This is my reply to Dormant Dragon’s first post on her blog. When citing DD’s opinions I shall be careful to quote her verbatim and take care not to put words into her mouth. While I may inadvertently do the latter, it shall only be because I have either misread or misunderstood her language. In such cases I shall allow her to correct me with a clarification. Sadly, the same cannot be said for DD in her first post. She has attributed views to me that I simply do not hold. While this may be because she did not have enough information upon which to base her opinions when she wrote her piece (although recall she was originally inveighing against a sketch of PA on my blog), the same cannot be said now. I therefore expect to be correctly represented from now on.
I am not trying to win an argument here. I am just trying to demonstrate how non-Christian interpretations of reality do not work, and how unbelievers borrow concepts which are only explicable from the Christian worldview and then assume that because they are using them their worldview can account for them.
One more thing. I do not mean any disrespect here, but I fully expect DD not to furnish us with the preconditions for logic, science, morals, etc. by sticking to her stated worldview. She will try to jump into the discussion in the middle without showing me how her perspective supports her employing these terms and concepts. She will say things like “why can’t the universe contain its own ordering mechanism” and then assume she has explained how this could be and demonstrated this to be so.
If I did not believe the biblical account then I would not be able to account for these things. I used to ask my students to do just that – they never could. I would say, here is the biblical outlook. It provides an account for such and such. Now pretend you have rejected that explanation so you must begin from the ground up and replace it with another. Try it. One can only make predictions based on what one would expect to find given the preconditions one has to work with.
I employ the term “The Great Explanation” to describe core presuppositions. No personal attack is intended toward DD in this post. My apologies for the length of this post.
Dormant Dragon (DD) begins her first post with a misrepresentation. According to her a presuppositionalist believes “We can be certain of the Bible’s truth as the word of god (because it says so itself) and from there, we can be confident of facts in the world because they comport with the Biblical revelation.” She appears to think that presuppositional apologetics (PA) teaches an apologetic of “You know the Bible is true because the Bible says so.” Of course, that is not what I nor any presuppositionalist believes. This has been made very clear to DD with my repeated emphasis on the biblical outlook or worldview, viz. the biblical interpretation of reality.
Now I don’t expect DD to agree with me. But that is where I am coming from, not her caricature of it. I even provided a short outline of the biblical worldview (BW) so that she could see for herself the preconditions which it provides for interpreting the world. In a previous post I stated that whether or not one believes the Bible is immaterial to the issue. If I did not believe the Bible then I would be in the same boat as DD – I would not be able to make sense of anything. She thinks she can of course, but we shall see she doesn’t even get off first base. In her shoes I too would just make broad-brushed but unsubstantiated statements about the universe having its own principles of order and knowing things by experience, both of which statements are true as far as they go, yet neither of which she has explained.
So that we can be sure she has hold of the wrong end of the stick she adds in a follow up,
“If we break this down in relation to the axiom of existence – “I know I exist because god, who is outside myself, but who I know exists because he told me he exists, knows I exist and told me I exist” – the convoluted nature of presuppositionalism becomes immediately apparent.”
I’ve been teaching presuppositionalism at seminary level for years and “that ain’t it!”
Or try this one:
“This only follows if you assume – as you must, from within your worldview – that the veracity of the Bible is obvious and undeniable to any and all who read it.”
I don’t believe this for one second. And the Bible itself does not teach it. Why then “must” I believe it? Perhaps for the same reason I must accept her totally unbiblical definition of a Christian: “As I said in a comment on my previous post, from an outsider’s perspective, anyone who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ may accurately be called a Christian, regardless of what else they believe.” – From her blog comments. How easy it is to argue when you insist on defining what your opponent believes!
Even Teilhard de Chardin becomes a Bible-believer with a few taps of DD’s keyboard! This is just irresistible ignorance. She is defining PA contrary to the way PA’s define it; she is defining a Bible believing Christian in a way wholly foreign to Scripture itself. In taking this tack she is really arguing with herself.
