Atheism · Consciousness / mind · philosophy · Religion

Can Naturalism And Evolution Both Be True?

Another way to phrase the question: if the truth of evolution motivates us, quite strongly, to accept the existence of God?

This is one of Platinga’s arguments against naturalism and I find it to be pretty interesting, and it is guaranteed to get a person thinking. To give the bare bones summary:

  • We hold most of our beliefs to be true. This seems pretty easy to accept – even though we can be deceived, our senses can be in error, etc we do assume that those mistakes are the minority and that, most of the time, our beliefs are true.
  • We can take evolution to be adaptive in nature – what drives the continual change of organisms is the need to either adapt to a changing environment or perish. As such, evolution is not about finding the best form, the best solution to a problem, but an adequate one.
  • Here’s the very tricky one: evolution within a naturalistic framework gives us no reason to think our beliefs are true, and in fact offers good reason to suspect the majority of them would be false; the point is that our cognitive faculties are adaptive, and truth of belief does not factor into the equation so long as the belief is sufficiently adaptive.

If this is the case, Platinga would say that the percentage chance of a particular belief being true is relatively low – I think he tends to use a 50/50 chance. And in such a case the odds of the majority, to the degree with think, of our beliefs being true is incredibly small. But, if evolution is true and most of our beliefs are true, naturalism has to give way to a worldview that accounts for the truth-reliability of our cognitive faculties (ie, maybe God is necessarily good and could not deceive us, oh Descartes hehehehhe).

I think there is an initial impulse to say that true beliefs are obviously more adaptive than false beliefs, but this impulse is mistaken. It seems perfectly conceivable that a network of false beliefs, appropriately related to each other, would allow organisms to survive just as successfully as if those beliefs were true. Maybe think of it another way, to use a computer metaphor for the mind: the same syntax, the underlying neurobiological structure, can carry different semantics. So it’s not immediately obvious that truth is more adaptive. I have not done much thinking here yet, but I suspect there’s room to argue that non-representational theories of mind and cognition, especially those focused heavily on embodiment and enacting, to offer reason as to why we should expect true beliefs.

Anyways, I’d count this as a version of a teleological argument and a good thought motivator.


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