Christian Belief and Platonic Rationality

  • Peter van Inwagen
Part of the Studies in Philosophy and Religion book series (STPAR, volume 19)


Plato may plausibly be said to have held the following epistemological thesis: one’s beliefs are not rational unless one is able successfully to defend them against any rational criticism that may be brought against them. Let us call this the Platonic Principle and the conception of rationality it embodies the Platonic conception. I will examine what are in effect appeals to the Platonic Principle that have been made by certain critics of Christian belief. Various Christian beliefs are attacked, and with some frequency, by experts in various highly technical fields — like cosmology, evolutionary biology, and Old Testament history. (For example, a group of respected experts on Old Testament history has recently proclaimed that King David has no more historical reality than King Arthur — and, of course, they do not merely assert this thesis; they offer detailed arguments in its support.) Each of these attacks takes the form of a highly technical scientific or historical argument, and each of these arguments has this feature: only a very few people — those with the appropriate highly specialized scientific or historical training — are in a position to evaluate it. I will examine the following question: How should the Christian who encounters these arguments respond to them when he or she lacks the scientific or scholarly competence to evaluate them? I will make the abstract point that the Christian’s inability to evaluate such arguments argues against the rationality of Christian belief only on a Platonic conception of rationality. I will further argue that — all questions of religion aside — a consistent adherence to the Platonic conception of rationality is inconsistent with the demands of ordinary human life. I will finally turn from these abstract points to an examination of certain “highly technical” arguments against various Christian beliefs, arguments that I have some understanding of but lack the technical training to evaluate, and show by example how I think the Christian who encounters such arguments should respond to them.


North American Free Trade Agreement Fair Coin Pythagorean Theorem Christian Belief Epistemic Principle 
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  1. 1.
    Harvey, Van A.: 1986, `New Testament Scholarship and Christian Belief,’ in: R. Joseph Hoffman and Gerald A. Larue (eds.), Jesus in History and Myth, Prometheus Books, Amherst, N.Y., 193–200. The quoted passage occurs on p. 197.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Robinson, J. A. T.: 1976, Redating the New Testament, SCM Press, London.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

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  • Peter van Inwagen

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