Talk:Alvin Plantinga

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Evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN)[edit]

That section is exceptionally unclear, if not incomprehensible to a simple man like myself. What the hell is it trying to say? Theory of Practice "...and we do love you madly." 19:25, 31 January 2013 (UTC)

pah. I'm not sure it's OUR take on it that is the problem.  ;-) Plantinga is trying to say that if we evolved, we *might* have evolved in such a way that truth, fact, rationality, reason, etc, are ILLUSIONS which we have simply because they insure our survival. No naturalist, he says, could make a fair claim that "what humans experience in any form, is at all factual truth, because evolution creates a lense that humans must see through, to see their world". which actually is "the matix" or Descarte relaoded. Why is there any reason to believe that what i think i am seeing, feeling, tasting, etc., is what i'm REALLY seeing, feeling, tasting, etc. Green mowse.pngGodot She was a venus demilo in her sister's jeans 19:30, 31 January 2013 (UTC)
I think it's a decent (though tiny) nutshell. In short, the argument is:
  • If evolution is true, then our beliefs are not warranted because our puny ape brains are adapted to believe what increases fitness, not what is true.
  • Therefore, evolution undermines (atheistic) naturalism, because if it were true, then there would be no warranted belief. (I.e., naturalism itself is just a product of our puny ape brains, so why believe it?)
The obvious objection is that beliefs can confer fitness because they are true -- e.g., if everything we saw were just a hallucination, we would probably not last too long. If you want more nuanced answers to why evolution does not entail global skepticism, you have to be willing to slog through some of the scientific and philosophical literature on cognitive biases, evolutionary psychology, etc. Nebuchadnezzar (talk) 02:30, 1 February 2013 (UTC)

Reading a book before we start posting what the guy said[edit]

I'm really bothered by our tendency here and at other articles to not go directly to the source for "what this guy" (or that guy, or some other guy) actually said, and relying on what others have said he said. I've read several of Alvin's works. I don't know that I would call him a christian appologist, though he calls himself that, so that's what it is. but all of our criticism is not from anything he actually says. We sorta recreate what he said, to make an easy to understand article and/or an easy to debunk description of his arguments. I'm not an expert on him at all, so I'm hesitant to change much - but i'm not sure how to clean this up, either.Green mowse.pngGodot She was a venus demilo in her sister's jeans 21:45, 31 January 2013 (UTC)

We need Tom Morris to get over his post-Plantinga stress disorder and help. (The poor bastard was doing a Ph.D in Plantinga's apparently actually-useful work in modal logic.) Paged him - David Gerard (talk) 21:52, 31 January 2013 (UTC)
How can you ever get over that.  ;-) i mean, he's better than Baudrillard, i will say. he's easy enough to read - on the face. but you sit back and say "Ok, i've read, reread, and still have no idea why what you said means anything.". glad you paged TM.Green mowse.pngGodot She was a venus demilo in her sister's jeans 00:12, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
Not modal logic, David, epistemology. I should add, yes, Plantinga has done work on modal logic. As I'm not a hardcore logician, I am unable to say whether it's any good, but I'm told by people who do know logic that he's worth reading on that subject. —Tom Morris (talk) 00:27, 1 February 2013 (UTC)

Alright, I'm on the train home from a bar (don't worry, my drinking preferences extend to nothing stronger than a Red Bull), so at David's request, I thought it might be easier to just braindump what I know about Plantinga into a textbox here and then people can argue about it. I'm going to argue solely based on authority here, rather than provide citations. Mostly because I'm on a damn train and don't have my copies of the Warrant series.

In my thankfully aborted Ph.D, I was working on Plantinga's warrant series, in particular the specifically epistemological work, rather than his theological conclusions. On his work in epistemology, Plantinga is a sensitive and often very careful thinker, and his work is useful in the negative because it gives us good reasons to reject certain theories in epistemology that are probably wrong, even if we don't want to buy his theistic conclusion.

Plantinga's work can be split into three broad categories:

Pre-Warrant. I sadly don't know much about this. About as much as I can tell you is that God and Other Minds (1970) was pretty important. He argues that belief in God is a basic belief. As the RationalWiki article says, right? Not quite. There's nothing scary about basic beliefs, first of all. They are just a specific class of beliefs that one has given a particular theory of the structure of knowledge. Under a foundationalist account of knowledge, all the beliefs we hold rely on other beliefs. A simple example: I believe that there is a bottle of water on the table in front of me. I believe this because I have sensed the bottle of water with my eyes. The structure of perception is rather complicated, but at some point, one has to reach a point where I say something like "I broadly believe that my perceptions are correct". This is a basic belief. In God and Other Minds, Plantinga argues that we have these kinds of basic beliefs about the existence of other minds—what we now call a theory of mind. But we don't have evidence that there are other minds. They could be (gasp!) p-zombies or the automatons that Descartes said animals were. But in order to get along happily and productively in the world we do have a theory of mind, even if we don't have conclusive evidence of it. Ah, but says, Plantinga, you are all supposed to be damn scientific skeptics, no? If your epistemology can handle other minds, why not God too? Sure, there isn't evidence directly for God, but belief in God is a foundationalist basic belief for a bunch of other stuff. And if you complain that an epistemology that allows God as a foundationalist basic belief is unreasonable, well, that objection would also apply to beliefs about other minds. You want a godless epistemology? Have fun not believing in other minds.

This kind of argument fell within a movement in Christian philosophy called "Reformed Epistemology". Google it. The Wikipedia intro is reasonably accurate. It's important to be clear on Reformed Epistemology, because Plantinga uses it one way in the 70s and 80s and another way in the 90s and since. Plantinga's old Reformed Epistemology, from God and Other Minds, is internalist and foundationalist. A number of other Christian philosophers also subscribed to this style of Reformed Epistemology. His later Reformed Epistemology had the same aim: defending the principle that belief in God is epistemically permissible, even if it isn't supported by the sort of evidence we might demand in, say, scientific inquiry.

Warrant. My study of Plantinga mostly focussed on the Warrant trilogy: Warrant: The Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function and Warranted Christian Belief. 'Warrant' is a technical term Plantinga introduces specifically because a lot of the terms epistemologists use inherently contain that which they attempt to prove. 'Warrant' simply means that a belief you hold has some positive status. We have used terms like "justified" for this, but there's a problem. When we say that a belief is 'justified', we mean two things: firstly, that the belief has positive epistemic status, and secondly, that we could provide a justification, of the sort we might expect a police detective to do in court. There are philosophers who believe that the answer to the question of what gives some particular belief warrant is precisely that one can justify it in this second sense. The problem is working out what conditions are necessary and sufficient such that we can say some beliefs are warranted (Paris being in France, say) and others aren't warranted (that Bigfoot is real, or plenty of the other bullshit we feature daily on RationalWiki). Answering that question is at the heart of the Warrant project.

Plantinga does this in two ways. He firstly does a survey of answers that have been suggested by philosophers, and finds fault with all of them. A particularly good example is that of Plantinga's dismissal of coherentism. Coherentists believe that the beliefs you have are justified by their coherence with other beliefs you have. So, for instance, my water bottle: I believe it's here because I believe that my perceptive beliefs are mostly accurate. The sight I have of the bottle coheres with the feeling I have of holding it and the taste sensation I have when I pour the contents of the bottle into my mouth. And that all coheres with the memory I had of purchasing the bottle of water, and with the memory I had earlier of putting it in my bag before going out. All of these are mutually supportive: I have warrant! If I suddenly started believing that there was an angel sitting in the chair opposite, that wouldn't be a warranted belief, because it wouldn't cohere with my other beliefs. Like, say, my belief that angels are highly improbable.

The problem is that coherence can't be the whole story. Plantinga constructs a thought experiment against coherentism in the form of "Ric the Epistemically Inflexible Climber". Ric is climbing a mountain in the Grand Tetons, and has a set of coherent beliefs about his location. He believes he's wearing a pair of hiking shoes, that he's so many hundreds of feet up a mountain, that the mountain is snowy, etc. etc. But suddenly, a particularly strong bit of solar radiation, or an alien raygun, or just a random neurological fluctuation, or whatever sci-fi doodad you choose to imagine, "freezes" his beliefs at a particular time. Ric's climbing buddy carries him down the mountain and takes him off to listen to the opera. But Ric continues believing that he is atop a mountain in the Grand Tetons. Coherence doesn't cut it: Ric's beliefs are all perfectly coherent, but they are no longer environmentally sensitive.

Plantinga goes through a whole stack of other theories and punches some big old holes in them. There is a recurring theme to his objections: he comes up with a hypothetical scenario where the theory fails, usually involving a person's brain malfunctioning in some clever way. This is significant because when Plantinga proposes his own theory, a key feature of it is that it tries to avoid that kind of malfunctioning.

In Warrant and Proper Function, Plantinga proposes his own theory of warrant, which is referred to as the "proper function" account (hence the book title). Basically, according to this theory, one's beliefs are warranted if one's cognitive system is functioning according to the design plan, in the environment for which one's cognitive faculties was designed. If your brain isn't working properly, or you find yourself using your cognitive faculties for an environment they aren't designed for, no warranted beliefs for you. Yes. If that sounds like intelligent design, that's what it is. (It's a bit more complicated than this, but this is close enough.) Plantinga elaborates this theory at some length, describing what a design plan is.

Okay, so he's got a theory about warranted belief. It leads to two arguments.

  1. An "intelligent design" style argument for theism. Plantinga hopes you'll be sufficiently impressed by his theory, and sufficiently repulsed by the failures of other theories of warrant, that you'll want to buy into it. Beware. If you are a naturalist, this means you commit yourself to a need to explain where exactly this design plan for our cognitive faculties came from. Plantinga hints that evolution might provide you an answer, but it's kind of a crappy answer compared to believing in God. If you buy Plantinga's theory of warrant, that might sufficiently motivate some of us godless heathens to also buy into an intelligent designer God to give us the design plan for our cognitive faculties.
  2. An argument for the rationality in belief in God. This is what the third volume of the trilogy—Warranted Christian Belief—is. Plantinga applies his theory to Christian belief and says we have a sensus divinitatis. It's part of our cognitive faculties, just like our sense organs, or our memory or ability to weigh up and reason about testimonial evidence. For atheists, our brains are just malfunctioning. Why? Oh, that's easy: the "noetic effects of sin". If we weren't sinful, our sensus divinitatis would be working properly and we'd be able to tune into God FM.

One important objection to Plantinga's warrant account is inconsistency. If you'll remember, Plantinga objected to all those various epistemic theories on the basis of their inability to deal with purely hypothetical objections. Well, if you read Warrant and Proper Function, you'll find he's not consistent! For his own proper function account, he argues that it's basically fine if he can't deal with hypothetical counterexamples. His theory only needs to deal with "paradigm cases" of belief, not with the sort of weird, wobbly sci-fi cases that he brings to bear against rival theories.

I can prattle on with a load of reasons I have issue with Plantinga's account of warrant, mostly on boring technical stuff. But my ideas haven't really been subjected to critical scrutiny. (There's a reason why I'm back to writing software for a living, rather than living the high life as a professional philosopher.)

Direct apologetical arguments. More recently, Plantinga has advanced a variety of arguments for Christian religion and against atheism. These include the evolutionary argument against naturalism, which is well documented online, and other writings which are discussed in the article. I wasn't dealing specifically with stuff outside of the Warrant books, so I'll leave that to others.

That'll do for now. That should hopefully give a basic, albeit woefully incomplete, introduction to some of where Plantinga's coming from.

