Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid #51: 3 Stupid Arguments from Alvin Plantinga

Stupid Arguments Christians Should Avoid #51: 3 Stupid Arguments from Alvin Plantinga February 26, 2020

Famous Christian apologist Alvin Plantinga was interviewed in 2014 for the New York Times. He used three arguments that may have originated with him. These are not your typical arguments that end with “So therefore, God exists; QED,” but they could be elements in a larger argument.

The good news is that these are, at least to me, fresh arguments . . . but that’s the extent of the good news. Still, if you want some new chew toys, here you go. Have you way with these arguments and then read my critiques to see if I covered every point.

#1. Are there an even number of stars?

Plantinga said:

Richard Dawkins was recently asked the following question: “If you died and arrived at the gates of heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism?”

His response: “I’d quote Bertrand Russell: ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’”

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. . . . Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.

Let’s first address his statement, “lack of evidence . . . is no grounds for atheism.” For most of us, lack of evidence is excellent grounds for atheism.

The problem is his definition of “atheism.” A few sentences earlier, Plantinga had defined atheism as “the belief that there is no such person as the God of the theistic religions.” That’s also the leading definition in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This strong atheism, which accepts the burden of proof, is probably not how most of us define atheism, but Plantinga is on solid ground with that definition, and he did make his definition clear.

That means his “lack of evidence . . . is no grounds for atheism” applause line is correct using his definition, but it’s irrelevant to the question of God’s existence. Lack of evidence is indeed grounds for atheism if “atheism” is simply a lack of god belief.

Plantinga said, “The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism,” and I am indeed an agnostic because I don’t know. I’m also an atheist because I don’t believe.

Determining the number of stars raises practical questions, but let’s ignore that tangent and simply imagine a star counter changing rapidly (perhaps thousands of times a second). All we care about is that last digit—is it odd or even at any moment? This is identical to the question of whether a flipped coin landed heads up or not. It’s a 50/50 question (that is, 50 percent likelihood of odd or even, or a probability of 0.5).

But is the God question just a coin flip? Is God’s existence as likely as not? Of course not, and his comparison fails.

Plantinga seems to imagine “God exists—true or false?” to be like a stranger saying, “I have a bumfuzzle in this box—true or false?” We don’t know what a bumfuzzle is, how plausible it would be to have one, whether it would fit in a box, and so on, so without any data, we’re stuck at 50/50. If forced to guess at this point on the truth of the bumfuzzle claim, we might as well flip a coin.

By contrast, we already know much about the claims for God. We don’t start at 50/50 (that is, complete ignorance) on the God question. For example, I’ve written a series of silver bullet arguments against Christianity. Any one of these arguments make the God hypothesis very implausible, and I’ve written 26 such arguments (and counting).

Would Plantinga give a 50/50 chance to the likelihood of every supernatural being existing—Xenu, Poseidon, Quetzalcoatl, and all the rest? If instead he assigns the existence of each of these gods a very low probability (as I’m guessing he does), then consistency demands that he accept our doing the same for his god.

Burden of proof

I suspect apologists like Plantinga are simply tired of shouldering the burden of proof, and they want to start the debate at parity with atheism. To see why this fails, let’s return to the two relevant kinds of burdens of proof from a recent post.

  1. The person making the extraordinary claim has the burden of proof, and the person making the mundane claim doesn’t. For example, if I state that many world leaders aren’t human but actually alien reptoids (and you argue that this hypothesis is false), I have the burden of proof because I’m making the extraordinary claim. If I fail to make my case, you are logically obliged to reject it.
  2. Anyone who makes a claim is obliged to defend that claim, whether it’s extraordinary or mundane.

In that post, I examined cases where apologists confused these two burden-of-proof situations. Plantinga argues that God exists, which clearly puts him in category 1.

No one cares about the number of stars, but religious views are enormously consequential for some. I can appreciate that Plantinga may be tired of shouldering the burden of proof, but in that case he should stop making nutty claims.

Notice the irony in this comparison. We know stars exist. We know that countless things exist. God is the odd exception where we can’t get into a discussion of his properties until his very existence has been demonstrated, and there’s a mountain of evidence against it.

Bertrand Russell’s teapot

The interviewer asked Plantinga about Bertrand Russell’s hypothesized teapot orbiting the sun. Wouldn’t that be a better comparison than even-star speculation? Yes, such a teapot might exist, Russell said, but we have no good reason to think so, and the same thinking applies to God.

Plantinga responded:

Russell’s idea, I take it, is we don’t really have any evidence against teapotism, but we don’t need any; the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and is enough to support a-teapotism. We don’t need any positive evidence against it to be justified in a-teapotism; and perhaps the same is true of theism.

I disagree: Clearly we have a great deal of evidence against teapotism.

He goes on to list a few things that argue against an orbiting teapot. Such a project would be in the news (like Elon Musk’s personal Tesla, which now orbits the sun), and a secret rocket launch would be unlikely. Space programs don’t have the budget for frivolous projects like this. Therefore, we have good evidence against Russell’s teapot.

Yes, Dr. Plantinga, I agree. Now apply that same skepticism to the God hypothesis and think of things that we would see if God were real.

  • Europe during the 1000+ years when Christianity was in charge would’ve looks a lot more enlightened than other world societies. It wasn’t.
  • Religion wouldn’t look like just another societal trait. It does.
  • The Christian god wouldn’t need praise and worship, like an Iron Age dictator. He does.
  • Christian televangelists would know that God’s favor would be far more consequential than mere financial donations, and yet they still ask for donations.
  • And lots more here.

So the God question isn’t a 50/50 proposition about which we have no good information (like the number of stars), and it’s very much like Russell’s teapot (which has strong evidence against it). Plantinga is now back at square 1, advancing a ridiculous hypothesis.

And where is Plantinga’s evidence for God? He handwaves a reference to his famous “two dozen or so” arguments for God. He didn’t argue for them, so I won’t respond here, but if you want a critique, Richard Carrier did his typically thorough job on them here.

These Christian arguments are embarrassing and stupid. According to reputation, Plantinga is one of the best that Christianity has to defend their position, but smart high school students could take his arguments apart.

Continue to part 2 for an argument involving the moon.

If your Bible (et al) cannot get the natural right,
why would I trust it to get the supernatural right?
— commenter from Castilliano

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Image from Lucky Lynda, CC license

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  • abb3w

    We don’t know what a bumfuzzle is, how plausible it would be to have one, whether it would fit in a box, and so on, so without any data, we’re stuck at 50/50. If forced to guess at this point on the truth of the bumfuzzle claim, we might as well flip a coin.

    As a contrary argument, there are (infintely) more things that don’t “exist” than do. Therefore, the probability (absent further data) of there being a bumfuzzle in the box has measure zero.

    However, this argument has the weakness of seeming to neglect that people appear to tend to assign short (IE, finite length) words more frequently to things that do exist than to those that don’t.

    The person making the extraordinary claim has the burden of proof, and the person making the mundane claim doesn’t.

    On what basis is a claim distinguished as “mundane” (or “default”) versus “extraordinary” (or “ridiculous”), and why does “burden of proof” fall on one rather than the other?

    • Ann Kah

      If I claim I have a dog in the back yard, it would be up to me to prove it, but since it is a very common thing to have a dog in the back yard, I probably would not be challenged.
      If I claim I have an armadillo that lives in my desk drawer, I would expect more skepticism since it would be uncommon, and it wouldn’t surprise me if people ask to see it as proof.
      If I claim to have an allosaur in the garage, that’s an extraordinary claim, and nobody would believe me unless I supplied the proof by showing them.

      If someone claims there’s an invisible friend sitting beside him, that’s ridiculous, and people would call for mental health care for him if he is beyond the age of childhood.
      If someone claims that an invisible and intangible mind-reading god made the universe and knows all and sees all, that would truly be extraordinary. If he further claims that he doesn’t have to show you proof and doesn’t have to explain the mechanisms, but you will be sent to either an invisible hell or an invisible heaven depending on what you think, we are perfectly justified in asking for evidence, just as others would be justified in wanting to see the allosaur in my garage.

      If you make the claim, you need to supply the evidence. The alternative would be to require someone else to exist in all places at all times in order to say “Nope, no god under this rock”. That’s silly.

      • al kimeea

        “If someone claims there’s an invisible friend sitting beside him, that’s
        ridiculous, and people would call for mental health care for him if he
        is beyond the age of childhood.”

        A former PM claimed to be chatting regularly with a homeless man on a bench, while on his way to work. Turns out, the man was a descendant of Claude Rains…

        • Greg G.

          ISWYDT

        • al kimeea

          it was transparent

      • Norman Parron

        So we now know how you feed the allosaur! Believe me! I believe you! no showing me to it is necessary!!!

        • Greg G.

          Don’t worry. It’s perfectly safe as long as you don’t say anything that starts with the letters M or O, like “moo”, “oink”, or “oh, sh‌it!”

      • abb3w

        Those seem examples that might illustrate a basis, rather than themselves the criteria for a basis.

        • Ann Kah

          Indeed. It was meant to be illustrative. Most people have no trouble distinguishing the mundane from the unusual from the extraordinary, but I thought examples might help you. As for who has the burden of proof, technically it always falls upon the person that makes a claim, but that would seldom be asked of a person making a mundane claim, often asked of the unusual claim, and SHOULD always be demanded of the person who makes a claim that ventures into the one-of-a-kind never-witnessed breaks-all-known-laws-of-physics realm.

          We both know that this is not the case. When people are under the spell of a particular ideology or emotion, they often swallow all sorts of outrageous claims without question. “God created Adam and Eve”, “FOX is the only news outlet to trust, the others are all fake news”, and “You are the only woman for me, you can trust me completely” are all things that should be scrutinized carefully, not accepted at face value by those who are thinking more clearly.

        • abb3w

          Most people have no trouble distinguishing the mundane from the unusual from the extraordinary

          And yet, so many theists seem to consider the claim of God’s existence “ordinary”. Hence, my interest in the question in terms of what might be definitive criteria.

          are all things that should

          Getting from “is” to “should” seems yet another step (cue Hume); possibly easier than usual in this instance, once the first step of “is” (ordinary or not) has been finished.

        • Ann Kah

          What can there possibly be about “one-of-a-kind never-witnessed breaks-all-known-laws-of-physics” that you find ambiguous?

        • abb3w

          I find it an imprecise demarcation, as someone reporting “two-of-a-kind” would still seem making what I would naively consider “extraordinary” claims.

