Poor Apologetics 7: You Can’t Trust Your Brain

The Theist’s Argument: You Can’t Trust Your Brain if Evolution is True

You can’t trust anything your brain tells you unless your brain was created by God. If a God designed your brain to make correct logical deductions, then it is reasonable to trust it. Whereas atheists have no reason to believe in science, trust their own thoughts, or believe any conclusion they reach is reliable because natural selection doesn’t need your thoughts and beliefs o be true or grounded in logic, it only needs your brain to work well enough to keep you alive long enough to pass on your genes.

Why They Use This Argument: (What they believe):

In episode 269 of Dogma Debate,  Texas preacher, Eric Hernandez argues, in what he calls the “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism,” that:

If there is no God, then the only explanation of our existence would be naturalistic evolution… it’s aim is for survival value and not truth value… which means my beliefs, if there is no God, do not have to be true… they just have to cause survival value in my behavior…

If atheism’s true, your beliefs don’t have to be true, they just have to work in the sense that they grant survival value. And if that’s the case, then the atheist now has a defeater that takes away any justification for any belief that his brain will produce.

If you are scratching your head, you’re not alone. David Smalley was just as confused. Later in the episode, Eric attempted to explain what he meant by giving two examples.

In his first example, he explains what he means by having “a defeater.” Eric describes a person who woke up in the middle of the day and formed a belief that it was 12:00 because that was the time he saw on his microwave clock. However, the clock was flashing, there was water under the fridge, and it was hot in the house, so the person came to the conclusion that the power must have gone out.

If your belief is formed on the basis of what the microwave says, then you now have a defeater for the belief that it’s 12:00… you are no longer justified on the basis of the microwave that it’s 12:00, even if it is.

In his second example, Eric describes two people who each see a car coming toward them and move out of the way, thereby surviving to propagate the species. The first person moved because he believed the car could injure or kill him if he were hit. The second man moved because believed he was Superman and he needed to continue to appear human.

The true and false beliefs both produced equivalent survival value in this situation because both people avoided being hit by the car.

If you’re an atheist you now have a defeater for everything you believe, because you have no way of verifying what you believe if your beliefs are only aimed at survival, not truth.

In his debate with Matt Dillahunty, Matt Slick made a similar argument.

You see, if our physical brains are limited to operating under the laws of physics and chemistry, then we need to ask how such a physical mechanism produces proper logical inference. In other words, how does one chemical state in the brain that leads to another chemical state in the brain produce proper logical inference?

… This is a serious problem in secular humanism. It means that in this naturalistic perspective you cannot trust your brain to produce proper logical inference because it’s just reacting chemically.

The Rebuttal: (Why the argument doesn’t work.)

This argument is flawed on many levels. Firstly, the fact that thousands of religions are practiced around the world proves that even if a God exists, the majority of humans are still capable of having false beliefs and thinking they are true.

Secondly, our brains make mistakes, we know that. This isn’t a surprise. For the most part, Christians and atheists both freely admit that we are imperfect and our minds are faulty. Our memories are flawed. We are bad at predicting odds. We all have biases that affect our perceptions. We, at times, come to erroneous conclusions.  This is true whether a god exists or not.

Thirdly, beliefs that align with reality have a higher survival value than beliefs that don’t. This means that while we acknowledge our brains are imperfect, we have good reason to trust that our perceptions and deductions about the world around us are fairly accurate.

To prove my point, let’s go back to Eric’s example of the two people who avoided getting hit by the car. Both people were able to:

  • identify that a car was approaching.
  • predict the trajectory of the car.
  • recognize that a large energy transfer would take place if the car hit them.
  • acknowledge that the energy transfer would be harmful or fatal to humans.
  • locate a safe place where they could go to reduce their risk of being hit by the car.

I could continue listing beliefs held by both, but you get the point. I would challenge Eric to provide an example of a false belief that gives higher survival value which is not simultaneously dominated by true beliefs.

In Eric’s example, both of the men had far more true beliefs than false ones. The only place where the two disagreed was when one of them held the additional belief that he was Superman.

The belief that he was Superman allowed the second man to avoid being killed by the car, but that belief could actually provide negative survival value if the man were to make other decisions based on that same assumption. For example, if he were to put on tights and try to fly off a building or demonstrate how bullet-proof his skin is.

Beliefs don’t live in a vacuum. Beliefs affect actions and influence other beliefs. Even if only 1 in 100 people with the false Superman belief did anything other than avoiding oncoming cars, they would not be as likely to pass on their genes as the people who don’t think they are bullet-proof and can fly.

