Plantinga on Warrant and Religious Belief

Dissertation, King's College London (2004)

Authors
B. J. C. Madison
United Arab Emirates University
Abstract
My thesis is on the intersection of epistemology and the philosophy of religion. Contemporary religious epistemology asks the question of how, if at all, can religious belief be rationally justified. I focus on a relatively new tradition that responds to this question known as Reformed Epistemology, as advanced by Alvin Plantinga. Reformed Epistemologists argue that belief in God can be rational, reasonable, and justified without appeal to evidence as was traditionally thought. Plantinga argues that religious belief stems from an innate faculty which produces properly basic beliefs that need not rest on any other beliefs for their justification. My aim is to critically examine these claims. My thesis begins in section I with a discussion of Plantinga’s early attacks on classical foundationalism and Evidentialism, that is, the view that being rational means according one's belief with the evidence. His early goal is to discredit the Evidentialist objection by rebutting the flawed epistemological system he argues it presupposes. In so doing, Plantinga attempts to loosen the canons of basicality to include the belief in God as properly basic. In section II I then discuss Plantinga’s notion of warrant, which is his term for justification – the hallmark difference between true belief and knowledge. After examining the tenability of Plantinga’s concept of what makes belief warranted, I examine how successfully he specifically applies this notion of justification to religious belief. Plantinga’s contention is that religious belief can enjoy enough warrant so that if the belief is true, it will constitute knowledge. In examining this claim I evaluate in section III Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism, his Aquinas/Calvin model in section IV, potential rationality defeaters in section V and in section VI the larger question of the internalism / externalism debate and its influence on these central issues.
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