Review: Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function

Plantinga begins by examining the Gettier-type problems that internalist accounts of knowledge face. Having shown these difficulties, Plantinga is now able to set the stage for his externalist approach to warrant. This he does by explaining our design function: Any well formed human being who is in an epistemically congenial environment and whose intellectual faculties are in good working order will typically take for granted at least three things: that she has existed for some time, that she has had many thoughts and feelings, and that she is not a thought or feeling (Plantinga 50).

He then examines three apparent weak points of externalism and show not only are they strong points, only a fool would challenge them: memory, other persons, and testimony. In the nature of the case we do not have basic beliefs about these three entities in the sense that evidentialism and classic foundationalism require (especially memory and testimony; solipsism has a host of problems beyond this). Throughout this defense we see the vindication of Thomas Reid.

The book is quite difficult and technical, though. The sections on probability will lose all but the most formidable philosophers. While reading these chapters one is reminded of Eowyn’s comments to Merry before the battle: “Courage, Merry; it will soon be over.”

He then gives a (mostly) wonderfully lucid discussion of coherentism, classic foundationalism, and Reidian foundationalism. Coherentism sees truth as a source of warrant in the existing relations of one’s beliefs: does a belief “cohere” and “mesh” in a larger noetic structure? Plantinga suggests this is inadequate because coherentism only tells us of the doxastic relationships between beliefs. Warrant, by contrast, needs far more, experience among other things (179). Classical foundationalism is wrong because it is self-referentially incoherent. It is not the case that the foundationalist claim (a belief is properly basic because it is either self-evident to me or immediately present to my senses) meets its own criteria: it is not self-evidently true nor is it available to the senses (182). This leaves us with Plantinga’s position: Reidian foundationalism. If a belief is formed in proper circumstances according to its proper cognitive design, it has warrant.

Conclusion:

The book began well and ended well. The middle sections were good, too, but likely only of interest to the most doughty of analytic philosophers. While I agree with Plantinga’s thesis, there are some shortcomings (but these can be excused because they have been treated in later works). The section on Reidian foundationalism, for example, while fundamentally sound, seemed to lack, forgive the pun, coherence in articulation. I kept seeing what RF was not in relation to classical foundationalism, but very little on what it was. The final chapters on naturalism are interesting, but have since been further refined in Plantinga’s later works.

Plantinga: God and Other Minds

And so begins Plantinga’s project. Plantinga evaluates the issue of whether we are rationally *justified* in believing in God. In doing so, he considers the natural theologian’s arsenal, the atheologian’s response, and whether belief in God can be salvaged from the analogy of other minds.

Natural Theology

In considering the Cosmological, Ontological, and Teleological arguments, Plantinga points out that most criticisms of these arguments do not obtain, but still, at the end of the day, the natural theologian is not in a better position. Admittedly, this section is dizzying. The ontological argument comprised two chapters (though we did get a fine survey of the then-current literature).

Various Atheologica

Plantinga explores the atheologian’s criticisms of theism: the problem of evil (PE), the free will(FV) defense, and verificationism (Vf). With regard to PE, Plantinga notes if the atheologian’s premises are correct, it still doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist. There is no logical contradiction between the classical theistic view of God and the existence of evil. The atheologian needs to add the following premise:

(a) An all-powerful, all-loving God is *morally obligated* to create a world where persons freely choose the good at all times.

But introducing moral considerations is off-limits for the atheologian at this time. In any case, the atheologian’s criticism only speaks of what kind of God exists, not that he doesn’t exist.

Plantinga’s FW defense is the best chapter in the book. Whether we hold to free will or not is true, Plantinga argues that it is logically coherent and thus serves to defeat the atheologian’s defeater. The atheologian wants the following premise:

(b) God could create a world where the state of affairs obtain where a person P freely chooses the good at all times.

As Plantinga notes, this is hard to square with any definition of freedom. Further, just because God is omnipotent does not mean that he can create any state of affairs (e.g., God cannot create the state of affairs that is not created by God!) Further, Plantinga gives a nice discussion of what is a human person:

(c) x is a possible person = def. x is a consistent set of H properties such that for every H property P, either P or P (complement) is a member of x (Plantinga 141).

And if it is false that God can instantiate any possible state of affairs he chooses, then it is false that he can create any person he chooses. Therefore, (b) is no threat to theism.

