International Journal for Philosophy of Religion

, Volume 76, Issue 2, pp 171–191 | Cite as

Religious diversity and epistemic luck

  • Max Baker-Hytch


A familiar criticism of religious belief starts from the claim that a typical religious believer holds the particular religious beliefs she does just because she happened to be raised in a certain cultural setting rather than some other. This claim is commonly thought to have damaging epistemological consequences for religious beliefs, and one can find statements of an argument in this vicinity in the writings of John Stuart Mill and more recently Philip Kitcher, although the argument is seldom spelled out very precisely. This paper begins by offering a reconstruction of an argument against religious beliefs from cultural contingency, which proceeds by way of an initial argument to the unreliability of the processes by which religious beliefs are formed, whose conclusion is then used to derive two further conclusions, one which targets knowledge and the other, rationality. Drawing upon recent work in analytic epistemology, I explore a number of possible ways of spelling out the closely related notions of accidental truth, epistemic luck, and reliability upon which the argument turns. I try to show that the renderings of the argument that succeed in securing the sceptical conclusion against religious beliefs also threaten scepticism about various sorts of beliefs besides religious beliefs.


Religious diversity Cultural contingency Epistemic luck Reliability Undercutting defeater Knowledge 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of OxfordOxford United Kingdom

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