The Table Video

Alvin Plantinga

On Christian Scholarship

John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame
May 18, 2012

Dr. Alvin Plantinga promotes the use of the Scriptures as a lens for studying and understanding the natural world. Beyond this, Dr. Plantinga suggests practical ways that the Christian scholar can begin to pair academic study with sound theology by looking at thinkers St. Paul, John Chrysostom, and Augustine of Hippo amongst others.

So I wanna begin then with the epigraph of my talk which is something from Saint Paul. Saint Paul says, we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. So what is it to be a Christian scholar? More presumably than just being both a Christian and a scholar, but what more? I’ll make a few remarks on this subject, even though as President Obama once said in a different connection, the subject is way above my pay grade. [laughing] Ever since Saint Augusta in the 5th century, and indeed ever since Chrysostom in the 4th century, Christians have spoken of two books of Revelation. Scripture, on the one hand, but also nature. Thus the Belgic Confession, one of the great reformed Creeds, one of the standards of unity for my own denomination, which is the Christian Reformed Church, says, we know God, first by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe. Since the universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures great and small are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God. So Christians have held that God is revealed in at least two ways, by the Book of Scripture, and by the Book of Nature. Scripture teaches us much about ourselves, and about God, about our place in the world. And in particular, we learned about the great plan of salvation, the great things of the Gospel, as Jonathan Edwards calls them.

The magnificent scheme involving the incarnation of the word. Jesus of Nazareth, by who’s life, and suffering, and death, and resurrection, we human beings can once more be in a proper fellowship with God. In addition, however, there is a quite different book, the Book of Nature. From this book we also learned much about God the Creator, about ourselves, and about our world. John Calvin tells us a bit about the relationship between the two books. Here’s what he says, just as the aged, and when John Calvin says that it’s got a special poignancy to people my age, just as the aged, or those who’s sight is defective, with any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, they are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words. But when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, just as all that. So scripture, gathering together the impressions of deity, which till then lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness and shows us the true God clearly. Okay, so says John Calvin, one of my heroes. The second book, says Calvin, that is scripture, is to be like spectacles through which we may once more clearly and understand first. According to Calvin, God has created us with a sensus divinitatis, something like faculty, or a natural faculty, whereby we can reach at least some knowledge of God, a kind of natural knowledge of God, independent to the Revelation in scripture. Calvin himself seems to be thinking of those spectacles he mentions, that is scripture as gathering and deepening the deliverances of the sensus divinitatis. We might also see here, however, a charter for a Christian scholarship. In our attempt to understand nature we should employ the Scripture as spectacles looking at natural phenomena, and the entire Book of Nature, from the perspective of the Christian faith. But how do we do a thing like this? Exactly, or even approximately, what’s involved? It’s all very well to speak as we often do of integrating faith and learning, bringing faith to bear on scholarship, practicing scholarship from the perspective of Christian belief, and so on. It’s all very well to talk like that, but can we say something more specific, more explicit?

Well, I think we could start by usefully considering another long standing idea, this one going back to the time of Augustine, but going back not just to that time, but to Augustine. In Augustine’s magisterial book, the City of God, Augustine traces the whole history of mankind, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. In fact, he goes further back, back to the time before the creation of human beings, back to the conflict between those angels who align themselves with God, on the one hand, and those on the other hand who rebelled against God. Augustine saw all of human history as dominated by a contest between two deeply opposed forces. On the one hand, he spoke of the city of God, on the other the earthly city, or the city of the world. There is, what he called, the civitas dei and the civitas mundi. The former, the civitas dei, is dedicated to God, to the service of God, to his will, and to his glory. But the latter, the civitas mundi, is dedicated to something wholly different, dedicated to self and to pride. And human mystery, says Augustine, is really the story of the conflict, or contest between these two cities. Augustine is right, so I say.

The history of philosophy, the history of scholarship, and indeed human history more generally these are dominated by a few great perspectives, a few basic and fundamental ways of looking at our world, at God, at ourselves, our place in the world, what we must do to live the successful life, or to use an older, but perhaps more precise terminology, what is the summum bonum for human beings. This is true, of course, not just of human history up to the present, but also of contemporary life as well. The contemporary western intellectual world is an arena in which there are rages of battle for men’s and women’s souls. There is indeed a contest between the city of God, and the city of the world. People speak nowadays of culture wars. Augustine points out that at a very deep level there is something like that. At present in our part of the world there is the Christian perspective, the Christian civitas dei currently on the defensive in the western academic world, if not in the world at large. And of course, there is also the city of the world, civitas mundi. The current version of the civitas mundi is really divided into two burrows, or perhaps two townships, whatever it is that civitas is divided into, all right.

On the one hand, there is naturalism. The position that there is no such person as God, or anything like God. On the other hand, there is something harder to characterize, we could call it autonomism, or relativism with respected truth. Or since it is itself by part type, part of it is autonomism, part of it is relativism with respect to truth. And I’ll say a word about each. First, naturalism. Naturalism is stronger than Atheism.

As I’m using the term, I realize the term is used in many different ways, but I wanna use it in my own way. Naturalism is stronger than atheism. You could be an Atheist without rising to the full heights of naturalism. The stoics perhaps, or maybe the young Hegel, or Plato on some interpretations, were Atheists without being naturalists. To be a naturalist it’s not enough just to deny the existence of God, you must deny the existence of anything like God. According to naturalism, the heavens are empty, and we human beings are mere cogs in a giant cosmic machine that proceeds in majestic indifference to us, and to our hopes, and our needs, and aspirations.

Naturalism goes back to the ancient world, to the philosopher Epicurus. It finds magnificent expression in Lucretius’ poem De Rerum Natura. Naturalism was mostly in eclipse during the Christian middle ages. But the enlightenment brought Hobbes, the French encyclopedists, Baron d’Holbach, and others as early modern exponents of this way of looking at the world. Naturalism has by now very much come into its own. According to the philosopher John Lucas, it is at present, what he calls, the orthodoxy of the academy. Contemporary naturalism relies heavily on evolution and on Darwinism. It aims to understand as human beings and our behavior in terms of our evolutionary history back there on the plains of Serengeti where the human race was developing. It hopes to explain our distinctively human traits and qualities as arising by way of contributing to survival, and reproduction, or by a way of being related to such traits, all right.

