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Volume 12, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2009

Theism and Naturalism

Paul Churchland
Pages 135-141
DOI: 10.5840/philo200912210

Is Evolutionary Naturalism Epistemologically Self-Defeating

Alvin Plantinga argues that our cognitive mechanisms have been selected for their ability to sustain reproductively successful behaviors, not for their ability to track truth. This aspect of our cognitive mechanisms is said to pose a problem for the biological theory of evolution by natural selection in the following way. If our cognitive mechanisms do not provide any assurances that the theories generated by them are true, then the fact that evolutionary theory has been generated by them, and even accepted by them, provides no assurance whatever that evolutionary theory is true. Plantinga’s argument, I argue, innocently assumes that the (problematic) “truth-tracking character” of our native cognitive mechanisms is the only possible or available source of rational warrant or justification for evolutionary theory. But it isn’t. Plantinga is ignoring the artificial mechanisms for theorycreation and theory-evaluation embodied in the complex institutions and procedures of modern science.

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