Plantinga’s Unconvincing “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism”

What better way to respond to atheists but to turn one of their own tools against them? That’s the approach philosopher Alvin Plantinga tries to use with his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). It’s not a new idea, and both C.S. Lewis and Charles Darwin anticipated it.

In brief, the question is: how can a human mind that’s the result of the clumsy process of evolution be trusted?

About “Darwin’s doubt,” Plantinga argues that only Christians can have confidence that their interpretation of the world is correct. Naturalists can’t prove that minds are reliable until they’ve proven that the source of this claim (the mind!) is worth listening to.

Here’s where Plantinga claims to have turned the tables:

The high priests of evolutionary naturalism loudly proclaim that Christian and even theistic belief is bankrupt and foolish. The fact, however, is that the shoe is on the other foot. It is evolutionary naturalism, not Christian belief, that can’t rationally be accepted.

He says that if evolution is true, human beliefs have been selected for survival value, not truth, so why trust them? And yet our beliefs are reliable, suggesting to Plantinga that something besides evolution created them.

Before we get into the specifics of Plantinga’s argument, let’s first establish a baseline. Plantinga and naturalists agree that humans’ needs and desires are pretty logically matched:

Feelings or desires are on the left, actions are on the right, and the arrow is the belief that a particular action will satisfy that desire.

This is straightforward. A human with the feeling of hunger has the belief that eating food is the action to take. You go toward cuddly things, you run from scary things, you get to clean air if you can’t breathe, and so on. This is the world we all know and understand.

But Plantinga says that naturalists delude themselves. He imagines the naturalist’s world in which these links are jumbled. He imagines a hominid Paul who has some problematic beliefs about predators:

Perhaps [Paul] thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it.

So Paul’s instincts toward tigers keep him alive, but only by dumb luck. But unreasonable beliefs don’t stop with tigers. Plantinga imagines the naturalist’s view of the world with beliefs having no connection with reality. That is, he imagines something like this:

Paul’s response to the tiger was just a roll of the dice, and he got lucky. But Plantinga supposes that all of Paul’s beliefs are arbitrary, not just those about tigers. Some actions in this chart are benign, but some are dangerous. When Paul sees something scary, his reaction is to walk toward it. When he’s drowning, he’ll try to sleep. When he’s hungry, he’ll satisfy that need with fresh air, and so on. With his basic desires paired with ineffective methods, this guy is clearly too stupid to live.

This is where natural selection comes in. Natural selection is unforgiving, and belief sets that don’t lead to survival are discarded. Evolution easily explains why Plantinga’s Paul didn’t exist.

An article at Skeptic.com neatly skewers Plantinga’s argument with a familiar example.

If a professional baseball player [incorrectly perceived reality,] that is, if his perception of the movement and location of a baseball was something other than what it actually is, then he would not be able to consistently hit ninety-five mile per hour fastballs.

As an aside, let me admit that I have a hard time maintaining respect for those at the leading edge of philosophy. Do they do work that’s relevant and pushes the frontier of human knowledge? I’d like to think so, but when this is the kind of argument they give, it’s hard to keep the faith.

My advice to philosophers: when you get the urge to play scientist, it’s best to lie down until the feeling goes away.

If we’re made in God’s image,
then why aren’t we invisible, too?
— graffiti

Photo credit: Wikimedia

  • Phurbiefee

    I have not read Plantinga’s stuff, so probably shouldn’t criticize it based on what his critics say, but I have heard he is amongst the best of the Christian philosophers. Is this seriously a good example of an argument he puts forth? It is just so lame! Are you sure he’s not a mole, operating on behalf of non-believers? And though it is possible that a deistic god is plausible when we look at the world around us, how on earth does a Christian god turn out to be the only logical one? Why aren’t all the religions of the world converging on Christianity, if it’s so obvious?

    Where did he go to school?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I struggle trying to give philosophers the benefit of the doubt, but it’s difficult not imagining that all Christian philosopher/apologists are following agendas, not facts.

      • MNb

        That’s a bit weird, because when refuting Turek you used quite a few arguments developed by philosophers.
        I think it’s quite simple.
        A) good and relevant philosophers always have been in the minority. In Athens, Greece pagan philosophy continued until the early 7th Century CE. The work largely had been irrelevant for centuries for several centuries. For one Spinoza or Hegel there are at least a dozen disciples which we safely can neglect.
        B) most philosophers these days agree that they should stay out of science. Alas I agree with BNygren above that a good scientist is not by definition a good philosopher (I’m rather underwhelmed by PZ Myers and JA Coyne for instance; Sean Carroll does a good job though). So I would welcome it if philosophers investigated the consequences of scientific conclusions. A simple example: the way physics understands time and space has radically changed the last 100 years. It would be nice if some philosopher tried to understand the modern concepts and reflected on this. Somewhat ironically Augustinus of Hippo is a good start.
        C) the philosophers who seem to be most interested in science these days are philosophers of religion, like Plantinga. They all suffer from the bias you wrote about a few blogposts ago.
        I still have to think it through, but my gut feeling says that Plantinga with his example introduces a teleological element and thus is antiscientific. Jakeithus seems to be right that you misunderstand Plantinga’s example, which basically says that two wrongs still enables homo sapiens to survive. That’s correct.

        “And yet our beliefs are reliable, suggesting to Plantinga that something besides evolution created them.”
        My first reaction is that Plantinga needs to explain why homo sapiens hasn’t developed the scientific method resulting in reliable “beliefs” (I think this is the wrong word, but apologists not too often try to clarify – their most popular method these days seems to be obfuscation) many centuries earlier, especially with the kind help coming from a benevolent sky-daddy. While I grant that Plantinga points out an unsolved problem he fails to point out that his solution leads to even bigger unsolved problems.
        So my provisional conclusion is that Plantinga just presents another god of the gaps argument.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Right. That’s why my challenge is: show me what philosophers have done for me lately.

          If philosophers today are mostly looking backwards, maintaining the history and ideas of the philosophers of the past and passing that along, that’s fine. It’s the going-forward part that I don’t see much evidence of.

          So I would welcome it if philosophers investigate d the co nsequences of scientific conclusions.

          You mean like the ethical consequences? Someone certainly needs to.

          A simple example: the way physics understands time and space has radically changed the last 100 years. It would be nice if some philosopher tried to understand the modern concepts and reflected on this.

