Are Evolved Minds Reliable Truth-Finders?

In recent years, Christian apologists such as Alvin Plantinga have advanced arguments purporting to prove that evolutionary naturalism is a self-refuting worldview. According to these people, if evolution is true and there is no intelligent creator-god, then humans’ sensory and rational faculties were created by a blind process that is not concerned with truth or falsity, and therefore those faculties themselves could not reliably detect truth or falsity. The conclusion, as Plantinga and others would have it, is that if we believe evolutionary naturalism is true, we must distrust our own conclusions, including the belief in evolutionary naturalism. In this post, I will show that this argument is not just wrong, it is obviously wrong. An atheist has more than sufficient grounds to believe that their sensory and cognitive faculties are reliable, and it is not just probable but inevitable that a process of naturalistic evolution would result in this.

Over the past century and a half, our scientific study of the world has led to the conclusion that the human species, as well as all other life on this planet, was created by a process of evolution. Briefly described, evolution is a process by which living things that are better suited to survival in their environment tend to reproduce more abundantly, while living things less well suited reproduce less abundantly. The result of this is that genes which have a negative impact on survival tend to fade away, while those which contribute to survival are passed on and become more common, making them liable for further improvement in the next generation.

Our minds and senses, like all other adaptations of living species, were designed by evolution. And like all other adaptations, they could only have persisted to the degree that they aided our survival. If they did nothing but generate false beliefs, then at best, they would not harm our chances of survival, and far more likely would substantially decrease them. In either case, they would soon be eliminated by natural selection – in the latter case because they were an impediment to survival, in the former case because they were simply a waste of energy that could more usefully be spent elsewhere (like the eyes of blind cave fish). (The human brain consumes a substantial fraction of the body’s total oxygen and energy consumption. Natural selection could never maintain such a costly adaptation unless it conferred substantial survival benefits.)

Clearly, then, in order for these faculties to persist, they must confer some survival benefit, and it is not difficult to see what that benefit is. What Christian apologists have ignored is that the ability to accurately perceive one’s environment and respond appropriately is essential to survival. In this respect, evolution is concerned with the truth or falsity of a creature’s beliefs, because while the evolutionary process is blind with respect to method, it is most definitely not blind with respect to results. A creature that could not respond correctly to its environment, or that did so only imperfectly, would be at a significant survival disadvantage compared to one that could perceive more accurately. Therefore, it should be obvious that, all else being equal, evolution will always favor greater accuracy of sensory perception – both the ability to sense the environment with greater fidelity and the disposition to respond correctly to those sensory impressions.

Consider a simple example: a bacterium trying to swim toward a source of nutrition. Suppose this bacterium has chemical receptors on its surface that can detect molecules drifting through the liquid medium all around it. To gain the maximum amount of nutrition, the bacterium needs to be able to sense the gradient – the direction in which nutrient molecules are more concentrated – since that will probably be the direction in which their source is located. Which, then, will have a greater chance of reproducing and passing on its genes – the bacterium that can accurately sense the gradient and move in that direction, or one that is blind to the gradient and strikes out in a random direction?

A bacterium has none of a human being’s rich mental life, of course, and apologists such as Plantinga argue that while evolution would select for correct actions, it would not necessarily select for correct beliefs. But though this could be true for creatures whose actions are decoupled from their beliefs, human beings are not like this. If a creature will face more situations in its lifetime than its genes can explicitly program it for – if it cannot live solely by the autopilot of instinct, as human beings cannot and do not – then that creature must perceive its environment correctly in order to respond correctly. Accurate belief is the only sure way to produce correct action.

As an example of this, consider a more complex case: a troop of apes living in a forest, where interactions between individuals are a way of life. This mode of existence would favor a whole slew of new cognitive abilities: recognizing individuals and remembering their status in the group, remembering which group members are likely to reciprocate your favors, determining whether another individual can be bribed or deceived and being resistant to deception in turn, and group cooperation in hunting and defense. These cognitive feats all require sophisticated skills, including long-term memory and the ability to infer the contents of another individual’s mind, and any individual ape that did poorly at these tasks would be outcompeted and taken advantage of by those that were superior, if not exiled from the group entirely. On the other hand, even a very imperfect capability to do these things would provide a selective foothold; the better a given ape was at it, the more that ape would prosper, and so once the capability existed at all it would be liable to refinement and improvement through natural selection. It should be clear that in these circumstances no false belief would give selective advantage in the way that true belief would.

