I am beginning to feel a little sorry for Thomas Nagel. It looks as if the only favorable mainstream reviews he will receive for his efforts in Mind and Cosmos will be from theists. What excites the theists' approbation, of course, are not Nagel's positive panpsychist and natural-teleological suggestions, which remain within the ambit of naturalism, but his assault on materialist naturalism. As Alvin Plantinga writes in his excellent review, Why Darwinist Materialism is Wrong, "I applaud his formidable attack on materialist naturalism; I am dubious about panpsychism and natural teleology." And so Nagel's predicament, at least among reviewers in the philosophical mainstream, seems to be as follows. The naturalists will reject his book utterly, both in its negative and positive parts, while the theists will embrace the critique of materialist naturalism while rejecting his panpsychism and natural-teleologism.
Plantinga's review, like ancient Gaul, est in partes tres divisa.
In the first part, Plantinga take himself to be in agreement with Nagel on four points. (1) It is extremely improbable that life could have arisen from inanimate matter by the workings of the laws of physics and chemistry alone. (2) But supposing life has arisen, then natural selection can go to work on random genetic mutations. Still, it is incredible that that all the fantastic variety of life, including human beings, should have arisen in this way. (3) Materialist naturalism cannot explain consciousness. (4) Materialist naturalism cannot explain belief, cognition, and reason.
In the second part of his review, Plantinga discusses Nagel's rejection of theism. Apart from Nagel's honestly admitted temperamental disinclination to believe in God, Plantinga rightly sees Nagel's main substantive objection to theism to reside in theism's putative offense against the unity of the world. But at this point I hand off to myself. In my post Nagel's Reason for Rejecting Theism I give a somewhat more detailed account than does Plantinga of Nagel's rejection.
In the third part of his review, Plantina expresses his doubts about panpsychism and natural teleology. I tend to agree that there could not be purposes without a purposer:
As for natural teleology: does it really make sense to suppose that the world in itself, without the presence of God, should be doing something we could sensibly call “aiming at” some states of affairs rather than others—that it has as a goal the actuality of some states of affairs as opposed to others? Here the problem isn’t just that this seems fantastic; it does not even make clear sense. A teleological explanation of a state of affairs will refer to some being that aims at this state of affairs and acts in such a way as to bring it about. But a world without God does not aim at states of affairs or anything else. How, then, can we think of this alleged natural teleology?
Plantinga ends by suggesting that if it weren't for Nagel's antipathy to religion, his philosophical good sense would lead him to theism.
I just remembered this old post from the Powerblogs site, a post relevant to present concerns. Written February 2008.
I raised the question whether divine revelation is miraculous. I answered tentatively that it is not. Though revelation may be accompanied by miraculous events such as the burning bush of Exodus 3:2, I floated the suggestion that there need be nothing miraculous about revelation as such. So I was pleased to find some support for this notion from another quarter. The following is from an essay by Leo Strauss on Hermann Cohen's Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism:
Revelation is the continuation of creation since man as the rational and moral being comes into being, i.e., is constituted, by revelation. Revelation is as little miraculous as creation. (Leo Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, U. of Chicago Press, 1983, p. 237.)
This is an extremely interesting suggestion in that it may offer us a way to make sense of the notion that God creates man in his image and likeness but without interfering in the evolutionary processes most of us believe are responsible for man's existence as an animal.
Man as an animal is one thing, man as a spiritual, rational, and moral being is another. The origin of man as an animal came about not through any special divine acts but through the evolutionary processes common to the origination of all animal species. But man as spirit, as a self-conscious, rational being who distinguishes between good and evil cannot be accounted for in naturalistic terms.
As animals, we are descended from lower forms. As animals, we are part of the natural world and have the same general type of origin as any other animal species. Hence there was no Adam and Eve as first biological parents of the human race who came into existence directly by divine fiat without animal progenitors. But although we are animals, we are also spiritual beings, spiritual selves. I am an I, an ego, and this I-ness or egoity cannot be explained naturalistically. I am a person possessing free will and conscience neither of which can be explained naturalistically.
I suggest that what 'Adam' refers to is not a man qua member of a zoological species, but the first man to become a spiritual self. This spiritual selfhood came into existence through an encounter with the divine self. In this I-Thou encounter, the divine self elicited or triggered man's latent spiritual self. This spiritual self did not emerge naturally; what emerged naturally was the potentiality to hear a divine call which called man to his vocation, his higher destiny, namely, a sharing in the divine life. The divine call is from beyond the human horizon.
But in the encounter with the divine self which first triggered man's personhood or spiritual selfhood, there arose man's freedom and his sense of being a separate self, an ego distinct from God and from other egos. Thus was born pride and self-assertion and egotism. Sensing his quasi-divine status, man asserted himself against the One who had revealed himself, the One who simultaneously called him to a Higher Life but also imposed restrictions and made demands. Man in his pride then made a fateful choice, drunk with the sense of his own power: he decided to go it alone. This rebellion was the Fall of man, which has nothing to do with being expelled from a physical garden located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Original Sin was a spiritual event, and its transmission was not by semen, but by some spiritual (socio-cultural) means.
If we take some such tack as the above, then we can reconcile what we know to be true from natural science with the Biblical message. Religion and science needn't compete; they can complement each other -- but only if each sticks to its own province. In this way we can avoid both the extremes of the fundamentalists and the extremes of the 'Dawkins gang' (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, et al.)
Returning to Hermann Cohen's suggestion above, as mediated by Leo Strauss, we can say that the divine-human encounter whereby the animal man becomes spirit is God's revelation to man. God's revealing himself is at the same time a creation of man as a spiritual being. In Heideggerian terms, at the moment of encounter moment man becomes Dasein, the Da of Sein, the site where Being (Sein) achieves finite self-understanding. But there is nothing ontically miraculous in this, no contravention of any law of nature.
Revealing himself to man as Being itself -- Exodus 3:14 "I am who am" -- God creates man as understandor of Being.
This is the fourth in a series of posts on Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos (Oxford 2012). The posts are conveniently collected under the rubric Nagel, Thomas. Before proceeding with my account of Chapter 4, I will pause in this entry to consider Elliot Sober's serious, substantial, and sober Boston Reviewreview. Sober's sobriety lapses only in the subtitle (which may have been supplied by the editor): "Ending Science as We Know It."
According to Sober, Nagel " . . . argues that evolutionary biology is fundamentally flawed and that physics also needs to be rethought—that we need a new way to do science." This seems to me to misrepresent Nagel's project. His project is not to "end science as we know it" but to indicate the limits of scientific explanation. A legitimate philosophical task is to investigate the limits of even the most successful sciences. (4) Now, to investigate and point out the limits of evolutionary biology and physics is not to argue that they are "fundamentally flawed." They do what they are supposed to do, and the fact that they do not, or cannot, explain certain phenomena that certain scientistically inclined people would like them to explain, is no argument against them. After all, physics cannot explain the proliferation of living species, but that is no argument against physics. If evolutionary biology cannot explain how consciousness arises in certain organisms or the objectively binding character or normative judgments, that is no argument against evolutonary biology. To oppose Darwinian imperialism as Nagel does is not to oppose Darwinism. To suppose that every gap in our understanding can be filled with a Darwinian explanation is rightly ridiculed as "Darwinism of the gaps." (127)
Nagel's targets are not existing successful sciences. He tells us right at the outset what his target is (bolding added): "My target is a comprehensive, speculative world picture that is reached by extrapolation from some of the discoveries of biology, chemistry, and physics -- a particular naturalistic Weltanschauung that postulates a hierarchical relation among the subjects of those sciences, and the completeness in principle of an explanation of everything in the universe through their unification." (4) He goes on to characterize this worldview as "materialist reductionism" and "reductive materialism."
Nagel is therefore not opposing any science but rather a philosophical position, materialist reductionism, that is reached by a speculative-philosophical extrapolation from some of the results of the sciences.
Although Nagel admits that there are some brute facts, mind, the intelligibility of the world, and the fact that there are conscious organisms (45) are not among them. Mind is not an accident or fluke (16) and "The intelligibility of the world is no accident." One of the limits of current evolutionary theory is that it cannot explain why these remarkable fact are non-accidental. Sober does not understand why, if some facts are brute, the remarkable facts of mind, intelligibilty and consciousness are not among them:
My philosophical feelings diverge from Nagel’s. I think that Beethoven’s existence is remarkable, but I regard it as a fluke. He could easily have failed to exist. Indeed, my jaded complacency about Beethoven scales up. I don’t think that life, intelligence, and consciousness had to be in the cards from the universe’s beginning. I am happy to leave this question to the scientists. If they tell me that these events were improbable, I do not shake my head and insist that the scientists must be missing something. There is no such must. Something can be both remarkable and improbable.
Sober seems to be imputing to Nagel the following argument:
What is remarkable cannot be improbable. Life, consciousness, reason, etc. are remarkable Therefore Life, consciousness, reason, etc. cannot be improbable.
Now this is an unsound argument, of course: Beethoven's existence was remarkable but improbable. But this is not the way Nagel is arguing. He needn't be read as denying that there is an element of chance in the appearance of Beethoven, a particular instance of life, consciousness, and reason. His point is rather that consciousness and reason in general cannot be cosmic accidents. Sober ignores what is specific to reason, and views it as just another remarkable fact. Nagel's actual argument (see p. 86) is rather along these lines:
1. There are organisms capable of reason. 2. The possibility of such beings must have been there from the beginning. 3. This possibility, however, must be grounded in and explained by the nature of the cosmos. 4. What's more, the nature of the cosmos must explain not only the possibiity but also the actuality of rational animals: their occurrence cannot be a brute fact or accident.
I take Nagel to be maintaining that the eventual existence of some rational beings or other is no accident -- which is consistent with maintaining that there is an element of chance involved in the appearance of any particular instance of reason such as Beethoven.
Of course, Sober will still balk. Why can't reason be a fluke? Even if we grant Nagel that the intelligibility of nature could not have been a fluke or brute fact, how does it follow that the actual existence of some rational beings or other, beings capable of 'glomming onto' the world's intelligible structure, is not a fluke? In a later post I will try to beef up Nagel's argument so that it can meet this demand.
For now, though, we have a stand-off. Nagel has this deep sense, which I share, that "rational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order . . . ." (17) Sober in his sobriety does not share that sense.
There is more to Sober's criqiue than this, but this is enough for today.
One thing I definitely applaud in Wittgenstein is his opposition to scientism. M. O'C. Drury in Conversations with Wittgenstein, ed. Rush Rhees (Oxford, 1984), pp. 160-161:
One day, walking in the Zoological Gardens, we admired the immense variety of flowers, shrubs, trees, and the similar multiplicity of birds, reptiles, animals.
WITTGENSTEIN: I have always thought that Darwin was wrong: his theory does not account for all the variety of species. It hasn't the necessary multiplicity. Nowadays some people are fond of saying that at last evolution has produced a species that is able to understand the whole process which gave it birth. Now that you can't say.
DRURY: You could say that now there has evolved a strange animal that collects other animals and puts them in gardens. But you can't bring the concepts of knowledge and understanding into this series. They are different categories entirely.
WITTGENSTEIN: Yes, you could put it that way.
To imagine that evolutionary theory could cast light on the concepts of knowledge and understanding involves a massive metabasis eis allo genos, to use a a favorite Greek phrase of Kierkegaard.
This is the third in a series on Plantinga's new book. Here is the first, and here is the second. These posts are collected under the rubric Science and Religion besides being classified under other heads. This third post will examine just one argument of Dawkins' and Plantinga's response to it, pp. 26-28. Here is Plantinga in Chapter One of Where the Conflict Really Lies quoting from Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker, p. 141. (The ellipses are Plantinga's; the emphasis is Dawkins'; I have added a sentence from Dawkins that Plantinga did not quote; and I should note that Plantinga gives the wrong page reference. The passage is on 141, not 140.)
Organized complexity is the thing we are having difficulty in explaining. Once we are allowed simply to postulate organized complexity, if only the organized complexity of the DNA/protein replicating engine, it is relatively easy to invoke it as a generator of yet more organized complexity. . . . But of course any God capable of intelligently designing something as complex as the DNA/protein replicating machine must have been at least as complex and organized as that machine itself. .... To explain the origin of the DNA/protein machine by invoking a supernatural Designer is to explain precisely nothing, for it leaves unexplained the origin of the Designer. You have to say something like "God was always there", and if you allow yourself that kind of lazy way out, you might as well just say "DNA was always there", or "Life was always there", and be done with it. (1986, p. 141)
Dawkins seems to me to be arguing as follows.
1. What is needed is an explanation of organized complexity as such. 2. God is an instance of organized complexity. 3. If God is invoked as that whose existence and operation explains organized complexity as such, then the explanation is manifestly circular: the explanandum has been imported into the explanans. 4. Circular explanations are worthless: they explain nothing. Therefore 5. To posit God as cosmic designer fails as an explanation of organized complexity as such.
The argument on my reconstruction is unexceptionable, but how is it relevant? if the task is to explain organized complexity as such, this cannot be done via an instance of it. No doubt. But the argument misses the point. The point is not to explain organized complexity as such, or even the organized complexity of all actual or possible life, but to explain the organized complexity of terrestrial life. More precisely, the point is to show that this cannot be done by invoking God in one's explanation. Obviously the argument as reconstructed does not succeed in showing that.
Note that there is no mention of any facts of biology in the above argument. Now Plantinga doesn't say the following, but I will: the argument is purely a priori. It is a proof, from concepts alone and without recourse to empirical facts, that an explanation of organized complexity as such cannot be had if the explanans mentions an instance of organized complexity. How then, Plantinga asks, does the (empirical) evidence of evolution reveal a world without design? (p. 27)
Now suppose we substitute the following proposition for (1):
1* What is needed is an explanation of the organized complexity of terrestrial life.
But if we plug (1*) into the original argument, and modify (3) accordingly, then (3) is false and the argument is unsound. If we are not trying to explain organized complexity in general, but only the organized complexity of terrestrial life, then there is nothing fallacious about invoking an explainer that is an instance of organized complexity.
The Dawkins passage suggests another sort of argument, oft-heard: If there is a supernatural designer, what explains his existence? If you say that God always existed, then you may as well say that life always existed.
This puerile argument is based on a failure to understand that explanations, of necessity, must come to an end.
Why did that tree in my backyard die? Because subterranean beetles attacked its roots. If the explanation is correct, it is correct whether or not I can explain how the subterranean beetles got into the soil, or which other beetles were their parents, and grandparents, etc. Explanations come to an end, and an explanation of a given phenomenon in terms of its proximate cause can be perfectly adequate even in the absence of explanations of other events in the explanandum's causal ancestry.
It is the puerile atheist who demands to know what caused God. As Plantinga remarks, "Explanations come to an end; for theism they come to an end in God." (p. 28) I would add that this is obvious if God is an necessary being: such a being is in no need of explanation. But it holds also if God is a contingent being. For again, not everything can be explained.
But if God was "always there" as Dawkins puts it, why not say that life was "always there"? Because life wasn't always there!
Ultimately, the theist explains everything in terms of the divine mind. Since explanations must come to an end, the theist has no explanation of the existence or complexity of the divine mind. But, as Plantinga remarks, p. 28, the materalist or physicalist is in the same position. He cannot explain everything. He "doesn't have an explanation of the existence of elementary particles or, more generally, contingent physical or material beings . . . ." (28) I would also ask whether the materialist can explain why there are natural laws at all, why the universe is intelligible in terms of them, and why there are these laws and constants rather than some other possible set.
