From https://iep.utm.edu/defeaters-in-epistemology/:

According to Plantinga (1986), some beliefs can, by virtue of their own degree of warrant, defeat defeaters that come their way. When a belief has this power, Plantinga designates it an intrinsic defeater-defeater against some ostensible defeater.

William Lane Craig referenced Plantinga's concept of intrinsic defeater-defeater in a discussion about properly basic belief grounded in the direct experience of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, and offered comments on a similar inner witness experience reported by Latter-day Saints, commonly popularized as a "burning in one's bosom" (although the doctrinal accuracy of this phrase is disputable).

From #467 Properly Understanding Properly Basic Beliefs:


"Another example would be the warrant for Christianity's truth that comes from the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. To assume that the experience of the Holy Spirit's witness to the truth of Christianity is mere emotions is question-begging. If God does exist, He is certainly capable of communicating His truth to you in an interior way as well as through external evidences. Again, certain Christian beliefs are, I'm convinced, known to be true in a properly basic way, grounded in the inner witness borne to us by God Himself. Interestingly, beliefs based on testimony--like my belief that your name is Grant--is a properly basic belief which I am rational to hold unless and until a defeater for that belief comes along. Similarly, many Christian beliefs are beliefs warranted to us by testimony--God's own testimony. Don't be too quick to dismiss it, lest you fail to hear the voice of God speaking to you."

Okay then. We have two properly basic beliefs:

(1) The testimony of others

(2) Inner witness

We know that at least one of these must be false, because the testimony of others report inner witnesses that, if accepted prima facie, would entail logical contradiction, the ur-example being the Mormon "burning in one's bosom" that Joseph Smith was a prophet in contrast with most everybody's inner witness that Mormonism is a pile of hooey.

Your way of resolving the contradiction is by denying (1). You think the Mormons are deceiving themselves and that you really do have the true inner witness. But this means that some properly basic beliefs are really more properly basic than others.

So that raises the following question: is the hierarchy of properly basic beliefs itself a properly basic belief?

Tomislav. United States


I don’t think you’ve properly understood the notion of properly basic beliefs, Tomislav. You mustn’t equate being properly basic with being indefeasible. Memory beliefs (e.g., “I left the car keys in the dresser”) and perceptual beliefs (e.g., “I see a cat in the backyard”) are, like beliefs grounded in testimony, properly basic but are defeasible, that is to say, they can be mistaken. The fact that my properly basic beliefs may sometimes be false does nothing to remove their proper basicality (that is, I am rational and exhibit no cognitive defect in holding such experientially grounded beliefs non-inferentially). If I become aware of some defeater of one of my properly basic beliefs, then I must give it up (or find a defeater of the defeater).

So the fact that some testimony is false doesn’t imply that testimonial beliefs are not properly basic beliefs. It only implies that such beliefs are defeasible and are sometimes defeated. I think that the Mormon’s “burning in the bosom” is an example of a false belief which many Mormons hold in a basic way.

By contrast I think that the witness of the Holy Spirit is veridical. Does this imply that “some properly basic beliefs are really more properly basic than others?” No, though adherents of so-called Reformed epistemology would affirm that properly basic beliefs do differ in their degree (the tenacity with which they are held) and depth of ingression (centrality to one’s system of beliefs). For example, my belief that “I have a head” has a greater degree of belief for me than “I left my keys in the dresser,” though both are for me properly basic. What I think you should say is that some properly basic beliefs enjoy greater warrant than others. That is not itself a properly basic belief but is just a matter of what we discover from experience.

The difference between my belief and the Mormon’s belief may just lie in the fact that, for whatever reason, the Mormon belief faces defeaters that my belief does not (e.g., DNA evidence that native Americans are not Semitic). It may be that while I have defeaters of the potential defeaters brought against my belief, the Mormon lacks such defeater-defeaters.

I suspect that what troubles you, Tomislav, is my claim that the witness of the Holy Spirit may be an intrinsic defeater-defeater, that is to say, a belief which is so powerfully warranted that it overwhelms the potential defeaters brought against it. While this claim is not essential to Reformed epistemology, it seems to me to be wholly plausible. Why couldn’t an omnipotent God so powerfully warrant belief in Himself that the believer regardless of his situation remains warranted in holding to his properly basic belief in God? What’s the problem supposed to be?

- William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig considers his personal experience of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit an intrinsic defeater-defeater that makes his properly basic belief in Christianity epistemologically unshakable (or so he claims).

Question: Do Latter-day Saints also view the witness of the Holy Ghost as an intrinsic defeater-defeater that warrants unshakable belief in the truth of Mormonism? If so, how do they respond to William Lane Craig's claim that the belief of Mormons is defeasible (i.e. lacks defeater-defeaters)?

