Problems of Religious Luck, chapter 2: The New Problem of Religious Luck


One main kind of etiological challenge to the well-foundedness of someone’s belief is the consideration that if you had a different education/upbringing, you would very likely accept different beliefs than you actually do. Although a person’s religious identity and attendant religious beliefs are usually the ones singled out as targets of such “contingency” or “epistemic location” arguments, it is clear that a person’s place and time has a conditioning effect in all domains of controversial views, and over all of what in the epistemology of disagreement are termed our nurtured beliefs. Still, given the absolutism that has often attended religious truth claims, together with the great contrariety of teachings based upon purported divine revelation, arguments from contingency have often been presented as having special force against religious ‘enthusiasts.’ Chapter Two argues that if we are to explicate the force of problems of religious luck, we need to think more carefully about the scope and force of skeptical arguments of this general type. Contingency problems are not often considered serious objections to faith, since there are narrative theological explanations about differences between “home” and “alien” religious traditions, which any adherent of a particular tradition might appeal to. But what I term the New Problem tries to present a qualified and re-focused set of concerns, rather than a sweeping sort of skepticism. First, I carefully delimit the scope of the de jure challenge which the contingency and insensitivity of belief suggests. In general terms, a de jure challenge implicates dereliction of epistemic duty, intellectual viciousness, or some other sense of epistemic unacceptability to some target class of religious belief, narrow or broad (Plantinga 1995). Next, I redirect that challenge through a new thought experiment aimed at clarifying how the mind-set of religious exclusivism is enabled only through counter-inductive or “pattern-breaking” thinking. Much more focused than any overbroad argument from continency, the New Problem of religious luck is presented as a strong de jure challenge to the reasonableness of religious exclusivist a) conceptions of faith and b) responses to religious multiplicity.

Author's Profile

Guy Axtell
Radford University


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