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The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

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I am not familiar enough with the Objectivist epistemology to judge how it would answer this argument. I was tempted, at first, to write it off as a "stolen concept fallacy", but there are parallels between it and Rand's argument against determinism such that I can't be certain how an Objectivist would rebut it. What follows is an excerpt from the argument that I think summarizes it accurately:

"If naturalism is true, there is no God, and hence no God (or anyone else) overseeing our development and orchestrating the course of our evolution. And this leads directly to the question whether it is at all likely that our cognitive faculties, given naturalism and given their evolutionary origin, would have developed in such a way as to be reliable, to furnish us with mostly true beliefs. Darwin himself expressed this doubt: "With me," he said, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? The same thought is put more explicitly by Patricia Churchland. She insists that the most important thing about the human brain is that it has evolved; this means, she says, that its principal function is to enable the organism to move appropriately: Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F's: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism's way of life and enhances the organism's chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.

What Churchland means, I think, is that evolution is interested (so to speak) only in adaptive behavior, not in true belief. Natural selection doesn't care what you believe; it is interested only in how you behave. It selects for certain kinds of behavior, those that enhance fitness, which is a measure of the chances that one's genes are widely represented in the next and subsequent generations. It doesn't select for belief, except insofar as the latter is appropriately related to behavior. But then the fact that we have evolved guarantees at most that we behave in certain ways--ways that contribute to our (or our ancestors') surviving and reproducing in the environment in which we have developed. Churchland's claim, I think, is best understood as the suggestion that the objective probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable, given naturalism and given that we have been cobbled together by the processes to which contemporary evolutionary theory calls our attention, is low. Of course she doesn't explicitly mention naturalism, but it certainly seems that she is taking it for granted. For if theism were true, God might be directing and orchestrating the variation in such a way as to produce, in the long run, beings created in his image and thus capable of knowledge; but then it wouldn't be the case that truth takes the hindmost."

Source: http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/...sm_defeated.pdf (pages 3-5)

Edited by ctrl y

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I don't honestly know how 'an Objectivist' would answer this question, and neither is that particularly important, so long as you understand that this is absolute hogwash.

If naturalism is true, there is no God, and hence no God (or anyone else) overseeing our development and orchestrating the course of our evolution. And this leads directly to the question whether it is at all likely that our cognitive faculties, given naturalism and given their evolutionary origin, would have developed in such a way as to be reliable, to furnish us with mostly true beliefs.

The idiot who wrote this obviously didn't try to understand the theory of evolution before he (she?) tried to refute it. Yes, natural selection is based on random mutations, but the author fails to appreciate the amount of time available for the most advantageous mutations to come to the fore. We're talking about billions of years. Added to that fact, for long periods during that time, the earth wasn't particularly hospitable to life, which tends to speed up the process by more quickly weeding out the weakest (or even the not-quite-stronger-enough) mutations. This, and the evidence we have today (both from studying the chemical attributes of DNA, and from observing actual living things mutating to adapt to changing environments) should be sufficient proof that natural selection both actually happens and is effective in making organisms better able to survive. One of those adaptations was the ability to sense our environment beyond our immediate surroundings (sight, hearing, smell), thus enabling organisms to observe and avoid dangerous situations, and pursue favorable situations. The next logical step would have been a nervous system capable of remembering previous situations and anticipating future dangers and rewards based on immediate context. The next step after that would be the ability to conceptualize a more favorable situation and manipulate the environment to bring it about (this is human consciousness). At what point in this process would it not be advantageous for one's observations to be accurate (and therefore truthful)?

The mistake the author seems to be making is in somehow separating advantageous behavior from accurate observations of reality. You simply can't have the former without the latter, at least not consistently. (I suppose, theoretically, you could have entirely inaccurate observations that would still lead to survival behavior, but an animal whose observations are more accurate would still have a distinct advantage).

Another problem I see is the assumption that a series of random mutations will have a completely random result. This is known, I believe, as context-dropping. If random mutation is understood in the context of competition among animals for limited resources, the result will certainly not be random, as I explained above.

