Alvin Plantinga and the Death of the Mind
A scandal brews within Christian philosophy: the rejection of reason and the death of the mind.
In his recent article at The Christian Egoist, Jacob Brunton explained the consequences of the presuppositional trend within Christian apologetics and worldview. It amounts to the rejection of the mind.
Brunton points out that Christian intellectuals are committing the same errors as their secular counterparts. It is only a matter of time until the errors bear the same deadly fruit. In the end, the rejection of reason always means the rejection of life and values.
Presuppositionalism is only a “sanctified” version of cultural relativism. Brunton explains the connection. In Bloody Evasions: The Common Ground between the Church and the Baby Killers, he writes,
“How is [the baby-killer’s] retreat into relativism on this issue [of abortion] any different than that of the modern Christian “intellectuals” who proclaim that the human mind is incapable of knowing truth with certainty; that there is no way to establish by reason whether or not God exists; that truth must simply be presupposed (i.e. arbitrarily assumed)? Answer: There isn’t a difference. The situation with abortion is just one bloody, concrete, example of the logical implications of the presuppositional-perspectival-narrative-obsessed-relativistic-orgy currently plaguing conservative evangelicalism.”
He comments that,
“Their guilt lies in the fact that they are perfectly capable of using sound, objective, reasoning processes in order to earn a paycheck, in order to feed their family, and in order to fight against abortion — it’s only when it comes to issues of philosophy and theology that they suddenly lose that ability.”
This criticism applies to the entire presuppositional school of Christian philosophy: to all who believe we must make pre-theoretical faith commitments (and thus that any reasoning which does not assume the truth of Christianity is invalidated at the outset).
Brunton especially applies his criticism toward the reformed Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame, Plantinga was recognized by TIME magazine as “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God” and “the world’s most important living Christian philosopher.”
What are Plantinga’s accomplishments? He has put forward a novel argument about faith. He argues that it is invalid to reject belief in God on the basis of lack of evidence.
Why? Because faith is knowledge, he claims. We don’t need evidence or arguments for our faith to be rational. Instead, it is “possible” that God created all people with an inner knowledge — a natural tendency to believe that God exists.
What is the evidence for such an idea? Plantinga dismisses the very need for evidence. He interprets Romans 1 as an argument that this mystical inner sense exists. If it does indeed exist, then Romans 1 would be sufficient to prove it.
It is too generous to refer to Plantinga’s case for faith as an “argument” or a “reason.” It is an evasion of the nature of knowledge. He bases his whole claim only on an arbitrary supposition that it is “possible” that God could miraculously implant knowledge into our minds. But Scripture itself says nothing about this. Romans 1 and 2 say quite the opposite. It is by the evidence of creation that man rationally must conclude that there is a God (Romans 1:20).
Plantinga’s purpose is to not to show that Christianity is rational, for he does not believe this can be done. Rather, his purpose is to show that, if Christianity is indeed true, then a person’s choice to believe in Christianity might “possibly” be rational.
Plantinga’s notion is designed merely to defuse the claim that Christianity is irrational. But he never attempts to establish that Christianity is true or rational. He does not even seem to grasp the importance of these questions. For Plantinga, “I believe it,” is enough.
This is the death of the mind.
As Mitch Stokes of The Gospel Coalition points out, Plantinga’s goal is to put philosophy “in its place.” By this, he means that philosophy has no place. As an analytic philosopher, Plantinga has done his best to put an end to the very subject.
To all this, Jacob Brunton writes:
“If I believed, with Plantinga, that Christianity was no more objectively true than a fairytale which I choose to believe, I could not (and should not) love Christ as I do. We do no honor to Christ when, in the name of humility, we reduce Him to the level of a fairytale.”
To that conviction, I can only say, “Amen.”
Plantinga has nothing to offer the man who values the truth — or his one tool of obtaining it.
Plantinga’s chief reason for believing in God is, “It feels reasonable, and I don’t know of any reason it isn’t.” His chief defense against atheism is, “You can’t prove I’m wrong.”
Why do Plantinga and the similar school of presuppositionalists consistently err? Their shared mistakes come from a shared premise: that knowledge, to be real, must be founded upon omniscience. Since we don’t have omniscience, they become skeptics regarding the unsaved man’s capacity for knowledge, and they become mystics regarding saved man’s capacity for knowledge. Then, in place of reasons, they assert the arbitrary.
Brunton summarizes the scandal:
“They are desperate to make room for the arbitrary in order to make room for Christianity — thus demonstrating that they assume Christianity to be arbitrary. “
Philosophy has indeed died. In such darkness, what can be done? The time has come for a Second Renaissance.