Wednesday, 8 November 2017

We Need to Talk about EAAN

(The title is a reference to "We need to talk about Kevin".  I'm using "EAAN" as if it sounded like "Ian".  I don't know if it does, but it's not relevant.  I’m just using a bit of a jokey title about the problems with the Evolutionary Argument Against Evolution.)

There is a relatively new take on Plantinga’s EAAN by Tyler McNabb.  While the original EAAN is certainly Plantinga's, there's not really too much between the two variants.  Fundamentally, the argument comes down to the claim that evolution doesn't "code" for truth or reality, that it only “codes” for survival.

In both variants, tigers are brought up as an example, so McNabb bravely continues to ignore the fact that tigers are from Asia (with a range that historically stretched as far as eastern Turkey) while humans are from Africa.  This is key, because while the illustrative use of tigers might be defended by saying "there were dangerous cats which would have taught humans to be wary of tigers" (particularly the cave lion which is thought to have been a species that specialised in killing humans, maybe more accurately hominids or perhaps just primates in general), this defence rips a hole in EEAN.

Both McNabb and Plantinga suggest that it is possible that an early human, let's call him Fred, might see a tiger and come up with all sorts of bizarre reasons for performing the adaptive behaviour necessary to avoid being eaten (McNabb adds the idea that Fred might think that the tiger is a witch and hence runs away because witches are dangerous).  Inherent in this idea is the presumption that any one of a wide range of cognitive processes (including patently faulty processes) might result in the adaptive behaviour.

What Plantinga and McNabb forget is that surviving once is not sufficient.  And having one generation survive is not sufficient.  For a genetic line to be successful, the carriers need to carry out the appropriate behaviour each and every time they come into close proximity with a tiger (or a lion, or a panther, or an elephant, or a hippopotamus, or a crocodile, or a snake, etc, etc).  At least until they've raised a child sufficiently long as to pass their genetic line on.

The most effective way for this to happen is not for random ideas to pop into the head of gene carriers when exposed to danger, but rather for the gene carriers to have the cognitive skills necessary to identify reality, understand the threats inherent in reality and the necessary action that, in reality, will optimise their survival chances (ie, like not jumping in a lake when chased by a tiger).

EAAN relies very heavily on both a misunderstanding about how important reality actually is to survival and a wild imagination as to how insane interpretations of reality might consistently lead to adaptive behaviour.  On the other hand, if the comprehension of reality is consistent with the survival of creatures that evolve, then it's no surprise that creatures that end up self-aware as a result of that process will be able to identify evolution as the mechanism that led to their success.

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