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Posts Tagged ‘Presuppositionalism

A Tribute to the Retiring Alvin Plantinga

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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.

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3 Month Introspective

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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

Introduction to Apologetics, Part 7: Concluding Thoughts

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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

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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 4: Presuppositional Apologetics

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On day one of every Intro to Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Problem of God, or any other similar course the same thing occurs.  Following all the necessary syllabus details there comes a statement like this:

This is an academic institution, as such, we are examiners of religious and philosophical questions.  In this course, we are not practitioners of religion, hence appeals to religious texts are outside of the scope of this course.  We will examine the topics with rigorous rational thinking.

Herein lies the perhaps the biggest bait-and-switch at the University.  As a Christian you are now disallowed to bring any aspect of the Bible into the discussion.  This is strange because it assumes that either A. The Bible is entirely irrational or B. to bring the Bible into an academic discussion makes us somehow practioners of Christianity.  As an undergrad, I remember sitting there and thinking, there is something wrong about this statement, but lacking the ability to deconstruct the statement.

I think it is statements like the one above that have caused many apologists to battle only employing the tools of reason and rationality, largely leaving Scripture out of the discussion.  This is sad and problematic as it virtually conceded a loss.  Recall that presuppositional apologetics presupposes the existence of God and the truth of the Scriptures.  Presuppositional apologetics seeks not to defend Christianity with rational evidences but rather attacks the false assumptions (presuppositions) of the unbeliever.  Say, a non-believer believes that man is inherently good and does not believe in God or His Word… all the evidences in the world will do no good until his incorrect and inconsistent presuppositions are exposed.  It also challenges whether rational arguments are any good at all being that all the reason in the world will do no good unless God regenerates their heart.

The sum total of all truth is that which has been revealed  in the Scriptures (Special Revelation), plus that which is commonly revealed naturally (General Revelation).  General and Special Revelation have a symbiotic relationship.  We need to be able to read (general revelation) in order to understand the Scriptures (special revelation).  We need the Scriptures (special revelation) to make sense of our senses, emotions, and world (general revelation).  The sad story in academia listed above are demanding that Special Revelation not be brought into the classroom.  The problem is that:

[T]he truths of experience are not self-explanatory.  Instead they merely constitute the data that cries out to be explained within an overarching worldview.  Why is it that the bits of matter we call our bodies have consciousness and are able to navigate the world so effectively?  Why are we capable of building societies with some measure of justice and compassion?… why is it possible for humans to calculate a trajectory and land a spacecraft on another planet?  What kind of world permits these fascinating achievements?  Our claim as Christians is that only a biblically based worldview offers a complete and consistent explanation of why we are capable of knowing scientific, moral, and mathematical truths.  Christianity is the key that fits the lock of the universe.

Moreover, since all other worldviews are false keys, we can be absolutely confident, when talking with nonbelievers, that they themselves know things that are not accounted for by their own worldview – whatever it may be.  Or to turn it around, they will not be able to live consistently on the basis of their own worldview.  Since their metaphysical beliefs do not fit the world God created, their lives will be more or less inconsistent with those beliefs.  Living in the real world requires them to function in ways that are not support by their worldview.   Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth, pp. 318-319.

In other words, the world and our senses cannot interpret themselves, they require a grid in which to understand them.  In the University, on day one they are telling you that you cannot bring any special revelation in which to interpret the world, history, reason, logic, ‘good,’ or ‘evil.’  The problem is that general revelation will never be sufficient to have any saving knowledge of Jesus, nor will general revelation ever be sufficient to have a complete worldview.  It cannot account for morality (moral good or moral evil).  It cannot account for facts.  It cannot account for language.  It cannot account for logic.

Presuppositional Apologetics primarily has its roots in the teaching of Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987).  Two of Van Til’s students Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995) and John Frame (1939-) continued the tradition making presuppositionalism more widely known.

Here are three articles written by John Frame to further introduce you to presuppositional thought:  “Presuppositional Apologetics,” “Presuppositional Apologetics:  An Introduction,” and “Monergism:  Presuppositional Apologetics.”

Up next, the apologetic thought of Blaise Pascal.

Seeds of Presuppositionalism

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Cornelius Van Til

Seeds of presuppositionalism in Pascal?  Consider #701 (using Penguin classics numbering):

701.  When we want to correct someone usefully and show him he is wrong, we must see from what point of view he is approaching the matter, for it is usually right from that point of view, and we must admit this, but show him the point of view from which  it is wrong.

Don’t tell me that isn’t Cornelius Van Til some 300 years prior.

Written by Michael Graham

September 30, 2009 at 2:08 pm

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