In Pursuit of Anything But the Truth: A Summation

Introduction.

I must give credit where credit is due.  Although there is a good deal in her arguments with which I have real problems, Dormant Dragon, unlike many atheists I have come across, has tried to stick to the point and has done so without resorting to “effing and blinding” as the English say.  She has been forthright but not obnoxious.

I want to add that I have not tried to capitalize on her ability as a philosopher.  She may tighten her basic argumentation in the coming years, but she will discover that her objections will roll from rationalism to irrationalism however proficient she may become.  If I have given the impression that I am going after her as a “soft target” I want to correct it, and I apologize if that came across.  My objective was only to handle her main arguments and to demonstrate the presuppositional approach to defending the faith.

DD continually enters the debate without demonstrating any logical connection between her avowed worldview and her day to day experience of the world.  She does not show how her naturalism provides her with the warrant to take her sense perceptions and her brain’s interpretation of them for granted.  She says we must start with the ultra rationalist Descartes, not seeming to see that he at least understood that one must posit God in order to have a reliable external anchor to tether veracious experience to.  If one does not have God (i.e. if, as with DD you only have “Self”), there is no way to move from the cogito to reliable logical experiences.  The subject-object relation cannot be shown to be anything but a trick played on us by our neurons.

1. In responding to her initial charge of Stonewalling I asked a very pertinent question which has not been addressed:

Are the laws of logic material?  [I did not ask, ‘are brain impulses material?’]. If not, can you explain how the material universe produces immaterial realities?  And if these immaterial realities govern rational thought, don’t they then govern how we should think and talk about matter?  By trying to trace the source of logic back to things like primeval gases (unless you have another non-biblical explanation for the universe), are you not attempting to ground rationality upon ultimate irrationality? (unless, of course, you think hydrogen has beliefs).   And if reality is ultimately irrational, whence logic, morality, and truth?

These queries were dodged, although later DD reintroduced the matter of ultimate irrationality safely detached from this context.

This reply, plus another related post, dealt much with showing how the Biblical Worldview (BW) can account for the varied aspects of reality.   DD has claimed that the Bible cannot, in fact, do any such thing, but she has not shown it, and has based most of her counters on her own lack of biblical knowledge or else on the equally unreliable spin of evolutionary “science.”  Now I would, for example, be happy to engage her supposed scientific objections to the Flood, and may do so at another time, but that isn’t the issue.  The issue is presuppositions and worldviews (which determine what one accepts as evidence).  In any case, this discussion centers on DD’s objections to presuppositional apologetics.

In closing the ‘Stonewalling’ post I asked her a very simple and practical question.  I asked,  “In your “bio” you say you are seeking, among other things, “the ethical pursuit of happiness.”  That is commendable.  But upon what do you base your ethics?  And why shouldn’t someone seek happiness unethically?”  No answer!  These issues were never joined.

2. In the ‘Rejoinder‘ I put it to her that her statement that “our reason evolved in this universe” placed her on the horns of a serious dilemma:

by tying the laws of logic to the “evolving universe” you are strongly implying the mutability of logic.  If the “laws” of logic are mutable (changing) then they are not static.  If they are not static they are not “law-like.” Thus, you are building your worldview on the shifting sands of unlaw-like logic!

Again, the question was avoided.  Along the same lines I made another epistemological point which has been dodged.  That point again asks for her warrant for believing what she says she believes:

If you believe logic is changeable it is a wonder you appeal to it.  If you don’t you will have to explain how laws of logic evolve yet remain static.

Has she done so?  She has said much but she has not once given herself to this vital worldview issue.

3. The Great Explanation 1 (hereafter GE1) began by ironing out DD’s misrepresentations of the things she was supposed to be objecting to.  She ought to have taken stock of her deficiencies in these areas and been content not to spout forth any further nonsense about God, the Bible, or presuppositionalism (she persists in this tiresome pattern to the present hour).  Although once or twice showing some glimmers of reticence, she could not hold back the tide of her prejudices and her blog posts and comments have regularly featured mischaracterizations of my position.  In her latest she appeals to some other blogger for support of the following thesis:

Nor is it clear that we must know the preconditions of some phenomenon’s existence before said phenomenon can be intelligible to us. This is largely a case of confusing the order of being with the order of knowing…(my emphasis).

Of course, no one said anything of the kind!  Now either this reveals that DD has once more gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick, or it shows she is intent on avoiding the problem of demonstrating how her view of the world supports her right to make the truth-claims she makes.  Actually, I think it is a bit of both.  For example, her reason for rejecting the phrase “precondition of intelligibility” is because it is a Van Tillian term.  But what sort of invalidation is that?  One suspects that she would rather avoid the whole issue!  In that she would join a long line of unbelievers.  As I thought I made clear previously, the Christian Worldview, to the extent it is in line with Scripture, presupposes the God of Scripture as its ultimate Explanation for the world.  That is our presupposition!  Any person who rejects that must come up with another explanation of the world.  DD’s explanation is that everything that is has gotten here via the supposed potentialities within mass/energy – that’s all!  And her mission ought to be to derive a meaningful theory of reality, of knowledge, and of morality from this premise.  Has she even made a start?  I don’t think so.

As far as I can see her big fallback is what seems to her to be reasonable.  Her post entitled ‘Idols of the Mind’ includes this peach:

It’s not obvious that the Christian god is a precondition for, say, relationships – not in the same way that it’s obvious why our evolution as social animals is a precondition for our ability to form relationships with other members of our species.

Jolly good as an exemplification of blind faith!

This first “Great Explanation” post also dealt a lot with DD’s professed allegiance to Descartes, and showed it to be both disingenuous and unworkable.

We showed in GE1 that Descartes’ starting point is a false start.  We also showed how DD didn’t really rely on the assumptions of the rationalists.  In fact, a quick perusal of her writing provides more than adequate proof that she is, in fact, not an epistemological rationalist at all, but an empiricist!  She starts on the opposite side of the tracks than Descartes (while ignoring Descartes’ and other rationalist criticisms of sense impressions).  As a philosophical materialist (all reality is matter), she repeats the mantra over and over that we MUST trust our experiences.

Very well, but this smothers Descartes!  Now she has another “essential” starting point, and it is the exact reverse of her first one.  Enter DD the empiricist!  But when you adopt empiricism as a theory of knowledge you have to face the specter of David Hume.  We trundled Hume out and showed how empiricism turns out to be mere subjective pragmatism after Hume is through with it.

But DD would not be warned!  She sallied forth with her evolutionary faith and asserted things like this:

“they [people] base their knowledge and understanding upon experience, and they interpret their experiences such that they arrive at what might be termed functional knowledge – knowledge that enables them to move and act within the world. These philosophies also seem to me to be comfortably compatible with naturalistic pantheism.”

“Class concepts would not exist without material entities to group into classes. It’s an efficient means of understanding the world, and the survival benefits to ancestral groups of hominids ought to be obvious.Morality is explicable as a result of our evolution as social mammals. Its existence is dependent upon our relationships to our fellows, and the decisions we make in interacting with the world. What has been called ‘proto-morality’ has also been observed in other social mammals, such as wolves and dolphins, and even some bird species.

I have commented on the repercussions of her evolution-based pragmatism below.  Another thing she said is:

I am suitably horrified by the fact that live vivisections of dogs and other small mammals were carried out in Descartes’ time.

So I said, “Only if she abandons her atheism will her views on live vivisection be of any moral import.”  Does anything DD has said, be it about God, the Bible, presuppositionalism, laws of thought and nature, or, as here, morality rise above the level of opinion?

4. Next, in GE 2.1 I observed:

It is not that I disagree with DD that our impressions of the world are generally reliable – I would expect this within the Biblical Worldview (BW)  – but I do not see how DD can assume it must be so from where she says she’s coming from (and she does assume it).

I think that paragraph is clear enough, but DD continues to write as if I never said it.

Anyhow, in this first installment of a three-parter, I concentrated quite a bit on the laws of nature.  For instance, I stated:

These laws are law-like because they always turn out to hold in every experiment that involves them.  Further, they always disallow outcomes which go contrary to them.  Thus, they are seen as pertaining everywhere at any time.  They are immutable.  And even though it may be theoretically possible to falsify a law of nature, no counter examples have ever been observed.

I did this because so many of DD’s affirmations of “experience” run contrary to these laws.  Here I might insert something I said in the combox of GE2.2:

Listen: something does not come from nothing (law of causality); matter is not eternal (first 2 laws of thermodynamics); life does not come from non-life (law of biogenesis); amino acids cannot thrive in a reduced (oxygen free) atmosphere (2nd law of thermodynamics), but neither can they thrive in a water-based environment (law of hydrolysis). Finally, (though more could be added) reason implies information which cannot come from mindless particles (laws of information).
These are laws because they have never been countermanded in our experience. Yet you say you base your knowledge on experience. I beg to differ!

