Friday, May 28, 2010

Honoring Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga's ideas, and his leadership with those ideas, have been deeply impactful for a whole generation of Christian philosophers, His work has also been significantly appropriated by theologians, scientists, historians, psychologists and other Christian scholars working in various disciplines and fields.

In this featured blog post, the EPS blog honors Alvin Plantinga for his contribution to the landscape of philosophy. Check it out.

More Plantinga links from Ap315 here and his books here.

46 comments :

David B. Ellis said...

So far as I'm aware, Plantinga contributed some new bad arguments to the long list of bad arguments employed by Christian apologists.

Not exactly an outstanding achievement. But I've been mistaken before. What, in your opinion, are the most important contributions of Plantinga and why are they important?

David said...

A major contribution he made was refuting the logical problem of evil, which is no longer defended by most non-theists. Second would be the introduction of reformed epistemology, which is also held by many prominent christian philosophers. However my favorite argument or contribution made by plantinga would be the evolutionary argument against naturalism.

Quite an achievement by my standard.

Ex N1hilo said...

David Ellis,

Can you give some examples of Plantinga's bad arguments?

David B. Ellis said...


A major contribution he made was refuting the logical problem of evil, which is no longer defended by most non-theists.


I think his argument against the logical problem of evil is badly flawed (that would be a long discussion in inself---which you may not want to go into, though if you do, I'm game). Not that I dispute that it's been influential.


Second would be the introduction of reformed epistemology, which is also held by many prominent christian philosophers.


Again, I don't disagree that he's influential. I just think all his arguments are bad ones.


However my favorite argument or contribution made by plantinga would be the evolutionary argument against naturalism.


Ah, yes, his variant of the argument from reason. One of his very worst arguments, in my opinion. Another topic one could go on at length about---which you may not want to do. But if you do I'd be interested in hearing more about why you like it.

Brian said...

David,

You ought to back up your criticism with some good reasons. We are open to hearing why you think all Plantinga's arguments are flawed.

David B. Ellis said...


Can you give some examples of Plantinga's bad arguments?


His argument that theism is properly basic in a way similar to the belief in the external world or other minds.

His attempt to refute the logical problem of evil.

Or his worst argument: the evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN).

I do, however, grant that he is often rather clever in his sophistries. In this respect I do indeed agree that he may be the best that contemporary Christian apologetics has to offer---no living apologist I'm aware of is better at putting lipstick on a pig than Plantinga. His argument against the logical problem of evil being one of the best examples.

David B. Ellis said...


You ought to back up your criticism with some good reasons. We are open to hearing why you think all Plantinga's arguments are flawed.


Pick you're favorite Plantinga argument and summarize (or quote him) as to it's major points and I'll give you my reasons for thinking it a bad argument.

I'd prefer not to summarize his argument myself, by the way, to avoid accusation of misrepresenting him or quoting him out of context---something we can avoid if someone sympathetic to his position does that.

Michael Baldwin said...

Yet another great piece of work by Plantinga is his work on the ontological argument. An argument that was once completely redundant is now an argument that has had no proper and full reply, and I've heard this admitted by quite a few atheists themselves.

David B. Ellis said...

Graham Oppy gives, I think, a good criticism of Plantinga's ontological argument (let me know what you think of it):


...consider the following argument:

1. There is a possible world in which there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness.
2. (Hence) There is an entity which possesses maximal greatness.

Under suitable assumptions about the nature of accessibility relations between possible worlds, this argument is valid: from it is possible that it is necessary that p, one can infer that it is necessary that p. Setting aside the possibility that one might challenge this widely accepted modal principle, it seems that opponents of the argument are bound to challenge the acceptability of the premise.

And, of course, they do. Let's just run the argument in reverse.

1. There is no entity which possesses maximal greatness.
2. (Hence) There is no possible world in which there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness.

Plainly enough, if you do not already accept the claim that there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness, then you won't agree that the first of these arguments is more acceptable than the second. So, as a proof of the existence of a being which posseses maximal greatness, Plantinga's argument seems to be a non-starter.


http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/#PlaOntArg

And you can find Plantinga discussing his ontological argument here:

http://mind.ucsd.edu/syllabi/02-03/01w/readings/plantinga.html

bossmanham said...

Plainly enough, if you do not already accept the claim that there is an entity which possesses maximal greatness, then you won't agree that the first of these arguments is more acceptable than the second

Oppy is simply wrong here. All one has to do is think that it is possible for God to exist. You don't have to start out by believing in God, but only thinking it's possible for God to exist. If you recognize it is possible, then He does exist.

