the problem of pluralism (and other things)… for naturalists

[Rough outline]

If naturalism is true then human beings can’t have any supernatural insight into deep philosophical matters about meta-physics/ethics, ontology etc. Regular human intelligence is the only tool human beings have to access the truth of these matters.

Moreover, human intelligence evolved with little to no adaptive pressures on deep philosophical matters. (To survive it doesn’t matter nearly so much whether you develop a true metaethical account as it does whether you believe truly about the tiger attacking you.)

Moreover, cognitive psychology has demonstrated that there are many non-rational mechanisms that affect our reasoning. It is quite possible to be mistaken even about why you hold the beliefs you do, let alone be mistaken about the fundamental nature of reality.

Moreover, human intelligence can only work with the limited data at hand. The data pool we have access to is largely determined by the culture and time period we are born into. Worldviews are roughly distributed across geographical regions.

Moreover, deep philosophical matters are recognised to be the most difficult matters for human reason to penetrate anyway. The greatest minds in human history have held radically different views on every imaginable problem within the field. And most people are not “the greatests minds in human history”.

Therefore, the naturalist ought to believe that the reliability of their “deep philosophical cognitive faculties” are very low. While they may be justified in their deep philosophical beliefs, it is highly unlikely any of these are actually true. Any naturalist who steps into the realm of philosophy ought to believe that there is a radically low probability that the findings they come to will actually be true.

This argument is increased in power if Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism succeeds.

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6 thoughts on “the problem of pluralism (and other things)… for naturalists

  1. *a wild McKechnie appears*

    Predictably, I obviously don’t agree. Duh.

    However, similar sentiments have occurred to me too. Socrates was pretty sure about all that polytheistic malarkey – I’m not Socrates, can I really claim to have a superior understanding of theological matters?

    And we could argue until hell freezes over on that one, so I’ll leave it. I’ll stick to the bit that baffles me the most then. By all means you can concede that puny materialism proponents switch to a fro between one scientific paradigm to the next every century or so, but so what? You may well be right, humans are exceptionally arbitrary when it comes to metaphysical contention. But how exactly can you claim any higher ground than that? How does the Christian step outside of that situation? I’m assuming the first sentence goes some way towards providing a mechanism for that.

    “If naturalism is true then human beings can’t have any supernatural insight into deep philosophical matters about meta-physics/ethics, ontology etc”

    – as if to say: Religious believers (but I’ll assume you mean Christians. Incidentally, is that exclusively Christians, or is this kind of psychic insight widely available to all members of any faith?) have some kind of ‘special’ insight above the traditional arguments and syllogisms in the toolbox of Western philosophy – right? Could you explain more about this, and when you have could you demonstrate how, without using the traditional methods of philosophy, how you verify it as anything more than a delusional episode? By all means, we might all fall into relativism, but how exactly does the believer get out of it?

  2. Hey man good to “see” you, I thought you’d dropped off facebook recently.

    As you correctly observe I haven’t provided any defence of why “religious” views, or Christian views specifically, don’t have the same problems. From your reply though it seems like you concede that these problems exist – you just think they apply to everyone.

    Well perhaps they do, but I have an inkling that at the very least, Christianity is not affected /as much/ by these sorts of problems.

    That’s because I think that (in line with Plantinga and others), if Christianity is true, very probably, belief in it can be justified/warranted in a properly basic way. That is, if Christianity is true, very probably, one can rationally believe it without evidence or philosophical argumentation. I can elaborate on this position more if you want, but essentially, the claim is that if Christianity is true, most Christians are warranted in their belief not because they’ve been clever enough to figure out that Christianity is true, but because the Holy Spirit has revealed to them that Christianity is true.

    Because then, Christian belief does not rest solely on the deliverance of human intelligence if it is true, Christians are not rationally obliged to think that their own metaphysical beliefs suffer the same radically low truth-probabilities that beliefs of this kind suffer when they result purely from unaided intellectual inquiry to these matters.

    Now here I need to concede that in actual fact, if Christian belief is warranted in this way, there is still much metaphysical wrangling that the Christian has only normal intellectual resources to battle with. E.g. the Holy Spirit may reveal that God exists, and that Scripture speaks truly about him. But it is still the case that Scripture leaves A LOT of ambiguity on metaphysical details. Does God have exhaustive foreknowledge? Is God timeless or eternal in time? Did God create abstract objects? Does libertarian or compatibilist free will exist? Is divine command theory true, or a natural law theory? etc.

    So in actual fact, if Christian belief can be warranted in a properly basic way, you only get a rough (but still rather important) sketch of metaphysical truths with much yet to be fought over. You only get the core package so to speak.

