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Feb 10 2014

Random Thoughts On Alvin Plantinga’s Rambling Thoughts

So… there’s an interview with Alvin Plantinga on the New York Times’ “Opinionator Blog”. It’s… horrific. Embarrassing. Such a national platform for arguments from ignorance, false dichotomies, and special pleading. Really, it’s astonishing.

The questions, by Gary Gutting, are reasonable, and are followed up nicely; if anything, Gutting is not brutal enough, perhaps feeling a bit sorry for Plantinga.

There are so many times when Plantinga’s claims have reasonable answers in readily available science. One (or at least this one) gets the feeling he actively avoids the scientific literature. Ok, really, that’s unfair–science is so broad and specialized that if he were not both exposed to an extraordinarily broad swath, and sufficiently knowledgeable in depth about that broad swath (which, given time constraints, might reasonably mean that he would have no time to develop any expertise in his own philosophical areas), it is perfectly reasonable that he might miss the answers to his questions.

Fortunately, cuttlefish are very deep generalists and experts in everything, so I opened a word-processor and read the interview. (I would say “so you don’t have to”, but I actually really recommend you read it, so you can try out your own critical analysis. The weird thing is, Plantinga is not exactly a bench-warmer; when you–not “if you”–when you tear his arguments into tiny bleeding slivers, you are up against one of the best the theistic side have to offer.) Yeah, so it just so happens I take notes in rhyming verse…

In any debate between two points of view
Fifty-fifty, the odds must apply—
If we can’t prove it’s Christmas, beyond every doubt,
Then it’s likely the Fourth of July

Now, maybe the scientists figured it out
And it’s all there to read… which I won’t
Perhaps they have answers for all of my doubts
But I’m gonna assume, here, they don’t

It’s possible someone has studied this stuff
If they have, clearly, I’m not aware
So there may be a paper that proves me quite wrong
I’d go looking, but really don’t care.

My assumption is simply that nobody knows—
If they did, that would really be nifty—
In the absence of knowledge (well, knowledge of mine)
Let’s assume that it’s all fifty-fifty.

So my views on psychology? Pretty much crap
And biology, mostly, as well—
But let’s call it philosophy (really, why not?)
If it’s bullshit, most readers can’t tell.

So… go ahead, read the interview. Try commenting here–in verse, or not in verse, I don’t care. What do you think is Plantinga’s worst? Best? Anyone think he has a point?

Just for fun, two earlier bits worth mentioning:

When Alvin Plantinga’s Car Won’t Start
And
It’s All So Simple, Really

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  1. 1
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I say horrible things about philosophy and philosophers, and people get really angry. But really, they let Plantinga be a respected member of their tribe… how seriously should I take philosophy, or any philosopher at first glance? It would be like if biologists let Ken Ham or Ray Comfort be a biologist in good standing.

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    Seriously, Plantinga makes the argument that, since we no longer think the moon is the cause of lunacy, we no longer believe the moon exists, and are a-moonists.

    No, seriously! Go read the interview! He actually says that! Or rather, says that our disbelief in his god (and really, why is it always *his* god, rather than some other god, that is the fallback position?) is the functional equivalent.

    Also, I am tempted to send his discussion of *belief*, of the subtleties of Proust vs L’Amour, to Howard Rachlin, whose “teleological behaviorism” is, frankly, a perfect answer to Plantinga. Plantinga imagines that a belief “would have to be a material structure in my brain…” You don’t have to have followed this blog for long to know how I feel about that assumption (http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2014/02/05/in-which-i-argue-at-length-with-a-macarthur-genius/). Plantinga is simply wrong. Such a belief is seen, in one’s self or in others, as expressed in (or, if you want mentalisms, inferred from) an extended pattern of behavior.

    Plantinga can (he hasn’t yet) address such explanations as inadequate (they aren’t), but what he can’t do (which he does) is ignore them completely (which, of course, is precisely what he has done).

    Seriously, I write better about this crap in verse than Plantinga does in prose. The man needs to open his eyes and take a look around.

