Book Review: Knowledge and Christian Belief (part 1)

Knowledge and Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga. Copyright 2015. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 126 pages.

Here I am going to give a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of Alvin Plantinga’s 2015 book Knowledge and Christian Belief. In this first post I will cover the first four chapters; the subsequent chapters will be covered in another post.

This book is meant as a layman’s version of Plantinga’s much longer and more technical 2000 book Warranted Christian Belief. and so it is possible that some of my criticisms are addressed in the more thorough treatise. Here I will only be taking the shorter book into consideration.

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Material and Immaterial: Why Materialism is Incomplete

In the twentieth century, Jean-Paul Sartre famously said that existence precedes essence, which is the reverse order of what the Medieval philosophers believed. In this line of thinking, a thing first exists, and then due to its form of existing, it has essence bestowed upon it by observers. This is where the Existentialist idea of radical freedom came from. In the Medieval philosophy, you were your essence first, and it was God that bestowed upon you your existence. But that means your essence is immutable. In Existentialism, it is you that creates your essence to be what you want, and your essence is only determined by what you do, not by your intentions. What this idea ultimately concludes is that there is nothing special about an existing object apart from the meaning given to it by minds, or being-for-itself in Sartre’s parlance, denoting the objectness of the mind. But if the mind is an object, then what is it about the mind that makes it special, allowed to bestow meaning on the objects around it?

The following post is an excerpt from a book I’m writing that has to do with human consciousness and the human condition. In this section I discuss why materialism offers only an incomplete explanation for consciousness.

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Material and Immaterial: Why Spiritualism is Untrue

This idea of a non-physical realm that transcends the physical has been a persistent one. What this even means will usually depend on who you ask. However, it usually has something to do with ethereal spirits working within arbitrary laws that have little or nothing to do with the physical laws we are familiar with. Sometimes it is the realm ghosts inhabit – the disembodied spirits of people who’ve died. Sometimes it is described more as a divine realm where angels and souls exist, somehow able to communicate actions into the physical realm when it pleases them. What spiritualism always has in common, though, is that it has everything to do with human beings.

The following post is an excerpt from a book I’m writing that has to do with human consciousness and the human condition. In this section I discuss why spiritualism is, at best, a hypothesis that should be rejected as an explanation for consciousness.

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Meaning Without a Shared Narrative

This Cato Institute 2019 poll has some telling results about the state of people’s feelings toward a meaningful existence. What does it mean to have a meaningful existence? Religion, of course, says that a meaningful existence can only happen through religion. Without religion, people seem to seek meaning through politics. Once politics is seen for what it really is – a soul-shaped cavity overflowing with fetid swamp water where dreams go to die – people are left with nothing but hollow materialistic consumerism. When that fails to satisfy the need for purpose, the meaning-wheel comes full circle and people seek a metaphysics to explain how the world works. The most popular of which currently is identity politics.

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Human Rights, Virtue Ethics, and Tyranny

If there are no human rights a priori of government force, how can tyranny be avoided? In the absence of any deontological justification for normative ethics, there is only virtue ethics.

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God Does Not Exist: Philosophical Arguments

Among the Abrahamic religions, multiple arguments have been put forward by philosophers and theologians to prove the existence of God. I’m an atheist and don’t think any of these arguments are convincing. In this post – the first in a series I will do concerning the existence of God – I will demonstrate why I personally don’t think these philosophical arguments are very convincing.

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Transhumanist Virtue Ethics: Desirable Innate Preferences Determined by Reason

Natural rights don’t exist, except in the human mind. They are a way for a social species to maintain social cohesion. But, as useful as natural rights may be in deciding how to organize society, they are not fundamental; instead, they are derivative of what humans, in general, desire.

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Human Relations and Accountability

When a mob boss tells three of his underlings to commit a murder, and then the three underlings commit the murder, is the mob boss culpable? Most people would say yes, even though he himself did not commit the murder, because he is the boss. But isn’t it possible for the three underlings to have just ignored the bosses orders and done nothing, in which case he would have just been talking? No, most people would say, because the underlings did commit the murder and they have entered into a hierarchical relationship with the boss where they are obligated to follow his orders.

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Existence and Essence in Our Time

I’ve been reading a bit of Scholastic and Islamic Golden Age philosophy – namely Thomas Aquinas and Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina (Avicenna). In those times, people were obsessed with two things: the Greek philosophers (Plato, the neoplatonists, and Aristotle) and being able to reconcile the Grecian ontology with their monotheistic, Abrahamic religion. It’s interesting to read their philosophy, but I was wondering if it had any relevance to modern philosophy.

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Sohrab Ahmari vs David French From an Atheist Point of View

Sohrab Ahmari is a Catholic conservative commentator who recently wrote a piece calling fellow Christian conservatives to political action to Christianize the U.S. In the piece, he takes aim at David French, who is more of a live-and-let-live classical liberal, though also a conservative Christian. This has sparked a lot of conversation amongst those of a social conservative ilk.

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Can We Become the Absurd Hero?

Voltaire once said that “if God didn’t exist we would have to invent him.” Our imaginations are, of course, limited by our evolutionary past. To us, God has to be human-like. God must be benevolent, meaning it’s actions must seek to benefit humans. Why wouldn’t we invent a God like that? We are human-centered by our very nature. We feel that we deserve our self-designated special place in the universe.

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Structure of the Mind

Consciousness and qualia are problems that are still unsolved by philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. My way of viewing consciousness and qualia is that consciousness is the process by which our brains organize the world into working models and qualia is the ‘stuff’ that consciousness uses to generate those models. For better or worse, both of these exist due to evolutionary forces. That means they’re fine tuned to a very specific sort of survival, not for any pure understanding of the world or ourselves. In order to understand the limitations of our own minds, we need to know the inner workings of how the world is organized in our minds on a fundamental level. That requires knowing the structure of our minds.

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