internal witness of the Holy Spirit” is incommensurate with any model not positing a triune-God-with-Holy-Spirit reality (i.e., Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism). Its apples and oranges. And secondly, as Craig notes, the Christian is within his epistemic rights to regard his experience as qualitatively superior to that of the adherents of other religions, such that it constitutes an intrinsic defeater-defeater of any attack based on speculative probabilistic considerations or claims to similar experience by adherents of other religions.

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Mark April 28, 2010 at 8:42 pm

(This is a different Mark from the one above.)

The extensions cannot be thought to be equally likely because they are qualitatively different.

Qualitatively different how? Baldwin’s die analogy exhibits qualitatively different experiences, as well. Each person sees the die display a different face. How is that supposed to matter?

First, a model involving “the internal witness of the Holy Spirit” is incommensurate with any model not positing a triune-God-with-Holy-Spirit reality (i.e., Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism)

Obviously the Christian extended A/C model is incommensurate with non-Christian religions. The point is that those religions can develop A/C extensions of their own.

And secondly, as Craig notes, the Christian is within his epistemic rights to regard his experience as qualitatively superior to that of the adherents of other religions,

And why is he within his rights to do that? This has nothing to do with intrinsic defeater-defeaters unless you can show that the Holy Spirit on the Christian A/C extension gives you reason to think your experiences are qualitatively superior to other religions.

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Kyle April 29, 2010 at 5:10 am

I don’t think the disagreement case is that clear cut.

If you roll a die and then disagree with others about what it shows then what you should believe will differ depending upon the circumstances. If the die has rolled into a dark corner and when you are all looking from a distance you disagree then this provides a defeater for your belief, but suppose that the die is right in front of you in a well lit room, and you have inspected it to make sure it is an ordinary die, and you have checked that there is nothing in the room that would affect your ability to see, then, in this case, I think it is reasonable to carry on believing that it shows a four. Sure, you should also believe that some strange is going on, but there comes a point when the belief about the die carries greater weight than your belief that those present are epistemic peers in this case.

I take there are uncontroversial cases where a belief, b, that is a source of disagreement can act as a defeater for the belief that one’s disagreer is not an epistemic peer. For example, suppose an old friend comes up to you and begins insisting that the moon does not exist. In that case it would be ridiculous to withhold belief in the existence of the moon. In fact your belief that the moon does exist gives you reason to think that your friend has gone mad.

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Bill Maher April 29, 2010 at 6:18 am

Lol Ayer. No offense buddy, but your defense is just plain bad.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 9:26 am

Ayer: The extensions cannot be thought to be equally likely because they are qualitatively different

I’m going to have to second Mark’s request that you back this assertion up. If you can’t, beyond “other AC models don’t have the Holy Spirit, therefore it’s invalid,” you seem to cross the line from “trusting your reliable cognitive senses” to “begging the question.”

Kyle: For example, suppose an old friend comes up to you and begins insisting that the moon does not exist. In that case it would be ridiculous to withhold belief in the existence of the moon.

It would, but only because I could offer propositional evidence for the moon (the tides, historical evidence from cultures all over the world that reference the moon, photographs, etc.) So this isn’t really analogous to what Plantiga is arguing.

Slightly off topic, but someone on youtube just put up a presentation of Plantiga presenting his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79SPvsZp1tY

Is that fucker charming or what?

Plus, amaze yourself as he has something nice to say about Richard Dawkins in the first video… sort of:

Richard Dawkins, his book the Blind Watchmaker, which is a really interesting, well written book that I strongly recommend to you. Despite the fact that I think it is totally wrong and misguided. There’s…

(audience laughs)

I mean a lot of wrong and misguided books are very much worth reading. This is one.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 9:31 am

Qualitatively different how?

Obviously the Christian extended A/C model is incommensurate with non-Christian religions. The point is that those religions can develop A/C extensions of their own.

They are qualitatively different precisely because they are incommensurate; why should the experience produced by the Holy Spirit of the triune Christian God be considered qualitatively equivalent to religions which do not even recognize the existence of that person of the trinity? The burden is on Baldwin to show that it is; and I see no way he could possibly do so. The Christian is then justified in the knowledge he experiences from the internal witness.

And why is he within his rights to do that? This has nothing to do with intrinsic defeater-defeaters unless you can show that the Holy Spirit on the Christian A/C extension gives you reason to think your experiences are qualitatively superior to other religions.

The Holy Spirit on the Christian A/C extension, on its own terms, provides a qualitatively superior experience–since if the Holy Spirit exists he is the third person of the triune Christian God and does not exist in other religions, and the Christian violates no epistemic duties by accepting that experience as properly basic and veridical. The burden is on Baldwin to show that other extensions are equally likely, and I don’t see how he could possibly do so;he certainly has not done so in this article.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 9:33 am

Sure, you should also believe that some strange is going on, but there comes a point when the belief about the die carries greater weight than your belief that those present are epistemic peers in this case.

Exactly.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 9:37 am

It would, but only because I could offer propositional evidence for the moon (the tides, historical evidence from cultures all over the world that reference the moon, photographs, etc.)

No, your perceptual sense that “I see the moon in the sky” is properly basic apart from any propositional evidence, and that is what you are asserting. You are justified in trusting your perceptual faculties, and the mere fact that someone else disagrees is not enough to constitute a defeater. In fact, the moon example is an even weaker case than the AC extension example, since at least your friend claims to be relying on the same perceptual faculties as you; whereas adherents of other religions are relying on non-Holy-Spirit-based AC extensions that are incommensurate with the Christian account.

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Josh April 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

Ayer,

I’m not sure you’re seeing the point here. Qualitatively different or not, it’s a matter of “in the absence of other evidence”. Once you start saying “Ah but my experience of the holy spirit is qualitatively different than your experience of Allah”, then you are making a claim you MUST support with propositional evidence, and Baldwin has won.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 10:31 am

Ayer,I’m not sure you’re seeing the point here.Qualitatively different or not, it’s a matter of “in the absence of other evidence”.Once you start saying “Ah but my experience of the holy spirit is qualitatively different than your experience of Allah”, then you are making a claim you MUST support with propositional evidence, and Baldwin has won.  

I disagree. Since the Muslim AC extension (if such exists) by definition is not based on the triune-God-with-Holy-Spirit model, it is incommensurate and by definition qualitatively different. Since the Muslim is not even pointing to the Holy Spirit as the source of his knowledge, his claim creates no obligation on the part of the Christian to buttress his properly basic experience of the Holy Spirit. Now, perhaps denominational differences between Christians, all of whom are relying on the Christian AC extension, could be subject to Baldwin’s argument (e.g., one denomination claiming “infant baptism” falls under “creedal knowledge” and another that “believer’s baptism” is true)–but in that case both groups would be adhering to what Plantinga calls “the great things of the Gospel” and so there would be tremendous overlap in their areas of agreement.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 11:01 am

Since the Muslim is not even pointing to the Holy Spirit as the source of his knowledge, his claim creates no obligation on the part of the Christian to buttress his properly basic experience of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, the source of knowledge being proposed is different, but the epistemological model is identical, and that is precisely the dilemma. What reason does the Christian have to believe that the knowledge that comes from the Holy Spirit is necessarily true while the knowledge that comes from Allah is necessarily false? Similarly, what reason does a Muslim have to believe the knowledge he or she receives from Allah is untrustworthy?

If both the Muslim and the Christian are employing the same model for knowing what is true (even if, as you point out the ultimate source of knowledge being proposed is different) and come to mutually exclusive conclusions, don’t you think that calls into question either the model being employed or the cognitive reliability of either the Muslim or the Christian? And if you argue that it is Muslim that has cognitive problems, doesn’t that assertion require evidence? (And considering there are 1.5 billion Muslims, this disagreement is hardly comparable to denying the moon.)

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anon April 29, 2010 at 11:23 am

I guess I don’t see what the criticism against Baldwin’s objection is supposed to be. What work is “qualitatively different” doing here? In Baldwin’s die case, the qualitative difference in each of the player’s experience is precisely what constitutes the reliability defeater. So it seems to me that you’re going to have to do more to explain why the qualitative difference in phenomenology has precisely the opposite effect in the religious case.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 11:46 am

If both the Muslim and the Christian are employing the same model for knowing what is true

That is exactly what is not going on. The Muslim model, not being based in the triune-God-with-Holy-Spirit, is incommensurate with the Christian model. The Christian extension is sui generis. If it is sui generis, then the Christian is justified in accepting the creedal knowledge gained in the properly basic way. The burden is on Baldwin to show if the models are commensurate, and he has not done so.

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Josh April 29, 2010 at 12:23 pm

That is exactly what is not going on.The Muslim model, not being based in the triune-God-with-Holy-Spirit, is incommensurate with the Christian model.The Christian extension is sui generis.If it is sui generis, then the Christian is justified in accepting the creedal knowledge gained in the properly basic way.The burden is on Baldwin to show if the models are commensurate, and he has not done so.  

I’m just not sure this is relevant. Why should it matter at all if the different experiences are commensurate? All that matters is that the different extensions are mutually exclusive and that without analyzing evidence they are equally likely.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm

That is exactly what is not going on. The Muslim model, not being based in the triune-God-with-Holy-Spirit, is incommensurate with the Christian model.

They are different only in the sense that the source of knowledge differs. For example, how do you know scripture is reliable? To quote WCB:

Scripture is as much a matter of testimony as is a letter you receive from a friend. What is proposed for our belief in Scripture, therefore, just is testimony—divine testimony. So the term ‘testimony’ is appropriate here. However, there is also the special work of the Holy Spirit in getting us to believe, in enabling us to see the truth of what is proposed.

Switch out “Holy Spirit” with “Allah” and you see the problem here, as nothing becomes incoherent or contradictory. Both beings have the same ability to provide testimony to an individual that their particular scripture is true, and thus they are commensurate in that respect, so I’m not sure how that proposition can be denied sans argument. So why prefer one over another? What exactly makes Holy Spirit’s and the Bible’s testimony reliable and Allah’s and the Koran’s unreliable? It might indeed be true that the testimony of one is superior to another, but what reason does a Christian have to believe this?

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Kyle April 29, 2010 at 1:48 pm

It would, but only because I could offer propositional evidence for the moon (the tides, historical evidence from cultures all over the world that reference the moon, photographs, etc.) So this isn’t really analogous to what Plantiga is arguing.

The mad man could also disagree with the evidence you offer – he could disagree that it really is evidence, or what it suggests or whether there is other outweighing evidence. There is nothing you could point to that couldn’t also be disagreed with.

Furthermore, I imagine that most people believe that the moon exists, not based upon any propositional evidence, but simply because they remember seeing it. Do you think those people should give up their belief when confronted by the madman.

The problem of disagreement arises because of a triad of beliefs:

1. I believe p is true
2. X believes p is false
3. X and I are epistemic peers

When confronted with this problem something has to give. Baldwin seems to think that 3 is privileged, but I see no reason for this. If you are more certain about 1 than 3 then you should abandon 3. If you are more sure about 3 than 1, then you should abandon 1.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 2:26 pm

The mad man could also disagree with the evidence you offer – he could disagree that it really is evidence, or what it suggests or whether there is other outweighing evidence.

Yes, and I suppose if he was able to provide more compelling evidence for the non-existence of the moon, then one would be justified in believing that their experience of the moon is illusory. “Does the moon exist” can be an empirical and scientific question after all.

Furthermore, I imagine that most people believe that the moon exists, not based upon any propositional evidence.

That is true, and fair enough. I suppose prior to propositional evidence for the moon, one would be justified in maintaining moon belief on two counts, even after such an encounter.

1) You’ve already identified him as a “mad man,” and a Plantigian account of warrant requires for one to have properly functioning senses. By virtue of being a “mad man,” he does not, so his testimony is not relevant. So this is disanalogous to current discussion, unless you are prepared to say that all Muslims, Jews, and monotheistic Hindus are themselves mad men.
2) Supposing I have no reason to believe him a mad man beforehand, being in such a massive minority (just one that I am aware at the time that I encounter this person) I am justified in rejecting his testimony as a failure of his senses or cognition after hearing the claim, based upon both the power of the experience of the moon and the near universal number of people who share in this powerful experience. This also is not analogous to our current discussion, as the number of Muslims and Hindus combined outnumber the number of Christians in the world.

. If you are more certain about 1 than 3 then you should abandon 3. If you are more sure about 3 than 1, then you should abandon 1.

That seems like a good way of putting it. But Baldwin’s dilemma is: how do you know which is the faulty one? Do you need an argument to determine that?

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 2:42 pm

. If you are more certain about 1 than 3 then you should abandon 3. If you are more sure about 3 than 1, then you should abandon 1.

That seems like a good way of putting it. But Baldwin’s dilemma is: how do you know which is the faulty one? Do you need an argument to determine that?

No, the whole point of Plantinga’s epistemology is that if 1 is a properly basic belief, you do not need an argument, and the simple fact that someone disagrees is not a defeater for that belief. If I believe 2 + 2 = 4 and someone claims 2 + 2 =5 I require no “argument” or “evidence” to refute them. I am justified in believing they are wrong because my knowledge is properly basic. And it is irrelevant that our two beliefs are mutually exclusive.

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Kyle April 29, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Yes, and I suppose if he was able to provide more compelling evidence for the non-existence of the moon, then one would be justified in believing that their experience of the moon is illusory.

This is inconsistent. Either you think that the dissenters opinion cancels out your own, or you don’t. This will apply equally to his assessment of the belief in question and to his assessment of the evidence.

In response to your points 1 and 2:

1. Well, you won’t always have me there to narrate your life. The reason that you know he is a mad man is because he disagrees, not because it says so in the script. Also, concluding that someone is mad is not the only option. One can use the disagreement to conclude that the other person is not an epistemic peer, either due to malfunction or a poorer evidence base.

2. I think you over emphasising the role of numbers. If the number of moon doubters started to rise rapidly it wouldn’t give me reason to doubt the moon, but it might give me reason to think that there was some sort of mental disease sweeping through the population.

That seems like a good way of putting it. But Baldwin’s dilemma is: how do you know which is the faulty one? Do you need an argument to determine that?

To the extent that 1 is warranted then you are warranted in rejecting 3, and to the extend that 3 is warranted then you are warranted in rejecting 1. Warrant is determined by external factors. As Plantinga says, what matters is whether or not the Christian model is in fact true, not whether it can be proven.

If Christianity is true, then the Christian has a good reason to believe Christian doctrine, and therefore a good reason to think that those from other religions are not in such a good position to know these things. If Christianity is false then the Christian does not have good grounds for her belief.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Both beings have the same ability to provide testimony to an individual that their particular scripture is true, and thus they are commensurate in that respect,

That’s just not correct. There is no “indwelling of the Holy Spirit” in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., and how could there be? None of those religions has a triune God, one person of which indwells adherents of that religion. So they cannot be commensurate without embracing the triune-God-with-Holy-Spirit model, and their claims are not mutually exclusive with the Christian claim. Their experience could easily be a variation of the standard AC sense of God as “ground of all being,” or a demonically-inspired counterfeit experience, etc.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 3:02 pm

No, the whole point of Plantinga’s epistemology is that if 1 is a properly basic belief, you do not need an argument, and the simple fact that someone disagrees is not a defeater for that belief.

But Baldiwn’s argument is that Plantiga’s epistemology can be used to come to multiple, equally valid conclusions. All the elements are in place to give the Jew, Muslim, and monotheistic Hindu warranted belief.

If I believe 2 + 2 = 4 and someone claims 2 + 2 =5 I require no “argument” or “evidence” to refute them.

This is not analogous at all because 2 + 2 = 4 is tautologically, necessarily true, and Plantiga isn’t arguing that one is justified in believing Christianity is true in that sense (unless you can point me to somewhere that Plantiga says that Christanity is necessarily true.) Rather, he offers an epistemological model that allows one to be rationally justified in believing in the truth of Chrisianity based upon one’s own reliable cognitive abilities and the witness of the Holy Spirit. But multiple existing religions, all of whom propose beings that have identical truth-providing abilities of the Holy Spirit, exist which allow them to be justified in their own mutually exclusive beliefs using the same model.

If you believe that these models are different (and not simply based on “not having the Holy Spirit,” because again they propose beings with the same sort of truth giving properties), it seems you are going to have to give a reason why this is so.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 3:47 pm

This is not analogous at all because 2 + 2 = 4 is tautologically, necessarily true, and Plantiga isn’t arguing that one is justified in believing Christianity is true in that sense (unless you can point me to somewhere that Plantiga says that Christanity is necessarily true.)

Yes, it is, because 2 + 2 = 4 is a properly basic belief, and Plantinga’s whole project is to maintain that other beliefs fall into that same category as properly basic. But you could analogize to another properly basic belief if you wish–”I believe that other people have minds” is properly basic even if another disagrees with me. “I believe that torturing babies for fun is morally wrong” is properly basic even if another disagrees with me.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 3:54 pm

This is inconsistent. Either you think that the dissenters opinion cancels out your own, or you don’t.

Not really, because I’m dividing the moon question, I suppose, in two different ways. Firstly, if we were to treat it as a scientific question, the side with superior evidence would win out. So it’s not his mere “opinion” that would cancel out my beliefs, but his evidence. The second way is as a matter of an extension of my basic belief that I reliably detect the outside world, prior to any propositional evidence.

I think you over emphasising the role of numbers.

How’s that? Take the dice example above. I think that if amongst your friends everyone saw a five, and there was a lone dissenter that insisted they saw a three, you would be justified in thinking it is more probable there there is something wrong with the one friend’s senses rather than you and the rest of your friends.

If Christianity is true, then the Christian has a good reason to believe Christian doctrine, and therefore a good reason to think that those from other religions are not in such a good position to know these things.

Yes, but do you see no problem if someone takes the identical model you describe here, and swaps in another belief system? It doesn’t work with all religions, like Jainism for example, but with a handful it is perfectly compatible with the extended AC model, because they all have beings that provide adherents with the truth in a manner identical to the Holy Spirit. So what follows is that Christian belief is either warranted, but not in a properly basic way, or Christian belief is not warranted, once we see the obvious conflicts that arise with this model.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 4:11 pm

they all have beings that provide adherents with the truth in a manner identical to the Holy Spirit

That’s just not the case, and the one making this claim has a very heavy burden to bear (and a lot of detailed theological analysis to perform) to attempt to support it.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 4:19 pm

There is no “indwelling of the Holy Spirit” in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc., and how could there be?

I agree with you on Buddhism, and no one argued as much. But Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism all have a being that provide them with warranted belief in the identical manner that the Holy Spirit provides warranted belief (Allah, Yahweh, and Vishnu, respectively). No one is saying that these religious systems have the Holy Spirit, only that they have beings with truth providing properties identical to the Holy Spirit, which is enough to use the extended A/C model to come to mutually exclusive conclusions.

But you could analogize to another properly basic belief if you wish–”I believe that other people have minds” is properly basic even if another disagrees with me. “I believe that torturing babies for fun is morally wrong” is properly basic even if another disagrees with me.

Again, this is not a relevant analogy for this particular problem with the extended A/C model because Jews, Muslims, and monotheistic Hindus would agree with these two propositions. Plus, if you were to deny these two propositions, you would cease to operate within Plantiga’s epistomological framework. Baldwin argues that you can operate within this framework and come to a completely different conclusion than Plantiga.

It’s important to remember that if Baldwin’s argument is successful, it only means that Christian belief isn’t properly basic, not belief in God, other minds, or morality. In fact, Baldwin’s argument seems so modest that Christianity could still be rationally held as true if he is successful.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 4:46 pm

That’s just not the case, and the one making this claim has a very heavy burden to bear (and a lot of detailed theological analysis to perform) to attempt to support it.

How’s that? What exactly would prevent Allah, an omnipotent being, from providing self-authenticating testimony to Muslims that Islam is true?

A Christian might quote Paul to support their idea that the Holy Spirit provides them with testimony of Christianity’s truth, but a Muslim could provide their own verses, as the Quran makes frequent reference to Allah guiding people.

Such as:

Wherewith Allah guideth all who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace and safety, and leadeth them out of darkness, by His will, unto the light,- guideth them to a path that is straight. [5:16]

Those who believe, and work righteousness,- their Lord will guide them because of their faith: beneath them will flow rivers in gardens of bliss. [10:9]

Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord; but those who reject Faith say: “What means Allah by this similitude?” By it He causes many to stray, and many He leads into the right path; but He causes not to stray, except those who forsake (the path). [2:26]

Translations gathered from this site.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 5:02 pm

all have a being that provide them with warranted belief in the identical manner that the Holy Spirit provides warranted belief

I disagree that is the case.

the Quran makes frequent reference to Allah guiding people

Your quotations make my point. “Allah guiding people” is simply not the same as the highly specific account of a person of the triune God indwelling Christians. Because they Muslims don’t have that, and don’t even claim to have that, there is no mutual exclusivity–the Christian’s knowledge can be entirely justified by the internal witness of the Spirit while the Muslim is either misinterpreting an experience of God as ground of all being, or is being intentionally misled by a demonic being.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 5:17 pm

“Allah guiding people” is simply not the same as the highly specific account of a person of the triune God indwelling Christians.

