Templeton abandons pretense of rationality, awards Templeton Prize to Alvin Plantinga, intelligent-design advocate

Reader Mark called my attention to the fact that John Templeton Foundation (JTF) has bestowed its annual Templeton Prize on someone who’s not only a deeply misguided religious philosopher, but also has promoted intelligent design and criticized naturalism. Yes, it’s Alvin Plantinga, an 84-year-old emeritus professor of philosophy at Notre Dame and also a professor at Calvin College (he’s a Calvinist of sorts).  I’ve written about Plantinga and his claims a lot on this site (go here to see what I’ve said): his main schtick is to claim that it’s not irrational to believe in God; that therefore it’s rational to believe in God; that the existence of God is a “basic belief” that doesn’t require empirical justification; that such belief comes from a divinely installed sensus divinitatis that allows us to detect truth; that because the truth-detector has to come from God, what it finds, like scientific “truths”, is incompatible with pure naturalism; that evolution was guided by GOD AND SATAN; that the God who installed our sensus is none other than Plantinga’s Christian God (surprise!); and that the presence of atheists, Hindus, Jews, and the majority of people with “false beliefs” simply had broken sensuses, which were due to, yes, the actions of SATAN!

Indeed, Plantinga does believe in the Hornéd One. Here’s a quote from his 2011 book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, explaining why there is undeserved evil in the world (my emphasis):

But any world that contains atonement will contain sin and evil and consequent suffering and pain. Furthermore, if the remedy is to be proportionate to the sickness, such a world will contain a great deal of sin and a great deal of suffering and pain. Still further, it may very well contain sin and suffering, not just on the part of human beings but perhaps also on the part of other creatures as well. Indeed, some of these other creatures might be vastly more powerful than human beings, and some of them—Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain. (Some may snort with disdain at this suggestion; it is none the worse for that.)

Yes it is the worse for that, for where’s the evidence for Satan? That’s some scholarly theodicy, no? And for such lucubrations, Plantinga got £1.1 million—more than a Nobel Prizewinner.

If you think I’m making up my claims about Plantinga’s views, read some of my posts on Plantinga’s claims or the section about his views in my book Faith Versus Fact (pp. 148-149 and 177-183. For a better refutation of the views that earned Plantinga his $1.4 million dollar prize, read pp. 22-73 of an underappreciated scholarly book attacking theism, The Non-Existence of God by Nicholas Everitt, who simply demolishes Plantinga’s piffle. (By the way, have theists read Everitt’s book? If not, then they’ve neglected some of The Best Arguments for Atheism.)

All of this casts doubts on Templeton’s claim to be increasingly down with science, for, after all, Plantinga is pretty much an intelligent design creationist. Although he’s waffled on this a bit in the past, he seems to have settled on ID creationism. I’ll quote Michael Ruse from The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2011, and, having read Plantinga’s book, I concur with Michael:

Now, Plantinga has given us a full-length treatment of his views on science and its relationship to religion. I can only say that either he has changed his mind in the last year [when said he didn’t dismiss Darwinism] or, shall we say, he was not being entirely forthcoming. There is a chapter of the book on Intelligent Design Theory and I challenge any independent person to read it and not conclude that Plantinga accepts this theory over modern evolutionary theory, especially the dominant modern Darwinian evolutionary theory. But read the chapter yourself if you have doubts about what I claim. Make your own judgment.

Remember, Ruse is usually soft on theists.

You can read Maarten Boudry’s review of Plantinga’s book here, a review that severely faults Plantinga for his “philosophical trickery” and his flawed arguments for God-guided evolution.

If you want to be charitable, you could argue that Plantinga adheres to a form of theistic evolution, in which God created and directed the process, but that’s still a form of theistic creationism, and of course there’s no scientific evidence for it (and there is evidence against it, like the randomness of mutation and the extinction of most species [or is that due to SATAN?]), so Templeton has put their imprimatur on an explicit denier of science. But even if you leave aside ID, Plantinga’s arguments that you can prove the existence of the Christian God through philosophy alone are wrong, an attempt that smacks of the Ontological Argument. You simply cannot establish the existence of a theistic entity through thought alone.

Here’s the announcement of Plantinga’s Big Prize from the National Catholic Reporter (click on screenshot to to go the piece), which parrots the JTF’s own announcement (right below it):

But it gets worse: here’s part of the JTF’s announcement (my emphasis):

WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. – Alvin Plantinga, an American scholar whose rigorous writings over a half century have made theism – the belief in a divine reality or god – a serious option within academic philosophy, was announced today as the 2017 Templeton Prize Laureate.

Plantinga’s pioneering work began in the late 1950s, a time when academic philosophers generally rejected religiously informed philosophy. In his early books, however, Plantinga considered a variety of arguments for the existence of God in ways that put theistic belief back on the philosophical agenda.

Plantinga’s 1984 paper, “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” challenged Christian philosophers to let their religious commitments shape their academic agenda and to pursue rigorous work based on a specifically Christian philosophical vision. At the same time, he was developing an account of knowledge, most fully expressed in the “Warrant Trilogy” published by Oxford University Press (1993 and 2000), making the case that religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs. These arguments have now influenced three generations of professional philosophers.

Indeed, more than 50 years after this remarkable journey began, university philosophy departments around the world now include thousands of professors who bring their religious commitments to bear on their work, including Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers.

“Sometimes ideas come along that revolutionize the way we think, and those who create such breakthrough discoveries are the people we honor with the Templeton Prize,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, which awards the Prize. “Alvin Plantinga recognized that not only did religious belief not conflict with serious philosophical work, but that it could make crucial contributions to addressing perennial problems in philosophy.”

Note the claim (mostly false) that Plantinga’s work has inspired serious philosophers to “bring their religious commitments to bear on their work”. That is, he’s given them a license to engage in confirmation bias: justifying post facto what they already believe and want to be true. That’s hardly a good way to do philosophy, but of course it’s the way philosophers of religion proceed.

Now if Plantinga were that influential, why are 62% of philosophers atheists—a frequency at least ten times higher than the general public as a whole? (Plantinga claims that the reason is that atheistic philosophers don’t want to believe in God rather than having good rational reasons for their nonbelief.)

Larry Moran at Sandwalk has written a number of critiques of Plantinga and his views on evolution, and you can see a list here. Here are two videos of Plantinga explaining his Prize-winning views. In the first, he emphasizes why, he thinks, you can’t believe in both naturalism and evolution. That’s because, as I said, Alvin can’t imagine how humans can have reliable mental faculties without God, and without those faculties you can neither accept science as a valid method of inquiry nor rely on its conclusions. Ergo, if you accept what science has found, you’re tacitly accepting the Christian God.

Plantinga, of course, neglects the possibility evolution could have given us the ability to draw rational conclusions from data, simply as a survival tool.

Here’s his argument for God as a “basic belief”, which boils down to this: “it seems to be right.” Now that’s powerful philosophy, philosophy based on his gut. I urge you to watch this to see what he thinks.

Below is a partial list of scholars—natural scientists, social scientists, and philosophers and historians of science—whose endeavors have been supported by the JTF. (You can see the full list here; there are hundreds of them.) I’ve listed names only of people I’ve heard of—and remember, I’m just a biologist.

These are good scientists and scholars, by and large, but they take money from an organization that promotes religion, natural theology, and antievolution. I ask them this with all due respect: do you really want to take money from a Foundation that’s devoted to watering down science with superstition?

I believe most or all of these people are holders or beneficiaries of current grants. There are many more who held JTF grants in the past.

Brian Greene and Tracy Day (World Science Festival)
David Sloan Wilson
Martin Nowak
David Albert
Max Tegmark
Kevin Laland
Alexander Vilenkin
Lee Smolin
Carlo Rovelli
Elaine Ecklund
Robert Pennock
Simon Conway Morris
Andrew Whiten
Niles Eldredge
Jon Entine
Paul Bloom
Marcus Feldman
Jennifer Wiseman (head of the AAAS DoSER project)
Scott Edwards
Robert Wright
Jeremy England
Gunter Wagner
Tanya Luhrmann

Apropos, here’s a tw**t from Dan Dennett:

h/t: John O.

102 Comments

  1. eric
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Furthermore, if the remedy is to be proportionate to the sickness…

    …then either God isn’t omnipotent, isn’t omniscient, or is malicious.

    Imagine if human doctors thought this way. “Oh, you have bubonic plague. I could just give you a pill per day for 10 days to cure it, but that would not be proportionate to the horribleness of this particular disease. So climb up on this rack and we’ll get started with a proportionate cure…”

    • darrelle
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Yes. He asserts that the remedy must be proportionate to the sickness without showing, or at least arguing, why that should be so.

      He slips in all sorts of matter-of-fact premises in all sorts of places. Very typical of theology in general, or philosphobabble of any stripe.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      The implication I draw from this argument is that God needed to make human beings sinful so that later the great sacrifice would be more impressive. I want your gratitude, so I cut your brakes and then run towards the wreck with my terrific first aid kit.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      He is constructing a castle out of bullshit. (I was going to say ‘sand’, but that’s too innocuous).

      “if the remedy is to be proportionate to the sickness, such a world will contain a great deal of sin and a great deal of suffering and pain.”
      – why? Why should it? He seems to be saying that the large quantity of sin is necessary to justify the large amount of suffering, which is [some logical error which I don’t recall but which I just categorise as] BS. Sick twisted BS.

      cr

  2. Posted April 27, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Niles Eldredge??? Very disappointing… was it before or after he wrote –
    Eldredge, N. 2000. The Triumph of Evolution…And the Failure of Creationism. W.H. Freeman and Co., New York

    ???

    • Posted April 27, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      After, I believe. All those grants were given out in 2011 or later.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Elredge also was an instigator in a movement to stop Trump’s inauguration – “Refuse Fascism”. The book you cite is the very first anti-creationist book I ever read (of 3).

  3. Kevin
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    The lowness of this is bittersweet. The message is out there now. People know what atheism is. They know know alternatives for their faiths exist. It’s getting harder for Templeton to win the case where they can be taken seriously, especially planting their support for ideas supported by Plantinga, et al.

    I would still take money from them. You can’t take it with you and it provides a modicum of happiness to me to think there are members within the Templeton who fear they can’t take it with them either. The rest is silence is a powerful and convincing meme.

    • Posted April 27, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Would you take a grant from the White Citizen’s Council? Is there nobody, however odious, that you wouldn’t take money from?

      • eric
        Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        It’s not a binary distinction; funding source ‘purity’ exists on a range, and IMO neo-nazi white supremacists would be much less acceptable than Templeton. I’m not saying I would take it, but I am saying that “I’d take a Templeton grant” does not reductio ad absurdum lead to the conclusion that that person would take money from Nazis.

        Heck, not even the NSF is pure. When you take money from it and publish research that cites it as a source, you are now contributing to the perceived success of the Trump administration. Should scientists forego NSF grants because of that? How about DOE and Rick Perry or HHS and Tom Price? They clearly have regressive political agendas. By taking DOE or HHS money, does a scientist ‘taint’ themselves with Perry’s pro-oil position or Price’s position on abortion?

        I’d personally say that no, taking grants from such organizations does not create complicity with their leaders’ political agendas. Its is okay even with Price and Perry running the show(s). Templeton is further down on the scale; there’s a somewhat higher risk of complicity. Something like a tobacco company is even further down than Templeton. And neo-nazis sit at the end of it.

      • Kevin
        Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        Templeton would not offer me money. If they were to provide me with funds it would not benefit their mission. But hypothetically, if one could take their money (without stealing it) and use it against them, that seems reasonable, though economically implausible, unless there were people within Templeton who wanted to undermine their foundation.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

          Hypothetically, if one could steal *all* Templeton’s money, and donate it to a worthy cause (- or even blow it all on sex drugs and rock’n’roll), would that not be a Very Good Thing? 😉

          cr

          • Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            Only in the same sense that it’s a good thing to wet your bed in the middle of the night, because it feels nice and warm and relaxing for the next few minutes.

            A society in which Templeton’s money is insecure is one in which your own money is at least as insecure. I rather doubt you’d be happy to have religious fanatics steal your own money to use it for the “good cause” of spreading the Good News, or even just beer ‘n’ bingo….

            Cheers,

            b&

            >

          • GBJames
            Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

            That would be a good thing. As long as everyone got a pony.

      • J.Baldwin
        Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        I’d probably take JTF money, too (not that they’d give it to me). Any funds they gave me would not be going to knuckleheads like Plantinga, and I certainly wouldn’t be using it to further the notion of religious truth or its compatibility with science.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Cut a deal with the devil, the devil always demands his due — often on the installment plan.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        Ah, so _you_ believe in Satan too? 😉

        There are ‘devils’ all around us and it’s impossible to maintain ideological purity without becoming completely inhibited.

        cr

        • Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

          There are devils, and there are devils.

          A significant portion of the money you spend at the gas station goes to fund a terrorist state that’s a religious dictatorship — and all of it goes to the production of the most destructive pollutant humans have ever produced. Yet few people have moral qualms with cutting deals with that particular devil, even on a weekly basis.

          And that’s because the gasoline you buy really is really, really useful to you, and sincerely so.

          In stark contrast…all Templeton has to offer is cash in exchange for being their mouthpiece. The money’s nice, but there’re other ways to get it — and those other ways don’t demand you corrupt yourself so blatantly in the process.

          (A footnote…I just drove Mom to lunch and grocery shopping in her Nissan Leaf…and man is that a sweet car! There’s basically nothing to criticize, from creature comforts to performance and handling. If you’re not putting more than 100 miles a day on your car — and almost nobody does — this is literally the perfect commuter / in-town car.)

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

  4. GBJames
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    sub

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      After listening to some of his ideas, I can only think that Templeton continues to throw money at religion as if it needed more money. My question is – where would religion be without money?

      • Randy schenck
        Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Sorry, I did not intend to add comment to yours. A couple of things that came right out of is mouth – He has no proof that other people exist. Maybe the frog has beliefs.

        • GBJames
          Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

          Heh. Usually the only follow-up to “sub” is: “What does that mean?” 😉

  5. Claudia Baker
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    It’s not very scientific or learned, but I only have one comment:

    ffs!

  6. Barry Lyons
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I like that accent for “Hornéd One.” That’s a nice touch.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      Except that it’s backwards. Hornéd reads hornayed. Should be hornèd.

      (PCC(E) and I haz had this discussion before but he remains unconvinced.

  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    “[Plantinga is] also a professor at Calvin College (he’s a Calvinist of sorts).”

    See? The Fightin’ Irish go bad whenever they associate themself with a damn Protestant — take Ara Parseghian and Knute Rockne, for example. (If it wasn’t for Rockne and that bogus “win one for the Gipper” tale, the nation might have been spared the presidency of Ronald Reagan.) 🙂

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Actually I think it was Bedtime For Bonzo that put him over the top.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        Those GE and Twenty-Mule-Team Boraxo commercials done their part, too.

        • busterggi
          Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          My folks (I wasn’t allowed to stay up that late) always referred to those as 20 mules and 1 jackass.

    • loren russell
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      I grew up in a sea of Frisian Reformed Church “Calvinists of sorts” — a good fraction of whom bore surnames with the tell-tale Frisian “-inga” ending. Can’t imagine any of their issue coming anywhere near Notre Dame, since they were still fighting the religious wars of the Reformation. I remember Sunday School teachers like Brother John Struijksma bringing in clippings of the latest outrage by the Whore of Rome, or imagined debaucheries in convents [all those illegitimate babies of nuns drowned like kittens!]. That and clippings of the latest grisly farm accident — to remember we are all one heartbeat from Hell.

