Friday, July 07, 2006

Evolutionary epistemology

“And poor little Steve should note that I laid aside the question of soul/spirit (and thus whether or not God was involved) to make this simpler. The point is -- what part of "poof" is more reason-conferring than descent with modification (if telic)?”

i) Baby-talk questions (“poof”) don’t call for grown-up answers. If and when you’re prepared to pose an adult question, I’ll be happy to provide and answer.

As it stands, your question is meaningless.

ii) And your exercise in simplification leaves out the key ingredient to an answer.

“The origin of our mind is not the same thing as a philosophy of mind.”

Which misses the point. If a philosophy of mind includes a theory of origins (evolutionary epistemology), then the question is whether that theory is self-defeating.

“Fine. So now, it is time to present a ‘philosophy of mind’ which undermines rationality as an example, rather than simply leaving an open and presumed connection between evolution and some reason-nullifying philosophy of mind that necessarily follows.”

i) It isn’t essential to draw a necessary connection. A probable connection will do.

ii) Plantinga, for one, has already laid out such an argument.

iii) I also discuss the connection below.

“But if Darwin's mind, and all of ours, are rendered by their creative process irrational, then it does prove that every ‘conviction’ / theory we have developed with our minds are indeed irrational as well. No product of a completely irrational mind can be rational, can it? You seem to be looking into the barrel of the gun when you consider the converse.”

What position are you referring to—yours or mine? On my position, the human mind was designed by an intelligent Creator, while on yours it was the adventitous byproduct of a blind watchmaker.

“Is it? The trainability of dogs and other mammals is quite reliable. Their minds are the result of solely natural processes (versus a soul, or spirit, right?). If their minds perform reliably, how is that a red herring to insist that evolution need not produce unreliable minds?”

i) Once again, what position does your statement stand in contrast to? How are you defining a “solely natural process”? Are you defining that naturalistically as both a purely materialistic as well as undirected process?

If so, Christians do not regard animal behavior as the result of a solely natural process.

ii) Another problem is with your starting point. You assume that organisms are bits of organized matter, and so you further assume a reductive explanation of their behavior consistent with physicalism.

I, on the other hand, would begin with their behavior, and then leave myself ontologically open to whatever metaphysical machinery is necessary to account for their behavior.

I would not rule out animal souls or remote signaling or whatever cause is required to yield the effect.

“How can a process which solely confers selective advantage for survival be considered ‘unreliable’? The mechanism of random mutation isn't ‘reliable’ in the sense that ‘you never know what you'll get’, but natural selection certainly is -- you'll always get populations of organisms which confer survival-advantageous traits to their offspring.”

i) Reliable in what respect? Reliable as survivable or reliable as rational? These are two very different things.

ii) In addition, from a Christian standpoint an animal is adaptable because it was designed to be adaptable.

“You're taking this a bit far. The ‘convictions’ in the quote only refer to a degree of reliability in their perceptions. I admitted ‘degree’ when I said skepticism is warranted.”

Reliable perception and reliable conception are two different things. A robot may be designed with a reliable pattern-recognition program. So it has a reliable perceptual mechanism. But it doesn’t think. The issue is rationality. The ability to conceive, not to perceive. Do our human concepts correspond to reality? Bare sensation has no truth-value.

“Part of how this ties into survival is in whether or not our sense perception, and how our minds interpret our senses, function in a ‘trustworthy’ manner or not. We develop convictions from these most basic of mental functions. Survival certainly depends upon them. So it really isn't a question of whether or not we can trust our minds...but ‘how far?’"

For a monist, you are very free with the word “mind.” From your perspective, what is the mind of a cockroach? Does the “mind” of a cockroach “interpret” sensory input?

“I didn't say that survival depends on intelligence in all organisms, but certainly in those which have little or no natural defense capability, and whose offspring are extremely fragile, and who only reproduce at about 1/1000th the rate of cockroaches, must develop some offsetting survival mechanisms. Ours were tool-making and socialization, just like the other apes.”

