Monday, May 18, 2009

Plantinga-Dennett Debate Review, Review

I may give my own take on the Plantinga - Dennett "debate" or exchange later, but for now I am going to review a review of this exchange. This review was what lead me to listen to the debate so I could judge for myself. By the way, this is going to be somewhat of a rant...

As a person with short hair, even I couldn't help pulling out my hair out at this debate review of the Plantinga - Dennett exchange which can be found HERE.
I prefer to remain anonymous for various reasons, in particular because I am inclined towards Plantinga's position over Dennett's and were this to become well-known it could damage or destroy my career in analytic philosophy. This is something I prefer not to put my family through. I almost didn't publish these comments at all, but as far as I could tell, this would be the only public record of the discussion.
Actually Sir, I can see why this review could destroy your career in analytic philosophy and it has nothing to do with the fact that you are a theist. (By the way, nice way to play the "persecuted" Christian card...) I would say it is because you have problems grasping simple comprehension and concepts which should be obvious to any philosopher. (Or heck, layperson!) You take great joy in attacking Dennett, yet seem oblivious to what he is actually saying. I would venture to say that people such as yourself and your fellow Christian well-poisoners are damaging American Philosophy (I say American because its an American phenomenon) because of your inability to consider the potential falsity of your position. (Yes I understand that you might feel the same way about us secularists, but at least we are "allowed" to consider positions which go against what we believe)
It is perhaps the first time in centuries that Christians have been such a high concentration of professional philosophers.
Am I surprised the well-poisoners are entering philosophy? No, because they tried and failed to get in the front door of science with the likes of Intelligent Design, so now they are going around the back to "destroy" methodological naturalism and the scientific method. As a scientist I must cackle (in a mad scientist kind of way) because science was founded on theistic beliefs and philosophy and has eroded them ever since. Modern theistic philosophy is required because of this and I see "professional" theistic philosophers such as Craig, Van Inwagen and Plantinga as being "science deniers", who pick and choose the bits of science (or pseudoscience in the case of Intelligent Design) which support their positions.
Dennett has arrived and is setting up his equipment. It seems appropriate somehow that Dennett would be using technological equipment where Plantinga gives a more traditional sort of talk.

2:20 pm - Plantinga enters. The tension between the titans fills the room.

2:21 pm - No immediate greeting between the two figures. Dennett stares at his computer. It is awkward.

2:25 pm - Still no eye contact. Both figures appear uncomfortable. I'm probably reading into their body language, but they seem to realize that something hangs on the match.

2:27 pm - Plantinga attempts to make eye contact with Dennett. Dennett still refuses.

2:29 pm - Dennett and Plantinga make awkward attempts at conversation. Dennett still seems uninterested. I wonder what this foreshadows.

Dennett notably doesn't clap for Plantinga.

