Natural Blindness

Building on  previous article about the beliefs of atheists, I would like to discuss one of the more compelling reasons to reject its “lack of belief” in God.  I believe the naturalist (one who believes nature and the physical universe is all there is, devoid of anything immaterial or supernatural) has been hoisted by his own petard in his embrace of naturalistic evolution.  By naturalistic evolution (NE), I mean macro-evolution, generally speaking the idea of common ancestry, the unguided process of organisms naturally selecting for beneficial mutations and genetic drift producing new species over the course of millions of years.  Is there refuge in this position to allow the atheist a justified denial of God?  Is the atheist rationally justified in holding to NE, how can he know it is true?

The point which topples their shelter is that NE is a mindless  process lacking any guidence whatsoever, which selects for survival and reproduction.  It is posited that the mutations beneficial to surviving and reproducing are kept present in the gene pool, while those mutations which either have no benefit or are harmful are not passed along.  The position comes down to the raw mechanics of the process, there is no guidance.

So my question is, what reason does the atheist have to believe NE is true?  Essentially on the NE view, the nervous system of an organism, in order to survive and pass the beneficial mutations and positive genetic drift, must succeed in at least four necessary behaviors for life: feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of the nervous system is to get the body where it needs to be so that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensory observation and reaction produce an evolutionary advantage: behaviors or reactions are advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life, and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth in interpretation of a given situation is not the motivating factor on NE, rather the reaction which produces the beneficial behavior is what is the chief end of the organism.

So what does this mean?  This means, according to NE your brain and mind, your reasoning abilities, are not the result of design to seek and discover truth, but rather is the result of producing behaviors conducive to surviving and reproducing.  Since our reasoning abilities were not formed in order to discover truth, what reason to we have to believe our reasoning abilities can discover truth?  The naturalist will respond, organisms routinely wrong in their “thinking” will likely die off before reproducing, and organisms correct in their thinking will invariably continue to reproduce.

It is not necessary, however, that true beliefs cause correct behavior.  In fact as far as raw probabilities are concerned (naturalists ought to have no problem with probabilities), there is a vastly greater number of false beliefs which will produce correct behaviors whereby making it much more highly probable a false belief producing correct behavior will be passed. Take an analogy from Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  Suppose there is a hominid named Joe, one behavior necessary to his survival is avoiding tigers.  There is any number of ways to achieve this necessary behavior: fleeing, climbing a steep rock, if tigers have an aversion to water he could jump in a lake (I do not think tigers hate water, but for the sake of argument), or crawl into a hole too small for the tiger to get him, etc.  So Joe’s behavior of avoiding tigers does not need to come from a true belief in order to behave in a way to avoid the tiger and ensure survival and reproduction.  But he could believe petting tigers is a good thing, but falsely believes that the best way to pet a tiger is to run away from it.  Joe might like the thought of being eaten, but believes the tiger which is chasing him is not hungry so he runs as fast as he can to find a more hungry tiger.  Maybe Joe thinks the tiger is a hallucination, but also likes to keep in shape and decides that every time he has a tiger hallucination he will run a mile as fast as he can.  You can go on for ever with examples of false beliefs which create correct behavior.

This is a good reason to doubt the truth finding abilities of our noetic faculties on NE.  In a purely naturalistic world, every phenomenon, thought, and behavior is mechanical determined, and based solely on physical reactions to the physical surroundings.  There is only the determinism of physical laws.  The only reason you think what you do is biochemistry, chemicals and electromagnetic energy in your physical brain interacting.  Remember on NE, beliefs must be a physical process, mind and brain are identical on the naturalistic view, so beliefs are, by necessity of the view itself, mechanical and purely reactionary.  Therefore on NE the atheist’s belief of the truth of NE is not because he has reasoned through evidence and arguments, but only as a result of brain synapses firing in such a way to produce the belief NE is true.  The naturalist’s own belief the theory is true serves to undercut any reason for him to think it is true, It is a self defeating belief.  Basically, if you believe NE is true, you must also believe you have little reason to believe it is true.

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Related Article: Not At All Lacking, Never Quite Enough, Who Needs Morality?

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