I took a course with Alvin Plantinga in 1998 (wow, twenty years ago!). The main textbook was an early draft of his book Warranted Christian Belief. By the time the book was published two years later, I was well into my PhD thesis in England in which I was seeking to articulate a fundamental theology informed by Plantinga’s epistemology.
Suffice it to say, Warranted Christian Belief formed a big part of my intellectual formation. It’s a sprawling book of close to 500 pages, enlivened throughout by Plantinga’s eclectic interests, penchant for incisive thought experiments, and dry but razor-sharp wit.
What does a five hundred page defense of the intellectual credibility of Christianity look like? In one sense, it looks surprisingly deflationary. But for all that it gives up in ambition, it gains in spades in terms of intellectual credibility. At one pivotal moment Plantinga stands shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther to thrown down the existential gauntlet. And it looks like this:
I believe a thousand things, and many of them are things others – others of great acuity and seriousness – do not believe. Indeed, many of the beliefs that mean the most to me are of that sort. I realize I can be seriously, dreadfully, fatally wrong, and wrong about what it is enormously important to be right. That is simply the human condition: my response must be finally,
“Here I stand; this is the way the world looks to me.”
The beauty of that statement is that it represents the delightfully nuanced, humble, and existentially self-aware conclusion of more than a thousand rigorously argued pages. (A thousand? Yes, you see, Warranted Christian Belief was the final installment of a triumvirate that presents a cumulative epistemological argument.)
But here’s the thing. I would much rather inhabit a humble square of epistemic rationality and warrant which is sustained by rigorous arguments than to claim the universe on woolly and ill-begotten ambition.
For that, I say thanks, Alvin Plantinga.