Plantinga on why he believes in God, dislikes the New Atheists, and finds naturalism and evolution incompatible

Because I wrote about Alvin Plantinga yesterday, and one commenter wondered if I wasn’t mistaken in saying that Plantinga finds naturalism and evolution incompatible, I’m showing a short interview with the man. Here Simon Smart, of the Australian Centre for Public Christianity, gets Plantinga’s take on several issues. Three items are worth noting:

  1. Plantinga’s reason for believing in the Christian God, which essentially boils down to “I just know it’s true.”
  2. The dissing of New Atheists by both Smart and Plantinga as either money-hungry or unsophisticated (begins at 1:53). It’s the usual trope: New Atheist arguments are inferior to those adumbrated by the “old” atheists (usually Bertrand Russell, Albert Camus, and so on).
  3. Plantinga’s explanation of the incompatibility of naturalism and materialistic evolution beginning at 2:56. As I noted, Plantinga feels that pure materialistic evolution gives us no reason to think that our “beliefs” are true. I love this statement.

“If you accept naturalism and materialism—that combination—then it seems to me that you’ll have to take it that for any particular belief, the probability that it’s true is about a half. It could as likely be true as false.”

Therefore, if you see a lion running toward you, roaring and baring its fangs, your belief that it wants to kill you has only half a chance of being true. Or your belief that, if you’re thirsty, drinking water will make you feel better, is as likely untrue as true. And so on.  The man simply can’t understand that evolution will instill in us representations and perceptions of the real world that are generally accurate.

174 Comments

  1. Kevin
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    But Alvin … can you prove that your belief in god is anything other than half true?

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      The ‘unknown probability is 50%’ schtick is a common tactic of hack Bayesian apologists. ‘Half true’ would be much too generous.

      • Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

        Yeah that “half true” statement is a misunderstanding of the conjunction fallacy. In order for something to be “half true” given two hypotheses, the two multiplied together has to equal 50%.

        The more accurate statement would be that any hypothesis that depends on some other hypothesis being true can only be as true as the least likely hypothesis. E.g. if someone is only 50% sure that ghosts exists, then any hypothesis that depends on the existence of ghosts can’t be more than 50% likely. If someone thinks that naturalism is 99.9% likely and materialism is 99.9% true, then Plantinga’s statement makes no sense; the entire hypothesis would be 99.9% * 99.9% likely, not “half true”.

        Religious aplogists like Plantinga and Craig should leave the probabilistic arguments alone and stick to wowing people with philosophical rhetoric… unless they want to make apologetics even more laughable than they already are.

        • discettico
          Posted August 15, 2012 at 5:21 am | Permalink

          Excellently explained and illustrated.

      • Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        There was a wonderful Daily Show piece about the LHC before it was started. They spoke with a guy who had built a bunker in case the LHC created a black hole and killed everybody (this was actually his fear). During the piece he said there was a 50% chance of the LHC destroying the world because “if there’s a chance that it will happen, and a chance that it won’t happen, that’s 50/50.”

        Suffice it to say, at the end John Oliver is sitting in the bunker with the guy and asks, if the rest of humanity is killed by the LHC, should the two of them try and breed a new race? The guy suggests that won’t work and Oliver replies, “Well, there’s a 50% chance.”

  2. Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    What a stupid justification for his belief in the existence of god in his opening comment in the video! Like Collins’ waterfalls. And how does god of his backyard treetops = Christian god????

  3. Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    What is it about the discipline of philosophy that allows such a ridiculous argument to be taken seriously, and its proponent to rise to the top of the philosophy tree?

    To add to Jerry’s lion and thirst examples, Plantinga might as well also say: “If you build a plane on scientific principles, there’s only a 50/50 chance that it’ll fly.”

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      I think that many confuse the concepts of “random” and “stochastic”. For example: when a skilled basketball player takes a free throw, whether the ball goes in the basket is far from a random process but it is a stochastic one. The probability that it goes in is typically 70 to 90 percent (depending on the player).

      Not all stochastic processes are “coin flips”.

      • Curt Cameron
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        I’m not with you there. A random process doesn’t have to result in a 50/50 distribution. “Stochastic” and “random” mean pretty much the same thing.

        • Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          It is true that a stochastic process can be modeled by a “random” variable but in popular usage, something being “random” implies that all outcomes are close to being equally likely (e. g., a uniform distribution).

          Example: genetic mutations are indeed “random” but what survives natural selection isn’t random. But natural selection is a stochastic process.

          • Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

            An exposure to the Bertrand Paradox would help correct that popular misconception.

            • MadScientist
              Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:19 am | Permalink

              I don’t see the relevance of the Bertrand Paradox. Looking at that link I immediately see that the 3 propositions are incorrectly argued. I’m not familiar with Bertrand – did he present the ‘paradox’ knowing it was wrong (and trivially so, like Xeno’s Paradox)?

              • Another Matt
                Posted August 15, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Hold on, why are those 3 propositions incorrectly argued?

              • Posted August 19, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

                Actually, none of the three is “incorrect”. All three are valid answers, depending on what probability distribution is used to define “pick a random chord” — and (in the language of later work) what the “random” variable is a uniform density function against — by area, by angle, or by distance on the circumference.

                That’s the root of the “paradox”. The implicit presumption that there’s a unique sense of “random” to the problem, leads to the implication that 1/2 equals 1/4 (and the subsequent usual silliness that allows proving that you are the pope). In fact, there is more than one possible sense of “random” that can be used.

                As I understand, figuring out what was going wrong in this “paradox” historically led to developing the idea of non-uniform probability densities. And exposure, in my experience, at least leads to a bit more caution about the possibility of someone playing fast and loose with the math when claiming to calculate probabilities. YMMV.

        • gr8hands
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

          According to Merriam-Webster:

          1: random; specifically : involving a random variable [a stochastic process]
          2: involving chance or probability : probabilistic [a stochastic model of radiation-induced mutation]

          • Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

            Think about it this way: when you say “select a person at random from this group of people”, what do you mean?

      • Posted August 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

        How does Shaq fit in with that?

    • Sastra
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

      If you buy a ticket for the lottery, you will either win — or you will lose. Therefore, your chance of winning the lottery is 50/50.

      I’d take those odds.

      Theology is a subset of philosophy. I think most philosophers who live OUTSIDE the box think clearly enough. Religious faith turns motivated reasoning into a virtue. If you can appear objective at the same time, you get apologetic points.

      • Sines
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        I much prefer this variant.

        “I’ll either be run over by a train in the next 5 seconds, or I won’t.”

        If all dichotomies have a 50/50 chance, I’d be extremely lucky to live for another minute. It’s why I really hate these mis-uses of statistics. Demonstrating the absurdity of the notion is trivially easy, and can be formulated in any of a number of ways to make the speaker look absolutely ridiculous. And yet I still see it used.

        Either the people who use it know how wrong it is, but hope to beguile their audience so that no-one notices, or they haven’t thought about the implications of it for more than five seconds. As a philosopher, Plantinga has absolutely no excuse for the latter, so if he’s not being deceptive, he is an absolutely horrid philosopher not worthy of the title.

        • MNb
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          Now that’s what I call a false dichotomy. It is very possible that Plantinga ánd is lying ánd hasn’t thought about the implications for more than five seconds, simply because he refuses to.
          In which case he is even a more horrid philosopher than you imagined. What do you think the chances are here?

          • Sines
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

            I’m really not clear on what you’re saying here…

            Are you saying he could be lying AND not thinking about it? I suppose that’s an option, but I don’t think it changes my point to replace ‘or’ with ‘and/or’ 😀

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

        O-kay. So if I drive down the road, there’s a 50-50 chance whether I’ll hit each car going the other way, or not. So far, I’ve managed to avoid every single other car. Obviously, that’s hundreds of thousands of cars in my lifetime, so I’ve overcome odds of 27 billion trillion gazillion to one.

        So God must be looking after me. Or maybe I’m God. Either way, with odds like that, it has to be a miracle, doesn’t it?

    • Tulse
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      What is it about the discipline of philosophy that allows such a ridiculous argument to be taken seriously

      I don’t think that Plantinga is taken seriously by most philosophers, at least those who aren’t extremely god-soaked themselves. He’s a bit like Ayn Rand that way — a favourite philosopher of non-philosophers.

      • Frank
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Bertrand Russell epitomized the intersection of logic and philosophy. In the bizarro world, Platinga apparently epitomizes the intersection between illogic and philosophy. Hence their very different takes on the existence of God.

        If Platinga drew a salary at my public university, I would consider that money considerably LESS well spent than the money spent on cheerleader uniforms.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          Careful. A university with cheerleaders without uniform could be very popular.

          [Yes, I had to jump there.]

          I doubt Plantinga would be staying there though.

          • RFW
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

            But what if those cheerleaders wear baggy granny gowns sewn from flour sacks in lieu of proper uniforms?

            Is there a 50% probability lurking in here somewhere?

          • Scott near Berkeley
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            IIRC, the old German tribes battling the Romans invented cheerleading. The women would work themselves into a wild frenzy in front of the assembled army, and at the height of everyone’s emotional pitch, they would then tear off clothes to put the whole event over the top, and off to battle went the men.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

              If a bunch of frenzied women tore their clothes off in front of me, I have to say that rushing off to engage in a brawl with some Roman goon squad would be the last thing on my mind… 😉

    • TomZ
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      To add to Jerry’s lion and thirst examples, Plantinga might as well also say: “If you build a plane on scientific principles, there’s only a 50/50 chance that it’ll fly.”

      I’ve thought about that while travelling. That if a person takes the position that using evidence and the scientific method doesn’t actually gain us knowledge about truths in the natural world, then they should never get in to an airplane.

      It must be something else we don’t know or something divine that has allowed planes to fly so far. Maybe “intelligent lifting.”

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Or, any particular flight you take…a 50-50 chance of arriving safely!!

      • Posted August 15, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        “Intelligent Lifting,” LOl. Why not? Now religious imbeciles can just throw that oxymoronically used adjective in front of any word and make the concept actual.