          Wouldn’t a physicist or cosmologist be better suited?

          you misunderstand Plantinga’s example, which basically says that two wrongs still enables homo sapiens to survive. That’s correct.

          Yes, Plantinga says this, and yes, I agree that occasionally this happens. Did I say something different?

          While I grant that Plantinga points out an unsolved problem he fails to point out that his solution leads to even bigger unsolved problems.

          Expand on this. I’m not sure what you’re saying here.

        • MNb

          “You mean like the ethical consequences?”
          Amongst others.

          “Wouldn’t a physicist or cosmologist be better suited?”
          They are not necessarily good at philosophy (Sean Carroll does a great job though). At the other hand I don’t see why a philosopher can’t understand the modern concepts of time and space if we omit all the mathematics (which I have forgotten too btw). Math is a language, so those concepts can be translated in English, Dutch and any other language.

          “Did I say something different?”
          Yes, at least what I understood.

          “he imagines something like this:…..”
          No, he didn’t. You have corrected this in your comments above though, so I’m happy. And I’m absolutely not interested in metadebates on what A wrote and what not and what B wrote and what not and what exactly everything meant. Pointing out who misunderstood whom is irrelevant; relevant is we understand each other in the end. So I’m going to leave it at this.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Show me how the second arrow diagram doesn’t represent Plantinga’s position. I’d like to get it straight, because Plantinga’s EAAN will surely come up in the future.

    • Andrew G.

      You should see some of his other stuff – he tries to make the argument for dualism by means of an absolutely textbook fallacy of composition (neurons don’t have intention (in the philosophical sense), therefore physical minds made of neurons can’t have intention).

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Well, that makes sense. A single water molecule has no fluidity, so “fluidity” in a collection of trillions of water molecules is nonsense.

        A single neuron can’t think, so an interconnected collection of billions of them can’t think either.

        • RichardSRussell

          My favorite analogy along these lines is “9 women gestating for 1 month apiece do not produce a baby.”

        • RichardSRussell

          Another one is “Just because every individual human being had a mother doesn’t mean the human race as a whole had a mother.”

        • MNb

          This (and the others) is a great example. I didn’t have them in my repertoire yet, so thanks.
          Long live internet, so that I don’t have to figure out everything myself.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          The broader category is “emergent phenomena,” if you want to pursue this.

  • John Evans

    He’s also either anthropomorphizing animals or completely ignorant of subconscious decision making. A flatworm doesn’t ‘want’ to not be in the light. It’s not thinking in its rudimentary nervous system ‘that’s some light, I shouldn’t be here’ (or, by Platinga’s logic ‘that’s some light. I should totally get closer to it by crawling in the other direction’). Reason – the ability to understand and manipulate our reactions to stimuli and environment, developed AFTER the reactions to stimuli and environment.

  • bnygren

    Your response is the very reason you need to read his argument. One of the main problems is scientists are terrible philosophers and think that they do not have presuppositions. They think that it is just them and the facts. They are without bias and can interpret the facts for what they are. If one is to take naturalism seriously, to its logical conclusion, they would realize they have no foundation for knowing that they know anything for certain. You are just chemical reactions. Start dust bumping up against start dust. To say one has knowledge, one is saying “this is what you ought to believe.” Ought does not come from start dust nor chemical reactions. Scientists need to take a few classes in philosophy before they try to do science. There is no brute fact. Every fact is an interpreted fact. The question is how should one interpret that fact. To interpret a fact, one must first have a philosophy by which to interpret that fact..

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Your response is the very reason you need to read his argument.

      Point out a mistake I made in understanding the argument, but don’t tell me I didn’t read it.

      One of the main problems is scientists are terrible philosophers and think that they do not have presuppositions.

      I think that “watch out for your biases” is one of the first things they teach you in scientist school.

      As for terrible philosophers, you might be right. Is that a problem? Is philosophy where the science comes from?

      They are without bias and can interpret the facts for what they are.

      Individual scientists try to control their bias, one hopes, but the scientific community is what keeps things in line.

      they would realize they have no foundation for knowing that they know anything for certain.

      They already do!

      Ought does not come from start dust nor chemical reactions.

      Absolute oughts? I agree with you. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Morality is a human construction.

      Scientists need to take a few classes in philosophy before they try to do science.

      I see a Top Ten List of Cool Scientific Discoveries every year. I don’t remember seeing one for Philosophy last year. Tell me what philosophers have done for me lately.

      • MNb

        “Is that a problem?”
        Only if those scientists start doing philosophy; not for their scientific work.

    • MNb

      “they have no foundation for knowing that they know anything for certain.”
      This is a strawman. No single scientist thinks he/she knows anything for certain. They only claim that the method they have developed works best. The influence the scientific has had the last 200 years justifies that claim.
      Guess what? Not taking anything for certain is an essential part of that method. Find a cat fossil that’s 80 million years old and you’ll be world famous long after you have died. Build a perpetuum mobile and the same will happen. Develop a material that allows superconductivity and you’ll receive the Nobel Price within a year. Wait – that actually happened in the 80′s.
      This is btw the reason BobS shouldn’t look down on philosophy. That department formulated these principles: Descartes (and the critique he received) for deduction, Hume for induction and Popper (and the critique he received) for the synthesis of the two. His falsifiability principle is founded on the very idea of not knowing anything for certain. All scientific books and all scientific articles are full of falsifiable statements.

      “Every fact is an interpreted fact.”
      Postmodern woo. Go tell the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the consequences of the nuclear bombs are interpreted facts, that the question is how to interpret those consequential facts and that they need a philosophy to do so.
      Your stuff is the kind that gives philosophy a bad name.

      • MNb

        please read: allows superconductivity at relatively high temperatures.
        Also I wish you success interpreting the forthcoming facts just after you jumped off a tower.

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        Popper’s falsification is overrated; he didn’t realize that it’s a special case of what he referred to as Simplicity. While he was correct to note the use of both, he didn’t correctly pin down the rigorous philosophical justification that unifies them.

        The math for it is tedious, however.

        • MNb

          That’s why I added “the critique he received”. Fact remains that Popper was the first to formulate a synthesis of deduction and induction. That synthesis (with eventual improvements and corrections) is the core of the scientific method and makes clear why it is superior to philosophy and theology. But a philosopher was needed to point this out.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          But there was a scientific method before Popper.

          I assume you’re saying that his new and improved version is universally used and an important step forward than what Einstein (say) used?

