Philosophy

The Creation Narrative: Genesis 1 and 2 (Pt.7)

Part Six

God’s Transcendence versus Continuity

It is very important to notice the links between the creation accounts and ethical accounts.  In one way or another all non-biblical systems of belief paint a metaphysical picture of reality that is at once unified and diverse.  The unity is found in the indissoluble connection between heaven and earth, between man and the “higher powers”, or between the human animal and the Cosmos.  The diversity is seen in the various ways this connection is explained.  It may be explained by saying that we are merely the consequence of blind, purposeless matter coming together and developing in a certain way.  This is the secular evolutionary explanation in which man is no more significant than a slug (to cite atheist moral philosopher Peter Singer) because men, slugs and stars are composed of the same stuff arranged in different combinations.  The same feature is found in ancient pagan depictions of reality.  There is a real connection between the gods and the earth.  There are no exceptions, everything is connected; nothing is truly transcendent.

Old Testament scholar John W. Oswalt, defines “continuity” in this way:

Continuity is a philosophical principle that asserts that things are continuous with each other.  Thus I am one with the tree, not merely symbolically or spiritually, but actually.  The tree is me; I am the tree.  The same is true of every other entity in the universe, including deity.  This means that the divine is materially as well as spiritually identical with the psycho-socio-physical universe we know.[1]

The ancient myths reflected an outlook on the world, and they memorialized that outlook.  Thus, “myth depends for its whole rationale on the idea that all things in the cosmos are continuous with each other.  Furthermore, myth exists to actualize that continuity.”[2]

Oswalt demonstrates that this “continuity” or connection between gods and humans and rocks is the key difference between the biblical worldview and its rivals, ancient and modern.  Rituals, however debasing they became, were thought to affect the god for whose benefit they were performed.  Just as the rumbling of thunder was construed as something happening among the pantheon above, so a festival or dance or sacrifice was believed to be noticed by those same gods.  This is the ancient idea of “the Great Chain of Being” which unfortunately got introduced into Christian thought through a misunderstanding of the thought of Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics.

This “hierarchy of beings” is well described by David Bentley Hart:

God was understood as that supreme reality from which all lesser realities came, but also as in a sense contained within the hierarchy, as the most exalted of its entities.  Such was his magnificence and purity, moreover, high up atop the pyramid of essences, that he literally could not come into direct contact with the imperfect and changeable order here below.  He was in a sense limited by his own transcendence, fixed up “there” in his proper place within the economy of being.[3]

When Hart refers to God being “limited by his own transcendence” he is highlighting the incongruity of putting Him atop any chain of being.  In biblical terms, what we call God’s transcendence is His Lordship over everything He has made and upholds, together with His immanent working in providence.

Although there are things in common that the biblical creation narrative with ancient creation myths, these similarities shouldn’t surprise us once it is understood that these creation myths are partly derived from the original truths passed down from Adam and his descendents, twisted of course and corrupted as man rebelled against God and became polytheistic and superstitious, and lost the framework for true transcendence.

How different all this is from the creation accounts of surrounding nations!  Those all assume the eternity of matter in some guise.  This is why things like transcendental meditation, non-Christian prayer, voodoo, magic, sorcery, etc., are practiced in the belief that one can directly affect the world or the god in some way.  Even many atheists have a mystical side to them which reflects this idea.  Only within biblical spirituality does this continuity of being evaporate.[4]   God is the transcendent Lord over all He creates and He cannot be maneuvered or coerced to do anything which is contrary to His will.

So the doctrine of Creation as found in Genesis 1 and 2 sets up a theological and philosophical platform which ought to produce a way of looking at things which has radical divergences from those which are conceived of by the world.

In verses 28-30 we see that God the Creator makes everything, and then made the creature who was like Him.  Man had a vital role to play and a response to give in the project.  We see, then, an ethical dimension introduced at the start; the role and response were to be worshipful.

—————————————————————————–

[1] John W. Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths, 43

[2] Ibid, 45

[3] David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, 203-204.

[4] Of course, where certain Christian formulations may be overly reliant on Greek thought (e.g. some Thomistic reliance upon Aristotle).  This is still a problem in some quarters.

Part Eight

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Scientism and Naturalism

A follow up to Scientism isn’t Science

Naturalism is defined by Stewart Goetz & Charles Taliaferro in this way:

Naturalism – very roughly – may be defined as the philosophy that everything that exists is a part of nature and that there is no reality beyond or outside of nature. – Naturalism, 6

Something being “a part of nature” is here meant to exclude the supernatural.  Naturalism then is opposed to supernaturalism.  It is seeing all things as natural and nothing as being supernatural.  It is this view of the world which informs scientism, and it is this same view which informs modern scientific procedure.  Although it is important to say that the procedure does not lead every scientist to embrace scientism (the belief that all questions about reality can be scientifically determined), scientism certainly needs the procedure.  This procedure is what is called “methodological naturalism” (MN).

