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Plantinga makes astonishing statement
Posted: 16 December 2012 12:59 AM   [ Ignore ]
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If you listen to the Apologetics 315 interview with Alvin Plantinga, you will hear him admit that he can’t think of any evidence that would convince him that God doesn’t exist. Now, many atheists would immediately accuse him of being completely irrational here, but I think we should be a bit more charitable. In any case, he is just saying what many other believers really think but don’t have the guts to say. His honesty is very refreshing. You often here believers saying that this or that thing could hypothetically cause them to stop being a believer, but Plantinga doesn’t even bother wasting people’s time with that kind of thing. 

However, if he had said that no evidence could convince him that the Christian story is not true, then I would agree that he is being irrational. We can easily imagine there being very strong evidence showing that all the stories in the gospels are copied from earlier pagan myths and so on, and if you were to go on being a Christian regardless of all that evidence then you would indeed be irrational.   

So I guess what he means by this statement is that things like free will, objective morality and consciousness make it absolutely clear to him that there must be a God of some sort, as naturalism can’t explain these things. Moreover, these reasons for belief in God are so strong that even things like the problem of evil and suffering could never make him doubt God’s existence.

Perhaps he even thinks that to doubt God would be to start talking nonsense. So you could try saying, ‘If I didn’t have free will or a mind and if there were no objective values then perhaps I would doubt the existence of God.’ But in trying to think of these hypotheticals you end up with all sorts of logical confusion.     

Anyway, the point is that the statement is not as crazy as many people will think when they first hear it.

[ Edited: 16 December 2012 02:08 AM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 16 December 2012 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Plantinga, IIRC, accepts a version of the cosmological argument. That is to say, he believes there is a logical proof that God exists. In such a case, of course, no evidence will be germane to him.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 04:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It is easy to say there is a “wholeness” to the universe and this wholeness is named god. Ok, end of story. A rose by any name is still a rose.

But does he have a use for God?  Does he believe that without a god, everything would fall apart?

My problem is not in someone believing on a grander scale, but what value does this bring to society or science? It is really of no practical use is it?

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Posted: 16 December 2012 05:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Consider these two statements: 

(1) No amount of evidence could ever make me stop being a Christian/Muslim. 
(2) No amount of evidence could ever stop me being a believer in God. 

My point is that although these two statements look similar, they are in fact very different. Someone making the first statement would be irrational, but someone making the second would not be. I just worry that some people coming from a scientific perspective will be too quick in dismissing both as equally irrational. 

Write4U, I agree with you that arguing about the existence of a God in some abstract sense is a pointless exercise. The only thing I’m interested in arguing about is whether particular religions like Christianity and Islam are true or not. This is why the work of people like Bart Ehrman is much more important than the work of philosophers like Mackie. The most important fields here are Biblical Criticism, Comparative Religion and History. Some philosophers like Steve Maitzen have written some good stuff against Christianity, but again this is because they’re focusing on the beliefs of a particular religion and not talking about God in some abstract sense that makes no difference to anyone.   

By the way, I do think that deep down many evangelical Christian philosophers like Craig and Moreland are committed to statement (1) above, and this makes it completely impossible to move them. However, they would always be very careful not to come out and admit this, as they know it would make them sound irrational.

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Posted: 16 December 2012 05:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I guess you’re right, #1 seems a little more irrational. #2 sounds more like, “no amount of evidence could ever stop me being a believer in the Invisible Dragon in my garage.”

[ Edited: 16 December 2012 08:57 PM by George ]
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Posted: 16 December 2012 07:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Yeah, I think in general you’re right Dom. The cosmological argument has nothing to say about the Bible directly, nor about Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

One could easily, for example, accept the cosmological argument and note that the Bible, being full of contradictions, etc., cannot be the word of God. So one might end up believing some form of Deism, or whatever.

So what we really want to hear is Plantinga’s (or whoever’s) argument from the existence of God to the truth of Christianity ...

Re. Ehrman vs. Mackie, no doubt for the general public you are right. Mackie basically wrote for philosophers and theologians, whereas Ehrman has a wider public in mind. And given the reasons by which most people tend to believe Biblical Christianity, Ehrman’s analyses are likely to be more pertinent. Many very devout believers are also devout believers in faith. That is, they accept as a given that reason does not lead to God; only blind faith does. For such a person, of course, Mackie’s arguments would be useless. Or to say the same thing, they might well agree with them and find them irrelevant to their faith-based belief.

(Of course, such a person could also dismiss Ehrman’s arguments on the same basis. But they cut closer to the religious bone, as it were).

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Posted: 17 December 2012 06:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Doug, he does talk a little bit here about why he’s a Christian. Basically, he just says that the Christian story is the most beautiful story he’s ever heard, and that Christianity simply feels right and has the ring of truth to it. Also, he seems to think that religious beliefs are innocent until proven guilty, so that he is perfectly rational to go on believing these things unless someone can come along and show him that these beliefs are logically impossible. But the point is that the Muslim or the Mormon could say exactly the same thing. What we want to know here is why Plantinga thinks that his beliefs are more likely to be true than those of the Muslim or the Mormon, and he just doesn’t want to deal with that.

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Posted: 17 December 2012 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Dom1978 - 17 December 2012 06:30 AM

Doug, he does talk a little bit here about why he’s a Christian. Basically, he just says that the Christian story is the most beautiful story he’s ever heard, and that Christianity simply feels right and has the ring of truth to it. Also, he seems to think that religious beliefs are innocent until proven guilty, so that he is perfectly rational to go on believing these things unless someone can come along and show him that these beliefs are logically impossible. But the point is that the Muslim or the Mormon could say exactly the same thing. What we want to know here is why Plantinga thinks that his beliefs are more likely to be true than those of the Muslim or the Mormon, and he just doesn’t want to deal with that.

OK, well if that’s what his argument amounts to, it’s pretty shoddy.

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Posted: 17 December 2012 08:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Yeah, but if you were to say that to him, he would immediately respond by saying that there are no good arguments for other minds either, but that we’re still perfectly rational in believing that there are such things. He also says in this interview that there is not a single decent argument for naturalism!   

So what he seems to be saying is that there are no really compelling arguments for God, Christianity or Naturalism, and so we should just go with whatever feels right for us, so long as it can’t be shown to be logically impossible. I have even heard other reformed epistemologists just bite the bullet and say that Muslims and Mormons are equally rational in believing the things they believe. It really is a strange philosophical/theological movement. It seems to come close to postmodern relativism at times. The only difference is that many people in this movement do want to argue that naturalism is false. Any belief system containing a story about how a creator gave us reliable cognitive capacities and a moral sense is OK, but naturalism isn’t OK.

For me, this whole debate about (general) theism vs naturalism just isn’t important to most people. What we want to hear are philosophical arguments for the truth of Christianity, but Plantinga is smart enough to know that there aren’t any good arguments here, so he just goes on and on about other things.

[ Edited: 17 December 2012 05:17 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 17 December 2012 11:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Other kinds of evidence that could potentially make it irrational to continue being a Christian might include: 

(1) strong scientific evidence that free will is an illusion  
(2) strong scientific evidence that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice  
(3) strong scientific evidence that prayer doesn’t work    
(4) archeological evidence showing that various things in the Bible (OT and NT) couldn’t possibly have happened as depicted  

But it’s worth remembering here that William Lane Craig once admitted that he would still be a Christian even if he could go back in a time machine and see that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. He knows that Christianity is true because the holy spirit tells him so, and so no evidence will move him. So the kind of Christian we’re talking about here will dismiss radical critics in biblical studies as atheists and feminists who have an agenda and who are out to destroy traditional Christianity, and they will say similar things about the people in charge of the kinds of scientific studies I’ve mentioned here.   

Philosophers can play a role here in attacking Christianity and Islam, but they need to stop debating pointless topics like theism vs naturalism and get on with attacking Christianity and Islam. Steve Matizen is doing good work, but there’s a lot more to be done.

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Posted: 18 December 2012 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Plantinga and others like him from other fields of philosophy are the reason I quit pursuing a degree in it.  Every academic discussion between “famous” philosophers like Plantinga always seemed to really be just personal opinion expressed by someone who had mastered the art of word-games-disguised-as-logic.  No matter what one guy said, the other would have a jargon laden response or a little clever “out”. 

At least in regards to religion, you’d best be served not trying to convert anyone. It’s an emotional game and reason’s not invited to play. It’s just going to take generations for it to die out, like astrology.