Finally, consider a case involving a characteristically human ability: the manufacture and use of tools. Tool-making was a major evolutionary advantage that conferred a significant benefit on the primitive virtuosos that were best at it. However, it also requires even more skills in one’s mental toolbox: sensitivity to fine-grained details of the environment, the ability to notice correlations, infer causality, imagine possible futures, classify objects into abstract categories, detect failures, and improve one’s technique through practice and testing. None of this would be possible without a sophisticated and highly accurate set of perceptual and reasoning abilities. Again, false beliefs about what the best kind of rock is to chip into tools, or whether a blunt end will be just as good for a spear as a sharp point, or indeed any step of the process, will inevitably put their possessor at a severe disadvantage compared to the hominids who got it right.

Of course, this is not to say evolution will produce perfect sensory perception. It is obvious that we possess no such thing, and there are good reasons why. Evolution is a process of tradeoffs, and takes shortcuts whenever possible; it tends to produce a “good enough” solution rather than a perfect solution. This explains many common errors in human reasoning and perception, such as the urge to anthropomorphize natural phenomena, or our susceptibility to certain kinds of optical illusions. It should be a matter of no dispute that human brains are not perfectly reliable. However, we are not helpless to correct our own perceptual mistakes. Using our superior pattern-recognition abilities, we can perceive when our efforts have failed and alter our plans accordingly. More specifically, when we recognize a defect in our perception, we can overcome it using a prosthesis that compensates for the defect. An optical illusion such as the Muller-Lyer illusion can be overcome by using a physical prosthesis, such as a ruler. More subtle defects in our perception can be corrected by using a mental prosthesis – the scientific method.

Though it is not perfect, it is more than obvious that evolution will produce at least generally reliable mental tools for environmental perception, pattern recognition and abstract reasoning in any intelligent being. In light of this, the burden of proof is now on the presuppositionalists to explain why an evolutionary naturalist should not consider their own beliefs reliable.

In any case, this argument is not uniquely applicable to atheists. Christians have their own defeaters which by any rational reading should force them to believe that their minds and senses are unreliable.

For example, if a Christian believes that the Bible is true, they must believe that there are circumstances under which God will deceive people and cause them to believe lies (2 Chronicles 18:21-22, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). But if this is true, how can any Christian know that they are not one of the people God is deluding? By definition, if you are one of those people, you would not know it; a deception is not a deception if the person experiencing it recognizes it as such, and an omnipotent being could easily create a deception that a person could not see through. This means that a Christian must always admit the possibility that any of their beliefs may be delusions sent by God; but this in turn means that a Christian can never have complete confidence in any of their beliefs, including the belief that God sends people delusions or even the belief that Christianity is true. The Christian worldview undermines itself just as totally as Christians claim atheism does.

This conclusion is just a special case of the more general conclusion that belief systems incorporating inscrutable, unlimited supernatural beings can never give sufficient grounds for considering your beliefs justified, since there is always the possibility that those supernatural beings are deceiving you in undetectable ways for unknowable reasons of their own. By contrast, atheism excludes such malevolent possibilities; and while this does not prove atheism true, it does mean that it is consistent and that it provides a sufficient foundation for holding evidence-based beliefs in the first place. We can be, and often are, mistaken, but atheism at least offers us a chance to discover and correct those mistakes, without fear of mischievous supernatural beings thwarting our every attempt at finding out the truth.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Void

    I see solipsism is rearing its ugly head again. Good article, keep up the good work.

  • Andrea

    I think this could be reduced to “cause and effect” too. If we aren’t perceiving the “truth” then our actions shouldn’t have an effect or at least not the one we expect. Being that there is absolutely no evidence for this, I think we’re pretty safe.
    As always, great post.

