Because of the inordinate length of this reply to an atheist who blogs as Dormant Dragon, it has been divided into parts. If you want the context please make sure you read part 1 and part 2.1 before reading this. I have made this reply far longer than I intended it to be, and that means I shall require one more installment (Part 2.3). For this I again apologize to those wanting a quick read.
4. No Small Failure
We have seen so far that the atheist take on reality and experience does not acquit itself at all well when a little pressure is applied in the realms of natural laws, logic, or ethical mores. As a matter of fact it reduces them either to banality or absurdity. This is no small failure! Any world-picture which trips over itself in explaining such crucial fields of experience ought to be consigned to the intellectual dustbin. Contrariwise, the biblical worldview (BW) does supply us with solid reasons for believing in the uniformity of nature and laws of science, and its moral teaching is far in advance of the nebulous moral conventionalism of the best atheists. It is no coincidence that the rise of the sciences corresponded with the rediscovery of the BW at the time of the Reformation: it is well known that practically all the founders of modern science (Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Boyle, Newton, Ray, Linnaeus, Lavoisier, Faraday, Pasteur, Maxwell, Kelvin, etc.) were strongly influenced by the BW. Commentators ranging from A. N. Whitehead to Mary Hesse have testified to this historical fact.
Likewise, as David Aikman shows in The Delusion of Disbelief, the Founding Fathers of the United States, whether they were Theistic or Deistic, all to a man believed that human freedoms could only be insured against what Nietzsche would call “the will to power” by the inculcation of religious, specifically biblical morality. Atheism by contrast, wherever it has gained power, has always violently curtailed individual and social freedoms just because it has no system of normative morality to hold itself up to (this is one of the areas where biblical Christianity must be differentiated from Roman Catholicism).
The starting-point for atheism is (supposedly) “reason” – but their “reason” has its source in the unreason of matter and energy. The forces of matter and energy are non-rational. If a person really believed that all there is to make the wonders in the world is mass/energy they would have no expectation, let alone any justification, to believe in laws of nature, uniformity in nature, the reliability of their brainwaves to correspond to the extended world outside their brain; nor laws of logic, nor moral norms of anything but a descriptive psychological sort. I have both expectation and justification because the BW gives me every reason to believe just the opposite to DD.
If I were committed to evolution (as I once was), I might not like some of its attendant dogmas, but that by itself would not make it untrue. Or if I were a Hindu, I might not enjoy the thought that I was on the perpetual wheel of karma. But again, not liking something does not make it false. DD sometimes (though not as much as some of her fellow atheists) mixes her personal feelings about God – whom she cannot bring herself to use the correct capitalization on – with the BW. Feelings have nothing to do with matters of truth. The reason I reject non-Christian worldviews is not because I don’t like them, but because they make nonsense of my experience, while the BW supplies the preconditions for it.
For instance, in his book Redeeming Science (20), the Christian scholar Vern Poythress writes:
Rationality is a sine qua non for scientific law. But, as we know, rationality belongs to persons, not to rocks, trees, and subpersonal creatures. If the law is rational, which scientists assume it is, then it is also personal.
He says the same thing about language. Language presupposes rationality and personality. The alternatives proffered by evolutionary theorists not only contradict our everyday experience (all languages we know about presuppose rationality and personality), they are positively comic-bookish; comparable in their patent absurdity to the dream that flaps of skin turned into feathers as critters launched themselves off branches in continual ludicrously ill-fated proto-flights.
But enough of that for now; we need to give a quote from DD.
…Christianity starts to resemble the vulgar mystery-cult clone that it is when you don’t spend all your time trying to pretty it up with fancy explanations – like yours for the trinity – that might look good on paper and roll easily from the tongue, but don’t make any sense in relation to the real world.
