The previous article explained why the Christian faith claims to be true. But how can we explain that it is also rational?
Some people claim that the Christian faith lacks warrant, or is not warranted. What does this mean? And can this objection be answered? One important and very useful way to answer this objection has been offered by the American philosopher Alvin Plantinga in his book Warranted Christian Belief. His view can be summarised – all too briefly and simply – as follows:
How any human belief can have warrant
The first step is to address the question how any human belief can have warrant (or be rational and reasonable). Normally, a human belief is formed through a mental mechanism by which a certain input – such as the visual observation of seeing a tree in my garden – leads to a certain belief as output: I believe there is a tree in my garden. But is this belief warranted? Such a belief can only have warrant if it meets certain criteria.
- The first is that this mechanism must function properly. If my eyesight is impaired, I have no reason to form the belief that I see a tree in my garden.
- This mental mechanism must have been designed for the purpose of forming true beliefs. Suppose that my eyesight has only been designed to see things I wish were true (but may not actually be true). An example would be the wish that I would have an apple tree in my garden with lots of apples on it. In that case I have reason to doubt my belief.
- Finally, this mechanism has to function under the right conditions: if it is pitch dark, I cannot see anything and I cannot conclude that what I think I see is indeed a tree in my garden.
In the case that all these conditions are met, the belief that I form about the tree standing in my garden has warrant. In that case it is also rational and reasonable to hold this belief.
A similar approach to belief in God
The next step is that Plantinga applies a similar approach to belief in God. He proposes that we have a mental mechanism that forms belief about God in us. The way this operates can be illustrated by means of an example. If I see something of the tremendous beauty of nature – an impressive mountain range, the magnificent Milky Way seen in the southern hemisphere, a wonderfully colored butterfly, or the design of the human eye – I form the belief that an all-powerful God must exist. Human beings have been equipped with such a faculty, and the resulting belief can meet the criteria for warrant in a similar way as spelled out above. If it is true that God exists, we can assume that He wants us to know Him, and that He has therefore designed this mechanism to give us true belief about Him. If this mechanism functions properly, and under the right conditions (such as those in the examples given above), this belief can have warrant. It can therefore be concluded that belief in God can be warranted and can also be rational and reasonable.
Sin in human beings
The problem, however, is that this process does no longer function properly because of what the Bible calls sin in human beings. This is the problem that has already been described in the previous article: human beings are opposed to God and to accepting Him. What is the solution? The answer is found in the specifically Christian faith. So, why can this faith have warrant? This is the subject of the next article in this series.