philosophical thoughts on human flourishing, and sometimes other stuff
I don't get the way the distinction between "evolution" and "Darwinism" is used here, or why positing a common ancestor is this big huge threat (literalists notwithstanding); I mean, if one accepts the process of natural selection (which is, I guess, what "evolution" means here), then I'm not sure why common ancestry seems like so terrible a leap. I would have thought that the bad "Darwinism" would have been the idea--e.g. put forward by Dawkins--that the whole of evolutionary theory is absolutely opposed to any kind of theism, because the natural process is blind. (But where I don't get Dawkins is how or whether he can sneak a "necessarily" in as a qualification to "blind.") There mere positing of common ancestry, presumably, doesn't itself make any of those claims.I also think that Chalmers' and Plantinga's arguments only work if you presuppose that consciousness and truth (respectively) don't have any pragmatic value. I don't find those presuppositions very appealing at all!
But even granting Plantinga's critique of evolutionary epistemology, why should Christian theists find any cause for comfort in it, and not rather feel all the more epistemically incontinent? Since the critique is not unique to Plantinga or theists, there must be something about it that appears to offer succor to Christian theists, and this is what puzzles me. I can see how it might be a useful ruse of demagoguery by which to reassure the masses for whom any qualification of naturalism constitutes a concession to their faith; but surely, I would think, this can't be the dynamic for people of Plantinga's intellectual caliber (and those who can appreciate "reformed" epistemology)? Regarding Dawkins' atheism, as far I've gathered, he never claims absolute certainty, though he may appear to do so in regard to the Christian god -- for rhetorical purposes, given how reasonable it is to regard it as much more unlikely than the wispy nondescript, first-mover sorts (i.e. all the sorts which fall short of the all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful Christian god) on the market of wishful ideas. The problem of truth can slip away into hiding places of all kinds; and the greatest believers may finally avail themselves of the logic of the greatest unbelievers to create for themselves a right to affirm certain things as irrefutable -- namely, as beyond the means of all refutation -- (this artifice is today called "Kantian Criticism"). Nietzsche, Nachlass, 1888
Matt, I suppose that since the common ancestry claim is a crucial component of Darwin's theory, and if we go back far enough in time the assumption is that there is a purely naturalistic origin. However, I find your second point more philosophically interesting. I don't think those arguments only work if you presuppose that consciousness and truth have no pragmatic value. Rather, I think they only are supposed to work if you assume that consciousness and truth have anything other than pragmatic value. Rob, I suppose the positive import of Plantinga's argument is that, broadly speaking, there are 3 worldviews in competition with each other: postmodernism, naturalism, and ethical monotheism. If one of those is self-refuting in a certain sense, as Plantinga argues, then that is very significant for proponents of the other two. However, you are right that in and of itself it does not supply direct positive evidence for theism. But this is where Plantinga would add that given that our cognitive capacities do aim at truth, and are trustworthy to some degree, this is evidence for theism because we would expect this on theism, but have less (or no) reason to do so on naturalism.Finally, I will say that even though I'm the one that posted the link, I am tired of much of the debate surrounding evolution, intelligent design, and creationism. This isn't because I don't think these are important issues, however, but probably because other issues are much more philosophically interesting to me.
