Monday, February 10, 2014

An interview with Alvin Plantinga

Here. 

57 comments:

im-skeptical said...

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

No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that the flying spaghetti monster exists; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that the flying spaghetti monster doesn't exist. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

By Plantinga's logic, you must be agnostic on the existence of flying spaghetti monsters, unicorns, and Martians.

Keen Reader said...

On the contrary, there is zero debate or doubt about the fact that no flying spaghetti monster exists.

Papalinton said...

Equally there is zero debate about whether jesus-god ever existed anywhere in the Muslim world, either or the Hindu world for that matter. So the reasons behind your assertions extraordinarily callow.

Karl Grant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karl Grant said...

Skeppy,

No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that the flying spaghetti monster exists; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that the flying spaghetti monster doesn't exist. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

I have got to wonder about the mental state about someone who thinks comparing what someone sincerely believes to be true but can't prove to your satisfaction versus something you knowingly make-up, i.e. deliberate fraud, is valid comparison. No thinks there is good evidence for the fucking flying spaghetti monster because it something some dumbass atheist literally pulled out of his ass one day. I might as well compare the performance characteristics of the car you drive to Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Or prove that NASA has no damn idea what its doing by comparing the International Space Station to the Death Star. Just because something is unprovable doesn't mean it is in the same category as everything else that is uprovable. I seriously doubt you can prove what you ate for supper three days ago and what television shows you watched yesterday; shall we shove your diary in the fiction section in the local library?

im-skeptical said...

"On the contrary, there is zero debate or doubt about the fact that no flying spaghetti monster exists."

Not true. He definitely exists. Prove me wrong.

planks length said...

Karl,

As regards im-skeptical's last posting, you need to take St. Augustine's advice (see below on this website) and allow him the last word. No good can come from this faux "conversation".

Karl Grant said...

Planks length,

Yeah, especially since his response was to simply to stick his fingers in his ears and double-down on his stupidity. But I will make a note that he thinks comparing knowingly made-up fictional examples to things sincerely believed to be true but unproven is a valid debating tactic. Should make the next time he starts talking about the origin of consciousness or the origin of life on Earth or scientific predictions rather entertaining.

im-skeptical said...

"No good can come from this faux "conversation"."

I suppose you're right. Everyone can see the truth of the Spaghetti Monster, but some hate Him. They are deliberately defiant. They are beyond reason. They are doomed to spend eternity denied the magnificence of the divine presence.

Papalinton said...

You know. Christians on this site are particularly reticent to engage in debate when it is pointed out to them that christianity is but just one piddling sniveling tribal variant of a myriad of religious belief systems extant, each mindlessly clamouring for the same attention, all claiming to be the one, true and only religion on the basis their particular stripe and colour of god told them so.

It is ingratiatingly irksome how they somehow imagine their brand of intellectual suppository is the right medication to aseptically shield them from infection from all competing and colonizing religious pathogens.

And why this reluctance? Because they know deep down the best argument against any religion is all the other religions. In the final analysis, when one speaks to a Christian, there were not even supposed to be RELIGIONS but ONE religion; "... one true, and therefore compulsory, factual statement about the spiritual world and moral imperative flowing from those facts." Professor David Eller

Here, most purely and profoundly, as Eller points out, christianity self-detonates and implodes " .... not because religion and anti-religion [ie science or symbology] meet but because religion and religion meet. Nothing is more destructive to religions than other religions; it is like meeting one's own anti-matter twin."

And it leads us to a reasoned conclusion in two parts, [1] every other religion represents and alternative to one's own, regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not. The followers of all the other religions believe in and follow their teachings as fervently and as reverently as christians do. And they live their lives just as successfully as christians do. [2] The welter of alternative religions forces us, mandates us to see and acknowledge religion as a culturally relative phenomenon. It is empirically clear different groups have different religions that have adapted to their particular and unique social and even environmental conditions.

So any reasonable, thinking and logically-minded person must ask, But if THEIR religion is relative, then why is OURS not?

Christians do not. Nor does Plantinga


T said...

Regular reader and occasional commenter here.

Karl, no need to get so worked up. I had a bit of a run in with Papalinton 2 or 3 years ago in this combox and soon realised that he's more interested in mass debating (pardon the pun) than reflective discussion. I suspect the same may also be true of other atheist interlocutors here.

Don't let yourself get dragged into it, much less become frustrated by it.

Ape in a Cape said...

Linton,

It may be the case that there are no mind-independent moral values, but this cannot be evinced by pointing to the moral pluralism in society. In the same way, other experiential concerns such as religious values cannot be disproven by pointing to the religious pluralism in society. Since a belief should only be examined under the auspices of what it purports to be, attempting to deny a belief on the basis of another, without consideration to any unique claims within that same belief, is simply to embrace a bad argument (secundum quid, viz. other religions are relative therefore mine is too).

Now, the example given concerning moral pluralism is logically equivalent to your argument from religious pluralism. As such, in order to be consistent you ought to be applying the former to yourself too. For instance, I take it that you are convinced that your anti-religious arguments are morally relevant and true. Yet, many here take just the opposite view. Consequently, it follows that you ought to see other people's moral views as relativizing your own. But if your views are relative, what good reason could you possibly have for thinking that your inimical religious sentiments are veridical?

Linton, I think it is fair to say that you now have good reason to dump your argument in favor of one that is not so experientially inconsistent.

Ape.

Chad Handley said...

"Not true. He definitely exists. Prove me wrong."

First, define the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Is he pretty much identical to the classical monotheistic notion of God, except you just call him "Flying Spaghetti Monster" instead of "Jehovah" or "Allah?"

Or is he literally "a flying monster made of spaghetti," where all those words have their conventional meaning?

If the former, I have no interest in proving you wrong. I agree with you that such a being exists. We only differ on his name and his intentions.

If the latter, I would say that we have compelling evidence that this being does not exist. We know what spaghetti is. It's not alive and it doesn't fly.


planks length said...

And it isn't a monster.

Sam Calvin said...

If you are an atheist who believes that a multiverse provides an acceptable alternative to theism, are you thereby forced to admit that a Flying Spaghetti Monster exists?

The point of a multiverse is to explain why something that doesn't look like an accident, a fine-tuned universe, in fact is an accident.

The multiverse hypothesis often revolves around a (David Lewis-ian) notion that all possibilities are actual in some world or other.

It is logically, metaphysically, and epistemically possible that a Flying Spaghetti Monster exists in some possible world.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to think that if multiverse hypotheses relying upon all possible worlds being actual are more supportive of the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster than theism.

Theism does not entail that God actualize all possibilities. It is not clear that the multiverse hypothesis is able to exclude such "awkward" possible worlds as those at which a Flying Spaghetti Monster exists.

planks length said...

Comments referencing the FSM are not worth responding to because the people making them are already well aware that they are engaging in infantile behavior. (Let them try to deny it!) It's simply not worth anyone's time.

In contrast, a Christian truly and actively believes in the Divinity of Christ, in His Resurrection, and in our Redemption. When I defend the historicity of the Gospel narratives, I am not engaging in some childish game, nor am I doing so to make some sort of argumentative point. I mean what I say.

When a skeptic playfully puts forth some comment about the FSM, he is not being serious, he knows he is not being serious, and knows we know he is not being serious.

Chad Handley said...

I wish that were true, planck, but I've encountered atheists who think the FSM is a serious, formidable argument.

Paul Mendola said...

I don't see what's so bad about the consequence of being agnostic about the FSM or unicorns...why *would* someone have so much confidence that such things don't exist? It's a good guess they don't, since humans conceived of them out of purely imaginative processes, but ultimately I'm aware that such things could exist, somewhere, and I'm not going to go making a universal judgment that I know they don't anywhere, since I'm not in a position to know that. What's wrong with that?

im-skeptical said...


The point, of course, is that there is every bit as much evidence to support the existence of FSM as there is for any other God you choose. Now I realize that theistic beliefs are supported logical arguments, too. But every logical argument is based on premises, and premises are assertions about what is true. And assertions need to be proven, not just accepted on faith.

How do you prove an assertion? Either it is an axiomatic statement, or you have evidence that shows it is true. If it is axiomatic, then everybody agrees that it is true - it is self-evident. This is not the case for many of the premises of religious arguments. Consider:

"Because, then, Being is most pure and absolute, that which is Being simply is first and last and, therefore, the origin and the final cause of all."

Well, that's nice, but it is nothing more than assertion without evidence, and definitely not something that everybody agrees about. It helps you to prove your theistic arguments, but if you don't accept it as truth, then your arguments prove nothing.

