Research Article

Darwin's Doubt, Non-deterministic Darwinism and the Cognitive Science of Religion

Robin Attfielda1 c1

a1 Cardiff University


Alvin Plantinga, echoing a worry of Charles Darwin which he calls ‘Darwin's doubt’, argues that given Darwinian evolutionary theory our beliefs are unreliable, since they are determined to be what they are by evolutionary pressures and could have had no other content. This papers surveys in turn deterministic and non-deterministic interpretations of Darwinism, and concludes that Plantinga's argument poses a problem for the former alone and not for the latter. Some parallel problems arise for the Cognitive Science of Religion, and in particular for the hypothesis that many of our beliefs, including religious beliefs, are due to a Hypersensitive Agency-Detection Device, at least if this hypothesis is held in a deterministic form. In a non-deterministic form, however, its operation need not cast doubt on the rationality or reliability of the relevant beliefs.



Robin Attfield has been on the staff of Cardiff University since 1968, and a Professor of Philosophy since 1991. His first article in Philosophy was ‘Berkeley and Imaginatio’ in 1970, and his latest was ‘Against Incompatabilism’ in 1975. Jointly with Andrew Belsey he edited the proceedings of the Royal Institute Conference of 1993 as Philosophy and the Natural Environment (1994). His latest monograph was Creation, Evolution and Meaning (2006). He is currently preparing a textbook on ethics for Continuum.