Saturday, October 24, 2009

P. Z. Myers says Plantinga gives philosophy a bad name

I fear for the reputation of my beloved discipline.

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy." (Col 2:8)


Gordon Knight said...

My computer was acting weird, but if I get the gist correctly, Mr. Myers believes that the reliability of empirical science has nothing to do with the reliability of the brain? Can this really be right? its embarrassing!

Dan Lower said...

I have very little respect for people with little or no formal training in philosophy and logic talking as if they're totally owning people who are light years ahead of them in that department.

It might be that the EAAN is flawed: in fact it probably is. But for Myers to pretend that it's some ridiculously obvious flaw when there has even been a massive collection of essays written about it is nothing short of ridiculous arrogance.

I wouldn't do that to atheistic philosophers; why do atheistic non-philosophers think they get off doing it to people like Plantinga?

New debate call: Myers-Plantinga 2010. Let's see who wins that 'screed.' My money's on the Alvinator.

Anonymous said...

Myers is an ugly geek, says this angry atheist.

___________________________ said...

I have to be sympathetic to PZ here. I mean, if one conceives of our epistemic state as one of continual trial and error, then even a set of somewhat flawed minds with sufficient capacity to learn could find reasonably accurate beliefs given a long enough period of time. Not only that, but if one starts off with this conception, then the EAAN seems ridiculous.

Not only that, but I get the feeling that PZ is not alone when making the point that the reliability of the brain is different than the reliability of science. I think the same position was held to by the American Pragmatists.

Given this issue, I actually think that the real issue isn't Plantinga, but rather different perspectives on how to conceptualize reality. PZ likely would object to some elements of analytical philosophy period, as he seems to consider empirical data essential for finding truth.

"We demand repeated and repeatable confirmation before we accept a conclusion, because our minds are not reliable. We cannot just sit in our office at Notre Dame with a bible and conjure truth out of divine effluent. We need to supplement brains with evidence, which is the piece Plantinga is missing."

unkleE said...

I have seen this article (more of a rant, actually) before, and found it difficult to believe that an apparently respectable academic would write such stuff.

Anyone, believer or unbeliever, who read Alvin Plantinga's on-line writing and this column would be in little doubt that Plantinga writes and thinks with precision, depth, skill and decency. I wouldn't think any of those adjectives would apply to this column.

On the internet, one finds all manner of intemperate and nasty comments, from all viewpoints, but I would have thought a Professor might want to rise above that.

Gordon Knight said...

It's hard to see how one can disintangle science from the brain and sense organs. if the latter are unreliable so are the former.

The deeper problem is the problem raised by the "argument from reason" Causal relations are not logical relations, and you need logical relationships, evidence, entailment etc for knowledge. You don't need God for this, but you do need Rationalism.

Doctor Logic said...

Plantinga says:

If I have 1,000 independent beliefs, for example, and the probability of any particular belief's being true is 1/2, then the probability that 3/4 or more of these beliefs are true (certainly a modest enough requirement for reliability) will be less than 10(to the power -58).

Um... does anyone here see a problem with this?

Lippard said...

There's nothing contradictory about saying that scientific methods produce more reliable results in the aggregate than any individual reasoner. See, for example, Philip Kitcher's article on "The Division of Cognitive Labor" that appeared in the _Journal of Philosophy_ and as a chapter in his book _The Advancement of Science_.

It would be a mistake to say that the reliability of empirical science has *no* relation to the reliability of individual reasoners, but did Myers say that?

Steven Carr said...

LOWER if they're totally owning people who are light years ahead of them in that department.

Can Lower come up with a logically valid argument for his claim that Myers thinks he is totally owning Plantinga?

After all, there is a possible world in which PZ was possessed by demons and was forced to say it.

Of course that world is not the world which exists, but the mere fact that there is such a logically possible world means that there is no contradiction between the followin statements.

