God is Real because our Brains are Reliable

God is Real Because Our Brains are Reliable (Jeff Cook)

Socrates said, “Philosophy begins with wonder” and nearly all human beings at all times have looked at the world around them and, given its beauties, powers, and complexities, asked if what they saw was designed by a mind for a purpose.

Whether you are a committed materialist, a believer in God, or something quite different—knowing why you come down where you do on this question is a mark of a good character, of a thoughtful soul, of a person who cares about what reality is like.

Last fall we consider the Top 10 reasons (in my opinion) for rejecting God-belief, and the first 6 reason for embracing belief in a God (which are listed here). We pick up this week with #4 on my list – The argument for God from the reliability of our brains.

CS Lewis, when considering the origin story offered by materialism, noted that the whole process leading to a human being is a series of unguided accidents. He then wrote, “I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.” (God in the Docks)

Noteworthy philosophers, like Alvin Plantinga, have gone much further with this argument (see Warrant and Proper Function. Oxford, 1993), but for our purposes this argument might look something like this:

(P1)  Our brains were either constructed by an undirected, material process or through the orchestration of a purposeful, reliable source.

(P2)  In order to know our brains are reliable they must have been created by a purposeful, reliable source.

(P3)  An undirected material process is not a reliable source.

(P4)  If our brains were constructed by an undirected, material process (materialism), we could not know that our brains are reliable.

(P5)  If we embrace materialism, nothing our brains deduce is reliable—including the truth of materialism itself.

(C1)  If materialism is true, we cannot reliably conclude that materialism is true.

(P6)  We can trust our brain’s reliability.

(C2)  Our brains must have been constructed by a purposeful, reliable source, and this source we call God.

If one feels the weight of doubt that comes from arguments like this and can philosophically accept and believe that there are strong reasons to doubt one’s own cognitive processes, then this argument establish an anomaly for materialism that cannot be resolved. The materialist view of the human brain itself undermines all evidence for materialism.

Our observations are not in question here. It is the story that gives our observations authority that is undercut.

Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can find him at www.everythingnew.org and @jeffvcook

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    Sadly, this argument falls down right at the start.

    (P1) Our brains were either constructed by an undirected, material process or through the orchestration of a purposeful, reliable source.

    This offers two alternatives but overlooks a third, that our brains were constructed by a directed material process. This process goes under the name ‘evolution’ and it is directed by a simple process that we might call ‘nothing succeeds like success’.

    But it does leave us with another question. Who created a universe in which evolution would be inevitable?

  • Dorfl

    Yes?

    If I cannot find my cellphone where I put it, I conclude that I must be misremembering where I put it – not that a ninja has snuck into my home and stolen it. If I reason that something should be true and observation shows it to be wrong, I conclude that my reasoning must be faulty – not that the observation is some sort of clever hoax. In short, I generally assume that my brain is not wholly reliable, and I assume most other people do the same.

    This assumption is also what one would make if we assume the brain to be a heuristic device created by evolution through mutation followed by some combination of natural selection and genetic drift. I don’t see how it’s reasonable to make that assumption if one assumes the brain to have been created by a perfect designer.

  • http://www.exit-25.com paul del signore

    Chris,
    our brains being constructed by ‘evolution’ is not a third option, evolution is either a process guided by intelligence, or unguided via random mutation. Our thoughts then, are either the result of something purposeful, or just responses from chemical activity. Jeff’s point is if it is the latter, then there is no trustworthy purpose of reliability to our thoughts.

  • Dorfl

    Paul,
    evolution is still directed by natural selection, even if it is not guided.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Paul, the problem lies with your use of the word random. The structure of matter, from atoms all the way to biological creatures, is highly dependent on the characteristics of numbers. Numbers create pattern, leading to order. A Non-linear dynamical system might appear random, but isn’t. But that does not mean it can be easily understood.

    Some general readings in Dynamical systems/Chaos theory, and Information Theory might be informative here.

  • John I.

    Chris, what do you mean by “directed”? In natural language the concept of “being directed” entails a goal; the concept is inherently teleological. Having a goal requires intentionality and intentionality entails a mind.

    There is no way that evolution can be described as “directed” without stretching that concept past the breaking point. If there is any meaning at all to “directed” when used in relation to evolution, it is not the same meaning as “directed” in relation to minds and intentionality. I suspect either a smuggling in of unwarranted concepts, a use of ambiguity or equivocation, or post hoc reading of directedness back into historical events–a begging of the question.

    Therefore, what is it that you mean by “directed” and how does that relate to the natural language concept of “directed” as I have described it above?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    (1) Chris. You wrote, “This offers two alternatives but overlooks a third, that our brains were constructed by a directed material process. This process goes under the name ‘evolution’.”

    If evolution is directed it would then fall under purposeful orchestration. If you are suggesting that this is how a material processes could make chemical machines like us, then this unguided.”

    I think the either or stands.

  • Jon G

    Chris and Dorfl –

    “evolution is still directed by natural selection, even if it is not guided.”

    I think the problem between your view and Jeff/Paul’s lies with the word “directed”. Jeff and Paul, it seems to me, are using the term to refer to a process that had a director…a person/thing that had a future goal in mind and guided events to achieve that goal. Whereas you two are using “directed” to mean “caused without any end goal in mind”. Evolution surely caused our minds to be the way they are, but that doesn’t mean Evolution conciously “directed” our minds to end up the way they are.

    It seems to me that you are misusing the term “directed” because, implicit in the term itself is the notion of a “director” – a concious agent who does the directing. Evolution doesn’t present a third option because it fails to fulfill the criteria for “director”.

    Natural Selection/Evolution/whatever doesn’t direct anything any more than gravity directs stones to fall towards the Earth. It may be the cause, but it isn’t “directed”.

  • Jon G

    oops, I didn’t see comments 5-7 before posting. Sorry for the redundancy…

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dorfl (2). You wrote, “In short, I generally assume that my brain is not wholly reliable, and I assume most other people do the same. This assumption is also what one would make if we assume the brain to be a heuristic device created by evolution through mutation followed by some combination of natural selection and genetic drift. I don’t see how it’s reasonable to make that assumption if one assumes the brain to have been created by a perfect designer.”

    I like your comment but may be misunderstanding it. Are you saying doubt is unavoidable in any system. My response would be, do you know this through your brain or by other means. It is a claim that seeks to be regarded as reliable, which invites the question: is the assessor of your claim known to be reliable? Which brings us back tot he argument at hand. Peace.

  • Dorfl

    Jon,
    Fair enough. English isn’t my first language, so to me it seemed that where ‘guiding’ would imply intention, ‘directing’ should simply mean “giving the tendency to change in some specific direction”.

    What I meant is in any case that evolution through mutation and natural selection would tend – in some fairly limited situations – cause lifeforms to develop increasingly sophisticated organs for modelling the external world. This would be a process with no conscious intent behind it, and the organs it would produce would not be perfect.

    Chris, if I understood him correctly, is pointing out that this is for all purposes relevant to the argument a ‘directed’ process, thus rendering step #1 invalid.

    I’m pointing out that our brains are not reliable, and that I’ve never seen anyone assume that they are except while constructing philosophical arguments based on the reliability of the human brain, thus rendering any such argument moot.

  • Morbert

    We have to be specific when it comes to what we mean by “reliable”. Our brains, for example, are very good at constructing predictive frameworks that grant us a reasonable degree of efficacy. We can identify, and adapt to, patterns in what we observe. This form of reliability is easily within the remit of evolutionary processes.

    This does not, however, mean evolution must be a teleological process (Paul del signore is tendering a false dichotomy in comment 3). Instead, guidance is in the form of selective pressures ensuring that only genetic material which contributes to the survivability of the individual endures. People with unreliable brains died.

    There is another, more academic definition of “reliable” pertaining to our ability to answer tired questions like “Are we merely brains in jars?”. In this regard, our brains are categorically unreliable. Similarly, Jeff Cook can never know that this statement is consistently true. That is another form of unreliability. But these forms are not relevant to the matter at hand.

  • Jon G

    Dorfl…thanks for the clarification, and congrats on your use of English. If it is a second language to you, I certainly couldn’t tell!

    I think the thrust of Jeff’s original argument really depends on whether or not we believe the process by which our minds were created was a purposeful one. To clarify, purposeful, directed, guided – these words all imply a metaphysical reality (let’s call it God) that had an end goal in mind. He’s simply saying that there are two choices that explain our current ability to think:
    (1) – materialism – we think because of an UNDIRECTED series of events
    (2) – metaphysicalism (something exists beyond the physical) – we think because something WANTED us to do so, therefore DIRECTED as series of events that gave us the ability to think

    Under (1), because the whole process is a fluke (not directed) we have no reason to trust our concious faculties…they’re there because they led to a higher survival rate, not because they are necessarily true. Under (2), we may not assure ourselves of truthful congnative faculties, but truth-seeking isn’t eliminated as an option altogether.

    Under Materialism, “Truth” does not even exist (it is a metaphysical claim), so claiming that our brains are truth-seeking is a non sequitor. At least under theism, we can ask whether or not our brains are truthful, even if we conclude that they aren’t.

  • http://www.exit-25.com paul del signore

    Perhaps if we liken this to a computer program, it might make more sense – at least to me :). A programmed function is written for a given purpose or objective guided by intelligence. If that program is self-run, then it is only ‘reliable’ within the means of the system itself.

    If our brains are the program, then the thoughts resulting are only reactions (responses) within the system. The reliability of those thoughts are subject to the self-assembling mutational patterns created within. But from a practical observational – reflection (can’t prove this scientifically), thoughts seem to function more like meta-information – transcending the system all together. We are ‘thinking’ about the system we are functioning in.

    If the thoughts are the result of the system, they are only as reliable as the system itself – no real purpose other then reactional responses. This then, as the argument outlines doesn’t give any credence to our observations. It is simply reactional, not reliable.

  • SSG

    Plantinga’s argument is more of an argument against naturalism than for theism. One of the points he makes is that for naturalists there is a significant problem with the content of our beliefs, what they are about, entering into a causal relationship with the physical world. If our beliefs are to affect the world it has to do so through their syntactical properties (structural/logical, as the 1s and 0s of a binary code can affect a computers output) and other physical properties, not their semantic properties(what they are about). But then natural selection is blind to semantic properties. But truth is based in the semantic properties of beliefs. So how can natural selection select for cognitive mechanisms that reliably produce true beliefs?

  • Dan Arnold

    Jeff,

    In (P1), based up on the two positions you juxtapose, it seems you assume material processes are inherently undirected. Now if by directed, you mean guided by an intelligent agent for a purpose, then I agree. However, you would need to justify that assumption. Can something be directed by other than an intelligent agent? If the process of natural selection is true, could survival itself provide that direction?

    Indeed, it does not take much to see that our brains are at least somewhat unreliable with a bent toward survival. When we are startled by something we think we see in the shadows walking home late at night that turns out to be nothing more than an owl in a tree, we see both the unreliability of our brains and the bent toward survival that natural selection still exerts on us. At a very primitive level, the brain is concerned about surviving and if what we saw turned out to be a mountain lion, our anxiety would be justified since our survival depends not on our physical strength, but on our ability to detect and evade dangerous predators. Mistaking an owl for lion has very limited consequences whereas the other way around has significant ramifications for our survival. So even if one’s brain is not wholly reliable, it is reliable enough to help with the survival of our group.

  • Dorfl

    Jeff,
    I’m saying that if we assume the human brain to have been created by evolution through mutation and natural selection, we would expect it to be reliable enough to pay back it’s own energy costs (and any other costs that go into producing a brain), but not necessarily much more than that. This is more or less what we find when we study human thought processes. We are prone to any number of cognitive errors, which psychologists still work hard on cataloguing. Science is to some extent the craft of working around our blind spots.

    A brain created by a benevolent God, on the other hand, could very well have been perfectly reliable. It’s certainly what we’d immediately expect. But I don’t know anyone who normally assumes the brain is so reliable.

    Also, since I think logic riddles are funny: Isn’t ‘my mind is unreliable’ a self-proving statement? Either it is true, in which case it is true. Or it is false, in which case my mind produced a falsehood, meaning that my mind is unreliable, in which case it is true anyway.

  • Rodney Reeves

    Jeff,

    Love the nod to “Homer.” Great picture to illustrate this discussion.

  • Dorfl

    Jon,

    Thanks :-)

    I think you’re letting the word ‘fluke’ carry along a lot of connotations that don’t really apply here. That our brains work as they may be a fluke in the sense that things could easily have ended up otherwise – if we had taken a different evolutionary pathway we might have had brains skilled at balancing on branches and eating fruit instead. But it is not a fluke in the sense that the contents of our minds are completely random – to have survival value the brain must have some ability to accurately model the external world.

    By the way, I think “accurately representing the external world”, should be a reasonably useful materialist definition of truth.

    In any case, that gives us some reason to trust our conscious faculties: if they hadn’t had some ability to produce truth they would not have given us a higher survival rate. But it also gives us a reason not to trust them too much, since there are probably a large number of situations where our brains aren’t very good at figuring out the truth – we might even systematically tend to reach falsehoods.

    This also matches experience: We manage to get along on a day-to-day basis, but in certain situations we predictably tend to behave in very silly ways. Psychology is the field that, among other things, tries to chart those situations so we can compensate for them.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    The outcome of an equation is “directed”. Now the outcome of an algorithm, where a formula refers to itself, is also directed. But given the right conditions, it is also unpredictable (chaos ensues). You can view evolution as ever so many algorithms, with ever-changing conditions, providing outcomes feeding back into the algorithm.