Crucially, this includes her belief that these same laws would produce the world we live in.  I showed under the sub-heading “Experience Rules!” that her filtering experience through the narrow channel of empiricism brought her out to the wilderness of a pragmatism which cares nothing for things like truth or right and wrong.  She has proved me right, including these snippets:

they [people] base their knowledge and understanding upon experience, and they interpret their experiences such that they arrive at what might be termed functional knowledge – knowledge that enables them to move and act within the world. These philosophies also seem to me to be comfortably compatible with naturalistic pantheism.

Class concepts would not exist without material entities to group into classes. It’s an efficient means of understanding the world, and the survival benefits to ancestral groups of hominids ought to be obviousMorality is explicable as a result of our evolution as social mammals. Its existence is dependent upon our relationships to our fellows, and the decisions we make in interacting with the world.

Evolving morals adds up to no ethical absolutes.  Evolving logic and “functional knowledge” add up to no static laws of logic and the upshot that the only “knowledge”  that counts is what is “functional” (i.e. helps preserve the race), regardless of whether it is right or true!  Hitler and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot deduced this from very similar premises.  Atheists’ only answer is to huff and point fingers at anyone but themselves.

DD had also made this comment which she has rehearsed many times since:

What I do claim is that my essential presupposition is the same one that Bible believers must have before they can claim that such a thing as a Bible even exists for them to believe in – this is the assumption that I am part of a real world that exists and with which I can interact in real, consequential ways.

You can read my response to this under sub-heading ‘3’ in GE 2.1.  She seems to think she has got me with this one.  I don’t know why.  The BW gives me reason to think that the real world exists as I experience it (though we must be aware of perceptual weaknesses like mirages and “odd man out” scenarios).  It gives me reason to use reason as a tool, though being careful not not give it any magisterial authority.  The point is, I CAN start with this assumption and DD has NO WARRANT for doing so, if the world is like she thinks it is!  I don’t know how to put it any simpler.

5. In GE 2.2 I first reviewed some of my arguments in different words before speaking about the personal characteristics of scientific laws.  I then went in another direction with sub-head 5: “The Preconditions of Our Understanding.”  I slipped in an appeal to the Law of Entropy to show how even in a supposed “open system” fed by the Sun’s energy, things never just increase in complexity without an intelligent agent.  The fabled Second Law wreaks havoc all the same.

I then quoted a worldview statement of DD’s and pointed out how her finite starting point is never overcome by a fully authoritative interpretation because she only has recourse to other finite and ignorant minds.  Still, instead of making them think twice about their view of reality they surge on like a non-stop train telling everyone just what reality really is!

What they don’t know far outstrips what they do know; and a lot of what they think they know is open (as we have seen) to serious question.  Final explanations are out of order for atheists because they can only reference their own limited conditional knowledge.  Christians who believe their Bible’s (instead of organizations that teach things like purgatory, the immaculate conception, justification by faith and works, etc.), have the revelation of the Creator to repair to.  If they pay attention to it they are given authoritative information about God, man and the world which addresses the Big Questions.  DD’s outlook addresses these questions too – by implying there is no meaning and it’s all a cosmic accident (this logically entails either muting or ignoring these very questions).

Now I realized that this part of my response would tax some readers, but I don’t want the main point to be lost.  It is that in spite of their constant exclamations of rationality atheists often imbue nature and its laws with mystical properties that they have never given the slightest indication of possessing.  The atheists’ own self-imposed epistemic limitations force them to spout explanations about ultimate reality that are the height of irrationality.

But they have a “get out of jail free” card; it is the eschatological cop-out: – “we’re working on it.”  That’s fine, until one understands that they mean they think they will achieve their answers via a naturalistic worldview.  But they have never arrived at any scientific advancement which could be traced back to their presuppositions about the nature of things.

We gave the example of Causation.  The law of causality is obviated for the materialist by Hume’s critique of induction.  Of course, like Hume, the materialist knows about causation, but he cannot account for it as anything but pragmatic knowledge (viz. it isn’t necessarily true knowledge) which helps the [present] evolution of the species.  Under this kind of pressure, it will not do to blandly assert:

The exercise of human reason requires no further presuppositions – everything else follows from this.

Or,

…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?

