Friday, March 16, 2012

Who Are These Serious Theologians Atheists Are Always Ignoring?

Jerry Coyne was recently kind enough to digest for us Alvin Plantinga, who is (as Coyne calls him) a Sophisticated Theologian(tm). Here's Coyne's analysis of some of Plantinga's work. Plantinga is one of the best modern theologians, and always look for the best argument for an opposing position to increase your certainty. These are the people who we always get accused of not understanding. Never mind that far more atheists know Plantinga's name than Christians! And I've certainly yet to encounter a Christian who says their faith is in any strong sense based or saved by Plantinga's writing. Whatever these theologians are doing, it's not key to Christians' beliefs, so it's hard to see why an atheists' ignorance of the same arguments is such a hot button.

Nonetheless, it's true, Plantinga makes some of the more...interesting arguments around creationism and theism, for instance that because evolution can't have produced perfect proposition-evaluating machines, we could have no knowledge of the universe and therefore can't know the status of a god's existence; that is, either evolution or atheism is true. For a more elaborated account of that argument go here, but the flaws you're probably already noticing don't go away.

Incidentally, regardless of the logic, this is a good rhetorical tactic and I give Plantinga credit for being clever. A way to really befuddle someone is to take two core values and attempt to show how they're actually inconsistent so you have to throw one away. Libertarian atheists and liberal Christians do this all the time - "you can be Christian or capitalist".

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