This is the title of Alvin Plantinga’s opening chapter in a collegial debate he recently wrote with atheist Michael Tooley called Knowledge of God. Plantinga thanks Tooley for “his clear, rigorous, and detailed statement of a version of the atheistic argument from evil (p. 151),” and then pretty much dismantles it.
As I read Plantinga’s chapter I often thought that Cornelius Van Til would have loved this, for he basically proves Van Til’s point that belief in God is necessary to know anything. Van Til tried, unsuccessfully I think, to demonstrate that belief in the Christian God is necessary for knowledge. He relied on the unity and diversity in the Trinity, saying this solved the one and the many problem that beguiles philosophers, and he argued the idealist notion that comprehensive knowledge is necessary for all knowledge (we don’t know anything unless we know everything, and such comprehensive knowledge is found in God, who reveals some of it to us).
While interesting, Plantinga’s arguments are better. He argues that we only have warrant for our epistemic faculties if we believe they are functioning properly, but what would this even mean in a naturalistic universe? (Plantinga rightly asserts that naturalism is the dominant form of atheism). Proper functioning assumes a designer who intended his creation to function a certain way. If there is no God then the universe lacks intention, and so it would be impossible to say whether or not something is functioning properly. Even the concept of malfunctioning loses meaning. Plantinga says the problem is not merely that a naturalist can’t tell whether or not something is functioning properly, it’s that the concept itself lacks meaning in a naturalistic worldview (p. 21).
Furthermore, we only have warrant if we believe our epistemic faculties are successfully aimed at truth. But the best a naturalist can say is that they are aimed at survival advantage. For example, someone who is stricken with terminal cancer may choose to optimistically insist they will beat it. Their optimism may increase the time they have left, and so contribute to their survival, but no one would claim their beliefs are successfully aimed at truth (p. 11).
Finally, Plantinga argues that a naturalist can’t even account for the concept of belief. Naturalistic materialism (materialism is the dominant form of naturalism) can account for the “electro-chemical or neurophysiological” firings in our brains, but it cannot explain how these “neuronal events” are able to produce beliefs that have content. It’s not simply that naturalists don’t know how it happens but that they can’t see how it could. The content of beliefs is an immaterial thing. How could the material events in a physical brain come to hold immaterial content? The question itself makes little sense in a naturalistic world (p. 34-35).
Plantinga concludes that committed naturalists must give up the right to hold beliefs, including the belief that naturalism is true. And so naturalism is self-defeating, and no rational person could rationally hold it (p. 68-69).
This chapter should earn Plantinga an honorary doctorate from Westminster Seminary—not that either side needs this but wouldn’t it be nice to see?—and should become a staple of apologetics for years to come. If you’re into Christian philosophy, you need to read this.