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Human Minds Prefer Survival More Than Truth

1. Per Plantinga, and some forms of natural selection, ceteris paribus, life selects for organisms that adapt towards survival cues, not for truth. Plantinga frames this as an argument against evolutionary naturalism. This is not false, but could be true in other cases than have nothing to do with theism.

2. The survival vs truth dichotomy is exaggerated, however, since there are many, if not most, factors that both satisfy survival and truth criteria. Bartering the correct number of bushels of strawberries for the correct quarter of cow ensures my survival because it involves food and mathematically falls within the going rate of strawberry-bushels-to-meat in the local market—both survival and (arithmetical) truth criteria are satisfied.

3. Additionally, in this bartering scenario, there is a runoff benefit of social stability because both sides of the transaction are gaining something, don’t feel as though they are being cheated, etc. This nudges the even more towards survival benefits than truth benefits.

4. The “meat” of the survival vs truth Venn diagram is biggest when we can confirm phenomena that are falsifiable, which favors first-hand sensory accounts over most other ways of gaining knowledge. I may make a habit of relieving myself in Swamp A instead of Swamp B because my parents told me there are hungry alligators in Swamp B. I definitely survive by gracing Swamp A with my unwanted matter, yet the truth of Swamp B’s alligatorness is undetermined until I begin to take frequent slashes into Swamp B and determine there are no alligators at all. I still survive and know a bit of truth, though the truth was irrelevant to my survival.

5. The “meat” gets skinnier and skinnier—the truth and survival protocols (diagram circles) separate more and more—as the epistemic certainty of an event goes down. News of civilian unrest a village over from Town A would more likely cause folks to prepare for possible conflict, though its likelihood of conflict spreading to Town A is not likely or impossible.

6. To continue with this analogy, those in Town A who are epistemically convinced that they are safe from a spreading conflict may “join in” in preparing for a defense on the border, since not doing so could cause internecine conflict in Town A. In such a case, survival cues can be met over truth cues at multiple levels.

7. However, adherence to truth cues can overcome survival cues, if the person holds to a certain truth (with its consequences) to such a degree that it acts as an epistemic defeater for survival. This is most notable in political and religious martyrdom. The saint or revolutionary holds his truth and its consequences strongly enough to maintain them through bodily harm. Thus, there can be some truths that can produce great enough sentiment to risk not just social ostracism but death. This is seen in a less dramatic degree in the conservative professor who has to keep his political beliefs hush-hush to avoid being targeted, or the atheist going to church with his highly-religious family on Sundays.

8. Truth, therefore, is less important to individual survival than survival cues—though that is tautological. In cases where interpersonal social bonds are more crucial to survival—probably more in societies where there is less labor-saving technology. Thus, we can see that beliefs of remote phenomena, like national politics, are more oriented with interpersonal agreement—”we vote party A in this town because party B is xyz and that’s not in our best interests”—even though party B is not xyz at all. The social bonds created in voting for part A and maligning party B are stronger than the bonds created in voting according to the truth.

9. This phenomena is likely more prevalent the further away the people and events in question are, and unrelated to the technological level the society enjoys, since the truth about the phenomena after a certain epistemic distance is unknowable. Example conclusion from this: 100% of any news report of a national political event or politician have nothing to truth but can be used a social bonding mechanism.

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