Saturday, March 7, 2009

Theism Defended. Poorly.

D.G. Myers summarizes an argument of Alvin Plantinga:

...naturalism has no means of accounting for the truth of its own claims. If natural selection is (as Dawkins puts it) “the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life,” and if human theories (including the theory of natural selection) are a result of this blind and purposeless chance, then how can anyone know whether any theory (including the theory of natural selection) is true? The assertion of its truth is circular and question-begging. The theory might only be the random result of blind chance. Without reference to an intelligence independent of natural selection there is no possible defense of the theory of natural selection.
Doesn't this just reduce to the claim that false beliefs could have evolved, that nothing in the process of biological evolution prevented this? The answer is yes, obviously, false beliefs could have evolved -- beliefs could have emerged that were both biologically adaptive and false. So what?

Not only could this have happened, it appears to have done so often. Examples of adaptive-but-false beliefs are legion -- and note that nothing essential depends on these being beliefs actually, as opposed to hypothetically, held by people (or proto-people): that feverish, coughing people ought to be shunned (when actually they just tend to be infectious); that eating un- or undercooked meat is disgusting, rude, transgressive, barbaric, what have you (when actually it's just a really good way to leave potentially dangerous contaminants in place); that spending some time wading in the river is conducive to long life, health, wisdom, good manners, or whatever (when actually it's just a way to get somewhat clean); that domesticated animals are transmogrified humans (when actually domesticated animals can serve as protectors, fellow hunters, sources of food, sources of materials, etc.); that spiders are dangerous creatures (when actually only a few species are truly dangerous, such as the black widow).

All of those "when actually ..." clauses in parentheses point up the obvious problem with this view. We have, with persistence, effort, communication, cooperation, and time, gotten closer to the truth of these matters and countless more. We know, with quite a bit of precision, how and to what extent cats and rats are correlated with death and misfortune: they tend to attract and bring fleas; fleas tend to bite us; biting fleas can transmit the bacteria associated with the black plague and other diseases.

We know this to be true, and notwithstanding Plantinga's and Myers' befuddlement on the point, it's not difficult to account for the origin of this greater understanding: the aforementioned persistence, effort, communication, cooperation, and time, also known as culture. Human cultural evolution began with the broad, gross hints endowed by "pure" biological evolution and has refined and expanded on them ever since.

The alternate view -- apparently the one favored by Plantinga and Myers -- is a peculiar form of nihilism in which knowledge can only come from "an intelligence independent of natural selection" or other natural source. For anyone reading this who sincerely clings to that view, I have a bit of intelligence independent of any natural cause I'd like to impart. It concerns a bridge for sale on excellent terms.


larryniven said...

Reading it over, I could've written it better - the punctuation gets wonky at times - but: I'm not particularly impressed with this either, basically.

Dale said...

LN, Nicely done!

I knew you'd want to join in on this one; in fact, I really thought you must already have done so (I was just too ... whatever ... to find it on my own).

My working title for this blog post was, in fact, "Rust Belt Philosophy Bait."

Kraxpelax said...

Did Alvin Plantinga produce this nonsense? Perghaps I will in due time treat this monstrosity on my blog Window Mirror. For time being, I simply fail to see the logic. There is no rational basis whatsoever for the tacit premise a random process must bring a chaotic result; precisely the contrary is precisely the point of evolution due to very clear and simple basic mechanisms of progression. Applying exactly the same fthought fallacy one could argue a random distribution MUST form a straight line, denying the gaussian Bell Curve not to say statistics and probabilty math in general. With all due disrespect, this is intellectual rubbish.

- Peter Ingestad, Sweden

larryniven said...

"...'Rust Belt Philosophy Bait.'"

Ha! Well, glad to be of service.

(captcha's much more agreeable this time: gosessen. I've got my eye on them, though.)

Dale said...

Krax: "Did Alvin Plantinga produce this nonsense?"

I'm afraid so. Follow the bouncing ball of links if you wish to go deeper down the rabbit hole.