Posted by: gcarkner | September 24, 2013

Where the Conflict Really Lies, Chapter 10

Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies. Chapter 10 Summary.

Again the following contains summary notes on our GCU discussion last fall of the concluding chapter of Plantinga’s important and immensely challenging book. The provocative title of this chapter is: “The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism”. Having demonstrated that the so-called conflict between Christian theism and science is rather superficial and that there is deep concord between science & theism, Plantinga goes a step further. He reveals the deep unease, discord, even conflict between naturalism and science. P(R/N&E) is low (the probability of reliability of our rationality, given an embrace of naturalism and evolution is low).

Many of our colleagues take naturalism and science as appropriate intellectual bedfellows, working “hand-in-glove”. But Plantinga argues that naturalism (which includes materialism) is in conflict with evolution, a main pillar of contemporary science. The argument centers on the status of our cognitive faculties: those faculties, or powers, or processes that produce beliefs or knowledge in us (e.g. perception, memory, a priori intuition, introspection, testimony, induction). His argument concerns the question of the reliability of  cognitive faculties (reliability of cognitive content) if we espouse naturalism and unguided evolution together. The probability is very low. Can we get to true belief, reliable knowledge by this path? Again it is an argument from coherence (or rather, in this case, incoherence). One of the philosophy PhD students in the group astutely noted that the philosophical argument reductio ad absurdum is also at play. We recommend that you read the entire chapter to get the full impact and clarity of his articulation on the matter.  This was the cutting edge of Plantnga’s talk on October 2 at Scarfe 100 UBC. It is helpful to note that Plantinga is considered one of the top twenty Christian scholars in the world.

Plantinga’s Argument in Summary:

1. The probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable, given a strong belief in naturalism (which includes materialism) and evolution, is low. This contains a defeater for reliability or shoots itself in the foot. It is self-referentially incoherent, involving internal contradictions. Naturalist philosophers who also notice this dilemma within naturalism include Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Nagel (Mind and Cosmos), Barry Stroud, Patricia Churchland. This is also parallel to what we know as the famous Darwin’s Doubt. ( See the Blog Post Ghost in the Machine on this site.

Plantinga writes: “Churchland therefore suggests that naturalistic evolution–that is, the conjunction of metaphysical naturalism with the view that our cognitive faculties have arisen by way of the mechanisms and processes proposed by contemporary evolutionary theory–gives us reason to doubt two things:

a. that a purpose of our cognitive systems is that of serving us with true beliefs.

b. that they do, in fact, furnish us with mostly true beliefs.” (316)

2. There is an extensive discussion of reductive and non-reductive materialism as it relates to the mind-brain issue and true knowledge. Here are a couple summary quotes about the relationship between noetic content & neural pathways.

“So (given materialism) some neural structures, at a certain level of complexity of neural pathway (NP) properties, acquire content; at that level of complexity NP properties determine belief content, and the structures in question are beliefs. And the question I want to ask is this: what is the likelihood, given evolution and naturalism (construed as including materialism about human beings), that the content arising is in fact true?” (325)

“We assume that our cognitive faculties are reliable. But what I want to argue is that the naturalist has a powerful reason against this initial assumption, and should give it up.” (326)

For Plantinga, there is no reason for calling belief content derived from unguided naturalistic evolution true belief. He illustrates that adaptive survival and reproduction does not need to include truth value or true belief. P(R/N&E) is low. Look for his article in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research called “Content and Natural Selection”.

3. One acquires a defeater, if one holds evolution and naturalism (as here defined) together, which leads to a crushing skepticism about human knowledge. It is a reductio ad absurdum situation for any belief including the belief in naturalism itself. Chances are that most of our beliefs are mistaken (if we hold strongly to materialistic naturalism).

Note: It is the specific claim of naturalists and materialists that evolution  is  unguided and unplanned. That claim is a theological or metaphysical add-on to evolutionary science and cannot be justified by naturalism or materialism.

Conclusion: There is a fundamental discord between metaphysical naturalism and evolutionary science. Naturalism does not rest on a foundation of science (even though many naturalists falsely trumpet the claim that science is a pillar in the temple of naturalism); rather naturalism is a metaphysical add-on to science, not a necessary concomitant feature. In fact, naturalism as a worldview creates large problems for science and the merits and weight of scientific knowledge.

~Dr. Gordon E.  Carkner, Graduate & Faculty Ministries, UBC

See also the brilliant critique of materialistic naturalism in David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: being, consciousness, bliss. (Yale 2013)

Naturalism is a picture of the whole of reality that cannot, according to its own intrinsic premises, address  the being of the whole; it is a metaphysics of the rejection of metaphysics, a transcendental certainity of the impossibility of transcendent truth, and so requires an act of pure credence logically immune to any verification…. Thus naturalism must forever remain a pure assertion, a pure conviction, a confession of blind assurance in an inaccessible beyond; and that beyond, more paradoxically still, is the beyond of no beyond. (Hart, 2013, p. 77)

Creation of man

Dr. Alex Rosenberg, Philosopher from Duke University, affirms the argument of Alvin Plantinga in a debate with Dr. William Lane Craig at Purdue:

See also  Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos; and  Ghost in the Machine Blog Post:


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