Post Author: Bill Pratt
If our minds developed solely due to the process of Darwinian evolution, then how can we trust that our minds give us true beliefs about the world? This is a nasty problem for atheistic naturalists, because if they cannot argue convincingly that evolution gave us minds that generate true beliefs, then they cannot argue that atheistic naturalism is true.
Evolution is only concerned with survival, so the evolutionist must somehow convince us that most of our beliefs about the world are true because they help us survive. But there are many examples we can give where that connection breaks down.
Philosopher Louis Pojman, in his book What Can We Know? , relates the research of John Garcia and his rats. Garcia and his co-workers “performed experiments on rats in which the rats were fed distinctively flavored water or food and then given high doses of radiation, inducing sickness. After a single exposure to radiation, the rats developed a strong aversion to their aforementioned distinctively flavored water or food. Even if the radiation is given as long as twelve hours after eating the food or water, the aversion pattern follows.”
In this example, the rats believe the food and water make them sick, but they are wrong. It seems that this aversion pattern is the result of natural selection to aid in survival. Evolution has caused the rat to have untrue beliefs in order to survive. Pojman notes that humans follow this same pattern when we become sick after eating a particular food, and then are often repulsed by that food for the rest of our lives, even though the food had nothing to do with us getting sick.
Pojman also explains that:
False beliefs may positively procure survival. Inducing beliefs that great spirits are protecting members of the tribe may enable these members to surmount dangerous obstacles that would otherwise destroy them. Consider two tribes, the Optimists and the Accuratists, who go to war. They are relevantly similar in every way except that the Optimists believe that if they die in battle (especially sacrificing themselves for their mates), they will be rewarded with an afterlife of unparalleled sensuous bliss, whereas the Accuratists, tailoring the strength of their beliefs to the strength of the available evidence, believe that in all likelihood this life is all they have, that death is the final cessation of consciousness. The Optimists are more likely to win; the Accuratists more likely to flee or submit to an inferior settlement.
As long as our beliefs enable us to reproduce more successfully, they may have nothing to do with truth. Pojman quotes Pat Churchland, “Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . . Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”
Darwin himself had fears about evolution giving us true beliefs:
With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the conviction of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
Perhaps the belief that atheistic naturalism is true is nothing more than a genetic mutation which survives in a small number of advanced primates. If you’re an atheistic naturalist, you may never know.