Friday 29 November 2013

Is the human mind a product of natural selection? If so, we could not know it


We think we know that our minds are products of natural selection.

If so, then our minds are merely evolved adaptations selected because they were associated with differentially-higher reproductive success.

But a mind which is merely a consequence of natural selection to increase differential reproductive success, is not a mind selected to apprehend objectively true knowledge about the world.

Therefore, since it is a product of the human mind, which is not selected to know objective truth but merely to enhance reproductive success; knowledge of natural selection cannot be regarded as objectively true.


We do not know that our minds are products of natural selection.



Bill said...

Could it not be that apprehension of objectively true knowledge about the world would increase differential reproductive success?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bill - Why? Does every living thing have objectively true knowledge of the universe? There is no reason why an un-directed mutation which happens to enhance reproductive success would provide any insight into the nature of reality - the chances are something like infinity to one!

Andrew said...

Alvin Plantiga beat you to this one, Google Plantiga's argument against naturalism for a more in depth version of this.
Evolution only selects for reproductive success, so the argument goes that hypothetically we could have evolved (or did evolve in a possible world) for inaccurate sense perception and this naturalism is not a epistemologically valid worldview because we cannot verify the world around us because we evolved senses that cannot be trusted.

dearieme said...

"Does every living thing have objectively true knowledge of the universe?" Irrelevant; the question is whether individuals of our species - a hairless, not terribly strong or swift ground ape - would gain by having the occasional bit of true knowledge.

It may well be so.

You can't get to heaven said...

Greater smarts -> greater ability to perceive, also greater ability to manipulate mentally -> greater ability to manipulate reality -> all manner of other success.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Andrew - It's not a new argument - this is just a version of a well-known line of reasoning.

@d - Suppose there was some kind of device which kept spouting information, and you asked - "but why should I believe this device?" Would you be happy with the answer: "because it was designed to reproduce itself under such-and-such circumstances".

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ycgth - Yes, but (leaving aside humans, since that is what is being discussed) that doesn't happen.

And, interestingly, humans don't even have a theory of how this could be achieved. The nearest would be systems theory of some kinds of AI - but they explicitly put themselves forward as merely pragmatic heuristics, validated but some analogy to reproductive success.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

"Our minds" may not have evolved, but our traits, such as (lack of) quick-wittedness did. Recently and substantially, as you pointed out.

All our other traits are equally subject to evolution.

Therefore it makes sense to talk about our evolved mental characteristics, and evolutionary psychology has a basis.

The Crow said...

Evolution may finally evolve to appreciate the negative impact the evolved are having on the entire system, and decide to abstain from further damaging it.
Meanwhile, the unevolved, and those incapable of evolution, continue as if there is no tomorrow.

FHL said...

To also join in playing devil's advocate, I've never found this line of reasoning very powerful because I always thought it would be far too easy for the atheist to simply reply by saying "Yeah."

However, when I think of consciousness, and what it is (what is it?), it doesn't seem to be a... “phenomenon”... as they would call it...

I thought of computers, and how I occasionally hear that some scientists in Japan are trying to create mecha-people or that that computers will be "aware" someday or some other minor sci-fi panic of the sort, and then I thought :Well, my computer can calculate the product of complex mathematical equations in milliseconds, it can tell me the time, the weather, and my location, it can also read, it can take in light, capture the image, and then render and output the image back to me, with it's own adjustments for taste or precision or function. In fact, it can create an entirely fictional image without any light, straight by using logical processes and algorithms and a bit of spontaneous touches of randomness, and the picture will actually make sense and be somewhat aesthetically pleasing. It can also correct my spelling and my grammar, remember my patterns and adapt its workings and routine (it has a routine?) to function more smoothly around me, it can adjust voltages and power currents dynamically, using its own sensors and own reasonings, balancing heat output with energy demands, so that without my input it can maintain a functional homeostasis in an ever changing environment... it can talk, it can count, it can see, it can create, it can listen... and it also remembers, better than me at that...

...but I'm pretty sure the damned thing isn't conscious.

So then I thought of when it would be that would start to wonder whether or not my computer was "aware." Like “at what point do I start to worry about its feelings...”

And I realized that there was no point. I would never, no matter what the machine does, ever think it had any consciousness or would certainly never even start to worry that it had any sort of feelings.

