Category Archives: Atheist

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!

Ask an Atheist: A Different View

Hi.
I recently came across your videos and found them entertaining. You certainly ask some interesting questions. I feel I should ask though. Are you an atheist because you do not believe there is a god or because you do not believe in the current portrayal of God? Will your views change if one argues that there is a god but he is probably on sabbatical and is due back in the next several millenia? Will it change if it is argued that God did create hell for people he chose just for the fun of it and he acts as it pleases him even if it requires him to set satan off on those he is not particularly fond of?

Thank you for your reply.

Thanks for the email.  I’m glad you like the videos on my YouTube channel.  I enjoy making them, and I enjoy seeing the creative responses they receive.

Regarding your question, I don’t see the two options as mutually exclusive.  I am an atheist because I have seen no reason to believe in any gods.  There are several “current portrayals” of God, I have seen nothing to support belief in any of them.

My views on the existence of gods will not change simply because someone redefines the word – well, let me clarify that – someone could define “God” as anything they want, ie: “God is love” or “God is the Universe.”  I believe in love and in the universe but I already have words for those concepts and see no benefit gained by calling either of them “God.”

The definition you suggest, an absentee god who tortures people for fun, is not supported by any better evidence than any other definition, so there is no justification for believing in it either.

Thanks for the email.

Ask an Atheist: Am I an Atheist?

Hello,

Firstly, thank you so much for posting your videos and stuff. It’s been enlightening and extremely interesting, something really worthwhile on the Net.

I’m a Hindu because my parents said so and the Singapore government makes it a point to print religion on birth certificates (Yes, I’m from Singapore). However, I never got answers to the questions I posed and thus began to question the very existence of God. That is, the common definition of God.

The interesting thing is how so many people think the Hindu God is a polytheistic one (even Hindus), where there is punishment for sin, etc. Now, in the Vedas, there are sections on rituals and practices, but there’s the last part, the Upanishads (Vedanta), that actually tells you to forget everything in the previous parts and only take the last one. That’s the part which describes what the Hindu concept really is, and that all tradition and prayer to God are only for the laypeople who don’t have the intellectual capacity to comprehend the last part, the philosophy behind it all.

Essentially what it says is that there is no sentient God, there is only a cosmic sat-chit-ananda (existence-consciousness-bliss), and the only constant in the universe is existence (for example, I am female and you are male, but we both ‘are’). Prayer is for focus to tap into this energy, and the musical nature of prayer gives us peace. Besides that, there’s no bearded guy in the sky listening to us, and we get punished for what we do through karma, initiated by society itself, not God. Since this cosmic energy is eternal and unchanging, and since we are changing, the whole thing is an illusion. Hinduism believes that all religions reach out to the same cosmic energy.

All these multiple Gods were crafted for the common person to comprehend and live their lives ‘well’.

Thus, to pray is to look within oneself and find that energy, not to plead to some guy ‘up there’ who will make you suffer for not believing.

Best thing, it’s completely compatible with evolution.

Now, my question:
In this respect, I believe in the Upanishads. I really think it makes sense, and is a beautiful construction. Thus, I’m Hindu, though maybe not in the eyes of the ‘common people’ who don’t read the Vedas and believe that it’s polytheistic (it’s pantheistic). I was never comfortable with the idea of a sentient God (which is what the folk tales depict), and I see all the confidence I need to achieve what I can within myself, not someone else. If I fail, I fail honourably and of my own accord.

But since I believe in a God that is just cosmic energy that isn’t sentient, doesn’t grant wishes, doesn’t judge whether or not you believe, and doesn’t consciously intervene in any goings-on, am I or am I not an atheist? For all I know, the ancient rishis might have been talking about electromagnetic radiation.

Hope you can answer my question! Looking forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Jayashri

Hello Jayashri,

First of all, let me apologize for taking so long to respond.  I’ve recently moved and haven’t had a lot of time to work on the blog lately.  I’m finally settled in and I’m hoping to start posting more frequently to the blog.  Thank you for your patience.

Now with that out of the way, on to your email.  One of my favorite things about living in the “digital age” is that I get to correspond with people from all around the globe!

I am not an expert on Hinduism, but what you said does match closely with what I have heard regarding Brahman and how it is described in the Upanishads.  From what I understand, it is a common teaching that Brahman can not be understood or conceptualized.   While not usually a considered a deity, Brahman is often given anthropomorphic characteristics.

Your beliefs as described don’t sound like the typical Hindu beliefs I am familiar with.  (Given my own limited personal experience with the religion.)  From my understanding, most flavors of Hinduism do believe in either several sentient deities or that the hundreds of deities in the are different aspects of the deity Brahmā.

