Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against Naturalism

One of the most fascinating arguments which Alvin Plantinga has offered against Naturalism is the argument that if one accepts the conjunction of Naturalism and Evolution, then one has a worldview with a built-in defeater, such that it is not rational to believe in that worldview. The argument is sometimes confused as an argument against Naturalism and Evolution both being true, which is clearly not its conclusion. Rather, the conclusion is that it is irrational to believe the conjunction of Naturalism and Evolution, even in the case that it is true. The argument goes more of less as follows:

For any worldview W, the probability P of having reliable cognitive faculties R given W must be x≥0.75

In other words, if on any worldview one has no reason to believe that our cognitive faculties are accurate at least three quarters of the time, then one has a worldview which they are not justified in believing is true. Thus, P(R/W) ≥ o.75 must be true in order for one to be justified in believing W.

However, Plantinga suggests that P(R/N&E) < o.75, where N is Naturalism, and E is Evolution by Natural Selection. Now, of course, Plantinga isn’t very concerned about demonstrating the ‘o.75’, but he simply chose it as a figure which stands for ‘reasonably reliable’, and his claim is that the conjunction of N&E not only fails to guarantee that our cognitive faculties are not reasonably reliable, but also that it makes it very unlikely that they are reasonably reliable. The idea is that Evolution by Natural Selection, in conjunction with Naturalism, entails that the cognitive faculties of human beings are entirely the product of evolution by natural selection. However, evolution by natural selection selects for features which increase a life forms’ chances at survival and reproduction. Now, one might think that by and large this would also imply having true beliefs, since having true beliefs seems to be of benefit to survival and reproduction. If a being believes that its predators are not dangerous it is less ‘fit’ for survival and reproduction and will be less successful than others. However, Plantinga tries to show that this assumption is gratuitous. He imagines, for instance, that some being presented with a predator may have false beliefs which are just as beneficial in terms of survival and reproduction as the true belief; imagine that one is presented with a predator and believes that running away from it and not allowing it to eat you will bring you good fortune (like a mate), or something like that. Well, although the belief will result in the body parts all moving in precisely the same way, the belief is false. In fact, it seems that for any given situation, there are a number of false beliefs, some of which will be either as beneficial for survival and reproduction than the true belief, or else more beneficial. Consider the example presented in Murray Clarke’s Reconstructing Reason and Representation, in Chapter 4, when he says:

“If I have a false negative belief about poisonous red berries, I will not live to write about the experience if I eat such berries. That is, if I believe “that red berry is not poisonous” when it is poisonous then I am a dead duck. If, on the other hand, I endorse the false positive that “that red berry is poisonous” when it is not then I pay no penalty.”
~Murray Clarke, Reconstructing Reason and Representation, p.75

Therefore, there are some false positive beliefs which are more beneficial than other beliefs. Suppose, for instance, that the correct belief is that half the berries are poisonous, and the false beliefs include the belief that all (or most) of the berries are poisonous. Obviously the true belief is going to provide less incentive to avoid eating the deadly berries than the false belief(s) mentioned. Therefore, it seems as though for any situation in which there is some corresponding true belief, there are also plausibly many more false beliefs which are either as beneficial, or more beneficial, for a cognizer’s survival and reproduction. (This is not Plantinga’s argument anymore, but a thought I have advanced before after reflecting on Plantinga’s argument). In any case, it seems to me that Plantinga’s argument, even without my addition, is a good argument for demonstrating that N&E has an in-built epistemic defeater which robs the view of rational warrant and epistemic justification.

Now, there are various interesting objections to this argument which I will here introduce. Ben Wallis has suggested that belief in R is properly basic and, contrary to Plantinga, he has suggested that R is a belief which cannot possibly have a defeater:

As Plantinga points out, we ought to be able to defeat even basic beliefs. Personally, I don’t think that’s true in this case—I cannot imagine a situation where R could ever be defeated. We could lose confidence in ourselves, and be persuaded to minimize our trust in our own judgment, but we can never escape our own point of view. As much as we might try to outsource rational judgment, our decisions ultimately remain our own. So to suggest that we ought to stop trusting our cognitive faculties is about as realistic as suggesting that we should stop being nonomniscient. However suppose for the sake of argument that we could have some kind of rational obligation to stop trusting our own beliefs. Then the question is, have Plantinga’s analogies demonstrated that in fact we do have such obligation?

