Mike D provided a reply to my critique in “A conversation doomed from the start?” The response, which comes in the discussion thread, is rather long, so I thought it best to reply here, not least because it helpfully clarifies and illumines the nature and depth of our disagreement.
I took issue with Mike D’s statement that the ontological argument is “the most profoundly stupid apologetic argument ever devised”. He replied:
“There is no shortage of stupid arguments and absurd beliefs that have survived for centuries, or longer, nor of ridiculous ideas that have been entertained by some of history’s brightest minds (Isaac Newton, for example, spent most of his life as an alchemist). Given that the majority (70%+) of academic philosophers accept or lean toward atheism, I think it’s a safe bet that few of them are impressed with the ontological argument. I’m sure there are people who think it’s great, and that’s fine. Personally, I think there are some fairly good and complex arguments for theism, and some really mind-numbingly stupid ones; for my money, the ontological argument definitely falls in the latter category.
To begin with, I worry about the lack of epistemic nuance in Mike’s statement here. Sure, people sometimes endorse “stupid arguments and absurd beliefs”. However, there is also a real danger that we end up reasoning like this:
(1) It would be stupid or absurd for me to believe p.
(2) Therefore, it was (or is) stupid or absurd for x to believe p.
Needless to say, (2) does not follow from (1). And yet I hear quite often from gnu atheists, skeptics and others a distressingly dismissive view of the doxastic attitudes of others based, it seems to me, on something like this inference. One often sees this in the so-called “chronological snobbery” where folks who lived before us are written off as dupes and morons. The fact is, however, that shifting times or doxastic communities (or other contextual cues) inevitably shifts the boundaries of what it is rational and irrational to believe. (In my book You’re not as Crazy as I Think I seek to illumine the point by illustrating how a contemporary member of a flat earth doxastic community could be rational in believing “The earth is flat”.)
Let’s put it this way. Just because a belief has survived for centuries and turns out to be wrong doesn’t mean folks were stupid or absurd to believe it. (Consider Ptolemaic cosmology for example, or folk wisdom or…)
As for the ontological argument, let’s be clear: Alvin Plantinga’s ontological argument which he develops rigorously in The Nature of Necessity is not “stupid”. It is a brilliant piece of metaphysics which demonstrates using possible worlds that if it is possible that God exist then it is necessary that God exist. Likewise, David Lewis’ theory of possible worlds is not stupid even though it proposes the incredible idea that all possible worlds are actualized. The fact is that Lewis has excellent reasons for arguing this way, even though it runs in the face of the wisdom of the lay person. Or consider Laurence BonJour’s theory of rational intuition, or Peter van Inwagen’s denial that chairs exist. It is blushingly easy to write off the conclusion when you’re ignorant of the logical steps that preceded that point.
Next, Mike D takes issue with my statement that “Mike D basically dismisses the entire discipline of philosophy as “bullshit”.” He says in reply:
“That’s not just an overstretch as josephpalazzo said, but a complete misrepresentation. I love philosophy. I engage in it and read it often. I think it’s supremely important. Even when someone like Stephen Hawking says “philosophy is dead” I recognize that when he proposes model-dependent realism he’s proposing a philosophical idea. Even in the post you reference (the summary; the other one is just a copy & paste job of our conversation) my objections to your argument are philosophical. It wouldn’t make much sense for me to talk about the isolation objection to coherentism and the epistemic value of science in one breath and then dismiss all of philosophy in the next. In fairness to you, I fluctuate between colloquial hyperbole and and academic specificity somewhat arbitrarily, so I don’t blame you a bit for the confusion.”
I’m happy to see that Mike accepts the importance of philosophy and recognizes that my interpretation of him was understandable based on his dismissive tone.
While Mike likes philosophy I think we have evidence of this problem of dismissing an argument you may not fully understand in Mike’s own comments. Further down he writes:
“Furthermore, in all the exchanges I’ve read and personally had with philosophers over the years, much of it is drowned in semantics and almost purposefully esoteric obfuscation. I will always love philosophy, but the most profound and challenging insights I’ve read in philosophy have almost always come from scientists.”
I would like Mike to provide some examples of philosophers engaging in “almost purposefully esoteric obfuscation”. (And I’d like him to explain what almost purposeful means.) See, my concern here is that there may be cases where philosophers use specialist terminology and assume background knowledge in their audience which would strike the untrained ear as obfuscation when it is, in fact, high level discourse. And that would go back to my concern that folks mock the conclusion without grasping the premises.
Mike says he loves philosophy, but things get interesting when he explains how he believes philosophy relates to science:
“BUT… I’m also a firm believer that to be a good philosopher, you must also be a good scientist. I think that in a perfect world they wouldn’t even be separate disciplines. Science is a methodology for comprehending what reality is and how it works. Philosophy essentially establishes propositions, based upon rational introspection, that attempt to deal with problems of defining, perceiving, interpreting and communicating reality. But in order to understand which propositions might actually be correct, you need science – because philosophy without science is confined to rational introspection, and science has often showed our cognitive models of reality to be primitive and incomplete. The door swings both ways, of course – the best scientists have a good grounding in philosophy, too. Lisa Randall’s book “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” comes to mind as a terrific example.”
Mike’s correct in part: some philosophical claims are helpfully informed by science. But that’s not the question. The question is whether “to be a good philosopher, you must also be a good scientist”. Mike seems to take this view because he believes philosophy is in some sense dependent on science: “in order to understand which propositions might actually be correct, you need science – because philosophy without science is confined to rational introspection, and science has often showed our cognitive models of reality to be primitive and incomplete.”
Here’s the problem, briefly. Jones says “science is defined as p.” P is a philosophical assertion about the nature of science. If Mike is correct then the truth of p will be determined at least in part by the deliverances of science. But this is viciously circular since “the deliverances of science” is already determined by whether or not one accepts p and thus the truth of p cannot be decided by the deliverances of science.