Here’s another one:
“In a sense, Descartes’ approach was similar to that of the presuppers, in that he believed it was through god’s revelation that we were able to know anything beyond the self.” [Of course, Descartes’ approach is diametrically opposite to Van Til’s!].
“It’s a frustrating approach to discussion, to say the least” she says. Indeed! As much of her response so far has been tilting at her own windmills while ignoring my efforts to correct her, “frustrating” is the word. What student of the Bible would agree with her description of the God revealed there as “capricious”? Where in Scripture is God capricious? Where in the BW is there room for a capricious God? Such a god would not be the God of the Bible (a phrase I have been careful to use many times); ergo he would not be the God I am arguing for. To claim things like the God of Scripture is capricious, and that all that makes one a Christian is belief in Christ’s divinity (let alone to say He is “male”) is to declare oneself biblically challenged, not to mount a case against Chrtistian-Theism.
Her Statement of Intent:
She declares boldly,
“Through the course of this post, I hope to show why I think so, to provide my answer to the question, and to demonstrate that the ‘contrary’ – or at least an alternative to Christian presuppositionalism – is very far from impossible.”
All well and good. Let’s see how she rises to the challenge. “If I were to deconstruct my worldview in the way the presuppers think I should (which, I have observed, they generally don’t do themselves)”
If the BW provides the preconditions of intelligibility it is not amenable to deconstruction of course, so she shouldn’t expect me to attempt the impossible. She is welcome to try, providing of course, she properly represents it. She can then give the explanation which accounts for our experience from her point of view.
The BW says we discover order in the universe because God put it there. As I said previously, there was an Orderer. DD just says the universe has the principles of its order within itself (quoting [in fact misquoting] the arch-skeptic Hume – who said, btw, you could prove nothing by experience!) – and she stops. No explanation of how order comes from chaos, how rationality comes from irrationality, how life comes from non-life (contrary to the law of abiogenesis), how logic and morality and good and evil come from an impersonal, mindless, unthinking, amoral explosion. She states it as a self-evident truth and thinks she has explained it, when, of course, she has just said “it’s there!”
So how does DD start? Answer, she turns to Descartes and (if she is consistent) hard foundationalism. Critics of Descartes’ cogito abound, both atheist, agnostic, and theist. Bertrand Russell said all Descartes was entitled to say was that “thoughts are being thunk.”! Buddhists (who, like DD are often atheistic pantheists) affirm the “I” does not exist as the same “I” from moment to moment. Hume, of course, held that there is no “impression, which produces an idea of such prodigious consequence” as the notion of cause and effect. (D. Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature, T.H. Green & T.H. Grose, London, 1874, Vol.1, 377). Moreover, including DD’s ‘eloquent’ quote from Hume:
“If reason determin’d us, it would proceed upon that principle, that instances, of which we have had no experience, must resemble those, of which we have had experience, and that the course of nature continues always uniformly the same…Our foregoing method of reasoning will easily convince us, that there can be no demonstrative arguments to prove, that those instances, of which we have had no experience, resemble those, of which we have had experience.” (Ibid, 389).
But wait. “Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, is the basis upon which all further knowledge must, of necessity, be built.”!
Well, as Donald Palmer observes: “So Hume’s radical empiricism could find no justification for the concepts of “God,” “Causality,” or self-hood.” – Does the Center Hold? An Introduction to Western Philosophy, (2nd edition), 94-95. Given Hume’s belief that people are “a bundle of different perceptions” one would not expect his empiricism to lead to God. But it doesn’t lead to anything else either! It destroys Cartesian solipsistic rationalism. (Hume couldn’t live according to his worldview either).
Here a quote from an older post fits well:
… let us just stop long enough to point out that if all there is is the natural world then the question arises…“How do I know that my sense-experiences – upon which I must depend if I am to test anything empirically – are reliable? Especially if my mind is nothing but firing neurons and synapses?” How can I test my senses empirically? Must I not take them for granted? But if I do I must admit that not everything can be known empirically; since I assume these basic things before I proceed on to inductive testing. Again, as standards of conduct are mandatory to the validity of any experiment, we must ask how these norms can be tested empirically? In the world of the atheist would they not be relative to each individual’s brain chemistry? If not why not?