No, they aren’t the same in the source of knowledge, but they ARE the same in that they have the identical means of providing a believer with self authenticating knowledge of a truth claim. Look at Surah 2:26 again:

Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord

In what manner does this notion differ from Plantiga’s extended A/C model for Christianity? Assuming that model, here we have an omnipotent being providing his creatures with necessarily infallible and self-authenticating testimony. If Islam is true and Allah exists, how could he fail to allow Muslims, prior to argument or evidence, have knowledge that Islam is true?

If your answer is because it’s “not the Holy Spirit,” it seems you are going to have to identify a truth providing property that the Holy Spirit has that Allah lacks.

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Bill Maher April 29, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Ayer, Surah 2:26 points to that Muslims have a “diving sense” that points them towards Allah.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 6:41 pm

If your answer is because it’s “not the Holy Spirit,” it seems you are going to have to identify a truth providing property that the Holy Spirit has that Allah lacks.

Actually, since you are attempting to supply the defeater, the burden lies with you to show that the Muslim extension is identical to the Christian extension such that they are mutually exclusive.

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ayer April 29, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Ayer, Surah 2:26 points to that Muslims have a “diving sense” that points them towards Allah.  

Yes, and Mormons claim to have a “burning in the bosom.” As Craig has noted, that is irrelevant to justification of the Christian’s experience.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Actually, since you are attempting to supply the defeater, the burden lies with you to show that the Muslim extension is identical to the Christian extension.

I understand that, and I think that I have successfully met that burden. To reiterate: Under an extended A/C model for Muslim belief you have an omnipotent being who sustains creatures and builds their noetic structures in such a manner that makes them successfully aimed at truth, and furthermore (as per Surah 2:26) provides necessarily infallible and self-authenticating testimony of the truth of Islam.

Now it’s your turn. Where exactly does the above model differ from Plantiga’s model, besides the simple fact that the source of knowledge is different?

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Bill Maher April 29, 2010 at 7:01 pm

Yes, and Mormons claim to have a “burning in the bosom.”As Craig has noted, that is irrelevant to justification of the Christian’s experience.  

How is it irrelevant? Other religions are claiming an identical thing and their beliefs can also be warranted. They have visions and feelings in their hearts. For them it is an experiential reality. The only difference is the source of knowledge.

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 7:07 pm

As Craig has noted, that is irrelevant to justification of the Christian’s experience.

Possibly. But if the epistemological model that the Morman uses is identical to one that the Christian uses in order to justify that experience as truth providing, then it’s perfectly relevant

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Justfinethanks April 29, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I’m going to post a comment left on this blog by Baldwin that seems relevant to the conversation Ayer and I are having:

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.

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=6618

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Kyle April 30, 2010 at 2:40 am

Not really, because I’m dividing the moon question, I suppose, in two different ways. Firstly, if we were to treat it as a scientific question, the side with superior evidence would win out. So it’s not his mere “opinion” that would cancel out my beliefs, but his evidence.

But people can and do disagree about what evidence there is on a particular matter, and in what direction the evidence points.

The second way is as a matter of an extension of my basic belief that I reliably detect the outside world, prior to any propositional evidence.

Presumably the mad man will have a similar belief, but will think that he reliably detects that there is no moon.

Also, why can’t the Christian trust their sensus divinitatis in a basic way and use the knowledge gained over and against those who disagree. Why would that be any different from what you describe above?

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Justfinethanks April 30, 2010 at 5:17 am

But people can and do disagree about what evidence there is on a particular matter, and in what direction the evidence points.

Well, duh. But publically verifiable evidence isn’t something that is up to personal taste or intuition. That’s why I feel comfortable in beleiving that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life, despite the fact that roughly half of my fellow Americans disagree. I don’t “sense” the likliehood of the truth of evolution (i.e. it’s not properly basic and could easily be false prior to evidence), I deduce it by the weight of the evidence. So there is no contradiction in believing that the evidence favors your side, even while encountering people who disagree.