1) PZ Myers said mean things about Plantinga
2) PZ Myers totally respects and is in awe of Plantinga.

Until Lower comes up with a valid logical argument for his conclusion that Myers does not totally respect Plantinga, perhaps he should keep quiet.

Of course, all of the above is rubbish. I am simply applying Plantinga's absurd methods for (allegedly) detecting what are logically valid arguments and what are not logically valid arguments.

No Christian has ever come up with a logically valid argument why non-believers should listen to a word Plantinga says.

Until they do, I see no reason to take Plantinga seriously.

Steven Carr said...

Plantinga never defines what is meant by 'reliable' cognitive faculties.

He can't, so he can use his own failings to equivocate on what 'reliable' means, changing it as he needs from 'truth-producing' to 'useful'.

He pretends to define it by claiming a reliable cognitive faculty is one which produces a true belief more often than not.

Which is like claiming a watch is reliable if it always tells you the correct year. Such a watch is useless even if it always gets the year right.

Or like claiming cognitive faculties are reliable if they always produce just the one belief - 'Tigers run faster than me', when face to face with a tiger.

Plantinga's argument that evolution would not produce reliable cognitive faculties falls flat on its face until he explains why people have to be trained in how to do science, just as evolution would predict.

8 said...

I suspect PZ knows a bit about logic, just not the imaginary, modal sort.

And probably chuckles, like most real logicians would (ie. not the "modal' sort), when some theologian starts into justifying God via "possible worlds" as does Plantinga.

Blue Devil Knight said...

PZ Myers is no neuroscientist, and may not appreciate just how reliable our sensory systems are.

On the other hand, his focus on the importance of evidence is an implicit realization that perception-based claims about the world are more reliable than claims based on chains of inferences, especially when unobservables are involved (logic and math notwithstanding).

At any rate, PZ makes some good points, yes in his typical rhetorical style but overall his point is sound: You can have unreliable parts that build up to a reliable machine.

8 said...

Plantinga: "you can't rationally accept both evolution and naturalism"

Many believers have now capitulated and accept evolution,even old-world sort, or at least part of it, but insist Deus the Designer guided it, planned it, directed it: so Designer, who exists somewhere apart from nature gives us dinosaurs, insects, great white sharks, hitlers...and countless extinct species.

Hail Beelzebub

Gordon Knight said...

The point is that it is our cognitive faculty that gives us the belief that our senses etc are reliable. But from a naturalistic evolutionary view, all we can say is that these processes are conducive survival.

To counter this, you need to show that "beliefs conducive to survival" are likely to be true.

You certainly cannot assume that one's current beliefs about sense perception's reliability, or science, or anything of that sort is true, since this is exactly what is at issue!

Steven Carr said...

So we can't assume our cognitive faculties are reliable?

The only way you can assume they are reliable is you subscribe to a world view where there are malevolent demons, highly motivated to attack your senses and reasoning and perfectly capable of doing so?

Christians claim people can be possessed unknowingly by demons yet can safely assume their reasoning is sound, while Christians also claim that naturalists cannot assume that grass is green ,even if it does look green to naturalists.....

I think Myers was far too gentle on Plantinga...

Gordon Knight said...

Again, if P's argument is successful it only shows that naturalism is self-defeating. It does not even show that its not true, just that if it is true, we have no reason to think that it is true.

Whether Christianity is true is a separate question.

Naturalism is so full of holes, you don't need religious assumptions to show its misguided.

Here is a simple way: causal relations are not logical relations

Here is another: introspective data contradict materialism, both in respect to qualia and in respect to intentionality.

Here is another: we can be aware of abstract objects (objects that are incapable of causal naturalistic interaction. (i.e. numbers

So, if you are going to be a naturalist, you need to deny the reliability of introspection, the existence of numbers (platonism), and somehow get reasons from causes.

Maybe you can do it, but its hardly the sort of view that deserves to be treated as an obvious fall back position. On the face of it, its absurd.

8 said...

Here is a simple way: causal relations are not logical relations

So much for logic. That suggests that nature/biology/chemistry doesn't operate via those quaint Aristotelian syllogisms, as Hume argued. Hume was not an "anti-realist" about science or denying order or continuity: he was saying science is assembled, constructed by humans from observation, experiments, induction (even if it isn't "necessary", according to logicians).

Plantinga like most metaphysical realists doesn't quite understand evolutionary time. He might ponder a TS Eliot, and says what a paragon of creation, etc. It took a few hundred centuries of trial and error to reach TS Eliot.

Doctor Logic said...

Well, none of you chimed in about Plantinga's problem. Plantinga refers to "1000 independent beliefs."

Apart from beliefs about sensory inputs, how many independent beliefs do I have? I struggle to think of two independent beliefs that I might hold. My beliefs are massively interconnected with reinforcing inferences.

Plantinga ignores the process of inference and the connectedness of beliefs.

Gordon Knight said...

The question is why suppose that such a system of beliefs corresponds to reality when there are an indefinite number of other systems just as useful that don't correspond to reality. If Leibniz is right, that is one system (I actually Like the idea of Leibniz being right,but it does not fit in with scientific realism)

I am not endorsing the argument, by the way--I really have not thought about it enough. But the guick rebuttals are not at all persuasive.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon said:
You certainly cannot assume that one's current beliefs about sense perception's reliability, or science, or anything of that sort is true, since this is exactly what is at issue!

Nobody assumes sensory systems are reliable. We empirically study their reliability. For instance the rod (night vision) system is a lot less reliable for transmitting information about fine-grained spatial structure, and carries no information about wavelength, as compared with the cone (day vision) system).

I treat sensory systems the way I would treat any other natural phenomenon such as a chemical reaction or elliptical orbits. No special philosophical tricks are needed.

Give me an animal, and we'll observe how its brain responds to different sensory inputs, and can quantify how reliably the brain tracks those sensory inputs.

Of course you could be a skeptic about all empirical knowledge (e.g., how do you know there is a rat there, or that the rat has neurons?), and I couldn't answer that. Nobody can answer that. If that were your concern, then we would be arguing across a chasm that argument would not be able to bridge, and I'm fine with that.

Such views about the study of perceptual/sensory systems is just one instance of First Philosophy (Descartes) versus Second Philosophy (as articulated by Maddy). Is there a philosophy of sensory systems that is needed to ground the science, or is the question of how sensory systems work, how reliable they are, itself part of science?

When studying sensory processing, I do use my best understanding of electricity and magnetism to study the electrical properties of neurons. I use my best understanding of physics to understand the stimuli going into the ear (e.g., the physics of waves travelling in air). Is there something wrong with this? Is there some prior, first, philosophy that will help ground all this science?

As Penelope Maddy put it, for those who want to understand science itself, there is no contradiction in using the scientific method. There is nothing viciously circular about that, any more than Godel using cutting-edge logic and mathematics to point out limitations and power of mathematics and logic.

I'd be very happy to improve my methods. Can the First Philosophers suggest alternative methods or results that might be helpful in studying the reliability of a rat's sensory system, things I should know about as I study vertebrate sensory systems? What philosopher should I read?

When discussing how the Second Philosopher would approach science itself, Maddy says (in her great book 'Second Philosophy' which I highly recommend, especially to Gordon):
"[S]uppose she is engaged in her scientific study of science: she calls on her physiological, psychological, neurological accounts of human perception and conceptualization, her linguistic, psycholinguistic, cognitive scientific theories of the workings of human language, her physical, chemical, astronomical, biological, botanical, geological descriptions of the world in which these humans live; she uses these and any other relevant scientific findings to explain how these humans, by these means, come to know about this world."

Right on.

