Friday, February 6, 2015

Atheist Jerry Coyne on Plantinga's, "Is Atheism Irrational?": The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Read Alvin Plantinga's interview at the New York Times.  It's the good.  Now read Jerry Coyne's remarks about it at his blog.  It's the bad and the ugly.

Coyne is a biologist who likes to dabble in philosophy...a LOT.  And dabbling is about as far as it gets. Coyne's remarks are dripping with disdain for Plantinga.  It's difficult weeding through all the ad hominems to get to the arguments (if there are arguments to be found).  Coyne is truly out of his league but one wouldn't know that unless one read Plantinga's works AND understood them. I'll just comment on what Coyne says about atheism; everything else is just as bad:
  • [Plantinga]: “But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.”
CoyneTo most of us, I think atheism is simply the refusal to believe in gods, not the absolute denial that there are any.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "atheism" is the disbelief in, or the denial of the existence of God.  That sounds about right.  Coyne is a huge advocate of atheism but doesn't even know what atheism is!  Coyne is confused on two counts:  First in defining atheism in terms of a "refusal" it results in atheism being defined too narrowly.  It would rule out there being atheists who want to believe in God and don't refuse, and it would rule out there being atheists who disbelieve in God simply on the basis of what they take the evidence to be.  But perhaps Coyne is a type of atheist who is an atheist not due to the evidence but because he refuses to believe.  Second, Coyne confuses atheism with naturalism.  A naturalist neither believes in God nor anything "spooky" like God (ghosts, gods, angels, etc.)  A naturalist thinks that all mental life supervenes on what is natural, or on only what the best science tells us there is.  But one can be an atheist while still believing in supernatural entities.

Coyne also calls Plantinga's remarks on the Problem of Evil a "theodicy."  Uh, no.  Perhaps if you would actually READ some of the literature on the problem of evil (say, Plantinga's book on the topic) you would know that Plantinga is explicitly not giving a theodicy.


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