Should You Trust the Monkey Mind?
by Joe Carter
“With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has always been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy,” wrote Charles Darwin. “Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
Although Darwin admits he wasn’t much of an abstract thinker, he could not shake the “inward conviction” that “the Universe is not the result of chance.” Unlike many who followed after him, he appears to have intuitively understood the paradox of combining naturalism with evolutionary theory: If evolution is a non-teleological process, it undercuts our ability to trust that we can form true beliefs and convictions.
To have trustworthy convictions, we have to have properly functioning noetic equipment (i.e., a brain, spinal cord, sensory apparatus, etc.) that can recognize reality. But can a strictly materialistic, non-teleological, evolutionary process produce such reliable equipment?
The philosopher Alvin Plantinga, one of the greatest thinkers of our era, thinks the answer is “no.” Although his argument is too complex and tightly argued to be adequately summarized, the basic outline of his case shows his point to be all but incontrovertible.
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Plantinga claims, not that evolution is untrue, but that the truth of evolution is incompatible with the truth of naturalism. “As far as I can see, God certainly could have used Darwinian processes to create the living world and direct it as he wanted to go,” he argues. “Hence evolution as such does not imply that there is no direction in the history of life.”
What does imply that life is not directed, he adds, is not evolutionary theory itself, but the theory of unguided evolution: the idea that “neither God nor any other person has taken a hand in guiding, directing, or orchestrating the course of evolution.” For our purposes, we’ll call this view “evolutionary naturalism.”
Evolutionary naturalism assumes that our noetic equipment developed as it did because it had some survival value or reproductive advantage. Unguided evolution does not select for belief except insofar as the belief improves the chances of survival. The truth of a belief is irrelevant, as long as it produces an evolutionary advantage. This equipment could have developed at least four different kinds of belief that are compatible with evolutionary naturalism, none of which necessarily produce true and trustworthy cognitive faculties.
Take Zed, a prehistoric caveman. Zed is the first to cross the line over to homo sapien (his parents are very proud) and is the first to develop functioning noetic equipment that is the equivalent of our own. His equipment could produce four types of beliefs…