Advice to Christian Philosophers


Professor Alvin Plantinga

Preface.

In the paper that follows I write from the perspective of a philosopher, and of course I
have detailed knowledge of (at best) only my own field. I am convinced, however, that
many other disciplines resemble philosophy with respect to things I say below. (It will be
up to the practitioners of those other disciplines to see whether or not I am right.)

First, it isn't just in philosophy that we Christians are heavily influenced by the practice
and procedures of our non-Christian peers. (Indeed, given the cantankerousness of
philosophers and the rampant disagreement in philosophy it is probably easier to be a
maverick there than in most other disciplines.) The same holds for nearly any important
contemporary intellectual discipline: history, literary and artistic criticism, musicology,
and the sciences, both social and natural. In all of these areas there are ways of
proceeding, pervasive assumptions about the nature of the discipline (for example,
assumptions about the nature of science and its place in our intellectual economy),
assumptions about how the discipline should be carried on and what a valuable or
worthwhile contribution is like and so on; we imbibe these assumptions, if not with our
mother's milk, at any rate in learning to pursue our disciplines. In all these areas we learn
how to pursue our disciplines under the direction and influence of our peers.

But in many cases these assumptions and presumptions do not easily mesh with a
Christian or theistic way of looking at the world. This is obvious in many areas: in
literary criticism and film theory, where creative anti-realism (see below) runs riot; in
sociology and psychology and the other human sciences; in history; and even in a good
deal of contemporary (liberal) theology. It is less obvious but nonetheless present in the
so-called natural sciences.
The Australian philosopher J. J. C. Smart once remarked that
an argument useful (from his naturalistic point of view) for convincing believers in
human freedom of the error of their ways is to point out that contemporary mechanistic
biology seems to leave no room for human free will: how, for example, could such a
thing have developed in the evolutionary course of things? Even in physics and
mathematics, those austere bastions of pure reason, similar questions arise. These
questions have to do with the content of these sciences and the way in which they have
developed. They also have to do with the way in which (as they are ordinarily taught and practiced) these disciplines are artificially separated from questions concerning the nature
of the objects they study-a separation determined, not by what is most natural to the
subject matter in question, but by a broadly positivist conception of the nature of
knowledge and the nature of human intellectual activity.

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