Is it rational to suggest that the human brain is a random by-product of an uncreated universe?
I would like to debate somebody who believes that this universe was not created, and that humanity is just a random by-product of the matter and energy of this existence.
As a theist myself, I struggle with the logic of the non-theist who suggests that the human brain is just a random by-product and does not have an intelligent designer. Essentially it boils down to two choices behind human intelligence:
1) This universe was created by an intelligent designer. In which case the intelligence of the human brain would have some basis to be rational, as it has been designed by an intelligent rational being - therefore by extension humanity are themselves intelligent rational beings.
2) This universe was not created by an intelligent designer. In which case the "intelligence" of the human brain is merely a random by-product of the "stuff" of this universe.
But here is the logical problem (as I see it) if you believe premise 2: on what basis do you trust the conclusion your own brain has made in arriving at your belief in premise 2? Because your proposition is that your own brain is ultimately a random by-product, so it could just be that your brain reaches entirely random and irrational conclusions... :o)
I would therefore argue that by its own definition premise 2 is an irrational conclusion to hold, because there is no basis to trust that the human brain is rational at all if it is just a random by-product of blind processes within this universe.
The human brain is not rational. It is not designed to discover truth. So, we should be wary of any individual's ability to reason. And, we should be wary of our senses.
Science is designed to discover truth. I don't trust that everything I think about reality is true; I trust what science has discovered to be true.
Pro makes some interesting assertions which I would like to expand upon.
a) “The human brain is not rational.”
This is a very bold statement. I would like to hear Pro’s evidence behind reaching this conclusion.
It is also self-refuting. If you hold that the human brain is not rational, then anything you conclude cannot be considered to be rational either. Therefore, how can you ever conclude anything at all? This is the main argument I put forward in Round 1.
b) “It [the human brain] is not designed to discover truth.”
Another very bold statement. Again I would like to hear the evidence.
Also, I think your logic doesn’t work. If you say that the human brain is not designed to discover truth, but that the scientific method (which was derived by humanity and our collective human brains) is designed to discover truth – then you are faced with a glaring dichotomy. I don’t think you can declare science to be rational unless the human brain (which is the tool we use to make conclusions on the evidence discovered from applying the scientific method) is also rational.
c) “So, we should be wary of any individual's ability to reason. And, we should be wary of our senses.”
I agree with Pro. We should be wary of any conclusion which has been arrived at using solely human evidence and reasoning. How could we begin to make conclusions on the potential existence of higher beings and higher dimensions above and outside of our own universe – based solely on the minuscule understanding of our own tiny section that we can currently access within our own universe?
d) “Science is designed to discover truth.”
Personally I reject this statement for several reasons:
i) Science is very limited.
Human science is limited to what we can measure and detect within this tiny section of our own universe in our current timeframe. For all we know there could be something temporarily enveloping the Solar System which our current level of science cannot detect, which makes all our laws of physics operate the way they currently do – and may even allow for life on Earth. In which case we could do all the empirical testing we liked, and always get the same results – but it wouldn’t make any of our conclusions objectively “true” at all. Because we will always be missing key pieces of information which still remains hidden to human science at any point in time.
This is where I would agree with “missmedic” from the comments section, in that there might very well be a hidden premise 3 which is currently (or might always be) outside of human understanding. I don’t think such a third premise is actually mutually exclusive with premise 1 however, and it only serves to strengthen my rejection of premise 2 – because not only does the bedrock of premise 2 base itself in randomness and potential irrationality, but it further assumes that our current level of solely human understanding is sufficient to draw any conclusions at all. Which leads me neatly onto:
ii) Science is very arrogant
Indeed, I would go further to declare it EXCEPTIONALLY arrogant for human beings to think we have any understanding of this universe whatsoever. If people disagree with this statement, then I would ask them to do a rough estimate of what % of everything there is to “know” about the universe do they think humanity has currently attained with our present level of scientific discovery? None of us have any idea I suppose, but I personally wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the % were so infinitesimally tiny as to be effectively zero.
iii) Science has very little (and possibly nothing) to do with truth.
Science merely attempts to understand the universe around us from our human perspective. It makes no truth claims (or at least it really oughtn’t be making truth claims), and it is arguable if anything has actually been “proven”. Science can only point to trends, and suggest correlations based on repeated results of a similar trend. Eg you drop a stone from your hand, and it falls to the ground. You repeat this experiment millions of times around the world, and even on the moon – the stone always falls to the ground. Have you proved that the stone will *always* fall to the ground? Not at all, but you have noted a significant trend – in this section of the universe, and during this current time frame – and can make a case that this can be extrapolated to other locations and timeframes. But as for making truth claims, or stating you have proven this experiment beyond all doubt, I would strongly argue that you never can.
iv) Science is not as objective as many people assume it to be
Science is heavily influenced by the current social biases of the day, and the biases of the particular country the scientist happens to be from, and the upbringing that particular scientist happens to have experienced. Eg if you were a non-theistic scientist 300 years ago you would have been ridiculed (and probably a great deal worse) by the scientific community of that day, and if you are a theistic scientist alive today you tend to be taken a whole lot less seriously by the modern scientific community. Very few scientists actually have the intellectual integrity to genuinely keep all options open even when they go against the social bias of their timeframe, and they tend to assume their own conclusions and assumptions are mostly reliable and bias free – which is frankly totally absurd.
