Huemer v Plantiga

This article mentions my confusion on the distinction between Huemer’s phenomenal conservatism and the notion of properly basic beliefs, largely from Plantiga, and often referenced by William Lane Craig.

There is a small circle of respected thinkers among my educated libertarian atheist friends. Few are still buying what Rand and Rothbard sold, but many of them are partial to the Four Horsemen and New Atheism, despite the thorough undermining of the main arguments from New Atheism including morality as flourishing and all-you-can-eat genetic fallacy. At least a couple of them are reading Haidt, but I’m not very familiar with Haidt.

Low key the smartest ones, including Bryan Caplan, are Michael Huemer fans. The reason is no mystery. Huemer is brilliant in such a way that he speaks both at the highest levels of complexity and also according to common sense. I still need to deal with his Scary Bible Quotes which I dealt with partially and then never published. See related articles at the end.

Here is a definition of phenomenal conservatism:


If it seems to S that p, then, in the absence of defeaters, S thereby has at least some degree of justification for believing that p.

Here is a definition of a properly basic belief:

In classical foundationalism, beliefs are held to be properly basic if they are either self-evident axioms, or evident to the senses…In reformed epistemology, beliefs are held to be properly basic if they are reasonable and consistent with a sensible world view.

I’d note that I’ve tagged Mike Huemer in at least multiple Facebook posts, and I’ve also asked others who are allegedly familiar with his work. No one has yet clarified for me whether there is or isn’t any difference. My view remains that they are literally two terms for the same logical process, and there is then a natural tension or arbitraryness about what constitutes a defeater. In my view and the view of many others, although apparently not for Huemer and some of his ilk, there are plenty of defeaters for non-Christianity and plenty of reinforcing evidence for Christianity. It seems to me to become a case of The No Goalposts Fallacy.

It’s also worth noting that Huemer’s concept was apparently invented in 2001. Plantiga, however, published the very clear Warrented Christian Belief in 2000, with earlier work on the same topic going back through at least the early 1980s, all building on the long-standing Reformed theology of John Calvin, dating back into the 16th century. It seems obvious to me that Mike Huemer is drawing on this tradition of work at least in an indirect way, and possibly in a direct way. As Frank Turek likes to say, so often the atheist must “sit in God’s lap in order to try to slap Him in the face.”

It’s also worth noting the William Lane Craig takes Plantiga’s properly basic belief in God and runs with it, claiming that the witness of the Holy Spirit may be an intrinsic deafeater-defeater. I’ll give two William Lane Craig quotes to this effect, but you can find others. Here’s one:

Plantinga does not to my knowledge clearly commit himself to the view that the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater-defeater. Such a thesis is independent of the model as presented. But I have argued that the witness of the Spirit is, indeed, an intrinsic defeater of any defeaters brought against it. For it seems to me inconceivable that God would allow any believer to be in a position where he would be rationally obliged to commit apostasy and renounce Christ. It seems to me rather that in such a situation a loving God would intensify the Spirit’s witness in such a way that it becomes an intrinsic defeater of the defeaters such a person faces.

Here’s a second place Craig makes a similar point:

I suspect that what troubles you, Tomislav, is my claim that the witness of the Holy Spirit may be an intrinsic defeater-defeater, that is to say, a belief which is so powerfully warranted that it overwhelms the potential defeaters brought against it. While this claim is not essential to Reformed epistemology, it seems to me to be wholly plausible. Why couldn’t an omnipotent God so powerfully warrant belief in Himself that the believer regardless of his situation remains warranted in holding to his properly basic belief in God?

Related Articles, Part 1, Related to Vandivierian Wager:

  1. September 2018, Battleground God is Whack
  2. September 2018, Top 5 Reasons to Choose Christianity
  3. June 2018, Quickly Showing that God Exists
  4. September 2017, Futureproof Christianity
  5. May 2017, Rational Preference for God
  6. May 2017, The Many Gods Problem
  7. February 2017, Contra Iannaccone’s “Sacrifice and Stigma…”
  8. April 2013, December 2016, An Odd Argument for Belief in God – The Vandivierian Wager

Related Articles, Part 2, Related to Phenomenal Conservatism and Properly Basic Beliefs:

  1. May 2017, More on Miracles
  2. March 2017, Further Contra Uncertainty
  3. October 2014, The Halo Effect and Unconscious Accuracy
  4. April 2014, Arguments for God and Occam’s Razor
  5. July 2013, Are Moral Beliefs Properly Basic?

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