A Case for Physicalism About Consciousness: Can Evolution by Natural Selection Adequately Explain the Emergence of the Mind?
by William Wilson
There is no greater problem associated with the philosophy of mind than that of consciousness. It is present throughout any discussion of the mind-body problem, of mental content, or even instances of examining the intentionality of mental states. For centuries, and perhaps rightfully so, philosophy alone tackled this problem; however, as science has advanced, and the common view of the “black box” form of the brain and consciousness has been laid to rest, scientists have become more and more involved in the questions of what is consciousness and what are its functions. Consciousness is not only a scientific question at this point—as some have claimed, namely Francis Crick—but rather a question that must be answered by the combined forces of philosophy and science. Indeed, it is the purpose of this paper to attempt to bring the philosophical and the scientific together to answer some of the classical questions about the mind and body. Central to this work is the question: is consciousness reducible to physical properties, and if so, could these physical properties be the result of evolutionary processes?
Evolution by natural selection is a central theme herein, and it is introduced not as a theory, but more of an assumption of truth; this is to say that my goal is not to prove the existence of evolution by natural selection, as the scientific community has done enough work to establish its credibility. However, argumentation for evolution’s ability to account for the physical properties of consciousness and its functions will play an immense part in the overall coherency of this thesis. In a word, my paper is a defense of physicalism or naturalism, and I will draw upon many different sources ranging from neuroscience to human evolutionary theory to provide a sufficient case for my stated position. My argument will follow as such: (assumption) evolution by natural selection is an actual force in the world; (1) consciousness has a function that originates from and affects material substances, such as our minds; (2) there are neural correlates to consciousness in our minds and these correlates can help explain subjective phenomenal experience; (3) and finally, physicalism is a coherent concept to adhere to, therefore, evolution can explain the emergence of mind.
II. What is the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection?
The general consensus of scientists today is that natural selection is an important factor in the process of evolution. Briefly, natural selection is one the basic apparatuses of evolution that involves the differentiation of specific traits in a population in accordance with their reproduction and survivability. This is to say that natural selection includes three fundamental aspects: (1) variation of traits among organisms in a reproducing population; (2) which often must be heritable; (3) and many times connected to the population’s ability to survive and reproduce. These three conditions are both necessary and sufficient conditions for the process of natural selection to take place; wherever you have an organism or population undergo these three main conditions, they can be said to evolve. Nevertheless, the importance of the selection process in populations is the accumulation and preservation of minor advantageous genetic mutations for that given population. Under the theory of selection, these variations directly correspond and affect the survivability and reproduction ability of the population; therefore, the selectability of the mutations is of the utmost importance, as most mutations are maladaptive.
The avenue in which scientists explain and demonstrate natural selection in populations is through genetics. Here is an example of such in terms of pollinating plants: suppose a plant population is full of plants that have one gene for color, of which there is one dominant (D) and one recessive (d) allele. The dominant allele codes for blue colored flowers, whereas the recessive allele codes for red colored flowers. Those plants with the DD genotype will produce blue flowers, those with Dd will produce orange flowers, and those with dd will produce red colored flowers. Whichever plant population within the entire population pollinates more often and acquires more opportunities to do so, will become more common throughout the entire population. According to natural selection, the population will begin to change its genotypic frequency with this change in the individual plants when together; therefore, natural selection begins with mutations in the genotypes of organisms, which leads to changes in phenotypes, and, in turn, produces a selection on mutated genotypes in populations.
As with breeders who try to produce changes in a certain species of animal by selectively breeding certain individual organisms, and thus eliminating undesirable traits over time, natural selection is a process of elimination of “inferior” or less adaptable species. This feat is not accomplished in small periods of time, but through a gradual change over generations of the population. Essential to this gradual change is an apparatus of natural selection: sexual selection. The relationship between sexual selection and natural selection can be identified in regards to the reproduction of a population, but, as has been noted recently in modern evolutionary analysis, the relationship of these two processes and the resulting traits that have led to increased or decreased survivability is less clear. For example, the giraffe was first hypothesized to have an elongated neck because it was necessary to reach abundant food for survival; the long-necked populations survived, hence, modern day giraffes have elongated necks. Despite the somewhat tautological reasoning, this theory held until the concept of sexual selection in populations became more substantiated. Modern evolutionary biologists seem to believe that the best answer to the giraffe question, and perhaps many more related ones, is a combination of both trait usability and sexual selection within the populations. Regardless of the case, any organism that expends so much energy to use and maintain such an appendage must need it in some fashion that relates to their survival and reproduction.
