Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Posts Tagged ‘Problem of Evil

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.

Advertisements

Introduction to Apologetics… Part 1

with one comment

Paul

Paul, The First Apologist

I think there are two main barriers to people consistently sharing their faith, fear of man and lack of knowledge.  We will do a series of blog posts to introduce the different schools of Christian apologetics.

[Christian] Apologetics means quite simply a defense of the Christian faith.  Broadly speaking, we can use the sports metaphor of offense and defense to categorize the different schools of apologetics (recognizing that all schools have both offensive and defensive elements).

DEFENSIVE – broadly speaking, defensive arguments appeal to reason

Classical Apologetics:  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.

Evidential Apologetics:   In one way, evidential apologetics is a subset of classical apologetics, but in the last century has grown to be a stand alone school.  It emphasizes the rational evidences for Christianity, namely, miracles, fulfilled Biblical prophecies, and how our world is incredibly fine-tuned (Teleological Argument aka Argument from Design).

OFFENSIVE – broadly speaking, offensive arguments point to the necessary foundations that precede and make sense of reason

Presuppositional Apologetics:  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.

Pascal:  Pascal challenges whether we can reason ourselves into heaven, being that the path to the Kingdom must pass through the heart.  For Pascal, ‘the heart has reasons of which the mind knows nothing of.’  For Pascal, faith and reason go together, but ultimately it is evidences that confirm the faith and not the evidences that lead to faith.

If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.

Alvin Plantinga (Reformed Epistemology):  Plantinga argues that belief in God is a properly basic belief and therefore requires no justification.  He has also defended Christianity against the problem of evil and put forth a modal logic version of ontological argument.

Just for kicks, here is a video of evidentialist William Lane Craig, cross-pollinating a bit, employing some presuppositional tools against scientific naturalism:

Next, we shall take a deeper look at each of the different schools and assess their relative strengths and weaknesses…

%d bloggers like this: