Richard Spiegel on Alvin Plantinga’s Sensus Divinitatis v. Richard Dawkins’s Sensus Bullshititatis

At the Christianity Today website recently, a philosopher by the name of Jim Spiegel (who writes well, I must say) makes the following claim:

[There are] moral and psychological dimensions to atheism, ones we cannot ignore.

No argument there. And Spiegel asks his readers to contemplate this possibility (on encountering an atheist):

[A]theists can be self-deceived, driven by a motivated bias to disbelieve in God.

Again, this is hardly news.

Then Spiegel puts on the table three other observations that would seem to make his claim that atheists are motivated and self-deceived more plausible. He notes the following:

  • Mortimer Adler’s pre-conversion atheism was, by his own account, a moral, not an intellectual problem.
  • Alvin Plantinga has a theory that would explain atheism: sinful attitudes (like, say, hubris) can distort one’s inner truth detector—one’s natural ability to perceive truth.
  • The apostle Paul claims in his epistle to the Romans (and we all know it must be true because Paul says it) that the natural world testifies unmistakably to God’s existence, so sinners are without excuse for their disbelief.

But now watch the rousing (and unwarranted) conclusion to Spiegel’s argument. Spiegel says this:

Richard Dawkins has famously declared that theists are delusional. But if Adler, Plantinga, and the apostle Paul are right, then Dawkins has it exactly backwards.

In other words, Spiegel wants his readers to conclude that atheists alone are deluded by their desires, not theists. But did you catch the skipped option? Spiegel doesn’t explore the most plausible conclusion on offer: that both Plantinga and Dawkins are right: atheists and theists can be deluded in their thinking by desires. Period.

If impiety impairs one’s inner “God detector” (Plantinga’s sensus divinitatis), it seems to me that there is a good deal of historical evidence that piety itself has the curious power to impair one’s bullshit detector. So let’s give the latter a Latin name too (to make it sound more substantial and locatable, like an organ in a medical textbook): sensus bullshititatis.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all more attentive to our sensus bullshititatis, and did our best never to damage it?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to Richard Spiegel on Alvin Plantinga’s Sensus Divinitatis v. Richard Dawkins’s Sensus Bullshititatis

  1. Pingback: Chimps are Smarter and Faster Than You at Some Tasks, Therefore God Exists? | Prometheus Unbound

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