My last post, on the existence of innate desires, argued that God was the best explanation for why such desires exist. A skeptic disagreed, claiming:
Yes, we have innate desires. So do bacteria. Strangely enough, our innate desires seem to mostly be connected to surviving and reproducing, exactly what evolution would lead us to expect. Sure, we humans also have more complex desires, but these can be seen as extensions of our basic desires and elaborations upon them, even if we don’t understand them perfectly.
Now, of course, this skeptic does not speak for all skeptics. But the general response is one I’ve seen repeatedly in discussing these types of issues with committed non-believers. The response is worth examining for two reasons: to see where the flaw in the analysis lies, but more importantly, to see just how implausible an atheistic worldview is.
Even without an advanced biology degree, it is apparent that bacteria do not have “desires,” as desires are mental conceptions. They involve thoughts and ideas. They require imagination; the ability to picture an outcome and the steps necessary to achieve it. They involve an assessment of whether the object of the desire is worth the trouble involved in attaining it. At most, bacteria may respond to chemical changes in their environment, in a manner which allows them to continue living. They may move along a nutrient gradient, in response to some internal programming that seeks to perpetuate life, but they are not engaging in thinking. Moreover, evolution operates only on biological systems. Before evolution can begin to provide an explanation as to why certain desires may be passed on, one must in the first place explain the existence of the source of desires – the brain that generates or grounds in some fashion the mind. Bacteria don’t have a brain; consequently, evolution cannot be an explanation for the mystery we seek to untangle.
The skeptic may respond that some desires don’t require abstract thought imagination. The desire for food or drink, for instance. True, many lower animals have basic desires, which they experience as instincts, but none of these animals can conceptualize in the way human beings do. A dog remains satisfied with whatever may be in his vicinity that is edible. He does not conjure up better ways to mix or prepare food to satisfy his palate. Moreover, no lower animals ever form ideas of duty, honor or sacrifice. They may live and hunt in pacts, but these actions remain mere instincts. Consider how a human being differs: yes, he too may have the instinct to run from danger, but he also has the capacity to sacrifice himself for the love of another, or to respond to concepts of honor and duty in charging into, rather than away from, danger. And, most interestingly of all, he has a third aspect of his mind that appears to be separate and apart from the two competing forces, a part of the mind or self that is arbitrating and deciding which urge to follow. The one who runs gets labeled a coward, perhaps, while the one who stays is a hero. These labels further reflect that abstract thought is qualitatively different than what lower animals do. These are differences in kind, not simply in degree. Yes, the chef and the dog both desire to eat, but only the chef is operating in the world of conceptions, imagination and ideas. The dog may run to save his master, but he is not weighing and balancing which approach is nobler.
Finally, evolution has another startling mystery, if the skeptic’s view is correct. Assuming that human thought is only the last step in a progression, does it not seem odd that human beings would be the only living creatures to possess the capacity for abstract thought? After all, human beings are much more recent in appearance than monkeys or apes, or any of our four-legged friends. All of these life forms have brains, and these brains have been “evolving” for much longer than ours. These brains are very similar in many respects to ours, considering their size, location, function etc. Yet, none of these other creatures have ever held an abstract thought. Shouldn’t there be the occasional monkey or tiger whose brain just happened to evolve the ability to imagine or speak? Shouldn’t the natural world be full of all kinds of intermediate forms, beings whose ability for abstract thought ranges from minimally to largely present? These lower forms had so much more time than us, after all, and yet all humans have something by nature that all non humans don’t possess. Not an easy fact to make sense of, if all evolution needs is long periods of time to work its magic.
The flaw in the analysis, then, is to make explanatory use a mechanism that operates only on fully developed things – here, the human brain and its innate desires – and explain them as extrapolations of other more primitive things. Evolution, in this approach, becomes a “just so” story, “explaining” everything that presently exists without actually explaining anything at all.
The fact that biological evolution cannot explain the “evolution” of thought is one of the things that should make the skeptic, well, doubt his skepticism.
Posted by Al Serrato