Intelligent Design Philosophy

Alvin Plantinga zaps the flying teapot

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File:AlvinPlantinga.JPG
Alvin Plantinga, 2009/Jonathunder

Alvin Plantinga, a philosopher who is a Christian, who understands better what ID is about than some, was recently interviewed at New York Times on arguments for God. It was noted that 62% of philosophers say they are atheists, and the interviewer asked him about Bertrand Russell’s teapot argument:

Gary Gutting: You say atheism requires evidence to support it. Many atheists deny this, saying that all they need to do is point out the lack of any good evidence for theism. You compare atheism to the denial that there are an even number of stars, which obviously would need evidence. But atheists say (using an example from Bertrand Russell) that you should rather compare atheism to the denial that there’s a teapot in orbit around the sun. Why prefer your comparison to Russell’s?

Alvin Plantinga:  

File:Chinese teapot.JPG
18thc Chinese/theroadislong

Russell’s idea, I take it, is we don’t really have any evidence against teapotism, but we don’t need any; the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and is enough to support a-teapotism. We don’t need any positive evidence against it to be justified in a-teapotism; and perhaps the same is true of theism.

I disagree: Clearly we have a great deal of evidence against teapotism. For example, as far as we know, the only way a teapot could have gotten into orbit around the sun would be if some country with sufficiently developed space-shot capabilities had shot this pot into orbit. No country with such capabilities is sufficiently frivolous to waste its resources by trying to send a teapot into orbit. Furthermore, if some country had done so, it would have been all over the news; we would certainly have heard about it. But we haven’t. And so on. There is plenty of evidence against teapotism. So if, à la Russell, theism is like teapotism, the atheist, to be justified, would (like the a-teapotist) have to have powerful evidence against theism.

Read on to see if Plantinga thinks they do.

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG
not tea

The rest is fun too. The entertaining thing about most philosophers being hard core atheists is that they tend to be conceited about their opinion and don’t even try very hard. So they are fun to set up, when you need a lighter moment.

See also: Atheist philosopher reflects on new atheist Jerry Coyne’s diatribe against philosopher Alvin Plantinga

12 Replies to “Alvin Plantinga zaps the flying teapot

  1. 1
    JGuy says:

    Ancient teapot found orbiting the sun (while on the Earth) proves teapotism has been true since the estimated age of was deposit between 1782AD & 1790AD… Well before the birth of Bertrand Russel I’d guess:

    http://research.history.org/CW.....129309.jpg

  2. 2
    JGuy says:

    The rest is fun too. The entertaining thing about most philosophers being hard core atheists is that they tend to be conceited about their opinion and don’t even try very hard. So they are fun to set up, when you need a lighter moment.

    Do you mean a setup and then an ending like this?:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go6m-KNUmG4

  3. 3

    Is Atheism Rationally Justifiable?

    That was my frist contribution here.

    I’ve come to view many anti-ID advocates as having profound psychological resistance to anything that remotely points to the existence of a god of some sort. This cathexis seems to be a deep-rooted hostility towards the god concept in general that generates an almost hypnotic form of NLP where they cannot see what is before them, and see things that are not there.

    Just the other day at TSZ Dr. Liddle said “there is no evidence of god”, which is patently, obviously false. Given that “evidence” is an interpretation of facts that supports a theory or hypothesis (meaning, the hypothesis explains the facts), there is probably more evidence for god than anything else (as outlined in that UD post of mine).

    Materialists often talk about “believing what the evidence dictates”, but fail to understand that “evidence” is an interpretation of facts. Facts don’t “lead” anywhere in and of themselves; they carry with them no conceptual framework that dictates how they “should” fit into any hypothesis or pattern. Even the language by which one describes a fact necessarily frames that fact in a certain conceptual framework that may be counterproductive.

    Atheists first preclude “god” from being an acceptable hypothesis, and then say “there is no evidence of god”. Well, Duh. The only way there could be evidence of god is if you first accept it as a hypothesis by which one interprets or explains facts.

    “God” is a perfectly good hypothesis for explaining many facts. When an atheist says “there is no evidence for god”, what they are really saying (but are psychologically blind to it) is: There is no god, so there cannot be evidence for it. Their conclusion comes first, and so no evidence – in their mind, irrationally – can exist for that which does not exist.

  4. 4
    Moose Dr says:

    If God is not personable, if God does not care about me, and if God does not care whether or not I care about him, then God becomes nothing more that a topic of philosophical debate.

    Positive proof is required to believe in a God who is personable, who cares about me and who cares whether or not I care about him. I have personally sought out, discovered, and commune with this God. I required, and received, positive proof.

