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Feedback archiveFeedback 2014

Playing mind games with our brains

Published: 10 August 2014 (GMT+10)

A reader wants answers to claims that our brains show evidence of evolutionary ancestry.

freeimages.com/maxbrown

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Dear Sir/Madam,
I was reading an article entitled “When faith keeps people apart”. It had a section that talked about the brain and evolution that said:
“Do you know our brain has three important evolution levels? The first is the ‘reptilian brain’ which in lizards and other reptiles is the dominant and controlling circuitry. This level is responsible for our instincts. The second collection of circuits is called the ‘old mammalian brain’ because it arose with the evolution of the earliest mammals. This is our limbic system which governs our emotions. The third and last set of circuits is the ‘new mammalian brain’. It is what makes us humans, with complex mental functions. If we had been created whole in the first instance, why hadn’t we just have been created with the complex brain and not have the reptilian and old mammalian parts which are the cause of so much human misery?”
How can I answer this challenge?
Eustacia T.

CMI’s responds:

Thank you for your email. The challenge put to you seems to me to exhibit characteristics of an informal logical fallacy known as ‘begging the question’, in which the person assumes a conclusion which they should really have to prove.

In this case the premise of their challenge is that there is such a thing in humans as a ‘reptilian’ brain and an ‘old mammalian’ brain, which we allegedly inherited from animal ancestors.

Rather than offering any evidence of this, they assume it is true.

It assumes an alleged evolutionary history in order to then attack creation based on this assumption.

Of course, the facts are that we have instincts and emotions, as well as reasoning, and that our brain is instrumental in all three. And different parts of the brain are responsible for controlling different aspects of these. But apart from its prejudicial value in reinforcing this evolutionary speculation, attaching these labels to these different parts of the brain does nothing insofar as advancing scientific information is concerned. Rather, it assumes an alleged evolutionary history in order to then attack creation based on this assumption.

I would address this by shifting the whole burden of proof—i.e. they need to advance cogent scientific proof (independent of the belief that goo-to-you evolution has happened) that these portions of the brain are the results of evolutionary inheritance. (Note by the way that the existence of separate parts of the brain having such functions cannot even be claimed as fulfilled predictions of an evolutionary model, since if all these functions were spread out over the entire brain, evolutionary theory could easily accommodate such an observation.)

Reptiles, ‘lower mammals’ and people all need instincts.

Let’s look briefly at how the facts can be explained within a biblical framework. Reptiles, ‘lower mammals’ and people all need instincts. So if there is a type of brain structure that controls these that works well, it makes sense for the Creator to use the same type of structure in all three. But reptiles don’t need the same brain structures of the cortex that ‘higher mammals’ and people both need, so reptiles don’t have these. And so on we could go with emotions, etc. In each case, the brain structures are going to be suitable for the needs of the organism. While it might fit vaguely within an evolutionary model, it does fit a creation model very well, too. (By the way, there are other reasons we need to be careful about equating similar structures of the brain in animals with those in humans. For example, in humans, ‘Broca’s area’ in the cortex controls speech. It has only recently been found that great apes have an identical-looking area, but it obviously is involved in quite a different function in those creatures. See Mind by Design.)

Note that the challenge, in the way you have had it presented to you, virtually implies that it is a bad thing for people to have instincts and emotions. However, if it were possible to have brain surgery to have all our instincts (e.g. the instinct for survival if our airway is suddenly blocked) and emotions removed, I doubt whether any sensible and informed person, evolutionist or otherwise, would be lining up to volunteer. Imagine living without the emotion of love, for instance.

Notice too that buried within this is also an appeal to (and thus tacit recognition of) the notion that we are not ‘whole’, i.e. that man is internally divided. This is directly relevant to Genesis history. At the Fall, the great ‘divisions’ of our current world emerged. E.g.:

  • Nature vs people (‘cursed is the ground’, Genesis 3—natural disasters, etc.).
  • Person vs person (murder, wars, conflict of all sorts). But note, ‘blessed are the peacemakers’. This is part of a consistent biblical theme that locally and temporarily working to reverse aspects of the Curse is generally ‘blessed’—including healing of diseases, following Christ’s example.
  • Persons vs themselves (internal emotional conflicts of all sorts, and mutational disorders arising from the Fall affecting brain function, etc.)

I trust this brief, cursory look at the question is helpful.

Kind regards,

Dr Carl Wieland

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Readers’ comments
Hans G., Australia, 10 August 2014

And we have a part in the brain, it is called the dream part. It evolved just recently, so about 150 years ago. Some people are really favored with this rapid evolving; do you agree Mr Dawkins?

larry C., United States, 10 August 2014

I will not even address the following from within the in the article, A person "assumes a conclusion which they should really have to prove."

In many people, evolution has hammered a methods of reasoning that has made the belief in evolution impossible. I find this fact nothing short of amazing.

We form beliefs and make decisions though intuitive reasoning, formal reasoning, and/or a combination of both. Intuitive is very quick and compresses a lot of information, and experiences. It is often heavily laced with emotion and is bonded with our instincts such as an endless seeking of patterns and the desire to bond. Intuitive reasoning is highly advantageous. Yet it can latch onto a wrong belief infusing the belief with emotion. In the aftermath, the belief is difficult to surrender for the person.

The belief in god springs from intuitive reasoning. The belief takes advantage of some of our bedrock emotions such as our need to belong. Religious people will seek a religion that best fulfills their specific combination of basic desires.

