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By John Wilson, Managing Editor
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stranger in a Strange Land
In the fall of 1968, I found myself, newly married, beginning my junior year at Westmont College in the foothills of Santa Barbara. A year earlier I would have scorned the suggestion that I might attend a Christian college. Now it seemed clearly the right place to be.
I still hadn't declared a major. Philosophy was one contender--I had taken several classes in that field--and so I enrolled in Stan Obitts's Philosophy of Religion course. This did me two great services. First, it convinced me not to major in philosophy. We plowed through the ontological argument for the existence of God and various responses to it. That was enough to persuade me that I could continue to read Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and Simone Weil as a civilian; no need to enlist in the army of philosophers. To this day I can taste the bitter tedium of the arguments surrounding Anselm's "being than which nothing greater can be conceived." (None of this, I hasten to add, was attributable to the instruction, which was sharp and lively; the subject matter just wasn't my cup of tea.)
Then--and this was the second great service--we took up a book called "God and Other Minds," by a young Calvin College professor, Alvin Plantinga, published only a year or so earlier by Cornell University Press. It was the author's first book, apart from a couple of collections of edited articles. How to describe it? Well, it was full of arguments of the kind I found tedious, yet even more elaborate than anything we had sampled. (I still have the book, so I can reread my marginal notes; e.g., "1st view of 2nd form of 1st objection.") But it was also quite different from anything else we had read.
It was funnier, to begin with. Amid rigorous displays of formal logic, there were sentences like this: "One can even see (if one reads the newspapers) that John Buchanan of the House Un-American Activities Committee referred (no doubt mistakenly) to the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan as 'the Inferior Lizard.' " This humor offered ...