July 28, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Questions Materialists Fail to Ask

Evolutionary biologists and non-theistic scientists
ask the wrong questions and avoid some obvious ones



The art of asking good questions includes turning the argument back on itself. Learn how to do this with the following examples.

Our brains are hardwired to believe lies and conspiracy theories, says researcher (Taylor & Francis, 29 June 2023). Marcel Danesi Ph.D., is a professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto. He must be a very smart person, but the obvious question lurking behind this statement in the headline seems lost on him. Question: Are you believing in and teaching lies right now? For elaboration, consider this syllogistic form of his claim:

  • Major premise: Human brains are hardwired to believe lies.
  • Minor premise: Danesi has a human brain.
  • Conclusion: Danesi is hardwired to believe lies.
  • Corollary: If Mussolini, Stalin, Putin and Hitler all succeeded by spreading lies, then lying is an evolutionary success.
  • Conclusion: Danesi’s theorem that brains are hardwired to believe lies is a successful lie.

His professional page shows that he believes in social evolution. One can be fairly secure in the assumption that a creationist or Christian would not survive as a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto. The university’s evolutionary anthropology program seems to confirm this, describing humans as animals: “Like other animals, genetics and environment influence their lives, but unlike other animals both of those factors are influenced by culture.” Culture, however, cannot become qualitatively different than the nature of individuals comprising it, if each one evolved according to unguided material processes.

Danesi continues, stating that human brains are hardwired to accept lies, and that continuing to believe lies and conspiracy theories makes the hardwiring even more rigid.

According to Danesi, the more these circuits are activated the more hardwired they become, until it becomes almost impossible to turn them off. The same is true of conspiracy theories—research shows that people who believe them develop more rigid neural pathways, meaning they find it difficult to rethink situations.

“When we come across a big lie or a conspiracy theory, it can shape our ideas without us even being aware of it,” says Danesi.

If the brain is a material object that can become rigid in this way, then on what basis can anyone disprove that it has happened to Danesi himself and that he is telling big lies in this article? He argues, “it is unlikely that people with strong convictions will ever change their minds about anything.” How can a hardwired being step outside his own circuitry and understand something qualitatively different, like evidence and critical thinking, which are immaterial concepts? If concepts evolve, they cannot be true.

Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves from the power of lies? According to Danesi, the best thing we can do is to understand the metaphors of the other party, and to examine one’s own metaphors.

However, history and science tells us that it is unlikely to work—research shows that once a lie is accepted as believable, the brain becomes more susceptible to subsequent lying.

For a materialist, this is a catch-22. If “science” teaches that “understanding” is unlikely to work, then Danesi himself must be victim of his own hardwired brain that is predisposed to believe lies. The only way he could argue that it is morally good to reflect on truth and understand it would be if he affirmed that humans are exceptional from other animals: i.e., that they were created in the image of God, with a conscience and a deep awareness that truth is good and lying is bad. Otherwise, whatever is, evolved. To an evolutionist, Darwinism defines reality including ethicsstuff happens, and whatever evolves is neither good nor bad; it just is.

Cheaters by nature (Current Biology, 19 June 2023). O’Connor and Diggle review a new book by Lixing Sun, The Liars of Nature and the Nature of Liars. Like Danesi above, the author and the reviewers all take lying to be hardwired into nature. Sun gives multiple examples of “deception” in nature (butterfly mimicry, etc.) and extends the capacity for lying all the way up to the human psyche. O’Conner and Diggle end their cheerful review on this happy but self-refuting note:

As scientists with a long-standing interest in cheating behaviors in bacteria, we delighted in learning that cheating is not a unique, rare, or even entirely harmful aspect of nature. The complexities in human culture we see today have evolved thanks to cheating throughout the millennia of our evolution. Students of biology, scientists, and laymen will all enjoy Sun’s exploration of dishonesty, lying, and cheating in our natural world.

Take a moment to think of the obvious question we are about to ask.

Did you think of the question all three of them ignored?

It is this: if we are liars by nature, then isn’t lying good? It apparently evolved to produce “fitness” (whatever that is). So how does anyone know that the author and reviewers are not using deception right now? Do the syllogism again:

  • Major premise: Evolution has made all organisms liars and cheaters by nature.
  • Minor premise: Sun, O’Connor and Diggle are evolved organisms.
  • Conclusion: They are all fulfilling their nature by lying and cheating.

Credit: Lucasfilm

It doesn’t seem so difficult to spot the conundrum. Why do so many evolutionists ignore it? Perhaps it’s a symptom of too much time meditating in the Yoda Complex, where they visualize themselves on an exalted plane, exempt from the evolutionary forces that acted on the peons in the mortal realm.

All animal intelligence was shaped by just 5 leaps in brain evolution  (The Conversation, 4 July 2023). With his evolved brain, Andrew Barron of Macquarie University looks back through the corridors of time and sees five great leaps made by evolution.

We might like to claim we are the smartest animal and depending how you measure it, perhaps we are. But a bee can do things a human simply cannot….

Different types of brains suit animals to different lifestyles, and support different types of animal minds. These five transitions help us make sense of our place among the stunning diversity of animal intelligences.

His essay is adorned with photos of worms, birds and babies.

Ignored questions: If your brain evolved for fitness and not for truth, how do you know any of this?

Other Types of Ignored Questions

Io global view from Galileo mission (NASA). The spots are all volcanoes, not craters.

