Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's True That Humans Lie a Lot (and I'm not lying about that)

In Titus ch. 1 Paul writes about a group of Cretans called "the circumcision group." He says:

They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain. 12Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." 13This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith 14and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth."

This is paradoxical. If a Cretan says "All Cretans are liars," then he is lying, and the statement "All Cretans are liars" is false, which means it is true that "Not all Cretans are liars." The 4th-century Greek philosopher Epimenides, himself a Cretan, reportedly said "The Cretans are always liars." But this statement is not paradoxical, since it can be true or false. "All Cretans are liars," stated by a Cretan, is paradoxical. It's been called the "Liar's Paradox," and is the logical equivalent of stating "This sentence is false."

In today's nytimes.com we see something that reminds us of the Liar's Paradox. The essay is called "A Highly Evolved Propensity for Deceit." "In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size... Much evidence suggests that we humans, with our densely corrugated neocortex, lie to one another chronically and with aplomb." "Our lie blindness suggests to some researchers a human desire to be deceived, a preference for the stylishly accoutred fable over the naked truth."

"One safe generalization seems to be that humans are real suckers... We're desperate to believe that what our loved ones say is true."


1. Humans lie chronically and with aplomb.

2. Humans are blind to lying, preferring stylish fables to naked truth.

3. Humans are real suckers, desperate to believe our loved ones are telling the truth.

But if these things are true, then why believe this? What is "naked truth," and how could we possibly get at it? If humans have a "propensity" to lie and to want to be lied to, by what means do we adjudicate between a lie and a truth? How have the proponents of this theory themselves avoided chronic deceitfulness, and are we suckers for believing them?

Such are the problems within evolutionary naturalism. See Plantinga, "An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism" - in part here, and in full in Pojman's philosophy of religion text.