Bleg: Best Recent Work in Religious Epistemology?
January 16, 2010 — 9:02

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Religious Belief  Comments: 18

I’m thinking of putting together a volume of new and recent work in religious epistemology. I’m not super-happy with much of what I’ve found. What do you think is the best recent stuff? It will come as no surprise to readers to find that I’m most interested in critiques of Reformed Epistemology. Well, that’s not quite true, I always also love critiques of evidentialism–properly understood–because they make good examples of how evidentialism is “misunderestimated.” 🙂 I also had a friend ask for suggestions on this topic, and I don’t want to miss anything in my suggestions.
UPDATE: I’ve pasted below the fold a preliminary list I’ve made for my friend. The formatting is jacked up because I had links to all the books and I had him-specific comments on the items. It’s left it a bit rough looking and all the links were removed by Movabletype.

1. Epistemology As Theology: An Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga’s Religious Epistemology, James Beilby, 2005.
2. The Wisdom to Doubt: A Justification of Religious Skepticism, John Schellenberg, 2007.
3. Believing by Faith: An Essay in the Epistemology and Ethics of Religious Belief, John Bishop, 2007.
4. The Clarity of God’s Existence: The Ethics of Belief After the Enlightenment, Owen Anderson, 2008.
5. The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious EpistemologyThe Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology, Paul Moser, 2008.
6. God and the Ethics of Belief: New Essays in Philosophy of Religion, (eds), 2005.
7. Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, (Geivett and Sweetman), 1992.
8. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Moreland and Craig), 2003.
9. The Philosophy of Religion: An Historical Introduction, Zagzebski, 2007.
10. Faith And Philosophical Analysis: The Impact of Analytical Philosophy on the Philosophy of Religion (eds.), 2005.
Here are some articles
1. “Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology: What’s the Question?” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 2005.
2. “Reformed epistemology and Christian apologetics,” Sudduth, Religous Studies, 2003.
3, 4, 5.. Papers by Christian Miller and Duncan Pritchard in Basic Belief and Basic Knowledge, (Renee Woudenberg, ed). 2005.
These papers are well worth looking at (you probably know Renee, he’s a great guy). There’s also a paper by Christian Weidemann called “Why theistic belief is probably not warranted even if it’s true.”
Duncan’s is called “Reforming reformed epistemology” and is one that I’m wanting him to develop for my anthology.
Here are some minor references: Wolterstorff “The Reformed Tradition” in Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion, 1999. Quinn, “Epistemology in Philosophy of Religion,” Oxford Handbook of Epistemology, 2002.
And here’s a dissertation at St. Andrews comparing your work to that of Karl Barth.
Some others: I don’t think all the essays in Linda’s edited volume get all the attention they deserve, though it’s out of print, certainly hers is still worth reading. Richard has recently revised his _Faith and Reason_, that book is truly worth a second look, and people would love to hear you comment on his work. Indeed, it’s a full “second edition” in 1995. There’s more discussion of RE in it. In fact, he says in the Preface that half the reason for the new edition is the need to respond to RE. Man, that would be great to see you go through that! LINK TO SECOND ED

  • Nathan King

    Though it may not be as new as you’d like, van Inwagen’s paper on Clifford’s Principle is excellent, for several reasons. It points out a double-standard in certain strands of evidentialist objection to religious belief; it countenances a broad (non-dialectical) conception of evidence; and it prefigures some important moves in the current disagreement literature.

    January 16, 2010 — 10:57
  • Trent Dougherty

    Thanks Nate. One correction: It should be “*purports* to point out a double-standard” since, in fact, there is none. 🙂
    He actually has two very new pieces on the Clifford case. One composed just last year for a gig in England. The other may or may not even be out yet in Rich and Fritz’s volume on disagreement.

    January 16, 2010 — 12:03
  • One thing to look out for is James Kelly Clark and Ray VanArragon’s forthcoming collection, Evidence and Religious Belief. A number of those essays are within the domain of religious epistemology. (I’ve read only my own chapter, so I’m not necessarily recommending the book.)
    I’m pretty sure that if you consider only Mike Bergmann’s students with the initials “CST”, my paper in that volume is the very best religious epistemology paper ever! (It also would be the worst, but I don’t like dwelling on that fact.) It argues for two main claims: 1) phenomenal conservatism is better than proper functionalism and 2) if PC is true, then evidentialism isn’t a significant obstacle to justified religious belief.

