… or indeed, irrational? Last week I read a very interesting interview with the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga called Is Atheism Irrational? I’d recommend reading it – particularly the last section at the end, which I found fascinating.
It’s to do with the belief in naturalism or materialism – i.e. the belief that the natural world is all there is. Nothing exists apart from the natural world, which obviously rules out God or supernatural beings etc.
One of the points that Plantinga makes is based on viewing our brains as purely the products of naturalistic evolution.
The example that he uses is his belief that there is a beer in the fridge. If naturalistic evolution is true, all a belief is is a set of neurophysiological properties, irrespective of whatever the content of that belief actually is. So, the fact that he goes to the fridge to get the beer could have been caused by any ‘belief’ with those same physiological properties. If evolution is true, our ‘beliefs’ don’t have to correspond to the real world as long as they actually work and help us to survive.
He goes on to say:
Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs. Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.
I find that fascinating. You should read the whole interview for more though – it’s not very long.
On a related note, the other thing which I find interesting about a purely naturalist worldview is that it leads “naturally” (ha ha ha) to something called causal closure. Because nature is all there is, everything which happens has to have had a natural cause. In other words – the universe proceeds pretty much like clockwork, including the things that you and I do. The idea is, if you had godlike knowledge of all the physical forces and atoms and so on – you could predict exactly what would happen throughout the universe at any given time. Our brains are not outside of nature; they are physical objects too – subject to the same laws of nature as the rest of the universe. Why should they be any different?
This has some interesting consequences:
- As Plantinga said – can we really call any belief ‘rational’ or not, given that it’s merely a product of physical processes which, if we could understand and map completely, we could predict?
- It destroys the idea of individual / personal agents. I may think I’m an individual, but actually I’m only the process of forces beyond my control – the universe simply working out its laws of physics. Someone I know who had a degree in philosophy told me that in philosophy these days it’s becoming popular to talk about everything with an impersonal agency.
It seems interesting to me that what seems to be happening in philosophy these days is so far divorced from the thinking of many of the most vocal atheists of the day. I wonder if there is some cognitive dissonance going on – these are not trivial objections but I don’t think you would hear the likes of Dawkins giving them time of day. Their own personal experience seems to trump the logical consequence of the worldview they advocate.
I’ve said many times here before, the Christian worldview is the only one which makes any kind of coherent sense of the world as we experience it.