Thursday, July 21, 2005

Starting points

Alvin Plantinga on Christian scholarship.
a Christian philosopher may be interested in the relation between faith and reason, and faith and knowledge: granted that we hold some things by faith and know other things: granted we believe that there is such a person as God and that this belief is true; do we also know that God exists? Do we accept this belief by faith or by reason? A theist may be inclined towards a reliabilist theory of knowledge; he may be inclined to think that a true belief constitutes knowledge if it is produced by a reliable belief producing mechanism. (There are hard problems here, but suppose for now we ignore them.) If the theist thinks God has created us with the sensus divinitatis Calvin speaks of, he will hold that indeed there is a reliable belief producing mechanism that produces theistic belief; he will thus hold that we know that God exists. One who follows Calvin here will also hold that a capacity to apprehend God's existence is as much part of our natural noetic or intellectual equipment as is the capacity to apprehend truths of logic, perceptual truths, truths about the past, and truths about other minds. Belief in the existence of God is then in the same boat as belief in truths of logic, other minds, the past, and perceptual objects; in each case God has so constructed us that in the right circumstances we acquire the belief in question. But then the belief that there is such a person as God is as much among the deliverances of our natural noetic faculties as are those other beliefs. Hence we know that there is such a person as God, and don't merely believe it; and it isn't by faith that we apprehend the existence of God, but by reason; and this whether or not any of the classical theistic arguments is successful. Now my point is not that Christian philosophers must follow Calvin here. My point is that the Christian philosopher has a right (I should say a duty) to work at his own projects-projects set by the beliefs of the Christian community of which he is a part. The Christian philosophical community must work out the answers to its questions; and both the questions and the appropriate ways of working out their answers may presuppose beliefs rejected at most of the leading centers of philosophy. But the Christian is proceeding quite properly in starting from these beliefs, even if they are so rejected. He is under no obligation to confine his research projects to those pursued at those centers, or to pursue his own projects on the basis of the assumptions that prevail there.
Note that this is not special pleading. The positivist 'verificationist theory of truth is valid in all fields' theory that Plantinga is taking on is itself a matter of faith. Thus, Plantinga is responding to what has been a double standard in which a theist is held to a higher standard of truth than his critic.

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