Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plantinga discussion recorded - podcast available this Saturday


I just recorded an hour-long conversation with Prof Alvin Plantinga, hosted by Justin Brierley, over at Premier Christian Radio. It was on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. It will be broadcast on Saturday and will then be available as a podcast.

P.S. Direct link: here.

Just for the record, I am quite a fan of Plantinga's even though I disagree with him (obviously) on the God question. Was a very interesting conversation. You can judge for yourselves how it went...

The easiest way for most people to listen will be by downloading the podcast from this website when it appears on Saturday afternoon (scroll down to "listen on demand" and find "Unbelievable? 13 Nov). It will be there permanently. One hour long.

The discussion will also available on itunes (search podcasts for "unbelievable premier"). The discussion will actually be broadcast on Saturday 13th November, 2.30-4.00pm on Premier Christian Radio:

London 1305, 1332, 1413 MW
National DAB
Sky Digital 0123
Freeview 725

The latest presentation of Plantinga's EAAN is at http://philosophy.nd.edu/people/all/profiles/plantinga-alvin/documents/CONTENTANDNATURALSELECTION.pdf

20 comments:

The Atheist Missionary said...

Stephen, could you please consider adding "share this" buttons to your posts. It can be set up automatically and is a convenient way to allow your visitors to share your posts on twitter, facebook, etc. Several sites offer this free service, including: http://sharethis.com/

Stephen Law said...

I think I have done it - does it work for you?

The Atheist Missionary said...

Yes - thanks. Just tweeted it. Best, TAM.

Stephen Law said...

Nice sword by the way. But I can't get one - couldn't trust wife with it.

The Atheist Missionary said...

This is the link for those following this thread who are curious about the sword reference: http://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/nextgen/sword-viking-stamford.htm

For anyone interested in ordering one, make sure you ask for the "Dan Carlin discount".

Mine is staying at the office. I wouldn't let my wife near it either.

Steven Carr said...

How does Professor Plantinga trust the evidence of his eyes when he knows that his eyesight is so unreliable that he has to wear glasses?

Giford said...

Good debate - no slam-dunk winner, but I did feel you pointed out a major flaw in Plantinga's argument, that his first premise seems to be wrong - evolution gives us a good reason to think that our faculties *are* reliable. To run away from a tiger, you need to be able to accurately identify tigers.

The beliefs that tall green wooden things are tigers would be strongly selected against, as would the belief that tigers are in need of a hug. Therefore evolutionary selection would favour true beliefs where those beliefs lead to increased survival (and be neutral for beliefs that do not lead to behaviour modification). It could also favour false beliefs that lead to increased survival ('we should attack *now*, because they're planning to kill us in our sleep!'), but a false belief is inherently less likely to promote survival, surely.

Plantinga genuinely appeared not to understand this when you gave you example of the belief that there is water to the south.

Gif

wombat said...

Listened to the 'cast. He sounds a charming and thoughtful fellow. I'm sure he really would get on with Prof. Dawkins even though he was rather disparaging about him. It seemed a little self defeating to criticize RD's writing philosophy and then helping himself to biological theories to do his philosophy.

The Atheist Missionary said...

It's now available for download from iTunes - great stuff.

Interesting discussion arising from the exchnage going on here at Premier Christian Radio's website: http://www.premiercommunity.org.uk/group/unbelievable/forum/topics/are-alvin-plantinga-and-his

lewism said...

It occurs to me this argument may be used against a certain version of epiphenomenalism (that beliefs and behaviour are not related), but nothing else. Can't really see anything even a hardcore Materialist is going to loose any sleep over.
Oh and was that Plantiga invoking the mystery card at the end, quoting Job, pity there wasn't time for a response from you.

splittter said...

Good debate. The particular thing that jumped out at me was that the way Plantinga seemed to characterise the content of a mental state (or what belief a mental state was) played pretty much no role in what that mental state caused you to do.

I suppose this is obvious given he wants to argue that beliefs are irrelevant to evolutionary success, but it was interesting to hear it stated quite that way. What it did make me think, though, was that if this is the case then God too has therefore no reason to give us accurate sensory faculties. I suppose the argument is he's a decent sort, so would, or is it more specifically that he created us "in his image". But this at least demonstrates that Plantinga needs also to argue independently for the Christian God to save theism, which you mentioned at near the end.

