Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Plantinga

Today’s Jesus and Mo, a strip called “son,” is pretty clever, as the barmaid doesn’t mean what Jesus and Mo think she does!

I have to say that one of the most compelling arguments against a religionists’ belief is that, to defend it, they must explicitly argue, and give reasons why, everybody else’s belief is wrong. This is no simple matter since, as Jesus and Mo state above, the claims of different religions are often flatly contradictory. The example of Jesus is perhaps the best one.

Just ask a Christian this: “How do you know that your religion is right—that Jesus is the route to salvation—and Islam is wrong in saying that accepting Jesus as God’s son sends you to hell?”

One theologian who’s attempted an answer is Alvin Plantinga, whose apologetics are always good for a few laughs. His answer is that the reasonableness of one’s faith comes from a sensus divinitatis—a “divine sense”—vouchsafed us by God.  And his sensus divinitatis tells him that Christianity is right.

But, you’ll be asking yourself, everyone has that sensus, so how come it’s gone awry in some people? As I note on pp. 180-181 of Faith Versus Fact (available in fine bookstores everywhere), Plantinga’s answer is laughable:

Of course Plantinga has an answer for why there are so many atheists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and pre-Christian believers, like the Aztecs and ancient Egyptians, who were somehow unable to form true belief in the Christian God. The answer is that in those individuals the sensus divinitatis is or was “broken,” dismantled by the effects of sin. Curiously, Plantinga argues that your broken sensus need not stem from your own sin:

[Plantinga, from Warranted Christian Belief]“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 been damaged. . . . It is no part of the model to say that damage to the sensus divinitatis 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.”

Here we have an untestable explanation for an insupportable thesis.

Isn’t Plantinga’s answer funny? Yet this was the guy chosen to be head of the Western division of the American Philosophical Association.  According to Wikipedia (the original reference is behind a paywall), Time magazine described him as being “widely regarded as the world’s most important living Christian philosopher.

I’d be delighted if readers could report other answers they’ve received to the question, “What makes you so sure that your religion is right and all the others are wrong?”



  1. Jstackpole
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink


  2. Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I have always found the Xian notion of sin to be repellent, ugly and sadistic. I feel the same way about having to torture the son of g*d to death in order to atone for g*d’s having screwed us up on the 6th (or was it the 7th?) day. As Mark Twain says, after having created all the rest, he was tired by then.

  3. ankersten
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    There’s always the doyen of Christian apologists William Lane Craig’s “inner testimony”, referring (I suppose) to Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God”. His “argument”, detailed in his book “Reasonable Faith”, is that it doesn’t matter what counter-arguments sceptics of Christianity offer. His “testimony” defeats them all. As an ex-Christian fundie, I’m well familiar with this sort of tripe.

    In other words, Lane is playing a rather patronising game of “heads I win, tails you lose”, based on what can be no more than a feeling analogous to the Mormon’s “burning in the bosom” or the Muslim’s “inner conviction”. How does Lane know that their feeling is wrong and his is right? He is of course assuming that the Holy Spirit exists in the first place, or for Plantinga the “sensus divinatus”. They both take their subjective feelings, engendered by their own experiences, and transmute them into objective reality with a wave of their (il)logical wands. There’s been more than enough written on the psychological shenannigans behind how we “know” things that aren’t so for us to treat this apologists’ tosh with the contempt it deserves.

  4. Griff
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I think the most sophisticated response I’ve received in answer to that question is “Because it is, so nah”.

    All other answers are variations of this.

    • steve
      Posted September 1, 2016 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      “I said jinx first!!”;
      “No, I did!!!”

      “Red ball beats ’em all!!”

      That’s how we solved our disagreements.
      I didn’t know what the red ball was then and I still don’t. 🙂

  5. jeffery
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    “Sensus divinatus”: a fancy name for the term, “resonate” which I define as, “Any idea that makes me feel good, must be true; the better it makes me feel, the more true it must be!”

  6. Carey Haug
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    When I have asked that question of Baptist relatives, I’m told that the Bible is true and unless I accept Jesus Christ as my savior, I will burn in Hell for eternity. If I doubt the veracity of the Bible I should pray for faith. In other words, even asking the question is forbidden. The reason so many don’t choose the one true religion is That they are misled by Satan. A true believer is not interested in proof or logic.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      “A true believer is not interested in proof or logic.”

      One of many features of Christianity (and lots of other religions & dogmas) designed and or evolved to maintain the power of those at the top. It really is sad to see people so dedicated to their own enslavement.

  7. Historian
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Theologians can try but always fail to answer the question. But for the average believer it is a question that is rarely if ever considered. I asked this question of a friend, who is an ardent Catholic zealot and whom I believe is brain damaged by years of indoctrination. His answer: Catholicism is the one true religion. To him it is a fact because he was told countless times that it is true by his priests and he spends his life trying to earn “points” that will buy him a ticket on the express train to heaven. As I like to put it, the masses who go to mass do not look for massive evidence to support a massive claim.

    • Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      “The masses who go to mass do not look for massive evidence to support a massive claim.”

      This is hilarious!

      • Mike Cracraft
        Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        Their minds have been crushed under the weight of a great mass of priests !

  8. Alpha Neil
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    One of the first friends I “came out” to as an atheist asked “so…you don’t believe in anything?” and I replied with “I just believe in one god less than most people and I don’t believe in god for the same reason you don’t believe in Zeus”. At that moment the conversation turned away from the fact that I don’t believe what he believes to one about why do people believe anything. He was never a true believer but I honestly think I changed his perspective on what atheism means (pats self on back).

    • JohnE
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Your comment reminds me of the response: “Out of all of the thousands and thousands of gods that have ever been claimed to exist, I only reject one fewer than you do, so the difference in our positions is pretty much a rounding error.”

  9. darrelle
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I have never understood why or how Plantinga is taken so seriously by so many, even people who are not stupid or unthoughtful. Every apologetic argument I’ve ever read by him has been laughable. Even if I were a believer I would be embarrassed to have Plantinga and his arguments supporting my side. Religion has the ability to render otherwise smart, learned and thoughtful people into accepting infantile arguments that in any other context they would be offended by. That is the bottom line reason why religion has got to go. Or at least be completely marginalized.

    • Carey Haug
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I agree that religious arguments are infantile. I understand how people can be indoctrinated from birth, but I can’t fathom why anyone would convert. How would you sort out the different ridiculous belief systems and choose one?

    • Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      I think it is because his non-apologetic work is modestly interesting and at least secular. It does bother me that he (who understands perfectly well) that the usual ontological argument is basically turning around a characteristic axiom in one system of modal logic, doesn’t have the intellectual honesty to discuss that thoroughly with his followers, but …

  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Since there is no answer to this question the commonly heard response is silence. If it is between the Jew and the Christian the Jew would say I was first. The Christian would say you forgot to read part II.

  11. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    So… if your ‘sensus divinitatus’ (always sounds more impressive when you use Latin) is ‘broken’ because of someone else’s ‘sin’ are you blameworthy?

    Will you be denied ‘life everlasting’ because the preacher down the street convinced you that a different god was the True God?

    • Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Good question; ask Plantinga that one!

    • Taz
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      It amounts to a huge humble-brag:

      “These poor wretches, ravished by the affects of sin (not necessarily their own). There but for the grace of God go I! It’s not my doing that I’m of the elect (but I am), that my ‘sensus divinitatus’ is intact (but it is), that I will spend eternity in the presence of God (but I will).”

      Religious belief is so humbling.

    • Ken Elliott
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      That’s an aspect I’ve always understood to be true. When I was a young Baptist churchgoer our preacher felt the stress of correctly interpreting scripture to avoid his flock being condemned to hell. It was perhaps the first sign for me that something was amiss.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Now I know how to explain the Baptist preacher who says gays cause floods having his home destroyed in the Louisiana floods: Collateral Damage. It wasn’t irony after all.

  12. Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Had a maddening conversation with a Christian pseudo Apologist yesterday on her “believe first, then you will know” idea. Enjoy the day

  13. loren russell
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    It’s my experience that Frisian-Americans like Plantinga have a broken sensus sardonicus. Not their fault — just too much exposure to cow****.

  14. Kevin
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    A most excellent strip. If you have not already sponsored Jesus ‘n’ Mo, it is well worth it:

    • Kevin
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I’ld like to add this: Nothing explicitly covers as much ground as forcing a dialogue between these two corrosive religions. What’s most extraordinary is that Xianity and Islam can be so corrosive, but in different ways.

  15. busterggi
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Sin is the believers excuse for why their god is powerless.

    Sensus divinitatis is broken in non & un believers? Damn god can’t create anything that doesn’t crap out.

  16. Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    So sin causes one to not believe God exists, and not believing God exists causes one to sin.

  17. Historian
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Here is an article by Massimo Pigliucci in which he totally demolishes Plantinga.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      An excellent article by Massimo.

  18. Bob
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    The only answer the question that I’ve ever understood is, “mommy told me so.”

  19. Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Like any cognitive process, however, the sensus divinitatis can malfunction; as a result of sin, it has been damaged.

    It never ceases to amaze me how the most ardent defenders of the gods are the first to go into such elaborate detail as to just how incompetent the gods are.

    I mean, really? On the one hand Jesus is the Logos, the “Word” (of John 1:1) that Spoke existence into being, the direct hotline for human understanding of the divine…and he intentionally gave us a “sensus divintatis” so that we could ourselves have reliable firsthand experience of this divine wisdom…

    …but he outsourced its manufacture to some schmuck who keeps making broken units that’re as likely to cross-wire the Charon Channel into the live Freya Feed? And Jesus didn’t issue any sort of recall notice to the overwhelming majority of people who aren’t getting his signal?

    Oh, wait — I get it. Jesus didn’t think to have a backup means of communication. Why should he? He’s perfect, and any problems are somebody else’s fault. He can’t be blamed for all those broken sensei drivemecrazies any more than Muhammad can be blamed for the raisin / virgin mashup — the copyist screwed that one up, and the proofeeder signed off on it.

    And Jesus would come back and fix this particular problem in person, only his payday loan isn’t coming through and he can’t get his Dad to cover the cost of a ticket on a Xenu Space nonstop because Mom is too busy with clients to find his wallet for him. So it’s totally not Jesus’s fault, and he promises pinky-swear that he’s still got you covered for the whole salvation thing, don’t you worry — but not if you do any of those icky kinky sex things he hates, of course. Reminds him of clients.

    Oh, and do you think you could drop a $20 in the collection plate on your way out? The electric bill is overdue and they’re threatening to cut us off again, and I’m not sure salvation works in the dark. Totally not my fault, of course — the bill collector would leave us alone if his Samoan Dictators hadn’t stopped receiving any signals, the dirty atheist. I bet he intentionally sabotaged it. No raisins for him, for sure!

    Is my theology sophisticated enough?



    • darrelle
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Not by a long shot. Way too easy to understand, not nearly enough non sequiturs or variable meanings of the same term. You completely failed to evoke that “pushing your head through mush” experience typical of reading truly sophisticated theology. And that’s just at first blush. You’ve got a lot of work to do to reach the depths of an Alvin Plantinga.

      • Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm…good point. Let me try again.

        Let us proclaim the Mysteries of Faith: Christ has died; Christ has Risen; Christ will come again. Christ have Mercy, Lord have Mercy, Christ have mercy. Take this bread, and eat of it: it is my body; and drink from this cup of wine, it for it is my blood and will make you as immortal as Dracula.

        Any better?


        b& >

  20. J. Quinton
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is one of those disciplines that has a penchant for rewarding academics for being clever, not for expanding humanity’s knowledge and understanding of the world.

    The same sort of affliction festers in POMO and Biblical studies.

  21. Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I’m mentioning this so you’re aware of it.

    If you have the conversation about religions not agreeing like the example shown in the webcomic with a religious liberal person, you may hear some version of the “blind men and the elephant” story in response:

    Religious liberals typically include liberal Christian who are less literal in their view of the Bible, Reform Jewish, Quaker, Ethical Culture, Unitarian Universalist, etc.

    The blind men and the elephant story involves a group of blind men encountering an elephant with each experiencing a different part and coming up with very different conclusions.

    For example, the man finding the tail thinks he’s found a rope. The man finding a leg thinks he’s found a tree trunk. The man finding the elephant trunk thinks he’s found a snake. And so on.

    Religious liberals love this story because it allows for them to say that each religion contains a portion of truth but each religion is an incomplete picture of a greater truth.

    The problem with using this story as a metaphor to explain why different religions view god or gods differently is that it is a “begging the question” argument that assumes there is a unifying divine reality behind the various religions.

    • busterggi
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I always thought the story was pretty stupid in that none of the men even tried to find out if there was more to the elephant by feeling beyond their first touch.

      • Posted September 1, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        Well … there is the “blind elephants and the human” version of the story if one doesn’t mind some humor.

        A group of blind elephants wants to better understand what a human is. They each get a turn to individually examine the human.

        The first one reports back saying “humans are flat” and after every elephants has a turn, they all agree that “humans are flat.”

        Greta Christina mentioned your objection to the story where the blind men each take turns exploring different areas of the elephant and compare their observations to better understand (in other words, do science):

    • Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Believer philosopher: “But all men – ay, all nations – have acknowledged and fêted Gods; was it all delusion?”

      Atheist philosopher: “Thank you; a timely reminder; national observances show better than anything else how vague religious theory is. Confusion is endless, and beliefs as many as believers. Scythia makes offerings to a scimetar, Thrace to the Samian runaway Zamolxis, Phrygia to a Month–God, Ethiopia to a Day–Goddess, Cyllene to Phales, Assyria to a dove, Persia to fire, Egypt to water. In Egypt, though, besides the universal worship of water, Memphis has a private cult of the ox, Pelusium of the onion, other cities of the ibis or the crocodile, others again of baboon, cat, or monkey. Nay, the very villages have their specialities: one deifies the right shoulder, and another across the river the left; one a half skull, another an earthenware bowl or platter. Come, my fine fellow, is it not all ridiculous?”

      (Lucian, Zeus the Tragedian, 2nd century AD)

  22. Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    For Muslims the answer is easy. God sent prophets to all people, and they all changed the words of the prophets. But after Mohammed, the seal of the prophets, Allah guarantees that his message will persist until the end of time.

    • busterggi
      Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      And that’s why the Koran was completely re-written, the Haddiths composed and re-interpretation continues today.

      see under compilation

    • Posted August 31, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Of all today’s believers, I think only Muslims have a kernel of rationality. Their religion is expanding, and other people are making concessions and submitting to it for no good reason. So I think a Muslim is justified to suppose that other people’s g*ds either do not exist or have been trashed by his Only True G*d.

  23. Sastra
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I’d be delighted if readers could report other answers they’ve received to the question, “What makes you so sure that your religion is right and all the others are wrong?”

    Well, since many of my friends have beliefs outside the traditional mainstream, I’m used to getting a different answer to this question than what seems to be the general experience here. The answer goes something like this:

    “I would never say or believe that one religion is right and other religions are wrong. God is large enough to be found in every religion. They all contain a bit of the Truth — even atheism! Many paths; one source. Diverse rituals and creeds share in Divinity whenever they emphasize that God is Love. Religions which separate one group from another by claiming they know God better than others are not manifesting the true nature of God.”

    To which I reply: “So those majority of religions which insist that the other religions are wrong are … WRONG? You know God better than they do.”

    A vague “Many Paths” ecumenicism still has to jump the same hurtle. Fine, there is you on the one side, being right about the nature of God being ecumenical — and the folks on the other side, holding a false view of God.

    The usual response to that one is to try to appeal to my belief that an ecumenical, nonjudgmental, as-long-as-you-love-one-another God is BETTER than the other kind from my humanist perspective. Greta Christina calls this tactic “seeking the Atheist Seal of Approval.” A version of God which is less distressing and more sweetness-and-light would be more likely to exist. “Oh, if only more people were like YOU then I’d either believe in God or be just fine when other people do, etc!”

    The “Spiritual-But-Not -Religious God is just as based on faith as the other kinds, and fosters slightly different forms of irrationality and bullsh*t. Including its own form of Plantinga’s sensus divinitatus. Only it’s not “sin” which prevents me from acknowledging the God I already know in my heart and deny. It’s “fear.” Plus being arrogant, of course. And “scientism.” And relying on reason too much in general. Stop overthinking.

  24. Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    “Sensus divinatus” and it being “broken by sin”: This is an example of what Bunge calls (very ironically in this case) a _male fide ad hoc hypothesis_.

    (B. had in mind ones used by pseudoscience, but religion is arguably in many cases the ultimate pseudoscience, as Sokal convinced me of, so …)

  25. Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    This is where faith come in! Faith is the sure and certain way of knowing that all other faiths are wrong!

  26. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga flag firmly in irrational territory. 🙂

  27. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga’s writings depend on his so-called Reformed Epistomology according to which God is a properly basic belief which I’m not sure would fly even with older Christian philosophers like Locke, etc. His stuff reminds me of watching a juggling act with slight of hand.

    If you’re a Dawkins 3 or 2 on your religion, and you hold there are moral truths in many religions (William James’ “piecemeal supernaturalism”) then fine, but once you do that you probably have to concede there are are good moral people with no religion at all. (John Locke didn’t go there, but this element of his mostly excellent philosophy is increasingly harder to defend.)

    • Posted September 1, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      Locke vehemently denied that the idea of god was innate. The debate over innate ideas in the 17th century was over this, in part.

      Interestingly, he applies some comparative sociology to support the argument here: he points out that the ruling class in China are atheists. Which is more or less correct for the time – and even if it weren’t, the growing internationalization is interesting to see.

  28. Posted August 31, 2016 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    The SD can malfunction? Due to trauma? Or hypoxia? What part of the brain needs to be damaged in order to affect the SD? Inquiring minds want to know.

  29. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    My sensus divintatis tells me *I* am God. And so I am, so far as my home computer network is concerned. (So maybe I’m just a household god).

    Or it could be megalomania. Feels the same.

    Which reminds me, there was a neat science-fiction short story about that sort of thing, Fredric Brown’s ‘Answer’:


  30. Sawney Beane
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    Somehow, it is mostly “I do not wish/need to think about it.” (Obtained from devout RCs)

    • steve
      Posted September 1, 2016 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Devout R’Cs don’t like to talk about any religion in general. They abhor questioning of faith. Fingers in ears “Not listening… Still not listening.”

      Very frustrating…… And then they will tell you that YOU are arrogant for talking about faith and different religions and questioning their faith and faith in general.

      They do this even though they claim to pray directly to and get answers from the actual for reals creator of the universe.

      One might as well bang one’s head against a wall; or talk to a post.

  31. Sastra
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “What makes you so sure that your religion is right and all the others are wrong?”

    Don’t forget this oldie-but-goodie:

    “All the other religions are flat, uninspired, and both read and sound like what they are — outlandish myths invented by human beings. My religion is not like that at all: the stories and explanations are sensible and have the ring of honesty and truth to them. So my religion is the reasonable one, the only one which stands up to rigorous scrutiny, and that’s why I’m so sure.”

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