The answer appears to me a firm no.
~Ben Wallis, Two objections to Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against Naturalism

This suggestion is interesting, but seems to miss the point that Plantinga’s argument should be construed as one of rational warrant and justification. The claim will be that the Naturalist does not have a ‘story’ which will justify the commitment to R being true, and since one cannot stop believing in R, one must abandon ‘N&E’.

The second objection he brings to the table is that the Theist is in the same difficult position as the Naturalist with respect to ‘R’. In other words, P(R/T&E) ≤ P(R/N&E)  – where T stands for Theism – or else at least P(R/T&E) is not significantly greater than P(R/N&E). He points out that even if the evolutionary argument against Naturalism (EAAN) were successful, it would not be a good argument for Theism.

especially given that the EAAN is designed to undermine the confidence of naturalists instead of directly strengthening the confidence of theists, I don’t see how it lends any additional warrant to theism. Yet even if the EAAN really is found to strengthen a pre-existing, independent warrant for theism, the fact remains that we will first need to stake out that independent warrant. Consider instead the case where theism is not warranted independent of the EAAN. Then since the EAAN does not directly argue for the existence of God, how else might it serve as justification for theism? One obvious possibility is that it offers us a pragmatic justification to that effect. In other words, it’s not that we have a reason to think that God really does exist; but rather—on this view—we find that if we fail to assume in advance that God exists, then we fall victim to a self-defeating skeptical trap. At least, I can see no other plausible way to argue for theism based on Plantinga’s conclusions about naturalism.
~Ben Wallis, Two objections to Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against Naturalism

In response I would say that Plantinga’s argument is not intended to establish that Theism is true, or even rational to believe. The argument is intended to demonstrate, more modestly, that Naturalism and Evolution cannot both be rationally believed. Therefore, this objection isn’t really an objection to Plantinga’s argument at all, but perhaps an objection to the way the argument is used by some lazy Christian apologists.

Another objection comes from Murray Clarke, who I quoted from earlier. Dr. Clarke is a professor of epistemology at Concordia University, and an ardent promoter of naturalized epistemology. He’s a professor I’ve had the pleasure of learning under, and who I will be taking again in the upcoming fall semester (for Metaphysics). Of course, one of the set goals of the chapter I previously quoted from in his book, is to defend the claim that false beliefs are detrimental to overall fitness.

… a generally false belief set just cannot, by and large, be an advantage for humans. In fact, I am almost embarrassed to have to defend the claim that false beliefs diminish an organism’s  inclusive fitness, so entirely preposterous does its negation seem to me. But defend it I will.”
~Murray Clarke, Reconstructing Reason and Representation, p.75

Beginning by making distinctions between false positive and false negative beliefs (such that the example of believing berries are poisonous when they are not is an example of a false positive belief, and a false negative belief might be the belief that berries are not poisonous when they are), Clarke then comes to an argument from Stephen Stich in which he argues that “someone who wishes to provide an evolutionary foundation for reliabilism cannot successfully run this line of argumentation.”

The issue is: does Stich’s argument show that evolution might not favor reliable inferential systems, as they will be, generally, less externally fit? the answer, I think, is “Yes.”
… The interesting question, however, is whether this possibility is likely to obtain. After all, the class of physically possible events is much larger than the class of physically likely events. What we want to know about in asking whether evolution has produced reliable inferential systems is the latter sort of possibility. That is: given everything we know about human cognition, is it physically plausible that evolution has produced reliable inferential systems? The answer to this question I think is “Yes.”
~Murray Clarke, p.77

The idea is that “arguments about what is physically possible simpliciter cut very little empirical ice” (p.77). Instead, Clarke will turn to cognitive science for supporting evidence that evolution has produced our cognitive faculties, and that it is plausible for a physicalist to regard these processes as generally reliable. He works his way up to the following argument in section 4.1 (for the purposes of this post, I’m only concerned with section 4.1):

  1. It is physically likely that possessing mostly true beliefs would be an evolutionary advantage.
  2. But evolution cannot select for true belief directly.
  3. Reliable processes could produce mostly true beliefs and such processes could be selected for.
  4. There are no alternative mechanisms that are likely to have produced mostly true beliefs
  5. Therefore, reliable processes may well have been selected for.

