There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.
William Lane Craig, “Molinism vs. Calvinism: Troubled by Calvinists” (accessed 6-7-16).
Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have. Free will is actually more than an illusion (or less), in that it cannot be made conceptually coherent. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.
Sam Harris, Free Will (New York, NY: Free Press, 2012), 5.
It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.
Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2010), 32.
The principle chore of brains is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing [the world] is advantageous so long as it… enhances the organism’s chances for survival. Truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost.
Patricia Churchland, “Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience,” Journal of Philosophy 84.10, 1987, pp.544-553, citing 548; found in Andy Banister, The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or, The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (Oxford, England: Monarch Books, 2015), 25.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
He thus acknowledged the need for any theory to allow that humans have genuine freedom to recognize the truth. He (again, correctly) saw that if all thought, belief, feeling, and choice are determined (i.e., forced on humans by outside conditions) then so is the determinists’ acceptance of the theory of determinism forced on them by those same conditions. In that case they could never claim to know their theory is true since the theory making that claim would be self-referentially incoherent. In other words, the theory requires that no belief is ever a free judgment made on the basis of experience or reason, but is always a compulsion over which the believer has no control.
Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2005), 174.
Isn’t it interesting that such determinism is the curse and the cause of religious belief but atheists are able to break outside the box of determinism and think for themselves? Apparently they are not bound by the same restrictions that bind the rest of us. After years in the academy I have learned a trade secret: If you know enough about a subject, you can confuse anybody by a selective use of the facts. The inescapable fact for the atheist is that life is the random product of time plus matter plus chance.
Ravi Zacharias, The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 38.
Atheism—pure, unadulterated atheism…. The universe was matter only, and eternal. Spirit was a word without a meaning. Liberty was a word without a meaning. There was no liberty in the universe; liberty was a word void of sense. Every thought, word, passion, sentiment, feeling, all motion and action was necessary [determinism]. All beings and attributes were of eternal necessity; conscience, morality, were all nothing but fate. This was their creed, and this was to perfect human nature, and convert the earth into a paradise of pleasure . . . Why, then, should we abhor the word “God,” and fall in love with the word “fate”? We know there exists energy and intellect enough to produce such a world as this, which is a sublime and beautiful one, and a very benevolent one, notwithstanding all our snarling; and a happy one, if it is not made otherwise by our own fault.
John Adams ~ Joshua Charles, Liberty’s Secrets: The Lost Wisdom of America’s Founders (Washington, DC: WND Books, 2015), 88-89.
Donald C. Abel in his book, Fifty Readings in Philosophy, asks us to imagine for a moment that you walking along and come to a fork in the road. One street is called Divinity Avenue, the other Oxford Street. Assuming you have to walk down one of them, there is a confrontation of choice. Continuing he says,
Now, I ask you seriously to suppose that this ambiguity of my choice is real; and then to make the impossible hypothesis that the choice is made twice over, and each time falls on a different street. In other words, imagine that I first walk through Divinity Avenue, and then imagine that the powers governing the universe annihilate ten minutes of time with all that it contained, and set me back at the door of this hall just as I was before the choice was made. Imagine then that, everything else being the same, I now make a different choice and traverse Oxford Street. You, as passive spectators, look on and see the two alternative universes; one of them with me walking through Divinity Avenue in it, the other with the same me walking through Oxford Street. Now, if you are determinists, you believe one of these universes eternally impossible, because of the intrinsic irrationality or accidentality somewhere involved in it. However, looking outwardly at these universes, can you say which is the impossible and accidental one, and which the rational and necessary one?
Donald C. Abel, Fifty Readings in Philosophy (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1994), 296.
If we were free persons, with faculties which we might carelessly use or wilfully misuse, the fact might be explained; but the pre-established harmony excludes this supposition. And since our faculties lead us into error, when shall we trust them? Which of the many opinions they have produced is really true? By hypothesis, they all ought to be true, but, as they contradict one another, all cannot be true. How, then, distinguish between the true and the false? By taking a vote? That cannot be, for, as determined, we have not the power to take a vote. Shall we reach the truth by reasoning? This we might do, if reasoning were a self-poised, self verifying process; but this it cannot be in a deterministic system. Reasoning implies the power to control one’s thoughts, to resist the processes of association, to suspend judgment until the transparent order of reason has been readied. It implies freedom, therefore. In a mind which is controlled by its states, instead of controlling them, there is no reasoning, but only a succession of one state upon another. There is no deduction from grounds, but only production by causes. No belief has any logical advantage over any other, for logic is no longer possible.
Borden P Bowne, Metaphysics: A Study In First Principles (originally published in 1882; London: Sampson Low, Searle & Rivington, 2005), 105.
What merit would attach to moral virtue if the acts that form such habitual tendencies and dispositions were not acts of free choice on the part of the individual who was in the process of acquiring moral virtue? Persons of vicious moral character would have their characters formed in a manner no different from the way in which the character of a morally virtuous person was formed—by acts entirely determined, and that could not have been otherwise by freedom of choice.
Mortimer J. Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1985), 154.
