Friday, February 27, 2009

Presuppositionalism

The presuppositional apologetics of Sye's Sinner Ministries kept us busy for ages on this blog. Paul C. drew my attention to this very clear treatment of presuppositionalism from the philosopher Gene Witmer. It's good.

I am also reading Greg Bahnsen's book "Always Ready" (Greg being a [now deceased] presuppositionalist Sye knew and clearly admires).

What's interesting, reading this other stuff, is that while Sye clearly uses a lot of standard presuppositional stuff, some of his moves are novel. Here is an illustration:

Sye asks "What's your account of logic, etc.?"
Me "You mean, what makes the laws of logic hold? Well, I 'm not sure. But here are three answers I quite like." [I present them - one is Quinean and one Wittgensteinian. At least two explain why the laws of logic may not even require an "explanation" or "underpinning".)
Sye "But what's your account! You must have one! I am not going to deal with positions you don't even hold."
Me "But I am not committed to one."
Sye "Ah! So your world view cannot account for logic!"
Me "No. It may be one of these answers is correct. Or perhaps some other non-Christian view is. I am just not sure, that's all. But you say you have an argument that no non-Christian account can possibly be correct. What is it?"
Sye: "But what's your account of logic?"

And round and round we go. These moves are pure Sye, I think - all his own handiwork.


By the way, my own version of presuppositionalism is available here. It's fun using some of Sye's own "moves" against him.

Incidentally, there is one move open to presuppositionalists that Witmer does not deal with, which we might discuss. As Witmer says, it's open to an atheist to say, "Hey the laws of logic, moral principles, etc are just "brute" - they are basic features of reality not further explicable. They constitute our presuppositions. As we atheists are allowed to have presuppositions too, what's the problem with our world view? Where is the internal contradiction?"

I did point this out to Sye fairly early on, in fact (back in July/August).

Anyway, a presuppositionalist could reply:

"But what about simplicity? The God hypothesis is highly economical - on my world view, one single, simple thing accounts for logic, morality etc. etc. But on your world view, you need a whole load of different presuppositions to account for these different things. As your world view values simplicity, so it does at least contain an internal tension (you favour simplicity, yet your world view ends up being complex, requiring also sorts of things to be presupposed, rather than just one thing) - your own commitment to simplicity gives you reason to favour my world view over your own!"

I have my own ideas about how to deal with this move, but put it up for debate....

84 comments:

Brian said...

I think presuppositionalism suffers the same problem as ontological and demonstrative arguments for the existence of God. If it is coherent to deny the conclusion, and the argument is valid, then (at least one of) the premises are false. And it most certainly is coherent to deny that logic requires the existence of god.

Brian said...

I know one can say how do you know it's consistent? but given this is the universe we live in, we all share roughly the same idea of logic and the arguments all play in that sand-pit, then we all should notice the incoherence if it existed. The fact we don't, given that this is supposed to be a demonstration says something no?

Or has Hume said:
But here we may observe, that nothing can be more absurd, than this custom of calling a difficulty what pretends to be a demonstration, and endeavouring by that means to elude its force and evidence. 'Tis not in demonstrations as in probabilities, that difficulties can take place, and one argument counter-ballance another, and diminish its authority. A demonstration, if just, admits of no opposite difficulty; and if not just, 'tis a mere sophism, and consequently can never be a difficulty. 'Tis either irresistible, or has no manner of force. To talk therefore of objections and replies, and ballancing of arguments in such a question as this, is to confess, either that human reason is nothing but a play of words, or that the person himself, who talks so, has not a Capacity equal to such subjects. Demonstrations may be difficult to be comprehended, because of abstractedness of the subject; but can never have such difficulties as will weaken their authority, when once they are comprehended.

wombat said...

The presuppositionalist has not shown that the "single simple thing" which explains all the presuppositions is in fact the same thing. Just because it is given the same name does not make it so.

Indeed even if the "single simple thing" is the same in each case but is acting in different ways in each of these cases it is not simple at all. At best it is a composite of a number of simple things. Like a Swiss Army knife.

Matt M said...

Isn't presupposition just a fancy "god of the gaps" argument? "You can't explain X, therefore you should accept my explanation."

There are just some things we can't explain at the moment (or maybe ever). I don't know who finished up the milk last night, everyone claims it wasn't them and I can't think of a reason they'd lie about it. Doesn't mean I'm justified in thinking that it was the magical milk fairies.

Brian said...

Matt M, if everbody denies it, then it must have been the magical milk fairy!!!!!!

Or, if it's not new year's day, it's christmas day!!!

In other words, it's not a demonstration, just an appeal to ignorance.

anticant said...

Oh dear - Presuppositionalism again. I hoped we'd exhausted that particular road to nowhere.

David B. Ellis said...

Sye: I presuppose that God exists and that internally contradictory propositions could be true if he didn't.

Practically Anyone Else: I presuppose (due to being self-evident) that internally contradictory propositions can't be true under any circumstances---including the nonexistence of any deities.

The first position presupposes that two things exist. God and laws of logic. Moreover it assumes a necessary connection between the two which entails an absurdity: that if Sye is wrong and God doesn't exist that internally contradictory propositions can be true.

The second position presupposes one less thing and entails no absurd conclusions.

Obviously the second is the simpler of the two.

The Barefoot Bum said...

"But what about simplicity? The God hypothesis is highly economical - on my world view, one single, simple thing accounts for logic, morality etc. etc.

Swinburne makes a similar case in The Justification of Theism.

We have to be more precise about "simplicity". If Swinburne's God is a "simpler" explanation for the laws of physics, etc., then why isn't Swinburne's God a simpler explanation for any and all phenomena? Surely it's simpler to say that the ball fell when I dropped it because God willed it so — an omnipotent God can will and effect whatever He pleases. Why invoke all this complicated stuff about inverse-square fields or exchanges of gravitons or whatnot?

The difficulty disappears if we consider ontological properties to count against simplicity. Merely bundling a bunch of unrelated properties in a single "entity" just makes that entity complex.

Fundamentally, the proponent of simplicity, whether Swinburne or a presuppositionalist, must bundle up all the natural laws of physics and attribute them to God. Furthermore, he must add additional properties to a God, e.g. God wants these particular laws of physics to achieve a particular end. The theist arguing from simplicity either says the exact same thing as the naturalist (all we can say about God is that He wants this particular universe. Why? We do not and cannot know.), or he must presuppose more about God than that naturalist hypothesizes about the universe to explain the same phenomena and observations.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Also note that "simplicity" is a "neutral" principle; the presuppositional apologist cannot simply allow the skeptic or atheist to get away with asserting it. "What's your account for the principle of simplicity?" he must ask. "Unless that account presupposes the existence of the Christian God, it is illegitimate."

jeremy said...

For my money, I think Barefoot Bum hit the nail on the head with his first post (above) on this thread.

The "God explanation" only looks simpler before you start asking for specifics.

splittter said...

Not a response to the post, but a link I imagine readers of this blog would find interesting, it's to a summary of a debate between Plantinga and Dennett supposedly over whether Theism and Evolution are compatible, but seemingly actually more far-reaching than that.

http://tinyurl.com/chhhja

It's hard to completely follow the arguments each made, as this is just comments made at the time (and by someone supporting Plantinga, the Theist), but enough comes out to be interesting.

I've never really followed Plantinga's arguments for Theism before (apart from briefly trying to understand his version of the ontological argument and failing), but from what i can make out he seemed to use two here:

- One from the relative probability of the particular structure of the cell from naturalistic evolution and theistic evolution. The detail of this argument isn't in the link, so it's hard to assess (seems to be based on work by a proponent of ID).

- That naturalistic evolution can't claim that our faculties of perception and reason, and therefore science, are actually truth-tracking (they just are adapted for success), and so a naturalistic account can't claim that evolution is true.

I could be summarising his argument very badly, as it is itself based on a summary, but it does seem at least interesting, in that he appears to be arguing for god on the basis of the truth of evolution.

Stephen Law said...

Thanks for the link, Splitter. It's interesting. It's entirely possible the account given is fair, of course. There are atheist jerks and admirable Christians.

Incidentally, does anyone out there know who are supposedly Plantinga's heavyweight critics (re Warranted Christian Belief, and the evolutionary stuff), and what would be the relevant publications?

Dan Doel said...

Which logic do atheists need to "account for?" Classical? Intuitionistic? Fuzzy? One of several substructural logics? Which modal laws?

David B. Ellis said...


Incidentally, does anyone out there know who are supposedly Plantinga's heavyweight critics (re Warranted Christian Belief, and the evolutionary stuff)....


Most of the criticisms of Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) that I've read have been needlessly complex.

The refutation of his position is pretty simple: his claim is that the reliability of our cognitive faculties is low or inscrutable if naturalism is true is demonstrably false. However our faculties came to be as they are, they work the way they work and their reliability is testable regardless of their origin, divine or evolutionary (at least its testable in regard to the ways a naturalist would be inclined to regard them as reliable).

Can I reliably predict with a certain range of accuracy where a shell shot from a mortar will land?

Yes.

These sorts of thing are demonstrable fact. And their being true refutes Plantinga's argument.

I haven't read much in the way of criticism of Plantingas argument in GOD AND OTHER MINDS regarding theism being a legitimately (or properly, to use his term) basic belief.

I have my own thoughts on why the argument fails but I'd be interested in seeing what his best critics have to say on the issue. I haven't so far come across anything on that topic.

Steven Carr said...

Does 'Warranted Christian Belief' have a list of Christian beliefs which are warranted?

Remarkably, it does not!

It talks about 'the great things of the Gospel', but does not say what they are.


A book about warranted Christian beliefs which never explains exactly what Christian beliefs are warranted, is hardly a book which needs to be refuted.

ELLIS
Can I reliably predict with a certain range of accuracy where a shell shot from a mortar will land?

CARR
And you will be using WRONG physics to do that with!

I bet you won't include relativistic corrections, or account for the gravity of Mercury, or quantum effects in your sums.

God is amazing.

Not only does he guarantee the reliability of the laws of logic, but we can even use WRONG physical laws, and God still guarantees that we get reliable results.

One would almost think that our science had been developed by naturalistic processes of trial and error, with people knowing roughly what sorts of errors there are in their science.

And that our cognitive faculties do not produce God-given truths about the 'real world', but only produce models of the real world, which give consistent results, within the limits of our models.

When actually even our errors presuppose God - the author of those physical laws which are wrong, such as non-relativistic ballistics.

I wonder how God creates true laws of physics, as well as the false laws of physics, which are good enough for everyday use.

David B. Ellis said...


And you will be using WRONG physics to do that with!

I bet you won't include relativistic corrections, or account for the gravity of Mercury, or quantum effects in your sums.


Carr brings up a good point that's worth elaborating on.

The fact that our conceptual models may be imperfect, even highly so in some respects, does not equate to the global unreliability of those cognitive faculties.

Rather what results is that we have different levels of reliability in regard to different tasks our cognitive faculties set out to achieve.

With things like metaphysics we have, probably, extremely low or inscrutable reliability (at least on many issues)---just as Plantinga thinks.

But in regard to figuring out how things work and what Y will happen if we do X, the sorts of reasoning we employ both in everyday life and, more systematically, in science, we are capable of demonstrably good reliability.

In the middle, as Carr rightly points out, are things like conceptual models and explanatory schemas in physics which may track well predictively but be in some respects inaccurate.

But, again, we are without the global unreliability Plantinga attempts to attribute to naturalistically evolved cognitive faculties.

wombat said...

Re: relativistic mortar rounds.

I think the nearest that the Bible ever got was slingshots but that was a guy who wasted his youth practising with it. God really goes for the broad brush stuff. Razing entire cities, global floods, plagues that sort of stuff. Anything more precise than a city is considered a surgical strike.

Collateral damage is OK - you can sort 'em out in Heaven.

get_education said...

Stephen,

I am going to try to answer your question (though I suspect you know this):

"But what about simplicity? The God hypothesis is highly economical - on my world view, one single, simple thing accounts for logic, morality etc. etc. But on your world view, you need a whole load of different presuppositions to account for these different things. As your world view values simplicity, so it does at least contain an internal tension (you favour simplicity, yet your world view ends up being complex, requiring also sorts of things to be presupposed, rather than just one thing) - your own commitment to simplicity gives you reason to favour my world view over your own!"

1. Not all atheists favor "simplicity."

2. This argument is mistaking the "simplicity" of Occam's razor (more properly the parsimony principle) which has more to do with probabilities, for a "simplicity", that has more to do with how easy it is to write it down.

3. Without any proof for any gods existence, this explanation becomes ever more complex with the amount of proof needed to establish that the "simple" solution is even plausible (that this god or any other is even plausible). Thus adding to the complexity of the answer (even if you accepted that an omni-anything God is "simple").

4. If we take "the Universe" as a brute fact we are "presupposing" only one thing. What we derive from such brute fact, like the foundational laws of logic and such, might be complex, but you have to do that also with God's exuded universe. In other words, a universe with its properties in much simpler in being more probable than an invisible all-anything God.

Any other things to list guys/Stephen? Was I too repetitive?

G.E.

get_education said...

Little correction:

In other words, a universe with its properties in much simpler in being more probable than an invisible all-anything God plus the universe (exuded therein).

G.E.

get_education said...

Stephen, guys,

If I may ask this:

Calculators can make ... calculations, right? And math calculations are abstract thingies, right? May I ask where do the calculators (or the computers) hide their God-communication device? Otherwise, how can it be that calculators are working with abstract, immaterial, thingies (which are not allowed in an atheistic worldview)?

If this is so, I would go extract the God-communication devise and use it for my own means.

(Please do not tell me that these abstractions actually have a physical counterpart in the calculator. This would be devastating for my worldview ;-D)

G.E.

Tony Lloyd said...

