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Does DNA Debunk Christianity?

In his ongoing attempt to persuade believers that “Christianity is an illusion,” John Loftus recently offered What Best Debunks Christianity and Religion. Loftus concludes there’s many reasons. In fact, “there isn’t even a bad personal reason to reject the Christian faith,” which amounts to a roulette wheel of potential dumb excuses. Nevertheless, Loftus isolates two arguments that should be more persuasive in refuting Christianity. They are:

  • That Jesus was a myth
  • That humans do not have a free will

That second one caught my eye as I’ve never heard it leveled persuasively. Loftus explains:

“The second one is to argue that human beings do not have free will, that our brains determine everything we think and do, that we are totally influenced by our DNA and environment. Don’t get me wrong, this is probably the case, but believers have a much deeper psychological need to believe they have free will than they do about their religious faith. They will only come to think they don’t have free will until after they reject their religious faith. “

The author then quotes a friend who uses this apologetic:

“The entire Christian edifice stands on the need of salvation through faith that Jesus died to atone for our sins. There can be no sin without responsibility; and no responsibility if sins were caused by conditions beyond control.” (bold mine)

While Loftus concedes this may not be the best approach, mainly because Christians are so intellectually lazy and dishonest, the idea provoked several follow-up observations and questions, which I proffer randomly here:

  • If “our brains determine everything we think and do,” then that belief is also determined by my brain. So I’m “determined” to believe / disbelieve either way, right?
  • If “we are totally influenced by our DNA and environment,” then my belief or disbelief in God is simply a byproduct of “DNA and environment.” Which, once again, means I’m “determined” to believe either way, right?
  • If my genetics determine what I believe, then why should I change what I believe, or prefer one belief over another? And aren’t those changes / preferences themselves just byproducts of “DNA and environment”?
  • Since the vast majority of Americans believe in some type of God or Supreme Being, wouldn’t that indicate an evolutionary edge? In other words, our “survival gene” has predisposed us toward religion for the perpetuation of our species.
  • The very suggestions that my beliefs may be Right or Wrong presupposes some Truth outside my brain / DNA. In other words, it’s not just about my programming, but about a body of Truth I ought to align myself with.
  • If I’m not responsible for my actions and every behavior or belief can be traced back to DNA, on what grounds can we compellingly argue against any belief or behavior? As biochemist Michael Behe argues in Darwin’s Black Box, “It is scientifically unsound to make any assumptions of the way things ought to be,” which includes the way I ought to act or believe.
  • If I CAN reject Christianity in favor of atheism, doesn’t this prove I have a free will? If it does, then that undermines the biological predetermination argument. If it doesn’t, then this is an exercise in sophistry and nonsense, and there is no compelling reason for me to choose or NOT choose one or the other. It’s all in the soup.

Point being, I don’t see how the argument that humans DO NOT have a free will and are NOT responsible for their actions is in any way compellingly debunks Christianity. Am I wrong?

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Nicole February 22, 2013, 7:47 AM

    Nope. Good counterpoints.

  • Thea February 22, 2013, 10:35 AM

    It does in one sense, but only through absurdity. The idea that people don’t have free will is perhaps appealing to some people on a certain level but, once you start to really look at the implications of it (like you’ve been doing in your counterpoints), then you start to realize how ridiculous/bleak it makes everything.

    As to Loftus’s assertion that the brain determines all of our thoughts and behaviour, that simply isn’t true, from a scientific standpoint. Our brains are plastic, which is to say that they can change depending on how we use them (if you’ve seen Lumosity commercials, this is the neuroplasticity that they’re referring to). The more you use a certain part of your brain, the more connections it gets, and the larger it gets. If the brain were the cause of our thoughts and behaviours, then those would respond to it, and there is evidence to support that, but there is also strong evidence to support that what we think and what we do causes the brain to respond and change. There’s also this thing called neurogenesis, which is where the brain, all throughout a person’s life, creates new neurons, and this has been mostly confirmed to happen in both the memory area of the brain and the area where smell gets processed. The brain both influences and is influenced by us.

    When people try to make one-way causal paths with psychological processes, they’re vastly oversimplifying things. The whole debate about nature versus nurture (DNA versus environment) has been increasingly coming to a view of both being equally influential. In fact, there’s a relatively new field called epigenetics that looks at how our DNA actually changes based on our experiences in life, both mental and physical.

    So, when we have someone saying that the brain is the only determiner of everything we do and think, I can’t help but wonder how they’re going to be feeling when science eventually realizes that the brain isn’t actually the thing in charge. It’s just a tool, like our body, the tool which we use to express ourselves in the physical. That is, our body is the physical manifestation of who we believe we are, not some locked-in, unchanging thing, and that there is more to human beings than just the physical.

    There. There’s my rant. I think it every time I hear people say things like this. 🙂

  • D.M. Dutcher February 22, 2013, 11:16 AM

    You’ve nailed the objections, Mike. I think G.K. Chesterton had a good passage about this kind of belief too:

    “But the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines”

    To argue that you have no free will , and environmental factors as well as heredity play such a major role is to undermine the very idea of reason that the atheist has. Because you’ll never be entirely satisfied that you choose to disbelieve because of your own will, or instead because your parents raised you a certain way, or you miss a certain gene or protein in your body. A case of the disease being worse than the cure.

  • J.S. Clark February 22, 2013, 1:58 PM

    I can’t believe people get paid to tell people that nothing matters, and then tries to convince the audience that they might be in someway superior to someone else based on their genes but they can’t actually know that since only their genes determine if they know it. Their entire lives could simply be the illusion of their genes.

    I need to go read Descarte again.

    On a more serious note, it seems I’ve heard this reasoning recently, and I can’t help thinking that say I had a political or scientific or religious opposition or racial for that matter or any behavior. If I can successfully blame their genes then wouldn’t I be justified in committing genecide? After all, if they’re inferior and their genes keep them from changing. Sure seems like we’ve seen this thought process before . . .

  • Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) February 22, 2013, 2:01 PM


  • DD February 27, 2013, 6:02 PM

    I have never heard the “Jesus was a myth” leveled persuasively either. You’d be hard pressed to dredge up many skeptics or non-christian scholars that would try to float that one.

  • Iain January 28, 2015, 8:12 AM

    Heard it all before, usually with the Benny Hill theme in the background. Same tired old drivel from atheists that goes against our everyday encounter with reality.

    We DO have free will. As John Polkinghorne once observed, you only need to throw a glass of water in a Reductionist philosphers face and watch their reaction.

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