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Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga
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's review
Jan 20, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: epistemology, apologetics, philosophy-of-religion
Read in January, 2006

This is the third, and hence final, book in "the warrant trilogy." Here Plantinga begins by looking into the de jure question, viz., is it rational, reasonable, justified, warranted, to accept Christian belief. Or, is the Christian epistemologically negligible for accepting such beliefs - belief in God, belief in the great truths of the Gospel, etc?

Plantinga concludes (after much rigorous philosophical investigation) that all such objections depend on the de facto question, viz., does God exist? This obviously takes the wind out of the sails of many objections to the Christian's faith. That is, the non-Christian is assuming that God does not exist in order for his blows to have the desired force. So, if a detractor wants to engage himself in that debate first, he's free to do so. But, we've been debating the de facto question for millennia. So a good inductive bet is that the non-Christian won't succeed here, and hence he won't succeed with the de jure question. But, there is one such de jure objection that comes close to hitting what it is aiming for (actually, Plantinga credits others with this kind of argument too). This is the Freud-Mark complaint (Freud and Marx get the credit, but Plantinga finds the objection in men like Nietzsche, Rousseau, Hume, &c.). Christianity is something like "wish fulfillment." Thus, what produces belief in God is a cognitive faculty not aimed at truth, but aimed at some other non-epistemic outcome, say, comfort. Thus we have a belief that is produced by a cognitive faculty not aimed at truth, even if it is properly functioning (which is why proper function isn't sufficient for warrant). If true, we have a successful de jure objection.

Plantinga then spends all of part III developing a possible account of how, if Christianity is true, Christian belief is warranted. Building off some of the work in his previous two volumes, he concludes that the Christian's belief in God, the great things of the Gospel, etc., are properly basic. God made us with a certain design plan, and knowing him, knowing about salvation, is important for us. Thus belief in God B can be the product of properly functioning cognitive faculties, functioning in a congenial epistemic environment, and according to a design plan aimed at producing true beliefs; and B is subject to no undefeated-defeaters.

Plantinga spends part IV discussing the nature of defeaters (which is an interesting subject in and of itself, Plantinga just hits the tree tops), and then specific defeaters to the Christian faith. This is because a non-Christian might make the move that accepts Plantinga's claim that if Christianity were true the believer would be warranted, but since there are defeaters for the Christian's belief, this takes away their warrant.

Plantinga, I think, succeeds in showing that objections to Christianity rely on the de facto question. He succeeds in providing a model (he calls it the Aquinas/Calvin model) which, if Christianity is true, shows that Christian belief can be rational, warranted, epistemically permissible, etc., and, not only that, but it would be rational to believe in God without evidence for that belief, given the proper basicality of theistic belief.

The main complain I have is that I don't follow Plantinga in his understanding of A/C. He says humans have a knowledge producing faculty, the sensus divinitatis. But, I think that both A/C, and the Bible! (cf. Romans 1), teach that all men have knowledge, not just a knowledge-producing faculty. But this is easily overcome. All in all, I find Plantinga's book here, indeed the entire trilogy, to be extremely successful. Much future work will no doubt build off the very strong basic foundation he laid. Even if Plantinga is wrong about the specifics, then, as he says, something like his model is true.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Jacob Aitken Paul,
I am somewhat familiar with Plantinga's stuff and I've read a decent amount of Bill Craig and others. I found Plantinga's work for $5 and bought WCB. How much does he assume the reader knows of the first two books in the trilogy?

Paul Not too much. You could profitably read it.

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