28.6.09

People Who Disagree with Me Have Fettered Minds

Seeing as my co-contributor (Arthur Kalganov) is taking his bloody time responding to my arguments, I have gotten bored. The more bored I have gotten the more disagreeable everything around me looks, and the more I believe that everyone who disagrees with me has a fettered mind, and a deep psychological bias against sweet potatoes. (I am sad to say that I did not come up with this idea this guy "RLC" beat me to it): http://litcandle.blogspot.com/2007/03/fettered-mind-alvin-plantinga.html

I came across this masterpiece when I was looking for more quotes by Plantinga to put on my blog. I searched Alvin Plantinga quotes and the aforementioned blog post came up 8th. It looks like the top ranked non-theist sight for that search as well. The fun began almost immediately after I clicked on it.

RLC starts out:
"Alvin Plantinga, philosopher, apologist and sometimes defender of "intelligent design" has written a review (response?) to Dawkins' The God Delusion that nicely demonstrates the difficulty of employing reason when hampered by absolutes of personal philosophy which preclude particular avenues of investigation and understanding.

"One could see this as a variant of confirmation bias, but for the moment, I'm going to give it another name. I'll refer to this syndrome as "the fettered mind."

"I do
not mean for this to be pejorative. I suspect, as I have said previously, that we all have idiosyncratic cognitive obstacles with which to deal. One of mine, for instance, may be the fact that I just can't wrap my head around the idea of eating sweet potatos. Yeah, yeah, you can tell me all day long about how good they are but it won't wash, I can't go there.

"In the case of discussion of theism, there are places that some theists, even philosophers of religion apparently, appear not to be able to go - the most relevant to me (and this post) being the locus of discussion within a frame of the non-existence of God."
From what RLC writes it almost sounds like Plantinga needs psychological help (maybe RLC as well). And why does RLC think that Plantinga has a "syndrome"?:
"Consider the aformentioned piece by Plantinga. It begins with this,
'Richard Dawkins is not pleased with God:
"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal…."
'Well, no need to finish the quotation; you get the idea. Dawkins seems to have chosen God as his sworn enemy. (Let's hope for Dawkins' sake God doesn't return the compliment.)'
"...Dawkins is not displeased with God, he hasn't chosen him "as his sworn enemy." For heaven's sake, Dawkins doesn't believe in God!..."
The fact that Plantinga made a joke (although not a great one) clearly shows that he has a fettered mind that is simply incapable of conceiving of the possible non-existence of God (which is apparently why he has spent so much time producing arguments related to it). My goodness, Plantinga doesn't even realize that Dawkins is an atheist; Plantinga must be crazy!

Now to be fair RLC's post does not degenerate into the psychogenetic fallacy; he does provide some arguments against Plantinga's, and I'll stop this nonsense and respond to them here. First RLC says (I'm sorry I just can't resist quoting him):
"Plantinga's joking demeanor aside, I think his response reveals a cognitive difficulty with the notion that one can bring the full focus of rational observation to the enterprise of describing God.

"Later in the article there is another, more deeply seated example of this. In rebutting
Dawkins' version of the infinite regress problem, Plantinga says,"
RLC then quotes Plantinga's argument that God is simple (according to classical theology). Here Plantinga is arguing against Dawkin's assertion that God is himself complex and would need a more complex creator (this is only one of the several ways Planting argues against Dawkin's assertion). Assumably Dawkins thinks this is true because complex things can only be produced by things that are more complex (which is why Dawkins believes so strongly in totally naturalistic evolution). (Plantinga has also elsewhere pointed out that the only conceivable things that we can refer to as complex are material, and the fact that God is a spirit precludes us from judging his complexity with a material perspective.) RLC then responds to Plantinga:
"It's fascinating to me that Plantinga doesn't seem to see the inherent problem with these arguments. In responding to Dawkins' ideas in The God Delusion, he is addressing an assertion that God is likely not to exist, that the theistic world is engaged largely in accepting one or another version of complex and convoluted "mythology." To which, mystifyingly, Plantinga responds by citing that very mythology as evidence to the contrary."
Mystifying we can assume that any argument against classifying a school of thought as "mythology" is irrelevant if the argument makes any references whatsoever to the school of thought. If someone tells me that horses don't exist and therefore that everything written about horses is mythology because "there are no magical animals that have a uni-horn" is it a fallacy to say "wait a sec... I think you are mistaken about the properties of horses"? Is citing a book about horses (to show them that their definition is mistaken) circular because we are citing "that very mythology" to show that it is not a mythology? Do I really have to explain this one?

