Antony is the editor of the wonderful collection of essays Philsophers Without Gods (Oxford University Press 2007). I’ve blogged about it several times. Gutting’s conversation with her is much more interesting than the one he had with Plantinga.
Gutting starts by telling her she’s “taken a strong stand as an atheist” and she replies by saying she doesn’t know what he means by that.
L.A. I don’t consider myself an agnostic; I claim to know that God doesn’t exist, if that’s what you mean.
G.G.: That is what I mean.
L.A.: O.K. So the question is, why do I say that theism is false, rather than just unproven? Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.
That’s not to say that I think everything is within the scope of human knowledge. Surely there are things not dreamt of in our philosophy, not to mention in our science – but that fact is not a reason to believe in supernatural beings.
It’s a reason to know that we don’t know everything, it’s not a reason to assert the existence of specific supernatural beings. Not knowing is not a reason to invent things and then pretend the invented things are real.
Antony then wonders why he’s puzzled how rational people could disagree about the existence of God. Believers disagree about lots of things. He says he thinks it’s relevant to ask believers why they believe those things too.
G.G. But people with many different specific beliefs share a belief in God — a supreme being who made and rules the world. You’ve taken a strong stand against that fundamental view, which is why I’m asking you about that.
L.A. Well I’m challenging the idea that there’s one fundamental view here. Even if I could be convinced that supernatural beings exist, there’d be a whole separate issue about how many such beings there are and what those beings are like.
You can add detail after detail after detail…and why believe any of it?
Antony points out that people can have good reasons for disagreeing; it’s not the case that one of them has to be irrational.
G.G.: No, they may both be rational. But suppose you and your theist friend are equally adept at reasoning, equally informed about relevant evidence, equally honest and fair-minded — suppose, that is, you are what philosophers call epistemic peers: equally reliable as knowers. Then shouldn’t each of you recognize that you’re no more likely to be right than your peer is, and so both retreat to an agnostic position?
Oh come on – how can you possibly know that any particular person is equally adept at reasoning, equally informed about relevant evidence, equally honest and fair-minded compared to any other particular person?
L.A. Yes, this is an interesting puzzle in the abstract: How could two epistemic peers — two equally rational, equally well-informed thinkers — fail to converge on the same opinions? But it is not a problem in the real world. In the real world, there are no epistemic peers — no matter how similar our experiences and our psychological capacities, no two of us are exactly alike, and any difference in either of these respects can be rationally relevant to what we believe.
Exactly. If philosophers talk about epistemic peers they’re just playing silly buggers.