    • cherrybombsim
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      I recognized the argument immediately as the same one used by the guy who sued to stop the LHC, because it had a 50% chance of destroying the Earth.

    • Posted August 15, 2012 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      It has been my impression that Plantinga’s claim to fame *within* philosophy is supposed to be based on his work on metaphysics and semantics related to modality. Since this is more “technical” a lot less people understand it and may just sort of nod and go on. On the other hand, Plantinga’s fame *outside* the profession seems to be these outrageously bad apologetics.

      The two actually go together in my view, but that’s a long story. For example, he doesn’t seem to get that “logical possibility” is a property of propositions and not their referents; a common mistake, but one that vitiates many “ontological argumets”. [Warning: last view is contentious.]

  4. Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    It appears to me that many intellectual areas suffer from what Paul Krugman calls “Very Serious People”: they are very eloquent and people take them seriously…but what they actually say is illogical.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Also, some people have the gift of being able to speak eloquently, superficially at least, without actually giving up any information. Experts can discourse eloquently for thirty minutes, or 10 pages, and achieve a semantic content rating of zero. They evolve these skills not necessarily consciously but because while they do not have the ability to excel due to real talent in their profession, they do have the ability to spew a mean line of bullshit, and sound good while they are doing it. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them actually fool themselves into thinking they really are top experts.

      Unfortunately many people find this impressive and therefore these bullshitter types very often are found in relatively high level positions.

      • Marella
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        I guess this sort of person goes into politics if they have the necessary personal magnetism.

    • jay
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      And Krugman fits that category himself.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

        False. As might be said by Krugman himself, “..an evidence-free statement.”

    • bric
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t this rather the perception – and reality – of Ryan Paul?

  5. Sastra
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    A lot of religious apologetics rely on having the hypothetical Reasonable Seeker of Truth giving the propositions that God exists and God doesn’t exist equal weight at the beginning. Since it either does or doesn’t, it seems fair to divide the question in 50/50 terms. The believer then tries to pile up arguments and evidence that tips the scale on to the side of God’s existence. It is more reasonable tobelieve that God exists, than that it doesn’t. Win.

    But that’s not how we ought to start out,with equal probabilities upfront. We ought to establish the probabilities BEFORE we get into whether it’s “more likely” that X exists if there were Someone who wanted it to exist — as opposed to the X existing without a teleological imperative weighing all factors in its favor. And surprise, surprise: when you consider the supernatural theory n light of the discoveries of modern science, the prior probability that God exists drops way, way below that 50 percent mark.

    Oh, but of course Plantinga would not want us to do it that way. There’s all sorts of theological precedense against doing that. Now then, atheists — be fair and use our rules. Don’t subject God to scientific reasoning.

  6. Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I was going to make a rude comment to the effect that even a philosopher could understand that throwing a die doesn’t have a fifty-fifty chance of coming up a six. Then I realized that I only had a fifty-fifty chance of reading the spots right. Fifty-fifty is the answer… Powerball here I come.

  7. darrelle
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Let me guess. Plantinga’s position is that Homo sapiens existence, and our scientific/technological progress, is not good evidence that we have evolved sensory and cognitive equipment that is capable of modeling reality pretty well, but it is good evidence for the christian god.

    Same old story. Mountains of evidence that could not be cursorily studied in full in a lifetime versus nothing but willful assertion and a long and continuing history of being proven wrong. In any other context such behavior would be considered delusional. But, label it religion and not only do you get a free pass, you get unqualified respect as well.

    It is the duty of all reasonable people to ridicule such ludicrous arguments whenever they encounter them.

    • saguhh00
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

      “It is the duty of all reasonable people to ridicule such ludicrous arguments whenever they encounter them.”

      Finally, someone said it! Religion doesn’t deserve immunity to criticism. Most religious opinions and arguments are in fact quite trivial.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 15, 2012 at 4:12 am | Permalink

        I just wish I had said it first. Then I’d be famous!

    • Mike Lee
      Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:13 am | Permalink

      Surely one of the reasons these so-called intellectual faith head types continue to spout nonsense is their continuing belief in being amongst the group who will be present at “Judgement Day” when the sinners descend into “hell’ and the “believers” continue to the “pearly gates to meet St. Peter….
      How do you change that? What else keeps them continuing to fill the pews on Sundays and other celebratory days?
      I, like many others here I am sure, have family members and friends who are extremely unlikely to accept any other vision of life and the hereafter – it’s what gives them that constant bemused look on their faces when you try to argue about the facts of our existence.
      Is it also fear of the finality of death which we as atheists have come to terms with..?

      • darrelle
        Posted August 15, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink

        I’m sure some do seriously believe, but it also seems that some just really really want to believe it. Like that flunky from the Bush Jr. Administration said, they make their own reality.

  8. cj
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Brevity and comprehensibility really doesn’t do him any favours at all. I am astonsished. Thank you very much for this Jerry.

  9. Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    In actuality, it seems to me that apologists like Plantinga are the ones who’s arguments have gotten weaker. I often feel like I; an avowed secularist (i dont like the term atheist since it defines my position in theistic terms, are Christians apolytheists), can argue their cause better than these believers can. If they were willing to limit their arguments to the belief in a creator they would be able to stake out a stronger position; you can’t prove the non existence of an unobserved phenomenon; but they are all so dogmatic that they can’t even see this tactical advantage.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      No antigravity, no perpetual motion machines, no quantum clones, no rational number is pi, et cetera.

      Why would magic be any different? (Especially since, as Goren notes, it is equivalent to suggesting a perpetual motion machine of the first kind.)

      The only reason would be religious special pleading, and then we are – *** in Plantinga world***.

  10. Ludo
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I do not think it serves any purpose to begin a serious discussion with such an über-sophist. What he says about evolution and naturalism is simply meaningless nonsense. But it serves a purpose: it promotes obscurantism. There are always people who fall for vague and incomprehensible statements emitted with pomp and authority (just think of the Sokal-hoax). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair)
    Again: laughter would be the best response. Just imagine everybody bursting out in laughter when the Plantinga’s open their mouths and speak…

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      That would certainly be my natural reaction. I can’t believe that this stupid pompous prick is a “respected” philosopher.

    • Achrachno
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      But he’s not even funny. He makes arguments that are just embarrassing, though apparently not to him.

  11. MKray
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Plantinga’s reason for believing in the Christian God, […] essentially boils down to “I just know it’s true.” is logically equivalent to “Homeopathy cured me, I just know it’s true.” The former is the last resort reason for people like Russell Stannard; the latter we hear all too often.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      To paraphrase Feynman, “The easiest person to fool is yourself.”

      One believes in Christianity simply to believe in immortality. Plantiga is no different than many “CC’s” in the regard (Christian Cowards): the prospect of mortal finality for such an oversized ego is simply a rock so large even he cannot lift it.

    • Achrachno
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      “I just know it’s true.” But I just know it’s ridiculous. Why is his “just knowing” any more valid than mine?

  12. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    The last question from the interviewer was good: If evolution + naturalism are true, then that puts the reliability of religious beliefs in question too. Plantinga dodged that one.

  13. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Not only are our perceptions and cognition unreliable, but this unreliability can be studied scientifically. Perceptual and cognitive illusions are available in abundance, and psychologists can actually study how they work. One example of a cognitive (rather than perceptual) illusion is the “Monte Hall problem.”

    It is a poor philosopher who carries out such simplistic thought experiments as Plantinga attempts without regard for any actual scientific data in a subject.

    • Kevin
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      It’s always behind door number 1.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        ???!!! I thot it was Door Two!! 🙂

        • Tim
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

          If you show a true believer, Sophisticated Theologian™ or not, there’s no God behind door numbers 1, 2, and 3, there’s still a God because, well, because “they just know he’s there.”

  14. eric
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    “If you accept naturalism and materialism—that combination—then it seems to me that you’ll have to take it that for any particular belief, the probability that it’s true is about a half. It could as likely be true as false.”

    (My bold).

    You had a hypothesis about what evolution ought to produce (“seems to me”). Nothing wrong with that. But lots of people did lots of observations and the evidence does not support your hypothesis. So you kept your hypothesis.

    To quote mythbusters: well, there’s your problem.

    It doesn’t matter what it seems to you that evolution ought to produce. It did produce senses that are reasonably accurate.

  15. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    The shorter Plantinga:

    If belief in God is false, I will be sad.

    I do not wish to be sad.

    Therefore, belief in God is true.

    (With apologies to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

  16. Sines
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Y’know, I started watching this video, and the host talks about his argument against the problem of evil. There was something about how it was worded that made it sound like a ‘discovery’.

    But WHY must it be a discovery? Why must the argument be made by a finite, flawed, sinful human? Why isn’t there a passage in the Bible “Hey, sorry guys, I know the world isn’t perfect, but I had to do it. Here’s why…”

    Scientists must tease out meaning and explanation from a mindless universe that has no desire or power to explain itself.

    Yahweh, however, is an intelligent being that has had no problem explaining himself in the past, and wants to have a relationship with us. Lets say he was somehow restricted to talking to human beings through ancient books, and couldn’t come down and do some miracles in our presence.

    Even then, any argument that could be made by a human could have been made in the Bible. We should not see any new, convincing arguments for Yahweh, as they should have already been laid out already.

    • eric
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Yup. A kid my not understand why he/she needs a shot, and may not appreciate it no matter what their parents say. But nevertheless, a loving parent tries to explain why its needed. In the case of Yahweh, his loving parental explanation seems to consist of ‘I am the Lord thy God, how dare you question me.’ (For example, Job 34-38 or so.)

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Yahweh did explain it, it’s in the book of Job. The answer is basically “STFU, I do what I want”

      • Mark Fuller Dillon
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Eloquently so!

      • Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Spoken like a well educated religious idiot. It’s time you found another book of Jobs. Unemployment is just, not working.

        • Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:14 am | Permalink

          @aginagnist: I think J Quinton was being ironical. YHWH does not usually say “TF”.

    • raven
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      If the xian god existed, he should be able to provide us with a concise instruction manual written in English and other modern languages.

      This is well within the capabilities of an intelligent third grader.

      Instead we get the bible, a kludgy, incoherent, contradictory mess written in old languages very few people can read any more.

      If god isn’t as competent as a grade schooler, why call him god?

      • MadScientist
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

        Oh come on, you only think he’s inferior because you don’t understand his Mysterious Grand Plan. Hahaha – he had you fooled into thinking he was functionally illiterate!

  17. Steve
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I still can’t quite understand this mythic view of “human discernment”. It comes up a lot in exchanges about non-free willism. If you believe that which you are caused to believe, then the charge is made that you can not trust those beliefs (and here is where the error is made) because you could just as easily be made to believe something that is not true. Apparently it is believed, by some, that there is some kind of free-will-based power to transcend believing out of conviction based on what has been put before you in the way of evidence. Much in the way that one is expected to transcend one’s causal matrix and come up with a free will choice.

    Plantinga makes the assertion that he knows better than any mere materialistic naturalist by virtue of not being a materialistic naturalist.

    Best I can tell the thinking is like this. A computer is a machine, and is incapable of knowing what truth is. All a machine can “know” is what is told to it. Now, if men are materialistic and natural (i.e., not supernatural), then they are no better off than a machine. (well so the flawed thinking goes.)

    • Darth Dog
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I suspect that you are right about how Plantanga thinks with the computer analogy. But it seems that he wouldn’t have to take it much further to come to a different conclusion. The key is to add natural selection and evolution.

      I can think of a simple example. I build a fleet of robot cars. I divide them into two groups. The first group I program that a green traffic light means go. The second group I program that a red traffic light means go. Plantinga is correct that at this point, it is only 50/50 that what any particular robot car “believes” about traffic lights is true. But then I send the robot cars out into traffic and let natural selection work. If I check back in an hour, I would have a fleet of robot cars who all believed that green meant go, and a lot of traffic accidents and wrecked cars.

      I just don’t understand why he doesn’t see that the universe provides a test for the validity of belief. It actually seems like it’s the Sensus Divinitatis that gives you a 50/50 chance of being right. One person asserts one thing, another asserts the opposite, both basing it on their Sensus Divinitatis. And religious folks disagree all the time. There is no way to tell who is right.

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Men are but biological machines created by evolution. And it seems a great many of them are, sadly, misinformed machines. Hopefully evolution will one day correct their misinformed psyche.

      • Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:29 am | Permalink

        In the 1950s, my alma mater, Canterbury University (NZ) proposed to change its motto from “Ergo Tua Rura Manebunt” (Virgil) – a reference to the endowment of the University lands. A cleric on the Council suggested “The Truth Will Make You Free”. (Jn 8:32)

        Mathematics Professor Derek Lawden, a notorious atheist, said,
        “But what if the truth should turn out to be that we are automata? Then we should not only be automata, but stupid automata.”

        I was disappointed to discover just now that the University no longer has a motto.

  18. andreschuiteman
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Plantinga is not a philosopher but an apologist, a salesman. Don’t expect intellectual integrity from him. He must know very well that his 50/50 argument is completely bogus, but he keeps peddling it. The man is not one iota better than W. L. Craig.

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Why didn’t he bring up his own ontological argument for the existence of God? Apparently it’s not such a good argument after all. Yet he keeps trotting it out, keeps piling up the dishonesty.

      • Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Yes, after he says that all the philosophical arguments for the existence of god aren’t very strong, it suddenly occurs to him “Shit, I made some of those arguments!” so he immediately adds: oh, they do have a little bit of force….

  19. TomZ
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    So I guess he also says that the disciples could only really be 50/50 on if Jesus really did the miracles they claim he did, along with a 50/50 chance of the resurrection ever happening? Right?

    And that’s only 12 or a few more (if it was a crowd gathered to watch) observers of a phenomenon with no existing evidence to be studied further. Whereas evidence for evolution is still mounting, still in existence, along with a few more than 12 observers in labs world-wide using testing methods to help deal with eliminating sensory deception.

    Jeez, even using his own methods his god story fails compared to the scientific method.

  20. Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Would it be rhetorical to ask how Satan and his minions, LLC, would fare in Vegas?

  21. Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    With “arguments” and “logic” so transparently pathetic, Plantinga is either a flim-flam man or an idiot. His “logic” would have us put the odds at 50/50, but I’d put them much closer to 80/20, myself.

    Of course, it takes a certain type of idiocy to even want to be a flim-flam man in the first place….

    b&

  22. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Plantinga finds naturalism and evolution incompatible

    Here “naturalism” is a philosophic code word for monism. Which of course we don’t start out with, but as time has passed have started to observe.

    Which is ironic, because Plantinga wants to replace nature with his preferred monism of “godsdidit”. This is theologism.

    And no, science is incompatible with theologism due to to its roots in theory building. Unnecessary agency has to be excluded as propositions which can be wrong without our ability to test them.

    It doesn’t work, ironically because it is suggesting representations and perceptions of the real world that are generally inaccurate!

    Plantinga is Not Even Wrong and trapped in Bizarro World. Of course, Bizzaro Number 1 as he is, he has science envy. “This am great. Me hate science because they am so working.”

  23. Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    But Platinga is not merely a philosopher – he is also a research biologist.

    And a darned good one, too, because he asserts that only we humans have a special neurological arrangement or structure called the “sensus divinitatis” which allows us to sense the presence of God.

    What’s cool is that the sensus divinitatis can be trusted, whilst our other senses and reasoning ability can not, thereby disproving evolution or something.

    Isn’t God great?

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      No he isn’t! He does not exist except in the feeble human mind.

  24. H.H.
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “If you accept naturalism and materialism—that combination—then it seems to me that you’ll have to take it that for any particular belief, the probability that it’s true is about a half. It could as likely be true as false.

    Whereas if you accept supernaturalism, the probability that any particular belief is true falls to near zero, because now we have to contend with the additional possibilities of trickster deities, mischievous sprites, demonic possession, and leprechaun pranksters.

    Clearly, however flawed, naturalism is the superior option.

  25. Karel de Pauw
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Brings to mind George Orwell:

    “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

    Not to mention Peter Medawar:

    “[T]he spread of secondary and .. tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought.”

    • Ludo
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Yes. The Orwell quote applies to Mr. Plantinga, and the one from Medawar describes Mr. Plantinga’s audience. And of course in this video Mr. Plantinga is addressing his own audience, and nobody else.

  26. Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Wait a minute. Then any belief, conjecture, thought, hypothesis has a 50/50 chance to be true. It becomes factual and true when substantiated through repetitive testing and physical proof. Anything that exists, or will exist in the universe can be substantiated when we discover how. Humanity can only survive by learning to control our environment. It would be more advantageous for humanity to lean toward the evolutionary 50% than the God 50%. The odds of human survival are better if efforts are made toward understanding and controlling natures laws than they are trying to prove the existance of a non-existant God.

  27. Posted August 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    1. Golly, every theist falls back on this.
    2. Obviously, Platinga has not read either those “old” atheists nor the “new” ones, since they use much the same arguments. Nice to know that Platty relies on willful ignorance just like any ol’ Christian.
    3. Then dear, Platty, please refrain from using any of the sciences that have supported evolutionary theory, the BBT, etc, with evidence. Surely you relize that anything you think will work magically now has only a 50% of working and how silly that is. I do invite you to hold a white hot bar of iron in your hand since you think that you have a reasonable chance of not being burned to the bone.

    • Harry
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      “Platty”, I like that. Hope it sticks.

  28. RFW
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    “I just know it’s true.”

    What a stupid thing to say. Or, if “stupid” is too strong a word, what a silly thing to say. The man ought to be ashamed of himself.

    Incidentally, I just asked my little treat-addicted cat, Cuddles, if there is a Dog. She replied, “No, definitely not, now give me another treat.”

    Out of the mouths of babes, and out of the mouths of felines.

  29. fullyladenswallow
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    “…but it just seems to be right. It just seems to be that there really is such a person [god].”

    I had a similar exchange with a friend once, only it was about spirituality. She said something like, “it’s not in you, you are in it.” In what? I glanced down at my woo meter which had suddenly pegged out. I then tried to pursue some sort of clarification of her statement. She ended up saying, “well, you just have to experience it for yourself, then you’d understand.” Then I asked how, exactly, is that different from the religious person who says, “you just have to believe, then you’ll know god”? I’m still waiting for an answer.

  30. Posted August 14, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    “Plantinga finds naturalism and evolution incompatible”

    I find Plantinga and intellectual honesty incompatible.

    No idea if this particular silly man is deliberately pushing his nonsense or truly believes that it is well thought out stuff, but I am certain some supporters spread his work around because they want to keep people confused and numb.

    PZ Myers has this situation down pat via The Courtier’s Reply.

    Plantinga’s hell–after all he has just a 50/50 chance that he finds himself there–will be his being forced to take writing lessons from Hemingway.

    This is where the admonition of don’t be a dick via the likes of Pigliucci becomes problematic because it is Plantinga who is being an intellectually dishonest dick so why isn’t Plantinga being hounded by these anti-dickish folks?

  31. Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    The man simply can’t understand that evolution will instill in us representations and perceptions of the real world that are generally accurate.

    That’s just asserting the opposite to Plantinga’s conclusion. Plantinga wants to know why, given that evolution selects for adaptive behaviour, we should think it also selects for true beliefs. Sure, true beliefs would be adaptive, but false beliefs which made us behave in adaptive ways would too.

    As Larry the Barefoot Bum says, Plantinga’s stuff more or less maps on to underdetermination in science, with “conforms to experiment” replacing “is adaptive”. Massimo has more on the that in his “Background, 2” section. So perhaps an appropriate reply to Plantinga would be a version of the “no-miracles” argument: it’d be a miracle (in the sense of something extremely improbable) if a false theory/belief did so well at predicting experiment/promoting survival. Massimo finds this persuasive, though Larry seems not to (but instead says that we can never get the “god’s eye view” on truth, so we may as well just say that it means conformance to experiment).