  3. 3
    had3

    His inability to grasp the fact that he doesn’t believe in 99.999999% of the gods just like us for the same reason we don’t believe in one more is astounding. I couldn’t get through it, it was torture. The even/odd star analogy wasn’t even correct within the confines that he created. Certainly one hopes he knows the difference between belief and knowledge, between agnosticism and atheism, but he appears to not understand that, or intentionally confuse the two. Either way, he does not inspire confidence in his position.

  4. 4
    Cuttlefish

    Oh! The even/odd stars! I had forgotten… or perhaps repressed…. that!

    Yes, there is only one possible god, so believing or not is 50/50, like odd or even. The real claims of gods are much more like “there are precisely 5.296.452,119 stars!” “no, there are 3,234,567,830,045,035 stars!” “no, there are exactly 17 stars!”

    Hey, whatever number you choose, you obviously have a 50/50 chance of being right. Cos either you are or you are not.

    It’s Philosophy!

  5. 5
    Rike

    I am so glad you’re writing about this. I read the interview earlier and I had to read most of his answers several times and then still could not believe that maybe I wasn’t missing something (English is my second language), since I had always been under the impression that Plantinga was one of their better “interpreters”. I agree – it was horrific.

  6. 6
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    God. I was reading some of that, and Plantinga does the whole “atheism is the belief that there are no gods” bullshit. Seriously? I’ve personally looked pretty hard, and I cannot find a mainstream famous published thinker in the last 300~ years – the history of modern atheism – who ever said such idiocy. (Maybe Nietzsche? Anyone know offhand? It’s on my reading list.) You can find atheists with beliefs that some god hypotheses are false, sure, but that all gods don’t exist? The closest I’ve found are people like the self-identified atheist Baron d’Holbach who argued that physics does not leave room for an interfering god outside of physics, but that still leaves the plausibility of an undetectable first-cause deist clockmaker god.

    We atheists were here and published a hundred years before Huxley coined the term agnostic, and I see no reason why we should be bullied or slandered out of our position or choice of label. Meh!

    And the interviewer plays into this misconception by quoting a self-identified agnostic – Russell – on the definition of atheism. /sigh. The entire interview is just chock full of this bullshit strawmanning of the atheist position.

    Also, theism and god is now defined to be only good gods? I missed that memo. I think a lot of religions over the years missed the memo that gods can only be good.

    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.

    And I’m done. I’m not reading any more of that. He just expressly abandoned science, critical thinking, and all rational thought. He just said “god exists, and I don’t need to defend that”. This is the statement of an irrational person.

  7. 7
    Argle Bargle

    It’s philosophers like Plantinga that give philosophy a bad name. He should take and pass a basic course in logic before he spews any more nonsense filled with logical fallacies. In particular, he needs to understand why special pleading is fallacious

  8. 8
    A Masked Avenger

    Gaaaaaah!

    At one point he was on to something, before he took a wrong turn. Natural selection can indeed select for false beliefs: if believing in ghosts makes us run away from noises in the woods, then it may well enhance survival in woods full of bears. Similarly, as social animals, belief in spirits or gods might enhance survival under lonely conditions by assuaging our social needs.

    Not trying to do evo-psych here–I agree that’s mostly bullshit–but noting that selection can certainly reinforce false beliefs that coincidentally have survival value.

    Plantinga then goes on to say that if so, our belief formation is inherently suspect (Yes! True!), and therefore that we need to question all our beliefs (Yes! True!), and thus cannot rationally believe anything (Wait. Wut?), which proves that belief isn’t an evolved construct of our physical brains (Say wut, again?).

  9. 9
    Cuttlefish

    EnlightenmentLiberal–

    Not merely “belief that there are no gods”, but rather “belief that there is no God”, so it can be a 50-50 proposition! If we apply his own logic to the many varieties of religion, assign each a 50-50 probability of being true, then multiply them out, his own conclusion should be that religion is incoherent.

    But of course, his “we can’t see the truth” doesn’t stop him from knowing that his particular Jeebus story is TRUE.

  10. 10
    Cuttlefish

    Also, his “refutation” of Russell’s Teapot is remarkable, since we know that not only do humans make teapots… we also make religions.

