The Epistemology of Genealogies

  • Justin P. McBrayerEmail author
Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR, volume 4)


Beliefs have genealogies. Can tracing a belief’s genealogy illuminate the epistemic quality of the belief? This paper sets out a general epistemology of genealogies. As it turns out, genealogies for beliefs come in two sorts: those that trace a belief to some mental event that doubles as evidence for the belief and those that do not. The former have the potential to undercut the belief, rebut the belief, or—importantly—both. The latter have the potential to reinforce the belief or rebut the belief but—importantly—not undercut it. The ultimate conclusion is that there is a role for genealogies in the epistemic appraisal of our beliefs, but this role will be circumscribed by the availability of clear and compelling genealogies.


Cognitive science of religion Debunking arguments Genealogy Genetic fallacy Generality problem 



This paper has two presentations in its genealogy: one at the Explaining Religion workshop hosted by VU in Amsterdam and one at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. Audience members at both presentations—especially Matthew Lee, Robert McCauley, Rik Peels, and Jeroen de Ridder—provided helpful feedback. Drafts of the paper were critiqued by Weston Ellis, Christoph Jäger, Dugald Owen, Gijsbert van den Brink, and Aku Visala. Thanks to each of them for their time and expertise. Part of this publication was completed while on a Fulbright appointment to the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Thanks to the Austrian-American Fulbright Commission and their staff in Vienna. Another part of this publication was completed while on a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fort Lewis CollegeDurangoUSA

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