Biologist PZ Myers v. Calvinist Philosopher Alvin Plantinga: Is the Brain a Reliable Perceiver of Truth? And if Not, Can Scientific Procedures Function, As It Were, as Vitamin Supplements to Our Otherwise Pallid and Unreliable Monkey Brains?

Biologist PZ Myers today fisks Calvinist philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s essay (written last summer) in which Plantinga claims that evolutionary naturalism is not a coherent intellectual position because we can have no confidence that our brains have evolved to reliably discern truth from error, including the truth or error of evolution and naturalism.  They seem to be, in relation to one another, in a Catch-22. Our brains, Plantinga argues, if they evolved, have not done so for purposes of accurately discerning truth, but for accurately discerning mates, predators, and prey.  His alternative to the brain’s evolution by the pressures of natural selection is to have faith that God has put into us a “divine sense” that accurately perceives truth (especially Truth with a capital “T”). According to Plantinga, just as we have a sense for hearing physical sounds, we also have a sense for hearing and discerning the voice of God and truth. But if we are merely evolved animals, then we cannot rely on our judgments about the truth of things—including whether or not naturalism is a clear way of seeing the world. Thus, if we claim to be evolutionary naturalists, we ought to be driven into a radical epistemic skepticism. So Plantinga writes:

The problem, as several thinkers (C. S. Lewis, for example) have seen, is that naturalism, or evolutionary naturalism, seems to lead to a deep and pervasive skepticism. It leads to the conclusion that our cognitive or belief-producing faculties—memory, perception, logical insight, etc.—are unreliable and cannot be trusted to produce a preponderance of true beliefs over false. Darwin himself had worries along these lines: “With me,” says Darwin, “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?”

Myers’s response to Plantinga, while characteristically obnoxious in places (as Myers is wont to do), nevertheless struck me as at once sharp and practical. It seemed to cut through a lot of Plantinga’s Calvinist theological fog in a way that only a practicing scientist might do:

To which I say… exactly! Brains are not reliable; they’ve been shaped by forces which, as has been clearly said, do not value Truth with a capital T. Scientists are all skeptics who do not trust their perceptions at all; we design experiments to challenge our assumptions, we measure everything multiple times in multiple ways, we get input from many people, we put our ideas out in public for criticism, we repeat experiments and observations over and over. 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.

The latter part of this quote contains a particularly astute observation: “We need to supplement brains with evidence.” In other words, we need to bolster our theorizing and philosophizing with evidence precisely because our brains, untethered by encounters with the verifiable, are so unreliable and prone to the compounding of errors. Science, scientific methods, and relentless peer review, function, as it were, as the brain’s performance enhancing vitamin supplements or medicinals. They are human extensions of the brain, attempting to correct—or at least ameliorate—its worst imperfections and tendencies to error.

Plantinga, I assume, would argue that Myers bypasses his point, responding in a practical manner to an epistemic philosophical argument. Plantinga would probably reply to Myers that if you cannot trust the evolved human animal brain for accurately identifying truth (because it did not evolve to discover truth, but evolved for sexual selection and survival), then setting the scaffolding of science over-top of it as a corrective does not really solve the philosophical dilemma of how one ultimately concludes, even then, that you’re seeing the world right.

But Plantinga, if this were the direction of his response, would strike me as being driven into his own peculiar brand of unwarranted epistemic skepticism. It would mean that we would have to treat as a living possibility the idea that science does not give us particularly reliable or true information. Quite obviously, to any sane person, it does.

But I also suppose that Plantinga could then counter with this: How does an evolved monkey brain know what’s sane?

In such a bootstrapping epistemic chase-around, I would simply have to throw up my own monkey arms and side (this time) with the practical biologist over the cunning philosopher-theologian.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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22 Responses to Biologist PZ Myers v. Calvinist Philosopher Alvin Plantinga: Is the Brain a Reliable Perceiver of Truth? And if Not, Can Scientific Procedures Function, As It Were, as Vitamin Supplements to Our Otherwise Pallid and Unreliable Monkey Brains?

  1. kvond says:

    santitafarella: “The latter part of this quote contains a particularly astute observation: “We need to supplement brains with evidence.” In other words, we need to bolster our theorizing and philosophizing with evidence precisely because our brains, untethered by encounters with the verifiable, are so unreliable and prone to the compounding of errors.”

    Kvond: It is not just evidence that suppliments our brains, but instersubjecdtive, communitity-driven criteria, which helps us judge OBJECTIVELY (according to agreed upon criteria), which makes evidence “evidence”, that suppliments our brains. Truth, Big T, is probably best understood as the evolutionary result not just of brains and environments, but the capacity of brains to joined together with the appeal to reasons. It is our very natural community of communications which makes the preponderance of our beliefs necessarily True (Davidson).

  2. santitafarella says:

    Kvond:

    I consider myself generally a pragmatist ally of Richard Rorty, and if I understand you correctly you are suggesting that part of our ability to get at the truth of things is via the communicative hive mind of the community. As social animals, we gravitate toward a consensus of collectively reasonable premises, and then by arguing from those premises arrive at agreement and bonding with others (and incidentally, at a closer proximity to the truth of things for that community). Is that kind of what you are suggesting, or am I misunderstanding?

    And would this make truth up for grabs?

    —Santi

  3. kvond says:

    Santi,

    If you are an ally of Rorty, then that may very well make you an ally of Donald Davidson, with whom Rorty allied himself (attempting for some time to somewhat appropriate Davidson’s thoery to his own). In the end Rorty actually relented and admitted to a large degree that he had been wrong in his disputes with Davidson, come from his engagement with Ramberg’s essay“Post-Ontological Philosophy: Rorty vs. Davidson”[I quote from Rorty’s response to it here : http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/22/the-objective-truth-of-rorty/ ]…and that Davidson was right, there indeed was a place for a Theory of Truth.

    What Davidson ends up producing is that the criteria established are indeed historically contingent (just as perhaps one might use a Fahrenheit scale or a Centigrade scale for temperature), but that the form of the processes of process of agreement (Triangulation) and the verdicality of beliefs is not. The result is yes, along with neo-Pragmatists, truth is what works (or sentences that work are true), but there is an added element of rational cohension, an necessary holism of beliefs which makes them all for the most part “true” beliefs.

    In a strange sense, the form of the truth is up for grabs, but truth is not.

    Two more interesting links:

    1. Here is an excellent 5 minute youtube explanation of Davidson’s argument against skepticism and the inherent veridicality of beliefs:

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/24/skepticsm-refuted-in-under-ten-minutes/

    2. If you have the time, here is a wonderful (and rare) conversation between Rorty and Davidson largely on the issue of Truth:

    http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/24/rorty-and-davidson-talk/

  4. santitafarella says:

    kvond:

    Thank you for the Davidson information. I noticed in your first post that you brought up Davidson, and that’s why I brought up Rorty. I know that Rorty wrote philosophical papers devoted to Davidson’s thought, and I’ve got the books that they are in, but I’ve not actually read those particular essays. I appreciate you trying to bring me up to speed on this. I’ll look at the links you suggest.

    —Santi

  5. kvond says:

    Sounds great. I too have been a Rorty fan, so to speak, and it really was Rorty who first lead me to Davidson. I find Rorty’s reversal on Davidson at the hands of the little known Ramberg to be one of the more gracious and redeeming moves in contemporary philosophical circles. (At least as far as I can read it from this distance.) My interest in Davidson goes afar from Rorty now, but I retain this connection.

    Hope you find it interesting.

  6. Jared K says:

    Santi,

    Have you read Hume’s critique of induction? I think that Plantinga’s argument would be better structured along these lines. Once I really understand what Hume had to say about induction, I realized that rigorous logical skepticism DOES seriously threaten, not only science, but the majority of all human knowledge! I believe Hume was more the starting point for Lewis in his argument from reason.

