The title of my last post was Reality is the Wall You Smack into When You’re Wrong. In response to that title Seversky pushed back:
Can we assume from this [title] that you agree with me that the argument that our minds were shaped for survival but not for truth is a false dichotomy? In other words, if we form false beliefs about reality then, sooner or later, we will run smack into it so natural selection will favor the formation of true beliefs?
I was more than a little surprised at Sev’s response, because since Darwin himself, the standard Darwinian line has been exactly the opposite of that which he asserted. Natural selection selects for fitness, not for truth. In an 1881 letter to William Graham Darwin wrote:
But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
To be sure, the doubt Darwin was expressing was not in his own theory; it was in a creator. It never seemed to occur to him that he was sawing off the branch on which his own theory was sitting. Nevertheless, he understood the epistemological conundrum his theory creates (if only selectively).
Nothing has changed in 133 years. As Wells outlines in Zombie Science, Darwinsists Ajit Varki and Danny Brower absolutely insist that natural selection sometimes favors false thinking. They say that the modern human mind evolved when early humans overcame their awareness of mortality by acquiring “a massive capacity for denial.” Varki and Brower argue that all non-humans are aware of their own mortality and thus are inhibited from embarking on enterprises—such as scientific discoveries and technological innovations—that transcend the life of a single individual. By evolving a capacity for denying mortality, subhuman creatures became humans and modern culture emerged. But “reality denial” quickly extended to other aspects of reality and produced religion.
Examples of Darwinists asserting that truth is not necessarily adaptive can be multiplied.
Steven Pinker: “our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not.”
Eric Baum: “Sometimes you are more likely to survive and propagate if you believe a falsehood than if you believe the truth.”
Donald Hoffman: “Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviours. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know.And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be. If you had to spend all that time figuring it out, the tiger would eat you. According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.”
At this point Goodusername jumps in with this:
Darwinism likely means our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth, but it’s not as if there’s no link between survival and having a brain that is capable of learning about its environment.
Of course. Notice how both Pinker and Baum try to have it both ways. Sometimes truth is adaptive; sometimes it is not. Sometimes you are more likely to survive if you believe a falsehood. This implies that at other times you are more likely to survive if you believe the truth.
So dear Goodusername, we can sum the Darwinian narrative up as follows: believing the truth is adaptive. Except when it is not. Then believing a falsehood is adaptive.
That is the beauty of Darwinism. It explains absolutely everything – and its polar opposite – with equal alacrity. You believed the truth and survived. Then truth was adaptive. You believed a falsehood and survived. Then the falsehood was adaptive. You committed rape? Well rape was adaptive in the distant past, and you are just acting according to your hard wiring. You acted with selfless devotion and sacrifice toward a woman? Well, altruism was adaptive in the distant past, and you are just acting according to your hard wiring.
Of course, a skeptic might object that a theory that explains everything and its opposite equally well explains nothing. But if one were of a skeptical bent one wouldn’t be a Darwinist in the first place, so this objection rarely bothers Darwinian true believers.