Saturday, December 10, 2011

Naturalism, Evolution and True Belief

This article on Plantinga i just published in Analysis. It's a fairly short attempt to refute Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Go here. PDF is here.

Abstract

Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism aims to show that naturalism is, as he puts it, ‘incoherent or self defeating’. Plantinga supposes that, in the absence of any God-like being to guide the process, natural selection is unlikely to favour true belief. Plantinga overlooks the fact that adherents of naturalism may plausibly hold that there exist certain conceptual links between belief content and behaviour. Given such links, natural selection will favour true belief. A further rather surprising consequence of the existence of such links is this: even if semantic properties are epiphenomenal, unguided evolution will still favour true belief.

52 comments:

Steven Carr said...

' Plantinga supposes that, in the absence of any God-like being to guide the process, natural selection is unlikely to favour true belief.'

So , if naturalism is true, we should expect an extremely small percentage of species to have developed the capability to understand Pythagoras' Theorem?

What actually is Plantinga's argument other than detonating a nuclear bomb of if you can't trust your reasoning 100%, you cannot trust it at all?

I really don't know what Plantinga's argument is.

Fergus Gallagher said...

The PDF link is behind a paywall, but the first link has a "Full Text (PDF)" link on the right which works.

geoffrobinson said...

I'll assume you've correctly characterized Plantinga's argument. A stronger form of his argument would run like this:

-all thought are constrained by the laws of physics and chemistry according to materialism

-that includes our own thoughts

-if we aren't designed in any way by a higher power to recognize truth, we have no basis for trusting our own rationality. Our thoughts are not qualitatively different that Dr Pepper fizzing in the driveway. The best you can assume is that your thoughts help you pick up chicks.

-if we are to assume our own rationality (we must as a properly basic belief) we must also take it as a basic premise that we are designed.

-if you disagree and are a materialist you must answer the following question: do you believe this because it is true or because the atoms are bouncing around in your head a certain way? Honest answer: because the atoms are bouncing around in your head a certain way.

geoffrobinson said...

I recognize the final question is a Catch-22. Either deny materialism or concede the problem. But that's not my problem.

Steven Carr said...

So Plantinga thinks human beings are designed to produce true beliefs?

So why study science when we can just rely on Planting's god who has designed us to detect neutrinos, quarks and black holes, without the aid of purely natural mechanisms to help our cognitive faculties?

And, of course, we can cancel Mr. Robinson's bank balance, which consists simply of some electrons bouncing around in a computer.

'do you believe your bank balance because it is true or because the atoms are bouncing around in the banks's computer in a certain way? Honest answer: because the atoms are bouncing around the computer in your head a certain way.'


One thing is clear. Christians don't believe things simply because their brains says it is true.

That's just their brain talking! They can't trust that! Who can trust atoms and molecules?

Debunkey Monkey said...

No offense to Professor Plantiga, but he's kind of off the wall. I'm a bit perplexed at his academic success. I'd be embarrassed to teach in the same department as him.

I'm sure he's a nice guy though.

Debunkey Monkey said...

I'm starting to read the argument, but something struck me almost immediately...

Isn't Alvin Plantinga human evidence that we haven't necessarily evolved to hold true beliefs? o_O

Alright, now back to the article.

Debunkey Monkey said...

Okay, done with the article. I agree with Stephen's analysis, but I would also give more credence to Plantinga's argument that evolution would not favor "true" beliefs.

First of all, let's deconstruct the nervous system into its basic function: input-ouput. It's well established when dealing with input-output systems that garbage in means garbage out (GIGO). So, in order to have meaningful output, the input must be meaningful.

So right there, evolution would favor true "beliefs" regarding input. We would not expect our senses to consistently fool us except in the cases where our senses make complex abstractions. Evolution would select for hot things to feel hot, for example.

However, beyond this, evolution doesn't care what our beliefs are as long as they give meaningful output. So when I see a painting, what I see doesn't correspond with reality. I'm able to see figures, scenery, and even emotional expressions even though in reality all that is before me is electromagnetic radiation being emitted from the paint atoms.

Likewise, for Stephen's example of finding water, the concept we hold of water in our minds isn't "real." We don't think of water as a collection of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, we conceptualize it based on its taste, shapes, and what-not.

In other words, we all hold subjective beliefs about reality that aren't "true" in the sense that they are not perfect representations of the objective world. However, because we can trust our inputs for the most part, and our beliefs are based on our inputs, our beliefs, although subjective, can usually be trusted.

Back to Stephen's example. Paris is a completely made up concept. Some people marked off some territory and arbitrarily called it Paris. None the less, we can use this concept of Paris to help direct our behavior since it corresponds with "true input."

So, to sum up, I would say our beliefs tend not to be objectively true, however, as long as our inputs aren't garbage and our outputs are meaningful which they must be, our beliefs will tend to correspond with reality.