    You may already be fully aware of this, but Hume’s devastating critique of inductive reasoning (induction, of course, being the foundation for all scientific knowledge) is still widely regarded as having gone unanswered to this day. Like so many others (particularly non-philosophers) I casually dismissed Hume’s argument in the way that you dismiss Plantinga at the end of your above post. “Science obviously works. Any sane person can see that. To hell with Hume’s trivial nitpicking about justification.”

    But when I actually wrestled with the what Hume was saying about induction I was positively floored. So far as I can tell, there is no justification for inductive reasoning. Period. Further, it fails us a huge amount of the time. And where it succeeds, there is absolutely no justification for the belief that it will succeed again tomorrow. Dismiss all you want, but this isn’t coming from some random contemporary apologist, this is the greatest English speaking philosopher in history.

    Of course, if you follow Rorty, I’m sincerely interested in how you consistently follow PZ Myers as well? I assume that Myers holds a correspondence theory of truth and a realist construal of science, both of which, if I’m not mistaken, Rorty rejected.

    I’d be interested to know if ANYONE that you know of in the scientific community finds Rorty’s epistemology attractive? What I’ve encountered of Rorty’s seems anti-thetical to scientific realism. And realism, it seems to me, is the majority view of scientists and a special necessity for the anti-creationist.

    I’m wondering if you can really keep Rorty in one pocket and PZ Myers in the other? No need to respond to all this. There is a lot here.

  7. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    You made a ton of good points above. I have not read, specifically, Hume’s critique of induction, but I’ll research it now that you’ve told me about it. I assume it follows along the same lines as his critique of causation (or perhaps you are referring to the same line of argument in a different context).

    Hume is, of course, very smart, and no doubt has made it more difficult, philosophically, to say what it means to express certainty about one’s conclusions (scientific or otherwise).

    As to Myers, I am definitely NOT a follower of him. I dislike his obnoxious scientism and anti-liberalism, and if you were to search this blog with his name you would find that this is one of the few times that I’ve quoted him favorably. I just thought that, to give the devil his due, that he had nailed Plantinga’s argument in a way I had not anticipated (embracing the fact that the human brain is flawed). It seemed to turn Plantinga’s argument on its head, and I was impressed by that.

    As to your question about Rorty being attractive to Richard Dawkins-style science oriented atheists, I’ve talked to them in threads at websites and find that, indeed, Rorty is absolutely persona non grata. They hate people like Rorty, Eagleton, Chris Hedges, and Stanley Fish (and by extension, me). We might all be agnostics or atheists of some variety, but we are not the right kind of nonbeliever. For most people chatting at the Dawkin threads, it is Dawkins’s way or the highway. They are, most of them, believers in some version of naive scientism, thoroughly dismissive or impatient with metaphysical or epistemic qualifications of science’s scope.

    Someone else who gives the Dawkins groupies a hard-on is Stephen Gould because he dared to give any scope to religion in his concept of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). But Dawkins and Myers attract followers who believe in Science (with a captital “S”) as what I would call, One Overlapping Magisteria. I guess I could coin this as SOOM, and give it eschatological energy with a phrase like, “Science is coming SOOM!” It is a totalist vision, with John Lennon’s Imagine (“imagine no religion”) as a theme song (which I think gentle “live and let live” Lennon would have regarded as an ironic use of his music).

    I think it is possible to keep Rorty in one pocket and Darwin in another, but not Myers’s naive scientism. Notice that Myers shifted an epistemic critique to a practical one in his fight with Plantinga. The metaphysical and epistemic, though always present, tends to be deeply sublimated and largely dismissed or marginalized by the Myers and Dawkins followers.

    It is a religion that refuses to acknowledge its religious nature. I think that this is why metaphysics and epistemology is so fiercely downplayed among them.