There is one point that ought to be conceded to Dawkins, however. It certainly would be a "lazy way out" to invoke divine intervention in cases where a naturalistic explanation is at hand.
This is the second in a series on Alvin Plantinga's latest book. The first post, on the preface, provides bibliographical details and an overview of Plantinga's project. In this post I will merely set forth what Plantinga understands by Christian belief and what he understands by evolution and where he sees real conflict between the two. Things will heat up a bit in my third post wherein I will come to grips with Plantinga's critique of Richard Dawkins. There is a lot of good material that I won't mention, in particular, the discussion on pp. 4-5 on the narrow and broad construals of imago Dei.
A. Plantinga proposes that we take Christian belief "to be defined or circumscribed by the rough intersection of the great Christian creeds: the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed . . ." but not in a manner to exclude particular creeds. (p. 8) The "rough intersection" of all of this is ably presented in C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.
B. As for evolution, Plantinga distinguishes six theses (pp. 8-10):
1. Ancient Earth Thesis: The earth is "perhaps some 4.5 billion years old." 2. Progress Thesis: "life has progressed from relatively simple to relatively complex forms . . . ." 3. Descent with Modification Thesis: "The enormous diversity of the contemporary living world has come about by way of off-spring differing, ordinarily in small and subtle ways, from their parents." 4. Common Ancestry Thesis: "life originated at only one place on earth, all subsequent life being related by descent to those original living creatures . . . ." 5. Darwinism: "there is a naturalistic mechanism driving this process of descent with modification: the most popular candidate is natural selection operating on random genetic mutation . . . ." 6. Naturalistic Origins Thesis: "life itself developed from non-living matter without any special creative activity of God but just by virtue of processes described by the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry. . . ."
Plantinga uses 'evolution' to refer to the first four theses, and 'Darwinism' to refer to "the mechanism allegedly underlying evolution." He adds that "the sixth thesis thesis "isn't really part of the theory of evolution."
Now where is there real conflict wth Christian belief? That God created man in his image is an absolutely nonnegotiable element of Christian belief. But on Plantinga's account it does not conflict with any of (1)-(4) or with all of them taken together. Nor does it conflict with Darwinism, the fifth thesis, "the view that the diversity of life has come to be by way of natural selection winnowing random genetic mutation. God could have caused the the right mutations to arise at the right time . . . and in this way he could have seen to it that there come to be creatures of the kinds he intends." (p. 11)
This will of course sound crazy to a naturalist. Every naturalist is an atheist (though not conversely), and most atheists consider the notion that there is a purely spiritual, providential being superintending and directing the goings-on of the physical universe to be risible, a childish fantasy on the order ot the Tooth Fairy, and as such simply beneath serious discussion. But in point of strict logic, there is nothing inconsistent in one's maintaining all of (1)-(5) and the proposition that evolution is divinely guided.
But how could random genetic mutations be caused by God? Doesn't 'random' imply 'uncaused'? No. Plantinga quotes biologist Ernst Mayr, and philosopher of biology Elliot Sober. The following is from a credible source I found:
Mutations can be beneficial, neutral, or harmful for the organism, but mutations do not "try" to supply what the organism "needs." Factors in the environment may influence the rate of mutation but are not generally thought to influence the direction of mutation. For example, exposure to harmful chemicals may increase the mutation rate, but will not cause more mutations that make the organism resistant to those chemicals. In this respect, mutations are random — whether a particular mutation happens or not is unrelated to how useful that mutation would be. [Be sure to click on internal link.]
If mutations are random in this precise sense, that does not rule out their being caused.
Real conflict between Christian belief and evolution first arises with respect to the sixth thesis, the Naturalistic Origins Thesis. Here is the source of the incompatibility according to Plantinga. If the sixth thesis is true, then Christian belief is false.
A question. Suppose all six theses are true. Could not one still be a theist who holds that man is made in the divine image? If the sixth thesis is true, then God does not intervene in the workings of nature. He does not cause or prevent genetic mutations; he does not preserve certain populations from perils, etc. He creates the universe ex nihilo and sustains it in existence moment by moment 'vertically' so to speak, but he does not interfere 'horizontally.' He does not insert himself, so to speak, into any unfolding causal chains. As primary cause alone, he has nothing to do with natural, 'secondary,' causation. Accordingly, man as an animal has a purely naturalistic origin. But of course imago Dei has nothing to do with man as an animal . . . . Just a question, to be put on the back burner for now while we continue to examine how Plantinga's overall argument unfolds.
I now have Alvin Plantinga's new book in my hands. Here are some notes on the preface. Since I agree with almost everything in the preface, the following batch of notes will be interpretive but not critical. Words and phrases enclosed in double quotation marks are Plantinga's ipsissima verba.
1. Plantinga is concerned with the relations among monotheistic religion, natural science, and naturalism. His main thesis is that there is "superficial conflict but deep concord" between natural science and monotheistic religion but "superficial concord but deep conflict" between science and naturalism.
2. The great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) affirm the existence of "such a person as God." Naturalism is a worldview that entails the nonexistence of such a person. "Naturalism is stronger than atheism." (p. ix) Naturalism entails atheism, but atheism does not entail naturalism. One can be an atheist without being a naturalist. John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart is an example. (My example, not Plantinga's.) But one cannot be a naturalist without being an atheist. This is perhaps obvious, which is why Plantinga doesn't explain it. Roughly, a naturalist holds that the whole of reality (or perhaps only the whole of concrete reality) is exhausted by the space-time system and its contents. No one who holds this can hold that there is such a person as God, God being a purely spiritual agent.
To put it my own way, theistic religion and naturalism could not both be true, but they could both be false. This makes them logical contraries, not contradictories. Their being the former suffices to put them in real conflict. For many of us this is what the ultimate worldview choice comes down to.
3. Plantinga rightly points out that while naturalism is not a religion, it is a worldview that is like a religion. So it can be properly called a quasi-religion. (p. x) This is because it plays many of the same roles that a religion plays. It provides answers to the Big Questions: Does God exist? Can we survive our bodily deaths? How should we live?
I would add that there are religious worldviews and anti-religious worldviews, but that natural science is not a worldview. Science is not in the business of supplying worldview needs: needs for meaning, purpose, guidance, norms and values. Science cannot put religion out of business, as I argue here, though perhaps in some ways that Plantinga would not endorse.
4. Given that naturalism is a quasi-religion, there is a sense in which there is a genuine science vs. religion conflict, namely, a conflict between science and the quasi-religion, naturalism. Very clever!
5. Plantinga's claim that "there is no serious conflict between science and religion" puts him at odds with what I call the Dawkins Gang and what Plantinga calls the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. Plantinga, who never fails us when it comes to wit and style, suggests that the atheism of these four "is adolescent rebellion carried on by other means" (p. xi) that doesn't rise to the level of the the old atheism of Bertrand Russell and John Mackie. "We may perhaps hope that the new atheism is but a temporary blemish on the face of serious conversation in this crucial area." That is indeed the hope of all right-thinking and serious people, whether theists or atheists.
6. Plantinga fully appreciates that modern natural science is a magnficent thing, "the most striking and impressive intellectual phenomenon of the last half millenium." (p. xi) This has led some to the mistake of thinking that science is the ultimate court of appeal when it comes to the fixation of belief. But this can't be right for two reasons. First, science gives us no help in the areas where we most need enlightenment: religion, politics, and morals, for example. (p. xii) There are worldview needs, after all, and science cannot supply them. "Second, science contradicts itself, both over time and at the same time." (p. xii) Indeed it does. But no one, least of all Plantinga, takes that as an argument against science as open-ended inquiry. A question to ruminate on: Should not religion also be thought of as open-ended and subject to correction?
7. I would say that if there is demonstrable conflict between a religious belief and a well-established finding of current natural science, then the religious belief must give way. Plantinga commits himself to something rather less ringing: if there were such a conflict, then "initially, at least, it would cast doubt on those religious beliefs inconsistent with current science."(p. xii). But he doesn't think there is any conflict between "Christian belief and science, while there is conflict between naturalism and science."
8. One apparent conflict is between evolution and religion, another between miracles and science. Plantinga will argue that these conflicts are merely apparent. Theistic religion does not conflict with evolution but with a "philosophical gloss or add-on to the scientific theory of evolution: the claim that it is undirected . . . ." (p. xii) As for miracles, Plantinga says he will show that they do not violate the causal closure of the physical domain and the various conservation laws that govern it. "Any system in which a divine miracle occurs . . . would not be causally closed; hence such a system is not addressed by those laws." (p. xiii) That sounds a bit fishy, but we shall have to see how Plantinga develops the argument.
9. As for the "deep concord" between theistic thinking and science, it is rooted in the imago Dei. If God has created us in his image, then he has created us with the power to understand ourselves and our world. This implies that he he has created us and our world "in such a way that there is a match between our cognitive powers and the world." (p. xiv) I would put it like this: both the intelligibility of the world and our intelligence have a common ground in God. This common ground or source secures both the objectivity of truth and the possibility of our knowing some of it, and thereby the possibility of successful science.
10. But when it comes to naturalism and science, there is "deep and serious conflict." Naturalism entails materialism about the human mind. It entails that we are just complex physical systems. If so, then Plantinga will argue that "it is improbable, given naturalism and evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable." If this can be shown, then the conjunction of naturalism and evolution is not rationally acceptable. "Hence naturalism and evolution are in serious conflict: one can't rationally accept them both." (p. xiv)
I liked the interesting argument that the consequences of belief and nonbelief in original sin are both bad and thus evidence of our fallen natures. But I do wonder what either original sin or fallenness mean in a Darwinian world . . .
Jeff has posed an excellent question which I must try to answer.
1. I begin with what it can't mean. It cannot mean that our present fallen condition is one we inherited from Adam and Eve if these names refer to the original parents of the human race. And this for two reasons.
A. The first is that nothing imputable to a person, nothing for which he is morally responsible, can be inherited. For what I inherit I receive ab extra by causal mechanisms not in my control. (It doesn't matter whether these mechanisms are deterministic or merely probabilistic.) That which is imputable to me, however, is only that which I freely bring about. It is a clear deliverance of our ordinary moral sense that a person is morally responsible only for what he does and leaves undone, not for what others do or leave undone. This deliverance is surely more credible than any theory that entails its negation. So one cannot inherit sinfulness, guilt, or desert of punishment. Therefore the actual sins of past persons cannot induce in me a state of sinfulness or guilt or desert of punishment. And that includes the actual sins of our first parents if there were any.
