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Alvin Plantinga v Daniel Dennett: Evolution, Naturalism and Christian Theism

April 14th, 2009 by Madeleine

Given how heavy and long some of our posts have been of late, I thought something more entertaining was in order (and because Matt has been asking me for weeks to put this up). Here is the February exchange at the APA between Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett.

By way of intro, I will quote from The Prosblogion who published an admittedly biased, nevertheless entertaining, play by play of the exchange that described Plantinga as “Abraham Lincoln” and Dennett as “Santa Claus” (if you know what they look like this is very funny);

[O]n February 21st, the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association – the main professional body of American philosophers – hosted a kind of debate. I say “kind of debate” because one philosopher gave a paper, the other commented and the first philosopher replied and the floor opened for questions. But in fact the session was a debate.

The debate was between Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett. Plantinga is one of the founders of the Society of Christian Philosophers and one of the fathers of the current desecularization of philosophy. He is widely regarded – even by his critics – as one of the finest epistemologists of the last fifty years and one of the finest philosophers of religion since the Medieval period. Daniel Dennett is one of the New Atheists and is a well-known proponent of atheistic Darwinism and critic of religion. He is widely regarded – even by his critics – as one of the most important early philosophers of mind that opened the field to cognitive science and evolutionary biology. He has contributed enormously to the serious study of the mind and its relationship to the brain.

This is a very good exchange that is hysterically funny in places as both Plantinga and Dennett possess great wit. It is very accessible, no PhD necessary to understand it. Those present were a veritable who’s who of US philosophy, atheist and theists alike, so watch (listen really) and enjoy.

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  • In reply to: “But I will add my own comments here; you seem to think that if one evolution can be explained with out appealing to God. It’s irrational to believe in God.”

    It isn’t irrational to believe in God with regards to evolution, just unnecessary. I am going to appeal to the principle of Ochkham’s razor, although I am sure apologists have found arguments against this.

    Galilieo stated “reasoning” as a criteria. The reasoned mind had to fight through centuries of religious ignorance. The 500, or so, do fit the “reasoned” category as their minds are influenced by their irrational belief, so my argument still stands.

    The anti-smacking bill was a good example where reasoned minds prevailed against an overwhelming campaign of Christian scaremongering, propagated in the Churches. Good to hear English and Geoff are still happy with their decision.

    “Your conclusion about theism is decided prior to the arguments and the arguments dismissed on the basis of the conclusion”

    Yes, of course. I am sure someone could win a debate holding a position pro-slavery but the outcome wouldn’t alter my opinion. I have conceded that Christian’s have made apologising and debating an industry, and as such are well versed and well argued. Hitchens and Dennet sound like they were outclassed. However, until the existance of a God is proven I shall remain skeptical, regardless of philosophical debates.

    If you find me insulting, just imagine how insulted I feel everyday having to live in a so-called enlightened world knowing that religion and superstition have still a hold on the human mind, almost as much as they did ten of thousands of years ago.

  • It isn’t irrational to believe in God with regards to evolution, just unnecessary. I am going to appeal to the principle of Ochkham’s razor, although I am sure apologists have found arguments against this.

    Actually, the appeal to Ockhams razor is one of the very arguments Plantinga addresses in the above discussion. I find it a little odd that skeptics decide to object to his position simply by repeating the very arguments he responded to. Simply repeating yourself over and over is not a rebuttal, what would be more interesting is if you (a) actually listened to the lecture before commenting on it and (b) actually addressed the arguments raised instead of repeating points already dealt with.

    But to address your specific response to me. Nothing you said actually effects my conclusion, even if it is unecessary, by Ockhams razor, to appeal to God to explain evolution? So what, like I said its uncessary, according to Ockhams razor, to appeal to the existence of my son to explain evolution that says nothing whatsoever about the rational status of the belief that my son exists.

    Galilieo stated “reasoning” as a criteria. The reasoned mind had to fight through centuries of religious ignorance.I see more historically false claims. Actually, the notion that the middle ages was a “dark age” which supressed science and reason until the 16th century has been widely discredited in contemporary history. See the various posts I make on it under the label dark ages here. In fact many of the insights of Copernicus and in had already been anticapted by Medieval theologains and taught in medieval universities.

    I note you appeal in this post to Ockhams razor. Ockham was actually a 14th cetury Fransican theologian.

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  • It isn’t irrational to believe in God with regards to evolution, just unnecessary. I am going to appeal to the principle of Ochkham’s razor, although I am sure apologists have found arguments against this.Actually, the appeal to Ockhams razor is one of the very arguments Plantinga addresses in the above discussion. I find it a little odd that skeptics decide to object to his position simply by repeating the very arguments he responded to. Simply repeating yourself over and over is not a rebuttal, what would be more interesting is if you (a) actually listened to the lecture before commenting on it and (b) actually addressed the arguments raised instead of repeating points already dealt with.

    But to address your specific response to me. Nothing you said actually effects my conclusion, even if it is unecessary, by Ockhams razor, to appeal to God to explain evolution? So what, like I said its uncessary, according to Ockhams razor, to appeal to the existence of my son to explain evolution that says nothing whatsoever about the rational status of the belief that my son exists.

    Galilieo stated “reasoning” as a criteria. The reasoned mind had to fight through centuries of religious ignorance.I see more historically false claims. Actually, the notion that the middle ages was a “dark age” which supressed science and reason until the 16th century has been widely discredited in contemporary history. See the various posts I make on it under the label dark ages here. In fact many of the insights of Copernicus and in had already been anticapted by Medieval theologains and taught in medieval universities. I note you appeal in this post to Ockhams razor. Ockham was a 14th cetury Franscan theologian.

    Recent blog post: Half April HalfDone Stats: MandM 6th Most Read Blog in New Zealand

  • I really did not understand Plantinga’s point.

    Put simply:

    My view – Evolution happens naturally

    Theistic view – God happens then makes evolution happen

    Similiar to:

    Big Bang happens naturally OR God makes Big bang happen

    If you take God as a given then they both start at the same place, but to me God does not exist and is therefore not necessary for evolution to occur.

  • If you take God as a given then they both start at the same place, but to me God does not exist and is therefore not necessary for evolution to occur.That sounds like the reason you think God is not necessary for evolution to occur is because you don’t think he exists. If this is the case you cannot appeal to God being unnecessary for evolution as a reason for rejecting theism without arguing in a circle.

    My view – Evolution happens naturally

    Theistic view – God happens then makes evolution happen

    Similiar to:

    Big Bang happens naturally OR God makes Big bang happen

    Perhaps you can explain to me what you mean by “happens naturally” ?

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