I personally find several problems with the idea of karma, or a magical energy source that we can tap into for some kind of personal benefit, but that is another subject entirely.

On to your specific question:
You said you believe “in a God that is just cosmic energy” possibly just “electromagnetic radiation.”  If it is just comic energy or radiation, why would you call it God?  The word “God” comes with a lot of baggage.  It usually implies some kind of sentient disembodied consciousness, which you have said you do not believe.

From my perspective, I would say yes – you are an atheist.

I hope this helps.

Your friend,
Shawn

Response from Benjamin: Kalam Cosmological Argument

Earlier I responded to an email from Benjamin criticizing my rebuttal of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  He is still attempted to defend it.

Hello:
Saying that something begins to exist is simply self explanatory.

Hello Benjamin, That depends on your definition of “begins to exist.”

The sense of cars and those other things beginning to exist is simply by the fact that they are collections of other matter before them (I agree with you on this note) but the point is that they do not “exist” inexplicably because they were the direct result of intelligence assembling the parts and making them to appear as a car.

My point exactly.  Cars, trucks, houses, people, pets, etc. do not “begin to exist” in the same sense as the universe.  When apologists like William Lane Craig say: “The universe began to exist” they do not mean: “The universe was assembled from preexisting materials”  they mean: “The universe was created out of nothing.”

You’re saying that nothing begins to exist? That really is worse than magic! If you are saying we don’t begin to exist then you’re saying we have always existed. There are only two options.

The matter that makes up my body, your body, my car, and your dog has existed just as long as the universe itself.  It has been reorganized several times, going through many phases (plasma, hydrogen, star, supernova, planet, grass, cow, hamburger, muscle).  The matter was not spontaneously created when you were born any more than it was spontaneously created when your car was assembled.

And by the way, have you always existed? Were you not brought into existence by your own parents? If you say there was other bits of tissue that existed prior to your own birth and that was used to form you in the womb and eventually born then I think that statement is false.

I agree, that statement is false.  The matter that was used to create my body in the womb came from the food my mother ate while she was pregnant, not from “bits of tissue” and it definitely was not spontaneously created.  Yes, I (the matter that makes up my body) has existed for as long as the universe, AND I (this current reorganization of that material) was formed by well-understood biological processes that began with conception.

P1 isn’t stating the conclusion because it’s not assuming the conclusion which would make it a circular argument.

If the definition of “begins to exist” used in Premise 1 can only be applied to the universe itself, then it is assuming the conclusion.

When it comes to things existing, there are only two options: existing necessarily and contingently. I’m sure you know the difference between those two. Either the universe exists and has a an explanation for its existence by its own nature (necessary) or has an explanation for its existence by an external cause.

In your video you said that there are some things that “pop” into being out of nothing and by nothing. You also mentioned virtual particles. Virtual particles are not examples of this because they disappear and appear because of the fluctuating energy they contain which is in the quantum vacuum. The vacuum is not how we understand it in normal language but is a sea of energy. Cars by themselves do begin to exist because they have to have certain parts in order to appear like a car, function like a car, and operate like a car. Saying that they don’t begin to exist simply because there was other pieces of matter before them doesn’t establish that they don’t begin to exist. You have to ask this question: Do they exist contingently or necessarily?

At what point does the car “begin to exist?”  When does it stop being preexisting materials and become a “car?”  When the iron ore is mined?  When it’s smelted into steel?  When it’s fabricated into a driveshaft?  Do all the parts need to be assembled?  Does it need to run?  Does it need a full tank of gas?  Do the tires need to be inflated?  What if a part falls off, does it cease being a car?  What if the engine dies and it no longer drives, is it still a car?

I’ve already addressed this earlier in this response unless you are arguing that the universe was assembled from preexisting materials your analogy is useless.  Virtual particles were mentioned because they appear to pop in and out of existence without any known cause.  They are a better analogy for the universe “beginning to exist” because they are not formed from preexisting material.

As far as the universe beginning to exist, there is a philosophical argument and evidence from astronomy and physics that supports the beginning of the universe.

We both agree that the universe began to exist.  The difference is that I think there is a natural cause (possibly similar to the circumstances that cause virtual particles to appear and disappear), and apologists like William Lane Craig think “magic” is a better explanation.

One cannot have an actual infinite series of events or causes. You also said in the video that the premise attempts to hide God and make him the exception to this rule of causation. Not at all.

Perfect.  If God is not excluded, then that means if a God exists he is not infinite and he must also have a cause.

In fact God by definition is a necessary being.

You can’t “define” something into existence.  And I don’t agree that a magic invisible man is “necessary” or even helpful for that matter.

You also said that Craig’s conclusions about the cause being timeless, immaterial, and personal don’t follow from the premises and therefore have to be dismissed. This is fallacious because Craig’s conclusion (the universe has a cause) doesn’t spell out those explanatory entities about him. They’re merely implied.

Thank you, you just made my point.  The traits he assigned were NOT “spelled out” (supported) by the premises.  Honestly, they aren’t even implied.  They are fabricated so Craig can insert his God in as the “cause.”  I could just as easily say the “cause” was a fart from a trans-dimensional universe farting fairy and it would be supported by the premises of the Kalam Cosmological Argument just as much as Craigs “timeless, immaterial, and personal” creator.

Because think about it. If the universe had a beginning and had a cause, then the cause had to have been timeless because there was no time before the Big Bang occurred.

If there was no time before the Big Bang occurred, that means the phrase “before the Big Bang occurred” is meaningless.  Besides, a timeless being would be incapable of creating anything.  The act of creation, or any act for that matter, implies the existence of time.

Stephen Hawking even spells this out in his book that time itself had a beginning at the Big Bang.

I recommend you actually read books by Stephen Hawking because he also spells out why a God is not necessary:

“Throughout the 1970s I had been mainly studying black holes, but in 1981 my interest in questions about the origin and fate of the universe was reawakened when I attended a conference on cosmology organized by the Jesuits in the Vatican. The Catholic Church had made a bad mistake with Galileo when it tried to lay down the law on a question of science, declaring that the sun went round the earth. Now, centuries later, it had decided to invite a number of experts to advise it on cosmology. At the end of the conference the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but we should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad then that he did know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference — the possibility that space- time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death!”

[Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam, 1988), pp. 115-16.]

Saying it is a immaterial cause means that the cause did not have any pre-existing matter because the universe is made of matter and energy. If the universe is made of those two things and began to exist, then how could the universe have a material cause? How does that follow?

Which again shows why Premise 1 is simply rewording the conclusion, making the argument circular.  Every other thing that “begins to exist” comes from preexisting materials and has a material cause.

Also, we have no reason to believe that anything “immaterial” exists. What is an “immaterial” being made of? In what way can something “immaterial” be said to exist? How is being “immaterial” different from being nonexistent?

As far as I’m concerned, when someone says God is “timeless” and “immaterial” it is the same as saying “God does not exist and never has.”

He also says it’s personal because abstract objects like numbers can’t cause anything and the other viable option is an unembodied mind.

Well, since the only minds we have EVER observed are fully embodied (and as far as we can tell, cease to function once the body is gone), I’m putting my money on the numbers.

Seriously, William Lane Craig doesn’t say the “cause” is “personal” because he doesn’t think it’s a number.  He says it’s personal because he wants people to think the God he is arguing for can interact with them in their daily lives (which goes completely against the “timeless” trait he applied earlier but he doesn’t seem to care).

Well a mind can conceive of things and we think of persons having this sort of entity.

Exactly, apologists are anthropomorphizing an unexplained event into a superhuman entity without any actual evidence to support their conclusion.

Show me where my line of reasoning is false and I will correct it. In regards to existence, remember, there are only two options: Necessary or contingent.

There are a few places where your reasoning is bad, and/or poorly supported:

  1. You use fallaciously use 2 definitions for “begins to exist” interchangeably, one which only applies to the universe and one which applies to everything else.  (This is known as an equivocation fallacy.)
  2. You state that God is not excluded from the need for a cause or the impossibility of actual infinities then you fail to provide any possible causes for God while simultaneously trying to define him in such a way to exclude him from the need of a cause.
  3. Your position requires timeless entities to complete specific acts which requires the existence of time. (In order for an action to be taken there must be a time before the action takes place, a time when the action is performed, and a time after the action is completed. Without time action is impossible.)
  4. You need to define the difference between “non-existent,” and “immaterial.” (It would be helpful if you gave some examples of tests which could be done to test for the existence of “immaterial” objects.)
  5. All known examples of minds exist within living brains. Your position requires you to prove the existence of “unembodied” minds.  (Also, please provide evidence of where they get the energy to function, where they store their memories, how they operate without any synapses, etc.)
  6. The discussion is about HOW the universe was created, not WHO created it. Stating that an immaterial being created it gives us no actual information about HOW it happened.

Just out of curiosity, do you believe that the physical world is all there is or that the universe just exists and thats it?

This universe is the only one we have any evidence of, which is why it is so important to live your life to the fullest, let your loved ones know how much they mean to you, and do your part to make the world an even better place for the next generation.  This physical world is the only one we can be sure of, and this one life is the only one we are guaranteed.  It’s important to cherish every moment.