Reason and the First Person -- can evolutionary non-rationalism be sufficiently rational?

[Note: the contents page for this series can be found here. The previous entry, the last for chapter 17, can be found here.]

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

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

Reed (the theist): I repeat: if we stoutly presume that it is possible for us to reason, then that ability must ultimately come from a rational cause.

Chase (the atheist): ...sigh. No, not necessarily. We don't have to begin by presuming that it is possible for us to reason.

R: What would we begin by doing?

C: That's the answer: "we" wouldn't "begin" by "doing" anything. Your argument only works if it is possible for us to reason.

R: Are you really sure you want to go this route?

C: Just listen! It's true that--

R: True?

C: No, forget that. ... Behaviors reflect reality. Yes?

R: Seems true. Are you sure you want me to forget the concept of truth?

C: That was a rhetorical question. Whatever may produce behaviors, different causes have different effects. Some of those effects result in a certain composite entity being able to do things--

R: "Do?"

C: --metaphorically! Some of those effects result in a certain composite entity continuing to exist, and to behave, although not actively, as that composite entity--

R: Has this happened?

C: It doesn't matter!

R: Well, you said that these effects result, which sort of implies that they definitely do, which seems like a statement of a truth-claim, which sounds like the result of a rational analysis...

C: Just hold up, okay? Some of those effects could result in a certain composite entity continuing as that entity, despite other effects that could dissolve that entity as such. And some of those entities could be such that, between one thing and another, they happen to be capable of producing entities like themselves. And the chances that they would be able to... I mean that they would in fact exist long enough as those Entities to produce more of themselves, would directly bear on whether the particular non-rational effects which produce their behaviors provide behaviors which happen to facilitate their survival and reproduction. The success of these groups of Entities as distinct groups--call the groups 'species'--the success of these species would in that situation require that they be able to interface effectively with their environment: that the behaviors caused in them by non-rational Nature would be such that they didn't self-destruct. Now, if the process of replication was not perfect, if thanks to entropy (or something similar) the internal reactions which governed the shape and behavior and efficiency of each species member (and thus of the species as a whole) occasionally resulted in a change to the structures by which the individual's behavior was governed; then those changes would either be equally capable of sustaining the resulting 'new' type of individual in the environment, or less capable, or more capable than its peers. If it is less capable, the odds are proportionately good that it and its descendants would not survive long in the same environment; they would either go extinct, or luck-up and happen to be exposed to a more favorable environment (perhaps during a migration), or maybe luck-up and get a new mutation that happens to offset the old one. And if the new individual and its descendants were equally or more efficient, then chances are proportionately good that soon there would be a viable population of a new species, and maybe even it could eventually crowd out the older, less efficient variety. And so on, and so on. Follow me?

R: Are you asking whether I agree that this is reasonable? Or are you only automatically checking to ensure that I am reacting, in turn, efficiently to your story, thus blindly ‘following’ you like a lemming?

C: Whatever... The behaviors we call 'reason' are generally helpful to the individual, and although we may exhibit such behaviors in ways that ultimately do not help us as individuals (messing with a stable society that supports us, etc.), we haven't been on the planet long enough as this species for these behaviors to weed themselves out. Plus, of course, our environments change, which causes problems for old modes of previously effective behavior. But, in general, these behaviors are still likely to become more and more efficient as they help the success of individuals (and thus help get similar automatic behaviors spread through the gene pool); and we call this 'learning', both at the individual and at the cultural or even species level. This can account fully for why our behaviors can be successful, without introducing anything other than automatic reactions taking place inside us, leaving Nature free and clear to be a non-rational cause of all our effective behaviors. So!

R: So.

C: ... Yes, so! What do you--

R: Think?

C: (sigh!) Say! What do you say to that?

R: Are you saying you care?

C: ... No; what I call "caring" is merely an emotion which by being present helps foster the spread of what we call "ideas". I may for convenience say I "care"--

R: That seems rather dangerous, as it could lead to other conveniences which in turn could lead you to speak of yourself as if you do take actions; and thus lead via the route we went over earlier to the conclusion that we should consider atheism to be false if we believe our rationality to be true.

C: It doesn't matter. I just want... I am feeling that you should respond to this... uh...

R: Idea?

C: For want of a better word. "Idea". Sometimes we have to speak metaphorically, as you well know.

R: Just remember that.

C: I will. I am feeling that you should respond to this "idea", which will in turn lead to better levels of efficiency in our behavior.

R: What if I respond in a manner antithetical to your "idea", for want of a better word?

C: Well, that is your affair.

R: No it isn't; it would just be happening automatically, according to my conditioning. What would happen if I responded antithetically to your "idea"--if I didn't "agree" with it (for want of a better word)?

C: Then we would bounce it back and forth automatically until the efficiency sorted itself out, or until other non-rational causes intervened to stop the exchange.

R: The exchange of what?

C: Of... of air molecule vibrations, which thanks to a delicately and supremely complex biological arrangement will translate, purely through non-rational physical reactions, into electroneural reactions, which in turn will rearrange electrical potentialities in our brains so that we, as individuals, may be more efficient.

R: Or at least this is likely to happen.

C: To an extent likely; the likelihood probably depends on randomly unpredictable quantum flux, genetic differences, microscale and macroscale health, etc.

R: And this rearrangement toward better efficiency could happen to either of us.

C: ... Well... yes. In principle.

Next up: the problem with leaving a bridge unburned... (is that it still leaves you in just the same sauce as the geese. Or words to that effect.)


Jason Pratt said…
Registering for comment tracking.

The chapter 18 posts, fortunately or unfortunately, will have a tendency to be more comic than the chp 17 dialogue posts. I would say this is a natural result (pun entirely intended! {g}) of a weird contravening juxtoposition on the part of one of the representative dialoguists. Three guesses as to which one...


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