Thursday, May 11, 2017

Four ideas by Alvin Plantinga about God and materialism

Alvin Plantinga
Taking advantage of the awarding of the Templeton Prize to the American philosopher Alvin Plantinga, this post will try to review a few of his thoughts in the debate between theism and materialism. As it is impossible to review all his work in detail, I will mention just four of his ideas:
  1. The Mozart argument for the existence of God. Why are we able to appreciate beauty? According to the materialistic hypothesis, there is no explanation why evolution has led us to this, as it is difficult to see how this trait could be useful for our survival. Instead of good music, we should appreciate cacophony, which is more abundant in nature. If we assume that God exists, however, this fact is easy to explain, because God appreciates beauty (in fact, God is beauty). This argument, along with many others, is in this web address.
  2. Refutation of the atheist argument based on the problem of evil: Plantinga acknowledges that the only atheist argument of some weight against the existence of God is that based on the problem of evil (a good God would not allow so much evil in the world). As atheists present it, this argument is usually based on the straw man’s fallacy. To refute it, Plantinga’s answer is similar to the one I used in a post in this blog about logical fallacies.
  3. Plantinga's theistic argument based on the problem of evil: In addition to refuting the atheist argument, Plantinga turns it around and uses it to justify the existence of God. He asserts that there are abhorrent evils, recognized by all. Just remember the final solution for the extermination of the Jewish people and the experiments of the Nazi doctors with human beings. These abhorrent evils are not due to personal opinions, but because the fact itself is horrible. But in a materialistic universe, a hateful evil cannot exist: hostility, hatred, even toward our most intimate people, must be understood as the effort of the genes to ensure their survival (Dawkins dixit). There can be nothing wicked or unnatural about it. Thus materialism leads to the conclusion that evil does not exist. If that is the case, one cannot use the problem of evil to prove that God does not exist. On the other hand, if we start from the fact that God does exist, those facts are horrifying, deeply perverse, because they are a challenge against God, the source of all good and all that is right (in fact, God is goodness). Then the existence of evil becomes an inkling of the existence of God. This argument develops one initially proposed by C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity.
  4. EAAN (Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism) argument proving that materialism and evolution are incompatible: This theistic argument is the best known of those developed by Plantinga, and although it is very complex, it can be summarized in the following chain of statements:
    1. Materialism implies that our reasoning and beliefs are the result of the work of our neurons, and this, in turn, of the movements of our atoms. Therefore the mental content of our reasoning and beliefs is irrelevant.
    2. The theory of evolution, in its materialistic interpretation, tells us that all our characteristics (including reasoning and beliefs) have been favored by natural selection. That means that they have adaptive value for our survival, but they do not have to be true, for truth and adaptability are independent criteria.
    3. The theory of evolution is a belief obtained as a result of reasoning. Therefore, if materialism is true, the theory of evolution need not be true.
    4. Therefore materialism and evolutionary theory are incompatible.
Daniel Dennett
C.S.Lewis
This argument led to an interesting debate between two great philosophers of our time: Alvin Plantinga, who defended it, and Daniel Dennett, who tried to refute it. Unfortunately, Dennett was tempted to attack Plantinga’s argument by means of a logical fallacy: the appeal to ridicule. The same that in 1860 made Thomas Henry Huxley win the debate on the theory of evolution against Samuel Wilberforce, who asked him if he descended from the ape through his father or through his mother. In the debate between Plantinga and Dennett, the second attempted to ridicule his opponent by asserting that believing in God is the same as believing in the existence of Superman or the space spaghetti. This argument had been previously forwarded by Bertrand Russell and refuted by Alvin Plantinga.
Incidentally, it should be mentioned that the EAAN argument develops an earlier argument forwarded by C.S. Lewis in Chapter 2 of his book Miracles, later expanded by Victor Reppert in his book C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason.

Manuel Alfonseca

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