Another sophisticated philosopher weighs in on evil

I wasn’t aware until recently that Oxford University Press published, in 2010, a short (93-page) back-and-forth argument between philosopher Dan Dennett and theologian Alvin Plantinga, Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? I’ve just polished off the whole thing, and, once again, I was profoundly unimpressed by the quality of modern “sophisticated” theology—at least as espoused by Plantinga.

Dennett is too well known here to need introduction, but Plantinga is in fact a well known and highly respected Christian theologian, as well as a professor at Notre Dame.  He was president of the western division of the American Philosophical Society, has six honorary degrees, won a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Wikipedia lists twelve books among his “selected works.”  Nobody with those qualifications could be regarded as unsophisticated.

Yet in the book Plantinga argues strongly that evolution was guided directly by God to result in humans (who were of course made in his own image), asserts that “random” mutations could actually have been created by God to lead to humans, and approves of the idea of intelligent design as espoused by Michael Behe.  He also holds the view, shared by William Lane Craig, that the existence of the human rational faculty, and our ability to find out truth about the universe, cannot be explained by evolution but must instead be a result of God’s largesse.  I won’t go into that dumb argument since I’ve discussed it earlier, as has P. Z. Myers. 

I just want to mention briefly how Plantinga uses theology to rationalize the suffering and waste that accompanies evolution via natural selection.  Since he sees natural selection as being pretty heavily directed by God, he can’t simply fob this misery off on God’s having just jump-started the process and gone to lunch.  But Plantinga does recognize the problem, quoting Philip Kitcher: “When we envisage a human analogue presiding over a miniaturized version of the arrangement—it’s hard to equip the face with a kindly expression.”

Plantiga sees the suffering of humans and animals under natural selection as part of  the “so-called problem of evil.”   How does he rationalize this, since God’s pulling the strings here?  Thusly:

My own favorite response is the “O Felix Culpa” response, according to which all the really good possible worlds involved divine incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement. But then all the best possible worlds also involve a great deal of sin and as a consequence a great deal of suffering.  Some of this suffering is on the part of nonhuman creatures.  Christians think of suffering, both human and nonhuman, as due in one way or another to sin, although not necessarily to human sin; there are also Satan and his minions, who may, as C. S. Lewis suggests, be involved in one way or another in the evolution of the nonhuman living world.

Shades of Voltaire!  The best possible world involves sin, suffering, and atonement.  But why is that? Wouldn’t a better world not have suffering and atonement?

Now animals presumably suffer because of the Fall—even though they didn’t do anything wrong!—and the evils produced by non-human causes (tsunamis, infectious organisms that kill children) are also the result of human sin.  But the worst part is Plantinga’s invocation of Satan; it’s almost as bad as his invocation of C. S. Lewis.  Presumably, then, some “sophisticated” theologians (as well as nearly 70% of the American public) believe that Satan is real.  “Sophisticated” theology appears in this respect to be resemble “folk theology”.

122 Comments

  1. Steve Smith
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    “random” mutations could actually have been created by God to lead to humans

    R.A. Fisher on this self-refuting, and frankly stupid idea:

    If we imagine, then, some extra-natural agency endeavouring to influence the organic evolution of mammals and birds by the production, on millions of different occasions, of this single mutation, we can recognise that its efforts were futile and inoperative. —R.A. Fisher, Creative Aspects of Natural Law, 1950

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      There’s God behaving exactly as if he doesn’t exist again.

  2. steve oberski
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    My own favorite response

    You mean there’s more than one explanation for theodicy ?

    I know I have my own favourite responses for evolution, gravity, and disease. They are the ones that make me feel good inside. I know I just couldn’t live in a universe that didn’t work according to arbitrary rules that I make up on the spot.

  3. Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    So…Planting’s favorite god is all-powerful, created everything, hates evil, and loves good…but is powerless to stop any evil whatsoever because his creation, Satan, is too strong?

    Does he even read what he writes?

    How are we supposed to not point an laugh?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      No, no, no. Much more than that. Plantinga’s god thinks that sin and atonement are so wonderful and “heavenly” that it is worth a world of evil to bring it off! His position is, if anything, as morally skewed as it can get, for the sole purpose of preserving belief in his god. It’s bewildering and alarming, and we’re told to take this man as a serious philosohper!?

      • Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

        Ohhhhhh, I think I’m starting to get it now! I suspect god was having a hard time getting paradise designed adequately, so he opted to make life on average much worse to provide contrast. Like being on the road all day makes fast food acceptable. It’s just the Overton Window!