Dormant Dragon is off to a bad start. She says,
“My self must exist, otherwise I would not be here pondering my existence…”
“Must exist”? Buddhists and Hume say ‘No!’ She invokes Descartes, but before he arrived at his cogito ergo sum he gave any number of reasons why sense-perception is untrustworthy. For starters, we could be dreaming.
So how did Descartes overcome this problem and the distance between his mind and the external world? He posited a good god (small ‘g’ because Descartes’ god is not the God of the Bible). But DD foregoes this avenue (rightly since the God of Scripture cannot be discovered except through revelation). But where does that leave her? How does she bridge the gap between the “I” (even if one were to grant her assumption of a self based upon the cogito) and the external world? That’s a crucial question and she better answer it. If she can’t, her whole edifice dissolves. Let’s see how she does:
“Even if I were a brain in a vat, even if nothing I perceived outside of my self was really there, the collection of matter and energy that gives rise to my mind, my self, the entity that I call “I”, must still exist.” (my emphases).
Although Hume has scattered her perceptions to the four winds, let’s say she can prove a continuous “I” instead of a succession of discrete “I’s”, where is she left? Please notice the words “the entity that I call I.” See how she presupposes the “I” since she calls it something – “I”. As Montague Brown says, “knowing that one is thinking is a second act of the mind.” – Restoration of Reason, 34. So her procedure is a non sequitur. But she continues:
“the collection of matter and energy that gives rise to my mind, my self.”
Is this something she knows via her perceptions? Does matter and energy alone “give rise to mind” (which she qualifies, not as brain, but “self”)? How come? But that is where all this began! She is a naturalist. All she has to make the immaterial laws of thought or morality is matter and motion! Has anyone ever perceived undirected matter and motion create life? Thought? A cell? Something far simpler like a fountain pen or a mousetrap? Anything? (Before someone writes in claiming evolutionists have demonstrated it, I would remind them that evolutionist “claims” change regularly, that claims are not demonstrations, and that what they say in the media and what they say in private differs greatly).
Here It Comes:
Remember, “Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, the basis upon which all further knowledge must, of necessity, be built.” These are her words, not “speak as I find” reinterpretation. We shall hear her out.
“Working out from the self, the ‘knower’, the next essential step in building knowledge is for there to be something to be known. Descartes, it seems, having established the axiom of his own existence, went on to blot his copybook by claiming that the existence of god is as readily and certainly perceptible to us as the existence of our selves (although one is tempted to suggest that god must therefore exist in the same realm as the self – in the mind of the knower” [as would everything else, including the outside world]).
A foundational assumption of naturalism – and naturalistic pantheism – is that there exists a real physical world that we perceive with our [bodily?] senses to at least a practical degree of accuracy – such that we can move within the world, interact with it and effect outcomes all in keeping with the way things are, according to our perceptions. (my emphasis).
Okay, but a “foundational assumption” of conspiracy theorists is that the government is out to get us. So what? How did she escape the Cartesian dilemma? She simply assumed she could! But how does she know the world she perceives is real? Millions of Hindus don’t! How does DD, from her finite perspective and self imposed starting point, know she is not part of the dream of Brahman?
She is now functioning as somebody who has explained (!) her way out of Descartes’ cogito and Hume’s critique of induction. Having magically extricated her “self” and found the outside world she opines:
“Presuppers suppose that this world is intelligible to us because their god made it to be so.”
Not only did God make it so, He made us so that we could interact with our environment, and gave us a mandate to do science whilst promising to uphold the uniformity of nature with a covenant oath. This God – the God of the Bible that is – cannot lie (Titus 1:2), does not change in His nature (Malachi 3:16), and upholds all things by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:2-3; Colossians 1:16). He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who loved the world (including DD) so much He sent His only begotten Son to die in their place, and take the punishment for the willful rebellion of those who use His good gifts without acknowledging Him (John 3:16-21).
She reflects truly that,
“The world is a qualitatively different place for me to what it is for Dr Reluctant, for Dan over at Debunking Atheists or for anyone who subscribes to belief in the God of Classical Theism, who made humans, so the story goes, in his image, and made the world we inhabit…”
You bet it is! The world DD wishes it to be is one where immaterial laws of thought, mathematics and ethics just happen to be “there” (although these “laws” aren’t law-like because they evolve somehow); where humans just happen to be able to recognize these laws and use them to design and build things with specified (to do particular functions) complex (non random) information and to predict how they will function in the extended world. BUT when these same skills are used to demonstrate how the astoundingly complex human cells (which can only be seen if magnified 50,000 times), with very specific functions, point to a Designer, well then somehow chance and necessity can do the job!
She thinks God made the world “essentially to be a proving ground for us so that we can have the chance to spend eternity with god after we die.” Once more she gets an F in Bible and Theology.
“In their world, consciousness precedes, gives rise to, and shapes all material reality.”
Correct! The God of Scripture is the precondition of knowing anything at all. In her world unconscious, blind, random, purposeless forces of physics made bird’s feathers and bat’s sonar’s and the human genome. And we can write hundreds of books and build schools and write detailed computer code to prove there was no Designer involved! (And I used to believe it).
Excursions Into Cloudland (a phrase borrowed from Dean Burgon):
Now it’s time for creative thinking: “But what if material reality gives rise to and shapes consciousness?” And just how does it do that? She should account for these things using only matter and motion (and billions and billions of years of course).
“If we arose from within the material universe…[I’m not even sure what this means. I know DD thinks we did, but what warrant does she have for proposing it?] …it should not come as a surprise to us that our conscious intelligence evolved to make sense of that very same universe.”
It should not surprise us that laws of reason came from unreason, consciousness was created by unconsciousness, life sprang into existence from non-life, Shannon Information in things like crystals arranged itself into complex specified information, DNA code evolved… you know the drill. Given DD’s epistemological bag of tricks she may not be surprised (she has posted her intent to jump epistemological horses yet more in her next post), but let her explain this “non-surprise factor” by laying out the conditions wherein we can make sense of her “what ifs”.
“Perhaps we should not have expected order, patterns and regularity”
Perhaps? Has she ever won a game of scrabble by just tipping the letters onto the board? Would she ever expect to?
“[T]hese are, in fact, what we observe, and these need not be signs of conscious intelligence or deliberate design, but simply the results of natural forces and matter behaving as they characteristically behave under local conditions.”
As this is the way natural unguided forces “characteristically behave” she ought to have no problem providing the preconditions wherein this behavior is intelligible. She has not even proven that these natural forces exist (recall Hume?).
Of course, we all know these things exist. But we’re seeking an underlying explanation from her perspective. What we’ve got so far is a strange brew of Cartesian rationalism and empiricism and a lot of highly subjective “what ifs.” From a biblical perspective all is clear. Almighty God, who is personal, rational, moral, powerful, relational, wise and glorious, created this material world and all the fabulous diversity within it. He made human beings to be body and soul image-bearers in the world He created. Man fell and the world has been suffering ever since. But God will restore earth’s glory and rid it of evil and suffering. Mankind will aspire to God’s original plan for him. There is a meaning to it all. We are not cosmic accidents in an uncaring deterministic world. How do I know? Because the Creator has left His mark in us and around us and, supremely, in the Bible. The Bible is God’s description of Himself, mankind, and his environment. It makes sense of what no other worldview can.
Dormant Dragon’s futile attempts to enthrone her opinions (or those she follows) have left her having to misrepresent the biblical worldview, the biblical God, and presuppositionalism. According to Romans 1:18-22 there is no excuse for it. “Professing themselves wise they became fools.” (1:22). This word “fool” is not meant in a demeaning way (which Jesus condemned), but as an identification of someone who should know better. I realize she thinks my worldview is ludicrous. But what has she replaced it with?
She recalls that, “Dr Reluctant challenged me on this assertion of universal self-organization, by asking if the universe ‘thinks’. A legitimate question, perhaps (?), to which I tentatively answer no – not if by ‘thinking’ he means any universal act of conscious cogitation.” Here I recommend a quick flick through a dictionary. Does the universe do any of the functions described under the word “think”?
“The very question itself seems to me to reflect the kind of belief I outlined above, that conscious intelligence alone can produce order and the appearance of design.”
As I pointed out before (in anticipation of this maneuver) things like crystals do exhibit some order and Shannon information. They never ever exhibit specified order and complex sequenced information. Stephen Meyer writes, “A system or sequence of characters manifests “sequence specificity” if the function of the system as a whole depends upon the specific arrangement of the parts. Language has this property. Software has this property. And so too do proteins.” – Signature in the Cell, 99-100.
Then we encounter this assertion:
“However, let us consider thought for a moment. Thought requires a thinking subject and an object for the thought to be about.”
True enough, but this is something her epistemology must assume without demonstration. Christians believe the precondition of intelligent thought is another intelligent Thinker. We ‘think God’s thoughts after Him.
“…of course, we [sentient beings] do many [purposeful] things without thinking about doing them. Why should we not credit the universe, of which we are a part, with the same ability?”
To do that we would have to commit the fallacy of reification (very common with evolutionists), whereby we assign human predicates to unconscious material things. We possess minds which work even when we are on ‘auto-pilot.’ The universe is impersonal (DD) and doesn’t have a mind. Therefore, to suggest such a thing as even possible without showing how this scenario could work within her interpretation of reality is futile.
“Indeed, it is precisely because I firmly believe that the universe is impersonal that I can feel confident that my senses perceive reality as it is.”
I came away from her explanation of Descartes’ cogito and her assumption of something to be known with rather less confidence!
“…there is no-one trying to make me believe, for their own reasons, that things are other than what I experience.”
Another straw man. God does not violate our will. She experiences God every day. She could not be having this conversation on her deterministic atheistic worldview. It cannot provide the laws of logic she is [mis]using to argue against God. Van Til rightly claimed “atheism presupposes theism.” His famous illustration of a child being held in her father’s lap as she slapped his face comes to mind. Unless the father’s support was there, the child could not slap his face.
“How would mere mortals, limited, temporal beings such as ourselves, be in any position to know that this god was not deceiving us for reasons of his own?”
This has been answered. If the Word of God is not a true reflection of the Revealer it would be false. But then it would be impossible to know the preconditions of knowledge, including truth and falsehood, good and evil (whatever DD’s definitions of these concepts might be). The reason we are having this debate is not because I am or can assume DD’s naturalistic pantheistic perspective, but because she is assuming aspects of my outlook which hers does not possess or account for.
“Some presuppers already claim that their god has a morally sufficient reason for allowing (even causing, if we take the omnipotence and omniscience factors seriously [NB she’s at it again. Telling me what I am supposed to believe]) catastrophic suffering – and, as described in the Bible, ordering acts of genocide – so why would they then suppose that such a god would never have a morally sufficient reason for providing false revelation?”
Answer, because the God of the Scriptures is the one who tells us about these things!
She is right to say I find it hard to believe the universe can order itself in such a way as to produce life and logic (you need the one before the other). But what I believe about her view is not the point. She needs to show how logic. ethics, beauty, information, science etc. are possible from her worldview. Please compare my outline of the biblical worldview and see how I gave a reason for these things in the God of Scripture.
That’s enough for today. I notice DD has (unwisely in my view) posted her “second” main response on her blog. I asked her to wait for me to get this one up, but I suppose she thought she didn’t need to read what I had to say here. I will be out of town tomorrow, and have a full plate, but I shall reply to her new post asap.