Monday, July 16, 2007

Did this presentation of the AFR influence C. S. Lewis?

From Balfour's The Foundations of Belief (pp. 306-310).

These conclusions are, no doubt, as we saw at the beginning of this Essay, embarrassing enough to Morality. But they are absolutely ruinous to Knowledge. For they require us to accept a sys- tem as rational, one of whose doctrines is that the system itself is the product of causes which have no tendency to truth rather than falsehood, or to false- hood rather than truth. Forget, if you please, that reason itself is the result, like nerves or muscles, of physical antecedents. Assume (a tolerably violent assumption) that in dealing with her premises she obeys only her own laws. Of what value is this autonomy if those premises are settled for her by purely irrational forces, which she is powerless to control, or even to comprehend ? The professor of naturalism rejoicing in the display of his dialectical resources, is like a voyager, pacing at his own pleasure up and down the ship's deck, who should sup pose that his movements had some important share in determining his position on the illimitable ocean. And the parallel would be complete if we can con- ceive such a voyager pointing to the alertness of his step and the vigour of his limbs as auguring well for the successful prosecution of his journey, while assuring you in the very same breath that the vessel, within whose narrow bounds he displays all this meaningless activity, is drifting he knows not whence nor whither, without pilot or captain, at the bidding of shifting winds and incalculable currents.

Consider the following propositions, selected from the naturalistic creed or deduced from it : (i.) My beliefs, in so far as they are the result of reasoning at all, are founded on premises produced in the last resort by the ' collision of atoms/ (ii.) Atoms, having no prejudices in favour of truth, are as likely to turn out wrong premises as right ones ; nay, more likely, inasmuch as truth is single and error manifold. (iii.) My premises, therefore, in the first place, and my conclusions in the second, are certainly untrustworthy, and probably false. Their falsity, moreover, is of a kind which cannot be remedied ; since any attempt to correct it must start from premises not suffering under the same defect. But no such premises exist. (iv.) Therefore, again, my opinion about the original causes which produced my premises, as it is an inference from them, partakes of their weakness ; so that I cannot either securely doubt my own certainties or be certain about my own doubts.

This is scepticism indeed ; scepticism which is forced by its own inner nature to be sceptical even about itself; which neither kills belief nor lets it live. But it may perhaps be suggested in reply to this argument, that whatever force it may have against the old-fashioned naturalism, its edge is blunted when turned against the evolutionary agnosticism of more recent growth ; since the latter establishes the existence of a machinery which, irrational though it be, does really tend gradually, and in the long run, to produce true opinions rather than false. That machinery is, I need not say, Selection, and the other forces (if other forces there be) which bring the ' organism ' into more and more perfect harmony with its ' environment/ Some har- mony is necessary so runs the argument in order that any form of life may be possible ; and as life develops, the harmony necessarily becomes more and more complete. But since there is no more important form in which this harmony can show itself than truth of belief, which is, injdeed, only another name for the perfect correspondence between belief and fact, Nature, herein acting as a kind of cosmic Inquisition, will repress by judicious persecution any lapses from the standard of naturalistic orthodoxy. Sound doctrine will be fostered ; error will be dis- couraged or destroyed; until at last, by methods which are neither rational themselves nor of rational origin, the cause of reason will be fully vindicated. Arguments like these are, however, quite insuffi- cient to justify the conclusion which is drawn from them. In the first place, they take no account of any causes which were in operation before life ap- peared upon the planet. Until there occurred the unexplained leap from the Inorganic to the Organic, Selection, of course, had no place among the evolu- tionary processes ; while even after that date it was, from the nature of the case, only concerned to foster and perpetuate those chance -borne beliefs which minister to the continuance of the species. But what an utterly inadequate basis for speculation is here ! We are to suppose that powers which were evolved in primitive man and his animal progenitors in order that they might kill with success and marry in security, are on that account fitted to explore the secrets of the universe. We are to suppose that the fundamental beliefs on which these powers of reasoning are to be exercised reflect with sufficient precision remote aspects of reality, though they were produced in the main by physiological processes which date from a stage of development when the only curiosities which had to be satisfied were those of fear and those of hunger. To say that instru ments of research constructed solely for uses like these cannot be expected to supply us with a meta- physic or a theology, is to say far too little. They cannot be expected to give us any general view even of the phenomenal world, or to do more than guide us in comparative safety from the satisfaction of one useful appetite to the satisfaction of another. On this theory, therefore, we are again driven back to the same sceptical position in which we found our- selves left by the older forms of the * positive/ or naturalistic creed. On this theory, as on the other, reason has to recognise that her rights of indepen- dent judgment and review are merely titular digni- ties, carrying with them no effective powers; and that, whatever her pretensions, she is, for the most part, the mere editor and interpreter of the ^utter- ances of unreason. I do not believe that any escape from these per- plexities is possible, unless we are prepared to bring to the study of the world the presupposition that it was the work of a rational Being, who made it intel- ligible, and at the same time made us, in however feeble a fashion, able to understand it. This conception does not solve all difficulties ; far from it.

According to a once prevalent theory, * innate ideas ' were true because they were implanted in us by God. According to my way of putting it, there must be a God to justify our confidence in (what used to be called) innate ideas. I have given the argument m a form which avoids all discussion as to the nature of the relation between mind and body. Whatever be the mode of describing this which ultimately commends itself to naturalistic psychologists, at least, it is not on the face of it incoherent. It does not attempt the impossible task of extracting reason from unreason; nor does it require us to accept among scientific conclusions any which effectually shatter the credibility of scientific premises.

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