Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scripture and scientific realism

Over and above the argument from evil, I suppose the most popular and “respectable” objection to Christianity or Scripture is the scientific objection. This can target specific examples, like the creation account and the flood account, or it can be more general, like the filter of methodological naturalism.

The specific objection takes the position that Scripture doesn’t fit the facts. Biblical descriptions are contradicted by the scientific evidence. They don’t match up with the world of empirical observation.

Of course, Christians of various stripes (e.g. YEC, OEC, ID-theory, theistic evolution) present specific counterarguments. But let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that all these Christian counterarguments misfire. Suppose we had no alternative explanation. Would that be a defeater for the inerrancy of Scripture?

Ironically, one basic problem with scientific objections to Scripture is internal to science itself. And that involves the role of the scientific observer. Here is how one philosopher describes the epistemic situation of the percipient:

“First of all, our sense organs by themselves reveal nothing. They work in conjunction with our brains, and it is our brains that convert the information they accumulate into our experience of colors, tastes, sounds, and so on. Without brains we would have no experience, no consciousness, at all. In the second place, our brains convert this information from the senses into the kind of experiences they do because our brains are structured the way they are. If our brains were constructed differently, they would convert that information into different kinds of experiences…If our brains were built differently we might experience light waves of various frequencies differently than we do. We might experience a wider or narrower range of colors, or no colors at all. Instead of experiencing light waves as color we might experience them as various kinds of tingles, or heat, or in some way we can’t even imagine (as people blind from birth can’t imagine colors). In short, the world as it appears to us through the senses is not the world as it is in itself but rather a consequence of the world as it is in itself interacting with sense organs and brains like our own. In addition, our senses detect only some aspects of that world. Unlike electric fish, we don’t sense objects entering electric fields. Unlike bees, we don’t directly sense ultraviolet light. This means that a deep knowledge of the physical world requires getting beyond the way the world discloses itself to us in perceptual experience. The goal of physics is to describe the world that underlies perception and the world to which we have no perceptual access at all,” M Philips, The Undercover Philosopher (Oneworld Publications, 2008), 18-19.

“But even in this world our brain produces a world of experience that goes well beyond the information presented to the brain by the senses. The brain ceaselessly edits and elaborates on that information. What we see, for example, is always both more and less than what meets the eye. This is true not only when we hallucinate, but also in normal perception,” ibid. 19.

“For one thing, the brain is highly selective…The brain also makes corrections and fills in missing information. If it simply reproduced the information recorded on the retina, we would see the world upside down, and have a big black hole in our visual field (the blind spot). The brain also sees to it that the color of objects we see remains relatively constant despite big changes in the color of the light in which we see them. A leaf looks green to us at midday, when the illumination is white sunlight, and also at sunset, when the illumination is mainly red (a phenomenon called ‘color constancy’). The brain also fills in color at the periphery of our visual field…the fact that we see color at the periphery is the result of the brain filling in on the basis of the information it has,” ibid. 20.

1.On the face of it, this generates a dilemma. For Philips’ analysis of the percipient would seem to lead to very skeptical conclusions concerning the possibility of scientific knowledge. Something close to phenomenalism. All we know are appearances. The way things appear to us. We can never bridge the gap between appearance and reality.

But in that case, even if you had a mismatch between a scientific description and a Biblical description, the scientific evidence is only phenomenal evidence: evidence of how things appear to us. It doesn’t put us in touch with the underlying facts.

As such, a description might be true to reality even though it doesn’t correspond to what we perceive–or scientifically reconstruct.

Take a videogame. To play the game, you need a user interface, viz. a game controller or input device, like a keyboard or joystick, steering wheel, &c., along with an output device.

For instance, in a racing simulator you use a pedal, clutch, and steering wheel. This includes simulated effects like sound reproduction and force feedback.

Of course, this isn’t a real steering wheel, even if it looks like one. It’s just a way of telling the computer what to do.

The empirical phenomena of an input or out device don’t reveal anything about the electronic hardware generating the simulation.

By the same token, while there’s a correlation between what you do and what happens, that doesn’t give you a window into how it happens. You don’t see the electronic hardware in action. You only see the simulated effects of the electronic hardware.

You can win the game without knowing how the gizmo works. You can manipulate the joystick and successfully navigate the virtual world without discovering the real machinery.

I’d add that this hiatus is exacerbated in case our brain is the byproduct of a mindless evolutionary process.

2.If anything, Philips understates the problem. Appealing to physics won’t bridge the gap. Although physics may go beyond naked eye observation, it can never go behind sensory perception or the structure of the brain. A physicist is just as dependent on the converter-box of the brain as an ancient stargazer.

3.Of course, a Christian might take issue with Philips’ physicalism. Since, however, physicalism is one of the usual operating assumptions in scientific objections to the Bible, then there’s no reason, at this stage of the game, to challenge that piece of the package. For if physicalism undermines the possibility of scientific knowledge, then that, in turn, undermines scientific objections to Scripture. So a Christian can grant that assumption for the sake of argument and then let the atheist suffocate on his stifling assumptions.

However, there is a potential, if partial, comeback to this sort of objection. As one philosopher puts it:

“This line of defense appears to crash, however, on the example of a cognitively disabling pill–call it DISABLEX. This is a pill that terminally disables one’s cognitive faculties, so that none is any longer reliable. How can you right now be sure that you have never taken any such pill? Appealing to the present deliverances of your faculties would seem vicious, since these are of course deliverances that would be made misleading by your having taken the pill,” E. Sosa, “Natural Theology and Natural Atheology,” D. Baker, ed. Alvin Plantinga (Cambridge 2007), 104.

“Does DISABLEX pose a problem for us? Well, consider right now the possibility that we did once take such a pill. How do we properly get to assume that we did not? How so, if not just by relying on our faculties in the sort of default way in which we normally do? But by so relying, we manifest our commitment to the claim that our faculties are indeed reliable, our commitment to this shown at least in our intellectual practice,” ibid. 104.

“For the claim that you have taken the pill is a self-defeating claim. Both believing that you have taken the pill and even suspending judgment on that question is epistemically self-defeating. The contrary claim, that you have taken no such pill, follows logically from what is epistemically obligatory and self-sustaining, namely, the commitment to the reliability of your faculties. Therefore, it is hard to see how you could possibly go wrong epistemically not only in affirming the reliability of your faculties but also in affirming anything you can see to follow logically from that, including the consequence that you have never taken any such pill,” ibid. 104-05.

“And the same goes for Plantinga’s evolutionary argument. Again, believing that our faculties are unreliable is self-defeating, as is even suspending judgment on that question. On the question whether your faculties are reliable, you have no rational choice but to assent, therefore, and so you would be within your rights to draw the further conclusion that if your origins are evolutionary, then such origins cannot make your faculties unreliable,” ibid. 105.

However, there are several basic problems with Sosa’s comeback:

1.It equivocates over the concept of “reliability.” The fact that we may rely on something doesn’t render that reliable. A man with brain cancer must still rely on his unreliable brain (unless he has friends who compensate for his mental impairment). A drunk driver must still rely on his inebriated brain.

But his doesn’t change the fact that his perception of reality is seriously distorted. Sure, it may be self-defeating for the affected party to claim that he is mentally impaired. If he’s mentally impaired, then he may be in no position to bear witness to his own state of mind. But, of course, this creates no presumption that the affected party is not severely impaired.

2.Apropos (1), the fact that a Darwinian must rely on his brain doesn’t presume that his brain is reliable. It only means that this is all he has to work with. Philips analysis is simply a description of how the brain appears to the brain. We have to use our brain to examine our brain, and compare our brain with the brains of other animals. We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

But this doesn’t presume the reliability of the underlying process. It may be an accurate description of an unreliable process. The end-result looking in the mirror. A man who’s high on acid can accurately describe his hallucination. His impressions of reality may be misimpressions, but he can provide a trustworthy description of an untrustworthy perception.

3.Furthermore, even if the testimonial claim is self-defeating, we need to ask what makes it self-defeating. It may not be the testimonial claim in itself. Rather, it may be the logical implication or probable consequence of an incoherent scientific position. In that case, the inconsistency hardly shows you have no rational choice but to affirm the very position which generates that tension.

The question at issue is not the reliability of our faculties, per se, but the reliability of our faculties given certain theoretical preconditions. If an atheist or Darwinian posits certain initial conditions which undermine rationality, then that doesn’t undermine rationality, per se. Rather, it undermines the postulate.

3.Moreover, this is a best-case scenario. And that’s the conundrum. Even if you assume the brain is sufficiently reliable to describe itself, the result of that description yields a skeptical conclusion.

And if that’s the conclusion we derive from the assumption that our brain is reliable, then the alternative assumption would yield an even more skeptical conclusion. You end up with radical skepticism however you slice it. Different degrees of radical skepticism.

4.There is another equivocation as well. The brain could be quite reliable, but also be quite selective. That is to say, it could be quite reliable in doing just what it’s supposed to do, but its range is very restricted.

For example, a human eye has poor nocturnal vision. This doesn’t mean the human eye is generally or intrinsically untrustworthy. It doesn’t mean the human eye is defective.

It merely means the human eye is not designed or adapted to function as well at night–compared a feline eye. That’s not a design flaw. Within its intended parameters, it may be quite efficient. It accurately samples what it was made or meant to sample.

Of course, if you think the brain (or its sensory extensions) is the byproduct of an undirected process, then all bets are off. In that case, there’s nothing the brain is supposed to do.

5.From a Christian standpoint, the way out of the fly-bottle is the presupposition of God’s creative and providential control. Even if our mind, brain, and senses are highly selective, and even if they fall short of letting us know what the sensible world is like without our sensory filtering device, they are reliable within their intended parameters. The sample is representative.

30 comments:

  1. A question I have often had is this:

    1. the Christian has a basis for believing his cognitive faculties are reliable.

    2. using those faculties, it appears as though the universe is billions of years old - granted the reliability of dating methods.

    3. this appearance would stand in contrast to a YEC view of Genesis.

    4. if the universe was, in fact, only several thousand years old and our faculties are reliable, WHY would it appear to us that the universe is billions of years old?

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  2. AMC SAID:

    “If the universe was, in fact, only several thousand years old and our faculties are reliable, WHY would it appear to us that the universe is billions of years old?”

    i) On the one hand, it could “appear” to be billions of years old to us because it really is billions of years old.

    ii) On the other hand, that’s not as simple as it seems.

    a) The universe doesn’t appear to be a particular age in the same way an odometer gives the readout for a car’s mileage.

    Rather, calculating the age of the universe is, as you know, an inference. Basically we begin with present-day processes and imaginarily run them backwards to some point of origin, assuming a continuum from the start date to the end date.

