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Warranted Christian Belief

05/02/2012

Well, finally wrapping up the UTSC! Really haven’t taken extensive notes on this book, in part so I could meet my deadline for completing my challenge. I have spent some time reading over some essays in response, as well as re-listening to some podcast episodes that refer to Plantinga’s project.

Looks like the philosopher Tyler Wunder has spent the most time looking at Plantinga (what a career path- spend your whole career critiquing some other guy).

Why Reformed Epistemology Fails
Tyler Wunder’s Review of Warranted Christian Belief (actually a really good summary)
Reasonable Doubts on Plantinga
Evan Fales
Erik Baldwin

Wish I had some good links to further responses to these articles and podcasts, but I suppose the comment boxes are going to be all I’ve got for now.

Plantinga’s big thesis is not to defend the truth of Christian belief. Based on the book, he seems skeptical that this can be done in an evidential way (although other sources seem to suggest he’s changed his position a little on that).

What the main point seems to be is that it does not make sense to make an objection to the rationality or warrant of Christian belief without also objecting to the fact of it. In other words, one cannot say “I don’t know if Christianity is true, but the methods of discovering its truth are faulty.”

Plantinga says that this is because, given Christian theology, assuming that Christianity is true, those who believe in it cannot be discovering that truth in a faulty manner. If Christianity is true, then the self-authenticating testimony of the Holy Spirit must be providing correct information about the existence of God and the truth of Christian doctrines. The Holy Spirit also provides us with reason to trust our normal sensory data.

Moreover, he says that naturalism provides no reason to trust our sensory data or human reason, since it is possible (or likely) that these faculties are oriented towards promoting survival and reproduction, not true beliefs.

Now I think it takes quite a bit of work to answer the claims against naturalism. It takes a lot of background knowledge to show how, and to what degree, the conclusions we make in the world based on sensory data and our rational minds can be trusted. Still, I think there are plenty of non-self-refuting possibilities, and I think that given the truth of evolution, there are better explanations for both the reliability, and the unreliability of our faculties. Christianity uses sin as a blanket explanation for our cognitive errors, but it does not explain the specifics like evolution can.

But what is most damning to Plantinga’s efforts, as I understand them, is the revised great pumpkin objection. This basically points out that there are many religions out there, and there are also multitudes of religions we could just make up, that are just as self-authenticating as his Christianity. It’s a very, very weak conclusion to make that if his worldview is true, then it is warranted. So what?

Here’s a thought that I’m not sure is accurate, and to my knowledge, is original to me. Plantinga says that you can’t object to the rationality or warrant of Christianity without objecting to the truth of the religion. It appears that he thinks this prevents people from objecting only to the rationality or warrant. It forces them to put forward arguments like the problem of evil or divine hiddenness.

But what if we look at it another way? Maybe instead of preventing certain objections, Plantinga is effectively upgrading objections from de jure to de facto. Maybe the objections to the rationality/warrant of Christianity are objections to the fact of Christianity. Since Christian belief is necessarily warranted and rational, if we can show that certain Christian beliefs are not warranted or rational, we have shown that Christianity is false.

This could be done in an inductive fashion as well. One could point to all the similarities in Reformed Epistemology to the epistemologies of other religions that are mutually exclusive. Since they cannot all be true, and since there are so many, the majority of religions (or all) that use this epistemology are not warranted or rational in their conclusions. Since Christian Reformed Epistemology is in no significant way different from these, it is very likely to lack warrant and rationality, and therefore Christianity is very likely to be false.

I suspect there are some errors in my analysis, but it’s an interesting thought.

Lastly, I feel like Plantinga’s approach erodes the ability of Christians to plead their case in a rational manner to those who have not experienced the Holy Spirit. It seems to relegate the conversion/convincing process to the Holy Spirit alone. If the Holy Spirit is really the source of belief, then my own lack of experience with it would seem to be reason enough for me to deny the truth of Christianity, given a total lack of evidential reasons. What is the use of apologetics if Plantinga’s views are true?

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