Sunday, October 31, 2010

Do false beliefs promote survivability? Is this a problem for the naturalist?

Ken Samples thinks that both answers should be answered with a yes.

49 comments:

shiningwhiffle said...

I've gone back and forth on how serious I consider this problem to be for naturalists.

On the one hand, given a brain capable of forming beliefs at all, a certain amount will have to true: enough to establish reference to the thing the beliefs are true or false about.

But it's not clear that this is actually very helpful for the naturalist, because how much does this actually guarantee? Plantinga for one suggests that naturalists should have to show why it's reasonable to expect at least 75% of our beliefs to be true in order to avoid the EAAN.

Jason Pratt said...

Interestingly, I just covered this in my almost-most-recent SttH entry. {g}

While I don't spell it out in the dialogue format, the advocate for non-rational evolutionary mentality (e.g. the atheist attempting to account for human mentality via eliminative materialism, by appeal to evolutionary development of purely non-rational behaviors) has a serious problem when it comes to practical application: he has to admit that what he considers a false belief about ultimate reality (namely theism in various forms) could evolve and thrive as a majority belief despite being falsely representative of ultimate reality; but then he cannot appeal to any success in thriving for his own belief as being weighty evidence in favor of its truth.

(Well, he could, but it wouldn't make any special difference. His own belief might be such a tellurian cultural ripple as he has to admit, on his theory, that theistic belief has been.)

Note that an atheist who robustly affirms action capability (in the philosophical sense of 'action') in human mentality, especially in his own mentality, doesn't have this particular problem. He has somewhat different problems. {g} But he can at least make a claim to judge truth in a matter without having to punt to mere accident-of-belief: for such an atheist, truth does not "take the hindmost".

JRP

Doctor Logic said...

shiningwhiffle,

The selective advantage of humans is that they can adapt to new environments within a generation. This enables humans to migrate to a new environments, and to survive environmental changes. It also allows humans to create technology.

Contrast this with a crocodile. Crocodiles are supremely evolved for their niche. They're tougher, stronger and faster than we are, and they can get by on eating once a month. Humans don't compete that way.

What sorts of human belief generating mechanisms are going to be selected for?

They will be the types of learned belief that lead to mostly accurate predictions about the environment.

There's room for bias. For example, it might be advantageous to leap to the belief that that rustle in the bushes is a predator intentionally stalking me, instead of being properly Bayesian. It's less expensive for the species (statistically) to run from phantoms here an there than it is to get eaten by a predator. But this gives another reason why we might wrongly attribute effects to intentional causes.

Religious beliefs are a category of beliefs that aid our survival without making real predictions. If a belief tells us that we should fight to the death in order to get a guaranteed spot in the afterlife, that belief aids the survival of our tribe whether true or not. It's not a verifiable proposition. It doesn't matter whether there are 72 virgins up there or not. The belief itself is useful.

Also, in group selection, you want the members of your tribe to be irrationally committed to your tribe versus your opponent's tribe. If it's just a rational commitment, people will more quickly defect when it becomes materially logical to do so. Religious beliefs work well for this sort of thing, too.

The idea that evolution doesn't select for accurate, predictive beliefs is a non-starter. For the EAAN, that leaves mixed references as a way to make our beliefs deviate from accuracy. But these don't work once you see how brains work.

The way brains work is that there are complexes associated with recognized objects. Learning to recognize a teacup creates a specific structure that turns on when it sees teacups (or parts of teacups) in the abstract. Our references appear to work against these structures. So the mechanisms of association are already pretty well understood. The only flexibility is to imagine that, phenomenologically, I think of a lion (or some other non-teacup) when I see a teacup. Well, what's the causal mechanism for that? Why would we imagine that triggering the abstract brain recognizer for a teacup should trigger the mental appearance of something other than a teacup? I can't imagine how that could be unless phenomenological appearances are dualistic and disconnected from the matter that generates them.

Jason Pratt said...

DL: {{Religious beliefs are a category of beliefs that aid our survival without making real predictions. If a belief tells us that we should fight to the death in order to get a guaranteed spot in the afterlife, that belief aids the survival of our tribe whether true or not. It's not a verifiable proposition. It doesn't matter whether there are 72 virgins up there or not. The belief itself is useful.}}

So, the answer is that false beliefs (as an atheist must consider any theist belief variant) do promote survivability, and evolutionary development of beliefs might actually select in favor of false beliefs (insofar as an entity is capable of beliefs per se at all.)

The question is whether a belief that atheism (or naturalism, or both) is true, is in the same boat and so might be a belief being naturally selected regardless of whether it is actually true. Or is that belief somehow of a qualitatively superior category, such that it is not being merely filtered by natural selection.

That formal problem is extremely serious, and also unavoidable, once human mentality is either regarded in a non-rationally reductive fashion, or regarded as having developed from purely non-rational behaviors into something qualitatively different from non-rational behavior. Atheism could be a false belief, which under current circumstances happens to be promoting survivability a little better than variants of that belief have managed to do in the past (and so is spreading a little farther).

How, in an atheistic reality (i.e. hypothetically assuming that the foundation of reality is completely non-rational in its behavior), would we be able to tell whether atheism (whether in its various categories, or broadly speaking altogether) is or is not a mere tellurian ripple of belief?

JRP

Thrasymachus said...

Can't say I've ever really seen the big deal. It's eminently plausible that the most (evolutionarily) effective mapping of belief onto environment is warrant. The fact that sometimes false beliefs will give equal or greater gains doesn't detract that truth is the overall better strategy. Still more so when we consider the relevant constraints on our mental development - seems fair to say our mental faculties evolved from our sensorimotor apparatus, where accuracy has obvious survival benefit. That occasionally hallucinations and spasms would be better doesn't make anyone doubt the selection pressure.

JS Allen said...

1) The cited study says nothing about survival value of belief in God. It says that people who go to church regularly might live longer. It's well-known that socially isolated people live shorter lives.

2) Evolution doesn't select for long lifespan; it selects for ability to reproduce offspring. The article doesn't attempt to defend a thesis that the church-lady's extra 7 years of life (presumably post-menopause) add to more offspring, or to more viable offspring.

