Alvin Plantinga: sophisticated theologian?

If anybody qualifies as a Sophisticated Theologian®, it’s Alvin Plantinga, an emeritus professor at Notre Dame who also wears the hat of philosopher (he was once president of the American Philosophical Association).  And yet when I read him, I realize again that “sophisticated theology” is but a thin veneer of fine words applied over the rickety plywood of unevidenced faith.

I’ve finished reading Plantinga’s 77-page exchange with Dan Dennett, the small book Science and Religion: Are they compatible?.  (It’s only $10 on Amazon, but your money’s better spent by applying it to the hardcover edition of WEIT, which is now on sale on Amazon for just a dollar more.) Plantinga, of course, argues “yes,” and his argument is a strange one.

As I’ve noted before, Plantinga sees no conflict between science and religion, but a definite conflict between science and naturalism.  His premise here is that science, conceived as a mechanism for finding truth, is incompatible with naturalism’s claims that humans evolved by unguided evolution.  According to Plantinga, there’s no reason to assume that unguided evolution would provide humans with senses that would give them reliable information about the universe, and so our ability to apprehend truth is compromised.  But we can get back on the rails if we’re theists, for God has provided us with that essential supplementary way to find truth, the sensus divinitatis:

Both untutored observation and current research in the scientific study of religion suggest that a tendency to believe in God or something like God, apart from any propositional evidence, is part of our native cognitive endowment. Furthermore, if theistic belief is true, it probably doesn’t require propositional evidence for its rational acceptance. As I argue in Warranted Christian Belief, if theistic belief is true, then very likely it has both rationality and warrant in the basic way, that is, not on the basis of propositional evidence. If theistic belief is true, then very likely there is a cognitive structure something like John Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, an original source of warranted theistic belief. In this way belief in God, like belief in other minds, has its own source of rationality and warrant, and doesn’t depend on argument from other sources for those estimable qualities.

Note that here Plantinga is basically saying that we don’t need stinking evidence for God, because we have that sensus divinitatus, which is obviously a great way to find truth because it’s part of our God-given “cognitive endowment.”  But also note that Plantinga keeps saying, “if theistic belief is true,” as if somehow that belief does need evidence.  And of course he doesn’t provide any—not an iota.

Dennett responds correctly: yes, humans are subject to deception by illusions, but on the whole our species, and others, have evolved to have senses that detect what is true about the world, for we couldn’t survive if we just stood our ground as a big predator ran towards us and thought, “Well, that might just be an illusion.”

And that goes for every other species that needs to find food, secure mates, or escape predators: in other words, all species.  Animals, by and large, are truth-apprehending organisms (though they can get fooled by things like mimicry), and our own species is also a truth-seeking organism.  Further, our ability to actually find truth is shown by the fact that science can make predictions and calculations that are supported: we find microbes that cause disease and antibiotics that kill them, we can predict the structure of a protein from the genetic code, and we can accurately predict when the next solar eclipse will occur.

I want to add that Plantinga is a theistic evolutionist: he thinks that God somehow guided evolution (he floats the idea that God actually caused “random” mutations to direct evolution in a particular way), and that he has special admiration for Michael Behe:

In any event, however, current molecular biology may offer the materials for a different sort of argument from design, as explained in the much maligned Michael Behe’s recent book, The Edge of Evolution. His argument is one of the few serious and quantitative arguments in this area. We have the living cell, both prokaryotic and eukaryotic, with its stupifying complexity and its multitude of elaborately complex protein machines. Behe argues that unguided natural selection is probably incapable of producing these protein machines. His argument is quantitative and empirical rather than a priori; its centerpiece is the saga of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciperum [sic] and its long trench warfare with the human genome. I don’t have the space here to outline his argument; but to me as a layman, the argument seems reasonably powerful, though far from conclusive. If Behe is right, or anywhere near right, the probability of the existence of the cell as we find it is much greater on theism than on naturalism. And if this is so, the argument from design is reinstated at a deeper level. What current biological science takes away with one hand, it restores with the other.

Plantinga, then, adheres not just to theistic evolution (some of whose adherents merely claim that God started off the evolutionary process and let it run unimpeded), but also to intelligent design (ID).  Given the fact that Behe’s arguments have been totally debunked by scientists, Plantinga’s admiration for Behe and ID disqualify him as a sophisticated theologian, for he’s not sophisticated enough to accept modern science.  And remember, the Dennett/Plantinga book came out this year, so Plantinga had plenty of time to read scientists’ arguments against Behe’s book which appeared in 2007.

Remember that when accommodationists lump “theistic evolution” in with “naturalistic evolution” when they spin data from polls, they’re accepting people like Plantinga as supporters of evolution.  Survey data show that many Americans who seem to accept evolution in principle nevertheless claim that God somehow intervened in the evolution of Homo sapiens, thereby excluding humans from the naturalistic evolution accepted by scientists. A recent Gallup poll, for instance, showed that 40% of Americans saw humans as having been directly created by God in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so (i.e., young-earth creationism), 38% saw them as having developed from less advanced forms of life over millions of years, but through a process guided by God (theistic evolution), while only 16% accepted that humans evolved from earlier species through a process unguided by God (nontheistic evolution).

That means that only 16% of Americans buy the concept of naturalistic evolution that is accepted by scientists. Do we really want to count people like Plantinga as allies when we push for evolution to be taught in public schools?

Plantinga clearly underscores the conflict between Christianity and the scientific (naturalistic) conception of evolution:

What is not consistent with Christian belief, however, is the claim that evolution and Darwinism are unguided—where I’ll take that to include being unplanned and unintended.  What is not consistent with Christian belief is the claim that no personal agent, not even God, has guided, planned, intended, directed, orchestrated, or shaped this whole process. Yet precisely this claim is made by a large number of contemporary scientists and philosophers who write on this topic.

It’s time for us to point out clearly and forcefully that people like Plantinga are not on the side of science. They are creationists.

I want to highlight one more point: Plantinga, far from being sophisticated, makes the same superannuated arguments for God’s existence.  Dennett, for example, points out that Christianity is not much different from a made-up creed called “Supermanism,” which Dan describes like this:

Perhaps, you think, Plantinga’s theistic creed is in better position than any science-fictional fantasy. Let us consider, for concreteness’s sake, a candidate. Superman, son of Jor-el, also later known as Clark Kent, came from the planet Krypton about 530 million years ago and ignited the Cambrian explosion. Superman “could have caused the right mutations to arise at the right time, he could have preserved populations from perils of various sorts, and so on; in this way, by orchestrating the course of evolution, he could have ensured that there come to be creatures of the kind he intends” (Plantinga, p. 4).

Superman, according to my hypothesis, seeded a handy planet so that in the fullness of time he could have playthings, a sort of Super Ken and Barbie World. A rather adolescent project, perhaps, but nevertheless a motivated instance of intelligent design.

Now the burden of proof falls on Plantinga to show why his theist story deserves any more respect or credence than this one. I myself cannot see any rational grounds for preferring his theism over my Supermanism—which I don’t espouse, but see as perfectly consistent with contemporary evolutionary theory. Moreover, I can describe experiments that could make my Superman hypothesis highly probable if they panned out.

Plantinga’s response shows that, far from sophisticated, he just relies on the same shopworn and philosophically unsupportable arguments for God:

As a matter of fact, atheism is a lot more like solipsism than theism is like Supermanism. Superman is certainly an impressive young fellow, but clearly not much greater than Captain Marvel, or even the Green Lantern. God, on the other hand, is all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good; furthermore, God has these properties essentially; he could not have been ignorant or impotent, or evil. He has also created the world.

Still further, according to classical theism, God is a necessary being; he exists in all possible worlds; it’s not even possible that he should fail to exist. And since he has the property of being omniscient essentially, his believing a proposition is logically equivalent to that proposition’s being true. Further yet, many theists hold that God’s will, what he approves and disapproves, is the standard for right and wrong, good and bad. Superman may be faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, but he is pretty small potatoes when compared with God. (It’s a little embarrassing to have to point out these obvious differences.)

Is this “sophisticated”?  No theologian in the world is going to convince me that it’s impossible for God to fail to exist because he’s a “necessary being.” Science has shown that he’s not “necessary” for anything we know about the universe.  And saying that “many theists hold” this-and-that isn’t evidence, it’s just an assertion about what some people think.  One fallacy of theology is to equate “truth” with “classical theism,” or with “what many theists hold.”  And of course that’s how Plantinga supports his thesis that God is “all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good.” How does he know that?

This is where the sophistication shows itself to be a thin veneer, gussying up the plywood of pure faith to make it look like mahogany.

Plantinga violates Hitchens’s Razor as well:

According to Christopher Hitchens, “religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt.” Those who think like him ordinarily don’t propose serious arguments against the truth of religious belief—theism for example; they prefer sneering condescension and mockery.

We don’t need to propose serious arguments against the truth of religious belief because that belief must provide its own evidence, which it hasn’t done. And we all know that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Finally, I’ll mention one more specious argument of Plantinga: his ridiculous claim that science is damaged by asserting that evolution is a naturalistic, unguided process:

This association of evolution with naturalism is the obvious root of the widespread antipathy, in the United States, to the theory of evolution. Insofar as Dennett and others proclaim conflict between evolutionary theory and theistic belief, they exacerbate this distrust of evolution—a distrust that spills over to science itself, with a consequent cost in public support of science. The health and welfare of science is therefore damaged by promoting these myths to the effect that current evolutionary theory is in conflict with theistic religion. Of course that’s not much of a reason for those who believe those myths to stop promoting them. What it does mean, though, is that there is very good reason for exposing them for the myths they actually are: the damage they do to science.

If anything damages science here, it’s the claim that evolution required the assistance of God.  Remember that Plantinga accepts Behe’s arguments for Intelligent Design. Claiming that science is damaged if we don’t accept that God tinkered with the evolutionary process is like saying that science is damaged if we don’t accept that apples couldn’t fall from trees without God’s help.

Plantinga’s admission that “current evolutionary theory is in conflict with theistic religion” should scare accommodationist organizations like the National Center for Science Education, because it clearly shows the incompatibility of evolution with even liberal faiths.

So much for sophisticated philosophy.  Plantinga is one of the big guns of the science-and-faith arguments; and his lucubrations here must surely represent “the best arguments for God” that we, as atheists, are required to take on. We are supposed to take Plantinga’s claims very seriously. And yet this is the kind of stuff he believes. How many “sophisticated theologians” do we have to read before we abandon the whole enterprise as a bad, mind-numbing business?

________

UPDATE:  P.Z. just posted reminding us that he took apart some similar arguments of Plantinga two years ago.  I like P.Z.’s point that our cognitive faculties aren’t fully reliable and that’s why we need science as a check on illusions.  But I’d emphasize as well that that all the instruments that we design to scientifically test for and measure phenomena still depend on the assumption that our senses are reliable, especially when their perceptions are replicated. After all, we could read a dial wrong, or see the wrong position of a band on a gel.  The key is not just the general reliability of our senses, but that the results of our senses are replicated among different investigators.  That’s why science wins and religion, whose “truths” can’t be replicated by different faiths, or even different adherents to the same faith, loses.

241 Comments

  1. Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Ah, but I am forever indebted to Plantinga for his formalizing the ontological argument in terms of modal logic. It was this disingenuous bait-and-switch which helped me to see yet another flaw in the Ontological Argument: An argument of the same form can be used to argue for the superlative anything.

    The awesomest conceivable cheezburger in the world would be less awesome if I can not haz it. Therefore, I can haz the awesomest conceivable cheezburger.

    • Kevin
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      …but you can’t have a perfect god, because the conception of a perfect god can always be improved upon.

      What’s better than god? God with a pizza.
      What’s better than god with a pizza? God with a pizza and a 6-pack.

      And on and on. It’s an infinite (what’s the opposite of regress?) progress.

      Therefore, the perfect god cannot exist logically. Therefore, Plantinga’s ordinary god does not exist. Because that god has not once delivered me a pizza, a 6-pack, and … well, let’s not get into what’s next on the list.

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        No, if I were a theologian, I would point out that god, being perfect, already had an infinite supply of pizza and beer.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          I thought that, too. But there’s no evidence that God drinks, much less that he likes pizza.

          • Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

            The Bible provides conclusive proof [citation needed] of Jesus’ fondness for wine. Therefore, Plantinga.

            • Notagod
              Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

              Christians serve whine of jesus, therefore jesus can haz buses.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

              Okay, there’s no evidence that God drinks BEER. His son, after all, didn’t turn water into Budweiser.

              • Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, except that wouldn’t have been a miracle. I mean, I’ve known horses who would be ashamed to piss Budweiser….

                b&

              • Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                Whereas humans turn drinkable beer into Budweiser with absolutely reliable facility. MIRACLE! THEREFORE PLANTINGA!!

              • harebell
                Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

                Really “Bud” that’s your benchmark for beer?
                Someone’s senses are clearly deceiving them on this occasion.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                And from a man who lives in Chicago, which has no shortage of great microbrew and imported beer available.

              • Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                Budweiser isn’t beer, so this argument means nothing.

              • Julien Rousseau
                Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

                What’s the difference between Budweiser* and making love in a canoe?

                There isn’t any, both are fucking close to water.

                *insert any beer you don’t like.

          • Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

            What need have I of a god who dislikes pizza and beer?

            b&

            • Karl Withakay
              Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:02 am | Permalink

              Of course, the real question is, “What style of pizza does god like?”

              I’ll take the fringe, heretical position and say god must prefer St. Louis style pizza. (go ahead and look it up on Wikipedia)

          • sasqwatch
            Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

            I beg to differ. What about the example of Herman Cain?

            …oh waitaminnit. That’s “Godfather’s”.

            • Tim
              Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              Herman Cain is the awesomest possible Godfather, and he wouldn’t be as awesome a Godfather if there were no God – for without God there would be no godfathers. Therefore, God is the awesomest and he has an infinite supply of pizza and beer.

              • sasqwatch
                Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

                Therefore, Cain is able?

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

                Can God make a pizza so big that he can’t eat all of it?

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 31, 2011 at 3:58 am | Permalink

        It’s an infinite (what’s the opposite of regress?) progress.

        Which naturally brings to mind the old chestnut: if pro is the opposite of con, then the opposite of progress is . . .

        • Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:42 am | Permalink

          Ooooohhhhh! That’s a nice one!

          Keeper!

        • Posted August 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

          Well …. I saw a recent poll that many if not most Americans think they are being shafted by their democratic (?) representatives. Does that count? ….

    • Peter
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      “..indebted to Plantinga for his formalizing the ontological argument in terms of modal logic..”

      This was already done by the famous Godel way back. I cannot be bothered checking whether Plantinga gave him credit. Chris (forget his last name) the statistician has much on that on the web, easily found.

      Godel had a fairly extremist Platonist view of the foundations of mathematics. I myself tend to believe in the ‘existence’ of abstract objects, except that I really am not sure what “existence” means here, nor whether that
      disqualifies me as a materialist.

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

        Plating’s argument is almost identical to Gödel’s posthumously published argument. Gödel was once asked why he did not publish it and he replied “Because people might think I believed in God.” The only sense I can make of this reply is that he thought of the argument as a reductio ad absurdum of a certain interpretation of modal logic.

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Tell me what you mean by “abstract”, and that might help settle your position.

        As for factual existence, use the “Bunge criterion”, as one might call it:

        Do the objects possess energy (= are they changable)? If not, they are fictions, or, less adversarily, you’re not a materialist.

        • KG
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

          Numbers. Which exist in the clear sense that there are truths about them which do not depend on us or any other cognitive agent: the number of primes is infinite whether or not we like it or know it, would still be infinite if everyone believed otherwise or there were no agents capable of believing it, and is infinite whether or not the physical universe is infinite.

          • Sastra
            Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

            I’ve actually seen theists try to group God in with “numbers,” in order to show that there’s nothing ridiculous about positing a Being which is nonmaterial, infinite, and yet real. We believe in numbers, don’t we? God’s kinda like that. Sure.

            Which of course glosses over the fact that numbers are not supposed to be causal agents, putting two and two together in hopes to delight and surprise you by becoming 4.

            They get mighty confused by abstractions.

            • GregB
              Posted January 2, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

              “I’ve actually seen theists try to group God in with “numbers,” in order to show that there’s nothing ridiculous about positing a Being which is nonmaterial, infinite, and yet real. We believe in numbers, don’t we? God’s kinda like that.”

              It frustrates me to no end to hear religious apologist use an analogy like this as if it’s proof. The only thing an analogy ever proves is the analogy itself.

              An analogy is a useful device for trying to understand a difficult concept. But the analogy itself is not a proof. At some point the proof of that concept must move beyond the analogy.

              So much of religious thought is taught via analogy and parable that religious people think this is a valid way of knowing. What we see whenever we hear this kind of argument is evidence that religion actively teaches the opposite of critical thinking. It literally teaches people to think poorly.

          • Michael Kingsford Gray
            Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

            No. Numbers are really simply an action that has been reified.
            That they “exist” is a subtle confusion between their verb nature being artificially reified into a noun nature.
            Much like ‘consciousness’, which folk often get confused as meaning ‘a thing’, whereas it is the name for an activity, or process, (cf “running”)

          • Dan L.
            Posted January 4, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

            Certain propositions are true of numbers when numbers are defined in the particular and arbitrary way earth mathematicians have chosen to define them. Much of the first couple years of math undergrad is spent learning how to construct the reals from the natural numbers (or from zero and the successor function).

            However, there are alternate constructions like J.H. Conway’s “surreal numbers”. By defining “games” as more generalized versions of numbers he was able to construct a set of games that also contains all real numbers and the transfinite ordinals and a bunch of weird transfinite ordinals that hadn’t been studied before.

            It’s also possible to construct number systems that do not behave the same way the real numbers do. This is the focus of some areas of abstract algebra.

            The important part to note is that to construct any number system you need an underlying set of axioms and that everything that is true about your number system is true by virtue of those initial axioms. So the infinitude of primes is the result of the structure of the axioms of set theory, not necessarily the universe itself.

            • Dan L.
              Posted January 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps a better way to think of it might be this. Obviously checkerboards exist. Now, does the checkerboard pattern exist apart from all specific instances of it on checkerboards, linoleum kitchen floors, grayscale illusions, etc.? That is, do you believe in some abstract checkerboard pattern entity that has its own unique existence apart from the specific instances of the checkerboard pattern?

              That would be some form of Platonism. I certainly don’t believe in the divine and immaculate ghost of checkerboards; nevertheless checkerboards are possible and do exist.

              Compare to numbers. I can have four apples or four oranges, but I cannot simply have “four”. The number “four” is, like the checkerboard pattern, merely a pattern. It captures what is similar between the two objects of discourse (set of four apples, set of four oranges); namely, quantity. If I wanted to ontologize this I might say something like “numbers are an abstraction of quantity”.

              In other words, just as checkerboards can exist without an immaculate ghost of all checkerboards actually existing, sets of four apples can exist with the immaculate ghost of the number four existing. Think of them as patterns rather than things. The table does not have its own existence separate from the wood from which it is made; similarly, the “fourness” of a set of four apples does not have an existence separate from the apples of which it consists.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

                just as checkerboards can exist without an immaculate ghost of all checkerboards actually existing, sets of four apples can exist with the immaculate ghost of the number four existing.

                Should be WITHOUT the immaculate ghost of the number four existing.

        • Peter
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

          I do regard ‘the physical universe’ as an existent object, and that is, so to speak, space and time, to which change, involving, again so to speak, the progression of time, cannot apply. So the status of that “Bunge criterion” seems questionable. But I guess we’re getting off the topic!

          • Posted January 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

            There’s the aggregate of all things, which is real, and the set of all things. Sets are fictions.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Alvin Plantinga is not a sophisticated theologian, he is just another Liar for Jeebus® ™. It amazes me that he thinks people buy his nonsense, since a twelve year old can see through some of it.

  3. Kevin
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Yes, the whole “define your way to god” business with regard to “necessary” beings.

    No. Sorry. Prove that a god is necessary. Don’t define your god as necessary.

    And the other attributes you assign to it — especially omnibenevolence. Where’s the evidence for that (cough-smallpox-cough)?

    • J
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      Yes, I particularly liked the part where he (via Behe) associated malaria with evidence for this tinker god. Nice one, oh “all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good” god!

      • Will
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        BOOM! Headshot.

  4. Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Jerry, should it say reliable information instead of reliable evolution in para 3? Great article BTW. I’m going to read the rest now.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Finished reading now. Plantinga’s argument re. divine sense boils down to: if theism is true, then it’s true with no need for evidence. Very sophisticated indeed!

      • Graham Martin-Royle
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        That’s a huge “if”

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        Yup.

        And, if I’m right, there’s no need to take this cherry of a beaut of a used car for a test drive, let alone check the transmission for sawdust!

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Karl Withakay
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          No ma’am , this wasn’t a taxi, that yellow paint you see on the inside of the doors is yellow primer. It’s a preservative; it add years to the life of the body.

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        And if theism is not true then there’d still be no evidence.

        So no evidence (the actual situation) is consistent with theism and atheism. Apply Occam’s razor…

  5. Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Even a non-scientist, non-philosopher like me, like the average secular humanist understands how dumb Plantinga’s argument is. No matter how Plantinga describes and explains, his philosophy is still the same old disguised bunk. Thanks to Jerry for laying it all out in understandable language. I am grateful.

  6. dwasifar
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    “According to Plantinga, there’s no reason to assume that unguided evolution would provide humans with senses that would give them reliable evolution about the universe…”

    Jerry, did you perhaps mean “reliable information about the universe”?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Yes I did. I’ve corrected the typo; many thanks for catching it.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      By the way, no one “assumes” our senses give us reliable information about the universe. In fact, science is largely the process of taking our senses out of the equation. Physical reality turns out to be completely different from what our senses tell us — matter is not solid, space and time do not exist as separate dimensions, light has finite speed, length is relative to our state of motion, the earth revolves around the sun and spins at 1000 mph, etc.

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        And this is why fans of science should not describe themselves as “empiricists”.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Empirical means information gained by means of observation or experimentation. Science is of course nothing but empirical.

          I think you are arguing about the meaning of realism, which is quite a different kettle of fish. As it happens, both classical and quantum mechanics are based on that, as constrained reaction on constrained action. (“Kick a stone and it will (robustly) give a kick back.”) In classical mechanics that is action-reaction and in quantum mechanics it is observation-observables. How else could it be useful mechanics?

          So many instances of realism is different from common sense ideas. How surprising. (O.o)

          That still doesn’t mean the observations and hypotheses that were used to approximate matter as solid are unreliable. They are robust and repeatable. But just not very extensible on other scales.

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:02 am | Permalink

            + 1

            Well said! (As usual.)

          • Posted January 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

            Not at all. “Empiricism” has a specific family meaning well established in the history of philosophy. And, more over, no modern science is done by “observation” – they are done via indicator hypotheses, which are far from trivial – and certainly go beyond the senses, hence refute empiricism as understood in philosophy. If you just mean “we gotta experience the world in some way or other” to know, that’s trivial – no rationalist philosopher would ever deny that.

            • Posted January 1, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

              “a specific family meaning?”

              Whatever meaning is established in philosophy (and a citation would be helpful), the idiomatic meaning — “ based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic” [NOAD] — applies very well to science.

              Your last statement is puzzling, as Stanford notes that a rationalist would say, “Some propositions in a particular subject area, S, are knowable by us by intuition alone; still others are knowable by being deduced from intuited propositions.” That is, that we can know things without experiencing the world in some way. … ?

              /@

        • Julien Rousseau
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

          I totally disagree but I guess we must not have the same definition of empiricism as I do not limit it to what is directly observable through our senses.

          Would you say that (modern) astronomy is not empirical because it does not rely only on our senses but on instruments?

          • Michael Kingsford Gray
            Posted December 31, 2011 at 12:41 am | Permalink

            Anyone who wears spectacles, or eye-glasses, (for intance; but any sensory prosthetic aid will suffice), should take stock before answering your stunningly very deep question.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        In looking at the evolution of the brain and intelligence as a successful adaptation we see the need to assume that our senses give us reliable information to the degree needed to survive and flourish. If there was not reliable agreement between what we perceive and our environment then how would intelligence and reason evolve?

        I think one of Plantinga’s arguments goes something like this:

        If the brain and reason evolved, it’s possible that we could have evolved brains that wanted to be close and cuddly to saber-tooth tigers, but also had a fight-or-flight reflex when confronted with our object of desire. Such a creature could survive because it runs from the tiger it really loves. This means that the evolution of reason is not guaranteed by survival of the fittest. Thus reason must be god given.

        I think this argument only works if you single out one aspect of behavior. I don’t think you could construct a complex being with a full range of totally irrational patterns of thought and inaccurate perceptions that just happens to behave in a way that ensures survival without reaching irreconcilable contradictions.

