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.

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My answer:

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.

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSEkTdC_YUU

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.

Actually, Mathew, according to an article in Psychology Today, you can prove a negative. Here's a link to the article.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/believing-bull/201109/you-can-p...

How would I respond ? With a yawn and then say I can get a medical report confirming my cognitive faculties because I have private health insurance.

Quoting Wolfgang Pauli: "This isn't right, it isn't even wrong." There is so much wrong about your friend's assumptions.

>> 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?"

>> Urgh. Shoot the messenger fallacy: that one cannot trust cognitive faculties because of the source of those faculties were arrived at through a series of "lucky accidents." Moreover, evolution is not driven by lucky accidents. Adaptations to the environment either work, or they do not. That is not "accidental."

One might argue in turn to your putatively religious friend how he can determine his religious opinions are reliable, as they are also arrived at through the same sort of brain.

As for determining what is true or reliable or not, the scientific method does not require anything more than observation and experiment, repeatable and predictive. The nature of the scientific method is such that even a presumably unreliable mind (say a person mentally disordered) will arrive at the same conclusions when conducting the same observation or experiment as anyone else (the shoot the messenger fallacy again).

What is reliable is what works; what is real is what can be observed or measured. On the flip side, how does one determine that the writings of a holy book are reliable? What method is used for that, aside from inculcation and place of birth as a child, and dreams and wishful thinking and visions as an adult?

One does not need to be a scientist to apply the scientific method to a question (I'm not a scientist, just an erotic Romance editor and small-town politician).

You can turn the question back on your friend, asking how he knows his own thoughts on piety are reliable? Evidence can be tested, what test would one apply for religion to verify its truthfulness and predictive power?

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