The TLS on Plantinga and me

I recently published my take on the award of the Templeton Prize to Alvin Plantinga, a “religious philosopher” (read: “theologian”) whose work consists of untenable arguments couched in unreadable prose.  Rupert Shortt, religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement (TLS), writes about it in a short piece, “Alvin Plantinga and the Templeton Prize“. Google adds that Shortt is “a former Visiting Fellow at Oxford University. His books include Benedict XVI (2005), Christianophobia: A Faith under Attack (2012) and Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop (2014)”. Reader Michael (see below) adds that Shortt studied under Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and Shortt’s writings (e.g., here) clearly show that he’s a believer and an apologist.

Although Shortt describes a bit of criticism I gave in Faith Versus Fact about Plantinga’s arguments , he’s clearly sympathetic to Plantinga’s claim that accepting God is a “properly basic belief” that needs no justification. Shortt doesn’t mention Plantinga’s belief that the “properly basic” God is the Christian god rather than Allah or Brahma, nor Plantinga’s idea (taken from Calvin) of the “sensus divinitatis” that God installed in us to enable us to sense him—and that that sensus is broken in atheists and Muslims. Finally, Shortt neglects Plantinga’s theodicy: that innocent people suffer because of Satan.

I’ll quote Shortt’s analysis, adding a few comments of my own.

Plantinga’s positive case for the existence of God is known as the evolutionary argument against naturalism. The basis of his case involves a distinction between adaptive behaviour and true beliefs. Evolution can explain the former, he thinks, but not the latter. His conclusion is that while no conflict exists between Christianity and science, there is a conflict between philosophical naturalism and science, because adherents of naturalism (including atheists) have no firm basis for believing that many of their statements genuinely map reality. The Darwinian view thus fatally undermines itself. If it is true, then the methods that support it are probably unreliable, meaning that we should not believe it . . .

In Faith Versus Fact (pp. 177-183), I argue that evolution can and would be expected to endow us with realistic beliefs about nature, but also that our senses and beliefs can be fooled by many features (indoctrination, optical illusions, “common sense”, and so on). Here’s what Shortt says about that:

In our conversation, I raised an objection expressed by some of Plantinga’s Christian critics, as well as by non-believers. The query centres on his assumption that the generation of reliable belief-producing mechanisms should not itself be part of evolutionary adaptation. This sort of reservation has also been voiced by Jerry Coyne in his recent book Faith Versus Fact: Why science and religion are incompatible. But whether or not one is fully convinced by Plantinga, he nevertheless succeeds in highlighting something disquieting about the naturalistic picture of our human predicament. Various scholars have noted that there is no systematic connection on a naturalistic world view between our possession of equipment that has turned out to be efficacious in the battle for survival, and our putative ability to track the truth in relation to our intellectual intuitions. The underlying point, as the philosopher John Cottingham urges, “is that it seems impossible for any philosopher to characterise our human situation with respect to the truth – the ways in which we have fallen short, the ways in which we are able to correct our mistakes – without implicitly assuming that we are indeed equipped to undertake the search for truth. And it is not clear that this assumption can be underwritten via the resources of evolutionary naturalism”.

If you know anything about evolution, the “evolutionary argument against naturalism” is a nonstarter. As I’ve said repeatedly, one cannot produce an a priori philosophical argument for why empirical observation, consensus, and reason—what I call “science construed broadly”—give us “true beliefs” (I prefer to call them “truths”). But we don’t need to. The reason we use such science is because it works. The theological method of revelation, dogma, scripture, and authority doesn’t work, as it’s provided no consensus on matters even as basic as the existence of God. This can be demonstrated by the difference in the efficacy of faith healing versus science-based medicine. We can make predictions based on science, but not on religious feelings. We can correct our mistakes using science, for that is what science is about, but we cannot correct our mistakes using religious belief. We cannot even approach truth using religious belief.

Shortt goes on:

In rejecting Plantinga’s arguments, Coyne stresses the many abilities that emerge as a by-product of evolution. Yes, he concedes, doing mathematics would not have enhanced the fitness of our pre-literate ancestors. But once the human brain had reached a certain level of complexity, it was already performing many tasks unconnected with evolution. Nor is this a mark of special pleading, Coyne adds. Crows can solve complex puzzles; lyrebirds can imitate chainsaws and car alarms. These will strike some as weak analogies, however, because Plantinga is talking about advanced abilities which float free from the world of contingency.

These are not weak analogies, for many animals can learn and some can reason—evolution, too, has bequeathed them with the ability to survive by forming what Plantinga calls “true beliefs” about the world. Certainly apes can do that very well, but they apparently lack the sensus divinitatis. Why? Yes, our reasoning is more complex, but is it not “true belief” when an antelope gets spooked when it sees or smells a lion? The canard of “advanced abilities” is irrelevant here.

Shortt continues:

It is important to be clear what Plantinga’s case does and doesn’t betoken in his eyes, let alone those of his opponents. As a Calvinist, he’d be the first to insist that reason alone cannot lead one to a living faith in God. Philosophers and theologians, however distinguished, can only take enquirers to the threshold of such faith. Getting beyond this point will involve living into a new way of thinking, not thinking into a new way of living. In other words, God is not be thought of primarily as an unmoved mover or first cause (despite being so, from a monotheistic standpoint), but rather as an intimate presence in the life of the believer responding to a gift from beyond his or her imagining.

What Shortt is saying here is that we must rely on our “internal feelings” to divine that there is indeed a god—the Christian god.  That is his “new way of thinking”, but it’s not new: it’s called “delusion” by some, “wish thinking” by others, and “confirmation bias” by still others. The plain truth is that “sensing an intimate presence in our lives” is no evidence that that presence exists at all, much less as the omnipotent, benevolent, and omniscient Abrahamic God.  All it shows is that you feel something.

And, by the way, what gives Shortt the authority to tell anyone how to conceive of God? The big advantage for him is to claim that, like Plantinga, believing in the existence of a divine being need not depend on evidence, but merely on our gut feelings. Well, isn’t that convenient? Sadly, what we feel inside has never been good evidence for the existence of what lies outside. That is what believers and religious philosophers obstinately refuse to see.

Reader Michael sent me his own take on the TLS piece, which I reproduce with his permission:

Bloody awful defence of Plantinga’s arguments by Rupert Shortt [Religion Editor at the TLS]. Shortt studied under Rowan Williams and advocates a ‘sophisticated’ and unfalsifiable view of a non-intervening God in his book God is No Thing: Coherent Christianity [a fluffy 96-page book I read in an hour for free in a Christian book shop last year].

An example of Shortt logic from the TLS article [apparently this is a common line among religious philosophers!]:

“…but Plantinga is bullish, pointing out, for example, that we take it wholly for granted that other minds exist apart from our own, even though this belief, while also “basic”, cannot be demonstrated beyond doubt. The same applies to belief in the past. We can play intellectual games suggesting that the world was created five minutes ago, along with all its ancient mountain ranges and so forth.”

What an absurd defence! If one wishes to take that line, then the endeavours of reasoning, philosophy, science or even getting up in the morning are futile! It is obvious that we must have something to stand on [first principles or axioms] that have to be taken on ‘faith’.

I think it is rank dishonesty to assign god the property of being ‘properly basic’, thus swerving around the need to show god is in the world/real.

Michael is absolutely right, except that we needn’t take things like reasoning on faith. We use reason because it works. And science isn’t really based on axioms: it’s not math. It’s based on a method that, refined over time, leads us to widely accepted facts about the universe: the facts that we can rely on to do things like establish the genealogy of species, cure disease, and land probes on comets. You can’t accomplish such things through prayer.

h/t: Matthew Cobb

35 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. steve oberski
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    As usual my thanks to PCC for wading through the theological swamp so that we do not have to.

    And as a added bonus the great phrase “whose work consists of untenable arguments couched in unreadable prose” which I am going to use in the future.

    This brings to mind one of the shortest and most succinct book reviews in history, by Ambrose Bierce – “The covers of this book are too far apart.”

    • GBJames
      Posted May 3, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      LOL. That Bierce quote is a treasure.

    • Ken Elliott
      Posted May 4, 2017 at 7:17 am | Permalink

      I like this quote from Jerry’s post: ‘Sadly, what we feel inside has never been good evidence for the existence of what lies outside.’

  3. Roger
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Our god is truly an awesome god, making itself properly basic so that nobody has to go to the trouble of science. You have to admit, not many gods are as considerate as that.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 3, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Just yesterday evening my kids were discussing how ridiculous the concept of the Trinity is. At 13 years old they could point out many of the ridiculous things about it. With incredulity, and perhaps a touch of scorn, that people could believe such things.

      I told them that their tiny little human minds were simply too unsophisticated to even begin to comprehend the god-awesomely sophisticated reality that is the Christian Trinity.

  4. Posted May 3, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    as noted, the process of natural selection itself would harshly remove any creature or species that failed to develop realistic beliefs about its environment. what of god? “je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothese.”

  5. MKray
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    A senior physicist I know, who has published much defending religion, and has been personally involved with Templeton, has stated publicly: `In the end, I just know God exists’. I was reminded of this when a relative of a passenger on the vanished MH370 flight, said, on the third aaniiversary of the disappearance : `I just know that my loved one is alive somewhere’.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted May 3, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      The poor MH370 victim’s poor relative reminds me of this quote: “People have a habit of inventing fictions they will believe wholeheartedly in order to ignore the truth they cannot accept”

      Libba Bray, Texan children’s writer & atheist [I think]

      • stephen
        Posted May 3, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Thanks Michael, that is a quotation to be treasured.

    • Posted May 3, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      “God exists” is a fascinating concept with regard to the reality of what exists in our minds. No doubt god exists in the physicist’s mind as well as in those of millions of others. However, that which exists in the mind can either be factual or some concoction, and like some of my dreams, a weird combination of the two. Both ‘exist’ but there needs to be corroborative evidence that something exists beyond the confines of the mind. Many would agree that because something exists in the mind does not mean that it necessarily exists anywhere beyond the mind.

  6. Linda Calhoun
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    So, their “perfect” god created atheists and Muslims (and other non-Christians) with a “broken” sensus divinitatis, just so he could burn them in hell?

    Ooooh, feel the love!!

    L

    • Flaffer
      Posted May 3, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      So this. As if that is supposed to make me LOVE god!
      I usually say: Either god does not exist or he does and he has a LOT to answer for!

      • Robert Firth
        Posted May 9, 2017 at 1:37 am | Permalink

        “If there is a God, He is the devil” -Charles Baudelaire

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted May 3, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      Oh no. If our sensus divinitatis is broken, it’s nothing to do with God. As usual, it’s All Our Fault.

  7. Posted May 3, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    [A]dherents of naturalism (including atheists) have no firm basis for believing that many of their statements genuinely map reality. [emphasis added]

    That right there is what lies at the heart of the philosopher’s folly: the insistence that all knowledge must follow inevitably from some perfect source.

    Such perfection isn’t merely nonexistent, it’s incoherent.

    Which is why science doesn’t bother with that sort of nonsense. It simply maps what we observe, including the fuzziness of the observations, and then keeps refining the map. It doesn’t even matter the ultimate nature of what we’re mapping; we just report the weather.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted May 3, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Should also add….

      In other words, God is not be thought of primarily as an unmoved mover or first cause (despite being so, from a monotheistic standpoint), but rather as an intimate presence in the life of the believer responding to a gift from beyond his or her imagining.

      The whole point of mindfulness meditation is to learn how to objectively observe one’s own thoughts. It’s easy once you learn the trick — like seeing the 3-D shark in the random dots.

      And, when you do, the notion that there’s some sort of “still small voice” of a divine entity becomes absurd in the extreme. All your thoughts are accessible to you, and it’s pretty obvious that, first, there isn’t any Martian injecting thoughts into your mind; and, second, were such actually the case, you’d be entirely under the control of said Martian to the extent that even your own thoughts wouldn’t be your own.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Linda Calhoun
        Posted May 3, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        “God speaks to me personally.”

        And tells them what they want to hear.

        L

  8. kirbmarc
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Plantinga’s argument fails because evolution actually explains very well why we have some (imperfect) equipment to examine beliefs according to their correspondence to reality.

    All living beings able of acting autonomously act according to simplified models of reality which are useful for survival and reproduction (spreading of the genes that cause them).

    Inaccurate models of reality have very dire consequences on the rates of survival until adulthood and reproduction. A gazelle which doesn’t run when lions attack is more likely to get eaten, and a gazelle with runs too much when there are no lions attacking is likely to get exhausted and shorten its life.

    Humans beings are simply able to articulate and communicate their inner models of action through words and modify them according through communication of new information.

    If there was absolutely no way to tell apart true beliefs from false ones empirically, through the testing of models against reality, evolution would have never happened: living autonomous creatures would have been unable to find food and shelter or to reproduce.

    Evolution is actually a continuous test of the inner models of behavior of all living creatures who behave autonomously against reality.

    This, of course, doesn’t mean that the inner models have to be perfect model of reality, only “good enough” models which allow survival.

    Indeed our “reality checking” instruments aren’t perfect: for example we see faces where there are no faces and are frightened by innocuous sounds as if they came from dangerous predators.

    Plantinga’s argument is that the “advanced abilities which float free from the world of contingency” cannot be explained through evolutionary means, therefore God.

    But if we look at the “advanced abilities” which humans only allegedly posses we can recognize that they clearly have an evolutionary basis.

    Math is an explicit, communicative reflection on our spatial and temporal abilities (which allow us to recognize shapes, count, tell apart different periods of time, etc.) which all gave evolutionary advantages.

    Philosophy, and the branch of philosophy which eventually became science, is a communicate reflection on our models for reality, on our models for the behavior of other people (we needed simplified models of behavior to succeed socially), on our models for the communicative function of language itself (meta-language, useful for social purposes).

    All of those communicative reflections are based on our ability to share information through language (which gave us a clear evolutionary advantage), on our ability to recall memories and on our ability to build mental imagines and hypothetical situation (which was an incredible advantage for a social predatory animal, since it allowed us to perform strategically: a gazelle can smell humans but it can’t plan a counter-strategy to a complex human hunting strategy like co-ordinated running which leads them into a trap ) and our ability to imitate shapes, adapt them, improve them (which gave us weapons, another big evolutionary advantage).

    Now of course there’s plenty more to study about those abilities, how they evolved, how they function, what kind of advantages they gave us. We can make hypothesis, test them, leave room for doubt. We don’t know everything about how our brains function (yet) so there’s a considerable margin of error.

    But to claim that evolution cannot explain how “advanced abilities” function, therefore god is just yet another god of the gaps.

    • Posted May 3, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      I have long considered that animal behaviors contain a kind of precedent for why humans develop false beliefs like beliefs in supernatural agency. Behaviors that are strongly selected for become hard to overcome when inappropriately triggered because they increase fitness when they are appropriately triggered. So moths fly into porch lights, female dogs nurse kittens, and humans see faces in a pattern of shadows on Mars as a result of natural selection for certain behaviors (and beliefs). The very fact that these things occur imperfectly is a pretty good hallmark that they arose by natural selection since as you say they are ‘good enough’.
      In humans (and in most animals), we believe that stuff that happens is because of an agency. The stirring grasses could be a lion or just the wind. It has behooved us to apply agency to everything that we perceive, because it has helped our survival and it does not cause much harm when its wrong. Of course our own thoughts are the result of agency, but oddly, some of us have decided that the agency of our own thoughts stems from supernatural influences outside of our own brains.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 3, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Another thing I like to point out in conversations like this is that our faculties are not all that unique. Nearly all of the cognitive features and abilities humans have evolved and that have long been considered to be unique to humans have been found, to greater or lesser extent, in other animals. Yes, there is something different about us. But that is true for every creature compared to others. The differences that set humans apart from the rest appear, the more we learn, to be differences of degrees rather than unique features. And sure, degrees matter. Those degrees do make us different.

        But they don’t support the notion that humans are special in the sense that religious believers, and similar, believe that humans must be. They only further support the notion that science had already well confirmed via other lines of investigation, that humans are merely animals that share a common ancestry with all other organisms on the planet. And nothing remotely god-like necessary to explain it all.

        • Posted May 3, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          As was said before:
          “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” — Charles Darwin
          This simple point is conveniently overlooked by many a religious philosopher.

  9. Al
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    It is true that evolution would endow us with a capability to make mental models of the world which are, in some sense, “true enough”. Precise understanding of quantum physics, for example, is not necessary for adaptation and survival. Therefore, we can not justify the claim that science approaches truth by referring to the evolutionary requirement of having “good” mental models.

    To this our host PCC says, “ok but science works. We use reason because it works”. There’s a tautology in this statement: “we use reason because it is useful”. Further, combining the “usefulness” of reason as a justification for science with the claim that science approaches truth leads one to conclude that truth is what is useful. It is a possible definition of truth (AIUI,this is called the pragmatist concept of truth). However, I would think most scientists would reject it. It basically leads you to believe that something is true if it is useful to us. This is close to the “regressive liberal” view, that, for example, since it’s useful to eradicate racism and sexism, it is “true” (in this pragmatist sense) there are no genetic differences between geographic groups of individuals or there are no biological differences between sexes, all scientific evidence aside. This is a viewpoint evinced by Jordan Peterson in his first conversation with Sam Harris, and Sam was justifiably incredulous when faced with it. So appeal to the “usefulness” in this argument is self-defeating because “usefulness” is “in the eye of the beholder”.

    • Posted May 3, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      There’s a tautology in this statement: “we use reason because it is useful”.

      The ancients had a superstitious aversion to the infinite, especially including recursion. Today, many of us know much better — except that this same irrational fear maintains a death-grip on philosophy.

      Why is it okay for a dictionary of the English language to be self-contained and not defined or justified by anything external, but science needs more than “mere” utility to warrant philosophical “justification”? And who the hell do philosophers think they are to be the ones to tell scientists whether or not what the scientists are doing is worthy?

      It basically leads you to believe that something is true if it is useful to us.

      Science uses “true” as a shorthand. Any physicist will cheerfully agree that it’s true that the acceleration of gravity in the lecture hall is about 10 m/s/s, and, in the same breath, tell you that Newton isn’t even close to the true picture and that nobody yet has a truly satisfactory explanation of gravity.

      In the context in which philosophers like to argue, a scientist will instantly acknowledge that science doesn’t even pretend to deal with truth, and would likely even reject the notion that philosophical truth is itself a coherent concept. Science is the quest to create the best map we can of the Cosmos we live in — but only a fool or a philosopher would confuse the map thus produced for the territory itself.

      And, yet, it remains true that, if you drop your keys, they’ll accelerate down at about 10 m/s/s — and those those who think it might somehow be “useful” to pretend that the keys will fly up instead are insane.

      Cheers,

      b&

      >

      • Al
        Posted May 3, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        “Science is the quest to create the best map we can of the Cosmos we live in”

        Exactly. The map has to map (pun intended) the universe to something, specifically a mental model. And the possible choice of mental models depends on the evolutionary development of the mind which these models inhabit. For a mind conditioned in a certain way by its evolutionary history, a mental model that seems self-evidently true for you and me will appear insane.

        You have chosen a self-evident example of a true belief: “if you release an object, it will accelerate down”. Yet for most of human history the self-evidently true belief was that “the sun goes around the earth” which turned out to be false. Or, rather, it turned out to be less useful than the opposite (the geocentric theory explains fewer facts than the heliocentric one). Now imagine a society where saying that the keys fall down is detrimental to your survival (for this experiment, assume it’s the only society on the planet, there are no outside ones). For example, if you say or write or communicate this idea in any way to another individual, you (and all your children, grandchildren and other descendants) get executed. Would we not expect the “scientists” in this society to come up with contrived theories of how the “apparent” motion of the keys downwards is explained by referring to some deeper structure of reality (just as the apparent rising and setting of the sun are explained by the Earth’s orbit)? If we continue this thought experiment for a evolutionary or geological timescale, we would expect that the mental models will develop so that it is self-evidently true to the members of this society that the keys do not fall down when released.

        This experiment is admittedly contrived but it shows that the mental models we use are shaped by our evolution. This combined with the “usefulness” argument means that “science is the quest to create the most useful map of the world we can given our evolutionary history” and the criteria of “usefulness” are external to this quest.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 3, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. For example, your argument rests on what is meant by the word “usefulness.” The sense of that word that Jerry means in the context of science is not quite the sense of that word that you are using in your argument, or that you attribute to the regressive liberal view.

      Also, . . .

      “It is a possible definition of truth (AIUI,this is called the pragmatist concept of truth). However, I would think most scientists would reject it. It basically leads you to believe that something is true if it is useful to us.”

      That line of reasoning is certainly a valid one to consider generally speaking, but that doesn’t seem to be how scientist’s in general actually think / behave. Also, the conclusion that “something is true if it is useful” does not follow necessarily from the premise you started with. I think you would need to add in a dash of “rationalizing evidence to support beliefs held on the basis of a prior commitment” to reliably get to that conclusion. (I don’t mean you I mean people in general)

      • Al
        Posted May 3, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        That line of reasoning is certainly a valid one to consider generally speaking, but that doesn’t seem to be how scientist’s in general actually think / behave.

        I agree with this, that’s why I wrote “most scientists would reject it”.

        Also, the conclusion that “something is true if it is useful” does not follow necessarily from the premise you started with.

        PCC says that “science construed broadly gives us truths”. As a justification for science, he proffers “We use science because it works”. Now what does he mean by “works”? If he means “because it gives us truths” then this is a circular argument. I interpreted his “because it works” as “because it is useful”. Then we are led to conclude that the truth value of something (the product of science) is determined by its usefulness. Or, “something is true if it is useful”.

        • Posted May 3, 2017 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          You have made this point already. I also mentioned that science made predictions that were verified, which don’t have to be useful. Did you see that?

          Do not repeat your same views over and over again.

        • darrelle
          Posted May 4, 2017 at 7:10 am | Permalink

          “I agree with this, that’s why I wrote “most scientists would reject it”.”

          Okay. If you know what scientists actually mean then why argue about what they don’t mean?

  10. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Plantinga loses me with his evolutionary argument against naturalism, and his handling of the problem of evil (aka theodicy) and his extension of sensus divinitatis to specifically the Christian God.
    That’s three strikes.

    If God is so basic, why do Asian cultures have a concept of heaven without being monotheistic? Oh, yes. The sensus div is busted.
    C.S. Lewis is more modest, claiming there is a universal moral sense. This he thinks points indirectly to a God. But he does NOT claim a defective SD in other cultures, only a shared incomplete one.

    =-=-=

    In 1989, I three times saw the previews for a French movie (whose title I have long forgotten) set in the 18th century in which a Catholic priest is in a bordello, and after looking at the woman whose services he has paid for that evening gasps (in French with English subtitles) “Absolute proof of God’s existence”.
    More recently, (some of) the preview trailers of the upcoming Baywatch movie have a scene in which a young blond man is looking at your standard-issue bikini babe walking on the beach in slow motion, and he exclaims “She’s the reason why I believe in God”.

    Now, these aren’t real arguments, but I must sneakily confess I have naughty dreams of Plantinga and Craig trying to use these arguments, and I would personally like them better if they did!!

    Baywatch trailer geared up to 1 minute 24 seconds here (not imbedded)
    youtu.be/SeWHDmm1M6c?t=1m24s

  11. papalinton
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    THIS BOOK by Dr James T Jenkins is a “must read” on the hard evidence for God’s existence. Plantinga would be well advised to read it.

    [Spoiler alert: every page is blank]
    Can be purchased through Amazon.

  12. Posted May 4, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    “. . .the existence of a divine being need not depend on evidence, but merely on our gut feelings. Well, isn’t that convenient?”

    Actually, it’s not at all convenient. It’s totally inconvenient, because it leaves one open to ridicule. What would be convenient would be objective, testable, irrefutable evidence for the existence of a divine being.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have this (not that there’d be that much virtue in coerced belief as opposed to the optional kind)—not just when it comes to the existence of God but, as both Plantinga and Shortt point out, when it comes to the existence of “other minds.” It’s not sensus divinitatis that is the “properly basic” but sensus spiritualis, the perception of the spiritual force that animates all living things. I have a “gut feeling” that you are more than matter, that you and I and that tree over there share a common Spirit, just as I have a gut feeling that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, say, is more than globs of pigment arranged in a pleasing order.

    This is not chiefly something that I need in order to persuade others, arrive at consensus, or win debate points about; it’s something I need as the basis for determining how I treat other people, raise my kids, and generally live my life. And for these purposes, it works. You can’t accomplish such things through science.

    Cheers,

    Gary

    • Posted May 4, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      It’s not sensus divinitatis that is the “properly basic” but sensus spiritualis, the perception of the spiritual force that animates all living things.

      There’s a formal term for that proposition, “vitalism,” and it’s long since been disproved as emphatically as calorific and the luminferous aether.

      I have a “gut feeling” that you are more than matter, that you and I and that tree over there share a common Spirit

      Yes, such perceptions are basically universal.

      As is the perception that Aristotle was right that things only move when you push on them.

      Both are illusory, of course, and you can confirm the fact of the illusion for yourself.

      I have a gut feeling that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, say, is more than globs of pigment arranged in a pleasing order.

      This is a not-bad place to begin the observation.

      Objectively, it’s trivial to demonstrate that there really isn’t anything more to the Sistine Chapel than globs of pigment. There’s no muse lingering there magically breathing inspiration into the visitors, for example.

      But what you experience in your mind isn’t globs of pigment. The globs of pigment are on the ceiling, not in your mind. Indeed, the globs are eternally inaccessible to your mind. All your mind actually has access to are the symbolic representations of the globs, and those symbols are mostly formed as arrangements of neurophysiological patterns in response to the light projected on your retina.

      Those symbols in your mind…are very rich, indeed. The symbols transcend mere patterns of color, but are imbued with the rich history of the stories portrayed, the creation of the painting (including the artistic and technical mastery it demonstrates), the culture of which it’s an essential part, your own role in that culture, your hopes and desires, and much more.

      And that overwhelmingly complex symphony of symbolism is what your mind experiences and has access to that gets filed under the label, “The Sistine Chapel.”

      Those symbols exist only as patterns of physiology in your brain, but why should that be worrisome? A dictionary of the English language is also symbolically complete unto itself and self-referential without need for external justification or reliance, yet was formed through external input; is that a problem?

      You might continue an investigation by sitting down and examining your experience of your breathing. Consciously exercise control over your breath or not; the point is the observation. Keep in mind that humans are, essentially, internal combustion heat engines, and that the lungs stoke the oxidization of cellular glucose. Your breath naturally self-regulates to match the rate of oxidization. If you change your activity level whilst keeping your breathing constant, or change your breathing with constant activity, you feel distress in proportions that very closely match how far out-of-balance your blood oxygen levels are.

      All your other sensations have a similar close-but-imperfect mapping to your biology…

      …and the other workings of your mind are emphatically not exempted.

      This is not chiefly something that I need in order to persuade others, arrive at consensus, or win debate points about; it’s something I need as the basis for determining how I treat other people, raise my kids, and generally live my life.

      I’m extremely confident that, the more attuned you are to mindful observation of your self, your body, your mind, your surroundings, and other people, you will only become more compassionate towards your kids, your associates, and your own self. It’s a pattern that’s extremely reliably repeatable. Not universally, no; there are exceptions. But not many.

      Cheers,

      b&

      >

      • Posted May 4, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        “Those symbols exist only as patterns of physiology in your brain, but why should that be worrisome? A dictionary of the English language is also symbolically complete unto itself and self-referential without need for external justification or reliance, yet was formed through external input; is that a problem?”

        From a mechanistic standpoint, it’s not worrisome or a problem at all. From a teleological standpoint I would assume, coming upon such a dictionary, that the “external input” had a purpose arising from a conscious agent or agents rather than that it arranged itself by mere chance. To account for that, the mechanistic explanation falls short.

        But it’s always a joy to hear from you, Ben, even though we’re not likely to resolve our differences any time soon.

        Cheers.

        Gary

  13. Posted May 5, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    After decades, my academic background as a PhD in comparative endocrinology eventually defeated my childhood indoctrination in Christianity and I now function as an atheist (philosophically of the agnostic type, just like Richard Dawkins). Part of my education over the past few years has been to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge with some reading around, and Faith vs. Fact has been one of the core texts for that. When I was a theist, I tried to square the circle as a believer who saw evolution as the deity’s chosen mechanism. But I came to realise rationally that that was baloney. By the time I came to read Faith vs. Fact, I was already convinced that the concept of non-overlapping magisteria was a desperate attempt by the religious to legitimise superstition with a sprikling of science. I noted the associated criticisms of the Templeton Foundation and made a note of its next award date. So when Alvin Plantinga’s name came up, I was already a little appraised of his ability to trim his message depending on his audience. The underlying problem for any Christian theologian, or whatever they want to call themselves, is that their core premise of the existence of a benign omniscient omnipotent omnipresent revelatory creator god does not bear any scientific scrutiny. I would reasonably expect such a supreme entity to demonstrate its effects on a material world. It does not. I wonder how much longer such enterprises will be gilded with academic respectability and huge piles of self-serving prize money.


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