Can You Trust Your Brain?


February 1, 2013 by mattfradd

Can you trust your brain when it comes to knowing truth?

Can you trust your brain when it comes to knowing truth?

I’ve just finished a magazine article on the supposed conflict between evolution, God and the creation account of Genesis, which will be appearing in Catholic Answers Magazine (March/April edition).

In the article I reference a book I’m currently reading, called, “Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism by Alvin Plantinga.

One of the points made by Planinga is that If you and I were the product of purely random processes—that is, unguided by God—then we have good reason to doubt our mental faculties when it comes to knowing the truth.

Plantinga explains:

“There is deep and serious conflict between naturalism and science. Taking naturalism to include materialism with respect to human beings, I argue that it is improbable, given naturalism and evolution, that our cognitive faculties are reliable.

It is improbable that they provide us with a suitable preponderance of true belief over false. But then a naturalist who accepts current evolutionary theory has a defeater for the proposition that our faculties are reliable.

Furthermore, if she has a defeater for the proposition that her cognitive faculties are reliable, she has a defeater for any belief she takes to be produced by her faculties. But of course all of her beliefs have been produced by her faculties—including, naturally enough, her belief in naturalism and evolution.

That belief, therefore—the conjunction of naturalism and evolution—is one that she can’t rationally accept. Hence naturalism and evolution are in serious conflict: One can’t rationally accept them both. And hence, as I said above, there is a science/religion conflict (maybe a science/quasi-religion conflict) to be sure, but it is between science and naturalism, not science and theistic belief”

William Lane Craig explains Plantinga’s view in this short vid:

The Darwin quote that Craig alludes to is the following:

“With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Letter 13230, to William Graham, July 3, 1881). 

So, what do you think? Is Plantinga right? Or just clever and wrong?

3 thoughts on “Can You Trust Your Brain?

  1. ajb says:

    One can start to see how cognitive mechanisms that help in survival correlate with mechanisms that are accurate (truthful) by considering a robot that has to maneuver over a landscape. If the map the robot has is random or in some way largely inaccurate, it is easy to see how the robot will not navigate near optimally. Similarly, an animal that has to navigate a landscape (to find food, and so on) will probably have a fairly accurate way to map that landscape, relative to the needs of that animal.

  2. ArchiesBoy says:

    A short answer: No, the brain cannot be trusted to know the “truth” (whatever that is). because it, along with the rest of the body was, first and foremost, designed simply to survive the conditions of the planet. It was not primarily designed for music, art, mathematics, science or religion. The human bodymind, like those of every living creature on this earth has limited capacity. The “whole truth” is beyond us for the same reasons that a cat will never learn to read. It simply doesn’t have what it takes.

  3. ArchiesBoy says:

    And I can’t help but respond to the question, “Can atheists trust what they’re thinking?” No, but they can trust what they’re thinking — if they believe in scientific proofs — much more than the religious believer who accepts dogma on blind faith.

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