A recent NY Times article argues that reason evolved as a method to win arguments, rather than find truth.
“Some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose [than the search for truth]: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another.”
This isn’t the least bit surprising to me. I’ve been thinking about this idea for some time. I think it was originally sparked by this quote from David Hume: “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions”. Ignoring the “ought only” part for a moment (which could be interpreted in a few different ways), and we’re left with “reason is the slave of the passions”. Very often in debates, it seems that people are not really persuaded by logic and reason, but rather they use logic and reason (often badly) for the purpose of defending and protecting what they want to protect or get (i.e. it’s driven by their desires). I think many people are closest to being open-minded around their late teens and early twenties, when they are less invested in the outcome. But, many people in that age-group also have tremendously bad abilities to reason through logical-fallacies, making them fodder for whatever smart person aims to convince them of something. Another pattern I’ve noticed is that people who are smart often have very bad ideas, but instead of using their intelligence to find the truth, they use their intelligence to defend all the ideas they hold for very non-smart reasons. It’s left me feeling somewhat conflicted about humanity.
This idea is also interesting because many Christian apologists claim that reason can’t be trusted if evolution is true. In other words, if evolution is true, we have no reason to believe it would’ve formed our minds to accurately reason about the world. While I disagree with the claim that ‘evolution means our logical facilities can’t be trusted’, I do agree that out logic and reason is, in some ways, perverted by our desires. I think we often reason in a way that results in getting the best things for ourselves, build our ego, and (from an evolutionary standpoint) it makes sense that we would often twist our logic to agree with other people (which is exactly what we see — people have a hard time disagreeing with a crowd). There’s a certain evolutionary usefulness to agreeing with everyone around you: it makes you better-liked, which increases your chances for procreation. Obviously, there’s a cost to being wrong, but being wrong along with everyone else is less costly than being wrong while disagreeing with everyone else. In some cases, it might be better to be wrong along with everyone else, than it is to be right and disagree with everyone else. Unfortunately, this can obviously lead to a kind of groupthink, something that seems to be endemic in humanity.