Plantinga and teapots


Gary Gutting talked to Alvin Plantinga for the NY Times blog The Stone awhile ago. They start with talk about evidence and what to conclude from the presence or absence of evidence. They arrive at Russell’s teapot.

A.P.: Russell’s idea, I take it, is we don’t really have any evidence against teapotism, but we don’t need any; the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and is enough to support a-teapotism. We don’t need any positive evidence against it to be justified in a-teapotism; and perhaps the same is true of theism.

I disagree: Clearly we have a great deal of evidence against teapotism. For example, as far as we know, the only way a teapot could have gotten into orbit around the sun would be if some country with sufficiently developed space-shot capabilities had shot this pot into orbit. No country with such capabilities is sufficiently frivolous to waste its resources by trying to send a teapot into orbit. Furthermore, if some country had done so, it would have been all over the news; we would certainly have heard about it. But we haven’t. And so on. There is plenty of evidence against teapotism. So if, à la Russell, theism is like teapotism, the atheist, to be justified, would (like the a-teapotist) have to have powerful evidence against theism.

Ok, but you could say the same kind of thing about the “God” of the theistic religions (which Plantinga says at the beginning is the one at issue.) You could come up with all kinds of specific reasons for not accepting the claims made in the bible about that god. For example, as far as we know, the only way a book written by god could have been passed to humans would be if some god with sufficiently developed communications capabilities had communicated it to us. No god with such capabilities is sufficiently frivolous to give us the material for one book over a period of a few centuries and then stop. No god with such capabilities would dream of stopping dead in whatever century CE the last book of the bible was written. That would be absurd. Having opened communications with us, it would keep on communicating. But it didn’t. And so on.

Moving on.

A.P.: I should make clear first that I don’t think arguments are needed for rational belief in God. In this regard belief in God is like belief in other minds, or belief in the past. Belief in God is grounded in experience, or in the sensus divinitatis, John Calvin’s term for an inborn inclination to form beliefs about God in a wide variety of circumstances.

No. Belief in god is not at all like belief in other minds. Belief in other minds develops from experience of and with other people. There’s no equivalent experience of and with god. With god you have to imagine out of thin air; there is no person in front of you who knows where she put the cookies while you don’t know where she put the cookies. We understand other minds (to the extent that we do) via extrapolation: I feel this way in this situation, so probably other people do too, or maybe I’m weird and they don’t, so I’ll ask and find out. There’s nothing like that with god.

You know one way to confirm this? Think of god as a character in a novel or a tv drama. You what? It doesn’t work. Why not? Because god isn’t human enough. God is boring to humans. Making up stories about god is very different from belief in other minds.

But Plantinga’s other mind disagrees.

 

Comments

  1. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    You know one way to confirm this? Think of god as a character in a novel or a tv drama. You what? It doesn’t work. Why not?

    Actually, it does work: in both Milton’s Paradise Lost and Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man, which was made into a tv drama, god is a successfully-depicted character.
    Just not a very nice character.

  2. zibble says

    I should make clear first that I don’t think arguments are needed for rational belief in God.

    If belief in God doesn’t need rational arguments, then how the fuck is it rational?

    Belief in God is grounded in experience, or in the sensus divinitatis, John Calvin’s term for an inborn inclination to form beliefs about God in a wide variety of circumstances.

    How the fuck is trusting your intuition a rational basis for anything?

  3. Stacy says

    The Teapot has existed since the beginning of time. It was not created, let alone shot into space.

    Your mistake, Alvin, is you’ve confused the Teapot with mere earthly teapots, which are attempts by humans to express the glory we perceive via sensus teapotinitatis.

  4. Sastra says

    Belief in God is only both basic and well-grounded in personal experience if you accept that what you’re experiencing is a belief in God. From that point on, you’re inferring, interpreting, and drawing unwarranted conclusions.

    For somebody who is so eager to approach Russel’s mysterious teapot by considering what we know about teapots in general, Plantinga is curiously reluctant to consider what we specifically learned about minds, their development, their history, their composition and their characteristics when he’s approaching the concept of Mind existing forever everywhere for no reason.

  5. Blanche Quizno says

    There was this woman who was obsessed with David Letterman. She thought that she and David Letterman were actually in love, and she was his wife. But, for some esoteric reasons, they couldn’t be together. She knew he loved her on the basis of the coded messages he was constantly sending to her through his broadcasts and interviews. She was arrested breaking into his home and sent to some mental hospital.

