….Darwin thought that, had the circumstances for reproductive fitness been different, then the deliverances of conscience might have been radically different. “If . . . men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of interfering” (Darwin, Descent, 82). As it happens, we weren’t “reared” after the manner of hive bees, and so we have widespread and strong beliefs about the sanctity of human life and its implications for how we should treat our siblings and our offspring.
But this strongly suggests that we would have had whatever beliefs were ultimately fitness producing given the circumstances of survival. Given the background belief of naturalism, there appears to be no plausible Darwinian reason for thinking that the fitness-producing predispositions that set the parameters for moral reflection have anything whatsoever to do with the truth of the resulting moral beliefs. One might be able to make a case for thinking that having true beliefs about, say, the predatory behaviors of tigers would, when combined with the understandable desire not to be eaten, be fitness producing. But the account would be far from straightforward in the case of moral beliefs.” And so the Darwinian explanation undercuts whatever reason the naturalist might have had for thinking that any of our moral beliefs is true. The result is moral skepticism.
If our pretheoretical moral convictions are largely the product of natural selection, as Darwin’s theory implies, then the moral theories we find plausible are an indirect result of that same evolutionary process. How, after all, do we come to settle upon a proposed moral theory and its principles as being true? What methodology is available to us?
Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics: Answering the New Atheists & Other Objections (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), 70.
Let’s consider a basic question: Why does the natural world make any sense to begin with? Albert Einstein once remarked that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. Why should we be able to grasp the beauty, elegance, and complexity of our universe?
Einstein understood a basic truth about science, namely, that it relies upon certain philosophical assumptions about the natural world. These assumptions include the existence of an external world that is orderly and rational, and the trustworthiness of our minds to grasp that world. Science cannot proceed apart from these assumptions, even though they cannot be independently proven. Oxford professor John C. Lennox asks a penetrating question, “At the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly. Without this deep conviction science would not be possible. So we are entitled to ask: Where does the conviction come from?”” Why is the world orderly? And why do our minds comprehend this order?
Toward the end of The God Delusion, Dawkins admits that since we are the product of natural selection, our senses cannot be fully trusted. After all, according to Darwinian evolution, our senses have been formed to aid survival, not necessarily to deliver true belief. Since a human being has been cobbled together through the blind process of natural selection acting on random mutation, says Dawkins, it’s unlikely that our views of the world are completely true. Outspoken philosopher of neuro-science Patricia Churchland agrees:
- The principle chore of brains is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing [the world] is advantageous so long as it… enhances the organism’s chances for survival. Truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost.
Dawkins is on the right track to suggest that naturalism should lead people to be skeptical about trusting their senses. Dawkins just doesn’t take his skepticism far enough. In Miracles, C. S. Lewis points out that knowledge depends upon the reliability of our mental faculties. If human reasoning is not trustworthy, then no scientific conclusions can be considered true or false. In fact, we couldn’t have any knowledge about the world, period. Our senses must be reliable to acquire knowledge of the world, and our reasoning faculties must be reliable to process the acquired knowledge. But this raises a particularly thorny dilemma for atheism. If the mind has developed through the blind, irrational, and material process of Darwinian evolution, then why should we trust it at all? Why should we believe that the human brain—the outcome of an accidental process—actually puts us in touch with reality? Science cannot be used as an answer to this question, because science itself relies upon these very assumptions.
Even Charles Darwin was aware of this problem: “The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the conviction of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” If Darwinian evolution is true, we should distrust the cognitive faculties that make science possible.
Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 37-38.