    —Santi

    • Jared K says:

      Santi,

      Thanks for responding. I get where are you are coming from now.

      Although I cannot follow the anti-realist Rorty-style approach, I completely agree with your critique of atheistic fundamentalism and scientism.

      I really like your SOOM acronym and comment.

      Sorry to keep making references to philosophy (I’m fresh out of my first graduate semester and antsy, I guess), but are you familiar with the rise and fall of logical positivism in the 20th century? It seems like this is the key to understanding the Dawkins-types. They simply didn’t get the memo explaining that the verification theory of meaning (essentially, naive scientism) utterly fails, is self-referentially incoherent, and has been totally abandoned by epistemologists and philosphers of science since the 1970s.

      For some reason, refutations of positivism haven’t trickled down into the practical hard sciences yet. In other words, Dawkins-types are still employing the philosophy of knowledge once popularized by the Vienna Circle, but today it is universally rejected. Clearly, there are other types of real, meaningful knowledge that are not “scientific” in nature. This is taken for granted in the philosophy of science today. And yet I have been so shocked to find how scientists, like Dawkins, seem totally ignorant of this. Again, it is like they didn’t get the memo.

  8. Veronica Abbass says:

    Santi

    I almost missed this post and I certainly missed Myers post and I’ve been avoiding Pharyngula lately: it’s much too frustrating. Comments like the one below are, to me, counterproductive:

    The workings of the man’s mind sit there naked and exposed, and all the stripped gears and misaligned cogs and broken engines of his misperception are there for easy examination. Read it, and you’ll wonder how a man so confused could have acquired such a high reputation; you might even think that philosophy has been Sokaled.

    Myers doesn’t even provide a link for “Sokaled.” Fortunately I know who Sokal is; I didn’t know his hoax spawned a verb.

    I am going to read Plantinga’s essay and will comment tomorrow.

    Veronica (I have given up using Scarlet Letter)

  9. santitafarella says:

    Veronica:

    I look forward to hearing your take on Plantinga. I personally find Myers much too obnoxious, but I am not thrilled with Plantinga either. He’s very smart, but he is, in my view, a Christian sophist. I understand why Myers would call Plantinga an Alan Sokal. When I have read Plantinga in the past, I’ve found myself too frequently saying, “Surely he cannot be serious!” He, of course, always is. But he strikes me as just short of disingenuous. But maybe you have a different take.

    —Santi

  10. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    I think I have a better acronym (or at least more fluid one). The debate over science and religion (in my view) is between SOMA, NOMA, and ROMA. In other words, the debate is between “science as an overarching magisteria” (Dawkins and Myers), “non-overlapping magisteria” (Gould, Collins, and the Templeton Foundation), and “religion as an overarching magisteria” (Discovery Institute and young earth creationists). Another possibility: POMA (philosophy as an overarching magisteria).

    In such a debate, I have to side with Gould. I think that there is not Muslim science, or atheist science, or Christian science, or Marxist science. There is only science. It can tell us some things, but not others. And there are things that it cannot inform us about. Science’s “is” must not always (or even usually) be translated into ought.

    As for positivism. I generally agree with Comte’s philosophical view of history, that religion has been reduced in status by philosophy, and philosophy by science. Science has had a spectacular run since the Enlightenment, and it deserves pride of place in the human endeavor to arrive at knowledge. But I don’t agree with positivists when they suggest that religion and philosophy are no longer terribly important. And logical positivism is right, when talking carefully about the world, to insist on definition, and that a lot of what passes for thought is, when looked at closely, gibberish.

    The fact that positivism is out of style compared to, say, the 1950s with Ayer etc., does not mean that there are not some valuable things that positivists emphasized.

