David 's Reviews > Warranted Christian Belief

Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga
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Dec 03, 09

bookshelves: apologetics, philosophy
Read in December, 2009

Plantinga sets out in this book to answer the de jure objections to Christian faith which are arguments that, apart from whether Christianity is true or not (de facto objections), argue that Christian belief is unjustifiable, irrational or not intellectually respectable. After discussing whether we can speak of God anyway (Part 1), the second part of the book seeks to discover just what the de jure objection is. Plantinga is an excellent philosopher and this book is filled with philosophical jargon and extended arguments. Thus, it is no easy read. Plantinga discusses justification and rationality before concluding that the only promising candidate for a decent objection is the Freud/Marx complaint (mostly Freud) that Christian knowledge lacks warrant because it is merely a sort of wish fulfillment.

Over the course of two previous books (which I have not read and are not necessary to read to get this book), Plantinga defined warrant: "a belief has warrant if and only if it is produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly in a congenial epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at the production of true belief" (498). What Plantina points out in regard to the Freud is that the objection that Christianity is merely wish-fulfillment assumes that Christianity is false. Thus, the objection that Christianity is irrational is not independent of whether Christianity is true. So really, if Christian belief is false than perhaps Freud is right. But if Christianity is true, then Freud is wrong and believing Christianity certainly does have warrant.

What this all really demonstrates is that the refrain: "I have no idea whether Christian belief is true, but I do know that it is irrational" cannot be defended. If it is true, believing it is rational; if it is not true, believing it is not rational.

In part three of the book Plantinga presents a model for warranted belief in God based on John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas, which he (obviously) calls the Aquinas/Calvin model. He argues that the sensus divinitatis (sense of God) operates in humans to automatically produce belief in God. Thus, belief in God is a basic belief (akin to memory or perception). It is not a belief held on the basis of other beliefs (I do not need evidence to prove it). Throughout the rest of part three he shows how the great truths of the Christian faith, beyond simple belief in God, can be warranted.

Finally, in part four Platinga considers four possible defeaters for Christian belief. Defeaters are beliefs that, once held, make other beliefs no longer possible. Upon examination Platinga concludes that none of these (projection, sorts of biblical scholarship, religious pluralism and evil) constitute a defeater for Christian faith.

He closes the book by again stating that Christian belief is warranted. Is it true? Plantinga says: "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 only say it does, indeed, seem to me to be true, and to be the maximally important truth" (499).

Overall, this is a heavy and difficult read. Plantinga presents a strong argument from a Reformed Apologetic position, although I think his argument is applicable to all sorts of Christian belief. Or at least, I am not picky enough to try to see why a Catholic or Methodist could not be grateful for this work. Plantinga probably will not, and does not really intend to, convince anyone of the truth of Christian belief. But his work serves to show that Christian belief is warranted as opposed to many charges. Plantinga's work has had great influence in philosophy departments and among academics. I recommend this book for Christian leaders as the arguments can answer Christians' questions and provide fodder for discussion with skeptics. Again I note though, this book is very difficult. I am sure I missed much, despite my best efforts! But I believe the effort in grasping Plantinga, and I may return to this book often, is worth it!
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