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Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 11, 2014 03:43AM
Quote

Gary Gutting: A recent survey by PhilPapers, the online philosophy index, says that 62 percent of philosophers are atheists (with another 11 percent “inclined” to the view). Do you think the philosophical literature provides critiques of theism strong enough to warrant their views? Or do you think philosophers’ atheism is due to factors other than rational analysis?

Alvin Plantinga: If 62 percent of philosophers are atheists, then the proportion of atheists among philosophers is much greater than (indeed, is nearly twice as great as) the proportion of atheists among academics generally. (I take atheism to be the belief that there is no such person as the God of the theistic religions.) Do philosophers know something here that these other academics don’t know? What could it be? Philosophers, as opposed to other academics, are often professionally concerned with the theistic arguments — arguments for the existence of God. My guess is that a considerable majority of philosophers, both believers and unbelievers, reject these arguments as unsound.

Still, that’s not nearly sufficient for atheism. In the British newspaper The Independent, the scientist Richard Dawkins was recently asked the following question: “If you died and arrived at the gates of heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism?” His response: “I’d quote Bertrand Russell: ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.

The failure of arguments for God would be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism.

G.G.: You say atheism requires evidence to support it. Many atheists deny this, saying that all they need to do is point out the lack of any good evidence for theism. You compare atheism to the denial that there are an even number of stars, which obviously would need evidence. But atheists say (using an example from Bertrand Russell) that you should rather compare atheism to the denial that there’s a teapot in orbit around the sun. Why prefer your comparison to Russell’s?

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.

Tuk: I wish people understood what Russel was arguing for... Burden of proof. This teapotism/FSM stuff has really confused atheists... But it's good to hear AP arguing for agnosticism...

Quote

G.G.: But isn’t there also plenty of evidence against theism — above all, the amount of evil in a world allegedly made by an all-good, all-powerful God?

A.P.: The so-called “problem of evil” would presumably be the strongest (and maybe the only) evidence against theism. It does indeed have some strength; it makes sense to think that the probability of theism, given the existence of all the suffering and evil our world contains, is fairly low. But of course there are also arguments for theism. Indeed, there are at least a couple of dozen good theistic arguments. So the atheist would have to try to synthesize and balance the probabilities. This isn’t at all easy to do, but it’s pretty obvious that the result wouldn’t anywhere nearly support straight-out atheism as opposed to agnosticism.

G.G.: But when you say “good theistic arguments,” you don’t mean arguments that are decisive — for example, good enough to convince any rational person who understands them.

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.

Nevertheless, I think there are a large number — maybe a couple of dozen — of pretty good theistic arguments. None is conclusive, but each, or at any rate the whole bunch taken together, is about as strong as philosophical arguments ordinarily get.

AP destroyed the logical POE, so did other theologians in the past... The evidential (probable) argument is still believed by some atheists, but I'm not sure who here at SS believes they are convincing...

I skipped some content... Here is AP's argument against materialism...

Quote

GG: Especially among today’s atheists, materialism seems to be a primary motive. They think there’s nothing beyond the material entities open to scientific inquiry, so there there’s no place for immaterial beings such as God.

AP: Well, if there are only material entities, then atheism certainly follows. But there is a really serious problem for materialism: It can’t be sensibly believed, at least if, like most materialists, you also believe that humans are the product of evolution.

GG: Why is that?

AP: I can’t give a complete statement of the argument here — for that see Chapter 10 of “Where the Conflict Really Lies.” But, roughly, here’s why. First, if materialism is true, human beings, naturally enough, are material objects. Now what, from this point of view, would a belief be? My belief that Marcel Proust is more subtle that Louis L’Amour, for example? Presumably this belief would have to be a material structure in my brain, say a collection of neurons that sends electrical impulses to other such structures as well as to nerves and muscles, and receives electrical impulses from other structures.

But in addition to such neurophysiological properties, this structure, if it is a belief, would also have to have a content: It would have, say, to be the belief that Proust is more subtle than L’Amour.

GG: So is your suggestion that a neurophysiological structure can’t be a belief? That a belief has to be somehow immaterial?