It is my belief that a heavily religious person has almost no choice but to be religious. In my opinion the only hope to unlatch a strongly seated intuitive belief is not through formal reasoning but emotional based arguments. This path was successful in my case. The strong emotions that latch onto god must be redirected. The result is a life where emotion is bonded to the tangible and is inherently more fulfilling.

I could never change the outlook on religion of a young earth creations through formal reasoning.

CMI web editor responds

I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the justifications they seek to apply to their own behaviour or choices. This one will likely intrigue (and of course sadden) many of our readers, that someone could actually feel that losing their faith should be described as 'successful'.

Richard L., United Arab Emirates, 10 August 2014

A further aspect that is hopefully compatible with and reinforcing of Dr. Wieland's response:

In my inexpert knowledege, the wrongly called 'reptilian' part of our brain is necessary for controlling involuntary muscle activity (among other things), such as breathing.

We would quickly cease to be human in our bodies (i.e., we would quickly die) if God had not put that portion of our brain into us. It is utterly necessary.

Thus, when we act within the perfect will of God, this portion of our brain is indeed very good and is something to praise God for.

Terry P., Australia, 10 August 2014

“The belief in god springs from intuitive reasoning. — Larry C.”

        I agree, a man’s faith/belief in the evolution god as the creator of all living things, does indeed spring from intuitive reasoning—Darwin’s imagination to be exact.

        Jesus [Son of God] said, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ ‘I know that he will rise again’, said Martha, ‘at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and I am life. If a man has faith in me, even though he die, he shall come to life; and no one who is alive and has faith shall ever die. Do you believe this?’ — John§11:23-26

        Belief in evolution offers nothing—it cannot tell us what life is, explain how it kick-started in the beginning, and it also presumes there is no life after death. Jesus, who claimed to be God the author of all life, came in a human body, correctly foretold his own death by crucifixion, and his subsequent resurrection on the third day after.

        So, I cannot discern any tangible benefits, neither material or spiritual, that could arise from putting my faith in this lifeless evolution meme, instead of the Son of God. Can you?

James T., United States, 10 August 2014

Larry,you just admitted that atheism comes from intuitive reasoning when you said"We form beliefs and make decisions though intuitive reasoning, formal reasoning, and/or a combination of both.So if what you say is true then the same thing effects your belief in both atheism and evolution.This is according to what you said in your comment.

Dave R., United Kingdom, 10 August 2014

So, the human brain has evolved from its reptilian forebears? That'll explain why many, if not most, politicians "speak with forked tongue", as the Red Indians put it.

michael S., United Kingdom, 10 August 2014

Larry C said:

"The belief in god springs from intuitive reasoning."

That's just an assertion Larry. An intelligent designer makes far more sense of the evidence and the evidence is external, not internal. (in our heads)

Larry C, you also said:

"I will not even address the following from within the in the article" (concerning the astutely spotted fallacy of begging-the-question by Dr Wieland.

Larry that's an easy way of not having to deal with the problems Mr Wieland patiently addressed. Is your non-answer supposed to represent a rebuttal?

It seems you made a similar argument, in that supposedly we are to simply take your assertion as already proven, that belief in God is just something in our heads. But evidence suggests otherwise, that we are made in His image, because we are unique from the billions of other species. We are the ones typing on computers, and asking the big questions, not the ants and the plants. Do you just ignore this and instead label people "naked apes"? I pose that if you do that, it's because you have been indoctrinated by evolution-philosophy. I don't say that as a personal attack by any means, but it should be noted that a lot of "evolution" science is just philosophical-gloss.

dean R., Australia, 10 August 2014

I suppose since Haekels embryo scam has been unraveled another story is needed to fill the void. How can you argue with evolutionary dogma when there is harmony between creatures its evolution, when there is conflict its evolution.

I always wondered why people liked to sunbake & stick their touges out (lizard):). Eating fruit has been around since Eden, after the fall & the expulsion sin entered in but humanity retained its high & God given language, intelligence & skill. DNA analysis also displays a strong argument for a Designer & signature components reflected across a large body of work...Amazing God.

As far as mans need, yes something was lost in Adam but found in Christ...again, Amazing God.

Modern philosophy will do all it possibly can to find the answers in evolution/devolution & the natural world. The arguments seem fine sounding & full of knowledge but on closer inspection they are empty & hollow.

Hans G., Australia, 11 August 2014

A remark to Larry C.'s comment.

It is very simple: There are many ways to know that God exists and there is only one way to believe that He will do what He said He will do, faith. Where is here the man's "religion"?

Michael D., United States, 13 August 2014

One could compare the layered functions of our brains to the layered functions of a computer operating system. The lower levels merely respond to stimuli and send signals to hardware devices, a layer on top of that adds computational functions, memory, file creation and management, etc. and then as you move up to the user mode layer you can have applications that allow you to manage a spreadsheet, use voice recognition, create art and edit images, and movies, or play games. Each layer depending entirely on the lower and progressively more generic in function and more rudimentary layers. One would also be foolish to assume this meant that undirected, random, but nonetheless surprisingly beneficial copy errors in the code of the original, simple hardware device drivers, over time, led to the evolution of today's modern computer operating systems and software. Further, it would be wrong to think that, if designed today, they would not include these lower levels at all! The lower levels are entirely essential and logical for computers to have, and there is no reason to believe that the same does not apply to the design of our brains. Side note, until we move beyond our current, infinitesimally small understanding of the complete and utter magnificence and complexity of how our brains make emotions or appreciate something as being beautiful, or even how it interprets light and sound wave vibrations as something comprehensible and actionable, let alone the complete mystery of how love works, we should probably not start making assumptions about the design being outdated or sub par.

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