Yet I'm pretty sure my dog is conscious, not the same sort of consciousness as mine, both not being me and not being human, but a consciousness none-the-less.

It just hits you, consciousness does, as well as the awareness of an other's awareness, and if computers ever became aware, it couldn't come about (as I assume those who worry about such things imagine it would happen) by incremental advances in their information processing capability and a sharpening of their output efficiency until they pass the point where it gets creepy (we would've passed it years ago if that was the case, seeing as how advanced they are now...), rather it would have to come straight out of left field.

The thing is either conscious or it is not.

One hell of a random mutation if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

"Suppose there was some kind of device which kept spouting information"...

But this is a poor analogy: we don't confront our own beliefs or theories as if they were just bits of information coming from a black box. In the case of belief in natural selection, we take the belief to be well supported by evidence (and plausible a priori, perhaps). So if you ask an evolutionist why he believes in the theory, the answer will not be "Because it was produced by human minds that evolved due to natural selection". The answer will just be the (first-order) evidence taken to make the theory reasonable.

You want to know why we should trust the underlying mental faculties that generate the evidence (or our assessments of it) as well as the belief -- that being the analogue of the machine spitting out information. Well, maybe the answer is that it _appears_ to be pretty well-suited to assessing evidence, finding truths, etc. Yes, we can only trust that evidence if we already trust the underlying mental faculties; but then that's a problem for everyone, regardless of whether they believe in evolution or not. (Everyone has the basic problem that evidence for the reliability of our mental faculties can only be gathered and evaluated by using those faculties.)

Bruce Charlton said...

This is one of those arguments which you might read a dozen, a hundred times - then one day you realize it is decisive.

Of course the mind is modified by evolution - since we inherit many traits from our parents such as intelligence and personality.

But the validity of our reasoning, logically, can only come from outwith the system - either you see this, or you don't.

This is just about the only logical argument for 'God' which I find effective - and it does not lead all the way to the Christian God. But I expect that this argument (or some variant) was why it was until recently (the past few centuries) that intelligent people always believed in a deity (although they disagreed on the nature of that deity).

(In the past few centuries, intellectuals have become more and more silly, and have formed multiple little cliques to reinforce each others incoherence; so they can now spout very clearly illogical stuff for year-upon-year without fear of being corrected.)

Thoughtful people in pre-modern history always believed in a deity because, logically, you cannot-not believe in deity.

As I say, this argument is not much use in trying to convert modern people to Christianity - because there is too long a chain of reasoning leading up-to and away-from it, and modern people are too impatient - but the argument is correct, nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

surely natural selection will select for a mind that sees dangerous heights where heights are dangerous, and not where they are not, dangerous predators when present, not when absent, and evil men when they are evil, and not when they are good.

Thus, the capacity see truth favors survival, and inability to see truth leads to death.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - I don't usually publish Anonymous comments. In this case I would just ask you to consider the consequences of what *you* are claiming - which is that the human group which are most rapidly increasing their genetic representation are also the group with the greatest ability to perceive truth. Take a look at world demographic trends, and wee whether you still want to stick by your argument.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Bruce Charlton: "But the validity of our reasoning, logically, can only come from outwith the system - either you see this, or you don't."


Bruce Charlton: "This is just about the only logical argument for 'God' which I find effective - and it does not lead all the way to the Christian God."

No indeed.

Bruce Charlton: "(In the past few centuries, intellectuals have become more and more silly, and have formed multiple little cliques to reinforce each others incoherence; so they can now spout very clearly illogical stuff for year-upon-year without fear of being corrected.)"

But as you point out elsewhere, they are from time to time corrected, by the mass media - which you see as an agent of Satan with no human master, and I see as very much having a human ruling elite, with strongly felt collective interests in shaping culture in ways that are very bad indeed for the ruling elite's out-groups.

In which light modern intellectuals are at best like the sheep in Animal Farm, howling down truth-tellers on command. And if you see them as agents of demoralization (as I think the record supports) and if you see atheism as a force of individual and collective demoralization, barbarization and destruction (as I think history demonstrates), then it makes sense that this "intellectual" chorus will be guided to promote this false and harmful idea.

