A few comments on Plantinga’s “Where the Conflict Really Lies”

I don’t plan on commenting on every book I read but I was compelled to address what appeared to me to be some glaring omissions and one audacious claim in the argumentation found in Alvin Plantinga’s “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism”. There were three particular assertions that caught my attention: (1) that evolutionary theory says nothing about whether it is unguided, (2) a logical proof that determinism is false, and (3) that unguided evolution cannot yield reliable beliefs (aka “the evolutionary argument against naturalism”, or EAAN).

There is no reason to believe that evolution is unguided?

WhereTheConflict

Ignoring the theological implications and biblical creation accounts, Plantinga says that “The scientific theory of evolution as such is not incompatible with Christian belief; what is incompatible with it is the idea that evolution, natural selection, is unguided.” I agree that it is not necessary to assert that evolution is unguided. There is no way that we can show that some supernatural agent is not overseeing the genetic changes which drive evolution. Fair enough. However, Plantinga goes on to say that “But that [the idea that evolution is unguided] isn’t part of evolutionary theory as such; it’s instead a metaphysical or theological addition.” What struck me is that Plantinga seemingly makes this claim without engaging with the foundational reasons why evolution is generally defined to be unguided. Instead, he chooses to review the arguments which show how complexity could arise by an unguided process. Yes, those arguments don’t prove that the process is unguided but that is beside the point. The task at hand is to find the best explanation for our observations. Is the best explanation that evolution is guided, or is the best explanation that evolution is unguided? When I survey the data, I see compelling reasons for inferring an unguided process. For example:

  1. The vast majority of species that have ever existed are now extinct. Natural selection occurs by killing off creatures with the less favorable property. Competition and death are fundamental components of the evolutionary process.
  2. It is far more likely that a mutation is neutral or deleterious than beneficial.
  3. What were once beneficial adaptations can become deleterious in the face of a changing environment.
  4. Artificial selection (for example, in dogs) has produced in hundreds of generations a degree of variation that is only comparatively realized in nature over thousands of generations.

Among others, these are all characteristics of evolution which, to me, infer an unguided process. The first observation demonstrates how wasteful, vicious and “immoral” the process is. If you want to argue that we have no reason to believe that God wouldn’t create through such mechanisms then that’s fine, but at least admit that it is not how we expect an all-loving, all-powerful, super-intelligent being to act and is among the least attractive of the possible methods (e.g., special creation). The second observation highlights how the process seems to be driven by a small fraction of changes in a probabilistic paradigm, which is almost by definition the opposite of a guided process. The third observation demonstrates that the result of selection does not always lead to a long-term benefit. Again, this seems to contradict an intelligence behind the outcomes. Lastly, the final observation reveals how inefficiently slow the changes are accumulated in nature, whereas a known intelligent agent (humans) has succeeded in utilizing the exact same underlying mechanisms to realize dramatic changes in a short period of time.

On the flip side, one could argue that the amazing outcomes of evolution – the eye, flight, the brain – are all pointers toward a guiding intelligence. I understand this view; it is truly amazing what has been wrought. I feel the draw of the design explanation when I consider the remarkable intricacies of life, but I also recognize that this pull arises because the design hypothesis is easier to relate to our experience (i.e., our intuitions are biased toward that model). This is not the place to rely on intuitions, however, so we must turn to the evidence. In a twist of irony, Plantinga has already included arguments which explain how these wonders may result from an unguided process. So the counter to the argument for guided evolution has been presented and acknowledged. As I see it, this means that the reasons for thinking that evolution is unguided weren’t addressed at all and the reasons for thinking that evolution is guided were found to also fit the unguided paradigm. I cannot agree that this conflict is merely superficial.

Determinism is logically impossible?

Though it is a minor side-note in the book, it immediately caught my attention. What an audacious claim – a logical proof that determinism is false! This warranted a closer look. The argument is as follows:

  1. A natural law is of the form “If the universe (U) is causally closed, then P.”
  2. Also take the conjunction of all natural laws to be “If U is causally closed, then P.”
  3. If determinism is true then the conjunction of all natural laws (If U is causally closed, then P) and a specific past state of the universe (PAST) necessarily entails the future (F).
  4. Using N to mean Necessarily, the above statement is equivalent to: N [if (if U is causally closed then P) and PAST, then F].
  5. Becomes:  N [if (either U is not causally closed or P) and PAST, then F]
  6. Becomes:  N [if [(PAST and P) or (PAST and U is not causally closed)], then F].
  7. This takes the form N if (p or q) then r, which means that both p and q entail r, hence
  8. N [if (Past and P) then F] and N [if (PAST and U is not causally closed) then F].
  9. The right hand side of #8 is obviously false because there is clearly a possible world that (i) shares its past with the actual world, (ii) is not causally closed (because perhaps God acted) and (iii) does not share its future with the actual world. Therefore, determinism is false.

