In Warranted Christian Belief (henceforth WCB), Alvin Plantinga examines the conditions under which theistic and Christian beliefs possess warrant—that which transforms true belief into knowledge. His definition of warrant (defended at length in the prior two books in this trilogy) is as follows:
A belief has warrant just if it is produced by cognitive processes or faculties that are functioning properly, in a cognitive environment propitious for that exercise of cognitive powers, according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at the production of true beliefs. (Location 114 Kindle edition)
It is important to recognize that Plantinga’s goal in this book is not to argue for the truth of Christian belief, but for its warrant. Once the reader realizes this, it becomes clear why Plantinga introduces the distinction between de facto and de jure objections to theistic and Christian belief. A de facto objection attacks the truth of Christianity and is hence making a metaphysical or an ontological claim (e.g., God does not exist). Popular de facto objections are the logical problem of evil or that the attributes of God are logically inconsistent. De jure objections are epistemological in nature. For example, a de jure objection might hold that whether or not Christian belief is true, it is nonetheless unjustified or unwarranted to hold such belief. Plantinga sees the book serving two distinct functions:
On the one hand, it is an exercise in apologetics and philosophy of religion, an attempt to demonstrate the failure of a range of objects to Christian belief. …. On the other hand, however, the book is an effort in Christian philosophy…the effort to consider and answer philosophical questions from a Christian perspective. (Location 153 Kindle edition)
But the general project under which the efforts of Freud and Marx fall is that of giving naturalistic explanations of religious belief…but of course giving a naturalistic account of a kind of belief isn’t automatically a criticism of that kind of belief…consider belief in laws of logic or the basic truths of arithmetic. Perhaps it is possible to give a naturalistic account of our knowledge of these truths. Such an account would not invoke the truth of these beliefs as part of the explanation; it would proceed instead by outlining certain salient features of the causal genesis or antecedents of these beliefs, perhaps pointing to events of some kind in the nervous system…The existence of a causal explanation of this sort would not show or tend to show that such beliefs are unreliable. The same would go for religious belief…perhaps God designed us in such a way that it is by virtue of these processes that we come to have knowledge of him. This would have no tendency to discredit religious belief, just as memory is not discredited by the fact that one can produce memory beliefs by stimulating the right part of the brain. (p. 149 Kindle edition)
In this regard, the sensus divinitatis resembles memory, perception, and a priori belief. Consider perception: I look out into the back yard, I see that the coral tiger lilies are in bloom. I don’t note that I am being appeared to in a certain way and then make an argument (recall that much of modern philosophy has showed that such arguments are thoroughly inconclusive). Rather, in being appeared to in that way, the belief that the coral tiger lilies are in bloom spontaneously arises. This belief is basic, in the sense that it is not accepted on the basis of other propositions. All of these, we might say, are starting points for thought. But (on the model) the same goes for the sense of divinity….This belief is another of those starting points of thought; it too is basic.” (p. 174 Kindle edition)
In an etymological sense, Marx thinks, the believer is insane. But here the A/C model stands Freud and Marx on their heads (more accurately, what we see here is part of…extensive borrowing from Christian and Jewish ways of thinking): according to the model, it is really the unbeliever who displays epistemic malfunction; failing to believe in God is a result of some kind of dysfunction of the sensus divinitatis. (p. 182 Kindle edition)
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Latter Day Inkling is a U.S.-based research psychologist for the military. He is especially interested in epistemology and natural theology.