Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mutually Exclusive

Alvin Plantinga lays out his famous and important argument that, contrary to what most people would think, naturalism (the belief that nature is all there is) is actually incompatible with evolution. Unfortunately, the argument may be a little hard to follow for philosophical novices, so here's a quick and doubtless inadequate summary:

If our cognitive faculties (our reason) are the product of evolution then they have arisen because they confer fitness upon us in the struggle for survival.

However, survival advantage is irrelevant to the pursuit of truth. To see this, imagine there's a genetic propensity in some people to believe that one's reward in the afterlife is directly proportional to the number of offspring one has. Such a belief would have very high selection value since those who held the belief would tend to produce more offspring than those who didn't, but the belief has nothing to do with the truth. Thus our cognitive faculties would over time tend to produce beliefs which promote survival but which have only a coincidental relation to the truth.

Thus we would have no good reason, given the evolution of our cognitive faculties, to think any of the beliefs produced by those faculties, particularly our metaphysical beliefs, to be true. But naturalism is a metaphysical belief produced by our cognitive faculties. Therefore, if evolution is true we have no good reason to believe that naturalism is true. They're mutually exclusive.

Indeed, Plantinga argues that the probability of naturalism being true is either low or unknowable (inscrutable) and therefore we lack epistemic justification for believing it.

Those intrepid enough to wade through the entire argument will find it, and a criticism of it, at the link.



Is intelligence a function of one's environment or of the genes one has inherited from one's ancestors? Thomas Sowell weighs in on the debate to tell us that there's research out there that suggests an answer may be forthcoming to this traditionally uncrackable nut.


Attack on Iran Imminent

This story carried by DEBKAfile may have serious implications for the near future in Iran:

The Khorramshar News Agency, which is published by the ethnic Arab underground of Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan, reported early Oct. 1 that the entire staff of Russian nuclear engineers and experts employed in building the nuclear reactor at Bushehr had abruptly packed their bags Friday, Sept. 28, and flew back to Russia. The agency's one-liner offers no source or explanation. DEBKAfile have obtained no corroboration of its report from any other source.

The story appears to have originated with the ethnic Arabs who live near the reactor or who come in contact with its Russian staff. If true, DEBKAfile can offer three hypothetical scenarios to account for the Russians' precipitate departure:

1. Another crisis has cropped up in the patchy Russian-Iranian dealings over the Bushehr reactor. This is unlikely because Russian president Vladimar Putin is due for a high-profile visit to Tehran on Oct. 16, when he plans to sign a series of nuclear accords with the Islamic Republic. Furthermore, Moscow, like Beijing, stands foursquare behind Iran's efforts to delay harsher sanctions for its continued uranium enrichment. Only this week, the two powers gained Iran two to three months' grace by forcing a delay in the UN Security Council session that was to have approved a third round of sanctions.

2. Moscow or Tehran has been tipped off that a US or Israeli attack is imminent on the Bushehr plant and Iran's other nuclear installations and acted to whip Russian personnel out of harm's way.

3. Moscow has learned that an Iranian pre-emptive attack is imminent against American targets in Iraq and the Persian Gulf and/or Israel.

If the story is true the most likely explanation is number two. The second most likely is number three although I don't see it as being very likely at all. In any case, either two or three suggest that an attack on Iran is imminent.