Alvin Plantinga, a philosopher at Notre Dame University, is noted well for his works in epistemology, or justification of belief. Anthony Flew notes that philosophers have been divided over the question of how knowledge is derived.
Many philosophers argue that a proposition is true or false and exists, independent of our minds, but in order to be believed, a proposition needs a mind. It seems necessary to define what, both, a ‘proposition’ and a ‘state of affairs’ is, before we begin our journey into making Plantinga’s very valuable, yet difficult to understand, argument more accessible to the layperson.
A ‘proposition’ (P) is a truth bearer, or a predicate, to a state of affairs, or subject term, (S) which are the truth makers. So P states that S obtains a set of conditions, such as ‘The weather is hot!’ Weather, being the subject, and ‘Hot’ being the predicate. The proposition is that the weather obtains conditions which we would define as ‘hot.’ In order for this to be true, the proposition needs a counterpart in reality. If the state of affairs fails to obtain what the proposition contains, the proposition has a truth value of 0.
PROPOSITIONS&STATE OF AFFAIRS
We may now define a proposition to be a complex (consisting of more than one concept, related by a certain semantic connective) referential meanings. They may, or may not, be thought about, believed, or expressed by language. Every proposition is true or false, for a proposition affirms or denies what a state of affairs obtains.
1. Do not have existence in time&space.
2. Are not identifiable with the linguistic entities used to express them.
3. Are not sense perceptible.
4. They are universally held and can be held by multiple minds.
5. While propositions require rational minds, to be grasped, they needn’t be grasped by finite minds to exist. It could be said that there are unknowable propositions to finite minds.
6. They can be the object of thought when, for example, one is thinking about the contents of one’s own thought processes.
7. They are not physical entities. (see pt 1.).
Propositions have intentionality–this intentionality is a natural affinity or intrinsic directedness intentional object, or state of affairs it picks out.
The locution ‘state of affairs,’ which is the truth maker, is defined, then, as any actually existing whole that is ordered by the relation of predication or exemplification.
In summary, for a proposition to be true, it must reflect what the state of affairs obtains. Simple as that. The above jargon is only for the interested reader. But one important point is that propositions are universals, (pt 4.) They are had by, but not identifiable with, the mind. More than one mind, at a time, can believe the mathematical proposition ‘2+2=4,’ and its truth does not require that any minds exist to believe it. However, the question to be asked is, “What justifies the acceptance or rejection of a belief?”
We all have beliefs, some are substantiated objectively, others are held for personal reasons. We may not like a certain individual and we may have a bad feeling about their character. Our personal belief in this individuals character is not determined by our belief, alone, or the belief of others. This type of belief is subjectively held, unless some character deficiency can be shown. Some believe chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla, this is another example of a subjectively held belief. There is no warrant outside the individual which says one type of ice cream is better than another. What about objective beliefs? There are beliefs which are substantiated outside of a persons mind and their justification is objective, not subjective. These beliefs are statements about external reality, not the thought or feelings of any one individual. One may say they believe unicorns exist. This could be a personally held belief, or a belief with external warrant, provided one could demonstrate unicorns do, in fact, exist. In the absence of unicorns, defined as a horse with a horn, the justification for this belief is not well substantiated. There are less controvertible beliefs, or axioms, which need no proof, such as logical or mathematical propositions. There is no justification prior to the law of non-contradiction to being true, it just is true, and we accept it because its denial leads to an absurdity or a contradiction. These are properly basic beliefs, they do not need proof, they are self evidently true, much like morality.
Once again, the above is jargon intended for the interested reader–a belief may be summarized as knowledge that is justified as true. The knowledge may be extrinsic, or it may be intrinsic, the level of justification may be high or low, depending if the belief is based on experience and inductive (a posteriori) or if it is independent of experience and deductive (a priori.)
The causal link between the acceptance of a belief and a belief being true is still missing. How do we know our minds are wired for acquiring knowledge, via our senses, and that our private beliefs correspond with the external world, which we have no access to, independent of our sensory experience? This involves a discussion on Aristotle’s causation.
5 LEVELS OF CAUSATION
An understanding of causation is important, to further this discussion. Not all causes are equal and Aristotle, the father of western logic, codified these nicely.
1. Instrumental cause. (That with which a task is performed.)
2. Efficient cause. (That through which a task is performed.)
3. Material cause. (That out of which a task is performed.)
4. Final cause. (That for which a task is performed.)
5. Formal cause. (The form of which a task is to be completed for.)
For this discussion, we need only concern ourselves with 2 and 4. The rest are not really important here. For something to count as an efficient cause, it is the act of agency. The paper you are reading has the efficient cause of the author. The final cause is what something is for. The final cause of this paper is to convey a point about epistemology and the justification of knowledge.
This is where we begin our roller coaster ride and things begin to get really interesting.
We have established, that for a proposition to be true, it needs a counterpart in the state of affairs, for a belief to be accepted as true, it needs a certain level of justification. Plantinga argues that if our minds are accidental products of evolution that we do not have minds for thinking, we only have minds that happen to think. I will attempt to summarize his position in a syllogism.
If God exists, then this sentence is true.
This sentence is true. (MP)
Therefore, God exists.
