The problem with an accidentally occurring universe.

Posted on August 24, 2017 By

Dean Overman writes in A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization :

“Conundrum: if logical thinking is an accident, is it trustworthy? Or, to modify the enigma, is it probable that accidents will accurately describe other previous accidents? The concept that the universe and our existence were the products of accidents means that all our thinking is merely the accidental result of accidents. But if your thoughts and my thoughts are only accidents (are not results of accidents also accidents themselves?), then why should you or I consider our thinking true or logical? Isn’t it only accidental? How can we trust thought if it is an accident?”


  1. Matt Smith says:

    There’s an implicit false dichotomy in this quote: either a God or Gods designed us, or we’re products of accident. Evolution is not synonymous with ‘accident’.

    Another false assumption is that either we can trust our thinking or we can’t. In reality there are different modes of thought: intuition and logical/analytical, for example. Sometimes intuition leads to useful results, sometimes it misleads us. The situation is not black and white.

    How can we have evolved in such a way that our ways of thinking sometimes lead to erroneous results? Well, I would argue that some errors are actually useful. Hyperactive agency detection for example, one of the reasons why people believe Gods we merely invented actually exist, was quite useful in the past in helping our ancestors avoid being eaten by tigers. In a battle, the false belief that an all-powerful deity has your back, and that if you die you’ll be rewarded in heaven for eternity for your bravery, will likely have your warriors fighting for your tribe that much harder than foes who realise the truth.

    • Scott Youngren says:


      You suggest that I have made a false dichotomy and a false assumption. But how can you trust the reasoning that brought you to these conclusions? And how can you know when you can trust your thinking and when you cannot?

      If evolution has lead people to false beliefs (such as belief in God, as you suggest) then why should we not also assume that your beliefs (such as your apparent belief in atheism, for example) are not also false, and the result of evolutionary processes?

      Does evolution only cause theists to have false beliefs…but not atheists? If so, how could we reach such a conclusion if our beliefs are the result of evolutionary processes that provide us with survival value, but not necessarily truth?

      David Wood writes in his essay The Explanatory Emptiness of Naturalism (as it appears in True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism):

      “According to naturalists, our ability to reason is the product of natural selection acting on random mutation. Natural selection, of course, favors traits that help organisms survive and reproduce. So if human reasoning evolved naturally, it’s because it helped human beings survive and reproduce. Does this give us any basis for trusting our reasoning ability when it comes to questions of cosmology, or quantum mechanics, or neuroscience? Not at all. At best, our cognitive faculties would be reliable when it comes to finding berries, or using a spear against an enemy, or doing something to attract a mate. Interestingly, Darwin himself noticed this problem. He once admitted:

      ‘[W]ith 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 anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?’

      “In other words, our reasoning ability serves the same evolutionary purpose as the traits of other animals (e.g., the claws of a lion, the song of a canary, or the colorful buttocks of a baboon). We wouldn’t trust the traits of animals to lead us to the truth, because they weren’t developed for that purpose. Why, then, would we trust our own convictions, which are the result of the same evolutionary process? There’s no way around this problem for naturalists, for in order to escape the Problem of Reason, they would need to construct an argument. But this argument would presuppose the reliability of human reason, which is precisely the issue under investigation. Hence, if we take Naturalism seriously, we cannot take our reasoning ability seriously, and science falls apart.”

      The renowned philosopher of neuroscience Patricia Churchland, despite being a staunch naturalist, admits to this problem with naturalism in her article Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience:

      “The principal chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing [the world] is advantageous so long as it . . . enhances the organism’s chances for survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”

      Prominent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel admits to the same in his book Mind and Cosmos, and devotes much of the rest of the book trying to wriggle free from theism. He writes:

      “Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends.”

      Please read my essay Why Atheism is Self-Defeating to explore this topic further.

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