Make no mistake about it, the definition of naturalism accepted by most scientists is freighted into their understanding of MN.  This is to say the word “naturalism” in methodological naturalism bears the same metaphysical meaning as it does in secularist philosophical naturalism of the sort promoted by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Jerry Coyne and the rest.  And this ought to surprise nobody.  For the method which leads to naturalism must be logically set on its course by naturalism.

We may wish to distinguish philosophical naturalism from methodological naturalism because we think they are separate things.  We may want to assert that the “naturalism” of methodological naturalism is different than the “naturalism” of philosophical naturalism (PN).  But that minority position is a weak one for the reason that it involves an equivocation.  If, for the minority, the “naturalism” of MN is not the same as the “naturalism” of PN then perhaps it would be better all round for these equivocalists not to use the term methodological naturalism at all.  From my point of view, I think this would be advisable so as to avoid ambiguity and misunderstanding, especially for Christian supernaturalists who believe that the laws of nature do not hang in the deterministic ether, but are reliant every moment upon the powerful word of God.  They should not and need not be in denial of this central fact when pursuing science, but they may have to rename their method to better reflect a biblical position.  Perhaps something like “reasoned” or “critical empiricism”?

Is it all to no Purpose?

The ingredient which is supposed to be absent from MN is teleology.

If strict naturalism is true, then there is no ultimate and irreducible teleological explanation of any event, let alone our actions, in terms of a purpose. – Naturalism, 13.

It can be admitted that science could not proceed much if “God did it” was the answer to every question. But that is a trivialization of the biblical worldview.  The question which leads to science and encourages its pursuit is “How did God do it?”  That leaves the scientist free to analyze the natural world without pretending that it is everything that exists.  God’s purpose would not then interfere with the accumulation of data and theorizing.

Yet teleology is not only essential to understanding basic truths (e.g. the heart is for pumping blood; a stick of chalk is for a chalkboard; a lab coat is for wearing in a laboratory), it is basic to many enterprises which are covered by the word “scientific.”  Detecting purpose is at the very center of archaeology, forensics, and other pursuits in historical science.

Michael Polanyi wrote,

Our vision of the general nature of things is our guide for the interpretation of all future experience.  Such guidance is indispensable.  Theories of the scientific method which try to explain the establishment of scientific truth by any purely objective formal procedure are doomed to failure.  Any process of enquiry unguided by intellectual passions would inevitably spread out into a desert of trivialities.  Our vision of reality, to which our sense of scientific beauty responds, must suggest to us the kind of questions that it should be reasonable and interesting to explore. – Personal Knowledge, 135.  

Every notion of guidance suggests a goal or purpose.  There are no guides on the road to nowhere.  And although we may not know where the road leads we surely wouldn’t travel down it if we didn’t expect it to bring us out in a fruitful eventuality.  Pretending to ignore teleology brings on scientific reductionism – a reductionism which will threaten to strangle the parent which gave birth to it.  Polanyi’s insistence in the inescapability of tacit or personal knowledge; what today is usually called “first-person” knowledge, is antithetical to the naturalist agenda.  Hence, MN is usually circumscribed within a false objectified disinterested or detached third-person paradigm: one which, as Polanyi and others show, is simply impossible.

What naturalists need for their metaphysical project (shall I say “goal”!) is a closed system of causation. As Goetz and Taliaferro explain, “A study of the literature about strict naturalism…leads one to believe that in the end strict naturalists appeal to one central argument in support of their view ‘the argument from causal closure.'” – Naturalism, 26.  Unsurprisingly, as we have already said, philosophical naturalists take firm hold of MN as the way to prove their philosophy.  Thus,

The philosopher Jaegwon Kim argues that a neuroscientist (indeed, any scientist) has a methodological commitment to the causal closure of the physical world. – Naturalism, 28 

And Kim himself is quoted as saying that,

Most physicalists… accept the causal closure of the physical not only as a fundamental metaphysical doctrine but as an indispensable methodological presupposition of the physical sciences. Ibid, 29   

Consciousness is not a physical thing.  But if one is a naturalistic materialist it has to be a physical thing. If physicalists cannot explain consciousness and intentionality they can at least kick the can down the street and tell us the explanations are on their way.  They can do this because in their world methodological naturalism resists, always and everywhere, non-natural and purposive explanations.

