Warranted Christian Belief Hardcover – 1 Jan 2002
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Warranted Christian Belief is a tour de force ... it will be a welcome summary of an important movement, and for anyone interested in debates about the rationality of religious belief, a reference book for many years to come. (Books & Culture)
Plantinga has an eminently winsome writing style - down-to-business but also witty and at times playfully sarcastic ... Plantinga is a contemporary analytical philosopher, but he bucks the trend, and theologians and historians of Christian thought will be impressed by the historical and theological acuity on display in this book. (Books & Culture)
Warranted Christian Belief is the product of decades of effort, retraced steps, refined argumentation, prolonged meditation, and conversation with other philosophers and theologians. (Books & Culture)
This is an impressive book ... Every philosopher interested in epistemology should read it and every philosopher should be interested in epistemology (Australasian Journal of Philosophy)
This is an important book, the culmination of Plantinga's three part work in epistemology ... do not be offended by that word ('C*******n') in the title ... read this book even if you foolishly insist that Christianity is not a live option (Australasian Journal of Philosophy)
About the Author
Alvin Plantinga is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.
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Part 1 (Is there a question) begins by discussing (or searching for) some of Kants arguments concerning the impossibility of referring to anything beyond the world of experience -phenomena. Many others have taken up this 'argument' claiming that Kant proved that the language we use when speaking about the phenomenal world can not speak about the transcendent. Apparently, when the Christian speaks about God, ascribing properties to him -like infinite, ultimate- he is talking nonsense.
Part 2 (what is the question) deals with what is meant by an objector when he says that Christian belief is irrational. After much consideration the most plausible answer is found in Marx & Fraud -the same basic type of objection can be found in Nietzsche and Durkheim too.
In Part 3 Plantinga further develops his model for warranted Christian Belief (even if you have never read the other two books in the series - or God and other minds - you'll still be able to understand). This part of the book is the main response to the masters of suspicion (M&F), showing the futility of their objections. There is also a real good critique of naturalism found here (updated from warrant and proper function).
The final part of the book deals with potential defeaters for Christian belief -- different kinds of scripture scholarship, postmodernism & pluralism, suffering & evil. This book is clear and intelligent (with humor mixed in) it's definitely worth reading.
WCB is a philosophically sophisticated defense of even the simplest (and least sophisticated) faith. He challenges a very common objection to Christian belief: "I am not in a position to say whether Christian theism is true or false (who could know a thing like that?), but one thing I do know is that it is not warranted." Plantinga argues, successfully, I think, that this position itself is without warrant. Why? For the simple fact that *if* Christian theism is true, then believers probably *are* warranted even in simple faith. A serious challenge to warrant must therefore include a serious challenge to the truth of the belief.
Warrant is whatever, when added to true belief, yields knowledge. And Plantinga carries into the WCB discussion the results of the prior two volumes. A belief is warranted when it is the product of a belief-producing mechanism that is (a)functioning properly (b) truth-aimed, and (c) functioning in the epistemic environment for which it was designed to acquire truth.
This account seems to do the best job of making sense of those sorts of basic beliefs that all of us hold without having inferred them from other beliefs. I remember that it rained yesterday. What is my evidence that this memory is reliable? From what more basic and certainly known belief may I infer this? Nothing, really. Indeed, it is logically possible that I was brought into existence by a malevolent cartesian deceiver only five seconds ago, equipped with merely *apparent* memories of yesterday's rain, a particularly happy childhood, and even of having actually typed the beginning of this review (this, too, came into existence partially finished and entrusted to me to complete it). Of course, if I am the victim of such a ploy, then my memory belief is *not* the result of a properly functioning, belief-producing mechanism, and I am not warranted.
But I take it that I am warranted in remembering yesterday's rain. In fact, I am not at all on thin ice in saying that I *know* that it rained yesterday. Assuming that (a) it really did rain and (b) my recalling it now is due to the fact that I saw it (or was told about it by my truthful wife, or some other reliable way of knowing) then my memory belief is indeed warranted and counts as knowledge.
