Monday, August 4, 2008

Evolution of Reason????

I have just read an essay by an atheist giving argument for the evolution of humanities ability to know truth without appealing to the existence of God. The writer puts forth that only those traits and thoughts that lend toward survival will continue and those thoughts which are harmful to survival and fail to line up with reality will not survive. Therefore, as the argument goes, we are evolving into something more true to our environment and our thoughts likewise will line up with truth.



So as to not misstate the author the following is two excerpts of his argument:


A creature that could not respond correctly to its environment, or that did so only imperfectly, would be at a significant survival disadvantage compared to one that could perceive more accurately. Therefore, it should be obvious that, all else being equal, evolution will always favor greater accuracy of sensory perception - both the ability to sense the environment with greater fidelity and the disposition to respond correctly to those sensory impressions.


Though it is not perfect, it is more than obvious that evolution will produce at least generally reliable mental tools for environmental perception, pattern recognition and abstract reasoning in any intelligent being. In light of this, the burden of proof is now on the presuppositionalists to explain why an evolutionary naturalist should not consider their own beliefs reliable.


If evolution is generating minds that think more and more truly then why do billions of people ascribe to religion and spiritual worship that atheists claim are illogical practices? If evolution is producing reasonable truth thinkers why are there so few atheists in this world? Are atheists claiming to be superior to the rest of the world? Atheism, despite the few popular books in the end caps at Barnes and Noble is not the wave of the future. Postmodernism is actually the current ebb and flow of the today’s world which does not ascribe to the knowablity of truth nor the supremacy of science and reason. Why is one more popular than the other if atheists are the more evolved humans? Most postmodern thinkers are very much into spiritualist thinking versus dogmatic reason. I’m not advocating postmodernism. I am only pointing out that it is fast becoming a cultural norm as modernism is quickly being transformed to postmodern thinking. Atheists are still behind the curve if we are truly looking at what is new and surviving as the most reliable human thought. So if evolution is producing true thinking as time marches on, why is culture moving away from science and reason to experience and spirituality?


If this explanation of evolutionary truth development were true then atheists would be the most ascribed to worldview instead of one of the least believed worldviews. It would appear that the argument for evolutionary establishment of truth in the human mind is actually self-defeating for atheists.


Author's Note: Please see comment exchanges to see that I was not understanding the nature of the argument I was addressing before I made this post. I am in dialog with those of the atheist worldview in the comments to learn more about what their position truly is so that I do not falsely represent it. I would delete this blog, but I would lose the comments and the lessons learned attached. So I invite my readers to read the comments for more on this topic.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I hope you look back at the original post and realize that your post is addressing a strawman.

"If evolution is generating minds that think more and more truly then why do billions of people ascribe to religion and spiritual worship that atheists claim are illogical practices?"

Ebonmuse never said this. Your personal deity beliefs are not a condition of your ability to perceive the world around you. Whether you believe in Jesus, Allah, or nothing at all, you still can look at an object and see that it has a sharp edge, or that all the insects around are avoiding its fruit, for instance.

"If evolution is producing reasonable truth thinkers why are there so few atheists in this world?"

Again, this is not what Ebonmuse was speaking of.

"Are atheists claiming to be superior to the rest of the world?"

No. No one has claimed that.

"Apparently, Richard Dawkins thinks he is superior to Christians as he has advocated to Oxford University to change their policy to disallow Christians as students because they are not intelligent."

I doubt that you can back up this statement with facts/evidence, because it's simply not true.

"Atheism, despite the few popular books in the end caps at Barnes and Noble is not the wave of the future."

I don't know if it is or not, but studies have indicated that freethinkers as a demographic are growing faster than any religion (with Islam being the fastest growing religion). Of course, the numbers prove nothing.

"Postmodernism is actually the current ebb and flow of the today’s world which does not ascribe to the knowablity of truth nor the supremacy of science and reason. Why is one more popular than the other if atheists are the more evolved humans?"

Are you admitting that religion is very postmodern?

"So if evolution is producing true thinking as time marches on, why is culture moving away from science and reason to experience and spirituality?"

Again, your premises are wrong in that no one has stated that atheism is producing true thinking. All the same, I don't think your assertion is correct. Science and reason are gaining ground, as evidenced by the fact that religions very often look towards science and try to find ways to subvert it in order to support their dogmas.

"It would appear that the argument for evolutionary establishment of truth in the human mind is actually self-defeating for atheists."

Only with your strawman in place would this be considered true. Please go back and read the original post more carefully.