Thomas Larsen said...

"Plantinga supposes that, in the absence of any God-like being to guide the process, natural selection is unlikely to favour true belief."

It seems to me that there are various categories of true beliefs which natural selection, given naturalism, would favour. One might expect beliefs about where to find food and water, about the presence of a tree in one's path, or about gathering storm-clouds to generally be veridical. But should one expect, if naturalism is true, to be able to reliably discern complex physics or make reliable judgements about the truth of naturalism?

geoffrobinson said...

Steven,

Based on your response, it seems that the argument went over your head. You may want to reread and think about it further.

In regards to other comments, I'm not sure how anyone can think an undirected process would favor any sort of outcome in terms of rationality. And especially not without already assuming their own rationality.

Steven Carr said...

'But should one expect, if naturalism is true, to be able to reliably discern complex
physics or make reliable judgements about the truth of naturalism?'

Could you remind me which universities teach complex physics by using natural selection?

Presumably people who fail the exams are shot and the people who pass get to breed.

I don't understand Plantinga's argument that if natural selection is true, then our beliefs are formed by a process of natural selection.


Of course, on Plantinga's worldview , his sense and reasoning are under constant attack by demons.

There is no point in listening to Plantinga until he has proved that his reasoning has not been tampered with by an Evil God.

Until Plantinga does that, we have no reason to trust anything he says,

Steven Carr said...

GEOFF
Based on your response, it seems that the argument went over your head.


CARR
This is true.

I do not understand Plantinga's claim that naturalism is false because it predicts that the percentage of species that develop sophisticated thoughts will be very low.

This is exactly what we see.

I do not understand Plantinga's claim that naturalism is false because it predicts that the many people will have have false beliefs about the world (that there is a God, that Jesus was resurrected etc)


This is exactly what we see.


How can you prove something is false by showing how it successfully makes predictions?

merkur said...

"Our thoughts are not qualitatively different that Dr Pepper fizzing in the driveway."

This is prima facie not true, and I always wonder why apologists bring it up. We may wonder why it is true that our thoughts are qualitatively different than Dr Pepper, but that's a different question entirely.

Thomas Larsen said...

Steven, Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism (as I understand it) is basically the following:

If naturalism is true, and evolution by natural selection is true, then the faculties used by human beings to form beliefs about the world - centred, presumably, in the human brain - have evolved over a long period of time to increase (or at least not decrease) the ability of human beings to survive. But there is no reason, on naturalism, to assume that our faculties have evolved to enable us to determine deep truths about the universe - including, for instance, whether or not naturalism is true. And so the naturalist cannot rationally affirm that naturalism is true if she accepts that her faculties for producing true beliefs have evolved by natural selection - evolved to aid her survival and not to aid her in finding truth.

Stephen Law said...

Thomas, you are overlooking the fact that it's general truth-sensitivity, particularly with respect to novel situations, that makes our cognitive faculties adaptive.

Once we know our faculties, such as procedural reasoning, are likely to be generally truth sensitive/conducive, there's no reason to suppose they are not with respect to bigger scientific and other questions. Modus ponens is just as reliable a form of inference whether applied or applies, oranges, fairies, psychic powers, or gods.

Stephen Law said...

Also, theism is actually rather MORE obviously self-defeating as, while you might reason that if there's a god then we have reliable cognitive faculties, those faculties then reveal there's no such God.

Paul Wright said...

merkur: geoffrobinson's point is that he thinks his fizzing statement is not true but true on materialism, therefore materialism is false.

geoffrobinson: I don't think you have a stronger form of Plantinga's argument.

-all thought are constrained by the laws of physics and chemistry according to materialism

-that includes our own thoughts


With you so far.

-if we aren't designed in any way by a higher power to recognize truth, we have no basis for trusting our own rationality. Our thoughts are not qualitatively different that Dr Pepper fizzing in the driveway. The best you can assume is that your thoughts help you pick up chicks.

This is a series of statements which I see no reason for a materialist to accept, even if they accepted your prior statements, as I just did. For example, if a materialist thought that we were "designed" by a natural process which gave us the ability to recognise truth, they would not accept your first statement. In fact, your first statement is so strong that you need to rule out all other possible causes of this "truth recognition" ability you say we can have only if it was designed.

Your second statement is also not something a materialist would be compelled to accept. Saying that everything is made of the same stuff does not mean that everything shares the same qualities (this is called the Fallacy of Composition).

Your third statement is completely out of left field: I've no idea why you think a materialist would think that.

-if we are to assume our own rationality (we must as a properly basic belief) we must also take it as a basic premise that we are designed.

-if you disagree and are a materialist you must answer the following question: do you believe this because it is true or because the atoms are bouncing around in your head a certain way? Honest answer: because the atoms are bouncing around in your head a certain way.


