Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Last Superstition: the commercial

Steve Burton, my esteemed co-blogger at What’s Wrong with the World (and back in the day, at Right Reason) has a little fun with YouTube, in my honor (and, depending on how you look at it, at my expense!) I’m embarrassed as all hell. Too, TOO kind, Steve, thanks!


  1. LOL. It was a fun video.

    But let's get serious:

    Professor Feser, what do you think about Plantinga's argument against naturalism? Do you think that, in its terms, his argument stand to the critical scrutiny it has received?

    I'm not asking if, from a thomistic viewpoint, the Plantinga's argument is good or not (or necessary or not); my question is if his argument is, in your opinion, sound in a naturalist framework. Because, if it's, then it exposes belief in naturalism as actually inconsistent with belief in darwinian evolution.

    (Brian Leiter said that Plantinga's argument have been "decisively criticized", but given Leiter's bias, I think the reality is otherwise)

    I'm going to order the book "Narualism Defeated?" that is a critical examination of Plantinga's thesis by several philosophers. I want to know the best replies to his argument.

    In other topic, William Lane Craig is going to debate "new atheist" Christopher Hitchens about the existence of God, April 4th, at Biola University .

    Given Hitchens' general argumentation style and some of his "arguments" about God, I think Craig will demolish him.

  2. While I haven't put the time into Plantinga's argument to determine if it's sound, I have put in enough time to know that most of its critics (I'm referring to the 'internet' critics here, not to the serious philosophical critics) don't understand it. The most frequent mistake, it seems to me, is the notion that Plantinga is arguing that our cognitive faculties *are* unreliable, which of course he isn't. Another common mistake is that Plantinga's argument fails because we know, through science and the like, that our cognitive faculties are reliable; however, as Plantinga points out, if his argument is sound, and if naturalism obtains, then you would have to rely on your cognitive faculties to undertake any such tests, which makes the response question begging.

    That aside, I agree: Craig will demolish Hitchens, though Hitchens will undoubtedly elicit a number of laughs at Craig's expense (which will lead the 'Bill Maher' crowd to declare a victory for Hitch).

  3. In my own experience, the single most common misunderstanding of Plantinga's EAAN is that it's supposed to be an argument against evolution. Usually getting boiled down to "Reason can't have evolved, therefore evolution is untrue", when in reality it's just (as near as I can tell) unguided evolution that cannot be true, and even then mostly with respect to human rationality.

    But yes, the EAAN does seem to get misunderstood.

    Also, nice little endorsement-video there!

  4. I agree with Eric and the Anonymous.

    Plantinga's argument has been often misunderstood.

    I'm not an expert in Plantinga's argument, and I don't claim to uderstand it fully either; but as far I know it seems to me to be a very good argument against naturalism.

    An objection I've read (and I've thought myself) is that the realiability of our cognitive faculties can be supported by independent facts (like scientific results, etc.) That is, the origin of our cognitive faculties doesn't cast doubts about their reliability (the latter may be determined by independent criteria, making Plantinga's argument irrelevant).

    But as Eric says, it's question-begging, because it assumes the reliability of the criteria used to support the objection (and it's the issue at stake).

    Anyway, I'm open to other considerations, and that's why I asked professor Feser for his knowledgeable opinion about it.

    The only thing I have clear is that Leiter's dismiss of Plantinga's argument is clearly unwarranted.

    The topic is more complex and interesting than Leiter pretends.

  5. I'm doing a little work on Plantinga's EAAN at the moment, including reading bits from 'Naturalism Defeated?', and I have to say that even the professional critics' counters to Plantinga's argument seem weak. (John Post, who was always going to be sceptical of EAAN, admits as much in his review of it at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, but bizarrely thinks that drawing on Ruth Millikan's work might provide a counter. Having read a chunk of Millikan's work recently, it doesn't seem obviously up to the job . . .) If you want to see how poor some of the counters to Plantinga's argument have been, check out his unpublished essay 'Naturalism Defeated', which replies to some. A number of philosophers seriously suggest merely adding 'Our cognitive faculties are in fact reliable' to N to bolster it (on the basis that the Christian allegedly adds 'and God is good' to theism)! If you want to see someone who defends EAAN apart from Plantinga, Omar Mirza had written on it.

  6. well - maybe it was a *bit* over the top!


  7. Re: Plantinga's argument, I think the general idea is important and points to a deep problem inherent in naturalism, but I prefer the "argument from reason" formulation put forward by Victor Reppert and William Hasker.

    Note, by the way, how whenever someone criticizes a naturalistic argument or claim it is treated as a "possible objection," "potential difficulty," or (as contemporary philosophers love to say) a "worry," but when an objection is raised against an anti-naturalistic argument or claim, it is always a "refutation," "decisive criticism," etc.

    Whatever one thinks of the truth or falsity of naturalism, its _hegemony_ within contemporary philosophy rests on sheer rhetoric. _Nothing_ more.

  8. Sheer rhetoric? No way. There are, as Brian Leiter loves to say, "sociological and psychological" reasons for the hegemony of naturalism in analytic philosophy. For one thing, lots of people don't want to be theists -- for psychological and sociological reasons, not all of which have to do with being afraid of the moral consequences of believing in God. More important, I'd say, is that most people's early exposure to theism is to fairly bad arguments or at least to weak, overconfident presentations. People get a certain impression of what being a theist must mean, and they allow that prejudice to color their evaluations of even the serious, sophisticated thinkers (many of whom get no serious consideration precisely because atheists are already convinced that they must be mistaken and ultimately irrationalist, no matter how superficially sophisticated). Perhaps worse, analytic philosophy of religion these days does tend to embrace something like the 'theistic personalism' that Ed mentioned in an earlier post, which thus reinforces the impression that theism necessarily involves believing in fairy-tale stuff, even if some really sophisticated defenses of it have been mounted.

    I'm not defending these prejudices, obviously. I'm just pointing out that there's more to the hegemony of naturalism than sheer rhetoric. A more interesting question, to my mind, is why eliminative and reductive forms of naturalism are so prevalent in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, when there are plenty of alternative views that don't entail theism, and when so many philosophers working in other areas (e.g., ethics, philosophical psychology, political philosophy, even the philosophy of science of all areas) explicitly or implicitly reject the austere naturalism that's so popular in these fields.

  9. Hello Anonymous,

    I agree. What I meant was that to the extent that the hegemony of naturalism depends on _argument_, it is the rhetorical rather than the logical force of the arguments that have allowed them to carry the day. But as you say, there are other, non-argumentation involving factors at play too.