Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Plantinga’s Argument Against Naturalism 2

The Doubt Develops Part 1

Consistent with evolutionary biology, Churchland’s “principle chore” of the nervous systems “is to get the body parts [of the organism] where they should be in order that the organism may survive.” Survival, rather than the formation of true beliefs, is the chief aim of brain evolution. This includes the survival of the individual, species, gene, or genotype. Intuitively speaking, it is therefore highly unlikely that the production of true beliefs is a function of the nervous system.

If N represents metaphysical naturalism, E the human cognitive faculties that have arisen via evolution, and R the claim that our cognitive faculties are reliable, then the conditional probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is given by:


In this thesis, we shall development the argument that P(R), given N&E, is low or less than 0.5.

Contrary to intuitive derivation, there are some philosophers such as W. V. O. Quine and Karl Popper who claim that P(R/N&E) is fairly high. However, as Plantinga had argued, we have to consider “four mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive possibilities.” This way, we can conclusively show the evolutionist that P(R/N&E) is indeed low.

1. Epiphenomenalism: Behavior is not caused by beliefs

The first possible relationship between beliefs (as conceived by the brain) and behavior is this: behavior is simply not caused by beliefs. According to epiphenomenalism, there is no causal relationship between beliefs and behavior. Beliefs, which are arguably some electrochemical phenomenon within the brain, are not biologically causational to the neurological activities which produce behavior.

It is notable that this particular view is popular amongst certain biologists and neurobiologists. For example, Time (December, 1992) reports that J. M. Smith, a renowned biologist, wrote “that he had never understood why organisms have feelings. After all, orthodox biologists believe that behavior, however complex, is governed entirely by biochemistry and that the attendant sensations - fear, pain, wonder, love - are just shadows cast by that biochemistry, not themselves vital to the organism's behavior . . . .”

If epiphenomenalism is correct, then evolution – which is concerned with survival of the organism – is not concerned with beliefs, which allegedly have nothing to do with the organism’s survival or survival-producing behavior. In other words, the production of beliefs is invisible to the forces of naturalistic evolution.

As an example, Harry is a hominid that exhibits the characteristics of epiphenomenal behavior. What he does has nothing to do with what he believes. He might believe that a tiger is a cute kitten that is fun to play with. Nevertheless, brain evolution has somehow selected a surviving species of hominids that reactively run away from tigers. Harry, despite his reflex running away from tigers, in fact believes that tigers are fun to play with. This lack of integration and interrelation between beliefs and behavior makes it highly unlikely that the cognitive faculties are reliable for producing true beliefs.

For this option, P(R/N&E) is inevitably low or less than 0.5.

2. Semantic Epiphenomenalism

The second option for us is that beliefs do have “causal efficacy with respect to behavior, but not by virtue of their content. Put in currently fashionable jargon, this would be the suggestion that beliefs are indeed causally efficacious, but by virtue of their syntax, not by virtue of their semantics. (Plantinga, Naturalism Defeated)” In other words, beliefs may have caused behavior in this option, but only by virtue of their electrochemical properties or syntax, and not via their content or semantics.

This view is popular amongst contemporary philosophers of the mind. If this view is true, then the behavior of Harry the hominid is caused by the neurobiological or electrochemical changes or properties of the brain, and not by the content of the belief itself. It subsequently follows that the semantic properties of the belief, be it truth or falsehood, are invisible to the forces of evolution. The conditional probability P(R/N&E) is once again low or less than 0.5 in this option.

As an example, suppose Harry has the belief that ferocious tigers are furry kittens that deserve to be cuddled. This belief has certain electrochemical properties and a certain pattern of neuronal firings that somehow lead to the flight of Harry from these allegedly furry kittens. Despite the inherently false semantic properties of his belief, the behavior is caused by the syntactic properties, which lead to Harry’s survival. Although Harry’s belief - by virtue of its electrochemical properties - has survival and therefore, selective advantage, the content of his belief has little significance or contribution to his survival instincts.

PS: To be continued. We shall continue with the other two options in the next post.

Monday, September 17, 2007


1) The following appeared in the Straits Times today (18th September 2007).

Male homosexual sex to remain a crime

"TOGETHER with marital rape, it was the most hotly debated issue when the proposed changes to the Penal Code were opened for a month of public consultation.

The public has spoken: Homosexual sex will remain a crime in Singapore.

The Government has decided to retain Section 377A of the Penal Code which makes it an offence for any male to 'commit an act of gross indecency' with another male, either in public or private.

Explaining the decision, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that public feedback on the issue had been 'emotional, divided and strongly expressed', with the majority calling for the section to be retained.

'MHA recognises that we are a generally conservative society and that we should let the situation evolve,' the ministry said in a statement.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Law and Home Affairs, said the status quo was arrived at after 'looking at the interests of the community as a whole'.

Ms Indranee Rajah, former chairman of the GPC for Law and Home Affairs, pointed out that MHA had indicated that it would not actively prosecute people under that section.

'But in recognition of the fact that there is still quite a strong majority uncomfortable with homosexuality, the section must stay,' said Ms Indranee.

Whatever the rationale, the status quo has disappointed advocates such as Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong who are in favour of decriminalising homosexual sex.

The move to retain homosexuality as a crime was a 'pity' and 'a lost opportunity', said Mr Siew.
'Keeping Section 377A shows up Singapore as being behind the rest of the world.'

He added that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's comments that homosexuals are 'mostly born that way' and that 'no public purpose is served in interfering in their private lives' had made him hope for homosexual sex to be struck off the Penal Code.

Pointing out that the last major review of the Penal Code occurred in 1984, Mr Siew said: 'Do we need to wait another 23 years for homosexual sex to be decriminalised?'"

Praise the Lord for this decision. Let us continue to pray that the leaders of our nation will make the right moral and ethical decisions.

2) With my thesis proposal datelines to meet, I will have to cut down on my blogging these couple of months. Nevertheless, I will try to finish my series on Plantinga’s arguments against evolutionism soonest possible. So please stay tune.

Friday, September 07, 2007

An Intermezzo: Reply To Yap Kim Hao

Note: Now that Straits Times Forum is publishing the anti-S377A letters with a vengeance, it is noted that pro-S377A letters are frequently rejected. My kakis in the same “pro-S377A faction” had also failed to publish their letters in the ST Forum. I guess there may be an agenda to influence public opinion prior to the disclosure of the final jurisdiction in parliament. Here is another serving of an unpublished letter to the ST.

Singapore ought to maintain social cohesion in its economic progress

I read with interest Dr Yap Kim Hao’s letter, We cannot afford to wait for conservative views to change before dropping laws against gays (ST Forum, Sep 4th 2007), and the Straits Times article, S'pore must stay connected globally to grow by Aaron Low (Straits Times, Aug 31st 2007).

Firstly, I would like to point out that Dr Yap’s letter begs the question, “How is economic progress hampered by the retention of S377A?”

Singapore has achieved its First World status and economic success using a pragmatist methodology, and not the Western, liberal approach. We as a nation have attracted multitudes of investments, not because of the appeal of Western liberal political philosophy, but rather because of “our clean and green and safe reputation.” (Excerpts of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s Interview with the International Herald Tribune). This reputation would definitely include social cohesiveness, which is paramount for economic predictability and stability.

Secondly, I have to disagree with Dr Yap’s position that the retention of S377A is the product of “a fishing-village mentality.” In fact, the insidious scapegoating of the conservative sector of society by calling them the ones that “impede the progress of the country,” is dangerously schismatic and divisive.

The solution to the homosexuality debate is not via the assignment of blame to the “conservative sector of our population,” but as the government has reiterated in their policies, no Singaporean should be left behind as the nation march forward in economic progress. This would also mean that we must be sensitive and emphatic with those who have yet to accept the social changes associated with globalization.

Therefore, in the homosexual issue, “the Government had to try to maintain a balance between the interests of both groups” through the adoption of “an ambiguous position by keeping a law banning homosexual sex on the books but not enforcing it, and not allowing gay parades.” (S'pore must stay connected globally to grow).

Furthermore, the conservative “heartlander” - using the terminology of our Minister Mentor in his interview - is not a minority group as Dr Yap has implied. Surely Dr Yap is not suggesting that Singapore is to ignore the value system of those who live in three- and four-room HDB flats.

As Minister Mentor has said, “We have a part Muslim population, another part conservative older Chinese and Indians. So, let's go slowly. It's a pragmatic approach to maintain social cohesion.” (Excerpts of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s Interview with the International Herald Tribune).

Dr Yap’s claim of a correlation between economic progress and the repeal of S377A is, therefore, tenuous at best. At worst, it may even create social rifts and divisions, and widen the gap between liberal and conservative Singaporeans.

In conclusion, S377A is not redundant. Its retention only reflects the wisdom and sensitivity of the government in the management of the homosexuality issue, so that Singapore will continue to progress economically as a socially cohesive nation.