Curious comment by Plantinga about evolutionary psychology

Alvin Plantinga’s latest book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, contains a brief discussion of evolutionary psychology. Not surprisingly, he’s suspicious of it. But there’s one especially strange comment that I missed when I wrote my review:

Steven Pinker… goes on, resurrecting the old canard about how religion is the result of crafty priests and credulous parishioners: “I have alluded to one possibility: the demand for miracles creates a market that would-be priests compete in, and they can succeed by exploiting people’s dependence on experts. I trust such experts as dentists and doctors; that same trust would have made me submit to medical quackery a century ago and to a witch doctor’s charms millennia ago.”

This is perhaps more a declaration of personal dislike for religion than a scientific or semi-scientific pronouncement… (p. 137)

This seems to me neither a canard, nor a declaration of personal dislike, nor a scientific pronouncement, but a boring and obvious truth. Of course our trust in other people means we sometimes get taken in by frauds, and some of those frauds are people who falsely claim to be able to get supernatural agents to work miracles on our behalf.

That’s not incompatible with the truth of Christianity. And that’s what’s really weird about this bit from Plantinga. He’s trying to attack a trusim, not because it provides the basis for much of an argument against Christianity, but (I guess) because it might indirectly lead people to doubts about Christianity. I think this is also part of what’s going on with Plantinga’s need to defend Behe and disparage “Darwinism.”

  • davidct

    The more one trusts the expertise of experts, the easier one is to fool. One can minimize the situation by taking the time to learn something about the the area of knowledge in question. When one does this in the case of Darwinian evolution, the more compelling the arguments become. In the other hand learning more about religion, tends to make those arguments less compelling. People do not have the time to be proficient in all fields of knowledge, but if something is important, taking the time to learn about it is worth it. Learning about logical fallacies is very helpful with religion and one does not have to be a theologian to start being able to evaluate claims men make about it. The skills gained can be then used to evaluate many other types of claims.

  • David

    You can validate the expertise of doctors and dentists, by comparing their training, certification and practice patterns to those of the establishment, and reading the results of studies that show that those practices lead to positive outcomes. You cannot validate the practices of religious shamans of any kind, because you cannot objectively verify positive outcomes. That, in essence, is the scientific method.

  • F

    This is perhaps more a declaration of personal dislike for religion than a scientific or semi-scientific pronouncement… historical fact

  • http://www.peacenext.org/profile/RonKrumpos Ron Krumpos

    Plantinga’s book is primarily directed to atheists (especially naturalists), but has lessons for apologetics as well. Most religious people respect science and all use its findings. Many scientists are religious, some very much so. Both science and religion, however, have limitations which should be mutually respected.

    In my free ebook on comparative mysticism, “the greatest achievement in life,” is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is the center of all religion.”

    E=mc², Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Love, Grace, Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.


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