III. What is Consciousness?
My argument is that consciousness is a physical phenomenon and can be explained through physical means. The “means” of this physical explanation come in the form of neural correlates of consciousness. In order to begin a discussion on whether there are neural correlates of consciousness, we must first define what we mean by “neural correlates to consciousness” (NCC). Unpacking this phrase, it becomes clear that what we mean is that a specific system of activity in the brain, being a collection of sub-activities, corresponds directly to a state of consciousness within the brain. Therefore, what we need to clarify is what a “state of consciousness is” and what makes up sufficient reasoning in asserting the directness of a correlation. Here we must keep track of two distinctions: one reflecting the difference between the states of consciousness that we are aware of, and ones that we are not; and the other reflecting the state of being consciousness itself, as different states of being conscious of x. What I am primarily concerned to unravel is a set of minimal NCC that can explain the relation of a specific conscious experience to a particular mental content. To accomplish this I will briefly introduce Francis Crick and Kristof Koch’s theory of NCC’s, and then analyze and discuss their conclusions, while also providing some of my own.
First and foremost, we must define what is a state of consciousness. There seems to be wide disagreements about the particulars of consciousness states, but for the purpose of the present discussion, we will assume there are three types: (1) active consciousness (being aware of being aware); (2) inactive consciousness (consciously unaware, e.g. motor functions); (3) and qualitative consciousness (the feeling of being consciousness). All of these are states of consciousness, and most, if not all of them, are interrelated and run parallel to one another. It is important, when talking about NCC’s, to identify which states of consciousness particular systems of neurons are being correlated to; in other words, there may be different neural correlations to different states of consciousness. Because all three states are still part of the conscious experience, it would seem that the NCC’s would still apply to all of them; it just needs to be clarified to what extent these systems of neurons correlate to the specific states.
A possible site of neural correlations to consciousness may be seen in the visual awareness system, where a function of consciousness could be the process of turning visual stimuli into the best feedback of current information available for the brain to “digest;” or, in other words, to produce a coherent sensory picture of events, despite the fact that different cortical areas respond to different features. Crick and Koch outlined a scientific framework of consciousness in which any time there is a set of information displayed in NCC’s, it will be conversely displayed in consciousness. Furthermore, they advocate for a structural level of specific circuits and specific classes of NCC’s that relate to consciousness, rather than an emergent feedback circuit of activity bands; namely, these circuits are primarily located in the visual awareness system. Central to their theory of consciousness is the claim that, when someone talks about being conscious, we must assume that there is something about which he or she is conscious—something that stands in need of explanation. Their exploration into the visual awareness system of the brain to identify NCC’s and explain consciousness follows from this basic assumption.
Interestingly, Crick and Koch identify different parts of the brain that they believe to be inactive during conscious experience. An example of some of these can be seen in many of the structures in the midbrain or hindbrain, with the exception of the basal ganglia and the claustrum, which they include in a separate group called the cortical system. In this paper, I make the basic assumption that in order for NCC’s to be sufficiently identified, they must be shown to have systematic activity in the first place. Crick and Koch also make this assumption, but they place emphasis on the cortical system, and theorize that there could be activity present in a possible subset of neurons, which could still be considered NCC’s. They theorize that neurons fire in temporal conjunction with one another, even in different sections of the cortical system, and this phenomena can be named binding. Furthermore, they conclude that important functions are occurring in the cortical system that may relate to consciousness, and they arise from the oscillation of neurons, which is a term that can take the place of binding. With this binding or oscillating of neurons there appears to be a possible function of consciousness according to Crick and Koch: for the oscillating neurons to condense and combine information into a coherent percept, thus feeding underlying computational systems in the brain. They deem it fit to name this type of consciousness “working awareness.”
I want to argue that Crick and Koch are essentially correct in concluding that there are NCC’s present in the visual awareness system, but I want to refine their theory by arguing that there are two different types of NCC’s: very simply, pre-NCC’s and post-NCC’s. Here, pre- and post- are set to identify separate types of NCC’s; ones in which there exist neural activity that organizes information used in consciousness experience, but is not part of the actual conscious state (pre-), and ones in which there exists neural activity that is consistent with being a consequence of conscious experience (post-). There is probably no single experimental technique within today’s neuroscience research that could yield a clear distinction between the proposed different NCC’s; nevertheless, I will earnestly attempt to make the messy relationship between NCC’s and consciousness a little clearer.