So theists, armed with their assertions about what constitutes reality, are cocksure about the truth, but I'm not. They accept these assertions without question, but I don't. So as far as I'm concerned, the FSM is every bit as real as the God of Christianity.

planks length said...

im-skeptical,

I'm not buying it. What is the "assertion" that you yourself accept as true "without question" which allows you to believe that the FSM is "every bit as real as the God of Christianity"? (those are your words)

And by the way, if you claim to hold this assertion as valid or true, then I will hold you to it in other discussions. So what is it? What are you asserting here that I don't?

If you do not identify it, then yes, you are just playing pretend games by bringing up the FSM, and are not being serious.

im-skeptical said...

"So what is it? What are you asserting here that I don't?"

I am asserting that there is no evidence to support the notion that such a thing exists. And therefore, there is no reason to suppose that it exists.

planks length said...

Then by that very assertion, you cannot bring up the FSM argument, as an alternative to Christianity. You certainly cannot make such statements as this: "Not true. He [the FSM] definitely exists. Prove me wrong" without either out-and-out lying or else just engaging in mindless (and embarrassingly infantile) tomfoolery. How can you not see this?

Victor Reppert said...

No evidence??? Really??? It seems like there are lots of things in existence that are more likely to exist if God exists than if God does not exist. By my definition, that's evidence. I can see saying it's inadequate evidence, or that the evidence is outweighed. But no evidence at all? Why say that?

planks length said...

Victor,

The FSM argument (if one can dignify it with such a term) represents basically the death of reason on the part of a certain subset of skeptics. As you can see in this very conversation, people that employ it freely acknowledge that they do not believe in its existence, yet they nevertheless demand that you prove the non-existence of what they themselves do not believe in!?!?! As I wrote in an earlier exchange on this website, this is Alice in Wonderland stuff.

The Divine Comedy aptly characterizes such non-thinking in the passage where Virgil warns Dante that he is about to see "those who have lost the good of intellect". Now whether they have indeed "lost" it may be debatable, but they are certainly not using it!

im-skeptical said...

Victor,

"But no evidence at all? Why say that?"

I would have said "no empirical evidence", but I know that remarks like that are instantly dismissed as scientism or positivism. I did comment on theistic arguments.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

"this is Alice in Wonderland stuff."

I'm glad you agree. But it does seem that my use of your own arguments/reasoning to illustrate the absurdity of your position has struck a nerve.

Paul Mendola said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Mendola said...

im-skeptical,

Remember that it's great to have evidence from the existence of physical objects (what I think you mean by "empirical") but that other things can count as evidence too. So a piece of physical evidence for the FSM might be bits of spaghetti found high in mountaintops. For God it might be something like a person spontaneously rising from the dead. (This is not a reference to the Resurrection - just a generic example.)

Those sorts of things would prove that some object of the sort we're describing exists out there. But the idea that God exists is not just an idea about some object that exists out there - it has deeper implications for the way the world would be, other than the physical events within it.

For example, consider the connection between desires, goodness, and the length of life. Human beings have desires that arise spontaneously within them to do sorts of actions - some of them good, some of them bad. But people with an observant eye long ago (Aristotle) and scientists today have shown that over the long-haul you can shape your desires with your actions. The more actions you do of a certain kind, the more you will desire to do those actions. Work and virtue grow easier with time, as do sloth and bitterness. Now we find ourselves with bodies like these but the ability to affect them with our conscious choices, and enough time in life to love a few things very well. It is not so long that we could choose to love anything, but not so short that the love is not serious. It is as though we are given a life with the built-in assumptions: experience many things, but then become something, and become something good. A thing with loving dispositions.

Considering these connections, it seems like this life is a very interesting, unique, good thing. It is a thing that makes sense to me for a deeply good God to create. It speaks to us itself as a thing of which a God interested in the development of creatures of goodness might have brought about, for the purposes stated above. I'm not sure it is. It just seems like it might be.

Now doesn't it seem like this evidence is the kind that could apply to God, but not to a random physical object floating around the universe? The evidence does not seem to be symmetrical, for there are no implications a thing like a random-food-constituted object would have for what this life would be like. God is deeply good, the best being there could be. That is why the problem of evil is such a problem! But it is likewise why the positive, upbuilding features of this life so tempt a man to worship. The FSM makes no such comment about the fabric of the world or of life, and therefore its presence is not discernible from considerations such as these. If I disbelieve in God, it is because through weighing the relevant evidence, it seems telling to me that he does not exist. My agnosticism about the FSM is based on: there doesn't seem to be any evidence around that would say one way or the other!

planks length said...

"struck a nerve"

No nerve struck here, im-skeptical. When I provide arguments for God's existence, or defend the reliability of the Gospel narratives, I am consistent with what I actually believe to be true. No "absurdity" whatsoever involved.

In total contrast however, when you make statements like "[The FSM] definitely exists. Prove me wrong", you are either lying or merely blowing smoke. Either way, what you are not being is serious.

Which is a shame. You yourself must regard these issues as serious, or else we wouldn't see you returning again and again to this website. Your soul is starving for the food set out before you, but you insist on keeping your teeth tightly clenched in full view of the banquet.

planks length said...

Excellent point, Paul. Where so many skeptics and out-and-out atheists go wrong is that they regard God as "a being" like any other object or person they observe by means of empirical evidence. What they utterly fail to comprehend is that the statement (which, admittedly, I myself use all the time out of laziness) "God exists" is not the best expression. What should be said is "God is existence." A completely different kettle of fish. It is precisely what YHWH was telling Moses, when Moses asked God for His name, and the answer was "I AM WHO AM." He is the very source of existence, and not simply something/someone who exists.

Anything capable of being observed in the laboratory, through a telescope, or out in the field will never be God, but only one of His creations. By ourselves, we can never find God. Only He can reveal Himself to us.

I have full sympathy for im-skeptical's professed need for "evidence", but his wrong-headed insistence on it in this instance unfortunately resembles nothing more closely than the poor drunk searching for his car keys under the streetlamp - not because that's where he lost them, but rather because "the light's better" there.

Hmmm... I am going to attempt an out-of-season New Year's Resolution, and try to never again use the phrase "God exists", but rather the more meaningful "God is existence."

Chad Handley said...

i'm-skeptical:

Why wouldn't the origin or orderliness of the universe count as empirical evidence for God?

im-skeptical said...

Chad Handley,

"Why wouldn't the origin or orderliness of the universe count as empirical evidence for God?"

It would count as evidence if you could prove that the universe could only come about as a result of God.

im-skeptical said...

Paul Mendola,

"It is a thing that makes sense to me for a deeply good God to create. ... Now doesn't it seem like this evidence is the kind that could apply to God, but not to a random physical object floating around the universe?

The evidence you cite could just as well be an observation of human nature, as it developed by natural processes in a natural world. You see God when you look at the natural world and the people in it. I see the natural world and the people in it.

oozzielionel said...

Skep:

"You see God when you look at the natural world and the people in it. I see the natural world and the people in it."

Are you saying that the evidence is the same for origins by natural process and origins by creation; only the interpretation of the evidence is different?

Samwell Barnes said...

"The FSM argument (if one can dignify it with such a term) represents basically the death of reason on the part of a certain subset of skeptics."

Indeed.

The question of God's existence - particularly when God is scrupulously conceived of as Being Itself, the Ground of Being, Prime Mover, Pure Actuality, etc. - is a metaphysical question just as serious and legitimate as metaphysical enquiries into the existence of numbers, universals, possible worlds, propositions, essences, events, and so forth.

Can you imagine how colossally asinine it would sound to hear someone say, "There's no more evidence for the existence of numbers than for the existence of the FSM, and so - as far as I'm concerned - the latter is just as real as the former"? Well, that's precisely how it sounds to me when the metaphysical question of God is handled so clumsily with these inept FSM comparisons. At this point in the discussion, we've hit rock bottom, and pity is what I would feel, rather than annoyance.

im-skeptical said...

oozzielionel,

Of course the evidence is the same for all (unless you have some secret evidence that I don't). We look at the world, and we see different things.

frances said...

Sam

The point of a multiverse is to explain why something that doesn't look like an accident, a fine-tuned universe, in fact is an accident

It's not true that the Multiverse theory was invented as a response to the "fine-tuning" argument. It is posited because it explains other things about the universe we live in.
http://www.npr.org/2011/01/24/132932268/a-physicist-explains-why-parallel-universes-may-exist

Chad Handley said...