Eric and Matt are right when they say we can’t trust our brains explicitly. While our brains are very effective tools, they are not infallible. The scientific method was designed to eliminate or control for the problems we are aware of. There may be other issues which we haven’t found, but when we do we will alter our testing criteria accordingly.

Atheists don’t claim to have absolute knowledge on the subject, and in reality, the kind fo absolute knowledge Christians demand would be impossible even for their God. In his book, Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, Richard Carrier explains why:

Even a God could never have certain knowledge, because he could be in error about his being infallible. Consider what philosophers call a “Cartesian Demon.” Suppose some demon were actually solely responsible for sending you all your experiences, whatever they were, and this demon made sure you never knew the real cause. You could even be fooled into thinking you were an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator God, and you would never be the wiser. It follows that if there is a god, he could well be the victim of such a Cartesian Demon. He could never be certain that he wasn’t. It is therefore irrational to demand certainty for any of our knowledge. Not even a god could have that!

Bible Test for False Gods

With so many religions in the world, and people worshiping so many different deities, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to determine which gods were real and which were false?

Imagine you find yourself in a city where the people worship two gods, how could you go about proving which of them, if either is the real “God?”

Well, if you believe in the Bible, the answer is simple. The Bible lays out a specific solution to this very problem. In 1 Kings chapter 18 Elijah comes to a town where the people worship Baal and the LORD. Elijah tells the people they need to figure out which is the real God and worship him, whether it’s the LORD or Baal.

“How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21)

Elijah didn’t simply assert the validity of his god, he didn’t simply tell people to pray about it. He needed to demonstrate that the LORD was real and more powerful than Baal. So, he devised a test for both gods.

Elijah suggested that he and the prophets of Baal both offer a sacrifice to their deity. They will both choose a bullock and place it upon the altar but place no fire underneath. The god who can light his own altar will be considered the real god.

“And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answerth by fire, let him be God.” (1 Kings 18:24)

In the Bible story, Elijah allows the prophets of Baal to go first. They pray from morning until noon. When Baal still hadn’t answered their prayers, Elijah mocked those who prayed to him saying they needed to pray louder because their god must be talking, traveling, or possibly sleeping.

“And when it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.” (1 Kings 18:27)

The prophets of Baal prayed louder and started flagellating themselves until they were bleeding profusely. They prayed all day until the time of the evening sacrifice, however, Baal still did not answer their cries.

“And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, not any that regarded.” (1 Kings 18:29)

Then it was Elijah’s turn. He built an altar out of 12 stones and dug a trench around it. Then he placed wood and the pieces of the bull upon the altar. Next, Elijah had the people dump barrels of water on the altar and the wood until it filled the trench surrounding the altar.

“Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood. And he said, Do it a second time. And they did it a second time. And he said, Do it a third time. And they did it a third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.” (1 Kings 18:33-35)

Now, it was Elijah’s turn to pray. He only needed to ask once, the LORD answered immediately.

“Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38)

The people were instantly convinced.

“And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.” (1 Kings 18:39)

It should be a simple matter to prove that your god is “the God.” If your god is able to light a fire based on your prayer alone then it is a real god, if not, it is a false god.

If a Christian wants to prove their God is real, hand them a match and ask them to pray to the LORD to light it. (They can even dunk it in water first if they want. You can even offer to taunt them and mock them like Elijah did to the prophets of Baal when their God didn’t answer.) According to the Bible, if the LORD is unable to  light the match then he isn’t a real god.

I have never yet had a Christian take up the challenge. Which means the prophets of Baal had more faith in their “false god” than the Christian has in the “real God.”

Christians refuse to take up the challenge because, regardless of how much faith they claim to have, they KNOW their prayer will not be answered. They know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the LORD will not light the match. It doesn’t matter how fervently they pray, their prayers will go unanswered, just like those of the prophets of Baal.

One Christian I asked to take the challenge refused and quoted Matthew 12:39.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign…”

I simply had him continue reading:

“… and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)

I pointed out that Jesus fails that test as well because he wasn’t “in the heart of the earth” for “three days and three nights.” According to all of the gospels, Jesus died on a Friday and was buried that evening then was raised the following Sunday. That’s only one day and two nights. It’s a false prophecy, he failed his own test.

Back to the subject, why was the inability of Baal to light a fire by prayer considered proof positive that Baal was not a real God, but Christians won’t consider it proof that the LORD is not real?

One last thing. After proving his God was real, Elijah had the people capture all 450 prophets of Baal and then he slew them all. Perhaps he wanted to demonstrate the loving nature of the LORD.

