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?


Mike Messerli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Messerli said...

Having just read Dawkin's book, "The God delussion" I would say no, they can't trust their minds. It was a silly work attempting to "prove" there is no God, and it only proved that Dawkins may be a good biologist, but he's a poor philosopher or theologian. Good post, Vincent....well written. Thank you (sorry for the delete, I hate it when I misspell a word.)

vincit omnia veritas said...

Thanks Pastor Messerli. This post is only the introduction to a series of post. Will work on the rest when I get the time. Stay tuned.

Mike Messerli said...

I can't wait....looking forward to your words. I always look forward to your new posts.