Steven Carr has already used the bank account example, which illustrates the problem with this sort of argument: the fact that your bank balanced is composed of electrons bouncing around in a certain way does not imply that it isn't real, isn't a reflection of your income and spending, and so on. You have not shown that the electrons bouncing in that way is unconnected to your income and spending, say, just as you have not shown that the atoms bouncing in a certain way is unconnected with formation of true beliefs.

Further reading: Thou Art Physics.

merkur said...

"geoffrobinson's point is that he thinks his fizzing statement is not true but true on materialism, therefore materialism is false."

And my point is that it's not true on materialism.

merkur said...

To illustrate what I mean: ice, water and steam are composed of identical molecules, yet they have hugely different qualities due to relatively slight changes in the arrangement of those molecules. I assume that even geoffrobinson would accept that this is true even if materialism is true.

Dr Pepper and my brain are composed of radically different molecules arranged in radically different ways. Why would geoffrobinson (and other apologists using the same argument) not accept that as a result of these radical differences, the two possess radically different qualities?

Steven Carr said...

'. But there is no reason, on naturalism, to assume that our faculties have evolved to enable us to determine deep truths about the universe - including, for instance, whether or not naturalism is true'


There is no reason to think seals evolved to have the ability to balance a ball on its nose.

So God must have designed seals to do circus acts.

Johnny P said...

I posted on this on my website some time ago. Plantinga is just wrong, syrely!

A Tippling Philosopher

Thomas Larsen said...

Stephen:

"Thomas, you are overlooking the fact that it's general truth-sensitivity, particularly with respect to novel situations, that makes our cognitive faculties adaptive.

"Once we know our faculties, such as procedural reasoning, are likely to be generally truth sensitive/conducive, there's no reason to suppose they are not with respect to bigger scientific and other questions. Modus ponens is just as reliable a form of inference whether applied or applies, oranges, fairies, psychic powers, or gods."

Actually, it occurs to me that naturalism might raise other problems. On naturalism, what justification do we have for thinking that concepts which apply to us on an everyday basis apply everywhere on a cosmic basis?

Take, for instance, gravity. Though knowing that rocks and apples fall on Earth helps me to survive on Earth, on what basis can I assume that gravity applies in the same way on a star system far away? Though it aids my survival to know that objects, when left on the ground on Earth, generally stay there (unless eaten or blown up or stolen), on what basis can I assume that the same principle applies on some planet orbiting Betelgeuse? (I don't even know if there's a planet orbiting Betelgeuse... if there isn't, substitute some other star that does have a planet orbiting it.) It seems to me, admittedly on little reflection, that naturalism doesn't provide a good basis for assuming that logical, observational, physical, and various other principles are generally consistent and constant throughout the cosmos.

Our faculties use basic principles to determine whether an apple is likely to fall off a tree, or a rock is likely to fall off a cliff, or a flood is likely to come in the night. But, given naturalism, on what basis can we assume that those principles apply "across the board" to complex physics, judgements about the truth of naturalism, and so on?

(An argument for naturalism may take the form of modus ponens or modus tollens, but I don't think there are any successful a priori arguments for naturalism, and a posteriori arguments appeal to experience, which—given naturalism—could be faulty.)

"Also, theism is actually rather MORE obviously self-defeating as, while you might reason that if there's a god then we have reliable cognitive faculties, those faculties then reveal there's no such God."

Couldn't the (orthodox Christian) theist just appeal to the noetic effects of sin upon a person (either that person's own sin or the sins of other people—indoctrination, "brainwashing," and so on), or to any number of other influences upon a person's reliable cognitive faculties that are entirely compatible with the existence of God?

David Span said...

I have always found Pantinga's argument odd. It seems to be premised on the idea that human cognitive faculties are actually capable of determining truth about the world. (But which suddently can't be if the conclusion involves naturalism.)

But he's faced with humans believing in 1000s of gods and goddesses, fairies, Valhalla, etc etc. And as for the myriad of religions with their votaries all KNOWING they are true...

How does Plantinga account for them with his god-like creator of human reasoning?

Which seems to be another angle to say that it is more reasonable to ccoclude that theism is self-defeating.

I'm quite happy to agree that our cognitive faculties cannot be trusted 100%, and humans are quite susceptible to delusions and illusions. Which means we have to spend enormous effort developing and applying critical thinking methods.

geoffrobinson said...

The appeal to the bank account argument confirms what I said. You guys are catching the main thrust of the argument.

The argument is not that atoms are unreliable. As another commenter mentioned, it is about justification and warrant for belief.

Furthermore, the bank account argument undermines the case for materialism. Bank accounts and the whole electronic edifice on which they rest are designed. Would we trust any system where the 1's and 0's get their by blind forces.

Granted, the parallel breaks down because, once again, it isn't about bits or atoms being untrustworthy. It's about warrant for belief when you're stuck within a system.

geoffrobinson said...

Excuse me. In the second sentence I meant to say "are not catching the main thrust of the argument."

But I guess the laws of physics and chemistry prevent anything otherwise. :)

Steven Carr said...

'Which seems to be another angle to say that it is more reasonable to ccoclude that theism is self-defeating.'

We don't have to take anything Plantinga says seriously until the time he has proved that his reasoning has not been affected by Evil God.

Paul Wright said...

geoffrobinson: Your argument against materialism isn't very clear. You mentioned mentioning stuff about our thoughts being reducable to bouncing atoms as if that should bother a materialist, but you apparently later acknowledge that it does not, since you are perfectly happy to accept your bank balance as real. So the stuff about fizzy drinks is just rhetorical flourish: the mere fact that some things are reducable to smaller material components which don't share the properties of the larger scale things doesn't mean those larger scale properties aren't real.

Now you say your argument is about warrant. You believe your bank balance is real because it was designed to work in a certain way (even though it is reducable to bouncing electrons). So your argument appears to be that you're a reliabilist about justification, and you believe something like "a cognitive faculty can only be reliable if it was designed to be so". Is that right? Can you explain why a materialist would feel compelled to accept that, and whether God's own cognitive faculties are reliable?

David Span said...

Thomas

"On naturalism, what justification do we have for thinking that concepts which apply to us on an everyday basis apply everywhere on a cosmic basis."

How is this relevant? So what if they are different somewhere else? Why is that a problem under naturalism? How would it be evidence for supernaturalism?

"Couldn't the (orthodox Christian) theist just appeal to the noetic effects of sin upon a person…or to any number of other influences upon a person's reliable cognitive faculties that are entirely compatible with the existence of God"

But that would just be a circular argument for such a god. If the effects of sin or some other influences are a result of this god existing to begin with, the effects can’t be used in any way to support the existence of such a god.

"a posteriori arguments appeal to experience, which—given naturalism—could be faulty."

Well clearly our interpretations of events, and the way we experience events, can indeed be faulty. Remember, there are 1000s of different belief systems including fundamentally contradictory concepts of gods and goddesses, and including those without any gods or goddesses. Now that doesn’t help an argument for a particular brand of theism. If you were to claim that a god has given us perfect cognition, then such a god is contradicted. Hence it is an incoherent position.

Now why, under naturalism, would we be stopped from "reliably discerning complex physics"? What stops the possiblity of that happening?

GearHedEd said...

Thomas Larsen said...

Take, for instance, gravity. Though knowing that rocks and apples fall on Earth helps me to survive on Earth, on what basis can I assume that gravity applies in the same way on a star system far away? Though it aids my survival to know that objects, when left on the ground on Earth, generally stay there (unless eaten or blown up or stolen), on what basis can I assume that the same principle applies on some planet orbiting Betelgeuse? (I don't even know if there's a planet orbiting Betelgeuse... if there isn't, substitute some other star that does have a planet orbiting it.)...

If another star has another planet orbiting it, then gravity is demonstrated to work in the same way there as it does here.

Uh Duuuuuuuuhhhhhhh!

GearHedEd said...

I don't know about anyone else, but I've basically used Plantinga's math against his argument. So far, I haven't seen anyone else approach it from that angle recently in the blogosphere, but the basic argument is that while the math itself is correct, the underlying assumptions are at best arbitrary and at worst just plain wrong.
There's three assumptions I focused on: First, his arbitrary numbers of beliefs, where he starts with 1,000. Why this number? Hint: it makes the answer come out so infinitesimal that Plantinga can crow about the chance being utterly negligible. In reality he ignores the idea that there are probably only a few dozen non-trivial (read: important enough that if you get them wrong, you die) "beliefs" that should be considered. Second, he assumes that any belief is a binary option, either yes or no, without conditions or external modifiers. For example, a reasonably cognizant individual who saw his friend eaten by hyenas would probably acquire a belief that it was good to avoid hyenas, and not rely on the 'flip-of-a-coin' style decision making that Plantinga's construct requires. No one evolved in a vacuum of sensory input. Third, he reinforces the mistake he makes in the second assumption by using a statistical formula that is only valid for binary combinations (e.g., heads/tails). I didn't want to include the formula here because the symbology available in a blogger combox is inadequate, but if y'all insist, here it is anyway:

0.5^1000*(1000!/​((1000-750)!*750!))

Note that this math was only in Plantinga's first iteration of the EAAN. Later versions discarded it (see Naturalism Defeated, 1994 pg. 11) and settled on the semantic logical constructions (claimed to be exhaustive, although I haven't waded through that in detail yet...) where four options for how beliefs are formed and their reliabilities assessed are given: epiphenomenalism, semantic epiphenominalism, maladaptation, and belief-cum-desire. Note as well that in the absence of hard numbers now that he's abandoned his earlier math, he still clings to the "LOW or inscrutable" statement, even when his justification for LOW is now essentially gone...

geoffrobinson said...