“And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.” (1 Kings 18:40)

Biblical “Science” – The Water Cycle

Christians, especially Young-Earth Creationists, often claim that the Bible contains accurate scientific information which would have been impossible for anyone to have known at the time the Bible was written. The claim is that the existence of advanced knowledge could only come from divine revelation and is proof that the Bible is the word of God.

Does the Bible contain scientifically accurate information which could only be recorded if it had been revealed by God?  Before we can determine the best explanation for any advanced knowledge in the Bible, we first need to verify if there is information beyond the scope of what the primitive authors could have reasonably known at the time.  Usually, a claim is stated and several verses which supposedly support the claim are listed; however, apologists don’t usually quote the verses directly – and they almost never include any context.  Let’s look at one of example and review the verses listed and see if we can determine why apologists would choose to be intentionally vague.

The water cycle was discovered by a Roman engineer named Marcus Vitruvius in 30AD – so how is it that Solomon wrote about it in complete detail 1000 years earlier

You’ll find this argument on many Christian apologist websites along with a list of several Bible verses which are supposed to prove the claim.

Eccl 1:6-7
“The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again”

The author of this verse recognized that the sea levels didn’t get higher despite a constant inflow of water  from streams and rivers – no deity is needed to make that observation.  The author then concluded that the water must somehow be returning to the river. I see nothing miraculous about making an observation and inferring based on that observation. The author was correct but no mechanism was described, no advanced scientific information was revealed.  The verse simply describes an observation and inference which could have been made by any ancient person living by a body of water.

Eccl 11:3
“If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.”

Nothing about the water cycle is revealed here. This verse says clouds drop rain, and trees fall. Why would this require divine revelation? Couldn’t ancient people recognize that it only rained when it was cloudy without a God to reveal that information to them?

Job 26:8
“He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them”

This verse shows a lack of scientific understanding and demonstrates that the author did not understand how rain and clouds work. He thinks water is stored in the clouds and he seems amazed that clouds don’t break under the weight of all the water they are carrying.  The author doesn’t recognize the clouds ARE water. If he understood that clouds are water vapor he wouldn’t have been surprised that they don’t break.  Again, I see no evidence of divine inspiration.  I see evidence of erroneous ancient beliefs.

Job 36:27-28
“For he maketh small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof: Which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly.”

Rain falls from clouds, this is nothing new. There is nothing in this verse that wouldn’t have been noticed by every person on the planet for thousands of years.  To suggest that the author wouldn’t have recognized this phenomenon without revelation from a God is highly insulting to the intellect of the author.

Amos 9:6
“It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name.”

At first glance this one could look promising, after all, we now know that water from the sea evaporates, condenses into clouds, and then is falls upon the face of the earth as rain.  Is this verse evidence of God describing the water cycle?  Unfortunately for believers, no.

When you read the entire chapter it becomes apparent that the verse is describing magic actions God will take to destroy his enemies. This verse is describing God’s vengeance and his magical powers. Amos 9, verses 1-3 describe how enemies can’t hide from God on top of mountains or at the bottom of the ocean.  In verse 4 God says, “I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good.” Verse 5 says God will touch the land and melt it so that it rises and falls like a river, verse 6 (quoted above) says God will pour water from the sea upon the earth.  Verse 8 says he will destroy (the sinful kingdom) from the face of the earth.

Does it make more sense that verse 6 is describing the water cycle or that it is, like the rest of the chapter, just describing another violent magical method God could use to cause death and destruction to his enemies?

So there we have it.

I’m not surprised apologists don’t usually quote the verses when they make this argument, the Bible simply doesn’t say what the apologists want to pretend that it says.  Most believers will simply accept the arguments on faith and repeat it uncritically.

I Don’t Believe in Atheists

A good friend of mine sent me a link to the article, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, and asked for my opinion. My initial response was to say the author obviously has no understanding of the theory of evolution. However, that statement doesn’t address the errors in the article, so I decided a more thorough response was needed.

To begin with, the author confuses acceptance of evolution with atheism.  These are two wholly separate concepts.  An atheist is someone who does not accept claims about the existence of deities. Atheists can’t, by definition, believe in “Special Creation”, because they don’t believe in gods, however they can be atheists and not believe in evolution. Also, there are millions of religious people who accept evolution. A notable example is Francis Collins, head of the human genome project and devote Christian.  Collins acknowledges the truth of evolution but believes it was the tool chosen by God.  The author of the article is simply wrong if he thinks refuting evolution is the same as refuting atheism.

The rest of the article is the authors attempt to show problems with evolution. He posits special creation as a better alternative while providing absolutely no evidence for creationism.

I am not a biologist, nor do I work in that field.  I will discuss his points from a layman perspective. If you want to see thorough arguments showing evidence for evolution and the problems with creationism, I recommend watching the Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism video series from AronRa on YouTube.

