Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Plantinga’s Argument Against Naturalism part 1

The Problem Develops

Alvin Plantinga, in the last chapter of his book Warrant and Proper Function, provided us with a philosophical argument against naturalism - and by implication, evolutionism. His thesis is further developed and defended in his paper here. Although his arguments may appear convoluted at times, it is my objective in this brief article to furnish the reader with the gist of his thesis in the most simplistic way. It is hoped that the reader may find his arguments useful in the discussion of evolutionism with the average churchman and the un-churched alike.

Theists have sometimes resorted to rebutting the fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4). In other words, they have attempted to counter empirical evidence with allegedly contradicting empirical evidence. While such a method may be useful in certain scenarios, Science by default is always tentative in nature and thereby unable to furnish an indisputable conclusion or common consensus whereby all scientists would agree upon. Another method of approaching the evolutionist’s leviathan of naturalism is to attack its foundational premises using rational arguments or simple logic, which may prove useful in revealing inherent self-contradictions that the Neo-Darwinist may be reluctant to admit.

Evolution is built upon the presupposition of Naturalism, and this in turn could be fairly accurately defined as the theistic picture of biology minus God. Proponents of Naturalism include Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Bertrand Russell, and the renowned Charles Darwin. Plantinga’s rationale is to turn evolution’s premises of random mutation and natural selection upon itself.

The crux of the argument is an epistemic attempt at making nonsense out of the sense of the evolutionist’s faith in man’s reasoning capacities. Without an omnipotent Creator, the reliability of our cognitive faculties is difficult to ascertain. In fact, we must remain agnostic with regard to the reliability of our cognitive abilities. It is indeed meaningless to say that the brain, which is presumably the product of billions of years of random mutations and rearrangement of molecules, is reliable in giving us true beliefs.

The traditional theist believes that God is the premier knower. He has created human beings in his image, an important aspect of which involves His giving them what is needed to have knowledge – reliable cognitive faculties. The naturalist, on the other hand, has to contend that Chance must provide its biological product – Homo sapiens – with reliable cognitive faculties.

What then is the purpose of evolution? In his book The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins wrote, “All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker. (emphasis mine)”

In conjunction with Dawkins’ assertion of natural selection having no purpose at all, the implications of evolutionary biology indicate that the ultimate purpose of evolution is survival and reproduction, not production of true beliefs.

Patricia Churchland, concerning the functions of the nervous system, stated, “Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival [Churchland's emphasis]. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”

In other words, the very existence of the nervous system (and arguably, its accompanying cognitive faculties) indicates the success of resultant behaviors and actions in preserving the brain’s very own existence and continued evolution. But this also implies that the production of true beliefs is not the chief aim of evolution. The brain did not evolve to know truths. It evolved in relation to the organism’s ability to survive and reproduce. That is, brain evolution is concerned with the four F’s of Churchland - feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing.

Plantinga then underlined Darwin’s own doubts concerning evolutionism. “With me,” says Darwin, “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”

To phrase the problem in another way, “Given that Naturalism is true, would evolution produce reliable cognitive faculties in providing true beliefs?” Can the evolutionist rationally trust that his own cognitive function is reliable in providing him with true beliefs?

Friday, August 24, 2007

The retention of S377A helps preserve the nation’s moral framework

Note: The arguments in my previous post had been repackaged and sold as another letter to ST Forum. Nevertheless, ST would not publish it. I wonder why. Here's the letter. I will switch topic and discuss evolutionism in my next installments. For an update on my blogging details see here.

I am disturbed by certain arguments presented in Jason Wee Kheng Hoe's letter to the Straits Times Forum, "Section 377A should be repealed - reputation in legal and multinational community at stake" (ST Forum August 16, 2007).

At the outset, he alleged that "many arguments favoring retention of Section 377A appear to be religious dogma masquerading as universal truism." While there is an embarrassing lack of any validation for his statement, assigning the "religious dogma" label to the opinions of some Singaporeans by virtue of their similarity to certain religious affirmations commits the fallacy of guilt by association.

In addition, he has unfairly excluded “universal truism” from all religions by default. Contrary to his assertion, universal truths are embodied in centuries of religious wisdom.

Mr Wee also seemed to have overlooked the basic fact that all adult Singaporeans, including racial and religious groups, do possess equal rights to freedom of speech. The State does not discriminate against any race or religion, and allows all reasoned arguments to be presented in the homosexuality debate.

Within a multi-religious society, the viewpoints espoused by the various religious groups should be adequately addressed, and not relegated to the fringe of society. When deriving a public consensus for the homosexuality debate, the failure to engage these religious groups effectively discriminates against a large population of Singaporeans, who understandably have their respective religious affiliations.

Surely Mr Wee will not deny anyone the freedom to express their perspectives within this multiracial and multi-religious country.

Concerning Section 377A, how the Singapore’s Law Society arrived at the conclusion that “those arguing for its retention were a minority” remains a mystery. Was there a nation wide poll to decide upon this issue? Was he referring to a “minority” of Singaporeans or to a “minority” of homosexuals?

While I agree with him that the socio-political fabric of Singapore is "grounded on acceptance and tolerance," he failed to specify the relevance of his statement. As Singaporeans are taught the national pledge since childhood, we do know what exactly we should be tolerant of. Regardless of race, language or religion, all Singaporeans are entitled to equal rights in the eyes of the law. This, however, does not mean that the law is obliged to tolerate everything.

Besides, there is no need to “blame God” for the alleged “genetic aberration.” Even amongst scientists, it is highly controversial and debatable whether homosexuality has a viable genetic etiology. Some homosexuals have even turned to a heterosexual lifestyle.

Furthermore, there are scientific papers suggesting that pedophilia and aggression have certain genetic basis. This, however, in no way justify acts of aggression or sexual intercourse with children. No sane Singaporean would lobby for the decriminalization of pedophilia-related crimes based upon genetic evidence. Similarly, the country cannot legally endorse all sorts of sexual paraphilias based upon genetic data alone.

The crux of this debate is actually a moral issue: is homosexuality acceptable according to the moral value system of Singaporeans?

Mr Wee claimed that “keeping section 377A and not enforcing it is an unnecessary burden.” I beg to differ.

Firstly, as Assistant Professor Yvonne Lee has previously stated, “If S377A is repealed, homosexual sex is legitimised, transformed from a crime into an 'alternative lifestyle' (Decriminalising homosexual acts would be an error, Straits Times May 4, 2007).” This provides the necessary legal and political momentum for gay lobbyists to push their agenda further. The retention of S377A assures the public that any possible social division secondary to controversial issues, such as the redefinition of marriage, will not become a reality.

Secondly, I question Mr Wee’s reasoning that the “retention of unprosecuted offences on the statute book runs the risk of bringing the law into disrepute.”

For example, Rule 28 of the Road Traffic Rules prohibits cycling on footways. The Road Traffic Act and Road Traffic Rules also prohibit pedestrians from crossing the pedestrian crossings when the lights are red. Although offenders of some of these rules are in reality seldom prosecuted, the rules are nevertheless indispensable for road safety reasons. If it is true that the “retention of unprosecuted offences” results in running the “risk of bringing the law into disrepute,” should Mr Wee also consider lobbying for the repeal of a myriad of other rules that are less frequently enforced?

While I agree with Mr Wee that Singapore’s “reputation in the legal and multinational community is important,” I believe he had missed the main point. Singapore’s status and success today are mainly attributable to effective leadership. Building upon strong family ties and a conservative moral framework, Singapore has gained the reputation of being a safe and trustworthy haven for investors and their families. Singaporeans and foreigners alike can trust the government for both their children’s academic and moral education.

I feel blessed to be a Singaporean, not simply because of the various economic and academic excellences that we have achieved as a nation, but also because of a number of intangibles that we possess as an integrated society. One such intangible entity is the country’s conservative, and yet delicate, moral framework.

The renowned philosopher, Sir Karl Raimund Popper, in his “Liberal Principles” advised his readers that the moral framework of a society is its most important safeguard. He wrote, “Among the traditions we must count as the most important is what we may call the ‘moral framework’ (corresponding to the institutional ‘legal framework’) of a society. This incorporates the society’s traditional sense of justice or fairness, or the degree of moral sensitivity it has reached. This moral framework serves as the basis, which makes it possible to reach a fair or equitable compromise between conflicting interests where this is necessary.”

Concluding his statement, he warned, “Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework. (Its destruction was consciously aimed at by Nazism.) In the end its destruction will lead to cynicism and nihilism, i.e. to the disregard and the dissolution of all human values.”

Contrary to being an “albatross on Singapore’s neck,” S377A currently serves to preserve the delicate moral fabric of Singapore’s society. The repealing of S377A will change the law's moral perception of homosexuality, while its retention reflects the moral value system of Singaporeans at large.

Finally, the retention of S377A will also offer Singaporeans the confidence that the law will continue to protect society from an insidious, albeit gradual, degeneration of its moral framework. And this moral fabric is arguably one of the essential factors for the nation’s continued success.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Golden Rule of Reciprocity, Genetics, and the Homosexuality Debate

The following is an unpublished letter to the Straits Times, with minor changes for blog publication, of course.

People Like Us (PLU) should not use arguments like these

An ongoing debate in the Straits Times Forum concerns homosexuality and Section 377a of the Penal Code. In my perusal of the letters in the online forum, I have read various interesting arguments presented by those in favor of repealing S377a. Amongst the myriad of rationales put forth, I would like to point out two recurring arguments that gay rights activists should avoid using because of inherent fallacies.

Argumentum ad misericordiam ad nauseam – Gays must bear the burden of proof for genetic evidence

Firstly, by using an appeal to pity (argumentum ad misericordiam), some writers have alleged that S377a is a repressive piece of legislation that discriminates against the private, consensual sexual activities between homosexuals. Their claim is that S377a criminalizes an individual for something that he could not help.

According to these writers, some men are purportedly born homosexuals. But by rephrasing their argument in the form of a deductive syllogism, it becomes apparent where the logical fallacy is.

Major Premise: All genetically determined conditions are amoral
Minor Premise: Homosexuality is a genetically determined condition
Conclusion: Therefore homosexuality is amoral

By implication, if homosexuality is genetically determined, one cannot choose whether he is born a homosexual or not. It then follows that homosexual activities are not matters of moral consideration, but matters of sexual orientation.

Such a conclusion cannot be valid because the minor premise of their syllogism cannot be established factually. Concerning the genetic basis of homosexuality, it is a well-known fact within the scientific community that empirical evidence is equivocal and inconclusive at best. It is therefore reasonable that gay rights activists should cease using medical genetics as a basis for their agenda.

Furthermore, as the pro-homosexual movement is pressing the government to change the status quo by repealing S377a, the onus is therefore on the gay rights lobbyists to provide conclusive, scientific evidence that homosexuality is indeed a genetic condition beyond reasonable doubt.

The Golden Rule of Reciprocity cannot apply

Another commonly encountered rationale from those who oppose the status quo is the Golden Rule of Reciprocity. Simply stated, this moral rule proclaims, “Do not do to others what you would not have others do to you (Confucius’ Analects 15:23).” Christianity’s version of this rule is found in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

These pro-homosexual writers are essentially saying, “Be legally fair. Leave the homosexuals alone. They are having consensual intercourse in private, and are causing no harm to others. Likewise, heterosexuals are having consensual intercourse in private, and are causing no harm to others. Please do not criminalize private, consensual homosexual activities just as we do not want private, consensual heterosexual activities to be criminalized.”

Primarily, this line of reasoning begs the question of whether homosexual and heterosexual intercourse should both be classified under the same moral category. In other words, are both types of sexual intercourse morally acceptable according to Singapore’s moral framework?

I also submit to you that the Golden Rule is hereby misapplied. Rules, by their very nature, are meant to be applied to several cases. However, any rule is also bound to have a range of applications, and cases falling outside that range are not covered by the rule.

To avoid committing the logical fallacy of making a sweeping generalization (a Dicto simpliciter), the Golden Rule of Reciprocity must be cautiously applied to the homosexuality debate with certain qualifications and contextual considerations.

