"One such theologian who argues against cognition from evolution is Alvin Plantinga, in his lecture ‘An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism’. This is the case I will examine here. I have chosen a lecture instead of a formal article because it presents the theological position against naturalism in its most forceful form – i.e. that evolution undermines cognition, and that only theism can save us."
1) Actually, the most "forceful" form of the argument, at the time Tremblay wrote this critique, was Plantinga's unpublished (but available online) paper: Naturalism Defeated (linked to above). But, more forceful statements appeared in both Warrant and Proper Function and Warranted Christian Belief. Actually, what Tremblay goes off of is not even the lecture itself, but an outline of the lecture. As stated at the top: "The following is the outline of the lecture Prof. Plantinga gave at BIOLA University." Thus, Tremblay's claim that he wanted to attack "the most forceful" presentation of EAAN is seen to be a lot of back-patting on his part.
2) Tremblay claims that EAAN is the argument "that evolution undermines cognition, and that only theism can save us." Actually, the "most forceful" (and correct!) statement of the argument is that "the conjunction of naturalism and evolution (E & N), give us a defeater for the reliability of our cognitive faculties." (Actually, the above can be made even more specific and precise, that will be done below.)
"But before I begin, I must make important distinctions which are confused in Plantinga’s article, and may help us understand the issue better. I am referring to the difference between instinct, perception and rationality. Instincts are the behaviour patterns that are transmitted to us by evolutionary adaptation. Perception is the reception and transmission of information received from the exterior world. Rationality is the general epistemic position that we should validate knowledge only with objective evidence (including, of course, perception)."
1) Plantinga confuses nothing like what Tremblay accuses Plantinga of here. Plantinga actually goes through excruciating detail to define terms like 'rationality.' He does so in terms of "proper function."
2) The bulk of Plantinga's career has sought to undermine Tremblay's "definition" of rationality. Indeed, on Tremblay's definition, since we do indeed know that the world has been here for more than 5 minutes, or that our wife is not a robot, and we cannot prove this on the evidential basis of other propositions, that does not mean all humans are "irrational." Actually, Tremblay's case is self-referentially incoherent since, if Tremblay claims to know it, he would have to "validate it only with objective evidence" (whatever that means). But, after he does so, we can ask if he "knows" that he has validated the original claim to knowledge. If so, he must "validate it only with objective evidence." Obviously an infinite regress can be seen here.
3) So, Tremblay isn't really attacking Plantinga's argument. He's attacking Plantinga's argument, with Plantinga's terms redefined in Tremblayan terms.
4) Plantinga addresses "instinctual" knowledge (or, animal knowledge) in his reply to Sosa in the edited book Naturalism Defeated.
5) Plantinga addresses this distinction, but more on this below.
Now, Plantinga makes the case that if N&E is true, then there is no guarantee that R is high at all. In doing so, he examines the correlation between behaviour and belief, and argues that all such correlations return a low probability of belief being reliable. In this, he seems to be confusing instinct with rationality. In this view, his question becomes: what is the correlation between instinct and rationality?
1) 'R' is the proposition: "Our cognitive faculties are reliable." And, Plantinga's doesn't just make the case that the probability of R on N & E (P (R / N & E), hereafter) is low, but the argument is also supposed to work on the claim that the probability is inscrutable.
2) Plantinga gives a fairly long and detailed argument for this, Tremblay unfortunately simply skips over it. Since Tremblay doesn't even so much as addres (not even by footnote) Plantinga's argument for a low or inscrutable probability assignment, I have no burden to defend it. it already has been, and Tremblay needs to attack it before I defend it. Thus I'll leave EAAN in tact on Tremblay's paper, i.e., his paper doesn't critique it, and his paper is what I'm using to go off of.
3) Tremblay says that Plantinga confuses "instinct with rationality." Actually, Plantinga's argument is that the idea that our beliefs are aimed at truth, given N & E, is low or inscrutable. Tremblay defines "instinct" as: "Instincts are the behaviour patterns that are transmitted to us by evolutionary adaptation." It's Tremblay that confuses "instinct" with "beliefs" as the focus of the argument. Plantinga runs through four options of how beliefs might play out in the evolutionary-naturalist's story:
i. Our beliefs do not cause our behavior - epiphenomenalism.
ii. Beliefs do cause behavior, but in virtue of syntax and not semantics (ie.., neural structure, not content) - semantic epiphenomenalism.
iii. Beliefs cause behavior, both semantically and syntactically, but are maladaptive.
iv. Beliefs cause behavior by semantics and syntax, and the behavior caused is adaptive, i.e., the creature's body parts get in the right place to survive.
Plantinga argues that (i)-(iv) have a low probability assignment, but if you disagree and say we can't figure out the probability, then P(R / N & E) is inscrutable.
4. Plantinga does the above by means of arguments from analogy. It is a main part of his argument. Francois Tremblay doesn't even address it once in his critique. This is akin to arguing that Descartes never proved his existence while not addressing Descartes' cogito.
5. Plantinga is asking about the reliability of our alethic belief producing faculties. He's asking why unguided naturalistic evolution should pick for beliefs that are "true" rather than beliefs which are simply geared toward survival. One could have false beliefs yet still survive. Given the story of evolution by folks like Churchland, why think evolution selected for true beliefs? Thus Churchland:
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 [Churchland's emphasis]. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost."
And so Tremblay asks what the "correlation" between instinct and rationality is? Recall that he takes 'instinct' to be "the behaviour patterns that are transmitted to us by evolutionary adaptation" and 'rationality' to be "the general epistemic position that we should validate knowledge only with objective evidence." And recall that Plantinga's argument is that the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable, i.e., that they are successfully aimed at the production of true belief, given the conjunction of N & E, is low or inscrutable. Thus we see that Tremblay is not even addressing Plantinga's argument! Given Tremblay's definitions, Plantinga doesn't disagree that we have "instincts," i.e., that we behave in a certain way. The argument is asking why we should think our cognitive faculties have the purpose of delivering true beliefs. And the supporting arguments for this (e.g., (i)-(iv)) were never so much as addressed by Tremblay. (It would be interesting to point out that, given naturalism, why is there any epistemic normativity at all? That is, why "should" we validate our knowledge by any means? It would seem that naturalism can only allow for descriptions, not prescriptions. But, to go into that would be to travel too far out of bounds for the purposes of this blog entry.)
What therefore can we say about the possibility of rationality, given that N&E is true? We would be justified in agreeing that rationality is not guaranteed by N&E. Indeed, that is why epistemology exists in the first place: if rationality was guaranteed, we would not need standards of knowledge, we would gain knowledge instinctively. To a certain extent we do gain knowledge instinctively, but obviously not completely. But rationality is not out of our reach by virtue of N&E being true, given that we have epistemology.
1. Remember that Plantinga isn't even addressing Tremblay's deontological view of rationality. So, Tremblay is not even in the same ball park, and therefore is failing to undermine EAAN in any way.
2. Tremblay is stuck on deontological justification, while Plantinga is addressing the alethic aspect of knowledge. He's asking why we should think the deliverances of our cognitive faculties are successfully aimed at producing true belief once the reflective naturalist thinks about the situation he's in. If the naturalist comes to agree that P(R / N & E) is low or inscrutable (and remember, Tremblay hasn't attacked Planting's arguments here, so I don't need to defend them, since as of yet they stand undefeated), then he has an alethic-rationality-defeater for R. Now, he may continue to believe R, and act as if R, but he cannot help this. But, the defeater is of a Humean kind. That is, it's gained upon reflection. So, when a person S reflects on P (R / N & E), then S has a defeater D for his belief in R, and, hence, for N & E itself (or, N or E, since it's the conjunction attacked). That's because N is a deliverance of one's cognitive faculties CF, and the naturalist has a defeater for the belief that his CFs are aimed at producing true beliefs. This was the relevant argument to attack, and Tremblay doesn't even attack it. (It's interesting to note that given Plantinga's argument, which Tremblay doesn't attack, Tremblay has a defeater for his belief that "we should validate knowledge only with objective evidence.)
Can we accept that the argument from evolution is a defeater for R, as Plantinga says? Once again, we must remember the confusion. Certainly the argument gives us a defeater for:
Instinct-based reasoning is rational.
But (1) is not at all the same as:
(2) Perception is valid.
(3) Our reasoning, informed by rationality, is valid.
(1) is radically different from (2) and (3), given that (2) is necessarily true (for more on this, see my article ‘The Infallibility of Sense Perception’) and (3) depends on human free will. Therefore the falsity of (1) does not at all affect the truth of (2) or (3).
1) Again, it's the argument from N & E.
2) Since Tremblay doesn't attack Plantinga's argument, then he still has a defeater for (2) and (3).
3) It's curious to note that Tremblay thinks that our perception is valid is necessarily true. Certainly it's possible that creatures could have been made with false perceptual beliefs. Indeed, in his own paper arguing for the claim, he defeats himself. Thus Tremblay,
Skeptics sometimes also use Descartian arguments to attempt to undercut the perceptual basis of the evidence. For instance, they will invoke the possibility that reality as we perceive it is itself an illusion, Matrix-style. True, there is such a possibility. But why should we consider this possibility as having any epistemic importance whatsoever? And of course, to call it any more than a possibility would demand evidence – perceptual evidence. -bolded emphasis mine
Note that he allows for the possibility that our perceptions are not veridical. And possibility of the contrary is all that's required to defeat claims of necessity. Hence Tremblay refutes his own argument!
4) It's curious what is meant by the claim that our rationality is valid depends upon our free will. Nevertheless, why should Tremblay accept his belief that it's true that his rationality is valid? Indeed, why trust that the rules of validity are true given EAAN? Since Tremblay doesn't attack EAAN, it still stands unrefuted and his paper stands as a monument of wasted time and effort.
Plantinga furthers his confusion by using the standard skeptical argument of Descartes’ evil daemon (by saying that we refuse to accept the evil daemon hypothesis because it leads to absurdity, and we must reject evolution for the same reason). For those who do not know this argument, it consists of positing as possible a situation where an evil daemon is controlling all our thoughts and actions, thus making our reasoning unreliable. I discuss a variant of it in my article ‘Is Reality a Simulation Game?’.
1) Plantinga’s argument, again, is against not E, but the conjunction of N & E.
2) If there's any confusion, it's solely in Tremblay's mind.
3) The evil demon hypothesis is relevant in this sense: If a person S reflects upon the claim that he is being deceived by an evil demon, and S judges the probability that all his beliefs B are mostly true as either low or inscrutable, then S has a defeater for B. Now, S will continue to act as if his beliefs are true, he just can't help it, but acting this way doesn't mean that they are true. Upon reflection, he notes he has no reason to think so. This is like Hume's problem. Hume believed that we were irrational in believing our inductive inferences. He nevertheless agreed that to think inductively was a "habit of the mind." Thus when S sees a truck coming at her, she does not doubt her inductive inferences, she jumps out of the way. But, later that night when S reflects upon her belief in inductive inferences, she finds that she has no reason to believe them, and thus S has a defeater for her inductive inferences. Same with R. That Tremblay continues to act as if his CFs are R, does not mean that upon reflection he doesn't have an alethic-rationality-defeater of the Humean variety for R. Therefore, if someone accepted the evil demon hypothesis he'd have a defeater for R; well, same for EAAN. If someone S accepts that P(R / N & E) is low or inscrutable, then S has a defeater for R. And, since Tremblay didn't attack Plantinga's arguments for a low or inscrutable assignment to P(R / N & E), Tremblay has likewise not attacked EAAN.
The point is that Plantinga’s argument from evolution is not at all like Descartes’ evil daemon argument, in fact it is exactly opposite. Let me explain why. We do not believe Descartes’ evil daemon argument because we have no evidence that shows that such a situation exists. By saying this, we obviously presuppose the rational worldview, because it is necessary for us to even examine Descartes’ evil daemon argument in the first place.
1) Again, it's N & E, not just E (or N).
2) Tremblay shows an unfamiliarity with Descartes' argument. Descartes never said that it was the case that there was a malicious demon bent on mischief, all he requires is the possibility. And here's where Plantinga's argument is stronger than Descartes': Given N & E, it is the case that our cognitive faculties have been designed by N & E. And if P(R / N & E) is low or inscrutable, then we do have a defeater for R. Again, Tremblay's failure to interact with Plantinga's argument comes back to bite him.
3) Tremblay shows another ignorance he has with Descartes' argument. He acts as if simply "pointing to evidence" is enough to refute Descartes. Well, I don't know what "evidence" Tremblay has in mind, but the point of the Cartesian demon is that any evidence we point to is defeated because the demon could be deceiving us into thinking it is evidence that could refute the demon hypothesis.
Plantinga’s argument is self-defeating in the same way. We need rationality to determine whether specific methods are right or wrong, such as perception. Thus, Plantinga is not validated in presuming that we must be agnostic towards (2). Indeed, it makes no sense for a theologian to be agnostic towards (2), given that, as I pointed out before, the theological worldview needs (2) in order to be valid. Whether reading the Bible, perceiving the transcendent, or understanding a theological argument, the theologian needs (2). By extension, the same thing is true about (3), since rationality is necessary for the interpretation of our percepts.
1) Remember that Tremblay's definition of 'rationality' is that "the general epistemic position that we should validate knowledge only with objective evidence." But we may go around "validating" or beliefs all day long, what's the guarantee that our beliefs are true, though? If our validations have a defeater, then why think that they tell us which methods are "right or wrong," where "right or wrong" means "true or false?" Say someone S ingested the hallucinate-producing drug XX, which worked on 90% of its patients. Thus S, if S reflected on his situation, and came to believe that he did ingest XX, would have a defeater for R. Now, imagine S told us that he had "validated his knowledge with objective evidence and thus found the "correct" standards of knowledge. What should our attitude towards S be? Wouldn't we claim that S had a defeater for all his "validations?" The situation is the same here, and unless Tremblay critiques EAAN in the relevant area, he has no reason to think his "validatiuons" are true.
2) Plantinga is not agnostic towards our senses being reliable. But, Plantinga does not have a defeater for R. It appears that Tremblay has, yet again, misunderstood EAAN.
3) (2) and (3) are produced by CF, but if our CFs are not R, then we have a defeater for (2) and (3). Hence Tremblay's refusal to grasp and refute Plantinga's EAAN leaves it in tact.
4) It appears that Tremblay is arguing that since Plantinga takes (2) without a problem, then that means an adherent of N & E can do so also. But this is fallacious. Plantinga has no defeater for (2) whereas EAAN gives the adherent of N & E one.
Let's return to S who ingested the drug XX. XX causes S to have hallucinations about everything. It does this 90% of the time. If S comes to believe that he has ingested XX, then S has a defeater for his beliefs. This does not imply that another person S*, who has not ingested XX, has a defeater for his beliefs.
As a further example of “cutting one’s head off”, how are we to judge Plantinga’s claims about naturalism? Did he elaborate them based on rationality? If he did not, then Plantinga’s reasoning is irrational.
1) Plantinga's view of rationality is in terms of proper function, and, yes, on his view his claims about N were rational since they were produced by properly functioning cognitive faculties, operating according to a good design plan, with the relevant portion of his CFs successfully aimed at the production of true beliefs, and operating in a congenial environment - the one (or a similar one) to which they were designed for.
2) Plantinga takes N to be the claim that there is no being like God, who directly made us, or directed the evolutionary process.
His argument cannot get off the ground because, if we must be agnostic towards the validity of cognition, then we must also be agnostic towards the argument itself. Since Plantinga believes that such agnosticism is a defeater against the validity of cognition, it is therefore also a defeater for itself. Like all skeptic positions, Plantinga’s use of skepticism to attempt to undermine cognition disproves itself.
1) Recall that it is not Plantinga's argument that "we" must be agnostic about cognition, but that the reflective naturalist who accepts that P(R / N & E) as low or inscrutable has a alethic-rationality-defeater of the Humean variety for R (the proposition that our CFs are successfully aimed at producing true beliefs). So, Plantinga does not believe that he has a defeater for R, and hence Tremblay's argument here falls flat on its face. His argument is borne out of severe misunderstandings of Plantinga's argument - and the smart money is on the claim that Tremblay never even bothered to read Plantinga's argument. And, if he did, his parents should sue the Canadian education department for passing someone unable to comprehend what he reads.
Plantinga is therefore contradicting the facts of reality, and when he says:
“who accepts N&E has a defeater for N&E”
And we can rightly reply:
“who accepts that N&E has a defeater, now has a defeater for his own position, and thus contradicts himself”
1) The comeback here is so simple that it is laughable that Tremblay thinks this actually a good argument against Plantinga's position. What is the simply comeback: "That's why we don't accept N & E!" Was Tremblay seriously under the assumption that Plantinga, a supernaturalist, accepted the naturalism part of N & E?
2) At any rate, at least Tremblay got something right. It is true that if a person S accepted N & E & R, and tried to argue that N & E were false, then S would have a defeater for his argument. This defeater is an undefeated defeater, then.
"The traditional theist, on the other hand, has no corresponding reason for doubting that it is a purpose of our cognitive systems to produce true beliefs, nor any reason for thinking the probability of a belief’s being true, given that it is a product of her cognitive faculties, is low or inscrutable. She may indeed endorse some form of evolution; but if she does, it will be a form of evolution guided and orchestrated by God. And qua traditional theist—qua Jewish, Moslem, or Christian theist – she believes that God is the premier knower and has created us human beings in his image, an important part of which involves his giving them what is needed to have knowledge, just as he does."
This may be so, but such understanding cannot be arrived at without implicit trust in (2) and (3). How is the traditional theist supposed to conclude that God wishes us to hold true beliefs, if not from using his cognition towards the study of his particular Christian theistic beliefs? Even if we suppose that Plantinga’s case is true and that God guided evolution, our basis for believing this would be based on the skeptic presuppositions we have seen, and therefore prevents us from acquiring any such belief in good conscience.
1) Notice that this defeats Tremblay's above charge of "contradiction," and he doesn’t even recognize it!
2) Plantinga accepts (2) and (3), he has not tried to deny them. Plantinga doesn't accept N & E though, and that's the relevant disanalogy here.
In conclusion, therefore, it is painfully obvious that Tremblay's argument against EAAN fails miserably. It doesn't even touch Plantinga's argument. And, what Tremblay takes to be the strongest portion of his argument - the contradiction charge - has been shown to terribly misunderstand Plantinga's position, and furthermore only supports his EAAN. We can also note that it's not just atheists from America who misrepresent theists arguments, offer horrible critiques, show an unfamiliarity with the relevant literature, and parade a general ignorance about Christianity, theism, and philosophy for all to see, this is a world wide phenomena.