  11. 11
    richardelguru

    Good probably-non-existant-Gods!

    My degree is in Philosophy ‘n’ Physics, and I can hardly read this rubbish!!!1

    I’ve gone back to it a couple of times, but I after about an answer and a half I have go get up and walk around the room.

    Argle has it right! And this guy teaches at Notre Dame!? Do they mean the one in Paris???

  12. 12
    OverlappingMagisteria

    He seems confused about math too. He says that under materialism, our each belief might have 67% chance of being true (as a generous estimate that he invented).

    The then multiplies 0.67 x 0.67 x 0.67… once for each belief that we hold and gets a very low number: .0004. He concludes that this is your overall reliability and therefore materialism should lead to total skepticism.

    But its not. Multiplying probabilities is what you do if you want to know the probability of EVERY ONE of your beliefs being true. I’d agree that it is very unlikely that 100% of my beliefs are true (I’m sure there’s at least a few bad apples in the bunch), but that doesn’t make my beliefs unreliable.

    The overall reliability, using his numbers, would still be 67%: ask me any question and there’s a 67% chance that my belief concerning its answer is correct.

  13. 13
    Cuttlefish

    And that 67%–odd WAG that it is–ignores the scaffold that the process of science and the scientific community provide, to actively test beliefs (at least our more important claims), and to provisionally accept or reject them based on how they stack up to our observations. If you have a system that has no means by which to evaluate beliefs (let’s call it, oh, “religion”), unsupported beliefs can accumulate unchecked. This, apparently, is the system Plantinga is more accustomed to.

  14. 14
    Pliny the in Between

    Lacking your facility with rhyme, I have to take out my frustrations with the track pad. This one is on Plantinga’s divine sensitivity.

    http://pictoraltheology.blogspot.com/2014/01/nonsensus.html

    When I read his and similar works I get the impression that he’s used to cherry picking from religious texts and just assumes the same is permissible in science.

    http://pictoraltheology.blogspot.com/2014/02/cherry-picking.html

  15. 15
    Randomfactor

    I think it’s obvious we need a Kickstarter program to raise funding for a teapot launch program.

  16. 16
    Al Dente

    Plantinga is a philosopher who doesn’t understand science, doesn’t understand statistics and has a very shaky understanding of basic logic. Every so often he likes to parade his misunderstandings in public so people can laugh at him.

  17. 17
    markmckee

    I saw a video of a lion eating a zebra in the wild and while the lion was standing there chewing away at his stomach, the zebra lifted his head and turned back to look at the lion. That zebra was being eaten alive.

    Now people like Plantinga can make all kinds of justifications for human suffering they want and how such suffering leads to a greater overall good for humans in their quest for spiritual fulfillment. For the sake of argument lets accept this bizarre notion.

    But why would loving and caring god allow this suffering in the zebra? What good does that zebra attain through its suffering? Does the zebra, in offering up his suffering assure that he will go to zebra heaven?

    And how easy would it be for an intelligent god to have intelligently designed that lion to at the very least make sure its prey is dead before he started his feast?

  18. 18
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    I don’t think Plantinga did a very good of presenting his argument here. I’ve read some of this argument before, and it makes slightly more sense with a better presentation.

    In short, Plantinga suggests a scenario where there is a person with a “belief” or value of wanting to be eaten by a tiger. However, every time he sees a tiger, he comes to the conclusion that this tiger won’t eat him, and so he runs away to find another tiger who will eat him. No seriously. That’s his example. From that, he tries to argue that the truth-content of a belief has absolutely zero correlation with the survival value of the belief. Really. With that, it’s straightforward to get to the number 0.0004. However, it’s the standard “garbage in – garbage out” problem of unsound arguments.

    It’s funny. I think that Plantinga needs more of my particular domain of expertise – theory of computation, along with some basic knowledge of evolution.

    I agree that sometimes false beliefs can have survival value, but Plantinga wants to take the extra step and say that false beliefs and bad values on average have equal survival to true beliefs and good values, which is just silly.