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Ack! I just spotted the stolen concept. The author is trying to use his cognitive faculty and observations of reality to deny the validity of his cognitive faculty and power of observation.

there are parallels between it and Rand's argument against determinism

Are you talking about the fallibility of cognition? I think the error you are making here in equating the two is that Ayn Rand said you can be wrong if you don't form your concepts correctly, whereas the author of this work seems to think those concepts are somehow intrinsic to the faculty of cognition. Basically, he is trying to divorce volition from cognition, which is precisely the opposite of an argument against determinism.

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Ack! I just spotted the stolen concept. The author is trying to use his cognitive faculty and observations of reality to deny the validity of his cognitive faculty and power of observation.

This accusation of self-refutingness has been debated a lot in the context of the Churchlands and I think many people would agree its a flawed objection, at least in its simplest forms. See this for some background, or Paul Churchland's paper "Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes" for a more indepth argument (although I dont agree with the Churchland's position in general).

Edited by eriatarka

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This accusation of self-refutingness has been debated a lot in the context of the Churchlands and I think many people would agree its a flawed objection, at least in its simplest forms. See this for some background, or Paul Churchland's paper "Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes" for a more indepth argument (although I dont agree with the Churchland's position in general).

You're right that I was begging the question, but I was actually begging the wrong question. I thought they were trying to say, based on the excerpt from ctrl y, that evolution did not provide us with a means of accurately perceiving and understanding reality. After reading the articles you suggested, I see that they are trying to refute the ability of modern psychology to accurately predict and understand human behavior. I still think it's foolish, though, to base any scientific argument (made by a human, I assume) on an assertion of the inherent unreliability of human cognition.

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You were spot on when you commented that "The mistake the author seems to be making is in somehow separating advantageous behavior from accurate observations of reality". Maybe the guy is coming from mystical persepective and uses "truth" to mean something else; otherwise, I cannot fathom how he can think there's a dichotomy.

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This is rather a curious position, because by what standard can one say that a monkey's or a dog's consciousness is inaccurate; that they do not observe reality and become aware of it (their surroundings) and thereby take action? And as someone already pointed out, it took at least 2.5 billion years for us to evolve. That is a lot of time for which to have changes that could lead to awareness instead of just some sort of reflexive action, and for man, he became aware of his own consciousness and developed the ability to direct it. I certainly do not see anything unnatural about this; and besides, we have no evidence that it was anything but a natural evolution not guided by any intelligence. Those living beings that did develop awareness most definitely have an advantage over simple one-celled living beings. Even a dog compared to a bacterium is light-years away in development. And, as I think someone else was trying to point out, if our consciousness is so unreliable (again, by what standard), then why should we rely on the so called "scientific findings" that point out that our consciousness is unreliable?

Reminds me of when I was taking a philosophy course on Descartes, and the professor kept pointing to the chalk board where he had written something down and I said, "If my senses are so unreliable or incorrigible, how can I ever be sure that I am seeing what your or Descartes wrote down correctly?" And you know, after that he would hesitate every time he wanted to point to something to show that the senses were inaccurate :D

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Here is something else to keep in mind when one is talking about a higher-level species evolving from single celled beings: In the human womb, the embryo basically goes through all of the steps from single cell to complex human in only nine months. And those steps seem to parallel those scientists have discovered about fossilized remains of living beings -- i.e. from single celled, to clumps of cells, to specialized cells, to the basic shape of more complex living beings, to arms and legs, to a large brain, to birth. The way a human being develops in the womb is like a time-lapsed process of evolution. And there is no evidence of any kind of intelligent guidance for this process either, not even the brain of the fetus. It all just happens naturally from the nature of the fertilized human egg.

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The key is not to assume so hastily about naturalism, we don't know everything about anything just yet. Yes, we know a lot and that's all we know. Once we takes the next steps (technology, theories, etc.) we progress on our understanding of anything. If that makes sense?