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted December 31, 2011 at 12:37 am | Permalink

          Agreed. In addition the ‘plan’ must be cost effective, which means missing out bits of logic whose absence don’t negatively affect survival in toto.

          • Chris Booth
            Posted December 31, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

            Evolution is more parsimonious than his comic-book version of it. It doesn’t result in the “love-the-predator–BUT–run-from-the-loved” type of scenario he invents. That love-the-sabretooth characteristic would go the way of eyes in a cave.

            It is like TV science-fiction, in which all the aliens are variations on us–it wouldn’t happen, and postulating it is dishonest. Spock is cool, but no-one seriously suggests he’s possibly real. This love-the-predator presupposition is equally absurd.

            But in the Harry-Potter-wave-the-wand-world these guys live in, they have to allow ad hoc scenarios: its all they’ve got. By proposing it, he tries to bring us into his supposition-set. Once we’re there, we’re playing definitions, again, on his terms.

            So let us be clear:

            If the brain and reason evolved, it’s possible that we could have

            No, it isn’t. He tried to sneak that by; and that is dishonest.

        • Posted January 1, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

          Exactly. This is why I have come to despise “thought experiments” in philosophy; they’re faulty because they beg the question by assuming that all other variables would remain constant. They’re bad experiments because they assume control where none exists.
          Plantinga’s argument hinges on the idea that evolution produces adaptations useful for survival, but not necessarily useful for discovering truth. Assume God, and presto, we are assured that our reason is reliable. Except, of course, that it isn’t. We now know that human beings are subject to a wide variety of biases, delusions, heuristics, and cognitive limitations. This is why science is hard–this is the effort required to overcome our cognitive limitations.
          So, in fact, Plantinga’s “proof” is actually a solid refutation of the reality of God. If God exists, our cognitive faculties are reliable. But they aren’t. Therefore, no God.
          Plantinga would answer that we are deluded because we are fallen (which does away with his argument anyway.) These guys have an excuse for everything, and this is where Flew’s Theology and Falsification comes in.

  7. Mal
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Presumably in the third sentence of the third paragraph something other than ‘reliable evolution’ is intended

  8. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Yes, but,

    Plantinga makes the assertion that evolution is expected to provide us with reliable information (truth) about the world.

    This is not quite so. The output of the process of evolution is organisms that leave more descendants than those which were less fit. ‘Truth’ (or even ‘truth seeking’) is not a necessary characteristic of this process. A false view of the world may be counter-survival, or it may not. If you huddle in a cave to avoid the gods throwing lightning bolts at you you have a false view of the world – but it may promote survival.

    Yes, evolution may reward ‘truth’ more often than ‘error’, but it is not a process for ‘truth seeking’. And so Plantinga’s argument fails.

    • Greg G
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      If you hear a noise in the bushes, it is safer to assume it’s a lion and run. It’s better to be wrong a hundred times and right once than it is to perceive truth a hundred times and be wrong once.

      • Onkel Bob
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        Not so sure there. First off, what’s your chance of out-distancing a lion; answer is – not much. Second, running initiates the prey-predator instinct. By running, you flag yourself as prey, come and get me. By standing your ground, you give the animal pause and a reason to avoid or ignore you. As a hiker in grizzly country, when one has surprise encounter with a bear, you are trained to stand still and stay aware of everything around you. Fleeing may send you towards the cubs and mama grizz ain’t gonna take to kindly to that action.
        Finally, huddling in over-cropping rocks or under trees may seem intuitive during lightning storms but it is not good, it is very bad. This holds true for caves especially if you stay in the illuminated by daylight portion of the cave. There was a group of hikers who were incinerated when they chose to hide in a shallow cave during a storm. Can’t recall where, but the NPS warns hikers in “badlands” not to seek shelter in such geologic formations. Nope, the best place to be during those events, a shallow ravine or valley floor. And perhaps it would even be wiser to keep moving. (And I have had lightning strike 10 m from my position, the absolute worst place to be – on a mountain pass. But I was moving and moving as quickly as I could. No way I was stopping to hide under one of the many over-cropping ledges.
        What seems wise or affording safety in the wilderness is often the last thing one should do.

        • Pepijn
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          > First off, what’s your chance of out-distancing a lion

          I don’t know. What is the running velocity of and unladen African lion?

          • truthspeaker
            Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

            You don’t have to outrun the lion, you just have to outrun the other human!

          • dwasifar
            Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

            Depends if it is made of wood, and therefore a witch.

            • Chris Booth
              Posted December 31, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

              Q: And what can you do with a lion that’s made out of wood?

              A: Build a wardrobe out of it!

        • Greg G
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          I wasn’t referring to humans necessarily. It’s part of my refutation of Matt Slick’s argument about the existance of logic implying God. All creatures must respond to the environment. The responses are prudent but not necessarily true. The larger the brain, the more varied those responses can be. A sufficiently capable brain can separate the prudent but unlikely from the more likely. It can also separate those that are usually true, and call them fallacies, from those that are always true, and call those logic. Not deity required.

          Still, I reckon I could run faster with a lion chasing me than I can without. I don’t have to outrun the fastest lion, just the slowest human. 8o)

        • Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

          “Finally, huddling in over-cropping rocks or under trees may seem intuitive during lightning storms but it is not good, it is very bad. This holds true for caves especially if you stay in the illuminated by daylight portion of the cave. There was a group of hikers who were incinerated when they chose to hide in a shallow cave during a storm.”

          I’m curious. What’s the physics of that? (I’m a little suspicious of one vivid anecdote.)

  9. Mal
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Er too late

  10. Greg G
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    According to Plantinga, there’s no reason to assume that unguided evolution would provide humans with senses that would give them reliable evolution about the universe…

    But there is no reason to assume that unguided evolution could not provide humans with the necessary senses and cognitive abilities. Unguided processes could make a brain large and complex that helped to solve problems related to reproduction and survival as a social creature that could also solve problems unrelated to those needs. Hundreds of millions of species lacked the necessary senses and cognitive abilities, as well as several human species. What seems to have retarded our species from answering the question of our origins, or even asking them, is the belligerence of religion.

    • Chris Booth
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Dr. Johnson’s rock. Unguided evolution will allow us to see that it is there in considerable detail, and (with appropriate experience in our personal history) to estimate its heft, hardness, pointedness, and so on. Should Dr. Johnson kick it, it shall hurt his foot. Voila, the senses gave correct information! Then Dr. Johnson picks up the rock and carries it with him, and he accurately senses its weight, density, and shape. He sees a rabbit; the rabbit sees him, and sees the rock, but doesn’t know about throwing, and lingers too close. Dr. Johnson hurls the rock, and lo, Boswell shall cook jugged hare for supper! They go to the beach–a jellyfish is by the margin. It has no sensory equipment to grok the rock. Oh, no! Dr. Johnson now macerates the jellyfish with the rock! Alas!

      Then Dr. Johnson turns to Boswell impatiently tossing and catching the rock in his mighty bowling hand. “Now, Sir,” he growls. “Where is Plantinga, Sir? I wish to refute him further.”

  11. Steve Smith
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    a tendency to believe in God or something like God, apart from any propositional evidence, is part of our native cognitive endowment

    That’s true. Do you know what other “human universal” beliefs are part of our native cognitive endowment? From Brown’s list of universal traits of all human societies, quoted in Pinker:

    Magic to sustain and increase life, and to attract the opposite sex. Theories of fortune and misfortune. Explanations of disease and death. Medicine.

    By Plantinga’s logic, every society believes in supernatural beings, therefore supernatural beings exist; and every society believes in love potions, therefore love potions exist. And so on.

    I just don’t understand the faithful. Many of them do not appear to be stupid people, yet they all cling to transparently stupid arguments that make them appear, well, stupid.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      And note the weasel words “or something like God” which don’t occur again. If “something like God” is sufficient to satisfy Plantinga’s logic, how about the Big Bang + Evolution? They’re pretty awesome, powerful and inexorable and they explain the facts better than God does. (Not that I think we should worship them of course.)

      My problem with Supermanism is that it just pushes the problem back one stage (to Krypton). Who made Superman (or Jor-El and Lara, the Houses of El and Van, Krypton etc.)?

      • Steve Smith
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

        weasel words “or something like God”

        The actual human universal is “Supernatural beliefs”, not belief in a godlike deity, so Plantinga doesn’t even get the (stupid) argument’s factual premise correct.

    • Thelonious
      Posted November 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      >By Plantinga’s logic, every society believes in supernatural beings, therefore supernatural beings exist; and every society believes in love potions, therefore love potions exist. And so on.

      Not quite. As I read it, by Plantinga’s logic (as explained here) it would be: If everyone believes (innately?) in X and X exists then belief in X does not require propositional justification.

      Or to (over-)simplify: If everyone believes in fairies and fairies are, in fact, real, then the fact that I can’t give a rational argument for why I believe in fairies does not undercut that belief.

      It’s still a highly suspect claim, but at least a bit more interesting than “If everybody believes X, X must be true”

  12. moochava
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Someone who can knowledgeably compare Superman and Captain Marvel can’t be all bad, but Platinga’s arguments are dreadful.

    “According to Plantinga, there’s no reason to assume that unguided evolution would provide humans with senses that would give them reliable information about the universe, and so our ability to apprehend truth is compromised.”

    But that’s the point: our ability to apprehend truth *is* compromised. So is our ability to interact with one-another and to decide what to do as a group. That’s why humans invented capitalism, democracy, and science. Capitalism works badly and sporadically, democracy somewhat better, and science outrageously well, but all three systems seek to do the same thing: mitigate our obvious intellectual deficiencies.

    If our brains were flawless truth-getting devices, we wouldn’t need science; we’d just sit on rocks and work stuff out like Aristotle or Descartes. (And unlike them, we’d get it right.)

    I won’t even get into the sensus divinitatis rubbish or his comparison to other minds; I suspect Platinga suffers from a common error of philosophers: believing the way their they think is the way everyone thinks, so we get rot like All Men Believe in God, All Men Incline Toward Virtue, or All Men Are One Step Away From Sweaty Gay Orgies and We Must Pass Laws To Stop That.

  13. Peter
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Right from the beginning of that little book,
    it seemed a bit like a waste of time, and the statements of Dennett AGREEING with his opponent in a certain sense, but then of course demolishing him easily, seemed to agree, though I don’t think he said this (nor did Plantinga explicitly):

    The philosopher/theologian’s line seemed to be: I shall interpret the word “incompatible” in the debate title to mean “logically inconsistent”. Since no one these days tries to argue purely logically for atheism (or at least lots of logic with almost no need for physical facts), this should be easy (and then I can go further and regurgitate once again my stuff favouring evolution plus god, rather than evolution plus naturalism; that left Dennett with a target difficult for even a dummy like me to miss!)

  14. gc
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    The cartoon version of Superman that Plantinga disparages is a false, degraded image of Superman. The “real” Superman, on the other hand, is all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good; furthermore, Superman has these properties essentially; he could not have been ignorant or impotent, or evil. He has also co-created the world with Santa Claus, FSM and many other all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good super beings.

    • sjorsdude
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      And Lex Lucifer, after falling from Krypton, seduced Lois to eat from the forbidden donut

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Filled or glazed?

        b&

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

          Both filled AND glazed!

          • Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

            Well, then. Sign me up!

            b&

          • Chris Booth
            Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

            As Aunt May would say, fanning herself with her hand: “Oh, my!”

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Yes, you’re right. The Superman the asupermanists deny isn’t MY Superman. My Superman is too ineffable to be effed.

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        Well I must be ineffable because I can’t be effed, either.

      • Robert
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        As funny as the superman comments are, I’m still stunned that theologians don’t understand that that is precisely the level of discussion they are engaging in. It is like arguing any fictional canon from LotR to Star Trek and hence the only thing that can get you excluded from the discussion is being a meanie and not letting other people keep playing by saying something like “get a life” (you know, the SNL sketch with Shatner at a Star Trek convention).

        This, of all things, is what leaves me speechless with theology. It’s right in front of them, the comparisons (like the superman comparison made by Dennett) are apt. But if you spoil their fun by breaking the immersion, you’re a meanie… their universe, of all the ones spawned in literature, is real.

      • Chris Booth
        Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

        Well, Lois is effable, but if Superman did, she’d be pulp.

        (And why does Jimmy dreamily refer to Clark as the Man of Wood?)

  15. AndreSchuiteman
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    What is not consistent with Christian belief, however, is the claim that evolution and Darwinism are unguided—where I’ll take that to include being unplanned and unintended.

