Is Christian Belief Irrational? (Part 2)

Before addressing the objection arrived at in Part 1 of this series, it would be prudent to spend a little extra time discussing warrant – what it is and how it works. There are certain words in English we are intimately familiar with yet have a difficult time analyzing. For instance, what is a photographer? Is a photographer merely someone that takes pretty pictures or do they need to get paid for their work? At what point does one become a “photographer”?

Knowledge is a bit like the word photographer. Everyone knows what it means until they actually sit down and try to analyze it. Knowledge has historically been thought of as justified true belief. However, in 1963 a guy named Edmund Gettier showed (in 3 short pages) that the standard analysis of knowledge is inadequate; it is open to various counterexamples. Much of the philosophy since has been aimed at avoiding this problem.

In Knowledge and Christian Belief, Alvin Plantinga offers a set of conditions he thinks avoids the Gettier problem. These conditions (if successful) establish warrant. Plantinga uses the term warrant to mean the following: “the property enough of which is what distinguishes knowledge from mere true belief”. So what are these magical conditions?

1. Proper Function

The first step, says Plantinga, is to ensure that one’s beliefs are being produced by a brain that is functioning or working properly. Beliefs that are the result of brain malfunction or serious defect do not have much warrant at all. A brain inhibited by alcohol could lead one to believe all sorts of wacky things. So first and foremost, warrant requires proper function.

2. Correct Environment

Secondly, our brains are suited to a particular kind of environment. For instance, being subjected to intense radiation can affect the production of memory beliefs. So in addition to proper function, we must also be in the right kind of environment.

3. Aimed at True Belief

Thirdly, our brains must be purposed or aimed at producing true beliefs. From Part 1, we saw that Freud’s objection to religious belief is it is aimed at wish-fulfillment rather than at truth. Our cognitive faculties (our brains) must have as their goal the production of true beliefs (as opposed to something like survival or wish-fulfillment).

4. Successfully Aimed at True Belief

We are not there yet. It is not enough to be aimed at true belief, the process must be successfully aimed at truth, “one such that there is a high probability that a belief produced according to that plan will be true”.

To summarize, a belief has warrant for a person if (and only if) that belief is produced by a brain that is functioning properly in an appropriate environment and is operating according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at truth. We have Gettier to thank for that mouth full.

However much it is worth, I personally think that this analysis is a good one. At the very least, it is a step in the right direction. With Plantinga’s account in hand, we can begin to provide a response to the objection arrived at in the previous post. That will be our subject next time.

Part 1 – – Part 2 – – Part 3 – – Part 4

About the Featured Image

Taken in London. Don’t recall the street or anything. Saw some cool light, threw my exposure down a few stops, and took the shot. Part of what interested me was the fact that some of the windows were filled in (there used to be a light tax back in the day).


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