    While that’s not unreasonable, it’s also nothing more than an extrapolation from the present to the past–assuming the uniformity of nature.

    Are we measuring the actual time lapse, or are we measuring an extrapolation?

    b) Apropos (a), if the universe was created ex nihilo, then the start date could be just about anywhere along the imaginary continuum. At what stage does the imaginary temporal continuum become actual?

    c) In addition, the measurement of time raises the question of whether our temporal metric is intrinsic to time or extrinsic to time. And that goes back to the old philosophical controversy between metrical objectivism and metrical conventionalism. If metrical conventionalism is true (and it’s hard to either prove or disprove), then natural objects have no actual age.

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  3. "And that goes back to the old philosophical controversy between metrical objectivism and metrical conventionalism."

    Hi Steve,

    Can you provide a link that explicates in intelligent layman's terms this old philosophical controversy?

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  4. "the Christian has a basis for believing his cognitive faculties are reliable."

    In some sense, doesn't the Christian also have some reason for believing his cognitive faculties are (at least) not always reliable (noetic effects of sin)?

    One obviously can't move from "In general, our over-all cog. fac. are reliable" to "they must be reliable in this particular instance."

    At best, your argument that has negligible epistemic weight.

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  5. Christians have always held that the noetic effects are sin affect, if any faculty, the sensus divinitatis, or whatever faculty it is that deals with belief-in-God production.

    There's no reason to think sin would've affected our a-priori-belief faculties, or our belief-in-other-minds faculties.

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  6. RED MONKEY SAID:

    "In some sense, doesn't the Christian also have some reason for believing his cognitive faculties are (at least) not always reliable (noetic effects of sin)?"

    But you're basing that claim on divine revelation, which takes for granted that your cognitive faculties are sufficiently reliable to correctly interpret what the Bible has to say about the noetic effects of sin.

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  7. Christians have always held that the noetic effects are sin affect, if any faculty, the sensus divinitatis, or whatever faculty it is that deals with belief-in-God production.

    Well, as to whether “Christians have always held that…”

    According to the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, some, such as “Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), Herman Dooyeweerd (1894–1977), and Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987)” believe the noetic effects of sin are such that “…it is neither possible for fallen humanity to understand God’s revelation properly, nor to reason correctly” (540) while “[o]ther Reformed Christians and classical apologists … reject this dichotomy, claiming that, while sin effaces God’s image in humankind and general revelation, it does not erase them.”

    I’m not a big fan of Geisler and I don’t think he treats presuppositionalism fairly. On top of that, I haven’t read much of Kierkegaard or any of Dooyerweerd (although I’ve read about them), but I have read a lot of Van Til and he would definitely state that sin has bent the saw of reason, so to speak, so that it cannot “cut” any fact appropriately (apart from grace).

    Christopher Cone, in “Presuppositional Dispensationalism” states that the fall “left humanity without the capacity to rightly think and appraise reality… The noetic effects of sin result in more than simply the lack of ability to appraise ‘spiritual things’ (1 Cor. 2:14–16)” (CTJ 10: 84.).

    Abraham Kuyper believed sin did not effect logic: “the darkening of the understanding…does not mean that we have lost the capacity of thinking logically, for so far as the impulse of its law of life is concerned, the logica has [sic] not [italics his] been impaired by sin” (qtd. in Clark. “The Bible as Truth.” BSac 114: 161).

    Francis Turretin, apparently, believed that it did: “Turretin, furthermore, specifies three distinct uses and limitations for reason in matters pertaining to faith. First, use of the judgment of contradiction is only permitted to those who have been ‘restored and enlightened by the Holy Spirit’ (1.10.1)” (qtd. in Grabill. “Historical And Theological Studies Natural Law And The Noetic Effects Of Sin: The Faculty Of Reason In Francis Turretin’s Theological Anthropology.” WTJ 67: 267-268).

    Another view on this, according to the BECA is provided by Brunner: “According to Emil Brunner … the noetic effects of sin are manifest on the mind in direct proportion to the distance of a discipline from religious concern. Effects of the fall are more evident, for example, in philosophy than in economics.”

    Finally, Robert Reymond believes that “Because of God’s common grace extended to them (John 1:9), fallen men are able to mount and to follow a logical argument… But because of sin’s effects on them men now must face the fact that, in spite of the aid from common grace, there are many things hampering them as they construct their sciences—falsehood, unintentional mistakes, lapses in logical reasoning, self-delusion and self-deception, the intrusion of fantasy into the imagination, intentional and unintentional negative influences of other men’s minds upon their’s, physical weaknesses influencing the total human psyche, the disorganized relationships of life, the effect of misinformation and inaccuracies learned from one realm of science upon ideas in other realms, sinful self-interest, the weakening of mental energies, the internal disorganization of life-harmonies…” (A New ST of the Christian Faith 452-453).

    So, while agree that the question has primarily been concerned with that aspect having to do with “god-belief,” I do not agree that Christians “have always” limited it to effecting this particular faculty.

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  8. There's no reason to think sin would've affected our a-priori-belief faculties, or our belief-in-other-minds faculties.

    While I’m not sure that I would agree with the stronger view of the noetic effects by Van Til et al., I think that even if one takes a more moderate position along Brunner’s “proximity” theory that one will have *some* reason to think sin would *indirectly* effect those things you mention. Rather than draw this out, I would simply point out Steve’s post on Scientific Realism and James Anderson’s post titled “Scripture or Science?” I think one can easily fill in the gaps here to see how the noetic effects of sin could at least effect one’s scientific analysis (which is the relevant subject to AMC’s remark). So I still say that the arguments weight is negligible *at best*.

