Plantinga: Why God is a necessary being

I know I promised not to post on theologian Alvin Plantinga again, but I had to inflict his lucubrations on you one more time. In short, they’re so infuriating, so in violation of the normal canons of reason, that I have to put them on public display.   If for no other reason, read the following to see what passes for sophisticated philosophy in theology. And if you read it, I’ll put up some humor as a reward.

Here, in a chapter called “Necessary being” from The Analytic Theist (a collection of Plantinga’s “best” that I cited yesterday), is Plantinga’s argument for why God is a “necessary being”, i.e. has to exist.  Plantinga is very clever in his arguments: he never out and says that he is proving God’s existence, but merely showing how it is rational to believe in God.  Of course, the faithful think that proving God is exactly what he’s doing, and I’m sure he thinks he is, at least to himself, for Plantinga buys the whole schmear of Christian mythology.

His other tactic, which is equally annoying, is to vet a “truth” about God by saying that “Christians have long believed that. . ” or “Aquinas proposed that. . “, and then running with the proposal as if it were true, subtly transitioning from what theists have thought to what is real.  That is not of course evidence (e.g., take “Men have long thought that women were intellectually inferior. . ), but somehow Plantinga transmogrifies what people have believed into something that must be taken seriously on that account.

But I digress. In this excerpt from Plantinga’s  edited book Faith and Philosophy: Philosophical Studies in Religion and Ethics (1964, Eerdmans Publishing Co.), most of which you can read here, he defends the view that God is a “necessary being.”  By necessary being, he means this: the denial of God is inconceivable.  That is, God cannot fail to exist.

How does he show this? It’s simply a tricked-up version of the Cosmological Argument:  everything that exists is contingent—that is, dependent on some other circumstance—except, of course, for God., who’s defined as the ultimate cause.  I have read this chapter three times, and I can’t see any difference between Plantinga’s argument and the “First Cause” argument, except that his is couched in fancy words and stuff that looks like logic.

I won’t go into this in detail, because most of us know the refutations of the First Cause argument, but I want to show you how Plantinga argues that God’s nonexistence is impossible. Wrap your mind around this prose (make sure you have coffee first):

When the theist, therefore, asserts that God is the necessary being, we may construe his remark in the following way. He is pointing out that we cannot sensibly ask, “Why is it that God exists?” And he is holding that some assertion about God is the final answer in the series of questions and answer we have been considering.

Next, we should note that the question “Why does God exist?” never does, in fact arise.  [JAC:  OMG! We’ve all asked that!] Those who do not believe that God exists will not, of course, ask why He exists. But neither do believers ask that question. Outside of theism, so to speak, the question is nonsensical, and inside of theism, the question is never asked.  But it is not that the religious person fails to ask why God exists through inadvertence or because of lack of interest.  There may be many beings about which the question “Why do they exist?” is never in fact asked; and not all such beings are necessary in the sense in question. “Why does God exist?” is never in fact asked (either by religious or non-religious people) because it is a bogus quetion.  If a believer were asked why God exists, he might take it as a request for his reasons for believing in God; but if it is agreed that God exists, then it is less than sensible to ask why He does. And the explanation is not hard to find.  Essential to theism is an assertion to the effect that there is a connection between God and all other beings, a connection in virtue of which these others are causally dependent upon God. And this proposition is analytic [JAC: according to Plantinga, a proposition is “analytic” if its denial is self-contradictory]; it is part of the Hebraic-Christian concept of God the He is “Maker of heaven and earth.” But it is also a necessary truth that if God exists, He is Himself uncreated and in no way causally dependent upon anything else.  God is a causally necessary condition of the existence of anything else, whereas His existence has no necessary conditions. Now the absence of a necessary condition of the existence of anything is a sufficient condition of the nonexistence of that thing; and if a being has no causally necessary conditions, that its existence has no causally sufficient conditions.  And hence if God does exist, His going out of existence could have no causally sufficient conditions and is therefore causally impossible. If God has no necessary conditions, then it is analytic that His going out of existence, if it occurred, would be an uncaused event [JAC: Couldn’t God, if he’s omnipotent, commit divine suicide?]; for it is analytic that there can be no causally sufficient conditions of its occurrence.  Similarly, His beginning to exist is causally impossible [JAC: that’s by definition, of course], for since it is analytic that God is not dependent upon anything, He has no cause; and hence His coming into existence would be an event which could have no causally sufficient conditions.  So if God does exist, He cannot cease to exist; nor could He have begun to exist.

Now it becomes clear that it is absurd to ask why God exists. To ask that question is to presuppose that God does exist; but it is a necessary truth that if He has no cause, then there is no answer to a question asking for His causal conditions. The question “Why does God exist” is, therfore, an absurdity.

What dreadful stuff! It’s true only if you define God as being the one thing in the Universe that has no cause, i.e., the First Cause.  You could say exactly the same thing, but substituting the word “Universe” for “God” in all the above.  For, as we know, the Universe could have “caused” itself.

You get the “Theology” merit badge for having waded through this and the previous two days of Plantinga.  And, as a special treat, you get to see him expound this drivel in a VIDEO!

214 Comments

  1. Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I can do much better than Plantinga, I can prove my teapot is a necessary being:

    http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/my-teapot-is-a-necessary-being

    • chance
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Lots of spelling errors in there Bernard. Nice work, though :)

      • Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I know. For some reason spell-checking doesn’t work when I post to posterous. I often find typos when I read through the stuff later. Fortunately it is possible to correct them!

    • MosesZD
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      The Mighty Thor will smite you and your teapot!

  2. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Why do(es) god(s) exist?

    That’s easy.

    To fill in the gaps in knowledge.

    To give power to favored classes of people.

    To validate our prejudices.

    I’m sure there are lots more reasons, but these are the major ones. L

    • PB
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      The most practical goal of religion is to create a hierarchical social order in which the common people is controlled by few, caste of priest that related to power-holder / kings. Through real brute-force, social order and complemented by internal force, their own belief system. In this regard, religion is the most complete control of few to masses.

      This hierarchical structure is historically the basis of feudal social system (kingdoms, empires). In modern times more in accumulation of political power and wealth.

      Read this way, it is easy to understand the theists’ real goals and means to achieve that. And it explains the quirks, like that the successful religions are only those that at one time in their history was enforced by power (i.e. state religions). Also that the enmity between religions are not real, as long as the power and wealth division is clear. And so on.

      Most of the followers are not really into the belief system, they just want to have an easier ride in their life (and the facts that those being learned early in life is easily accepted as faith).

      But some of them are really into it, the fundies, the theologians, the enforcers of faith. This latter group is the loony fringe.

      I think it is about time society at large understand what religions really are. A societal tool.

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

      - Why did god cross the road?
      – The question never does, in fact, arise.
      He has no chicken; and hence His crossing the road would be an event which could have no causally sufficient conditions. So if god does cross the road, He cannot cease to cross the road; nor could He have begun to cross the road; hence, chicken.

      • AdamK
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        Moreover, chicken pie!

      • sasqwatch
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        The question never arises, because God is already on the other side.

        • H.H.
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

          God is on both sides at once! Omnipresence.

  3. coconnor1017
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    For those who need a palatte cleanser from Plantinga’s force-fed bullshit might enjoy an episode of Reasonable Doubts, where the doubt-casters take him apart.

    http://doubtreligion.blogspot.com/2008/10/episode-23-plantinga-schmantinga.html

  4. Steve
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    I’ll have to wait until later to see my “prize”.

  5. Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    “It’s true only if you define God as being the one thing in the Universe that has no cause, i.e., the First Cause.”

    No. You are being much too kind to Plantinga. His claim is true if you define God as existing as a matter of necessity, not quite the same thing. But analytical necessity is merely a matter of what follows logically from how we define words. So the argument reduces to “God exists by definition, because I said so”.

    The First Cause argument looks good by comparison.

  6. Kevin Anthoney
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    To pluck just one bit out of the mire:

    Now the absence of a necessary condition of the existence of anything is a sufficient condition of the nonexistence of that thing

    So if something doesn’t need to exist, it doesn’t exist?

    I call bollocks!

    • TJR
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      Actually that bit does make sense. If you have a bunch of necessary conditions required for something to exist, then you only have to find that one of them is absent in order to show that the thing doesn’t in fact exist.

      • Achrachno
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

        Even if it’s standing right in front of you and eating the sandwich you brought for your lunch.

        Philosophy has it’s limits — sometimes you have to open your eyes and just look around.

        • Jer
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          Well, no. If it’s standing right in front of you eating your lunch a good philosopher will revise his understanding of “necessary conditions” to eliminate the premise that caused him to believe that the thing in front of him did not exist. He’s been shown a contradiction, and a contradiction means that one of his premises is wrong and should be revised or eliminated.

          That’s what logic says to do at least. What philosophers actually DO with logic is another story. And what theologians do with logic makes me want weep.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted March 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

            Plantinga would argue that it is just as reasonable for him to believe that that thing is not standing right in front of you eating your lunch as for you to believe it is. Both ideas have equal epistemological warrant.

          • Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

            If God exists, he would be beyond the opposites and absolutes by which we can grasp the world (and develop logic).

            So I don’t think that our limited binary logic is a good tool to demonstrate or disprove anything about God…

            • Posted March 3, 2012 at 1:56 am | Permalink

              What is that supposed to mean?

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

                Again, it is hard to realize that our intellect works in a certain way, that we grasp the world through a certain mode, unless you can compare it with another mode.

                If you would be able to do that, you would realize that we grasp the world through opposites, and that language and therefore logic are dependent of what the oriental traditions call our dual mode of perception.

                Only if you accede to non-dual perception, only then you could compare and realize that we take a lot of things for granted because they appear to us in a certain way that isn’t absolute.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

                What is it supposed to mean is anybody’s guess. What it does mean is little to nothing.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

                What is this “grasping the world?” If I see a candle I just see a candle there’s nothing to grasp about it.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

                “The perceived relationship between subject and object, which is one of separation, is illusory because subject and object are illusory. When ignorance dissolves, the subject and the object dissolve into their intrinsic nondual singularity[3], and their projected relationship dissolves with them. This dissolution is the clear seeing within which neither a seer nor any seen are projected as separate entities onto the flow of awareness. In this state of consciousness there is neither self nor other.

                Seeing continues to take place within the perceiving mechanism when the seer and the seen dissolve. This mechanism continues to respond to input on the basis of its conditioning and unique location within the indivisible wholeness of totality. Events still happen, deeds are still done, but no doer of any deed is experienced, nor any personal, local motive or power attributed to any action or reaction. Life becomes a seamless flow of impersonal, localised actions and reactions within which no element has any independence or autonomy. Within this flow objects and events are taken account of only as momentary functional necessities to actions that need to be taken[4], or as impersonal expressions of the raw delight of existence. When this is a temporary state of consciousness it is samadhi. When it has become a permanent disposition it is the clear seeing of Otherlessness, or the being state of yoga.”

                http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/03/yoga-unveiled-non-dual-patanjali–godfrey-devereux/

              • Another Matt
                Posted March 3, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

                You won’t find many of us arguing that good old dualism is worth keeping. But even if you try to look at the world in such a way that “seer” and “seen” become part of the same thing, the idea that what is left is “seeing” is just a deepity. The sense modalities and consciousness are not something “out there” that manifest in bodies – they don’t exist without bodies; they emerge from bodies.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

                What does “The perceived relationship between subject and object” mean?

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

                It means nothing more than the relation you are experiencing right now between your self and your computer screen.

                To Matt
                You take this for granted…

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

                The difference between buddhism and western philosophy is that buddhism does the talk AND the walk.

                Not only it can demonstrate where and how the intellect is fooling us, but it also developed technics to fix the problem.

                If you knew enough about buddhism, you would know what is non-dual perception and you would know about the problematic of logic and language.

                You would know that not because you would have read about it, but because you would have experienced the concepts buddhism is talking about.

                Te Buddha himself told to not trust him unless you could experience yourself what he is talking about…

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

                (above) wrong place for that reply…

              • Posted March 4, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

                JF I wager that I know a lot more about Buddhism than you do.

              • Posted March 4, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                Probably Bernard, but it looks like you are missing a big chunk about it.
                When the Buddha says : “In seeing, there is just seeing. No seer and nothing seen. In hearing, there is just hearing. No hearer and nothing heard.”, he talks about non-dual, egoless perception.

                And when you say: “What is this “grasping the world?” If I see a candle I just see a candle there’s nothing to grasp about it.”, it demonstrates that you don’t know what non-dual perception is.

                But it is hard to get that unless you experience it.

                But as you probably know, buddhism explains with a lot of details why we don’t grasp the world in a non-dual way, why our senses lead us to think in an opposite way, all this because of an egotic sensation that makes us feel separated from the rest of the world.

            • Posted March 3, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

              But that is absurd, I am not experiencing a relation between myself and the computer screen.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                Whatever is going on, there is a way that this is going on. That way, because it is the only way we know, is due to a mode of operation that lies behind everything we do, hear, see, think.
                That is why we don’t realize that it is a certain mode of grasping the interior/external world.

                Only if you could experience what this guy is talking about, only then you would be able to see that the way we function is caused by some factors and that it shapes our conception and our perception in a special way.

                But it took me years to catch that. I understand why you want this to be translated in english. It can’t really make sense until you have a non-dual experience.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 3, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

                “It can’t really make sense until you have a non-dual experience.”

                Kind of like it doesn’t make sense unless you drop a tab of Owsley White Lightning.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

                Writings and teaching about non-dual perception exist for centuries. It is very detailed, a lot of different technics exist. Different philosophical approaches are highly described and debated too.

                But intellectual spinning on this is limited because the intellect is the place where the ego and the dual perception are constructed and this is exactly the place you want to avoid.

                You can claim anything you want about non-dual perception GB, but it would be more honest to say that you just don’t know what this is…

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                JF perception is just perception and nothing more. It has nothing to do with notions of ego or self etc. If I say “I see a rose now,” the word “I” is just indexical like “now” is. I am not claiming there is something called “I” that does the seeing. Try this, sit down and, maybe close your eyes, and see if you can find a “self” inside you. It can’t be done!

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                If you don’t know well buddhism, I think you are ready for that. It is not for nothing that buddhism is said to be a science of the mind. You could discover why perception is not just perception, how an illusionary “I” stands in between of what is perceived.

                It is one thing to not find a self within us, but it is another thing to behave accordingly with that no-self.

                If you prefer, we then could say that non-dualism is a technic to behave coherently with that no-self.
                Or to truly incarnate that no-self. I know, this is a paradox, but since language can only fail to describe accurately what is non-dualitsm, paradox is the best way to do it.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                I do not need a lesson in honesty, JF. I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em, your Courtier’s Reply notwithstanding.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                JF I know enough about Buddhism already. I don’t need any more of it.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

                The difference between buddhism and western philosophy is that buddhism does the talk AND the walk.

                Not only it can demonstrate where and how the intellect is fooling us, but it also developed technics to fix the problem.

                If you knew enough about buddhism, you would know what is non-dual perception and you would know about the problematic of logic and language.

                You would know that not because you would have read about it, but because you would have experienced the concepts buddhism is talking about.

                The Buddha himself told to not trust him unless you could experience yourself what he is talking about…

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

                “To approach the Yogasutras (buddhist school) with only the academic tools of lexicon, primer, logic, inference, deduction is always bound to fail. These tools all assert their authority within the realm of knowledge. To uncover the secrets of existence, as Patanjali did, requires that we go beyond the realm of knowledge. We must become familiar with a mode of consciousness beyond perception itself. We must transcend the realm of duality within which the perceiver perceives, the knower knows, and the perceptually known is an object outside and separate from the perceptually knowing subject.”

                http://yogadarshana.com/index.php

              • Mary - Canada
                Posted March 4, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

                JF Fortier,
                Will you please explain what you mean by the “secrets of existence?”

              • Posted March 4, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

                Oh, I see, you are promoting Godfriedev’s little sect.

              • Posted March 4, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

                I’m not promoting anything, I just try to go fast and find the best quotes that could explain in other words what is non-dualism…
                That is what popped out first in my research, I don’t even know who they are but with they say is coherent with what I know about buddhism and non-dualism…

                I dont know which secret you are referring to Mary, but experiencing non-dual perception has for sure a “secret aura” if you want, especially when you weren’t aware that this mode of perception existed all the previous day that you spent on this earth and that it is just in your face all the time. It is so obvious that we don’t pay attention to it. That would be a secret.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 4, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

                OK, JF, now we know you aren’t even reading what you post. Mary asked for an explanation of the “secrets of existence” that you reference in your immediately prior post. To which you respond “I dont know which secret you are referring to Mary…”

                It strikes me that you are exceedingly fond of word salad but incapable of even identifying the bits of chopped verbiage you pile on your own plate.

              • Posted March 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                Oh c’mon GB, I think it is clear enough that non-dual perception is a secret itself, a secret that would reveal other secrets if you could experience this yourself.

                I did paste the comment because of the general idea it was carrying. I am not Patanjali, I don’t who he is, so I don’t know exactly the secrets of existence he uncovered. But from what I read, he knows more than me about non-dualism.

                Let’s say so you know a lot about quantum physics. Would it be possible that you’d find a text on the subject very well written by an author you have never heard of before?

                That is what happened when I wanted to show how buddhism is constantly talking about non-dualism. I used the comments of someone who is using the buddhist technics to reach that state. But no, I don’t know but heart all the comments I’m quoting…

              • Posted March 4, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

                JF. None of the Buddhists I know would call Godfriedev a Buddhist; Hindu, maybe.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

                JF: I really think you need to pay attention to the words you string together, and strings of word salad copy/pasted as arguments. Because they don’t really make any sense. All you’ve got is foggy notions that someone has discovered “secrets of existence” you can’t identify.

                Even that simple phrase makes no sense at all. Who’s secrets? Kept from whom? If these secrets have been discovered, why not say what they are? Asserting knowledge of secret wisdom is a time-worn technique of obfucationists and gurus and charlatans. There’s no there there.

                Don’t bother repeating a long-winded comment about non-dualistic thinking and the wisdom of the ages. It hasn’t made any sense up to this point and reciting a mantra won’t transform word salad into substance.

              • Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                GB, what I’m saying sounds like a foggy string of word salad because I’m talking about something that bypasses our intellect. For that same reason, it is beyond what language is able to communicate. That is why it is non-dual. And this why to be understood, it needs to be experienced.

                You may know that a C chord is made of a C note, an E note and a G note. But to know that won’t make you hear it. Now, even if a C chord is now very common, it took centuries before humans were able to “invent” it. And from what we know, it sounded oddly for a lot of people in the beginning… Before, music wasn’t played in chords…

                So the “secret” is like a C chord that would be played in the 6th century. The “secret” is only a secret because there are very few people who are willing to do what is necessary to do in order to gain a non-dual perspective. The main reason is that it means the end of the Ego and the Ego isn’t interested in that plan. Or a better reason would may be that it needs a constant discipline to reach that state…

                As for my quote being more hindu than buddhist, it is understandable since both traditions share a lot in common. Non-dualism comes from the sanskrit ad (non) vaida (dualism).

              • Steve
                Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                Exactly… it’s like Obi Wan trying to tell Han about the force…. or Frodo trying to tell Samwise about what happens when you put on the one ring… or Bond trying to tell Q what it is like to be with a woman you know is evil and turn her over to the side of good with some great sex.

              • GBJames
                Posted March 5, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

                It is amazing what some people think is profound. JF, I’m guessing you use a lot of Dr. Bronner’s soap.

      • Kevin Anthoney
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

        Ah, I see. Yes, you’re right.

  7. GBJames
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    OK. I read through it. And I watched the man string words into whatever it is he strings them into.

    “Closer to Truth” is says in the corner of that video. “Than what?”, I must ask.

    I think you tricked me, Jerry. I don’t think I really needed to suffer through this for my reward. Beware, readers! You can go right to the humor!

  8. TJR
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Its the very first sentence that is the problem. Apart from that he is just long-windedly saying that the question “Why is it that god exists?” doesn’t make sense for a believer either, which is fair enough.

    However, I don’t see how “God is the necessary being” is in any sense the same as this.

  9. Ray Moscow
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    I don’t know why you atheists try to make this so hard.

    God is defined as that which must exist.
    That which must exist exists.
    Therefore, God exists!

    See? Easy!

    And no, you cannot define anything else as that which must exist. You just can’t, that’s why not.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

      I GET IT!! I get it, I get it, I get it, I GET it… *running off to the nearest baptismal font*…

    • Jer
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      And no, you cannot define anything else as that which must exist. You just can’t, that’s why not.

      I’m sorry, but “you just can’t, that’s why not” isn’t a valid theological justification at all.

      You’re close though – the rule you’re looking for is known in the Latin as “silentium ut quare” but is more commonly rendered in English as “SHUT UP THAT’S WHY”. A very useful rule to remember…

      • Ray Moscow
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        This is closely related to the argument they used on Galileo: ‘Look at this rack.’

        Q.E.D.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        I’m sorry, but “you just can’t, that’s why not” isn’t a valid theological justification at all.

        But Plantinga used it just a couple threads ago on the Great Pumpkin.

  10. Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Typo again on “Analystic” …

  11. IMil
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Well, well… I thought such groundless arguments were driven out of fashion by Socrates or someone else several centuries BC.

    Now I won’t be surprised if scientists discover living species of dinosaurs. I even predict that they will be of the Philosoraptor genus.

    • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      There’s a living species of dinosaur perched on the fence outside my office window right now… 

      /@

  12. Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Jerry, as a long-time watcher of Plantinga (and of course his number one cheerleader, William Lane Craig) I can assure you that you needn’t post any humor as a reward; reading his actual thoughts perfectly takes care of that.

  13. John K.
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    As a current atheist and a past theist, I have never asked “Why does god exist?” I only have asked “Does god exist?. “Why” presupposes the truth of the statement, and to tack it on in order to demonstrate the truth of the claim is childish indeed. I suppose we can file this argument under red herring.

    I might ask Plantinga “Why do you deliberately injure children?”, and then declare there is no answer to the question. Is this the Groucho Marx school of apologetics? When did Platinga stop beating his wife?

  14. agentwhim
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    “Why does my imaginary friend exist? Because I imagined him!” QED

    • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

      A very imaginative proof!

      /@

    • Sigmund
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      I can’t imagine my imaginary friend not existing. Therefore he exists!

      • Dawn Oz
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        brilliant Sigmund!

    • Occam
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      -1

  15. Dominic
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Exactly which god is it rational to believe in? This is what happens when you believe in gods – people die –

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-17040111

  16. Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I might have missed something, but it looks here as if Plantinga is simply arguing that:

    If God exists, God is a necessary being.

    That might not be very interesting to nonbelievers, but I can see why theologians might want to decide that.

    He argues that God could not go out of existence, and that God could not begin to exist, but neither of those entails that God exists, as I’m sure Plantinga would acknowledge.

    Now, he actually has a different, and more interesting (although probably unsound) argument on the same subject, one with the conclusion that God does exist. It goes like this:

    (1) There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated.
    (2) If there is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated, then maximal greatness is instantiated in the actual world.
    (3) Therefore, there is a being in the actual world that has maximal greatness, i.e., God.

    For Plantinga, maximal greatness includes necessary existence; something that could stop existing seems less great.

    The support for (1) is supposed to be intuitive: ‘Surely God could have existed, even if He does not.’ (We can modify God to escape divine attribute incompatibilities and still end up with something most Christians will like.)

    The support for (2) is a subtle point in modal logic. I can elaborate if anyone wants me to, but basically, the idea is that if something is possibly necessarily true, then it is true. This is entailed by the thesis that any world is possible relative to any other world; no matter which world turned out to be actual, any other world would still be possible. If that’s true, (2) follows.

    • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      In real logic (as opposed to the parody of logic used by religious “philosophers”), there is no meaningful distinction between existence and necessary existence. If something exists, then it exists; that’s all there is to it. There are not actually any other “possible” worlds for us to compare with, to see whether the same thing exists there.

      This is also the reason that the ontological argument you outline fails. The notion that a property (“maximal greatness”) of something in our world depends on facts about another (possible) world is incoherent. If “maximal greatness” is to be a property of something in the real world, it must be defined in terms of things in the real world. If, in contrast, it is defined to involve facts about alternate worlds, then either: 1) those worlds exist and impact properties in our universe, hence they must actually be part of our real world and not mere possible worlds at all; or 2) no entity (deity or otherwise) of our real world can satisfy have such a property–there is no “maximally great” being.

      • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

        I understand your skepticism about some of these modal notions. But Plantinga would respond that the notion of necessary existence is perfectly intelligible. If you understand what ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ mean (and surely you do), then you understand what it means to claim that God could not possibly not exist, right?

        We could simplify things:

        (1′) God could have existed.
        (2′) If God could have existed, then God does exist.
        (3′) Therefore, God does exist.

        If God is defined (say, stipulatively) as a being that could not have not existed (again, surely you think ‘could’ and ‘could not’ have intelligible content), then the argument is strictly deductively valid. If we believe that anything (logically consistent) could have happened, no matter what actually happens, then (2′) comes out true.

        • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

          This kind of thing is exactly why, almost a century ago, Russell thought it worth pointing out that existence is not a predicate (a property), but a precondition for being able to have properties. In Russell’s analysis, your (1′) uses God as (in Russell’s usage) the name of a thing, and thereby *presupposes* that God exists.

          As with any purely analytical argument, what you get out is no more than what was implicit in what you put in.

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

            “Existence” is not a predicate, but “necessary existence” is predicable, and why all the updates to Anselm involve modal logic.

            Plantinga’s ontological argument is valid – the conclusion follows from its premises. The problem is that the modal logic he uses has no way to distinguish between the different flavors of “possible.” All the work is done by taking “imaginable” as equivalent to “possible,” and substituting it into the logic; so many of the premises (e.g. “Clearly God is possible”) are faulty.

            • Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

              He equivocates over the meaning of ‘possible’ which means his argument is not valid.

              • Another Matt
                Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, this might be a fair way of looking at it.

                But I think his ontological argument (and the other modal ones like it) are all valid for one of the (consistent) meanings of “possible.” Unfortunately it’s not the meaning of “possible” that we have the ability to make affirmative or negative pronouncements about just using logic.

          • Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

            Actually Kant first pointed this out.

            • Posted March 3, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

              It is, also, unfortunately for us, false. There are lots of ways to do an existence predicate (see, to pick one, Bunge’s _Treatise on Basic Philosophy_ – I think it is in volume 3). The diagnosis that Plantinga’s modal logic is nonsense is much more correct.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

                Yes, I know, but I don’t think any of them work. It would derail the thread too much to discuss it here. If I save my pennies up I might one day own a copy of Bunge’s Treatise.

          • Windchaser
            Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:14 am | Permalink

            Hmm.. I don’t see it. We can say that a unicorn, if it existed, would look about like a horse and have a horn coming out of its head. This does not require unicorns to exist, it only gives the properties of this hypothetical creature called a “unicorn”. But we certainly can describe some of the properties of a non-existent creature, if those properties are part of the definition of the creature.

