I find the evidence for evolution pretty convincing. Being theist it might mean something a bit different than being a naturalist (by naturalist I mean someone who does not believe in anything supernatural, no gods, no spirits etc.) when we talk about “randomness.” What is random to us, of course, is not random to God. We think how dice will land is random. But, we also know that how they land is based on the forces applied and the angles that the dice hit, combined with predictable laws of nature. So what is random for us is not random for something with an infinite understanding. I don’t see “randomness” of evolution in creating us as we are as much different the “randomness” of which sperm will fertilize which egg.
In an earlier blog I talked about how evolution as an explanation might carry some logical baggage for the naturalist. Why aren’t the problems caused for the theist? Generally it has to do with that idea of whether the events are random to everyone (naturalism)– or whether they are just random to us but not the creator of the universe (theism). It seems to me that unless you are attached to a very literal reading of genesis, evolution does not really present any problems for the Christian. On the other hand the way it is filling in the details for the naturalist, it might cause some logical friction with beliefs naturalists would like to hold on to. It creates at least 2 arguments against naturalism and it tends to buttresses a third.
1.First there is the argument that if naturalism is true there is no morality. (Again as per my earlier blog when I talk about “morality” I am referring to moral realism) This argument existed before evolution was even presented as a theory so evolution didn’t create this argument. But I do think it tends to buttress the argument. Evolution is a convincing explanation that helps flesh out the naturalist worldview, but it fleshes it out in a way that morality seems very much a sort of odd fifth wheel.
It’s not that I think it’s logically impossible for moral realism to be true if naturalism is true. I think the Euthyphro dilemma does tend to demonstrate how it could work. So in my opinion it’s not logically impossible for real morality to exist if naturalism is true. It’s just that accepting moral reality seems to have no place in the framework naturalists accept. If you apply the same standards of reason and necessity for “evidence” that many naturalists apply to God I think many would be logically contradicting themselves to believe in moral realism.
Preserving moral realism is important because it is the only option where we reject the idea that when it comes to morals we make it all up it. From that it logically follows that the naturalists who believe in some non-realist moral system are essentially believing in “make believe.” That is a common accusation thrown at theists isn’t it? In any case I am interested in believing reality not make believe.
While I agree that there is no logical contradiction in believing in naturalism and moral realism. I still think this may be a good argument to support belief in God. Why? Again it depends on the other beliefs that a person holds as to what sound argument might be a “proof.” It seems to me that many atheists claim to apply standards to all their beliefs. These standards exclude the belief that God is real, but they aren’t using those standards when it comes to analyzing whether morality is real. For example the moral properties that moral realism posits are not directly observable by the senses. This is why there are no labs to help us identify if this or that is immoral. We do not devise better telescopes or microscopes, x-ray machines, ultrasounds, stethoscopes to help us see, hear, touch, smell or taste these moral properties.
Kant, and Mackie both make a sorts of “moral argument.” Mackie chose to not believe in Morals rather than to believe in God. But even earlier I have read at least a few historians explain that the ancients required belief in the Gods because they thought atheists would be immoral. So the idea of a connection seems to go back to antiquity.
2.The second argument is that even if we assume morals exist without God, our understanding of natural selection makes it very unlikely that our moral beliefs are reliable. I came to this conclusion on my own and it is a reason why I believe in God. Of course, it takes a few steps beyond just proving that evolution would make our moral beliefs unreliable (which covers allot of ground itself) to say this “proves God exists.” And indeed the conclusion of my argument is not “God must exist” but rather that “it is irrational not to believe in God.” Like I said earlier at least three philosophers, Sharon Street, Richard Joyce, and Mark Linville have published articles in support of this argument. The first two are naturalists. They simply do not believe in moral realism. I will write some blogs on this argument and what I think its implications are in the future.
3. The third argument is that if evolution and naturalism is true then all our beliefs are unreliable. Alvin Plantinga has made this argument and it is called an evolutionary argument against naturalism, or EAAN. This argument might be sound but I don’t think it has much promise of convincing many naturalists. I would like to give a basic overview of it, a very common objection, and why I think the common objection fails to appreciate the full effect of the argument. That said it is not an argument I have thought a whole lot about. So I certainly welcome and look forward to any comments on my views of the argument.
First understanding the argument. Evolution or natural selection is “aimed” at creating creatures that are fit for survival and reproduction. I say “aimed” in quotes because evolution is not really “aimed” at anything, but the general effect is still as if it were aimed at traits with higher fitness in those areas. To the extent the results of evolution are not just random that is a trend we can identify.
