By Kenneth R. Samples
Was Charles Darwin a confident evolutionist?
It may be surprising to learn that the father of modern evolutionary theory had doubts about his proposed explanation for life’s diversity. Reflective by nature, Darwin (1809–1882) worried about the philosophical implications of his biological theory. One concern was whether humanity’s cognitive (belief-producing) faculties—which he believed had evolved from the lower animals—could be trusted to produce reliable, true beliefs about reality itself. Here’s how Darwin expressed his epistemological (relating to knowing) reservations concerning the purely naturalistic process of evolution: 1
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 at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?
Several thinkers have argued that the worldview of naturalism (nature as the sole reality) involves a fundamental state of epistemological incoherence or is self-defeating in nature.2
Three Strikes against Evolutionary Naturalism
Consistent with Darwin’s original uneasiness, a growing contingent of theists think it is irrational to believe in evolutionary naturalism in particular.
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Why? Because it fails to provide a viable pathway to ensure that humans develop reliable, true beliefs about reality;3 and the deliverances of science depend upon humans having trustworthy and accurate beliefs about the natural world. Atheistic, evolutionary naturalism’s ability to account for humanity’s rational faculties and explain how human beings can discover truth faces three potential defeaters.4
1. Naturalism Postulates a Nonrational Source for Human Rationality
If a person accepts the evolutionary naturalistic worldview, then he must also accept that the ultimate source of people’s reasoning faculties was not itself rational (endowed with reason), personal (self-aware, intelligent), or teleological (purposive) in nature. Rather, the source was a nonrational, impersonal, purposeless process consisting of genetic mutations, variation, and environmental factors (natural selection). Naturalism therefore postulates that a combination of random chance and blind impersonal natural processes (physical and chemical in nature) produced humanity’s rational faculties.
However, presuming that a nonrational, chance origin explains human intelligence raises legitimate questions about whether human reason can be trusted. According to the presumptions of science, an effect requires an adequate and sufficient cause, and the effect cannot be greater than the cause. But in the case of evolution, the effect of human intelligence is magnitudes (exponentially) greater than its supposed cause. Naturalists appear to have adopted a potentially self-defeating posture: They are assuming a trustworthy reasoning process only to conclude that their reasoning is ultimately untrustworthy…