Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Rebuttal to EAAN Rebutted

Here is the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. My friend Brian wrote a slimmed-down review of it here.

The EAAN casts serious doubt on the reliability of our cognitive faculties if evolution is true, and therefore naturalism (since the idea of naturalism was thought of by human minds, which are, according to EAAN, unreliable). Put another way, if ToE is true, there is little to no reason to think that your brain is reliably aimed at producing thoughts that align with the way things are, with reality. True beliefs. If ToE is indeed how we and our brains came about, then it is "concerned" with how organisms behave, not how or what they think. What does it matter whether I think strawberries are strawberries, alien life forms, or Carmen SanDiego CDROMs? It doesn't matter, as long as I eat them when I'm hungry and they keep me alive and strong, thereby aiding me in staying alive long enough to pass on my genes to the next generation of children that I'll father. Whether I thought all along they were actually CDROMs doesn't matter in the slightest. It mattered that I behaved in such a way as to keep me alive.
Alvin Plantinga, in his general talks on the subject, uses the example of a man seeing a tiger. The best behavior for him to engage in is to run away.
Plantinga says:

Beliefs don't causally produce behavior by themselves; it is beliefs, desires, and other factors that do so together. Then the problem is that clearly there will be any number of different patterns of belief and desire that would issue in the same action; and among those there will be many in which the beliefs are wildly false. Paul is a prehistoric hominid; the exigencies of survival call for him to display tiger avoidance behavior. There will be many behaviors that are appropriate: fleeing, for example, or climbing a steep rock face, or crawling into a hole too small to admit the tiger, or leaping into a handy lake. Pick any such appropriately specific behavior B. Paul engages in B, we think, because, sensible fellow that he is, he has an aversion to being eaten and believes that B is a good means of thwarting the tiger's intentions.

But clearly this avoidance behavior could result from a thousand other belief-desire combinations: indefinitely many other belief-desire systems fit B equally well. Perhaps Paul very much likes the idea of being eaten, but when he sees a tiger, always runs off looking for a better prospect, because he thinks it unlikely that the tiger he sees will eat him. This will get his body parts in the right place so far as survival is concerned, without involving much by way of true belief. Or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a large, friendly, cuddly pussycat and wants to pet it; but he also believes that the best way to pet it is to run away from it. Or perhaps the confuses running towards it with running away from it, believing of the action that is really running away from it, that it is running towards it; or perhaps he thinks the tiger is a regularly reoccurring illusion, and hoping to keep his weight down, has formed the resolution to run a mile at top speed whenever presented with such an illusion; or perhaps he thinks he is about to take part in a 1600 meter race, wants to win, and believes the appearance of the tiger is the starting signal; or perhaps . . . . Clearly there are any number of belief-cum-desire systems that equally fit a given bit of behavior.

ISTM that evolutionists' best strategy to attack EAAN is to call into question this idea that it's plausible that a person holding bizarre beliefs like the "large, cuddly pussycat" or the 1600-meter race would have no connection to their behavior. That is, Paul the hominid thinks such and such, it's implausible that he would act in an appreciably different way from the thoughts he is thinking. It is implausible that the man would reliably run away from the tiger unless he thought the tiger were dangerous.

Then I read something that Peter Pike wrote recently:
Further, what evolutionary benefit would there be to deluding yourself that God exists, as all but the 3% of people who are atheists (according to some polls) do? From purely naturalistic principals (sic), the universality of religion is impossible to explain: it must provide an evolutionary advantage, yet it is supposedly completely irrational! In other words, Darwinism has selected for make-believe, and not for the world as it actually is. And that is something that I just can’t put together rationally in my mind.

Humans have been overwhelmingly religious throughout the entire course of human history; very few atheists. We evolved that way, didn't we? Is this not an example of the 1600-meter race that also conveniently ends up escaping the tiger and conferring a survival-oriented behavior? This point, when properly connected, overturns the evolutionary objection to EAAN, further bolstering EAAN.

24 comments:

neil said...

"Humans have been overwhelmingly religious throughout the entire course of human history; very few atheists. We evolved that way, didn't we?"

Quite possibly, although it could also be possible that religion is a manifistation of some other adaption, e.g The clotting response that happens in a coronary artery during a heart attack is not an evolved advantage in those circumstances, however that same clotting response is a life saver whenever we cut ourselves.

If religion has been selected for or not doesn't in anyway indicate the 'truth' of either theism or atheism.

I found the EAAN idea interesting it follows many my own thoughts however I don't see the evolved nature of our minds as arguing against naturalism. It does however remind us why we should be cautious about common sense, intuition etc.

Rhology said...

This post's argument is a refutation of the common rebuttal against EAAN. So the first two paragraphs from you are not really relevant.

And yeah, Plantinga uses EAAN to argue against naturalism, but really it's "if evolution, then serious doubt about ANY thought you think you're thinking."
But you believe in ToE; what answer do you have to EAAN? Make it the evolutionary argument against Neil and let's see where we get.

neil said...

My initial response followed just a skim-read having looked in more detail I see I kinda missed the point you where making, in fact I'm still not completly sure what your point is.

Is it centred around the idea that if ToE is true then the 'dominance' of theism would indicate that it is advantagous. Followed by the idea that it's advantagousness (that just can't be real word) indicates it is true as you are agruing that it works.

Is this accurate, too oversimplified or what?

Rhology said...

Oh, OK.
The main structure of the post is:
1) Summarise EAAN.
2) Anticipate the rebuttal by explicitly stating the element of the argument that evolutionists rebut.
3) Summarise the rebuttal.
4) Refute the rebuttal by showing that it is inconsistent with its own judgment of the fact of historical religiosity.

Humans have been religious throughout history, and religion is not true. Yet humans have evolved and continue to exhibit highly and numerically overwhelming religious behavior, though religion is untrue. This longstanding religiosity shows the disconnect Plantina refers to, it is similar to the 1600-meter race.

neil said...

Try as hard as I can I can't see how the EAAN works in the first place, which makes the whole rebuttal and refutation of the rebuttal moot.

"Humans have been religious throughout history, and religion is not true. Yet humans have evolved and continue to exhibit highly and numerically overwhelming religious behavior, though religion is untrue."

OK putting aside the vagueness of religious behaviour being evolved bit, I still see no difficulties in that statement.

zilch said...

Ah, yes, Plantinga. I read the EAAN and I must say that it is not very convincing. If you don't mind, Rho, I will plagiarize myself and quote a post I wrote some time ago at Atheism is Dead:

My problems with the "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" are as follows:

One: Plantinga assumes, without mentioning it, that a line can be drawn between "adaptive behavior" and "beliefs", and that beliefs are independent of adaptive behavior.

But he offers no evidence for this: and on the contrary, beliefs are the conscious tip of all kinds of adaptive behavior our brains produce, and they are also evolved entities: starting in the biosphere, and now extending into the ideosphere. Rocks do not have beliefs- people do. In between the lines get fuzzy, depending on how you define "belief". Anyone who has played with a dog will credit them with beliefs too, unless one considers language necessary for beliefs. But Plantinga grants frogs beliefs; he must start with some animal having evolved the ability to have ideas, otherwise there will be no position for him to attack.

In any case, the ability to hold beliefs evolved gradually, and there is no way to draw a hard and fast line between what exactly constitutes a belief and what constitutes "neurophysiology", as Plantinga puts it: it's all neurophysiology, and beliefs cannot be cleanly cut from instincts. If you don't believe me, I'll look up some links about the fear of snakes, for instance.

This leads to the next problem: the ability to hold beliefs that work is also subject to natural selection. That's why we can do it: it confers fitness to be able to think "these leaves are bad" or "if I hide behind this bush, my prey won't see me". We thinking animals can think as well as we do because it has helped us survive. But Plantinga doesn't seem to think this: he imagines that a frog, for instance, is just as likely to think something false as something true. While we cannot yet tell what frogs are thinking, it goes against everything that we know about evolution to suppose that they have beliefs, but that these beliefs have only a fifty-fifty chance of being "true". Such beliefs would confer no survival value; and complex abilities that take time and energy, as having beliefs does, do not evolve if they do not confer fitness, one way or another.