    January 16, 2010 — 13:41
  • Nathan King

    I said that he points out a double-standard in *certain strands* of evidentialist objection. This leaves it open that other strands of evidentialist objection don’t commit the error. Some evidentialists are more careful than others. Perhaps some version of the evidentialist objection succeeds. If so, I doubt it’s the version that PvI discusses in the paper.

    January 16, 2010 — 14:08
  • Trent Dougherty

    Thanks Chris,
    We are on EXACTLY the same page here. Exactly.
    I’ve been arguing that for years, I wish I’d known I had company.
    It is, I should note, the main view among my former colleagues at Rochester.

    January 16, 2010 — 14:09
  • And I thought I was the sole voice of reason crying out in the wilderness. Of course, being in the land of proper functionalism right now, those around me are more likely to view me as the village idiot than the voice of reason. In any case, how did so many proponents of PC end up at Rochester? Do either Conee or Feldman actually endorse PC?

    January 16, 2010 — 15:22
  • Jeremy Pierce

    For future reference, if you change the format to rich text mode before you paste, it should keep the HTML, including the links.

    January 16, 2010 — 18:12
  • tedlagebreyesus

    Tim and Lydia McGrew’s Internalism and Epistemology: The Architecture of Reason (Routledge, 2007) which engages Alston and Plantinga in an extended manner from a perspective of internalist evidentialism;
    though the book is not primarily on religious epistemology.
    Also, Tim’s “Has Plantinga Refuted the Historical Argument?” Philosophia Christi 6 (2004): 7-26, and also “On the Historical Argument: A Rejoinder to Plantinga” With Lydia McGrew. Philosophia Christi 8 (2006): 23-38.
    Also, Paul Moser: The Evidence for God (CUP, 2010), in which Moser engages Plantinga’s works.

    January 17, 2010 — 20:48
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    I’m not an epistemologist, but I do think the book by Tom Sullivan and Sandy Menssen, _The Agnostic Inquirer: Revelation from a Philosophical Standpoint_ (Eerdmans Publishing, 2007), deserves mention. (Full disclosure: they are former colleagues of mine.)

    January 18, 2010 — 7:01
  • Andrew

    I second the Sullivan/Menssen book.

    January 18, 2010 — 7:35
  • Andrew Moon

    Hey Chris,
    Conee defends what he calls “Seeming Evidentialism” in one of the first articles in their book “Evidentialism”, which is very much like PC.

    January 18, 2010 — 11:29
  • Hey Andrew, I’m aware of that chapter, but I didn’t think Conee actually endorses Seeming Evidentialism there. I thought he just treated it as a plausible example of an evidentialism. Conee and Feldman also seem to distance themselves from PC (or one possible application) in their “Evidence” (Smith’s Epistemology: New Essays).

    January 18, 2010 — 16:37
  • Trent Dougherty

    Thanks guys!
    Nate, I say there’s NO strand of evidentialism like that, for if it has that property, then it’s not any strand of evidentialism! But more seriously, I wonder who you could be talking about.
    Chris, true, Earl says he’s only using it as an example there, but he wouldn’t do that if he didn’t think it was a plausible variety, and with Earl, those declamations don’t mean as much because he’s ultra-cautious at his least cautious. But if you look at the roots in Chisholm, I think PC is a pretty natural way to unify the commonsense tradition. It’s not obvious, actually, that Fumerton’s view isn’t pretty much the same thing. It’s just a simple way to put that grand tradition concerning the “testimony of the senses”. I don’t think Mike thinks he’s defending anything original. Certainly Rich and Earl think they’re defending the obvious. See also Rich’s “Having Evidence.” In my forthcoming volume, Swinburne criticizes that piece, but his credulism is also akin to PC. Reid was probably not the first to articulate it, but he’s the proximate source. It actually goes back to some of the Stoics.

    January 19, 2010 — 19:39
  • Hey Trent, thanks. I actually don’t think Swinburne’s principle of credulity is much like PC. He often talks like it is, but when he gives the clearest formulations it’s not much like PC at all. Consider a belief B. Also consider a higher-level belief that B is .7 probable. Swinburne principle of credulity seems to say that the higher-level belief will make B .7 prima facie probable, no matter how irrational or insane the higher-level belief is. So Swinburne seems to take a very unusual line for a foundationalist, namely that unjustified (higher-level) beliefs can justify.

