Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A tentative response to Plantinga's EAAN. (Part 2)

About a week ago, I shared Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). If its premises are true and the logic is valid, then any beliefs that naturalists like me (people who don’t believe in God or any being like God) have are irrational. (Ouch.)

I want to emphasize that the EAAN is not meant to show that evolution is false. In fact, Plantinga seems to accept that evolution has occurred (though he believes that it has been guided by God). It’s also not meant to show that naturalism is false, just that, for all we know, it’s irrational to believe. In philosophy lingo, the EAAN provides a de jure objection to naturalism, not a de facto objection. Nevertheless, its conclusion is meant to be devastating to those who accept both naturalism and unguided evolution, supposedly plunging us into extreme skepticism: we have good reason to think that the majority of our beliefs, including our belief in naturalism, are not really True.

Notice that I capitalized the word ‘true’ in that last sentence. What do I mean might be the difference between ‘truth’ and ‘Truth’?

Suppose you are, like Neo, living in The MatrixYou would not be privy to the ‘Truth’ – the ultimate Truth – that you are really in a jelly filled vat in an unconscious state connected to machines. No, what you would be privy to, your thoughts about the world you experience - that would represent ‘truth’. For instance, truth might be that you are reading a blog on your computer right now and that you should probably get back to work, or your family, or other more pressing concerns. (Ain't that the truth!)

It seems to me that Plantinga’s EAAN gives naturalists reason to think that they don’t have access to Truth, just as Neo didn't before taking Morpheus' red pill.

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

Say that Plantinga’s argument succeeds in forcing us to conclude that the world may very well be quite different from the way that it seems to us. We have (i) our model of reality that the faculties provided us by evolution have given us, and then there’s (ii) the way that the world may well actually be. The former (i. truth) is very useful and is getting more so by the minute as those faculties  continue to enhance the degree of our adaptation to reality. If we look closely enough and learn a little neuroscience, this actually seems to be the case. Unlike The Matrix, at least our model is linked to reality because our sense organs (or 'indicators', as Plantinga calls them) really do respond to stimuli from the real world and lead to adaptive behaviour within it. The latter (ii. Truth) is conceptually inaccessible to us, even in principle. 

What should we do about this? As far as I see, there is nothing we can do. Plantinga, like Morpheus, is a wise man, but until he has one of Morpheus' red pills to offer (which I'd like to think I'd take if he did), I have no choice but to CARRY ON (as the posters say), SATISFIED WITH THE tRUTH. I mean, would anybody really fault the citizens of the Matrix for talking about the truth - the only truth available to them?

In more philosophy lingo, Plantinga has argued for an undefeated defeater to the notion that we can know Truth on naturalism and evolution. Fine. I argue that, for purely pragmatic reasons, our faculties are undefeatable at providing us with adaptive truth when properly operating in the environment that designed them by unguided natural selection. We naturalists are used to humility in noting our shared common ancestry with all life, our role within an unimaginable causal web, and our limited place for a short time in the universe. This kind of conclusion fits quite nicely with our others.

I haven't yet decided whether this is the actual position I take with respect to the EAAN. I'm putting it out there for feedback, especially from anybody who knows a thing or two about epistemology. It does seem to suggest that Plantinga’s argument isn’t that devastating for the naturalist who can’t find a way to reject either the premises or the logic of the EAAN; from a purely pragmatic perspective, the whole argument just doesn’t seem to matter, so long as one is prepared to accept a more limited, more humble definition of 'truth'. I hope that this will become even more obvious in my next post where I will show that Plantinga’s belief in Jesus by no means guarantees that his faculties are any more reliable with respect to Truth than on naturalism. Later, I’ll explain why I'm skeptical about the first premise, without which, the EAAN fails utterly.

1 comment:

  1. For those who think that an acceptable response to the EAAN is to say that true beliefs will be more adaptive than false beliefs, so evolution will select for true belief forming mechanisms, I attach a link to a conversation between Plantinga and Stephan Law. Fast FWD to around 30:00 where Law proposes that to Plantinga and Plantinga gets to respond.

    I've been reading a fair bit about this argument and its very clear to me that Plantinga just doesn't buy that response at all. So long as the neurology produces adaptive behaviour, the belief that goes along with it can just as well be true as false, argues Plantinga. Whatever belief fits into the neurology may very well *seem* true to us, but why think that it actually *is* true or anything more than just adaptive..

    Now, I think that folks who perpetuate this response must do so cautiously, for Plantinga is a very smart man, and he's thought deeply about this argument for 30 years, and he clearly thinks that it leaves the EAAN unscathed. I'm not prepared to accept it so easily.

    It's hard to step outside what seems to so obviously true to us and consider that the world could well be quite different, yet, if Plantinga is right, that's the type of thinking that seems to be required.