    While it is possible to create a machine (brain) which produces good results with bad premises by adding ever-more convoluted and contrived bad premises, the extra complexity to do so grows much more quickly than the complexity of a straightforward machine (brain) which models reality in the straightforward way. This is a straightforward consequence of any passing experience with theory of computation. Then, remember that bigger brains are not cheap for the organism to maintain, and thus evolution will select for the smaller brain which produces equivalently good actions.

    Also, there’s the problem of irreducible complexity. (Yes, I know. Bear with me a moment.) It is true that evolution is the accumulation of many small changes. Each small change must have survival value – or at have relatively neutral survival value. Otherwise, the trait will be selected against. Consider the tiger scenario. Together, the 2 or 3 really bad traits happen to produce good behavior in this scenario, but each of the 2 or 3 false beliefs on their own lead to death. Only together are they good. Thus, it is highly unlikely that you will see an animal with such a combination. Evolution works by climbing Mt. Improbable, with each step bringing it slightly closer to the top. Here, we have 3 steps which amount to jumping over the edge of the cliff straight to the bottom, and only the last step has a net positive effect. In practice, it would be even worse, with many more traits that are all very negative on their own – and only together are they positive. Whereas, the simple straightforward modeler machine (brain) will have a positive benefit at every step along the way. Each step brings it into better and better agreement with reality, which means that evolution can and will select for such a machine (brain), unlike the convoluted machine (brain) of the tiger scenario.

    /rant

  19. 19
    brucecoppola

    markmcee:

    So that Mankind would behold the suffering of the zebra, and equate it with his own suffering as a result of his fallen state. Thus we are reminded of our transgressions of the Divine will and our sinful nature.

    Or, so that Man would be moved to pity by the sufferings of this innocent beast, and be ennobled thereby.

    (removes Plantinga hat)

    Can I have my PhD in Theology now?

  20. 20
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Cuttlefish in 9
    That’s one of my favorite arguments actually. However, that’s only an argument that most of the god hypotheses of popular religions are false, not that there is no god.

    You can take it a step further and say that there must be natural explanations for the n-1 false religions, and those explanations work just as well for the last religion, and thus it’s probable that all religions are false. However again, that’s still not an argument against a mere clockmaker deist god.

    I still have not found a popular published self-identified-atheist writer in the last 300 years who has made the claim that he has confidence that there is no deist / non-interfering god. Do you know of such an atheist?

  21. 21
    david

    “his “refutation” of Russell’s Teapot is remarkable”

    Some refutation! What if aliens sent the teapot, to ensure that mankind never runs out of a cuppa? So how does Plantiga know the teapot isn’t there?

  22. 22
    memehunter

    Of course there is a teapot there
    Floating on the airless air,
    And the reason for it isn’t subtle:
    It was discarded from the shuttle.
    A tribute fine, a gift so sweet,
    The Flying Spaghetti Monster’s treat.

  23. 23
    =8)-DX

    @EnlightenmentLiberal #18

    Please don’t bring out irreducible complexity – it’s a flawed idea and it isn’t true of evolution (or brains or anything else that reproduces and selects). Of the 3 beliefs (1)I want to be eaten by a lion. 2) This lion doesn’t want me 3) Where is another lion ) you have no idea which came first, you have no idea whether or not some part of these provided another function (perhaps “be eaten by lion” is a mutation from “be impregnated by mate”), nor do you know if in the process of “brain evolution” there weren’t other, now missing members.

    Irreducible complexity is just a bad argument for anything – it only applies to (particular!) clocks or other specific human creations where we assume a fixed set of parts and has nothing to do with evolution or natural developmental processes.

    - – - – - – -

    On Plantinga: his worst argument is basically the culmination of all the other points and that is the following:

    Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs. Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.

