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II. Defeaters for Christian or Theistic Belief

What we’ve seen so far is that you have a defeater for one of your beliefs B just if you acquire another belief D such that, given that you hold that belief, the rational response is to reject B (or hold it less firmly). What we want to know, however, is (for example) whether the suffering and evil the world displays or the facts of pluralism provide a defeater for Christian belief. Of course they might for some people, but not for others; there is that relativity to noetic structures. So what are we really asking when we ask whether these things constitute defeaters? There are various directions we could go here; suppose we follow Philip Quinn (above, p. 358) in thinking about the noetic structures of “intellectually sophisticated adults in our culture.” We are asking whether these proposed defeaters would in fact constitute defeaters for Quinn’s sophisticated believers. Of course they will constitute defeaters, for a given person S, only if S believes them. And not just any proposition which is such that, if I believed it, I would have a defeater for Christian or theistic belief will do the trick. As we have seen, an irrationally acquired belief can serve as a defeater; but clearly you don’t give me a defeater in the relevant sense for Christian belief by causing me to come to believe something in an irrational way—by hypnosis say, or by injecting mind-altering drugs. You give me a defeater in the relevant sense only if you propose to me a belief which is such that a rational sophisticated believer (rational both internally and externally) would accept it upon being presented with it. Hence you don’t necessarily provide a defeater for theistic belief just by asserting, even loudly or slowly, that belief in God is false, or stupid, or that God is dead, or given electricity and the wireless (below, p. 403), we now know better. Although these propositions, if I accepted them, might provide me with defeaters for Christian belief, they are not, just by themselves, such that rationality would require a sophisticated believer to accept them. Something further is required.

What? One way that could be relevant would be to give an argument for the falsehood of the relevant proposition from premises a sophisticated 367believer accepts. Of course there are subtleties here. It might be that the rational thing to do, once I see the inconsistency between those premises and B, is to hang on to B and give up instead (the conjunction of) those premises. I believe p1, . . . pn; you show me that p1, . . . pn entail that there aren’t any persisting selves; once I see this, perhaps the rational thing to do is to give up (one or more of) the pi rather than the belief that there are persisting selves. So merely giving an argument with premises a sophisticate accepts is not sufficient for providing a defeater; the premises must also be such that once I see the conflict, rationality requires that I give up the prospective defeatee rather than the premises. Still, argument is one way to give me a defeater.

Is there any other way? Yes; you can put me in a position where I have experiences such that, given those experiences (and given my noetic structure), the rational thing to do is to give up the purported defeatee. I claim that there are no prickly pear cacti in the upper peninsula of Michigan; you take me into the woods up there and show me a particularly luxuriant specimen; rationality requires that I drop my now discredited belief. So another way to provide a defeater for Christian or theistic belief would be to point to or provide a kind of experience such that a sophisticate who underwent that experience would be rationally required to give up the belief in question.

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