Sunday, July 17, 2011

Are Honeybees Created in God's Image?

In commenting on my previous post on Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, "Empedocles" pointed out that the honeybee waggle dance is a dramatic example of how evolution by natural selection favors adaptive behavior that tracks the truth about the world.

This suggests that we can account for the natural evolution of reliable cognitive faculties without assuming a theistic explanation of human mental capacity as a product of divine creation in the image of God.

Plantinga implicitly concedes this point when he acknowledges that natural evolution tends to produce "accurate indicators." But then he insists that this has nothing to do with "true beliefs." He offers no evidence, however, for this assertion that the evolution of "accurate indicators" has nothing to do with the evolution of "true beliefs" in animals with complex nervous systems (like human beings).

Even without attributing any conscious beliefs to honeybees, the remarkable accuracy of their waggle dance illustrates how natural evolution--even without divine guidance--can produce animal cognition and communication that shows an accurate representation of the world as related to the needs of the animal.

Or would Plantinga argue that this can only be explained as the work of God--that the cognitive abilities of honeybees show that they have been created to some degree in the image of God?

The waggle dance of honeybees can be seen in a YouTube video.

12 comments:

dunnettreader said...

This post gets at the heart of my reaction to Platinga's argument as laid out in your prior post.

You wrote as the starting point of Plantinga's argument: "One of the primary doctrines of traditional theism is that God created human beings in His image." Says who? "God." Oh, then... all right...

Plantinga's whole argument fails at that very first move. If one assumes "imago dei" then the rest of the argument is at least logically consistent -- though as you point out, not necessary or sufficient reason. But if, instead, one looks for something other than Revelation for the "evidence" of the first move, then we get to honey bees in pretty short order.

Lots of folks have been/are theists (believe in one or more deities) without assuming that God(s) made the world/universe specially for the benefit of Man, or that God(s) made Man in his/their image. That's the orthodox Judaeo-Christian-Muslim covenant with the "people of the book" story, when Earth was surrounded by celestial spheres.

Plantinga is using "imago dei" to produce his personal flavor of circular anthropomorphism. Observations he thinks are key about Man -> speculative conclusions about God's attributes -> "necessary" "facts" about God's creation, where we find Man at the top of the heap and the focus of God's concerns.

If, however, a theist doesn't believe that Man is the center of the universe -- especially if one believes that "imago dei" is naive or hubristic anthropomorphism -- it's waggle dances all the way down.

Larry Arnhart said...

Plantinga's argument is that the "imago Dei" principle is the only way to escape from the self-defeating incoherence of naturalism, which cannot explain the reliability of human reasoning as evolved from irrational causes.

Any refutation of his argument has to show how the adaptive behavior of human cognition in evolution was linked to reliable reasoning.

Empedocles said...

The best explanation of how humans represent the world through language and thought and as it relates to simpler organisms like honey bees is, of course, Millikan's. She is famous for using the honey bees as a model for human representational systems. That's where I got the example from.

dunnettreader said...

@LA -- Yes, I know the critique of "metaphysical naturalism" is set up thru a series of steps to work from "true beliefs" to "imago dei" and not the reverse. And as you argue in response, you can posit a very plausible way, supported by evidence found in nature, in which "adaptive behavior of human cognition in evolution was linked to reliable reasoning." Pace Plantinga, a theist can adopt a "naturalist" metaphysics without "imago dei".

But taking a step backward and looking at his argument as a whole, the key move is how he separates metaphysical reality from the "real world". It looks to me as if he's created a metaphysical condition ("true belief") that he specifies in such a way that it satisfies less stringent epistemological standards (e.g. reliable but fallible) but, only with God's intervention, satisfies higher metaphysical standards of "truth". That is, that the metaphysical "true belief" faculty is something qualitatively different from our "real world" messy, fallible, but generally reliable cognition, which is analogous to other messy, fallible, but generally reliable human faculties.

In effect, "imago dei" is implicitly built in from the outset. Or in other words, I suspect he'd answer, "No, honey bees don't have 'true beliefs.' They aren't created in God's image." Says who? "God." Oh, then... all right...

I must confess I come to his argument with no sympathy, but it looks to me like his "true beliefs" are what he projects, from an ideal of Man, to God's intellect and, using "imago dei," then projects back onto Man. He's simply produced a Christian metaphysics. Which, I grant you, is far better than a Christian metaphysics that denies evolution, but doesn't really get beyond a closed circle.