2:35 pm - Plantinga begins to speak. He looks like Abraham Lincoln. Dennett looks like Santa Claus. Feel free to imagine these two as those characters.
Juvenile...This reviewer is clearly trying to paint Dennett as "hostile".
Plantinga seems more concerned with careful, methodical, clear philosophy, Dennett with exciting, compelling, shocking ideas.
Um...what? Plantinga is the one with shocking ideas, such as the next one...
He [Plantinga] even mentions that outrageous (to the naturalist) idea that the demons are part of the errors in human development. Dennett is clearly stunned and amused. He probably thinks Plantinga's claims are insane or at least silly. Plantinga's orthodoxy is completely unabashed. It is commendable that he is wholly without embarrassment, something rare for a modern Christian. Perhaps it signals an attitude to come.
Not being embarrassed about positing demons as part of the errors in human development?!?!
The Christian doesn't have to change her views according to current science.
If I could sum up Plantinga's argument in one sentence, it would be that.
Dennett is shaking his head and continues to appear amused. Imagine Santa with a sense for the absurd and ironic and a strong snarky streak. Less appealing, admittedly, but still an interesting character.
The lame insults continue...
Dennett claps!
If this doofus didn't include the exclamation mark, I wouldn't have complained, but I see this as indicative of the overall tone of this review. Dennett the snarky, mean spirited, atheist devil against warm, inviting Plantinga who stands up in the face of evil unabashed with his Christian orthodoxy. Style over substance, Aristotle over Plato. It gets worse...The next part takes place during Dennett's rebuttal/commentary.
Contemporary evolutionary theory can't rule out ID. "Except on grounds that it is an entirely gratuitous fantasy." Is the punchline an insult?!
Yes Sir, it is an insult - and the fact that you did not "get it" speaks volumes. As a follower of Plantinga, this does not surprise me! Dennett obviously explains this...
Sure, the intelligent theist can keep going on believing. He calls theistic belief a fairy tale. Now he's getting explicitly insulting. He thinks theistic belief can corrupt our common epistemological fabric and involve theism into politics.
He was correct and his examples were appropriate.
He shows a slide mocking the eschatological views of Christians.
What is not to be mocked about those who take the view that the world must end, and end in the most bloody and violent terms possible - AND - who seek to self-fulfill this prophecy?
He calls theism an unrespectable position, and compares it to astrology. He says it is irrational and doesn't deserve respect.
Yes he did "compare" but he didn't say they were equivalent. He was equating the effects of fantasies (such as astrology) on our epistemological fabric and noting that astrology is mild whereas public policy can be based on the fantasies of theism.
He compares theism to holocaust deniers and things have gone off the rails. This is outrageous.
He compared them because holocaust deniers do affect the epistemological fabric of society! The whole point he was trying to make is that there are many fantasies, some mild and can be tolerated (astrology) and others toxic (holocaust denialers, "Obama is the anti-Christ"ers) all of which can be entirely consistent with what we observe in reality...this does not make them true, nor beneficial to society. If we are to accept Plantinga's special plea for the acceptance of theism, the floodgates open to all sorts of unverifiable claims, some benign, some toxic. If the author spent less time being offended and more time understanding he would see that Dennett "won" this point by showing the absurdity of Plantinga's appeal.
All Plantinga must do to beat Dennett now is to reply with grace. For Plantingian dry wit, this is easy.
And there we have it ladies and gentleman...All you have to do to show Christianity is true when an argument has been shown to be fallacious - you just have to reply with grace...
"Is Plantinga's theism in any better position than these other fantasies?" He's going to create a Plantinga-guided natural selection. It is hard to explain, but the argument basically mocks Plantinga. I am incensed. The response is a long string of insults, and little more. This is pathetic. I had more faith in Dennett. He is just making the Flying Spaghetti Monster argument and getting laughs from real, intolerant jerks.
Now I can tell the reviewer has lost all sense of objectivity and his mind has closed up tight completely impervious to what Dennett was saying, and all he can hear are "insults". What Dennett did was to cleverly use Plantinga's argument and show that it is just as valid if we posit that the intelligent designer or intervener was Superman. Yes it was a "Flying Spaghetti Monster" argument, and yes, it is a valid counter-argument.
It is going on and on. Sigh. I wanted this to be interesting! Dennett does not understand what a disservice he does his cause by not taking his smartest opponents seriously. He will lose thoughtful acolytes as a result.
His "smartest" opponents are only working within a specific framework that they themselves have decided to snooker themselves into. Many secular philosophers understand this. If you cut one of your own legs off, don't be surprised if you cannot compete with the two legged runners. It is perhaps cruel of us to make fun of the one legged runners, but the one legged runners were arrogant and presumed they could run as faster and some even said they would be faster than the best two legged runners. (Think of one leg as "there is a God" and the other leg "there is no God", and that by working together they can be better than if one leg was removed - which goes for either side...)
Dennett has made himself extremely vulnerable because he is mocking Plantinga, who is arguably one of the finest epistemologists of the last fifty years.
I think the reviewer has placed Plantinga on a pedestal in his mind and is let down that Dennett doesn't want to play according to his rules.
Plantinga can't champion Behe and Dennett is going to mock him. I thought so.
And? What do you expect? Plantinga decided to base an argument on Behe's discredited work. What does that tell you about the effectiveness of this line of argumentation on someone who advocates science as a tool for knowledge? Any argument which involved the flatness of Earth would also be a ridiculous line of enquiry and would be concerned more with fantasy (some other world) than reality.
Dennett recounts Plantinga and Peter Van Inwagen's invitation to debate Behe in 1997. He is seriously mocking not only Plantinga but Van Inwagen as well. He thought the Behe book was a joke and this made Plantinga and Van Inwagen look bad.
The guys who cut their leg off found a wheelchair but were disqualified because it goes against the rules.
For those on the fence, they will likely think Dennett is being a serious jerk.
I agree that Dennett was going after Plantinga with all guns blazing. This isn't a tea party, its supposed to be a serious philosophical conference and discussion. Dennett however treated Plantinga's arguments as seriously as was warranted, and I have a feeling the reviewer has some left over hostility from the previous point.
Again, all he needs to do is judge that the probability of cell complexity is higher on theism than naturalism. It appears that Dennett's reply is that Plantinga has no justifiable method of making the relevant probability judgments. There's a subtle implication that because Plantinga isn't a scientist he should shut up.
Give the boy a prize he has finally figured it out. How can these theologians perform arm-chair navel-gazing science? Until they get their hands dirty in the lab, they are not in a position to judge these things. (Especially considering they are naturalism denialers) To make these proclamations still requires them to stand on the shoulders of scientific giants. Its one big argument from personal incredulity. "*I* don't see how its probable, therefore its not probable."

