1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Egenis · Events

Prof Paul Griffths 'When do evolutionary explanations of beliefs debunk those beliefs?

Seminar   17.11.2009






Prof Paul Griffths, Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney

Organised by



University of Exeter,Egenis,Byrne House,St Germans Road,Exeter, EX4 4PJ Room no: GF7, Byrne House

Event details

Time: 3:30 - 5:00 PMSimilar arguments have been advanced according to which the evolutionary origin of human cognition provides grounds for scepticism in three domains: morality, religion, and science. However, advocates of evolutionary scepticism rarely advocate scepticism in all three domains. Here we examine why some counterarguments to evolutionary scepticism work in one domain and not another. One way to counter an ‘evolutionary debunking argument’ is to defend a connection between the truth of beliefs in the target domain and success, so that evolution can be expected to design systems that produce true beliefs in that domain. We call a connection between truth and evolutionary success a ‘Milvian bridge’, after the tradition which ascribes the triumph of Christianity at the battle of the Milvian bridge to the truth of Christianity. We argue that a Milvian bridge can be constructed for commonsense beliefs, and extended to scientific beliefs. But construction cannot be extended to moral and religious beliefs. Another way to counter an ‘evolutionary debunking argument’ is to analyse the content of truth-claims in a domain so that the truth is analytically linked to evolutionary success. There have been several attempts to do this for moral beliefs. We describe some of these, and point out that this strategy is unlikely to appeal to those who hold theological beliefs. Theological beliefs thus emerge as particularly vulnerable to evolutionary debunking arguments, as neither class of counterargument seems to be viable in that domain.

Further details