I note that while Dr. Clarke is not concerned at all with Plantinga’s argument specifically (as he doesn’t interact with Plantinga at all, or even claim that this argument of his is intended to be a response to Plantinga’s argument – but I include it here as a potential objection precisely because it is intended to establish that a generally false belief set is just not beneficial to a cognizer’s survival and reproduction), at best Clarke’s argument is not a good response to Plantinga’s argument. Notice that Clarke’s conclusion is that “reliable processes may well have been selected for” instead of that “it is likely (given Naturalism) that reliable processes were selected for (naturally).”

A fourth argument I have often heard is that, while Natural selection might, in individual situations, privilege false beliefs, it is unreasonable to imagine a maximally consistent model of the world arising from cognitive processes which is at once beneficial for survival and reproduction, and is comprised of mostly false beliefs. To this I respond that Plantinga’s argument doesn’t require that N&E produce mostly false beliefs, but only that they do not provide justification for believing that the P(R/N&E) ≥ o.75. In other words, if they produce mostly true beliefs, but 4 out of 10 false beliefs, then the probability of R is not high enough to justify belief in R. Moreover, it seems as though what lies behind this objection is the thought that a consistent model of the world which contributes to (or is conducive to) survival and reproduction of a cognizing organism, just could not fail to produce by and large true beliefs. This is, I suspect, an issue of limited imagination, but certainly it doesn’t seem as though it is unreasonable to propose that cognitive faculties which are unreliable contribute to the production of a consistent model (or model-aggregate) of the world. Consistency does not guarantee that the probability of reliable cognitive faculties is reasonably high.

The last objection is a decidedly ‘positivist’ objection (perhaps specifically from scientific positivism), according to which truth is defined in terms of the models which our cognitive faculties produce and provide us with. On this view, it may not make sense to suggest that our cognitive faculties, which produce the models which act as the standards against which all statements are judged, produce unreliable beliefs. Consider Stephen Hawking’s suggestion that, on the view of model-dependent realism (poorly developed as it is), something is ‘true’ just in case believing it contributes to the maximal utility of our worldview. To illustrate the point, he suggests that when one considers six day creationism and compares it to standard big-bang cosmology, people expect that the later is true while the former is false. However, Hawking suggests that neither one is ‘true’, and goes as far as to suggest that neither one is ‘closer to being true’. Rather, the later is more useful than the former, and thus we can speak of it as being ‘true’ in a model-dependent sense. This objection, however, is not very persuasive, as Plantinga might just take his argument to be aimed against Metaphysical Naturalism. This model-constrained notion of ‘truth’ (used colloquially) is just not impressive, and more significantly its intrusion here represents a change of the conversation: the argument is concerned with a more normative notion of truth and reliability.

That exhausts the objections with which I am familiar, and I think, for what it’s worth, that the argument still stands as a powerful and challenging argument.

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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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12 Responses to Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against Naturalism

  1. Berserkerscientist says:

    Plantinga’s weakness is the idea that there is no penalty for false beliefs, like “all berries are poisonous”. There is a huge penalty for that, because you may starve to death looking for something else to eat. This is why natural selection not only eliminates false negative beliefs, but also false positive beliefs.

    • I wonder if this is Dr. Clarke I’m responding to (sounds like it 😛 ). In any case, thank you for your comment. In response I would point out that Plantinga’s point is that there is not necessarily a negative consequence for having a false belief. Indeed, the truth of falsity of our beliefs is only weakly correlated with the evolutionary advantage the belief might provide – the claim is that it is too weakly correlated to justify a commitment to R.

  2. It occurs to me that it may be of interest to anyone here that Plantinga has defended his position in dialogue with Stephen Law on an excellent radio show out of the UK called ‘Unbelievable?’, and I will provide a link to that here: http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid=%7B1002DC66-006D-420D-B690-47B876182579%7D

  3. Mike says:

    If your position is that god fine-tuned our cognitive faculties to be reliable, then you must have a good explanation for mental illness and other irrational beliefs that people have (like in talking snakes, flying horses and Mormonism). If we are designed by a theistic evolutionary process, why so much disorder with how our brains function?

    I hope your explanation is better than relying on original sin because I’ve never heard anyone give a sufficient explanation or any real evidence that original sin ever happened. And even if I granted original sin at face value, that would mean that the generations of people before the alleged “Fall” had perfectly functioning minds devoid of all irrational beliefs, false negatives and false positives, and I suppose that would translate to the animal kingdom also. That is highly implausible because false positives are essential for evolution to operate.

    • Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I had no explanation. Would it follow from that that we should accept an evolutionary explanation? If this argument is a defeater for the evolutionary explanation then we all have to find some other explanation. If you want to believe in Naturalism and Evolution, then this argument poses a problem for you (at least to the extent that it is successful).

      Moreover, I would point to original sin, and I don’t see why I should have to have evidence of original sin beyond the evidence I’ve already (elsewhere) given (eg. all the reasons we have for thinking Christianity is true act as reasons to believe that the doctrine of original sin is true). Also, recall that if angels fell before original sin, or if Dembski is right to think that the effects of original sin can operate backwards through time, or any other proposal which is logically possible works to the same effect, then the doctrine of original sin does not logically entail that animals had perfectly functioning minds. It may have been the case, and perhaps it was the case that people had perfectly functioning minds before the fall too (that is to say, Adam and Eve did). However, to pretend it is entailed is just wrong. Moreover, I’m not sure what ‘perfection’ means in this context. Perhaps there is no brain which functions maximally well in the same way that there is no tallest possible man. However, maybe if you have efficiency and accuracy in mind, and if you think the brain operates with the constraints of physics (i.e., neurons can only fire so fast), then perhaps there is such a thing as a perfectly functioning brain. However, that kind of definition seems lame in this context, since I can imagine a perfectly functioning brain which belongs to a person who still suffers from Original Sin, even with respect to the noetic effects of Original Sin. More to the point, though, how could you justify believing in evolutionary theory at all (leaving aside Christianity for the moment) if it really does entail, when conjoined with naturalism, an in-built defeater of itself?

      • Mike says:

        I would definitely say that naturalism makes much better sense given the world that we have, and so things like mental illness, that’s found in humans and animals, would make better sense under naturalism. If you had no explanation, not even a bad one, yes I would say that naturalism would be a better alternative.

        So let’s look at your explanation. As I guessed, you do of course rely on original sin, because from the theist’s perspective, it’s either original sin, or admit the designer is incompetent or cruel. I find it interesting that you feel you don’t have to provide evidence for original sin, since it is what your whole argument is based on. It just doesn’t logically follow that everything in the bible is true just because you believe one part of it is more true than not. Every claim every religion makes must be looked at on a case by case basis, especially when considering that many of the scriptures contradict each other, contradict archaeology, and bare signs of editing.

        The idea of original sin working backwards through time is interesting – interesting in trying to retroactively explain Christianity with evolution. It speaks of a very peculiar deity who’d punish all animals and humans for the sins of what two alleged people were going to commit. The fallen angel is even worse. It has no evidence supporting it at all. Also, I can also imagine god having a perfect plan for creation, plan A, that he’s about to execute. Then suddenly an angel “falls” and god scraps plan A for plan B, which entails billions of years of arduous evolution, with mass extinctions, millions of evolutionary dead ends and gratuitous conscious human and animal suffering – all because an angel fell. That’s a hard one to swallow.

        I’m arguing that humans and animals never had, as a whole species, perfectly functioning minds. If you are too, then you’re admitting that creation was imperfect from the start because an angel allegedly fell. Or, if you rest your case of Adam & Eve, to make sense, you do have to provide evidence that they existed. All the evidence we have is that they never did. There’s no genetic evidence, no fossil evidence, and evolution clearly refutes two single first humans fathering all of mankind.

        To your question: how could you justify believing in evolutionary theory at all (leaving aside Christianity for the moment) if it really does entail, when conjoined with naturalism, an in-built defeater of itself?

        It doesn’t have a built-in defeater, that’s a false notion. Evolution by natural selection can select for accurate cognitive faculties as well as ones that are prone to false positives. In fact, our tendency for false positives beautifully explains religion, and why so many believe that there is intentional agency involved when there is not. The fallacy with Plantinga’s argument is that he thinks evolution only selects for survival and that survival must not entail an accurate comprehension of the world around us. But, isn’t it true that the animals with the sharpest senses are the most likely to survive? We have like all animals, the tendency for false positives. That ensures survival. (Which is why you pretty much have to believe original sin happened before creation, or that it was retroactive) But it requires no stretch of the imagination to know that evolution also selects for those who can exploit nature by endowing an accurate understanding of how the natural world works. That’s probably why we eradicated the Neanderthals, and why many groups of humans conquered others. To refute this, you’d have to make a convincing case that knowing what is true cannot be selected by unguided natural selection.

