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.

Faith and Knowledge

It seems that far too often you hear people referring to science pertaining to knowledge and religion pertaining to values.  I haven’t quite figured out what values are or why it is OK that they are not based in knowledge.  As far as I can tell, values flow out of something like truth that is unconnected to knowledge and is also unconnected to objective truth.  We seem to live in a world where scientific knowledge is the only thing that is objectively true, the only thing from which knowledge springs.  Values, religion, faith exist in some separate area of our brains that is unaffected by knowledge and even goes against knowledge.  

According to many, faith is diametrically opposed to knowledge.  It would seem to fly in the face of scientific knowledge.  After all knowledge can be tested; it can be explained; it can be attested to.  But faith, on the other hand, has no basis in knowledge; it is blind and, insomuch as it is blind, it is foolish.

I wouldn’t argue that a completely blind faith that set itself up against observable fact and knowledge is foolish.  But I wouldn’t characterize faith as such.  I dont think many of the great Christian thinkers throughout history would either.  This is how faith is described by Francis Scheaffer, a man who resided in Switzerland, at a place called L’abri and held classes for anyone who showed up at his front door.

Scheaffer argued that we really have two separate things we call faith.  The are different enough, he says, that there probably should be two different words.  But alas, we have but one.  Faith.  

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock and suddenly the fog shuts down The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will all freeze to death here on the shoulder of this mountain. Simply to keep warm, the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are. After an hour or so, someone says to the guide: “Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog. What would happen then?” The guide would say that you might make it till morning and thus live. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog. This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.

The man who jumps down in the fog like this has no idea if there is a ledge there to land on. He simply knows that IF there is, he may survive. This is how some view Christianity – a shot in the dark, a blind leap of faith. There is some outside chance that it may be accurate, but simply not great enough to base life on and certainly not some kind of foundation of knowledge and truth. Now lets look at the other kind of faith – the kind that is practiced by Christians around the world.

(I’ll employ some paraphrase here, because his argument is rather lengthy.)  Suppose we’re in the situation he presents above, but instead of taking a blind leap we, enshrouded in fog, hear a voice saying “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are… I am on another ridge.” The voice claims to be that of a man who has lived in the mountains all his life, who knows these mountains very well. He claims that there IS a ledge just below and that we can easily drop to it and make it through the night.

We would likely not immediately drop, but ask the man questions to find out if he really knows what he is talking about and if he is a friend or foe. If convinced by his answers, we would then drop to the ledge and survive the night.

This is faith, but obviously it has no relationship to the first instance… The historic Christian faith is not a leap of faith in the post-Kierkegaardian sense because “[God] is not silent,” and I am invited to ask the sufficient questions in regard to details but also in regard to the existence of man.  I am invited to ask the sufficient questions and then believe him and bow before him metaphysically in knowing that I exist because he made man, and bow before him morally as needing his provision for me in the substitutionary, propitiatory death of Christ.

I need not say more.  Excerpts here are from “He Is There and He Is Not Silent.” This book and Scheaffer’s Escape From Reason are two of my favorites. I highly recommend them.

The fog can really close in!

Big Questions

There are big questions floating around in peoples’ minds.  They have been there for as long as there have been people.  Who are we?  Where did we come from?  What is out purpose?

These questions were asked by Plato and Aristotle.  And sadly, their answers are still around.  They were asked by the ancient Egyptians and by Eastern peoples of what’s now China and India.

They were asked by such great theologians as Augustine, Aquinas.  They have been asked by philosophers both ancient and modern ranging from Kant to Huxley, Nietzche to Schaeffer.  They are asked by our great literary writers like Hemingway, Hawthorne, Thoreau and O’Connor.  These are the big questions and we need to ask them.

It seems more and more, America is becoming a place where we fail to ask the big questions.  We are more interested in the Dark Knight, SUVs, and vacations.  We pay closer attention to who is going to be the next president than we do the meaning of life.

This is a sad time.  This is an indictment.  I will say, first of all however, that it is indictment upon myself. I, who have spent far too much time trying to figure out LOST and not nearly enought time trying to figure out the world around me, the world I’m living in, the real world.  Not some world conjured up in the mind of a television writer.  As exciting as our world is, ours is moreso.  The questions in our world, the big questions, they really matter.  The season isn’t going to end and then fade into oblivion, or, if its popular, show up on DVD.

I challenge and urge you to think about the big questions – to explore.  Consider the possibilities.  And consider what could possibly be truth.  Dont look at it from a skeptical “anything is possible” standpoint.  Eliminate the impossiblities and go for what seems accurate.  What does your heart tell you.  I encourage all to read and study the biblical worldveiw – the only one that gives solid answers to all of the questions.  And I encourage Christians to grapple with this worldview; try to figure it out.  And be ready to give an answer to the big questions.  Or be ready to ask the big questions.  After all, if we can’t answer these, then we are all LOST.

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 12:15 pm  Leave a Comment