Was this really necessary?

A day after promising to not talk about Plantinga, Coyne talks about Plantinga again. If he keeps this up, I’m going to develop major trust issues. Anyway, this time he’s going after a supposed argument from Plantinga about how God really must exist because God is necessary, and again he completely gets the argument wrong, despite again giving us a reference to the source text which again spells out amazingly clearly what Plantinga is actually trying to do.

Coyne asserts this about Plantinga’s argument:

But I digress. In this excerpt from Plantinga’s edited book Faith and Philosophy: Philosophical Studies in Religion and Ethics (1964, Eerdmans Publishing Co.), most of which you can read here, he defends the view that God is a “necessary being.” By necessary being, he means this: the denial of God is inconceivable. That is, God cannot fail to exist.

How does he show this? It’s simply a tricked-up version of the Cosmological Argument: everything that exists is contingent—that is, dependent on some other circumstance—except, of course, for God., who’s defined as the ultimate cause. I have read this chapter three times, and I can’t see any difference between Plantinga’s argument and the “First Cause” argument, except that his is couched in fancy words and stuff that looks like logic.

After quoting from Plantinga at length with some asides, he then summarizes with this:

What dreadful stuff! It’s true only if you define God as being the one thing in the Universe that has no cause, i.e., the First Cause. You could say exactly the same thing, but substituting the word “Universe” for “God” in all the above. For, as we know, the Universe could have “caused” itself.

But, of course, Plantinga is not, in fact, trying to establish that the Christian God is, in fact, the only concept — not thing in the universe — that has no cause (and why Coyne feels the need to capitalize “Universe” here is beyond me). He is simply trying to establish that the Christian concept of God includes it as being necessary, and so all of his comments about that trait — as alert commenter Tom points out — are prefaced by “If God exists”. There’s a reason for this, and the reason is that Plantinga is going after a completely different argument than Coyne presumes, as you can see in the exerpt Coyne links to. On the very first page, Plantinga outlines that while it seems that necessary being is part of the concept, that notion has been philosophically challenged, and then says “My purpose in this paper is to discover whether that claim can be construed in a way which is both logically proper and religiously adequate” (pg 214, it seems). He then goes on to talk about what would make it religiously adequate.

This is, of course, nothing like what Coyne says Plantinga was arguing. And tracing it through, and even through Coyne’s quotes, it does seem like Plantinga sticks to that argument that whole way through. Coyne, of course, doesn’t. So, taking Coyne’s direct challenge at the end again, it doesn’t seem like Plantinga, at least here, will deny that there could be another First Cause, that that cause could be the “Universe”, or even that there might not be a First Cause. Those arguments are different arguments. Here he’s just trying to get the conceptual parts out of the way so that he can claim both that the Christian conception contains God as being a necessary being and that that conception is not itself logically contradictory. That’s it. That’s all.

I’d address the comments Coyne scatters throughout the quote, but I really can’t be bothered. Suffice it to say that he does get analytic wrong — it doesn’t mean the denial of it is self-contradictory, even though that is Plantinga’s litmus test, but in fact means that the truth of the statement is contained in the statement itself without any appeal to anything outside the proposition, which is really important when you try to understand Plantinga’s claims that “God exists” is not itself analytic — and that his appeal to omnipotence assumes the kind of omnipotence which allows the abiltiy to do the logically impossible (since it addresses issues of analyticity, which again Coyne doesn’t understand, but which we can forgive as long as Coyne promises to, you know, actually read up on what philosophy says about analyticity in the future), which is not the kind of omnipotence that is required by any Christian concept.

Would it kill Coyne to read what people are saying before calling what they’re saying stupid and ridiculous?


One Response to “Was this really necessary?”

  1. nick euler Says:

    I’ve almost given up on expecting anyone besides a mathematician, logician, or philosopher to understand that when someone argues that an implication is true they are not necessarily arguing that the antecedent is true.

    I disagree with Plantinga when he tries to prove that God does exist, but it is a perfectly sensible first step to show a relationship between God existing and God being a necessary being.

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