  • Quath

    I see the difference in understanding evolution based on how people think. For the most part, people believe first and justify second. It takes training to undo this way of thinking.

  • Anon

    This argument is over-simplistic. It attempts to pick itself up by its own shoelaces.

  • Philip Thomas

    I’m guessing Anon isn’t going to respond…but I’d like to see his comment explained: precisely what is the level of complexity that is missing from this argument?

  • http://www.religion.readallaboutitonline.com religion

    It’s easy to be atheist until your on your death bed.

  • Alex Weaver

    It’s also easy after it. Not everyone is spineless enough to have to turn to a god in order to face death.

  • http://auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    I once picked myself up by my shoelaces. They broke before I got anywhere though. Stupid cheap shoelaces.

  • Polly

    —”Accurate belief is the only sure way to produce correct action.”

    Strange argument.
    Ironically, the pervasiveness of religious belief through the human species is an argument against the idea that beliefs must be productive or at least not couter-productive. Much time and resources are poured into useless and, very often, harmful activities because of the false beliefs of most humans. Why isn’t the majority of the human population atheistic or at least indifferent to spiritual matters (maybe we are and that’s why “lukewarm” religion is so rampant)? It seems to be a core instinct within the human race to postualte a nether world of some sort and waste time and energy on it. This should have been eradicated as those who didn’t waste scarce resources on spiritism put more of their efforts into this world and saw greater success. Even hatred and other negative human qualities may have given us the aggression we needed to preserve our genes. But, “faith” doesn’t really help, except…
    The other possibility is that false belief may in fact have benefits in some cases. Being optimistic without reason certainly seems to bear this out. Like those studies that say faith helps people overcome disease. It’s good for one’s health to have a positive outlook as it may reduce stress. The gambling spirit also pushes us to make investments for an unceratin future. This view, I think, lines up very well with most people’s view of heaven, a retirment home.

    The crux of Pantinga’s argument seems to be that natural processes CANNOT result in rational brains. That’s very different from saying that they don’t HAVE TO, which would be, IMHO, more accurate. And as ebon pointed out there are more survival benefits to being rational than not. It’s reasonable that those perceptions linked to concrete actions taken with tangible goals in view would carry over into other areas.

    —”It’s easy to be atheist until your on your death bed”
    I think this statement presupposes a rather cowardly outlook maybe found in the one making it. Do you relish the thought of someone cowering at the last minute? Not for the sake of the salvation of their soul, but for your own vindication? Ask yourself that.

  • http://apdraper2000.livejournal.com/ Andrew

    Thanks – I just reread Miracles and have been thinking about this question a lot lately. I’m not entirely convinced – but then I’m a theist, so I have to acknowledge that trying to understand certain views is like trying to speak a new language. But this was helpful.

  • Logismous Kathairountes

    I actually just read an article by Plantinga about this argument not too long ago. I find that it packs a lot more punch if you express it in terms of reproduction rather than survival, which you can do since both would be goals of evolution-as-origin. The brain of any creature that can’t mate would be selected against – So eventually all brains would strongly promote mating. I think we’ve all, at one point or another, been rendered totally irrational by reproduction and the social stuff that goes along with it. I know I for one often fool myself when it comes to girls. So, if I was an evolutionary naturalist, I would trust my brain to be accurate regarding everything except mating and survival. The question for me would be, “Does my belief about evolution and naturalism have anything to do with whether or not I get to mate?” If it did (and it seems like it probably would, in some way) then I would have a defeater.

    On the other hand, as a Christian, I have no such defeaters. To call the idea that God blinds the eyes of some a defeater is to take the doctrine out of context. Specifically, Christian doctrine is that everybody has been blinded by a supernatural power, and only Christians have been given their sight back. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 actually confirms this: The delusion the LORD sends is for those who don’t believe the truth, and who practice unrighteousness.