          There seem further issues with that at the Ship of Theseus and River of Heraclitus, and more subtle points of unease in potential imprecision regarding the relation of data and inferred laws.

    • gusbovona

      A mundane claim is one for which relatively more background knowledge is already known. We already know dogs exist, so claiming to have a dog in the backyard doesn’t require showing that dogs exist in the first place; whereas claiming to have a unicorn in the backyard is a relatively extraordinary claim, compared to the dog claim, because we don’t even know that unicorns can exist, so that has to be shown before you can get to showing that there is one in your backyard. The extraordinary evidence required for extraordinary claims refers to all this extra evidence needed, like showing that unicorns can even exist in the first place.

      If my proof of having a dog in my backyard is a picture of a dog in my backyard, you won’t require me to prove it’s a dog and its real. But if I show you a picture of a unicorn in my backyard, a rational person would require some additional evidence to show that that isn’t just a horse with a horn somehow attached to its forehead. And that may well not be the end of the additional evidence we’d require.

      • abb3w

        A mundane claim is one for which relatively more background knowledge is already known. We already know

        Known, by whom? There are lots of people who insist that they “know” God exists. (Slightly over half the US population, as of 2018 GSS.) Doesn’t such use of “we” give rise to a potential for the status of claims (such as of the existence or of the nonexistence of God) to subjectively change from “ordinary” to “extraordinary” depending on the audience to which the claim is presented?

        • gusbovona

          1. That some knowledge is disputed doesn’t invalidate the principle of extraordinary claims. If you like, merely accept the principle for knowledge that isn’t disputed, by a subset of everyone, if necessary.

          2. Of course, any rational principle can be abused. That doesn’t invalidate the principle, either.

        • abb3w

          1. I think exacting demarcation of the subsets (or recognition that the principle is relative to such acceptance subset) helps clarify the principle.

          2. Any? How might one abuse the Commutativity of Logical Inclusive Disjunction?

        • gusbovona

          1. Agreed.

          2. Is “any” as opposed to “some” or “at least one other” necessary to my point? If not, then your point here doesn’t matter.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      I find extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to be a statement that lacks depth. It’s the lack of (or contradictory) evidence that makes something “extraordinary”, so it’s a bit circular. On top of that, what makes evidence extraordinary? There are lots of things we consider ordinary supported by perfectly ordinary evidence that would be extraordinary to prior generations. I don’t need “extraordinary” evidence that souls are real, a sufficient amount of ordinary evidence will do just fine.

      • abb3w

        I find extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to be a statement that lacks depth

        More or less my point (although I’d suggest “precision” rather than “depth”). Sagan’s adage seems useful as a phatic tactic for resistance to persuasion (and signaling thereof), but I’m not sure how sound it is philosophically, nor how useful it may be for persuading — particularly without having a clear idea of what is meant by “extraordinary” that can be explained to the attentive.

        • epeeist

          Sagan’s adage seems useful as a phatic tactic for resistance to
          persuasion (and signaling thereof), but I’m not sure how sound it is
          philosophically

          Think of it in Bayesian terms. If you have something with an extremely low prior probability then you are going to need something with a very high likelihood in order to get a reasonable posterior probability.

        • abb3w

          A Bayesian formulation of the concept could be more precise; however, such expression begs the question of how the prior probability distribution was established — and again, how different prior probability distributions may be assigned by different individuals (particularly when working with different prior data sets).

        • epeeist

          I’m not an expert in subjective Bayesian statistics but my understanding is that the likelihood is more important than the the prior probabilities.

        • That’s not really true, because the likelihood can be more or less arbitrarily inflated by moving elements into the prior. (A common apologetic trick, because by doing it you can point to a huge likelihood ratio and say “look, no matter how small the prior is this ratio will make the posterior overwhelmingly likely”, when in fact the assumptions secretly moved into the prior have just reduced it by the same order of magnitude.)

  • Raging Bee

    A few sentences earlier, Plantinga had defined atheism as “the belief that there is no such person as the God of the theistic religions.”

    A more accurate definition would be: “the dismissal of all claims of the existence of god(s) due to lack of evidence.” Such dismissal is not a claim that requires evidence; and if it did, the lack of evidence would be the evidence! QED. (That’s Latin for DUH.)

    • He’s used to dealing with the atheist philosophers who do define atheism that way (as Bob showed).

  • Norman Parron

    The arguments present by Planti are philosophical logic, and as is stated by me…Philosophy is the art of making st00pid BS sound smart. The present gawds DO NOT exist as evidenced by the very BS in their books o’BS. Jesus said (fill it in) and when tried nothing happens..the evidence says no gawd so produce better tests or better evidence and I will be willing to listen…shove the philosophy up into a dark space.

    • Geoff Benson

      To be fair, I think you should extend this to refer to Philosophy of Religion. Philosophy as a concept is desperately important to how we evolve socially and culturally. As an example, we know enough about the biology of childbirth that there’s no point in engaging forced birthers on the subject, so the issue is now almentirely one of philosophy.

      • Norman Parron

        Sounds like you agree the philosophical arguments of forced birthers is like religion BS sounding smart. The important point about philosophy is that it is only as smart as the premises in the argument…no real evidence of validity then philosophy is BS!

