Can we be rational evolutionary naturalists?

Alvin Plantiga, a Christian philosopher, claims that we can’t rationally be evolutionary naturalists. He says “one can’t rationally accept both evolution and naturalism” because it “leads to the conclusion that our cognitive or belief-producing faculties—memory, perception, logical insight, etc.—are unreliable and cannot be trusted to produce a preponderance of true beliefs over false.”

In other words, since our cognitive faculties developed pragmatically, we don’t know whether we can trust them. So his argument appears to be:

  1. If evolutionary naturalism is true, our brains might be unreliable since they evolved pragmatically.
  2. If we’re not sure we can trust our brains, then we have no way of knowing what is true.
  3. Therefore, evolutionary naturalism is not rational.

The problem is proposition two and thus the conclusion of proposition three. Instead of concluding “evolutionary naturalism is not rational,” we first need to ask “Can we trust our brains to know truth?”

Both naturalism and theism presuppose our minds can be trusted in some way. Theism presupposes it because God created them. Naturalism presupposes it because we’ve survived.

As we questioned and tested ourselves, we quickly realized that in fact our faculties cannot be trusted. Our eyes can be fooled. So can our ears. And so can our brains, which why is there are cognitive illusions. This is what we would expect if our cognitive faculties evolved, instead of being crafted perfectly by a supernatural being.

Here’s an example of a cognitive illusion that Sam Harris uses in The End of Faith: If it were possible to fold a piece of paper over itself one hundred times, how thick would it be at the final fold? As thick as a book? As thick as a tree? The answer is as thick as the known universe. No, we can’t trust our minds all the time, which is why we turn to the sciences (in this case, math) to test if our minds are accurate.

But usually, we can trust our faculties. That is why we are alive. Yes, they evolved practically, but being practical meant they had to give us fairly accurate information — otherwise we would die.

So perhaps the argument should go something like this instead:

  1. If evolutionary naturalism is true, our brains might be unreliable since they evolved pragmatically.
  2. After testing ourselves, we realized that in fact our brains are susceptible to error, which is what we would expect if they evolved.
  3. Therefore, evolutionary naturalism might be true.

In the end, I don’t think naturalism can be disproved or proved by philosophical word games, any more than Christianity can be proved or disproved by them. Instead, we must follow the evidence.

I think the evidence points towards evolution and naturalism. I am unaware of any evidence that nature is guided by any kind of supernatural being. People have endlessly asserted that specific things happen because of divine intervention, and science has endlessly refuted it. The “god of the gaps” gets smaller every day with new discoveries. In the absence of evidence for a god or miracles, evolutionary naturalism seems like the only rational thing to believe.

(via STR)

  • http://thinkingforfree.blogspot.com Eamon Knight

    These apologists seem to be hung up on the quest for absolute TRVTH a la Plato or something; anything less somehow just doesn’t count. In fact, we get along fine most of the time with an approximate, merely usually-reliable, work-a-day “truth”. Even casual reading in the field of perception and cognitive psych is enough to show that in no way do we perceive reality “as it really is” — rather our senses and brain synthesize a representation of the external world for us as best they can (hence as you point out, our vulnerability to many sorts of illusion, when the assumptions on which the synthesis computations are based are violated by the input data).

    Which is exactly what one would expect from a perceptual/cognitive system cobbled together one piece at a time, by a process with a significant stochastic component, in reponse to proximate needs only, over a period of hundreds of millions of years.

    How do Plantinga & Co. deal with the existence of illusions — and even with full-blown delusional disorders? Why does my (presumably sane) mind perceive TRVTH, but the mind of a schizophrenic perceives a world significantly at variance with reality? Or normally-sane people under the influence of certain chemicals (or even just sleep-deprivation)? Or many of the elderly? (Eg. my mother during her last few years).

  • Jonboy

    Great post! This is incredibly interesting.

    The first thing that comes into my head as a problem with your assertion about the reasonableness of evolutionary naturalism (and right now the only thing) is the weakness of its conclusion, that evolutionary naturalism might be true.