Oppy's "response" is widely known by theists to be valid. The ontological argument shows that either God does exist, or it is impossible that God exists. Now, it certainly seems possible that God exists. The detractor must uphold an enormous burden of proof in asserting that it's impossible for God to exist. What are your reasons to think this is so?

I think it's awful smug to think that you, David, are able to refute the Free Will defense when no other philosopher has been able to do so. If you can, this would be huge news and you should submit a paper to a philosophical publication so that we theists would have to again find a solution to the POE.

David B. Ellis said...


Oppy is simply wrong here. All one has to do is think that it is possible for God to exist. You don't have to start out by believing in God, but only thinking it's possible for God to exist. If you recognize it is possible, then He does exist.


Actually, what it hinges on is the definition of God as being "maximally great" and of maximally great as including the idea of necessary existence. Necessary existence simply isn't logically possible (I'm sure this point is where our disagreement, and further discussion of this subject, will need to focus).

If you're committed to defining God in that way, you are, in our opinion, endorsing a version of the God concept which isn't logically possible.

You should follow the link---Oppy goes over this in more detail. I only quoted part of what he said.


Oppy's "response" is widely known by theists to be valid. The ontological argument shows that either God does exist, or it is impossible that God exists.


Only when you define God as necessarily existent. One is more than free to define God as the omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect creator of the universe without including the impossible idea of necessary existence.


Now, it certainly seems possible that God exists.


Again, not if you're defining God as a necessarily existent being. That's square circle territory. And, again, one is not required to define God as having that particular attribute. Just as one is not required to define God's omnipotence as being able to make a stone so heavy he can't lift it. Both are examples of defining God in a way that's logically incoherent---something that can easily be avoided with a bit more care (and a smidgen less extravagance in one's claims about God).


I think it's awful smug to think that you, David, are able to refute the Free Will defense when no other philosopher has been able to do so.


I never said I was the first or only one to recognize the problems with Plantinga's free will defense. Far from it. Others have done so, and done a good job of it, long before me.

David B. Ellis said...

But I think we need to stick to discussing one argument at a time. Each subject is more than complex enough without trying to discuss them at the same time.

Ontological argument or argument against the logical problem of evil. Let's stick to one before going on to the other.

bossmanham said...

Necessary existence simply isn't logically possible (I'm sure this point is where our disagreement, and further discussion of this subject, will need to focus).

If you're committed to defining God in that way, you are, in our opinion, endorsing a version of the God concept which isn't logically possible.


There's no explicit logical contradiction. What is the implicit one?

That's square circle territory.

You're simply asserting this. Plantinga's argument doesn't have the good reputation it enjoys for no reason. There must be a better argument than just "I think it's incoherent."

Why is a maximally great being incoherent?

I never said I was the first or only one to recognize the problems with Plantinga's free will defense. Far from it. Others have done so, and done a good job of it, long before me

Then it ought to be fairly easy for you.

bossmanham said...

On second thought, David, what you've basically done here is come in and proclaim that Alvin Plantinga is nothing special because he's just another guy who's made some bad arguments for God. So then we, naturally, ask how these arguments are bad. You come back with "well because people like Graham Oppy say so. Prove me wrong!" But I could just as easily say that about Oppy's refutations. I think they're bad arguments, and have been sufficiently re-refuted by theists. Now, prove me wrong.

Arguments don't work that great that way, and I have no intention of going back and forth in this way. You think the arguments are bad. Whatever. That doesn't change the fact that Plantinga is someone who has had a major impact on the world of philosophy, causing many a philosopher to change their tactics on many different levels; people with a lot more letters behind their names than you. That is a fact that cannot be denied. You may not like it, but thems the facts.

Now, if there are specific theistic arguments you would like to discuss with me, I'm more than willing to speak with you about them through e-mail.

David B. Ellis said...


There's no explicit logical contradiction. What is the implicit one?


Something cannot be logically necessary if it's contrary is logically possible. It certainly appears that a world with no God is logically possible (there's no obvious logical contradiction in the idea) and, if so, then the necessary existence of God is a logical impossibility.

Clearly, the disagreement, as I said earlier, lies in our differing opinions about whether necessary existence is possible.

What argument do you have for the logical impossibility of a world that exists with no God?

To use your own words: "There's no explicit logical contradiction. What is the implicit one?"

This must be answered before Plantinga's argument can get off the ground.



Now, if there are specific theistic arguments you would like to discuss with me, I'm more than willing to speak with you about them through e-mail.


Christian apologists so frequently want to move discussion of their arguments to a private venue. It implies a lack of confidence in their arguments. But I'm no mind reader and perhaps I misconstrue the motive. Fortunately, I can simply ask: why is it that you, like so many other apologists, halfway into a discussion about the arguments for and against belief, try to move things to email rather than a public forum.

I believe in an open and public discussion of important issues. Don't you?

Russell said...

"What argument do you have for the logical impossibility of a world that exists with no God?"

Hi David,

I think you have a good idea of what most of us in this conversation believe. I would be interested to know what your views are. Specifically how you would explain a universe that came to be without a God.

David B. Ellis said...

The short answer: I don't know what caused the big bang and what preceded it (nor does anyone else so far as I can tell from the arguments they've presented for their opinions on the matter). Given the current state of our knowledge all we can do is speculate.

However, one could list logically possible options for as long as one cared to type.

Perhaps it was created by 4 fairies named Winkie, Blinkie, Slinkie and Twinkie.

This is absurd....but also logically possible. And if there's a logically possible alternative, ANY LOGICALLY POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE, to the theistic creator then Plantinga's version of the ontological argument fails.

I pick such a silly example, by the way, for a reason. I don't want to become sidetracked into a discussion of cosmological arguments if it's not actually necessary to our discussion of Plantinga's ontological argument---as I said before, one thing at a time (of course, I think there are more plausible options than the 4 fairies hypothesis and I'd be happy to take up a discussion of that topic once we conclude this one, if you like).

bossmanham said...

It certainly appears that a world with no God is logically possible

It seems more likely that the metaphysical principle that "something will not come from nothing" is far more plausible, making a necessary reality of some sort needed, going back to the possibility of a maximally great being. So again, we're just back to the possibility or impossibility of a maximally great being, which is what the ontological argument aims to do, which also means you are incorrect that it is a useless argument.

Christian apologists so frequently want to move discussion of their arguments to a private venue. It implies a lack of confidence in their arguments.

I debate frequently in many different venues around the internet. I have no issue with debating publicly, but I don't want to flood this post with irrelevant topics. Heck, you can post the entire discussion anywhere you want. You're an awful presumptuous person, David.

bossmanham said...

Perhaps it was created by 4 fairies named Winkie, Blinkie, Slinkie and Twinkie.

Could you explain how these fairies could have any explanatory power with regards to the origin of the universe? Are these fairies immaterial and timeless? Would that actually comport well with the definition of fairy? Why should we think there are 4, since Occam's razor should have us shave off unnecessary additions to our explanation?

bossmanham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bossmanham said...

It certainly appears that a world with no God is logically possible

One more thought here. You have to differentiate between metaphysical possibility and epistemic possibility. Your statement that it appears that it is possible for there to be a world with no God only has epistemic merit, in that we could think of God not existing. To say, however, that it is possible for a necessary being to not exist is truly square circle territory metaphyiscally. How could a being that is necessary not exist? That is why the ontological argument works. It shows that God is either necessary, or impossible.

bossmanham said...

Haha. One more thought on the same point. The contrary of "it is possible that God exists" is not "it is possible that God doesn't exist," but rather "it is impossible that God exists." So, again, you're just back to what the argument shows anyway.

David B. Ellis said...


It seems more likely that the metaphysical principle that "something will not come from nothing" is far more plausible, making a necessary reality of some sort needed, going back to the possibility of a maximally great being.


No one said anything about something coming from nothing. The naturalist is not committed to that idea.

And, again, a "maximally great" being, defined as you have as one which includes the idea of existing in all logically possible worlds, is logically impossible if there is ANY logically possible world with no God.....and you just gave an example of one. A world that came into existence from nothing.

I agree with the assessment that it's highly implausible and doubt very much that that's what happened. But we're talking about Plantinga's ontological argument---which fails if any nontheistic universe is logically possible. You gave us an example of one. So it fails.


I debate frequently in many different venues around the internet. I have no issue with debating publicly, but I don't want to flood this post with irrelevant topics.


I agree. Which is why I've kept focused on Plantinga's arguments and not let things get diverted into irrelevant (though interesting in their own right) topics like the cosmological argument.


Could you explain how these fairies could have any explanatory power with regards to the origin of the universe? Are these fairies immaterial and timeless? Would that actually comport well with the definition of fairy? Why should we think there are 4, since Occam's razor should have us shave off unnecessary additions to our explanation?


All they're required to be is logically possible for them to serve as a refutation of Plantinga's ontological argument (which I'll call POA for brevity's sake from now one). Besides, you've already stated another logical possibility (no matter how implausible)---the the universe popped into existence from nothing. Or, if you prefer, we could go with any of the, probably, dozens of hypotheses being explored by modern cosmologists (like that our universe is one of many emerging from a "sea" of quantum fluctuations)---not that I'm endorsing this as the correct answer, only as logically possible. The set of logical possibilities applicable to the question is probably endless.

