Friday, March 12, 2010

Atheism's anthropological contradiction.

Dawkin's likes to talk about how anyone who disagrees with him is either stupid or ignorant.  Now, initially found this puzzling:  I do not think that Dawkins is stupid- possibly somewhat ignorant of Religion and theology (though I would doubt more knowledge would change his mind), so why does he feel this way about Theists?

Answer: Because if human behavior and beliefs were actually influenced factors other than pure reason, then his belief in Atheism could be seen to be just as much a product of those non-cognitive factors as those of Theists.  So, then how then could Atheism be superior?

There is an anthropological contradiction here.  

Dawkins believes that humans are the products of evolution- so humans are merely the products of their genes.  If that's so, then they would develop beliefs that were useful and not necessarily true (this is Alvin Plantinga's argument).  Some beliefs could be true and useful, but it's hard to tell the difference, since there is no knowledge of reality that isn't mediated by the organs that our genes have given us.  If that's true, Dawkin's Atheism is no more rationally justifiable than Theism.  Atheism and evolution itself are merely useful beliefs, we have no way of telling if they are actually true and inherently rational.  For this reason, he cannot claim himself to be superior to Theists.  


  1. "Some beliefs could be true and useful, but it's hard to tell the difference, since there is no knowledge of reality that isn't mediated by the organs that our genes have given us."

    Jack, I've heard this but think that its weak, in that it seems to start with the individual. If we assume up front that humanity is more about people (pl) partaking of the world together, rather than just individuals (who a la DesCartes, on to Hume, on to Kant seem to struggling with their own existence and that of others) would it not seem strange if all of us were suffering from the same useful delusions? I think so.

    Not that I'm an atheist, but Plantiga's argument strikes me as weak for this reason.

    What do you think?

    By the way, I loved the stuff on predestination. Thanks,


  2. Nathan,

    That's an interesting point, although I would argue that from an evolutionary standpoint, you would, in fact, expect everyone to have the same delusion. The reason they have the delusion in the first place is that it is (or whatever reason) useful to survival and reproduction. Therefore, eventually you would expect everyone to share the delusion because those without it would have died off. Just my 2 cents.

  3. Nathan- I appreciate your concerns. But yes, I agree with Bethany that it would be logical that we would all have the same useful delusions if they helped us survive.

  4. Bethany, Jack,

    I think that what you are saying on a surface “it’s logical” kind-of-level, but what hurts the argument is that it does not really mesh at all with our very human, common sense experience of the evidence on the ground – and therefore, I would argue, our notions of natural law. In other words, it’s the kind of argument only a Romans 1-denying Reformed epistemologist could appreciate.

    I also think that it is very counterintuitive, to say the least. Would we not expect that having an accurate idea of what reality is like would lead to greater chances of survival, i.e. knowledge is power? It seems to me that I can learn from experience not to stick my hand in fire, but it does me well if I trust the wisdom of others when they tell me either of their personal experience or about the general collective experiential wisdom regarding this matter, hence saving myself some trouble.

    Plantiga says that those who deny a Creator can only assume that evolution has outfitted humans with the capacity to know, to discern the really real. Logical and fair enough. Evolution may just as well have inculcated a propensity for self-deception as a survival mechanism, he points out, going on to say that it could all be self-deception because sometimes people, in performing surviving behavior in the world, may effectively do so from false beliefs (namely, false beliefs can be just as effective as true ones). The example he gives is that of a man running from a tiger: the man runs away from the tiger (which is good - he will live), but he does so for a variety of different reasons (which in his talk are quite funny:

    First of all, I think his example, though funny, is also rather ridiculous, right of up there with questioning whether or not I or my neighbor exists. I wonder what kind of other self-deception mechanisms Plantiga has in mind (stg a little bit more compelling I hope). At the very least, I don’t see why it would need to be binary. Could one not argue compellingly that common sense experience shows us that it is clear that one must know something accurate about the world we inhabit – i.e. we must have at the very least close-to-accurate representations of it – in order for us to live and survive, even if *on occasion*, it might be true that some self-deception (or said better: we produce imperfect maps, or metaphors, or useful fictions for this or that purpose, perhaps knowing full well that they may not be entirely true, but still we still get useful results… [all while being ethical about this of course]) may be a helpful survival mechanism as well?

    This seems to better sum up the human experience, I think.

    Again, the problem is that there are lots of little things that people consistently agree on - as Plantiga himself says - we have common perceptions of things and events that we basically *all* think map pretty closely with what is really real - and we certainly can't argue that knowledge of these kinds of “collective wisdom experiences” do not have “survival” value. For knowing about the world - what has happened, what is happening, what your options are - have survival value.. So is this mass delusion? Again, it seems to me that Plantiga is trying to get the atheist to doubt common sense realism, natural law, etc... and that's no good. I don't think this is an effective argument, and think that it shows the weaknesses of an evidentially unconcerned and individualistic Reformed epistemology.

    I think we should say: yes, knowledge of the world is power, but as Christians we say that we are to obtain this knowledge to serve our neighbor in love…

    Alright guys, got time for a rebuttal? Help me out and clear up my muddled thinking! : )


  5. I think that what you are saying on a surface “it’s logical” kind-of-level,

    should read:

    I think that what you are saying *works* on a surface “it’s logical” kind-of-level,