I will admit that it took me several reads to follow this argument. In the end, however, I think I see the slight of hand (whether or not this was intentional, I do not know). It was my attempt to translate this into software code that clearly revealed the problem for me. Here’s the code:

function CreateFuture(Universe, Past) {
  if(Universe.CausallyClosed) {
    P = Universe.NaturalLaws;
  }
  return DoPhysics(P, Past);
}

My fellow software engineers will immediately recognize the bug in this function: if the universe is not causally closed then P is undefined and an attempt to use it to generate the future yields unpredictable results. This is the key to the problem with the proof. In step 5, Plantinga expands the proof to cover both branches of the conditional and infers that both branches are still bound within the definition of determinism. This then, of course, leads to the obvious result where the future created with defined natural laws may be different than the future created with undefined natural laws. Plantinga groups these outcomes together under the definition of determinism and declares that the internal inconsistency shows that determinism is false. This is completely invalid, however, because determinism is only defined to be the branch where the universe is causally closed. All other branches (or possible worlds) are something other than determinism. I am honestly a bit baffled that Plantinga chose to include this in the book.

Despite my rejection of this proof, I should note that I am not a strict determinist. I would consider myself something of a quasi-determinist. Quantum indeterminacy has shown us that we can’t (yet) predict all possible states, but the quantum effects adhere to a predictable distribution such that the macro-world, and even the molecular world, behaves according to the physical laws to the extent that we have accurately described them. In the absence of supernatural intervention the natural world is, for all practical purposes, deterministic.

Naturalism cannot yield reliable beliefs?

The central thesis of the evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN) is that, without a guiding force, there is no reason to believe that the evolutionary process would result in a belief forming system that yields true beliefs. As I read through the EAAN, I was eagerly anticipating Plantinga’s response to the following objection: evolutionary theory claims that well before any creature was conscious there were sensory systems that triggered responses which selected the population. Selection is dependent on beneficial interactions with the external world. If those interactions do not consistently and properly map to the outside world then they are less likely to be beneficial. Consciousness and belief formation are extensions of this rudimentary system. As such, the evolutionary processes which led to sensory response systems, and therefore also to consciousness and belief formation, are likely to produce reliable reflections of the outside world.

Finally, in chapter 10, part 5, section C he gets there. He introduces the objection with “Isn’t it just obvious that true beliefs will facilitate adaptive action?” and eventually follows-up with “Yes, certainly. This is indeed true. But it is also irrelevant.” Then comes the explanation: “We ordinarily think true belief leads to successful action because we also think that the beliefs cause actions, and do so by virtue of their content… But now suppose materialism were true: then, as we’ve seen, my belief will be a neural structure that has both NP [neuro-physiological] properties and also a propositional content. It is by virtue of the NP properties, however, not the content, that the belief causes what it does cause.” After providing several examples of how the content of beliefs result in action, he finishes with “Going back to materialism…If the belief had had the same NP properties but different content, it would have had the same effect on behavior.”

Plantinga immediately recognizes that materialism would deny that it is possible for two beliefs to have the same NP properties but different content. Then things get messy. He digresses into a brief discussion of how this isn’t the place to address how counterfactuals and counterpossibles should be used in argumentation. Then he closes the response with “..it doesn’t matter to the adaptiveness of the behavior (or of the neurology that causes that behavior) whether the content determined by that neurology is true.” Wait a second – isn’t that where we were before this whole objection was raised?

Is it just me, or did he completely misrepresent the naturalistic ontology of belief and then dismiss the objection to that misrepresentation without offering an explanation? It seems as if he has superimposed dualism onto naturalism and then argued against this bastard child. What really confuses me is that in the pages leading up to this he clearly defined the materialistic view as one in which belief content can be reduced to NP properties. Somehow, when it came time to address the big objection, this reduction no longer applied and content was now something completely separate from the physical. How did this happen? I re-read those pages several times and I just don’t get it. Am I in over my head? Did I miss something? I can’t help but feel like I did; but, then again, I’m far from being the only one who has seen problems with this argument. This turn of events left me bewildered and I can’t give any regard to the EAAN until this is resolved.