    Really, it’s hardly fair to compare them when it comes to self-defeating, since Christianity makes specific claims about truth, where it comes from, what it is, and why, and Evolutionary Naturalism mostly makes claims about biology and history, and usually not the nature of truth.

    So: Evolution/naturalism has a defeater only when belief in it has something to do with mating or survival, and Christianity has a defeater only for those who are not Christians, which doesn’t really count.

    By the way, I like your site, and your clear way of writing.

  • theistscientist

    Methinks you are trying to have your cake and eat it too. If evolution, survival of the fittest, makes us rational predators then how do you defend the stat that about 95% of humans then and now are theists? Humans, atleast over time,via genetic predisposition/trial and error, etc employ tools which increase their survival chances ( survival multipliers). Organized rel;igion must therefore be one of those “survival multipliers”. The judeo-Christian west has largel;y thus far come out far ahead in the race(intellectually, scientifically,militarily, culturally)and the judeo_christian West with its evangelical Christinity has been the most pro-actively religious of cultures.

  • OMGF

    If you are indeed a scientist, then you should know that correlation does not prove causation. I can just as easily point out that the gap between the pro-active elements and secular elements is getting wider, and leading to a secularization of our culture, which coincides with most of our advancement. In fact, it was right around the time that the dark ages ended that secularization started to happen more and more. Does this prove that secularization was the cause? Of course not, it doesn’t prove it anymore than your assertions that our religiousity is the cause of the west’s advances.

    As to the first part, we don’t know exactly how religion arose. It could have contributed to being a survival enhancer in that it could have helped keep tribes together, but that’s speculation. It might just be a curious by-product of our innate curiosity and a need to be able to explain things.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    If evolution, survival of the fittest, makes us rational predators then how do you defend the stat that about 95% of humans then and now are theists?

    Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell has a very good reply to this argument: Nearly all human beings have also suffered from the common cold. Does this mean that the common cold is an evolutionary adaptation that increases our fitness? Should we look for the survival advantage that the cold confers on human beings?

    But of course, this is the wrong question. The common cold persists not because it benefits us to do so, but because it benefits itself to do so. Cold viruses exist parasitically on us, taking advantage of our genetic machinery to propagate themselves. And, as I’ve argued previously, something analogous is probably true of religion: religious memes ensure their own propagation and transmission by hijacking the human belief machinery, turning it to their own purposes with little regard for whether it is beneficial to their host to do so.

    The judeo-Christian west has largel;y thus far come out far ahead in the race(intellectually, scientifically,militarily, culturally)…

    But the obvious follow-up question is whether Christianity caused this outcome, or whether it simply happened to be the dominant belief set in the culture that came out ahead for other reasons. There are good lines of evidence favoring the latter possibility (see, for example, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel).

  • lpetrich

    Xianity isn’t even very old by the standards of humanity, and even by the standards of humanity’s recorded history. Everybody’s ancestors were once pagans, if you look far back enough — pagans for nearly all of humanity’s history. So should we worship a multitude of deities and make statues of them?

    Furthermore, evangelical and fundamentalist sects are offshoots of what are now mainline Protestant sects, like Anglicanism and Presbyterianism,sects which are at most a little over 400 years old. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are the oldest Xian sects, and evangelicals usually consider them Mary-worshipping, saint-worshipping quasi-pagan idolators.

    Evangelicalism and fundamentalism have largely been lower-middle-class and lower-class predilections; the upper middle and upper classes in Anglophone nations have traditionally preferred mainline Protestant sects like Anglicanism/Episcopalianism.

    So claiming a triumph for Evangelical Xianity is blatantly unhistorical.

