Tuesday, January 17

Monkey Business on My Mind

If humans evolved, it's obvious that evolution shaped our brains as well as the rest of our bodies. But some people can't get over the monkey connection. Joe Carter argues that natural evolution can't explain why "monkey minds" are reliable. It's basic presuppositionalism, which is a standard issue Joe Carter argument.

But what they fail to realize is that non-teleological evolution is, as Roy Clouser says, self-assumptively incoherent:

Being able to trust our belief-forming capacities is an assumption necessary to believing in the theory of evolution. Unless we can trust our perceptions and belief-forming capacities to reveal reality, there are no reasons to believe the theory of evolution at all. In fact, if we can’t trust our perceptual beliefs, there is no reason to believe that there are such things as brains or life forms to be explained. [emphasis in original]

This is not to say that that the relation between evolution and our capacity to acquire truth is outright false. It just means that the claim undercuts its own justification: If we believe we have reliable belief-forming apparatus then we have reason to believe that non-teleological evolution is false. Likewise, if we believe that non-teleological evolution is true then we have no reason to believe the theory since we would have no reason to trust that our belief-forming apparatus is reliable.

But isn't our ability "to trust our belief-forming capacities" necessary to believeing that anything is true? Replace "theory of evolution" with X and it's obviously applicable to any belief at all. This hardly makes for an argument against evolution, or against anything else unless you're shooting for a postion of universal skepticism. It just begs the question to say that a reliable mind is evidence that evolution is false.

Joe lists what he consideres four errors in "naturalisitc epistemology". In summary:

  • It's circular reasoning to assume rational beings are produced through non-rational processes
  • It's wrong to assume that all true beliefs are adaptive, and vise versa.
  • Material processes can't explain beliefs in non-material things.
  • Naturalists are too emotionally attached to their theory to notice that it's absurd.
The last is just typical mud-slinging from Joe. He just gets upset when others don't appreciate his obvious brilliance. The first is confusing arguing from evidence that evolution occured with a "circular argument".

Joe makes a major error in shifting from "reliable mind" to "true beliefs" as the thing being selected for. It is not the beliefs themselves that are advantagous, it's the ability to accurately interpret and respond to the environment. Let's say that a monkey is looking for some fruit to eat. She has learned from prior experience that green fruit make her sick, but red fruit don't, so she'll act on her beliefs and look for red fruit. And of course she has to have an accurate means of determining which fruit are red, and so on.

Simply fixing true beliefs through evolution implies a hodgepoge, not the ability to reason, and sounds akin to a distorted version of divine revelation. It sounds like Joe is viewing naturalism through his presuppositionist glasses, and his criticism is suffering for it.

There is another point. Any standard of "reliable" is not the same as "perfect". It is acceptable, indeed unavoidable, that some of our beliefs are mistaken. This isn't a flaw, but something any epistomology has to deal with. Atheistic naturalists, such as myself, see the whole history of belief in spiritual entities as mistaken. What counts is that there be a process to correct errors in our beliefs and reasoning. Atheistic naturalists do so by turning the many of same tools proven on the natural world to the spiritual world and have found it lacking.

Moreover, it could be argued, ala Carter, that since the immaterial is not a part of the environment, and therefore beliefs about the immaterial are not adaptive, that beliefs about the immaterial are inherently less reliable.

Carter's criticisms don't stand up, and his main thesis, like much presuppositionalism, is simply begging the question.

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