Have you ever tried to argue for the truth of Christianity and had a person object that "The only reason you're a Christian is because you were born in a Christian country. If you were born in a Muslim nation, you'd be Muslim"? It's a common charge that sounds like it makes sense, but as Alvin Plantinga shows below, nothing follows from it. Plantinga writes:
There is an oft-repeated pluralistic argument that seems to be designed to appeal to reliabilist intuitions. The conclusion of this argument is not always clear, but here is its premise, in Hick's words:Plantinga clearly points out the propensity to identify with a belief because one is born into a certain culture does nothing to prove the truth or falsity of that belief. Sure, if I were to be born in aboriginal Australia five thousand years ago, I probably wouldn't believe men could ever construct flying machines, but such a belief would be untrue.
For it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth. Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.As a matter of sociological fact, this may be right. Furthermore, it can certainly produce a sense of intellectual vertigo. But what is one to do with this fact, if fact it is, and what follows from it? Does it follow, for example, that I ought not to accept the religious views that I have been brought up to accept, or the ones that I find myself inclined to accept, or the ones that seem to me to be true? Or that the belief-producing processes that have produced those beliefs in me are unreliable? Surely not. Furthermore, self-referential problems once more 100m; this argument is another philosophical tar baby.
For suppose we concede that if I had been born of Muslim parents in Morocco rather than Christian parents in Michigan, my beliefs would have been quite different. (For one thing, I probably wouldn't believe that I was born in Michigan.) The same goes for the pluralist. Pluralism isn't and hasn't been widely popular in the world at large; if the pluralist had been born in Madagascar, or medieval France, he probably wouldn't have been a pluralist. Does it follow that he shouldn't be a pluralist or that his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process? I doubt it. 1
Further, it doesn't even follow that I would continue to be a Muslim if I was born into a Muslim culture. I have several friends who were born and raised Muslim, and yet they converted to Christianity when they saw its truthfulness. Thus, the objection falls flat on every point.