In the worldview of the Bible, the scientist should not invoke supernatural causes of natural phenomena, but for a very important reason: although God’s power and wisdom is understood to be the cause of the matter under investigation, the Creation mandate only requires – indeed dictates – that the natural world be examined to see what God did and to comprehend the mechanisms, physical and mental, which He uses to create and sustain a thing.  In this outlook the first person and the third person perspectives coexist in coming to knowledge.

The Frame of Knowledge: A Christian View

Here’s an older piece which I thought worth bringing out for perusal.  It’s fairly long, but I hope some folks will like it:

Introduction

The Christian must take his or her position upon the words of Scripture. Not after it has been granted that the Bible really is the very Word of God, but it must be the great presupposition, the ultimate commitment of every child of God. We must insist that there is, in fact, no alternative to the Bible when it comes to an infallible and certain source of knowledge available to humanity. It is the “frame” into which all of mans thoughts must fit if man is to know anything for certain. Natural theology can only provide an immanent base upon which to build a theology, which would require that God’s Truth would always have to submit itself to the judgment of men. Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff describes this wrong turn taken by evangelicals in the modern (i.e. Enlightenment) era:

Theology in the modern university is under pressure to cast its argumentative structure into a very different mold. Natural theology can no longer occur as an occasional insertion into the framework of scripturally based sacred theology, as the necessary foundation thereof. Until that foundation is firmly laid in the deliverances of our human nature, there can be no going beyond. And the “going beyond,” from natural theology to scripturally based sacred theology, can occur only if the theologian, appealing solely to the deliverances of our human nature, has succeeded in establishing that the Christian Scriptures are indeed the revelation of God. Natural theology, conducted as a generically human enterprise, is thus to be followed by inquiry into the revelatory status of Scripture, also conducted as a generically human enterprise. If the result of this last inquiry is that Christian Scripture is likely to be (or include) God’s revelation, then one can construct the remainder of one’s theology on the basis of that revelational content – with the proviso that one’s interpretation of the meaning of Scripture is also to be conducted as a generically human enterprise.[1]

If the believer starts by arguing to the reliability, inspiration, and authority of Scripture he will never get to where he can plant both feet solidly on all of its teachings. Our purpose at this point is to examine what is perhaps the most disruptive fallout of an adherence to natural theology, and that is the bifurcation of knowledge into that which can be known by reason alone, and that which can only be known by reason acting in tandem with faith.

A. The “Two Spheres”

In his book about the fortunes of modern atheism in the West, the Oxford scholar Alister McGrath highlights the unfortunate outcome of churchmen in the time of the Enlightenment trying to prove God’s existence from philosophical reasoning alone:

Convinced that the scientific discoveries of their day could be harnessed to serve the needs of the church, Descartes and his colleagues abandoned any appeal to religious experience in their defense of the faith. The secure proofs of religion lay in philosophy and the natural sciences – in the reasoning of this world rather than the intrusion of the next. Philosophy alone could establish the necessity and plausibility of the Christian faith.

With the benefit of hindsight, this was not a particularly wise strategy. The English experience suggested that nobody really doubted the existence of God until theologians tried to prove it. The very modest success of these proofs led many to wonder if God’s existence was quite as self-evident as they had once thought. A well-meaning defense of God ended up persuading people that the case for God was surprisingly uncertain.[2]

As it turned out, the very arguments used by Theists to combat atheism were put into service by Atheists and used as reasons not to believe in God.[3]

The reason why it backfired on these Christians is not too difficult to divine. (more…)

David Bentley Hart’s, ‘The Experience of God’ (Pt.2)

Part One

God is not, in any of the great theistic traditions, merely some rational agent, external to the order of the physical universe, who imposes some kind of design upon an otherwise inert and mindless material order.  He is not some discrete being somewhere out there, floating in the great beyond, who fashions nature in accordance with rational laws upon which he is dependent.

Notice that Hart has in mind the general consensus among theistic religions about God, not just the Christian God.  I’ll comment a little on that below.  Howbeit, the god who temporarily steps in at points in history to fill the void in our understanding of the world (the god of the gaps) is great to throw in the barrel and shoot at, but, then again, such a deity was dead before he/it got into the barrel anyway.  As long as non-theists direct their logic against this immanent god, they miss the mark badly.  As both Thomist and Van Tillian schools would agree, God is the eternally existing Fount of the laws of physics, of thought, and of morality.  To proceed with the quotation:     

Rather, he is himself the logical order of all reality, the ground both of the subjective rationality of mind and the objective rationality of being, the transcendent and indwelling Reason or Wisdom by which mind and matter are both informed and in which they participate. (234-235).

