A Clash of Worlds (2)

Faith and Reason

Since the time of Thomas Aquinas it has been common to see “faith” as something that is needed to grasp those divine disclosures not attainable through reason alone. This dichotomy has been seized upon by the world as it seeks to snip away at any form of knowledge which cannot pass under their yoke of “science and reason.” But Aquinas’s version of faith is not biblically supported.

According to Hebrews 11:1 biblical faith does not hold on to thin-air; it is not disconnected from our reason. It trusts in the One who is Himself perfect rationality. In fact, “through faith we understand…” (Heb. 11:3a). Augustine phrased it this way: “I believe in order to understand.” What he meant was, reasoning never starts in a vacuum. It must assume certain things. It must start with predicates or it cannot get going at all. Aquinas made reason a kind of reservoir of intellect to be appropriated and applied neutrally. And this view pervaded Western thought, but philosophically this understanding has been shown to be false. Alisdair MacIntyre, whose book Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, includes the following assessment of Western morality and rationality:

“Both the thinkers of the Enlightenment and their successors proved unable to agree as to precisely what those principles were which would be found undeniable by all rational persons. One kind of answer was given by the authors of the Encyclopedie, a second by Rousseau, a third by Bentham, a fourth by Kant, a fifth by the Scottish philosophers of common sense and their French and American disciples. Nor has subsequent history diminished the extent of such disagreement. Consequently, the legacy of the Enlightenment has been the provision of an ideal of rational justification which has proved impossible to attain.” – Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, p. 6.

It is not only in the philosophical literature that neutrality is shown to be impossible. The Bible has always been crystal clear on the matter. People are born as sinners, as rebels against God. They know God in their heart of hearts, but they suppress that knowledge and invent an explanation of the world (whether overtly religious or “secular”) which allows them to believe as they like while operating with the borrowed capital of God’s good gifts (See Rom. 1:18-28, 8:7). They like to fool themselves that they are “open-minded” and “willing to follow the evidence” because then they can justify to themselves their liberal deployment of epithets such as “irrational,” “religious,” “having blind faith” etc., on those who disagree with them.

While such epithets may describe some people, they are definitely not true of the biblically informed Christian. Returning to our atheist objector, Gary, this is what we see. He takes the dichotomy between faith and reason for granted, making it easy for him to dispatch anything that whiffs of “faith” into a bin marked “irrational.” Then he can proceed confidently to assert his version of reality and truth without questioning its capacity for supporting his contentions.

Indeed, it is our contention that individuals like Gary are the supreme irrationalists. He is typical of many atheist/agnostics. He has a chip on his shoulder against a pseudo-christianity (Roman Catholicism – possibly justified); he professes to base his worldview on “logic, reason and science” while displaying an appallingly incoherent and illogical belief-system. He is deluded into thinking that he can simply use value-laden terms (from e.g., morality, logic, reason) without having to justify using them, and he betrays a “PBS Special” religious blind faith in philosophical naturalism and the theory of evolution.

On top of this he forgets that nobody is born with a Bible in their hand. I for instance, was just as messed up as Gary (though without the religious animus) before Christ saved me. I believed what I was taught at school in England, and on TV about evolution and “science.” I just never really questioned it. An atheist may find psychological solace in telling himself that people like me have “lost it” or “have a religious crutch,” but that isn’t going to impress me very much. Gary should be made to justify his own pontifications.

So does he have warranted and justified true belief supporting his statements? Can he provide intelligent warrant for his assertions? Or is he just giving his opinions based upon an atheistic version of blind faith? It is time to look at his assertions.

The World According To Gary

From Gary’s voluminous correspondence in my possession it is possible to put together a pretty detailed picture of the way he interprets the world. Everyone has a worldview, and every worldview, whether a person knows it or not, has to grapple with the basic foundational categories of philosophy: Metaphysics or the interpretation of reality; Epistemology or the theory of how we know what we say we know; and Ethics or how we ought to live in light of the above. Let us return to the samples of Gary’s more forceful worldview statements.

“I don’t believe in anything beyond the natural order of the universe.”

“I don’t think evolution is by chance. I think things evolve because they have an advantage in competing within the natural ORDER of things.”

“I don’t know why you think [naturalistic] science does not acknowledge natural law…To me the fact the universe follows an order eliminates the need for God…In my opinion, natural law is more likely that (sic) supernatural existence…Natural law is predictive

“Natural law is within nature”

Notice here that according to Gary “Natural Law” has to do with the physical laws of the universe (in other words, the laws of physics and chemistry). But the problem is, that is not what scholars mean by natural law. Natural law really corresponds to ethics not physics! Most dictionaries describe it as a principle “binding” upon all people – that is, an ethical law. To this all the authorities I repaired to agreed. For example, Gary ought to read Wollheim’s article in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (ed. Paul Edwards) to see that I am right. He will also encounter some strong criticisms of the concept (for that is what it is) in that article. In its pagan dress it was held by the Greek pantheists, the Stoics, and in its “Christian” garb by Aquinas, Locke and Grotius.

However that may be, it is almost certain from the quotes above that Gary is relying on the definition of George H. Smith in his Atheism: The Case Against God (he quotes from this book elsewhere). On page 40 of that book Smith gives the following definition: “Natural law pertains to the presence of regularity in the universe, and, for this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the “uniformity of nature.’”

The similarities between Gary and Smith are too close for it to be coincidental. Smith is very good at using or else making up definitions which are not those of historic evangelical Protestantism. In true atheist form he ignores any definition which gives him trouble. Hence, his definitions of e.g., faith, of many divine attributes, and in this case, of natural law, are slanted for his purposes. Smith’s way of arguing can be summed up as “this is the way it is so my view must be right.” Never does Smith ever get around to the tough-minded job of explicating the facts in terms of his worldview. He simply assumes his worldview is true.

Gary, as most atheists, of course, follows suit:

“logic is logic”

“Logic is logic. Math is math. It does not depend on any worldview.”

“what is true and what is false, logical and illogical, reasoning, etc. has been a cognitive capacity of humans…for a very long time. It’s (sic) origin is evolutionary biology.”

Well, of course, two can play at that game. I could say, “Logic is logic and math is math. It depends on the biblical worldview. It has been a cognitive capacity of humans ever since God created man. Its origin is the mind of God.”

Would anyone think I had won the argument by simply making an assertion? Have I addressed any of the main issues? Then neither Smith nor Gary should think he has either.

Many people, whatever they may believe, want to win arguments by making statements without backing them up. Of course there is order in the universe! Of course there is regularity and laws of logic and an amenability to do science! The question is not whether these things are there, it is explaining why they are there, and how it is that we recognize them.

What is Gary’s answer to this? His “answer” (and in this he is following George Smith and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong) is to say “Without reason, we can not even be having this debate, therefore can we agree on it’s (sic) existence?” Translation: “Don’t ask probing questions like that. I haven’t thought about it and don’t intend to start now. So let’s just agree that reason (or “morality”, “good”, “evil”, “love”, “beauty”, “number”, “truth”, etc.) exist and leave off trying to prove how such things exist on the basis of our most basic understandings of the world.”

You see, it’s like the thief who has just robbed a bank and says to himself, “I’m spending this money so it must be mine.” If he has the money it must be his. He doesn’t have to account for it. He doesn’t have to justify his reasoning. He’s spending the money! Likewise, Gary is employing logic so he doesn’t think he needs to justify using it within his worldview. The searchant question, “does my way of thinking about life sustain this fact” is never allowed to arise. “Logic is logic…it’s just there…it has nothing to do with my worldview.” Of course, how simple! It’s all down to natural law or the uniformity of nature. As nature is uniform atheism is true. Philosophical naturalism doesn’t even have to explain anything. Mere assertions of fact will suffice! How often have I encountered this.

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3 comments

  1. Hello Paul,

    This is very good stuff. As usual, you see through all the surface distractions to the essentials below and then expose them with cogent whit and insight.

    I, too can say with you:

    ” I for instance, was just as messed up as Gary (though without the religious animus) before Christ saved me. I believed what I was taught at school in England, and on TV about evolution and “science.” I just never really questioned it. An atheist may find psychological solace in telling himself that people like me have “lost it” or “have a religious crutch,” but that isn’t going to impress me very much.”

    The idea that any “thinking person” must necessarily succumb to atheistic materialism is a tired canard that we hear all the time. Yet there remain educated people with the gift of careful analysis who continue to uphold the revealed truth of Scripture–many of them having worked for years in realms which require considerable knowledge of math and science (e.g., the hard sciences).

    It is especially sobering to observe the atheist, relying upon his God-given abilities, expend so much energy attempting to dispatch his Creator and assert his independent existence and continuance! It reminds me a bit of a comic strip wherein a computer is dancing around proclaiming, “I think, therefor I am!” only to reach the end of it’s power cord which summarily becomes unplugged bringing a sudden end to it’s pronouncements of independence. Without repentance, thus is the life of the dedicated atheist/materialist and I thank god frequently for opening my eyes after having embibed the deceptive elixir of such thought for the first 3 decades of my own life.

  2. Great article! I enjoyed it as much as your conference messages in SD several years ago. Keep up the good work.

  3. I’m glad you remember those lectures Justin. I never really got much feedback on them. Of course, your dad started teaching presuppositionalism so that was encouraging.

    I still remember fondly visiting Mt Rushmore with you and your family.

    Your brother,

    Paul

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