The following line of thought is commonly found in analytic philosophy of mind: the reason calculators, for instance, are not minds is that the symbols they manipulate in order to solve mathematical problems to not mean anything to them (the calculators). It is not that their symbols/representations lack meaning or reference. Rather, they have the meaning or reference they do because of our conventions and the aims and purposes we have for calculators. This is known as derived intentionality. Our mental states, on the other hand, exhibit original intentionality. Their meaningfulness is not due to someone else’s employment of those symbols, but our own. Now, this talk about aims, purposes, and employment (according to this common line of thought) is a hint in the direction of the proper explanation of original intentionality. What would be needed for the calculator to think would be for these symbols to play an informational or indicative role for it, for them to have a function in meeting its needs, ensuring its survival, etc. And this is what we find with respect to information encoded in human and animal brains: certain states have the function of carrying information about the environment because either evolution or learning selected for those states to occur in those circumstances so that the animal’s well-being (evolutionary fitness) would be promoted by responding appropriately to those circumstances.*
If this story is true, it opens up the possibility of a new and interesting sort of theodicy. If the story is true then it may turn out that, quite apart from any questions about free will, it is metaphysically impossible for created minds to exist in the complete absence of evil.
To see why, consider a problem. On this view, if God directly creates an adult human ex nihilo** (like swampman) and God intends the human’s brain states to represent certain states of the external world, then, one worries, the human’s brain states will have only derived intentionality and the human will therefore not exhibit genuine thought—any more than a calculator does. So what does God need to do in order to give the human genuine thought? God needs to bring it about that these brain states function as representational or information-carrying states for the human, that the interpretation of them as meaning this or that is not imposed from the outside, but part of the human’s constitution. In order to bring this about (according to the story) the human must have needs which are satisfied only by the proper functioning of the system. The only is important: there must be a contrast class of cases in which the needs are unsatisfied. It thus appears that (if this story is correct) creatures can have states exhibiting original intentionality, and hence engage in genuine thought, only if they are genuinely vulnerable to their environment, and this requires the existence of evil.
Objection One: this story does nothing to address the magnitude, kinds, and unjust distribution of evil. Well, I’m not sure it does nothing about this problem, but it certainly doesn’t solve it. But no one should expect a real solution to that problem.
Objection Two: the theist can’t endorse the story in question, since the theist holds that God, an immaterial being with no needs, has original intentionality. To this objection, I have two replies. First, many theists have accepted some form of the doctrine of analogy, according to which the thing we call ‘knowledge’ in God is not actually of the same kind as our knowledge (though our use of the same word for both is supposed to be somehow non-arbitrary), and even theists who don’t endorse this doctrine must admit (on grounds quite independent of the story I’ve just told) that God’s knowledge is quite different from ours, so this may not be very problematic. Second, since God was not made by someone else, there is no worry that God’s states might have derived intentionality, and so at least one part of the worry the story is addressing does not apply.
Objection Three: most theists believe the human mind is immaterial, so they don’t want a naturalistic reduction of intentionality. Again, I have two replies. First, although this is probably true as a sociological generalization, that doesn’t reduce the philosophical interest of this combination of views. There’s nothing inconsistent in combining theism with this approach to intentionality and it looks like it has at least one significant benefit for the theist: it has the consequence that there couldn’t have been created minds and no evil at all, and so explains why there is at least some evil in the world. (As I conceded above, it does very little if anything to explain the magnitude, kinds, and distribution of evil.) Second, the relevant portions of the account could be endorsed by someone who held that the intrinsic nature of mental states was exhausted by their phenomenal character and representation/intentionality derives from the way those states are used by the mind according to rules (as on my interpretation of Berkeley). So it is not inconsistent with immaterialism about mind, or even with some of the leading arguments for immaterialism about the mind (those stemming from the irreducibility of qualia).
* Rather different versions of (approximately) this line of thought can be found, for instance, in Fred Dretske and Ruth Millikan.
** Essentiality of origins concerns may lead one to deny that this creation is really a human, but let’s ignore that complexity.
(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)
This is the first of a series of blogposts exploring theological and philosophical reflections on the new creation. The format is the following: each week, we’ll have one blogpost (of about 800 words) where an author pitches a new, thought-provoking idea. The other participants as well as the wider internet community can then join in and write comments, to which the author can respond. We hope many readers will participate! The next weeks on Thursdays we will have essays by Trent Dougherty, Kevin Timpe, Beth Seacord and John Schneider.
This week, we have Cara Wall-Scheffler, Associate Professor of Biology at Seattle Pacific University. She considers whether there would still be evolution in the new creation.
As a biological anthropologist, I am interested in human adaptations and variation that chart the evolution of Homo sapiens. In particular, I see to explain how human characteristics (e.g. long limbs, pelvis shape, sexual dimorphism) emerged within different geographical areas and ecosystems.
As a Wesleyan, I am further interested in a theology of sanctification; that is, how, through attentive interactions with the Holy Spirit, faithful humans might form a more ‘in tune’ relationship with the Creator, with other creatures, and especially with one another. Because Scripture claims and the Church confesses that a sovereign God loves and cares for every creature that God as made (e.g. Job 38-42), and because this world is filled with organisms that continue to evolve, I see no reason why this dynamic interaction between the Creator and the created will not continue to exist in New Creation.
Because I understand Scripture’s narrative of First Creation’s relationship with God as ‘very good’ but clearly not ‘perfect’ in a static sense (so Genesis 2:18-20), I hypothesize that New Creation will be a place—an ‘ecosystem’—in which creatures will continue to evolve beyond which a world that already has evoked God’s joy and good pleasure. Furthermore, Scripture claims that New Creation will occupy the same “geographical area” as the First Creation. Whilst an apocalypse of full salvation decisively marks the transition between the two, New Creation continues from the First Creation.
I’ve recently been wondering whether atheism – the belief that God does not exist – could be properly basic. By that, I mean whether it could be a belief that is not based on arguments, but nonetheless formed by a reliable mechanism that is truth-oriented.
I doubt whether atheism could be properly basic. If I am right, then, in order for atheism to be warranted (or maybe even merely rational; see below), atheism has to be based on arguments—whereas, perhaps, such a thing is not required for theism.
Now, here’s my line of thought. It seems we need to consider two mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive scenarios: one in which God exists and one in which he does not.
We can be rather short about the first scenario. If God exists, then it seems impossible that humans have a truth-oriented reliable mechanism that produces the basic belief that God does not exist. Such a mechanism could never be both truth-oriented and reliable, for all of its deliverances – each instance of the basic belief that God does not exist – would be false.
As I have argued elsewhere, it is very difficult to reconcile the idea that God intentionally designed human beings with the statistical explanations we would expect to see in a completed evolutionary theory. One might respond that our current evolutionary theory is not thus completed, but it would be nice to have a story that would fit even with a future completed theory. I now offer such a solution, albeit one I am not fond of.
Suppose first that God determines (either directly or mediately) every quantum event in the evolutionary history of human beings. Suppose further that physical reality is infinite, either spatially or temporally or in the multiverse way, in such wise that the quantum events in our evolutionary history can be arranged into a fairly natural infinite sequence and given frequentist probabilities
So far this is a simple and quite unoriginal solution. And it is insufficient. A standard problem with frequentist accounts is that they get the order of explanations wrong. It is central to a completed evolutionary story that the probabilistic facts explain the arising of human beings. But if the probabilistic facts are grounded in the sequence of events, as on frequentism they are, then they cannot explain what happens in that sequence of events. Some Humeans are happy to bite the bullet and accept circular explanations here, but I take the objection to be very serious.
However, theistic frequentism has a resource that bare frequentism does not. The theistic frequentist can make probability facts be grounded not in the frequencies of the infinite sequence of events as such, but in God’s intention to produce an infinite sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies and to do so under the description “an infinite sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies.” This requires God to have a reason to produce a sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies as such, but a reason is not hard to find–statistical order is a genuine kind of order and order is valuable.
The theistic frequentist now has much less of a circularity worry. It is not the infinite sequence of events that grounds the probabilities that are, in turn, supposed to explain the events within the evolutionary sequence. Rather, it is God’s intention to produce events with such-and-such frequencies that grounds the probabilities, and the events in the sequence can be non-circularly explained by their having frequencies that God had good reason (say, based on order) to produce.
Call for Proposals and Applications:
Saint Louis University announces a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore the subject of intellectual humility. The project will focus on a variety of philosophical and theological issues relevant to the topic of intellectual humility, including: virtue epistemology; regulative epistemology; peer disagreement; intellectual humility, intellectual autonomy and deference to authority; religious pluralism; divine hiddenness; intellectual humility and theological method; biases, heuristics, dual-process theories and evolution; intersubjectivity and mind reading.
This project will fund a variety of activities, including a competition for up to 16 research grants in philosophy and theology, for research between June 2014 to May 2015.
August 19-23, VU University Amsterdam
The Abraham Kuyper Center for Science and Religion at VU University Amsterdam hosts a summer seminar on science and the big questions. Experts will give lectures and engage in debates in the following areas:
* cognitive science of religion
* free will and brain research
* evolution, morality and Christian belief
* cosmology, fine-tuning, and God.
Confirmed speakers include: Patricia Churchland (UCSD), David Lahti (Queens’ College, CUNY), Rodney Holder (Cambridge), Jesse Bering (New York), Johan Braeckman (Ghent U), Herman Philipse (Utrecht U), Gijsbert van den Brink (VU University Amsterdam), Michiel van Elk (U of Amsterdam), Leon de Bruin (Radboud U / VU University Amsterdam) and Tim O’connor (Indiana U).
The seminar is intended for two groups:
(1) (PhD-)students / post-docs working in the natural sciences who have an interest in positively and intelligently relating the topics they cover in their fields of study to philosophical questions and (2) (PhD-)students / post-docs in the fields of philosophy and theology who have an interest in speaking knowledgeably about the intersection between science and religion. The goal of the seminar is to create a learning environment for (PhD-)students / post-docs in which they interact with highly qualified scholars on science / religion issues so as to move beyond the easy warfare rhetoric.
Dates: August 19-23, 2013
Location: VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Costs: The fee for the seminar is 100 euros for (PhD-)students and 200 euros for others. This fee includes lunches and dinners and some surprise social activities in the beautiful old city of Amsterdam.
Application: The seminar has room for at most have 60 participants. Please send a brief statement of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 1, 2013.
More information and updates about speakers can be found on the seminar website:
This seminar, as well as the Kuyper Center, are made possible by a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation.
I’ve just re-read Paul Griffiths’ and John Wilkins’ inspiring paper on evolutionary debunking arguments (EDAs) for religion (it is a very influential paper on cognitive science of religion and evolutionary debunking, despite its not having appeared in print yet) for a chapter of a monograph I’m writing. Using Guy Kahane’s debunking genealogical framework, they argue that natural selection is an off-track process, i.e., one that does not track truth: it produces beliefs in a manner that is insensitive to the truth those beliefs. From this, they conclude that the beliefs that are the outputs of evolved systems are unjustified.
Causal premise. S’s belief that p is explained by X
Epistemic premise. X is an off-track process
Therefore, S’s belief that p is unjustified
When we apply this argument in a generalized manner, where X stands for “natural selection”, this looks like a bad strategy for the naturalist – ultimately, it leads to self-defeat in a Plantingesque manner that most proponents of EDAs would like to avoid. G&W’s position is more subtle: they don’t want to treat truth-tracking and fitness-tracking as competing explanations (as Plantinga seems to do), instead, they argue that fitness-tracking and truth-tracking operate at different explanatory levels. In many cases, tracking truth *is* the best way of tracking fitness, especially given (1) that cognition is costly (brains consume a lot of energy), (2) your beliefs influences how you will behave, (3) your behavior influences your fitness. They propose “Milvian bridges”, which link truth-tracking and fitness-tracking, in order to salvage commonsense and scientific beliefs.
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, Oxford University Press, 2011, 376 pp., $27.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780199812097
Reviewed by James R. Beebe (University at Buffalo)
Alvin Plantinga, philosophy of religion’s most distinguished contemporary statesman, has once again produced a carefully crafted book that raises compelling challenges to widely held doubts about the cogency of belief in God. Where the Conflict Really Lies began as Plantinga’s 2005 Gifford Lectures, and pieces of it have appeared in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible (Oxford, 2011, co-authored with Daniel Dennett), and in a handful of articles. It is filled with the kind of careful analysis, philosophical rigor and understated humor that have become hallmarks of Plantinga’s notable career.