Beliefs of this kind cannot be considered as being absolutely "true" or "false"- they are models which work more or less well. Frogs snap up objects of a certain size that fly into their field of view. This serves them well in the wild, but they will also happily eat BB's until they are too heavy to move. So is their belief "those little flying things taste good" a "true" or a "false" belief? Depends, but it works well enough if no smartass humans are around.

Because the ability to learn and hold beliefs is an evolved trait, subject to natural selection (not invisible to it, as Plantinga assumes), Plantinga's calculation that results in a vanishingly low probability of getting even 3/4 of one hundred beliefs right, given an assumed starting probability of 1/2 for each belief, is wrongheaded on two counts: one, such beliefs cannot be classified as "right" or "wrong", and two, even if we develop some scale for "better-worse fit with the world", perhaps in this case judging the frog to be "right" when it catches a fly, "wrong" when it catches a BB, it seems very unlikely that half of all such beliefs are "wrong". It's an ill-defined equation, in any case.

And there are ways of dealing with our imperfect beliefs. We can learn to distinguish BB's from flies in various ways: practice, technology, passing on traditions. So while we will never achieve perfection in our beliefs, there is no reason for the "deep and pervasive skepticism" that Plantinga claims must follow from evolutionary theory and naturalism.

I suspect Plantinga came to these mistaken conclusions because he is a philosopher used to dealing with concepts in the realm of systems of formal logic, but does not have much background in evolutionary science. It's a case of starting from the Word when he should have started from the World.

NAL said...

Let me see if I've got this straight. A person holding bizarre beliefs is evidence against naturalism. But people who believe in Zeus, Thor, Isis, etc., or astrology, or geocentrism is evidence in support of supernaturalism?

Rhology said...

zilch,

One: Plantinga assumes, without mentioning it, that a line can be drawn between "adaptive behavior" and "beliefs", and that beliefs are independent of adaptive behavior.

That's precisely what my post is rebutting. the Peter Pike quote provides a counterexample to your position.


But Plantinga grants frogs beliefs; he must start with some animal having evolved the ability to have ideas, otherwise there will be no position for him to attack

No, not at all. You misunderstand the argument. He is poking fun at the idea that frogs have ideas, and therefore that humans have ideas that are worth any more than a frog's "ideas".
I would take it further and compare human brains' "ideas" to rocks' "ideas", since we came from rocks on the evolutionary view.


the ability to hold beliefs that work is also subject to natural selection.

No, it's the ability to BEHAVE in an advantageous manner that is subject to natsel. Natsel has nothing to say about thoughts, only behavior.


in this case judging the frog to be "right" when it catches a fly, "wrong" when it catches a BB, it seems very unlikely that half of all such beliefs are "wrong".

I'd disagree with this as well. Frogs snap up tiny projectiles near them, but how high is the % of the subset flies in the set of all possible small flying projectiles? Not high.


We can learn to distinguish BB's from flies in various ways: practice, technology, passing on traditions.

1) Frogs can?
2) This is begging the question. "Well of COURSE we can think truly about the world! I mean, look around! You can see and think truly about the world, so can I!" But if this argument is right, your "just look around" response is undercut.



NAL,
You didn't get it straight.

zilch said...

He is poking fun at the idea that frogs have ideas, and therefore that humans have ideas that are worth any more than a frog's "ideas".
I would take it further and compare human brains' "ideas" to rocks' "ideas", since we came from rocks on the evolutionary view.


Plantinga is "poking fun" at the idea that frogs have ideas? That's not the impression I got. It seemed to me he was trying to establish that frogs could have false ideas, according to the ToE, as long as they behaved correctly. Remember, he is trying to defeat naturalism on the basis of its own beliefs, not by claiming that his beliefs are more correct. As I said, it's against the theory of evolution that an expensive capability would evolve that does no good (confer selective fitness).

