Saturday, January 21, 2006

I Say Potato, You Say God, Part 2.

In part one, I gave a brief and admittedly one-sided description of a conversation I had with a person who was satisfied with, and actively promoting the theistic philosophy of Alvin Plantinga. We could not seem to connect in a way that would allow us to discuss his thesis. This led me to the observation that “It’s like we’re both speaking English, but somehow it’s two different languages.” Lya Kahlo recently took a more thorough approach to opening a dialogue with Christian bloggers and came to a similar conclusion.

“The animosity that sparks between atheists and theists seems to stem from the two camps speaking two different languages - atheists speak in terms of empirical evidence and logic; theists speak in terms of faith, emotion, and the unknown. An atheist expects proof before acceptance, a theists sees acceptance as proof.”

Read the entire post here.

I was first introduced to Plantinga in 1982, when I was a member of a Christian social club in college. This was a County College by the way, and they granted space for this club to meet after hours. Times change. I was pretty much playing “devil’s advocate” even back then. Looking for answers to tough questions and not getting very many satisfactory ones. I was also taking classes in Philosophy and Adolescent Psychology at the time, and genuinely believed that there was a way to make sense of it all. To give credit where it is due, the lay Deacon that hosted these meetings was able to support his beliefs (to his own satisfaction), and was not too pushy. I bailed out when I was half-jokingly accused of blasphemy. I think that was his way of saying that I was a little too disruptive, and interfering with his ability to establish rapport with the other members. He also had a habit of throwing in random “praise gods” when other people were leading prayer that was getting on my nerves. Alvin Plantinga wrote one of the books that was recommended to me at the time in an attempt to explain away some of my objections to what humans believed about God versus what we could possibly really know. I was on a John Locke tabula rasa kick at the time. Plantinga was on a mission to prove that God was necessary (Link. - about ¾ of the way down ). I was not impressed. The Wikipedia entry states some of the problems with this premise. I was not so articulate, but at the time, I had some problems with the arguments. I would have to re-read the material to remember specifics, but I had already (with help) broken down Descartes to, “I think I think, therefore I think I am.”. Let me say right now that I think Descartes is right on this point, but I can’t prove it either. At the time, I had recently read a short story entitled “Goobereality” by Keith Laumer, and I wasn’t so sure.

Since then, Plantinga has moved on from ontology to epistemology, writing an extensive treatise on the concept of warrant (When is a belief justified or warranted, and when is it not?) I have promised to read this in its entirety, and I will do so, but my “to be read” pile now measures 22” high, and this does not include classes I plan to take this year. It will be a while before I get to it. Meanwhile, I started to read chapter 1 of Warranted Christian Belief, (Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 2000) on Amazon. The virtual red pen came out of my pocket on page 6. To be fair, Plantinga might have assumed that I read his first two books on the subject, where my questions possibly were answered. This trilogy weighs in at about 1000 pages, so I’m going to read it with a notebook by my side. I sincerely hope that it is substantive, and that Plantinga is not relying in any way on the length of his argument to make his point. That religious camp is all about repetition, so I am taking this on with some misgivings. Still, Plantinga has been well regarded and recognized for his contributions, and I will see if his arguments are compelling, or merely convincing to those that need little or no convincing to affirm beliefs that they already “hold to”. I admit to a small prejudice that has nothing to do with religion. One of my favorite quotes is, “If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter” attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero.

The picture for this post is the Sarah Winchester House in San Jose California. For those not familiar with it, it is a rambling structure of “approximately 160 rooms” with so many architectural oddities that it is commonly called the Winchester Mystery House. For example, doors: 950, doorways: 467. I chose this image because it reminds me of many ontological arguments I have read. Theists build elaborate edifices of logic, completely oblivious to the stairways that go nowhere, and the corridors that only lead right back to the same place you started. Theistic philosophers often strike me as blind men in a hall of mirrors, able to navigate so much more easily for being oblivious to the infinite regressions and distortions all around them that are, after all, only reflections of themselves.

Photo Courtesy of: The Winchester Mystery House, San Jose California.


At 12:24 PM, Blogger Rev. Barking Nonsequitor said...

The trouble with trying to have a philosophical discussion with a theist is that they are committed to a culture that requires a willful distortion of reality in order to maintain a cohesive group identity.
They literally make up absurd ideas and rules just to have something for anyone willing to glom on to. It is the common denominator of a contrived fantasy.

A Atheist cannot debate on their level because the theist has accepted the practice of performing intellectual somersaults in exchange for group identity and the apparent security that comes with it.

To them , even reality is something you have "faith" in.


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