The universe could have been created by a pantheon of Gods.

Some variety of pantheism might be true and the big bang occurred because the universe had tried being a singularity and gotten bored and decided to take a different form.

We could go on and on. From the sublime to the absurd. From the parsimonious to the most profligate hypotheses. The possibilities are endless....which is why POA is so obviously a "nonstarter" as Oppy rightly described it.

David B. Ellis said...


How could a being that is necessary not exist?


It couldn't. But you have yet to establish that the concept "necessary being" is logically possible. And I've stated some good reasons, so far unrefuted, for thinking it can't be.

To say, however, that it is possible for a necessary being to not exist is truly square circle territory metaphyiscally. How could a being that is necessary not exist?
That is why the ontological argument works. It shows that God is either necessary, or impossible.


That you can put the two words "being" and "necessary" together no more makes it a logically possibility than it does when you put together the words "square" and "circle". The version of God you are describing is, indeed, impossible.

But only that version of God which is described as having the characteristic of being necessary (existing in all logically possible worlds).

One is free to believe in a God which is omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect and the creator of the universe but who doesn't exist in all logically possible worlds (as you're going to have to do to avoid incoherence).


One more thought here. You have to differentiate between metaphysical possibility and epistemic possibility.


Actually, Plantinga is specific about talking about LOGICAL possibility (a God who exists in all logically possible worlds).


Haha. One more thought on the same point. The contrary of "it is possible that God exists" is not "it is possible that God doesn't exist," but rather "it is impossible that God exists." So, again, you're just back to what the argument shows anyway.


You keep forgetting, or just ignoring, that more than one version of the idea of God has been brought up: ones which include the idea of "necessary being" and ones which don't. The latter are logically possible. The former are not.

Paul said...

Hi David,

You mention that Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism is one of his worst arguments. I would be very interested in hearing your objections.

Thanks,

Paul

David B. Ellis said...

OK, I think the discussion of the ontological argument has pretty much run it's course anyway.

Do you want to summarize the argument/quote someone on it or do you want me to?

I think it's generally better for someone sympathetic to the argument to summarize it but I can quote either Plantinga himself or a credible source on the topic of you prefer.

David B. Ellis said...

"If you prefer" I meant to say.

bossmanham said...

All they're required to be is logically possible for them to serve as a refutation of Plantinga's ontological argument (which I'll call POA for brevity's sake from now one). Besides, you've already stated another logical possibility (no matter how implausible)---the the universe popped into existence from nothing

Incorrect. To refute POA, you must show that it is impossible for a maximally great being to exist.

It couldn't. But you have yet to establish that the concept "necessary being" is logically possible. And I've stated some good reasons, so far unrefuted, for thinking it can't be.

Actually, you haven't, as your main premise for rejecting the concept was faulty. You need to show the idea to be incoherent, which is quite a burden of proof.

That you can put the two words "being" and "necessary" together no more makes it a logically possibility than it does when you put together the words "square" and "circle". The version of God you are describing is, indeed, impossible.

All you're doing is asserting this. You need to show the logical impossibility.

You keep forgetting, or just ignoring, that more than one version of the idea of God has been brought up: ones which include the idea of "necessary being" and ones which don't. The latter are logically possible. The former are not.

No, you keep forgetting, or ignoring, that the ontological argument shows a metaphysical reality. Either a maximally great being exists, or it is impossible that this being exists. Simply speculating that "God might not exist" is irrelevant. The modal axioms make it clear that either He does exist, or it is impossible that He exists.

Your fundamental mistake is thinking "it's possible for God to not exist" is the negation of "it's possible that God does exist." This is incorrect.

You have simply demonstrated that you don't understand the argument and its implications.

bossmanham said...

I'm wondering why you're so hesitant on posting anything of substance here, David. The only argument I've seen from you had a faulty premise which showed that you didn't understand the implications of the ontological argument. Now someone asks for your critique of the EAAN, and you hesitate again, showing no argument.

For someone who so brazenly came in and discounted Plantinga's work, you sure don't seem to be very familiar with it or capable of refuting it.

Paul said...

Hi David,

Can you state Plantinga's argument in your own words and then refute it. If you can't do that then I have to question whether you really understand it. Summarising an argument does not require agreement, just understanding.

David B. Ellis said...


No, you keep forgetting, or ignoring, that the ontological argument shows a metaphysical reality. Either a maximally great being exists, or it is impossible that this being exists. Simply speculating that "God might not exist" is irrelevant.


