The bland leading the blind: a conversation on atheism between Gary Gutting and Alvin Plantinga

A few readers have called my attention to a one-on-one email interview of Alvin Plantinga by Gary Gutting at the “Opinionator” section of the February 9 New York Times. This is (God help us) the first of a series of interviews that Gutting will conduct about religion, and his topic for the first, published last Sunday, was “Is atheism irrational?

I’m not going to dissect it in extenso, for it’s not worth it, and I’ve had it up to here with Plantinga. Just let me say that this column puzzles me in two ways. First, why is the Times giving Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, so much space to rabbit on about religion? And why do they let him interview one of his colleagues, the notorious Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, an emeritus professor of philosophy at Notre Dame? Might there be a touch of good Christian nepotism in that? And where is the atheist “Opinionatory” columnist to counterbalance all the slow-pitch softballs that Gutting gets to throw at the faithful?

Second, why is Alvin Plantinga famous, or even have a job? The arguments he makes are so palpably foolish that any freshman philosopher can see through them. Yet thousands of Christians regard him as a guru.

If you want to see a thorough takedown of this column, go read the Barefoot Bum‘s post, “Alvin Plantinga on atheism.” I’ll just quote a number of silly things that Plantinga says.  The bullet points give direct quotes from Alvin the Apologist:

  • “But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.”

JAC:  To most of us, I think atheism is simply the refusal to believe in gods, not the absolute denial that there are any.

  • “I should make clear first that I don’t think arguments are needed for rational belief in God. In this regard belief in God is like belief in other minds, or belief in the past. Belief in God is grounded in experience, or in the sensus divinitatis, John Calvin’s term for an inborn inclination to form beliefs about God in a wide variety of circumstances.Nevertheless, I think there are a large number — maybe a couple of dozen — of pretty good theistic arguments. None is conclusive, but each, or at any rate the whole bunch taken together, is about as strong as philosophical arguments ordinarily get.”
  • “The most important ground of belief is probably not philosophical argument but religious experience. Many people of very many different cultures have thought themselves in experiential touch with a being worthy of worship. They believe that there is such a person, but not because of the explanatory prowess of such belief. Or maybe there is something like Calvin’s sensus divinitatis. Indeed, if theism is true, then very likely there is something like the sensus divinitatis. So claiming that the only sensible ground for belief in God is the explanatory quality of such belief is substantially equivalent to assuming atheism.”

JAC: Remember that the God that gives us the sensus divinitatis is the Christian God. Obviously, others whose sensi (sp?) tell them of other gods, like Allah or Brahma, are getting a garbled message, as did every religionist before the supposed birth of Jesus.  And (Plantinga discusses this elsewhere) what about the atheists? Well, says Dr. Alvin, our sensus divinitatis is broken. In fact, it’s broken in more than half the world’s inhabitants. God didn’t do a very good job when he installed that sensus! As for the second quote, I leave it to the readers, for I am feeling a pain in my lower mesentery.

Gutting then asks Plantinga to give some of those other strong philosophical arguments for God:

  • “One presently rather popular argument: fine-tuning. Scientists tell us that there are many properties our universe displays such that if they were even slightly different from what they are in fact, life, or at least our kind of life, would not be possible. The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life. For example, if the force of the Big Bang had been different by one part in 10 to the 60th, life of our sort would not have been possible. The same goes for the ratio of the gravitational force to the force driving the expansion of the universe: If it had been even slightly different, our kind of life would not have been possible. In fact the universe seems to be fine-tuned, not just for life, but for intelligent life. This fine-tuning is vastly more likely given theism than given atheism.”

The Bayesian “probability argument” given by Plantinga at the end is specious, for it requires an a priori assessment of the likelihood of the Christian God, which I believe Plantinga sets at 50% (this his flawed default figure for probabilities of things we don’t have any evidence for). But at any rate we all know the counterarguments to the fine-tuning argument for God; Google “Sean Carroll fine tuning” if you haven’t heard them.

There are many other moments of unintended hilarity (for some reason the Times allows Gutting far more space than, say, someone sensible like Paul Krugman), but I’ll leave you with Plantinga’s take on theodicy: why is there evil in the world? His answer is full of LOLz, for he explains that the best of all possible worlds must have evil in it. Where is Voltaire when we need him?

  • G.G.: “But even if this fine-tuning argument (or some similar argument) convinces someone that God exists, doesn’t it fall far short of what at least Christian theism asserts, namely the existence of an all-perfect God? Since the world isn’t perfect, why would we need a perfect being to explain the world or any feature of it?”A.P.: “I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering. And is that true? Maybe the best worlds contain free creatures some of whom sometimes do what is wrong. Indeed, maybe the best worlds contain a scenario very like the Christian story.” [JAC: yes, and maybe the Cubs will win the World Series.]Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.

    I’d say a world in which this story is true would be a truly magnificent possible world. It would be so good that no world could be appreciably better. But then the best worlds contain sin and suffering.”

Ergo, Auschwitz: “The World Would Have Been Worse Without It”. Oh, I forgot—those were mostly Jews.  You know, the ones who didn’t have the “right relationship to God”.

Alvin1

AL-vin!!!!

177 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    sub

    • gbjames
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

      Pro tip: check the check box.

      • Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Or, you could box the box check….

        b&

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          Or up chuck on the Alvin.

          • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

            How much yuck would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck would upchuck?

            b&

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

              Oh dear.

              • Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

                No, I don’t think a woodchuck would upchuck an entire deer. Except, perhaps for the saber-toothed woodchuck, of course — but then only if it was overly full from eating whole wapiti.

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted February 24, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                *Gulp*

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:31 am | Permalink

              That reminds me of a little ditty about Artamus, also known as…
              woodswallows.
              🙂

    • francis
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      //

  2. Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    To most of us, I think atheism is the refusal to believe in gods, not the absolute denial that there is one.

    For me, it’s that gods are quite palpably a certain class of fictional character, and it’s a type of character that depends on impossibility. No gods have definitions which the believer believes could actually be possible; the whole point of the gods is to bridge that gap from the possible to the impossible. The thing is, once we know that something’s possible, it’s no longer the purview of the divine but instead the mundane. Thus, the only possible gods are the impossible ones.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      There are no gods that humankind has conceived of *and* worshipped (which, after all, is part of the definition of a god) that are allowed within our current understanding of physics and cosmology. A provisonal claim, but one with a very high confidence level.

      /@

      • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        That’s true, too, but my position is even stronger (in the sense of “more emphatic”).

        When the gods brought rain and set the mountains ablaze with fire from within, the reason the gods did so was because it was impossible for those things to be done.

        When Jesus walked on water and raised the dead, he did so because it was impossible for such to happen; that he did those things demonstrated his power over reality.

        When Plantinga’s gods created the Universe, they did so because creating universes is impossible.

        But, you know what? Today you can use waterskis to walk on water, and doctors in emergency rooms routinely raise the dead. Somebody doing those things today wouldn’t be considered divine…unless they did so in a clearly-impossible matter. The catch, of course, is that, today, we’d know that the fact that they actually did so (assuming the claims hold) is proof that the phenomenon isn’t impossible after all, but merely not well understood.

        In other words, gods only make sense in fiction or in a philosophical worldview, not an empirical one. In philosophy, you can have things that are impossible but somehow still hypothetically happen anyway. With empiricism, the whole question is irrelevant; all that matters is whether there’s evidence of the phenomenon, followed by a quest to understand it. You can’t even formulate a concept for a god in an empirical worldview, save as an obviously fraudulent “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” sense. Let’s say we did discover an intelligence responsible for the Big Bang. Would that make said intelligence divine? No; it would make it a very surprising phenomenon in desperate need of investigation.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

          Oh, I wont disagree with that!

          /@

          • Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

            Didn’t think you would…but one can never be sure until the observation is made, and not even then….

            b&

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

          Yep.

          This extends to anything supernatural. The impossibility of it is the allure. If evidence and explanations for ESP, PK and the like started to roll in, perhaps the woomeisters would be excited for a short time, but eventually the “mystique status” of those phenomena would be reduced that of cell phones, or even just face to face talking.

          • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

            After all, what better way to enforce a monopoly on your own brand of snake oil than to sell something that’s impossible to exist? Never mind that you don’t have any of the real deal; nobody else is going to be able to sell it, either.

            Cheers,

            b&

        • eric
          Posted February 25, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          I am not sure that either theists or even most atheists would buy your idea that ’empirically observable’ negates the concept of ‘divine.’ (i.e., if it’s one, it cannot be the other). I think a lot of people would find “divine” an apt description of a man behind the curtain, if that man is sufficiently potent and at least is appeaently omniscient. After all, Christianity is founded on the belief in a divine manifestation that was (supposedly) empirically observable. Actually the same is true of Judaism and Islam I think.

          I think if we discovered an intelligence behind the big bang, you’d get many people that would be very happy to say it meets the general qualifications of a divine creator and its also a very surprising phenomenon in desperate need of investigation.

          In a deeper sense, it’s possible (however ridiculous) for empiricism to lead us to evidence that would lead us to reject empiricism. If some form of ritual prayer starts yielding confirmable truths about the world, pretty soon a lot of people would abandon “observe the world” as a method of figuring out the truth and use ritual prayer instead. We’d go through phases: first we’d check everything via empiricism. Then we’d check just the really important things. Then, once the economic cost of checking was deemed not worth the low low risk that such truths would turn out to be wrong, we’d eventually stop checking altogether. IMO this would occur remarkably fast – the biotech companies, stock companies etc. that spent less money on checking would have lower costs, starting a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of abandoning empiricism as a way of developing new inventions. But I digress. The point is, the divine could make sense under empiricism, in that it’s possible for empiricism to support current notions of what divine action and causation would look like. I wouldn’t bet a penny on any of that happening, ever, but in principle it could.