    The argument appears entirely sound (to me) but if all we are to do is assert things which *might* be true then we have left a considerable field of possibilities. For example:

    1. If Christianity is true, our brains might be unreliable since they were corrupted in the fall of mankind.
    2. After testing ourselves, we realized that in fact our brains are susceptible to error.
    3. Therefore, Christianity might be true.

    This seems to be the principle problem with your assertion: as long as any explanation can be made for why our brains are unreliable, the possibilities that produce that explanation are equally supported.

    As a revision to Plantiga I think it has some merit, although I am not terribly familiar with the connection between rationality and Truth in traditional philosophy. Barring the things I don’t know about philosophy your statement seems at once more reasonable and much weaker. Hopefully some real philosophy nuts will come leave comments and I’ll learn something.

    Really great post Daniel! Thanks for putting this stuff out for discussion!

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @Jonboy: Thanks!

    I agree with you about the “might be true” part, which is why I said, “I don’t think naturalism can be disproved or proved by philosophical word games, any more than Christianity can be proved or disproved by them. Instead, we must follow the evidence.”

    We can prove many things with philosophical deduction that are not true, and I wouldn’t want to prove naturalism based on a logical syllogism — nor anything else.

  • trj

    It appears to me that the disjunction between true reality and perceived reality for most practical purposes doesn’t really matter. While it’s an undeniable fact, using it in a philosophical argument to justify one’s assertions concerning reality is kind of self-defeating.

    If you really are serious about this cognitive gap you should take it all the way and descend into pure solipsism. You can’t truly know anything outside your own mind. Neither can you know anything truly about yourself. And for that matter you can’t know that the universe didn’t come into being fully formed a second ago.

    At some point you just have to say it’s “good enough”. I trust my senses to give me a sufficiently authentic interpretation of true reality in my daily life. While it is in the nature of things that I can never prove anything 100 percent, I’m okay with that.

    In my experience, when people resort to this argument they are either out of good points or they had a lot of beers.

  • http://fglg.wordpress.com maikeru76

    Hmmmm,

    As former Christian, well, reason can be faulty. That’s why Theists ‘justifiably’ ‘fill in the blanks’ with faith or some dusty, ancient theory to cover up most of what we cannot fathom…

    Being a rationalist is being a pragmatist. If faith, creed, or life-philosophy works for someone, it should not be construed that it would work for everyone.

    Is being a rationalist a life-philosophy or religion, in itself like atheism as some ahem Theists would like to label those who negate the God concept?

  • http://www.wazzasworthlesswitterings.blogspot.com wazza

    while individual minds can be deceived, lots of minds working together can each compensate for the individual mind’s failings

    which is why we use a scientific consensus and peer review rather than trusting one person’s findings

  • bombasticjones

    I get impatient with people who attempt to prove or disprove a religion, namely Christianity, with scientific reasoning. Science deals with the natural world in rational terms. Religion used to serve this purpose, although they used irrational terms rather than rational. With the rise in prominence in science in the last 200 years or so, rational observation has replaced religious explanations.

    I realize that this doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the post. I’m getting to the point.

    One cannot use a word argument to convincingly prove either point, as has been so eloquently described above. Now one can describe evidence to support evolutionary naturalism. But one cannot use holes in the support for the “opposing” argument here in order to prove that there is a creator.

    I use quotation marks around opposing in the previous paragraph because I don’t think that the idea that the world evolved and the idea of a creator are mutually exclusive. A Christian scientist seeks to explain God’s creation. An atheistic scientist seeks to explain the way that the natural world works. Assume that the natural world was created by a “God,” and the two scientists are exploring the same field. Neither scientist can say that his findings prove or disprove the existence of God, due to the fact that they both are using the same evidence, interpreted different ways. It means the same thing about the world, but it can’t speak about the nature or presence of god.

    I myself am disillusioned by the Church and fundamentalists who insist on denying the facts that point toward evolution, and insist upon harping on the holes that exist in the field, insisting that these gaps in knowledge prove that the entire theory is bunk. Evolution as a theory is less than 100 years old (I think). In that short of time, science can’t have discovered all of the secrets of the history of the Earth, all of the billions of years that it covers.

