On Plantinga and Craig's Psychic Epistemology

William Lane Craig's Favorite Hymn!
Plantinga and Craig are prime examples of what philosopher Stephen Law said, “Anything based on faith, no matter how ludicrous, can be made to be consistent with the available evidence, given a little patience and ingenuity.” (Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2011), p. 75. Or as anthropology professor James T. Houk said, “Virtually anything and everything, no matter how absurd, inane, or ridiculous, has been believed or claimed to be true at one time or another by somebody, somewhere in the name of faith." (The Illusion of Certainty. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2017), p. 31.

In what follows is an excerpt from my chapter 6, "The Abject Failure of Christian Apologetics" in The Case against Miracles (pp. 190ff).


With regard to the Reformed Epistemology, Alvin Plantinga seeks to show Christians can be entirely rational in having a “full-blooded Christian belief”29 in “the great truths of the gospel.”30 Plantinga challenges the idea that belief in God needs any evidence at all. He says
[T]he believer is entirely within his epistemic rights in believing, for example, that God has created the world, even if he has no argument at all for that conclusion. His belief in God can be perfectly rational even if he knows of no cogent argument, deductive or inductive, for the existence of God—indeed, even if there is no such argument.32
He argues there are countless things we believe (and do so properly) without proof or evidence, such as the existence of other persons (or minds); that the world continues to exist even when we don’t perceive it; that we have been alive for more than twenty-four hours; that the past really happened; that we aren’t just brains in a vat; that we live in an ordered universe; that we can trust our minds and our senses about the universe; that cause and effect are universal laws of nature; that nature is uniform and intelligible; and so on. He further argues by analogy that people can also believe in God (and do so properly) without proof or evidence. In particular, since believing there are other persons is rational without evidential support, so also is belief in God.

I have concluded that all of these scenarios are disanalogous to believing in God. For with God there is no empirical experiential evidence he exists—such as gained from seeing hearing or touching him—since he’s conceived as a spiritual being. Nor does anyone see God do a miracle either. Even if an extremely rare unexplainable event took place we don’t see him doing it.33
Another Favorite Song of Craig's!

By contrast, when it comes to experiencing life 24-hours ago we have the artifacts of yesterday, like a photograph, a dirty pair of pants, a friend who remembers what we talked about during lunch, and perhaps a future paycheck showing we worked that day, etc. So these scenarios do not apply to God. Other hypothetical scenarios that are far-fetched, including the possibility there isn’t a material world, or that we’re living in a Matrix, or the Cartesian demon hypothesis, are not good defeaters of the demand for sufficient evidence either, as I’ve argued at some length.34

The major problem with them is that possibilities don’t count. Only probabilities do if we’re thinking like scientists. It may be remotely possible that we’re living in the Matrix right now, or dreaming, or being deceived by an evil demon. But I’m not changing anything I do or anything I think based on a possibility. We must think exclusively in terms of the probabilities.

Now I unwittingly accept some things without objective evidence for them, like my own subjective experience of being me. However, I can easily offer concrete examples where it would be irrational not to have the needed objective evidence for them. Consider the nature of nature and the workings of nature, studied in the disciplines like geology, chemistry, astronomy, neurology, biology, zoology and so forth. In these concrete examples rational people need sufficient objective evidence before coming to any conclusions.

These are the kinds of examples mathematician W.K. Clifford (1845–1879) had in mind when discussing the ethics of a shipowner who had stifled his doubts about a ship’s seaworthiness by trusting in God’s providence, rather than in patiently investigating the evidence for himself. Clifford may have claimed too much though when he stated, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”35 Does this apply to beauty, tastes, hunches, and subjective feelings? Most probably not. So Plantinga failed to properly and charitably understand him, for he focused on Clifford’s statement rather than on his concrete examples. We most certainly do need sufficient objective evidence for everything when it comes to the nature of nature and its workings, studied in the above mentioned disciplines. So his ship of arguments sailed right past Clifford’s ship in the middle of the night without a good skirmish.

