Tag Archives: epistemology

Alvin Plantinga on properly basic beliefs

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The McGurk effect and what it tells us about our noetic faculties

Here is an excellent example of the McGurk effect:

My interpretation of this effect is based on the physics of both sound and light waves. Based on Shannon’s theorum, light carries more information than sound so it makes sense that our minds would, when presented with conflicting information. So it is understandable why many people operate on the principle of “seeing is believing”. However the McGurk effect should serve as a warning to us that when faced with problems of interpreting information, what we are seeing may be masking the truth of what we are perceiving.

A different kind of Christianity

Brian McLaren, a rockstar pastor in California, describes “A New Kind of Christianity”. However when he’s done deconstructing every central tenet of Christinaity as defined by Scripture, its quite clear that what he’s really offering is something completely different he’s calling Christianity.

A journey to flatland

It appears that Rob holds what Francis Schaeffer described as a two story model of knowing where in the upper story we have faith (what Bell calls “3D objects”) and the lower story which contains science, reason and all that jazz. So how about it? Is it possible for a person living in flatland to know, with any degree of certainty, anything about 3D land? Are we forced to make a blind “leap of faith” into the upper story?

Copernicus described his idea with mathematical models based on a Christian worldview which taught him that metaphysical constructs like mathematics comes from the same source the physical world. So the analogy Bell uses is not only scientifically and philosophically flawed, it is also epistemologically and apologetically deficient.

Its possible for the two worlds to coexist without putting one above the other. Its possible for someone living in flatland to accurately describe something in 3d land.

It just takes some effort.

Rob Bell’s uncertainty

“We are speculating after you die” that seems to leave no room for assurance of salvation. It robs the gospel of its very essence.

Hope.

But then later he said “what interests me is what matters, what interests me is what’s true”. Wait, what? Are we serious about our search for knowledge or aren’t we? James would like to know

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. -James 1:5-8

In the end I believe this ordeals has only served to highlight what a poor teacher Rob Bell is and has always been. And all the people who praise him for not “spoon feeding” them propositional truths gleaned from careful study are simply idiots.

What I’d like to see Rob Bell address in all of this is his underlying epistemology. Does he hold to an epistemology which has the capacity to provide him and others with certain knowledge of objective truths about reality or does he hold to something that rejects objective truths altogether like his friend Brian McLaren.

Man is made for community

Ayn Rand is famous for arguing for a political stance wherein men were seen as sovereign beings. While this view has merits, one of its pitfalls comes when discussing man’s relationship to other men. It seems that any appeal to community is lampooned by her and her followers as “collectivist”. Rand centered her philosophy in the rationality of the mind. However, I believe that it is precisely the mind where we find the strongest reason we have to believe that man is made for community.

When I pressed one of Rand’s followers what reason we have for believing the mind to be an accurate source of true beliefs, I was told:

The reason I trust my mind is due to a long road of trail and error. Started as a baby with simple concept formation.

The process of trial and error is only valid once you have information and a mechanism for evaluating truth from falsehoods. Babies rely on external agents to provide them with information AND the ability to sort out truths from falsehoods.

For example, I jokingly told my kids that landsharks would get them if they didn’t stay in bed a while back. My daughter firmly denied their existence based on prior argumentation of there being no such thing as monsters. My son, however, has been convinced they exist. Both of them have also subsequently been exposed to “evidence” for landsharks in the form of a shark ride at a local park and a youtube clip from SNL (its pretty funny too). Now, how are they supposed to find out, without me or some other external agent telling them, that landsharks are, in fact, not real?

I would agree that a man’s mind is essential to his survival. But the mind alone does not produce information. Like logic, all the mind can do is process what is already in it.

If you maintain that the mind is merely a physical chunk of meat I would wager that your burden of explaining how true beliefs are formed even more difficult since, under such a view, the mind would merely be a slave to the stimuli in the environment around it. This would also further call into question the mind’s design (or lack thereof) of producing true beliefs for it’s owner.

In opposition to this, I would maintain that true beliefs require the intervention of intelligent agents external to ourselves. This condition indicates that man is not complete in and of himself but rather is dependent on others, on the community.

No man is complete in himself, and children are a prime example of this fact.

Catch 22: The evolutionary explanation of religion

No matter where you go in the world you are confronted with the fact that mankind is a deeply religious creature.

The religious behaviour may be a misfiring, an unfortunate by-product of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful. On this view, the propensity that was naturally selected in our ancestors was not religion per se; it had some other benefit, and it only incidentally manifests itself as religious behaviour.

-Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion pg 174

This is a particularly difficult problem for materialists like Mr Dawkins to deal with since the historical evidence speaks strongly against the notion that everyone is borne as an atheist, or blank slate per John Locke.

To answer this, many evolutionists like to suppose that notions of religion arose out of the overriding need for survival.

However this presents a problem for the evolutionist. If it is true that religion is merely a survival mechanism, then it demonstrates the fact that the primary goal is not the production of true beliefs. If it is false, that religion is merely a survival mechanism, then we cannot dismiss it as merely a delusion.

Implications of a pattern matching mind

I recently wrote a post on the pattern matching ability of the human mind, here I want to explore the implications of that pattern-matching ability a bit more.

My contention with the mind being a pattern matching machine is that in order to match for patterns, we must first be aware of a pattern to match for in the first place. So it is incumbent on every worldview, theist and atheist alike, to come up with a reasonable explanation for why this is.

According to Darwinism, natural selection operates according to random mutations. Now I realize that modern naturalistic apologists like to object and say that its not random but rather directed by forces of some kind or another. But that only pushes the problem back one step (where did these forces come from and why do they bear the marks of intelligence?) and it still fails to demonstrate why men in particular have an innate desire to match for metaphysical realities like the existence of moral patterns.

My observation above is made against the backdrop of the argument for God based on consciousness (more info here and here).

I’m not sure if you ever answered my question about the mind earlier, but the question about whether we are merely a collection of molecules in motion, animated for a brief time and then transferred to some other part of the universe, has a significant bearing on how we live our lives, how we view the world, and how we interact with others.

So we have at least two good reasons to believe in the existence of an intelligent designer, who at this point we haven’t said much about. As for who that intelligent agent is, we would need something more than the general characteristics we are able to discover from their handiwork (an agent’s creation can’t, by definition, be on par with itself). We would need special revelation if we were to know who that designer is. That means that

  1. the agent would have to want to be known and
  2. that the agent desires some sort of relationship with us since communication implies a relationship of some sort

Now as for sources of revelation, not all are created equally or with the same intents and purposes in mind. Like the transmission of objective truth claims regarding reality. In Hinduism, what we observe around is us known as Maya, or merely an illusion. How we would know that to be the case is unclear. Actually, because of such a view of reality Hindus are wholly unconcerned with whether the propositional statements made by their texts actually conform with reality (ie are true) or not. After all, if its all an illusion, why bother with the particulars of such an illusion.

Likewise, the central thrust of Buddhism is towards nothingness. Its a lot like atheism in that regard. And since nothing is the universal aim of life, it makes little sense to consider the particulars.

Contrasted to all of this is monotheistic belief in a personal God where in an intelligent agent designed the universe and us, has endowed us with epistemic resources that are well suited for the environment in which we find ourselves, and who encourages us to know

  1. Him
  2. Ourselves
  3. The environment

Its out of this worldview that science emerged, and its out of this worldview we’ve made much progress by way of understanding our surroundings.

Where we begin our epistemic journey of discovery of the world around us matters. It matters whether we will even begin the journey in the first place. And it matters whether we can trust the data our epistemic resources like our mind and senses, provide us.

So, the questions for us to consider are:

  1. What is the mind?
  2. How did it come about?
  3. How do we know we can trust it?

Pattern matching and the human mind

The human mind is a pattern-matching machine. I have a habit of pattern matching license plates as I drive. Since I work in the field of IT, I’ve developed quite a list of acronyms that I recognize and can match for. My license place, for example, contains the letters AJX, which I expand to AJAX.

This behavior, I believe, gives us great insight into how the mind works. First of all, the mind is wired to try and make sense out of the environment in which it finds itself. It is almost as if we expect the world around us to make sense.

Second, our pattern matching abilities are commensurate with the patterns we know about beforehand. One of the strongest patterns all humans excel at recognizing is that of the human face. We are so good at matching it that we often come up with false-positive matches where we see “faces” where none really exist.

Third, our pattern matching is surprisingly fluid. Our minds, often unconsciously, will go to great lengths to match a pattern even if the data we are given isn’t an exact match for an existing pattern. That is what happens when I expand my co-worker’s license plate to read ‘bible’ even though the actual letters are BLE.

Now one could believe, I suppose, that this powerful pattern matching ability just magically arose through the combination of random mutation and the liberal application of time (though not infinite time). However I would argue that our cognitive systems, our mental faculties, themselves bear the markings of design. And because of that I believe that the human mind is among the most powerful evidence that exists for an intelligent designer being at the heart of the world we find ourselves in.

In fact, we might call this entity the intelligence designer.

Alvin Plantinga: Science & Religion – Where the Conflict Really Lies

[HT Case for Christianity]