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The key is not to assume so hastily about naturalism, we don't know everything about anything just yet.

Are you trying to say that since we don't know all of the details about how life began on Earth and how we evolved that we must therefore leave room for the Creationist claim that we must have come from some intelligent design? What evidence do you have of that? Nature tends to build on its successes, rather than starting from scratch, that is one reason why the embryo develops as it does in the womb -- i.e. those were the steps that led to us, and since nature has no intelligent guide it can only do what it does, instead of realizing there can be an easier way of making a human from scratch. When man creates something new, he doesn't need to repeat the old process, and then redesign it as he goes. For example, when it comes to building a sky scraper, he doesn't start with a hut, then builds a log cabin, then builds a two story house, and then takes those pieces and re-arranges them into a sky scraper; and that is because he can realize the principles and designs with those principles in mind. Nature, on the other hand, builds on prior successes and cannot grasp a principle from which to start building. This is why we basically do have the brain pats of lower animals with other parts added on. However, this does not make his mind unreliable, as you and I writing on a computer amply demonstrates.

In other words, evidence of some intelligent design would be required, and we don't have that evidence.

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I think what I'm trying to say is that I'm apathetic about the entire idea of Creationism. That I acknowledge what theorists say about where we came from. I personally I know the facts of what science has done for us and is our only means of explaining our existence and how one piece of mass formed into another. We have so much time to dig even further by the accelerating change of our technology.

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I think what I'm trying to say is that I'm apathetic about the entire idea of Creationism.

Oh, well sorry if I misunderstood you. I thought you were counteracting what had been said against Creationism. I can't tell you how many times I have been misunderstood over the years, especially by people who don't or won't keep the context of my statements. In your case, I assumed you were against the established context by what you said, but you were actually agreeing, at least of sorts, with the idea that Creationism has no context whatsoever.

The point is that just because you don't know something, it is not reasonable to say, "Therefore God!" -- which is what the Creationists say. Prove to me that it was simply a natural occurrence, or it must be due to God, is not a rational metaphysics or a rational epistemology. But, of course, it doesn't matter to them what facts we have that it was all natural, because no matter what the boundaries of science are, they will say, "Beyond that is God!" Poppycock! Beyond that may well be a mystery, but God had nothing to do with it.

Some people have claimed that I am doleful and want to declare peace with me, because I talk against the irrational so much, but there can be no peace without reason and a rational assessment of the facts.

I've just watched a special on 9/11/2001, eye witnesses to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on The History Channel, and I still say: NUKE them!

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My last statement in this thread came across rather kludgey, but that is because I had just watched a special on the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 and the idea of giving credence to a religious view (creationism) really irked me very deeply. Many people don't see the connection, but it is specifically their religious views that had to lead them to attack the United States. I was also thinking of a personal attack leveled against me a few years ago, which, though I cannot attribute to religion, did stem from irrationalism and taking some statements I made completely out of context. In effect, that personal attack was my 9/11. And, yes, I am still bitterly angry at them for doing that, just as I am bitterly angry at the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11/2001.

So, let me clarify my position.

A rational individual does not say something like "Therefore God" when he doesn't know the answer to some question. He knows, from observation and from reason, that the world exists and that it can be understood, and understood only with reason. He knows that faith is a very poor substitute for thinking, and that to attribute something to God is to say that it is not open to reason -- which position a rational man abhors.

Taking a position that something is not open to reason is to admit that one is not looking for answers. The Creationists are like this regarding the creation of man. Not only are they against the facts that have been discovered --i.e. evolution -- they hold onto their views in spite of a great deal of evidence to the contrary; because they take faith seriously. It is either reason and reality, or faith and non-reality; and taking faith seriously means that the facts are irrelevant. It also means that the rational must be attacked, because the rational is of this earth and of factual reality.

As 9/11 showed, those who take faith seriously must be driven to attack not only reason, but the products of reason --i.e. two magnificent skyscrapers, the Pentagon, and the financial markets of the United States of America.

