In the past few months I've come to think that there's something very wrong with the philosophical work of Alvin Plantinga--not "shocking, how could he do that!" very wrong, but "this isn't right, even if I can't put my finger on it" very wrong. It really first came up when I was in the process of revising, for Internet Infidels, my comments on chapter 1 of William Lane Craig's Reasonable Faith. (If anyone wonders why I dislike Craig, read those comments first, along with Robert M. Price's comments on the same material). I was going to include a mention of Craig's use of Plantinga. At first glance I thought Plantinga would reject Craig's views. Then I became less sure what Plantinga was trying to say. Now I doubt that Plantinga knows what his position is. The passage that really got me thinking was in his book Warranted Christian Belief, at the end of the chapter on Biblical scholarship. Plantinga imagines a situation in which we have apparently conclusive evidence that Christianity was a hoax (in the form of letters among the original disciples, etc.) and then asks if Christians would have to give up their beliefs in that situation. He response is to the effect that he doesn't know and isn't terribly interested in the question. I can't give an exact quote, because I left my copy of WCB back in my hometown, but similar material can be found here:
A series of letters could be discovered, letters circulated among Peter, James, John and Paul, in which the necessity for the hoax and the means of its perpetration are carefully and seriously discussed; these letters might direct workers to archeological sites in which still more material of the same sort is discovered...That's just from a lecture-notes forerunner to the relevant WBC chapter, but WBC isn't really much more substantial.
There is no need to borrow trouble, however; perhaps we can cross these bridges if we come to them.
This is weird. Most people would have no trouble saying that if there were conclusive evidence that Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard was a fraud, then people would best give up Mormonism and Scientology, respectively. It isn't just that Plantinga is willing to endorse a counter-intuitive thesis, it's that he entertains it without bothering to provide the slightest reason why, contrary to appearances, it might be true. He isn't interested in investigating the question. Yet the question hits fairly near the heart of everything he's written on the rationality of Christianity.
On the one hand, Plantinga seems obsessed with the question of whether his religion can be rationally believed, on the other hand, he seems surprisingly lazy and lacking in curiosity when he talks about the subject. He'll do what it takes to fend off the charge of irrationality in the short term, and appears to not care much beyond that. So many of his papers on the problem of evil boil down to "who cares if there's evidence against my views?" One of the places this came up is in the e-book Internet Infidels is putting together. Paul Draper's reply deserves to be quoted in full (note here that Draper considers himself an agnostic, and thinks there are good arguments for and against the existence of God):
Plantinga makes it clear that he wants to draw this further conclusion when he says that, "To produce 'a serious argument from evil against theism . . .,' Draper would first have to show that theism is false." I will close by showing that Plantinga's inference here is incorrect: . . . The reason it does not follow is that there are very many people who, like me, don't believe they already know that God exists (or that God doesn't exist), and for that reason believe that it is appropriate and important to engage, not in apologetics, but in genuine inquiry designed to determine, to the best of their ability, whether or not God exists. Included here are agnostics as well as theists and atheists who have doubts about God's existence or nonexistence. These skeptical souls have no choice but to do their best to objectively assess the available evidence. Thus, for them, the fact that E is strong evidence favoring naturalism over theism, which my argument demonstrates, is of great significance.There's more I could say, but I don't have all the appropriate resources in front of me, so I'll rest there for the time being.
Moving back to Craig, all this stuff coming from Plantinga, a supposedly respectable philosopher, lends a certain amount of support to Craig's approach to philosophy/apologetics, even if Plantinga himself has no idea whether he wants to endorse Craig's view. This is a bad thing. Craig urges Christians to hold onto their beliefs no matter the evidence to the contrary, but at the same time to try to come up with rational-sounding arguments to use to win converts, keep sheep in the fold, and convince themselves that dissenters are as deserving of damnation as the Bible says they are. This is an abandonment of what's best in philosophy: the honest search for truth. Part of me, Tim, wonders whether you really would side with Craig on this point. If you do, though, I stand by what I said: it would be an unmitigated disaster if people like you became a force in academic philosophy. It was nice having coffee with you, but friendship only gets you so far. And even if you don't stand with Craig here, I still find the extent of his influence on you worrisome.
Finally, the Craig-Avalos debate. The audio is available here, the key thing is to listen to the first few minutes of Craig's first speech. The very first thing Craig says when he's done being chummy is to call Avalos "unprofessional," for the following reason: Avalos criticized another scholar, because said scholar had claimed some Biblical manuscripts were complete, when they were in fact missing parts. Craig claimed that the official scholarly definition of "complete" doesn't require all the pieces to be present. Even if so, the original claim was still misleading, which is why I previously said "misleading at best." Also notice that Craig says "the goal of academic debate is to get at the truth." On its face, Craig lied right there about his intentions, unless by "get at the truth" he means "try to convince people the evidence is on your side, even if the evidence clearly shows you're wrong."
Craig's sleaze and his broader disregard for intellectual honesty goes hand in hand. He doesn't care about having legitimate points, just about sounding convincing. He works this way even when he's contemplating smear campaigns against real scholars. He is a dangerous, despicable charlatan, and it disturbs me that he seems to be getting the influence he wants in contemporary philosophy.