Dooyeweerd rightly rejects any dictation to philosophy on the part of theology; and where he thinks that traditional Reformed thinking deviates from the truth, he does not shrink from suggesting revisions. One of his virtues as a philosopher, I take it, is his refusal to be bound by all the formulae of past Reformed thinking. Still, however, if the total result is to be called a Christian philosophy and in particular a Reformed philosophy, it must be consistent with the spirit and the main doctrines of the Reformed and Christian tradition. And if his doctrine that meaning is the mode of being of created reality does imply that the relation between God and creation is like that between a thinker and the meanings he entertains, then at this point the accusation of a really significant departure from the Reformed and Christian tradition would be justified. For then created reality becomes constitutive of God's mind and thus of God.
And this is clearly to controvert the Christian conception of creation with its ontological chasm between God and created reality. But to have such a chasm seems to presuppose being on the part of creation as well as on the part of God. How, for example, can we conceive of sin in the context of a creature that is merely meaning? Can a meaning sin? What would an evil meaning be like, unless it is thought of as entertained by an evil being? The Christian philosopher must steer a nice course between the Scylla of giving finite reality too much self-sufficiency and power, and the Charybdis of altogether divesting creation of distinctness and "over-againstness" with respect to God. The first alternative threatens God's uniqueness and sovereignty; the second courts pantheism. Rightly determined to avoid Scylla, Dooyeweerd steers perilously close to Charybdis; for the very attempt to emphasize God's transcendent uniqueness and sovereignty may end by making him the author of evil in a very intimate sense and by denying an ontological distinction between Creator and creation altogether.--Alvin Plantinga (1958) "Dooyeweerd on Meaning and Being" (reprinted here [HT to Ingrid van Laarhoven, who helped me track this down.]; emphases in original.)
The quoted passage is the surprising conclusion of Plantinga's "first serious article." (Hengstmengel, (63)) It is surprising because Plantinga had begun the (short) article with the claim that "a slavish adherence to traditional modes of thought can discourage and stultify intellectual progress." (10) Yet, here Plantinga is quite clear that Dooyeweerd has deviated too far from the "spirit and main doctrines" of their shared tradition. While (the proto-Kuhnian) Plantinga clearly allows that "progress" within the "tradition" is possible and desirable, he basically insists that Dooyeweerd's Spinozistic doctrines are simply too revolutionary and disruptive, even though an outsider to the tradition, while drawing on, say, Susan James's recent book, might point to the considerable continuity between Spinoza's philosophy and Reformed doctrines, especially if one thinks (as the far more mature Plantinga footnotes against the authority of his father) that it "is by no means obvious that the right side won at the Synod of Dort." Either way, in the body of his paper, Plantinga offers a number of philosophical arguments (including some from "common experience" and another that anticipates Meillassoux's arche-fossil strategy against correlationism) against Dooyeweerd's position; nevertheless, in his conclusion Plantinga makes clear that to be called "Reformed," one cannot just follow the arguments come what may to their conclusion. I call the authority of tradition over the possibility space of philosophical thought an instance of the "Socratic Problem."
Some Dutch high school kids or university students still encounter Frederick Van Eeden as the novelist of Van de koele meren des doods, or if they are of a certain age they may recall the movie. (More generally, Van Eeden played a crucial role in the revival of Dutch letters at the end of the 19th century. ) We are also sometimes told that (influenced by anarchist ideas), he started an artists' colony, Walden. But in the piece, Dooyeweerd is primarily focused on Van Eeden's mysticism. He takes pains to distinguish Van Eeden from the (newish) false mystics, and positions Van Eeden closer to the "early mystics." (Recall my account of true vs false prophets.) Van Eeden's mysticism is not fundamentally aesthetic (and, thus, Romantic), but "in the true mystical line, he understandably gave the supremacy to intuition." In particular, this is not Bergsonian intuition. Rather, Doyeweerd's Van Eeden is a "scientific mystic:"
Science was for him not–as in the case of Bergson’s students–an inferior intrigue of barren spirits, slaves to books toiling away in their stuffy studies. For Van Eeden, science also had value, provided that it did not pretend to be able to reduce the mysterious universe to numerals and mathematical formulas and pretend to thereby lay bare the true essence of things for all to see. Science has to adapt itself to the poets and seers, and must come to the same conclusion as the seers long ago, that all of our criteria that are bound to space and time are only relative. From this we can understand Van Eeden’s taking up the new foundation of the natural sciences set out by Prof. Lorentz of Utrecht in his teaching of relativity, where science offers the hand of reconciliation to the mystics of all centuries. In this way the poet-seers will themselves become more and more the radiating center from out of which the world shall become enlightened. (Dooyeweerd)
Now, despite the language of enlightenment, in the body of the paper Dooyeweerd is careful not to fully endorse Van Eeden's true mysticism from the point of view of his reformed Christianity. Rather, Van Eeden plays the role of a "voice" calling out to otherwise "indifferent Christians" to participate in the creation of the "future." Moreover, he distances himself from Van Eeden by associating his work with Tagore and Buddhist mysticism. Finally, Dooyeweerd is careful to distinguish Van Eeden from Christ hating "pantheists" (like Van Eeden's patient, Kloos).
But this leaves the category of Christ loving pantheists -- Spinozists -- entirely open. It is a "remarkable fact" (quoting Friesen) that Dooyewerd "prefaces his article" with a quote from Spinoza's Ethics 5, proposition 36: "Mentis amor intellectualis erga Deum est ipse Dei amor quo Deus se ipsum amat." (translated here) In fact, Van Eeden was intimately involved in the revival of Dutch Spinozism of the period. He married the talented daughter, Martha, of the Spinozist, Johannes Van Vloten, and Van Eeden's (1897) Redekunstige Grondslag van Verstandhouding, the earliest Dutch piece in Significs (a fascinating movement which has a complex relationship to LEJ Brouwer and the origins of Dutch analytical philosophy) does not hide its debts to Spinoza. So, we can say that if Plantinga is right about Dooyeweerd, Dooyeweerd always felt the call of Spinozism and was seduced by it in the end.
Let's now return to Plantinga. One of the most crucial and controversial aspects of his philosophy is his appeal to the Calvinist doctrine of a sensus divinitatis. A very fine piece, by Ryan Nichols and Robert Callergard, recently reminded me how far removed from Reid's common sense realism this move is. As they document, both critics and friends of Plantinga's approach are often inclined to appeal to the findings of cognitive science to vindicate or criticize the appeal to this faculty. Yet, this is fundamentally misguided.
In his spiritual autobiography, Plantinga writes, "Sensus Divinitatis seemed to work most strongly, for me, in the mountains." (17) In fact, near "Mt. Shuksan...getting lost when rain, snow and fog obscured all the peaks and landmarks. That night, while shivering under a stunted tree in a cold mixture of snow and rain, [Plantinga] felt as close to God as I ever have, before or since." (7) Like a good Frisian -- known for their self-command in the Netherlands -- Plantinga shows great restraint here describing the contents of his experience, although it is clear that he repatedly longed for it throughout his life. Plantinga does describe the effect of the experience (closeness to God), and the overwhelming sense of "gratitude" that it produces in him.
Leaving aside Plantinga's own views on the matter, we do not do justice to Plantinga's experience, if we treat his version of the sensus divinitatis as primarily akin to an inner sense. Rather, Plantinga's account is more properly understood as an encounter with the sublime. As Plantinga writes: the mountains were to him "splendidly beautiful, mysterious, awe-inspiring, tinged with peril and more than a hint of menace." (16-7) In fact, Van Eeden describes very similar experiences of gratitude in the mountains in his Johannes Viator--Dooyeweerd's reading of Van Eeden's belonging to the "true mystical line" centers on it. And this gives us the (mystical) clue that's needed. For, "salvation, or blessedness, or freedom, consists: namely, in the constant and eternal love towards God, or in God's love towards men." (Spinoza EP36S)
None of this is to deny, of course, that a coherent Reformed philosophy is possible that preserves the "chasm" between God and his creation; one wonders, however, if the experience of "the overwhelming grandeur of the night sky from a slope at 13,000 feet" does not point, rather, to God's immanence. (Plantinga and Spinoza agree that this is glorious.) Or, to conclude, when young Plantinga focused his analytical acumen on the Spinozism at the core of Dooyeweerd's system, he may have been primed to discern it; for his sensus divinitatis just seems what Spinozists call "intuition."