Closing Thoughts

This was my first encounter with any of Plantinga’s books, though I was familiar with his work and was well aware of his reputation as one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. The writing generally lived up to the standard; the text was lucid and, in most cases, the arguments were easy to follow. It was a worthwhile read. In the end, however, I was severely disappointed that his key claims – the “apparent conflict” between theism and evolution and the “deep conflict” between naturalism and science – ultimately omit or dismiss the most relevant objections to those claims. Perhaps even more alarming was that he chose to publish a clearly flawed proof that determinism is false. Collectively these observations have done nothing but tarnish his reputation in my eyes. I had hoped for something more.

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19 thoughts on “A few comments on Plantinga’s “Where the Conflict Really Lies”

  1. Like you, I also had hoped for something more when I read this book. It was presented to me by a pastor who thought Plantinga had knock-down arguments to bear on the situation. I enjoyed your critique, and no, I don’t believe you’re missing the point at all. My favorite quote was your use of some apt imagery:

    “It seems as if he has superimposed dualism onto naturalism and then argued against this bastard child.”

    There are a number of bastard children in Christian apologetics. But then, that sort of makes sense if you scratch on it. 🙂

    My largest grievance with WTCRL, which doesn’t in the least diminish the points you raise, is that he pits a “generic theism” against naturalism in constructing his defense of a very specific theism: Christianity. From one cover to the other, he presents this streamlined and blemish free theistic chimera, then argues that materialism cannot do as well, and concludes that an implicit defense of Christianity has been made. My problem with this is that it is precisely the omitted particulars of Christianty’s metaphysical and scientific claims that provide the unending conflicts with science and natural history. We don’t have a streamlined chimeric theism. Ours has hangnails and warts and skeletons in the closet – so very many claims that flatly contradict what we find when we look at the evidences of the outside world. The implicit defense of Christian theism about drove me batty. Even without the glaring fallacies that you’ve pointed out so astutely, it was an argument going nowhere because it was undertaken in a clean room. It was like getting to the end of NT Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” and realizing that he passed over any mention of the many fast growing and false cults we see throughout history: cargo cults, Mormonism, Islam, etc.

    As I tell my friends, its what the apologists strategically omit that is the crux of the problem. It isn’t possible to get truth out of apologetic sources for that reason. The truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. That second proposition, its so sticky, isn’t it?

    Nice post!

    • I’m willing to give Plantinga a pass on his use of a stripped-down Christianity. He was at least consistent and generally only referenced Christianity under the umbrella of the generic theism that he was actually defending. I get the sense that his goal was not to defend orthodox Christianity in particular, but rather theism in general. Perhaps I’m being too generous. Perhaps I am simply too sympathetic with the accommodationist position because it is where I once stood.
      It is certainly true that we tend to only find part of the story in apologetic sources, but I hope that we can all also realize that this is to be expected. These are by definition starting with a conclusion and then finding ways to argue for it. I find myself constantly struggling against the pull of confirmation bias as I conduct my own investigations. This is why I feel so strongly about consulting multiple, divergent sources when I want to understand a topic or, at the very least, choosing a source that seems to fall somewhere between all options. I had hoped that Plantinga’s philosophical prowess would minimize these issues and, in fact, that was to some extent true. For example, I would guess that his concession that evolutionary psychology and textual criticism tender some level of legitimate conflict with the faith would not be echoed by very many Christians. Unfortunately, the arguments which were purported to be the strongest were those which I found to be the weakest because they didn’t actually address the most powerful objections to his claims.

  2. Nice post. Let me say I don’t really have a dog in the fight when it comes to Plantinga’s EEAN one way or another. However, I did and still do draw similar conclusions with respect to specific types of beliefs.

    But let me try to give a defense. Although I doubt he would agree with me because I actually spoke with him and made some of these suggestions and he sort of brushed them off. (but that was a long time ago) So anyway this is not Plantinga, it is me giving a defense of EEAN.

