Inspired a bit by some discussions taking place over at Prosblogion, I thought I'd briefly discuss a problem I have with Plantinga's religious epistemology. Some of you might know that there's about nothing that P and I agree on, so I thought I'd start by stating that I'm actually far more sympathetic to his claim we cannot properly determine whether belief in God is warranted, warranted in the way properly basic beliefs are, or rational unless we can offer reasons for believing God doesn't exist. That's because I'm quite willing to accept both a sort of externalism on which one can know non-inferentially that something is so relying on a source one has no (internal, if you like) reason to take to be a reliable source and thus far nothing we've said rules out this: that on the hypothesis that theism is true, it would be quite likely that God designed us in such a way that we could come to have warranted beliefs about God (either basically, by means of something like sensus divinitatus, by relying on testimony, the occasional sky writing, etc...). Having granted that much, it seems Plantinga can then go one step further. Atheists and agnostics might be rational in their beliefs, but that we can rationally accept arguments from evil gives us no reason to be unfriendly atheists. For the rationality of religious belief, you see, depends on the totality of an individual's evidence or grounds. It may be that the theist has grounds the atheists and agnostics don't.
This clever move I'll refer to as Plantinga's Pincer movement. I won't call it this for any good reason except that I needed a cool sounding word that began with 'p', and that's what came to mind. Here's my worry. I haven't seen any careful argument for the following claim:
(*) On the hypothesis that theism is true, it is quite likely that some of us would be created in such a way that we could have warranted beliefs about God.
I'd agree that if the conditional probability of our having warranted beliefs on the hypothesis of theism were high, Plantinga's Pincer movement would be quite impressive. Not as impressive as Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae, mind you, but impressive. However, I don't see that Plantinga has given good reason for thinking that this probability is high. I think the probability is either low or inscrutable. His argument that it would be high in WCB is, basically, that God loves us and created us in God's image. The problem is that I see no inconsistency in saying that God loves us, created us in God's image, but equipped us with little by way of brains. At least, that strikes me as no more inconsistent than saying that God loves us, created us in God's image, but some of us are like Dahmer, some of us are swept away to sea during a tsunami, some of us are left to die slowly in burning buildings, to fend for ourselves when cornered by machete wielding mobs, among the millions drowned when God called for a 'Do Over' and sent the floods, etc... Evil can do double duty. It seems to constitute evidence against God's existence. It also seems to constitute evidence that (*) is false or, at the very least, not something we have reason to accept. And, by Plantinga's rules, it seems that if the conditional probability that you are reliable on some matter is either low or inscrutable given your evidence and grounds, you'd be irrational to continue to hold beliefs on the subject. If it's (*) that's keeping the epistemic wolves at bay for the mildly reflective theist, I don't think Plantinga's Pincer movement is quite as useful as some might have thought. But, it's better than maybe you thought I'd think it was.
One footnote. I've seen an occasional reference to Plantinga's Two Dozen or So arguments for theism (here) and I did a quick poll in CO. 50% of respondents said that much of this is either tongue in cheek or just his playing devil's advocate and 50% said he was being dead serious. Does anyone know?