By that I mean; In a theistic universe we are given reason to trust that our senses are capable of accurately detecting the world around us because we hold to the notion that they were properly designed to operate in the environment in which we employ them.
The naturalistic alternative here is that our senses simply evolved through random chance and mutation towards an undirected end. In this case we simply cannot reasonably trust our senses, much less our cognitive abilities to understand the world we find ourselves in. In this model, we might as well be protoplasmic lumps in a cosmic vat that is manipulating our synapses into forming sensory perceptions of a purely artificial environment.
“Fittest” does not entail the production of true beliefs. I think this can be made abundantly clear by simply pointing out how many animals (and humans) posses faulty or flat out false beliefs and who nevertheless manage to survive and thrive.
One example would be how easily animals are trapped in the wild. Sure, some figure out the traps and manage to avoid being caught or eaten, but only for a while. If the production of true beliefs were integral to the survival of the species or a criterion of “fittest” in the evolutionary sense of the word we should expect that animals today would not be so easily overcome by traps designed in the stone ages.
Another example would be human malice, greed, evil, etc. According to philosophical naturalists like Sam Harris our collective morality has grown up because it is somehow evolutionarily beneficial. That is contributes to “the survival of the species”. However if this were true then we should expect fewer and fewer systems propagating false beliefs such as obscure cults, Scientology, etc.
No one, to my mind, doubts that natural selection is a mechanism that operates in the world we find ourselves in. We are merely want to point out that what natural selection “selects for” is still hotly debated even among the Darwinist crowd1, and nevertheless not aimed at the production of true beliefs (and to my mind no naturalist has ever tried to make the claim that it was either).
The fact is also that evolution must be seen as random in order for it to avoid the sticky implications, if a system existed, of a guided evolutionary process. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, though many like Dawkings try, either evolution is thoroughly random or else it is guided. And not merely guided by a system that conveniently “selects for” what we, at the end of the process, deem to be evolutionarily beneficial. That is not scientific observation any more than it is wishful thinking or blind faith (which is why many like myself make no distinction between Darwinian evolution and other systems of faith).
At any rate; I believe this, the inability to ground or explain the origins of our cognitive faculties, will ultimately be the Achilles heel of Darwinian evolution.
Well, along with the sheer lack of evidence, massive changes in the underlying theory, and general disagreement on rather large details such as the definition of evolution, selection, and qualifications of “fittest”.
However if you can’t even lay a proper epistemic framework I don’t see how you can reliably build anything at all. Without a proper ground for our cognitive facilities we might as well be howling at the moon for who’s to say we are any better off cognitively than our ancestors?
- In fact, there is a rather large debate as to whether it is even legitimate to claim that natural selection “selects for” anything as such would entail guided as opposed to unguided evolution. [↩]