Now we should note at the outset that this model of how we came to be, does not directly claim it would create creatures that tend to hold reliably true beliefs. Plantinga quotes Darwin, “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the 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?'” Charles Darwin, to William Graham 3 July 1881
Now I think Darwin’s quote goes some of the distance but it doesn’t quite go all of the distance. We shouldn’t just think of the beliefs of monkeys, but really the potential beliefs of any living thing under this model. I mean we certainly tend to believe monkeys would have a lot of true convictions since they are like us. But there are plenty of other living things that have evolved today and perhaps many times others that did not. And if we want to objectively look at the types of belief systems this process might develop we might as well replace monkeys with “jellyfish like” creatures that have some sort of mental function they use to spend most of their time dreaming. OK let’s move on.
Although Plantinga disagreed, I think this argument is fairly well follows from Descartes comments from the quote I gave in an earlier blog:
“Some, indeed, might perhaps be found who would be disposed rather to deny the existence of a Being so powerful [God] than to believe that there is nothing certain. But let us for the present refrain from opposing this opinion, and grant that all which is here said of a Deity is fabulous: nevertheless, in whatever way it be supposed that I reach the state in which I exist, whether by fate, or chance, or by an endless series of antecedents and consequents, or by any other means, it is clear that the probability of my being so imperfect as to be the constant victim of deception, will be increased exactly in proportion as the power possessed by the cause, to which they assign my origin, is lessened.”
When Descartes refers to “deception” I think he is generally just saying that our senses and beliefs might be misguided or unreliable. The process of evolution is just another way in which I reach this state without the idea that God did it.
The most common response I see to the EAAN is something along these lines that Travis raises in his blog. http://measureoffaith.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/a-few-comments-on-plantingas-where-the-conflict-really-lies/
“As I read through the EAAN, I was eagerly anticipating Plantinga’s response to the following objection: evolutionary theory claims that well before any creature was conscious there were sensory systems that triggered responses which selected the population. Selection is dependent on beneficial interactions with the external world. If those interactions do not consistently and properly map to the outside world then they are less likely to be beneficial.”
To address this objection we need to first understand how an “undercutting defeater” works. In contrast, a “rebutting defeater” is one where we get evidence that contradicts our belief. That’s not what an undercutting defeater is. An undercutting defeater is where we accept a model where our beliefs are not justified, but not because other evidence rebuts them, but because we recognize they were formed in an unreliable way.
Here is an example of an undercutting defeater from a philosopher named Pollock: You are visiting a factory and you see a bunch of red parts sitting in a room. You look at them and they appear red so you believe they are red. But then the supervisor comes up and tells you that the parts you see actually have a very strong red light shining on them so they can better detect if any defects exist in the parts. He tells you they would appear red regardless of whether they were red or not.
So the supervisor does not tell you they are not red; it’s still possible they are red. But your justification for believing they are red just dropped off because you see that the model by which you acquired the belief that they are red, is not a reliable one as to beliefs about the redness of the parts. So that is the basic idea of an undercutting defeater. It’s not that it’s impossible that they are red, but given that model any such beliefs about their redness would be completely unfounded.
Let’s consider an undercutting defeater that would undercut all of our beliefs. Let’s say you accept the skeptical scenario/model of your existence such that you are a brain in a vat being manipulated by an evil genius in some other solar system on planet called Ork. This evil genius can instantly give you any beliefs he wants. Let’s call this “model A.” And let’s say you believe this “model A” is how you came to exist.
It is important to note that this would not mean that the majority of your beliefs are false. In fact we might be able to imagine a situation where at least the vast majority are true. Let’s say there is a body (let’s call the body “Bob Dole”) on earth and the evil genius gives you beliefs based on what the Bob Dole’s body sees. Now you know you are not Bob Dole. You know you are the product of a brain in a vat on a different planet, Ork. Your location is not where Bob Dole is you are just given sensations and beliefs based on what Bob Dole’s body sees, smells hears feels etc. At least it’s possible that the body “Bob Dole” is actually there on earth making all the movements you believe he is making seeing smelling etc all the same scenes that the brain in a vat gives you. It’s logically possible that what you see and believe is happening on earth through Bob Dole’s eyes, is actually happening. Thus on this model A, it’s logically possible that your beliefs are largely true. Just like it is possible that the parts are red in Pollock’s example. It’s just that nothing in model A directly requires that your beliefs are necessarily reliably true.
