Friday, November 19, 2004

First, a public service announcement: the feedback form appears to be working now. I won't bore you with what went wrong but it seems to have involved to incompatible email systems.

Second, Professor Plantinga's third Stanton lecture was all about Evolutionary Psychology. I missed it and so am relying on third party testimony and the lecture handout but his ideas are fairly clear. He began by introducing us to various 'scientific' attempts to explain what religion is. The earliest effort at this was Freud, who came up with a just-so story with no scientific value at all but plenty of cultural baggage attached. He claimed that religion was based on fear and the need for a father figure. As an aside, some wags have suggested an equally uncompelling Freudian explanation for atheism: that is is based on the Oedipus complex and that atheists are trying to kill their true father by not believing in him. However, modern efforts to 'explain' religion have been based on how it is an adaptive mechanism that gives its believers an evolutionary advantage.

Now, it is fairly clear that religion really is a 'good' thing in this objective sense and writers like DS Wilson accept this. Indeed, for evolutionary psychologists, religion would have to be a useful adaptation or it would have died out ages ago. But, Prof. Plantinga claims that just because this is true, does not mean that there is not something 'real' that causes religious belief. We do not evolve a fear of snakes or a love of sugar unless there are real snakes and real sugar to set it off. And while religion could be caused by some other 'real' effect being confused for God, it is not at all clear what this might be (notwithstanding nineteenth century arguments about thunder gods and fertility cycles). The trouble is that science cannot ask this question because it has tied its hands with the binds of 'methodological naturalism' which rules God out of court.

So, says Prof. Plantinga, evolutionary psychology is what you get when you try to explain religion using only the methods of science. Hence, as an explanation, it is radically incomplete and need cause no concern to the believer who is able to draw on a wider sphere of experience. As a final aside, he looked at historical Jesus studies which, as I have said here many times, can tell us very little about the man. But this does not mean that we cannot open ourselves to other influences to learn about the Jesus of faith. That methodological naturalism is not very good at providing explanations in certain areas is just a weakness of naturalism as a method.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

"But, Prof. Plantinga claims that just because this is true, does not mean that there is not something 'real' that causes religious belief."
But if this is so then which religious belief is the correct one? How do you decide?

Anonymous said...

"But this does not mean that we cannot open ourselves to other influences to learn about the Jesus of faith."
...............and witness the nearly countless interpretations of who the "Jesus of faith" really is.

Anonymous said...

'We do not evolve a fear of snakes or a love of sugar unless there are real snakes and real sugar to set it off. '

Plantinga is quite happy to argue the opposite when it suits him.
http://www.stanfordreview.org/
Archive/Volume_XXX/Issue_1/Opinion/opinion4.shtml

'But even if the content of your beliefs does affect your actions, false beliefs could do the job of keeping you alive just as well as true ones.'

So if a false belief can keep you alive just as well as true ones, how can he argue that people are wrong to believe that religion can evolve (whatever that might) mean and still be a true belief?

Those people are not being inconsistent.Just ask Plantinga!

Anonymous said...

'More Christian double-talk?

Evolution does not produce true beliefs, but if evolution produced religion, this must be because evolution produces true beliefs??

Bede said...

Wow, Steve. I thought Plantinga was a nice oldish man, but you are obviously scared witless by him. You won't even sign off on your comments, presumably worried about a squad of Plantingites coming around to re-educate you.

When are you going to learn that your one line trolling here, at the Sec Web and everywhere else you do it simply provides further evidence for Professor McGrath's contentions about the intellectual bankruptcy of atheism? Why not write something useful and substantial and put it on your website? I guarantee it will be linked to here (as long as you provide a working link this time).

phonoman said...

Hey Bede, whats up??

Just gotta ask a quick question, how do you know all those horse headed comments are coming from Steven Carr??

Bede said...

Steve and I go back a long way, so we know each others style. I do hope he starts to contribute in a more substansive fashion though.

Anonymous said...

More insults from Bede.

Plantinganites have already educated me.

I asked one if Plantinga's Christian defense methods could also be used to defend the idea that we only have one leg, and I was told that it could and that illustrated the *cogency* of Plantinga's arguments.

That taught me a valuable lesson about Christian apologetics.

Anonymous said...

Those horse-headed comments are quotes from Plantinga who happily argues that if evolution is true, our beliefs could be false, and that our beliefs could be true if evolution is true.

It depends which side of the Atlantic he is talking on. On this side, his anti-evolution talks would not go down well.