Maddy also discussed Cartesian doubts, how the Second Philosopher would take on the general skeptic by arguing that the SP (Second Philosopher) doesn't reject Decartes' First Philosophy on abstract principle, based on some absolute distinction between science and non-science (i.e., she doesn't follow the principle 'trust only the methods of science'), but tries to find some specific way in which the Cartesian methods show us something new or useful about the world.


You might ask how this applies to Plantinga's general argument. I don't know, but I was mainly replying to Gordon's claim about sensory system reliability. This happens to be one of my main research areas in neuroscience, so I wanted to chime in.

___________________________ said...

Ok, one issue I can see as an argument is that truer beliefs/belief forming processes are more likely to survive trial and error. This goes both evolutionarily, and scientifically. So, pretending that belief sets that correspond to truth are equally likely to occur as belief sets that don't really correspond to truth at all seems silly.

One might question whether empirical verification can really occur with flawed minds, but so long as we say that these flawed minds value some consistency in assessments of external reality(which is quite conceivable for them) then consistent representation of an outside world is all that is necessary.

Secondly, not a single person's brain is reliable enough to contain all true beliefs. In fact, we see this stuff all of the time, as we see political ideologues, conspiracy theorists, false religions, etc. And to a certain extent, Plantinga's probably not wrong with the claim that most people have a *lot* of false beliefs. I mean, our memories are false more often than we know, and we don't do a lot of fact checking for most of the things we "know", and we often distort our perspective of reality in many ways as well as there are a *lot* of cognitive biases out there even a bias that has people overstate the similarity they have with their wives(unless we are going to just say that the psychologists administering the personality tests are the ones with the distorted beliefs).

One issue is that not all methods are equally reliable, so one might say scientific beliefs are closer to truth than perhaps political beliefs or religious beliefs or metaphysical beliefs.

Another issue is that rational belief does not mean a likelihood of personally being correct. If it did, then which philosopher is the right one? Let's say that there is a disagreement between philosophers, it splits them right down the middle, then each philosopher at best only has a 50% chance of being correct. Do the wrong philosophers have irrational belief? No, they used the best methods they think are available. However, if we just look at history, I would imagine that we would consider the number of correct philosophers to be somewhat low if we evaluate them by current knowledge.

Because of that, I think that the notion Plantinga has is silly. It should be plainly obvious to most people by this point that no matter what they talk about and what they say, there is a very very high chance that they are wrong, even if they are an expert. In fact, the best that I think a person should aspire to is the hope that they are a path to a belief/method that better approximates what is true, but personally having lot of true beliefs? That's silly. At least unless we are counting the trivial true beliefs.

And frankly, I'd side with PZ, as tested beliefs are likely more reliable than metaphysics and beliefs more derived from less testable intuitions. So yeah... I don't see anything really said or refuted or negated, I just see a lot of silliness.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think most academic philosophy gives philosophy a bad name, but I also think that academic philosophy shouldn't care what I think. Every so often one of those stinky clamholes spits out a pearl. E.g., some of Hilary Putnam's work.

Doctor Logic said...


The question is why suppose that such a system of beliefs corresponds to reality when there are an indefinite number of other systems just as useful that don't correspond to reality.

Not sure if you're responding to me, but if all our beliefs are interconnected by inferences, this places a huge number of constraints on possible beliefs. Just enough constraints, in fact.

Suppose that, after inferential constraints are accounted for, there are still a great many sets of beliefs, all resulting in comparable predictions and behaviors. These systems of beliefs would have the same logical and predictive structure as the capital T True beliefs Plantinga thinks we all have access to.

It then comes down to a definition of meaning. For verifiable propositions, the meaning is in the predictions. Since all the remaining variations of belief have the same predictions, they have the same meaning. Every belief is as capital T truthful as the other.

Plantinga might counter that we might not have reliable beliefs about unverifiable things, but then is he still critiquing naturalism?

Gordon Knight said...

DL: Thanks for the book refernce, it definitely sounds like a book I should read.

