Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lakatos and the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

I had originally put this discussion on my original DI blog, but it got into some areas related to the Argument from Reason, and I noticed in reading the comments that Exapologist thought that the discussion should go over here. Exapologist claims, in the combox, that a Lakatosian philosophy of science permits a naturalist to accept the reliability of our rational faculties even if the probability that our faculties are reliable on naturalism is low or inscrutable.

Though I wonder if the argument could go something like this.

R (thesis that our faculties are reliable) is a control belief of science. If we deny it, then confidence in science, which the naturalist must accept, goes by the boards.

Prob/R is low or inscrutable given naturalism.
Prob/R is considerably higher given theism.
Therefore, R provides probabalistic support for theism as opposed to naturalism.



At 12/20/2007 04:06:00 PM , Blogger exapologist said...

Hi Victor,

I should also point out that the claim I want to defend is not that belief that my faculties are reliable is justified even if *naturalism* is low or inscrutable, but rather that this belief is justified even if the probability *current auxiliary hypotheses of the research program of evolutionary theory relevant to faculty reliability* are low or inscrutable.

At any rate, while I'm not sure I have Beilby's reply quite right -- I'll actually have to go back and read it closely -- but I don't see how your construal of the EAAN here answers the Beilby-style reply I defended in the comment thread linked to here. I start out with prima facie justification (henceforth 'PFJ' for short) with respect to beliefs issuing from my cognitive faculties. I then hear of the EAAN. Does this defeat the PFJ of these beliefs? No -- at least not for a Lakatosian who accepts naturalistic construals of evolutionary theory. For the auxilliary hypotheses of the latter that are relevant to faculty reliability accrue their justification globally -- i.e., in virtue of the fact that evolutionary theory is a productive, and not a degenerative, research programme. If so, then problems with current auxiliary hypotheses regarding faculty reliabilily don't constitute an undercutting defeater for the PFJ of my beliefs issuing from my basic sources of belief. To undercut R, therefore, you have to do something much stronger than point out the inadequacies of these auxiliary hypotheses: you have to show that naturalistic evolutionary theory *as a whole* is a degenerative research programme. Good luck with that, but I'm not holding my breath. ;-)

At 12/20/2007 04:49:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Just my two cents...

First of all, there is a very specific gain that one gets from rational thinking, namely, the ability to adapt to novel situations without physical or genetic conditioning (which take a lifetime or generations, respectively).

There's no substitute for rational modeling in this regard. Rationality need not be perfect, only good enough. Formal methods more than make up for unreliabilities. Consider arithmetic. We humans aren't very reliable at it. But with pen and paper we can become far more reliable. The same applies to logic. By using symbolic logic, I can make my logical analyses far more immune to logical errors.

To advance the premise that evolution doesn't lead to reliable(-enough) rationality is to misunderstand the value of rationality. There's no substitute for the general purpose nature of rationality.

Second, it costs us nothing to assume that we are rational. There are several implicit assumptions that go into any rational argument. These include:

1) the laws of rationality themselves (logic, induction, incorrigibility of experience qua experience),

2) the assumption that the problem at hand is susceptible to rational inquiry,


3) that my mind is capable of rational thinking.

All these assumptions go in implicitly at step zero.

If, later in any chain of argumentation, I assume I can think rationally, this assumption costs me nothing because the same assumption was made at step zero.

There's equal opportunity here. The theist/supernaturalist would be in the same peril. How do you know that God isn't playing with your head to make you think you're rational when you're not? There's no rational way around that possibility because God could be monkeying with whatever rational counter-argument you think you've produced. However, before you started the argument, you already assumed that you could think rationally, so the re-assumption that God doesn't tamper with your rationality costs you nothing.

The only possible problem would be if you could prove that naturalism (or theism) ruled out the possibility of rational thought, but that's not what these arguments purport to show.

Again, just my $0.02.

At 12/21/2007 01:10:00 PM , Blogger Rino said...

Hi Doctor Logic,

The argument that rationality helps us survive, so it makes sense within an evolutionary framework, has some odd consequences. Hilary Putnam puts it well: "In fact, if rationality were measured by survival-value, then the proto-beliefs of the cockroach, who has been around for tens of millions of years longer than we, would have a far higher claim to rationality than the sum total of human knowledge. But such a measure would be cockeyed; there is no contradiction in imagining a world in which people have utterly irrational beliefs which for some reason enable them to survive, or a world in which the most rational beliefs quickly lead to extinction". (1982, Pg. 6-7)

At 12/21/2007 09:07:00 PM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Hi Rino,

I'm not familiar with the reference, but I don't think Putnam's statement reflects an understanding of biology.

As Putnam says here, it would be cockeyed to measure rationality in terms of survival value. Rationality and survival are two different and clearly identified variables. That would be like measuring heat in terms of mass.

"...there is no contradiction in imagining a world in which people have utterly irrational beliefs which for some reason enable them to survive, or a world in which the most rational beliefs quickly lead to extinction".

We can imagine wholly fictitious worlds in which there's no change, no migration, no ecological change, and no social competition or invention, and in such worlds rationality might be a hindrance. For example, if the best solution to a survival problem is always to do X, why waste 50% of your energy contemplating whether to do X?

The problem is that ecology, society and location are never constant. Our environment is changing all the time. And in that case, there is no substitute for rationality's ability to adapt over very short time spans.

Cockroaches can breed very quickly and have very large populations. That is their evolutionary strategy, and it is a great one. I would go as far as to say that bacteria are even better at that technique. But neither species is using intelligence for learning. They are using genetics and heredity for learning. In many cases, they can only learn as fast as they can successfully mutate.

The bigger you get, the less effective is this reproductive strategy. If you're an elephant, you're going to have to wait many generations before you are adapted to live in the tundra (although some conditioned responses will help). In contrast, humans can devise the many many adaptations necessary for arctic living in only a generation. Rationality is a huge survival advantage in a changing environment. Genetics and conditioning cannot accumulate knowledge and survival techniques as fast as rational thinking.

As an example, consider what would have happened if the first amphibians had been rational thinkers. They would have colonized every part of this planet, and would have short circuited the evolution of reptiles and mammals. They would not have sat around twiddling their appendages for millions of years waiting for waterproof skins or means of reproducing away from natural water supplies. They would have invented these things. Sure, they may have nuked themselves, but that's a different issue. :)

At 12/22/2007 08:30:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

Of course the kicker in the EAAN is that the defeat of R if you accept N. But the argument seems to have some force even without that. The idea is, we can't give up the belief that our faculties are reliable, but if R is more likely given theism than on background knowledge alone, it looks like we've got a confirmatory argument for theism, even if you shouldn't doubt R even if you are a naturalist.

At 12/24/2007 06:49:00 AM , Blogger Doctor Logic said...


R is not more (or less) likely under theism than under N.


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