Someone said this to me, "on what basis do you take your cognitive faculties to be reliable? As an atheist, your view of your cognitive faculties must be naturalistic - i.e., they're either a product of, or identical to, your brain. But, given that your brain was arrived at by an evolutionary series of lucky accidents (all driven by a process which did not have your brain or its function in mind), then on what basis do you take your faculties to be reliable?"
I've never had to answer something like this, and I have a few ideas as to how I might be able to respond but I was curious to see what others might say and maybe I can learn something new.
On the same basis by which scientific discoveries and principles find their acceptance: consistency of experience, commonality of experience, agreement and consensus. These parameters (possibly among others I have not thought of) allow me to at least suspect that my perceptions are consistent with reality and not the products of hallucination or self-delusion.
That's a snapshot answer which may not go into considerable detail, but gives a summary as to why I trust my senses and analytic faculties.
Both you and Loren Miller gave answers that were similar to what I was thinking. Interesting, I guess we are all on the same page then.
To be honest, it sounds as though this someone wasn't engaging in anything other than contemplative masturbation.
For me this thought experiment doesn't really go beyond the mischaracterization that evolution is a series of repetitious happy accidents, because we know of course that that is simply not the case. I wouldn't say that evolution is a guiding process by any means, but "lucky" or "accident" implies that evolution does not reward favourable characteristics which for humans, as Loren correctly identified, includes an astounding inductive mind with built in social mechanisms that allow us to carefully examine the reliability of our cognition.
Should a theist deny that our cognitive reliability is not governed by societal underpinnings, and instead argue that some sort of God provides it, they must concede that for millennia now, their saviour has intentionally and with great malice of forethought, caused people to believe in false gods, abandoning them to eternal damnation. I think this is a precarious position for the theist, because it implies that either:
i.) God is a fucking dick or
ii.) God does NOT govern the way we think
I'd ask the theist which one seemed more likely, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't give me a straight answer...
I agree, and you're right on with the evolution thing. When she said our minds came about be series of "lucky accidents" I just about slammed my head on my keyboard. I wanted to literate on it with her, but couldn't find the words to do so.
How do you think you'd reply to this? The person actually made a video addressing the issue. I see there point, but it just seems like a no win really. Just end going round and round.
Hmm... well, I watched his video, followed by what you had made to his original comment. As a matter of opinion, I think he did a better job of pleading his case in the video than in his comment, as he brings up some new and intriguing concepts.
The most interesting point in the video for me is where he - I think justifiably - states that using your cognition to confirm your cognition may in fact be circular reasoning (ie I can trust my cognition, because my cognition determined so, and I trust it). I wish he would have explored his predictions on this a little more, but all in all, he's enjoyable to listen to and presents his ideas well.
His earlier argument seemed to challenge whether we can know that our decisions are fundamentally "correct" and/or reasonable, the idea of social structure and evolution of course, being antithetical to that point. BUT - if I'm correct in gathering that I had it wrong the first time, and that what he's asking in this video is how we could conclude that the very nature of our epistemological experience is even real, well... that's a little trickier. Ultimately this conversation that we're having seems to be somewhat counterintuitive to the idea that neither you or I are infact "real", or that we're living out some sort of analog, etc. Then again, some might say that the ability to question reality was preprogrammed in us, or something... Descartes said some valuable things, and many other outdated things.
I'd like to address his definition of faith, because I don't agree with it, but I don't think I agree with yours completely either, at a guess. You seemed to be implying that religion is the truest definition of faith, but I think his explanation of faith as a belief for which we have no reason is mainly correct. Now, I don't think I'm satisfied with that either, because theists the world over will claim they have sufficient reason to believe - and in many cases be "sure" - that their god exists, and yet we still classify those beliefs as faith supported ones. Ergo, I think the definition of faith that he provides must be propped up with the summation that faith is believing something for which you do not have a LOGICAL reason to believe, a change which seems to confound his inference that trusting our cognitive reliability is only on faith.
I would surmise that he would then respond that we've started back at square one (like you predicted), but between 2 competing hypotheses, I'll stick with the one that makes the fewest assumptions and be happy to do so. If his mission is to bring to question whether we can trust our cognition at all, then insert a god hypothesis, where does that leave him?
In think that in essence, what the theist says is that we can rely on our cognitive faculties, because they are designed and created by "God" somehow, and "God" is perfect and can do whatever "he" wants. On the other hand, says the theist, if our cognitive faculties are the result of naturalistic evolution, which has no planned design or intent in the way that it operates, then how can they be relied upon, (surely they can't)?
Loren Miller's answer is a good one, and what it boils down to is that the mind, (animal as well as human), has evolved to interpret the world so that we can better survive. On the whole, that means that our cognitive faculties are reasonably reliable, but not perfect. Living things with brains need to know about the world around them, so that it can be reacted to in effective ways. The brains of some living things do not match up to that of the human being, (and some maybe do - eg. dolphins). I would expect that as evolution has proceeded, some creatures have evolved more advanced brains with higher levels of cognition and analytical ability, and that these qualities would have improved with successive generations.
Our store of naturalistic knowledge is advanced by science, a sphere of inquiry which not only discovers how our minds can be faulty, but which also builds into its methodologies, procedures designed to ensure that the limitations of our cognitive abilities are taken account of, and the errors which might be introduced, are thus kept to a minimum.
On the other hand, if our cognitive faculties are reliable, and that reliability is down to "God", why then do we have atheists? If "God" got it right in designing our brains, and "God" got it right in the ensuing cognitive abilities of human beings, why can we not all 'see' that the answer to everything is "God"?
Definitely a great response. Thank you.
At the risk of tooting my own horn, something related to pure practicality: if our perception did NOT match reality, how well could we survive? Answer: Not Very Well!
In my personal opinion this is what I would reply to such an inquiry:
Evolution through natural selection, though unguided, is miserly. It keeps that which is beneficial to survival, and discards, through eventual extinction, that which is detrimental to survival. Evolution is a slow process which is partly driven by how much stability exists in an environment, and though unguided, it is a process of gradual improvement. Our brains have not been exempted from evolution through natural selection, and over the thousands of millennia the human brain has arrived to the state of unrivaled complexity it now has. The goal (so to speak) was our survival. And if human beings could not rely on their cognitive faculties we would already be extinct. It is our cognitive faculties that has lead us to our present state of technology. It lead to the discovery of fire making, to the wheel, and everything else that has contributed to our survival. If one cannot trust their own cognitive faculties then one should not even leave their house. They might get hit by a car while crossing the street even after having looked both ways and not seeing any oncoming traffic.
While the arguments you all presented are interesting, no doubt. They still don't suffice. Simply because you used your cognition to tell whether or not cognition is accurate. This is the problem, and while it's kind of a silly game to play, it's still an issue and one that I lack an answer for. This may just be one of those things where there is no answer.
That's essentially what I think about it - like I said above, you can apply Occam's razor, but that's about the extent to which you can argue against what he's saying. It's like someone claiming you can't disprove God (you simply cannot), the teapot, the purple unicorn, or the flying spaghetti monster, but that doesn't mean it's a strong argument, and anything that can't be falsified generally isn't worth talking about in the first place. I'll be spending some time over the rest of the weekend thinking about this, though.
P.S. I liked your youtube video and intend on checking out the others!