        • Chris Granger
          Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

          Our wealth wouldn’t seem so splendid if we didn’t have others living in grinding poverty to point at. Praise the Lord’s and his infinite wisdom! </sarcasm>

          • Juggler_Dave
            Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

            “The rich man at his table,
            the poor man at his gate,
            He made them high and lowly,
            and ordered their estate.”

            Words to an old hymn. You weren’t in sarcasm mode at all.

      • Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        Of course we should Eric. Plantinga has a Dutch Reformed Church background, philosophises out of the Catholic Notre Dame & holds an honorary degree from the Mormon BYU. He is far more sophisticated than those seekers after the truth who respect evidence

        Here are my highlights from the Alvin Plantinga retirement (from Notre Dame) conference [May 2010]

        Plantinga has helped make religious belief once again a rationally acceptable option. His enduring contributions are: the free will defense in response to the deductive argument from evil, the ontological argument for the existence of God, the rationality of belief in God without the support of arguments, and a theistic theory of knowledge. Those interested in creating intellectual breathing room for religious belief are grateful to the work of Alvin Plantinga [...]
        This conference is generously supported by the John Templeton Foundation…

        • Posted August 25, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

          Those interested in creating intellectual breathing room…

          That’s an interesting quote you found there. Apparently theology is aware how much it has had to lower its ambitions. No longer does theology provide a foundation for belief. It now merely provides “breathing room”

      • Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        Well, that certainly is a twisted new twist on these things.

        Here I was all set to ponder why an omnimax god can’t have its Kate and Edith, too — that is, why Jesus couldn’t have created a sinless world with free will. I mean, what’s the point of being able to do anything if you’re incapable of doing the one thing you most want to do? And, as others have pointed out, we are to believe that Jesus has done exactly that in Heaven, so it’s not all that impossible, after all.

        But to turn it around so completely and redefine evil as good…I don’t think even the Calvinists are quite that nasty.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Kevin
          Posted August 24, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          I agree with everything you said but the last part, Ben.

          Calvinists are, indeed, that nasty.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        If I hadn’t pinched your arm, you would never have experienced that great feeling of relief when I let go. You’re welcome.

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        It’s sort of the old, “Life’s a bitch and then you die” thing. Or maybe a better way to state this is: god set up life to be really, and I mean really! pissy. So if you do the Job thing and genuflect all the time shit is pouring over your head, then you graduate to god’s heaven where you will enjoy an eternity of bliss. Listen up, Plantinga. you can use this if you want, but please don’t steal my explanation without proper attribution. It wouldn’t be the the Notre Dame thing to do.

  4. Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    The jinn are directly responsible for errors of morphogenesis. There, I said it. Where’s my honorary degree?

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Sorry, I’m all out of honorary degrees. But, if you like, I’d be more than happy to make you a pope, instead.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Where’s my honorary degree?

      Here you go. And not an honorary degree, either! You can have your Doctor of Theology degree in just a few seconds!

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        Fantastic, Peter. I will get me a dozen of them PhDs. Just think, 11 different degrees!

        • Chris Granger
          Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

          That’s five degrees more than you need to connect yourself to Kevin Bacon… or something, maybe!

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Don’t forget about good ol’ UBS.

  5. newenglandbob
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    In all the contact I have had with Plantinga’s words, either directly or via references by other apologists, he has never impressed me as someone who thinks much before he writes. His reference to C.S. Lewis is just another indication of how bankrupt his ideas are and how they are built like a house of cards.

    As usual, when the ‘sophisticated’ theologians are exposed to analysis, they come up short of making valid arguments.

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      But you see, we’re still not paying attention to the really sophisticated theologians.

      Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

  6. Dr. I. Needtob Athe
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    “Nobody with those qualifications could be regarded as unsophisticated.”

    There comes a point when you have to question your blind respect for someone because he holds all those impressive-sounding titles, and begin questioning the value of the titles. They don’t elevate his status, he only degrades their significance. The reality of what he argues and believes trumps any letters after his name.

    • TomZ
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      Agreed
      But I don’t think “regarded as sophisticated” = “blindly respected” to Jerry (or the readers of this non-blog). Probably for the 84% or whatever of the population that might be the case.
      But I can go back to many of the previous posts about “sophisticated theology”, which I think is a fair label, and I have as much respect for them being real as kid’s stories about the moon being made of cheese.

  7. Simon
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    What I want to know is whether there is suffering in heaven? If the “best possible worlds” must include plenty of sin, suffering etc. then so must heaven. Or maybe heaven is below “best”. (Or maybe there’s no such thing.) Which is it to be?

    PS: Is there a name for the law, like Godwin’s law, that theologians eventually have to bring up CSL?

    • Jacob
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      And if there isn’t suffering in heaven, why make this world the way it is?

      I’m a programmer for a living. We have a test environment because we know we’re not going to get everything perfect the first time around. Maybe this world with all its suffering is an imperfect god’s test environment.

      • YourName's notBruce?
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink

        Theologians are stuck trying to explain this world as being the best possible one otherwise their god comes off as a bit of a dolt who could and should have done better. The fact that the world looks exactly like we would expect it to if there were no gods is a huge stumbling block for them. They have to explain (away) evil, their god’s hidden-ness, the decline in miracles since the writing of their holy books and any number of awkward truths that are perfectly explainable by naturalistic means. The fact that naturalistic explanations can be used to show how the world could and should have looked if it had actually been designed by a perfect, all-powerful being is a pretty good argument against its having been so.

    • Darth Dog
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Is there suffering in heaven? An excellent question when the “this is the best of all possible worlds” argument is trotted out.

      The same with “there has to be evil if there is free will” argument. I always wonder – does God have free will? If so, then it is possible to have free will without the possibility of doing evil. And to Simon’s point, do people in heaven have free will? If they do, then do they commit evil in heaven? Maybe it isn’t as great a place as it is touted to be.

      • Kiwi Dave
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        Some theistic evasions of the Euthyphro dilemma imply that God does not have free will. Because it is God’s nature to be good, God is incapable of doing wrong.

        So if God has given us a creation which killed c300,000 in the previous decade through violent tectonic plate movements,then that was the best possible outcome – 3m dead would have been excessive, and 30,000 insufficient.

        Or quite possibly, I’ve misunderstood what is merely question-begging assertion – we know God’s actions are good because God’s nature is good; we know God’s nature is good because… er, umm, we know God’s the greatest by definition. Etc.

    • pj
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Easy piecy. There must be suffering in the best possible world. The heaven has no suffering. Therefore, heaven is no world. \sophisticated teology

      • GroovyJ
        Posted August 25, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        Not necessarily. Heaven could just be a worse world than Earth.

  8. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    But the worst part is Plantinga’s invocation of Satan; it’s almost as bad as his invocation of C. S. Lewis.

    Were they ever seen in the same room?

    • Draken
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Who, Satan and Plantinga? Either they were, or they weren’t, so 50% chance.
      /plantinga-logic

    • GroovyJ
      Posted August 25, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      That sentence annoyed me. How can the worst part be almost as bad as another part?

  9. vel
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Actually, if Christians actually read their own supposed “holy book” sin is “here” because God wanted it. Satan is “here” because God wanted it. We see God dependent on Satan to make its little shadow play actually work. No Satan, no need for “redemption”; no Satan and no cruxifiction; no Satan and no events in Revelation where God “must” release Satan again to corrupt more people *after* all the evil people are killed and JC rules over them for an “aeon”. Thus, the Christian god is not good as humans understand it, but is a lovely example of “might makes ‘right'”.

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      For what it’s worth, the serpent in Eden was originally an independent character who became Satan through some amount of retconning and fan-fic.

  10. John K.
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    How does someone spend a lifetime deeply pondering religion and philosophy without allowing the possibility of simple, evidence based theories? After all the effort and recognition you still get statements like “the best possible world still has a lot of sin and suffering, because, you know, there are animals out there, and Satan.”

    What a depressing life story.

  11. Drosera
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    “Satan and his minions.”

    Who created Satan and his minions? Wait, I can answer that one myself. All it takes is making some stuff up from whole cloth (the same cloth from which the emperors new clothes were made). Let’s see. 1. God created angels, because he needed helpers, maybe to do some gardening in the Garden of Eden, or whatever. 2. He endowed the angels with free will. 3. One of the angels, called Satan, didn’t like gardening and requested to be transferred to accounting. 4. God refused, said he didn’t need accountants because he did all the calculations in his head. 5. Satan went back to the Garden, embittered and resentful. 6. He decides to rebel against his master and convinces a few others (such as the angel Lucifer)to join him (these become his minions). 7. To hide himself from god, Satan turns himself into a snake and climbs up the Tree of Knowledge, which he had been asked to plant by God earlier. 8. A naked lady, attracted by the fruits of the tree, approaches…

    • PB
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      Hey! You stopped at the juiciest part! I’ve been staring at my screen, praying heavily, sending my angel-messages to you for 15 minutes .. nothing happens! My God (or is it Satan?) cannot fail me ..! Pray do continue ..

      • Drosera
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        See Genesis 3.

    • Steve Smith
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      Satan and his minions?

      And Gru. Apparently created from a single strand of DNA:

  12. Mike
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Plantinga is funny.

    On YouTube (‘Alvin Plantinga and the Modal Argument’) Plantinga declares that he could exist while his material body did not.

    His evidence? Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’.

    Take a look at that video for more gems from Plantinga. His reasoning is so bad there are people in the comments disowning philosophy in their droves.

    • Drosera
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Am I the first to notice that theologians and their admirers often say “it seems to me” where others would say “I think”? It seems to me that subconsciously these folks realize that they don’t think and therefore feel inhibited to use the word.

    • llwddythlw
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      Does he really not know how many legs a beetle has? After all, God is inordinately fond of beetles.

    • abb3w
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Not inclined to look at the video; it sounds like another incompetent resolution of the Ship Of Theseus problem.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted August 25, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Which isn’t really a “problem”. We perceive a ship as a single entity because that’s how our brains categorize things – especially things built by humans. Whether it’s the “same” ship if you replace each part individually is only a meaningful question from a human perspective.

        With humans, we know which organ thinks of itself as “self” and we even have a pretty good idea what region of that organ thinks that. Replace both my arms with robot arms and I’m still me. Replace my frontal lobes with a supercomputer and I’m not me anymore.

        • Posted August 25, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          Or with a “jewel”: see Greg Egan’s “Learning to Be Me”.

          /@

  13. Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    The best possible world involves sin, suffering, and atonement. But why is that? Wouldn’t a better world not have suffering and atonement?

    Yet Heaven is supposedly free of sin and suffering, so it must at least be possible, in theory.

    Theologians are like Retirement Village salespeople, promising future retirees luxurious condos, provided they put money down now and maintain annual payments. But they don’t tell you that the same architect who built their current sub-standard housing–the homes they can’t wait to move out of upon retirement–is the same person constructing the condos. Yet for some reason, he’s going to do the job right next time.

    http://tommyholland.blogspot.com/2010/10/free-will-in-heaven.html

    In a nutshell, what can God do in Heaven that he can’t do here on Earth?

    • Kevin
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      Sorta puts the kibosh on that whole omnipotence thingy, doesn’t it?

  14. Rick M
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    there are also Satan and his minions, who may, as C. S. Lewis suggests, be involved in one way or another in the evolution of the nonhuman living world.

    So, flesh-eating bacteria = Satan

    kitties = Yahweh

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      Since you mentioned cats, the below is part of Planties laughable evolutionary argument against naturalism …

      Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief… Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it… Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behaviour

  15. Posted August 24, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    This is the Wiki simplified version of Plantinga’s argument of why God created evil (& thus ‘evil’ embodied in Satan)

    …it is greater for a being to possess free will, as opposed to being non-free. And because a God cannot guarantee the benevolence of a truly free being without intervention or influence, thus removing free will, it follows that for a being to have true free will that they must be capable of moral evil else such a being would be only capable of moral good, which in itself is as Plantinga stated: “Entirely paradoxical”. Plantinga goes on to argue that a world with free will is more valuable than a world without such, therefore God has reason to create a world which has the capability of evil. Thus because of this the existence of evil counts “neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness”, rather it is an error by the creature in their exercise of such freedom

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      a world with free will is more valuable than a world without such

      So… it is a real-estate improvement? Introduce evil so our world has more value? Who is he going to sell it to?

    • Tulse
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      a world with free will is more valuable than a world without such

      So is there free will in heaven? How can there be, if there is no sin in heaven? But isn’t heaven more “valuable” than this world, since it is the final reward for behaving in this one?

      • DrBrydon
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        THANK you! I’ve been wondering about that one for a while. We have to prove ourselves good on Earth, but once we’ve passed the test, and get to heaven, he takes away the ablity to choose? Then again Lucifier chose to rebel, so maybe there is free will in Heaven. That would seem to imply that even in Heaven we aren’t safe. Is there a Heaven after Heaven (after Heaven after Heaven…)?

        If there isn’t free will in Heaven, then I think we have to say that God’s decision to create us with free will on Earth as a test was arbitrary, since he was ultimately going to take it away. (And is there free will in Hell? I guess there you can’t choose to be good.)

    • Rick M
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      I’m sure the “best possible world” is one where a Christian apologist can make a living and garner respect as a sophisticated theologian justifying someone else’s suffering.

  16. Rob
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Suppose Plantinga is right, that free will is an overarching good. The greater good of free will will trump any evil that naturally follows from it.

    But how will that effect how we ought to behave? Suppose we witness a man raping a child. Should we intervene to stop this evil? Of course not! The free will of the rapist is an overriding good.

    • Tulse
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      Sure, the rapist has free will, but we do too. If one stops the rapist, one is not eliminating his free will, merely his ability to act on it unhindered. (Or something like that.)

