A friend of mine posted this on Facebook: Should You Trust The Monkey Mind?
Surprise, I think it’s a crock of shit.
“With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has always been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy,” wrote Charles Darwin. “Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
This is speciesism, or, if you like, plain old bigotry. It’s the opposite of the fallacy of argument from authority. Just because a monkey comes to some conclusion doesn’t make it wrong. I’m gonna guess that most monkeys kind of think it’s wrong (if they “think”, as such, at all) to let ants eat them. Other things being equal, I trust that conviction! Call me crazy.
Other convictions of theirs I might agree or disagree with, but not strictly because the conviction comes from a monkey.
If evolution is a non-teleological process, it undercuts our ability to trust that we can form true beliefs and convictions.
This is the core argument, and it’s stupid. The fact that evolution has no final cause or definite end (that is, it’s non-teleological) has no bearing on whether non-evolved ideas are true or not. (This is aside from the question of can an idea evolve, in the biological sense, over generations, at all. Maybe it can, maybe it can’t; I’m not sure either way.)
But can a strictly materialistic, non-teleological, evolutionary process produce such reliable equipment?
If it didn’t, how would we know?
And what does whether it’s teleological have to do with anything?
The philosopher Alvin Plantinga, one of the greatest thinkers of our era, thinks the answer is “no.”
Plantinga. I should’ve stopped reading there.
What does imply that life is not directed, he adds, is not evolutionary theory itself, but the theory of unguided evolution: the idea that “neither God nor any other person has taken a hand in guiding, directing, or orchestrating the course of evolution.” For our purposes, we’ll call this view “evolutionary naturalism.”
An important definition for what follows.
Evolutionary naturalism assumes that our noetic equipment developed as it did because it had some survival value or reproductive advantage. Unguided evolution does not select for belief except insofar as the belief improves the chances of survival. The truth of a belief is irrelevant, as long as it produces an evolutionary advantage.
This is the core of the argument, and contains the core equivocation, to wit, it conflates evolved beliefs with a specific idea. (Though again, I’m unclear on whether evolved beliefs are even possible.)
The point of all this is that Zed’s noetic equipment does not need to produce true beliefs for him to survive. This is true for all four types of belief unguided evolution can produce. Since this holds true for even the most basic survival behavior, it is especially true for abstract ideas — idea like “evolutionary naturalism.”
There’s the leap, there in the last sentence. The implicit assertion that belief in “evolutionary naturalism” is an evolved belief. I think that’s a fairly ridiculous idea. (And, in fact, here I am ridiculing it, haha.)If, as evolutionary naturalism claims, our noetic equipment might have developed in different ways, then a belief in evolutionary naturalism itself could be any of the four types of belief listed above.
There it is again.What is the likelihood that evolutionary naturalism has produced in us cognitive equipment able to reliably form true beliefs and know that they are true? Extremely low.
“Extremely low” based on what? The previous text of the article? No, that doesn’t follow.In order to accept the naturalistic evolutionary explanation for the development of our noetic equipment we have to be agnostic about its reliability. All we would really know is that it works for evolutionary purposes, not for the purposes of discerning truth from falsehood. Evolutionary naturalism, it turns out, is a self-defeating argument. If we believe the theory, we have no reason to believe the theory is true.The conclusion wraps all the crap up in a ball, again conflating the theory of naturalistic evolution, as such, with all evolved ideas, and also with the ability to form beliefs.And besides, the last two are just wrong; to repeat:Evolutionary naturalism, it turns out, is a self-defeating argument. If we believe the theory, we have no reason to believe the theory is true.… But we have no reason to believe it’s false, either.So to wrap all my crap up in a ball: This article plays fast and loose with the distinction between evolved ideas, all ideas, and a specific idea. It argues that an evolved belief need not be true to have a survival advantage (with which assertion I agree), and then uses that truth to argue fallaciously that even if we “believe” in evolution, we have no reason to believe that it’s true.