    No. This is only true in a brain-in-a-vat scenario. In actual brains, specific neurophysiological pathways (or brain-patterns) ARE directly associated with “true beliefs”. For sensory neural input – from our eyes, ears, nose, skin, etc., the message often IS the signal. The neurophysical pain signal from your arm is exactly the process that provides the belief that your arm is in pain. A vast number of the basic world-modeling beliefs we hold are based on direct sensory input, and it makes perfect sense that an adaptive evolutionary process would lead us to gain as accurate a sensory model of the world as possible, even if we didn’t know that it is sensory input that provides the selective pressure. This is even taking into account Plantinga’s model of belief-creation as simple evolution, when in reality brain growth is a different and less understood process (at least by me, but I know more than he does).

    In other words he doesn’t understand anything about brains – once you realise a bit about how brains work, all his argument is saying, is: “naturalism doesn’t resolve hard solipsism”. Which of course is true and trivial and we could say “but neither does supernaturalism”.

    And furthermore, our brains and reason provide EXACTLY the kind of beliefs one would expect from a adaptational process that values our survival more than truth (here truth being accurate representation of reality):

    • Humans consider their individual needs first and foremost.
    • Humans are paranoid – often scared when no actual danger is present.
    • Humans have an instinctive need to protect their kin.
    • Humans consider things based on human-related sizes or human-related risk: an elephant is more important than a fly.
    • Humans model space based on human-related sizes.

    And last, but most importantly:
    Humans hold many demonstrably false beliefs if those help their survival.

    It’s like Plantinga never looked around to see what people or the world look like. I blaim the Christ-befuddlement, it made things just as confusing for me when I had it.

  24. 24
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @ =8)-DX
    I’m sorry. I disagree.

    The idea that evolution works through small incremental changes, the idea of path dependence, the idea that you can only get a result if there is a pathway which has (mostly) functional intermediaries all along the way – are all well understood, accepted, and uncontroversial ideas in actual biology.

    Note that I’m just arguing against the plausibility of there existing a pathway with functional intermediaries which can produce the convoluted “want to be eaten by a tiger” brain. I’m not arguing that it’s necessarily impossible (unlike Behe when he uses the phrase). I’m just arguing that it’s highly unlikely compared to the rational brain pathways, which is enough to defeat Plantinga’s argument.

  25. 25
    =8)-DX

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    Heh.. well it doesn’t take much for Plantinga’s whole “argument” to come down.

    Of course I agree with your first paragraph – but if you put it that way, you’re actually saying that irreducable complexity is exactly what doesn’t occur in nature. But Plantinga was pointing out that there was no reason to consider one’s beliefs true, not just how complex or silly they could be to get the same behavioural result. So granted, “evolving” beliefs would more likely be simple for a simple result, and would have to build on previous functional beliefs. But by Plantinga’s argument, there is still no assurance that such beliefs are true
    and therefore introducing irreducable complexity as a problem doesn’t really help. (A very simple belief like “the river water burns” may be very functional for a long time in protecting from crocodiles, albeit untrue).

    And I’m not sure with your “highly unlikely”, because we actually DO see convoluted and untrue beliefs held by people, many of which beliefs can be traced through irrational pathways (this is after all discussion of religion and nonreligion isn’t it?)

    My main point is that rationality in beliefs is the result of evolution having selected for brains as adaptable rational problem-solvers to interpret sensory input. Brains failing to create workable, detailed and repeatable models of reality based on their input are selected against by our brains, not just by our mortality.

    Plantinga isn’t wrong because “tiger” beliefs aren’t likely, but because we have sensory organs which allow us to compare our beliefs to reality.

    Then there’s the whole other debate of how our sensory input doesn’t really “model reality”, but only the parts of it and the information evolutionarily relevant to humans, so even if one were to cede Plantinga’s brain-model one could just say: “yes, the way humans see the world is skewed towards survival of humans, actual understanding of physical reality comes second.”

  26. 26
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @ =8)-DX
    I don’t think you’re giving enough credit to how completely out there Plantinga’s argument is. Who says we practice science? Maybe we fool ourselves into thinking we do science when we don’t. As far as I understand his argument – which isn’t that good at all – I think this is it. Plantinga argues that we do practice science and reason, but that the only explanation for our ability to do science and reason is his god because evolution would not produce a brain which does science and reason.

