Recently I posted the audio recording of a debate I had roughly three years ago. A visitor to the site named Nocterro commented in response, “You appear to have used Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism without citing Plantinga.” By this I take him to mean that I do not just “appear” to have used Plantinga’s EAAN without citing Plantinga but that I actually did use Plantinga’s EAAN. In response to this observation I simply responded with a joke:
What? Plantinga thought of an argument like that too?! You know what they say about great minds. 😉
Explaining my jest is not at the top of my list of things to do on a nice day but since Nocterro has completely misunderstood it I suppose that I should. There may be others who have also misunderstood my response, though I doubt it. I start my reply by asking, “What?” This response is meant to convey shock or ignorance on my part. A question follows which is, “Plantinga thought of an argument like that too?!” Notice the question mark. More ignorance. Notice the exclamation point. More shock. Notice also that I do not ask who Plantinga is which indicates that I already know of him. Following these questions is the statement, “You know what they say about great minds.” What do “they say about great minds”? The saying is, “Great minds think alike.” In other words Plantinga and I have great minds which think alike and hence we came up with the same argument. Finally, an emoticon representing a wink ends my response.
Now let me see if I can help Nocterro out. Even people who barely know me or read this site still know at least a little about me and my background and at the very least should be able to infer from my posts that I am not going to respond in complete ignorance or shock regarding Plantinga or his arguments. There is not very much I can think about that is written by Plantinga that I have not read. It is quite unlikely then that I should have responded to Nocterro with such ignorance and shock in regard to his comment. Further, I do not think of myself as having a “great mind”. Considering that Plantinga is in my eyes one of the most intelligent people alive right now it makes me chuckle to think that I should try and compare myself to him in the manner Nocterro supposedly thinks I do. Finally, a wink generally conveys that some type of sarcasm or a subtle joke has preceded the act.
Recall that Nocterro thinks that I used Plantinga’s EAAN. After my initial response to him he provided what he considers evidence to support his thought and wrote, “Err…you used his EXACT example with the petting an animal/running away; but with an elephant instead of a tiger.” My response was, “Seemed like a good enough example to me.” There is no other way to interpret this statement than as an admission that I had read Plantinga’s example contained in his EAAN and thought that it was sufficient. I also commented on Plantinga’s example with a frog. So it is highly unlikely that the statements in my initial response to Nocterro were meant to be taken seriously and Nocterro should have known better than to assume that they were. In fact Nocterro later wrote, “I’m saying it is VERY unlikely you were unaware of it” where “it” refers to Plantinga’s argument.
What Nocterro wrote next puzzles me a bit in light of what has just been discussed, for he quoted my initial response and asked, “Are you claiming to have been unaware of Plantinga’s argument at the time of this debate?” I would like to suggest that if Nocterro had been paying attention at all to what I had written then he would not have needed to ask this question. A bigger problem is that asking his question does not make much sense in light of his belief that I was using Plantinga’s EAAN. Thus I asked Nocterro, “If I ‘used *Plantinga’s…argument* against naturalism without citing Plantinga’ then how could I have ‘been unaware of *Plantinga’s argument* at the time of this debate’?” It is impossible for someone to use an argument that he or she is not aware of.
Nocterro made a statement concerning ethics in writing, “if you were in fact aware of it, you should have mentioned that the argument is Plantinga’s own work.” Given that if Nocterro’s worldview is true he does not, so far as I can tell, have any way to settle disagreements in ethics it would be sufficient for me to just state at this point that I disagree with Nocterro. He continued, “Not citing him gives the impression that it is your own argument.” Here I am in disagreement with Nocterro again. My response to him was, “If that were true we would not be having this discussion.” If the impression Nocterro got from my opening statement of the debate was that I was offering an argument that I had thought up all by my lonesome then he would have had no reason to write the very first thing that he did which was, “You appear to have used Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism.”
Thus I find Nocterro’s comments rather confusing. Since I had better things to do I suggested that I would, “try to comment some on this when I have more time.” Nocterro stated in reply, “You’re dodging the issue.” I answered, “No I am not ‘dodging the issue’” and “I will address it when I get back to blogging, Lord willing.” Apparently still not getting my point Nocterro responded with, “Why can’t you just state publicly what is going on with your use of this argument?” and “Instead of posting this, you could have said” to which I responded by repeating, “I will address it when I get back to blogging.” Nocterro finally accepted what I was trying to tell him but still qualified his acceptance in writing, “As addressing it would take you a maximum of maybe 30 seconds, I do not see any reason for you not to address it now, but ok.”