3) The author's central observation -- that people are capable of holding both true and false beliefs, would apply equally to naturalism and non-naturalism. It seems completely orthogonal to the issue of metaphysical naturalism.

JS Allen said...

4) Defending Christianity on the grounds that, "It might not be true, but if it's a lie, it's a useful lie", seems very I'll-advised.

shiningwhiffle said...

"4) Defending Christianity on the grounds that, "It might not be true, but if it's a lie, it's a useful lie", seems very I'll-advised."

From a Christian POV, this is probably true. But there's a core of truth to it: the naturalist owes it to the supernaturalist to at least show how objective values can plausibly be fit to a naturalistic framework.

Because if, as many naturalists actually believe, value is merely subjective, then it can be dismissed because I don't like it. Sure, they can condemn this attitude with all their might, but if value is subjective, all that can mean is that they don't like it.

Without ethics, argument has no teeth.

Appealing to self-interest won't help this argument philosophically, though it may help in practice. For even if by believing in God I cause myself great harm, that doesn't imply that I have an obligation not to. Even if you think (and I do think this) that moral virtue is constitutive of happiness, that doesn't relieve you of the need for an objective moral imperative.

(There is another popular option, which is that ethics is "pragmatic." This strikes me as often being part of a double-standard: pragmatism for us when we need it to have morality, no sou… err, pragmatism for you when you need it to have spirituality.)

Now, depending on how you define naturalism, I think this challenge can be met, but your average forum-dwelling naturalist certainly can't do it (no fair letting them take it on the faith that someone else can do it if you don't let theists do the same).

shiningwhiffle said...

@Doctor Logic:

Excellent points. I accept your criticisms and recant my previous position.

JS Allen said...

From a Christian POV, this is probably true.

Yes, I was talking about from a Christian POV. If the author wants to argue that atheists are inconsistent, he ought to be consistently Christian.

In any case, when I was an atheist, I never bought the idea that people would collapse into complete moral relativism without the written revelations of a Jew in the sky named Jehovah.

A concept of right and wrong is innate to humans, and can be empirically measured. Paul attested to as much.

Doctor Logic said...

Jason,

How, in an atheistic reality (i.e. hypothetically assuming that the foundation of reality is completely non-rational in its behavior), would we be able to tell whether atheism (whether in its various categories, or broadly speaking altogether) is or is not a mere tellurian ripple of belief?

Every system of belief has rational axioms at its core. Non-contradiction, induction and self-knowledge. These are inescapable, and no rational justification for them can be given without circularity.

These axioms exist in naturalism and classical theism.

It's not a valid criticism of either system to ask why rationality is what it is, or why it is effective. To see this, imagine that I ask why it is that rationality should work under theism. Maybe God wants to confuse us.

Obviously, if rational faculties are called into doubt, all bets are off. Any argument you give to support our rationality under theism can be criticized as a divinely-inspired confusion.

I don't think that line of attack would be an effective criticism of theism because the same attack can be made on any and every belief system. It's the nature of rational thinking: it's not rationally justifiable.

However, I would be in possession of an effective argument against theism or naturalism if I could show that theism was necessarily (or very probably) going to lead to irrational belief generating mechanisms.

If your argument is just "we don't know exactly how naturalism comes up with accurate belief generating mechanisms", it's not strong enough. A gaps argument won't do.

To get to specifics about naturalistic beliefs - we're more likely to have reliable beliefs under evo when we have beliefs about testable theories, and when we use careful inductive methods. Beliefs about human biases are themselves testable, and we can try to suppress those biases. That's what science and mathematics do. They narrow our thinking down to small steps that are more controlled with respect to biases or unjustified leaps to belief.

Most people in church haven't reasoned their way there by small, controlled steps. Most theists are making a relatively-uncontrolled, holistic judgment. They are leaping to a belief.

It's not true that naturalism's ability to account for false beliefs renders all beliefs equally false. Careful induction is very different from holistic judgment.

shiningwhiffle said...

"Yes, I was talking about from a Christian POV. If the author wants to argue that atheists are inconsistent, he ought to be consistently Christian."

I'm not sure I agree with you. A Christian making the statement, "[Christianity] might not be true, but if it's a lie, it's a useful lie," is asserting a counter-factual as a case against a belief they do not hold.

It acts as a kind of justification by contradiction: even if ~C, belief-in-C would still be justified; therefore, belief-in-C is justified. (Atheists often make the exact opposite argument.)

Now, for the argument to work, the conditions that would make belief-in-C justified despite C's falsehood only need to arise in the case that C is false: whether they arise or not when C is true is beside the point.

Now, I do agree that it's not a good strategy, but for a different reason: there are many useful lies. So if Christianity is a lie, why should it be the most useful?

shiningwhiffle said...

"Every system of belief has rational axioms at its core. Non-contradiction, induction and self-knowledge. These are inescapable, and no rational justification for them can be given without circularity."

I disagree on a couple of points here. Firstly, non-contradiction has been challenged, and alternative logics permitting contradiction without explosion have been developed. The most promising IMO is relevance logic, which gets rid of the problem as a side effect of forbidding the highly counter-intuitive practice of arbitrary implication (e.g. Billy Mays is dead -> I am not a potato).

So while non-contradiction may yet be true, I wouldn't characterize it as inescapable.

Secondly, I think what the inability to justify these propositions non-circularly shows is a need to embrace a coherentist epistemology, not to simply take them without justification.

JS Allen said...

Now, I do agree that it's not a good strategy, but for a different reason: there are many useful lies. So if Christianity is a lie, why should it be the most useful?

Perhaps the anti-Christ will have a rationalization, to defend why Christianity is the "most useful lie".

Mark 6:52 and John 6:26-41 provide the counterpoint -- why Christianity is the truth which is not very useful for obtaining daily bread.

Gregory said...

If it's a matter of mere individual "survival", then being a "sociopath" is the most natural and promising path to tread. After all, a person could really "get ahead" in life if he or she were unencumbered by the restraints of human morality and ethics. Just ask the many businessman and thieves who have gotten along quite nicely on these terms. And even many non-sociopaths have, at times, set aside the "rules" in order to "survive" and/or avoid nasty consequences.

Moral nihilism/ethical egoism is synonymous with social-pathology.

But if behavior and cognition are hard-wired by brain-states, then the notion of socio-pathology, qua mental illness, is completely misplaced. Unless, of course, you believe that there is such a thing as an "ideal" or "normative" brain/brain-state.

The notion of "ideal" and "normative" brains might make sense along teleological lines....but that is precisely what the naturalists, from Darwin to Dawkins, have been beating their chests against!!!

And if the idea of a-morality strikes the naturalist as repugnant, then he/she is placing his/her brain as the "ideal" and "normative" brain....which is a recapitulation of self-serving "egoism" (i.e. moral nihilism).

And why should another man's brain/brain-states be considered "normative" or "ideal"? What sort of meaning would that hold for anyone else; their brain's also being portioned equally under the constraints of natural law (i.e. physics, chemistry, biology, etc.)?

Why fault a man who is gifted by nature with the absence of conscience?

Check out this scene from "The Ninth Configuration" to get an idea of the incongruity of ethics in a merely "natural" world:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi5D03-KARM&feature=related

Gregory said...

One thing I find most interesting about atheists is that they are outraged when the Christian sometimes appeals to "mystery" when speaking of the Trinity or the Incarnation, but is then perfectly content with "mysteries" when it comes to the phenomena of nature, or so-called "natural events".

It takes a large amount of "faith" to suggest that science will one day figure out "why" nature, and nature alone, has contrived this oddity of mixtures: "cognition", "logic", "the uniformity of nature", "freedom", "survival of the fittest", "quantum reality" "beauty" and "human ethics".

shiningwhiffle said...

"Perhaps the anti-Christ will have a rationalization, to defend why Christianity is the "most useful lie".

Mark 6:52 and John 6:26-41 provide the counterpoint -- why Christianity is the truth which is not very useful for obtaining daily bread."


…huh?

Doctor Logic said...

shiningwhiffle,

I agree with you about paraconsistent logics or relevance logic. By non-contradiction I mean that there have to be at least some domains of non-contradiction.

I don't have a strong opinion on coherentism. I'm more interested in accounting. Whether or not one is a coherentist, I think rational axioms have to be on the books.

JS Allen said...

@sw - My point is that it's utterly repugnant to Christianity to say, "Yeah, it may just be a useful lie, but as long as I can convince you that it's the most useful lie, out of all the other useful lies, you should believe it". Maybe I misunderstood you, but that's what it seemed like you were saying.

If so, then the verses I quoted apply.

shiningwhiffle said...

@JS Allen:

I disagree. If it were true that Christianity provided the only plausible basis for believing in an objective value for truth (for example, if it were true that it provided the only plausible basis for believing in objective value at all), that would count as a fairly definitive defense of Christian belief:

1. If Christianity is false, truth is not a value.
2. If truth is not a value, believing a falsehood is not wrong.
3. Therefore, if Christianity is false, believing it is not wrong.
4. If it's not wrong to believe in something in the case that it is false, all else being equal, it doesn't become wrong to believe it on the chance that it's true.
5. Therefore, believing Christianity is not wrong.

You can then turn this into a positive argument by pointing out the prudence of believing useful lies in the case that truth is not a value.

Of course, I don't think this argument works, but I think it's sound given its premises.

JS Allen said...

@sw - I'm not saying it's never useful to believe lies. Most romantic relationships are propelled along by mutual self-delusion and false expectations. The human race would probably die off if we weren't so good at it.

I'm just saying that Christianity doesn't allow you to justify it on those grounds. Scriptures explicitly disallow it.

shiningwhiffle said...

@JS Allen:

OK, I see what you're saying now, and that I'm not being as clear as I thought.

You're right: a Christian isn't allowed to justify Christianity as a useful lie. But I'm still not sure that's quite what's going on in this argument. It's not a direct justification of Christianity.

What it is is an attempt to de-fang the alternative by showing that even if it's true it wouldn't matter, because it can't be obligatory to believe that there are no obligations.

You have a point when it comes to the positive side of the argument from considerations of prudence, but consider that while the Christian is forbidden from making these arguments, the atheist isn't forbidden from accepting them.

DL said...

Doctor Logic: But these don't work once you see how brains work.

The whole point is that we can't see how brains work — or at least, we can never be sure that we are. The problem isn't how to found rationality itself, it's how to found empiricism. Once we accept reason and logic as given, that does not immediately prove that our senses are reliable, and that's the problem for naturalism. If naturalism were true, then even assuming we could justify math, we can't justify science. Appealing to science to do so is just begging the question. The best the naturalist can say is, "If the world really is more or less the way I think it is, then... the world is more or less the way I think it is."

we're more likely to have reliable beliefs under evo when we have beliefs about testable theories, and when we use careful inductive methods.

Again, the point is that you have no grounds for assuming that induction works. The world is only scientifically testable if it works a certain particular kind of way. But the naturalist has no way to show that the world is that way, or that it is likely to be that way, or even that it might be that way.

JS Allen said...

@sw - I agree that can be a valid consideration for atheists.

Doctor Logic said...

Gregory,

Given that humans are a social species, do you really think the human species would be more adaptable if ALL of us were sociopaths?

How about human tribes... sociopaths versus cooperators?

And if the idea of a-morality strikes the naturalist as repugnant, then he/she is placing his/her brain as the "ideal" and "normative" brain....which is a recapitulation of self-serving "egoism" (i.e. moral nihilism).

I don't think you have a grasp of moral subjectivism. Under subjectivism, morality equates to caring. There's no absolute basis for what we care about, but to say that we are contradicting the subjectivist view by caring about action is missing the point.

Here's a useful tip. If your argument doesn't work against food or musical subjectivism, then it won't work against moral subjectivism.

Musical subjectivism is the idea that we can describe what music we like/care for (and maybe describe the origin of those cares), but there's no absolute basis for one piece of music being better than another. By analogy, your argument is that if music is subjective, any musical subjectivist who cares more about one piece of music than another is somehow contradicting himself.

Doctor Logic said...

DL,

There's no reason without induction and self-knowledge.

How do you know that reason is reliable? 2+2=4. Is it still 4? How about now?

Any proof of more than one step assumes that past premises and steps remain valid in the present, and will continue to remain valid in the future.

The past must be a guide to the future for any reasoner.

Moreover, deduction by itself can only distinguish between consistent sets. It can't determine any facts. There's no way to establish a belief in any one state of affairs.

Hume couldn't rationally justify induction because it's a core element of rationality itself, and the task is no more possible than justifying non-contradiction or self-knowledge. (Self-knowledge, being knowledge of one's own thoughts/appearances, cannot be rationally justified without circularity.)

Gregory said...

Given that humans are a social species, do you really think the human species would be more adaptable if ALL of us were sociopaths?

This is an equivocation on "social". Sociopaths are not "unsocial"...in fact, they thrive on the social environment. Some might argue--especially hardcore Republicans--that the practices of unscrupulous businessmen have actually contributed to society via job creation and the economy.

Secondly, you missed my main point about naturalism; namely, all behavior is "natural" (i.e. or normative, as far as nature is concerned). And haven't you spent some time--on previous posts--vigorously defending some version of determinism? Are you now going to recant your position on "natural law" and "causality", in favor of some version of libertarian freedom?

Furthermore, it was none other than Daniel Dennet who maintained that Evolutionary Naturalism was the "universal acid" that eats away at all traditional values (i.e. morality and religion).

You know...it's not uncommon for atheists to speak out of both sides of their mouth.

Doctor Logic said...

Gregory,

Normal people have empathy, and can intuit what a person will say or do by considering what they themselves would say or do in the same situation.

A sociopath is a person who lacks this sort of empathy. As such, they find the actions and behaviors of others to be non-intuitive. Their coping mechanism is to create detailed accounting models of behavior. Some sociopaths are better than others at pulling this off.

Some sociopaths are able to become very successful because their accounting technique discovers biases in the social system, and because they lack empathy that would deter them from cheating the system. I don't think all sociopaths are successful.

You seem to be suggesting that if we were all sociopaths, we would have more successful people. I think the opposite is true. Society requires trust relationships, and sociopaths succeed by exploiting trust relationships for personal gain.

If you have a small clan of folk trying to survive against the elements or against other tribes, I don't think you would be more successful by being unable to empathize with other people in your clan. Lack of empathy makes negotiation and stable consensus more difficult.

I'm not saying that sociopathy could not possibly evolve for an entire population, I just think it's less likely because it has huge disadvantages.

Secondly, you missed my main point about naturalism; namely, all behavior is "natural" (i.e. or normative, as far as nature is concerned).

Point taken. You originally said:

And if the idea of a-morality strikes the naturalist as repugnant, then he/she is placing his/her brain as the "ideal" and "normative" brain....which is a recapitulation of self-serving "egoism" (i.e. moral nihilism).

You were not saying that it was inconsistent that moral subjectivists had subjective cares and oughts. You were just saying that you thought it led to self-serving egoism.

I don't think that's true in any important sense. By that standard every person who wants the best for his family and for the world in general can be accused of being self-serving. If the person desires those things, then satisfying those desires is self-serving.

However, most people would not describe such a fellow as an egoist or as self-serving. They would not describe him that way because the object of his desires materially serves others.

Thus, being a subjectivist does not mean that all of my cares are for my own well-being. If I want good things for the people I love, and if I want the world to be better off in general, then I'm no different than the realist who wants those things.

Arthur said...

Do false beliefs promote survivability ,yes.Is this a problem for the naturalist,no , in my opinion hopefully not totally anyway.Any problems they cause,dont have to always last forever.

Doctor logic shows how false belief can sometimes be of benefit, like when "It's less expensive for the species (statistically) to run from phantoms here an there than it is to get eaten by a predator."

Yet as we learn more and more and evolved,maybe we also find we dont need to run from every "rustle in the bushes" .This is the bonus of having the ability to pass on knowledge through generations.We get to build on knowledge rather than each generation needing to start at the begining.


Power of positive thinking is also a slightly false belief that many people use including weight lifters and sportsman.When they psych themselves up before the lift or the race ,they dont actually suddenly grow more muscle which then makes them faster or more powerful,they just also harness "mindpower" which primes the mind and muscle better.And so belief in prayer can have much the same type of effect on chances of healing and survival,even though making sure to get involved in getting out and about and keeping positive healthy and active etc can have all the same effects.

Which is why false belief does not need to be any eternal problem for us humans.Once humans learn how "parts" of the benefit of the belief actually works, they can then adapt the benefit "part" to still work in ways that dont need to necessarily also contain the false "part" of the beliefs also.

1,IE:Its beneficial to be very aware of the "rustle in the bushes".But not nessarily beneficial to also need to run from all "rustle in the bushes".

2,Its beneficial to "focus" on power of postive thoughts of believing "we will" become well and that this will happen,without need of the false "part" of belief its to do with the Gods.And if at some stage it become obvious the power of positive thinking isnt going to be enough,then we can learn to accept it,for some possibly "even easier"! than the faithful folks belief that it was the Gods that have personally decided against our survival.

There might be one draw back in this that this type thinking removes the faith belief that when we die we can possibly still live eternally with God.

But still, there could also be many greater! benefits in this fact also, in that then there possibly wont be as many of the same ammount of people around on this earth, who think life last forever, and that "this life on earth" doesnt really matter so much if in effect its wasted for some by faith .(IE the excommunication of family members between those inside and ex members outside of the dangerous faith cults)

Parts of these beliefs can still be used to help us survive.Without us needing to keep on forever accepting the false issues also.

Jason Pratt said...

Running rather behind (that's what I get for waiting till the weekend to catch up)... So, first a few sidenotes:

Shiningwhiffle: {{Firstly, non-contradiction has been challenged, and alternative logics permitting contradiction without explosion have been developed.}}

Which have also been seriously challenged at core levels. I have yet to see such ‘alternative logics’ that either had nothing to do with challenging non-con after all, or else failed to coherently do so (seeing as such alternatives rely themselves on non-con in order to be proposing one thing and not another.)

