Thursday, August 18, 2005

Carr on Plantinga

Steven Carr wrote:

Plantinga writes 'Furthermore, since an argument can be good even if it is not deductively valid, you can't refute it just by pointing out that it isn't deductively valid.'

There goes his defense to the logical problem of evil, condemned out of his own mouth.....

You have to admire Planting'a chutzpah, and his ability to contradict himself - *and keep going as though nothing had happened*.

VR: Of course an argument can be good even if it's not deductively valid, unless it attempts to prove the opponent's beliefs not only false, but contradictory. Then it's a bad argument unless it deductively proves precisely that. That is what the Logical Argument from Evil claims, and in accusing the theist of logical contradiction, it places upon itself the burden of showing that there really is a contradiction in which the theist believes. Most atheist philosophers, such as Keith M. Parsons in God and the Burden of Proof, acknowledge that Plantinga has shown that the Logical Argument fails to prove a contradiction in the theist's beliefs.

On the other hand, the Probabilistic of Evidential problem of evil can be good even though it's not deductively valid. It is an attempt to show that theism is unlikely given the existence of evil, and this argument is always given separate treatment in Plantinga's writings, going all the way back to God and Other Minds, The Nature of Necessity.

Plantinga may be wrong, but he's not stupid. Whenever you think someone of that stature is just plain contradicting himself, better take a second, a third, and a fourth look. It's like when Kasparov looks as if he's hanging a piece. He could be just blundering, but like as not it's mate in seven. I'd say the same thing about David Hume, with whom I disagree about nearly everything, and I'd say the same thing about C. S. Lewis.


Steven Carr said...

The Logical Problem of Evil is a bad argument because it attempts to show that theists beliefs are contradictory?

It is a bad argument to exactly the same extent that pointing out that we can see that most people have two legs contradicts the claims of people who believe that we only have one leg.

Most people would say that pointing to two-legged people was a pretty damn *good* argument against unipedalism.

As Victor points out though, most people are not philosophers of the stature of Plantinga and do not realise that they are blundering like beginners at chess, when thye think that seeing two-legged people 'proves' that people have two legs.

We can use Planting'a methods against the Logical Problem of Evil to also show that it is a 'bad' argument againsty unipedalism, as it is not deductively valid.

The Christian professor of philosopher of , Greg Welty, helpfully explained to me just how Plantinga would prove that it was a bad argument to say that we can see people have two legs, exactly as the Logical Problem of Evil can be shown to be a 'bad' argument.

Welty wrote to me :-

[1] Everybody except me has one leg.

[3] My memory is that almost everybody has two legs.

You then raised the issue as to whether [1] and [3] are consistent.

I think it's obvious that they are.

Surely it's possible for most people to have one leg *and* that my memory is inaccurate in this regard.

For those who want a formal proof of the consistency of [1] and [3], we could find a possibly true proposition that is consistent with [1] and together with [1] entails [3].

In your last email, you helpfully provided such a proposition:

[2] My memory has been corrupted by demons.

OK, then.

You've applied Plantinga's procedure as a means of proving that [1] and [3] are consistent. But then, with the above example, you are illustrating for us the *cogency* of Plantinga's procedure! You are not undermining it!


So the Logical Problem of Evil is no more 'deductively valid' than seeing people with two legs lets us deduce that people have two legs.....

But this just illustrates the power of the Logical Problem of Evil when defenders against it have to resort to such tactics (and proudly call them cogent)

Another exchange with Welty went :-

So even Plantinga admits that the free will defense to evil is not
true, but it might have been true, and then it would have been a

Of course!

Brandon said...

Stephen, I think you may have missed the point. The success of an argument depends on what it has been proposed to do. 'Logical Problem of Evil' is a label applied to arguments that are proposed (as you noted) to show that theistic beliefs are contradictory. For an argument trying to show that something is contradictory, if any possible scenario exists that is consistent with the premises and the conclusion, the argument has failed. As Victor explicitly pointed out, this on its own doesn't mean that there isn't some other problem of evil that succeeds. The Logical Problem of Evil is generally considered (by both theists and atheists) to be a failed argument because it is usually conceded that Plantinga has shown that there is a possible scenario consistent both with its premises and with its conclusion. This is not a trivial matter because the class of argument that is used has an effect on the sort of response that would be required, if one is available. An argument that claims (as the Logical Problem of Evil does) that there is a logical contradiction can only be answered in logical terms. Your response seems to be an attempt to say that there is something wrong with this; but it is called for by the argument itself, and the sort of response Plantinga gives is the sort of response anyone, atheist or theist, gives to an argument purporting to identify a logical contradiction. Given that it's generally conceded that Plantinga is right, both theists and atheists can go on to discuss more substantive matters. And, again, Reppert is right that this is granted by competent thinkers on both sides -- it's recognized by atheists as well as theists that the Defense is not a desperate attempt to get out of a problem, but a helpful step to clarifying the real nature of the problem (by eliminating one thing it can't be but sometimes was thought to be, namely, a purely logical problem).

Steven Carr said...

It is a 'failed' argument to exactly the same extent that is a 'failed' argument that we can logically deduce that people have two legs because our senses tell us that people have two legs.

In other words, it has not failed at all.

Who cares if Plantinga's arguments work?

I really don't care if Plantinga is correct to point out that he can create a bizarre scenario analogous to denying that our senses lets us *logically* deduce that we have two legs.

It is *illogical* to deny that we have two legs, even if Plantinga's methods can show that there is no Logical Problem of Legs.

This is assuming Plantinga's highly convoluted argument works, which is unlikely.

Plantinga's Transworld Depravity is not even believed in by Plantinga, who told me in private correspondence that God has created beings with free will that never do evil.

How can Plantinga's defense possibly be true, when it happens to be false?

Steven Carr said...

And what is the more substantive defense to the problem of evil than Plantinga's Transworld Depravity Defense?

There is none.

All Plantinga has done is create a figleaf, so theists can deny that they are naked.

True, he might have covered the most important parts with his figleaf and both atheist and theistic philosophers agree that he is no longer naked.

But you really need more than a figleaf to refute charges of being naked, even if a figleaf enables you to truly claim that you are not at all naked.....

Brandon said...

Steven, the issue isn't a difficult; the method of counterexamples is quite often taught in first year logic courses as a method for testing the validity of arguments that claim to identify logical contradictions. Any argument that claimed to be able to deduce from you're having seen people with two legs that it was a logical contradiction for people to have one leg fails easily. The reason we think most people have two legs isn't that an opposing view is a logical contradiction but that there is good evidence for the claim. Likewise, because of Plantinga, rational atheists have recognized that the logical problem of evil has failed and that the real problem of evil, the one that is genuinely serious, is evidential, not logical. No amount of hand-waving can save the logical problem of evil, anymore than it can make 2 + 2 equal five. By not making the elementary distinction between deductive and inductive arguments (which you are doing by attacking Plantinga's argument on this point rather than looking up the relevant arguments, atheistic and theistic, along inductive lines), you are merely making atheists look foolish.

I recommend you read some of the work that has actually been done on the evidential problem of evil (e.g., in William Rowe's work and responses to it). The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article that provides a convenient introduction to the issues and arguments, along with a useful bibliography and some helpful links. I recommend 3.3 in particular, since it's one of the more formidable formulations of the evidential problem of evil, and is, I suspect, the argument about which the most interesting discussion will be taking place. You really aren't doing yourself any favors by attacking this point.

Brandon said...

I should also note that Hume has an excellent discussion of the evidential argument in Parts X and XI of the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion; I suspect you'd like it, since it's a classic formulation of a fairly strong evidential argument from evil.

Steven Carr said...

I think I understand counterexamples.

Is Plantinga's defense against Mackie true?

It is not true if we can find a counterexample to Plantinga's claim that God cannot create beings with free will who never do evil.

I asked Plantinga if God *had* created some beings with free will that never do evil.

He agreed.

Conclusion :- These counterexamples to Plantinga's defense prove that Plantinga's defense against Mackie is not true.

As for Christian claims that it is 'cogent' reasoning to deny that seeing people with two legs enables one to deduce that people hav etwo legs.....

All I can say is that such claims of 'cogent' reasoning shoot yourselves in the feet (assuming you have *feet*,rather than just one foot, something Christians claim we can consistently deny is true.)

It is very *clever* reasoning, and Victor did say that Plantinga was very clever, but any method of reasoning that lets you claim that we can all believe we have just on leg is sophistry, and not an attempt to discover the truth about how a God can exist who passes by on the other side when a tsunami strikes 250,000 people dead in one day.

Steven Carr said...

Brandon wrote ' Any argument that claimed to be able to deduce from you're having seen people with two legs that it was a logical contradiction for people to have one leg fails easily.'

Really? Philosophy students are taught that if you see that virtually everybody has two legs, you *cannot* deduce ffrom that that it is the case that virtually everybody has two legs.

Does this mean that if atheists agree that all the evidence points to Jesus being resurrected from the dead, they can stoutly deny that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, and Christians cannot charge them with being logically inconsistent???

Do such charges of logical inconsistency 'fail easily'?

Surely such an atheist is being highly irrational, even if Brandon is adamant that such an atheist is being as logically consistent as Notre Dame professors.

Steven Carr said...

I have learned a few things from Brandon

1) There is nothinbg irrational about saying that most people have one leg, because there is no Logical Problem of Legs. Unipedalists are *logically consistent*, rational people....

2) Defenses to Mackie's formulation of the problem of evil are agreed to work even if the originator of the idea believes there are counterexamples to his defense.

Let us assume, as Plantinga does, that God *can* (and actually has) created beings with free will that have never chosen evil, then what remains of the defense to Mackie's Problem of Evil?

Steven Carr said...

Some interesting comments from Bradnon's interesting web log :-

(3) comes to mind as well. He's on the analytic side of philosophy too (what is it with you people?). This William Lane Craig obsession? Don't understand it. Plantinga? Almost useless. Molinism? Don't even get me started. But I like his wit and grace and all-around coolness, and he has a knack for reducing difficult arguments to essentials. He makes a good philosophy crossword puzzle, too. And, of course, the things on which we clearly agree are far and away more important than any on which we could disagree.

I agree with the assessment of Plantinga :-)

Brandon also writes 'Learning to look at any topic philosophically requires, I think, jumping right in, even knowing that you might be making a fool of yourself.....'

That has never stopped me....!

Brandon said...

There is nothinbg irrational about saying that most people have one leg, because there is no Logical Problem of Legs. Unipedalists are *logically consistent*, rational people....

:) Not quite; it's that you can't complain that they're being irrational on the basis of an argument that only proposes a logical inconsistency.

Counterexamples only have an effect on claims that are put forward as exceptionless; as claims of logical inconsistency are. You can't have a counterexample to a counterexample, because a counterexample just gives one case. Plantinga's argument is just a complicated instance of a counterexample. You're quite right that putting the whole weight on it doesn't get anyone very far; counterexamples usually don't. But counterexamples do have the use of telling whether a claim of logical inconsistency is tenable; and when they indicate that it is not, it shows that the real work has to be done evidentially. This remains whether the counterexample is counterfactual or not; e.g., the defense just touches on the logical point of whether the logical problem of evil is valid or not. You seem to be trying to shove Plantinga's argument into a role that was never intended for it, as if it were supposed to be an answer to every problem of evil; as Plantinga himself often notes, it is a defense, not a theodicy, and it has a particular argument, one that has actually been made, in mind. It's possible that there are people using it for more than that. As you suggest, they're wrong; but most people, as far as I am aware, don't use it that way. They use it to serve the purpose for which it is made; that it doesn't work when applied to other purposes says nothing about whether it works when applied to doing the job that was originally set out for it.

Steven Carr said...

At least, you seem to agree that Plantinbga's defense is a) not true and b) no defense against a claim of bein irrational.

To judge from the hoops Plantinga has to go through to war off Mackie, Plantinga was correct to say that an argument can be good, even if not deductively valid.

Why didn't Plantinga just make the simple case that evil and God can logically coexist because, logically, we might all be brains in vats, and the evil is not really happening?

This is also a counterexample, is it not?

I repeat my original point 'The Logical Problem of Evil is a bad argument to exactly the same extent that pointing out that we can see that most people have two legs contradicts the claims of people who believe that we only have one leg.

All you have done is claim that there is nothing illogical about believing we have one leg.

I agree, but I think it is a *logical* argument to say that because we can see people have two legs, we can deduce that people have two legs.

You say such an argument is illogical, because you could produce counterexamples.

This really does not stop me believing that I can logically deduce that we have two legs, for a sense of logical used by 99.999% of human beings.