    First of all, calling Darwinism unguided is a category error. Darwinism is a theory of evolution, it is not evolution itself. This is a strange error for a philosopher to make.

    Second, Plantinga appears to suggest that Christian belief can be disproved by demonstrating that evolution is unguided. Considering that there is overwhelming evidence that the latter is indeed the case, while there is no evidence at all for the truth of the Christian belief, this matter is settled then.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Plantinga has made it quite obvious that all he really knows about evolution is that he doesn’t like it. He really dislikes natural selection, dismissing it out of hand.

    • DV
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      He was clearly not doing apologetics when he should be. He was instead theologizing – preaching from the assumed first principle that Christianity is true and then proceeding from there. It’s the same kind of reasoning that you see in papal encyclicals.

  16. Stonyground
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    “…there’s no reason to assume that unguided evolution would provide humans with senses that would give them reliable information about the universe,…”

    Apart from the fact that having reliable senses make it more likely to be able to eat, avoid being eaten, and reproduce. That reason, so, not “no reason” but three very good reasons. He doesn’t really have anything better than the Young Earth Creationists does he? He believes in God but calls the fact that evolution by natural selection is a complete and self contained explanation for biodiversity a myth.

  17. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    When “thinkers” start citing comic book characters – I lose interest.

    On the “stupifiningly complex” (did we spell that rite?) argument. Biological science is really only 50+ sumptin yrs old and we have a purtty gud handle on the cell. Biology is complex with lots of really teenie tiny moving parts but it’s not infinitely so. It’s purtty darn mechanical.

    So whair kan we git this sensus divinitatis? Is that like x-ray vision where you can see thru ppl’s clothes?

    • Tim
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      The man from Notre Dame will certainly tell you whair you kan git teh sensus divinitatis.

  18. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Superman is certainly an impressive young fellow, but clearly not much greater than Captain Marvel, or even the Green Lantern. God, on the other hand, is all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good; furthermore, God has these properties essentially; he could not have been ignorant or impotent, or evil. He has also created the world.

    But that’s not good enough. God could be even more perfect, even more ideal, by not existing at all.

    Hey, this “sophisticated theology” thingie isn’t so hard to do, once you get into it.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      * Nothing perfect exists.

      * God is perfect.

      * Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

      You’re right, theology is easy! I didn’t even have to do any research.

      • Robert
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        Between your post and the Gordon Bell quote below, sure enough, you’ve demolished theology even within its own framework.

        But you’d be kicked out of any discussion just as I am not allowed to say Sisko would beat Kirk and Picard any day in Star Trek circles o.O

        • truthspeaker
          Posted December 31, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

          Au contraire.

          Postulating that Sisko could beat either Kirk or Picard (or even both simultaneously) might stir up opposition but you would still be allowed in the discussion.

          What would get you kicked out is if you said that whether Sisko could beat Kirk or Picard is a meaningless question because they are all fictional characters.

          The same goes for theology. As long as you engage in the pretense that the characters are real, you are welcome to join in the discussion.

          • Chris Booth
            Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

            I think that Thor would beat Hercules.

            But given Hercules’ infant success against Pythons and Thor’s inevitable failure in the snake department, perhaps Marvel could induce Ragnarok, then have Hercules stand in for Thor against the Midgard Serpent, thus allowing good to triumph over evil…and a cool story twist!

            • Posted January 26, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

              Actually, when Thor fought Hecules, Odin was so pissed that he stripped Thor of half his power in the middle of the fight after which Hercules beat him soundly. Then Hercules got distracted by a pretty girl, and Thor dusted himself off, raised his hammer and launched himself into the sky, declaring “Even though my strength be halved, still it is a force that can alter worlds.”

              It was baddass. It was “The Mighty Thor” Giant Anuual Number 1, 1974.

    • ttch
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      @Neil Rickert:

      God could be even more perfect, even more ideal, by not existing at all.

      “The cheapest, fastest, and most reliable components are those that aren’t there.”

      –Gordon Bell

    • Sastra
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      You know, I think theists would have a hard time choosing which of these versions of God is “more perfect:”

      1.) A God that is totally Other, an indescribable, mysterious force beyond our comprehension and transcending our understanding of good and evil.

      2.) A God that deeply cares, feels, and partakes in our lives, approving of what is right, disapproving of what is wrong, and helping us with His intervention like a parent would a child.

      A really sophisticated theologian would know how to explain that God is actually both!

      They just wouldn’t know how to do that very well.

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        And an even more perfecter god would be able to inspire its worshippers to explain it all with perfect clarity. That said explanations are lacking in entirety, let alone clarity, really should tell said worshippers something….

        b&

        • Chris Booth
          Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

          Brilliant.

  19. truthspeaker
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Here’s what gets me. Plantinga is the best they have. His arguments are so silly a first year philosophy student would think they have to be trick questions or examples of how not to do philosophy. I mean they’re terrible. But the theists don’t have anything better. This is the best they can do.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Indeed, and that’s why I can only assume that “sophisticated” is by comparison only, not in any sort of absolute sense.

  20. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Am I missing something here? Isn’t there an abundance of evidence that evolution is unguided (e. g. Michigan State e-coli experiment…or 3 species of lizards in a white sand desert evolving white skins by three different mutations of the same gene?

    What is the matter with these clowns?

    Or…perhaps Jesus caused all of this evidence to fake out the scientists? :)

    • blitz442
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      The likes of Plantinga are hanging on by their fingernails with the argument that you cannot prove that evolution is unguided. It may **appear** so, but that may just be our ignorance of the unseen forces and Divine reasons for God to introduce the right copying errors at just the right times.

      I know, I know, it looks ludicrous when you look at the distribution of copying errors. Are the all instances of Trisomy 21 guided? Maybe Plantinga and Behe can tell us all about it.

      Also, it should be pointed out to Plantinga that he can’t have it both ways. His arguments are designed to define God into existence and allow him to sidestep those annoying requests for evidence of his God. God must exist in all possible worlds, including worlds where babies burst into flames with no warning. Because God is a logical necessity (he can’t no exist), there really is no observational evidence that could be provided that would matter either way.

      Yet, he apparently sees some merit in Behe’s arguments, which do attempt to support the existence of Jesus ,er sorry, an “Intelligent Designer” via observational evidence. But as I understand it, the absence of this evidence would not change Plantinga’s arguments one iota.

      It’s almost like he’s being dishonest or something.

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        Plantinga invented an entire new sense just to get out of having to provide any evidence of his assertions; a sense that anyone who doesn’t agree with him must be blind to because the very existence of the sense proves he’s right.

        Of course he’s dishonest, desperately so.

        • blitz442
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          He’s no different than that half-wit Haught in this sense (pun intended).

          In his debate with Jerry, we learned all about how it was impossible for us to detect or perceive the existence of “higher level entities”. So how does Haught know they exist? Because he has a special sense of being “percieved by” the Higher Level Beings.

          Someone please explain how this talk of special senses that are by definition not amenable to scientific investigation is dissimilar to the claims of the mentally unsound.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

            The mentally unsound don’t get paid an annual salary from an institution of higher learning to expound on their delusions.

            • lamacher
              Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

              Oh Yeah?

              • Chris Booth
                Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                :-)

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:07 am | Permalink

              Your experience is different than mine . . .

      • Sastra
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        blitz #442 wrote:

        God must exist in all possible worlds, including worlds where babies burst into flames with no warning. Because God is a logical necessity (he can’t no exist), there really is no observational evidence that could be provided that would matter either way.

        Ayer’s observation: “a proposition whose validity we are resolved to maintain in the face of any experience is not a hypothesis at all, but a definition” (Language, Truth, and Logic, 1946, p. 95)

        Yes, let’s define God into existence … but then let’s see what happens if we also treat it like a hypothesis: win/win!

        Pick a horse and ride it, Plantinga. This is like watching a presuppositionalist argue for creationism.

        Wait a minute — it IS a presuppositionalist arguing for creationism!

  21. Daryl
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Surely Plantinga could see that Dennett was comparing Supermanism to Theism in regard to Evolution alone rather than a wholesale replacement of Theism with Supermanism. Plantinga’s response was dishonest and juvenile. He may as well have said “Oh yeah? Well God could totally beat Superman in a fight! Nurny-nurny-boo-boo.”

    Jerry, thank you for taking on the big guns in theology. It’s important to hear the response from scientists who see the degradation of their discipline by both those who outright deny evolution and by accommodationists.

    • Chris Booth
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Actually, that is what he said, though in less sophisticated words.

  22. pittigemaki
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    i still don’t understand why god should guide something he has planned and created. When he should created evolution there can be no reason for guiding it. When you create a car there is no reason for you to push it to transform itself into a plane.

    • Tim
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      To test our faith, silly. Evolution has to appear unguided – which is why the Michigan State e-coli experiment and white lizards don’t prove anything. No matter how smart you evilutionists think you are, God is way better at testing your faith by making himself appear to not exist. You guys really don’t get it!

      • Posted December 30, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        Sadly, the responses I get from theists are really on the level of this “poe” response! :)

  23. Llwddythlw
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    The “getting back on the rails” if we believe in God was already said by Descartes in The Meditations.

  24. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    “Sophistication”? Sorry. Not buying it.

    “Obfuscation,” maybe. But not sophistication. What Baihu does in the litterbox is more sophisticated — and obfuscatory, too, for that matter.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Julien Rousseau
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      And olfactory too I surmise.

      • Chris Booth
        Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Oh, if only we could wave a lucifer match in the air and make theology disappear so sweetly!

  25. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Can anyone really be called a philosopher that cannot recognize that “if theism is true, then theism is true” is a circular argument, and hence is not valid?

  26. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    “According to Plantinga, there’s no reason to assume that unguided evolution would provide humans with senses that would give them reliable information about the universe, and so our ability to apprehend truth is compromised.”

    The problem with his argument may be the concept of Truth®. Natural selection is by definition quite capable of ruthlessly rewarding an organism’s ability to perceive life-saving or life-enhancing information in an efficient and effective manner. The ability to use that same mechanism to ponder the Great Truths® in our spare time is just an interesting bonus.

  27. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    “As I’ve noted before, Plantinga sees no conflict between science and religion, but a definite conflict between science and naturalism. His premise here is that science, conceived as a mechanism for finding truth, is incompatible with naturalism’s claims that humans evolved by unguided evolution.”

    Of course it isn’t naturalism that claims evolution is unguided, but science, since there’s no need to posit intention (supernatural or otherwise) to explain speciation. And since naturalism as a worldview accepts science as its epistemology in deciding what’s true about the world, it can’t conflict with science.

    http://www.naturalism.org/plantinga.htm

  28. Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    That is hilarious. He is using the example of the very cognition which leads humans to this type of magical thinking to support his stupid argument.

  29. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    My sense of the divine tells me that there are no gods.

    If this belief in a sensus divinitatis is true, it is an original source of warranted non-theistic belief. In this way belief in no gods, like belief in other minds, has its own source of rationality and warrant, and doesn’t depend on argument from other sources for those estimable qualities.

    How could Plantinga argue with this?

    • Kevin
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      +1

      • blitz442
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        Yours must be broken.

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

          Or Plantinga’s must be generating a false positive.

          Or we’re both failing to detect Allah.

          How could anyone reliably tell the difference?

    • Tim
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      He might love to hear that argument, ’cause now there’s room for …wait for it… Satan! Satan has screwed up your sensus divinitatis! Dang, I think I’m gettin’ the hang of this theology stuff too!

      • Chris Booth
        Posted December 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

        That’s the sensus diabolus.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Ah, but if there are no gods, then there’s no sensus divinitatus, so you must be wrong.

      Yeesh, this proof by definition is so easy.

      • kagekiri
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        If you can’t see anything, it doesn’t necessarily mean light never existed or that your sense of sight doesn’t exist (though it sure implies it); maybe there’s no light or things to see right now, but there used to be.

        So, this lack of “spiritual sight” in some people is proof gods are dead or not infinite! Atheists existing are a pretty sure sign that Plantinga’s god isn’t perfect but actually a jerk, because he made their spiritual sight sucky and is ready to punish them for it.

        Of course, Christians can always just fall back on blaming the atheists: they stabbed out their spiritual “eyes” with their evil unbelief, or they are just willfully shutting them, or lying about not sensing god(s).

        “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, “the fool says to himself ‘there is no god'”, and all that crap.

        • sasqwatch
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

          I think I understand your point, but let me paraphrase, just to be sure.

          Are you saying that the lack of a sensus divinitatus is perhaps due to Coynus interruptus?

          • Chris Booth
            Posted December 31, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

            No, the presence of a sensus divinitas is a sure sign of Coynus interruptus.

            This sensus divinatus sounds painful.

            • Chris Booth
              Posted December 31, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

              So is the resultant painful swelling to be referred to as Platinga’s Warts?

              • sasqwatch
                Posted January 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

                (this former STD control officer’s gut is now officially busted, thanks.)

  30. Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    These arguments from Creationists hinge on non-human animals having none of what we would consider an ability to solve problems. They must ignore at least 50 years of behavioral research. Subjective terms like “complex” are used to form such weak arguments it is just comical. Cells are really not that “amazing” if you consider how long it took them to evolve.

    • Dave Ricks
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      “These arguments from Creationists hinge on non-human animals having none of what we would consider an ability to solve problems.”

      Yes, and more than that — The creationists I know at work share human exceptionalism as a cornerstone of their worldview — not an ontological argument, or a first cause argument, etc.

      And two months ago, the Discovery Institute started a monthly newsletter called The Human Exceptionalist, because they know that worldview is fertile ground for creationism. I guarantee this will totally appeal to the creationists I know at work by how it builds on their well-intended sense of morality.

      In my opinion, the fight against creationism needs visible support from the humanities like anthropology to point out that before the Abrahamic religions were invented, the world was already covered with people with a variety of religions and/or philosophies to explain their place in the world and their relationships to other animals. Because The Human Exceptionalist will present a dichotomy between “the good old Abrahamic days” versus “the bad secular days today” and that dichotomy relies on ignoring and/or denying most of human history and anthropology.

      Last week, I downloaded a jpeg of a human migration map to my cell phone so I’m ready to debate on these terms if it comes up in conversation. Even if a creationist denies the part of the map where humans evolved in Africa, I can still point to all the areas around the world where humans were living millennia ago. And those humans had their systems for how to see their place in the world, their relationships to other animals, their sense of right and wrong, their government, etc.

      • Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        An anthropologist’s view would certainly be helpful. Creationists block out all cultural human history when making their arguments. As for animal domestication, you might want to look up Pat Shipman’s hypothesis on the topic.

  31. blitz442
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    From Jerry:
    “According to Plantinga, there’s no reason to assume that unguided evolution would provide humans with senses that would give them reliable information about the universe, and so our ability to apprehend truth is compromised.”

    From Plantinga himself:
    “As I argue in Warranted Christian Belief, if theistic belief is true, then very likely it has both rationality and warrant in the basic way, that is, not on the basis of propositional evidence. If theistic belief is true, then very likely there is a cognitive structure something like John Calvin’s sensus divinitatis, an original source of warranted theistic belief”

    AND

    “What is not consistent with Christian belief, however, is the claim that evolution and Darwinism are unguided—where I’ll take that to include being unplanned and unintended.”

    Ok, so could GUIDED evolution provide us with better senses that give reliable information about the Universe, and therefore support theistic belief on the basis of “propositional evidence”? If so, why the need for Sensus Bullshititis?

    Or is Plantinga arguing that God detector in our brain, which does not need such silly things like evidence, is the result of divine mutations from Guided Evolution?

  32. Sastra
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Does Plantinga think that an argument that posits that people who disagree with the person making the argument are handicapped with a scientifically undetectable defect will ever, ever successfully change anyone’s mind? Oh, I lack a sensus divinitatis and you don’t? Well, no wonder I am so damn intractable! It’s like you’re a superior being, compared to me! I guess I have to just accept your word, given my inferior status and all. Thanks for that.

    An argument which isn’t supposed to persuade skeptics isn’t really an argument now, is it? It’s boasting and scolding.

    • blitz442
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      It is such a bizarre argument. The conclusion that “unguided evolution would lead to beings with hopelessly flawed sensory and thinking processes” is based on a chain of reasoning that is presumably not flawed.

      So Plantinga may be arguing that not only does the lack of the God detector prevent nontheists from seeing God, it prevents them from reasoning properly.

    • yam
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      It’s like it’s from a movie; like a group of super-humans that have some little something that make them better then the rest. They could then shepherd the rest of like sheriffs or knights or something…

  33. Vaal
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Apologies for the length, but that Plantinga’s EAAN has been granted any respectability gets under my skin.

    Regarding Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), for those not familiar, you can get a taste of it on wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_argument_against_naturalism

    (I’ve listened to Plantinga lecture on this argument, and wikipedia captures the gist faithfully).

    Plantinga knows (and admits) that he has to argue against the prima facie plausibility that we would have evolved with cognitive faculties that can accurately convey truths about the world (generally…and with caveats of course). This is why, upon encountering Plantinga’s assertion that there is no reason to think we’d evolve accurate beliefs about the world, EVERYONE replies “But that’s absurd. There’s no reason to think inaccurate beliefs would confer a survival advantage, and every reason to think accurate beliefs WOULD confer survival advantage!”

    Plantinga’s main issue is to overcome this obvious objection and he thinks he finds a “gotcha” in the nature of the evolutionary process: that evolution as described in pure naturalistic terms is “blind” and “does not care per se about the truth of beliefs.”
    For evolution to work it only need produce a nervous system that gets the rest of the body moving in the right ways to survive, and so long as this occurs, it doesn’t matter whether any belief held by an animal is true or not.

    But even granting this as true, Plantinga STILL has to overcome the initial plausibility that, even if evolution doesn’t care per se about true beliefs, nonetheless a cognitive system that is more accurate (more often truth-producing about the world) is more likely to aid survival than a cognitive system that produces false beliefs.

    The Naturalist rightly asks Plantinga: Given we already have a plausible conclusion that generally-accurate cognitive faculties would be advantageous for survival, in order to undermine confidence in this conclusion, you Mr. Plantinga have to produce a PLAUSIBLE alternative scenario. And if it’s not as plausible or more plausible, your “defeater” for our conclusion fails.

    Understanding this challenge needs to be met, Plantinga has offered up various examples of how belief/desire combinations can lead to false beliefs that are nonetheless adaptive. Go look at his well known examples in the Wikipedia article, concerning the hominid “Paul” fleeing a tiger.

    In Plantinga’s “Paul” scenario, he has Paul’s brain producing a number of possible false beliefs, and the belief that happens to move Paul’s body parts in the right direction (away from the tiger) are seen as adaptive by evolution – hence Paul’s belief is adaptive.

    But, while coming up with such scenarios are logically possible, Plantinga does nothing to make them remotely PLAUSIBLE in the long run. Plantinga doesn’t explain how such a cognitive system operates. As is, all Plantinga offers is a cognitive system that spits out false beliefs that…just HAPPEN to be adaptive in a certain situation. He’s got a brain working like a random slot machine, spitting out various desire/belief combinations and the one that HAPPENS to move the body parts in an adaptive way…whew! What luck! And that’s the point, Plantinga’s scenario posits a cognitive system that generates beliefs that have no more relation to reality than sheer luck! It should be obvious that, first, there’s no obvious way evolution would select for and genetically preserve stereotyped beliefs of the type envisioned by Plantinga. More important, a creature who’s brain operated the way Plantinga has Paul’s brain operating would be expected to be catastrophically maladaptive when encountering any novel situation – it’s brain spitting out beliefs unrelated to reality, and only sheer luck relating it’s beliefs to it’s survival.

    Whereas (on a naturalist account) one doesn’t have beliefs themselves being selected for, but rather the step-by-step reliability of an evolving cognitive apparatus. Insofar as the cognitive apparatus apprehends the world fairly accurately, by comparing previous accurate experience to accurately apprehending a novel situation, that brain can be ready to adapt to novel situations. EXACTLY what seems to have happened as we examine the record of human civilization.

    Not only that, under Plantinga’s “Paul” scenario, there is no way to explain how humans could even communicate with one another. After all, if the “Paul” hominid’s
    brains don’t accurately convey reality, why in the world would such a brain understand what any other such hominid tried to tell it? I may try to say to Paul “Careful, fire is hot and will burn you” and the Plantinga’s-Paul is just as likely to experience me saying “That bright substance in front of you likes being hugged” as any other false-belief such a brain might generate.

    Plantinga’s examples that are supposed to make the naturalist stop in his tracks and say “Oh yeah, that COULD be the case as well” are so implausible, so ill-thought-out, so ill-supported next to the explanations delivered by science that it’s simply laughable to think he has delivered any plausible “defeater” to the account held by most naturalists.

    Sheesh.

    Vaal.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Obviously our beliefs are moving us in the WRONG direction, proven once again here by Plantinga. This is why we have emperical data, and we’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get even a minority of the population on board with this concept. Doesn’t that alone prove that he’s wrong?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      The thing is, our cognitive system does provide us with false beliefs. Optical illusions are the most straightforward example – your eyes and brain might tell you two lines are different lengths even though they’re the same length, because your eyes and brain didn’t evolve to give you 100% accurate information, they evolved to give you information that’s good enough to survive and reproduce.

      The Gambler’s Fallacy would be another cognitive “flaw” that results from what Plantinga is talking about.

      But this doesn’t support his point. If anything it’s evidence against it. Human brains don’t reason perfectly. Thinking rationally and critically is a learned skill. And there’s no reason the ability to learn that skill couldn’t have evolved naturally, since intelligence and higher cognitive functions confer a clear reproductive advantage.

      • Vaal
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        That’s another of the many ways in which Plantinga’s argument against naturalism is weak.

        A blind-forces (but not purely random) evolutionary account of how our brains evolved helps explain not only why we would tend to have certain accurate beliefs, but it ALSO helps explain other defects and tendencies for bias and error. It is all-round explanatory.

        If instead as Plantinga has it, a rational God guided evolution to ensure our brains were rational, accurate truth-obtaining faculties, then what explains all the different types of error that is so endemic to human cognition?

        Did God just sort of get lax at the last minute and not finish the job? That’s hardly a rational, wise God in which one can place confidence.

        Did God want us to have a faulty error-ridden cognition? If so…why? And therefore why would we be able to trust our cognition anyway…and if God wanted us to have false beliefs as well, how can we know which of our beliefs true, or false-because-God-wanted-them-to-be-false?

        What you get in response, even from Plantinga, are vague handwaving in the direction of The Fall – we are “fallen” creatures, which explains the imperfection of our cognition. Actually…no..it doesn’t.
        Calling us “fallen” doesn’t remotely explain HOW our cognition became faulty, or WHY it took on the specific errors it did.

        Faced with such problems, Plantinga is not above crediting such problems, as well as natural “evil” to The Devil, either.

        Again, no real plausible answers are given. Instead, as usual, the theistic philosopher uses his religious belief as a way to escape having the type of specificity demanded of a naturalist. “Since God is magic and All Knowing and All Powerful…I don’t need to answer this question with any confidence, since surely God would have the answer even if I don’t.”

        Vaal.

        • blitz442
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          “If instead as Plantinga has it, a rational God guided evolution to ensure our brains were rational, accurate truth-obtaining faculties, then what explains all the different types of error that is so endemic to human cognition?”

          Furthermore, where exactly does the sensus divinitus come into this? Is it a result of guided evolution, or a specially created attachment?

          Also, if the Fall is wheeled out to explain our cognitive defects, did the God detector emerge unscathed from that?

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Another problem for Plantinga is that Paul’s belief about tigers did not arise concurrently with his behavior when confronted by a tiger. The latter arose millions of years before the former. And when the belief finally did arise, it was probably formed by a complex interplay between prior beliefs about animals and environments and fear and a hundred other things. It most certainly did not pop up fully formed from the belief-making portion of the brain.

    • Tim
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      But you see, there is an advantage to holding wrong beliefs and no one has a greater instinctive feel for this than a Catholic theologian. Catholic theologians are apologists for a brutal hierarchical system called the Catholic church. There’s a tradition in the Catholic church:

      “Want to survive? Believe this stupid shit, or else we’ll rub you out.”

    • Bryan
      Posted January 2, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

      I suppose Plantinga has at least pointed out that it is theoretically possible (one is tempted to say “plausible”) for unguided evolution to have resulted in beings who believe in the existence of god even though such belief may be mal-adaptive.

  34. Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    the results of our senses are replicated among different investigators

    But how can you know that??!?

    Plantinga seems to argue that our only alternatives are God or solipsism.

  35. ColdThinker
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Have any of you realized that perhaps we shouldn’t talk about scientific evidence or logical arguments when discussing theology? Religion is about psychology and emotional need for security. Most believers couldn’t care less about evolution or the big bang theory. Apologetics like Plantinga are just making a living by trying to make it a little less embarrassing for average believers to believe. So they keep making up excuses and explanations, creating their own logic, own language, own definitions and own evidence. Within this framework, they find their position logically and intellectually sound.

    When discussing theology, it should be taken as a starting point that a person truly believing in supernatural things is not entirely mentally healthy. In my experience of about four decades, I have never met a person believing in a god or some other supernatural agent without soon finding out about some stress factor or a psychological issue lurking behind those beliefs. There always seem to be personal tragedies, substance addiction, ocd, childhood abuse or suppressed sexuality. Actually quite often people seem to turn to religion to control their sex drive. Religion is a cry for help.

    However, the “belief in belief” Dennett talks about is widely spread and clearly covers a lot of decent, intelligent and mentally healthy people speaking and thinking favourably about religion. Perhaps some smart and mentally healthy people also have certain vague religious feelings, mainly deep respect, because of an emotional attachment to their family traditions and the role religions have played in the history of art, society and hardships endured by their ancestors. But again, it’s psychology, not biology or physics.

    I respect those of you who have the patience to have a discourse with religious people, sophisticated or otherwise. Usually such talk goes in circles until they admit that it’s actually belief, traditional values and respect they believe in. But talking one-on-one to a true theist, why bother? After a few sentences it always becomes clear there’s little logic and sense in the conversation. Talking to a true theist about theology is like talking to a drunk, sometimes like to a mental patient. If pushed, I just refer them to a seek psychiatric help or counceling. 

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      I for one have been saying this for a long time. While I enjoy and appreciate these discussions, I object when Dawkins uses “DNA” and “God” in the same sentence. Acknowledging it just validates their wedge theories. On the other hand continual debunking of ID might be working.

      But I have no evidence either way. It seems like Creationism has become more pervasive, not less. Seems wrong to blame scientists who speak out, though.

      • ColdThinker
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Well, as futile as it is trying to reason with a person of faith in a private conversation, public speaking and writing are another matter. I do think WEIT, Pharyngula and RDF are great, because there are a lot of fence-sitters and young people growing up, who haven’t made up their minds yet. Perhaps science and logic works with them, at least I hope so. 

        But surprisingly little is talked about the psychological and political reasons behind the inanity that is religion. The Plantingas, Behes and Hams of this world are not in this game to find or present the scientific truth, but to serve a certain political agenda by appealing to simple psychological needs of their audience.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          surprisingly little is talked about the psychological and political reasons behind the inanity that is religion.

          The AMA and APA both still refuse to acknowledge religious belief as a form of delusional thinking, claiming a false argument that amounts to little more than an argumentum ad populum.

          You’re absolutely right that religion has never EVER been anything but a psychological and political tool.

          • Dan L.
            Posted January 4, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

            AMA and APA define normal cognitive functioning by definition ad populum. Mental health is about functioning in society and theists, if anything, have less trouble with that than a lot of atheists. (I say as an atheist with a few difficulties functioning in society.)

            • phhht
              Posted January 4, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

              Dan L.,

              There are psychological afflictions which permit the sufferer to achieve “high-functioning” competence in society while being completely loony in another respect. See http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/292991-overview for an excellent discussion.

              I have been unable to find any coherent rationale for the “cultural sanction” exemption from therapy afforded by the DSM definition. I’m cynical enough to suspect that the authors of the definition just didn’t want to deal with the shit storm they foresaw from such a reasonable and consistently rational approach.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                There are psychological afflictions which permit the sufferer to achieve “high-functioning” competence in society while being completely loony in another respect.

                If they’re competent then in what respect can they be said to be “loony”? What is the basis of comparison? As far as I know, the ONLY basis of comparison is “everyone else.” For someone to have a psychological affliction they have to be somehow different from most people and that difference has to be identified and described. And that IS mental illness — being different from other people (more precisely thinking differently from other people).

                This is how psychiatric diagnoses work. Someone has a mental illness if their minds work differently from those of other human beings (of the same culture) to such an extent that it manifests in the person’s behaviors. The fact that the DSM-IV reorganized everything to include stuff like your example that had not hitherto been considered mental illness in the first place only supports my argument: psychiatrists and psychologists have been steadily widening the criteria for mental illness for decades (why not? it’s how they make their money…). I’d have an autism spectrum diagnosis if the current version of DSM was out when I was a kid. All this means is that the psy professions have a more precise (but still relatively arbitrary) definition of “normal cognition”.

            • phhht
              Posted January 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

              Dan L. asks

              “If they’re competent then in what respect can they be said to be “loony”?”

              The basis for my comment may be found in the article I cited:

              “Apart from the impact of the delusion(s) or its ramifications, functioning is not markedly impaired and behavior is not obviously odd or bizarre.”

              As I understand it, that is so characteristic of delusional disorder that it is a point in differential diagnosis.

              • Dan L.
                Posted January 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

                You completely missed my point. I was asking what “loony” even means in the first place. You didn’t define it and it’s not a technical term.

                My point is that the only possible point of reference for defining “loony” is “everyone else.” You can split hairs all you want but fundamentally all mental illness consists in this: thinking differently from most other people.

                Notice that’s also pretty much what “smart,” “creative,” “talented,” and “genius” all mean. The only real difference is that “mental illnesses” are when people are different in a way that’s perceived as bad.

                Consider the fact that Isaac Newton and Blaise Pascal might very well have qualified for this diagnosis within their own cultures. Then read “Valley of the Blind” by H.G. Wells.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      That would be why most of my “theological” discussions mention that enchanted garden with the talking animals and an angry giant, the talking plant (on fire!) who gives magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero, and the Zombie of Zion with his penchant for having his intestines fondled through his gaping chest wound.

      Dissonating the cognitives of the religious can be quite fun sport, you know.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Kevin
        Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        …except when the theist in question thinks your angry giant is named Golaith…and then, it’s merely head-desk-headache time.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Apologetics like Plantinga are just making a living by trying to make it a little less embarrassing for average believers to believe.

      and this is exactly why we need to keep showing how idiotic his rationalizations are.

      because right now, the thing that really needs to be a reality is for the average believer to BE embarrassed. They should feel embarrassed constantly. It’s the only way they will ever give it up.

      Ridicule works.

  36. Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    §

  37. M31
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jerry, for these enlightening forays into the world of sophisticated theology.

    It’s not even so much that there’s nothing there, but that the ‘proof’ of it is not even clever. It’s dumb.

    “Assuming that God is real, we see the reality of God.”

    Is there anything more? The cleverest arguments are the ones that start a few steps before this and slip it in later, but that’s about it.

  38. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    This is why our senses are not relevant to understand the universe:

    [HT Pharyngula]

    Experiments extend our senses sufficiently.

    I want to add that Plantinga is a theistic evolutionist … people like Plantinga are not on the side of science. They are creationists.

    As in so many cases I think we should cut out the middleman/not accept the religious language. “Theistic evolutionists” are evolutionistic creationists because they accept some observations of evolution but rely on agent creation of species (humans) or pathways (modern humans, preferably religious).

    Even if the means are “variations or contingency by way of quantum fluctuations” it is insufficient to call it mere “guidance”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      HTML fail.

      Let’s try this.

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Just so, TL. I think this is the money quote in this post.

      I think it’s important to always call creationists creationists no matter how well they try to camouflage their belief in some oogity boogity creator. So when we read about the Clergy Letter Project and the absurd allowance by the NCSE for compatibility between evolution and theistic beliefs in a creator, we should remember that we’re being told a lie, that guided and unguided evolution are compatible scientific conclusions when they are not.

    • Julien Rousseau
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 12:48 am | Permalink

      I find it funny when Francis Collins rails on intelligent design on one end but then claims that god was needed to infuse consciousness/a soul… in humans.

      What is it if not intelligent design but with the bacterial flagella and blood clotting cascade replaced by consciousness and a soul?

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted December 31, 2011 at 1:02 am | Permalink

        Oh, please don’t tell me that you actually expect logical consistency from a Jeeberz-freak!?
        Expect blatant and hidden fibs, fraud, flim-flam and intercourse-ups:- and you will be neither disappointed, nor confused.

  39. anchor
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Whenever I encounter Plantinga’s name in my reading I flash on the ‘Planter’s Peanuts’ character in the top hat, gloves and cane, tap dancing up a terrific storm of an ‘argument’…

    Very agile and stage-worthy, to be sure.

    So we’re supposed to stare at this spectacle, because…uh…wait, it’ll come to me…well, his performance is captivating. I guess.

    Or something.

    The dance has all the hypnotic charm of the sleight-of-hand artist performing a shell-game of mis-direction.

    The human brain moves in mysterious associative ways…

    Sensus divinitatis my ass.

    That’s a philosophical argument?? ANY kind of argument???

  40. Notagod
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga:

    Both untutored observation and current research in the scientific study of religion suggest that a tendency to believe in God or something like God, apart from any propositional evidence, is part of our native cognitive endowment.

    That is so bogus! I have never seen any quality research that humans have a built in tendency to believe in any god or god-like Thingy. Thus, for starters I challenge Plantinga to provide references to back up that claim and I won’t accept any of the crap that christians are spewing from their guts. I assert that any correlation will be directly proportional to the value placed on mythology by the specific society being studied.

    I know that I have no god shaped hole that any mythological belief would fill. I do however have a nagging urge to consume sugar. Even if humans other than myself have a god-hole, that in no way means that any good comes from immersion in It, an immersion in sugar would also be unhealthy.

    Also, I want to know exactly why christians and christian-alikes have such an aversion to honesty and strictly exclude deception from the word honesty because I know christians and christian-alikes tend to lack honesty without deception.

    Stick it in your pie-hole Plantinga.

    • Kevin
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Yes, I appear to not have been born with that particular “endowment”. Despite having grown up in a nominally religious household.

      My brother’s kids, who grew up in an atheist household, also seem to have not been “endowed”. In fact, they’re of the mock-religion-until-it-weeps Ben Goren school of non-theology.

  41. Andrew Ryan
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Imagine that I Skype my mum. We chat. The next day we meet and discuss our conversation. Now, there are two possibilities: the previous evenings online chat really happened and all the scientific processes required to make it happen actually work. Or… The Skype conversation was in my head, and therefore the following day’s meeting is imaginary too.

    In short, either science does allow us to accurately model reality, or you’re stuck with solipsism. If the latter, then no evidence a theist offers for a God can be trusted.

  42. MadScientist
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    I put Francis Collins in the Creationist basket years ago. He claims to believe in evolution but that goddidit and god diddles your genes. I propose a new category within Old Earth Creationism: Supernatural Evolutionists. So the new classifications will be something like this:

    Creationists
    |
    +–Young Earth Creationists
    |
    +–Old Earth Creationists
    |
    +–Seventh Day Creationists
    |
    +–Supernatural Evolutionists

    Then again, YECs are 7th day creationists as well except that they believe in a very young earth. Damn – can anyone sort out the clades?

    • MadScientist
      Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Augh – not enough coffee. The classes can be fixed by placing the ‘Supernatural Evolutionists’ under ‘Creationists’ rather than under OECs – after all the SCs and OECs don’t agree on anything.

      • anchor
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        ” – after all the SCs and OECs don’t agree on anything.”

        Yes. They have that quite in common.

  43. phhht
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    How does sensus divinitatis differ from delusional disorder?

    • Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Okay, I give up. How does sensus divinitatis differ from delusional disorder?

      b&

      • Sastra
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        One of them treats Necessities and the other necessitates treatment… ;)

        • Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          Yes, but which is which?

          b&

        • sasqwatch
          Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          ba-da-bing!

          The former institutes your commitment, and the latter commits you to an institution.

      • phhht
        Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        For some time, I’ve been trying to understand religious belief in terms of delusional disorder:

        http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/292991-overview

        Given the slippery nature of the issues, I am struck by the apparent similarities between the two, including but not limited to the denial by the believer that any problem exists, and the resistance of belief to factually contradictory reality.

        I am also struck by what I see as exaggerated respect for religious belief in the perceptions of those who write technically about delusions. In the DSM, for example, religion is explicitly excluded from the definition of delusion, solely on the grounds of widespread social sanction for such beliefs. I don’t understand that loophole, although I can guess at its motivation (belief in belief, maybe?).

        IANA psychiatrist, nor do I play one on TV, but the question interests me, and I’d like references to others who have addressed similar questions. Got any?

        • Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

          I think you’re simply overthinking things.

          Many psychologists are religious, and the overwhelming majority of the population is religious. The religious psychologists certainly aren’t going to call themselves delusional, and their accommodationist colleagues aren’t either. And it’d be a political nightmare to (correctly) officially classify religion as a mental disorder.

          And, I gotta say. It would do a lot more harm than good. Just think of all the damage that would result from a near-universal boycott of mental health services.

          Don’t worry. The day will come when religious belief is treated as the neurosis / psychosis it really is. But not until rates of incidence are in the single digit percentages, at the very least — and nobody alive today will live long enough to see that happen.

          b&

          • phhht
            Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            What I want to do is to understand current thinking about delusional disorders and how it relates to religious belief.

            I’ll pick a persnickity nit here to say that religious belief doesn’t seem to me to be necessarily neurotic/psychotic, in a technical sense. It does seem to be a delusional disorder.

            To read about a shared, “psychotic,” religious delusion in action, see this:

            http://jaapl.org/content/34/4/511.full#xref-ref-9-1

            • Sastra
              Posted December 30, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

              I think one of the reasons religion is usually excluded from being a ‘delusional disorder’ is that one of the criteria for being a ‘disorder’ is that it disorders, or makes unhappy, the life of the person who has it. My understanding is that, if you can do work, form relationships, enjoy interests, and otherwise carry out the normal functions of the life you want without disturbing others unnecessarily, then whatever it is you do or have is not likely to be classified as a clinical problem. What goal is being interfered with? What needs to be done that can’t be done? How far is the daily life of reality compromised? How bothered are you?

              If the answer is “not much” or even “I’m fine, thank you” then frankly I don’t think whatever quirk it is — delusion, fear, interest, compulsion, etc. — ought to be considered “pathological.” Otherwise, that’s a pretty big net. It will catch religion, but probably a bunch of us along with it.

              phht wrote:

              What I want to do is to understand current thinking about delusional disorders and how it relates to religious belief.

              I’ll recommend a couple of books by psychologist John Schumaker: Wings of Illusion and Corruption of Reality. They’re not real recent, but if you look them up you might find they’re on topic.

              • phhht
                Posted December 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

                As I understand it, a common characteristic of delusional disorder is that the – what, experiencer? – may be high-functioning in every respect except in his delusion. That is, he “can do work, form relationships, enjoy interests, and otherwise carry out the normal functions of the life you want without disturbing others unnecessarily.” Another common characteristic is that “sufferers” deny that they are suffering.

                Thanks for the book recs; I’ll look into them.

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

                Yes. Anything in the DSM is not a problem unless and until it’s a problem, and you can’t commit/section someone unless they are actually a danger to themselves or others. Not being able to lock people up for a bad epistemology is an important protection of individual freedom to be stupid.

                Mind you, removing the weird religious exemption in the DSM wouldn’t affect that.

  44. Posted December 30, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Various posts where Stephen Law tackles Plantinga: http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/search/label/Plantinga

  45. Linda Jean
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    happy new year…take a cold shower..grin…and plantings?? why is he important? make obama happen..instead..read the thread ..it is insane….really….

    • truthspeaker
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      There is far more to life than politics.

  46. Ed
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Theologians are sophistical, not sophisticated.

    I propose that from now on, instead of “sophisticated” theologian, we refer to them as sophist or

    sophistic or sophistical theologians. This formulation has the virtues of being 1) nonironic, 2)

    accurate, and therefore 3) not in need of quotes – scare or otherwise. One reason to stop calling

    them “sophisticated” is because even when understood properly, the scare quotes around the word

    insufficiently communicate the level of irony intended. But the main reason is it would tell them

    in no uncertain terms what we think of their entire profession, with its specious arguments in

    defense of fallacies that were refuted decades to centuries ago. We need to start emphasizing the

    distrust and impatience we have for them when they blather on obliquely, using argot designed

    mainly to impress the rubes and force deference from all but those who have devoted a good chunk

    of their lives to debunking their nonsense.

    Given the way “sophisticated” theologians bandy the word “scientism” around to try to delegitimize

    the scientific world view, it is about time we respond with a neutralizing perjorative of our own, but one that is, unlike theirs, the cold, hard truth. Fortunately, we don’t need an awkward neologism like “scientism”. We should start countering the bogus charge of “scientism”, whatever that really means, with the truthful counter-charge of “sophistry” on their part – until they stop being sophistical.

  47. Ed
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, the text editor split up all the lines. Here it is again without the splits.

    Ed

    ***

    Theologians are sophistical, not sophisticated.

    I propose that from now on, instead of “sophisticated” theologian, we refer to them as sophist or sophistic or sophistical theologians. This formulation has the virtues of being 1) nonironic, 2)
    accurate, and therefore 3) not in need of quotes – scare or otherwise.

    One reason to stop calling them “sophisticated” is because even when understood properly, the scare quotes around the word insufficiently communicate the level of irony intended. But the main reason is it would tell them in no uncertain terms what we think of their entire profession, with its specious arguments in defense of fallacies that were refuted decades to centuries ago. We need to start emphasizing the distrust and impatience we have for them when they blather on obliquely, using argot designed
    mainly to impress the rubes and force deference from all but those who have devoted a good chunk of their lives to debunking their nonsense.

    Given the way “sophisticated” theologians bandy the word “scientism” around to try to delegitimize the scientific world view, it is about time we respond with a neutralizing perjorative of our own, but one that is, unlike theirs, the cold, hard truth. Fortunately, we don’t need an awkward neologism like “scientism”. We should start countering the bogus charge of “scientism”, whatever that really means, with the truthful counter-charge of “sophistry” on their part – until they stop being sophistical.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 12:52 am | Permalink

      Bravo!

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:18 am | Permalink

      Like.

    • Kharamatha
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      If this is your dog, and these are his pups, then the dog is your father and the pups your siblings.

  48. Kevin
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    “One fallacy of theology is to equate ‘truth’ with…’what many theists hold.'”

    But the same fallacy (appeal to majority opinion or prestige) is in evidence in this blog posting, for example in the following expression:

    “the concept of naturalistic evolution that is accepted by scientists”.

    If you can take a shortcut to ‘commonly received wisdom’, observing that something is “accepted by scientists”, why can’t a theologian refer to something as “accepted by theists”?

    If you wish to argue that theistic arguments are false, you can do so without accusing them of resorting to a fallacy that you yourself employ.

    • Posted December 31, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      But the acceptance by scientists is based on evidence.

      This should be obvious, but I thought I’d point it out.

  49. G Ostdiek
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    In reply to the update and PZ’s take on this joker: PZ basically repeats Francis Bacon, however he does get one point wrong. Baconian science(i.e. carefully crafted experiments leading to inductive, but not absolute, conclusions)is not merely intended to correct errors of our senses, but to correct errors of perception.

    The difference is important. Perceptions are a complex of presumption and experience, and cannot be reduced beyond this. Anyone who presumes a ‘god’ can find one in his perceptions, this does not mean that such a thing can be experienced by our senses, or that such a thing exists. Rather, science is a tool for eliminating such prejudices from our perceptions.

  50. Kharamatha
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Evidentialists eat presuppositionalists.

    • John Phillips, FCD
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      @Kharamatha, LOL, very true, you win one Internets.

      @Kevin, accepted by scientists is just another way of saying that naturalistic evolution is backed by overwhelming evidence and any scientific arguments, despite the claims of the IDiots, are purely about details, not the basic premise. What evidence do the theologians have to agree on, apart from what the voices in their head, sorry, sensus divinitatis, tells them?

  51. Ken Nardone
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Fantastic article … Your writing is clear, descriptive and enjoyable. The cotent stays on target as well … Kudos!

  52. Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    “God is necessary” is not an attempt to claim he is needed because of creating things. The definition that he is using is that of Modal logic, in that a Necessary being exists in all possible worlds. Someone else pointed this out to a degree, suggesting that he can’t not exist.

    Plantinga has defined “God” in such a way that “exists” is part of his definition through linguistic trickery. He was referencing his own ontological argument. It’s an exercise in showing that Plantinga knows how to simplify logical statements, but he does it wrong: http://gainsaid.blogspot.com/2010/12/plantingas-ontological-tautology.html

    • Kevin
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Yes, as I said upthread, he’s trying desperately to define his god into existence, rather than show with clear, compelling, unassailable evidence that his god exists.

      And there’s a reason he doesn’t go for option 2.

  53. R.W.
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Yet precisely this claim is made by a large number of contemporary scientists and philosophers who write on this topic.

    I wonder why no one addressed this claim, which, if true, is quite disturbing, no?

  54. Chris Booth
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Well, here’s some puerile handwaving:

    “Superman is certainly an impressive young fellow, but clearly not much greater than Captain Marvel, or even the Green Lantern. God, on the other hand, is all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good; furthermore, God has these properties essentially; he could not have been ignorant or impotent, or evil. He has also created the world.”

    Note the shell-game, the prestidigitator’s redirection: He is pointing out that there are other superheroes to discredit Superman, but somehow we are not supposed to notice that while we are thinking about the various Captain Marvels (I like the one from Marvel Comics best, back in the Jim Starlin, Thanos/Cosmic Cube days), he puts his personal Megasuperman on the table instead, and crows that he’s won…while ignoring that there are other creator “gods”, lots of them, beside his, who are, by definition, equal to his (all-knowing, all-creating, etc.)–but we are not supposed to notice that. And frankly, they are all cooler than his action figure. Sleeping Brahma in his folding Lotus Blossom and his many posable arms is waaaay cooler, and has created an innumerable number of universes instead of just this one, and made this one billions of years ago rather than a puny six thousand years ago, to boot. Win!

    And there’s Odin All-Father. You see that? His hame is Odin All-Father, its his name. By sophisticated definition, they are both “god”, but one is “All-Father” and not the other. [G < G + A{F}, Q.E.D.] Yet further: while his “god” was wandering around in the dark muttering in Hebrew, Odin was busy creating the Universe out of chaos. I live in Brooklyn, and I’m not impressed with his “god”. In my neighborhood, I see guys with beards wandering about in the dark muttering in Hebrew all the time. And if its a Friday night, they ask me to turn the light on for them. Just like Wotan: “Hold on, Yaweh, let me get that for ya.”

    Seriously, Plantinga is engaged in shell games, and they are stupid and dishonest.

    • Chris Booth
      Posted December 31, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Oh, to also point out: a part of Plantinga’s shell game is to re-define Superman back to 1940’s Superman. Dennett’s Superman is really not the comic-book Superman. Plantinga’s was an un-funny strawman pretending to be witty (redirection), and a childish word-game. Plantinga then goes on to layer extra definitions on his action-figure: “Mine is Megaultrahyperubersuperman, yours is just Superman. Nyah.” So he gave himself the priviledge of re-defining Dennett’s terms, then re-defining his own to make ‘em bigger.

      What he is really doing is Ken-L-Ration Theology:

      My doG is bigger than your doG,
      My doG is bigger than yours;
      My doG is bigger, ’cause …er…
      My doG is bigger than yours, so there.

      I still back Odin Allfather[TM] or Sleeping Brahma[TM] with Posable Arms and turbo lotus to win the Westminster God Show. (Though Thunderer Zeus[TM] with Lifelike Aphrodite is looking pretty good, too.)

  55. Posted December 31, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    Is this the same Jerry Coyne who wrote the excellent book Why Evolution is True? or did your ghost writer or editor wrote those “accommodationist” passages in the introductory chapter: “Accepting evolution needn’t…promote atheism, for enlightened religions has always found a way to accommodate the advances of science” It is unfortunate that you have decided to wallow in the martyrdom of the lowly 16%. I can’t speak for all ‘theistic evolutionist’, but if you ever decide to change your mind, I for one, will welcome you back to the 60%. Reconsider, brother! Together we can beat the creationists.

    • Dan L.
      Posted January 4, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Why does it have to be Jerry who reconsiders? Why shouldn’t you reconsider?

  56. Dan L.
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Here’s Plantinga’s (very elementary) error: his argument is about the truth or falsehood of propositional content — that evolution doesn’t favor true beliefs over falsehoods. He’s right in a very stupid way. Evolution doesn’t work on propositional content at all; if it did, children should believe some mixture of what their parents believe starting at birth and then should not be able to change their beliefs (ie. learn anything) at any point during life.

    But the conclusion that the senses are unreliable is not warranted by this fact for a very simple reason: the output of sense organs is not propositional. When I see a patch of red I do not conclude “red is true”; it’s not even clear what such a bizarre proposition would mean. Rather, I infer either that I’m seeing illusory red spots or that there is something bouncing red light onto a portion of my retina.

    That is, the sense organs create representations, not true/false propositions. Plantinga can’t just show that false beliefs can be adaptive. He has to show that an entirely misleading system of representation can be adaptive. For example, he has to explain how consistently mistaking sounds on the left for sounds on the right could be adaptive, or how intermittently seeing the color red as blue instead could be adaptive. And not just in the instance of Paul but for every one of Paul’s ancestors that passed along a modified form of this system.