    Consider the various Cartesian Skeptical scenarios. Lets call them models. There is the Brain in a vat model. Here some genius on some other planet is tweaking a brain in a vat causing you to believe everything in your mind. Then there is the dreaming model you are just sleeping and dreaming everything you imagine is real. There is also the deceiver god model where he just creates these ideas and erases memories on a whim and that is what is happening to you now. These are all models that reflect skeptical scenarios and if any of them were true all our beliefs about the external world would be defeated. Now of course it might be that even in any of these scenarios our beliefs also might happen to be true. The evil genius might give us much truthful information. He might match up our beliefs with reality very strongly. On the other hand he might have us believe like you do that everything seems to be like such and such and then have us deduce from some logic that seems irresistible to us that reality is so, when in fact its not. But the problem is if one of these models is the case all subsequent beliefs are defeated.

    Now first I think in this blog
    http://measureoffaith.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/my-epistomology-part-1-evidence/
    you give these sorts of arguments a bit of short shrift. Specifically under the “foundations of reality” section I wonder if you are fully appreciating the power of these arguments. I don’t think you are and I think that may to some extent be effecting your view of Plantinga’s argument.

    BTW: I believe I discuss something like what you say in my own blog here:
    http://trueandreasonable.co/2014/01/13/before-we-leave-descartes/

    But anyway the problem these scenarios/models present is that there is no way we can know they are not the case. So when you say:

    “On many occasions, I perceive things in the external world of which others have no information and I am often given new information about the external world that was likewise revealed to me by others (i.e., testimony). It is also the case that we sometimes discover objects whose state was known at one time, which was then left unobserved by all thinkers for some time and then perceived to be in a different state at a later time. From these, I conclude that there is an external world which exists and acts independent of all thinkers…”

    The problem is everything you say before “from these I conclude…” are merely themselves beliefs that you hold about what happens. If you were a brain in a vat you might be thinking the same thing. If there was a deceiver god he might implant those beliefs as well. I will say I have had dreams were I thought I was remembering things that happened only in the “dream world.” So if one of those models holds true then the fact that you hold those beliefs is not really evidence that the external world exists as you believe it does. Although those models do not prevent the possibility that much of what you are lead to believe can be true because the model itself makes no provision for that being the case all those subsequent beliefs would be defeated.

    Now lets look the theory of evolution. Now it seems to me that either we are going to explicitly include into the model of evolution that it is a process that produces beings with true (or at least reliable) beliefs or we are not. I think its fair to say that claim is not there now. As such it is model of our existence that seems very much like the scenario where a deceiver God is having some fun. We may have all sorts of beliefs about why we think our mind really is tracking reality but if we believe the deceiver god model those beliefs are defeated.

    Now you say:
    “As I read through the EAAN, I was eagerly anticipating Plantinga’s response to the following objection: evolutionary theory claims that well before any creature was conscious there were sensory systems that triggered responses which selected the population. Selection is dependent on beneficial interactions with the external world. If those interactions do not consistently and properly map to the outside world then they are less likely to be beneficial.”

    Again those are beliefs you hold right? But you also believe in a system of your creation which does not require that your beliefs are true or reliably true. You might be a strange worm that lives underground and twitches every time you imagine your wife tells you should eat less red meat and eat more vegetables. This near constant twitching helps you survive by creating surroundings where the bacteria you feed on can flourish. (don’t ask me how I am philosopher not a biologist)

    It seems to me that the naturalist who believes in evolution is not just open to the possibility that our beliefs might have a disconnect he is in fact believing a model in that regard. Sure you can say well I believe in 1)this model of evolution which doesn’t explicitly contain the idea that it creates creatures with reliable beliefs but you also add the belief 2)that evolution effects my belief mechanisms in such a way that it tracks reality. But that is really the same as saying I believe in 1)My belief mechanisms are created by a god that does not explicitly create reliable beliefs about reality, but I also happen to believe 2) that the god pretty much gives me a true picture of reality.

    In both cases if we accept the first belief first as a foundation then the second belief is automatically defeated.

    • Regarding the brain in the vat, et al., I agree that these are possible worlds. This is where pragmatism and Ockham’s Razor come in. I have no way of discriminating which of those worlds is correct, so I go with the one that makes the most sense and requires the fewest additional assumptions. Those other scenarios require at least two realities: the one that I am experiencing and the one that the curator of my reality is experiencing. Since I have no reason to believe that the other realities exist, however, I’ll pragmatically accept the solution in which there is only one reality and which meets my expectations when I operate under that assumption. It’s the best I can do.

      • In the brain in a vat example there is only one reality. But we are not necessarily experiencing it. Just like when we dream we presumably are not experiencing reality. In the dreaming argument it seems we make almost no claims about an external reality.

