Friday, February 14, 2014

Alvin Plantinga on the irrationality of evolutionary materialism

A friend of mine blogged this interview with Plantinga on facebook recently. I thought - what the heck - I'm an atheist, and a material evolutionist, let's take a look.

I took a few minutes and posted a response. Comments are welcome.

"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."

The even stars versus odd stars is an interesting analogy, i.e. it's either even or odd. However, we KNOW that even and odd are about 50% probable (and changing all the time). Is that the case with God? Clearly, people on the theistic side think the changes are 100% for God (or close) and similarly on the atheistic side thinking there is no God. If it was always just a 50/50 shot, then belief would be completely different in both camps. Clearly, no one equates belief in God to the number of stars being an even number.

On Bertrand Russell's Cosmic Teapot:

"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. etc..."

He is arguing to the letter of the letter of Russell's point and not to the spirit. Bertrand Russell could just have easily said, "an asteroid in the shape of a teapot" or something similar. The point is, there is no reason to think that it's there unless you have evidence. So, he misses that point, and I think deliberately.

When asked to come up with a good reason for God, Plantinga says: 

"One presently rather popular argument: fine-tuning. Scientists tell us that there are many properties our universe displays such that if they were even slightly different from what they are in fact, life, or at least our kind of life, would not be possible."

The fine tuning argument is something that gets WAY too much press. If you were examining the universe and were trying to figure out the kind of God created it, you'd get a God that really, really loves vast empty blackness with 100% of the universe instantly deadly to humans (100% rounded to a very large number of decimal places). At least Plantinga has the honesty to say, "or at least our kind of life, would not be possible" which completely negates the fine tuning argument anyway.

Discussing the imperfection of the universe leading the concept of an imperfect God, he says: "
"Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures."

I find this Plantinga argument bizarre. I don't get how it makes any sense at all. God sacrifices his son and goes through pain and suffering and death to maintain a correct relationship with humans? WHA? Can't He think of a way that doesn't involve human sacrifice? It makes no sense. Saying it produces the best possible world is even more strange. I maintain a relationship with someone by talking to them, exchanging ideas, having a rapport. Surely, that would be better than crucifixion?

On the explanatory power of God being replaced by the explanatory power of science:

I like his discussion of the explanatory power of theism, and how not needing God to explain the universe isn't an argument against His existence. Fair point. He could, if he wished, not take part in the universe at all in any way, and have no influence. This does, however, eliminate things like design and the beauty of the universe as possible arguments for God, but fair enough. I think Nagel's "I don't want there to be a God" is a ridiculous argument, on the order of "I don't want it to be true, so I choose not to believe it".

On materialism: "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."

His argument on the content of belief as an argument against materialism is a non sequitur. Even if he were right, and beliefs due to evolution were only about 50% likely to be true (I have no idea where he pulls this number from), then it's a consequence of materialism and not a statement about its validity.

I don't quite know either, how a completely opposite belief could have "the same neurophisiolgical properties", it would have the same content. I don't know how he separates them. It's like saying "2+5 =7, but numbers can't be material, or if we used another number with the same properties as 5, we'd end up with a different answer. So, the content of 5 doesn't matter."

Clearly, neurophisiological properties carry content, for belief and for various other thoughts. They aren't somehow completely interchangeable. He talks like material content makes no different, like a rock can just roll uphill instead of down, or there's no conservation of momentum.

If material doesn't just ignore content, then evolution follows just fine, and beliefs roughly align with reality and is a useful adaptation.

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