And as far as our ideas being like rock's ideas: you have left out a few steps in between.

No, it's the ability to BEHAVE in an advantageous manner that is subject to natsel. Natsel has nothing to say about thoughts, only behavior.

And thoughts have nothing to do with behavior? That is indeed Plantinga's argument, and it is bogus. What do you think if you see an incoming brick? Do you think "I'd better get out of the way, because that tax collector might see me"? Do you think it likely that natural selection has the resources to provide us with entertaining fantasies that just happen to lead to the right actions? That's nice, but it doesn't seem very likely.

Rhology said...

Well, that's precisely what I wrote the post to rebut, so you have some work ahead of you.

zilch said...

Rho: Plantinga claims that, according to the ToE, animals (including humans) could hold any beliefs whatsoever, as long as they behaved properly. As I have said, the ToE says nothing of the sort; and in fact, it seems very unlikely on the face of it that an evolutionarily expensive faculty, the ability to form beliefs, would evolve that didn't confer any selective advantage. This would fly in the face of everything we know about evolution. So what is there left for me to do? Sorry, but I really don't understand what more there is to say here.

Rhology said...

Um, yes ToE says exactly that. Thoughts, IF THEY DON'T INFLUENCE BEHAVIOR, are completely irrelevant to ToE.
Thoughts are invisible to ToE, if there's no connection to behavior. And my post supports the contention that thoughts might as well be irrelevant to behavior, on ToE.

zilch said...

Thoughts are invisible to ToE, if there's no connection to behavior. And my post supports the contention that thoughts might as well be irrelevant to behavior, on ToE.

Yes, but neither you nor Plantinga has shown any evidence that thoughts are not connected to behavior. And both common sense and the ToE lead us to believe that there is a connection. Why would a complex faculty evolve that confers no selective advantage? For the life of me, I can't see how anyone can think that the ToE claims that beliefs have no connection to reality.

Stacey said...

Rhology,

I like your post :) I think you could have pointed out a little more that saying belief in God provides a selective advantage, as opposed to some other simpler belief that is more directly related to survival, is like saying a human runs from a tiger out of a resolution to avoid an illusion rather than out of fear of danger. It's an unnecessary complication of ideas put forward for the sole reason that evolutionists first begin with the idea that everything provides some sort of survival advantage. This may veer slightly off topic, but I think it is still relevant...

The dominance and very existence of numinous awe and morality, more pointedly belief in God, do demand explanation. What survival advantage comes from believing in other worldly things? Being afraid of a ghost, the feeling of a "sacred" place, fear of numinous wrath when morality is violated (even non-advantageous morality like "It's bad to summon the dead.")... none of these things are related to survival. Yet they are widespread and deeply rooted in our being.

With organized religion in particular, people are passionate enough to give their lives, entire nations are destroyed, people willingly fight battles they already know they'll lose, all the violent tendencies that Richard Dawkins so eagerly uses to demand the destruction of religion, are ignored when people declare it a developed behavior that is only a survival advantage.

Of course, I believe these things do have an advantage, but one for the soul. Before Christ, the world was materially progressive and yet dying of despair. The soul demands a purpose, and to love and serve God wholly fulfills that demand. That is why Christianity survived and flourished amidst heavy persecution. Men were brutally martyred for love of Christ. Which brings up the question: why should such an innocent belief cause such violent reaction? The answer: Because holiness is hated. The confession of the early Church, that they represented the voice of God, that morality must be obeyed lest you be damned to hell, is certainly not a thing that people like to hear even if their souls require it. Neither is it an advantageous behavioral development.

Yet these ideas, these philosophical foundations, must necessarily be rejected by the naturalist who hates philosophy though his life is run by it.