        I think a much more serious defeater for an argument is seen when you have to deny scientific evidence and fact in order to hold your worldview, which is what Christianity has to do with aspects of evolution.

  4. You say; “I find it interesting that you feel you don’t have to provide evidence for original sin, since it is what your whole argument is based on”

    I indicated that we do have evidence for original sin, specifically citing, as an example, all the arguments we have to think that Christianity is true. That is quite a wide range of arguments, most of which are compelling (at least to me). In any case though, Christianity and Evolution are not antithetical in the way Naturalism and Evolution are (if this argument is successful). Let’s look at how you try to deal with the argument.

    “The fallacy with Plantinga’s argument is that he thinks evolution only selects for survival and that survival must not entail an accurate comprehension of the world around us. But, isn’t it true that the animals with the sharpest senses are the most likely to survive?”

    Sharpest senses ≠ cognitive equipment which produces accurate beliefs.

    ” Evolution by natural selection can select for accurate cognitive faculties as well as ones that are prone to false positives.”

    Obviously it can, but the problem is that it selects for the latter more often than the former.

    “In fact, our tendency for false positives beautifully explains religion, and why so many believe that there is intentional agency involved when there is not.”

    Can you give any arguments for thinking that God does not exist? I think we have no good reason to think that this is a false positive.

    “it requires no stretch of the imagination to know that evolution also selects for those who can exploit nature by endowing an accurate understanding of how the natural world works… To refute this, you’d have to make a convincing case that knowing what is true cannot be selected by unguided natural selection.”

    No, what you’d have to refute is the idea that unguided natural selection does not in fact and/or isn’t at all likely to select for true beliefs by and large. Nobody is claiming that natural selection couldn’t accidentally produce true beliefs, but the point is that it doesn’t select for true beliefs, since there is no way to demonstrate that having more true beliefs, as opposed to false positives, is of any benefit to survival, and given the way beneficial false positives outnumber beneficial true beliefs, it follows that there is an epistemic antinomy between naturalism and evolution.

    • Mike says:

      You insist that you don’t have to provide evidence for original sin itself because you believe Christianity is true. How does it logically entail that the whole bible is true even if Christianity is true? I’m not just saying there is no evidence for original sin, I’m saying there’s evidence against it. If being a Christian means having to deny evidence, how is that a rational worldview? The evidence for Christianity is not convincing to me at all, and since science, history and archaeology refute many parts of the bible, I can’t fathom something like biblical inerrancy or anything close to it, even if I were a Christian. You still have no evidence original sin occurred and until you can produce any, your argument is based entirely on faith.

      “Sharpest senses ≠ cognitive equipment which produces accurate beliefs.”

      Aren’t sharp accurate senses a necessary prerequisite for having the ability for accurate beliefs?

      “Can you give any arguments for thinking that God does not exist? I think we have no good reason to think that this is a false positive.”

      I can’t make a full case here against god, but you can check on my blog for arguments against god’s existence. It seems to me that the tendency for false positives and to believe there’s intentionality behind natural events is certainly a plausible explanation why we invented religions and gods.

      “what you’d have to refute is the idea that unguided natural selection does not in fact and/or isn’t at all likely to select for true beliefs by and large. Nobody is claiming that natural selection couldn’t accidentally produce true beliefs, but the point is that it doesn’t select for true beliefs, since there is no way to demonstrate that having more true beliefs, as opposed to false positives, is of any benefit to survival, and given the way beneficial false positives outnumber beneficial true beliefs, it follows that there is an epistemic antinomy between naturalism and evolution.”

      So, if natural selection can accidentally produce entire species as well as true beliefs (as you acknowledge) it seriously weakens your case and Plantinga’s. This whole argument is based on the assumption that there are no conceptual links between a belief’s content and it’s causal impact on behavior. Stephen Law writes:

      “Plantinga’s argument requires, crucially, that there be no conceptual links between belief content and behaviour of a sort that it’s actually very plausible to suppose exist (note that to suppose there are such conceptual links is not necessarily to suppose that content can be exhaustively captured in terms of behaviour or functional role, etc. in the way logical behaviourists or functionalists suppose). It turns out that if such conceptual links exist, then (rather surprisingly!) natural selection will favour true belief even if belief content is epiphenomenal. So Plantinga is mistaken: even if belief content has no causal impact on behaviour, natural selection can still select for true belief. The EAAN is therefore refuted. To resurrect the EAAN, Plantinga would need to show that there are no conceptual links of the sort I envisage between content and behaviour, links of a sort that, as I say, do seem to exist.”