I'm not speculating that a maximally great being might not exist. I specifically said that it's logically impossible and gave my reason for thinking so. So far you've said nothing to refute the reason I gave for thinking this. When you do, I'll be happy to reply. Until then, I don't see that I have any further points to make on this topic.


Paul: Can you state Plantinga's argument in your own words and then refute it. If you can't do that then I have to question whether you really understand it. Summarising an argument does not require agreement, just understanding.


The argument claims that, on naturalism (which he defined in a minimal way as the idea that there is no God or anything like God), our cognitive faculties will have been shaped by evolutionary processes in such a way that those faculties support our survival rather than our ability to distinguish truth from falsehood (evolution would select for beliefs resulting in advantageous behaviors rather than true beliefs). On the other hand, if God created us (or guided our evolution) then he would have been interested in us having reliable cognitive faculties. So, he think, on theism we have reasonable basis for trusting, in general, our cognitive faculties but we would not on naturalism (he ignores the possibility of a creator who is deceptive---a problem pointed out by some of his critics). On naturalism, he claims, the probability of having reliable faculties is either low or inscrutable.

That last sentence is the key point. One of the main problems with his argument is that he doesn't actually do anything to establish that this claim is true. He gives us absurd scenarios like this one regarding a man running away from a predator:


Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief. ... Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it. ... Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behaviour.


Tell me honestly, how plausible do you find this scenario? Do you really think that evolutionary processes would tend to generate this sort of thinking? And isn't it rather telling that this sort of thing is all he manages to come up with as alternatives to beliefs that are basically truth-tracking in at least those respects relevant to survival?

David B. Ellis said...

Which leads to another of the problems with his claims. Our cognitive faculties, in fact, AREN'T very reliable in a great many respects. They're very good at allowing us to navigate our environment and survive within it (as, despite his ridiculous predator/prey scenario, one would expect) but they're, without training, naturally terribly bad at things not directly pertinent to survival. Our extremely weak natural grasp of statistics is one which, if you've ever taken a statistics class, you've probably heard examples of. A fact which good con artists have long known about and taken advantage of.

Another point about his claim that the reliability of our faculties being low or inscrutable on naturalism: in fact, the reliability of our cognitive faculties is, in an enormously wide range of applications, directly and very precisely testable.

For all the length and complexity of his argument (NATURALISM DEFEATED is a 58 page paper---and is only one of the places he's written about the argument) it is, like his ontological argument, a nonstarter:

The conclusion he reaches is demonstrably false---we can, in fact, make rather precise measurements of human cognitive abilities: at least in all those ways a naturalist would be inclined to think they ARE reliable (as stated before, it's also demonstrable fact that they AREN'T naturally reliable in some respects)---unless he wants to say even our basic sensory apparatus is deceiving us in a global manner. Something he gives us no reason to expect would be true, or even plausible, on naturalism.

He's given no plausible reason whatsoever for his conclusion---silly scenarios like the one quoted above aren't going to cut it.

Much more could be said about the argument. As I said, just one of the papers he wrote about it is 58 pages long, and I'm curious to hear your defense of it (assuming you've even read any of Plantinga's writings on the topic).

pds said...

Hi David,

Thank you for your summary. I havn't actually studied Plantinga writings but inbetween listening to his lectures and reading others I have a reasonable understanding of his argument.

There a few very simple problems with two of your objections:

First of all, Plantinga doesn't claim that cognitive faculties are perfect. And I don't see how that effects his argument at all.

Secondly, testing our cognitive faculties(using statistics) requires prior belief that your cognitive faculties are working. Plantinga calls this objection "Pragmatically circular". In other words, your using what you seek to prove. All the proof you mention requires prior belief that you have reliable cognitive faculties. Thus you can't use this argument.

Moreland/Craig put it this way:
"If I have reason to doubt my noetic equipment, I cannot give an argument using that equipment for I rely on the very equipment in doubt".

Your first objection needs to take into account Plantinga's 5 possibilities regarding evolution of belief, not only his scenario. However I will say that his scenario is certainly plausible. After all, if the right behaviour is produced then Evolution is blind to the truth of beliefs. To refute this argument you would need to demonstrate that Evolution is NOT blind to Belief. Or at least over 50% likely to choose true Beliefs.

Have you read the 5 possibilities and why Plantinga believes that true belief is unlikely if Naturalism and Evolution are true?

Paul said...

Sorry thats me using a different account!

David B. Ellis said...


First of all, Plantinga doesn't claim that cognitive faculties are perfect. And I don't see how that effects his argument at all.


No, he doesn't. Nor did I say he did. I said his position is only that our faculties are, in general, reliable.

My point in discussing the ways that our faculties happen to be unreliable was not to refute some claim of his that they're perfect (since, of course, that's not his position) but rather to point out that they're reliable and unreliable in just the sort of ways could be sensibly expected on naturalism.


