The Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism
“If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting on matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistically and I fizz theistically.” – Douglas Wilson
Mr. Wilson is hitting on an interesting notion in the worldview of naturalism. It seems that if our minds are the products of naturalistic evolution, then there wouldn’t be any reason to think we can think reasonably. Such is the basis for the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Let’s start off with a few definitions.
Defeater – a belief that gives reason to think another belief is false.
R – our cognitive faculties are reliable
N – naturalism is true
E – evolution is true
Outline of the Premises
- Given the truth of naturalism and evolution, the probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable is low. Symbolically: Pr(R|(N&E)) is low
- The person who believes N&E (naturalism and evolution) and sees that Pr(R|(N&E)) is low has a defeater for R.
- Anyone who has a defeater for R has a defeater for pretty much any other belief she has, including (if she believed it) N&E.
- Therefore, the devotee of N&E (at least such a devotee who is aware of the truth of 1) has a self-defeating belief.
1. “The probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable (R) is extremely low given naturalism and evolution (N&E).”
- There is what’s called ‘the problem of the four Fs’. This is the realisation that natural selection only sorts for behaviors conducive to Feeding, Fleeing, Fighting, and Fertility. This leads to the unnerving conclusion that evolution does not sort for the truth our beliefs; it only sorts for beliefs that are advantageous to survival. A false belief that is conducive to survival therefore, does not get weeded out by evolution.
- The theist is perfectly within her right to accept or reject the theory of biological evolution. She can affirm that evolution is the means by which God populated the planet with diverse forms of life and human beings, being unique in God’s view, were endowed with rationality. On the other hand, she can deny the theory of evolution and say that God specially created all of life. In either case, she can still be confident in the reliability of her cognitive faculties because N is false in her worldview.
- On the other hand, the naturalist does not have God or anything like God within his explanatory resources. Because of this, evolution is ‘the only game in town’ meaning he cannot decouple evolution from his naturalism. Thus, if the argument is sound, the committed naturalist is in real trouble.
2. “The person who believes N&E (naturalism and evolution) and sees that Pr(R|N&E) is low has a defeater for R.”
- When the naturalist recognizes that the probability of R is immensely low, it follows logically that he has a reason to disbelieve R.
3. “Anyone who has a defeater for R has a defeater for pretty much any other belief she has, including (if she believed it) N&E.”
- When a person comes to what he believes is a reasonable conclusion, he takes for granted the reliability of his cognitive faculties. By recognizing that his cognitive faculties are unreliable, he cannot even get off the ground to reason. This means that any prior beliefs he holds cannot be considered reasonable conclusions and ought to be abandoned. These beliefs include Naturalism and Evolution which leads to the conclusion that…
“Therefore, the devotee of N&E (who is aware of the truth of premise 1) has a self-defeating belief.”
Summary: The gist of this argument is that if naturalism and evolution are true, then you cannot trust your own mind to come to true beliefs. Thus, it is unreasonable to be both a naturalist and an evolutionist.
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The formulation of this argument that I presented is by Alvin Plantinga.
- God and Evolution: Where the Conflict Really Lies
- Unbelievable? Alvin Plantinga vs Stephen Law (mp3)
- Inspiring Philosophy’s summary
Maverick Christian has a great outline of this argument