    The question here is whether the algorithms need an author, or could they arise by themselves? Well, some Creationists have tried to demonstrate this (notably Gitt, (mis-)using Shannon), but failed miserably.

    I do not think that this argument will work at all.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jeff,

    To the extent that I can understand Plantinga, yours is a great summary of his main argument. Thank you. And your concluding statement is crucial:
    “Our observations are not in question here. It is the story that gives our observations authority that is undercut.”

    Now, a glance at the responses reveals where the next set of misunderstandings will arise – how best to express God’s role in all of this wonderful, ongoing, dynamic, ever changing creation that we observe? Plantinga (hopefully somewhat tongue in cheek) sees God as maybe messing with a mutation or two. This won’t do. Are we to be looking for God’s fingerprints at all? How would we know when we find them? Is it enough to say he is making it all possible – possible for everything to be and to become – without fussing over finding his fingerprints?

    We remain largely in ignorance of how Spirit interacts with (influences) matter. In fact, we are just emerging from dualism, nominalism and essentialism where we wanted to separate Spirit and matter. Now that many believe they are intricately linked, we are tempted to jump too far ahead and insist on knowing how this works mechanistically – to look for God’s fingerprints is a good metaphor, IMO.

    If we, for example, look at the first step in photosynthesis, the life process that makes everything possible, we find four Manganese atoms and one Calcium atom at the centre of things. If inclined to search for God’s fingerprints (all five fingers) this is where I would look – not for Plantinga’s magic mutation. But, I am not so inclined and yet firmly believe that God created, creates and will continue to create and sustain it all – in the sense, if you like, of makes it all possible.

    I don’t have time right now to properly read all the comments, but look forward to doing so. Apologies to anyone I should have referenced.

    You are raising a crucial point here Jeff for all reasonable discussion of ID theory etc.

  • Paul

    Jeff,

    I would be curious to know, what are the big arguments against this proof? I seem to remember in previous posts you would say that your arguments fell apart when people did not agree with certain ideas. For those who do not start with the belief in God being possible, how would they see this proof?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dorfl (17). You wrote, “I’m saying that if we assume the human brain to have been created by evolution through mutation and natural selection, we would expect it to be reliable enough to pay back it’s own energy costs.”

    Not necessarily. If materialistic evolution is the true origin of the human brain, materialistic evolution itself is not “successful” because it produces “true” beliefs. It is successful because the brain gets our body parts in the right place at the right time to effectively pass on our DNA. Materialistic evolution can function with and without true beliefs. Some false beliefs–for example believing having unprotected success with as many people as possible is the best imaginable life–do an outstanding job at passing on our DNA, yet fail the truth test.

    You wrote, “Isn’t ‘my mind is unreliable’ a self-proving statement? Either it is true, in which case it is true. Or it is false, in which case my mind produced a falsehood, meaning that my mind is unreliable, in which case it is true anyway.”

    You mean if its true its false. Or if it is true then my mind actually is reliable?

  • Morbert

    Paul,

    While I don’t know if there are many who would say God is not possible, I will echo the objection a typical materialist would have with the proof: An unintelligent process (e.g. evolution) can produce an intelligent being with some level of reliable cognition. Premise 3 is rejected.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    SSG (15). You wrote, “One of the points Plantinga makes is that for naturalists there is a significant problem with the content of our beliefs, what they are about, entering into a causal relationship with the physical world.”

    I think this is spot on, and will be part of another argument later on. Though very well put in your comment!

  • Morbert

    Jeff (23),

    This is why I stressed the importance of a precise definition of reliable. Evolution can produce reliable brains if reliable is defined as “capable of constructing an understanding of phenomena that allow us to predict future phenomena”. It cannot produce reliable brains if reliable is defined as “Capable of knowing noumena.”

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Dorfl @17, Jeff @23 – this is also known as the Liar’s Paradox – “This sentence is false”. If it is false, it is true, and if it is true, it is false.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dan (16). You wrote, “In (P1), based up on the two positions you juxtapose, it seems you assume material processes are inherently undirected. Now if by directed, you mean guided by an intelligent agent for a purpose, then I agree. However, you would need to justify that assumption. Can something be directed by other than an intelligent agent? If the process of natural selection is true, could survival itself provide that direction?”

    Why the survival of carbon-based life? Carbon-based life itself ends up being something randomly spit out. If materialism is true, than evolution is a way that flukishly assembled DNA reproduces. There is no “intentionality” here, and I suppose that’s what I mean by direction.

    You wrote, “Even if one’s brain is not wholly reliable, it is reliable enough to help with the survival of our group.”

    True. On materialism, our brains have arisen because they are outstanding at replication. “Truth”, whatever we mean by that, is not their target. As such, given materialism, the brain has not arisen to discover the “truth” of materialism.

    In fact, we have good reasons to question our brains reliability, for our brains (as you stated) may be trying to replicate our DNA. Truth and what will lead to genetic replication, do not always line up. Our deductions may be held up as valuable/important/decisive–not because they are “true” (though our brains may tell us so), but because they have survival value.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klassie (20). You wrote, “You can view evolution as ever so many algorithms, with ever-changing conditions, providing outcomes feeding back into the algorithm.”

    Yes, but the outcomes are not directed. What gets spit out could be anything–including an unreliable brain.

    You wrote, “The question here is whether the algorithms need an author, or could they arise by themselves?”

    That’s not the question, as I see it. The question is whether materialism, because of its unpurposeful nature, undermines itself when we talk about the brain and its ability to assess the world around us.

    Peace!

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Bev (21). You wrote, “Are we to be looking for God’s fingerprints at all? How would we know when we find them? Is it enough to say he is making it all possible – possible for everything to be and to become – without fussing over finding his fingerprints?”

    I think if we assume theism and God’s foreknowledge, God could create the universe that would naturally lead to creatures like us, then he can breath into us his kind of life. I don’t think manipulating genetics is necessary if God has foreknowledge. God would simply know what would happen if he created a certain world.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jeff (30)

    Agreed. Or, if he set certain initial realities in place. But, there is also his ongoing care and the spiritual opposition working against what God wants. This is easy enough to see playing out in our own lives, but more difficulty (totally obscure?) with reference to the sustaining of creation – or, the ongoing battle and ultimate victory over chaos, confusion and non-purpose.

  • RJS

    Jeff,

    I don’t have time to get into this now – but I have to say I have never found this argument convincing, not the first time I heard or read it from Plantinga and not today. It strikes me a bit as saying that one pencil plus one pencil = two pencils because there is a God.

    Materialism only undermines itself when we talk about the brain and its ability to assess if there is no objective reality – on a very basic level. On a more fuzzy level the brain may be (and in fact we believe is) only somewhat reliable.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Paul (22). You wrote, “I would be curious to know, what are the big arguments against this proof? I seem to remember in previous posts you would say that your arguments fell apart when people did not agree with certain ideas. For those who do not start with the belief in God being possible, how would they see this proof?”

