Alvin Plantinga + Autism

About two years ago in the month of June, I was on a road-trip with my Dad and a few of our friends. On the way to and from our destination, I was finishing off Alvin Plantinga’s book, Warranted Christian Belief, and came across an interesting statement that Plantinga makes in his book. In fact, it’s not necessarily apart of the main narrative, but is rather just a footnote at the bottom of a page in the chapter entitled “Sin and Its Cognitive Consequences.” In this footnote, Plantinga writes

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Source: Amazon

It is no part of the [Aquinas/Calvin] model to say that damage to the sensus divinitatis (1) on the part of a person is due to sin on the part of the same person. Such damage is like other disease and handicaps: due ultimately to the ravages of sin, but not necessarily sin on the part of the person with the disease. In this connection, see Jesus’ remarks (John 9:1-3) about the man blind from birth (p. 214, fn. 22).

Now as someone who was diagnosed for high spectrum autism disorder when I was very young (2), this quote stuck out to me like a sore thumb when I first read it. I’ve always had a curiosity on the subject of those with special needs and their cognitive ability to know God, but this really gave me more of a drive to study it further. To think about it and see if someone with malfunctioning cognitive faculties (i.e. autism, mental retardation, etc.) can consciously choose to believe or not to believe in God.

There is a lot packed into this brief footnote, so let’s break it down in context. The footnote is attached to a section of the chapter where Plantinga is describing the worst effect that sin has on us and our sense of God. He adds

The most serious noetic effects of sin have to do with our knowledge of God. Were it not for sin and its effects, God’s presence and glory would be as obvious and uncontroversial to us all as the presence of other minds, physical objects, and the past. Like any cognitive process, however, the sensus divinitatis can malfunction; as a result of sin, it has indeed been damaged. Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork (p. 214-215).”

In other words, Plantinga argues that our knowledge of God is the most damaged aspect of our sensus divinitatis (sense of divinity). If our sense of God was not impaired, then we would be completely aware of God in everything. But because everyone has been born into sin, we all have a malfunctioning sense of God. Like a broken window, our view of God is distorted before we accept the Gospel. After we accept it, then our sense of God is restored to what it was always meant to be since the beginning.

Yet, we all don’t have malfunctioning cognitive faculties. Is this footnote indicating that some may have a harder time understanding the Gospel because there are more mental roadblocks that may inhibit their path to genuine belief in God? Not to say that our own sin directly causes this malfunction, but that sin itself has caused this malfunction in the cognitive faculties of some.

For example, no one is morally responsible for a person being born with a heart defect, but rather this defect is directly related to the natural consequences of the Fall of mankind. The unnatural breaking down of the human body as the world gets older and older. The original sin is the root of these malfunctions for the most part, not the individual sins of others. For more on that, let’s turn to the Gospel of John.

The passage of Scripture that Plantinga points out in the already mentioned footnote is John 9:1-3. In this passage, Jesus comes across a blind man who has been blind since birth. Inquiring to know why this man is born blind, the disciples ask Jesus whether it is due to the man’s own sin or that of his parents.

As if to say, whose sin caused this consequence? Who is responsible for this man’s poor condition of being blind from birth? Jesus succinctly replies “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” What does Jesus mean by this exactly?

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Source: Pulpit & Pen

John Piper of Desiring God (3), spoke on this very subject and makes an important point. “The explanation of the blindness lies not in the past causes but the future purposes,” says Piper. For this specific case, the blindness from birth was not a sinful consequence, but rather a predetermined act of God. This disability was given, so that God might have the glory in the healing of it. By healing a blind man from birth publicly, Jesus caused others to see things spiritually. Thus, leading to people naturally giving God the glory.

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph speaks about how God can take something evil like our physical ailments or malfunctioning cognitive faculties and turn them into something good. This can be seen when a family is closer to each other when compared to other families because of the attentive care necessary for one of their family members that may have special needs. If not for having a family member with special needs, there are many families that would probably be more distant to both each other and God. Like usual, God can answer a series of evils with one good thing.

boy-child-country-551576.jpg
Source: Pexels

But that stills leaves our question unanswered: can people with malfunctioning cognitive faculties consciously accept or reject belief in God? Can they ever have a repaired sense of God? To put it simply, of course they can and a good portion of them do have genuine belief in God.

Even though someone may be at a mental state where they are equivalent to that of a small child or may have an IQ lower than normal, they still have the ability to receive the Gospel. In Mark 10:15, Jesus clearly states that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” If we base our faith in our own intelligence and knowledge, than we have not received the Gospel like a child and thus are not actually Christian.

We have made up our own God at that point because faith in the kingdom of God is childlike, not complicated and complex. Either we believe that Jesus is Lord and confess that God raised Him from the dead or we don’t. It’s as simple as that and for someone with malfunctioning cognitive faculties, they too have the ability to receive or reject belief in God on these grounds.

One last thing. Like anyone who comes to faith in God, the moment of salvation is completely by the power of the Holy Spirit. We cannot do this on our own. We cannot have our sense of God repaired and our souls redeemed, unless by the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

So whether special needs or not, we need the Holy Spirit during this transformation from death to life. From disbelief to genuine belief in the one true, triune God. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot be born again. But by the power of God the Father in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit, we can all be born again. We can all be made alive in Christ. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Earlier in this chapter, Plantinga defines sensus divinitatis as “a disposition or set of dispositions to form theistic beliefs in various circumstances, in response to the sorts of conditions or stimuli that trigger the working of this sense of divinity (p. 173).” This sense of divinity or this sense of God is the bedrock for which the A/C Model hinges on and is one of the main themes discussed in Warranted Christian Belief, along with the rest of Plantinga’s Warrant trilogy. The name sensus divinitatis was originally penned by a French theologian named John Calvin.
  2. It is possible that my original diagnosis of high spectrum autism disorder by Stanford University may have been a mistake. As Thomas Sowell argues, a number of cases in the past that were diagnosed as ADD, Autism, and so on could have been just children with what he dubs “Einstein Syndrome.” Also known as late-talkers, Einstein Syndrome is named after Albert Einstein due to a theory that he began to talk at a later age than usual due to certain portions of his brain developing faster than normal. If a child’s parents are extremely gifted in mathematics or music, then the child may be more likely to be a late-talker, according to Sowell. To learn more, click here.
  3. https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-was-this-child-born-blind
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Don’t Judge Me By The Color Of My Eyes

Photo: John w/ his two sons.

A while ago, my older brother John wrote a really powerful Facebook post about the state of racism in the world. He considered the matter and concluded that racism is nothing more than a categorical error. The idea that because of a sole variable (i.e. the color of one’s skin), those that share that variable are different than those who do not have that variable (i.e. those of a dissimilar skin color).

Even if both groups shared almost every other variable (i.e. culture, DNA, religion, etc), they were and are still identified by a variable that bears little to no significance when compared to more appropriate labels of identification like one’s birthplace or cultural upbringing. With his permission and in light of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to share his thoughts with you (1). So, let’s see what he said:

“I’ve heard so much talk lately about “black” people and “white” people. Unfortunately, every single post has missed the point entirely. We live in a world where we’ve been taught to categorize by color. A process that if not taught to you since you were born, would make absolutely no sense. In fact, you would find it ridiculous because if you step back and think about it, color does not represent anything.

You would never consider categorizing people by eye color. It would be so stupid to even try. Close your eyes for a second and try to imagine a world where people were categorized by eye color. The whole idea is just stupid, right? Well, open your eyes. This is your reality.

So why don’t you even give it a second thought when someone says “white” or “black” people? The very moment that you define someone by their skin is discriminatory. That is the birth of racism. Allow me to explain.

The deep rooted problem lies in our fundamental thinking process that we all are guilty of being indoctrinated into believing. Somewhere in our messed up ideology we discarded categorizing other people by real connections like culture and heritage. Instead, we have substituted appropriate labels with something more superficial and shallow: the color of our skin.

The way we use the word color itself is ridiculous. Everyone’s a different shade of brown. Have you ever actually seen a person with white or black skin? Me neither.

Also, the word “race” is entirely incorrect in the context that we use it in when talking about people. If there is no biological difference between people of different shades, then there is only one race. I’ll say it again. If there is no biological difference between people of different shades, then there is only one race: the human race.

If you really break it down, there is only one thing that people of the same skin shades have in common: the way society views and treats them. This is the only thing that creates the bond between people who look similar and separates those who look different. But the way society treats you has entirely nothing to do with you.

Now we’re back to agreeing that there is really no difference, except the one that we created in our minds. So I leave you with this: as long as you yourself define people by categories of skin “color,” you are reinforcing racism. If you want to change society, then you must first change the way you think.”

If you change the way you think, then you will naturally change the way you speak. Don’t judge others by the color of their eyes or skin, but instead judge them by the inner condition of their identity. Now before you go, here is some more food for thought from two very important men in history speaking on the same subject:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” – Christ Jesus (NRSV John 7:24)

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. John also gave me permission to make minor edits that help fit the format of a blog-post, as well as fix any grammatical errors present in his original Facebook post.
  2. For more from John Cribari, here’s his personal training business: https://lessons.com/ca/simi-valley/personal-training/cribari-training
  3. Disclaimer

Three Trees

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 3/21/2019

This is a tale of three trees.

One tree grants the beholder immortality,

While another gives knowledge of morality.

This tale begins in a garden.

At first there is only a human,

But he becomes accompanied by the mother of women.

As the two wander,

They begin to wonder,

And curiosity begets the female traveler.

For of the three trees, only one came with a warning.

The tree of life being one of the many meant for eating.

But the tree of good and evil symbolized mankind’s future erring,

With the underpinnings of sinning.

For the serpent of old has arrived,

Bringing with him his own pride,

That so happens to be why he died.

With the snake slithering past every leaf,

Is the ever encroaching presence of the prince of thieves.

As the cunning snake dangles downward,

The woman ever so slowly goes forward.

As the Devil invites her to taste and see,

She avoids her chance to run and flee.

With the slither of Satan’s lies,

Came Eve’s enraptured eyes.

As she aspires to be wise,

Her desires begin to rise.

The fruit is within Eve’s hand,

As she is one bite away from being damned.

With the very first bite,

Eve realizes that the Devil was right!

For when she ate of the fruit,

Eve soon discovered this strange compute.

From knowing only good,

The woman has only added fire to wood.

As the decay began that day,

Eve no longer had a say.

Her goodness had been tainted by sin,

And too would it be in all humans built-in.

Once sin took its foothold,

Eve did not want to stand alone in the cold.

So she gave to her man,

And suddenly took his unblemished lifespan.

Pretty soon the two were no longer good,

Yet if they could go back they would.

But it is too late now,

For man is now putting his hand to the plow.

For we are dust,

All because of lust.

To dust we shall return,

Before some will forever burn.

Although a few will get to waltz into a glorious new home,

Far more beautiful than the pinnacle of Rome.

This new home is for the Christian,

And with every fleeting moment there is a new addition,

Due to the adherence to the Great Commission.

For Adam gave life to sin in every human,

While Jesus gave His life for sin that we can be born again.

He did this so that we might be grafted into salvation,

In order to bring about the redemption of His Creation.

Since the day we brought forth this ruckus,

The Father has sought to bring about justice.

So the Father sent His Son Jesus,

To save us from the Fall in Genesis.

You see he died on the third tree,

A cross that changed history,

Jesus atoned for all on Calvary.

This all began because of a choice between two trees,

And the choice was left to Eve.

So when the snares of sin come swarming like bees,

Consider the consequences of your actions please.

Footnotes

  1. The Three Trees (1643) by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Why I Am Not A Calvinist

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4/20/2019

 In the first installment of my “Why I Am” series, I will be giving three brief reasons as to why I do not adhere to the Judeo-Christian school of thought known as Calvinism. As I have studied and read about Calvinism, there have been many sources I have used to write this blog-post. Some of these sources were Norman Geisler’s sermon called “Why I Am Not a 5 Point Calvinist” (2), George L. Bryson’s book on Calvinism (3), and Tim Stratton’s 4-part series “The Petals Drop” on his website (4). There were other resources, but these were the main three that inspired me to write this blog-post.

So what is Calvinism exactly? Calvinism is a type of Christian doctrine created in the 16th Century by the French Theologian John Calvin to answer how God’s Sovereignty and Humanity’s Free Will coexist together. There are five main parts to Calvinism. According to gotquestions.org (5), Calvinism can be summarized by the acronym TULIP and is defined as the following:

  1. Total Depravity: “Every aspect of humanity is tainted by sin; therefore, human beings are unable to come to God on their own accord.”
  2. Unconditional Election: “God elects individuals to salvation based entirely on His will, not on anything inherently worthy in the individual.”
  3. Limited Atonement: “Jesus only died for the elect.”
  4. Irresistible Grace: “When God calls a person to salvation, that person will inevitably come to salvation.”
  5. Perseverance of the Saints: “A person who is elected by God will persevere in faith and will not permanently deny Christ or turn away from Him.”