Incidentally, does anyone out there know who are supposedly Plantinga's heavyweight critics (re Warranted Christian Belief, and the evolutionary stuff), and what would be the relevant publications?

There is an update by Plantinga reviewing several criticisms of his argument against naturalistic evolution here, with lots of references.

But the real “big hitter” is, of course, me (here).

get_education said...

Stephen,

Also, you need to work on your Syeish. The argument should be much more aggressive and sarcastic. Something like:

"Are you saying that you do not accept the atheist principle of simplicity? MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! Atheism is such an inconsistent worldview!! :-D"

or

"Are you saying that the atheist principle of simplicity is wrong? And I thought you were one!! Go figure. :-D"

G.E.

Iago said...

get_education, I will attempt to answer a bit regarding numbers.
Numbers are convenient representations for reality.

2 represents the concept of 2-ness. It is our interpretation of what 2 is. 2 has its own reality and by using the arabic numbers is our ay of understanding it an being able to tell other about what 2 is.
In computers 2 is repsented by a series of on-off switches that make up a binary word of 8 of those switches, in the on-off configuration for 2 so a binary 2 would be 00000010.
Somewhat basic but I wanted to start off on the same page. Any decision in a computer has a on-off value. those values are processed using boolean logic and gates.
The computer is not working with abstrations but with the physical hardware and the program that tells it how to run. And whne it runs into a situation it was not programmed for the computer crashes. Think of Big Blue the computer that played chess. It was able to do an immense amount of calculations that allowed it to play chess because it used a decision tree that had an immense amount of variables programmed into it. So it went from one point in the decision tree and calculated what its next move was based on positions on the board. It had a fixed point to go "from" in order to "go" to the goal of checkmating an opponent. And as options were cut off as the opponent took pieces it pruned off branched of the decision tree.
No abstract thinking required just good programming and the ability to store decision trees and use them in the future.

I wrote up a big 20 page paper on knowledge representation and learning some time back. And it is a fascinating subject. it is the big reason why I am very leery of the new autonomous weapons systems that the military is touting as the "next big thing" for war.

get_education said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
get_education said...

Hi Iago,

I know what you mean. I actually knew all of this.

Now, would these material counterparts counts as abstraction modules (Stephen?). In other words, this is kinda philosophical/scientific question:

My precise point is that the computer has a physical way of solving abstract problems. It calculate things using a logic (boolean logic), which we were able to translate into a physical thing. In other words, the computers work using an physical abstraction of our mental abstractions to solve problems. Mental abstractions which do have a physical, yet "analog", counterpart, rather than the "digital" we devised for computers.

I am not sure I used two definitions of abstractions above, I hope not. Anyway, the important part is that computers perform seemingly abstract operations. So, even your statement that there is no abstract thinking might be challenged. I could defend the position that the computer does a thinking. A digital simplistic if you will, yet some thinking. Would this be a way of analogously infer that, since we were able to abstract abstractions into a physical device. Then there is no reason to think that our abstractions are held in an immaterial world? Can we imagine that our abstractions have a physical counterpart as well?

I know you were challenging the idea that calculators or computers do any abstractions at all. But what if you are assuming too much about the nature of the abstractions our brains do? (Not physical because we do understand how the computer does it and not how the brain does it?)

Shit, I wanted to be clear, yet I think I talk too much. Let me know if this is clear, or not.

I know you are not defending theism. But challenging the abstraction in computers idea. But I could not find the proper wording above not to imply that you think our brain does anything immaterial necessarily.

G.E.

NAL said...

Regarding EAAN, I like this argument:

Does evolution care about the truth?

In Plantinga's hominid scenario, although the false beliefs happened to motivate survival-promoting behavior, they did so only by chance. Any given sensory stimulus can evoke only one true belief but an infinite number of false beliefs.

Steven Carr said...

NAL
Any given sensory stimulus can evoke only one true belief but an infinite number of false beliefs.

CARR
This is what we find happens in practice.

Plantinga's refutation appears to be.

1) Evolutionary theory predicts X
2) X is what we find in the world
3) Therefore, evolution is wrong

Here is a recent example of somebody whose cognitive faculties are so unreliable , that he took entirely the wrong belief, after looking at some stars :-

William Lane Craig's Testimony

' I remember I rushed outdoors—it was a clear, mid-western, summer night, and you could see the Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!”'

Somebody looked at some stars and believed in God.

Exactly the sort of unreliable belief that Plantinga predicted would happen, if naturalism was true.

Steven Carr said...

Plantinga's argument seems to be that the chances of any named species having our kind of reliable cognitive faculties are very low.

There have been billions of species on Earth.

We seem to be the only creatures with such big brains.

Plantinga is right.

If naturalism is true , the chances of any 1 species developing reliable cognitive beliefs is very low.

Which is exactly what we find in Nature - the chances are billions to 1 against that any named species has reliable cognitive faculties.

So what exactly is Plantinga's argument?

Paul C said...

Stephen - tragically, Sye is anything but original, and those lines of argument are found amongst most of the presuppositionalists on the web.

Kyle P. said...

I'm trying to comment on the original post, even though that seems to have been left by the wayside long ago. I think my reasoning is similar to G.E.'s.

1) Just because something is simpler does not actually mean it's right. In some cases, like the scientific realm, it would be considered more probable until another possibility can be shown to be more probable, but it is still not considered logically sound to conclude that just because something is simple, that it is then the only possible answer.

2) Having one answer for many (or all) things does not mean that that answer is simpler. You didn't claim this, but it seems like you implied it, at least.

3) Even if a statement A was simpler than some statement B meant that A was necessarily true, that still would not mean that the theist worldview was simpler: "god" just becomes an EXTRA layer of garbage to deal with when making assumptions.

I also thought of the following that would come after the colon in 3, but it doesn't quite seem to hit the mark of the original point. It is, however, an interesting thought (in my stupid opinion):

"god" is just a wrapping up of all the assumptions that we atheists make into one concept, with a bunch of added, unwarranted and extraneous properties. That makes it merely a metaphor for reality, only with a bunch of extra attributes, and so on.

What do you all think?

Psye said...

Regarding Plantinga, I like this argument against his so called evolutionary argument against naturalism:

http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?p=2701189#post2701189

IIRC, Richard Carrier makes the same argument in his book "Sense and Goodness without God". The point seems to be that Plantinga has overlooked how cognitive faculties actually evolves.

get_education said...

"god" is just a wrapping up of all the assumptions that we atheists make into one concept, with a bunch of added, unwarranted and extraneous properties. That makes it merely a metaphor for reality, only with a bunch of extra attributes, and so on.

Not only interesting but right on the head.

And yes, the thread degenerated quickly into criticism of anything presupp, then Plantinga, then my attempt at showing that abstractions might only seem immaterial.

Plantinga is right on the general idea that evolution does not care about truth, but about survival. He fails when it comes to the stupid idea that "beliefs" are independent selectable units, since these come from a system. Namely our nervous system. He also fails because automatic responses (instinctive) are not "reasoned" and thus are not "beliefs". Also, Plantinga assumes the probability of a correct beliefs to be 50%. Which is a number taken out of his ass.