It sounds like Maddy (and DL) are proposing some kind of coherentist account of justification.

Maybe that would be one way to counter P. I don't know whether it would work, I am skeptical about coherentism, but its been a while since I thought about it.

"Of course you could be a skeptic about all empirical knowledge (e.g., how do you know there is a rat there, or that the rat has neurons?), and I couldn't answer that. Nobody can answer that. If that were your concern, then we would be arguing across a chasm that argument would not be able to bridge, and I'm fine with that."

This is what is at issue in P's argument, if I remember it right. He is not saying that skepticism is TRUE, but that evolutionary naturalism (not evolution per se), implies such skepticism.

Doctor Logic said...


It sounds like Maddy (and DL) are proposing some kind of coherentist account of justification.

I'm not sure I would consider myself a coherentist. However, aren't the alternative justification systems at least coherentist in the relavant respect? That is, wouldn't a foundationalist belief structure also be coherent in a way that defeats P?

P assumes our beliefs are independent. Are there any viable justification schemes in which we have independent beliefs?

Is my knowledge of Moby Dick independent of my knowledge of the oceans? Of my friends? Of good and evil? It seems to me that if my knowledge of any of these things is revised, my knowledge of all of them will be revised, even if subtly. P wants to treat all of them as independent.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon: it was me, not DL that mentioned Maddy. Her article Second Philosophy is here. I wrote a little review of her book here.

My thoughts usually come back to what methodological improvements, or substantive contributions to knowledge, will a particular criticism produce? Would Platinga be able to help me study sensory system reliability in a more productive way? Are there systematic errors he will help me correct?

Also, we could turn his argument on its head. Clearly he thinks humans are able to find the truth about things (i.e., he thinks naturalism is false, and this is one of the reasons). Hence, using my sensory and cognitive systems I have found using the best methods anyone has available that sensory systems are reliable. What if I also find that more "cognitive" systems are also quite reliable (especially when we consider communities of scientists studying something, not just individual belief dynamics, which as has been pointed out even if that is not reliable, that doesn't imply community knowledge cannot be accumulated that is more reliable). And what if all this research is done within a naturalistic framework (just like my study of sensory systems)? Would that count as a reductio of his view?

His grand arguments are cute, but make too many assumptions to take seriously. Even for purely evolutionary reasons, there is no reason to think that beliefs didn't evolve to match reality (e.g., there is a lion over there is a good belief to have when there is a lion over there). If we don't get the rough spatial, temporal, and "kind" information right about an object (is it a mate, food, or a predator), then we will die.

Add to that the ability of language to groom our innate cognitive habits, to weed out silly patterns of inference (as when we put beliefs into language that were previously in our heads).

I just don't see the draw of Plantinga's argument, except perhaps for claims about unobservables. But then we would be in the cesspool of the realism/antirealism debate about unobservables and that is something I am wholly uninterested in because nobody will convince anybody (van Frassen versus everyone all over again).

Gordon Knight said...

BDK: Sorry to have confused you with DL

I still see talk about reliability as beging the question IF you assume naturalism (which is what is at issue). P does not have a problem with the reliability of the senses b/c he does not assume naturalism, but instead xtian theism, and he has an argument to the effect that theism makes it probable that our cognitive faculties are reliable.

I really don't like the implicit externalism in all of this. But to counter P, what you would have to do is explain why atheistic evolutionary development (no God in the background), would make it more likely that our beliefs are true than not. Maybe it DOES do this--but this is the point at issue.

This argument is so famous there is a whole book on it: _Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism._

Blue Devil Knight said...

Yes I'm familiar with the book, good that the argument helps philosophers stay in business.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon: Even if my science is done using my nonphysical mind (assume for argument I have one), the discoveries I make about sensory system reliability, are still made within a naturalistic framework. Just as this supernatural mind discovered that natural processes produce lightning, so it discovered that natural processes are enough for extremely reliable sensory systems.

It is obvious why evolution would want a reliable sensory system. It is through such systems that the world makes it into the rest of the brain, and as I already said if the thing weren't reliable we would not behave appropriately. We would try to eat mates, run toward lions, and run away from food.

As I said, I am not addressing nonsensory systems or the Platinga argument more generally, but his argument fails for sensory systems and the question of their reliability. My hunch is he doesn't spend much time on this topic, as his interest lies in more cognitive phenomena.

On the other hand, as I already said, we could run a similar argument through that I ran through for sensory system reliability, and this would serve as a reductio of his position.

I have always been surprised by the seriousness with which this is taken, given the severe lack of knowledge of the biology. It's like arguments about vitalism in the 1800s. People didn't even know the mechanism of inheritance yet, but they insisted on confidently proclaiming their predictions about the future.

I guess I am just not a philosopher. Scientists tend to be less confident in their conclusions when there isn't data, not more confident. That's me. For some reason the absence of conclusive data about a topic seems to embolden some philosphers.

Anonymous said...

Doctor Logic wrote: "Plantinga says:

If I have 1,000 independent beliefs, for example, and the probability of any particular belief's being true is 1/2, then the probability that 3/4 or more of these beliefs are true (certainly a modest enough requirement for reliability) will be less than 10(to the power -58).

Um... does anyone here see a problem with this?

I think I see a problem. If we assume that each belief is a coin toss, and that the probability of each belief being true is 1/2, then what is the probability of 1/2 of them being true? I would think the probability is about 1. So for 3/4 of them being true, I would think the probability would be somewhat better than 10^-58, though certainly less than 1.

The problem comes in when we don't have independent beliefs. Suppose, before I can toss a coin a second time, it must be heads the first time. And suppose, before I toss it a third time, it must be heads the first and second time. We can see that it won't be long before we must stop tossing the coin. If we have 1,000 dependent beliefs, and the chances of each of them being true is only 1/2, then the chances of 3/4 of them being true would be 10^-58. -- Bilbo (someday I'll find that password)

Anonymous said...


Doctor Logic said...


No, Plantinga is correct about the 10^-58 number in the independent case.

In the dependent case, you have to consider what makes the beliefs dependent.

For example, Plantinga supposes that we have false beliefs that lead to adaptive responses:

1. It is good to pet all animals.

2. Running away from dogs is not an effective way to pet them.

3. Running away from lions is an effective way to pet them.

4. Dogs are animals.

5. Lions are animals.

Belief #3 is false, but leads to adaptive behavior (i.e., running from lions).

However, this set of beliefs is not independent. They are dependent. The terms "pet", "run", "effective", etc. are not free variables in every statement of belief. These statements are all related by their implications for experience.

Note that the falsity of belief #3 assumes that petting and surviving are indistinguishable to the evolved mind. If the evolved mind is equally well adapted (per Plantinga's premise), this assumption doesn't work. There's survival value in knowing the difference between petting and surviving.

If we start adding more related beliefs about petting and beliefs about surviving, we'll find that there are even fewer ways of cooking up false beliefs (not more, as Plantinga suggests), and all the ways of cooking up false beliefs will rely on untestable claims about the environment. Confusing testable claims won't work. For example, once we cure the confusion about petting versus survival, Plantinga could try to inject more confusion by replacing "petting" with "milking". And he would get away with this until we start incorporating beliefs about milking versus survival (which is testable).

Plantinga could try to supplement each belief with some abstract, untestable proposition, e.g.,

You are more likely to survive if you run from a lion AND, by the way, angels orbit my soul.

However, it's a stretch to say that a system that forms beliefs with unverifiable metaphysical nonsense attached is equally likely to evolve. Information costs energy, and the attached metaphysics would complicate inference, leading to slower decision-making.

Anonymous said...

Hi Doc,

You wrote: "No, Plantinga is correct about the 10^-58 number in the independent case."

Yes, I thought about it afterwards, and realized that in order to get 750 true beliefs (or heads in fair coin tosses) would be very improbable.

You also wrote: "For example, Plantinga supposes that we have false beliefs that lead to adaptive responses:"

But Plantinga thinks that Evolutionary Naturalism does not imply that beliefs lead to any sort of responses, adaptive or otherwise. As he wrote:

"Indeed, the neurophysiology in question might cause beliefs that have nothing to do with the creature's current circumstances (as in the case of our dreams); that's also fine, as long as the neurophysiology causes adaptive behavior."

In other words, the assumption is that there is no necessary correlation between neurophysiological states and beliefs. I believe that I am typing on a computer keyboard, but I am really running away from a lion in the Serengeti. My neurophysiology has caused the correct adaptive behavior. What my accompanying beliefs are is irrelevant.

In other words, Plantinga thinks that Evolutionary Naturalism leads to Epiphenomenalism, where mental events have no causal efficacy on physical events.

If he's correct, then I think his argument against Evolutionary Naturalism succeeds.

The question is, if Evolutionary Naturalism doesn't lead to Epiphenomenalism, does his argument still succeed? In that case, I think your argument, based on dependent beliefs, is a strong one that Plantinga needs to consider. -- Bilbo

Gregory said...

It's interesting how our individual use of language, very often, reveals a lot about ourselves. Take this statement, as an example:

"unverifiable metaphysical nonsense"

Now, I would be inclined to say that the person who used this phrase had spent far too much time studying the views of the Vienna Circle, while ignoring the fact that it had been "squared" a long time ago.

But I believe that there is an interesting, yet relevant, lesson to be learned here. Granting, for the sake of argument, that evolution is true, then why do modern "atheist" academics insist on maintaining philosophically defunct epistemic positions?

In fact, the Academy has proven, in many instances, that evolution is false. For instance, that the human mind is not steadily progressing forward intellectually---whatever "progress" and "forward" are supposed to mean---but, rather, devolving into trite, passe dogmatism.

Dogma is good....just as long as it's not "religious". Skepticism is good....just don't question skepticism. It's ok to have gatherings where atheist sermons are preached, skeptical literature is sold and disseminated, donations are asked for on behalf of the Center for Inquiry West, and everyone goes out to Marie Calendar's for lunch....but, for God's sake, don't call that "church".

The Enlightenment is the biggest scam to be foisted upon mankind since Ancient Greek Atomism. Which wouldn't be so bad, except that the "Age of Reason" has given us the full monty with Industrial waste, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Mengele, Alfred Hoffman, the Atomic Bomb, Timothy Leary, LSD, Heroin, Crack Cocaine, Methamphetamines, Hugh Heffner, Larry Flint, child pornography, Corporate power, Bill Gates & the techno thugs at Microsoft, "reality" television, paparazzi, celebrity voyeurism, Michael Jackson, Columbine, high profile mass murders by tweens looking for their last 15 minutes of fame, Madeleine Murry O'Hare, the "Amazing" Randy, Penn & Teller and a host of sloppy pseudo-intellectual pretenses....much, of which, shows a remarkable degree of ahistoric prejudice. Oh, this is just the Reader's Digest story of the past 300 years of "progress".

So, three cheers for evolution. Hip, hip hurray!! Boy, things have gotten so much better now that God is out of the picture.'s the newer, fresher, more enhanced Humanist Manifesto. It really bypasses all the old verbiage, and really cuts to the chase. I hope you all like it. And here's how it reads:

Nobody wants Your "Law" and "Order" anymore, God, so beat it. We've had enough of You and Your stupid "love". You're cramping our style. And if Michael Shermer could send a Nuclear Patriot missile into heaven to blow You up, then I'm sure he would. And we "Enlightened" people would all rejoice and say "amen".