In my personal attack, I think they were being very non-rational, with all of their spying and psychological manipulations that nearly drove me crazy, and that they were against me because I was being rational. And, yes, I hate them with the same fervor that I hate the terrorists of 9/11.

If those who attacked me during the summer of 2005 want to correct my views, they can write to me and clarify what they were doing around my apartment, my place of work, and their breaking into my personal computer. That is, if they were not trying to deliberately confuse me, they can write to me and clarify what they were up to. But I have been sending out these requests for several years now, and I have indications that they are following what I write on the Internet, and yet they won't come forward; so my position stands. They harassed me and stalked me during most of the summer of 2005 and beyond, nearly leaving me psychologically disabled; just as the economy of this great country was left nearly disabled after the attacks of 9/11. And I hate them for it.

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Also, the writer, like Clive Staples Lewis and Alvin Platinga, begs the question that some super mind had us in mind when natural selection just used what was available to form our minds. This argument is called the argument from reason. It is a teleological one; they all beg that question- design, fine-tuning, and probability.

Theists who use the argument should realize that it goes against their reasoning as well. How do they know that it isn't Descarte's demon that guides them?

Oh, their faith tells them the truth! Then they again beg the question thrice over: as noted; faith begs the question of its subject to avoid showing evidence therefor, and science is acquired knowlege, as naturalist Sydney Hook notes, whle faith begs the question of being knowledge.

Sounds to me that the esteemed Prof. Irwin Corey could make better arguments!

We learn, of course, from trial and error to trust our senses. Theists want certiude[ the Truth] rather than our provisional knowledge, it seems to me.

Logic is the bane of theists.

Edited by skeptic griggsy

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Patricia Churchland and others like her, like Tom Clark, like Dawkins and Brian Leiter and Susan Blackmore, Daniel C. Dennet, et. al ad infinitum, are called "reductivists." (Tibor Machan told me this, so I researched it and he's right.) They reduce everything to the bio-physiological workings of the human body, then use that to deny the existence of free will and the soul. (I don't mean a transcendental soul; the soul dies with the body.) Even Ayn Rand believed in the soul--read Chapter 11 of Anthem. And that is not the only place she uses it. It abounds in her non-fiction as well.

If the reductivists didn't exist, (they are called "scientific naturalists," by the way--I am a metaphysical naturalist--) the Intelligent Design argument would probably never have ever come up. Christians think they are fighting all naturalists except their own who see God in nature. Actually, they are only fighting the reductivists. The rest of us are atheists, but we are not out to deny the soul, or tell anyone their free will does not exist.

If you want to see what the reductivists believe, check out Naturalism.Org or Center For Naturalism where you will see about 3 dozen names on several pages of these "reductivists." Many names you will recognize.

I have argued with Tom Clark in my own blog, about Rand's ideas vs. his. His reply: "Ok, many thanks for these clarifications, most interesting. It would be nice if all Rand’s acolytes examined her philosophy as assiduously as do you, ending up with more nuanced conclusions about the legitimacy of compassion and limits of egoism."

He was clearly not going to give an inch, but was at least impressed with her logic, which he has argued against extensively with Tibor Machan and others. Machan et al. vs Tom Clark

My own metaphysical naturalist site is here.

Edited by Curtis Edward Clark

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Patricia Churchland and others like her, like Tom Clark, like Dawkins and Brian Leiter and Susan Blackmore, Daniel C. Dennet, et. al ad infinitum, are called "reductivists." (Tibor Machan told me this, so I researched it and he's right.) They reduce everything to the bio-physiological workings of the human body, then use that to deny the existence of free will and the soul. (I don't mean a transcendental soul; the soul dies with the body.) Even Ayn Rand believed in the soul--read Chapter 11 of Anthem. And that is not the only place she uses it. It abounds in her non-fiction as well.

FYI. She used the word "soul" as a dramatic - and misleading - synonym for "mind." She did not believe that there is some sort of magical energy cloud lurking in your head, like the Christians do.

Edited by ctrl y

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