      • Rob
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

        No, that won’t work. God permits us to do evil, according to Plantinga, because if he intervened then we would not have true free will.

        If God does not intervene to prevent child rape then of course we should not either.

        • Tulse
          Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          But if we can’t intervene then we don’t have free will! I’m so confused…but then again I often am when it comes to theology.

          • Rob
            Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:02 am | Permalink

            We CAN intervene. But it would be evil to do so.

        • Ken Browning
          Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          Presumably Christians will be able to love God by choosing Him freely in heaven after leveling up and gaining Celestial Submission Power. God gets His fix and His Minions get condos with carbuncle walls. Everybody wins.

          Why not just give this super combo up front? Well, perhaps that game would be a tad boring.

          • Rob
            Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

            Right. Plantinga’s belief that Heaven is an actual world with free will and no evil conflicts with his claim that all possible worlds with free will must have some evil.

            But, nobody expects theology to be coherent so this is not a problem I guess.

  17. Microraptor
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    “It’s Satan’s fault.”

    Good grief, this is why I laugh when people try to use “sophisticated” and “religion” together.

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Well no. According to Plantie it’s God’s plan. God has supplied you with a vending machine & the correct denomination (ha!) coins. Your job is to choose from the Good drawers or the Satan drawers.

      I’m sure Victoria’s Secret must stock Satan Drawers somewhere…

      • DrBrydon
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        Denominations. Never thought of that before. The OED isn’t entirely clear on which came first. Denominations in arithmatic, predates the use for sects, but the first example for currency comes later.

  18. Curt Cameron
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    If a god oversaw the process of evolution, then not only did this god twiddle the DNA to create the mutations he wanted, he also had to control the actions of every critter for billions of years, so that the wolf ate the correct rabbit, and the raptor dinosaur ate the right proto-mammal, and the early fish ate the right lobe-finned creature, with pretty much every animal on the planet. I know they say he’s infinite and everything, but Jebus what a laborious process he used!

  19. Mirik
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Digging their own graves with inane morose grasping-at-nonexistent-straws justifications for a horrible, despicable fictional character from a bronze age mythology book. Saddening.

    Not. Worth. Anyones. Consideration. (if they werent in the way of actual progress)

  20. Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Below is my extract from an approving ‘analysis’ by William Lane Craig of Plantinga’s ontological argument for God’s existence. To capture the insanity whole go to this link in which WLC also states that Dawkins has inadvertently lent credence to this argument in The God Delusion

    …Plantinga conceives of God as a being which is “maximally excellent” in every possible world. Plantinga takes maximal excellence to include such properties as omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. A being which has maximal excellence in every possible world would have what Plantinga calls “maximal greatness.” So Plantinga argues:

    1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists

    2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world

    3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world

    4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world

    5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists

    6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists

    Premises (2)-(5) of this argument are relatively uncontroversial. Most philosophers would agree that if God’s existence is even possible, then He must exist. The principal issue to be settled with respect to Plantinga’s ontological argument is what warrant exists for thinking the key premiss “It’s possible that a maximally great being exists” to be true.

    The idea of a maximally great being is intuitively a coherent idea, and so it seems plausible that such a being could exist. In order for the ontological argument to fail, the concept of a maximally great being must be incoherent, like the concept of a married bachelor. But the concept of a maximally great being doesn’t seem even remotely incoherent. This provides some prima facie warrant for thinking that it is possible that a maximally great being exists

    • Paul
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Not possible an omnipotent, morally perfect being exists in this universe. Problem of evil. Epicurus summed it up pretty well…

      • Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Obviously. WLC wrote this in my quote of him above:

        The idea of a maximally great being is intuitively a coherent idea, and so it seems plausible that such a being could exist. In order for the ontological argument to fail, the concept of a maximally great being must be incoherent, like the concept of a married bachelor. But the concept of a maximally great being doesn’t seem even remotely incoherent

        That is scholarship for you :)

        • Kevin
          Posted August 24, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          Except that you can’t get to maximally great from here…

          What’s greater than a maximally great god? A maximally great god delivering a pizza to my front door.

          What’s greater than a maximally great god delivering a pizza to my front door? A maximally great god delivering a pizza and a six-pack to my front door.

          And on and on. Infinite procession.

          • Rob
            Posted August 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            You misspelled goddess.

            /sorry, couldn’t resist

        • Rob
          Posted August 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          Intuitively coherent????

          He’s got a different set of intuitions than I have, that’s for sure.

        • Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

          I still have not heard from anyone why one would think that “excellence” has a maximum.

          (Also, the modal logic in these arguments is ridiculous …)

          • truthspeaker
            Posted August 25, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

            Especially when “excellence” is a subjective property.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Would it be possible to have a Being so maximally great that every possible human individual would judge the this Being is great in every possible way?

      There would be — could be — no atheists, no sinners, and nobody in Hell. God is perfect by everyone’s standard or God is less than perfect.

      I suspect the Ontological Arguments slips up here on the incoherency of assuming the possibility of 100% human agreement on what is “best” — let alone “maximally” best. One case of honest dissent and I think we’ve lost consensus and the Argument.

      • Tulse
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        Exactly, Sastra — surely the Most Perfect Being would be one that is recognized as Perfect by everyone.

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Just discovered this:

      1. The creation of the world is the most marvelous achievement imaginable.

      2. The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.

      3. The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.

      4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.

      5. Therefore if we suppose the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being – namely, one who created everything while not existing.

      6. An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.

      Ergo:

      7. God does not exist.

      Lifted from: http://visionperspective.wordpress.com/2008/06/19/interesting-proofs-on-the-existence-of-god/

    • GroovyJ
      Posted August 25, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      1 It is possible that a maximally great being does not exist.

      2 If it is possible that a maximally great being does not exist, then there is some possible world in which that being does not exist.

      3 If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.

      4 If a maximally great being does not exist in any particular possible world, it does not exist in any possible world.

      5 If a maximally great being does not exist in any possible world, it does not exist.

      6 Therefore, a maximally great being does not exist.

      I’m not sure how this argument is any worse (or better) than the reverse.

  21. Greg Esres
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    “It’s Satan’s fault.”

    Ironically, Satan is the deus ex machina of theology.

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Satan looks an awful lot like God if you stand on your head.

      • Juggler_Dave
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        Satan can look like so many things depending on your perspective. Try to reconcile, for instance, common christian notions of satan with the character from Job who chats up god like he’s a buddy he hasn’t seen in a while and gets him to make a bet about how Job will react if you make his life miserable. Come to think if it, god and satan in the book of Job are like the Duke brothers in the movie “Trading Places”, putting Louis through hell to see if his breeding or his environment will win out.

      • Posted August 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        No… he looks like “uɐʇɐS”.

        /@

  22. Don Cates
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    http://www.philosophicallexicon.com/#LEXICON

    Check out “alvinize” and “Planting”

    • Daniel Schealler
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      They left out:

      graylinged: v
      To have been omitted from otherwise legitimate inclusion due to unintentional oversight.

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      The scary thing is that Plantinga *approves* of that as a satire of his views …

  23. Tulse
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Shades of Voltaire! The best possible world involves sin, suffering, and atonement.

    Although I’m sure Jerry knows this, that’s originally “shades of Leibniz“, who Voltaire was satirizing with Dr. Pangloss in Candide.

    • Posted August 24, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I thought this was the beta of all possible worlds, and Paradise was the bug-fixed version…

      /@

  24. NoAstronomer
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    “But then all the best possible worlds also involve a great deal of sin and as a consequence a great deal of suffering.”

    Citation needed.

    Not all sin results in suffering. Actually my opinion would be that most sin does not cause suffering. The definition of Sin itself varies widely. As someone pointed out in an recent thread religions define sin to suit their own purposes.

    Furthermore most suffering is not caused by sin (unless you consider earthquakes, hurricanes, drought and diseases sins). Even if you just limit the suffering you consider undesirable to human suffering.

    Mike.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      Heh. I can see we’re going to have to specifically define each and every sin…and whether or not it causes suffering.

      Start with the “Big Ten”.

      Having a god better than Yahweh … no suffering.
      Making graven images of Yahweh … no suffering
      Not observing the sabbath … no suffering

      What about the “Big Seven” sins?
      Pride? No suffering.
      Greed? No suffering.
      Sloth? No suffering (at least not immediately, maybe later if you get a heart attack from being a couch potato).
      Gluttony? Well, immediately after a big meal, I need to lie down…so maybe some suffering.
      Lust? No suffering. And sometimes, the exact opposite of suffering.
      Envy? Maybe a little, but not unless you get carried away with it.
      Wrath? Not for me, but maybe for the object of my wrath. But I though wrath was a good thing — after all, it was the driving force behind “getting” bin Laden, wasn’t it?

      This is getting tedious, I fear. Objectively, sin is no more likely to result in suffering than no-sin.

  25. Terry
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Perfect example of someone who is intellectually deep, yet lacks common sense.

    Note to Professor Plantinga.

    “It’s easier to trust what is before your eyes and and other senses.

    You don’t need an imaginary friend and a silly manual to help you navigate your brief stay on this planet.

    Trying to rationalize religion and gods into the equation dulls the ability to be happy and productive.”

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    “Sophisticated” theology appears in this respect to be resemble “folk theology”.

    Figures. As PZ said, he can’t be taken seriously, ever. Anyone who figures the equivalent to intelligent falling is a valid theory doesn’t know what constitutes “truth about the universe”.

    It’s the science way or the low road.

  27. Mattapult
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    if he agrees that we evolved, and we were made in Gods image, who did God evolve from?

    And does God share our inability to produce Vitamin C? Does the hand of God ever come down and pick oranges?

  28. Stonyground
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    It really is fun to pick apart this so called sophisticated theology. I love the way that you present this guy’s credentials at the beginning of the post so that you can’t be accused of just going after the little guys and ignoring the big guns. The theists threw down the gauntlet with their claim that the Gnu Atheists were ignorant of proper theology so here we have it laid bare as the empty drivel that it is.

    For Alvin’s information, the whole point about evolution by natural selection is that it doesn’t need any divine guidance. The mechanism operates without requiring any additional inputs, that is what is so amazing about it.

  29. Nathan
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    The fact that he said something to the effect that the best possible world involves suffering is greatly disheartening to me. So heaven is sub-optimal then? What kind of bs is this?

  30. Sastra
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    “My own favorite response is the “O Felix Culpa” response, according to which all the really good possible worlds involved divine incarnation and atonement, or at any rate atonement. But then all the best possible worlds also involve a great deal of sin and as a consequence a great deal of suffering.”

    Theodicy always works better if you assume that the theologians are really just talking about a book. The story needs to have a problem, a struggle, and a solution. As long as the main characters are okay in the end and the conflict is resolved satisfactorily, it doesn’t matter what has happened to all the minor secondary characters. They’re really just there for background, devices invented by the author to move the plot along and highlight the virtues and triumph of the main character(s). They do not count, and their suffering does not matter. They were created as tools for purposes other than their own.

    Which makes sense. In a book. Otherwise, it’s pretty damn evil.

    Plantinga’s attempt to excuse God from blame only seems to make it worse. What he’s really saying is that all the really good stories involve divine incarnation and atonement — from God’s point of view and Plantinga’s.

  31. Phere
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    These “sophisticated theologians” sicken me. How many children are dying in their mother’s arms RIGHT NOW, too weak from starvation to even cry??? Yet these guys sit there, smugly, acting as if this were somehow necessary and important. I am especially irritable this morning as a coworker celebrated her big sale by saying that God was watching out for our store. Oh yeah? Thanks but no thanks – where was God when a mother threw her 1 month old off a 2nd story parking garage yesterday? Where was God in the case of poor Nixzmary Brown? No matter how uncomfortable it is for the religious, the problem of evil is not going away and try as they might there is no fancy footwork or wording that will ever eliminate it to someone with half a fucking brain.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Yes. And the Problem of Evil becomes even worse when you take into account that not only the outcome but every step of the process must be justified with some wider “purpose.” It’s not enough to look at a child dying in its mother’s arms and sadly deem it necessary for a greater good: every twinge of pain, every spasm, every single ache, cramp, throb and moment of agony of that child has to be of utmost significance and cannot, should not be mitigated by God one single iota lest the theodicy not work.

      That’s a steep price. It’s hard not to wonder if maybe, just once, that tenth bout of dry heaves prior to the final death might have been spared — and the world none the worse for it.

      • Phere
        Posted August 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Sastra, indeed. Your post actually brought tears to my eyes, out of sadness and out of sheer frustration that we are having this conversation over a magical sky fairy while babies are dying as you described.

      • Posted August 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        Worse, as M. Scriven pointed to us, there are lots of cases of suffering which would be stopped even by a 6 year old if present. Hence (argument elipiticized – see Primary Philosophy) there is no god.

  32. rosvicl
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    They might be able to argue that free will requires sin. But how can they argue that free will requires Tay-Sachs disease?

    Bear in mind that Plantinga is claiming that his deity directed every bit of human evolution: he can’t handwave it away as an accident. We’re being asked to believe that benevolence required a variety of inherited diseases. I can choose whether or not to rob a bank; nobody chooses whether to have Tay-Sachs, or any number of other inherited diseases.

  33. David M
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I read this last year. It was very disappointing. Dennett was solid, but I thought he dropped the ball in a couple of spots. However, I cut him some slack, as he was basically having to do the explaining for both sides.

