Monday, February 10, 2014

is atheism irrational?


NYTimes |  This is the first in a series of interviews about religion that I will conduct for The Stone. The interviewee for this installment is Alvin Plantinga, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, a former president of both the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Philosophical Association, and the author, most recently, of “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.”
 
Gary Gutting: A recent survey by PhilPapers, the online philosophy index, says that 62 percent of philosophers are atheists (with another 11 percent “inclined” to the view). Do you think the philosophical literature provides critiques of theism strong enough to warrant their views? Or do you think philosophers’ atheism is due to factors other than rational analysis?

Alvin Plantinga: If 62 percent of philosophers are atheists, then the proportion of atheists among philosophers is much greater than (indeed, is nearly twice as great as) the proportion of atheists among academics generally. (I take atheism to be the belief that there is no such person as the God of the theistic religions.) Do philosophers know something here that these other academics don’t know? 

What could it be? Philosophers, as opposed to other academics, are often professionally concerned with the theistic arguments — arguments for the existence of God. My guess is that a considerable majority of philosophers, both believers and unbelievers, reject these arguments as unsound.

Still, that’s not nearly sufficient for atheism. In the British newspaper The Independent, the scientist Richard Dawkins was recently asked the following question: “If you died and arrived at the gates of heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism?” His response: “I’d quote Bertrand Russell: ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.

15 comments:

Vic78 said...

As a philosopher Plantinga knows better than to put forth the arguments that he's giving. Our belief structures are unreliable. How are we wrong about so many things? That doesn't mean materialism is true, it just means we have to question our assumptions. The man has an agenda. He's really talking to a Christian audience. The atheists and many of his colleagues would reasonably laugh him out of the room for his weak assertions.

John Kurman said...

"It's a horribly unlevel playing field", and the irony is algorithmic trading was originally set up to level the playing field.


http://johnkurman.blogspot.com/2012/02/if-only-hed-used-his-powers-for-good.html

John Kurman said...

Maybe, but belief in rationality is itself irrational, and atheists themselves are operating under a weakly positive assertion and, like theists, should be laughed at. It's like the old tale of the doctor that treats people with a disfiguring skin condition, only to one day contract it himself, and looking in the mirror, says "But on me, it looks good!"

CNu said...

I think the frontrunning and cheating was actually even a little worse and more flagrant than what you so aptly describe http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2009/07/goldman-sachs-stealing.html - matter fact - I'm sure of it as there was some long ago jockeying for physical proximity to the exchanges.

Vic78 said...

I wouldn't call it a positive assertion. God's just an idea they find untenable.

John Kurman said...

Of course it is. Saying something doesn't exist is a positive assertion. The statement "Unicorns don't exist" is still, within a system of logic, a positive assertion, even with that "not" in there.

John Kurman said...

I know! Why the pitchforks and torches didn't come out is still a rather amazing outcome. Maybe we Americans just don't have the testicular Constitution for it anymore. Maybe we should hire Ukrainians.

CNu said...

Well, with Ukrainians fighting their government (not to mention the long-simmering ethnic fight with the Russians held over from Stalin's genocidal famine) - and Greek neo-nazi's battling it out on the streets of Greece for political centrality, I think it won't be much longer now before the global "monkey-see/monkey-do" virus gets contagious in a big way, at which point all sorts of violent novelty will be liable to erupt.

Michael DC Bowen said...

The question is not whether you know if the big dogs are cheating, but if you have bigger teeth, in the end. If you want to win, you have to kill the king on the throne. It's always the same when the bully wins. When you tell him he's cheating and you tell him to play fair, he always says 'Make me'. So. Might may not make right, but it still takes might. Who's your Leviathan? Buddha?

enchentez said...

"...belief in rationality is itself irrational..."

Quite possibly the stupidest thing ever said on the internet, ever.

umbrarchist said...

Now that is a funny question: Are there an even number of stars or an odd number of stars? But the answer changes every time there is a supernova or a new star ignites.

Yeah, atheism is illogical. I decided I was an agnostic at 12.

But even if there is a God that does not mean any particular religion is true. God might think all religions are egotistical delusions run by wackos who think they are smart enough to comprehend God. So atheists are like the theists. They think they are smarter than they actually are. Somewhat lacking in imagination also.

John Kurman said...

"Coco no like! Coco call stupid!" You want a provide a bit more, or just call it a major success for knuckling that lexigraph to a fruit treat?

Vic78 said...

Philosophers in general believe in rationality. They just don't believe humans are very good at it.

CNu said...

Frankly, I think the germ of the atheist objection is the primitive cultural and psychological packaging of "God". An emotionally unstable and highly irrational anthropomorphic deity is an easily objectionable target. Substitute Arthur C. Clark's monolith builders, proverbial farmers in the field of stars, and I think most of the modern atheist objections would fall by the wayside.

Uglyblackjohn said...

Umbra.. It's odd but I find that many atheists/agnostics know more about the teachings of religions than the followers of those religions.

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