Over the last several days I have been performing a little experiment. See here and here. I have quoted several prominent Darwinists for the proposition that natural selection selects for fitness, not for truth. See the appendix at the end of this post for a sample of some of these quotations. I think Patricia Churchland puts the proposition most starkly. Evolution selects for survival and “[t]ruth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”
Here is the nub of my experiment: I was testing to see if – given this uncontroversial aspect of the theory – any of the materialists would express even the tiniest, slightest, minutest doubts regarding the truth of their own views. Several materialist commentators jumped into to the comment threads. And they did not disappoint. Not a single one of them picked up on the seemingly rather obvious point that, in principle, statements like Churchlands’ apply to Darwinian theory as much as they do to truth claims materialists deride or hold in contempt, such as belief in God.
This is not surprising. Indeed, our Darwinist friends are acting perfectly consistently with a tradition that goes all the way back to Darwin himself. In an 1881 letter Darwin wrote:
Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done that the Universe is not the result of chance. 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?
Darwin clearly understood the implications of his own evolutionary materialist ideas with respect to contemplating whether God exists. We are just jumped up apes who have deluded ourselves into believing we have libertarian free will and can use that free will to grasp onto truth and reject error. But at the end of the day can we really trust our monkey minds when they grapple with the big questions like whether God exists?
Here’s the funny thing though. While Darwin understood these epistemological implications of his theory perfectly well, the historical record is altogether devoid of any instance where he extended those implications to his own theory. Exactly like the Darwinians who comment on UD’s posts, Darwin had “selective horrid doubt.” He doubted whether his mind could contemplate God. But he apparently never entertained the slightest doubt that his mind could contemplate deep time and the origin of species. Isn’t that odd?
C.S. Lewis understood what Darwin apparently did not (or at least did not acknowledge). He wrote:
If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents—the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts—i.e. of materialism and astronomy—are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milkjug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.
Evolutionary materialists have a severe epistemological dilemma: If their propositions about the universe are true, there would be no way for us to know they are true. Evolutionary materialism saws off the epistemological branch on which it attempts to sit.
Evolutionary materialist say our ideas about God are evolutionary adaptations. In other words, organisms that hold these ideas were more fit, because the ideas gave them a survival advantage. What was that survival advantage? Well, make up your own just so story. Yours is as good as anyone else’s. Fear of God’s punishment caused people to develop moral codes, which led to increased cooperation and this enhanced their chances of survival. Other stories have been advanced.
Can we make up a just so story for the evolutionary rise of materialism? Of course. Give it a try. Materialism arose as the next stage of evolution because [insert your just so story here].
The funny thing is that while materialism’s epistemological dilemma is glaringly obvious, I have yet to see a materialist who will acknowledge it about this own ideas. No room for doubt about our beautiful materialist ideas. As with Darwin before them, their horrid doubt is reserved for other people’s ideas.
“[Our] brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not.” Steven Pinker
“Sometimes you are more likely to survive and propagate if you believe a falsehood than if you believe the truth.” Eric Baum
“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.” Donald Hoffman
“We are anything but a mechanism set up to perceive the truth for its own sake. Rather, we have evolved a nervous system that acts in the interest of our gonads, and one attuned to the demands of reproductive competition. If fools are more prolific than wise men, then to that degree folly will be favored by selection. And if ignorance aids in obtaining a mate, then men and women will tend to be ignorant.” Michael Ghiselin
“[N]atural selection does not care about truth; it cares only about reproductive success” Stephen Stich
“Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.” Patricia Churchland
“We are jumped-up apes, and our brains were only designed to understand the mundane details of how to survive in the stone-age African savannah.” Richard Dawkins