Underwhelming atheist apologetics

This is a good example of low-brow atheism.

It opens with an offensively stupid thought experiment about archaic humans scurrying around the plains of Africa interpreting every noise as a threat and running for their lives, because it is better to be wrong than to be eaten by a saber-tooth tiger. Because of this, human brains evolved to be gullible and that is why we believe in God. Like all thought experiments about our remote ancestors it assumes everything and proves nothing.

Whoever invented this thought experiment has never watched how animals actually behave. Even frequently-victimized herbivores like rabbits do not in fact run at every noise, they are as adept at filtering out meaningless sensory information as we are. When they hear a worrisome noise they stop whatever they are doing and look, listen and sniff to confirm the threat, not run around like an idiot. Even when startled, they will often run a few steps and then look back to make sure. If you see an animal running away from you as you walk through the woods it had likely heard and smelt you long before you ever saw it, and only decided you were a possible threat as you bumbled too near.

Moreover, archaic humans were not frequently-victimized herbivores, they were predators, quite near the top of the food chain. Like any predator they would have had to travel wide ranges, explore new things and take risks, always on the look-out for an animal to eat. Hardly the sort who would be scared of the wind.

The speaker then attempts to demonstrate the behavioral basis for our god-shaped delusions by pointing out an experiment in which scientists told three-year-olds to behave because an invisible princess was observing them, and lo, the children behaved. Of course we know that children of three know the distinction between the imaginary and real and are in fact “naive skeptics” so I suspect they did not really think the princess existed but thought of her more or less as what the adults intended her to be, a sort of game, or an analogy for their consciences, but not having read the experiment I can’t say for sure.

The main thing is this: he uses the example to assert that religion developed among humans as a means of behavior modification; if this were the case all religions would have have abstract ethical content and an afterlife… but they don’t. Some traditional religions make very little reference to ethics, and certainly not to God watching your every move, which is a poor motivator for good behavior, at least for those of us over three.

As for the thousands of gods argument, it only moves people who have never left their hometown or wondered about the opinions of others. Of course our beliefs are contingent on all matter of things and of course no religion is self evident. Jesus and his followers understood as much, which is why he spoke of the “Good News” not the “Good Principles Self-Evident to All Humans”, and which is why the response he asked for was “faith”, not agreement.

I hope the good Doctor was dumbing down his argument for the audience, because there just wasn’t very much there.

Though if I were a high-brow atheist wondering about where the phenomena of religion developed I too would go back to those intrepid predatory apes stalking wildebeest on the plains of Africa (though it could just as easily apply to any one of us): as a predator he is always using his brain and nourishing it with fats and proteins. It is now so highly developed that it can recognize complex patterns and use those patterns to form global models of reality. Several parts of the brain, all of which evolved for different purposes, are able to take these patterned global models of reality and create a parallel system of signs (that is, a language) with which he can share not only things about the global model of reality, but the model itself.

He is not just a predatory ape, but a story-telling ape. Religion is the story of the world, not only the physical world but also the interior and social world of man. As a high-brow atheist I might dislike aspects of various religions but would not see any reason to argue against religion per-se, seeing how there is nothing out there to replace it other than a cold materialism that renders all human experience ultimately absurd no matter how much I tried to dress it up.



  1. It is plausible that our frightened ancestors, fearing the implications of belief in a higher power, evolved to become modern day atheists. Scurrying away from every noise that suggests the existence of God, they cower in the shadows with their sacred copies of “Skeptic”.

    1. and still no evidence for this god of yours, JB. But I’ll still waiting. Alas for you and other Christians, your bogeyman doesn’t scare atheists. That’s what being impotent and imaginary does.

      1. What sort of evidence would you like me to provide, Club? Be specific, please.

      2. what you would expect from another religion for you to accept it as true. You don’t believe in other religions, what would it take? Now provide that for your religion.

      3. You made the claim, “still no evidence for your this god of yours”. Are you now admitting that your statement was just blather? Can’t you come up with a single example of this missing evidence?

      4. wow, scared aren’t you, JB? 🙂 You can’t think of one piece of evidence that would convince you to believe in another religion and have no idea what that would be for your own. So, how about showing me that you are a true Christian and do what is promised here: ““Go into all the world and proclaim the good news[d] to the whole creation. 16 The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands,[e] and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” You are a baptized man who has accepted Jesus Christ as savior, correct? I’d be happy to pay for a film crew at any hospital you would like to meet me at. When you are on tour, we should be able to find a mutually acceptable one. Or, let’s see, where is the evidence that the dead walked around in Jerusalem on one day when there was a major earthquake and the sky darkening?

        We’ve gone through this before, JB. I know you have nothing, just like any Muslim, Hindu, etc. I’m not afraid of Allah or Vishnu either, just like you.

        You might be interested in this post by a Christian apologist who now admits that the claims of evidence for JC fail: http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/michael-alters-bombshell-demolishes-christian-apologists-case-for-the-resurrection/ it’s very very long (and that’s the queen of long posts saying that), but very interesting.

      5. “We’ve gone through this before, JB. I know you have nothing, just like any Muslim, Hindu, etc.”

        Simply repeating your claim that I lack evidence doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of outlining what constitutes evidence. Since I’m a charitable chap, I’ll help you out.

        It doesn’t do any good to lump all “religions” together and dismiss them out of hand. Religions do not make the same claims.

        You haven’t thought about your own beliefs. Instead, you’ve devoted yourself to scoffing at what you think other people believe. That’s lazy. It’s also dishonest.

        Before I can offer evidence, YOU have to tell me what evidence you will accept. So far, it is you who has nothing.

  2. […] DP goes after a video where Dr. Michael Shermer is talking about why humans believe in gods and presenting the hypothesis where humans see “intent” in many things that are simply natural. This “offensively stupid thought experiment” is only that because DP presents his strawman version of the actual hypothesis. Nothing in the hypothesis indicates that humans were always running for their lives at the slightest noise. Humans developed to think that there is a cause and effect behind every noise and movement, and then may have attributed to a intelligent being these cause and effects.   It’s amazing on how a Christian evidently needs to lie so badly that he ignores his own supposedly holy book’s words that people should never lie, not even if they think it’s for their god’s benefit (Romans 3).   He also desperately tries to argue that all thought experiments somehow assume “everything” (whatever that means) and that they prove nothing, which is debatable and something a theist must try to claim since what we do know of our remote ancestors doesn’t match with their myths. […]

  3. Clubenstein has written about you, DP. Congrats!
    I haven’t read her response because I already know what it is.
    “You’re a liar! A rotten lying liar!”

    It’s puzzling that an advocate of godlessness is so thoroughly undone by perceived dishonesty. The laws of physics don’t speak against fibbing. There are numerous evolutionary advantages to camouflage. And there is a degree of schadenfreude from watching atheists throw tantrums.

  4. The Lucy example is an explanation to our predisposition to supersitition. Did you miss that somehow?

  5. Humans do have a tendency to ascribe agency, and we will never know what a rabbit is thinking, though we can theorize with some justification.
    But absurdity is a conceit of man, specifically the French-man.
    It is no more absurd to be engaged in expression for expression’s sake than it is to be an instrument to an incomprehensible end. One is a slave to brute fact in either case, if one prefers to see things that way.

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