Suppose that God *does* exist just as believers maintain and that, further, God's presence is experienced in some immediate way. Calvin spoke of a *sensus divinitatus*--a sense of the divine--that was a part of the original cognitive equipment of all humans (and which was damaged when we were collectively dropped on our heads in the Fall). Suppose that faith amounts to a sort of restoration of this faculty. I take in the summer night sky in the South Dakota Badlands and this occasions spontaneous thoughts about God's creative activity. Or I commit some shameful deed and am impressed with the thought that God disapproves of what I am doing. Are such beliefs warranted? According to Plantinga, they are warranted in precisely the way that my memory belief is warranted **IF** they are true.
Beyond the notion of the *sensus divinitatus,* biblical Christians believe that the Holy Spirit bears a kind of internal witness, engendering love for God and bearing witness to the Scriptures that they are true.
A critic may challenge all such beliefs by alleging that (a) they are held in the absence of anything that looks like evidence and (b) they are readily explained away on some social science explanation. The Freudian explanation of religious belief, for instance, is that it is natural but it is the result of a belief-producing mechanism that is not truth-aimed: wish-fulfillment. But the critic is in a position to know this *only* if he already knows either that God does not exist (which would certainly get in the way of his doing things like creating, disapproving, or bearing witness) or, at least, that God is not, in fact, making his presence known in these immediate ways.
In short, the de jure objection that the belief is not warranted cannot be offered apart from the de facto objection that the belief is false. Such criticisms thus beg the question against the believer.
In the film, Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner's character, Ray, built a baseball diamond in his cornfield, and ballplayers from the past, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, emerged out of the corn to play. Ray, his wife and their daughter could not only see the players, but carried on conversations with them. Ray's brother-in-law saw nothing and, further, was convinced that Ray and his family had either gone crazy or were pulling some sort of hoax.
Suppose, with the plot, that the ballplayers *really were* there, and Ray believed that they were because he perceived them directly, say, through some additional and extraordinary faculty. Given the story and Plantinga's account, Ray is warranted in believing that he is talking to ballplayers. Indeed, he knows that he is. Can he *prove* to his brother-in-law, on the basis of whatever evidence is available to his brotherf-in-law's ordinary faculties? No. But how does this affect the question of whether his belief is warranted? Can I *prove* my memory belief to be true on the basis of some other faculty, such as perception or reason? Maybe not. But must I be able to do so in order to be warranted? Of course not.
Why, then, should anyone suppose that Christian believers are warranted in their beliefs only if they are able to infer those beliefs from evidence that is available to ordinary faculties?
Plantinga argues along such lines that Christian belief is warranted. Along the way, he takes up discussions of potential challenges to his account. The book opens with a discussion of a view that is prevalent at many divinity schools: that Kant established once and for all that human language cannot refer to God. Gordon Kaufmann offers a rehashed version of this, followed by a rehashed version of his rehashed version. Plantinga's interaction with Kaufmann's work is sheer delight. So is his discussion of John Hick's view of Religious Pluralism, which, as Keith Yandell once quipped, is "in danger of becoming canonical" in religious studies departments.
The book concludes with several potential "defeaters" to Plantinga's model for warranted Christian belief. Some argue that the sheer fact of religious diversity strikes a blow. Others press various arguments from evil. Plantinga's discussion of Paul Draper's version is a gem (as is Draper's version itself, to be honest).
He also takes on a version of the Great Pumpkin Objection, calling it "Son of Great Pumpkin." The basic GPO is what may well have occurred to you as you reflected on Plantinga's model: *anyone* from *any* perspective can claim that her beliefs are warranted. Even Linus could claim that his belief in the Great Pumpkin is properly basic and warranted without appeal to evidence. You'll have to read Plantinga for yourself to decide whether this objection sticks.
