Sunday, November 4, 2012

Plantinga's stinky "evolutionary argument against naturalism"

The argument is simple, and stupid.  The stupidity of it might well be evident to an attentive observer, even if an explanation for how it is stupid might not be so easy to come by.  The argument, in its essence, holds that if (note the "if" part here) evolution selects traits in accordance with survival value rather than truth-value (also note that Daniel Dennett uses this analysis to explain the existence of religion, so we have a double-edged sword going on here...), then we do not have a good enough reason, epistemically and scientifically, to accept that evolution itself happened without a Divine Presence (either intervening in the natural process or very-delicately calibrating the initial laws and doing as the god of Deism does (i.e., doesn't do)).  (I should note that the "fine-tuning argument" of the latter sort might have its difficulties but it doesn't run counter to the worldview accepted and practiced by scientists and many other rationalists (reason-ists), as one can see by pointing to an example like Jefferson, or perhaps Spinoza, or perhaps the panentheists).  If, the argument goes, our mental faculties are constructed for the sake of survival value rather than truth-value, then we cannot accept the theory of evolution itself as being the product of a cognitive process reliably grounded in truth-value.

So, what stinks about it?  I don't mean, it's just a little bit, subtly, odious, but that it stinks to high heaven.  IOW, we expect much better than this from philosophers.  What stinks is that it lumps specifically human traits in with all the other traits living things have, under the general heading: "Promotes survival value," and then doesn't explain how those traits - in each organisms's case - promoted the survival of that species.  We don't have the faculties that (without technology) promote survival value in an aqueous environment; we don't have the faculties that (without technology) promote survival value in hunting-from-the-air terms.  What we do have, that other organisms do not, is a faculty that is selected for survival value in virtue of its uniquely-adept and superior capacity for tracking truth.  What we don't have in terms of big, sharp teeth, or hawk-like wings and eyesight, we make up for with this other faculty.

What's more, this observation holds across all of human history, not just pre-technological (much less pre-modern) human history.  In all cases, a better truth-tracking faculty - or, yet more accurately put - a better use of our biologically-hardwired truth-tracking faculty - aided in promoting survival.  It is in virtue of that increasingly optimal use of that faculty that we now have bullyons and bullyon of people on the planet, living longer lifespans than before.  No thanks to believers and practitioners in less rational variants of theism.  (Would a good god, incarnated as Jesus, want us to accept and love Jesus with our heart only, or with all our critical Socratean-Aristotelian-Jeffersonian intellect as well?  Why don't we get this latter aspect of Christian devotion until the modern, scientific, post-Thomas/Maimonides/Averroes, post-Servetus period?  It's called progress from a state of lesser to a state of greater perfection of human potentials.  Also, Dennett's analysis of religion in terms of survival-value doesn't mean a discrediting of religion on the basis of truth-value; the best and only way of actually determining the truth value either of religion - whatever its initial survival value - or of evolutionary theory is through the classic, evolution-independent canons of logic, which our allegedly unreliable cognitive faculties managed to discover and formalize and made learning, science, and technology possible.  That way, we go from a state of lesser rationality (what we had in the prehistoric periods) to a state of greater rationality, whatever our reliably-constant genetic hardwiring.  I mean, like, duh.)

That's some preliminary commentary, anyway.  Spiral progression will come back to this with enhanced findings.