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  9. But you're basing that claim on divine revelation, which takes for granted that your cognitive faculties are sufficiently reliable to correctly interpret what the Bible has to say about the noetic effects of sin.

    So what? I didn’t state that we have every reason to believe our cognitive faculties are always unreliable.

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  10. You're conflating two different issues: are the noetic effects of sin the same for believers and unbelievers? For the regenerate and unregenerate alike?

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  11. TUAD,

    http://fds.oup.com/www.oup.co.uk/pdf/0-19-875254-7.pdf

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  12. You're conflating two different issues: are the noetic effects of sin the same for believers and unbelievers? For the regenerate and unregenerate alike?

    I don’t see how I’m doing that. I would say they are not the same, in some respects. But, in regards to the issue of analyzing scientific data, the majority of Christians are not doing first hand research or experimentation but are working off of authorities. So it may be that a Christian (perhaps even most Christians in “Generation Y”), is not receiving uninterpreted (or unmotivated) data from a regenerate mind but from an unregenerate mind.

    Let’s say, for example, that Dawkins has a son (I don’t know if he does or not) and the son gets saved at the age of 6, but everything the son knows about science until he is 21 comes from Dawkins (and nothing of himself or anyone else). If the son, at 21, tells me that science obviously demonstrates or obviously implies such and such, then pointing out that the noetic effects of sin are not the same for him as for Dawkins probably won’t factor in too much as to how I evaluate his claim.

    But I don’t want to make too much of the issue either way and ordinarily I don’t even bother to ask whether the noetic effects of sin could be effecting a person’s claim. I usually just take it for granted that, sinful or not, people make mistakes. I’m simply saying that if someone is going to make a claim or argument like AMC, that I don’t think it is a very good one for the reason I gave.

    I have no idea what TAUD means.

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  13. Mmm, That would Truth Unites...And Divides (TUAD)

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  14. Thanks Steve for the link.

    Looks like a really good and tough book to work through.

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  15. The Christian uses his cognitive faculties in presupposing and adopting the belief that God made us. Furthermore, the presupposition of the reliability of our cognitive faculties is an analogous strategy for the naturalist.

    Furthermore, science does have corrective methods to the fact that the world is so often not how it seems. There is a difference between the reliability of, say, our sense perception, and the reliability of, say, our understanding of logical tautologies, or logical relations, and so on. Science attempts to use rational methods, like consensus or logical consistency or predictive usefulness, to weed out those hypotheses and beliefs that are victim to unreliable faculties.

    In any case, it's not at all clear how your post even comes close to salvaging the "scientific objection" to Scripture. Take the examples you mention. The "scientific objection" to the flood account is that the evidence provided by deluge geologists is faulty, and that the evidence to the contrary is voluminous. This is a straightforward objection, and the response to it can't be some global skepticism that undermines the way we get to both belief in the bible and belief in the results of science.

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  16. JOSHUA BLANCHARD SAID:

    “The Christian uses his cognitive faculties in presupposing and adopting the belief that God made us. Furthermore, the presupposition of the reliability of our cognitive faculties is an analogous strategy for the naturalist.”

    But the naturalist lacks God to back up his presupposition regarding the reliability of our faculties. So the two opposing positions are fundamentally asymmetrical.

    “Furthermore, science does have corrective methods to the fact that the world is so often not how it seems.”

    But such “corrective methods” must also be filtered through the converter box of the brain and its sensory processing system. So that doesn’t provide an intersubjectival check. It doesn’t show you what the object is “really” like apart from our perception of the object. It still comes down to how an object appears to us, and that varies from one species to the next.

    “There is a difference between the reliability of, say, our sense perception, and the reliability of, say, our understanding of logical tautologies, or logical relations, and so on.”

    True. And my post can make allowance for that distinction. But when you talk about scientific evidence for or against the flood account, that’s a fundamentally empirical question, which involves our sensory perception of trace evidence–as well as logical inferences we attempt to draw from the trace evidence.

    “Science attempts to use rational methods, like consensus or logical consistency or predictive usefulness, to weed out those hypotheses and beliefs that are victim to unreliable faculties.”

    i) Yes, but there’s the problem of different, empirically equivalent theories of the same event.

    ii) Moreover, the issue runs deeper than “weeding out” unreliable faculties. It also involves reliable faculties. Keep in mind that “reliability” is a relative concept.

    The specialized sensory aptitudes of different species may all be reliable within their particular environment, but unreliable outside of it.

    We’re not talking about an observer who is unreliable because he has brain cancer, glaucoma, or dementia. Rather, we’re discussing the inherent limitations of someone with normal, functioning faculties.

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  17. “[Blanchard] In any case, it's not at all clear how your post even comes close to salvaging the ‘scientific objection’ to Scripture. Take the examples you mention. The "scientific objection" to the flood account is that the evidence provided by deluge geologists is faulty, and that the evidence to the contrary is voluminous. This is a straightforward objection...”

    i) Your “straightforward” objection takes for granted the kind of naïve realism which Philips was deconstructing.

    ii) We also need to distinguish between the flood account and flood geology.