    Science must, as science, necessarily emphasize a “naive positivism.” I don’t fault Dawkins or Myers for being hard-nosed people, and rejecting POMO (postmodernism) and theology. I just think that they are, ultimately, unbalanced in their judgment about the value of non-scientific ways of talking about things (such as in philosophical or theological terms). And I think that to protect their scientism, they necessarily downplay the fact that even science is subject to metaphysical and epitemological premises/assumptions.

    I think that philosophy and theology are in play until science settles an issue and takes it out of the realm of metaphysics or epistemology. For example, five hundred years ago it would have been a metaphysical premise to believe that the earth is young or old. It is now something that we can reasonably say that we know (the earth is, in fact, old). Likewise, right now it is a metaphysical premise if you say we live in a multiverse. But one day in the future science may give us clear evidence one way or the other. 100 years ago, it was a metaphysical premise to say that the universe was either eternal or had a beginning. Now we know. It had a beginning. Physics has settled an “ultimate” question. How we interpret the meaning of that “settled” question is a different matter.

    —Santi

  11. Jared K says:

    Santi,

    I’m not sure that your view that science gradually displaces philosophy and theology is compatible with yours and Gould’s N.O.M. That sounds like overlapping to me.

    Not to sound overly defensive of philosophy, but there could be no science without philosophy. Philosophy is THE foundational intellectual discipline. You may think that sounds authoritarian of me. But it seems clear to me that you can’t do science until you do philosophy of science (what on earth would you be doing until you had a method to employ?).

    Science is a subset of analytic philosophy in my opinion–and I dare say that something like this is the obvious, mainstream and historical viewpoint. While science is that subset of analytic inquiry that combines both logic and empirical evidence together, analytic philosophy, more broadly, only requires the application of general reason, argument, and evidence to those areas of knowledge that are obviously meaningful but which obviously are not the kinds of things you test in a lab. In short, the scientist has boundaries of inquiry, the philosopher does not.

    Again, you may interpret this as an authoritarian move on my part, but it seems very obvious to me that science is a subset of analytic philosophy, not some competitor of it. It is pretty clear that philosophers do philosophy of science every day. I’ve yet to see a scientist do science of philosophy.

  12. Jared K says:

    One other thing: Take Gould’s NOM for example. That isn’t scientific in the least (it need not be). That is philosophical–a foundational understanding of what science is. That is Gould doing philosophy, not science. How on earth would you formulate a scientific theory, and then test, that the field of science and the field of theology are two separate and distinct, non-overlapping human endeavors? You couldn’t. And yet questions like these are hardly unimportant. I actually think these foundational, philosophical issues are more important to science than the scientific data itself. The question “what is science and how do we do it?” seems paramount.

  13. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    I think that you are right that, in some ultimate sense, you can’t do science without making large metaphysical and epistemic premises, but those premises are, curiously, almost impossible to divorce from the activity of science itself. For example, for purposes of public demonstration, you have to simply assume that there is one world, not two. That’s a huge metaphysical assumption, but science simply can’t truck with the supernatural and function as science. Science is an explanation of the world AS IF it were one world, not two, and governed by physical laws, not ghostly whims or direct miracles. We assume in science that the finches on Galapagos got there from South America by natural processes (flight or floating on detritus), and that their differences from finches in South America are a product of evolution. The reason that we do this is because to assume that a God intervened and placed unique finches on the island would entail the end of science.

    As a geology professor at my college put it to me once: Evolution is the only game in town (if you are going to explain the presumed singular world in scientific terms). It’s kind of like a game: Let’s see if we can explain the world without miracles. What would that explanation look like, and does it seem probable?

    So of course the finches got to their island by flight or floating. How else would they get there?

    Gould, as a public intellectual, is trying to call a truce between ideology and science. The procedures of Baconian science are straightforward and the assumptions are minimal (such as there is one world, not two, and that our human senses are seeing the world with just enough accuracy to communicate meaningful things with one another about it). And the fraternity of scientists is a rather closed system where they share a practical ethos regarding what constitutes reason and evidence.

