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Plantinga’s EAAN

A post now up at the Philosopher’s Carnival discusses Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), and comment how it is like (not exactly the same) as a global skepticism argument being self-defeating. Plantinga’s argument goes like this:

P1. If evolution is true, then we have modified monkey brains.

P2. Modified monkey brains are not evolved to find out the truth

P3. Evolutionary naturalism (the view that everything about humans, including their cognitive capacities, evolved) is the output of modified monkey brains.

C1. Therefore evolutionary theory is unreliable and should be rejected.

C2. Therefore evolutionary naturalism should be rejected.

The modified monkey brain comes directly from Darwin’s letter to William Graham, in which he wrote

Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

Plantinga directly mentions this letter, and argues that in effect if evolution is true it cannot be rational to believe that it is. The trouble with this argument is that this is exactly there opposite conclusion to the one that Darwin made. Darwin’s full argument, made in response to Graham’s book The Creed of Science, is this:

You would not probably expect anyone fully to agree with you on so many abstruse subjects; and there are some points in your book which I cannot digest. The chief one is that the existence of so-called natural laws implies purpose. I cannot see this. Not to mention that many expect that the several great laws will some day be found to follow inevitably from some one single law, yet taking the laws as we now know them, and look at the moon, what the law of gravitation — and no doubt of the conservation of energy — of the atomic theory, &c. &c. hold good, and I cannot see that there is then necessarily any purpose. Would there be purpose if the lowest organisms alone destitute of consciousness existed in the moon? But I have had no practice in abstract reasoning and I may be all astray. Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

So what Darwin is arguing is that evolution gives us no confidence in metaphysical conclusions, not science. Science he takes for granted can be undertaken by modified monkey brains. They evolved to find out about the world. What evolution undercuts is the ability of monkey brains to form reasonable convictions about things like Gods and Cosmic Purpose.

Plantinga knows this, and even mentions it in a footnote but he disingenuously inverts the argument and makes it look as if Darwin was riven with doubts about his own theory. Of course he was not. This is rhetorical prevarication by omission. But the argument Darwin makes is much more interesting than a simple global skepticism. He is arguing that we can know about the world, due to our evolved faculties.

Why is that? Why can our evolved faculties make beliefs about the world reliable, but not beliefs about gods and angels? The answer is simple, according to an argument Paul Griffiths and I have made in two forthcoming book chapters: some beliefs are truth tracking because they contribute to fitness when they are true and lower fitness when they are not, while beliefs about gods and purpose in the cosmos do not in virtue of their content, but only in virtue of their being consonant with the society of the believer.

Another way to put this is that there are environmental beliefs that must be true (or at least not egregiously false) in order to improve the fitness of the belief-holder, and there are social beliefs that affect fitness in virtue of what other people also believe and how they react to the belief holder. Morality, aesthetics and most of all religion are of the latter kind. Assuming that the religious beliefs do not insist upon too many fitness lowering behaviours (like snake handling) in ways that are not balanced or exceeded by the fitness benefits of being a believer, a religious belief increases fitness only to the extent that others share it, whereas an environmental belief (like whether that food is poisonous when treated with alkaline soils, or whether the stars are reliable guides to hunting or planting seasons) increases fitness when it is true (or not too false). In other words, an environmental belief had better give not too many false positives and not too many false negatives about the way the world is, while a social belief had better give not too many false positives and negatives not about the content of the belief, but about what others around you believe also. In short, people are the environment for social beliefs, not gods, or cosmic anythings.

So if properly understood, Darwin’s argument undercuts Plantinga’s anti naturalism and in fact replaces it with a global skepticism about the non-natural, and this is not self-defeating. Plantinga’s EAAN is actually an EAAS[upernaturalism].

Refs below the fold

Griffiths, Paul  E & Wilkins, John S. (In Press). “When Do Evolutionary Explanations of Belief Debunk Belief?” in: Phillip R. Sloan (Ed), Darwin in the 21st Century: Nature, Humanity, and God. Notre Dame University Press, Notre Dame, IN.

Plantinga, Alvin (2002). “The Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism”. Pp. 1-13 in: James K Beilby (Ed), Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Plantinga, A (2008). “Evolution Vs. Naturalism: Why They Are Like Oil and Water”. AntiMatters, 2, no. 3, 79-84.

Wilkins, John S. & Griffiths, Paul E. (In Press). “Evolutionary Debunking Arguments in Three Domains: Fact, Value, and Religion” in: J. Maclaurin & G. Dawes (Eds), A New Science of Religion. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.


  1. David Evans David Evans

    I don’t think Darwin’s argument leads directly to an EAAS. It could lead to the conclusion that, since our faculties have evolved to find out about the (natural) world, they may not be reliable on the question of whether supernatural entities exist. That does not imply that no such entities exist, only that we might have to be specially careful in considering any apparent evidence for them.

    • Likewise, Plantinga’s argument is not an argument that naturalism is false, only that a warranted naturalism is self-defeating. but in the context of Darwin’s letter and other writings, it is pretty clear he thinks that science is warranted belief. So I think Darwin has inadvertently given a nice argument that we can know the natural (contra Plantinga) but not the supernatural (at least not through natural ratiocination, which so far as I can tell is all Plantinga can appeal to without circularity).

      • Mason Colbert Mason Colbert

        Given the point you raised about EAAN and now EAAS; would your argument against EAAN be that Plantinga equivocates on the term “belief” or at the very least, is ignoring the distinctions?

        My question aside, I enjoyed the post. Well done.

  2. Ian Ian

    I remember reading Plantinga’s EAAN a couple years ago, and being struck by how he got the underlying biology wrong repeatedly. All I got out of reading his argument was the conclusion that either he’s terribly sloppy (he made no attempt to understand the basic biology he’s using to undergird his argument) or he isn’t too bright (he tried, and failed, to understand basic biology).

    I came away from that with a much worse opinion of philosophers overall. to be honest. How does someone like that become a respected voice in any field?

    • Kevin Kevin

      Disclaimer: I don’t work on Plantinga at all — I’m only aware of these aspects of his work from what I’ve read, and what I’ve seen cited from Plantinga. Take this as a view from a phil. logic/mathematics guy about the sociology of philosophy. I have seen a few RE things, and read the truly horrendous “Advice for A Christian Philosopher” — which at least a few other Christian philosophers genuinely detest.

      Plantinga came to be respected due to much of his work in epistemology and metaphysics (especially his work on actualism). While he’s always been involved in philosophy of religion, I think the most pernicious aspects of his career didn’t really begin until he got the whole “reformed epistemology” (1983ish) on the scene. And the EAAN is an extremely recent development, and one that has been thoroughly slagged in the literature.

      But Plantinga really did inspire a generation of Christian philosophers. And he legitimated bracketing off parts of your belief from philosophical investigation (which many find to be harmful). But I think that this is one of philosophy’s virtues. It’s hard, and there’s a lot of logical space. It’s much easier to generate views than to winnow them.

      If someone is familiar with his early philosophy of religion, feel free to correct me. But as far as I know, Plantinga earned his name doing a lot of hard work in metaphysics in epistemology, his quirks were tolerated, but I think many agree that they have manifested themselves in a pernicious fashion as his career progressed.

  3. Cristian Cristian

    That, of course, if it’s possible for inanimate matter to, in some yet unknown configuration, become self-aware.

  4. Nick (Matzke) Nick (Matzke)

    I don’t use the word “hate” much, but I have always *hated* Plantinga’s EAAN. It always seemed so amazingly dumb to me, it didn’t deserve the time of day nor anything except harsh condemnation as pseudologic. My dislike starts from the quote-mine of Darwin and goes downhill from there. Practically every step of his argument, as laid out in this post, is debatable at best.

    It has always seemed obvious to me that some basic beliefs derived from sense experience had damn well better be correlated with truth or they will be selected out. A critter that consistently confuses 1 lion with 10 lions or 1 orange with 10 oranges just won’t last compared to one that does. Thus at least basic facts are retrievable by an evolved brain. Highly abstract beliefs, like the causes of the weather, or even the abstract grand metaphysical beliefs Darwin was talking about, are another matter entirely, but then these are also quite remote from both sense experience and immediate survival.

    So my question is, why doesn’t advocacy of EAAN make someone the philosophy equivalent of a crank or pseudoscientist?

  5. If I understand Plantinga’s ambitions, he’s trying to pull a Kurt Godel, i.e., use extremely abstract arguments to derive a logically inescapable but paradoxical conclusion with real-world consequences. This strategy did work for Godel, at least at the beginning of his career, when his original results upset the program of the Austrian positivists in much the same way that Plantinga hopes to overthrow or at least domesticate the project of naturalism. It’s notable, however, that Godel’s later attempt to use similar methods to prove the existence of God by a super duper set theoretical version of the ontological argument didn’t convince the mathematicians. I think of Plantinga as a guy who is trying to complete Godel’s work, hopefully without the psychosis and suicidal depression this time. I don’t think he’ll succeed; but you’d have to be a brave man than I am to claim that modal logic can’t have surprising implications. Maybe the Axiom of Choice guarantees the existence of Cthulhu in all possible worlds.

  6. hiero5ant hiero5ant

    I stand by my remarks in the Quodlibeta version of that post. Nice catch on the quotemine though; I can’t think why I’ve never bothered to dig up the original passage, but “I trust creationists to accurately quote Darwin” sure wasn’t one of them.

    One way Plantinga additionally pisses me off is the weary, passive-aggressive character of his argumentation. “Oh, I’m not saying I have good ‘reasons’ to believe in God, but IF this and IF that then it’s ‘reasonable’ to believe it without reasons”; “Oh I’m not saying creationism is true, I’m just saying that the ‘conjunction’ of evolution plus ‘naturalism’ is maybe probably not true.” “Oh, I’m not saying I know why God allows evil, I’m just saying that you can’t prove that it’s NOT logically possible that I’m right.”

    It’s a style of writing calculated to give the impression that it has actually established a strong conclusion (creation, theodicy, justified belief etc.) when in fact through a series of pirouettes and wavy hands and double- and triple-negatives it has at best “allowed the believer to believe another day.”

    Which is and always has been the job description of the apologist, not the philosopher.

  7. John Harshman John Harshman

    And anyway, if we believe Plantinga’s argument, hasn’t he merely destroyed any rational basis for believing anything under any circumstances. If, for example, we were to replace “monkey brain” by “divinely created mind”, do we have any better reason to suppose that our reasoning is correct? What assurance do we have that the FSM would have created our minds to make correct inferences about anything? And since we have no such assurance, how can we rely on our inferences that Our Noodly Lord actually exists?

    It does seem like a universally applicable argument against the reliability of all reason. Is that perhaps the goal? Are we to rely instead on our touchy-feely faith, which surely must be more reliable — because I just feel that it must be?

    • He has a story for warranted belief, but I am uninterested in it so I can’t give you the full details; it looks to me like an apology for fideism when it matters to his religious beliefs.

      You touch on the problem with these global skeptical arguments; if they are true they are false themselves. If we have no reason to accept the workings of reason in this case, why should we accept them in this argument? It’s always special pleading, like C. S. Lewis’ argument that we can’t argue against God because that would be to argue against the author of reason.

      • I’m baffled by this claim in this context, because it itself seems to involve a logical error. These sorts of arguments are not arguments for global skepticism but arguments for the conclusion that if something were true it would imply global skepticism (or at least something close enough for practical purposes); whether this conditional is itself true or not, conditional conclusions aren’t categorical conclusions. Treating these as global skepticism arguments is like treating a reductio to an absurd conclusion as if it were a positive argument for that conclusion.

        • Plantinga’s argument is a reductio, and does involve conditional. It’s just that the conditionals are false and the reductio fails for his conclusion, which, explicitly or implicitly, is that evolutionary theory is not a rational or warranted belief.

          Now the link I gave argues that this is a species of global skepticism; I do not agree. But it is clear Plantinga’s motive is to proffer something like a Gödelian argument, leaving the hearer to conclude that it is okay to believe in special creation, intelligent design, or whatever.

          He does not rest with a conditional or hypothetical argument. Look at this statement:

          “Well once you see that … then once you accept [both] naturalism and evolution, then you now have a defeater for that proposition. For this proposition that your cognitive faculties are reliable…a reason to give that proposition up… a reason not to believe it. And once you have a defeater for that proposition – that your cognitive faculties are reliable, then you also have a defeater for any proposition that you take to be produced by your cognitive faculties…. [ … ] so then you also have a defeater for naturalism and evolution itself.”

          From League of Reason’s nice smackdown of one of P’s talks on the topic. He expects this to show that evolution and naturalism are incoherent, and defeated, not that the conditionals are true (which they aren’t).

        • OK, that makes much more sense.

          If we have a conditional, however, in which the consequent is that global skepticism is true, then surely it is a reasonable conclusion, though, that the antecedent can’t reasonably be held. And this is the conditional that I think we really get here. And while I agree for a number of reasons that he doesn’t really establish that N&E does give us something self-defeating, the basic point of the argument, that it is unreasonable to hold something self-defeating, is also surely right. Plantinga’s argument, as you seemed to suggest in your last paragraph in the post, is in fact just an ordinary evolutionary debunking argument. Being Plantinga, he’s good at giving it all sorts of epistemological bells and whistles with regard to issues of defeasibility, but stripped down that’s all it is; the only really unusual feature is that it’s an evolutionary debunking argument for naturalism. And it does so in the way any evolutionary debunking argument works: it argues that the conjunction of evolutionary theory and a particular position is self-defeating — in this case strong self-defeat, i.e., with a general undercutting defeater for all rational conclusions about the world, and hence the global skepticism issue. Not all evolutionary debunking arguments argue for strong self-defeat, but they do all follow the same pattern. I don’t see that there’s anything particularly Godelian about it; only the common-sensical points that whatever your rational position may be, you had better not have good reason to think that it is inconsistent with holding rational positions, and that any position that is not self-defeating is superior to any position that is. That’s just rational consistency.

  8. All this is really old stuff. It seems to me to be equivalent to the old school objections to Hume.

    All we have are perceptions, and inductive reasoning to mould them into rational pattenrs. But inductive reasoning cannot yield certain truths, hence none of our knowledge is certain truth.

    Old school objection:
    But then Hume’s argument itself is not absolute truth.

    The problem seems to be with the useless persuit after “absolute truths”, which are the perpetuum Mobile of philosophy. “Our” flavour of Naturalism only occurs to you after you gave up on those.

    • Yes, that pretty much sums up philosophy in general. The fallible empiricism of Hume has become, with as much rigour as we can muster, present day science, getting the best out of flawed human capabilities as is possible. It’s the best we can do.

      Much philosophy seems to ignore the the lessons of science, and in particular evolution, the latter of which that tells us we evolved from animals that had very simple nervous systems compared to our brains, and from even earlier creattures that had none. Brains, and hence thinking, is a relatively recent add-on, an upgrade.

      But philosophers give a certain primacy to thought, as though it trumps the empirical combination of experience, reasoning about our experience, and experiencing verification (or falsification) of our reason. It’s as if there was never any critique of pure reason.

      Then, on top of that, we have theist-philosophers like Plantinga setting out to prove by whatever contorted means that their theistic beliefs are well founded. I can’t for the life of me think why philosophers suppose deductive arguments are going to tell them anything, since ehatever the argument, no matter that it be valid, its soundness depends on premises which cannot, ultimately, be themselves proved. Induction may be limited; well, tough luck, that’s the best we can do. Naturalism may be limited; well tough luck, that’s all we have.

  9. I’m having some trouble understanding some implications of this argument:
    Does Platinga imply that the human brain is incapable of human cognition while some type of dualism explains human cognition?
    Or does Platinga imply that the human brain is capable of human cognition but the human brain could not have descended from a monkey brain?

    • Perhaps nobody understands my line of questions. But I am trying to figure out Platinga’s assumptions for saying that a monkey brain could not eventually evolve into a human brain capable of human cognition. And I wonder if those assumptions include that the human brain alone is incapable of human cognition.

      • He’s not saying that; although he implies it. He’s saying that if it did, we aren’t justified in thinking that it did.

        • I’m with Omer Moussaffi on this. Surely there’s a difference between the plausible (and I think almost certain) conclusion that we aren’t justified in being absolutely certain that something happened in a particular way and Plantinga’s alleged claim that “we aren’t justified in thinking it did”. If there’s something deeper going on I’d appreciate seeing someone express it in layman’s terms (without reference to things like transpositive conditionals).

      • TomS TomS

        Can a zygote develop a brain capable of human cognition?

        By the way, isn’t evolution a process involving populations, not individuals? While cognition is an activity of individuals, not populations?
        So isn’t it a fallacy of composition/division to speak of evolving cognition?

  10. TomS TomS

    I never understood how this argument against naturalism is particularly relevant to evolution, rather than other naturalistic accounts for the function of the human brain.
    For example, I always like to see whether an argument against evolution (although I recognize that this is not an argument against evolution, but against naturalism) works as well as an argument against reproduction (or
    development, or metabolism, or genetics, etc.).
    It seems to me that the EAAN transforms quite easily into a Reproductive Argument Against Naturalism: There is nothing about reproduction which would lead to brains which favor true thoughts.

  11. My response to Plantiga would go something like:

    P1: If creation is true, then we have divinely designed brains.

    P2: Created brains are not designed to know the difference between good and evil (see Genesis 2:17).

    P3: Religious ethics (the morals and dogmas about good and evil) are the output of created brains.

    C1: Threfore creation & design theories are unreliable and should be rejected.

    C2: Therefore religious whathaveyou should be rejected.

    PS.: John, did you change the order in which the comments appear? It’s sort of irritating that they file upwards while the replies on comments file downwards.

    • TomS TomS

      ISTM that EAAN is related to the philosophy of Nicholas Malebranche, and M treated your point in his concept of knowledge as “vision in God”.

  12. Ron Artest Ron Artest

    I came across Plantinga’s argument a few months ago and the most interesting thing about it, to me, is that it seems to be a critique about the stories we make up to explain the data that we come across. I feel pretty compelled by argument made in this article between “environmental beliefs” and “social beliefs”, but at the same time, no data exists without interpretations of that data put into a story of why scientists got the data that they did. If we can’t trust the “metaphysical” conclusions we come to, then why should we trust the data interpretations we come to and on top of that, the exclamations that everything that is worth everything (in our universe) is measurable–because to me, that seems pretty metaphysical.

    I watched a lecture he (Plantinga) gave about EAAN where he talked about beliefs of being chased by a lion and how a person could have a multitude of beliefs that would make them run away from a lion. What I found funny was that all of them included a lion, which I think is the argument a lot of people have been making in these comments. If you didn’t have X belief that made you run away from X that can kill and eat you, you’d die. The argument that a material world exists outside of my senses and that those senses are decently reliable comes from me not being dead yet.

    Plantinga saves himself from all this crap by saying “god” created us in his perfect image, so we CAN trust our mental faculties.

  13. You don’t need to have a God to have acquired purposes from trial and error processes. You need to start with a glimmer of strategic intelligence, and apparently the universe has always had that.

  14. TomS: Can a zygote develop a brain capable of human cognition?P>

    If I correctly understand Plantinga, then he would answer “no.” A human zygote could develop a human brain, but a human brain is incapable of human cognition.

  15. Raving Raving

    Dialogue of juxtaposition: Proving emergence versus disproving convergence

    Proving (or even more weakly … describing) emergence is problematic. It is sort of indescribable inconceivable and essentially confusing

    Seems to be much easier to disprove convergence

    (Sorry about beating up on philosophers … it amounts to using critical reasoning to disembowel critical reasoning … that is easier than the alternative of describing inconceivable which is difficult!!! … almost impossible, actually 😀 )

    The disproof of convergence likens critical reasoning to Buridan’s ass. Considerations in the form of Buridan’s ass are constrained. Emergence engages a space which is greater than that which is constrained by Buridan’s ass. The gains made by emergence are a tradeoff which comes at the expense of incompleteness and confusion.

    [ A *much* clearer visual disproof to follow …. “mañana” (work in progress) ]

  16. Dianelos Georgoudis Dianelos Georgoudis

    So what Darwin is arguing is that evolution gives us no confidence in metaphysical conclusions, not science.

    That’s sufficient for the EAAN:
    1. If natural evolution is true then we should have no confidence that our metaphysical conclusions are true.
    2. Naturalism is a metaphysical conclusion.
    3. Therefore, if natural evolution is true then we should have no confidence that naturalism is true.
    4. If we should not have confidence that a conclusion is true then we should not believe in that conclusion.
    5. Therefore, if natural evolution is true then we should not believe in naturalism.

    As Plantinga explicitly states, the EEAN does not argue that naturalism is false, but rather that if naturalism and natural evolution are true then it is irrational to believe in naturalism.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      If you accept that version of the EAAN, then you have just concluded that knowledge is impossible. Consider the claim that knowledge is possible: this is a metaphysical claim. Since you grant Plantinga’s conditional, all metaphysical claims become inconsistent with the fact of evolution. So, Plantinga is committed to arguing that evolution makes any knowledge whatsoever impossible.

      However, we know that evolutionary theory of cognition is predicated on the view that differences in our capacities to know the world affect fitness, so something seems to have gone wrong. I think the error is in thinking that the claim we can and do know is a metaphysical claim to be demonstrated by evolution. In fact it is a fact to be explained by evolution. We don’t infer that we can know from a knowledge of evolutionary biology, we explain how it is that we do, and how our brains, modified monkey brains that they are, can do this. Plantinga is mistaking the explicandum for the explanans.

      Either Plantinga must conclude that no account of knowledge that is natural is possible (a view he may very well wish to claim) or he cannot run the EAAN. But if evolutionary explanations of the possibility of knowledge rely on our being selected on the basis of past success are true, and there is no viable account of how supernatural knowledge contributed to our fitness (which is what Griffiths and I argue), then you can accept that evolution is consistent with natural, but not supernatural, knowledge content being true.

      And if Plantinga wishes to argue that knowledge cannot be natural, let him do so explicitly: I can tell you now that few will take that claim seriously.

    • This may be an EAAN, but I don’t think this is Plantinga’s EAAN. (1) would make E self-defeating on its own. Plantinga doesn’t think that E is on its own a defeater either for itself or for metaphysical conclusions, because he insists that E&T is not, or need not be, self-defeating in the way E&N is; and theism is certainly a metaphysical position as well. It’s N, not E, that rules out possible metaphysical lines of escape, thus making reliability given E&N either extremely low or inscrutable. At least, this seems very much the intent.

      That said, I don’t think John’s argument in response entirely works, at least if I am following it correctly. Any adequate explanans will imply its explanandum (and a partial explanans will imply part of the explanandum); it’s implication, not inference, that is the key issue in any argument like this, because defeat is a matter of what a position implies, not what we actually infer from it. If we already have the explanandum — reliability of cognition allowing for true belief in this case, which we certainly must have on pain of self-defeat — we can’t have an explanans that implies that the explanandum is very unlikely to be true or inscrutable; this is to have no actual explanation at all, regardless of whether the explanandum or explanans is prior as a matter of psychology or inquiry. Merely taking reliability of cognition as an explanandum does no work here, as far as I can see. And if it did, it would ruin all evolutionary debunking arguments, because it would mean that what we can and do know is simply prior to any evolutionary considerations, and if that were enough to block the EAAN as an evolutionary debunking argument, it would block every other evolutionary debunking argument — either purported examples would be undebunkable or what would actually do the debunking would not be the e.d.a. itself but something showing beforehand that they weren’t facts to be explained.

      • Plantinga’s argument has shifted from 1989 to now, see

        which provides a very nice summary of the present argument and some critiques. Plantinga denies that evolution is false but says it can only be believed to be true if naturalism is false, which is an absurd position to take. My post was a throwaway comment on one aspect of the EAAN – it’s inversion of Darwin’s actual argument. But I may have to do a proper response. I might argument map it.

        • Well, yes, it’s an absurd position to take if the EAAN fails; it would be exactly the right position to take if E&N is self-defeating as the argument claims. This is simply a structural issue, since the same sort of thing can be said for any other evolutionary debunking argument; it’s what makes them debunking arguments rather than arguments for the obvious or arguments for conclusions nobody had much opinion about before. The real weakness of the EAAN is not its structure nor the apparent absurdity of the conclusion (which, because of Plantinga’s somewhat impish sense of humor, has always been played for all its worth by Plantinga himself — I don’t know why he does it beyond a weird sense of humor, but it’s a regular thing with him, deliberately stating things in as apparently absurd a manner as possible and challenging people to prove that it actually is). Rather the problem is the specification of both E and N; and a similar issue of specification is the chief problem that has to be overcome by any evolutionary debunking argument (and precisely the badness of specification in so many evolutionary debunking arguments is one reason why I presume they are all bunk themselves until rigorously proven otherwise).

          Very useful link; thanks. (I don’t think the article actually manages to make the particular case it claims in section 8 to have made, since all it does is show problems with the specification of N in the argument, but much of the discussion is quite interesting, and some of it I agree with quite well.)

  17. Platypus Platypus

    Not a philosopher, but how is Plantinga’s argumentation different from:

    P1. If evolution is true, then we have modified monkey hands.

    P2. Modified monkey hands are not evolved to mould clay

    P3. Statues are the output of modified monkey hands.

    C1. Therefore evolutionary theory is unreliable and should be rejected.

    C2. Therefore statues should be rejected.

  18. DiscoveredJoys DiscoveredJoys

    A slight modification…

    P1. If evolution is true, then we have modified monkey brains.
    P2. Modified monkey brains are not evolved to find out the truth
    P3. Evolutionary naturalism (the view that everything about humans, including their cognitive capacities, evolved) is the output of modified monkey brains and careful scientific processes which are designed to overcome subjective bias.
    C1. Therefore evolutionary theory is provisional and open to refinement..
    C2. Therefore evolutionary naturalism should be accepted as the best explanation to date..

    There is a huge difference between an individual’s unexamined thoughts (philosophical naturalism) and the output of many peoples’ examined conclusions (methodological naturalism). Something that Plantinga seems to have glossed over. I wonder why?

  19. Would you mind submitting this to the upcoming Philosophers’ Carnival?

  20. J. Edward Hackett J. Edward Hackett

    Why not just cleave evolution apart from the reliability of certain beliefs? Evolution seems largely independent of the reliability of certain beliefs. Let us assume a society in which howling winds were thought to be spirit voices warding off bear caves. From time immemorial, this society has flourished and actively honors its ancestral practice of avoiding bear caves. Let us assume several thousand years later scientists emerge and show a science of air currents is really what is doing the “howling” and the scientists judge that they should avoid bear caves simply from the danger bears pose to humans. Like it or not, though the science is present and there are still clingers to the old ways, neither source/justification is more privileged from an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary success has been achieved since in both ways we avoid bear caves. There might be many beliefs like this, and the success and overall fitness of an organism is a function of outcomes. Consider again what might be called the danger rabbit case. Rabbits will mostly represent the whole world as being filled with danger, no matter if it is nuts dropping nearby or branch falling. 1 out of 67 times, they do face a danger, and while this is highly inefficient for many of their behaviors, it works just fine. Consider the frog case. A frog will lash out its tongue at things that move very fast passed its head. The frog represents them as food, yet it doesn’t matter really what they are since really only flies move at that speed. Now, my point in bringing up these cases is that the true/false picture of these representations is simply independent of evolutionary success. So if we want to be evolutionists of some variety, it seems we can deny Plantinga’s starting point without worry that our perceptual beliefs must be true in order to be conducive for success. This is also what I have argued for in the bear case thought experiment.

  21. Skip Skip

    The (weeks ago) arguments above are conflating the science of evolution with the metaphysics of naturalism. Naturalism is a metaphysical position, one which has that in common with theism. The (Darwin quoted) issue of our evolved brain’s tendency to get metaphysics (including theism) wrong thus applies not to so much to a scientific theory of evolution as it does to the metaphysics of naturalism, right?

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      I didn’t even get to the gerrymandered notion of “naturalism” that Plantinga appeals to (I tried to avoid it in my characterization o his EAAN). There are several senses of naturalism:

      1. The view that we can only know the natural world through natural means (an epistemic claim)

      2. The view that what we do know are natural things (physicalism or something like it)

      3. The view that all there is are natural things (philosophical naturalism).

      Only the third is properly metaphysical (sense 2 is metaphysical only if it is made as a modal claim that we necessarily can only know there are physical things).

      Darwin’s argument is that we did not evolve to be able to do metaphysics well, yes. It doesn’t follow that we didn’t evolve to find out about the natural world well. Plantinga equivocates on this.

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