      I think the Plantinga brothers grew up in a considerably more genteel community than I, but ‘Calvinist of sort’ can be pretty 16th Century in their thinking.

      • Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        imagined debaucheries in convents [all those illegitimate babies of nuns drowned like kittens!]

        Alas, such debaucheries are not all that imagined. The treatment of children at Catholic orphanages was frighteningly dire.

        I’m sure the Catholics didn’t have a monopoly on such brutality, but they’re far and away the most notorious and the best documented.

        See recent headlines about mass graves….

        http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/796-irish-orphans-buried-in-mass-grave-near-catholic-orphanage-historian-1.2663895

        Cheers,

        b&

        >

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          Sure, Catholic orphanages (and “homes for unwed mothers”) could be pretty Dickensian back in the day. But Calvinist claims about debauched nuns drowning illegitimate babies in convent bathtubs are the Catholic version of Jewish blood libel.

          • eric
            Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            It actually reminded me of the ’80s satanic cult craze. The neighbors are having satanic orgies in their basement! Okay, so where did the babies go? Uhh…they ate them!

  8. mikeyc
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I wonder if any of the scientists who’ve taken money from Templeton will respond to Dr Coyne’s question.

    • Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Don’t count on it. I expect a few angry emails, but I will keep them private.

      • Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        Maybe we can cajole Uncle Karl to respond – I believe that he is fairly ambivalent considering his experiences at BioLogos, yet remaining open to the notion there may be some common ground, however small, at the interface of science and faith.

      • Joshua R.
        Posted April 27, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        Would they have known Plantinga would receive the prize?

  9. darrelle
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I have often argued to others during conversations about religion that the famous theologians that believers point to as the intellectual heroes that justify their religious beliefs even in the era of modern science, are some of the best evidence that religion is bogus.

    Alvin Plantinga is one of the best examples of that, and one I use frequently. It is a travesty that anyone could take his arguments seriously. It really is. Embedding his arguments in the cliche literary styles typical of his subculture does unfortunately impress many, but his arguments are simplistic and juvenile to a degree that should either piss people off or make them feel sorry for him.

    That announcement from the JTF is unsurprising and complete bullshit.

    “. . . making the case that religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs.”

    . . .

    “Sometimes ideas come along that revolutionize the way we think, and those who create such breakthrough discoveries are the people we honor with the Templeton Prize, . . .”

    Pure crap. Plantinga didn’t create a breakthrough discovery. The idea that religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and don’t need to be justified was the norm for thousands of years and has just recently begun to change. That way of thinking is ancient, even in modern times has never been scarce and it’s still cramping humanity’s style right now, today.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      Plus 1 on that.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Those claims about religious starting points go back to Thomas Aquinas, and to Augustine, long before him.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Nothing “cutting edge” about it, it preceded the other apologetics.

      Though Plantinga’s Properly Basic Belief does resemble two popular modern religious/spiritual tropes:

      1.) “I know God exists because He lives in my heart.”

      2.) “I don’t need to defend my faith to anyone — I have a RIGHT to believe whatever I want!”

      • Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        Of course, #1 is, indeed, an actual observation constituting evidence in support of the proposition. And, #2 is absolutely correct; as a society, we recognize the vital importance of trusting individuals to make their own judgements for their own minds, including when they make bad judgements.

        But that’s not the grounds being debated.

        Rather, we’re questioning the wisdom of the epistemology being defended, and pointing out that, under provably-more-reliable epistemologies, other propositions are much better supported by the observation than the one being defended.

        Everybody has a right to be worng. They even have a right to demand that reality bow to their preferences.

        They can make the demands all they want, and they might even succeed in convincing themselves that the demands have been met.

        The only fly in the ointment is, of course, that their demands won’t actually be met, and, ultimately, those who recognize reality for what it is have more success than those who pretend it’s something it’s not.

        Even if the faithful exercise their right to insist otherwise.

        Cheers,

        b&

        >

  10. busterggi
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Next up – J. K. Rowling will win.

  11. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    The sensus divinitus is one of the lamest ideas put forward by any religious philosopher. The logical extension of that is that any widely held delusion is channeled from some stream of reality, however wacky. So there really are UFOs’ and ghosts, and lucky underwear for final exams.
    Of course Plantinga could just say that your lucky underwear came from…[Church Lady voice]: Satan!!!

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      It originates with John Calvin himself, but Calvin did not use it as an apologetic to non-believers, or as an argument for God.

      P.S. sensus divinitatis (of the divine)
      not divinitus (divinely – adverb)

  12. Posted April 27, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    his main schtick is to claim that it’s not irrational to believe in God; that therefore it’s rational to believe in God

    You know, that one is trivial to test.

    If it’s rational to believe in whichever god happens to be under discussion, then it’s possible to believe in such a god without any faith whatsoever.

    We would therefore expect to see people utterly devoid of faith who nevertheless maintained such a belief.

    Can anybody offer an example of such?

    Everybody I know who believes in a god has at least some faith in the proposition. They might assure you that the faith is a “value add” or some other sort of accessory; yet, the faith is always there. And, once the faith is gone, the god goes with it.

    If that’s not overwhelmingly conclusive hard empirical evidence that the irrationality of faith is essential to god-belief, I don’t know what would be….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Joshua R.
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      You’d have to define “faith” first though.

      • Posted April 27, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        Jerry showed us the definitive answer: Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

        Cheers,

        b&

        >

  13. Jeffrey Shallit
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget that Plantinga is partly responsible for one of the single silliest arguments in the history of philosophy: the “evolutionary argument against naturalism”.

    If you can’t figure out what’s wrong with that argument in 5 minutes, hang your head in shame. Yet philosophers actually spend their time discussing this tripe as if it were a valuable philosophical contribution.

    • Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      f you can’t figure out what’s wrong with that argument in 5 minutes, hang your head in shame. Yet philosophers actually spend their time discussing this tripe as if it were a valuable philosophical contribution.

      And people wonder why I have such low esteem for the modern “discipline” of philosophy….

      Uniformly, one will find that those philosophers who are doing good work are operating at some point in the loop of the scientific process. They might not be the ones making objective observations, but they’re typically the ones rationally analyzing the objective observations of others — and the good ones are hedging their bets with properly-proportioned error bars. They are, in other words, scientists.

      But far too many “respected” or “respectable” philosophers are like Plantinga, analyzing either that which hasn’t been objectively observed or — worse — that which has been objectively and exhaustively looked for and not found. And then they go on to express confidence all out of proportion with observations. That way madness lies….

      Cheers,

      b&

      >

    • Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Plantinga *has* made interesting contributions to philosophy. I think some of that reputation, alas, bleeds through.

  14. Sshort
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    “Alvin can’t imagine how humans can have reliable mental faculties without God, and without those faculties you can’t accept science as a valid method of inquiry, or rely on its conclusions.”

    I can’t imagine Plantinga having reliable mental faculties. So I can’t accept his inquiries. His arguments are circular to the point of nausea.

  15. Roger
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Wait, someone said “Satan and his minions” in a context other than a joke? That’s downright Medieval.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Minions are awesome.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      • Sshort
        Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Ha! Perfect.

  16. Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Disturbing how money corrupts. Disturbing to see names like Smolin, Turok, and Rovelli on the take list. Disturbing that some sold out for peanuts.

    • eric
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Hey, you’ve identified one of the benefits of giving the award to Plantinga! We can be pretty certain that the Templeton funding won’t result in him gaining a bias towards religion. 🙂

  17. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    The notion that “religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs” is fairly novel or recent in the history of philosophy.

    It’s a premise of what these guys call “presuppositional apologetics” which is different from “evidential apologetics”, the latter of which is the more traditional approach in Christianity.

    This all started with another Calvinist, Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987).

    If pushing presuppositionalism is what Templeton likes, then they are deeper into the muddy waters than I thought.
    They aren’t trying to bridge science and religion- they are trying to wade to the other shore, and drowning.

    • Sastra
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      While the particular Christian form of presuppositional apologetics is relatively modern, I think darrelle at #9 is right about it being common in the past to assume that god’s existence was self-evident and in need of no defense.

      In a way, presupps are a kind of anti-apologetic, in that they’re really just explanations for denying the common ground to the opposition, as opposed to attempts to persuade or defend. I call it the Neener Neener School of Debate.

    • Sshort
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for limning the presuppoitional gambit.

      To see the follies in real time, google Matt Dillanunty vs. Sye Ten Bruggencate.

  18. Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I will remind everyone of this _Philosopher’s Lexicon_ entry:

    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.

    Note that Dennett and coworkers who *worked on this excellent collection of jokes* made sure all the living philosophers who have entries at their expense *approved the joke*. So Plantinga does, in some sense, think he’s promoting 11th century ideas!

  19. Zwirko
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    Some of Pigliucci’s Extended Evolution stuff is JTF funded too.

  20. eric
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    “religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs”

    I actually don’t mind the idea of starting points not needing to be justified. Its kind of like saying a hypothesis can come from being bonked on the head, or a dream, or sitting in a bathtub, or any other source. In science, nobody cares where you got the idea or what caused you to have it (as long as you didn’t steal it from someone else).

    Where he goes off the rails is saying it doesn’t need to be defended. If you want to move from ‘merely your idea’ to ‘accepted theory or explanation,’ absolutely it needs to be defended. Or probably a better phrasing – it needs to be supported. Not merely by internal experience (like his sensus divinitatus), either – external, reproducible support is needed to make the step from starting-point-for-reason to credible conclusion.

    • Posted April 28, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Axioms are often justified by their consequences and by (eventual) integration with other theories. This is where Plantinga’s stuff goes off the rails. For example, he (used to?) compare belief in god to belief in other (human) minds. Since we know something about how minds arise, the analogy is pretty poor. Note that his own psychoneural dualism is precisely what shoots himself in the foot here!

      • Posted April 28, 2017 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        I think what Plantinga is saying is that he doesn’t arrive at the existence of God or of other human minds either by rational deduction or by an act of faith. He experiences God within the material universe in the same way that he experiences human minds within other human bodies (assuming they’re not dead!) This is a starting point, not an end point, and has has nothing to do with what we know about “how minds arise.” As such, it can’t be supported or defended, let alone proved; it can only be borne witness to and, at the receiving end, either accepted or rejected. Forgive me if I’m stating what is already obvious.