    Plantiga writes in a terribly unclear way and uses the trappings of formal logic and such to house what are mostly pretty, well, dumb ideas. I found myself reading his sections and getting utterly frustrated, thinking that there were problems, but unable to put my finger on some of them, and then DD would lay out Plantiga’s argument in readable english in a paragraph and then take it apart.

  34. MadScientist
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Quoting “Oh Happy Mistake” in Latin and alluding to that numbskull CS Lewis do not substantiate Plantinga’s wrong assertions.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted August 25, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Sure sounds deep though!

  35. Wowbagger
    Posted August 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Like most apologetics, the goal is not to sway non-believers by the power of reason – obviously it’s going to fail miserably at that – but to give those who already believe something they can convince themselves is a rational argument when the cognitive dissonance kicks in.

  36. Posted August 24, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Every time I read something by this Plantinga guy, I can’t see any intelligence, nor any reason why he would be regarded as highly, and get so many honours, and, worse, be taken seriously by other philosophers not sharing the belief in bullshit, I mean, in fairy tales, I mean in some god. The guy always strikes me as an idiot. The arguments are always clearly fallacious. Yet, there you have it. “Serious” philosophers answering his shit. His stupidity getting published in philosophy journals. Makes me feel that philosophy is just about constructing fallacious long arguments for other philosophers to try and find the mistakes. Exercises of futility and bullshitery. No wonder philosophy gets so little respect as of late. Don’t get me wrong. A good deal of scientists would be better off if they understood a bit more of philosophy. But philosophy seems so dumb dedicated to writing sophisms with other playing with them just because the “defects” are “hard” to point to (as certain philosopher answered me when I asked why was he taking Plantinga so seriously if the argument was so stupidly wrong. Wasn’t it enough to just point and laugh rather than write a paper and take it as if it deserved more than mockery?).

    Anyway, 10-4

  37. Kharamatha
    Posted August 25, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    But on the other hand, oogle boogle boo. You simpletons cannot even grasp the true form of my attack.

  38. Kharamatha
    Posted August 25, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Speaking of human evolution, I just read an unusual statement that humans are definitely related to “great apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans”, based on genetic study, but that there isn’t a general concensus concerning the other primates.

    • Microraptor
      Posted August 25, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Really? Who said that? Did they also say that it was questionable as to whether or not humans were mammals while they were at it?

      • Posted August 25, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, there’s only one place on Earth where you can find an organism not related to humans, and that’s Dr. Venter’s lab.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Daniel Schealler
          Posted August 25, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

          Szostak’s lab might count too if we allow for a definition of ‘organism’ that’s really, really wide.

          • Kharamatha
            Posted August 26, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink

            I’m sure there’s something in my drawers or on my desk that would count if we allow for a really, really wide one.

            • Kharamatha
              Posted August 26, 2011 at 3:36 am | Permalink

              However, NOT if we allow for an equally wide relatedness.

      • Kharamatha
        Posted August 26, 2011 at 3:42 am | Permalink

        It was a light book. Let’s see, original title: “The Knowledgebook. Everything you need to know to get by in the 21st century”, biology section by Dr. Christine Jakob, seemingly reviewed by a number of peers, translation by Bengt Ellenberger.

  39. gillt
    Posted August 25, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    But the worst part is Plantinga’s invocation of Satan; it’s almost as bad as his invocation of C. S. Lewis.

    Haha, you must really dislike C.S. Lewis! In my opinion ANY philosopher invoking Satan in the 21st century has given up trying to be a philosopher. Maybe M. Night Shyamalan should add director cum philosopher extraordinaire to his credentials.

    http://www.theawl.com/2010/09/horror-chick-devil-the-further-fall-of-the-house-of-m-night-shyamalan

    • Kharamatha
      Posted August 26, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      Shyamalan is pretty amusing. His alien invaders are so inept.

      • Kharamatha
        Posted August 26, 2011 at 3:47 am | Permalink

        That is to say, I did enjoy Signs.

  40. JimV
    Posted August 27, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    “Plantinga takes maximal excellence to include such properties as omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. A being which has maximal excellence in every possible world would have what Plantinga calls “maximal greatness.” So Plantinga argues:

    1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists … yada, yada, yada.”

    In addition to several great arguments against this “logic” in previous comments, my argument is: how about the maximally evil god (omniscience, omnipotence, and anti-moral perfection)? I can conceive if it, so don’t the rest of the statements apply as well to it (not that I agree with them)? As well as various other combinations (the mediocre god, the god who is maximally excellent M-W-F, evil T-Th, and takes the weekends off, etc.).

  41. Diane G.
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    (subscribing)

  42. Gayle Stone
    Posted August 30, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    He’s just warming up and hoping for a call to Templeton’s next givaway.


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