The injection of theology into metaphysics probably seems as natural as breathing to someone whose priors include "imago dei". However, it looks a bit fishy to those of us who think "imago dei" is fancy-dress anthropomorphising and don't want to chase Plantinga down a Cartesian rabbit hole.

Empedocles said...

Actually, the bee dances don't refute Plantinga because bees don't have beliefs, so they don't have true beliefs either. Probably only representations that are in a subject/predicate syntax subject to negation can be true or false, and only humans use these, so Plantinga can just switch his argument over. But to make his wider point he'd have to show that evolution in principle can't produce subject/predicate representations, that only God can, which is a difficult argument to attempt.

Matko said...

But to make his wider point he'd have to show that evolution in principle can't produce subject/predicate representations, that only God can, which is a difficult argument to attempt.

Maybe it is difficult, but here's a first good step (I might also misrepresent the argument & the evolutionary theory as a layman in biology, so don't shout at me):

From an atheistic naturalistic perspective, religion is a set of false beliefs man acquired during his evolutionary development. He acquired them as a useful adaptation. Under this beliefs, man does something that increases his fitness. An obvious benefit is higher fertility. Religious people do have on average a higher birth rate than other groups.

For evolution, although those beliefs are false, they are highly beneficial. So, the truth-value of our acquired beliefs, at least in one instance, is ignored for the sake of causing behaviors evolution prefers.

Here's the question: why stop at religion? Where is the cutoff point between false beliefs and true beliefs man has acquired through evolution? One aforementioned instance can cause scepticism about our faculties. If they made one blunder, how many did they commit actually in the end?

Troy Camplin said...

When wolves smell wolf urine, they believe that unknown wolves are nearby. Wolves who have this belief do not get attacked by unknown wolves; wolves who do not have this belief are attacked by unknown wolves. The latter is maladaptive. Thus, wolves evolved an understanding that wolf urine means unknown wolves nearby.

Matko said...

[quote]When wolves smell wolf urine, they believe that unknown wolves are nearby. Wolves who have this belief do not get attacked by unknown wolves; wolves who do not have this belief are attacked by unknown wolves. The latter is maladaptive. Thus, wolves evolved an understanding that wolf urine means unknown wolves nearby.[/quote]

You can't genetically encode acquired beliefs and pass them onto the next generation.

Troy Camplin said...

Actually, you can. Indirectly. Wolves that ran away survived, those that did not, died. Thus, any slight tendency to run away was selected for, meaning the knowledge became encoded as an instinct. See Pinker on how knowledge becomes instinctual. It's well established that this happens and that it's how instincts come about.

Matko said...

Wolves that ran away survived, those that did not, died. Thus, any slight tendency to run away was selected for, meaning the knowledge became encoded as an instinct.

You shifted from beliefs to tendencies, which aren't same things. Tendencies are behavioral dispositions, nopropositionaly expressed and unconscious, and can be caused by various impersonal physical causes. Tendencies can generate beliefs; however, is there a necessary connection between adaptive tendencies and true beliefs? I don't think this is the case if one presumes naturalism. The connection can be at best contingent, and, if my example with religion is correct, that lowers our confidence in natural selection presuming naturalism as a sharper of faculties giving true beliefs.

See Pinker on how knowledge becomes instinctual.

Sorry, I don't have any of his books at my disposal.

It's well established that this happens and that it's how instincts come about.

From what I know, what we inherit aren't beliefs, but innate faculties/psychological mechanism that hold nonpropositional innate knowledge e.g. universal grammar or generate beliefs in reactions to external stimuli.

Troy Camplin said...

Those whose actions best reflect reality (i.e., true belief) survive to pass on the tendency to react to that reality. Those tendencies turn into true belief.

Of course, this is simpler for wolves and honeybees than it is for humans. For example, if we see order, we expect there to be an orderer. This makes sense if you are a member of a tribe, and the members of other tribes will likely kill you. Those with a tendency to make that connection were more likely to survive than others. Thus it became overgeneralized to include the entire world (leading to creationist theories) and, to keep it more human, the economy (leading to socialist theories). In this case, true belief in a particular environment led to false belief in another. But that comes with the incredibly complex intelligence of human beings.

Matko said...

Those whose actions best reflect reality (i.e., true belief) survive to pass on the tendency to react to that reality. Those tendencies turn into true belief.


Or in other words, true beliefs turn into true beliefs? Thanks for being explicit that you're arguing in circle.