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.
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.