The Eternal Progression Argument Against Mormonism

The Eternal Progression Argument Against Mormonism (“EPAAM”) is a philosophical argument presented by Jonathan R. Pruitt and published by Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in December 2014.

In order to fully understand the EPAAM, we must first introduce Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (“EAAN”).

Alvin Plantinga’s EAAN argues that a simultaneous belief in both evolution and naturalism is self-defeating. This is because the probability of having reliable cognitive faculties (“RCF”) if both naturalism and evolution are true, expressed as P(R|N&E), is claimed to be low or inscrutable.  Plantinga argues that evolution does not favour true beliefs, but only beliefs that affect behaviour in an advantageous way. For example, running away from a saber-toothed tiger because you believe it will eat you has the same advantageous effect as running away from the saber-toothed tiger because you believe it likes playing hide and seek. 

If P(R|N&E) is low or inscrutable, then Plantinga claims the evolutionary naturalist has two issues 

  1. a defeater for R, and
  2. if a defeater for R, a defeater for any other belief held through R (including N&E itself).

The EPAAM arises because in Mormon thought, intelligence is eternal and its cosmology can be described as naturalistic, so appears to have similar issues that Plantinga describes in EAAN. We would therefore need to evaluate P(R|M), where M represents Mormon cosmology. 

In summary, some of the same objections that have been raised to EAAN (including those raised by theists), also apply to EPAAM.

The introductory sections of EPAAM should be applauded as the author has made great efforts to understand Mormon thought, the argument’s language is also very respectful. In the latter sections of EPAAM, three options are presented for how Mormons could account for RCF, and all three options are judged to be inscrutable:

Reliability is Eternal with Intelligence: …this option makes the status of them inscrutable for us.

Reliability is the Consequence of Eternal Progression: …the best case scenario for option two is that the status of our cognitive faculties is inscrutable for us.

Reliability is the Consequence of Being in Heavenly Father’s Image: …reliability as the consequence of being made in the image of God is inscrutable for us. 1

For the sake of argument, let us assume the EPAAM is correct that the three options presented are the only three options available, and all are inscrutable, what follows? Based on EAAN, the first claim would be that Mormons have a defeater for R.

William Alston said of EAAN:

…on the inscrutability assumption we don’t even have the prima facie case for defeat that we have on the low probability assumption. If I don’t know what to say about how likely or unlikely N&E makes R, how does that engender even a prima facie tension between a belief in N&E and a belief in R? 2

Wang-Yen Lee said of EAAN:

When someone comes to believe that P(R/N&E) is inscrutable, she does not acquire a defeater at all, unless P(R/N&E) is her only grounds for believing that R.

…there is a good reason to think that agnosticism about P(R/N&E) does not entail agnosticism about R, because one may have R as a basic belief, or have other reasons for holding R 3

In Mormonism, having RCF could easily be considered a basic belief, as it is the starting point for all rational thought and to even accept the conclusion of EPAAM, one must first assume that they have RCF.

William Alston said:

I will defend the possibility that R enjoys “basic warrant”…it may be that the general reliability of our cognitive faculties is a fundamental presupposition that we are all warranted in accepting in the absence of any reasons or evidence whatever. 4

Having rejected the first issue, the second issue does not come into play however for completeness, the second claim would be that due to the inscrutability of P(R|M), Mormons have a defeater for any other belief held through R including an appeal to a “burning in the bosom” etc.

Again, related to EAAN Wang-Yen Lee said,

According to externalist epistemologies such as reliabilism, our belief can still be warranted…because a belief is warranted as long as it is produced by a reliable-belief forming mechanism and as long as we do not have a reason to think its source is unreliable. 5

The EPAAM does not argue that the probability of RCF on Mormonism is low, so all other beliefs could still be warranted as long as we do not have a reason to think the source is unreliable. It is also worth noting that even if EPAAM was strengthened to conclude that P(R|M) was indeed low, it would still be difficult to see how this potential defeater would not itself be defeated by the “basic warrant” that R enjoys, as Alston describes above. 

So contrary to the conclusion of EPAAM, no good reason has been put forward here for why Mormons could never be Mormon. 

  1. Jonathan R. Pruitt, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary,. 2014. The Eternal Progression Argument against Mormonism. [ONLINE] Available at:  [Accessed 4 August 2016].[]
  2. James K. Beilby, 2002. Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism. 1 Edition. Cornell University Press.[]
  3. Lee, Wang-Yen. “Does Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism Work?” Religious Studies 45.1 (2009): 73-83. Web.[]
  4. James K. Beilby, 2002. Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism. 1 Edition. Cornell University Press.[]
  5. 3. Lee, Wang-Yen. “Does Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism Work?” Religious Studies 45.1 (2009): 73-83. Web.[]