    Trying to adapt his tiger example we immediately run into problems. Say we have a visual system that swaps black and white. Plantinga might argue that this would be misleading but perfectly adaptive. The naturalist can simply argue that it’s not in the least misleading — it’s mathematically isomorphic so it should have no impact on pattern detection. The naturalist can also note that due to the problem of other minds and qualia inversion we can’t even be sure that this isn’t already true; some human beings might have their experience of black and white internally swapped relative to my own and I’d never know or be able to prove it (or prove otherwise).

    Finally, the naturalist can point out that experiments like this one suggest that when sensory input does not correspond well to the environment the brain will actually rewire itself until the input does correspond well to the environment. The brain is not a true-belief-generation machine or even a world-representation machine. The brain is a learn-to-represent-the-world machine and could possibly even adapt to worlds very much unlike anything that has actually been experienced by human beings. In other words, reliability rather than accurate representation is what the brain is for and so Plantinga’s got it exactly backwards.

    • Posted January 4, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      This is the thing about Plantinga: you’re letting him send you off on a wild goose chase of giving detailed sensible responses to his idiot conjectures.

      The reason he (a) says such stupid things (b) gets away with is that he is not even trying to do any form of coherent philosophical thinking – he is actually supplying patches for the doubts of shaky believers.

      That’s all he does. What he does has nothing to do with logic, sense or a coherent worldview – it’s like an endless succession of ad-hoc philosophical patches designed for people who are slowly realising they’ve been believing rubbish.

      • Dan L.
        Posted January 5, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        It’s quite likely you’re correct about Plantinga’s motives and methodology but it doesn’t follow that I’m “letting him send [me] off on a wild goose chase.” I get a lot of enjoyment from interrogating philosophical arguments and seeing where they go off the rails. This is simply something I like to do. If I didn’t like to do this I would dismiss Plantinga’s argument as stupid as so many other people are doing. And it is stupid, but I personally think it’s stupid in a few very interesting ways.

        And since I’m already thinking about this stuff anyway why not share my thoughts on a comment thread devoted to the subject in which other people are obviously also giving the “problem” some thought?

        Considering potential objections to things you already believe is pretty much the definition of skepticism but I think it’s a very hard thing to do. Confirmation bias pushes human beings towards simply dismissing ideas that create tension with beliefs they already hold. I find a lot of value in considering objections to my beliefs that initially strike me as stupid because it forces me at the very least to more precisely articulate my beliefs. And sometimes I get surprised at how smart the “stupid” objections end up being (or, more often, I find some kernel of smartness in an otherwise stupid argument).

        So regardless of Plantinga’s motives I personally find some value in rebutting his arguments and I think many other people might as well if they tried.

        • Posted January 5, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          Oh, absolutely. I’m just saying it’s not going to refute him, not that it isn’t of value as personally entertaining philosophical exercise :-) Who knows, his fans might see your refutation …

  57. Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    ” No theologian in the world is going to convince me that it’s impossible for God to fail to exist because he’s a “necessary being.” Science has shown that he’s not “necessary” for anything we know about the universe. ”

    Do you intend to be taken seriously when you utter total nonsense like this?

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:25 am | Permalink

      That would be nonsense if “necessary being” were not in quotes since the concept is completely devoid of meaning. However as it stands it makes complete sense. Personally I don’t think you need to invoke science to dismiss the concept, but that is another matter.

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 3:52 am | Permalink

      Do you?

      /@

  58. Posted February 2, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    New Zealander Christian apologists Matt Flannagan and Glenn Peoples and their friends on Facebook are certain you are a philosophical imbecile (and are having quite a laugh at your expense) for saying:

    “No theologian in the world is going to convince me that it’s impossible for God to fail to exist because he’s a “necessary being.” Science has shown that he’s not “necessary” for anything we know about the universe.”

    Matt actually commented above and was kind enough to explain his disdain…oh wait, no he wasn’t. Anyway…

    Fortunately, just as we can resolve issues about Yahweh merely by asking him…oh wait, no we can’t…

    But we can ask *you* what you meant (what a godsend, right?). I interpret your comment to mean that there’s obviously something philosophically wrong with ontological arguments because we have good reason to believe that all the empirical claims about Biblical mythology infringing on reality have turned out to be false or unverified whereas naturalistic explanations have reigned supreme. There’s no meaningful place for divine activity and it’s an argument to the best explanation that that kind of god claim is false and so any arm chair philosophical position justifying it must simply have some flaw in it. It happens.

    I don’t think you made any particular direct philosophical critique of “necessary beings” or modal thinking. I think you were making a play on words with “necessary” in quotes. *They*, on the other hand, being the interpretative charitable, perfectly blameless dears that they are, interpret you in a much more literal sense as though all necessary being claims in philosophy require empirical verification by science. It’s a like a skeptic that just can’t *not* find a Bible contradiction, right?

    Could you clear up this little misunderstanding, Jerry?

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      As far as I can see Jerry has nothing to clear up.

      • Posted February 2, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, I don’t think Jerry does either, but Matt and Glenn are always especially stubborn about their interpretation of the words of their critics.

  59. Posted February 2, 2012 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    Actually the concept of a necessary being is not devoid of meaning, in the metaphysics of modality it has a clear meaning. It refers to a a being which is such that if it exists it exists in all possible worlds. It does not refer to a being which is necessary to explain some empirical phenomena.

    In philosophy of Mathmatics some people argue that numbers exist as necessary beings for example. Certain moral claims such as “ïts wrong to torture children for fun are arguably necessarily true for example.”

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Oh and what pray is the clear meaning of the notion of a being that exists in all possible worlds?

      • Timelessapologist
        Posted February 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

        Bernard says:

        “Oh and what pray is the clear meaning of the notion of a being that exists in all possible worlds?”

        Bernard if you ever wanted to try critical thinking I suggest you ditch your “scientism” and jump to relevant fields of “Philosophy”. I mean After all…The question of whether God exists IS a philosophical question.

        Anyways:

        Matthew answered you question, and if you weren’t a layman in philosophy you would have picked this up.

        “Actually the concept of a necessary being is not devoid of meaning, in the metaphysics of modality it has a clear meaning. It refers to a a being which is such that if it exists it exists in all possible worlds.”

        Key word: Modality

        My advice to you – L2ModalLogic

        • Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

          I would really like an answer to my question.

          It was generous of you to suggest a course of study for me so as to make sure I am able to understand the technicalities of when answer it is made available. And I have to admit my Logic is a but rusty as I haven’t done much since my D.Phil. Although I did teach an undergraduate course on the subject some years ago.

          A random selection of books on Logic from my personal bookshelf:

          Philosophical Logic Ed. P.F. Strawsion (OUP 1967)
          Propositions and Attitudes Eds. N Salmon and S Soames (OUP 1988)
          Introduction to Higher Order Categorical Logic, J.Lambek and P.J.Scott (CUP 1986)
          Development of Mathematical Logic, R.L Goodstein (Logos Pres 1971)
          An Introduction to Philosophical Logic, A.C.Grayling (Harvester Press, 1982)
          Philosophy of Logics, S Haak (CUP 1978)
          An Introduction to Modal Logic by G.E. Hughes and M.J. Cresswell,
          A Combinatorial Theory of Possibility (CUP 1989)

          And of course the classic text by the man who started off modern modal logic:

          Naming and Necessity, Saul Kripke (Blackwell 1972)

          Admittedly these are a bit dated but I have read all of them and I do occasionally still dip into them or read articles in the JSL that interest me.

          As you are obviously an expert you might like to know that I’ve been developing some ideas of my own on the semantics of modalOh and what pray is the clear meaning of the notion of a being that exists in all possible worlds? logic. They are not yet in a form worth publishing in a journal, but you can find some preliminary ideas here: http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/musings-on-necessity-1-alternative-models

          I would appreciate your comments, maybe we could end up writing a joint paper.

          In the mean time do you think my background would allow me to understand an answer to my question? If so I would appreciate an answer to it. For the avoidance of doubt, I will repeat it:

          What pray is the clear meaning of the notion of a being that exists in all possible worlds?

          • Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

            Sorry one of the paragraphs got a bit scrambled. Us philosophical types are not that good at handling cut and paste!

            Since you are interested in philosophy you might be interested in the presentation I will be giving next month on philosophy of mind to the Philosophical society of England’s London Group (I cant remember the details of the date etc off hand – it should be on their we site.

    • Posted February 2, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Come on, Matthew, don’t you have an answer to my question?

      • Timelessapologist
        Posted February 2, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        Bernard,

        Are we supposed to all just kick back and relax while saying “Nature did it” to every explanation out there?

        Naturalism = Faith

        Naturalism states nature did it, and that the natural world is all there is. However no Natural Origin to everything has been proven either by a philosophical argument or scientism’s wonder logical positivism *aka* emprical scientific proof.

        In conclusion Step A (Natural Origin to everything) has not been proven, so nature-heads immediately skip OVER STEP A and jump right to Step B ASSUMING a natural foundation.

        Faith = Naturalism as well, whether you like it or not, your “nature did it” dogmatics is taken by FAITH.

        • phhht
          Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

          “Naturalism states nature did it, and that the natural world is all there is. However no Natural Origin to everything has been proven either by a philosophical argument or scientism’s wonder logical positivism *aka* emprical scientific proof.”

          Ah, that tired old perennial favorite, the gods-in-the-gaps fallacy. Even if we stipulate that we don’t know how “everything” began, that’s only ignorance, and ignorance DOES NOT ENTAIL THE EXISTENCE OF THE SUPERNATURAL.

          Next there is another cliched canard, the conflation of FAITH and rational conclusion. Nobody has FAITH in naturalism; we don’t need it. We have evidence.

          • Posted February 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for commenting on Timelessapologist’s response to my post. However I don’t want to divert attention from my question. And note that the main thing wrong with his/her post it is in response to a simple question I asked, which he/she has singularly failed to answer.

            Questions of what faith/naturalism are or are not are simply not relevant to my question. If, in a philosophy exam, one answered the question “What sense can be made of the notion of a being that exists in all possible worlds?” with random musings on faith, naturalism or scientism, one would not get many marks.

            Maybe Timelessapologist or one of his/her mates has a coherent answer to my question. What do you think?

        • Posted February 2, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

          Is that meant to be an answer to the question of what sense I can make of the notion of a being that exists in all possible worlds?

  60. Posted February 2, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Matthew Flannagan and Timelessapologist, if you are still listening, I’ve started a thread on my blog devoted just to the question I asked, so that you or anyone else can give a sensible, and I do mean sensible, answer to it.

    I would be quite interested to see a coherent explanation of what the phrase “being that exists in all possible worlds” could mean, but I won’t hold my breath!

    http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/what-the-heck-does-it-mean-to-say-something-e

  61. Joe Barron
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I recommend Walter Kaufmann’s book, “Critique of Religion and Philosophy,” as an innoculation against sophisticated theology. Kaufmann died in 1980, but theologians are still resorting to the strategems he exposed. He also deals with the phrase “necessary being,” which he lumps together with the phrase “necessary triangle.” In both cases, the words are understandable, but the pairing is invalid.

  62. Schenck
    Posted September 26, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I’m a bit late to the party on this post, but is Plantinga seriously responding to ‘well you might as well say Superman did it’ with “no no no, this would require a Super-DuperMan, not merely Superman’.

  63. Posted December 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    No theologian in the world is going to convince me that it’s impossible for God to fail to exist because he’s a “necessary being.” Science has shown that he’s not “necessary” for anything we know about the universe.

    Explanatory necessity (e.g. X is required to explain Y) is not the same thing as metaphysical necessity (e.g. X exists in every possible world).


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] a payment of 50 bucks would be appropriate and I have just written and sent a check—although if he goes on claiming that Alvin Plantinga has a “liberal faith,” I shall want my money [...]

  2. [...] and religion This is an amusing post by Why Evolution is True; this was about a debate on the compatibility of science with religion. The main issue: the religious types (at least those who suppose a deity that created humans by an [...]

  3. [...] el título en inglés “Alvin Plantinga: sophisticated theologian?” (publicado originalmente el 30 de diciembre de 2011 en Why Evolution is True); traducido con previa [...]

  4. [...] el título en inglés “Alvin Plantinga: sophisticated theologian?” (publicado originalmente el 30 de diciembre de 2011 en Why Evolution is True); traducido con [...]

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