A reductio for the EAAN

There are a lot of rebuttals to the EAAN. I mean a lot. Surprisingly, I think the most obvious one hasn’t been mentioned. My idea is that if the some of the reasoning behind the EAAN is right then God has a defeater for the reliability of his cognitive faculties. If this is right, the theist should take this as a reductio of the EAAN.

The idea that Plantinga’s view is incompatible with God’s having knowledge is familiar when it comes to his proper function epistemology. This objection fall under a family of objections labeled the ‘swampman’ objection. On Plantinga’s proper function epistemology, you can’t have warrant—the thing that connects true belief to knowledge—unless the belief “is produced by properly functioning faculties in an appropriate environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth.” So on Plantinga’s own criteria God can’t have warrant. Of course, Plantinga is aware of this reply to which he replies in a footnote:

Of course, God’s knowledge is significantly different from human knowledge: God has not been designed and does not have a design plan (in the sense of that term in which it applies to human beings). When applied to both God and human beings, such terms as ‘design plan’, ‘proper function’, and ‘knowledge’, as Aquinas pointed out, apply analogously rather than univocally. (1993, 236)

I think one could reply, “Ok, I may not have knowledge without God but I can have knowledge analogously just like God.”

So I think Plantinga’s criteria for warrant in his proper function epistemology entails that God can’t have knowledge, but this is not the focus of this post. I bring it up because I think something similar happens in his EAAN: If we follow the reasoning behind the EAAN, God has a defeater for the reliability of his cognitive faculties. First let’s briefly state the EAAN:

(1) P(R|N&E) is low.
(2) Anyone who accepts (believes) N&E and sees that P(R|N&E) is low has a defeater for R.
(3) Anyone who has a defeater for R has a defeater for any other belief she thinks she has, including N&E itself.
(4) If one who accepts N&E thereby acquires a defeater for N&E, N&E is self-defeating and can’t rationally be accepted. Conclusion: N&E can’t rationally be accepted.

“R” is the proposition that our cognitive faculties are reliable, “N” is naturalism, and “E” is the proposition that we and our cognitive faculties have come to be in the way proposed by the contemporary scientific theory of evolution.

Plantinga says that “Naturalism is the idea that there is no such person as God or anything like him.” There is something that I think is in the vicinity of N—call it N*.

  • N*: There is no such person who designs my cognitive faculties to properly function in an appropriate environment and aimed at truth.

N* may even be the primary motivator for why Plantinga thinks P(R|N&E) is low, since N and N* often go hand in hand. I think it’s plausible to say that P(R|N) ≈ P(R|N*). It’s hard to see how P(R|N*) could be higher than P(R|N). Does Plantinga think that P(R|N) is low? Plantinga says:

The first premise … is … that our cognitive faculties would not be reliable if both naturalism and evolution (or perhaps just naturalism) were true. (2011, 314)

Plantinga says “perhaps” just P(R|N) without the E is low. I’m not sure if by “perhaps” he means he’s agnostic or if he’s hinting at a second argument that only relies only on P(R|N). I think if we use Plantinga’s reasoning elsewhere we should conclude that P(R|N) is low. Consider what Plantinga says in regards to materialism:

So shouldn’t we suppose that the proposition in question has a probability of roughly .5? Shouldn’t we estimate its probability, on the condition in question, as in the neighborhood of .5? That would be the sensible course. Neither seems more probable than the other; hence we should estimate the probability of its being true as .5. … am I not relying upon the notorious Principle of Indifference? And hasn’t that principle been discredited? Not really. … the fact is we project properties all the time, and do so perfectly sensibly. And the fact is we also regularly employ a principle of indifference in ordinary reasoning, and do so quite properly. … Given that the probability, for any belief on the part of these creatures, is about .5, what is the probability that their cognitive faculties are reliable? Well, what proportion of my beliefs must be true, if my faculties are reliable? The answer will have to be vague; perhaps a modest requirement would be that a reliable cognitive faculty must deliver at least 3 times as many true beliefs as false: the proportion of true beliefs in its output is at least three-quarters. If so, then the probability that their faculties produce the preponderance of true beliefs over false required by reliability is very small indeed. (2011,331)

According to the principle of indifference, unless we have reason to suspect otherwise, we apply an equal probability among the possibilities; e.g., we’d assign .5 probability to the truth of any particular belief (given N). So let us follow Plantinga and apply a principle of indifference here, what follows is that P(R|N) is low. We could argue that P(R|N*) is also low by saying P(R|N) ≈ P(R|N*), or we could apply a principle of indifference instead. So we get the result that gives God a defeater for R, since God believes N* and P(R|N*) is low.

