Summer Reading Group
June 9, 2009 — 1:05

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Books of Interest  Comments: 16

The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology Beginning the week of June 22nd we will start up our summer reading group for Paul Moser’s recently published book, The Elusive God. Each week a different contributor will take responsibility for kicking off each section with a post. We’ve broken the book up into eight sections by dividing the first three chapters in half. This should help keep the readings for each week easily manageable.
Our own Jonathan Kvanvig had this to say about the book:

“I found The Elusive God to be the most profound and interesting work I have read in the past twenty years at the intersection of philosophy and theology. Instead of beginning with a demand for evidence of the existence of a divine being, the author argues that we should expect any intrusion into our lives of the sort that would convince us that God exists to be authoritative evidence that calls us not only to a cognitive viewpoint but also to a surrendering of our wills. The result of such an investigation is a re-conceptualization of the epistemological landscape relevant to the possibility of the knowledge of God.”

This promises to be an interesting, and perhaps provocative, read. If you want to participate in the reading group, head over to your university library or go on-line to grab a copy of the book.

  • Pumbelo

    I was recently told by a friend that this was one of the best books on philosophy of religion he has ever read.
    IIRC, Moser argues that this world is exactly what we would expect if theism is true (or was it “if christianity is true”?) and even has an argument from divine hiddeness for the existence of God.

    June 9, 2009 — 5:45
  • I read through Moser’s book this past year, and it was very rewarding. For what my endorsement is worth, I think it is the best book-length work on religious epistemology that has been published in the past twenty years. I’m looking forward to watching the online discussion here at the prosblogion.

    June 9, 2009 — 8:39
  • Matthew Mullins

    That’s two twenty-year references now. What’s the benchmark religious epistemology book prior to 1988?

    June 9, 2009 — 12:33
  • Off the top of my head, I would nominate the following as top pre-1988 religious epistemology books.
    Richard Swinburne, Faith and Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.
    Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (eds), Faith and Rationality. Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.
    I always hate doing this, because I know I’ll forget something really important. I trust others with a sharper memory will recall some of the excellent works I’ve forgotten for the moment.

    June 9, 2009 — 12:46
  • Matt Benton

    Matthew: is the prior benchmark work Plantinga and Wolterstorff’s edited volume “Faith and Rationality” (1983)? – It contains the early work by Alston and Plantinga that led to their major books on the topic.

    June 9, 2009 — 12:54
  • Andrew Moon

    Hmm, the co-edited 1983 Plantinga/Wolterstorff volume Faith and Rationality was pretty ground breaking in that Plantinga presented his first very lengthy defense of the view that belief in God can be properly basic. It also included one of the early essays by Alston on the role of religious experience in justifying religious belief. Both Plantinga and Alston would take these materials and eventually give book-length defenses of them. There’s also the article by Wolterstorff, who defends an early version of epistemic conservativism, and there’re some fun short stories by George Mavrodes.

    June 9, 2009 — 14:25
  • Andrew Moon

    looks like a lot of us had the same idea… =)

    June 9, 2009 — 16:06
  • Looking forward to this. I’ve had this on my shelf for some time, and now I have a reason to dig it out . . .

    June 10, 2009 — 12:40
  • Robert Gressis

    So Moser’s book is better than Alston’s 1993 Perceiving God?

    June 11, 2009 — 12:19
  • Robert points out that Moser’s book, if it is the best religious epistemology book in the past 20 years, would be considered more important than Alston’s Perceiving God. Additionally, it would beat out Plantinga’s Warrant trilogy. I’m not certain it is better than those books in terms of its influence (since time will tell the extent of the book’s influence), but I certainly think Moser’s book stands out in terms of being closer to the truth (it is an evidentialist project by Moser’s own confession, although it takes a different approach than traditional evidentialist approaches). So, as an evidentialist sympathizer, I liked Moser’s book because I took it to be a step closer to the truth in contrast to most of the reformed epistemology writings, which are unambiguously anti-evidentialist. But even those who are not sympathetic to evidentialism willmost likely find lots of very interesting and truthful parts in Moser’s book.

    June 11, 2009 — 13:41
  • Andrew Moon

    Hi John,
    What do you mean by “anti-evidentialist”? Is one an anti-evidentialist if ones doesn’t think that having an argument for p is necessary for knowledge that p? Or what do you mean?

    June 11, 2009 — 15:24
  • Andrew, I didn’t have anything very specific in mind by “ant-evidentialist,” but I had the general family of theses that surrounds reformed epistemology in the form that belief in God is basic or that rational belief in God does not require having (internalist) reasons for believing that God exists, etc. Of course many reformed epistemologists may be considered “pro-evidentialism” insofar as they think arguments for theism can (and should in some contexts) be given, even if they are unnecessary for the theist to be justified in believing that God exists. I am thinking of evidentialism in a more narrow way, such that rational belief in God requires adequate justification of an internalist sort. Moser as a foundationalist and internalist presents his religious epistemology in a way that is more at home with my epistemology. Still, I would stress that he is offering a very different approach than traditional evidentialists (such as Swinburne), and perhaps that is why I found the book so fascinating and challenging personally.