          • Posted February 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

            I think a lot of people would find divine an apt description of a man behind the curtain, if that man is sufficiently potent and at least is appeaently omniscient.

            You may be right about what people would do or think they would do, but a position such as that is quite inconsistent and does not withstand scrutiny nor reflection.

            Specifically, by that definition, James “The Amazing” Randi really could become a real god to a back-bush tribe. If all it takes to be divine is to be overwhelmingly more powerful and knowledgeable than somebody else, then we are all gods with respect to our ancestors, and many of us are gods with respect to our youthful selves. Imagine the significance of a modern smartphone to an octogenarian who grew up in a rural part of a third-world country.

            In a deeper sense, its possible (however ridiculous) for empiricism to lead us to evidence that would lead us to reject empiricism.

            Yes, it is — and that’s a bug, not a feature. If there’s something more effective, more useful out there, if it can be demonstrated that it actually is more effective, empiricism will be sufficient to bootstrap us to that new whatever-it-may-be.

            …but, even then, it will ultimately remain the actual utility of whatever-it-is that determines whether or not it’s worth using, and that’s all that empiricism is it its core. In that sense, empiricism is never going away, even if its methods radically change beyond all recognition.

            Cheers,

            b&

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          And that’s why I am a strong atheist – the lcoal hubble volume might have been created by a toddler or a graduate student, a microbe, or something we cannot even begin to understand or classify. But regardless, it is just the start of a regress, and that’s what the ancient atomists noticed – and they’ve never been shown to be mistaken.

    • wanderobo
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      JAC: To most of us, I think atheism is simply the refusal to believe in gods, not the absolute denial that there are any.

      So far the only known way for any god to exist for me is for me to believe in gods. So if I do not believe in any gods, then no gods exist. May I with this then deny that there are any gods? I think yes, until there comes a different means to establish gods other than belief.

      • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        That, of course, plays not only to the nature of belief but to my definition of science: the apportionment of belief in proportion with a rational analysis of empirical observation.

        If you have empirical observation indicating the existence of a god, you should believe in that gods’s existence with as much confidence as a rational analysis of those observations would indicate.

        …but then we come right back up to the question of definitions, and what it would mean for an entity to be a god. Is it anything that can do the very impressive or seemingly impossible? Then James Randi could set himself up to be a god to some back-bush tribe, and he would be every bit as real as space aliens showing off their equivalent of the latest smartphone. Is it anything that can do that which really is impossible? Well, once it does the impossible, it demonstrates that it wasn’t actually impossible after all, but merely something we didn’t understand to be possible — which puts it right back in the original category. And that’s why divinity is not a coherent concept in the context of empiricism. At best, a god would, of necessity, be an entity that could never even in theory ever be demonstrated to exist.

        Cheers,

        b&

  3. Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    “Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.”

    As always, it’s a made up story that doesn’t even agree with the supposed holy book that these people claim is the “truth”. Such precious TrueTheists,, not agreeing with each other as usual. There is no freedom in the bible. We have a god that interferes constantly with humanity. As soon as one miracle is done, free will is abrogated, since someone’s choice is directly negated by this deity.

    And as always, this god does act exactly like an “ancient potentate” with killing people if they don’t obey him (remember poor ol’ Uzzah, etc). It takes a retcon to come up with a magic “son” to be murdered to make this god happy. and this god supposedly “suffers”? Not one bit of evidence of that at all. He *requires* it.

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      It doesn’t even make sense in the context of the story.

      God is perfect and knows all, but didn’t know that the very pinnacle of his creative prowess would so spectacularly explode at the very first opportunity? And the best he can think of to solve the mess is first to kill everybody and everything, and then to pour gasoline on the genocidal ravings of his chosen people, and then to send his son slumming with a bit of S&M bondage play thrown in at the end?

      …never mind, of course, that we know for a fact that it’s all fantasy….

      b&

      • Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        heh, indeed, a bit of “S&M bondage play”.

        it is such a lovely example of utter fear and sycophancy to insist that this is the “best” world.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, in the story god responds right away by handing out curses. Maybe Plantiga hasn’t read the story.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      As Ben indicates, since God is all-knowing he knew his free creatures would turn their backs on him – he had, after all, equipped them to do exactly that – and he still drowned, tortured, harassed and slaughtered them on a scale that puts all ancient potentates to shame. And since God did all this even though he knew what was going to happen from the beginning, he is worse by far than any sadistic human potentate.

  4. Paul S
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Why insult the chipmunks? At least they have a talent.
    and sub

  5. Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Gutted plantains. That’s all my brain can muster in response to this mush regurgitated by’ the bland leading the blind.’ Why does Plantinga have a job? Perhaps a child has not yet come up to him, exclaiming, look, he’s nekkid!

  6. Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    “It would be so good that no world could be appreciably better.”

    I sensus some bullshit.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Against the yawning abyss of hostile lifeless blackness that is most of the universe why, of course, it’s obvious this place was made for us!

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

        Its not just the lifeless blackness but also the lifeless nuclear furnaces, neutron stars, brown dwarfs, black holes, etc.

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

          Yes. And planets even. Mars is a prime example of wildly above average real estate and… it’s a desolate hole.

          I think they’d have better luck arguing that the universe is here for some other purpose that has nothing to do with us and that it was only the Earth that was created specifically for us, because arguing that the universe was created for us is… head spinning.

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          And never mind even all that. Put an human at a random spot in the volume of the significant portion of the Earth’s gravitational field and a quick and agonizing death will result, either from asphyxiation, being crushed by rock or burned by magma, being drowned, or falling and going <splat>. Restrict it to just the surface, and still death is very likely, sooner rather than later. And even if you restrict it to populated areas, if the human is naked, death is still not at all unlikely and extreme discomfort all but guaranteed. You pretty much have to get to the level of, “fully clothed, with proper documentation and money, conversant in the local language, no problems with the local authorities” before you can relax…and maybe not even then.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • gluonspring
            Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

            +1

            That was beautiful.

            • Posted February 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

              Tanks!

              We really do live on a most beautiful planet in a breathtakingly gorgeous Cosmos. But our corner of it is so vanishingly small that to think we’re the reason for it all not only beggars belief, it buggers it.

              b&

              • Chris
                Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

                Not so much a “corner” as a “skin”!

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        This is my galaxy. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. 🙂

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

          It’s where I spend the vast majority of my time….

          b&

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

            +1

  7. kelskye
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    In terms of the case for strong atheism, Plantinga’s characterisation of even-star-ism would be better if he used the example of the firmament instead. When it comes to the number of stars, it’s a problem that we can a) make sense of, b) assign a probability to the proposition (50%), and c) is beyond our knowledge. In other words, it’s nothing like the case for God at all.

    If, on the other hand, Plantinga said that it’s like saying the stars are an illusion painted on the firmament surrounding earth. Then we’d have an equivalent – something that could be rigged to be consistent with the evidence, but nonetheless violates everything we have come to understand about the world. Most people would hear such an example and not think agnosticism towards the firmament, but would be afirmamentists. The reason being that we do have reasons to think the firmament story is nonsense.

    Lack of evidence in the case of even-star-ism is already sneaking in a lot of evidence into the proposition, lack of evidence for firmamentism leaves us with a defeasibly weak case, and thus should be disbelieved.

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      Never minding the obvious practical problems with counting stars, there’re some much more fundamental problems that make his example not even fractally worng.

      First, there’s the question of definition. Are brown dwarves stars? Pulsars? Black holes? Supernova remnants? At which stage in stellar evolution is a star a star? When two close-orbit binary stars collide, at what point do they stop being a pair of stars and start becoming a single star?

      And then we throw into all the paradoxes of Relativity and the question of when now is combined with cosmic expansion, and all Plantinga has really done is demonstrate that he’s using Bronze Age science in the 21st century. He might as well be blathering about the Four (or Five?) Elements for all the relevance his example has on reality.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • JBlilie
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I fully agree. But, for any formulation of answers to those questions, I would still have a high confidence that:

        P(counts of all stars = even number) = 0.50

        It’s one of those questions that Sam Harris describes as having a real answer in fact; but in practice being unknowable. (The number of birds currently airborne on earth, for instance, currently being 23:59:59.0 ZULU, today.)

        • JBlilie
          Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

          And obviously it’s a failed analogy for Plantinga. As Jerry said, freshman philosophy students …

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think you’d be warranted in your confidence.

          Consider a similar question: what are the odds that there are an even number of male humans? Considering that there’s no clear-cut definition of “male,” despite there being broadly applicable statistical correlations with the term, the only answer to the question is, “undefined.”

          Yes, broadly speaking, roughly half of the population is male and roughly half female. But there’re all the intersex people, all the transgendered people, all the people who would identify for whatever reason as sexless, and so on. Are we going to exclude them from the count, or arbitrarily assign them to one category or another?

          There are situations where clearly quantized distinctions make sense, but stellar population counts isn’t one of those even in principle.

