“What I’ve always wanted to do as a philosopher,” [theistic philosopher Alvin] Plantinga said, “is defend a Christian way of thinking about things and argue that to be a Christian is not to be irrational or senseless or silly. It’s certainly not a unanimous view among philosophers that you can reasonably be a Christian; but that’s now one perfectly sensible view in the neighborhood.”
For those of us who are Christians, there is nothing remotely irrational, senseless, or silly about belief in God; indeed, it is disbelief in God that is senseless and silly. But unfortunately, philosophy and religion have been on largely divergent paths for the last several centuries. As a result, many philosophers have been reluctant or flatly unwilling to seriously consider the perspectives of theologians, while as Plantinga points out, “Certain kinds of evangelical Christians thought philosophy was a bad idea.”
That is unfortunate, impoverishing both realms.
So, I am very glad to learn of this gentleman who seems to have been able to, at least to some degree, bridge the chasm between contemporary philosophy and theology. But at the same time, I also have to chuckle slightly at the idea that his thoughts – at least as expressed in this short article, I have not delved into his works – are novel discoveries, particularly when it comes to the problem of evil.
If contemporary philosophers have truly believed that the existence of evil nullifies the possibility for the existence of a good God, then I am disheartened to see how far philosophy has fallen.
Plantinga’s solution – which may be compressed (at least as expressed in the linked article) as the realization that true freedom must of necessity include the ability to choose evil; if God had created us such that we would always choose good, automatically, then we would not have free will at all – is something that I got out of reading Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae (“The Consolation of Philosophy,” c. 524 AD) while I was in college.
Nonetheless, I’m glad he has apparently been able to make this ancient and key concept comprehensible and at least somewhat acceptable to today’s philosophical “establishment.”
Regarding his assertion (with which, of course, I agree) that belief in God is not irrational, he points out that
“a very common attitude among those who don’t believe in God is mistaken. That attitude goes like this: ‘I don’t know whether or not there really is such a person as God… but I do know the belief in God is irrational.’”
To which my response would be, if you don’t know whether or not God exists – if the existence of God cannot be conclusively proven, as it cannot, then neither can it be conclusively dis-proven – then how can you say belief in God is irrational? If there’s even the slightest chance that He may exist, and it turns out that He does, then disbelief in Him would be the irrational course of action! Saying that belief in the existence of God is irrational, without being able to conclusively disprove the existence of God, is itself irrational.
Which I think is what Plantinga is trying to say. He goes on to add,
“My argument, very simply, is that if theism is true, then in all likelihood God would make his presence known to us human beings. And if this is so, then it would make sense to think of God as creating us in such a way that there is an innate tendency to believe in him, or at least to have some sort of inkling of his existence.”
Which is another way of saying something that I have said on many occasions, and in a number of fora: that the human religious impulse comes from God, and leads to God. That is why – although I am a Christian and a Christian cleric, and believe that the Christian revelation is the most true and complete revelation of God humans have been vouchsafed by their creator – I also believe that elements of truth may be found in many (indeed most, if not all) religions.
If we are, as the Scriptures inform us, created in the image of God, then we simply cannot (assuming our intellectual faculties are intact) avoiding knowing at least something about God, and / or at least have a yearning to connect with our ultimate Source. We can (having free will, since God wishes us to search for and choose Him freely, not through compulsion) ignore or suppress both the knowledge and the yearning, but that does not mean it’s not there.
As I have also said before – including in this blog – I have respect for an honest agnosticism, as there is so much we do not and cannot know about God. But I find flat-out atheism – which is asserting as an incontestable truth-claim the idea that God does not exist – to be rather absurd and even silly, since there is no way to conclusively disprove the existence of a God powerful enough to create the totality of the Cosmos.
In contrast, as Plantinga points out,
“many philosophers have argued that belief in God is indeed, irrational; and of course if it is irrational, we ought not to accept it. They think as follows: it would clearly be irrational to believe in God if there were not good evidence for the existence of God . . .
“Now what I’ve argued, in a nutshell, is this. First of all, that there are some pretty good arguments for theism, for the existence of God. More important, though, what I’ve argued is that if belief in God is true—if there really is such a person as God—then belief in God is not irrational.”
Indeed! Needless to say, I agree. At any rate, Plantinga seems like a very interesting fellow, and I look forward to hopefully having a chance to read some of his writings in the relatively near future.