    Plantinga explicitly asks the question: Do true beliefs and “good” values on average produce better survival behavior than false beliefs and “bad” values? That’s the wrong question though. That question is not well-formed enough to permit an answer.

    The question which Plantinga ought to be asking is: Can evolution produce a brain which has more true beliefs and “good” values than false beliefs and “bad” values? How likely is it? Plantinga would answer that question with something like “It is just as likely for evolution to produce a brain with mostly false beliefs as it is to produce a brain with mostly true beliefs”.

    Even then, we need to ask yet another question: Can evolution produce a brain which does science and reason to some significant degree of effectiveness? If we can answer yes to that, then we can answer yes to the previous question. Here again, Plantinga would say that the forces of evolution would not favor a brain which does science and reason more than some other kind of brain.

    That last question is the question we need to address to counter Plantinga. It’s really unfortunate that he’s so seemingly muddled and unclear, but this is his lynchpin. That is what I tried to address, and I think my previous arguments are a good start at addressing it, whereas you seem to be completely missing Plantinga’s point.

    evolution having selected for brains as adaptable rational problem-solvers to interpret sensory input.

    You use that as a premise, but that premise is the very thing which Plantinga is arguing against!

  27. 27
    Cuttlefish

    hehe… fortunately for us, although our brains are these biased bags of mush, our thinking (as we have so recently discussed) is not dependent wholly on our brains. We have created this amazing scaffolding of scientific community and scientific method, where, if “objective truth” is beyond our grasp, makes do with “intersubjective agreement”, which draws provisional conclusions, tests against (again, our intersubjective perception of) reality, keeping what works, discarding what doesn’t (again, both provisionally), and which has had tremendous pragmatic success.

    (Or as XKCD put it… Science: it works, bitches.)

    If religion lays claims to absolute truths, they must have a frankly bizarre definition of truth. http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2012/07/26/absolute-truths/

    Maybe, sometimes, reality is just wrong.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2011/12/30/biblical-inerrancy/

  28. 28
    Pierce R. Butler

    Perhaps one day a cruel philosophy professor will assign a student to read all of Plantinga’s work and a comprehensive list of logical fallacies, to see if any of the latter are missing from the former.

    Should that student survive the assignment, and emerge with a sheet of paper (maybe two!) bearing the remnant of AP’s work not flagged in the first part of the exercise, a careful review of said paper(s) might well produce additions to aforesaid comprehensive list.

    And some people say there’s no such thing as progress!

  29. 29
    cubist

    Plantinga’s argument can be summarized thusly: I can imagine a convoluted scenario in which crappy thinking leads to good results; therefore, it doesn’t matter whether one’s thinking is good or crappy.

    My response is, imagine two proto-humans, Grog and Horg. Grog’s cognitive processes (such as they are) have led Grog to believe that rocks and dirt are nourishing food; Horg’s cognitive processes (such as they are) have led Horg to believe that fruits and veggies are nourishing food. Which of the pair, Grog or Horg, is most likely to produce offspring?

    I suspect that Plantinga’s real argument is that evolution has no way to produce brains that can detect the Truth of God. Brains that can more-or-less reliably reach conclusions that are a good fit to the environment in which said brains live, yes; brains that have a working “sensus divinitatus”, no.

  30. 30
    Snoof

    EnlightenmentLiberal @20

    I still have not found a popular published self-identified-atheist writer in the last 300 years who has made the claim that he has confidence that there is no deist / non-interfering god. Do you know of such an atheist?

    William of Occam.

    More seriously, Occam’s razor is enough for that. If the two possibilities are “a universe with no gods” and “a universe with gods that behaves in such a way that it is indistinguishable from a universe with no gods”, then we can reject the latter as unparsimonious, since it has more entities and no more explanatory power.

  31. 31
    =8)-DX

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    evolution having selected for brains as adaptable rational problem-solvers to interpret sensory input.

    You use that as a premise, but that premise is the very thing which Plantinga is arguing against!