        • MNb

          No, I’m saying that Popper was the first to try to formulate what exactly the scientific method is. In other words: before Popper scientists more or less intuitively used the scientific method. Popper made it explicit (and the critiques he received were aimed at improving what he formulated). This is a valuable product of philosophy, like the idea of the social contract for instance. It makes it possible for laymen like me to understand what we (in this case scientists) exactly are doing. It also enables me to make clear why so many economists do a lousy job without concluding that economics isn’t a science. It even enables me to argue that the humanities and especially the study of history are branches of science as well.
          I think this confirms what Bertrand Russell wrote in his History of Western Philosophy: that philosophy depends on social circumstances and thus must be understood in this context (I paraphraze, so I likely some details wrong). This implies it’s impossible what you seem to demand: that philosophy comes before or even predicts scientific results.

        • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

          Which comes “before” depends on whether you’re talking about science as philosophical ideal or as historically practiced. Popper improved the demarcation between the types of practices as to which did and did not accord to the abstract method he suggested, but almost all of the practices were around before.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Since decent science was being done before his time, I hope we don’t exaggerate the contribution Popper made.

          Perhaps you’re saying that scientists put on a philosopher’s hat when they break new ground in some instances? I’m thinking of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle or Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. But then these guys were scientists first and philosophers second.

          Maybe philosophers were able to make more advances in centuries past when less foundation had been laid and when science wasn’t as formalized. But that gets back to my question: what have philosophers (that is, plain old philosophers, not scientists) done for me lately?

        • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

          If you’re dividing into camps, it seems dubious to class Popper as a philosopher. His doctoral degree was in psychology — one of the softer sciences, but still a science.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      One of the main problems is scientists are terrible philosophers and think that they do not have presuppositions.

      As I recall, Plantinga mocked Dawkins’ grasp of philosophy in his review of The God Delusion, The Dawkins Confusion.

      Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not
      a philosopher (he’s a biologist). Even taking this into account,
      however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might
      say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but
      that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside),
      many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore
      philosophy class.

      Which makes it very ironic that Plantinga turns out to be a shit-poor excuse for a biologist. His understanding of evolution and selection is cringe-worthy. it is mockable.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      Naturalism does not preclude the existence of abstractions; and in particular, science presupposes the existence of an abstract language, generally mathematics. As such, your characterization seems a strawman oversimplification of your actual opposition.

      It also seems your philosophical fencing would benefit from reviewing Hume some more. EG: Asserting that something IS true does not necessarily imply that it OUGHT to be believed without an additional premise. However, you seem unlikely to be interested in how mathematics can allow OUGHTs to abstract from IS. Philosophers prescribing study courses for scientists seems ironic given how modern philosophers tend to use Gödel as an excuse to neglect mathematics. They appear to fail to grasp the nuance between showing something must have a property and showing that some particular thing must have the property.

      I’d also suggest reviewing the Riddle of the Ship of Theseus, and considering it in light of reading through Claude Shannon’s “A Mathematical Theory of Communication”.

  • Jakeithus

    You seem to be misunderstanding Plantinga’s argument and use of the Paul and Tiger analogy. In his example, Paul doesn’t survive by dumb luck, he survives because his desire to pet the Tiger is follow up with the incorrect belief that the best way to pet something is to walk away from it. It shows that an incorrect belief or irrational way of thinking can lead to an advantageous behaviour to be passed on through natural selection.

    It simply shows that evolution does not always lead to rational thought, which Plantinga argues poses a problem for a strictly naturalistic way of thinking. There are a number of philosophers who pose counterarguments to Plantinga, many of which can be found on the wikipedia pages you link to, but to brush it of as irrational as you have is simply incorrect.

    Personally, I’m not of the belief that it disproves naturalism, it just goes to show that naturalists hold to unprovable assumptions about reality (the accuracy of human reasoning) of the same type that they think less of believers for.

    I do find it interesting that you end up being so hard against philosophers. Such a large number of professional philosophers are atheists I assumed they would have higher support, as they are at the forefront of the attack against theism, rather than science which is by its nature silent on metaphysical questions.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I agree that our brains are fallible. In fact, I summarized a long list of examples of its fallibility just recently.

      What I think we agree we have is a fallible brain that bumbles along pretty well through reality. It gets things mostly right but does make lots of errors. Few of those errors are fatal.

      Plantinga wants to take this to an extreme. His Paul example is of someone whose beliefs are the result of the roll of the dice. Any that help with survival are there only by dumb luck. And this is the hypothesis that fails.

      Paul doesn’t survive by dumb luck, he survives because his desire to pet the Tiger is follow up with the incorrect belief that the best way to pet something is to walk away from it.

      Sounds like dumb luck to me. He does survive, but in spite of his beliefs, not because of them.

      It shows that an incorrect belief or irrational way of thinking can lead to an advantageous behaviour to be passed on through natural selection.

      Once in a great while, sure.

      It simply shows that evolution does not always lead to rational thought

      I agree. It’s Plantinga’s ridiculous extreme (the conclusion of which is “the brain is useless”) that I object to.

      to brush it of as irrational as you have is simply incorrect.

      Poor word choice? You might be right. Suggest a better one.

      it just goes to show that naturalists hold to unprovable assumptions about reality (the accuracy of human reasoning)

      We all agree that the brain is pretty good, not perfect. This fits well with naturalism. I missed the problem.

      I do find it interesting that you end up being so hard against philosophers.

      I chalk that up to immersing myself in the works of philosophical charlatans. I do seek out good philosophy, though my study is admittedly not thorough. If you have a philosophical advance (that’s not also a scientific advance) in the last few decades, please mention that. I do want to give philosophy its due.

      • Jakeithus

        I see the extreme that Plantinga gives more as a type of thought experiment, rather than any sort of conclusion he is leading towards.

        If I were to change “irrational” in your title, I would probably change it to “unconvincing”, as that better describes your issue with it.

        I see science and philosophy contributing in different ways to the advancement of human society. A world of just scientists would certainly come up with plenty of evidence and understanding of how the world works, I’d just worry about their application and interpretation of their findings without philosophical work to go along with it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Plantinga’s nutty Paul with all the crossed belief arrows is his view of the inevitable result of naturalistic thinking. He’s obviously not arguing for it, but he says that naturalists must face up to this as the inevitable conclusion of their thinking.

          I changed the title.

          The value in philosophy IMO is simply that we call certain thinking philosophical—logic and morality, for example. There is no analog that I see to science where philosophy is opening new doors. If that’s happening, perhaps it’s just happening so infrequently that, compared to science, it looks like nothing.

        • MNb

          “where philosophy is opening new doors.”
          The obvious next question is: should philosophy try and should we demand that from philosophy, especially if we already have science for this?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          If philosophy is actually something fundamentally different from what science does, then let’s encourage that avenue toward truth as well. I suspect instead that every time you point to an important advance thanks to philosophy, I’d see a scientist. That doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong but simply that we have a labeling problem. My seeing science where you see philosophy could easily be a failing on my part.

      • avalon

        “It shows that an incorrect belief or irrational way of thinking can lead
        to an advantageous behaviour to be passed on through natural selection.”

        Sounds like a good explanation for religious belief. The incorrect or irrational belief in God led to less mental stress and better social cohesion.

        “It simply shows that evolution does not always lead to rational thought”

        Indeed.

        • MNb

          “Sounds like a good explanation for religious belief.”
          Good point.

      • MNb

        “a fallible brain that bumbles along pretty well through reality.”
        Whether the ancient Greeks were the first or the Egyptians and the Babylonians, only some 5 000 years ago some fallible brains actually started to bumble along through reality. Compared to the 200 000 years that homo sapiens wanders around the Earth, not to mention the age of the Earth and the entire Universe, I’d say that those fallible brains do very well. I don’t think those Greek, Egypt and Babylonian ancestors could imagine that little car driving around on the planet Mars.
        If I don’t beware I derive an actually solid apologist argument from this observation.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      It shows that an incorrect belief or irrational way of thinking can lead
      to an advantageous behaviour to be passed on through natural selection.

      A couple problems here. One is the bit about beliefs being passed on through inheritance.
      Another is that a true belief is more likely to hold up in a variety of conditions, whereas a false belief that happens to be favourable in one set of conditions is less likely to be generally favourable.

      • Machintelligence

        A couple problems here. One is the bit about beliefs being passed on through inheritance

        What are instincts, if not beliefs (or more simply, stimulus — response) passed on by inheritance?
        And it is behaviors which are selected for, not the beliefs or rationalizations which explain the behavior. We are rationalizing animals.

    • phantomreader42

      No, in Plantinga’s example, Paul survives because while his perception of reality is completely disconnected from the real world, his actions are simultaneously completely nonsensical in response to his perceptions in a way that, by sheer blind dumb luck, happen to cancel out the absurdity of his faulty perceptions. In other words, Plantinga is positing a completely nonsensical and wrong filter between reality and sensory data, and a separate, independently evolved, ALSO completely nonsensical and wrong filter between sensory perception and action, that somehow cancels out the first filter perfectly. Plantinga’s example is ridiculous. It gets slashed to ribbons by Occam’s Razor before it can miserably fail basic biology. Plantinga either knows nothing about the subject he’s talking about, or he’s lying. Given what I’ve seen from creationists, most likely both.

      • MNb

        “Plantinga’s example is ridiculous.”
        Of course. But if we don’t want to be as intellectually dishonest as the vast majority of (if not all) apologists we have to grant Plantinga that he only uses this example to make a point clear: that correct assumptions and beliefs are not necessary for survival and getting offspring. I agree with Plantinga that this point needs explanation; I just think it’s not very hard (Plantinga seems to think so) and that Plantinga attaches faulty logic to this point.
        I share your conclusion though. I find it harder and harder to distinguish creationists from “sophisticated” philosophers of religion, even if the latter are more intelligent and better educated than me (I’m thinking especially of my compatriot Emanuel Rutten). The more I try to understand apologists like Plantinga the more it seems to me that they make the same mistakes as hardcore YECers. In fact I begin to appreciate the honesty of Ken Ham a little better: “if science contradicts my interpretation of the Bible, then f**k science”. Plantinga and Rutten f**k science but don’t want to admit it.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          It’s odd to imagine any non-Luddite, non-Amish person in the 21st century having that f**k-science attitude. They’ll happily use GPS or PCs or the internet but then dismiss biologists as a bunch of agenda-driven fools. Compartmentalization, I guess.

    • avalon

      “Paul doesn’t survive by dumb luck, he survives because his desire to pet
      the Tiger is follow up with the incorrect belief that the best way to
      pet something is to walk away from it. It shows that an incorrect belief
      or irrational way of thinking can lead to an advantageous behaviour to
      be passed on through natural selection.”

      No, it won’t be passed on. When Paul wants to pet (or hold) his offspring he’ll run away! The abandoned child become tiger food.

      • guest

        And if he’s hungry he’ll run away from food. And how will he even have offspring if he runs away from attractive women?

      • MNb

        Yeah, but this is not really fair. Plantinga’s observation is that incorrect beliefs actually can be beneficial in terms of evolution (ie getting offspring). That observation is correct. There is something very logically wrong with his deductions from this observations. As we cannot expect apologists to do it it is our task where he gets off the rails. Laughing at his example doesn’t help in this respect.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    And yet our beliefs are reliable,..

    Are they now? Perceptual and cognitive illusions are abundant. Consider the ‘Monty Hall problem’ as an example of a cognitive illusion. Many people, including a few professional mathematicians, hold false beliefs about the Monty Hall problem, and have publicly embarrassed themselves by refusing to change their beliefs even when presented with the true answer and the reasoning behind it.

    As an example of a perceptual illusion, I choose the well-known checker shadow illusion. Most people incorrectly perceive
    that the two squares are different colours. I personally can rationally
    assure myself that the squares are the same colour (input into any
    graphics program, output RGB values), and yet I still experience the
    illusion. It is apparently hard-wired into our visual system upstream of
    the rational thought centers.

    If atheists are correct, then a large majority (80+%) of people in the world incorrectly believe that their imaginary friends are real.

    And so false beliefs are widespread.

    Other things Plantinga got wrong:

    * Not all beliefs are selected for with equal force. Believing you can pet a tiger and believing your imaginary sky friend is real do not have the same real world consequences.

    * Just because selection is indirect (mutations at gene level are selected at the level of the organism) does not mean it is nonexistent.

    • Andrew G.

      Our visual processing seems to be strongly adapted towards producing the same subjective experience of colour/shade with as little influence from lighting conditions as possible. This makes sense from the point of view of object identification – having things look significantly different at sunset than they do at noon would be confusing.

      This does in fact lead us to believe a lot of false things about colour and colour perception, but those have no likely survival impact by comparison. So this is just one of the many cases where we find that in fact the brain’s reliability and unreliability follows a pattern predicted by evolution (and NOT predicted by theism).