Next he takes issue with Plantinga's response to Dawkin's take on the fine tunning argument, and quotes Plantinga where Plantinga says:
"Well, of course our universe would have to be fine-tuned, given that we live in it. But how does that so much as begin to explain why it is that alpha[the arbitrary name he gave our universe] is fine-tuned?"
RLC responds:
"Obviously, it doesn't purport to explain why the universe is "fine-tuned," it is meant to explain why the attitude that accepts these kinds of arguments is misguided."
Plantinga never said that the anthropic principle purports to explain why the universe is fine tuned. That is why he said: "But how does that so much as begin to explain why it is that alpha is fine-tuned?" The anthropic principle says that because life is delicate we must live in a universe that is finely tuned for it, but it doesn't explain why that universe is that way; it only explains why we live there.

RLC then goes on to spout more irrelevancy:
"But unfortunately he loses the plot in the confusion of theistic givens. What Plantinga should realize, where he able, is that it makes no more sense to say "look at how this universe fits me so well" than it does "look at how God must have wanted me to be exactly who, what, where, and when I am today" if there is no overriding theological conviction."
Plantinga is not saying "look at how this universe fits me so well"; he previously stated that this was obvious: "Well, of course our universe would have to be fine-tuned, given that we live in it." Plantinga is saying (and RLC totally leaves this out of his quotes from Plantinga's article) that:
"It still seems striking that these constants should have just the values they do have; it is still monumentally improbable, given chance, that they should have just those values; and it is still much less improbable that they should have those values, if there is a God who wanted a life-friendly universe."
If we consider all possible worlds there may be plenty of universes with naturally occurring fine-tuned constants, but there may be more fine-tuned universes that have a god who set those constants. This argument rests on the assumption that the most likely explanation for improbable (in this particular sense) non-evolved things is intelligence. It is more of analogical argument and might be summarized as: "from our experience we can see that non-evolved things that exhibit the characteristics of being delicately balanced to achieve something complex (in this case life) are more likely to be designed than to come about by chance". As Plantinga puts it:
"It's as if there are a large number of dials that have to be tuned to within extremely narrow limits for life to be possible in our universe. It is extremely unlikely that this should happen by chance, but much more likely that this should happen if there is such a person as God."

RLC then finishes his argument with an exquisite gem:
"This self-centered illogic is neatly summed up by the Douglas Adams quote,
'. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, "This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!"'
"I think we've all felt this intuition, to some degree, at one time or another. I suspect it's partly a result of the way our brains are wired to see the world. But when it informs a perspective that cannot conceive of a universe without God, that perspective is severely hamstrung when trying to discuss matters of the intersection of science and religion."
A puddle (if it had physicists to look at its surroundings) could observe that there are many different ways it could be a puddle; in fact, any hole in the ground would do. It could even be a puddle floating in space. But the ways that life can fail vastly outnumber the ways life can succeed (at least, so I've heard) if we use the constants as a reference point which is the only thing we have so far (that I know of). Admittedly it is not a concrete argument because we do not know everything about the birth of our universe or the laws of physics (what they depend on etc...) or even the existence of other universes. However, from the information we do have the argument may (I am not a physicist) be compelling.

RLC concludes by attacking Plantinga's famous evolutionary argument against naturalism (which RLC has obviously never even researched; he in fact doesn't even name it as such)
Once again I cannot resist quoting him:
"But on toward the end we find one of the most ubiquitous examples of flawed arguments propagating from the fettered mind."
Anyways, RLC argues against the EAAN thusly:
"A theist, more specifically a theist unable to properly frame the argument, cannot conceive of truth as separate from Truth. But if one is able to imagine, and for the purposes of discussion frame his arguments from the point of view of, a universe without God one can see that truth need not involve metaphysical absolutes. Simple, adaptive strategies can be sufficient. In that frame "truth" can mean the results of cognitive processes that help us to survive and flourish. Thus, contextually, truth can be as simple as: "eating this allays my hunger."
"If we are able to divorce ourselves from the need for overarching, soul-comforting, law-giving absolutes we can see that most empirical truth is merely an epistemological extension of observations like the above..."
Right, truth only consists of things that help us survive which includes philosophy of religion of course. From this perspective RLC actually does believe in God. Evolution has selected for belief in God (as is evidenced by the polls) just as it has selected for people who eat, therefore the statement "God exists" is true. Do I actually need to rebut this one, much less take it seriously? You know what, it is futile for me to even argue since any argument I put forth will involve "metaphysical absolutes".

I will conclude with another delightful quote from RLC:
"If fettered mind syndrome is a problem we all share to one degree or another, and I think it is, then it behooves us to understand and mitigate its effects upon our ability to reason contextually. I try not to tell other people that they are silly to eat sweet potatos, that such things are foul tasting lumps of unnatural origin. I try to see my own personal blinders within the greater context of any culinary discussion.

"Seems to me that some theists could benefit from imagining a universe without sweet potatos."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love this. Thank you so much for demonstrating RLC's empty rhetoric is such an amusing fashion. =)