And how did the naturally defenseless naked ape survive for hundreds of thousands of years before its brain evolved to the point where it could design weaponry?

“The rest of this is bunk. I simply meant that we know the brain, and we know that [in this universe] without a brain, there is no mind. Even you don't disagree with that as a dualist. “

Actually, I, as a Cartesian dualist would, indeed, disagree with this. The mind is not brain-dependent.

“We can point to neurons and watch them fire off and correlate that to mental activity. I'm not saying that this is ‘all there is to mind’. I made it clear that I was trying to ignore the question of the existence of the soul/spirit, and focus on the process by which mind exists -- whether by divine fiat / poof, or by evolutionary processes. You have expended a lot of energy in ignoring this.”

i) You’re trying to drive the car after removing the engine.

ii) There is no detailed correlation between the firing of neurons and mental activity. That is, at most, only a temporal correlation. It may tell you when a person is thinking, but it doesn’t tell you what he is thinking—or even how he is thinking.

You cannot reconstruct what a person is thinking from a brain scan. You can get inside his brain, but you can’t get inside his mind. You can see his brain in action, but you can’t see what he is seeing as he sees it. You can see if he is dreaming, but you can’t see the dream.

What you need, Danny, is to show—not to say, but to show—how mental properties are reducible to material properties.

You also need to capture the interiority of the experience—the conceptual or imaginative content of the mental state.

“Poor Steve. He's like a man who thinks he's lost his glasses, but has them on top of his head. It need not rule out a Creator to conclude that apes are our ancestors.”

Since neither you nor I subscribe to theistic evolution, this is a stalling tactic.

“Poor little Steve only sees things his way -- God ‘poofed’ or God is not. Minds are ‘only matter’ and evolved, or minds are ‘poofed’ and divinely created in an instant. “

Poor little Danny doesn’t know his way around traditional Christian theology.

Instantaneous primary causality has reference to creation ex nihilo. The creation of the world.

It doesn’t have reference to secondary causality, such as the propagation of the species. In that regard one can either be a creationist or a traducian. I incline to the latter.

“The creation myth may be leveled, but you must never take your eyes off of the big picture, Steve -- your God is not a creation myth...right?”

Since you’ve done nothing to level the creation “myth,” your contention is a nonstarter.


  1. The problem, Daniel, old boy, with talking about how acceptance of evolution doesn't mean that God does not exist is that you are an atheist. Therefore, any such statement will smell fishy.

    And as far as animals are concerned, I, for one, would arge that animals, or at least the higher animals, possess souls, albeit souls not in the image of God.

    Augustus Toplady's Essay on the Sagacity of Brutes is helpful in this respect.

  2. well, you presuppose God, we can just presuppose the reliability of our cognitive faculties, now can't we?

    We can just presuppose induction, the reliability of the senses, the laws of logic, etc.

    Don't ask us to account for our presuppositions since they're what we bring to our experience, they are ultimate.

  3. And your point is, old man?

    Besides although one can presuppose the reliability of one's cognitive faculties, this will not help if one is a loony, or, like me, chronically forgetful. In both cases, it is probably helpful to presuppose the unreliablity of one's cognitive faculties. Had I done so two weeks ago, I would not have forgotten my 'phone, towel and lunch when I went up to Aber.

  4. Anonymous:

    Two basic problems:

    i) You can't presuppose common sense if your evolutionary epistemology undercuts common sense. Choose one or the other--not both.

    ii)It looks like you haven't studied Van Tilian apologetics, but simply looked up the word "presupposition" in a dictionary.

    In Van Tilian apologetics, a presupposition is not an arbitrary, unverifiable postulate.

