Reasons to Believe

Do False Beliefs Promote Survivability?

I have always taken my good memory for granted. Remembering names, dates, and facts has always been easy for me, particularly when it comes to history, philosophy, and sports. I have always wanted to be a contestant on such shows as Jeopardy! or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? If I got a difficult science question, I could simply phone my friend Hugh Ross!

However, in the last couple of years I have noticed that I have to work harder to keep my memory sharp. Hitting the half-century mark I am becoming more aware of the need to flex my cognitive faculties regularly and to pay greater heed to things like diet, exercise, and dealing effectively with stress.

It was painful for me to watch my father’s memory fade in the last few years of his life. In talking with him about his World War II experiences he struggled to remember more and more of the details.

I recently watched a television program on PBS entitled “Living Better, Longer” hosted by UCLA’s aging and memory expert, Dr. Gary Small. Small did a great job of conveying practical ways to confront the challenges posed by an aging brain and mind.

One of the things he discussed has direct apologetic implications. According to Small, optimists live longer than pessimists. So to develop a more positive outlook on life he recommends that people consider adopting some form of spirituality. Spirituality could include some form of meditation and/or prayer. However, he also specifically mentioned “belief in God.” According to Small, there are scientific studies:

Showing that belief in God is associated with better health outcomes in some situations.

He also indicated that belief in God has been linked to longer life expectancy. In fact, one study done a few years ago indicated that:

People who attend a house of worship one day a week actually had a seven year longer life expectancy.

The results of these studies appear to conflict with the position of naturalistic evolution (which is atheistic in belief). How so?

Assume the position of naturalistic evolution:

  1. Life began on this planet purely naturalistically (no God or gods exist).

  2. Evolution is the mechanism that explains the development of complex life.

  3. Evolution is driven according to the survivability of a species.

  4. Evolution is responsible for people’s belief in God (an evolutionary defect according to atheist Richard Dawkins).

  5. Belief in God (though in reality a false belief, and even pernicious in nature according to Dawkins) nevertheless promotes survivability (or at least a longer life span).

Conclusion: False beliefs may at times promote the survivability of a species more than true beliefs.

Problem: If evolution can cause a person to believe that which is false in order to promote survivability, then how can a person trust that evolution will give true beliefs about the world? And if evolution can’t guarantee true beliefs in a person’s mind, then how does one know that one’s belief in evolution is a true belief about the world?

Distinguished Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has argued similarly that unguided evolution serves as a defeater for the worldview of naturalism.

Most atheistic naturalists that I have talked with or read say they embrace their particular worldview because their secular perspective more closely matches with reality. But given their commitment to naturalistic evolution, how can they ever be sure that their beliefs about reality are actually true?

For more on the study of evolutionary naturalism, see chapter 12 of my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

Subjects: Argument from Reason, Consciousness, Logic

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that “all truth is God’s truth.” As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity’s truth-claims. Read more about Kenneth Samples.