  • theistscientist

    thank you .reasonable arguments all. I agree, but dont necessarily concede, that causation is difficult(ne impossible) to prove and I am aware of the problems of comfirmation bias and such. Either way, seems to militate in favor of religion however. If humans tend to be rational, and the most rational tend to survive best then 1 of tripartite analysis in favor of religion as a survival multiplier obtains. If an intelligent creator hardwired this relgious truth seeking attribute then of course part 2 obtains. And part three, If as you say that religion may help tribes/groups better organize and unify then part 3 obtains pro tanto up and until in future times it can be proved that religion is no longer necessary and also was never neccessary to provide this survival multiplier.(a very difficult construct to prove). I realize there are other permutations but possession is nine tenths, and the judeo-christian west has survived best. Burden of proof is on the secular humanist to prove otherwise. What to put in, what to leave out? wasnt that in a song by the Doobie brothers? And anecdotally, I am reminded of the favorite composer whose patron King, in reviewing the composers’s symphony suggested that it might have a few too many notes, and the composer shrewdly inquired of the king “and sire, which specific notes did you have in mind”

  • OMGF

    You, sir, are guilty of the is/ought fallacy, with a helping of affirming the consequent. And, you are still banging the correlation proves causation drum even while admitting that it’s probably not valid. Further, even if religion was somehow some sort of organizing force that helped survival of tribes, it wouldn’t prove that any religion is correct, nor would it prove that the theist is correct.

    Finally, if you wish to assert that religion is a survival multiplier, it is not up to me to disprove you, but up to you to support your assertion.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Theistscientist,

    If humans tend to be rational, and the most rational tend to survive best then 1 of tripartite analysis in favor of religion as a survival multiplier obtains.

    No part of evolution says the most rational survive. Whether people are rational or not, all evolution ‘cares’ about is who leaves the most decendants. The general rule I would put forth to people is that they have to just be rational enough, as more often than not, it’s not the highly intelligent, most rational people who have the most kids; matter of fact, last time I saw stats on it, a woman who doesn’t finish highschool is averaged to leave twice as many descendants than one who finishes college. I know school isn’t the best marker of rationality, but it’s one of the best we have at the moment.

    If an intelligent creator hardwired this relgious truth seeking attribute then of course part 2 obtains

    If this is true (which everyone should know isn’t at this point) then there should be no need for parents to have to educate their children on religion; the children should naturally do it themselves regardless of social norms and pressure.

    If as you say that religion may help tribes/groups better organize and unify then part 3 obtains pro tanto up and until in future times it can be proved that religion is no longer necessary and also was never neccessary to provide this survival multiplier.

    A possible theory I would throw out is not that religion helped groups survive, but rather socially benefits a few select indivduals. Superstition can be conditioned into animals, but what makes humans different is very important; we have language, and it’s a huge part of our life. It allows people to pass information onto others whether it is correct or not. Couple that with a child’s predisposition to believe what it’s parents say and you can see how easy it can be to continue a superstition.
    In the case of religion, however, that provides something more strongly something than superstituions do; a way to manipulate social status. People are social animals, and if a superstition happens to allow them to gain status and power, you can bet they’ll try and defend it. It’s easy enough to see this is the grand displays of wealth religions show in building their incredibly large houses of worship, the opulence that those higher in the religious orders live in, having millions of people who take what someone says to be the ultimate authority, the ability to condemn and ostrosize those who do no agree with the leader’s views; the list goes on
    Though that isn’t specific to children; social pressure can get people to believe things that are balantly untrue (think Asch conformity experiments).

    Let us also not forget that when you quote stats saying that 90 something percent of the world’s population believes in god(s), there are thousands of different religions, some with many gods, some with god as a more universal thing, some with one, and then of course the thousands of different groups within the religion that all worship the same general idea, but have profoundly different ways of doing it, and often a distaste for those misguided people who do so differently from themselves. This gets back to your second idea that there’s a hardwired religious truth seeking gene. If such a thing existed, looking at the results it seems clear there’s very little “truth seeking” going on. If there was, you’d at least expect a majority people to end up at the same ideas

  • lpetrich

    theistscientist, given the history of humanity, wouldn’t it be better to be a polytheist? Most of humanity’s older religions are polytheist, and Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and even some Protestant sects feature a cult of saints, which is a form of backdoor polytheism. So if you reject polytheism, you go against The Wisdom Of The Ages(tm).