My argument is simple and follows a basic track of reasoning. Recent developments in neuroscience have (tentatively) concluded that there are stages to neural activity in oscillation circuits, most notably in the cortical system and temporal lobes, and that these stages reflect a type of pre-determined selection bias against incoming and stored information. What is important about this discovery is that it could possibly connect neural activity to the conscious phenomena of “attention.” What is further significant about this development is that it provides a basis for my first premise: that there are separate “moments” of oscillatory neural activity in the brain, that come to compose NCC’s and sift through newly acquired information in order to develop a discrimination feedback circuit that allows the brain to make quicker and more accurate decisions. These moments that precede conscious experience are the aforementioned pre-NCC’s. The pre-NCC moments are important because they establish a framework whereby the brain and the oscillatory process of producing NCC’s can become aware of pertinent information about the world, without having to do additional work to sift through the basic stimuli of the visual awareness system. I argue that this state could also be counted as the spontaneous excitability of neurons before oscillation occurs. Why does this movement of neurons have to be considered separate from post-NCC’s? Because the movements at this point contribute to the perception process but they alone are not sufficient for generating or maintaining conscious experience of said perception. This is because the pre-NCC’s are vital in identifying targets of perceptions that are in consciousness, but are not part of the conscious experience itself.
My second premise is as follows: if conscious perception enables certain and specific functions which otherwise would not occur in unconscious states, then it follows that said functions are unique to conscious states, and these functions have internal processes of their own. These processes must be separate from the conscious state of perception, since the functions to which the processes belong are by products of the activity of perception. Thus, the neural activities in such processes, which do not quite correlate to a state of consciousness but are nevertheless related to one, are post-NCC’s. An example of a possible post-NCC can be seen in the case of the storage of long-term memory. Integration of cognitive processes and differentiation of conscious information sustainability are conscious states of information processing with NCC’s, if they exist, having some activity correspond to these conscious activities. Advanced (pre-) or secondary (post-) NCC’s are both involved in these processes. The pre NCC’s would be involved in activities such as discrimination of incoming stimuli information, which builds to the “moment” any perception state of consciousness. This is where the NCC’s that are directly correlated to consciousness would most likely be found. After this, the information process of storing perception stimuli in the hippocampus in the form of long-term memory could be the role of post-NCC’s. Returning to the implication of the “visual discrimination study,” it might be possible to identify NCC’s in the form of brain arousal; this is to say that there are indications that consciousness is intimately related to the reticular activating system’s (RAS) ability to release valuable neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters help control the excitability and activity of the thalamus and forebrain, and further, general brain arousal. The significance of this can be seen in cases of injuries to the RAS and eventual coma; when excitability is recovered in the thalamus and forebrain, the injured person is able to regain consciousness once more.
If consciousness emerged through evolutionary processes of natural selection then it was either selected because of adaptive features, or appears in the lineage as a byproduct of some other adaptive features. My view is that consciousness is indeed itself an adaptive feature and that it plays some sort of crucial functional role in the evolution of the mammalian brain. Intuitively it seems the most important aspect of consciousness has to be the ability to perceive and organize sensory qualities. The sensory perception powers of the brain are quite impressive; the brain gives us an account of what is happening in the outside world, and also gives us a feeling of what is happening to ourselves in the process. What the brain offers up to organisms is to help distinguish sensations and perceptions. Both of these take some kind of sensory stimuli as their starting point but react to these stimuli in different ways. Sensation is simply a presentation of stimuli; conversely, perception is a more complicated story because it combines a re-presentation of sensation with contextual inferences, emotional feelings, and relations to previously stored memory. What consciousness does is to provide a “now-ness, me-ness” to the sensory and perception properties being taken in. Therefore, consciousness is essential for an organism’s ability to make sense of the world. By “sense,” here, I mean a mostly accurate representation of how the world appears to be over some other way it might have been.
