I've found out via Prosblogion that there's a philosophy of religion conference happening this weekend, and the papers are posted online. The first one that caught my eye was "Is Atheism Reasonable?" by Ted Poston, and well... um... let me start by just outlining the paper.
The paper could be divided up into two sections, one on "sympathetic atheism" and another on "unsympathetic atheism." Sympathetic atheism is defined as follows:
(i) the concept of God is coherent, (ii) there‟s no God because there‟s gratuitous evil, and (iii) were there a God the world might not be all that different than it actually is.Unsympathetic atheism is more vaguely described as involving a rejection of (iii). Sympathetic atheism is alleged to be incoherent, while unsympathetic atheism is alleged to have been refuted by Plantinga.
There is something puzzling about the section on sympathetic atheism: it's treated as something worth discussing, even though there's no evidence anyone's actually held it as defined. There's a citation of William L. Rowe's advocacy of "friendly atheism," but Rowe characterized his position in terms of thinking religious belief isn't always irrational, and it was a somewhat weak thesis given that he was thinking along the lines of people who aren't aware of the reasons for atheism, or aren't aware of the problems with the reasons for their religious beliefs (I read Rowe's essay over winter break, and again in preparation for writing this post). Poston obviously thinks there's some connection between the two, but the actual arguments for this point are very sketchy. He may well be right about "sympathetic atheism" as he defines it, but that doesn't mean he's refuted a position which anyone's actually held.
With "unsympathetic atheism," the careless shift from the stated definition and thinking in terms of rationality is particularly pronounced. The suggestion is that if the atheist claims to have strong justification for thinking they've gotten something right that believers get wrong, they have to think believers are irrational. Might they establish this by appeal to the arguments for atheism. No. Why? Because Alvin Plantinga has shown otherwise.
The claim that "for any proposition P, if S has shown that P, where S is Alvin Plantinga, then P is true" is certainly widely held in philosophy of religion. But what arguments are there for it? Of course, "show" here might take an analysis paralleling popular analyses of "know," in that the truth of the claim is supposed to be an integral part of what it means to say it is known (or, perhaps, shown). This, though, only shifts the issue to how one can so effortlessly gain justification for thinking Plantinga has shown something. On the proposed reading of the word "show," one has to conclude that many philosophers of religion hold to something along the following lines: the fact that Plantinga has argued something, and one can find the appropriate citation, this constitutes at least strong evidence that Plantinga has shown the thing. Yet I don't know of any arguments for this position either. If anyone could point me to a relevant journal article, it would be much appreciated.
*Sigh* The one upshot of all the bad philosophy papers out there is that if I become a professional philosopher and am feeling tempted to advance my tenure case by publishing a paper with dubious claims, I resist the urge by going out and finding some really lousy papers, write critiques, and publish those critiques in place of the dubious paper I was tempted to submit. Then I can sleep easy at night knowing even if I really have no idea what's going on with that philosophical issue, I have reason to be confident I was right to say that the particular approaches critiqued don't work.