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gregory: I agree. Some things you left off your list of evils that spring from the enlightenment: vaccines, the computer, photocopy machines, airplanes, quantum mechanics, neuroscience, the radio, television, telephone, separation of church and state, representative democracy, and sanitation.

What other evils have I missed? Probably one or two.

Gordon Knight said...

The "enlightenment" gave us Hume and Voltaire, both goods. But they are not the WHOLE good, and certainly don't capture the whole truth.

Living in a culture with assumed religious beliefs, its good to question. living in a culture with assumed atheism (as is the case, not in the culture at large, but in some academic circles), its good to question that.

Reason ought not pick favorites.

Doctor Logic said...

BDK, you forgot public education, police, lower crime rates, racial equality, sexual equality, and The Great Satan herself. Damn those Enlightenment thinkers!

Doctor Logic said...


Epiphenomenalism is Plantinga's straw man, but let's suppose for a moment that Plantinga is right about it. Does he mean to deny the logical structure of our epiphenomenal beliefs?

For example, suppose that your belief that typing on your keyboard occurs when you are actually interacting with lions. Would the action of reaching for the Enter key on your keyboard correlate with throwing a spear at a lion? Does believed failure to tap the Enter key correspond to physical failure to cast the spear, and lead to predictable consequences with the same logical structure? Or is every epiphenomenal belief completely unrelated to the others? Does running from a lion correspond typing at a keyboard while throwing a spear at a lion correspond to an unrelated belief, like making a sandwich?

Either way, Plantinga assumes that biology carries is an epiphenomenal belief-generating mechanism of incredible complexity. He proposes that the neural circuitry in my brain that was formed by interacting with keyboards is somehow being triggered to create epiphenomenal keyboarding beliefs as I engage lions in combat. He's proposing a very elaborate crosswiring of recognition and belief.

Plantinga does not seem to understand that recognition and memory are tied together in the brain's hardware. Naturalism does not lead to the kind of epiphenomenalism Plantinga is talking about. (And, even if it did, he would not need to invoke evolution to make his case.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Doc,

You conclude: "Plantinga does not seem to understand that recognition and memory are tied together in the brain's hardware."

I think Plantinga would be willing to admit that recognition and memory are tied together in the brain's hardware, but that they were designed that way, in order to lead to true beliefs that can have causal efficacy.

"Naturalism does not lead to the kind of epiphenomenalism Plantinga is talking about."

I can almost see Plantinga raising an eyebrow and asking you what kind of epiphenomenalism you think it does lead to, and how it would be any better.

"(And, even if it did, he would not need to invoke evolution to make his case.)"

Does he need evolution to make his case against Naturalism? I think so. It seems at least logically possible that Epiphenomenalism is true, and that our cognitive faculties would still be reliable, i.e., that they generate mostly true beliefs.

However, if the explanation of how our cognitive faculties came into existence is evolution, which favors adaptive behaviors, and those adaptive behaviors are not caused by beliefs, then we need an explanation for why we should think those beliefs reliable.

Let me add in some of the things that Plantinga has written, he seems to say that even if Naturalism does not lead to Epiphenomenalism, the Evolutionary argument against Naturalism still works. So I'm not always sure I understand his argument. -- Bilbo

8 said...

Plantinga doesn't just say biology and the theory of evolution implies epiphenomenalism. He's suggesting something like an argument from human consciousness (whether he fleshes it out or not), which seems a bit platonic.

the argument runs something like this:

1. humans and humans only use language (including the language describing evolution, science, etc)

2. language implies a unique non-reducible human consciousness.

3. this human consciousness cannot be accounted for by naturalism.

4. Therefore, human consciousness is transcendent/epiphenomenal, and religious (more or less).

Only the first two premises can be supported, really. The third premise remains a matter of debate, and actually an empirical claim , which Plantinga does not really establish. Consciousness could be complex, unique and "non-reducible" (at this time), and yet not epiphenomenal. So the conclusion hinges on the third premise which has not been established.