The central claims of Where the Conflict Really Lies are the following:
- There is no conflict between theistic religion and the scientific theory of evolution.
- There is no conflict between science and the common theistic belief that there have been miracles.
- There are superficial conflicts between Christian belief and evolutionary psychology, on the one hand, and scientific scripture scholarship, on the other, but these conflicts don’t provide defeaters for Christian belief.
- There is deep concord between science and theistic religion.
- There is deep conflict between science and naturalism.
Plantinga’s case for (v) is a restatement of his well-known evolutionary argument against naturalism, which first appeared almost twenty years ago in Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford, 1993). Because this argument will be familiar to many and because I found the 300 pages that preceded Plantinga’s most recent statement of it to be more thought-provoking, I will say nothing further about (v) in this review.
Consider Rowe’s argument, which is essentially:
- E is an evil for which we have been unable to find a justifier despite serious investigation.
- Therefore, probably, E has no justifier.
- If some evil has no justifier, then theism is false.
- Therefore, probably, theism is false.
And then consider this anti-evolutionary argument:
- F is a major inheritable feature of an organism for which we have been unable to find an evolutionary explanation despite serious investigation.
- Therefore, probably, F has no evolutionary explanation.
- If some major inheritable feature of an organism has no evolutionary explanation, then evolutionary universalism is false.
- Therefore, probably, evolutionary universalism is false.
Here, evolutionary universalism is the claim that all major inheritable features of organisms have their presence explained by means of evolutionary explanations. (There are many ways of spelling out “major” that still leaves (5) plausible in some cases.)
It is an interesting sociological fact that many atheists think 1-4 is a good argument and 5-8 is a bad one, and that many creationists and intelligent design advocates think 5-8 is a good argument and 1-4 is a bad one.
But I think both are bad.
I’ve never been strongly moved by Plantinga’s EAAN’s general sceptical conclusions allegedly following from naturalism and evolution. It has seemed to me that on the best causal (sketches of) accounts of intentionality, it’s pretty much guaranteed that a significant portion of our empirical beliefs are true. I have serious problems with these causal accounts, but given the accounts, EAAN does not appear that persuasive to me.
However, I think one can use EAAN-type arguments for a more limited conclusion, namely that if naturalism and evolution are true, then certain important kinds of knowledge are seriously threatened, specifically moral (and maybe more generally normative) knowledge (I think certain kinds of modal and metaphysical knowledge are also threatened, and it may be that metaphysical naturalism falls within the class of threatened knowledge).
The standard naturalistic evolutionary story about how we get moral beliefs is something like this. Certain kinds of beliefs about what one ought to do promote the fitness of communities and individuals. Consequently, as a result of certain mimetic and/or genetic evolutionary processes, we have roughly the moral beliefs we do. There might be causal intermediaries like propensities for making certain kinds of moral inference.
But notice a crucial difference between this explanation and evolutionary explanations of our ordinary empirical beliefs. In the ordinary empirical case, Plantinga’s critics can say we are selected for propensities to have tiger-presence beliefs in the presence of tigers, because there is an obvious fitness benefit from having such beliefs when the beliefs are true. One might worry about details here, but the story has an initial plausibility. However, in the case of moral beliefs, the benefit of having the beliefs does not come from the beliefs’ being true.
In the moral case, assuming naturalism and evolution, at best we have a Gettier case instead of knowledge. If we are lucky, there is a large overlap between those moral beliefs that promote fitness and those moral beliefs that are true. Our moral beliefs, based as they are on natural propensities to believe, may be justified. But they are not knowledge, because the connection is too coincidental on this story.
To see that the connection is coincidental, consider this story that is meant to be parallel to the story about moral beliefs. Outside of our community, there is a dark forest. People who go deep into the forest never come back. Eventually, we evolve (mimetically and/or genetically) a propensity to believe that the depths of the forest are full of tigers, and this propensity keeps us out of the forest. In fact, there are tigers deep in the forest, but they are nice tigers and never eat people. The reason people who went deep into the forest never come back is not because the tigers ate them, but because boa constrictors killed them. Maybe we have a justified and true belief that there are tigers in the forest, but it is at best a Gettier case.