Miscellaneous Religious Epistemology

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info.gif Religious Epistemology: Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is a branch of philosophy that asks questions such as: What conditions must attain for a belief to qualify as true knowledge? How are beliefs justified? This section contains articles focusing on such questions applied to knowledge of a religious nature and the justification of specifically religious beliefs.

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    Alston, William P.

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    The Intuitive Conception and Knowledge of God

    "In this essay I shall explore the possibilities for knowledge of God that are opened up by recent developments in epistemology that go under the title externalism; more specifically, I shall be concerned with the version of externalism known as reliabilism. I shall set this up with a consideration of how those possibilities look from a more internalist epistemological stance. I shall be working from within the Christian tradition, though I take my remarks to have a wider bearing. It is a familiar view that knowledge of God--His nature, doings, and purposes--is either nonexistent or very restricted, and that, at least for the most part, believers have to make do with faith rather than with knowledge. This view has been widely held by both friend and foe of religious belief, and it goes back many centuries."
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    Anderson, James

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    If Knowledge then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til

    "The two Christian philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Cornelius Van Til have much in common...In particular, both have claimed that the existence of God is in some weighty sense a precondition of human knowledge. In this paper, I review and compare a selection of epistemological theistic arguments inspired by their writings — three from Plantinga and four from Van Til — and through drawing attention to significant points of similarity and difference suggest some ways in which such arguments might be further developed with an eye to insights gleaned from these two thinkers."
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    Clark, Kelly James

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    How Real People Believe: A Defense of Reformed Epistemology

    "My approach to belief in God has been rather descriptive. I believe that we need to pay much more attention to how people actually acquire beliefs. The psychology of believing may tell us a great deal about our cognitive equipment. The lessons learned from observing people and their beliefs support the position that I have defended: rational people may rationally believe in God without evidence or argument."
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    Clark, Kelly James

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    Religious Epistemology

    "Belief in God (or some form of transcendent Real) has been assumed in virtually every culture throughout human history. The issue of the reasonableness or rationality of belief in God or particular beliefs about God typically arises when a religion is confronted with religious competitors or the rise of atheism or agnosticism. In the West, belief in God was assumed in the dominant Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions...This article considers the reasonableness of belief in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God (‘God,’ for short), the nature of reason, the claim that belief in God is not rational, defenses that it is rational, and approaches that recommend groundless belief in God or philosophical fideism."
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    Clark, Kelly James

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    Without Evidence or Argument: A Defense of Reformed Epistemology

    "There is deliberate exaggeration in the title of this essay 'Without Proof or Evidence'. I have argued that one can reasonably believe in God on the basis of an argument. Yet it is also my contention that people who believe in an immediate fashion do not believe groundlessly. The basis of some people’s belief in God is the experience of God...So belief in God can be based in reason or the evidence of religious experience. But experience of God need not be the basis of a warranted belief in God. One’s properly functioning cognitive faculties can produce belief in God in the appropriate circumstances with or without argument, evidence or religious experience."
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    Craig, William L.

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    Religious Epistemology

    "In Religious Epistemology we encounter the intersection of traditional epistemology with the newly burgeoning field of Philosophy of Religion. One of the most rapidly developing areas of Philosophy of Religion has been the exploration of the epistemic status of religious truth claims, their rationality, and warrant. We may gain an appreciation of how Religious Epistemology has changed by casting a backward glance at questions facing the previous generation of philosophers."
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    DePoe, John M.

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    Evidentialism, Reformed Epistemology, and the Holy Spirit

    "Despite criticisms to the contrary, evidentialists can account for the beliefs of 'ordinary people' like fourteen-year-old teenagers and naïve grandmothers. By incorporating the Bible’s description of the epistemic works of the Holy Spirit with an evidentialist’s epistemology, evidentialism can maintain that all believers have some access to at least one reason that can sufficiently justify their religious beliefs."
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    DeRose, Keith

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    Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic?

    "One of the most important aspects of Alvin Plantinga's paper, and of his religious epistemology generally, is his claim that some Christian beliefs are properly basic. In what follows, I will very briefly sketch, defend, and present for your consideration an alternative picture according to which Christian beliefs are not properly basic."
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    Forrest, Peter

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    The Epistemology of Religion

    "Contemporary epistemology of religion may conveniently be treated as a debate over whether evidentialism applies to the belief-component of religious faith, or whether we should instead adopt a more permissive epistemology. Here by ‘evidentialism’ I mean the initially plausible position that a belief is justified only if "it is proportioned to the evidence". Evidentialism implies that it is not justified to have a full religious belief unless there is conclusive evidence for it."
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    Foutz, Scott D.

