Plantinga on Dawkins: Part One

Christianity Today has published this lengthy review of The God Delusion. The review’s author is Alvin Plantinga, who is often described as America’s foremost philosopher of religion.

As regular readers of this blog are aware, I find the central truth claims of Christianity to be rather implausible, to put it kindly. I am also aware, however, that rather a lot of people feel differently. I have no trouble with the idea that all of those people are mistaken, but I do find it difficult to dismiss them all as fools. So I keep reading religious literature, in the increasingly vain hope that I will someday find some germ of intellectual respectability underlying the whole thing.

For that reason I read Plantinga’s review with great interest. To date I have been extremely unimpressed with the published criticisms of Dawkins’ book, but if anyone could devise a cogent counterargument it would be Plantinga. Noting the considerable length of the review (just under 4500 words, not counting endnotes), I figured that Plantinga must have put considerable effort into his arguments. At last, I thought, I would find what serious, high-powered Christianity has to offer against Dawkins’ assertions.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that Plantinga’s proposed refutations are not merely wrong, but mostly stupid. His smug tone suggests that in his mind he has delivered some devastating answers indeed. In most cases, however, I do not think he has even understood the questions.

I plan to devote several posts to Plantinga’s arguments. Here I will simply address Plantinga’s closing shots, where he suggests that an adherence to a materialistic conception of evolution leaves us with no sound basis for trusting our perceptions of the world around us.

Toward the end of the book, Dawkins endorses a certain limited skepticism. Since we have been cobbled together by (unguided) evolution, it is unlikely, he thinks, that our view of the world is overall accurate; natural selection is interested in adaptive behavior, not in true belief. But Dawkins fails to plumb the real depths of the skeptical implications of the view that we have come to be by way of unguided evolution. We can see this as follows. Like most naturalists, Dawkins is a materialist about human beings: human persons are material objects; they are not immaterial selves or souls or substances joined to a body, and they don’t contain any immaterial substance as a part. From this point of view, our beliefs would be dependent on neurophysiology, and (no doubt) a belief would just be a neurological structure of some complex kind. Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?

Plantinga is rather fond of this argument; he has made it in a variety of venues. It has been refuted many times, but he does not seem to have received the memo.

Plantinga is worried that if our cognitive faculties evolved via a naturalistic, unguided process, then we have no basis for thinking they are providing us with reliable information about the world. This worry is justified only if you imagine that organisms possessing genes that cause them to misperceive reality will consistently outreproduce those who perceive things accurately. In organisms that reproduce slowly, like humans, it will nearly always be the case that those who perceive the world accurately will live longer and reproduce more successfully than those who do not.

That assertion seems so obvious that it is hardly the sort of thing for which one provides evidence. But if evidence is needed, just consider that there are a variety of brain defects that can cause people to misperceive the world around them, and those people routinely have to be protected from themselves. No one has ever enhanced his fitness by taking hallucinatory drugs.

So I would say the idea that we evolved via an unguided mechanism that favors only immediate survival provides a sound basis indeed for assuming our cognitive faculties are reliable. But perhaps I am wrong. Maybe it is an unwarranted leap of faith on my part to think natural selection would prefer fact and accuracy to hallucination and error. Can Plantinga offer a sounder basis?

From a theistic point of view, we’d expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable. God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge. But from a naturalist point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best a naïve hope. The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive, but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology. In fact he’d have to hold that it is unlikely, given unguided evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable. It’s as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world.

The cold realities of natural selection leave Plantinga worried that his cognitive faculties are unreliable. A better solution, he thinks, is to hypothesize into existence a loving God who has created us in his image, and that part of that image includes an ability to perceive things accurately. (One is left to wonder what basis God has for thinking He is perceiving things accurately). If we simply assume that such a God exists, then, according to Plantinga, we have a sound basis for believing our cognitive faculties are accurate. Still with certain caveats and qualifications, of course. This is reminiscent of the man who tries to open a can of food by assuming he has a can opener.

How is Plantinga’s solution different from simply assuming directly that our cognitive faculties are accurate and cutting out the middle man?

Do you see what I mean? Plantinga is one of the most thoughtful Christian theists on the planet and yet when called upon to defend his beliefs he produces only a farrago of arrant nonsense. He is so fond of this inane argument, that he belabors it for two further paragraphs. If there is anyone reading this who believes that Plantinga has a point and that I have overlooked some subtlety to his argument, please explain it to me in the comments.

The rest of Plantinga’s essay fares little better, but we will leave that to future posts.

Comments

  1. #1 Sastra
    March 1, 2007

    Plantinga’s argument seems like a variation on the old “if we’re not 100% certain, then anything goes.” The fallacy of the excluded middle: either we can know things or we can’t. All or nothing.

    But what I think bothers him most about the idea that we cannot trust our cognitive faculties to be absolutely reliable is that Plantinga’s favorite argument is that belief in God is a “properly basic belief,” one which is so self-evident that it needs no further justification. He compares believing in God to believing that other people have minds. It’s just intuitive. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

    Science is a method which forces you to question every inference, including the ones which seem “self-evident” to you. Sure, raw experiences are basic, but the interpretation is open to different possibilities. If you think you have a headache you really do, but you could be wrong about the “basic experience” of having a brain tumor. And same for just knowing, deep down, that there is a God. Your belief is real. The feeling is real. But the God need not be.

    Plantinga’s not really worried about justifying our trust in our senses or general processes of reasoning. As you point out, evolution could explain that well enough. It’s not good enough, though, because he needs us to have totally reliable cognitive faculties. That’s the only way our “sense divinus” — the one which leads us to God — could not be possibly be mistaken.

  2. #2 Chris Hallquist
    March 1, 2007

    I sympathize with one of Plantinga’s objections, that Dawkins isn’t much of a philosopher. The kindest thing I can say about the more philosophically oriented parts of the book is that Dawkins has no talent for writing about philosophy. I only wish Plantinga would apply his thoughts one step further and realize he shouldn’t try to write about biology.

  3. #3 kevin
    March 1, 2007

    “No one has ever enhanced his fitness by taking hallucinatory drugs.”

    There are several instances in oral tradition of people taking such drugs who improve their social standing and ability to breed. They see the world from a different perspective and appriciate sublte textures of nature.

    just don’t fry your brain or take it all the time….

  4. #4 Kurt
    March 1, 2007

    Well, I would have to agree with Plantinga regarding at least one particular cognitive faculty: our proclivity for finding patterns in our environment, even when the ‘patterns’ are just artifacts, leads to a lot of superstitious behavior. This behavior might very well have some survival benefits on the whole, even though it has this nasty side-effect of giving people a tendency toward religious belief.

  5. #5 386sx
    March 1, 2007

    From a theistic point of view, we’d expect that our cognitive faculties would be (for the most part, and given certain qualifications and caveats) reliable. God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge.

    So why, Mr. Plantinga, do you say “From a theistic point of view”? Why don’t you come out and say what point of view you really mean. The best you “apologists” can do is to say that “nya nya you can’t prove there is no god.” Say anything more than that and you guys just look goofy because you really ain’t got nothin’, Mr. Plantinga. Have a nice day.

    I sympathize with one of Plantinga’s objections, that Dawkins isn’t much of a philosopher. The kindest thing I can say about the more philosophically oriented parts of the book is that Dawkins has no talent for writing about philosophy.

    Is there some reason he should be worried about that? Big whoopitty-doo-daw-day.

  6. #6 qetzal
    March 1, 2007

    I enjoyed the final two sentences:

    The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it.

    So, aside from the absurd claims about cognitive faculties, the other reasons to reject naturalism are that it’s ugly and it makes people sad? If that’s Plantinga’s idea of an excellent reason to reject it, then I think we have to hold that it’s unlikely that his cognitive faculties are reliable.

    So maybe he’s right after all. Unguided evolution produces unreliable cognitive faculties, and Plantinga’s the proof.

  7. #7 Kelvin Wong
    March 2, 2007

    The debate between Creationist and Evolutionist seems to have missed out another major school of thoughts within religion. The creationist seems readily to believe the all religions believe in a creator God, however, Buddhism does not believe in a creator God as a centre tenet and it does not need to. In fact, Buddhism supports more of the findings within science and the evolutionists and has been for 2,500 years at least. So for Creationist to stake a claim of truth as owed by them, its means they also catergorically dismiss religions that does not believe in a creator God.

  8. #8 Max Kaehn
    March 2, 2007

    No one has ever enhanced his fitness by taking hallucinatory drugs.

    Unless the Stoned Ape hypothesis turns out to be true…

  9. #9 Koray
    March 2, 2007

    This is absolutely hilarious:

    First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like.

    Since when is theology irrefutable truth? These people are indeed delusional. This is how you defeat Dawkins’ “God is the ultimate 747″ argument? This is how the universe is complex and improbable without a designer, and god is not?

    I stopped reading there. I’d rather watch you tear it apart.

  10. #10 386sx
    March 2, 2007

    God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge.

    God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in having nose hairs.

    God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in performing miracles.

    God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in having no shape or form.

    God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him having nipples!

    Good lord I can’t believe how lame apologetics are. Even in the first century people should have recognized the lameness. Good grief.

  11. #11 jod
    March 2, 2007

    This is reminiscent of the man who tries to open a can of food by assuming he has a can opener.

    LOL

  12. #12 Dave Carlson
    March 2, 2007

    Oooh, I was hoping Platinga would get the Rosenhouse treatment! Unlike many people here, I’m not especially impressed by Dawkins’ arguments in the God Delusion (while reading it, I had the curious experience of being in agreement with most of his conclusions, but disagreeing about many of the ways in which they were reached) nor do I see the need for it to be defended by everyone who disagrees with it, but I’d be more than happy to see Platinga’s arguments get a sound fisking for one simple reason: The guy may be brilliant (certainly much smarter than I am), but he seems to have hitched his horse to ID cart, which–in my irrational Darwinism-induced perpetual state of atheistic angst;)–simply annoys the hell out of me.

  13. #13 JohnnieCanuck
    March 2, 2007

    I’ll just have to take your word for it that he is one of the best they’ve got. They’re a sorry lot in that case, not that this comes as a surprise.

  14. #14 Dave Carlson
    March 2, 2007

    Oh my, I seem to have had an italics snafu. My apologies.
    *hangs head in shame*

  15. #15 AnInGe
    March 2, 2007

    Why can’t you just accept that Plantinga might just be a lot smarter that you and has just presented the obvious truth of the matter: that a loving father figure would never delude his begotten children about the reality of the world. He would never tell his children that babies are brought by storks, or that there really is a Santa Clause, or that masturbation would make him or her blind, or that some mean bogeyman was harboring weapons of mass destruction.

    And Plantinga is certainly correct in stating that Dawkin’s naturalism is ‘intrinsically unlovely” (and god condemned man to a life of toil, hardship, and disease just because he ate a piece of fruit; and god drowned all the puppies and kitties and bunnies and babies of the world because of some men’s sin; and god demonstrated his willingness to forgive and forget by having his only child nailed to a cross).

    And it is a high minded goal to avoid naturalism’s ‘dispiriting conclusions’ and accept that we only have one chance to avoid eternal damnation and if we don’t get it exactly right, its Post Toasties for breakfast forever. As well, we should shun naturalism’s ‘deep self-referential trouble’ and declare that we are made in god’s image.

  16. #16 Soren Kongstad
    March 2, 2007

    Here is a reply to Plantingas argument against naturalism.

    http://tinyurl.com/ekp7j
    (Link to The University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Philosophy)

    The reply is by Fitelson and Sober, and it shows that some of Plantingas central arguments are flawed.

  17. #17 windy
    March 2, 2007

    God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge.

    If God “forms beliefs and achieves knowledge”, how does that square with the claims that he is also omniscient and transcends time??

  18. #18 MartinM
    March 2, 2007

    In organisms that reproduce slowly, like humans, it will nearly always be the case that those who perceive the world accurately will live longer and reproduce more successfully than those who do not

    That sounds like a perfectly reasonable argument.

    But if our cognitive faculties are unreliable, then we may be wrong. Perhaps it’s actually a terrible argument. How can we tell?

    Platinga has the same problem, of course. He presents what he thinks is a reasonable argument which starts with ‘God exists’ and ends with ‘our cognitive faculties are reliable’ – but if his cognitive faculties are unreliable, then he can’t actually tell whether his argument is sound or not.

    This is really just a ‘what if we all live in the Matrix?’ kind of argument. We can’t prove that our minds actually work. We assume that they do so that we can get some bloody work done.

    That doesn’t stop us from asking why our minds work, of course. Plantinga’s answer: some incomprehensible form of magic. Brilliant!

  19. #19 Soren Kongstad
    March 2, 2007

    To be fair to Plantinga his argument is not that our cognitive faculties (CF) are fallible, and thus we cannot trust them.