        I’m not sure Ockham’s razor really helps or hurts.
        I mean the common sense account, requires us to believe that everything we experience accurately depicts a seperate reality that really exists outside of our beliefs. It also asks us to assume that there is this connection between this world that exists beyond our mere perception of it and that it has this bond with our beliefs. It also asks us to believe in other minds.

        The dreaming argument for example doesn’t need to assume any of that. It just says yep we have certain beliefs but beyond that it doesn’t make any additional assumptions about some external reality existing or that our beliefs have some sort of connection with it. We might just be some sort of collection of beliefs.

      • In all cases I hold the same set of beliefs, memories and experiences. In all cases I am led to believe in the external world and other minds. In all cases I can interact with the external world and other minds in predictable ways. This leads us to the “common sense” conclusion and all other scenarios require an addition on top of that where we reject our conclusion in favor of some type of deception and do so for no reason whatsoever. The application of Ockham’s razor is not about the scenario with the fewest things, it’s about the scenario with the fewest assumptions. The common sense solution may assume an external reality and other minds, but the dream scenario assumes that we are being deceived when we perceive an external reality and other minds, and then adds on the assumption of a dreamer.

        I’ll also point out that these alternative realities are both self-referential and lead to an infinite regress. They are self-referential because they assume that the artificial reality we are experiencing can give rise to a description of the true reality. They lead to an infinite regress because, once you accept the true reality, you have to ask the question again and again, ad infinitum. These are extremely unnecessary complexities and I see no reason to tack them on. I’ll stick to “what you see is what you get”.

  3. I think I agree with everything you’ve said right up until the very last line. How does the potential for unreliable beliefs defeat the idea that most of what we believe is accurate? In fact, our experience tells us that we don’t always hold true beliefs; optical illusions are the classic example. Conversely, if our belief mechanisms were created by a god that explicitly creates reliable beliefs then why does this happen? It seems that our acknowledgement that we can sometimes be fooled fits perfectly with the claim that the creative process did not guarantee true beliefs but still usually accomplished true beliefs as a byproduct of the selective process.

    • “I think I agree with everything you’ve said right up until the very last line. How does the potential for unreliable beliefs defeat the idea that most of what we believe is accurate?”

      Consider the brain in the vat scenario. Lets say someone tells you they accept that model of how they came here and that the person tweaking the brain is why they believe the things they do.

      You ask them if the model they accept includes the claim that the person tweaking the brain that causes their beliefs tends to give them reliable beliefs/ true beliefs.

      They say no, that is not part of the model. So according to this model even if you believe something there is no reason to think that belief is true.

      Lets say you then ask them well then why do you believe the world around you is as you think it is.

      They then give you this long string of beliefs that they hold, from which they conclude it must be the case that reality is as it appears to them.

      Now the problem is all those beliefs that leads him to conclude reality is as it appears are coming from a model that is by definition one that does not necessarily yield reliable beliefs. So he would believe those reasons even if they were not true. This is what I mean by a defeater.

      It seems to the extent that the model of unguided evolution does not at the outset contain some sort of claim that the belief mechanisms it produces will be true, then any beliefs produced will thereby be defeated in the same way.

      • It seems that you’re artificially assuming that we should treat these as absolutes. Why does the POSSIBILITY of false belief entail the necessity that “any beliefs produced will thereby be defeated”? I offered a reason for thinking that unguided evolution is more likely than not to produce true beliefs. What is the reason for rejecting that explanation? Simply because it’s POSSIBLE that selection could yield a false belief? Given the enormous timescales and populations it would seem that the sample size of evolutionary history is in favor of probabilistic outcomes and the explanation I gave implies that a true belief is more probable than a false belief.

      • I’m not sure that it is just the possibility that beliefs are false. I think it is more that we accept a model of our creation that is not necessarily designed to give us true beliefs.

        Let me give you an example of how a defeater might work. In this case I think we dealing with an undercutting defeater. That is its not that we have evidence that contradict our beliefs but we accept a model of a situation where our beliefs are not justified. This is an example from a philosopher named Pollock. You are visiting a factory and you see a bunch of red parts sitting in the corner. You look at them and they appear red so you believe they are red. But then the supervisor comes up and tells you that the parts over there actually have a very strong red light shining on them so they can better detect if any defects exist in the parts. He tells you they would appear red regardless of whether they were red or not. So the supervisor does not tell you they are not red its still possible they are. But your justification for believing they are red just dropped off because you see that the model by which you acquired the belief that they are red is not a reliable one as to beliefs about the redness of the parts. So that is the basic idea of an undercutting defeater. Its not that its impossible that they are red but it would seem that at that point any such beliefs about their redness would be completely unfounded.

        Now
        Are you thinking

        1) That if someone accepted one of the skeptical scenario models their beliefs would not be defeated, or
        2) are you agreeing that their beliefs would be defeated but accepting the unguided evolution model is different than the various skeptical models?
        Or 3) both

        Lets look at the first claim. It seems to me that person would have their beliefs defeated if they actually believed on of the skeptical models was how they came to exist.

        Take the person who believed they were a brain in a vat being tweaked by someone who didn’t necessarily have an interest in giving them true beliefs. Would you think they were justified in believing the external world existed as they thought it was, due to the beliefs they held about how it works? Now of course they really believe what they say and it makes sense to them. Wouldn’t you be right to say – hey wait a minute, the beliefs you hold which give you reasons why you think your beliefs are reliable are also the product of this model that we agreed, at the outset, did not necessarily provide true beliefs.

        If someone accepted the brain in a vat model where they believed the person tweaking their brain was not necessarily giving them true beliefs wouldn’t you agree all their beliefs that flowed from that would be defeated?

        The problem is once you set up a model that does not itself include the production of reliable beliefs (or belief mechanisms) then sure you might then hold all sorts of beliefs that after all it really does lead to true belief mechanisms. Unfortunately those are just beliefs that you hold flowing from the model that from the outset we agreed did not necessarily provide true or reliable beliefs.

      • Here’s the difference: in the brain in the vat example, we approach it from a perspective which demonstrates that there are conflicting realities. We see that the brain perceives an autonomous world yet is actually a brain in a vat. This gives us strong reason to suspect that the brain is not justified in trusting the perceptions that give rise to their beliefs. I don’t see how the unguided evolution model parallels this. We don’t have an added perspective which infers deception. The model allows for the possibility of deception but does not infer that everything is a deception. As I noted, this seems to fit with our experience. Sometimes our perceptions deceive us, but they’re usually reliable.

        How does the model in which God confers on us reliable beliefs account for the fact that we are sometimes wrong? I assume the answer is that this is a consequence of the fall, but that’s a whole different topic that is already being discussed elsewhere.

      • “We don’t have an added perspective which infers deception. The model allows for the possibility of deception but does not infer that everything is a deception”

        Remember in the red light example we can’t infer that we are being deceived. The widgets might be red. Its just that we recognize the model that brought about our beliefs of the redness does not necessarily yield reliable beliefs about the redness.

        The same is true in the brain in the vat example. The person tweaking the brain in the vat might be giving us beliefs that correspond with reality. We can’t infer that he is not doing that. Its just that the model does not give us reason to think that is the case so it defeats our beliefs.

        “As I noted, this seems to fit with our experience. Sometimes our perceptions deceive us, but they’re usually reliable.”

        Again I don’t doubt you hold those beliefs and those beliefs lead you to believe many of your other beliefs are justified. The problem is we agreed at the outset that the model which brought those beliefs is not a model which necessarily yields creatures whose beliefs reliably track the truth. Because it is not added to the framework at the start then we seem to have problems later. We can’t expect that we would stop believing our beliefs if they helped us survive, even if they were not true. You can say yeah well I believe they help us survive because they track the truth. But again you might believe that because somehow holding that belief helps you survive. In other words you believe it because of its survival value not because of its truth.

        Let me give an example that might help. Lets say a tribe believed in a form of boogie man that lived in the swamp and it would occassionally kill people who wandered into the swamp at night. And they taught the existence of this boogie man for years. Now all the people of the tribe believed in this boogie man. The belief in this boogie man prevented them from going in the swamp at night. And it just so happened that this false belief prevented many of them wandering into the swamp at night and being eaten by crocodiles that lived in the swamp. So the belief despite being false is something that promotes survival.

        Now of course people will want to think their beliefs reliably track reality. That is what it means to believe something. But once you kick out the legs at the outset and say the model that produced us doesn’t necessarily lead to beliefs that reliably track reality, you can’t step outside yourself and evaluate your beliefs.

        Like I said I am perhaps not the most articulate at making this argument but do you see the jist of what I am getting at?

        Whether the EAAN fully works or not I am not 100% sure myself. But it seems to me that those who believe in evolution need to bring into the evolutionary model that creatures that are produced from it will tend to have true/reliable belief mechanisms. Because if it is left out then all the beliefs we have about why we think our beliefs are justified are also subject to a type of Cartesian defeater.

        “How does the model in which God confers on us reliable beliefs account for the fact that we are sometimes wrong? I assume the answer is that this is a consequence of the fall, but that’s a whole different topic that is already being discussed elsewhere.”

        I’m not sure the fall would have anything to do with our not having perfect knowledge of everything. It seems to me that Christians believe in a model where they were created by an all knowing God and expect to be judged in a just way. Accordingly it would seem that our belief creating mechanisms are reliable enough to allow us to be judged correctly but beyond that I am not sure.

      • I disagree that the brain in the vat example doesn’t infer deception. The example says that there is a brain in a vat yet this person perceives that he is an autonomous being experiencing an external reality with other minds. Clearly there is a massive disconnect between what is (brain in a vat) and what is perceived (autonomous being). The only way that the custodian could be tweaking the brain to produce true beliefs is if the perception of the brain in the vat leads them to believe that they are a brain in a vat. All other perceptions are false. The bias is overwhelmingly toward the conclusion that the custodian is injecting false beliefs. Show me how the evolutionary model infers the same thing.

        You offer the worm example and the tribe example. Plantinga’s offers a person running away from a tiger because they think that’s how you pet it, or that he’s in a race. These are meaningless. The evolutionary paradigm does not assert that it will ALWAYS produce true beliefs but, if you stop and think about it, you’ll see that out of all possible beliefs, the belief which is MOST PROBABLE to confer a selective advantage is the belief (or response) which matches reality. That is how evolution suggests that it will usually produce true beliefs.

  4. “I disagree that the brain in the vat example doesn’t infer deception. The example says that there is a brain in a vat yet this person perceives that he is an autonomous being experiencing an external reality with other minds. Clearly there is a massive disconnect between what is (brain in a vat) and what is perceived (autonomous being).”

    I’m not sure that properly states the model. I may have mistated it. The model is that the person believes he is a brain in the vat being tweaked by a person that may or may not give him reliable beliefs. But he nevertheless thinks his perceptions and beliefs reliably depict reality. In other words he might really think he is a brain in a vat but still his beliefs do coorespond with a real body here on earth walking around and making the utterances he hears “his” body make etc etc. The person believes through serious of beliefs that the genius tweaking his brain is making all his beliefs in a way such that it matches reality. His thoughts are being created by that model but they are still correspond with reality.

    ” The only way that the custodian could be tweaking the brain to produce true beliefs is if the perception of the brain in the vat leads them to believe that they are a brain in a vat.”

    That is not the only way he could believe true beliefs. But that is one way and the person believes he is a brain in a vat after all since he adopts that model of his beliefs popping into existence.

    “All other perceptions are false.”

    No the genius tweaking the brain could be giving him beliefs that actually correspond to what is happening to bodies(including the one whose eyes he seems to be looking out of) and people here on earth. It does not mean our perceptions are false. Its just that we learn about them because he plugs the data into the brain its not really directly from sense experience but the person holds some belief that entails that the genius is in fact giving them true beliefs.

    “The evolutionary paradigm does not assert that it will ALWAYS produce true beliefs but, if you stop and think about it, you’ll see that out of all possible beliefs, the belief which is MOST PROBABLE to confer a selective advantage is the belief (or response) which matches reality. That is how evolution suggests that it will usually produce true beliefs.”

    The evolutionary paradigm doesn’t assert anything about true beliefs at all. That is the problem. In that regard it is similar to the brain in the vat where the model does not require that the genius gives you true beliefs.

    Of course when we think about it we are going to believe our beliefs are true. That is what it means to believe. But adopting a model that produces us without regard to our beliefs being reliable but then just says “well examine those unreliable beliefs and you will see that they demonstrate your beliefs are reliable” is sort of begging the question. Its like reading in a book the sentence “Everything in this book is reliable” Does that really help the rational person?

  5. OK, so the guy who thinks he is a brain in a vat is contradicting himself because it can’t be the case that he is both a brain in a vat and that the genius is injecting a true reality. Both realities cannot be true at the same time, so the belief that he is a brain in a vat is a defeater for the belief that the genius is injecting a true reality and the belief that the genius is injecting a true reality is a defeater for the belief that he is a brain in a vat. Is that the point?

    If that is the point, then you need to explain to me how evolution creates the same problem. I don’t see it.

  6. “OK, so the guy who thinks he is a brain in a vat is contradicting himself because it can’t be the case that he is both a brain in a vat and that the genius is injecting a true reality.”

    I am not so sure. What if the beliefs mirror exactly what some real person named Joe is doing here on earth. Thus I accept the model that I am a brain in a vat where all my beliefs are produced due to this person’s whim. But I also hold another “second belief”. That “second belief” is that his whim in fact is to mirror exactly what is happening to Joe on earth!

    So yes I would believe all my beliefs are true. The problem is that reliability of the second belief is undercut by the model I accepted.

    I think you are assuming that under the brain in the vat model I am not believing I am really a brain in a vat. But if I accepted that model I would believe it.

    I might not be the most precise in giving the evolutionary model but this is how it would be analogous. I accept the evolutionary model of how I came to be. It is simply that generally things with unfit traits tend to die off and those with fitness traits tend to live and reproduce. (or something like that) That is the model I accept. Note nothing in that model itself says that creatures with true beliefs or belief mechanisms that reliably track the truth survive. It is really only this “second belief” namely: that having true beliefs will tend to help us survive.

    This second belief that is not in the model itself is like the person who believes he is a brain in the vats second belief “that the person tweaking the brain in the vat’s whim is to match reality”

    The problem with both of those second beliefs is they are defeated by the construction of the model. Yes we will believe it in both cases but in both cases we adopt a model of our existence that gives not reliability to our beliefs or belief forming mechanics.

    Now again it seems to me that if you want to put what I call the “second belief” into the model itself then there is not a problem. So if you want the model of evolution to be that things with fitness traits tend to survive and reproduce and that having true beliefs is one of those fitness traits then ok. But it needs to go into the model itself. You cant create the model without it and then just believe it by virtue of some other beliefs. Because once you go with a model that will create beliefs on some criteria independent of beliefs reliably tracking the truth, then all your other beliefs will have an undercutting defeater.

    Yes you may in fact come to believe that tracking survival or fitness will also track the truth of reality. Just like the guy who accepts the brain in the vat model might come to believe the geniuses whim will track the truth. But in both cases these beliefs are undercut by the model which itself does not lend reliability to our beliefs.

    • This example is getting a bit convoluted. So the brain in a vat is linked to an actual body and the brain is receiving/sending the stimulus and response just like it would if it were still in the body? If this dissected person believes that this is the case but has no evidence for that, then I would say they’re still holding contradictory beliefs because their perception indicates that they are a single entity but their belief is that they are a separated brain and body. However, they could have evidence for their belief – like a scan showing that their head is empty, or information about the whereabouts of their brain, or they may have discovered transceivers in their cerebral cavity. These would make their belief justified and, in my opinion, would not be self-defeating. They’re simply doing the best they can to synthesize the evidence they have. What more can you expect?

      Regarding your discussion of a “second belief” and the evolutionary model, I suppose I do want to assume that the proper tracking of reality is part of the base model. Survival and reproduction depend on interaction between the evolving entity and its environment. This means that, more often than not, traits which give the entity a false sense of the environment are unlikely to confer a selective advantage. Interactions with the environment are inescapably linked with the selection process. This isn’t just an idea that is being tacked on; it’s an underlying assumption about reality. Perhaps this brings us right back to where we started in the questioning of my epistemic foundation. I fail to see the defeater if I start from the assumption that I am an agent acting with an external reality and then discover evidence for a gradual evolution of my agency but also see that the evolutionary process is best advanced by faculties which give a proper sense of external reality.

      • Yes it is getting a bit convoluted. On my blog I tried to make it a bit less convoluted. I think an important point is that the actual body and the thinking thing that is the brain in the vat do not need to hold identical beliefs. The actual body does not believe it is a brain in the vat and the brain in a vat does not think it is a body. The model just needs to produce generally reliable beliefs. The beliefs of the 2 separate entities (brain in a vat and actual body) don not need to entirely match.

        As for your second paragraph, I think we can agree here. If you say natural selection alone is not sufficient to create you as you are and that you need to make additional assumptions then I think we agree. Its the people who say the evolutionary model alone is completely sufficient that have the problem.

        BTW I responded to your comments on the blog I posted. Thank you very much for commenting there.
        http://trueandreasonable.co/2014/02/10/3-brands-of-baggage-from-evolution/

  7. Pingback: 3 Brands of Baggage from Evolution | True and Reasonable

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