a broad Plantingian spirit

Alvin Plantinga is famous for (among other things) his claim that if Christianity is true, then Christian belief is probably justified and warranted. What is interesting about Plantinga’s account of religious epistemology is the “move to metaphysics” (so named by Tyler Wunder), that is, that what it is rational to believe, or what we think is rational to believe, can be very much dependent on our metaphysics (or should be, if we understand the entailments between our beliefs correctly.) So the theist qua theist ought to have different beliefs or expectations when it comes to epistemology than the atheist qua atheist. To place the expectations of one’s own metaphysical camp on the other is to beg the question against them. I think he’s right and I want offer up a similar move myself.

It’s actually a simplification of Plantinga’s own argument for Christian belief enjoying warrant. I think we can reach Plantinga’s basic conclusion while bypassing most of the detail of his epistemological account. Doing so (hopefully) produces an argument which helps make the spirit of Plantinga’s project escape the confines of reformed epistemology. Here’s a stab at expressing what I have in mind:

1. If Christianity is true, then probably God has designed/orchestrated/prepared/enabled a way for at least some people to believe Christianity in a warranted manner.
2. Some people P believe in Christianity.
3. [1 and 2] Therefore, if Christianity is true then God has probably designed/orchestrated/prepared/enabled a way for at least some of the members of P to believe Christianity in a warranted manner.
4. There are quite typical reasons, motives, impulses, pushes, experiences etc. (call this package R) which produce Christian belief in the members of P.
5. [3 and 4] Therefore, if Christianity is true, then probably R produces warranted Christian belief for P.

It seems to me that the weakest premise is (4). It might be doubted that there really are discernible patterns to the believings of different people. But then both Christians and sceptics often act as though there are. Christians believe for emotional comfort, a sceptic might say, thus drawing up a common manner of believing for all Christians (or all the religious generally). People comes to Christ once they come to the end of themselves, Christians might say, again drawing up a general theory of how these believings are conducted. Of course, details may vary massively, and they’ll always be some bizarre cases but it doesn’t seem implausible to me that we could discern broad patterns.

Of course it’s open to the sceptic to argue that, in fact, Christian belief isn’t warranted, and that therefore Christianity isn’t true (a kind of reversal of the move). I grant that this move is open, but they’ll have to support their argument for this conclusion and I don’t think that will be easy to do (not that my reservations ought to stop anyone).

But really, I propose this more for Christian ears as a invitation to conduct religious epistemology in a certain way. It seems to me that certain apologetic methodologies construct their epistemological theories and wield those to support religious belief, all the while oblivious to the fact that the vast majority of believers find these theories utterly removed from their own experience of belief. The evidentialist insists that belief in God is rational because upon a disengaged calculation of the facts, theism comes up top. The presuppositionalist insists that belief in God is rational because we all reason in circles, and only Biblical theism can validly complete a circle while also holding on to the existence of the external world, of morality, logic, truth, and the like. Never mind that probably no ancient Israelite ever doubted the existence of the external world, or saw a need to ‘justify it’ or anything else on that list.

The argument above is that Christians should expect that the more typical influences toward Christian beliefs are those which probably have warrant. Maybe there are also other, more exotic modes of acquiring warrant, but if it’s apologetics that one is interested in, then surely one is concerned to defend the faith that most people actually have. Christians, then, should perform their religious epistemology first of all by a study of religious belief and its phenomenology. Why, actually, do most people believe in God (or not)? What is adopting religious belief like for most people? And in fact, this sort of study involves a honest reflection on what one’s own religious experience is like, which we are often quite deceived about, especially if we’re intellectuals (the tendency to rationalism). This I think is the manner in which Plantinga engaged his project. He often comments on what it is like to believe in God – that it isn’t similar to what it’s like to believe a scientific theory, for instance. (It is interest to note as well how humble is attitude towards his belief seems to be). Now I’ve recently come to believe that his theoretical account of what religious belief is like is in fact wrong (closer than most people’s account, but not fully there – Charles Taylor hits it, in my opinion), but his methodology is certainly on the right track. It’s that methodology which we need.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s