But the general idea, with no garbage is right. Evolution is not supposed to come with 100% reliability.

Now not having 100% reliability leads Plantinga to the conclusion that, if evolution is right, then "naturalism" cannot be right because if our "beliefs" (here cognitive faculties) are not reliable we should not trust any ideas, or at least higher order ideas, naturalism included (and evolution). Thus his claim that evolution and naturalism are self-refuting.

Of course the conclusion is lead also by another false assumption. That unreliability means nothing can be trusted. It is a false dichotomy: either your cognitive faculties are 100% reliable, or you cannot trust anything coming from your cognitive faculties. Polarized views are very abundant in apologetics. Just observe Sye's rhetoric.

G.E.

Brian said...

It is a false dichotomy: either your cognitive faculties are 100% reliable, or you cannot trust anything coming from your cognitive faculties. Polarized views are very abundant in apologetics. Just observe Sye's rhetoric. Either it's Christmas day or it's New Year's day again?

Iago said...

GE said:

Anyway, the important part is that computers perform seemingly abstract operations.

endquote

I think you answered your own question there. the important word is seemingly. A computer cannot perform abstractions, at least to the best of my knowledge. It does not have sentience.
Which of course opens up an entire other Pandora's box.
However a computer cannot perform functions that were not programmed into it. the program may be long and involved and have 'thinking" features built in or even "random" factors built in, think of a good computer game for example. But it cannot perform outside those parameters.

As far as the digital vs analog. the computer hardware understands on/off. here is to the best of my knowledge no computer switch that has a third intermediate value, I use this because in a college programming course the prof had us try and represent a 'trit' instead of a bit, there would be three values instead of two.

GE also said :

Then there is no reason to think that our abstractions are held in an immaterial world? Can we imagine that our abstractions have a physical counterpart as well?

enqtuote

I would point to alot of work done in brain chemistry there are a number of chemicals that are proven to change a persons mood as they change within a persons brain. A simple example for you, how do you feel after youo get that first cup of coffee in the morning ? Your body chemistry was changed by the chemicals in the coffee. So emotions and moods can be changed by chemicals.
Can it then be done with a computer ?
My answer: I am not sure I would want to try. Imagine if the computer on your car was upset with you because you did not get it the cup of coffee it needed in the morning, or that you put in too much sugar and it was now on a sugar buzz.

MrFreeThinker said...

Plantinga's argument seems to be that the chances of any named species having our kind of reliable cognitive faculties are very low.

There have been billions of species on Earth.

We seem to be the only creatures with such big brains.

Plantinga is right.

If naturalism is true , the chances of any 1 species developing reliable cognitive beliefs is very low.

Which is exactly what we find in Nature - the chances are billions to 1 against that any named species has reliable cognitive faculties.


That is the gambler's fallacy.
Consider this.
The chances of winning the lottery are a million to one. I have participated in 999 999 lottery draws in the past. therefore on my next try I will win the lottery.
The fallacy of course it that the probability does not go down with each consecutive draw.

Steven Carr said...

I don't think Plantinga has commmited the Gambler's Fallacy.

His argument is hard to comprehend.

His fallacy seems to be that if the chances of winning the lottery are very low, then lottery winners are never justified in thinking they have won the lottery.

Or he might be claiming that if our cognitive faculties are unreliable, we can then never trust natural methods to improve them.

This seems to be the equivalent of claiming that if we have poor eyesight, we can never trust what we read, so if we read that a visit to the opticians to get glasses will improve our eyesight, then we have no reason to believe that.

Because we read it with our bad , unreliable eyes, so can't trust it....

But I admit I don't really know what is wrong with Plantinga's argument , as his argument needs a lot of work doing to it to make it coherent enough to cricitise.

MrFreeThinker said...

I accused Seven carr of committing the gambler's fallacy.

reason42 said...

Stephen and others, you may enjoy this link:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126975.800-how-to-spot-a-hidden-religious-agenda.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

Notice how the comments after the article have been invaded by the kind of people the article describes!

(wasn't sure where to post this, sorry if this is the wrong place)

im_michael_young said...

I think that some of the posters here are a bit sloppy in characterizing and "refuting" Plantinga's EANN. Plantinga never aims for the conclusion, for example, that our belief-forming faculties are in fact unreliable. Instead, Plantinga's conclusion is that evolutionary naturalists generally have a positive reason to predict that their belief-forming faculties would be unreliable. If this conclusion is sound, then it is no answer to insist that our belief-forming faculties really are reliable, or to suggest an experiment to demonstrate this result. If our belief-forming faculties are in fact reliable, Plantinga will take that fact to cut against evolutionary naturalism, since (on his view) evolutionary naturalism predicts other results. The question raised by Plantinga (does evolutionary naturalism make the wrong prediction about epistemic reliability?) really can't be settled empirically.

In a nutshell, the argument is that evolution selects for adaptiveness, but there does not seem to be any reason to think that adaptiveness would track epistemic reliability (at least at the level of particularity which interests us). Evolution is indifferent as to whether a frog flicking his tongue at flies thinks that the flies are a good snack or the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. Given the indifference of natural selection to epistemic reliability, and the lack of any prior reason to think that adaptiveness and general cognitive reliability are linked, Plantinga denies that selection of reliable belief-forming faculties would be anything but a matter of chance (when assuming evolutionary naturalism); and in this case, the odds are rather against such selection, given that there are many more ways to be wrong than to be right.

One could insist (by way of answering Plantinga) that cognitive reliability is adapative, and that Plantinga is wrong to deny this. But, from what I've seen of the debate so far, I don't know what actual reason there is for thinking this; this position appears to be a faith position for most people.

Steven Carr said...

'Instead, Plantinga's conclusion is that evolutionary naturalists generally have a positive reason to predict that their belief-forming faculties would be unreliable.'

And on theism, theists have a positive reason to predict that their belief-forming faculties would be under attack by demons.

And , if Plantinga's eyesight is bad, he would have a positive reason to predict that he would not be able to read reliably anything which said that his eyesight would be improved by wearing glasses.

'Plantinga denies that selection of reliable belief-forming faculties would be anything but a matter of chance (when assuming evolutionary naturalism); and in this case, the odds are rather against such selection, given that there are many more ways to be wrong than to be right.'

SO I was right.

Plantinga thinks it is a lottery that any named species would have big , reliable brains, and so claims that lottery winners are not justified in thinking they have won the lottery.

So why does he wear glasses?

get_education said...

Hi Iago,

I think you answered your own question there. the important word is seemingly. A computer cannot perform abstractions, at least to the best of my knowledge. It does not have sentience.

Thanks for your patience.

Well, I do say "seemingly" because I can accept that I could be, or truly am, wrong. Yet, are you sure that abstractions require sentience?

Also, I agree that computers are not thinking proper. This is not what I am saying, I do understand they do not do things they were neither designed, nor programmed, to do. The point is that mathematical operations are essentially classified as abstractions, that the computer does the calculations physically, and thus there is no reason to think that abstractions are necessarily immaterial.

