Speaking of sophisticated theology. . .

Here’s today’s Jesus and Mo, in which the artist, in just four panels, destroys Alvin Plantinga’s argument for “warranted belief” in Christianity:

2014-01-08

Like all atheists, my sensus divinitatis is broken, too.

h/t: Linda Grilli

61 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Finally I know why my mom made me take Latin in high school.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      Latin is a language
      Dead as dead could be
      First it killed the Romas
      Now it’s killing me!

      I scraped my O-level… all forgotten now!

      Brilliant cartoon.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:18 am | Permalink

        oops! Romans!
        o tempores…

        • Paul
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

          Official language of Vatican City :-(

          • Dominic
            Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

            quod erat demonstrandum – they are the deadest of dead wood.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        deridete non Latinum!

        • Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

          Who’s Deirdre, and why’s she eating that stuff the short guys in Star Trek were using for money?

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            Ha! Gold pressed latinum – pressed into useless god. Why does my brain remember this stuff & forget my passwords for logging into work after the holidays?

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

              *useless gold* Hilarious typo/Freudian Slip

              • Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

                Is there any other type of god than useless?

                Aside from cats and the Sun, of course.

                b&

            • Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

              correct horse battery staple

              b&

            • gbjames
              Posted January 9, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

              You forgot to put your passwords on a post-it note on your monitor again?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 9, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

                Ha ha! I actually thought about doing that before I went on holidays but it was so against everything in me that I couldn’t.

  2. Griff
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Isn’t this just another example of William Lane Craig’s “Self-validating knowledge”?

    Why do apparently intelligent people present such ludicrous arguments?

    • Sastra
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Partly because we all tend to think using analogies when we’re in unfamiliar territory. Smart people who believe in God often do so on intuition and then reason backwards.

      What else is my certainty about God like? What sorts of things would it be silly for anyone to doubt … but they’re not “objectively” provable in the strict scientific sense?

      Feelings and emotions. The sense that love is better than hate. The existence of other minds. My own existence. The existence of Existence itself.

      What if God is just that basic? It must be. It is. Because we’ve placed that in the definition. Win!

      Basic Belief Apologetics in a nutshell.

      • gravityfly
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        Great point, Sastra.

        • gravityfly
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          That argument can be used to justify anything.

          Why do I love ice cream? I have a sensus ice creamitatis…

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

            Chocolatus? Or vanillatis?

            • gravityfly
              Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

              Lol…methinks chocolatus would go great on a bananus splitus.

              • Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

                Sounds like the sort of dessert Biggus Dickus would serve to Incontinentia Buttocks….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 9, 2014 at 6:15 am | Permalink

                Just before everyone got made into gladiators for laughing.

              • Posted January 9, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                It’s a damned good thing I telecommute exclusively, or else I’d get sent to gladiator school several times a day….

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted January 9, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

                Enjoy.

  3. James Walker
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    “Epistemic life raft” – love it!

    “Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons – that’s philosophy.” Aldous Huxley

    • Dominic
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      James, what is the source for the Huxley quote please?
      Thanks

    • Achrachno
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      Seems to me he should have said: “Finding bad reasons for what one believes unreasonably – that’s theology.”

      Some philosophers are OK.

      • Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        The okay philosophers are the ones not doing philosophy but instead doing out-and-out empirical science or math. For the former, see true ethicists (such as the ones working with medical review boards, for example) or logicians (many now in computer science). And some, like Dan Dennett, are doing higher-level meta-analyses of empirical sciences.

        But those who’re just doing philosophy are generally spewing bullshit that’s not substantially changed over the millennia. They’re the ones still trying to answer the “big questions” that science either answered long ago or is in the middle of answering, and the philosophers are utterly clueless as to that fact. See cosmogenesis for “ultimate origins” questions; biology for “nature of life” questions; game theory and evolutionary biology for “origins and nature of morality”; and so on.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Sastra
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

          But those who’re just doing philosophy are generally spewing bullshit that’s not substantially changed over the millennia.

          Can I call that “Ben Goren’s Philosophy?”

          • Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

            Sure — just don’t call it late for dinner!

            b&

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Cartoon, outstanding. Huxley, also brilliant.