The most I could grant for the sake of argument—as loathe as I am to do even this—is that it might be rational to believe in a supreme being without objective evidence. But even if I grant that, the belief in a particular triune God who created the universe from nothing, who tested Adam and Eve in the Garden, rescued the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, sent an incarnation of himself to earth, who was born of a virgin in Bethlehem, who did and said the things we read about in the canonical Gospels, who was crucified as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins, who bodily arose from the dead and who ascended into the sky with the promise of coming again to judge the world is simply not a god-belief it’s rational to believe without sufficient objective evidence! There’s just way too much belief going on there.

Plantinga surely believes there is historical evidence for his fundamentalist “full-blooded Christian belief” even though bizarrely he argues it’s reasonable to believe without any of it. Speaking for 16th century reformer John Calvin—and agreeing with him—Plantinga says the great truths of the gospel found in a self-authenticating Scripture are evident in themselves:
[W]e don’t require argument from, for example, historically established premises about the authorship and reliability of the bit of Scripture in question to the conclusion that the bit in question is in fact true; for belief in the great things of the gospel to be justified, rational, and warranted, no historical evidence and argument for the teaching in question, or for the veracity or reliability or divine character of Scripture are necessary.36
Upon what basis does Plantinga say this? He believes we all have a sense of divinity (or sensus divinitatis, if you prefer the Latin) within us, and a (holy) Spirit Guide who guides us to know “the great truths of the gospel” when reading the Scripture. This is the same kind of thing psychics claim they can do by reading tea leaves and tarot cards. He’s effectively saying the spirit world gives Christians these same kinds of psychic abilities!

Lest anyone think I’m too harsh on Plantinga, I assure you I’m not trying to be, although in describing and criticizing such a large body of work in such a small space my descriptions contain within them my criticisms. I just disagree, strongly. Pay close attention to what Plantinga says:
“Faith involves an explicitly cognitive element; it is, says Calvin, knowledge…and it is revealed to our minds. To have faith, therefore, is to know and hence believe something or other.” And Christian beliefs come “by way of the work of the Holy Spirit, who gets us to accept, causes us to believe, these great truths of the gospel. These beliefs don’t come just by way of the normal operation of our natural faculties, they are a supernatural gift.”37
If this is not claiming to have psychic abilities then I don’t know what is. And if anyone thinks psychic abilities are incompatible with Christianity then just think of the Christians in Haiti who embrace both Catholicism and voodoo.

It is one thing to have a warranted belief that we are reading the Bible, so long as we’re reading it with cognitive faculties functioning properly in the right kind of cognitive environment. It is something entirely different to be reading the Bible and claim “God is speaking to me.” That additional claim is miles and miles away from what any rational person can conclude from the actual experience of reading the Bible itself. For that additional claim depends on the rationality of believing that all the ancient documents in the Bible are truly God’s word, that what they say about God, the nature of nature, and its workings are true, and that how one interprets them when reading them is correct. Since the rationality of claiming “God is speaking to me” depends on the rationality of accepting these other claims, it should be shown that it’s rational to accept these other claims before one can rationally claim, “God is speaking to me.”


29 Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford, 2000), p. 200.

30 Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 245, 262.

32 Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God,” in Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God ed. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), p. 65.

33 David J. Hand explains how unexplainable rare events happen all of the time in his book, The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day (Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014).

34 John W. Loftus, The Outsider Test for Faith (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), pp. 70-72, 134-144, and Why I Became an Atheist, pp. 43-47. See for instance "Is It Faith? The Demon, Dream, and Matrix Conjectures (https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2009/10/is-it-faith-demon-dream-and-matrix.html)

35 W.K. Clifford, “Ethics of Belief” 1877, found online: http://infidels.org/library/historical/w_k_clifford/ethics_ of_belief.html

36 Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, p. 262.

37 Ibid., pp. 245-246.


John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. Thank you so much!