          And, again…there’re Relativistic considerations; there is no universal “now,” so, even if you had a particular reliable number, I could well have an entirely different number, with each equally valid.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • JBlilie
            Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

            Agreed, my thought required answers to your earlier points (I thought I made that clear, maybe not) and some of those may be unaswerable, even in principle.

      • Posted February 24, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        Right, well the Bronze Age science goes right along with the Bronze Age myth he’s peddling!

      • kelskye
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        No matter how you classify a star (and in theory it could be done based on a scientific understanding), I’d wager that at any given moment in the universe, the number of entities that could be classified as stars has a 50/50 shot at being an even number.

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

          But that’s just it; it’s not possible to draw a hard-and-fast clear-cut distinction between “star” and “not-star,” just as it’s not possible to draw a similar distinction between “male” and “female.” Yes, we have some very useful guidelines that serve us very well in the overwhelming majority of cases, but there’s a very significant range in which the distinctions just don’t apply.

          In other words, you’re attempting to quantize a continuum. At which place on the rainbow would you say that green ends and yellow begins? Which one of our ancestors was the very first human? At what age does childhood end?

          When it comes right down to it, counting stars in the Universe is nothing like counting pennies in a jar, as tempting as it might be to try to think of it that way.

          And, again, thanks to Einstein, we know there’s no universal fame of temporal reference, so, even if you did come up with some arbitrarily inappropriate distinction that could conceivably be applied, you’re left with the problem that you may well come up with a different number from me, even if we performed the count at what would naïvely seem to be the “same” instant in time.

          So, the real answer to the question is that both the question and the answer are undefined. And, perhaps not coincidentally, that applies equally well to the gods: they’re undefined and undefinable, and so any serious attempt to determine whether they exist can only ever be meaningless. You’ll find more gods and more knowledge about them in a Zen koan than you will in the real world.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      I’d like to affirm my afirmamentism.

      /@

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

      Stars are born and die all the time. So it is reasonable to assume that the number is constantly changing between even and uneven.
      An analogy would be to say that god exists only each second day.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        An analogy would be to say that god exists only each second day.

        I don’t think that’s an apt analogy. That assumes the probability of God existing is 50%, and yet all the evidence is against it.

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

          Oh! Oh! Every third day!

          /@

          • Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

            Well, that is when he got it up again, isn’t it?

            He might not have had that problem had he paid attention to the Dole commercials….

            b&

            • Kevin
              Posted February 24, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

              Do you mean, like Viagra up again?

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          How about some god exists once on Thursday each 10^8 years, but it’s a different one each time.

          • Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

            We’re getting close, especially considering that there isn’t any timespan of 100,000,000 years which includes more than a single Thursday…you get that far out in the future (or past) and the modern calendar just isn’t coherent any more.

            Cheers,

            b&

      • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        Maybe only each second second.

        /@

      • kelskye
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        That’s an extra complication to the story. That there may be at any one time an answer to the question whether there are an even number of stars in the universe, but its truth condition is constantly in flux. Just like the number of people in a country – there’s a true answer at any given time, but it’s beyond our reach.

        For the example of agnosticism, though, this complicating factor is irrelevant. Definitions of what makes a star, what counts as a star being “born” and “dying” and the change in time of an answer have nothing to do with the difficulties in applying the same logic to god(s).

    • Peter Ozzie Jones
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      From OP, quoting Alvin “the chipmunk”:

      No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

      Ah, so we can instantaneously communicate across the universe even from beyond the observable parts & also have one unique time reference?

      Not at all, the correct response is that such a question is without meaning, not agnosticism.

      • kelskye
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 12:38 am | Permalink

        I disagree. The question is meaningful enough (if you clarify what a star is, when a star is said to exist, and when it is said to die). That something is unknowable doesn’t mean it is without meaning. We don’t know what Napoleon ate for lunch on his 4th birthday, but it’s still a meaningful proposition – just one that’s forever beyond our grasp to know.

        • Peter Ozzie Jones
          Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

          Leaving aside the impossibility of instantant transfer of information across the univere, the when of your response is the key. Einstein showed that there isn’t a single universal time frame.

          So, just like Ben Goren’s examples of married bachelors etc, the question is not a meaningful one.

          • Peter Ozzie Jones
            Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

            Holy bejesus, that Carlsberg sure affects mah tiping . . .

  8. kraut
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    “for it requires an a priori assessment of the likelihood of the Christian God, which I believe Plantinga sets at 50%”

    more like 100 x 1/n (n=the number of all gods imagined)

    “No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars.”

    Stupidity rising – no one I know of proposes such(except a philosopher to show how idiotic his constructs are)while the existence of god(s) is seriously proposed.
    In the absence of evidence of even one of the many gods proposed – I think it is worthwhile to propose absence of evidence is evidence of absence to a high degree of certainty.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      I don’t actually see the likelihood of god argument in the article. The probability argument in the article seems to be about what we can expect the reliability of our beliefs to be if produced by materialistic evolution. It’s a stupid argument but a different one from this.

      It is amazing that anyone takes this guy seriously. Reading it it was much worse than I expected. It’s Ken Ham level ‘reasoning’ and I’d think that some of my Christian friends even would be embarrassed associating with it.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        That caught me as well. While reading it I thought, “This is worse than I thought it possible.” And that compounded the worse-ness of it.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted February 24, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

          No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of gods; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of gods.

          There, fixed it.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

      Here’s the argument Plantinga is referring to in the NYT:

      http://bit.ly/1fPmFE1

      It’ll make your eyes bleed, so I can’t recommend it. On the other hand, if you desire something to rouse you to a white hot passion against both theology and philosophy (at least the part of philosophy that is left after all it’s best children got jobs in other departments), this might do it.

  9. Tulse
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering. And is that true?

    Isn’t such a ridiculous, sin-and-suffering-free world called “heaven”? Surely the Christian heaven should serve as an obvious counter-argument to the notion that the world has to have sin and suffering.

    • Doug
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      While Heaven has no suffering, Hell does. And according to Thomas Aquinas, “That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and grace of God more abundantly, they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in Hell.” See, Heaven and Hell are a package deal; part of the fun of Heaven is watching the damned roast for all eternity and saying “Nyah nyah.” And doesn’t the existence of Hell contradict Plantinga’s statement about God not boiling sinners in oil?
      Wait, wait, there’s more! Satan was an angel who rebelled against God. So humans weren’t the first of God’s “free creatures [to] turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil,” Satan and the fallen angels were. Why didn’t God send his son to save Satan and his minions? And who tempted Satan to rebel?
      Have none of Plantinga’s students ever raised any of these questions?

      • Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

        Considering it was YHWH who drowned the planet, hardened Pharaoh’s heart, told Moses to rape the Midianite girls, and so on, one must seriously consider the proposition that Satan had good moral justification for his revolt, and represents the less ignoble character in the story.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

          Indisputable.
          Rational serpent worship predominated in many parts of the world prior to and during the discovery of civilization (e.g. in Arabia up to Mo’s time), but was rejected by a few groups of ophidiophobic bigots, one of whom cobbled together the Battlefield Earth of the Late Bronze Age. It happened to be a local best-seller in one of the eastern Med port towns, probably by chance due to the undeveloped state of the fantasy-novel market at the time. Some copies found their way to Alexandria, probably wedged between amphorae to stop them rolling around, and (because of the apocryphal stories about Egypt that some ‘inspired’ copyist had inserted) of course it was copied, translated and preserved for the next few centuries. As part of their anti-knowledge religion, a later cult of ophidiophobes were prodigious book-burners, and the rest is history. Natural selection is a bitch.

          • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

            …and let’s not forget, in the midst of all that, the Ophites, an early Christian cult for whom Jesus was himself some sort of snake god and YHWH the mortal enemy of humanity. And let’s also not forget that they had as legitimate a claim to the title of True Christian™ as any other of the Jesus cults….

            b&

  10. JBlilie
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.

    I’d say a world in which this story is true would be a truly magnificent possible world. It would be so good that no world could be appreciably better. But then the best worlds contain sin and suffering.”

    There’s so much in this silly quote, goodness!

    1. When I read that story my sensus atheisticus tells me, very clearly, that it is an Iron Age folk tale. Seriously, any other interpretation must ignore all normal methods of inquiry. (Wait — Theology!!!!)

    2. Delete one concentration camp and that world is better. “Think about it,” Alvin. Ah! But I forgot — that would deprive those Jews of the opportunity to behave nobly. Surely it was better to snuff out their entire lives and everything they could have done (and extinguish that specialness of each and every one of them that made them a unique human indivdiual) than to have them lose that special opportunity!

    That anyone to say this junk with a straight face — and be lauded for it to boot! Wow! On any other subject …

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      The concentration camp scenario also shows how utterly unimaginative and / or powerless Jesus is. A lowly Greek Muse could have provided Hitler with the inspiration necessary to succeed at a young age at his dream of becoming a great painter, thus keeping him from politics and instead giving the world some breathtaking (if disturbing) Expressionist art. Far from removing Hitler of his “free will” to choose good or evil, it would have granted him a freer will to choose an even greater good of which he was otherwise incapable of choosing.

      It’s a close corollary to my favorite question: Why does Jesus never call 9-1-1? There is no answer which both acknowledges his ability to perform miracles and his moral superiority. Either he’s utterly powerless or the most reprehensibly evil criminal accomplice in all of history. (Or, rather, of course, entirely fictional.)