The first qualification is this: that which we desire that men would do to us must be morally acceptable. For instance, we cannot apply the Golden Rule to a suicidal teenage girl in the scenario where she is actively seeking death or suicide. Suicide is not morally acceptable. Since she desires to be killed, she may consider the killing of someone else as being morally correct according to the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” By reductio ad absurdum, it is clear that the Golden Rule cannot be applied indiscriminately.

What about the statement by Confucius, “Do not do to others what you would not have others do to you?” In order for the application of the Golden Rule to be viable, we must also examine the presupposition of that application. As an example, the taking of a life by the state executioner and a murderer may theoretically be performed under similar conditions and in the same manner, that is, by hanging. However, the murderer cannot point to the Golden Rule of Reciprocity and demand, “It is only fair for the law to leave me alone. Just as the taking of a life by the state executioner is not criminal, my taking of a life should not be criminalized as well. Why do you criminalize my act of taking a life? Do not do to others what you would not have others do to you.” The fallacy of the murderer’s argument is this: he has assumed a priori that the taking of another’s life is amoral, be it performed by the state executioner or by other citizens of Singapore. But the truth is, the executioner’s action is ordered by the state, while the murderer’s action is that of murder which is inherently immoral.

Likewise, gay rights activists have assumed a priori that homosexuality is morally correct.

The introduction of the rule of reciprocity into the homosexuality debate is ultimately a red herring. The rule detracts from the main question at hand, which has not been resolved, “Is homosexuality morally correct, or is it morally unacceptable?” To ignore the moral value system of Singaporeans is to ignore the country’s mores.

Philosopher Sir Karl Raimund Popper, in his “Liberal Principles,” warned that the moral framework of a society is its most important safeguard. He wrote, “Among the traditions we must count as the most important is what we may call the ‘moral framework’ (corresponding to the institutional ‘legal framework’) of a society. This incorporates the society’s traditional sense of justice or fairness, or the degree of moral sensitivity it has reached. This moral framework serves as the basis, which makes it possible to reach a fair or equitable compromise between conflicting interests where this is necessary. It is, of course, itself not unchangeable, but it changes comparatively slowly. Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework. (Its destruction was consciously aimed at by Nazism.) In the end its destruction will lead to cynicism and nihilism, i.e. to the disregard and the dissolution of all human values.”

I conclude that the retention of S377a will rightly reflect the moral value system of Singapore’s essentially conservative society. It will also offer Singaporeans the confidence that the law will continue to protect their society from a gradual, albeit insidious, degeneration of its moral framework.

Note: There are Christians who may be uncomfortable with my previous proposal that the government should give due respect to the moral value system of Singaporeans. I have perceived that Singapore is generally conservative compared to many European nations. To my critics (now I understand why we have to fight the battle from both sides), do allow me to ask you a question, “In view of the secular government, what would you propose that we do? Tell the government to follow the Ten Commandments?” More importantly, “What have you or your church done to promote a godly agenda within Singapore’s society?” Silence is no longer golden.

I have also addressed the problem

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Homosexuality Debate, Majoritarianism, and the Moral Argument

It seems that the Straits Times Forum is progressively discouraging any contributions that relate to the homosexuality debate in Singapore. I have not seen any such letters for the past one week. But in the last 6 months, there were at least a dozen of such letters weekly; of course, most were from the homosexual minority.

Since renowned Singaporean gay activist Au Wai Pang of www.yawningbread.org (and friends) had made some bizarre, and sometimes amusing, arguments in favor of sodomy and homosexuality in response to my brief letter, I felt it appropriate to write a concise response to at least two arguments being perpetrated in cyberspace in my next two posts.

Christians can always furnish them with a sound rebuttal using Scriptures. But in a secular debate, we Christians have to contend with one hand tied behind our backs. Why so? A secular debate, especially with the gay rights activists in Singapore, demands that we "do not use religion." But this de facto exclusion of religions does not include the exclusion of atheism, agnosticism, and secular humanism, all of which are religions in their own right.

So, pro-gay lobbyists have in effect established their humanistic presuppositions even before we can argue what those presuppositions should be. For example, can they prove that there is no God (i.e. epistemology)? Surely not! They, however, demand that we must leave God out of the equation in this allegedly secular, amoral debate.

