Monday, December 05, 2011

An Atheistic Critique of Religious Exclusivism That Cuts Both Ways

One of my favorite theistic philosophers is Baylor University's Francis Beckwith. I got interested in Beckwith after reading his (I think) brilliant Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice. Since then I've periodically visited Beckwith's blog.

Beckwith's reecnt post points us to his response, published in the journal Synthese, to an attack by atheistic philosopher Barbara Forrest. One of the points Forrest attacks is Beckwith's religious exclusivism. Beckwith believes Christianity is true, and that other religious traditions are mistaken. I've quoted Beckwith's response below. Here's the reasoning.

  1. Forrest thinks Beckwith's claim that the worldview of Christian theism is true, thus other religious traditions are false, is epistemically suspect.
  2. But Forrest's own atheism/philosophical naturalism is a worldview. Forrest believes her worldview is true. This, automatically, entails that other worldviews are false.
  3. So Forrest's own worldview, on her criticsim of Beckwith, is itself epistemically suspect.
  4. The upshot: this kind of criticism cuts both ways.
Here's Beckwith (I cut and pasted this, but cannot format it in a better way - sorry):

"Nevertheless, Forrest argues, that there is something epistemically suspect in believing that one’s worldview is correct and other worldviews mistaken (
Forrest 2011,

p. 371). She chides me, a believing Christian, for believing that Christianity is true,

and points out that I have in my published writings offered critical analyses of other

religious traditions that I believe are mistaken. I amnot sure what to make of this.After

all, Forrest is a believing atheist, committed to philosophical naturalism and what it

entails about the good, the true, and the beautiful (
Forrest 2000). She maintains that

her point of view is correct and other points of view are mistaken, including the point

of view that theological claims may in fact consist of beliefs that the believer has

adequate warrant to believe (
Forrest 2011, p. 371). So, she, like the Christian, believes

that she is correct about her beliefs. And she, like the Christian, believes that other

points of view are mistaken. But then she is in precisely the same position as me: she

thinks she is right and others wrong. Thus, on her own grounds, her critique of my

work ought to be rejected as epistemically suspect, and I need not worry about it. But

she should not worry either. For, as the immortal Frank Sinatra once put it, “That’s