Is there a way out for God? Can he conditionalize on some X such that P(R|N*&X) is high? What are we allowed to use for X? This is what Plantinga calls the conditionalization problem. Can God conditionalize on his omniscience? I think not, since Plantinga bars the naturalist from conditionalizing on R itself, and the same criticism can be applied to omniscience:

Is there a belief X the naturalist might have such that P(R/N&E&X) is not low? Well, it certainly looks as if there are: what about R itself? That’s presumably something the naturalist believes. P(R/N&E&R) is certainly not low; it’s 1. But of course R itself isn’t a proper candidate for being a defeater-deflector here. If a belief A could itself be a defeater-deflector for a putative defeater of A, no belief could ever be defeated. (2011,347)

In any case, Richard Otte points out that it would beg the question to conditionalize on R (and similarly omniscience). Can God conditionalize on the proposition that he created some amazing things like the universe? If so he could stave off defeat, since it seems anyone able to create a complex universe would have a high R. But now the naturalist can similarly conditionalize on a proposition concerning his achievements and stave off defeat. I don’t think Plantinga would think that either of these propositions are acceptable candidates for conditionalization. Consider what he says concerning drug XX:

I take a good dose of XX, which induces … global cognitive unreliability. I believe that 95 percent of those in this condition are no longer reliable; I also believe that 5 percent of the population has the blocking gene; but I have no belief as to whether I myself have that gene. I then have a defeater, so I say, for R. Now suppose I come to believe that my physician has telephoned me and told me that I am among the lucky 5 percent whose reliability is unimpaired by ingesting XX. Do I now have a defeater-defeater? Or do I still have a defeater for R? … there is a high probability that my believing my doctor has told me the good news is itself a product of unreliable cognitive functioning. … there is only a slim chance that my beliefs are for the most part true. (2002,227-228)

Since the reliability of the physicians phone call is called into question by his prior taking of XX, that phone call can’t serve as a defeater-defeater. Similarly, propositions concerning God’s or our achievements are called into question by N*. One might worry that N* is not a legitimate proposition to conditionalize upon. Consider what Plantinga says can serve as defeaters for R:

If a principle is wanted, I’d suggest starting with something pretty limited, something about beliefs specifying the origin and provenance of cognitive faculties. (2002,240)

N* seems to qualify, since it’s saying something about the origin, even if it’s in the negative sense. Or maybe God can conditionalize on that proposition that he has no source. It seems whatever God can conditionalize upon can’t be drastically different than N*. A way out is to say that God can’t conditionalize upon anything, but that seems implausible and would require argumentation. So it seems, if we follow Plantinga’s reasoning, P(R|N*) is low and God has a defeater for R and there is no X that he can use to get out of defeat. Think about the phone call from the drug XX example. That rules out a lot of things you can use for X; in fact, I don’t think we can conditionalize on anything but the origin (or lack thereof) of the cognitive faculties without violating Plantinga’s strictures.  Theists should take this as a reductio of the EAAN. This concludes the meat of the post, but I want to end with two dangling thoughts.

First, I also wonder if the naturalist who accepts naturalism independently of evolution (e.g. Hume) can even conditionalize on E, for E would be subject to defeat by N just like the phone call was subject to defeat by drug XX. This means that that naturalist can only consider P(R|N).

Second, here’s a potential reductio concerning the XX drug example. The point of that example was to show you that once your R is defeated there is no way to recover because any reasoning you use will also be subject to that same defeat. The kind of defeat that drug XX gives is global defeat, and not simply defeat of a single perceptual faculty. The problem is that we have global defeat or R all the time when we dream, and yet we think we can recover once we’re awake. When we dream our perceptual, memorial, and logical/mathematical abilities are very unreliable. Dreaming is very similar taking drug XX. One difference is it’s not clear whether drug XX is stipulated to be last permanently or to only last a few hours, and we know dreaming is not permanent. I can envision the same argument being run even if the XX example was stipulated to last only a few hours, for how do we know the hours are up if that is also subject to defeat? One might suggest that non-propositional experience can be used to recover from defeat. When we’re awake, our experience is much clearer than the foggy dream state. Still, I wonder, why that non-propositional experience wouldn’t also be subject to defeat.

Beilby, James K., ed. Naturalism Defeated?: Essays on Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Cornell University Press, 2002.
Plantinga, Alvin. Warrant and proper function. Oxford University Press, 1993.
Plantinga, Alvin. Where the conflict really lies: Science, religion, and naturalism. OUP USA, 2011.

This entry was posted in Philosophy of Religion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A reductio for the EAAN

  1. joeofallppl says:

    Always love your posts, HJ. Glad this insight specifically has now been written up, too.

  2. Why exactly does it beg the question to conditionalize on omniscience?

    Is it because It’s because Omniscience → R, and so it’s the same thing as conditionalizing on R, which Plantinga says the naturalist can’t do?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s