Secondly, testing our cognitive faculties(using statistics) requires prior belief that your cognitive faculties are working. Plantinga calls this objection "Pragmatically circular".


Did you miss my point regarding global skepticism about our senses? Unless our senses and memory are pervasively inaccurate then we're capable of putting our cognitive faculties to the test---and it's rather difficult to see how we could be expected to survive if our senses and memory were subject to such global infidelity to reality.


In other words, your using what you seek to prove. All the proof you mention requires prior belief that you have reliable cognitive faculties.


On Plantinga's own assumptions, I, like all humans, have basically reliable cognitive faculties---so I don't have to engage in any circularity to defend my position. On the contrary I can assume he's right that theism is true and that if theism is true we will have reliable cognitive faculties---and then proceed to argue, with those faculties that both he and I assume are generally reliable, that they'd still be reliable if naturalism is true.

By the way, anyone accused of having unreliable faculties must use those faculties to argue otherwise. I can claim that you have globally unreliable faculties due to sin having opened your heart to Satanic influence. Can you prove me wrong? How will you do so without using your faculties?

Anyone can play that sort of game. If we are to accept that sort of "logic" no one can reasonably claim to have reliable faculties.


However I will say that his scenario is certainly plausible. After all, if the right behaviour is produced then Evolution is blind to the truth of beliefs. To refute this argument you would need to demonstrate that Evolution is NOT blind to Belief. Or at least over 50% likely to choose true Beliefs.


I have no need to "refute" his argument. The reason his argument fails is not because anyone's proven that we have reliable faculties---rather it's because he hasn't made his case that we wouldn't if naturalism is true.

Or do you think I'm wrong? If so where does he given a good argument for thinking them unreliable if naturalism was true? All he has done, so far as I can see, is CLAIM this---based on only the most feeble of arguments.


Have you read the 5 possibilities and why Plantinga believes that true belief is unlikely if Naturalism and Evolution are true?


As I said, just one of his papers on this topic is 58 pages long ---and the last time I read it was about a year ago (nor have I read EVERYTHING he's written on the subject). Feel free to refresh my memory if you think there's a good point I need to address.

Paul said...

Hi David,

Plantinga states that we(theists) have good reason to believe our faculties are working, because they are designed to come to true beliefs. Sure we understand the corrupting nature of sin, but we trust that God good design still has effect.(There are a few verses that back this up)

Naturalists must simply assert that their faculties are working even while Evolution selects advantagous behaviour NOT true belief.

You keep saying this argument is feeble, and fails but before any further arguments can take place you need to demostrate that Evolution selects true belief >50% of the time. If you can't do this then you have no right to trust your cognitive faculties. Can we agree that Plantinga's argument centers on this issue?

David B. Ellis said...


Naturalists must simply assert that their faculties are working even while Evolution selects advantagous behaviour NOT true belief.


It's pretty obvious that inaccurate sensory systems would be maladaptive. It's also pretty obvious that inaccurate memory, especially short term memory, is maladaptive. Given those two features the reliability of our cognitive faculties is testable with a high degree of accuracy.

It's also highly plausible to think that the most advantageous cognitive faculties will generally be those that produce true beliefs.

So where exactly is the problem for the naturalist?


You keep saying this argument is feeble, and fails but before any further arguments can take place you need to demostrate that Evolution selects true belief >50% of the time.


You act as if the burden is on me to prove something.

Imagine that someone claims that your cognitive faculties are corrupted by accepting a false religion and thereby having fallen under the influence of demonic forces.

Is the burden of proof on you or on the one making this claim?

I see no reason not to think generally accurate cognitive faculties would be selected for by evolution. Thought processes that tended to form false beliefs might be adaptive under one circumstance but I don't think it's plausible to think they would be broadly adaptive under a wide variety of situations---true beliefs would surely have the edge adaptively.

The burden is on Plantinga to establish otherwise---and, for all his long-windedness, he hasn't come close to doing this. That's why his argument is an abject failure.

Ex N1hilo said...

Paul wrote:

Naturalists must simply assert that their faculties are working even while Evolution selects advantagous behaviour NOT true belief.

In response, David B. Ellis wrote:

It's pretty obvious that inaccurate sensory systems would be maladaptive. It's also pretty obvious that inaccurate memory, especially short term memory, is maladaptive. Given those two features the reliability of our cognitive faculties is testable with a high degree of accuracy.

It's also highly plausible to think that the most advantageous cognitive faculties will generally be those that produce true beliefs.