    It’s not his logic that’s faulty – it’s his premises. Anbd I don’t think I missed the point – Plantinga’s simplistic idea that evolution somehow “constructs” beliefs is the problem I was arguing there. Evolution doesn’t do anything of the sort – it produces organisms with brains that allow them to interact with sensory input. The “truthiness” of the beliefs produced has nothing to do with evolution. but with the capacity of the brain, the accuracy with which it can model reality and its interaction with
    other brains. Science and reason are bi-products of brain-processes which aren’t evolutionary processes.

    The question which Plantinga ought to be asking is: Can evolution produce a brain which has more true beliefs and “good” values than false beliefs and “bad” values? How likely is it? Plantinga would answer that question with something like “It is just as likely for evolution to produce a brain with mostly false beliefs as it is to produce a brain with mostly true beliefs”.
    [..]
    Plantinga would say that the forces of evolution would not favor a brain which does science and reason more than some other kind of brain.

    And I would answer that what the forces of evolution can be expected to favour is brains which are good at processing sensory input by creating models of reality and comparing them to the input. Whether or not such a belief is “true” or not depends on the actual input, the accuracy of the sensor, the size of the brain, etc. but one *would* expect a large number of basic beliefs to be “true” (accurate to reality) as a result of evolution – the ones associated with the sensory input.

    A brain already full of a large number of “true” base beliefs from the senses, and capable of comparing models with reality is highly likely to be “rational”. If evolution produced some other neural network, unconnected to the senses one could say it was just as likely to create true beliefs as false ones, but as I said earlier – that’s just a brain in a vat.

    Plantinga is making wrong assumptions about how brains work, how beliefs are formed, and what to expect from evolution.

  32. 32
    Bronze Dog

    Argle Bargle @7:

    It’s philosophers like Plantinga that give philosophy a bad name. He should take and pass a basic course in logic before he spews any more nonsense filled with logical fallacies. In particular, he needs to understand why special pleading is fallacious.

    I wonder if we could find a philosophy professor who’s never read Plantinga, give him samples of Plantinga’s writing without his name on it, and ask him to evaluate the writer’s potential as a philosophy student. I wonder what would happen.

    If I had to guess, he’d say Plantinga would be a poor philosophy student, and apologists would flock to question the professor’s credentials since he’s obviously not well-read in “real” philosophy. He hasn’t read Plantinga, for crying out loud! Courtier’s replies, appeals to authority, and so on.

  33. 33
    EnlightenmentLiberal

    @ =8)-DX
    Let’s take this quote of yours. I think the rest of your post is covered by my reply to this bit.

    If evolution produced some other neural network, unconnected to the senses one could say it was just as likely to create true beliefs as false ones, but as I said earlier – that’s just a brain in a vat.

    This is entirely missing the point. Plantinga’s example of the tiger is not someone who is blind and deaf. The brain in the example processes the senses just fine. The example is of someone who has a brain which doesn’t practice science, but still somehow comes up with beliefs good for survival which have little resemblance to what we would call true beliefs. Your quote is completely missing the point.

    You’re not addressing the question of whether evolution would produce scientific rational brains.

    As best as I can tell, the arguments against Plantinga are: 1- Computation theory. A brain which generally accurately models reality will be a simpler computation device than the convoluted brain of the tiger example, and thus it will be evolutionarily favored. 2- A kind of “irreducible complexity” argument which focuses on the lack of a relatively plausible pathway for the evolution of of the brain in the tiger example. Such a brain (a) is suicidal, (b) has an attention span measured in seconds, and (c) which does not do science. Any one of those traits on their own leads to death, and only together in just the right proportions will it work, which makes it unlikely compared to rational scientific self-interested brains with longer attention spans.

  34. 34
    Blanche Quizno

    I’ve been meaning to come over here for a while…and now I think I’ve fallen in love with you :}

  35. 35
    Blanche Quizno

    EnlightenmentLiberal: “I still have not found a popular published self-identified-atheist writer in the last 300 years who has made the claim that he has confidence that there is no deist / non-interfering god. Do you know of such an atheist?”

    From Wikipedia:

    “Jean Meslier was a French Catholic priest who was discovered, upon his death, to have written a book-length philosophical essay promoting atheism. Described by the author as his “testament” to his parishioners, the text denounces all religion.

