Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Archive for the ‘Alvin Plantinga’ Category

A Tribute to the Retiring Alvin Plantinga

with 8 comments

Alvin Plantinga has been a professor of philosophy for over 50 years, spending his last 28 years at Notre Dame.   To be quite frank he is one of the best philosophers in the past few centuries.   I think the greatest complement I have ever heard of Plantinga came a Jewish atheist professor at UF, who said something to the effect, ‘Alvin Plantinga has single handidly made Christianity respectable again in philosophy… his arguments are so damn good, that I have reconsidered my atheism.’

In analytic philosophy circles, Christianity was seen as an epistemological joke.  Plantinga painstakingly carved out a space for Christianity back at the discussion table in even the most hostile departments.  It is perhaps somewhat ironic that Plantinga was at Notre Dame considering his theological and philosophical heritage was from the Reformed tradition.  However, from what I understand the President of Notre Dame at the time wanted the best Christian thinking and at that time it happened to be Reformed epistemology.   So, Notre Dame grabbed guys like Plantinga, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Peter van Inwagen.

Here is a poor attempt at a brief and uncomprehensive summary his contribution to Christian thought:

Warranted Christian Belief and God as properly basic (Reformed Epistemology)

In Warranted Christian Belief, Plantinga makes a case that several things are properly basic.  Something that is properly basis does not require proof and functions as the bedrock that we layer our daily lives on top of.  One such example is Descartes’ famous “cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I exist.”  The most important thing that Plantinga voraciously argues for is that the existence of God is properly basic [and the atheists gasp, throwing the yellow flag calling for a 5 yard illegal motion penalty].  Plantinga makes a very good case (along with the presuppositionalists) that belief in God requires no proof or justification.  Consider the following – can you prove that other minds exist.  It sounds like a stupid question, but can you?  I could be a brain in a vat, or Neo in the Matrix, or the muse of some evil genius and all of what I think is reality could be completely constructed, and I am on the only thinking being.  None of us thinks or believes that we are the only mind in existence.  In simple terms, the belief in other minds is properly basic in a similar way that belief in God is properly basic.  Plantinga spends the rest of the book defending that the Christian worldview is justifiable.

Free-Will Defense Against the Logical Problem of Evil

There are several Problem(s) of Evil in philosophy.  The most common had been the logical problem of evil:

1. If a perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.    2. There is evil in the world.    3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

Most philosophers have conceded that Plantinga has solved the logical problem of evil in his Free-Will Defense, and have given up on the logical problem of evil.  First off, it is important to say that his argument is a defense and not a theodicy.  A theodicy is a justification for why evil exists in a world created by God.  A defense exists merely to show a logically possible set of premises that refutes the trilemma above.  Plantinga’s argument goes like such:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.  God, Freedom, and Evil, pp. 166-167.

In undergrad, I wrote a paper reworking Plantinga’s argument removing a free-will view of Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility and inserting a compatibilist view in its place.  I believe that my paper did no harm to Plantinga’s argument and that his argument is still compatible with compatibilism.

Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

The evolutionary argument against naturalism is sheer brilliance.  He argues that if evolution and naturalism are true then it seriously undermines both evolution and naturalism.  Naturalism is the idea that we hold ideas “true” today because they have “survival value.”  If evolution and naturalism are true, then human thinking evolved to produce ideas that have survival value and not necessarily truth.  The set of beliefs that maximizes my ability to eat, reproduce, and fight is not always what is true.  Evolution and naturalism, therefore, are tuned to survival rather than truth.  Therefore, this casts significant doubt on trusting our thinking itself, and included in that thinking are both the ideas of evolution or naturalism themselves.  Genius.

Modal Logic Version of Ontological Argument

It took me 3 years, 4 philosophy professors, and 4 versions of the argument to finally understand its genius.  It is not sophistry; it is not a parlor trick; it is not a aberration of grammar.  Do not go chasing the ontological argument unless you have copious amounts of time, a willingness to make your brain hurt, and the patience to deconstruct why Gaunilo and Kant’s objections are incorrect.  If you are up to the task, start here.

In the wake of evangelicalism’s massive receding from all public spheres (particularly the University), Plantinga has nearly single-handidly re-carved out a space for the Christian to have a voice in philosophy and respectability in the University.  You would be wise to have a basic understanding of his thinking.

Thank you Alvin.  I am deeply indebted.

3 Month Introspective

with one comment

Introspective

So, I’ve been blogging consistently for three months.  This is the week of Christmas and I’ll be all over the place.  I thought I would briefly summarize the 3 months of blog series on here:

Blaise Pascal:  We took a look at Blaise Pascal’s thinking, its use of aphorism and its relationship to both tri-perspectivalism and presuppositionalism.  We also looked at his use of aphorism and his warnings against deism and atheism.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Past, Present, and Future, Parts 1-7:  We defined the term evangelical.  We looked at its historical roots in the First Great Awakening, Second Great Awakening, and its ties to celebrity culture, democritization of knowledge, and modernism.  Then we looked at the roots of liberalism, the Protestant split and suburbanization, and defined and outlined evangelical populism and their game plan for reaching America.  Finally we assessed the current status of American evangelicalism and then made some predictions of future trends.