  5. 5
    OldArmy94 says:

    William,

    Your statement is very well written, and I agree with it. My only caveat is that there are many theists who also say, “There is a God; therefore, I cannot accept any evidence to the contrary.” We are required, as believers in Christ, to provide an answer for our beliefs (I Peter 3:15).

    I am in agreement with Moose Dr above–I have come to experience God in a personal way, and my whole existence is defined by His lordship of my life. He is real in every sense of the word to me. He is as real as my wife and kids, and there is no logical or rational way to dismiss Him from my mind and soul. There is, of course, a LOT of objective evidence for the reality of God, and though the atheist may present arguments against Him, they really boil down to questions regarding His nature and His creation. I freely acknowledge that there are difficulties and questions regarding evil and suffering, particularly, but that question is one for the theist to answer, not the atheist. After all, if God is not, then evil is not.

  6. 6

    OldArmy,

    There may not be a god, but I cannot see any rational reason not to believe in god. When I was an anti-theist, my reasons for attacking belief in god was emotional and psychological, not rational. The way many atheists act in debates concerning theism easily demonstrates that they are so emotionally or politically bonded to anti-theism that not even the obvious will pry them from their denial.

  7. 7
    LarTanner says:

    Plantinga:

    Russell’s idea, I take it, is we don’t really have any evidence against teapotism, but we don’t need any; the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and is enough to support a-teapotism. We don’t need any positive evidence against it to be justified in a-teapotism; and perhaps the same is true of theism.

    Russell:

    Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

    Let that soak in. OK, Russell continues:

    It is customary to suppose that, if a belief is widespread, there must be something reasonable about it. I do not think this view can be held by anyone who has studied history. Practically all the beliefs of savages are absurd. In early civilizations there may be as much as one percent for which there is something to be said. In our own day…. But at this point I must be careful. We all know that there are absurd beliefs in Soviet Russia. If we are Protestants, we know that there are absurd beliefs among Catholics. If we are Catholics, we know that there are absurd beliefs among Protestants. If we are Conservatives, we are amazed by the superstitions to be found in the Labour Party. If we are Socialists, we are aghast at the credulity of Conservatives. I do not know, dear reader, what your beliefs may be, but whatever they may be, you must concede that nine-tenths of the beliefs of nine-tenths of mankind are totally irrational. The beliefs in question are, of course, those which you do not hold. I cannot, therefore, think it presumptuous to doubt something which has long been held to be true, especially when this opinion has only prevailed in certain geographical regions, as is the case with all theological opinions.

    My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true. Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.

    Conclusion: Plantinga doesn’t get Russell.

  8. 8
    OldArmy94 says:

    LarTanner,

    I guess I don’t “get it” either. Why do you believe that Plantinga is wrong about Russell?

    By the way, I believe that Plantinga’s point about the unreliability of one’s ability to discern truth is particularly poignant in light of this:

    I do not know, dear reader, what your beliefs may be, but whatever they may be, you must concede that nine-tenths of the beliefs of nine-tenths of mankind are totally irrational.

    HOW do you know, Mr. Russell, that this is truth? If you hold to a materialist perspective, then you positively cannot make the assertion.

  9. 9

    Materialists can make whatever assertions their happenstance collections of molecules dictate!

  10. 10
    Blue_Savannah says:

    Fascinating and insightful interview.

  11. 11
    Barb says:

    LarTanner quotes Russell: “It is customary to suppose that, if a belief is widespread, there must be something reasonable about it. I do not think this view can be held by anyone who has studied history.”

    Like evolutionary theory.

    “My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true.”

    So, because a few people might have odd ideas that means that everyone has odd ideas. Logical fallacy: hasty generalization. Russell fails. And so does LarTanner for quoting him.

  12. 12

    Regarding teapots and evidence . . . and the first quote Barb lists @11 . . .

    It is somewhat remarkable that so many people have a strong, almost knee-jerk aversion to the possibility of design. Yet at the same time they want us to believe the following:

    A highly scalable, massively parallel system architecture incorporating a 4-bit digital coding system and a super-dense, information-rich, three-dimensional, multi-layered, multi-directional database structure with storage, retrieval and translation mechanisms, utilizing file allocation, concatenation and bit-parity algorithms, subject to software protocol hierarchies,

    (i) is the result of a lengthy series of random particle collisions, notwithstanding

    (ii) there is no evidence for it; indeed, it violates our current understanding of chemistry and physics.

    —–

    The very idea is outrageously preposterous and a joke of the highest order.

    Russell is at least correct that the mere fact that a belief is widespread doesn’t mean that there is anything reasonable about the belief.

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