I consider myself as a scientist by the way, and I do not pretend that I am free from such handicapping bias either. Far from it.
v) Science is self-limiting
Most modern scientists agree that anything that cannot be empirically tested falls outside of mainstream science – and is generally considered “pseudo-science”. But such a stance is so drastically limiting. It means that you can never bring to the table anything outside of human detection. Except of course they still do - all the time - as long as it doesn’t involve this pesky “God” character (and here we see that current social bias creeping in again).
For instance, to propose a higher being which created this universe is totally unacceptable to mainstream modern science, the argument being it cannot be empirically tested therefore Science isn’t interested. Yet the Multiverse theory, are we able to verify this empirically? I highly doubt it. Yet modern scientists continue to propose this theory all the same – because there is no annoying “God” entity to have to deal with!
Indeed, it seems you can propose almost any stretch of the imagination with wacky theories inside of theoretical physics, as long as you don’t dare suggest there could be a higher being outside of our universe. Because that would just be ridiculous!
e) “I don't trust that everything I think about reality is true;”
I heartily agree – this is my fundamental argument against premise 2. I consider that it is only with the acceptance of a higher creator being are we freed from such shackles.
f) “I trust what science has discovered to be true.”
Just out of interest, what level of acceptance do you have to believe something as true? If another scientist does an experiment and writes a report, which gets peer reviewed – is that sufficient? Or would you have to repeat the test yourself to accept it? Or have thousands of people including yourself repeat the test?
If you’ve never been to Antarctica yourself, can you trust it really exists and isn’t just some big conspiracy? Even if you charter a flight there, do you trust that your pilot has really taken you to Antarctica?
And what do you do with the problem of solipsism? ie that you necessarily rely on your own brain to verify what you experience within this universe. For instance, you believe your dining table exists because you can see it, walk up to it, knock on the top of the table, eat your breakfast off it. Does that mean it is really there? What if your brain is being manipulated to make you think you can see and touch the table, but you’re not even here on Earth in the first place? You could never hope to prove it!
I'll defend my assertion that the human brain is not rational.
If you study critical thinking, you'll learn that the human brain is prone to all sorts of bias and fallacious reasoning. It's ubiquitious.
Now the question is, how can science (the product of irrational human brains) discover truth?
Well, perhaps it can't. Science does not allow us to be "absolutely sure" that we know the "absolute truth" about "absolute reality." This is disapointing to religious believers, who love absolutes: absolute good, absolute evil, absolute reality, etc.
To me, truth is "that which corresponds to reality as humans perceive it." We discover what corresponds to reality through science: studying the world empirically, doing experiments, making rational inferences. It's important that we do this collectively, because individuals are prone to bias. Science is designed to filter out this bias.
Here's an analogy: an individual can't build a skyscraper. No individual has the strength, tools (etc.) to build a skyscraper by himself. But a construction company can build a skyscraper...because a consruction company involves a bunch of people working together with different skills, equipment, etc. That's how it is with science. Science accomplishes what individuals cannot.
So, yes: science "merely" attempts to understand the universe around us from our human perspective. All we have is the human perspective. Science is the best we can do.
What's the alternative?
Well, my opponent suggests that we have faith that "this universe created by an intelligent designer. In which case the intelligence of the human brain would have some basis to be rational, as it has been designed by an intelligent rational being - therefore by extension humanity are themselves intelligent rational beings."
There are problems with this worldview:
1) How can we be sure that the "intelligent designer" actually exists?
2) How can we be certain that there is not some "higher plane of reality" that the Intelligent Designer himself is oblivious to?
I actually agree with most of Pro’s argument here, because it largely demonstrates my point. If Pro concedes that the human brain is irrational, then one can never be certain that any conclusion any individual has reached with their irrational brain is actually rational. Indeed, if anything then surely you would have to infer the opposite. And no matter how many human beings you get to reach consensus on any conclusion (using Pro’s analogy drawing the parallel of Science as a Construction Company) you are only multiplying the problem – because they all are operating with irrational brains. It is akin to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. You could have a portfolio of thousands of toxic unrepayable mortgages on your books – and you might think the volume spreads the risk, but at the end of the day you still have a toxic debt-ridden portfolio.
