These days, I have little confidence that theology produces anything valid. My change of mind was gradual, but one epiphany stands out in my recollection. It was a couple years ago, when I looked up Albert Plantinga.
Plantinga is one of those names that is thrown around as an example of "great modern theologians" who go far above and beyond the common discourse which we find in blogs and bestsellers. Since he's so highly praised, I thought maybe there was something to him. If he was wrong, I figured that he would at least be wrong for very complicated reasons.
But then I actually looked him up. Plantinga does indeed make some novel arguments, altogether unlike the most frequent ones (cosmological argument, fine tuning argument, pascal's wager, etc.) But these arguments are worse than the traditional ones. They aren't just wrong, they're egregiously wrong. They're utter crap.
Case in point, consider Plantinga's argument that biological evolution by natural selection defeats philosophical naturalism. It goes a bit like this:
If our cognitive faculties were selected for survival, not for truth, then how can we have any confidence, for example, that our beliefs about the reality of physical objects are true or that naturalism itself is true? (By contrast, theism says God has designed our cognitive faculties in such a way that, when functioning properly in an appropriate environment, they deliver true beliefs about the world.)(Concise wording by Lee Strobel and William Lane Craig)
In forming a counterargument, there are so many ways I could go, it's difficult to know where to start. Let's start with how Plantinga gets evolution completely wrong.
It's true that natural selection selects traits for their survival value, not for their truth-producing value. But evolution is not some magical philosophical ideal. It does not simply pick out the most adaptive organism possible, and bring it to life. Evolution has all sorts of constraints, such as the evolutionary history of an organism, and developmental limitations.
Tell me which of the following you think is a more likely evolutionary path:
- Humans evolve to have a multitude of ad hoc beliefs and behaviors to survive in every day life. For instance, humans might believe that tigers are fun to pet, and that the best way to pet them is to run away from them (Plantinga's example). Every time humans encounter a new situation (ie poisonous plants, snow, thieving rodents, neighboring tribes, hard-to-crack coconuts, you name it), they evolve a whole new set of ad hoc beliefs and behaviors to help them survive.
- In order to survive, humans evolve the ability to interpret observations and adjust their behaviors accordingly.
I mean, this is one of the problems with having false beliefs. They may, by coincidence, be useful in certain situations, but their use doesn't extend to others.
Anyways, what's so adaptive about the belief in philosophical naturalism? If anything, it seems maladaptive, since in most cultural contexts it's a social disadvantage. Indeed, most people disbelieve philosophical naturalism, so it's kind of difficult to claim that it's the result of evolution.
Plantinga's argument also shows unfamiliarity with critical thinking. One of the major components of critical thinking is recognizing all the cognitive biases that humans have. For example, we're likely to find patterns where there are none, because running away from dried grass is not as bad as failing to run from a tiger. I'm not strictly certain that this evolutionary explanation is true, but I know from experience that people often find patterns in randomness.
Plantinga is sort of trying to make the same argument that skeptics make about false pattern recognition, but he's incompetent at it. He simply paints a broad stroke saying that if evolution and naturalism are both true, then everything we know is probably wrong.
I also think that Plantinga's treatment of God is wrong. Plantinga thinks that if we accept evolution and naturalism, then we must admit our cognitive faculties are unreliable. But who is to say that a designer God would put us in the clear? I mean, there are clearly a lot of things that God clearly didn't design to be perfect. Who is to say that he designed reliable cognitive faculties?
See, there's the problem of evil, which argue that an all-good God is inconsistent with evil. Someone like Plantinga would reject this argument; an all good God is consistent with evil. Then how can he argue that an all-good God implies reliable cognitive faculties?
Well, that was a lot of garbage. Whenever someone endorses Alvin Plantinga, I take it as a strike against their credibility.