Personally I can't make much sense of a theory of the individuation of mental content which ignores the functional role they play, but that's a fairly massive slightly different subject :)

JG said...

Well first I thought it was in bad taste for Alvin Plantinga to assail Dawkins, who was not even there. It is fine to disagree with a particular point or argument of another publicly but what Alvin did was simply an ad hominem against Dawkins.

Next I thought that your point about how Plantinga's argument undermines the rationale for theism was particularly strong and I was a bit suprised that Alvin talked past it the way he did focusing on your example of the problem of evil, rather than the merit of what you were saying.

I've actually thought quite alot about Plantinga's argument and honestly I don't find it very persuasive.

I agree that our minds do tend to form incorrect beliefs, but there is this thing that we do called testing. We put these beliefs to test against reality and see how they hold up.

He never mentions testing or empiricism at all during his argument and I think that is paramount.

His argument is a bit like this, millions of people but a lottery ticket every Wednesday. They all hold the belief that they have the winning ticket without checking their numbers against the drawing.

But we are curious and inclined to test things.

Giford said...

Hi JG,

I guess Plantinga might say that the idea that testing a belief has value is itself a belief that may be wrong if materialistic evolution is real? But he'd be heading rapidly towards Going Nuclear terrritory, I'd have thought.

Stephen, I'd be interested in hearing more about the non-materialist beliefs you hold that were briefly alluded to in the podcast.

Gif

JG said...

@GIF

I think he'd get into some sticky territory there.

I think he would likely argue against empiricism, though I'm not really sure how he'd do that without sawing off the branch that he would be sitting on.

This is one reason that I really don't put alot of stock into probabilistic/statistical argumentation.

Many events are quite unlikely, but they happen all the same. Is the unlikelihood of an event happening to you in anyway related to whether it happens or not?

There are problems with ontological naturalism, but I don't think that Plantinga's argument is one them or really even highlights any of them.

Giford said...

I've started a discussion about this on the BBC Forums. I'm hoping to play 'devil's advocate' and see if there is anything to Plantinga's defence...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/brunel/F2213235?thread=7888502&show=20&skip=0#pi9

Gif

Anonymous said...

I was kinda hoping you were going to point out eventually that if the guy believes correctly that water is to the south (and would die if he doesn't get it), it would be quite odd if he then set off north... It's obvious in the case of humans that actions and beliefs tend to be consistent.

Perhaps most of the difficulty in finding a devastating argument is that it is not very clear exactly what a "belief" is, and how it relates to neurology.

Rocky said...

Haven't had the chance to listen to the podcast yet, but doesn't Plantinga's Christian theistic model (the extended A/C model) suffer from the same kind of internal inconsistency he claims E+N has?

Basically, his position seems to be that our senses etc. have been formed by God in some manner to work accurately in the appropriate environment, but have been corrupted by sin as a result of the Fall, a process which is (at least partly) reversed by the regenerating power of the holy spirit (we'll ignore the fact that this seems little better than one of Kipling's just-so stories as an explanation of how our cognitive functions can be assumed to be generally reliable).

This seems to me to throw up the rather obvious problem that if something is corrupting our senses, it presumably could lead us to false beliefs about anything, including beliefs such as whether we've actually been saved by the holy spirit or are just deludedly assuming we have, whether the holy spirit actually exists etc. etc., and thus appears to be internally incoherent.

Does Plantinga have an explanation of how we can overcome this problem? If not, it would seem that his model has the same kind of flaws that he claims that E+N does (whether it actually does is of course another matter) since there is something that can potentially lead any belief we have to be false.

David Parker said...

Professor Law,

Your objection about evolution and false beliefs reminds me of what Daniel Dennett said when debating Plantinga last year:

One could craft a calculator that yields incorrect answers, but there isn't much of a market for that sort of thing. Likewise with the evolutionary market and false beliefs.

I look forward to reviewing your latest draft in more detail.

Michael Drake said...

I think Plantinga's argument is patently ridiculous. But I must be mistaken about that, because I can't possibly have knowledge sufficiently reliable to underwrite that judgment, unless the world was invented by a being about whose nature I am sure that it entails that the being endowed me with reliable knowledge, only to render it unreliable so as to atone for the character defects of my forebears. And I'm just not sure about that.

normdoering said...

I have an argument against Plantinga's argument on my YouTube channel:

http://youtu.be/eU-wpNOyuas