Critiques of Reformed Epistemology

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes - The sleep of reason produces monsters (No. 43), from Los Caprichos - Google Art Project.jpg“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” by the Spanish painter, Francisco Goya

© Joshua H. Shrode – Reprinted with Permission

Reformed Epistemology … is indeed on the rise not just in Christianity, but apologists for Islam have started taking it up as well … (For more here’s a terrible paper written to commemorate the “legacy of Alvin Plantinga who reintroduced Christianity to the academy.” Personally, I wish the Academy had feigned a prior engagement.)

Now, remember that Plantinga claims that theists who argue that God is a properly basic belief are justified via their sensus divinitatis. It is this faculty that is defective in atheists and likely a result of sin. I kid you not. And this conclusion is, like everything it seems, self-justifying. If a being of unimaginable grandeur, power, grace, and justice can be justified “because I feel it’s true” then how is it different from claiming Flat Earthers are correct and justifying it via your sensus Flat-Earthitatis?

Plantinga tries to salvage his argument from ironically devolving into complete and total moral relativism by claiming that others with a sensus divinitatis, and especially other Christians, can still argue within that bubble of shared justified beliefs made true via direct revelation. So at best you get moral relativism, but between groups of theists.

That this is gobsmackingly stupid does nothing to either diminish his standing in Christian circles nor prevent it from, as you [Messerly] suggest, inoculating their worldview against foundational or empirical criticism. So maybe Christianity as a concept does owe much to Plantinga…but he has enabled so many zealots and fundamentalists to cloak their own ignorance in the patina of the academy.

My thoughts

For those interested, the Internet Encyclopedia devotes literally pages and pages to objections to reformed epistemology. It is a most thorough and readily accessible discussion.

For example, “There is a family of objections known as Great Pumpkin objections. These objections get their name from the Peanuts comic strip. In peanuts, the character Linus is a child who believes that each Halloween the Great Pumpkin will come to visit him at the pumpkin patch. What these objections have in common is that they claim that, if reformed epistemology is correct, then belief in God is no more rational than belief in the Great Pumpkin.”

And Wikipedia notes that

other common criticisms of Plantinga’s Reformed epistemology are that belief in God – like other sorts of widely debated and high-stakes beliefs – is “evidence-essential” rather than properly basic;[23] that plausible naturalistic explanations can be given for humans’ supposedly “natural” knowledge of God;[24] that it is arbitrary and arrogant for Christians to claim that their faith-beliefs are warranted and true (because vouched for by the Holy Spirit) while denying the validity of non-Christians’ religious experiences;[25] and that there are important possible “defeaters” of Christian belief that Plantinga fails to address (e.g., passages in the Bible that seem hard to reconcile with his assumption of divine authorship and inerrancy).

Finally, I’m well aware that arguing about such matters convinces almost no one. Believers will still believe, and doubters will still doubt. I viciously attacked these arguments in my previous post, so there isn’t much more to say. But I do worry when beliefs lack evidential justification. As W.K. Clifford argued long ago:  it is immoral to believe things without sufficient evidence. Why? Because your beliefs affect others.

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3 thoughts on “Critiques of Reformed Epistemology

  1. Would accept religion if religionists will confess how religion is ‘necessary escapism’. But they wont even admit something as simple as that! Around n round they go, like a prayer wheel.

  2. I am God; prove me wrong. Let’s start the argument there and see the absurdity. Rest assured I can posit an argument loaded with logical fallacies just as well as the next guy. And for the record, I am an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church—and an atheist. Having travelled this path for so long I am exhausted and find that my feet hurt. All aspects of humanity (including altruism) can be attributed to an evolutionary advantage to perpetuate the species—even theses dumb superstitions. I suggest everyone go and take a course in evolutionary biology and all of this becomes painfully clear. I did. I have literally worked the math as to how it is advantageous to be altruistic—spoiler, its not metaphysical. But hey we can compromise. Unlock the church doors and let the homeless sleep inside the tax free property—26 billion in 2016 according to USA Today—and I will show up every Sunday and not mention anything about Leviticus discussing murdering homosexuals, or Corinthians telling women to shut their mouth or how Jesus, the omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent one, omitted the condemnation of slavery.

    I believe it was Hunter Thompson who said, “Humans beings are the only creature on Earth to claim a god and the only thing that behaves as though is doesn’t have one”. I agree.

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