"geoffrobinson: Your argument against materialism isn't very clear. You mentioned mentioning stuff about our thoughts being reducable to bouncing atoms as if that should bother a materialist, but you apparently later acknowledge that it does not, since you are perfectly happy to accept your bank balance as real. So the stuff about fizzy drinks is just rhetorical flourish: the mere fact that some things are reducable to smaller material components which don't share the properties of the larger scale things doesn't mean those larger scale properties aren't real."

The problem is that under materialism there is no warrant because you can't be sure that your own thoughts are reliable. We are in the system itself so to speak. You have to assume design from the ground floor.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

Thomas Larsen said...

David Span:

"How is this relevant? So what if they are different somewhere else? Why is that a problem under naturalism? How would it be evidence for supernaturalism?

"But that would just be a circular argument for such a god. If the effects of sin or some other influences are a result of this god existing to begin with, the effects can’t be used in any way to support the existence of such a god."

David, I'm not entirely sure how you came to the conclusion that I was trying to provide "evidence for supernaturalism" or "support the existence of such a god." My intention was to emphasise a possible defeater for naturalism: namely, naturalism requires one to make a sweeping statement about the whole cosmos (there is no God), but doesn't seem to provide a plausible justification for why physical laws, logical principles, and so on can be applied beyond the basics of what we encounter on an everyday basis. Theism can ground the consistency and constancy of physical laws, logical principles, and so on in the faithfulness of a changeless, metaphysically necessary God.

"Well clearly our interpretations of events, and the way we experience events, can indeed be faulty. Remember, there are 1000s of different belief systems including fundamentally contradictory concepts of gods and goddesses, and including those without any gods or goddesses. Now that doesn’t help an argument for a particular brand of theism. If you were to claim that a god has given us perfect cognition, then such a god is contradicted. Hence it is an incoherent position."

According to orthodox Christian theism, human beings stand in rebellion against God, and this has affected their cognitive faculties at least to some degree. Moreover, I don't think people tend to believe in God merely on the basis of certain arguments: in my experience, people tend to find belief in God quite intuitive, natural, and right—perhaps when they observe a sunset in the mountains or the delicate intricacy of a flower, or when they hear the Christian Gospel, or when they learn of the beauty of the concept of God. I don't think anyone's going to say, "Naturalism is self-defeating; therefore, theism must be true; therefore, I'll believe in God." People just don't work that way.

"Now why, under naturalism, would we be stopped from 'reliably discerning complex physics'? What stops the possiblity of that happening?"

Well, note that I didn't say that naturalism implies that we can't reliably discern complex physics or the truth of naturalism! Rather, I just don't think that naturalism provides good grounds for thinking that we would be able to do these things reliably; on naturalism, assumptions about the constancy, consistency, and applicability of physical laws, logical principles, and so on outside of our everyday environment seem to be to be quite unjustified.

GearHedEd:

"If another star has another planet orbiting it, then gravity is demonstrated to work in the same way there as it does here.

"Uh Duuuuuuuuhhhhhhh!"

Hey! I did say on some planet orbiting Betelgeuse... ;-)

David Span said...

geoffrobinson

When you say that design must be assumed, I presume you mean “intelligent design”. Yet evolution by natural selection qualifies as non-intelligent design. So naturalism addresses the challenge. Ironically for you, though, there is no evidence for intelligent design of human brains.

But how are we more justified that our thoughts are reliable given supernaturalism? Where is the evidence about how that would work?

So given supernaturalism, and us having reliable thoughts, we have empirical evidence for a natural world.

Thomas Larsen said...

David:

"So given supernaturalism, and us having reliable thoughts, we have empirical evidence for a natural world."

Of course we have empirical evidence for a natural world! But do we have empirical evidence for naturalism? If so, (given the truth of naturalism,) what reasons do we have to think that we are examining the evidence correctly?

Steven Carr said...

' If so, (given the truth of naturalism,) what reasons do we have to think that we are examining the evidence correctly?'

Well, for one thing, there are no supernatural demons attacking our reasoning and senses.

Theists cannot produce any basis for anything as they claim there are demons deceiving humanity.

Have you worked out yet why your god designed a seal to be able to balance a ball on its nose? Is that something favoured by natural selection (in Plantinga's view of what natural selection does)

Plantinga was issuing false dichotomies when he claimed that either his god designed an ability of a species to do something or it evolved through natural selection.

I guess dancing horses got their ability to dance through God, as natural selection never favoured horses that could compete in dressage events.

LARSEN
in my experience, people tend to find belief in God quite intuitive, natural, and right—

CARR
Yes, there is a book which explains why religion is natural and science is hard.

That is why humanity has created thousands of gods while so few people have science degrees.

Steven Carr said...

ROBINSON
The problem is that under materialism there is no warrant because you can't be sure that your own thoughts are reliable.

CARR
No, that is called being human.

Human beings make mistakes in their thought processes.

Why does that undermine naturalism, especially as you claim that your thoughts are under attack by demons?

Why should I take a blind bit of notice of anything you say, when your worldview means that demons are deceiving you?

Your own beliefs cut your legs from under you , as you cannot claim your reasoning is valid, as demons are highly motivated to attack your reasoning.

But we naturalists have none of the problems that believers in the supernatural have.

Paul Wright said...

The problem is that under materialism there is no warrant because you can't be sure that your own thoughts are reliable.

Why? Materialism says that everything is made of stuff obeying the laws of physics, it isn't a story about how our brains work (except that they obey the laws of physics) or how they came to be (except that way must be physically possible). Do you have an argument that a brain which obeys the laws of physics cannot have reliable thoughts?

You might mean that (as Plantinga argues) naturalism and evolution taken together give us no reason to think our thoughts are reliable. But in that case, your argument isn't better than Plantinga's: it is in fact Plantinga's.

We are in the system itself so to speak.

Being in a lawful system is arguably necessary for reliable faculties (see Thou Art Physics again, notably the bits about "Requiredism").

You have to assume design from the ground floor.

I notice you haven't answered the question about God's cognitive faculties. I think your argument that "reliable thoughts require a designer" lands the Christian in as much trouble as the materialist.

Paul Wright said...

A couple of links from The Barefoot Bum on the topic.

Firstly, Reliable Belief Producing Faculities is a fun dialogue between "Al" and the Bum where TBB points out that, since our faculties aren't completely reliable, Plantinga's argument amounts of a list of ways they work and don't work topped off by a statement that "God wants this". It's far from clear that adding "God wants this" adds anything by way of explanation.

Secondly, in Plantinga's critique of naturalism , the Bum draws an analogy between Plantinga's argument and arguments about underdetermination in scientific theories (the idea there being that there are many possible theories which are compatible with experiment, so experiments don't care about whether a theory is "true"). TBB ends up saying that all of these arguments about idealised truth-accessing faculties just assume that we do have them and that it'd be a problem for a worldview which predicted that we don't, whereas in fact we don't know that we do have them.

I think a full blown naturalism (in the sense of someone like Konrad Talmont-Kaminski) might instead say that we'll just have to study our faculties using the best tools we have (scientific ones) without assuming that either the science or the faculties are completely reliable. That could mean that the whole enterprise is doomed as far as getting at truth goes, but it doesn't mean that the Christian explanation is better.

I'd like to understand Stephen Law's argument better but got lost among all the letters and numbers: is there a For Dummies version anywhere?

DDCC Admin said...

Stephen
I think using the idea of introducing the CC term is a useful approach.

I tried a similar argument with someone just using words and as such it did not fit into the 'shape' of the argument.

I said:
I need to answer the possibility that faulty beliefs in conjunction with the necessary desires produce behaviour that is nonetheless adaptive. The argument against this is that one instance of behaviour is not driven by a single belief acting in concert with a single desire. (Maybe I will eventually pick up the other thread but this is why I said the belief-desire pair is a fiction.) In reality behaviour driven by a complex of desires working with a network or pyramid of beliefs.
I might believe I can get food from the supermarket; this would useful if I’m hungry.
“I can get food from the supermarket” is not an atomic belief but stands amongst of a myriad of supporting beliefs. Food is at the supermarket. The supermarket will let me have the food. I can get to and from the supermarket. I have a car. I can use a car. And so on and on.
This set of supporting beliefs will heavily intersect with other sets of supporting beliefs for other beliefs such as “I believe I can get clothes from the supermarket”.
Therefore, I argue that individual false beliefs would ultimately not survive in a surrounding context of hundreds or thousands of aligned beliefs. It is an argument from coherence.


Do people see this as realting to the CC term?

Paul P. Mealing said...

I confess to not understanding this argument properly, but, based on my simplistic interpretation, I have a couple of points to make.

Platinga’s reference to materialism has some validity if one considers the role of free will. According to most, if not all, materialists, there is no free will. If free will is non-existent then whether beliefs are true or not becomes inconsequential, because they are outside the conscious control of anyone who holds them.

On the other hand, animals hold beliefs all the time that have consequences for natural selection. A bird believes that if it flies in a certain direction for long enough it will find its home. A whale believes if it goes to a certain location at a certain time of year it will find a mate. Another species believes if it waits at a certain place it will find food. In these cases the survival of the species is dependent on natural selection selecting for beliefs that are true. The fact that we call these beliefs instincts, when held by other species, doesn’t change the argument.

Regards, Paul.

David Span said...

Thoms

So you agree that we have empirical evidence for a natural world, but that we don't have empirical evidence for naturalism?

Well what else can evidence for a nautral world be but evidence for nautralism. It isn't evidence for supernaturalism!

Thomas Larsen said...

"Well what else can evidence for a nautral world be but evidence for nautralism. It isn't evidence for supernaturalism!"

I'll take "supernaturalism" to be the view that there exists some reality—some personal reality—that transcends the natural world, and "naturalism" to be the view that no such reality exists. (By the way, I don't really like the terms "natural" and "supernatural" when used in this context.)

So evidence contained in the natural world does not necessarily point towards naturalism. It could point beyond itself (as I think the beauty and goodness of the world does); or, on the other hand, it could suggest that there probably is no transcendent realm.

Imagine a bee in a beehive concluding, on the basis that all he has ever seen is his beehive, that only his beehive exists (beehivism). Another bee might conclude, on the basis of honey being brought into the beehive and the superb taste of honey, that there must be a world outside his beehive (superbeehivism). (Sorry, beekeepers, if I have the facts wrong about bees...)

Now, neither naturalism or supernaturalism (ugh) disagree on the existence of the natural world. What they do disagree on, however, is whether or not there is a personal reality that transcends the natural world. So you can't point to the natural world and say, "Look, there's a natural world: therefore, naturalism is true!"

Davide Span said...

Thomas

I cannot see how your response makes any sense. How does the evidence for a natural world point beyond? You’re comment that “beauty and goodness of the world” point to something beyond this world is just an argument from ignorance.

Anyone can say we can’t explain X therefore therefore it must be a god. People heard thunder and saw lighting and said there must be someone up there causing it all. But notice there was never someone causing it all even when we didn’t know what the cause was.

But it is not as if we can’t explain anything naturally. We are at the point where the evidence for natural explanations has continually increased. While ideas about the supernatural have never helped us understand anything about the world.

Your analogy with beehives also doesn’t make sense. All the bee has is evidence for expanding the natural world to outside the beehive. It’s nothing to do with “transcending the natural world”, which is what you're implying.

And I’m not sure why you don’t like the terms "natural" and "supernatural" used in this context -- they apply perfectly.

So where is the evidence for this "personal reality" beyond the natural world?

By the way, all I said is that the evidence for a natural world is evidence for naturalism, not that “naturalism is true”.

Thomas Larsen said...

David, would you say, then, that the existence of a natural world is evidence for supernaturalism as much as it is evidence for naturalism? Why, or why not?

(I suppose there's a sense in which a natural world is evidence for naturalism: if there were no natural world, naturalism would be false by definition. But, by that standard of evidence, a natural world is evidence for supernaturalism: if there were no natural world, supernaturalism would be false by definition.)

David Span said...

Thomas

I was responding to your defence for your (odd) claim that evidence for a natural world is evidence for supernaturalism.

Yet you have ignored my criticism of your explanation, and act as if I haven't already responded to you.

Don't you want to rebut my response? Or should I interpret your latest comment to me as meaning that you can't?

Thomas Larsen said...

Whoa, David! Relax! ;-)

"I was responding to your defence for your (odd) claim that evidence for a natural world is evidence for supernaturalism."

Well, that's not my view. I didn't claim that the evidence for a natural world is evidence for supernaturalism. (If, however, you think the existence of a natural world is evidence for naturalism—rather than mere background information—you should concede that it is equally evidence for supernaturalism.)

But the natural world could be, or could contain, evidence for supernaturalism in other ways. Suppose, hypothetically, that every flower in the universe had "God exists!" inscribed in beautiful writing underneath every petal: that would be evidence for supernaturalism. So the natural world might point beyond itself. But it doesn't follow that the mere existence of a natural world points either to naturalism or supernaturalism, in the same way that the existence of a blank signpost doesn't give us many hints as to what, if anything, might lie in its direction...

Thomas Larsen said...

I don't like the terms "natural" and "supernatural" in this context because they have often been used, historically, in support of a kind of rationalist deism. According to this view, God is "up there," we're "down here," and if we're lucky God will throw us a few tidbits of moral advice every now and then; and hopefully He'll drag us all away to a nice disembodied heaven when we die.

And the God revealed in the person of Jesus is not that kind of God at all: He's apart from, distinct from, the world, but involved far more intimately and intricately than deism will admit. "Heaven" (God's space) and "earth" (our space) are supposed to be connected, and the orthodox Christian hope is that someday they will be. People won't "go to heaven," as Western Christianity has assumed for so long: rather, God will make a new heaven and new earth, and heaven will come down to earth and be joined with it so that God's presence with His people will be complete.

One of the Psalms declares, "God gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry." Well, did the author really think that God comes down every morning to scatter manna on the ground for the beasts and ravens to eat? Of course not! But the idea behind this is that God has providentially arranged for the beasts and the ravens to be fed—and this is the way of divine action that I would draw across to, say, the evolution of creatures.

End of rant.

David Span said...

Thomas

Why would you think I’m not relaxed? Simply responding to your points.

But you said “So evidence contained in the natural world does not necessarily point towards naturalism. It could point beyond itself.”

How can an explanation of thunder being caused by clouds banging together be evidence for a “personal reality that transcends the natural world”?

Please show how explaining something with natural processes, for the very things that people claim there are supernatural explanations (whether deities, fairies or goblins), actually supports the supernatural? Maybe if you actually showed evidence for a supernatural explanation (whatever that could be...)

As science is premised on methodological naturalism, the supernatural is outside the realm of science, and the findings of science can’t be evidence for the supernatural – that wouldn’t make sense.

You seem to pretend that we haven't gained knowledge about anything, as if we are in permanent ignorance.

Part of the problem also seems to be the analogies you come up with. Flowers inscribed with “god exists”? Well that is hypothetical – but for the sake of argument, how would that be evidence for the supernatural? You would need to show the processes involved (because if you are treating this hypothetically, it could advanced aliens) otherwise you would be stuck with an argument from ignorance, which is essentially what the supernatural is.

People like Jesus, or the writers of your scriptures, can say/have said what they want about your concept of god, but it doesn’t make it real. You're in a very long queue of supernatural entities - fairies, Norse gods, Hindu gods, Australian Aboriginal deities, and on and on and on.

Thomas Larsen said...

It seems to me that you've subscribed to a certain reductionistic view of the world which sees everything that happens as having one explanation, a scientific explanation. Well, there's no reason at all to base science on methodological naturalism. If you accept that premise, well, of course everything in the universe must have a natural explanation, even if we don't know what it is yet!

And I'm not convinced that's a either a practical or reasonable position: what arguments do you have for (a) basing science on methodological naturalism and (b) accepting science as the authoritative means by which to understand reality?

I'm pretty sceptical that the basis for science—the consistent, continual operation of the physical world according to certain principles that are rationally intellible—can even be explained or grounded by naturalism. The origin of the universe and its continuing existence, the order and intelligibility of the physical principles which generally govern its operation, and many other features of the world are far better explained by a wise, trustworthy, and constant God.

Why do you think that an explanation of thunder being caused by clouds banging together is evidence for naturalism? Why think that a stone falling off a cliff somehow provides evidence that there is no God or gods? That just strikes me as flawed reasoning, and surely you know it...

David Span said...

Thomas

It isn’t all based on science – naturalism is a philosophical position that is informed by, but not determined by, science.

Given that science has been the only successful method to explain anything about the world (while claims of the supernatural have explained absolutely nothing), it is odd to say that you would question the practicality of it.

Science, by definition, is premised on methodological naturalism - to look for, study and account for natural phenomena. It is the success of science that provides evidence for naturalism. It need not have been that way.

I can do no better than to quote Massimo Pigliucci:

ON SCIENCE: “Methodological naturalism is what science does: science cannot investigate the supernatural because the latter — by definition — can be compatible with any given empirical observation, and moreover it simply cannot be experimented upon.”

ON NATURALISM: “Philosophical naturalism is essentially the atheist’s (eminently reasonable) position, grounded on serious philosophical arguments (e.g., the argument from evil) and informed (but, crucially, not determined) by science — science provides the most reasonable explanation for questions of origins, so it makes sense to accept those instead of fanciful stories about gods and angels that do not amount to explanations at all."

Nauturalism is a philosophical position, and science also rests on reasonable philosophical premises (e.g., that there is a physical world out there) to get it going. It is the ongoing success of science in providing explanations, pushing back our ignorance bit by bit, and leaving the ‘argument of ignorance’ of religious claims in its wake.

Empirical evidence therefore has nothing to say about the supernatural. How is continually showing natural processes behind phenomenon, without recourse to the supernatural, evidence for the supernatural? Whether it’s thunder or force of gravity that can be consistently measured and predicted. Why is that flawed? Why should we even think that there is a god behind it? You mean because we can’t answer everything (god of the gaps) or that we cannot believe it works without intelligence (appeal to credulity)?

Maybe you would also agree that if my shoes have been taken, and fairies can take things, that would be evidence for fairies – don't you think that maybe I should first provide a coherent position that fairies exist, and how they took the shoes, to avoid a circular argument?

Conrad Beyers said...

Hi Stephen. Just read your article and I agree with you.

When thinking about Plantinga's entire argument, it strikes me a totally useless argument. Even if we accept the entire argument and we suppose that a supernatural "belief guide" exists, why would that lead to reliable beliefs?

What reason whatsoever do we have to assume that a supernatural "belief guide" will not introduce false beliefs?

Plantinga's argument really brings us no further than the question of Descartes' demon.

Conrad Beyers said...

Just to add to my previous comment: Plantinga's solution to the problem (existende of the supernatural) does not solve the problem. P (R|Supernatural guide) can also be extremely low.