The Reconquista Initiative
Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma
Within the past generation, one of the most interesting arguments against the rationality of belief in atheistic-naturalism has been Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, or EAAN for short. In essence, Plantinga’s EAAN states that, since unguided “naturalistic” evolution is ultimately only “concerned” with an organism’s survival, and since survival-enhancing behaviors in no way require the possession of true beliefs, and since, furthermore, the number of false and yet still survival-enhancing beliefs vastly outweigh the number of actually true but survival-enhancing beliefs, then this means that if unguided evolution is true, then all human beings have good grounds to doubt the reliability of their cognitive faculties, for it is either very likely that their cognitive faculties are producing false beliefs rather than true ones or they just cannot know which of their beliefs are true and ones are false (and it should be understood here that the term ‘cognitive faculties’ means all of a person’s reasoning ability, sensory inferences, memories, and so on). But now, if human beings have good grounds to doubt the reliability of their cognitive faculties, then they simultaneously have good grounds to doubt any deliverances of those cognitive faculties, such as the deliverance that evolution is true or that atheistic-naturalism is true. Thus, Plantinga argues, if both evolution and atheistic-naturalism are true, then human beings have good grounds to doubt the truth of anything delivered to them by their own cognitive faculties, including their belief in evolution and atheistic-naturalism, and even belief in simple atheism as well. So this is a potent argument against the rationality of believing atheistic-naturalism.
Now numerous critics have argued against Plantinga’s EAAN, and though Plantinga has responded in detail to many of these critics, the fact remains that such critics still routinely claim that Plantinga is incorrect in asserting that unguided evolution would not lead us to have reliable truth-tracking cognitive faculties. Indeed, for while such critics grant that our perceptions and the beliefs we form from them when combined with our rationality are adapted to behaviors well-suited to survival and reproduction, they argue that this nevertheless still likely involves the formation of beliefs which properly track the truth of states of affairs in the world. Thus, such critics contend that unguided evolution did create us with reliable truth-tracking cognitive faculties; and this does indeed seem to be the only reasonable strategy for the atheistic-naturalist to take in order to salvage the rationality of his belief in atheistic-naturalism given that atheistic-naturalism is, for all intents and purposes, wed to the truth of unguided evolution. And yet, this is precisely where the atheistic-naturalist falls into the teeth of another dilemma which also challenges the rationality of atheistic-naturalism. For even if Plantinga’s critics are totally correct in their critique of the EAAN, and even if the evolutionary process could produce truly and highly reliable cognitive faculties in human beings, even this fact still works against atheistic-naturalism. Why is this the case? Because no matter which way the atheistic-naturalist turns, unguided evolution—and let us simply assume that it is unguided for the sake of argument—nevertheless provides us with a reason to reject atheistic-naturalism itself. And to understand how this could be so, consider this argument:
- If evolution is unguided, then the ‘truth-tracking’ reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced will be either low, or average, and hence inscrutable, or high—or various permutations thereof.
- But if the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced are either low or inscrutable, then human beings have a defeater for any belief produced by those cognitive faculties, including the belief that atheistic-naturalism is true or rational to hold.
- But if the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced is high, then human beings have good grounds to believe in the truth of the beliefs produced by those cognitive faculties.
- Yet the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have created have, in both the past and the present, almost universally produced the belief in human beings that atheistic-naturalism is false and that theism and/or supernaturalism is true. Indeed, almost all human beings, both past and present, have held to a theistic and/or supernaturalist worldview of one type or another. And so, if the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced is high, then human beings have good grounds to believe that atheistic-naturalism is false and that theistic-supernaturalism is true, for that is precisely the belief that these reliable cognitive faculties have told people, both past and present, is the case.
- Therefore, regardless of whether the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced is low, inscrutable, or high, it is still the case that human beings have good grounds to believe that atheistic-naturalism is false. And so, this is the dilemma that evolution creates for atheistic-naturalism, and even for atheism in general: namely, if the atheistic-naturalist holds that unguided evolution produced human cognitive faculties of low or inscrutable reliability, then he has every reason to doubt the deliverances of those cognitive faculties, including what they tell him about evolution and atheistic-naturalism. But if the atheistic-naturalist holds that evolution produced cognitive faculties of high ‘truth-tracking’ reliability, then the fact that belief in theism and/or supernaturalism has been almost universally produced in all human beings provides us with good grounds to believe that that particular belief is true and reliable, and hence this is good grounds to believe that atheistic-naturalism is false. And so, regardless of whether the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this evolutionary process have produced is low, inscrutable, or high, it is the case that the evolutionary process creates a defeater for atheistic-naturalism.
Also note that a burden of proof consideration comes into play here as well. After all, both the atheistic-naturalist and the theist / supernaturalist are making positive claims, with the latter claiming that gods and/or supernatural entities exist or are rational to believe in and with the former claiming that such entities do not exist or at least are not rational to believe in. However—and here is the key point—if evolution has created human beings with reliable cognitive faculties, and if those cognitive faculties have almost universally created the belief that theism and/or supernaturalism is true, then would it not make sense to start as if theism and/or supernaturalism were true, and atheistic-naturalism false, until and unless shown otherwise. After all, if our cognitive faculties produce reliable ‘truth-tracking’ beliefs, then should we not consider one of the most ubiquitous beliefs that they have produced—namely theism and/or supernaturalism—as true and reliable until shown otherwise. Furthermore, this idea has even more traction when we consider that, in many ways, it parallels arguments for belief in such things as other minds; for indeed, no one puts the burden of proof on the person asserting belief in other minds, but rather the burden of proof is placed on the radical skeptic, and this is done, in large part, because belief in other minds is natural and instinctive, and we consider this belief reliable until shown otherwise, and so until and unless we have reasons to see the belief as false, we hold it to be true. And so the same could thus be said in the case of theism and/or supernaturalism given that it is a belief produced by the same cognitive faculties that produce our belief in the existence of other minds.
And so, the long and short of it is this: when it comes to the issue of considering what kind of reliability evolution has created human cognitive faculties with, whichever way the atheistic-naturalist turns, he is in trouble. After all, if he considers the reliability of evolution-created human cognitive faculties to be low or inscrutable, then he has reason to reject belief in atheistic-naturalism—along with all his other beliefs given that they have been produced by those same cognitive faculties. But if he considers the reliability of evolution-created human cognitive faculties to be high, then the fact that those reliable ‘truth-tracking’ cognitive faculties have almost universally led human beings to reject atheistic-naturalism, means that this is also a reason to reject atheistic-naturalism. Thus, whichever way the naturalist turns, evolution provides us with a defeater for belief in atheistic-naturalism. And so this is the dilemma that evolution creates for atheistic-naturalism. And while there are objections to this particular dilemma, these will be dealt with in a separate essay.
The evolutionary process has created me with an inclination to ask you for support, and so I am merely a servant to its whims! Support here: www.patreon.com/reconquistainitiative
Anno Domini 2016 12 16
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam