Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How to Show that Evolution and Naturalism are Incompatible

Alvin Plantinga, the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame, has developed a very keen argument to show that Evolution and Naturalism are incompatible. I like this argument because it deals with Evolution head-on.

The Veritas Forum has the full lecture to download as either a video or MP3.

Plantinga defines:
  • N as naturalism
  • E as the belief that we human beings have evolved in conformity with current evolutionary doctrine
  • R as the proposition that our faculties are "reliable", where, roughly, a cognitive faculty is "reliable" if the great bulk of its deliverances are true. He specifically cites a thermometer stuck at 72 degrees placed in an environment which happened to be at 72 degrees as an example of something that is not "reliable" in this sense and suggests that the conditional probability of R given N and E, or P(R/N&E), is low.
Wikipedia: EAAN

The following is a very, very, basic breakdown, put in layman's terms. Forgive me if I'm not technical enough on some of the deeper portions of this argument. This isn't intended to be a defense of Plantinga's argument, it's just a simple presentation of the argument's basic points.

1. What is Naturalism?
2. What is Evolution?
3. What's the problem?

Naturalism simply put, is the assumption that there is no supernatural; the universe is a closed system, and only natural "laws" apply. There are no ghosts, no miracles, no unicorns, no Flying Spaghetti Monster, and no God. In many ways (in fact, in most circumstances) this can be a helpful assumption. This is how man has developed medicines, by assuming that diseases were caused by something natural instead of evil spirits, for instance.

Naturalism depends upon observation and the brain's ability to correctly interpret what it observes. This is why it is so "rational." The Naturalist only believes what he/she can see. If you can't see it, then it doesn't exist. (Of course, this is an extremely simplified explanation of this matter)

Evolution is a part of Naturalism. If there is no God or Flying Spaghetti Monster to create the world, then it must have come from, well, nothing, and evolution explains how that occurred.

The driving force behind evolutionary change is reproduction. Plantinga goes into the details of this in his lecture. Simply put, everything an organism develops is ultimately for procreation, spreading its genetic code.

If evolution is true, then our ability to observe and interpret the world around us is most likely unreliable. If the mind of man has evolved as an engine to get us to procreate, then it probably isn't very good at discovering things like "what is true." And, if it's not reliable for that purpose, how then can it say with any certainty that something like evolution is true?

Naturalism says that Evolution is true, but Evolution in turn, says that we can't trust our ability to be "rational." Then, if we can't trust our ability to be rational, how then can we know that Evolution is true in the first place? See how crazy this cycle becomes?

What are your thoughts on this? Before you respond, I highly recommend listening to Plantinga's presentation of this. I know that this is an over-simplified version of the argument, and frankly, I don't want to spend the next week listening to how flawed my argument is when you can hear the expert for yourself.