Among the more ossiferous proponents of naturalism are the so called New Atheists, the dreaded Four Horsemen of Atheism, and not the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, that would be even worse, [audience laughing] or even the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, that wouldn’t be much better. [audience laughing] But the Four Horsemen of Atheism Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, the late Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, Sam Harris. They are intent on trampling Christianity, and indeed, any religion into the dust. So these horsemen are certainly vocal. Classical restraints, an understatement, is not their strong suit. [laughing] Dawkins says, any man who doesn’t believe in evolution is, quote, ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked. Daniel Dennett goes him one, or possibly two, further. Anyone who so much as has doubts about evolution is, he says, culpably ignorant. At least Dawkins gives skeptics a choice. They could be ignorant, or stupid, or maybe insane, or wicked. [laughing] Dennett is made of sterner stuff, if we even doubt evolution. You are both ignorant, and culpable, and wicked. You wake up in the middle of the night, you think about evolution, that grand and ambitious theory, a vagrant doubt creeps across your mind as to whether this is in fact the way God created the world. Bam, you are culpably ignorant. [laughing]

Naturalists are committed to the thought that there is no such person as God, or anything like God, and naturalism is indeed widespread in the academy. The fact is, of course, its influence extends far beyond the academy to the elite world in general. But is it really the orthodoxy of the academy? Perhaps not, for there’s another burrow of the city of the world. This burrow is a bit harder to characterize. An early manifestation of it can be found in the declaration of the 5th century B.C., Sophist Protagoras, who declared man is the measure of all things, of those that are, bet they are, and of those that are not, that they are not. I’m getting warmed up here. I don’t know if this is gonna work. Ah, there, okay. So he says, man is the measure of all things. It’s not exactly clear what Protagoras had in mind by that oracular statement. But things became much clearer in the 18th century Enlightenment. One strand of the Enlightenment involves a rejection of the authority of king and church. A rejection sort of was thought of dead hand of the past.

A more radical wing of Enlightenment, however, really involved a sort of exaltation of humanity, and of the human condition, as a sort of exaltation of human autonomy, autonomism, as we may call it. On this way of thinking, human beings are not beholden to any other powers. They are not subject to anything or anyone. It is as if the rejection of the authority of church and king, has assumed a kind of momentum, a kind with functional autonomy, and spread from there to a rejection of anything standing between humanity, and is the apotheosis. One word of this view received a magnificent, [coughing] magnificent if obscure expression, in Immanuel Kant’s, Critique of Pure Reason. Kant’s writing is not widely held up as a model of lucidity. [laughing] And I might add, rightly so. [laughing] But according to the most influential interpretation of Kant, and there are many interpretations of Kant, and Kant at one time might be quite different from Kant at a different time. Kant in one book, quite different from Kant of a different book. But according to the most influential interpretation of the particular reason, it is we, we human beings who confer structure on the world we live in. It is we who are responsible for the fundamental nature, and liniments of our world. Kant did not deny, of course, that there really are such things as mountains, horses, planets, and stars. Instead, his characteristic climb is that, claim is that the, these things, their existence, and under fundamental structure has been conferred upon them somehow by the conceptual activities of persons, not by the conceptual activity of a personal God, but by the conceptual activity, the conceptual activity, but our conceptual activity, the conceptual activity of human beings. According to this view, the whole phenomenal world, a world of tress, and planets, and dinosaurs, and stars, this whole word receives its basic structure from the constituting activity of mind.

Such fundamental structures of the world is space and time, object and property, number, you know how many people are there here in this room? 200 to 300. Truth and falsehood, possibility and necessity, these are all not to be found in the world as such, but are somehow conferred upon the world, and the world is constituted to be this way by our mental or conceptual activity. They are contributions from our side, they are not to be found in the things in themselves, but Dinge an sich, as Kant liked to call them. Call them, or it he might say it, it’s not clear, you know, whether there’s one of them, or a large number, in view of the fact that numbers are a category. So how many of these uncategorized Dinge an sich are they, ’cause there’s no answer to that. We impose these categories of the world. We don’t discover them there, Where there’s no persons like ourselves engaging in such activities, there would be nothing in space and time. Nothing displayed an object and property structures. Nothing is true or false, possible or impossible. No kinds of things coming in certain number, nothing like this at all.

As you can see, this is quite a commotion for us human beings. In contrast with naturalism on this point of the human condition, a human faces a world, and so on, could not be greater. According to naturalism, we human beings are just another animal with a peculiar way of thinking and living. According to Kant, we human beings are the architects of the universe. This is indeed a step up. Animalogically, autonomy is being a law unto yourself. I am autonomous if the laws would apply to me, find their origin in me. And on this Kantian picture, this is just how it is for human beings. This Enlightenment lust for autonomy is displayed variously, and in a way, is something that we all understand. We want to be top dog, at least in our own lives, in our own world, and we want some privacy. We don’t like the idea of being held accountable either.

A very distinguished contemporary philosopher I know, says he is an Atheist, and he adds that he doesn’t want there to be any such person as God. That’s because, he says, with God there is at the very least an insufferable invasion of privacy. You can’t think a thought without God’s already knowing about it, and indeed, knowing that you will think that thought long before you do think it, long before you are born, in fact. There’s perhaps just a hint of this sort of discomforts in one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 139, which had a kind of slightly ambiguous character to it to this part. You hem me in, addressing God, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, but even the darkness is not dark to you. The night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

Perhaps this lust for autonomy reaches its zenith with a German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who according to Richard Rorty, and I mean I trust Richard Rorty’s telling us the truth here, but I can’t be positive, said that he, namely Heidegger, felt guilty for existing in a world that he did not himself create. Now think about that, that requires a very tender conscious, right? [laughing] I can imagine Heidegger apologizing to his friends. I am so sorry, here I am existing in a universe I didn’t even create. Please forgive me. I promise it won’t happen again. [laughing] That’s Heidegger, all right. If there are Heideggerians here, I apologize for slightly spoofing Heidegger, but you know, that’s what he says, so. But autonomism is not the end of the story. First on this Kantian picture, it is we, we thinker of categorizing thoughts who are responsible for the fundamental liniments of reality. In the words of Protagoras again, man is the measure of all things. But a rather different moral can be drawn from some of the same considerations. Suppose you think our world is somehow created, or structured by human beings.

You may then note, that human beings do not all apparently construct the same world. Richard Dawkins does not live in the same world as say Billy Graham. Your lebenswelt, your world, your life world may be quite different from mine. Which one then, if either, constitutes the world as it really is? Here, it’s an easy step to another characteristic, the contemporary thought, the thought that there simply isn’t any such thing as objective truth, or an objective way the world is. No such thing as the way the world really is. No such thing as a way the world is that’s the same for all of us. Rather, there’s my version of reality, the way I’ve somehow structured things, and your version, and many other versions. And what is true in one version need not be true in another. As Marlo’s, Doctor Faustus in effect says, man is the measure of all things. I am a man, therefore I am the measure of all things.

On this view, there isn’t any such thing as true simpliciter, there is no such thing as the way the world is. There are instead many versions of reality, each at bottom, as acceptable as any other. The idea is that there really isn’t any such thing as truth itself, that is truth with a capital T, as relativists like to put it. Thus the late Richard Rorty again, he says, truth is what our peers will let us get away with saying. It’s not easy to say precisely what he meant by this. Rorty also said that he preferred an informal conversational way of making philosophical points, and inputting his philosophy. But taken at face value, just as the French say, at the foot of the letter, taken at face value, and literally it would suggest an easy way to deal with such social ills as poverty and sickness for example. Persuade our peers to let us get away with saying, there is no sickness in poverty. If they did, it would be true that there is no poverty in sickness, in which case, there wouldn’t be any poverty or sickness. So that’s a very easy way to handle these things. No doubt Rorty is not to be taken at face value here, at the least however, the idea seems to be that truth is a social construct. It isn’t independent of us. It’s something we human beings create. Truth is relative to individuals or social groups.