If what he says is true, he says it merely as the result of his heredity and environment, and nothing else. He does not hold his determinist views because they are true, but because he has such-and-such stimuli; that is, not because the structure of the structure of the universe is such-and-such but only because the configuration of only part of the universe, together with the structure of the determinist’s brain, is such as to produce that result…. They [determinists – I would posit any philosophical naturalist] want to be considered as rational agents arguing with other rational agents; they want their beliefs to be construed as beliefs, and subjected to rational assessment; and they want to secure the rational assent of those they argue with, not a brainwashed repetition of acquiescent pattern. Consistent determinists should regard it as all one whether they induce conformity to their doctrines by auditory stimuli or a suitable injection of hallucinogens: but in practice they show a welcome reluctance to get out their syringes, which does equal credit to their humanity and discredit to their views. Determinism, therefore, cannot be true, because if it was, we should not take the determinists’ arguments as being really arguments, but as being only conditioned reflexes. Their statements should not be regarded as really claiming to be true, but only as seeking to cause us to respond in some way desired by them.
R. Lucas, The Freedom of the Will (New York: NY: Oxford University Press, 1970), 114, 115.
ROBOTS AND COSMIC PUPPETRY: THE SCIENTIFIC CHALLENGE TO FREEDOM
Since at least the time of Sir Isaac Newton, scientists and philosophers impressed by the march of science have offered a picture of human behavior that is not promising for a belief in freedom. All nature is viewed by them as one huge mechanism, with human beings serving as just parts of that giant machine. On this view, we live and think in accordance with the same laws and causes that move all other physical components of the universal mechanism.
According to these thinkers, everything that happens in nature has a cause. Suppose then that an event occurs, which, in context, is clearly a human action of the sort that we would normally call free. As an occurrence in this universe, it has a cause. But then that cause, in turn, has a cause. And that cause in turn has a cause, and so on, and so on [remember, reductionism].
- “Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player” ~ Albert Einstein.
As a result of this scientific world view, we get the following picture:
- Natural conditions outside our control…
- Inner bodily and brain states,
- which cause…
- mental and physical actions
But if this is true, then you are, ultimately, just a conduit or pipeline for chains of natural causation that reach far back into the past before your birth and continue far forward into the future after your death. You are not an originating cause of anything [this includes brain activity of all degrees, that is, love, pain, etc.). Nothing you ever do is due to your choices or thoughts alone. You are a puppet of nature. You are no more than a robot programmed by an unfeeling cosmos.
Psychologists talk about heredity and environment as responsible for everything you do. But then if they are, you aren’t. Does it follow that you can then do as you please, irresponsibly? Not at all. It only follows that you will do as nature and nurture please. But then, nature on this picture turns out to be just an illusory veil over a heartless, uncaring nature. You have what nature gives you. Nothing more, nothing less.
Where is human freedom in this picture? It doesn’t exist. It is one of our chief illusions. The natural belief in free will is just a monstrous falsehood. But we should not feel bad about holding on to this illusion until science corrects us. We can’t have helped it.
This reasoning is called The Challenge of Scientific Determinism. According to determinists, we are determined in every respect to do everything that we ever do.
This again is a serious challenge to human freedom. It is the reason that the early scientist Pierre Laplace (1749-1827) once said that if you could give a super-genius a total description of the universe at any given point in time, that being would be able to predict with certainty everything that would ever happen in the future relative to that moment, and retrodict with certainty anything that had ever happened in any moment before that described state. Nature, he believed, was that perfect machine. And we human beings were just cogs in the machine, deluded in our beliefs that we are free.
Tom Morris, Philosophy for Dummies (Foster City, CA: IDG Books; 1999), 133-134.
Atheist Daniel Dennett, for example, asserts that consciousness is an illusion. (One wonders if Dennett was conscious when he said that!) His claim is not only superstitious, it’s logically indefensible. In order to detect an illusion, you’d have to be able to see what’s real. Just like you need to wake up to know that a dream is only a dream, Daniel Dennett would need to wake up with some kind of superconsciousness to know that the ordinary consciousness the rest of us mortals have is just an illusion. In other words, he’d have to be someone like God in order to know that.
Dennett’s assertion that consciousness is an illusion is not the result of an unbiased evaluation of the evidence. Indeed, there is no such thing as “unbiased evaluation” in a materialist world because the laws of physics determine everything anyone thinks, including everything Dennett thinks. Dennett is just assuming the ideology of materialism is true and applying its implications to consciousness. In doing so, he makes the same mistake we’ve seen so many other atheists make. He is exempting himself from his own theory. Dennett says consciousness is an illusion, but he treats his own consciousness as not an illusion. He certainly doesn’t think the ideas in his book are an illusion. He acts like he’s really telling the truth about reality.
When atheists have to call common sense “an illusion” and make self-defeating assertions to defend atheism, then no one should call the atheistic worldview “reasonable.” Superstitious is much more accurate.
Frank Turek, Stealing from God (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 46-47.
Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, Dr. William Provine:
- Modern science, i.e., evolution, implies that there is no purpose, gods, or design in nature.
- There are no absolute moral or ethical laws.
- Heredity and environment determine all that man is.
- When we die, we die, and that is all there is.
- Evolution cannot produce a being that is truly free to make choices.
One of the most intriguing aspects mentioned by Ravi Zacharias of a lecture he attended entitled “Determinism – Is Man a Slave or the Master of His Fate,” given by Stephen Hawking, who is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, Isaac Newton’s chair, was this admission by Dr. Hawking’s, was Hawking’s admission that if “we are the random products of chance, and hence, not free, or whether God had designed these laws within which we are free.” In other words, do we have the ability to make choices, or do we simply follow a chemical reaction induced by millions of mutational collisions of free atoms? Michael Polyni mentions that this “reduction of the world to its atomic elements acting blindly in terms of equilibrations of forces,” a belief that has prevailed “since the birth of modern science, has made any sort of teleological view of the cosmos seem unscientific…. [to] the contemporary mind.”
 Ravi Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 118, 119.
 Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch, Meaning (Chicago, IL: Chicago university Press, 1977), 162.
Anthropologist William Sumner argues against the logical position when he says that “every attempt to win an outside standpoint from which to reduce the whole to an absolute philosophy of truth and right, based on an unalterable principle, is delusion.” Authors Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl respond to this self-defeating claim by showing that Sumner is making a strong claim here about knowledge:
He says that all claims to know objective moral truth are false because we are all imprisoned in our own cultural and are incapable of seeing beyond the limits of our own biases. He concludes, therefore, that moral truth is relative to culture and that no objective standard exists. Sumner’s analysis falls victim to the same error committed by religious pluralists who see all religions as equally valid.
The authors continue:
Sumner’s view, however, is self-refuting. In order for him to conclude that all moral claims are an illusion, he must first escape the illusion himself. He must have a full and accurate view of the entire picture…. Such a privileged view is precisely what Sumner denies. Objective assessments are illusions, he claims, but then he offers his own “objective” assessment. It is as if he were saying, “We’re all blind,” and then adds, “but I’ll tell you what the world really looks like.” This is clearly contradictory.
[Adapted from] Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Planted firmly in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998), 46-47.
Fromm’s position is also an example of this same dogmatic selectivity. He presents his view as though there are reasons for rejecting the law of non-contradiction, and then argues that his view of the divine (he calls it “ultimate reality”) logically follows from that rejection. He ignores the fact that to make any logical inference — to see that one belief “logically follows from” another — means that the belief which is said to “follow” is required on pain of contradicting oneself. Having denied all basis for any inference, Fromm nevertheless proceeds to infer that reality itself must be an all-encompassing mystical unity which harmonizes all the contradictions which logical thought takes to be real. He then further infers that since human thought cannot help but be contradictory, ultimate reality cannot be known by thought. He gives a summary of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist expressions of this same view, and again infers that accepting their view of the divine requires him to reject the biblical idea of God as a knowable, individual, personal Creator. He then offers still another logical inference when he insists that:
- Opposition is a category of man’s mind, not itself an element of reality…. Inasmuch as God represents the ultimate reality, and inasmuch as the human mind perceives reality in contradictions, no positive statement can be made about God.
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), 178, 84-85 (emphasis added).
Dr. Alister McGrath responds to the religious pluralism of theologian John Hick by showing just how self-defeating this position is:
The belief that all religions are ultimately expressions of the same transcendent reality is at best illusory and at worst oppressive – illusory because it lacks any substantiating basis and oppressive because it involves the systematic imposition of the agenda of those in positions of intellectual power on the religions and those who adhere to them. The illiberal imposition of this pluralistic metanarrative on religions is ultimately a claim to mastery – both in the sense of having a Nietzschean authority and power to mold material according to one’s will, and in the sense of being able to relativize all the religions by having access to a privileged standpoint.
As professor McGrath points out above, John Hick is applying an absolute religious claim while at the same time saying there are no absolute religious claims to religious reality. It is self-assumptively incoherent.
 Metanarratives, or, Grand Narratives – “big stories, stories of mythic proportions – that claim to be able to account for, explain and subordinate all lesser, little, local, narratives.” Jim Powell, Postmodernism for Beginners (New York, NY: Writers and Readers, 1998), 29.
 Alister E. McGrath, Passion for Truth: the Intellectual Coherence of Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996), 239.
“All truth is relative!” (Is that a relative truth?); “There are no absolutes!” (Are you absolutely sure?); “Its true for you but not for me!” (Is that statement true just for you, or is it for everyone?) In short, contrary beliefs are possible, but contrary truths are not possible.
Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 40, 38.
Let’s consider a basic question: Why does the natural world make any sense to begin with? Albert Einstein once remarked that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. Why should we be able to grasp the beauty, elegance, and complexity of our universe?
Einstein understood a basic truth about science, namely, that it relies upon certain philosophical assumptions about the natural world. These assumptions include the existence of an external world that is orderly and rational, and the trustworthiness of our minds to grasp that world. Science cannot proceed apart from these assumptions, even though they cannot be independently proven. Oxford professor John C. Lennox asks a penetrating question, “At the heart of all science lies the conviction that the universe is orderly. Without this deep conviction science would not be possible. So we are entitled to ask: Where does the conviction come from?”” Why is the world orderly? And why do our minds comprehend this order?
Toward the end of The God Delusion, Dawkins admits that since we are the product of natural selection, our senses cannot be fully trusted. After all, according to Darwinian evolution, our senses have been formed to aid survival, not necessarily to deliver true belief. Since a human being has been cobbled together through the blind process of natural selection acting on random mutation, says Dawkins, it’s unlikely that our views of the world are completely true. Outspoken philosopher of neuro-science Patricia Churchland agrees:
The principle chore of brains is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing [the world] is advantageous so long as it… enhances the organism’s chances for survival. Truth, whatever that is, takes the hindmost.