In other words, a Calvinist is a Christian that sees everything with an over-emphasis on God’s Sovereignty, which entails either a deterministic or compatibilistic philosopical view of the world. Here is a quick illustration that I made to put into perspective where Calvinism stands in the grand spectrum of the issue of God’s Sovereignty vs. Humanity’s Free Will within Christianity:

God's Sovereignty & Humanity's Free Will- 6 Stances

One last thing is that when I refer to a Calvinist or Calvinism, I am referring to a 5-Point Calvinist. Not those that claim to be any combination that is short of a 5-Point Calvinist like a 4-Point Calvinist or a 2-Point Calvinist. But the whole point of the 5 points of Calvinism is that they are supposed to work together like the pillars to a building. By removing one point you fracture the legitimacy of the other four points and the foundation of Calvinism in general because they were designed by John Calvin to work together, not to work independently of each other. With that said, let’s look at my objections and see why I am not a Calvinist.

1) Calvinism is Great Exegesis Without Hermeneutics

In general, with the Calvinistic perspective on Scripture, there are massive misinterpretations of certain passages within the Bible. Most notably, Scriptures such as Romans chapters 9-11, John chapter 6, Ephesians 1:1-4, and the list goes on. In contrast, there are Scriptures like 1 John 2:2, Romans 1:16-17, or 1 Timothy 2:3-6 that explicitly go against Calvinism. Put simply, context is key and exegesis without context is like a madman with a sword.

2) Calvinism Makes Sharing the Gospel Logically Incoherent

If you think about the Gospel from the Calvinist perspective, Jesus only came to save the elect, only the elect will go to Heaven, and only the elect will get saved. So then sharing the Gospel becomes useless and pointless because those who are predestined to go to Heaven will go to Heaven and those who are predestined to go to Hell will go to Hell, while at the same time you have no say in the matter.  As Bryson put it in his book, The Five Points of Calvinism, “You will be saved or damned for all eternity because you were saved or damned from all eternity.” (Bryson, 121). Although some of the most prominent preachers have been Calvinists like Charles Spurgeon, their actions are not logically consistent with determinism. It is the equivalent of preaching to tombstones because no matter what some people are just doomed to damnation because it somehow glorifies God.

3) Calvinism Makes God the Author of Evil

If God is completely sovereign, then from the Calvinistic perspective God is the author of evil because He brought it into existence. This goes against everything that characterizes God as worthy of worship and completely good. How can a perfect being bring about imperfection? Only through the Calvinistic perspective is this possible because God is the cause of everything that exists including evil, instead of Eve and Lucifer bringing sin into God’s creation by going against God in their own free will. Philosopher William Lane Craig on the subject of Calvinism once said “according to this view (causal determinism and compatibilism), the way in which God sovereignly controls everything that happens is by causing it to happen, and freedom is re-interpreted to be consistent with being causally determined by factors outside oneself (6).”

So since God is ultimately the first cause of everything, God is therefore the author of evil and good. Something that is completely contradictory to the Bible and Judeo-Christianity as a whole. There are even Calvinist’s that affirm that God is the author of evil. People like R.C. Sproul Jr. affirm this idea of God being the author of evil several times throughout his book (7) that deals with this issue.

Now these are just 3 of many objections I have to Calvinism and are just reasons as to why I do not affirm to be Calvinist. Other objections I have include sin being excusable or God lying to people in the Bible, but that would take awhile to explain every objection I have to Calvinism, so for the sake of time I only chose 3 objections. Hopefully, this helps you with understanding this issue and maybe one day you can decide where you stand on the issue of how God’s Sovereignty and Humanity’s Free Will interact together. My advice for those of you do not understand this issue quite yet is to just believe what the Bible affirms: 1) that God is Sovereign and 2) that humans have Free Will. This is the safest stance concerning this issue because it is strictly Biblical avoids the gridlock nature of philosophical schools of thought like Calvinism among others. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. https://restorethegospel.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/a-conversation-about-calvinism-and-arminianism/
  2. https://youtu.be/fPpkSiO1Ci
  3. The Five Points of Calvinism, George L. Bryson
  4. http://freethinkingministries.com/the-petals-drop-why-calvinism-is-impossible/
  5. https://www.gotquestions.org/Calvinism-vs-Arminianism.html
  6. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/molinism-vs-calvinism
  7. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/09/taking-calvinism-too-far-rc-sproul-jr%E2%80%99s-evil-creating-deity/http://amzn.to/2xM4F1Q
  8. Disclaimer