This is a bit of a sidenote; mainly I want to clarify that I, at least, accept non-con. If I thought trinitarian theism, for example, was intrinsically self-contradictive, I would deny it and believe something else to be true; consequently, I have no problem with people disbelieving it because they think it’s intrinsically self-contradictive. We would disagree about whether it is, but I don’t disagree about whether they should believe it anyway if it is.


Gregory: {{If it's a matter of mere individual "survival", then being a "sociopath" is the most natural and promising path to tread.}}

On Darwinian evolutionary processes, though (including the current neo-Darwinian gradualism), it isn’t a matter of mere individual survival. It’s a matter of individual survival to breed. A person might get ahead in breeding if unencumbered by notions of morality or ethics, and so exert more pressure on the population pool in favor of their own genetics vs. other genetics; but only if the macro-environment, including the social environment, sufficiently allows that behavior to excel. While that isn’t impossible, it’s a rather more complex situation, if for example success at surviving-to-breed is greater for individuals in groups where sociopathic behaviors happen to be restrained in various ways, and so also sociopathic individuals (whether by other individuals or by groups of individuals. Any gang of 20 people could cut down a sociopath, other things being equal, removing the sociopath from effectively spreading that genetic tendency through the future population.)

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Now Part 1 of 4. I much appreciate “Doctor Logic”’s replies to my comment, btw. (“DL” afterward in this set refers to him or her, not to the other “DL” in this thread, except where noted briefly once.)

DL: {{Every system of belief has rational axioms at its core. Non-contradiction, induction and self-knowledge. These are inescapable, and no rational justification for them can be given without circularity.}}

Agreed; although I would lean a lot harder on the axiomatic presumption of rationality and what it entails, both in principle and in practice. (Starting here, for example.) As the other DL pointed out, induction only works on the presumption that reality itself (or a relevant level of reality) exists a particular kind of way.

{{These axioms exist in naturalism and classical theism.}}

You mean atheism (naturalistic atheism in this case); but otherwise I certainly agree.

Consequently, the question is whether one of those basic dichomatic branches (atheism or theism) violates the axiom of the presumption of rational action (which intentionally utilizes axioms of the sort you listed). And atheism (whether naturalistic or supernaturalistic, ontologically speaking) is always going to have a fatal strike leveled against it from the outset: because if atheism is true, then fundamental reality is (philosophically speaking) non-rational. Meaning that our own behaviors, axiomatically presumed for the sake of any argument, are either also non-rational or else rational behaviors somehow developed from-and-only-from non-rational behaviors.

That sceptical threat requires formal defense; but the defense cannot be given without circular appeal to properties being defended.

Theism will always have the advantage of not instantly leveling a sceptical threat against the rational behavior we presume for ourselves whenever we argue. It deductively fits (though subvariants of theism may not); atheism of any sort however deductively fails the formal test: it threatens the Golden Presumption in a fashion that necessarily requires a circular appeal to defend against.

(Obviously this could and should be discussed at much greater length and detail.)

Jason Pratt said...

Part 2 of 4...

DL: {{It's not a valid criticism of either system to ask why rationality is what it is, or why it is effective.}}

I disagree, and strenuously so. The properties of rationality can be considered and discussed, and false properties eliminated. What this doesn’t and cannot do formally is prove rationality (specifically yours and mine) actually exists. But we can formally prove what follows formally if we deny our rationality; and we can formally check whether various metaphysics (whether broadly or in particulate) fit or fail the presumption of our rationality in argument.


DL: {{To see [that this is not a valid criticism of a metaphysic], imagine that I ask why it is that rationality should work under theism.}}

Granted; but not a reply to what I am actually talking about. The thrust of my argument (including my deductive critique against atheism, as well as against various subtypes of theism afterward), is rather whether a metaphysical option intrinsically challenges the working of our rationality.

So, for example, the proper answer on this line of approach, to the hypothesis you suggested for test purposes, “Maybe God wants to confuse us”, would be: that must not be true about God in any way that would ultimately impinge on our ability to reason. i.e., ultimately God must want us to know the truth about things, and is acting toward that goal.

DL: {{Obviously, if rational faculties are called into doubt, all bets are off. Any argument you give to support our rationality under theism can be criticized as a divinely-inspired confusion.}}

Only if theism (broadly speaking, or this-or-that subvariant), intrinsically calls the basic capability of our rational faculties into doubt. Your hypothetical defeater would be only one sub-type (or sub-sub-x-type, however many subs {g}) of theism.

(I introduce the flip side of this type of deductive AfR, i.e. whether it deducts out theism as well as atheism, later in chapter 20, as well as afterward throughout the book I linked to. However, that chapter hasn’t been posted up yet so I can’t link to it directly yet. It’s scheduled to go up in a week-and-a-half, coincidentally.)

Jason Pratt said...

Part 3 of 4...

DL: {{However, I would be in possession of an effective argument against theism or naturalism if I could show that theism was necessarily (or very probably) going to lead to irrational belief generating mechanisms.}}

Agreed; which is exactly what I cover, in regard to both atheism and theism, although with a little more nuance than that.

This is why, in that quote you used from my comment, I parenthetically qualified the problem with proposing an atheistic reality. The problem is that any kind of atheism necessarily introduces such a sceptical threat from the outset (or so I argue): we could only be able to tell whether or not atheism is or is not a mere tellurian ripple of belief, if certain qualities of our behavior are real. But those qualities of behavior, which we have to (tacitly or explicitly) assume to be real in order to assess the truth of any proposal (including atheism), are qualities of behavior which would be foundationally non-existent if atheism is true. So either those qualities are foundationally non-existent in us, too, yet it doesn’t matter; or else those qualities had to develop from-and-only-from behaviors utterly lacking in those qualities. But trying to appeal to either line of defense will end in circular failure. We cannot formally justify justification ability, and we cannot formally justify non-justification ability.

This is what I have argued, over the years, that Lewis is aiming at demonstrating in his 3rd chapter of MaPS (2nd edition).

DL: {{If your argument is just "we don't know exactly how naturalism comes up with accurate belief generating mechanisms", it's not strong enough. A gaps argument won't do.}}

I agree; but that isn’t my argument. Nor is it the kind of argument represented by the content of the quote you used from my comment.