500 million years of undirected, naturalistic evolutionary processes produced a man. A man who lived 1400 years ago, who used to fall down, convulse, and foam at the mouth. While in this state, an angel would appear to him, and dictate to him the words of the Creator of the Universe, which he would later recite and his followers wrote down. Based on these revelations, the man became a very wealthy head of state and military leader with a dozen wives.

His followers, and their followers, generation after generation, took the words of the angel to heart. They spread the message by preaching and by the sword, as the angel had commanded. They built empires. They built schools to teach the angel's words. In many cases they beheaded those who openly denied the veracity of the angel's words—again as the angel commanded. By such methods, they have brought whole nations under submission to the words of the prophet. They have made submission to the angel's words a necessity for personal survival in many cases.

Today, this man's followers number about 1.5 billion. And their number is growing rapidly. In many European contries, they are producing much larger families than those who do not follow the angel's words. It is estimated that a number of Western European countries will have a majority of people who follow this man and his angelic message in just a few decades.

The man's followers often have a zeal for spreading their religion. They believe that the whole world will one day be Muslim. Perhaps they are right. After all, the angel told Muhammad that it will happen. It looks like this prophecy might actually be coming true as we watch history unfold.

Perhaps David ought to re-evaluate the claim that the most advantageous cognitive faculties are those that produce true beliefs.

Paul said...

Hi David,


It's also highly plausible to think that the most advantageous cognitive faculties will generally be those that produce true beliefs.

Some scientists argue that possession of rational abilities can be a disadvantage.(Due to increase in time taken to teach young, and more complex, and energy consuming, information processing capacities). If this is the case then isn't is plausible that true belief producing faculties can be maladaptive?

Remember also that a belief isn't the only thing to effect behaviour. False beliefs may have very little effect on the ability of the animal to produce correct behaviour. Plantinga argues that behaviour is created only indirectly by belief. Behaviour, he argues, is the result of complete belief sets, desires, sensations and other factors. So a false belief may stay in the population because it has no direct effect, or is overpowered by other factors.

Don't forget that the ultimate purpose of our cognitive faculties is to produce behaviour, not true belief. Naturalistic evolution is not aimed at the production of true belief, this can at best be a secondary cause or effect.

Anyway, real life is very busy so this has to be my last post.

David B. Ellis said...


Perhaps David ought to re-evaluate the claim that the most advantageous cognitive faculties are those that produce true beliefs.


Notice that I said "will GENERALLY produce true beliefs". Not "will always produce true beliefs".

I don't and never did say that only cognitive processes that tend toward true beliefs can be selected for by evolution. My position is only that they would be selected for to a high degree in certain respects (especially our senses and short term memory) that entail that the accuracy of our cognitive faculties is testable in most important respects and, therefore, not inscrutable. And those cognitive faculties are, based on the ways they've been tested, quite good in certain respects and quite bad in others(I gave the example of our bad intuitive understanding of statistics).

Nothing about the success of Islam (or any other irrational belief system) runs contrary to the positions I hold on our cognitive processes.


Some scientists argue that possession of rational abilities can be a disadvantage.(Due to increase in time taken to teach young, and more complex, and energy consuming, information processing capacities). If this is the case then isn't is plausible that true belief producing faculties can be maladaptive?


Increased rational abilities require an increased investment. Most animals get by fine without our level of mental complexity and so it wasn't selected for. Nothing about this is contrary to my position. Jaguars and cows, too, have beliefs (or something largely equivalent) and cognitive processes (even if not formulated in language). And these need to model their environment and how it works in ways that are generally accurate in most respects for them to survive.

In other words, it seems very likely that most of a living beings beliefs need to be generally "truth-tracking" for long-term survival to be possible.


False beliefs may have very little effect on the ability of the animal to produce correct behaviour. Plantinga argues that behaviour is created only indirectly by belief. Behaviour, he argues, is the result of complete belief sets, desires, sensations and other factors. So a false belief may stay in the population because it has no direct effect, or is overpowered by other factors.


Which is why one says "generally reliable" cognitive faculties rather than flawless cognitive faculties.

The fact that truth-tracking beliefs are only indirectly selected for is not a problem---so long as they are selected for. And Plantinga has given us no good reason to think they wouldn't be.



Don't forget that the ultimate purpose of our cognitive faculties is to produce behaviour, not true belief. Naturalistic evolution is not aimed at the production of true belief, this can at best be a secondary cause or effect.


It doesn't make any difference that they're indirectly selected for so long as they're selected for.

So, again, where's the problem for the naturalist?

Ex N1hilo said...

According to naturalistic thought, matter and energy—indeed the whole physical universe—is devoid of meaning and purpose. If this is so, then the evolution of species must occur by undirected processes, without purpose, with no end in view.

