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Darwin's Doubt, Non-deterministic Darwinism and the Cognitive Science of Religion

  • Robin Attfield (a1)

Alvin Plantinga, echoing a worry of Charles Darwin which he calls ‘Darwin's doubt’, argues that given Darwinian evolutionary theory our beliefs are unreliable, since they are determined to be what they are by evolutionary pressures and could have had no other content. This papers surveys in turn deterministic and non-deterministic interpretations of Darwinism, and concludes that Plantinga's argument poses a problem for the former alone and not for the latter. Some parallel problems arise for the Cognitive Science of Religion, and in particular for the hypothesis that many of our beliefs, including religious beliefs, are due to a Hypersensitive Agency-Detection Device, at least if this hypothesis is held in a deterministic form. In a non-deterministic form, however, its operation need not cast doubt on the rationality or reliability of the relevant beliefs.

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1 Stove David, ‘A New Religion’, Philosophy 67 (1992), 233240; Stove David, ‘So You Think You Are a Darwinian?’, Philosophy 69, no. 269 (1994), 267277; Blackburn Simon, ‘I Rather Think I Am A Darwinian’, Philosophy 71 (1996), 605616.

2 Justin L. Barrett, David Leech and Aku Visala, ‘Can Religious Belief Be Explained Away? – Reasons and Causes of Religious Belief’, forthcoming in Ulrich Frey (ed.), Evolution and Religion – The Natural Selection of God (Antwerp: Tectum).

3 Substantially, this hypothesis was first presented in Guthrie Stewart, Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); however, it was integrated into the cognitive science of religion and given the name HADD in Barrett Justin, Why Would Anyone Believe in God (Lanham, MD: Altamira Press, 2004).

4 van Inwagen Peter, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 2.

5 Ibid. 3.

6 Dawkins Richard, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 21.

7 Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 49.

8 Ibid. 63.

9 Ibid. 206.

10 Ibid. 205–215.

11 Ibid. 215.

12 Ibid.

13 Greening Michael, As It Is (London: Matador, 2007), ix.

14 Rose Steven, Lifelines: Biology, Freedom, Determinism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997); see 215–246.

15 Midgley Mary, ‘Gene-Juggling’, Philosophy 54 (1979), 438–58, at 456–8; Midgley, ‘Why Memes?’, in Rose Hilary and Rose Steven (eds.), Alas, Poor Darwin (London: Jonathan Cape, 2000), 6784; Holdcroft David and Lewis Harry, ‘Consciousness, Design and Social Practice’, Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 (2001), 4358.

16 van Inwagen, op. cit. note 4, 8.

17 Ruse, Can a Darwinian Be a Christian? (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 208.

18 Ibid. 215.

19 Ibid. 213.

20 Dennett Daniel, Elbow Room (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 72.

21 Anscombe G.E.M., ‘Soft Determinism’, in Ryle Gilbert (ed.), Contemporary Aspects of Philosophy (Stocksfield: Oriel Press, 1976), 148160.

22 van Inwagen, op. cit. note 4, 16.

23 Plantinga Alvin, Warrant and Proper Function (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 216237.

24 Ibid. 227.

25 Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, 223

26 Ibid. 231–234.

27 Brelsford Theodore, ‘Lessons for Religious Education from Cognitive Science of Religion’, Religious Education 100.2 (2005), 174191, at 175–6; Justin Barrett, ‘Broad Doctrinal Implications of CSR for Religion and Theology’ (Oxford: Cognition, Religion and Theology Project, 2008), 1–2;, accessed December 2009.

28 Holland Alan, ‘Darwin and the Meaning of Life’, Environmental Values 18.4 (2009), 503518, at 505.

29 Blackburn, op. cit. note 1.

30 Rose, Lifelines.

31 Ibid. 7.

32 Ibid. 8.

33 Ibid. 18.

34 Ibid.

35 Engels Friedrich, ‘Anti-Dühring’, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1987, Vol. 25, pages 105 and 106.

36 Lewontin Richard C., Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA (Concord, Ontario: Anansi, 1991).

37 Richard Lewontin, Biology as Ideology, 109.

38 Ibid.

39 Daly Herman, ‘Policy, Possibility and Purpose’, WorldViews 6.2 (2002), 183197.

40 Barrett, Leech and Visala, ‘Can Religious Belief Be Explained Away?’; see also Justin L. Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God, and Schloss Jeffrey and Murray Michael (eds.), The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).

41 Ward Keith, God, Chance and Necessity (Oxford: Oneworld, 1996), 6195.

42 Ibid. 261.

43 Ibid. 262.

44 Keith Ward, ‘Theistic Evolution’, in Dembski William A. and Ruse Michael, Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 261274.

45 Keith Ward, ‘Theistic Evolution’, 263.

46 Miller Kenneth R., Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 213.

47 Ward, ‘Theistic Evolution’, 263.

48 Ibid. 272.

49 In Attfield Robin, Creation, Evolution and Meaning (Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006), chapter 8.

50 Ibid. 268–271.

51 Lucas John, The Freedom of the Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970).

52 Wiggins David, ‘Freedom, Knowledge, Belief and Causality’, in Vesey G.N.A. (ed.), Knowledge and Necessity (Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures, 1968–1969), (London: Macmillan and New York: St. Martin's Press, 1970), 132154. Wiggins has gone on to explicate a ‘reasonable libertarianism’ (admittedly more concerned with agents' aims and ideals than with their beliefs) in Needs, Values, Truth (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), 269–302. Wiggins supplies there a helpful clarification of ‘could have done otherwise’ with a degree of detail not appropriate here.

53 Miller, op. cit. note 26.

54 Behe Michael J., Darwin's Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996).

55 Miller, op. cit. note 26, 189.

56 Miller, op. cit. note 26, 213.

57 Ibid. 206–7.

58 Ibid. 207.

59 Ibid.

60 Darwin Charles, The Origin of Species (6th edn.) (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), 560; quoted by Miller, Finding Darwin's God, 292.

61 Haught John F., Deeper Than Darwin: The Prospect for Religion in the Age of Evolution (Cambridge, MA: Westview Press, 2003); see pages 79 and 81.

62 Keith Ward, ‘Theistic Evolution’, 267.

63 Keith Miller, Finding Darwins God, 197.

64 Charles Darwin, letter to William Graham, Down, 3rd July 1881, in Darwin Francis (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Including an Autobiographical Chapter (London: John Murray, 1887), 1: 315316.

65 Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God, 37.

66 Ibid. 37–38.

67 Ibid. 37.

68 Ibid. 39.

69 Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God, 40.

70 Barrett, Leach and Visala, op. cit. note 2.

71 Barrett, op. cit. note 16, p. 2.

72 I am grateful for comments and suggestions to Justin Barrett, John Lucas, Keith Ward and Martin Warner, who would all, no doubt, disagree with parts of this article. Thanks are also due to the Oxford University Cognition, Religion and Theology Project (funded in turn by the John Templeton Foundation), which made the preparation of this article possible.

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