There is not much weighing of the evidence going on here! I have already referred readers to John Oswalt’s study, The Bible Among The Myths, which gives short shrift to these silly mystery-cult claims. Those that make them show thereby that they have not looked too carefully into it. It is one thing to say “I don’t like that…” in the same way one doesn’t like butter on sandwiches. It is another to say “I don’t like that” and then give erroneous reasons for ones dislike.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not, of course, illogical. What-is-more, it accounts for the one-and-many problem; the problem of relating individual instances of things to their universals (concepts). This problem has stymied philosophers from before the time of Plato. John Frame says,
The Trinity shows us, at least in very general terms, how ultimate unity and diversity can be reconciled…if they are seen not as abstract qualities, but as qualities of a [P]erson. – Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, 76.
The English theologian Colin Gunton did some penetrating work centering on the Trinity; work that cannot be dismissed with a wave of the infidel hand. He again took pains to stress the personal dimension. So there is much to be said for the explanatory value of the doctrine of the Trinity, nevermind its theological importance or its uniqueness when contrasted with the world’s religions.
5. The Preconditions of Our Understanding
Presuppositional Apologetics (PA) asserts that unless the God of Scripture is presupposed it is not possible to make sense of anything. DD wants to ground her understanding in experience, but she has not realized that her atheistic pantheist outlook makes nonsense of experience. DD and others will of course say that they do make sense of many things. Conspicuously absent from her web of belief has been a coherent connection between the inert properties she begins with and the conscious rational percepts she is using to argue for her starting point. Indeed, there is no connection possible within her scheme of things. By contrast when one begins with an Absolute Personal Creator as depicted in the Bible the connections are only to be expected. What this amounts to is that the atheist worldview predicates our experience on things which could never explain that experience. Like trying to explain Michelangelo’s intensely moving Rondanini Pieta by pointing at the ground: there is no causal connection at all!
Throughout this correspondence DD has denied our assertions, and she has accompanied these denials with her belief that the universe has the principles of its own order within itself. She has lobbied for the necessity of a theory of knowledge based upon experience. With respect, I believe there is some cognitive dissonance going on. Has she ever relied on the properties of nature to mix her cooking ingredients or type out her objections to God? Truly she could stand there a billion years and it would never happen. For starters, the law of entropy would put paid to her expectations. Things don’t go from disorder to order, but from order to disorder. That is our collective experience!
It might be said that the second law of thermodynamics applies to closed systems, and our earth, with its constant supply of heat energy from the Sun, is an open system. I’ll run with that. So DD takes her ingredients outside and waits for the Sun to mix them – what will happen? The energy is there, but it is not purposefully directed energy! So the recipe remains unmixed – and then the law of entropy still takes over!
So let’s compare her assertions of “experience” and then ask whether she or anyone else has ever experienced them occurring. We do this while remembering the bottom line beliefs she has at her disposal.
In fact, it is my belief that energy is the fundamental ‘stuff’ of the universe – matter is energy in a different form. We don’t yet know all the possible properties and capabilities of different arrangements of matter and energy, but this is a prompt for further inquiry, not a reason to declare certain things impossible just because we have yet to fully understand them.
Notice a number of important things in this quote:
First, note the admission of ignorance regarding “all the possible properties and capabilities of different arrangements of matter and energy.” Due to our finitude humankind does not know everything. In fact, as Einstein often reminded scientists in his day, we know very little of the mysteries of the cosmos and are like little children in a large library filled with books in strange languages. We need to be humble. But when we then ask “what, then, is your ultimate authority for knowledge?” the answer we get back from DD is that it is the human mind. What this boils down to is this: for the atheist the human mind is the ultimate criterion of knowledge, but the human mind is finite and limited and is ignorant of very many things. Hence the atheists’ final court of appeal is their own finitude. Yet from this finitude they dogmatize about ultimate reality. As should be obvious, they are caught within the contradiction of having to explain reality from their immanent finite vantage point, and yet also having to admit that they are ignorant regarding much of reality.
Lest it be replied that everyone has the same limitations, it needs to said that atheists like DD have no way out of this predicament. For atheists, with their immanent finite starting point for knowing, truth claims are left suspended on air. By way of comparison the Christian can admit his or her finitude, but can then point for final explanation, not to that finitude (the human mind), but to the transcendent Lord of the Universe who is also present with His creatures and gives them His Word. What this produces is a clear contrast between ultimate criteria of believer and unbeliever.
I repeat, for people like DD the human mind is the ultimate standard for knowledge, but this standard is a long way from comprehending a lot of reality. So what happens is, after dispensing with (or rather overlooking) the BW, the unbeliever is stuck with the impossible task of interpreting the world in ways which will never explain it. Thus, the seemingly rational starting point of the atheist ends up becoming mystical in its statements about ultimate reality; “the Great Explanation” as I’ve called it – unless that is, the BW, which gives the explanation, is pilfered for its explanatory materials. This mysticism can be seen, for example, in the assigning of automatically self-ordering, developmental, information-rich properties to matter and energy. (This is much like the reification of the forces of nature by pagan religions who shared the same immanentistic starting point as DD). The trick is to make it sound as if “the Great Explanation” is sustained on the same ‘rational’ sounding footing as the pretended rational starting point. This is accomplished through the skilled use of empty rhetoric (e.g. “evolution found a way”; “beneficial mutations”; “self-generating laws,”; “man does not need God to be moral.”)
Secondly, notice this statement: “but this is a prompt for further inquiry, not a reason to declare certain things impossible just because we have yet to fully understand them.” She slips in a little jibe about PA declaring some things impossible which are yet unknown to us. This is an attempt at introducing “the god of the gaps” fallacy wherein the believer takes refuge in the retreating areas of our understanding of the universe until he is flushed out by a scientific explanation. But this will not work, for the premise of “the god of the gaps” was built upon the naiveté of some apologists who worked outside the BW by means of natural theology (the belief that certain knowledge of God is attainable through the use of unaided reason without recourse to Scripture). Such a position we utterly repudiate – as did the Reformers. The impossibility we do insist upon is the impossibility of basing any assertion or value-statement upon solid ground given atheistical (or non-biblical) presuppositions.
Thirdly, as is a matter-of-course with atheists who put all their faith in science (even though DD says she doesn’t hold to scientism she leaves herself with no epistemology but scientific empiricism), we find the inclusion of ‘the eschatological cop-out’ in this statement. “We don’t yet know…prompt for further inquiry…yet to fully understand..”. As we shall see shortly, this faith in the future, while legitimate within the BW understanding the world, does not comport with an atheistic conception of reality.
Here is another quote:
If I put my hand into a fire, thinking that the fire is not really there, or all in my head, will not stop my hand from burning. If I break a limb, I cannot undo the damage by thinking it never really happened. If I am diagnosed with cancer, imagining that there is no tumour in my body will not give me any comfort or be any use in treating the disease.
We reply, “And if I pretend that immaterial mental laws of logic, morality and information come from inanimate matter am I not deceiving myself too?” Absolutely! And this is the presuppositional challenge. The Bible says DD knows God exists deep down (Rom. 1:18-22), but her sinful heart is deceiving her into accepting impossible explanations for this world while looking past the true one.
Greg Bahnsen used to illustrate this by supposing a debate in which one of the protagonists was arguing against the existence of oxygen while all the while he was breathing it. The proof of the veracity of Christian-theism is the impossibility of the contrary. Naturally, the unbeliever will not agree to this, since to agree with it is to take leave of all their precious reasons for unbelief! But it is not the apologist’s job to convince men against their wills. That may be SOP for Islamists or the Spanish Inquisition, but the Bible never tells us to even contemplate it. When “giving a reason for the hope that is within us” we are to show the God-rejecter that their understanding of reality just doesn’t make any sense of experience, and this is done, in part, by making them epistemologically self-conscious.
By writing her second post before she had read my response to her first post she put herself further in epistemological hot water. She says she still takes the cogito ergo sum of Rene Descartes as foundational to knowing anything.
