Objections to Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

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Objections to Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

In the previous essay titled “Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma’, it was noted that evolution presents atheists and atheistic-naturalists with a dilemma: namely, if the atheistic-naturalist believes that evolution created human beings with cognitive faculties that have a low or inscrutable reliability when it comes to tracking the truth about the world, then the atheistic-naturalist has a reason to disbelieve or be uncertain about everything that is delivered by those cognitive faculties, including his belief in evolution and atheistic-naturalism; but if the atheistic-naturalist believes that evolution created human beings with cognitive faculties that have a high reliability when it comes to tracking the truth about the world, then the atheistic-naturalist has a reason to disbelieve or be uncertain about atheistic-naturalism, for those highly reliable cognitive faculties have almost universally created, in human beings, the belief that atheistic-naturalism is false and that theism and/or supernaturalism is true. So whatever way the atheistic-naturalist turns, evolution creates a problem for him given that it seems to generate a defeater for belief in atheistic-naturalism regardless of which route the atheistic-naturalist decides to take. And yet, as with all arguments, this one is subject to certain objections, and so those objections must be dealt with, which is precisely what we will now do.

Now, when dealing with the objections that the atheistic-naturalist might raise, the first thing to be careful of is that the atheistic-naturalist simply not try to ‘special-plead’ his way out of this dilemma by merely asserting that theistic and/or supernatural belief just happens to be a major exception to humanity’s otherwise reliable evolution-created truth-tracking cognitive faculties. Indeed, until and unless the atheistic-naturalist gives us a sound reason to believe him, the atheistic-naturalist cannot just claim, without evidence, that our cognitive faculties are reliable in their truth-tracking ability except when it comes to theistic and/or supernatural beliefs. That would be obvious special-pleading. And yet, if the atheistic-naturalist does try to give a reason for why theistic and/or supernatural beliefs should not be considered a reliable deliverance of our cognitive faculties when most of its other deliverances are, then the atheistic-naturalist runs into numerous other dilemma-like problems which still undermine atheistic-naturalism.

First, notice that if the atheistic-naturalist does indeed claim that humanity’s evolution-created cognitive faculties are reliably truth-tracking, but not for theistic and/or supernatural beliefs, then the atheistic-naturalist has a serious problem, for given the absolutely pervasive nature of theistic and/or supernatural beliefs across all of human history, then this raises the question that if human cognitive faculties can be so widely mistaken in such an crucial area, then this fact is itself some grounds to doubt the truth-tracking reliability of human cognitive faculties in general. And so, the atheistic-naturalist is back at the original problem of now having a reason to believe that the truth-tracking reliability of human cognitive faculties is either low or inscrutable. So this is the first issue with claiming that human cognitive faculties are unreliable concerning belief in theism and/or supernaturalism: namely, that it forces the atheistic-naturalist right back into the original dilemma that he was trying to deal with.

Second, the atheistic-naturalist might try to claim that theistic and/or supernatural beliefs allegedly involve non-visible entities and/or entities merely inferred to exist from their effects, and so this is why human cognitive faculties are unreliable concerning theistic and/or supernatural beliefs, but not unreliable in general. And yet, once again, numerous problems arise with this objection. After all, numerous theistic and/or supernatural belief systems claim that the gods and/or supernatural beings that they posit as existent are not only perceivable by human senses, but they may even be outright material in nature. And so it cannot simply be assumed that theistic and/or supernatural entities, if existent, would not be manifest to human senses. Indeed, such beings might be entirely visible to human sense organs, as many religions, such as Christianity with the resurrected Jesus, claim. But the other problem for this objection is that if the atheistic-naturalist argues that human cognitive faculties are not reliable when it comes to non-visible entities and/or entities inferred to exist from their effects, then the atheistic-naturalist has just thrown major doubt on humanity’s ability to do a great deal of science, given that science, in very large part, is based on humans making inferences concerning unseen entities from the alleged effects that those entities make. Furthermore, what does this objection mean for a human being’s inference concerning the existence of other unseen minds, the actual existence of matter, which is never seen but only inferred, and numerous other common but inferred beliefs concerning things that are not directly visible to the senses. In essence, this objection undermines the reliability of a large part of the beliefs that we all consider reliable and which we all generally hold.

Third, the atheist-naturalist might argue that whereas human cognitive faculties are of high truth-tracking reliability when it comes to issues concerning survival, they are not as reliable concerning non-survival related matters, such as theistic and/or supernatural beliefs. But again, problems arise for this objection, such as the fact that it simply assumes that theism and/or supernaturalism had nothing to do with human survival in the past; indeed, this objection, in essence, simply assumes the truth of atheistic-naturalism as a presupposition. But that if the very point under discussion. After all, consider that if interactive theistic and/or supernatural entities exist and affect the world through such things as miracles or answering prayers, as most theistic and/or supernatural worldviews claim, then such entities would be intimately and directly linked to human survival, and so human cognitive faculties would be reliable concerning them even given this objection. Furthermore, if the atheistic-naturalist wants to claim that human cognitive faculties are only, or primarily, of high truth-tracking reliability when it concerns matters related to survival, then once again, such a view creates problems for science, abstract mathematics, and philosophy. Indeed, it raises problems for atheistic-naturalism in particular given that the worldview of atheistic-naturalism is a conclusion of abstract philosophy, not a conclusion prone out of a need to survive. So again, the atheistic-naturalist has a problem, for whatever way that he turns, the conclusion for atheistic-naturalism is not good even given this objection.

Fourth—and related to the third point—the atheistic-naturalist could argue that theistic and/or supernatural beliefs are simply a by-product of the evolutionary process, and hence are unreliable due to this fact. And yet, science, mathematics, philosophy, and numerous other advanced fields are also merely by-products of humanity’s evolutionary past that have no direct relationship to humanity’s evolutionary survival, and so again, to deny the reliability of theistic and/or supernatural beliefs due to their being a by-product—admitted presently only for the sake of argument—is to also cast doubt on the reliability of human cognitive faculties concerning all those other areas as well. But again, this then casts doubt on atheistic-naturalism itself, given that belief in atheistic-naturalism is a product of philosophical reasoning and alleged inferences from science. And so again, by the mere act of trying to avoid the dilemma that evolution presents to it, atheistic-naturalism is nevertheless still in serious trouble from the very objections that it tries to use to protect itself from that dilemma.

Finally, perhaps the atheistic-naturalist might argue that since theistic and/or supernatural beliefs were allegedly created in humanity’s evolutionary past by something like the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD), then this explanation is sufficient to account for why human cognitive faculties could have high truth-tracking reliability in other areas, but nevertheless be mistaken concerning theistic and/or supernatural beliefs. Now, leaving aside the obvious issue of the genetic fallacy here, the further problem for this objection is that this explanation merely assumes that atheistic-naturalism is true and then seeks an explanation for theistic and/or supernatural beliefs from within that perspective. But it is unsound to simply assume atheistic-naturalism to be the case. After all, whereas the atheistic-naturalist assumes that a person’s detection of a theistic and/or supernatural entity is a false positive (meaning that the human believes that something is true even though it is not), the fact is that the very reason that human beings may have claimed to detect theistic and/or supernatural entities in the past is because such entities were actually there and were really detected! Indeed, just because a person has a Hyperactive Agency Detection Device does not show, in and of itself, that the person is not detecting actual supernatural entities; making such a claim takes further philosophical argumentation and appeals to such things as simplicity, so the mere existence of the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device does not do the work that the atheistic-naturalist might want it to do. Furthermore, there is also a chicken-and-egg problem here, for whereas the atheistic-naturalist contends that the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device gave rise to theistic and/or supernatural belief, the theist and/or supernaturalist could question whether or not the prevalence of theistic and/or supernatural entities did not give rise to the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device. Indeed, a supernaturalist, arguing from his perspective rather than a naturalistic one, could claim that supernatural entities were so prevalent in the past—as numerous religions contend—that it was the prevalence of these supernatural entities which gave rise to the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device, rather than vis versa. So the atheistic-naturalist needs to contend with this counter-argument prior to merely claiming that the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device is the explanation for theistic and/or supernatural beliefs.

In addition to the above, it also needs to be noted that the theist and/or supernaturalist has his own evolutionary explanation for the rise of atheistic-naturalism. After all, in a world filled with theistic and/or supernatural entities which have an effect on human beings and which human being cannot control, it would not be surprising that a small percentage of human beings, being unable to psychologically cope with the knowledge that such entities exist, would engage in a form of psychological denial as a means to protect themselves psychologically from this truth in order to continue functioning in the world. Indeed, such a condition could be summarized as ‘Supernatural Denial Syndrome’; after all, denial is well-known psychological defensive mechanism, and it could just as likely be the cause of belief in atheistic-naturalism as the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device is the cause of theistic and/or supernaturalist belief. So, in many ways, this would be a form of Hysterical Blindness concerning theism and/or supernaturalism (and please note that Hysterical Blindness is where a person under high stress, such as a soldier, stops being able to see even though there is nothing physically wrong with him or his eyes; in essence, a person’s mind makes him blind in order to psychologically protect him from unpleasant sights and facts). At the same time, it could also be that a small number of human beings are cognitively defective in some way which prevents them from perceiving or inferring the existence of theistic and/or supernatural entities, much like deaf people form a small percentage of humanity who cannot hear sound due to a cognitive and/or physical defective, but sound nevertheless exists.

And, with all of the above in mind, note that it is also interesting to ask what is more likely if human cognitive faculties are of high reliability in their truth-tracking ability:  1) that most of humanity, both past and present, and with highly reliable truth-tracking cognitive faculties, have been mistaken concerning theism and/or supernaturalism, or 2) that a small percentage of humanity, namely atheistic-naturalists, are cognitively defective and/or in psychological denial concerning the existence of theistic and/or supernatural entities. I suggest that the latter is much more likely than the former, especially if, as mentioned, you believe that evolution created human beings with highly reliable truth-tracking cognitive faculties.

And now, as a very last point, it should also be mentioned that, as a last ditch effort, the atheistic-naturalist could deny the truth of evolution, but such a move comes with problems of such a serious nature for the atheistic-naturalist that it is essentially not possible for the atheistic-naturalist to rationally make such a move.

And so, the long and short of it is this: even though the atheistic-naturalist can object to the dilemma that evolution presents for belief in atheistic-naturalism, the fact remains that the objections that the atheistic-naturalist can mount to this dilemma can not only be countered, but these objections actually raise serious dilemmas of their own. Thus, it seems that whatever way the atheistic-naturalist turns, and whatever way that he objects, evolution still presents a problem for the rationality of belief in atheistic-naturalism.

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Anno Domini 2016 12 18

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

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2 thoughts on “Objections to Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

  1. Possible counter-argument:

    (1) Across societies and times, and continuing to the present, there is great variety in what people believe with respect to the supernatural, including much contradiction.

    (2) Given the presence of this contradiction, it is obvious that much of what humanity believes about the supernatural is false.

    At this point, many atheist apologists assert “given that much of it is false, it’s reasonable to treat it all as false”. This is a stupid argument, not the least because for any given true belief it is possible to concoct a plurality of beliefs that are like to it but are false. To put an extreme example, there is exactly one true solution to “X = 2 + 2”, but the set of false solutions is infinite in the natural numbers alone. The presence of many false solutions does not disprove the existence of a true one.

    But let us instead go in a different direction:

    (3) Despite most societies holding false beliefs about the supernatural, most remain functional to a greater or lesser extent.

    (4) Thus, while having belief in the supernatural may be a survival benefit, whether such a belief is accurate or not confers little to no benefit.

    (5) In contrast, having more accurate beliefs about the natural world typically leads to a survival benefit to the peoples or societies involved.

    (6) Having shown that inaccurate beliefs about the natural world decreases survival, while having inaccurate beliefs about the supernatural does not, it’s reasonable to conclude that our minds are tuned towards accurately tracking the natural but not the supernatural.

    I’m sure there are ways to nitpick this, but I think the core idea represents a legitimate challenge. One could answer it by showing that a particular set of beliefs about the supernatural leads to better outcomes, but I think that in this context “better” draws in more moral baggage (and thus needs more apologetic work) for the theist than “survival advantage” does for the atheist (as long as he/she avoids holding up survival as a moral good).

    How would you deal with this?

    Like

    1. Andrew,

      Thank you for this. I will mull it over for sometime before answering–although I already see a few answers forming–and I may even answer this comment in its own essay/article in order to give it the treatment that it deserves.

      But thank you again. Its greatly appreciated!

      Like

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