    In his Testament, Meslier repudiated not only the God of conventional Christianity, but even the generic God of the natural religion of the deists. For Meslier, the existence of evil was incompatible with the idea of a good and wise God. He denied that any spiritual value could be gained from suffering, and he used the deist’s argument from design against god, by showing the evils that he had permitted in this world. To him, religions were fabrications fostered by ruling elites; although the earliest Christians had been exemplary in sharing their goods, Christianity had long since degenerated into encouraging the acceptance of suffering and submission to tyranny as practised by the kings of France: injustice was explained away as being the will of an all-wise Being. None of the arguments used by Meslier against the existence of God were original, in fact, he derived them from books written by orthodox theologians in the debate between the Jesuits, Cartesians, and Jansenists: their inability to agree on a proof for God’s existence was taken by Meslier as a good reason not to presume that there were compelling grounds for belief in God.

    Meslier’s philosophy was that of an atheist. He also denied the existence of the soul and dismissed the notion of free will.”

    How ’bout HIM ^?

    Odd that you apparently haven’t heard of the Rev. Robert Taylor:

    “Reverend Robert Taylor (1784–1844), was an early 19th-century Radical, a clergyman turned freethinker. His “Infidel home missionary tour” was an incident in Charles Darwin’s education, leaving Darwin with a memory of “the Devil’s Chaplain” as a warning of the dangers of dissent from Church of England doctrine.

    CIRCULAR
    The Rev. Robert Taylor, A.B., of Carey Street, Lincoln’s Inn, and Mr. Richard Carlile, of Fleet-street, London, present their compliments as Infidel missionaries, to (as it may be) and most respectfully and earnestly invite discussion on the merits of the Christian religion, which they argumentatively challenge, in the confidence of their competence to prove, that such a person as Jesus Christ, alleged to have been of Nazareth, never existed; and that the Christian religion has no such origin as has been pretended; neither is it in any way beneficial to mankind; but that it is nothing more than an emanation from the ancient Pagan religion. The researches of the Rev. Robert Taylor, on the subject, are embodied in his newly published work, THE DIEGESIS, in which may be found the routine of their argument.”

    As you can tell, he was what we now call a “Jesus mythicist”, and this at the beginning of the 1800s!

    His “Diegesis” is still in print – heck, it’s now public domain and available for free online! It should be considered required reading.

    And if you want some more contemporary public figures, comedian Eddie Izzard is openly atheist:

    “I don’t believe in God. I believe in us, human beings.”

    And here’s what Stephen Fry has to say on the subject:

    “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe there is a God.” http://bigthink.com/videos/the-importance-of-unbelief

    For all your apparent interest in atheism, you seem oddly uninformed, given that you clearly have access to the Internet, EnlightenmentLiberal. Perhaps you’re not as big a fan of the Enlightenment as some might assume?

  36. 36
    Blanche Quizno

    EnlightenmentLiberal: “God. I was reading some of that, and Plantinga does the whole “atheism is the belief that there are no gods” bullshit. Seriously? I’ve personally looked pretty hard, and I cannot find a mainstream famous published thinker in the last 300~ years – the history of modern atheism – who ever said such idiocy. ”

    “Such idiocy”, eh? Would you say that it’s “idiocy” to say “there are no goblins” and “there are no fairies” and “there are no elves” and “there are no pixies” and “there are no Greek Gods/Norse Gods/Mayan Gods/Hindu Gods”??

    If we can dismiss out-of-hand THESE imaginary concepts, why does it suddenly become “idiocy” to likewise dismiss yet another of the same kind?

    The fact that lots of people believe in something primitive, childish, and stupid doesn’t make it any less primitive, childish, or stupid, you know.

  1. 37
    Plantinga! » Pharyngula

    […] should pay more attention to the Digital Cuttlefish — apparently, the recent rash of “Plantinga!” in my in-box might be because […]

  2. 38
    Arguing God In The New York Times » The Digital Cuttlefish

    […] The horrendous interview with Plantinga was only the first in a series. Gary Gutting’s second interview is with Louise Antony, one of […]

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