Debunking Loftus: A REASON Why Atheism Won’t Win

The human brain
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John Loftus, in a sorta response to this article, has posted several reasons why he believes that Atheists lose their arguments to Believers. I doubt that I will take on every one of his arguments, offering a correction or emendation to them, but I might take a point at a time and post on it. For example, John’s view on the evolution of the brain and the role in which it plays in the religious conversation. He writes,

2) Atheism can’t win against the the brain. Our brains evolved from the lower species of animals and so we have a built in agency detector inherited from them. Animals who survived were the ones that saw faces in the leaves and the grass and the trees. Precisely because they saw faces in random objects in the woods they also had the time to escape from any predators lurking in the woods before they struck, even if this meant a lot of false alarms. It’s this same agency detection that caused the ancients to see divine agents behind strange events their world, like lightening, or thunderstorms, or disasters like fires. And this same agency detection was at work when they had a good crop, or the birth of a boy, or when they had a dream. As agency detectors they saw divine beings behind these events and it still lingers on today. Even in today’s world after a plane crash kills everyone on board except one woman, she will see the hand of god in it and believe god has a purpose for her life because she was spared.

The brain’s evolutionary response to religion is not exactly as simple as John would have us believe. I wouldn’t see it as a response at all, nor a mechanism of explanation, but I would posit that religion is an evolutionary design which actually benefits the human race giving it all sorts of benefits, including but not limited to, morality, (yes,) agency, and indeed, the very fabric of society – familyhood. This is nothing new, actually, with several posts on this blog noting breakthroughs in the area of science and the brain’s religious gene. Essentially, many scientists posit that the very reason that humanity was able to form into a society was the fact that religion developed. As religion developed towards ethical monotheism, notably, in Isaiah, society moved to focusing on the corporate good. It is not about mere agency, where we need to attribute something which happens to a higher power, but a evolutionary response which essentially created humanity. While we may posit that it is about ‘being watched over’ or whether or not it is about ‘hearing’ and thus heeding God’s call to become created in His Image, the fact is, is that we have a ‘religious gene’ which causes us to form and has propelled us into a society. We can discuss evolution, etc…, but keep in mind, that this is really not what this post is about. Scientists are recognizing the inherent historical value in religion, and it is not necessarily about agency.

Now, moving beyond that, the idea that religion is a socialized institution has been debunked. More and more, it is becoming a scientific reality that religion is a natural reaction caused by evolution. Evolution’s premise is that a life changes for the better, adapting, etc… to meet the challenges of the natural world. If this is the case, then surely John and others will see that religion is nature’s way of promoting the human race. Further, it may be that it exists because we are called to look higher because something is calling us to do so. It is, quite frankly, the God Gene.

The reason that Atheists will not win the argument over religion is that evolutionary speaking, they are on the losing end.

No offense to a-theists or atheists – some of my best friends are atheists. This is intended to be a friendly dialogue, as I took John’s post with light-heartedness.

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Post By Joel L. Watts (10,125 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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11 thoughts on “Debunking Loftus: A REASON Why Atheism Won’t Win

  1. Thanks for linking to this so-called “angry atheist” Joel.

    Sure, we may have needed religion in the past to survive, just like all of the other agency detecting creatures. But things have changed. Now religion threatens the survival of the life on this planet.

    Other things have changed due to our evolution in a societies as thinking/linguistic beings, so?

    Let me put it to you this way. Our brains are actually a composite of three brains, two built on top of the reptilian one. Why should we continue relying on those primitive brains in this era?

    • Who says that it is primitive to have the religious gene, John? What if the religious brain is the higher evolution of the two? It would certainly seem that since society developed because of this evolutionary leap, that non-religion would actually be on the lower end of the evolutionary spectrum.

      Regardless if you are angry or not, I generally have no problem with you. :)

      And what typos? I am near as perfect on Grammar as re-editing a post allows me to be ;)

  2. Joel, the whole reason our brains were added in layer upon layer is because the additions are needed. Our brains are a cobbled together mess like a kluge. It’s like we still have the scaffolding up after the building is constructed. We cannot do away with the scaffolding so when it comes to the brain it prohibits us from rational thinking. That’s why we cannot think rationally because of the reptilian brain, which is still attached to us.

    Are we talking past each other yet?

    ;-)

    • What? Us talk past each other?

      But, John, what if that scaffolding is holding up the building? The religious gene is where rationality comes from? What then? I would agree that rationality is important, but if there was not imagination and no quest to know the unknown (i.e. religion), then where would our society be? Evolutionary speaking, if this is the case, then removing the religious gene from the human race only spells the end of humanity.

      Missed you at SBL, by the way, and not on purpose. :)

  3. Nothing has been ‘debunked’. It’s all theory. The latest ‘religious gene breakthrough’ comes from a Cambridge academic – wow Cambridge – a blinking economics professor who specialises in money things and unemployment. The study looks like thinly disguised racist anti-immigration bollocks. But then I only study religion. Genes sell well … especially holey ones. I have a gene with a big fat label. It’s the ‘cynic’ gene :)

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