Dawkins is on the right track to suggest that naturalism should lead people to be skeptical about trusting their senses. Dawkins just doesn’t take his skepticism far enough. In Miracles, C. S. Lewis points out that knowledge depends upon the reliability of our mental faculties. If human reasoning is not trustworthy, then no scientific conclusions can be considered true or false. In fact, we couldn’t have any knowledge about the world, period. Our senses must be reliable to acquire knowledge of the world, and our reasoning faculties must be reliable to process the acquired knowledge. But this raises a particularly thorny dilemma for atheism. If the mind has developed through the blind, irrational, and material process of Darwinian evolution, then why should we trust it at all? Why should we believe that the human brain—the outcome of an accidental process—actually puts us in touch with reality? Science cannot be used as an answer to this question, because science itself relies upon these very assumptions.
Even Charles Darwin was aware of this problem: “The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the conviction of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” If Darwinian evolution is true, we should distrust the cognitive faculties that make science possible.
Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 37-38.
And certainly, there’s no doubt about it, that in the past, and I think also in the present, for many evolutionists, evolution has functioned as something with elements which are, let us say, akin to being a secular religion … And it seems to me very clear that at some very basic level, evolution as a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind of naturalism, namely, that at some level one is going to exclude miracles and these sorts of things come what may.
Michael Ruse, “Nonliteralist Antievolution” AAAS Symposium: “The New Antievolutionism,” February 13, 1993, Boston, MA
If science really is permanently committed to methodological naturalism – the philosophical position that restricts all explanations in science to naturalistic explanations – it follows that the aim of science is not generating true theories. Instead, the aim of science would be something like: generating the best theories that can be formulated subject to the restriction that the theories are naturalistic. More and more evidence could come in suggesting that a supernatural being exists, but scientific theories wouldn’t be allowed to acknowledge that possibility.
Bradley Monton, author of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design ~ Apologetics315 h/t
THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL COMMITMENTS OF PHILOSOPHICAL NATURALISTS
I have delineated the metaphysical commitments of those who deny that the mental is basic to the universe. At the same time atheists like Richard Dawkins are not philosophical skeptics. They hold that there is genuine knowledge, discovered by science. They are scientific realists who believe that science discovers the truth about the way reality is. That is why they object, for example, to religious believers who hold to theism as true and thus broadly informative about the nature of reality, including the natural world. They think science has discovered that evolution is true and creationism is false. They think physicists discover the truth, which means they believe that physicists make correct mathematical inferences. They think we literally add, subtract, multiply, divide, square, and take square roots of numbers.
In a recent paper William Hasker has recommended that the Argument from Reason be presented as a transcendental argument which identifies the necessary presuppositions of the fact of scientific inference and goes from there to draw the implications of these. He writes:
The objection is not merely that naturalism has not yet produced an explanation of rational inference and the like, as though this were a deficiency that could be remedied by another decade or so of scientific research. The problem is that the naturalist is committed to certain assumptions that preclude in principle any explanation of the sort required. The key assumptions are three in number: mechanism (the view that fundamental physical explanations are nonteleological), the causal closure of the physical domain, and the supervenience of the mental on the physical. So long as these assumptions remain, no amount of ingenious computer modeling can possibly fill the explanatory gap. In order to bring out this feature of the situation, I propose that the first two stages of the Argument from Reason are best viewed as a transcendental argument in roughly the Kantian sense: They specify the conditions which are required for experience of a certain sort to be possible — in this case the kind of experience found in the performance of rational inference.
Consider the following list of presuppositions of reason. These presuppositions have transcendental justifications. The justification goes from the fact that at least one person has made a rational inference (such as a mathematical calculation) and establishes that these conditions must obtain if that rational inference has taken place.
- States of mind have a relation to the world we call intentionality, or aboutness. The intentionality I am referring to is propositional in nature. Our possessing this kind of intentionality means that we are capable of having, entertaining, believing, and desiring states of affairs propositionally described. We recognize the propositional contents of our thoughts.
- Thoughts and beliefs can be either true or false.
- Human beings can be in the condition of accepting, rejecting, or suspending belief about propositions.
- Logical laws exist.
- Human beings are capable of apprehending logical laws.
- The state of accepting the truth of a proposition plays a crucial causal role in the production of other beliefs, and the propositional content of mental states is relevant to the playing of this causal role.
- The apprehension of logical laws plays a causal role in the acceptance of the conclusion of the argument as true.
- The same individual entertains thoughts of the premises and then draws the conclusion.
- Our processes of reasoning provide us with a systematically reliable way of understanding the world around us.
Unless all of these statements are true, it is incoherent to argue that one should accept naturalism based on evidence of any kind. Nor would it be possible to accept the claim that one should accept evolution as opposed to creationism because there is so much evidence for evolution. Nor could one argue that one should be supremely confident that use of the scientific method will result in an accurate understanding of reality. Unless all these statements are true, there are no scientists, and no one is using the scientific method.
To see how the transcendental justification works, consider the possibility that reality consists of nothing but a turnip with whipped cream on top. Of course this flies in the face of all the empirical evidence, but we can argue further that if this were so, no one would be able to reason to that conclusion. Given the way this argument is structured, one could not use the Paradigm Case argument to argue that since there has to be a contrast between valid and invalid inference, inference would also have to be possible in the turnip world. No, the fact that we can make such a distinction provides a transcendental basis for believing that we do not live in the turnip world.
Paul Copan and William Lane Craig [Victor Reppert], eds., Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering the New Atheists & Other Objections (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), 30-33.
Naturalism and materialism are not scientific conclusions; rather, they are scientific premises. They are not discovered in nature but imposed upon nature. In short, they are articles of faith. Here is Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin: “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a priori commitment, a commitment — a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great about Christianity (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2007), 161.
- Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.
The Kansas board of education drafting committee defined science as,
- Science is the human activity of seeking logical explanations for what we observe in the world around us.
Phillip E. Johnson, The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 68 (emphasis added).
….Darwin thought that, had the circumstances for reproductive fitness been different, then the deliverances of conscience might have been radically different. “If . . . men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters, and no one would think of interfering” (Darwin, Descent, 82). As it happens, we weren’t “reared” after the manner of hive bees, and so we have widespread and strong beliefs about the sanctity of human life and its implications for how we should treat our siblings and our offspring.
But this strongly suggests that we would have had whatever beliefs were ultimately fitness producing given the circumstances of survival. Given the background belief of naturalism, there appears to be no plausible Darwinian reason for thinking that the fitness-producing predispositions that set the parameters for moral reflection have anything whatsoever to do with the truth of the resulting moral beliefs. One might be able to make a case for thinking that having true beliefs about, say, the predatory behaviors of tigers would, when combined with the understandable desire not to be eaten, be fitness producing. But the account would be far from straightforward in the case of moral beliefs.” And so the Darwinian explanation undercuts whatever reason the naturalist might have had for thinking that any of our moral beliefs is true. The result is moral skepticism.
If our pretheoretical moral convictions are largely the product of natural selection, as Darwin’s theory implies, then the moral theories we find plausible are an indirect result of that same evolutionary process. How, after all, do we come to settle upon a proposed moral theory and its principles as being true? What methodology is available to us?
Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, eds., Contending With Christianity’s Critics: Answering the New Atheists & Other Objections (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2009), 70.
Scientism, expressed in the quotation by Rescher at the beginning of the chapter, is the view that science is the very paradigm of truth and rationality. If something does not square with currently well-established scientific beliefs, if it is not within the domain of entities appropriate for scientific investigation, or if it is not amenable to scientific methodology, then it is not true or rational. Everything outside of science is a matter of mere belief and subjective opinion, of which rational assessment is impossible. Science, exclusively and ideally, is our model of intellectual excellence.
Actually, there are two forms of scientism: strong scientism and weak scientism. Strong scientism is the view that some proposition or theory is true and/or rational to believe if and only if it is a scientific proposition or theory; that is, if and only if it is a well-established scientific proposition or theory that, in turn, depends on its having been successfully formed, tested and used according to appropriate scientific methodology. There are no truths apart from scientific truths, and even if there were, there would be no reason whatever to believe them.
Advocates of weak scientism allow for the existence of truths apart from science and are even willing to grant that they can have some minimal, positive rationality status without the support of science. But advocates of weak scientism still hold that science is the most valuable, most serious and most authoritative sector of human learning. Every other intellectual activity is inferior to science. Further, there are virtually no limits to science. There is no field into which scientific research cannot shed light. To the degree that some issue or belief outside science can be given scientific support or can be reduced to science, to that degree the issue or belief becomes rationally acceptable. Thus we have an intellectual and perhaps even a moral obligation to try to use science to solve problems in other fields that, heretofore, have been untouched by scientific methodology. For example, we should try to solve problems about the mind by the methods of neurophysiology and computer science.
Note that advocates of weak scientism are not merely claiming that, for example, belief that the universe had a beginning, supported by good philosophical and theological arguments, gains extra support if that belief also has good scientific arguments for it. This claim is relatively uncontroversial because, usually, if some belief has a few good supporting arguments and later gains more good supporting arguments, then this will increase the rationality of the belief in question. But this is not what weak scientism implies, because this point cuts both ways. For it will equally be the case that good philosophical and theological arguments for a beginning of the universe will increase the rationality of such a belief initially supported only by scientific arguments. Advocates of weak scientism are claiming that fields outside science gain if they are given scientific support and not vice versa.
If either strong or weak scientism is true, this would have drastic implications for the integration of science and theology. If strong scientism is true, then theology is not a cognitive enterprise at all and there is no such thing as theological knowledge. If weak scientism is true, then the conversation between theology and science will be a monologue with theology listening to science and waiting for science to give it support. For thinking Christians, either of these alternatives is unacceptable. What, then, should we say about scientism?
Note first that strong scientism is self-refuting (see chap. 2 for a treatment of self-refutation). Strong scientism is not itself a proposition of science, but a second-order proposition of philosophy about science to the effect that only scientific propositions are true and/or rational to believe. And strong scientism is itself offered as a true, rationally justified position to believe. Now, propositions that are self-refuting (e.g., There are no truths) are not such that they just happen to be false but could have been true. Self-refuting propositions are necessarily false, that is, it is not possible for them to be true. What this means is that, among other things, no amount of scientific progress in the future will have the slightest effect on making strong scientism more acceptable.
There are two more problems that count equally against strong and weak scientism. First, scientism (in both forms) does not adequately allow for the task of stating and defending the necessary presuppositions for science itself to be practiced (assuming scientific realism). Thus scientism shows itself to be a foe and not a friend of science.
Science cannot be practiced in thin air. In fact, science itself presupposes a number of substantive philosophical theses which must be assumed if science is even going to get off the runway. Now each of these assumptions has been challenged, and the task of stating and defending these assumptions is one of the tasks of philosophy. The conclusions of science cannot be more certain than the presuppositions it rests on and uses to reach those conclusions.
Strong scientism rules out these presuppositions altogether because neither the presuppositions themselves nor their defense are scientific matters. Weak scientism misconstrues their strength in its view that scientific propositions have greater epistemic authority than those of other fields like philosophy. This would mean that the conclusions of science are more certain than the philosophical presuppositions used to justify and reach those conclusions, and that is absurd. In this regard, the following statement by John Kekes strikes at the heart of weak scientism:
A successful argument for science being the paradigm of rationality must be based on the demonstration that the presuppositions of science are preferable to other presuppositions. That demonstration requires showing that science, relying on these presuppositions, is better at solving some problems and achieving some ideals than its competitors. But showing that cannot be the task of science. It is, in fact, one task of philosophy. Thus the enterprise of justifying the presuppositions of science by showing that with their help science is the best way of solving certain problems and achieving some ideals is a necessary precondition of the justification of science. Hence philosophy, and not science, is a stronger candidate for being the very paradigm of rationality.
Here is a list of some of the philosophical presuppositions of science: (1) the existence of a theory-independent, external world; (2) the orderly nature of the external world; (3) the knowability of the external world; (4) the existence of truth; (5) the laws of logic; (6) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment; (7) the adequacy of language to describe the world; (8) the existence of values used in science (e.g., “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”); (9) the uniformity of nature and induction; (10) the existence of numbers.
Most of these assumptions are easy to understand and, in any case, are discussed in more detail in other parts of this book. It may be helpful, however, to say a word about (9) and (10). Regarding (9), scientists make inductive inferences from past or examined cases of some phenomenon (e.g., “All observed emeralds are green”) to all cases, examined and unexamined, past and future, of that phenomenon (e.g., “All emeralds whatever are green”). The problem of induction is the problem of justifying such inferences. It is usually associated with David Hume. Here is his statement of it:
It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future, since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular, that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that for the future it will continue so. In vain do you pretend to have learned the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and consequently, all their effects and influence, may change without any change in their sensible qualities. This happens sometimes, and with regard to some objects. Why may it not happen always, and with regard to all objects? What logic, what process of argument secures you against this supposition? My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philosopher who has some share of curiosity, I will not say skepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this inference.
We cannot look here at various attempts to solve the problem of induction except to note that inductive inferences assume what has been called the uniformity of nature: The future will resemble the past. And the uniformity of nature principle is one of the philosophical assumptions of science.
Regarding (10) (the existence of numbers), in general, if we accept as true a proposition like The ball on the table is red, we thereby are committed to the existence of certain things, e.g., a specific ball and the property of being red. Now science uses mathematical language much of the time and such usage seems to presuppose that mathematical language is true. This, in turn, seems to presuppose the existence of mathematical objects (e.g., numbers) that are truly described by those propositions. For example, the proposition Two is an even number seems to commit us to the existence of an entity, the number two (whatever our analysis of numbers turns out to be), which has the property of being even. The same theory of truth used outside of mathematics (the correspondence theory) applies within mathematics as well. Now the debate about the existence and nature of numbers is a philosophical one, and thus stating the debate and defending the existence of numbers is another philosophical task presuppositional to science.
There is a second problem that counts equally against strong and weak scientism: the existence of true and rationally justified beliefs outside of science. The simple fact is that true, rationally justified beliefs exist in a host of fields outside of science. Many of the issues in this book fall in that category. Strong scientism does not allow for this fact and therefore should be rejected as an inadequate account of our intellectual enterprise.
Moreover, some propositions believed outside science (e.g., Red is a color, Torturing babies for fun is wrong, I am now thinking about science) are better justified than some believed within science (e.g., Evolution takes place through a series of very small steps). It is not hard to believe that many of our currently held scientific beliefs will and should be revised or abandoned in one hundred years, but it would be hard to see how the same could be said of the extrascientific propositions just cited. Weak scientism does not account for this fact. In fact, weak scientism, in its attempt to reduce all issues to scientific ones, often has a distorting effect on an intellectual issue. Arguably, this is the case in current attempts to make the existence and nature of mind a scientific problem.
In sum, scientism in both forms is inadequate. There are domains of knowledge outside and independent of science, and while we have not shown this here, theology is one of those domains. How, then, should the domains of science and theology be integrated? To this question we now turn.
 John Kekes, Tic Nature of Philosophy (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1980), p. 158.
 David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), pp. 51-52 (section 4.2 in the original).
J.P. Moreland and William Lane Criag, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 346-350.
If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our thought processes are mere accidents – the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts — i.e. of Materialism and — are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.
C. S. Lewis, God In the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), 52–53.
The first Red Herring is this. Any day you may hear a man (and not necessarily a disbeliever in God) say of some alleged miracle, “No. Of course I don’t believe that. We know it is contrary to the laws of Nature. People could believe it in olden times because they didn’t know the laws of Nature. We know now that it is a scientific impossibility.”
By the “laws of Nature” such a man means, I think, the observed course of Nature. If he means anything more than that he is not the plain man I take him for but a philosophic Naturalist and will be dealt with in the next chapter. The man I have in view believes that mere experience (and specially those artificially contrived experiences which we call Experiments) can tell us what regularly happens in Nature. And he finks that what we have discovered excludes the possibility of Miracle. This is a confusion of mind.
Granted that miracles can occur, it is, of course, for experience to say whether one has done so on any given occasion. But mere experience, even if prolonged for a million years, cannot tell us whether the thing is possible. Experiment finds out what regularly happens in Nature: the norm or rule to which she works. Those who believe in miracles are not denying that there is such a norm or rule: they are only saying that it can be suspended. A miracle is by definition an exception.
The idea that the progress of science has somehow altered this question is closely bound up with the idea that people “in olden times” believed in them “because they didn’t know the laws of Nature.” Thus you will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the cause of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancee was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynaecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. No doubt the modern gynaecologist knows several things about birth and begetting which St. Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point—that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And St. Joseph obviously knew that. In any sense in which it is true to say now, “The thing is scientifically impossible,” he would have said the same: the thing always was, and was always known to be, impossible unless the regular processes of nature were, in this particular case, being over-ruled or supplemented by something from beyond nature. When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancee’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records
It is therefore inaccurate to define a miracle as something that breaks the laws of Nature. It doesn’t. If I knock out my pipe I alter the position of a great many atoms: in the long run, and to an infinitesimal degree, of all the atoms there are. Nature digests or assimilates this event with perfect ease and harmonises it in a twinkling with all other events. It is one more bit of raw material for the laws to apply to, and they apply. I have simply thrown one event into the general cataract of events and it finds itself at home there and conforms to all other events. If God annihilates or creates or deflects a unit of matter He has created a new situation at that point. Immediately all Nature domiciles this new situation, makes it at home in her realm, adapts all other events to it. It finds itself conforming to all the laws. If God creates a miraculous spermatozoon in the body of a virgin, it does not proceed to break any laws. The laws at once take it over. Nature is ready. Pregnancy follows, according to all the normal laws, and nine months later a child is born. We see every day that physical nature is not in the least incommoded by the daily inrush of events from biological nature or from psychological nature. If events ever come from beyond Nature altogether, she will be no more incommoded by them. Be sure she will rush to the point where she is invaded, as the defensive forces rush to a cut in our finger, and there hasten to accommodate the newcomer. The moment it enters her realm it obeys all her laws. Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all the ordinary processes of textual corruption, miraculous bread will be digested. The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern.
A miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without results. Its cause is the activity of God: its results follow according to Natural law. In the forward direction (i.e. during the time which follows its occurrence) it is interlocked with all Nature just like any other event. Its peculiarity is that it is not in that way interlocked backwards, interlocked with the previous history of Nature. And this is just what some people find intolerable. The reason they find it intolerable is that they start by taking Nature to be the whole of reality. And they are sure that all reality must be interrelated and consistent. I agree with them. But I think they have mistaken a partial system within reality, namely Nature, for the whole.
C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Touchstone Publishers, 1996), 62-63, 64-65, 80-81, 81-82.
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1952), 38-39.
There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the students’ reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them…. The relativity of truth is… a moral postulate, the condition of a free society, or so they see it…. The danger they have been taught to fear is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness — and the relativism that makes it plausible — is the great insight of our times…. The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.
Allen Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 25.
THE BANKRUPT EPISTEMOLOGY OF SECULAR EMPIRICISM
The failure of the demarcation criterion between science and religion is part of the general failure of secular epistemology. We have seen that the ID leaders appeal to both (at least when it is convenient), so unless they are going to offer something better than what the best secular philosophers have attempted, which they have not, their view of scientific epistemology must be considered a failure as well. The ID leaders are standing on sinking sand to rely on bankrupt, secular epistemology to defend ID. By keeping the sovereign God of Scripture out of science, ID leaders put themselves in the position of denying a source of rational unity that extends to all the particular facts of experience, which puts them in the indefensible epistemological position of explaining how particular facts without unity between them can be intelligible. A brief review of why secular empiricism fails to provide a basis for science will highlight the problem that the ID leaders face in their opposition to bringing God and the Bible into science. The current status of secular epistemology, particularly secular empiricism, is captured by twentieth-century philosopher Bertrand Russell’s denial that we can know anything whatsoever:
“That scientific inference requires, for its validity, principles which experience cannot even render probable is, I believe, an inescapable conclusion from the logic of probability…. To ask, therefore, whether we ‘know’ the postulates of scientific inference is not so definite as it seems…. In the sense in which ‘no’ is the right answer we know nothing whatsoever, and `knowledge’ in this sense is a delusive vision. The perplexities of philosophers are due, in a large measure, to their unwillingness to awaken from this blissful dream.”
Russell came to recognize that naturalistic empiricism provides no basis for saying that there is a world at all:
“Academic philosophers, ever since the time of Parmenides, have believed that the world is a unity. The most fundamental of my intellectual beliefs is that this is rubbish. I think the universe is all spots and jumps, without any unity, without continuity, without coherence or orderliness or any of the other properties that governesses love. Indeed, there is little but prejudice and habit to be said for the view that there is a world at all.”
