Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Challenging Theistic Arguments

I think you have to give C.S. Lewis some credit. He's got an argument against naturalism that in my view is challenging. Maybe I'm a bad atheist/agnostic, but I have to admit I see force in some theistic arguments.

Here's this argument from C.S. Lewis, and it was used in a debate recently by David Wood (who has banned me from his blog).

The argument goes like this (more details here if you're interested). Let's assume naturalism is true. Our brains are the product of natural selection. So why do we have cognitive capacity? Is it because our cognitive capacity leads to truth? No. That's not what nature selects for. It's simply because our present cognitive capacity apparently has some sort of selective advantage. It makes us more successful in passing on our genes. If that is true, why should we trust that our cognitive capacity leads to truth? If it was advantageous from a natural selection perspective for us to believe that pigs have wings then that's pretty much what we should expect we would conclude despite the fact that this doesn't correspond to reality.

So if we believe naturalism is true and we believe that natural selection explains the origin of species we undermine our ability to know that our logical capacity leads to knowledge of truth. Is that conclusion right?

Well, I've been hanging out with atheists for a while, and I can't help but say I just have not heard a satisfactory answer. Some think this is an easily dismissed challenge. I don't think so. This is a blog and I can change my mind at any time. My thinking is always a work in progress. My conclusion today though is that the theist is right.

So now what? Does this make me a theist? Nope. Here is how I respond (today).

I can't know that my logical thinking leads to true conclusions. I can't really trust my own atheistic/agnostic beliefs. I believe these things due to natural selection. Or at least that's what I think. Even that thought was determined by natural selection. It could be wrong and I could never know because what I think is basically determined by these natural factors.

So what do I do? Here's what I do. I follow scientific methodologies. But why? Wasn't I determined to conclude that scientific methodologies lead to truth? Yep. And I could be wrong. But what I can say is that based upon my own experience I conclude that it is better to follow these methodologies. It seems to lead to less destruction and pain. We've tried believing in witch doctors and priests. That lead to certain results. Through scientific methodologies we've been able to abandon that way of thinking and adopt a new way, and I prefer it. So I hold to the scientific method. I can't prove that it leads to truth. What I can do though is say some conclusions are based on scientific methodologies and logic and others are not. I will be accepting the former. If you prefer another method that is your choice. In the end though scientific methodologies just work better and that's about all I can say.

So when I say that a claim is "true" what I really mean is that a conclusion is logical or based on scientific methodologies. False claims are the reverse. Naturalism and atheism are logical and scientific. Theism is not. Is naturalism true in the sense that it corresponds to reality? This we cannot know. Being logical and scientific is the best we can do. But believing these things may be entirely false and yet nature has selected for a species that has come to this conclusion. If that's the case we can never know.

9 comments:

Jazzbutcher said...

Thank you Jon for the interesting analysis of human behavior. I learned science leads to the betterment of the human condition as well. To me truth is to be sought in does and doesn't. Hopefully we learn to perpetuate healthy adaptive behavior as I learned this benefits us all. I will keep my fingers crossed:), but your right time will tell.

Paul said...

I find the following curious
"The argument goes like this (more details here if you're interested). Let's assume naturalism is true. Our brains are the product of natural selection. So why do we have cognitive capacity? Is it because our cognitive capacity leads to truth? No. That's not what nature selects for."

I don't quite agree with that last sentence. Seems more probable to me that with a a greater capacity for the truth one's chances of survival increases over that which is of lower capacity. So yes in a sense nature would "select" for it.

I am simplifying because if take for example: a virus has a great ability for survival and yet it has no cognitive ability. But I think you get my point.

Also - I would pose the theist a like question back.

If cognitive ability is the product of a creator. Why do you trust the truth capacity of this creator. It cannot be accounted for. Thus while the theist may find the naturalist reasoning lacking the theist position is worse yet.

Paul

Jon said...

Think of this Paul. Look how widespread religious belief is. Nature apparently selected for it. It must have enhanced reproductive capacity.

DagoodS said...

Can a god see an optical illusion?

rationalist said...

Jon, for a real answer to this challenge study Richard arrier's @ the library of FRDB.
Homo austalopithicus, by trial and error learned to trust generally her faculties. This and evolution account for the general trust but sometimes errors.
Would the overrrated sophist maintain that Satan makes for the errors? His abstruseness and modal logic don't make him any more sensible than any paranormalist. By the way, there is telepathic Yahweh, and clairvoyant prophets. T'is no wonder Paul Kurtz calls the two twin superstitions " The Transcendental Temptation," a must reading,sir.
Oh, check out my blog here under rationalist! I' appreciate feed back there.
I'll advertise your worthy blog.
Thanks!

rationalist said...

Richard Carrier's Hono habilis
sorry for the typo and the silly term

Paul said...

Jon -

you wrote to me

"Think of this Paul. Look how widespread religious belief is. Nature apparently selected for it. It must have enhanced reproductive capacity."

I think this is plausible.

My hypothesis is that with a greater cognitive ability (which in a sense means greater ability to problem solve) comes along the desire to ask the question "why" and to be *aware* of one's eventual death. These two things (and probably other factors - primitive times, etc) is (or was) what gave rise to religious belief.

John Piippo said...

Hi Jon - in this regard some good reads include:

Naturalism, by Stu Goetz 7 Charles Taliaferro

Plantinga's "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" (in the Phil of Religion text I use - Pojman)

I really like J.P. Moreland's recent The Argument from Consciousness for the Existence of God

Take care,

John

rationalist said...

What a jejune argument that nature gave us the God-notion as it no more gave it to us than it gave belief in slavery!
We do indeed have an evolved moral sense that we ever have to refine and make into a planetary ethic as the ethicist Paul Kurtz ever is admonishing us.
We can live that more abundant life without any religions whatsoever!
That so-called God-gene is less credible than a government-gene, sicne we do need government.
Of course,I mean Homo habilis [ There is Homo Martinus!]
As PZ notes, because we don't trust our faculties too much we use aparatuses to aid us.
Plantinga begs the question of intent! He is a sophisticated sophist of silliness!