Sunday, 1 October 2017

Planting Another Objection

In addition to the objections that I have detailed elsewhere (Planting a Demigod, Planting a Special Plea for Warrant
and Planting a Defeat), I reckon that Plantinga commits two equivocations.

First, he equivocates on the term belief.  I'm referring here to the types of beliefs that a pre-human, preverbal hominid might have, and the types of beliefs that modern human fully equipped with language might have.  The first set is an "animal" level of belief, which isn't going to be fully developed and isn't going to be affected by an existing world view that is shaped by cogitation.  Effectively, such a creature may think "potential threat" when confronted by a tiger but it isn't going to reason itself into thinking the sorts of things that Plantinga ascribes to Paul.  An example of "animal" level thinking is that of a horse.  A colt or a filly may be more curious than an adult horse, but it is still wary and all manners of things will scare it (ditto with an adult horse).

Even relatively small changes to a horse's environment will scare it, like a new bin, or a plastic bag rustling, or an unfamiliar human.  They spend most of their time afraid because, historically, being afraid of things and running away from them is a better survival option than being brave (that said, when in a paddock with wire fences, being pointlessly afraid is currently a worse option than being brave).  So what sorts of things are these horses believing when confronted with a new bin, or a plastic bag, or a new human?  Probably not much more than "this might be a threat".  A loud noise is a threat, wind is a threat, small birds are a threat, a hose is a threat (well, it might be a snake, and that’s a threat).  The other sort of beliefs that animals have are generally in the vicinity of "I might be able to eat/drink that" and "I should try to mate with/be mated by that".

The vast proportion of the evolution that resulted in humans, including the psychology of humans, happened well before we developed language.  Sure, our ability converse with each other and think about things might well have messed things up to the extent that someone like Paul might have lived on this planet for a very short time, but that's because his belief system was corrupted by too much thinking.  It's not really about evolution at all.  There's no reason to think that development of language should make humans better at comprehending reality.  It's entirely possible that we have become worse at it, but the ability to talk to each other has had such a huge positive impact that it counteracts any negative impact on reality comprehension and truth seeking.

Second, he equivocates on the term naturalism.  I think he is thinking of naturalism as an ideology which is clung to with the same fervour as a theist clings to her religion.  If naturalism were like that and held to like that by its adherents, then sure, "naturalism-plus" would likely be wrong.  But is there anyone who holds to that sort of naturalism in that way?  I think it's more generally true that those who align with naturalism could say something like "we're not 100% certain how everything works, we've got a good idea about a lot of it, but at the edges it's still quite vague and some of what we know today is provisional and might well be tossed out tomorrow as the result of a new scientific revolution just around the corner ... but that said, what we do know with considerable certainty is that it's not all down to some vaguely defined creator god - that simply doesn't make any sense and those championing the notion tend to be less than completely knowledgeable and completely reasonable, plus some of the god-related stories are frankly bizarre, so it’s not a stretch for us to not believe in that sort of thing".  Breathe, naturalist, breathe.

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