Thursday, March 05, 2009

Alvin Plantinga vs. Daniel Dennett

Prosblogion has a fascinating account (with many comments posted) of the "debate" (really a philosophical paper with official comment) between Alvin Plantinga and Daniell Dennett on the compatibility of theism and science. Highly recommended reading!


John Farrell said...

Interesting, Scott. The anonymous reporter writes:
"I prefer to remain anonymous for various reasons, in particular because I am inclined towards Plantinga's position over Dennett's and were this to become well-known it could damage or destroy my career in analytic philosophy. This is something I prefer not to put my family through. I almost didn't publish these comments at all, but as far as I could tell, this would be the only public record of the discussion."

This is disheartening. Have you gotten that sense as well from your own training, experience? Is there a tacit "no theists need apply" mentality in Analytic Philosophy?

Scott Carson said...


I'd be lying if I said that I didn't suspect that at least some philosophers, even in my own department, think that there is a positive correlation between being religious and being stupid. When I was a graduate student at Duke some of the faculty members had no qualms about saying such things to your face upon learning of your religious views. And I have known people like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, people who make no secret of the fact that they think that religious people in general are "ignoramuses" (to use Dawkins' phrase).

I do not know, myself, of any specific cases of job discrimination on the basis of this sort of thinking. I suspect that it could happen, but of course it would be actionable if anybody found out so I'm fairly confident that when it comes to actually trying to control the composition of the faculty these sorts of people will find other ways to manage things.

To give you an example of what I mean: imagine a case in which a senior faculty member at a largish public university had it in for one of the junior faculty, and wanted to see to it that this younger person be denied tenure. So the senior faculty makes a huge stink about the quality of the journals in which the younger faculty member's work was published. Let's say it was not a matter of the quantity of material published, just the alleged quality.

Let's say that one publication was actually a book, and it was published by Oxford University Press. But it was regarded as not "scholarly" because it was just an introduction to the work of some major 20th century philosopher. Now, I'll grant you that a book like that is not exactly high-powered scholarship, but we can imagine that the degree of the stink raised in this particular case would make one wonder whether there might not be something else going on, and of course one can never know because if there is, it would be suicidal for the senior person to admit it.

Similarly, if I didn't want to hire any religious people, I'm fairly certain I could manage to make it happen. I would need to know the religious views of the applicants, of course, but there are fairly easy ways of finding that kind of stuff out, especially now with the internet and all. Then all I would need is some sort of excuse--but one can always come up with some excuse for one's vote. I could say that I just didn't think his work was up to snuff, and it's impossible to prove that I don't really think that. Granted, it might be unreasonable--suppose the guy is well published in very fine venues--but crotchety faculty members have all sorts of irrational and indefensible views on all sorts of topics, and they're allowed to hold such views and vote accordingly.

So I don't know where this anonymous reporter works, but I can certainly imagine that his fears are not groundless.

the Cogitator said...

Oh, it's a nice little read. Live candid reporting. The comments are also revealing, since some are written by other attendees.