    January 20, 2010 — 7:44
  • Trent Dougherty

    What’s the conflict?
    I’m working from 2001, p. 141. See esp. n.14.

    January 20, 2010 — 15:12
  • I quite liked William Abraham’s 2006 book, Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation. Abraham has done excellent work as a philosophical theologian, having studied under Basil Mitchell. Abraham also has an article in Moser’s collection, Jesus and Philosophy, called “The Epistemology of Jesus: An initial investigation.”

    January 20, 2010 — 17:32
  • Trent, I certainly admit that, at times (maybe most of the time), Swinburne certainly talks as though he endorses something like phenomenal conservatism (PC). But at others (i) he seems committed to denying at least the spirit of PC and (ii) his Principle of Credulity seems very unlike PC.
    In favor of (i): I think of seemings as certain type of experience with propositional content and a special phenomenal character. I think Huemer has a similar view. Although PC is typically presented as a mere sufficient condition, it’s spirit is that seemings, i.e. experiences of a certain kind, provide prima facie justification for their content. But Swinburne seems to deny that experiences play this role: “And since one can at a given time only respond to the sensory content of one’s present experiences in virtue of one’s beliefs about what that is, it would seem that it is only the latter (and not the former) which are relevant. Hence, if one has ten spots in front of one’s eye’s, but believes there are only nine spots, it is only the rational response to the latter belief which is relevant to synchronic justification” (“Evidentialism,” forthcoming in the 2nd edition to A Companion to Philosophy of Religion). In his 2001 book, he says “To the extent to which one believes that one has perceived some state of affairs, then the prior probability of a basic belief that it has occurred will be higher than its intrinsic probability” (148). Notice, it is the belief about the experience, not the experience itself that does the epistemic work. The apparent implication is that, if you keep your beliefs fixed, and swap all your experiences for very different ones, you would be just as rational as you are now.
    In favor of (ii): “And, so I suggest, the Principle of Credulity is to be construed more precisely as the principle that every basic belief is as probable as the believer believes it to be in virtue of the mere fact that he believes it to be thus probable” (“Evidentialism”). The apparent implication (which is very foreign to PC) is that these higher-level beliefs can confer prima facie justification no matter whether they are rational or not. (Swinburne says, “The strength of a belief in a proposition is a matter of how probable the believer believes it to be” (“Evidentialism”). Hence, I *think* the above construal of the Principle of Credulity is supposed to be equivalent to something in the neighborhood of this: the strength of one’s belief in P provides prima facie justification for P to the degree that one believes P (or would believe P in the absence of defeaters). This sounds like epistemic rather than phenomenal conservatism.

    January 21, 2010 — 9:20
  • I think the pivotal issue is what counts as the phenomenal content one hosts at a time. My tradition–Chisholm/Gettier/Markie/Feldman/Conee/Fumerton–has caused me to think a lot about speckled hen kinds of cases, which are relevant here. I’m not sure it’s up, but I did the Evidence entry for Oxford Bibliographies Online, and I have an introduction to a section on the speckled hen problem that might be relevant here. Also, Richard’s chapter in my forthcoming volume on evidence addresses these issues directly (I’ll send you a copy if you like, it’s an updating of the 2001 material to specifically reply to Rich’s “Having Evidence”.
    My concern is this. I don’t hold much hope for an account of “experience” which can draw any relevant epistemic distinctions between sensuous phenomenal content and other kinds of phenomenal content, e.g. intellectual seemings.
    So there’s something it’s like to believe that one sees 10 spots. Having *that* experience is an evidential ground for the proposition “I see 10 spots” or “There are 10 spots before me.” So even though Richard explicitly defends a doxastic theory of evidence in the chapter, there is necessarily concomitant with any belief–I think, and if not, then any epistemically relevant belief–a phenomenal content.
    This is one possible way to explain Richard’s vacillating between propositional and experiential descriptions of basic evidence. And note that we could refer to *either* of them as “doxastic” since, in my view, any doxastic state has both a phenomenology and a propositional content. (Another explanation is that he intentionally wants to leave open either possibility.)
    By the way, my criticism of the Feldman Conee chapter in my recent NDPR review is given at greater length in my book, so this is something I’m really interested in.
    Brian Turi and have also been discussion the ontology of reasons. If you haven’t seen his posts on this at Certain Doubts, you really ought to check them out. I might post about this over on Certain Doubts actually, since the content has become more relevant to that venue.
    Good questions.

    January 21, 2010 — 12:03