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Monday, October 08, 2007

Warranted Christian Belief - Preface

After blogging on Plantinga's God and Other Minds much stimulating and energetic discussion ensued that demands follow up. Plantinga has been a significant philosophical influence for me, and I have always wanted to do some serious blogging through his Warrant trilogy. Well, my friends, the time has arrived. As the leaves turn colors and the cool weather begins to push us indoors and into the company of good books and even better blogs, I would like to start working through Plantinga's third book in the Warrant trilogy, Warranted Christian Belief (WCB).

WCB was published in 2000, some seven years after the publication of Warrant: The Current Debate (1993) and Warrant and Proper Function (1993). These first two works were strictly epistemological, written within the tradition of Analytic philosophy for a scholarly and academic audience. The third book applies Plantinga's epistemology specifically to the Christian faith and asks various questions regarding the rationality of Christianity. Says Plantinga, "This book is about the intellectual or rational acceptability of Christian belief." (vii)

Plantinga recognizes the need to address the contemporary thinking and hence asks if Christianity is "rational" for the twenty-first century educated populace: "Our question is this: is belief of this sort intellectually acceptable? In particular, is it intellectually acceptable for us, now? For educated and intelligent people living in the twenty-first century, with all that has happened over the last four or five hundred years?" (viii)

As we move through the preface, Plantinga notes two, specific objections:
"Western thought since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment has displayed at least two distinct styles of objection. First, there have been de facto objections: objections to the truth of Christian belief. Perhaps the most important de facto objection would be the argument from suffering and evil.

Even more prevalent, however, have been de jure objections. These are arguments or claims to the effect that Christian belief, whether or not true, is at any rate unjustifiable, or rationally unjustified, or irrational, or not intellectually respectable, or contrary to sound morality, or without sufficient evidence or in some other way rationally unacceptable, not up to snuff from an intellectual point of view." (viii-ix)

The two objections, then are de facto and de jure. As the name implies, de facto objections deal with the issue of truth and falsity. Simply put, is Christianity in fact true? Or, can we establish from arguments (such as the argument from suffering and evil) that Christianity is false? De jure objections, on the other hand, deal with the idea of rationality. Even if one may not be able to establish that Christianity is false, perhaps one simply finds various aspects of the faith to be unreasonable or irrational.

As noted above, Plantinga's interest in this book is the de jure question - is Christianity rational? (see p. 3) But Plantinga's distinction between de facto and de jure - between truth and rationality - immediately raises the question of what the connection is between the two. Is not that which is rational also true? And is not that which is true always rational??? Why does Plantinga separate the two? Well, my friends, this question is a critical one. It forces us to ask what the relationship is between rationality and truth, and at this point I make an unprecedented move for my readers at the very outset of our investigation: I give away the ending! I cite Plantinga's last paragraph where he asks about the truth of Christianity:
"But is it 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."

Note first that for Plantinga the truth question is still important, indeed, it is "maximally important." And yet to say that the question of "truth" is settled by argumentation is not a contention that Plantinga makes. This will be important to keep in mind as we further into the book. Plantinga is no fideist. He believes in rationality and reason. He also utilizes argumentation and logic. Yet the critical issue carried throughout this book is in regards to the purpose, place, and use of reason within epistemology and the process of human thought and belief. It is this issue that requires us to explore the heart of the Modern epistemological debate. So in this regard, although I have cited the ending at the beginning, the critical issues of the book remain spread out before us. We must still ask about the rationality of Christian belief. But to even do this, we must ask about Plantinga's own ideas of rationality and how they fit within one's belief system.

My hope is to blog through WCB chapter by chapter. Each chapter raises its own fascinating issues related to knowledge and Christian belief, and hence there is much fodder for thought. If I may take a moment for self-promotion, I think I am in a unique position to blog on Plantinga. For one thing, I very much appreciate and respect the Analytic philosophical tradition from which Plantinga emerges. However, I have by no means sold my intellectual soul to some of the more detailed (and in my opinion "mundane"!) aspects of Analytic philosophy (symbolic logic being one area where my patience is worn very thin!). In Plantinga's philosophy and theology I find ideas and lines of thought that are not strictly limited to the realms of Analytic philosophy. One example of this is the concept of sensus divinitatis, which I have blogged on from time to time. It is my hope to open up these discussions beyond the circle of purely Analytic philosophy, and Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief, makes this transition very smooth and quite natural.

Alvin Plantinga was one of the most significant figures in twentieth century Christian thought. So much of the last century's philosophical and theological thought was either unoriginal, uninspiring, or even downright embarrassing. (I think about how much ink was spilled plotting charts for the end of the age!) I think that Plantinga is an important point of departure for Christian thinking as we move into the 21st century. My goal is to open up these issues for our mutual exploration. I confess that I will likely defend Plantinga in most cases, but on some issues (important issues, even) I think he misses some critical points, particularly related to his perception and refutation of various postmodern perspectives. But this is, after all, the blogosphere and no one is safe! No man is an island unto himself

And so, my friends, let the games begin and the discussions ensue.


Jason Hesiak said...

I find it obvious that he probably isn't such a fan of the postmoderns if he's an analytic philosopher. I will look foward to seeing how you reconcile your own interest in analytic and postmodern philosophy...??

Jonathan Erdman said...


I am an odd duck.

Jason Hesiak said...

Rather than quak you say quark. And rather than waddling funnily you waddly backwards, looking behind you (when engaging with those blasted analytics!)

You and your anxiety issues :)

On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and by his music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone (he was the only person ever to do so), who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: he should walk in front of her and not look back until he had reached the upper world. In his anxiety he broke his promise, and Eurydice vanished again from his sight.


Jason Hesiak said...

meant to say "waddle backwards", of course :)

ktismatics said...

As the token agnostic I'll let you know if any of Plantinga's ideas as you represent them give me pause.

Jason Hesiak said...

FYI Erdman, the part of that post prior to the part I quoted goes as follows: The most famous story in which Orpheus figures is that of his wife Eurydice (also known as Agriope). While fleeing from Aristaeus (son of Apollo), Eurydice ran into a nest of snakes which bit her fatally on her legs. Distraught, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept.


ktismatics said...

"Look, about... being nuts. You're not, and you never have been. That means what you see, and hear, and feel, and think... you think that is your mind. But the real mind is invisible: you're less aware of it, while you think, than you are of your eye while you see... until something goes wrong with it. Then you become aware of it, with all its dislocated pieces and its rackety functioning, the same way you become aware of your eye when you get a cinder in it. Because it hurts... Sure, it distorts things. But the strange thing, the thing you can never explain to anyone, except another nut, or, if you're lucky, a doctor who has an unusual amount of sense -- stranger than the hallucinations, or the voices, or the anxiety -- is the way you begin to experience the edges of the mind itself... in a way other people just can't." -- the Kid, in Dhalgren by Samuel Delany, 1974.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Excellent quotations!

John, how do your rank Dhalgren? Do you recommend it? Have you read anything else by Delany?

John: As the token agnostic I'll let you know if any of Plantinga's ideas as you represent them give me pause.

Well, perhaps we shall pull in a few more "token agnostics" and perhaps a few atheists. The latter tend to dismiss Plantinga out of hand as a fideist, however, without too much thought. In fact, from my experience, I find atheists (as opposed to agnostics) tend to be operating under a very narrow scientific-type epistemology. That is, it often appears to be more a Vienna School approach wherein supernatural talk is essentially nonsense to begin with, so why bother? That, and the scientific inaccuracies in scriptural texts tend to make any religious belief system rather irrelevant.