In the midst of me trying to help Nocterro understand my plain English sentences about addressing his complaint upon my return to blogging Nocterro offered the following.
You need to make one of three statements:
1) You were unaware of the argument and it was an amazing coincidence.
2) You simply forgot to cite Plantinga in the debate.
3) You were intentionally trying to present his argument as your own.
Why can’t you just state publicly what is going on with your use of this argument? I sincerely hope (3) is not the case; however if (1) or (2) are the case, I can see no reason why you would not just explicitly state that.
Instead of posting this, you could have said-
“1 is true”
“2 is true”
“3 is true”
As addressing it would take you a maximum of maybe 30 seconds, I do not see any reason for you not to address it now, but ok.
Unfortunately there are a lot of things that Nocterro ‘does not see’. First, in response to his question, “Why can’t you just state publicly what is going on with your use of this argument?” I will answer that I can state this publicly (contrary to the assumption of the loaded question). If Nocterro is still unclear as to why I did not do so immediately he needs to reread the four statements I made concerning when I would address his comments. Nocterro states that I “need” to make one of three statements. Exactly why this “need” arises I do not know, but it is clear that Nocterro thinks he is presenting a trilemma. It has already been demonstrated that if Nocterro had thought at all about what he and I had written then 1 could not be the case. Establishing option 2 is contingent upon knowledge of my memories which neither Nocterro nor most people other than God and I possess. A citation of Plantinga is not in my notes from that debate but I did not strictly follow my notes either. It could be that I intended to cite Plantinga, did not put that in my notes, and then forgot to do so. Nocterro’s “sincere hope” is that 3 is not the case, but establishing 3 is contingent upon knowledge of my intentions which neither Nocterro nor most people other than God and I possess. I will remove the mystery and just state that I have never intentionally tried to present Plantinga’s EAAN as being my own. So 1 and 3 cannot be the case. What about 2? If I intended to cite Plantinga in my debate and forgot to then I do not remember it. Nocterro presents a false trilemma though, for it could be the case that, as one example, I was not unaware of the argument, did not forget to cite Plantinga, and did not intentionally try to present the argument as my own but rather was aware of the argument, did not cite Plantinga, and yet had no intentions of presenting the argument as my own. So then contrary to Nocterro’s assertion that “addressing it would take you a maximum of maybe 30 seconds” and that I only need to state, “1 is true” or “2 is true” or “3 is true” I cannot address it that quickly or state one of the three options provided.
Setting aside the problems with Nocterro’s supposed concern I will briefly address to the best of my memory what I thought I was doing in that debate. Those who are familiar with Plantinga will note that he does not have only one version of the EAAN. Careful readers will note that Plantinga does not think that he is the first one to come up with the gist of his argument for he borrows a great deal from Rene Descartes, David Hume, Charles Darwin, Patricia Churchland, and even notes that his argument is quite similar to one offered by C.S. Lewis. The version of Plantinga’s argument I used in my debate was a modification of what was in my opinion at the time the most improved version. The illustrations and examples I used were slightly changed from Plantinga’s so as to not copy him verbatim in order that I could better understand them and in order to make them more understandable to the audience.
The main argument I used in my debate was the Transcendental Argument for God. I plugged in the EAAN and a number of other arguments as well. While the EAAN has a transcendental direction to it the EAAN is not a transcendental argument. Other people who use arguments in debate rarely cite their sources. Bahnsen did not cite Van Til when using TAG in his debates, Craig did not cite Muslims when using Kalam in his debates, Manata did not cite Plantinga when using an incomplete EAAN in his debates, and Plantinga did not cite some of the aforementioned individuals who wrote content pertaining to his argument in his debates. Therefore I am in good company in not specifically citing every source of every argument I used in my debate. The standards which are used in determining the ethical use of unoriginal material are at times very much debatable and the strictest interpretations would be impossible to follow. Suffice it to say that to my knowledge I have adhered to every institutional interpretation of standards required of me in my academic past and plan to continue to do so in the future. Something tells me that Plantinga is not really likely to sue over this and explaining all of what I did above would have taken too much time in the context of a timed debate. Nitpicking about an alleged need for a citation in a debate that happened years ago that I can do nothing to change now anyway hardly belongs to the same context and is a bit of a waste of time to be discussing.