I have been following apologetics for quite some time and have run into many claims that certain epistemological methods typically associated with non-theism (for example, empiricism and logical positivism) do not handle things like the infinite regress and evil demon problems.

In contrast, I have run into apologists who advance reformed epistemology and forms of foundationalism as the only systems which successfully deal with these conundrums.

My questions:

  • What epistemological methods are currently thought of as successfully handling the infinite regress (bonus points for evil demon problems)?
  • I've never been exactly sure how it would tangibly effect my life if my epistemology didn't successfully handle what I take to be thought experiments (especially in the case of evil demon problems). In other words, if I will eventually meet an unanswerable "Why?" or face the fact that if a superior evil demon is creating an illusion that is indistinguishable from a real world -- should I care?
  • Lastly, in my brief examination of reformed epistemology and foundationalism, the core aspects simply seem to be that because one has a "profound sense of X being true, X is a justified belief." Thus, it strikes me as "dealing" with these problem simply by writing things that way into the rules. Is this an accurate read or am I missing something more profound about why these two systems are said to handle this issue (and Wiki does list foundationalism as a response to the regress problem).

4 Answers 4

  • Concerning the regress argument, a coherentist would deny the premise that some proposition P must be given a single justification P`, which must be given a justification P``, etc. Rather, a coherentist might suggest that various beliefs constitute a complicated and interdependent web of justification. This answer avoids question begging, an infinite regress of justification, and foundationalism. Also note that Plantinga's proper functionalist account of properly basic beliefs is not open only to theism. For instance, Plantinga grants that various sense perceptions are also properly basic, just as belief in God is. Finally, for an account of knowledge that blocks sceptical scenarios like the Cartesian demon and the infinite regress, I suggest investigating Timothy Williamson's position in Knowledge and Its Limits.
  • Maybe you shouldn't care about sceptical scenarios too much. It's important to distinguish knowing some proposition P from knowing that you know some proposition P. The fact that you know that you're not being deceived by an evil demon does not imply that you can know that you know that you're not being so deceived. Basically, you can have first-order knowledge without even bothering about the second-order knowledge.
  • At least in Plantinga's flavor of "reformed epistemology", what counts as a "properly basic belief" is mostly determined by the proper functioning of your brain according to a "design plan". Basically, if you are functioning as you were designed to, you should know which of your beliefs are "properly basic". It's an externalist account, so you shouldn't expect to be able to tell infallibly "from the inside" which of your beliefs are basic. You might not know that you have a brain lesion, for instance. It's worth noting that the foundation is determined by the design plan that went into making you, and not merely "written into the rules".
  • Thanks for the answer. I'll have to look into coherentism more. I am familiar with Plantinga granting that other beliefs can be properly basic, but my issue with it is that I can't see any reason why knowledge of god actually is properly basic -- it seems necessarily reducible (feelings of love, inspiration, rare/seemingly intentional occurrences, etc.). I debated someone on this and they kept comparing "knowing god" with "knowing that when you see a tree, it's really there." I thought that was a stretch. Seems to be a position that escapes infinite regression just because it says it does.
    – Hendy
    Commented Jul 10, 2011 at 21:00
  • Knowledge and its Limits is heavy duty. Good stuff mind you.
    – boehj
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 8:06
  • 1
    @Hendy Plantinga's assertion is merely that belief in God can be rationally held without a justification. Of course, many disagree. The foundationalist theist is going to be unable to give a reason for believing in God, obviously. Thus, the epistemology itself gives one no help in apologetics. Its purpose is merely to give a coherent account of knowledge. For reasons why theistic belief is thought to be basic, I'll have to refer you to Plantinga's work. He does give some explanation of why belief in God is different from some other obviously non-basic beliefs.
    – user461
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 at 9:12

As a reformed Christian myself, I would suggest that the idea of Christian Theism (note, not theism in general) handles the infinite regress sufficiently. That is not to say it's persuasive to all men, but that it's sufficient for all reason.

The nature of absolute authorities is that they are necessarily self-authenticating, else they wouldn't be the end-all in ones reasoning. Christian Theism declares, from the pages of Scripture, that man is able to reason only by virture of being created to do so, and as such is able to rely upon his faculties to be generally reliable as a result of them being created to understand the World around him.

Problems of induction dissolve with the necessary presupposition of an eternal Being who has created all that exists, and has revealed Himself to some degree to His creation. Alternatively, if man were left to his own devices he could never have any reliable foundation from which to declare any epistemological certainty - yet we all do, daily.

I've not seen any solid alternative provided that can provide the preconditions of intelligibility. Note here how the existence of God isn't "proven," but necessarily presumed a priori in order to ground the concept of proof itself.

