Was Your Brain Intelligently Designed?


In a video called A Simple Question, a YouTuber named The Atheist Nightmare asks the question, “Was Your Brain Intelligently Designed?” Now, this is not just about creationism vs evolution. He goes on to say, “If you want to claim that your brain was not intelligently designed, then shouldn’t your entire belief system come into question? It would seem to me that you would have no reason to trust your own thoughts.” The Atheist Nightmare is not the first Christian to argue along these lines. I have previously addressed this issue in a post called How can we trust our senses and thoughts?, which was a response to much the same idea, as asserted by someone else in another video. So, instead of rehashing the same ideas over again, I’ll just refer him to that.

There are some issues I didn’t address in that post. One issue was memetics. Richard Dawkins, writing in The Selfish Gene, invented the word meme to describe an idea that can reproduce from mind to mind. A meme is like a gene. Like a gene, it can replicate, and it can mutate. A lot of what people believe is the result of memetic evolution, not clear thinking. This is a very good reason to call a lot of what people believe into question. We have to seriously examine our beliefs and question whether they are just successful memes or can actually stand up to scrutiny. A lot of religious beliefs, for example, are merely successful memes. Even if you’re a religious person and consider your beliefs true, you must admit that many other religious people have plenty of false beliefs. The reason so many false beliefs are current in the world is that certain memes, regardless of truth, have been more successful than others. Generally put, memes evolve and spread a lot like genes do, spreading not because they are true or revealed by God, but simply because the meme has a reproductive advantage. Consider the faith meme, for example. This meme says it is good to have faith in certain beliefs. When this meme gets attached to other memes, they become harder to shake, because you take them on faith instead of scrutinizing them under the light of reason. As a result of how it works, the faith meme has attached itself to all kinds of nonsense, and people around the world believe in all kinds of nonsense on faith, even when it conflicts with the nonsense believed on faith by others. In Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme, Richard Brodie gives a detailed account of how memetic evolution works. In The Religion Virus: Why We Believe in God, Craig A. James describes in detail how memetic evolution has shaped religious belief. Although memetic evolution has been such a driving force in shaping the beliefs of people, knowledge of memetic evolution is an important tool in critiquing the memes we believe in. It gives us the ability to ask whether a given belief is sound or just the result of memetic evolution. So even though it gives us a reason to question our beliefs, it also gives us a tool for identifying more reliable and trustworthy beliefs.

Another issue is knowledge of how the brain works. People who know more than I do about this have elaborated on this for whole books. I will recommend a few good books on the subject.

In full disclosure, I have not finished Daniel Dennett’s book. The books by Pinker and Dennett both go into some detail on how the brain does certain things. The book by Medina is more of a self-help book, focusing on how knowledge of how the brain works can be put to practical use. One idea to take away from these books is that the brain does not do everything perfectly, but we can use knowledge of how the brain makes mistakes to correct some of those mistakes. So, there isn’t a false choice between believing in a brain that was intelligently designed to be trustworthy or an undesigned brain that just can’t be trusted. There is a third alternative, which is to believe in a brain that is capable of error but also capable of finding truth through error-correcting procedures, such as the scientific method.

And this brings up a third issue. We are able to correct our beliefs through self-corrective processes, such as the scientific method. Before I wrote the blogpost I referred to above, I made a video response to the same issue from the same YouTuber. You will find it in the blogpost Is There Real Proof That God Exists?. In that response, I pointed out that I am able to use trial-and-error to correct my beliefs, and this gives me reason to trust my thoughts despite not having any divine guarantee that they are correct.

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Fergus Duniho
Former Christian, now a Humanist Freethinker with a Ph.D. in Philosophy.
Books on LibraryThing / Ph.D. Dissertation

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