    Why is SHE more looney than god-believers? At least she’s obsessed with a real person.

  6. Silentbob says

    The argument is hopelessly inconsistent. When it comes to teapots, Plantinga is a naturalist: “as far as we know, the only way a teapot could have gotten into orbit around the sun would be if some country with sufficiently developed space-shot capabilities had shot this pot into orbit”. No consideration is given to the idea that the teapot could have been transported by magic, or telekinesis.

    When it comes to gods, naturalism goes out the window. That is to say, “as far as we know”, minds are emergent properties of physical neural networks. We know of no mechanism by which a disembodied cosmic mind can exist. Why doesn’t that count as “powerful evidence against theism”?

    The refutation of the argument is obvious: If you think that no arguments are needed for rational belief in gods, then a god could surely have created the teapot in situ. Therefore, you have no argument against a rational belief in the existence of the teapot.

  7. Blanche Quizno says

    You guys don’t get it. It’s a *TEAPOT*!! It’s not a MAGIC teapot that just MAGICALLY exists without having been made ON EARTH BY HUMAN BEINGS first!

    Because if THAT were the case, well, then, of COURSE it would be an entirely different scenario!

  8. sailor1031 says

    Well if some country had created a doG and launched it into space to orbit the earth in a “firmament” (whatever that might be) we would surely have heard about it. Theology – still making shit up after five thousand years.

  9. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    I’m English, therefore was born with a fully formed sensus teapotis as are many of my countrymen/women.

    You can’t prove that the teapot is not there.

  10. sawells says

    I have a perfectly functional sensus divinitatis, which tells me accurately that there are no gods.

    Plantinga, unfortunately, has theological tinnitus. He keeps hearing a god that isn’t actually there.

  11. John Morales says

    When it comes to cranking the handle of logic, I can’t see that Alvin Plantinga does it wrong; rather, he is very competent at it.

    (However, the GIGO principle is most applicable to his logical syntheses. Personally, I think he’s not unaware of that, to his detriment)

  12. says

    Both Gutting and Plantinga are being rather inept here.

    Gutting takes the teapot argument to be in favour of “the absence of evidence is evidence of absence”, which it it not. It is an argument against the idea that an inability to disprove an idea is an argument for it (if you like, that absence of evidence of absence is evidence of non-absence).

    So Gutting get’s the argument “the wrong way around”.

    Plantinga takes up Gutting’s argument (fair enough; he’s talking to Gatting not Russell) and contras “”the absence of evidence is evidence of absence” by quoting absence of evidence (the teapot space program is not on the news) as evidence of absence!

  13. busterggi says

    “For example, as far as we know, the only way a teapot could have gotten into orbit around the sun would be if some country with sufficiently developed space-shot capabilities had shot this pot into orbit.”

    So argument from ignorance is the best he can do?

    Well I have read some of his other stuff and it is the best he can do.

  14. says

    We don’t need any positive evidence against it to be justified in a-teapotism; and perhaps the same is true of theism. I disagree: Clearly we have a great deal of evidence against teapotism.

    <jonstewart>Go on…</jonstewart>

    For example, as far as we know, the only way a teapot could have gotten into orbit around the sun would be if some country with sufficiently developed space-shot capabilities had shot this pot into orbit. No country with such capabilities is sufficiently frivolous to waste its resources by trying to send a teapot into orbit. Furthermore, if some country had done so, it would have been all over the news; we would certainly have heard about it. But we haven’t. And so on.

    That’s all absense of evidence!

    * There’s no evidence of any way a teapot could get into orbit aside from via rocket launch.
    * There’s no evidence of a country willing to waste money on a teapot launch.
    * There’s no evidence any such launch has occurred.

    Plantinga hasn’t demonstrated any evidence that a country has not launched a teapot, nor has he shown any evidence precluding a teapot getting into orbit by other means… merely that we’d expect to see some evidence, but don’t. Yet this absence of positive evidence is enough for him to dismiss the teapot.

    He just made Russell’s point for him.

  15. Al Dente says

    I should make clear first that I don’t think arguments are needed for rational belief in God.

    Plantinga is admitting there are no arguments for rational belief in his god.

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