In our continuing dialogue about science and faith, I’ve made the point that science seeks to explain the “how” questions, while philosophy and religion seeks to answer the “why” questions.
Last time we looked at the difference between actual science and a philosophy embraced by antitheists called scientism.
We theists need to recognize that antitheists are not making their argument from pure science but from a naturalist philosophy. This is why we should be wary when someone says science or the laws of nature explains everything. As the philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who worked primarily in logic, said:
“The great delusion of modernity is that the laws of nature explain the universe for us. The laws of nature describe the regularities. But they explain nothing.”
Today, I want us to consider an interesting dilemma. And that dilemma is, if we embrace the Neo-Darwinism of Richard Dawkins we must then wonder if we can know truth at all. Let me explain.
The New Atheists, like Dawkins, believe in what could be called Philosophical Evolutionary Naturalism:
“The natural world is all of existence and humans came about by accident through the blind workings of matter.”
But this creates a dilemma for evolutionary naturalists, as philosopher, Alvin Plantinga points out:
“If Dawkins is right that we are the product of mindless unguided natural processes, then he has given us strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties and therefore inevitably to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce—including Dawkins’s own atheism.” (emphasis added)
John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford, also makes this point clear by way of analogy:
“For example, if you knew your computer was the result of a mindless unguided process, you wouldn’t use it or trust it for a moment!”
Before you object and say this is overstating the case, consider that even Charles Darwin saw this problem, as he stated in his Letter to William Graham (July 3, 1881):
“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.”
Atheist philosopher and neuroscientist, Sam Harris, takes it a step further in his book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values:
“Our logical, mathematical, and physical intuitions have not been designed by natural selection to track truth.” (p.66)
John Gray said this in his book, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals:
“The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. To think otherwise is to resurrect the pre-Darwinian error that humans are different from all other animals. Darwinian theory tells us that an interest in truth is not needed for survival or reproduction….
Truth has no systematical advantage over error.” (p.20, 26-27)
But if our brain is just the result of mindless unguided processes, why should we trust anything we’re thinking about at all? As Lennox points out, this is a critically important argument. Darwin saw it, C.S. Lewis saw it, and it’s beginning to move into the center of the whole debate.
This is the dilemma that atheist philosopher, John Gray, identifies with regard to natural selection and knowing truth:
“Modern humanism is the faith that through science humankind can know the truth and so be free. But if Darwin’s theory of natural selection is true this is impossible. The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth.” (emphasis added)
You can watch Lennox making these arguments in a lecture here.
If this argument is new to you, you can watch this clip by InspiringPhilosophy:
For Alvin Plantinga’s more detailed lecture by the same title, go here.
To summarize the video clip on the evolutionary naturalist’s dilemma, if evolutionary naturalism is true, everything the brain does is for survival. But just because our knowledge works in practical measures that doesn’t make it true of what reality is. There’s no necessary equivocation between what is useful and what is true. Some things can be useful while not being true. Our “knowledge” could be analogous to Ptolemaic astronomy, simply a useful model to help us navigate the world, but not a true description of reality.
If you believe naturalism is true then you also have to believe you believe naturalism is true because your brain has decided this belief is beneficial for survival. But, as Alvin Plantinga identifies, philosophical naturalism falls into a self-defeating circle.
Atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, is very critical of this Neo-Darwinist reductionism. In his book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (2012), he said:
“Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends.”
If naturalism is true, then all human knowledge would be geared toward surviving, and there’s no reason to assume that would entail truth. Thus, philosophical naturalism has a serious problem rooted in its own implications. Again, as Plantinga points out, we have reason to doubt that our cognitive faculties (memory, perception, beliefs, how we know things, insights, logical truths, induction, etc.) are in fact reliable.
According to this Neo-Darwinist philosophy, truth is unobtainable, in fact, meaningless to speak of. If reason is not grounded in reason, but physical blind processes, then reason itself is lost. But, thankfully, theists and idealists would not suffer the same implications since the mind is not reducible to physical processes.
But, then again, if it is reducible, are we really even thinking about it?
If naturalism is true, then all human knowledge would be geared toward surviving, and there’s no reason to assume that would entail truth.
Why is the “no reason”?
There’s no reason to assume that it’s the truth, John. As I have shown, survival doesn’t necessarily lead to truth. There is no necessary equivocation between what is useful and what is true. Some things can be used while not true. As your own atheist philosophers have said, our brain is not geared to track truth. So, why should we assume that we are finding the truth at all, if this is the case?
No, you have not shown anything. You made a statement. I’m asking you to explain it.
Having survived to write this sentence, the pointy edge of a 3.8 billion years-long shaft of ‘survivors’ who’ve succeeded and passed on their genes, evolving, appears to be a rather solid truth.
Indeed, one might argue it’s the greatest truth of all truths.
And what are you even referring to when you say “truth”?
What is true today is not what is true tomorrow.
2 billion years ago what was “true” for life (the goodness of a carbon dioxide atmosphere) is not “true” for life after The Great Oxygen Catastrophe (the goodness of an oxygen-rich atmosphere).
Truth, as you can see, is relative. The only objective truth, therefore, is adaption to forever changing, partial, momentarily valid “truths.”
Absolute truth is something that is true at all times and in all places. It is something that is always true no matter what the circumstances. It is a fact that cannot be changed. For example, there are no round squares. … These are all true by definition.
And why would naturalism not arrive at basic geometry? Where’s the barrier prohibiting that?
Fundamental Euclidean geometry (distance, angle and direction) is understood and used by many animals, as too is math. Studies done with days-old chickens have revealed that they can perform basic mathematics. In fact, studies demonstrating math ability have been performed on bears, gorillas, rhesus, capuchin, and squirrel monkeys, lemurs, dolphins, elephants, birds, salamanders and fish.
Apologies in advance, but I’m struggling to understand what point you’re trying to make.
Humans have adapted judgement and logic as survival tools and this trial and error process is the precursor to finding the truth. Philosophers are not neuroscientists.
How do you know we’re finding truth, sklyjd? If our cognitive faculties (including the neuroscientist’s cognitive faculties) are built for survival and not truth, how can we trust anything that we think is true? It may not be true at all, only practical for survival (so far). In fact, looking for absolute truth would be counterproductive to the brain for survival because it would be wasting energy looking for something that our survival doesn’t depend on. It would instead be looking for the simplest solution, not necessarily the most accurate one. Trial and error process would only get us to the point of practical survivability, not necessarily to the truth. But either way, our brain should not be trusted to give us the absolute truth.
How do you know we’re finding truth, sklyjd?
Is it true or false that you’re alive and penning this sentence?
Is it true or false that water drowns babies and fire burns flesh?
Is it true or false that the frontal cortex enabled imagination, symbolic language, predictive and abstract thought, introspection?
If our cognitive faculties (including the neuroscientist’s cognitive faculties) are built for survival and not truth, how can we trust anything that we think is true?
What does that even mean, ‘built for survival and not truth’? Seriously, what does it mean? What are you basing this statement on? Please, please, please explain it, because it comes across as pure gibberish.
And why wouldn’t/couldn’t naturalism (evolution) arrive at basic geometry. Where’s the barrier prohibiting that?
Well done, Mel.
“Truth, as you can see, is relative.”
Relative to what, Zande?
“The only objective truth, therefore, is adaption to forever changing, partial, momentarily valid “truths.”
Who decides what is a partial, momentary, valid “truth?” If you’re just a random bit of biological goo, than you are pre-programmed to blindly perceive “truth” as only those things related to your own survival.
IB, that definition would explain a lot about what we’re dealing with, wouldn’t it. 🙂
I gave an example. 2 billion years ago what was “true” for life (the goodness of a carbon dioxide atmosphere) is not “true” for life after The Great Oxygen Catastrophe (the goodness of an oxygen-rich atmosphere). Both are “true,” and yet diametrically opposed.
May I ask what you think “truth” means here, and can you give me an example?
“May I ask what you think “truth” means here, and can you give me an example?”
Well, objective truth is truth outside of ourselves,truth that is not subjective and based on individual perception and opinion. So truth is not limited to “what I think truth means” here.
OK, can you give me an example, perhaps as you think it applies to Mel’s post?
John, a better question is, how could we even give a true example if we cannot trust our cognitive faculties to give us an absolutely accurate answer? It would only be relative to what our brain is satisfied with at the time for its own survival. It doesn’t necessarily mean it would be absolutely or even objectively true at all. Like the computer example given on the video, we could merely be looking at icons (GUI), totally oblivious to the machine code hidden underneath that make them work. And, taking it a step further, what if these “icons” we think are reality were controlled remotely (like a terminal to a mainframe)? We may not even be close to the actual truth.
So you can’t actually give me an example.
Well, this is all rather peculiar. You’re both trying to slander naturalism (in support of what, I’m not entirely sure), but you both appear unable to make any rational sense of your slurs.
Are you entirely sure you know what you’re hollering about?
This is a common tactic with you, I see clearly. John, you don’t listen and then dismiss our position by saying we can’t answer.
In the post, I gave the example of Ptolemaic astronomy. We thought it was true science for centuries, but it wasn’t based on truth at all. It was just convenient for survival. There are lots of examples where we thought something was true until it was proven false.
And you ignored my question. A better question is, how could we even give a true example if we cannot trust our cognitive faculties to give us an absolutely accurate answer? It would only be relative to what our brain is satisfied with at the time for its own survival. It doesn’t necessarily mean it would be absolutely or even objectively true at all. Like the computer example given on the video, we could merely be looking at icons (GUI), totally oblivious to the machine code hidden underneath that make them work. And, taking it a step further, what if these “icons” we think are reality were controlled remotely (like a terminal to a mainframe)? We may not even be close to the actual truth.
Ptolemaic astronomy didn’t affect survival. It was a faulty meme. No one died because of it.
Sounds to me you’re not talking about ‘truth,’ but rather a ‘wish.’
You Mel, are the product of discovered truths. Are you questioning your evolutionary path to this moment? That would be a rather odd thing to do, and somewhat counterproductive. Without it, you wouldn’t, after all, be here.
So, unless you can actually explain what this ‘truth’ is you speak of, then I think we can just assign this entire post to the incoherent ramblings of a delusional mind.
No, John, you missed the point. Survival doesn’t just mean life and death. It’s what is useful for living. Ptolemaic astronomy was USEFUL for survival on the seas and was considered true astronomy for centuries. Stars were charted by it and ships navigated the oceans safely because of it, even though it was not true at all.
Survival doesn’t just mean life and death?
Yes, it does. That’s the very definition of the word: survival.
The fact that geocentrism was wrong did not affect navigation positively or negatively. Stars were not charted by it. The stars did not magically rearrange themselves with the heliocentric model. What was seen was truthful. It was human intuition that was wrong, and therein lays the genius of the scientific method. It is an attempt to obviate human error and flaws (like intuition) through built-in mechanisms for self-correction.
So, I’m sorry, but I’m no closer to understanding what, exactly, your point it.
And you still haven’t answered why naturalism (evolution) would not arrive at basic geometry. Where’s the barrier prohibiting that?
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