“I’m Programmed to Think I’m Right” isn’t an Argument

Programming_RobotThe overwhelming majority of those who don’t believe in God believe at least two other things:

1. That there is nothing in reality other than the physical objects studied by science

2. That the movement of these physical objects are governed by fixed mathematical laws.

Putting these two things together, we get determinism. This is the idea that humans don’t actually have free will, but simply do the things that the ongoing electro-chemical reactions in our brains direct us to do. Of course, there is one very big problem with believing determinism is true.

It can’t be rationally believed.

To say that one’s thoughts and actions are being directed, not by one’s will, but by physical processes in the brain is to undercut any reason one has for believing anything one thinks. It is the declaration that one believes in determinism, not because it is true but simply because one was determined to believe it. In fact, it is claiming that everything one believes has this problem.

So, to say that determinism is true is to claim that one’s beliefs are based in chemical reactions, not rational consideration.

They may line up with reality, of course. People may be “wired” to get our bodies where they need to be in the physical world, in the same sense that a calculator is wired to spit back the correct answer to an equation, but this doesn’t mean that we can ever chose to be rational people. Rather we simply believe what we are “programmed” to believe.

Strange, then, that so many believers in determinism complain that others aren’t more open-minded, or don’t think critically. By their own admission, they themselves can’t be open-minded to anything except what certain physical laws have determined them to believe.

There is a list of objections to determinism, of course. But I mostly find myself wondering why, if the philosophy leads us to the point that we’re rejecting our own ability to think rationally, we don’t want to reconsider the assumptions that got us here.

But that leaves us rejecting one or the other of the two ideas stated above. Any who are convinced of the second would need to reject the first of them–which is precisely what the theist does.

46 responses to ““I’m Programmed to Think I’m Right” isn’t an Argument

  • Pastor James Miller

    Exactly right. I’ve got a book coming out this fall called Hardwired in which I argue that everyone fundamentally acts like God exists even when claiming that he doesn’t.

  • chicagoja

    Nice post. As you say, some peoples’ philosophy rejects man’s ability to think rationally. Of course, they think that they themselves do somehow think rationally somehow in direct opposition to their own beliefs.

  • katachriston

    Epistemological neutrality is a myth. Doesn’t mean there is no place for debate. Simply means that we no longer deny the existence of presuppositions. Admit it on both sides, then get on with the debate.

    But the theist comrehends that his set of presuppositions (or of the idea of presuppositions at all so long as logic, reasoning is employed) “fit” better in a theistic universe than in an atheistic universe.

    We are not the subject, crowned with Almighty Reason as we thought we were, but participants on the periphery seeing as we do from our vantage point. Some see a logos-centric universe, others see naturalism.

    The debate includes admission of bias at the beginning, I think, then moving on to causality, transcendent universal realities, laws that are not a result of convention or utility, moral consistency, etc.

    Thank you for getting many good thoughts generated here on the debate-floor.

  • Fae M

    This idea from what I have encountered is much more complicated and divided than you have laid out, and I wonder if there has to be a “for or against” argument or if there is more suitable middle ground. Something for me to ponder – Thanks!

    • Debilis

      Yes, this (and every issue) will always have a great deal of back-and-forth in debate. So much so, that it isn’t really possible to avoid simplifying.

      I definitely appreciate those who are interested in exploring third alternatives, and would love to hear of any that you know. I’m actually most attracted to what many would consider to be a middle ground on the issue of mind (hylomorphic dualism).

  • Arkenaten

    As a Christian you have to first acknowledge where your notion of the god, Yahweh came from. Only then can you proceed to argue for this god. and his subsequent supposed manifestation,Yashua.

    • katachriston

      As an atheist you have to first acknowledge where your notion of matter comes from. Ex nihilo nihil fit is still, I’m sorry, a huge, huge problem despite all the recent “trendy” theories of modern physics. Then once you observe that you have matter in motion, biology, energy, whatever banging around like that, only then can you proceed to argue for subsequent supposed manifestations of meaning, intelligence, beauty, logic, morals, the study of neuroaethestics, (atheodicy), etc, etc.

      • Arkenaten

        You see, this kind of theological two-step might very well seem clever to some people, especially those of the William Lane Craig school of apologetics. But it isn’t intelligent, I’m afraid, and merely shows inculcation at work; that it requires a believer to do pretty much anything rather than face the argument with honesty and integrity.
        But this is okay. You are free to have your own opinion.
        Be at Peace.

        • katachriston

          William Lane Craig? He’s okay, not my preference though. I find the late Christopher Hitchens far more engaging, though even less convincing in debate. There seems to me to be a bit of downright devilishness to crowd manipulation.
          By the time you get past the crowd-pleasers to the actual debate, you’ve wasted so damn much precious time.
          That’s why I like blogs and debate forums like this one.
          You be at peace too my friend.

    • Debilis

      My main response would be to point out that I wasn’t arguing for God’s existence in this post. I was arguing against materialism.

      Do you agree that materialism is false?

      If so, I’ll be happy to move on to my arguments that God exists.

      • Arkenaten

        I am not interested in any arguments regarding materialism and prefer not to engage you on anything with a philosophical leaning at this stage.
        All I am asking if for you to present the evidence you claim you have for your god.
        Simple and straightforward.

        If you are unable to do this, or don’t feel particularly disposed to do so then this is fine and I shall consider my original statement the end of the matter for now – until someone else presents evidence.

        No Problem

    • Debilis

      Materialism is opposed to belief in God. Showing that materialism is false is, therefore, part of the evidence that God exists.

      Presenting evidence that God exists is a philosophical endeavor. So, if you aren’t interested in “philosophical leanings”, we can’t talk about the evidence for God.

      Your statement is called verificationism, which not only excludes all concepts of God as a philosophical stance, but has been shown to be self-defeating.

      That being the case, you can’t simply say “let’s assume verificationism is correct while you try to prove God exists”. Showing that it is false is Step 1 in presenting evidence for God.

      • Arkenaten

        I have given you the opportunity to present your argument in as succinct a fashion as possible. I have acceded to your request that science cannot be used in such an argument and I have allowed you to whittle away at my request until you feel you are in a position to present your case on your terms and your terms only.
        You may think this is quite clever.
        In effect it is, but only because I have allowed it.
        It is NOT intelligent and merely demonstrates the lack of on your part that you feel in necessary to be disingenuous merely to prove a point, which, I may say, you have not. Not at all.
        If I wanted to discuss philosophy I could quite easily banter Descartes and Nietzsche all day with you, and if you are prepared to show a little more respect maybe at another time we can.

        So, for the final time.

        I am not interested in discussing philosophy, solipsism, epistemology, biblical hermeneutics or exegesis or any other clever semantic gymnastics.

        I ask you once more. In a succinct fashion, please present the evidence you have of your god.

        • katachriston

          The impossibility of the contrary.

          Whew! Demanding little fart aren’t you?

          Not everything can be said at one time. You refer to Descartes & Nietzsche. These stand in a long, terribly long line of philosophers, trailing back to the classical…

          Don’t bail on us bud. Be at peace and stay in the debate.

          Just cool down a little. It’s only about life after all. Meaning, purpose, big, giant transcendent things, maybe metaphysical things, and itty bitty tiny-winy things, as well as all things in between. Some you can see, measure, quantify, and some…

          Uh oh, there I go again.

    • Debilis

      Here’s the most compressed version I can give you (I’ll be posting up a longer version in the next few days):

      Given that there is more to reality than the physical (as we know from things like the existence of mind and the origin and nature of the universe), something very much like God must exist in order to explain the basic facts of the reality we experience. Given that we have good reason to think that the claims of the New Testament are true, that God is probably the Christian God.

      Was that succinct enough for you? I had to cut out most of the reasons for thinking this. But, then, its a little like someone demanding that I give a one-sentence proof of General Relativity.

      But, for someone who is impatient with philosophy, you are using it quite a bit. Demanding that all evidence be scientific and succinct are both philosophical demands. Science doesn’t itself demand either of these things.

      “I don’t accept any claim that takes more than a sentence to defend” strikes me as more than a little unscientific.

      • Arkenaten

        Smile. And here endeth the lesson.
        I am smiling from ear to ear. shaking my head…but smiling too.
        I doubt I could improve on your answer in a thousand years.
        Let it stand for all visitors to savor.

        Well done.

    • Debilis

      Thank you…I think?

      Is that to say that this was the answer you wanted? If so, excellent!
      If not (which is obviously what I’m assuming), is there a reason why you disagree with it?

      Do you require the actual reasoning process behind those conclusions? Because those are going to take more than a sentence to give you.

      This seems like pure rhetoric. I can’t find any argument–any logical defense of a position–here.

    • Debilis

      Do you have an actual argument–for anything?

      In the event that we actually have visitors, I suppose I can be glad that they’ll see that I gave several arguments, and received no rational response.

      But I’m not really interested in winning debates. I was hoping you’d offer some thoughtful response–either an intelligent add-on, or an interesting challenge. Perhaps give me even a single reason why anything I’ve said is false?

      Simply mocking me doesn’t seem to get us anywhere.

      • Arkenaten

        You are not interested in going anywhere other than the myopic path you have already chosen, so why in earth would you be interested in genuine discourse, other than to expound your convoluted nonsense?
        I do not mock you. You and you religion does that for you.
        Two thousand years of bloodstained oppressive history stand in testimony of this fact and the multitudes of christian proponents ensure it remains the mind – numbing rot that it has always been.
        There is no argument. There never was.
        You just do not understand why, that’s all.

    • Debilis

      You claim to know a lot about my inner motivations–particularly for someone I’ve never met.

      But I’m not concerned about mockery; I’m concerned about the complete lack of any argument here. I’m trying to figure out the truth, and don’t see any contribution being made here.

      You do mention a (false) view of Christian history, which is somewhat closer to an argument. But it’s obviously off the topic of whether or not my view is correct. Really, it seems more like pure prejudice than a realistic look at the issues.

      But, if you were never presenting an argument, how do you expect to help me change my view? How do you know I’m not open to changing my view, if you’ve admittedly haven’t given me a reason?

      You’ve clearly taken a verficationist stance (that all real knowledge is scientific). I’ve pointed out that it is self-contradictory and was looking into other options.

      Would you like to explain to me your reason for thinking that it is not contradictory?

      Do you have a reason?

      If you can’t give me any reason whatsoever, how is it “myopic” (rather than “logical”) for me to reject your view?

      • Arkenaten

        You are a Christian. You do not know enough of the history of your own faith to offer a rational; argument and I am not inclined to teach you.
        Such change, if it ever comes, will begin from within. Not from me.

        Your emotional issues are not my problem.
        Only you can find the relevant answers pertaining to what you
        believe. At the moment you are not even interested in asking the questions.

    • Debilis

      I know more than enough of the history of Christianity to:

      1. Know that what you offered was a glib caricature, offering no real engagement with the facts of history, and

      2. Know that it has nothing to to with anything I’ve said.

      Nor is this about my personal motivations (which you claim to know with certainty after reading a few blog posts of mine).

      Let’s assume an open-minded reader happens along. Surely, you’d want to post some reason why this evil, horrible, manipulative religion of mine is wrong? Why my point about your position being self-defeating is not accurate?

      I’ve given people some straight-forward reasons to accept my view. And, armchair psychology aside, I’m interested in people believing the truth. So, if you have superior reasons that people ought to accept your view, I think you should present them.

      And, if you don’t have any reasons, I don’t for a moment expect that you need to tell me this, but I do feel you should think about that, and look more seriously into the issues I’ve been trying to discuss.

      So, do you have reasons why your view is superior to my own?

      Any reason at all that you’d like to share with the visitors?

      • Arkenaten

        I have seen nothing that demonstrates you know anything concerning the history of your faith, so why should I assume you do know anything?
        If you wish to point me to a relevant post that demonstrates otherwise i will be happy to read it and offer a comment, if you like?
        If, however, you believe it has nothing to do with your worldview then nothing I may say will encourage you to consider otherwise
        I have no desire to claim superiority about anything. That’s for those who are churlish.
        Your views do not currently affect me in the least.
        I was merely interested in your evidence for your god, that was all.
        Any open-minded reader of sufficient intelligence will come to their own conclusion of the topic of this post.
        If you wish to discuss an alternate viewpoint feel free to visit my blog.
        I will be more than happy to entertain you and , I am sure, so will several other of my regular readers.

    • Debilis

      We can have a discussion of Christian history if you’d like, but my goal is not to convince you that I know something of it–but simply to point out that it is irrelevant to anything I’ve said.

      How Christians have behaved in the past simply has no bearing on whether or not God exists.

      But you have claimed superiority to my view–that is precisely what it means to say that my view is a mockery.

      My evidence for God has barely been addressed. There are many posts on this blog, and many more to be written, which cover that. The two-sentence summary I was all-but forced into is effectively none of it.

      An open minded reader will indeed come to come to her own conclusion on the topic, but will do so on the basis of the arguments and evidence given. As all of the support is on my side, wouldn’t any reasonable person be more inlined to favor my position than yours on this topic?

      Really, I don’t see any good reason to refrain from offering a reason why my position is false other than simply not having any.

      After demanding, repeatedly, that I give support for my view in a very specific format, it seems only fair that you’d offer at least some support for your views.

      Or, if you genuinely have none, then simply get back to me after you’ve had some time to read, and we can discuss it then.

    • Debilis

      Which previous statement do you think this supports?

      It certainly doesn’t establish your verificationism (which is self-defeating). Nor does it give us any reason to think that materialism is true or that there is no creator of the universe. It doesn’t give us any reason at all to think that Christianity is false.

      This simply doesn’t counter anything I’ve said.

    • Debilis

      If I offered “you are an atheist, you wouldn’t understand” as my defense of a position, would you accept that as valid?

      Really, this is almost a quintessential prejudicial statement. It is pre-judging in the most literal sense.

      So, please, try me. It is entirely unfair to complain that I won’t change my views when you refuse to tell me the reasons why I should.

      • Arkenaten

        There is nothing to ‘try’. You must work it out for yourself.
        You sound reasonably intelligent, or at least you appear to know all the words, so why are you continually asking me to ‘try you’ ?
        You believe a human being was/is a god.
        I have asked you for evidence of this and you have offered me what you believed to be valid enough proof of this god.
        Let’s leave it at that. If you wish to understand what lies behind this belief you will investigate it yourself.
        And if you don’t wish to then you will remain in a state of ignorance. And this is fine if you are content.
        I see no real problem. Certainly not for me.

    • Debilis

      Yes, I believe in the incarnation. I’ve read a great deal on it, and have found no reason to think it could not be the case.

      But you never once asked me for evidence for this, specifically. You asked me for an almost unimaginably brief summary of my defense of my entire view, which encompasses much more than that.

      But I am investigating the issues. Personally, I find that opposed voices are important to real investigation. They can point out problems one has overlooked, and force one to think.

      But this method only works if atheists and other non-christians are willing to give me their reasons why they think my views are false.

      Certainly, I don’t understand your being here if you aren’t either:

      1. Trying to help me see why I am wrong,

      2. Trying to find out if I have good reasons why you are wrong, or

      3. Both

      But I can’t tell you whether or not I can defend the incarnation from your challenges if you won’t tell me what those challenges are. If you really want to know if your reasons for rejection hold up, you should share them.

      • Arkenaten

        ”But I am investigating the issues.”
        Excellent. Good for you.
        There are no challenges.
        Only those in your mind.
        Once you have fully investigated this issue then you will become enlightened. There is only one answer. Enjoy the journey.
        And have fun.

    • Debilis

      Thank you for the well-wishes, and I sincerely hope the same for you.

      Do please let me know if you are ever willing to give me something to think on. I’m trying to sort out these things, and help is very much appreciated.

      Other than that, I encourage you to do the same: to put up your own life philosophy for examination and be willing to revise it.

      Personally, I’ve changed quite a bit about my views as a result of challenges from others.

  • katachriston

    Here is the case of an atheist who has probably been abused by the church or has some deeper inexplicable issue that’s eating away at him way deep down in his psyche. And yet being dubious of the very existence of psyche itself, the poor guy’s got to be in such utter despondency. Says he’s read Nietzsche. Uh-oh.

    Wonder if he’s got a suicide watch on him? I’m just saying?

    And oh what it says when one invokes the “bloody” history of the church??? Do we even want to start tallying? Statism (which is by default Marxism) vs the Teachings of Jesus? Dawkins tried that and it came back to bite him so hard. And if as smart a guy as Dawkins fails in history, I certainly think this poor kid will too.

    You did a great job. Maybe he’ll cool down and be back. In the mean time, keep up the GREAT WORK!

  • The Intellectual Poverty of Modern Atheism | Fide Dubitandum

    […] we have minds, that our morals are rational, and that our thoughts are either about anything or base their choices in logic. It is also deeply problematic that the basis of science itself is rejected by this view. […]

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