      Cheers,

      b&

      • eric
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        The question you should be asking, Ben, is if God’s omnipotent, why Jesus at all? The car’s broke, God is omnipotent, and his fix is to wait 2,000 years then send a mechanic? Um, omnipotence, helllooo? Snap fingers the second the tire blows. Done, no Jesus necessary.

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          “The cars broke, God is omnipotent, and his fix is to wait 2,000 years then send a mechanic?”

          Win!

          /@

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

          If God’s driving a car he presumably built and maintains with a faulty tire about to blow, he’s incompetent, not omnipotent….

          b&

    • Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Delete one very minor evil that a 10 year old could stop if present, and the world is better.

      • Posted February 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        You mean, like if Jesus called 9-1-1?

        I’ve yet to have even a single theist even pretend to address that one….

        b&

  11. bugfolder
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    I think there’s a corollary to Weinberg’s Dictum: “for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” In the same way, for smart philosophers to make stupid arguments, that takes theology.

    • still learning
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Nice one!

    • Kevin
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      The universality of Weinberg’s Dictum…so much more conceptual advances in a single phrase than anything most philosophers do in several lifetimes.

  12. noncarborundum
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    The plural of sensus is sensus (4th declension, not 2nd). The ‘u’ becomes long in the plural, but that isn’t usually indicated in the spelling.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Sensūs, if that works (first time I tried the new Mac trick of holding down the letter key for options).
      Of course when reading Latin you’re supposed to know whether it’s single or plural by context, but we also now use articles, word order, punctuation, and electrons.
      I wonder if there’s an option to change my screen display to boustrophedon?

      • Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        That would be ploughing a new furrow …

        /@

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

        Funny, I suspected that was the evil 4th declension when I saw it. It just seemed too easy for it not to be!

  13. Barry Lyons
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I had to look up “mesentery”. Good word!

  14. Pliny the in Between
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Are these arguments the ones we atheists are largely unschooled in? If so, I thank my lucky stars for having not bothered.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      Plantinga seems stuck in kindergarten. In a couple of yearshe will produce flatulense jokes.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

      No no, of course not. They never come out and actually tell anyone their best arguments. Clearly this is just some more slop they serve up to the masses. The best argument is safely locked away in some theological seminary, or perhaps in a warehouse in Area 51. But you can trust them, it’s a good one.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        My assumption up to my mid-teens was that there must be some mind-blowing secret files in the Vatican library. (Because there sure wasn’t any other convincing evidence of a divinity)
        Then I thought: no, probably not. It doesn’t seem very likely, does it?

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 25, 2014 at 9:49 am | Permalink

          Me too. I was a bit slower on the uptake. When I went to college I attended the same brand of church as when I was a kid. At this church there were professors from the college, a biologist, the dean of engineering, many others. So when they held a series of classes on Reasons to Believe (I don’t recall what it was actually called) I thought that maybe, finally, I’d get some coherent reasons because the grocers back in Tiny Town sure didn’t have any. Well, that class was the official end of my religion. I had doubts before then but the reasons given by these accomplished professors (at a large secular university no less) were almost entirely obvious lies. I listened, for example, to the freaking dean of engineering tell the assembled audience that the second law of thermodynamics prohibits evolution. This is not something he could have been ignorant of. I realized then if a really smart guy like that had to resort to bald lies to support religion that there really wasn’t anything there at all.

  15. Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I am thankful that we do not get much Plantinga here. Every one of his above paragraphs was rather painful.
    “I think there are a large number — maybe a couple of dozen — of pretty good theistic arguments. None is conclusive, but each, or at any rate the whole bunch taken together, is about as strong as philosophical arguments ordinarily get.”
    Is Plantinga supposed to be a philosopher? Did he just declare the specious arguments for god to be the pinnacle of all ‘friggin philosophy?

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      Thing is, he’s right about that last bit. This really is philosophy at its finest, and at its worst.

      The reason it’s both is because philosophy is ultimately rudderless, and has no reliable (read: empirical) means of distinguishing good arguments from bad. Indeed, it dismisses very useful work as useless, and elevates nonsense to sacredness.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        I agree, but you will now hear from the philosophy proponents.

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          Good! Their cages need a bit of rattling….

          b&

          • Posted February 24, 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

            I would not want to be called a proponent for some of the nonsense out there that passes for philosophy these days. But philosophy has definitely had its good moments. I give you epistemology, skepticism, rationalism, logic, ethics, and, what was it? Oh yes, science.
            The point that it has no means of expunging bad philosophy seems true though. But bad/dumb philosophy will eventually fall into disuse.

            • Timothy Hughbanks
              Posted February 24, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

              … bad/dumb philosophy will eventually fall into disuse.

              Not if it’s theology.

              • Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

                And not just theology. We still have “free will” as a raging philosophical debate, even though it’s been repeatedly demonstrated as irrelevant to reality as Plato’s Prime Mover.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

              …and we know which parts of philosophy are useful and which aren’t how…?

              Oh, yes. We’ve empirically tested them.

              Sorry, but the notion that science is a subset or somehow otherwise dependent on philosophy is as bogus as the notion that the good folks at NASA are really doing astrology. Sure, you can trace the family tree in that vague, general direction, but it not only doesn’t tall you anything it’s rather misleading and, frankly, not a little bit insulting.

              The short version is that, if you’ve closed the empirical loop, you’re going science; anything else is not science. What flavor of science or not-science can be an interesting question, but it’s tangential.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:33 am | Permalink

                I do not see how you can say it is bogus to find science is a subset of philosophy, since it is exactly that in its origins. One cannot re-write a history of origins, however much one would like. Today, science has absolutely moved on, but it still sprang up as a form of philosophy.
                This is from Wikipedia. The last sentence is my main point.
                “Since classical antiquity, science as a type of knowledge has been closely linked to philosophy. In the early modern period the words “science” and “philosophy of nature” were sometimes used interchangeably. By the 17th century, natural philosophy (which is today called “natural science”) was considered a separate branch of philosophy.”

              • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Again, philosophy has as much relevance to science as astrology does to astronomy and alchemy to chemistry.

                If you were an astronomer and an astrologist told you you were really doing astrology, would you not be a bit peeved?

                Nobody questions the fact that the modern sciences evolved from primitive superstitions. What we’re objecting to is being told that what we’re doing is no different from practicing primitive superstition because that’s a part of our ancient history.

                Cheers,

                b&

            • gluonspring
              Posted February 24, 2014 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

              Yes, philosophy spawned many children, both good and bad, but the good ones have mostly left and gotten jobs in their own departments (e.g. logic in math, natural philosophy in all the multi-million dollar science buildings, etc.) Philosophy is like the senile old father of a big band of accomplished children. Should he be proud of his children and acknowledged as their progenitor? Yes. Should we consult him for answers to our current problems? Probably not.

              • eric
                Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

                Unlike people, academic disciplines do not become unfruitful with age. If philosophy has spawned lots of useful disciplines out of it, there is no reason to think it can’t spawn more in the future.

                I guess the most empirical thing to do would be to develop a time series of “spawning” and see if there’s a trend. If the trend is downward, one could argue its getting less fruitful and thus not worth a lot of investment any more. If it’s upward, constant, or stochastic, then there’s really no reason why we should abandon it.

              • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

                Unlike people, academic disciplines do not become unfruitful with age.

                Except, of course, the exact opposite is true.

                Alchemy was once where the cutting edge of material science was; nobody knew more about the stars than the astrologers; your best hope for recovering from illness was to seek an apothecary; phrenologists were the closest thing to mind readers; and so on.

                Philosophy became outdated and irrelevant the moment we embraced empiricism. Since then, philosophy has been as useless for understanding the Cosmos as bicycles for fish.

                Even if was the pre-scientific philosophers who stumbled upon science.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gluonspring
                Posted February 25, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

                I don’t begrudge their meager existence. I just find their claims of relevance rather incredible. Philosophy departments are still perhaps useful as a curator of the history of philosophy.

                I think we’ve informally done the productivity experiment and that is what informs many people’s harsh judgment of philosophy. Our skepticism of philosophy is not philosophical in origin but observational. While I can name many undeniable advances in the children fields in the last, say, 50-100 years, I remain stubbornly ignorant of anything philosophy has separately helped us with in that interval despite a non-trivial effort to educate myself. I’ve read very extensively in the philosophy of mind, for example, and the sum total of it was less enlightening than any single book on cognitive psychology, neuroscience, or AI. I’ll grant that some few, like Dennett, have written popular works that are fun to read and even thought provoking, but all the interesting bits were actually observational science and rather prosaic logic and benefitted little if at all from the more formal apparatus that philosophers try to employ in their publications. If philosophy were to see itself as the creative fiction branch of intellectual life, a kind of place where people brainstorm ideas meant to provoke thought and maybe inspire angles of research for other fields, much as science fiction might do the same, I might be able to concede that limited utility.

      • Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        Remember Plantinga’s entry in the _Philosophical Lexicon_:

        “planting, v. To use twentieth-century fertilizer to encourage new shoots from eleventh -century ideas which everyone thought had gone to seed; hence, plantinger, n. one who plantings. ”

        Dennett and his coworkers *ask* the living if they would approve the entry. So Plantinga agrees that he’s spreading crap, and that his ideas are old hat and that most people think they are obsolete.

  16. gluonspring
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    “why is Alvin Plantinga famous, or even have a job?”

    Maybe the mustacheless beard has the same effect on some people that foreign accents have on many Americans.

    • Chris
      Posted February 27, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      I thought that I was the only person who was scared by his beard.

