One Concession

The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth. – John Gray

One way debates between the religious and atheists run aground is over the question of faith. A standard argument might go something like this:

Atheist: Having faith is a form of intellectual dishonesty. To claim you believe in something without evidence is to remove yourself from the discussion before it even begins.

Religious: Scientists have faith that the universe is intelligible. That the laws of physics held true since the beginning of time. That there is a connection between what our senses tell us and objective reality. All of that requires a leap of faith.

I was for a very long time satisfied with what amounted to a syntactical argument, i.e. to call religious assumptions about the nature of god faith in the same breath as scientific assumptions about an intelligible universe faith, is to reduce the word faith to no definition. That is, faith becomes a useless word.

But dude’s quote above has me re-evaluating my once staunchly held belief in the absence of faith in science. No Darwinian would dream of arguing that the human brain arrived at its current form due to an evolutionary process that selected for ‘maximum truth acquisition.‘ No, the Darwinian would insist that the human brain is the way it is because it defeated other types of brains in an evolutionary race, and the qualities that evolution selected for would be linked to truth accuracy only coincidentally at best.

Furthermore, whatever the universe is made of, it is not made of sights, sounds, smells, tactile sensations, and tastes. Those means (our senses) with which we interact with the universe exist only at the level of the brain, and any other type of information that might transmit to us requires a wholly different type of brain to receive. Therefore, the most generous we can possibly be about our knowledge of what can only be called objective reality, is that it is flawed due to fidelity of transmission. At worst, the universe is barely at all like we think it is, that our senses while giving us a practical means with which to interact, are grossly inaccurate.

So, there you have it, a leap of faith is required to believe that the universe is understandable by our prehistorically selected brain, and that even if our biological equipment is uniquely suited to exploring objective reality, it is an assumption to believe that the universe is understandable – that it is cogent, consistent, and always has and will be.

I’ll make that leap.

Robin Lindsay

rockrobinoff[at]gmail.com

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2 Responses to “One Concession”

  1. Ben Says:

    Shit robin. I think we agree on something. Now what? ;-D

    I would take slight umbridge at: “the Darwinian would insist that the human brain is the way it is because it defeated other types of brains in an evolutionary race”. I am not trying to be pedantic, but I never quite liked the charged terms of ‘defeat’ and ‘evolutionary race’. Indeed, the whole concept of ‘survival of fittest’ presupposes that the environment remains constant, which it doesn’t. In times of sun and moisture and plenty, being strong and big makes you the fittest. In times of famine and darkness, being small and able to survive on small rations makes you the fittest. Evolution is less race and more tumbling logs down a muddy hill and seeing which goes furthest. And this is why I do very much question our brains ability to truly understand the predicament we are in (not that it isn’t worth trying) ….

    • rockrobinoff Says:

      i agree that ‘survival of the fittest’ is often misunderstood, but only because the sense that ‘fittest’ is taken. if you accept that ‘fittest’ means ‘best suited’ then it all becomes easy, and it doesn’t have to imply anything to do with strong, fast, or aggressive.

      that said, it is a kind of race, and it is a kind of war, but not between species, but between genes. hell, you and i are related to turnips. those genes, which are shared amongst quite close to all species, are doing very well for themselves. so are the genes that make up bacteria. uniquely human genes have managed to copy themselves in 6 billion or so unique hosts… not bad, but nothing on beetle genes.

      if you look at evolution not at the level of the species or individual, but at the gene level, things become very clear. in fact, virtually all new evolutionary science views the the gene as the basic evolutionary unit.

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