    I can’t turn to science when I consider religion. I consider myself a Christian, and my reasoning for this is simple:

    1. If what Jesus said is true, and he is the only way into heaven (assuming here that it exists), then if I follow his teachings, which aren’t all that extreme in the first place, I will go to heaven.

    2. If what Jesus said is true, and I don’t follow his teachings, then I’m not in that good of a situation.

    3. If what Jesus said is false, and there is no afterlife, I’m not any worse off for following his teachings, which again, aren’t all that bad.

    I’m just hedging my bets just in case it’s true.

    I hope I didn’t get too off topic for all of you.

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @bombasticjones: But how do you know what Jesus really said? Do you really think that anonymous books (except for Luke) written many decades after his death, which we know have been modified, can be trusted? Don’t you have to turn to science to determine that? If so, then isn’t your evaluation of religion based on science?

  • VorJack

    @bombasticjones -

    “Evolution as a theory is less than 100 years old (I think). ”

    Depends on how you define it. Darwin published ~1859, but it’s come a long way since. I’d say that the theory was “born again” in the early part of the 20th Century with the neo-darwinian synthesis, so it’s fair to say that it’s less than a century old.

    “3. If what Jesus said is false, and there is no afterlife, I’m not any worse off for following his teachings, which again, aren’t all that bad.”

    I just hope, for your sake, that Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Pure Lands Buddhism, etc. aren’t correct. If one of them is, we’re both gonna wind up in the same place, but I’ve had my Sundays free.

  • http://5acrefarmer.wordpress.com/ 5acrefarmer

    If. If this and if that. If if if.
    If only one of the many and various gods out there would just show up and tell us the truth once and for all.
    And not a prophet, incarnation, son, disciple or any other form of spokesperson or religious teacher/leader.
    The one thing all religions and faiths have in common is no actual god. (Which might then lead into a lot of butting, but this and but that!)

    Great blog.

    PS. Why do so many debate creation verses evolution anyway? Disproving evolution does not prove god. Proving god proves god.

    Cheers, Ian

  • http://wolfsden.wordpress.com Lone Wolf

    That guy is an idiot. Evolution and naturalism does not tell us that our brains are flawed and that we can not know whats true, reason and logic does. He believes his religion to be some kind of “truth” yet the vast majority of people in the world disagree with him, Christens can’t even agree with version of Christianity is the right one and through out the vast majority of history people worshiped many gods so if his religion is some king of “truth” then logic and reason tells us that humans and our brains are flawed and that we can not know what is true .

    Of course this argument was not deigned to prove to an atheist that a god exists, it was designed to strengthen the faith of Christens and for some reason many theists can’t seem understand that an argument that strengthens there faith does not prove there beliefs.

    • AnonymousAtheist18

      WTF is a Christen??

  • Daddio

    Right now I’m eating beef ribs that have been slowly cooked for 7 hours. I’ve smothered them in a dry-rub that is sweet and savory…really my favorite. The ribs break apart hardly without a pull. The juice is running all over my face. Clearly my keyboard is going to need a major immersion cleaning. Like I care. I’m taking a strong chug of my favorite beer and letting it wash on to my shirt…and…and…oh why do I go through all of this with all of you anyway…after all, this isn’t really happening…it’s only a cognitive illusion and you got to share my happy thought.

    The cool thing is that I’m not really fat, and I’m not really going to die early, and my cholesterol level is really only at 23 and….”What’s that dear?”…Sorry folks…I gotta run and do some dishes for the wife…I really wish the dirty kitchen was just a mental image.

    I’m starting to like faith a lot more than these games we play with science. Since the writer is kind of lean towards-evolutionist and a lean towards-naturalist…I think I’m beginning to like my insane-asylum-mental-ward-world of faith where I get to make my own society. In fact…if I spend to much time in my mental ward God could step in and say, “I am God…ask me to do three things to prove that I am God.” If God did those things, could I even trust my own judgment? Hmmmm…

    This kind of thinking is making me mentally drunk. In fact I probably couldn’t recognize evidence for God if it hit me in the face with a two-by-four. Seems like I need faith inside my private asylum, and faith outside in the hard world of hard science and hard evidence. I gotta get off this road before I hit someone because I’m DUI in the noggin. Maybe someone has better cognitive grip on reality than I do.