    Good question. I think you can just set it aside and say, “Its not important. I’m a materialist–should I stop trusting my brain?”

    You might go postmodern and say that the nature of truth is already suspect.

    Metaphysically you could move from materialism to idealism. If all I know is what is in my mind, then the physical reality is secondary.

    Those are a few ideas. Anyone else?

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff – well, I think then that you should rather use the word “guided”, instead of directed. Because I think that you assume non-directed is the same as random. But there is a very definite difference between random, and chaos, mathematically defined. Mathematical chaos is very definitely not randomness.

    Furthermore you said that the algorithms could have produced an unreliable brain, but there is no absolute reliable brain anyway, as others commented. What you could have said is a self-aware brain with formidable capacity of logical analysis, including of itself. Now whereas, paraphrasing you, the algorithms could have failed to produce such a brain, that doesn’t prove that they will always, and in every circumstance, fail to produce such a brain. Hence, your argument does not work as an attack on Materialism.

  • Dorfl

    Jeff, 23.

    “If materialistic evolution is the true origin of the human brain, materialistic evolution itself is not “successful” because it produces “true” beliefs. It is successful because the brain gets our body parts in the right place at the right time to effectively pass on our DNA.”

    I think the flaw in your reasoning lies here. For the brain to get our body parts to the right place at the right time it needs some sort of model of the external world which is at least partly accurate.

    To use an analogy: Imagine that I have a map, and that map allows me to find my way frow one end of a city to the other. You would then assume that the map at least partially reflects the physical layout of the actual city. You would not, I assume, say “All the map has to do is to get you to place your feet in the right places in the right sequence. I have no reason to think that it has any relation to the real city”. You’d realise that to work, the map must to some extent describe what the city actually looks like – even if it’s very simplified, and some parts may have been rebuilt since the map was made, and the “Here be dragons” scribbled in next to the national park is pure silliness.

    “You mean if its true its false. Or if it is true then my mind actually is reliable?”

    No, I mean if it’s false it’s true. If I claim my mind is unreliable and it is in fact unreliable, then the claim is true and my mind managed to get it right that time. If I claim my mind is unreliable and it is reliable, then I’ve proved it wasn’t reliable after all, so it’s true anyway.

    It’s not so much a liar paradox as a reverse catch-22.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    RJS (32). You wrote, “The argument strikes me a bit as saying that one pencil plus one pencil = two pencils because there is a God.”

    I feel like a better analogy for the argument is, “I wouldn’t trust that parachute if you think it was made as cheaply as possible by a handful of penguins.”

    You wrote, “Materialism only undermines itself when we talk about the brain and its ability to assess if there is no objective reality – on a very basic level.”

    I think this is wrong. Philosophically, there are many different beliefs that–if we actually held them–would make trusting our brain problematic (Descartes demon, the matrix, etc.)

    I’d argue its an assumption to think your that your brain is assessing the physical world in a reliable fashion at all. But Materialism–like believing in Descartes demon or the Matrix–gives you a good reason to think that odds of your cognitive faculties being reliable instruments for discovering “truth” are actually low.

    (Love your posts! Peace.)

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Mobert (24). In response to Premise 3 (“An undirected material process is not a reliable source.”), you wrote, “An unintelligent process (e.g. evolution) can produce an intelligent being with some level of reliable cognition. Premise 3 is rejected.

    It can, but it certainly can create subpar brains as well, ya? The question becomes, “how would you know which one it has created?” Well, you can’t assess your brain’s reliability with your suspect brain, and so the philosophy you assume is the only place you might find a foundation for trusting your brain. Materialism erodes that trust.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Mobert (26). “Reliability” is focused on whether the source is reliable in fashioning a tool. If the tool is being used to itself determine the reliability of the source of its manufacture then there is a circular problem. One must insert a presupposition. But let’s imagine we presuppose an unreliable source. Well then you would have reason to believe the tool faulty.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klassie (34). I’ll go with “guided”.

    You wrote, “Furthermore you said that the algorithms could have produced an unreliable brain, but there is no absolute reliable brain anyway, as others commented. What you could have said is a self-aware brain with formidable capacity of logical analysis, including of itself. Now whereas, paraphrasing you, the algorithms could have failed to produce such a brain, that doesn’t prove that they will always, and in every circumstance, fail to produce such a brain. Hence, your argument does not work as an attack on Materialism.”

    How would you respond to this: the target of an evolutionary process is the replication DNA not a reliable democratic government. If I say, “We should trust our democratic government because it is the natural bi-product of evolution”–how would you respond?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Klassie (34) Don’t know where that argument goes, just probing.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dorfl (35). You wrote, “I think the flaw in your reasoning lies here. For the brain to get our body parts to the right place at the right time it needs some sort of model of the external world which is at least partly accurate.”

    Let me assume that’s right. I can think of situations where the the non-accurate aspects cloud my judgment about myself and the nature of reality. As such, I don;t know which one’s are accurate and which one’s are not, and as such I can’t trust my brain on materialism.

    You wrote, “To use an analogy: Imagine that I have a map, and that map allows me to find my way frow one end of a city to the other. You would then assume that the map at least partially reflects the physical layout of the actual city. You would not, I assume, say “All the map has to do is to get you to place your feet in the right places in the right sequence. I have no reason to think that it has any relation to the real city”. You’d realise that to work, the map must to some extent describe what the city actually looks like – even if it’s very simplified, and some parts may have been rebuilt since the map was made, and the “Here be dragons” scribbled in next to the national park is pure silliness.”

    Okay. I think materialism would suggest that your brain is outstanding at replicating your DNA. There are instances in which false beliefs replicate your DNA in a more efficient manner than true beliefs. Knowing which those are would be impossible (and in fact evolutionarily de-advantageous). As such materialism gives you a good reason to not trust your brain.

  • RJS

    Jeff,

    No, I think the “cheaply as possible by a handful of penguins” idea is exactly wrong. That is not where materialism leads one and that, I think, is the fatal flaw with the argument. I used the one pencil plus one pencil = two pencils example because it is overly simple but precise. Evolution, from a material point of view, isn’t some fuzzy arbitrary processes. It is governed by concrete physical laws.

  • AHH

    Like RJS, this argument is unconvincing at best to me — has the same feel as the old one about imagining a great being and this being would be less great if it didn’t exist so God must exist.

    There is, of course, great survival value if creatures’ brains are able to grasp real truths about the world. So it is not unreasonable that natural selection could produce such a trait. [As a Christian I believe God is ultimately responsible for that, but to analyze the argument we'll bracket that off.] Yes, survival and knowing true things are not the same (and in fact there are some ways in which our brains are not very good at forming true beliefs), but there is certainly some correlation.

    This may be a good argument against an arrogant materialism that thinks it has its world view figured out with 100% certainty, because under materialism (or under Christian theism!) we have no reason to think our brains are perfect (or even nearly so) at figuring out truth.
    But it does nothing against a more humble materialism that recognizes the imperfectly reliable results of our judgments, including our judgments about materialism.
    Maybe another way of saying it is that Plantinga’s argument might work under Enlightenment epistemology, but not for one that has been refined by postmodern insights.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Jeff @ 39: It would depend, perversely somewhat, on my own self-interest, as well as the interest of my species, in how that specific process (Democratic government) further my and our survival & well-being. Not every evolutionary outcome is desirable – some species have evolved into extinction, because short-term gain became long-term loss, based on a multitude of factors. Of course, now that we are self-aware, and capable, we have the ability to question what arises naturally, and to examine it for desirability, to a greater extent than a non-self aware species.

    The development of Reason makes continual evolution just so much more interesting. For instance, I have argued that it is likely that we as humans would change less in future, because we can adapt our environment to our own needs so much more than any species, and thus we control our evolution (by and large, not absolutely) to stay within the envelope of our current characteristics. We have also made it unlikely then that another species could attain self awareness and advanced mental capabilities, since we control more and more of the natural outcomes ourselves. Unless, of course, we make the priority of developing a “companion species”, that is.

    You’ve also stated to Mobert

    “If the tool is being used to itself determine the reliability of the source of its manufacture then there is a circular problem. One must insert a presupposition. ”

    Sure. But define “reliability”. What we have hit upon, as humans, is experiment, and reason. We test our ideas. We look at consistency. Same as many animals (nest builders, for instance). We just take it much further. The outcome of the test modifies the idea – it is Bayesian in nature.

    As far as false beliefs go – Richard Dawkins came up with the “meme”. Memes can surely spread. And damage. Of course, he lists religious belief as one such meme. And even if you deny it, you are really at a loss at disproving it, since your efforts could just be another meme. So, in the end, you can only go with Reason, and data collection; and/or faith. But faith cannot disprove reason, or prove it, it can only transcend it.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    RJS (42). You wrote, “Evolution, from a material point of view, isn’t some fuzzy arbitrary processes. It is governed by concrete physical laws.”

    Yes, but what it is guided toward is also clear and its not reliable cognitive faculties that can discover the nature of reality.

    Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    RJS (42) That is, reliable cognitive faculties *may* be a bi-product, but that’s not the necessary target. Genetic replication is. We can imagine a world in which one’s cognitive faculties were severely limited yet highly successful in reproduction (see the beginning of the movie “Idiocracy”).

  • Dorfl

    Jeff, 41.

    “Let me assume that’s right. I can think of situations where the the non-accurate aspects cloud my judgment about myself and the nature of reality. As such, I don’t know which one’s are accurate and which one’s are not, and as such I can’t trust my brain on materialism.”

    Well, yes. That’s why we’re discussing it. If the human brain had been reliable, you’d have said “Dorfl, since I know your mind is reliable I know that what you say must be true”. But since neither of us has a highly reliable brain we have to bounce ideas back and forth and hope we can build a better approximation of the truth.

    “Okay. I think materialism would suggest that your brain is outstanding at replicating your DNA. There are instances in which false beliefs replicate your DNA in a more efficient manner than true beliefs.”

    Certainly. The fact that confidence tends to be attractive is probably at least part of the reason why we tend to see ourselves as being above average in most desirable traits, even though this is statistically impossible.

    “Knowing which those are would be impossible (and in fact evolutionarily de-advantageous).”

    I think you’re making a too strong assumption here. Remember that the brain mostly works by using several different heuristic algorithms. While one of them might get an incorrect answer, it can still be possible to work around it.

    For example, medical researchers use double-blind placebo-controlled studies to get around the cognitive biases that stop us from accurately judging whether a medicine is affecting a patient or not, even though our senses should be capable of supplying us with this information.

    Psychologists are also working on discovering what our cognitive biases are, and in which situations they apply, so it is apparently possible to do. But it is also quite difficult, probably for the reasons you point out. Hence the science of psychology tends to progress very slowly. If you want to read up on that kind of research, I’d recommend “Mistakes were made (but not by me)” as a starting point.

    “As such materialism gives you a good reason to not trust your brain.”

    Yep. That’s why I try to get a second opinion on reasonably important decisions. Since different biases tend to apply to other people than to ourselves, there is a decent chance they’ll point it out if I’m about to do something dumb that I’m unable to see is dumb.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Dorfl – exactly: Reason, Data, Critiques, Refinements – Repeat: Bayes Rules!

  • Mark

    The way Cook states the argument isn’t convincing to me but maybe I’m not totally getting it. The way Lewis states it is much more convincing to me in ‘The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism’, the 3rd chapter in ‘Miracles’.

    This is the way it makes sense to me. . .If we determined that all our actions are determined, that can only be because we are ‘determined’ to do so. If we determine that everything is not determined (and ‘determinism is actually true) we also only concluded this because we were determined to do so. There is only cause and effect under this framework and no ground and consequent type reasoning. All reasoning is an illusion b/c there is only cause and effect. The problem is that we used reasoning to come to the conclusion that determinism is true. But we couldn’t have done so under a deterministic framework. Thus, ‘The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism’.

  • SSG

    I tend to think that this argument is a much better argument against naturalism (especially strict naturalism, but any broader version as well that eschews mental causation) than it is an argument for theism. For natural selection can shape and mold and adapt our cognitive faculties only if the output of those faculties can “go bump in the world.” That is, as long as the truth or falsity of my beliefs affect my behavior, then it seems relatively plausible that, for the most part, natural selection can weed out bad belief-producing mechanisms. That is, if I flee from the tiger because I have a belief whose content is “that tiger will eat me” (that is, the content is at least partially causally relevant to my fleeing), then natural selection can favor cognitive faculties that produce more true beliefs than not. But, as Jaegwon Kim makes clear, mental causation is a massive problem for naturalists; our beliefs can only affect our actions based on their physical properties, not based on “what they are about.” So, insofar as the naturalist cannot account for mental causation, she seems to be very, very susceptible to Plantinga’s argument.

    The most hopeful response I have seen to Plantinga has been in the “causal theory of intentionality” a la Dretske. If intentionality can be be analyzed in terms of physical causality where effects can “indicate” (and therefore “be about”) their causes, then such indication mechanisms can be selected for by natural selection.

  • RJS

    Jeff,

    Genetic replication is a necessary target – it is not at all clear that it is the only necessary target or that it completely describes evolution. We can imagine a world where evolution has currently plateaued at the level of prokaryotes. This will satisfy gene replication just fine, but it does not explain the far more complex world in which we live. Why didn’t we plateau at prokaryotes? The prokaryotic cell is highly successful in reproduction yet its cognitive faculties are severely limited.

    The selfish gene is not the whole story. And I don’t have to move beyond materialism to make that statement.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    RJS (51). It feels like you are making my point. A brain that accurately assesses and describes reality is not necessary for genetic replication. Is one necessary for the evolution of beings like us? Many have quoted Darwin on this, “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?”