OMGF

Kevin DeGraaf said...

If evolution is generating minds that think more and more truly then why do billions of people ascribe to religion and spiritual worship that atheists claim are illogical practices? If evolution is producing reasonable truth thinkers why are there so few atheists in this world?

Adam addresses your question in a follow-up comment. Quoting him: "Religious memes ensure their own propagation and transmission by hijacking the human belief machinery, turning it to their own purposes with little regard for whether it is beneficial to their host to do so."

The entire thrust of your response is thus defeated. Do you have any other objections to Adam's essay?

Apparently, Richard Dawkins thinks he is superior to Christians as he has advocated to Oxford University to change their policy to disallow Christians as students because they are not intelligent.

Source, please.

Karla said...

The argument he made was that we can evolve in truth because thinkers who do not line up with reality will not survive so they will be replaced with right thinkers. So this means as time goes on people are thinking more and more in line with reality.

Since this is an argument from an atheist perspective to support the atheist argument, I ask how then is atheism supported when that kind of thinking is in the minority?

I'm not setting up a straw-man. I'm asking a sensible question. If we are evolving in our thinking to align with reality and if the reality is that there is no God why do so many people generation after generation believe in God and a supernatural realm? Evolution is not working this out of them. By saying that somehow people of religious beliefs can subvert the system and continue in their thinking regardless of it not lining up with reality makes no sense. How is that possible if those who don't think right don't survive? I could except this if we were talking about a minority of people versus billions of people who believe in some sort of God.

Karla said...

As for the Dawkins thing. . . Ravi Zacharias said in a live lecture I attended that he read an article at Oxford University in a newsletter by Dawkins calling for Christians to not be admitted as students to the university. He also states the same in his new book End of Reason.

Anonymous said...

"The argument he made was that we can evolve in truth because thinkers who do not line up with reality will not survive so they will be replaced with right thinkers."

No, that's not his argument. His argument is that atheism is not a self-defeating tenet based on evolutionary development. This has nothing to do with atheist or theistic thinking when it comes to our ability to evolve. Your theistic beliefs do not put you at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to things such as predator/prey identification...as I've already discussed in the first comment.

"I'm not setting up a straw-man. I'm asking a sensible question."

No, you aren't. You are ascribing a position to Ebonmuse that he does not hold and then arguing against it. That is the very defintion of a strawman argument.

"If we are evolving in our thinking to align with reality and if the reality is that there is no God why do so many people generation after generation believe in God and a supernatural realm?"

This is nothing more than an appeal to popularity. I understand that you think it comes from Ebon's essay, but once again I ask you to read it more carefully.

"As for the Dawkins thing. . . Ravi Zacharias said in a live lecture I attended that he read an article at Oxford University in a newsletter by Dawkins calling for Christians to not be admitted as students to the university. He also states the same in his new book End of Reason."

Then it shouldn't be that hard to bring forth the evidence and Mr. Zacharias should also have the evidence in his book. Until then, I will remain skeptical, especially in light of the tendency of apologists to make fanciful claims of this sort in order to demonize prominent atheists.

OMGF

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this quote from Ebon's OP will help illuminate where you are going wrong.

"A creature that could not respond correctly to its environment, or that did so only imperfectly, would be at a significant survival disadvantage compared to one that could perceive more accurately. Therefore, it should be obvious that, all else being equal, evolution will always favor greater accuracy of sensory perception - both the ability to sense the environment with greater fidelity and the disposition to respond correctly to those sensory impressions."

He's not talking about metaphysical beliefs, but about sensory perceptions. They are totally different things. The ability to discern a cliff edge falls in the later category, while god belief would fall in the former.

Karla said...

Listen, I'm not trying to distort the argument I read or to simplify it or make it say something it's not. I really am about intellectual honesty and really getting at the heart of what we believe and why. So if I am misunderstand tenants of atheism, please take the time to help me understand your position so we can have a real dialog. If we can't understand each other we can never glean truth from each other and come closer to reality in our worldviews if either have error.

When Kevin gave me this link I believed it was to refute my argument that evolution could not support why we have the ability to discern right from wrong. From what I read, the argument linked is discussing how evolution gives us the ability to know truth (that which lines up with reality).

The questions I asked as a result of reading it, is not because I thought the author was explicitly talking about religion. But I was applying his argument to truth in general to see how it faired. If A is true than it should work with proposition B as well from the way I'm seeing it.

