Four Reasons that Don’t Hold Up

The author of the Blog My Reasons seems to have made me a project to debate these reasons they believe in god, but having a debate hidden away purely in the comments isn’t a great way to proceed. I’ve taken a look at their reasons in the hopes that it would be something different and new but alas, it seems not. If this post seems curt it’s because these are mostly old hat and have been dealt with many times before.

1. Complexity

There’s a lot of stuff listed here but unfortunately it’s mostly redundant. The basic idea is that the modern cell is so complicated that it couldn’t possibly have evolved. Well, there’s a problem with that right away. The modern cell is itself the result of around 3.75 billion years of evolution and not the simple replicator that the first proto-cell or proto DNA/RNA would have been. There are two great primers and indications of how simple early replicators can be. Firstly Dr Szostak’s work on early replicators and secondly Spiegalman’s Monster.

The blog also cites non-organic material but in actuality planets, galaxies, stars etc are all pretty damn simple. They’re just BIG. Gravity and motion is all it takes to explain any of them.

The problem is really that a) complexity is not indicative of design and b) irreducible complexity… isn’t.

2. Religions Point to a Deity

Well the earliest religions are more animistic, pointing to ‘spirits’ and we see no indication of those either. Most religions have been polytheistic, but if you’re trying to argue for ‘a’ god, then that’s singularly unhelpful. Right off the bat it’s obvious that this is an argumentum ad populum and so can be dismissed without further ado.

That said there are other reasons why humans would have this common weakness for religion. Humans tend to false pattern recognition with a particular weakness for seeing human agency or imagery. We think we see a human face in the moon. Is it a human face? No. This is pareidolia. Similarly we expect concious, human agency where there is none. “OK, who hid my car keys?”

Why does this happen? Evolutionary Psychology suggests that there must be an evolutionary reason but that doesn’t mean our modern conclusions are correct. Humans are social animals who live in a social context. Amongst other humans most interactions and events DO have agency and erring on the side of suspecting and accounting for that would have survival value. Similarly there’s survival value in being paranoid. Mr Caveman is walking through the woods when he hears a twig snap. Should he assume it’s a sabretooth and run for his life or brush it off and ignore it? Even if it isn’t a sabretooth most of the time, paranoid caveman is more likely to survive and father children and pass on the ‘RUN!’ meme socially.

3. Pascal’s Wager

I cover some of the profound issues that shoot this argument to shit in a previous post. Little point going over it again.

4. NDEs

Are hallucinations caused by the release of DMT in the brain under extreme duress and ‘coming up’ out of oxygen starvation to the brain. Some include Out of Body experiences but these have similarly been debunked and have been artificially induced. Skepdic has a good summation of NDE claims and debunking.

The only variance here is the claim that the congenitally blind can have visual NDEs. Well, as it turns out only 10% of people who are legally blind are actually completely blind and even they often have some sense of light and of spatial awareness.

The study most often cited examined a whole 30 blind people who had supposedly had NDEs and reported 80% had had visual hallucinations in their NDEs. Keep in mind that 10% of 30 is only three and that this really doesn’t constitute a good example. Furthermore their star witness did not report full visual hallucinations but ones without colour. This is good reason to suspect that they might simply be reporting what they were expected to or how sight had been described to them.

The way to settle this would probably be to induce an NDE like experience in a person who was congenitally blind while scanning them in an fMRI for activity in the visual parts of the brain. We’ll have to see if this ever happens but in the meantime the paucity of evidence and its suspicious cast forces one to suspend judgement and hold the proposition false under the burden of proof.

Outside of this particular wrinkle, NDEs (and OOBEs) have been more than adequately explained at this point.

Why do people report similar experiences? Similar situations and stresses upon the body will induce similar effects just as certain drugs induce similar effects. Prior to the popularisation of  the ‘typical’ NDE, reports were very much varied according to cultural inculcation and tradition. It is only with the emergence of the typical NDE story that we have seen this homogenisation. It’s a similar phenomenon to how alien ‘abductees’ used to report a panapoly of different aliens from hairy dwarfs to giant lizard men but the popularisation of the ‘grey’ has homogenised that.