Introduction to Apologetics, Parts 1-7:  We looked in broad strokes at the various schools of apologetics.  We then took a more in-depth look at:  Classical Apologetics, Evidentialist Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, and the specific apologetics of Blaise Pascal and Alvin Plantinga.  Finally, we employed the three phases football as an analogy for the different apologetic schools and I likened Tim Tebow to the presuppositionalists.

Thoughts on Evangelicalism Moving Forward, Parts 1-10:  We looked at some analysis of some shifts evangelicalism will need to make moving forward:  Doctrine, Worldview, Urbanization, Globality/Mobility, “Post-Modernism,” American Culture(s), Contextualization, Balance, and Final Analysis.

Top ~10 Books by Topic:

Top 10 Systematic Theology Texts

Top 10 Devotional Classics

Top 10 Books on the Church

Top 10 Books on Science and Christianity

Top 10 Books on Christian Biography

Top 10 Books on Culture

Top 10 Books on Eschatology

Top 5 Books on Worldview

Top 15 Books on Status of American Evangelicalism

Top 10 Books on Church History

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

Top 10 Books on Missions, Discipleship, and Evangelism

The 25 Most Destructive Books Ever Written…

Top 10 Apologetic Works

Top 10 Books on Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Top 10 Books by John Piper

Top 5 Children’s Books

Best Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms of the Christian Church

A Comprehensive List of Top 10 Book Lists of 2009

Up Next:  We will be looking at some thoughts on the economy and investment and then delve into the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche…

Written by Michael Graham

December 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

Top 10 Apologetic Works

with one comment

Apologetics to the Glory of God

This is a highly selective list of what I think are both good and useful apologetic works.

1.  Apologetics to the Glory of God by John Frame  [y, l, e, p, s]

At the end of the day, I think the presuppositionalists have the most Biblical and best defense of Christianity.  This is the best of the presuppositional works.

2.  Pensees by Blaise Pascal  [y, l, e, p, s]

This book should come as no surprise considering the title of this blog.  Pascal speaks to the heart and the mind.  His analysis of man’s greatness/wretchedness, propensity towards boredom, and love of diversions make so much sense of the human experience in light of the Christian story.

3.  Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga  [p, s]

This is Plantinga’s magnum opus.  He presents his epistemology.  It is not an easy read, a background in philosophy would be very helpful.

4.  Tactics:  A Gameplan For Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Gregory Koukl  [y, l, e, p, s]

While not necessarily an apologetic work, this is a helpful book for creating discussion about your faith.  I included it here because it is so helpful and practical.

5.  Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe  [l, e, p, s]

See write-up here.

6.  The Reason for God by Tim Keller  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

Keller presents a third way between pure science/reason and pure faith.

7.  Cornelius Van Til:  An Analysis of His Thought by John Frame  [e, p, s]

If you are seriously interested in presuppositional thought, then this is a good place to dig deeper.

8.  Defending Your Faith by R.C. Sproul  [y, l, e, p, s]

R.C. has put together a very solid and readable introduction to apologetics.  A good first book on the subject.

9.  God and Other Minds by Alvin Plantinga  [p, s]

Here, Plantinga discusses the classical arguments for/against God.  Also, his God, Freedom, and Evil is pretty good.  It is not an easy read.  A background in philosophy and/or logic is very helpful.

10.  Every Thought Captive by Richard Pratt  [c, y, l, e, p, s]

This brief book is an accessible and good read for everyone.

(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)

Top 40 Books to Read While in College

with 4 comments

Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper

You will never have more discretionary time than while in college.  This is a critical time for you to develop your character and mind.  This is a list of what I think are the most important books to work through during your time as an undergrad.  These books focus on developing your heart to affection (orthopathos), renewing your mind to truth (orthodoxy), and provoking your hands to kingdom work (orthopraxis).  Take 10 books a year and devote 30 minutes a day – you’ll finish the list, perhaps even early.

Note:  I have listed them in order of how I think they should be read and not necessarily in order of how good they are.  For sake of space, I am not going to do a writeup on each of these.  If you have a question(s) about a book(s), just post in the comments.

1.  Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
2.  Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
3.  The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
4.  Designed for Dignity by Richard Pratt
5.  The Fuel and the Flame by Steve Shadrach
6.  Tell the Truth by Will Metzger
7.  The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
8.  Holiness by J.C. Ryle
9.  The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable by F.F. Bruce
10.  Universe Next Door by James Sire
11.  Knowing God by J.I. Packer
12.  Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
13.  Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray
14.  Pensees by Blaise Pascal
15.  No Place for Truth by David Wells
16.  The Cross of Christ by John Stott
17.  Culture Wars by James Hunter
18.  Let The Nations Be Glad by John Piper
19.  Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame
20.  Desiring God (or something else more substantial) by John Piper
21.  The John Frame Trilogy:  Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Doctrine of God, Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame
22.  The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington
23.  Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson
24.  Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
25.  Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
26.  Love the Lord Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland
27.  Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson
28.  Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
29.  Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
30.  Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
31.  How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Fee and Stuart
32.  He Gave us Stories by Richard Pratt [there is a nice summary here]
33.  Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin
34.  Confessions by St. Augustine
35.  Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga
36.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (I included this book because it is important for us to study antithetical works, I will make a list of books like this one later)
37.  What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile
38.  Habits of the Mind by James Sire
39.  Why We’re Not Emergent:  From Two Guys That Should Be by Ted Kluck and Kevin Deyoung
40.  Baptism and Fullness by John Stott

What books would you add?

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 7: Concluding Thoughts

with one comment

Tim Tebow Presuppositionalist

Tim Tebow as Presuppositionalist

I see a place for all the apologetic schools in defense of Christianity.  There are some that are firmly entrenched in their particular school or tradition, and for the most part I understand where they are coming from.  I happen to think the presuppositionatlists are head and shoulders above the other schools and I happen to agree that their approach is the most Biblical, and therefore the most God glorifying.  However, I see a lot of value in the classical and evidentialist schools and I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water.  From a personal perspective, intelligent design, the teleological argument, and the ontological argument had a profound impact on my life.

I think the main value of evidences are to bolster pre-existing faith by showing that our faith is not unreasonable, unjustified, or unwarranted.  I think the main value of presuppositional apologetics is calling all non-Christian worldviews to task over the fact that they hold mutually exclusive propositions and cannot account for all things.

Perhaps its a silly analogy, but I liken apologetics to the three phases of footballoffense, defense, and special teams.  The presuppositionalists are on the offensive challenging false notions in other worldviews.  The classical and evidentialist apologetists are defending the reasonability of the Christian faith.  Then there are guys like Blaise Pascal, and Alvin Plantinga that specialize in kickoffs, punts, PATs, and field goals.  Together they present a coherent, consistent, and believable Christianity that makes sense of existence intellectually, emotionally, and experientially.

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 6: Alvin Plantinga

with 5 comments

Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga, Genius

I remember being introduced to Alvin Plantinga, first in my Philosophy of Religion course at University of Florida.  I recall my professor, who was a gregarious Jewish atheist, saying something to the effect, ‘Alvin Plantinga has single handidly made Christianity respectable again in philosophy… his arguments are so damn good, that I have reconsidered my atheism.’  This piqued my attention and after reading several different arguments, journal articles, and Warranted Christian Belief, I wholeheartedly concur with my former Professor.

Like Blaise Pascal, some Christian apologists transcend categorical description.  Alvin Plantinga is one of those that you cannot pigeon hole into a single camp.  His epistemology relies heavily on presuppositional thinking, Scottish Common Sense Philosophy, and Reformed Thought.  His free-will defense against the problem of evil relies on a Molinist position of Divine sovereignty (at best).  His ontological argument employs modal logic.  His default writing style is Analytic Philosophy.  He teaches at a Catholic University (Notre Dame).  Plantinga is a strange amalgam indeed, and in this writer’s view, a good balance of cross-pollination.

Here is an attempt at a brief summary of his contribution to Christian thought:

Warranted Christian Belief and God as properly basic (Reformed Epistemology)

In Warranted Christian Belief, Plantinga makes a case that several things are properly basic.  Something that is properly basis does not require proof and functions as the bedrock that we layer our daily lives on top of.  One such example is Descartes’ famous “cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I exist.”  The most important thing that Plantinga voraciously argues for is that the existence of God is properly basic [and the atheists gasp, throwing the yellow flag calling for a 5 yard illegal motion penalty].  Plantinga makes a very good case (along with the presuppositionalists) that belief in God requires no proof or justification.  Consider the following – can you prove that other minds exist.  It sounds like a stupid question, but can you?  I could be a brain in a vat, or Neo in the Matrix, or the muse of some evil genius and all of what I think is reality could be completely constructed, and I am on the only thinking being.  None of us thinks or believes that we are the only mind in existence.  In simple terms, the belief in other minds is properly basic in a similar way that belief in God is properly basic.  Plantinga spends the rest of the book defending that the Christian worldview is justifiable.

