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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism

by Massimo Pigliucci

As is well known to readers of this blog, I do not have much sympathy for philosophers like Alvin Plantinga. That’s not because the guy’s not smart (he certainly is), nor because he hasn’t published interesting philosophical arguments (he certainly has). But people like Plantinga still stride what should by now be an impossibly uncomfortable divide and ever widening gap between serious philosophy and theology. Not to put too fine a point on it, Plantinga is engaging in what Ladyman and Ross referred to as “neo-scholasticism” (not a compliment), the sort of philosophy that was perfectly acceptable at the time of Thomas Aquinas, but that should have by now securely been consigned to the dustbin of intellectual dead ends.

Nevertheless, one issue that keeps coming up whenever I mention Plantinga on my Twitter feed is his famous Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), and so I feel compelled to comment on it, though plenty of other people have already done so in the technical philosophical literature.

The EAAN (which can actually be traced back to C.S. Lewis) goes something like this:

1. Our beliefs about the world can only have evolutionary consequences if they affect our behaviors (otherwise they are invisible to natural selection);
2. Natural selection favors advantageous behaviors, not directly the ability to form true beliefs;
3. Natural selection has no way to favor true non-adaptive beliefs over false but adaptive beliefs.

Therefore, (C1) the probability that our minds consistently deliver true beliefs if both philosophical naturalism and naturalistic evolution are true is low or inscrutable. Also, (C2) it is more likely that God created us in a way that resembles him, specifically in a way that makes it possible for us to reliably hold true beliefs.

Plantinga accompanied the above with a lot of corollary discussions of Bayesian probability (his argument gets off the ground because of his assignment of priors to certain events, such as the outcome of natural selective pressures and the reliability of human beliefs about the world) as well as of different theories of mind-body interactions (since his argument depends on the causal properties of beliefs, and even desires). Regardless, the sketch I presented provides the bare bones of the EAAN.

Now, the first reaction of skeptics and atheists is likely to be: bullshit (or, in my case, nonsense on stilts). But we need to resist easy dismissals here. The EAAN is a serious argument advanced by a serious philosopher (despite my comments above about theology and neo-scholasticism), and it is intellectually honest to actually engage with it and refute it on its own grounds.

Generally speaking, there are two broad strategies for refuting a formal argument in logic: we can show either (a) that the argument is invalid (i.e., the conclusions do not logically follow from the premises) or (b) that it is not sound (i.e., one or more of the premises is false).

As far as I can tell, premises 1-3 are indeed true, so the problem — if any — is with the structure of the argument. Let’s start with C2: it simply does not follow even if premises 1-3 were true. For instance, there is no non-arbitrary reason to think that God created us in his image (what, just because it says so in a book written by unknown human beings thousands of years ago?), nor that “in his image” ought to include the ability to form reliable beliefs about the world. After all, there are a number of respects in which God did not bother to make us similar to himself (omnipotence, for instance; not to mention that he likely doesn’t have nipples), so why arbitrarily assume that reliability of beliefs is one such aspect? It certainly doesn’t follow from the premises of the EAAN. Indeed, nothing about gods follows from those premises, as we could have been created by a Big Simulator and exist only as virtual characters in his Big Video Game. So there is no reason for us to accept C2, which — make no mistake about it — is the whole reason why Plantinga is bothering with all this to begin with.

What about C1? That one also doesn’t follow from the argument as stated, unless we add an additional, hidden premise: that natural selection is the only way for us to evolve the ability to form (largely) reliable beliefs about the world. But biologists agree that natural selection is just one evolutionary mechanism, and that a number of things come into existence in the biological world as byproducts of evolution. No serious biologist, for instance, would argue that our ability to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem, or — more prosaically — to, say, read trashy novels, is the result of evolution by natural selection. We are capable of both (and many other) feats as a byproduct of having large brains capable of sophisticated thinking. Those large brains evolved for reasons of survival and reproduction (e.g., the ability to coordinate large game hunting, or to advantageously interact in socially large groups, etc.) that have nothing directly to do with Fermat’s theorem or trashy novels.

There are more subtle problems with Plantinga’s argument. For instance, C1 states that the probability of humans being capable of generating reliably true beliefs about the world is “low or inscrutable.” Let’s parse the two possibilities: low from inscrutable probability. The first one is arrived at by Plantinga through the assignment of arbitrary Bayesian priors, without regard to actual empirical evidence. But when based on subjective priors Bayesian inference only converges to the true priors after repeated evidence-based rounds, without which the initial priors simply reflect personal prejudice. In this case Plantinga completely ignores further empirical evidence and does not adjust his priors accordingly.

If, however, we agree that such priors are in fact “inscrutable” (and I am inclined to agree that they are) then precisely nothing can be derived from them in terms of the truth or falsity of naturalism. To see why we need to understand that Plantinga’s conclusion here is derived in a way similar to the infamous argument from low probability of the evolution of adaptive proteins advanced by creationists and intelligent design proponents such as William Dembski. Dembski confidently “estimates” probabilities of unique historical events to which we cannot actually attach probabilities  at all, for the simple reason that we have no idea from which statistical distribution they are drawn. Lacking such information, again, talk of “probabilities” is simply a thinly disguised way to attempt to impose one’s own subjective (and arbitrary) beliefs on the problem at hand. It is intellectually naive, if not downright dishonest.

There is another obvious problem with Plantinga’s argument: the definition of naturalism. To begin with, as Michael Ruse has pointed out in his own response to the EAAN [1], Plantinga fails to make the crucial distinction between methodological and philosophical naturalism. Science, and in particular the theory of evolution, is committed only to the former, not to the latter. More broadly, naturalism is actually surprisingly difficult to define, and what it logically entails is even more subject to debate (as became clear during the Moving Naturalism Forward workshop that Sean Carroll organized and in which I participated). Plantinga gets around this by defining naturalism as “the idea that there is no such person as God or anything like God.” But which god is he talking about? Would the above mentioned Big Simulator count as a god? Not in Plantinga’s book, by why not? Indeed, naturalism doesn’t even need to be limited to physicalism, as for instance in the case of naturalist philosophers who entertain some versions of mathematical Platonism or structural realism. This doesn’t make naturalism incoherent, but it certainly makes it much less of the clearly defined target that Plantinga’s attempts to deploy.

Finally, let’s look at the fundamental points underlying the whole EAAN argument: are human beliefs generally reliable or not? And what is the best explanation for such reliability or lack thereof?

Well, the first thing to do is to break down the category “human beliefs” (which Plantinga conveniently treats as homogeneous) into subgroups. Our beliefs about everyday experience, for instance, are pretty darn reliable, and the most likely explanation for that fact is indeed the theory of evolution by natural selection. If we held systematically wrong beliefs about things that are dangerous (predators, poisonous fruits) or good for us (animals we can use or hunt, edible stuff) we would have long ago gone the way of the Dodo (which went extinct, ironically, precisely because it held systematically mistaken “beliefs” about the friendliness of a certain species of bipeds newly present in its natural environment).

Second, the fact that we have systematic cognitive biases is actually pretty well explained by (or at least consistent with) evolutionary theory (again, understood as natural selection plus other mechanisms, including the likelihood of evolving behavioral byproducts). Moreover, it poses a significant threat to any theological account: why, exactly, would god build us in a way that makes us prone to confirmation bias, or to “discover” patterns where there are none? Is that also a consequence of being made in his image? Does god have an in-born tendency to believe in conspiracy theories and in making stuff up?

In the end, Plantinga’s argument is little more than a throwback to Descartes’ famous invocation of god as guarantor of the reliability of our knowledge. The difference is that Descartes can be (somewhat) excused because he was writing at a time when there really was no reasonable alternative to the invocation of divine intelligence to explain certain facts about human existence. Plantinga — writing almost a century and a half after Darwin — has no such excuse, and we are right in rejecting his EAAN as a clever but inevitably flawed example of neo-scholasticism.

__________

[1] In: “The New Creationism: Its Philosophical Dimension,” a chapter of The Cultures of Creationism, Ashgate, 2004.

135 comments:

  1. Terrific and thorough response to EAAN. It's one of those arguments that for my own reasons I never found all that compelling. I'm not sure that I agree that all of the premises are true, at least not as Plantinga articulates the argument, but I like the illustration that the argument is basically invalid, and I like the rough sketch of the argument, since it does help get right into the problem.

    I think that, maybe at another point, it'd be a good idea to talk about why it is that neo-scholasticism is something that doesn't have a lot of intellectual credibility, and why opposition to it among modern philosophers is understandable and correct. (I'd be really interested to hear your take.)

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  2. Thanks for summarizing a few of the many ways in which the EAAN is wrong. For me I have trouble getting past what seems the most glaring problem: naturalistic evolution plainly does not predict what Plantinga says it does.

    If I imagine a cognitive faculty that reliably produces adaptive beliefs without any reference to whether the beliefs are true, I basically think of a large database of adaptive beliefs. This database would a) require a lot of metabolic energy, and b) occupy a very small volume of genetic-possibility space. Natural selection clearly acts on both of these consequences, and not just on behaviors.

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  3. Interested layperson here, so please be charitable with me...

    "If we held systematically wrong beliefs about things that are dangerous or good for us we would have long ago gone the way of the Dodo."

    Is this not attacking premise #3, which earlier you grant? Part of this premise seems to me to assume there is no reliable correlation between belief and action - whether the Dodo believed that humans were, in fact, other cuddly Dodos or if it believed that we were friendly primates is irrelevant; what matters is that either way it acted in a way that allowed its extinction (this is surely a simplification but you see my point, I hope).

    I am inclined to think (on the basis of no evidence whatsoever) that evolution will favour beliefs that largely correspond to reality if said beliefs produce advantageous actions more reliably than beliefs which do not correspond to reality. Plantinga's argument seems to assume (rightly or wrongly) that belief and action are not particularly related.

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    1. Premise 3 is correct, in that evolution has no way to favour true adaptive beliefs over false adaptive beliefs.

      However, true beliefs are more likely to be adaptive than false ones because evolution cannot have scripted the correct behaviour in any given situation in advance. The space of possible situations is simply too large. Of course, there are animals that work according to a script like this, but they only have predetermined responses for the most common situations/stimuli and as a result are quite stupid and easy to fool. They cannot be said to have beliefs.

      For more intelligent animals such as birds and mammals, evolution has lead to brains which can assess situations and choose appropriate courses of actions in response, dynamically incorporating beliefs about their enviromnent. Brains are more likely to choose correct courses of action if they can form true beliefs.

      Massimo is taking poetic license when he describes dodos as having untrue beliefs about humans. What seem to have lacked was a fear response, so they are perhaps not the best example.

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  4. you might find these two papers of ours to be useful re Plantinga & Dembski...

    http://fitelson.org/plant.pdf

    http://fitelson.org/dembski.pdf

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    1. I think they are very useful. Thanks!

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  5. Good article. You say beliefs are essentially by-products (implying they're not adaptive in themselves). But there is another possibility, which is that what is adaptive, and selected for, is *belief-generating machinery* that roughly tracks the relevant parts of reality. In other words, natural selection does not select for or against my belief that tigers are dangerous; but it does select for or against a generalized cognitive architecture capable of coming to that conclusion via environmental cues.

    The most interesting related question to me, which Plantinga does not mention here, is the implications for meta-ethics of a moral sense that is evolved. It's really difficult to say why human moral judgment should "track" some sort of eternal moral truths, given the evolutionary accounts we can give of morality. So there is a fairly deflationary taste to them, at least prima facie.

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    1. >But there is another possibility, which is that what is adaptive, and selected for, is *belief-generating machinery* that roughly tracks the relevant parts of reality<

      Agree 100%

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  6. I think that Plantinga's main point is that the set of false beliefs that could produce an adaptive behavior is much larger than the ser of true beliefs that do. So if evolution does not select for true beliefs , but merely for adaptive ones, then it would be more likely that a person would pick a false beliefs, and that would imply that the very belief in naturalistic evolution is more likely to be false. So then belief on naturalistic evolution becomes self refuting. So maybe Plantinga is on to something.

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    1. Reminds me of the argument that belief in a god or gods, however unfounded in reality, may have some adaptive advantage (for example, it may facilitate coherence within societies), and this is why religion is so pervasive. But then that implies that belief in naturalistic evolution is *not* self-refuting.

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    2. paco

      Why would you think that, under naturalism, true beliefs can only come about through evolutionary selection, as opposed to through other evolved abilities?

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    3. This reasoning only applies if evolution works by prebaking beliefs about the world into us, so that we will respond correctly to any given situation. In that case, the set of false beliefs which would be adaptive would indeed be greater than the set of true beliefs which would be adaptive.

      And indeed evolution does bake certain behaviours into us in response to certain situations, but in these cases belief doesn't come into it.

      For example, on standing on a glass floor above a vertiginous drop you might feel very fearful even though you believe you are perfectly safe. Your rational beliefs are in this case independent from your instinctive reaction and may allow you to overcome it.

      Beliefs come into play when we deliberate and plan. Deliberation is a much more flexible tool than instinct and allows us to cope with a huge variety of situations that could not have been selected for by evolution. The space of possible situations is effectively infinite, most of which will not have been encountered frequently enough to allow natural selection to select the appropriate responses.

      Crucially, deliberation only works reliably if we have the ability to form true beliefs about the world. This is why true beliefs are more likely to be adaptive than false beliefs.

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    4. To elaborate on my earlier point, it seems like an argument of this sort must distinguish between beliefs such as theism and testable hypotheses such as evolution.

      For, if religion or theism does indeed provide a survival advantage to a society, then that belief needs nothing further (other than a lack of skepticism) in order to become pervasive. In the face of competing ideas -- competing religions, for example -- the entry which puts the greatest fear into believers will tend to dominate (and so in addition to theism we have the emergence of belief in hell).

      On the other hand, belief in evolution carries no survival advantage, other than enabling biologists to produce better theories which may help fight disease. And such an advantage is incidental: The Big Bang is another empirical theory, belief in which carries no survival advantage (as yet?). Ideas in this category live and die according to how well they withstand empirical tests, not according to survival advantages conveyed on believers.

      But note that we are talking about selection of memes, not biological selection. Ideas do not propagate by the same means as genes. The survival of an idea only requires the survival of the society which holds that idea. Gene survival, by contrast, requires survival of specific individuals, and successful reproduction by those individuals. So the EAAN seems to be built on a confusion between the methods of gene propagation and the methods of meme propagation. When that confusion is unraveled, the argument simply falls apart.

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  7. Consider two phrasings:

    Therefore, (C1) the probability that our minds consistently deliver true beliefs if both philosophical naturalism and naturalistic evolution are true is low or inscrutable. [italics added]

    vs

    Finally, let’s look at the fundamental points underlying the whole EAAN argument: are human beliefs generally reliable or not? And what is the best explanation for such reliability or lack thereof? [italics added]

    There's some not inconsiderable slippage in the shift from "true" beliefs to "reliable" beliefs. If a system of false beliefs leads to consistently adaptive (and therefore naturally selectable) behaviour, then yes, evolution will give rise to false beliefs, just as science will. Plantinga habitually uses examples of single false beliefs that are adaptive (e.g., a hominid fleeing a tiger in the belief that fleeing is a way of getting to pet it; see here).

    If "true" means (or is highly correlated with) "reliable," then evolution (and naturalism) has no problem: critters whose perceptual/cognitive apparatus give them unreliable (= inconsistent and more likely to be false) representations of relevant portions of their environment tend to wind up as lunch for critters whose cognitive/perceptual apparatus gives them more reliable (= more consistent and less likely to be false) representations of relevant portions of their environment. Whether the representations are "true" in some absolute sense from the vantage point of Omniscient Jones is unknown (and probably unknowable), but reliability is testable. And the more systematic tests that a system of beliefs passes, the better--more useful, more reliable--the representations of reality they contain. And that's all I ask.

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    1. > a hominid fleeing a tiger in the belief that fleeing is a way of getting to pet it <

      I know this is Plantinga's not yours, but I can't help responding.

      Any creature that runs away from a target in the belief that this is an effective way to approach it and touch it is probably not going to survive long. It would spend its short existence starving and running away from food!

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  8. Massimo,

    Congratulations, you totally trashed Platinga's argument. I have to confess that I disagree with many of the claims of Alvin Plantinga (or at least I have some doubts regarding some of his claims, however this is not relevant here).

    What do we know about natural selection, what is that natural selection tells us that is relevant about the way things are. Very little, but this is expected as natural selection doesn’t claim to deal with the way things are, quite distinctly, it is supposed to explain how things turned to be the way they are. Apparently no one has ever thought about this, apparently, before the proposal of the theory of evolution and natural selection everyone was convinced that things have been always the way they are. Eventually religious people explained that this was like this after God created the universe and decided to populate it with His creatures and plants. We could say that this notion is medieval (at least). Then Darwin quite unexpectedly suggested a very elegant concept that could be useful in explaining why things (say animals and plants), in the past, were different than those we see today, a quite ingenueous concept that everyone seems to grasp, after hearing a simple explanation, and so it was the theory of evolution (operating under a mechanism called natural selection).

    It is a wonderful concept I must recognize (speaking for myself, I am a big fan of the theory of evolution), and, in fact so elegant and compelling that it was widely accepted among biologists, evolutionists, geneticists, lay people and even religious people, furthermore I have to had that in all the time that followed this proposal of the theory evolution nobody was even close to purpose a competing theory (or idea), from that time on researchers were able to purpose a variety of new mechanisms that could lead to evolution. Evolution itself was explained by the codes impressed in the genes. It seems we learned a lot since the original Darwins proposal. The sad thing about the theory of evolution, is that we were not able to explain the evolution from one species to another (apparently it takes a lot of time, well above our modest research capabilities), we still do not know how the things that once were become the things that are today. Well, in the first place we don’t know what things were anyway. Still, we learned a lot about the things that were supposed to be turned to be the things that are. Well, we don’t know exactly how things were (but we may guess that they were a little different, just a little), but we know how things are and we believe that we are on the verge of understanding the mechanisms that turn the things that were into the things that are. We are entitled to hour believes (false or not).

    That said, I have reasons to be a fan of the theory of evolution (not to mention that there is no alternative to it). However I doubt that it will ever be able to explain consistently evolution (as real thing and not as mere conception).

    I do not defend Platinga’s EAAN, although I agree with him that naturalism perspective doesn’t provide many epistemological correct answers (against my natural inclinations, as I hold highly the methodological naturalism), although in general may seems to make sense (this however doesn’t make it true).

    I don’t know much about God (I am just a poor believer after all) and I can’t teach you much. Anyway I have to confirm to you that in fact God has no nipples (as you seemed to have perceived, I am mentioning this to you because that is about the only thing you seemed to get wright about God). Then by now you seem to know that God is omnipotent and has no nipples (this is progress in knowledge).

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  9. I just realized my argument above can be boiled down to a two-sentence conversation:

    Plantinga: "Naturalism/evolution can't produce true beliefs."

    Me: (shrug) "Who cares?"

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  10. What would a false but adaptive belief look like? If it were accidental and provided an advantage at one point, it would eventually fail to correlate to reality and the advantage would disappear. Wouldn't it?

    It seems to me to be an idealized category. False positives could get an example - recognizing a withered patch of grass as a predator. But isolating that false belief fails to recognize that it only exists due to the true positives that caused the behavior to be adaptive.

    How does Platinga envision the ratios, in order to conclude that true beliefs are inscrutable?

    True adaptive - low or inscrutable
    True non-adaptive - low or inscrutable
    False adaptive - many
    False non-adaptive - ?

    He's pulling probabilities out of his tush. True adaptive beliefs seem that they'd be the majority. Partly because the world is complex and true-adaptive beliefs would need to be common/proliferous for us to survive.

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  11. When I first heard Plantinga's argument, my immediate reaction was to question an aspect of the theistic evolution which he and many other Christians hold to. Namely, if we are the product of divinely guided evolution whereby god selected for our cognition being accurate, then how do you explain things like mental illness and irrational/superstitious beliefs like voodoo, Mormonism, talking snakes, and flying horses carrying "prophets" to heaven, as well as thousands of other false gods and religions (Christianity included)?

    The only answer theists have is the doctrine of original sin. Other than that, they must admit their designer is either incompetent and/or intentionally cruel. This poses a serious problem for the theist because there is no evidence that an episode of original sin ever took place. In fact, all the evidence is against it. There never was a bottleneck of just two individual people, and there never were two first "people" either. Humans gradually evolved over millions of years, and there never was an ape that literally gave birth to a fully evolved human being. If you have to believe there was in order to be a Christian and accept evolution, then you might as well join the ranks of creationists like Ray Comfort and Kent Hovind.

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  12. Would this be a valid objection to your closing statements?:

    When you classify human beliefs as reliable, you're assuming your own mind is reliable in evaluating the validity of it's own beliefs, when this is exactly the issue discussed. So doesn't that make it a circular argument?

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  13. Hi Massimo:

    >No serious biologist, for instance, would argue that our ability to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem, or — more prosaically — to, say, read trashy novels, is the result of evolution by natural selection. <

    I think this is incorrect. We don't disagree,
    and your follow-up sentence clarifies your position, but I think that the way you phrase this is confusing.

    I would say that our ability to solve Fermat's Last Theorem is actually the result of evolution by natural selection, it's just not what evolution was selecting for (specifically).

    Saying that natural selection did not lead to our ability to solve FMT is like discounting natural selection as an explanation for why a lion that got into the wombat enclosure at a zoo proceeded to kill the wombats.

    Natural selection did not specifically select for this particular lion to kill this particular wombat on this particular day (especially as lions and wombats did not coexist in nature). It selected instead for aptitudes and instincts which lead to the ability of lions to kill prey animals in general.

    Similarly, natural selection has selected for our ability to solve problems in general. FMT is just one consequence of this ability selected for by evolution.

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  14. The (mis)use of a Bayesian inference framework has always seemed to me to be a problem with Plantinga: Bad priors in, bad posteriors out.

    This explains something about Alvin Plantinga:

    He says many people wonder why he left his faculty position at Calvin College to go to Notre Dame. “It’s actually quite simple,” he said, “I wanted to become Pope, and there has never been a pope from any university with the name Calvin.” He said he thought it would be fun to be the first Protestant Pope, and the University of Notre Dame would help him get closer to that goal. But he said he quickly found out that “becoming Pope is harder than you might think,” so his dream is still not realized.
    blog.drwile.com/?p=4316

    What are the odds?

    Plantinga is a foundationalist (who happens to be a theist), and many of those who argue against Plantinga's approach are other foundationalists (who are atheists). They are playing on the same field (of foundationalism). But the antifoundationalist would likely find other arguments to counter Plantinga.

    Foundationalism vs. Antifoundationalism
    cwrl.utexas.edu/~longaker/rhe330d/foundationalismvsantifoundationalism.ppt

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  15. I am bewildered every time Massimo posts something like this. Massimo's argument is very compelling. To me, he has to be right. But if the argument can be refuted so easily by a blog post, how did the argument get published in the first place? Is there anything similar to peer review in philosophy? Why did the reviewers not catch the logical flaws? Why are philosophers not demanding Plantinga to retract his papers, now that it's been shown that the argument is logically flawed? It boggles the mind that philosophy as a field, which is supposed to care about rigor in logic, allows obviously flawed arguments to be published.

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  16. Andrew,

    > Is this not attacking premise #3, which earlier you grant? Part of this premise seems to me to assume there is no reliable correlation between belief and action <

    No, premise 3 says that natural selection cannot favor true *non adaptive* beliefs over false adaptive ones, but it doesn’t say that therefore we should expect the evolution of systematically wrong beliefs. In the case of the dodo (other than it did not really have “beliefs” in the human sense) the extinction was caused by the fact that selection didn’t have time to favor a human-weary behavior, because humans appeared suddenly in the dodo’s environment and brought about its extinction quickly.

    > Plantinga's argument seems to assume (rightly or wrongly) that belief and action are not particularly related. <

    He gives low priors to the evolution of true beliefs, but he doesn’t justify those priors empirically.

    Ian,

    > natural selection does not select for or against my belief that tigers are dangerous; but it does select for or against a generalized cognitive architecture capable of coming to that conclusion via environmental cues. <

    Yes, that may very well be, but I think one can make an argument that selection also favors specific weariness against specific classes of predators. Either way, Plantinga’s argument isn’t helped.

    paco,

    > So if evolution does not select for true beliefs , but merely for adaptive ones, then it would be more likely that a person would pick a false beliefs, and that would imply that the very belief in naturalistic evolution is more likely to be false. <

    That’s precisely what Plantinga is after. But this assumes a low correlation between adaptiveness and truth (which Plantinga does not bother to show empirically). It also ignores the byproduct effect that I mentioned, as well as the possibility raised by Ian that we evolved generic heuristics to discover things. Also, we know that human beings have systematically false beliefs (see the list of cognitive biases), but also that they evolved (culturally) ways to correct them. Plantinga doesn’t even address cultural evolution.

    RBH,

    > Whether the representations are "true" in some absolute sense from the vantage point of Omniscient Jones is unknown (and probably unknowable), but reliability is testable. <

    Correct, but think of the so-called “no miracles” argument in philosophy of science (in favor of scientific realism): it would be a miracle - epistemologically speaking - if it turned out that our beliefs were both reliable (in the sense of predicting things about the world) and yet false. And I don’t believe in miracles.

    > Plantinga: "Naturalism/evolution can't produce true beliefs."
    Me: (shrug) "Who cares?" <

    Well, no. If Plantinga’s argument goes through this does mean that either naturalism or our account of evolution (or both) are wrong, something about which you should care.

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    1. >Yes, that may very well be, but I think one can make an argument that selection also favors specific weariness against specific classes of predators. Either way, Plantinga’s argument isn’t helped.

      Right, good point, I wondered whether I should mention that. Certainly we seem to be congenitally afraid of snakes. Nonetheless it seems pretty clear that selection for propositional belief (which is what Plantinga mainly cares about, since he wants to undermine naturalism) is not really what's happening out on the savannah.

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    2. >That’s precisely what Plantinga is after. But this assumes a low correlation between adaptiveness and truth (which Plantinga does not bother to show empirically).

      Well, maybe one could easily show that if adaptive beliefs are as likely to be selected regardless of their truth (meaning that each belief has the same probability of being chosen), then all I could say that I could conceive of a lot of beliefs about the world that produce the same behavior against just one belief(the one that turns out to be the true one) , so couldn't this be a valid way of justifying that the number of possible beliefs is much larger than the number of true beliefs that are adaptive without having to get more empirical evidence?.

      Also , methodological naturalism would not be a valid way to argue against EAAN, methodological naturalism requires theism to be true, other wise what would differentiate it from metaphysical naturalism?

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    3. Massimo wrote

      Correct, but think of the so-called “no miracles” argument in philosophy of science (in favor of scientific realism): it would be a miracle - epistemologically speaking - if it turned out that our beliefs were both reliable (in the sense of predicting things about the world) and yet false. And I don’t believe in miracles.

      The odd sentence in my post above ("If a system of false beliefs leads to consistently adaptive (and therefore naturally selectable) behaviour, then yes, evolution will give rise to false beliefs, just as science will.") was originally going to introduce several paragraphs on just your point, with emphasis on systems of beliefs and the likelihood of a coincidence of "reliable" and "false" of integrated systems of belief under test by either evolution or scientific investigation, with a side excursion into Asimov's relativity of wrong essay. But I decided to leave that for another time.

      Massimo wrote further

      If Plantinga’s argument goes through this does mean that either naturalism or our account of evolution (or both) are wrong, something about which you should care.

      Since "true" in the sense of Ominiscient Jones is, I believe, undeterminable (unless we transform into OJ), we have to settle for reliable beliefs, not knowing whether they are true. Hence, Plantinga's arguments with respect to true beliefs fall into my "Don't care" bin.

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  17. Joe,

    > If it were accidental and provided an advantage at one point, it would eventually fail to correlate to reality and the advantage would disappear. Wouldn't it? <

    Yes, but if that decoupling is far enough not to be of practical use it wouldn’t matter. This happens in science as well: Newtonian mechanics is, strictly speaking, wrong. But it does get rockets to Mars...

    > How does Platinga envision the ratios, in order to conclude that true beliefs are inscrutable? ... He's pulling probabilities out of his tush. <

    Yes, as I pointed out, he doesn’t justify his choice of priors.

    Richard,

    > Reminds me of the argument that belief in a god or gods, however unfounded in reality, may have some adaptive advantage (for example, it may facilitate coherence within societies), and this is why religion is so pervasive. <

    Yes, which is highly ironic in this context.

    Anonymous,

    > When you classify human beliefs as reliable, you're assuming your own mind is reliable in evaluating the validity of it's own beliefs, when this is exactly the issue discussed. So doesn't that make it a circular argument? <

    This is close to an argument for complete epistemic skepticism. These arguments are indeed irrefutable, but they create just as much of a problem for naturalists as for theologians. Indeed, if one begins with a skeptic premise one goes precisely nowhere. So the best thing to do about skepticism is to acknowledge its possibility and then promptly ignore it.

    scitation,

    > But if the argument can be refuted so easily by a blog post, how did the argument get published in the first place? Is there anything similar to peer review in philosophy? <

    Well, to begin with, Massimo is a professional philosopher... ;-) Second, Massimo is helping himself to precisely the type of professional criticism that other philosophers have articulated against Plantinga in the technical literature. Finally, why should Plantinga retract? His argument is not silly, and that the way philosophy makes progress (see my recent post on this topic): people advance arguments, they get scrutinized and criticized, counter-rebuttals are provided, and so on.

    Disagreeble,

    > on standing on a glass floor above a vertiginous drop you might feel very fearful even though you believe you are perfectly safe. <

    Yes, that’s a very good example. My response to Plantinga in that case would be that the falsity of the beliefs originates from the (culturally) novel situation, and that we have brains capable of correcting our initial belief and even override its consequences in terms of behavior.

    > natural selection has selected for our ability to solve problems in general. FMT is just one consequence of this ability selected for by evolution. <

    That is actually a highly speculative statement, so I’m not ready to concede the point just yet. Even if true, it still remains the case that we did not evolve *specifically* to solve FMT, so that our ability to do so is a byproduct of the evolution of something else (perhaps a general problem-solving capacity).

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    1. >> on standing on a glass floor above a vertiginous drop you might feel very fearful even though you believe you are perfectly safe. <

      Yes, that’s a very good example. My response to Plantinga in that case would be that the falsity of the beliefs originates from the (culturally) novel situation, and that we have brains capable of correcting our initial belief and even override its consequences in terms of behavior.<

      I don't think there are any false beliefs! In this example, you are perfectly safe. The glass floor is strong enough to hold your weight, and you believe that you are safe.

      But you're scared anyway! The point is that beliefs often have nothing to do with instinctive behaviours, and where evolution has scripted responses to certain situations, it does so with instinct, not with beliefs.

      The problem with Plantinga's argument, and that you may have missed, is that evolution does not select for beliefs, but it does select for instinctive responses (such as the fear response to heights) and - in our case - the ability to form reliable beliefs about the world.

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    2. Massimo:
      >>Indeed, if one begins with a skeptic premise one goes precisely nowhere. So the best thing to do about skepticism is to acknowledge its possibility and then promptly ignore it.<<

      Option B is to follow some sort of probabilistic skepticism as a first approximation, while knowing that it, too, is subject to the same objection at bottom line, and then following your advice at that appropriate point. Arguably a Humean path.

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  18. The thing is, our minds don't consistently deliver true beliefs on their own. We have to learn how to think critically.

    Slavery, racism, Divine Right, blood letting, homophobia, trepanning, subjugation of women, phlogiston, et al...

    Human history is rife with the consequences of poor reasoning, incorrect assumptions and superstitions, which we only address when we are forced to do so by long-neglected consequences.

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  19. What is in a name?

    C2: If God is simply just another name for everything, and everything is everything, including our parents, then we were created surely in there image or the image of God.

    "What's in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet;"

    =

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  20. Massimo, thank you for your reply. You wrote "people advance arguments, they get scrutinized and criticized, counter-rebuttals are provided, and so on." But is that how logic is supposed to work? A logical argument should follow a chain of reasoning. If one step does not follow (such as what you pointed out in your post), the argument is not valid. It should be discarded. The rules of logic demand so. That argument should not be published until difficulties are resolved by the author. This is what peer review is for. You can't just let people publish stuff that is "not silly" and have other people refute it. That is madness. I look forward to your coming book about progress because I'm really baffled. It appears to me that the first step towards progress is to make sure that flawed logic is fixed before publication, not after it! If I publish a logical argument which turns out to contain some problems that cannot be fixed, of course I'll retract it. It's my responsibility and obligation to do so!!

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  21. Hi Massimo,

    A good post, and I don't disagree with much of what you wrote.

    However, I think you have focused too much on parts of the EAAN which can easily be amended.

    >Let’s start with C2: it simply does not follow even if premises 1-3 were true.<

    He can drop C2 (although he may not want to). C2 is silly, and less interesting than the rest of the argument. He doesn't need to establish theism as an alternative to naturalism. He can instead leave it as a pure argument against naturalism and decline to provide an alternative.

    >If, however, we agree that such priors are in fact “inscrutable” (and I am inclined to agree that they are) then precisely nothing can be derived from them in terms of the truth or falsity of naturalism.<

    Plantinga could easily forget about "inscrutable" and instead argue that the probability of our reason being reliable is low. In fact, he does make an argument for this.

    >There is another obvious problem with Plantinga’s argument: the definition of naturalism.<

    It seems clear to me that Plantinga is talking about philosophical naturalism, and specifically the claims that no supernatural processes are involved in evolution or reasoning. But then I guess we need to define supernatural. I think a good rule of thumb is that if a process can in principle be reduced to interactions between physical particles governed by mathematical laws, then it's natural. Otherwise, it's supernatural, e.g. angels, Gods, ghosts, telepathy etc.

    None of this is a problem for his argument, which simply addresses the issue of whether evolution by natural selection is compatible with and accounts for our ability to reason.

    >What about C1? That one also doesn’t follow from the argument as stated, unless we add an additional, hidden premise: that natural selection is the only way for us to evolve the ability to form (largely) reliable beliefs about the world.<

    I disagree with this approach to tackling C1, because I think this hidden premise is perfectly correct. Of course it is the only way for us as a species to "evolve" the "ability". Yes, we put this ability to uses not anticipated by natural selection (e.g. FMT) but that doesn't mean that the ability itself didn't evolve by natural selection.

    Of course, the baseline ability has to be cultivated and refined over the course of an individual's life, so cultural evolution and transmission also comes into play.

    However, there is an inbuilt aptitude for this sort of reasoning that most certainly evolved by natural selection, and it is this aptitude that Plantinga is discussing.

    In my view, there are two major problems with Plantinga's argument.

    1) Plantinga's argument that we are unlikely to be able to form true beliefs reliably given evolution and naturalism is incorrect
    2) We do indeed have many false beliefs where those beliefs are not maladaptive, e.g. a predisposition to believe in the supernatural, the Dunning Kruger effect, the gambler's fallacy.

    You've touched on (2) in your post, however I feel you've largely left (1) alone, and this is the most important part of the argument. In fact, as far as I can see you haven't even presented Plantinga's reasoning for why he thinks the probability is low.

    All you've done is to allude to unspecified forces beyond evolution which can account for our ability to form true beliefs, but I think an argument can instead be made that true beliefs are more likely to be adaptive.

    I will attempt to do so when I have time.

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    1. I agree that "an argument can be made that true beliefs are more likely to be adaptive." However, I think one should keep in mind the distinction between biological and cultural evolution. Although ultimately based on biology, cultural evolution does, in fact, proceed by its own rules. Science, for instance, is a cultural creation that accounts "for our ability to form true beliefs." The fact that science is not closely related to evolutionary biology is proven by the fact that, even among humans, science was fully developed only in the West, in the last 25 centuries.

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    2. Sorry I didn't spot this earlier. I think I've addressed the point of cultural evolution on my blog post, which I referenced below.

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  22. I think you are refuting the argument in exactly the right way. Merely rejecting P1 and P2 outright, as one is tempted to do, does not work because there are actually a few advantageous faulty beliefs. But pointing out that those are mostly of a self-flattering nature while getting things about the world around us wrong will be selected against, that is another matter. And the latter beliefs are the ones that matter for the purposes of discussing naturalism.

    Whatever he means with naturalism is another good point that I had not yet considered. Methodological naturalism, regardless of how exactly it is seen, is only a rule, so it cannot be wrong or correct but merely useful or counterproductive. Philosophical naturalism, on the other hand, is obviously true unless somebody can come up with a definition of supernatural that is neither incoherent nor question-begging, and so far I have seen none.

    If something cannot be shown to exist, then saying that it exists but we cannot prove that because it is supernatural is merely begging the question. If some process, object or being can be shown to exist, then why not simply call it part of nature?

    Finally...

    The EAAN is a serious argument advanced by a serious philosopher

    Is it, actually? First of all, if that is a serious argument I would hate to see unserious ones. I would also hesitate to call it a philosophical argument; its core is a misguided claim about evolutionary biology. Second, is somebody who starts with the conclusion that the Christian god exists and then tries to think up some sophistry to "prove" that conclusion a serious philosopher?

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  23. Kant would have had little patience for Plantinga’s “proof” for the existence of God, and I’m surprised that more than two centuries later this kind of argumentation is still taken seriously. However the limits of naturalism, sans the lazy invocation of God, are a legitimate subject of inquiry.

    Kant’s epistemological phenomenalism comes close to radical skepticism, which he avoids by allowing for justified judgments that form the basis of our view of the world. Kant’s project is still with us in a natural philosophy that usually includes, pace Massimo, at least a neo-Kantian weak mathematical Platonism and structural realism. This modern naturalism allows science to operate unhindered by metaphysics.

    Since naturalism is limited to the empirical, there are questions about the world which may be out of its scope. Is there a reality independent of our perception of it? If so, does this reality operate according to well-defined (i.e. mathematical) laws? If so, how does one explain the existence of these laws? Were they chosen, and if so, does that mean the existence of an intelligent chooser? If they were not chosen, then how is it that they are amenable to intelligent life?

    There are several cosmologies that try to avoid these quandaries, usually by proposing other universes where the laws are different. Lee Smolin (“Time Reborn”) has an elegant and, he claims, scientifically testable version, in which he proposes that only time is fundamental and that what we call “laws” are better described as habits of nature, themselves mutable through natural selection of universes spawned by universes. But even Smolin’s theory hits a scientific wall when it comes to explaining the existence of the one posited fundamental entity, time itself.

    Perhaps neither science nor pure reason can answer these questions, and Plantinga’s sleight-of-hand arguments about “true beliefs” don’t even come close. But one may speculate, and one man’s intelligent speculation is as good as the next woman’s. Debates on the limits of naturalism are too often framed around the Darwin vs God dichotomy, a fruitless and peculiarly American obsession.

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  24. Another thing, by the way, which occurred to me after reading through some of the comments again: true or false, adaptive or non-adaptive is really too simplistic a classification of beliefs. The "true true" structure of reality is probably too strange and too far away from what we can really understand with our brains evolved to deal with items in the 1 mm to a few kilometers range, and we can only approximate it. "The world is a sphere" is truer than "the world is a disc" but "the world is approximately a sphere but wider at the equator" is truer yet.

    Same for physics, biology or whatnot. So what is a true belief? One that is good enough to work under the relevant circumstances. And that is then basically the same as adaptive.

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  25. Meh...not a compelling response to the problem of truth claims v. naturalism. Simply falls short of explaining why abstract truth claims based on physicalist presuppositions are not self-refuting...

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  26. Also a nice bit of ad hominem at the beginning (neatly categorize your opponent into an unsavory category, insult his methodology out of hand with no basis other than popular opinion)...

    But I suppose you are preaching to converted here, generally.

    Disagreeable Me seems to have a better handle on the real issues of the argument than Massimo.

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  27. Is Plantiga's EAAN really worth of serious consideration? It is full on non-sequiturs, like defining naturalism as “the idea that there is no such person as God or anything like God,” but then trying to refute the logically unrelated idea that our true beliefs (and theories) are the products of natural selection alone. The argument neglects the difference, that many naturalists support, between biological and cultural evolution. It seems obvious that cultural products, like complex machines, can work (and so be adaptive) only if the underlying beliefs (scientific theories, really) correspond to reality. Ultimately, it is the no-miracles argument, again.

    Also, there is a good dose of pseudo-science in Plantiga's works. Bayesian methods only work if the priors are the results of expert opinion (and so they incorporate previous experience) or if, by iterative applications of Bayes formula, you get a final result that does not [strongly] depend on the initial priors. The Bayesian component of EAAN does not fall in either category and so it is just an attempt to impress the non-experts.

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  28. John Wilkins over at Evolving Thoughts has a good treatment of the EAAN.
    http://evolvingthoughts.net/2012/01/plantingas-eaan/

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    1. That post is very interesting and well worth reading.

      My first thought when I read

      "P1. If evolution is true, then we have modified monkey brains."
      "P2. Modified monkey brains are not evolved to find out the truth."

      was "Modified monkey brains can't handle the truth!"

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  29. scitation,

    > A logical argument should follow a chain of reasoning. If one step does not follow (such as what you pointed out in your post), the argument is not valid. <

    I’m beginning to think I should stay away from the word “logic” and use more generic terms like “conceptual analysis” instead. Yes, classical logic works the way you summarize, but logic in the broader sense is more complex, more nuanced, and frankly more fuzzy. It often leads to conclusions that don’t have any fatal flaws but are nonetheless less likely than others. I just received an e-print, for instance, on the concept of “defeaters” in philosophical debates, and there are philosophers who argue, convincingly, I think, that defeaters are pretty much impossible for any sufficiently complicated discussion.

    Disagreeable,

    > I don't think there are any false beliefs! In this example, you are perfectly safe. <

    I disagree with your interpretation of your example... ;-) When I stand on the glass floor and I get scared of heights it’s because I hold a (non propositional) belief that happens to be false: my body reacts *as if* I were suspended onto a void, while in fact I am not. My rational processes kick in and correct that belief. You seem to be taking the word belief not to include instinctual ones, but I don’t see why that should be the case.

    > The problem with Plantinga's argument, and that you may have missed, is that evolution does not select for beliefs, but it does select for instinctive responses <

    Which Plantinga can reasonably characterize as “beliefs.”

    > He doesn't need to establish theism as an alternative to naturalism. <

    You’re kidding: that’s the *whole* point of what Plantinga wants to do.

    > Plantinga could easily forget about "inscrutable" and instead argue that the probability of our reason being reliable is low <

    Not really, because then he has to get his ass off the speculating chair and get some empirical data to calibrate his priors.

    > It seems clear to me that Plantinga is talking about philosophical naturalism, and specifically the claims that no supernatural processes are involved in evolution or reasoning. <

    Yes, but Ruse is correct that science doesn’t need to assume that much. Methodological naturalism is enough.

    > I think this hidden premise is perfectly correct. Of course it is the only way for us as a species to "evolve" the "ability". <

    No, it isn’t, se discussion of byproducts of evolution above. Unless you define “ability” so broadly that anything becomes the result of natural selection, however indirect. But then the idea loses meaning.

    > as far as I can see you haven't even presented Plantinga's reasoning for why he thinks the probability is low. <

    He simply states that as a fact — without evidence, of course.

    > All you've done is to allude to unspecified forces beyond evolution which can account for our ability to form true beliefs <

    I never invoked non evolutionary forces, I simply invoked non-selective mechanisms as complementary to natural selection.

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  30. Zal,

    > Kant would have had little patience for Plantinga’s “proof” for the existence of God, and I’m surprised that more than two centuries later this kind of argumentation is still taken seriously. <

    But Plantinga isn’t trying to provide a proof of the existence of god, his aim is chiefly to make an argument that naturalism and evolution are incompatible, and only *then* to suggest that god is the obvious alternative solution.

    > Kant’s project is still with us in a natural philosophy that usually includes, pace Massimo, at least a neo-Kantian weak mathematical Platonism and structural realism. <

    Don’t see why you say pace me, since I ma sympathetic to both mathematical Platonism and structural realism.

    > Since naturalism is limited to the empirical <

    Not if you are a mathematical Platonist, or a modal realist!

    Alex,

    > Is it, actually? First of all, if that is a serious argument I would hate to see unserious ones. <

    Since moving to philosophy I have tried to adopt one of the best habits of the profession: being charitable to one’s opponent. It is in that sense that I even bothered to take up Plantinga’s argument. And believe me, there are a lot of *worse* arguments out there, in theology / neo-scholasticism land...

    > is somebody who starts with the conclusion that the Christian god exists and then tries to think up some sophistry to "prove" that conclusion a serious philosopher? <

    No, as I said before. But Plantinga has *also* written serious philosophy, so I try to take him as seriously as I can manage. It’s hard, my friend, but I’m doing my best...

    > "The world is a sphere" is truer than "the world is a disc" but "the world is approximately a sphere but wider at the equator" is truer yet. <

    Agreed. Simple dichotomies fit better in the sort of dichotomous worldview that people like Plantinga hold.

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  31. Jeff,

    > Simply falls short of explaining why abstract truth claims based on physicalist presuppositions are not self-refuting... <

    Pray, why would they? Besides, Plantinga isn’t talking about abstract truths. Evolution by natural selection is an empirically verifiable truth, last time I checked.

    > Also a nice bit of ad hominem at the beginning <

    You seem to forget that this is a blog, not an academic paper, so it is about opinions, my opinions in particular. I have explained why I don’t take theology seriously. You may disagree, but please do so by way of arguments, not off hand dismissal.

    Filippo,

    > It is full on non-sequiturs, like defining naturalism as “the idea that there is no such person as God or anything like God,” but then trying to refute the logically unrelated idea that our true beliefs (and theories) are the products of natural selection alone. <

    Again, charitability my friend. I can see why Plantinga thinks the two are related, though I do think he’s mistaken.

    > The argument neglects the difference, that many naturalists support, between biological and cultural evolution. <

    Yes, that it does, as I pointed out in a comment above.

    > The Bayesian component of EAAN does not fall in either category and so it is just an attempt to impress the non-experts. <

    Agreed, and pointed out in the main post, though not quite in those terms.

    paco,

    > I could conceive of a lot of beliefs about the world that produce the same behavior against just one belief (the one that turns out to be the true one), so couldn't this be a valid way of justifying that the number of possible beliefs is much larger than the number of true beliefs that are adaptive without having to get more empirical evidence? <

    Not really, first because these are empirical matters, and people should always be weary of settling empirical matters a priori. Second because beliefs can be approximately true, which is all that natural selection would care about, and there are many ways a belief can be approximately true.

    > methodological naturalism requires theism to be true <

    No, methodological naturalism is silent on the issue of theism. The universe could be the result of the Great Simulator, for instance.

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    1. @Massimo: "Evolution by natural selection is an empirically verifiable truth, last time I checked."
      Well it's more of a truism than a truth if you can't explain how any of your versions of it work. All you can argue versus Plantinga's theism is that his version has no logical possibility of working. Yet in many ways he can say the same for the apparent inexplicability of yours.

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    2. mmmm... I'm confused here, by getting empirical data to support that beliefs can be (approximately )true under natural selection , aren't you assuming that your senses are reliable, that is, assuming the very same thing that you are trying to prove (or disprove)? After all, you cannot get reliable data unless your (evolved )senses are already reliable.

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  32. No, methodological naturalism is silent on the issue of theism.

    Not trying to hijack this thread, just want to point out that this is not necessarily true. The question is, does methodological naturalism imply "thou shalt not take any position on claims regarding the supernatural, no matter how superfluous they are" or does it imply simply "thou shalt not throw up your hands and invoke supernatural explanations as a science stopper"?

    I would argue the whole point is the latter, not the former. And if it is the latter, one is still justified to reject a supernatural explanation once something is satisfactorily explained by invoking natural processes.

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  33. RBH,

    > Since "true" in the sense of Ominiscient Jones is, I believe, undeterminable (unless we transform into OJ), we have to settle for reliable beliefs, not knowing whether they are true. Hence, Plantinga's arguments with respect to true beliefs fall into my "Don't care" bin. <

    I don’t think that follows. You should care / be worried IF Plantinga’s argument goes through. Fortunately, it doesn’t...

    Alex,

    > if it is the latter, one is still justified to reject a supernatural explanation once something is satisfactorily explained by invoking natural processes. <

    As you know, we disagree on this one, but even according to your account, methodological naturalism doesn’t allow a scientist to reject a supernatural explanation, simply because such explanations are not allowed a priori into MetNat, on the ground that they don’t actually “explain” anything (hence rejecting them would be a strange move to make).

    Baron,

    > Well it's more of a truism than a truth if you can't explain how any of your versions of it work. <

    I beg to differ, evolutionary biologists have very good explanations about how natural selection works, and we’ve got plenty of empirical data to back them up. Which makes the following from you:

    > All you can argue versus Plantinga's theism is that his version has no logical possibility of working. Yet in many ways he can say the same for the apparent inexplicability of yours <

    a complete non sequitur.

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    1. James A. Shapiro is an evolutionary biologist. He (and a slew of others) argue that your "very good explanations" are very bad, and that in fact they not only don't work but can't. Because for the main, they "explain" by reducing the selection process to magic, just as Plantinga does. Non sequiturs indeed.

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    2. This shows how little you and Shapiro understand about the selection process - Massimo has explained it very well in Making Sense of Evolution.

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    3. Too bad he can't use that to make sense here as to how that magic seems to work.

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    4. Which magic is that? Selection works just fine - which part don't you understand? Maybe someone here who knows some biology can help you out.

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    5. Sure, Mr. biologist, tell me how nature accidentally and non-intelligently mutates any creatures genes with instructions as to how to act instinctively in solving problems using behavioral strategies in a pseudo-intelligent fashion in an environment where their prior experience can't be a factor.

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    6. What? Perhaps if you tell me how you think this occurs, then I can see where you are going.

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    7. Answering a question with a question as to how to answer it? Simply put for your particular benefit, how does a non-intelligent nature accidentally confer intelligence to the non-intelligent creatures that have accidentally evolved in that same nature?
      If that's again too hard for you, I'm asking how natural selection has selected intelligence in the heretofore non-intelligent.
      More simply, is natural selection an intelligent process at all?

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    8. Intelligence is a human trait. To be intelligent includes being able to consider ideas and concepts and to make conclusions based on these. Nature may not be intelligent but intelligent beings are its products.

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    9. Nature may be a non-intelligent magician in other words. Right?

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  34. Well, that brings us right back to what "supernatural" even means. Honestly I have no idea how it can be defined in a way that is not either question-begging or no argument against its examination by natural science.

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    1. I think I have an answer for you.

      It's expanded in detail on my blog: http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/super-naturalism.html

      In short, I think the natural is whatever can ultimately be explained in terms of mathematics. In the naturalistic worldview, everything ultimately boils down to interactions governed by the laws of physics, which are mathematical in nature.

      God is supernatural unless he is defined as behaving according to some algorithm or mathematical laws. If such an algorithm is provided, then God is just a potentially falsifiable scientific hypothesis, and no longer supernatural.

      Supernatural explanations are best avoided (as in MetNat) because they don't actually explain anything. They provide a shorthand intuitive account such as "God did it" but don't actually provide any mathematical basis which might be subject to experiment.

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    2. It would be news to me that a specimen of the common garden daisy or a human exhibiting a paranoid delusion can be "defined" with "an algorithm", but I have yet to meet somebody who would doubt that either of them are part of the natural world and can be studies by scientists.

      I assume you want to make a distinction between rule-like behavior and capricious behavior. The problem is that there are really only two options: either something is random or it follows rules, and both can be described mathematically. True randomness is actually very mathematical.

      And indeed religious people do not really believe in a god that behaves capriciously, they believe in a god that reliably rewards this and punishes that, who loves us and so on, and they still call that supernatural. At worst, scientifically studying god would thus be as difficult as psychology. Sure more complicated than studying the behavior of hydrogen and oxygen when brought together but clearly possible under MetNat.

      As for your last para, yes, the point is not to use them as a science stopper. But that does not mean that you cannot say, "I reject your explanation (which you call supernatural without explaining what that means) because we have a fully adequate simpler explanation". That is my point.

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    3. Hi Alex,

      Just to be clear, this is an aside because I find the distinction between supernatural and natural to be an interesting question. I'm not taking away from any point you originally intended to make.

      Daisies and paranoid delusions can indeed be defined in mathematical terms. For a daisy, you could define the positions of all the particles that compose it and feed that into the equations that describe the physical laws of the universe. You could in principle use this mathematical model to simulate how a daisy grows and develops over the course of its life.

      Similarly, you could use an algorithm to model the mind of a person with a paranoid delusion. If you're sympathetic to AI, then this is obvious. If you're not, then if you're a naturalist you would have to admit that if you developed a mathematical model of the person's brain in the same way as the daisy you would have a mathematical definition of that person's behaviour and thoughts over time, at least in terms of the physical state of the particles composing him/her. If you're a naturalist, that's all there is, so you're missing nothing. It might be infeasible to run such a simulation in practice (or even to specify the mathematical model to begin with), but it should be possible in principle.

      I am not at all making a distinction between rule-like and capricious. I'm making a distinction between defined and undefined. Randomness is not a problem, as long as the probability distribution is defined then there are rules describing the behaviour of the system, e.g. the Bernoulli distribution. The only problem is when there are no rules whatsoever governing the outcome, or when the rules are not amenable to mathematical analysis.

      The problem with God as usually conceived is that there is no algorithm even in principle that seems to govern his behaviour. His behaviour does not reduce to the interaction of simpler particles which behave mathematically. He is supposed to be perfect, omnipotent, omniscient, etc, but there is no account of *how* he thinks without a physical brain, and frankly, we're not supposed to ask. It's magic, unknowable - "supernatural".

      (I think omniscience is a particular problem here. No algorithm can be omniscient, for reasons such as Gödel's incompleteness thereom.

      One thing that occured to me about an omniscient God is that he could not actually be sure that he was omniscient. Any such belief could be an illusion. There could always be something of which he was not aware, for example an even greater god that had created him. And, being perfectly intelligent, this would surely occur to him. His uncertainty as to his omniscience would in fact mean that he is not omniscient - omniscience means having no uncertainty.)

      So it seems to me that a reasonable distinction between supernatural and natural is whether it makes sense to keep asking "how" until you get to a fundamental level where mathematical laws obtain. If you ever get to a point where further investigation is discouraged or dismissed as meaningless, then you're probably looking at a supernatural proposition.

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    4. Ah, but that is simly question begging again because this definition of supernatural appears to boil down to "that which I arbitrarily do not want science to examine".

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    5. Eventually naturalism hits a cosmological axiom that is beyond the domain of science. Either physical law is fundamental (the usual materialist axiom) or the laws themselves change and evolve from something more fundamental, such as time (Smolin), or ours is a virtual reality created by a transcendent super-computer, or there is an uncaused first cause (god), etc. Of course not all cosmological axioms are equally valid, as observation may give more credence to one or another. There is no need to use an ill-defined and pejorative term such as “supernatural” when what one means is the unexplained ground upon which one’s cosmology is based.

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    6. Question begging on the part of whom - the theist or me?

      It seems like a pretty reasonable distinction to me. Characterising the supernatural as "that which I arbitrarily do not want science to examine" is also a pretty good definition, but I prefer mine because study of high-level supernatural phenomena is actually feasible in principle.

      High-level supernatural phenomena might be amenable to study in the same way as sciences such as ecology, since ecologists don't usually need to deal with the fundamental physics that govern their topic of study - it's too far removed. What makes the supernatural supernatural is that there is no plausible low-level mathematical support for high-level supernatural entities such as ghosts in the way that there is for high-level natural entities such as rabbits.

      I've written a dialog which I hope will better explain my interpretation of the natural/supernatural divide.


      Me: Is God's mind an algorithm?
      Theist: How do you mean?
      Me: Is it fundamentally a mathematical structure? If we had an infinitely powerful computer could that computer host an AI with a mind equivalent to God's?
      Theist: I don't think so? Can you give an example of what that would entail?
      Me: Well, for instance, is God subject to the limits of algorithms? Could he tell if any given program would halt in finite time (the halting problem)? Could he prove or even perceive the truth of any true mathematical statement (Gödel)? No algorithm can be capable of these feats.
      Theist: Well then His mind is not an algorithm, because He is omniscient and His mind has no limits.
      Me: Well, that's impossible in the naturalistic world view, which I take to mean that everything boils down to mathematical structures.
      Theist: OK, no problem. God is supernatural after all.
      Me: So how does he think?
      Theist: What do you mean?
      Me: Well, he doesn't have a physical brain or any other computing apparatus, right?
      Theist: Yes, He doesn't need one, as He transcends the physical.
      Me: Hmm, ok. But then what does he think with?
      Theist: He doesn't think "with" anything. He's God. He's perfect and infinite. He doesn't need a thinking organ. You could almost say He *is* thought.
      Me: I'm sorry, but I don't understand. How can he be thought if he has nothing to think with?
      Theist: You're too narrow minded. Just because you need something to think with doesn't mean He does!
      Me: Then how does he think?
      Theist: That's a meaningless question. He's omnipotent. He doesn't need a mechanism. He can think any way He wants!
      Me: How?
      Theist: He just does! That question is meaningless. And even if it had an answer, how do you expect me to know?
      Me: Fair point. But if you're insisting he doesn't think with an algorithm then you seem to be claiming some knowledge of how he thinks.
      Theist: These questions are simply beyond us, I'm afraid. You need to accept as a matter of faith that he possesses an omniscient mind that has no dependence on algorithms or thinking hardware. He exists outside nature so He's not constrained to follow natural law like you or I.
      Me: So there are no natural/physical/mathematical laws that can define his behaviour.
      Theist: I'd say that's correct.
      Me: Ok, so I guess that's what it means for him to be supernatural.
      Theist: Agreed.

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    7. "I think the natural is whatever can ultimately be explained in terms of mathematics."

      This is Max Tegmark's MUH (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_universe_hypothesis). A spin-off of MUH is his CUH ("all computable mathematical structures exist"). I elaborate this one step further: CLUH (poesophicalbits.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-compulinguistic-universe-hypothesis.html).

      This is expressed in another way:

      "I think the natural is whatever can ultimately be explained in terms of code."

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    8. Thanks Philip.

      I'm aware of the MUH and I believe in it. In fact the MUH is the main reason I got into philosophy - I came up with it independently and determined to learn and broaden my philosophical knowledge so that I can help to make a very convincing argument for it. Part of this learning lead me to Tegmark's formulation of it.

      However the MUH need not be true for this definition of naturalism to be valid. The basic idea of the MUH is that though we perceive the universe as made of "stuff" that's merely described by mathematics, perhaps we can get rid of the baggage of the concept of "stuff" - perhaps all there is is mathematics.

      However the distinction I'm making between natural and supernatural would hold even if the MUH were false and there really is "stuff". As long as it can be described in terms of mathematics, it's natural. It doesn't have to actually *be* mathematics.

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    9. Philip:

      I wanted to comment on your blog post but I couldn't see how to. There was only an option to share my comment with my contacts on Google+, which was not what I wanted to do.

      Here's my comment anyway:
      I'm a bit confused. There are two ways the CLUH could be read.

      If you mean that it should be possible in principle to write a program in a programming language which would simulate the history of a portion of the universe in finite time, then this is entirely equivalent to the CUH. If the time doesn't have to be finite, then it's entirely equivalent to the MUH.

      If you mean the universe is literally the output of a particular program written in some programming language, then I have to disagree.

      Why does it have to be written in a particular language? Do you think that a universe implemented in Java would be any different from a universe implemented in C++?

      I'm afraid I don't buy this. I'm fully on board with the MUH, but I think the CUH refinement is probably unnecessary and the CLUH seems highly dubious.

      The way I see it, the life stories of the inhabitants of a mathematical universe are entirely laid out by the mathematical structure defining that universe. No computer program, no computer simulation is necessary for these stories to exist. No implementation details of any simulation has any bearing on the universe as long as the physical laws remain unchanged.

      When we write a computer program to simulate a universe or other mathematical structure, we are not creating that structure. We are developing a tool to help us to explore it. No matter what language is used, the structure we are exploring will be identical (as long as we've coded it faithfully!)

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    10. The lambda calculus is called "the smallest universal programming language of the world" so the probabilistic lambda calculus covers all of computable mathematics. (There is also SKIP - the probabilistic SKI combinator calculus that serves the same purpose.) Strings theorists say the universe is made of strings (the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/8205/title/A-Universe-Made-of-Strings--What-s-New-/) or something like that. Strings, threads, code, ... :)

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  35. Hi Massimo,

    >I hold a (non propositional) belief that happens to be false: my body reacts *as if* I were suspended onto a void, while in fact I am not.<

    >Which Plantinga can reasonably characterize as “beliefs.”<

    Sure, but why would he? He's talking very specifically about our ability to reason or deliberate. He's saying there is no evolutionary reason why we should have the ability to form true beliefs we *actually believe*. You don't actually believe you are about to fall: if I ask you "Are you about to fall?" you will answer "No, I'm just afraid of heights".

    Plantinga's argument attempts to show that our faith in our ability to reason correctly is inconsistent with naturalism. Instinctive fears have nothing to do with the ability to reason or form true beliefs, especially when we can recognise and overcome them.

    >> He doesn't need to establish theism as an alternative to naturalism. <

    You’re kidding: that’s the *whole* point of what Plantinga wants to do.<

    Of course it is. His argument is that the conjunction of philosophical naturalism and a belief in evolution is an untenable position. If you accept that, he'll propose Christian theism as an alternative. However, there's no point attacking Christian theism in response to the EAAN unless you accept his argument that naturalism/evolutionism is untenable. Bringing up theism is implicitly conferring a level of legitimacy on the anti-naturalism aspect of it that it simply doesn't deserve.

    >Not really, because then he has to get his ass off the speculating chair and get some empirical data to calibrate his priors.<

    >He simply states that [we are unlikely to be able to form true beliefs if we evolved] as a fact — without evidence, of course.<

    I don't know what source you're working from, but I have seen him outline an argument supporting this. I hope to do so for you shortly.

    He doesn't quantify how low the probability is precisely, and he doesn't have data to back it up, but we're doing philosophy, not science, so this is not surprising. His argument has flaws that need to be addressed, and you have not done so. Simply saying that the probability is inscrutable and leaving it at that is not good enough. That's the answer of a died-in-the-wool philosophy-disdaining empiricist scientist like Lawrence Krauss, not the answer of a philosopher.

    >Yes, but Ruse is correct that science doesn’t need to assume that much. Methodological naturalism is enough.<

    But Plantinga is not arguing against science, evolution or methodological naturalism. He's arguing against philosophical naturalism, so your point (and presumably Ruse's) is irrelevant.

    >No, it isn’t, se discussion of byproducts of evolution above. Unless you define “ability” so broadly that anything becomes the result of natural selection, however indirect. But then the idea loses meaning.<

    Well, it's true we've built a huge edifice of knowledge, mathematics, science etc on top of the basic logical primitives evolution has equipped us to grasp intuitively (e.g. "P and not P" is a contradiction). So perhaps it's fair to say that we did not simply evolve the ability to do mathematics by natural selection.

    However Plantinga's argument attacks the whole foundation upon which we've built this edifice. If we have no reason to believe evolution would have given us the basic logical primitives necessary to reliably form true beliefs, then everything we believe is open to question. If we are completely deranged and deluded monkeys who mistakenly see ourselves as lords of reason, then perhaps all of the mathematics we are so proud of is as crazy and inconsistent as we are and we are just too stupid to see it.

    If you have not addressed why our most fundamental intuitions about logic and reason are to be trusted in light of evolution, then you have not responded to his argument.

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  36. Hi Disagreeable,

    > If you have not addressed why our most fundamental intuitions about logic and reason are to be trusted in light of evolution, then you have not responded to his argument. <

    You make a very important point here, one that deserves a serious reply. I think you are very close to conceding the argument to Plantiga. My answer is that biological evolution did not produce logic, math or science. They are products of cultural evolution, built on ingredients produced by biological evolution.

    I will give an analogy. Early digital computers were capable of doing logic. They were, however, built out of parts (this was long before integrated circuits,) like vacuum tubes and resistors. Vacuum tubes and resistors were not capable of doing logic. In fact, vacuum tubes were not originally designed as logic devices at all, but as analog amplifiers.

    I would argue that logic, mathematics and science are like those computers: built out of parts produced by biological evolution for other purposes. They were the result of cultural evolution in some very localized places (mostly, Greek cities in the Mediterranean, 26-25 centuries ago.) This account has the big advantage of explaining why logic is so difficult to understand and practice for most people. If logic was the product of biological evolution, why are so few people capable of thinking logically?

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    1. Since biological evolution is believed by many to depend on biologically developed communicative processes, which in turn would be the basis of our cultures, then the evolution of logic would quite likely have been dependent on biological processes either way.

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    2. Thanks Filippo.

      Trust me, I'm nowhere near conceding the point to Plantinga. I think the EAAN is a bad argument, but not for the reasons proposed by Massimo, and not really for the reasons proposed by you either.

      See why in the last section of my post "defending" the EAAN.

      http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/defending-evolutionary-argument-against.html#more

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  37. Disagreeable,

    > Plantinga's argument attempts to show that our faith in our ability to reason correctly is inconsistent with naturalism. Instinctive fears have nothing to do with the ability to reason or form true beliefs <

    Fine, nothing really hinges on that as far as my arguments are concerned, I simply thought you had come up with a good example. Conscious beliefs, evolutionarily, had to be preceded by the ability to form unconscious beliefs. But whatever.

    > there's no point attacking Christian theism in response to the EAAN unless you accept his argument that naturalism/evolutionism is untenable. <

    Theism (not necessarily the Christian variety) is part and parcel of Plantinga’s argument, it’s right there, in his conclusions. So it’s fair game for me to attack it as part of my overall strategy.

    > He doesn't quantify how low the probability is precisely, and he doesn't have data to back it up, but we're doing philosophy, not science, so this is not surprising. <

    As much as I agree that there is a distinction between philosophical and scientific arguments, whenever one helps oneself to empirical premises one better do his home work. One cannot simply say “well, I’m a philosopher, I’m uninterested in facts!”

    > His argument has flaws that need to be addressed, and you have not done so. <

    Did you not read the post??

    > Simply saying that the probability is inscrutable and leaving it at that is not good enough. <

    It is Plantinga that says so, I am simply inclined to agree.

    > That's the answer of a died-in-the-wool philosophy-disdaining empiricist scientist like Lawrence Krauss, not the answer of a philosopher. <

    Please, don’t compare me to Krauss, you ought to know better.

    > Plantinga is not arguing against science, evolution or methodological naturalism. He's arguing against philosophical naturalism, so your point (and presumably Ruse's) is irrelevant. <

    Wrong, he is arguing against the conjunction of naturalism and evolution, so Ruse’s point that at the very least Plantinga needs to qualify things stands.

    > If we are completely deranged and deluded monkeys who mistakenly see ourselves as lords of reason, then perhaps all of the mathematics we are so proud of is as crazy and inconsistent as we are and we are just too stupid to see it. <

    And all the theology as well. Interpreted that way his argument is simply a form of radical skepticism — undefeatable and just as useless.

    > If you have not addressed why our most fundamental intuitions about logic and reason are to be trusted in light of evolution, then you have not responded to his argument. <

    You didn’t read the parts about cultural evolution and byproducts of natural selection?

    paco,

    > by getting empirical data to support that beliefs can be (approximately) true under natural selection , aren't you assuming that your senses are reliable, that is, assuming the very same thing that you are trying to prove (or disprove)? <

    Yes, we are assuming that our senses are broadly reliable under normal circumstances (i.e., the circumstances under which they evolved). But I was talking about something else: not all knowledge derives from sensorial experience, a point — again — about which philosophers have agreed since Kant.

    Baron,

    > James A. Shapiro is an evolutionary biologist. <

    Nope, he’s a biochemist. And at any rate his opinions are in the tiniest minority among professionals. Not that that’s ever going to stop you, of course.

    Filippo (in response to Disagreeable),

    > My answer is that biological evolution did not produce logic, math or science. They are products of cultural evolution, built on ingredients produced by biological evolution. <

    Exactly.

    > This account has the big advantage of explaining why logic is so difficult to understand and practice for most people. If logic was the product of biological evolution, why are so few people capable of thinking logically? <

    Again, yup.

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    1. Hi Massimo:

      About my example of the irrational vertigo: while I was gratified that you liked it as an example, I was bothered that you misunderstood the context where I was trying to apply it.

      On attacking theism: Fair enough, I concede the point, but I'd personally rather see you attacking his contention that we are unlikely to be rational given naturalism and evolution.

      On Krauss: I knew that would get your attention ;)

      >Wrong, he is arguing against the conjunction of naturalism and evolution, so Ruse’s point that at the very least Plantinga needs to qualify things stands.<

      Well, no, not really. Ultimately he's arguing against naturalism since he accepts evolution. And he does define naturalism, very clearly, as the belief that there is no God or anything like it. For the purposes of his argument this is adequate and is functionally equivalent to philosophical naturalism as you and I understand it.

      On Plantinga as radical skeptic: This is a misunderstanding of his position. He is arguing that we are in fact rational and that we do have the ability to form true beliefs, however he denies that purely naturalistic evolution can account for this. He holds that theology and science are both legitimate and reliable, however for this to be the case there must be more to evolution than pure naturalism will allow.

      On cultural evolution etc as a tool for producing true beliefs: I now understand your position a little better, and I retract the contention that you have ignored his C1 entirely. However, I don't think cultural evolution etc really works as an argument to address C1 because these tools we have developed can only be trusted to work if we have some level of trust in our primitive logical abilities acquired through biological evolution.

      I have given what I feel is a more convincing presentation of the EAAN on my blog. The last section of this page defends the EAAN against the "cultural evolution" attack.

      http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/defending-evolutionary-argument-against.html

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  38. Massimo, As usual, you have rather lamely ducked important questions. Of course Shapiro is an evolutionary biologist. And of course I'm not going to stop using your articles as counterpoints to the promotion of his more modern and much more accurate theories.

    Example which you may have missed and certainly will avoid responding to:

    http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/Shapiro.1997.BostonReview1997.ThirdWay.pdf

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    1. If any one out there wants to understand how evolution works - don't read Shapiro. He is making it up as he goes along.

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    2. http://www.naturalgenome.at/modules/programm/index.php?cat=1&id=1

      Sure, and I suppose everyone at this natural genome engineering and natural genome editing conference does the same.

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  39. Just a note, for anyone following the conversation:

    I've attempted to present a version of the EAAN which is immune to Massimo's criticism on my blog. It would be great to get some feedback.

    http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/defending-evolutionary-argument-against.html

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  40. For those who may not wish to look into the thought processes of the enemy, here's an excerpt from the article I've cited that is almost perfectly related to this post:

    "Novel ways of looking at longstanding problems have historically been the chief motors of scientific progress. However, the potential for new science is hard to find in the Creationist-Darwinist debate. Both sides appear to have a common interest in presenting a static view of the scientific enterprise. This is to be expected from the Creationists, who naturally refuse to recognize science's remarkable record of making more and more seemingly miraculous aspects of our world comprehensible to our understanding and accessible to our technology. But the neo-Darwinian advocates claim to be scientists, and we can legitimately expect of them a more open spirit of inquiry. Instead, they assume a defensive posture of outraged orthodoxy and assert an unassailable claim to truth, which only serves to validate the Creationists' criticism that Darwinism has become more of a faith than a science."
    http://www.bostonreview.net/br22.1/shapiro.htm

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    1. Just because Shapiro says his work is new or different doesn't mean it is. This is just PR on his part - read the loaded language he uses. He sounds like a quack peddling a new batch of snake oil. Scientists read this grandstanding on overturning Darwin as just another one in a long line of attention-seekers whose results don't match their hype. If one were up on the scientific process, one would find that new ways of looking at longstanding problems abound - especially in the study of evolution. Shapiro is more heat than light.

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    2. You sound a lot like a sore loser, lacking the ability to argue otherwise in response. "Loaded language"? Give an example and then respond with your greater scientific knowledge; otherwise you've done nothing but float the same PR you claim to decry, and the negative variety to boot.
      Check out this video as well, and try to answer the demonstrations point by point.
      If of course you (or in the alternative, Massimo) can.
      https://vimeo.com/17592530

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    3. What did I lose? What did Shapiro win? What was it exactly from Shapiro's piece that overthrows natural selection? or even gradualism? All he says is we know more now than we did 30 years ago. Cells are more complicated than we thought, but we know more how they work - wow that's a paradigm shift. All of those evolutionary biologists are quaking in their field boots.

      "outraged orthodoxy"
      "more faith than science"
      That's just from the bit you cited - the rest of the piece is more of the same - claiming evolution is full of "dogmas and taboos" or the orthodoxy views 1940s evolutionary biology as "sacrosanct" - I can't figure out who is railing against - not biologists I know. Not to mention he makes the requisite swipe at Dawkins, as if he were the biologist in the world, and is single-handedly holding back the advance of science.

      If the DNA repair systems are so perfect, then why is their sequence variation?




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    4. Check the video, read the entire paper, read his latest book, and read his previous writings, examine his experiments, and not only his but those of people like Eshel Ben-Jacob and a host of others that are in any case much more prominent in the field of evolutionary biology than, for a good example, you.
      And by the way, that was the most inadequate made up argument on the fly I've ever heard against Shapiro and especially against the theories of natural genome engineering and natural genome editing (known also as adaptive mutation theories, self engineering, etc.), none of which you seem to be aware of at all..

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    5. You ask, "If the DNA repair systems are so perfect, then why is their sequence variation?"
      Since the DNA repair systems aren't, as you'd have it, a response to your mutated accidents, you'd then expect them to be perfect? Do you have any facility with logical analysis at all? Did you ever hear of anticipatory trial and error systems? Systems that are obviously intelligently constructed? The fact that this work is never perfect but must continually adapt to change escapes you completely, doesn't it. And now you'll ask me who or what intelligently constructed organismic functions. And I'll tell you who it's quite logical that it wasn't, including the mother nature of yours that substitutes for Plantinga's gods..

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    6. I am glad that you acknowledge that Shapiro's paper is full of loaded language - thanks for confirming my analysis. I do happen to know more about evolution and the history of biology than Shapiro - I am just not into self-aggrandizement. Shapiro truly believes himself to be Galileo against the Catholic Church - hubris?

      Let's take a look at his argument on DNA repair. He finds evidence for organisms being able to regulate the amount of repair, fine. The problem is the underlying change in DNA is still random - this information on repair changes nothing about how the mutations arise chemically. We have known for a century that many organisms can switch from asexual to sexual reproduction in response to changing environments - changing the variability of offspring in "anticipation" of a different future. That Shapiro thinks this didn't or couldn't arise by natural selection demonstrates his fundamental misunderstanding of evolution.

      The last paragraph is especially hilarious - in that he invokes history of science - which he obviously knows less about than evolution. If he did, he would know that there never was any chiseled-in-stone neo-darwinian synthesis (talk about myths.) If he had ever read any of Massimo's biological research, he would be introduced to quantitative genetics, reaction norms, and more - work that started in animal breeding and was vying with the mendelians in the early 20th c. Fascinating stuff - if you read it. Even Mayr who is supposedly a major figure in the synthesis wrote a paper criticizing single-locus population genetic models. Shapiro wants to be famous, but he is just another cog in the scientific process.





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    7. "The problem is the underlying change in DNA is still random - this information on repair changes nothing about how the mutations arise chemically."
      "That Shapiro thinks this didn't or couldn't arise by natural selection demonstrates his fundamental misunderstanding of evolution."
      The problem is that the organism repairs accidents non-randomly, i.e., intelligently, and your "naturally selected" accidents can't have taught the organism how to do that. (And you can't tell me how they can or by now you would have.)
      And so you still haven't been able to explain how strategic systems can have evolved from the non-intelligent processes of these accidental damages that will predictably occur with regularity in a once chaotic universe.
      Yet Shapiro has done that quite well, as have many of his colleagues. (And,contrary to your recommendation, Massimo, as a former plant biologist, has not.)

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    8. My understanding of what selection can and can't do is very different than yours. I still don't see why the systems that Shapiro describes are not products of selection. If they are not products of selection, then what are they products of? What is this additional something that is needed for evolution? You keep bringing up "intelligence" as if just repeating it over and over explains everything.

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    9. They are products of the organism's selection, not of some accidents of nature. You don't seem to get it that nature can't confer by random accident the basic forms of intelligence that organisms use to evolve. The organisms have had to have cognitive skills from the start and Shapiro's very detailed experiments over the years confirm this hypothesis as well as any of our biological hypotheses can be confirmed. In other words life forms have learned to expect the consistency of accidental change, and have learned as well to take advantage of enough of them to evolve accordingly - but it's a never ending process with a never ending series of solutions by an uncountable variety of the organisms that continue with the solving of these problems. Solving them cooperatively, competitively, and in general with a very complx mix of both these competing strategies.
      If you don't consider these aspects of the evolutionary systems, then you can't begin to understand them. So yes I use the word intelligence because cognitive processes require it, but natural selection theories have ignored it. It seems easier for natural selectionists to allege that cognition developed accidentally than to allege that intelligence did. Cognition doesn't seem to them to be a problem solver as much as a problem reactor.
      And Shapiro was one of the first to demonstrate that biological cognition was not reactive but proactive. One of his best papers was: "Bacteria are small but not stupid: cognition, natural genetic engineering and socio-bacteriology."
      At the end of which he wrote: "This mastery over the biosphere indicates that we have a great deal to learn about chemistry, physics and evolution from our small, but very intelligent, prokaryotic relatives."

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    10. I am still baffled as to why you think Shapiro is saying something fundamentally new or different - other than he claims that he is. I just see it as akin to redesigning a box of detergent and claiming it makes your clothes cleaner. The claim that bacteria are much more complicated than once thought is without a doubt true. That bacteria can change their environment as well as be changed by their environment is also without a doubt true. All one has to do is consider how atmospheric oxygen levels went from ~0% to 20+% with the advent of photosynthesis. It is also true for every other organism. Feedback/homeostasis is the rule in systems - I have been arguing this for years about textbooks which seem to think animal physiology is the only incidence of homeostasis in living systems. But what also is true is that feedback/homeostasis occurs in non-living systems and it doesn't require cognition by "actors" in the system for it to happen. Climate modeling is a prime example. We do know that organisms and especially prokaryotes are significant players in earth's climate system, but they haven't always been.
      You keep saying that certain things can't happen, but as far as I can tell neither you nor Shapiro has shown that to be true.

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    11. If you don't know that you've completely ducked the question as to how natural selection can confer behavioral strategies without any reference to an organism's experience, and without the ability to transfer strategic algorithms by random accident, then you're not at all who you pretend to be. Nobody was talking about feedback/homeostasis and you surely know that as well.
      It's now quite clear that you know next to nothing about natural genetic engineering, and don't want to know.
      By the way, you mention that feedback/homeostasis occurs in non-living systems and thus it doesn't require cognition by "actors" in the system for it to happen. So did you see somewhere that Shapiro said it had to? All this to me is evidence again that you've either never read his papers or were incapable of understanding what was there.
      You end with this: "You keep saying that certain things can't happen, but as far as I can tell neither you nor Shapiro has shown that to be true. "
      Then tell me again that if natural selection can confer intelligence, or if you prefer, cognition, accidentally, how does it mange to do so? Or wasn't that one of the certain things that you don't need to be shown true until we can specifically show it to be false? Because if it was that's a hell of a way to run a scientific railroad.

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    12. Baron and michael,
      It seems that what Baron is taking into account is the matter/energy concept as being enough to explain how awareness and all its consequences (among them self-awareness), are implicit to life from its most simple form. At start it would sound a random guess for a too rigorous point of view - a sort of one-ticket philosophical trip out of reality -, an impression that may not be true. In fact, if every action in an organism is explained by, for instance, chemical and electrical interchanges, then, if awareness (and its consequences, like the ability of forming beliefs) is organic, it might - if not must - be explainable through the same process; but if not, what then? I figure two answers: either awareness is explained by another matter/energy process, together with the former or not, or it is not precisely organic and then we must state this as clear as possible. The problem is precisely here: in general we're not completely sure about the existence be as stated by matter/energy concept in the sense that we believe there's something else, although still undefinable and whose connections with that which we hold as more or less assured (matter/energy) are still more gloomy.

      My suggestion, as a method, is: put provisionally aside that gloomy, undefined part of reality and let it be expressly addressed by its exclusive branch of investigation, and give room to our suppositions that are possible inside this part of reality where we feel more comfortable to act. So, the known processes don't explain how do life bears the ability to form belief? Perhaps not yet, perhaps we just need to point very clearly where the known process fails to explain that. By knowing its failures we will be able to invoke other possibilities or even revise our explanations in order to see if something useful to their success was left behind.

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    13. Michael will have no idea what any of that means. Although whatever sort of phenomena it is, it will easily have been created and directed by accident, and he wonders why you'd have a problem with that simplest of his speculative observations as a parsimonious form of phenomenal explanation.

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    14. I have no doubt that awareness and its consequences (true beliefs) are part of evolution. The problem is: why can't we demonstrate it easily? what is wrong with that ability of ours that can't be fit into biological framework the way this framework is? Perhaps if we can answer that and consequent questions we will start to address the problem in a suitable way. Even philosophy, although it concedes that the mind is being modeled by neurology by means of materialist principles, it insists that mind's objects are 'not material', whatever this might mean. This gap will forever hinder our better comprehension of ourselves, if not our understanding of the universe. Are we using the wrong hypotheses?

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    15. Ask yourself if awareness and it's raison d'etre, such as for anticipating consequences, are material, and give yourself a reliable (and if possible, true) explanation of your answer.

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    16. I'm not opposed to the possibility that awareness is proved to be whatever. My question is: what's work better?
      I have no illusions about the discourse (logos) be such an adequate instrument to scrutinize reality: it is just the only we have. So, our only task it to model reality with language (discourse) in a way that discursive manipulation becomes able to imitate (simulate) reality. We know we did so when by means of the discourse we indeed anticipate facts.
      Then, I observe that invoking 'immateriality' to explain whatever is by now counterproductive, since our discourse is unable to precisely describe what this possibly is (or means) except something beyond what we know, I mean, our ignorance.
      Perhaps we need to revise the models we already have in order to do a better approach to those matters. And the fact is: I really believe that our 'forced', 'imposed' dualism (matter/energy) seems to be perfectly able to provide at least a starting model of all that we believe be immaterial.

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  41. Hi Disagreeable,

    We know that logical thinking was developed in historical times. Before Plato and (especially) Aristotle, even philosophers wrote in a poetic, quasi-religious language. Logic is not natural, it is a cultural artifact. Why is it reliable? Basically, the results of logical and scientific thinking have been competitively advantageous to the cultures that have adopted them. The no-miracles argument then implies that they must have some relation to reality.

    The usefulness of a cultural artifact is proven by its use, not by the fact that is based on supposed “abilities acquired trough biological evolution.” After all, you drive in a car based on empirical evidence that it will work, not because it is based on biological evolution. Of course, I don't deny that cars are, in principle, the results of biological evolution. It is just not useful to talk about biological evolution when trying to determine their reliability. It is the same with logic, mathematics and science.

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    1. Hi Filippo,

      This is going to get silly quickly, but this is what Plantinga is saying:

      How do you know that logical thinking was developed in historical times? How can you know anything if you're just an evolved animal with adaptive behaviours? How do you know that empirical evidence is a good way to form beliefs? Even your argument that logic must be reliable because it seems to work is an argument based on logic. You can't use logic to prove logic.

      There's no point trying to prove to me that we are capable of logic because I agree with you and Plantinga agrees with you - but no logical argument you can make to defend logic will help as long as we doubt the ability of evolution to build brains which are innately capable of forming true beliefs.

      But that doesn't mean we admit defeat. There is a way out. The key is not conceding the point in the first place that evolution does not favour the formation of true beliefs. I think even animals have the ability to form true beliefs. Science, logic, philosophy etc are not fundamentally required, they merely build on the foundations laid down by our innate evolved abilities and greatly increase the reliability with which we form true beliefs.

      Ian Pollock's comments on this page are very much in line with what I believe. I intend to write up my refutation of the EAAN in full tomorrow or at my first opportunity.

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    2. One thing I am sure of is that logical thinking was not biologically evolved. How do I know? From the fact that most people are incapable of it. There is vast experimental evidence for this fact.

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    3. If you say most people, that leaves the some people who must then be logically capable, thus indicating that it's still evolving.

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    4. Hi Filippo,

      I disagree. Most people are capable of the kind of intuitive feats of deduction and inference that AI researchers can only dream of.

      Take the most uneducated Stone Age tribesman and explain a syllogism to him.

      All men are mortal.
      Socrates is a man.
      Therefore Socrates is mortal.

      You won't get blank incomprehension. You won't get awe. You'll get confusion or disdain, as you have just explained to him something that is perfectly obvious.

      I'm not sure why this is not apparent to you. One possibility is that by logic you mean the kind of formal abstract logic developed by the Greeks. It's true that many people don't have the knack for working with symbols, notation and abstract problems. But that's not what's relevant to the argument. We're talking about the basic evolved ability of people to form true beliefs, and this depends on the kind of intuitive logic as applied to the real world that we all do all the time, automatically. You don't need to be educated in logic to know that you can't have your cake and eat it too - it's perfectly obvious.

      But I think what's actually going on is that you are a smart guy and your standards are too high. Compared to a person like you, of above average intelligence and exhibiting an interest in philosophy, most people really are relatively poor at logical thinking. But that doesn't mean they're completely incapable of it. Even humans of far below average intelligence make correct logical deductions and inferences every day. You just don't give them credit for it because what they're doing seems trivial from your perspective as a particularly intelligent person.

      In order to defeat Plantinga's argument, we don't need to show that people are logical geniuses or that they are always correct. We just need to show that we have evolved correct basic intuitions regarding trivial logical problems.

      And I think we have. From this modest foundation, everything else follows.

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    5. Hi, Filippo, I just want we consider here that aside the 'vast experimental evidence' for the incapability of some humans of dealing with logic there is also a vast evidence of people uneducated to logic or just educated to accomplish a number of tasks that favor others. For me logic is just a kind of surveillance we apply to the discourse (logos) in order to better express our beliefs, something very hard to find out while commanded by exogenous beliefs, needs and desires.

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    6. Hi Disagreeable,

      I may be wrong, but somehow I am dubious about the logical skills of my Italian relatives who have voted for Berlusconi for twenty years.

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  42. My response to fugate seems to be delayed, but in the meantime here's a very detailed video of a talk by Shapiro about "Revisiting evolution in the 21st Century:"
    https://vimeo.com/17592530

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  43. "1. Our beliefs about the world can only have evolutionary consequences if they affect our behaviors (otherwise they are invisible to natural selection);"

    ...is not strictly true.

    Beliefs do not need to "affect our behaviors" to be visible to natural selection. There is a wide range of biological literature (e.g. on biological 'spandrels') demonstrating that features only have to be correlated to other features that affect survival/reproductive-fitness to be subject to selective pressure. Does anybody claim that beliefs and behaviors are uncorrelated? If not then, even assuming that beliefs cannot "affect our behaviors", then they can still "have evolutionary consequences".

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  44. Looking generally and from a layman perspective, it seems obvious - and somewhat astounding - that natural selection theory is still unable to explain such a fundamental feature of our species like intelligence, at least unable enough to dismiss attempted refutations of that kind. But gathering my old high school lessons, a few quick Darwin readings and a bunch of literature for laymen, the idea I get is of a theory describing a race for reproduction, by means of which the traits of any individual that reaches the end have some chance of being transmitted to its descendants.

    So, in the above argument 'advantageous behavior' and 'adaptive' (behavior - I suppose) must mean the same, I mean, no matter what favors the individuals toward the arrival, provided this has the chance of being transmitted. Either this or the species goes extinct. In view of the survival criterion it would seem almost unbelievable, at least to me and even if scientifically/statistically proven, that in a trait (gene) pool of a species that tends to behave in a stable way in its environment could be features that became highly transmissible and had not to do with the overall performance in achieving the survival goal. Then, I'd ask myself, why did intelligence survived in us if its role is insignificant or none, and more, if it is not, why are we not surrounded by insect geniuses or high-tech whale civilizations?

    I believe that until science answers this, natural selection theory will continue to be haunted by gods' hands (however feebly, because divine things are also too hard to be dealt with even by our impressive wits).

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    1. >Then, I'd ask myself, why did intelligence survived in us if its role is insignificant or none, and more, if it is not, why are we not surrounded by insect geniuses or high-tech whale civilizations?<

      Why did six-metre height survive in giraffes if its role is insignificant? And further, if it is not, why are we not surrounded by six-metre tall insects?

      Well, six-metre height is crucial to the strategy of the niche that giraffes have evolved to fill. It's far from insignificant, it's very adaptive indeed. That doesn't mean we should expect all animals to be six metres tall because this great height is not the evolutionary strategy they are pursuing.

      Similarly, our intelligence is surely highly adaptive for us. It is crucial for the niche we fill. We do see other examples of intelligence evolving in the animal kingdom - apes, cetaceans, cephalopods, but not to the same degree as us. This just means that we are outliers - there is no land animal larger than an elephant, or if we want to consider extinct creatures, than sauropod dinosaurs. Something's got to be the outlier, and in terms of intelligence, we are it.

      But we are very extreme outliers. In all of evolutionary history, no other organism seems to have come close. This is not the case for most attributes of animals, so we perhaps need an explanation.

      I suspect it's because reaching the kind of intelligence our ancestors had is quite unlikely. It's too expensive to grow and maintain a brain, and the advantage is too minimal until you get to a certain level. But once you do cross that threshhold, there may be accelerating returns as increasing intelligence leads to more sophisticated hunting strategies and tool use, not to mention the effects of sexual selection. Crossing that threshold is very difficult and though certain organisms have come close, none before our ancestors have managed to clear it.

      But in order for the intelligence to be of use, you need to have a body type and environment that can put it to good advantage. Very advanced intelligence is probably not going to give dolphins any advantage beyond what they have already. They lack appropriate appendages to make tools or structures. If my mind was transported into the body of the dolphin, I would have no way to put it to constructive use. If anything I'd be at a disadvantage, as I'd be prone to boredom and depression after a while.

      The combination of our ancestor's high animal intelligence, unusual body plan and an environment rich with opportunities for intelligent exploitation may have been the perfect storm that lead to our eventual freakish intelligence explosion.

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    2. The problem about girafes is that is not so obvious that the extremely long neck doesn't seem to be so crucial as you seem to believe so confidently. Besides we could find a variety of disavantages to have such long necks. There is some obvious teleological argument in evolution that frames the evolution to the point we observe now, but we must find the reasons that made things this way a not in a different one (between the large variety of other ways evolution could take place), and considering some honesty we have to make that clear before we claim to have confidence that things are resonable explained.
      If this feature (the long neck) is so important why is it only found in girafes.

      As far as I believe in validity of the theory of evolution, I am compelled to acknowlodge that it fails to explain a lot. I am sorry but I can't fell the religious confidence (and I am not simpathetic towrds this view) that some people find reasonable to hold on this theory (or to other human knowledge in general), in spite pretending to be rational to assume this type of believs.

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    3. I'm not sure whether you're saying having a long neck is important or not.

      What I'm saying is that it *is* important - *to the giraffe!*

      Other animals would not benefit from having a long neck or simply have not yet stumbled blindly onto that evolutionary strategy.

      The fact that giraffes got there first rather diminishes the utility for other species, as they would have to compete with the already tall giraffe. The giraffe has the first mover advantage.

      There are huge disadvantages to having a long neck, but for the giraffes at least the positives outweigh the negatives. For other species, this may not be the case.

      There is no need to explain why evolution turned out precisely the way it has and not another way. Evolution is a chaotic, unpredictable process, and could have ended up very differently. There is no reason other than chance that we have ended up with the life forms we see today. It had to turn out *some* way. *This* is how it happened to turn out. There's no more mystery than why the lottery numbers happened to come up as they did on Monday, despite the countless other ways they could have been.

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    4. Waldemar,

      One important point that separates me from Platinga’s position is precisely the metaphysical argument that he introduces in his argument. That I think is fundamentally foolish. Nothing, but our ignorance, leads us to make those assumptions. We must assume our ignorance, where it really is. There is nothing rational in invoking God to explain nature (except ourselves), or the way things are. We have a strong repulsion in dealing with the unknown, and it is quite stressful. Still we know that this ignorance is real, we have to deal with in a rational manner (the believers can find comfort in God, for their ignorance and failure, but they must find knowledge through themselves, and not pretend they don’t know that they are ignorant, just by masquerading the problem). This doesn’t dismiss that Platinga’s and other people are right in many of their claims in criticizing the Neo-Darwinian arguments.

      In a similar way (to mask ignorance) Darwinian (old or neo) claim that evolution is random or chaotic, which is disproved by science, through progressive uncovering a variety of mechanism that led evolution to the way that things are today.

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    5. "In a similar way (to mask ignorance) Darwinian (old or neo) claim that evolution is random or chaotic, which is disproved by science, through progressive uncovering a variety of mechanism that led evolution to the way that things are today."

      This is a fundamental misunderstanding of evolution. Why not read a basic book on evolution before commenting?

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    6. Yes, Vasco, in general I agree with your comment. I only want to point out that invoking God to explain what science tries to understand is technologically counterproductive or just a motive to start a perpetual scientific strike. :)

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    7. michael, it's possible that Vasco meant with his statement the non teleological aspect of evolution, except its obedience to the criteria survival and reproduction. And in fact the multiple ways it satisfies these two criteria are indeed unexpected.

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    8. Michael,

      Is there a way of demonstrate that evolution is random (or is it a belief you want to be true, as a few people you trust hold that belief).

      It is possible to conceive that the past was random or that the future will be random, although what we know very well is the present (with very little biological randomness). However from a distinct point from the past, evolution leads to the present (with very little randomness), Unless you imagine a possible route to a parallel universe (but that requires a little imagination).

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    9. Waldemar,

      Thanks for your comment. I submitted an answer to Michael. However I must add something. The random mutation evolution argument serves two purposes, one tries to avoid teleology and second it supplies a blind mechanism that explains everything (but it explains really nothing). The problem with this type of fallacies is that they refute themselves, as they would support anything, without explaining what would be true or false, in some sense this explanation doesn’t add nothing to our understanding of things (in practice they say that things are the way they are, something that is self-evident).
      The issue of avoiding teleology (and I guess that a lot of people are trying to call the attention to teleology with quite negative responses), is a tricky one, in one hand it dismisses the metaphysical explanations (that were popular somewhere in the past), and try to dismiss the hands of a creator out of the issue (dismissing in the way aspects such as purpose, meaning, …). This however seems to be slightly more complicated, as with this type of approach its proponents fell compelled to go all the way to keep consistency. The problem is that it is just not possible to dismiss teleology (even at an apparent level), the problem has do with the fact that what we know very well is how the things are in the present and whatever they were in the past they were forced to come this way. We do not have any other river to navigate, whatever may be our misconceptions about the past nothing can dismiss the way things turn to be (in practical terms dismissing teleology does become a problem in our understanding of evolution).

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    10. Vasco, How is evolution random? Just because your god is not guiding it, doesn't make it random.

      Waldemar, Are you actually claiming that biologists made up random mutation to avoid teleology? That it is not based on any evidence, just wishful thinking? Come on this is too silly. If you have evidence that mutation is nonrandom, then please cite the source.

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    11. Michael,

      The real claim of theory of evolution is that it not directed to an end (not teleological).

      The point is that evolution leaded this way (the way things are and not in every possible random direction). If it was really driven by random mutations it could lead to anything distinct from the way it is (since it would include any advantageous variation). I do not claim that there aren't random processes (that is one thing) the other quite distinct is saying that the evolutionary processes were random. It is possible to believe in this, however it is not possible to prove that this was a fact (and this is not wishful thinking).

      Besides, even evolutionary theory claims that the evolutionary process is not random, as the only the mutations leading to advantageous results would be meaningful (however we fail to find such a large variety of species that would be possible to exist based on the broad and simplistic processes). According to evolutionary theory, the operative mechanisms would be natural selection, sexual selection, ... , and this would be the way nature would choose from the random mutations.

      I must emphasize that I do not claim any active participation of God in evolution (and I can pass very well without any mention to religion or similar issues in this matter).

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    12. What is the end to which you think evolution is directed?

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    13. Hey, guys, easy!

      michael, what I tried to do was to keep being coherent with a common layman education - mine, for instance - in biology and genetics. I always try to keep myself updated, but matters in science are 'overclocked' in recent days. So, I count with your expertise to dismiss my lot of doubts (not that huge, btw) on the subject.

      What I tried to express - and I hope my bad English doesn't betray me now - was: first I recognize a teleological trait in natural selection, which is expressed in the criterion survival for reproduction (I expect that at least this is kept in the theory in our days); and second, that the way nature satisfies this criterion is - wow! - amazing, unpredictable, chaotic, if you prefer.

      But, as we know, since the last eighties chaos has its days counted by the even further measurements performed in its domains...

      Vasco, no doubt that God is a pain, very hard to avoid, in general, and even harder to endure in the context of science. God is, for me, a concept that comes into mind in a context of cosmogony as a means to stop an infinite process of attributed origin, in short, a relief from a mind-bogging experiment we are compelled to perform, possibly by the inner nature of the knowledge or - the other side of this coin - by the constitution of the brain.

      As far as I know there are just two accounts of cultures deprived of this idea (Feuerbach - Greenland natives - and Everett - Brazilian natives 'Pirahã'), but it seems that those people just refused to handle the concept, having been perfectly able to understand its main details when they were told. So, it seems this is indeed universal. The problem starts to grow, in my opinion, since it points to an object whose existence can be neither proved nor disproved. And the issue turns itself unbearable when the well known 'connoisseurs' of this existence and of its nature come out after our believing abilities in order to finally take over our minds (and lives, consequently).

      The question can just be ignored, although it will be forever there, planted in the minds. A good example of this is the people already researching (most probably in their own mental labs) what comes before Big-Bang: some day they'll become sick of the infinite row of origins and will claim their relief - in God. In short, putting God in whatever point of an scientific, as I said above, is a good sign you're ready to resign.

      But there's no way out of teleology, I guess, and it will ever be expressed even in a formula, a criterion etc. Without it we wouldn't believe in science because science wouldn't be able to do predictions (I know there is who would attempt cut my head for saying this): a foreseen fact is a teleological, albeit provisional, point in the time line; we cannot comprehend it without invoking no matter what that has determined it; there's not even the need of a god so that a teleology makes sense. We need teleology to keep thinking and we cannot stop thinking, no matter if in science, in theology or whatever: being alive, at least for us humans, is a life sentenced into thinking. :)

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  45. I just wondered why the ability of forming true beliefs, which is supposed be shared in different degrees by countless species and to be crucial to a number of aspects in natural selection, couldn't be invoked to summarily dismiss premises like the ones in Plantinga's argument. Why can't natural selection state that, yes, our beliefs about the world have evolutionary consequences, and yes, natural selection favors directly the ability to form true beliefs? Just this.

    Incidentally, Disagreeable Me, although good mathematics can talk a lot and well about "lottery numbers that happened to come up" any day, it apparently didn't it well enough to convince people to stop praying for their bets or praising their gods for their wins.

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    1. >Why can't natural selection state that, yes, our beliefs about the world have evolutionary consequences, and yes, natural selection favors directly the ability to form true beliefs?<

      Well, I agree with you Waldemar, but Plantinga presents a superficially convincing argument to the contrary. He maintains that beliefs do not have evolutionary consequences. His argument, which I have outlined on my blog, needs to be answered with more than an assertion that beliefs have consequences.

      See: http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/defending-evolutionary-argument-against.html

      >apparently didn't it well enough to convince people to stop praying for their bets or praising their gods for their wins.<

      Yes. People are silly!

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    2. Since I read this post I tried for two consecutive days to conceive a purely logical way of dismissing the premises, since Massimo didn't it as a biologist, but no success. I'll agree if you say I'm stupid. :(

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    3. Well, if you bear with me I hope to give a counter-argument to Plantinga on my blog which I think will defeat his argument.

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    4. Just post it, Disagreeable, and give me a sign.

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    5. Hi Waldemar,

      The post is up.

      http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/attacking-evolutionary-argument-against.html

      It's quite long though, partly because it spends a lot of time criticising an argument Plantinga makes based on epiphenomenalism.

      The short versions is:

      For a start, of course beliefs influence behaviour! That much is obvious!

      And evolution doesn't select for specific beliefs in advance, as a careful reading of Plantinga would suggest. Instead it selects for the ability to form adaptive beliefs dynamically. Unreliable belief-generation systems may occasionally throw out false adaptive beliefs, as in the examples provided by Plantinga, but in the long run they will be outperformed by the consistency of reliable systems.

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  46. My counter-argument to my own post defending the EAAN is up.

    In defense of the EAAN:
    http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/defending-evolutionary-argument-against.html

    Refuting the EAAN:
    http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/attacking-evolutionary-argument-against.html

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  47. I believe there is a middle ground in which one recognizes the limitations of the human brain but doesn't turn to God.
    Also, the simplest point is survival is not logically equivalent to truth. Sure, true beliefs often lead to survival, but not always.... just think of the story of Dumbo the Elephant. This is why we have diff words for effectiveness and truth. Finally, why should our puny and tiny minds be able to understand most aspects of the universe? Just as a nonconscious rock is missing something, and a bat is missing something, so we are probably missing much truth that we cannot, in principle, find.

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  48. Cautionary note before my post above gets flooded away by interposing 'comments'. These are neurons tabulating, not bits of machinery as we generally understand them in computational terms.

    Tabulation and computation still apply as terms to neurons, so bear that in mind when crossing over ideas to try to provide 'objective' explanations in 'objective' terms. Start from the subject, the neuron, in its terms.

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  49. People used to believe that Newton was 100% correct in his laws of motion, some think that Einstein's theories are now more correct. Nevertheless, it may turn out in the future that Einstein's theories my need some subtle correction. Shall we then say those theories are false? That's the dilemma posed here - there is no room for theories that are "closer" or "farther" from the truth. People often confuse correlation for causation, and if they get it wrong, we may accuse them of harboring false beliefs. However, the adaptiveness of the belief in question may
    only depend on the correlation being real, and hence a mistaken belief in causation may in fact lead to an adaptive behavior. What is needed to cut through this muddle is a theory of how "well" adaptively chosen belief generating processes
    track what we call "true beliefs", on a scale that allows for some beliefs to be "closer" than others. It may be that virtually all our beliefs are false on close examination, but that they are "close enough" for real life.

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  50. The problem with most of the objections to Plantinga's EAAN (including yours) is that they judge naturalistic evolutionary theory to be true by criteria that presuppose the theory ('our cognitive faculties are reliable because they've evolved to be reliable, so we can use those faculties to verify that naturalistic evolutionary theory is reliable'). That simply doesn't fly. It's a classic circular argument. Period.

    On a related issue, much misunderstanding can be avoided by distinguishing between the pragmatic value of a theory and the veracity of that theory. Most scientific theories are considered 'true' based on their pragmatic value, the fact that they make accurate predictions and help us get stuff done (predict the weather, launch rockets, etc). For such theories (judged on their pragmatic value), the reliability of our cognitive apparatus is not an issue. Even if we are all brains in a vat, such theories would still be valid within the realm of human experience (e.g. Newton's Laws can still apply in the experience of a brain in a vat, even if they don't apply outside the vat).

    It's a whole different ball-game when you're judging a theory on its veracity, whether it tells us what the world is 'really' like in the absence of observers. Theories that attempt to explain the origin of the human cognitive apparatus (such as naturalistic theories of biological evolution, the origin of the universe, or even atomic theory, all of which purport to account for human cognitive functions) are usually claimed to have veracity, alongside any pragmatic value they hold. The problem with such theories (judged on their veracity) is that they run into the observer effect. You're using your cognitive faculties to verify the veracity of a theory of the origin of your cognitive faculties. See the problem? You can't account for distortions caused by your cognitive faculties, because you have to use those faculties to check for distortions.

    This kind of observer effect is only a problem for the veracity of theories that purport to explain the origin of human cognitive faculties (I call them 'global theories'). It is not a problem for the pragmatic value, if any, of such theories (e.g. atomic theory has practical applications within human experience). So the veracity of naturalistic evolutionary theories, and all other global theories, is very much in question. The only way around the dilemma, as Plantinga argues, is to make assumptions (about the reliability of our cognitive faculties) that do not rely on empirical verification. So from a pragmatic point of view, yes our cognitive faculties are reliable. On the question of their veracity, all bets are off. However, most of the time, only the pragmatic implications of our theories, perceptions and memories matter to us.

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