Recently, we noted that the New York Times was running an Opinionator series called The Stone, hosted by philosophy prof Gary Gutting, which featured, among others, Alvin Plantinga, a Christina philosopher who has some sense of what design theory is and also did a good expose of Bertrand Russell’s flying teapot. Proceeding down the mall, Gutting now interviews University of Massachusetts philosopher Louise Antony who says “I claim
to know that God doesn’t exist”:
L.A.: O.K. So the question is, why do I say that theism is *false*, rather than just unproven? Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.
I say ‘there is no God’ with the same confidence I say ‘there are no ghosts’ or ‘there is no magic.’
That’s not to say that I think everything is within the scope of *human knowledge*. Surely there are things not dreamt of in our philosophy, not to mention in our science – but *that* fact is not a reason to believe in supernatural beings. I think many arguments for the existence of a God depend on the insufficiencies of human cognition. I readily grant that we have cognitive limitations. But when we bump up against them, when we find we cannot explain something — like why the fundamental physical parameters happen to have the values that they have — the right conclusion to draw is that we just can’t explain the thing. That’s the proper place for agnosticism and humility.
L.A.: Well I’m challenging the idea that there’s one fundamental view here. Even if I could be convinced that supernatural beings exist, there’d be a whole separate issue about how many such beings there are and what those beings are like. Many theists think they’re home free with something like the argument from design: that there is empirical evidence of a purposeful design in nature. But it’s one thing to argue that the universe must be the product of some kind of intelligent agent; it’s quite something else to argue that this designer was all-knowing and omnipotent. Why is that a better hypothesis than that the designer was pretty smart but made a few mistakes? Maybe (I’m just cribbing from Hume here) there was a committee of intelligent creators, who didn’t quite agree on everything. Maybe the creator was a student god, and only got a B- on this project.
In any case though, I don’t see that claiming to know that there is no God requires me to say that no one could have good reasons to believe in God. I don’t think there’s some general answer to the question, “Why do theists believe in God?” I expect that the explanation for theists’ beliefs varies from theist to theist. So I’d have to take things on a case-by-case basis.
Also, at the every end,
G.G.: That makes it sounds like you don’t think it much matters whether we believe in God or not.
L.A.: Well, I do wonder about that. Why do theists care so much about belief in God? Disagreement over that question is really no more than a difference in philosophical opinion. Specifically, it’s just a disagreement about ontology — about what kinds of things exist. Why should a disagreement like that bear any moral significance? Why shouldn’t theists just look for allies among us atheists in the battles that matter — the ones concerned with justice, civil rights, peace, etc. — and forget about our differences with respect to such arcane matters as the origins of the universe?
Whatcha think? Is origin of the universe an “arcane matter”?
File under: Philosophy for STEM grads, the easy way
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