Jason Pratt said...

Part 4 of 4...

Let’s illustrate what I’m talking about.

In effect, you answered my question (as you quoted), thusly: In an atheistic reality, hypothetically assuming that the foundation of reality, including our own mental behavior, is completely non-rational in its behavior, “we’re more likely to have reliable beliefs under evo when we have beliefs about testable theories, and when we use careful inductive methods”, etc., therefore despite our mental behaviors being foundationally non-rational if atheism is true, this is how we would be able to tell, with our mental behaviors, whether atheism (whether in its various categories, or broadly speaking altogether) is or is not a mere tellurian ripple of belief.

You’ve either simply avoided the sceptical threat, or answered in circular justification against the sceptical threat. The formally better answer would have been to say something like this: since we must nevertheless make axiomatic presumptions about our own rationality, then an atheistic reality must be such, if it is true, that... and then go into details about the causes of our mentality. But those details will still have to survive scrutiny. And since our rationality (with various properties) is being presumed, then if we find that the first rational conclusion to draw about a set of non-rational behaviors is that their product will also be non-rational, we will either have to abandon atheism as a proposition branch, or else justify our justification ability against that sceptical threat. Which is never going to work.


DL: {{Most people in church haven't reasoned their way there by small, controlled steps. Most theists are making a relatively-uncontrolled, holistic judgment. They are leaping to a belief.}}

Granted! But not relevant to the immediate discussion. {g} (Unless you’re trying to defend atheistic belief as being nevertheless proper to reach this way, too. Which is not going to be a good answer to the formal challenge of this version of the AfR.)

DL: {{It's not true that naturalism's ability to account for false beliefs renders all beliefs equally false.}}

Agreed (assuming there could be such things as beliefs at all, if atheism is true). But it does introduce the tellurian ripple effect, which only adds to the sceptical threat. I have never heard anyone coherently propose (or even try to so propose) that an atheistic fundamental reality has some property intrinsically tending toward the discovery of truth by derivative creatures; there is no, and can be no, corrective principle at the level of atheism per se (as there might be at the level of theism per se) , to lead out of a tellurian ripple effect. If all behaviors are in fact non-rational, any appearances to the contrary not-withstanding (including all human mental behaviors), then there is no escape even in principle from the tellurian limbo of usefulness trumping truth. If human mental behaviors can be rational despite their fundamental derivation from, and constitution by, non-rational-and-only-non-rational behaviors, that could count against the tellurian ripple. But that institutes a different first-level sceptical threat, which also has to be defended against.

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Postscript: I want to clarify that I am entirely willing to acknowledge rational-belief status for atheists (as well as theists) who arrive at their beliefs by holistic jumps. I only mean that that kind of appeal to the rationality of a belief won't work as a riposte to the formal challenge represented by the question Doctor Logic quoted from my comment. I don't know (and somewhat doubt) that he was intending to present it as such, either.


The topic does, however, provide a handy example to the kind of "rationality" I'm talking about in regard to this version of the Argument from Reason: I don't mean, when talking about rational or non-rational behavior, that the behavior is valid or invalid. It would be ridiculous to claim that reality (including fundamental reality) is valid or invalid per se. (Self-consistent, yes; "valid", no.) Similarly, when discussing whether humans are behaving rationally or non-rationally or irrationally, I'm not talking about whether they have logically valid beliefs, much less whether they themselves have properly sussed out the validity of their beliefs or not.

JRP

Doctor Logic said...

Jason,

I salute your clear and top-to-bottom argument.

Of course, I do think there are flaws, or, at least, parts that are missing.

You seem to be saying that there could be theistic models in which god/gods try to confuse us, but that it is implicit that you are considering theistic models in which that is not the case. And, I would grant that. The fact that you make any argument at all speaks to that sort of implicit assumption.

However, I can make exactly the same case for naturalism. I can say that we might envisage naturalistic models that lack material beings with reasoning ability, but it is implicit that those are not the kinds of naturalistic models we're talking about when we refer to "naturalism".

I think this is the response to which you alluded. However, then you seem to think that this induces a problem:

And since our rationality (with various properties) is being presumed, then if we find that the first rational conclusion to draw about a set of non-rational behaviors is that their product will also be non-rational, ...

We need go no further because this hasn't been done. This blog focuses on attempts to do so, but the attempts all fall foul of gaps arguments, the fallacy of division, or an inability to clearly define intentionality or other terms.

Doctor Logic said...

Jason,

From your blog post...

You're not "willing to take that chance"; that's only a metaphorical description you slipped into by accident, and not a very efficient one in this case, under these circumstances. What actually happened (if your theory is true) was that the physical reactions and counterreactions which corresponded to your perception of an argument that ends up with accepting the existence of God, induced a purely non-rational revulsion in you, resulting in another set of reactions and counterreactions which would not lead you "mentally" (for want of a better word) down the "path" of theism--the path that induced a merely non-rational revulsion in you, which you then merely reflexively gagged on.

A colorful flair, to be sure, but it seems that your central argument is that rational consideration doesn't occur in mechanisms (physical or otherwise) because figures of human speech appear incompatible. But figures of speech are not experience, and are not the arbiter of reality.

There are lots of problems with AfR's rejection of deterministic or material reasoners.

First, the ideal reasoner is a deterministic mechanism. If you're a really good reasoner, you'll reach the conclusion of, say, the Socrates syllogism every time. Non-determinism will only make you a worse reasoner (or at least a less efficient one).

Second, when I say that I am willing to consider something, I typically mean, implicitly, that I am going to reach a conclusion based on reasons, preferences etc.

AfR proponents typically claim that I don't consider things if I am destined to reach a given conclusion. I think that's problematic. I think it's wrong to think that genuine consideration must have the possibility of leading to more than one conclusion. I can't think of a good reason to accept that. It confuses metaphysical or ontological possibility with epistemic possibility.

Consideration is a matter of weighing one conclusion against another on the basis of preference and reason. If one option weighs more than the other, I'm destined to get to that heavier conclusion. It doesn't mean there's no weighing taking place.

The figure of speech is sensible because we don't know what conclusion we will arrive at until after we have weighed the inputs. It's epistemically possible to end up at either conclusion, even if it is necessary that we end up at one particular conclusion.

Finally, there's an implicit assumption that if something happens for one reason, it cannot happen for another. If my decision-making is a chemical mechanism, that doesn't mean it can't happen for abstract reasons.

A wave causes a boat to capsize. Yet it still makes perfect sense to talk about the actions of waves after we discover that waves are composed of wave-free H2O molecules. Reductionism is not eliminative. Reduction identifies a phenomenon with some more fundamental set of rules. Similarly, finding that human minds are made of non-rational components doesn't mean they don't reason.

To make the AfR work, you would need to show that no machine can possibly reason, and that's a tall order. Examples of broken machines or simplistic machines won't suffice.

Faith Monkey said...

Since we can use logic to solve problems and see progress and verify them with our five senses, doesn't this defeat Plantinga's arguement? I realize the scientific method is founded on non-empirical principles, but doesn't our use of the scientific method vindicate that logic is valid? Im not seeing the real force behind Plantinga's argument..

Gregory said...

"You seem to be suggesting that if we were all sociopaths, we would have more successful people.

No. To begin with, what I'm saying is that naturalism embraces "sociopathology", de facto, as natural. From what I see, you seem to be denying that nature had it's hand in making such individuals. Isn't a "lack of empathy" simply part of the survival scheme for some people?

Secondly, something like an "objective" moral order would have to account for one's distaste for individuals who lack empathy.

Thirdly, why aren't you agreeing with my assessment, considering you deny libertarian freedom? Can a sociopath do otherwise? Can we really blame the sociopath for behavior that stems from within his/her nature, according to an internal desire....or lack thereof?

This is an interesting counterexample for compatibilism, by the way. If an agent acts with empathy, the compatibilist wants to say that an agents action stems from empathy. But when the compatibilist is faced with individuals who completely lack empathy, then all he/she can say is

"well, whatever overt actions a sociopath takes is attributable to a non-negotiable chain of internal causation. Therefore, we can neither praise nor blame the sociopath for his or her behavior. We can only say that a sociopath acts in such and such a manner."

In other words, my good Doctor, you have failed to correctly diagnose the naturalist position...or you like to talk out of both sides of your mouth whenever it's convenient for you to do so.

My position is that naturalism defeats itself because it fails to provide any moral compass. It fails to give a plausible account of cognition. And it fails at providing a coherent picture of the broad spectrum of human experience. That is why I reject naturalism. Other theists or non-theists can take or leave what is said.....but I'm saying that the predicament of "taking" or "leaving" anything is contrary to the tenets of naturalism.

Gregory said...

I would be remiss in my argument to point out that "Doctor Logic" aims at persuading us by means of statistical logic; namely, that if 95% of the people are non-sociopaths, then, therefore, sociopathic behavior is wrong. I need to remind the good Doctor that this is known as the classic fallacy, "argumentum ad populum".

Doctor Logic said...

Gregory,

I know what you're trying to say, but your picture is horribly incomplete. You have underestimated my arguments. I would like to complete the naturalist picture for you so you can see that it is consistent, even if you don't like the picture.

First, I think naturalists are mostly committed to moral anti-realism. That is, morality can be objectively described, but not objectively prescribed. So, we might be able to accurately describe why we empaths are kind, and accurately be able to describe why some sociopaths are not, but we cannot say that one kind of moral system is OBJECTIVELY better than any other.

We might one day be able to OBJECTIVELY describe exactly why we empaths don't like sociopaths (and maybe this has already been explained).

As an individual, I can personally and subjectively value kindness and empathy more than I value the results of indifference and psychopathy.

Sociopathy is objectively abnormal only in the statistical sense. It's not abnormal in any moral sense of the word "normal".

I see no prospect for ever being able to say that sociopathy is OBJECTIVELY worse than empathy.

Secondly, something like an "objective" moral order would have to account for one's distaste for individuals who lack empathy.

Here is a very simple counterexample:

Suppose that when you were a child, your parents brought home a black dog. The black dog bit you and stole your food, and yet your parents didn't get rid of the dog. We would not be surprised to find that, by adulthood, you de-valued dogs, black animals, pets, and parents. By your logic "something like an 'objective' pet valuation system would have to account for your dislike of dogs".

I think you can see that your line of reasoning is obviously in error.

What you probably mean is that, lacking an objective moral order, we have no OBJECTIVE way to say that sociopathy (and its results) are worse than empathy. And I completely agree. My dislike of sociopathy is akin to the dislike of dogs in my example.

Doctor Logic said...

Gregory,

Finally, let's get to the blame game:

Can we really blame the sociopath for behavior that stems from within his/her nature, according to an internal desire....or lack thereof?

You're asking two questions. (1) ought we value holding a person accountable for their actions, given that they were destined to act that way, and (2) how do we reconcile this with our desire to hold people accountable?

Under moral realism, it is generally the case that a person is metaphysically accountable for a moral decision. This is why moral realists are often forced to believe in libertarian free will (which I believe to be an obviously illogical and incoherent doctrine). Moral realism (if we could ever find one to settle on) is capable of telling us what we OBJECTIVELY ought to value. That's why moral realists believe they can answer (1) which is a question that only applies to moral realists!

Under moral subjectivism, being accountable is not a metaphysical property. "Being accountable" is a figure of speech. Moral subjectivism/naturalism doesn't say we ought or ought not hold people accountable. Instead, subjectivism merely describes how people individually value or devalue holding other people accountable.

Again, under naturalism, we can't metaphysically say that the man who suffers from schizophrenia is less accountable (objectively speaking) than the average citizen. Both persons act according to their histories and environments, and according to the stuff of which they are composed. However, we subjectively value one kind of accountability over another.

While the realist wants to explain our valuing of one kind of accountability over the other in terms of an invisible metaphysical accountability field, the subjectivist just explains the valuation in terms of biology, history, or perceived deterrent value.

So, how do I come to value holding empathic people more accountable than schizophrenic people? Because my system of accountability appeals to my deepest values either directly or indirectly. Every value judgment relies on another value judgment, and I have never seen a way to create an objective foundation for value judgments. Any value judgment will ultimately rely on a subjective self-valuation or on some other set of subjective value judgments.

Shackleman said...

I used to hold DL's views about morality. And then one day I realized that torturing babies for personal gain or pleasure is wrong. Objectively. And, though I may not be able to reason my why to knowing that, I know it is so anyway.

And so do most sane people.

Besides, given naturalism, what is "Reason" anyway that we should place it above all other criteria?

Hyper-reasoning is an illness, IMHO, and can have very dangerous consequences.

For you agnostics....is "reason" the *only* way to know Truth? If not, then what other ways can we know it? If so, then where did it come from, and why should we be slaves to it?

If you're having trouble answering this, then perform thought experiments with *you* as the subject. For example, is it objectively wrong for someone to torture *you* for personal gain or amusement? Or is it wrong simply because you don't desire it, as DL would have you believe?

Doctor Logic said...

Shackleman,

I used to hold DL's views about morality. And then one day I realized that torturing babies for personal gain or pleasure is wrong. Objectively. And, though I may not be able to reason my why to knowing that, I know it is so anyway.

And so do most sane people.


Bollocks! You don't know it. You just believe it. Remember that whole thing about knowledge being justified belief?

The only way you can just know it is if it is self-knowledge, i.e., knowledge of your own feelings and sensations.

Just like me, you *feel* that torturing babies for personal gain or pleasure is wrong. That's not the same thing as knowledge unless we're talking about knowledge of our feelings. We believe torturing babies is wrong, but it's a belief about ourselves.

Hyper-reasoning is an illness, IMHO, and can have very dangerous consequences.

There's no such thing as hyper-reasoning. You just call reasoning hyper when it might take you away from your treasured preconceptions and biases. You're conceding the argument.

For you agnostics....is "reason" the *only* way to know Truth? If not, then what other ways can we know it? If so, then where did it come from, and why should we be slaves to it?

You can't win by reason, so you offer sheer force of belief instead?

Shackleman said...

DL,

"Remember that whole thing about knowledge being justified belief?"

Let's concede (for sake of argument only) that my belief (that torturing babies) is objectively wrong isn't *justified*. So what? When it comes to some things, justification isn't as important as just getting at the Truth. Knowing that it's wrong, objectively, in all possible worlds, to torture babies is of paramount importance. *How* you know that is secondary.

"The only way you can just know it is if it is self-knowledge, i.e., knowledge of your own feelings and sensations."

No no, you have it all wrong. For if what you believe is true (naturalism), the only why I know *anything* is because my neurons fired thusly. "Self" knowledge, like all other "knowledge" is an illusion, given your world view. It makes no difference---"my" "preferences" have nothing to do with it, again, given your world view, because there is no "me" to have preferences, and their are no "preferences" because they are all just senseless neural activity. Didn't ya know? Try again.

"Just like me, you *feel* that torturing babies for personal gain or pleasure is wrong. That's not the same thing as knowledge unless we're talking about knowledge of our feelings. We believe torturing babies is wrong, but it's a belief about ourselves."

You seem very confused. There is no "you". "You" are just an illusion and so anything that seems like "your feelings" is also an illusion. *sigh*....I supposed I shouldn't get frustrated...you are, after all, just a bag of chemical goo, blindly following the physics being lawfully unfolded inside your brain.

"You can't win by reason, so you offer sheer force of belief instead?"

I should know better than to argue with an android. That is all we really are, aren't we DL? At least you've said as much repeatedly over several years here.

Shackleman said...

Almost forgot:

"There's no such thing as hyper-reasoning. You just call reasoning hyper when it might take you away from your treasured preconceptions and biases. You're conceding the argument."

I don't believe you'll ever see it this way DL. The comment is for others who still have their humanity in tact. Yes, there is such a thing as hyper reasoning---and when one suffers from this illness one forgets how to be a human. One gives up their sole for the sake of their "brains". It's tragic, really.

I thank God every day I awakened from the nightmare that was my hyper reasoning state of being.

Faith Monkey said...

will someone answer my question?

Doctor Logic said...

Faith Monkey,

No, Plantinga's argument is like this:

1) We can reason, and our reasoning seeks truth.

2) If naturalism is true and we evolved, then our mental processes seek survival and not truth.

3) (2) contradicts (1), and (1) is more important because if we deny (1), we cannot conclude anything. Therefore, we must reject (2).

Plantinga's primary mistake is that he assumes that our beliefs themselves evolve. He doesn't understand that the survival advantage lies in the generality of reasoning. Humans aren't the best survivors because they have more rules in their heads than other animals. Humans are the best survivors because they are capable of learning new rules to new environments within a generation. They can migrate and survive environmental catastrophes. Plantinga is arguing that our beliefs derive from a fixed, historic environment, rather than from a general mechanism which allows us to learn new rules in new environments.

It's the common mistake among evolution deniers to assume that there is a single environment, and to assume that that environment is fixed.

Plantinga's other mistake is that the basic assumptions about our own rationality cannot be justified without circularity. This means we can construct a similar argument in which theism is true but in which God doesn't let us reason reliably. Most theists will reject this by saying that they are considering only those variations of theism in which God does grant us rational ability. Of course, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. The naturalist can make the same argument and say that he's only considering theories in which we turn out to be (somewhat) rational.

Plantinga's argument would work if he could prove that evolution MUST result in complete irrationality (i.e., much more irrational than we already are). Without that kind of proof, Plantinga is at best making an argument from ignorance about how we evolved.

Doctor Logic said...

Shackleman,

When it comes to some things, justification isn't as important as just getting at the Truth. Knowing that it's wrong, objectively, in all possible worlds, to torture babies is of paramount importance. *How* you know that is secondary.

This is what Christians mean by "Truth". Stuff they just know.

Look, what's wrong with just being personally disgusted by torturing babies, and acting to prevent it?

What's so important about it being wrong in all possible worlds? Isn't it better to say that you personally find it wrong to torture babies, and that you cannot imagine a world in which you would condone or engage in such activity?

Why do you feel the need to confabulate metaphysical realities to appease your emotions?

It's not about truth for you. It's about fantasy.