Can Naturalistic Evolution Yield True Beliefs About Reality?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Philosopher Ken Samples, in a recent “New Reasons to Believe” (Vol 1 , No 1) publication, argues that naturalistic evolution cannot explain how human beings can have true beliefs about anything.  Naturalistic evolution posits that there only exists the material, natural world around us.

Everything that exists is the result of  random, material processes working over billions of years.  According to naturalists, the ultimate result of those natural processes is the wonder of the human mind.  So why doesn’t this theory make sense?

Samples offers three reasons.  First, “Naturalism postulates a nonrational source for man’s rationality.”  Naturalists believe that nonrational, impersonal, unintelligent, and purposeless processes produced rational, personal, intelligent, and purposeful human minds.

But, as Samples argues, every effect must have a cause greater than itself.  This is exactly the opposite of what the naturalists would have us believe!  The effect of the human mind is orders of magnitude greater than its alleged cause, the matter of which it is composed.  Samples concludes that the naturalist “is assuming a trustworthy reasoning process only to conclude that his reasoning is is ultimately untrustworthy.”

Second, Samples argues that “evolution promotes a species’ survivability, not its true beliefs.”  Natural selection, the primary evolutionary mechanism, only selects for survival.  But having true beliefs about the world is not always required for animal survival.  One can think of examples where an animal’s beliefs about its surrounding environment are irrelevant to its survival.

Human beings survived for thousands of years without knowing about the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics or the DNA double helix.  Are knowledge of the laws of logic and geometric proofs necessary for humans to reproduce?  Our knowledge about the world seems to be complete overkill for evolutionary survival.

Third, Samples reasons that “false beliefs illustrate evolutionary naturalism’s epistemological unreliability.”  Many atheists today argue that mankind’s beliefs about God, morality, and life after death are mere evolutionary vestiges that must have served some survival purpose in the past.

It seems that almost all of humankind, through recorded history, has held that God exists.  Evolutionists admit this, but answer that this belief was necessary in the past, but is no longer necessary.  It is left over from man’s earlier evolutionary stages.

But that means that evolution can produce false beliefs about reality.  Naturalistic evolutionists strongly urge that religious beliefs are false, but they also believe evolution produced these beliefs.  Samples asks:

If evolutionary naturalism can cause a person to believe that which is false (such as religiously oriented beliefs) in order to promote survivability, then what confidence can evolutionists muster that their convictions are reliable, true beliefs?  And if evolution cannot guarantee true beliefs in a person’s mind then how does one know that belief in evolutionary naturalism itself is a true belief about the world?

Maybe naturalism is just evolution’s false belief du jour.  There is no way for evolutionists to know!  Now that is some serious irony.

Christians, on the other hand, are able to easily explain the human mind and its ability to have true beliefs.  A rational, personal, intelligent, and purposeful God is the source of our rational, personal, intelligent, and purposeful human minds.

Samples concludes, “Such conceptual realities as logic, mathematics, knowledge, and truth flow from a supremely intelligent divine mind.”  In this case, the cause more than adequately explains the effect.

  • “Christians, on the other hand, are able to easily explain the human mind and its ability to have true beliefs. ”

    Being able to easily explain something does not mean you accurately explain something.

    The easiest explanation is that my pet invisible all-power dinosaur Rocky controls all human minds. But that’s not an accurate explanation.

  • Bill Pratt

    What do you feed Rocky? 🙂

  • rhudson

    As usual, you are completely unable to understand even the most basic aspect of evolution. You expect it to prove things that have nothing to do with it, then claim that since it doesn’t it’s not true.

    Gravity theory doesn’t explain these things either, it’s not supposed to, yet it is a fact – gravity exists. Evolutionary theory doesn’t explain these things, they have nothing to do with evolution, yet evolution happens. It is a fact.

    It’s easy for you creationists to disprove evolution when you can simply pick and choose any random thing that it doesn’t cover and then use the fact that it says nothing about that to claim it’s untrue. Do you have any intellectual honesty whatsoever?

  • First of all, you have a very strong misunderstanding of evolution. I suggest you actually read some modern material on it that wasn’t written by a Ray Comfort type. Mutations are random, evolution is not random. Those with the most beneficial mutations survive and breed, the rest lose out to competition. The key word here being beneficial, not necessarily what is universally true.

    There are samples all over the internet showing the faults and flaws in the human mind. In fact here’s a video of Dan Dennet showing some of the hiccups that the brain has evolved ( So the mind is not as rational as you think. Your ego is showing.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hello rhudson,
    Could you be more specific as to how I misunderstand evolution? My post wasn’t really about evolution, as such, but about people, like Richard Dawkins, who claim that the material world is all that exists and that Darwinian evolution caused the human mind, with all its properties, to evolve.


  • Bill Pratt

    I suggest you read the post again. You are actually arguing my point. I believe that evolution has little to do with the cause of human rationality because it selects for survival, not for the ability to know the truth about reality. It sounds like you agree with me, so why are you arguing that I’m wrong?

    If evolution didn’t cause human rationality, then what did?

    By the way, I’ve never read anything by Ray Comfort. Sorry to disappoint.


  • Hey Bill, thanks for replying.

    Human “rationality” was/is a product of evolution, it’s just not as good as you seem to think it is. Our brains make all sorts of leaps and bounds and miss the mark often. Before we started creating bread boxes and rockets those sorts of leaps were useful for quick thinking so that we might not be eaten by a predator so that is what was most beneficial for survival.

    I’m not an evolutionary biologist and my understanding is much less than that of someone who has a PhD in this sort of thing. If you are really interested in trying to find out the truth of things then you owe it to yourself to read some real work done by a professional biologist on this matter in between Bible class. I’m sure Google can provide you with some material to wet your appetite if you’re really searching for truth. You have to look at both sides right?

    I said “written by a Ray Comfort type” which would include any of his creationist peers.

  • Bill Pratt

    “Human “rationality” was/is a product of evolution, it’s just not as good as you seem to think it is.”

    Regardless of how good it is, how did evolution produce rational human minds? I quoted three arguments from Ken Samples which show that this viewpoint is unreasonable. How would you answer those three arguments?

  • Wes

    Several people are disagreeing with your post, but nobody is addressing the points you made to explain why they disagree.

    Does evolution tend to lead to true beliefs in those who evolve randomly? Did any dissenters answer this question?

  • Bill Pratt

    To be clear, not a single commenter has actually dealt with the arguments that were made in the post. I’ll let readers of the blog draw their own conclusions as to why this is the case.

  • Bill Bartmann

    Cool site, love the info.

  • Bill Pratt

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    Bill Pratt

  • godfodder

    ‎1. Big argument from ignorance.
    2. True beliefs are going to be, generally speaking, far more adaptive than false beliefs.
    3. Evolution does not produce beliefs, it produces mechanisms that produce beliefs. The mechanisms are prone to all kind of cognitive biases, which is why, if we care about correspondence to reality, we have to become aware of these cognitive biases in an attempt to avoid them.

  • Pingback: Can Naturalistic Evolution Yield True Beliefs About Reality? « Ratio Christi-Ohio State University()

  • Andrew Ryan

    Basically the same argument as on the other blog, so here’s my answer again:

    This argument is very similar to Alvin Plantinga’s argument against naturalistic evolution. Science does indeed allow us to overcome our mental shortcomings. The proof is in the pudding – science works and has been shown to work.

    The only way you can argue against science working is if you stake a case for solipsism. Consider the following two possibilities right now:
    a) Thanks to computer science, I was able to read what Bill wrote on a computer screen and reply to it, and you are now reading my reply on another electronic device. or…
    b) Science doesn’t work, and therefore the entire experience must be a fantasy for either you, me or Bill.

    Now, completely fantasised experiences get uncovered as soon as you start trying to share it with someone else – eg, if I didn’t Skype my mom last week, how come she had the same recollection of of the experience as me last night?. Given that, possibility b) basically boils down to solipsism – whoever is experiencing reading this website is, in fact, an isolated brain getting false stimuli, not interacting with any other humans.

    To summarise then, if you want to argue that science cannot give us a working model of reality, then the alternative you are offering is that we/you/I are just isolated consciousnesses that cannot even confirm the existence of anything else bar ourselves.

    While it may be true that this is a possibility, it is an unfalsifiable proposition, whether one is an atheist, Christian, Muslim or whatever. It is not a problem unique to the worldview of Dawkins or atheists in general.