        • Geoff Benson

          I entirely agree with you about the premises issue. The Kalam Cosmological Argument as advocated by the likes of William Lane Craig depends totally on two premises that cannot be taken as read, and so fails. Conservatives (or so it appears only to be) assert without question that rights are innate, we are born with them, entitling them, in their minds, to attack anything they see as threatening those rights, especially gun rights. Question their premise, pointing out that rights are actually of human origin, and it’s like you want to start WW111.

  • larry parker

    Who said Russell’s teapot had to be of human origin. Maybe aliens like tea to.

  • Brian Shanahan

    “Plantinga had defined atheism as “the belief that there is no such person as the God of the theistic religions.” That’s also the leading definition in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.”

    I would contend that both Plantinga and the encyclopedia are wrong (and knowingly so, at least in the case of Plantinga) even for strong atheism. Plus I like how Plantinga assumes a monotheistic god in his definition, a “scholar” of religion woefully lacking in religious knowledge.

    • Why? That is how I’ve seen atheist philosophers define it.

  • epicurus

    Anyone read Molly Worthen’s “Apostles of Reason”? I think she talks about how once textual criticism and evolution had knocked the wind out of apologist’s sails, they got going on making properly basic beliefs a thing and including evidence of God’s existence as one of them – a la Plantinga. I read it a couple years ago from the library. I’ll have to track it down again.

  • Ficino

    Good answers, Bob, and commentators below.

    On Plantinga’s non-even-starism, I was also thinking that it’s a poor analogy on Aristotelian terms because it’s using being in the category of Quantity as though it’s on a level with being in the category of Substance. The question, is the number of stars even, is analogous to something like “is the number of bumfuzzles even?”, or “is the number of gods even?”, not to “Does the God of classical theism exist?”

    • Bob Jase

      I would like to ask Plantings whether there is an even or off number of God’s and what evidence does he have to support his answer, btw zero is a number neither off not even.

      • Michael Murray

        An integer m is called even if there is an integer n such that m = 2 x n. 0 = 2 x 0 and 0 is an integer so 0 is even.

  • eric

    I suspect apologists like Plantinga are simply tired of shouldering the
    burden of proof, and they want to start the debate at parity with
    atheism.

    Yeah, IIRC Plantinga is a big fan of the ‘you can’t prove it’s not the case that…”, type argument.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      …while going to great lengths to ensure god is sculpted in a way to avoid detention. Hey Alvin, you don’t get bonus points that your hypothesis isn’t falsified when you design it to be unfalsifiable.

    • al kimeea

      ‘you can’t prove it’s not the case that…”

      Correct, so I’ll get some popcorn, the old fashioned way, while Alvi proves his.

  • “Yes, Dr. Plantinga, I agree. Now apply that same skepticism to the God hypothesis and think of things that we would see if God were real.
    – Europe during the 1000+ years when Christianity was in charge would’ve looks a lot more enlightened than other world societies. It wasn’t.
    – Religion wouldn’t look like just another societal trait. It does.
    – The Christian god wouldn’t need praise and worship, like an Iron Age dictator. He does.
    – Christian televangelists would know that God’s favor would be far more consequential than mere financial donations, and yet they still ask for donations.”

    I would consider myself agnostic as to whether such things as gods exist, but a strong atheist regarding Yahweh/Jehovah, for these reasons. We have all of the evidence we need, in the Bible itself, to know that this particular god is mythological. We can see the beliefs about the god evolving throughout the book, and those changes in beliefs make it clear that this is just a story that looks very much like the myths of any other cultures during those time periods. Burden of proof accepted! If you can prove it’s a myth, you’ve proven it isn’t a real god.

    • Same the afterlife. The OT has very little of that to speak of, and in fact parts of it as Ecclesiastes or God’s punishments to both Adam and Eve in Genesis suggest once you die it’s over.

      • Exactly! Why didn’t the Sadducees believe in the afterlife? Because it was unscriptural!

        • For what I’ve seen elsewhere Judaism does not focuses very much on it, so Jews have a variety of beliefs.

    • Jim Jones

      > We can see the beliefs about the god evolving throughout the book,

      We can also see that the book itself doesn’t convince most Christians. If there was actually a book that told you how to live forever and, after this life, on a pleasure planet, it would be read a great deal more.

    • ephemerol

      Yes, exactly, my deconversion hinged upon the development of a strong atheism for Yahweh/Jesus for cause. My atheism in general hinges upon a skepticism that given I put the same quality time into seeking/investigating any other god you could name, I would eventually arrive at a different conclusion in any of those cases.

      And if 2 billion people can’t distinguish between a supernatural being who is supposed to be interceding to make their lives better and simple random chance alone, then there remains nothing about which they cannot be wrong.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    Fluffy (My invisible imaginary pet dragon) tells me that in South Eastern Dragoneese the word ‘Sputnik’ means ‘Teapot’ so there WAS in fact a teapot orbiting the Earth. Case closed.

  • Michael Neville

    Plantinga’s “two dozen or so” arguments for God are all individually weak. He hopes that together they’ll become one strong argument. Sorry, Al, all you’ve got is a bunch of weak arguments for a possible deist god, not the omnimax God that you’re fond of.

    • eric

      Some older theologian did the same thing. Can’t remember which one. Aquinas? Anyway, It makes me wonder if Plantinga is intentionally trying to be like some idol of his.

      • Michael Neville

        Thomas Aquinas had Five Proofs of God™, four of which were cosmological arguments and one was a variant of the ontological argument. Even if we accept Aquinas’s arguments, they just show a deist god. Aquinas used special pleading to get to the Christian god.

        Tommy also tried to rebut several atheist arguments. His answer to the Problem of Evil was saying: “This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that he should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.” If you’re going to protest that infinite goodness, by definition, wouldn’t allow evil to exist, you’re not alone. His other counters to atheist arguments are equally poor.

    • JustAnotherAtheist2

      And “weak” is a generous descriptor. It isn’t that they have limited strength, they have no strength at all.

      • Greg G.

        I have made the argument that if Plantinga had one successful argument for God, he would just talk about that one instead of the combined weight of two dozen (and that excludes all of the arguments that failed so bad he didn’t want to be remembered for publishing them) of his best failed arguments (those with well-concealed fallacies) make a better case for the non-existence of god thingies.

        • JustAnotherAtheist2

          Agreed.

        • Yep, one good argument is all you need.

  • My reply to the question of above would be very poor PR (Bible plus the countless Fundies just to begin with)

  • larry parker

    Leave it up to philosophy to take 10,000 (made up number) words for a definition.

  • Lex Lata

    “Would Plantinga give a 50/50 chance to the likelihood of every supernatural being existing—Xenu, Poseidon, Quetzalcoatl, and all the rest? If instead he assigns the existence of each of these gods a very low probability (as I’m guessing he does), then consistency demands that he accept our doing the same for his god.”

    Precisely; this is one of the chief problems with Pascal’s Wager, as well. Strictly speaking, the possibilities are not merely the God of Abraham or no god, a binary choice. Rather–if we approach the inquiry rigorously and with no presuppositions–the theoretical possibilities include no god and a legion of divinities, of conceivably infinite diversity and number, only a thousand or so of which have names spoken by humans. And all but one of which apologists like Plantinga summarily reject.

    There are more observable stars in this vastly ancient universe than there are grains of sand in every beach and desert on this ball of turf and saline we call Earth. Pick up one handful of sand. Let it run slowly through your fingers. Think about that.

    The idea that any force behind such immensity would care about foreskins and animal sacrifice and menstruation, would somehow reveal itself in a way that makes it look exactly like the contrived product of a patriarchal, slave-owning, tribal society, is absurd.

    • Michael Neville

      Christians like Plantinga try to squeeze the creator of hundreds of billions of galaxies and over a billion trillion stars into an Iron Age tribal god. The fit just isn’t there.

    • Jim Jones

      Or would care about life at all. It may be an unfortunate side effect, like mold in a jar of jam.

    • Geoff Benson

      It’s impossible to assign a possibility of existing other than in a philosophical sense. Statistical odds really belong only in the context of things we know exist. So if I leave a cup in the kitchen overnight and the following morning it has moved, then I can assign possibilities that depend on who else is in the house, whether I sleepwalk, with a tiny and insignificant possibility ‘unknown’. I cannot however include, for example, poltergeist because I don’t know that such a thing exists, so unknown might include a mischievous neighbour who crept in the house overnight.

      This is why the Platinga argument based on possibilities is nonsensical: I think it’s him that argues that if it’s even slightly possible that god exists in one world then he must exist in all worlds. This is clearly wrong.

    • Brilliant!

      • Lex Lata

        Thanks!

  • Anthrotheist

    I think what affected my movement toward atheism wasn’t so much my own failure to find evidence for God’s existence, it was the clearly obvious fact that nobody in my life — including the supposed true believers — had ever found that evidence either. My pastor wore her seat belt (before it was legally required in my state), my grandparents paid for insurance, and nobody who ever prayed for something to happen seemed the least bit surprised when it didn’t come to pass. I wound up feeling like a hypocrite living my life as though God would never intervene on my behalf while insisting that I believed that he not only could, but does.

  • Rudy R

    No matter how improbable a teapot is orbiting the sun, it is still more probable than a god. We know teapots exist, we know it is possible for them to orbit a celestial body, and we know physical beings (human or alien) are capable of sending an object into orbit.

    • Greg G.

      I like to think that some star in a distant galaxy is being orbited by an asteroid that looks like a giant statue of me.

    • Jim Jones

      And we know that Earl Grey tea can come in bags.

      • TheBookOfDavid

        If it wasn’t intended for interplanetary teapot use, then why else is it labeled “Celestial Seasonings”?

      • epeeist

        True Earl Grey tea does not come in bags.

        • Pofarmer

          You don’t know how hard I fought myself to NOT google that. Lol.

        • Bob Jase

          If Prince Albert comes in cans Earl grey can come in bags.

        • Maltnothops

          Why is Prince Albert so adept at getting out of cans while Earl Grey so rarely escapes from bags?

        • Greg G.

          Prince Albert’s refrigerator is running.

        • Ignorant Amos

          In the future, it comes in replicators. I seen Admiral Picard get some just the other night.

        • Michael Neville
        • Greg G.

          and replicators in the future.

  • RichardSRussell

    Bear in mind that every single argument that apologists put forward to try to “prove” that God exists is necessitated because they have absolutely no physical evidence whatsoever in support of their crazy hypothesis. If they had any evidence at all, they wouldn’t need even simple casuistry — let alone the painfully far-fetched stuff that Plantinga and Anselm came up with — they’d simply say “Look here. See?”.

    “No Discourse whatsoever can End in absolute Knowledge of Fact.” —Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), English philosopher, mathematician, and linguist, Leviathan (1651)

    • abb3w

      they have absolutely no physical evidence whatsoever in support of their crazy hypothesis

      Technically, copies of the Bible are physical objects, which hence are physical evidence. (The catch is that there are alternative hypotheses that better describe a broader range of data.)

      • RichardSRussell

        Those are physical evidence of the existence of books, not of God. Where’s the physical evidence for God?

        • abb3w

          But the books are physical, and claim the existence of God….

          To cut the circus short, the fundamental problem seems that “evidence for” seems an imprecise description of the relationship. While a silly Christian might assert the existence of matter itself as “evidence for” God, the catch is that are other hypotheses that “better” describe such evidence without positing the existence of God.

        • RichardSRussell

          Heck, in a court of law, testimony is a form of evidence, and there’s certainly no lack of that with regard to God. “If you were taught that elves caused rain, every time it rained, you’d see proof of elves.”

          But existence of matter is evidence only for the existence of matter, nothing else. The Christian still hasn’t pointed to any physically incarnate entity that qualifies as God. Never has and undoubtedly never will.

        • abb3w

          “If you were taught that elves caused rain, every time it rained, you’d see proof of elves.”

          And this is really where the heart of the problem lies — a disagreement as to what basis allows A to be considered “evidence of” B. Hence, while you consider existence of matter only to be evidence of existence of matter, theists assert (on a basis neither of us accepts) there are further implications.

          It doesn’t help that “evidence of/for” itself seems subtly imprecise, nor that the philosophical process of giving a more precise expression involves mathematics that most people find unfamiliar and difficult.

        • RichardSRussell

          And this is really where the heart of the problem lies — a disagreement as to what basis allows A to be considered “evidence of” B.

          I don’t want to hear about how the existence of A demonstrates the existence of B. I want them to produce B directly. Show me the elf. Show me the God. It’s not as if we’re talking some historical or legendary figure here, like Alexander the Great or King Arthur, where we have to form our opinion based on reconstructed forensic evidence. These are beings who are supposedly living and acting in the here and now. So where are they? I want to watch that elf myself as he goes about his business making rain, not just hear his advocates extol about how wonderful it is.

        • abb3w

          I don’t want to hear about how the existence of A demonstrates the existence of B. I want them to produce B directly.

          Well, now you seem to be moving the goalposts, as well as ignoring the difficulty of phenomena/noumena relation.

        • RichardSRussell

          I originally said that any apologetic argument attempting “to ‘prove’ that God exists is necessitated because they have absolutely no physical evidence whatsoever in support of their crazy hypothesis”. And in further explication of that in response to your nit-picking over what I might have meant, I added that “I don’t want to hear about how the existence of A demonstrates the existence of B. I want them to produce B directly.” How does that constitute “moving the goalposts”? Show me the elves. Show me the God. There’s no direct physical evidence of either. Can’t see, hear, touch, smell, or feel any of them. I think I’ve been crystal clear and 100% consistent on the matter.

        • abb3w

          Because not all physical evidence is direct; footprints are physical evidence supporting the crazy hypothesis of a person having walked by, but not direct evidence.

        • RichardSRussell

          What part of “Show me the God” is posing such a challenge to you? I didn’t ask to see the footprints — the indirect, inferential, circumstantial stuff — I want to see the real McCoy, the actual entity, the Big Guy himself. But all we ever get from the apologists are hand-wavings alluding to “Well, there’s sand, so it must have come from someplace, and that’s all the evidence I need that God exists, the footprints are just the cherry on top.” If there really were such a thing as God, with all the powers and glory routinely attributed to him, it would be the most obvious thing in the world, no argumentation needed.

          When’s the last time you heard anyone say “Hey, I’ve got these 14 really great arguments for why the Sun exists.”? Never, right? Because any idiot can see the Sun for her- or himself. Hell, even blind people can detect it. But nary an eyelash of God ever materializes anywhere, so apologists are reduced to bullshit in an attempt to shore up their fantasies.

        • abb3w

          What part of “Show me the God” is posing such a challenge to you?

          Well, for one thing, I don’t believe that God exists. I merely believe you seemed to have been sloppy in your initial assertion.

          I didn’t ask to see the footprints — the indirect, inferential, circumstantial stuff

          But your initial assertion specified no physical evidence whatsoever in support of their crazy hypothesis, which would include not even circumstantial physical evidence.

          This additionally leaves aside the argument that all phenomena (such as any idiot seeing sunlight for themself) would seem to be categorizable as “circumstantial” evidence of noumena (such as that nearby star).

        • RichardSRussell

          You have more stamina than I. Bye.

        • abb3w

          Finally, selective exposure involves resisting persuasion by leaving the situation or actively tuning out the persuasive message (e.g., Brock & Balloun, 1967; Frey, 1986; Kleinhesselink & Edwards, 1975).

          – (doi:10.1207/S15324834BASP2502_5)

        • RichardSRussell

          “Ya gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run” — a lesson I have learned but you apparently have not.

        • Joseph Patterson

          I have no idea what abb3w is talking about. I would like to see a I Kings 18 apologetic. Now that would be some impressive evidence. I don’t know if it would convince me but I would certainly move the percentage of belief way up for me.

