Episode 133: Your God Detector is Busted

Our cognitive faculties evolved to help us detect agents in our environment and to predict the content of their minds but those same faculties also generate beliefs in supernatural minds and divine agents. While this seems to suggest that religious intuitions are untrustworthy by-products of ordinary cognitive processes, Cognitive psychologists like Justin Barrett argue  the existence of these “god-faculties” in the brain should not make the atheist more comfortable with their skepticism. In fact, Barrett believes they actually provide a defeater for atheism.

Counter-Apologetics / God Thinks Like You Crossover: Do Cognitive Faculties for Religious Beliefs argue for Theism or Atheism?

The fact that our cognitive faculties produce immediate, non-inferential beliefs supporting some of our most basic assumptions (an external world, the existence of mind, the validity of logic, etc.) should provide some epistemic assurances against extreme skepticism. Since our faculties seem aimed at forming true beliefs about the world, we have reason to trust them until we find evidence to the contrary. Building from this epistemlogical foundation, Justin Barrett and Kelly Clark argue we also have warrant to believe in God, since the same faculties that produce beliefs in agents and other minds also produce belief in Gods. Furthermore, Barrett insists the atheist cannot claim the mind’s god-faculties are unreliable without undercutting the foundations of a naturalistic worldview. Jeremy Beahan and Luke Galen look at the philosophy and science behind these arguemnts, and draw a differnt conclusion.

Reidian Religious Epistemology and the Cognitive Science of Religion by Kelly James Clark and Justin L. Barrett
Should CSR Give Atheists Epistemic Assurance? by Justin L. Barrett and Ian M. Church

Listen to this segment, Listen to the entire episode or subscribe to reasonable doubts for free.

Polyatheism: The Heroic Adventures of Cú Chulainn

This polyatheism is the first in a three part series on the zany adventures of the Irish mythological hero Cu Chulainn.

Listen to this segment, Listen to the entire episode or subscribe to reasonable doubts for free.

Stranger Than Fiction: Children’s Satanic Activity Book

Satanic Coloring Book distributed to Florida children (and a pdf of the book)


We are proud to offer Reasonable Doubts without advertisements and free of charge. We rely on your generosity. If you enjoyed this episode please consider donating to Reasonable Doubts to help us cover our costs.

Download RD133

Or subscribe and listen in iTunes or any podcast client:

 Podcast Feed


  1. Chris Carr says

    Guys, I emailed you at your Gmail account back in July. I get an error when I click on your PayPal link.

  2. Latverian Diplomat says

    Another great episode guys, thank you.

    I empathize with Luke, on the frustration of engaging with the arguments of these sensus divinitatis folks. They definitely seem to be driven by the desire to support their foregone conclusion rather than seeing where clear, compelling, and internally consistent and rigorous reasoning takes them.

  3. says

    Wait, in the epistemic regress part, were you accepting the idea that we don’t know about other minds through emperical evidence or rational support? That we do just know these things just directly? Or were you just describing the apologist’s view?

    This is an error. The research you cite as “confirming” this view doesn’t actually confirm it, that would be a misenterpretation (and possibly circular). It only shows that we do have these cognitive shortcuts to help us conclude these things about the world. It doesn’t prove that these cognitive shortcuts are correct. Indeed, they are sometimes fooled, and so our conclusions are wrong.

    Here is a blog post by Richard Carrier that goes over how we actually ground our knowledge.

  4. says

    “since we have this faculty of religious belief, and we can generally trust our faculties”

    Well, we only know that we can trust those faculties that we have well tested, and found their conclusions to be often confirmed. Which we don’t have for god, that’s the whole point. So, ya, they are shifting the burden of proof.

    From here, Van Til went into presuppasitionalism, saying that atheists are “assuming” the experience/faculty/perception does not confirm god each time. Or something. What needs to happen is a comparison of the two hypotheses, a god is causing this experience, or somehing else. We should be able to see which hypothesis is correct, and (I thinkn) neither the theist nor the atheist is justified in presuppasitionalism on this complex non-basic conclusion. In fact I think you will find nothing confirming such a god conclusion, but plenty of evidence that these experiences some people talk of fall well within the range of known and confirmed false positives. So in a comparison of the hypotheses, the god would be ad hoc: neither needing to be posited in the first place, nor explicable in it’s indistinguishability from normal errors. I don’t think Van Til wanted to face this though, so he just accuses atheists of not doing any analysis at all, and conveniently claims no analysis can be done.

  5. skrooks1 says

    A fascinating, brilliant discussion! You guys are a rarity. Thanks for all the great podcasts over the years. I responded to your donation request and hope others do too.

  6. Ed Atkinson says

    I really appreciate your podcasts and this has been another brilliant one.

    I tried hard, but still felt some fog of confusion over the arguments regarding Cognitive Faculties for Religious Beliefs, but the fog cleared for me at the end. It was when, after everything was discussed, you moved to an inductive style of argument, a “what fits best?” approach.

    I can use this inductive approach to gain confidence in many concepts: there are other minds, nature is basically regular, reasoning gives reliable answers, etc. It is also easily the best way to assess theism. BUT … Is this considered a rigorous method in philosophy? What are its limits? What does it presuppose? Jeremy/Justin, can you do a slot on this in a future episode?

  7. Katamari says


    I apologise in advance for the extremely geeky nature of my correction but I just have to let Luke know that he made an unforgivable error towards the end of the last episode when he said that parts of Game of Thrones, incl. King’s Landing, are filmed in Northern Ireland. Although Nth Ireland is used as the location for a lot of the scenes, King’s Landing is filmed in my beautiful homeland of Croatia, on the sparkling waters of the Adriatic ocean. Get your Game of Thrones facts straight Luke!

    I love you guys.

    Btw, I tried emailing you at doubtcast@gmail.com and it kept being rejected. What happen??

  8. says

    So I previously invited Justin Schieber to have a debate with me but he either did not see my comment or he prefers debating people that use the same arguments as all his other debates. So instead, here is a manual I am putting together that describes how I think apologists should debate atheists. I only have the first three chapters so far and it is only a draft; but it is sufficient to give an idea.

    Manual For Debating Atheists

    Or you can download the PDF:

    I don’t plan to respond to any comments since I have already spent hundreds of hours discussing these things. But I will probably read them. As far as I can tell however my approach is different than any apologist I’ve ever heard debate these issues.

  9. says

    @Mike M

    Your tips sound suspiciously like they were ripped off of atheists :P

    From QualiaSoup to Herman Philipse, atheists outline similar distinctions that must be made in such discussions/debates. Of course, any thoughtful person with experience would probably develop similar advice.

  10. says

    Mike M’s strategy can be pretty well summed up by his tip #7. Basically a long winded argument from ignorance. I don’t know why he thinks his arguments are any different than anyone else’s. He does manage to get creative with his examples and stories, but they always come back to “prime mover” or “can’t prove a negative” or “miracles happen” or other all golden oldies.

  11. Ed Atkinson says

    Mike, I loved your page on why apologists should not use the resurrection as an argument in debate. The perfect attestation story is especially good at highlighting the issues.

    I liked the first part of the Manual. I agree that if people turn up for a “Does God Exist?” debate they should be expecting the default starting position is 50:50, and so the atheist has first to show why the burden of proof is on the apologist rather than just assume it.

  12. says

    I agree. I think most people that have been following these debates for a while recognize that a more systematic approach is needed. I think even Justin in his last debate was so bored from having the same debate 20 different times that he didn’t even make an effort to win.

    @Ed Atkinson
    I think many of the arguments apologists typically use are arguments they would never accept themselves if they were coming from someone of a different religion.

  13. says

    @MIke: I think many of the arguments apologists typically use are arguments they would never accept themselves if they were coming from someone of a different religion.

    It’s called the “Outsider’s Test for Faith”. You and I have discussed it before. You might want to review it and apply it to your own arguments and see how they come out.

  14. Ron says

    I really appreciated the more in-depth and complex discussion in this cast (no offense to the episodes with a higher dosage of levity – enjoy those too).

    It seems faith apologists have the same problem all first principle philosophies have – namely the idea of “warrants” or axioms that get a discussion started. Barrett and Clark have the same enthusiasm to use hard-won philosophically minded terms and thinking as their predecessors (Origen and Augustine applaud from the grave), but the inability to note their own logical lapses suggest willful refusal or unconscious refusal. In the case of Lane and others, I have to believe it is willful refusal. Not sure in Barrett and Clark.

  15. says

    @A Z

    I need to keep this short since my intention was to post my book on one of the debate posts and here it is off topic. I will probably write a more in-depth article on this on my blog at some point.
    Basically my argument goes like this:
    Some people just argue that if no god exists you wouldn’t have morality.
    My response to them is that the lack of morality without a god is not evidence a god exists.
    Other people like W.L. Craig argue that the existence of morality is undeniable and therefore a god must exist. My response to this group is:
    If god did select certain things to be moral, he either:
    A. Selected them arbitrarily, or,
    B. Selected them for a reason
    If for a reason, that reason is either:
    B1 – something outside Himself that exists independent of Him, in which case it would be there even if god didn’t exist or,
    B2 – morality results from how god created and, had He created things differently morality would also be different. For example, if god made it such that 5 individuals would be required for procreation, it would not be immoral for more than two individuals to participate. And, in such a case, morality would still be there without a god since it is derived from how things are.
    Most Christians (other than Calvinists) have a problem with the idea that god selected morality arbitrarily in which case they must acknowledge that morality would be there without a god as well. No matter how people try to twist things it always ends up being one of the three options. I was in a conversation with a Christian that went back and forth for almost 100 comments, them trying to come up with a different possibility and me just showing them that it was still either A, B1 or B2.
    This issue would never be a problem for Christians were it not for Calvinism. For all practical purposes, Calvinism has done to the collective Christian intellect what hard drugs do to the human brain. For those who adopt the theology, directly, while for those who reject it, as if through second hand smoke. My advice to theists, don’t use morality arguments.
    To Reasonable Doubts:
    I don’t know if you guys just don’t read the blog comments or if you’re not interested in having a discussion with someone other than professional apologists. I already posted my manual describing how I think theist-atheist discussions should take place and mentioned that I’m willing to engage you in such a conversation as long as it’s something a little more formal than a few back and forth comments on your blog.
    At this point this will be the last time I post here. If anyone wants to talk further they can follow the link to my blog.
    I’ve mentioned previously that of all the atheists I’ve come across or interacted with (probably thousands the past 20 years), it is you guys that I resonate with the most. Nonetheless, most of your reasoning is based on the same flawed foundation that other atheists reason from (as described in my book). You set up your argument in such a way that it skews your results. You end up concluding that the probability of God’s existence is minimal when in fact, an objective evaluation of all available evidence, cannot take you far below the 50/50 mark. And, a world where the possibility of god is 50/50 is very different from the world you live in where that possibility is closer to zero.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *