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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.)

  5. 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?

  6. 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 …

  7. 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?

      /@

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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’.

  13. 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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