  • Otto

    “The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism,”

    So Plantinga admits he has come to the wrong conclusion…?

    Nope. He is still right of course. He plays chess against himself and cheats.

    • Greg G.

      And throws the board at himself whenever he says, “Checkmate!”

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    That means his “lack of evidence . . . is no grounds for atheism” applause line is correct using his definition

    Plantinga is wrong even according to the strongest type of atheism imaginable. Consider Sagan’s invisible, immaterial dragon that spits heatless fire, there is no evidence whatsoever against it, yet I’m confident Alvin would strongly disbelieve its existence. Or undetectable new universes that spawn whenever a meth lab explodes in New Mexico, does anyone think he would cry that we cannot progress beyond agnosticism of that claim since we lack evidence against it? There is no end to the things that strangely don’t warrant god’s epistemic caution.

    Plantinga makes two blatant errors: reversing the burden of proof and projecting “absolute” onto the strong atheism position. As the examples above show, lacking evidence against something is enough to strongly disbelieve when there is scant evidence for it.

    And no matter how strong my disbelief is, it remains probabilistic and provisional, ready to change given sufficient reason to do so. It is not remotely the blind leap Plantinga paints it as being…. meaning, once again, that a lack of evidence for the claim is more than enough to tentatively accept it isn’t there.

    Like most apologetics, this argument fails at every level and for multiple reasons at each level. It’s quite impressive that someone could put this out there expecting others to swallow any of it.

    • eric

      I’m reminded of Asimov’s “…when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

      Here, it’s “when people consider whether the number of stars is odd or even, they should be uncertain. When people consider whether God exists, they should be uncertain. But if you think that the first uncertainty is the same as the second uncertainty, then your view is wronger than anyone claiming certainty in either”

    • al kimeea

      Or undetectable new universes that spawn whenever a meth lab explodes in New Mexico

      quantum entanglement???

    • RichardSRussell

      Is there an elephant in your bathtub? Well, we know what an elephant looks like, and you know where your bathtub is located, so if there’s absence of evidence, that’s pretty damn good evidence of absence, if you ask me.

  • Jim Jones

    > For example, if I state that many world leaders aren’t human but actually alien reptoids

    For my own amusement, I tried to come up with some reasons to conclude that G W Bush is an alien from a different planet and solar system. I came up with a few!

    • Michael Murray

      It certainly explains why the response to global warming is so weak. They want the planet to warm up!

      • Lord Backwater

        SPOILER ALERT! Please do not reveal the plot of The Arrival (1996) starring Charlie Sheen, which was a pretty good science fiction movie which deserved better ratings (IMDB 6.3) and more audience than it received.

  • Geoff Benson

    I like to quote the following for agnosticism vs atheism

    “ Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith:
    Agnosticism is not an independent position or a middle way between theism and atheism, because it classifies according to different criteria. Theism and atheism separate those who believe in a god from those who do not. Agnosticism separates those who believe that reason cannot penetrate the supernatural realm from those who defend the capability of reason to affirm or deny the truth of theistic belief.
    The self-proclaimed agnostic must still designate whether he does or does not believe in a god—and, in so doing, he commits himself to theism or he commits himself to atheism. But he does commit himself. Agnosticism is not the escape clause that it is commonly thought to be.”

    • RichardSRussell

      Always pleased to see quotations from Smith’s excellent book (and no, I don’t mean Wealth of Nations).

      • Lord Backwater

        The one weird thing about that book is the way Smith quotes Ayn Rand as though she were a respected philosopher, not a hack novelist.

        • RichardSRussell

          Politically, Smith was a Libertarian, which means he probably had a lot of philosophical overlap with Rand’s Objectivism. She did more than just write novels, you know.

          But, speaking of her fiction, here’s one of my favorite observations about her most famous book: “There are two novels that can change a bookish 14-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” —Paul Krugman, American economist

      • Maltnothops

        FWIW, Wealth of Nations is a wonderful book in the same way that On the Origin of Species is a wonderful book. Both are long and tedious but well-argued and chock-a-block with seemingly obscure examples. WoN, for example, has a delightful discussion on the number of chickens one is likely to find on the average Scottish farm and why such is the case. The mastery of detail and the marshaling of evidence make both books fascinating reads.

    • Raging Bee

      For apologists like Alvin, agnosticism isn’t an escape clause, or a middle way; it’s an out-of-the way cubbyhole that the apologist can shove all atheists into, and pretend atheism isn’t really a position or argument that even exists to be addressed. As in, “If you can’t PROVE the nonexistence of God, you’re not an atheist, you’re an agnostic; therefore atheists can’t defend their beliefs, therefore I don’t have to acknowledge or respond to them.”

      • Geoff Benson

        By the same token, of course, Platinga also is agnostic, just at the other end of the spectrum. However certain he is within himself as to his beliefs, as long as he cannot ‘prove’ them to others he has to be regarded as agnostic. The certainty he himself feels, however, renders him a believer, in exactly the same way that those who don’t believe are atheists.

      • Michael Neville

        Exactly. For those people their special definition of agnosticism is an excuse for them to ignore the burden of proof their theism generates.

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    To gather several points from your post: The argument from the number of stars compares determining a quality of an established phenomenon (stars) with the attempt to establish a phenomenon (god), thus comparing chalk with cheese.