    “…and the response to it can't be some global skepticism that undermines the way we get to both belief in the bible and belief in the results of science.”

    i) You can’t reject an argument just because you frown on the consequences of that argument. Unless the argument is self-refuting, or contradicts some other belief that is better grounded than the belief which underwrites the argument, you have to directly rebut the argument.

    ii) It’s also less than clear what you find so objectionable. Do you deny that the way in which we perceive the sensible world is contingent on the sensory aptitudes of the percipient, which vary from one species to the next? Do you deny that the way we perceive the sensible world is contingent on brain structures? Do you deny that human perception has a constructive element as well as a receptive element?

    Is your mental representation of the sensible world the same as an electric eel’s? Was the flood account written from the perspective of a human observer or a bat?

    iii) How does the recognition that sensory perception is affected by brain structures and differing sensory aptitudes undermine the way we “get belief in the Bible”?

    a) From what perspective was the flood account written? From the viewpoint of a human observer? Or a hammerhead shark?

    If the God who inspired the flood account is the same God who also designed our brains and senses, in which case the description is adapted to our sensory perception, then that is adequate to convey what God intended to tell us.

    b) Apropos (a), an aerial shot may be unrecognizable to a ground-based observer. And it might be practically impossible to harmonize the two alternate perspectives, even though they’re harmonious in principle.

    c) Keep in mind that you’re not even comparing two different observations. On the one hand, you have a narrative description–from the viewpoint of a human observer (whether real or ideal).

    On the other hand, you have a scientific reconstruction of the past from trace evidence. These are not divergent “observations” of the same event (or nonevent).

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  18. I'll stick to one point, which I think is the most important.

    The reason why skepticism about our cognitive faculties in general also undermines your belief in the Biblical account is that your belief in the Biblical account occurs via your cognitive faculties. So does your presupposing that God exists and that his message is reliably portrayed in the Bible. If our cognitive faculties are unreliable, then even our presuppositions can't be trusted.

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  19. i) I didn't question the general reliability of our "cognitive" faculties.

    Rather, I was primarily addressing the limitations of sensory perception. And even then, I didn't say sensory perception is unreliable.

    ii) Moreover, to reiterate my earlier point, the question of whether or not our brains and senses are trustworthy admits a different answer depending on our Christian or naturalistic framework. Christianity has resources which naturalism does not.

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  20. (1) If you are primarily questioning the limits of sense perception, then it could be that we have no idea what the Bible actually says. We use this perception to read it, after all.

    (2) The question of whether or not our brains are trustworthy is something we have to decide before we adopt Christianity or naturalism. We use our cognitive faculties in assenting to, understanding, and defending even Christian presuppositions.

    (You are trying to push an argument like Plantinga's. But Plantinga's argument attempts to show that the naturalist has a defeater for belief in the reliability of his faculties. Plantinga's argument does not show that the world isn't how science describes it. In fact, Plantinga largely accepts the scientific picture because he has good reason to accept the deliverances of both sense perception and scientific findings - that we are created by a trustworthy God.

    So if you have a Christian-ly supported belief in your sense perceptions, you then have reason to take seriously scientific objections to Scripture. It makes no difference if naturalists don't have the proper philosophical supports for trusting their findings.

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  21. JOSHUA BLANCHARD SAID:

    “(1) If you are primarily questioning the limits of sense perception, then it could be that we have no idea what the Bible actually says. We use this perception to read it, after all.”

    i) That only follows if the Biblical text falls outside the limits of reliable sensory perception. That’s hardly required by my argument.

    ii) To the contrary, if the text of Scripture was inspired, then our God-given senses were adapted to the text of Scripture–among other things.

    iii) Moreover, do you seriously think there are no limits on sensory perception?

    “(2) The question of whether or not our brains are trustworthy is something we have to decide before we adopt Christianity or naturalism. We use our cognitive faculties in assenting to, understanding, and defending even Christian presuppositions.”

    You need to draw an elementary distinction between the practice of naturalists and the implications of a naturalistic philosophy.

    The fact that naturalists are bound to provisionally assume the reliability of their brains doesn’t mean their brains are, in fact reliable–much less does it mean their naturalistic philosophy is consistent with rationality.

    Both somebody who’s sober and somebody who’s drunk must use his brain. A drunk may decide before he gets behind the steering while that his perceptions and reflexes are unimpaired, but, of course, he’s inebriation leaves him self-deluded about his sobriety.

    Moreover, someone with a perfectly functioning brain can still adopt a philosophy of mind which logically undercuts rationality. You’re overlooking obvious distinctions.

    “Plantinga's argument does not show that the world isn't how science describes it.”

    That’s not how I’m using his argument at this stage. That’s a separate argument.

    “In fact, Plantinga largely accepts the scientific picture because he has good reason to accept the deliverances of both sense perception and scientific findings - that we are created by a trustworthy God.”

    Proper function doesn’t single out any particular theory of perception, whether naïve realism, direct realism, indirect realism, phenomenalism, or idealism. All are consistent with proper function. Their pros and cons would have to be evaluated on other grounds.

    “So if you have a Christian-ly supported belief in your sense perceptions, you then have reason to take seriously scientific objections to Scripture.”

    i) Only if you think the Bible underwrites something like naïve realism. But just about any theory of perception short of naïve realism will admit some gap between appearance and reality.

    ii) You’re also prejudging the question of what reliable senses are reliable for. As I’ve already said, “reliability” is a relative concept. “Reliable” in relation to what goal? A spoon is reliable for doing what a spoon was meant to do, but unreliable for doing what a knife or fork was meant to do.

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  22. You claim to be answering this question:
    "Suppose we had no alternative explanation. Would that be a defeater for the inerrancy of Scripture?"

    As far as I can see you don't address this question in the post. Instead, you address other questions, like whether or not naturalists can salvage the reliability of their cognitive faculties by appealing to the necessity of presupposing them.

    The problem you quote and describe with the "role of the scientific observer" has to do with the fallible nature of our brains. You say that even the compensating methods of science still can't get beyond "the structure of the brain."

    Well, even the presupposition of God doesn't get beyond "the structure of the brain," since we use our brains to settle on presuppositions and the like. This can't be a way to salvage Scripture, because it undermines our knowledge of Scripture and our knowledge of God.

    You end by saying:
    "From a Christian standpoint, the way out of the fly-bottle is the presupposition of God’s creative and providential control."
    Again, this isn't a way out of the fly-bottle you raise. Maybe there's a fly-bottle somewhere it can help with. But this fly-bottle is a problem for any form of belief, because it is a close cousin of global skepticism.

    Repeating: Even if the Christian has a way out of the fly-bottle, that doesn't save Scripture from scientific objection, your supposed target. If anything, it makes it worse. We better pay attention to science, because the results of science are yielded by our God-given faculties.

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  23. Joshua said:
    ---
    Well, even the presupposition of God doesn't get beyond "the structure of the brain," since we use our brains to settle on presuppositions and the like.
    ---

    What of dualism? That the mind is distinguished from the brain?

    BTW, you also said:
    ---
    We better pay attention to science, because the results of science are yielded by our God-given faculties.
    ---

    Depends on how you're defining "science." There is a vast difference between physics and archaeology when it comes to proof. Archaeology, which would deal with questions of the flood, is in no way a strict science. You're dealing with the past, and largely you cannot even hope to recreate any of it in a controlled environment. It's not at all like, say, putting two chemicals together and seeing what results.

    So one doesn't need to accept something just because it's CLAIMED that it's "science."

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  24. Joshua,

    Since you seem to have difficulty connecting the dots, here’s my argument:

    1.Unbelievers raise scientific objections to the Bible, viz. the creation account, flood account.

    2.They accuse the Bible of being unscientific because it contradicts the scientific evidence. If doesn’t fit the facts.

    3.After alluding to various direct replies to this allegation, I then examine a key presupposition which underlies this allegation.

    4.I quote a secular philosopher who points out that our perception of the world depends on how our brains are structured and our senses are attuned. If our brains were constructed differently, they’d perceive the world differently.

    The brain is selective. It edits the sensory input. It fills in the gaps.

    In sum, we don’t perceive the world as it is, in itself, but via the filter of our brain and senses.

    5.I point out that if we accept his analysis, then that creates a gap between appearance and reality. From perception alone can’t tell us what the world is really like.

    I also point out that science is unable to close the gap, since science is ultimately dependent on our brains and senses.

    As such, the unbeliever is in no position to say Biblical descriptions of reality are inaccurate, since the unbeliever lacks direct access to reality. He’s in no position to compare the description with reality. All he can do is compare one description with another description.

    6.I also note that even if a description were at odds with the phenomena, it might still be true to the underlying reality. I use the illustration of a video game.

    7.Finally, as a way of rounding out my discussion of Philips, and transitioning to Sosa, I make the parenthetical observation that if our brain is the byproduct of a mindless evolutionary process, then that exacerbates the hiatus between appearance and reality.

    In this part of the argument, I’m taking the secular position to its logical conclusion. The success or failure of this part of the argument doesn’t turn on whether the Christian can offer a superior alternative. I consider that in the second part of my argument.

    8.To recap the first part of the argument:

    i) According to a secular analysis of cognition and perception, human percipients lack direct access to reality.

    If so, then this undermines direct realism. And that, in turn, undermines scientific realism.

    ii) In addition, the reliability of cognition and perception is contingent on the reliability of the process which produced our cognitive faculties and sensory relays. If the process was undirected, then that undercuts the reliability of the result.

    These are two distinct and separable issues. However, they also have a combined effect.

    While the Christian alternative is, to some degree subject to the same limitation as 8-i, it is not subject to the objection as 8-ii.

    Moreover, your position on 8-ii affects your position on 8-i. If our cognitive and sensory limitations were designed by God, then those limitations don’t have the same globally skeptical repercussions that a mindless process would implicate.

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  25. 9.From there I move to a related issue, which poses a potential objection to my argument under 8-ii. I examine Sosa’s response to Plantinga’s argument against evolutionary psychology.

    10.In the course of that I draw a number of distinctions. For example, I point out that Sosa’s statements about reliability are equivocal. And I also point out that our brains and senses could be reliable as far as they go, but still quite limited in their access to the sensible world.

    11.I note that while a naturalist might take rationality for granted as his starting-point, evolutionary psychology circles back to throw this presumption in grave doubt.

    Now let’s move on to your latest reply:

    “As far as I can see you don't address this question in the post. Instead, you address other questions, like whether or not naturalists can salvage the reliability of their cognitive faculties by appealing to the necessity of presupposing them.”

    i) A scientist is in no position to say the Bible mischaracterizes the world unless the scientist happens to know what the world is really like. But if, as per Philips, he has nothing but appearances to go by, then he’s in no position to say if one phenomenal description is true to reality while another phenomenal description is false.

    ii) And this problem is aggravated in case his philosophy of mind (e.g. evolutionary psychology) implicitly scuttles the very basis of human rationality.