    June 11, 2009 — 16:37
  • Andrew Moon

    Hi John,
    Okay, well, I’m not sure what you mean by “internalist reasons”; for example, Michael Huemer might think that seemings are the only good kind of internalist reasons, but other internalists might think that’s too weak. I don’t think there’s any such unified thing as “internalist reasons”.
    But consider that Plantinga thinks that what he calls impulsional evidence in WPF (what he calls ‘doxastic evidence’ in WCB) is necessary for warrant. Plantinga describes impulsional evidence differently in different places, but it’s basically a felt inclination to believe, a seemings, a sense that the proposition in question is true. Actually, it sounds very much like Huemer’s sufficient condition for prima facie justification. Hence, Plantinga might not be anti-evidentialist in this sense since he thinks such evidence is required for warranted belief.
    When I look at the whole of Plantinga’s religious epistemology, what he’s most concerned with attacking is the view that believing on the basis of argument is necessary for justified/warranted Christian belief or for knowledge that God exists. This was the main sort of evidentialism that he was attacking in the early days; I think the attack was pretty thorough and successful, and I know very few Christian philosophers who disagree with this nowadays. Do you disagree with this?
    (There’s a weaker kind of evidentialism of the sort held by Conee and Feldman, which allows for appearances and other mental states and not just justified or warranted belief in an argument to count as evidence. Plantinga attacks this sort of evidentialism too (and I think successfully), but it seems peripheral to his main target.)

    June 11, 2009 — 19:48
  • Hey Andrew, I guess I’m trying to be non-committal in order to avoid getting drawn into a lengthy discussion of my own views (this thread is supposed to be about Moser’s book, not my views about how to carve up the internalism/externalism debate in epistemology). Given your pursuit, I’m not sure that I can maintain my non-committal stance. Here’s a very, very, very short and undefended/unexplained version of my position. I certainly would not count Huemer’s seeming-states to count as good internalist reasons for holding a belief. My own view is that internalist reasons consist of things that show from the subject’s perspective that a belief is likely to be true. As I would cash out the previous sentence, I would not say that Huemer, Pryor, Brewer, and other dogmatist/direct realist views provide internalist reasons that satisfy the subject’s perspective requirement. Epistemologists who have published views that are more in-line with the satisfying the subject’s perspective (as I would construe it) are of the acquaintance variety, such as Richard Fumerton, Evan Fales, Tim McGrew, and Paul Moser. Explaining all of this would take a lot of verbage, and would clearly hijack this thread a long distance from its original subject matter. And I have a hunch that the number of people who would like to see me expound my opinions on these matters is pretty close to zero (even counting myself!). So, I’ll spare everyone the long version.
    Anyway, the important point for the subject matter of this thread is that Moser is trying to do religious epistemology from a robust type of internalism or evidentialism. For that reason, I think the book offers something different compared to the major religious epistemologies published in the past twenty or so years mainly by reformed epistemologists. I also happen to think that means Moser’s view is closer to the truth. But I want to emphasize, once again, that even if you ultimately disagree with Moser’s epistemology, this book will still offer the careful reader a fascinating and philosophically rewarding study of religious epistemology and it even provides some substantial critiques of traditional approaches to evidentialism. Perhaps, it is best to stop pursuing my discussion of evidentialism (after all who cares what I think?), and we can pick up this discussion when Moser discusses his view as a form of evidentialism in the blog posts that follows the reading group.

    June 11, 2009 — 23:59
  • Frederick Aquino

    I am new to the discussion, but have a keen interest in Moser’s book. So,I look forward to the conversation about its main claims and arguments. I am not sure about comparisons. Perhaps, Moser’s reorienting religious epistemology should be viewed in light of antecedent contributions. Alston, Plantinga, and Swinburne (though different), for example, certainly have paved a way for philosophy of religion to be taken seriously.
    I look forward to the discussion about Moser’s actual arguments. Perhaps, what makes his book interesting is the connection between volition and evaluation of evidence. Evidence, for him, is not simply a spectator sport. It requires, at least religiously speaking, a certain kind of posture, a willingness to be well-positioned to receive the available evidence and and knowledge of God (p. 5). Also, his basic claim seems to be that we should “expect evidence of divine reality to be purposively available to humans, that is, in a manner, and only in a manner suitable to divine purposes in self-revelation” (X).
    Thanks for having this discussion; the book is worth the time and exchange.
    Frederick Aquino

    June 12, 2009 — 0:08
  • Andrew Moon

    Hi John,
    Yep, I think you’re right that that’s better for another discussion. Thanks for taking the time to respond to the extent that you did. And I’ve just finished the introduction of the book, and I see that there is much to learn from it!

    June 12, 2009 — 10:49