Warranted Christian Belief Paperback – 27 Jan 2000
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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)
The book is full of philosophical and theological interest and is an exciting book to read... Throughout the book the writing is clear and entertaining, parts of it written with a controlled passion and enthusiasm, and with hafts of sarcasm, self-deprecation and other assorted humour. Plantinga has command of a vast range of philosophical and theological material. (Mind)
About the Author
Alvin Plantinga is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.
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He wrote in the Preface to this 2000 book, “This book is about the intellectual or rational acceptability of Christian belief. When I speak here of Christian belief, I mean what is common to the great creeds of the main branches of the Christian church … classical Christian belief, as we might call it… our question is this: is belief of this sort intellectually acceptable? In particular, is it intellectually acceptable for US, NOW? For educated and intelligent people living in the twenty-first century, with all that has happened over the last four or five hundred years?” (Pg. vii-viii)
He continues, “One project of this book is to try … to find a de jure [i.e., not intellectually acceptable] objection that is both a real objection and also at least plausibly attached to Christian belief… Some thinkers … argue that we couldn’t so much as think about such a being as the Christian God… is supposed to be… I argue that there is no reason at all to accept this skeptical claim… That conclusion clears the deck for the main question of the book: is there a viable de jure objection to Christian belief? One that is independent of de facto [i.e., objections to the truth] objections and does not presuppose that Christian belief is false?... As I see it, if there are any real de jure objections to Christian belief, they lie in the neighborhood of warrant. That may not come as much of a surprise, given that this book is a sequel to Warrant: The Current Debate and Warrant and Proper Function.” (Pg. x-xi)
He observes, “[John] Hick doesn’t, of course, produce an ARGUMENT for the conclusion that no religion could be closer to the truth than others… Clearly, in most areas of life, some people ARE closer to the truth than others. If the nominalists are right, all of us realists are wrong; if the modal skeptics are right, we modal true believers are wrong; if the white supremacists are right, many of the rest of us… [are] seriously wrong. Why should it be different in religion? The idea that in religion we must all be equally right and all equally wrong seems no more compelling than the idea that in thinking ABOUT religion we must all be equally right and equally wrong.” (Pg. 62-63)
He acknowledges that in his ‘God and Other Minds’ book, “I was somehow both accepting but also questioning … that belief in God, if it is to be rationally acceptable, must be such that there is GOOD EVIDENCE for it… This claim wasn’t itself argued for: it was simply asserted… Second, I failed to ask why this question of rational justifiability is important… But what is this rational justification? And why DOES it require evidence, propositional evidence? … These are some of the questions we must ask.” (Pg. 70-71)
He asserts, “It is then obvious, I think, that the believer can be justified even if there aren’t good arguments from [J.L.] Mackie-style evidence, even if there isn’t good propositional evidence in the community… If it seems to me very strongly that the great things of the gospel are true, if upon reading the Scriptures I find myself convinced, and if after considerable reflection---on all the objections, for example---I still find myself convinced, how could I be properly blamed for believing as I do? Again, I could be wrong, deluded, a victim of wishful thinking, subject to some kind of cognitive disorder: nevertheless, there is no duty I am flouting. IF the de jure question is whether the believer can be justified, or justified without evidence, the answer is still too easy: of course she can.” (Pg. 103) Later, he adds, “Believers may be mistaken; they may be deluded; they may be foolish; they may be insufficiently critical… but there is no reason to think either that they are inevitably derelict in their epistemic duties or that they are unjustified in one of those analogical extensions of the term.” (Pg. 108)
He admits, “the central truths of Christianity are certainly not self-evident, nor, so far as anyone can see, are they such that they can be deduced from what is self-evident. Of course, that is nothing whatever against Christian belief; the same holds, for example, what we are taught by historians, physicists, and evolutionary biologists. So the de jure question can’t be the question whether Christian belief is rational in this sense. That is because a negative answer to the question is supposed to be a serious criticism of Christian belief; but it is no criticism of Christian belief (or the theory of evolution, or the belief that you live in Cleveland) that it is not a deliverance of reason in this sense.” (Pg. 114)
He explains, “So far, we have thought of warrant as a property or characteristic of beliefs… that a belief enjoys warrant when it is formed by properly functioning cognitive faculties in a congenial epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth---which includes, we should note, the avoidance of error. But WITHHOLDINGS, failures to believe, can also be dictated by a design plan successfully aimed at truth and the avoidance of error. You have conflicting evidence for the proposition that there is intelligent life in other parts of the universe… You therefore withhold that belief, believing neither that there is nor that there isn’t life elsewhere in the universe… Thus withholding displays a sort of analogue to warrant…” (Pg. 184-185) He adds, “According to the present model, then, the sensus divinitatis [natural inborn sense of God] has been damaged and corrupted by sin. Further… the sensus divinitatis is partly healed and restored to proper function by faith and the concomitant work of the Holy Spirit in one’s heart.” (Pg. 186)
He counters a popular objection raised by Freud and Marx: “How would one argue that it is THAT mechanism, wish-fulfillment, rather than some other, that produces religious belief? Much of religious belief, after all, is not something that, on the face of it, fulfills your wildest dreams. Thus Christianity … includes the belief that human beings have sinned, that they merit divine wrath and even damnation, and that they are broken, wretched, and in need of salvation… This isn’t precisely a fulfillment of one’s wildest dreams… many people thoroughly dislike the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient being monitoring their every activity, privy to their every thought, and passing judgment on all they do or think. Others dislike the lack of human autonomy consequent upon there being a Someone by comparison with whom we are as dust and ashes, and to whom we owe worship and obedience.” (Pg. 195)
He asks rhetorically, “How does it happen that we human beings are mired in this desperate and deplorable condition? The traditional Christian answer: it is as a result of the sinful actions of Adam and Eve, our original parents and the first human beings. Whether this is indeed how it happened is a matter on which the model need not take a stand; what IS part of the model is that in fact we are in the condition… Indeed, no century has seen more organized hatred, contempt, and cruelty than ours, and none has seen it on as grand a scale. Our century in particular also enables us to see the SOCIAL side of sin… Because of our social nature, sin and its effects can be like a contagion that spreads from one to another, eventually corrupting an entire society or segment of it.” (Pg. 207)
He contends, “What Calvin means… is that we don’t require argument from, for example, historically established premises about the authorship and reliability of the bit of Scripture in question to the conclusion that the bit in question is in fact true… Scripture is self-authenticating in the sense that for belief in the great things of the gospel to be justified, rational, and warranted, no historical evidence and argument for the teaching in question, or for the veracity or reliability or divine character of Scripture… are necessary. The process by which these beliefs have warrant for the believer swings free of those historical and other considerations…” (Pg. 262)
He suggests, “Freud has things just backwards. It isn’t that religious eros, love for God, is really sexual eros gone astray or rechanneled… The fact is things are just the other way around. It is SEXUAL desire and longing that is a sign of something deeper: it is a sign of this longing, yearning for God that we human beings achieve when we are graciously enabled to reach a certain level of the Christian life. It is love for God that is fundamental or basic, and sexual eros that is the sign or symbol of pointer to something else and something deeper.” (Pg. 316)
About whether acceptance of the possibility of miracles would make science impossible, he argues, “there isn’t the faintest reason why I couldn’t sensibly believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and also engage in medical research into, say, Usher’s syndrome or multiple sclerosis… What would be the problem? That it is always POSSIBLE that God should do something different, thus spoiling my experiment? But this IS possible: God is omnipotent… No doubt if I thought God OFTEN or USUALLY did things in an idiosyncratic way… THEN perhaps I couldn’t engage in scientific research… But that is an entirely different matter.” (Pg. 406)
He asks, “Isn’t it clearly POSSIBLE that historians should discover facts that put Christian belief into serious question, count heavily against it? Well, maybe so… The Christian faith is a HISTORICAL faith, in the sense that it essentially depends upon what in fact did happen… It could certainly happen that by the exercise of reason we come up with powerful evidence against something we take or took to be a deliverance of the faith. It is conceivable that the assured results of HBC [historical biblical criticism] should include such evidence. Then Christians would have a problem, a sort of conflict between faith and reason. However, nothing at all like this has emerged from HBC… There is no need to borrow trouble… we can think about crossing these bridges when (more likely, if) we come to them.” (Pg. 420-421)
Of the problem of evil, he comments, “given that God DOES have a reason for permitting these evils, why think we should be the first to know? Given that he is omniscient and given our very substantial epistemic limitations, it isn’t at all surprising that his reasons for some of what he does or permits completely escape us. But then from the fact that no good we know of are such that we know that they justify God in … permitting E1 or E2, it simply doesn’t follow that it is probable, with respect to what we know, that there aren’t any such goods, or that God has no reason for permitting those evils.” (Pg. 467)
Later, he suggests, “It is plausible to think that the best possible worlds God could have actualized contain the unthinkably great good of divine incarnation and redemption—but then, of course, also sin and suffering. God chooses one of these worlds to be actual---and in it, humankind suffers. Still, in this world there is also the marvelous opportunity for redemption and for eternal fellowship with God, an inconceivably great good that vastly outweighs the suffering we are called upon to endure. Still further, in being offered eternal fellowship with God, we human beings are invited to join the charmed circle of the trinity itself; and perhaps that invitation can be issued only to creatures who have fallen, suffered, and been redeemed. If so, the condition of humankind is vastly better than it would have been, had there been no sin and no suffering.” (Pg. 489)
The philosophically-minded may be disappointed in this book as compared to his “God and Other Minds” and “God, Freedom and Evil” books; his argument from sin, for example, seems close to an ‘ad hominem’ argument. Still, there is a great deal of valuable and thought-provoking philosophical apologetics in this volume, and (as it is probably Plantinga’s final “major work” in this area) it will be “must reading” for anyone seriously studying the philosophy of religion, or Christian apologetics.
Traditionally, the philosophy of religion has dealt with two broad arguments against religious belief; the evidentiary argument (de facto) and the rational argument (de jure). The de facto approach examines the various arguments (e.g. ontological, cosmological, teleological, revelation and the existence of evil) and makes a probabilistic assessment with regard to the likelihood of a theistic worldview. The de jure approach focuses on the question of whether the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good God is in itself irrational.
For those familiar with Plantinga WCB is similar to his other writings - characterized by uncommon analytical rigour, moments of clear brilliance and the occasional meander. On the latter point, the author's digression into the views of Jonathon Edwards while well handled added little (from my perspective) except to make a dense tome even more daunting (others may find more value in this aspect). WCB's significance, however, lays it its rigorous examination and counter to the various de jure arguments against Christianity. Indeed, in my view, Plantinga is successful in arguing that there is no compelling de jure argument that is independent of the de facto argument.
Several decades ago Plantinga played a leading role in putting to rest the argument that the existence of evil and God were logically incompatible (this argument is now largely centered on a less compelling evidentiary / probabilistic tact). Only time will tell if he is as successful with regard to addressing the de jure argument against Christian belief. All to say that it is a powerful and important work within the field of religion.
Overall, I highly recommend the book. Without exaggeration, it is one of the most powerful books I have read (what that says about me I'm not sure). In fairness it is probably of most interest to students of philosophy and theology, however as other reviewers have noted the educated lay reader (especially Christians) can also find great value in it.
Note: Some print problems in the book I purchased from Amazon - alternating pages at the back of the book were blank.
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