  • bombasticjones

    @Daniel – They’re not going to be entirely accurate. That’s not the point. It’s the idea of someone coming to save us from ourselves that really is important.

    @VorJak – Well, I had to choose one. (Hinduism doesn’t really count, since they believe that there is no one right way.) With this one, I don’t have to sacrifice any animals or pray five times a day.

    Really, It’s a matter of personal preference. I’m not going to spout anything else about the afterlife. If I’m right, yay, and if I’m wrong, oops. I’ve made my choice, you’ve made yours. I respect you for your choice, and all I ask is that you respect me for mine.

  • bombasticjones

    @VorJak – oh, and thanks for clarifying my earlier statement. I’m not really an expert on the history of evolutionary theory.

  • VorJack

    Daddio – “…after all, this isn’t really happening…”

    Just as well. Seven hours is far to long for something like ribs. You might as well apply a dry rub to a naugahyde couch at that point.

    bombasticjones – “It’s the idea of someone coming to save us from ourselves that really is important.”

    This whole outsourcing thing has gotten out of hand. Used to be that you could save yourself around here, now you’ve got to contract out to some middle easterner.

    “Really, It’s a matter of personal preference. ”

    Fair enough, as long as you admit it. Just to point out, though, holding up your personal preference for all to see is basically an invitation to have it criticized. Holding up a personal preference on the blog of someone who has made a very different decision is just asking for an argument.

    … and with that in mind: please choose something other that Pacal’s Wager. Just about every philosopher in creation has ripped it apart by now.

    And with that, I leave you with Pierce R. Butler’s contribution to a classic, via Greta Christina:

    [sing to the tune of "Gimme That Old Time Religion"]

    Let us worship all the gods
    Some are dudes, and some are broads
    Pascal says that gives great odds
    And that’s good enough for me!

    [http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2008/09/old-time-religion-and-the-winner-is.html]

  • bombasticjones

    @VorJack – “Used to be that you could save yourself around here. Now you’ve got to contract out to some middle-easterner.”

    The middle east is the home of many of the world’s religions. In fact, there aren’t really any prominent religions with Western origins. As for the idea of saving yourself, that’s actually a rather recent development in thought.

    “Holding up your personal preference for all to see is basically an invitation to have it criticized. Holding up a personal preference on the blog of someone who has made a very different decision is just asking for an argument.”

    On the first point, yes it is. That is part of the reason why I posted here. I welcome a chance to see other people’s viewpoints, and to discuss them. Having a knowledge of my own position is necessary for any sort of discussion.

    As for the second, I don’t think we’re having an argument here. Neither has said anything overly offensive to the other, and I find this conversation quite stimulating.

    Just because this is a blog with a contrary viewpoint to mine, that is no reason to pretend it doesn’t exist. I like talking to people with different opinions. My ideas aren’t so fragile that the existence of an (equally valid) opposite one or two won’t completely shatter them.

  • http://www.wazzasworthlesswitterings.blogspot.com wazza

    “I came here for an argument!”
    “No you didn’t, you came here for an argument!”

    You don’t have to get offensive to be having an argument.

    As for prominent religions with western origins… Celtic paganism? Asatru? Scientology?

  • VorJack

    “Oh, I’m sorry, this is abuse!”

    Gerald – “As for the idea of saving yourself, that’s actually a rather recent development in thought.”

    So is the notion that there’s something to save yourself from. Most of the early middle eastern religions did not offer a heaven to the worshipers. That seems to have come about as a way to honor martyrs to the faith of Judaism , and then spread from there.

    Of course, Eastern religions throw a spanner in the works by offering their worshipers the exact opposite: instead of eternal life you get eternal non-being. (Of course, Pure Lands is a very popular exception. But there’s an exception in Buddhism to everything.) Ironic that the thing that sends so many Christians into shivers is the point of several major world religions.