This amounts to a denial of originated original sin. It does not amount to a denial of originating original sin. The distinction is explained in greater detail here. So there can still be original sin even if sinfulness, guilt, and desert of punishment cannot be inherited.
As I said elsewhere, we must distinguish between the putative fact of original sin and the various theories one can have of it. Refuting a particular theory does not amount to refuting the fact.
B. The second reason is that there were in actual historical fact no original parents of the human race who came into existence wthout animal progenitors. We know this from evolutionary biology which is more credible -- more worthy of belief -- than the stories of Genesis interpreted literally. In any conflict between the Bible so interpreted and natural science, the latter will win -- every time. So if one takes both Bible and science seriously, the Bible must be read in such a way that it does not conflict with our best science.
2. To take this whole original sin problematic seriously one must of course assume that in some sense or other 'Man is a fallen being.' I warmly recommend the study of history to those who adhere to such delusions of the Left as that of human perfectibility or the inherent goodness of humanity. Once you disembarrass yourself of those illusions you will be open to something like human fallenness or Kant's radical evil. I am not saying that the horrors of history by themselves entail man's fallenness. Our fallenness is certainly not a plain empirical fact as G. K. Chesterton and others have foolishly and tendentiously suggested. Chesterton's "plain as potatoes" remark was silly bluster. It is rather that a doctrine of the fall is reasonably introuduced, by a sort of inference to the best explanation, to account for man's universal wretchedness and inability to substantially improve his lot. The details of the inferential move from what could count as plain facts to a doctrine of a fall is not my present topic.
3. Now to Jeff's question. If the Genesis stories cannot be read as literally true accounts of actual historical facts, if we accept the findings and theories of evolutionary biology as regards the genesis of human animals, then what can human fallenness mean? There are various possibilities. I will mention just one, which derives from Kant.
What we need is a theory that allows us to embrace all of the following propositions without contradicting any deliverance of natural science or any deliverance of our ordinary sound moral sense:
a. There is a universal propensity to moral evil in human beings which is radical in that it is at the root of every specific act of wrong-doing. b. This propensity to evil is the best explanation of the fathomless horrors of the human condition. c. The radical propensity to moral evil is innate in that it not acquired at any time in a moral agent's life, but is present at every time precisely as the predisposition to specific evil acts. d. The propensity is imputable. e. The propensity is not inherited. f. Imputable actions and states are free and unconditioned.
Here is a quick and dirty sketch of Kant's theory, a theory which allows one to affirm each of the six propositions above.
Man enjoys dual citzenship. As a physical being, and thus as an animal, he he is a member of the phenomenal world, the world of space-time-matter. In this realm determinism reigns: everything that happens is necessitated by the laws of nature plus the initial conditions. But man knows himself to be morally responsible, and so knows himself to be libertarianly free. Since everything phenomenal is determined, and nothing free, man as moral agent is a noumenal being who 'stands apart from the causal nexus.'
Kant sees with blinding clarity that nothing imputable to an agent can be caused by factors external to the agent: only that which the agent does or leaves undone freely and by his own agency is imputable to the agent. It follows that sinfulness, guilt, and desert of punishment cannot be inherited: there is no originated original sin. For what is inherited is caused to be by factors external to the agent. So (e) is true. But the predisposition to moral evil is nonetheless innate in the sense that it is not conditioned by events in time. It is logically prior to every action of the agent in the time-order.
How is the predisposition imputable? It is imputable because it is the result of a free noumenal choice. And so there is originating original sin. Each of us by an atemporal noumenal choice is the origin of the radical evil which is at the root of each specific evil act. So (d) is true.
Kant's theory has its problems which I have no desire to paper over. But it does provide an answer to Jeff's question. His question, in effect, was what original sin or human fallenness could mean if Darwinism is true. Kant's theory counts as an answer to that question. For on Kant's theory there is no need to contradict evolutionary biology by positing two original parents of the human race, nor any need to accept the notion that moral qualities such as guilt are biologically transmissible, or the morally unacceptable notion that such qualities are in any way (biologically, socio-culturally) inheritable.
I have in my hand a copy of Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford University Press, 1997). The last essay in The Last Word is entitled, "Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion." One hopes that Nagel does not consider it the last word on the topic given its fragmentary nature and occasional perversity. But it's a good essay nonetheless. Everything by Thomas Nagel is worth reading. Herewith, a bit of interpretive summary with quotations and comments.
Nagel's essay begins by pointing out a certain Platonism in the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce, a Platonism that is foreign to pragmatism as usually understood. Nagel quotes Peirce as saying that the aim of science is "eternal verities," a notion at odds with the Jamesian view that the true is that which it is good for us to believe. What science is after is not a set of beliefs conducive to our flourishing but a set of beliefs that correspond to the world as it is independently of us. The researcher aims to "learn the lesson that nature has to teach. . . ." But to do this, the inquiring mind must "call upon its inward sympathy with nature, its instinct for aid, just as we find Galileo at the dawn of modern science making his appeal to il lume naturale [the natural light]. . . ."
