- Alvin Plantinga (1991). ``An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism&Quot. Logos 12:27--48.Only in rational creatures is there found a likeness of God which counts as an image . . . . As far as a likeness of the divine nature is concerned, rational creatures seem somehow to attain a representation of [that] type in virtue of imitating God not only in this, that he is and lives, but especially in this, that he understands (ST Ia Q.93 a.6).
Epistemology Without Foundations
University of Szczecin
I do now know how much serious discussion among professional philosophers has been devoted Plantinga's argument that evolutionary theory provides an argument against naturalism, though I know it is widely heralded by many non-professionals who do not like evolutionary theory.
Plantinga's error is two-fold. First, he fails to state his general epistemological position, and so leaves us wondering what he means by "truth." Second, and more detrimental to his argument, he fails to consider the possibility of epistemological behaviorism.
Consider any of Plantinga's examples of how evolution might have one survive perfectly well with a set of mostly false beliefs. One might, for example, run up a tree when confronted with a tiger, because one believed that this was the best way to pet the cute, furry animal. Thus, one's actions would lead to survivale, but one would be acting on a false belief.
Under what conditions could we establish that this man believed one thing, and not another? What does it mean to say that he believes the best way to put a tiger is to run away from it? That is, in what conditions could we observe him and say, ah, yes, he believes that is how he should go about petting the tiger?
For Plantinga's argument to work, there cannot be any such conditions.
One might here wish to defend Plantinga's argument by imagining a conversation with this hypothetical man. We might ask him, "What are you running away from these tigers?" But how could we understand his response? He might say, "Because I want to pet them!" We would think he was either mad, joking, or speaking a different language. How could we communicate with such a person at all, if all of his words contradicted our understanding of his behavior?
There are no conditions for which we could understand such a person's beliefs, and so Plantinga has no grounds for claiming that such a person could behave in this way and have the beliefs he says they do.
This is a fatal flaw in Plantinga's argument, but it does not fully counter the intuition which Plantinga and his supporters maintain: namely, that evolutionary theory cannot account for truth. To uncover the full depth of Plantinga's error, we have to look at just how evolution could have selected for truth. That is, we must come to a more feasible notion of true belief.
And here it is quite simple: for we have no trouble understanding how evolution could select for the ability to develop and utilize various tools, and why not think that language is such a tool? If we think of language as a tool for furthering our successful reproduction, we can regard the category of "truth" as one aspect of that tool. Specifically, it is that aspect of the tool which turns language upon itself in a process of evaluation. "Truth" is what we call language when it works for our ends. Evolutionary theory does not say that our only end is reproduction; rather, it says that our ability to reproduce explains why we are the way we are. Our ends can thus be explained in terms of reproduction without being reduced to them. And so we can talk about truth without talking specifically about what will or won't lead to reproduction.
The main point here is that truth is a matter of what works, and that is all a matter of behavior. This is precisely why we could not possibly understand the beliefs of somebody such as Plantinga describes, and why we should have no problem acknowledging our evolutionary origins whilst rejecting supernaturalism.
Epistemology Without Foundations
Reply to Jason Streitfeld
I appreciate the review of Dr. Plantinga's work; after a brief review of his position and your comments I want to say that I disagree with both arguments. The fundamental questions here is how one defines truth. This question was so important that it was expressed by Pilate to Jesus on the day of the Christ's Crucifixion. "What is truth?" (John 18:38; NASB) Jesus did not answer that question at that time but did make this statement just hours before this question was asked. "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth." (NASB; John 17:21) What did Jesus mean by this statement? Simply that the origin's of truth comes from God. The Scriptures teach that God spoke into existence the universe as we understand it. They also teach us that God cannot lie. Therefore, we can conclude from these revelations that truth should be understood on two levels. One, because God created everything from his spoken word, that all physical concepts within natural law are true. What do I mean by this? Truth is the reality of anything within the realm of natural and supernatural law. Why do I include the supernatural? Because our natural laws are a product of one supernatural law called eternalness. A concept accepted by naturalist but ignored out of lack of understanding the concept. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can change forms but cannot be created or destroyed. This concept proves that the law of eternalness exists. It is my view that this law can only come from a source equal or grater then the law itself and that source is God, for God declares himself to be eternal. The second level of truth is spiritual. The concept of the existence of good and evil is true just as the strongest will survive the elements over the weakest. But the understanding of these truths and how they fit into our reality, as we know it, can only be understood when placed under the master standard and plan of truth. And what is that standard? God!
Truth is simply the acknowledgment of reality, but how we interpret that truth is the final quest in the pursuit of that reality. This is called the study of metaphysics. The study of the nature of reality. Just because it is true that something strong survives over something that is weak, does not in itself prove that man's existence was the direct result of this process.
From these concepts we can conclude that in order to understand truth in our reality, we must understand the nature behind truth itself. God! For without a standard to interpret truth, truth simply becomes purely subjective. For more information on these concepts my book is available. "Made in the Image of God"