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Religious disagreement, externalism, and the epistemology of disagreement: listening to our grandmothers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2007

Department of Humanities and Fine Arts, Huston-Tillotson University, 900 Chicon, Austin TX 78702


A new emphasis in epistemology is burgeoning, known by the phrase ‘the epistemology of disagreement’. The object of investigation is the situation where the two combatants of a disagreement are equally well situated epistemologically. Central questions include whether peer epistemic conflict reduces the support one has for one's belief, whether the reduction should be understood on internalist or externalist lines, and how often such peer conflict happens. The main objective in the first two sections will be to provide background by bringing key points of contention to the surface in the recent epistemologies of disagreement both in mainstream epistemology and in religious epistemology. A final section asserts that epistemic externalism in religious epistemology doesn't easily escape the challenge of epistemic, peer, religious disagreement.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

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1. Peter van Inwagen ‘It is wrong, everywhere, always, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’, in Jeff Jordan and Daniel Howard-Snyder (eds) Faith, Freedom, and Rationality: Philosophy of Religion Today (Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996), 137–153, see 139.

2. Ibid., 143–150.

3. Ibid., 142.

4. This must be distinguished from his incompatibilism with regard to free will.

5. Richard Feldman ‘Reasonable religious disagreements’, forthcoming, draft available at <<>>.

6. Kelly, TomThe epistemic significance of disagreement’, Oxford Studies in Epistemology, 1 (2006), 167195Google Scholar, see 179.

7. Ibid., 179.

8. Ibid., 180.

9. Ibid., 179.

10. David Christensen ‘Epistemology of disagreement: the good news’, forthcoming article in Philosophical Review, draft at <<>>, 2006.

11. William Alston Perceiving God (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).

12. Philip Quinn ‘Epistemology in philosophy of religion’, in Paul K. Moser (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 513–538, see 534.

13. We can see Quinn's reassessment demand in Philip Quinn ‘The foundations of theism again: a rejoinder to Plantinga’, in Linda Zagzebski (ed.) Rational Faith (Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), 14–47, see 35. For a more extensive treatment of the debate between Quinn and Plantinga, see my article: ‘Philip Quinn's contribution to the epistemic challenge of religious diversity’, Religious Studies, 42 (2006), 453–465.

14. See Plantinga, AlvinRationality and public evidence’, Religious Studies, 37 (2001), 215222CrossRefGoogle Scholar, especially 217. See also idem Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 179; idem ‘The foundations of theism’, Faith and Philosophy, 3 (1986), 298–313, see 311.

15. Plantinga Warranted Christian Belief, 371.

16. Quinn ‘Foundations of theism again’, 39–43.

17. David Basinger Religious Diversity (Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2001), 11.

18. IdemHick's religious pluralism and “reformed epistemology”: a middle ground’, Faith and Philosophy, 5 (1988), 421435CrossRefGoogle Scholar, see 430.

19. Ibid., 425 and n. 27.

20. Basinger, DavidReligious diversity: where exclusivists often go wrong’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 47 (2000), 4355CrossRefGoogle Scholar, see 50. For Gellman on rock-bottom beliefs, see Gellman, JeromeReligious diversity and the epistemic justification of religious belief’, Faith and Philosophy, 10 (1993), 345364CrossRefGoogle Scholar, see 355.

21. Basinger ‘Religious diversity: where exclusivists often go wrong’, 47; idem ‘Hick's religious pluralism’, 430.

22. Gellman, JeromeIn defence of a contented religious exclusivism’, Religious Studies, 36 (2000), 401417CrossRefGoogle Scholar, see 403.

23. Ibid.; see also idem ‘Religious diversity and the epistemic justification of religious belief’, 353.

24. Gellman ‘In defence of a contented religious exclusivism’, 409. See also idem ‘Religious diversity and the epistemic justification of religious belief’, 350–352.

25. Gellman ‘In defence of a contented religious exclusivism’, 402.

26. Ibid., 403.

27. Plantinga here gives an example of the revision of a basic belief with addition of challenging new information: Plantinga Warranted Christian Belief, 343–344.

28. Ibid., 173.

29. Ibid., 210.

30. Gellman ‘Religious diversity and the epistemic justification of religious belief’, 353–355.

31. Gellman ‘In defence of a contented religious exclusivism’, 409.

32. This is what I have called elsewhere the resolution problem.

33. Gellman, JeromeEpistemic peer conflict and religious belief: a reply to Basinger’, Faith and Philosophy, 15 (1998), 229235CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 233.

34. Many thanks to the Faculty Resource Network for making possible research for this project during their Summer Scholar-in-Residence programme in 2006 at New York University. Many thanks also to David Palmer, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, for helping me see some of the implications of externalism for the present study.