The sophistry of Alvin Plantinga: does your religion become less credible if you adhere to the faith you were taught?

I hope this will be the last time I must foist the sophistry of theologian Alvin Plantinga on you, but I had no choice.  This post bears on a frequent argument about the irrationality of religious belief: if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you’d hold the tenets of Islam sacred and aver that Christian belief was wrong; if you were born in Mississippi, you’d have exactly the opposite view.   How can you think your belief is right if it would differ depending on the conditions of your upbringing?

Plantinga’s discussion comes from chapter seven, “A defense of religious exclusivism“, in The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader (ed. James F. Sennet, 1998, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.), which is itself an excerpt from The Rationality of Belief and the Plurality of Faith: Essays in Honor of William P. Alston (ed. Louis Pojman, 1995, Cornell University Press).

Plantinga’s goal—for theology is not an honest attempt to find the truth, but a post facto rationalization of what the theologian already believes—is to show that his brand of Christianity is the best faith, and that it is rational, justified, and warranted to think that the faith you were brought up with is really the right faith, and that adherents to other religions are simply wrong.

First, Plantinga espouses what he believes (p. 188):

  1. The world was created by God, an almighty, all-knowing, and perfectly good personal being  (one that holds beliefs; has aims, plans, and intentions; and can act to accomplish these aims).
  2. Human beings require salvation, and God has provided a unique way of salvation through the incarnation, life, sacrificial death and resurrection of his divine son.

In other words, he’s a Christian.  How can he show that Muslims and Hindus are wrong?  His whole chapter is an attempt to do just that, or, rather, to show that it’s perfectly rational and justifiable to hold that view, and not rational or justifiable to say either, “All faiths are correct,” “No faith is correct,” or “Well, the plurality of faith means that I can’t judge which faith is right.”  It’s one of the most annoying pieces of self-justification I’ve ever seen, and truly underscores the difference between science and religion  You can read it for free here.

Plantinga begins by quoting John Hick from his book An Interpretation of Religion:

“For it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth.  Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.”

Plantinga then begins dismantling this argument, or so he thinks (all from pp. 206-207 of the reader):

As a matter of sociological fact, this may be right.  Furthermore, it can certainly produce a sense of intellectual vertigo.  But what is one to do with this fact, if fact it is, and what follows from it?  Does it follow, for example, that I ought not to accept the religious views that I have been brought up to accept, or the ones that I find myself inclined to accept, or the ones that seem to me to be true? Or that the belief-producing processes that have produced those beliefs in me are unreliable?  Surely not.  Furthermore, self-referential problems once more loom; this argument is another philosophical tar baby.

For suppose we concede that if I had been born in Madagascar rather than Michigan, my beliefs would have been quite different. (For one thing, I probably wouldn’t believe that I was born in Michigan.)  But of course the same goes for the pluralist.  Pluralism isn’t and hasn’t been widely popular in the world at large; if the pluralist had been born in Madagascar, or medieval France, he probably wouldn’t have been a pluralist.  Does it follow that he shouldn’t be a pluralist or that his pluralistic beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process?  I doubt it.

I think that if you adhere beliefs that you were taught as a child, or that are common where you live, and that is the factor explaining most of the variation among people in religious belief (which I’m sure it is), then yes, you should be deeply suspicious about whether your belief is indeed true.   If one faith happens to be true, and Plantinga believes that his brand of Christianity is, then all the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs who hold their incorrect faiths based on where they were born are wrong by virtue of geography.

Imagine if scientists held beliefs based on where they were born.  If that were the case, then we’d have reason to question their motivations and hence their conclusions.  There is actually one case like this, though I can’t find a reference at the moment. As I recall, someone did a sociological study of those scientists who studied the genetic basis of IQ differences between blacks and whites. I may get a bit of this wrong, but I remember that those researchers who were from the American South, rural areas, or were politically conservative found significantly more genetic influence on racial differences in IQ than did northern and liberal scientists, or those from urban areas.  That finding immediately casts suspicion on their results, for such a correlation should not hold if their methods are objective.  One group may be right in their conclusions, and the other wrong, but this means that everyone’s work needs to be re-examined.

Likewise, if you are a Christian because your parents were Christian and imbued you with the faith, that should cast doubt on whether you really arrived at Christian beliefs through a process of rational scrutiny, or whether your “rationale” for being a Christian is simply a post facto confabulation.

Plantinga then lays on the sophistry:

Suppose I hold

(4) If S‘s religious or philosophical beliefs are such that if S had been born elsewhere and elsewhen, she wouldn’t have held them, then those beliefs are produced by unreliable belief-producing mechanisms and hence have no warrant;

Once more I will be hoist with my own petard.  For in all probability, someone born in Mexico to Christian parents wouldn’t believe (4) itself.  No matter what philosophical and religious beliefs we hold and withhold (so it seems) there are places and times such that if we had been born there and then, then we would not have displayed the pattern of holding and withholding of religious and philosophical beliefs we do display.  As I said, this can indeed be vertiginous; but what can we make of it?  What can we infer from it about what has warrant and how we should conduct our intellectual lives?  That’s not easy to say.  Can we infer anything at all about what has warrant or how we should conduct our intellectual lives?  Not obviously.

The other reason that Plantinga thinks that Christianity is correct is because God put a Christianity-is-true detecting mechanism in him.

But then clearly enough if (1) or (2) [the Christian beliefs given above] is true, it could be produced in me by a reliable belief-producing process.  Calvin’s Sensus Divinitatis, for example, could be working in the exclusivist in such a way as to reliably produce the belief that (1); Calvin’s Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit could do the same for (2).  If (1) and (2) are true, therefore, then from a reliabilist perspective there is no reason whatever to think that the exclusivist might not know that they are true.

I think this comes from Plantinga’s idea that the epistemic warrant for belief must differ from the epistemic warrant for science.  If we were to judge “warrant” of a scientific view whose support was solely that a) you were taught it and b) you think it’s right because you have a “Sensus Scientificus” installed by God, then your scientific beliefs would immediately become suspect.

If you hold a view based almost entirely on whether you were taught it rather than having looked at the evidence for the veracity of many faiths, and if your epistemic defense of that view rests on revelation (for that is what the “Sensus Divinitatis” really is), then no, your beliefs are neither warranted nor justified.

It’s a testimony to Plantinga’s cleverness (oh, how that mind could have been used for productive purposes!) that these arguments seem convincing to some people.  What’s particularly galling is that they convince Plantinga that his brand of Christianity is correct, and that Islam, say, is wrong. But a Muslim could use precisely the same arguments for the rationality, justification, and warrant for believing in Islam! All it would take is for some Muslim theologian to assert that Allah had installed a Muslim Sensus Divinitatis in him.

The fact is that at most one faith can be correct (and almost certainly none of them are), and that none of Plantiga’s arguments are remotely convincing to the skeptic that Christianity is the right one. What he is doing here, as always, is making stuff up to show that Christian belief is rational and true.  He’s providing Christians with shaky but fine-sounding academic arguments to buttress their beliefs.

If your beliefs come not from evidence, but from geography and revelation, then no, there is no warrant for them.  The missing ingredient in theology—the ingredient that has made science so successful—is doubt.  In theology, doubt has been replaced by faith.

217 Comments

  1. Matt G
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Reminds me of Darwin’s comment about how giving up the beliefs one was raised with might be like a monkey giving up its fear of snakes. I’m lucky – I was raised Unitarian Universalist and taught to think for myself. I knew I was an atheist when I was 7 or 8, and didn’t know my parents’ beliefs until I was well into my teens.

  2. Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    “The other reason that Plantinga thinks that Christianity is correct is because God put a Christianity-is-true detecting mechanism in him.”

    That reminds me, I need to update my Garmin nüvi 350.

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      God seems to have put a Plantinga is an idiot detector in me.

      • Mandrellian
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Me too. It’s called “a brain”.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:48 am | Permalink

          LOL.

  3. Chris Lilley
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    And that’s why Dr. Coyne is a scientist, not an analytic philosopher.

    • J
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      His Sensus Bullshiticus?

    • Dan L.
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      A “criticism” completely lacking any sort of substance. How surprising. One would think that critics of the new atheists didn’t actually have any arguments considering how consistent this sort of behavior is.

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        Hmm… I thought Chris meant it as a compliment.

        /@

      • JBlilie
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        And they don’t …

        Every single apologist I’ve read (and I’ve wasted far too much of my on them) is every bit as bad or worse.

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Chris,

      What do you mean? Could you elaborate?

  4. Chris
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    “Some would say that I should not hold such views, and their reasoning may be sound. But their reasoning is not my reasoning and I reject it! Therefore I can regard myself as being right, which ipso facto proves that they are wrong. QED!”

    These people demand respect for such drivel? How does this even get published?

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Don’t look at that man behind the curtain!

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:51 am | Permalink

      Exactly!

  5. Egbert
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    The fact that people tend to believe in what their culture believes ought to lead to a self-realization that beliefs are not products of reason or self-reflection, but products of culture.

    Alvin Plantinga relies on a tradition that is known as philosophy, not religion. He seems to confuse this tradition with religion, as if philosophy is the product of religion or they’re both the same thing, and therefore philosophy justifies unreflected beliefs.

    It’s an extraordinarily silly way of thinking.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      Alvin Plantinga relies on a tradition that is known as philosophy

      Alvin Plantinga relies on a tradition that is known as sophistry, and prefers to call it philosophy.

  6. John K.
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    This was painful.

    Plantinga seems to just lay out the argument against him, and then just declare it to be wrong.

    His revelation based beliefs are better than other revelation based beliefs because he has an extra revelation based truth detector. Good grief.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

      I am baffled as to why Plantinga has such a large reputation as a deep religious thinker.

      • Steve
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        Religious deep thinker is a bit of an oxymoron, how is it that anyone is ever thought as one?

      • Keith Bonham
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Religious deep thinkers paddle in the shallow end of the gene pool

      • Jeff Engel
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

        I think he’s being compared to other contemporary religious thinkers there, which will certainly help one’s reputation.

        Also, he has a way of elaborating his barking mad notions in a way that confuses things and dodges the real reasons they are barking mad. That may win him points as a skilled sophist from some, and provide others the comforting illusion that his barking mad notions that they share or want to share really aren’t barking mad, on account of formal justification they can’t or won’t bother to follow.

  7. Matt G
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    What a profoundly weak argument Plantinga makes! If you are indoctrinated into a particular faith when you are young, trusting and intellectually vulnerable – that is, before you develop critical thinking skills – it would mostly likely require a great effort to undo that damage. What about children who are forced to memorize and recite nonsense like the Nicene Creed before they have any understanding of it, much less anything resembling a sincere belief in it?

    • J
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      I haven’t been in a church in years & I can still rattle it off! The funny thing is, because it was learnt by wrote I could always let my mouth form the words & be thinking about something completely different while saying it

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        Ditto with me and the Lord’s Prayer. I can recite the Baptist version my grandmother taught me, but it never meant anything to me.

      • J
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        *rote

    • Another Matt
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

      The pledge of allegiance is like this too. I remember in kindergarten reciting with all my heart:

      I plej of aleegence
      to the flag
      of the united states of america
      and to the repulic
      for wichitstans
      juanation
      under god
      invisible
      with libertyanjustisforal
      yaaaaaay

      • Hempenstein
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        Since Calvin has come up, here’s a different one’s take on that. I remember more to it than this, ending “with Liberty and Just Us for oil,” but I can’t find it.

        • Another Matt
          Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

          I love Calvin and Hobbes so, so much.

          I remember being confused when my grandmother told me she was born near Wichita and I wondered if that was like the wichitstans from the pledge. The point is that it was a mantra that was supposed to instill citizenship through magic – none of us ever knew what it meant until much later, and I assume that most of us either substituted words we already knew that kind of sounded like what the teacher was saying, or just tried to keep up phonetically.

  8. Konradius
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Well, if a sensus divinitatis exists potentially everyone has it, including us.
    So, we can say our sensus divinitatis(SD) is working correctly (we sense no gods), and the SD of others is malfunctioning if they do detect a “god”.
    And our claim is actually the most convincing as the people detecting gods all give different properties to him/her/it, while all atheists believe there is no god (true by reason of tautology).
    Thanks Alvin, for giving us a reasonably new, good argument for atheism!

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      As noted above, we skeptics must be endowed by Ceiling Cat with a sensus bullshiticus by which we detect malarky and tomfoolery.

      • Mandrellian
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget bulldust. As an Australian I have a keen awareness of – and hatred for – bulldust.

  9. Jeffrey Shallit
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    The more I read of academic philosophy, the more it mostly seems like pseudomathematics or pseudoscience – arguments that try to ape the reasoning methods used in mathematics and science, but with neither rigor nor understanding of basics like probability and statistics.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Keep in mind that the philosophical arguments Jerry is focusing on are among the least rigorous. I suspect – but do not know for sure – that there is academic philosophy that is worth while, but it doesn’t include Plantinga’s apologetics.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        Ahem. From Wikipedia:

        Alvin Plantigna is emeritus John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and now the Jellema Chair at the department of philosophy of Calvin College. He has delivered the Gifford Lectures three times, and was described by Time magazine in 1980 as “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God.”

        Plantinga served as president of the American Philosophical Association, Western Division, 1981-1982 and as President of the Society of Christian Philosophers 1983-1986.

        He has honorary degrees from Glasgow University (1982), Calvin College (1986), North Park College (1994), the Free University of Amsterdam (1995), Brigham Young University (1996), and Valparaiso University (1999).

        He was a Guggenheim Fellow, 1971–1972, and elected a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1975.

        In 2006, the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion renamed its Distinguished Scholar Fellowship as the Alvin Plantinga Fellowship. The fellowship includes an annual lecture by the current Plantinga Fellow.

        If this constitutes “weak”, where in the world can we find the “not-weak”? John Haught?

        • JBlilie
          Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          +1

          ALL arguments for the truth of any religion are weak. Full-stop.

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Jeffrey,

      How much have you read of academic philosophy? Are you basing your comments on the quotations you occasionally see on this blog, or on something else?

      If philosophers really do make such common errors in the basics of probability and statistics, and if you’re familiar enough with academic philosophy to make comments such as yours, surely you can find even one recent peer-reviewed journal article that makes such an error. Or–even easier–a professional philosopher making such an error anywhere: online, in print, anywhere.

      • Steve Smith
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        If philosophers really do make such common errors in the basics of probability and statistics, … find even one … professional philosopher making such an error anywhere: online, in print, anywhere.

        One example: the work of philosopher Richard Swinburne is filled with egregious and laughable abuses of probability. Swinburne is the emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Oxford and is “one of the most important and influential philosophers of the 20th and early 21st centuries” according to his Amazon bio.

        In several books, Swinburne adjusts various priors and assumptions until Bayes’ rule tells him that God “probably” exists. For example in The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford University Press 2003), Swinburne computes that the “probablity” that Jesus was God incarnate equals 100/103 = 97% ! The “reasoning” behind Swinburne’s “calculations”:

        It would be immensely unlikely that there would be evidence [of incarnation] … unless God so planned it. It would have been deceptive of God to bring about this combination of evidence unless he had become incarnate in this prophet.

        Swinburne’s application of Bayes’ rule and basic logic is nonsense at best, crackpot actually. Yet it is published by the OUP and elsewhere.

        • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

          Thanks for finding that.

          Now, what in particular about Swinburne’s calculations constitutes a “basic” error in probability theory? Did he use an applicable version of Bayes’s rule? Did he not calculate priors by dividing the number of favorable outcomes by the number of possible outcomes? You might disagree with his intuitive assignment of priors, or posterior likelihoods, but how is that a basic error in applying probability theory itself?

          • Steve Smith
            Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

            what in particular about Swinburne’s calculations constitutes a “basic” error in probability theory

            Assuming that you’re asking a serious question (!), Swinburne’s “calculations” are based on numerical assumptions pulled out of nowhere. Bayes’ rule is irrelevant if the assumptions are unknown or nonsensical.
            This is a basic error. The little book How to Lie With Statistics puts it like this:

            “Does it make sense?” will often cut a statistic down to size when the whole rigamarole is based on an unproved assumption.

          • josh
            Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            Plugging wrong numbers into correct equations is among the most basic of errors. Reporting highly certain results (like 97% probability, although in my area of research that’s not actually very high) without a realistic assessment of errors and uncertainties of your input numbers is intellectual fraud.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Is William Lane Craig considered a “professional philosopher”? He has held faculty positions in philosophy (as well as theology), and routinely says oturageously stupid things about probability and infinity (among other things).

        • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

          I’m not sure what he says is “outrageously stupid.” Certainly you might think there are very good objections to, e.g., his version of the kalam argument–I think so too–but what in particular does he say that’s outrageously stupid?

          • truthspeaker
            Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

            If you had read Craig’s kalam argument, you would agree that it’s outrageously stupid.

      • Peter
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        Well, Shallit is responding to a negative article of Coyne about a supposedly deep philosophical argument by Plantinga. Both Coyne and many other respondents found many such egregious errors by Plantinga. So he hardly needs to do so as well in this context.

        In fact the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s up to you, Tom, if you disagree with Shallit, to come up with something recent in a philosophy journal which does not exhibit this ‘me too’ incompetence, and yet uses substantial mathematics/science style of getting at the truth.

  10. TJR
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I always feel that the “if I had been born in a different time and place” argument makes more sense when recast as “if I had been adopted at a very early age by parents who devoutly followed another religion”. Then its still the same “you” that you are talking about.

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Well said.

  11. Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    I hope that this is the final nail in the shared coffins of both destructive Theology as well as phucking useless Philosophy.

    • Steve
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      Yes… long live useful philosophy!

      • Schenck
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        How very pragmatic of you….

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Are you really contrasting a useless variety of philosophy with a useful variety? Or are you simply dismissing philosophy? For, arguably, what Jerry is doing in this post is philosophy, and his having done it fairly well is a reason for thinking that philosophy is useful.

      • James M
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        I’ve come to realize that philosophy’s only usefulness is in dismissing philophy. It’s a snake eating it’s own tail. You can guess what comes out at the other end.

        • Jeff Engel
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

          Philosophy’s just what happens when we’re thinking things through with more rigor than daydreams, (usually) less than mathematics, and no clear decisive empirical tests. It’s going to come up at the borders of every intellectual field.

          The worst of it is, in our divisions of professional and academic work, it’s carved off as something apart from the rest. That means that you’ve got thoughtful people outside of philosophy departments who are doing philosophy and aren’t recognized as doing it – see Jerry or Richard Dawkins and the facile, turf-war dismissals by Pigliucci and Eagleton. But worse, it means people inside those departments getting away with doing philosophy in blissful ignorance and disregard of the methods and findings over every “other” field, like Plantinga or Feser, with others in philosophy departments giving them slack for it.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:58 am | Permalink

            James M & Jeff Engel–hear, hear!

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Michael,

      “We should not do philosophy” is itself a philosophical claim, so if that’s your position, it’s self-defeating. (This is related to Eric MacDonald’s point in this sub-thread.)

      Also, I think that if philosophy in general were useless, philosophy majors probably wouldn’t outperform nearly everyone else at nearly everything knowledge-related, which they do as measured by standardized testing and postgraduate admission rates.

      • James M
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Your definition of what constitutes philosophy would make everything philosophy and nothing not philosophy. I’ve come across this canard quite a bit, surprisingly. It’s just a dressed up “I’m rubber, you’re glue” or “atheism is just religion”.

        And what studies do you have that show philosophy majors outperform everyone else at everything knowledge-related? Standardized testing and post-graduate admission rates? Please.

        • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

          James,

          I wasn’t aware that I had verbalized a definition of philosophy. In any case, one of the things I think philosophy is is the study of normative facts: facts about what people ought and ought not do. That doesn’t entail that everything is philosophy.