    • Raging Bee

      Yabbut what if the chalk and cheese combine to become the Body of Christ?

      • Michael Murray

        Well blessed are the Cheese Makers as any Pythonist knows. Praise the Gourd !

        • Greg G.

          Praise Cheeses!

    • Lord Backwater

      Determining the number of stars raises practical questions, but let’s ignore that tangent and simply imagine a star counter changing rapidly (perhaps thousands of times a second). All we care about is that last digit—is it odd or even at any moment?

      Set aside until later the facts that 1) the number of stars in the known universe is ginormous, on the order of 100 billion stars in each of 100 billion galaxies, 2) New stars are being born 3) Old stars are dying 4) There are objects out there that stretch the definition of “star”. I want to start with this question: What does “moment” even mean in a relativistic universe? Is Plantinga prepared for the possibility that the number could be both even and odd at the same time depending on your frame of reference?

      • Which raises the question, why not drop the odd/even star count in favor of a coin flip? Much simpler and more direct.

    • Lord Backwater

      Chalk and cheese both exist.

  • Anri

    He goes on to list a few things that argue against an orbiting teapot.
    Such a project would be in the news (like Elon Musk’s personal Tesla,
    which
    now orbits the sun),
    and a secret rocket launch would be unlikely. Space programs don’t have
    the budget for frivolous projects like this. Therefore, we have good
    evidence against Russell’s teapot.

    Was this professional philosopher intentionally trying to make it look like he hadn’t actually read the argument he was engaging with?
    Russel didn’t suggest anyone on earth launched the thing – he simply suggested it was there, perhaps eternally sufficient unto itself and requiring no outside creator.

    • Raging Bee

      It was an Infinite Improbability Drive that got stuck in teapot mode!

      • Mark in Ohio

        Oh, no, not again!

      • Ignorant Amos

        Russell applied phlebotinum.

  • Mark in Ohio

    OK, veering a little off-topic here, but could an item with the small mass of a teapot develop a stable orbital path around the sun, especially an orbit that’s running as if it were a tiny planet? It’s been too many years since I had to do that sort of analysis. I’m thinking that the mass of the object wouldn’t be big enough to create or sustain the needed orbital velocity. I’m also guessing that the gravitational attractions of other massive bodies would preclude that from happening, as they would distrupt it every time the orbits passed near each other. After all, orbital wiggle is how they deduced moons around some far planetoids, I believe.

    • larry parker

      Rings of Saturn. Many of the objects that form the rings are smaller than a teapot.

      • Bob Jase

        Diffusers perchance?

      • eric

        AIUI, the latest scientific evidence is that the rings are fairly impermanent, with lifetimes of millions of years rather than billions. We just kinda got lucky to evolve about the same time Saturn got these particular rings.
        But, that’s a quibble. Both you and Backwater are right, the answer to Mark in Ohio’s question is really: whether it’s stable depends on what time period you define as ‘stable.’

        • Greg G.

          I read a news article that the earth had captured another moon at least three years ago. It’s about the size of a car with an oblong orbit that takes 49 days. It is expected to escape in April.

    • RichardSRussell

      Entire asteroid belt behaves like Russell’s teapot.

    • Lord Backwater

      You need to define “stable”. How long does it need to stay in orbit to qualify?

  • Plantinga doesn’t seem to realize that Dawkins and Russell are both negative, not positive, atheists. His argument thus attacks a straw man.

    • TheNuszAbides

      Relying on pedantry rather than mutually-accepted definition. So it would seem that for him philosophy is an excuse-making tool rather than a literal love of wisdom … Perhaps fitting [i.e. corrupted by] his obligation to love Yahwehjesus, an entity hand-wavingly identified as/with wisdom.

      • Well, he could have checked on how Dawkins defines atheism, or exercised charity at least. I can’t speak to his motives, but the result doesn’t look too good.

  • Lord Backwater

    He goes on to list a few things that argue against an orbiting teapot. Such a project would be in the news…

    That objection would only be valid if we accept that the teapot must have been launched from this planet, and recently. I feel no need to accept those restrictions.

    ‘Oumuamua

  • Lord Backwater

    That’s also the leading definition in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    I went to teh encyclopedia and looked up asantaism. No entry. An obvious case of special pleading.

    • Raging Bee

      Or, you didn’t use the required hyphens…

  • Michael Murray

    Does the definition of what constitutes a star divide the universe neatly into stars and non-stars ? Just wondering as I know the definition of planets causes a lot of arguments.

    • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

      No. The boundaries between the largest gas giant planets and brown dwarfs, and between larger brown dwarfs and smaller red dwarfs can be rather fuzzy. There will always be objects that don’t quite fall neatly into one category.

      • Michael Murray

        Thanks. I thought that might be the case. The universe seems to like shades of grey more than black and white.

  • Lord Backwater

    Let me count the stars. 1, 2, 3…
    Telescopes detect ‘biggest explosion since Big Bang’
    Ooh, that’s gonna mess up my count.

    • Raging Bee

      Remember that Empire that existed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? God just smote it. Maybe that Jedi girl was too liberal for his taste…?

      • Greg G.

        Daggonit. Now they won’t be able to film any more movies on location.

  • ColdFusion8

    Enough about this god fella. Tell us more about this bumfuzzle!