A Summary of My Paper

By R.N. Carmona

I have submitted a paper to Philosophical Studies addressing Dustin Crummett and Philip Swenson’s paper. Admittedly, this is my first attempt at publishing in a philosophy journal. I took a swing with no guidance, no co-author, and no funding. There is of course a chance it gets rejected, but I am hoping for the best. In any case, I think my paper provides heuristics for anyone looking to refute Evolutionary Moral Debunking Arguments like Crummet and Swenson’s. Let us turn to how I dissect their argument.

They claim that their Evolutionary Moral Debunking Argument Against Naturalism (EMDAAN) stems from Street’s and Korman and Locke’s EMDAs. The latter EMDAs target moral realism while Crummett and Swenson’s targets naturalism. The issue with theirs is that they grossly overlook the fact that both Street and Korman & Locke do not argue that naturalism is threatened by EMDAs. Street argues that her practical standpoint characterization of constructivism sidesteps any issues her EMDA might have presented for her naturalism. Korman and Locke target the minimalist response and in a separate paper, not cited by Crummett, relativism. They do not target naturalism either.

At first glance, I compared Crummett and Swenson’s argument to Lewis’ long-defeated Argument Against Atheism. They state: “The problem for the naturalist here is that, if naturalism is true, it seems that the faculties responsible for our intuitions were formed through purely natural processes that didn’t aim at producing true beliefs” (Crummett & Swenson, 37). One can easily see how they paraphrase Lewis who says:

Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.

Marsden, George M.. C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity : A Biography. Princeton University Press. 89. 2016. Print.

This is a known predecessor of Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN). Therefore, the first angle I take in the paper is to show how Crummett and Swenson did not understand Street’s paper. Perhaps it is the sheer length of her excellent paper (over 50 pages) or perhaps they were so intent on addressing New Atheists that they overlooked her more robust approach to showing how anti-realism fares against EMDAs. I think her paper makes a lot more sense when read in conjunction with her overview of constructivism (see here). Bearing that in mind, I attempt to divorce Crummet and Swenson’s EMDAAN from Street’s EMDA against moral realism. Korman and Locke’s project is markedly different, but their work does not help Crummett and Swenson’s argument either.

With the EAAN now in focus, I show how Crummett and Swenson’s EMDAAN just is an iteration of the EAAN. The EAAN applies to general truths. Put simply, Plantinga argues that if we take seriously the low probability of evolution and naturalism being true despite the fact that that our cognitive faculties formed from accidental evolutionary pressures, then we have a defeater for all of our beliefs, most notably among them, naturalism. Crummett and Swenson make the same exact argument, the difference being that they apply it to specific beliefs, moral beliefs. Given that moral beliefs are a sub-category within the domain of all beliefs, their EMDAAN is an iteration of the EAAN. Here is an example I did not pursue in my paper, call it the Evolutionary Scientific Debunking Argument.

RC1 P(Sm/E&S)  is low (The probability that our faculties generate basic scientific beliefs, given that evolution and science are true, is low.)

RC2 If one accepts that P(Sm/E&S) is low, then one possesses a defeater for the notion that our faculties generate basic scientific beliefs.

RCC Therefore, one possesses a defeater for one’s belief in science.

Perhaps I would be called upon to specify a philosophical view of science, be it realism or something else, but the basic gist is the same as Crummett and Swenson’s EMDA. I am, like them, targeting a specific area of our beliefs, namely our beliefs resulting from science. My argument is still in the vein of Plantinga’s EAAN and is a mere subsidiary of it.

After I establish the genealogy of Crummett and Swenson’s argument, I turn the EAAN on its head and offer an Evolutionary Argument Against Theism. If Plantinga’s argument holds sway and the Theist believes that evolution is true, he is in no better epistemic shape than the naturalist. Therefore, Plantinga’s conditionalization problem, which offers that P(R/N&E) is high iff there exists a belief B that conditionalizes on N&E, is an issue for Theists as well. In other words, perhaps the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable given that evolution and naturalism are true increases iff there is an added clause in the conjunction. Put another way, the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable, granting that evolution and naturalism and (a successful philosophy of mind), is high. This successful philosophy of mind will have to show precisely how a brain that resulted from naturalistic evolutionary processes can generate the sort of consciousness capable of acquiring true beliefs. The theist who says P(R/T&E) is high is begging the question because merely asserting that “God ensured that there would be some degree of alignment between our intuitions and moral truth” ((Crummett & Swenson, 44) does not help the Theist avoid the conditionalization problem.

With that established, and I cannot give too much away here because this is the novelty in my paper, I argue that the only recourse the Theist has, especially given that they have no intention of disavowing Theism, is to abandon their belief in evolution. They would have to opt, instead, for a belief in creationism or a close variant like intelligent design. In either case, they would then be left asserting that a Creationary Moral Confirming Argument in Favor of Theism is the case. I explore the litany of issues that arises if the Theist abandons evolution and claims that God’s act of creating us makes moral realism the case. Again, the Theist ends up between a rock and a hard place. Theism simply has far less explanatory power because, unlike naturalism, it does not account for our propensity to make evaluative errors and our inclination toward moral deviancy. If God did, in fact, ensure that our moral intuitions align with transcendent moral truths, why do we commit errors when making moral decisions and why do we behave immorally? Naturalism can explain both of these problems, especially given the role of reason under the moral anti-realist paradigm. Evaluative errors are therefore, necessary to improve our evaluative judgments; reason is the engine by which we identify these errors and improve our moral outlook. The Theist would be back at square one, perhaps deploying the patently mythical idea of a Fall to account for the fact that humans are far from embodying the moral perfection God is said to have.

With Crummett and Swenson’s argument now thoroughly in Plantinga’s territory, I explore whether the anti-realist can solve the conditionalization problem. I suggest that evolution accounts for moral rudiments and then introduce the notion that cultural evolution accounts for reliable moral beliefs. Cooperation and altruism feature heavily into why I draw this conclusion. So P(Rm/E&MAR) (if evolution and moral anti-realism are true, the probability that our faculties generate evaluative truths) is high given that cooperation and/or altruism conditionalize on our belief that evolution and moral anti-realism are the case. We are left with P[(Rm/E&MAR) & (C v A)] or P[(Rm/E&MAR) & (C&A)]. In other words, if evolution and moral anti-realism are true, and cooperation and/or altruism conditionalize on our beliefs that evolution and moral anti-realism are the case, the probability that our faculties generate evaluative truths/reliable moral beliefs is high.

Ultimately, like Moon, I think my paper will provide fertile ground for further discussion on the conditionalization problem. The jury is still out on whether the naturalist’s belief that evolution and naturalism are true even requires a clause to conditionalize on that belief. In any case, much can be learned about EMDAs against naturalism from the vast literature discussing Plantinga’s EAAN. I think that my arguments go a long way in dispensing with EMDAs in the philosophy of religion that target naturalism. When one considers that the Theist cannot account for moral truths without unsubstantiated assertions about God, it is easy to see how they are on less secure ground than the naturalist. If the Theist is a Christian or a Muslim, then they ought to be reminded that their scriptures communicate things about their gods that are not befitting of moral perfection. If the choice is between naturalism and the belief that a god who made parents eat their children is, despite all evidence to the contrary, morally perfect, I will take my chances with naturalism!

4 comments

    • R.N. Carmona

      Not much to go on given just the abstract, but I have expressed issues with necessitism before, and will add here that occasionalism is incompatible with Christian Theism. There is also the issue of a timeless god occasionally interfering with a temporal domain. Naturalists are owed a causal principle that allows an immaterial being to influence material objects. Those are just first impressions from what I can gather from the abstract. I would need to read the paper.

      Ultimately, the reason I side with Nielsen, Keith Augustine, Parsons, and others with respect to moving on from these Christian-centric arguments for Theism is because, by simple induction and in light of Theism’s track record, if the vast number of arguments they came up with failed, it is reasonable to hold that current and future arguments will also fail; if Christian Theism is a bag of beans and all the beans thus far have been spoiled, do I have any obligation to check the rest? It really is telling that so many Christian Theists have pretty much abandoned the evidentialist post and are now retreating to fideist, existentialist, and modalist posts. The former two are easily addressed. Whether Kierkegaard or someone like David Bentley Hart, a sort of Christian existentialism or even humanism doesn’t do much to move their case in the right direction.

      In any case, I don’t know if I will get around to addressing this particular argument. I have my plate full with a number of other things at the moment. Time will tell. When and if I do though, I’ll be sure to circle back and let you know! If you have a link to the actual paper, please share and I’ll archive it for a later time.

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  1. Amit Singh

    I grant the argument is likely sound and one may consider it however is by no means rationally compelling and can be rejected without any theoretical significant cost. Secondly while you may accept it be aware many atheists/agnostics may reject it since it requires specific metaethical views which many atheists do not share

    Regarding RC1 P(Sm/E&S) is low (The probability that our faculties generate basic scientific beliefs, given that evolution and science are true, is low)

    Objection
    1)That is contingent on the definition of scientific beliefs

    a) If scientific beliefs=scientific realism

    scientific realism-: Science describes how the really is. This is an epistemic claim about what science does, it is independent of cognitive ability

    b) If scientific beliefs=proper scientific facts then
    The scientific method involves a prori intuitions namely:
    1) external world realism(a properly basic belief)
    2) The existence of a rational uniformal order (i.e. Laws of nature)
    3) Applicability of mathematics to describe said world.

    A theist can postulate 2) and 3) as a result of theological claims and can argue that both count as evidence for theism

    c)If scientific beliefs=empirical truths
    Then these are to be accepted a posteriori and are independent of cognitive beliefs developed through evolution

    c) If one takes an anti-realist approach to science (ie. science provides approximations) this view would imply that one cannot infer from observations to make metaphysical claims. Evolution is not a metaphysical claim, it is a historical claim. I would reject this however because this implies one adopt a highly skeptical epistemology

    So A theist is epistemically justified in ejecting premise 1) and can argue a) is a fatal objection
    Objections can be made to RC2 and RCC however I will not detail them here

    Additionally

    Moral anti-realism: The belief that no truths about morality exist is a separate view from moral skepticism : that is the ability to form true beliefs about morality.

    A theist can account for moral skepticism without appealing to a actual “Fall”
    One may reply that it is the role of a believer to think and discern moral truths
    One may respond that real morality is a means of God’s communication and it is difficult to discern this. There are many others

    Now wrt. moral anti-realism this a is a much stronger claim and can be defeated by arguments on the other side reductio ie. moral anti-realism entails it is reasonably justifiable to have a kill persons or a holocaust.

    Now if one affirms moral realism (ie. existence of moral truths) and moral skepticism as a non-theist. This forces one to take an atheistic Platonism about morality. Explanatorily the prior probability of this is low and this builds complexity to a naturalist thesis ( See Ockhams razor as a reason to reject this claim)

    Cooperation and altruism feature heavily into why I draw this conclusion
    This presumes utilitarianism.
    One can object to this explanation by being a virtue ethicist or a deontologist

    When one considers that the Theist cannot account for moral truths without unsubstantiated assertions about God. If u affirm moral truths then u take a moral Platonism which is less probable since it postulates more fundamental entities.

    the choice is between naturalism and the belief that a god who made parents eat their children is, despite all evidence to the contrary, morally perfect. Again presumes scriptural literalism which can be rejected

    IMO for a naturalist to run this argument u must accept both moral anti-realism(non existence of moral truths and moral skepticism

    Also contra constructivism if there are moral truths As A Famous Philosopher would say:
    WRONG IS WRONG Even if Everyone is Doing it and RIGHT IS RIGHT even if no one is doing it.
    Summarised

    Rejecting this entails moral anti-realism i.e. moral truths do not exist Now No Theist would accept anti-realism in this sense and additionally for many naturalists do not make the assumptions required for this argument.

    Conclusion a)
    Both theists and non-theists are epistemically justified in rejecting wholesale this argument

    Objections to humean constructivism:
    1)it cannot explain normativity without resorting to circular reasoning or presupposition
    See Enoch, David. 2009. “Can there be a Global, Interesting, Coherent Constructivism about Practical Reason?”
    See Shafer-Landau, Russ. 2003. Moral Realism: a Defense. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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    • R.N. Carmona

      Thank you for commenting. The argument is definitely valid, but I ultimately disagree that it’s sound. The unfortunate thing about academic philosophy is that editors force you to stay in the pocket, so my use of this analogue argument is by no means an endorsement of it. In fact, it is a parody of Crummett and Swenson’s EMDA. So if you were able to easily see weaknesses in the argument I presented, I am not surprised. I fully expect atheists/agnostics to reject the argument because of how closely it follows EMDAs.

      You are correct that the argument rests on the definition of scientific beliefs and that scientific realism would get a lot of attention. I myself would reject the argument; the purpose of my use for it was merely to show how Crummett and Swenson’s EMDA is a subsidiary to Plantinga’s EAAN. Plantinga’s EAAN targets the entire domain of true beliefs; EMDAs focus on the domain of true moral beliefs while an argument like mine would focus on the domain of true scientific beliefs.

      Going back to my comments about editors forcing you to stay in pocket, my focus on anti-realism is again tied to their paper. They misrepresent Sharon Street’s views, which don’t easily fall victim to your contentions. I do not think moral anti-realism entails “it is reasonable to kill persons or have a holocaust.” Anti-realism is NOT moral subjectivism or normative relativism. Street’s particular brand avoids such pitfalls. I’ll leave you to explore that; here’s a good place to start: Street, Sharon (2006). A Darwinian dilemma for realist theories of value. Philosophical Studies 127 (1):109-166.

      Were I not in the pocket, I would have actually offered a version of constructivism that falls on the side of moral realism, which despite its Kantian influence, is not at all Platonic and even still, not at all inconsistent with metaphysical naturalism.

      Lastly, while a comment about God allowing parents to eat their children rests on scriptural literalism, I can just as easily allude to all of the terrible things God, assuming he exists, has allowed to happen to children in the real world, from pedophile Priests to childhood leukemia to parental abuse and so on. I don’t think that’s as much a fatal objection as it simply invites the theist to take notice of the horrors children endure in our world, horrors that I submit would not be as ubiquitous and gratuitous if God existed. I digress.

      Now that you have taken issue with my analogue argument, you have good reason not to accept neither EMDAs nor the EAAN as they both make a number of dubious assumptions. I sidestep EMDAs in full because they all rely on moral anti-realism, along with subjectivism, relativism, and even utilitarian views. EMDAs do no harm to deontologists, virtue ethicists, and constructivists who are moral realists.

      As for the EAAN, the primary and necessary assumption of the argument is that evolution must result in faculties reliable enough to aide us in truth-seeking. That is just patently false; as you noted, evolution is historical and one historical fact that we can draw from it is that homo sapien has proven fit enough to survive for roughly 300,000 years, which implies that our faculties have been reliable enough to aide us with survival, reproduction, adaptation, and so on.

      The refinement and extension of our faculties, especially through the tools of science, has everything to do with the evolution of our civilization, i.e., cultural evolution. Our truth-seeking capacity need not reduce to our biological evolution and it doesn’t. A lot of what we know is drawn from scientific tools that enhance our faculties so to speak, e.g., instruments that allow us to hear frequencies in space or to see in infrared or ultraviolet, in addition to telescopes and microscopes. Plantinga’s EAAN, the proper predecessor of the EMDA I’m responding to, is simply not as sophisticated as theists make it out to be. Nor is it sound. It is rife with issues, some of which you can easily uncover given the issues you took with my analogue argument.

      Ultimately, that is not the argument I defend in my paper. Crummett has denied that his argument is in the vein of Plantinga’s or before his, C.S. Lewis’. I submit that claims he and Swenson made prove otherwise and that the argument is ultimately, unoriginal and unsound. Furthermore, this is my continued qualm with philosophy of religion. There are no new theistic arguments. They are all recycled or even revised versions of older, refuted arguments. Philosophy of religion needs to move on from theism, but that’s another discussion.

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