God and Other Minds

This last section was confusing. Plantinga argued that the other minds analogy has drawbacks but then suggests something like it to *justify* belief in God.  It’s important to note that at this point in his career, Plantinga is still speaking in terms of justification and has not yet moved to warrant.

Evaluation and Limitations

This book was one of Plantinga’s earlier projects. Notice that I have been using the word “justify” in terms of evaluating belief in God. By the time of Warrant and Proper Function, Plantinga has rejected this line of thought. Justification is a stricter criterion of rationality. It suggests deontological duty and if Plantinga wants to speak of theistic belief as *justified* on the basis of other minds analogy, then his project certainly falls short. But this is no longer Plantinga’s position.

Review: Logic-A God Centered Approach (Poythress)

This isn’t a logic textbook, yet it isn’t quite a worldview approach to logic.  It is something of both, yet completely neither.  I still liked it, though.

Image result for logic poythress

He begins with a theological “grounding” of logic, which amounts to a summary of his and Frame’s approach to worldview.  It’s good, but it lasts about 200 pages before you get into the “nuts and bolts” of logic.

He then gives a primer on deductive syllogisms, propositional logic, quantification, functions, sets, modal logic, and much else. I did enjoy the fact that he pointed out how pure systems like Russell’s and others are so formal as to have little content.  This is analogous to the desire for “pure being.”

64: Logic is an aspect of God’s mind.  It reveals God’s attributes.

89: Logic is God’s self-consistency

Key argument: Logic is personal, but it doesn’t depend on any one human person, since if all humans perished, logic would still be true. It is transcendent, displays his attributes, and is part of God’s speech (80).

This next part is important, as it provides another foundation for the rest of the book’s argument:

Axioms of Propositional Logic

Principle of Tautology: (p V p) ⊃ p 

You might need to learn this one.  Poythress’s work is unique in the sense that he puts every single axiom through a truth table.

Principle of Addition

⊃ (p V q)  “If it is dark, then (either it is raining or it is dark)”

The Principle of Permutation

(p V q) ⊃ (q V p)

If (either it is raining or it is dark), then (either it is dark or it is raining)

The Associative Principle

(p V (q V r)) ⊃ (q V (p V r))

If (either it is raining or (it is dark or it is cold)), then (either it is dark or (it is raining or it is cold))

The Principle of Summation

(q ⊃ r) ⊃ ((p V q) ⊃ (p V r))

If (it is dark implies it is cold), then (the assumption that (it is raining or it is dark) implies the conclusion that (it is raining or it is cold)).

While it might not seem like it, these are powerful tools and the reader is encouraged to work through a few of them in truth tables in the appendices.  The book has some severe drawbacks, in that it isn’t a logic textbook, and some important concepts are woefully underdeveloped (like modal logic).  But I did enjoy it and parts of it should be read.

Quick Primer on Analytic Philosophy

Before the 1970s analytic philosophy hadn’t yet escaped from logical positivism.  But even Ayers saw through that.  Now analytic philosophy has been liberated.  Here are some mandatory texts:

Wittgenstein, Ludwig.  Tractatus.  My favorite, even if he is utterly wrong.  He corrected some of this in Philosophical Investigations.

Russell, Bertrand.  Problems of Philosophy.  Once you get past Russell’s being in love with himself, it’s actually a good book.

Lewis, David.  On the Plurality of Worlds.  Not an easy read, but Possible Worlds Semantics is such a huge breakthrough.

Husserl, E.  Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy.  Not sure if Husserl is analytic or continental.  I’ve seen both use him.

Plantinga, Alvin.  God, Freedom, and Evil. You don’t have to accept his free will defense.  I like his discussions on the difference between logical and physical impossibilities. But more importantly, this is an initiation into his next volume.

Plantinga, Alvin.  The Nature of Necessity.  Third hardest book I’ve ever read, but one of the most powerful.

Poythress, Vern.  Logic: A God Centered Approach.  Flawed in many ways, but he does a good job in decoding what all the symbols mean.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas.  John Locke and the Ethics of Belief.

Loux, Michael.  Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.

Kripke, Saul.  The Nature of Necessity.  The 20th century classic in analytic metaphysics.

Chisholm, Roderick.  On Metaphysics.  First introduced me to the Problem of Theseus’s Ship.

Rowe, William.  Thomas Reid on Freedom and Morality.  Covers a lot of issues that come up with free will.

Van Inwagen, Peter.  Metaphysics.  It’s not often you see a materialist defend free will.

Swinburne, Richard.  Evolution of the Soul.  Once you get past his evolutionary assumptions, there are some great insights on the mind-body problem.

Moreland, JP. Universals.

Definition of Essence

Some notes from Jay Richards’ Untamed God.

The definition of essence is a set of properties that an entity exemplifies (64). A property is some fact or truth about an entity in the world.  In our usage we want to say that Socrates has necessary/essential properties without saying that Socrates is necessary to every possible world.  We would say it like this:

“S has P and there is no W in which S has the complement ~P of P.  

Property actualism states that S has no properties in worlds in which he does not exist.

□(x)(P(x) → E(x))

Therefore, The essentialist argues that there is a distinction between essential divine properties and accidental (contingent) divine properties (90). Property: a state of affairs concerning entities of different types. While saying there are contingent properties in God seems to depart from the tradition, it really doesn’t.  God’s deciding to create the world is a contingent divine property. God has P in every world.  God’s essence is concretely instantiated in every possible world (95). God’s essential attributes, those he has in every possible world, are divine ‘perfections’ (96).  “They include all those properties susceptible to perfection.”

Harassing the Hobgoblins: Intro to Analytic Theology

I am not an expert in analytic theology, and I have been critical of analytic philosophy in the past.  Nonetheless, it can be useful in clarifying concepts.  One problem is that people jump into the deeper waters, reading countless computer symbols and the analytic guys never bother to clarify what’s going on.  I’ll try.

Beginner

McCall, Thomas.  Introduction to Analytic Theology.  It is what the title says. He introduces some key concepts but doesn’t really get beyond Leibniz’s Law.  Still, anything McCall writes is worth getting.

Moreland, JP.  Love Your God with all your Mind.  What would it look like if you applied analytic reasoning to the development of the soul?

Morris, Thomas V.  Our Idea of God.  He doesn’t call it analytic theology, but it is an early essay into how it is done.  Wonderfully accessible.

Nash, Ronald.  The Concept of God.  Kind of a simplified version of Plantinga’s Does God have a Nature?  Some great responses to open theism.

Clark, Kelly.  Return to Reason.  This is the unsung volume in apologetics.

Intermediate

McCall, Thomas.  Which Trinity? Whose Monotheism?  Not primarily analytic theology, per se, but it is a great application of analytic theology.

Crisp and Rea, Analytic Theology: New Essays.  Some outstanding essays, some bleh.  Sadly, Rea, Wolterstorff, and possibly stump have surrendered the field on sexual ethics.

Craig and Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  Somewhat technical, but simply grand.

Moreland and Rae, Body and Soul.  Outstanding defense of substance dualism.  Moreland writes with Kingdom Power.

Moreland, JP.  Kingdom Triangle.  Triangulates (sorry) analytic theology with continuationist theology.

Morris, Thomas V. Logic of God Incarnate.  Rescues Christology from the contradiction charge.  Several very important concepts introduced.

Plantinga and Wolterstorff.  Faith and Rationality.  Almost as important historically as it is philosophically.

Richards, Jay Wesley. The Untamed God.  Introduces modal concepts and show where they advance beyond Aristotle.

Advanced

Kripke, Saul.  Naming and Necessity.  Some technical chapters, but a mostly accessible work on language and possible worlds.

Lewis, David.  Counterfactuals.  Very difficult, but Lewis does walk you through his method, so it is readable.

Plantinga, Alvin. Nature of Necessity.  One of the most important philosophy works in the last century.  Possible Worlds matter.

———–.  Does God Have a Nature? Plantinga got accused of denying simplicity in this book.  I never saw where he did so.  Great primer on how to do analytic theology.

———–.  Warrant and Proper Function.   Clears up a lot of (perhaps deliberate) misunderstanding on what Plantinga means by “warrant.

———.  Warranted Christian Belief.  Application of his previous two books.

Which Trinity? Robert Jenson

Continuing McCall’s work.  Here is a retraction on my part.  A few years ago I praised Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology.  Indeed, there are some fine essays in there.  I must retract, however, the section on the doctrine of God.

Robert Jenson’s famous claim concerns the identity of God:

(8) God is the one who raised Israel’s Jesus from the dead” (McCall 128).

Jenson’s main argument is that God is “identified by and with the particular plotted sequence of events that make the narrative of Israel and her Christ” (Jenson, ST1, p. 60, quoted in Mccall 131).

Said another way:  God is constituted by these historical acts.  Said yet another way,

God ←→ History

Theory of Worldbound Indivduals

(9) TWI: “For any object x and relational property P, if has P, then for any object y, if there is a world in which y lacks P, then y is distinct from P” (Plantinga, quoted in McCall 143).

(9a) The grim conclusion, if Jenson holds to both his Identity Thesis and TWI, then God could not exist apart from the temporal events in this world.

(9*) for TWI all divine properties are essential properties.

(9’) Is supralapsarianism a form of TWI?

David B. Hart on classical theism, an interlude: “within the plenitude of divine life no contrary motion can fabricate an interval of negation.”

If we apply TWI to Christology, particularly (9*), we get Arian conclusions:

(10) The Son has an essential property (being incarnate) that the Father does not have.

(10a) The Son’s economic property of being subordinate to the Father is now an essential property!

Is Jenson’s God temporal?  It looks like it.  Let’s take two theses which Jenson would hold: the Indiscernability of Indenticals and TWI.  God’s identity for Jenson is linked to key temporal actions in Israel’s life (Exodus, etc; “God can have no identity except as he meets the temporal end toward which creatures live,” Jenson, ST1, 65).  This leads to the following:

(11) God has different properties at t1 (e.g., call of Abraham) than he does at t2 (Exodus). Thus,

(11*) God is not identical to himself.

(11’) God changes through time.

Not even Arius claimed this!

Review of Dennison on Van Til

Dennison, William.  In Defense of the Eschaton.  Wipf and Stock, 2015.

This is a collection of essays dealing with Van Til and Education, with a few other themes thrown in.   Some essays are quite good, particularly the one on Genesis 2:15.  Unfortunately, it manifests all the weaknesses of Van Tillian thought:  inability to interact with recent developments in philosophy, attacking other schools because they don’t use the same jargon, refusing to understand what other Christian thinkers are getting at.

Some flaws aren’t as serious.  In the chapter on Plato, much of it was good but I am not sure what the pay-out was.  We got a good summary of Plato’s view on the soul, and we saw that some philosophers weren’t “Platonic” (though he never says who).  But all of this could have been found elsewhere.  Other flaws are found in most Van Tillian works: broad-brushing all of the opposition as “autonomous thought” without always spelling out how it is bad.

Dennison’s first chapter places Van Til (hereafter CVT) within the context of Continental vs. Analytic philosophy and it begins on a promising note. Few of CVT’s disciples are aware of this context and it makes these studies difficult. So we commend Dennison for that. Indeed, he notes the connection between Vos and CVT, and that connection is “the biblical story.”

So how does a “Vosian narratology” influence CVT’s thought? Dennison gives us an interesting suggestion, but only that. For him, CVT places epistemology within the realm of history (Dennison 28), which would be the biblical story. So how does that determine CVT’s apologetic? I think Dennison wants to say it means CVT sees man as either a covenant-keeper or breaker within the respective kingdom. So what does this have to do with Vos? I’m not sure.

Had Dennison stopped there the chapter would have been fine, even perhaps groundbreaking in a few parts. However, hee takes several shots at “analytic philosophy” and “Reformed Epistemology” and fundamentally misrepresents both.

He begins by noting there are two schools of analytic philosophy: logical positivism and linguistic analysis (23). I’m not so sure. Let’s take the greatest Christian analytic philosophers today: Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig. Where do they fit? They do not belong to either category. Even more, what does “Possible Worlds Semantics” have to do with Wittengstein or Vienna? Analytic philosophy today is a tool, not a totalizing approach. Dennison appears to read all analytics as following in Wittgenstein’s footsteps, whether early or late.

He notes some perceived problems with Reformed Epistemology. It doesn’t place Jesus as the beginning of epistemology (28 n69). Well, maybe, and Calvin didn’t use the transcendental argument for the existence of God, either. He criticizes Plantinga for failing to take account of the noetic effects of sin, and notes Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function. But Plantinga does take such into account in Warranted Christian Belief (see Plantinga, WCB 214). Did Dennison read Warranted Christian Belief?. Dennison rebukes it for its alliance with Common Sense Realism. Okay, so what is the problem exactly? In fact, what is Common Sense Realism? How are beliefs formed? That’s the issue. Simply chanting “Jesus is the starting point” tells me nothing on how beliefs are formed. And finally, he suggests Plantinga has affinities with Barth, but he gives no such evidence besides mentioning Plantinga’s paper on natural theology.

Criticisms

His review of Keller’s book was fine and I agree with most of his concerns. It was odd at a point. Dennison attacks Keller for holding to the “neo-Calvinist” scheme (168ff). What is this scheme? It is the story-line of Creation-Fall-Redemption. So what is bad about this? I think he wants to say that it makes us lose sight of heaven as our homeland? Let’s look at it.

Neo-Calvinist: Creation-Fall-Redemption and Jesus came to put the world to right.

Puritan Pietist: Heaven is our true homeland.

As it stands there is no contradiction between the two statements. Maybe all he is saying is that some Neo-Calvinists denigrate heaven. I guess. That’s an entirely different argument.

I would take it a step further: what or where exactly is heaven? Is “heaven” the final destination? How does this tie in with the New Earth? Elsewhere Dennison says that we are already in the age to come of a sorts (107). I agree. If that’s so, then there is no contradiction between Neo-Calvinism and Vosian eschatology.

The Good

Despite my criticisms, several essays are quite valuable. His notes on anthropology highlight man as an image-bearer (39). The imago dei is often missing from treatments on man’s essence.

He has some outstanding suggestions on the role of the Reformed apologist in light of his eschatological existence (107ff).

Conclusion:

This collection of essays is strong where Van Tillians have always been strong: eschatology, piety, and culture. It is weak where Van Tillians have always been weak: interacting with recent philosophy, fleshing out their views, etc. This is actually a three-star book, but Dennison’s essay on Genesis 2:15 was so good I bumped it up a star.

Van til and analytic philosophy

This is from the first chapter of William Dennison’s In Defense of the Eschaton.

Dennison’s first chapter places Van Til (hereafter CVT) within the context of Continental vs. Analytic philosophy and it begins on a promising note.  Few of CVT’s disciples are aware of this context and it makes these studies difficult.  So we commend Dennison for that.  Indeed, he notes the connection between Vos and CVT, and that connection is “the biblical story.”  

So how does a “Vosian narratology” influence CVT’s thought?  Dennison gives us an interesting suggestion, but only that.  For him, CVT places epistemology within the realm of history (Dennison 28), which would be the biblical story.  So how does that determine CVT’s apologetic?  I think Dennison wants to say it means CVT sees man as either a covenant-keeper or breaker within the respective kingdom.  So what does this have to do with Vos?  I’m not sure.

Had Dennison stopped there the chapter would have been fine, even perhaps groundbreaking in a few parts.  Sadly, he went on.  He takes several shots at “analytic philosophy” and “Reformed Epistemology” and fundamentally misrepresents both.  

He begins by noting there are two schools of analytic philosophy: logical positivism and linguistic analysis (23).  I’m not so sure.  Let’s take the greatest Christian analytic philosophers today:  Plantinga, Swinburne, Craig.  Where do they fit?  They do not belong to either category.  Analytic philosophy today is a tool, not a totalizing approach.  Dennison appears to read all analytics as following in Wittgenstein’s footsteps, whether early or late.

He notes some problems with Reformed Epistemology.  It doesn’t place Jesus as the beginning of epistemology (28 n69).  Well, maybe, and Calvin didn’t use the transcendental argument for the existence of God, either.  He criticizes Plantinga for failing to take account of the noetic effects of sin, and notes Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function.  But Plantinga does take such into account in Warranted Christian Belief (see Plantinga, WCB 214).  Did Dennison read Warranted Christian Belief?.  Dennison rebukes it for its alliance with Common Sense Realism.  Okay, so what is the problem exactly?  In fact, what is Common Sense Realism?  How are beliefs formed?  That’s the issue.  Simply chanting “Jesus is the starting point” tells me nothing on how beliefs are formed.  And finally, he suggests Plantinga has affinities with Barth, but he gives no such evidence besides mentioning Plantinga’s paper on natural theology.