Rob has invited me to contribute some of my thoughts to this discussion, so here they are. Some of them, I'm afraid, require further elaboration.The Darwinian theory of evolution through natural selection seems to me to be an overwhelmingly persuasive explanation of the origin of distinct species of living things in nature. Like other great scientific theories (e.g. Newton’s laws of gravitation), it seems to me that its greatness is related to the economy with which it is able to account for an enormous wealth of evidence. The theory has in my mind been confirmed by subsequent scientific discoveries in astronomy (estimations of the age of the universe derived from measurements of the speed of light and the distance from which we are separated in space and time form other objects in the universe), geology, paleontology (similarities of the morphological features of living organisms), and genetics (patterns of similarity of the genetic information contained in the cells of all known living organisms). The Darwinian theory of evolution is an inextricable part of the network of beliefs through which the universe is intelligible to me to the extent that it is. I wouldn't know how to give up my belief in it even if I wanted to.I am unfamiliar with any argument that succeeds in showing that there are biological structures (e.g. eyes or cellular structures) the existence of which defies in principle explanation in terms of natural selection. I read Behe’s book and found it unpersuasive. The fact that biologists cannot currently explain how various cellular structures might have evolved through natural selection does not constitute proof that no such explanation is possible.Realizing, as I do, that there are many fields of knowledge about which I am forced to rely on the authority of others, and confident, as I am, in the standards of inter-subjective verification that have been adopted in the scientific community over the past 350 years or so, I am struck by the following two facts:1) I never have never heard of research biologists in any sizable number abandoning Darwinism for scientific reasons. Most trained biologists seem to think that there is no such thing as modern biology apart from Darwinism.2) Those, including a small minority of trained biologists, who do oppose Darwinism, generally appear to have religious reasons for doing so.Because 1) the Darwinian theory of evolution is in my view inherently plausible; 2) because belief in it is entirely consistent with a variety of other beliefs that I regard as equally plausible; 3) because those who are better-trained in the natural sciences than I am seem overwhelmingly to share views 1) and 2); 4) because those who reject Darwinism seem to be me to be motivated primarily by apologetic rather than genuinely scientific concerns, I am inclined to regard the truth of the Darwinian theory of evolution through natural selection as extremely probable.Todd
My own suspicion is that non-natural explanations of naturally occurring phenomena don’t really explain anything at all. Are we to imagine that God created various kinds of living organisms fully formed? What is this supposed to involve? Is it that at some moment in time in the past no dogs existed in the universe, and then miraculously in the very next moment, dogs existed? That is logically conceivable, and compatible perhaps with an occasionalist view according to which God re-creates the universe anew at each moment. But in that case what right do we have to assume that the universe as it currently exists bears any causal relationship to the universe as it has existed in the past? Why doesn’t this lead to complete skepticism? Doesn’t the possibility of our knowing anything about the past require us to assume that the past occurred according to the same law-like regularities that we observe every day? I’m willing to consider the possibility that there is a superhuman intelligence of some kind responsible for the existence of the universe. If there is a necessary being (other than the universe itself) upon which the existence of the universe depends, it’s difficult for me to imagine that that being is a person with a will that is anything like ours (and therefore one about which it is possible to entertain any intelligible conception).I don’t see what sense it makes to talk about a will without talking about desires and intentions, and the only desires and intentions that I am able to clearly conceive are the desires and intentions of finite beings—ones who need certain things or want certain things or adopt certain means for achieving certain ends. But how can a perfect being want or need or desire anything?Todd
Todd, thanks for taking the time to post. First, I'm somewhat skeptical about the simplicity claim with respect to Darwinism, if we include some sort of philosophical naturalism in this claim. Richard Swinburne has argued that theistic explanations are simpler than naturalistic ones. I'm not sure I agree with his argument, but it is at least worth thinking about (see his "Is there a God?"). I would add that all of the discoveries you mention that "confirm" the theory (astronomy, geology, genetics, and paleontology) are also consistent with and in some ways to be expected on theism. For instance, I would expect genetic similarities on the thesis that God is responsible for the existence of such creatures--creating life forms that are similar in many ways, in a similar environment, by the same creator, it would make sense that there would be many similarities. I would say that we should be careful about relying on authorities when ultimate questions are at stake (this goes for theists, atheists, and everyone in between). So much follows from these views regarding ethics, human nature, the direction of history, or lack thereof, that I think we have reason to be especially careful. Following your pattern of reasoning, a scientist in the early to mid 20th century who was familiar with the debate might have opted for logical positivism, even though as we found out it was not only false, but a self-refuting view. I find the second post a bit confusing, because these problems don't worry me as I am don't ascribe to an occasionalist view and so don't have to worry about skepticism on those grounds.Also, those who oppose Darwinism do have religious reasons, but many who support it have non-religious reasons that are also non-scientific. Nothing follows from that. Moreover, there are many skeptical of Darwinism who don't have religious reasons for their skepticism. And finally, skepticism of religious reasons seems question-begging to me, or ad hominem, or to need an argument in support of the claim that religious knowledge claims are more suspect than others. There may be a good argument for this, but I've never come across one.I will close with this. You say "The fact that biologists cannot currently explain how various cellular structures might have evolved through natural selection does not constitute proof that no such explanation is possible." Agreed, but why given this do so many think that naturalistic Darwinism is overwhelmingly persuasive, given that which it does not explain. It seems to me that the level of adherence many have to this form of evolution goes beyond the evidence.
When you say "I would expect genetic similarities on the thesis that God is responsible for the existence of such creatures--creating life forms that are similar in many ways, in a similar environment, by the same creator, it would make sense that there would be many similarities," how do you imagine that this creation occurred? Suddenly or gradually? Could you please describe what you take this process (if it was a process) to have entailed? Let's take the example of dogs. Approximately when do you believe that dogs began to exist, and how do you imagine that this occurred?Todd
I have no idea when dogs began to exist, and I don't know how it specifically occurred. But whether dogs were created suddenly or gradually, my point is simply that genetic similarities across species are no surprise on theism. I freely admit that I'm not highly qualified to talk about evolution, and given this I wouldn't claim to know that all of the 10 points raised in the post are in fact serious problems. However, they are at least worth more thought and consideration. I suppose my own view, at present, is that at the end of the day the means of creation is secondary, whereas that God is responsible for it is primary. So my quibble is not with evolution, but with naturalistic evolution. I would say that it is unable to account for moral properties, consciousness, and the existence of absracta such as numbers and propositions. This is because I am a metaphysically extravagant realist about all of these entities.
Mike, this might be too large a question for this venue (or, maybe not), but can you shed some light on what a "religious reason" is? (My skepticism towards the concept is perhaps simply a function of a lack of imagination: I can't figure out how else to regard a "religious reason" except as a reason which its bearer refuses to, or is unable to, envision as revisable or dispensable in light of evidence. But everyone has those kind of reasons in regard to lots of things having little to do specifically with religion, I would think; so that definition seems too encompassing. A "religious" reason, it seems, should be somehow discrete from, or a distinct member of, this broad class... So then I try to imagine such a reason as somehow distinguished by its content; but then it seems to be put on a par with scientific, empirical, historical, etc. claims... and I'm back where I started.)
Okay since this debate has turned into one that is ontological I believe I will add this.I believe that Plantinga's ontological argument may not necessarily shows a proof but neither does Plantinga. However as Plantinga believes it is proof for it to be rational to believe that a God exist. Here is a quote "They cannot, perhaps, be said to prove or establish their conclusion. But since it is rational to accept their central premise, they do show that it is rational to accept that conclusion.” (Plantinga (1974, 221)).http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-arguments/#PlaOntArgAbout middle of the page. Plus this page shows all the ontological arguments and it will save me the time for listing them.
Setting aside that not far below the portion you quote, the SEP entry author observes "It is pretty clear that Plantinga's argument does not show what he claims that it shows"; even if we grant, as I'm inclined to, that it's rational to believe, in some blandly Epicurean sort of way, that a god exists: how does it remain rational to get from there to belief in the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good Christian god?
Well certainly the author has their opinion that they are entitled to. However if you follow the argument I believe it does show what he explains it to show, and at the very least is not very clear if it does not show what he claims it does.. The use of the term “very” may have been too strong for the author to use. However, as I stated before the author is entitled to their convictions. But as you say you are willing to grant that a belief in a god is at least rational belief but you are concerned with the thought of how it becomes a Christian god (or one similar to the Christian god). Is this indeed what you are questioning? If so I will respond but the post may be a touch long in order to respond so I want to make sure this is your question before I do so.