I have no qualms about accepting the cogito as a useful and indeed necessary foundation for proceeding to worldview construction
I have already shown why Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” does not get you off the starting-block. But in point of fact, I didn’t need to. DD herself, after insisting on its foundational necessity for knowledge, abruptly precludes the cogito:
Knowledge, as I indicated in part 1 of my response, is, I think, best described as a relationship of trust and familiarity between the knower and that which is known
Bypassing the fact that this is a roundabout way of saying that she trusts her brain to interpret her sense-impressions accurately,notice how she is not starting where Descartes started; by doubting everything until he could not doubt that he was doubting. (and in this Descartes was just fooling himself. As Roy Abraham Varghese has said, “It would have been more correct to say, ‘I think therefore know that I cannot as a thinking being have come into existence from non-thinking matter.’”).
She is in fact starting by not doubting; a. that she exists and that she can connect with the external world outside her mind, and b. that “that which is known” can, in fact, be called “knowledge” and not just delusion. Descartes made no such assumption.
Experience is the only means we have of establishing whether or not our truth and knowledge claims reflect reality as it is.
This is rampant empiricism, not Cartesian rationalism. She has booted Descartes into the stands!
So what does “in the beginning hydrogen” or “in the beginning matter and energy” deliver up in the way of a platform for believing in the trustworthiness of our sense-impressions (and so our experiences)? Enter David Hume.
This is no place to start teaching philosophy, but the ultra-empiricist Hume will not allow the atheist to pin all his or her hopes on sense-experiences. It was the Scottish philosopher who said:
“All events seem entirely loose and separate. One event follows another,but we never can observe any tie between them.”
Hume reduced all claims to knowledge to the level of impressions upon our five senses. If one could not trace a knowledge claim back to direct impressions it could not be labeled as true. But his empiricism was so thorough that he argued that noone ever has an impression or perception of a necessary connection (“tie”) between one event and another. Every event was discrete and on it’ s own. Any connection we make is out of habit (e.g. that the ground is wet after rain). We don’t actually perceive the connections. And since all I know is my perceptions (impressions), I cannot claim to know, says Hume, that one thing causes another. Hence, Hume’s empiricism destroyed causality and so undermined the foundation of science. In showing where empiricism leads, Hume showed that truth-claims, either about the nature of the Self or about the nature of the world, cannot be sustained upon such a theory of knowledge. But that is the theory of knowledge used by the atheist! Recall this statement by DD?
…but this is a prompt for further inquiry, not a reason to declare certain things impossible just because we have yet to fully understand them.
How can DD inquire into a future she cannot know? Hume says we can only “know” the past. We can never “know” what will happen in the future. But it gets worse. The person who bases all knowledge on experience has no epistemic right to claim any knowledge about anything in the future. This is because we cannot sense or test the future. If one really held to such a worldview why would one do science at all?
Naturalism supports the notion that we must have means of relating to and interacting with the rest of the natural world, and that it is by such means that we likewise gain a store of knowledge
Why “must” naturalism support this theses? Why would it not even better support the notion that everything is illusory? That our minds create our reality instead of giving us direct access to it as it really is? (Kant).
The fact that we are able to make sense of the world in which we live is a product of our direct relationship with it.
Again, how dos she know she has a direct relationship with the world given her materialist assumptions? And even were we to grant this to her, she still has given no explanations. Cows have a direct relationship with the world, but they don’t reflect upon it. Why does DD? And just how is it a “product” of our relationship with the world? What produces it, the firing of synapses in the brain?
I realize the full implications of this will be lost on the atheist. But I ask the reader to think about worldviews and their fallout. They matter. It is because of the Christian worldview that the West is not like the East in its view of existence (although this foundation is eeking away with the rise of secularism).
By what means, other than personal experience, are we to approach truth? I claim this on the basis of my continued experience of sitting on the chair and not falling through it. From this, I can then infer that my friend, being about my size and weight, could sit on my chair and not fall through it. In every relevant sense here, I can then assure my friend that I know the chair will bear her weight.
I’m afraid you can’t – not from your position as a naturalistic atheist. Not if you have a worldview that is strictly empirical and cannot establish cause and effect (Hume), and so can’t account for the uniformity of nature!.
Hume’s philosophy, which is so destructive to Christian apologetics of the neutral ground, evidentialist kind, is a positive boon to the presuppositionalist who begins, not with himself, but with the Word of God. Hume demonstrates that our attempted autonomy makes us void the Creator’s explanation of reality and replace it with plastic specimens which collapse in on themselves into futility.
The simplicity of the naturalist’s worldview is to draw conclusions on the basis of evidence…
I mean no disrespect, but the word “simplicity” deserves to be replaced by “simplistic”. Notice the inference here. The “evidence” is just there waiting to speak to us. But evidence is subject to interpretation, and interpretations are influenced, indeed often determined, by our larger constructions of reality. We make the facts speak – they have no voice without our interpretation. In the BW the facts are there because in one way or another God in His providence puts them there. This means they are pre-interpreted, not by us, but by God. Our job is to know the facts as God knows them to the best of our ability. Thus, in the BW there is no such thing as a brute fact.
In the atheist worldview there is no Mind behind the course of events; all things derive from mindless matter. There is no telos or purpose and thus no “reason” behind why they are there. Evidence just sits there waiting for someone to interpret it in any number of ways. In DD’s outlook on the world, we are “not to assume that ultimate conclusions have been preordained and to interpret the world to fit those conclusions.”
Here we see that by refusing to acknowledge the Creator and Conditioner (though not fatalistically so) of the world she is left with a world of contingent facts which she is unable to give final interpretations of.
It strikes me as all backwards to claim that because we can approach an understanding of the universe, the universe must have been made to align with our reason. Say rather that it is our reason that was born and grew up in this universe, and that it is our response, as natural beings, to the way we perceive nature – including ourselves – behaving.
Let me highlight a few problems here which DD, like all atheists, just breezes past.
1. Please notice how familiarity with the wonder of living and understanding things has led to her simply taking it as another brute fact. We see to understand a universe which does not nor never will reciprocate. Yet this same lifeless, brainless, and aimless universe is believed more logically to have produced our life and understanding than God?
2. Our reason “was born and grew up in this universe…” Notice the reification of nature here. Ascribing living predicates to the non-living material which she says put us together.
3. We are “natural beings” – presumably she means we are products of natural causes alone – but we “respond” to and “perceive nature.” But that makes us different than mere matter in motion! Nature is not sentient. It does not “perceive” itself and reflect upon its purpose and existence. It does not “experience” anything. What then would cause an otherwise intelligent person to believe such things as this? I submit again that the clue is not far away. “For the carnal mind is hostile toward God.” (Romans 8:7). I shall continue in the language of the Apostle Paul:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is evident within them; for God made it evident within them…so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” – Romans 1:18-22, 25.
Been there, done that! I mean no insult to DD, whom I have enjoyed interacting with, but this is the Bible’s diagnosis, which, as a Bible-believer, I agree with.
One final quote for today:
The exercise of human reason requires no further presuppositions – everything else follows from this.
Translation: Human “reason” is just there so I don’t need to account for it. I can construct any worldview I like regardless of whether or not I can use to make any sense of human reason or experience.
Every person is their own proximate starting point. But then they are under obligation to construct an interpretation of existence which explains this proximate starting point. Atheists never depart from their own ignorance. They are stuck with no building plan for the world they live in. They tell stories about evolving life from non-life and the eternity of matter, and conscious freedom being secured by the laws of physics, but they never demonstrate how this can be and they never live out their professed worldview. This is why they make truth-claims which they cannot sustain within their worldview. For the Christian (not the generic or nominal variety of which there are all too many), the starting-point for comprehending themselves, their world; its marvels and its “fallenness” is God – the Triune God of Scripture. The God who made the world for Himself and who has not given upon it, nor on those like myself and Dormant Dragon who live brief lives on it.
I promise next time I will finish this post!