Thursday, March 12, 2009

Plantinga vs. Dennett

Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett engaged in a pseudo-debate recently -- "pseudo" because it was not a traditional debate format, but took the form of a presentation, response, and counter-response -- on the compatibility of science and religion. You can read an account of it here, or download the audio here. Here are my thoughts on it, based solely on the account:

1. I'm very disturbed that the philosopher who wrote the account linked above felt it necessary to remain anonymous. Is this really the state of academia today that religious devotion can ruin one's career? That just scares me.

2. Plantinga's presentation should have been broader. He could easily have shown the Christian origins of modern science, and how many aspects of contemporary science seem to confirm religious claims (the Big Bang, the Anthropic Principle, etc.).

3. Plantinga should not have mentioned Michael Behe's critique of orthodox Darwinism. The relationship between religion and science is controversial enough without bringing in the most controversial aspects of it, especially since there are plenty of Christians who disagree with Behe.

4. I don't understand Dennett's (and radical atheism's) insistence that atheism is just obvious, and anyone who doesn't see it is a moron. I don't see why the atheist's knee-jerk reaction is a surer guide to truth than the lifelong reflections of the majority of the most intelligent people who have ever lived. Perhaps the latter were wrong, but I have a hard time believing that they were stupid.

5. As a corollary, I further don't see why Dennett (and radical atheism) feels it necessary to be so contemptuous of anyone who disagrees. Dennett essentially accuses Plantinga of being stupid. You need to re-examine your worldview if it requires you to believe that one of the greatest and most profound thinkers in the world today is stupid. Again, I can certainly see how he could be wrong, but to accuse him of stupidity is not even worthy of consideration.

6. At the very least, Dennett (and radical atheism) could employ arguments to defend a) atheism and b) that belief in God is silly (as opposed to just false). If atheism were not only true but obviously true, it seems to me that they should be able to give reasons for it at the drop of a hat. Instead they usually offer slogans, insults, and propaganda. Dennett suggests, for example, that belief in God is equivalent to Holocaust denial. Nevermind the fact that the experience of God is one of the most common human experiences throughout history, and one of the main subjects of philosophy for the last few millennia has been proofs for the existence of God. As such, to put belief in God in the same category as conspiracy theories is pretty weird.

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