Deformed Epistemology, confidence, and reflective awareness

I commonly refer to reformed epistemology as “deformed epistemology” because it quite apparently lowers the bar for what constitutes epistemic justification/warrant. For one thing, it appears to be more of a defensive posture that isn’t out to seek the truth, or it isn’t out to look for what are the most reliable ways of coming to know what is actually true (e.g. sense perception, reason, etc.).

However, there is something else that is wrong with reformed epistemology (and similar ideas like “phenomenal conservatism). One of the problems (as mentioned on a previous post) is that even if we assume that a lot of people have prima facie justification for their belief in God’s existence, that doesn’t mean that belief isn’t subject to defeat. Moreover even if one does have prima facie justification for their belief in God, that doesn’t mean that justification is proportional to the confidence level that the person has with respect to the proposition, “God exists”. What do I mean? Well, suppose someone says they are 100% certain that it is the case that God exists. Obviously, prima facie justification can’t entail that level of confidence by definition! Not to mention it is very doubtful that someone can have that sort of level of confidence about anything.

Also, it seems to be the case that someone can have prima facie justification for God’s existence that doesn’t reach outright belief. In other words, they have some justification to think that God exists, but that justification doesn’t/shouldn’t rise to the level of belief. The fact is that we think there are all sorts of false propositions that have at least some evidence/justification in their favor, but that doesn’t mean that we permitted to believe/should believe the propositions are true! In fact, in such cases, we should disbelieve. This can be even more understood when one comes to realize that someone’s confidence level needs to reach a certain level before it should be considered belief. In general, Epistemologists think that belief arises when one’s confidence level in a proposition is somewhere in the 60’s in terms of percentages  (i.e. 60%-69%). This isn’t implausible, but thinking that something like 51% is enough for belief surely does seem to be something that doesn’t seem plausible at all. Suppose I say I think there is a 51% chance that it will rain tomorrow; the problem is that this intuitively doesn’t seem to be enough to say I believe the proposition. One of the reasons why has to do with the nature of changing confidence levels. Given the confidence levels can adjust ever so slightly all the time, 51% doesn’t seem very secure. Not to mention, 51% confidence is basically a flip of the coin.

It should be noted that non-inferential belief in God’s existence can (and does) often transform into inferential belief. This doesn’t have to be viewed as a problem if the person has good reasons to believe that God exists.

If someone becomes reflectively aware of their non-inferential belief that God exists, then that will often be enough to defeat the belief or make the belief inferential [1]. It can often defeat belief when the person starts to doubt how their belief in God’s existence came about, or one just doubts that God exists. The result is that the person no longer believes in God or they can seek out arguments for God’s existence. However, the person also has the epistemic obligation to look at the other side and arguments against God’s existence.

At least some people (if not most people) might have an obligation to question their belief in God’s existence, even if it is non-inferential. Some defenders of reformed epistemology find this silly or implausible. They never really give a reason why, and there seems to be an intuition against their stance. For example, we commonly talk about how we should question our beliefs. If we are really interested in what is true, shouldn’t we question what we believe to be true? So, whether or not you’re being irrational or unreasonable for not questioning your belief in God’s existence, (which is debatable) you ought to care about what is true! And, plausibly, you not caring about whether or not your belief in God is true (enough to question it or doubt it) is itself irrational and unreasonable.


[1] Moretti, L. (2017). Phenomenal conservatism and the problem of reflective awareness. American Philosophical Quarterly.

#Deformed Epistemology #Phenomenal Conservatism objections, rebuttal, refutation #Phenomenal Conservatism

One thought on “Deformed Epistemology, confidence, and reflective awareness

  1. Tim

    The purpose of the Reformed Epistemological defense of belief in God isn’t to argue for the truth of the belief, so objecting that it’s weak on that front is a strawman. What it seeks to do is to link the rationality/warrant of theism to the truth of theism. In doing that, atheological objections have to presuppose theism to be false in for their charge of irrationality to be cogent. So they have to provide an argument that shows belief in God to be false.

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