Friday, July 17, 2009

Natural selection doesn't mean truth-selection…

"Biologists discover the evolutionary roots of religion!"

"Biologists discover the evolutionary roots of food!"

In the second case, we uncontroversially see that food meets a need integral to vital human nature. In the first case, we see a similar instance of integral satisfaction. If God is an illusion generated by natural selection, then so is caloric consumption. In the order of analogy, God meets a need integral to human nature, just as everyday food does. Just as the need for food is integral to grasping the evolution of humans up to this point as metabolizers, so the need for God is integral to grasping the emergence of human beings as worshipers.

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Only brains that responded to the objective fact that 2 objects combined with 2 objects make 4 objects were selected for by prior selection pressures and reproductive opportunities. It takes special effort to overcome that mathematical illusion with the advanced powers of abstraction. We all 'know' that 2 things placed adjacent to 2 other things still only make for a pair of two arbitrarily juxtaposed objects.

Only brains that responded to the objective fact that God exists were selected for by prior selection pressures and reproductive opportunity. It takes special effort to overcome that illusion with the advanced powers of abstraction. We all 'know' that theology is just a hyped-up version of the natural cognitive assumption that agents lie behind motion and order.

If natural selection doesn't consistently and profoundly yield truth-bearing cognitive apparati, why look to it for a consistent and fundamental explanation of truth as we perceive it?

4 comments:

UnBeguiled said...

That analogy is a disaster. Hunger evolved, food did not.

If natural selection doesn't consistently and profoundly yield truth-bearing cognitive apparati, why look to it for a consistent and fundamental explanation of truth as we perceive it?

What?!

Our perceptions are for the most part accurate. Whether you consider "mostly accurate" the same as "consistent and profound" seems entirely subjective.

Natural selection provides cognitive faculties that keep us alive. Would true information be more likely to keep us alive than false information? It seems to me that is obviously the case. If you disagree, make an argument.

Accurate information about the speed and location of cars will help me cross the street. False information will get me killed.

I am not yet persuaded by arguments that a propensity for religious belief is a result of natural selection. But for the sake of discussion, I will grant that religious belief confers a survival advantage.

OK. Which religious beliefs, if any, are true? Do the !Kung Bushmen have it right? What about the Yanomamo? Perhaps Scientology is correct. Or maybe Mormonism.

It seems to me, arguing that religious beliefs confer a survival advantage is not likely to persuade anyone that your own idiosyncratic religious beliefs are true. The best you could do is argue that your beliefs keep you alive.

It seems to me obvious that many false beliefs might provide a survival advantage. But my own idiosyncratic belief is that our beliefs ought to be true. That is just my own aesthetic. I can't really defend it.

So, having accurate but mundane day to day facts about the world seems essential for survival.

On the other hand, beliefs like whether the Sun or the Moon is the more powerful god seem less likely to provide an obvious survival advantage.

Elliot, human beings can tap dance, play cribbage, and masturbate. Our brains can compose fugues and solve sudoku. It is no part of evolutionary theory that everything humans can do was selected for. Those behaviors are a kind of byproduct.

Anonymous said...

"Accurate beliefs" mean not a rat's shit under Darwinism. You can have all the accurate beliefs you want, but if the actions taken by the organism do not confer a survival advantage (or worse, affect survival negatively), said organism is toast. The value of truth and falsity under that scheme is nil - all that matters is behavior. Believe whatever you damn well please, so long as your behavior, your physical actions and entity, confer a survival advantage. Which is why you don't really see biologists talking about the beliefs of the bacteria involved in Lenski's experiment, for example.

But if we dig in our heels and insist that evolution naturally and reliably tends towards the production of beings who acquire true beliefs, well done! You've buried Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism, and have enshrined teleology in the process. Don't feel bad, it's frankly inevitable.

(As for 'it's no part of evolutionary theory that everything humans can do was selected for', you should really avail yourself to the literature and history of evolutionary, particularly Darwinian, thought. Then again, it does tend to be a big morphous blob of generalities anyway.)

The Cogitator said...

unBe:

(Thank you for the gift of books!)

Your point about not all traits being truly selected for is well taken. I had to face the same qualification a few months ago in my post about our ring fingers. I still think, however, that the teleology seeps into (or out of it, as is more likely the case) natural selection. Thus: by minimizing certain features as more relevantly selected and selectable, we eo ipso arrange organic capacities in a hierarchy relative to their finalized roles in the larger life of the organism and, via the organism, in the propagation of the species. This is but Aristotelianism redivivus. To say that such and such a selection is "better for ____" than some other selection, or "more important to ___" than some other selection, is to say that some things in nature indicate a graded value of finality and fittingness.

Further, there are at least three problems with a naturalist saying natural selection "tends to" select for truth. First, as Anonymous noted, if natural selection is lawfully ordered towards truth-production, then it is teleological. If we deny it is so ordered, and that truth is just a happy coincidence of blind selection, then the argument stands: natural selection does not select for truth.

Second, there is numerous cognitive evidence that we misperceive things all the time. (Isn't that one of the chestnut arguments against Creation?) Hence, it is not so simple to say we have evolved largely and consistently reliable cognitive abilities. If we're the ones doing the experiments to detect our cognitive faults, then faulty minds are trying to correct faulty minds. The kludge leading the kludge, as it were. It's more reassuring to assert our cognitive apparati are by and large reliable… but it's quite circular to ground that assertion in evidence provided by the very apparati on trial.

Third, as Plantinga has argued at length and in many ways, on naturalism, there is simply no reason to assume nature yields reliable cognitive apparati, but the scientific arguments for naturalism are predicated on the truth of our cognitive findings. There is no obvious selection value for an organism to "grasp" the "truth" about the cosmos. Mosquitoes do just fine without all that. As Nozick, Klee, et al. have noted, there is simply no reason to believe natural selection generates minds that surpass "true enough." We evolved to think in Euclidean and Aristotelian terms, but obviously those cognitive impulses are no sound proof of the truth of Euclidean or Aristotelian physics. Only if we assume, for no reason, that we can trust our cognitive heritage can we employ science as proof of the truth of our theories. Empirical underdetermination of theory makes our belief in grasping the *truth* of physical and biological law just that–– a belief. Numerous false theories can and do work. The more pragmatic science is, the less intrinsically true it is.

Best,

UnBeguiled said...

You're welcome! Damn it took long enough.

Not that I expect (or even desire) those books to cause a major shift in your worldview. Rather, if you understand me a bit more you could help me understand you.

I have not read your longish comments in response to my comments yet. I have been side tracked by a small dust-up with the good Dr Feser and a pack of his juvenile curs. I anticipate a bit of mopping up once he counters.

But I did see something new here that needs some attention . . .