Just like no lay-person can estimate with high precision whether or not a bridge will fall down, under what conditions and when, no lay-person can judge the probability of the likelihood a cell could have resulted from naturalism. You need to get your hands dirty - ironically in a field where the majority are secularists. Picking the discredited work of a person who even has a disclaimer attached to the universities website is NOT how science is done, and supports Dennett's claim that Plantinga cannot base his probabilities on anything meaningful.
Dennett has effectively made the discussion ideological.
Science versus fantasy. How is Plantinga's work any less of an ideology? Remember the Wedge Strategy...
but I am still open, though a bit upset by Dennett's truly nasty comments.
Objectivity was lost a long time ago.
Dennett is ending with a joke. He is now going after the Christian fish. It is clear that something terrible is coming.
Cause Dennett is "teh Devil" right?
"Destroy the author of things to discover the nature of the universe."
...
Basically, he is talking about murdering God. Dennett has revealed a deep wickedness in his character. I will never take him seriously as a philosopher again.
Oh boy...Murdering God?? He is no more murdering God than Nietzsche when he said "God is dead". Dennett's point is crystal clear. If we want to move on to discovering the nature of the universe, either from a scientific or philosophical point of view, then we should discard the fantasies of the past. The fact that this reviewer thinks that it is a "wickedness" says something about the nature of the reviewer and their lack of ability to comprehend what someone is saying. I also wonder why whether someone is "wicked" or "nice" is a conditionality to taking them seriously?

Conclusion

I have a feeling this secret undercover reporter is not a philosopher at a secular university who must surpress his name for fear of losing his job. I actually think its more likely that this person is a random bible believing Christian who judges an argument based on the character of the person presenting it, rather than on the value of the truth itself. If this person is a philosopher, then I have nothing but contempt for them for losing their objectivity, missing many crucial points and getting emotional and substituting an argument with an appeal to authority. The obsession of the reviwer with the character of Dennett reveals that he wants any excuse to not listen and dismiss Dennett's arguments, like so many closed minded people who focus on anything other than the argument at hand.

Blog Comments
This was an honest and frank review of the debate by a Christian left in the blog comments.
If Plantinga can't defend the relevance of the arguments he's making for the whole discussion then what good is it to bother to make the argument.
...
Is Dennett really misrepresenting the project of scientific inquiry or are we Christians really unwilling to admit that the strictness of scientific method and practice makes us appear more like fideists by our own agendas to understand the universe?
...
I can't blame the atheists for their tactics if we're not going to make a choice between offering a solid defense or admitting and being willful participants in a brand of fideism.

- Blake

3 comments:

Kel said...

A review review, how novel. I enjoyed that.

"He [Plantinga] even mentions that outrageous (to the naturalist) idea that the demons are part of the errors in human development. Dennett is clearly stunned and amused. He probably thinks Plantinga's claims are insane or at least silly."
I laughed at that comment. Though I've found comments like that are part and parcel of apologetics. I've been reading Why I Became An Atheist recently and what shocked me was just how asinine and woo-addled these arguments are. That these "intellectuals" consider their defences of the bible and the concept of God as anything to be taken seriously is beyond me.

It's through reading just how meagre the intellectual defence of religion is that has pushed me towards strong atheism. There's just nothing there, as referenced by the intellectual dishonesty and extreme mental gymnastics that they take in order to keep pretending that something is.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to see how your review is not simply (and only at best) the mirror image of the review you are trashing, except for being much more emotional.

Anonymous said...

What you seem to be missing in your meta-review is that Dennett's presentation was completely without substance - the fact that he was boorish only exacerbates the problem.

There are serious, lifelong philosophers in mainstream academia who are not Christian nor theist by any definition yet recognize the weight and gravity of what Plantinga argues.

There is a reason that we're living in the 2nd revival of academic theism since the 1960s, and it's because the theists have the upper hand when it comes to substantive and evidential argument.