Evolved Truths are not Truths
Here Theodore Darymaple takes on the new atheists and finds the arguments not only weak, but weaker than arguments for atheism need to be – except, perhaps, that of Daniel Dennett. Kicking over the view typified by Dennett was instrumental in overcoming a life of agnosticism for me, so I find this sort of argument particularly worth watching. Whenever an Al Gore-esque “the science is irrefutable” erupts in these debates, hypocrisy lurks. Scientific conclusions are always tentative, and if you think they are not, you are not using science, but have leapt into the world of metaphysics.
Here is Darymaple on the difficulties of Dennett’s argument:
Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is the least bad-tempered of the new atheist books, but it is deeply condescending to all religious people. Dennett argues that religion is explicable in evolutionary terms—for example, by our inborn human propensity, at one time valuable for our survival on the African savannahs, to attribute animate agency to threatening events.
For Dennett, to prove the biological origin of belief in God is to show its irrationality, to break its spell. But of course it is a necessary part of the argument that all possible human beliefs, including belief in evolution, must be explicable in precisely the same way; or else why single out religion for this treatment? Either we test ideas according to arguments in their favor, independent of their origins, thus making the argument from evolution irrelevant, or all possible beliefs come under the same suspicion of being only evolutionary adaptations—and thus biologically contingent rather than true or false. We find ourselves facing a version of the paradox of the Cretan liar: all beliefs, including this one [evolution], are the products of evolution, and all beliefs that are products of evolution cannot be known to be true.