More theist/atheist bickering

Discovered here at Strange Doctrines. The post links to another blog, featuring a blow-by-blow account of a stiff debate between Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett at the Central APA last week. I started reading through it, but then lost interest. I’m disappointed that the reporter came away with the very strong feeling that Dennett behaved jerkishly. I’ve never gotten that impression when I’ve seen Dennett, but then again I’m a convert, I suppose. I’ve also seen Plantinga on occasion, and have always found his demeanor quite kind (pastoral, almost), but his arguments absolutely uncompelling — to the point of being … well, obtuse. Oops! Am I being jerkish?

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6 thoughts on “More theist/atheist bickering

  1. source

    It’s sad that the author felt that his or her opinions “could damage or destroy [his or her] career in analytic philosophy.”

    It would be interesting to have a transcript or recording of the debate. I felt that I didn’t understand much of Dennett’s point, and I’d like to know why. Either Dennett really failed to make an argument or the author didn’t understand/like the argument.

    Maybe we should create a philosophy version of YouTube. Anyone could post videos of debates or conferences.

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  2. Kleiner

    Hmm. I also did not get through the whole thing. Hard to know if Dennett acted ‘jerkishly’. I think people on both sides of this debate can act like jerks. I have heard Plantiga on several occasions and, like Huenemann, cannot imagine him acting jerkishly. All of that said – I do think that some neo-atheists have a tendency to be absurdly dismissive and completely unfair in their presentation of theism (Hitchens is the cover-boy of this tendency, he is a jerk). I think there has been some ‘jerkishness’ on this blog of late, in fact. Calling people ‘deluded and insane’ is just the neo-atheist’s version of religious ‘hellfire and brimstone’.

    I did laugh at this posting:
    ‘2:33 pm – Dennett is having technical difficulties.’

    Is that with his computer, or his mind (since both are really computers on Dennett’s view)?

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  3. Rob

    Among the comments following the account is someone who claims to have an ipod recording of the event. I would very much like to see or hear it because my suspicion is that some of the negative personal impressions expressed by the author of the account are rather typical of defensive tetchiness of Christian intellectuals these days ( –and rightly so, I think, for both good and bad reasons: simply read Kleiner’s posts).

    I once saw Dennett at a presentation on ‘Darwinism’ and its cultural impact back in the early ’90s and found it obtuse, shallow, and gratuitously condescending, an unworthy clobbering with the yardstick of reason. However, at least since Breaking the Spell, I’ve been greatly impressed by the many versions of his standard presentation one can find on Google Video: they are more cleverly gentle, more nuanced and… I was almost about to write ‘more effective’, but of course don’t believe any of this god chatter is scarcely more than clashing post-hoc-isms, a struggle over the cultural mainstreaming of atheism and open contempt for piety.

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  4. Huenemann Post author

    I took another glance at the transcript this morning. I agree with Rob that the reporter does seem a little too anxious to see Plantinga as superior. Platinga’s basic argument (I’ve heard it on other occasions) is this:

    1. Suppose we believe in naturalism.
    2. According to naturalism, our cognitive apparatus is selected for survival, not necessarily for gaining truth.
    3. Hence, there is little reason to think our beliefs are true.
    4. Hence, there is little reason to think naturalism is true.

    I think it’s a clever but silly argument. The leap from #2 to #3 is considerable, and a bunch of probability theory is likely only to mask that fact. The brief gestures Dennett allegedly made in response to the argument suggest he was indeed responding to Plantinga’s point.

    I do recognize that my fellow atheists are all too often smug and condescending. On the other hand… demons? Are we to take seriously that our errors might be due to the nasty efforts of demons? I’m not talking vague Cartesian possible doubts, but empirical hypothesis. If Plantinga was honestly suggesting this, he made himself a justifiable target for derision.

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  5. Rob

    I would like to see Dennett’s response to the final chapter of Nagel’s The Last Word which, as far as I can tell, poses a challenge to naturalism and evolutionary epistemology similar to that of Plantinga’s, but suggests not god as the vague alternative but some kind of (perhaps scarcely less problematic) Platonism. I love that little book, and wish it were required reading for every pomo-prone humanities undergrad with postgrad aspirations. I also think now, after having read it a few times, and heard what strike me as almost reflexive grievances over it from atheists, that Nagel’s recent essay “Public Education and ID” (available from his web page) is more challenging than is generally credited. (Though I have a very specific criticism of it.)

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