If You Think Evolution Thought Of Thinking, Think Again

If You Think Evolution Thought Of Thinking, Think Again

There is a popular argument that says that because man evolved, his thoughts do not guarantee truth, and that his inclinations to like or agree with an argument reflect what is best for his survival, on average, and that any argument’s agreement with truth is coincidental.

Which, as an argument, is self-refuting. As has been pointed out many times. Because if you believe the conclusion follows from the premises, and gives you a truth, you are saying it might not be a truth at all, but merely a comforting belief.

The situation is far worse than that. Because the idea that we cannot know truth applies to all arguments, and even all perception. Every sense might be false or incomplete, and only sufficiently aligned with reality at levels to guarantee survival, but without a guarantee of perfect fidelity. Which is another self-refuting argument. Because you need your senses to read and appreciate this argument.

Indeed, once you start down the knowledge-doubting path, no argument can be trusted. Even arguments which say we must be skeptics. No deductions of any kind can be known as true. The concept of deduction itself can’t be known as true.

This kind of “strict materialism”, as CS Lewis says in his Miracles (in the chapter “The Cardinal Difficult of Naturalism”), “refutes itself for the reason given long ago by Professor Haldane: ‘If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms’ [ellipsis original].”

Thus a perfect adherence with neo-Darwinian evolution logically implies that neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory cannot be proved. Nothing can. Science is out the window as yet another comforting belief. No atoms, no science. And no proving evolution, as we’ll see.

Naturalism, say Lewis, “offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behavior; but this account, on inspection, leaves no room for the acts of knowing of insight on which the value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends.”

You might say that as evolution proceeds, senses become superior, which leads to greater perception, and thus arguments that come closer to truth because usefulness has increased. But as Lewis shows (and as echoed later by Alvin Plantinga), evolution, though it might account for superior abilities, is not enough to get to knowledge.

Inference itself is on trial: that is, the Naturalist has given an account of what we thought to be our inferences which suggests that they are not real insights at all. We, and he, want to be reassured. And the reassurance turns out to be one more inference (if useful, then true)—as if this inference were not, once we accept his evolutionary picture, under the same suspicion as all the rest. If the value of our reasoning is in doubt, you cannot try to establish it by reasoning.

Perhaps this now makes sense to you. But what you might not have seen coming is that this works in reverse, too. Lewis continues (with my emphasis):

If—a proof that there are no proofs is nonsensical, so it a proof there are proofs. Reason is our starting point. There can be no question either of attacking or defending it. If by treating it as a mere phenomenon you put yourself outside it, there is then no way, except by begging the question, of getting inside again.

Reason is there. We think, we are. There is no escaping it.

The man Lewis quoted was JBS Haldane, the famous British mathematical biologist. To him is attributed the quip “I’d lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins,” about the similarity in genetic makeup between close relatives. If he said that, it was clearly a joke, because nobody ever reasons that way. And, as we’ve seen, biology cannot account for reason.

Haldane would agree. And in fact did agree. His quote comes from the essay “When I Am Dead” in his 1927 Possible Worlds:

But if death will probably be the end of me as a finite individual mind, that does not mean that it will be the end of me altogether. It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter.

For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.

In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter. But as regards my own very finite and imperfect mind, I can see, by studying the effects on it of drugs, alcohol, disease, and so on, that its limitations are largely at least due to my body.

Without that body it may perish altogether, but it seems to me quite as probable that it will lose its limitations and be merged into an infinite mind or something analogous to a mind which I have reason to suspect probably exists behind nature. How this might be accomplished I have no idea.

Me neither, Jack. Me neither.

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  1. What utter nonsense – truth is ultimately established by reference to reality and in no other way. To quote my favorite author (me):

    “We know, however, that the universe exists because, even if that existence amounts to programmed illusion or shadows on a cave wall, something has to cast the shadow or facilitate the illusion – and because that same logic applies to all forms of the information hypothesis these can explain the receding images of mirrors in mirrors, but neither the mirrors themselves nor the light that makes the trick work.” (see telearb.net/node/14 – On God and Information in Reality and Belief) .

    Rumsfeldian summary: we may not know how we can know, but we know that we do know; all else is mere quailing in the face of the infinite.

  2. Incitadus

    Some people don’t get it until they find a manure spreader parked in the lobby of
    their newsroom.

  3. Cary D Cotterman

    It’s easy and tempting to be flippant around here, but this is truly some heavy duty stuff to think about. What’s going on in my mind is dependent upon atoms, chemicals, and electricity, but what will happen when those cease? Will decades and decades of my thought simply disappear from the universe, instantly, like the music from my hi-fi set suddenly stopping when I pull the plug from the wall? Damn, we’ll never know, not unless there’s a subsequent state of being awaiting us. I wish I were susceptible to Faith. Alas, I am not.

    Yeah, I said “hi-fi set”. 1950s habits die hard. I’m gonna go put on a Brubeck LP to cheer me up. A little “Blue Rondo a la Turk” should do it.

  4. Johnno

    The mind exists in the same immaterial way as the soul, with which the body is a material vehicle. But the material body is not inseparable in importance. It is the ‘third person’ of our being, and all 3 are inseparable components of our whole.

    There is no nonsense of someone being born in the wrong body. There is no female mind or non-binary soul trapped in a male vessel. They are altogether one, at conception, and each defines the other.

    Because the body is male, the mind and soul is too. The tragedy of an ‘intersex’ body producing both parts in appearence no more undermines this than a car accident or an operation severing one’s manhood, though the initial confusion is sympathetic and understandably difficult for the occupant to manage.

    So too, the mind may go awry in terms of a deteriorating body or damage, but eventually the body will be resurrected and restored to its perfection, as it was Created to be from the 6th Day.

    The simultaneous creation of mind, body and soul as one specific unit is the only logical answer. Material causes, also of miraculous origin, alone are fundamentally incapable of explaining this phenomenon. Whatever state of limbo a soul and mind may be in until their body is conceived or resurrected after returning to dust, is a mystery, but until it is all reunited, it is a memory stored in God’s eternity where the concept of time elapsing is irrelevant.

  5. Incitadus

    Who would have ever thought that a manure spreader would be the embodiment
    of truth and justice in 21st century. Given the carpet of lies and deception it’s come
    in on starting with 911 it is indeed a noble and fitting symbol of resistance not to be
    underestimated in it’s rewarding sense of resistance and justice. We’ve come full circle
    from the Liberty Bell to the sh_t spreader.

  6. C-Marie

    So much simpler to accept the truth that God created us, spirit, soul, and body, and that from conception forwards, we are fully human, and from the moment of our physical deaths, we will be forever, either in the full company of God, His angels, His saints, and all who are in Heaven …. or eternally separated from Him and them. Do receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour …. He makes life worth living!!

    God bless, C-Marie

  7. David Marwick

    A few years ago the Briggsian illuminati tried to ridicule me out of the room because I dared to suggest that a thing that doesn’t exist can’t cause itself to exist. A pretty fundamental premise on which to base valid reasoning.

    Ho, ho! The Briggsian derisory preamble and post script have “mysteriously” vanished! Who would have thought such a thing possible on such an esteemed ‘site of mathematical (statistical) modernity?

    Orrite, Willy M Briggs, I leave you with a little observation. Agnosticism says that the only thing you can know for sure is that you can’t know anything for sure.

    Reality, Truth, Virtue, and all that are in a process of “becoming” according to a “cosmic consciousness” that is inexorably tending toward an “Omega Point” where brute consciousness merges with the “Universe”.

    Now, I will repeat my reasonable opinion that the brain does not create consciousness… it is only the physical organ that connects the world of sense and motor to the metaphysical mind which is of that “spiritual substance” we call the soul that makes the whole being “work”.

  8. Briggs


    Nice to have you back.

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