    • Greg G.

      Other things Plantinga got wrong:

      * Not all beliefs are selected for with equal force. Believing you can pet a tiger and believing your imaginary sky friend is real do not have the same real world consequences.

      * Just because selection is indirect (mutations at gene level are selected at the level of the organism) does not mean it is nonexistent.

      It doesn’t matter why you run away from the tiger, it only matters that you survive long enough to reproduce. If the reason you run from a tiger has genetic components, one’s offspring will benefit from them, too.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Not all beliefs are selected for with equal force. Believing you can pet a tiger and believing your imaginary sky friend is real do not have the same real world consequences.

        You can believe that sitcoms are real or not know where or how grocery stores get their food. Modern society has a lot of padding so that people can hold their delusions without dying.

  • MNb

    Two other thoughts I just forgot:
    1. The scientific theory that describes evolution best is the result of the same methodological naturalism Plantinga criticizes; he doesn’t seem or want to realize that he is threatening to contradict himself.
    2. Criticizing the scientific method, ie methodological naturalism is OK, but rejecting it like Plantinga aspires requests to bring forward something better. Apologists usually neglect that part.
    In other words: methodological naturalism might be imperfect, for the moment we don’t have anything better.

  • Ron

    “He says that if evolution is true, human beliefs have been selected for survival value, not truth, so why trust them?”

    Because if we survive long enough to actually test those beliefs, they can be safely discarded once they turn out to be false. That’s why reason, empiricism and the scientific method have replaced superstition, religious dogma and divine revelation as the primary tools for gaining knowledge of our universe.

    Apologists might like to call this trust in science a “belief” — but I prefer to call it a reasonable set of expectations based on the outcome of repeat observations.

    • Kubricks_Rube

      Because if we survive long enough to actually test those beliefs, they can be safely discarded once they turn out to be false.

      And depending on how you define “test,” we’re not talking about a very long timescale. That’s the thing I think is missing from Plantinga’s argument (at least as I’ve encountered it): communication. Paul is not operating in a vacuum. Reality is shared. Both verbally and pre-verbally, Pauls throughout the ages would communicate their beliefs about the tiger with other hominids, and together they would assess the accuracy of the belief. Those able to share information and make better choices would have a better survival rate than those unable to interact effectively. Paul doesn’t need God (rhetorically speaking) to tell him that he shouldn’t run away from a tiger he wants to pet; he just needs Tina or Bob to tell him that 1) he didn’t actually succeed in petting the tiger, did he? and 2) didn’t Rene get eaten by a tiger last week? Maybe running was the best move after all.

      • Ron

        Precisely! And if Christian apologists like Plantinga are convinced that their beliefs are founded on God’s truths, then they could easily demonstrate the confidence of their convictions by handling snakes, drinking deadly poison and healing sick people with their hands in accordance with the promises made in <a href="http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark%2016:17-18&version=NIV.

  • phantomreader42

    The last time I heard of this pitiful excuse for an “argument”, I concluded Plantinga was an idiot. I have seen no reason to reevaluate that conclusion.

    He starts by pretending that mental illness, optical illusions, cognitive bias, and a variety of other well-documented phenomena don’t exist. After denying reality in this way, he declares that his perception of reality is reliable, which it obviously isn’t or he wouldn’t be pretending there’s no such thing as a blind spot, and that the only way that can happen is through the intervention of an invisible man in the sky.

    Then he proposes a ridiculous thought experiment involving a being whose perceptions of reality are completely nonsensical, but who somehow survives because his responses to those nonsensical perceptions are ALSO nonsensical, in such a ridiculous and precisely calibrated way that they exactly cancel out his nonsensical perceptions. He pretends that such a being is just as likely to evolves as one who act sensibly on accurate perceptions. For Plantinga’s “Paul” to exist, all his organs for collecting and processing sensory data (eyes, ears, nose, skin, nerves, brain) would ALL have to be malfunctioning, in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY, despite the fact that they evolved from different structures in different species through different environments. For the example to work, he’d not only have to SEE the tiger wrong, he’d have to HEAR it wrong and SMELL it wrong, and those involve different sensory inputs processed in different regions of the brain. And then, on top of that, ALL his organs for ACTING on this information (different parts of the brain, different nerves, voluntary muscles, involuntary muscles) would ALSO have to be malfunctioning, again in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY as each other, but in a DIFFERENT way than the sensory organs, in such a way that the malfunctions all cancelled each other out, despite the fact that these systems have different functions and origins than the others, and interact in complicated ways, and despite the fact that any ancestor with mutations causing these malfunctions would be competing with non-mutants who had better perceptions of reality and didn’t NEED the cancellation.
    Occam’s Razor tears Plantinga’s nonsense to shreds. So does any understanding of biology.

    Of course, in humans beliefs and actions are not primarily instinctive, and are not transmitted genetically but culturally. For “Paul” to exist, the genetically-inherited biological structures that handle his perceptions, and those that handle his instinctive actions, would have to be totally wrong, and his culturally-inherited thought processes would have to be totally wrong in such a way as to cancel the other malfunctions out, despite the fact that they evolved and were transmitted by completely different methods, yet his distant ancestors who lack the defective culture would have to be able to function with the defective perception even though “Paul” can only survive with BOTH.

    Since Plantinga is too busy pretending documented errors of reasoning and perception don’t exist because his imaginary friend told him so, he utterly fails to address methods of CORRECTING for those errors. For example, the fact that there is more than one person, and they can compare their perceptions to see if they agree, because if they’re all perceiving the same thing, it’s not likely they’re all having the same hallucinations. Then again, Plantinga may just be a solipsist, but if that’s the case his attempt to argue for solipsism fails because the act of arguing involves admitting that someone else exists to hear the argument. He obviously has no interest in understanding science.

    Then, as is standard procedure for those who reject reality in favor of their imaginary friends, Plantinga claims that his shitty argument for a totally undefined god somehow magically proves his particular version of the abrahamic god. He doesn’t address the possibility that god might be lying, or screwing with people for his own amusement, or that god might be indifferent, malicious, incomprehensible, or one of the millions of gods imagined up by non-christians throughout history. He proposes something that makes no sense, has no connection to reality, and is vanishingly unlikely to exist, then tries to explain it with something else that makes no sense and is even LESS likely to exist, all while ignoring other options because they’re inconvenient.

    • RichardSRussell

      “The last time I heard of this pitiful excuse for an ‘argument’, I concluded Plantinga was an idiot. I have seen no reason to reevaluate that conclusion.”

      His other stuff isn’t any better. He seems to be an graduate of the school that says “If you can’t dazzle ‘em with your brilliance, baffle ‘em with your bullshit.”

      I wrote him off about the same time I made it a personal crusade to encourage anyone referring to THE LIAR David Barton to always use his correct title, which is THE LIAR David Barton.

      • randomfactor

        Isn’t Plantinga’s argument easily applied to his own position? He’s arguing that illusions and mistaken ideas may accidentally have survival value (run away from the fluffy, pettable tiger kitty).

        So embrace the concept of the loving genocidal deity and you’re suddenly allowed to trust the validity of your everyday experiences?

        • MNb

          Since when does an apologist apply all arguments made against atheism, naturalism and materialism to his own positions? It’s this kind of intellectual dishonesty that has made my atheism more radical since I began to read apologists some five years ago. I know I’m not the only one.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Ditto. I do want to be a bit humble, both because indeed I don’t have it all figured out, and because it’s easier to back away from a moderate position than a dogmatic one when I make a mistake.

          Still, becoming a hard atheist becomes more and more tempting when I keep searching for solid apologetics and keep getting crap.

        • MNb

          So as an antidote I have asked a Dutch theologian which I have met in the virtual world more than five years ago and whom I always have respected to write down his views. The reason is obviously I want to apply my skepticism to myself as well.
          The search for an intellectually honest apologist continues.

    • MNb

      “He starts by pretending that mental illness, optical illusions, cognitive bias, and a variety of other well-documented phenomena don’t exist.”
      Do you have a reference for this, preferably on internet? If this is true Plantinga is an idiot indeed, even worse than WLC. It wouldn’t surprise me, as I have concluded that every single apologist in the end must become antiscientific one way or another. But it’s always nice to see this confirmed.

      • phantomreader42

        The bit about “our minds are reliable because jeebus” requires ignoring all the known and documented ways in which they aren’t perfectly reliable, along with the ways we’ve figured out to compensate for those issues.

        And my experience with apologists has lead me to the conclusion that apologetics is nothing more than a fancy way to say “lying for jesus”.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        That is the problem, isn’t it? If Plantinga argues that God made our minds perfect, he stumbles over the obvious fact that it’s not (I recently summarized a bunch of examples of our fallible brains here).

        But then if our minds are fallible, then what is he complaining about? Evolution is where you find things that work good enough but not perfectly.

        I suppose he’d be arguing that our brains are absolute crap, but of course evolution doesn’t say that.

  • JohnH2

    Nearly all of the comments appear to be missing the point, especially the ones that talk about mental illness etc. Nature selects actions that lead to survivability and couldn’t care less about the accuracy of the beliefs leading to the actions. I would have thought that this point would be blatantly and unmistakably obvious to a bunch of atheist living in a world populated with theists. Or that we live in a largely Newtonian universe instead of Aristotelian.

    The argument does suffer from problems of how does one believe in the argument in the first place if the argument is correct and at what point does it matter about the correctness of belief: one could postulate that science is all wrong about why and how things happen but science is primarily concerned with what happens; meaning that it doesn’t matter greatly if the why and how is wrong as long as the what is reproducible and reliable.

    So his Paul is easily selected for; Pauls beliefs can be way out of whack and Paul’s reasoning can be severely compromised all that is needed is that Paul’s actions lead to survival. Paul’s beliefs and reasoning only needs to be minimally accurate to allow for correct action other then that it is open to being utterly wrong.

    Physicists that think that perhaps the universe is not actually understandable by humans are now making Plantinga’s argument in a physics setting. There is no naturalistic reason to think that ones logic and ability to understand things is actually correct or that the universe is understandable: there is just reason to think that ones logic and ability to understand will aid in survival under the normal range of parameters to which ones species is exposed.

    • MNb

      “There is no naturalistic reason to think that ones logic and ability to understand things is actually correct or that the universe is understandable”
      If I understand Plantinga correctly (my compatriot Emanuel Rutten has argued along similar lines) he states that homo sapiens foster beliefs which actually are correct and that this fact needs explanation, which naturalism can’t provide, hence god.
      Which sounds in my ears quite like fine-tuning, ie a god of the gaps.

      • JohnH2

        It seems that without either a full knowledge of everything in the universe or without some way of determining that everything that can be known is and that this knowledge doesn’t cover everything in the universe that any argument for or against homo sapiens having true beliefs (especially outside of areas that impact survival) is based itself on a belief.

        Any Christian that is part of a sect which accepts the creeds who is making an argument for an understandable universe can only be doing so as an intellectual mercenary. Given the creeds the more natural position is that the universe is not understandable, meaning if that position becomes popular then expect arguments in favor of God because of the universe not being fully understandable.

        That said, I am a Mormon and so reject the creeds and explicitly believe based on revelation recorded in scripture that the universe is in principle understandable by humans. Using the belief that the universe is understandable to suggest the existence of God may be useful in some settings in order to get someone to seek a further knowledge of God; but for me the belief goes the other direction.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That said, I am a Mormon and so reject the creeds and explicitly believe based on revelation recorded in scripture that the universe is in principle understandable by humans.

          Why get revelation involved here? That sounds like arguing how many teeth a horse has instead of just going down to the paddock and looking inside a horse’s mouth.

          We ask ourselves, “Gee, I wonder if the universe is understandable?” and then we try to understand it. That’s how we find out what’s understandable. If science said one thing about reality and revelation another, then science would win (and I’ll bet “revelation” would gradually morph so that it agreed with science!).

        • JohnH2

          Bob;

          In this case I expect and have seen it go the other direction, where science thought things was probably one way and further observation moved its position closer to what revelation said.

          I agree we shouldn’t ever give up on trying to understand the universe; even if it doesn’t look understandable and it may be unclear to proceed.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          But then science is the final arbiter in all cases.

        • MNb

          “any argument for or against homo sapiens having true beliefs is based itself on a belief.”
          Typical apologist nonsense, based on an ambiguous meaning of the word belief. Two hundred years ago some people have developed something called the scientific method. That includes all kind of assumptions indeed. But it is simply a logical fallacy to equate them with relious beliefs.
          The difference is quite simple.
          A) a religious person can’t say a priori which observations would disprove his/her belief system. That’s exactly what revelations are about.
          B) every single scientist can tell you a priori which observations would disprove his/her assumptions. Example: if you manage to observe that in some obscure corner of our Universe gravity actually attracts instead of repels you’ll win the Nobel Price, will be mentioned in the same breath with Archimedes, Newton and Einstein exactly because we very well may have to abandon the assumption that the Universe is consistent and fully understandable indeed.

        • JohnH2

          Sorry if I was unclear. I am not talking about the assumptions that are behind a particular scientific theory, but about the assumptions that are behind science itself, such as the principle of induction and Occam’s razor for examples.

          What observation would lead you to rejecting induction from observation? What would lead to rejecting Occam’s razor and accepting a convoluted theory over a simpler one that also explains the facts?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I would have thought that this point would be blatantly and unmistakably obvious to a bunch of atheist living in a world populated with theists.

      I don’t know why you’re surprised. Atheists are all idiots. Why would they pick up on something obvious?

      So his Paul is easily selected for; Pauls beliefs can be way out of whack and Paul’s reasoning can be severely compromised all that is needed is that Paul’s actions lead to survival.

      I’m trying to figure out why you think my analysis is wrong, but all I’m reading here is a restatement of Plantinga’s argument.

      Physicists that think that perhaps the universe is not actually understandable by humans

      Physicists say that the Newtonian middle world that we live in is not understandable? I certainly haven’t heard that. Seems pretty understandable to me. This middle world is where evolutionary survival matters (like tigers) live.

  • Paul King

    Of course, te whole idea that beliefs as such are the direct product of evolution is silly. It is the mechanisms by which we acquire beliefs that evolve. If we consider just this basic point, Plantinga’s argument looks even sillier.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      We do have programming that hardwires us with some cause-and-effect beliefs, no? Instinct is pretty important in animals. I assume that we have some rules like this–maybe “loud noises are made by scary things.”

      • Paul King

        I don’t think that many instincts rise to the level of conscious belief. But fear of tigers is, I suppose, likely to be instinctive (and this is another problem for Plantinga).

        But here’s an example of what I mean. The ability to judge distance is obviously useful. So how do we deal with Plantinga’s idea of “Paul” reversing “near” and “far” with respect to the tiger? It seems obvious to me that judging distances would likely be a general ability applied in the same way to everything – because that’s the simplest way to do it. But Plantinga’s argument practically demands that tigers are a special case. How can this be considered likely ?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          A similar example is that of throwing a ball (mentioned to someone else recently). Which is likelier: that I actually am decent at judging the physics of ball throwing, or that I’m deluded–I think that I’m throwing a ball, but I’m not really.

          That everything works to give us our brains an good approximation of reality explains things pretty well.

  • staircaseghost

    “As an aside, let me admit that I have a hard time maintaining respect for those at the leading edge of philosophy.”

    Plantinga (retired) was never “at the leading edge of philosophy”. He was earl of a tiny backwater-within-a-backwater of the discipline, and his impact on the actual fields of e.g. epistemology and modal logic is essentially nonexistent.

    Shame you had to put up an otherwise beautiful sonata of a post and then end it with this little fart noise.

    • MNb

      With Swinburne Plantinga is at the leading edge of philosophy of religion. Chriss Hallquist has taught me that that is a rather ill-respected subdivision of philosophy – ill-respected by other philosophers.

    • Rayndeon

      I thought Plantinga made some decent headway in modality back when he was working in that area. He did a lot to try to vindicate the notion of de re modality.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      “those at the leading edge of philosophy” was meant to refer to whoever’s at the leading edge. I don’t have a good view of the whole field, so that’s an interesting data point that Plantinga is off in a corner somewhere.

    • Eric Sotnak

      One of the values of philosophy is that it reminds us that we often understand and can explain things less well than we may think (Socrates traded on this to the point where it got him killed). Plantinga, I think, is a very good philosopher who raises some good questions deserving of answers. He is done a disservice, I think, both by those who unreflectively agree that he has provided a disproof of naturalism and by those who unreflectively snort at the questions he asks, assuming that they are uninformed and trivially easy to answer. I happen to think his argument goes wrong in a number of ways, but it is still instructive (even, or maybe especially, apart from the religious implications). What are the details of how the human belief-forming system works? How well does it work? Why does it work as well (or as badly) as it does? How much of it is due to biology? How much of it is due to culture?
      And for those inclined to agree with Plantinga that there is a supernatural influence involved: How did God implement the design for reliable belief-formation? What specific neurophysiological fiats were necessary for God to cause so that humans would have generally reliable beliefs? Do animals have beliefs? If not, then how do they manage to navigate the world successfully? If so, then are their beliefs also divinely bolstered (so that lions regularly prey upon gazelles and not Rhinos or unoccupied motor-vehicles)?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        These are good questions, but I don’t think that Plantinga is bringing them to the attention of biologists or psychologists. I think they figured them out all by themselves.

        I don’t see Plantinga’s value here. He can’t answer the questions and he isn’t even the first to pose them.

        If I’m missing any validity in Plantinga’s Paul example, point it out. I don’t see it.

        To your final paragraph, I agree that “God did it!” explains nothing. It simply pats the believer on the head and assures him that he’s a good boy and has backed the right horse.

  • Ron

    On Darwin’s doubt…

    Plantinga has misinterpreted Darwin’s point. In his letter to William Graham (July 3rd, 1881), Darwin rejects the claim that the existence of natural laws implies purpose, and he expresses doubt only in the trustworthiness of such convictions of purpose. not naturalism itself.

    You would not probably expect any one fully to agree with you on so many abstruse subjects; and there are some points in your book which I cannot digest. The chief one is that the existence of so-called natural laws implies purpose. I cannot see this. Not to mention that many expect that the several great laws will some day be found to follow inevitably from some one single law, yet taking the laws as we now know them, and look at the moon, where the law of gravitation—and no doubt of the conservation of energy—of the atomic theory, &c. &c., hold good, and I cannot see that there is then necessarily any purpose. Would there be purpose if the lowest organisms alone, destitute of consciousness existed in the moon? But I have had no practice in abstract reasoning, and I may be all astray. Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance.* But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? [...]

    * The Duke of Argyll (‘Good Words,’ Ap. 1885, p. 244) has recorded a few words on this subject, spoken by my father in the last year of his life. “… in the course of that conversation I said to Mr. Darwin, with reference to some of his own remarkable works on the ‘Fertilisation of Orchids,’ and upon ‘The Earthworms,’ and various other observations he made of the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature—I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of mind. I shall never forget Mr. Darwin’s answer. He looked at me very hard and said, ‘Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,” and he shook his head vaguely, adding, “it seems to go away.’”

  • Greg G.

    Plantinga’s argument gets weirder the more I think about it. We are nowhere near omniscient so our intellect is limited, either by the contingencies of evolution or God’s plan to make just smart enough to condemned to Hell. Thus we can’t be sure we’re smart enough to know whether AP is right or even capable of being right. Appealing to God as the source of our limited intelligence doesn’t give us any reason to think it’s actually reliable in any way.

    However, evolution provides us an explanation for some reliability. Evolution works by inheritable factors that facilitates survivability and reproduction. A brain that can assess reality better will help with that survivability. The abilities to assess realities add up.

    Computers are better explained by evolutionary produced brains than imperfect handiwork of a maximally great god.

    • MNb

      “Plantinga’s argument gets weirder the more I think about it.”
      That’s how I feel as well.

  • erikcampano

    There are plenty of brilliant philosophers of science who know both disciplines very well. Plantinga is one of very few influential theist academic philosophers. Many of the rest would not make this argument, and some of their work is magnificent. He’s not representative.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I don’t know how well a philosopher can know physics if he’s not a physicist, but this may be a quibble.

      Are you arguing that philosophers are making important and relevant contributions to knowledge today?

      • erikcampano

        Sure. For example, in my undergraduate field of study, cognitive science, new technology and scientific discoveries have challenged old philosophical arguments about such topics as epistemology, consciousness, and free will. Philosophers examine the implications of this technology for the continuing dialogue that is Western philosophy, and often have to come up with novel responses to old questions, as well as new questions.

        It’s a quibble. Some people specialize in both fields. Physics and philosophy is indeed a dual major at Yale, for example, and many people continue onto Ph.D. programs linking the two fields. They’re required to have deep knowledge of both. There’s a lot of burning the midnight oil.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          such topics as epistemology, consciousness, and free will

          Sorry to put it bluntly, but why is this more than just mental masturbation?

          often have to come up with novel responses to old questions, as well as new questions.

          Like what?

          Let me hasten to say again that my poor regard for philosophy is due to being bludgeoned by silly arguments by philosophers like Wm. Lane Craig. He likes to pretend that he walks into a room of befuddled scientists, grappling with the problems at the edge of science, and says, “OK, fellas, the cavalry’s here.” And then (in this dream) the scientists breathe a sigh of relief when Craig pretends to answer questions that his discipline couldn’t even formulate.

          So maybe I just need to broaden my perspective.

          Are these useful responses and questions? Are they within science?

        • erikcampano

          As to why (or, indeed, whether) they are mental masturbation, I can’t answer that question, really. It sounds as if you have a distaste for philosophy. That’s normal. Some people do. I, personally, love the subject area. It’s made me, and a number of others I know, a better person. So the questions and responses have been useful; yes, I think so.

          What do you mean by, “within science?”

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          As a mental discipline, philosophy might be great. I’m focused on one narrow deliverable: What have philosophers done for me lately?

          I ask for “within science” because Wm. Lane Craig talks about plenty of stuff within science (time, what caused the Big Bang, and so on). If he wants to blather on outside of science, that’s fine. I’m wondering how much rationale he has to argue that he has something useful to contribute to science.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    I agree, as a Christian, that his argument is unconving, but I believe there is actually no way to really verify if the beliefs if proposed would have been compatible with evolution or not.

    But he clearly has the burden of proof.

    That said, people pretending to know that evolution most often select true beliefs are equally misguided.

    I believe that reductive materialism is false because there are many real things which are not identifcal with a bunch of interacting particles.

    Greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son
    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      people pretending to know that evolution most often select true beliefs are equally misguided.

      If we agree that evolution selects traits beneficial for survival, one easy way for a trait to benefit survival is for it to accurately reflect reality. Yes, we do have counterexamples. Religion may be a biggie.

      Is it likelier that I am tossing a ball with someone (and that I really have mastered the skill of catching a ball), or is it likelier that this is just a delusion and I’m really not catching the ball but just imagining it somehow?

  • Stephen Krogh

    Could you say a word or two regarding what pushing the frontier of human knowledge looks like? Cashing that out might help you (and your readers!) work through whether philosophy, or at least the top philosophers, are doing something of the sort.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Nothing much useful comes to mind, I’m afraid. I can only think of examples from science–the annual lists of the top cool discoveries science/math have made each year and so on.

      • Stephen Krogh

        It seems, then, that you’ve defined philosophy out of contention for pushing the frontiers. Maybe that’s justified, but regardless it seems that you shouldn’t wrestle with maintaining respect for those in a field that isn’t math or science given your answer here.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Part of the problem certainly is definitional. When I bring this up, someone will quickly point out that logic is useful, and logic is philosophy. Fair enough, which is why I ask, What have philosophers done for me lately?

          If I’m forgetting or ignoring important useful contributions philosophers make today, I need to be reminded of that. If the “important contributions” are largely providing a smokescreen to maintain a fiction that religion is viable, however, I don’t have much use for that.

        • Stephen Krogh

          It’s a fair question. When you ask whether something is doing something for you, what sorts of things do you have in mind? Obviously scientific advances fall before the transom, but do you think only scientific advances do? Perhaps the arts, or literature, poetry, or music offer some sort of knowledge, or at least serve as a gateway to a sort of knowledge?

          Also, you say that you’re not interested in contributions that are nothing more than smokescreens to legitimize religious belief. Do you think any attempt to legitimize religious belief is prima facie a smokescreen, i.e., it is beyond legitimization, or do you particularly object to weak or lazy attempts to legitimate religious belief?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, art, literature, etc. sounds good. I’m sure there are Top Ten lists in those fields, for example. So, back to the point: where is the Top Ten list for philosophical contributions each year?

          Maybe it’s a difference of opinion. I don’t know if Wm. Craig actually thinks that he’s doing good philosophy and breaking new ground. It all looks elementary to me, especially since most of his arguments is woven from quotes taken from scientists.

          This is the best they’ve got, and the arguments are no better than this? I hesitate to draw hard conclusions–I’d hate to be informed that I simply haven’t heard of this or that argument, which is certainly possible–but I have very little material supporting any respect for present-day leading-edge philosophy.