But once again we see the proponents of Darwinian theory attempting to sneak teleology into Evolution. In a purposeless universe, there can be no reason for evolution to produce thinking beings that are capable of forming true beliefs. At best there could, hypothetically, be a string of processes and events whereby this happened. So how exactly did it happen? No one knows. But the naturalist must have such beings, or they themselves and their evolutionary theory are overturned. And so purpose is quietly sneaked in the side door.

When someone points out what they are doing, and asks where the purpose comes from, they reply that the naturalist has no burden to prove anything. Evolution happens, as we observe, and it produces right-thinking organisms, as we observe. It’s as simple as that.

If pressed as to how exactly this occurred, the standard answer is given: “Why such beings arose from time, random mutation, and natural selection, of course.”

This is the incantation that makes the system of magic that we know as “Darwinian Evolution” work.

David B. Ellis said...


But once again we see the proponents of Darwinian theory attempting to sneak teleology into Evolution. In a purposeless universe, there can be no reason for evolution to produce thinking beings that are capable of forming true beliefs.


There's no teleology involved.

I think beliefs (especially those involving our sensory inputs and short term memory) tend to be truth-tracking because that, generally, leads to the most advantageous behavior and is therefore selected for. Period. I've yet to hear a plausible reason why one shouldn't think this.

Ex N1hilo said...

I think beliefs (especially those involving our sensory inputs and short term memory) tend to be truth-tracking because that, generally, leads to the most advantageous behavior and is therefore selected for. Period. I've yet to hear a plausible reason why one shouldn't think this.

There are a number of problems with this. One is that, from a scientific point of view, this is just speculation. Has anyone empirically tested the hypothesis that true belief tends to promote advantageous behavior? If not, then, what do you ground this belief in? Is it not mere opinion?

Has anyone proposed a model of how this association between truth and belief developed biochemically through eons of evolution? I mean specifics. Simply repeating the mantra "time, mutation, selection" is no more than waving a magic wand at the problem.

Also, I would contend that to propose that true beliefs confer survival and quality of life advantages is to make an assertion about purpose. It's a metaphysical assertion.

And how would one test the senses and memory to determine their reliability and capability to function as truth detectors without assuming their reliability from the outset as a precondition that makes the idea of testing propositions possible?

These are serious questions. At least I think they are. And, AFAIK, evolutionary theory has not begun to answer them. On the other hand, we have the testimony of the Creator in a book that is widely available. It addresses every one of these questions.

David B. Ellis said...


One is that, from a scientific point of view, this is just speculation. Has anyone empirically tested the hypothesis that true belief tends to promote advantageous behavior?


Plantinga doesn't dispute that true beliefs tend to promote advantageous behavior. Have you even read any of what he's written on the EAAN?

One does not need to perform a double blind scientific study to know that a true belief about the danger of walking in front of speeding cars will tend to lead to advantageous behavior (in the sense of preventing your death).


Also, I would contend that to propose that true beliefs confer survival and quality of life advantages is to make an assertion about purpose.


See above.


And how would one test the senses and memory to determine their reliability and capability to function as truth detectors without assuming their reliability from the outset as a precondition that makes the idea of testing propositions possible?


I've already responded to that question. Twice.

Like Paul I think I'm going to make this my last post on the topic. The questions are becoming repetitive and I think I've already more than sufficiently explained my position on the EAAN. You're free and welcome to disagree.

bossmanham said...

David,

I specifically said that it's logically impossible and gave my reason for thinking so

I did actually. I said, "Your fundamental mistake is thinking "it's possible for God to not exist" is the negation of "it's possible that God does exist.""

Your premise that, "Something cannot be logically necessary if it's contrary is logically possible. It certainly appears that a world with no God is logically possible (there's no obvious logical contradiction in the idea) and, if so, then the necessary existence of God is a logical impossibility" is flawed.

The contrary of "It is possible that God exists" is not, as you state, " it is possible for God to not exist." That is your major premise, but it is false. Therefore, you have shown no contradiction.

David B. Ellis said...


The contrary of "It is possible that God exists" is not, as you state, " it is possible for God to not exist."


Let me say it YET AGAIN. I agree that a God defined as including the characteristic of necessary existence is either logically necessary or logically impossible. I agree that if it's logically possible modal logic entails that it necessarily exists.

But I argued that a God of that description is, indeed, NOT logically possible---that it's logically impossible. My reasons for thinking so have been presented to my satisfaction. Clearly you disagree. But I don't see that there's anything more to be said. You've stated the same mischaracterization of my position several times. I've repeatedly explained in what way you're misrepresenting me. I will not do so again.

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