So I know he was not addressing matters of the validity of religious beliefs, but since they concern me I ask how what he says effects those ideas.

You don't have to accept the Dawkins info. I don't have the book with me at the moment to look up the source. I do know that Ravi Zacharias is a highly respected individual among Christians and non-Christians world-wide.

Anonymous said...

"Listen, I'm not trying to distort the argument I read or to simplify it or make it say something it's not. I really am about intellectual honesty and really getting at the heart of what we believe and why. So if I am misunderstand tenants of atheism, please take the time to help me understand your position so we can have a real dialog."

I believe you. I don't think you are trying to distort anything, I think you simply aren't getting what Ebon was saying.

"From what I read, the argument linked is discussing how evolution gives us the ability to know truth (that which lines up with reality)."

With the understanding of how evolution works. Like I talked about with metaphysical beliefs vs. sensory beliefs, evolution is not concerned with the extraneous beliefs you hold in god if it doesn't affect your survival.

"The questions I asked as a result of reading it, is not because I thought the author was explicitly talking about religion. But I was applying his argument to truth in general to see how it faired. If A is true than it should work with proposition B as well from the way I'm seeing it."

The problem with that is that you are applying questions that are outside of the scope of the argument at hand. Take for instance Newtonian physics vs. quantum physics. Newtonian physics is not wrong, but it no longer applies once you go outside of the established boundaries. Does that make sense?

"So I know he was not addressing matters of the validity of religious beliefs, but since they concern me I ask how what he says effects those ideas."

There's actually quite a bit of research being done into whether religious ideas did evolve as a way of ensuring group cohesion among us social animals. In this sense, religion would have an evolutionary basis which wouldn't validate or invalidate it. Note, this is an orthogonal argument to the one Ebon was presenting.

"You don't have to accept the Dawkins info. I don't have the book with me at the moment to look up the source. I do know that Ravi Zacharias is a highly respected individual among Christians and non-Christians world-wide."

I'll accept it if you can back it up. I'm skeptical, however, because it's all too familiar to me. I've seen it all too many times where apologists have vilified atheists by twisting their words or making up quotes wholesale. This happens often when the question of evolution comes up, as whole entire websites have been made to counter creationist quote-mining. If you go to talkorigins.org, they have a whole section dedicated to it. There's also well-known cases where people have claimed that Sam Harris is advocating killing Muslims for their beliefs, which is a complete fabrication that stems from someone (or some group) misquoting what he wrote in one of his books. I came across this argument myself once and looked up the source and found it to be wholly inaccurate. It's so bad that I doubt that it was done by accident. This is not to malign you, but be warned that some of those who stand by you in apologetics are not honest people and will try to win at any and all costs.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that was me again just above.

OMGF

Karla said...

The internet provides plenty of misquoted information and invalid rumors about anyone in any kind of public light. I always try to hear things from the horses mouth instead of believing what I hear. That's why I want to learn from atheists what atheist believe. I have read plenty of books telling me what they believe even by former atheists. But I want to engage in real conversation with real people and learn from them how they think and why they think that way. I also often see Christians misrepresented by atheists. For example on the topic of morality atheist typically misrepresent the Christian position on the topic. I want to foster real information exchange and real debate of the issues. If I write about the issues in ignorance of the atheists real position, I am wasting my time and not helping anyone come to a greater understanding of each other or the issues.

Moreover, one of the reasons I respect Ravi Zacharias so much is that he often gives his manuscripts to people of the religion he is writing about to ensure that he is honest and fair about their beliefs before presenting a response from the Christian worldview. He writes with great respect.

Actually I have been reading blogs by Dinesh D'Souza and I haven't found him to respond to Dawkins and Sam Harris and others in a respectful manner and have consequently not bought his book. I am curious to read his book, but I'm not sure I want to support him if he isn't going to be respectful.

Anyway, my purpose is to learn and to answer real questions with real answers from the Christian worldview. I see the points you are making and see I have much more to learn on that topic and I will continue to study it so I can understand it further.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Karla. The best I can ask for is that you take the necessary strides to understand the arguments that others make and it sounds like you wish to do just that.

"For example on the topic of morality atheist typically misrepresent the Christian position on the topic."

I have not run into this phenomenon, so perhaps you could give an example? For my part, I think that the Bible is a wholly unethical and immoral book, but most Xians are as moral as any other group of people. This is in spite of a book that is immoral and due to the evolution of the Xian religion in following with our cultural evolution in terms of moral thinking.

Anonymous said...