This relativism with respect to truth is perhaps the most widespread contemporary manifestation of this borough of the city of the world. Now as I pointed out, naturalism and autonomism differ enormously with respect to the place of human being in our world. According to autonomism, we human beings are exulted in need. We are responsible for truth itself, and truth depends on what we do. According to naturalism, we are no more than animals with an unusual way of making a living. Fairly successful on the whole, but not as successful as bacteria. If you put all the bacteria in the world on one side of a seesaw, and all the other living things on the other side, the bacterial side would go down, all right. So you might say, bacteria rule the world. But perhaps we should think of naturalism and autonomism as having mascots, like the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. I don’t know what the, what are the Biola’s, the fighting Biola’s?

The Eagles–

The Eagles, or the Eagles of Biola, all right. Maybe the mascot for autonomism should be Superman, and maybe like the University of California at Santa Cruz, the naturalists could have as their mascot the fighting Banana Slugs, all right. So the basic Augustinian thesis is that human history essentially involves these two kingdoms. Now how does this bear on the project of Christian scholarship? That’s what I’m supposed to be talking about. What, if anything, should the Christian scholar do about this? In the above epigraph, Saint Paul gives in effect another charter for Christian scholarship. I mean, I said Calvin gave one, another one Saint Paul gives us. He proposes first, that we, quote, demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. How do we do that? Clearly enough, by contesting, and analyzing, and disputing the various arguments, and scholarly projects that are designed to promote and expand projects, based on and promoting, the kingdom of the world, naturalism and relativism. According to Calvin, according to Calvin, we must use the spectacles of Scripture in order to see more clearly the book of the world. But there are other spectacles as well, and naturalism and relativism are just such spectacles. These are distorting spectacles. They warp, and deform, and obscure the truth. Part of the job of the Christian scholar, more exactly I should say, the Christian scholarly community, since it’s the whole community that’s involved, that has this kind of obligation, is to show how and why these perfectives do indeed distort the truth. Christian scholars must be aware of them, and point them out to their students and to others. More important, because more subtle, they must point out the various projects and ideas that are connected with, and depend on, these master narratives.

Of course I can’t give anything like a complete list, but I’ll mention a couple. At present, for example, and in the western world, there’s a sort of enormous emphasis upon tolerance, sometimes adding diversity, tolerance, to the degree that many people go so far as to urge that it’s intolerant, maybe even arrogant, to hold beliefs that you know others don’t hold. Many people seem to hold that the only real sin, the only thing that’s intolerable, is intolerance itself, of lifestyle, moral belief, or whatever. This way of thinking is clearly connected with a strand of relativism with respect to truth that is so widely popular today. Suppose you think that there really is no such thing as truth, or you suppose you endorse a nearer relative to the effect that maybe there is and maybe there isn’t, but even if there is, no one has any idea what it is. Then you might be inclined to see tolerance as a virtue of paramount importance, and intolerance as the only real vice. Of course, there’s a bit of a problem here. If there is no truth in this neighborhood, or if no one knows what it is, then presumably, the same goes for the idea that tolerance is the only virtue, and intolerance the only vice. That too either it won’t be true, or will be such that nobody knows that it’s true. No matter, this is indeed a substantial eddy in the cultural, and a current, in the current cultural, in the current cultural in the current cultural context. And it’s the job of Christian scholars to exam and evaluate this idea from the perspective of Christian theism. Second, there is the widespread idea that science is a sort of oracle, that its deliverance is trump any other purported source of knowledge or belief. And that the deliverances of science are to be treated as a sober truth.

There is the children’s game, Simon Says, at least there was when I was a child. But now as adults, we have the game Science Says. Of course, the fact that science regularly changes its mind makes it a bit dicey to rely wholeheartedly on what science says. Still, the idea is that when it comes to fixing belief, current science is the gold standard. Now this implies that in any conflict between science, and for example, Christian theology, it is always theology or religious belief that must give way. But can Christians think that’s right? My third example, evolutionary psychology, which is connected with naturalism. Evolutionary psychology has become orthodoxy within the discipline of psychology, or at any rate, nearly so. And the basis aim here is to interpret all the characteristics of, all characteristically human traits, all the characteristics of us human beings. Our art, and humor, our sense of adventure, love of stories, love more generally, our sexual behavior, our love for music, our moral sense, our religion itself. The idea is to interpret all of these in terms of our evolutionary development, the evolutionary development of our race eons ago. With respect to ethics and our moral sense, for example, Michael Ruse and E. O. Wilson declare that, quote, ethics is an illusion fobbed off on us by our own genes to get us to cooperate, thus morality ultimately seems to be about self-interest, ethics is an illusion. They also claim that, quote, humans function better if they are deceived by their genes. Imagine that, being deceived by your genes. They function better if they are deceived by their genes into thinking that there is a disinterested objective morality, that there really are things that are right, or really are things that are wrong binding upon them, which we should obey, unquote. Now why do they say that? Well, their thought is, that individuals with our moral intuitions will be more likely to cooperate with each other, so that groups with our moral intuitions will therefore do better from the point of view of survival, and reproduction, than groups that lack this kind of moral intuition. So the function of our moral sense is not to disclose truth to us, there isn’t any truth there, but rather to enable us to cooperate in groups, thereby enhancing our reproductive prospects.

This is obviously mistaken from a Christian point of view. In other cases, there is incompatibility or tension, but at a more subtle level. Consider music, an outstandingly important part of human life, not just for people around here, but human beings all over the world. What’s most important about it? And how should we understand it? This sort of outstanding characteristic of us human beings. Not as a Christian might think as a gift from God that puts us in touch with beauty, a beauty that flows from God, and of which God himself is the outstanding exemplar. No, the evolutionary psychologist, Steven Pinker, in addressing a group of musicologists said, music has no evolutionary significance, it’s just a bit of auditory cheesecake, and is therefore merely trivial. Now he might have been saying that just to annoy the musicologists, I don’t know, but that’s what he says. Others dispute this. According to Steven Mither, another evolutionary psychologist, music does too have an evolutionary significance. It’s associated with marching, rhythmical motion, and war.

Well, maybe so, but Bach’s B Minor Mass, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, war. Still others claim that music, that music arose in the context of sexual selection. Musically adept individuals did better in the contest for mates. Each of these is an attempt to tell us what the ultimate significance of music is, and each is completely unsatisfactory from a Christian point of view. One project of Christian scholarship then is what we might call cultural criticism, pointing out, laying bare, and criticizing current ideas, and friends of thought that are incompatible with, or don’t fit with a Christian perspective. But Saint Paul goes on in that epigraph. He says, quote, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. Here, we can think of the apostle as going beyond criticizing, or commenting on elements of cultural, elements of culture that are inconsistent with Christian belief. He is instead suggesting something positive, something along the lines of Calvin’s idea, that we should look at the book of the world through the spectacles of the book of Revelation. Here, the idea would be to consider the many and various topics, and scholarly projects engaged in by scholars, and to consider these projects and topics from the point of view of Christian theism, to look at them from that perspective, to try to understand them from that perspective.