Before the reader closes this paper in disgust, consider this, in the absence of God, or a designer, there are no final causes. We cannot say, without begging the question, that we can trust the deliverances of our 5 senses to give us true and accurate information. We must, in the absence of a designer, or God type figure, eliminate final causation and perform an etiological reduction, which is to explain function in terms of its efficient cause. We can still use the term “function,” but it would mean something else, we could not trust the deliverances of our mind to give us truth, but, with evolution as the efficient cause and in the absence of a designer, we would be begging the question to say our minds can go beyond the fight, flight, feed, breed instincts, which were selected by naturalistic evolution. Our minds did not evolve for logic, or to utilize the immutable truths of mathematics, they merely evolved for survival.
According to Darwinian evolution, we are merely a black box as an organism, it does not matter what internal processes go on inside of the black box, as long as the output behaviour is conducive for survival. I do not understand the inner workings of the computer I am typing on, and as someone who is not a computer engineer I couldn’t care less if there was a mouse inside of this thing making it operate the way it does, as long as the output generated suits my purpose. So to is it with our minds; if they were not designed for a specific purpose, by God, to know truth, all we can say is they can be relied upon as far as the natural processes of evolution has allowed them to, and even here I am personifying evolution. Evolution is not trying to do anything, according to naturalistic evolution, there is no final cause,or end goal in mind.
However, in contrast to naturalistic evolution, if our minds were put in us for a purpose, to truly acquire truth, then the acceptance of certain logical or mathematical axioms would no longer be question begging, but would be quite reasonable to accept prima facie, as there is no absence of a designer, thus the final cause of our mind is to acquire truth and knowledge about the external world, and any correspondence between a thought and a thing would be more than just a happy coincidence. There would be states of intentionality within our minds, which deliberately set out to acquire truth, and the proposition “2+2=4” would not be true by this happy coincidence, but would be true because we have a mind given to us, which has a function given to it.
For the atheist, there seems to be a missing link between a proposition being accepted by a mind as being true, while for the theist, we can genuinely trust the deliverances of our minds, as far as design limitation goes, to give us reliable and factual information about the world, this causal link–which the atheist lacks–is provided by God. Any attempts, on the atheists part, to refute this, is presupposing that our minds are reliable and able to argue objectively about the nature of reality.
This would not be a fair paper, in the absence of considering objections. I have not come by any good refutations of this argument, which are not self-refuting, but anticipate that the anthropic principle could be used as an antithesis to this argument. The anthropic principle (weak) states that we are context sensitive observers and that we evolved to function in the conditions we inhabit, and that if we evolved in different conditions our faculties would function differently. How this could be used is to say that we evolved to know and understand truth and had there not been a correspondence between our minds and reality, we would not have survived.
All the anthropic principle is doing, in this case, is adding up statistical averages and describing how we think on a normative basis, but this does not make the rules of logic normative or prescriptive. All evolution can do is tell us how we have come to think in the past, but it cannot tell us how we ought to think in the future, as the “rules” of thinking are not prescriptive, but are merely descriptive. Adding up votes does not determine truth.
The theist is able to link the acceptance of a proposition and the nature of reality, by means of God, which provides the final cause for the workings of our minds, our hearts and so forth, while the atheist is left begging the question with regards to the true deliverances of their minds and they are wallowing in self-stultifying agnosticism, regarding the nature of reality. Saying that our minds are reliable, simply because they are reliable, does not provide the necessary antecedent conditions for there to be a true correspondence between a thought and a thing. It is not unreasonable for us to act on the belief that there is beer in the fridge, my belief in there being beer justifies me getting up to get a beer. There is a certain intentionality from which we set forth to act upon beliefs that are justified as true, but only from a theistic perspective. Atheism does not provide the needed intentionality, but reduces the mind to being a black box, which could have any set of beliefs in them, which there value is unknown until they manifest themselves in some sort of behaviour.
Take for instance, under the premise of naturalistic evolution being true, if I am acting under the pure instinct of fight or flight; consider my belief that tigers are cute and fuzzy and that the best way to love this tiger is to run and hide from it. Under the Darwinian model, it doesn’t matter what belief I have about that tiger, as long as my behaviour is beneficial for survival, so that I may pass on my genes to another generation. Any belief that the objector, to this provides, a valid behaviour can be provided in response. Naturalistic evolution does not have a teleological goal, or end in mind, the belief can be absurd, and it can only be evaluated when manifested as a behaviour.
Plantinga, Alvin – Knowledge and Christian belief.
Lewis, CS – Miracles.
Flew, Anthony – Dictionary of Philosophy.
Platinga, Alvin – Warrant and Proper Function.
Geisler, Norman – Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics – Truth, nature of.
Moreland JP, Craig, William Lane – Philosophical Foundations for a Christian WorldView.
Hanna, Mark – Biblical Christianity, Truth or Delusion?
For the more interested reader, one may wish to order the Philosophia Christi Journal, volume 14, from November 1 of 2012, where Plantinga develops this argument. CS Lewis develops this argument, however, at a more readable level, in his book on miracles. Plantinga’s “Knowledge and Christian Belief,” is a much more accessible read than his previous books on epistemology, which were intended for graduate level reading.