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In Seattle, Alvin Plantinga & Jay Richards Address an Audience of More than a Thousand

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This past Friday night at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, internationally renowned philosopher Alvin Plantinga addressed an audience of more than a thousand on the central thesis of his recent book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism (Oxford University Press).

Co-sponsored by the Center for Science & Culture, the event featured a dialogue between Dr. Plantinga and Discovery Institute philosopher Jay Richards, reprising some themes of a series of posts they exchanged one year ago here at Evolution News & Views.

Read the rest here.

24 Replies to “In Seattle, Alvin Plantinga & Jay Richards Address an Audience of More than a Thousand

  1. 1
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    The final part of the evening’s program was a lively Q&A, which elicited some thoughtful questions from the audience. One questioner asked why natural selection could not select for true beliefs, since such beliefs are more likely to promote survival than false ones. Plantinga’s response was that, as he writes in his book, “all that’s required for survival and fitness is that the neurology cause adaptive behavior; this neurology also determines belief content, but whether or not that content is true makes no difference to fitness.”

    Perhaps that’s because truth is not an intrinsic property of a belief, but a relational property — it’s a matter of whether a proposition/sentence/belief corresponds to ______ (states of affairs, facts, objects and properties — whatever you like). So of course that relation is going to seem invisible to natural selection, if natural selection only acts directly on intrinsic properties of the organism!

    Furthermore, even if the truth of a belief isn’t directly selected for, that still doesn’t address the further question of whether natural selection could indirectly select for reliable capacities (in his sense).

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    KN seeing that you believe “‘I’ am my body”, and as such forfeit your right to ‘true’ free will choice, how are you free to choose between the truthfulness of positions of logic?

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.
    By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....66221.html

    Moreover, if free will is merely an illusion, as it must be in your “‘I’ am my body” position, i.e. the claim that past material states determine future conscious choices (determinism) then why do present conscious choices effect past material states?

    Quantum physics mimics spooky action into the past – April 23, 2012
    Excerpt: The authors experimentally realized a “Gedankenexperiment” called “delayed-choice entanglement swapping”, formulated by Asher Peres in the year 2000. Two pairs of entangled photons are produced, and one photon from each pair is sent to a party called Victor. Of the two remaining photons, one photon is sent to the party Alice and one is sent to the party Bob. Victor can now choose between two kinds of measurements. If he decides to measure his two photons in a way such that they are forced to be in an entangled state, then also Alice’s and Bob’s photon pair becomes entangled. If Victor chooses to measure his particles individually, Alice’s and Bob’s photon pair ends up in a separable state. Modern quantum optics technology allowed the team to delay Victor’s choice and measurement with respect to the measurements which Alice and Bob perform on their photons. “We found that whether Alice’s and Bob’s photons are entangled and show quantum correlations or are separable and show classical correlations can be decided after they have been measured”, explains Xiao-song Ma, lead author of the study.
    According to the famous words of Albert Einstein, the effects of quantum entanglement appear as “spooky action at a distance”. The recent experiment has gone one remarkable step further. “Within a naïve classical world view, quantum mechanics can even mimic an influence of future actions on past events”, says Anton Zeilinger.
    http://phys.org/news/2012-04-q.....ction.html

    In other words, if my conscious choices really are just merely the result of whatever state the material particles in my brain happen to be in in the past (deterministic) how in blue blazes are my choices instantaneously effecting the state of material particles into the past?,,, I consider the preceding experimental evidence to be an improvement over the traditional ‘uncertainty’ argument for free will, from quantum mechanics, that had been used to undermine the deterministic belief of materialists:

    Why Quantum Physics (Uncertainty) Ends the Free Will Debate – Michio Kaku – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFLR5vNKiSw

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    I liked Dr. Plantinga’s recent take, at NYU last month, on how Darwinism is formulated philosophically,,

    Darwinism Not Proved Impossible Therefore Its True – Alvin Plantinga – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/w/10285716

    entire lecture is here:

    God = ? NYU Questions World-class Philosopher Alvin Plantinga on Science & Religion – March 2012 – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Sp7U9Es3yw

  4. 4
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    (1) I don’t think that accepting naturalism requires one to reduce inferential relations (entailments and commitments) to causal-mechanical relations. Put otherwise, accepting the irreducibility of inferential relations to causal-mechanical ones does not, by itself, require dualism.

    (2) I think that physical determinism is false, because it assumes that what holds true for very simple systems also holds true for complex systems. But there aren’t any good reasons to think that, and lots of good reasons to think that it isn’t. In other words, determinism is true only if reductionism is true. But reductionism isn’t true, and so determinism isn’t, either.

    (3) I think that libertarian freedom obscures the detailed phenomenology of action correct, and it doesn’t explain it, either. Ultimately, libertarian freedom and dualism fall afoul of C. I. Lewis’ critique of Platonism and idealism generally — as he puts it, “it substitutes adoration of a mystery for explanation of a fact”.

  5. 5
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Just in case this is worth saying again — I thought Where the Conflict Really Lies was a fine book, and in particular I thought Plantinga did a very good job of explicating why Darwinism, properly construed as a scientific theory, is compatible with theism. As a response to the New Atheists I thought Plantinga succeeded admirably. He also has some suggestive and penetrating insights about Paley. My criticisms of Plantinga are only about the EAAN.

    He lays out his thesis nicely — that there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theism, and superficial concord but deep conflict between science and naturalism. I agree wholeheartedly with his arguments for first claim, and disagree completely with his arguments for the second.

  6. 6
    Box says:

    Plantinga: “all that’s required for survival and fitness is that the neurology cause adaptive behavior; this neurology also determines belief content, but whether or not that content is true makes no difference to fitness.”

    Kantian Naturalist #1: Perhaps that’s because truth is not an intrinsic property of a belief, but a relational property (…)

    That may well be, but Plantinga is talking about behaviornot belief. An organism can go from A to B for a thousand different beliefs (reasons), which can each be true or false, but natural selection can only select for behavior: ‘going from A to B’ – not for the beliefs behind this behavior and certainly not for their truthfulness.

    There are three layers here:
    1. Behavior
    2. Belief
    3. Truth
    Natural selection only deals with layer 1.

  7. 7
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Box, whether or not natural selection only deals with behavior, or whether it also affects belief, depends on whether or not semantic content is epiphenomenal. More precisely, since Plantinga is trying to generate a dilemma for evolutionary naturalism (i.e. unguided macroevolution), the question he needs to pose is this: should naturalists believe that semantic content is epiphenomenal?

    This goes to my dialogue with Nullasalus — if a naturalist takes on board, as her best theory of semantic content, a view which says that semantic content is not epiphenomenal, but causally interacts with behavior, then content itself will be an indirect target of selection.

    Plantinga just seems to assume that the naturalist cannot help herself to a naturalized theory of semantic content (or that semantic content cannot be naturalized), and that’s a key move in setting up the EAAN.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    KN, I don’t care what you imagine is possible. I want to know exactly why my present conscious choices are effecting past material states. This is simply, whether you imagine it to be so or not, completely inexplicable to your “‘I’ am my body” worldview. Of what possible use is all your philosophical posturing if you refuse to ever address reaklity on its own terms?

  9. 9
    StephenB says:

    Of course, Richards is right and Plantinga is wrong. Darwinism, as the term is used in the vast majority of biology textbooks, means unguided evolution. This point has been well documented.

  10. 10
    Box says:

    KN #7
    I don’t see anything new here. Natural selection selects for behavior, which indeed implies that it indirectly confirms or discards beliefs and their semantic content (level 2). That is what I already stated.
    Those beliefs can be true or not. We have no way of knowing. Natural selection didn’t help by its method of selecting.

    Why should Plantinga have a problem with a naturalized theory of semantic content? I assumed that it was part of his reasoning.

  11. 11
    timothya says:

    Box quoted Plantinga:

    Plantinga: “all that’s required for survival and fitness is that the neurology cause adaptive behavior; this neurology also determines belief content, but whether or not that content is true makes no difference to fitness.”

    This is just plain wrong as a general statement about survival and fitness. Neurology (or behaviour, or belief) has nothing to do with, for example, whether or not your body’s cells are susceptible to invasion by the HIV virus.

    Unless he thinks that higher thought will ward off infection. As a biologist, he makes a good philosopher.

  12. 12
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note to Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN):

    Bad Decisions Arise from Faulty Information, Not Faulty Brain Circuits – Apr. 15, 2013
    Excerpt: Making decisions involves a gradual accumulation of facts that support one choice or another.,,,
    ,,,if the wrong choice is made, Princeton University researchers have found that it might be the information rather than the brain’s decision-making process that is to blame.,,, erroneous decisions tend to arise from errors, or “noise,” in the information coming into the brain rather than errors in how the brain accumulates information.
    These findings address a fundamental question among neuroscientists about whether bad decisions result from noise in the external information — or sensory input — or because the brain made mistakes when tallying that information.,,,
    Princeton research,, separated sensory inputs from the internal mental process to show that the former can be noisy while the latter is remarkably reliable,,,
    “To our great surprise, the internal mental process was perfectly noiseless. All of the imperfections came from noise in the sensory processes,”,,,
    The study suggests that information represented and processed in the brain’s neurons must be robust to noise, Brody said. “In other words, the ‘neural code’ may have a mechanism for inherent error correction,”,,,
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....172429.htm

  13. 13
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: podcast – I, Charles Darwin, Episode 1: London and the Galapagos
    http://www.idthefuture.com/201.....1_lon.html
    Over the next several weeks, ID the Future will be presenting an audio adaptation of Nickell John Romjue’s fascinating book, I, Charles Darwin.–
    What would happen if Charles Darwin were to come back today? What would he think about the science of the twenty-first century, and how might it change his views on evolution? In today’s introductory episode, Darwin finds himself returned from the grave and begins to explore modern London, followed by a return trip to the Galapagos Islands, where he is surprised by what he learns.

  14. 14
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Box,

    This goes back to why Nullasalus and I kept on talking past one another. Remember, Plantinga’s argument is supposed to show that evolutionary naturalism is self-defeating. This means that it has to begin with claims and theories that the evolutionary naturalist herself already accepts, and then shows that they are incoherent. But I think that Churchland has done a pretty good job of showing why Plantinga’s argument doesn’t work — when the evolutionary naturalist is permitted to set the terms of the debate, the argument doesn’t go through.

    Nullasalus insisted that I was evading the EAAN and changing the topic. I don’t think I was, because the whole point of the EAAN is to show that the rational incoherence sets it from the premises that the evolutionary naturalist accepts. If one begins from a different set of premises, then the argument doesn’t work as a self-refutation of evolutionary naturalism.

    And the key issue here is, as Churchland makes perfectly clear, the question of what counts as reliable cognition in terms of evolutionary naturalism. By all means, insist that reliable cognition involves true beliefs — but then you’re not generating an internal criticism of evolutionary naturalism, hoisting it with its own petard, which is what Plantinga says he’s doing.

    Here’s another perspective on the same general issue: one might think that our a posteriori beliefs, our beliefs about empirical matters of fact, stand in need of some a priori certification or validation. Lots of philosophers have thought that — Descartes, for example. But — and here’s the key point — pragmatic naturalists like Dewey, Sellars, Quine, Rorty, Churchland, and myself deny that. We’re anti-foundationalists in the Hegelian tradition.

    Obviously, if one thinks that pragmatists and Hegelians have abandoned rationality, or have changed the subject, or whatever — well, ok. But Plantinga is trying to generate an internal critique of evolutionary naturalism that begins with the view that evolutionary naturalists already accept, and to do that, he’d have to begin with the anti-foundationalist, pragmatic epistemology and naturalistic theory of content that we do, in fact, accept. And then he’d have to show what’s wrong with Churchland’s response — again, in terms that Churchland himself would find acceptable and compelling. If he can’t do that, then the whole attempt to show how evolutionary naturalism is self-undermining is a failure.

  15. 15
    Box says:

    timothya #11: This is just plain wrong as a general statement about survival and fitness.

    Timothya, you are probably right, but surely Plantinga did not make a general statement about survival and fitness, but specifically with regard to the formation of beliefs.

  16. 16
    Box says:

    Kantian Naturalist #14, are you aware of Plantinga & Aaron Segal’s response to Churchland?

  17. 17
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Box — no, I hadn’t see that! Thank you very much! I don’t have access to Philo through my present university, but I’ll ask my friends at other universities and see if someone can send it my way. Awesome sauce!

  18. 18
    Box says:

    KN, keep me posted, since I’m also no subscriber to Philo. 🙂

  19. 19
    Joe says:

    timothy:

    Neurology (or behaviour, or belief) has nothing to do with, for example, whether or not your body’s cells are susceptible to invasion by the HIV virus.

    It has everything to do with whether or not you get HIV in the first place.

  20. 20
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    I managed to get a copy of Plantinga’s response to Churchland — will look at it tonight.

  21. 21
    Box says:

    KN #20, do let me know what you think!

  22. 22
    Box says:

    Kantian Naturalist #20

    What do you think of Plantinga’s response to Churchland?

  23. 23
    Kantian Naturalist says:

    Box,

    I have decided to cease participating in Uncommon Descent for a variety of reasons, chief of which is that I have been giving far too much of my time and energy to these discussions, at the expense of my own research. But, in memory of the fine exchanges we have had, I feel I owe you one last reply.

    I thought that Plantinga’s reply was extremely clever, and I do not mean that as a compliment. It showed a complete misunderstanding of what Churchland was talking about. Plantinga’s reply was rigorous and clear (as one would expect from him), but at the expense of genuine understanding of what Churchland’s naturalism does (and does not) consist of. No doubt there are serious problems with Churchland’s view — I’ve discussed some of them, and you and Nullasalus have brought up others — but Plantinga just misses the point.

    Since this is my last comment at UD for a while (at least), I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many contributors to UD, and especially Box, Nullasalus, and Timaeus, for the excellent conversations we’ve had.

  24. 24
    Box says:

    Kantian Naturalist #23

    Thank you for your reply, kind words and many profound conversations. I wish you the very best of luck with your research.

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