Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Yet another boring defense of materialism

Bernardo Kastrip:

You see, evolution would, most certainly, favor mappings between objects (that is, reality) and subjective images (that is, You see, evolution would, most certainly, favor mappings between objects (that is, reality) and subjective images (that is, perceptions) that favored survival, whether such mappings would accurately or completely represent reality or not. After all, the variable being optimized for here is not representation accuracy or completeness, but survival.) that favored survival, whether such mappings would accurately or completely represent reality or not. After all, the variable being optimized for here is not representation accuracy or completeness, but survival.

Jeffrey Shallit:

Yet Another Boring Attack on Materialism
Kastrup's observation is trite and unoriginal.

Kastrup's argument is a variant of the evolutionary argument against naturalism.  This "boring attack on materialism"- the argument from naturalism- has been made often, by C.S. Lewis and Alvin Plantinga and many others. It retains its force:

If materialism and Darwinism are true, and our minds are merely evolved matter, how can we trust our beliefs to accord with truth? After all, as Plantinga, a Notre Dame philosopher and principal modern proponent of the argument notes, if evolution is true, that it undermines our conifdence that naturalism is true. The reason is obvious: if our mind is evolved matter, uncreated by God and without any spiritual aspect, our rational faculties evolved as survival adaptations. Knowing metaphysical truth has little survival value in the African savannah a million years ago. Natural selection selects for cognitive abilities that have survival/reproductive value. Plantinga calls them the "four F's": fleeing, fighting, feeding and copulating. There is no necessary correlation between metaphysically true beliefs and survival.

So if we evolved only via naturalistic mechanisms, we have little reason to trust our opinion... that we evolved only via naturalistic mechanisms. We are survival machines, and any metaphysical insight we might have would be coincidental and unreliable.

Shallit:
Darwin himself remarked, "The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the conviction of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"
And, of course, we know from extensive research that our perceptions are often wrong, and wrong in predictable ways.
Shallit misunderstands the evolutionary argument from naturalism. It is not our perceptions that we can't trust. Some of our perceptions- the perception that we are in danger, or that a certain berry is good to eat, etc- we can trust a lot, because being right about those perceptions is linked to survival.

It is metaphysical reasoning- abstract reasoning about the nature of existence- that is unlinked from survival. And that unlinking is a self-defeater for naturalism. If naturalism is true, then the reliablility of a belief is directly related to its value as an aid to reproduction.

Shallit:
But none of this provides the "profound contradiction" Kastrup thinks he has discovered. Yes, there are problems in perception and cognition, but the map between the real world and our mental model can't be wildly wrong. If it were, organisms with a better model would have outcompeted us. And the scientific method itself provides self-checking through replicability and peer review.
Shallit misunderstands the argument. There are many scientific beliefs that would be selected for- an ability to predict and manipulate nature could have quite a bit of survival/reproductive value. Buy there is no clear reproductive value to abstract contemplation of metaphysics.

Shallit:
The bottom line: our own perceptions, and those of the instruments we devise, are all we have. So we use them, and in doing so, we try to be on our guard for mistakes in reason and perception caused by our own biology.
But a committment to naturalism undermines confidence that naturalism is true. Shallit seems not to understand, or to understand and obfuscate.

Naturalism is such a vacant ideology it is almost absurd to refute it. Its self-refutation is obvious to anyone who honestly examines it, and anyone foolish enough to believe it is not likely to be swayed by reason.

There is one view of man's origin that does provide a firm basis for trust in reason: the view that man is created by God in His image. We are endowed with the capacity for reason by the Creator of the universe, and the Creator of reason itself.

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