Related questions

  • 2
    Not my downvote, but may I offer a suggestion? Although the Holy Ghost is associated with fire plenty of times, "your bosom shall burn" is a phrase that occurs only once in all of LDS scripture (D&C 9:8), it's in a different context, and it's not describing a one-time experience. Latter-day Saints might better understand what you're referring to with a phrase like "the witness of the Holy Ghost". Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 20:25
  • 1
    if I'd written Mason's post I'd have emphasized that revelation from God is not a one-time experience, otherwise, I think it's a pretty good representation. But I've seen people more confused by the phrase "burning in the bosom" than other available phrases. Re the wiki page, it is evidently written with the intent to disparage, though I appreciated their efforts to at least offer links to competing views. Here there is even greater emphasis on this one-time "burning" event...that's not how God typically works (usually it's line upon line). Spiritual conviction has a short shelf life. Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 21:32
  • 3
    I also thought the comment from the wiki that people are discouraged from investigating Mormonism's history, doctrine is a bit humorous considering the efforts the church had gone to to publish the volumes of historical documents it possesses, and then distribute them for free online. I've also been happy to discuss challenging questions with people whether before, during, or after my full-time missionary service. Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 21:35
  • 1
    So "your bosom shall burn" is a scriptural phrase every bit as much as Obadiah 1:16 is (i just picked a random obscure verse there); but it's obscure enough that it's usually quoted out of the context of what the Lord was teaching. Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 21:42
  • 2
    @SpiritRealmInvestigator turns out Philemon is shorter than I thought! Will be back on this one. I might have to negotiate for 2 Thessalonians. Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 2:33

2 Answers 2


LDS in general do not rely solely or exclusively on the witness of the Holy Ghost, and seldom on a single experience. They are encouraged to seek such a witness as a "starter" experience, but a mature, solid belief depends on multiple experiences and multiple evidences, both spiritual and secular. Indeed, they are encouraged to "seek learning by study and also by faith." However, secular sources are considered inadequate and inconclusive without that witness. Furthermore, there are many sources which are unbelieving and hostile, which should not be accepted uncritically. One of the roles of the Holy Ghost is to testify of truth. A subtly enhanced ability to distinguish truth from error is one of the spiritual gifts often given to believers.

It is evidently by divine intention that we are initially given just enough to enable belief (3 Ne 26:8-11) and must actively seek out more. It is also declared that whether we receive more depends on our willingness to accept what we have been given, as expounded in Alma 12:9-11. Jacob 4:6 describes a process of gaining unshaken faith that depends on deep knowledge of the scriptures and repeated spiritual experience.

So, to give a short and simple answer to the first question: Usually not by itself, although such a witness may be or become that strong. To the second: it doesn't lack them.


One seldom hears someone give testimony of the “truth of Mormonism”; more often it will be of the living Christ, the truth of the Book of Mormon, or the restoration of the fullness of the gospel.

That said, something that has been revealed by an Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnibenevolent God is vastly epistemologically superior to something taught by fallible sources (further discussion here), so in this sense something spoken by God would meet the criteria suggested for a defeater-defeater.

This still leaves 2 questions open, of course:

  • Is this really revelation from God?
  • Can we trust God?

Is this from God

A concise response to this question would emphasize:

  • Repetition, as already noted by Confutus, can eliminate alternative explanations. God doesn’t just speak once, and He gives information line upon line, precept upon precept (see 2 Nephi 28:30)
  • An Omnipotent God would necessarily be able to make Himself known to an individual in a manner that is clear to that individual (see 2 Nephi 31:3)
  • My video here discusses recognizing revelation through the Holy Ghost
  • God gives promises and challenges people to put them to the test (e.g. Malachi 3:8-10, John 7:17, Moroni 10:3-5) - testing the promise and receiving what was promised, in conjunction with the experience of receiving inspiration from the Holy Ghost, helps people identify what receiving inspiration is and rationally put confidence in it
  • The Holy Ghost doesn’t only give feelings - e.g. the Holy Ghost also teaches, transforms, and sanctifies


King Benjamin taught of the importance of coming to recognize the voice of God (Mosiah 5:12-13). Like recognizing anyone’s voice, this requires time and effort. After coming to recognize communication from God and learning of Him, we are left with a question: should we trust Him?

We cannot independently confirm that He does not lie - He says that He is truthful, we can see His kept promises in our lives and those of others, we can learn of His nature through His actions and words. And then we take a leap of faith like we would in trusting anyone else - does what I know of Him demonstrate that I should trust Him? My answer is an unequivocal yes!


Craig is cavalier in suggesting there are no potential defeaters to his beliefs, considering the number and complexity of claims challenging Biblical inerrancy (this is not the place to debate the topic; I merely mention it as a hotly debated issue). He mentions only one defeater for Latter-day Saints–DNA and the Book of Mormon. I respond in section D here.

  • A Philemon-length response was requested. Since this post is written in English, not Greek, I went with the KJV. Philemon in the KJV is 430 words. According to Google this post is also 430 words. =) Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 21:41
  • I appreciate the sticking to the originally suggested length, although I wouldn't have minded 2 Thessalonians :-). Regarding Craig is cavalier in suggesting there are no potential defeaters to his beliefs [...], does the objection include Craig's belief in Christianity based on his own (alleged) experience of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit? Do you believe that Craig genuinely experienced the inner witness of the Holy Spirit/Ghost?
    – user50422
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 21:52
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator targeting an exact length was a fun challenge, and it was helpful given my tendency to be long-winded. I have no reason to doubt that Craig has experienced the witness of the Holy Ghost regarding some topics. What has the Holy Ghost revealed to Craig specifically? I couldn't say--but the love of God sounds likely. Craig's objection to Latter-day Saints doesn't directly challenge their receipt of the witness of the Holy Ghost, but identifies what he perceives as a problem with their scriptural doctrine. I offered a counter-objection of the same form. Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 21:59

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