AP: That may be, but it’s not my point here. I’m interested in the fact that beliefs cause (or at least partly cause) actions. For example, my belief that there is a beer in the fridge (together with my desire to have a beer) can cause me to heave myself out of my comfortable armchair and lumber over to the fridge.

But here’s the important point: It’s by virtue of its material, neurophysiological properties that a belief causes the action. It’s in virtue of those electrical signals sent via efferent nerves to the relevant muscles, that the belief about the beer in the fridge causes me to go to the fridge. It is not by virtue of the content (there is a beer in the fridge) the belief has.

GG: Why do you say that?

AP: Because if this belief — this structure — had a totally different content (even, say, if it was a belief that there is no beer in the fridge) but had the same neurophysiological properties, it would still have caused that same action of going to the fridge. This means that the content of the belief isn’t a cause of the behavior. As far as causing the behavior goes, the content of the belief doesn’t matter.

GG: That does seem to be a hard conclusion to accept. But won’t evolution get the materialist out of this difficulty? For our species to have survived, presumably many, if not most, of our beliefs must be true — otherwise, we wouldn’t be functional in a dangerous world.

AP: Evolution will have resulted in our having beliefs that are adaptive; that is, beliefs that cause adaptive actions. But as we’ve seen, if materialism is true, the belief does not cause the adaptive action by way of its content: It causes that action by way of its neurophysiological properties. Hence it doesn’t matter what the content of the belief is, and it doesn’t matter whether that content is true or false. All that’s required is that the belief have the right neurophysiological properties. If it’s also true, that’s fine; but if false, that’s equally fine.

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.

GG: So your claim is that if materialism is true, evolution doesn’t lead to most of our beliefs being true.

AP: Right. In fact, given materialism and evolution, it follows that our belief-producing faculties are not reliable.

Here’s why. If a belief is as likely to be false as to be true, we’d have to say the probability that any particular belief is true is about 50 percent. Now suppose we had a total of 100 independent beliefs (of course, we have many more). Remember that the probability that all of a group of beliefs are true is the multiplication of all their individual probabilities. Even if we set a fairly low bar for reliability — say, that at least two-thirds (67 percent) of our beliefs are true — our overall reliability, given materialism and evolution, is exceedingly low: something like .0004. So if you accept both materialism and evolution, you have good reason to believe that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable.

But to believe that is to fall into a total skepticism, which leaves you with no reason to accept any of your beliefs (including your beliefs in materialism and evolution!). The only sensible course is to give up the claim leading to this conclusion: that both materialism and evolution are true. Maybe you can hold one or the other, but not both.

So if you’re an atheist simply because you accept materialism, maintaining your atheism means you have to give up your belief that evolution is true. Another way to put it: The belief that both materialism and evolution are true is self-refuting. It shoots itself in the foot. Therefore it can’t rationally be held.

Interesting. This isn't an argument against science rather the philosophical view of materialism, and that view can't be rationally believed anyway... It's just that I haven't heard anyone argue that materialism destroys belief in evolution...

[opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com]
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 12, 2014 09:50PM
"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."

Huh? How can belief in God be "grounded in experience" when one has absolutely no proof, no evidence or actual way of determining that any given experience was the result of God? Does simply not having any other explanation handy mean that believing God was responsible is rational?

"I had this experience, so that experience rationally grounds my belief that God was responsible."??? How?

.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 12, 2014 10:29PM
see: reformed epistemology
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 15, 2014 01:25PM
He believes theism is a properly basic belief: [cla.calpoly.edu]
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 16, 2014 05:59PM
I managed to slog through that whole thing, George. Not an easy task for one as me who does not speak Philosophese.

What I think I got from it was that belief in the existence of God is a basic belief for humans to arrive at. In other words, it is natural for humans to believe God exists. People have experiences that they use as their basis for that belief. They believe that God was responsible for the things they use to base their belief in Him on so it is a properly arrived at basic belief for them to have.

I think I must have unfortunately missed the part where that has any bearing whatsoever on that belief actually being correct.