        • GBJames
          Posted April 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

          It is perfectly clear. I know that I’m the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln. It can’t be supported or defended. It can only be borne witness to.

          Can I have a big Templeton Prize now?

          • Posted April 28, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

            Hey—you’ve already got your picture on every five-dollar bill in circulation, not to mention on roughly $2 billion worth of pennies. Next thing we know you’ll be demanding huge speaking fees from Wall Street. Honest Abe indeed!

        • Posted April 28, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          He experiences God within the material universe in the same way that he experiences human minds within other human bodies (assuming they’re not dead!)

          By that standard, the Easter Bunny is real.

          No, really.

          Last night I saw the Easter Bunny in my own back yard. It was right there, big floppy ears and hip-hopping and all. Entirely within this very material universe, and I experienced it the same way I experienced the Cheshire Cat the night before.

          …the catch, of course, is, as you note, a starting point, not an end point. And a much more reasonable ending point is that the Easter Bunny was merely an escaped neighborhood pet, and the Cheshire Cat a stray.

          The conclusion of the ultimate banality of Plantinga’s godly experiences is equally obvious to those who would apply the same skeptical standards to his experiences of the divine as to mine of the leporine.

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

          • Posted April 28, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

            Ben,

            Your point is well-taken, but only if you approach the issue from the avenue of debate or confrontation about ideology. My impression of Plantinga is that he is a happy man (as a general principle I have no quarrel with anyone who’s happy) bent on bearing witness to the source of his happiness, take it or leave it.

            Applying “skeptical standards” to such a stance is a reasonable, though not particularly generous, response; but so likewise is that of assent from a cohort of responders who share P’s experience and recognize it as true—not a consensus, surely, but a greater number I’d guess than share your experience of the leporine (which might simply be you having a bad hare day).

            Recognizing our experience in that of others may not be scientific or rise to the level of “evidence,” but it forms the basis of, among other things, literature and art. For that reason alone one might perhaps be slower to make it an object of ridicule.

            Cheers,

            Gary

            • GBJames
              Posted April 28, 2017 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

              How is Plantinga being “happy” remotely relevant to anything?

              I’m happy to report that I am the resurrection of George Washington and am proudly bearing witness to that. (Formerly I was confused and thought I was Abe Lincoln. Turns out I wasn’t.) And, as George, I can not tell a lie.

              And I’m still waiting for my Templeton grant.

            • Posted April 28, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

              Your point is well-taken, but only if you approach the issue from the avenue of debate or confrontation about ideology.

              So, Plantiga is welcome to advocate for his ideology contrary to ours, but we’re forbidden from advocating our own or challenging his?

              Applying “skeptical standards” to such a stance is a reasonable, though not particularly generous, response; but so likewise is that of assent from a cohort of responders who share P’s experience and recognize it as true

              And yet you’re displaying even less generosity yourself, by coming into our very living rooms and telling us that we must remain silent even amongst ourselves.

              If you truly believe the merit of your arguments, you should apply them to yourself and refrain from debating or confronting those whose ideologies differ from yours.

              Cheers,

              b&

              >

            • GBJames
              Posted April 29, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

              “… but only if you approach the issue from the avenue of debate or confrontation about ideology.”

              I would add… What the hell does this even mean? A person can assert anything at all and it is unfair if to dispute the claims, no matter how absurd (as long as the person is “happy”)? We have to accept any and all nonsense if there are other people who make the same assertions?

              I don’t want to live in a world like that. It is a world of dishonest compliance.

              • Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

                “How is Plantinga being ‘happy’ remotely relevant to anything?”

                Happiness, IMO, is always relevant as a kind of litmus test for the credibility of one’s world view—proof in the pudding and all that—and becomes even more so after one turns 80 like Plantinga or—for that matter, E. O. Wilson, one of my heroes. I’m only 78, so my happiness doesn’t carry all that much clout.

                “What the hell does this even mean? A person can assert anything at all and it is unfair if you dispute the claims, no matter how absurd. . .?”

                I didn’t say “unfair,” I said ungenerous, generosity being a higher standard than fairness for how we treat one another. When someone reports an experience that has given them joy (which is the context of my original remarks: “bearing witness to the source of his happiness”), they are operating from what I’d call a “gift economy”—one of the obligations of receiving a gift being to pass it on. It is certainly “fair” for me to point out that I don’t share that experience and to disagree with the conclusions drawn from it. For me to ridicule the person’s experience would, however, be ungenerous. That’s all I’m saying.

                Gary

              • GBJames
                Posted April 29, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

                “Happiness, IMO, is always relevant as a kind of litmus test for the credibility of one’s world view.”

                Well I understand that it is your opinion, but it is, in my opinion, crazy talk. And, since I am the reincarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte I am sure your generosity will lead you to accept my testimony and without dispute.

                Christian Nestell Bovee is reported to have said something relevant: “No man is happy without a delusion of some kind.”

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 29, 2017 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                Generosity definitely has a place in social interactions. (I did not feel obliged to stand up at my sister-in-law’s funeral and point out that she probably wasn’t in heaven with Jesus, no matter how many speakers said so; thereby dishonestly complying with the general sentiments. GB – the world is like that).

                However, I don’t think it has any place in discussing factual questions. Whether God exists or not is a factual matter. It may be socially generous to allow believers to think ‘He’ does, but that has no bearing on the actual facts. I think the only ‘generosity’ required in a debate is the intellectual honesty of avoiding misrepresentation of the other side’s viewpoint.

                cr

              • GBJames
                Posted April 29, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

                “avoiding misrepresentation of the other side’s viewpoint.”

                That isn’t generosity. That is honesty.

                As for the existence (or not) of gods, how is this not a question of fact? (Or the absence there-of. )

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 30, 2017 at 1:55 am | Permalink

                @GB
                “As for the existence (or not) of gods, how is this not a question of fact? (Or the absence there-of. )”

                That’s exactly what I said.

                cr

              • GBJames
                Posted April 30, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                We remain, infiniteimprobability, in violent agreement.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 30, 2017 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

                Disconcerting, isn’t it? 😉

                cr

        • Posted May 1, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          But to a materialist it *can* be defended – by various versions of the argument from analogy, which Bertrand Russell, for example, used. A committed psychoneural dualist (and explicit antievolutionist to boot) cannot make this move!

  21. jimroberts
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Willard van Orman Quine understood why we should expect to discover truths with adequate reliability: “Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind.”

    My evolved sensus stercoris bovis tells me how to classify Plantinga’s sensus divinatis.

  22. Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Paul Bloom, psychologist in the list that got grants from TF, may’ve gotten the grant for research, but I know that he’s real religious critic and in no way compatibalist.

  23. Posted April 27, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    “Satan and his minions, for example—may have been permitted to play a role in the evolution of life on earth, steering it in the direction of predation, waste and pain.” – pathetic way to escape from problem of evil,the main point in the paragraph above is ‘permitted’. By whom I wonder? 😳

  24. Nilou Ataie
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    The Unicorn Belief Society and the Satanist League are also giving out grants. Simply cross your eyes as you apply for the grants and pretend it’s not happening.

  25. David Harper
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Even Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of the United Kingdom and a past President of the Royal Society, has taken the Templeton Foundation’s money. Yes, that’s the Royal Society whose motto is Nullius In Verba — loosely translated, “take nobody’s word for it”, which is to say, demand to see the evidence.

  26. Posted April 27, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism is just plain silly. You summarize it succinctly thusly:

    Alvin can’t imagine how humans can have reliable mental faculties without God, and without those faculties you can neither accept science as a valid method of inquiry nor rely on its conclusions. Ergo, if you accept what science has found, you’re tacitly accepting the Christian God.

    How “reliable” does he think our brains need to be to allow us to do science? My brain is less than totally reliable — its conclusions get reconsidered and get corrected by others.
    I and others can do science with not-totally-reliable brains, the kind of brains that naturalistic processes would lead to.

    Does Plantinga think that his brain, which he thinks came into existence by processes some of which were nonnatural, is infallible?

    • Joshua R.
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, it seems to me that he’s rather referring to our ability to do science in the first place and I don’t see why that wouldn’t include our ability to accept corrections.

    • Posted April 29, 2017 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      He is, I think, assuming that whether we accept corrections or not, evolution will not produce a brain good enough to do science. That he mnakes this argument is empirical evidence that all brains are not perfect,

  27. Posted April 27, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    “religious beliefs are proper starting points for human reasoning and do not have to be defended or justified based on other beliefs”

    Strange that no one has yet mentioned the most famous example of this proposition, which isn’t Plantinga by any means nor even Aquinas, but Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Italics mine.)

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      And? The fact that they use the voodoo language of the day doesn’t automatically make them worng, any more than ‘Do unto others…’ is worng because it was uttered by a mythical person.

      cr

      • Posted April 28, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Why would you assume that I think Jefferson and company to be wrong? In point of fact, I agree with them wholeheartedly, “voodoo language” and all.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 28, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

          I’m not sure what your original point was, unless to justify Plantinga’s argument by comparing it with Jefferson’s wording. Correct me if I’m wrong.

          To which I would say that the ‘rightness’ of the sentiments expressed in that passage – ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘life liberty etc’ does not impute any accuracy to the rest of it.

          cr

  28. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 27, 2017 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    If I was Satan, and working for Templeton, I’d give Dr Coyne the next Templeton Award on some spurious but easily-concocted grounds and sit back and enjoy the kerfuffle that would cause. 🙂

    (Don’t know why I thought that, it just popped into my brain. Maybe I am Satan)

    cr

  29. Posted May 1, 2017 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    How apt to be talking about Plantinga. I’ve just released my updated critique of Plantinga’s modal version of his ontological argument for the existence of God. For those interested, you can read it at http://www.RationalRealm.com/philosophy/metaphysics/plantinga-ontological-argument.html

    • Posted May 1, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      No need to use much heavy machinery – have you read Zalta and Oppenheim’s computer assisted proof? It shows that a very small model validates the argument. All one needs is the Platonic numbers 0 and 1, a Platonic ordering between them (doesn’t matter which), IIRC. But the believer (even if a Platonist) should not take solace. Why? God isn’t the number 0! (Or 1.)