      To illustrate this with a mundane hypothetical, suppose there are two islands with matching animals and vegetation. Each island has a tribe of people on them. On both islands exist a nutritious fruit. The tribe on one island is very superstitious and they believe the nutritious fruit is forbidden by their angry invisible god, so they refrain from eating it. The other tribe on the other island has no such superstitions, and they eat and cultivate the fruit and grow stronger and healthier from it. This allows them to gain a head start over the superstitious tribe in terms of strength and warfare and they eventually conquer them.

      This shows how a false positive can indeed involve real life harmful consequences and how learning the truth can benefit one’s survival. Perhaps if given enough time, the superstitious tribe would’ve eventually learned on their own that their beliefs were unwarranted, perhaps not. The whole enterprise of science has been to challenge presumed notions about the world. Just like how some of us are not born religious by nature, nature always allows for diversity within populations. That’s how evolution works. If on that superstitious island, a rational person were to be born, who challenged the beliefs, like a Socrates figure, then he or she might be able to change the entire culture and end the superstition holding them back. In evolution, this works better with larger populations that are not isolated, and that’s why you see isolated indigenous populations often behind in advancement from natives of the Old World where ideas could spread far from their culture of origin.

      So, having true beliefs allow a species to exploit nature to their advantage allowing them a survival edge over other species or over other members of the same species. As I said before, that’s how homo sapiens probably outlived homo neanderthalis, despite having smaller brains.

      • The Doctrine of Original Sin is not just in the Bible, it’s an essential part of Christianity, such that if Christianity is true, then Original Sin is true.

        You say: “Aren’t sharp accurate senses a necessary prerequisite for having the ability for accurate beliefs?”

        Um… Sharpest senses ≠ cognitive equipment which produces accurate beliefs. Sharp accurate senses = cognitive equipment which produces accurate beliefs. In fact, dull accurate senses = cognitive equipment which produces accurate beliefs. Do you see the point yet?

        “I can’t make a full case here against god, but you can check on my blog for arguments against god’s existence. It seems to me that the tendency for false positives and to believe there’s intentionality behind natural events is certainly a plausible explanation why we invented religions and gods.”

        Interesting. I’ve looked at some of those. I’m not impressed yet, but perhaps one day I’ll find the patience to work through them with you (as laborious as I’m sure that will turn out to be). I myself am actually a non-cognitivist with respect to Naturalism/Atheism. I think that God’s existence is an analytic truth, and I consequently can’t conceive of any coherent logically possible world in/at which God does not exist. I think Atheists and Naturalists who think otherwise are just confused about language, logic, or both. That or they simply entirely fail to apprehend the concept of God. So, I am actually a non-cognitivist with respect to Naturalism, and I think Naturalists are really, at bottom, just confused. That’s an intellectual conviction of mine, and that obviously biases me. Nevertheless, I’ll try to do some of your arguments justice if I decide to look at them more closely.

        “So, if natural selection can accidentally produce entire species as well as true beliefs (as you acknowledge) it seriously weakens your case and Plantinga’s.” No, it doesn’t. The argument has to do with probabilities, not possibilities.

        I’d like to read more of Stephen Law’s Critique, but my impression from that quote you have provided is that Law misunderstands the argument entirely, or else misconstrues it purposefully. Law is a halfway decent philosopher though, so I would like to read the whole article. Could you link me to that?

        Edit: also, obviously, if the article was just about the argument he gave in his debate with Alvin Plantinga, to which I have linked in the comments above, then don’t bother – I think one can listen to Plantinga and Law debate and see what they think for themselves.

        Your hypothetical seems worthless to me only because it’s so obviously true that it is trivially true. I don’t claim that such a thing isn’t logically possible, and neither does Plantinga. I claim, with Plantinga, that in all the nearest logically possible worlds in which Naturalism and Evolution are true, such is not the case.