            Likewise God, if he existed, would have always existed, and therefore it is meaningless to ask why God existed. Because, the answer to “why did ___ happen” or “why does so-and-so exist”, is inevitably because of something that happened earlier. I was born because my parents fell in love and decided to have children. I broke my leg because I fell out of a tree. Etc.
            But with God, there was nothing earlier, so the question itself is nonsense.

            Of course, this is predicated on a definition of God as an eternal being, as well as our on our current understanding of causality holding up (no time travel, for instance).

          • Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

            Paul,

            Then change (1′) to

            (1”) It could have been the case that God existed.

            Or,

            (1”’) It could have been the case that there was a thing that had maximal greatness.

            I don’t see how those presuppose that God exists.

            • Posted March 5, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

              I think another Matt, and Bernard Hurley, said it much better than I did. If (2) (or 2′ or 2″) is valid, then (1) or its surrogate is true if and only if God exists. (1) Rabbit into hat; (2) rabbit out of hat, (3) look at my rabbit!

              You can’t get more out of a logical argument than is implicit in your premises.

              Relatedly, what is meant by “could”? Maximal greatness could well turn out to be a self-contradictory concept, like highest number.

        • Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          No, I do not understand what “possible” and “impossible” mean in any sensible logical framework. They have everyday meanings that I have no trouble with, but if you try to apply them to a formal logical system, they turn out not to be intelligible. To assume that because their everyday meanings are intelligible that they must carry over into a careful logical context is to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

          • Posted March 3, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

            Better: there are different sorts of necessary. I’d argue that only one has come close to being properly captured by a modal logic: that of logical necessity (sense 1), i.e. provability. Boolos has shown the sometimes usefulness of this; it has as domain propositions, so a “logically necessary being” is simply a category mistake, as beings are not propositions. (Christian tradition about the “Word” not withstanding!)

          • Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

            Brett,

            I’m not yet sure how the uses here would be unintelligible. Doesn’t it seem that they could mean exactly what they mean in their everyday uses?

            Take whatever you mean by “could,” and now consider (1′)-(3′) again.

            Or consider (supposing that I did not actually eat eggs for breakfast today):

            (4) It could have been the case that I ate eggs for breakfast today.
            (5) If it could have been the case that I ate eggs for breakfast today, then I did eat eggs for breakfast today.
            (6) Therefore, I ate eggs for breakfast today.

            Obviously the argument is unsound, because (5) is false. But (4)-(6) is surely deductively valid, right? It’s just a modus ponens, and it’s intended to use the sense of “could” that we all intend when we utter statements such as (4). (Don’t you agree that (4) is true?)

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Not to mention that the property “greatness” is not well defined.

    • eric
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      I beg to differ – its not that interesting. You’re just giving an albeit different but still standard version of the ontological argument.

      Its flaws have been known for decades if not longer. Here’s one: like pascal’s wager, it leads to an infinity of contradictory conclusions: just replace or reinterpret “greatness.” I can make those same statements about unicorness…and about non-unicorness. Or evilness. Or hairyness. Or baldness.

      • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

        I think there’s probably a good objection like yours.

        In any case, Plantinga would respond: Do we really think that all those properties are part of our conception of maximal greatness? And do we really find premise (1) as intuitive when we use those other things? Being hairy or being evil isn’t “great,” is it? At least, not as intuitively as God’s properties make Him great. And certainly, being maximally hairy doesn’t entail necessary existence, the way (allegedly) being maximally great does.

        • eric
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

          Well, the logic works regardless of what predicate you put in there; that’s the point, and why the logic isn’t good.

          Now, anyone can come along and say “you can’t put any predicate in there, only the predicates I think are consistent with my view of God.” But that seems both arbitrary and circular, yes?

          • Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

            eric,

            Here’s the argument again, to compare:
            (1′) God could have existed.
            (2′) If God could have existed, then God does exist.
            (3′) Therefore, God does exist.

            I don’t think the logic works regardless of the predicates. (2′) is false unless the predicate we’re using (‘being identical to God,’ or ‘satisfying the definition of “God” we’re using’) is or entails necessary existence. (For example, if we replaced “God” with ‘unicorns,’ (2′) would be false.)

            In particular, any predicate F that is or entails necessary existence (if something exists at all), conjoined with the assumption that modal accessibility is symmetric (if world w2 is possible relative to w1, then world w1 is possible relative to w2, also entailed by and entailing the B axiom of modal logic), will make a schema of the form ‘if x has F and x could have existed, then x does exist’ come out true.

            And the argument is strictly deductively valid; if (1′) and (2′) are true, then (3′) must be true, right? It’s just a modus ponens.

            • Posted March 3, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

              The problem with your argument is that it uses the S5 rule: “possibly necessarily X” implies “necessarily X” but you have not shown either:

              A. The meaning of “possibly” you get from “could” is the same as you get from whatever possible worlds semantics you are using.

              B. You have not specified the mathematical structure of your semantics in such a way that the S5 rule can be proved to be valid.

              To claim the argument is deductively valid without first having shown A and B is equivocation.

              Neither A nor B is trivial. The easiest way to get a system satisfying A and B in which your argument works is to use a mathematical construction of possible worlds (as sets of consistent propositions) in which you make the name “God” a rigid designator by fiat. But all that would show is that one could consistently use a name in this way.

              On the other hand if you refuse to specify some model-theoretic structure for your possible worlds and just wave your hands about and witter on about metaphysics you are just using a metaphor.

              • Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                Bernard,

                The argument (it’s really Plantinga’s; I don’t think it’s sound) only really needs (as I mentioned) the B axiom, which is sound as long as accessibility is symmetric. (If I were arguing that necessarily, God exists, then I would need B + 4, or 5, yes.)

                Many people will have the stronger intuition, that accessibility is universal. (‘Surely no matter how the world turned out to be, anything else logically consistent could have been the case.’) If that intuition is correct, then 5 and a fortiori B follow. And from B we get (2′).

                As for the senses of ‘could’ and of ‘possibility,’ I’m talking about ‘metaphysical’ or ‘broad logical’ or ‘alethic’ possibility. (These aren’t exactly the same, but I think they’re close enough to each other.) Alternatively, I mean ‘could’ in the sense that unicorns could have existed, but did not. I don’t think that proposition is particularly mysterious.

                (I haven’t said anything about possible worlds in argument (1′)-(3′), so I don’t know why we would need to talk about those. If accessibility is universal or even just symmetric, then (2′) follows independently of what possible worlds are, if anything.)

                In sum, I think you’d need to deny (1′) or (2′), and to deny (2′), you’d need to deny either that accessibility is symmetric or that it’s universal, which would run you up against the intuition I mentioned in my second paragraph.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      …except he hasn’t shown that if god exists, it must be necessary.

      What if god is the product of a “bigger bang”? A quantum indeterminacy? What if it’s an accident? An evolved creature from a different dimension whose only powers are universe-building and nothing else?

      What if universe-building were not contingent upon the existence of such a being, but only more efficient? Or perhaps less efficient?

      What if universe creation absent a god-thing would be a much better universe than the one we’re living in — a more-ideal universe where every planet was habitable and star travel between planets was possible (ie, the Star Trek universe)?

      There is no possible way to prove that an existent god is a necessary god. There are too many other variables in play.

      Theology…bleh.

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      So the real problem with such word-play is that you can use it to bootstrap almost anything into “necessary” existence — simply by defining it as such.

      It should be obvious to all that this gets you exactly nowhere.

      • Posted March 3, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        Worse, the full, painfully necessary (heh) takedown of this stuff has been around for decades without much formal apparatus at all – Scriven did it in _Primary Philosophy_ (a freakin’ textbook, for crying out loud) about 40 years ago. Really, it doesn’t take much.

      • Posted March 3, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        I think there’s a very potent objection in this vicinity, yes. You could pose an argument like this, a version of an objection from philosopher William Rowe:

        (4) It is possible that necessarily existing unicorns exist.
        (5) If it is possible that necessarily existing unicorns exist, then they do exist.
        (6) Therefore, necessarily existing unicorns exist.

        This parody seems to show that there is something wrong with the modal ontological argument, although it doesn’t yet tell us exactly what.

        Plantinga would respond that (4) is false, or at least not nearly as intuitive as his (1). He would say, in particular, that unicorns aren’t the kinds of things that could have necessary existence. But I don’t think he can get a lot of mileage out of this objection, since we can continue to modify (4) further.

        • Posted March 3, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

          My own opinion, for what it’s worth:

          (4) and (5) entail (6) in the modal logic known as S5. If you wish to use a possible worlds semantics for this system you have to restrict the possible worlds to a set of mathematical models in which you can prove necessity iterates correctly. That is you have to construct it so that the two “necessarily”s in “necessarily necessarily X” have the same syntax. The only way I can see that you could do this that would allow Plantinga’s argument to work would be to make the name “God” a rigid designator that exists in all (a restricted set of) possible worlds. The argument becomes sound in this case but the problem for Plantinga is that it doesn’t prove what he wants it to. All it shows is that you can consistently construct a set of mathematical models of the required type each of which has something named “God” in them.

          • Posted March 4, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

            I agree that the argument depends upon iterated modal operators. But they don’t need iterated operators of the same type, like ‘necessarily necessarily.’ Take God minus His alleged necessary existence. Then Plantinga’s argument looks like this:

            (1) It is possible that (it is necessary that God exists).
            (2) If it is possible that (it is necessary that God exists), then God exists.
            (3) Therefore, God exists.

            The validity here only depends on modus ponens, not any particular modal semantics. But you’re right that the truth of (1) and (2) do depend upon a semantics for a necessity operator within a possibility operator. But I still don’t see what the problem is here. Maybe you can elaborate.

            Why can’t we keep the sense of modality the same throughout? (1) would state that it could have been the case that: it could not have been the case that God does not exist. All we need are an understanding of ‘could’ and ‘could not,’ which most people claim to have.

            • Posted March 4, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

              Tom, I’m afraid this is hopelessly confused, but to explain why in detail would me posting something rather large and I hesitate to do this on someone else’s blog. What I suggest is that you post your argument on my blog and I post a reply. You can get in touch with me through my facebook page and we can work out the details.

  17. Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Finally, one can only overcome this sophistry/fence sitting by coming out as a Bright.

    http://www.the-brights.net/

    Even if there is a God, he/she would want us to assume responsibility for ourselves by becoming Brights!

    • Sigmund
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      The Brights organization is still going?
      It was a pity they settled on a name the opposite of which is “The Thicks”. They might have been more successful if they had used an expression that couldn’t be used by enemies of atheism/free-thinking to suggest arrogance.

      • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

        I’m afraid if one is going to break from a ‘theistic’ culture one is going to appear arrogant. Why not celebrate it?

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

        There is so much in religion deserving of condescension.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      People stopped trying to use the term “Brights” a good seven years ago. It’s time to save a couple bucks and let the domain name expire.

      • Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Well, no. The movement is still attracting new members. It appeals to a certain kind of atheist, and that’s fine. Atheism is a broad church after all!

        /@

  18. JamesM
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    So: God must necessarily exist because everything else exists but God just happens to exist for no reason and don’t ask why because that would be very rude!

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      Plus, if you don’t believe God exists, you have no cause to ask why He does, so we can leave you out of the conversation.

  19. John D
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    He actually said that if we can conceive that a god COULD exist then god MUST exist. This is about the stupidest thing I have ever heard.

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

      The Argument from Wishful Thinking comes in many forms – ontological argument, p-zombies, etc. They are all of the form “if I think really hard, I can influence physics.”

      The important thing about the Argument from Wishful Thinking is that it consistently doesn’t work, because thinking about the world without ever testing does not give reliable information. If it did, then the ancient Greek philosophers – some of the greatest thinkers in history – would have invented science. They didn’t.

      The other important thing is to understand why people keep trying it on with Arguments from Wishful Thinking. I suspect it is an inherent cognitive bias in human thinking. As the father of a four-year-old, I have observed my daughter and her friends showing it quite a lot. This suggests it’s what philosophers do when they just can’t accept that wishing doesn’t make it so.

      • eric
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        I suspect it has to do with language flexibility. We can parse lots of sentences that seem to refer to something real, even if they don’t. “My god has the property of necessary existence” is one such sentence. Neither ‘god’ nor ‘necessary existence’ may refer to something real; the fact that we can articulate these concepts does not give them reality.

  20. Simon
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I recommend J. L. Mackie’s book “The Miracle of Theism”. The title is ironic, Mackie comprehensive disarms and refutes the primary (‘philosphical’) arguments for theism. He takes of some specific twists of theologically-mind philosophers like Swinburne and Plantinga. He takes on these arguments on their own terms.

    It’s 30 years old now, and not an easy read (but can’t be more difficult than theology proper!). But, as far as I can tell (not being a philosopher) he pretty much crushes the arguments that are still being used to support theism today, even by sophisticates.

    (Of course, most of this was covered by Hume’s writings. But Hume skipped over a few areas and details that modern writers tried to squeeze a deity into. Mackie’s careful treatment gives the lie to these.)

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      Yes, somewhere in there he notes that the miracle is that anyone believes it.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure everyone on this list already knows this, but a nice 20-page chunk of Mackie’s book, the “Conclusions and Implications,” is selection 31 in Hitchens’ anthology “The Portable Atheist.” Most germane to the current thread: Even if this god-hypothesis did somehow explain the world or moral values or human purposes, we should face again the familiar objection: Why is this (uncertain) god not as much in need of further explanation or support as “uncertain reality”? To say that God is introduced by definition as that which explains itself, that which terminates the regress of explanation, is again empty and useless; but any attempt to explain and justify the claim that he has such a special status leads us, as we have see, to the concept which underlies the ontological proof.

  21. Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Oh that was deeply unpleasant. Thanks. Between this and reading the comments on CNN’s American Atheist new billboards article I think my confidence in the human species has been even more shaken than usual

  22. Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    [JAC: Couldn’t God, if he’s omnipotent, commit divine suicide?];

    Why else would god have created atheists?

    • Ray Moscow
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      In one Asimov short story (uublished ca 1980), a physicist dies and is surprised to ‘wake up’ afterwards and find that there is a god after all, who preserved the more intelligent minds for investigation of reality (and no, this god wasn’t directly omniscient).

      It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that he should destroy god and that god was seeking his own destruction.

  23. Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Has it ever occurred to anyone that what we’re doing here is investing our valuable time and limited energies to someone whose views and comments are nothing more than the perceptions and ramblings of a mentally deranged person?

    I put this question forth in all seriousness: Would anyone take Palntinga seriously if they knew, w/o a schmidgeon of doubt, that he was a certified mental case? I think the answer to this question is obvious.

    Well, I’m here to tell everyone that this is precisely the case. Platinga is batshit crazy. And I have the evidence to prove it.

    Take a look at the video below. I personally know this speaker very well and I know, for a fact, that this person is certifiably nutso. He must take a cocktail of psychoactive medicines on a daily basis to keep is insanity under arrest. Without his daily dose of mind-altering drugs, he would be locked up in a padded room with a straight jacket. He’s actually been in this room numerous times in his life while a team of doctors tried to find the right combination of drugs to help him out of his dilemma.

    The only people willing to debate this mental case about anything are those who share his peculiar type of mental derangement. Check him out. After watching, ask yourself: does this kind of insanity share any resemblance to Platinga’s brand of mind-numbing bullshit.

    • Mary - Canada
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      At times I think the religious should be ignored and any time spent on them could be put to greater use. But then when I see these nutbags in action (video you posted) and see how much power and money they have, not to mention the lies they propagate and the positions in society that many of them hold, there seems to be valid no argument for doing nothing.

      BTW, I bookmarked your website and look forward to future viewing.

      • Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

        Oh, you’re absolutely correct on that observation. But I don’t think we should be debating them about anything. It’s tantamount to debating a mental case at Bellview. You don’t argue or debate anything rationally w/ a person who claims he hears Napoleon giving him marching instructions in the middle of the night while he’s wearing a helmet made of tin foil. These jackasses need medicine and shock treatments. not a philosophical engagement.

        I jest, of course. But I’m dead serious on the general point. We can argue w/ these dolts. We simply must, in fact a obligated, to expose their insanity for what it is, make sure their insane voices don’t contaminate the rest of the population that is just barely hanging on to a tread of sanity and marginalize them as much as we can as authentic voices of sanity and reason in a sane and democratic society.

        • Achrachno
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          And once in a while you can turn one of them. Makes the tedium worthwhile.

  24. J
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I had to read part of it twice to understand it :(

  25. Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Actually, Richard Swinburne has a very similar line of argument in his book The Existence of God”.

    One point to correct you on though. In theological terms, “necessary” existence isn’t the same as “inevitable” existence.

    In the context of God’s characteristics, a characteristic is “necessary” in that if a being lack that characteristic it isn’t God. So Swinburne defines God as having certain characteristics “omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly free, perfectly good and the creator of all things“.

    That deals with God’s characteristics if he exists. But according to Swinburne, this doesn’t make his existence inevitable. “Necessary existence” according to Swinburne means this:

    To say that ‘God exists’ necessarily is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable – not in the sense that we do not know the explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one.

    So there you have it. God’s existence does not and never will have any explanation. You are just to accept it. A more profound call to ignorance can hardly be imagined.

    Plantinga is actually saying the same thing, that God’s existence is “necessary” and therefore by definition has no explanation,. not that God’s existence is inevitable. It is just that he has wound the explanation up in such convoluted prose that it is pretty much impossible to get at the meaning. Of course, he doesn’t want you to get at the meaning, because to explain it simply would expose the vacuity of his arguments.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      “To say that ‘the Universe exists’ necessarily is, I believe, to say that the existence of the Universe is a brute fact that is inexplicable – not in the sense that we do not know the explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one.”

      The substitution test works just fine.

      • Yiam Cross
        Posted March 3, 2012 at 3:37 am | Permalink

        With one rather important difference, of course. We can see the universe so it actually does exist and hence the brute force argument could be true.

        Substitute god in there and, oops, we can’t see god so immediate & insurmountable fail.

    • eric
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Of course its similar; the onotological and teleological proofs of God are recycled by theologians every generation. These are literally thousand year old arguments.

  26. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    “Why does God exist?” is never in fact asked (either by religious or non-religious people) because it is a bogus question. If a believer were asked why God exists, he might take it as a request for his reasons for believing in God; but if it is agreed that God exists, then it is less than sensible to ask why He does.
    .
    The question has been asked, so stating that it has never in fact been asked is just plain incorrect.

    I have asked precisely that question, and not because God’s existence had been agreed upon, but arguendo because a theist had proposed that religion answers ultimate questions, such as “Why is there something rather than nothing?” My response to this is to point out that “God did it” does not in fact answer an ultimate question, because it creates a new layer of question as to why God exists (persuming that He did).

    This is sophistry of the crudest medieval sort.

  27. Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    (Sorry got the italics wrong before, trying again)

    Actually, Richard Swinburne has a very similar line of argument in his book The Existence of God”.

    One point to correct you on though. In theological terms, “necessary” existence isn’t the same as “inevitable” existence.

    In the context of God’s characteristics, a characteristic is “necessary” in that if a being lack that characteristic it isn’t God. So Swinburne defines God as having certain characteristics “omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly free, perfectly good and the creator of all things“.

    That deals with God’s characteristics if he exists. But according to Swinburne, this doesn’t make his existence inevitable. “Necessary existence” according to Swinburne means this:

    To say that ‘God exists’ necessarily is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable – not in the sense that we do not know the explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one.

    So there you have it. God’s existence does not and never will have any explanation. You are just to accept it. A more profound call to ignorance can hardly be imagined.

    Plantinga is actually saying the same thing, that God’s existence is “necessary” and therefore by definition has no explanation, not that God’s existence is inevitable. It is just that he has wound the explanation up in such convoluted prose that it is pretty much impossible to get at the meaning. Of course, he doesn’t want you to get at the meaning, because to explain it simply would expose the vacuity of his arguments.

  28. Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    In short, they’re so infuriating, so in violation of the normal canons of reason, that I have to put them on public display.

    Sorry, but I don’t see that.

    This (Plantinga’s argument) is just your every day sleight of hand marketing spiel. It isn’t much different from what we see on Nigerian spam or on advertising for sugar coated breakfast cereal. Theists have been using these kinds of argument since forever.

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

      Except that sugar coated breakfast cereal actually exists. I’ve seen it.

  29. Kevin
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Trying to define your god into existence. An exercise for sophists since 2500 BC.

  30. Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

  31. Newish Gnu
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne: “I know I promised not to post on theologian Alvin Plantinga again…”

    Oh, thanks a lot for giving theists more ammo to attack our morals. “See? See? Their word means nothing to them!!11!!”
    ;-)

  32. Aidan Karley
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Didn’t this “Plantpot” guy get dismissed years ago?
    Here we are – out of the mouths of prophets and deities :

    Sorry, Jerry, you’ve been beaten to the punch by a barely-literate camel-mounted merchant and an incompetent carpenter (well, if he was competent, he’d have been to busy to take a holiday to Jerusalem).
    (I’m just working my way through the J&M back catalogue ; this one happened to pass through my browser after seeing Jerry taking him to task. Therefore Jesus?)

  33. Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    if it is agreed that God exists, then it is less than sensible to ask why He does.

    This kind of bullshit, by the way, is why I was fated to be an atheist from the start. Even as a bright-eyed young theist, around 14 or 15 or so, I remember being invigorated by asking “why” questions about everything — even things which I took to be true as a matter of faith, I wanted to know why they were the way they were.

    That, of course, was highly discouraged. Fuck that shit. Independent of religion being, you know, false and everything, I want absolutely no part of a community which actively ignores “why” questions.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Plus, when a community actively ignores “why” questions, it’s a pretty good bet that that community is based on a scam.

    • derekw
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Why I could see why you rejected the community how did that pertain to your decision to not believe in God/supernatural/etc? Meaning a rejection of a belief in a higher power should be a separate and independent rejection from that of a faith community and/or it’s followers.

  34. Myron
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    “Now it becomes clear that it is absurd to ask why God exists. To ask that question is to presuppose that God does exist; but it is a necessary truth that if He has no cause, then there is no answer to a question asking for His causal conditions. The question “Why does God exist” is, therfore, an absurdity.” (A. Plantinga)

    If this questions means “What is the cause of God’s existence?”, then the answer is “Nothing, because God is eternal and was thus never caused to exist”. But if it means “What is the reason for God’s existence?”, then the theological answer is the one given by Craig:

    “Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. …The explanation of God’s existence lies in the necessity of His own nature. As even the atheist recognizes, it’s impossible for God to have a cause.”

    (Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010. p. 56)

    • eric
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      I don’t recognize that. Its entirely possible for gods – even monotheistic tri-omni ones – to have causes. There’s absolutely nothnig difficult about such an idea; it doesn’t even take much imagination to conceive of a cause.

      • Myron
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        Could God have been created by another god?
        Couldn’t there be a past-infinite sequence of duplicate gods each of which existed for, say, one billion years, was created by its predecessor and created its successor in such a way that when the successor begins to exist the predecessor ceases to exist? Then two gods with the nature of God (omnipotence, omniscience, etc.) never coexist, and the theological argument against the possible coexistence of two gods with the nature of God isn’t applicable to this situation.

  35. H.H.
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Here’s my disproof:

    1) God is perfect.
    2) Perfection only exists as a mental abstraction and is impossible in material reality.
    3) God only exists in people’s minds and not in the real world.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Only if you’re talking about a perfect god, of course.

      For a less-than-perfect god, your proof is lacking substance.

      • H.H.
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

        True, but a less-than-perfect god wouldn’t exist necessarily, so that works too.

        • Kevin
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          Ah. Right you are.

          Consider me chastised.

          • Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

            Actually a less-than perfect God can exist. Here is my proof that He exists and is supremely evil

            1. I can conceive of a being whom no worse can be conceived.

            2. But it is worse for such being to exist in reality than in the imagination.

            3. Therefore, the being of which I conceive must necessarily exist in reality.

            4. Evil deliberately committed by a person is worse than evil caused in any other way.

            5. Therefore He is a person.

            6. An evil being that is omnipotent and omniscient is clearly more evil than one who is not.

            7. Therefore He is omnipotent and omniscient.

            8. Logically there can only be one omipotent omniscient being.

            9. Therefore any such being is Him.

            10. This omnipotent being must be metaphysically responsible for everything.

            10. Therefore He created the Universe.

            12. Therefore one God exists and is supremely evil.

            • H.H.
              Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

              “1. I can conceive of a being whom no worse can be conceived.”

              “Perfectly” evil, if you will? Yeah, I think that still runs afoul of my disproof, which rules out perfection, i.e. “maximal” anything.

              But that was a good attempt!

  36. Myron
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    The big problem for theologians is the very concept of a necessary, necessarily existing being.
    What kind of necessity is involved here?
    1. logical necessity?
    2. ontological/metaphysical necessity?
    3. factual necessity?

    The concept of a logically or ontologically necessary being which exists in all logically or ontologically possible worlds is untenable. There is no logically or ontologically possible being such that the claim that there is at least one logically or ontologically possible world in which it doesn’t exist is inconsistent of self-contradictory. Therefore, “necessary being” can at best mean “factually necessary being”. But a factually necessary being is in fact a logically/ontologically contingent being, so that calling factual necessity a kind of necessity is misleading.

    “God’s necessary existence has been interpreted in two different ways. Some have understood the notion in the sense of logical necessity; others have attempted to delineate a sense of factual necessity.
    If God’s necessity is understood as logical necessity, the proposition ‘God exists’ is logically true. A logically necessary being is one that exists in every possible world. The proposition ‘three plus five equals eight’ is necessarily true; it is true in every possible world. Likewise, if God is a logically necessary being, the proposition ‘God exists’ is true in every possible world. To say that something is logically necessary is to claim that it is logically impossible for that thing not to exist. Just as it is logically impossible for a triangle to have four sides, so it is logically impossible for God not to exist.
    In recent years, many religious philosophers have given up on the notion of a logically necessary being. For reasons that will be explained shortly, they decided the concept was not only indefensible but even damaging to theism. Consequently, in order to retain a sense of necessity with respect to God, these thinkers explained God’s existence as necessary in a nonlogical sense; God’s existence, they said, is a factual necessity.
    A being who is necessary in the factual sense is one about whom three claims can be made. (1) The being is eternal, that is, it had no beginning and its existence will never end. (2) The being is self-caused, which is to say that it does not depend upon anything else for its existence. It is, in a sense already explained, a se. (3) Everything else that exists depends upon the necessary being for its existence. Here is the key difference between the notion of logical and factual necessity: a factually necessary being does not exist in all possible worlds. In the sense of factual necessity, the proposition ‘God does not exist’ is not logically false. A factually necessary being is, in a sense, accidental.”

    (Nash, Ronald H. The Concept of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983. p. 108)

    “God is supposed to exist ‘necessarily’. Some have understood this to mean ‘of logical necessity’, i.e. it would be incoherent to suppose there to be no God. Atheism does, however, seem to be a coherent position, even if false; and so other theists have understood God’s being necessary as his being the ultimate brute fact on which all other things depend.”

    (“God,” by Richard Swinburne. In The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, edited by Ted Honderich, 2nd ed., 341-342. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. p. 342)

    “God is supposed to be in some sense a ‘necessary being’, but, like ‘eternal’, this has been understood in different senses. Some philosophers hold that God is a logically necessary being in that ‘There is no God’ involves a contradiction. That seems to me manifestly false. ‘There is no God’ makes a coherent claim (does not involve a self-contradiction) which we can understand, even if we believe it to be false. But all theists wish to maintain that God is an ontologically necessary being in that his existence is not contingent on anything else: no other individual or physical or metaphysical principle causes (or has any share in causing) the existence of God.”

    (Swinburne, Richard. Was Jesus God? Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. p. 15)

    “If, as theism maintains, there is a God who is essentially eternally omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free, then he will be the ultimate brute fact which explains everything else. God is responsible for the existence of everything else besides himself and for it being as it is and having the powers and liabilities it does; by his continual action at each moment of time, God’s own existence is the only thing whose existence God’s action does not explain. For that there is no explanation. In that sense God is a necessary being, something which exists under its own steam, not dependent on anything else.”

    (Swinburne, Richard. Is There a God? Rev. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 18)

    “To say that ‘God exists’ is necessary is, I believe, to say that the existence of God is a brute fact that is inexplicable—not in the sense that we do not know its explanation, but in the sense that it does not have one. …[A]ny terminus to explanation of things logically contingent must be itself something logically contingent. …[T]here are two ways in which God’s existence being an inexplicable brute fact can be spelt out. The first position is to say that God’s essence is an eternal essence. God is a being of a kind such that if he exists at any time he exists at all times; his existence at all remains the one logically contingent fact. The alternative position is to say that the divine essence is a temporal essence; the ultimate brute fact is not God’s existing as such, but his existing for a period of time without beginning. His subsequent existence would be due to his intentional choice at each moment of time to continue to exist subsequently. Theism has traditionally taken the former position, … . In that case God will have the strongest kind of necessity compatible with his being a logically contingent being. Such necessary existence we may term factually necessary existence (in contrast to logically necessary existence).”

    (Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 96)

    • Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I think there are more types of necessity than this. Some types of necessity such as ontological necessity seem to suffer from a sort of systematic ambiguity which makes it impossible to iterate the modal operators, which is something Plantinga’s argument requires so that he can apply rules form S5.

      • Posted March 3, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        S5 is also (if I recall) clearly about propositions, and god isn’t a proposition.

        • Posted March 3, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          Yes that is correct, but the way people like Plantinga get round this is to say “God is a necessary being” is defined to mean “It is necessarily true that God exists.”

  37. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Sorry. I read the last Plantinga. I wouldn’t read another so soon if you gave me a fucking pie.

    • J.J.E.
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      How about a pake?

  38. Myron
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    This is the only acceptable definition of “necessary being”:

    x is a (factually) necessary being.
    =def
    For all possible worlds w, if x exists in w, then x exists eternally and absolutely independently/autonomously in w.

    Note that factually necessary beings don’t exist in all possible worlds! They are actually contingent beings exactly because they don’t exist in all possible worlds.

    • Myron
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Also note that even factually necessary beings cannot commit suicide, i.e. destroy themselves.

    • Myron
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Being eternal entails being uncreatable and indestructible. God is a bodiless soul/spirit, but what is it about his nature that makes it impossible for him to be destroyed or to destroy himself? Is the reason that souls/spirits are uncreatable and indestructible in principle? No, because God can create and destroy souls/spirits such as human or angelic ones. So the divine spiritual substance must be essentially ontologically different from human and angelic spiritual substances, but what could be responsible for the essential difference? Is it the nature of the stuff of which God is made? No, since God doesn’t consist of any stuff, being totally immaterial. So, it seems that there is no possible answer except: “God’s uncreatability and indestructibility is a mysterious brute fact.” But that (pseudo-)answer is very unsatisfying, to put it mildly.

  39. Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I’ve been following this blog for a few months now and will likely remove myself soon. These last few posts about Plantinga and the responses have only confirmed my suspicions. Coyne and the rest of you are simply interested in hearing yourselves talk and affirming among yourselves how very smart you all are and how utterly stupid everyone else is. The smearing contempt that flows here is where the real BS is. Nothing said here has proven to cause me to rethink anything I affirm. The incredible arrogance often stated in what is “known” about the non-existence of God, that Jesus didn’t exist, no evidence for the resurrection, no evidence for anything but materialistic evolution, and the absolute objectivity of your own conclusions have proven to be mind-numbing and jaw dropping. Just when I think nothing can evoke that reaction again, Coyne does it again.

    Most likely I will either be ignored or brazenly challenged to a duel! So what. My previous interactions have gone nowhere. It seems your ears are plugged or something.

    Dr. Coyne, you said you’re not writing a book refuting what you call sophisticated theology. I would actually welcome it. Then I and others like me would have a plentiful abundance of ammunition to show how utterly non-threatening you are. Go ahead, make my day as Dirty Harry once famously said.

    • Posted March 2, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      You’ve been doing no such thing.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Don’t let the screen door hit you in the ass on your way out.

      Seriously, it’s a free internet. If you find the exchanges here less than satisfying, move on.

      However, I’ve never seen anything posted by you that provides me with any evidence or logical reason to change my mind. To wit: there are no gods (not even yours); there is no soul, no heaven, no hell, no judgment, no after-death experience of any sort; and the “Jesus” character of the so-called holy books is most likely not a “real” person, but a mythological construct made of equal parts whole cloth and a concatenation of several First Century messianic preachers.

      Go ahead. Prove me wrong. I dare you.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        In fact, after reading your profile, I demand that you prove me wrong.

        Failure to respond = an inability to marshal evidence or arguments sufficient to your purpose.

        If you can’t convert me, a poor layperson without a PhD in biology nor any formal education in theology, you should pick a different career.

        Here I am. Waiting to be converted … by you and you alone. Failure to do so would be an egregious sin according to your holy book.

        What are you afraid of?

    • eric
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Wet noodles at dawn! To the pain!

      Seriously, Coyne’s basic point is that this is just the ontological argument rehashed (“tricked-up”). All the standard counterarguments that apply to it, apply here to Plantinga. Can you give us a counter-counter argument and tell us why we shouldn’t just treat it as a variation on the ontological argument?

      • Kevin
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        Apparently a hit-and-run troll.

        Ah well, I have plenty of chew toys.

    • DV
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Jesus didn’t exist! No really – a son of a diety born of a virgin who walked on water and resurrected and now watches what you do in your bedroom? It’s a good character for a myth but you’d need to delude yourself to believe such a thing actually exists.

    • dorcheat
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Well Ray, perhaps you can calmly discuss your concerns with Dr. Coyne’s articles about Alvin Plantinga.

      Also as for the accusation about being “simply interested in hearing yourselves talk”, one wonders if Dr. Coyne is actually interested in hearing himself (or anybody else for that matter) merely talk?

      As a service to the readers of Dr. Coyne’s forum, listed below is a hyperlink to your profile at probe.org

      http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4415415/k.936C/Dr_Ray_Bohlin.htm

    • JBlilie
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Ray: Those two posts display the utter vacuity of Plantinga’s arguments. What else do you have to say on this subject? Plantinga’s arguments are rubbish. Sorry that this hurts your feelings.

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

      Godspeed, Discovery Institute!

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      I am sure Jerry et al would love nothing better tan an intelligent debate with a worthwhile protagonist.
      But, sorry it aint you babe!

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been following this blog for a few months now…

      I doubt it, or you would know it’s a web site, not a blog.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      There is absolutely zero evidence for the resurrection. Are you seriously saying that there is?

      • Windchaser
        Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:26 am | Permalink

        What do you mean, no evidence? We have scrolls and scrolls of 2-nd century writing testifying to firsthand accounts of Jesus. That surely hasn’t happened with any other hypothetical deity throughout history.

        Besides, would early martyrs have died for something that they knew was false? I mean c’mon, if someone’s willing to die for a religious cause, it must be true.

        • Posted March 3, 2012 at 4:46 am | Permalink

          “Well, Your Honor. We’ve plenty of hearsay and conjecture. Those are kinds of evidence.”

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

      Ray Bohlin, don’t be pathetic. Is there something preventing you from just showing the world your “plentiful abundance of ammunition”?

      • Kevin
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Apparently, his purpose in life is to reaffirm my atheism.

        Here I was, served up on a platter, ready for him to convert me. To force me through his incontrovertible logic and evidence to see the error of my ways. To lead me gently to Jesus.

        …and he can’t be arsed to make a single reply. Not one argument in his favor. Nor a shred of compelling evidence that would remove the scales from my eyes.

        I think his god is going to be very angry with him at the end of days.

        I hope he shivers in bed every night at the thought.

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      Bohlin: “Most likely I will either be ignored or brazenly challenged to a duel!”

      Duel? We’re not into that sort of thing. Are we? Any duelists present?

      “My previous interactions have gone nowhere. It seems your ears are plugged or something.”

      Feeling ignored? I admit I’ve never noticed you posting here, but then I only check in c. 1X a day and don’t even read every post.

      So what important point did you want to make? Would you like to show that the word “God” has some meaning? Would you like to demonstrate that “Jesus” existed, even just as a mere mortal?

      You said nothing of substance in this comment, but just sorta whined. I have a feeling this was also a flounce and we’ll not be seeing you again. Surprise me?

  40. Brett
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    On the video: what an absurd display of illogic. Perhaps most baffling of all is that Plantinga himself is somehow able to understand what in the world he is saying!

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      Or thinks he understands?

  41. JBlilie
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    “his is couched in fancy words and stuff that looks like logic”

    Like ALL theology — that’s ALL it IS: Fancy words!

    I just love th cosmillogical argument:

    1. All things must have a cause
    2. Except this one thing, which I declare is not subject to 1); and I call it God
    3. God had to have started all the other causes.
    4. QED: God exists.

    How ANYONE can fall for this nonsense is really beyond me. Anyone who doesn’t see the issues with 2) is not worth speaking to on reason or logic and certainly not on “existence.”

    • Myron
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      “1. All things must have a cause.”

      This is not the premise used by theologians such as Craig!

      “1. All things that begin/began to exist must have cause.”

      This is their premise!

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        So time can no more have a cause than such supernatural thingies. Yet it is more powerful, because we can actually observe time.

        Gnu rool: time rools!

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

        JBillie is referring to the traditional formulation, not the new evasive form.

  42. Chris Bonds
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you nailed it by pointing out that everything Plantinga said about God could also be said about the universe itself.

    He can sound very intellectual, but careful reading exposes his arguments.

  43. Tulse
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Ya know, I don’t need such fancy arguments to prove the existence of my dog. Don’t folks like Plantinga find it odd that the alleged Ground of All Being, the Creator of the Universe, needs such convoluted arguments just to “prove” its reality? Surely if his god is what he says it is, no one should have any doubts about its existence — it should be incontrovertibly obvious to everyone. I mean, whenever I introduce my dog to people, I don’t have to give an extended modal argument about necessity to convince them that he’s there, wagging his tail — it’s frickin’ obvious. And he’s just a dog for frack’s sake, not an omnipotent being who made the world.

    So why is it more difficult to prove the existence of the Christian god than my dog?

    It’s like Samuel Johnson’s response to Berkeley’s idealism — I pet my dog and announce “I refute Plantinga thus!”

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      +1

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      “So why is it more difficult to prove the existence of the Christian god than my dog?”

      Because your dog exists?

      • Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

        Mine doesn’t!

        • Achrachno
          Posted March 2, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

          You’re just an adogist, denying the canine that can be seen with the eyes of faith.

        • Posted March 3, 2012 at 2:01 am | Permalink

          How does he smell? :-D

          /@

  44. MAUCH
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    What a convenient situation. If we don’t have the perfect answer for everything pray the lord they will give us the perfect answer. As for the perfect answer for god it’s simple — HE JUST IS!

  45. Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The problem with refuting “sophisticated” theology is that those who refute it tend to do so in simple, clear language. This, of course, does not sound sufficiently “sophisticated” to theologians or those who want to believe what the theologians say, so it is dismissed as being too simple-minded or has having missed the point altogether.

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

      There are more sophisticated refutations as well. See: “Atheism, A Philosophical Justification” by Michael Martin. Platinga is covered in some detail, and with as much sophistication as anyone could want. At times it’s a bit like using a bazooka to kill a gnat, but if that’s what people want …

  46. Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    When I was a theist, I am sure I asked why God existed. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m now an atheist? It may be absurd to ask it but it’s also absurd to believe it.

    My own paraphrasing of Plantinga’s argument here: “If God exists, God exists.”

    What insight.

  47. JJ
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Blah blah blah, sophisticated zealot.

  48. Dawn Oz
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, the caffeine didn’t help! I applaud you for wading through this linguistic cloud. I feel again privileged to be part of your list, as you are an amazing scholar, and very generous with your time.

  49. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    So religion can haz special pleading because religion can haz special pleading.

    It follows that “Plantinga is fooling himself” is also an analytical proposition.

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

      And properly basic.

  50. Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I find Plantinnga’s words make most sense if put into the mouth of Lucy. Charlie Brown’s necessary and sufficient response is “Aaaauuuggghh!”

  51. Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I find Plantinga’s words make most sense if put into the mouth of Lucy (the cartoon character, not the hominid).

    Charlie Brown’s necessary and sufficient response is “Aaaauuuggghh!”

    • Another Matt
      Posted March 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      They might work even better if you imagine them coming from the Peanuts adults. “Bwaa wah wah waah, wawa bwaahbhaa waa.”

  52. Sastra
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    He is pointing out that we cannot sensibly ask, “Why is it that God exists?” And he is holding that some assertion about God is the final answer in the series of questions and answer we have been considering.

    Like others, I, too, have often thought it both sensible and reasonable to ask “why is it that God exists?” when assuming for the sake of argument that God exists in order to demonstrate that their reasons tend to undermine themselves. In fact, from the gnu atheist’s evolutionary perspective, asking how or why there would be a being which apparently feels and thinks and craves companionship even though it didn’t evolve in an environment that shaped it so that it would seek to avoid obstacles, obtain goals, and relate to others is a VERY good question to ask.

    The fact that theists apparently don’t ask it is not testimony to their conceptual understanding, but additional evidence that they suffer from a deficiency of curiosity and don’t think things through very well. They’re just too eager to get to the part that’s about them.

    Necessary beings which cannot be denied without contradiction are all descended from one clear and simple tautology: existence exists. If you conceive of “existence” as consisting of all that is, has been, or will be in every form and aspect, then you can take this concept and play the games with it that theologians want you to play with God. Existence is the final ‘answer’ to the chain of why. You can’t ask why existence exists, because it’s tautological. You can’t deny the existence of existence and say that something else might exist instead of existence, because that something else would have to be existence.

    And so on and so forth in a lovely little word salad of the bloody obvious. The theological trick is to try to sneak in “God” in place of the concept of “existence” and pretend that an extraordinary specified agent with values and hopes and feelings will somehow pass for the necessarily true but trivial conceptual game that was being played.

    Silly argument(s).

  53. MosesZD
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    it is part of the Hebraic-Christian concept of God the He is “Maker of heaven and earth.” But it is also a necessary truth that if God exists, He is Himself uncreated and in no way causally dependent upon anything else.

    Ouch. Pretty major flaw right there… He’s essentially saying his cultural conventions on the Supernatural are the correct ones. But he doesn’t seem to be noticing he’s saying that… Or perhaps he’s just dimssed everything earlier on the way to “Ergo God/Jesus.”

    I’m guessing that he fails to see that any religon (monotheistic/polytheistic), regardless of size, as well as any denomination/sect within that religion can, in light of their particular prejudices in the matter, claim the same… And that, in the end, it’s nothing but a special pleading for the religious traditions by which he has been enculturated.

    I have little doubt that if he was a monothesitic Hindu, he’d be making the same arguments for Brahama as a solo god in various aspects. If he was a polythesitic Hindu, the same for unique gods. If he was a Muslim, he’d make the same arguments for God, only it wouldn’t be the trinity god of Christianity (assuming he’s a standard trinitarian).

  54. sasqwatch
    Posted March 3, 2012 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    One thing Plantinga will NEVER, EVER prove.

    Why Plantinga is a necessary being.

  55. Posted March 3, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I just listened to a great speech on Plantinga’s epistemology. I don’t think the man has said one word I agree with. I find it interesting though, but I’m a glutton for punishment. I’m currently writing about Plantinga on my blog, and I generally view the man’s philosophy with the same disregard and contempt that you do.

  56. marvol19
    Posted March 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Good to see I completely agree.
    Although I had no coffee before reading it :(, and I got lost in the maze of ‘sufficiently absent conditions for causal existence’ blather, at the very end I was, too, left with the simple conclusion: be that as it may, it is only ‘true’ because of Plantinga having defined God that way.

    It all reminds me a lot of the logic of Tweedledee and Tweedledum. “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic”.

  57. Posted March 4, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    A necessary being is a being which exists in every possible universe? Let’s put aside that we only know of one so far, but from reading him, as long as we can imagine something, ity exist in some universe. So. I can imagine a universe without a god of any kinds very easily. I imagined it, therefore there is no god, or, at the very least, that god is *not* a necessary being.

    Gee, I can do this all day. Plantinga is full of hot air. Blargh.

  58. Posted March 12, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    For completion, the Thinking Christian had a take on this blog post, and my take on *that* is over here. All links provided.

  59. Posted March 13, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Bernard Hurley uses Plantinga-esque logic to demonstrate that his teapot is god.

    A very amusing read.

    http://bernardhurley.posterous.com/my-teapot-is-a-necessary-being

  60. Joe Barron
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    By “neccary being,” I don;t belive theologians mean necessary FOR anything. That is, they are not necessary merely as a first cause. By necessary, they mean a being whose essence involves existence, or, in other words, something that exists by definition. God, in this view, could not NOT exist, because existence is a part of his essence, and he would exist even if we didn’t.

    • gbjames
      Posted September 17, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      “…and he would exist even if we didn’t.”

      Sez who?

      • Joe Barron
        Posted September 18, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

        Sez Plantinga. I’m not saying he’s right. I’m just trying to explain the concept of a “necessary being,” such as it is.

        • gbjames
          Posted September 18, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          Assertions made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Which greatly reduces the need to respond to nearly all theology.

  61. Joe Barron
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Parmenides lives!


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