Now on to the article:

I have issued three public challenges (not to mention several private ones) to the more than 215,000 followers on my Facebook page for atheists to provide specific qualified evidence for Darwinian evolution. Each time, my challenge has been met with deafening silence.

I have not seen his Facebook page but I doubt that his challenge has been met with deafening silence.  A simple Google search will provide millions of scholarly articles from numerous and diverse scientific fields providing evidence for evolution.  If I were to speculate, I would guess he has had his challenge met numerous times but he has rejected the responses.

Yet, when I say something about faith in God or the wonder of His creation, I am met with hostility, insults and mockery from outspoken atheists who say I am unscientific and stupid.

I doubt he is holding himself to the same criteria he demands of atheists, mainly “specific qualified evidence” for his claims about faith in God or creation.  If not, mockery may be the correct response.

If you didn’t see my challenge, here it is again. I am asking for one example (just one) that meets these five criteria:

  1. It must be a random mutation that has occurred naturally
  2. It must have been observed (aka science)
  3. It must have added NEW information to the genome
  4. The mutation must also benefit the host
  5. Don’t resort to citing silly examples of E. Coli or other microorganisms.

There are several problems with his challenge.  Lets look at the first two criteria. If you provide an example of evolution observed in a lab he will reject it because it will fail the first requirement, because anything that occurs in a lab couldn’t have occurred naturally. If you provide an example from nature it will violate the 2nd requirement because it wasn’t “observed” scientifically in a lab. The first two criteria essentially cancel each other out, making his challenge meaningless.

The third item seems arbitrary.  What qualifies as “new” information?  Technically any change will be “new” in the sense that it is different from what was there previously.  Thousands of books have been written in the English language but they all use the same 26 letters in the alphabet.  Do the books published this year count as “new information?” Does an author need to make up new words or add new letters to the alphabet for “new information” to be present? I’m not sure what he is looking for here, and I doubt that he knows what he is looking for either.

As for the 4th criteria, evolutionary scientists agree that the vast majority of mutations are neutral (not helpful or harmful to the organism), others are harmful, and a very few are helpful.  Limiting “evidence of evolution” to beneficial changes would be like asking for proof of a poker game while ignoring any hand that isn’t a royal flush.  There can be plenty of examples of beneficial mutations, but they are not the ONLY examples of evolutionary changes.

The last requirement shows his bias.  Humans have a limited lifespan so most of the evolutionary changes we will be able to observe will be in organisms with a significantly shorter lifespan.  Examples of evolution in E. Coli or other microorganisms are not “silly” they are some of the easiest things we can observe due to their rapid rate of reproduction and the limitations of the human lifetime.

Every Christian, no matter how conservative, believes that organisms do adapt and speciate… But the Darwinian claim that organisms can evolve into different “kinds” (as opposed to species) by gaining complexity through the addition of new genetic information has NEVER been observed…not even once!

A “kind” is a biblical term, it has no meaning to the scientific community.  No scientific paper on evolution has EVER claimed organisms change into different “kinds” because there is no scientific definition saying what a “kind” is. However, since the author already agrees that organisms adapt and evolve into different species, I guess he believes in Darwinian evolution afterall!

This means that the kind of mutations we have observed cannot change organisms into different or more complex kinds. They will adapt, but they will never be anything other than what they are:

  • A dog’s genes may be manipulated to produce many different breeds but they will always be dogs.
  • Fruit flies may grow a second pair of wings, but they will always be fruit flies.
  • Finches may grow longer beaks, but they will always be finches.
  • Bacteria may find new food to metabolize will always be bacteria.

… There is not one shred of evidence to suggest that bacteria are becoming dogs and flies are becoming finches. This means that Darwin’s cult is a matter of faith not science.

The theory of evolution by natural selection does NOT predict that flies will turn into birds or bacteria will become dogs.  The theory states that offspring will be different from their parents, and that offspring with beneficial traits will be more likely to survive and pass on those traits to their own offspring. Changes happen slowly, one generation at a time, and changes build on what is already there.  Insects will ALWAYS be insects.  Humans will ALWAYS be apes.  AronRa explains it best in his 11th Foundational Falsehood of Creationism video, quoted below:

To comprehend evolutionary Theory, one must first understand that it’s only ever a matter of changing proportions –altering or enhancing existing features to build on what is already there.  Developmental biology, genetics, and comparative morphology combine to confirm many of these taxonomic stages such that organs do not seem to have appeared abruptly or fully-formed as if out of nowhere, because there is an implied evolutionary origin evident in every case.  Even the transition of fish-to-tetrapods, dinosaurs-to-birds, or apes-to-men are each are just a matter of incremental, superficial changes being slowly compiled atop successive tiers of fundamental similarities. These represent monophyletic clades which will forever encompass all the descendants of that clade.  This is why birds are still dinosaurs, and humans are still apes, and both are still stegocephalian chordates.

No matter how much you or your heirs may change, you obviously can’t outgrow heredity.  The very concept of common ancestry is a multi-tiered and intertwined complex phylogenetic system which shows why there can’t be any distinctly separate “kinds” to begin with!  At the same time, the act of speciation splits the population presenting an eventually impassable boundary between them.  We often see this demonstrated live in the form of “ring species”, where different evolutionary stages exist all at once in a geographic rather than chronological distribution.  Subspecies (A) may breed with subspecies (B), and (B) may breed with (C), and (C) with (D), but (A) and (D) cannot interbreed because by the time their territories overlap again, they’ve grown too distant genetically, and can’t come back.  This is when we see the formation of new features, organs, or skeletal structures, each examples of new genetic “information”.  What all these show is that even though a new species of perching bird (for example) is “still” a finch, it is now a different “kind” of finch, a distinct descendant species proving there is no “boundary” against macroevolution.

The author ends the article by changing his subject to atheism and claiming victory for God:
My bottom line – I don’t believe in atheists. They are at war, not with God, but with themselves. They are as conflicted as a child denying its mother. This is why their resistance seems painful and passionate – not what you would expect from someone denying a fairytale. They are rejecting the inner witness of their own souls, the testimony of nature and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It must be an extremely itchy existence “kicking against the goads.” My heart is broken for the atheist. I’m praying for you today (sincerely). I don’t pray that you would come to any religion (I hate religion as much as anyone). But I pray that you would come to know the love of God through Jesus Christ.

The author’s flawed understanding of basic evolutionary principles is not evidence for Jesus. In order to refute evolution, he should find out what it actually is first.  Then, if he was successful, he would still need to provide “specific qualified evidence” for his alternative (i.e.: Creationism).  Until he has done that, no one is justified in believing it. And, even if evolution were proven false it would not be evidence that the world was created by the Christian God or that he tortured and killed himself as his son in order to persuade himself not to torture and kill all of us for the crime of being born.

Whether you believe in atheists or not is irrelevant.  And no, it isn’t an “extremely itchy existence” to say stories about talking animals are too silly to believe without evidence.

Choosing Your Religion Before You Are Born.

I overheard a couple of Mormons talking the other day.  One of them said: “We are the lucky ones, we were born into The Church, we have been able to live with the fullness of the Gospel for our entire lives!  It’s our duty to share that love with the world.” 

To which the other replied: “It’s not luck. I believe we choose where we will be born and what trials we will face in the preexistence.  I believe we even select the time and method of our own death.”

For those who are unfamiliar with Mormon theology, they believe our souls were born to spirit parents long before we were born to physical parents. They call this time before physical birth the “preexistence.”

I wasn’t part of the conversation but I still had to hold in my laughter.  I could just imagine God talking to their unborn soul and asking: “Would you like to be born into the One True Church and live with the fullness of the gospel or would you prefer to be born into a false religion and raised to THINK you were born into the One True Church?”

How would you know the difference once you were born?

And what about picking your trials in advance? How does that work with freewill?  If you “choose” to be raised by abusive parents, does that mean your parents didn’t have the freewill to choose any other action? What about people who are raped in this life? Did they choose that? Did the rapist have any choice in the matter?

The whole idea reeks of victim blaming.  (I’m sorry your life sucks, but you picked it.)  It seems like a way for people living comfortably to ignore those who are not as comfortable without feeling guilty.  After all, if a child is born into a poor family and dies of starvation that’s okay – they selected those trials and that death.

I don’t think Mormons realize how sadistic this belief makes their God.  Does he hand you a checklist with different ways you can suffer and require you to select a specific number of experiences?  “Please select at least 50 painful experiences from List A and 150 mild irritants from List B.”

Some people suffer extreme pain and even torture in this life, why would anyone VOLUNTEER for that ahead of time?  Imagine the spirits in heaven talking with each other: “You can choose to be killed by being burned alive when you are 14 or you can live until you 80 and die peacefully in your sleep. I’m so torn, I don’t know which to choose. Living to 80 would be so cool, but I wonder what fire feels like when it burns your flesh?”

Other Christian denominations don’t claim you pick your method of death or your trials – and whether or not you are born into the right religion is usually considered a matter of luck — of course, if you don’t get it right before you die God will still torture you forever… so God doesn’t look much nicer according to that theology.

Oh well, people believe crazy things.