      [/ticks off religion, theology, philosophy from bash list]

  4. Chris Lang
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    But there might actually be a sensus divinitatis—if research that suggests that we have evolved to be religious holds up. The idea is that we evolved to be religious because religion was adaptive for our ancestors. One theory is that religion was adaptive because it encouraged cooperation between strangers in large groups where anonymity is possible; you’re less likely to prey on others if you believe there are gods keeping score. (See the article by Elizabeth Culotta in Science, vol. 326 (6 November 2009), p. 784.)

    • gbjames
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      There might actually be a Loch Ness Monster—if research that suggests that we have a Plesiosaur living in Scotland holds up.

      One should not throw away one’s skeptic’s cap.

      If there is a senses divinitatis it is remarkable how it apparently doesn’t exist in many people and that it somehow evaporates from many others who presumably had it before they abandoned faith.

      • Chris Lang
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        I seem to recall reading somewhere that 3% of the population does not enjoy music; we presume that we evolved to enjoy music, yet not everyone has that ability. Perhaps your senses divinitatis has been repurposed to a sense of awe and wonder about science, nature and the universe—the realization that we are star dust, formed from the remnants of supernovae that happened long ago.

        • gbjames
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:11 am | Permalink

          Then let’s call it by it’s proper name: sensus awesus (or should that be senses awes us? Because the hijacking would seem to have been by repurposing (hijacking) would have been by religion.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

            I sensus secularis! :)

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

              oops -I

    • Dominic
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      The idea of agency might be involved, but I think that belief in gods is only our Sophisticated Theolgians (no idea how to do the TM) having got hold of that in more complex societies in order to exert control of resources/individuals for (unconscious?) personal reasons, to maximise their memes/genes.

    • Chris
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

      I’m a complete non-expert and am willing to be persuaded that this behaviour could be beneficial and selected for. I also wonder whether it may also be a result of misfiring or over-active pattern recognition and sense of agency.

      Either way it should be irrelevant.

      What really makes me laugh (well, cringe) is that this says nothing about the truth of the “belief” – simply that the belief itself is/was selected for somehow. Does it provide any evidence for an actual target of belief? Ummmm, no.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      Plantinga’s sensus divinitatis is not the same as the hypothesis that humans evolved a prediliction for religious belief because it conferred a fitness advantage.

      I have no doubt that even Sophisticated Theologians™ like Plantinga would use such a finding, if it were verified, to support their theological claims. But, as is so often the case, that hypothesis, if verified, would be yet further good evidence against such claims.

    • Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      For a minute let’s suppose that’s true. That doesn’t justify “warranted belief”. We know all to well that both sensor data and interpretation of sensor data can be faulty. There are illusions in all of our sense. This is a well-known pattern recognition problem.

      In the context of proto-religious beliefs like ghosts and “presence”, there are even good reasons to expect an error bias in the interpretation of sensory data towards an intentional agent. (A false positive means more looking over your shoulder; a false negative means death.)

      It also seems spurious to use the hypothetical value of religious beliefs as some point to defines something like a “sensus divinitatis”. In-group/out-group tribalism had value at some point too. We still have quite strong tribal tendencies to defend our in-group and attack the out-group. (political, ideological, sports, nationalities, gender, age groups, PC vs Mac, Android vs iPhone, …)

      Does this mean we have a “sensus tribalis”. Does our recognition of the social value we get from collective government mean we have a “sensus governmentus”.

      I don’t think we can simply take all tendencies and instincts that have or had some natural selection pressure value and re-word them as a “sense” and certainly cannot call the cognitive interpretations of those instincts as senses, such as deities and divine beings. Those interpretations tend to be the false positive errors interpreted from other senses, not the data produced by a unique sense. And as above, false positive error biases can have selection value.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I don’t think what you’re talking about is a sensus divinitatis because the idea that the sensus divinitatis is accurate is structured into the definition. Evolved tendencies to anthropomorphize or use unprovable beliefs to bind groups together work fine even if the beliefs aren’t true. If “God” comes down to quirks in the human brain then people are not sensing God.

      It’s rather like the difference between ESP and cold reading. Just because a “psychic” may not be aware of what they’re doing doesn’t mean there’s support for a different way of seeing ESP. It’s too different. It’s too close to no ESP.

    • Posted January 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      This is not what Plantinga means. Plantinga’s silly notion is the idea that the sense is somehow “correct” in some way. Supposedly it tells you itself that it works and that is supposed to guarantee it does because … well, how circular do you want me to make it?

      The idea we have agency detectors or the like and hence get them to misfire and therefore misinterpret nature as being purposeful, etc. (and hence draw the god conclusion, etc.) – i.e., the Pascal Boyer thesis – is much more reasonable.

  5. Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    “Like all atheists, my sensus divinitatis is broken, too.”

    Au contraire! Our sensus divinitatis is working just fine; constantly reading zero. It’s the religious who keep getting false positives … 

    /@

    • Mattapult
      Posted January 8, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Mine occasionally bounces up to “it’s too good to be true.”

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted January 8, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        Mine is pretty much stuck on “How does anyone believe this crap?”

        • Marella
          Posted January 9, 2014 at 1:46 am | Permalink

          Yep.

  6. Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Plantinga would be put off by this cartoon. He’d say the sensus divinitatus exists but is imperfect, hence false religions.
    I’m still up in the air about the possibility of an adaptive sensus divinitatus. It seems at least plausible to me. If its not a direct predilection for believing in gods it could merely be a result of how we organize reality in our minds, or a slight tendency to ascribe agency to natural phenomena. Its easy to see how it would benefit a community. What better way could there be to get young men to endure hardship and die for the community by fighting other young men??

    • Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      I don’t think you understand what the sensus divinitatis really is. It is an immaterially based sense installed in us by God so that we can perceive the truth (not just about him, but about everything else). And the truth it allows us to perceive includes that of Christianity as the RIGHT religion. It’s not something that evolved.

      Do you still accept it? If so, then give us your evidence for the God who installed it.

      • Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        I think its fairly obvious that God doesn’t exist.
        Many theists have claimed that belief in God is universal among cultures ( it isn’t) and Plantinga has tried to turn this into a rigorous argument for the existence of God. I think this is transparently ridiculous but I think its an interesting question as to whether the human mind has a tendency to see a ‘person’ running the natural world. The other possibility is that’s its just a cultural meme that caught on.

        My guess is that Plantinga would say that when the sensus div is working properly it would lead to Christianity. When its functioning suboptimally it would lead to other religions and when its broken it would lead to us!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          However how could something given to us by an infallible being, like the Christian god, malfunction?

          • Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

            I think this is a very good point, and so a theist would have to say that atheists really do have a sensus divinitatus and we just choose to ignore it. Its similar to the problem pychopaths present to the idea that God instills morality in us.

            • Posted January 8, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              Some claim that satan (somehow) can mess with it, and god lets satan do it for some greater purpose, etc.

              If this seems desperately ad hoc (in Bunge’s sense of _male fide ad hoc_, too), I agree.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 8, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

                I think Satan is supposed to be part of god’s plan as well because everything is in god’s plan so Satan is actually working for god.

                At least that’s how mediaeval people looked at it (where I learned most of what I know about theology).

              • Posted January 8, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                “At least that’s how mediaeval people looked at it (where I learned most of what I know about theology).”

                Wow, I got the impression you were a bit younger

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

                Wow, I got the impression you were a bit younger

                Well done!

          • Draken
            Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

            Because we live in fallen world and though all of our senses were once created perfect, they’re now, like, broken and stuff.

            That’s why some people become muslims or buddhists.

            Now I’m off to Liberty University to download my degree in theology.

  7. Posted January 8, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Something like sensus divinitatus is a respectable part of science. It’s called guessing. But we use it to hypothesize, not make knowledge claims.

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      This is not at all like hypothesizing: it is like having a photon detector (e.g. a rod cell) but for god, but worse than that, because it somehow discerns all the properties, not just existence. So it would have to be a whole subsystem. Crazy.

  8. grasshopper
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    sensus divinitasis + census quirinius = jesus

  9. rob
    Posted January 9, 2014 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    atheists have a sensus excrementus bovinus instead.


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