I guess cows don’t need heads if their only reason for being is to count their legs

Multiplication – so what?

It’s no surprise that 8×4=32 or that my 3rd grader was able to solve this basic math problem. It’s just rational thought on the most basic level, but have you ever wondered why exactly we humans are capable of thinking rationally? We take it for granted that of course we can think rationally. We all know that 2+2=4, and we can’t even imagine that it could be otherwise, but what makes us so certain? How do we have this mental faculty that allows us to work out math problems and have confidence in our answers?

The Thermometer and the Magic Eight Ball

Looking at the thermometer as I write, it tells me that the temperature here in Groton, CT is 46 F, and I believe it. I expect the thermometer to give the right answer to the question, “What temperature is it?” because the thermometer was specifically designed to produce the right answer to that particular question. On the other hand, if I look at the thermometer to find out what time it is, I’m not going to get the right answer because that’s not something it was designed to do. Or as another example, what if I were to actually consult a magic 8-ball for serious advice? It is a device that produces answers in response to questions. The only problem is that it was not in any way designed to produce true answers.

So what about the faculty in my mind that produces answers to multiplication questions? Was my mind designed to solve math problems, or do I have a magic 8-ball brain that produces output at random? What reason do I have to place confidence my own ability to think?

Two Possibilities

Now if, as the Bible says, our minds are the work of a Creator who designed them with the capacity for rational thought as an echo of his own rational nature, then it would make sense that my intuition about math corresponds to reality. In the Christian worldview it is apparent that my mental faculties were designed for rational thought and mathematics as well as moral reasoning and art and love and everything else that makes us human. In the Christian worldview I have good reason to think that I can think.

But if there is no God, then my brain is simply a mass of neurons firing electric signals in response to physical stimuli. It wasn’t designed at all, and if we can speak of a purpose for this undesigned blob of tissue, that would be to turn sensory input into actions leading to offspring. It might in fact do that very well, just as the thermometer does a good job of telling the temperature, but that’s no basis for confidence in the brain’s capacity to produce true answers to abstract questions such as math problems. If a brain is merely an instrument molded by natural selection to find food and avoid danger, there’s no good reason to believe it’s also coincidentally capable of science or philosophy.

An Objection

Someone will say, “But even if our brains weren’t designed for science, isn’t it pretty clear by now that they are capable of science? I don’t need to assume a designer to have confidence in my mental faculties – I have personal experience that they do work in the real world.”

Yes of course they work – that’s because they were designed by a Creator whether we acknowledge it or not. The point is that the Christian worldview has an explanation for why they work while the Atheist worldview does not.

But let’s revisit the assertion that designed or no, we can plainly observe that our mental faculties work. That is, we’ve been using this calculator for quite a while, and it keeps getting the answers right. But how are we able to observe and conclude that our mental faculties are working? Why with our mental faculties of course! The very faculty for rational thought that we’re supposedly validating through experience is the same faculty that we’re using to interpret those experiences. If it actually were unreliable, we would have no way of finding that out. Does a soda bottle know that its fizzing is utterly meaningless? But if the Atheist narrative is true, what really separates the electrons bouncing around our heads from the fizz in the soda bottle?

But again – of course they work. We all know that we’re capable of thinking. Not only do we know that, but we can’t even imagine that it could be otherwise. Go ahead – try to act as if your thoughts aren’t meaningful. It can’t be done. That’s because Christianity really is true, and we really are rational creatures made in God’s image. The alternative is sheer nonsense.

It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.

J.B.S. Haldane
Categories: Atheism