    And the “triumph of the West” is due to getting ahead technologically, not due to our religion. If you looked back about 600 years ago, to the early 1400′s, you would think that it was China which was the world’s most powerful nation, with its Treasure Fleets and all that — Europe seemed like a backwater back then.

    And even in modern times, progress has been very uneven. First Italy (Renaissance), then Spain and Portugal (discovery of the New World) did some early spurts, but after that it was northern Europeans who got ahead. Britain built the biggest and most successful empire, the successful rebellion of thirteen of its early colonies aside. So should we convert to Anglicanism/Episcopalianism?

    Much of our progress has been built on the rediscovery of our classical Greek and Roman legacy, starting in about 1200; it produced much more inspiring examples of science and political theory than can be found in the Bible. It was not for nothing that the writer of the Federalist Papers had used the pseudonym Publius, after an early politician in the Roman Republic. So should we convert to Hellenic and Roman paganism?

  • theistscientist

    wondeful! I am actually really learning something and enjoying myself in this discussion. Thank you all for being so professional and polite by the way. That’s why I left IIDB as well, by now someone at IIDB would have called me a F**** Moron for even suggesting the possibility of a linkage between religion and survial. There are more of you than me so I apologize if I miss answering any of your followup q’.s Moving forward and in general, it would seem that religiosity is positively correlated with societal pro-survivabiity (pro tanto,thus far in the continuum).If survival multipliers evolved along with hominids then wouldnt one assume that religion would evolve as well. We started with primitive pantheism, then to polytheism, then monotheism, with judeo-Christian monotheism thus far having won out in the ‘sociallydarwinistic’ evolutionary race. Who knows, if China really does become the new Rome and economically and militarily defeats the west and if China remains atheistic then I suppose we can logically say atheism is a superior survival multiplier could we not? And China has a one child policy, so strictly speaking, mass genetic proliferation isnt China’s strategy.In a retrogade evolutionary sense China is trying to limit their population, and the selifish gene be damned! But this one child policy is very rational,and isnt China’s atheism(eliminatinmg the opiate of the masses, and eliminating the superstitious and unscientific’ness! of religion) also rational? and if it is rational then it is a prosurvival multiplier is it not? your thoughts?

  • lpetrich

    The idea of a religion-survival link strongly implies the royal-lie theory of religion, first stated by Plato in his Republic nearly 2400 years ago.

    I think that if one seriously believes that, then one ought to consider inventing a religion for that purpose and not make excuses for existing religions. Yes, inventing, as Plato had done. Plato’s Royal Lie was to be the official religion of his Republic, and his society’s religion was to be banned as full of bad examples like heroes lamenting and gods laughing.

  • theistscientist

    Thank you Mr. Ipetrich, you have taught me somehting new, I will go and study up on Plato’s Republic and then I will be back to discuss.

  • theistscientist

    thank you all, interesting> learned something new. Of course the religion-survival link could also be because the link is true. If the patient is never told they were given the placebo vs. the real drug in a study, and the patient is healed, how does the patient know what to beleive?

  • OMGF

    Moving forward and in general, it would seem that religiosity is positively correlated with societal pro-survivabiity (pro tanto,thus far in the continuum).

    I’m sure that people in the dark ages would agree with you whole-heartedly.

    We started with primitive pantheism, then to polytheism, then monotheism, with judeo-Christian monotheism thus far having won out in the ‘sociallydarwinistic’ evolutionary race.

    And, we’ve seen the most advances after the Enlightenment (which pulled the monotheistics out of the dark ages) and the rise of ever more secular governments, organizations, and people.

    Who knows, if China really does become the new Rome and economically and militarily defeats the west and if China remains atheistic then I suppose we can logically say atheism is a superior survival multiplier could we not?

    No, that would not necessarily follow.

    But this one child policy is very rational,and isnt China’s atheism(eliminatinmg the opiate of the masses, and eliminating the superstitious and unscientific’ness! of religion) also rational?

    No, it is not rational.

  • http://www.answerbearer.blogspot.com Karla

    Please see my response to this article at http://www.answerbearer.blogspot.com

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Karla,
    I read your blog post and all I can say is that you should be more careful in reading Ebon’s original post, as you’ve presented a long, drawn-out strawman argument.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I have a few comments on Karla’s reply:

    If evolution is generating minds that think more and more truly then why do billions of people ascribe to religion and spiritual worship that atheists claim are illogical practices?

    That’s a valid question, but what I take issue with is Karla’s apparent assumption that it’s one that applies only to me. My original post was addressing the claim, made by Alvin Plantinga and others, that sensory faculties created by evolution would be unreliable, while sensory faculties created by an omnipotent god would be reliable. Clearly, there is a vast amount of religious confusion and schism in the world – this is just a fact that is not open to dispute. Therefore, even if this claim were a defeater for evolutionary naturalists believing in the reliability of human sense perception, it would be just as much of a defeater for theists who believe the same.

    But in fact, I think it’s less of a problem for me than it is for the theist. As I said in my post, it’s most likely that evolution, a process which inherently involves trade-offs, would produce generally but not perfectly reliable sense perception. It’s to be expected that people would make some cognitive mistakes under this scenario. By contrast, I believe the theist has a far more difficult time explaining why a creator-god would supply people with brains which have such an apparent predisposition toward inventing false gods.

    Postmodernism is actually the current ebb and flow of the today’s world which does not ascribe to the knowablity of truth nor the supremacy of science and reason. Why is one more popular than the other if atheists are the more evolved humans?

    There is no such thing as “more evolved”, and atheism is not a genetic trait in any case.

    Apparently, Richard Dawkins thinks he is superior to Christians as he has advocated to Oxford University to change their policy to disallow Christians as students because they are not intelligent.

    This is a preposterous charge which I don’t believe for one moment. If Karla wants to make such specific accusations, she had better be able to produce evidence supporting them. If she can’t, then she should have the common sense to withdraw her claim and apologize for disseminating this defamatory slur against a good man.

  • Alex Weaver

    This is a preposterous charge which I don’t believe for one moment. If Karla wants to make such specific accusations, she had better be able to produce evidence supporting them. If she can’t, then she should have the common sense to withdraw her claim and apologize for disseminating this defamatory slur against a good man.

    Especially if she’s also in the UK, whose libel laws practically decide the case in the plaintiff’s favor by default.

    I’ll bet money thatat some point he stated that people who are grossly ignorant of natural history should be disqualified by the science standards, or something to that effect, and that this is what she or the Good Christian sources she got her information from spun into this ridiculous claim.

  • Brad

    Are the genetically-programmed cognitive faculties that confer evolutionary advantage the sames ones we use when arguing scientific theories? I have to wonder if that’s really the case. Our genotypes have not changed significantly in the geologically-recent millenia, and yet our belief systems worldwide vary greatly and have been changing drastically over time. We are all very easily prone to biases and reasoning fallacies. I doubt genetic evolution itself could explain why we can have reliable beliefs, at least not in the detail necessary.

    I like to think of the intelligent discourse of a society as a kind of pseudo- quantum computation that will search the possibility space of certain belief systems. Eventually, obsolete belief systems that cannot be salvaged well enough with the combined rationalizations of its advocates will wane and be followed by a different one, that will then be taken up by society for new investigation. This is why mathematics will never change but will only grow, and why our scientific theories have gotten progressively better at explaining the world. (Although you can think of the “society” as the academic community in these cases.) For this collective computation to work, we only have to have a minimal amount of reasoning abilities. We function well enough without being perfect.

    Religion slows down the societal computation. (As do other dogmatic ideologies.) It does not ask for our rational belief, and it indoctrinates the young. As Ebonmuse just said, “religious memes ensure their own propagation and transmission by hijacking the human belief machinery, turning it to their own purposes with little regard for whether it is beneficial to their host to do so.” If the virus works correctly, then the computation won’t. That’s why some of us choose to fight it, and promote freethought.

  • Alex Weaver

    I doubt genetic evolution itself could explain why we can have reliable beliefs, at least not in the detail necessary.

    Um, did anyone here suggest otherwise?