"It would count as evidence if you could prove that the universe could only come about as a result of God."

That's not how evidence works. If that were how evidence works, there would be no evidence for anything.

There is no such thing as a collection of data which only admits of one possible explanation.

You ask for evidence, but you don't seem to know what the term "evidence" means, or how it functions in either science or philosophy.

I would recommend reading up on the undertermination of theories.

frances said...

Planks,

when you make statements like "[The FSM] definitely exists. Prove me wrong", you are either lying or merely blowing smoke. Either way, what you are not being is serious.

Your indignation is misplaced here. What skeppy is inviting you to do is to take part in a thought experiment. If you were asked to disprove the existence of something for which there was no actual evidence, how would you do it? And if you couldn't do it, what effect would that have (or ought it to have) on your acceptance of its existence? It's irrelevant that skep doesn't actually believe in the FSM. It doesn't matter that you do genuinely believe in God. The sincerity with which a view is held has nothing to do with its reasonableness and cannot in any way go towards discharging the burden of proof.

Skep's challenge to you to is to ask you to consider what constitutes reasonable grounds for belief. If you wouldn't accept lack of positive proof that there's no FSM as a good reason to believe that there might be a FSM, would you say the same about God? If not, why not?

The fact that there is no debate about whether or not the FSM exists is of no relevance. A thing might be true without being understood or debated.

The FSM has been made up. But you can't use that as a basis for distinguishing FSM from God without begging the question of whether God was made up. I know that you didn't make him up, but the fact that something has been believed for generations doesn't mean that it didn't start as made up.

frances said...

One of the things I can't understand about Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Natural Selection (EAANS) is why it has so little to do with evolution, given that "Evolution" plays such an important role in the title. It would be better titled "the Survival Argument Against Natural Selection."

For evolution to take place the following things have to be true of the organism:
1. It must reproduce
2. The reproduction must allow variations (not perfect copies every time)
3. The characteristics of these variations must be heritable.
4. They must be capable of conferring some advantage or disadvantage in what Plantinga calls the "4 Fs" (Fighting, Fleeing, Feeding or errr, Freproducing)

The beneficial variations lead to the at least one of the 4 Fs being achieved and so become more and more enhanced in the offspring. An insect that looks somewhat like a twig will have some advantage over other insects which don't look at all like twigs so will probably live longer and produce more offspring than the others. Some of those offspring will look even more like twigs than their mother, some less. The latter will tend to get picked off before they can reproduce as often as their luckier brothers and sisters. So the most twig-like produce the most offspring some of which will again look even more like twigs than either their parents or grandmother. And so on, the advantageous traits being always selected for and the less advantageous weeded out.

Survival is a part of this process but it is just a part. It is not the same as evolution. It is one of the means by which evolution operates but the two are not the same.

Plantinga talks a lot about how beliefs might produce adaptive behaviour but in all the versions of the EAANS I've read, he never (that I've seen) gets to grips with
1. What heritable characteristic is possessed by the beings he describes (such as Paul, who runs away from tigers in order to befriend them)
2. How, if any heritable characteristic can be identified, it could get "better" at whatever it is supposed to do. Plantinga's characters survive, and that's all they do, by good luck it seems to me. They don't ever get "more" or "better versions" of whatever the gene is supposed to be and so they never change. But change is what evolution is all about.

planks length said...

" If you wouldn't accept lack of positive proof that there's no FSM as a good reason to believe that there might be a FSM, would you say the same about God? If not, why not?"

Frances, See my comments posted to the conversation "Lowder on the Pastafarian analogy" above this one. I've already answered this up there.

"but the fact that something has been believed for generations doesn't mean that it didn't start as made up"

And neither does it imply that it was.

frances said...

"but the fact that something has been believed for generations doesn't mean that it didn't start as made up"

And neither does it imply that it was.


Whoever said it did?

William said...

frances,

I wonder if you are reading Plantinga as saying that beliefs are inherited. I think the flee-tiger-to-make-friends analogy was always unfortunate. The issue is one of the reliability of our belief formation. If we tended to make absurd beliefs in such a way (gerrymandered of course, to us from where we reason now) that they resulted in more and healthier offspring, then we might have absurd beliefs, yet these absurdities of thought would be selected for by the part of evolution that depends on natural selection (admittedly there is also genetic drift and so forth).