Nagel finds these "radically antireductionist" and "realist" thoughts "entirely congenial" but "quite out of keeping with present fashion." (129) And talk of an "inward sympathy" of the inquiring mind with nature he finds "alarmingly Platonist."
But why should Nagel be alarmed at the Platonist view that reason operating properly mirrors the antecedent structure of reality? His alarm is rooted in the suspicion that the Platonist view is "religious, or quasi-religious." (130) A rationalism such as the Platonic "makes us more at home in the universe than is secularly comfortable." (130, emphasis in original.) That there should be a fundamental harmony between mind and world makes people "nervous" nowadays. This uncomfortableness and nervousness is one manifestation of the fear of religion in intellectual life.
Nagel makes it clear that he is talking about the fear of religion as such, and not merely fear of certain of its excesses and aberrations, and confesses that he himself is subject to this fear:
I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that. (130, emphasis added)
Nagel admits that he may just have a "cosmic authority problem." But then he says something very perceptive in a passage that may be directed against Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett:
My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. (131)
Let me give an example of my own of the overuse of evolutionary biology. After Dawkins introduced the term 'meme' along about 1976, Dennett ran with it like a crazed footballer. Roughly, a meme is a self-replicating entity that plays on the cultural level the role that the gene plays on the biological level. They are like ideas, except that they are thought of -- literally, Dennett assures us -- as brain parasites. (Consciousness Explained, p. 220) A brain infested with these self-replicating parasites is really all that a mind is: "a human mind is itself an artifact created when memes restructure a human brain in order to make it a better habitat for memes." (CE, p. 207)
Now this is not the place to begin a critique of the meme meme; my only point for the nonce is that Nagel is on to something. Fear of religion with its attendant cosmic authority problem may well be a good part of what is driving this 'philosophy fiction' of Dennett and other fanciful ideas that stem from the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology.
Bear in mind that the word 'consciousness' has several distinct meanings. 'Consciousness' can refer to the state of being awake, to the ability to introspect internal states, and to the phenomenon of attention. But 'consciousness' insofar as it poses a 'hard problem' for physicalists is the subjective quality of experience.
These subjective qualities can be features of sensations, but they need not be. Smashing my knee against a table leg elicits a certain unpleasant sensation. The felt quality of that sensation is an example of a conscious datum in the relevant sense. But so is the shimmering quality of a magnificent Saguaro cactus standing sentinel on a distant ridgeline as viewed in the lambent light of the desert Southwest. Qualia, then, can be associated with intentional objects and not merely with non-intentional states like sensations. Pressing some Husserlian jargon into service, we might distinguish between noematic qualia and hyletic qualia.
But the main question I want to pose is this: What good is consciousness from an evolutionary perspective? Owen Flanagan, Consciousness Reconsidered, MIT 1992, p. 42) has this to say:
What function might sensory or perceptual consciousness serve? Such consciousness could enable an organism to be sensitive to stimulus saliencies relevant to its suvival and to coordinate its goals with these saliencies. Informational sensitivity without experiential sensitivity (of the sort an unconscious robot might have) could conceivably serve the same function. Indeed, it often does. But the special vivacity of perceptual experience might enable quicker, more reliable, and more functional responses than a less robustly phenomenological system, and these might have resulted in small selection pressures in favor of becoming a subject of experience. At least this is one possible explanation for why Mother Nature would have selected a mind with capacities for robust phenomenological feel in the sensory modalities. It is good that reptiles are sensitive detectors of earthquakes. It enables them to get above ground before disaster hits. It is good that we feel pain. It keeps us from being burned, cut, and maimed. . . . Like photoreceptor cells designed for vision and wings for flight, the capacity to experience pleasure and pain is a design solution that Mother Nature has often used in different lineages of locomoting organisms.
I judge this to be a complete failure as an explanation of why consciousness has evolved. All the jobs Flanagan mentions might have been done 'in the dark' by unconscious processing. Yes, pain is good insofar as it keeps us from being burned, cut, and maimed. But pain in this sense is just the sum-total of physical events that play a certain causal role, that of causing the organism to withdraw or protect a part of its body on the occasion of a certain input. Think of a robotic arm equipped with heat sensors. It is designed to retract when the object it touches is at a certain temperature or above. The arm can function perfectly well without feeling anything.
Let's not forget that words like 'pain' lead a double life. 'Pain' is used to refer both to physical events and to their phenomenal manifestation. Phenomenal pain, far from being good, is evil, a form of natural evil. Insofar as it is (instrumentally) good, pain is not felt or phenomenal pain but the physical events that may or may not manifest themselves at the level of consciousness.
Consciousness is real -- eliminativism is for lunatics -- and so consciousness must be explained. But an evolutionary explanation is inadequate. Such an explanation must specify a survival function consciousness serves that could not be served without it. But what could that be? Thus I think David Chalmers (The Conscious Mind, Oxford 1996, p. 120) is on the right track:
The process of natural selection cannot distinguish between me and my zombie twin. Evolution selects properties according to their functional role, and my zombie twin performs all the functions that I perform just as well as I do; in particular he leaves around just as many copies of his genes. It follows that evolution alone cannot explain why conscious creatures rather than zombies evolved.
