Sunday, May 24, 2015

Guest Post: A Defense of Strong Exclusivism, Why Some Religious Claims are False

This post is by philosophy grad student, Dax Bennington. The original blog article can be found here:

In this post I will address the problem of religious disagreement. I will summarize what seems to me to be a good defense of the position. I will explicate Peter van Inwagen's (2010) paper, "We're Right. They're Wrong". You can find van Inwagen's paper in the book edited by Ted Warfield and Richard Feldman entitled "Disagreement", published by Oxford University Press. 
The paper defends a strong exclusivist account, not only for religious beliefs, but political, philosophical, and scientific beliefs as well. A solid defense of the strong exclusivist position will demonstrate that at least some religious claims are false. I will now proceed in explaining van Inwagen's paper. 

     First, van Inwagen assumes for his argument that we have more or less a grasp as to what constitutes a religion, or religious institution. Next, van Inwagen uses his own term that is a variable for any religion. He calls this term "ism". Ism can be any religion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc). Now, van Inwagen gives conditions by which an "Ism" is what he calls weakly exclusivist. He states that a religion is weakly exclusivist if the adherents to the Ism at hand subscribe to. 

     Weak exclusivism: An Ism is weakly exclusivist if the following two theses   are logical consequences of the theses that Ism requires its adherents to believe.

1. Ism is logically inconsistent with all other religions. Any system of belief (besides Ism) that is logically consistent with Ism, is not a religion. For example, if Christianity is weakly exclusivist, then any Christian who thinks that Berkeley's metaphysic is consistent with Christianity is logically committed to the thesis that Berkeley's metaphysic is not a religion (van Inwagen 11). 
     Consider another example. If according to Hinduism, Hinduism and Islam are both religions, and it is a tenet of Hinduism that one can consistently be both a Hindu and a Muslim, then Hinduism is not a weakly exclusivist religion. 
2. According to Ism (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism), it is rational to accept Ism. Moreover, it is epistemically permissible for the Ismist to accept the teachings of Ism. 
     A few comments on weak exclusivism. It doesn't follow that if a religion is weakly exclusivist that it requires its adherent to believe that the adherents of other religions are necessarily irrational. This is what van Inwagen thinks does follow from weak exclusivism: 
 ...if Ism is a weakly exclusivist religion, those who accept its teachings will (at least if they are logically consistent and capable of a little elementary logical reasoning) reach the following conclusion: "The teachings of all other religions are at least partly wrong, and it is rational for is to believe this about the teachings of all other religions."
     A few things follow from this quote. Consider Christianity and Zoroastrianism. If it is rational for me to accept Christian teaching, or conversely if it is rational for me to accept Zoroastrian teaching (it is rational to believe one or the other if both are weakly exclusivist religions, recall the two theses above), then it is rational for me to believe what logically follows from my rational beliefs. So, if Christianity is a weakly exclusivist religion, then one of its teachings will be (or on of its teachings will at least imply) that it is rational for me to believe that Zoroastrianism teaches something false. van Inwagen generalizes the point. 
 A weakly exclusivist religion X contains a teaching Y such that it is rational for its adherents to believe that all other religions teach something false. 
     Now that we have established what it means for a religion to be weakly exclusivist, let's move on to van Inwagen's definition of strong exclusivism: 
 Strong exclusivism: A religion (Ism), is strongly exclusivist if it is weakly exclusivist and it teaches (or its teachings entail) that for any other religion, it is not rational for anyone who is in an epistemic situation of the sort in which Ismists typically find themselves to accept the teachings of that religion (van Inwagen 13). 
     Again, let's discuss a few things that follow from this definition. First, it is consistent with Ism being strongly exclusive that it doesn't require its adherents to believe that people of other religions necessarily or typically violate the norms of rationality. For example, if Islam is a strongly exclusivist religion, then if a person were to convert from Islam to say, Christianity, and if that person was in an epistemic situation that is typical of Muslims (they understood and believed their faith just as well as any faithful Muslim) then other Muslims must believe that the person who converts is irrational. 

     But, it is consistent with Islam being a strongly exclusivist religion that a well informed Muslim can regard a Christian, Pagan, or Jew (who have not been properly exposed to the teachings of Islam) as possibly rational. 

     Last, for sake of completeness, I will discuss very strong exclusivism. Very strong exclusivism is the view that it is a teaching of Ism that all other adherents of every other religion besides Ism are ipso facto irrational. This is not my nor van Inwagen's position, but there are people who believe this so it is worth mentioning. 

     Now, why should we adopt mere weak exclusivism or strong exclusivism. First, as noted by van Inwagen, not all religious claims can be true. They all could be false, but not all of them can be true. So, unless someone wants to give up logical consistency, they should subscribe to some form of exclusivism regarding religious belief. Next, is there any reason to favor mere weak exclusivism over strong exclusivism, or vice versa?

     It seems to me that the strong exclusivist position is more plausible. When we adhere to a religion, not only do we think that that religion is true, but we also think (or should think) that all other religions make at least some false claims. It strikes me as odd to think that if I believed my religion to be true and that other religions were incompatible with my religion (say for example that my religion requires that I believe P and another religion requires its adherents to believe ~P), I couldn't also believe (at least if I wanted to remain logically consistent) that the religion that requires its adherents to believe ~P is also true. For example, if my religion requires me to believe that Jesus claimed to be the son of God and another religion requires me to believe that Jesus did not claim to be the son of God, then if I believe the former (which entails that I believe the claim is true) then I cannot also believe that the claim that Jesus never claimed to be the son of God is true. If I did, I would believe both P and ~P, which would render me irrational. So, if Christianity is a strongly exclusivist religion, and I am adherent of it, then I must believe that at least some of the claims from other religions are false.

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