Friday, December 23, 2011

Old Epistemology, New Epistemology, and Natural Theology

As we near the end of another year, it's natural to look back on the highlights of the year's events. In a similar spirit, I've been looking back on the highlights of recent and semi-recent work in philosophy of religion, with special focus on religious epistemology.  Epistemology has come a long way over the last several decades, and the insights gained along the way have, for the most part, been helpfully applied to issues in philosophy of religion. Two familiar examples include:

(i) Bayesianism and IBE: Theists (most prominently, Richard Swinburne) have employed Bayes' Theorem and inferences to the best explanation in their formulations of individual arguments (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, etc.) and cumulative case arguments for theism. And non-theists (e.g., Paul Draper and William Rowe) have done the same for (e.g.) the problem of evil.

(ii) Epistemic externalism: Theists (most prominently, Alvin Plantinga) have argued that belief in God can be warrant-basic for a person if their beliefs are formed in a suitably reliable way, even if one doesn't know that such a belief is reliably formed.

But more recent trends include:

(iii) The epistemology of disagreement:  It seems that when a person becomes aware that an equally competent and informed person disagrees with them about an issue, this undermines their evidence to some extent.    A number of philosophers (e.g., Conee, Feldman, Kraft, et al.) have applied the point to religious propositions, arguing that disagreement between epistemic peers A and B with respect to some religious proposition P functions as at least a partial defeater for their respective beliefs about P. 

(iv) Contextualism/pragmatic encroachment: A number of philosophers (e.g., DeRose, Fantl & McGrath, et al.) have argued that whether one knows (or is justified in believing) something depends, at least in part, on the practical stakes involved in getting it right: higher practical stakes entail higher standards for knowledge (or justified belief); lower practical stakes entail lower standards for knowledge (or justified belief).  Rizzieri has brought this thesis to bear on the rationality of theistic belief; McBrayer has employed it in a defense of the skeptical theist response to the evidential problem of evil; and John Hawthorne has a research project underway that aims to justify the rationality of religous belief via appeal to a contextualism/pragmatic encroachment.  

(v) Phenomenal conservatism: A number of philosophers (e.g., Huemer, Conee, Feldman, et al.) have argued that the way things seem is at least prima facie, pro tanto justification for the way things are (absent defeaters). Chris Tucker has used phenomenal conservatism to defend the rationality of theistic belief, and Trent Dougherty recently employed something like phenomenal conservatism in his recent "devil's advocate" defense of the problem of evil in F&P.

(vi) The epistemology of testimony: Ever since at least the publication of C.A.J. Coady's Testimony: A Philosophical Study, much attention has been focused on whether testimony can function as a basic source of at least prima facie pro tanto justification for beliefs. Some theists (e.g., Thomas Crisp) have applied insights in epistemology of testimony literature to argue that it can be reasonable to believe religious claims (including, e.g., the inspiration of the Bible) on the basis of testimony.

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