Monday, February 27, 2006

Does Natural Selection produce Reason?

There has been a substantial discussion of this on The Corner, starting from a book review by Leon Wieseltier in the New York Times. Noah Millman has a lengthy comment about it on his blog:

"And Derb's right that the faculty of reason and
the religious "instinct" could be - almost certainly are - incommensurate, and
that there is no teeth in the argument that if both are products of natural
selection then both are equally undermined by that genealogy."

I'm not as convinced by this. I think it's more correct to say that neither reason nor religion are falsified by genealogy. But, if we were to take as a hypothesis that religion is merely the product of evolutionary pressure and conclude that therefore it cannot be objectively true, what would that say about reason, if in fact reason were also the product of the same evolutionary pressures?

The gap between them is precisely the reification of reason, that is the reality in truth of its inferences. Derb tries to deny the reification (more particularly, he wants to avoid the whole subject). But if he thought about it I think he would appreciate the his argument actually requires the reification of reason. Ie, we independently accept the validity of reason no matter how it comes to exist in the human mind. Ie reason is "special." Noah Millman, to his credit, appreciates the specialness:

"We don't have to learn, for example, about the
existence of gravity, or friction, or inertia; we are born with hard-wiring
about these things, and we what we learn is how to get along with these forces
as we actually make our way through the world, running and jumping and throwing
baseballs and the like. But we are not born knowing the actual laws of physics,
and the actual laws of physics turn out to differ in far-reaching ways from the
common-sense or "folk" physics we know by instinct. And it is our faculty of
reason that we use to discern the differences, because it is our faculty of
reason that allows us to . . . reason. Or to access Reason, if you prefer.
Reason has a certain pride of place amongst our faculties when we ask questions
about how things are."

No comments: