My terrible, awful, no-good brain

Here we go again, another creationist who doesn’t understand the evolution side of the argument at all. He’s criticizing the argument from bad design in a kind of backwards way.

I’ve never heard a Darwinist complain that the mind they use is the result of lousy design, that their mind is the result of a mindless, purposeless process and thus fundamentally untrustworthy as a reality-processor. (Would you want to buy a “word-processor” made by a random, purposeless process? Would you trust it?)

I’ve never heard a Darwinist complain they’ve been given a crappy brain never designed for abstract thought, or, indeed for thought at all. And yet, according to the self-same Darwinist, the brain is not designed for anything, just like the heart is not designed, the knee is not designed, the eye is not designed, etc. They all just popped out of the ooze, on their own, for no purpose, and if you’ve got problems with that, you’re not very Bright™!

I’ll complain! I have a very bad brain for the purposes I want to use it for. It’s pretty good, but prone to awkward mistakes, for deciphering behavioral cues and inferring intent in my conspecifics, which is still a useful skill, but other functions, like the ability to search out fruit and tubers, or to coordinate a hunting party, or to detect predators lying in wait, I’ve let slide out of a lack of utility. I’d like a brain that could hold more than half a dozen numbers at once in my head, or that wasn’t prone to perceptual errors, or that could process written information a bit more efficiently than this linear, one-word-or-phrase-at-a-time parsing. I wish I had a memory that could accurately record events and scenes, rather than storing a few key hints and reconstructing the rest. I’d like a brain that was actually evolved for doing mathematics naturally, rather than requiring years of discipline and training to acquire the skill artificially.

We really do have very untrustworthy brains. The capacity for abstract, rational thought is a byproduct of general cognitive capacity, and doesn’t come easily to any of us. We have to work at it, and some of us, as is well demonstrated by creationists, never quite get the hang of it.

We even build crutches for brains. Math is a crutch. Science is a crutch. Philosophy is a crutch. Artists, too, use learned heuristics to get their minds to operate reliably in that unnatural mode. We rely utterly on these kinds of intellectual tools to focus our brains efficiently on problem solving, rather than doing what comes naturally, which usually involves snarfing down cheeseburgers and having wild monkey sex with other bipeds.

So yeah, we have crappy brains never designed for abstract thought. What we have are brains shaped by the exigencies of survival — we have big brains simply because of chance and the fact that having a smaller brain, in our peculiar niche, meant you either died or didn’t get laid. We make do. We haven’t been gifted with brains that would be better suited to our current urban/technological lifestyles.

Same with hearts, knees, and eyes. The current forms have been sculpted by time and chance to be good enough to keep us alive. All of them show signs of suboptimality, I can safely say as a fellow who needs glasses, has to watch his blood pressure and cholesterol, and has been plagued with a wobbly knee since he was a teenager. I’ll keep my back, prostate, and teeth in reserve, if we really need more examples of problematic ‘design’.

I’ll leave the strawman claim of derived structures popping whole and complete out of some mysterious ooze out of the argument, too. That’s just stuff you say when you’ve got a particularly stupid, malfunctioning brain. Although, actually, it does make my argument for me…