Greg Welty on Alvin Plantinga

Greg Welty’s book Alvin Plantinga hits the bookstore shelves today. I’m sure you’re dying to hear what I think about it, so here’s my endorsement:

Alvin Plantinga by Greg WeltyAlvin Plantinga is one of the titans of contemporary Christian philosophy and it would be almost unforgivable to omit him from P&R’s Great Thinkers series. His writings over the course of a six-decade career combine an astonishing degree of creativity with rigorous analytical precision, a delightful sense of humor, and a refreshingly uncomplicated Christian piety. Until now, there has existed no reliable introduction to Plantinga’s work that I could enthusiastically recommend to students, pastors, and other interested readers. That deficiency is now remedied with the publication of Greg Welty’s Alvin Plantinga, a superlative addition to an already excellent series. As a seasoned teacher-scholar with advanced degrees in theology and philosophy and a firm commitment to confessional Reformed doctrine, Dr. Welty was the ideal person to write this book. In a concise and eminently readable style, Welty clearly explains Plantinga’s major contributions and argues that, despite Plantinga’s own deviations from the Reformed tradition at points, his most valuable contributions can be comfortably accommodated by that tradition. I would never suggest reading only one book on Plantinga, but if it must be one, make it this one.

If you want to find out a bit more about the book and its distinctive contributions, I recommend this interview with the author.

The book is available from the publisher at a significant discount right now ($10.39 instead of $15.99). So what are you waiting for? Go order a copy!


Philosophy after Christ: A Short Review

Philosophy after ChristTony Flood was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book, Philosophy after Christ, and I promised I would post a brief review. As the introduction explains, the title of the book is inspired by Colossians 2:8, where the apostle Paul contrasts two kinds of philosophy: philosophy that is “after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world,” and philosophy that is “after Christ” (KJV). The English word ‘after’ translates the Greek preposition kata, which in this context might be better rendered ‘according to’. As such, Flood’s agenda is not to expound a philosophy that is subsequent to Christ or beyond Christ, but rather according to Christ. Since Christ is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) only a philosophy founded on Christ and his Word can succeed. Philosophy after Christ is thus a spirited and invigorating defense of a truly Christian approach to philosophy and apologetics. As the author notes, the material in the book is not entirely new but consists of revisions of essays written between 2018 and 2021, some of which began life as articles on Flood’s website. However, it is useful to have them collected and systematically arranged in one volume; the assembled whole carries more force that the sum of the parts.

Part I (“Basics”) makes the initial argument that Christian philosophy must be conducted self-consciously in the context of biblical Christian worldview, and, more provocatively, that even non-Christian philosophies tacitly depend on a Christian theistic worldview for their very intelligibility. Flood rightly recognizes that there can be no such thing as an autonomous or worldview-neutral philosophy:

If philosophical problems are embedded in a worldview, then the adjudication of worldview-conflict cannot be such a problem. The attempt to address such conflict also operates at the level of worldview. There is no worldview-neutral stance from which to undertake such a task. (p. 4)

Flood proceeds to argue that if Christ is indeed the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24) and the Word of God (John 1:1) then no philosophy that is anti-Christ can ultimately stand, and if autonomous thought must be shunned then philosophers need to recognize their dependence upon divine revelation. As Flood vividly puts the point (with acknowledgements to Scott Oliphint), Christ is “our philosophical GPS” that not only supplies our map but also (crucially) tells us our position. Developing further this recognizably Van Tilian line of thought, Flood contends that the God of the Bible is “under the floorboards” of every argument, even those arguments leveled against God. Moreover, since God’s existence is not only evident (Rom. 1:19-20) but “the very ground of evidence-seeking,” atheists have no excuse for their unbelief.

What is the Problem of Induction, and Why are Christians Uniquely Situated to Answer It?

[From a short article written for the ILIAD Forum.]

The problem of induction is a notorious philosophical problem concerning inductive inferences; more specifically, whether that form of reasoning is generally reliable or rationally justified. An inductive inference aims to draw a general conclusion from a series of particular observations. For example, if I observe one thousand swans, and every one of those swans is white, I can infer inductively that probably all swans are white, and on that basis predict that any future swans I observe will (probably) be white. Unlike deductive inferences, in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises, inductive inferences cannot deliver absolute certainty—for example, the possibility of observing a non-white swan in the future cannot be decisively ruled out—but all else being equal, the greater the number of past observations confirming a general law or pattern, the stronger the inductive conclusion becomes.

Inductive inferences have been widely used in scientific research to discover laws of nature. To take one example, Newton’s universal law of gravitation was inferred inductively from empirical observations of the attractive forces between two masses. We haven’t observed the forces between every pair of masses in the universe at every point in time, of course, so we don’t have direct and infallible knowledge of a universal law. Nevertheless, we have made enough observations to be confident that they are instances of a universal law, and we can make reliable predictions about future events by positing that the universal law holds.

Continue reading…

Molinism and Other Determinisms

In which it is argued that Molinists are determinists, but this is not to their shame.

Robert Kane is one of the world’s leading experts on the philosophy of free will. He’s the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Free Will and one of the contributors to Four Views on Free Will (Blackwell, 2007). He’s written dozens of articles on the subject of free will. So it’s safe to say he knows whereof he speaks when it comes to debates over free will.

Kane is an incompatibilist, which is to say, he believes that determinism is incompatible with free will (at least, the kind of free will needed for moral agency). But what is determinism? Here’s how Kane explains the term in his book A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will:1

An event (such as a choice or action) is determined when there are conditions obtaining earlier (such as the decrees of fate or the foreordaining acts of God or antecedent causes plus laws of nature) whose occurrence is a sufficient condition for the occurrence of the event. In other words, it must be the case that, if these earlier determining conditions obtain, then the determined event will occur. (pp. 5-6)

In more familiar terms, we say that a determined event is inevitable or necessary (it cannot but occur), given the determining conditions. If fate decreed or God foreordained (or the laws of nature and antecedent causes determined) that John would choose at a certain time to go to Samarra, then John will choose at that time to go to Samarra. Determinism is thus a kind of necessity, but it is a conditional necessity. A determined event does not have to occur, no matter what else happens (it need not be absolutely necessary). But it must occur when the determining conditions have occurred. If the decrees of fate had been different or the past had been different in some way, John may have been determined to go to Damascus rather than to Samarra. Historical doctrines of determinism refer to different determining conditions. But all doctrines of determinism imply that every event, or at least every human choice and action, is determined by some determining conditions in this sense. (p. 6)

Now here’s an interesting (to me) and perhaps surprising (to you) observation: According to Kane’s understanding of determinism, Molinism is clearly a species of determinism. (To use Kane’s phrase, it is a “doctrine of determinism.”) For according to Molinism, God has an infallible decree; God foreordains all things, including human free choices. As the Molinist will be quick to insist, God foreordains on the basis of his middle knowledge, that is, his knowledge of the counterfactuals of creaturely (libertarian) freedom. God “weakly actualizes” a possible world by creating agents with libertarian freedom and arranging their circumstances such that they freely choose what he has planned (on the basis of his middle knowledge) for them to choose. But the fact remains that on the Molinist scheme, despite its commitment to libertarian free will, God has an infallible decree and foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. As one prominent Molinist explains:

Not only does this view make room for human freedom, but it affords God a means of choosing which world of free creatures to create. For by knowing how persons would freely choose in whatever circumstances they might be, God can, by decreeing to place just those persons in just those circumstances, bring about his ultimate purposes through free creaturely actions. Thus, by employing his hypothetical knowledge, God can plan a world down to the last detail and yet do so without annihilating creaturely freedom, since God has already factored into the equation what people would do freely under various circumstances.2

Thus, according to Molinism, if God has foreordained that Sam mows the lawn next Saturday, then Sam will mow the lawn next Saturday. God’s act of foreordination is a sufficient condition for Sam’s action (P is a sufficient condition for Q if Q necessarily follows from P) and therefore, according to Kane, Sam’s action is determined by prior conditions, namely, God’s act of foreordination. (Notice that Kane explicitly includes “the foreordaining acts of God” among his examples of determining conditions.)

  1. Robert Kane, A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
  2. William Lane Craig, “God Directs All Things,” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 82, bold added.

What are Worldviews, and Why Should University Students be Mindful of Them?

[From a short article written for the ILIAD Forum.]

As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It isn’t a physical view of the world (like the sight of planet Earth you might get from an orbiting space station) but rather a philosophical view of the world—and not just of our planet, but of all of reality. A worldview is an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us. A worldview represents a person’s most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe they inhabit. It reflects how they would answer all the “big questions” of human existence, the fundamental questions we ask about life, the universe, and everything.

Worldviews matter, in the first place, because everyone has one, although not everyone is aware that they have one. A worldview is as indispensable for thinking as an atmosphere is for breathing. You can’t think in an intellectual vacuum any more than you can breathe without a physical atmosphere. Most of the time, you take the atmosphere around you for granted; you look through it rather than at it, even though you know it’s always there. The same goes for your worldview: normally you look through it rather than directly at it. It’s essential, but it usually sits in the background of your thought.

Continue reading…

In What Ways is God the Foundation for all Knowledge?

[From a short article written for the ILIAD Forum.]

According to a Christian worldview, God is the foundation of all knowledge simply because God is the ultimate foundation for everything in the most general sense. God is a maximally perfect being and therefore is perfect in knowledge: God knows infallibly and comprehensively every truth that there is to know (Ps. 139:1–16; Isa. 44:6–7; Isa: 46:8–11; Heb. 4:13). Furthermore, God is the creator and sustainer of everything else, including human beings and any other creatures (e.g., angels) who have the capacity for knowledge (Gen. 1:1, 27; Heb. 1:1–3; Heb. 11:3; Rev. 4:11). In other words, our knowledge—like everything else we possess—is a gift from God, and all human knowledge is derivative of divine knowledge. As it has often been said, we have been created by God “to think God’s thoughts after him.” Although from our perspective we regularly discover “new truths” and extend our collective knowledge, human knowledge is never truly original in any absolute sense, but only reflective and reconstructive of God’s knowledge (and even then, in a very limited fashion).

Thus, we might say, the Christian worldview affirms a “revelational epistemology”: all human knowledge is ultimately dependent upon divine revelation. Put simply, we can know truth only because God has revealed truth to us—about himself, about ourselves, and about the world around us (scientific truths, historical truths, and so forth). Christian theologians have often distinguished between two basic forms of divine revelation:

Continue reading…

Does Predestination Make the Problem of Evil More Pressing?

[From a short article written for the ILIAD Forum.]

This is a tough question to answer in a short space, not least because it ties together two complex and controversial topics! Let’s begin with some basic definitions. The problem of evil refers to the challenge of reconciling the reality of evil with the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God. If God is all-good, presumably he would want to prevent all evil. If God is all-powerful, presumably he would be able to prevent all evil. How then can God and evil co-exist?

As many Christian philosophers have pointed out, the apparent logical conflict can be resolved once we recognize that God could have morally sufficient reasons for permitting an evil; for example, if permitting that evil were necessary to accomplish some greater good. Thus, there is no inherent conflict between the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God and the existence of evil. This insight points us in the direction of a greater-good theodicy: a more detailed explanation of why God permits various evils within the world, whether natural evils (such as diseases and earthquakes) or moral evils (such as murders and rapes). Christian thinkers have developed and defended a variety of greater-good theodicies, but it’s enough for our purposes here to recognize that such theodicies exist and many of them are complementary (i.e., they can be combined to address a wide range of different evils).

Continue reading…

The ILIAD Forum

Readers of this blog may be interested to know about a new online resource, the ILIAD Forum. (‘ILIAD’ stands for Ivy League Informational Apologetics Database.) According to the website:

The Iliad Forum was founded in 2021 by undergraduate students from all across the Ivy League, who wanted to provide an online, accessible, and rigorous database of answers to common questions about the nature and commitments of orthodox Christianity. The Iliad Forum site is intended to be a resource for both Christians and non-Christians, where answers to deep and complex questions and objections can be found almost immediately. Many of the questions that we deal with are tailored to the specific interests of undergraduate students at Ivy League universities. However, we also deal with broader topics, such as Christianity in the job market, philosophical apologetics, and Biblical history.

The website already contains dozens of short articles in answer to a wide range of questions. The articles are written by scholars with expertise in the relevant area, including Vern Poythress, William Edgar, and Scott Oliphint.

I was invited to submit answers to five questions in the area of philosophical theology and apologetics. I gather the articles will be posted on the website at intervals, so I’ll post the links here as they become available.