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    Saturday
    Sep232017

    Plantinga Wins Templeton Prize

    Since you're all primed for a non-chess post on a football Saturday, I'll sneak in another one. Those of you who are only here for the chess are of course welcome to ignore this and wait for more chess posts, which will be coming later today. But I'm happy to note that a philosopher who influenced me a great deal (my other career was in academia, teaching philosophy) has won a major award, the 2017 Templeton Prize.

    Alvin Plantinga is a retired Notre Dame philosopher who has been very influential in analytic philosophy since the 1960s, having written important works on possible worlds/modal logic, but most especially epistemology and philosophy of religion. I don't agree with him on every jot and tittle, but he strongly influenced my philosophical thinking when I was a student, and my Notre Dame fanhood is mostly a by-product of Plantinga's having taught at the school.

    The announcement is here (with links to some of his more important papers at the bottom), a big video archive of short interviews covering his work is here (see also here), and the ceremony is at the Field Museum in Chicago tomorrow at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast online.

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    I see that Plantinga is a sort of proponent of intelligent design. I have no quarrel with the Templeton outfit sticking to matters of spirituality but do when it spreads into science.

    [DM: This is a huge topic, not really suitable for short comments here. In brief though, there's no reason why they shouldn't; the question is if the evidence or argument supports the claims. Of course, this goes in both directions: evidence and argument can in principle undermine religious truth claims as well. Christianity as practiced and understood by the overwhelming majority of the church throughout her history, whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, is defunct if Jesus didn't rise bodily from the dead. Christianity cannot be reduced to a philosophy for life or an ethical code, or the combination of the two.]

    As for Plantinga, I'm not sure about your claim that he's a proponent of intelligent design - at least not in the specific way that term has been used the past 25 years or so. He might be - I'm not denying it, either. But even if he is, it isn't something he has really worked on. Now, practically *any* theist worth his salt believes in intelligent design in the sense that he believes that God is responsible for the existence of life in general and human beings in particular. (There are lots of ways to interpret the first chapters of Genesis, but that God has nothing to do with the physical world in general and human beings in particular isn't among them.)

    But how this came about varies widely. Ken Miller wrote a book in the '90s critiquing intelligent design (in the narrow sense), but he is himself a Roman Catholic who believes that God intended the existence of human beings, and brought it about through evolutionary processes that they would exist. Is *he* a subscriber to intelligent design? In a broad sense, yes, obviously; in the particular sense associated with the "intelligent design movement", he's not.

    Now, Plantinga isn't a scientist, nor does he have the mathematical training that someone like William Dembski has. Dembski offers an argument from probabilities in favor of intelligent design (N.B. Dembski holds to ID in the narrow sense, but there's no obvious reason why an advocate of ID in the broad sense can't embrace his work), but Plantinga isn't engaged in that sort of project. Plantinga has offered what he calls the "evolutionary argument against naturalism" (EAAN), and it uses elementary probability theory via Bayes' theorem, but that's about where the similarity ends. (Maybe this is what you came across?) He uses the argument to suggest not that evolution didn't happen, but that on evolution, which for now at least is the only plausible story of human origins available to the metaphysical naturalist, we have an argument whose conclusion is that we cannot justifiably trust our belief-forming faculties.

    Of course we do trust them and can't help doing so, but the rationality of that trust is undermined by a belief in naturalism, if his argument succeeds. I'm inclined to think that it does succeed, but the relevant point is that his argument doesn't take a stand one way or another on whether evolution occurred. For all we know from his argument, theistic evolution could be true. In fact, as far as his argument is concerned, it might even be that evolution occurred and that it happened naturalistically, and there is no God; it's just that in this last case we can't justifiably believe that, once we're apprised of his argument (if it succeeds). His argument in the EAAN isn't against naturalism per se, but the rationality of accepting naturalism.]

    September 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

    Thanks for your reply Dennis - wish I had more time to engage on this. Just to say that a lot of scientists are not happy about an outfit like Templeton attempting to blur the lines between science and religion. E.g. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/05/i_won_t_take_money_from_templeton_science_and_religion_can_t_be_reconciled.html

    [DM: Sure, but that's part of the debate. Many scientists are naturalists and more still are atheists, and so - shock, horror - they are going to find the idea of reconciling science and religion to be oxymoronic or at least pointless. And plenty of scientists are theists, which means...precisely nothing as far as whether or not God exists. (It does show that one can be a well-educated, capable and responsible scientist and still believe in God, which has value against the really bad argument scientists don't believe in God; therefore, belief in God is irrational. But that's the extent of its value. As an argument for the existence of God, it is of no value, just as the presence of an atheistic scientist has no value as an argument for the non-existence of God.)

    The only "argument" Carroll offers is laughably bad. He refers to an interesting but unscientific poll of philosophers, and notes that a large majority of them are atheists rather than theists. Continuing, we read this (in the piece he links to, which is a blog post of his own): "When they [the pollsters - DM] dig into details, there is a strong correlation between theism and whether a person specializes in philosophy of religion, predictably enough. Among philosophers who don’t specifically specialize in religion, the percentage of atheists is pretty overwhelming."

    Er, yes. If you're an atheist, the odds are overwhelming that you're not going to bother about philosophy of religion. It isn't impossible for an atheist to be interested - he might think he's doing a valuable service to the world by fighting against religious belief, or he might find the topics fascinating, or he might hope to be persuaded that theism is true. But odds are, he won't bother with it. But the opinions of philosophers who don't get in the weeds of philosophy of religion argumentation are no more valuable than the conjectures of biologists on the subject of string theory.

    So it's bizarre to read Carroll's claim that "[t]he shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last 500 years." This is an interesting sociological fact about the university that goes back at least 100 years, but it isn't a scientific or a philosophical result. It would be nutty if a philosopher would claim that "a poll of philosophers said x; therefore, x" - for one thing, it would mean that God used to exist, up until around at least 1900 or so, but then somehow he ceased to be. And what if a poll is taken at explicitly Protestant and Catholic colleges today? Does God suddenly re-exist when those numbers are factored in?

    If one wants to say that X has been proved, then one needs to look at the arguments for X, especially when those who dissent are widely respected in their field, are well-credentialed, obviously very intelligent, obviously sane, etc. Watch the videos and explore a bit. Plantinga has a very readable little book called Where the Conflict Really Lies* that will give you a nice overview of his position, and you'll see that he's not trying to co-opt science in any oddball way. (Plus I'm cited in the text, so that's a cool bonus.)]

    September 30, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

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