The comments of ECO in this debate on Plantinga are relevant to using reason outside the purely naturalist realm, which is necessary to understand these things. Also, this post describes the role of the philosopher in society, rather helpful if you want a well-rounded view of things, not one ignorant of history, philosophy, and reason.

zilch,

As I have said, the ToE says nothing of the sort; and in fact, it seems very unlikely on the face of it that an evolutionarily expensive faculty, the ability to form beliefs, would evolve that didn't confer any selective advantage... Why would a complex faculty evolve that confers no selective advantage?

You begin with the assumptions that everything evolves with selective advantage. Have you questioned whether belief in God is advantageous?

Dr Funkenstein said...

Let me see if I've got this straight. A person holding bizarre beliefs is evidence against naturalism. But people who believe in Zeus, Thor, Isis, etc., or astrology, or geocentrism is evidence in support of supernaturalism?

This is the part of Plantinga's argument that doesn't sit well with me - I can see where he's coming from on the other half of it (ie the N+E makes P|R low/inscrutable, which may well not be that unlikely a claim), but for me theism is equally susceptible to this (especially Christian theology):

If a God such as the one described in the bible wished to create us with largely accurate/rational beliefs, you have to wonder why Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, atheism, deism, Mormonism etc have had and continue to have astronomical numbers of people accepting their truth - the majority of the world are non-Christian. In fact, even large numbers of denominations of Christianity do not accept the truth of sizable parts of the bible, from Catholics who accept theistic evolution to evangelists such as William Lane Craig who state that claims such as Matthew's regarding the arising of the saints are non historical.

You then have to factor in all the things in Christian theology that don't square with supernatural underpinning of sensory reliability - the Thessalonians passage in the other post where God acts to deceive the unbelievers (ie the overwhelming majority of people that have ever existed), sin - which continually clouds man's faculties, the existence of other supernatural entities that attempt to wreak havoc on our ability to accurately determine what is going on (eg the Devil), the deterministic outlook where God has ordained who is part of the elect and will be saved, or the fact that God ordains all that comes to pass - our senses are irrelevant since everything is simply controlled by the whim of a supernatural deity that only allows us to believe what it lets us, which could be absolutely anything whether true or not.

There's the problem that appeal to the supernatural here doesn't square with the existence of good arguments against theism such as the problem of evil, or the fact that attempting to assign an objective probability to the existence of a God suffers from the same charge of inscrutability that the EAAN levels at N+E.

I'd finish by saying that Plantinga's hominid example suffers somewhat from the fact that it's not just a case of what is useful for Paul the hominid's survival - it's what is useful relative to other members of the population. If someone has the [true+adaptive] belief

a. that 'tigers are dangerous, don't go near them in the first place'

vs another person who has the [false+adaptive] belief

b. 'tigers are friendly, the best way to pet them is to run away from them'

I can't help but think any situation where the faculties enable survival by accurately assessing the situation vs the survival through dumb luck method is considerably more likely to be successful over the long term since it always requires less danger or use of unnecessary resources to achieve.

zilch said...

Stacey, you say:

You begin with the assumptions that everything evolves with selective advantage. Have you questioned whether belief in God is advantageous?

Firstly, selective advantage is not everything: lots of things evolve (at least in the sense of "changing allele frequency through the generations") by genetic drift, in which certain genotypes survive at the expense of their alleles because of, among other reasons, historical accidents: for instance, a small founder population. Other traits may be more or less invisible to natural selection, because their phenotypes do not differ enough in selective advantage to evolve to fixation: for instance, eye color in humans.

Plantinga bases his claim for the low likelihood of beliefs being reliable (according to his understanding of the ToE) on the possibility of incorrect beliefs being adaptive, and thus equally selected for. As I said, this claim seems highly unlikely on the face of it, and is most certainly not representative of what evolutionary theory or common sense would lead us to suspect. Does Plantinga imagine that (according to the ToE) there's some sort of belief-generator that evolved in the brain which simply confabulates random fantastic ideas (the best way to pet a tiger is to run from it), completely unhooked from and contrary to perceptions of the real world and experience, and that natural selection then has a go at them, and winnows out the ones that work, right or wrong as they may be? A passing strange notion, if you ask me, and not the position that any naturalist holds, as far as I know.