Free-Will Defense Against the Logical Problem of Evil

There are several Problem(s) of Evil in philosophy.  The most common had been the logical problem of evil:

1. If a perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.    2. There is evil in the world.    3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

Most philosophers have conceded that Plantinga has solved the logical problem of evil in his Free-Will Defense, and have given up on the logical problem of evil.  First off, it is important to say that his argument is a defense and not a theodicy.  A theodicy is a justification for why evil exists in a world created by God.  A defense exists merely to show a logically possible set of premises that refutes the trilemma above.  Plantinga’s argument goes like such:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.  God, Freedom, and Evil, pp. 166-167.

In undergrad, I wrote a paper reworking Plantinga’s argument removing a free-will view of Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility and inserting a compatibilist view in its place.  I believe that my paper did no harm to Plantinga’s argument and that his argument is still compatible with compatibilism.

Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

The evolutionary argument against naturalism is sheer brilliance.  He argues that if evolution and naturalism are true then it seriously undermines both evolution and naturalism.  Naturalism is the idea that we hold ideas “true” today because they have “survival value.”  If evolution and naturalism are true, then human thinking evolved to produce ideas that have survival value and not necessarily truth.  The set of beliefs that maximizes my ability to eat, reproduce, and fight is not always what is true.  Evolution and naturalism, therefore, are tuned to survival rather than truth.  Therefore, this casts significant doubt on trusting our thinking itself, and included in that thinking are both the ideas of evolution or naturalism themselves.  Genius.

Modal Logic Version of Ontological Argument

It took me 3 years, 4 philosophy professors, and 4 versions of the argument to finally understand its genius.  It is not sophistry; it is not a parlor trick; it is not a aberration of grammar.  Do not go chasing the ontological argument unless you have copious amounts of time, a willingness to make your brain hurt, and the patience to deconstruct why Gaunilo and Kant’s objections are incorrect.  If you are up to the task, start here.

In the wake of evangelicalism’s massive receding from all public spheres (particularly the University), Plantinga has nearly single-handidly re-carved out a space for the Christian to have a voice in philosophy and respectability in the University.  You would be wise to have a basic understanding of his thinking.

Up next, concluding thoughts on the relative merits of the different apologetic schools.

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 2: Classical Apologetics

with one comment

Augustine

St. Augustine

Again, classical apologetics focuses on the rational basis of the Christian faith.  It establishes this through several rational arguments for the existence of God (Cosmological, Teleological, and Ontological), and evidences for the reliability of the Bible and miracles.

Some main characters:

-The Apostle Paul (first century) would sometimes cite the resurrection and fulfillment of miracles in his preaching of the Gospel (Acts 17…).

Justin Martyr (100-165 ad) focuses much of his attention defending Christianity to the Roman government and arguing against prominent heretics of that day, particularly Marcion.  Justin keys in on defending the Incarnation of Jesus as the Divine Logos, emphasizing prophecies fulfilled, and highlighting the reality of Jesus’ Second Coming. [there are some presuppositional veins in Justin Martyr as well – most notably, he thinks God’s existence needs no proof]

St. Augustine wrote very widely defending Christianity against the heresy of Pelagius as well as positively refining/defining many central elements of orthodox Christianity.

St. Anselm (1033-1109) is most famous for the original formulation of the Ontological Argument.  The ontological argument for the existence of God is exceedingly difficult to understand, requiring heavy thinking to comprehend its brilliance.  I happen to think that the ontological argument actually establishes the existence of God.  I also happen to think that it is the second best argument behind the presuppositional Transcendental Argument.  I think the best formulation of the ontological argument is Alvin Plantinga’s version employing modal logic.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) also wrote very widely, providing much of the foundations for the Roman Catholic tradition up til Vatican II.  Aquinas is a central figure in Classical Apologetics for his 5 arguments for the existence of God.  The 5 arguments are:

  1. Many things are moving.  Everything that is moved was moved by something.  An infinite chain of movers is impossible.  Therefore there had to be an unmoved mover.  We call this unmoved mover God.
  2. Many things are caused.  Existence is a series of causes and effects.  There had to be a beginning, hence there must be a first cause to this chain of causes and effects.  We call this unmoved mover God.
  3. Some things in the Universe may or may not exist, these beings exist contingently.  However, it is impossible for everything in the Universe to be contingent, because something exists right now.  Therefore, there must be a being whose existence is not contingent but necessary.  We call this necessarily existent being God.
  4. Different perfections of a wide range of degrees can be evidenced  in the Universe.  These degrees of perfection assume an ultimate standard.  The ultimate standard is God.
  5. All natural bodies work toward a purpose.  These objects are unintelligent in an of themselves.  Acting towards a purpose is a sign of intelligence.  Therefore, there is an intelligent being that guides these natural bodies to those purposes.  This intelligent being is God.

In recent times several key apologists continue on the rich tradition behind them:  R.C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and J.P. Moreland.

Up next, we will take a look at Evidentialist Apologetics.

%d bloggers like this: