Socrates said, “Philosophy begins with wonder” and nearly all human beings at all times have looked at the world around them and, given its beauties, powers, and complexities, asked if what they saw was designed by a mind for a purpose.
Whether you are a committed materialist, a believer in God, or something quite different—knowing why you come down where you do on this question is a mark of a good character, of a thoughtful soul, of a person who cares about what reality is like.
Last fall we consider the Top 10 reasons (in my opinion) for rejecting God-belief, and the first 6 reason for embracing belief in a God (which are listed here). We pick up this week with #4 on my list – The argument for God from the reliability of our brains.
CS Lewis, when considering the origin story offered by materialism, noted that the whole process leading to a human being is a series of unguided accidents. He then wrote, “I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.” (God in the Docks)
Noteworthy philosophers, like Alvin Plantinga, have gone much further with this argument (see Warrant and Proper Function. Oxford, 1993), but for our purposes this argument might look something like this:
(P1) Our brains were either constructed by an undirected, material process or through the orchestration of a purposeful, reliable source.
(P2) In order to know our brains are reliable they must have been created by a purposeful, reliable source.
(P3) An undirected material process is not a reliable source.
(P4) If our brains were constructed by an undirected, material process (materialism), we could not know that our brains are reliable.
(P5) If we embrace materialism, nothing our brains deduce is reliable—including the truth of materialism itself.
(C1) If materialism is true, we cannot reliably conclude that materialism is true.
(P6) We can trust our brain’s reliability.
(C2) Our brains must have been constructed by a purposeful, reliable source, and this source we call God.
If one feels the weight of doubt that comes from arguments like this and can philosophically accept and believe that there are strong reasons to doubt one’s own cognitive processes, then this argument establish an anomaly for materialism that cannot be resolved. The materialist view of the human brain itself undermines all evidence for materialism.
Our observations are not in question here. It is the story that gives our observations authority that is undercut.
Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can find him at www.everythingnew.org and @