      It doesn’t translate well.

      And I’m pretty sure that AP’s style of beard has an entry in “The Meaning of Liff” which is never a good sign!

  17. Kevin
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I spotted Gutting’s and Plantinga’s article a few days ago…awful.

    In real estate: location, location, location.

    In reason: solution, solution, solution.

    I will even cede that a solution does not have to have evidence. Like, “blue is a pretty color”. Works for me. But these guys offer nothing. What if all their beliefs were true…what then, what have they done for me lately. I read their work and I come away perplexed and more dumb.

    Gutting and Plantinga: get it through your heads, those who really think there are no gods might actually be as stubborn as you two are, but the vast (>five sigma) majority of atheists do not have absolute knowledge of there being no gods, and, generally, we do not purport solutions that are fabricated with theism obviously in mind.

  18. gluonspring
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    The thing that hits me most about this interview is how astonishingly dishonest Plantiga is. He upbraids atheists for being too confident that there is no god when he himself is surely an atheist regarding Cthulhu and Vishnu and a thousand others (including solipsism, that he himself is God). He pretends that the moon, which we do see and have actually visited and all, is in some way like God, which remains invisible and without effect, in that both were formerly given as the causes for things that don’t need them any more. This is just a dishonest premise. Virtually all of his points start with a lie of some sort or another.

    I’d probably still be religious if they were merely wrong. It’s their love of lying for Jesus that I couldn’t stomach at the last.

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      And he does lie (or continues to be deluded) about the fine-tuning argument. There is no reason today to conclude that the universe is fine-tuned.

      • Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:04 am | Permalink

        The fine-tuning argument always annoyed me. To claim that the universe is “fine-tuned” because some of its physical constants could not tolerate much of a change without the whole thing unraveling is, in essence, saying that if the universe were otherwise it would be different. Well, d-uh. It’s like saying that the relation between a circle’s diameter and its radius is “fine-tuned” because if the value of pi were different circles as we know them could not exist. It says nothing about the existence of a celestial engineer or whatever; it just says that the universe is what it is.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      The Barefoot Bum is hilarious on the moon thing:

      Gutting notes that atheists justify their disbelief by the assertion that God does not have explanatory power. Plantinga deflects this challenge by noting that lack of explanatory power does not justify disbelief. Plantinga argues that we are not justified in disbelieving in the existence of the Moon, for example, merely because it is no longer considered a good explanation for lunacy. But Plantinga seems to ignore that the existence of the Moon still retains considerable power to explain why we see a big round object in the sky that seems to correlate with the tides.

  19. Mattapult
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    “I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering. And is that true? Maybe the best worlds contain free creatures some of whom sometimes do what is wrong. Indeed, maybe the best worlds contain a scenario very like the Christian story.”

    How can Plantinga be uncertain that a world without sin exists? A world without sin is greater than a world with sin. And if we follow the form of the Ontological Argument, it follows that a perfect, or at least a Maximally Great World must exist. {insert special pleading here}

    • Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

      Not only that, Plantinga, out of the other side of his mouth, would assure you that a real world without sin does exist: Heaven.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Mattapult
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

        Wait, wait, I’m starting to see the big picture now:

        “The universe seems to be fine-tuned for life. If it had been even slightly different, our kind of life would not have been possible. In fact the universe seems to be fine-tuned, not just for life, but for intelligent life.”

        Just our souls go to Heaven, therefore Heaven must not be fine-tuned. And if God didn’t fine-tune it, it cannot be the better place. This trillion-galaxy universe with little old Earth smack-dab off center really is the best place.

        Problem solved with a bunch of made-up crap.

        Cheers!

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          Careful…keep that up, and you’ll be granted an honorary Doctorate in Divinity….

          b&

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      When I still went to Sunday school I always found it astonishing that people would say that human sin causes all the bad things in the world. I would even inquire, “You mean, Adam’s sin prompted God to curse creation with all these horrible things, predators, parasites, ionizing radiation, etc., and via God’s curse Adam’s sin causes all the suffering?” Because that was how I understood it at the time. In a class of 20 maybe one would accept that it is via God cursing us for our sin that bad things happen. Most would insist that, no, it was just a direct consequence of the sin itself. It is 100% our fault and would have happened even if God were on vacation. So their view seems to be that Adam disobeys God and, poof, suddenly lions are gnawing on gazelles, cosmic rays are hurtling across space to knock DNA silly and cause cancer, viruses appear out of Adams sinning mouth and infect everything, etc. Of course they don’t even visualize it that way. It is really a bizarre pre-scientific essences view of the world where all bad things, sin, disease, predation, pain, parasites, are part of some Platonic badness that can spread to all the others rather than these bad things being separate phenomena with completely separate modes of action and reasons for being.

      I was surprised to hear this strange idea from grocers who had never left our small rural Texas town, but to hear it from somebody, anybody, who holds a position at a major university still sort of takes my breath away.

      • Mattapult
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        I look at the Fall as the worlds first set-up. An omniscient being would have known exactly how it would happen, and put the tree there anyways. Then He gets angry… Psycho!

        But the brilliance of the Bible is how all the nonsense hides itself from otherwise intelligent people.

      • eric
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        Even if you assume sin etc. was a direct consequence of biting the apple, God was the one who designed the tree and its fruit with that property (that it would cause the fall when bitten). Now I don’t know about you, but that seems insane to me. If you absolutely must have a Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, why not create it so that biting the fruit comes with the consequence of Minor Scalp Itch rather than Complete Destruction Of The Entire Universe?

        Heck, why not have the fruit hang 100′ off the ground, rather than 5′?

        • Mattapult
          Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

          “Heck, why not have the fruit hang 100′ off the ground, rather than 5′?”

          LOL, because we came from monkeys!

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 25, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          Well, sure. Obviously it would have been futile for Adam to avoid the tree because anyone who would plant THE WORST PLANT EVER right in the middle of your garden is not the sort of person who is just going watch generations of people come and go without eating it. That’s some kind of prankster mentality if not complete misanthropy and sooner or later they’d start sneaking it into your food or planting more horrible trees or whatever else it takes until they get you.

  20. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I really have to wonder whether Platinga ever had any students who burst out laughing at the utter stupidity of arguments he makes. How do you sit in his classroom and hear ridiculous tripe like his “even-star-ism” argument and keep a straight face?

    • Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      My guess (because he’s relatively senior) he gets to teach what he wants, so he gets also only massively self-selected (self-deluded?) students.

  21. gophergold
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a comment I left on The Barefoot Bum’s blog:

    Fine-tuning required to allow life… If the laws of physics were different, who’s to say that a different type of life and intelligence.wouldn’t exist.

    I like the “many universes, each w/ different laws of physics”.hypothesis. If the odds against life form is 1 in a trillion, and there are a million trillion universes, then you’re going to get life somewhere..
    If there is an infinite number of universe, then anything can happen.

    Remember, in our galaxy alone there are 400 billion stars. And there’s maybe 100 billion galaxies in our universe. The slight chance that life can form becomes a sure thing.

  22. Tom M
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I enjoy this blog lots. But I do, honestly, think that the vast majority of the remarks here are extremely unfair to Plantinga.

    I think he makes some mistakes, mind you, but he isn’t guilty of most of the ones attributed to him here IMO. I also don’t understand the tone. Why say ‘why does x even have a job?’

    Plantinga would have to be guilty of something seriously silly, right? So what is the silly thing?

    The first target is this:

    “But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism.’

    The response is this:

    “JAC: To most of us, I think atheism is simply the refusal to believe in gods, not the absolute denial that there are any.”

    That is an empirical question of course; but in philosophy of religion — Plantinga’s context — it is certainly does not look that way to me; atheism in this context usually denotes disbelief not merely the absence of belief(Tooely, Rowe, Schellenberg etc). Similarly, in typical poles atheism is contrasted with agnosticism ( In any case, definitions are not substantive criticisms, so isn’t the real question this: given Plantinga’s definitions, is he right? (I think he is not obviously right, at least if there are intrinsic probabilities before testing a view; but that gets complicated)

    As for the next point, Plantinga’s claims that religious belief is much more typically going to be rational in what he calls the basic way than in an inferential way. Criticizing is welcome; but this would require engaging in distinctions in epistemology that have arisen since the 70’s. Merely mocking the alleged divine sense won’t do that much. Many atheists epistemologists will grant Plantinga that religious experience or testimony could lead to rational belief, at least for some.

    Similarly, Plantinga’s claim that the best worlds would require lots of evil is – I think, false — but it’s not nearly as obviously false as the post suggests. When you look at debates about consequentialism, for instance, it looks tempting to say it’s hard to know what would lead to the best outcomes.I think a better criticism of Plantinga, here, then is that he presupposes a controversial consequentialist framework (not that the best worlds may contain lots of evil; even if they do, that doesn’t render causing or allowing this evil justified).

    (Don’t get me wrong, there may well be room for criticizing many of Plantinga’s claims — and I do sometimes too — but why isn’t this just a respectful back and forth?

    Barefoot Bum at least sticks to the points and is respectable (not saying things like ‘Why does X have a job?)

    • eric
      Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      Plantinga’s claim that the best worlds would require lots of evil is – I think, false — but it’s not nearly as obviously false as the post suggests.

      Its obviously false that this is the best possible world because pretty much any human on the planet – except Plantinga, evidently – can conceive of better worlds. And you can’t defend this world by saying every single detail of it is necessary without eliminating free will – something Plantinga defends.

      Moreover, its obviously theologically false to to claim an omnipotent God and then claim this is the best possible fix that he could come up with. Those claims are inconsistent. If he’s really omnipotent, there was no need for some symbolic human sacrifice 2,000 years after the event, was there?

      AFAIK, the standard theological response to both of these problems is to argue circularly – “you can’t know it’s not the best world or why an omnipotent being would choose to do an unnecessary blood sacrifice, so we must assume he had a good reason.” That is taking “this is the best possible world” as a premise and using it to argue that this is the best possible world.

      • Tom M
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Few things here:

        You’re assuming that conceivability entails possibility — so I won’t respond further to that in the absence of an argument without that assumption (I have an argument along those lines, but that’s not my point_.

        You said:

        “And you can’t defend this world by saying every single detail of it is necessary without eliminating free will – something Plantinga defends.”

        That’s not his view, at least not of late. He acknowledges in his latest book that natural evil isn’t explained by free will (To clarify, I think his claims about the problem of evil fail, but I was looking for more than a mistaken interpretation of him to make my points about being charitable)

        “Moreover, its obviously theologically false to to claim an omnipotent God and then claim this is the best possible fix that he could come up with.”

        Saying it’s obviously false doesn’t show that it is; (I think Plantinga’s view may in fact be false, but this point still stands).

        All I see is more misrepresentation.

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

          Moreover, its obviously theologically false to to claim an omnipotent God and then claim this is the best possible fix that he could come up with.

          Saying its obviously false doesnt show that it is; (I think Plantingas view may in fact be false, but this point still stands).

          Erm…the whole point of “omnipotence” is that the omnipotent one can do anything. At a bare minimum, the god in question would have to do more than, say, a young child with a cellphone calling 9-1-1. And if omnipotence doesn’t even let you do that much — as it clearly doesn’t — then it’s clearly much more a case of omni-impotence.

          Back in the real world, omnipotence is simply a plot device, the whole point of which is its impossibility. You wouldn’t have your great wizard demonstrate his amazing wizardry by walking across the street to the pub and sitting down to have a pint with his mates; you’d have him do so by vanishing in a puff of smoke, reappearing in another puff of smoke in the pub, snapping his fingers, and glasses of the greatest wine ever popping into existence at everybody’s fingertips. But if anybody could do that sort of thing, then you wouldn’t write that into your story about the wizard; no matter what, you’re only going to write about your wizard doing the impossible (and rapidly revising your stories the moment the impossible becomes possible).

          So, yeah. The patent impossibility of the gods is the whole point of their (imaginary) existence.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Tom M
            Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the note:

            …the whole point of “omnipotence” is that the omnipotent one can do anything.

            That is not the notion of omnipotence endorsed by many philosophers of religion since Descrates (who was a voluntarist and mocked by Huet for it).

            Planting is the leading example of one who has claimed that God can only do what is logically possible — and more recently logically feasible.

            Again I see more evidence of many that are not familiar with his work; that’s no crime, but it’s not crime to point out that the risks of being uncharitable to him are high considering.

            To what I think is your point that any serious amount of power (even something short of omnipotence) could lesson the vast amounts of suffering in the world. I think Plantinga would agree in fact; in fact, I know he would. The question is whether removing much or all of this even now would be better overall. Plantinga thinks no since without lots of evil there will be no goods such as atonement. I think his views, again, raise serious moral worries, but I think it takes hard work to precisely state the problem. Many seem to think one can criticize him easily and quickly. I suggest reading his work. I disagree with him on lots but learned a ton.

            • Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

              Planting is the leading example of one who has claimed that God can only do what is logically possible and more recently logically feasible.

              See, it’s nonsense such as this that so perfectly demonstrates why neither I nor many of the other regulars here have any respect at all for philosophy, regardless of its claimed sophistication. Indeed, philosophers love to proclaim their love for logic, but they clearly can’t logic their way out of a wet paper bag, even if one offers to lend a kitten to help with the task.

              So you’ve redefined “omnipotence” to no longer mean, “can do anything,” but rather, “can only do that which logic does not prohibit.” Fine and dandy, except that, by that definition, you and I are both omnipotent, and the word really loses all meaning.

              And that would be because all which is physically impossible is also logically impossible, and vice-versa. Indeed, the universe cares not one whit about a philosopher’s attempt to determine between logical and physical impossibilities; to paraphrase that even greater little green philosopher, there is or is not; there is no maybe.

              For example, I might challenge Jesus to demonstrate his omnipotence by drawing a triangle with angles that total more than 180°. No fair! he might cry; that’s logically impossible, and thus he is excused. But I cannot do the trick either, so the fact that I am unable to draw this impossible triangle also cannot be held against my own claim of omnipotence.

              But! I, being a clever smartass, pick up the paper, wrap it around a globe, draw my special triangle and proclaim victory. Jesus, nonplussed, does the same; again, the score remains tied.

              Jesus at this point may well decide to show his stuff by running a one-minute mile — and we’ll even grant him that he actually does so. Good for him! But the fact that I cannot run a one-minute mile is as irrelevant to the discussion as the fact that neither he nor I could draw the super-triangle until we picked it up off the table and wrapped it around the globe. For, you see, I lack the requisite available energy and power to perform that motion in our real-world Einsteinian geometry, and it’s every bit as illogical to expect somebody to expend more energy than is available as it is to expect that same somebody to add one and one and get three.

              And so we come to the grand finale, and I present Jesus with a trivial little logic puzzle, in the form of a single sentence of iambic pentameter: “All but God can prove this sentence true.” And, if you are at all familiar with the work of Gödel, you will instantly recognize that that is an informal way of demonstrating that even Jesus is subjected to the limits of logic, but his limits are not my limits. There are things that I can do that he cannot, even if there are things that he can do that I cannot.

              To pick some more down-to-earth examples, Jesus cannot commit suicide; if he did, that would mean that he would be unable to do anything at all, let alone be omnipotent, and it would mean that his pre-suicide self was similarly incapable of doing anything at all in the future past the moment of his death. Similarly and more noble and less gruesome, Jesus cannot abdicate his power so another may succeed him, as a king might hope to see his daughter take his place on the throne. He can’t share power, either. He can’t experience the joy of overcoming frustration. Indeed, he’s incapable of doing anything that makes the human experience what it is; he can only mock us by miming our limitations and failings and pretending to struggle to succeed, like a weight lifter working especially hard to lift a sack of flour rather than hurt an old man’s feelings by reminding him of his lost youth.

              So, please. Stop with the play-pretend that these childish fantasies of which superheroes can beat which other superheroes and how have any bearing on reality or that they deserve to be taken seriously. It’s fine in the context of fiction and entertainment, but it’s embarrassing and insulting to see adults so terrified of their own mortality and so smitten with the hope of magic that they cling to this sort of nonsense.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Tom M
                Posted February 25, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

                “So you’ve redefined “omnipotence” to no longer mean, “can do anything,” but rather, “can only do that which logic does not prohibit.” Fine and dandy, except that, by that definition, you and I are both omnipotent, and the word really loses all meaning.”

                I haven’t redefined anything; I only appealed to a historical fact – namely that almost no one since Descrates has had your definition; Of course omniscience is restricted to possibility. Saying that X can do what’s not possible is literally non-sense. (This is why the if God is omnipotent can he make a rock so big he can’t lift it question is literally incoherent)

                As for your claim that if omniscience is restricted to possibility then it follows that we are omniscience that is utterly false, not really worth a reply. I am done since I don’t see enough background in any relevant area, whether history or logic or philosophy of religion; just mockery.

              • Posted February 25, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

                Saying that X can do whats not possible is literally non-sense.

                And yet that’s exactly what a miracle is, is it not? It’s not possible to walk on water, turn water into wine, or raise the dead; we all know that. Which is exactly why Jesus did so.

                Because gods and miracles are fundamentally nothing more than fictional plot devices. The whole point to the exercise is the impossibility.

                Where philosophers go so spectacularly astray is in thinking that they must somehow salvage these concepts, and somehow hold the door open for the fantasies to be realities. Of course, this makes perfect sense if your goal is to keep butts in the pews and cash in the donation plates….

                But, if your goal is to actually understand the world, there’s no need to bother with nonsense claims after you realize that they’re nonsense — thus, again, demonstrating that philosophy cares not one whit about actually understanding the world.

                Cheers,

                b&

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted February 25, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      The first target is this:

      “But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism.’

      But JAC was being far too kind. Platinga’s “even-star-ism” that follows in support of the statement you quote deserves ridicule for two reasons: (a) Even the barest bit of self-criticism would keep this silly argument from ever being spoken by man who has a job as a “philosopher”. As Barefoot Bum pointed out, the even-star-ism argument is OK only if the God of which Platinga speaks is of absolutely no importance in the affairs of the human race, and no effect on course of the universe’s history – no importance whatsoever. And that is because whether there are an even or odd number of stars is of no significance. (b) Like almost all theologians and, indeed, like almost all theists the fact that his arguments have been decisively rebutted will not prevent Platinga from using the same, tired, stupid arguments over and over again.

    • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      That is an empirical question of course; but in philosophy of religion — Plantinga’s context — it is certainly does not look that way to me; atheism in this context usually denotes disbelief not merely the absence of belief(Tooely, Rowe, Schellenberg etc).

      Few things are as offensive to atheists than to have theists explain to atheists what the atheists are really thinking. Thank you, but we’re quite aware of our own thoughts and don’t need theists to tell us that we “really” are the strawmen they think we are.

      As for the next point, Plantinga’s claims that religious belief is much more typically going to be rational in what he calls the basic way than in an inferential way.

      The question isn’t whether or not one can construct a model that has internal logical consistency. Any decent fiction author does that every time she sets pen to paper. Harry Potter is perfectly rational.

      The question, rather, is whether or not the model has any bearing on reality. And religions fail that test as surely as any fantasy novel.

      Similarly, Plantinga’s claim that the best worlds would require lots of evil is – I think, false — but it’s not nearly as obviously false as the post suggests.

      Yes, it is. Even Plantinga would insist that there’s a real world without evil, and that he’s going to go there when he dies. His fantasies of Heaven are, of course, no more real than a child’s of Peter Pan in Never-Never Land, but that’s beside the point.

      Additionally, all it would take would be for Jesus to once in a while pick up the phone and call 9-1-1 in order to make the world a less evil place. Is that really so much to ask? Does he not get decent cell service? Can he not miracle up an Heavenly cell repeater? Or is he too much of an heartless sonofabitch to call the cops when he sees one of his duly appointed spokesmen raping a child? Or maybe he likes watching too much?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Tom M
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        ‘Few things are as offensive to atheists than to have theists explain to atheists what the atheists are really thinking.’

        Why are you assuming that I am a theist? I gave data on leading philosophers of religion who are atheists (my recollection is that the vast majority of them understand atheism in this way). This is Plantinga’s context; many share it. You can have your own definition of atheism, but that’s not a substantive point, it seems to me. The question is whether (and more accurately when) disbelief is justified in the absence of evidence either way. Call it whatever you want, but without data, I wont accept that most philosophers follow you.

        “Yes, it is. Even Plantinga would insist that there’s a real world without evil, and that he’s going to go there when he dies. His fantasies of Heaven are, of course, no more real than a child’s of Peter Pan in Never-Never Land, but that’s beside the point.”

        In Plantinga’s main area (metaphysics)a world denotes a whole history of a way things could be — heaven is not an isolated world on his view; it’s part of the history of this world. He thinks that atonement and incarnation are great goods – and that the latter, at least, entails bad things. He might be wrong (I think there are problems with his view). But it’s still true that most of the comments are rather unfair to him.

        Cheers

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

          If you think I see any substantive difference between philosophy and theology, you haven’t been paying attention. Frankly, if it’s philosophers insisting on the philosophical necessity of prerequisites for atheism, that’s equally noxious.

          Atheism is, no more and no less, “I don’t believe you.” A small portion of atheist — such as me — go beyond that to explain why the very notion of divinity is incoherent or otherwise demonstrate the non-existence of gods, but that’s just icing on the cake. An atheist, simply, is somebody who no more believes in gods than most other people believe in Santa or Leprechauns or the monster under the bed. Why they don’t believe is their business, unless they choose to share it with you.

          And that’s also why so many of us tend to ridicule ridiculous theists like Plantinga. He’s trying to convince us to believe in his imaginary friend and the monster under his bed, and he’s using arguments every bit as unsophisticated as you’d expect from a child young enough to still believe in imaginary friends and under-bed monsters.

          I mean, really? An all-powerful wizard who created the whole world plus his own mansion in the sky, but he couldn’t figure out how to make the world as nice a place as his mansion? Sounds more like a bad excuse for why he hasn’t picked the toys up off the floor in his bedroom and put them away.

          If people like Plantinga want to be respected as adults, they should act like adults.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Tom M
            Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

            The first part of the response wasn’t clear enough to interpret.

            The second part about atheism replied to a request for data with an assertion. (In PoR that’s not what atheism is taken to be and that’s Plantinga’s context). Even if we change the context to yours, and go with your definition, that doesn’t amount to a criticism of Plantinga; it just weakens the definition of atheism. That’s fine but doesn’t lead to a substantive criticism.

            Language like ‘ridiculous theists’ isn’t helpful. Showing that something is generally wrongheaded is fine and welcome; my point is that this hasn’t happened since most don’t seem familiar enough with Plantinga’s work to properly criticism it (The NYT piece is a very brief snippet and written for a general audience).

            One last example and then I need to work:

            “An all-powerful wizard who created the whole world plus his own mansion in the sky, but he couldn’t figure out how to make the world as nice a place as his mansion?”

            Leaving aside the rhetoric, Plantinga endorses the principle underlying this thought. An all powerful God could make a great world. He thinks this world is great, but that great worlds or the greatest worlds start of with some bad. Again, he might be wrong but one would need to tackle the normative questions as opposed to asserting he is wrong and crazy and as opposed to comparing his beliefs to magic.]

            Perhaps, as you say, you think theism is not even coherent (I’d be happy to look your work here assuming it’s an article that has gone through peer review; most disagree with that incoherence view, including most atheists, who write on these matters in philosophy).

            Ok, back to work; cheers

            • Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

              An all powerful God could make a great world. He thinks this world is great, but that great worlds or the greatest worlds start of with some bad.

              The contempt that philosophers and theologians have for evidence is astonishing. We live in a world in which those who claim to be the official spokesmen for this same god (whose name, confusingly enough, is, “God”) regularly and repeatedly rape children in the name of the god, and not only do they get away with it but the institution allegedly founded by this same god goes to extraordinary lengths to shield these child rapists from justice…

              …and this somehow constitutes the best of all possible worlds.

              Never mind that even the most incompetent of storytellers could put together a fantasy world that wouldn’t have anywhere near as much evil in it as this one.

              But what’s most galling is that we’ve known since centuries before the invention of Christianity that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that there are no powerful entities with the best interests of humanity at heart. Ever since Epicurus framed his famous Riddle, the beyond-ridiculous theists have done nothing but name the incompetence and / or form of malevolence of their gods, and somehow expected simply attaching a label to either (or both) somehow excuses the gods. What nonsense! Might as well be done with it say the real reason Jesus can never be arsed to call 9-1-1 is because he’s a sadistic cheapskate who won’t spend a dollar on a prepaid cellphone and wouldn’t use it anyway because he gets his rocks off watching his priests rape children — but that’s all okay, because now we know why Jesus never calls 9-1-1.

              Might as well get used to the fact that, yes, we are going to pay attention to the man behind the curtain, but only to the extent necessary to re-confirm that it’s just some humbug philosopher or theologian working the same old confidence scam.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Tom M
                Posted February 25, 2014 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

                Just saw this, so I’ll reply briefly.

                “…and this somehow constitutes the best of all possible worlds.”

                Plantinga doesn’t think there is such thing as a best world in principle (he denies this claim of Leibniz), but that’s besides your more central point.

                Your more central point is that there is lots of evil; granted. Does it provide evidence against theism? I certainly think so. Do most philosophers agree that it does? Yes. Does this render your claims that philosophers have contempt for evidence highly unfair. Yes. Most philosophers aren’t religious, but even if they were, many claims made would still be unfair to them for reasons I have pointed out.

                My point wasn’t to defend Plantinga’s particular views, only to show that arguments are required (not just misrepresentation or unfamiliarity with his work or sweeping statements about philosophers)to really answer him. Notice I am not making sweeping statements without evidence and am not saying that you don’t care about evidence etc.

                Best wishes; this is likely the last time I will be able to reply since I am not sure it’s fruitful

              • Posted February 25, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

                My point wasnt to defend Plantingas particular views, only to show that arguments are required (not just misrepresentation or unfamiliarity with his work or sweeping statements about philosophers)to really answer him.

                No! A thousand times, no!

                Questions about reality can’t at all be addressed, even theoretically, with “arguments.” We’ve known this for ages, ever since the dawn of the scientific revolution.

                Fuck the arguments. Give me evidence!

                The claim is that there is some powerful entity with the best interests of humanity at heart. But a single example of something that such an entity could have prevented but did not would invalidate that claim, just as a single rabbit in the precambrian would call into question all of modern biology — and the world is overflowing with evidence invalidating the most fundamental of theological claims.

                So why the fuck are philosophers still “debating” this bullshit?

                Rational adults no longer think that maybe possibly perhaps there really still is a luminiferous aether or phlogiston or humors or that there’re only four or five elements or what-not, even though you actually have to go looking pretty hard in some cases to find the evidence disproving those theories.

                But you can’t even turn on the TV or radio or pick up a newspaper without seeing copious evidence of cases where tragedy could have been averted had somebody done something so simple as call 9-1-1 at an opportune moment. We’re soaking in evidence disproving the theory that there’re powerful and knowledgeable agents who want only the best for us.

                And yet people still insist that this theory is respectable.

                Can you not understand the sheer frustration a rationalist experiences when confronted with such blithering stupidity? Especially when it’s wrapped up in pretenses of respectability by “sophisticated” philosophers who, empirically, are as out of touch with reality as any other witch doctor or tribal shaman?

                Cheers,

                b&

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

          In Plantinga’s main area (metaphysics)…He might be wrong…

          With a main area like that, how could he not be wrong?

          • Tom M
            Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

            I am not so much into metaphysics myself, but when it comes to metaphysical questions (such as the nature of modality or possibility) that were raised, pointing out his expertise his hardly irrelevant. Of course he might be wrong, but others commenting don’t seem to know his work.

            Instead they say things like this:

            ‘With a main area like that, how could he not be wrong?’

            • Posted February 25, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

              Er…that would be because metaphysics is bullshit. It’s pre-scientific superstition that has no bearing on reality whatsoever. It’s the source of fractally not-even-worng nonsense such as the Kalam argument which relies on Platonic misconceptions of reality that were demonstrated incoherent at least a century ago, if not three centuries ago or more.

              We actually know stuff about the way the Universe works these days, and we’ve got some pretty good ideas of where it came from and what it’s made of. We certainly don’t have all the answers, and there’re a couple glaring gaps we’re furiously working on trying to fill…but we know the general shape of what’s going to go in those gaps, and it’s nothing like the nonsense that goes under the label of “metaphysics.”

              Indeed, we have even less use for metaphysics these days than astronomers do of astrology. At least an astrologer could probably predict an eclipse if push came to shove.

              Cheers,

              b&

  23. malcolm
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    One thing I don’t understand in Plantinga’s argument is that if the best of all possible worlds requires sin and free will in it how can heaven be better? If it is better why not just create this with us all in it?

    • eric
      Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Closely related is the argument that there are people in this world who don’t suffer all that much (IOW they suffer comparatively little). In the best possible world, that “least amount of suffering actually suffered by a human” would be what we all suffer – and not one smidgen more.

      So, for example, let’s say Alice lives a long healthy life, dying in her sleep at age 110. Then Bob getting some painful fatal cancer at 30 cannot be the best possible outcome for him, because we know of another health outcome (Alice’s) which was better.

  24. Posted February 25, 2014 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    “Nevertheless, I think there are a large number — maybe a couple of dozen — of pretty good theistic arguments. None is conclusive, but each, or at any rate the whole bunch taken together, is about as strong as philosophical arguments ordinarily get.”

    Isn’t this a bit like saying two wrongs make a right?

    • JBlilie
      Posted February 25, 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      I just love it when the apologist waves his arm at all these great arguments that he knows of — and the resolutely refuses to actually explain which ones these are. Standard trope: You haven’t read the really great arguments of X.

      I call it the argument from the theologian you haven’t read — so there! 🙂

    • Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      It has also been addressed by Scriven (decades ago) who points out that the “stone soup” style argument works only if the counterarguments are not reasonably conclusive. By themselves, one cannot conclude that they are successful this way. (The converse is true too, but I’ve yet to see a philosopher of Plantinga’s reputation make the converse mistake!)

  25. Georges Melki
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    Regarding fine-tuning, I think the best refutation of this argument is to be found in Victor Stenger’s book: The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning, Prometheus Books, 2011. I suggest guys like Plantinga should read it before embarking on discussions and using this hollow argument to prove the existence of a creator…

  26. M'thew
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 2:49 am | Permalink

    For this topic, I would recommend browsing through Oliver Sacks’ ‘Hallucinations’. He describes some instances of people feeling that they are in touch with a god, the universe or something else that is all-encompassing. Perhaps that is where Plantinga gets his sensus divinitatis from, but Sacks does not suggest that it is anything but our own brains that produce this sensation. How come that we humans feel that, is not explained in the book – maybe there are others who have pointers to that.

    Some of the people reporting these sensations are atheists: I would say to Plantinga that this shows that our sensus divinitatis is not broken. We merely recognise that it is just our own brain playing tricks on us, as with a lot of the other hallucinatory sensations described in the book.

    I would however say that it does pose a problem, in that it will be nigh impossible to get everyone to understand that it is our brain doing that to us, what with our sense of agency and tendency to see purpose in the most random of events. In that respect, the tendency to religion does seem hardwired in the human brain.

    • Georges Melki
      Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:08 am | Permalink

      For a thorough understanding of the origin of religious feeling in humans, nothing beats the book by Pascal Boyer: “Religion Explained”, Vintage Books. Highly recommended!

  27. eric
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God.

    He does that several thousand years after the problem, when as an omnipotent being he could’ve just snapped his fingers seconds after the problem occurred and fixed things.

    Secondly, in the interim (between problem and fix), this “perfect in goodness” God commits or orders numerous genocides.

    Lastly, why send anyone to suffer and die? It should be entirely unnecessary for the fix, because God is omnipotent. And because it’s unneccessary, it’s evil, cruel, and possibly insane. I don’t chop my finger off to show my son how much I love him – that’s crazy. Nobody would admire me for such an act or praise it. But evidently, that’s exactly the sort of gesture God makes

    God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.

    The only way it can be “for our sake” is if it was necessary, and if it was necessary, he’s not omnipotent. OTOH if he could’ve fixed the problem without all the drama, then putting on a drama where humans suffer and die painfully just to make some symbolic gesture of love is really, really warped.

    • Posted February 25, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      “finger … the sort of gesture God makes”

      Theres s joke there somewhere …

      /@

  28. eric
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    universe seems to be fine-tuned for life.

    Um, no.

    Imagine you’ve got an agar plate with some bacteria growing on it. The bacteria’s pretty happy, the plate has lots of juicy nutrients and is a very good growth medium in other respects too. Now imagine that that agar plate is encapsulated in a thin, 6″ plastic bubble, which is itself floating in the center of a sphere a mile in radius, which is filled with concentrated bleach. The bacteria goes outside of the bubble, it dies. The bubble pops, it dies. It eats up all its resources, it dies because it can’t get more. Now imagine that the bacteria says to itself “hey, this giant bleach bubble is fine-tuned for my existence.” Would you think it was rational, or crazy? Answer: the bacteria is crazy.

    But the theological problem gets even worse if you say, okay, let’s assume the system really is designed with us (the bacteria) in mind. Now let’s ask what sort of system looks like that. Do we humans create systems like that, and if so, why do we design them that way? Well in fact we do. We design prisons, cages, and laboratory containment areas that way. Basically, when we don’t want something to get out, we give it a small “livable” space and surround that with a hostile envirnoment so that it can’t escape. THAT is what the bleach bubble example (and our universe) most resembles: a prison or containment system for something extroadinarily dangerous.

    • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Plus one, as the saying goes! I do believe I shall steal that analogy at some opportune moment — Earth as Jesus’s isolation ward.

      b&

    • JBlilie
      Posted February 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      And: This computer is not finely-tuned to allow me to write these words I am currently writing.

      This apprehension on the part of the religious is consonant with the typical lack of imagination they display. (E.g.: This is the best of all possible worlds.)

      • JBlilie
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        “MIS-apprehension” that would be …

  29. TJR
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Plantinga’s arguments are truly dreadful from start to finish. I swear Theologians must have had a bet to see who can get the largest number of ridiculous statements into one article. His final claim is truly spectacular:

    If materialism and evolution are both true then it is incredibly unlikely that *all* of your beliefs are true, so that your only alternatives are:
    a) conclude that *none* of your beliefs are true
    b) conclude that materialism and evolution can’t both be true

    Zeus on a bike.

    • Tom M
      Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      I disagree with Plantinga on this argument. But that’s not an argument; it’s name calling.

      You’d need to construct the argument in premise form and show where it goes wrong…I think that can be done, but you haven’t.

  30. eveysolara
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    yes the best of all possible worlds has to have little girls get sex traffiked aagainst their will.

    • Posted February 25, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      William Lane Craig certainly thinks so.

      So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

      For some reason, he fails to mention that Numbers 31 doesn’t have Moses and his Merry Men killing the children, but rather enslaving the boys and raping the girls. Don’t you feel so sorry for those poor soldiers forced to rape every little girl?

      Again, the only saving grace of the Bible is its entirely fictional nature.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • eveysolara
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        Those poor rapists, i hope they didnt strain their backs while doing the deed.

      • Paul S
        Posted February 25, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        Not sure what I was supposed to get out of that video other than the oxymoron “as a xtian I think” and that all his videos have comments disabled.
        Did I miss something important?

        • Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          Erm…that wasn’t a video, but rather an essay of Craig’s in which he sings the praises of child rape — especially the paragraph I quoted in the post you replied to….

          b&

          • Paul S
            Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

            I get the easy when it click on it now. I have no idea how I got to one of his YouTube speeches. That’s what I get for clicking on things when I should be working.
            And he’s still disgusting.

            • Posted February 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

              Well, elsewhere, Ant asked the sound of one god crapping, and I supplied an example. Perhaps that’s what you’re thinking of…?

              b&

  31. Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    theists are stupid sometimes. even the allegedly brightest of them. likewise with atheists.

    as the madman once said…”i see i have come too early”.

  32. Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    The interesting thing to me is whether or not you agree with the NY Times position or not, or even if you agree it was a worthwhile piece to publish, it still stirs debate which I think is the point. From a philosophical perspective, his points with respect to distinguishing between atheism and agnosticism I think are valid – atheism implies that you believe in no God, not that you refuse to believe in gods. Furthermore, how you define atheism depends a heck of a lot on how you define God, which in the context of your piece looks to be a one dimensional Christian view, which may oral not be the position of the original authors of the NY Times piece. Anyway, interesting topic of discussion, I cover many topics with respect to the history of theological development on my blog which folks may find interesting – snowconenyc.com. Cheers.

  33. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted February 25, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Gutting mentions Plantinga’s argument that the question of theism is similar to the question as to whether there are an even or odd number of stars in the universe.

    The incredibly large (no, really!) number of stars in our universe has a least-significant-bit that fluctuates and flickers rapidly, as the rate at which they are being born and dying is also large.

    If the question of the existence of god(s) has a similar explanation I would wonder why Plantinga is always so exercised about just any particular one of them.


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