  5. Steve,

    For a monist, you are very free with the word “mind.” From your perspective, what is the mind of a cockroach? Does the “mind” of a cockroach “interpret” sensory input?
    Certainly, the brain and mind are one and the same in my worldview. One does not exist without the other. However, supervenience and epiphenomena and many other ideas do not make my stance necessarily reductionist (to show thought A = molecule B doing C). Think of fire for a moment. Knowing all that there is to know about hydrocarbons, and knowing all that there is to know about oxygen, we still cannot experience combustion except through the perception of fire as a visual and thermal phenomenon. Experiencing the heat on your face is quite different than calculating the energy of C=O and O-H bond formation against the energy of C-H and O=O bond formation. Being inside our own minds, we are experiencing, I am sure, nothing but biochemical interactions, not qualitatively different than combustion. However, we perceive these biochemical phenoemna first-hand, since they constitute our brains, and we're not viewing them objectively (as with fMRI or CT scans) -- we're feeling the heat and seeing the light of these phenomena.

    I'm just trying to point out here that I don't necessarily disagree with the comment on watching neurons fire and correlating it to mental activity.

    Doing that (observation) is like doing the calculation for the enthalpy of combustion (the heat that will be given off). The reality of fire, however, can include a completely different perception, to which you would be completely ignorant of, and without the ability to describe, unless you are close enough to the phenomenon to experience it firsthand -- heat and light.

    I don't think that, because of the fundamental disconnect between experience/perception and objective observation, we can ever run wires to your brain and put up on a screen what you're seeing, or "feel what you're feeling". Possibly we never will be able to. Part of mental processes, I agree, is in the subjective experience/perception and cannot be observed. But, does this cause me to invoke some unknown, immaterial substance? Why would it?

    The ability to describe experience and perception using Na/K potentials across your neurons in terms of intensity and frequency is real. In other words, intense pain correlates to higher frequency neural processes as well as a greater concentration of ions released at synapses. I can thus "see" your pain, but seeing it and feeling it are two completely different things. I can make a graph of the flux of ions across your neurons and show the valleys and troughs correlating to your experience of pain. I cannot show your pain itself on a screen for others to view. Your pain is indeed "reducible" to Na/K potentials, but can I say that I can "describe" the experience/perception of pain unless I have felt it? No.

    How can creatures who experience mental processes first hand, and are even using them in trying to observe others', ever hope to have some sort of understanding of their own experience from an objective standpoint? They can't. So?

    You can't presuppose common sense if your evolutionary epistemology undercuts common sense. Choose one or the other--not both.
    How is skeptically and tentatively accepting the rationality of any particular conclusion undercut by the origin of the brain? This is what we've yet to clarify. I pointed out in the beginning that I was willing to lay aside the question of soul/spirit and consider only whether or not human brains are the product of evolution (with or without divine guidance) or a special act of creation, which I dubbed "poof", but you cannot dispute the accuracy of the description. Something which doesn't exist, suddenly does = poof.

    What evolution depends upon is, by the naturalistic framework, the laws of physics. Even the most "chance" of processes are not what we would call "unbounded". That is, the energy distribution of a bunch of particles at a given temperature (ie with a particular average kinetic energy) can be represented with a Gaussian distribution. Why do I mention this? Well, even the most indeterminable outcomes of physical states still obey the laws of physics (in the naturalistic worldview). Therefore, when we speak of a brain being created by naturalistic processes, and humans inheriting a "monkey mind", I still have yet to see why this necessarily entails irrationality. The "monkey mind" itself must obey the laws of physics, in a naturalist's worldview, and no known natural processes can be considered completely beyond understanding or description (even if the states fall under a distribution of probabilistic outcomes, as with quantum mechanics).

    The laws of physics themselves are hardly "irrational", even if indeterminable due to the number of variables involved. When considering all natural processes, chance/random or no, "any" outcome is not possible, just "many". This provides us with a sort of foundation to counter some sort of presumed connection between irrationality and natural processes.

    And this is where we are:
    If a philosophy of mind includes a theory of origins (evolutionary epistemology), then the question is whether that theory is self-defeating.
    And that's the question I posed: is it?