There are still more important functions of consciousness that can be seen in early hominids and Homo sapiens. One such function is the ability of organisms with consciousness to plan and execute future activities in their mind, therefore giving them an advantage over those organisms that have a simple stimulus and response variety of perception and interaction. Certainly the early humans possessed this advantageous function of consciousness, if even in a very rudimentary form, and this helped them, especially Homo sapiens, survive and reproduce. This kind of conscious function can also be seen in some forms in other animals, even if it is normally seen in the form of the maintenance of internal states of stimuli and perception. Examples of this can be seen in the likes of African gray parrots and elephants, both of which have the ability to use tools and to differentiate between separate stimuli in order to better identify situations. These kinds of functions of consciousness provide a great advantage for these specific animals or early humans to survive through times of danger, famine, and great environmental change. Furthermore, there is evidence showing that animals with levels of cognitive ability similar to elephants possess the ability to remember complex past events such as the death of a family member or important member of the group. I argue that being cognizant of your own death is a strong sign of self-consciousness because death is a future event that cannot be quantified without relating it yourself. An organism with a feel for its own mortality beyond reactionary threats to danger seems to be better equipped to steer away from anticipated dangers.
The Darwinian process of natural selection is very adept at taking random variations and turning them into stable configurations. What I mean by this is to say that natural selection takes random mutation and creates variations within populations by “selecting” specific traits that will reproduce more effectively in individuals than other ones. The brain also has this ability, mostly due to the power of consciousness. For example, it is consciousness that allows someone to take, say a horse and eagle, and produce the imaginary form of a unicorn. This ability is not only useful to organisms because of its creative and imaginative forces, but it may say something about how the inner workings of our brain actually proceed. As William Calvin suggests, the brain is like a small “Darwin machine” in itself, because it selects those processes that are most useful and advantageous for its ability to function as a whole. Deeming the brain such a machine, Calvin believes that the action potentials of neurons act like software within the brain’s network, and this combination of firing patterns creates a sort of “mosaic” of the mind. This mosaic product of the mind is what Calvin refers to as consciousness and intelligence. What I believe Calvin is able to admirably show is that the brain is modeled after the process of natural selection itself, making it a mirror image of the basics of life on earth: either survive and reproduce, or perish.
IV. Arguments against Naturalism
Up to this point, my argument has attempted to demonstrate that natural selection is an essential component (albeit not the only component) of the evolutionary process, and that consciousness can be said to be connected to natural selection, if neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) are shown to be a viable method of mental activity and organization. I concluded that if there are NCC’s and consciousness is indeed explainable by only physicalist frameworks, then consciousness must be shown to have adaptable features. Therefore, if all of these hold to be true, naturalism is the most warranted framework of thinking about consciousness. One of the biggest obstacles for naturalism and a physicalist interpretation of consciousness is Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism, which attempts to show that naturalism is inherently self-defeating.
Plantinga’s “evolutionary argument against naturalism” (EAAN) has undergone significant modifications since its initial 1993 publication in Warrant and Proper Function. Regardless of these modifications, the general outlines of the argument are easy to identify: if we base the model of the brain and its consciousness, as well as the ideas and beliefs that it produces, on the shoulders of evolutionary processes, then we must admit that our beliefs and ideas may not be accurate or reliable, because evolution does not care about the truth value of a belief, but about its survivability. Thus, beliefs that arise from the evolutionary process do not necessarily have any isomorphic connection to reality. The key terms in his argument can be symbolized as follows: P, being the probability of cognitive faculties; R, being the reliability of our cognitive faculties; N, being naturalism; and E, being evolution—although, some clarification of Plantinga’s argument is needed before proceeding. First of all, “naturalism,” for Plantinga, means something more than explanations appealing only to physical forces operating in the world; it implies that there are no supernatural beings possible in the conception, or anything resembling the idea of a God or divine being. Secondly, Plantinga defines “evolution” as including the view that humans have come about through a process of selecting for traits relevant to fitness, including behaviors. “Reliability” is conceived as the prospect that for any cognitive faculty proposed to be aimed at truth, the majority of its deliverances are in fact true and accurate. As mentioned before, the argument turns on the premise that evolution selects behavior on the basis of adaptability, but it is not clear how this corresponds to the content of the beliefs involved in such behaviors.
I will now sketch his argument. P1, P2, etc. represent the premises of the argument, and C represents the conclusion:
P1. P [(R & (N & E)] is low, because evolution does not account for functionality of cognitive faculties.
P2. If P1 is true, then R can be called into question.
P3. If R is low, then anyone has a defeater for any belief that is supposedly produced by reliable cognitive faculties.
C. Therefore, R, N, and E are self-defeating and cannot be rationally held.
The most important aspect of Plantinga’s argument is the relationship between behaviors and beliefs in organisms. Without a correlation being developed between the two, the plausibility of P1 seems to be quite low, because there would be no way to establish a connection between reliability of cognitive functions and naturalism without behaviors and beliefs being interrelated. Plantinga concedes this, and in order to provide a stronger basis for his premises, he provides an “exhaustive” list of the ways in which behavior can relate to belief in naturalism. He identifies four such ways: epiphenomenalism, the position that behavior is not caused by beliefs in any manner; semantic epiphenomenalism, the position that beliefs are related to behaviors in what he calls “syntax” (e.g. neurophysiological properties), but not their “semantics” (e.g. truth-functional value); beliefs could be related with behavior in semantics and syntax, but are maladaptive; and finally, beliefs could be related with behavior in semantics and syntax, but are adaptive.
What Plantinga attempts to do with these four categories is establish that the combination of them makes P1 (P [(R & (N & E)]) more concrete in its low probability. He attempts to show this by explaining that the first category, epiphenomenalism, correlates to the lowness of P1 because it already establishes the lack of a relation between behaviors and beliefs. The second category, semantic epiphenomenalism, is unlikely because the truth value of the beliefs does not correlate to actual behaviors, which means that category four may be more probable, because the lack of truth value in the belief could produce maladaptive behaviors in the evolutionary spectrum. The last premise seems to be intuitively true, taken the assumption of natural selection, because it provides an explanation of the relation between beliefs and behaviors. Plantinga argues against this last category by saying that there could be many belief-behavior combinations that are adaptive, yet have a false belief in the pair. Therefore, P1 still remains exceedingly low, and irrational to hold to. Moreover, Plantinga comes to the further conclusion that because naturalism is self-defeating, demonstrated through the EEAN, it follows that the prospect of divine guidance through the evolutionary process seems more plausible, because this would be the best answer to our apparent ability to reason and know anything through rational faculties.
Plantinga provides a narrative example of his argument with this story: suppose Paul, an early hominid, very much likes the idea of being eaten by a tiger. So, he runs away from any tiger that he sees, because he feels that it is unlikely the tiger he is seeing will eat him if he remains stationery. This will provide Paul with behaviors useful for his survival, but the behaviors are based on false beliefs. Similarly, let us assume that Paul thinks tigers are very cuddly, and desires to pet them anytime he sees them, but thinks the best way to do this is to run away. Clearly, Plantinga surmises, there is any number of belief-desire combination systems that can fit a given bit of behavior. This is simply a thought experiment, but it is effective in its manner of demonstrating that the importance of the belief-behavior pairing is essential for the naturalist who contends that evolution by natural selection correctly accounts for human rationality.
V. The EEAN Deconstructed
What can be said about Plantinga’s argument? It is clear that Plantinga has produced a very robust argument against naturalism. Indeed, if the premises in the argument prove to be true, and the argument form is valid, then the premises will necessitate the conclusion. This makes his argument valid, and if true, a necessary conclusion on the relationship of belief and behavior within the evolutionary process. However, there have been many objections laid against the EEAN, and almost all of them have to deal with the correctness of the premises. My argument will focus on the first premise, as I will attempt to call into question the veracity of the statement that (P [(R & (N & E)]) is low. I hope to accomplish this by showing that there are many varieties of beliefs that could relate to P1, and further, that there is a problem with Plantinga’s analysis of the belief-behavior relationship within the process of evolution by natural selection.
Is the statement, “the probability of accurate cognitive faculties implying (or given) reliable faculties, naturalism, and evolution by natural selection is low,” warranted or not? Certainly, it is a legitimate claim in the system of his argument, in that if it proves to be true, along with the other premises, it necessitates the conclusion. However, is it warranted or otherwise cogent? I argue that it does not seem to be conceptually valid based on several objections. First of all, it is dubious to claim that the only purpose of a possible neurophysiological process in the brain is to produce behaviors that induce survival, and not truth-functional value; indeed, it is reasonable to believe that there could be a subset system of the brain’s network that was concerned primarily with the production of true beliefs in service to the goal of survivability for the organism. It is here that I take issue with Plantinga and his early hominid named Paul. Paul is conceived to have cognitive faculties that produce false beliefs, but invariably produce behaviors that induce survivability. Plantinga does not really address where these behaviors come from, but just that it is conceivable to hold this kind of scenario as possible. I want to make the argument that it seems even less likely than the possibility of naturalism, evolution, and reliable cognitive faculties being true at the same time.
For instance, where does Paul’s survival behavior originate if not from reliable cognitive faculties? I may concede that perhaps Paul, or hominids similar to Paul, are able to evade danger on a number of occasions because of such a false belief, but I want to turn Plantinga’s premises on themselves by saying that the probability of such an organism surviving and reproducing with such a dangerous set of false beliefs is inscrutable, and extremely unlikely at best. So, if we do in fact concede that Paul does not understand the reason why he should run away from the tiger in the first place, that is, he does not realize that he might be the tiger’s next meal, how does Paul develop survival strategies without a reliable set of cognitive faculties? Here, I feel Plantinga does not take into account the adaptive process of natural selection; there is simply no circumstance in which dangerous false beliefs would produce behavior that was adaptable over long periods of time. Surely, organisms with more reliable cognitive faculties, or different types of faculties, would survive, and the organisms similar to Paul would not be so lucky. Because natural selection takes place over such great expanses of time, the conceptual conceivability of P1 seems to be fairly weak, or at least weak enough to call its plausibility into question.
A different approach to critiquing the EEAN is to doubt the epistemological reasoning behind Plantinga’s claims that false beliefs relate to behavior, by questioning the feasibility of false beliefs surviving in the evolutionary system. This is to question the actual impact that beliefs play when discussing adaptive behaviors. Here I will make a distinction between types of beliefs: basic beliefs and reflective beliefs. Basic beliefs are beliefs about properties of the external world only; they can only be explained insofar as they explain something about the world. Reflective beliefs are beliefs that one can have in reflection on one’s own basic beliefs about the world; these beliefs arise when talking about beliefs about beliefs. For example, let’s say Paul has the belief that if he rolls a rock down a hill, it will roll all the way down, gaining speed as it goes. Perhaps Paul holds this view because he posits that animal spirits are helping roll the rock down the hill rather than the law of inertia, and that the more animal spirits are involved, the faster it goes; therefore, for Paul the rock rolls down the hill, which is a true belief, but his basis for the true belief is in actuality a false belief. Nevertheless, Paul knows to stay away from falling rocks, and this helps him develop survival abilities.
Paul cannot know that his basic belief is rooted in something false without having a reflective belief about his basic belief. It is hard to imagine, however, Paul being able to produce a reflective state on his beliefs, without having a set of reliable cognitive faculties. Indeed, Paul would have to possess a fairly advanced conscious state in order to produce reflective beliefs. In this example, the fact that Paul’s belief is false is not significant, because believing one’s beliefs are true cannot occur without one having reflective beliefs. Basic beliefs cannot be believed to be true or false then; they can only be adaptive or non-adaptive. Truth did not exist on this planet until consciousness had become developed; therefore, having the belief that “a tree is a monster” could very well be the same as “the tree is big.” Behavior then is intimately tied to the adaptability of a basic belief, which has no content present worthy of being falsified or not. When reflective beliefs are provided with greater cognitive powers, the truth functional value of beliefs becomes important, but, by this point, the reliability of cognitive faculties has already been established through the evolutionary process. Evolution can only account for the adaptability or inadaptability of basic beliefs, and it is upon these basic beliefs that organisms evolve to include reflective beliefs. Therefore, evolution can account for true and false beliefs, and still provides a better explanation of reliable cognitive faculties than anything else.
VI. Naturalism Triumphant
There are some other ways in which the EEAN can be critiqued. For instance, we could discuss the possibility of there being instances in the evolutionary process where in possessing false beliefs would be adaptable. One can see this in the propensity of mammals, including humans, to believe themselves to be stronger and more powerful than they actually are in order to prepare for a fight or scare away a predator. Hormones flood the sympathetic nervous system, especially from the adrenal medulla, in the reaction to harmful or perceived harmful stimuli that is known as the fight or flight response. In this way, a false belief is present, but it does not necessitate the unreliability of the organism’s cognitive faculties. Michael Ruse, philosopher of science, argues in this same vein by saying that Plantinga tries to establish an antagonism between the world as we know it and the world as it might be knowable in some other way. What Ruse concludes is that if indeed our cognitive faculties are unreliable and this world is but a mere illusion, then there can be no meaningful talk of it being an illusion, since we have no reliable touchstones of reality to measure ourselves against.
My conclusion on Plantinga and his EEAN is that although it is a very robust and well formulated argument against evolution by natural selection and naturalism, it is not sufficient to refute the coherence of holding both these views together. There are major problems with his premises, particularly P1, that limit this argument from swaying anyone other than the most ardent dualist or epiphenomenalist. Therefore, I think it can be said with some certainty, that evolution, as a theory, is well grounded, and that naturalism as a conceptual framework for understanding the world is a viable interpretation of content and behavior.
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