    What do you say?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jeff,

    I realize that I’m taking a somewhat different approach in my responses to this provocative proposal, but, it always seems important to focus to some extent at least on overall goals and raisons d’être.

    I have problems with the overall utility of this argument and perhaps with the underlying hope for the “proof”. Let’s assume that this is indeed a logical proof, accepted by all, that human beings cannot, on their own, conclude that God does not exist (or that materialism is correct). Of course, this is not the same as saying that we therefor must conclude that God does exist. We still must look outside ourselves for evidence for the existence of God – his self-revelation, faith, the work of the Holy Spirit. and indeed, this is what Jewish and Christians believers have been saying and doing for a long time.

    So, what about people who will not yield to the faith argument, who will not listen to God’s self-revelation or even consider such a possibility? They understand that, from this new proof, they cannot reasonably conclude that God does not exist or that materialism is correct – but they have no reason, apart from God’s self-revelation, to conclude he does exist. Since the proof also fails to give them reason to conclude that God is self-revealing, they don’t have to go there, logically. For them materialism is proven out of bounds but an alternative belief is not proven. Where does this leave them? Do they stop asking questions and looking for answers?

    I guess, in a sense, I see this as a kind of negative approach following on from the conclusion that the existence of God cannot be proven. Sort of a consolation prize. It does not appear to advance the Kingdom for it leaves firm unbelievers no better off and firm believers still reliant on faith and God’s self-revelation (not that this second situation is in any way a bad thing.) But then, I’m not a super fan of apologetics in any case, so this may explain my reaction. I certainly can’t be sure using this very unreliable thing between my ears. :)

    As you say,

    Peace

  • Mark

    RJS,

    Is materialism the same as determinism or naturalism for you?

  • Dan Arnold

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your response (#28), I appreciate your interaction. You said, “If materialism is true, than evolution is a way that flukishly assembled DNA reproduces. There is no ‘intentionality’ here, and I suppose that’s what I mean by direction.” A few thoughts:

    First, you seem to equate the natural selection with with arbitrary assemblages of molecules, but, as RJS has stated, that’s not quite how modern evolutionary theory sees it. Evolution *need* not be any less directed than the attraction between hydrogen and oxygen atoms. So while there need not be purpose or intentionality in this reaction, natural laws do direct the phenomena and this direction does not require a director.

    You also said, “Truth and what will lead to genetic replication, do not always line up. Our deductions may be held up as valuable/important/decisive–not because they are “true” (though our brains may tell us so), but because they have survival value.”

    Here, you seem to treat humans as autonomous individuals with isolated brains. However, humans have always been social animals. As Haidt notes, the one thing you will never see is two Chimpanzees helping each other carry an object too heavy for either one independently. Likewise, our cognitive abilities always exist within a social framework because they function within a linguistic community (cf. Wittgenstein). This social framework helps us weed out unreliable perceptions. In this social context, then, unreliability is weeded out in favor of the more reliable brains. There is an element of correction in the social process. Also, it points out that natural selection is not just about propagating one’s own genes, which could otherwise be done, as you mention, regardless of the reliability of one’s brain. Instead, it’s about the survival of the species, or at least our sub group. So both natural and social phenomena exist that help assure that the brain is adequately reliable.

    So far, nothing here requires a purposeful creator given the inadequate propositions (P1) and (P2), much less one that we might call God. I still would need a lot more convincing than simply in existential desire for purpose.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dorfl (47), Klassie (48). Dorfl wrote, “Medical researchers use double-blind placebo-controlled studies to get around the cognitive biases that stop us from accurately judging whether a medicine is affecting a patient or not, even though our senses should be capable of supplying us with this information.”

    If I assume theism it gives me a metaphysical reason to believe such scientific claims. Materialism does not. My brain may be deceived by giving “double-blind placebo-controlled studies” value. So too Klassie, “Reason, Data, Critiques, Refinements.”

    Dorfl wrote, “I try to get a second opinion on reasonably important decisions. Since different biases tend to apply to other people than to ourselves.”

    Again you are assessing such situations. Materialism gives you a good reason to be suspect about such assessments.

    We’re drifting far from the philosophical argument. I’d love to see in the reasoning outlined at the beginning where you find flaws in the argument. Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dorfl (47), Klassie (48). Dorfl wrote, “Medical researchers use double-blind placebo-controlled studies to get around the cognitive biases that stop us from accurately judging whether a medicine is affecting a patient or not, even though our senses should be capable of supplying us with this information.”

    If I assume theism it gives me a metaphysical reason to believe such scientific claims. Materialism does not. My brain may be deceived by giving “double-blind placebo-controlled studies” value. So too Klassie, “Reason, Data, Critiques, Refinements.”

    Dorfl wrote, “I try to get a second opinion on reasonably important decisions. Since different biases tend to apply to other people than to ourselves.”

    Again you are assessing such situations. Materialism gives you a good reason to be suspect about such assessments.

    We’re drifting far from the philosophical argument. I’d love to see in the reasoning outlined at the beginning where you find flaws in the argument. Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Mark (49). We’ll get to that argument soon. This one is different. Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dan (55). You wrote, “You seem to equate the natural selection with with arbitrary assemblages of molecules, but, as RJS has stated, that’s not quite how modern evolutionary theory sees it. Evolution *need* not be any less directed than the attraction between hydrogen and oxygen atoms. So while there need not be purpose or intentionality in this reaction, natural laws do direct the phenomena and this direction does not require a director.”

    Natural laws do not target an outcome. I suppose that’s my point. Brains that can understand the ontological nature of reality are not a necessary result of an evolutionary process.

    You wrote, “You seem to treat humans as autonomous individuals with isolated brains. However, humans have always been social animals. As Haidt notes, the one thing you will never see is two Chimpanzees helping each other carry an object too heavy for either one independently. Likewise, our cognitive abilities always exist within a social framework because they function within a linguistic community (cf. Wittgenstein). This social framework helps us weed out unreliable perceptions…”

    All of this presupposes you are understanding/interpreting reality in a reliable fashion, which is the primary problem at hand. The philosophy of materialism, if assumes, undermines such observations and such they do no count as evidence. Its like assume that you are in the matrix and talking of all your rich experiences. Well they no longer matter. That at least is the argument.

  • Dan Arnold

    Thanks Jeff, this is helpful.

    “Natural laws do not target an outcome. I suppose that’s my point. Brains that can understand the ontological nature of reality are not a necessary result of an evolutionary process.”

    On this I agree, as exemplified by the many brains, such as those of my cats, that do not ponder such things. But I’ve never heard anyone argue that we are a necessary product of evolution, only that we are a product of evolution. In other words, I’m not a determinist (nor a Calvinist) in this regard, in part because Chaos Theory and Quantum theory mitigate against it (at least as far as I understand both).

    “All of this presupposes you are understanding/interpreting reality in a reliable fashion, which is the primary problem at hand. The philosophy of materialism, if assumes, undermines such observations and such they do no count as evidence.”

    First off, supernatural philosophies have the exact same problem, as exemplified by Buddhism, Hinduism and some more dualistic forms of Christianity. All would say, to more or less an extent, that our perceptions are unreliable. However, your argument that materialism undermines all reliability depends heavily on (P1), (P2) and (P3), none of which are obvious starting assumptions, much less that their purposeful, reliable source is what we should call God. In fact, (P1) and (P2) border on assuming that there is a God (and a very particular kind of God at that) in order to prove that the only reliable way to know anything is if that God exists. That seems circular to me. (P3) seems to assume that material things are equal to the sum of their parts. Chemical reactions are undirected in the sense that we are using here (that there is no agent guiding them), but they are highly reliable. So why would a complex system of undirected, but highly reliable things not produce an adequately reliable brain?

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • RJS

    Jeff,

    I don’t think I am making your point – I think you are missing my point. The title of this post is that God is real because our brains are reliable. Our brains are (somewhat) reliable – but this doesn’t prove God. Why not? This is not a completely constructed argument (I still have to write tomorrow’s post):

    There is some realm of biological possibility. Biological possibility has distinct constraints (energetic, material, physical …), but also spans a broad space. Genetic replication accompanied by mutation (etc.) and natural selection explores the available space. One subspace within the space of possibility is organisms with reliable brains that allow them to understand and manipulate the physical world. Increasing sophistication in reliability occupies a smaller part of that space. It isn’t the only part of the biological possibility space, in most of the space cognition of the kind you seem to mean is irrelevant. Given enough time possibility space will be explored (some 4 billion years thus far). That we are in the part of the space that we are doesn’t prove that God exists, doesn’t require purpose. All it says is that there is a part of the space where reliable brains exist. Evolutionarily speaking there may be a “next step” where brains are even more reliable (and wiser).

    It doesn’t work for me as a proof of God because I think it misstates the problem.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Dan (60). You wrote, “First off, supernatural philosophies have the exact same problem, as exemplified by Buddhism, Hinduism and some more dualistic forms of Christianity. All would say, to more or less an extent, that our perceptions are unreliable.”

    Those may be good reasons to reject them as well.

    You wrote, “However, your argument that materialism undermines all reliability depends heavily on (P1), (P2) and (P3), none of which are obvious starting assumptions, much less that their purposeful, reliable source is what we should call God.”

    I think Premise 1 is the only assumption here. The other two strike me as (on the face of it) true. Regarding Premise 1 – what other options do you think are *really* worth considering?

    You wrote, “In fact, (P1) and (P2) border on assuming that there is a God (and a very particular kind of God at that) in order to prove that the only reliable way to know anything is if that God exists. That seems circular to me.”

    The only reliable way to know anything is if your brain itself is reliable, ya? And that’s where the argument goes…

    You wrote, “(P3) seems to assume that material things are equal to the sum of their parts. Chemical reactions are undirected in the sense that we are using here (that there is no agent guiding them), but they are highly reliable. So why would a complex system of undirected, but highly reliable things not produce an adequately reliable brain?”

    I suppose, I’d like to see more on reliability here. It doesn’t seem to me that unguided material motion is trustworthy. Peace!

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    RJS (61). I won’t call anyone irrational for not being moved by this argument. I don’t think any of the arguments for God-belief are decisive, including this one, for a reason:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/07/30/jeff-cook-wanting-god-to-exist-is-more-important-than/

    And I’ve enjoyed your comments a great deal.

    You wrote, “Given enough time possibility space will be explored (some 4 billion years thus far). That we are in the part of the space that we are doesn’t prove that God exists, doesn’t require purpose. All it says is that there is a part of the space where reliable brains exist.”

    First, it seems to me you can’t possibly “know” that their are reliable brains in our universe. That seems to be a non-empirical argument. You’d be arguing from probability.

    Second, if you grant this large sweeping space of non-reliable brains that actually would confirm my point. The probability of your brain being reliable, given materialism, is low or (as Plantinga says) inscrutable.

    I think the best way around this argument is to assume your brain is reliable, admit you have no reason for the assumption, and then say your best guess at the nature of reality is materialistic. Then bite the bullet and say, I have no reason to trust my brain, but what else can I do?

    Anyway. Much love!

  • Mark

    Thanks Jeff. I was confused about this argument I guess. I really do want to believe in God very badly but at least at this point I have an emotional need for positivist arguments.

  • Mark

    . . .even though I’m quite convinced they don’t exist. . .so I wallow in doubt a lot.

  • RJS

    Jeff,

    I’m still not sure you understand my point. It is not that the probability of our brain being reliable is low – rather that it is inevitable that there will be some organism with a reliable brain. We are us because of where we are in that biological realm of possibility.

    Think of the search algorithm of evolution rather like water filling a lake bed. It is inevitable that every nook and cranny below a certain elevation (the constraint) will be filled once the water has time to get there, even if most of the water isn’t in any particular place. (This isn’t a perfect analogy, but may give some of my point.)

    This is why I am not convinced by the argument that we know God exists because our brains are reliable. Couldn’t we just say that we know there is a region of biological possibility that leads to reliable brains because our brains are reliable? No reason here to invoke God. And there is no reason, given what we understand about evolution, which goes beyond the selfish gene, that such a region of biological possibility is improbable.

    So to the argument in the OP:

    P2, P3, P4, and P5 are all, it seems to me, unwise statements.

    P2 presupposes the result and has embedded in it a misunderstanding about the suggested nature of evolution. That is – the defense of (P2) and (P3) on which the rest sits requires a discussion of evolution that seems to me to be wrong.

    (P2) In order to know our brains are reliable they must have been created by a reliable source.

    (no need to introduce purposeful)

    (P3) An undirected material process is a reliable source.

    (Because it is in response to a material reality that behaves according to real laws (whether we know them or not). A ball reliably falls down a hill, negative and positive charges attract, …)

    This isn’t a proof that God isn’t real because God is also a reliable source. An undirected material process is not the only reliable source.

    (P6) We can trust our brain’s reliability (to an extent).

    Many corollaries we can draw here …

  • RJS

    Jeff, Oh and I find many of your other arguments far more convincing.

  • Luke Wassink

    A question about the structure of the argument: It seems that P4 should really be a conclusion. It follows directly from P1 – P3 but does not add a new, independent assumption. Then it seems that P5 and C1 are just restating/working out fairly clear consequences of P4. I would remove C1 completely, and relabel P5 as C2. Than P6 would become P4 and and C2 would become C3. The structure would be: P1 P2 P3 C1 C2 P4 C3. Obviously some of this is pedantic, but at least the distinction between premise and conclusion is worth clarifying. I have no formal philosophical training. Am I missing something?

  • Dorfl

    Jeff, 56

    “We’re drifting far from the philosophical argument. I’d love to see in the reasoning outlined at the beginning where you find flaws in the argument. Peace.”

    All right:

    1. If the human brain is a product of evolution through mutation followed by natural selection and genetic drift, then we would expect the human brain not to be reliable. It would be expected to be reliable enough to deal with the external world well enough to pay back it’s ‘production costs’ to the body, but it would not be ‘Reliable’ in any absolute sense.

    2. That is precisely what we see: Both everyday experience and systematic studies of human psychology indicate that the human brain is very far from reliable. We have any number of cognitive biases and outright blind spots. Unless, of course, everyday experience and systematic study have both produced completely incorrect results, in which case the human brain must be quite unreliable anyway.

    3. So the theory of evolution just made a correct prediction. Well done ToE.

    On the other hand, a theory that did predict that the human brain should be reliable would be in a lot of trouble, since it is predicting something that obviously isn’t the case. In your argument, you describe theism as such a theory.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    RJS (66) I love our discussion. I’ll wrap up here and I will actually be much more curious what you have to say on my post for thursday!

    You wrote, “It is not that the probability of our brain being reliable is low – rather that it is inevitable that there will be some organism with a reliable brain. We are us because of where we are in that biological realm of possibility.”

    Let me back up and again say, the argument is not about what we observe but the philosophical preconditions for our observations being accurate/reliable/truth-exposing/etc.

    If I actually believe that I am in the Matrix, none of my observations matter. My philosophy undercuts all empircal experience. Buddhism and Descartes demon philosophy have the same issue. If they are true, noting we experience is reliable including the philosophy itself.

    In the same way, if I think that the vast majority of living things in our universe will have unreliable brains that means my brain is vastly likely to be unreliable when it tells me about the majority of living things.As such, I ought not trust those tools that are vastly likely not to be accurate. Materialism as such is a self-defeating position. That’s the argument. Notice ho it affects the rest of what you say:

    You wrote, “Think of the search algorithm of evolution rather like water filling a lake bed. It is inevitable that every nook and cranny below a certain elevation (the constraint) will be filled once the water has time to get there, even if most of the water isn’t in any particular place. (This isn’t a perfect analogy, but may give some of my point.)”

    On materialism, you are describing the mechanics of evolution with your suspect brain. That’s the problem. Why should I trust a brain that the materialistic philosophy has clearly shown to be suspect when it tells me about anything. The philosophy of materialistic evolution itself has destroyed *every possible* empirical observation.

    You wrote, “This is why I am not convinced by the argument that we know God exists because our brains are reliable. Couldn’t we just say that we know there is a region of biological possibility that leads to reliable brains because our brains are reliable?”

    On a different note, you wrote in the same way “it is inevitable that there will be some organism with a reliable brain.” I don’t think you could possibly “know” this. This is a best guess at best ya?

    You wrote, “P2 presupposes the result and has embedded in it a misunderstanding about the suggested nature of evolution. That is – the defense of (P2) and (P3) on which the rest sits requires a discussion of evolution that seems to me to be wrong. … (Because it is in response to a material reality that behaves according to real laws (whether we know them or not). A ball reliably falls down a hill, negative and positive charges attract, …)

    This is where purposeful is important in my mind. Laws do not care about creating brains that can discover “truth.”The laws lead to the survival and procreation. I’ll grant evolution reliably produces that, but our brains ability to accurately assess the metaphysicla nature of reality is not something evolution need be concerned with.

    Last word? Much love.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    Luke (68). Ya. Good! I have been looking at that over and over and have felt I am not formulating the ideas well. Thank you!

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    Dorfl (69). I think you are proving the point of the argument. It feels like you have entered a self-defeating room here. If materialistic evolution is true, then it can’t be known to be true because it creates brains who’s reliability is suspect.

    Peace.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    RJS (66). One last one. My computer is acting funny. Lots of typos because of it. My apologies!

  • Dorfl

    Jeff, 72

    I understand that since you are a single person trying to respond to several different people in a short amount of time, but please take the time to reread my arguments again. The point I’m making is simply this:

    If materialistic evolution is true, then the human brain is unreliable. If materialistic evolution is not true, then the human brain is unreliable anyway. It’s simply an observational fact that human brains are not very reliable.

    That’s the basic problem with your argument: you are trying to make a reductio ad absurdum of materialistic evolution, but the absurdum that you’re trying to reduce it to is something already known to be true.

  • http://www.everything.org Jeff Cook

    Dorfl (74) You wrote, “If materialistic evolution is true, then the human brain is unreliable.”

    Agreed.

    You wrote, “If materialistic evolution is not true, then the human brain is unreliable anyway. It’s simply an observational fact that human brains are not very reliable.”

    Not necessarily. Just because something make mistakes sometimes doesn’t mean it is wholly unreliable. I may be willing to say if you deny the reliability of your brain, I have nothing else to say to you. The arguments you are making seem self refuting. You are using your suspect brain, then, to prove a point. It seems to me, you are sawing the limb out from under yourself.

    Peace!

  • Morbert

    Jeff (37 + 38),

    This sounds like the old “How do we know we are not in the matrix?” question. It is well recognised that our brains are unreliable in this regard (I have said as much in this thread). Our understanding of the world is ultimately inductive, and rests on axioms that may or may not be true.

    However, none of this saves premise 3. There is nothing which would prohibit evolution from producing reliable brains, even if we cannot show it necessarily does.

  • RJS

    Jeff,

    One of your postulates was that our brains are reliable. If our brains are reliable then there is either a God or a region of the biological space that leads “naturally” to reliable brains. Neither conclusion can be ruled out.

    Your argument about improbability is flawed if the space is in fact filled. Assume there are 1 million people and 1 million lottery tickets, only one of which is a winner. Each person has one ticket. The odds that any person will be a winner is very low, but the probability that one person will be a winner is unity – a guarantee.

    To undercut the premise of this post as an argument for God I don’t have to prove that any alternative is true, only that there is an alternative that could be true.

    And of course if our brains are not reliable – well then anything goes. Then neither of us knows anything (reliably).

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    “To undercut the premise of this post as an argument for God I don’t have to prove that any alternative is true, only that there is an alternative that could be true.”

    Exactly.

  • Dorfl

    Jeff, 75

    “Just because something make mistakes sometimes doesn’t mean it is wholly unreliable.”

    Not wholly unreliable, but fairly unreliable. Which is what you would expect for a brain formed by natural selection.

    You seem to be expecting a brain formed by natural selection to be entirely unreliable, though, which – as other commenters have pointed out – is a fairly random assumption to make.

    “I may be willing to say if you deny the reliability of your brain, I have nothing else to say to you.”

    The reason we’re communicating with each other in the first place is that we know our brains aren’t very reliable, so by checking our conclusions against each other we can reach a higher degree of certainty than we could working on our own.


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