    Gould does not want ideologies (religious or political) interfering with this basic structure, and he is (or rather, was) hoping that science would not presume to overwhelm politics and religion by acting as a final arbitrating judge over how scientific discoveries ought to be interpreted. For example, the fact of evolution is something science has discovered (if there is one world, not two, it is the best explanation in town). Its implications for Christianity or capitalism is something to be relected upon in the realm of theology, philosophy, or political science.

    I understand completely your point about philosophy being formally “first,” and I don’t disagree exactly. But the only place that it will be seriously talked about in this way is in the rarified air of a philosophy department, where Hume and Auguste Comte, and St. Thomas, and Karl Marx can have it out. As you can see historically, however, practicing scientists will always be people like Bacon and Darwin, Myers and Dawkins, who will simply focus on their inductions and bugs and shrug in their naive and practice-oriented “positivism.”

    And even Christian scientists, like Miller and Collins, in the practice of their science, will not practice “Protestant science,” or “Catholic science,” but just science.

    —Santi

  14. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    Perhaps, since you are doing grad studies in philosophy, you know of, or could direct me to, a philosophy of science book or text that you recommend (to bring me up to speed on this specific topic, and add some nuance to my current positions).

    I’ve got Popper’s books.

    Or perhaps you can suggest a quirky Christian philosophy of science text that lays out these issues in a way that you think is interesting and provocative. It was you, afterall, who introduced me to Plantinga in the first place.

    —Santi

  15. santitafarella says:

    Jared:

    Here, for example, is William Blake on the sense organs:

    “This Life’s dim Windows of the Soul
    Distorts the Heavens from Pole to Pole
    And leads you to Believe a Lie
    When you see with, not thro’, the Eye
    That was born in a night to perish in a night
    When the Soul slept in the beams of Light.”

    William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

    I’m not sure a scientist could proceed on such an assumption, but how could you disprove the poet’s metaphysical assertion and support your own trust in the senses, without some sort of circular reasoning or special pleading?

    —Santi

  16. Jared K says:

    Santi,

    Sorry for the length of this response.

    I read your “quirky Christian” comment initially as a bit condescending, then I read it again and decided maybe it wasn’t intended that way. Probably, you meant quirky in the way that we both would chuckle at.

    I don’t claim to be some expert in the philosophy of science, but I’ve dabbled. This book is an excellent introduction, in everyday language, and, for what its worth, written by an active anti-creationist philosopher of science (and published by Prometheus): http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Science-Introduction-Concepts-Issues/dp/0879757248/
    I opened up the book again a moment ago and I honestly don’t know why it isn’t more popular. Great overview.

    Strahler refers to positivism as “the old philosophy of science.” He writes: “From within the philosophy of science, the term [“scientism”] can refer to the logical positivists’ assertion that ‘science is the only method for obtaining knowledge.”

    He says the “new philosophy of science,” new since positivism was abandoned in the latter half of the 20th century, “admits to the fallibility of science and recognizes a large element of subjectivity . . .”

    I want to stress this author is a devout naturalist and a scientist’s philosopher (the guy really loves scientists). That said, he goes farther than even I. He thinks philosophers of science are the managers of scientists! Strahler, page 1:

    “Philosophy of science is often viewed by practicing scientists as foreign territory–a terra incognita filled with strange and threatening notions described in esoteric and incomprehensible language. Philosophy of science holds the role of general overseer of all scientific knowledge; always looking over the scientist’s shoulder and asking probing questions. Many scientists resent this intrusion, which can be embarrassing in the extreme, particularly when the philosophers discuss among themselves the activities of the scientists, pointing out misconceptions and weaknesses in the generally accepted methods of scientific practice.”

    On page 101, Strahler writes (yes, I am actually typing this out, much as I wish I was doing a copy/paste plagiarism job 🙂

    “First, let’s clarify the discinction between science itself and the philosophy of science. Think of an ant hill, or better still, an ant farm in which a colony of ants is housed in a box and its tunnels exposed to view through a plate glass wall. Science is represented by the ant farm; the process of science, by the activities the ants are carrying out. Philosophy of science is represented by humans observing from outside the ants at work and the structures the reproduce, and how they fight off intruders. . . The ants carry out remarkably complex activities. . . As for the observers, they have the difficult task of figuring out exactly what the ants are doing.”

    As I say, I think my view is the general, historical point of view. Philosophy of science is more fundamental than, and prior to, science. Science arose as natural philosophy, birthed out of the analytic philosophy that came before it, and extending back to the Greeks.

    I’m wondering if, perhaps, you embrace the logical positivist view that knowledge only comes from scientific verification? If so, that might explain why you think that science marches on, displacing all the bullshit that is philosophy?

    Maybe, possibly, whereas I don’t care for the Dawkins-types because they think science is the only way of knowing, perhaps for you, the turn-off is their rigid, non-literary, authoritarian style?

  17. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    I’ll get the book you recommend. Thanks for the tip on that. I wasn’t meaning to be condescending in my quirky reference.

    I am skeptical of intellectual castles that are built into rarified intellectual air, I admit. I think that this is exactly what prompted Bacon to propose induction as a way of bypassing the unvarifiable nature of the “knowledge” claimed to be acquired by philosophy and theology. I am certainly sympathetic to knowledge derived from “scientific verification.” And I do think that science has spectacularly shamed philosophy and theology since the Enlightenment.

    I’m tempted to say that you are right in suggesting that my resistance to Dawkins-types has to do with their hard-nosed and “rigid, non-literary, authoritarian style,” and less with their positivist assumptions. And I find myself wanting to argue with Plantinga more than Myers (much as I despise him). If push comes to shove, I am still with the devil’s party.

    Sometimes it really does feel like coming up for air when I read a science book (as opposed to philosophy or theology). And I like scientific culture—the profound respect for reason and evidence that is present among scientists—and the respect that scientists have for one another. It is a club that I wish, when I was a teenager, I had had the good sense to have tried to join by ambition and study. I sometimes wish that I had gone into the sciences.

    —Santi

  18. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    As for the quotes you offer from the book (which I ordered yesterday, thank you), it’s hard to say whether the philosopher’s questions directed at science are trivial and obvious—or whether raising them actually changes the way science is practiced. And as for the ant analogy, I think that the scientist is also engaged in frequent stepping aside gestures. Metacognition (getting some distance between yourself and what you’re involved in) is something that scientists, and all thoughtful and ironic human beings, are doing constantly. I don’t want to judge the book before I’ve seen it, but I’m curious to know what the author imagines is an important philosophical question for science to keep in mind as science is being done. In any case, I bought a copy and when I get it, and have read it, I’ll give you my take.

    —Santi

  19. Did you find that Plantinga’s pseudo-Calvinism makes an appearance in this essay?

  20. santitafarella says:

    Philosophickle:

    Plantinga is not a pseudo-Calvinist, he is a Calvinist in the “Reformed Calvinist” tradition, and his critique of Darwin is based on the notion that if we do not have a “truth sense” placed into us (as we have physical senses like sight, touch, and smell “placed” in us) then nature, by a process of natural and sexual selection, cannot manufacture such such a “truth sense” or “divine sense” because that’s not what natural/sexual selection were targeting for evolution. I find the argument specious, personally.

    I also think that Plantinga is not taking into account an idea of Steven Gould’s (which he calls “spandrels”—byproducts—of evolutionary processes that aren’t targeted by natural selection, but nevertheless go with those things that are targeted). Thus consciousness and big brains, targeted by natural selection, may go with an ability to see the world with some high degree of correspondence to reality.

    —Santi
    —Santi

  21. Pingback: Can Your Evolved Brain Be Trusted to Bring You to the Actual Truth of Matters? | Prometheus Unbound

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