New Paper Uses Street's Darwinian Dilemma Against Plantinga's

Crow, Daniel. "A Plantingian Pickle for a Darwinian Dilemma: Evolutionary Arguments Against Atheism and Normative Realism", Ratio (Article first published online: 10 MAR 2015
DOI: 10.1111/rati.12092). 
Here's the abstract:
Two of the most prominent evolutionary debunking arguments are Sharon Street's Darwinian Dilemma for Normative Realism and Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument against Atheism. In the former, Street appeals to evolutionary considerations to debunk normative realism. In the latter, Plantinga appeals to similar considerations to debunk atheism. By a careful comparison of these two arguments, I develop a new strategy to help normative realists resist Street's debunking attempt. In her Darwinian Dilemma, Street makes epistemological commitments that ultimately support Plantinga's structurally similar argument. If Street succeeds in debunking normative realism, I argue, then she also succeeds in debunking atheism. But atheism is a suppressed premise of the Darwinian Dilemma as well as a commitment of almost all normative anti-realists. If Street's argument entails theism, then the Darwinian Dilemma is internally incoherent and should be abandoned by almost everyone.
And if a copy should find its way into my inbox...
Update: Thanks!


Rayndeon said...

Interesting article, but I remain unconvinced.

A few initial comments: Crow characterizes Plantinga's argument as an argument against atheism, when my understanding is that it is an argument against evolutionary naturalism. I take it that naturalism is non-trivially distinct from atheism. Now, it may well be the case that many atheists presently are some stripe of metaphysical and/or metaphilosophical naturalists, but surely that doesn't at all speak to atheism entailing the truth of naturalism? (I say this as an atheist who is skeptical of contemporary naturalism)

Likewise, it is not a suppressed premise of Street's argument that atheism is true. In her discussion of the 'adaptive link' account, Street considers the view that true moral judgments are advantageous and puts pressure on it as a failing hypothesis compared to her adaptive link account. The suppressed premise in there seems to be that there wasn't anything working above the level of evolutionary forces as would be consistent with naturalism. But, why characterize that as a suppressed premise of atheism? Note for example that it would also be consistent with Street's analysis of the adaptive link account that some type of Creator exists, but that He is utterly indifferent to the existence of human creatures. Or, from the other direction, it would also be inconsistent with Street's suppressed premise if one accepted Nagel's atheistic teleological view for why certain moral attitudes come to fixation. Hence, it is simply not true that Street's argument contains atheism as a suppressed premise.

(On the flipside, I found it odd that Crow presented theism vs metphysical antirealism as opposing pairs. Presumably theism is not intrinsically opposed to metaphysical antirealism - one need only look to Berkeley, Kant, Dummett or others. Plantinga himself had presented an argument that metaphysical antirealists should be theists!)

In any case, I suspect Street will likely reject A1 of Crow's reconstructed argument. However, Crow tries to argue that this results in a sort of implausible epistemic elitism, in that suspension of judgment regarding the Probability Thesis by philosophical novices with respect to the EAAN will resulted in an undefeated diminished defeater for all of that novice's beliefs.

However, this suggestion of an implausible epistemic elitism seems itself implausible. Consider Street's recent argument that theism leads to normative skepticism. Conjoin Bruce Russell's argument that skeptical theism leads to global skepticism and you have the ingredients of an argument that theism leads to global skepticism - presumably, one that will end up undermining R. I take it that novice theists should suspend judgment of the success or failure of such an argument - but, per Crow's other half of the pickle, it follows then that such theists - of which I would take to be a wide, diverse variety - should then be subject to a similar self-diminishing situation.

It doesn't seem that Crow's argument from diminished defeaters is at all unique to Plantinga's - it can generalize to any sort of argument that could potentially undermine R. Take Peter Unger's defense of skepticism. Novices should suspend judgment of the success or failure of his arguments - from which it would follow then that they are in a state of self-diminishment.

So, if Crow's reasoning is sound, then it seems novices, theist, atheist, or what have you, are going to be subject to self-diminishing scenario the moment they even think about the relevant arguments. So, why is Street's epistemic 'elitism' going to be any worse in this regard than elitism concerning skeptical arguments in general?

Rayndeon said...

The preceding argument doesn’t address exactly why Crow’s argument seems off-base, so it may be more helpful to think about diminished defeat in general.

To say more about Crow's use of diminished defeaters, one may have what one takes to be excellent reasons for X, but on Crow's understanding of things, it apparently seems that suspension of judgment with regards to arguments purporting that ~X should automatically result in a diminished defeater. By Crow's understanding, such individuals are then subject to a diminished defeater for their belief.

But, just how does Crow understand "diminished defeaters" to work here? In the case of a rebutting defeater, presumably if one judges that one has a rebutting defeater for X, then one should relinquish belief in X and adopt ~X. In the case of a "diminished defeater," presumably that isn't the case. What then are the doxastic consequences that should follow from possession of so-called diminished defeaters?

Surely, they cannot be as strong as suspension of judgment of the belief which possesses the diminished defeater. Let's suppose that we believe that X and suppose there exists some argument Y that argues that ~X. I don't see why our suspension in judgment in Y should automatically lead us to suspend judgment in X - don't we instead persist in our belief that X while acknowledging that it isn't fully secure from attack? For instance, one's belief in theism may not be fully secure if one hasn't followed the ins and outs of the problem of evil or the Street - Russell argument I suggested above. But suppose as a consequence of this that I should suspend my judgment in the belief that theism is true?

On this scheme, the mere existence of arguments to the contrary of which I presently suspend judgment should lead me to suspend judgment. However, there exist a myriad of arguments against any particular belief one has, many of which one should suspend judgment with respect to. The consequence would be to commit novices and perhaps even experts to a near-Pyrrhonian agnosticism, which is surely an implausible consequence, if we're comparing implausibilities.

On the other hand, perhaps Crow allows us to persist in our belief that X, despite X being subject to a diminished defeater. The most a diminished defeater might do in those circumstances is temper our confidence in X, similar to how disagreement amongst experts in philosophy might temper our philosophical convictions, but should in itself lead us to abandon them. But, if the most in terms of doxastic consequences that diminished defeat has is a tempering of our convictions, then what is supposed to be implausible about the epistemic 'elitism' on the second horn of the pickle? Surely, it wouldn't be that implausible to suggest that philosophical novices temper their convictions on a given philosophical issue given suspension of judgment on particular, often arcane arguments for and against any particular belief?

Consequently, I believe that the second horn of Crow's dilemma holds little to no bite against Street.