6. Moving on, in GE 2.3 I dealt with Information.  The reason I introduced some evidences at this time was to show that reducing reality down to matter in motion as atheists do is not tenable.  Information is a third necessary constituent of the universe, and information only comes from minds.  The coterie of irritated materialists who slammed Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell without even reading it proves that there really are scientists who believe you can bring something out of nothing.

But aren’t these people very smart?  What is the trouble?  The trouble is that they are employing their ingenuity in the thankless task of atheistic materialism.  To adopt one of Cornelius Van Til’s metaphors; they are like very sharp saw blades set at the wrong angle.  They cut well, but everything they cut is “off.”

She opined,

Strange though it may seem to have to explain such a natural and obvious assumption as that of the existence of a real world…

I replied with: “What is obvious is that we live in the real world.  What is not at all obvious is that this world is made and structured according to DD’s interpretation of it.”

Conclusion

She is trying to start a car with no engine in it.  Her arguments are flawed more often than not because she has not paid due attention either to what she is arguing against, nor to what she is arguing for.

And this is where we came in.  If anyone has the energy to read the short post which elicited this correspondence they will surely see that DD has fulfilled its “prophecies” to the letter.  My only remaining duty is to remind her that Jesus really did die in her place to take the condemnation which will come upon her if she continues to spurn God’s love and persists in her futile attempts to fabricate reality in defiance of its Maker.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks you for your efforts addressing this, Paul.

    While I was in Australia visiting family I bought Jonathan Sarfati’s “The Greatest Hoax On Earth” which is a response to Dawkins’ “The Greatest Show On Earth…”.

    I highly recommend it along with Berlinski’s “The Devil’s Delusion”.

    Have a safe and happy Easter.

  2. Of course, no one said anything of the kind! Now either this reveals that DD has once more gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick, or it shows she is intent on avoiding the problem of demonstrating how her view of the world supports her right to make the truth-claims she makes.

    If you’re starting from the position of basic empiricism, from which pretty much every human operates, whence presuppositionalism? You are deriving conclusions from your experience, and then attempting to fit a prefabricated epistemological framework onto what you experience as reality. Perhaps this would be better referred to as postsuppositionalism.

    Actually, I think it is a bit of both. For example, her reason for rejecting the phrase “precondition of intelligibility” is because it is a Van Tillian term.

    Not that, but the fact that it only ever appears in the context of Christian apologetics and postmodern deconstructionism.

    But what sort of invalidation is that? One suspects that she would rather avoid the whole issue! In that she would join a long line of unbelievers.

    On the contrary, I find it a potentially fruitful area of philosophical enquiry, and hope to address it to some extent in an upcoming post (still in the draft stage).

    As I thought I made clear previously, the Christian Worldview, to the extent it is in line with Scripture, presupposes the God of Scripture as its ultimate Explanation for the world. That is our presupposition! Any person who rejects that must come up with another explanation of the world. DD’s explanation is that everything that is has gotten here via the supposed potentialities within mass/energy – that’s all!

    Which makes much better sense than to suppose that an eternally existing, immaterial-yet-able-to-interact-with-matter, and curiously anthropomorphic mind made everything. we have at least a foothold in understanding the behaviour of matter and energy from an empirical standpoint; there is no such foothold with regard to any gods – all we have are stories and human imagination, which are themselves theoretically explicable in terms of the behaviour of matter and energy in complex systems. And I would have thought that, contrary to your representation, the first law of thermodynamics – that energy can be neither created nor destroyed, only changed – actually doesn’t imply that energy is not an eternal entity; quite the opposite, I would have thought.

    And her mission ought to be to derive a meaningful theory of reality, of knowledge, and of morality from this premise. Has she even made a start? I don’t think so.

    Some of my previous posts have begun to address these issues. As I continue to cut my philosophical teeth, I expect there will be more discussion relevant to the above on my blog.

  3. Hi DD, hope you are well.

    I don’t think there is much more to discuss between us, although I shall do you the [dubious] honor of reading your next post 🙂

    I do not start from an empiricist viewpoint so your first point is passe.

    Further, you must escape the Cartesian/Humean bind (not to mention the pragmatic knowledge/value bind) that you have put yourself in before talking about what can be known empirically.

    I wish you well. I have prayed (as a Christian should of course) that you will look to Jesus and accept His offer of salvation. I tell you this not to annoy you, but only as a friend.

    Kind regards,

    Paul

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