Reason and the First Person -- sauces, ganders and geese

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the first for chapter 18, can be found here.]

[This entry continues chapter 18, "Atheism and the Justification of Non-Justification Ability". It also continues the fictional dialogue started in chp 17.]

(Picking up from the end of the previous part...)

Reed (the theist): And this automatic, non-rational rearrangement toward better efficiency could happen to either of us.

Chase (the atheist): ... Well... yes. In principle.

R: Including the possibility that your "idea" (for want of a better word) about atheism might be rearranged to a "belief" (for want of a better word) in God.

C: ...Maybe. I suppose I have to agree that's possible. But I'm confidently willing to take that chance.

R: No, you aren't.

C: Excuse me?

R: No, I won't. We're just automatically reacting here, according to this new proposal of yours. You're not "willing to take that chance"; that's only a metaphorical description you slipped into by accident, and not a very efficient one in this case, under these circumstances. What actually happened (if your theory is true) was that the physical reactions and counterreactions which corresponded to your perception of an argument that ends up with accepting the existence of God, induced a purely non-rational revulsion in you, resulting in another set of reactions and counterreactions which would not lead you "mentally" (for want of a better word) down the "path" of theism--the path that induced a merely non-rational revulsion in you, which you then merely reflexively gagged on. Whether this alternate "idea" of yours is sufficiently efficient to prevent that revulsion (and so that gagging) again, and whether that revulsion is itself a sign of better correspondence to reality, remains to be established.

C: Whatever. This "proposal" happens to have spread very efficiently through very efficient minds over the last two hundred years or so, and seems to have non-materialism-based "philosophies" on the ropes--or at least it has competed very successfully against them in many endeavors.

R: What makes you say those minds were very efficient?

C: A bunch of non-rational reactions inside my mind makes me say it, of course! Thought you'd catch me, eh? Excuse me, you didn't "think" you'd catch me, but that behavior is how you've been programmed to automatically respond; and I must respond by admitting, that... um...

R: That my behaviors seem to be rather efficient, too, despite their theistic flavor, hm?

C: Whatever.

R: This proposal of foundationally non-rational materialism--the proposal of naturalistic atheism, in other words--has been around a very long time, although admittedly not quite in the form it has "achieved" during the last two hundred years. So have not-atheisms.

C: True, I admit this. Just as species compete more and less effectively, relative to each other, when random mutation provides changes beneficial and harmful to their chances of success, and when environmental conditions change; so species of "ideas"--our behavioral means of efficiently interacting with the world--also change, grow, or become outdated.

R: The way atheism became extremely outdated across most of the planet for, oh, about 1500 years or so. After not having really gotten a good foothold to begin with.

C: A harmful mutation in the "idea of atheism" occurred--

R: Or perhaps a beneficial mutation in the "idea of theism" occurred?

C: ...theoretically, I suppose I have to admit that’s possible. And I admit that the behavior of atheism could have had a final "death" as a species. But it didn't. Conditions became favorable for its re-ascendance in a mutated form that better allowed the "idea" to successfully flourish, so to speak.

R: So whether atheism is actually true or not, is not really entailed by your "idea".

C: Well, if it succeeds it would probably, most likely, be reflective enough of actual reality that we could say with some accuracy it was "true"...

R: But it could have died accidentally, thanks to random environmental 'mutation' factors and, shall we say, natural selection processes; just like any other widely spread behavioral pattern within an evolving species, or just like any species itself.

C: Yes, atheism could have "died". But it didn't.

R: Did atheism "survive" because it reflected reality better?

C: Yes... probably.

R: I thought you just told me it survived and began to flourish again thanks to a random mutation that allowed it to spread more efficiently. Do random mutations have some property to automatically provide just the impetus needed to reflect reality better?

C. Of course not; but in this case, that's what happened.

R. So why did the "not-atheisms" also continue progressively developing?

C: The "not-atheisms" also continued developing because... um... the structure of those "beliefs" allowed individuals and cultures to flourish at a number of levels, despite the "beliefs" not actually reflecting ultimate reality accurately--a sort of tellurian ripple effect. And you cannot deny that this is possible!--because if theism is true then atheisms have continued developing in just this way despite not actually reflecting ultimate reality accurately.

R: I wouldn’t deny that; just as you admit that atheism's resurgence could only be the same sort of ripple.

C: ...Technically, yes. We shall see.

R: We shall see, on these conditions, whether or not atheism successfully survives as an idea-species, regardless of whether it reflects ultimate reality accurately or not.

C: Not entirely regardless. The question of how accurately a "belief" reflects ultimate reality should have some bearing on how efficiently its "holder" interfaces with reality, and thus with how effectively the "belief" spreads.

R: But there is no way to ascertain this accuracy from the actual behavior of the "idea-species" per se on an individual basis--such as your own particular "ideas" about atheism.

C: No, if you come right down to it, there isn't. But I think--

R: Think??

C: I say we can be sure that the surviving and developing "idea", as an evolving non-rational behavior in our species, will at least probably have a good chance of being accurate to some degree or other.

R: Well, that's sufficiently qualified! So in effect, you're an atheist by historical accident.

C: Whatever; and given its success in spreading, I seem (by "accident", as you say) to be likely on the side which is more "correct". At least, the current situation is bound to produce that inclination of behavior in me, and for want of a better word this means I think I have a better "reason" than you for my "beliefs".

R: Until and unless the environmental climate changes, so to speak.

C: If that happens sufficiently, I'll either be around to be part of the change, or not; and I'll either be sufficiently affected to be part of the change, or not.

R: You understand, of course, that you've thereby surrendered any claim of accuracy for "atheism" per se.

C: What?! I've done no such thing!

Next up: probability estimation and non-rational justification


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.

(We certainly aren't done with the geese and the ganders here, either... {g})


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