This is a rewarding read, very much worth the effort of 500+ pages. It is also highly entertaining, as Plantinga is a sprightly writer--even when in the midst of the most rigorous argument.
I've only recently completed a careful reading of WCB and, as you can probably tell, am still in a sort of "honeymoon period" with the book. Plantinga has persuaded me--a former dyed-in-the-wool evidentialist--that his account of warrant is the correct one. If I think of any telling objections you'll be the first to know.
The main tenets of WCB are two: (1) the sort of claims that Christianity makes are candidates for real knowledge on the basis of the fact that they are no more irrational, or unjustified, or unwarranted than many other types of beliefs we hold, such as the reality of other minds and (2) if Christianity is true, then there is a way in which such beliefs could be warranted for an individual, even in the face of a lack of hard proof. Indeed, one of Plantinga's main goals is to show that Christian belief is warranted without such proofs. He goes about this task with humor and wit, and I think he largely succeeds. He also tackles the difficult corollary questions of whether finite beings can even have real knowledge of an infinite, personal God and whether or not higher biblical criticism and the existence of evil constitute defeaters for classical Christian theism.
Although this book is aimed at an intellectual audience and is written in many areas using the tools of the analytic philosopher, there is something else here of great value for Christian believers: a proposal for how Christian beliefs are actually developed. This was a great help to me. I was powerfully converted to Christ at age 19, but since then I have struggled much with whether or not Christian belief (and the Bible, in particular) are true. According to evidence, I may be able to form a strong belief based on probability that, for example, the Easter tomb was really empty and the disciples really did believe that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead since they were willing to die for that belief. Then, based on that knowledge, I could come to a belief that it would then be probable that Jesus was who He said He was, the Son of God, and then by that knowledge to come to a belief that it would then be probable that the Christian doctrines of the Trinity, justification by faith, the exclusivity of salvation through Christ, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, etc. are all true. But all of this is based only on probability and not certainty, and Plantinga shows (using the probability calculus) that it wouldn't make much sense to form beliefs in this way since a probable belief based upon another probable belief based upon yet another probable belief (and ad infinitum...) does not constitute a belief system that, in the end, is very probable at all.
Thus Christian belief, if true, is most likely formed in another way. This is not to say that evidentialism (the view that Christianity can be proven based on evidence) does not have value, because it certainly does. But we all know that those who adhere to classical Christianity never came to believe those tenets in this way. Plantinga posits something called the "A/C Model" for the way in which Christian belief is formed. "A" stands for Aquinas and "C" stands for Calvin. The model begins with the sensus divinitatis of Aquinas and Calvin, the idea that God built in a sort of spiritual sixth sense that alerts us to His presence and significance. The sensus divinitatis exerts itself when we see a sunset over the mountains, for example, or when we ponder the vastness of the cosmos. But according to the A/C model, the sensus divinitatis is only a beginning point, a starter, for Christian belief. The real work is done by the Holy Spirit, who affects the mind of the believer (overcoming the damaging effects of human sin on the mind), causing him or her to believe the great doctrines of the faith.
Plantinga's point is that the classical Christian view does provide a way in which knowledge of God and the plan of salvation can be communicated to man, and it is not a way which necessarily involves proof or evidence.
"But wait a minute," says the critic, "what if I don't believe in the Holy Spirit or the sensus divinitatis? That wrecks the whole system, doesn't it?" If someone asks that question, then he does not understand what Plantinga is claiming. His claim is not that his model is some sort of proof of Christian theism, but that the de facto question can not be separated from the de jure question. In other words, you can't claim that you're agnostic to whether Christian belief is actually true but that you know it isn't rational, or justified, or warranted.
Taken as it is, WCB is very effective. Plantinga is essentially providing the supreme negative apologetic for Christian belief - in other words, a defense of believing in Christianity against intellectual attack - instead of a positive apologetic that attempts to prove that Christianity is true.