        “So, having true beliefs allow a species to exploit nature to their advantage allowing them a survival edge over other species or over other members of the same species. As I said before, that’s how homo sapiens probably outlived homo neanderthalis, despite having smaller brains.”

        The point is that having false beliefs accomplishes the same task more often, and that true beliefs are not always beneficial for survival. In terms of probability, evolution by natural selection still won’t, it seems, select for true beliefs the majority of the time.

      • Mike says:

        “The Doctrine of Original Sin is not just in the Bible, it’s an essential part of Christianity, such that if Christianity is true, then Original Sin is true.”

        Then there should be plenty of evidence for it, instead of plenty of evidence against it. The fact that there’s evidence against it, indicates to me that Christianity is false. You still need evidence that it happened because your whole argument hinges on it, just as you demand that I provide evidence naturalism can select for true beliefs.

        “Sharp accurate senses = cognitive equipment which produces accurate beliefs. In fact, dull accurate senses = cognitive equipment which produces accurate beliefs.”

        Sharp accurate senses are better than dull ones. Duh. Natural selection definitely selects for that.

        “I consequently can’t conceive of any coherent logically possible world in/at which God does not exist.”

        I am almost the same way with belief in god especially given the world we have now. To me our intuition about the world has been wrong many times in the past. We assume that “nothing” is the default, and that without some intentional creator, there shouldn’t be anything. That is our cognitive bias. Something may be the default and “absolute” nothing may be impossible and has never existed. God to me is merely just a concept in our minds made in order to explain things. He manifested out of the intentionality our ancestors attributed to their false positives about the world.

        “The argument has to do with probabilities, not possibilities.”

        Stephen Law’s full post is located here: http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2012/12/plantingas-evolutionary-argument.html

        The post is from after the debate he had with Plantinga and he goes into heavy detail. You cannot always judge a philosopher by a debate because debates have time constraints and many rebuttals of theistic syllogisms and other arguments take time.

        “The point is that having false beliefs accomplishes the same task more often, and that true beliefs are not always beneficial for survival. In terms of probability, evolution by natural selection still won’t, it seems, select for true beliefs the majority of the time.”

        I partially agree here. I think this explains why mankind believes so many irrational things and religions (like that one day he’ll be playing ultimate Frisbee on the surface of the sun!). Your only refuge away from this is original sin, which you have NO evidence for. It is certainly true that many of man’s beliefs have been absurd with little to no basis in reality. But there will always be true beliefs, and the way for us to test the validity of a true belief is to analyze it logically and scientifically. That’s how our knowledge of facts about the world has grown. We use these facts to exploit nature, giving us an evolutionary edge against other species and people who could not figure out nature’s secrets.

        It doesn’t take a genius to understand that a society that knows the truth about nature will be more likely to survive over one steeped in fantasy land. Even if knowing the truth is mixed in with plenty of false beliefs, the true beliefs and knowledge will give that society a technological edge over the others. That’s why scientifically advances societies dominated the others.

        Many thousands of years ago, when humans were competing with several other species of hominids, we survived and dominated them because evolution favored our evolved cognitive capacity to understand nature and exploit it. It made us more adaptable and more successful, make better weapons, and recognize animal migration patterns and weather patterns that allowed us to exploit this knowledge better and out compete our rival species.

        So having false positives clearly does aid our evolutionary survival. But having false positives + the ability to understand reality and nature accurately gives an even greater survival advantage, even if true beliefs are outnumbered by false beliefs. Naturalism can’t be the product of a false positive, because false positives make one believe something is there when it is not. Naturalism isn’t like a false negative either, so why did it emerge and persist? Well, naturalism emerged once we began to strengthen our grasp on reality and our false beliefs were being falsified by the methods of critical inquiry – which natural selection selected for. So naturalism emerges out of the ability to accurately understand reality, that evolution selects for. It always seemed obvious to me that if you could understand reality accurately, you’d be better at exploiting it, and enhancing your survival.

        Give me an example in which “true beliefs are not always beneficial for survival”.

        *Listen to Michael Shermer’s lecture on the believing brain: http://youtu.be/YqAwfv3HYGo?t=7m1s

  5. Mike says:

    Hey what happened? We had several good debates going.

    • Yeah, sorry, I have an important deadline for work coming up (Tuesday) so my attention is divided (or rather, allocated elsewhere, since I am trying not to let it be too divided). I will have to ask for your patience. Thanks for understanding.

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