I'd recommend also reading or listening to Common Sense Atheism podcasts: Tyler Wunder – Why Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology Fails and Evan Fales – Reformed Epistemology. Regarding the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, I'd recommend reading the work done by Stephen Law - see here for details. There's also an excellent collection of essays on the EAAN: Naturalism Defeated?, edited by James Beilby. The Wikipedia article on the EAAN isn't bad either. Hope that helps. I'm now home, and I'm going to bed. —Tom Morris (talk) 00:24, 1 February 2013 (UTC)

yeah, Plantinga's utter misunderstandings of evolution are particularly stupid and ludicrous. BTW, did you ever hit the stuff about how God might be really simple, not complicated? - David Gerard (talk) 00:33, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
No, as I noted, my interest was primarily trying to look at his epistemology, rather than his theology, though obviously the two are rather intertwined (one of the books on Plantinga is titled Epistemology as Theology...). I can't quite put my finger on what exactly irked me about his handwaving attempts to deal with evolution in Warrant and Proper Function. If I have a few minutes tomorrow, or over the weekend, I'll dig my copy out and cast a critical eye over his thoughts on evolution. —Tom Morris (talk) 00:44, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
I have read his response to Dawkins, but given that I fell asleep after 8 trillion words that were nothing to do with what Dawkins said, I don't think rebuilding Plantinga from what other people have said is a terrible methodology... Scarlet A.pngtheist 01:59, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
Sure - if it were you, or David, or someoen doing it. The "i have found one link, and am giving my sumary of what that link said as i understand it" was never some people's strong suit. Green mowse.pngGodot She was a venus demilo in her sister's jeans 02:04, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
To set the record straight, I wasn't cribbing. Cribbing or Plagiarism would be reading the reviews and dishonestly pretending I'd read the book. The reviews showed Plantinga appears to claim he can prove Christianity and I didn't write more than that. Proxima Centauri (talk) 09:47, 1 February 2013 (UTC)
Either read the book, or find detailed reviews in a reputable source. Using the Amazon customer reviews is totally bush league. Theory of Practice "...and we do love you madly." 13:23, 1 February 2013 (UTC)

Problems with the treatment of Plantinga's response to the problem of evil.[edit]

I couldn't help but notice whilst reading this article that Plantinga hasn't been given a particularly fair treatment in many cases. The one that sticks out the most is the treatment of his response to the problem of evil. The article, as it stands, asserts that Plantinga suggests that natural disasters are caused by non-human acts of free will, thus vindicating God of any responsibility for what have frequently been called 'natural evils'. This, however, is an incomplete picture of Plantgina's argument and not a fair one.

Let me preface this by pointing out that the problem of evil comes in two distinct forms. There is the logical problem of evil, which argues that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God. There is, however, also the evidential problem of evil. The evidential problem of evil does NOT argue that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with God's existence. Instead, the evidential problem of evil simply says that there's too damn much evil in the world to think that a being like God exists.

Plantinga's argument was NOT a response to the evidential problem of evil. It was, instead, merely intended to show that the existence of evil (assuming we accept the free will defense) is NOT logically incompatible with God's existence, as natural evils COULD be caused by the devil or some other sufficiently powerful agent with free will. Plantinga was not literally putting this forward as a serious explanation, his goal was simply to provide a counterexample to the claim that evil's existence is logically incompatible with the existence of a being like God (once again, assuming we accept the free will defense). Whether or not the devil is actually causing natural disasters or not is another topic entirely, and one Plantinga was not concerned with when he made that argument.

That may seem a rather trivial point to make, but firmly establishing anything is pretty difficult in philosophy(something that I think this wiki needs to acknowledge a bit more. The tone of finality at the end of the Chinese room article was rather vexing, but I digress), and Plantinga, I must admit, does indeed dismantle the logical problem of evil. I'm unfamiliar with any responses he's made to the evidential problem, of course, so who knows what he'd say to the evidential problem...— Unsigned, by: User talk:35.46.14.32 / talk / contribs

Necessity of identity[edit]

Necessity of identity not universally approved? By a handful? Not that I find Plantinga's stuff useful, but the necessity of identity seems to have very good reasons in its favor. But is this even something worth revisiting?— Unsigned, by: John Henry / talk / contribs

Templeton award[edit]

The Templeton Foundation has awarded Plantinga a sizable chunk. SmartFeller (talk) 22:17, 25 April 2017 (UTC)