To be sure, they are seeking political momentum in their quest to repeal S377a. Apart from the perennial chant, "Bring them out unto us, that we may know them (Gen. 19:5)," the gay rights activists want the law and the church to accept same-sex marriages and same-sex family units as legally, politically, socially, and perhaps, morally viable practices.

The Moral Argument and Majoritarianism

And here is a question to those who criticized my proposal that the majority consensus should determine what constitutes morality within a secular milieu, "How else would you determine morality?"

Those acquainted with the philosophy of religion would realize that to concede to a moral argument, you are basically acquiescing to the ‘moral proof’ for the existence of God. And the homosexuality debate cannot escape a moral argument. The allegation that S377a is legally unfair and discriminating is in fact a moral argument from pro-homosexual lobbyists. How would you contend that something is unfair unless you have a moral standard or rule by which you can measure your statement with? Without an objective moral standard, nothing is either fair or unfair. Everything is relative, and what is unfair for you may be absolutely fair for us. So please do not impose your sense of unfairness upon us just as you demand that we do not impose our "moral standards" upon you. The truth is, gay activists in Singapore are aggressively attempting to impose their sense of unfairness upon the general population’s sense of unfairness.

Is this not fair then?

Pro-homosexual activists, if you were to contend for subjectivity in the realm of morality, you are again shooting yourself in the foot. Advocates of Social Darwinism and secular humanism are strong supporters of relativistic moral values. But even these advocates are absolutely certain that their moral code is absolutely correct. Is not that absolutism? Besides, these advocates would never argue for morality based upon a minority consensus.

Now here is the main point: gays in Singapore cannot claim that S377a is "not fair." Nevertheless, I have heard a multitude of moans and groans, "But it is unfair for us! You must practice the Golden Rule of Reciprocity."

Let us be clear about a few points. Gays claim that what is morally wrong for the majority may not be morally wrong for the minority of homosexuals. And this is called moral relativism. Moral standards are relative, so they say. All right. For the sake of argument, let us accept this point and call it point A.

Gays also claim that S377a is "unfair." Again, let us be charitable and accept that point as well. We call this point B.

But my point to you is this: you cannot accept both points A and B. You can either accept point A or B. Not both. Again, I hear a multitude of disagreement, "Why not, you bigoted Christian homophobic extremist?"

Have patience, my fiends. Allow me to explain the simple logic behind my point that your points cannot be viable points in any sensible arguments. Point B claims that S377a is not fair. My question for gays out there, "Is this absolutely or relatively unfair?" For your point to even make any sense you have to say, "It is absolutely unfair." So, to rephrase your statement, "S377a is unfair for homosexuals, and it is unquestionably, absolutely, and intolerably unfair."

Now, let me come to point A. Since you had claimed, and even emphasized, that moral standards are relative, how could you turn around, betray your faith in moral relativism, and claim that anything is unfair?

To make a statement stating that anything is unfair is to make a moral argument and a moral statement stating that something is indeed unfair according to a moral standard, which has to be absolute in nature. If the moral standard that you abide by is indeed relative and fluid in nature, then there is nothing that you can put a finger on and say, "This is unfair!"

Is not that a fair statement?

For those who have concerns regarding majoritarianism within a democratic society, I would recommend David Beetham’s Democracy and Human Rights (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 18-26. As this is a complex political question regarding the validity of democracy, equality, and the power of voting, I will leave it to Beetham to answer your questions.

As Beetham had aptly concluded, "we do not have to accept a stark contrast between majoritarian and consensual procedures, neither do we have to accept direct and representative democracy as mutually exclusive antitheses. Not only does a representative assembly, to be accountable and responsive, depends upon an active and alert citizen body, and on a variety of forms of direct participation in the associations of civil society; it is also possible, as the Swiss and other experience shows, to give political authority to a representative assembly while leaving an ultimate power of decision on legislation in the hands of the citizens themselves. (p. 25)"

I will publish an unpublished letter to Straits Times Forum in my next post, which will answer the question of, "What about the Golden Rule of Reciprocity?"