I'm still left with my initial befuddlement... How can one base arguments for the existence of God on experiences that are in no way provable to have been from God? It may be "properly basic" for any given human to do so, but I don't see how that in any way establishes God as a reality. Phrases like God shows Himself to people to me is not proof that God exists. It is proof that people will attribute things that happen to them to this God being. Not that the experience is self-proving of God's existence, however "properly basic" their belief is.

I'm still seeing huge differences in statements like

1. I've experienced trees. I believe trees exist.

and

2. I've experienced God. I believe God exists.


Both may be "properly basic beliefs", but I don't see them therefore both being necessarily correct.

Why does belief in God get such a huge pass when it comes to being a rational belief or not?

.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 16, 2014 10:21PM
It's natural to believe that God exists (not necessarily the God of Abraham, but whatever explains existence) because in our reality, everything has an explanation. The fundamental difference between a conventional God believer and an atheist is that the former believes in a conscious, personal entity, while the latter believes that whatever explains existence isn't personal or an entity.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 18, 2014 02:22AM
Ponderer Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I managed to slog through that whole thing,
> George. Not an easy task for one as me who does
> not speak Philosophese.
>
> What I think I got from it was that belief in the
> existence of God is a basic belief for humans to
> arrive at. In other words, it is natural for
> humans to believe God exists. People have
> experiences that they use as their basis for that
> belief. They believe that God was responsible for
> the things they use to base their belief in Him on
> so it is a properly arrived at basic belief for
> them to have.

I think that's more or less right.

> I think I must have unfortunately missed the part
> where that has any bearing whatsoever on that
> belief actually being correct.
>
> I'm still left with my initial befuddlement... How
> can one base arguments for the existence of God on
> experiences that are in no way provable to have
> been from God? It may be "properly basic" for any
> given human to do so, but I don't see how that in
> any way establishes God as a reality.

I think the point of 'properly basic beliefs' is that they don't need to be established as reality to be rational beliefs. In science for example we make a lot of assumptions but I don't think anyone would consider those assumptions to be irrational.


> Phrases like
> God shows Himself to people to me is not proof
> that God exists. It is proof that people will
> attribute things that happen to them to this God
> being. Not that the experience is self-proving of
> God's existence, however "properly basic" their
> belief is.
>
> I'm still seeing huge differences in statements
> like
>
> 1. I've experienced trees. I believe trees exist.
>
> and
>
> 2. I've experienced God. I believe God exists.
>
> Both may be "properly basic beliefs", but I don't
> see them therefore both being necessarily
> correct.
>
> Why does belief in God get such a huge pass when
> it comes to being a rational belief or not?
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 18, 2014 07:49AM
So then how is atheism irrational? I don't see how it's not a properly basic belief if theism is.

.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 18, 2014 06:14PM
Because most atheists are foundationalists and the belief we live in a world absent of God is a belief that does not have logical proof or material evidence. However, Plantinga does say that atheism can be properly basic to some people...

I don't like these arguments because it isn't rational for us to believe other people have basic beliefs concerning God's existence/non-existence.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 19, 2014 04:49PM
"Because most atheists are foundationalists and the belief we live in a world absent of God is a belief that does not have logical proof or material evidence." -Tuk

And belief that God exists does have logical proof or material evidence???

"I don't like these arguments because it isn't rational for us to believe other people have basic beliefs concerning God's existence/non-existence." -Tuk

It's perfectly rational to believe that other people have basic beliefs concerning God's existence/non-existence. There's evidence that people have those beliefs all over the place. It's acceptance of blatant reality that other people have basic beliefs concerning God's existence/non-existence. What I don't see as particularly rational is is believing that other people have logical proof or material evidence supporting those beliefs one way or the other. Especially any logical proof or material evidence supporting a belief in God.

.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 19, 2014 05:03PM

And belief that God exists does have logical proof or material evidence???


No. It takes faith to believe in God unless you believe God exists is a properly basic belief...

It's perfectly rational to believe that other people have basic beliefs concerning God's existence/non-existence.