That is indeed my question. (Though I'm actually more inclined to concede that theism is not irrational than that it is rational, but this is perhaps just a personal grudging anti-theistic reflex.) Thank you in advance for indulging my query!
I will try and make this argument as short as possible. To proceed with the task to try and attempt an argument that shows it to be rational that if one believes in a god, that the god would be one from the Christian faith(or similar) is indeed a tough task. I have done some short research and have discovered very little on this subject and what I have found really does not help me with this task. So going forward I will be somewhat alone in this task, and in doing so it is quite possible that I will leave an avenue of approach open for attack. The thoughts that are not my own will be referenced. This argument is one that attempts to show what type of deity exists instead of, if a deity exists, so please keep this in mind. The best way I see going forward is to conduct a thought experiment. The thought experiment set up: Imagine a universe that is an exact replica of the one we exist in. The laws of science and mathematics are exactly the same; all things that exist in this universe exist in our universe. All the knowledge that is known and unknown exist and all the world religions etc… So in short it is exactly the same as our universe and world. However, in the thought universe there is one difference and this is the only difference between the two. In the thought world, scientist and philosophers have adequate evidence that a deity exist or deities. The only question remaining is an inquiry into the nature of this deity or deities. Going forward I see only three routes to pursue in order to get started. 1. Did this god or gods create this universe or are they in existence the same way that all physical creatures are, meaning are they a creation from the universe or are they the creator of the universe and the physical bits that make up the universe. 2. Did the Deity create the universe from a purely deist stand point. Meaning a deity created the universe set it in motion and leaves it alone. 3. Did the deity create the world for no reason or for a reason and does the deity interact with the creation. I understand there exist more possibilities but I believe most if not all could fit somewhere in one of these three. Note: (Okay I will stop here for right now. To give you a chance to look over the initial set up and see if you concur that this is a reasonable way to address this issue. I believe it may be easier to set the topics up in small installments instead of listing one big comment on the blog comment section. It may even be better if the owner of the blog would allow a posting of the argument that way it could be seen it its whole, this should make it easier for examination).
This sounds reasonable except for the crucial posit that "scientists and philosophers have adequate evidence that a deity exists or deities" (my boldface). Since I don't concede that any adequate evidence exists in the first place, it seems like an odd concession for me to make even for the sake of a thought experiment. But perhaps I'm being precipitate in my reservations here and your further installments will pacify them.
Feel free to continue this discussion, of course, but I'm going to wrap up my participation in it with this comment. It is clear that evolutionary theory has broad explanatory power, and my point is not that evolutionary theory is false or that the earth is just a few thousand years old. I think religious believers should be open to revising their views, interpretations of scripture, and so on for a variety of reasons, including some that come from the sciences. My point is that the explanations proffered by the naturalistic evolutionary theory are incomplete, and necessarily so, unless physicalism is true. Given the problems I've raised (in a prior comment) for physicalism, it follows that naturalistic evolutionary theory provides an incomplete explanation. Now of course many people try to either eliminate or reduce consciousness, moral properties, and other abstracta. My view is that these eliminative and reductionist attempts all fail, and that theism explains both the physical phenomena and these as well. Hence, theism has all of the explanatory power provided by evolutionary theory and then some, as it can encompass such and explain what theory is unable to explain.
Yes, I think that's a reasonable view to hold, and one for which I personally have sympathy -- up to the brink, that is, of positively accepting theism, rather than merely regarding as an idle possibility within reason.I fail to see any route from there to Christian theism that comes remotely close to being similarly reasonable. Which invites for me idea that the very intellectual integrity which presumably drove the critique of naturalism to arrive at theism demands the application to Christian theism of the full panoply of non-theistic explanatory resources of modern Wissenschaften.Looking forward to hearing from Anonymous...
Dennett's presentation earlier this month at the annual Atheist Alliance International conference might be of interest.
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