We can go back to David Hume to understand the reductio ad absurdum of attempts to justify causation and scientific knowledge on the basis of naturalistic empiricism. Hume saw that with sense impressions as the basis of all knowledge, there is no unity to the world. Nothing can be said to exist but the discrete moment. That a sequence of perceptions reflects a cause-and-effect relationship between external objects cannot be known from experience. Any necessity that might connect external objects that are perceived is not itself a perception, so the assumption of cause-and-effect necessity in the interaction of external objects is unwarranted. Abstract concepts like laws and logic are applied by the human mind to perceptions but they themselves are not perceptions. They all involve continuity over time but bare experience gives us nothing but the discrete moment. Since we have no experience of the future, experience itself provides no basis for believing that the future will be anything like the past. When “we form any conclusion beyond those past instances, of which we have had experience”, Hume says, using his theory of strict empiricism, our reasoning has “no just foundation”.
Even the concept of the self is undermined by strict empiricism since there is no one perception that lasts as long as the self allegedly does. When he sleeps, Hume says that he “may truly be said not to exist”. With no permanence to the self, knowledge and memory of the past, including one’s own past existence, is inconsistent with the claim that all knowledge is through sense experience. Hume was logically rigorous in reasoning from his assumptions, but this led him to an absurd conclusion. On the basis of Hume’s empiricism, we can have knowledge of neither the external world nor our inner selves, neither the past nor the future. Hume’s view of knowledge does not allow for laws of logic, laws of nature, or repeatability of experiments.
Hume resorted to custom and habit as explanations for our belief in the regularity of nature, but custom and habit themselves presuppose continuity over time, and discrete experience can provide no basis for continuity over time.” Hume lamented that the “cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous” conclusions of his philosophical reasoning gave him “philosophical melancholy and delirium”. A history of secular epistemology since Hume would be instructive, although space does not allow it. Nevertheless, Bertrand Russell’s statements from the mid-twentieth century quoted above, that there is no basis for saying that the world has unity or even that the world exists at all, indicate that the problems with secular empiricism that Hume uncovered have not been overcome since then.
The solution to the modern crises of justifying knowledge and rationality is the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God (or TAG) formulated by Cornelius Van Til.
TAG is an explicitly theistic theory of knowledge, or you might call it theory of fact; therefore it applies to all facts in the world, whether stones or watches. The argument is that the existence of God, an absolute God who is the source of all that exists, necessarily exists in order for knowledge to be possible. Van Til defines an absolute God, which he also calls a “concrete universal” God, as one who is the source of both the diversity of all the particular facts of the world and the unity of the concepts that apply to them. Unity and diversity must be eternally related to each other in the mind of God, because:
1. “An abstract diversity is chaos, which is irrational.
2. An abstract unity is a pure emptiness, which cannot be an object of thought either.
3. The two irrational principles cannot be combined to produce a rational world, where human knowledge, intelligible experience, etc. are possible.”
Compare Van Til’s approach to Dembski’s description of Complex Specified Information (CSI):
“(1) Chance generates contingency, but not complex specified information. (2) Laws… generate neither contingency nor information, much less complex specified information. (3)… no chance-law combination is going to generate information either. After all, laws can transmit only the CSI they are given, and whatever chance gives to a law is not CSI. Ergo, chance and laws working in tandem cannot generate information.”
They both recognize that information cannot be the product of combining chance and law. Just as Van Til affirms that knowledge must be eternal because knowledge can only come from knowledge, Dembski affirms: “Information is sui generis. Only information begets information.” Therefore information must be eternal according to Dembski’s reasoning. Information requires both order and diversity, or “specified complexity” as Dembski calls it, and he recognizes that merely adding chance and law cannot produce specified complexity.
Van Til’s phrase that closely parallels Dembski’s specified complexity is “concrete universal” (see table 1). Van Til argues that a concrete universal God is necessary for the possibility of intelligible experience. This means that the unity of experience (i.e. the `universal’) and the diversity of experience (i.e. the ‘concrete’) must be eternally related to each other. He notes: “Every intellectual effort deals with facts in relations and with relations in facts.” As postmodernists have put it, all facts are interpreted facts.” Facts unrelated to concepts and concepts without content (unrelated to particular facts) are both meaningless, and the two meaningless notions cannot combine to create knowledge. Every particular fact and every universal that applies to every fact are eternally related to each other in the mind of God. Knowledge can only come from knowledge. Human knowledge must be “receptively reconstructive” of God’s original knowledge; humans are not originally constructive of knowledge as the atheists contend. Humans are made in the image of God, thus our knowledge is a reflection of God’s knowledge, meaning that human knowledge can be true but not exhaustive like God’s.”
The difference between Dembski and Van LI here is that Dembski is addressing the narrower topic of information, which applies to a watch but not a stone. Van Til is addressing the broader topic of intelligibility, which applies to any fact, whether a watch or a stone. However, Dembski touches on the issue of intelligibility in his aforementioned chapter where he drops his idolatrous praises of finite gods and sees something of the necessity of the biblical view of God for the possibility of science. He makes this observation that is in harmony with Van Til’s philosophy:
“God, in speaking the divine Logos, not only creates the world but also renders it intelligible…. Einstein claimed: ‘The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.’ This statement, so widely regarded as a profound insight, is actually a sad commentary on naturalism. Within naturalism the intelligibility of the world must always remain a mystery. Within theism, on the other hand, anything other than an intelligible world would constitute a mystery?”
Michael H. Warren, “Intelligent Design Leaders Promote a Naturalistic Epistemology,” Journal of Creation, (vol. 29, 2015), 115-118.