Does truth matter?

Sure it does. Science is all about The Truth ™. But what about fitness? Yes, I mean Darwinian fitness as in ‘survival of the fittest’. According to my friendly AI theory (2007/11/09 UPDATE: latest version here), that is good which increases fitness. In that sense knowledge of truth is good if and only if said knowledge increases fitness. Is there a set of false believes – as in scientifically unjustifiable believes – that if held by an individual would increase said individual’s fitness? Yes there is: religion.

Sorry folks – there is no way to prove or disprove neither the existence nor the absence of a God. But that’s why it is called a religious believe and not a religious truth – right? Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennet and Sam Harris have written book after book in defense of The Truth and science versus the misguided belief in religion.

Most popular counter beliefs aimed at ridiculing religion are the Pastafarian belief in a flying spaghetti monster and the more sophisticated Celestial Teapot by Bertrand Russell.

It stands to argue however that the belief in an undetectable monster or a celestial teapot on the one hand does not add to an individual’s fitness while the belief in Christianity, Islam or the Jewish faith on the other hand does. Religions increase an individual’s fitness by allowing for the development of groups larger then what can be evolutionary stable by sheer face to face monitoring by creating internalized restraints in their followers and thereby increasing the likelihood of sticking to a shared moral code.

For an in depth explanation I suggest reading Selection of Organization at the Social level: obstacles and facilitators of metasystem transitions. Particularly chapter four: Social Control Mechanisms.

The sentence ‘No Good without God’ becoming true in the sense of religion increasing fitness must burn like chili sauce on the eye lids of intelligent designers and religion bashing Darwinists alike. Oh the sweet irony!

Other examples of false beliefs increasing an individual’s fitness include the optimism bias for example.

Time out! Reality Check: Is the truth bad? Or are some truths good while others are evil? Far from it… The solution lies in the big picture. The truth is not that there is no God but that internalized restraints improve how well humans function as part of large groups. The truth is not that Joe average is less likely to succeed as he thinks but that those that try may loose but those that don’t have lost already.

These truths just happened to have manifested themselves in the course of genetic and memetic evolution in phenotypes that don’t make them immediately deducible from said phenotypes. So before you argue for the abolishment of religion please design a set of implementable internalized restrains that are at least as efficient and effective.

Or more generally put: before you argue for the truth make sure it is not just the debunking of a false belief without replacing the false belief with something that is not at least as effective and efficient at increasing an individual’s and/or a group’s fitness respectively.


  1. Jame5 » I learned a new word today ‘Evidentialism’ said,

    November 3, 2007 @ 1:16 am

    […] a minor point. Now I have to admit that I am not believing in in any religious sense. However, I do believe that carrying particular forms of beliefs can increase an individual’s as well as said […]

  2. Rational Morality » On freedom in the evolving universe said,

    November 15, 2009 @ 9:25 pm

    […] of which had everything to do with the effect of believing it had on their actions rather then the degree to which this belief could be said to be factually or scientifically accurate. Or put another way: “A man who strays from the path of understanding comes to rest in the […]

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