More about Darwin’s Horrid doubt

Posted: June 14, 2006 in Intelligent Design

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Richard Dawkins has remarked that
Darwin’s theory of evolution (published in 1859), made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.Here are some ideas that cast doubt on that assertion.
Darwin was honest enough to realise that if his theory was right then mans cognition was the result of an accident developed by blind forces; this merited at the very least a reaction of doubt about the basis for rationality. Doubt regarding our rationality brings the whole house of cards crashing down as C.S.Lewis wrote:

” A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.”

How can the basis for rationality be non rational? Why should anyone believe anything that is true if the reasons for these beliefs are to do with blind physical processes? With evolution, if we are honest why shouldn’t we be anything but epistemologically pessimistic? Upon what basis should Dawkins (for example) be optimistic about knowing what is real?Patricia Churchland says 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….Improvements in sensormotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival.Why should we be geared to knowing the truth about anything except what may impact our survival?

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Comments
  1. BlueDevil says:

    To survive in a world, those brains that track features of the world better than others, i.e., more accurately, will be selected for. Imagine a frog who’s tongue always flicked a few inches away from the fly. To hit the fly, it needs representations in its brain that are accurate.

  2. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi BlueDevil,
    your right selection is based on those features which help survival.
    My (and Patricia Churchland )point is selection pressure does not work
    on features that have no survival impact.
    As the post says,Why should we be geared to knowing the truth about anything
    except what may impact our survival?
    Yet we all do have knowledge that has no relevance to our survival at all.
    Cheers,
    Mike

  3. AJ says:

    I think this point is not only valid but devastating. Machines emerging from a tornado of blind chance have no right to claims of rationality. Evolution undercuts itself here.

  4. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi AJ,
    Thanks for posting.
    I’m with you on this point absolutely,the nearest anyone has got to answering this question might be in the ‘just so’ stories of Evolutionary psychology,which are infamous for there inability to back up theory with any empirical fact.
    Cheers,
    Mike

  5. […] In addition to the issue raised here, and Darwin’s own doubts about his theory (here) there are further problems any would be intellectually satisfied Atheist must wrestle with and over come. […]

  6. themaiden says:

    What is there, Mike, besides what might effect our survival? “What might effect our survival” pretty much covers the whole of what might effect us and the whole of that about which we can have evidence.

    As for Darwin’s doubt about the reliability of rational thought, it seems like you are complaining about billions of years of trial and error, which in effect, is what produced our rational processes. I’ll accept the results of such an experiment.

    Any, I thought you might enjoy a passage by Ambrose Bierce. It is somewhat related.

    “As records of courts and justice are admissible, it can easily be
    proved that powerful and malevolent magicians once existed and were a
    scourge to mankind. The evidence (including confession) upon which
    certain women were convicted of witchcraft and executed was without a
    flaw; it is still unimpeachable. The judges’ decisions based on it were
    sound in logic and in law. Nothing in any existing court was ever more
    thoroughly proved than the charges of witchcraft and sorcery for which
    so many suffered death. If there were no witches, human testimony and
    human reason are alike destitute of value.”

  7. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi the Maiden,
    The question ‘what is there,besides what might effect our survival?’is a good question.Asuming survival is, in the context of the fittest (never mind the tautology)and that we are talking about homo sapiens,my experience alone tells me that there is much that effects our survival right down to the time and technological advances that we are born into.
    The things that effect our survival are those that are directly concerned with appropriateness to the environment.
    Surely individual factors that effect survival must have a genetic basis otherwise how are they carried forward?There are many things including belief that have no genetic basis.
    Regarding Darwins doubt about the problem of rational thought emerging from a non rational process, this problem remains.
    Heres the quote from Lewis,who finds himself possibly for the first time agreeing with Darwin re epistemology:
    ” A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.”
    Re Bierce quote,if his conclusion is correct then he is also in agreement with Darwin and Lewis:”….human testimony and human reason are alike destitute of value.”
    Of course much like the brutal torture in the name of secular systems,such as in China currently,the relationship between confessional statement and truth is
    of no importance to the judges and courts.
    cheers,
    Mike

  8. themaiden says:

    Hi,

    That “survival of the fittest”==tautology thing is a figment of creationist imagination stemming from linguistic quibbles and a failure to realize that the process is linear not cyclical. But anyway…

    Sure, it is true that “things that effect our survival are those that are directly concerned with appropriateness to the environment”. It is also true that the things “concerned with appropriateness to the environment” are everything that we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch (directly or indirectly). Outside of those things, and ideas grounded in them, we have no information, at least no information that is more reliable than make-believe. Outside of argument grounded in sensory input there is no stronger argument than “I said so” or “He said so” or “We say so”.

    So, dealing with the environment, with whatever input a particular organism has by way of senses, is a terribly important thing, very critical to survival– hence, the nervous system and hence the brain. And the development of those systems has been a several billion year run of trial and error experiment, which is why I don’t buy Darwin’s doubt or Lewis’ argument. Darwin, probably, just didn’t know. Lewis ignores a mountain of biology and anthropology.

    Belief, in particular and since you mentioned it, is part of the incorporated coping mechanisms. It does no good to know there is a cliff in front of you if you do not believe you will fall. It also does no good to know there is a cliff in front of you if you can’t abstract from past experience– extrapolate, calculate, etc.– from small falls to large ones. This, effectively, is how beliefs (about falling, at least) are generated, and it is a fuzzy process but one that ultimately provides a net gain– most of the time it works. It also produces odd stuff like “if a black cat crosses your path…” and “berashit bara Elohim…”, but cross comparison clears those things up. Ce la vie! Belief, thus, is based in genetics by way of being a result of brain structure function which is genetic, though particular beliefs can’t be said to be any more genetic than can the particular patterns on a cat’s coat.

  9. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hi themaiden,
    belief is based partly on experience as you say,learning is vital to survival even nematodes learn!
    But there is an aspect of belief that is not dependant on survival.If I dont believe that walking off of a cliff will kill me -I will soon end up dead due to my incorrect belief,but if I belief in ET this has no inpact on my survivability and so cannot be selected for or against.Why have I got beliefs that are not open to selection?
    If we say that these beliefs are as the result (either directly or indirectly)of a nucleotide sequence then we must have ample evidence for this, including evidence that those without the suspect gene never take on the belief.Im not aware of any evidence.
    There is a close correlation between Brain structure and behaviour but not every belief has a behavioural component-so im not convinced,that structure and belief are related. Plus im leaning towards a dualist position with reagard to Brain/Mind.Im rambeling now.
    Cheers,
    Mike

  10. Fred says:

    ” A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished.”

    This comment illustrates the creationist misunderstanding and therefore misrepresentation of evolution. The theory of evolution explains the diversity of life we find on Earth. It doesn’t explain everything in the universe because it isn’t supposed to. Creationists falsely assume that if evolution is going to debunk part of their Bible it must then replace the Bible as a supposed explanation for everything in the universe.

  11. Mike Godfrey says:

    Hey Fred thanks for posting, sorry for the lateness of the reply.
    you said:
    ‘This comment illustrates the creationist misunderstanding and therefore misrepresentation of evolution.’
    Could you explain what you mean by ‘creationist’? I suspect that I may not come under your definition.
    You said:
    ‘The theory of evolution explains the diversity of life we find on Earth. It doesn’t explain everything in the universe because it isn’t supposed to. Creationists falsely assume that if evolution is going to debunk part of their Bible it must then replace the Bible as a supposed explanation for everything in the universe.’
    My post wasn’t regarding the potentcy of natural selection or the rate of positive mutations within a popualtion ,it was regarding the validity of rational thought within a naturalistic evolutionary frame work as C.S.Lewis said if evolution is the whole answer to our existance then there is no need basis to believe that what we consider to be true is in fact true.
    As i said in the post :
    ,How can the basis for rationality be non rational? Why should anyone believe anything that is true if the reasons for these beliefs are to do with blind physical processes? With evolution, if we are honest why shouldn’t we be anything but epistemologically pessimistic? ,

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