          As for tests etc.:
          GRE: http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/GRE/pdf/994994.pdf

          Medical school admission: http://www.clemson.edu/caah/philosophy/academics/pre-med.html

          GMAT: http://www.gmac.com/NR/rdonlyres/76FC2158-8497-48BA-8AC7-CF689D027B6A/0/ProfileofGMATCandidates_TY200607to201011.pdf

          Careers in general: http://www.cavalierdaily.com/2012/01/26/study-links-critical-thinking-to-job-placement/

          • josh
            Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            Tom, you implied a definition. I think the point is: it’s useless to get hung up on demarcation. If you think of philosophy as ‘love of wisdom’ or the study of ideas then in some sense everything fall under the rubric of philosophy. In which case, philosophers can’t claim any special expertise. On the other hand, it’s possible to think lowly of professional philosophers, or of philosophy construed to be distinct from other intellectual pursuits, without being in some vicious contradiction.

            On the tests: My recollection, and the GRE link seems to bear this out, is that philosophers (or perhaps it’s declared philosophers. Be interesting to see how things sort out at different levels of degree.) do as well as anyone on verbal skills and are fair at quantitative. The GRE contains an ‘analytical writing’ section where philosophers also do quite well, though I would tend to lump that with verbal skills. Conversely, scientists and mathematicians do somewhat worse on verbal/writing and better on quantitative. That doesn’t seem too surprising to me. Philosophers are capable readers and writers but hardly running away with the championship. Many scientists are also good writers and verbally skilled, but you get more of a mix since some are very analytically skilled but bad at expressing themselves.

            My own observation is that smart people, relative to the population as a whole, are interested in philosophy. But smart, as measured by grades and tests, doesn’t always translate into a critical thinker. Smart people with bad ideas just get good at constructing elaborate rationalizations for their pet beliefs, which description seems to fit Plantinga to a t.

          • Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

            In any case, one of the things I think philosophy is is the study of normative facts: facts about what people ought and ought not do.

            That’s, more or less, the branch of philosophy known as “Ethics.” I said “more or less” because many philosophers don’t think there is such a thing as an ethical (or moral, or normative) fact.

      • ossicle
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

        Tom,

        Good point in first paragraph.

        Second paragraph, I’m divided. I used to be the graduate student advisor in Columbia U.’s philosophy department, and it’s absolutely flabbergasting how smart they were. Their transcripts showed A after A after A, not only in humanities courses but science and math ones as well. (And not “calculus for poets” courses, either — advanced calc, differential equations, etc.)

        However, that in itself doesn’t mean they might not be devoting their talents to something useless. IQ says nothing about judgment.

        I’m not taking that side, by the way. I’m more pro- than anti-philosophy, though a distressing amount of it is garbage. Wanted to make the point, though.

        • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

          ossicle,

          Certainly you’re right that being smart doesn’t entail that you’re doing something useful. But it would be very strange if the causation here were only asymmetric: that smart people do philosophy, but the philosophy these students study as undergraduates makes absolutely no contribution to their performance. (I.e., that they would perform just as well on those tests, in those courses, etc., if they had taken some completely different curriculum.) I mean, it’s possible, but how likely is it?

      • JBlilie
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

        This:

        philosophy majors probably wouldn’t outperform nearly everyone else at nearly everything knowledge-related, which they do as measured by standardized testing and postgraduate admission rates

        Shows nothing except that learned people are attracted to degrees in philosophy (no surprise) and shows nothing about philosophy be useful.

  12. Steve
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    This I believe is related to the free willist assertion that humans possess the power of discernment. Discernment it is said, allows humans to discern (infallibly) what is truth and what is not truth by transcending beyond the evidence the individual may have at hand and woo-woo-woo. From this belief come the objection to non-free willism based on the argument (faulty) that if there is no free will, if individuals believe what they are caused to believe due to their matrix of causal determinants, then there is no way to determine if what the think they are knowing is true or not. Free willists will (sometimes) argue that man’s ability to discern the truth hinges upon him having freedom of will, and therefore anyone denying free will has no basis upon which to claim that they know the truth (all they can claim is that they know what they have been caused to know).

    Plantinga apparently discounts the whole premise that people believe what they believe due to forces that cause them to hold those beliefs. (i.e., the environment in which you were raised).

    • DV
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      “This I believe is related …”

      Did you have a Sensus Nonfreewillus installed in you to have confidence in that belief?

  13. Jer
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Wait – is Plantinga a Calvinist? He’s using the idea of Calvin’s Sensus Divinatus – which is a basic “victim blaming” argument about why nonbelievers don’t believe. God does provide evidence of himself to everyone, but non-believers refuse to see it and therefore God will damn them to Hell.

    If Plantinga has internalized Calvinism that explains a lot. No wonder the stuff he writes often sounds like the erudite musings a villainous super-genius. If you find that you want to justify the evil bastard of a God that Calvin posited, then you probably are a villainous super-genius at heart.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      God does provide evidence of himself to everyone, but non-believers refuse to see it and therefore God will damn them to Hell.

      Surely that’s not Calvin’s actual argument, since he argued for predestination, in which what you believe makes no difference to what happens to you (the god has decided it all in advance).

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        I thought Calvin’s “argument” was that those not predestined won’t believe no matter what. So it’s not that if you chose to believe in Jesus you wouldn’t be saved. It’s that without predestination, you won’t choose to believe.

        It’s all a nonsense because if someone really believes, they’re considered predestined. If they don’t believe they’re considered to not be predestined. So predestination just becomes an after-the-fact explanation.

        Anyway, it’s a stupid, evil doctrine. Sort-of amusing though.

        • Steve
          Posted March 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          Evil? How does evilness enter into the mix?

          • satan augustine
            Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

            The whole burning in hell part.

          • Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink

            Glad you asked. Calvin’s doctrine starts from the idea of “the total depravity of man”, by which he means that everyone, just by the fact of being born, deserves to go to hell. This alone is stupidly evil. But add to that the fact that God allows babies to be born for the sole purpose of the pleasure of exerting his “righteous wrath” on them for eternity in hell and you begin to see what an insanely evil doctrine this is.

            I remember as a teenage evangelical Christian (thanks to all the freethinkers past and present for helping me out of that mental prison!) challenging a Calvinist Presbyterian minister on this point. He told me that it wasn’t by God’s will that babies were born but by man’s will. As though that, even if it make sense, made the whole thing okay!

            Of course, one should keep in mind that Calvin himself liked to put heretics to death. So the whole doctrine may have sprung from his wanting to justify his own sadistic nature. Another example of men making gods in their own image?

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      He’ll need to show the mechanism for how the supposed sensus divinatus gets fine-tuned for each geographical location such that it produces different (but consistnet locally) results.

  14. MosesZD
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Plantagia’s philosophy, as it seems to me, is really nothing more than “PhD level goal post shifting.” For all that he thinks he’s clever, sophisticated and insightful, he’s just re-hashing the same-old, same-old disappearing God-of-the-gaps.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s more like “PhD level goat poo shoveling.”

  15. Kevin Alexander
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    God loves me more than He loves you. That’s why He put my soul into a Christian mummy’s tummy instead of one of those heathens.

    So there!

    raspberry

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      +1

  16. Schenck
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    On geography as a basis for belief in science:
    I recall reading about how Wegener’s Plate Tectonics theory was often rejected, not on scientific grounds, but rather on national and geographic ones. There was a strong correlation between rejecting PT and being from North America or Europe. There was also a strong correlation between accepting PT and being based in South America and Africa.

    Plantinga at least in part seems to be saying ‘just because its associated with our geography doesn’t mean that it’s wrong’. Which is obvious. The correctness of Plate Tectonics has nothing to do with where the supporters/rejectors come from, BUT, if you happen to be a rejector, and come from the ‘land of rejectors’, then clearly that should make you want to really re-evaluate your rejection. His solution seems to be little more than, merely by the fact that I believe something makes it true, because that thing I believe in, it’s subtly making me believe in it.

    Chris Lilley
    “not an analytic philosopher.”
    But notice Plantinga is not an analytic philosopher, but a ‘analyStic theologian’. Even he know’s he’s not being analytic and has to call it analyisticalish.
    Indeed it sounds like he’s just a flat out Calvinist, and Calvinism only applies to Calvinists.

    • McWaffle
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

      This is the example I was going to bring up, but I’m only familiar with it via Bill Bryson.

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      That’s actually a typo. The name of the book is actually indeed “The Analytic Theist”:

      That might be something that Dr. Coyne wants to correct …

    • Jeff Engel
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      At risk of digression – What was supposed to account for the geographical difference in support for continental drift? My best armchair guess would be that the jigsaw-puzzle fit of the southern Atlantic continents is clearer and would be more immediately of interest to the scientists there, and that the relationships of their flora and fauna would make a stronger impression. But I hate settling for armchair guesses if I can do better.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:03 am | Permalink

        I, too, am dying to hear the reasons behind this.

      • Schenck
        Posted March 7, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        On drift acceptance and geography, workers in the southern hemisphere had worked on some of the actual material that supported drift, like glacial deposits and striations, and the fossils that today are separated by oceans. Workers in England, the US, and Continental Europe tended to not work on those materials directly, so there was always a question of whether or not the original workers got it right.

        As far as I understand it this wasn’t a white vs non-white thing either; a lot of the pro-drift research came South Africa when it was still a Brit colony.

  17. Jeff
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    “But a Muslim could use precisely the same arguments for the rationality, justification, and warrant for believing in Islam!”

    This is what has always struck me as a deathblow for revelation as a means of discovering the truth. Christians often point to various prophecies, miracles, visions, experiences, etc. as justification for their faith, never stopping to explain why *their* revelations are valid, and the revelations of adherents of other religions are not.

    This is especially true between Protestants and Catholics! Catholics believe that God (and the Virgin Mary) are actively producing miracles in each generation, yet somehow Protestants can wave these away as fraudulent while maintaining their belief in Jesus’ virgin birth and resurrection.

    Incredible.

    • Scote
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      Yes, the “it’s true because it feels true to me” argument has never been a sound or persuasive argument, especially since it applies equally to crazy people, who’s Sensus Napoleonis tells them with the same certainty Plantinga has about the Christian god that they are Napoleon.

  18. Schenck
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Konradius
    “So, we can say our sensus divinitatis(SD) is working correctly (we sense no gods), and the SD of others is malfunctioning if they do detect a “god”.”
    Plantinga probably claims that, (1) there’s a god (2) he picks and choses who to instill belief in (3) most everyone believes in some god or another (4) only the ones god picked and chosed /just happen/ to be right. And probably he’d argue further that (5) If you believe god picks and choses, than ipso facto you’re one of the chosen that he picked. :. Ergo Calvin.

  19. Jacob
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    If you were born in 9th century England, then your belief in Christianity may be justified but not necessarily correct. Your worldview is, at best, limited, so you may conclude at the time that the evidence does point to Christianity. Consequently, should such a person believe in pluralism? That’s a tough question, but I would tend to say no. You may not be able to justify that belief at that time. Unfortunately, Plantinga, unlike those with limited worldviews, should know better, and he probably should believe in pluralism because he has reasons to do so but simply ignores them. Yes, our belief-producing process is unreliable, as is eminently clear by a number of studies, but I would argue that any properly tamed and unbiased mind, when armed with the proper facts, should generally arrive at the truth more often than not. Once again, Plantinga is without justification here.

    If there is no god, then are we ultimately judged for being wrong? Of course not. Yet one of the most impractical aspects of Christianity is that a lack of belief ultimately entails judgement. If we can show that an individual is not, given what he knows, justified in believing Christianity, and god judges him anyway, then god is not just, and the Christians are wrong. But, of course, the Christian merely asserts, without proof, that everybody everywhere at any time is justified in believing Christianity, so that we are without excuse, no matter how much it is shown that people are naturally biased and limited in their perspectives. Expecting everybody to see things your way and believe in your religion just doesn’t make sense.

  20. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Proposition: Plantinga is not a slimy charlatan.

    Show details in your proof supporting the above.

  21. Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    §

  22. Bjarte Foshaug
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Theology = Calvinball

    • Jeff
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      This!

    • Christian
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      And Reformed Theology is also Calvin’s balls (the Jean from Geneva not the one with Hobbes).

  23. ftfkdad
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    This is the heart of John Loftus’ argument “the outsider test for faith” http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2011/06/ouitsider-test-for-faith-otf-is-not.html

  24. Another Matt
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Dammit Jerry, this isn’t even good sophistry. The best sophistry is the kind where you have to go through the argument bit by bit to find the hidden premise that delivers the deus-ex-machina conclusion; this ain’t it.

    • Another Matt
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Also – it tickles me that theologians have discovered how much easier the “welp, everything is subjective” kind of philosophizing is.

      When I was a devout Christian in middle school, a teacher using the phrase “ways of knowing” was supposed to be an automatic sign he/she was the PoMo Devil and not to be trusted (dad said it was OK to fail that class if necessary).

      Now it seems almost de rigueur to bring up “ways of knowing” or an equivalent in theology.

  25. Ruth
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I congratulate anyone who managed to make it through to the end of Plantinga’s waffle. I gave up at the point where he made the category error of comparing belief in racial equality with belief in God.

    It’s a pet hate of mine that drives me up the wall – people who don’t recognise the difference between objective facts and subjective value judgements. I’m constantly astounded at how many highly intelligent and academically well-qualified people don’t seem to ‘get’ the difference.

    There are no ‘facts’ about how we should, or should not, treat people. As we keep saying, you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Belief in racial, or any other kind of, equality, is a value judgement. We can despise people for having values different from ours, but we cannot say that their bigotry is factually wrong.

    The existence and properties of a god or gods, however, are fact claims, and can be, and have been, tested and found to be unsupported.

    • Dominic
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      Dead right.

    • blitz442
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      “As we keep saying, you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’.”

      Not so sure about that. To paraphrase Dan Dennett, “If we can’t get an ought from an is, then where DO we get an ought from?”

      “We can despise people for having values different from ours, but we cannot say that their bigotry is factually wrong.”

      We certainly can if we can agree on a definition of what constitutes evil or immoral behavior. For instance, if we agree that causing physical pain and emotional torment is wrong, and we encounter a culture that habitually beats and tortures its women on a whim, then we can label that behavior as wrong. As wrong as 2+2=5 is wrong.

      This could be rebutted if it could be somehow demonstrated that being beaten and tortured causes one to flourish, or has benefits to society that outweigh the individual suffering of the women.

      But I’m not holding my breath on that.

      • Tulse
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        So “flourishing” is your objective criterion for moral value? There are, of course, others who would disagree with you, who would cite, for example, “honour” as a criterion for moral decisions — how do you objectively demonstrate that they are wrong?

        • DV
          Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          Sam Harris’ thesis is that neurology can determine objective moral truths in principle. You can probe the brains of women while they are being beaten up for the sake of their honor and maybe derive some useful conclusions from the data.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      It’s a pet hate of mine that drives me up the wall – people who don’t recognise the difference between objective facts and subjective value judgements. I’m constantly astounded at how many highly intelligent and academically well-qualified people don’t seem to ‘get’ the difference.

      Me too. The distinction seems so obvious.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      If someone believes that, say, most gays are child molesters, or most Muslims are terrorists, then yes, we can say that their bigotry is factually wrong. That is after all what “prejudice” means: pre-judging, in advance of the actual facts.

  26. Mary - Canada
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    “Human beings require salvation”… what a stupid thing to say!

    • Dominic
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      And Alvin (= friend of the elves) wants to be the conduit. Perhaps that gives heavenly brownie points.

  27. penn
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I could not get past Pantigua’s first belief assertion.

    The world was created by God, an almighty, all-knowing, and perfectly good personal being (one that holds beliefs; has aims, plans, and intentions; and can act to accomplish these aims).

    What the hell does it mean for an almighty all-knowing being to have aims and intentions? As a human I have aims and intentions because I’m restricted by my own limitations. I can be mistaken about what course of action to take, and I may not be able to take the course of action necessary to achieve those aims.

    An all-knowing almighty being has no such limitations. God’s aims and intentions should already be reality. One could try to save the concept by claiming that there are things God refuses to do to reach his aims (violate “freewill” etc.), but since god is all-knowing he must already know whether or not those aims will be achieved if he does not do x, y, or z. This is also not to mention the fact that a truly all-powerful being should still be able to achieve any goal no matter what restrictions he places on himself. That’s kind of why the notation of an all-powerful being is a logical nightmare to begin with (i.e., can God make P = not P?).

  28. NoAstronomer
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    First, Plantinga espouses what he believes (p. 188):

    1. The world …

    All this time I was thinking that this Plantinga guy had run off the rails. When apparently he was never actually on the rails to start with.

  29. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Religion is a tautology wrapped in infinitely many layers of self-referential sophistry. Anyone unable to escape from this maze has faith. There is no way out but through reason and evidence.

  30. Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I don’t really think, outside evangelical Christianity, that Plantinga is taken very seriously. I haven’t read anything by Plantinga that could be considered philosophically sound. His idea of proper basicality, for instance, is really quite silly. Anything can be considered properly basic, and this makes a nonsense of knowledge, truth and other epistemic terms. As for his argument regarding pluralism: this would only work if one was simply unaware of, or simply dismissed without reason, all other beliefs of the kind in question. And that’s silly, especially in today’s fairly global society. It was at one time possible for Christians to think that other religions were sunk in darkness and evil. There were few places where they could interact with people of other faiths, and their own religion seeming rational (Aquinas’ theology is a monument to a certain kind of rationality) was enough to give some kind of warrant for believing the truth of their own beliefs.

    However, science introduces a kind of tertium quid. It has very strict markers for what is to be considered justified true belief. Plantinga can’t simply, now, say that he is not aware of these markers, or the requirement for justification they impose on everyone. Something analogous to scientific evidence — say, documentary evidence, in historical studies — must be provided in order for someone to say, reasonably, that a belief is warranted. He can’t simply retreat into a religious fastness, and speak in terms of a sensus divinitatis for which there is no evidence. Talk about the blind leading the blind! The problem with basing something on personal experience is simply that there is no way to test, first, whether the experience is similar to someone else’s, and second, whether the experience is an experience “of” something. Lots of people, for instance, have the experience of being loved by someone, and then find out that it is not true. And Plantinga’s faith is isolated in that way. Because other people have different experiences, and believe those experiences to be of different otherworldly realities, he has a reason to doubt that his “experience of god” is really and experience of anything external to the experience itself, and it is obfuscating to use words to suggest otherwise.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      I don’t really think, outside evangelical Christianity, that Plantinga is taken very seriously.

      That may be true, but he is always trotted out by Christians as an example of a Very Serious Thinker. Arguably, he is the Most Very Seriousest Thinker for Christians, replacing even Lewis among those who want to think that they themselves are Serious Thinkers.

  31. Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    People confuse the road and the vehicle with the destination. The destination is the same for everyone. But of course, the start can’t be the same, neither the vehicle.

    Religions are vehicles. Cultures and times where the religions emerge are like roads.
    But the destination doesn’t change no matter the road or the vehicle you use.

    And nothing prevents you to build your own vehicle and find your own road, especially if you were born near the end of the 20th century.

    The problem with religion is that it is deeply linked with the identity. People are convinced that only their vehicle can lead them to the right place because that is what the car dealer told them. And since they love their car so much, they are not interested in knowing that other kind of vehicle can do the job too. It kind of diminishes their own vehicle, not to forget they only know the road they know. All this in the end makes the destination secondary.

    As for for atheists, the destination just doesn’t exist. They’d like to see it before they go on it. But that is not possible.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      The destination is death and everyone arrives there, theist or atheist. One can fool oneself that driving a fancy vehicle there makes a difference, but it doesn’t.

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        That is what I meant by atheist believes there is no destination. You can’t be sure about this. Of course, if you believe that mind is exclusively a brain product, and that the case is closed because -you know, isn’t that obvious- then it is normal that you think your self awareness will be gone when what you think produces it stops to function.

        Unfortunately, we can’t test this scientifically.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

          We can be sure about this. The mind being a product of the brain is not a matter of belief, it’s a matter of testable fact.

          • Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

            So why is consciousness still a mystery?

            Of course, damaging the brain can affect the mind. But that doesn’t mean that the brain produces consciousness, it maybe just filters it. You may damage your tv and have a bad reception. But it doesn’t mean that the show is going on in your tv.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

              We don’t understand everything about consciousness yet, not even close, but that it is a product of the brain has been beyond debate for quite some time now.

              Occam’s Razor deals with your “filter” hypothesis quite nicely. There is no reason to postulate an external source of mind.

              • Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                Occam, ironically, explained well why his razor isn’t effective when it comes to God, but that is another topic.

                But yes, there would be a reason to postulate an “external” source of the mind, especially when you really to investigate what you think is your “self”. But the answer wouldn’t be neither external or interior…

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

                Do you have a reason to postulate an external source of the mind that doesn’t rely on a youtube video?

              • Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

                This is what I’m doing all the time I come here but since it seems so counter intuitive and that even if I repeat and repeat that we are grasping the world through a dual mode that isn’t absolute and that makes us believe strongly that what makes us who we are cannot have an uncreated ground, I prefer from times to times use someone like Alan Watts whose mother language is english and who knows better than me about non-duality.

            • Another Matt
              Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

              The television “filters electromagnetic waves.” What form of energy do you suppose the brain filters “as consciousness?” Through which fundamental force(s) does “consciousness” operate?

              In principle we could one day be able to build a machine that also “filters consciousness,” right? If so, will the machine not just be a really, really complex computer?

              Consciousness is a “mystery” because we haven’t got to this point in our technology yet. Mysteries are for solving, not revering.

              • Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                We can’t know what is consciousness because consciousness isn’t an object. It is uncreated and formless. It is a no-thing. It is an empty space that allows perceptions to be felt.

                But when that awareness happens within a body, it has no choice to feel that there is a lonesome self in the body who thinks and feels/sees individually what his going on.

                That mystery, because it is the key by which every perception happens, even before they are split into objective or subjective perceptions,
                that mystery in theory could be only solved by your self. Only you is able to see by itself the game that is going on.

              • Another Matt
                Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

                You’re the one who brought up “filtering” and the analogy with TV reception. If it’s a “no-thing” without form, in what sense is it “out there” to be filtered? If it’s not, then the TV analogy is a poor one.

                You’ve posted this video more than once. I think you should go read “The Mind’s I” for as many perspectives as you might want on this subject:

                http://themindi.blogspot.com/

                (Sometimes your perspective reminds me, oddly, of Smullyan’s “Is God a Taoist?” reprinted in that book.)

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

                You’re ignoring that fact that one person can study the activity in someone else’s brain, or even their own.

              • Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

                I’m not ignoring this. And I,m not suggesting that the mind doesn’t leave traces in the brain. I’m saying that those traces are traces, not the mind itself.

              • Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                As for -Is God a taoist-, the problem with those kind of book is that they totally ignore the possibility that we are grasping the world through a certain mode and that this mode isn’t absolute.
                So all their arguments are based on a dualistic binary approach where they speak to a God who would also be limited by a dual mode since they ignore totally what is a non-dual mode.

                So they think that because their logic has no flaws, they can disprove God without realizing that from the beginning, the binary, dual mode of logic they use to discredit the idea that there might something else is a flaw itself!

                And we didn’t talk about the problem with language itself being a dual mode of communication that can,t speak about what is non-dual…

                As for the tv analogy, since I can only make analogies with using word, there won’t be a good way to describe the non-object consciousness is (not).

              • Another Matt
                Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

                So all their arguments are based on a dualistic binary approach where they speak to a God who would also be limited by a dual mode since they ignore totally what is a non-dual mode.

                They’re also ignoring simultaneous 4-day time cube.

              • josh
                Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

                @ Another Matt
                +1! They are educated stupids. ARE YOU A JEW?!

        • Sastra
          Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          No, actually — we can test this scientifically. It’s a scientific conclusion.

          Theists, on the other hand, like to think that there’s some way to intuit truth more directly, without the need for all the caution and respect for consensus. Since all scientific conclusions are tentative, they interpret this as permission to make up some conclusion they like better and pretend that both are either on even footing — or that the special intuition one has the edge.

          • Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            What can be tested scientifically? That consciousness is a brain product? That it is a thing? I’d like to see the conclusion you are talking about.

            • Sastra
              Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

              Whether mind is a product of the brain is a testable working hypothesis, and capable of being falsified. The burden of coming up with a situation where mind/brain dependency doesn’t hold has not been met.

              • Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                It is not because you can’t test it that it hasn’t been met.

                Even if someone is liberated from his own egotic perception and reaches a point where he perceives everything from a superjective perspective (beyond the objective and subjective duality), or in other words, “he” doesn’t interfere anymore with the “always there uncreated consciousness” in the sense that what is seen is a direct total neutral perception but still subjective (awareness is its own subject in this case), well, if that is reached, it can’t be verified by any scientific instrument or method.

                You would probably see a change in the brain, but as you know, the map isn’t the territory…

            • truthspeaker
              Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

              “is a thing” is far too vague to be a scientifically testable statement.

            • Posted March 1, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

              Consciousness is a brain process, not a product.
              In any event, you are just another in a very long line of woo-meisters who claim something because it hasn’t been disproved.

              “So they think that because their logic has no flaws, they can disprove God without realizing that from the beginning, the binary, dual mode of logic they use to discredit the idea that there might something else is a flaw itself!”
              And they all lived happily ever after.

              Do you think your logic has no flaws? Ah, I believe I’ve deduced the problem. Digestion is not binary, but linear, and the output is an/a log.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      You’re conflating the road with the destination. Sorry, wrong.

      We’re all on a road — the same one at the same time. There’s no other road and no other choice but to be on it.

      It’s what happens at the road’s end that is the important bit. Theists declare that the road goes on forever and ever, with an after-death fork that sends people on one of two paths.

      Rational people see that when the road ends…it ends.

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        In my analogy, the road was referring to the cultural and historical context, and the vehicle, to the religions that evolve in that context.

        On a more general sense, you are right, we are all on the same road.

        But your conclusion about how theists see it’s end is purely christian.

        But eternity isn’t something that goes on forever as you (not) imagine. Eternity is outside time. It has never begun, that is why it can never end, and that is why it is eternal. But it is not something that always continue like on time frame.

        We think of eternity in this way because this is how we grasp reality, through discontinuity and opposite. A forever now doesn’t make sense to us, even if we constantly live in the present in reality. But because of our space/time plane, after and before do seem to have a solid, absolute existence, just like good and devil, left and right, or black and white.

        But if you can get rid of that dualistic perception, you could see that in reality, there is no “you” in your body, only a constant present “self-awareness” that cannot disappear because it never started.

        What “you” thinks about its self-awreness is a complete different story. But because “you” takes itself for granted, it never really questioned how real is for real the story…

        • truthspeaker
          Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          there is no “you” in your body, only a constant present “self-awareness” that cannot disappear because it never started.

          Constant? Never started?

          I’m certainly not self-aware when I’m asleep. And I have a pretty good idea of when my self-awareness started – sometime between 1970 and 1972.

          • Posted March 1, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

            Again, if you accept that consciousness is uncreated, you have to understand that when egos are created from the original uncreated source, the egos that will emerge with the sensations the baby starts to feel are strongly linked with his memory. Ego = memory.

            The limitations of the body, + the language + the time/space in which we evolve, all this contributes to shape our mind on a dual mode that we think is absolute. In that mode, we can’t differentiate our self from the uncreate consciousness from which we are borrowing our awareness.

            And since we experience everything in discontinuity, (on/off, past/present, end/beginning, good/evil, left/right…), we are convinced that what shaped us is an objective absolute process without realizing that we think like this only because it is the only mode we know.

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

              Do you have any evidence – any at all – that this uncreated consciousness exists?

              If not, you have no grounds for claiming that self-awareness is “constant” or “never started”. We have identified the parts of the brain that are important to self-awareness. We have good reasons to think self-awareness emerges gradually in very young children. We know that people stop experiencing self awareness during non-dreaming stages of sleep and when parts of the frontal lobes are exposed to powerful magnetic fields or otherwise disturbed.

              • Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

                I can’t taste a peach for you.
                You would have to experience what is non-dual perception in order to see the uncreated nature of what allows you to think like you are now thinking.

              • Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

                JF Fortier, you can’t taste a peach for me if, by that, you mean “I can’t taste a peach and be you at the same time.” But that just follows from the fact that you are not me. In that sense you can’t drive my car for you either. If you mean “I can’t taste a peach and thereby give you the experience of tasting a peach,” then that, at the present state of technology, is also true, but, again in that sense, you can’t drive my car for me either.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

                So no evidence then.

              • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

                Bernard, I can drive your car at your place if you allow me to do so. But I’ll never be able to taste a peach for you.

                Even, if I tell you that its taste is somewhere between a pear and a prune, you won’t know what I’m talking about unless you taste one.

              • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

                JF, But equally I won’t know what it’s like to drive a car unless I do it. It might seem as if you can describe it to me, but that is only because other things I might have done seem, e.g. being a passenger in a car or riding a bike seem more like driving a car than pear and prune do to peach. But in the end all you can say is that I have to sit on a seat like a passenger and I have to steer the car and look out for other road users a bit like I do when riding a bike.

              • Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

                You were talking about your car… ;p

          • Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

            If you believe that only the scientific method can provide real knowledge, then there is no evidence according to your belief. But your belief is what philosophy calls scientism.

            • Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

              The scientific method as it is normally understood is not intended to provide knowledge but to provide maximally justified knowledge claims.

              • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

                Yeah but by maximally justified you mean that it can be repeated over and over so it is proved that it is really really true.

                The less the human mind interacts with the experiences, the more you’ll have chances to provide maximally justified results. But because we talk about here about a certain way to perceive things, it just can’t be measured. It deals with how you let down an egotic consciousness in favor of a non egotic consciousness. Science can’t deal with that

                That there is only a little minority of people that are able to reach a non-dual state doesn’t invalidate the veracity of a non-dual state.

                It is a big evolutionary leap that isn’t easy to do. One day I guess it will become the norm, just like walking and speaking finally became the norm.

            • Diane G.
              Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:15 am | Permalink

              But your belief is what philosophy calls scientism.

              Because if you run out of all other plausible arguments, resort to calling names.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

                Name calling??

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

                Yes, this is name-calling. Most Books on general philosophy don’t even have the word “scientism” in the index. I only say most because I haven’t actually checked them all.

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 4, 2012 at 2:16 am | Permalink

                What Bernard said.

                (Thanks for that, Bernard. Good to know.)

              • Posted March 4, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

                Never heard of Karl Popper?
                Scientism is not an accusation, it is neither bad or good, it is a way to think…

                Accordingly to Wiki:

                The term frequently implies a critique of the more extreme expressions of logical positivism[2][3] and has been used by social scientists such as Friedrich Hayek,[4] philosophers of science such as Karl Popper,[5] and philosophers such as Hilary Putnam[6] to describe the dogmatic endorsement of scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to only that which is measurable.[7]

              • Diane G.
                Posted March 6, 2012 at 1:09 am | Permalink

                As I’ve said before, I’ll accept “scientism” when we have “philosophism” as an equally common term.

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      This is what I’m doing all the time I come here but since it seems so counter intuitive and that even if I repeat and repeat that we are grasping the world through a dual mode that isn’t absolute and that makes us believe strongly that what makes us who we are cannot have an uncreated ground, I prefer from times to times use someone like Alan Watts whose mother language is english and who knows better than me about non-duality.

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        (above)
        wrong reply at the wrong place

      • Another Matt
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        JF,

        I’m trying my best to make sense of your statements. Have I missed where you articulated what you mean by “dual-mode?”

        • Posted March 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

          I never cease to explain it but since it is the only mode we usually know, it is hard to understand how our mode works because we can’t compare it with another mode. That is why we take for granted a lot of things without realizing that our self and the world are seen through a certain lentil that distorts our view.

          • Another Matt
            Posted March 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

            Why do you call it “dual?”

            • Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

              Since it is our average mode, it is easier to describe what our dual mode is through what it is not. Wiki says that:

              “All schools of Buddhism teach No-Self (Pali anatta, Sanskrit anatman). Non-Self in Buddhism is the Non-Duality of Subject and Object, which is very explicitly stated by the Buddha in verses such as “In seeing, there is just seeing. No seer and nothing seen. In hearing, there is just hearing. No hearer and nothing heard.” (Bahiya Sutta, Udana 1.10).

              Non-Duality in Buddhism does not constitute merging with a supreme Brahman, but realising that the duality of a self/subject/agent/watcher/doer in relation to the object/world is an illusion.”

              So it has nothing to do with western philosophical dualism. All the eastern traditions have their twist when it comes to explain dualism.But keep in mind that language is a dual by-product so it is hard to make analogies to explain what is non-dualism.

              Basically, non-dualism means not-2. You are not-2 when you stop to think you are separated from the external world.
              That means like he Buddha explained above that you by-pass the ego, you are “pure” awareness, you experience everything directly, in a forever now, without the filter of a personal memory.

              But even mystic literature from Islam, the Kabbala and Christianity talk about non-dualism. Fanaa in sufism is the process by which you erase your self to let God (uncreated consciousness) act through you. The same things can be found in the writings of Meister Eckhart and jewish sages.
              It is a universal thing…

              • Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:03 am | Permalink

                If you haven’t read the last chapter of Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” I strongly recommend it to you. He discusses the primacy of consciousness and the illusion of self (and references the various mystical traditions which have understood these ideas) in a rational and skeptical way.

                The problem with mystics is that they’re still often bound to the language, if not the concepts, of their religion. I’m unconvinced that Buddha was a mystic at all, a view I came to after reading Stephen Batchelor’s “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist”.

                I do think though that anyone who wants to talk about nonduality needs to be damn sure they know what they are talking about. I don’t really know, so I try not to talk about it except to challenge those who pretend to know…

                Therefore, I’m going to ask you directly: do you think that you have this nondual perspective that others here don’t?

              • Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

                To Devdas
                I’m looking forward to read Harris since i know that he addresses eastern spiritual traditions.
                But I wonder how much credibility you can have if you don’t do the job yourself. That goes beyond what the intellect can grasp…

                Mystic don’t always clash with their tradition.
                Christianity may be more suspicious about it but all the other traditions offer technic to reach that state.
                Ironically, mysticism is something very concrete. It is where faith is suppose to lead you in the end. so we could say, if we compare with christianity, then all eastern traditions are mystic in the sense they they want you to experience “God”, i.e. the Void, the Tao , or Brahman (though I’m less familiar with hinduism).
                Non-dualism is mystic in a sense. So it is clear for me that the Buddha is mystic. Enlightenment is a mystic destination. It is very concrete even if it clashes with what we usually know.
                As for myself, I can say that I had some non-dual experiences but I’m too lousy and attached to my self to do the real job. But I would say I had a taste.

              • Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

                You say, “But I wonder how much credibility you can have if you don’t do the job yourself.”

                And then you say, “I had some non-dual experiences but I’m too lousy and attached to my self to do the real job.”

                Confusing. Are you referring to yourself when you talk about credibility? Anyway, I agree with the first quote. Which is why it’s better, IMHO, not to talk about it until you “do the job yourself”. And with that, I shall be withdrawing from this off-topic discussion.

              • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

                Please, don’t wait after me to withdraw. But I hope that you expected the same from Harris.

                Now, I told you that I had some experiences, but I’m very far from being in a constant non-dual state.

                I’m like a millionaire who won at the lottery and lost everything. He can tell how it is to have 1 million in his bank account. But it is nothing like building a fortune and keep it.

        • Posted March 1, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

          He’s sounding like a schizophrenic. He doesn’t make sense, but his concepts have a sort of internal consistency in a surreal way.

          Maybe he is french, though.

  32. eric
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Plantinga: As I said, this can indeed be vertiginous; but what can we make of it? What can we infer from it about what has warrant and how we should conduct our intellectual lives?

    We can infer that any “Sensus Divinitatis” is imprecise. It is a detector that yields 40,00, 50,000, maybe several billion substantively different readings of the same object.

    And on the basis of that alone, we shouldn’t trust it.

    Plantinga argues that conclusions like “all religions are wrong” are on the same footing as “my religion is right.” THey all come from the methodologies of internal sense and/or social indoctrination. What he completely misses is the fact that the variation in conclusions undermine these methodologies

    Its like someone claiming that if belief A is based on roulette-wheel choice, and belief B is based on roulett-wheel choice, they are equal. Maybe, in a methodological way, that’s true. But one should also step away from asking questions about A and B, and remark that the roulette-wheel choice method is stupid.

    • Another Matt
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      What he’s trying to do is to say that “roulette-wheel choice method is stupid” is just one of the slots on the roulette wheel, and therefore “self-defeating.” It’s a facile “meta argument” that begs the question.

  33. Grania
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I have to disagree with you about one point you make, although only a little, if only to douse the self-righteous howls that will no doubt arise from the religiously-inclined “philosophers” out there.

    You say: “The missing ingredient in theology—the ingredient that has made science so successful—is doubt. In theology, doubt has been replaced by faith.”

    That is in fact not strictly accurate, a lot of mileage is gotten out of the notion of religious doubt.
    You are correct in one sense in that it is usually not the same sort of doubt as would be encountered in science. And certainly doubt, when encountered is not tested and treated in a rational way.

    The science version goes something like this:

    There may be a problem with this hypothesis / survey / test results
    How can we test this?
    How can we check our results?
    Do more tests.
    Check results
    Get peer review
    Adjust hypothesis if needed
    etc.

    It of course doesn’t work like this with religious faith. But the only fatheists who claim they have no doubts tend to be fairly fundamentalist. Catholicism for example has a grand old tradition of “doubt”. Of course religion has developed several exceptionally dishonest tricks to deal with genuine doubt, so as to completely undermine it’s actual usefulness.

    In general religious doubt is well-advertised as a sort of spiritual wrestling with the devil, only permitted by God to happen to those who are especially close to Him, or only perpetrated by a Devil who senses a strong devotee of the Enemy. More “sophisticated” minds of course re-word this in tongue-twisting terms so as to make it appear a little more like philosophy and a little less like rank superstition, but essentially, someone who claims they are experiencing religious doubt is told that they are in fact undergoing a “test” (no doubt set by a supernatural entity who hearts making humans jump through hoops and experience long, dark teatimes of the soul). It’s a clever move:

    Doubt is presented to the doubter as subtle evidence that they are already strong in The Force – sorry – Faith.
    The actual content of the doubt is therefore a dirty trick intended to fool you
    All that is required is that you keep on believing no matter what
    Eventually the doubt will go away, or you will find a way to rationalise it (if you are a ‘Phistimacated Theologian).

    Of course, this sort of clever manoeuvre is almost comic in its obvious tendentiousness and slightly unwitting dishonesty, but nevertheless, it is sufficient for many believers to claim that they do too “do doubt”.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Yes, well put. Theists often profess to love doubt, for doubt is necessary for real faith. Just as courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of fear, faith is not the absence of doubt: it’s the mastery of doubt.

      It’s the wrong framework. You’re not “mastering” anything but self-deception. It turns a person’s curiosity and honesty about the world into a vice, twisting it inward so that it seems like self-seeking, or an arrogant loss of nerve. Wondering whether you’re mistaken is reinterpreted into a test of commitment and loyalty to something Greater than yourself. If you pass the test, it will be an act of unselfishness.

      But since when do the theists themselves approach other fact claims this way? “Yeah, when I studied chemistry and biology I really began to have doubts that homeopathy worked. It was particularly hard to maintain my view that it was efficient when I saw the so-called supporting studies ripped apart for major errors and understood the many cognitive biases which can lead people to think something worked when it didn’t. BUT — you will be happy to know that I managed to ignore all that and I today dispense homeopathic remedies without any pangs of conscience! Yay me! It took a LOT of moral intestinal fortitude to deal with THAT mountain of criticism, you bet! I am no doubt the stronger and better for it, for as the support diluted I just became all the more certain I was right. I chalk that up to humility.”

      The only people they’re kidding is each other. But that is apparently enough.

      • TJR
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Nicely put. For both religion and homeopathy the evidence works homeopathically, the less of it there is the stronger it becomes.

  34. Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    One group may be right in their conclusions, and the other wrong, but this means that everyone’s work needs to be re-examined.

    I realize you were talking about IQ and race here, rather than religion, but: This. And I’m frankly surprised Plantinga didn’t take this angle instead.

    The fact that you can predict a person’s opinion on an issue based on where they are located does not automatically invalidate it… but it suggests that we should subject that opinion to a heightened level of skepticism.

    It seems incredibly unwise for Plantinga to deploy an argument that works exactly as well for other religions. Instead, he should have acknowledge that it makes us suspicious, but then asserted that it’s still possible that those who were raised Christian happened to luck into being taught the truth, and make a positive case for Christianity. (Of course, one strongly suspects the reason why he avoided this course is because one cannot make a respectable case for Christianity…)

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      I once asked a born-again Christian why I should accept that he knew the “truth” when all other religions made the same claim. His response was to tell me that there was such a thing as “absolute truth” and it applied to his religious beliefs.

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        And I think that’s a fair response — except for the lack of justification for it applying to his beliefs, of course. Well, at the very least, it’s a better response than Plantinga’s.

        This relates to the incessant ‘tone’ debate. You can’t just observe that two sides use similar tactics or that their beliefs have a similar structure, and therefore declare them equivalent. If I go on an angry profanity-laced rant about Rethuglican opposition to contraception, you can’t just say I’m the same as Rush Limbaugh because he also calls people names if they disagree with him about the contraception issue. The fact remains that I’m right, and he’s a big fat idiot. Sorry to be absolutist, but that is the truth.

        I would argue that your friend is making a more legitimate argument than Plantinga’s, even though it falls apart on the merits. Your friend is at least having the courage to assert that the reason the equivalence is irrelevant is because his beliefs do, in fact, happen to be true. Plantinga wants to weasel out of the equivalence rather than facing it head-on.

        • Llwddythlw
          Posted March 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

          I would tell my friend that his argument beats Plantinga’s, except that my friend may not have heard of Plantinga.

  35. FastLane
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    It’s one of the most annoying pieces of self-justification I’ve ever seen, and truly underscores the difference between science and religion You can read it for free here.

    Are you trying to give me an aneurysm? =P

    So, Plantiga is basically demonstrating that sophistimicated theology is equivalent to sticking your fingers in your ears and going “LALALALALALAAAA” as loud as you can?

    So noted.

  36. Llwddythlw
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    In respect of philosophical arguments against science, Alex Rosenberg had this to say in a recent interview in which he also discussed an argument of Plantinga against evolution.

    “If I have to hold in the balance 400 years of science against a clever philosophical argument, I know which one I’m going to prefer. I’m going to prefer science. And it seems clear to me that science is incompatible with theism and therefore in that balance I just can’t take clever philosophical arguments seriously except as conundrums…Zeno proved 2,300 years ago that motion is impossible. It took 2,000 years to figure out what was wrong with that argument. Was anybody supposed to believe that motion was impossible until we figured out what was wrong with that argument? Of course not!”

  37. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Imagine if scientists held beliefs based on where they were born.
    .
    This reminds me of those German scientists who were Nazis or Nazi sympathizers and who dismissed relativity as “Jewish physics.” See any source on “Deutsche Physik.”

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I am also reminded of Lysenkoism. Biologists working in the Soviet Union during a certain span of time tended to accept Lysenkosim, or reside in gulags. Biologists elsewhere did not accept Lysenkoism.
      .
      But Lysenkoism and Deutshce Physik are not considered successful strains of science.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Imagine if scientists held beliefs based on where they were born.

      Reminds me of those folks who talk about “Western Science” and “Eastern Science” in order to get alternative medicine accepted as legitimate. They really do seem to think science is like religion.

  38. Andrew
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    So why is consciousness still a mystery?

    Of course, damaging the brain can affect the mind. But that doesn’t mean that the brain produces consciousness, it maybe just filters it. You may damage your tv and have a bad reception. But it doesn’t mean that the show is going on in your tv

    Consciousness is a mystery because it is a complicated phenomenon, whose study crosses epistemologically diparate (contradictory?) categories. e.g. What is the biochemistry of poetry?

    Why this analogy is so weak and needs to be put out of its misery yesterday, is that it fails to explain how brain damage can leave a mind intac, but for its ability to make moral judgements or interpret emotional cues in language, while leaving semantic interpretation untouched. No damage to a tv will make Rush Limbaugh support Obama in the 2012 election, or care about other people. No damage to a tv will make John Stewart forget what he was going to say during a re-run.

    I leave it to the proponents of the “mind is a show on the mushy tv” to change to semantic ontent of a message on TV with a hammer.

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      When it comes to what would be a consciousness without an “I”, analogies are limited because the only consciousness we know is the one we experience through our own “I”. Analogies are efficient because they relate to something we already know.

      The tv analogy is effective only to say that the program isn’t the tv and the brain is not consciousness. That’s it.

      But if it would be true that it exists an uncreated source for consciousness from which we would borrow right now our own “I” sensation, it is logic to think that the raw source itself has no personality, that it is beyond historical, societal, familial, linguistic, emotional, psychological influences. It doesn’t operate with the same dual limited mode that we use.

      We could say that we “print” our personality on an uncreated source that would be filtered by our brain in order to function on a time/space plane. A dual mode is perfect for that. That is why evolution came with it.

      But moral judgements, just like language, are also by-products of that same dual mode. So if the organic machine that makes us think in a dual way starts to have “mechanical” problems, it is normal that it affects on different levels the personality. But the personality and the source of consciousness are 2 different things
      In its core, the primal uncreated consciousness is never affected. Only our individualized perception is. But that one is an illusion, even when functioning “normally”.

      • Another Matt
        Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        JF Fortier,

        You might find this interesting if you haven’t seen it yet:

        • Posted March 1, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

          I’m familiar with Dennett. But thank you. Believe me, it is not because I don’t agree with him that I find him boring. Like we say in french, he smashes a lot of open doors…

          Dennett offers the best up to date classical materialist explanation for consciousness. It is coherent with his belief.
          Oups, sorry, Dennett can’t have belief, he is a philosopher…

          The problem with a lot of materialist western philosophers is that they believe their intellect can grasp the whole picture without realizing that they can think like they can think for some reasons, because of some boundaries, that are linked with language itself… You know that dual mode…

          • truthspeaker
            Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            While some cognitive scientists and linguists do posit that language shapes cognition, it is hardly a settled proposition.

            • Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              If you would have a non-dual experience, that would be very clear. But unless, you can “reason” without words, i.e.: in a non-dual state, it s not possible to see how language is itself a dual mode of communication that shapes our mind to think dualistically. It is a strong conditioning that starts in the womb…

      • Posted March 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Would somebody translate this int English please?

        • Jeff Engel
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

          Well, into Literal anyway. There’s no assessing it for truth until we can manage that – in the meantime, we’re just foundering around trying to make that translation for ourselves, and none of those interpretations seems to match what JF Fortier has in mind to make the argument work.

    • McWaffle
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      Not to mention that TVs have identifiable antennae. If somebody shows anatomical evidence that the brain has a structure adapted to receive incoming signals and a mechanism for decoding/translating them, I’d be far more willing to give that analogy a shot.

  39. JBlilie
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Surely not. Furthermore, self-referential problems once more loom; this argument is another philosophical tar baby.

    … I doubt it.

    Wow, was biting and salient arguments he has!

    If this the best that a top philosopher/theologian can do, no wonder they cry foul when we call them on such BS!

    Deep, very deep there AP.

  40. JBlilie
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Likewise, if you are a Christian because your parents were Christian and imbued you with the faith, that should cast doubt on whether you really arrived at Christian beliefs through a process of rational scrutiny, or whether your “rationale” for being a Christian is simply a post facto confabulation.

    Dr. C., you are bending waaaaaay over backwards on this. Of course none of them has given it any rational thought or scrutiny! The ones that do can only come up with the baloney you’ve quoted on this post.

  41. Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read that in prior ages a more objective and logically-valid argument that Christianity is true was generally used. This was based on Jesus predicting the coming of a “Son of Man” who would lay waste to Jerusalem and its Temple, within the lifetimes of some present at the ostensible time of the utterance of the prediction. This of course did exactly happen, under direction of a then Roman general and emperor-to-be, as is documented in detail in Josephus’ War of the Jews. In times past, this book by Josephus was often incorporated with the bible to butress the case. (The Preterists were and are a branch of Christianity holding that the laying low of Jerusalem by Titus Flavius was the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophesy.)

    Nowadays of course this has morphed into the myth of a future “second coming” and so forth, but it is really easy to see by reading Josephus and the NT together what is being referred to in the latter. It should therefore be practically obvious that the Roman Flavians are prime suspects for having invented Christianity. Perhaps, a little too obvious and so now the Pantingas of the world are reduced to such sophistry.

    It is Joseph Atwill’s book, “Caesar’s Messiah,” that makes this case. I’m convinced it’s certainly true. The thing is, the whole of the canonical gospels are a retelling of Titus’ campaign crushing the rebellion in the Galillee and on into Jerusalem. It is really really obvious that this it true when the relevant passages are put side by side, which is what Atwill does in his book. Jesus’ ministry follows the same path as Titus, and episodes in Jesus’ ministry reflect battles or skirmishes described in the WOTJ. For example, and one of my favorites, the demoniac of Gadara is a reference to a desparate charge of rebels attacking a Roman column (in the same location) that resulted in many drowning and many being captured. Josephus then notes how the ideas that infected the rebels sprang from the head of one man, the rebel leader John. In the gospel, Jesus rids the demoniac of his demons and then the man goes off to proclaim the miracle in the Decapolis. In Josephus, John is taken prisoner and not killed. Atwill proposes, he is imprisoned at the Caesarian cult office in the Decapolis, where he is forced to write religious propaganda that bears his name to this day.

    Jerry, I sent you a copy of this book a while ago. I think you would like it. It’s really not crazy at all. It seems perfectly well supported to me. I think it is a really important thing to know that is unfortunately being overlooked by even those who would want to know it.

    • Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      While I’m subscribing, I might add a little more.

      Josephus goes on to say also that demons are “none other than the spirits of the wicked”.

      One might then ask, ok but why are there two demoniacs in the gospels, and at two different locations? Answer: there are two rebel leaders in Josephus. The other rebel leader (Simon) is from around where the other demoniac is spotted.

      Finally, I want to point out that it doesn’t matter whether the Flavians actually did force the rebel leader John to write what we call the gospel of John. Even if somebody else wrote it, the intended underlying meaning of the joint Josephus/gospel construct can nonetheless be that it is intended to be interpreted that the demoniac represents both John the rebel leader and John the ostensible gospel author.

      It’s also important to be cognizant that Josephus, a.k.a. Flavius Josephus, was (if he even existed as a real person) an adopted member of the imperial Flavian family, after he is said (and this is on wikipedia) to have claimed a revelation upon his capture that Vespasian was the true messiah of the Jews. One might also want to be aware that WOTJ is official Flavian propaganda, as evidenced by the dedication on the title page by Caesar Titus himself. (This is also not difficult to confirm independently, from online sources.)

  42. truthspeaker
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    We already know our perceptions and cognition are unreliable. You come here again and again telling us something we already know and then drawing conclusions that don’t follow from it.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, supposed to be a reply to JF Fortier

    • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      The difference is that I’m orienting more precisely how our senses are fooling us.
      Well, I’m not inventing anything new here.
      Plato’s cavern’s is all about that but eastern traditions have pointed exactly where the misunderstanding comes from.
      Again, because it is a matter of perception, only you could verify how you were perceiving the world in a certain way and that this mode wasn’t absolute…

  43. JBlilie
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I’ll have to add one more to my list of arguments for God(s) which I think all (100% fall into on of these categories:

    1. Popularity:
    a. People have always believed in gods, therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).
    b. All people at all times “felt the need” for god(s), therefore, like the other needs (hunger for food, thirst for moisture, lust for sex) the object of that need must exist, therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s)

    2. Utility:
    a. belief in god(s) provide(s) comfort, social cohesion, social supports, moral compass, world view. Therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).
    b. Morality: It is asserted that morality is provided by god(s). Therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).

    3. Design:
    a. The life we see around us had to have been “designed” by god(s). Therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).
    b. The universe is “designed” for human life by god(s). Therefore it must be true that god(s) exist(s).

    4. Necessity:
    a. There has to be a god (or gods) that is the greatest thing imaginable. (ontological argument; Anselm)
    b. There has to be a god (or gods) that is the first cause. (cosmological argument; Aquinas)

    5. Personal experiences:
    a. I had this amazing “feeling of god(s)”, therefore god(s) exist(s).
    b. I have personally seen god(s) turn around lives, therefore god(s) exist(s). (Or god(s) turned my life around.)

    6. Science is unreliable:
    a. Science can’t explain everything, therefore god(s) had to have done the things we can’t (yet) explain. God(s) must exist to fill these knowledge gaps.
    b. Science makes assumptions about the universe (e.g. physical law continuity through time and space), therefore that’s faith, it’s the same as faith in god(s), therefore god(s) exist(s).

    Every single argument I’ve read by every single theologian falls into these simple categories when you strip away the smoke, mirrors, and sundry sophistry. You have to want to believe this crap to believe it.

    AP is basically saying: I don’t think so, QED. Holy hoppin’ Hank on a pogo stick!

    Here’s a really enjoyable list of arguments/proofs for god.

    My favorite:

    ARGUMENT FROM INTIMIDATION, a.k.a. TOMAS DE TORQUEMADA’S ARGUMENT:
    (1) See this bonfire?
    (2) Therefore, God exists.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:24 am | Permalink

      Your analysis seems all-encompassing to me.

  44. Andrew
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I would never argue that consciousness is identical with “brain”, but rather that it is produced by the brain. Moreover, without a physical substrate, consciousness is impossible.

    Consciousness can and does exist without self-awareness. Sleepwalkers, people with multiple-personality disorder, people on amnesia-producing (“rape”) drugs, profoundly drunk people, people navigating obstacles using Type 1 blindsight, and sufferers of some types of dissociative personality disorders represent to me examples –albeit different types since I am invoking memory of acting as a requirement for conscious action which I’m not absolutely sure is truly necessary– of people who have consciousness without an “I” sort of self-awareness.

    I am extremely sceptical of science-fiction’s “consciousness transfers” to androids, etc.

    Whether machines can be conscious seems to me to require a much more precise definition of consciousness. Currently, I don’t think machine consciousness could possibly imitate biological consciousness for a whole host of reasons that would require a lot more typing on my part.

    Incidentally, I think this sort of thing is a task suited to trained philosophers of the sort –like Dan Dennett for one– who realize the necessity, if not sufficiency of empirical data in philosophy or any legitimate search for knowledge. Yes, that was a thinly-veiled glance of contempt towards theology, aesthetic philosophy and metaphysics –what little I have forced myself to read of it– in the previous sentence.

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon was a very entertaining read that bugged the hell out of me because his world of casual consciousness transference entailed that all brains were identical meat-computers capable of running any old consciousness one might throw in there.

  45. kevink
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I think that you may be committing the genetic fallacy here. Pointing out that because someone is born in circumstances that would make it unlikely that they would or would not believe in X, doesn’t make X any more true or false. I could say because I was born in Virginia I believe that world is round, and if you were to use that as a basis for saying the world was flat you’d be wrong. There are not many Zoroastrians in the world, but just because of that fact, it doesn’t follow that Zoroastrianism, or Christianity is any more or less true. You’d have to engage in the arguments for or against the world being round, or for or against any given tenant of a religion.

    So all Plantinga is saying is that using this argument (the genetic fallacy) against a particular religion and to draw an inference that all regions are therefore not true (or some say, all are true in their own way) simply doesn’t follow. Neither does it follow that because Plantinga is himself a Christian and came to his conclusions because of that fact, mean that his arguments are therefore any more or less correct because that, is again an instance of the genetic fallacy. He is writing from the perspective of a branch of philosophy called epistemology, and frankly, having some familiarity with that subject, based on the criteria of that discipline, his arguments (in this instance) are fairly rock solid.

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      The geographical correlation is not irrelevant. It may not demonstrate that a given religion is false, but it undoes Plantinga’s project.

      Plantinga is trying to show how Xianity can be arrived at discursively; that it is a rational conclusion. The geographical correlation shows that reason is not how Xianity, or any other religion is arrived at. Your religion is an accident of your environment. At the very least, it shows that then same bit of disingenuous reasoning can lead to a great many different conclusions.

      A keen observer would therefore treat all religions as highly suspect.

    • Another Matt
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      What is this branch of philosophy called “epistemology?” I don’t think anyone here will have been familiar with it.

      Seriously, though: yes, the genetic fallacy is related, but it’s not what’s operational in Jerry’s (or Plantinga’s) argument. If Coyne had said “Christianity is false because Americans adhere to it” or “Christianity is false because it came from the Middle East” he would be guilty of the genetic fallacy. Instead, the argument is that “Given the lack of empirical evidence for any given religion, and correlative effect of geography and culture on religious beliefs, there is no good reason to believe any of them.” No genetic fallacy because he is pointing at this correlation in conjunction with the lack of evidence, not dismissing each individual religion “because” of where it came from.

      Similarly, Plantinga is saying, “but don’t the beliefs surrounding whether the geographic/culture & religion correlation matters also itself have a geographical/cultural correlation? So if you believe you can dismiss religion on that basis we can dismiss all those beliefs about religious belief on the same basis.” The problem is that in this argument Plantinga fails to address the evidence issue at all, except to point to things like Sensus Divinitatis. But if such sense were supposed to be God-given and reliable, then the correlation itself is evidence that it does not exist, or that god was faulty, or that he only installed it in people from a given geographical area or culture. We suspect it’s the first, and the latter two raise a lot of questions about god’s “omnis” that won’t be easy to sweep under the rug.

      • Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        What is this branch of philosophy called “epistemology?”

        “Epistemology” literally means “theory of knowledge”. An epistemological theory is an account of what knowledge is and how we justify knowledge claims. Historically there have been two main schools of thought, the “rationalist” school (e.g. Descartes, Malebranche) school that holds that the chief route to knowledge is through use of reason and “empiricist” school (e.g. Hume, Locke, Ayer, Popper) which holds that the chief route to knowledge is through the senses and through experimentation etc. The vast majority of philosophers today would endorse an empiricist epistemology. An example of an epistemological claim is Popper’s falsification principle: for something to count as a knowledge you have to be able to say what it would mean for it to be false.

        • Another Matt
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          Bernard Hurley, thanks, but I forgot the snark tags. I thought kevink’s statement below was silly, considering the community here (as though none of us had heard of epistemology):

          He is writing from the perspective of a branch of philosophy called epistemology…

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      That would only make sense if people in one region had access to information that people in another region did not.

      But people living in Christian cultures have had contact with people in Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and animist cultures for hundreds of years. If one religious tradition had more compelling evidence for it than any of the others, we would expect the geographical factor in religious belief to be much smaller.

  46. kevink
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga believes “evolution is true” by the way.

  47. Badger3k
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Pink letters on a black background? My eyes hurt too much that I stopped reading before my brain could hurt.

  48. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    You can read it for free here.

    Oh, dear. I’m one of those who think that, if Jerry took the time to slog through this, I should as well. If you haven’t, you should know that the bottom line is that Buddhists, apparently, don’t believe it deeply wrong for a counselor to use his position of trust to seduce a client.

    I couldn’t help but compare this to the chapter The Nature of Belief in Sam Harris’s The End of Faith. It’s like sewage effluent and distilled water.

  49. Posted March 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    The more he pontificates, the more he doubts. The poor man is struggling to justify his waning beliefs in the light of science. The more we pay attention to him, the more he thinks he has made a valid point.

  50. Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Late to the party, but let me see if I’ve got this straight:

    The geographical/genetic dimension determining which religion you’re likely to participate in doesn’t bear on whether the religion is true or not. In other words, yeah, there are lots of religion’s, but one of them has to be true.

    Um, no. Has he considered the possibility that none are true?

    And Xianity can be declared is the one that’s true because he has certain feelings? He feels like its true, therefore it’s true? QED?

    *eyeroll*

    • Posted March 1, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      Stupid smartphone put in apostrophes where there shouldn’t have been, and removed them where they should’ve.

      Sheesh.

  51. MikeN
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    If you think this argument was bad, try his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN)

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Jerry’s covered it before. And yes, it is breathtakingly stupid.


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] Pardi remains neutral on the subject, and delivered Plantinga’s arguments in a clear and fair way. He discussed some objections to Plantinga’s epistemology in much the same balanced manner. We’ll review those in my next post. In the meantime, listen or watch the video to bring yourself up to speed. Also, Jerry Coyne, PhD, has been discussing Plantinga’s views in a few of his recent posts. You can see his comments here, here and here. […]

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