    Stephen Law thinks says that if there are some constraints on what kind of combinations of behaviour-causing and meaning a belief can have, then Plantinga’s argument doesn’t work, so it’s up to Plantinga to show that there aren’t such constraints. I’m not sure what I think of that, since as far as I can tell, Law doesn’t have any evidence that there are such constraints. Still, to evade a deductive argument all you need is to show that it’s possibly false (see Plantinga’s own stuff on the logical problem of evil) so sauce for the goose, I suppose.

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      “That’s just asserting the opposite to Plantinga’s conclusion. Plantinga wants to know why, given that evolution selects for adaptive behaviour, we should think it also selects for true beliefs. ”

      Look at any “map of religions” on the globe. Given that billions of people have very different beliefs, clearly “true beliefs” is not adaptive.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Plantinga wants to know why, given that evolution selects for adaptive behaviour, we should think it also selects for true beliefs.

      You seem to have answered this yourself, but the short answer is: because that’s the rational conclusion, assuming that “truth” is defined in terms of correspondence with reality. The survival of complex organisms like human beings depends crucially on the way they interact with their environment. If our senses and reason were giving us a systematically false set of beliefs about the world, we wouldn’t last very long, because we wouldn’t know how to find food, avoid predators, etc.

      • Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        It’s not that our senses and reason are giving us false beliefs about anything. It is our ignorance of nature and our inability to logically explain the existance of the universe that creates our spirituality. As we become more understanding off and one with nature, our spirituality will become more recreational than necessary to inhance our creativity. We must first find imortality as a species before we can ever hope to be imortal as individuals.

    • H.H.
      Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:42 am | Permalink

      Look, we know humans are prone to cognitive errors, so Plantinga is right when he says our brains can generate untrue beliefs. That’s why science is such a necessary tool. It straightens out fact from fiction.

      It’s preposterous to conclude from this, however, that the unreliability of our brains means that “naturalism is self-defeating.” This is clearly hogwash because:

      1) Our brains are demonstrably unreliable. This is a fact Plantinga cannot account for. His argument actually rests on the premise that our brains would not be prone to error if they were created by god.

      2) It is possible we are deceived in any number of ways, and the addition of unwarranted supernatural assumptions does nothing to improve the odds. It actually lowers them, since it simply adds more variables to the equation. If naturalism is self-defeating because we cannot know if our brains are reliable instruments, then supernaturalism is self-defeating for the same reason, since even if we assume supernatural agents exist we are still unable to know whether our perceptions are reliable. Plantinga has religious faith that god wouldn’t build his brain to be unreliable, but his credulity is not a rational argument.

      • Iain Walker
        Posted August 15, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        “Our brains are demonstrably unreliable. This is a fact Plantinga cannot account for. His argument actually rests on the premise that our brains would not be prone to error if they were created by god.”

        Actually, Plantinga acknowledges that we do suffer from a fair amount of cognitive error, and he has an “explanation”: i.e., sin. However, exactly how sin is supposed to give rise to cognitive error is less than clear. If anything, one would expect the arrow of causation to be the other way round – i.e., that cognitive error is more likely to lead to people making errors of judgement that result in sinful behaviour. Naturalism+evolution, on the other hand, at least has a clear and intelligible internal account of how cognitive error might arise.

        What Plantinga’s ultimately trying to argue is that the reliability of our cognitive faculties is more probable given the assumption of theism than it is given the assumption of naturalism+evolution. He doesn’t have to argue that our cognitive faculties are always reliable and never err, only that they are generally reliable.

        The problem is, his particular explanation for our falling short of perfect cognitive reliability is too imprecise in scope. How are we supposed to be able to predict the likely damaging effects of sin on our cognitive faculties? If we can’t place any limits on the damage, then the probability of the reliability of our cognitive faculties given theism+sin becomes inscrutable or indeterminate. In other words, he needs his subsidiary hypothesis (that sin damages our cognitive faculties and reduces their reliability) in order to account for the undeniable fact that our brains are not 100% reliable, but the very same subsidiary hypothesis undermines his desired conclusion, because we can no longer assess the relative probabilities of our cognitive faculties being generally reliable given (a) theism+sin (probability = inscrutible) or (b) naturalism+evolution (probability = low, according to him anyway).

        • H.H.
          Posted August 16, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

          Thanks for that info. His argument is even more terrible than I first realized. Plantinga adds not one but two unnecessary assumptions (god exists and sin exists) to his explanation of human cognitive errors. But as you say, by the end he hasn’t gotten anywhere new. He starts by criticizing naturalism on the grounds that it leads to unreliable brains, then presumes god would make them reliable, then ends by presuming sin would make them unreliable again.

          You would think theologians could come up with better arguments than baseless appeals to magic. How anyone in academia could be snookered by such obvious piffle is an astonishment to me.

          • Posted August 16, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

            H.H.  
            It is scary how irrational  belief systems can jeopardize seemingly intelligent minds. Sort-a like Mitt Romney’s financial recovery plan..lmao. 
             
            Religion has served its purpose well in cementing social structures through common beliefs. Just what Constantine intended. The biggest drawback with religion is that, as the population grows, religious belief continues to fragment our global society, and at a time when the world needs to be moving toward global government. 

            Religion cares nothing for species survival  and works as an anticlimax to natures true meaning of life and immortality. We are here to witness and record natures glorious evolution, hopefully forever. We need to supress human greed, share and co-operate to promote humanity’s future in the universe.

        • H.H.
          Posted August 16, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

          Primarily, though, Plantinga’s biggest fault is the presumption that “supernaturalism” is a category which only includes his personal deity. Yahweh is not the only possible supernatural actor. Invoking the supernatural means that he must account for all possible supernatural factors, something he clearly does not do in his rush to condemn “naturalism.”

          I could just as easily reverse his argument and defend naturalism by supposing intelligent aliens designed our brains. It would be just as vacuous of an explanation.

  32. Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    lol in silly Creationist news… http://www.thesuperficial.com/donna-derrico-noahs-ark-08-2012

  33. corio37
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    What’s most astonishing is that Plantinga has managed to retain his position and his status for years now without coming out with anything persuasive or new. That should tell us something about how desperate theists are to have someone even remotely credible on their side.

    • raven
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      A Potempkin intellectual.

      I suppose when he dies they will just use a life size cardboard cutout.

      Why not, it would work just as well.

  34. Another Matt
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    So, I just read a whole collection of Russell on god and religion — most of it reads just like Hitchens, and it’s every bit as scathing. In fact, many of Hitchens’s (and Harris’s) arguments in their respective writings seem to be taken almost directly from a few of the more powerful Russell articles — in spirit if not verbatim. The Gnus are carrying on the tradition.

    • Posted August 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      As awesome as The Hitch was — probably the greatest atheist polemicist in recent history — he couldn’t hold a candle to Twain.

      I very much doubt that Hitch would disagree with my assessment.

      Hitch was brilliant, but Twain was genius personified.

      It’s also worth noting that Christians have yet to sincerely address the arguments of Epicurus, who died centuries before Caesar.

      b&

      • Tim Harris
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        Yes, Twain is a far greater, and braver, writer than Hitch.

        • lkr
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

          Great, yes, courageous, not always.. unlike Hitch, the most acerbic [and certainly the most anti-Abrahamic] were published long after Mark Twain’s death.

  35. Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    “If you accept naturalism and materialism—that combination—then it seems to me that you’ll have to take it that for any particular belief, the probability that it’s true is about a half. It could as likely be true as false.”

    Can we please start referring to this as Plantinga’s Wager? It has all of the innumeracy of the original Pascal’s Wager.

    • raven
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

      Plantinga isn’t very good at counting.

      If the probability of the xian god existing is 50:50.

      Then so is the probability of Brahma, Allah, Zeus, Thor, etc.

      There are thousands of gods at least. The number of them that actually exist should be half that number.

      • Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

        The Million Gods project has passed 5000, but that includes many gods of polytheistic systems. The number of mutually exclusive supreme gods must >100, though, so the chance of Plantinga’s God being the true one is <1.0%.

  36. joya
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    “The man simply can’t understand that evolution will instill in us representations and perceptions of the real world that are generally accurate.”

    This does not to me seem responsive to Plantinga. He’s asking what reasons we have to think a belief true. In reply you say that evolution selects for accurate representations.

    Now clearly, by ‘representation’, you cannot mean ‘belief’. For in that case, either you mean ‘accurate’ as a synonym for ‘true’ or you mean something else by ‘accurate’, like ‘successful in practice’. Plantinga would argue that, granted naturalism and materialism, you only have warrant to say ‘successful in practice’, not ‘true’.

    In your example of the advancing, slavering lion, for instance, Plantinga agrees with you that evolution selects for creatures that take action to avoid advancing, slavering lions. But, appealing only to naturalism, you get no warrant for saying that the belief that motivates that action is true, as opposed to it being successful in practice.

    So, by ‘representation’, you must mean not ‘belief’ but ‘representation’. Plantinga could agree with you that evolution selects for true or accurate representations, but still press you for the reason that our beliefs about those representations should be thought true.

    Suppose, for instance, I’m the thirsty man in your second example. I truly perceive, thanks to my evolution-conferred perceptual ability, that not drinking water causes pain for beings like me. I also falsely believe that my perceptions are false, and I believe that pain is to be embraced. My beliefs together with my perceptions impel me to drink water when I’m thirsty.

    So just pushing the matter back to the truth or accuracy of perceptions or representations, simpliciter, given evolution, won’t answer Plantinga’s argument. It seems possible for false beliefs still to co-exist with successful adaptive behaviour, even given accurate perceptions.