Chalmers also points out that
. . . the real problem with consciousness is to explain the principles in virtue of which consciousness arises from physical systems. Presumably these principles -- whether they are conceptual truths, metaphysical necessities, or natural laws -- are constant over space-time: If a physical replica of me had popped into existence a million years ago, it would have been just as conscious as I am. The connecting principles themselves are therefore independent of the evolutionary process. While evolution can be very useful in explaining why particular physical systems have evolved, it is irrelevant to the explanation of the bridging principles in virtue of which some of these systems are conscious. (p. 121)
This strikes me as an extremely important point. If we think of evolutionary genesis as proceeding 'horizontally,' then the arisal of consciousness can be thought of as 'vertical.' If we want to explain how consciousness arises from its physical substratum, it is simply irrelevant to be given an explanation of how certain traits were selected for. An evolutionary account might explain 'horizontally' how an organism became sufficiently complex to host consciousness, but such an account would do nothing to explain how consciousness arose 'vertically' from the organism.
The following three positions need to be distinguished:
There is design in nature, and a complete account of it is impossible without recourse to a cosmic designer such as God.
There is intrinsic design in nature, and it is wholly explainable in naturalistic terms.
There is no intrinsic design in nature: all features that exhibit design, purpose, function are observer-relative, and the only observers are themselves denizens of the natural world.
Theists who rely on design arguments subscribe to (1), while some naturalist philosophers come out in favor of (2). (2), however, involves the claim that there is intrinsic design in nature, a claim that is far from obvious, and is arguably inconsistent with Darwinism. The point of Darwinism is that what looks to be designed, in reality is not, but can be accounted for in terms of mechanistic, non-teleological processes of random variation and natural selection. If we are using the term 'design' strictly and without equivocation -- and thus not confusing 'design' in the present sense with 'design' in the sense of pattern or shape -- then nothing can exhibit design unless there is a designer responsible for the thing's design. If someone were to say that natural selection designed birds' wings so that they can evade their predators they would be gulty of a two-fold fallacy: first, the fallacy of hypostatizing natural selection, and second, the mistake of supposing that birds' wings exhibit an intrinsic designedness.
Another of the concepts we need to be clear about is that of natural selection. What I will do in this post is pull some quotations from Ernst Mayr, What Evolutions Is (Basic Books, 2001), and raise some questions. An important point will emerge: natural selection is not teleological!
To move towards a resolution of some of the questions posed in the comment threads to recent posts it is necessary to back up and try to clarify some of the fundamental terms in the debate. One of them is 'design.'
Our starting point must be ordinary language. As David Stove points out, "it is a fact about the meaning of a common English word, that you cannot say that something was designed, without implying that it was intended; any more than you can say that a person was divorced, without implying that he or she was previously married." (Darwinian Fairytales, p. 190, emphasis added.) In other words, it is an analytic proposition that a designed object is one that was intended in the same way that it is an analytic proposition that a divorced person is one who was previously married. These are two conceptual truths, and anyone who uses designed object and divorced person in a way counter to these truths either does not understand these concepts or else has some serious explaining to do.
I should think that Richard Dawkins has some serious explaining to do. Consider the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker. It reads: Why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design.
Now I think I understand that. What Dawkins will do in his book is argue how the modern theory of evolution shows that the natural universe as a whole and in its parts is in no way the embodiment of the intentions and purposes of any intelligent being. Thus a bat, a piece of "living machinery," is such that "the 'designer' is unconscious natural selection." (p. 37) The scare quotes show that Dawkins is not using 'designer' literally. What he is saying, putting the point in plain English, is that there is no designer. For if there were a designer, then he would be contradicting the subtitle of his book, which implies that no part of nature is designed. So far, so good.
Unfortunately, on the same page Dawkins says the following about Paley:
His hypothesis was that living watches were literally designed and built by a master watchmaker. Our modern hypothesis is that the job was done in gradual evolutionary stages by natural selection.
But now we have a contradiction. We were told a moment ago that there is no designer. But now we are being told that there is a designer. For if the design job is done by natural selection, then natural selection is the designer.
Now which is it? Is there a designer or isn't there one? Dawkins cannot have it both ways at once. If there is no designer, then natural selection cannot be the designer. What this contradiction shows is that Dawkins is using 'design' and cognates in an unintelligible way.
Some will say I am quibbling over words. But I am not. The issue is not about words but about the concepts those words are used to express. I am simply thinking clearly about the concepts that Dawkins et al. are deploying, concepts like design.
If you tell me that design in nature is merely apparent, and that in reality nothing is designed and everything can be explained mechanistically or non-teleologically, then I understand that whether or not I agree with it. But if you tell me that there is design in nature but that the designer is natural selection, then I say that is nonsense, i.e. is unintelligible.
One cannot have it both ways at once. One cannot make use of irreducibly teleological language while in the next breath implying that there is no teleology in nature. The problem is well expressed by Stove:
. . . ever since 1859, Darwinians have always owed their readers a translation manual that would 'cash' the teleological language which Darwinians avail themselves of without restraint in explaining particular adaptations, into the non-teleological language which their own theory of adaptation requires. But they have never paid, or even tried to pay, this debt. (DF 191)