Every once in a while I run into a theologian or biblical scholar discussing a philosopher, and I think it's nice the philosopher is getting the cross-disciplinary attention, but then I read what they have to say about the philosopher, and I wonder how they could possibly have gotten the philosopher so wrong. Alvin Plantinga seems to be on the receiving end of such treatment far too often. I've previously discussed D.A. Carson's criticisms of Plantinga that seem to attack a view nothing like Plantinga's. I've been reading through the second edition of Craig Blomberg's The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, and he seems to me to make some similar mistakes about Plantinga. I don't mean any of the following as a criticism of Blomberg's book in general. Most of the book so far is very good. But I don't think he has an even passable grasp of Plantinga's philosophical views.
Here is how he describes Plantinga's view:
Traditionally, believers have argued for God's existence by means of various philosophical 'proofs', but many today, theologians included, believe that all such arguments have been shown to be faulty. Some feel that to try to prove that God exists is to deny faith its proper place as the foundation of religion, though it is not obvious why someone should continue to believe a given doctrine if all the evidence contradicted it. (p.107)
After the words "foundation of religion", Blomberg gives the following footnote:
See esp. Plantinga, 'Is Belief in God "Properly Basic"?', pp.189-202. Plantinga believes that certain propositions about God are 'basic' (givens that cannot be demonstrated) but not 'groundless' (without warrant).
That last sentence is entirely true. Plantinga does indeed believe that certain propositions about God are not in need of a philosophical argument. We can know them without any such argument. However, it's simply false that Plantinga can count as an example of the view that trying to prove God's existence denies faith its proper place. It's also wrong to think of him as someone who thinks the traditional arguments for God are faulty. Consider what he says in his online lecture notes called Two Dozen (or So) Theistic Arguments:
I've been arguing that theistic belief does not (in general) need argument either for deontological justification, or for positive epistemic status, (or for Foley rationality or Alstonian justification)); belief in God is properly basic. But doesn't follow, of course that there aren't any good arguments. Are there some? At least a couple of dozen or so.
Plantinga goes on to list a whole bunch of arguments that he thinks are good arguments for the existence of God. Before doing so, he says these aren't arguments of the sort that you'd be irrational not to accept their conclusion. He says they're probabilistic and "can bolster and confirm ... perhaps to convince". It's very clear from Plantinga's work that he doesn't think the traditional theistic arguments are bad. He defends them in print, on a number of different occasions.
Another example that comes to mind is Doug Groothuis, whose Ph.D. is even in philosophy, even though he teaches at a seminary and hasn't really been in a philosophy department. Groothuis reviewed Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief, concluding"
Plantinga's apologetic defends the right of Christians to believe in the basic way and shows the weaknesses of some of the attempts to defeat Christian belief. In the end, however, he claims that philosophy cannot cogently support Christian truth. For all our indebtedness to Professor Plantinga, some of us will demur at this point and seek out more positive resources within philosophy to argue that Christianity is not merely warranted, but true.
Why do theologians, apologists, and biblical scholars so often get him so wrong on this? It shouldn't take more than a quick look at some of his most important work to see that Plantinga does think there are more positive resources within philosophy to argue that Christianity is true. Reformed epistemology isn't about arguing for Christianity. It's about responding to a fallacious argument against Christianity. The argument doesn't hold up. That doesn't tell you one way or the other whether Christianity is true, but Plantinga isn't addressing that question. Why do so many choose to read him to be saying more than he says, as if he thinks the response to an argument against believing in God should involve giving positive arguments for God? Plantinga plainly thinks there are plenty such arguments. It's a mistake to take his approach to arguments against theism to require an argument for theism, and the lack of such an argument in this particular part of his work should certainly not be taken as an indication that he thinks there could be no good arguments of that sort.
So how are these scholars so consistently getting Plantinga so badly wrong? Are they just reading each other and perpetuating this misunderstanding without ever turning to Plantinga's own work to confirm that their secondary sources are correct? Is there something in Plantinga's presentation that makes such a mistake likely? If so, then it's in more than one of his works, because I've seen people making this mistake based on different works by Plantinga.