Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On a Clear Day I can See Bulgaria

One of my guilty pleasures is reading the blog Darwinian Conservatism by Larry Arnhart. Recently he put up an interesting post on belief in God entitled Does Believing in God Arise from Our Evolved Theory of Mind?. It's a pretty good summary of the present state of thinking about the evolutionary origins of religious belief. By way of introduction, Arnhart mentions Alvin Platinga's assessment of the various arguments for the existence of God(s).
In God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God (published in 1967 and 1990), Alvin Plantinga offered assessments of the various arguments for believing in God. He concluded that the best argument was based on the analogy between believing in other human minds and believing in the Divine Mind. Although we have direct access to our own minds through subjective experience, we have no direct evidence for other human minds. But except for the radical solipsist, we regard belief in other human minds as a reasonable inference from our experience with other human beings. Similarly, we might conclude that although we have no direct, observational evidence for God's existence, we can reasonably infer the existence of a Divine Mind as a more perfect version of our human mind. Plantinga concluded: "if my belief in other minds is rational, so is my belief in God. But obviously the former is rational; so, therefore, is the latter."

I've never seen the sense in that argument. The original version I read was presented in a confusing manner that may have sounded profund to the author but, I think, really made it look desperate. A -- ahem -- Hail Mary play.

I'm just a dumb 'ol Engineer and don't pretend to understand all the subtleties of philosophy. With that in mind I present my argument for the existence of other minds.
  1. I have direct experience of my own mind.
  2. I formulate a theory of how a sapient mind operates.
  3. I have evidence other entities exist.
  4. I observe other entities.
  5. I see they act in a manner consistent with my theory.
  6. From this I can infer that these other entities have sapient minds too.

Obviously, the linear argument above is simplified for illustration Feedback is a part to the scientific method as I currently understand it so one step may trigger a reevaluation of a previous one. For example my observations of other entities may cause me to alter my theory of sapient minds. That's how science works in the real world.

The parallel argument substituting God -- She, He or It -- goes like this.
  1. I have direct experience of my own mind.
  2. I formulate a theory of how a sapient mind operates.
  3. I have evidence She/He/It exists.
  4. I observe She/He/It.
  5. I see She/He/It acts in a manner consistent with my theory.
  6. From this I can infer that She/He/It has a sapient mind too.

Plantinga's problem is he pretends the same process I use to discern the existence of other sapient minds will work with the Divine Mind of She/He/It. Clearly it does not. Then he works backwards from a failed argument to argue that believing that She/He/It exists is rational.

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