Well let’s say you accept that “model A” is how you came to exist. Now under Model A though you also come to believe that all your beliefs are reliable and mostly true. How? It doesn’t really matter. But for example, let’s just say, on earth you see through Bob Dole’s eyes that there are evil geniuses manipulating brains in vats there on earth. Now it seems those brains in vats create minds that believe that they are observing people on some other planet as well. Maybe Ork or other parts of earth or wherever. But the thing is this. You very strongly believe that the evil geniuses who give the brains in the vats unreliable beliefs tend to die off quickly often even immediately. Therefore you come to believe that most minds created by brains in a vat have reliable beliefs. Therefore you conclude that even though you are a brain in a vat you can reasonably think your beliefs are reliable.
Ok that might not seem the most convincing tale, but there is a very clear problem with all of the reasons given in the paragraph immediately above. Namely, all of the beliefs expressed in the above paragraph would have been produced through “model A”. It seems to me that once you accept “model A” you have a defeater for all your beliefs. Sure you might develop beliefs like the one that “most evil geniuses give reliable to beliefs due to reasons xyz” but those are all beliefs secondary to the original model that does not guarantee reliability. Once you accept something like Model A all your beliefs that form from it have an undercutting defeater.
Plantinga argues that the based on such a model the likelihood of our beliefs being reliable is “either low or inscrutable” I think “inscrutable” is an important idea to understand. It means that we cannot even rationally investigate or evaluate the probabilities. Since all of our beliefs are affected by these pulls to something that is not necessarily true, and we can’t step outside our beliefs and see what is really going on, it would seem the reliability is in fact inscrutable. In the example of the red widgets we can sort of see what is happening with respect to our beliefs regarding the redness of the widgets. But when something like evolutionary forces are effecting all of our beliefs we can’t gain that vantage point. We have no beliefs that would not have been influenced by evolutionary pulls from which we can reason about the probabilities. In a way all of our beliefs have the red light tinting them.
Is the Evolutionary model (“model E”) like model A? I think it is. The evolutionary model is at best “aiming” at survival/reproduction. This is not necessarily the same as aiming at reliably truth tracking mental systems. We, of course, might come to believe they are related. For example we might hold a set of beliefs like those Travis stated. The problem is those are beliefs we came to hold secondary to the Model E, which does not necessarily produce reliably true beliefs. Both Model A and Model E have the same flaw. The model itself does not explicitly indicate that the creatures it creates will have reliable beliefs. Accordingly once we say we were created from that model then taking beliefs XYZ and saying these logically yield the conclusion our beliefs are reliable will be irrational. This is because beliefs XYZ are just the product of the model that we agreed at the outset would not explicitly produce reliable beliefs. Both model A and model E share that unfortunate quality.
Can we include those beliefs that I quoted from Travis and make them part of the Evolutionary model? Yes I suppose we can but they are not part of the model now. Just like we can change model A to be Model B. Model B could be I am created by brain in a vat that is controlled by an evil genius *and* that evil genius gives me reliable beliefs. So Model E could become Model F. Model F is that I came about from a process that selected for things that survived, reproduced, and had reliably true beliefs. But until that is done I think those who adopt the view that they were created by a completely natural selection do indeed have a defeater for all their beliefs.
Is the person who accepts naturalism and evolution any worse than everyone who has to deal with the skeptical scenarios? Yes I think they are. They not only have to deal with the possibility that a skeptical model might be the case, they actually believe one is the case.
Now perhaps someone would say that it’s not really that the evolutionary model comes before our belief that our beliefs are reliable. First we believe our senses and beliefs are reliable and it’s only after that we accept the evolution model. My response would be what if someone came to believe model A in the same way? That is they looked around the world around them and for whatever reason they too decided they must be a brain in a vat. I don’t think it matters how you get the model in your beliefs, once it’s there it works as a defeater.
 At least not directly. Sure science might help us understand what actions might be moral or immoral indirectly. So for example we may find out that certain people have mental disorders and our understanding of those mental disorders might help us understand the level of their culpability. Also some Catholic Church scholars thought that our understanding of dna and the fact that an embryo’s dna was different than that of the mother seemed to inform their decision that abortion was wrong. But there can be no doubt that there are cases of moral disagreement where no amount of learning the empirical facts is at issue. Abortion might be such an issue. It’s not as if the pro-choice community is unaware of the dna differences between a mother and the fetus she carries.