    What’s my argument then? Well I don’t think the argument could be that the naturalist cannot rationally believe naturalism given these low probabilities. So I suppose it is misleading or “off on the wrong foot” to call this sort of argument a “problem” for naturalists. Rather I think it would be used to demonstrate a reversal of the claim sometimes levelled against Christians that it is arrogant to believe in Christianity – that it is arrogant to believe that God has revealed the truth to you.

    I suppose I’d argue that naturalism is more deserving of this sort of accusation than Christianity. For if Christianity is true, Christians believe it because God has undeservedly shown them the way. It is a gift that wasn’t accrued by the Christian’s own intellectual power.

    Whereas if naturalism is true, to believe it one must think that they are exceptionally gifted. That despite all the odds stacked against them, their intellectual might has shown them the light. I suppose alternatively one could believe that one has just been lucky enough to be born into a culture where naturalism is embraced, but it seems that few naturalists would wish to concede that their belief in naturalism is so culturally contingent, enough so that it could be considered a “gift of chance.”

    To avoid misunderstanding bear in mind my argument is not that naturalists are arrogant. It is just that, of the two beliefs (Christianity and naturalism), judging solely on the basis of how one would arrive at those beliefs, naturalism is more likely to fuel arrogance than Christianity.

  3. “Rather I think it would be used to demonstrate a reversal of the claim sometimes levelled against Christians that it is arrogant to believe in Christianity – that it is arrogant to believe that God has revealed the truth to you”

    Again, I could get lost in nuances, but for the sake of both of our brains, I’ll try to just pick out what seems particularly salient.

    I’m not necessarily an atheist that would consider Christians arrogant solely for behaving as though they are in congress with a being that trumps science. That’s just a logical consequence of believing in such a being I guess. It becomes arrogant when said believers take painstaking time out of their lives to mutilate the advances of science itself, with no other motivation than to preserve their religion when science begins to contradict it. Mutilating, for example, advances that are beginning to for the first time in the history of humanity to answer existential questions about our roots and humble beginnings. I know you don’t behave like this, and I’m slightly confused as to exactly what kind of Christian you are these days, but I’m sure you’re aware these idiots: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2z-OLG0KyR4

    Case-in-point.

    Well, this stuff is endemic among right wing US Christians. That is arrogance to me.
    Anyway:

    ” Christians are not rationally obliged to think that their own metaphysical beliefs suffer the same radically low truth-probabilities that beliefs of this kind suffer when they result purely from unaided intellectual inquiry to these matters”

    And I’m sure this works within a Christian sphere of understanding. So long as you have no intention of arguing this with anyone other than a Christian, it’s watertight. The moment you step out of that sphere and confront someone that doesn’t already acknowledge the word of god as absolute, the argument falls apart. I can claim communication with any number of celestial voices that I can’t demonstrate any existence of, but I would expect you to be pretty sceptical of me, to be honest.

    “Whereas if naturalism is true, to believe it one must think that they are exceptionally gifted. That despite all the odds stacked against them, their intellectual might has shown them the light”

    Ho hum, I don’t think so, no. I understand entirely where you’re coming from, and if we hadn’t advanced technologically at all in the last 2000 years then I might be inclined to agree with you. However, a lot has changed, and almost every single example of societal amelioration can be attributed back to scientific progress and almost every single example of scientific progress can be attributed back to the success of the scientific method. The scientific method exploits the most basic axioms of naturalism. It – is – no – longer – just – an – arbitrary – paradigm. It’s saving lives, flying planes, keeping buildings up, inoculating children, probing the mysteries of the subatomic realm and lifting us out of depravity, poverty and mindless self indulgence. It is literally the best thing that ever happened to us. This explosion of progress came around BECAUSE we opposed the nebulous paradigm of gods, magic and the invisible. This explosion of progress came around we matured as a civilisation and conceded that in almost every single instance, vaccines prevent disease almost one hundred percent better than prayer, that wishing and pure volition doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on physical reality and that instead, if we exploit the natural laws we have painstakingly gone out of way to conceptualise and understand, we advance as a species.

    Sometimes we’re allowed to salute our own efforts as a race. Given the track record I just mentioned of such a paradigm, I don’t think it’s at all arrogant to tick the box labelled ‘default cultural setting’ as far as naturalism goes. Sometimes we have been very very wrong indeed. The ‘humors’ theory of medicine for example (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humorism) was one of the first ever stabs at a naturalistic account of illness and it was ridiculous. But the methodology was right on.

    “Any naturalist who steps into the realm of philosophy ought to believe that there is a radically low probability that the findings they come to will actually be true”

    Just out of interest, being that theology is generally accredited as a branch of philosophy, are you willing to grant it the same level of potential inaccuracy as the rest of the field?

    Look, really, underneath all of this I’m really just asking:

    You claim that Christianity (as a counter to the claim of arrogance in the first place, I appreciate that) effectively trumps naturalism since naturalistic explanations don’t have a probabilistically high track record of success despite the successes we see today. However, your argument appears to hinge on divine revelation courtesy of a deity. This is hardly confined just to Christianity. In fact it’s present in almost every single religious system, and as far as I know, you’re only willing to acknowledge one instance of this; divine revelation through the Christian god, one of literally thousands of possible gods to do this. Isn’t that fairly low as far as success rates go? Are you asking us to place ‘divine revelation’ higher on the hierarchy of truth-acquisition tools than naturalism, and at the same time ask us to ignore the thousands of other examples of this and only focus on not only your particular religion, but your particular denomination (one of 38000 by the way, if approximations are correct)? As far as ‘against all odds goes’, I’m blown away that you’ve picked the correct denomination of the correct religion with the correct precepts at exactly the right moment in time, and are actually trying to assert that we should elevate that one and only that one above naturalism.

  4. Hey man, in case you were wondering your comment only had to receive moderator’s approval because it contained more than one link (it is a built-in precaution to prevent spam.)

    There is much I could say in response to the above but I fear there’s mostly misunderstandings about my argument. I think however that the misunderstanding is quite likely my own fault. The kind of things I’ll be posting on this blog are sometimes quite rough and sometimes quite tentative, and the argument I posted in the OP is both! Originally I had it in mind that it could be some kind of argument that shows that naturalism is self-defeating – that it cannot be rationally entertained because of what naturalism itself entails about metaphysical belief-making. But I quickly realised that argument couldn’t work and so utilised the premises for a different “weaker” conclusion, which was what I tried to spell out in my previous post – that the argument was merely a counter to the claim that Christianity is an inherently arrogant thing to believe.

    I’ll spell the argument out:

    1. If naturalism is true then natural human intelligence is the only tool for arriving at true metaphysical beliefs.
    2. If naturalism (and evolution) are true then natural human intelligence is not likely to be well adapted for producing true metaphysical beliefs.
    3. Natural human intelligence faces many other obstacles in forming metaphysical beliefs (supported by the various reasons I listed in the OP) aside from adaptability worries.
    4. A person can only get around these obstacles to believe truly about metaphysical things if they are exceptionally bright, or lucky.
    5. Naturalism is a metaphysical belief.
    6. Therefore if naturalism is true then one can only come to believe it if one is exceptionally bright or lucky.
    7. Therefore a naturalist ought to believe that they are able to believe naturalism only because they are exceptionally bright or lucky.

    8. If Christianity is true then natural human intelligence and divine revelation are the only tools for arriving at true metaphysical beliefs.
    9. If Christianity is true then probably one comes to believe Christianity through divine revelation.
    10. If Christianity is true then divine revelation is an undeserved gift given to the recipient.
    11. Therefore if Christianity is true then one does not come to believe it because of any special qualities of their own.
    12. Therefore a Christian ought to believe that they are able to believe Christianity only because God was gracious.

    13. It is easier for a person to be arrogant if they believe they have achieved something through their own merit.
    14. From (7) and (12), unless a naturalist believes that they have come to believe naturalism largely due to luck, the naturalist will be more tempted to arrogance on the basis of their ability to believe naturalism than the Christian will be on the basis of their ability to believe Christianity.

    That’s it. It’s philosophically quite a trivial argument as it doesn’t help one iota in determining which belief is true, or rational, or anything equally substantial. As such I wouldn’t even care to use it except as a retort to a naturalist who accused me of arrogance on the basis of how I think I’m able to believe Christianity. And note I am talking about philosophical naturalism, not the natural sciences. So by ‘naturalism’ I mean something like the belief that “the natural world is all there is, there are no gods, or ghosts, or spirits, or God, or anything like those things,” not the scientific method or anything like that.

    Now if that’s changed your understanding of my argument, please do address anything you think is problematic. If nothing much has changed just re-post or point me back to anything that I need to address from your last post.

  5. Oh and because you seemed curious about what kind of Christian I am these days (and I presume you mean in regards to origins?) I am an old-earther who is agnostic on whether evolution is true, but considers the truth of that matter to not be decisive of the truth of Christianity.

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