Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What Is the Argument from Reason?

The Argument from Reason is a collection of arguments that attempt to move from some fact about human reason to some claim about worldviews. Since human beings use our reasoning ability regularly, it is all too easy to ignore (a) the metaphysical implications of reliable cognitive faculties, and (b) the skeptical implications of an atheistic worldview.

Consider the following (admittedly oversimplified) argument.

  1. Human beings have the ability to reason about ourselves, the world, and God.
  2. We treat our reasoning ability as generally reliable.
  3. If Naturalism is true, our beliefs must be the result of physical processes in our brain.
  4. But if our beliefs (both true and false beliefs) are the result of physical processes, they are governed by laws of nature, which are incapable of reasoning or of preferring true beliefs to false beliefs.
  5. Hence, on Naturalism, human reasoning ability is not generally reliable (because it is grounded in natural objects, processes, and laws that have no concern for truth).
  6. Hence, if I affirm Naturalism, I cast significant doubt on my beliefs, including my belief in Naturalism.

The only way out of this conundrum for naturalists is to claim that, in the Darwinian struggle for survival, reliable cognitive faculties conferred a selection advantage on certain organisms, and that organisms with generally reliable belief-forming faculties had an advantage over organisms with less reliable faculties.

But this response fails for a number of reasons. Consider, for instance, another version of the Argument from Reason.

  1. Natural selection does not favor truth. It favors traits that help organisms survive and reproduce.
  2. False beliefs are often just as effective (or even more effective) than true beliefs.
  3. Hence, in the struggle for survival, cognitive faculties that produced false beliefs would have been selected whenever the resulting behavior was beneficial.
  4. Hence, if Naturalism is true, human reasoning ability is fundamentally unreliable, for it is the product of a selection process that doesn’t favor truth over falsehood.
  5. Hence, if I affirm Naturalism, I cast significant doubt on my beliefs, including my belief in Naturalism.

Apart from defeating Naturalism, the Argument from Reason may also be used to support Mind-Body Dualism (by showing that reason must include something non-physical) and Theism (via a version of the Design Argument).

For more information on the Argument from Reason, see (in this order, if possible):