NASA’s Juno is getting ever closer to Jupiter’s moon Io (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 28 July 2023). It will be exciting to see the results of Juno’s flyby of the volcanic moon Io tomorrow! We already know from multiple flybys by previous spacecraft, though, what it will see: dozens of active volcanoes in action. Over 240 vents were discovered by Juno’s last flyby, 23 of them previously undetected (AGU).

Ignored questions: How could this moon remain active for 4.5 billion years? Wouldn’t it have erupted all of its volume multiple times over?

An element essential to life discovered on one of Saturn’s moons, raising hopes of finding alien microbes (Phys.org, 18 June 2023). David Rothery, planetary scientist at The Open University, is excited that phosphorus has been found in the vapor plumes from the geysers at Enceladus. Since phosphorus is often a limiting factor for life, he believes this raises the chance of finding alien microbes there.

Ignored questions: How could Enceladus be erupting at its current rate for 4.5 billion years? Wouldn’t it have erupted its entire volume multiple times over? If the elements for life (C, H, N, O, P) were placed in a sterile underground ocean and subjected to heat and shaking for 4.5 billion years, would life evolve? Have you checked the probability calculations for that?

New Archosaur Species Shows That Ancestor of Dinosaurs And Pterosaurs Was Armored (American Museum of Natural History, 26 July 2023). The claim is made that a fossil said to be much older than dinosaurs had armor.

Researchers have described a new species of armored reptile that lived near the time of the first appearance of dinosaurs. With bony plates on its backbone, this archosaur fossil reveals that armor was a boomerang trait in the story of dinosaur and pterosaur evolution: the group’s ancestors were armored, but this characteristic was lost and then independently re-evolved multiple times later among specialized dinosaurs like ankylosaurs, stegosaurs, and others.

They appeal to convergent evolution to explain this. One of the fossil hunters explained it this way: “When a character is essential, it is retained, but when it is no longer useful, it disappears.”

Ignored questions: How could it be an ancestor if it already had a derived, complex trait? How can unguided processes lose and re-evolve traits multiple times? What does the explanation do to the argument for vestigial organs? How does this explanation differ from a just-so story? Isn’t convergent evolution an appeal to multiple miracles of chance? If armor evolves because it is essential, why don’t all animals have armor?

Early humans in the Hula Valley invested in systematic procurement of raw materials hundreds of thousands of years ago (Tel Aviv University via Phys.org, 19 July 2023). The claim is made that human beings used systematic methods to gather materials for 300,000 years before civilization sprang into existence.

Ignored questions: Why were these human beings, equal in brain size and stature to modern humans, and displaying systematic planning, incapable of building cities, planting crops, and inventing technology for 290,000 years? How does that make any sense, given what we know about human nature?

Phylogenetic analysis suggests fully aquatic mammals are unlikely to evolve back into terrestrial creatures (Phys.org, 18 July 2023). Bob Yirka asserts that going back on land is impossible for a marine mammal. Reporting on a theory by German evolutionists, he explains that “there appears to be a threshold that, once passed, prevents a marine species from evolving back into a terrestrial species.” Why is that? His answer: evolving into a marine organism involved too many changes.

Ignored questions: Didn’t the evolution from wolf to whale involve a huge number of changes? Why can’t it handle the reverse direction? Didn’t the sea-to-land transition happen before, when completely-adapted marine animals crawled onto land and developed legs, lungs and new organs? Why couldn’t it happen again? Are you claiming the Stuff Happens Law is less than omnipotent?

Asking ignored questions is good mental exercise in critical thinking. Try it.

Creationists get a lot of experience answering questions, because the Big Science consensus is antagonistic, and their atheist brownshirts pounce on every possible weakness. It would be beneficial for evolutionists to face the kinds of questions we’ve suggested above, because lack of debate makes them lazy. They feel they have done their job if they say “It evolved.” Hey, Darwin Party: we’re just trying to improve your fitness.

See also, “How to Nudge an Elitist,” 11 June 2017.

Exercise: Try your hand at identifying ignored questions in these articles:

    • 600-million-year-old ocean water from Himalayas provides clues to Earth’s past (Phys.org, 27 July 2023).
    • Genome analysis of 46,000-year-old roundworm from Siberian permafrost reveals novel species (Max Planck Society, 27 July 2023).
    • ‘Lava Lamp’ Vesicles Show How Cells Could Self-organize (UC Davis, 11 July 2023).
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  • Dave J says:

    Looking for some insight on your question: “How could this moon remain active for 4.5 billion years? Wouldn’t it have erupted all of its volume multiple times over?” Can they argue the frequency and volume of the eruptions is low enough so that this would not be an issue ?…or are there evidence based reasons why the frequency and volume are high enough for this to be an issue ?

    • Boris Eckstein says:

      The author has misunderstood volcanic activity and “how a volcano works”. The idea that it “erupted all of its volume multiple times over” is akin to saying that it cannot have rained on earth for millions of years as the clouds would have deposited all their volume multiple times over.
      Search for “Magma and Plate Tectonics” there are many good primers out there.


      • Thank you for commenting. One consideration your argument lacks is the mass loss over time. Both Io and Enceladus lose volatiles as their vents erupt. Io creates a plasma torus as it orbits Jupiter. And Enceladus loses so much material every day it creates a vast ring around Saturn that stretches out almost to Titan. Regarding Io, planetary scientists have wondered why the denser material in the ultramafic lavas has not sunk to the core long ago, out of range of the vents. So even if both moons recycle their eruptive material near the surface, one must consider the mass loss, the material dynamics, and whether it is reasonable to assume that the same material has erupted through the vents millions of times over billions of years.

    • Sounds like a good project for you. Gather the data and run the numbers.

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