Plantinga & Presuppositionalism, Part 2

Here I get a little more of my thoughts on Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology


Thanks for your notes on Plantinga. I read them and think that you summarize the issues and his concerns well.  I must admit though, that I feel that Van Tillian presuppositionalism does a better job as an apologetic methodology.

Of course this is not a slight on your presentation of Reformed Epistemology in your handout. You presented the issues perfectly. While Plantinga does demonstrate that most of our beliefs are build upon induction [reasoning from the particular to the general] rather than deduction [reasoning from the general to the particular], I still believe that belief in God is more than “properly basic.” Properly basic beliefs do not depend for their justification on other beliefs.

Is belief in God properly basic? Yes, it is. But such knowledge is also necessary for understanding the world around us. For instance, Plantinga himself begs the question of God when he states “God made our minds in such and such a fashion.” I’m sure you’re aware of this.

First, demonstrating that a belief is basic, doesn’t mean it’s true (the Great Pumpkin example). And apologetics is more than about rationality, it’s about truth. If Charlie Brown’s friend Linus does have an “incorrigible” experience that he feels is of the Great Pumpkin, isn’t it, On Plantinga’s grounds, a properly basic belief? My thoughts are that Reformed Epistemology simply is a defensive apologetic, one that simply intends to guard Christians from the label “irrational.”

Of course Christianity is not irrational. But as Van Til said, when we defend our faith our goal is not to present Christianity as just as good as other beliefs, or even perhaps even better intellectually and more consistent than other worldviews. Rather Christianity is the only worldview that does not make nonsense out of reason and experience. It is the only worldview worth having.

Second,because a belief is properly basic, as Plantinga defines it (that is to say, you are within your cognitive rights to believe such a thing), does not mean that it provides us with the preconditions of intelligibility.  I wouldn’t want to give the idea to the unbeliever that his ultimate beliefs are rational, regarding the nature of reality. Without a Christian theistic understanding of the world the unbeliever cannot consistently account for   objective notions of beauty, human dignity and value, and truth, let alone tons of other more detailed philosophical issues. My approach to apologetics and a defense of the faith is one that attempts to display all of the world, and our seemingly “common” experiences as under the control and providence of the God.

Sometimes I feel like Plantinga has set the apologetic bar too low. But that’s just me.

On a positive note, I do understand that Plantinga is most likely attempting to set up a defense for the kind of people (the average “simple Christian” and the like) who can’t offer a detailed explanation for their faith. God does grant people the gift of faith, yet they cannot present strong philosophical arguments for Christian theism, and I would be a fool if I didn’t acknowledge that. Ronald Nash has noted that the best way to employ Plantinga’s work is as a negative apologetics that responds to those who would seek to shut down conversation with Christianity because, a priori, it is deemed irrational. Here RE is helpful is clearing way the objection, making room for a fuller apologetic strategy.

Here’s a very helpful analysis and contrast between Van Til and Plantinga, see the following article by James Anderson. For more on Plantinga’s and Van Til’s view on apologetics and epistemology, see:

Posted on July 30, 2009, in Presuppositional apologetics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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