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Posted: 18 December 2012 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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My brother-in-law, Michael Bergmann, is in Plantiga’s camp. He teaches at Perdue and writes on something called, Internalism vs. Externalism, which I have a hard time distinguishing a significant difference between Subjectivism vs. Objectivism. He argues against Internalism as it suggests that we only understand our environment through ourselves and thus our subjective senses. Because an argument can be made to present this as judging reality from observation, it points to empiricalism and thus, Naturalism, which is the enemy to his Fundamental Christianity. It seems like a game of redefining terms to make them fit with something more favorable. If these arguments were defeated, their group would just recreate a new set of definitions to fit another argument until challenged again.

Dom, Plantinga’s denial of possible evidence that could prove to him that God doesn’t exist is just as Write4U said. It’s definition begging. It’s merely a transference effect by use of a homonym for which he leaves the reader to fill in the missing indeterminate meaning. Replace the word “God” with “Zeus” and the effect is changed. If the term, “God” is relevant, then it’s his burden to first define what it means before assuring us that he means a Deistic, human, or other intended understanding. If you interpret him as making sense, in other words, it’s because you, not him, defined the term, “God”, to something that fits. If it’s not irrational, then at least its meaningless and cannot be measurable with anything. The term rational comes from ratio in math as a descriptor to say that one thing can be compared to another (a/b). His “God” is more like the imaginery i, neither rational nor irrational.

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Posted: 18 December 2012 05:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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CuthbertJ, I know what you mean. Jaco Gericke always makes this same kind of point. Plantinga is a fundamentalist. He still believes all the things he learned about the Bible in Sunday School, and completely ignores 200 years of biblical criticism. But at the same time he’s also extremely smart, and he’s very good at logic and maths. So he just spends all his time trying to pick holes in Naturalism and arguing for some kind of general theism that no one really cares about anyway. This is an example of just how irrelevant analytic philosophy can be. People are waffling on and on about modal logic and possible worlds, and they’re not even dealing with any of the important points at issue. It’s just ludicrous that people think they can argue about these matters when they ignore history, anthropology, comparative religion and biblical criticism.

Anyway, check out this great interview with Stephen Maitzen. It shows that analytic philosophy can be a useful tool in arguing against fundamentalist Christianity. I wish more people would do this kind of work.

http://www.archive.org/download/ConversationsFromThePaleBlueDot025-StephenMaitzen/025-StephenMaitzen.mp3

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Posted: 23 December 2012 10:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I must admit, I have changed my mind a little bit about the philosophy of religion. I used to think it was complete rubbish and a total waste of time. I now think that it can be of some use so long as it is used to criticize specific religions and it takes into account all of the evidence that’s been gathered from other disciplines. There is something absurd about a situation where you have atheist and Christian philosophers sitting in their armchairs and trying to use reason to argue about the truth of Christianity.

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Posted: 24 December 2012 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dom1978 - 23 December 2012 10:43 PM

I must admit, I have changed my mind a little bit about the philosophy of religion. I used to think it was complete rubbish and a total waste of time. I now think that it can be of some use so long as it is used to criticize specific religions and it takes into account all of the evidence that’s been gathered from other disciplines. There is something absurd about a situation where you have atheist and Christian philosophers sitting in their armchairs and trying to use reason to argue about the truth of Christianity.

Right, of course. Though I’d put it a little differently: philosophy of religion can be of some use so long as it is used to rationally investigate religious beliefs. But this is precisely what philosophy of religion is, and what distinguishes it from, e.g., theology. True, there are some theologian-types like Plantinga who do theology under the guise of philosophy of religion; it’s a vague boundary and so long as they make explicit all their claims and assumptions at least they leave themselves open to rational evaluation.

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Posted: 25 December 2012 05:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Doug, I think the main problem with POR is that it’s just too abstract and therefore irrelevant, and even though you claim to have been de-converted through philosophy, I believe that most people are far more likely to reject their religion for other reasons. The main one is that we can see that there are many different religions, all having very similar myths, stories, social institutions, miracle claims, rituals, and all the rest of it. These sociological and historical considerations are going to be far more powerful than things like the problem of evil. It’s always going to be possible for some smart religious person to come up with ingenious philosophical arguments for why God allows this or that to happen, but the evidence from history and the social sciences just stares us straight in the face, and it becomes obvious that all religions are human creations. Given all of this evidence, there’s no need to bother worrying about cosmological or ontological arguments. I guess this is why people like Dennett want children to be taught about all the religions of the world, but they wouldn’t think it worthwhile to teach kids POR. Philosophy can still be useful for attacking specific religious doctrines like heaven/hell and the atonement, though.

[ Edited: 25 December 2012 06:04 AM by Dom1978 ]
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