30 June 2012

Reformed Epistemology and Religious Pluralism

Alvin Plantinga

John Hick

Alvin Plantinga's argument against religious pluralism points to one particular reliabilist argument and tries to refute it. He uses the argument of John Hick, that nearly 99% of people, the religion that an individual professes is the religion in which they were raised - an accident of their birth. Someone born to Buddhist parents will almost always be a Buddhist, a Muslim to Muslims, a Christian to Christians, etc. Plantinga accepts this at face value, but then moves off in a direction I see as a tangetn. Plantinga asks "does it follow that I ought not to accept the religious views that I have been brought up to accept, or the ones that I find myself inclined to accept, or the ones that seem to me to be true? Or that the belief producing processes that have produced those beliefs in me are unreliable? Surely not."*

Plantinga goes on to imply that Hick's argument works against the pluralist. If the pluralist is right and beliefs are largely a product of our upbringing, then if a pluralist were born in a different time or place he likely wouldn't be a pluralist. If our beliefs are largely an accident of our birth, then so is the belief in pluralism.

He continues, that if his (Plantinga's) beliefs are true, they could be produced by a reliable, properly functioning belief producing process. From this he concludes that "there is no reason whatever to think that the exclusivist might not know tha they are true."

For Plantinga, the existence of the multiplicity of religions counts for nothing to advance the belief in pluralism. The fact may call into question the source of one's belief, but it does not follow from the existence of many religions that any one particular religion (Plantinga's own) is false. It may be a shame that billions of people may have faulty belief producing processes and will burn in Hell forever, but Plantinga can accept that with stoic resolve.

I don't buy this. If most people go through similar belief producing processes and tend to find themselves believing the dominant set of beliefs as their culture, how can Plantinga claim that his beliefs are more likely to be true than someone else's just because they formed in him? What offers him special status? How does he know his belief producing process (which just so happens, by coincidence, produce beliefs conforming to his culture) is functioning reliably and properly and is not working as such in others with different beliefs? What makes Plantinga's belief that his belief producing process is functioning reliably and properly and the process in other exclusivists who have different beliefs is not functioning properly and reliably?

Furthermore, Plantinga's Reformed epistemology is anti-foundationalist. Plantinga rejects the notion of evidence or proofs for supporting beliefs; instead affirming that his beliefs are basic beliefs, that can be known without proof or evidence, yet are not self-evident (such as belief in an external world or belief in other minds). What, then, is the basis of Plantinga's belief that his exclusivist belief generating process is working reliably and properly?

It can't be that this metabelief (the belief that his belief generating process is functioning reliably and properly, and furthermore, is producing the correct set of exclusivist beliefs and all other exclusivists with contradictory beliefs have faulty belief generating processes) has come about through an analysis of different religions and assessing which one is most correct, because Plantinga rejects any method of assessing the truth value of these beliefs. Plantinga affirms this metabelief either because it is an attempt to justify a rejection of Hick's pluralist argument based on nothing at all, or is itself a product of the culture in which he was raised.

This does not mean that the pluralist position is correct, or even that Plantinga's own exclusivist beliefs are false, merely that his refutation of the pluralist falls apart on its face.

*All quotes from "Pluralism: A Defense of Religious Exclusivism"

17 June 2012

Jesus - My Last Day

Nine minute cartoon of the crucifixion as viewed through the eyes of one of the other men sentenced to die.

11 June 2012

Maitreya - A New Perspective (Repost - 25 July 2006)

For centuries hundreds of people have claimed to be Maitreya, the next Buddha to enter into our world. So far none of them have shown any reason for us to believe their claim. They have never exhibited any of the Buddha's transcendental powers or boundless wisdom. Claimants include the laughable, such as L. Ron Hubbard, some guy (he has no name aside from Maitreya) from Share International, Suma Ching Hai, and a whole host of others.

While there are undoubtedly many spiritually advanced people on the Earth at this time and even some fully enlightened beings (until someone comes up with at least some kind of evidence that Sai Baba is a fake I won't even entertain the idea; millions of people say he's the real deal but there are only a few "unconfirmed reports" (the actual words used) of his misdeeds), it doesn't seem as if Maitreya has come yet. There is a slim possibility that a Buddhist monk, Palden Dorje, could possibly be Maitreya awaiting to awaken. The prophecies say that Maitreya will come at a time when the oceans have decreased in size, allowing him to travel across the world quicker (could this be an allusion to jet airplanes?) and that he will come as a bodhisattva who will achieve Buddhahood in seven days. Certainly Palden Dorje exhibits the qualities of a bodhisattva. Between 2005 and 2006 he sat in meditation for six months without eating or drinking or using the head. Scientists sent to study him reported that he breaths only three times an hour. He was bitten by a cobra twice and shows no ill effects and once he burst into flames and burnt his clothes off to prove his powers to doubters. Not too long ago (some time in March I think) he left the spot where he was meditating to venture further into the wilderness because a media circus sprouted around him. He said it will take six years to reach Buddhahood, but with all this distraction could it be seven? This is interesting because I'm not well versed in Pali (the language of the Buddhist canon) and have to rely on the English translations. Noting that Biblical English sometimes uses the word "day" in place of "year" it's no stretch that Maitreya could realize enlightenment in seven days where each day is equal to a year and not a literal day. Admitedly this is a stretch but still, it's an interesting potential correlation. Definitely something to write about. Well, I guess the only way to know is wait until 2011 when Palden Dorje returns. Hopefully the world will be ready for the new Buddha by then, though it would have to take a miracle (further proof of Maitreya's arrival?).

07 June 2012

03 June 2012

House of Numbers

Diseases have always fascinated me. One disease, in particular, that has probably interested a whole lot of people is AIDS. What is AIDS? What are the real dangers of the disease? What is the difference between HIV and AIDS? Why is the single biggest at risk group the world's poor, who already have compromised immune systems due to lack of sanitation and malnutrition, and what are the larger implications of this? I don't know. You are invited to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

01 June 2012

CPS Murders Kids

These big, obese, grotesquely corpulent demons at an organization called Child "Protective" Services (CPS) takes children away from their parents when they admit there is no abuse, no neglect, nothing bad or harmful in any way, then they load them full of deadly, brain-destroying drugs and starve them to death. This is the worst kind of evil.