    Rather his claim goes like this: (taken from my link above to Sober and Fitelsoon
    Given that
    R=Our cognitive faculties(CF) are reliable
    and
    E&N=Evolution and Naturalism

    then the argument rests on Plantingas claim that the probability of R given E&N is low or inscrutable.

    1.P r(R|E&N) is low or its value is inscrutable.
    2.Therefore, E&N is a defeater of R — if you believe E&N, then you should withhold assent from R.
    3.If you should withhold assent from R, then you should withhold assent from anything else you believe.
    4.If you believe E&N, then you should withhold assent from
    E&N (E&N is self-defeating).

    Hence, Plantingas argument is that given belief in E&N we cannot trust our CF, but if we believe a deity has ensured reliable CF then we do not have this problem.

    The key problems with his argument, as I see it (and yes I have been inspired by the paper linked above), is his claim that we have very reliable CF, his claim that E&N leads to low or inscrutable reliability of our CF.

    Our faculties are not one unit. It is to simple to say simply “our CF are 90% reliable”. There are many types of cognitive abilities. The ability to model the movement of an object is one of these. This ability has a very high degree of reliability, which is in line with E&N.

    Our ability to know the nature of god, or gods is not very good. This is clear when we see just how little we are able to agree with each other on this subject.

    This might be stated like this:
    P(Ro) ~ 1
    P(Rd) ~ 0
    that is, the probbability of the reliability of CF concerning objects is close to one, concerning deities its close to zero, given E&N.

    If these two probabilities are independent (which is perhaps not so obvious?), then the probability of the total package, P(R) is low, since P(R)=P(Ro)xP(Rd)xP(Rx), where the last facto is the probability of our remaining faculties being reliable.

    Since none of these factors are greater than one, P(R) could be very low as a whole.

    This does not have to concern us, since the probability increases as we come nearer to CF’s that are evolutionary unavoidable, in other words, when we base our reasons as close to the data gathered by our senses as possible, we are as sure as we can be of our conclusions.

    When we abandon this, and just go by the logic itself, or other methods removed from our senses, the our reliability is low.

    I feel I’ve started rambling now, I hope you can understand me ;)

    The other point I wish to make as to Plantingas argument is simply: If the P(R|E&N) is indeed inscrutable, then this is NOT a defeater for E&N.

    It is not in any way necessary for E&N to, at the current time, be able to guarantee that our CF’s are reliable, and thus if we truly find that E&N does not guarantee the reliability of our faculties, then this is just an observation, which has no bearing on our trust in our faculties.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    March 2, 2007

    No one has ever enhanced his fitness by taking hallucinatory drugs.

    . . . Except John Lennon and Bill Hicks.
    ;-)

  21. #21 Blake Stacey
    March 2, 2007

    Dave Carlson:

    Oh my, I seem to have had an italics snafu. My apologies.

    *hangs head in shame*

    No need to feel ashamed. After all, God has created us in His image, and an important part of our image-bearing is our resembling Him in making occasional HTML mistakes!

  22. #22 mark
    March 2, 2007

    I don’t think Plantinga has been considered a whacko like so many Creationists are, but what you’ve excerpted seems extremely unsophisticated and unconvincing. We know from many observations that people frequently misinterpret things around them, even if not on hallucinogens; that’s seen in optical illusions, misidentifications, reports of UFOs, and much else. Does God see UFOs? Does God see his Mother in a burnt pizza pan?
    Plantinga also seems to suffer from a lack of imagination. Suppose we are created in God’s image. But suppose God is a numbskull–suppose God frequently mistakes tree stumps for bears, or fire trucks for dragons. Then we, in his image, do the same, right? How is that any different than making the same errors because we have evolved by non-supernatural means? How would Plantinga test the difference? What is the basis for believing anything else?

  23. #23 MartinM
    March 2, 2007

    1.P r(R|E&N) is low or its value is inscrutable.
    2.Therefore, E&N is a defeater of R — if you believe E&N, then you should withhold assent from R

    Which isn’t true, of course. A low P(R|E&N) doesn’t imply a low P(E&N|R). What Plantinga wants to show is that P(R|E&N) is small compared to P(R|~(E&N)). All he actually does is make the claim, however.

    It’s worse than that, though. What he really wants to show is that P(R|E&N&I) is small compared to P(R|~(E&N)&I), where I represents all relevant data we have. He doesn’t even begin to address that.

  24. #24 Soren Kongstad
    March 2, 2007

    mark,

    I think Plantingas claim is that assuming God has instilled reliable (not perfect) cognitive faculties in us, is in line with assuming that our faculties are reliable.

    Its not intended as a proof of the reliability of our faculties, or a proof of god.

    But, in Plantingas eyes, assuming Evolution and Naturalism leads logically to the conclusion that our faculties are not reliable. Thus the assumption defeats itself.

    If E&N is true it follows that our CF are unreliable, but since we can only make the argument if they are reliable, we must discard the assumption that E&N is true.

    I do not agree with him, but the argument he makes is not reliant on our CF’s to be anything near perfect, only reliable enough.

  25. #25 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 2, 2007

    Dawkins has written his book, he says, partly to encourage timorous atheists to come out of the closet. He and Dennett both appear to think it requires considerable courage to attack religion these days; says Dennett, “I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist.” Apparently atheism has its own heroes of the faith�at any rate its own self-styled heroes. Here it’s not easy to take them seriously; religion-bashing in the current Western academy is about as dangerous as endorsing the party’s candidate at a Republican rally.

    Dawkins’ book is not restricted to academia. It’s been on the best-seller lists.

    In fact the proportion of insult, ridicule, mockery, spleen, and vitriol is astounding. (Could it be that his mother, while carrying him, was frightened by an Anglican clergyman on the rampage?)

    Bizarro. Has Plantinga converted to Scientology and their theory of engrams?

  26. #26 Greco
    March 2, 2007

    Let us change one of his quotes just a bit, shall we?

    “The [heliocentrism that Galileo] embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it.”

    The meaning didn’t change in the least, except that it is about 400 years out of fashion.

  27. #27 Herb West
    March 2, 2007

    I have this vague recollection of a certain atheist scientist arguing that evolution has selected humans that are psychologically primed to believe in superstition….

  28. #28 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 2, 2007

    Unlike many people here, I’m not especially impressed by Dawkins’ arguments in the God Delusion

    I have to agree it’s not the best book on atheism I’ve read. For example, how could he write about ethics and not mention Euthyphro? However, most of the criticism I’ve seen directed at Dawkins and the book has been off target.

    Here’s a cute bit from truth machine in an earlier thread:

    Plantinga, like so many religious apologists, is a cargo-cult logician — he uses the forms, but he doesn’t actually understand their function.

  29. #29 mark
    March 2, 2007

    Maybe so, Soren, but I see

    God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge. But from a naturalist point of view the thought that our cognitive faculties are reliable (produce a preponderance of true beliefs) would be at best a naïve hope.

    to mean Plantinga hopes we can “be able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge” because this is a property of God, and one we resemble. Why is the other view a “naive hope” but not this one?

  30. #30 Eamon Knight
    March 2, 2007

    I heard basically the same argument (maybe even referenced to Plantinga) from the fundy side in a “Does God Exist?” debate a few weeks ago. It sometimes strikes me that these people are really complaining that, absent magic, we cannot grasp TRVTH — a transcendent, quasi-Platonic ultimate. They’re right of course — all we ever really have is ordinary, work-a-day, good-enough “truth”. Adaptive evolution seems plenty adequate to get us that much. If there is Something Else, we probably couldn’t understand it anyway.

  31. #31 J. J. Ramsey
    March 2, 2007

    Plantinga: “Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?”

    What’s interesting is that Plantinga is half-right. The theory of evolution would indeed predict that our cognitive faculties are sufficient enough for us to survive for the most part, but not necessarily totally reliable. What Plantinga doesn’t seem to have considered is that this prediction has been born out by observation: we humans are very good at believing wrong things, just so long as they don’t get us killed most of the time.

  32. #32 MarkP
    March 2, 2007

    Did Plantinga never consider that his same goofy-assed speculation that our brains are not trustworthy would also apply to his speculation? I guess the sophisticated arguments against Dawkins are being worked out in the super secret labs where all that cutting edge ID research is going on.

  33. #33 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 2, 2007

    The lack of complete reliability in naturalistically evolved minds would explain the existence of religious believers even if God(s) don’t exist. If we assumed God(s) did exist, then how would Plantinga explain the existence of atheists? That leads to a God who does not want all of his created peope to be saved, which leads away from omnibenevolence.

  34. #34 John Pieret
    March 2, 2007

    … it will nearly always be the case that those who perceive the world accurately will live longer and reproduce more successfully than those who do not.

    Who was it that said (roughly) that we all labor under the delusion that we are intelligent, our spouses are good looking and our children are paragons?

    I don’t see how it is obvious that whatever perceptions may, over time, merely prove adaptive are necessarily “true,” any more than that any particular adaptation will be “better” than previous ones. Isn’t that just a claim for a directionality in evolution?

    Now, if Plantinga was really arguing that we should believe in God as a way to validate a belief in our ability to know reality, that would be stupid. But was that actually the direction of his argument?

  35. #35 Tyler DiPietro
    March 2, 2007

    In addition to the standard “Courtier’s Reply”, this sort of argument is repeated ad nauseum in a similar fashion. I call it the “Scorched Earth Policy” argument. It goes like this: whenever anyone argues that religion is either empirically unjustifiable or completely vacuous (possibly both), someone starts playing epistemological games to undermine rational inquiry itself. “I may have faith in fairy-tales, but you have great faith in empiricism (or positivism or whatever)!” is one of the most common formulations of the tactic. It’s very telling that people would rather retreat into solipsism and/or nihilism than defend religion on it’s merits (which apparently approach zero).

  36. #36 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 2, 2007

    “No one has ever enhanced his fitness by taking hallucinatory drugs.”

    Obvious counterexample: some man who, under the influence of alcohol or marijauana or Ecstasy or whatever has sex with women whom he would, under unaltered states of consciousness, find very unattractive. Let’s say that the women consent, perhaps under the same influence, just to avoid a digression into the fitness of rapists.

    That partying fool may have more children, who, sad to say, will most likely lack paternal investment.

    Anagrams: PATERNAL, PRENATAL, PARENTAL.

    The more beers you have, the more attractive that barmaid gets…

  37. #37 John Hawks
    March 2, 2007

    In organisms that reproduce slowly, like humans, it will nearly always be the case that those who perceive the world accurately will live longer and reproduce more successfully than those who do not.

    That assertion seems so obvious that it is hardly the sort of thing for which one provides evidence. But if evidence is needed, just consider that there are a variety of brain defects that can cause people to misperceive the world around them, and those people routinely have to be protected from themselves. No one has ever enhanced his fitness by taking hallucinatory drugs.

    I guess when I learned about science, I missed the day when they told us that all current scientific theories were self-evidently true because human minds were perfected by their adaptive history for ferreting out metaphysical truths…

    Or maybe all those anthropologists studying different cultures with different, incommensurable beliefs, have all been victims of some vast Margaret Mead-like conspiracy of indigenous pranksters?

  38. #38 Sastra
    March 2, 2007

    TylerdePietro wrote:

    In addition to the standard “Courtier’s Reply”, this sort of argument is repeated ad nauseum in a similar fashion. I call it the “Scorched Earth Policy” argument. It goes like this: whenever anyone argues that religion is either empirically unjustifiable or completely vacuous (possibly both), someone starts playing epistemological games to undermine rational inquiry itself.

    Thank you, Tyler, I like that — your “Scorched Earth Policy” argument sounds very like what I’ve been calling the “Everything is Faith” defense, where all beliefs are more or less knocked down to clueless matters of taste, in order to level the playing field between science and religion.

    Plantinga is trying to put the Naturalist in the same position as we usually place the Postmodern Universal Relativist: “all knowledge is only a cultural construct, and not to be trusted.” Which makes the belief that all knowledge is a only cultural construct a belief which shouldn’t be trusted either, once it is applied to itself. Rampant relativism is self-refuting.

    Trouble is, an evolutionary view of the gradual development of reasoning brains and their beliefs does not claim that “being useful” and “being true” are the same– nor does it say that they are mutually exclusive. It can’t be attacked the same way one goes after Postmodern Universal Relativism, because it admits of both degrees of knowledge, and ways to test the accuracy.

  39. #39 J. J. Ramsey
    March 2, 2007

    Tyler DiPietro: “In addition to the standard ‘Courtier’s Reply’,”

    Wait a minute. Last time, I checked, the Courtier’s Reply was, “You have to know the intricacies of imperial fashion before you can say the emperor is naked.” Essentially, the courtiers are arguing by non sequitur. Attacking Dawkins for doing a bad job of arguing that the emperor is naked or providing counterarguments in an attempt to show the emperor is not naked is a different issue. So is pointing out when Dawkins himself has chosen to attack imperial fashion, rather than stick to the topic of the emperor’s nudity, and done a botched job. I read Plantinga’s review, and he at least has the decency to debate the emperor’s nudity directly, rather than complain about how Dawkins hasn’t read Duns Scotus. How well has debated is of course a different story. But calling it a Courtier’s Reply is a mistake.

    I remember a similar misuse of the Courtier’s Reply in the comments of the post “Do the more aggressive skeptics misunderstand religion?” at the Secular Outpost. One trouble that I see is that crying “Courtier’s Reply” could become a knee-jerk response against legitimate criticism of Dawkins, if it hasn’t already.

  40. #40 KeithB
    March 2, 2007

    If this God-Given talent for determining reality is so great, then you would think that it would also be tuned to *super-natural* reality. Since super-natural reality varies so much throughout our species, clearly it is not God-given at all.

    And I am sure that our folks from the ICR would be glad to point out that the “God-Given Reality Spectacles” have been corrupted by the fall and can’t be trusted.

  41. #41 Tyler DiPietro
    March 2, 2007

    J.J. Ramsey,

    I think you have miscontrued my argument a bit. Actually, it wasn’t even really an argument, but a lamentation over the recurrence of a couple of arguments. I was juxtaposing “The Courtier’s Reply” with the “Scorched Earth Policy” as a way of comparing the two with regard to how often they are trotted out. I don’t think that Plantinga is guilty of invoking “The Courtier’s Reply” himself.

  42. #42 dogscratcher
    March 2, 2007

    Plantinga:
    ” God has created us in his image, and an important part of our image bearing is our resembling him in being able to form true beliefs and achieve knowledge.”

    What a pretentious putz.
    Jason:
    “So you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that Plantinga’s proposed refutations are not merely wrong, but mostly stupid.”

    I’ve actually read a lot of Plantinga, and have never found anything that wasn’t in essense “stupid.”

  43. #43 J. J. Ramsey
    March 2, 2007

    Tyler DiPietro: “I think you have miscontrued my argument a bit.”

    Sorry about that. :(

    I don’t know if Plantinga really hit the “Scorched Earth” stuff that hard in this instance, though I know he’s preached the dubious “God is properly basic” gospel on other occasions.

  44. #44 Joe Ardent
    March 2, 2007

    I just wanted to comment very lightly on the inappropriateness of searching for “intellectual respectability” in the context of faith-based religion. Your search will always be in vain, because religion is not an intellectual construct. You would spend your time equally vainly searching for “intellectual respectability” in the context of “hunger”, or, “social clubs”. It’s simply that people feel the divine inside them, and search for answers. Because the impulse is not intellectual, the answers provided don’t neccessarily need to respect that context.

    Really, not to sound too harsh, but it seems to me that you’re looking for easy targets that enable you to affirm your own view by destroying them. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it can’t be very satisfying (as you are no doubt finding). You may find it refreshing to step up the intellectual honesty a bit, and abandon your ostensible quest to reframe faith as reason.

    -Joe, atheist for 20 years and going strong

  45. #45 Another Jason
    March 2, 2007

    John Pieret,

    I don’t see how it is obvious that whatever perceptions may, over time, merely prove adaptive are necessarily “true,” any more than that any particular adaptation will be “better” than previous ones. Isn’t that just a claim for a directionality in evolution?

    Assuming that by “true” here you mean something like “corresponds to reality” (and that is certainly how Plantinga is using the term), I’m not sure why you doubt this. If a tiger is charging at you with its mouth open you’re much more likely to survive if you perceive it as such than if you perceive it as, say, a motionless rock or a flock of birds. Ditto for your perception of anything else that is likely to affect your survival or wellbeing. Of course, this doesn’t mean all our perceptions are true, just that they are likely to be true most of the time.

    I just read Plantinga’s review and am looking forward to the rest of Jason’s fisking. There is so much utter rubbish there it’s a goldmine of anti-Dawkins nonsense.

  46. #46 MartinM
    March 2, 2007

    You may find it refreshing to step up the intellectual honesty a bit, and abandon your ostensible quest to reframe faith as reason.

    What a load of old cobblers. It is Plantinga who is claiming not only that his faith is reasonable, but that it is more reasonable than our position. We’re not searching for intellectual respectability in religion; we’re pointing out its absence in the face of claims to the contrary from theists.

  47. #47 Another Jason
    March 2, 2007

    Joe Ardent,

    It’s simply that people feel the divine inside them, and search for answers. Because the impulse is not intellectual, the answers provided don’t neccessarily need to respect that context ….. Really, not to sound too harsh, but it seems to me that you’re looking for easy targets that enable you to affirm your own view by destroying them.

    Perhaps you could give some examples of what you consider to be hard targets. If Plantinga and anyone else who defends theism/religion with intellectual argument is an easy target, I have no idea what a hard one would be.

  48. #48 Sastra
    March 2, 2007

    Joe Ardent wrote:

    I just wanted to comment very lightly on the inappropriateness of searching for “intellectual respectability” in the context of faith-based religion. Your search will always be in vain, because religion is not an intellectual construct.

    I think there is more real respect towards religion as religion — and towards the religious themselves — in the stance which analyses religious hypotheses as intellectual constructs which people believe to be reasonable and true than there is in the stance which dismisses it all as reducible to deeply-felt intuitions, satisfying personal narratives, and bonding communities together. As MartinM points out, *they* are claiming that their faith is reasonable, and that atheism is not. They deserve to be taken seriously.

    That said, you are probably correct — but not entirely correct. The impulse for violence and waging war on the Outsider is also located deep within human nature, and not always driven by the rationalizations behind specific instances. And yet arguments against particular acts of violence can be effective — even if human nature itself fails to change.

    Most religious people are also motivated to make sense of their beliefs — and will at least admit that discarding them if they’re wrong is a virtue. What you are calling “looking for easy targets” I consider to be taking people seriously, listening to what they say, and honoring their commitment to honesty. I think that to do otherwise is to treat them as if they were children for whom The Enlightened must make allowances.

  49. #49 barkdog
    March 2, 2007

    A lot of this reliability of knowledge stuff was covered long ago. Back in the nineteenth century Ernst Mach developed a “philosophy of the as if” specifically to argue that we can get by on our senses and logic even though we cannot supply the absolue truths, or show the reliability of inference, or penetrate the world of Platonic ideals. There were many others. Yet Platinga and others still trot out their “Scorched Earth” defenses. (I also love that term and will be using it hence forth.)

  50. #50 J. J. Ramsey
    March 2, 2007

    Another Jason: “If a tiger is charging at you with its mouth open you’re much more likely to survive if you perceive it as such than if you perceive it as, say, a motionless rock or a flock of birds.”

    And you will probably be even more likely to survive if you interpret some rustling as a predator and run away, even if much of the time you will be wrong. Natural selection does favor certain kinds of erroneous thinking.

  51. #51 Jason
    March 2, 2007

    And you will probably be even more likely to survive if you interpret some rustling as a predator and run away, even if much of the time you will be wrong. Natural selection does favor certain kinds of erroneous thinking.

    It’s hard to see how interpreting “some rustling” as a predator would be adaptive. Interpreting rustling of unknown cause as a sign that there might be a predator near you would probably be beneficial, though.

    In any case, the idea is not that our senses and brains provide a completely reliable guide to the truth, but that they’re likely to give us the correct answer most of the time about the kind of problems they evolved the capacity to solve.

  52. #52 shiva
    March 3, 2007

    Kelvin,

    Buddhism isn’t a religion – no true or false doctrine, no claims to being veridical, no absolutes about life, sin, salvation etc., – which is what religions are all about. The term God itself makes no sense in the context of Buddhism. Erich Von Daniken has said one sensible thing in all the fantasy he has peddled for decades. God did not make Man in his own image – Man has made a God in his own image.

  53. #53 MarkP
    March 3, 2007

    And you will probably be even more likely to survive if you interpret some rustling as a predator and run away, even if much of the time you will be wrong. Natural selection does favor certain kinds of erroneous thinking.

    Exactly, because the cost of perceiving a pattern that is not there is usually considerably less than failing to recognize a pattern that is there. Thus we often falsely perceive patterns, sort of like ID.

  54. #54 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 3, 2007

    I come a little late by way of Sandwalk, but you have a great thread here. I will also add “The Scorced Earth Policy” argument to my list of grievances with religious commenters.

    It is a good thing that Jason will fisk Platinga, because I would have stopped after

    Dawkins seems to have chosen God as his sworn enemy. (Let’s hope for Dawkins’ sake God doesn’t return the compliment.)

    Anyone who uses bigotry, blackmail and religious constructs to argue doesn’t deserve a hearing. Here Platinga succeeds in combining these fallacies in one sentence.

    I think other commenters have touched some other fallacies, but just to make it clear I will spell the out.

    Platinga is complaining of philosophical selfreference, while committing the same offense himself. Blake Stacey who commented here points this out in such contexts: the proposed god isn’t a philosophical stopgap, so there are gods all the way up (or down, as is the case).

    What naturalism provides is a resolution to this selfreference. Already the brain is much more reliable than Platinga accounts for, and then science makes us focus on the trustworthy aspects of nature.

    A low P(R|E&N) doesn’t imply a low P(E&N|R).

    Good catch! It is remarkable how often the religious mindset is prone to this basic mistake in statistics, often in the form of mistaking a posteriori outcomes for a priori chances. Well, maybe not so remarkable for them, since belief in gods seems often caused by this argument from incredulity.

  55. #55 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 3, 2007

    “I will spell the out” – I will spell it out. So, I guess that was the signal for a coffee break…

  56. #56 Jason Kreul
    March 3, 2007

    If I could just say, I think that while everyone here has posed wonderful arguments; I think we have still overlooked the most or perhaps least obvious argument.

    Plantinga finds himself arguing from the perspective of an already highly evolved mind. We have to consider that all the really interesting things about higher, read cognitive, talents has really just exploded within the past 50,000 years or so. This is not nearly long enough for these features to be hardwired into us evolutionarily. I can appreciate that from the standard creationist perspective that timescales like this mean nothing with the world being something like 6,600 years old; but to the rest of us, on an evolutionary timescale this is the blink of an eye.

    What I am getting at here is that our brains are wired for a lifestyle that is no longer practical in our modern world. Our enlarged brains are good at mapping our way around the savannah, recognizing patterns, familiar faces for many reasons, remembering who plays fair and who freeloads, finding and remembering novelty, and like all other successful species quickly identifying potential threats and mating opportunities. All of these supposed higher level functions beyond these basic survival mechanisms have really only begun to blossom since the mental “big bang” of 50,000 years ago. With the advent of toolmaking and language and entirely new era of evolutionary competition was born. I would argue as Dawkins always does that cultural evolution has proven to run circles around what the medium of natural selection has been able to accomplish whether that be good or bad.

  57. #57 windy
    March 3, 2007

    It is clear that evolved brains can be unreliable. But isn’t it likely that evolved brains would be more reliable in making observations about the environment they evolved to deal with than things they never had to deal with?

    Evolutionary theory was originally based on simple observations about macroscopic things and living beings – rocks, fossils, inheritance, selective breeding. Our observations about rocks and animals must have at least some correlation with reality for us to survive. Why does Plantinga focus on evolution*, when our brains should be even less reliable for making conclusions about the origin of the universe, the existence of atoms, quantum mechanics, and other things that our brains did not evolve to deal with at all?

    (*rhetorical question, of course we know why he focuses on evolution :)

  58. #58 Sastra
    March 3, 2007

    windy makes a good point above:
    “(I)sn’t it likely that evolved brains would be more reliable in making observations about the environment they evolved to deal with than things they never had to deal with?”

    And both sides in this debate are assuming something similar.

    Look at naturalism and science. As any physics teacher could tell you, our inherent folk-physics “rules of thumb” are simply not useful when dealing with what happens at quantum levels, cosmic levels, or even with basic physical laws about dropped objects and objects in motion on the level we evolved in. Most people can’t grasp the sort of deep time involved in evolution (let alone the Big Bang.) It takes work to learn how to think this way. As Alan Cromer once put it, science is “uncommon sense.”

    And yet religion — and Plantinga’s arguments — rely on the idea that our instinctive feelings and “common sense” should be reliable guides, because they are “god-given.” When they are NOT reliable, that is because of the Fall.

    With evolution, evolved brains would not be expected to always be reliable. They will be more reliable when directly relating to the environmental conditions in which they evolved.

    With the Fall of Man through Sin, created brains would not be expected to always be reliable either. They would be more reliable when directly relating to the God by and for which they were created.

    Thus, Plantinga is trying to justify his Properly Basic Belief in God the same way naturalists justify trusting our reason and senses — most of the time. Clearly, Plantinga can’t think that the Sense Divinus is *unerring* because there are so many religions, so many versions and ideas about God. People don’t instinctively know about Jesus, nor does belief in God come without at least some instruction and guidance. He seems to considering our inner knowledge of God a kind of more or less reliable, good enough guide to truth. Not perfect, not absolutely trustworthy all the time, but good enough.

    No Scorched Earth Policy there.

  59. #59 Another Jason
    March 3, 2007

    Exactly, because the cost of perceiving a pattern that is not there is usually considerably less than failing to recognize a pattern that is there. Thus we often falsely perceive patterns, sort of like ID.

    But that doesn’t support Ramsey’s claim. We don’t consistently confuse rustling for predators and run away, and it seems unlikely that the benefits of such a trait would outweigh the costs. We’d be constantly running away from non-existent predators every time we heard rustling. Our vulnerability to perceptual illusions and cognitive biases is real but limited. If we were consistently and grossly misunderstanding aspects of our environment that are important to our survival and well-being (like confusing rustling for predators), we’d be in serious trouble.

  60. #60 windy
    March 3, 2007

    But that doesn’t support Ramsey’s claim. We don’t consistently confuse rustling for predators and run away (…)

    But horses frequently do, at least if the rustling is unfamiliar. (I guess the cost of running away from a nonexistent danger is much lower for animals that eat grass.)

    But what if horses developed science? Would horse science be completely stumped when it tried to investigate the causes of rustling, because horse senses are unreliable in this regard? I don’t think so. On the other hand, horse religion would keep insisting that there are invisible predators in the bushes even when science can’t detect any… ;)

  61. #61 Jason
    March 3, 2007

    I seriously doubt that horses consistently confuse rustling for predators and run away. If your statement is true, it is probably only because “unfamiliar” rustling is a small fraction of total rustling.

    The basic point is that while a trait of mild oversensitivity to the presence of predators may be adaptive, a trait of gross oversensitivity probably is not, because the cost from all the false triggerings would exceed the benefit from true ones.

  62. #62 John Pieret
    March 3, 2007

    If a tiger is charging at you with its mouth open you’re much more likely to survive if you perceive it as such than if you perceive it as, say, a motionless rock or a flock of birds.

    Others have already pointed out that prey species are probably adaptively “set” to trigger flight behavior even when no predators are actually present. It is a balance — run too often and you’ll needlessly waste resources, but if you fail to run just once when a predator is there and you’re likely toast. Reproductive success over generations may make “skittishness” a better evolutionary strategy than checking for “reality.” In short, reproductive success may not be directly dependent on a correct perception of reality.

    The philosophical problem is that, from “within” an evolved mind, it is impossible to tell how much our mind can actually perceive of “reality” (whatever that may be).

    There is also the problem of how you explain the persistence and pervasiveness of religion. If our brains are adapted to perceive reality as Jason says, why do we seem to overwhelmingly tend toward religious belief? Wouldn’t that tend to indicate that god(s) are real? If not, and the religious impulse is contrary to reality — culturally imposed, say — aren’t you demonstrating that our brains are not adapted to deliver reality?

    For what its worth, I think Plantinga is delivering a version of Pascal’s wager here. If he’s right, and God provided us with equipment to correctly identify reality, then he can know it and, he claims, he is correct. If he’s wrong, then none of us can know reality and the naturalist can never be sure s/he’s right and that Plantinga’s wrong. The “odds” are in his favor.

    Other than noting that this is a tougher argument to address than perhaps Jason indicated, no endorsement on my part is implied or intended.

  63. #63 Another Jason
    March 3, 2007

    John Pieret,

    No one is suggesting that our senses and brains provide a completely reliable description of reality. In fact, we know that we are subject to a variety of kinds of perceptual illusion and cognitive bias. The idea is merely that our brains are likely to be right most of the time, at least with respect to the kind of perception and cognition that matters to our survival and welfare, because if they weren’t we’d fall victim to all sorts of harms arising from false beliefs about our environment. As Jason R put it:

    In organisms that reproduce slowly, like humans, it will nearly always be the case that those who perceive the world accurately will live longer and reproduce more successfully than those who do not.

  64. #64 John Pieret
    March 3, 2007

    The idea is merely that our brains are likely to be right most of the time, at least with respect to the kind of perception and cognition that matters to our survival and welfare …

    The question is how cogent that idea is as an argument against Plantinga’s position. All you can say is that our perception and cognition is good enough to have reproductive success so far. As noted, that does not necessarily depend — perhaps may have little to do with — our reproductive success. Lots of things with no apparent perception do quite well at reproduction.

    From “inside” we cannot really tell how much our perceptions contribute to our reproductive success because maintaining delusions about that might be part of our reproductive success.

    And, in any case, at best the crucial nature of our perception is limited to that portion of “the world” that might directly impact on our reproductive success. Did our reproductive success depend on our understanding the atom? Obviously not, since our species lasted longer without it than with it (and may actually go extinct from learning about it). There could be other things about “reality” that we have not, and presently cannot, perceive. In short, there is a significant problem of circularity with the notion that we can trust our perceptions simply because we survived long enough to have the perceptions we do.

    I’m not arguing for nihilism here, just a proper understanding of the difficulties of the argument.

  65. #65 Another Jason
    March 4, 2007

    John Pieret,

    It is not remotely plausible that our survival and reproductive success is not intimately related to the reliability of our perception and understanding of our environment. What would a highly complex organism whose senses and brain gave it a systematically or pervasively false view of the world be like? It would be like a human being who suffers from pervasive hallucinations, like a really bad schizophrenic. Or like a human being with a very serious brain disorder or injury that causes him to consistently confuse or misunderstand shapes, colors, sounds, textures, tastes, movements, the location of objects in space, and so on. Do you seriously believe that such errors would not have a strongly adverse effect on the chances of surviving and reproducing successfully? Of course they would. You say “lots of things with no apparent perception do quite well at reproduction,” but I can’t think of any animal at all that fits that description, let alone a highly complex one. The only forms of life that can survive and reproduce effectively without reliable perception or cognition are very simple ones like bacteria, whose success is not dependent on any kind of sophisticated awareness of or response to their environment.

  66. #66 John Pieret
    March 4, 2007

    Very much on topic is this article in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “Darwin’s God,” about the current state of scientific research into the sources of belief in God.

  67. #67 Another Jason
    March 4, 2007

    John Pieret,

    There is also the problem of how you explain the persistence and pervasiveness of religion. If our brains are adapted to perceive reality as Jason says, why do we seem to overwhelmingly tend toward religious belief? Wouldn’t that tend to indicate that god(s) are real?

    No. Religion is a bit of a mystery, but its persistence and pervasiveness do not imply that its claims are true. Unlike, say, a false belief that it’s safe to approach tigers or walk off the edge of a cliff or eat toadstools, a false belief in a supernatural being is not obviously harmful. A propensity to believe in supernatural agency and other religious ideas may even be adaptive, at least in our ancestral environments. Or it may simply be a byproduct of other traits that are adaptive, as may other aspects of culture such as music and art and humor.

  68. #68 Richard Wein
    March 4, 2007

    If our cognitive abilities are the result of adaptive evolution, we would expect to be better at thinking about practical matters (as those are most relevant to survival) than about abstract matters. And that’s just what we find in practice. Most people find maths and theoretical science very difficult, but are pretty good at solving practical problems.

    On the other hand, why would God make us better at practical thinking? Aren’t spiritual matters supposed to be of more importance than earthly ones?

  69. #69 John Pieret
    March 4, 2007

    Religion is a bit of a mystery, but its persistence and pervasiveness do not imply that its claims are true.

    So you agree with me that Jason’s argument, that “the idea that we evolved via an unguided mechanism that favors only immediate survival provides a sound basis indeed for assuming our cognitive faculties are reliable,” is not obviously true. A perception of supernatural causation, that Jason (and you?) thinks is totally unevidence and wrong, can, nonetheless arise, through co-adaptation, as a “spandrel,” as an incidental byproduct of the brain’s structure, through group seletion or other evolutionary means (see the article I linked to before). Now, in the face of that, what is left of Jason’s argument?

    … we would expect to be better at thinking about practical matters … than about abstract matters. And that’s just what we find in practice.

    That’s an excellent point, but of little help to Jason’s argument as it leaves Plantinga’s contention (such as it is) unscathed, since he is doubtless talking about those kinds of abstract matters.

    … why would God make us better at practical thinking? Aren’t spiritual matters supposed to be of more importance than earthly ones?

    I don’t know. I, at least, don’t claim to be a theologian. Do you?

    If you want to make this argument, however, don’t do what Dawkins is reported to have done (I’ll get around to reading it one of these days) and attack only the man-in-the-street theology. After all, we get all upset when creationists attack man-in-the-street evolutionary theory (if man evolved from monkeys …).

    But, having spent 4 years at the tender mercies, such as they were, of the Jesuits, I’d work a bit on that argument before trying to run it past one of them.

  70. #70 John Pieret
    March 4, 2007

    Do you seriously believe that such errors would not have a strongly adverse effect on the chances of surviving and reproducing successfully? Of course they would.

    Argument by personal assertion? Please provide evidence of that contention (including evidence that the evidence you provide isn’t part of some delusion — like [cough] the God delusion — that is itself adaptive).

    And, by the way, since when aren’t bacteria animals? And why the animal bias anyway? Aren’t giant redwoods complex?

  71. #71 analyysi
    March 4, 2007

    Plantinga has replied to Sober and Fitelson. His response is published in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 84 (2003).

    Check out also Troy M. Nunley’s PhD thesis “A DEFENSE OF ALVIN PLANTINGA’S EVOLUTIONARY ARGUMENT AGAINST NATURALISM” (University of Missouri-Columbia, 2005).

    ABSTRACT

    “Alvin Plantinga argues that naturalism it is irrational for a reflective person to hold to the doctrine of naturalism. If naturalism is true, some evolutionary doctrine must also be true and our evolutionary history must be accounted for in terms of only random mutation and natural selection. The probability of our being reliable cognitive agents given these origins is low or, at best, inscrutable. But it cannot reasonably be thought to be high. Consequently, the naturalist cannot reasonably hold to the belief that they are reliable cognitive agents. And since the reliability of their cognitive apparatus has been called into such grave question, naturalists are rationally bound to dismiss any belief accepted on the basis of trust in that apparatus. Specifically, to the extent that the naturalist is rational, they will give up their belief in naturalism.

    In this dissertation, I explicate and defend Plantinga’s attack on philosophical naturalism. My thesis is that it has survived all the current attacks available in the literature.”

  72. #72 Jason
    March 4, 2007

    John Pieret,

    Argument by personal assertion? Please provide evidence of that contention

    I already did. A complex organism whose survival and reproductive success is crucially dependent on its interaction with its environment (e.g., a human being) would fall victim to all kinds of harm if its perception and cognition gave it a pervasively false view of the world. It would be unable to effectively evade predators, locate food, avoid accidents, find shelter, and so on, because those activities depend crucially on the reliability of perception and cognition. I have no idea why you continue to dispute this obvious conclusion.

    And, by the way, since when aren’t bacteria animals? And why the animal bias anyway? Aren’t giant redwoods complex?

    Bacteria are not animals. Bacteria are prokaryotes and animals are a variety of eukaryotes. And there’s no animal “bias.” Plantinga’s claim is about the reliability of our perception and cognition of our environment. The survival and reproductive success of bacteria and giant redwoods does not depend on any kind of sophisticated interaction with their environment. The survival and reproductive success of human beings does. That is why the lack of perception and cognition in bacteria and plants is irrelevant to the problem with Plantinga’s claim.

  73. #73 Another Jason
    March 4, 2007

    John Pieret,

    So you agree with me that Jason’s argument, that “the idea that we evolved via an unguided mechanism that favors only immediate survival provides a sound basis indeed for assuming our cognitive faculties are reliable,” is not obviously true.

    No, I do not agree. It is obviously true for the reasons I’ve already explained. If our cognitive faculties were not reliable we wouldn’t last very long. We’d quickly die of starvation, predation, poisoning, accident, exposure or some other such cause. The presence of certain defects and imperfections in our cognitive abilities does not contradict this conclusion.

    A perception of supernatural causation, that Jason (and you?) thinks is totally unevidence and wrong, can, nonetheless arise, through co-adaptation, as a “spandrel,” as an incidental byproduct of the brain’s structure, through group seletion or other evolutionary means (see the article I linked to before).

    Yes, although it’s not a “perception” of supernatural causation, it’s an illusion of supernatural causation.

    Now, in the face of that, what is left of Jason’s argument?

    Er, all of it. I don’t understand why you think there’s any conflict. A propensity to believe in supernatural causation seems to be either an adaptation or a byproduct of adaptation. The trait is not clearly maladaptive in the kind of environment in which most human evolution occurred and may even have been beneficial.

  74. #74 John Pieret
    March 4, 2007

    I already did. A complex organism whose survival and reproductive success is crucially dependent on its interaction with its environment (e.g., a human being) would fall victim to all kinds of harm if its perception and cognition gave it a pervasively false view of the world.

    No, that’s an hypothesis. Evidence would be an empiric demonstation that there is a “real world” our perceptions correctly interpret and that it impacts our reproductive success. Contrary to your hyposthesis are apparent counter-examples, such as religion itself (again, see the article I gave the link to before).

    Whatever we are calling bacteria today — and/or how bad my memory about such things is ;-), all of which is unimportant because it is, above the species level, artificial anyway — the larger point remains that it is quite possible to reproduce extremely well without perception at all as we understand it or with any variation in perception that occurs between that of bacteria and plants and what we human have.

    Your hypothesis that humans have some “special” interaction with our environment that make us depend more crucially on perception and cognition than other successful reproducers is still unevidenced. It is, in fact, an argument for a directionality in evolution that has made humans somehow “higher” than other organisms that lack our propensity to stare into our own navels.

    Worse, you have yet to address how your hypothesis, even if true, goes to Plantinga’s argument, since, at best, your hypothesis would “guarantee” “good” perceptions only within a narrow range of events directly impacting our reproduction.

    Again, the example of religion presents a Hobson’s choice for Jason’s argument: either our evolutionarily-honed perceptions lean toward demonstrating that religious belief and supernatural causation is a correct perception of the world or it is a major example of where our evolutionarily-derived perceptions lead us astray. Try as you might, you cannot have it both ways within the context of this argument.

  75. #75 Jason Rosenhouse
    March 4, 2007

    John Pieret-

    The issue isn’t whether natural selection will sometimes favor cognitive faculties that lead to false beliefs. There are circumstances where it might do that. For example, natural selection might favor a hypersensitivity to possible threats, or an imputation of agency to inanimate things, on the grounds that responding to some false threats is less harmful than being too sanguine about real ones.

    The point, rather, is that there is good reason to believe that natural selection will usually favor accurate cognitive faculties, because such accuracy is adaptive most of the time. That would include, for example, an ability to form accurate beliefs about the physical layout of the terrain, or about the location of predators. It would also include a fair amount of reasoning ability, since drawing reasonable deductions about things unseen from available evidence would obviously be adaptive.

    We know from our day to day experience that our cognitive faculties generally produce reliable information but can also be fooled in a variety of situations. Evolution by natural selection allows us to make sense of why that is. In instances where correct perceptions are important to survival, we would expect natural selection to promote accuracy. This is why we are able to get through our day without walking into walls. On the other hand, in matters that are mostly irrelevant to survival, like an ability to understand quantum mechanics or partial differential equations, or in instances where false beliefs might actually be adaptive, such as a tendency to attribute agency to things that lack it, natural selection might lead to less reliable cognitive faculties.

    This combination of generally accurate cognitive faculties with certain situations where they go wrong seems to be what we find in practice, as Richard Wein pointed out. What is flatly unreasonable is Plantinga’s suggestion that natural selection will cause us to inhabit nothing more than some hallucinagenic dream world. At the very least, if his argument is to be a defeater of naturalism, he has to explain why there is a high probability that natural selection would have that effect. I know he has written at length on this point, but his arguments in this regard are simply bad.

    But even so, Plantinga’s assumption of Christian theism is of little help in putting the reliability of our cognitive faculties on solid ground. Aside from the fact that theism has no good evidence to support it, there is also the fact that Plantinga has to explain why a loving God who wants us to be able to form true beliefs nonetheless gave us cognitive faculties that are so easily fooled.

  76. #76 John Pieret
    March 4, 2007

    Yes, although it’s not a “perception” of supernatural causation, it’s an illusion of supernatural causation.

    How do you know, if our perceptions can deliver illusions? It could be an illusion that supernatural causation isn’t all around us.

    A propensity to believe in supernatural causation seems to be either an adaptation or a byproduct of adaptation. The trait is not clearly maladaptive in the kind of environment in which most human evolution occurred and may even have been beneficial.

    [Boggle] And a demonstration that an “illusion” can be selectively advantageous doesn’t affect your argument that selection will insure our perceptions won’t deliver illusions?

  77. #77 John Pieret
    March 4, 2007

    What is flatly unreasonable is Plantinga’s suggestion that natural selection will cause us to inhabit nothing more than some hallucinagenic dream world. At the very least, if his argument is to be a defeater of naturalism, he has to explain why there is a high probability that natural selection would have that effect. I know he has written at length on this point, but his arguments in this regard are simply bad.

    Most of what you say is not different in substance from what I’ve been saying, though the problem of knowledge is more serious, philosophically, than I think you are acknowledging.

    Be that as it may, I think you are misconstruing Plantinga. He acknowledges that the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will be adaptive but, for his version of Pascal’s wager, he need not maintain that we “inhabit nothing more than some hallucinagenic dream world,” especially where, as you admit, things above and beyond the day-by-day nitty-gritty of survival, might lead to less reliable cognitive faculties.

    That realm above the ordinary is the area he is appealing to anyway and all he needs for his argument is that naturalists cannot distinguish, by any reasonable means, between the good and bad results of our less reliable cognitive faculties. He can then argue that, if he is right, he can know that God exists by his God-given perceptions but, if you are right, you cannot know that God does not exist because you are relying on an evolved mind with less reliable cognitive faculties.

    As to how good his version of Pascal’s wager is (not very) or how satifactory Plantinga’s appeal to revelation or whatever is (never convinced me), I specifically said I was not in any way endorsing it.

    But bad arguments are bad arguments. Trying to counter Plantinga’s with an appeal to selection is not a good argument and is only likely to weaken your case with people who are not already on your side.

  78. #78 Tyler DiPietro
    March 4, 2007

    Plantinga’s argument is the fallacy of the excluded middle. Either our cognitive faculties are 100% reliable or 100% unreliable in an evolutionary scenario, so the alternative is much like Descarte’s ontologica argument. The only way you can be sure of the reality around you is if you make a leap of faith an accept that a supernatural God is there who’ll prevent you from being decieved.

    Well, we already know that our cognitive faculties are hardly perfect and are in many instances highly ad hoc and faulty. This is why we have peer review in science. Scientists are no less subject to wishful thinking, confirmation bias, and other things as anyone else, so you diffuse it among a network of different actors.

    The problem with Plantinga’s argument is that it is simply an appeal to solipsism. If there is any chance that reality is all illusory, then the best assumption is that it is without belief in X. Furthermore, it’s formulated in a way that’s completely unfalsifiable by exploiting the fact that you can’t observe anything outside of your own subjective perception. It short, a cheap rhetorical trick, and a perfect example of the “Scorched Earthy Policy” of religious apologetics.

  79. #79 Herb West
    March 4, 2007

    Jason – I think you’re right to argue that evolution should generally favor accurate sensory perceptions and cognitive faculties. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that our perceptions and cognitive faculties are perfectly accurate. That leaves us with the problem of scope: the sum of our perfectly accurate senses fall far short of all-encompassing. Our senses are limited in number, limited in type, sensitivity and precision. We can expand the scope of our senses with instruments and reason, but we cannot know how much of reality continues to lie outside that scope. Therefore, we don’t experience reality in it’s totality; we experience the limited portion of reality that is amenable to our senses and reason (a “dream world” as Plantinga calls it).

  80. #80 John Pieret
    March 4, 2007

    If there is any chance that reality is all illusory, then the best assumption is that it is without belief in X.

    But Plantinga is not claiming that reality or our perceptions of it are illusory. Quite the contrary. He insists on a very static and certain “reality.”

    Instead, he is arguing that the only way we can “know” that is if God gave us the proper equipment to do so. It’s only us benighted naturalists that cannot demonstrate that reality is real and that is because we rely on the idea that natural causes are sufficient to make us what we are, including our perceptions, and reject the “reality” of God’s existence and his/her/it’s “detectable” action in the world.

    Hey, I didn’t say Plantinga’s argument was good, just that our arguments should be better.

  81. #81 Tyler DiPietro
    March 4, 2007

    But Plantinga is not claiming that reality or our perceptions of it are illusory. Quite the contrary. He insists on a very static and certain “reality.”

    Instead, he is arguing that the only way we can “know” that is if God gave us the proper equipment to do so…

    Very true, hence my comparison of him to Descartes. Descartes in Meditations resolved his fundamental epistemological difficulty by postulating a supernatural God who would prevent his hypothetical “evil demon” from deceiving him. My argument is that this is simply handwaving the difficulty you’ve set up away.

    My own problem with such arguments is that they invoke the fallacy of the excluded middle. We’re never, in any 100% certain about anything and are always trying to resolve varying levels of uncertainty. There is a chance that our cognitive faculties are totally faulty and causing us to completely misapprehend reality. It is possible in principle that our perceptions are inherently illusory, but it is also possible in principle to build a ladder to the moon. Probabilistic judgements are the norm, not the exception.

  82. #82 Another Jason
    March 4, 2007

    John Pieret,

    No, that’s an hypothesis. Evidence would be an empiric demonstation that there is a “real world” our perceptions correctly interpret and that it impacts our reproductive success.

    No, it’s evidence. You demonstrate the importance of reliable perception to your survival and welfare every time you walk down a flight of stairs or avoid eating a piece of food that’s gone bad. I still don’t understand why you can’t grasp this obvious fact.

    Whatever we are calling bacteria today — and/or how bad my memory about such things is ;-), all of which is unimportant because it is, above the species level, artificial anyway — the larger point remains that it is quite possible to reproduce extremely well without perception at all as we understand it or with any variation in perception that occurs between that of bacteria and plants and what we human have.

    Again, this is irrelevant. The survival and reproductive success of bacteria does not depend on any kind of sophisticated awareness of or response to their environment, so their lack of perception and cognition doesn’t matter. The survival and reproduction of human beings, on the other hand, is crucially dependent on our awareness of and response to our environment. That is why reliable perception and cognition is so important to our survival.

    Your hypothesis that humans have some “special” interaction with our environment that make us depend more crucially on perception and cognition than other successful reproducers is still unevidenced.

    I keep explaining the evidence to you and you keep ignoring it. We need reliable perception and cognition to avoid harm from all sorts of causes–predation, starvation, dehydration, poisoning, exposure to the elements, and all sorts of physical injury. And I didn’t say that humans are “special” from all other species in this respect. Reliable perception is important to any complex species whose survival depends on any kind of sophisticated interaction with its environment. This would include all large species of mammals and reptiles, all of which face the problems of finding food, finding mates, avoiding predators, avoiding falls and other causes of injury, and so on.

  83. #83 Jason Kreul
    March 4, 2007

    If yet another Jason could chime in here, I would like to address both sides of this protracted arguement here. Now Mr Pieret you said:

    “Whatever we are calling bacteria today — and/or how bad my memory about such things is ;-), all of which is unimportant because it is, above the species level, artificial anyway — the larger point remains that it is quite possible to reproduce extremely well without perception at all as we understand it or with any variation in perception that occurs between that of bacteria and plants and what we human have.

    Your hypothesis that humans have some “special” interaction with our environment that make us depend more crucially on perception and cognition than other successful reproducers is still unevidenced. It is, in fact, an argument for a directionality in evolution that has made humans somehow “higher” than other organisms that lack our propensity to stare into our own navels.”

    Now I would like to say that on one level at least, you are more or less right on the money. Cognitive talents do NOT necessarily provide the all access backstage pass to ‘how to build the better mousetrap’. This in itself is no guarantee to more reproductive success. (Sorry guys, but we can argue about this point later.) But if I would examine what it is you are saying and assume that you are not just trying to add obfuscation to the argument as a smokescreen to the appearance of being painted into a corner, I fail to see where the statement above proves anything. What I hear here to paraphrase is that you are saying that our cognitive ability plays little or no role in reproductive success (true) and that Jason R. and another Jason’s argument is hinged on some teleological purpose for creating mind (whatever this may be at this point). I haven’t read that into the conversation yet but let us see if this is indeed what these authors believe. While I would not agree 100% with what either have offered yet, I would say that both are at least going in the right direction.

    Let me point out first that no truth is ever self-evident. While colloquially speaking, we can accept an author’s first hand account of what he/she sees as being phenomonally correct; there cannot be a first person accout of anything scientific. I believe that this is what you are trying to point out about Jason R. not providing empirical proof of his assertations. Ok, you got him there. I was thinking the same thing myself. But I have to ask here, what is it you would accept as sufficient empirical proof? There are literally thousands of titles which have been written on Cognitive Studies, Evolutionary Biology, and Neurology which support most of what these two individuals are asserting. I suppose we could open a forum somewhere to address your concerns on a point by point basis, but without that sort of specificity I do not think that there is sufficient space in this venue to provide the empirical data you are demanding.

    Having said that I have to say that what I am seeing here is a rather perplexing problem of arguing on two separate but interweaving levels, ontological and epistemological.

    Let me use an example that Daniel Dennett likes to refer to. This is the essay written by Thomas Nagel and published in the collection of vignettes editted by Dennett and Douglas Hofsteadter in 1981 “The Mind’s Eye” titled What It Is Like to be a Bat. Anyone familiar with Dennett will know where I am going with this but for the uninitiated Nagel argues that while we know much about bats (and many other species as implied) on a biological level, we can never know the world through the eyes of a bat. we can never grasp the ability to map the world sonically, to hear in 3D as a bat does. We can never experience the perceptions of a bat. Nagel makes this classic slip from Ontology to Epistemology rather seamlessly. I have never been sure whether it was a slippery move or careless philosophy in part because Nagel’s idiological commitment in this piece discredited him in my eyes. We/I can never ‘know’ what a bat ‘sees’ what a bat ‘feels’ or ‘knows’. I can never ‘know’ what Jason R, or another Jason, or John Pieret knows, I can never know what it is like to be anyone but me. I turns out that maybe ‘me’ is also a fiction that ‘I’ create as well and consciousness isn’t even all it’s cracked up to be.

    I think that this is where the argument is getting skewed here. Ontologically and perhaps empirically we may not be able to say that human cognitive talent is a)any better at guaranteeing reproductive success, b)any more or less reliable than ‘lesser’ conscious species (however we decide to define them), or c)evolved by natural or sexual selection or divined by a supernatural diety. Although I could argue that this last proposition is where the argument bleeds over into the epistemic argument because we tend to mix what it is possible for ‘us’ to know with the information that is available that we cannot process from our vantage point.

    I do not however believe that this is a moot point and that there are just some things that we cannot and should not inquire simply based on the notion of some personal distaste for some particular subject. As beneficiaries of our forebearers’ biological success, I would argue that nothing could be more important. Of course, that is just an opinion which you are encouraged to accept or dismiss at your own discretion.

    But I defer to my earlier comments. What our brains appear to have been evolved for is not this higher level bickering, the metaphysical, and meta-metaphysical and uber-metaphysical digressions that I see this argument devolving into. No, our brains were not evolved for any teleological purpose at all; but like Jason R. was originally asserting, the fact that our neural structuring evolved the way it did is one of the happy coincidences that has helped pave the way for the global dominance of our species above all others. This does not have to be the work of any supernatural diety and there is no level of irreducible complexity that Behe would be quick to point out. It is simply a matter of successful recursion creating successful recursion in a ‘competitive’ environment. I think religion comes from a yearning that is inside all of us to find order (another cognitive talent) in our worlds, to find a pattern that is novel and assign it a place in our mental toolboxes. We all have a need to feel that we are important and useful to our society on a phenomenal level, this is driven by again a desire for reproductive success and the longevity to ensure reproductive success. While our advanced intellects have ways of masking these shall we say ultimate drives within ourselves as something more akin to moral passions and altruisms, they can all be traced back to our more primal desires.

    So what I propose here is that there is a clear definition of the argument on both sides here. Are we saying on one side that evolution created the structures that support higher intelligence? Are we saying on the other hand that only God can create higher intelligence? Can either side back their argument with more than talking points? And what would anyone gain from such a conversation other than feeling smugly superior to the opposing view point?

    This has probably made enough enemies for one night. I hope that this thread can continue to some agreed understanding before fizzling out.

  84. #84 Another Jason
    March 4, 2007

    Herb West,

    Jason – I think you’re right to argue that evolution should generally favor accurate sensory perceptions and cognitive faculties. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that our perceptions and cognitive faculties are perfectly accurate. That leaves us with the problem of scope: the sum of our perfectly accurate senses fall far short of all-encompassing. Our senses are limited in number, limited in type, sensitivity and precision. We can expand the scope of our senses with instruments and reason, but we cannot know how much of reality continues to lie outside that scope. Therefore, we don’t experience reality in it’s totality; we experience the limited portion of reality that is amenable to our senses and reason (a “dream world” as Plantinga calls it).

    The scope of our senses is most definitely limited, hence the need to enhance them with scientific instruments to perceive objects outside that scope. And our ability to intuitively understand the laws of nature is also limited, hence the counterintuitive nature of phenomena far outside the range of our ordinary experience of the world, such as those described by relativity and quantum mechanics. But those facts do not lend any support to Plantinga’s belief in God or a supernatural world. The fact that science has limits is not a reason to believe there is any merit to religion, or theism, or magical thinking of any kind.

  85. #85 Richard Wein
    March 5, 2007

    Whatever we are calling bacteria today — and/or how bad my memory about such things is ;-), all of which is unimportant because it is, above the species level, artificial anyway — the larger point remains that it is quite possible to reproduce extremely well without perception at all as we understand it or with any variation in perception that occurs between that of bacteria and plants and what we human have.

    Although natural selection will not necessarily lead to reliable cognitive ability, it’s a plausible explanation of what we observe. Moreover, Plantinga’s claim is that natural selection should lead to an illusion of reliable cognitive ability (not a bacterium’s complete absence of perception). Surely it’s clear that this is not true, as such an illusion would be maladaptive.

  86. #86 John Pieret
    March 5, 2007

    Another Jason:

    I’ve done my best to explain the philosophical problem that Plantinga is posing, and the difficulties involved with selection as a solution to it, that everyone else seems to at least comprehend. Have a nice life.

    Tyler:

    My own problem with such arguments is that they invoke the fallacy of the excluded middle. We’re never, in any 100% certain about anything and are always trying to resolve varying levels of uncertainty. There is a chance that our cognitive faculties are totally faulty and causing us to completely misapprehend reality.

    I don’t see how Plantinga’s is excluding the middle. He is arguing that anything less than God-given perceptions are guaranteed to be fallible. The choices he gives are God and everything else.

    Of course he is handwaving away the difficulty (that he, not I, has set up — I’ve merely explicated it), just as Pascal handwaved away the difficulty of knowing which god to worship. Plantinga has the luxury of aiming his arguments to those (what’s the latest poll figures? 80% of Americans?) who are certain they know that God exists and which one he/she/it is. But telling the thoughtful among those (the only kind you’re going to be fighting over) that selection guarantees our perceptions on such questions are right just ain’t gonna fly.

    Jason Kreul:

    Cognitive talents do NOT necessarily provide the all access backstage pass to ‘how to build the better mousetrap’. This in itself is no guarantee to more reproductive success. (Sorry guys, but we can argue about this point later.) But … I fail to see where the statement above proves anything.

    It’s not intended to prove anything. It was intended by Plantinga to set up a conundrum that he claims is answered only by the existence of God. I’m merely arguing that claiming that selection’s effect on our perceptions is an answer to that conundrum is a poor strategy, since it easily leads into things such as arguing that religion itself is a selectively advantageous “illusion” despite selection supposedly insuring our perceptions won’t deliver illusions.

    The better strategy would be to attack the weaknesses of the conundrum than to argue [cough] endlessly on the weaknesses of a doubtful argument against it.

  87. #87 John Pieret
    March 5, 2007

    Richard Wein:

    Moreover, Plantinga’s claim is that natural selection should lead to an illusion of reliable cognitive ability (not a bacterium’s complete absence of perception). Surely it’s clear that this is not true, as such an illusion would be maladaptive.

    I don’t think Plantinga’s claim relies on our cognition actually being illusionary in toto, merely on the naturalist’s inability to demonstrate it isn’t illusionary at least in part. His argument works (as well as it ever will) if the evolved mind might be wrong about the “obvious” supernatural causation around it while, on the other hand, the theist can be sure s/he’s right about his/her perception of God, since God gave her/him the equipment to correctly perceive it.

    Oh, and by the way, the bacteria business is simply to show that, at one end of a spectrum, perception is utterly unneccessary for reproductive success. Where ever humans fall on that spectrum, you have to do more than just assert that our perceptions are a selective factor in our reproductive success. Which, in turn, leads into the Hobson’s choice you have about recognizing that either the religious belief and supernatural causation believed in by most humans is a correct evolutionarily-honed perception of the world or it is a major example of where our evolutionarily-derived perceptions lead us astray, confirming Plantinga’s conundrum.

  88. #88 Richard Wein
    March 5, 2007

    Reading Plantinga’s argument again, I noticed something I hadn’t paid sufficient attention to before. Plantinga attempts to justify his position as follows:

    The naturalist can be reasonably sure that the neurophysiology underlying belief formation is adaptive, but nothing follows about the truth of the beliefs depending on that neurophysiology.

    Some further elaboration would have been welcome, since prima facie this seems like a very strange claim. The only sense I can make of it is to suppose that (by this view) our beliefs are merely a side-effect of some neurophysiology that exists for some other purpose, and that the beliefs themselves have no effect on our behaviour. Perhaps Plantinga would say that our neurophysiological processes are capable of building reliable models of the world, but claim that such models exist purely at a subconscious level and have nothing to do with our conscious beliefs, which are just some sort of pseudorandom side-effect of the neurophysiological model-building process. I suppose that’s theoretically possible, but it’s a straw man. If Plantinga wants to reject the evolutionary explanation he needs to address the more obvious explanation (which I expect any supporter of evolution would take), namely that our conscious beliefs arise from our subconscious neurophysiological models of the world.

  89. #89 Richard Wein
    March 5, 2007

    Further thoughts. Plantinga continued:

    It’s as likely, given unguided evolution, that we live in a sort of dream world as that we actually know something about ourselves and our world.

    There exists an argument that consciousness has no adaptive value. Humans (and other animals for that matter) could function just as effectively without it. We could have been automata which don’t feel any pain but still react in just the same way (as if we were in pain) to sensory inputs which our brains interpret as harmful. Our brains could form models of the world and act on them without the need for any conscious awareness of those models. Everything we do could be done just the same without the existence of consciouness. But if consciousness has no adaptive value, then it’s hard to see why it should exist, given that we have been formed by evolution.

    Perhaps Plantinga is taking a similar view to this. But instead of arguing that under an evolutionary view there would be no consciousness at all, he is suggesting that there would be some sort of random consciousness that had no effect on our behaviour and no correspondence to reality.

    Assuming that I am now interpreting him correctly, I would say that the first argument makes more sense than Plantinga’s. If consciousness has no practical effect, there is no adaptive reason for it to evolve at all. On the other hand, if it evolved as a spandrel–a side effect of some adaptive attribute–it might well have been a side effect of our subconscious cognitive processes, in which case we would expect there to be some correspondence between our subconscious models of the world (which we expect to be reliable) and conscious beliefs.

    Personally, I would say that consciousness is a deeply mysterious phenomenon, and I don’t claim to have an explanation for it. But to argue from the lack of an explanation to the existence of God is just another God-of-the-gaps argument.

  90. #90 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 5, 2007

    Check out also Troy M. Nunley’s PhD thesis “A DEFENSE OF ALVIN PLANTINGA’S EVOLUTIONARY ARGUMENT AGAINST NATURALISM” (University of Missouri-Columbia, 2005).

    Remind me not to send my children to the University of Missouri-Columbia.

  91. #91 Another Jason
    March 5, 2007

    John Pieret,

    I’ve done my best to explain the philosophical problem that Plantinga is posing, and the difficulties involved with selection as a solution to it, that everyone else seems to at least comprehend. Have a nice life.

    You’ve just been repeating Plantinga’s argument that Jason R effectively rebutted in his original post, and I and others have been elaborating on that rebuttal. If you still don’t understand why reliable perception is important to the survival and reproductive success of complex organisms like human beings, why the absence of perception in bacteria is irrelevant to that fact, and why the fact that human perception is limited and imperfect does not lend any support to Plantinga’s theism, I don’t know how to explain these things to you any more clearly. And your bizarre comparison of Plantinga’s argument to Pascal’s Wager suggests that you don’t really understand it at all.

  92. #92 John Pieret
    March 5, 2007

    Richard Wein:

    … prima facie this seems like a very strange claim. The only sense I can make of it is to suppose that (by this view) our beliefs are merely a side-effect of some neurophysiology that exists for some other purpose, and that the beliefs themselves have no effect on our behaviour.

    No, what he is doing is using philosopher-speak to say that, on an evolutionary account of the mind, there is a spectrum of possible outcomes from our living in “a sort of dream world” to being absolutely correct about “reality.” The problem (he says) is that, from within an evolved mind, there is no way to tell where on the spectrum you fall (i.e. falling anywhere on the spectrum is “as likely” as falling on any other point) because an evolved mind cannot reliably tell where it is on the spectrum. That’s because how accurate the information that is needed to determine where on the spectrum it is, is itself dependent on where the mind falls on the spectrum.

    In effect he is arguing that between the choice of believing in God and believing in blind nature, you might as well believe in God because then you have “certainty” that you correctly perceive the world but, if you adopt naturalism, the best you can obtain is ambiguity and you can never be sure that you are not living in a dream world.

    It’s not an impressive argument to me, but the adaptiveness of our perceptions doesn’t go to the issue he’s raising at all.

  93. #93 Bill Snedden
    March 5, 2007

    John Pieret -

    It’s not an impressive argument to me, but the adaptiveness of our perceptions doesn’t go to the issue he’s raising at all.

    I certainly agree that it’s not as impressive an argument as Plantinga or his defenders seem to believe, but it does also seem to me that it is you, and not Richard, who have misunderstood the argument Plantinga is making.

    From Plantinga’s paper:

    If adaptive behavior guarantees or makes probable reliable faculties, then P(R/N&E) will be rather high: we (or rather our ancestors) engaged in at least reasonably adaptive behavior, so it must be that our cognitive faculties are at least reasonably reliable, in which case it is likely that most of our beliefs are true.

    So you see, the ability of adaptive behavior to shape the reliability of our perceptions does go directly to his argument. In fact, the argument depends upon it being true that the objective probability of reliable cognitive abilities given the conjunctive framework of evolution and naturalism is either low or inscrutable (so as to be less than the same objective probability given theism). If it could be demonstrated that evolution and naturalism do or can produce reliable cognitive abilities (or, at least, that there’s no reason to believe they can’t), his argument is vitiated.

    In his paper, Plantinga provides several arguments for why P(R/N&E) must be either low or inscrutable, all having to do with the causal efficacy of the content of belief. He states:

    If, for example, behavior isn’t caused or governed by belief, the latter would be,so to speak, invisible to natural selection; in that case it would be unlikely that most of our beliefs are true, and unlikely that our cognitive faculties are for the most part reliable. So the question of the value of P(R/N&E) really turns on the relationship between belief and behavior. Our having evolved and survived makes it likely that our cognitive faculties are reliable and our beliefs are for the most part true, only if it would be impossible or unlikely that creatures more or less like us should behave in fitness-enhancing ways but nonetheless hold mostly false beliefs.

    He then goes on to examine four possible constructions of the belief/behavior relationship in turn and finds that none of them provide a high value for P(R/N&E). The first three are largely cogent; the fourth is (IMHO) spectacularly stupid and is, in fact, one reason why I believe his argument fails as it amounts to a complete misunderstanding of the relationship of perception to belief formation as well as an unargued discounting of any possible naturalist account of mind that gives high weight to the causal content of beliefs (and led John Post to remark in his critical review that Plantinga had simply ignored other information we already have that would in fact make R more likely (given N&E).). Fitelson and Sober make a similar point in their response, concluding:

    if belief and action are causally connected, then it takes a more detailed argument than Plantinga provides for concluding that reliable belief formation devices are unlikely to evolve via selection on actions.

    All this to say that arguments purporting to defend the ability of adaptive behaviors to aid in the development of reliable cognitive abilities do indeed seem to go to the heart of Plantinga’s argument.

  94. #94 Jason Kreul
    March 5, 2007

    John Pieret, to reply to:

    “In effect he is arguing that between the choice of believing in God and believing in blind nature, you might as well believe in God because then you have “certainty” that you correctly perceive the world but, if you adopt naturalism, the best you can obtain is ambiguity and you can never be sure that you are not living in a dream world.”

    I will have to take you at face value here. Yes, I believe this is the gist of what Plantinga is saying here. I have also noticed that you have not parroted his argument per se. I just fail to personally see what benefit one obtains from so firmly arguing such a moot point. Why say that God belief is responsible for cognitive accuracy? Why not an aversion to Brussel Sprouts? Why not early belief in Santa Claus? How, ontologically, does a belief in an infallible diety make for perfect perception. I mean honestly, this line of reasoning is openly circular in nature. I believe in God because God has given me the ability to see him with perfect clarity. This is not a theory or even an hypothosis. This is a first person observation. I said before that Jason R. could not use self-evident axioms as empirical proof and by the same token Plantinga’s pseudo-first person report cannot avail to empirical proof either. At the end of the day, Plantinga’s argument falls by the same wayside as Behe’s did in his testimony during the Dover Evolution Trial. Once all the smoke and mirrors are removed from the discussion, even ID’s biggest hero was forced to admit that without faith in an omnipotent diety, there is simply not enough empirical proof that cannot be explained away swinging in creationisms favor to win the argument at hand.

    What we as a people must decide is whether we seek truth through repeatable, observable information that can be interpreted in a coherent manner or if truth is divined by revelation. For those who believe in the scientific method, we will have to wait to see where the data takes us, after all science is more of a process than a set of axiomatic data. For those who dismiss science as the work of the devil or whatever they may postulate, there is simply no more that we can talk about.

  95. #95 Another Jason
    March 5, 2007

    Jason Kreul,

    You seem to be missing the point too. Plantinga’s basic claim is that we cannot infer that our beliefs about the world around us are mostly true from the premise that they are adaptive. That claim is simply wrong, for the reasons that have already been explained at length. Our survival is crucially dependent on our having mostly true beliefs about the world around us. That is what prevents us from walking off the edges of cliffs and eating poisonous plants. This is so regardless of whether the nature of reality is the material world of metaphysical naturalism or some Matrix-like dreamworld that exists only in the mind of God. Truth is about correspondence to reality, whatever the “ultimate” nature of that reality is.

  96. #96 Sam Bridges
    March 5, 2007

    Evolution is not as Plantinga says “unguided”. He has misunderstood Darwin and Dawkins,et.al. Natural selection guides evolution and that is why we (the selected) understand our world so well. We have invented Science to enable us to find out the way the world is rather than how we wished it. The God hypothesis is an unneeded one.

  97. #97 John Pieret
    March 5, 2007

    How, ontologically, does a belief in an infallible diety make for perfect perception.

    I think that may be the best line of attack against Plantinga’s argument among thoughtful theists. Why assume that God would consider perfect perception important to instill in humans or, for that matter, why bother to play completely fair with us, even if he/she/it is benevolent?

    This is not a theory or even an hypothosis. This is a first person observation. I said before that Jason R. could not use self-evident axioms as empirical proof and by the same token Plantinga’s pseudo-first person report cannot avail to empirical proof either.

    Well, yes, he is rejecting empiricism right along with naturalism. I think he has little choice in that, since they are intimately bound. His intended audience, or much of it, won’t mind that any.

  98. #98 Ginger Yellow
    March 7, 2007

    . From this point of view, our beliefs would be dependent on neurophysiology, and (no doubt) a belief would just be a neurological structure of some complex kind. Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?

    Huh? What does it actually mean to say that our neurophysiology is adaptive but the resultant beliefs are not mostly true? The only way I can make sense of it is if it is adaptive to have mostly false beliefs. This is obviously preposterous, and besides he doesn’t make that argument himself. So what the hell does he think he’s saying?

    I agree with Jason and various commenters that the quality of apologetics on display is almost infantile in its stupidity. Look at this, from the section following the quote above:

    Example of a defeater: suppose someone once told me that you were born in Michigan and I believed her; but now I ask you, and you tell me you were born in Brazil. That gives me a defeater for my belief that you were born in Michigan.) And if he has a defeater for that belief, he also has a defeater for any belief that is a product of his cognitive faculties. But of course that would be all of his beliefs—including naturalism itself. So the naturalist has a defeater for naturalism; natural- ism, therefore, is self-defeating and cannot be rationally believed.

    As far as I can make out, he’s saying: “It’s possible in principle to imagine scenarios such that each individual belief, taken on its own, we hold is untrue. Therefore we can have no confidence whatsoever that our beliefs, taken as a whole, are generally reliable. Therefore God.”

    A five year old could spot the error(s) in this argument. And this guy is a professor of philosophy?

  99. #99 Russell Blackford
    March 8, 2007

    Actually, we do tend to have a lot of false beliefs. E.g we tend to think that the Sun goes around the Earth until we are corrected by science. We tend to think there are objective moral truths until we realise how weird this really is. We tend to think the Earth is flat. We tend to look to supernatural beings (but not the God of the theologians; I mean polytheistic type supernatural beings) to explain things we don’t understand, pre-scientifically, like the weather. We tend to think that snakes are more dangerous than motor cars.

    There are a lot of things that we tend to think which make perfectly good sense for beings like us to think, given our evolutionary history. They are near enough for the practical purposes of pre-technological societies.

    On the other hand, if we were created by a deity, why didn’t this being do a better job of making sure we have true beliefs about these things, rather than “good enough” beliefs?

    It looks awfully as if we are beings that evolved to have flawed but “good enough” thought process that deliver “near enough” results in ancestral human environments.

  100. #100 Ginger Yellow
    March 8, 2007

    It also occurs to me that possibly the silliest thing about Plantinga’s argument is that if he genuinely believes it, then he must believe he has disproved theism as well. Because if you grant theism, then you have a “defeater” for all your beliefs as well – the age old idea that God could have created the universe a split second ago, fossils and fake memories and everything.

  101. #101 Blake Stacey
    March 8, 2007

    Ginger Yellow:

    Because if you grant theism, then you have a “defeater” for all your beliefs as well – the age old idea that God could have created the universe a split second ago, fossils and fake memories and everything.

    Or, God is going to create the Universe next Thursday afternoon at teatime, with perfectly forged memories, fossils and quasars to indicate the contrary.

  102. #102 Jason Kreul
    March 8, 2007

    Another Jason:

    Sorry it has taken a couple of days to respond.

    “You seem to be missing the point too. Plantinga’s basic claim is that we cannot infer that our beliefs about the world around us are mostly true from the premise that they are adaptive. That claim is simply wrong, for the reasons that have already been explained at length. Our survival is crucially dependent on our having mostly true beliefs about the world around us.”

    I think you are misconstruing what I have said here. I am not at all disagreeing with the premise you have laid out just that given the present volume of the specific text to date; there has not been sufficient evidence presented to tell John Pieret that the truth against his refutation is self-evident. No truth ever is, that is why there IS a scientific method fathered in the spirit of John Locke.

    I would agree, we are the beneficiaries of a reliable cognitive system. It is ‘essential’ to our survival, given the lifestyle of our species. I would also agree that this consciousness is only roughly accurate, more or less, but far from the perfect clarity that one should expect if endowed by an omniscient diety. I agree that Plantinga’s argument is poorly framed and entirely beyond credibility. It is the same irrational argument as all refutations of natural selection are. Beware of arguments bent on attempts at speaking over their intended audience, people have a tendency to think that if they speak in a confusing enough manner, everyone will just assume the speaker is so intellectually superior to the listener that they must be correct. For example:

    “From this point of view, our beliefs would be dependent on neurophysiology, and (no doubt) a belief would just be a neurological structure of some complex kind. Now the neurophysiology on which our beliefs depend will doubtless be adaptive; but why think for a moment that the beliefs dependent on or caused by that neurophysiology will be mostly true? Why think our cognitive faculties are reliable?”

    Ok, a given…but this means nothing. The fact that our beliefs and/or thoughts, memories, desires are held or stored in a neurophysiological structure and the structure must be adaptive (presumably to be able to adapt to new conditions or information) does nothing to refute nor foster any notion that the information is true or false. This is an argument about absolutely nothing. But my take is that Plantinga plans on being the smartest guy in the room when he’s telling somebody why this is such a good argument is his favor for some reason.

    Having said that, My whole contention thus far has been that our cognitive abilities are…mmm, just good enough, that is if you squint just right and use your imagination. But it begs the questions, good enough for what? Cui Bono? And, who is this ‘I’ and who’s running the show in my head anyhow? Who is the audience and where do they reside?

    Our cognitive abilities are good at what they have evolved to do, like every other organism, they aid in our survival. Perhaps the reasoning skills are not perfect and have a hard time grasping mathematics and written language without a long process of learning; but they are good at telling us if that lion is facing at us and looking for dinner or facing another direction. They can remember the way back home after a long hunt and/or scavenging venture. They can keep track of faces and who belongs in the tribe, who is an outsider, who gives and returns favors and who reneges. These were the important things to our ancestors. Numbers past three digit strings such as phone numbers are not a natural trait. Writing a letter to our congressman about the rising cost of doing business in your state is not a natural talent. These things must be learned. All of this learning is expensive and has only begun to really explode with the advent of agriculture and a sendentary lifestyle. Interestingly, organized religion begins to appear about the same period of time. No coincidence, I’m sure.

    But we still have not answered the big questions yet, such as who is this ‘I’ that benefits from all this engineering? And where would this magical soul have to reside in the body? When we begin to unravel the mysteries, we find out there is simply no one home inside our heads. There is no one place in the brain where all the neurological activities come together and somebody watching the tape decides what to do next. We are simply not wired that way.

    But this is not the only problem with Mr. Plantinga’s argument. He offers no proof as to even having perfect cognition as is implied that we get ‘from God’. What would this look like? What are the qulifiers to perfect knowledge anyhow? We need data. If we are to argue about what does and does not matter then we need to know what it is that qualifies so we know where to research. Hiding behind the smokescreen of an ineffible diety only widens the chasm between science and religion.

  103. #103 Not Jason
    March 9, 2007

    Jason R: Nice blog, interesting discussion. Jason Kreul is on to something in distinguishing epistemology from ontology/science from religion. Plantinga’s metaphysics explains everything and nothing: To the extent that R is reliable it’s because God designed it to be so. To the extent it’s not, it’s the result of the fall, e.g. those who don’t perceive God lack the sensus divinitatis, like the deaf who can’t hear. Those who perceive God do so because their sensus divinitatis is working properly – here’s ‘bleeding’ into epistemology. (It’s not clear if God-perceivers are just lucky or elect, i.e. if God is perceived by those who have the sensus or if the sensus operation is re-instated because God does the trick.) Unfortunately however the proper function of the sensus divinitatis does not correlate to anything else functioning properly e.g. better than average mathematical ability or even moral behaviour or whatever, so Plantinga’s story is both ad hoc and untestable. But what’s the explanandum anyway? That not everyone is a Christian believer? Science/knowledge seems to evolve. Have we explained everything we can/there is to explain? Does R evolve? If it’s all down to the a priori reliability of R, why did it take humankind so long to hit on the idea of evolution? Is the proof of the pudding in the eating, or in the recipe? How can we get access to the cookbook, or to the cook, other than in a circular way?

    Mustafa Mond: I like your sense of humour!

  104. #104 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    I can readily allow, said Cleanthes, that those who maintain the perfect simplicity of the Supreme Being, to the extent in which you have explained it, are compleat Mystics, and chargeable with all the consequences which I have drawn from their opinion. They are, in a word, Atheists, without knowing it. For though it be allowed, that the Deity possesses attributes of which we have no comprehension, yet ought we never to ascribe to him any attributes which are absolutely incompatible with that intelligent nature essential to him. A mind, whose acts and sentiments and ideas are not distinct and successive; one, that is wholly simple, and totally immutable, is a mind which has no thought, no reason, no will, no sentiment, no love, no hatred; or, in a word, is no mind at all. It is an abuse of terms to give it that appellation; and we may as well speak of limited extension without figure, or of number without composition.

    Pray consider, said Philo, whom you are at present inveighing against. You are honouring with the appellation of Atheist all the sound, orthodox divines, almost, who have treated of this subject; and you will at last be, yourself, found, according to your reckoning, the only sound Theist in the world…

    - David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

  105. #105 Steven Carr
    March 14, 2007

    As soon as you posit the supernatural, you allow the possibility that there are demons who are capable of attacking your reasoning and senses, and who are highly capable of doing so.

    Presumably, Plantinga should add a footnote to all of his published work, explaining that none of his arguments can be trusted, as it is always possible that he is posssessed by demons.

  106. #106 PM
    June 4, 2007

    “In organisms that reproduce slowly, like humans, it will nearly always be the case that those who perceive the world accurately will live longer and reproduce more successfully than those who do not.”

    Ok, so given the very vast majority of the worlds human inhabitants are theists, I suppose one is forced to conclude that theists (so demonstrably successful at passing on their genes) perceive the world/reality far more accurately than do atheists.

    Furthermore — and placing your self-refuting nonsense aside for a moment — you do seem to have missed the entire point; “Hallucination” or “error” per se is not the issue. Whilst Plantinga is a wonderful philosopher, CS Lewis was a better writer, so, perhaps you’d have more luck wrapping your head around this version:

    “If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents — the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts — i.e. of materialism and astronomy — are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milkjug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.”

  107. #107 Kevin
    June 4, 2007

    HMMM! Fetid tripe on a dead thread!

    I don’t think that any atheist has a problem with the concept that a god belief has granted an evolutionary advantage to various tribes and societies. Perhaps the purveyors of such falsehoods DO have a better perception of the weakness of the human intellect than the atheists.

    “If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision,” pshaw! its not accidental, its a normal pattern and very likely event, from the physics.

    “then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident” with the abundance of organic molecules found throughout space, its seems likely that replicating organic compounds will be frequently found in the universe.

    “and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too.” Bipedal, self-aware, omnivors? If not for the Yucatan Meteor, maybe the dinosaurs would have taken man’s place. Was the impact an “accident?” or something that reguarly happened in the past, when more debris were in the solar system.

    “If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents — the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms.”

    Now we are really digging deep. when a bird eats a worm it is NO accident.

    “And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers . blah. blah. blah…”

    That is an absolutely pathetic argument.

    K

  108. #108 PM
    June 5, 2007

    Hmmm. Comprehension Deficit Disorder on another dime-a-dozen two-bit blog.

    K, I think C S Lewis used the word “accident” in terms of, amongst others, an event happening without a deliberate plan or cause. That is, K, the cosmos did not consciously will or ordain the supposed “collision”. (Needless to say, and regardless of your bluster, this supposed sucessful collision would in fact be an extraordinarily unlikely event. BTW, K, where did you gain your “physics” and chemistry training? Star Trek, original series? And please be sure to let us all know when those “replicating organic compounds” are finally found).

    Oh, and what makes you think that if an accident happens “regularly” it therefore ceases to be an accident? (Perhaps Mr Spock could provide a few more lessons in formal logic.)

    Oh, and what other description might you give (other than “accident”) to describe an unplanned piece of “debris” smacking indeliberatly into another unplanned piece of “debris”? Would you feel more comfortable saying that the collision happened by fluke, by chance, or randomly?

    Maybe your comprehension skills were just having an off day yesterday. As such, I’d be very interested to read your “thoughts” today regarding the following snippet, courtesy of Dr Jonathan Sarfati:

    “Man can initiate thoughts and actions; they are not fully determined by deterministic laws of brain chemistry. This is a deduction from the biblical teaching that man has both a material and immaterial aspect (e.g. Genesis 35:18, 1 Kings 17:21?22, Matthew 10:28). This immaterial aspect of man means that he is more than matter, so his thoughts are likewise not bound by the makeup of his brain. But if materialism were true, then ‘thought’ is just an epiphenomenon of the brain, and the results of the laws of chemistry. Thus, given their own presuppositions, materialists have not freely arrived at their conclusion that materialism is true, because their conclusion was predetermined by brain chemistry. But then, why should their brain chemistry be trusted over mine, since both obey the same infallible laws of chemistry? So in reality, if materialists were right, then they can’t even help what they believe (including their belief in materialism!). Yet often call themselves ‘freethinkers’, overlooking the glaring irony! Genuine initiation of thought is an insuperable problem for materialism.”

  109. #109 Kevin
    June 5, 2007

    http://home.austarnet.com.au/stear/does_dr_jonathan_sarfati_have_any_integrity.htm

    “Dr Jonathan Sarfati is a Young Earth Creationist (YEC). He is employed by the Australian headquarters of Answers in Genesis (AiG) at Acacia Ridge in Queensland, Australia.

    According to his c.v. Dr Sarfati “obtained honors level in physical and inorganic chemistry, as well as in condensed matter physics and nuclear physics.” He also studied mathematics, geology and physics at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

    Dr Sarfati writes extensively for AiG. His writing covers most aspects of science as it relates to evolution. However, like many creationists, he attempts to refute many aspects of evolution by writing beyond his field of expertise.

    In one of his recent books, Refuting Evolution, he, typically, revisits areas which have been refuted by scientists many times. This is a well used creationist tactic; tell a lie often enough and it becomes truth. Unfortunately this is often a successful ploy as most grassroots creationists parrot these lies as if they were really scientifically sound.

    It comes as no surprise then that Dr Sarfati also employes that well known creationist tactic of quoting out of context. ”

    Yea….I’ll get right on that….

  110. #110 MartinM
    June 5, 2007

    Both Lewis and Sarfati ask why we should trust our reasoning if ‘materialism’ is true. Conspicuously absent from either is an explanation of why we should trust our reasoning if ‘materialism’ is false.

    Neither is happy with determinism underlying our reasoning process. I’d bet neither would be happy with random chance, either. Nor would a combination of the two suffice. What does that leave?

    Nothing, of course. It’s the standard supernaturalistic approach to life:

    1) Find a difficult problem
    2) Decide you can’t be buggered actually answering it
    3) Put it all down to magic
    4) Pretend you’re much smarter than all those poor bastards who are actually working on a real solution

  111. #111 PM
    June 5, 2007

    “1) Find a difficult problem
    2) Decide you can’t be buggered actually answering it
    3) Put it all down to magic
    4) Pretend you’re much smarter than all those poor bastards who are actually working on a real solution”

    I suppose you’re referring to those lazy, under-achieving, super-naturalistic types such as Newton, Pasteur, Pascal, Kelvin, Mendel, Kepler, Linnaeus, Faraday etc

  112. #112 MartinM
    June 6, 2007

    A list of people who achieved great things by laying aside supernaturalism and working out natural solutions to difficult problems hardly contradicts me. It’s a neat – if transparent – way to avoid actually addressing my point, however.

  113. #113 PM
    June 6, 2007

    You are quite wrong. Those legendary scientists I listed achieved great things precisely because they embraced the Judeo Christian biblical axioms that have provided the very foundations for science itself.

    I encourage you to do some research.

    By the way, are you under the misapprehension (perhaps due to the fact that I failed to respond directly to it) that the second paragraph of your initial contribution actually makes sense/makes a point? (As distinct from being utter drivel.)

    I note that K still has his tail tucked between his legs — having scurried away behind a silly little “austarnet” smokescreen.

    This will be my last post. I now remember why I retired from these forums — to avoid wasting time engaging overly confident peanuts like you.

  114. #114 Kevin
    June 6, 2007

    “This will be my last post.”

    Yea! The forces of good, truth and beauty triumph over the forces of darkness and ignorance! I WIN!

    oh happy day……

  115. #115 Ted
    September 5, 2007

    Well, Dawkins himself seems to think the human ability to sense reality is faulty: he devotes a whole segment of his book to making the argument that it is. But oh, wait! That faulty perception only applies to religious experience. A different standard applies to everything “scientific”. That’s typical of Dawkins’ illogic and double standards. And your rebuttal is, also typically, big on insults (“a farrago of arrant nonsense” – that’s a good one!) and short on substantive response.

    Cheers.

  116. #116 Tyler DiPietro
    September 6, 2007

    Well, Dawkins himself seems to think the human ability to sense reality is faulty: he devotes a whole segment of his book to making the argument that it is. But oh, wait! That faulty perception only applies to religious experience. A different standard applies to everything “scientific”.

    I couldn’t create a more egregious strawman if I tried. Congratulations, sir!

  117. #117 Bryan
    September 12, 2007

    “Although natural selection will not necessarily lead to reliable cognitive ability, it’s a plausible explanation of what we observe.”

    This seems to be an underlying assumption of many of your arguments; but Plantinga seems to be arguing that the reason why we observe data accurately. If naturalism were true, so the argument goes, we wouldn’t be able to observe such things. Likewise, the arugment that relies on what has occured in evolution would be circular to Plantinga because it relies on information within a theistic world (i.e., of course in this universe we make reliable observations because we live in a universe in which God has given us the faculties to do so, etc.).

  118. #118 Bryan
    September 12, 2007

    Sorry, this should read “but Plantinga seems to be arguing that the reason why we observe data accurately is because we already live in a theistic world, and therefore, arguing from observation would be begging the question.”

  119. #119 David Marjanovi?
    May 7, 2008

    Two words: Evolutionary Epistemology.

    I’m really flabbergasted that Plantinga has never heard of that.

    In fact, smart as he supposedly is, I’d have expected him to reach it independently — it’s a very simple and obvious idea!

  120. #120 John Guidone
    July 21, 2009

    Where Plantinga may fail due to his excessive wordiness and smug attitude, Alastair McGrath succeeds. The Dawkins Delusion is a devastating refutation.

  121. #121 J. Robert
    January 10, 2012

    The snarky “memo” comment aside, truly you jest? (Oh, and don’t forget the “stupid” comment too!)This, from a “professional??? And if Plantinga’s comments are so stupid, why do they need “several posts” to address? Egads… if they are stupid, dismiss them in a sentence!

    I get tired of the arrogance and evident childish peevishness of people like this blogger, that do nothing to advance the cause of truth, and – moreover – prove the central fact that man is indeed fallen.

    Very, very sad post.

  122. #122 J. Robert
    January 10, 2012

    Even more. “Refuted many times” apparently is some kind of proof???? More jesting, correct? You mean as in Ignaz Semmelweis was refuted many times about hand washing before operations? People who opposed phrenology? Neither science nor fact, mon ami, is NOT arrived at by consensus (despite what Al Gore says). As Galileo Galilei, stated about the so-called “consensus” of his age, “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.” (Similarly, I could make a comment about you “not getting the memo” here, but I will explicitly NOT do that).

    As a Christian, I search out truth. What this blog shows me is that people like the poster prove exactly the point that man is fallen; worse, that the poster apparently is not considering all facts available. I must say, with all due respect, this is a very, very poor post above.

  123. #123 NJ
    January 10, 2012

    J Robert @ 121:

    I All of you intelligent people must get tired of the arrogance and evident childish peevishness of people like this blogger me, that do nothing to advance the cause of truth especially when I post a comment on a nearly five-year-old thread

    J. Robert @ 122:

    As a Christian whiny-assed fundagelical, I search out truth only that which serves to reinforce my existing prejudices and disdain thinking for myself.

    Fixed those for you, buddy. No need to thank me…