FOM: evolution and reason

Randall Holmes holmes at
Wed Apr 1 12:34:57 EST 1998

There's an interesting turn in the argument (offered by Tait) that
evolution somehow helps to tell us why reason works.

He used an analogy between reason (on the one hand) and the eyeball
(on the other).  I will take this analogy further.  It is highly
appropriate for evolution to be taken into account in a discussion of
the structure of the eyeball; it would not be appropriate for
evolution to enter into a discussion of the nature of light.
Analogously, it is appropriate for evolutionary arguments to be used
in considering the neurological mechanisms supporting our rational
faculty in general, or our mathematical capabilities in particular.
But it is not appropriate to bring evolution into a discussion of the
features of the world that reason or a hypthetical mathematical
faculty finds in the world.  Evolution may provide an explanation of
why we see light (it is useful to) but it provides no explanation
whatever of why there is light or what light may be.  Similarly,
evolution supports an explanation of why our rational or mathematical
faculty detects and exploits intelligible structure in the world (it
is useful to be able to do this!), but it does not and cannot provide
any explanation of why there is intelligible structure in the world or
what "intelligible structure" is.

The intelligible structure of the world is no more made up by the
neurological machinery that enables us to apprehend it than the stars
are made up by our eyes.

And God posted an angel with a flaming sword at | Sincerely, M. Randall Holmes
the gates of Cantor's paradise, that the       | Boise State U. (disavows all) 
slow-witted and the deliberately obtuse might | holmes at
not glimpse the wonders therein. |

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