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Famous Theist Retires
May 21, 2010 6:13 PM   Subscribe

The man who made philosophy safe for theists again is retiring. The conference in celebration of his impressive academic career is in progress on the campus of Notre Dame University and has brought together many important figures in contemporary analytic philosophy of religion. Many of Plantinga's seminal works are available in their entirety online.
posted by MultiplyDrafted (64 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh yeah, I've (not) heard of him. He has a famous computer network named after him. I think it's called...Alvinnet.
posted by inturnaround at 6:31 PM on May 21, 2010


Ha. As soon as I saw the last name and field of study I knew he went to Calvin. They are the canonical* source for apologia written by Dutch ex-farmer boys.

*lol
posted by thedaniel at 6:41 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ha again! I just discovered I took Film Studies 101 from his son!
posted by thedaniel at 6:42 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bring on the hate from under-employed Philosophy majors in 5 ... 4 ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:43 PM on May 21, 2010


> They are the canonical* source for apologia written by Dutch ex-farmer boys.


Farmers aren't allowed to be philosophers?
posted by Burhanistan at 6:45 PM on May 21, 2010


Farmers aren't allowed to be philosophers?

Only in Steinbeck novels.
posted by griphus at 6:47 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Intelligent design supporter, Apologist, etc. Anyone who cared about moving christianity forward would've advocated gay rights.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:50 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


As soon as I saw the last name and field of study I knew he went to Calvin.

As a Calvin alum myself....errr...I have nothing to add. Except that the name of "Plantinga" is revered third only to God and John Calvin themselves.

He has also argued that there is no logical inconsistency between the existence of evil and the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, wholly good god.

Of course there isn't. Once you allow the logical inconsistency of "all-powerful and all-knowing" anything else is just icing.
posted by DU at 7:06 PM on May 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, I did used to teach his Free Will Defense as part of my Survey of Philosophy. Students seemed to enjoy the perspective, and a lot of students who felt threatened by philosophy felt more at ease reading his stuff. But I taught in a southern US university so I have no idea how other parts of the world would deal with being taught his work.
posted by strixus at 7:10 PM on May 21, 2010


Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism was the first bit of analytical philosophy I ever really understood and engaged with. The crux of it is that if we believe that our cognitive faculties are the product of evolution, and we don't believe in god, then we have a "defeater" for all our beliefs. Natural selection favors creatures that can survive and multiply, not those that can form true beliefs. Frustrated by this argument? Me too.

My problem was that as a college freshman with an undeclared major, I couldn't find exactly where the argument was flawed. I read counter-arguments by fellow atheists/agnostics, but none of them worked.

Ultimately, Plantinga didn't convert me to a theist, but he did convert me to a philosopher. I declared my major, I graduated, and now I'm studying it in grad school. Not so much philosophy of religion anymore, though.

I don't agree with him on... pretty much anything. But his retirement is philosophy's loss. Plus, I always thought he seemed like a really nice guy. I wish him the best.
posted by PM at 7:11 PM on May 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Heh - I'm pretty sure I took a philo course from him at Notre Dame back in the mid-80s.

From what I recall, he seemed nice enough.
posted by darkstar at 7:18 PM on May 21, 2010


Er, on belatedly reading PM's comment, I concur with his last paragraph. Best of luck to him in his retirement.
posted by darkstar at 7:20 PM on May 21, 2010


He came up with a version of the ontological argument so tortuous that it is now happily advanced by theists who don't understand it as proof of God's existence, and it can't be rebutted to them because any attempt is even more complicated than the original argument they didn't understand anyway, and so definitely can't be understood. It's like a shield of smug knowing, emblazoned with a picture of logic.

So thanks for that, fella.
posted by bonaldi at 7:23 PM on May 21, 2010 [9 favorites]


I had a roommate who swore up and down that the Quannum MCs summed up the ontological argument best with the line "doper than the dopest shit you ever saw."
posted by ifandonlyif at 7:38 PM on May 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


My problem was that as a college freshman with an undeclared major, I couldn't find exactly where the argument was flawed. I read counter-arguments by fellow atheists/agnostics, but none of them worked.


It's simple: adaptive beliefs must work in combination in order to confer survival value. The chance of every single belief working together being wrong in exactly the same way, so as not to clash, is even more inscrutable than what Plantinga proposes as the chance that we have any true beliefs at all under naturalism.

For example -
Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief... Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it... Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behaviour
Paul would have to want to pet all dangerous predators the same way, would have to not observe what happens to anyone who doesn't pet the kitty by running away, would have to never communicate with anyone else about this, would have to not hunt other animals and eat them thus understanding predator-prey relationships... the chances of any one of Plantinga's ridiculous scenarios being true in isolation might be better than zero, but because belief occurs in a framework of other beliefs, the whole thing falls apart.

BTW, I find it amusing that what Plantinga describes as wrong ideas that could confer survival value might better be labeled as superstition.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:39 PM on May 21, 2010 [13 favorites]


I wonder if, when he passes away, the headlines will read "noted theist converts to empiricism".
posted by mhoye at 7:40 PM on May 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


He came up with a version of the ontological argument so tortuous that it is now happily advanced

Briefly, he gets S5 modal logic backwards. He's so damn smart that this must be deliberate. See, something can be called possibly necessary only if it's necessary in the first place. Plantinga is conflating the common sense and technical meanings of the phrase "possibly necessary" to get the reader to agree that his proposition is possibly necessary, then he springs the S5 formality trap and equates that with necessity.

Here's another fun Plantinga brain teaser.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:50 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wait, wait, I thought Plantinga was the one who just redefined theism as epistemically basic and moved on. Who am I thinking of?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:07 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm totally with you, fleetmouse. Also, the argument presumes that the only alternative to a defeater for all of our beliefs is that an all-loving, all-knowing, Western-style deity would've done a great job designing us. But with all other possible deities and Cartesian demons, the probability of that is low or inscrutable. So the skepticism cuts both ways.

But as a green freshman with a (great) theist philosophy professor, I was overwhelmed.

Like you said, it's a fun brain teaser. It drew me out and got me into a particular kind of reasoning. And I knew more about naturalism than before I read his argument against it. I'm grateful for that.
posted by PM at 8:14 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a committed theist and former philosophy major, Plantinga was always a hero of mine. By the way, I both understand AND reject your argument againist his version of the ontological argument.

*crouches behind shield of smug knowing, emblazoned with a picture of logic emblazoned on it*
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:17 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, I did in fact crouch behind a shield of smug know, emblazoned with a picture logic emblazoned on it. That was not a mistake.

*crouches behind one more shield with a picture of cut and past grammar emblazoned on it*
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:19 PM on May 21, 2010


Pope Guilty--You're right. He made other arguments, but what I remember most from God and Other Minds was him classifying belief in God as a Properly Basic Belief that may not be provable (just as the existence of other minds isn't ultimately provable) but that was defensible to take as one of your assumptions about the way the world works. When I read that 16 years ago I found it helpful, although I suspect if I re-read it now I would think he's dodging too many questions there. Maybe that's why he also developed positive arguments for theism.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:36 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I went to Calvin in the 90s, but didn't really study philosophy, so I only knew of Alvin Plantinga in a vague "oh he's part of a whole family dynasty thing" kind of way. I took a course on Artistic depictions and interpretations of death that was taught by Alvin's brother Neal Plantinga. My father went to Calvin in the 60s and encountered Alvin and Neal's dad, Cornelius, for whom he wrote a position paper on why he didn't believe in God.

All that said, Alvin Plantinga has obviously been a major figure in philosophy (at least from a theological perspective) and I'm sure he'll be missed, though he certainly deserves the relaxation of retirement.
posted by wabbittwax at 8:50 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, he argues that the truth of evolution is an epistemic defeater for naturalism (i.e. if evolution is true, it undermines naturalism). His basic argument is that if evolution and naturalism are both true, human cognitive faculties evolved to produce beliefs that have survival value (maximizing one's success at the four F's: "feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing"), not necessarily to produce beliefs that are true. Thus, since human cognitive faculties are tuned to survival rather than truth in the naturalism-cum-evolution model, there is reason to doubt the veracity of the products of those same faculties, including naturalism and evolution themselves. On the other hand, if God created man "in his image" by way of an evolutionary process (or any other means), then Plantinga argues our faculties would probably be reliable.

Bold added. I sense there is a fundamentalism at work here, advancing itself, and one which willfully ignores symbolism as an evolutionary tool. Truth is figurative, because we don't suddenly evolve to understand scientific theories out of the womb (if at all). We evolve with metaphors and symbolic language. God is such a figure, even in his example, and he represents creation and evolution at all times. There is no "on the other hand." Any non-truth is the mistake of taking the evolutionary symbol literally, which is a lower brain function and a disadvantage as far as natural adaption goes.
posted by Brian B. at 9:30 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


belief in God as a Properly Basic Belief that may not be provable (just as the existence of other minds isn't ultimately provable) but that was defensible to take as one of your assumptions about the way the world works.

Except that we have lots of behavioral and communicative cues from other persons that they, like us, are sentient and experiencing things in a phenomenologically subjective way (hence that they have minds), but we have no real evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient deity.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 9:33 PM on May 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


HP LaserJet P10006: "
Except that we have lots of behavioral and communicative cues from other persons that they, like us, are sentient and experiencing things in a phenomenologically subjective way (hence that they have minds), but we have no real evidence for the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient deity.
"

It's been years and years, since I've read Plantinga, and I'm not trying to defend his positions here, but I think Plantinga's point back then, written to believers, was something like "just as your neighbors assume the reality of other minds because of the interactions they have with those people, you assume that reality of the mind of God because of the interactions you have with him. Just because unbelievers haven't had the kinds of convincing experiences you have had doesn't mean it's a problem for you to take the existence of God as foundational based on your subjective experience." It seemed to me that he wasn't trying to convince the skeptics as much as he was trying to lend some credibility to the person who is convinced of God but is frustrated that he can't prove it conclusively to someone else.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:09 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fair enough, Pater Aletheias, but perhaps the best analogy I can think of here is the difference between hearing another person speak vs. hearing voices in one's head (auditory hallucinations). Just as these two phenomena are not equivalent so too the interactions one has with other persons are not really equivalent (in any meaningful way) to a believer's "interactions" with God.

frustrated that he can't prove it conclusively to someone else.

It's remarkable to me that the element of faith is being lost here: I'm agnostic myself, but I'm not sure why believers require these kinds of dubious arguments (I hesitate to say sophistries) to justify their own intuitions: save for instances of the miraculous, is it not enough just for believers to accept the mystery without straining to substantiate it empirically?
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:39 PM on May 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is the first time I've encountered the EAAN. My reaction to it is that its subject "that our cognitive faculties are reliable" is not true - it seems to me that the vast majority of conclusions reached by most of the humans that have existed, including myself, are probably not true, and hence that our cognitive faculties have very low or no reliability at all. It would appear to me that there may be a great many things that humans inherently cannot understand; quantum mechanics, or whatever quantum mechanics is evidence of, for example. So it seems totally valid and it's odd to me that people would disagree with the EAAN or consider it that remarkable. I'd think that the "defeater" he identifies there is just one among many that must likely exist.

But probably, there's something about the EAAN or its context that I don't understand, which my cognitive faculties are not handling reliably :)

I like his notion that it's as much fair game to assume there's a God as it is to assume that other minds exist. I'm an atheist myself but that's pretty much the conclusion I've reached - for them, "hearing another person speak" as a basis for other minds existing is analogous to "experiencing Creation" and other experiences as a basis for the existence of God. Pater Aletheias' evaluation of his motivation for it seems reasonable.
posted by XMLicious at 10:48 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


it's as much fair game to assume there's a God as it is to assume that other minds exist.

Except it's not. This is for me really a rather obvious and pernicious false equivalency.

It's like saying that it's just as reasonable to assume Zeus is casting thunderbolts as it is to speak to a meteorologist about electrical discharges in clouds.

I realize Chalmers' p-zombie argument (and others like it) remains a favorite intuition pump (since the fact that we behave as if other people had minds does not mean they do), but the justified inferential conclusion that other folks have minds meets every pragmatic test that counts.

And it's just silly (and against Occam's razor) to say all the millions upon millions of largely unnoticed, subconscious behavioral cues we have of other persons are equivalent to the "cues" we have about the existence or nonexistence of God (assuming the notion of such divine cues is even coherent).
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 11:00 PM on May 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Except that the name of "Plantinga" is revered third only to God and John Calvin themselves.

Yes, my ignorance of Calvin culture is revealed - I was pretty disconnected from that whole world by the time I landed on the campus.
posted by thedaniel at 11:23 PM on May 21, 2010


fleetmouse: "I find it amusing that what Plantinga describes as wrong ideas that could confer survival value might better be labeled as superstition."

Thus the famous argument: "I merely believe in one less god than you do". Failure to believe in any gods is in many ways a natural successor to believing in only one god.
posted by idiopath at 12:03 AM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


"all-powerful, all-knowing"

Sounds like a classic case of projection to me.

A truly empirical age would focus on human spiritual experiences rather than concepts which enable expertise, which inevitably enable -submission- and the sale of indulgences.

"Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest."
posted by Twang at 12:45 AM on May 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


HP, if you think that there are "pragmatic tests that count" as to whether or not someone is a p-zombie, we may have different understandings of what a p-zombie is. The whole reason I would associate it with "God exists" (or really I mean "some undefined thing vaguely like the notion of God exists, at least, even if it has no perceivable or measurable effect on the world we experience") is that I interpret it as untestable or not provable, along with things like "logic works" and "my senses have some bearing upon reality". All I mean by saying that it's "fair game" is that I don't think that by itself it says anything about someone intellectually or about their degree of rationality if they include a raw and inspecific version of "God exists" in their usual list of basic, untestable assumptions, than if they don't.
posted by XMLicious at 2:11 AM on May 22, 2010


(And I don't know if that's really the same thing that Plantinga meant, it just seemed like it might be what he was getting at.)
posted by XMLicious at 2:16 AM on May 22, 2010


Is this supposed to be a serious discussion among learned people? Theist philosophers? Buhahaha!
posted by acrobat at 2:27 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Natural selection favors creatures that can survive and multiply, not those that can form true beliefs.

Can you say "non sequitur?" That's like saying feathers disprove evolution, because natural selection favors creatures that can survive and multiply, not ones with feathers.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:34 AM on May 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


> Here's another fun Plantinga brain teaser.

Huh? I didn't watch the whole thing, I got impatient, but his "argument" seemed to be that because he can imagine existing apart from his body, materialism fails. That makes no sense, and yet he repeated it even more forcefully. I mean, I'm no philosopher and I'm probably missing something obvious, but people can imagine all sorts of things, very few of which are true. Where's the substance here?

> Is this supposed to be a serious discussion among learned people? Theist philosophers? Buhahaha!

If you don't like this thread, there are many others awaiting your learned attention.
posted by languagehat at 6:18 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way, I both understand AND reject your argument againist his version of the ontological argument.

You big tease! Give us the goods.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:15 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can you say "non sequitur?" That's like saying feathers disprove evolution, because natural selection favors creatures that can survive and multiply, not ones with feathers.

No it isn't. It's like saying evolution doesn't automatically entail feathers, because natural selection favours creatures that can survive and multiply, not ones with feathers.

Seriously, if you think you've just disproved a major philosopher's thesis in a catchy throwaway line off the top of your head, you're either wrong, a savant, or a first-year undergrad.
posted by bonaldi at 7:16 AM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Huh? I didn't watch the whole thing, I got impatient, but his "argument" seemed to be that because he can imagine existing apart from his body, materialism fails. That makes no sense, and yet he repeated it even more forcefully. I mean, I'm no philosopher and I'm probably missing something obvious, but people can imagine all sorts of things, very few of which are true. Where's the substance here?

You have to have more patience than that to deal with Plantinga. Certainly, many of his arguments seem prima facie ridiculous, but in order to state precisely where he goes wrong you have to do some thinking and probably a bit of research.

I don't recall whether they mention it in the video but it seems to turn on Leibniz's identity of indiscernibles - if you can discern a difference between A and B - in this case, the mind and the body - then they aren't the same thing.

Where this one goes wrong is in containing his desired conclusion - the mind is separable from the body - in his implied definition of what a mind is. It could very well be the case that any particular mind is inseparable from its physical substrate - I think that even if a mind could be copied as information into another vessel, it still wouldn't be the same self, as such - the same ego or unit-of-experientiality or instantiation of selfhood. It was mefi's own mdn who set me straight on that.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:35 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's another fun Plantinga brain teaser .

Shell game.

- if you can discern a difference between A and B - in this case, the mind and the body - then they aren't the same thing.

There is a hidden, unproven, assertion that comes along with his argument - that if the person (or mind) is not the same as the body, then a person cannot be a material thing.

This premise is snuck in under the radar, untested - the interviewer misses it - Plantinga goes on to to demonstrate that the mind and body are different (which he knows he can demonstrate) - the neurosurgeon gets hung up on the improbability of it all and misses the sneaky premise.

This allows the sneaky theist to hop, skip, and jump down the road to supernaturalism without actually addressing the core issue of whether a person is material or not.

The entity "a person" and the entity "that person's body" are not the same thing, but that has no bearing on the claim that this is a requirement for materialism. Shorter: Why can't a 'mind' be a material object or the product of a material object? He doesn't even address it.

Since we're allowed to imagine person separate from their body, we are also allowed to imagine a highly advanced super computer which is able to extract the 'mind' of a person and keep it 'alive' and 'thinking' while the body is destroyed. It doesn't matter if this is possible or even remotely feasible - it's an example.

Any computer, no matter how advanced, is a material (deterministic) object that now contains the material mind of a material person separated from their material body.
posted by device55 at 7:56 AM on May 22, 2010


>> Here's another fun Plantinga brain teaser.

>Huh? I didn't watch the whole thing, I got impatient, but his "argument"

It had so many logical fallacies in the first two minutes that I lost count.

However I could sum up his argument this way:

You have hard drive (A) and a word doc (B) on the hard drive.

Materialism says that the entire world consists of just hard drives (A).

But behold! I can transfer your word doc (B) to a different hard drive (C).

And your word doc (B) still exists.

Did we transfer any of the actual material of hard drive (A) to hard drive (C)?

No! OMG!

And yet the word doc (B) still exists.

Yes! OMDG!!

Therefore the word doc (B) is something that exists and yet is not material.

Not material! OMTG!!!

Therefore the whole non-material (ie, spiritual) word really does exist--we weren't just making it up all along.

Spirit world really exists! OMQG!!!!
posted by flug at 7:58 AM on May 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Or, if I can sum up my own argument:

The existence of word docs (B) implies the existence of God.

QED.

Am I gonna become famous now? Because this is a really good one . . .
posted by flug at 8:02 AM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I like yours better flug.
posted by device55 at 8:04 AM on May 22, 2010


The Flug Ontology.

OMQG!!!!! I'm a philosopher now!
posted by flug at 8:10 AM on May 22, 2010


I just realized there's some more slight-of-hand in Plantinga's (video) argument.

He states that he can conceive of the possibility of a 'person' separated from their 'body' and then assumes that possibility is true when comparing the identities of person A and body B.

His unconfirmed imaginary possibility magically becomes an actual possibility without demonstrating it. Is it necessarily true that it is possible to separate a person from their body? Does that possibility truly exist? If it does exist, it doesn't matter, because he's avoiding the real question in his sneaky hidden premise. If it doesn't exist, his argument is invalid.

(also, I find it squirrelly that he uses a mushy, vague term like "person" and not even a slightly less mushy term like "mind")
posted by device55 at 8:13 AM on May 22, 2010


That makes no sense, and yet he repeated it even more forcefully.

Welcome to theology.
posted by DU at 8:25 AM on May 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


> You have to have more patience than that to deal with Plantinga. Certainly, many of his arguments seem prima facie ridiculous, but in order to state precisely where he goes wrong you have to do some thinking and probably a bit of research.

I'm sure that's true, but I don't have more patience for it, and I'm deeply grateful to you and the others who responded in a way that made me feel my initial reaction was not totally misguided. (Especially flug, who made me laugh into the bargain.)
posted by languagehat at 8:31 AM on May 22, 2010


Seriously, if you think you've just disproved a major philosopher's thesis in a catchy throwaway line off the top of your head, you're either wrong, a savant, or a first-year undergrad.

Plantinga is interesting in that if you agree with him, you probably really respect him, and if you don't, you probably think he's overhyped due to people wanting him to be influential.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:36 AM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like the hard drive analogy... under naturalism, mind as data and algorithms - memories and dynamic processes - can't actually be moved, only copied. Even if you do a "destructive copy" where the original is erased bit by bit as it's written somewhere else, you aren't actually moving anything, just creating the same patterns elsewhere.

In order for Plantinga to conceive of moving a mind, he must presuppose substance dualism - moving a mind would be like pouring a glass of water into another glass. So without presupposing dualism, it would only be a Plantinga waking up in a roach body, not the Plantinga.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:01 AM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


XMLicious: "The whole reason I would associate it with "God exists" ... is that I interpret it as untestable or not provable, along with things like "logic works" and "my senses have some bearing upon reality""

There is an important distinction here: I presume that my senses have some bearing upon reality. I constantly make predictions consistent with that presumption, and they tend to be accurate (within the limits of my fallible senses, at least). I and another person will have a vast agreement about something called "reality" that is so ubiquitous as to be unstated. Similar with logic - even moreso: any two people can practice what we call logic and reach the same conclusions starting with the same premises with a really remarkable consistency.

The premise that any gods exist would predict any number of events or circumstances that never come to be (the specifics of course vary for the specific set of gods being argued for). Furthermore the various gods for the most part contradict one another, and no evidence is apparent for any greater probability for one set of gods rather than another.

Furthermore, I can continue to carry out my business as if none of these sets of gods existed, and will see no apparent difference in my life. I could hardly say the same for acting as if logic did not work or my senses had no bearing on reality. Indeed, if either of those latter premises were true, nothing I ever know or experience would have any meaning (here I don't use the word meaning metaphorically as in "point", but rather as in having a standard by which I could say anything is the case rather than not).
posted by idiopath at 9:30 AM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Of course, cognitive psychology points out that human beings didn't evolve to construct true beliefs, and constructing true beliefs involve the cognitive equivalent of resistance weight lifting. You have to work hard and consistently against knee-jerk tendencies towards prejudice and fallacies. For example, most people fail at the gambler's fallacy in one context or another.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:35 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The existence of word docs (B) implies the existence of God.

Yes, but only because MS Word directly points to the existence of Satan, right?
posted by me & my monkey at 9:42 AM on May 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Soul Talk
posted by homunculus at 9:54 AM on May 22, 2010


- if you can discern a difference between A and B - in this case, the mind and the body - then they aren't the same thing.

Homunculus fallacy
posted by Brian B. at 10:07 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


>The premise that any gods exist would predict any number of events or circumstances that never come to be (the specifics of course vary for the specific set of gods being argued for). Furthermore the various gods for the most part contradict one another, and no evidence is apparent for any greater probability for one set of gods rather than another.

What if the premise is not "God X exists" or "gods X exist" but "non-physical or supernatural things can exist?" The various contradicting gods and religions that you mention all depend on this, and its acceptance or non-acceptance is basic to constructing your understanding of the world in the same as "logic works" and "my senses have some bearing upon reality."
posted by chomputer at 10:13 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can continue to carry out my business as if none of these sets of gods existed, and will see no apparent difference in my life. I could hardly say the same for acting as if logic did not work or my senses had no bearing on reality.

Exactly. If one does not accept the thesis of other minds, one is reduced to paranoid solipsism. If, on the other hand, one does not accept the thesis of God, one gets about one's life as before.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:36 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"HEY GUYS I JUST READ WIKIPEDIA ABOUT HIS STUFF OR SOMETHING AND HE'S TOTALLY WRONG IF ONLY THE PHILOSOPHICAL COMMUNITY WERE AS SMART AS I AM HE'D HAVE BEEN FRY GUY AT BURGER KING LONG AGO LOLTHEISM KTHXBYE"

-- a distressingly large fraction of metafilter.

BTW, on the "intelligent design" thing -- his concept of "intelligent design" wouldn't go over well in most creationist circles, because it doesn't imply anything more than the existence and providence of a God. No young earth, no rejection of Darwin, no special creation, nothing like that. It's kind of misleading using the "intelligent design" label for his stuff, but he did it himself, so he's got only himself to blame.
posted by edheil at 10:36 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


THE PHILOSOPHICAL COMMUNITY

Well having been to a few APA meetings I can assure you no one in the philosophical community agrees about anything, let alone the details of Plantinga's arguments. Furthermore, I know just enough about philosophy to know that sometimes (not always, but sometimes) it's precisely those untrained in philosophical legerdemain who are capable of seeing the sophistry. Of course, that freshness wears off after a while, since in the end there really are only disagreements and never consensus in philosophy: an open secret that seems scandalous to outsiders.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:44 AM on May 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


idiopath: Furthermore, I can continue to carry out my business as if none of these sets of gods existed, and will see no apparent difference in my life. I could hardly say the same for acting as if logic did not work or my senses had no bearing on reality.

Keep in mind, though - we're talking about the case where these things are untestable. If logic does not work you have no way to deduce that it doesn't work - there's no test you can do that would allow you to properly conclude that it works and no way to a priori prove that it works. And if your senses have no bearing on reality you can know nothing of reality and have no means to distinguish what you experience from what is real - you'd never be aware of the unreality of what you sense. I don't see how anything would be different in your life in either of those cases.

HP: If one does not accept the thesis of other minds, one is reduced to paranoid solipsism.

So what? It's not like you can prove that solipsism is counterfactual; all you have is faith that it is not. The only reason that ought to make you paranoid - the only thing that would prevent you from getting on with your life as before - is if you have some emotional attachment to your belief in reality, like a theist is emotionally attached to the idea of God.

*The non-conscious portion of your mind waves at you and thanks you for the opportunity to put on this whole "reality" show in the entirety of existence that is your mind.*
posted by XMLicious at 11:19 AM on May 22, 2010


"HEY GUYS I JUST READ WIKIPEDIA ABOUT HIS STUFF OR SOMETHING AND HE'S TOTALLY WRONG IF ONLY THE PHILOSOPHICAL COMMUNITY WERE AS SMART AS I AM HE'D HAVE BEEN FRY GUY AT BURGER KING LONG AGO LOLTHEISM KTHXBYE"

I've never heard of an unemployed Christian apologist with an advanced degree. They alone can sell audio tapes outside of their area of expertise. Even the dropouts are rewriting school books in Texas for a job. The problem with this guy is much more than his association with discredited ID. He is, no doubt, being quoted left and right by the parochial set who desperately need to supply a modern-resistant, confounding theosophy in order to maintain what those unschooled ancients had to say about their own tribal God.
posted by Brian B. at 11:35 AM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


some emotional attachment to your belief in reality

It occurs to me that the familiar "problem of other minds" segues very quickly into the traditional "min-body problem," and in order to avoid that can of worms, I will only say this: our conception and cognition of objective and inter-subjective reality in its practical, lived everydayness is undermined more if we leave out the notion of minds than if we leave out the notion of God.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 11:44 AM on May 22, 2010


It's It's remarkable to me that the element of faith is being lost here: I'm agnostic myself, but I'm not sure why believers require these kinds of dubious arguments (I hesitate to say sophistries) to justify their own intuitions: save for instances of the miraculous, is it not enough just for believers to accept the mystery without straining to substantiate it empirically?remarkable to me that the element of faith is being lost here

exactly. I'd go further and say that if anyone was ever able to prove that god exists then the entire notion of faith would disappear in an instant. since I never hear any loud voices arguing against finding a proof for god and observe many attempts (philosophical and otherwise) at trying to prove god's existence it seems that the desire for rational proofs is common to us all. I think this puts believers in a tough spot. I have to wonder, why would a god set things up so that we have to make decisions with eternal consequences for ourselves based only on faith? what's the point of frustrating us so if we are to be reunited with god after this life? when we will use whatever knowledge we gain by having believe without proof something so important? it just doesn't make any kind of sense to me.
posted by sineater at 12:52 PM on May 22, 2010


It's like saying evolution doesn't automatically entail feathers

True, evolution doesn't automatically entail feathers, any more than it automatically entails "true beliefs" ((whatever those are). Were there "true beliefs" before there were entities capable of believing? Are entities capable of believing any more inevitable than entities with feathers? Only a being capable of hubris would say yes.

Plantinga seems to have a big problem with automatically assigning everything he believes into the category of truth. That little argument he made about Kafka's Metamorphosis proving that he isn't a body is a good example. You'd think the story was a well-confirmed news report from the way he referred to it. Does he believe in the gold mountain? Disposing of his arguments with catchy throwaway lines is a trivial exercise.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 5:10 PM on May 22, 2010


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