Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Celebrating Alvin Plantinga

You are cordially invited to attend the ...

ALVIN PLANTINGA RETIREMENT CELEBRATION

May 20–22, 2010
University of Notre Dame

Registration is now open for the Alvin Plantinga Retirement Celebration. You can register online,

You can find complete conference details at the Center for Philosophy of Religion

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Centre for Public Christianity: Interview with Alvin Plantinga

Australia's Centre for Public Christianity recently released some interviews with Alvin Plantinga. These provide a handy snapshot of Plantinga on warrant, the new atheism, problem of evil, and the goodness of God:








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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

EPS National Meeting 2009: Timothy O'Connor

Our national meeting of the EPS in New Orleans produced a number of excellent papers, a great challenge to the EPS from J.P. Moreland at the reception, and a fruitful time of discussion during our plenary address provided by Tim O'Connor of Indiana University. I highly recommend reading his book from which the foundation of his presentation was derived (Theism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency (Blackwell Publishers).

In essence, Tim's discussion was geared toward providing an account of ultimate explanation for contingency, where ultimate explanation is to be understood as involving no brute givens. Thus, limited explanations have their probative force derived from something else that not only requires no further explanation, but can have no further explanation. The purported upshot of finding an ultimate explanation is that it avoids an infinite regress of explanations concerning contingent phenomena. Second, ultimate explanation does not provide the necessary elbow room for "scientific" enterprises that postulate theoretical or actual multiverses which are themselves derivative of some universe generator. Indeed, the characteristics generally assigned to such a universe generator propose that it is either eternal or derivative of a beginningless structure, but it has the powers contained within itself to produce contingent phenomena. If we accept that the universe generator is a physical entity that produces universes in a contingent manner, then the physical laws governing it are still left unexplained--thus it cannot be an ultimate explanation of contingency.

Though the conversation was more rich and detailed, this sketch provides some insights into Tim's work in his book and in our discussion. I will end my entry on his work here in virtue of the fact that his revised work from the EPS conference is already under contract for publication, and we want to honor that commitment. We also invite you to keep an eye out for Tim's work on this topic. Our deepest appreciation must go out to Tim for the time he shared with us in the Big Easy.

In other news, the program committee for next year's event has already uploaded a Call for Papers for the 2010 national meeting in Atlanta, GA at the EPS website. Our plenary speaker for that event will be Alvin Plantinga, who has recently retired from his teaching post at the University of Notre Dame. Given that Dr. Plantinga is one of the most formidable Christian scholars of the past century, we have high expectations that the event will be a great success. We hope to see you in Atlanta next November.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Byrne on Theistic Philosophers

In his recent Boston Review article, Alex Byrne seriously misrepresents the lay of the land in current Anglo-American philosophy, especially when we take the long view of the last several decades. As Quentin Smith has documented, (Philo 4/2 [2001]: 3-4), there has transpired since the late 1960s a veritable revolution in Anglo-American analytic philosophy with respect to the philosophy of religion in general and natural theology in particular. It is atheism that is in retreat and theism that is on the rise. Tangible measures of the sea change that has occurred is evident in the number of new philosophy journals devoted exclusively to the philosophy of religion, in the burgeoning market in philosophy of religion textbooks, in the demand among university students for courses in philosophy of religion, and in the percentage of graduate students in philosophy who are Christian theists. The difference between the discipline as it appeared back in the 1930s or 40s and today is like the difference between night and day. Byrne’s tendentious spin on Dean Zimmerman’s words obscures the point that outspoken, highly respected Christian philosophers are numerous today, even though many of their colleagues (like Byrne?) are dismissive of their religious beliefs.

Equally misrepresentative is Byrne’s characterization of contemporary Christian philosophers as content with “pulling up the drawbridge and manning the barricades, rather than crusading against the infidel.” Never mind the ugly militaristic imagery. Insofar as they have engaged in defensive operations, Christian philosophers have done so in order to show that the shopworn anti-theistic arguments like the meaninglessness of religious language, the vaunted presumption of atheism, the incoherence of theism, and the problem of evil are, to borrow Byrne’s phrase, “underwhelming” and do not stand up to scrutiny. Moreover, Christian philosophers certainly have gone on the offensive as well, as all of the traditional theistic arguments—cosmological, teleological, axiological, ontological—find numerous articulate defenders today (I list some in my piece in Christianity Today, July 2008, pp. 22-27).

Byrne similarly misrepresents Plantinga’s work on religious epistemology, epitomized in Warranted Christian Belief. On one level, Plantinga’s work is defensive in showing that Christian belief can be wholly rational, justified, and warranted even in the absence of arguments and that atheistic objections to the contrary all fail. On another level, however, the work is a frontal assault on atheistic naturalism, as Plantinga argues that there is no acceptable account of warrant (and, hence, of knowledge) that does not appeal to the notion of the proper functioning of our cognitive faculties, a notion best cashed out in terms of their functioning as they were designed to, and, moreover, that naturalism is rationally unaffirmable, since on naturalism our cognitive faculties are selected not for their being truth-conducive but survival-conducive, so that we can have no confidence in the truth of their deliverances—including, ironically, the truth of naturalism.

The question raised in the final paragraph of Byrne’s article is squarely addressed by Plantinga’s religious epistemology. Plantinga agrees that, for the most part, Christian theists “do not believe that God exists on the basis of any argument.” Plantinga thinks that there are, in fact, good arguments for God’s existence and has defended over two dozen of them; but he thinks they’re not necessary in order for religious belief to be justified or warranted. In that sense Plantinga concurs with Byrne that “The funny thing about arguments for the existence of God is that, if they succeed, they were never needed in the first place.” That is to say, if theistic arguments are sound, then God exists and has likely furnished us with cognitive mechanisms that yield warranted theistic belief independent of argument. But when Byrne opines, “How they know that God exists, if they do, is itself unknown,” then he has simply failed to be attentive to Plantinga’s epistemological model, for that model does explain how it is that Christian belief is warranted apart from argument. To assert otherwise is just to ignore all that Plantinga has written on the subject.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 EPS Papers (Sweis)

Khaldoun Sweis

Evolutionary Naturalism Reconsidered

Abstract: Darwinian evolutionary naturalism (DEN) is the strongest force for the legitimate expression of research in the sciences or the humanities today. I attempt to address some issues that DEN still need take under consideration. This paper is divided into three parts. Part 1 is a struggle to find a coherent definition of DEN as it is currently understood. The common thread I find running through all definitions is the following: DEN is a belief or research paradigm that excludes any teleological, theological or supernatural explanations for the elucidation of phenomena in the universe. In Part 2, I address the supposed unscientific presuppositions of DEN. This leads us to the question of scientific methodology. Famous philosopher of science Karl Popper wrote, “the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” If we cannot or are not allowed to consider the falsifiability, or refutability of DEN, then it is according to Popper, a non-scientific theory. Is this critique true? Is DEN a non-scientific theory? Finally in Part 3, I frame and articulate to the DEN’s community a strong argument against DEN ala Alvin Plantinga and Richard Taylor. This argument states that if our cognitive faculties have arisen by purely natural, unguided forces, then, although they can be trusted to arrive at pragmatic conclusions, they cannot be trusted to arrive at truthful conclusions.

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2008 EPS Papers (Diller)

Kevin Diller

Non-Evidentialist Positive Apologetics

Abstract: Within Evangelical theology there appears to be a considerable range of opinion about the place and propriety of positive apologetics. Some maintain that a basis in reason is required for Christian belief to be warranted. Others claim that rational arguments could never contribute to warrant for Christian belief. Alvin Plantinga, in response to a suggestion from Stephen Wykstra, seems to adopt a middle position. Whilst the arguments in favour of Christian belief (at least those that have been developed thus far) are of themselves insufficient for warranted belief, they may nevertheless make a contribution to warrant. In this paper, I take up Plantinga’s suggestion that belief might arise from multiple sources of warrant. I suggest, with illustration, that there are roughly two ways this might go. Either warrant for the belief actually derives from an inference made on the basis of beliefs that issue from multiple independent faculties; or, inference assists either external rationality in its formation of phenomenal experience, or internal rationality in its forming of appropriate belief in response to that phenomenology. The second of these takes an affirming view of the importance of positive apologetics without conceding an independent warrant contributing role. In other words, inferences made from rational arguments serve as catalysts to or extensions of the deliverances of faith. On this non-evidentialist view, God creates and sustains his own possibility of being known, making use of arguments from reason as the harmonic cognitive reverberations of faith, creating a crescendo of warrant sufficient for knowledge.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Truth and Usefulness