    “The problem you quote and describe with the ‘role of the scientific observer" has to do with the fallible nature of our brains. You say that even the compensating methods of science still can't get beyond "the structure of the brain’.”

    No, I raise two (potentially related) issues rather than one:

    i) The fact that our brains/senses screen and manipulate the sense data doesn’t ipso facto mean our brains are fallible. What it does mean, rather, is that our mental representation of the external world may bear no direct or indirect resemblance to the external world. Rather, it’s more like the relationship between plaintext and ciphertext. Encoded information.

    ii) What would render our brains fallible and unreliable is a fallible and unreliable process of producing our brains. If naturalistic evolution is the factory, then that would produce fallible (and unreliable) brains.

    “Well, even the presupposition of God doesn't get beyond ‘the structure of the brain,’ since we use our brains to settle on presuppositions and the like. This can't be a way to salvage Scripture, because it undermines our knowledge of Scripture and our knowledge of God.”

    i) There’s an obvious difference between a position whose logical implications confirm the initial assumptions (e.g. divine design), and a position whose logical implications disconfirm the initial assumptions (e.g. evolutionary psychology). It’s odd that you have so much trouble grasping that rudimentary distinction.

    ii) Put another way, you’re confusing epistemology with metaphysics. The fact that a human subject is the immediate port of entry into his own reflections on reality is distinct from the question of what ultimately grounds his rationality.

    iii) What underwrites the reliability or unreliability of the product is the reliability or unreliability of the process or the producer. We ourselves don’t have to get beyond the structure of our brains as long as our brains were structured by God. For God is able to get beyond the structure of our brains, and he constructs our brains (and minds and senses) according to his knowledge, not ours.

    I’d add that this, in turn, is ripe for a transcendental argument. If rationality is a necessary presupposition for believer and unbeliever alike, and if God is a necessary presupposition to redeem the presumption of rationality, then that’s a potential argument for the existence of God.

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  26. “[Blanchard] Again, this isn't a way out of the fly-bottle you raise. Maybe there's a fly-bottle somewhere it can help with. But this fly-bottle is a problem for any form of belief, because it is a close cousin of global skepticism.”

    i) You haven’t shown how Philips’ analysis is avoidable. What did Philips say which you reject, and why?

    ii) You also haven’t shown that my position begets a close cousin of global skepticism. You simply repeat yourself.

    “Repeating: Even if the Christian has a way out of the fly-bottle, that doesn't save Scripture from scientific objection, your supposed target.”

    It answers the unbeliever on his own terms. Whether or not that part of the argument is successful is irrespective of whether or not the Christian alternative is successful.

    “If anything, it makes it worse. We better pay attention to science, because the results of science are yielded by our God-given faculties.”

    That’s both philosophically and theologically jejune:

    i) As Larry Laudan documented long ago, even false scientific theories can be very successful. The success of science doesn’t turn on any particular philosophy of science. Both realism and antirealism can account for the wonders of modern technology.

    ii) For perception to successfully navigate our physical environment, all that’s needed is a functional or causal correlation between the distal stimulus, the proximal stimulus, and the percept. The percept doesn’t need to resemble the distal stimulus. Rather, it’s the linkage between those elements in the perceptual chain that enables us to hit the target. The correlation directs our aim.

    iii) Unlike the human percipient, God’s access to the world isn’t filtered through brains and senses. He designed the world. A description of the world which God inspired is based on his infallible understanding of the world he made.

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  27. I agree with the trivial proposition that if God created us, we have a grounding for our rationality. The problem is that we can't know if God created us, if we take you and Phillips seriously in saying that it's a problem if our brains don't give us access to reality. This undermines scientific realism just as much as it would some sort of theological realism.

    My point is that the only way you're able to resist the scientific defeater to Scripture is by introducing another even more serious defeater, that belief in Scripture, our presuppositions, beliefs of the writers of Scripture, observations of the participants in Scripture, etc., are all undermined by the fact that our brains are in various ways unreliable.

    You can't grant this point about our brains for the sake of argument, unless you're also willing to grant this unhappy conclusion for the sake of argument.

    You say things like "A scientist is in no position to say the Bible mischaracterizes the world unless the scientist happens to know what the world is really like. But if, as per Philips, he has nothing but appearances to go by, then he’s in no position to say if one phenomenal description is true to reality while another phenomenal description is false."
    Per Philips, no human being, including believers, have anything but appearances to go by.

    In any case, the scientific objection to Scripture goes like this: "As far as the scientific evidence indicates, Scriptural event X didn't happen." Do you agree that the scientific evidence is contrary to the flood, or the creation account?

    The proper way to respond to scientific objections is either to (a) show they are wrong or (b) concede but show some overriding consideration or (c) concede.

    What's so un-interesting about your argument is that it means we would have no way of reality-testing in extremely trivial cases. If someone says that house is engulfed in flames, and I deny it, you and Phillips can say I have no way of distinguishing between two phenomena. I wonder how you would get out of that boring conundrum.

    This is one reason why this position does in fact yield something like global skepticism.

    In any case, even if we have no meta-arguments regarding our cognitive processes, it does not follow that we aren't justified in believing say, the scientific evidence against the flood account (or, deluge geologist portrayals of the flood account).

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  28. JOSHUA BLANCHARD SAID:

    “The problem is that we can't know if God created us, if we take you and Phillips seriously in saying that it's a problem if our brains don't give us access to reality.”

    i) I didn’t say that’s a problem, per se. I said that’s a problem for evolutionary psychology and scientific realism.

    ii) I didn’t say our brains don’t give us access to reality, simpliciter. I said our brains don’t give us *direct* access to reality.

    iii) In context, we’re not discussing reality in general, but the sensible world. Empirical phenomena.

    “This undermines scientific realism just as much as it would some sort of theological realism.”

    You need to present an actual argument for that linkage. For example, on a standard scientific analysis of color perception, colored objects are actually colorless objects. On this view, colors are dispositional properties (phenomenal qualia) rather than objective, intrinsic properties (physical qualities).

    Perhaps you disagree. But for the sake of argument, would this gap between primary and secondary qualities, appearance and reality, undermine theological realism? Does theological realism demand a particular theory of color perception? If, for example, the apparel of Jesus wasn’t really white (cf. Mt 17:2), then is our faith in vain?

    “My point is that the only way you're able to resist the scientific defeater to Scripture is by introducing another even more serious defeater, that belief in Scripture, our presuppositions, beliefs of the writers of Scripture, observations of the participants in Scripture, etc., are all undermined by the fact that our brains are in various ways unreliable.”

    That’s a straw man argument since, as I’ve explained several times now, I don’t regard our brains as unreliable on *Christian grounds*. Rather, our brains are unreliable on *naturalistic grounds*.

    Perhaps, though, you regard any position short of naïve realism as rendering our brains unreliable. Is that you’re position? For example, do you think mountains are really smaller at a distance, as grow larger as we get closer? Or do you admit a gap between appearance and reality?

    And if you make some allowance for a gap between appearance and reality, then where do you draw the line?

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  29. [Blanchard]: “You can't grant this point about our brains for the sake of argument, unless you're also willing to grant this unhappy conclusion for the sake of argument.”

    Since you’re misstating my premise, the conclusion doesn’t follow. Try again.

    “Per Philips, no human being, including believers, have anything but appearances to go by.”

    i) And how, exactly, do you think that consequence is avoidable? Idealism is the only position in which the percipient enjoys direct access to reality. The only position which closes the gap between appearance and reality.

    Of course, if you go the idealist route, then the empirical evidence is a mental production. Simulated evidence. Idealism is antithetical to scientific realism.

    If, by contrast, you either subscribe to dualism or physicalism, then consciousness lacks direct access to the sensible world. In that event, our brains and senses form an interface between the sensible world and our mental representation thereof. On that view, the cognitive subject lacks immediate epistemic access to the sensible object.

    ii) Moreover, science itself informs us that different species perceive reality differently depending on their brains and specialized senses. Do you deny that? If not, then the way in which the sensible world is perceived by various observers varies from one species to another. Do you deny that?

    If not, then you have to admit a gap between appearance and realty. In which case, observers don’t perceive the world just like it is. On that view, our mental representations of the sensible world can’t be isometric with the sensible world.

    I’m still waiting for you to present a philosophically tenable alternative. You are a philosophy major, right? So how’s that an unreasonable request? The burden of proof is a two-way street.

    “Do you agree that the scientific evidence is contrary to the flood, or the creation account?”

    I’ve discussed that elsewhere, but that would divert us from the issue at hand. Let’s nail down one loose shingle at a time before we move to another one.

    “The proper way to respond to scientific objections is either to (a) show they are wrong or (b) concede but show some overriding consideration or (c) concede.”

    There’s no one proper way to address scientific objections. Yes, we can address scientific objections downstream, on a case-by-case basis.

    But we can also address scientific objections upstream, at a metascientific level. It’s hardly “improper” to bring the realist/antirealist debate into the discussion.

    Scientific objections to Scripture are only as good as scientific realism, which is, in turn, only as good as the theory of perception which underwrites it. To disregard that consideration is philosophically nearsighted.

    “What's so un-interesting about your argument is that it means we would have no way of reality-testing in extremely trivial cases.”

    This assumes that Scripture itself can never function as a reality-testing criterion. But if Scripture is divinely inspired, then it presents an intersubjectival, God’s-eye view of reality.

    That may not address trivial cases to which it doesn’t speak, but it does address cases on which it has a say.

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  30. [Blanchard]: “If someone says that house is engulfed in flames, and I deny it, you and Phillips can say I have no way of distinguishing between two phenomena. I wonder how you would get out of that boring conundrum.”

    We can act on phenomena as long as the percept, proximal stimulus, and distal stimulus are coordinated. And, from a Christian standpoint, that correlation is generally reliable–since God designed it.

    That, however, doesn’t tell you what a house is like apart from your sense datum.

    “This is one reason why this position does in fact yield something like global skepticism.”

    You keep complaining about the consequences–which, in any event, you oversimplify–without even trying to offer a satisfactory alternative.

    The consequences I describe follow from just about any position you please–whether idealism, dualism, or physicalism. You can’t back out of the consequences just because you find them distasteful.

    Choose a position and discuss the consequences. Whatever position you choose, you’re stuck with all the attendant ramifications.

    “In any case, even if we have no meta-arguments regarding our cognitive processes, it does not follow that we aren't justified in believing say, the scientific evidence against the flood account (or, deluge geologist portrayals of the flood account).”

    That begs the question in the teeth of the objections I’ve presented. I’m a bit puzzled by why a philosophy major like yourself is so anti-intellectual in refusing to take seriously the philosophical implications and presuppositions of your own position.

    You keep shifting all the hard questions back to me. But aside from the fact that I’ve responded to your questions, that tactic does nothing vindicate your own alternative.

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