Ergo, I suggest that Pro has failed to prove their position by definition – which is to argue that it is rational to hold the opinion in the debate title. In fact Pro has gone above and beyond, and made it exceptionally difficult on themselves to argue that it rational to hold ANY opinion!
The few bits I actively disagree with Pro on:
“This is disapointing [sic] to religious believers, who love absolutes: absolute good, absolute evil, absolute reality, etc.”
Demonstrably false. I am a religious believer; I do not find it disappointing in the slightest. I love Science and I want to understand as much as possible about the universe during my short tenure on this planet. But I can still do so whilst still recognising the severe limitations of Science, disappointment free! (…and that’s as a scientist myself, PepePopo! As a theologian I couldn’t give much of a damn either way.)
“Well, my opponent suggests that we have faith that…”
Erm, no I didn’t. That’s just your snap assumption about me, probably based on your own biased pre-conception about people of religion. I never said that, and I don’t think it. People are free to believe what they want, and I encourage them to study the available worldviews and accept the one that is most coherent.
What I actually said is that it boils down to effectively two choices about the origins of our brain. Either it was created by an intelligent designer or it wasn’t. I didn’t call for anyone to have faith and choose option 1 at any point. I just said it is either option 1, in which case there might be some basis to assume it is rational (although I happen to agree with you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is rational) – or it is option 2, in which case I don’t think you even have any basis to assume it is rational.
You are quite correct, there are those two issues you pointed out with the worldview of Option 1. That is not the topic of this debate. In fact, you are actually blowing your own argument apart into little pieces, because Option 1 was your one of your few remaining options to demonstrate that the brain might have some basis to be rational! I’m happy to accept your point (for the purposes of this debate) in that maybe you are 100% correct. Let’s say Option 1 doesn’t imply rationality in the slightest. In which case under either option it is irrational to hold the premise in the debate topic!
You do understand you are trying to argue the position of Pro here, right? I think you are so determined to disagree with me, that you are forgetting your own position. Which is interesting, because I have no interest in finding disagreements here. I was just interested to hear another worldview’s POV on this subject matter, and maybe learn something in the process.
It is interesting both yourself and PepePopo have been highly presumptuous about me. Heck I could be your best buddy if you guys wanted, it seems we all have Science and debating in common! Why so prejudiced towards me, just because I happen to believe in higher powers? That’s not very scientific. It certainly isn’t very tolerant. Maybe you might learn something from me, if it is a worldview you haven’t come across much yourselves (ie that of a religious Scientist)? I thought it was us “religious lot” that were supposed to be the intolerant ones?! Kinda blows a hole in another hotly debated theory that if you rid the world of religion then you rid the world of intolerance, don’t it..?
Going off topic a bit, for which I apologise, but in the comments section I’d love to hear from Pro and PepePopo in particular (although anyone else is welcome to put forward their ideas on this too) – I have always wondered why so many in mainstream Science are so insistent in God NOT existing, and want to table theories that make sure God can’t exist. Why is that? I’ve never got it. Why would you deliberately handicap yourself from the outset rather than keeping all options open?
"...no matter how many human beings you get to reach consensus on any conclusion (using Pro’s analogy drawing the parallel of Science as a Construction Company) you are only multiplying the problem – because they all are operating with irrational brains."
If everyone was completely irrational, or if everyone was irrational in precisely the same way, you'd have a case here. In reality, everyone has different biases. In science, we work together. Christians and atheists and Muslims study the same evidence, and (sometimes) they come to the same conclusions about reality. Religious and non-religious biologists agree that life evolved. This proves that the belief that "life evolved" is not due to some religious or atheistic bias.
My "construction company" illustrates this perfectly. According to your argument, you would say, "If an individual doesn't have what it takes to build a skyscraper, a collective cannot build a skyscraper -- because the collective is just a bunch of individuals, none of whom can build a skyscraper." But we know this isn't true. The individuals strengthen each others' weaknesses. Together, they can accomplish what the individual cannot.
"..it boils down to effectively two choices about the origins of our brain. Either it was created by an intelligent designer or it wasn’t. I didn’t call for anyone to have faith and choose option 1 at any point. I just said it is either option 1, in which case there might be some basis to assume it is rational (although I happen to agree with you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is rational) – or it is option 2, in which case I don’t think you even have any basis to assume it is rational."
There is no reason to accept Optional 1. Furthermore, even if there was fantastic reason to accept Option 1, you still couldn't be absolutely sure that what you think & perceive is "absolute reality."
So here's are my options:
Option 1) Have faith in God, and pretend to be "absolutely certain" that our minds are rational and that we have a handle on "absolute reality." Of course, we're shitting ourselves. We can't be certain that God exists, and even if He does, that doesn't imply that we know "absolute reality." God Himself may be out-of-touch with "absolute reality." How do we know?
Option 2) Accept the fact that we can never be "absolutely certain" that we know "absolute reality" and live with it.
Which makes more sense to you?
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