    I should finish by saying that I’m not an apologist for Plantinga, still less do I hold any brief for religious belief. I’m not even sure that your criticisms of Plantinga can’t be bolstered to answer his claims. The truth of the last sentence of my previous paragraph, for instance, could be denied on other grounds. The points I’d simply urge are (1) that your reply to Plantinga on this point is not sustainable as it stands and (2) that Plantinga’s one of the most astute thinkers around, not someone to dismiss as a hack.

    • joya
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Apologies; I see that an earlier commenter has made a similar point (and more succinctly).

    • Another Matt
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Now clearly, by ‘representation’, you cannot mean ‘belief’. For in that case, either you mean ‘accurate’ as a synonym for ‘true’ or you mean something else by ‘accurate’, like ‘successful in practice’. Plantinga would argue that, granted naturalism and materialism, you only have warrant to say ‘successful in practice’, not ‘true’.

      Satisficing works for empirical claims, too. Nobody has the capital-T Truth about the world-as-it-is; in what way is there warrant as empirical beings to distinguish between “true” and “successful correspondence with reality?”

      “True enough to put a robot on Mars” is a pretty good standard for truth, even if humans are not a collective Laplace Demon.

      • joya
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure I understand the second head of the distinction you make between “true” and “successful correspondence with reality”. If you’re saying that a belief’s success in directing action (like landing things on Mars) just means that its content corresponds with the world, that seems to beg the question. It’s at least conceptually possible that successful beliefs can come apart from beliefs that correspond with the world.

        • Another Matt
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

          Zero people have ever had access to the type of empirical truth that would allow you to consider trust in inductive discovery “question begging.” All we have are more-successful and less-successful models, and their success depends upon pre- and postdiction of events.

          When a prediction is successful, the web of beliefs that fostered it will also be successful in directing action. That really is the best we can do when it comes to empirical reality. As some other commenters have pointed out, our scientific method is honed more by culture, but its inductive roots are present in anything that can broadly be called “learning,” which can clearly evolve by natural selection.

          This methodology’s past success is what leads us to believe it will be successful in the future. Of course, the future may turn out to be nonsensical — such is the problem of induction — but so far it has been a virtuous cycle.

          • joya
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

            Well, I’ve lost the thread a little here. Earlier you were talking about truth as “successful correspondence to reality”. But now you say that being “[successful in directing action] is the best we can do when it comes to [beliefs about] empirical reality.” In your second definition of what it is for a belief to be true, nothing corresponds to anything.

            In any case, I think this probably is not the forum for a detailed discussion of theories of truth. So let me say by way of conclusion that I think it a merit of Plantinga’s argument (and philosophical argument more generally) that it obliges clearer thought about questions about truth, warrant and rationality.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted August 15, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

              How could we successfully direct our actions if our beliefs didn’t have some correspondence to reality?

              For example, how could we successfully land a robot on Mars if our beliefs about Mars’s movement, about gravity, and about how rockets work didn’t correspond to the reality of Mars’s movement, gravity, and how rockets work?

    • Gary W
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

      Suppose, for instance, I’m the thirsty man in your second example. I truly perceive, thanks to my evolution-conferred perceptual ability, that not drinking water causes pain for beings like me. I also falsely believe that my perceptions are false, and I believe that pain is to be embraced. My beliefs together with my perceptions impel me to drink water when I’m thirsty.

      Maybe I’m missing something, but this example seems to contradict your position, not support it. If you falsely believe that your perceptions are false and that you should “embrace the pain” of thirst, then you *won’t* drink water when you’re thirsty, and you’ll eventually die. Your false belief is not adaptive. It’s harmful.

      What do you think it means for a proposition to be “true,” as you are using the word in this context?

      • joya
        Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps I could have phrased that more clearly. The false belief I have (or as I phrased it, what I “falsely believe”) is my belief about my perceptual faculties. I believe them to provide false representations of the world, but I am wrong and they provide true representations of the world. I’m not relying on any fancy meaning of truth here; I mean simple correspondence.

        So in my version of the thirsty-man example, I believe that pain is to be embraced. And I have perceived that not drinking water when thirsty causes pain. If that were it, I would not drink the water (and as you say, that would not be adaptive). But I also believe that my perceptions are false. So I disbelieve my perception that pain attends not drinking water when thirsty. Thus I do drink water when thirsty.

        • Gary W
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

          Then I don’t understand the point of your example. You’ve created a bizarre scenario in which the false belief that your “perceptions are false” could be beneficial (as long as you also believe that “pain is to be embraced”). But in general, the false belief that your perceptions are false is not going to be beneficial. It’s going to be very harmful. If you don’t trust the accurate information you’re getting from your senses you’re probably going to die very quickly.

          If you agree that “true” means something like “corresponds to reality,” then — contrary to what Plantinga says — if a belief is adaptive it is likely to be true.

          • joya
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

            Right; so you have a new worry here. I’m glad your earlier, interpretive concern is resolved.

            I quite agree my scenario is fanciful; its point is to show conceptual possibility. The other comment I referred to earlier (Paul Wright’s, I think?) deals with the plausibility objection in more detail, so the debate on that point can probably be more fruitfully joined in that comment thread.

            To reiterate the paragraph at the end of my substantive comment, my point is twofold. First, that the argument against Plantinga as it’s stated in this article is not well formed. *Merely* saying that Plantinga doesn’t understand or ignores the accuracy of representations and/or perceptions is not responsive to his argument. Second, that Plantinga does not strike me as someone who ought to be dismissed summarily. He’s a serious thinker, and philosophical questions about warrant, truth and rationality are serious questions.

            • Gary W
              Posted August 14, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

              It doesn’t matter that it’s “conceptually possible” for a false belief to be beneficial or adaptive. The point is that in general false beliefs are not going to be successful. They’re going to be harmful. If you approach a tiger because you falsely believe it’s a chicken, you’re likely to get eaten. If you eat some poisonous berries because you falsely believe they’re safe, you’re likely to get sick. If you walk off the edge of a cliff because you falsely believe it’s level ground, you’re going to fall to your death. And so on. In order for us to survive, evolution must have given us senses and reasoning that are generally accurate and reliable about the world around us, that generally give us a TRUE picture of the world. I don’t know why you (and Plantinga) can’t see this.

              • joya
                Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

                I’d note, first, that what you’ve said goes beyond what’s stated in the article on which I commented, and reiterate my point that one has to do a little more than this article does to respond to Plantinga convincingly. Again, that’s what motivated my substantive comment.

                I’d also note, parenthetically, that you seem to slip without argument between ‘successful’ and ‘true’. Thus for instance you say, “In general false beliefs are not going to be successful”, but also “Evolution must have given us … a TRUE picture of the world”. Since you concede at least the conceptual possibility of adaptively successful beliefs not being true beliefs, and since this is the point at issue, I’d want to hear some argument before being convinced. But please don’t think I don’t take seriously the plausibility objection you made earlier. I do. Once again, my point is merely to say that this seems to me a topic for considered philosophical and scientific debate, not for an out of hand dismissal.

                By the way, contrary to your final sentence seems to imply, I haven’t said anything about what I think. I’m trying to present Plantinga’s argument sympathetically, since I don’t think it’s been fairly characterised.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

                than this article does to respond to Plantinga convincingly

                I think we have convincingly responded to Plantinga. We’ve explained in detail what’s wrong with his nonsensical claim that beliefs about the world produced through naturalism/materialism are no more likely to be true than false.

                I’d also note, parenthetically, that you seem to slip without argument between ‘successful’ and ‘true’.

                “Successful” is your word, from your phrase “successful in practise,” which I take to mean “adaptive” or “beneficial.” I’ve explained why the fact that a belief is successful/adaptive/beneficial is likely to mean that it’s true. If you think there’s a problem with this argument, then offer your rebuttal.

              • joya
                Posted August 15, 2012 at 5:31 am | Permalink

                GaryW, apologies for the out-of-order reply; I can’t seem to find a reply button for your last comment.

                I certainly agree with you that your and others’ comments suggest lines of reply to Plantinga. When I said “one has to do a little more than this article does to respond to Plantinga convincingly”, I meant “this article”, not “this article and its comments”.

                I don’t want to quibble with you about ‘successful’ as opposed to ‘beneficial or adaptive’. I mean ‘successful’ here as a synonym of either of those latter two. I have to say that I still don’t quite see, at least in your last post, the *argument* for why beneficial or adaptive action or behaviour is likely associated with true beliefs. You offer some examples of false beliefs leading to maladaptive behaviour. But that’s not, as it stands, an argument. (I don’t disbelieve, of course, that you can make an argument from those examples.)

                But I’m anxious not to prolong this exchange, which is already overlong. The bigger point here is that you seem to be pressing a plausibility objection against Plantinga. As I mentioned earlier, I’m sympathetic to that objection, and I don’t propose to enter into discussion of it. In part that’s because I don’t have the expertise; in part it’s because, at the risk of painful repetition, that’s not what motivated my substantive comment.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 15, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

                I have to say that I still don’t quite see, at least in your last post, the *argument* for why beneficial or adaptive action or behaviour is likely associated with true beliefs.

                I’ve explained this repeatedly. The survival of complex organisms like human beings depends crucially on the way they interact with their environment. They need to find food and water and shelter, avoid predators and other dangers, and so on. A systematically false set of beliefs about the world around them would make this virtually impossible. It would be like someone trying to survive while they were suffering from pervasive hallucinations that caused them to see things that weren’t really there or fail to see things that were there. The only way such an organism could survive is if its beliefs generally correspond to the actual nature of its environment. That is, if its beliefs are generally true.

              • joya
                Posted August 17, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

                GaryW: I’ve said several times that joining debate over the plausibility objection to Plantinga is not something in which I’d like to engage here. And you’ve continually ignored what I’ve asserted to be my main point, viz. the *non-triviality* of the work required to refute Plantinga. So this will be my last contribution to this thread. Let me preface it by saying that this contribution is about the structure of your comments, not the substance of your disagreement with Plantinga.

                You say you’ve explained something repeatedly, but it’s only in your last post that you’ve provided anything approaching an argument for your position. Let me illustrate how your earlier posts are not responsive to the question at issue, so that it’s false that you’ve explained repeatedly what you think you have explained. You said:

                “The point is that in general false beliefs are not going to be successful. They’re going to be harmful. If you approach a tiger because you falsely believe it’s a chicken, you’re likely to get eaten. If you eat some poisonous berries because you falsely believe they’re safe, you’re likely to get sick. If you walk off the edge of a cliff because you falsely believe it’s level ground, you’re going to fall to your death. And so on. In order for us to survive, evolution must have given us senses and reasoning that are generally accurate and reliable about the world around us, that generally give us a TRUE picture of the world.”

                Consider the structure of that paragraph. The first two sentences assert that:

                1. Having false beliefs will produce maladaptive behavior.

                The next three sentences *illustrate* but do not *argue* for your claim (1). Since I provided a logical counterexample to (1), your three illustrations do nothing to further a defence of (1).

                You then assert:

                2. Evolution must select for accurate senses.

                and

                3. Evolution must select for accurate reasoning.

                But neither (2) nor (3) contradicts anything in my version of the thirsty-man example. For (2) and (3) are true in the thirsty-man example: perceptions are accurate and reasoning is accurate.

                You finish by claiming that (2) and (3) imply that we must have available to us “a TRUE picture of the world”. I can harmlessly concede that, since you have still said nothing at all about the content of beliefs–in particular, the contents our beliefs about our perceptions. So, since you still have only asserted, without argument, (1), your comment is unresponsive to the point at issue, and your later claim about having “explained repeatedly” your position can be seen to be false.

                So what *could* you do to be responsive to the argument I set out? You could press the plausibility objection against the counterexample (see other branches of this comment thread for attempts to do just that), and say *why* it’s implausible, as opposed to asserting its implausibility.

                You begin to do that in your latest comment, but note that some of that comment is also subject to the criticisms I’ve just made, viz. the unargued claim from analogy that if one had false beliefs, “it would be like … suffering from pervasive halluciations”.

                For my part, I think the plausibility objection is promising, and I’m sure it can indeed be developed against Plantinga. But notice that it’s non-trivial intellectual work to do so, contra your and the original article’s claims about the *obvious* falsity of Plantinga’s position.

                I hope this comment helps you better formulate your arguments in the future. Thank you for the exchange.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted August 17, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

                Illustrate a claims is arguing for it.

              • Another Matt
                Posted August 17, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

                You know, joya, I hate to keep on this, but I think your thirsty man example doesn’t meet the logical requirements you think it does.

                If you believe all of your perceptions are false, then you will believe in a “thirst spectrum” that is either inverted or randomly scrambled — if you’re “feeling” really thirsty, it could be that you believe “in fact” that you are just moderately thirsty.

                The logical problem comes when you try to figure out how changes in thirst state are perceived. If we grant that you believe all your perceptions are false, then you’ll believe that any perceived change in your state of thirst will be false. Even worse, any state you perceive as static you’ll need to believe is in constant, wild flux. But then if you perceive a change between two static states after you drink water (which you won’t believe just happened because you perceived yourself drinking water), you’re going to have to believe that what is going on is in fact a random flux of thirst states quite uncorrelated with any previous cause or action you’ve taken.

                The only way out seems to be total paralysis from belief in either total Parmenidian stasis or Heraclitan flux.

                But really, your problem is just in the requirement that you believe that all of your perceptions are false. Your example works better if you loosen this restriction to “I believe my perceptions are not always accurate.” But then you have to argue for why evolution would not select for accurate-enough perceptions and flexible cognition.

                If the position really is “I believe my perceptions are not always accurate” then already it’s become an argument over plausibility and empiricism.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

                joya,

                The next three sentences *illustrate* but do not *argue* for your claim (1). Since I provided a logical counterexample to (1), your three illustrations do nothing to further a defence of (1).

                The illustration is the argument. The sentences illustrate the fact that false beliefs tend to have harmful consequences. Survival requires specific and complex patterns of behavior that are extremely unlikely to arise by chance or in response to false beliefs, but are likely to arise in response to true beliefs. Your supposed counterexample actually supports this conclusion. There is no reason to expect the pair of false beliefs you contrived to actually arise in a real organism and be adaptive, let alone that a systematically false set of beliefs about the world would be adaptive. Your defense of Plantinga seems to be that because his hypothesis cannot be ruled out as a logical possibility it is therefore reasonable and requires some kind of long and sophisticated rebuttal. But it’s not reasonable and it doesn’t require a long rebuttal. It’s just stupid. Its absurdity is evident from a moment’s reflection about the causal relationship between belief and behavior in the real world.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted August 15, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

              econd, that Plantinga does not strike me as someone who ought to be dismissed summarily. He’s a serious thinker,

              Evidence for this assertion?

              • joya
                Posted August 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

                Try his “The Nature of Necessity”.

            • Posted August 17, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

              Joya,
              Thank you for your efforts toward plausible deniability. Using your criteria for accreditation, I’m sure one could fantasize proof that feces tastes like chocolate. Plantinga would  be proud of you. Delusion becomes reality but, only in your mind. You certainly make a cognitive argument why unsubstantiated religions exist within humanity.

        • Another Matt
          Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          The important thing in these situations is to follow the thought experiment to the letter.

          So, here is what you believe:

          1) Your perceptions are false.
          2) Pain ought to be embraced.

          Then, not having drunk water in a while, you notice pain, but you believe that the presence of pain is, in all cases, a false perception, and therefore that the absence of pain is in fact “really” the presence of pain that you are supposed to embrace, so you drink the water in order to cause this “pain.”

          Fine. Now your behavior is semantically no different from normal behavior, except for what you say you believe — it amounts to a redefinition of “pain” to correspond with what you feel when the “ouch” isn’t present, and that’s what you say ought to be embraced, not that “ouch” feeling.

          Now, where you really run aground is the fact that you think your higher-order perceptions are also false, so when you perceive having affirmed “pain is to be embraced,” you’ll believe that your perception is false and that you have in fact lied to others or yourself about that belief.

          On the other hand, you can’t have had intelligible conversations with anyone if you believe that you have misheard every clearly-heard utterance, so it’s unlikely that you’ve ever been able to form the thought “pain ought to be embraced” in such specific terms in the first place.

          • joya
            Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

            If I understand you correctly, you’re making a plausibility objection of sorts to my example. Offhand, I should say that it seems possible to tweak my simple example and avoid the complex consequences you draw from it. Perhaps, for instance, I always drink water before I experience the pain that attends extreme thirst, so that those complex consequences you mention never arise. (Since I’m only interested in showing a conceptual possibility, I don’t have to worry about making things a little more fanciful.)

            Even if you’re not wild about that, let me say again what I said in an earlier comment, that my motivation here has been to say that Plantinga deserves more consideration than a summary dismissal, not to argue vigorously in his defence.

            • Another Matt
              Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

              Well, I think I made a mistake before. I think your example is a little too strictly defined for what Plantinga wants to defend.

              You would drink water in order to “instill pain” (that is, “prevent thirst” in plain English). Except now, since you believe your perceptions to be false, you will need to disbelieve that you experienced a change in state from “not in pain” (“thirsty,” in English) to “in pain” (“quenched,” in English). This ought to cause you some distress because nothing could possibly get you into the state you think you want to embrace (except, you would disbelieve that you were feeling that distress)…

            • Vaal
              Posted August 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

              Joya,

              There are many objections to Plantinga’s EAAN, but the main one I find is the plausibility objection. It’s one thing to conjure various separate belief/desire scenarios in which it’s logically possible they guide us to adaptive behavior; it’s entirely another to actually show it MORE PLAUSIBLE than the typical naturalistic account (that cognitive faculties that generally track the truth are more likely to be adaptive).

              There is an inherent plausibility, both intuitive AND in more rigorous scientific accounts, to the proposition that our cognitive faculties would be adaptive insofar as they tended to track truths about the world (hence we can form true beliefs that allow us to successfully interact with the world).

              A standard evolutionary naturalistic account posits our cognitive faculties have come from a long, slow history of precursor forms “getting things right” one adaptation after another, and that there is no reason to make an exception for the evolution of our cognitive faculties, built as they are upon all these successful previous adaptations. It makes sense that a cognitive faculty that allows accurate beliefs about past experience (memory) combined with accurate perceptions and beliefs about present situations, would allow for adaptive behavior in novel situations. “That thing in front of me is big, furry and has sharp claws. The last thing like that killed some of our tribe, so I better be cautious about this one too..!”

              This is entirely plausible. Plantinga knows this and realises to challenge it’s inherent plausibility he must come up with a “defeater” – another possible way our faculties would work that is so plausible as to undermined our confidence in the typical naturalistic account.

              He thinks he can smuggle in a defeater by appealing to evolution only “caring” about adaptation, not about true beliefs. He tries this with, for instance, his famous “Paul and the tiger” examples, where Paul exhibits the adaptive behavior of running from a tiger, but on a false belief (e.g. Paul really desires to pet the tiger, but believes running away is the best way to pet it).

              The glaring problem is, while this is a logical possibility, Plantinga does nothing to make it PLAUSIBLE. He offers no possible systematic cognitive mechanism or story or epistemology that would make the ongoing survival of such a being plausible. In fact, given “Paul’s” cognitive faculties are firing off beliefs that are unrelated to the truth of his situation, they seem adaptive only by SHEER CHANCE. Otherwise, what mechanism would ensure that Paul’s beliefs are adaptive beyond a chance level? Plantinga proposes no such mechanism, no biology, no wider systematic concept.
              If Paul’s beliefs are being generated in manner that makes their relationship to reality mere chance, we would expect this creature to be catastrophically maladaptive in any novel situation. (Let alone Plantinga has to answer so many more questions – like how could beings whose cognitive faculties conjure false beliefs
              actually communicate with one another any information, or pass information on to their kids, etc? Why would any of them understand, accurately, what the other told him? The problems go on and on.

              Plantinga is really playing the typical theist game – acting as if mere logical possibility, or compatibility, were good enough when what we really need is plausibility. His alternate “defeater” examples for false-but-adaptive-beliefs are utterly bereft of plausible support on his part, hence he has no such defeater.
              This is what you get when someone thinks he can just dip into a science, offer off-the-cuff concepts, but retreat back to the pews without doing any of the rigorous
              work needed to support it (as biologists do all day long).

              Vaal.

              • joya
                Posted August 15, 2012 at 5:04 am | Permalink

                What you’ve said seems to me a powerful reply to Plantinga on this point, and I’ve seen similar arguments in the literature. I freely admit to not being an expert in the field, so I don’t know whether Plantinga can offer a convincing reply to the plausibility objection. I’d just say again what I said to an earlier commenter, that my point here is that Plantinga requires that powerful reply, and that the argument against his position, as it’s stated in the article above, is not cogent. Nor do I see any evidence of his hackishness. As I mentioned in my first comment, I hold no brief for Plantinga or his positions.

              • Iain Walker
                Posted August 15, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

                “In fact, given “Paul’s” cognitive faculties are firing off beliefs that are unrelated to the truth of his situation, they seem adaptive only by SHEER CHANCE.”

                My preferred theory is that Paul the Hominid is a character in a Tex Avery cartoon, and that he has two little homunculi in his head, a Desire-Homunculus who is trying to get him killed, and so keeps on generating desires to be eaten by tigers etc, while the Belief-Homunculus is desperately trying to generate any ad hoc belief that will keep Paul alive every time he runs into a tiger. Together, the three of them go on wacky adventures. There is a tiger in the cartoon as well, who looks a bit like a stripy version of Wile E. Coyote, but really just wants to be left alone.

    • David Evans
      Posted August 15, 2012 at 3:48 am | Permalink

      What you and Plantinga have pointed out is that two false beliefs can, by chance, add up to a belief that results in appropriate action. But it’s much harder to see

      (i)how such pairs of false beliefs could arise. Either belief without the other is likely to be damaging (fatally so in the case of lions). To be adaptive they would have to arise at the same time.

      (ii) how they would not conflict with other observations. If you think that lions want to kiss you, but you hate being kissed and welcome the idea of being eaten, that might keep you alive for a while. But what happens when you see a lion eating someone else?

      • joya
        Posted August 15, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

        As to your (ii), notice that my false belief about my perceptual abilities can be systematically maintained. I didn’t require the thirsty man only to disbelieve a single perception. So the example is, at least in that respect, logically coherent. It might seem a fanciful example, but my interest is in showing conceptual possibility. You might of course then question, like other commenters, the value of showing conceptual possibility here.

        I think (i) is also an interesting reply, a version of the plausibility objection other commenters have pursued. I don’t disbelieve that plausibility objection; what I’m urging is that Plantinga requires that objection, not the simple dismissal given in the article above.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted August 15, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      Now clearly, by ‘representation’, you cannot mean ‘belief’. For in that case, either you mean ‘accurate’ as a synonym for ‘true’ or you mean something else by ‘accurate’, like ‘successful in practice’. Plantinga would argue that, granted naturalism and materialism, you only have warrant to say ‘successful in practice’, not ‘true’.

      Correct. And that’s exactly what we see. Human brains are good at developing beliefs that are successful in practice, but not as good at developing beliefs that are completely “true”. This is what we would expect from naturalism, and that’s what we see.

  37. Posted August 14, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    What’s curious to me about the EAAN is that much of our understanding of the world is not evolved but a product of culturally-developed epistemologies. It’s by the application of theories and performing experiments that we’ve made real advances in understanding the world.

  38. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I for one prefer the “Alexander’s Sword” methodology to the religionists’ proffered Gordian Knot, to all this “new Atheist” versus Hume, Russell et. al., need to read the Bible, Qu’ran, etc.:

    1) Thousands of scientific papers and studies (and I do mean thou-sands) attest to the fact that memory is a physical phenomenon, powered by unimaginable numbers of ions, sodium, calcium, phosphoric. Memory is physical, and it is entirely a physical phenomenon, all contained within the nervous system (there is memory in places other than the brain, too).

    Man, before 1000 AD: no knowledge of cells, elements, even blood circulation or the concept of zero. No chance religion can contribute meaningfully to the human condition.

    2) Those ions, those synapses, aren’t leaving your skull when you die. A well-observed lack of such phenomenon.

    3) When you die, you will not “travel”, transmigrate, retain consciousness (hate that “near death” stuff…totally organic) and proceed to another ‘world’, ‘heaven’,etc. Nope…nada, zip, zilch… you won’t meet god, Jesus, grandma, Einstein,….all their ions used in memory (which defined who they were) are still pretty much where their heads (or, the ashes of their heads) finally rested.

    4) You aren’t meeting god. You will not be judged. Forget all that. You are returning to everything you were in 1850. So forget all the arguments, ontological or otherwise. Moot moot moot. Memory goes dark…over and OUT! That’s it. fin.

    5) If you like “religion”, take on the Greek gods, or Norse gods. Much, much more satisfying!! No obligations, better reading.

  39. Tim Harris
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    As his remarks about the problem of ‘believing’ in the existence of other people and of the past, and his subsequent remarks about not being able to tell whether a belief is true or not, at the basis of Plantinga’s thought is the assumption that the individual is not from the beginning a part of the world and inseparably involved in it – and this despite his genuflections to evolution. Presumably Plantinga sees us as ‘souls’ dropped into the middedn of the universe. As for ‘representations’ and ‘beliefs’, what, ultimately, is the difference between them? I suggest we should distinguish between ‘belief’ in its broad sense, and the narrow and deceptive intensities of religious ‘belief’ – they are not the same.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted August 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      *midden

  40. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Alvin? Alvin!… ALVIN!!!

    Where’s David Seville when we need him?

  41. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    If, as Plantinga contends, the ability of our senses to detect truth about nature comes not from natural selection, but from a god-given sensus divinitatus, how come it is primarily the spectrum of nature’s operation that falls outside our day-to-day sense experience — and, thus, the spectrum of nature’s operation that wouldn’t have had a direct impact on our specie’s survival rate (Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity, for example) — that we find counter-intuitive?

    Just one more instance of god jerry-rigging the universe to make it look as though life evolved according to the principles of natural selection?

  42. Ludo
    Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    It seems so naive: God exists because I know / feel / intuit it. And trees and stones, flowers and birds, the whole world, is proof of Creation and Creator. But keep in mind that Plantinga is no fool: he knows very well the philosophical weakness of his argument. He also knows that he is repeating old fashioned and outdated views. But then he knows perfectly well what he is doing: there is a vast audience of semi-educated, semi-intellectual people craving for this type of old-fashioned, pseudo-poetic, folk theology! (See 25, the Medawar quote by Karel de Pauw). Plantinga focuses on this audience to defend and promote faith and religion.
    Medawar’s quote refers to the fact that, since the introduction of our modern school system which guarantees education for everyone (which is a good thing), many people get educated above their abilities: they learn lots of things that they never really understand. As a result (I think) they feel uncomfortable vis-à-vis modern developments in science and technology. People like Plantinga comfort them. They make them feel better by telling them that they are no ‘failures’, that they have no need to feel sort of inferior because it is in fact rationalism that is inferior, and that faith and intuition are far superior to scientific knowledge. The selling point of religion today is their message that childlike, uneducated views are in fact divine, and perfectly in line with ‘good old tradition’ and ‘common sense’.

    • Ludo
      Posted August 15, 2012 at 2:01 am | Permalink

      Sorry: I should have written: ‘A’ instead of ‘The’ selling point. Religion has, of course, many selling points, going from group bonding to sadism and/or masochism.

  43. Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    There’s about a 50% chance that Plantinga isn’t a big fraud.

  44. Vaal
    Posted August 15, 2012 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    As has been argued here already, Plantinga’s “defeater” for naturalism is no defeater at all. We don’t have to “know” or “prove” in some absolute sense that our cognitive faculties would produce some basic, reliable level of truth-tracking beliefs. We only need good reason to think it’s the most plausible explanation for how we would operate, how we would have evolved, and for best explaining the data as we find it.

    The standard naturalistic account not only makes sense in terms of the evolutionary process from simpler to more complex cognitive faculties, it spreads robustly into
    every area, explaining not only why would get many things “right” in our beliefs but, just as important: it explains why we would also get many things wrong. In fact, the standard evolutionary/biological account helps us understand why our mental faculties tends to make the specific mistakes they do.

    So in the naturalistic view, our cognitive faculties are slowly select for over time for their ability to track reality, and thus produce beliefs that track reality.

    Whereas Plantinga’s alternative “defeater” scenario posits cognitive faculties that produce behavior-inducing beliefs that are related to reality only by chance and then THOSE BELIEFS are selected IF they just happen to move the creature in an adaptive way. In other words, when I see a street busy with cars, in Plantinga’s examples there is no mechanism posited to suggest my cognitive faculty will produce an adaptive belief. I may just as easily think the right thing to do is drop to the ground and break dance in the middle of the lanes, vs crossing the street carefully monitoring the cars. Plantinga-me would only survive if I LUCKED OUT with a belief that moved me in a safe way across the street. Again, this scenario could only be utterly catastrophic
    for the fate of any creature operating this way, vs a creature whose cognitive faculties is storing accurate beliefs about past experience, comparing it to accurate impressions of what is going on in front of him.

    The other way Plantinga’s view fails in comparison to the naturalistic account is in explaining our specific cognitive weaknesses, failures and liabilities. Plantinga wants to attribute our ability to track truth to God giving it to us, this senses divinitus. But then why the hell would it be so LOUSY in so many situations? Why would God endow us with a “sensus divinitatis” that does not even point people toward anything like a consensus on the supernatural world, let alone consensus on God existing or which God? Why would God endow us with faculties that reliably fail
    in many ways…all our biases etc, many of which are the cause of much suffering?
    It’s like God says “I’ll invest their minds with a truth-tracking power…well…not really…I’m going to make sure it’s faulty enough to REALLY mess things up!..” (Wait…here comes another character, The Devil, to help out..)