    And of course, you do have to “save yourself,” in these religions. (again, except Pure Lands and a couple streams of Hinduism) Even the Gods are stuck in the cycle of karma and rebirth. Only you can save yourself.

    “prominent religions with western origins …”

    Church of Latter Day Saints. I’ve got five bucks that says the LDS and the Catholic Church are the two big players by the 22nd century.

    I know, it came from Christianity. But Christianity came from Judaism, which came from the Canaanite polytheism, which came from … somewhere. Anyway, at some point you have to draw a line and say, “Alright, this is a new religion.” And I think the LDS may have passed that point.

  • bombasticjones

    @wazza – how many people do you know that follow Celtic paganism or Asatru? Scientology is a cult. A very large, very dangerous cult.

    http://www.xenu.net has a lot more information on that subject.

  • http://www.wazzasworthlesswitterings.blogspot.com wazza

    I was quite surprised to find two followers of Zeus in my religious studies class…

    So scientology is a cult, but christianity is a religion? What’s the difference?

  • http://thinkingforfree.blogspot.com/ Eamon Knight

    By “western” I assume is meant: European and American in origin. The reason there were no major Western religions (until, as pointed out, the recent inventions of LDS and Scientology (spit)) is largely political. First, Constantine made Xty the state religion of the Roman empire, thereby giving it ascendency in Europe over the old paganisms. Then over a thousand years later, the Europeans went over and conquered the Americas, pretty much wiping out the indigenous religions (along with the societies and most of the people) and replacing them with various forms of Xty.

  • bombasticjones

    @wazza – “two followers of Zeus in my religious studies class…”

    a perfect legitimate response to my question.

    “So scientology is a cult, but christianity is a religion? What’s the difference?”

    To the US government, none, apparently. scientology hides behind the First Amendment when it is investigated for the various crimes it has committed.

    The primary difference is that Scientology’s founder set out, from the beginning, to make money off of other people’s insecurities. If you actually look at what these people believe, it’s a *lot* kookier than mainstream Christianity. Check out the link I posted earlier to get a much better idea.

    I’m not saying that some people don’t make money off of Christianity. They do. However, that was not it’s original purpose.

    @Eamon – is it too much to ask to type out the whole word?

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org RBH

    Y’know what predators call critters whose perceptual and cognitive apparatus gives them unreliable representations of reality?

    Lunch.

    Think of it as natural selection in action.

  • VorJack

    bombasticjones -

    I don’t think you’re being fair here. You’re comparing a religion that is 50 years old to one that has been through 2000 years and at least one reformation. I think if you compare Scientology to early Christianity things start to look a bit different. I don’t know if there are many accusations that you can make against Scientology that were not made against early Christianity.

    “The primary difference is that Scientology’s founder set out, from the beginning, to make money off of other people’s insecurities.”

    Alright, here’s one. For the record, I agree. But remember that we’re looking at it from the outside. People on the outside of Christianity probably made this sort of accusation, particularly some Romans that saw Christianity siphoning money out of wealthy widows. And the Jews certainly had stories that depicting Jesus as a charlatan and a shyster.

    But again, I agree. But I’m not sure it matters. Once the founder has died, the religion becomes a text. It is open to interpretation from all involved parties. In fact, the founder becomes part of the text, and their words can be reinterpreted or rewritten. Look at the different Christs of the four gospels – Mark’s miracle worker, Matthew’s law-giver, Luke’s prophet and John’s theological cipher. Compare the Ebionites Jewish christ to the Valentinian Gnostic’s revealer Christ. Whatever Hubbard was, the Scientologists will change him to make him fit their growing theology.

    If Max Weber was right with his theories about churches vs. sects, what we should see is a gradual accommodation between Scientology and modern culture. This is certainly what happened to Christianity. Their “weird” thinking will become theology that will be interpreted in a literary fashion. Their harsher doctrines will be smoothed out or dropped, the way Mormons have discarded polygamy and outright racism. Most religions start as a cult, but some have a chance to grow up.

  • http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

    He says “one can’t rationally accept both evolution and naturalism” because it “leads to the conclusion that our cognitive or belief-producing faculties—memory, perception, logical insight, etc.—are unreliable and cannot be trusted to produce a preponderance of true beliefs over false.”

    And therefore we should accept theism as a logical, rational alternative, in spite of the total absence of any proof. Riiiight.

    Clearly the conclusion he alludes to has some truth to it.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    I tackled this same question a while back. It’s critical for proposition 2 that it be more likely, or at least as likely, that a false belief will be at least as useful as a true one. But accuracy and utility are not uncorrelated. Quite the opposite.

    And to elaborate on Eamon’s final question in the first comment, if our minds were designed by a Master Craftsthing, why is it that they fall so completely flat when we try to understand things outside the environment we evolved in? The germ theory of disease, Heliocentrism, Relativity, QM, etc. – all big surprises. (QM is still a surprise – as Feynman put it, “You don’t understand quantum mechanics, you just get used to it.”)

  • Mike Z

    Referring way back up to comments 2&3 regarding the supposed weakness of your post’s “naturalism might be true” conclusion…
    Actually, that conclusion works just right. Plantinga claimed that it is not rational to believe in both evolution (by natural selection) and naturalism. By this he means that the beliefs are deeply incompatible. You showed instead that they are, in fact, compatible. Therefore, Plantinga is wrong.

    Anybody who wants to try to prove that naturalism is true (or not true) via sound logical deduction is, in all likelihood, doomed to failure. As someone alluded to above, if you require that we rely only on sound logical deduction, then you will never escape radical skepticism regarding our knowledge of the world.

  • Limbo

    Your response to Plantinga is pretty much irrelevant and off topic. It appears that you do not grasp what he is saying. Nice try though.

    Evolution cannot explain in any remotely definitive way how we evolved consciousness, morals, or even our proclivity as humans to ponder philosophical questions like why are we here, what meaning does life have, is there a God and so on., This is what cannot be trusted if you are a naturalist atheist. Philosophical musings are obviously not necessary for survival one way or the other. In fact, a philosophical viewpoint that is entirely wrong may actually allow a human population to be more effective at reproducing and surviving.

    Having accurate perceptions of the material world IS necessary for survival and also is the basis for science. This is very different than the human ability to process abstract thoughts that have no correspondence to anything material per se.

    Are you so blind that you can’t see the difference here? You are mixing up apples and oranges. More formally, you are guilty of ambiguity and equivocation with the term “faculties” as Plantinga is using it.

  • Corne Botha

    It doesn’t matter what you believe cause it won’t make an impact on earth or in the universe. our brains are so small we believe what we see. i was a christian but i convert to my own faith , cause i realize that people think that the bible is fantasy. im clever i know people think the bible is fantasy.

    if the expansion multiplying rate of quantum singularities theory is true than my faith is correct. it all started with albert eienstein when he found that the creator made small energy bubbels something like that and it contracts and than it make quantum singularities and than it ripped and it created a universe but before it created the universe it cause a ripple .

    my faith is in the ” creator doesn’t know that we are here” . i know it can’t be proven by science. maybe it will in the future. but i doubt it. if someone has an idea that it can be proved by science. just tell me. if someone did convert to my faith just say i than you are a believer in a creator who just doesn’t care about you or know that you are here. you don’t need faith in my believes. i believe in this cause bad things happening to our world and people live like crap.

  • http://www.jkjonesthinks.blgospot.com J. K. Jones

    I was unaware that Plantinga had mad any statements to the effect that Christianity is true based on his arguments. I though what he said was that there was a defeater for sense perception based on a naturalistic worldview.

    You have not countered that argument. You have in fact affirmed it. You have admitted that your senses are not reliable in many instances that you are aware of. This supports the argument that sense perception is not reliable.

    You have not proven that your sense give you accurate information about the world most of the time. In fact, the information you think you have in all of those cases might in fact be wrong; it’s just that it ensures survival value.

    I am not now taking the position that Christianity is true. I am taking a position that the senses cannot be trusted to give accurate information. I am a skeptic, and your argument and the arguments in the comments that follow do not convince me.

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @JK: If your senses cannot always be trusted (though I think they usually can be, as I argued in this post), how can you trust the Bible? For it can only be known to you from your senses, then interpreted through your mind.

    If you are a skeptic, why are you not skeptical towards your trust in an ancient holy book? You do not strike me as a skeptical person at all, but rather a believer.

  • http://www.jkjonesthinks.blogspot.com J. K. Jones

    Daniel,

    I am taking the position of a skeptic with respect to whether we can actually know anything in a strictly material world. I am taking this position just to argue.

    I have not yet heard a justification for rational thought and / or the scientific method from a purely materialistic perspective. You have the burden of proof on this one, you see.

    As an aside:

    In real life, as a Christian, I can assume that God created the world in such a way that my senses give basically accurate information; things will behave in the future as they have in the past (the uniformity of nature); and the abstract, immaterial laws of logic and mathematics apply. I can assume these things because I believe an all-knowing God designed the world and my senses and thought processes.

    This is an assumption for right now, but there must be a viable alternative explanation for those things from a purely materialistic worldview. Find another assumption that works, and we will have something to argue about.

    By the way:

    Just because my senses do not work “perfectly” does not mean that they were not designed. They may not have been designed with the end in mind that they function in the way we define as “perfect.” They may have been designed for a particular purpose other than giving us completely accurate information in any and all circumstances.

    JK

  • http://carrefoursagesse.wordpress.com Lover of Wisdom

    I’m sorry, Daniel, but you didn’t even get Plantinga’s argument right—it’s a Strawman. You need to start with his last chapter of Warrant and Proper Function to get a good handle of his use of Bayesian probabilities and epistemic defeaters to see how he gets to his conclusion.

    You didn’t even present us with a valid, deductive argument before attacking it; that’s a violation of the principle of charity.

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com Daniel Florien

    @Lover of Wisdom: His article should stand on its own. I wasn’t talking about his book, I was talking about his article.

    If I didn’t summarize his argument correctly in the article, please present it more accurately. I’m happy to revise my views and arguments if it is based on a straw man.

  • http://www.itwillfail.com TheDudeinTraining

    @jonboy-

    If you state, as you did above, that it’s sound as far as you see it, then you’re done. Game over, end of story, punch out. The logical definition of soundness as that an argument has to be valid and have all true premises.

    This helps a little more if you know the definition of validity: If you assume the premises to be true, then that forces the conclusion therefore also to be true.

    So, if you say it is a sound argument, then you’re saying it is valid and has true premises, which means you’ve accepted the argument and agree with it. You think that the reasoning was done properly, and that the premises are in fact true.

    The other problem with that is, it’s an inductive argument and not a deductive argument, and an inductive argument does not strive for soundness or validity. It is after strength and cogency. Similar concepts, only for an inductive argument.

    So, what you meant to say, if I’m not too far off the mark, is that his argument sounds like a strong inductive argument. Perhaps even cogent.

    And yes, the back and forth exchange of ideas here is an argument. An argument is not yelling and insulting. It is the reasoned exchange of ideas. Or at least one premise followed by a conclusion, usually, though not always, derived from that(those) premise(s).

    Thanks for listening to me for this quick little post.

  • http://carrefoursagesse.wordpress.com Lover of Wisdom

    Daniel:

    Sorry, I forgot to respond to your post. You shouldn’t think that his very basic article, which is only supposed to give a taste of his much more technical work, should stand on its own to be critiqued. If you read an article in a popular science magazine on General Relativity, then it would be unwise to think to yourself that you now have enough material before you to mount a critique of Relativity; what would be presented is just the cartoon-version of General Relativity. If you would want to critique it, then you would need to become intimate with the source material, the mathematics, etc..

    It’s the same thing with Plantinga. His article is just the cartoon-version of his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism; understandably so, because his actual argument is highly technical—something that only well trained philosophers fully comprehend. The layman will get bogged down with the very important minutia.

    If you want a start in getting acquainted with his argument, then look at this wikipedia page. It will give you a better idea of what’s going on.

    • http://www.answersingenesis.org Keith

      Plantinga’s argument isn’t that complex. One certainly doesn’t need to read Warrant and Proper Function or Naturalism Defeated? to grab the gist of it. Actually, I think Plantinga does himself a disservice by bringing Bayes’ Theorem into the picture. The EAAN has three steps.

      1. Show that a creature could survive even if he had false beliefs.
      2. Show that evolutionary naturalism could be one of these beliefs. (Therefore, we have a defeater for EN—a reason to be agnostic toward it.)
      3. Show that the EN naturalist has no way to independently verify EN since he is the product of EN.
      4. Therefore, since the veracity of EN is either low or inscrutable, it is irrational to believe EN.

      A humorous corollary of this argument is that if we are to assume that beliefs that help us survive are more likely to be true then apparently supernaturalism is more likely to be true than EN since so many people evolved to believe in supernaturalism.

      At best, then, the EAAN simply shows that a belief isn’t true just because we evolved to believe it. If one simply wants to demonstrate that the naturalist can never justify his belief in naturalism then simpler arguments exist.

  • http://www.answersingenesis.org Keith

    Dan, the argument isn’t “Can we trust our sensory faculties?” The question is, “Since evolutionary naturalism can produce false beliefs that increase fitness, what is the likelihood that EN is true?” The answer is either “low or inscrutable” according to Plantinga. I think his use of Bayes’ Theorem is a stretch, but I would definitely agree that, given EN, the likelihood of EN being true is inscrutable simply because we have no means by which to test EN. Doing science on EN is useless because science can’t test metaphysical positions.

  • Brian Jordan

    Isn’t man’s biggest crutch in the mind God?
    Therefore, isn’t it possible that the brain is flawed in having an illogical faith, thus only proving that mankind’s brain is not perfected which is why science must continue to advance?

    • http://www.answersingenesis.org Keith

      That’s a glaring non-sequitur. And even if we re-write it to make some sense it will still beg the question illegitimately (ie, assume that Christianity is false to prove that it is false).

  • http://www.abortionbreastcancer.com Rob

    Reason and rationalism cannot be proved empirically so they don’t exist.

    • Sunny Day

      Wrong.

      • DarkMatter

        Right.

        • Jabster

          Not sure

          • DarkMatter

            Why

            • Jabster

              Yes

            • DarkMatter

              Nooo

            • Jabster

              Lobster …

            • Jabster

              thermidor

            • DarkMatter

              Delicious

            • Jabster

              … but it cannot be proved empirically so it doesn’t exist … :-)

              Must go to bed – to much whisky … kebab with extra chilli sauce …

            • DarkMatter

              night-night.

  • Morpheus91

    I know I’m coming to this really late… but just wanted to post here since the discussion greatly resembled one I had with a Christian several months ago. He claimed that we could not trust a mind that had arisen through Darwinian evolution, etc. etc.

    First off, let me say, great article! ^_^ Now, to toss in my two cents… The claim boils down to “We can’t trust an evolved brain because we have nothing concrete to base our perception of reality on, but we can trust a created brain because a loving God gives us this brain and allows us to perceive reality.” The point I made to him as that he was presupposing God to be good and loving, and that a reliable brain would follow from a good and loving God. Christianity has no concrete method to prove a good and loving deity, nor what actions and qualities would follow from God being “good” and “loving.” Their “objective reality” all melts away when you boil it down to “Because God said so.”

    When a theist attempts to call into question the reliability of perception and reasoning, I like to bring practicality into the equation. They can philosophize all day long, but if I hit them on the toe with a hammer, it’s going to hurt. Are they going to claim that it hurt them only in their reality, and not in mine? If a child is hungry, do we tell it that it’s hunger is only due to its flawed perception of reality? We are what and where we are, regardless of whatever labyrinths of pseudo-reasoning theists want to throw out there, and all *practical* evidence points towards the fact that we got where we are by the evolutionary process.


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