Ever since the publication of God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God (Cornell University Press, 1967), Alvin Plantinga has been regarded as one of world’s leading analytic philosophers of religion. His broader work in metaphysics and epistemology has also been widely influential. Plantinga—along with Nicholas Wolterstorff—is one of the two founders of “Reformed epistemology,” with its characteristic conviction that religious belief can be held rationally without support by any of the standard theistic arguments (cosmological, teleological, ontological, or moral). Plantinga holds that belief in God can be “properly basic” and therefore does not require the rational foundation provided by traditional natural theology.
As Plantinga observed in a lecture delivered in 1986, although belief in God does not require theistic arguments, that does not mean there are none to be had. In this lecture, “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments,” Plantinga sketches out a number of provocative apologetic strategies, focusing primarily on those which were most novel and least developed in philosophical literature. Although copies of this lecture were circulated among Plantinga’s students and colleagues and became an important reference point for them in the ensuing years, it was not officially published until its inclusion as an appendix to a broader commentary volume edited by Deane-Peter Baker titled Alvin Plantinga (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Inspired by this lecture, Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God: The Plantinga Project devotes individual chapters to each of the 26 nascent arguments surveyed by Plantinga in 1986, as well as adding a few more (“or so”) for good measure. It reprints the original lecture and includes a new interview with Plantinga. The volume’s comprehensive scope, detailed treatment, and innovative character make it an essential text for those interested in the current state-of-play of natural theology within the analytic tradition.
Several features of Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God warrant particular mention. First, in keeping with analytic philosophy, a number of chapters draw extensively on modal logic, set theory, and probability theory, as well as cosmology and quantum physics. Second, many chapters are extremely technical, assuming background knowledge in the aforementioned methods and disciplines, thus making the book a challenging read, even for those familiar with contemporary Anglophone philosophy of religion. Third, as noted above, most of the chapters deal with largely unfamiliar theistic arguments such as “the argument from intentionality” (Lorraine Juliano Keller), “the argument from collections” (Christopher Menzel), and “the argument from colors and flavors” (Richard Swinburne, and previously defended by Robert Merrihew Adams). These metaphysical and epistemological arguments deal with aspects of our mental life or with abstract entities such as numbers or sets which are, arguably, best explained by theism. Fourth, the less formal and more “conventional” chapters are among the strongest in the book, such as C. Stephen Evans on the teleological argument, David Baggett on moral arguments, and Jerry Walls on love and the meaning of life. The other standard theistic arguments are likewise skillfully and creatively treated, with Elizabeth D. Burns covering the ontological argument (with assistance from Iris Murdoch) and William Lane Craig covering the (kalam) cosmological argument. Fifth, a surprise from the interview with Plantinga is his view that the most compelling theistic argument is the moral one, though he has not previously devoted much attention to it (447). Finally, while most of the contributors defend their assigned argument, the volume also includes atheists skeptical of the entire enterprise as well as theists who are unconvinced by Plantinga’s version of a particular argument.
As noted above, this is an essential volume for those interested in current trends in natural theology. However, it also has several limitations. First, a notable absence from Plantinga’s original lecture—and therefore from this volume—is any broad or sustained interest in aesthetics or human culture. The important exceptions which prove the rule are the arguments from beauty and play (Philip Tallon) and the arguments from love and the meaning of life (Jerry Walls). Clearly, as more than 20 other argument-chapters bear witness, Plantinga’s mind is far more preoccupied with the realities studied by formal logic, mathematics, and the physical sciences. His pervasive influence has thus contributed to an emphasis in contemporary philosophy of religion which is increasingly disconnected from the humanities and social sciences. Second, there is almost no engagement in this volume with any other philosophical tradition or idiom besides the analytic, and this lack of methodological diversity limits the appeal of the volume outside that school of thought. A third and final concern deals with presentation rather than content. Despite the book’s 500 pages the print is tiny and the various superscripts, subscripts, and notes are so small as to be barely legible: it is really an 800-page volume crammed awkwardly into tighter space. Also, reference methods are inconsistent across the chapters. These features increase the difficulty of reading the book, which could have been considerably shorter without much loss of substance.
These faults and limitations notwithstanding, it is hard to imagine subsequent treatments of theistic arguments not using this volume as a regular point of reference, just as with the original lecture that inspired it.
Robert MacSwain is Associate Professor of Theology in the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
Date Of Review:
February 6, 2019
Jerry L. Walls is Scholar in Residence and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. He is the author or co-author of over fifteen books, including, most recently, God and Cosmos, with David Baggett (OUP, 2016).
Trent Dougherty is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Baylor University. He is the editor or co-editor of several books, including Evidentialism and Its Discontents and Skeptical Theism. He is the author of The Problem of Animal Pain.
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