“What’s (Not) Wrong With Evidentialism?” -- By: John M. DePoe

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 13:2 (Sep 2016)
Article: “What’s (Not) Wrong With Evidentialism?”
Author: John M. DePoe


“What’s (Not) Wrong With Evidentialism?”

John M. DePoe

Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Marywood University

Abstract: Evidentialism can roughly be understood as the idea that in order for a belief to be justified, the subject must have some awareness of what makes the belief true. Recently, evidentialism has fallen on hard times, especially in discussions about the justification of religious beliefs. With the advance of externalist theories of epistemic justification, such as Plantinga’s reformed epistemology, it is commonplace to denounce evidentialist standards for justified beliefs and to accept that one’s religious beliefs are “properly basic” without requiring any awareness of the evidential basis for that belief. In other words, anti-evidentialists endorse that people can be justified in believing that God exists or that Jesus rose from dead, for example, without any awareness as to why those beliefs are true. In this paper, I will contend that evidentialism is still a viable option. To this end, I will point out misconceptions about evidentialism, especially concerning its requirement for awareness. By distinguishing conceptual from non-conceptual awareness, many of the objections against evidentialism can be dispelled. In conclusion, I intend to show that evidentialism remains a serious contender (if not the most plausible account) in religious epistemology.

Anti-evidentialism seems to be all the rage these days. Based on a perusal of recent works in religious epistemology, one gets the distinct impression that evidentialism is passé; it upholds enlightenment standards that are antithetical to Christian thought and practice; at best, it provides standards that are achievable only for scholars that can never be attained by unlettered believers in the pew of a typical Baptist church. My contention is that these kinds of complaints miss the mark, and evidentialism remains a viable option for Christians. To this end, I aim to show in this paper that evidentialism presents no obstacle for ordinary folks to justify their religious beliefs because of the possibility of justifying beliefs on the basis of non-conceptual awareness. I shall proceed, first, by characterizing what evidentialism is. Next, I shall develop the principal objection to evidentialism under consideration. In the third section, I answer the objection by distinguishing conceptual and non-conceptual awareness. The paper concludes by responding to potential objections.

I. Evidentialism

Here’s a rough account of evidentialism: evidentialism is the position that in order for a belief to be justified, the subject must have some awareness1 of the belief’s truth.2 This awarene...

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