When Alvin Plantinga and others developed what may be called the Argument from Reason Against Evolutionary Naturalism, my expectation was that proponents of evolutionary psychology would work flat out to explain why Quine and Dennett were right in claiming that natural selection is a good explanation of the reliability of human reasoning.

Oddly, this is not the case. In How the Mind Works (p. 305), Steven Pinker insists that "our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth." In other words, our cognitive capacities, including reason, are there because they are useful in the Darwinian sense of promoting the flourishing of our "selfish" genes.

The obvious problem with this is that what natural selection tests directly is our behavior, and false beliefs are just as good as true ones provided that they produce adaptive behavior, e.g. so long as it makes me run away from lions, the false belief that I am confronted with a shrubbery will be selected for. And there are surely many more false beliefs than relevant true ones about lions to choose from, so it seems it is always more likely for me to be motivated by false beliefs connected to adaptive behavior than by true and relevant beliefs that would actually provide an intelligible reason for that behavior.

Lewis Wolpert does the same thing. In Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, he writes that (p. 140) "our brains contain a belief generating machine, an engine that can produce beliefs with little relation to what is actually true."

Later in the same book, and with no discernible sense of irony, or epistemic danger, he says (p. 216), "Science provides by far the most reliable method for determining whether one's beliefs are valid." Well, but the "scientific method" consists of beliefs generated by this unreliable engine. And what is worse, supposing that direct relevance to survival somehow could increase the probability that our beliefs are true, this certainly would not grant reliability to abstract beliefs in science and philosophy having nothing to do with survival.

Again, one thinks the evolutionary psychologist would worry--be afraid of the epistemic lions, as it were. But these lions are only mentioned in passing--as if they were shrubberies. Writes Pinker again (304):

"Our ancestors encountered certain problems for hundreds of thousands or millions of years--recognizing objects, making tools, learning the local language, finding a mate, predicting an animal's movement, finding their way--and encountered certain other problems never--putting a man on the moon...proving Fermat's last theorem."

Here we have a theory like the one D. A. Carson has called "hard postmodernism," that takes itself all of the way to epistemic self-destruction. The theory implies that theories such as itself have no reliable basis. How then can the evolutionary psychologist recommend evolutionary psychology (or the broader evolutionary naturalism on which it depends ) with any credibility? Isn't this just like the hard postmodernist's self-refuting claim that there are NO metanarratives (it is true of all narratives that they are not metanarratives)?

Even more odd is the fact that when considering supernatural religious beliefs, evolutionary psychologists often claim, in effect, that since these beliefs are useful (for social cohesion, health or whatever) they aren't true! Of course this is a fallacy, but one would think they would be concerned with the implications for their own worldview. Just as it is a fallacy to argue useful, therefore true, it is equally a mistake to argue useful, therefore false, which would mean giving up arithmetic, logic and the scientific method. It is a bizarre spectacle to see thinkers attempting to apply universal acid selectively. When they claim that scientific claims have special reliability because of the way they are tested, they forget that they are presupposing the very use of logic (the experimental method) whose reliability is in question.

Aside from the lack of hard evidence for its claims, it seems to me that evolutionary psychology is showing itself to be fraught with problems of internal incoherence, and can only be upheld by a scrupulous doublethink which masks as shrubberies the epistemic lions it has unleashed, though they seem quite ready and willing to devour it.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Plantinga and Tooley's Knowledge of God Debate

As part of their "Great Debates in Philosophy" series, Blackwell recently released Knowledge of God, a debate between Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley.

The NDPR had a review by William Rowe.

This is a very fine book, presenting arguments for and against theism and naturalism by two very distinguished philosophers. I strongly recommend it for graduate level courses in philosophy of religion.

The Prosblogion has been leading a fabulous discussion on the various parts of the book.

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