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    On the Epistemological Status of Belief

    "This paper aims at setting forth a perspective on religious epistemology. As will hopefully become clear through the course of this essay, I understand accurate discussion of issues pertaining to religious epistemology, or more specifically of an epistemology of belief, as necessarily grounded in general epistemology. Thus this essay will begin with a discussion of general epistemology in order to set a foundation for its discussion of belief."
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    Frame, John M.

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    Christianity and Contemporary Epistemology

    "Theologians have traditionally taken an interest in philosophical epistemology because of their concern with the knowledge of God. Sometimes they have sought to use secular epistemological theories to their advantage; sometimes they have sought to refute such theories. But the interaction has often been vigorous. This history suggests the value to theologians of keeping current in the field."
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    Greco, John

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    Catholics vs. Calvinists on Religious Knowledge

    "Alvin Plantinga has defended the position that religious beliefs can be properly basic, meaning that religious beliefs can be rational or reasonable even if they are not inferred from other beliefs that serve as their evidence...Linda Zagzebski has responded critically, tracing her views on religious belief and knowledge to the Catholic tradition. Out of this tradition comes her virtue theory of knowledge, which holds that knowledge is grounded in intellectual virtue...I will argue that...the Catholic and the Calvinist are much closer than Zagzebski implies...I will identify what I think is the real issue between Zagzebski and Plantinga...Finally, I will look at the consequences for religious knowledge."
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    Johnson, Jeffery

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    From Friendly Atheism to Friendly Natural Theology: The Case for Modesty in Religious Epistemology

    "Philosophical theists argue with great ingenuity and sophistication that there is excellent evidence in support of the existence of the God of western theism. Philosophical atheists argue with equal skill that the evidence is negative. Both sides can't be right. But, this seems to imply that one camp is guilty of serious epistemological error. I explore in this essay a way of understanding good theological evidence that mitigates charges of intellectual error or blindness. According to a position that Rowe calls friendly atheism, the atheist can argue that the relevant evidence supports his or her view, but that theists are rationally justified in believing that God exists in spite of the intense suffering that manifest in this world. I will argue that friendly atheism, and more generally friendly natural theology, when articulated in more detail, and with great care, represents an important metaphilosophical insight about use of evidence in theological contexts."
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    Manzari, Joe

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    Faith and Rationality: A Defense of Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology

    "Belief in God is the heart of the Christian religion – as it is of Judaism and Islam. The field of religious epistemology studies nature of theistic beliefs. This essay is concerned with two interrelated questions from this field. First, what criteria must be met for belief in God to be warranted? Second, can Christian theism provide a plausible model under which these criteria are met? These questions will be addressed over three sections."
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    McGrew, Timothy and Lydia

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    On the Historical Argument: A Rejoinder to Plantinga

    "Alvin Plantinga’s response provides a welcome opportunity to explore more deeply the issues raised by his critique of the historical argument in Warranted Christian Belief (WCB).1 Between his gracious opening remarks and his closing line he starts so many hares that one could easily spend a hundred pages trying to chase them all down. Forced to be selective, we will focus our attention on five of them."
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    Mcgrew, Timothy

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    Has Plantinga Refuted the Historical Argument?

    "In his recent book Warranted Christian Belief, Alvin Plantinga employs a peculiar argument from the multiplication of probabilities as an objection to a traditional evidentialist approach to the defense of at least some empirical beliefs...Plantinga appeals to his principle of dwindling probabilities in the course of a critical examination of Richard Swinburne’s historical argument for the truth of Christianity. His purpose is to show that, for this belief at any rate, a Lockean evidentialism fails to underwrite any very exciting conclusion...Plantinga’s critique of the historical argument is a failure — if not an abject failure, then at least a decisive one."
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    Naugle, David

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    Alvin Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology: Analysis and Critique

    "...Alvin Plantinga...is best known for a variety of astonishing epistemic claims. These include that belief in God can be properly basic and rational without evidence or suppport by any argument, that natural theology is unnecessary for the epistemic credibility of religion, and that Christian philosophers can and ought to take certain Christian doctrines as assumptions in their philosophical research. In this paper, my goal is to lay out the contours of Plantinga's argument for proper basicality that includes the divine, to offer a religio-theological response, and to suggest that as an implicit critique of modernity, it deserves consideration in an emerging postmodern age characterized by greater rational freedom and religious interest."
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    Plantinga, Alvin

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    Theism, Atheism, and Rationality

    "[A] natural way to understand such notions as rationality and irrationality is in terms of the proper functioning of the relevant cognitive equipment. Seen from this perspective, the question whether it is rational to believe in God without the evidential support of other propositions is really a metaphysical or theological dispute. The theist has an easy time explaining the notion of our cognitive equipment's functioning properly: our cognitive equipment functions properly when it functions in the way God designed it to function. The atheist evidential objector, however, owes us an account of this notion."
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    Plantinga, Alvin

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    Intellectual Sophistication and Basic Belief in God

    "Quinn claims that intellectually sophisticated adult theists in our culture are seldom in epistemic circumstances in which belief in God is properly basic; for they have substantial reason to think that some potential defeater of theism is true, and do not have, for each such defeater, even stronger reason to think it is false...My opinion (for what it is worth) is that for many theists, the nonpropositional warrant belief in God has for them is indeed greater than that of the alleged potential defeaters of theistic belief- for example, Freudian or Marxist theories of religion. Furthermore, there are powerful extrinsic defeaters for the sort of potential defeaters of theism Quinn suggests."
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    Pruss, Alexander R.

