Now You’re Thinking With A Bunch of Atoms

Question from Jeff:
I’m sort of in a searching phase of life where I really don’t know what to believe. I recently heard a compelling argument for the existence of god and want to get some input. The argument goes like this:

If there is no god and the world is just an accident, if everything about people, including what they think and feel, is just the chance combination of molecules and is explained in terms of chemistry and physical laws, why be rational? On the basis of atheism, weeds grow because they are weeds (laws of physics) and minds just do whatever they do. People act like they are free to think about different kinds of ideas and then choose the best one. On the basis of atheism, that’s impossible. Our minds are just a bunch of atoms vibrating and will do whatever they have been programmed to do. If there is no god and the physical world is all there is, there is no logical basis for logic. But people, including atheists, do trust reason and logic even though they have no reason to assume that it works.

Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated.

Answer by SmartLX:
Minds, or brains to be more specific, indeed do what is dictated by their physical structure combined with the electrical signals travelling through them, so you could say that they do what they’re programmed to do. The thing is, they are programmed to think. They have the necessary complexity to store something as abstract as an idea, among other information, and they apply ideas to the world around them. This leads them to make choices based on the information available to them, and act upon those choices. This can be called a person’s will. Its ultimately deterministic nature in the absence of supernatural influences (like a soul) leads many to stop short of calling it free will, but it’s will all the same.

We have plenty of reason to assume that reason and logic work, because we live in a world where reason and logic regularly help us make predictions about the world that turn out to be correct. It’s not a matter of philosophy, it’s simply a lifetime of observing the practical power of understanding the logical workings of an apparently consistent universe. We don’t know why it’s that way (and many religious people jump on that fact to make an argument from ignorance in favour of gods – back to this in a moment), but we learn that it is so and we use it to our advantage. That’s what learning is, really. If the world weren’t consistent we couldn’t learn anything.

The argument you heard is rather close to the transcendental argument for God (TAG) and ultimately has the same problem: to establish a god as the source of logic in its premise it has to assert that there’s no other possibility, when there’s merely no other KNOWN source. In fact the possibilities are endless, but the simplest one is that logic has no source and has always been in place, much like God is supposed to have been. The other important thing about the TAG, in my experience, is that its persuasive power is not targeted where you think it is. It almost never convinces non-believers, but it very often convinces believers that their belief is justified when they might be in doubt. It is primarily a tool for reassurance, not conversion. The same may be true of all apologetics at this point, but TAG more than most.

7 thoughts on “Now You’re Thinking With A Bunch of Atoms”

  1. Whenever I am asked that question Jeff, my first response is usually “Why wouldn’t we be rational?” I say that with two reasons in mind. The first reason is that there is no data or evidence the suggests rational thinking and logic require a god creature. LX has already covered that.

    The second reason is one of survival and advancement of the species. Doesn’t it make sense that we would evolve with brains that work rationally and logically, as opposed to irrationally and illogically? Let’s stop and think about it. If two members in a population of humans get a random mutation, one that allows the brain to be more rational, the other less rational, which one is going to confer an advantage? Which individual is going to have a better change of succeeding and passing on that new gene to the next generation? Obviously the rational one. I don’t think we even need to explain that one.

    It just makes sense. Humans are, except for the brain, a pretty unremarkable species. We aren’t particularly strong, or fast, or agile. We can’t use size as an advantage. Our eyesight is middle of the pack, as is our hearing and sense of smell. We can’t see ultraviolet or infrared, we can’t detect magnetic fields or electrical fields. We don’t detect thermal differences very well. Al of our evolutionary eggs are in one basket – the brain. Because the brain is our primary survival tool, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it evolved to be rational and logical.

    And it should be pointed out that rationality is not strictly a human trait. We are the best at it to be sure, but there are plenty of other species that display rationality in their behavior and actions. It’s an advantage trait for any species, not just us.

    Hope that helps.

  2. SmartLX: You say you’re an Agnostic, but it really does seem like you lean more toward not wanting to believe there is a God. Have you ever been around someone famous. Someone with something that almost everyone would do anything to be associated with that person. Well, that’s how it was when Jesus was here. People flocked to see Him and be associated with Him. And He told some that they were with Him, not because they wanted to here what He had to tell them, but because of what they could get from Him, be it healing, food, fame and notoriety.
    Well, just what could God do, to give everyone an even chance to allow everyone to come to an honest idea of who they really were, with out influencing them to the point that they would not act as they really were. You know that when we meet others we are not as we are when we are by ourselves or when we are with those who we don’t care how they think of us.
    God instead allows us to go on a pirate hunt as it were, to allow us the opportunity to be interested if we want, or to not bother if we don’t want. There is at least just as much evidence that there is a God, as there is that would allow someone to be comfortable to believe in the possibility that man just accidentally got to be as he is. When I mean evidence, I mean that first wonderment of someone who contemplates the majesty of the heavens, or wonders of the human body, or the marvel at the intricacies of the atomic world. Sure, some just shirk it off, and hide there heads in the sands of skepticism and atheism, and let it go at that, except for those who go all fanatical at the possibility at someone believing in there being God and they get so angry that people would dare put their faith in a supreme being.
    But beyond this there are evidences that I believe, tilt the scale in favor in God. One, is that there actually was Someone who walked this earth, named Jesus Christ. He made such an impression on this world that the Christian religion, has made an impressionable impact upon this world that will never be able to be erased. Though many have attempted to do so for years, only to have been buried in history, or who have been buried in the blood of the same Christ that they once had thought to be a myth, and then were resurrected and reborn into one of His followers. Even the Jews that condemned and crucified Him, never said that He never existed. But they did say that the miracles he did were of the devil. They never even denied that He did the miracles. So, that is just one other piece of evidence that points to the fact that God is God. And that beside Him there is no other.
    But along with that is the fact that the Bible has made certain predictions many years in that past, that have come to pass years later that no Atheist has ever been able to question, or give reason how the Bible could have been able to predict.
    Well, that is all for now. Want to talk more, email me at rtmcdge@gmail.com

    1. I’m an agnostic because I don’t know. I’m an atheist because I currently don’t believe, as nothing has convinced me since I stopped assuming. I’m happy to be an atheist because I think religious faith is harmful on balance, and that it would be a worse world if a god did exist so it’s not even justified as wishful thinking.

      I came to this site in the first place because I thought I must be missing the really good arguments and evidence for God. Turns out none of what evangelists see as the best material is very convincing at all to someone without existing latent belief. The Rational Response Squad invited me to contribute after I explained why in a few cases, and years later I’m still waiting for the good stuff. That was around 2007, and by now I’m of the opinion that there really isn’t any good stuff, but the lines are still open. That is to say, I have the same position on evidence for God as I do on God himself.

      Wonderment is hopelessly subjective, which is to say it says more about someone who ponders the universe than about the universe itself. The wonders of the universe would provoke a similar response no matter where they came from. As for the rest of it, I’ve addressed claims of Biblical prophecies and foreknowledge in my fifth Great Big Arguments article, and it seems like I’m never given a chance to shut up about Jesus so I’ll let you search the site yourself for articles on him.

  3. If our reason is simply an emergent property of our supposedly evolved brains (which are, of course, finite), then it exists for exactly the same reason that every other aspect of our being exists: for the purpose of aiding our survival. Therefore reason is entirely utilitarian, and it tells us nothing about what is actually true. Furthermore, if the atheists are correct (which, in my view, they are not) nature is not only the cause of what we call rationality, but also irrationality. Since nature is deterministic, then its effects reflect its nature. Thus nature has to be considered not only rational, but also irrational. How therefore can we trust it? We cannot, of course. If nature is deterministic and rational, then all its effects should be rational. Why therefore does it produce irrationality? Free will cannot be invoked (the effects choosing to rebel against their cause), because that violates the concept of determinism.

    SmartLX’s answer to Jeff’s question is typical of many atheists; they take the fundamentals of reality for granted, but are unable to explain them, and then dismiss anyone who attempts to do so as committing a so called “argument from ignorance” if that explanation happens to be a challenge to atheism. This, of course, is intellectually underhand.

    We need to look at the nature of reason and logic and ask whether its properties could conceivably be the product of blind, mindless, purposeless nature. I contend that it cannot. Sorry to plug my website, but just today I happened to write an article on this very subject (before I stumbled upon this article here). I argue that logic has to be absolute and infinite in scope in order to function at all, and thus cannot be merely the emergent property of a finite evolved brain. Of course, my view will be dismissed as an argument from ignorance, as all explanations are which include the concept of God. This is prejudice of course. In fact, ANY explanation can be dismissed as an argument from ignorance. It’s just an internet atheist soundbite, and I don’t think some people actually know what it means. It’s a great sounding put-down, I suppose!

    Jeff: whatever you do, think for yourself. Question the claims of atheism, as well as theism. Respect philosophy (on which science itself relies). Don’t allow anyone – religious or non-religious – to railroad you into accepting any position. I wish you well on your journey.

    1. Determinism and rationality should not be conflated, Allistair. Rationality is a quality of something that thinks, because it literally means being reasonable. Most of the universe and nature is not rational because it has no capacity to think. The brains that do think are imperfect and sometimes fail at being rational, which is the source of irrationality. This does not violate determinism in any way; as programmers say, garbage in, garbage out.

      Logic is a method of reasoning, so again the product of brains, but the consistent behaviour of the world in general that makes logic effective does appear to be independent of us. Brains are simply able to understand and apply it to varying degrees. Brains are amazing, but they don’t need infinite cosmic powers to apply logic practically.

      “Argument from ignorance” IS an effective criticism, because it is very well defined indeed (see Wikipedia for a start) and, if an argument qualifies, it is disqualified as a sound logical argument because it contains a universally acknowledged fallacy. The fallacies in most arguments for God are the same: claiming God is responsible for something solely based on the apparent lack of an alternative explanation. I call things arguments from ignorance a lot, simply because I get a lot of them and they do qualify.

  4. Gerald writes: [Have you ever been around someone famous. Someone with something that almost everyone would do anything to be associated with that person. Well, that’s how it was when Jesus was here. People flocked to see Him and be associated with Him. And He told some that they were with Him, not because they wanted to here what He had to tell them, but because of what they could get from Him, be it healing, food, fame and notoriety.]

    Have you ever noticed how much of a rockstar Jesus supposedly was, yet no one ever wrote about it? Stop and think about it. Here was a guy that could feed thousands from a load of bread and a couple of fish, make wine out of water, heal incurable afflictions, even bring the dead back to life. Yet despite all that people that wrote down everything, like the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians don’t have one word about him. Not a single word. Don’t you think a powerful man somewhere would have wanted a child or a mistress or someone else cured or brought back to life? Jesus could do all these amazing things, no yet no one mentioned him and no one sent for him….the silence is deafening.

    [Well, just what could God do, to give everyone an even chance to allow everyone to come to an honest idea of who they really were, with out influencing them to the point that they would not act as they really were. You know that when we meet others we are not as we are when we are by ourselves or when we are with those who we don’t care how they think of us.
    God instead allows us to go on a pirate hunt as it were, to allow us the opportunity to be interested if we want, or to not bother if we don’t want.]

    So a god creature with unconditional love for us that does not deceive makes us search for the so called “truth”? Puts things like fossils in the ground that misleads us? Smacks of hypocrisy.

    [There is at least just as much evidence that there is a God, as there is that would allow someone to be comfortable to believe in the possibility that man just accidentally got to be as he is. When I mean evidence, I mean that first wonderment of someone who contemplates the majesty of the heavens, or wonders of the human body, or the marvel at the intricacies of the atomic world.]

    So you don’t actually mean evidence then, not as it is commonly defined. What you mean, if I may be so bold as to summarize your thoughts, is that the existence of things is what you consider as evidence. Possibly the complexity of them too. However, those things aren’t evidence of their source or possible intent. The existence of something merely prove that it does indeed exist. It does not prove how it got here or why it is here. The existence of complexity merely proves that the thing is complex, not why it became that way. The curiosity we humans have, and the wonderment we feel about things, is very real. But that is not data, or empirical evidence. It’s just a feeling. What science does, if the person decides to act on those feelings, is offer a path of investigation. Wonderment is not a basis of evidence…

    [Sure, some just shirk it off, and hide there heads in the sands of skepticism and atheism, and let it go at that, except for those who go all fanatical at the possibility at someone believing in there being God and they get so angry that people would dare put their faith in a supreme being.]

    I think you are mischaracterizing atheists. In general I don’t think atheists care what your beliefs are. You have every right to believe anything you want, for whatever reason you want. You don’t have to justify anything you think.

    The problem is, believers often do try to justify it. That in of itself isn’t a bad thing actually. No, the issue is that your justifications are a mixture of inaccurate claims, bad logic, and parroted material from religious sites. A lot of the cultists that write these things can’t even discuss them at a basic level. So when atheists point out all the things believers don’t know about a topic, and all the parts of a topic their religious sites DON’T mention because it would refute their own arguments, and all the logic holes that exist in the bible and in religious rationales, that has every right to be debated, discussed, and dissected in a public forum. Your next paragraph is a perfect sample of what I’m talking about actually…

    [But beyond this there are evidences that I believe, tilt the scale in favor in God. One, is that there actually was Someone who walked this earth, named Jesus Christ.]

    There isn’t any actual independent corroboration that Jesus existed. The bible is the only thing we have to go on. I’ve already mentioned the dearth of information by every other culture and civilization in that region already. Christians like to point to Paul and Tacitus and Josephus, none of whom knew Jesus personally, and the works of at least one of which can be shown to have been altered years later by Christians.

    Now personally, I don’t see a problem admitting that there was a man named Jesus. It wasn’t an uncommon name at that time. We know men named Jesus existed. It’s the next part of that equation – that this particular man named Jesus is a god – that is baseless. There is zero data or evidence supporting this claim. The existence of a man named Jesus merely proves that a man named Jesus existed. It does not make him a god, anymore than any pharaoh was a god just because the human with that name existed.

    As mentioned above, you don’t offer any verifiable data that constitutes the common definition of evidence.

    [He made such an impression on this world that the Christian religion, has made an impressionable impact upon this world that will never be able to be erased. Though many have attempted to do so for years, only to have been buried in history, or who have been buried in the blood of the same Christ that they once had thought to be a myth, and then were resurrected and reborn into one of His followers. Even the Jews that condemned and crucified Him, never said that He never existed. But they did say that the miracles he did were of the devil. They never even denied that He did the miracles. So, that is just one other piece of evidence that points to the fact that God is God. And that beside Him there is no other.]

    Mohamed and Buddha have made lasting impressions too, have they not? If lasting impressions was evidence, then the religions of those two deserve equal recognition in your plausibility column (which of course they don’t). Any independent corroboration that Jews never denied miracles if Jesus? No. Outside the bible there is only silence. Again, not evidence, jut conjecture based on one document (bible)…

    [But along with that is the fact that the Bible has made certain predictions many years in that past, that have come to pass years later that no Atheist has ever been able to question, or give reason how the Bible could have been able to predict.]

    Like the one where Jesus was coming back within the lifetime of his followers? I’m familiar with some of these so called prophecies. Perhaps you would care to discuss one? The founding of the country (not nation) of Israel is the popular one those days. We could chat about that, or pick another…

  5. Allistair writes: [If our reason is simply an emergent property of our supposedly evolved brains (which are, of course, finite), then it exists for exactly the same reason that every other aspect of our being exists: for the purpose of aiding our survival. Therefore reason is entirely utilitarian, and it tells us nothing about what is actually true.]

    That makes no sense whatsoever. If reason is useful (which I think we can all agree that it is), then doesn’t it have to tell us what is actually true? What good would “reason” be if it didn’t tell us what was actually true. Let’s say two humans receive a random mutation, one with reason and the other with fake reason. Which one of the two is more likely to survive to adulthood and produce offspring that will carry on the new trait? The one with reason, or the one that has fake reason? Pretty obvious.

    Reason wouldn’t be a benefit if it didn’t help us discern the truth, and it wouldn’t make it through the process of natural selection.

    [Furthermore, if the atheists are correct (which, in my view, they are not) nature is not only the cause of what we call rationality, but also irrationality. Since nature is deterministic, then its effects reflect its nature. Thus nature has to be considered not only rational, but also irrational. How therefore can we trust it? We cannot, of course. If nature is deterministic and rational, then all its effects should be rational. Why therefore does it produce irrationality? Free will cannot be invoked (the effects choosing to rebel against their cause), because that violates the concept of determinism.]

    LX covered this very nicely already. I will add (and I believe LX might disagree with me) that nature is not purely deterministic. Randomness does indeed exist in the universe. The existence of rationality and irrationality affects living things. The laws of chemistry for example aren’t affected by it.

    [SmartLX’s answer to Jeff’s question is typical of many atheists; they take the fundamentals of reality for granted, but are unable to explain them, and then dismiss anyone who attempts to do so as committing a so called “argument from ignorance” if that explanation happens to be a challenge to atheism. This, of course, is intellectually underhand.]

    You’ve been receiving an incredible amount of explanation about reality over the last several months, and have repeatedly failed to respond to it or offer up any data-backed rebuttal of anything. The charge you make above is hollow, and intellectually dishonest.

    [We need to look at the nature of reason and logic and ask whether its properties could conceivably be the product of blind, mindless, purposeless nature. I contend that it cannot. Sorry to plug my website, but just today I happened to write an article on this very subject (before I stumbled upon this article here). I argue that logic has to be absolute and infinite in scope in order to function at all, and thus cannot be merely the emergent property of a finite evolved brain. Of course, my view will be dismissed as an argument from ignorance, as all explanations are which include the concept of God. This is prejudice of course.]

    The reason your argument is dismissed is because logic is not absolute. The laws of logic are absolute…within the confines of logic. We all know it is very easy to prove something via the rules of logic that is, in reality, totally false. Philosophy is the same way. This is, of course, due to the nature of the rules of logic and philosophy. You don’t need data or empirical evidence. That is why science is a more restrictive, accurate, and complete method of determining the true nature of things. Science requires information that can be repeatedly tested and validated. Logic and philosophy are not burdened by such requirements, to their detriment.

    [In fact, ANY explanation can be dismissed as an argument from ignorance. It’s just an internet atheist soundbite, and I don’t think some people actually know what it means. It’s a great sounding put-down, I suppose!]

    It means that you are making claims without even one single scrap of data or empirical evidence supporting your statements. In other words, you are speculating…

    [Jeff: whatever you do, think for yourself. Question the claims of atheism, as well as theism. Respect philosophy (on which science itself relies). Don’t allow anyone – religious or non-religious – to railroad you into accepting any position. I wish you well on your journey.]

    Jeff – Philosophy is a rung below science. Using that, instead of science, to make determinations is like using a sieve instead of a bucket to collect water…

Leave a Reply to Tim Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *