This weekend I began reading a book by Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, which is a philosophical defense of the Christian faith. This book poses an extended argument supporting the notion that Christian belief is intellectually acceptable and justified in the modern era. Mr Plantinga distinguishes between de facto and de jure objections to Christian belief. De facto objections are those which dispute particular Christian truth claims whereas de jure objections are those which speak more to the intellectual defensibility, that such belief is not reasonable or justified … or following two earlier books by Mr Plantinga warranted.

In the first part of this book (and I have not finished but am only about 200 pages or so in), Mr Plantinga begins to examine what arguments have been made supporting the claim that such belief is not justified. Ultimately he finds only two, after having discarded as inadequate quite a few. I thought this passage, supporting the notion that one is being responsible with respect to ones deontological epistemic duty, that is one has done one’s due diligence to support ones foundational beliefs. He writes (pp 100-101):

Consider such a believer: she displays no noticeable dysfunction. She is aware of the objections people have made to Christianity and has relfected on Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche (not to mention Flew, Mackie and Nielsen) and other critics of Christian or theistic belief; she knows the world contains many who do not believe as she does. She doesn’t believe on the basis of propositional evidence; she therefore believes in the basic way. Can she be justified (in this broadly deontological sense) in believing in God in this way.

The answer seems to be pretty easy. She reads Nietzsche, but remains unmoved by his complaint that Christianity fosters a weak, whining, whimpering, and generally disgusting kind of person; more the Christians she knows or knows of — Mother Theresa, for example — don’t fit that mold. She finds Freud’s contemptuous attitude toward Christianity and theistic belief backed by little more than implausible fantasies about the origin of belief in God (patricide in the primal horde? Can he be serious?) and she finds little more of substance in Marx. She thinks as carefully as she can about these objections and others but finds them wholly uncompelling.

On the other side, although she is aware of theistic arguments and thinks some of them not without value, she doesn’t believe on the basis of them. Rather, she has a rich inner spiritual life, the sort described in the early pages of Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections; it seems to her that she is somtimes made aware; catches a glimpse, of something of the overwhelming beauty and loveliness of the Lord; she is often aware, as it strongly seems to her, of the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart, comforting, encouraging, teaching, leading her to accept the “great things of the gospel” (as Edwards calls them), helping her to see that the mangificent scheme of salvation devised by the Lord himself is not only for others but for her as well. After long, hard, conscientious reflection, this all seems to her enormously more convincing than the complaints of the critics. Is she then going contrary to duty in believing as she does? Is she being irresponsible? Clearly not. […] She could be mistaken […] nevertheless, she isn’t flouting any discernable duty. She is fullfilling her epistemic responsibilities; she is doing her level best; she is justified.

Another cute logical demonstration Mr Plantinga elaborates is related to arguments concerning evidence. Classical foundational or evidential arguments separate statements as basic or contingent. A contingent statement is one which is dependent on other tatements or evidence which should in turn rest on those until founds the whole array on basic truths and evidence.The statement that evidence is required is not a basic statement but is complex and contingent on other statements. Alas, it seems there is no chain of logic and propositional evidential argument that leads to any evidential support for the evidential method. This is stated baldly here and if needed I’ll attempt to unpack and express Mr Plantinga’s argument on this matter in more detail. If you really want the goods, of course, buy or borrow the book.

I should mention that ultimately the complaints of lack of warrant given by Freud and Marx are found to be the only sustainable objections. In part III, which I have not completed, Mr Plantinga mounts argument for Christian warrant against these complaints.

According to Freud, theistic belief is produced by cognitive faculties that are functioning properly, but the process that produces them — wishful thinking — does not have the production of true belief as its purpose; it is aimed instead at something like enabling us to carry on in the grim and threatening world in which we find ourselves.

Therefore it fails one of the conditions for warrant, namely reliability. Marx’s view is similar.

He thinks first that theistic and religious belief is produced by cognitive faculties that are not functioning properly. Those faculties are, to the extent that they produce such belief, dysfunctional; the dysfunction is due to a sort of perversion in social structure, a sort of social malfunction. Religious belief therefore doesn’t meet the first condition of warrant; it is therefore without warrant and an intellectually health person will reject it. Further, Marx also thinks that a person whose cognitive faculties are functioning properly and who knows what was known by the middle of the nineteenth century will see that materialism is very probably true, in which case Christian and theistic belief is very likely false.

As, in the future, I return to this book I will attempt to summarize Mr Plantinga’s defense against the “F&M” objections to Christian warrant and as well, if elaborations of arguments or discussion of matters from the early sections are desired, let me know and I’ll attempt to provide them.

Filed under: Book ReviewsBooksChristianityMark O.Religion

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