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    Christian Faith and Belief

    "Louis Pojman has argued that Christian faith does not entail belief, or even assigning a probability of 1/2 to the claims of Christianity. However, this conclusion fails in many cases because of its ethical consequences. A Christian is committed by his faith to acting in accordance with Christian teaching. However, there are circumstances when it is morally impermissible to act in accordance to beliefs to which one assigns epistemic probability smaller than 1/2, namely when the action is prohibited by ethical claims that one takes to be more probable. It is argued that in most cases such considerations preclude a person who assigns a probability of less 1/2 from being both committed both to Christianity and to the moral life. Matters are particularly clear in the paradigmatic faith-action of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac: this action would clearly be immoral if Abraham assigned a probability less than 1/2, or in fact any probability not very close to 1, to the existence of God. A moral version of Pascal’s wager is also discussed."
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    Snider, Eric

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    Are Causes Reasons for Belief? Silver on Evil, Religious Experience, and Theism

    "In this paper I argue that there need be nothing circular in a Christian theist’s defending herself against the potential defeater presented by Paul Draper’s formulation of the problem of evil, nothing circular in defending herself by appeal to the fact that she believes as a result of the promptings of the Sensus Divinitatis (SD) or the Internal Instigation of the Holy Spirit (IIHS). David Silver has argued that there is an illegitimate circularity proposed for such a theist by Alvin Plantinga in Warranted Christian Belief. The way out of the circle, thinks Silver, would be by adopting a kind of evidentialism: making an appeal to evidence that is independent of the reasons she has for holding theistic belief in the first place. I think Silver’s argument is unsuccessful, because he does not get Plantinga’s thought right."
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    Snider, Eric

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    Evidentialism and Anti-Evidentialism: Must One Be Right?

    "Debate and disagreement between evidentialists and anti-evidentialists regarding Christian belief seems increasingly intense. The debate, I surmise, is rather old, perhaps two millennia old. But over the past 20 years, at least since the publication by Alvin Plantinga of Reason and Belief in God, the debate has intensified. In this essay, I sketch the evidentialist and the anti-evidentialist positions...I discuss some of the advantages, as I see it, of the Plantingian approach to Christian believing. I am then able to show why I think we should not think of the debate as having to lead to either evidentialism or anti-evidentialism. Rather, they are distinct approaches to the matter of Christian believing and can serve distinct roles."
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    Suddoth, Michael C.

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    Can Religious Unbelief Be Proper Function Rational?

    "Warranted Christian Belief presents some strong claims about the irrationality of religious unbelief, based on the truth of theism and Plantinga’s model of properly basic theistic belief. Plantinga claims that if theism is true, then his proper basicality model (or something close to it) is likely to be true. I have argued that in fact Plantinga has two models, and that the PF-rationality of religious unbelief is logically inconsistent with only one of them...But neither of these propositions appears likely if theism is true. In fact, these formulations seem most unlikely if other aspects of Plantinga’s epistemology are correct or logically consistent."
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    Suddoth, Michael C.

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    Plantinga's Revision of the Reformed Tradition: Rethinking our Natural Knowledge of God

    "In this paper I hope to provide some suggestions as to how Plantinga could have developed his model of properly basic theistic belief in a way that would assign a more explicit and prominent role to inferential reasoning vis-à-vis our putative natural knowledge of God. These suggestions will arise by way of a critique of Plantinga’s use of the Reformed tradition in the development of his epistemological model."
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    Suddoth, Michael C.

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    Reformed Epistemology and Christian Apologetics

    "One of the frequent criticisms of Reformed epistemology is that it has done very little to promote the agenda of offering reasons for supposing that theism or Christian theism in particular is true, so-called positive apologetics. An even stronger criticism is that it has actually been opposed to such a project...In this paper I want to examine this common and long-standing criticism of Reformed epistemology. After briefly outlining the distinction between positive and negative apologetics, I will clarify the nature of Reformed epistemology and what relationship, if any, it has to Christian apologetics, especially positive apologetics."
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    Suddoth, Michael C.

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    Alstonian Foundationalism and Higher-level Theistic Evidentialism

    "One of the issues that continues to be explored in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion is to what extent (if at all) the claims of Reformed epistemology can be harmonized with evidential requirements for rational or justified belief in God...I conclude that the prospects for the compatibility of Reformed epistemology and an epistemically adequate form of evidentialism are good indeed."
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    Sudduth, Michael C.

