Darwin’s Horrid Doubt

Charles Darwin argued that the species (humans among them) arose by a process of natural selection. Under this argument, an organism is a machine. It is run by genes which “desire” to reproduce themselves in the next generation. (No, genes dont really have hopes and dreams, they dont desire things. But they act as though they do. Consider Dawkins’ work. He backs this up a lot.) 

It follows (as Darwin admitted) that our lives, experiences, and subsequent actions are simply actions that aim to reproduce our genetic code. The central nervous system, advanced though it is, therefore is nothing more than a machine designed to take stimuli and order them in such a way as to reproduce our genes. 

With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or are at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any such convictions? (Charles Darwin, Life and Letters, vol 1 written in 1881.  Interestingly this was the year before Nietzche declared that God was dead.)

This was Darwin’s horrid doubt. Under the naturalistic worldview (Darwin’s worldview), there is no reason to believe that the purpose of our CNS is to tell us accurately what is going on in the world around us, for their is no reason for us to know anything about our world. The purpose is to manipulate us into reproducing and spreading our genetic codes.  

Patricia Churchland (an influential modern philosopher who works at the University of California at San Diego) asks what the nervous system is for. She says it enables us to succeed in the four “F”s: Feeding, fighting, flighting and reproducing (sorry.). It is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Evolution guarantees – if it is successful in that organism, if that organism is naturally selected – appropriate behavior, but not true beliefs. It just makes behavior appropriate for survival.

Darwin therefore doubted that our CNS could give us a reliable picture of the world around us. There is no reason for it to do so. All it does is take stimuli and spit out responses that help us survive and reproduce.

Consider this idea with cows or fish or dogs first, and not with people.

Then consider that we humans arose the exact same way. There is no reason to believe that our reasoning or perception are reliable are any more reliable than a monkey’s.

Naturalistically, then, there is a problem with epistemology. There is no reason to believe that we can actually know anything for sure. (It follows, somewhat ironically, that there is therefore no reason to believe that we can know that natural selection, evolution, etc are true.)

This is what Alvin Plantinga calls an evolutionary argument against evolution. It is based on Darwins very own “horrid doubt” (his words).  I care little however for the way it is an argument against evolution. That is merely a small, somewhat humorous, sidenote. The real concern here is what it says about naturalistic epistemology.  But that hardly has the same ring as “an evolutionary argument against evolution.”

The Christian Worldview breaks with Darwin. It holds that we are created by God in his image, and that he gave us the ability to think and reason and perceive the world around us so that we could accurately perceive Himself and worship Him. We cannot worship what we cannot know, so God has given us a way to know.

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