    There is so much unconvincing ad-hoc work people like Plantinga must do to try to prop such ideas up it’s embarrassing to watch. He just fails the plausibility/parsimony tests over and over.

    Vaal

    • Another Matt
      Posted August 15, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Good stuff, Vaal, as usual (both posts). Your explanations here show where Plantinga’s claims dovetail with more traditional Aristotelian-Thomist claims.

      I think Plantinga’s counterclaim to you rejection of his “defeater” would be simply that it begs the question to point to adaptation or natural selection to explain something like human communication, language, and math — it’s these things that are at issue.

      And it’s these things that are at issue in A-T philosophy/theology as well: according to A-T things can evolve to learn all kinds of “true-enough” things about the world from an empirical standpoint — something material could even evolve to use tools. But it takes something immaterial to recognize and represent the metaphysical (immaterial) truths one finds in Euclid, or Aristotelian syllogism.

      It requires a descent into the follies of essentialism to properly refute it, but so far as I know Plantinga doesn’t really approach the A-T stuff in his apologetics. Who has time to read it all, though?

      • truthspeaker
        Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        human communication, language, and math

        Except that communication, including language, and math provide clear reproductive advantages.

      • Vaal
        Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Another Matt,

        “I think Plantinga’s counterclaim to you rejection of his “defeater” would be simply that it begs the question to point to adaptation or natural selection to explain something like human communication, language, and math — it’s these things that are at issue.”

        He might reply that way but he’d be wrong.
        Plantinga’s main argument, wherein he brings up examples like “Paul and the Lion,” grapples with proposition of beings like we are purported to be by many naturalists: that we have beliefs and desires and our beliefs are causally efficacious, hence influence our survivability. He says even in THIS scenario, evolution theory ought to make us doubt our beliefs.

        But with this agreed starting point, we can evaluate whether it makes more sense that true beliefs would be more likely to explain the survival of such creatures, vs Plantinga’s concept of false-but-resulting-in-adaptive-behaviour beliefs.

        When you look at the two theses, it’s clear that the former, the normal naturalistic account, is vastly more plausible. The naturalistic scientific account posits the mechanism itself – the cognitive faculties – as the adaptation, the element of selection, not the beliefs it generates. (Whereas one is left to infer in Plantinga’s scenario that the beliefs themselves, being adaptive, are the objects of selection, since he does not explain how the mechanism for producing those beliefs would produce reliably adaptive behaviour).

        From the simplest of precursors an entity adapts only insofar as it has some mechanism for “recognizing” and responding adaptively to reality. For instance, a simple organism with a simple light sensitive cell that “recognizes” light reliably and moves adaptively toward it. It makes sense a cognitive system, born of this long slow accumulation of parts that “reliably recognized and responded to reality in adaptive ways” – the structure that makes up our eyes, our nerves etc. would continue this logic. If we get to the point were these many truth-tracking adaptations start producing beliefs that are necessary for our continued adaptation, it is most reasonable to think the beliefs will tend to have some mainly reliable tracking of truth (with caveats we could get into).

        And if Plantinga’s argument relies on what science tells us of evolution theory, then we have to stick with how we know evolution works. “Beliefs” (“memes” aside with is a different subject for this purpose) are not objects of selection – when I form a belief that Obama is the President, there is no evolutionary biological mechanism posited for this belief being passed on, inherited, via DNA, to my off-spring. Therefore an adaptive belief, be it true or false and even if it plays a crucial role in survival, does not make sense as the object of evolutionary adaptation in populations over time. But the COGNITIVE APPARATUS for producing adaptive beliefs IS the more plausible object of reproduction via DNA.
        And the way this cognitive apparatus would be adaptive would be in it’s ability to track reality and produce beliefs that track reality (to a reasonable degree).
        A cognitive mechanism that produces reliably truth-tracking beliefs would allow for an organism to tend to have truth-tracking inferences/beliefs and hence adapt to novel situations. His beliefs are reliably adaptive only because the cognitive apparatus producing them has the feature of beliefs that “recognize” reality.

        Whereas a cognitive faculty that had NO mechanism for producing beliefs that recognized reality with true belief would NOT be expected to survive long, especially in any novel condition. Remembering that beliefs here are accepted as causally efficacious – affecting survival – then Plantinga-Paul’s causally efficacious beliefs would only ever lead to adaptive behavior on grounds of sheer luck. Which wouldn’t hope to explain how such a creature could survive any novel situations over time. And Plantinga gives no account of how an entity with this type of cognitive faculties could operate…or get to the beneficial point of operating in groups, communicating etc (because without presuming their cognition produces true EFFICACIOUS beliefs about what is coming from their eyes and ears, there’s no reason to think they would accurately apprehend what each other is saying). And there is no posited mechanism for how these adaptive beliefs could be passed on in Plantinga’s weird scenario.

        Whereas positing physical, cognitive faculties that can produce accurate beliefs (and be passed on to successive generations via DNA) DOES explain reliably adaptive behavior, DOES explain
        how adaptive success can be passed to successive generations, DOES explain how
        more complex cognition systems can communicate with other such systems for mutual benefit/survivability etc.

        So it’s not begging the question at all: it’s taking an already agreed upon starting point – evolution theory and the concept of creatures like us with beliefs, desires, ways to rationalize actions – and then we compare which account implies the survivability of these creatures: Plantinga’s “Paul-type” version of cognition or ours.

        And ours wins the reasonableness argument hands down.

        Vaal

        • Vaal
          Posted August 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

          Sorry..the shorter form for that is:

          Plantinga’s scenario does not answer HOW Paul’s cognitive faculties would be reliably adaptive. For all we can see Paul’s belief just “happens” by chance to be adaptive in the scenario. Plantinga provides no detail about Paul’s cognitive faculties, no concept by which to explain how Paul would continue to survive novel situations, let alone pass on this trait, whatever it is, to successive generations, as is demanded by evolution theory.

          Whereas the standard naturalistic account DOES supply the an account: Our cognitive faculties are heritable, and have the feature of producing generally accurate
          beliefs about what we are experiencing. Our beliefs result in adaptive behavior because they are accurate, and they are accurate BECAUSE our cognitive faculties have evolved to produce accurate beliefs.

          Which is one reason to hold to the naturalistic account over Plantinga’s alternative. (Again, none of that is begging the question: it is to say IF our cognitive faculties tended to produce true beliefs it WOULD explain the survival of creatures like us in evolutionary terms better than Plantinga’s creatures).

          Vaal

  45. Posted August 15, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Wow! I haven’t wasted this much time with self appointed genious since my wasted days of drinking at the local pool hall. Does bullshit really stink? This is the true question best suited for Plantinga’s observations. All belief is fantasy until proven otherwise. Therefore, religion is fantasy.

  46. Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    “The man simply can’t understand that evolution will instill in us representations and perceptions of the real world that are generally accurate.”

    I would just add that the beliefs that evolution will instill in us will be generally accurate *with respect to the particular environment(s) in which we evolved*. Thus, we tend to have all sorts of intuitive but completely false beliefs about domains that we never encountered in our evolutionary past, such as quantum mechanics, cosmology, and evolutionary biology (some of these involve phenomena that are too small, too big, or take too long for us to have developed any accurate beliefs about them). On our mesocopic level of reality, though, we have mental / perceptual mechanisms that much more often than not produce accurate beliefs about reality. (Do others agree?)

    • Tulse
      Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      we tend to have all sorts of intuitive but completely false beliefs about domains that we never encountered in our evolutionary past, such as quantum mechanics, cosmology, and evolutionary biology

      That is true, but it is also the case that our evolutionarily-shaped cognitive mechanisms allow us to modify those beliefs. And this is a major problem with Plantinga’s argument, that it not only has to argue that evolution could produce specific false beliefs, but that it cannot produce cognitive machinery that is flexible enough to correct them.

      • Posted August 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        @Tulse Good point.

      • Iain Walker
        Posted August 17, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        “And this is a major problem with Plantinga’s argument, that it not only has to argue that evolution could produce specific false beliefs, but that it cannot produce cognitive machinery that is flexible enough to correct them.”

        This is particularly the case in his Paul the Hominid scenario, where Paul is apparently incapable of learning from experience. He wants to be eaten by a tiger, but keeps on failing to get eaten because his false beliefs keep leading him to run away. Yet he never catches on that running away consistently result in a failure to realise his desire? Well, if Paul is really that cognitively challenged, his chances of passing on his genes are severely reduced.

  47. truthspeaker
    Posted August 15, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    subscribing, assuming I remember to check the box this time

  48. Tulse
    Posted August 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    The notion that evolution somehow instills semantic propositions into organisms is, well, silly. I doubt that a gazelle “believes” a lion is dangerous in the propositional sense of belief that Plantinga wants. Otherwise, how can he say that plants don’t “believe” they should face the sun, or that rocks don’t “prefer” to roll down slopes?

  49. Posted February 17, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Here Plantinga gives an interview about his evolution views:
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/is-atheism-irrational/

    • Posted February 17, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      Oh, man…the idiocy that man spews is painful!

      b&

  50. Posted February 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I believe Plantinga is an idiot. I can’t prove that he is an idiot but, it feels perfectly comfortable to me and many others in believing that he is an idiot. The reason we think that is because he believes in ancient mythology with absolutely no proof in support of he incredulous beliefs. I guess that makes him an idiot if you adhere to his line of reason. Of course most idiots believe in fairytales so, acceptance of ghosts and goblins are a natural occurences in delusional minds. Makes good sense to me and anything I believe in without proof is as good as anything he believes in. I don’t know but, I have a sneaking suspicion that we could be both wrong. At least I have more proof for my belief than he has for his belief.


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