Now in some areas Christian theism doesn’t make a difference, or at least doesn’t make much of a difference. If the project is that of measuring the distance from the earth to the nearest star, or arguing that there’s no finite axiomatization of arithmetic that contains every earth medical truth, if those are the projects, Christian theism seems to have no particular bearing. If we’re thinking of engineering or chemistry, it’s hard to see how a Christian scholar would approach the subject in any way different from a secular scholar. The whole area of mathematics would seem to be neutral, at least for the most part. Of course, philosophy of mathematics would be a horse of a very different color. Here, Christian theism is deeply relevant in the several different, in several different ways. So some scholarly projects are ones to which the religious Christian perspective seems irrelevant. Others however, are very different. These areas, areas where Christian theism makes a serious difference are especially evident in the human sciences. Evolutionary psychology, as I said, tries to situate and understand characteristically human phenomena by seeing them as essentially related to survival and reproduction, reproductive fitness. The ultimate significance of these human phenomena is always to be seen in relation to our evolutionary origin. But shouldn’t Christian psychologists look at the same phenomena from an entirely different perspective? They won’t merely criticize the various projects of evolutionary psychology from a Christian perspective, they will also pursue similar projects, but from a different point of view.

Here, it sounds like I’m trying to tell people in other disciplines how to do their work, I apologize for that. Don’t think of it as me telling people what to do, but think of it as me offering a suggestion that they might like to think about. Just as evolutionary psychologists understand literature, for example, in terms of its evolutionary origin, and the contribution it has made to reproductive fitness, so Christian psychologists can, or may, or should understand the same phenomena from the perspective of Christian theism. What’s involved here, among other things, is our love of stories, and our love of beauty. And presumably a central notion here is that of the image of God.

God has created us in his image. We resemble him in certain important respects. How does our love of stories and of beauty fit into that? How exactly should this be done? I’m not a psychologist, as I said a moment ago, so I don’t know the answer to that question, but I respectfully suggest that Christian psychologists should consider and try to answer this and similar questions. This wouldn’t be an alternative to the sort of empirical work psychologists like to do, it would rather be a context for it, and it might indeed suggest empirical studies different from those suggested by the evolutionary paradigm. We might think of physics as an area where a Christian perspective makes little or no difference. I think this would be a mistake. Consider, for example, the interpretation of quantum mechanics, at least one of them, the many worlds’ interpretation doesn’t fit well with Christian belief. Here, on this interpretation, the basic idea is that there are a multitude of worlds in the universe in addition to the world that we human beings seem to find ourselves in. Consider a given physical system. It will have associated with it a wave function that evolves over time. For a given future time there will typically be many possible outcomes of a collapse of the wave function at that time. According to the many worlds’ interpretation, each of these possibilities gets actualized. I mean, the ordinary way to think would be, well, one of them gets to be actual, and the other don’t. But according to the many worlds’ interpretation, each of these many possibilities gets actualized, but the get actualized in different worlds. So the world is constantly splitting up into myriads of other worlds. You and I are in many of these worlds. Suppose I’m in say, I don’t know, a trillion worlds, but then who am I? Which one of these is me?

On this view there are enormously many copies of me. Each of them is me, or has a good as title to be me as any other. But this is essentially an anti-realism with respect to persons, and it goes contrary to Christian belief. How, for example, from this point of view could we think about incarnation along these lines? And there, are there in fact an enormous number of distinct Jesus’? If not, which of the many apparent Jesus’ is the second person of the Trinity? I suggest there is no good answer to that from this perspective. But now for a couple of objections. Can scientific work, whether in the human sciences, or the physical sciences, every properly proceed from, or assume propositions one takes to be known by faith? What about so called methodological naturalism? MN as I’ll call it. According to Judge Jones at the Dover trial, treating intelligent design as science, quote, violates the century’s old ground rules of science by evoking and permitting supernatural causation, unquote. There’s a lot to claw with in what Judge Jones says. But this much seems right, contemporary science is ordinarily pursued, as it’s ordinarily pursued involves a sort of constraint. Methodological naturalism, MN, must be distinguished from ontological naturalism. MN is a proposed condition, or a constraint on proper science, not a statement about the nature of the universe. Of course, if philosophical naturalism were true then MN would presumably be the sensible way to proceed in science. The rough and basic idea of MN, I think, is that science should be done as if in some sense ontological naturalism were true. According to Hugo Grotius, in working at science we should proceed as if God is not given. Suppose we try to state MN a bit more exactly. First, following the philosopher Bas van Fraassen, we note that for any scientific theory there is its data set, or data model. Roughly speaking, we can think of this as the data, or phenomena that are to be explained by the theory in question. The data may be presented or stated in terms of certain parameters or categories. It could include, for example, the results of experiments, but it will not ordinarily include alleged information described as hear say. According to MN, furthermore, the data model of a proper scientific theory will not refer to God, or other supernatural agents. Thus the data model of a proper theory could include the thought that there has been a sudden outbreak of weird and irrational behavior in Washington D.C., but it couldn’t include the proposition that there’s been an outbreak of demon possession in Washington D.C. That wouldn’t be properly scientific. Secondly, there would be constraints on the theory itself. So first, constraints on the data set, data model. Second, but, secondly though, constraints on the theory itself. The theory can properly employ categories of parameters that aren’t permitted by the data model. For example, the data might include a deep depression in a Siberian forest, the theory, but not the data, might posit a meteorite that struck there. Of course, in another context, the meteorite and its effects might be part of the data. But according to MN, for scientific theory, a scientific theory can’t include reference to God, or any other supernatural agents. Suppose your data set includes that recent outbreak of weird and irrational behavior in Washington D.C., MN says you can’t try to account for that data by a theory according to which there has recently been increased demonic activity there. So according to MN, so MN lays a constraint on the data, and also a constraint on the theories. But there’s a third, and very important side of MN. Any given inquiry will be carried out with respect to an evidence base, a set of beliefs used in conducting that inquiry. The evidence base for a scientific theory will include mathematics, and logic, and some current science, a lot of common sense beliefs, and so on. And in any given context, there will always be a vast number of possible scientific theories that suggest themselves, most of them which don’t rate a second or a first thought. Others are a bit more sensible, bust still too implausible, or improbable to take seriously. It’s the existence of this evidence base that determines the initial plausibility, or probability of a scientific hypothesis that suggest itself. My car won’t start. One hypothesis is that a mischievous junior demon is trying to annoy me. Given my evidence base, this hypothesis will be discarded as vastly too unlikely. But a Brazilian tribesman with a very different evidential base might evaluate that hypothesis very differently. And now the point is, that MN also constrains the evidence base for a scientific investigation. The evidence base for a scientific investigation must not contain any propositions entailing the existence of God, or of other supernatural beings, and it can’t include propositions one knows only by faith. Accordingly, if you reject the many worlds’ interpretation of quantum mechanics on the grounds that it doesn’t fit well with the Christian claim of incarnation, which as part of your evidence base, then your rejection won’t, according to MN, be scientific. In the same way, if part of your reason for endorsing a theory or hypothesis in psychology is that it fits well with a Christian understanding of human beings, the result won’t be science. Still further, the whole idea of starting with a Christian perspective in pursuing a scientific project is ruled out by MN. Well, what does MN have to be said, what can be said for MN? What does it have to say for itself? I would say, not a whole lot. Taken in a mild form, MN is perhaps a sensible rule of thumb. It’s certainly a good idea to avoid too quickly reverting to divine agency in a scientific theory. If whenever you say, well, why does this work like that, if the answer is, well, that’s the way God wanted it, that kind of, that’s not gonna get one very far. But taken in the strong form given above, there’s little to recommend it. And if someone claims that MN is just part of the very definition of science, as some people do, for example, Michael Ruse does, and Nancy Murphy does, and still others, well if some people say, it’s just part of the very definition of science, that’s just how this word is used, then those who advocate a Christian science can simply restate their position. What is wanted, they say, is a Christian schmience, where schmience is just like science except for that MN constraint. A better objection to the idea of Christian science, better because it provides an actual reason why the idea of Christian scholarship is questionable, [coughing] excuse me, is offered by Thomists, such as Etienne Gilson. The complaint there on the part of Thomists, Etienne Gilson, is that if as a scholar, you start from what you know by way of faith, then your results will really be theology, rather than philosophy, or psychology, or physics, or whatever. Theology in, theology out, as the computer literary might say. But when I think a thing like that, why does the Thomist think its important to have economics or psychology that’s unspotted by theology? Why is the distinction between theology and, why is the distinction between theology, on the one hand, and philosophy or psychology, on the other, important? Well the Thomist will say, that when, that what you know by a way of reason has a cognitive advantage, or what you know by way of faith. You know it better, you might say. That’s because what you know by way of faith is really something that you know by testimony. Even if it’s the testimony of the Holy Spirit it’s still testimony. Testimony is indeed important. We couldn’t get along without it. As Thomas Reed put it, if I had not believed my parents before I could give a reason for my belief, I had to this day been little better than a changeling. Still, what you know because you have come to see that its true, is something that has greater positive epistemic status, you might say, for you than what you know by way of testimony. You tell me that there is no set of all sets, or no finite axiomatization of arithmetic. I believe you. I am then epistemologically better off than I was before. But now suppose I come to understand a proof of these things, an actual proof. I see that they follow from propositions that are self-evident, ones that I can just see to be true. I grasp, and understand the proof, and see for myself that the proposition in question is not only true, but couldn’t be false. Then I am even better off, better off yet epistemically. What I know by way of reason, and science, has higher epistemic status for me than what I know by way of testimony. And that’s why its important to keep philosophy and science distinct from theology. What shall we say? I think the answer is that the Thomists neglects the fact that self-evidence, or intellectual intuition comes in degrees. I know that two plus one equals three by way of reason. It’s self-evident for me, and it has maximal positive epistemic status. There’s nothing I know better than that two plus one equals three. But there are many other propositions, I believe, by way of intellectual intuition that have a lower degree of self-evidence than that. Consider, for example, the proposition that there aren’t anythings that don’t exist. You might object, what about Pegasus? Pegasus doesn’t exist, so there are some things that don’t exist. The reply is obvious though, there isn’t any such thing as Pegasus. So Pace, am I still? Yeah, so Pace Meinong and others, I know that there aren’t anythings that don’t exist. But aren’t there some things I know by way of testimony that I know better than my knowledge that there aren’t anythings that don’t exist? For example, that my name is Plantinga, and that I live in Michigan, or that there is such a country as China, or such a city as Chicago. These are things that I know by way of testimony, but don’t I know them at least as well, if not better than I know that there aren’t anythings that don’t exist? Or any of the very many other things that a philosopher might produce as a premise for an argument. The problem with a Thomistic objection here, is that it’s far from obvious that what one knows by way of testimony has less epistemic status than what one knows by way of reason, and/or perception. One final objection. We could put it like this. Someone who practices Christian scholarship in the way suggested above will not be able to play well with other scholars. She won’t be starting from the same bases. She will put forward as reasons for her conclusions propositions not accepted by her scholarly peers. She will not be able to work with other scholars unless they too are practicing Christian scholarship. Now this objection seems to me to have a bit more force than the others. But how much force does it really have? Many scholars nowadays aim to give naturalistic accounts of this, that, and the other. As I was saying, naturalistic account of religion, or morality, or music, or love of beauty, and much else besides. Now there’s a lot to criticize on these accounts, but would it be sensible to criticize them for not being able to play nicely with Christian scholars? I don’t think so. Consider Freud’s famous account of belief in God as wish fulfillment. Here again, there’s much to criticize. For example, there are many Atheists who hope that there’s no such person as God, wish that there isn’t any such person, like the Atheists I mentioned earlier on. And there are some theists are who are far from delighted with the idea that there is such a person as God. But would it make sense to criticize Freud for engaging in a project that he can’t expect Christians to join? Again, I don’t think so. There are those who set out to offer a naturalistic account of religion. They can’t expect theists to join with them in their project, but how is that fact a serious criticism? The thought that no one should engage in any project that takes for granted or assumes what others reject, that thought has little to recommend it. It completely overlooks the deep pluralism of the human spiritual condition. Freud is convinced that theism, belief in God is false. Why shouldn’t he then try to give an account of what, from that perspective, is a puzzling phenomena, namely the fact that so many people all over the world seem to think there is such a person as God, or something like God? And in doing this, Freud is not necessarily, at any rate, addressing theists, and hoping to convince them. But nor is there anything so far to criticize him for in that effort. Of course, another context, Freud may wish to take part in projects that do not in this way start from atheism, the interpretation of dreams, for example. Here Freud’s pluralism need play no, sorry, naturalism need play no particular role. And here, he and people with very different ultimate commitments can nicely work together. And in still other areas, Freud may be trying to convince believers in God that they are mistaken. I don’t know that he actually does this. For the most part, as far as I can tell, he simply assumes that belief in God is a mistake, and then tries to explain why this mistake is so prevalent. But that would still be a perfectly sensible course for him to follow. And now why can’t the same be true for Christian scholars if Christian scholar’s a member of at least two quite different communities? On the one hand, she’s a member of the Christian community. In her work, she addresses members of this community. When addressing them, it is perfectly proper for her to assume, take for granted, start from what the other members of this community do assume, and then to go on from there. On the other hand, she’s a member of the scholarly community that’s defined by her discipline. Here, given contemporary conditions, she can’t just take for granted what she and other Christians believe. The Christian scholar is a member of two different communities, but the fact is, that she’s a member of several, more than two. She’s a member of the Christian scholarly community, but also a member of the community of Christian scholars that practice her specific scholarly discipline, and these two communities have to be addressed differently. She’s also a member of the Christian community more generally, whether scholars or not, and again, this community has to be addressed in a way different from that of either of the other ones mentioned above. She’s a member of the scholarly community that practices her discipline, but she’s also a member of the broader scholarly community, a community that includes Christians and non-Christians alike, and those who practice her discipline together with other. And finally, she’s a member of contemporary society. She is say, an American citizen. There may be still more communities that should be mentioned. As William of Ockham taught us, however, one should not multiply communities beyond necessity, so I will stop with these. And if a Christian, and a Christian scholar may very well address each of these communities. The Christian scholarly community, furthermore, will presumably be addressing all of them, though at different times and on different occasions. And of course, what’s needed is wisdom and discernment to be clear which community one is addressing, and what the proper and appropriate tone and assumptions are in addressing that community. But the main point here is that addressing any and all, that in addressing any and all of these communities the Christian scholar is a follower of Christ. She will be engaged in projects of different sorts. On the one hand, there are projects that fit with her contemporary discipline, whatever it is. Here, her audience will be predominantly secular, and she can’t sensibly assume, or start from what she knows as a Christian. On the other hand, there are projects that are given by her position as a specifically Christian scholar, attempting to understand say hostility, or anger, or love, or creativity, or literature from a Christian perspective. Here she can, and indeed should employ all that she knows, including what she knows as a Christian. Pursuing projects of the latter sort may earn her a certain amount of disdain and hostility in some quarters, that just goes with the territory. Here, she may need a certain amount of boldness and courage, remembering that the main aim is not that of achieving as great a reputation as possible, nor that of currying favor with the mainstream of her discipline. The main aim, of course, is to be faithful to the Lord. Letting the chips fall where they may. The chips might not fall precisely where she would like them to fall. In some areas there are penalties for faithfulness, but there are also, of course, rewards. And indeed, faithfulness to the Lord is its own reward, and is reward enough. In some, we Christian scholars must not remain contempt to be scholars who also happen to be Christians. We must strive to be Christian scholars, and we must purse this, our calling with boldness, integrity, courage, imagination, and Christian wisdom. Thank you.

>> Male: You have clearly addressed an important issue for us. Without solving the profound issues you’ve grazed, objective scientific Atheists and Christians have learned to play not real well together, but at least sort of peaceably side by side in western society. Isn’t our challenge for the future not the one that you’ve laid out in this talk, but conflicting orthodoxies

>> But what–

>> while revealed by the Quran, and God revealed by the Holy Scriptures are clearly in conflict. Isn’t that going to supplant the challenge that you’ve described today?

>> Well I wouldn’t think of it like that. Actually, I would think of Christians as being much closer to Muslims than to say a naturalist in one form or another, much closer both to Muslims and to Jews than to naturalists. We believe, all of us, all three of these groups, the Abrahamic religions believe that there is a being who’s all powerful, all good, all knowledgeable, has created us human beings. Jews, and Christians, and some Muslims also believe this being has created us human beings in his image, and the like, and this is a very important thing that we have in common. We don’t have anything like that, or anything of that importance in common with either naturalists, I would say, or with relativists, or with autonomists. So I’m not convinced that our real challenge is to somehow stand up to, or deal with Muslims. Seems to me our real challenge remains what it has been for some time here.

>> Male: Good morning Professor. Doctor Matthew Davidson from Cal State San San Bernardino sends his regards.

>> I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that.

>> Male: Doctor Davidson, Matthew Davidson from Cal State San Bernardino sends his regards. I’m a pupil of his, and currently in the philosophy of religion. You know, we’re tackling a lot of pretty difficult issues when it comes to theism versus atheism. One question that I’ve asked, that he suggested that I ask you particularly was, how is it that although we can use reason and observation to clearly come to a deist conclusion, how do we make the jump between deism and theism, wherein we have a God that we have personal interaction with, who cares about our lives?

>> Between deism and theism, right?

>> Yes sir.

>> Yeah, uh-huh. Well, the first thing I’d like to say there is that there’s a kind of implicit assumption in your question, namely that the way in which we come to be aware of God is by virtue of observation and argument, let’s say, by giving arguments, like the cosmological argument, or the fine tuning argument, or the moral argument, or any of, there’s a lot of arguments. So I’ve got a paper called two or, two dozen or more good theistic arguments. So lots of arguments. But I don’t think that’s how people ordinarily do come to know about God. Certainly, I don’t think it’s the way I do. I think some of these arguments are pretty good arguments, but still, they don’t provide the amount, they’re not strong enough to really properly undergird the way in which a Christian actually does, in her better moments, believe in God. It’s much more, as John Calvin said, by way of, first all maybe of sensus divinitatis, and then later on, by way of Revelation through the Scripture, one comes to, by virtue of the testimony of the Holy Spirit come to see that these things are true, the great things of the Gospel are true. Not just belief in God, of course, but the great things of the Gospel. So I guess what you say would be a real problem, if in fact the only, our only access to God, so to speak, would be by way of arguments from other things we believe, but I don’t think that’s the way it is, so I don’t see it as a problem.

>> Male: You quoted that John Calvin at the outset about how the person who reads the Book of Nature apart from the spectacles of Scriptures, like the person with such poor eyesight they can’t put two words together on the page. You talked at the end about Christian scholars addressing people in their discipline who aren’t Christians

>> Right.

>> without assuming the things they know by the light of faith. I’m curious about what sort of common ground they have with people in their discipline, and if that common ground is enough that their conversations with their colleagues won’t always be confrontational. Is there enough common ground with people who don’t share the faith to have deep scholarly discussion?

>> Well, I mean, I think Christian, the Christians who are scientists of various kinds do typically take part in their own disciplines, and don’t necessarily in so doing always start from a Christian perspective, typically they don’t. There does seem to be enough common ground so that Christians and non-Christians can work together on a wide variety of topics. But what I wanna say, is there will also be this other whole project of looking at these phenomena. Again, let me take psychology. I mean, I’m not a psychologist, but my father was, so maybe that helps. So looking at the phenomena that psychologists talk about and discuss from a specifically Christian perspective, and there of course, they won’t in that same way be working with non-Christians. Non-Christians may still be interested, just as I’m interested in what a naturalist will try to say with respect to love, or music, or whatever. I find that interesting and useful to know. And so a non-Christian might find it interesting and useful to know what the Christian psychologist thinks about these things. But basically, they will be engaged in a project, which will be of real interest only to other Christian practitioners of that discipline. So I mean, it seems to me, it’s obvious that there is a whole lot that Christians and non-Christians have in common. I mean, we all know, you know, that there is a world, and a lot of people in it, and we know much more specific things, like people like music, and people have various kinds of loves. They love other people, they love children, they love their parents, they love their spouses, et cetera. So there’s obviously a whole lot that Christians and non-Christians share. So there’s room here for these two rather different kinds of projects, I would say.

>> Male: I thought I’d tell you just a little bit about me, so you can get the context of the question. I was brought up in the Christian Reformed Church, which I left 47 years ago, came back home about three years ago. I’ve also been a professor at Biola for 40 plus years. Having spent the time that after I retired reading and thinking about these issues in much greater depth, I also spent my undergraduate in education at Bob Jones University, majoring in biology and science, from which I derived from Bob Jones University rather than my major, a great intolerance for straw man.

>> For what?

>> Straw man, you know. Okay, I kinda, I really liked your answer about faith and reason that you just gave, ’cause that is one of the conclusions I have come to, that is we’re not gonna reason our way to God. Not that reason is not valuable. But I felt very uneasy during the first part of your talk, because I’m not positive that we need to throw out things like evolution, and that it is always necessarily wrong. That seems to be kind of an oversimplification. I reference, for example, a recent letter, from two Calvin graduates who are evolutionary biologists, in the Banner. You’ve heard of it, I’m sure.

>> Yes I have.

>> Which is one of our [mumbling] church journal, right? And I thought that they had some very intelligent responses. So I don’t know that I would say that I escribe to exactly all the versions of evolution that you seem to think. Come to the other thing, relativism. I’ve always been very nervous about the way we talk about relativism. Oh, I should probably also tell you that having left biology and chemistry in the dust in graduate school, my field is literature, and particularly literary theory. I’m very interested in the ways in which there are many things that masquerade as truth with a capital T, that actually are only truth within our environment. Now that doesn’t mean I have thrown out my belief system, that doesn’t mean I’m not a Christian, that doesn’t mean that the metaphysical world does not exist, and that God does not exist, that God is not powerful, and that I’m not a Christian. So I mean, I guess what I’m saying is, one of the things that I’ve noticed in Christian thought is that we too often do not really go to the basis of what of these things are useful, why do they all have to be attacked? I know enough about biology to understand that, hey, there is something to evolution. Does that mean I throw out my faith? No.

Well, I didn’t–

and I think that has something to do with reason and logic.


I say, contemporary naturalism relies heavily on evolution and Darwinism. But I didn’t go on to say that Christians ought to reject evolution. I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t mean to, and I don’t in fact believe that. But with respect to evolution, I would say about that, just as I said about interpretations of quantum mechanics, a Christian will look at evolution from a, in a different way. So if you’re a non-Christian, and in fact, this is a way lots and lots of evolutionists do think about evolution, it’s a completely unguided process. The very notion of a random genetic mutation, very notion of randomness is taken to exclude oversight or guidance by God, or anybody else. Well a Christian can’t accept evolution taken that way. That’s the way that Daniel Dennett presents it, Richard Dawkins, and lots of others, and they try to claim that the very scientific theory itself includes unguidednance. But seems to me, that’s not true. The scientific theory itself says something like the main driving force of evolution is natural selection working on random genetic mutation, and the biological definition of randomness, as you can find when biologists are implicitly concentrating just on that notion, doesn’t imply unguidednance. All it says is that, is that mutations don’t occur in response to adaptational needs of the organism. Well, that’s perfectly compatible with God’s guiding the whole process. So here, right, I didn’t propose, and don’t propose to say Christians can’t accept evolution, what I do say though, is that they can’t accept unguided evolution. There’ll be a deep difference there. [audience member speaking faintly] Yeah, and with respect to post modern talk about truth and the like, sure, lots of people have made truth claims that are really disguised power grabs. Quite right. But it’s an enormous leap from there to suppose, well, you know, there just isn’t any such thing as real truth at all. It’s that, it’s the leap to that seems to me to be completely incompatible with Christian belief.

Male: Oh, I can buy that too.


But, you didn’t–

Then we– Well that’s what I said really, I think. I just [laughing], maybe I should’ve said it louder. [laughing] [audience member speaking faintly]

Male: Dr. Plantinga, over here.

Where are you? [cross talking]

Look to your left. [laughing] Okay, and in many ways, naturalism has given birth to Darwinism, and evolutionism, evolution theory, in the same way evolution has given birth to naturalism. Between the Epicurean times and Darwinian times, what have been the dominant views to explain the role around us and the complexity of it if you’re a naturalist?

I’m sorry, you spoke a little too fast for me to follow. Could you–

Okay. Between Epicurean times and Darwin’s origin of species, what, in naturalism, what were the main ways to explain the world around us, and the complexity as naturalists?

You mean prior to Darwin?

Prior to Darwin, yeah.

Yeah. As far as I know, there really weren’t any, and this was an embarrassment. That’s why Dawkins said Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Atheist. Prior to Darwin, this question, why is it that there is enormously wide variety of creatures which display astonishingly, astonishing degrees of apparent design? They look like they’re designed. I mean, they fit so well in their environment. It looks like teeth are designed for eating, and ears for hearing, eyes for seeing. Why is that? Well, prior to Darwin, there wasn’t much a naturalist could say. I mean, Hume talks about this a bit prior to Darwin, but he really doesn’t have any sensible suggestion. So from that point of view, Darwin, Darwin’s theory introduced something of great cultural importance, a way in which people who were Atheists or naturalists could answer this question. Again, as Dawkins said, and one of the few things he said that seems to me to be right, Darwin made it possible for one to be, if not an intellectually fulfilled Atheist, at least an Atheist with a response to that otherwise extremely embarrassing question, right?

Male: Good morning. So as a Christian scholar, I am aware, or were all aware of our finitude and the limitations of our knowledge. And yet in the scholarly engagement to be humble and tentative doesn’t always play well. How do we live as we produce scholarship with the awareness that our knowledge is not quite certain, our work with the Scripture, and our work with nature is not quite certain, and yet approaching with a level of confidence that allows us to engage the scholars who come at it with more certainty and more confidence?

I don’t know. I mean, I’ve never, I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it as a problem. So I mean, the question is, so first of all, I’m to realize I could be wrong, right? Of course I could be wrong. But now does that, what does that do to my whole intellectual life? I mean, does that mean I have to accept everything I do, accept really tentatively? I can’t see that it does mean that. I could be wrong, but I can still be dead certain that two plus one equals three. I could be wrong, and as Descartes suggested, could be some malevolent Cartesian demon is deceiving me. You know, he’s created me, and is deceiving me into thinking that two plus one equals three, when in fact that’s not true at all. Well, I guess this is in some broad sense, I’m not sure what sense, possible, but in fact, but I don’t see that that should actually impact my degree of confidence in two plus one equals three. What is important here is to realize that, that there’s a whole range of proper degrees of belief, you might say. Some things one believes with maximal firmness, and some things one believes pretty strongly, but not with maximal firmness, like that there is such a country as China. I believe that, but I don’t believe it as firmly as that I believe two plus one equals three. And there’s a whole gradation here, going from that, all the way down to things one utterly and completely rejects, like two plus one doesn’t equal three. The same thing, it seems to me, something in the same neighborhood has to be said about Christian belief, that is, some parts of Christian belief are absolutely central, and non-negotiable, that there is such a person as God, that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God, the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, that through his life, and suffering, and death, and resurrection, we human beings can achieve a proper relationship with God again. But other things are the sorts of things that divide one Christian community from another aren’t nearly as obvious. Calvinists use to speak a lot about pre-destination, and that’s a very interesting topic, but the Bible doesn’t say very much about it, and it doesn’t seem to me like it’s at all appropriate to invest any view on that topic, that there is such a thing, that there isn’t, what exactly it is. With anything like the same degree of belief, or a firmness of belief, as one does the main lines, the main lines of the Christian Gospel, the great things of the Gospel, as Jonathan Edwards calls them. So both in the realm of scholarship in general, but also, and importantly, in the realm of Christian belief there has to be that sort of willingness to have graded degrees of assent, graded degrees of belief, right?

Male: So you just talked about degrees of credence, which will transition well into my question.

I’m sorry, degrees of what?

Degrees of credence.


>> Male: So that’ll transition well into my question. So I can think of at least two ways of doing scholarship from a Christian perspective of doing it through the spectacles of Scripture. On the first way, Christian theology and other disciplines are on a par. The deliverances have the same epistemic status. On a second way, Christian theology trumps the deliverances of other discipline. So where the naturalist says, science says, this person will say, Scripture says. There could be intermediate positions where it depends on particular cases. But I’m wondering, which of those two views do you favor, and why? Like does, it that clear?

>> I don’t think there’s any general answer. I think it depends on the particular question at issue. And then what one has to, what one has to realize, is that, oh, in the first place, if God is actually teaching us some proposition P then P is the thing to believe. It doesn’t matter what Einstein, or anybody else, science says. Science could say what it wants. P is the right thing to believe. But there’s always this question of figuring out exactly what it is that the Lord is teaching, right? So with respect to early Genesis, I mean this one kind of prime example here, many people for a very long time, although there’ve been other lines of thought going all the way back to Augustine, take it that, many people take it that the first chapters of Genesis are to be seen as sort of sober history. Other people think the first chapters of Genesis are to be seen as more like a kind of parable, like one of Jesus’ parables. In these parables, you’ll have the story, but you’re not to take all the parts of the story as sober truth. So there’s a parable the rich man and Lazarus, where they seem to be hollering back and forth between heaven and hell. Well, I mean, that’s not what’s being taught there, right? That’s not how to understand that parable. The claim isn’t that you can holler back and forth between heaven and hell, presumably that’s not gonna happen. But now, what about early Genesis then? I mean, how much of that whole story is to be taken as sober historical truth? That’s not so obvious. So very often, what you have to compare is what seems to be a clear teaching of reason on the one hand, maybe that the earth is very old. Let’s say, seem to be a lot of scientific powerful evidence for that. With, on the other hand, one’s reasons for thinking that a particular way of understanding that bit of the Bible in question, is in fact the right way, is in fact telling us what God intends to, intends us to learn. What is, once one has settled what God intends one to learn, then that settles the whole question. Then you don’t go on to ask, well, God says this, science says that, who do I believe? That doesn’t arise anymore. But you’ve got that other prior question, what is it exactly that God is teaching here, right? So I don’t think there’s any general recipe, rather you have to take these things bit, one by one, and in each case, take a careful look at what’s involved.

>> Male: Dr. Plantinga, I have two questions. One’s, the sense I get from your speech is that it’s okay, or justified in some sense, for the Christian scholar to pre-suppose his Christian’s belief, his Christian beliefs when he goes out and does his scholarly work. So I have two questions about this, if that’s a correct representation?

>> Yeah.

>> Male: Yeah, so first, how can this be justified? When you answered the potential Thomist objector that some testimonies can provide stronger justification than other type of evidence, I think that’s a good point. But is the whole Christian theory at that level? And my second question would be, in so far as the Christian pre-supposes his theory, does this make his, does this make his theory unfalsifiable? Because if he’s pre-supposing it as he does his whole work then he’s gonna reinterpret, you know, every scientific data according to his theory.

>> Well, let’s take the second question first. Does, if I proceed in that way, does it make what unfalsifiable? My scientific suggestion, or theory, or hypothesis?

>> No, the Christian–

>> Christian belief? Well, unfalsifiable, I guess it’s hard for me to think of something that’s gonna convince me that Christian belief is false. I mean, it could certainly happen, that people do lose their faith, it could happen to me too, I hope it doesn’t, that I’ve come to think Christian belief is false. But I can’t think of any kind of evidence that would make me think it’s false. Just as I can’t think of any kind of evidence would make me think it’s false that there’s been a past. You know, you and I think there’s been a past. Well, I mean, is there something wrong with this belief if I can’t think of any evidence that would make me give it up and say, well no, there’s never been a past? I can’t think of anything like that, but I don’t think that is a point against my belief. The idea that every belief that’s got any sense to it has to be falsifiable, I don’t see that there’s a lot to be said for that. I mean, again, consider two plus one equals three. What would convince you that that was false, you know? Pretty hard to say. I mean, you might say, well, I’ve got two things, and I’ve got another thing, I put ’em together, and I get four things, this happens over and over. Well that wouldn’t convince you that two plus one equals three is false, it’s just something peculiar happened when you put these things together, there was kind of a multiplication happened, and another thing popped into existence that wasn’t there before. You’re not gonna be able to think of anything that will falsify two plus one equals three, or there’s been a past, or there’s an external world, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those beliefs. So I mean, so I can’t think of anything that would convince me that Christian belief is false, but I don’t know that, I don’t see that’s a problem. [audience member speaking faintly] Well I certainly consider it to be on the same epistemic level as many other beliefs I have. And when you speak of epistemic level, you mean something like degree of positive epistemic status, or something like, yeah, roughly speaking, how well you know the thing in question, yeah. Well, I guess I’d have to say, I don’t think I know it as well as that I know that two plus one equals three, and I think Christians are often subject to doubts. That’s part of what’s involved in our sinful human condition. Christians are often subject to doubts, so it might be that I wake up in the middle of the night, and I think about this whole marvelous Christian story, you know, the first being of the universe creates creatures who turn their backs on him, and then his response is this enormous response of love. And I can occasion wake up in the middle of the night, and wonder, is that really true? I mean, is this wonderful story really true? And then sometimes I have doubts like that, so I guess I wouldn’t say that I know the main, the great things of the gospel with as much positive epistemic status, or as much certainty, or something like that, as some other things. But I do in fact believe them, and I do think that they are the most important things to know about the world, and about one’s self, and about one’s life. So I think it’s very important to look at the phenomena that scientists look at from that perspective, at least where it makes a difference.

>> Male: My question is, what is the role of argument and evidence, in light of what you said earlier, concerning the role that the sensus divinitatis plays in providing warrant for Christian belief? So if proper functioning sensus divinitatis is giving that warrant for my Christian belief, why do I need to look at arguments and evidence? What is the purpose of that?

>> Well now, the sensus divinitatis isn’t really addressed to specifically Christian belief, right? And the sensus divinitatis ,Calvin also says, doesn’t really, in our sinful condition, often just gives us sort of confusing hints. You know, it’s not the main source of Christian belief, nor even a belief in God at all. It’s more like Christian experience, and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, which are no doubt connected in certain ways, that would be the main source. But it’s not that argument never plays any role. Arguments can remove obstacles. It’s by virtue of arguments, it’s by way of giving arguments that one does, what you might call, negative apologetics, refuting claims against Christian belief, refuting naturalistic claims of various kinds, refuting the sorts of things that Dawkins and Dennett tell us how evolution shows that the world is a world without design. Argument is crucial there. Argument is also crucial in seeing how one’s Christian belief, how they hang together with each other. It’s not that they just come in one big blob, you know, with all these sort of disconnected parts, rather, you’ve got to see, you’ve gotta understand how they fit together, how some parts have got more certainty to them than other parts do, how some parts support other parts. And then also it’s by way or argument or reason that you see how the Christian story bears on whatever else you’re concerned with. For example, with psychology again, thinking about these basic human traits. It’s of course by virtue of argument, by virtue of reason that you see what bearing Christian belief has on those topics. So of course, argument and belief, I mean, argument and reason, of course, are extremely important. I didn’t for a minute mean to minimize it. But I don’t think it’s by way of argument that one comes to believe say that Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity incarnate. [upbeat instrumental music]

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