Ironically, it is exactly this argument that has been co-opted by some atheists to explain the prevalence of theism in the general population. The claim they make is more or less that religion is a side effect of vigilance against predators.

planks length said...

"Whoever said it did?"

I wasn't saying you did. But the following statement of yours indicates a basic misunderstanding of the fundamental problem with the FSM "argument": "you can't use [generations-long belief] as a basis for distinguishing FSM from God without begging the question of whether God was made up" (my emphasis)

The difference here is not between one idea that is made up and another that is not, but rather one that is known to be made up and another that is the subject under debate. Night and day difference. Makes all reference to the FSM completely pointless, and indeed counter-productive.

David Brightly said...

Frances says to Planks,

Skep's challenge to you to is to ask you to consider what constitutes reasonable grounds for belief.

Doesn't this get us into an infinite regress? For if one believed B that G1, G2,... were reasonable grounds for believing P, couldn't one ask what were the reasonable grounds for believing B? And this suggests that if there are such things as 'grounds for belief' then they aren't propositional.

im-skeptical said...

David Brightly,

Of course there are grounds for belief. There are observed facts. That's the best starting point available to us for formulating postulations about what constitutes reality.

David Brightly said...

I wonder if 'belief' and 'evidence' are the right words in this context. They obviously are in the case of the thoroughly tangible FSM. But in the case of 'God', and indeed of 'electron', it's not clear quite what we are asked to 'believe' in. Now, I can do the electron talk fairly comfortably but if you ask me quite what an electron is I start to wave my hands. It's become clear that an electron is not like something one can believe in writ very, very small. Just to talk of 'an' electron may be misleading. I'm less comfortable with the God talk, perhaps through lack of practice, and even less sure what the words are pointing to. It's not, for example, like something one can believe in writ very, very large. With electrons I can take refuge in equations. Lacking the sensus divinitatis, what can I take refuge in with God? Will anyone say they have been brought to believe through metaphysical argument? None of these, to my mind, is as compelling as mathematics. But that may just be my intellectual luck.

frances said...

EDIT

Nobody spotted my - ahem - deliberate mistake. Of course, it's not the Evolutionary Argument Against Natural Selection. Duh! It's the Evolutionary Argument against *Naturalism* (EAAN)

William,
I don't exactly read Plantinga as saying that beliefs are inherited. However much I disagree with him, I don't underestimate his intelligence, so doubt that he would made such a rookie error.
But I can't find what it is that he's saying IS inherited, why it confers some advantage in its first crude manifestations and how it becomes more pronounced by being selected for through the generations.
The EAAN is based on the premise that if you can form beliefs that might, through a lucky combination of circumstances, lead to adaptive behaviour, then the law of averages will ensure that you win the battle of the 4Fs. But to accept this, you must accept that no evolutionary advantage whatsoever is conferred by being able to form correct beliefs. I can't see how this can be right.
If you have the ability to work out what is true and what isn't then you are more likely to be able to plan successfully. However good Paul is at getting away from tigers, if his mate Peter has the ability to watch what happens to those who don't run away fast enough to befriend tigers and to adjust his beliefs about tigers accordingly, then Peter is better equipped in the 4F competition.
It's true we are somewhat slewed towards "false positives" because it is 4F friendlier to mistake a creeper for a snake than it is to mistake snake for a creeper. But I don't see that that goes so far as to support Plantinga's central hypothesis.

planks length said...

David,

You ask, "Will anyone say they have been brought to believe through metaphysical argument?"

I answer: perhaps there have been people persuaded to believe in the Gospel solely by means of argument. But I would hasten to add that such a "bringing to belief" would be totally irrelevant - of no use to the person himself or to humanity at large. (Repeating myself here from a different posting to this website), as Pope Benedict XVI wrote (slightly paraphrased, so no quote marks), Christianity is not just an intellectual idea, but is rather an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a new direction.

This is why skeptics like im-skeptical are barking up the wrong tree. They desperately long for something more fulfilling than the arid, inhuman materialism that provides no comfort, no hope, no purpose, no acknowledgement of their human nature, no ground to stand upon, no explanation of why they are what they are, no meeting of their deepest and truest needs. But an obstinate insistence on "observed facts" (the drunk searching for his lost car keys under the streetlamp) prevents them from finding God blazingly apparent in every rock and stone around them.

I the Lord have not spoken from hiding, nor from a land of darkness. And I have not said to the descendents of Jacob, "Seek me in an empty waste or in chaos." (Isaiah 45:19)

frances said...

David,
Doesn't this get us into an infinite regress? For if one believed B that G1, G2,... were reasonable grounds for believing P, couldn't one ask what were the reasonable grounds for believing B?

I think you could legitimately ask that. But at some point you would come up against either a proposition where you both agreed that it was supported by valid arguments/evidence or you would come to a properly basic belief.

PS - Your dogs are lovely.

im-skeptical said...

planks,

"This is why skeptics like im-skeptical are barking up the wrong tree. They desperately long for something more fulfilling than the arid, inhuman materialism that provides no comfort, no hope, no purpose, no acknowledgement of their human nature, no ground to stand upon, no explanation of why they are what they are, no meeting of their deepest and truest needs."

You made this same assertion before, and I answered. Clearly you have ignored what I had to say on the matter. You are mistaken in assuming that materialists have no sense of humanity. In fact, many of us call ourselves humanists.

David Brightly said...

From Nagel's NYT review of Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies. Recommended.

It is illuminating to have the starkness of the opposition between Plantinga’s theism and the secular outlook so clearly explained. My instinctively atheistic perspective implies that if I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true, the most likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith. From Plantinga’s point of view, by contrast, I suffer from a kind of spiritual blindness from which I am unwilling to be cured. This is a huge epistemological gulf, and it cannot be overcome by the cooperative employment of the cognitive faculties that we share, as is the hope with scientific disagreements.

My italics

David Brightly said...

Hi Frances,
I'm afraid I'm no epistemologist. I'd say I have basic beliefs about the objects I'm acquainted with, and about mathematical objects, but any attempt I make to justify my belief, say, that the Prime Minister is a man called David Cameron, seems to generate a never-ending tree of further justification obligations. However, disagreements over matters of fact can get resolved if common ground can be found from which the disputants can work forward, so a kind of relative justification seems possible even if the absolute kind is not. Interesting. The Nagel quote seems relevant here too.

I'm delighted you think so. We do too! Thank you so much for not saying 'cute' ;-)

William said...

Frances:

I think we agree that the EAAN creates a very weak defeater for most ordinary knowledge about our environment. That is why the tigers example was always unfortunate, though it was interestingly provocative, I think.

A much more limited version applying only to metaphysical beliefs remains valid as a defeater against metaphysical physicalism, but not methodological naturalism.

See for example this reply by Plantinga.

frances said...

William,

Thanks for this. I agree that this makes much more sense and now I can stop agonsing about how Plantinga could possibly have imagined that naturalistic evolution could not account for the real reason we run away from tigers.

But where I still think Plantinga's going wrong is what seems to be an assumption that metaphysical/philosophical beliefs are coming from a completely different place to beliefs about the truth about tigers.

My take on this would be that the ability to reason is the same ability whether it's used in planning a hunt with a successful outcome (prey do what you reasonably predict and end up tumbling into the trap) or whether it's used to formulate (or understand) philosophical concepts.

I also think that Plantinga seems to understand evolution as working in a very simple way, with skills only being selected for if they have an immediate survival advantage. But it's more complicated than that. The ability to play the piano or sing might seem to have no obvious connection with evolutionary success but in Jane Austen's novels the woman who could do these things well had a better chance of passing on her genes because she would be seen as "accomplished" and therefore worthier of selection by a high status male. In much the same way a display of intelligence which would be involved in reasoning about philosophical subjects would make someone more attractive to a potential mate.

Sam Calvin said...

Frances:

The point of a multiverse is to explain why something that doesn't look like an accident, a fine-tuned universe, in fact is an accident

It's not true that the Multiverse theory was invented as a response to the "fine-tuning" argument. It is posited because it explains other things about the universe we live in.

---------

I agree with you. I am aware of the claim that multiverse theory was originally proposed (rather tentatively) by Wheeler and others as a possible explanation of the collapse of the wave function in physics. But one reason why multiverse theory has gained favor is because of its naturalistic answer to the fine-tuning question. I concede that I overstated my point and should have said "one of the reasons" instead of "the reason."

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/02/23/plantinga-on-the-alleged-irrationality-of-atheism/