Faith, Theology — September 17, 2012 9:40 am

Alvin Plantiga is still doing his thing and I couldn’t be happier.

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Last night I was reading a book that more or less questioned my entire belief system. This belief system I only recently acquired and have been slowly reconstructing after a Master’s program that questioned my previous framework. It is this constant construction and deconstruction that I need a flannel-graph to really chart this whole thing out.

So, it only makes sense that this morning in the New York TImes Book Review there would be a review and exploration of Alvin Plantiga’s new book, “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.

Plantiga, for me, represents a life and conversation that I have personally moved on from. Many people can and do call him “Modern” or the more philosophically clear, “Cartesian” but reading this review this morning offers a bit of solace and comfort knowing that he is doing his work. He most famous for his work “Warranted Christian Belief” (although I wonder where he stands on a lot of these things now) where he proposes his “warrants” i.e., the conditions that a true belief must meet in order to constitute knowledge.

I’m not sure Plantiga is asking the right questions for today’s culture, maybe he is and I am still concerned with the cosmetic ones, but this article forced me to dust off some thinking I have not done in a while.

Things like this:

The interest of this book, especially for secular readers, is its presentation from the inside of the point of view of a philosophically subtle and scientifically informed theist—an outlook with which many of them will not be familiar. Plantinga writes clearly and accessibly, and sometimes acidly—in response to aggressive critics of religion like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. His comprehensive stand is a valuable contribution to this debate.

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  • Knowing full well that I’m aware of your dad’s relational epistemology in all of this, here is my take on Plantinga’s method in writing his philosophy. It is obvious that in building relationships with ‘non-believers’ (I’ll bracket that for conceptual precision) the content of Plantinga’s book is in itself totally insufficient. I’ll also apply that assessment to pure and simple dialogue, usually the impetus for the spawning of relationships. Excelling at dialogue is a separate gift from knowledge of a subject-matter. I think that Plantinga’s whole aim in writing books like this is to put a logical microscope on an issue in philosophy of religion/science. As a handbook for the general activity of evangelism (and all the psychological complexities and variables involved in that) it is – as I said – insufficient. But as for what it is designed to be, I believe that this type of book has a place.

    Suppose you decide that you would love nothing more than to visit the city of Paris. You go to the Travelers section in Barnes and Noble and pick off the shelf ” DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Paris”, in which you find a wealth of facts about the culture, sites, language, and atmosphere of Paris. The aim of the book isn’t really to teach you how to enjoy Paris, but to fill your mind with facts in such a way that your capacity for enjoyment can be fulfilled in the correct way.

    Take another analogy. In 1905, Albert Einstein wrote “On the Motion – Required by the Molecular Kinetic Theory of Heat – of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid”. Would the aim of this book be to initiate someone who has no interest in science to kindle a passion for science? It may accidentally ignite a interest depending on the personality, but any sort of ignition would be accidental to the aim of the book, which is just to shed light on the nature of motion, just as the aim of Plantinga’s book is to shed light on the nature of the relationship between religion and science. By this token, I would no more diminish the importance of Plantinga’s logical analysis of this relationship because its inherent lack of personal rapport with the reader (a rapport that might signal the beginning of relational potential), than I would diminish the importance of Einstein’s work on motion because it has no aim to kindle in a disinterested non-scientist a passion for science.

    I believe the analytical approach to philosophy and your dad’s relational model of epistemology go hand-in-hand. I can see this in any dialogue I have with someone who I believe might lead to a fruitful relationship. The choice of ‘what I say’ is somewhat geared toward a consideration of temperament/personality of the person, but the ‘content’ of what I say is implicitly linked together by a sort of ‘background-logical-structure’ that, even if I haven’t thought through it as critically as I would have liked, still exists to be examined if I chose to focus my attention on it. All Plantinga has done, as with Einstein, is take the focus off psychological variables going into the choice of ‘what is said’ for the sake of relational rapport, and focus on the content and that ‘background-logical-structure’: to almost cease enjoying the scenery of a landscape as something or rather, and become geologists examining the nature of whatever it is that is being enjoyed.

    I’m sure Plantinga would be the first to admit that we shouldn’t use his book as a tool for conversion or as the magical stimulus for supplying our conversation with the aroma for attracting relationships; but he might desire that the content of his book could be of some use if the direction of conversation in a prospective relationship accidentally turned toward the topic of the relation between science and religion. It would then be up to us to wisely cull from Plantinga’s road-map different logical points for the sake of clear-headed thinking in such a way that the potential for relational rapport isn’t lost. Dialogue without sense/logic seems to me just as barren as all logic and no personality/relational rapport. All salt is just as tasteless as spice-less meat.

    love ya

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