I just reread the whole paper, "Naturalism Defeated", and find that Plantinga's "probability calculations" are highly ad hoc and bizarre. He stacks the deck by assigning low numbers to notions about beliefs that are simply untenable, multiplies four such epistemologically derived "equations" together, and comes up with, no surprise, his "very low likelihood of the reliability of beliefs" (again, according to his ideas of what the ToE says). All I can say is, garbage in, garbage out. Check it out for yourself.

In any case- you and Rho ask: why do so many people believe in God? This is indeed an excellent question, one that I too have long pondered. You say:

The dominance and very existence of numinous awe and morality, more pointedly belief in God, do demand explanation. What survival advantage comes from believing in other worldly things? Being afraid of a ghost, the feeling of a "sacred" place, fear of numinous wrath when morality is violated (even non-advantageous morality like "It's bad to summon the dead.")... none of these things are related to survival. Yet they are widespread and deeply rooted in our being.

First of all, we have to figure out how much "belief in God" is a product of the biosphere (our genes) and how much a product of the ideosphere (our culture/reasoning). This alone is a daunting task, and we'll probably never know for sure. But there are some hints being explored. For instance, there is the theory that religion is at least in part an extension of "promiscuous teleology", a seemingly hardwired tendency already evident in young children, to attribute purpose to everything- lions exist "to go in the zoo", clouds exist "to rain", etc. Another related tendency, also evident in young children, is animism: the tendency to see many things as being alive, as agents that take an "intentional stance" towards themselves.

There might well be a selective advantage to both these related tendencies, whether they are inborn or acculturated (or more likely, a combination of the two): it is prudent for humans to try to figure out how they can best use things in their environment, both the artifacts of their society and things in their natural environment. If this means that they overattribute purpose to things which have none, that's not really a dangerous mistake; and it is better than underattributing purpose and missing out on an opportunity.

Similarly, an overattibution of living agency, which could conceivably be the source of ghosts, etc, is likewise not likely to be crippling; it's better to hear the non-existent tiger nine times wrongly and one time rightly than to hear it eight times wrongly and not hear it one time.

And of course there are the usual cultural suspects for the popularity of religion: that it takes away the fear of death, provides social cohesion and workable rules for the building of cultures, etc.

This is of course all speculative, but I find that there are enough plausible naturalistic reasons for the evolution and popularity of religion to not require any supernatural reasons. Religion need not be true to exist.

NAL said...

Stacey:
Have you questioned whether belief in God is advantageous?

It's certainly advantageous to the priests.

Rhology said...

Dr Funk said:
I can't help but think any situation where the faculties enable survival by accurately assessing the situation vs the survival through dumb luck method

That's the point of the post, though. It provides a rebuttal, on evolution, to this exact statement.

Dr Funkenstein said...

That's the point of the post, though. It provides a rebuttal, on evolution, to this exact statement.

I was thinking a bit about this at work today - as I say, I can see why Plantinga reasons that P|R N+E may be low or inscrutable (I am more inclined towards inscrutable myself, as I think it would depend on what NS has to work with -

a. a true belief that is adaptive will be of more benefit than

b.a false one that is also adaptive, but if there are only false adaptive belief generating mechanisms available vs false non-adaptive ones, then NS can't work to select for mechanisms that generate true + adaptive beliefs if they aren't on offer

However, the relative frequency of situations a or b occurring would be impossible to calculate in my opinion - in a large population would there be a high enough incidence of members who have the selective advantage of reliable faculties at any given time? Hard if not impossible to know.)

Anyway - as zilch has said it depends not only on cognitive faculties, but on cultural/social aspects. Take this example:

A while back Nat Geog ran an article about the rise of radical Islam in villages in Pakistan - to cut a long story short, children were being exposed to nothing but the Qu'ran and writings favourable to radical Islam. Both of us would agree Islam is not true - however, their cognitive faculties were probably no more or less reliable than the average person's (assumed here to be generally reliable), yet thanks to their circumstances they had acquired a huge number of false beliefs that they were convinced were true, so reliable cognitive faculties are no guarantee of possessing generally true beliefs. Had they been brought up somewhere where they could read whatever they felt like or see a mix of ideas, their beliefs would be totally different from the same set of cognitive faculties.

Lack of knowledge might give rise to generally false beliefs even with reliable cognitive faculties also - consider the millions of beliefs that have been shown to be false simply because the persons involved were not in a position to know otherwise. Again, this is not a feature of unreliable cognitive faculties, it's a problem that people can only work with what they know - if what they know is mostly wrong (or they speculate on wrong answers to fill in gaps) they will have mostly false beliefs regardless.

Finally, going back to what I said before - even if you were to agree that P|R N+E is high, then point to the prevalence of those who are not naturalists as an example of a rebuttal to that, if you switch positions and say that P|R T (T=theism) is high, you still have the problem that the overwhelming majority past and present don't believe the 'true' version of T (we'll say for argument your variant of Christianity is it).

So you are left with pretty much the exact same dilemma albeit from the other side of the fence. You could explain it by (say) sin, man's fallen nature, evil spirits etc - but then that simply promotes that on T, P|R is unlikely to be high or is in fact inscrutable.

NAL said...

Peter Pike:
In other words, Darwinism has selected for make-believe, and not for the world as it actually is.

I think this shows a complete misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution. Most beliefs are taught and are not inheritable. Each new generation must be indoctrinated with those beliefs. If those beliefs stain our standard of reason, then a substructure of apologetics must be maintained to give the illusion of reasonableness.

Applying Darwinian evolution to what is essentially a cultural issue, is fraught with danger. Seeing a survival advantage/disadvantage to a particular belief, or set of beliefs, is anecdotal at best.

Rhology said...

Dr Funk,
That is very interesting, but I really do think it is far more damaging to your position than to mine.
You got it exactly right when you said sin, fallen nature, and evil spirits. Christianity predicts that most people will not believe it.

And you were calling into question the incidence in large populations. That's part of the beauty of the example in the original post - it deals with virtually the entire population of the world throughout history.

Rhology said...

I think this shows a complete misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution. Most beliefs are taught and are not inheritable.

Smarter naturalists than you deny the existence of freewill, so no, I don't think that's a point that can be strongly made.

Damion said...

If evolution happened, then the human brain is adaptive (like the heart or the eyes) but by no means perfect. We would expect the brain to be especially good at forming beliefs which lead to survival behavior, such as hyper-sensitivity to the presence of agency (as opposed to blind natural forces) in one's immediate environment. Better to suffer a few dozen false positives than to become a prey to a predator, or miss a chance at predating upon prey. Strictly speaking, though, a tendency towards false positives lowers the probability "R" of our cognitive mechanisms being generally reliable.

To use Plantinga's terms, evolutionists cannot expect nor assert that P(R|E&N) must be high, it only needs to be high enough to matter when forming true beliefs turns out to be adaptive for survival.

As to religion, it may be that making up rituals, doctrines, gods and spirits (as every society does) is somewhat maladaptive in terms of time lost, but somewhat adaptive in terms of social bonding. In a paleolithic environment, who is to say what how the cost/benefit analysis turns out?

If you are really interested in learning how human evolution leads to numinous, superstitious, and ritualized thinking, I'd strongly recommend Pascal Boyer. He has taken on this issue as competently and directly as anyone.

Rhology said...

Damion,

We would expect the brain to be especially good at forming beliefs which lead to survival behaviorBut that's the point of the post! The post provides an example that would indicate that they are NOT connected.
And Plantinga provides many hypothetical counter-examples as well.


In a paleolithic environment, who is to say what how the cost/benefit analysis turns out?So... it's not high, is it? More like inscrutable? Like Plantinga said, right?

I wonder if Boyer and Plantinga have interacted...