Responses To Alston’s RE
November 5, 2010 — 11:24

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Religious Belief  Tags: , ,   Comments: 15

Regarding religious epistemology, I’m much more well-versed in Plantinga’s work than Alston’s. I’m starting to fix this. I just read his 1986 JPhil paper “Perceiving God” (I taught it for my class) and was quite impressed. He was arguing for an epistemic parity between cases of belief based on sense perception and belief based on religious experience, and he takes on about eight objections which argue for a disparity. Alston responds either that the objections either make use of a double standard (e.g., both require epistemic circularity to justify themselves as sources of belief) or do not point out an epistemic disparity. I hope to read the book Perceiving God some day soon.
Here’s the point of this post. I was wondering if readers of this blog knew some of the key works in philosophy that critically respond to Alston’s claims to parity. I’m also interested in knowing what the best critical responses to Alston’s religious epistemology work are in general. I know that for any well known book, there are your little articles here and there, but I’m most interested in the ones that have actually been influential. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Sudduth has a biolography on religious epistemology. See section 6.

    November 5, 2010 — 18:58
  • Andrew Moon

    thanks, that’s very helpful.
    Anybody know what’s good?

    November 5, 2010 — 19:21
  • I couldn’t tell you what’s good, but I vaguely remember Evan Fales saying that he’s written a few papers on this stuff. I hope that’s not off base.

    November 5, 2010 — 19:29
  • Andrew Moon

    Also, more than what’s “good” (or what readers found to be “good”), what’s been influential or been seen to be a substantive challenge to Alston’s view?

    November 5, 2010 — 20:05
  • Ted Poston

    Check out Evan Fales’ two articles “Scientific Explanations of Religious Experience” I & II in Religious Studies (1996)

    November 6, 2010 — 12:35
  • Andrew Moon

    thanks Ted!

    November 6, 2010 — 15:31
  • Derrick

    It’s been awhile since I read it, but I think Duncan Pritchard’s wrote something on Alston’s here:

    November 6, 2010 — 18:23
  • I don’t know how influential it will turn out to be, since it’s so recent, but John Turri’s article “Practical and Epistemic Justification in Alston’s Perceiving God,” Faith and Philosophy 25:3 (2008) is available here:
    It challenges the following crucial premise of Alston’s argument: “If it is practically rational to engage in a doxastic practice, then it is epistemically rational to suppose that said practice is reliable.” Folks have complained for years about that premise, including me in my 1993 review of Alston’s book. My review cites a couple of early responses to Alston. How influential those have been, I don’t know.
    [The review is found here: ]

    November 7, 2010 — 12:19
  • Andrew Moon

    Thank you Steve.
    Maybe I should clarify what I mean by “influential.” Whenever anybody brings up reliabilism, immediately, anybody who knows the literature will think of BonJour’s clairvoyance example and Cohen’s New Evil Demon Problem. Regarding Plantinga’s views about properly basic belief in God, people will think of the Great Pumpkin Objection (which, I think, Plantinga originally raised to himself). So, I think that for a lot of views, there are those two or three arguments or objections that many people are aware of. Maybe the literature on this topic has not solidified enough for there to be such a “standard objection”.

    November 7, 2010 — 12:51
  • Jeremy Pierce

    I can’t help you with responses, but I have an anecdote to share about Perceiving God. Apparently Alston had asked Jonathan Bennett to read the thing, expecting him to give many trenchant criticisms and to be so resistant to the project that he’d provide a nice foil for him to have to respond to. It turned out Bennett considered it one of the most compelling pieces of epistemology he’d ever read, and he pushed Alston to consider the fact that (sociologically speaking) no one would read it except those interested in philosophy of religion, insisting that it deserved a wider audience. So he begged him to rewrite it but focusing on sense perception issues without dealing so much with the religious epistemology side, and that’s why we have Alston’s The Reliability of Sense Perception. When Alston dealt with those issues in class, however, he always assigned excerpts of Perceiving God. It was mostly due to Bennett’s insistence that even most epistemologists wouldn’t be exposed to it that he wrote the other book. He was never fond of it in that form.

    November 8, 2010 — 11:15
  • Andrew Moon

    Thanks for the interesting story, Jeremy. I’ve heard people say (either this blog or Leiter’s blog, I can’t remember) in response to how Christians appeal to the fact that there are smart Christian philosophers (Plantinga, Alston, PvI) that their nonphil. religion stuff is great, but they turn soft when it comes to their phil. religion stuff. I wonder where they get this idea. In Alston’s case, it looks like it was his phil. religion stuff that helped motivate his general epistemology stuff. I think part of the problem is still that many philosophers just aren’t reading phil. religion even when there’s excellent phil. religion work. Not sure how to help this situation get better.

    November 9, 2010 — 9:44
  • Keith DeRose

    I don’t make Sudduth’s bib, but say what’s wrong with Alston’s parity argument in a paper, the draft of which is available here:
    It relies on some points argued for earlier in the paper, but my treatment of Alston is in the last section, beginning on p. 22.

    November 9, 2010 — 20:04
  • There is a powerful (though I think not insurmountable) critique of parity arguments in Richard Gale’s On the Nature and Existence of God.

    November 11, 2010 — 9:08
  • Graham Veale

    Alston and Fales exchange fire in “Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion” ) Blackwell 2004(Peterson and van Arragon eds)
    They talk past another, in my opinion. Alston doesn’t really deal with scientific accounts of Religious Experience, and Fales doesn’t really acknowledge that these need not be fatal to Alston’s project.
    Still, it might be worth a read.

    November 21, 2010 — 16:33
  • Andrew Moon

    Thanks Keith, Alex, and Graham!

    November 21, 2010 — 22:58