That isn't what I meant... When arguing for or against the existence of God we have to assume our debating partner has a basic belief in God. They could very well be lying to us... So on an individual basis it isn't rational to believe a person when they claim they have a properly basic belief in God since we have no logical proof or material evidence they are being truthful... Not only that but if a person has doubts about God it is inconsistent to claim they have a properly basic belief concerning God's existence...
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 20, 2014 05:11PM
What is a properly basic belief? And who or what (organization, group, etc) determines what is and isn' required for a belief to be a properly basic belief? Is a properly basic belief the same as a premise? A premise is something that virtually everyone agrees correctly applies to our best concept of reality and is regarded as fact. Few reasonable people would or could (reasonably) argue that the premise is false. "If' there is an argument and the basic premises cannot be agreed upon, then, attempting to argue one's position is pointless in such a situation. The argument instead must be over the truth or falsity of a premise.

These are some of the reasons why I find arguments which are based on the concept that I, or my opponent, is holding a 'properly based belief' to be a waste of time. The idea that a belief in God is a basic premise is certainly not acceptable since the debate over the existence of God has been going on by intelligent people for eons.

Most of us don't regard as a basic premise, something the world's best scholars and philosophers disagree upon and have been arguing over for centuries, therefore, as far as I can see, any argument regarding 'God's existence' with someone who accepts and holds that God's existence should be a basic premise (or properly held belief) can, for an atheist or agnostic, go nowhere. Such debates can take place only among a priori believers, and their argument cannot be, "Does God exist?" It would be as silly an argument as two mathematicians who accept as a premise that 3+4 equals 7, debating whether or not 3+4=7.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 21, 2014 07:24PM
I can't support Plantinga on his reformed epistemology and I'm trying to figure out what is wrong with his argument that belief in both evolution and materialism is self-defeating, the far more interesting argument IMO...

BTW Pondy... Just so you know (Islander and George know him well...) Plantinga is a Christian, but not an apologist like WLC is... He is a tough as nails philosopher, the leading expert on the metaphysics of modality and the man who destroyed the logical problem of evil...

I guess what I'm saying is that his arguments cannot be easily dismissed...
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 24, 2014 02:44AM
islander Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> What is a properly basic belief?

Like on the bumper stickers you used to see in the South that read, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 24, 2014 04:25PM
I don't find Plantinga's modality arguments to be particularly persuasive.

With regard to his argument that belief in both evolution and materialism is self-defeating, I think he basis it on assumptions for which he has no empirical evidence.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 24, 2014 04:37PM
"Plantinga is a Christian, but not an apologist like WLC is... He is a tough as nails philosopher, the leading expert on the metaphysics of modality and the man who destroyed the logical problem of evil...

I guess what I'm saying is that his arguments cannot be easily dismissed..."
-Tuk

I'm not dismissing them. I'm just trying to understand the seeming hypocrisy of them by seeking clarification.

How is theism logical but atheism is not? It just seems that the standards are conveniently not equal for determining the logic of each belief system in this debate as raised by Plantinga.

.
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 24, 2014 09:39PM
With regard to his argument that belief in both evolution and materialism is self-defeating, I think he basis it on assumptions for which he has no empirical evidence.

Such as?
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 24, 2014 09:47PM
[youtu.be]

Here is a video with Plantinga making that argument...
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 24, 2014 09:59PM
starts at around the 10:00 mark...
Re: Is Atheism Irrational? Plantinga thinks so...
February 24, 2014 11:58PM
How is theism logical but atheism is not?

I have already explained this... For Plantinga, he is discussing different epistemic theories. He said it is possible that atheism is properly basic and rational, but we know most atheists do not believe this. For most atheists, it's only rational to believe something that is based on logical proof or material evidence...

Reformed epistemology = both atheism and theism can be rational
Foundationalism = both atheism and theism is irrational (both include metaphysical beliefs that are not based on logical proof and material evidence.)

Like Islander and I said with RE we are not debating the existence of God and that seems counter productive to discussion boards... It's why I'm trying to gloss over it and focus on other theological topics...

If I were to guess I think Plantinga wants the discussion to be... God exists, so now let's talk about the logical implications of such a belief and let's see if it's consistent with the world we live in...



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/24/2014 11:59PM by tuk22.
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