Achievements, value, and God: an essay on the cognitive success of religious knowledge
Bolos, Anthony David
Recent literature in religious epistemology has overlooked a significant debate in mainstream epistemology. In short, theories in religious epistemology have failed to consider the value problem. This essay, then, hopes to rectify this omission by arguing that one of the most influential accounts of religious epistemology - reformed epistemology - fails to adequately account for the value of knowledge. I argue, however, that a reasonable way out for the reformed epistemologist comes by way of endorsing the achievement thesis. The achievement thesis, put simply, states that knowledge is valuable because it is a cognitive achievement - unlike, for example, mere true belief. The central question of this essay, then, is this: Is Knowledge of God a Cognitive Achievement? In order to better answer this question I highlight two different ways in which one can understand the nature of cognitive achievements. First, a cognitive achievement can be understood as success from ability that is always primarily creditable to the agent. Or, second, a cognitive achievement can be understood as success from ability that is jointly creditable to the agent. Both, I argue, are compatible with knowledge and the achievement thesis. Whether knowledge of God is primarily or jointly creditable, however, will depend on the way in which one understands the role the agent plays in the belief forming process. Given the nature of reformed epistemology, I argue that knowledge of God is the kind of achievement that is jointly creditable. Further, and central to the argument, I argue that the reformed epistemologist is in a good position to meet the requirements for the strong achievement thesis. The strong achievement thesis argues that an achievement should be understood in terms of overcoming some obstacle whereby the agent's belief is the result of some ability that can be credited to the agent. The account I propose not only meets the requirements of the strong achievement thesis, but also retains a distinctive feature of reformed epistemology - namely, that the belief in God can be said to overcome the obstacle of cognitive malfunction that, as the reformed epistemologist argues, is brought about by sin. It's an achievement becasue it overcomes an excessively hostile environment (what I call the maxi-environment) that is not conducive to belief in God given the cognitive consequence of sin. In the end, it is possible to provide an account of reformed epistemology where the value of knowledge (over and above mere true belief) is adequately demonstrated.