For more on the epistemological understanding of Reformed Apologists, I would suggest the following two books:

  1. Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended
  2. Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen

And for your listening enjoyment:

  1. Dr. Greg Bahnsen vs Gordon Stein (Audio)
  2. Dr. Greg Bahnsen vs Edward Tabash (Audio)
  • Interesting -- could you clarify why theism in general does not handle the problem by grounding what exists in an eternal being? Also, what options exist for those who consider that the concept of God may be a human invention? Lastly, other than stating that certainty cannot exist, what practical implications exist for a non-founded epistemology? If heuristics such as "it works" are sufficient for successful living, what hazards am I missing?
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 5:52
  • @Hendy It's not the eternal-nature of the being that successfully grounds ones epistemology. The nature of all other gods precludes them from being a necessary presupposition. Rejecting them doesn't follow to epistemological paralysis. Those who posit the Christian God to be invented by man would need to ground their arguments against this affirmation in something without borrowing from the Christian worldview to do so. May may profess, but don't live by, unfounded epistemologies. Created in God's image, we reason, observe, and operate with a knowledge of Him, whether explicitly or not. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 6:06
  • @Jonathan: I didn't mean that the eternal nature of the being grounded knowledge; I'm suggesting that this epistemology strikes me as saying, "Because god is omni-max, all comes from him and thus all finds it's "why" in him." Is that accurate?
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 14:32
  • @Hendy Ultimately, yes. All comes from God. As for the question of whether or not everything finds its 'why' in Him, I would point to the reality of secondary causes. Why do I live in Georgia? Because I was offered a job here a couple years ago. Ultimately, why do I live in Georgia? Because God decreed that it would be so. Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 15:26
  • @Jonathan: And that's somewhat my point, as far as I can tell, this epistemology finds it's end to the infinite regress because it has defined itself as doing so. You have no objective, observable, accessible evidence that "God decreed" your being in Georgia other than having defined God as the decree-er of all things. How can one who does not accept your first premises come to the same conclusion?
    – Hendy
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 15:29

The system to solve infinite regression can be provided by simple understanding about existence dependency.

We have to understand, doing infinite regression is not as simple as saying or pointing from one point to another point. But:

  • Something depends upon something else or something doesn't depend upon something else

  • Infinite regression has to do with pointing from one existence (form, function) to another existence (form, function), or it is meaningless.

This asserts two possibilities for each of existences:

  • From the first pointer and goes to the next pointer within infinite regression can't be related to a new creation (new form, new functions).

    This asserts that there is and ended point, therefore there is no infinite regression

  • From the first pointer and goes to the next pointer within infinite regression can be related to a new creation (new form, new functions).

    This asserts that an infinite regression can be traced back to the opposite direction. And it asserts that infinite regression is no longer an infinite regression but it just merely a causality that has a causal chain at the opposite direction.

A causal chain from current existence to the previous existence can be considered as a causal chain to the right direction.

And since an infinite has a causal chain, then it has direction to the left, as an opposite to the first typical of causal chain.


  • Tracing within infinite regression asserts a new creation (new form, new functions) and there is a causal chain,

  • Our trial to push our logical to the farthest extent within infinite backward and see where it going to, it makes us clear that any possibilities thinking on something (even the impossible one) always assert finite backward causality. And eventually forcing any kind of thinking will lead us to conclusion to finite causality.

    It asserts that an infinite regression has an ended point (in between the two causal chains).

  • Infinite is not about unfinished regression.

  • Infinite asserts there are unrestricted for the use of any of all available possibilities.

  • Infinite is unlimited. Infinite is not limited by something.

    For example:

    • I am finite because i need you to help my work.
    • But, may be i am not finite (not limited by), because may be i am free (to be controlled by yourself) to do something what i want.

The points are:

The term "infinite" may be used under two conditions:

  • Related to dependency:

    • Something is infinite" is equal to "Something is not limited by something else.
  • Related to counting:

    • "Something is infinite" is equal to "Something is functioning within available possibilities".

    Infinite asserts perfection, where any of all available possibilities may be full functional (if needed).

  • This is a little hard to understand. Any chance I could persuade you to formulate your response a bit more straightforwardly, maybe summarize a bit for us?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 15:32
  • Hi @JosephWeissman, i edited. Please refresh.
    – Seremonia
    Commented Jul 21, 2012 at 15:58

I'll give you my solution.

There is never a way to logically prove any axiom or a prioi predicate, partly by definition this MUST be true. So, what else do you have besides "faith"?

Two things: 1) observation and 2) history. Neither of these are logical conclusions or axioms, yet they form the basis for all logical systems. They are neither arbitrary nor rely on faith.

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