“Horton Hears a Who”, Alvin Plantinga, and a Tree Stump in Ireland

In Dr. Seuss’s famous children’s book, Horton Hears a Who, an elephant equipped with giant elephant ears can hear the voices of very, very tiny “people” that really are there, lurking among the grasses. Others cannot hear them (because they are not equivalently ear endowed), but Horton can.

Horton Hears a Who has long been my favorite analogy for Calvinist philosopher, and Notre Dame professor, Alvin Plantinga’s thesis (which he derived from Calvin) that we are born with a sensus divinitatus—a divine sense—that makes the saved Christian’s apprehension of God’s presence direct (unmediated). Thus, for example, when grandma says that she knows God, and her knowing is absent any specific intellectual rationale, Plantinga would say that her knowing is warranted if, in fact, God has placed in grandma a divine sense akin to the other five senses—a sixth sense, if you will—an ability to know God’s existence straightway—without any middlemen or extraneous reasons. Like the elephant Horton, who hears little “people” in the grass, saved grandma hears the still small voice of the divine in her grassy soul.

I’m not entirely annoyed by this clever rationalization of Christian claims of epistemic certainty. Of course, it’s a circular argument, but if there is such a sense as a sensus divinitatus then, of course, it may be true that some people who have received God’s grace might well know and see things about existence that others, lacking this grace, cannot know or see. And this fits in rather tidily with Calvinist predestination. If you can’t see it, it’s because you don’t have the grace to see it. Your sensus divinitatus has not been turned on by the unfathomable whim of God.

Still, while the divine sense—if it exists—gives the individual believer epistemic warrant for faith in God, it certainly does not give those who merely hear or read a believer’s testimony much warrant for actually believing themselves. Likewise, when I stumbled upon this video yesterday, I thought of Plantinga’s thesis of a divine sixth sense and wondered how Plantinga would respond to seeing such a news report. Here are a lot of people who claim to see something that I cannot see (and I presume Plantinga cannot see either). Are some of them crazy, and others of them simply and innocently succumbing to psychological suggestion, or are we, lacking the grace of a proper sensus divinitatus to see what they see and feel what they feel, blind to something?

I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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