How could one be both a Reformed epistemologist and a Catholic?

Maybe someone should ask Cardinal Newman?

newman meme

See Stephen Grimm’s paper on Newman being a Reformed epistemologist here:


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Upcoming Conference: British Society For Philosophy of Religion

Tyler Taber and I will be presenting our paper, ‘ ‘Is the Problem of Divine Hiddenness a Problem for the Reformed Epistemologist?,’ at this upcoming conference:

The BSPR’s Eleventh Conference: Divine Hiddenness

Oriel College, Oxford, Thursday 10th through Sunday 13th September  2015

Saturday 12th will focus on the legacy of Richard Swinburne in honour of him on his 80th birthday.

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Joseph Kim, Reformed Epistemology, and the Problem of Religious Diversity

The Problem of Religious Diversity

In giving examples of people who believe that the existence of religious diversity constitutes a defeater for religious belief (especially exclusivist religious belief), in Warranted Christian Belief, Plantinga mentions both the 16th century writer Jean Bodin, who thought that each religion is refuted by all of the other religions, and John Hick, who believed that given the knowledge that we have about the other great world faiths, Christian exclusivism is an unacceptable position. We can summarize the objection from religious diversity as follows: Even if one were to grant that religious belief could be warranted without the internal access that grounds the warrant for that belief, it would appear that one would not be rational in holding to any particular metaphysical doctrine in virtue of the vast amount of other religious claims and beliefs available. This type of argument utilizes the equal weight theory, which holds that one should give equal weight to an epistemic peer’s belief or opinion in the case of epistemic disagreement. The argument can best be illustrated in the following syllogism:

(1) It is unreasonable to hold to one’s views in the face of disagreement since one would need positive reason to privilege one’s views over one’s opponent

(2) No such reason is available since the disagreeing parties are epistemic peers and have access to the same evidence

(3) Therefore, one should give equal weight to the opinion of an epistemic peer and to one’s own opinion in the case of epistemic disagreement. (Kim 2011, 49-50)

Is there a good reason for holding to such a view? The Plantigian, Joseph Kim, has argued that the equal weight theory shouldn’t be seen as a threat to Christian belief for at least three reasons. (Kim 2011, 46-65) First, one could accept the equal weight theory but deny that followers of other religions are epistemic peers. If the Spirit of God actually repaired one’s cognitive faculty and testified to the subject, it wouldn’t appear that the subject would be in the same epistemic situation as a subject who perceives that God has revealed Himself (and a different religion) to them, but in reality the belief was a product of wish fulfillment or some cognitive malfunction. This would be true, even if an onlooker couldn’t tell the difference between the two.

Secondly, it would further appear that if the equal weight theory was true, one could not have knowledge about the right conclusions to philosophical paradoxes and even ‘common sense’ philosophical beliefs (this would even include philosophical beliefs about having knowledge of other minds). (Kim 2011, 54-55)This thought can also be applied to science. Take the example of quantum mechanics: if one top scientist takes a non-realist view while another, who is his epistemic peer, takes a realist view, it would follow that according to the equal weight theory, both of them would need to withhold belief about their interpretation.

Lastly, Kim sees good reason to reject the equal weight theory as it would appear that this argument could be self-defeating. For if philosophers in one category, say category A, affirmed the equal weight theory, while another category of philosophers, say category B, denied the equal weight theory, it would follow that philosophers in both categories would not be warranted in believing in the equal weight theory if they were epistemic peers lacking any convincing reasons to privilege one belief over another. Kim believes that the reasons given here give us enough reason to reject the equal-weight theory and this version of the problem of religious diversity altogether.

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Upcoming Conference Schedule: APA Pacific

Society for Natural Religion
Topic: Natural Religion and Revealed Religion
Chair: Owen Anderson (Arizona State University)
Speakers: Ronald Chicken (University of Georgia)
“Law and General Revelation”
Stephen DeRose (Westminster Theological Seminary)
“The Trinity and Irreducible Ontology: An Alternative to Divine Simplicity”
Tyler McNabb (University of Glasgow)
“Warranted Religion and Natural Theology”

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Paradox in Christian Theology: A Brief Overview


In Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status, James Anderson contributes to the project of reformed epistemology by applying Plantinga’s proper functionalism to the coherence of Christian doctrine, specifically to the doctrines of the trinity and the incarnation. Anderson does this by first articulating and then engaging contemporary philosophical models of the trinity (e.g. Social Trinitarianism) and the incarnation (e.g. Two-Mind View), and in doing so, he argues that such contemporary models lead to unacceptable heresies as defined by the ancient creeds. After establishing that there aren’t any workable models of the trinity or the incarnation (as defined by the creeds), Anderson entertains if a subject could be warranted in believing p, if p was a belief that at least initially, seemed to entail a contradiction. Anderson argues that such a belief could be warranted. For Anderson, in order for a seemingly contradictory belief to be warranted, the subject needs to have properly functioning faculties, successfully aimed at producing true beliefs (and the rest of Plantinga’s conditions). Anderson fleshes out how such faculties could produce belief in certain Christian doctrine (doctrine that initially seems incoherent) by summarizing the following scenarios:

WD1: S’s belief in doctrine D is warranted via personal scholarly study of the biblical texts, coupled with warranted belief in biblical inspiration.

WD2: S’s belief in doctrine D is warranted via understanding and agreement with a scholarly exposition and systematization of biblical teaching, coupled with warranted belief in biblical inspiration.

WD3: S’s belief in doctrine D is warranted via reliable testimony that Scripture teaches D, coupled with warranted belief in biblical inspiration.

WD4: S’s belief in doctrine D is warranted via reliable testimony that D is true. (208)

But as any good Plantingian knows, reflecting for defeaters is apart of the design plan of our cognitive system and if this is the case, wouldn’t the belief that entails an apparent contradiction, inherently predict its own unwarrantedness? Minimally, if subject reflects on the belief produced and the subject lacks a way to clarify why she isn’t affirming a contradiction, wouldn’t the subject at least no longer be in her epistemic right in continuing to believe that the belief doesn’t entail a contradiction? Not necessarily, and for this reason Anderson asks us to consider the case of the Harry, the lay theologian:

Harry is a lay theologian who has been invited by a friend to attend a lecture given by an eminent theologian. Due to a combination of unfavorable conditions (e.g. lack of sleep), Harry drifts in and out of the lecture. At one point, while Harry is listening, Harry hears

(B1) God’s kingdom has arrived.

After listening to this he dozes off and as soon as he awakens again, he hears the following claim:

(B2) God’s kingdom has not arrived.

Harry’s immediate thought is that the lecturer has contradicted himself. But upon being a charitable chap and working off the assumption that the lecturer is a really brilliant guy and thus, wouldn’t likely contradict himself in this way, Harry concludes that the kingdom must be here in one sense but not in another sense. Harry in this circumstance, lacks the tools to be able to articulate why this isn’t a contradiction. He nonetheless, seems to be in his epistemic right in holding to both (B1) and (B2). (223) Similarly, it seems that as long as one willing to grant that there are some aspects of the creeds that are more approximate in language, that is that there is non-univocal language in at least some parts of the creed, it appears that the subject who comes to believe in certain theological propositions (such as the propositions contained in the creeds) in the way described above, could be warranted in believing such propositions, even if it was beyond the subject’s kin to articulate why such propositions actually do not necessarily entail certain contradictions. (235)

Overall, I think this approach is promising. It seems that even if there are good models (which is a very controversial claim) that demonstrate the coherency of the trinity (e.g. Constitutional model) or the incarnation, what Anderson’s book does is help show how it is that most people who affirm the trinity or incarnation could be warranted in believing in such doctrines, even if they weren’t aware of such complicated and technical models. It is for this reason that I think Anderson’s work should be recommended.

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Five resources that an analytic philosopher who is interested in Eastern philosophy should read

1. Eastern Philosophy: The Basics by Victoria Harrison

2. Knowing Beyond Knowledge: Epistemologies of Religious Experience in Classical and Modern Advaita by Thomas Forsthoefel

3. The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika/Engaging Buddhism by Jay Garfield

4. Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction by Jan Westerhoff

5. Warranted Neo-Confucian Belief by David Tien

Honorable Mention: Philosophy of Religion: A Contemporary Introduction by Keith Yandell

Though this book deals with a lot more stuff than just Eastern philosophy, it nevertheless, deserves to be mentioned.

Readers interested in this post might also be interested in my new article (forthcoming in Religious Studies) that addresses if Advaita Vedanta Hinduism can use Plantinga’s epistemology to be warranted. It can be found here.

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The Eavesdropping Podcast

Eavesdropping is a new informal podcast started by my friend Max Andrews at I recently had the pleasure of doing three new episodes with him. See the links below for the following topics:

My recent publication and research

My philosophical and theological views

My Catholicism

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Review of Tyler McNabb’s Discussion on Objections to Plantingian Epistemology

Randy Everist is a philosophy of religion graduate student who has reviewed my paper  “Warranted Religion: Answering Objections to Alvin Plantinga’s Epistemology”(forthcoming in Religious Studies) here.


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