Alvin Plantinga

Blogmaster Emeritus, Mark Jensen, recently posted a series of videos of philosopher Alvin Plantinga on his blog, Dining With the Queen. I have been watching through them and enjoying them immensely. This clip below is on properly basic beliefs. Plantinga suggests that it is proper to assume God just as we assume that there are other minds or that the past really happened. I hope you enjoy this thoughtful video.


Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Alvin Plantinga is probably one of the greatest living philosophers. Happily, I had the opportunity to see him live in Atlanta last year, when he spoke at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society and at the EPS's accompanying Christian Apologetics seminars. I also saw him a few years earlier at Wheaton College (near Chicago). When Plantinga was introduced at Wheaton, much laughter ensued when the emcee said that for Plantinga to visit Wheaton was the equivalent of the Pope visiting the University of Notre Dame.

In the above video on properly basic beliefs, Plantinga suggests that even without arguments it is epistemologically properly basic to believe that God exists, just as without arguments we hold various other properly basic beliefs, beliefs such as the following: that there are other minds, that the past really happened, that there is an external world, that there are causal relationships. I have long found Plantinga's suggestion to be intriguing. The suggestion certainly puts the burden of proof on those who would deny that belief in God's existence is rational or warranted. As Plantinga points out (near the end of the video), to know that belief in God is not rational or unwarranted requires that we first know that there is no God. This means that atheists need a solid argument against the existence of God to say belief is not rational or warranted. It's not enough to provide an account of how a God belief came to be held via, say, social or biological influences. So, in the absence of good arguments to the contrary, a properly basic belief that God exists simply stands, and we are rational in holding this belief.

But I think it needs to be emphasized, as Plantinga also states (also near the end of the video), that "belief in God is warranted if and only if belief in God is true." So, as Plantinga adds, not only do we need a solid argument against the existence of the Christian God to say belief is not warranted, but we also need a solid argument for the existence of the Christian God to say belief is warranted. If God exists, then belief—properly basic belief—is warranted. So the question remains: Is it true that the Christian God exists?

Plantinga ends his important book Warranted Christian Belief with the following:

"But is it [Christianity] true? This is the really important question. And here we pass beyond the competence of philosophy, whose main competence, in this area, is to clear away certain objections, impedances, and obstacles to Christian belief. Speaking for myself and of course not in the name of philosophy, I can say only that it does, indeed, seem to me to be true, and to be the maximally important truth." (Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief [New York: Oxford University Press, 2000], 499.)

Continued below…

Hendrik van der Breggen said...

Here I agree and disagree with Plantinga (not at the same time and in the same sense, of course).

I agree that the Holy Spirit can convince in the absence of philosophical and historical arguments, and I agree that philosophy has an important role in negative apologetics (i.e., apologetics that's limited to defence only, i.e., clearing away objections, impedances, and obstacles to belief).

However, and this is where I (apparently) disagree with Plantinga, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit can also convince via positive apologetics—i.e., the putting forth of positive philosophical and historical arguments that present Christianity as true—depending on the intellectual temperament of the person being wooed by the Holy Spirit. Some people do respond in a positive way to positive arguments for God's existence and for the resurrection of Jesus. The successful apologetic work of contemporary philosopher William Lane Craig attests to this, as does, I believe, the apologetic work of the Apostle Paul and Scripture in general.

Interestingly (and this is why I said above parenthetically that I apparently disagree), Plantinga also has set out some positive arguments for God elsewhere: see the appendix of the book titled Alvin Plantinga where Plantinga sets out two dozen or so arguments for God's existence, plus see his "evolutionary argument against naturalism" which, following C. S. Lewis's argument in chapter 3 of Miracles, is suggestive of a Supernatural Mind to make sense of the functioning of our cognitive capabilities.

So maybe I'm mistaken in my above understanding of Plantinga's overall project. Mistaken or not, it seems to me that God's direct personal revelation to an individual, plus God's specific historical revelation in Jesus Christ, plus God's general revelation in nature—all are means by which the Holy Spirit operates, whether appropriated by properly basic belief or by a belief inferred from other beliefs via argument (or some combination). It seems to me too that perhaps the extent of the personal impact that these various means of revelation have on different people varies from person to person.

All this to say this: I think that properly basic belief in the Christian God, that the doing of Christian philosophy, and that the doing of positive as well as negative apologetics—these do not exclude one another. I like to think Plantinga would agree.

Of course, I could be incorrect in thinking this. What do philosophy foosballers think?