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    Natural Theology and the Rationality of Theistic Belief

    "The tradition of natural theology has typically maintained not only that there are good arguments for God's existence but that we can have rational beliefs about God on the basis of such arguments. It has also maintained that God can be known on the basis of natural theology. More generally, theistic belief(s) can have positive epistemic status by virtue of the evidential considerations adduced in natural theology. There is an important relationship, then, between natural theology and the branch of philosophy known as the theory of knowledge or epistemology, which is concerned with the nature, origin, and extent of knowledge, as well as related concepts such as truth, rationality, justification, and belief formation. In this way natural theology bears an important relationship to religious epistemology, which is concerned with the application of epistemological concepts to religious beliefs."
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    Sudduth, Michael C.

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    Contemporary Reformed Epistemology: The Epistemic Immediacy of Theistic Belief

    "This chapter is part of a more detailed examination of the idea of immediate and non-inferential knowledge of God in the Reformed theological tradition. In the previous chapter I examined several prominent Reformed theological attempts to explain and defend the idea that the natural knowledge of God is immediate and not based on inference or argumentation. I concluded that such arguments at best establish a purely psychological thesis about the causal origin of belief in God which leaves open a variety of epistemic functions of inferential reasoning about God. In this chapter I consider some contemporary philosophical attempts to develop and defend the idea of immediate knowledge of God."
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    Swinburne, Richard

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    Response to Plantinga's Argument from Dwindling Probabilities

    "The objection from 'dwindling probabilities' is the name given by Alvin Plantinga to what he sees as a major difficulty in the way of producing cogent historical arguments for the truth of the central elements of Christian doctrine..., a problem which he finds in my own attempt to do so in my book Revelation...In my more recent book The Resurrection of God Incarnate I have made the probabilistic structure of my arguments much clearer...A critic should focus his criticism on the details of arguments for a ramified theism rather than rely on the 'principle of dwindling probabilities'."
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    Varghese, Roy

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    An Interview with Professor Alvin Plantinga on "Theism as a Properly Basic Belief"

    In this short interview, Varghese asks Plantinga various questions concerning his epistemology of religious belief. He touches on subjects such as the utility of theistic arguments and whether or not we can know that religious belief is not only rational, but also true.
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    Wood, W. Jay

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    The Crisis in Contemporary Epistemology

    "Many of epistemology’s traditional ways of addressing its concerns, its dominant methods and models, have recently been called into serious question, with the result that there is considerable openness to new ways of addressing traditional concerns, though little consensus about what new shape epistemology should take. In this paper, I hope to accomplish the following: first, to acquaint readers with the contours of the traditional epistemological project...; second, to explain why this paradigm is now considered to be untenable; third, I will propose an alternative model that I believe is more compatible with a Christian world view; finally, I will show how this model touches upon the specific concerns of academicians here at Wheaton College."
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    Wykstra, Stephen J.

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    Not Done in a Corner: How to be a Sensible Evidentialist about Jesus

    "I shall sketch an alternative to Plantinga’s model. The alternative model will propose a broadly evidentialist story of how warrant accrues to Christian belief in the resurrection. At the same time, it will avoid the more extreme versions of evidentialism, and preserve many positive features of his specific model of Christian belief and his general ‘proper functionalist’ theory of warrant."
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    Zeis, John

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    Evidentialism and Faith

    "I will argue for a conception of faith which is compatible with fundamental tenets of an evidentialist position on epistemic justification. It is a position which entails both a 'will to believe' which goes beyond the standard evidentialist principles governing the appropriate doxastic attitude towards a proposition, but nonetheless satisfies epistemic principles at the basis of an evidentialist position on justification.1 If my argument is successful, a proponent of a conception of religious faith may be able to have her cake and eat it too: namely, she may be able to fundamentally accept both the evidentialist demand that epistemically rational belief fit, or be supported by evidence as well as the position that rational faith is willing belief beyond what one’s evidence strictly demands."
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    Zeis, John

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    A Foundherentist Conception of the Justification of Religious Belief

    "Foundherentism is a the ory of justification which is supposed to include the virtues of both a foundationalist and coherentist epistemology without their respective vices. In this paper, I will modify Haack’s foundherentist position to present a feasible model for the justification of religious belief. The foundherentist position I will offer has internalist, coherentist, and evidentialist conditions of justification as well as a strong volitional component."
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    van Inwagen, Peter

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    Is It Wrong Everywhere, Always, and for Anyone to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence?

    "...[P]hilosophers who wish to mount some sort of evidential or epistemic attack on religious belief (or, more likely, not on religious belief in general, but on particular religious beliefs) should set Clifford's Principle aside and argue that religious belief (or this or that religious belief) is refuted by the evidence they present."