Another way out of the EAAN?

Following the last post I wrote last night (or technically earlier this morning, but it was before I went to sleep), I thought of another way for the Naturalist to possibly avoid abandoning Naturalism given Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). Perhaps in order to avoid P(R/W) < o.75 the Naturalist could reject not Naturalism, but Evolution. Now, that seems like an odd thing for a Naturalist to do, particularly because there aren’t many Naturalistic alternatives to standard Evolutionary theory by natural selection. However, what about a Naturalistic construal of intelligent design? All Intelligent Design (ID) requires is that there be teleology in nature. That’s not nearly as significant a concession as the controversy in the United States would lead people to believe. As I have already argued in previous posts, there’s nothing necessarily and inherently theistic about teleology if one is willing to reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason. One can simply suggest that Teleology is true as a brute fact, or perhaps find some other way to account for Teleology (maybe by appealing to some philosophy of time, two way determinism [from future events as well as past ones] and four dimensional mereological sums – I dunno, I’m sure somebody could be innovative).

Thus, the Naturalist could say that P(R/N&ID) ≥ o.75

Now, ID might seem like an ad hoc suggestion, but of course there are ways of empirically verifying it (and it has been empirically verified by and large), and there may be some methods of verifying it which have not been tested yet (see Pruss here). Moreover, one might need to make ID relevant to reliable cognitive faculties (otherwise it wouldn’t be appropriate to call it ‘intelligent design’ in the context of the EAAN). However, one can perhaps get around appealing to any kind of actual design, and instead only admit apparent design (as is typically done in Biology today). First, take R to be a basic belief, and take the probability of R/N&ID to be inscrutable. Then, one might argue that R has no defeater, and that N&ID seem to follow from the empirical evidence. One might even simply appeal to brute fact to explain teleology orienting the evolution of cognitive faculties towards reliabilism. Why not? After all, the Naturalist can appeal to brute fact anytime she wishes if she rejects the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) (and I take it that the PSR logically entails theism, thus it entails ~Naturalism).

In fact, perhaps the Naturalist can even argue that the empirically verifiable teleology isn’t very supportive of Theism or Design, since the Naturalist can point out that if the process of evolution were ordered by some omnipotent designer there would be a quicker, cleaner, more efficient and obvious procession of life forms from single-celled organisms to something relevantly similar to human beings with reliable cognitive faculties. Instead what we have evidence of is a messy history of trial and error consigning species after species to oblivion.

Of course the Theistic answer to this will be that efficiency is something valuable only to a being with limited time and/or limited resources, which God does not have. However, in any case, the Naturalist has no good reason to suspect, based on the evidence of teleology we do have, that any ‘Designer’ exists, much less an omnipotent one.

If this sounds too sci-fi (for lack of a better term), then I wonder why the Naturalist thinks Naturalism in general is more believable – what makes the current account unbelievable is not, at bottom, the introduction of teleology, but the appeal to brute fact (or the rejection of the PSR).


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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5 Responses to Another way out of the EAAN?

  1. Cutie QT-1 says:

    Whether one abandons N or abandons E, doesn’t it mean accepting teleology either way? And therefore by rejecting either N or E, you’re forced to reject both N and E?
    You bring up rejecting the PSR as a possible option, but I don’t see how anyone could do that and remain sane. I’ve seen people state they reject PSR, and argue there is no good reason to accept PSR. But isn’t that self-defeating? Or am I missing something…?

    • One can possibly reject E without accepting Teleology, and one can possibly reject N without accepting Teleology. Moreover, one can accept the conjunction of Naturalism and Teleology.

      I also agree that nobody can reject the rational intuition expressed by the PSR and remain ‘rational’ – however, the trick is precisely that Naturalists (and all Atheists) must reject the PSR, since if they accept even a weak version of the PSR then Theism is logically entailed, as modal-cosmological arguments demonstrate. So, while I don’t think you’re “missing something”, I am trying to be dialectically gracious to the Naturalist by granting them ~PSR, and then arguing that Naturalism in conjunction with ~PSR is compatible with Teleology and thus Intelligent Design. The argument is meant to present the Naturalist who opposes Intelligent Design with a modal dilemma.

      Also notice that ‘E’ is not itself incompatible with Teleology in general (as somebody may appeal to providential teleology without suggesting that teleology is detectable as a recognizable ‘mechanism’ in the process of evolution).

      • Cutie QT-1 says:

        Thank you so much for your response. The first part of your reply is what I’m confused about though, perhaps you could be so kind to elaborate a bit more? Since it seems that teleology being generally denied under Naturalism and in the theory of Evolution is what is at the heart of the conflict for why one can’t rationally hold to both N and E. I could be wrong, and await correction, but that’s what it seems to me in my present understanding.

        It seems that if a naturalist rejects E, the reason they would be compelled to do so is because under the current theory it’s not a teleological process. Which seems to be what is required for the rational conflict between N and E to be resolved. So in that way, it seems they are embracing teleology in some sense given that the lack of it would be the grounds for rejecting E. But if that’s the grounds for rejecting E, then why bother even holding to N since the rational conflict would remain without teleology (as I understand it, naturalists deny teleology here too)?

        And while theists obviously reject N, they also seem to technically reject E for the same reason the naturalist would have to reject E: because it’s described as a non-teleological process. So theists that accept the theory of evolution aren’t truly accepting E, but rather they accept a tweaked version of the scientific theory. So theists reject both N and E, not just N. Is that right, or no?

        What I’m clearly confused about is you saying that naturalism and teleology can be compatible. Perhaps if you could help me understand how that could possibly work, then I’ll be able to see where I’ve gone wrong in my reasoning outlined above.

        Thanks again.

  2. Cutie QT-1 says:

    I really should have reread your original blog post and refreshed my memory before leaving my last reply. Apologies, it seems you answered my question before I asked it, that’s what I get for jumping around on the net, I lose track of what’s going on. *sigh* But anyway, the idea of compatibility between Naturalism and teleology would be them embracing ID of some sort for a naturalist, or that they hold teleology to be a brute fact, but the rational conflict would still remain wouldn’t it? I don’t see how that would resolve the problem since their cognitive faculties would still be questionable, since the ID could be the work of an evil demon, a prankster from another dimension, or whathaveyou. And teleology as a brute fact doesn’t seem to be saying anything more meaningful than blind determinism. So it seems N and teleology aren’t really compatible in any meaningful sense which would help them escape Plantinga, Plantinga could just tweak his argument to be directed towards Naturalists that hold to a weak and mostly meaningless version of teleology. It does seem that the only escape is to reject N & E(in its current form) and accept what is really the only meaningful form of teleology, which entails an all-powerful benevolent creator God. Or am I wrong here?

    • Studying for a Hebrew exam right now, but I’ll answer very very briefly. Briefly, I would say that I allowed for R on N&ID to be inscrutable in order to be as dialectically gracious as possible – the point is to demonstrate that even in the best of scenarios one is presented with this strange dilemma. However, at least N&ID doesn’t provide as clear a defeater (or a defeater as clearly). Of course, teleology for the Naturalist would just be a brute fact. What they can try to do is hold R as a properly basic belief, and then just argue that R on N&ID is inscrutable but doesn’t offer a defeater (again, this is all being extremely gracious to the Naturalist, only for the sake of showing her just how incredulous her world view is, and how unimpressive it seems to Theists).

      I think, however, that most Naturalists are just going to appeal to some kind of positivism here and argue that mind-independent reality is not a cognitively meaningful category at all.

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