It's simple. In the West, anything worth calling a civilization has had one or more gods. If you hate people and don't want them to constitute a civilization, you say "no gods for you", and you do everything in your power to make it stick. To the extent that you succeed, they'll go mad and kill themselves, and maybe a lot of other people around them.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - When you say "a human ruling elite, with strongly felt collective interests in shaping culture in ways that are very bad indeed for the ruling elite's out-groups." That is where I think you are wrong.

The present human ruling elite are destroying their own lives (just a few years down the line) and the lives of their descendents (what descendents?) and the lives of their friends and colleagues and supposed political allies.

So the elite have gone mad and they are killing themselves.

This strategy does not come from humans.

Adam G. said...

Bruce C.,
once you grok this it floors you, you're absolutely right. I first got a version of it from CS Lewis but it took me awhile to work it through.
Though I agree with FHL that the mere empirical experience of existence should itself be enough to refute naturalism.

Wm Jas said...

It's clear that in the vast majority of cases, natural selection has not produced the ability to apprehend objective truth -- but something similar is true if you assume that God created everything. In the vast majority of cases, creation by God hasn't produce the ability to apprehend objective truth, either.

But it's easy to understand how God could have chosen to give one of his many creations the ability to reason -- and equally easy to understand how natural selection could have favored such an ability in one of the many species it has produced.

The fact that we are able to know the truth is consistent with both creation and natural selection, though it does not follow from either of those hypotheses.

Our ability to know the truth is just something that has to be assumed as an axiom; we can't even begin to think about anything without assuming it. If we were created, we must assume that God created us with the intention of our knowing the truth. If we evolved, we must assume that ours is a species in which the ability to know the truth has been important to survival and reproduction. Both assumptions are plausible, but both are just that: assumptions.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I think you are wrong about this - in fact I am pretty well sure you are wrong! The reason is that natural selection is just not the kind of process that could lead to an apprehension of truth - it has nothing to do with truth. At most it could lead to a Popperian situation in which assumptions have not yet been refuted; but as we know, in practice, assumptions never can be refuted. These just aren't symmetrical possibilities - indeed, things almost never are symmetrical in this way - things are usually different in kind, and truth from God is different in kind than 'truth' in terms of whatever-leads-to-(relatively better)-reproductive-success.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - The interesting thing is why the argument can be rejected so many times before being acknowledged.

I think it is because we don't really trust our own reason - think that we may have slipped up somewhere, made an error.

I often find that I make what seems a watertight case, yet remain unconvinced - and this works both ways: sometimes for good, sometimes against it.

For instance, I remember tackling postmodernism and that kind of stuff in the mid 80s - and thinking that it was obviously logically self-refuting.

But so many people seemed to take it seriously I started to do so as well, on the assumption that I had 'missed something'.

Jasper said...

"The reason is that natural selection is just not the kind of process that could lead to an apprehension of truth - it has nothing to do with truth."

Let's consider a Plantinga-type example. There are countless things that might cause us to run away from sabre-toothed tigers. Maybe they smell bad. Maybe we have an innate aversion to yellowish fur. Or maybe we believe that we are playing tag with the tigers, and want to win by not being "it". But it is surely _possible_ to avoid tigers on the basis of a set of largely true beliefs about their tendency to eat us. It seems to me that this belief, paired with other true beliefs and elementary reasoning abilities, would have a strong tendency to protect us from tigers. I even think it would be _better_ in that role than the false belief that tigers are playing tag with us, or an aversion to tiger smells. But never mind that. Why would you say that natural selection _could not_ have selected this belief? (Or, more precisely, the underlying tendency to form true beliefs about predators?) Why do you think natural selection have "nothing to do with truth"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - The fact that it is not-impossible for a naturally selected belief to be correct by accident is no help, because you could never know this.

The argument that convinces me comes from Niklas Luhmann's systems theory, or the biological work of Maturana and Varela; see the Appendix to this (before I was a Christian and reactionary) book I co-wrote

The idea is that a system can only know itself - it cannot know its environment (outside itself). A system's knowledge of 'the environment' is in fact an internal model of the environment.

On this view any organism is a system, and its interactions with 'the environment' are actually interactions with its own internal model of 'the environment'.

Anyway, this is as far as any purely naturalistic account of knowledge can go - to know knowledge is valid requires a 'supernatural' explanation.

I also found Eugene (later Fr Seraphim) Rose convincing on this matter of the necessity of divine revelation; or else nothing/ nihilism:

Jasper said...

Okay, so you allow that it's "not-impossible" for evolution to produce truth-seekers. Earlier you seem to be saying that it was impossible.

The argument you're making seems to have less to do with the probability of truth-seeking, given evolution, than with this other point that you raise: the impossibility, as you see it, of a cognitive system knowing about its own reliability. To know this, you say, requires something outside the system (something supernatural).

Suppose we grant this general claim about knowledge. Does the supernaturalist have any advantage here over the naturalist? If the problem for the naturalist is that he can only know his "model" of the environment, and can't access the environment itself to compare it with his model, it would seem the supernaturalist has the same problem (maybe twice over). The supernaturalist can only know a "model" of the supernatural, and can't directly access _that_ to compare it with his model.

So if the point of the argument is to show the inadequacy of naturalism, and lead us to supernaturalism -- as a matter of epistemic necessity -- I think it fails. If there is a problem, it seems to be a completely general problem for any claim to knowledge.

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - I think the difference is between saying: 'Here is a creature whose entire cognitive system, top to bottom and wholly, is designed to differentially-increase reproductive success in a series of contingent environments...'

And: 'Here is a creature with some truth and some capacity for discerning truth implanted in it, built-into it - which has also undergone modification to differentially-increase reproductive success... etc. .'

If there is nothing to 'fix' the system to truth, then the system will not seek truth but will drift freely, driven by natural selection (and accidents).

If you look at my mini-book (sidebar to the left) called Not Even Trying, you will see that I was forced into theism by the failure of science when science became detached from a belief in objective truth. I think the same happens at the individual level.

This book is of course an argument that we must 'believe in' objective truth to do science - not that there *is* objective truth. It could be that a belief in objective truth is a delusion. Then the argument moves onto why/ how it should be better to believe a delusion. The argument goes round and round, as arguments do!

In the end we have to make a metaphysical choice, a choice of fundamental assumptions. The metaphysical choice that Natural Selection is the fundamental truth is - in my opinion - deadly, a violation, nihilism. It is intolerable and paradoxical.

The only reason to accept NS as fundamental is because someone doesn't *really* believe it, hasn't worked out the implications - or that he believes, for some wrong reason - that divine explanations are absolutely ruled-out as nonsensical.

I only became a theist when I came to THAT point - the point of asking myself why - on what grounds - I was so sure that divinity was certainly-impossible.

Jasper said...

I agree that if we begin from theism (or any other theory according to which the mind has a truth-discerning capacity built into it) then it's reasonable to trust in our mental faculties. But the question is whether it's impossible to reasonably trust in our faculties if, instead, we begin from NS. Your description of the NS hypothesis seems fair enough: the mind, along with everything else about us, was selected for reproductive fitness in contingent environments. Then it's unreasonable to trust in our faculties, given NS, only if it's unreasonable to suppose that minds selected in that way would acquire truth-conducive features. Is it unreasonable? We agree that it's _possible_ for the mind to have acquired such features under NS, so your position will have to be that it's extremely improbable -- i.e., that under NS it's far more probable that there is "nothing to 'fix' the system to truth". But I still don't see why this is especially unlikely. Simple minds that tend to be right about simple features of the immediate environment surely tend to have some advantages over others that are typically wrong about most things. For example, knowing where you are, knowing the difference between predators and prey, things that are safe to eat and things that aren't. If NS has any significant likelihood of selecting simple minds of that first type, why wouldn't their existence then provide us with a basis for further development along those lines. This is consistent, of course, with the mind also having tendencies to all kinds of misperceptions and mistakes. But it seems to me that the anti-NS argument you're making requires the very strong principle that no significant tendency towards truth-detection is at all probable under NS. I'm afraid I still don't see what is so unlikely about this. (I myself do not think NS is "fundamental", but I don't think this line of argument rules it out.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jasper - I used to think the same as you - as is clear from my Modernization Imperative book.

But 'not impossible' turns out to mean an infinity-to-one chance - because there is one way of being right and an unbounded number of ways of being wrong.

How could natural selection in humans (where is is especially *slow* due to circa 25 year generations) happen to hit upon and select the one and only undirected variant which led to perception of truth?

Jasper said...

"How could natural selection in humans (where is is especially *slow* due to circa 25 year generations) happen to hit upon and select the one and only undirected variant which led to perception of truth?"

But is there really "one and only one" form that truth-conducive mentality might take? It seems to me that there are countless different ways of being more-or-less oriented towards the truth about _some_ things, and that many of those would have _some_ tendency to be selected for by NS. Maybe I'm not sure what you have in mind, but I don't understand why there are supposed to be so many equally adaptive ways of thought that are not truth-conducive and only one (or a tiny handful) that are both adaptive and truth-conducive.

Maybe I need to read your book to fully appreciate the point :)

David said...

Well I must say I am compelled by the intellectual arguements but despite years of prayer, spending a lot effort to connect with God and a brief spiritual revival that peetered-out after a some more life experiences; a daily dose of grim reality and several natural disasters destroying millions of humans live, leaving a wake of seemingly infinite sorrow and meaningless loss and suffering around the world? Why? Such reality crushes my fledgling faith. I feel like a small child left at home and daddy went out and never came back. Not seen him since in fact. Its been so long I forget the parental love in his eyes, his smile, his 'personal' love, and on the long dark existential nights...I wonder was he ever there to begin with all that time ago? I used to cry about this as a child and again as an adult from time to time. Beginning for forgiveness in tears brings only silence and daddy is still nowhere to been seen? Now I have had to leytthe idea go with time. Why would daddy leave his children all alone for so long? Why would he let children in the Philippines and all aroubd the world suffer so appallingly? And then a peaceful thought acts at least as a soft balm to such agony. Its not personal perhaps? At least I can accept the laws of physics. Wrong place, wrong time. The loss of loved on to horrifying ravages of cancer, dementia and stroke. Did the heavenly father God intend for this? Its hard to accept but accept we must. Still in the cold light of day I cant help be sobered by the realisation that when we add all the evidence up we are being rather self-important to believe that we are individually important enough in a transcendental sense? If we are, a child being washed out to sea broken my collapsed buildings and then eaten by sharks and a myriad fish? Does this suggest the work of a 'personal' God? I would love to be convinced otherwise but so far I have failed despite the promised 'Seek and you shall find.' This does not seem to bare fruit as I have been urged to believe so many times over the years. Each attempt is met again with failure.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - The points you make are why I have come to believe that Mormon Christian theology is a more correct understanding of the situation than the usual. Certain key things make a difference - such that we have volunteered to come to earth.

Also that we have free will, personal agency - and I conceive that this is radical, fundamental and not a gift from God but a prior essence - such that God cannot overcome it but must work with and around human free will. He must work by persuasion, and glory, and terror and so on - teaching rather than controlling (as a Father tries to influence his children).

And the free will of Satan and the fallen angels is also free, and He must also work around this - but that these are demonic spirits (not incarnate) and have been cast from Heaven. However they also are God's children, and He loves them and grieves for them.

So the situation is (approximately) that we all come to this earth as volunteers, in order to experience incarnation and death - as necessary to spiritual progression. Many or most people only experience incarnation and almost immediate death - but that is in itself of great value.

Beyond that, among those who survive long enough, love is the 'job' we must try to do.

The sufferings of the world come from the fact that God is not omnipotent in the sense of not controlling absolutely everything - although God is in another sense infinitely more powerful than anything else. For example God cannot make something from nothing, nor can He destroy something to nothing - His power is transformative. So there is a measure of suffering from this.

But much suffering is from the free will of evil spirits and other Men.

In sum, my understanding is that the horrors of this world are not all intended by God but are ultimately a result of the way things are - some being due to the opposition in the nature of things, others to evil will.

We are volunteers on earth, every single one of us. And the horrors do not prevent anyone from benefiting from incarnation and death (to be followed by resurrection and everlasting life - thanks to the work of Christ). But so long as we are not dead, out work is to love - upon *that* depends the nature of our everlasting life.

David said...

Well then, may love be my enduring work in this life, I pray. As much as I can receive, give and share before I pass into the unknown from whence I came, with a hope in my heart that my actions were not in vain :-) It feels like at a profound level love is real and pure and transcendental, and at times with all my heart and soul I feel I experience that 'truth' directly and powerfully. However, I often hear a scientific little 'screwtape' whispering into my ear about 'oxytocin' and 'evolution' and biological explanations for our profoundest, most valued human attributes and I find myself intellectually 'arm-wrestled' to concede that the 'ghost-in-the-machine' that I prize as my true self is merely a sophisticated biological computer; a collection of 'memes,' 'schemas' and instinctive drives. From such a perspective top-down appraisals to include the platonic abstract and transcendental truths feels magnificently far-fetched outside of a boffins philosophy book, the arguement somehow evaporating immediately into the ether once the philosophy books are closed and put down and I face the daily business of leaving my house to live in the seemingly contradictory reality out there, whatever that 'reality' may be. Part of the problem appears to be that if you are correct, almost everything I have ever been taught to believe about how the world works, at school and at university is complete, misleading bunk. A difficult 'education' to unpick, especially when screwtape is so ubiquitous in his paradymic chatterings to affirm this Popperian worldview, and when, forgive me, but not so long ago you were one such extremely convincing 'scientific' voice in a lecture theatre not many years ago it is confusing. The extent of the transformation is mystifying from afar. If I were an alchemist I wish I could bottle the 'faith-inducing potion' responsible for your happy transmutation :-) And no, alas, attending many church meetings, reading bibles, etc. does not appear to have 'worked' as once kindly prescribed. I find focusing on love itself the only meaningful path I can attach to despite the potentially excessive abstractedness. If you are familiar withany other remedies to 'de-louse' me of the aforementioned 'Scientific screwtape' I remain hopeful to apply it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Religion used to be taken for granted, and Christianity was therefore accepted as the best religion - IF you believed the INCREDIBLE (in the sense of barely-credible, but astonishing if true) story that a carpenter's son from Nazareth was the son of God.

Christianity is incredible, it is not common sense (it seemed ludicrous and hideously blasphemous to most of the Jews of that era) - it never was and it never will be obvious, common-sensical - it will always be easy to reject it as ridiculous.

For example, if Jesus did not really rise from the dead, then the whole thing is rubbish.

Christianity is contingent upon certain facts - and if you do not or cannot believe those facts then you will reject it.

But how does one come to believe in facts about things that happened ages ago, and about which various stories are possible?

I think the Mormon missionaries discovered the essence of this when they advise people to pray, earnestly, sincerely, and ask whether the Book of Mormon is true. If you get the inner conviction that it is true, then everything else falls into place.

Because that inner conviction is the bottom line of truth - you cannot go any deeper than that. It is the same inner conviction by which you know that you love your mother or sister or wife and (more importantly) that they love you.

Not science nor a study of evidence, but inner conviction.

That is what you need to know about Christianity - in reference to whatever it is that concerns you. If you don't get it, you cannot call yourself a Christian, although you could practice it; but IF you do get that conviction... THEN THAT IS IT.

No more can be asked for nor given. You then must act on that conviction and work to deepen and extend it - but not to get stuck on picking-apart and questioning it, which is a never-ending displacement activity; as if a married man were to spend 16 hours a day researching the question of whether his wife *really* loved him, and he would not have children until he found something 'more' than his inner conviction that she did love him.

To continue questioning after you KNOW is to be be tricked by Satan into wasting your life.

David said...

I'm afraid the second part of that post was accidentally deleted from my clipboard and so the first post is incomplete. Feel free to disregard it as it is too long to repeat again. A shortened version would be to ask whether you are familiar with Eckhart Tolles books? I wonder what you make of his interpretation of the biblical stories. I found a lot more sense than many other versions that I have heard. If you are advocating "inner conviction" as a barometer of truth then I must admit I found it resonated with me as insightful. Aside from that may I leave you with the following meditation that brings me peace and helps me pray for others with a few minor adaptations:

May I (and you) be safe.
May I (and you) be happy.
May I (and you) be healthy.
May I (and you) be at ease.

George Goerlich said...

My own limited understanding leads me to believe Heroic Virtue and action are fundamental and essential qualities for existence in this life.

My conception of this is Tolkienesque.

We recognize this world is imperfect and in struggle with evil. I think this was perhaps recognized in pagan praise of warrior ethics and even conceptually embracing the struggle, or the central role impermanence take in Hinduism and Buddhism. Christians recognize the impermanence and imperfection of this world, and provides the resolution and closure to this recognition with a promise of peace, perfection and eternal bliss at the end. The balance in Christianity seems to be in embracing heaven without heretically denying this life or its necessity for real participation and heroic virtue in this life, or accepting the struggle of this world without denying God's power and love.