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Evidentialism and Reformed Epistemology

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demurph

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God, Basic Belief, and the Great Pumpkin
« on: September 17, 2007, 10:16:42 pm »
Reformed Epistemology is a term that is applied to a very broad group of theories that state that belief in God can be "properly basic" (which is simply to say that it is a belief that can reasonably be used as a foundational belief without needing to be proved from other priorly established beliefs).  I myself tend to lean toward Reformed Epistemology for various reasons that for space reasons I won't go into.  However, while I have been happy to tentatively embrace this position, there are a lot of people who feel as if there are serious problem with this theory.  
  One of the objections brought against certain versions of Reformed Epistemology (particularly Alvin Plantinga's version) is called "The Great Pumpkin" objection.  Basically, why is it that belief in God is properly basic and belief in other beings, for example, the Great Pumpkin (whom Linus waited for every Halloween in the Peanuts comic strip and never came) is not?  The worry is that there isn't a way for Plantinga and his followers to allow belief in God to be properly basic without allowing others to count very bizarre and absurd beliefs to be properly basic as well.  To put it more succinctly, if belief in God is properly basic, what doesn't count as properly basic?  
  So, folks, what do you think about all of this?  What are you opinions?  Discuss!

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cbond

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« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2007, 10:46:07 pm »
Hey there Demurph,

This is a very interesting issue that you've brought to the table. This is, in fact, a concern that I have of RE, as it seems difficult (to me at least) to demonstrate how belief in God is any more properly basic than belief in fairies or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I think the main thing that I am concerned with is how Reformed Epistemology differs from blind faith. I'm sure there is a differentiation that needs to be made between those two ideas and that they are not one in the same. I think that if this differentiation can be made, there is much to say in favor of Reformed Epistemology. What is your take on this issue?


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sirhemlock

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« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2007, 11:46:13 pm »
demurph wrote:  One of the objections brought against certain versions of Reformed Epistemology (particularly Alvin Plantinga's version) is called "The Great Pumpkin" objection.  Basically, why is it that belief in God is properly basic and belief in other beings, for example, the Great Pumpkin (whom Linus waited for every Halloween in the Peanuts comic strip and never came) is not?

One problem is that no one really believes in the Great Pumpkin, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or a Teapot orbiting Mars. They are parodies. By contrast, millions believe in God.

demurph wrote: To put it more succinctly, if belief in God is properly basic, what doesn't count as properly basic?


I would say parodies (even clothed in philosophical language) do not count as properly basic because not even those who posit them believe in them. As far as belief in fairies, bigfoot, shadowpeople, mothman, etc. these are not over proper basicality at all and never have been.
 
Acts 17:23  23 "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.


This raises the possibility of eschatological verification of a properly basic in an alternate form from what was conceived "through the glass darkly"; cf. James Sennett's essay "Worthy of a Better God" which I posted under "The Unevangelized Heathen" on page 3 of "Choose Your Own Topic" for a philosophical discussion of C. S. Lewis' version of this.


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Drm970

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« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2007, 03:40:29 am »
I think the general answer might be that Plantinga's model, at least, offers us reason why we would think belief in God was properly basic. If the Christian God exists, there seems to be good reason to believe that any belief in Him would be something like a properly basic belief(for the believer).

Is it similar in the other cases? Is it the case in all of these strange cases of belief that, if the objects of the beliefs existed, we would have good reason to think our belief in them would be properly basic?


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Luke Martin

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« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2007, 09:20:49 am »

I'm no epistemologist, but it strikes me that y'all need to define what you mean by proper basicality.  Belief in the great pumpkin is alleged to be properly basic with respect to what?  Justification?  Rationality?  Warrant?  It is my understanding that Plantinga is more than happy to grant that belief in the great pumpkin can be properly basic with respect to justification, since it's so easy for a belief to be justified.  But belief in the great pumpkin would not be properly basic with respect to warrant (i.e., it wouldn't be warranted without any doxastic evidence for it) because such a belief doesn't meet his conditions for warrant.  Christian belief, if Christianity is true, does meet those conditions.


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God, Basic Belief, and the Great Pumpkin
« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2007, 01:07:11 pm »

I think the answer lies in whether or not one has defeaters of one's beliefs. I believe Plantinga holds that a belief could be properly basic but have defeaters (reasons for doubting it). In that case (if the defeaters are good ones) one should doubt that belief on rational grounds. For example, say Bob, while walking home one night, encounters a ghost. This apearence seems real to Bob. Further, let us assume that Bob forms a belief based on this assumtion(that a ghost apeared to him) and this belief is properly basic. However, Bob later discovers that the headach medicine he took that night was laced with LSD. Furthermore, he had wathced a movie with a ghost in it that same night, and the ghost he encountered looked a lot like the ghost in the movie. These would all qualify as defeaters of Bobs's belief that a ghost appeared to him.  

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Drm970

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God, Basic Belief, and the Great Pumpkin
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2007, 02:31:11 pm »
I don't recall Plantinga explicitly defining proper basicality. He just gives examples of beliefs that he thinks are properly basic. Belief in the external world, belief in other minds, etc.

His answer to the pumpkin objection in WCB is along the lines of yes, belief in the Great Pumpkin can be justified internally, specifically deontologically. A Great Pumpkinite considers all the evidence for and against belief in the Great Pumpkin, and believes the evidence points to the positive. That person is (internally)justified with respect to that belief. However, they might be evaluating the evidence so because of a dysfunction in their cognitive faculties, so they are not (externally)warranted in that belief, and thus it doesn't count as knowledge.


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demurph

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« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2007, 10:37:35 am »

cbond wrote: Hey there Demurph,

This is a very interesting issue that you've brought to the table. This is, in fact, a concern that I have of RE, as it seems difficult (to me at least) to demonstrate how belief in God is any more properly basic than belief in fairies or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I think the main thing that I am concerned with is how Reformed Epistemology differs from blind faith. I'm sure there is a differentiation that needs to be made between those two ideas and that they are not one in the same. I think that if this differentiation can be made, there is much to say in favor of Reformed Epistemology. What is your take on this issue?

  Reformed epistemology is different from blind faith because the reformed epistemologist will not say to believe even when there is evidence to the contrary.  They all admit that there are theoretically points where a believer might be rationally compelled to give up their belief in God.  Take Plantinga for example.  In his latest book Warranted Christian Belief he takes an entire section of the book to argue for the proper basicality of theism and Christianity in particular, and then spends the last four or five chapters dealing with objections to Theism like the problem of evil.  Blind faith tends to ignore the latter issues, and believe no matter what the case is.  


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demurph

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God, Basic Belief, and the Great Pumpkin
« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2007, 11:11:55 am »

sirhemlock wrote:
One problem is that no one really believes in the Great Pumpkin, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or a Teapot orbiting Mars. They are parodies. By contrast, millions believe in God.

Quote from: demurph
To put it more succinctly, if belief in God is properly basic, what doesn't count as properly basic?


I would say parodies (even clothed in philosophical language) do not count as properly basic because not even those who posit them believe in them. As far as belief in fairies, bigfoot, shadowpeople, mothman, etc. these are not over proper basicality at all and never have been.

Acts 17:23  23 "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.


This raises the possibility of eschatological verification of a properly basic in an alternate form from what was conceived "through the glass darkly"; cf. James Sennett's essay "Worthy of a Better God" which I posted under "The Unevangelized Heathen" on page 3 of "Choose Your Own Topic" for a philosophical discussion of C. S. Lewis' version of this.

 So, you're saying that for a belief to be considered properly basic, it has to be a widely shared belief?  That seems too relativistic.  If that is the case, then it seems like the first converts to Christianity that didn't see Jesus after his resurrection would not have been able to count it as properly basic, since Christian belief was not widely believed.  Also, there are people who in fact believe in bigfoot, and the mothman (not many, but a few), so, I'm not sure what you meant by that.  
  Are you trying to say that if these beliefs were able to be considered properly basic, overall, we would probably believe in them?  Because, if that's what you're trying to say, then I think that you might be onto something...

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loko5

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« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2007, 03:29:12 pm »

Well, I prefer to take a pragmatic approach.  Why do we develop these philosophical arguments at all?  It seems to me we have two reasons for developing an argument:  to convince ourselves of the truth of our beliefs, and to convince others of the truth of our beliefs.  Reformed epistemology may be helpful for the first purpose but is useless for the second.  How could you hope to convince an agnostic of the existence of God by declaring the existence of God to be a properly basic belief?  They would just laugh at you, and rightfully so I think.  You have done nothing to convince them.  Now, to present this argument to a believer is another matter.  I think the great majority of Christians have a gut feeling, an instinct, that God exists, and can sense God's presence in their lives.  Reformed epistemology assures them that this is indeed a universal perception among believers, and can be taken to be properly basic.  But to convince a non-believer, I think it better to start from a set of properly basic beliefs that everyone, or nearly everone, can agree to and work from there.  There are, I think, very convincing probabilistic arguments for God's existence that can be made from these basic premises.


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demurph

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God, Basic Belief, and the Great Pumpkin
« Reply #10 on: September 23, 2007, 10:19:22 pm »
loko5 wrote: Well, I prefer to take a pragmatic approach.  Why do we develop these philosophical arguments at all?  It seems to me we have two reasons for developing an argument:  to convince ourselves of the truth of our beliefs, and to convince others of the truth of our beliefs.  Reformed epistemology may be helpful for the first purpose but is useless for the second.  How could you hope to convince an agnostic of the existence of God by declaring the existence of God to be a properly basic belief?  They would just laugh at you, and rightfully so I think.  You have done nothing to convince them.  Now, to present this argument to a believer is another matter.  I think the great majority of Christians have a gut feeling, an instinct, that God exists, and can sense God's presence in their lives.  Reformed epistemology assures them that this is indeed a universal perception among believers, and can be taken to be properly basic.  But to convince a non-believer, I think it better to start from a set of properly basic beliefs that everyone, or nearly everone, can agree to and work from there.  There are, I think, very convincing probabilistic arguments for God's existence that can be made from these basic premises.

  The latter half of your posting, I totally agree with.  I do think that this is a perfectly good way for one to come up with a reason for the rationality of faith.  But, that being said, I'm not so sure that proper basicality can't be used as an argument for theism.  It seems to be a good argument for positions in other debates.  For example, in the philosophy of time, the A-Theory of time and the objectivity of temporal becoming is sometimes argued for on the grounds that mind independence of temporal becoming is a properly basic belief about the external world.  If it's legitimate to argue that in that context, why on earth is it not okay to argue for theism on the same grounds?  Whether or not someone finds this a convincing argument doesn't strike me as an argument against it.  To paraphrase David Lewis, the validity of an argument is not something that can be refuted by an incredulous stare or laughing.

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loko5

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« Reply #11 on: September 27, 2007, 12:50:53 pm »

demurph wrote: I'm not so sure that proper basicality can't be used as an argument for theism.  It seems to be a good argument for positions in other debates.  For example, in the philosophy of time, the A-Theory of time and the objectivity of temporal becoming is sometimes argued for on the grounds that mind independence of temporal becoming is a properly basic belief about the external world.  If it's legitimate to argue that in that context, why on earth is it not okay to argue for theism on the same grounds?  Whether or not someone finds this a convincing argument doesn't strike me as an argument against it.  To paraphrase David Lewis, the validity of an argument is not something that can be refuted by an incredulous stare or laughing.

Temporal becoming can be argued as properly basic because it is in some way a universal sense that people have. Even those people who hold to a B-theory of time, I think, can understand why someone could legitimately consider it properly basic, and in a debate would proceed to argue why they believe that one's instincts about this are wrong.  I am convinced, however, that most agnostics and atheists really have not experienced God's presence. The theist, of course, could explain this by noting that they have shut God out of their lives, but this argument is likely to be unconvincing to the great majority of agnostics. They will simply dismiss your argument prima facie. As I said, I tend to be pragmatic about this. When trying to convince someone of the truth, it is best to choose an argument that they will at least consider.


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Daniel Pech

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« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2008, 11:42:46 pm »
Never mind belief in God, the god-concept is a properly basic concept.

Like the perfect circle and infinity, the god-concept can be denied as representing an actual God only by the concept first being conceived. The concept needs no warrant in order to be conceived, it simply is conceived.

'Natural atheism', on the other hand, is not a properly basic belief: it is the initial absence of a conciously held god-concept, like the initial absence of the conscious knowledge of the laws of motion.

So, philosophical atheism is comparible to asserting that the laws of motion are really only order-baised descriptions of ultimately random phenomenon.
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brady

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« Reply #13 on: March 11, 2008, 04:50:02 pm »
It is called "reformed epistemology" because it has two parts:

1) it's reformed (reformation)

2) it's epistemology (theory of knowledge)

Let's take the second part first. It basically says that all world views, other than Christianity, do not have the necessary elements to get to knowledge. To hold to these world views, you must give up the concept of knowledge.

Let any other world views = X.

If X is true, then there is no knowledge. If there is knowledge, then X is false.

The next part deals with reform theology. Reform epistemology then goes on to show that the same is true of other theological positions attached to Christainity: Pelagianism Semi-pelagianism  and Arminianism.

Thus reform theology shows that the only way to get to knowledge is from a reformed Christian position.

Brady


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God, Basic Belief, and the Great Pumpkin
« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2008, 09:30:50 am »
The idea behind presuppositional apologetics is that everyone has certain presuppositions(or "properly basic beliefs", as WLC puts it). A person's collection of presuppositions is called a worldview.

Because presuppositions are so basic and have such an impact on the rest of a person's mindset, one must consider if his or her worldview is logically consistent--that is, none of the presuppositions or the conclusions which logically follow from those presuppositions contradict one another. If they do, and the worldview is logically inconsistent, then the worldview cannot be true.

One must consider the worldview as a whole and not simply each individual presupposition.
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