When treating the moon as a scientific question, if the weight of evidence fell strongly in favor with no moon, I think would feel comfortable rejecting my intuition that there is a moon. It certainly wouldn’t be my first time denying an intuition in favor of an scientific conclusion. For example, when I see a piece of wood burning, I intuiutively think that the wood is being removed from existence by the fire. But well evidenced science tells me that matter cannot be destroyed, so that’s what i ultimately believe.

Of course, the whole moon analogy isn’t a good one in the first place, just because it’s possible to treat it scientifically, and Plantiga is arguing for things that can’t be treated like that.

Also, why can’t the Christian trust their sensus divinitatis in a basic way and use the knowledge gained over and against those who disagree. Why would that be any different from what you describe above?

In the context of this discussion, you can’t trust your sensus divinitatis because billions of people can legitimately use the identical epistemological model to come to a mutually exclusive conclusion. (Again to be clear, this questions only the intuitive detection that Christianity is true, not that God exists.) We’re not talking about a lone mad man who confronts you with nonsense, we are talking about over a third of the world’s population who, like the Christian, believe that there exists an omnipotent being who has the means and desire to provide them with self-authenticating knowledge of the truth of their particular belief. That means that either there is something wrong with the model or something is wrong the employment of the model by either Christians, Muslims, Jews, and monotheistic Hindus. I sketched out a bare way a Muslim might argue that they are properly using the extended A/C model above in a comment to ayer, and it basically seems identical to what is laid out in Warranted Christian Belief, but in favor of Islam instead.

Like I said earlier, I think that the only way for a Christian to avoid this defeater would be to identify a truth giving property that the Holy Spirit has that Allah lacks.

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ayer April 30, 2010 at 8:17 am

I sketched out a bare way a Muslim might argue that they are properly using the extended A/C model above in a comment to ayer, and it basically seems identical to what is laid out in Warranted Christian Belief, but in favor of Islam instead.

I’m afraid your “bare sketch” is not convincing to me, and since a full treatment would require many pages of detailed theological analysis and exegesis, this is not the best place to pursue it. I didn’t see your response to why the Christian and Muslim experiences are mutually exclusive if Allah represents a demonic force generating the Muslim experience? The Christian’s experience could be generated by the Holy Spirit while the Muslim’s is simultaneously generated demonically.

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Josh April 30, 2010 at 8:34 am

No, the whole point of Plantinga’s epistemology is that if 1 is a properly basic belief, you do not need an argument, and the simple fact that someone disagrees is not a defeater for that belief.If I believe 2 + 2 = 4 and someone claims 2 + 2 =5 I require no “argument” or “evidence” to refute them.I am justified in believing they are wrong because my knowledge is properly basic.And it is irrelevant that our two beliefs are mutually exclusive.  

I haven’t read any follow up to this, but I should note that believing 2+2 = 4 is NOT properly basic. c.f. Russell and Whitehead, where they take hundreds of pages just to prove that 1+1 = 2.

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Erik B. April 30, 2010 at 8:37 am

I’ve been *really* busy recently (dissertation, job search, other papers, etc), so I haven’t been looking much at the internets recently, so I’ve only just now found out about these threads. I’ve (briefly) read the posts and have nothing to add (at this time!) but this: thanks for taking the time to consider my argument and object to it. John D, the argument schema is nice. I wrote that paper long ago, but I seem to recall (perhaps my memory is wonky?=p) mapping out the argument in much the same way.

I’ll give the posts a more careful read, and have more to say (hopefully) than “Hai guyz! GOOD JORB!” in the near future. Until then, I’ll lurk — unless have questions for me and/or Mike Thune. I’ll (he’ll/we’ll, as the case may be) get back to you, but there might be a significant lagtime…

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Justfinethanks April 30, 2010 at 9:27 am

Ayer: I’m afraid your “bare sketch” is not convincing to me

Could you possibly do me the trouble of telling what part isn’t convincing? Is it either that 1) There is an essential element that isn’t synomonous with the Christian model or 2) There is an essential element that the Christian model has that the Muslim one lacks. Simply waving it away as “not convincing” doesn’t really help anyone. Please, I want to learn, so tell me where the mistep is.

To quote Baldwin again:

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.

Assuming that that’s true, I think we have a potential defeater to which you have not provided a cogent response, and so its questionable whether your belief in Christianity is still properly basic.

A full treatment would require many pages of detailed theological analysis and exegesis

A full treatment would require that perhaps. But as far as my understanding of WCB goes, I’ve provided enough to make the extended A/C model equally valid to Islam, which is enough to supply a defeater. Unless you can specify to me what is missing. To simply state “it’s not enough” is just goal post moving.

The Christian’s experience could be generated by the Holy Spirit while the Muslim’s is simultaneously generated demonically.

That’s a possible accounting of the Muslim’s experience. But the Muslim believes in Ifirit and other Jinn, whose existence could account for the false experience of Christians, so Islam has a parallel in that regard as well.

Josh: c.f. Russell and Whitehead, where they take hundreds of pages just to prove that 1+1 = 2.

Yeah, I saw that page in Principa Mathmetica once, and it’s pretty funny (especially if you are as mathmatically dim as I am). But I think Ayer’s point was that even prior to complex theroms, one is justified in believing that 1+1 =2.

Erik B.: I’ll give the posts a more careful read, and have more to say (hopefully) than “Hai guyz! GOOD JORB!”

Thanks for stopping by. Some of this stuff is a bit over my head I think, so I certainly hope I have represented the arguments of both you and Plantiga faithfully. If I haven’t, any corrections would be greatly appreciated.

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TaiChi April 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

“The Christian’s experience could be generated by the Holy Spirit while the Muslim’s is simultaneously generated demonically.” ~ Ayer

Is this what you believe? If not, then the alternative model cannot be defeated by appeal to it.

I’m curious. Do you actually believe this?

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Justfinethanks April 30, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Is this what you believe? If not, then the alternative model cannot be defeated by appeal to it.

I think I read somewhere that Plantiga actually believes that demons could account for cognitive problems, but I don’t know if that is actually accurate or just a slander. Plantiga however does go over the “noetic effects of sin” in Warranted Christian Belief, which he seems to argue explains why non-Christians exist. To quote WCB:

The most important cognitive consequence of sin, therefore, is failure to know God. And this failure can have further cognitive consequences.

However, even if demons (or sin’s effect on cognition) successfully account for the Muslim’s experience of Allah on Christianity, it still doesn’t explain why Muslims can use Plantiga’s complete extended A/C model to come to a different conclusion, so I don’t quite understand how the demon proposal deals with Baldwin’s argument.

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TaiChi May 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm

“However, even if demons (or sin’s effect on cognition) successfully account for the Muslim’s experience of Allah on Christianity, it still doesn’t explain why Muslims can use Plantiga’s complete extended A/C model to come to a different conclusion, so I don’t quite understand how the demon proposal deals with Baldwin’s argument.” ~ Justfinethanks

I don’t think it does, but Ayer’s pointing out that a Christian has options with regard to how he interprets the Muslim’s claim, which I take as an implicit concession that the Christian at least needs a story to tell about his differential of his own experiences and those testified to him by a Muslim. That is, I take it that Ayer would build into his model an explanation of a plurality of Plantingian models, like the demons, and point to that as a reason why the existence of such models is not a defeater.

That response is fine and dandy for someone to make – someone who actually believes a model in which demons do play the role of twisting the ‘one true religion’. But I doubt that Ayer believes in such a model, and so raising the possibility does nothing to defend the rationality of his beliefs. He’d be rationalizing, rather than justifying his views.

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ayer May 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

But I doubt that Ayer believes in such a model,

Actually, you are correct, I was just engaging in some thought experiments. I tend to think nonChristian religions are usually genuine expressions of a general experience of God as “the ground of Being.” I am sympathetic, however, to the “sin’s effect on cognition” theory put forth by Plantinga and described by Justfinethanks, which would account for versions of the AC model applied to nonChristian religions.

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John D May 4, 2010 at 8:08 am

I tend to think nonChristian religions are usually genuine expressions of a general experience of God as “the ground of Being.” I am sympathetic, however, to the “sin’s effect on cognition” theory put forth by Plantinga and described by Justfinethanks, which would account for versions of the AC model applied to nonChristian religions.

I’m not sure I fully understand this. Are you saying that, on the one hand, you think all religious experiences are of fundamentally the same “ground of Being”, but that, on the other hand, sin corrupts this experience into the wrong creedal-specific beliefs for some people?

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