Plantinga: Warranted Christian Belief

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Puritanboard Clerk
Few books in a genre can lay claim to the title of “game changer.” This one just might (or any of his “Warrant” books).

Thesis: A belief B has warrant for one if and only if B is produced by one's properly functioning cognitive faculties in circumstances to which those faculties are designed to apply; in addition those faculties must be designed for the purpose of producing true beliefs (Plantinga 498). The goal of warrant, as opposed to simple epistemic justification, is that one can rationally hold to a belief without having to meet evidence upon evidence for that belief. Plantinga’s famous analogy is to other minds. There really isn’t good evidence for the existence of other minds, yet people are (generally) not considered irrational for believing in other minds.

Plantinga places this thesis in the background and the examines Freud’s and Marx’s critique (F&M) of theism. the section on Freud was actually quite fun. Reading Freud’s hypothesis of religious origins is actually very moving fiction. AP demonstrates that F&M have not shown that belief in God isn’t warranted.

Plantinga’s most important section is the Aquinas-Calvin (A/C) model. Per this, we have a special belief-producing faculty called “the sensus divinitatis.” But Plantinga rightly goes beyond this. We do not merely have this knowledge in our hearts, but as believers the Holy Spirit has sealed them on our hearts. (And while he doesn’t develop this point, this is a crucial insight into the doctrine of assurance. We can be warranted in believing we are “sons of God, and if sons, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” even if we can’t meet evidentialist demands for assurance: e.g., “how do you really, like really really know you are elect?” Plantinga hints towards a response: given what else I know and read in the gospels, and given God’s promise of salvation in Christ, I am fully rational in holding to this belief).


I understand that in reading this book last that I might have missed where Plantinga outlines key points which he takes for granted. Still, I think the section on “defeaters” went by too quickly. Further, I don’t think he fully showed how the Great Pumpkin (SGP) objection misses his position. He seemed to assert that a believer in SGP doesn’t have warrant for that position. Perhaps, but I must have missed it.

Some of Plantinga’s students have told me that the more robust an account of warranted belief is, the harder it is to find a defeater. I agree, except it really wasn’t developed here.

Further, while I appreciate the section on the A/C model, and as many reviewers have pointed out, Calvin (and Paul!) does not say that the sensus divinitatis is a knowledge-producing faculty, but that it is in fact knowledge (Calvin’s Institutes, I.3).

His rebuttal to Biblical Higher Criticism is not enough, as he perhaps realizes. He is merely responding to the claim that Christian belief is irrational in the face of liberal critiques, not whether the critique is actually true. I don’t think this can work. If the liberal critique of the historicity holds, then we must say with the Apostle Paul “that we of all men are most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We must face the liberal charge head on and destroy it, not merely aim for mutual respectability (I’m not imputing this to Plantinga, but merely observing Evangelical institutional tendencies)

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
I don't agree with everything Plantinga says, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I especially appreciated the move he makes by connecting the de facto objection with the de jure objection. Essentially he argues that if a belief is true, then it cannot be ridiculous to believe it regardless of how odd it may seem. This is important because most atheist philosophers have abandoned the de facto objection because they have conceded that they cannot disprove theism, and have instead argued that theistic belief is simply ridiculous and should thus be reflected. Plantinga argues that you cannot present a de jure objection to theism without also making a de facto objection, Therefore eliminating both objections. For those who would prefer a cliff's notes version, Knowledge and Christian Belief is a nice summary of WCB that comes in at less than 200 pages.
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