I keep forgetting to put my name on these anonymous comments. Sorry about that. I wrote the one above.

OMGF

Moody said...

You might find the work being done by Lambros Malafouris to be interesting.

As to atheism and "what an atheist believes", I agree with what OMGF said, and also have to add that you have unfortunately misused Adam's post. You cannot apply a discussion of scientific ideas regarding evolution to metaphysical ideas regarding "truth", at least without properly defining your terms. Mathematical proofs are not the same as photographic proofs, even if they use the same word; their is a mismatch in definitions.

What do I, as an atheist, believe? Like Dawkins, I believe that at present there is no definite way to prove or disprove the existence of [a] "God", but that the various gods human beings believe in all fail the test of empirical verification and, furthermore, that those who believe in them give no compelling reasons to believe in their gods. What has a tribal god of the Middle-East to do with me? I am not a sheep herder living thousands of years ago. I know, for instance, that a woman's menstruation is not a sickness. I know, too, that the sun cannot be stopped in its course, because it is the earth that moves around the sun and stopping it would have dire consequences for all life on earth. I don't believe in magic or miracles that can suspend the laws of nature, and I have never seen a single thing that could not be explained in a number of ways (or be proven a hoax or a mistaken perception).

As an atheist, I want very much for human beings to get along with each other, to have free speech, to be able to pursue happiness and to find meaning in their lives. I am moral because being moral makes sense. We do better as a species when we treat each other well. That seems to me to be a complete no-brainer. People who fear that without "God" we'd all be raping and killing are truly misanthropic. Other species akin to us behave much as we do, and have flaws like we do, but they also tend toward working together and live in balance with their environment (if only because the environment keeps them in check). Human beings are smart enough to see the forest for the trees, and powerful enough to tip the balance for good or ill. Rest assured, we will justify our choices one way or another, but we will make them on our own. As an atheist, I think that it's very important for us to take full responsibility for our actions, to strive to own our choices and to avoid placing them in the hands of a "God" that very few people can fully agree about. I see only people and their actions. I have never seen "God" come down and instruct people, only seen the books that believers say was authored or inspired or otherwise written by "God". Why should I believe what believers say? What difference does it make to me if they ascribe their actions to some gaseous vertebrate in the sky? The only impact for me will follow their actions here and now. Let them behave well and kindly, and do their best to promote peace and knowledge and love, and I will be happy with them--though I still shall not believe in their "God".

I find the Abrahamic religions to be contentious and tiresome, and I think their particulars are throwbacks to ancient times we are well shut of. We've grown in power and learned a great deal, and it does not serve us to pay homage or fealty to dusty tomes written by people who never touched the moon, never plumbed the deeps of the sea or visited other planets, people whose feet never left the ground save in flights of imagination. Whatever they were to themselves then, they are history now. I live in the present, in interesting and complicated times, times unprecedented in all of human history, times that demand a more holistic and comprehensive approach that does not limit itself to the superstitions of those long-ago tribesmen.

I find it sad that we are caught up in this argument over whether "God" exists or not, and whose "God" it is that exists, and whose right about shellfish and homosexuality, and whether or not evolution is real. But all these arguments have been brought to my doorstep by a very vocal minority who claim to represent "God" and who say they want to control the government and establish their beliefs as official and binding on the society I grew up in, and I can't have that. I will not sit idly by while these deluded people attempt to gain control. Anyone calling her or himself a Christian ought to be fighting on my side against those few who claim to represent them, because those people are dangerous and unbalanced, and at least they are simply wrong in their approach. We cannot make a better world by forcing our beliefs on others, especially when those beliefs run contrary to solid, verifiable, testable, empirical science.

That's what I believe. And thank you for listening. Please know that I would fight to the death to protect your right to believe whatever you want, so long as you don't think you've a right to force it on me or, by hook or by crook, make me kowtow to it. I only ask for equal respect. I would like to think that, were someone attempting to jail me or hurt me or even kill me, you would give your all to protect me, though I am an atheist and freethinker and don't find your beliefs at all appealing to me. Would you? Would you stand up for me as a human being first and foremost, as a person with inalienable rights that deserve to be protected? That's what I believe in.

Karla said...

OMGF, thanks for all your insight. Would you mind checking back tomorrow for a blog post on "morality" from a Christian viewpoint? I should get some time in the morning to write one. Then once I post it -- you can answer from your worldview in the comments regarding what I say. I may not yet know the atheist position well on it, but I do know and can share what the Christian worldview is about it.

Karla said...

Moody,

Wow. Thanks for your thoughts. I'll have to digest that for a while. As for would I stand up for your right as a human to think as you desire and to not be forced to believe in a way contrary to your mind and heart? Most certainly. I believe that all humans are valuable and that God created each one with equal value and no matter whether they believe in Him or not, I should treat them with the same love and value as Jesus shows me for that is His heart for everyone. I believe that that idea is indespensible to Christianity even though some Christians do not practice it. Jesus never forced anyone to love Him. He gave all and paid the ultimate sacrifice for mankind and He did so to provide free access to God not forced access. So people don't have to be Christians to have my respect or friendship. I hope you'll check back and see if maybe I think a little differently than what you've experienced from Christians and maybe you'll engage in conversation about matters of belief getting down to the real issues of philosophical thought and learning from each other. At the end of the day we can still disagree and come away as better people because we took the time to really listen to a different way of thinking.

Anonymous said...

Karla,
No guarantees that I can make it tomorrow, since Tuesdays are generally busy for me, but I'll swing by and check it out when I can.

Quick pre-question: will you be presenting your view on morality, some approved Xian view, or a Biblical view? I ask because I generally find that there are stark differences, yet most people don't differentiate. A common thread that (in my experience) I find is that many Xians use our modern understanding of morality and post hoc impart it back upon the Bible. IOW, they take what we know to be moral now and find a way to shoehorn it into what the Bible says.

OMGF

Ebonmuse said...

I have a few comments on Karla's reply:

"If evolution is generating minds that think more and more truly then why do billions of people ascribe to religion and spiritual worship that atheists claim are illogical practices?"

That's a valid question, but what I take issue with is Karla's apparent assumption that it's one that applies only to me. My original post was addressing the claim, made by Alvin Plantinga and others, that sensory faculties created by evolution would be unreliable, while sensory faculties created by an omnipotent god would be reliable. Clearly, there is a vast amount of religious confusion and schism in the world - this is just a fact that is not open to dispute. Therefore, even if this claim were a defeater for evolutionary naturalists believing in the reliability of human sense perception, it would be just as much of a defeater for theists who believe the same.

But in fact, I think it's less of a problem for me than it is for the theist. As I said in my post, it's most likely that evolution, a process which inherently involves trade-offs, would produce generally but not perfectly reliable sense perception. It's to be expected that people would make some cognitive mistakes under this scenario. By contrast, I believe the theist has a far more difficult time explaining why a creator-god would supply people with brains which have such an apparent predisposition toward inventing false gods.

"Postmodernism is actually the current ebb and flow of the today’s world which does not ascribe to the knowablity of truth nor the supremacy of science and reason. Why is one more popular than the other if atheists are the more evolved humans?"

There is no such thing as "more evolved", and atheism is not a genetic trait in any case.

"Apparently, Richard Dawkins thinks he is superior to Christians as he has advocated to Oxford University to change their policy to disallow Christians as students because they are not intelligent."

This is a preposterous charge which I don't believe for one moment. If Karla wants to make such specific accusations, she had better be able to produce evidence supporting them. If she can't, then she should have the common sense to withdraw her claim and apologize for disseminating this defamatory slur against a good man.

Karla said...

Ebonmuse, thank you for your responses. As you can see, I have accepted the correction that I misunderstood the nature of your argument and thus my response is faulty.

I was under the assumption, albeit a false one, that you were addressing the ability for evolution to produce a truth construct in humanity by which we have the ability to judge right and wrong or good v. evil without the existence of God.

I have not yet had that sufficiently explained to me from an atheist point of view. And when I posed that question to someone and they referred me to your essay I thought that the essay was designed to hit on those issues. I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding on my part.

As for the Dawkins statement regarding Christians and Oxford it is a paraphrase from what I heard someone say they read in a newsletter at Oxford. However, I do not want to slander anyone even if it is true so I will remove that statement from my blog.

As for how God could exist and allow there to be so many false gods man believes in . . . It is because God allows man to choose Him or reject Him. But because man was designed to have communion with God, he fills that void with false gods or other things because he is missing something necessary. He still knows something greater then nature exist, and he still has need to worship, so false gods are invented by mankind to suit mans' fancies and yet are insufficient for mans' desires. For man needs God and while their is a flavor of truth in all counterfeit worldviews for they all deal with reality somehow because we all live in the real world there is a Real that all these counterfeits are pointing toward by their very existence. You can't have a counterfeit without something real it is counterfeiting.