January 17, 2007

Logic, damned logic, and Joe Carter - Pt. II

Joe Carter, at evangelical outpost, has delivered a series of articles “honoring” his “favorite bizarre worldview.” That would be atheism, of course, and his particular brand of “honoring” seems to combine equal parts flawed reasoning and foolish premises.

I took a look at one of his posts from that series previously, and will examine another of his “Why Naturalism is a Self-Refuting Philosophy” efforts here.

He begins,
"Richard Dawkins once wrote that it appears almost as if "the human brain is specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism." Although his statement is bursting with irony, it appears to be lost on the typically clueless Dawkins. He appears not to realize that if the human brain is "designed" (he can't help but sneak in teleological terms for non-teleological processes) by evolution then our brains would have no way to "understand" Darwinism.
Okay, there are several problems here. One is Carter’s misapprehension that Dawkins “can't help but sneak in teleological terms.” In fact Dawkins is quite aware of the word he is using and suitably qualifies it (as he has his use of the word “design” in many other places) with the phrase “appears almost as if.” It’s likely Carter himself is aware that Dawkins is aware, so this is clearly a lame attempt to score easy points. It is well ignored.

Second, Carter’s assertion that “if the human brain is "designed" by evolution then our brains would have no way to "understand" Darwinism” is spurious at best. Try as we may to tease it apart for some sort of coherence there is no sense in his suggestion. There is no logic behind the suggestion that an evolutionarily designed brain would be unable to understand “Darwinism.”
Even Charles Darwin recognized that if the human brain is a product of blind, non-teleological evolutionary processes, then we have no reason to believe that the brain is capable of producing convictions that are trustworthy:

"With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has always been developed from the mind of 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?"
Darwin had to deal with his doubts within his time’s own philosophical environment and in relation to the values with which he was raised. As do all who lose Faith, Darwin had to adjust to the notion that man's perceptions of "Truth" were less empirically reliable than he'd thought.

But although he initially recoiled at the thought that humans shared ancestry with monkey’s (as did many of his time), he pursued empirical understanding (the most reliable "truth" we know) even so. Nowhere did Darwin imply that the evolutionary history of our species renders us incapable of understanding that history. Had he thought so, he never would have bothered with his research.
Darwin understood what Dawkins is too blind to see: If naturalism is true, then we have no justification for science.
It would be nice if Carter offered some evidence for this assertion.
Science is crushed under the radical skepticism that weighs down the naturalist (or would if they were more logical). In fact, as philosopher Alvin Plantinga points out,

People like Dawkins hold that there is a conflict between science and religion because they think there is a conflict between evolution and theism; the truth of the matter, however, is that the conflict is between science and naturalism, not between science and belief in God.

You can choose naturalism and evolution or you can choose evolution and rationalism but you cannot choose naturalism, evolution, and rationalism; taken together, the three are simply incompatible.
Still waiting for the justification for this.
Patricia Churchland, a prominent philosopher and advocate for philosophical naturalism, also agrees that since the aim of evolution is survival, we can't expect our brains to discover "truth":

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. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.
Well of course that depends upon the reproductive advantage conferred by the environment on a search for, and fealty to, “Truth.

What follows from here is a barely coherent collection of more quotes and conclusions as to the supposed illogic of believing that unguided evolution can produce reliable cognitive faculties. What both Carter and his hero Alvin Plantinga appear to believe is that demonstrating this with a bit of rhetorical artifice is sufficient to wipe away the lucid reality of the natural world.

But the best comes in Carter’s addendum,

All of this should be self-evident to anyone who has given it a moment's thought. So why would anyone still believe that it is possible that reliable belief-forming apparatus could have arisen from non-teleological evolution? I believe that there are four common errors that prevent them from letting go of this self-defeating theory.

(1) Simple circular reasoning. An example is found in a comment made by Matthew Goggins, "If we see brains that appear to be produced by non-rational processes, such as evolution, we can therefore conclude that rational things or beings are indeed produced by non-rational processes. There is no reason to think otherwise." Obviously, simply assuming that our brains appear to be produced by non-rational processes does not serve as evidence for that claim.

Perhaps even more obviously, it is the complete lack of evidence contradictory to a claim that our brains are “produced by non-rational processes,” combined with the reams of scholarship which demonstrates that the concept goes far beyond an assumption, that trumps any silly suggestions that this position arises from circular reasoning.
(2) The assumption that true beliefs would have some form of adaptive value, and would therefore be "selected" by evolution. The problem with this claim is that it cannot tell us what beliefs are true, only that some beliefs have an adaptive value. The reason this is the case is that there are two sets of beliefs--beliefs that are true and beliefs that have an adaptive value--that may or may not overlap.
Nor is this a problem.
We can't say that all true beliefs have an adaptive value without resorting to the fallacy of begging the question.
Is there some reason anyone would want to say this?
We also run into problems if we try to claim that all beliefs that have an adaptive value are true. For example, most evolutionary psychologists claim that religious beliefs (especially belief in God) were developed because they had some survival benefit. But is belief in God a true belief simply because it has an adaptive value? If not then we can't say that all valuable beliefs are true. (Also, if you agree that it has an adaptive value, how do you know that it is not true?)
Did he not say that he was going to present “common errors that prevent them from letting go of this self-defeating theory?” As far as I can see, #2 here is just a tidy little necklace of truisms with no redeeming value (at least toward Carter’s desired goal) other than being shiny.
(3) Willful ignorance. For example, many of our beliefs are simply impossible to explain by reference to non-teleological evolution yet people still pretend that naturalism can be a rational belief.
This reduces to “evolution can’t explain everything, so naturalism is not rational.” Now that’s taking “gap” argumentation to a whole new level!
(4) Having an emotional attachment to theory that transcends all rational warrant.
Spoken without even a hint of irony. Utterly priceless.
Believing that non-teleological evolution has developed in us cognitive faculties capable of producing true beliefs requires a Kierkegaardian "leap of faith." Yet it is unlikely that the average naturalist will give up her belief without a fight. The reason isn't because they are lacking in intellect but rather that they are lacking in will. Our beliefs are not formed by reason alone and so are rarely changed solely by appeals to rationality. An obdurate will, rather than soft-headedness, is the primary reason why naturalists cling to such self-refuting concepts even when they are clearly absurd.
Now there’s a steaming pile of arrogance, and all out of proportion to logical justification I’m afraid (and we’ll surely need a big screen, or perhaps a bed-sheet hung on a wall, in order to handle that scale of projection). Joe may not be able to craft a logical argument, but he certainly can string together the nonsensical strawmen with the best of them.

Carter is clearly, sadly, afflicted with the same intellect-shriveling certainty that turns so many credulous minds into caricatures of organs of perception. I can’t help but remember one of my mother’s cogent observations in referring to an acquaintance as, “often wrong, but never in doubt.”

In any case, let's answer Joe's question from above. He asked: "...why would anyone still believe that it is possible that reliable belief-forming apparatus could have arisen from non-teleological evolution?"

That's easy, of course. Because all of the available evidence supports that conclusion.

Only an obdurate will would think otherwise.


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