Also, maybe we need to agree on something here. A computer does not contain predefined answers for each mathematical problem we ask it to solve. It does solve the problem. So, we program the methods, not the results. Yet, what you say is right, the programming we can do is limited by the computer's design and, perhaps, binary nature of handling its stuff. Perhaps the big question is whether this is truly "abstract," or not. If abstractions require thinking, then it is not (...?). But if abstractions are just a higher order of simpler things, then maybe ...

Do not worry. I got your point. Now I am just thinking out loud.

And yes, brain chemistry is much better and very direct proof that our abstractions have a physical counterpart. The computer thingie is something I am exploring as another avenue for explanation about how abstractions and physical counterparts are clearly compatible. To the brain chemistry I would add those experiments where the patient's brain is put to sleep only one side, and the patient loses her/his ability to recognize numbers of letters, depending on the side that went to sleep. Clearly, abstraction capabilities are irremediably linked to parts of the brain.

G.E.

Stephen Law said...

I have not had a chance to look at P's arg properly, but it may hinge on supposing beliefs are selected for on a piecemeal basis, where as what is presumably selected for are not specific beliefs, but general belief-producing mechanisms. Now a mechanism that tends to produce true beliefs is highly adaptive, I'd suggest. And saying, "Ah but it depends what desires you have which beliefs are adaptive. Given certain desires, false beliefs are adaptive" won't now help Plantinga's case, I think.

Also, isn't the truth-preserving nature of logic actually demonstrable, rather than something it simply seems, because of our cognitive biases, to have (if it seemed to have it but didn't, we'd constantly be running into trouble of a very predictable sort. But we don't run into that sort of trouble, in fact, precisely because are conclusions are true).

I imagine P anticipates this though so will have to look into it.

Steven Carr said...
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Steven Carr said...

'Instead, Plantinga's conclusion is that evolutionary naturalists generally have a positive reason to predict that their belief-forming faculties would be unreliable.'

This is what we find most of the time.

Most people believe in the supernatural.

Therefore, our belief-forming faculties are unreliable.

Why do naturalists have a positive reason to suppose that their properly basic beliefs are false?

Plantinga says everybody has properly basic beliefs.

And he also claims there can never be a reason to suppose those properly basic beliefs are false, because they are properly basic.

So why should naturalists worry whether or not their properly basic beliefs are false?

Steven Carr said...

STEPHEN LAW
Now a mechanism that tends to produce true beliefs is highly adaptive....

CARR
Not Plantinga's mechanism based on theism.

If Plantinga was faced with a tiger, a mechanism from God which produced the belief 'Jesus died for your sins', would not be adaptive.

Whereas a false belief like 'That tiger weighs more than 6 tons and can eat you alive in 1 bite' would be highly adaptive.

This is a false belief, yet highly adaptive, so all of science is open to doubt and questioning..

Apparently naturalists should throw over all of science as unreliable, simply because when a tiger comes towards them, they cannot produce a true belief about exactly how many pounds the tiger weighs and exactly how many seconds it would take to eat you.

Plantinga's argument is absurd...

Plantinga just never defines 'reliable', so his whole argument is a total non sequitor.

Until he produces a definition of 'reliable' that is relevant to his argument, his argument just dies before getting off the ground.

Plantinga does seem to suggest that a 'reliable' cognitive faculty is one which produces more true beliefs than false.

Which is obviously an absurd definition, as then our cognitive faculties would be 100% reliable if they only ever produced the belief 'Jesus died for your sins', no matter what the situation.

It would be producing true beliefs all the time, which apparently is all that is needed for 'reliable cognitive faculties'.

Until Plantinga defines 'reliable cognitive faculties', his argument is dead in the water.

get_education said...

MFT,

That is the gambler's fallacy.
Consider this.
The chances of winning the lottery are a million to one. I have participated in 999 999 lottery draws in the past. therefore on my next try I will win the lottery.
The fallacy of course it that the probability does not go down with each consecutive draw.


No MFT, Steven s not committing that fallacy. He did not say we are the winners because we bought consecutive tickets and expected the last one to be the winning one. He is saying that given that most species do not have cognitive faculties then us having them is not that extraordinary. We happen to be the ones who won. What you are doing is something of the inverse gambler fallacy, that, if you win the lotto the only possible explanation is that god did it, and ignore the many many losers that prove that your winning was not God's making, but chance.

If millions buy tickets, the probability that at least one of those millions will win it increases. Once the lotto is drawn, and there is a winner. Does that mean that God interferes when there are more players so that one of them wins, but does nothing when there are fewer players?

G.E.

get_education said...
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get_education said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
im_michael_young said...

'Why do naturalists have a positive reason to suppose that their properly basic beliefs are false?'

You are taking the EANN to cut in a direction which Plantinga does not take it to cut. Still, there might be a question about this; do the considerations of the EANN cut against 1) the plausibility of supposing that we have generally reliable belief-forming faculties; 2) the plausibility of evolutionary theory (at least as currently formulated); or 3) the plausibility of naturalism (i.e., evolutionary theory without God to add goodies like reliable belief-forming faculties). Plantinga takes it to cut against 3. To the extent that you think your beliefs are reliably formed, and to the extent that accept evolution, your belief in naturalism ought to be undermined, Plantinga would say.

To Prof. Law: You may be right in fact that generally reliable belief-forming mechanisms are adaptive, but I think Plantinga's reply would be something like: but why should we think so on the basis of evolutionary theory alone? And shouldn't we really think otherwise on that basis? After all, evolution selects for adapative behavior, and adaptive behavior (or patterns of adaptive behavior) is consistent with any doxastic framework at all. And given that there are many ways to get things wrong and fewer ways to get things right, it would, at best, simply be a very happy coincidence that our adaptive behavior was accompanied by reliable believing at any level of generality.

Anyway, I think that is how it would go. I seem to recall that Plantinga talked about these issues in the "Naturalism Defeated" collection (a series of essays devoted solely to the EANN). Also, in general, the EANN is an argument about what we have reason to believe or disbelieve given various commitments (and not an argument about the way things are or could be).

Steven Carr said...

I still cannot see in your answer where there is any reasoning to show that properly basic beliefs should be doubted, or how properly basic beliefs can be formed by a process that is not reliable.

Are you claiming that naturalists cannot entertain the belief 'I think, therefore I am'?

And I see you cannot explain why Plantinga can teach that there are demons and also that his reasoning is reliable, when these demons are supposed to be capable of attacking our reasoning and senses.

Tony Lloyd said...

Stephen Carr:
Until Plantinga defines 'reliable cognitive faculties', his argument is dead in the water.

We need to be fair to Plantinga. The EAAN occurs in the last chapter of a densely-argued two volume work. The first volume tries to shoot down all alternatives to "proper function" as the source of warrant, the second volume tries to elucidate just what "proper function" is and how it supplies "warrant".

Plantinga's argument is sound: you cannot have warranted belief in evolutionary naturalism. I would draw a different conclusion from this to Plantinga's. Plantinga argues that this means that evolutionary naturalism is irrational. I conclude that warrant is not necessary for rational belief.

Before you reply that I am a nutter or a Popperian troll* might I remind you that that is exactly the argument that we have been advancing to Sye.

(*I am, of course, both. But to use them in an argument would be ad hominem)

David B. Ellis said...


Plantinga's argument is sound: you cannot have warranted belief in evolutionary naturalism.


What makes you think so? Its pretty clear that the origin of our cognitive faculties is irrelevent to whether they are reliable---we can check and verify their reliability whatever their origin may be---it doesn't even need to be known what the origin is.


I conclude that warrant is not necessary for rational belief.


Warrant means, as I understand the term, that holding the belief in question is reasonable.

So either the sentence quoted is self-contradictory or you are using a different definition of warrant from mine.

How, then, are you defining the term "warrant"?

Kyle said...

we can check and verify their reliability whatever their origin may be

Using what exactly? How do you test your cognitive faculties without using your cognitive faculties? Would you check the reliability of a thermometer by comparing it to itself?

Of course that's not Plantinga's objection. We do not have good arguments for the reliability of our cognitive faculties, but do we do need any. It is something that we can and must take as given.

The problem arises for the naturalist that N&E suggests that it is unlikely that we would have reliable cognitive faculties, which acts as a defeater for the belief that they are reliable, and therefore for any other belief one might have.

im_michael_young said...

To Steven Carr:

Please understand, I'm not arguing for Plantinga's position; I'm just trying (badly, no doubt) to clarify what the position is in an attempt to be fair to Plantinga. In asking me for a reason why properly basic beliefs should be doubted, you are asking me to argue on Plantinga's behalf for a conclusion which, as far as I know, Plantinga never made (or cared much about). In this sense, the challenge seems to me to be misplaced.

But, if, for the sake of purely academic interest, I was to attempt an argument for the demanded conclusion from the viewpoint of Plantinga's EAAN (now mentally contorting myself) the argument might be something like: given the fact of evolution, and given that evolution predicts that our belief forming systems will be unreliable (because evolution selects for adaptive behavior, and there is no set of beliefs inconsistent with adaptive behavior, thus making it a matter of chance whether our beliefs are mostly true), and given our denial of any compensating supernatural intervention, we should think that our beliefs are not reliably formed. Because of that (to finally get to the point), we should not think that we have any properly basic beliefs. That we persist with such suppositions means that we are implicitly rejecting one of the premises. (Plantinga, of course, thinks the naturalism premise should go.)

That's probably about the best I can do. ;-)

Iago said...

GE as for the abstraction question, to be honest I don't know. Can you program in love to a computer ? How would you go aout it ? Do you break it down step by step as to what does or does not constitute love? And then,of course, the real question, Do we actually feel love ? Can it be simulated chemically ? Again going back to the brain chemistry thing, it has been shown that by altring brain chemicals that emotions can be adjusted.
Are we just programmed by society to know what are or are not appropriate emotions or responses ?

As far as computers and calculations, once upon a tim ein high school the computer we had to use ws an IMSAI 8080. we had 8" flopp disks what coul dhold all of 32K data. The level of calculation we could run was significantly less than what we can run now. It could only return as a answer a large number, if I recall the larget it could do was something on the order to 16 millions before having to use scientific notation for the result. So a big part of the problem was that we could only represent a certain number set.
I guess what I am getting at is that the limitation is primarily hardware based rather than concept based.
I really do not know what sentience is other than that nebulous touchy feely term. And what is the drawing line for it, well got me there too.
I suggest reading Douglas Hochstader, he had some very good ruminations on sentience and thought.

Steven Carr said...

So nobody has attempted to give Plantinga's definition of 'reliable cognitive faculties' without which his argument is dead in the water.

And nobody has tried to show how Plantinga can believe in malevolent demons and also believe his cognitive faculties are reliable , when said demons are perfectly capable of attacking his reasoning, and are highly motivated to attack human beings.

And nobody has tried to show why naturalists cannot have properly basic beliefs like anybody else - why they cannot look at a tree and believe that what they see is a tree.

And Plantinga's argument is exactly like saying that if you have bad eyesight, you have a positive reason to distrust what your eyes tell you.

So you cannot trust that the sign on that shop really does say 'Optician', so you have no reason to believe that going into that shop to get glasses will help you improve your eyesight.

MrFreeThinker said...

@Steve
Read plantinga's books. he defines reliable. He gives examples and such. I'm too busy to go borrow his book again just for you.

Steven Carr said...

Christians just cannot defend Plantinga's arguments.

They are all correct. You just have to read them.

But Christian cannot explain why atheist criticisms of them are wrong.

That does not stop them saying Plantinga has covered them somewhere, even if they cannot say where...

Article on Plantinga explains properly basic beliefs as follows :- 'But even if we can't ever spell it out, we are quite justified, typically, in taking beliefs such as "I am seeing a tree" as basic -- as not calling for justification and evidence.'

CARR


I'm sure there is a really good explanation by Plantinga somewhere of why naturalists can look at a tree and form the belief that it is a CD player.

Plantinga claims some beliefs do not have to be justified, and claims naturalists cannot produce a reason why their beliefs are justified...

Kyle said...

Carr,

Anyone can look at a tree and form the belief there is a tree in the basic way. Plantinga is not claiming that Naturalists cannot do that.

However, just because a belief is properly basic does not mean that it is immune to all doubt. Imagine that you saw a tree and formed the tree belief. This belief would be held in the basic way. Now imagine that someone tells you (a trustworthy doctor friend perhaps) that the strange drink you had for breakfast is known to make people mistakenly think they are seeing trees when they are not.

Under this scenario it is no longer reasonable to believe that you have seen a tree. The belief is still properly basic, but now you have a defeater for it.

It is the same with believing that your cognitive faculties are reliable. It is reasonable for the naturalist to believe that her cognitive faculties are reliable, the problem is that a belief in naturalism and evolution give a defeater for this belief.

Also, Plantinga is not required to give a thorough definition of reliable cognitive faculties (if you think he is please explain why). Whatever it means for cognitive faculties to be reliable it certainly means more than having true beliefs fifty percent of the time. After all, I'm sure an eight ball gets it right half the time, but this does not make it reliable. All Plantinga has to show is that there is good reason to think that our cognitive faculties would get not get it right more than fifty percent of the time.

Steven Carr said...

So Plantinga thinks naturalists look at trees and form reliable beliefs about trees.

So what the hell is his argument?

Plantinga is not required to give a definition of reliable cognitive faculties?

So his argument is that naturalists cannot believe they have a certain thing, (reliable cognitive faculties), but Plantinga is not going to say what that is that naturalists cannot believe in.

Just amazing!

How can naturalists discuss whether or not they have 'reliable cognitive faculties' if Planting won't say what they are?


It certainly makes it a lot easier for Plantinga to equivocate backwards and forwards on the word 'reliable' if he never uses it consistently...


KYLE
Whatever it means for cognitive faculties to be reliable it certainly means more than having true beliefs fifty percent of the time.

CARR
SO if Plantinga looks at at tiger and his 'reliable cognitive faculties' only ever produce the one belief - 'Jesus died for our sins', then his cognitive faculties are reliable as they produce true beliefs 100% of the time?

I think you need more work on your argument....

Kyle said...

SO if Plantinga looks at at tiger and his 'reliable cognitive faculties' only ever produce the one belief - 'Jesus died for our sins', then his cognitive faculties are reliable as they produce true beliefs 100% of the time?

I didn't say that cognitive faculties that always produce true beliefs are reliable for telling us what the world is like.

I think you need to read my comments more carefully.

Kyle P. said...

I thought I'd chime in this time on the sentient computers piece of this thread. (This thread should be broken up into three different threads, so we can see that the original post has only ~5 replies out of 61. :))

Computers can and do use abstractions. That is, humans come up with abstractions and use them in computer programming to help program computers. The machine can manipulate and reason about said abstractions. I'm a computer programmer and I used to work in the field of A.I., but I still need to define abstraction here, I think, before anyone can agree with me.

From dictionary.com: "2. The act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances." Indeed, based on that definition, it would seem to me that computers are almost always using abstractions, for, they are not usually using the actual instances of objects they model when we write programs.

Based on this, you may think that computers are just using the binary representation of all the stuff we've used to program them, i.e. the abstraction doesn't really exist. However, it's not difficult to write "theorem prover" programs. This type of program can take a set of axioms and use it to prove things which were not programmed directly into the system. The transportation mechanism of the abstraction is irrelevant: It may be a stream of binary data, or it may be a human thought pattern (which I'm still not convinced is NOT a stream of binary data), but they can accomplish the same thing. Indeed, I think a person trying to convince us that computers do NOT use abstract reasoning and logic (in the above instance) would be hard-pressed to do it.

Now, to answer the question of, "Can you program love into a computer?" I suppose I could not. However, I'd like to see a definition of "love", first. It's one of those tricksy words, just like "god", that makes it nearly impossible to understand what we're talking about. I, personally, feel love as the feeling I get when I'm with my wife, and the feeling I have FOR my wife. That wouldn't be hard at all to program into a computer, though, so I assume the original poster has a different definition of love than I do, because otherwise they probably wouldn't have posed that simple question.

Sorry, just another thought: What is a word to describe other words which can only be defined in terms of their effects, and not directly (or it's very, very difficult to define them directly)? I'm sure someone had a definition of these types of words. Is it "abstract"? And does not being able to provide a direct definition make non-sense out of the words? As I mentioned earlier in the post, I feel like "god" is just a wrapping up of all the tiny assumptions we atheists make into one big assumption with a boatload of smaller assumptions tagged on, and so "god" becomes an abstract concept rather than a real object.

Tony Lloyd said...

David B Ellis: How, then, are you defining the term "warrant"?

Warrant is what you add to true belief to get knowledge. Plantinga (and most others) consider that this is something that “certifies” truth or means that what you believe is more likely to be true.

Steven Carr: Until Plantinga defines 'reliable cognitive faculties', his argument is dead in the water.

Plantinga’s conception of “reliable cognitive faculties” are cognitive faculties that, broadly, tend to instil beliefs that are true.

All our expressible beliefs go beyond experience (even “red spot now” uses the extra-experiential concepts of “space”, “time” and “colour”). There are a variety of differing extra-experiential concepts we may use that do not conflict with experience but only one truth. Thus without any mechanism that picks the true alternative between available alternatives we are unlikely to have cognitive faculties that tend to instil beliefs that are true.

Plantinga argues that Natural Selection is not such a mechanism. (I agree, there are a number of good cognitive startegies and only one truth). But arguing that we should drop a belief because we have no warrant for it is a bust.

As Steven Carr Points out:

a false belief like 'That tiger weighs more than 6 tons and can eat you alive in 1 bite' would be highly adaptive.

As it was known to be false it couldn’t have “warrant”, still less could we give an account of its warrant. Never-the-less it would be a perfectly reasonable belief. So we can have a reasonable belief without warrant.

I have tried to argue here that not only can we have reasonable belief without warrant but that in some circumstances Plantinga’s claim that you should withhold belief from unwarranted propositions forces irrationality.

Dave2 said...

Steven,

Maybe I'm missing something here, but here's a good rule for arguments taken from actual philosophers: go right to the source and read it extremely carefully, do not trust any summary, especially one written by a non-philosopher.

This rule is especially important in philosophy of religion, where online Christian-atheist discussions trade in abysmally bastardized versions of the actual arguments.

Also note that terms like "reliable" and "warrant" get their meaning from a developed literature in epistemology. Anyone evaluating Plantinga's argument without a good understanding of these technical terms is on a fool's errand.

Steven Carr said...

LLOYD
Plantinga’s conception of “reliable cognitive faculties” are cognitive faculties that, broadly, tend to instil beliefs that are true.

CARR
So cognitive faculties that only ever produce the one , single belief 'I exist' are reliable?

Tony Lloyd said...

Steven Carr: So cognitive faculties that only ever produce the one , single belief 'I exist' are reliable?

If it produced the belief "I exist" (and "I exist" were true) then it would be a reliable indicator of personal existence. A reliable watch gives true beliefs about the time. This doesn't, however, certify it as some general "reliable source" for other beliefs . Our experiences are reliable sources of warrant about experiences, but not things that go beyond experience any more than a watch tells you what beer to buy.

Plantinga claims that our cognitive faculties were designed to give true beliefs beyond experience. I think this is rubbish, but it is not the issue in EAAN. The issue in EAAN is whether or not naturalism, if true, would mean that our cognitive faculties were not reliable.

Here I do agree with Plantinga: naturalism means that it is unlikely that our cognitive faculties produce true beliefs. Plantinga thinks that this means we cannot have reliably formed beliefs about naturalism and evolution. Again I agree. I disagree with Plantinga when he says that a belief that has not been reliably formed is irrational. (No reliable watches exist: they all differ from the exact time at some point. It is still rational to form beliefs about the time from them.)

floyd said...

Tony Lloyd said...

Here I do agree with Plantinga: naturalism means that it is unlikely that our cognitive faculties produce true beliefs. Plantinga thinks that this means we cannot have reliably formed beliefs about naturalism and evolution. Again I agree.

Plantinga's claim is merely argumentum ad ignorantiam and a non sequitur. He is not a biologist so how would he know? Evolution can produce reliable cognitive faculties for the simple reason that if we did not develop them we would not even survive. We would never find food and be walking off cliffs. Reliable belief-forming mechanisms must exist in order to survive. The opposite cannot form based on the world we live in. If you think you can fly without wings, you fall and die.

Kyle said...

He is not a biologist so how would he know?

Are you a biologist?

get_education said...

Iago,

Douglas Hochstader

OF COURSE!

(sorry, not my intention to yell, but Iago hit a fiber of my enthusiasm)

Yes! We can make chemicals that "simulate love." There was a somewhat recent publication ... well maybe one or two years ago, they discovered a molecule that, when inhibited, zero love ...

We are programmed by society/environment/et cetera, but we have some hardware limitations and come with some preloaded stuff, some natural pre-programming imprinted.

G.E.

get_education said...

The discovered molecule was a molecule of the brain. Sorry I did not make that clear.

G.E.

get_education said...

Ups, and it should be Douglas Hofstadter

:-)

get_education said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
get_education said...

Hi Kyle P,

Thanks for addressing this "computers doing abstractions" thing. Your comments are quite useful.

It may be a stream of binary data, or it may be a human thought pattern (which I'm still not convinced is NOT a stream of binary data)

Well, it could be a ternary, or quaternary, or what do I know ... just like DNA is not binary :-)

G.E.

Steven Carr said...

I see Tony Lloyd cannot address the question of why Plantinga believes there are demons capable of attacking his reasoning and senses and also that his reasoning and senses are reliable.

And Plantinga's claim that we should expect it to be very , very rare for a species to have big , reasoning brains like hours is hardly a contradiction of naturalism.

If naturalism predicts X, and X is what we find in nature, then naturalism has not been defeated.

Tony Lloyd said...

Steven Carr: I see Tony Lloyd cannot address the question of why Plantinga believes there are demons capable of attacking his reasoning and senses and also that his reasoning and senses are reliable.

Why would I want to? Plantinga's senses are not reliable.

floyd:Evolution can produce reliable cognitive faculties for the simple reason that if we did not develop them we would not even survive.

Not so. Just as evolution neither produces nor needs to produce the exact, perfect, organs. Natural Selection is not presented with the perfect trait to select, so it selects the ones that are less crap. Our cognitive faculties do not need to give rise to true beliefs, just beliefs that are not as much complete rubbish as the Neaderthals'. Natural Selection will also select for bad traits, if the rival good traits are associated with worse traits.

A bird that reacts to a false Hawk shape survives just as well as a bird that can discriminate between a true hawk and a cardboard cutout in a world with few cardboard cutouts of hawk shapes. Humans who leap to conclusions survive in a world where no, other wise effective, homonids have developed a perfect theory producing apparatus.

Iago said...

GE, thanks for the correction, it has been some time since I did read him. However he was a very enjoyable read.

Kyle P., I used love as just a thought of an abstract. You can program in "love" for your wife, however what about 'like' for another person. When does 'like' become 'love'? And to use a Simpsons quote "Is that the love between a man and a woman, or the love of a man for a fine Cuban cigar? "

Paul Crowley said...

The long answer to this one is here:

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/09/occams-razor.html

In short, if we accepted the proposed reading of Occam's Razor, we could have no science, and indeed no understanding of the world at all, because practically any explanation of anything we might ever give would be trumped by the shorter, "simpler" explanation "it was the will of God". An explanation must actually do some work to count, and there God always fails.

floyd said...

Tony Lloyd said:

Not so. Just as evolution neither produces nor needs to produce the exact, perfect, organs. Natural Selection is not presented with the perfect trait to select, so it selects the ones that are less crap.

They don't have to be perfect or exact. Do we have the best senses? Does our noses smell aromas like dogs? No. Are our eyes perfect? No, we often need glasses and they only detect a limited range of light. But they are reliable enough for us to survive. If our eye sight were not reliable enough to keep us out of danger, we would simply die off. Also note that many species have already gone extinct.

I really don't understand why presuppositionists always demand "absolute certain knowledge." It's really naive. The western philosophical obsession with truth as correspondance to reality as opposed to truth as what's useful is a big problem IMO

floyd said...

Tony Lloyd said:
A bird that reacts to a false Hawk shape survives just as well as a bird that can discriminate between a true hawk and a cardboard cutout in a world with few cardboard cutouts of hawk shapes. Humans who leap to conclusions survive in a world where no, other wise effective, homonids have developed a perfect theory producing apparatus.

A bird that always reacts falsely will die. How about a bat that reacts because their sonar detected something that wasn't an insect? As long as they get enough positives, they will survive. Are you claiming humans are perfect?! We always make the right decisions and are senses are perfect?! I really don't think you have thought this out enough.

Tony Lloyd said...

floyd said:

They don't have to be perfect or exact.

And so they are neither perfect nor exact. Just as the beliefs created by our cognitive faculties do not have to be true and are not true (they may approximate truth, but a proposition that approximates truth without being true is false).

We can decide to favour a pragmatist theory of truth, but that just extends the length of our sentences: a belief that is pragmatist-theory-of-truth true without being correspondence-theory-of-truth true is correspondence-theory-of-truth false.

From your evolutionary argument it follows that our beleifs are very likely to be pragmatist-theory-of-truth true rather than correspondence-theory-of-truth true. Which is Plantinga's point: evolution favours the practical rather than the true.

As long as they get enough positives, they will survive. If they only get "enough" positives it is likely that they get some negatives. For propositions one negative renders the proposition false.

I really don't understand why presuppositionists always demand "absolute certain knowledge." It's really naive.

I agree. Which gets us back to:

1. Plantinga is correct that evolutionary naturalism does not engender absolute certain knowledge
2. Plantinga is incorrect in considering absolute certain knowledge at all necessary for rationality

floyd said...

Tony Lloyd said:

1. Plantinga is correct that evolutionary naturalism does not engender absolute certain knowledge

How does Christian theism lead us to "absolute certain knowledge"? The presuppositionalist is caught in the following problem: "If God exists and serves as the guarantor of my beliefs, then I know what I think I know and I have a correct picture of reality. But if he does not exist or is not the guarantor of my beliefs, then I don't know what I think I know. I wonder which it is?" Now, as an epistemology, this is laughable.

A standard of evidence is not a guarantee of truth. Applying a standard of evidence is applying a theory (an epistemic model) of how a belief can be warranted so as to make it more likely that one's beliefs are correct or true. No has or needs some theory-independent meta-method for establishing that one's standards of evidence are truth conducive so as to guarantee one's beliefs.

"Certainty" is a desideratum, not a necessitatum. Certainty is merely a feeling or degree of confidence, not a mark of veracity. Certainty is a red herring when it comes to knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen, well it's my turn with Sye.

I had a debate with Sye on Premier Christian Radio, it was broadcast on 31st July.

There are also three threads running on the Unbelievable forums there.

First off, i'm no philosopher and so if you listen to the broadcast you'll see that become apparent very quickly.

Nonetheless, your blog has been a great help.

I would say that I've now got the measure of our Canadian friend, having finally understood some of the theory of your posts to him (that took weeks)and also once I realised that large parts of the methodology of Presuppositional Apologetics is actually close to similar methods used by cults, specifically those who like small male Hollywood stars in action movies.

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks, and that I think I get it now. :-)

Paul Baird

Stephen Law said...

Hi Paul - Thanks. I'll try to find time to listen....

I am kind of surprised PCR had a bullshitter like Sye on, to be honest. He's not exactly Alvin Plantinga. Hopefully it won't be Young Earth Creationists next.

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