      • Posted May 1, 2017 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Keith for pointing out the Oppenheimer and Zalta 2011 paper, ‘A Computationally-Discovered Simplification of the Ontological Argument’. I haven’t studied that paper, but note that that paper is an analysis of Anselm’s statement of the ontological argument. Plantinga rejects that formulation and proposed his own modal version. So, it seems to me, that Oppenheimer and Zalta paper does not even touch the Plantinga formulation.

        • Posted May 1, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

          All the variations on the Ontological Argument presuppose that Platonically idealized perfection even makes sense in the first place, and then they assume that, not only is the concept coherent, but it could actually exist.

          That it is even necessary to take seriously any variation on the theme of Platonic idealism in the first place is absolutely mind-boggling.

          Where’s the Ideal Rabbit that serves at the Platonic archetype of all bunnies? What would it even mean for a rabbit to be perfect? How could that perfection even hypothetically be expressed?

          And, in this day and age not merely of Darwinian evolution but DNA sequencing, how far down the rabbit hold do you have to go to explain just how profoundly primitively superstitious such nonsense is?

          But the Ontological Argument far transcends mere Ultimate Rabbitism; it would have us go whole-hog for an ulti-omni-maxi-trans-galactic-gargleblasting Perfection of Everything. When we can’t even get a perfect rabbit, fer chrissakes!

          Never mind all that. Let’s wave a magic wand and pull Anselem’s (or Plantiga’s or whomever’s) God out of the hat. The best of all possible worlds exists and includes the best of all possible dudes.

          We unquestionably know that this, our world, exists. Which means that it must be part of MaxiMulligan’s domain.

          …so why is it, then, that a mere child with a cellphone does infinitely more to combat evil by calling 9-1-1 than El Perfecto?

          This isn’t an impossible standard, you know, like eating a too-hot-to-microwave burrito. This is something trivial — simply dropping a dime. Your kid sister could do it, her baby brother could do it. But the gods never do.

          But we’re still supposed to take seriously the proposition that somebody bigger and better than all the rest of us combined really is really real?

          Really?

          Seriously?

          Cheers,

          b&

          >

          • Posted May 2, 2017 at 3:44 am | Permalink

            Hi Ben. You seem upset that I take the trouble to respond to Plantinga’s argument in particular. That’s fine. I share some of your frustration with the longevity of the argument. I also share with you the thought of how the existence of evil counts against the existence of a perfect being (God). I have countered a number of theodicies myself here > http://www.RationalRealm.com/philosophy/metaphysics/problem-of-evil.html

            I don’t share your view that all of the variations on the Ontological Argument presuppose Platonically idealized perfection. You may be right, but I would want to see some argument for it instead of accepting it on your assurance. From my reading, Anselm’s and Plantinga’s formulations don’t seem to me to make such a commitment. And that’s just two of many variations. I could take the trouble to point out some features of Anselm’s and Plantinga’s that are, in my view, non- or anti-Platonic. But then I’d be taking on the burden of proof.

            • Posted May 2, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              I don’t share your view that all of the variations on the Ontological Argument presuppose Platonically idealized perfection.

              But that’s just it. You yourself quoted Plantiga’s argument beginning with:

              There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated.

              I don’t think I could come up with a better one-sentence summary of a Platonic idealization of perfection. “Maximal greatness” and “perfection” have to be equivalent, no? And what would an instantiation be other than a realization of it? And the whole point of Platonicism is that there really is a really real perfect cube, number four, rabbit, whatever, even if it’s in some realm that’s inaccessible to us — “a possible world.”

              Or, in other words, I’m challenging the very first premise. “Maximal greatness” is exactly as incoherent as, “the largest prime number,” and for much the same reason. Instantiating it is incoherent; how would you instantiate a perfect cube, a perfect number four, a perfect rabbit? And, even if it’s somehow conceivable that there could have been a world of some sort in which such exist, that world is plainly and evidentially not our world, and our world is not a subset of it; it has no bearing whatsoever on actual reality.

              So, shouldn’t an argument against Plantiga’s or any similar ontology begin and end with the opening line?

              Cheers,

              b&

              >

              • Posted May 5, 2017 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

                Hi Ben, Sorry for the delay in responding. You link Plantinga’s premise, “There is a possible world in which maximal greatness is instantiated”, with Plato’s idealization of perfection and then place the theoretical existence of this idealized Platonic form in “a possible world”. But the “possible world” semantics of modal logicians that Plantinga relies upon was nowhere near being conceived in Plato’s day. Modal logics had to wait till the 20th Century for their development.

                Likewise, I’m not convinced that Anselm, Plantiga, Findlay, Malcolm, etc, all presupposed a world of Platonic forms. I mean, when you think about it, it’s not in their interests to limit the applicability of their arguments only to philosophers who accept Platonic forms. Professional philosophers aim for their arguments to have as wide an appeal as possible. I think you need to do much, much more work in your argument linking all of the various forms of the ontological argument with Platonism than your bald assertion that “I don’t think I could come up with a better one-sentence summary of a Platonic idealization of perfection.”


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  2. […] The big news in the philosophy/religion/philosophy of religion world: Alvin Plantinga was awarded the Templeton Prize (again [again], not strictly a blog, but still). While this is a maximally great event, not everyone is pleased. […]

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