H.P. Owen and Self Referentially FALSE Views of Nature

One of the reasons I am a bibliophile and love to follow references given in one book with the purchase of the referenced book is many of the same quotes used by multiple authors on a subject do not give the full weight and gravity of the larger quote. I will give you an example. In J.P. Moreland’s work from 1987, “Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity,” he quotes Huw Parri Owen’s work, Christian Theism. In a more voluminous work, he and William Lane Craig use the same quote:

Determinism is self-stultifying.  If my mental processes are totally determined, I am totally determined either to accept or to reject determinism.  But if the sole reason for my believing or not believing X is that I am causally determined to believe it I have no ground for holding that my judgment is true or false.

J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003) 241.

A great quote for sure.

I was finally able to get a good bound copy for a VERY reasonable price (previously when I looked for a copy, they were very expensive). While this book will enter my hopper to be read in full, I read the chapter the quote came from, and loved this larger quote from the section… and it deals with the self-stultifying aspect of Marx and Freud. I will add another quote by an excellent authot=r that does much the same, but first here is H.P. Owen’s larger reference:H.P. Owen Christian Theism Book 330

  1. If determinism were true how could the illusion of free will arise? If we are wholly determined why are we not conscious of being so? These questions gain additional force from the fact that we feel ourselves able to resist those very forces by which according to determinism our actions are invariably caused. The sense of free will cannot be plausibly attributed to “wish-fulfilment”. Admittedly it may seem desirable in so far as it raises us above physical nature. Yet is also imposes on us an existential burden together with a burden of guilt on those occasions when we have misused our freedom of choice.
  2. Determinism is incompatible with a great deal of our moral language. In particular it is incompatible with the concepts of obligation and moral responsibility. I cannot be obliged to do X unless I am free to do it simply because it is my duty and not because I am determined by other factors. Of course obligation is itself a determining factor in so far as it is a form of constraint. However the constraint is a unique one; and a sign of its uniqueness is that it leaves a person free either to accept or to reject it. Equally I cannot be morally responsible for an action that I was compelled to perform even if the compulsion proceeds from my own nature and so is an act of self-determination. And if I am not responsible for an action I cannot be blamed for it.
  3. Chiefly, however, determinism is self-stultifying. If my mental processes are totally determined, I am totally determined either to accept or to reject determinism. But if the sole reason for my believing or not believing X is that I am causally determined to believe it I have no ground for holding that my judgment is true or false. J. R. Lucas has put the point cogently with reference to Marxist and Freudian forms of determinism thus. ‘The Marxist who says that all ideologies have no independent validity and merely reflect the class interests of those who hold them can be told that in that case his Marxist views merely express the economic interests of his class, and have no more claim to be judged true or valid than any other view. So too the Freudian, if he makes out that everybody else’s philosophy is merely the consequence of childhood experiences, is, by parity of reasoning, revealing merely his delayed response to what happened to him when he was a child.’ Lucas then makes the same point with regard to a person who maintains, more generally, that our behaviour is totally determined by heredity and environment. “If what he says is true, he says it merely as the result of his heredity and environment, and of nothing else. He does not hold his determinist views because they are true, but because he has such-and-such a genetic make-up, and has received such-and-such stimuli; that is, not because the structure of the universe is such-and-such but only because the configuration of only one part of the universe, together with the structure of the determinist’s brain, is such as to produce that result.”

The exact force of this criticism is sometimes missed. Certainly on deterministic premisses determinism may be true. But we should not have any grounds for affirming that it is true or therefore for knowing that it is so. In order to obtain these grounds we must be free from all determining factors in order to assess the evidence according to its own worth. This principle applies to the assessment of all truth-claims (including those of Christianity). Freedom from determining factors is therefore required in the cognitive as much as in the moral sphere.

Huw Parri Owen, Christian Theism: A Study in its Basic Principles (Edinburgh, London: T & T Clark, 1984), 118-119.

Here is a smaller section from Dr. Roy Clouser critiquing Freudian determinism as well as throwing a stone in Taoism’s shoe:

…As an example of the strong sense of this incoherency, take the claim sometimes made by Taoists that “Nothing can be said of the Tao.” Taken without qualification (which is not the way it is intended), this is self-referentially incoherent since to say “Nothing can be said of the Tao” is to say something of the Tao. Thus, when taken in reference to itself, the statement cancels its own truth. As an example of the weak version of self-referential incoherency, take the claim once made by Freud that every belief is a product of the believer’s unconscious emotional needs. If this claim were true, it would have to be true of itself since it is a belief of Freud’s. It therefore requires itself to be nothing more than the product of Freud’s unconscious emotional needs. This would not necessarily make the claim false, but it would mean that even if it were true neither Freud nor anyone else could ever know that it is. The most it would allow anyone to say is that he or she couldn’t help but believe it.  The next criterion says that a theory must not be incompatible with any belief we have to assume for the theory to be true. I will call a theory that violates this rule “self-assumptively incoherent.” As an example of this incoherence, consider the claim made by some philosophers that all things are exclusively physical [atheistic-naturalism]. This has been explained by its advocates to mean that nothing has any property or is governed by any law that is not a physical property or a physical law. But the very sentence expressing this claim, the sentence “All things are exclusively physical,” must be assumed to possess a linguistic meaning. This is not a physical property, but unless the sentence had it, it would not be a sentence; it would be nothing but physical sounds or marks that would not) linguistically signify any meaning whatever and thus could not express any claim — just as a group of pebbles, or clouds, or leaves, fails to signify any meaning or express any claim. Moreover, to assert this exclusivist materialism is the same as claiming it is true, which is another nonphysical property; and the claim that it is true further assumes that its denial would have to be false, which is a relation guaranteed by logical, not physical, laws. (Indeed, any theory which denies the existence of logical laws is instantly and irredeemably self-assumptively incoherent since that very denial is proposed as true in a way that logically excludes its being false.) What this shows is that the claim “All things are exclusively physical” must itself be assumed to have nonphysical properties and be governed by nonphysical laws or it could neither be understood nor be true. Thus, no matter how clever the supporting arguments for this claim may seem, the claim itself is incompatible with assumptions that are required for it to be true. It is therefore self-assumptively incoherent in the strong sense…

Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2005), 84-85.

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