So the term “God” is not used the same way by Theists and non-theists (257).  Many non-theists employ the word ignorantly, investing it with a “meaning” which is foreign from what believers, especially Christians, mean.  At the most banal level this can be seen in Richard Dawkins’s question, “who made God?”  A reductionistic god belongs to a reductionistic world picture, just as much as a vitiated view of consciousness and intentionality results from an outlook which doesn’t care to explain such “directed” mysteries.

The third part of the book is given over to “Bliss”.  The goal-directedness of human consciousness seeks out primordial realities or transcendentals, which lie behind its pursuits.  Hart declares, “What interests me is the simple but crucial insight that our experience of reality does in fact have a transcendental structure.” (243).  Any such structure is teleological and thus at odds with the indeterminism inherent in naturalistic philosophy.  The rationality of mind employs this teleology.

This rational capacity to think and to act in obedience to absolute or transcendental values constitutes a dependency of consciousness upon a dimension of reality found nowhere within the physical order. (245) 

“Bliss” is what consciousness moves toward.  It is the third angle, as it were, of the triad of experience.   Our “transcendental aspirations” (251) point towards absolutes.  Hart picks out two in particular: ethics and beauty.  He spends some time with each. (more…)

David Bentley Hart’s, ‘The Experience of God’ (Pt.1)

A review of David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, Yale University Press, 2013, 376 pages, paperback. 

Among the most learned and entertaining, if not sometimes infuriating writers on the theological scene today is David Bentley Hart.  He is the author of such notable books as The Doors of the Sea, The Beauty of the Infinite, and Atheist Delusions.  Alongside this is his impressive portfolio of articles (in particular for First Things).  His ‘Christ or Nothing’, ‘Laughter of the Philosophers’, and ‘Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark’ are classics!

The present work investigates the very real transcendental features of Being, Consciousness, and Bliss. These three aspects of the human condition are fundamental to any true exploration and comprehension of reality.  They also represent insurmountable obstacles to the naturalistic paradigm which holds sway in the minds of many within academe.  In this post I shall restrict my comments to Being and Consciousness.

It is Hart’s contention, as it has been the contention of all Theists in the classical Christian tradition, that only the living God can stand behind these facts of our existence.  To fit them within a materialist philosophy is to extinguish them altogether.  But Hart is speaking of “God’, as defined in the classical traditions as the Source and Ground of Being, or as “Pure Actuality” in Aristotelian/Thomistic terms. Not, let it be said, the larger-than-life demiurgic god which the atheists love to rattle their sabres against, but the transcendent Lord and Creator of everything else that is.

Of this god who cannot be God Hart writes,

In purely philosophical terms… it simply does not matter very much if some god named “God” might happen to exist, even if he should prove to be the unsurpassable and unique instantiation of the concept “god,” as that fact casts no real light on the enigma of existence as such.  Even if this demiurge really existed, he would still be just one more being out there whose own existence would be in need of explanation: the ultimate source of being upon which he and the world must both be dependent.  Confronted by so constrained a concept of God, the village atheist would still be well within his rights to protest that, even if the world comes from God, one must still ask where God comes from. (129-130).

Hurling flack at a deity who inhabits the same circle of existence as everyone and everything else is fair game.  But it isn’t significant as regards the God revealed in the Holy Bible (a fact which Jerry Coyne, who professes to have read the book, can’t seem to get straight).  Nor is it significant, says Hart, rather controversially, as a poniard to use against the One God of whom some Muslims and Hindus speak (something I will come back to).  Both non-believers and Christians need to be aware of the difference in speaking about the true God who is the independent Source of all other (contingent) being.  Hence, says the author, “there can be no distinction between what he is and that he is” (133).

From this position the author moves on to defend Divine Simplicity as necessary (134-142).  Simplicity (and impassibility) have suffered somewhat from friendly fire of late, but Hart reasons that these are important and necessary truths about God.  It was good to meet with  such an affirmation in the book.

Also mandatory, although rarely faced up to, is the materialistic aporia channeled to us by the New Atheists and the scientific majority if we take their ontology to heart.  There is no mind and hence no goal behind existence. There are only mechanisms, and any appearance of purpose; any appeal to final causes is illusory. Speaking of the functionality inherent in the structures within and without, Hart observes,

Nothing within the material constituents of those structures has the least innate tendency toward such order, any more than the material elements from a watch is composed have any innate tendency toward horology.  And, if complex rational order is extrinsic to what matter essentially is, how much more so must rationality itself be; for consciousness would appear to be everything that, according to the principles of mechanism… The notion that material causes could yield a result so apparently contradictory to material nature is paradoxical enough that it ought to give even the most convinced of materialists pause. (154).

Consciousness “is a uniquely ‘first person’ phenomenon” (156).  “Electrochemical events are not thoughts.” (159).  Consciousness means individuality means self-hood.  Hart makes short work of “eliminativists” (like the Churchland’s) before moving on to present big problems for naturalistic accounts of consciousness.  These include “qualia” – those subjective responses to things which are our feelings alone.  Then abstract concepts are discussed.  Again, the inability of naturalism to tackle the most fundamental questions about the reality of number and mathematics is exhibited (185-187).  Then reason, and things like “language’s triadic semiotic structure” (189); then transcendental categories, and “Intentionality”, or “the fundamental power of the mind to direct itself toward something” (191), a segment I found especially helpful (191-197).  And finally, the unity of consciousness. He almost gets presuppositional as he suggests materialists ought to think twice about their commitment to their metaphysics (204).

Hart’s wit and skill as a wordsmith are never so much in evidence as when he is creatively stating the obvious.  I particularly loved this “pearler” on the overused analogy between a computer and a mind:

Software no more “thinks” than a minute hand knows the time or the printed word ‘pelican’ knows what a pelican is.” (219).

All computation, with all of its symbols, relies upon consciousness and is a top-down operation (223), just as all engineering is.  Not that the writer is interested in buttressing Intelligent Design (41, 59, 302); although I think he might have represented their case better.

Anyway, from here he becomes more obviously theological; at least for a few pages.  The discussion basically proceeds along scholastic lines, but it is none the worse for all that, and some of the language is (to me at least), spiritually edifying:

To speak of God… as infinite consciousness, which is identical to infinite being, is to say that in him the ecstasy of mind is also the perfect satiety of achieved knowledge, of perfect wisdom. (237). 

The reader may be forced to have that run past him again, but it is deep and wonderful.  It conjures up what we ought to mean when we absent-mindedly say “God is awesome”.

The next part of the review should be up in about a fortnight. 

Part Two

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins (2)

Part One

The Fusion of Confusion

Evolutionists, except the rather small coterie of Theistic ones, believe every complex and meticulously ordered thing got here through mechanisms which we neither see now nor can see in the evidence left in the past.  Even our cognitive faculties and the immaterial laws of logic and number “evolved.”  The Big Bang is the most popular notion of the origin of the universe at the present time, although there is a significant lobby of dissidents.  The Big Bang is an explosion.  All explosions are chaotic, disorderly things.  (The Big Bang exploded flat – not in all directions).  In other ways it would have been like every other explosion: confused and irrational.

But from this chaos the vast complexity of the first life sprang: not, it is true, overnight, but over billions of years.  From this incoherence the coherent came.  Do we ever see coherence, in the form of sequenced “specified” complexity, arise out of chaos and disorder?  No we do not.  Nothing self-orders in complex and specific ways without a code.  And a code needs someone to write it.   But evolutionary naturalism requires just the opposite.

Furthermore, as we, the observers, recognize and analyze the coherence in the world, our standing (or existence) as observers must be accounted for.  This was one of the questions asked by Richards and Gonzalez in their book The Privileged Planet.   It is a good question.  Why is the world comprehensible?  Why can we do science?

This question must be addressed by creationists and evolutionists.  It cannot be ducked on the pretext that evolution does not concern itself with such matters.  Biological evolution does not.  But there is such a thing as “chemical evolution”.  There is even a Center for it!

One prominent evolutionist puts the matter clearly:

One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task, to concede that the spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible.  Yet, here we are as a result, I believe, of spontaneous generation.”  George Wald, ‘The Molecular Basis of Life’, 339

We must not link this use of “spontaneous generation” with the old idea that new life arises from rotting meat.  Once this is kept in mind there is nothing wrong with Wald’s use of the term.  But talk about the power of presuppositions!  He believes in the impossible.  And as we shall see, it is not one isolated “impossibility” that evolutionists have to swallow.  In fact, it is not even the first.

Has this kind of evolution (a form of abiogenesis) ever been demonstrated?  It has not (link).  One creationist writer comments:

After decades of investigation, no environment has been discovered that facilitates abiogenesis. The richest inventory of chemical compounds have been zapped, irradiated, dried, rehydrated, and subjected to a host of parameters. All of these processes, however, have resulted in disorganized matter. In order to provide an appropriate framework for life, a machinist would still be necessary, one who could construct several thousand specific proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and lipids in their exact configurations, all the while maintaining the integrity of each molecule in the collection. – Brian Thomas, “Origin of Life Research Still Dead.”

Also, as Meyer explains,

Every choice the investigator makes to actualize one condition and exclude another – to remove one by-product and not another – imparts information into the system.  Therefore, whatever “success” these experiments have achieved in producing biologically relevant compounds occurs as a direct result of the activity of the experimentalist – a conscious, intelligent, deliberative mind – performing the experiments. – Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell, 335.

To an evolutionist this means that “when” somebody produces organic cells from its constituents the cry will go up, “We have discovered the conditions in which life arose.”  But would it?  While some confidence in the deliverances of science, even defined in reductionistic tones, is warranted, and the great successes of scientists lend encouragement to the belief that more is to come, it is extremely doubtful that any of these successes have any logical connection to belief in evolution.  Scientists holding to evolution have done marvelous things, and so have scientists not holding to evolution.  But the principle of testing competing hypotheses is not bettered by a belief which itself has failed to substantiate any of its major tenets.

To any other person any announcement that scientists have found the original environment for life would only prove that trained scientists, knowing the constituents of cellular organisms, have replicated what was (perhaps) previously done.  It would certainly not prove it was achieved by undirected mindless processes.  If evolutionists could do such a thing (and they can’t), they would, in their announcements, be sure to divert attention away from the designed and controlled laboratory conditions and the training and funding of the scientists.

The Blind and Ignorant Watchmaker

Richard Dawkins wrote,

Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” – Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 1

We all know this quote, but behind it lies a steely determination not to recognize what we all do recognize in every other walk of life – design.  The title of his book is interesting but misleading.  Interesting because it evokes a scene where someone blind from birth, and having no prior knowledge of watches, proceeds over time to put together one of these marvelous mechanisms in full working order.  Misleading because the watchmaker himself, also envisioned as a product of evolution, but being far more complex than the watch, must also be explained.  Although Dawkins is being rhetorical, calling evolutionary processes by this name commits the fallacy of reification – a very common fault with these people.

What these sorts of quotes are telling us is that because of their naturalistic bias, these eminent evolutionists will not even consider special creation as an alternative.  And as there are just two models of origins, evolution (in their view), wins by default: it must be true no matter how much evidence accrues to falsify it.  Operating from such an outlook the evolutionist is doomed to miss the wood for the trees.

Evolution is treated as unfalsifiable, and is treated as such because it is viewed as having so much power to uphold the philosophy of naturalism.  It is the only avenue of explanation open to the materialist, and cannot be allowed to buckle under unwelcome scrutiny.  It is treated and taught as an unassailable fact.  Evolution supports naturalism.  Naturalism is the only methodology permitted by evolutionists.  Ergo, naturalism must support evolution.  It is viciously circular. (more…)

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective – Pt. 2

Part One

A Case Study: Harold Netland and the Demand for Neutrality

As we further consider whether reason should be categorized separately to faith as properly functioning independent of it, I cite the example of an article by Harold Netland entitled, “Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria.”[1] In Netland’s 1991 article we see an able but, I believe, misguided critique of presuppositionalist John M. Frame’s epistemology as set forth in his book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. The overall burden of Netland’s complaint is clear, there must be some mutually shared neutral criteria that all people, whether Theist, Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Humanist, or whatever, can use to judge each other’s positions.[2] It is the possibility of this neutral ground that Frame, in common with other biblical presuppositionalists (including the present writer) denies.

The first stratagem of Netland is to label Frame’s position “theological fideism,” which quickly becomes “fideism” as the article proceeds.[3] Having done this he presents his position as the one that will use reason instead of eschewing it.[4] The main question he wants answered is this: “Given our religiously pluralistic world an obvious question arises…‘Why should one accept the Christian presupposition instead of the Hindu or Buddhist presuppositions?’”[5] Behind this question is his assumption that Frame is claiming that, “ultimate presuppositions (commitments)…can be accepted or rejected at will.”[6]

It should not take a hard-core Van Tilian to point out that this is exactly the opposite of what theologians like Frame are saying. (more…)

Faith and Reason in Christian Perspective – Pt. 1

This and the following piece are old posts to which I am giving more daylight.  I hope to append a Part Three!

 

It appears to me that one of the first things a faithful theologian needs to do is to straighten out the confusion brought about by the world’s separation of faith and reason. This relationship is so vital to a biblically fastened worldview that to neglect it will involve the believer in a host of conflicting beliefs and practices. For it is just here that the negligent Christian theologue will be attacked.[1] To the average man in the street, “faith” is that “I really hope so” attitude that many people employ when their circumstances get tough. It is that blind trust that things will turn out all right in the end. Faith thus defined is the opposite of reason. “Reason” deals with the cold hard facts, so it goes, and is what we have to use in the “real world” – in business, in science, in education.

One Christian writer has put the matter in the form of a question: “Is it rational for us to believe in God? Is it rational for us to place our confidence in Him and his revelation to man? Can a person believe in God without performing a sacrifice of his intellect? ”[2]

According to many people, faith and reason are polar opposites. Faith deals with hopes and aspirations and dreams and ‘religious stuff’, while reason concerns itself with the facts of day to day experience, the world in which we live and do science learn about what is and what is not so. As the late Harvard paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould stated it, in what has become a mantra among secular scientists, “religion tells us how to go to heaven; science tells us how the heavens go.” To put it in less deceptive terms, “religion deals with gods and heaven and pixies and UFO’s; while science (which knows these things are non-existent) concerns itself with what is so.” Gould even thought up a nice anagram for his concept: NOMA, or “non over-lapping magisteriums”.[3] Secular science gets all the facts; faith gets all the pink elephants. Or as one astute critic observed,

The power to define “factual reality” is the power to govern the mind, and thus to confine “religion” within a naturalistic box. For example, a supposed command of God can hardly provide a basis for morality unless God really exists. The commands of an imaginary deity are merely human commands dressed up as divine law…[N]aturalistic metaphysics relegates both morality and God to the realm outside of scientific knowledge, where only subjective belief is to be found.[4]

It is because of misconceptions such as these that the matter deserves more attention than it gets. We must begin by defining our terms. Gould and his followers are so impressed by their formulation of the issue because they have defined faith away while reconstituting reason so that it mirrors their own opinion of themselves and what they think they are doing. The first thing that any person should do, therefore, is to know what he means when employing specific terminology.

I will define reason along with theologian-philosopher John Frame as, “the human ability or capacity for forming judgments and inferences.”[5] This is employing the word in a descriptive sense. Frame goes on to narrow the definition down to a normative sense “to denote correct judgments and inferences.”[6] The important thing to notice about Frame’s definition is that it houses no built-in biases against supernaturalism. While being itself a perfectly good description it does not contain anything in it with which the secularist can control the debate.

Faith, meanwhile, may be accurately defined as “persuasion of the divine truth,” upon which we rightly presume when we renounce all self-dependence, and upon which all our hope is based.”[7] Carl Henry provides a perceptive yet succinct definition when he calls faith the “knowledge based on and issuing from revelation.”[8] Within this definition it is important to realize that such faith is impossible without the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. Hence, we are not concerned with a general religious belief, but in a living faith which has “its object, basis, and origin” in a relationship “between a human being and God.”[9] This faith is dependent on revelation and can come to certainty through a Divine in-working by means of the Word of God.

We may add one more definition to those given above, this time from the Scots worthy, Hugh Binning: “Faith is the soul’s testimony to God’s truth; the word [i.e. the Bible] is God’s testimony.”[10] To hearken back to a previous set of posts, the Divine Logos who created and structured the world and created us to interpret the world through Him via the Scriptures, has given faith as the mechanism by which the two are brought together.[11] Thus, faith is not opposed to reason; but in fact it is served by reason. We see this taught in Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word (rhema) of God, so that the things which are seen were not made by things which are visible.” As the “we” in the verse refers to saints, the understanding is available only on the basis of faith (cf. vv. 1 and 6). Since the verse refers either to the created spheres, or, most probably, in view of the historical references in the chapter, to the program of history itself, and it takes the prerequisite of faith to comprehend, then, patently, a Christian view of knowledge places faith before reason. Or as the Puritan commentator William Gouge put it, “Faith is in the understanding.”[12] Therefore, the teachings of the Bible should act as the “control beliefs”[13] of the one who has come under the sway of the Bible. (more…)

Antitheism Presupposes Theism (6)

PART FIVE

I want to close off this series of apologetics posts by considering some more quasi-intellectualism from the critic of presuppositional apologetics whom my debater FF relied upon for most of his reasoning.  I have named him “Flaw” since he claims to have found the “fundamental flaw” within presuppositional apologetics.  In his eight minute video rebuttal of the transcendental argument for God (TAG), he sounded clever, but sounded was the operative word.  Consider that in setting presuppositionalists straight Flaw’s starting point is:

“The necessity of reality itself.”

One might think that this is a natural enough place to begin.  But look again at what is being asserted.  “Reality” (without God mind you) is “necessary.”  Now a necessary thing is something which does not depend on anything else for what it is, but which other things need for their existence.  To give a formal definition.  “Necessary” is,

“[The] quality of a being that has the cause of its existence within itself; not ontologically dependent.” – William H. Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, (4th edition), 483.

Right from the get-go our critic of presuppositional apologetics is in the mud.  Does he really intend to stand on the assertion that “reality” is “necessary”?  If so, which part or parts of “reality” are necessary (i.e. non-contingent?).  He doesn’t say.

What, we may inquire, is “reality” in this point of view?  Perhaps it’s the natural world?  But is this planet’s eco-system necessary, in the sense above?  Of course it isn’t.  The rest of the Cosmos could go on doing its thing without Earth being there.

Very well, is he saying “reality” as the Cosmos? is necessary?  He can’t mean the Cosmos is necessary surely?  Which astro-physicist or astronomer will agree with him on that one?  Not even those who tout the Anthropic principle will go so far as to say the universe is necessary.  In fact, not even any Christian theologian will say such a thing, since the universe is created by God.

Flaw pushes God out of the equation.  God isn’t part of “reality” for him and his fellow atheists.  But again, just what does the guy mean by the word “reality”?  Does he mean “matter”?  If he means matter is necessary then he must believe it is eternal, which contradicts the law of entropy.  Now it is true that you must have matter if you are to have material objects, but then Flaw must be willing to come down off his philosophical perch and admit to using “necessary” in a non-technical manner, signifying something like “constituent.”  In that case all he would be stating is the rather bland fact that material objects are made out of matter!  A silly statement.

Note also that Flaw is speaking of “reality” as if he knows it is external to himself.  Fine, but how does he know that this “reality” is actually what his senses report to his brain that it  is?  How does he know his brain is not constructing the outside world?  And how does he know it is necessary?  He philosophizes:

“There cannot be no reality at all.  There are always facts.  And since facts are about something, something necessarily has to exist.”

Okay, so “reality” is made up of “facts.”  What “facts” are these?  Are they “facts” about the world beyond his brain?  Just what “facts” are those and how does he arrive at them?  How does he know there is more than one fact?  Eastern monists, for example, would object to any assertion of factual duality.

But Flaw is certain that “facts” (plural) exist.  Moreover, he refers to “the relationships between those entities.”

Wow!  So not only does this guy know that reality is “necessary” because “there are always facts”, but he knows “the relationships between those entities.”  Take that David Hume!  Flaw appears to have solved Hume’s critique of cause and effect.

  Further, he opines, “the law of identity is a description of the fact of identity.”

Still tracking?  He has claimed a great deal about what he “knows”, and yet has said nothing to back any of it up.  We are just supposed to shut up and agree with him since he knows there are “facts” which are “necessary” (i.e. not reliant upon other things), and he can point us to “the relationships between those entities” (since he can identify whether they are the same or not by trusting his senses).  From this fake ‘solid platform’ he is in a position to tell us that the law of logic we call the law of identity describes identity between things.

I realize readers will think this is all obvious.  But the TAG approach asks for what lies behind and supports these obvious things.  Flaw, FF, and atheists generally simply take it all for granted.  When asked to provide the preconditions for our knowledge of the external world, or the relationships between facts, or the laws of logic, they retreat into the sort of pseudo-philosophy I have been critiquing.

Back on Planet Earth, you will recall that the transcendental argument for the existence of the biblical God is that unless He is presupposed you cannot make sense out of anything.  So we have asked (many times), “how does the atheist account for the laws of logic?”  The unpacking of that question entails the answers to questions about how we know what the extended world is like (which the laws of logic describe), and how we explain the relationship between concepts, classes, sets, numbers, etc, which are in our minds, and the entities out there (let alone their cause and effect relationships)?

Sound like a tall order?  That’s because it is – unless you presuppose the God of the Bible and the teaching of the Bible about “reality.”

Rising Above The Level of Opinion

After we have been graced with a sensible answer to the question of rationality and the laws of thought we can move on to justice or truth, or history, or knowledge.  But we will not hold our breath, for we have discovered that, behind the facade of cultured superiority, there nearly always lurks the decrepit supporting columns of arbitrariness and personal pontification.

 Flaw is just taking a whole raft of things for granted.  These are the very things which TAG wants him to account for!  His starting premises are presented as foundational truths, but are really only his opinions.

For instance, in claiming that “there cannot be no reality at all” he is precluding nothingness.  But why, from his standpoint, would one preclude nothingness?  In answer to the fundamental question, “why is there anything instead of nothing?” the usual reply is something like, “well, there is something so why inquire?” – which is not an answer!  But at least we don’t hear that “reality” is necessary.

 “Nothingness” is not something.  It contains no facts.  There are no “facts” which can be identified and pondered.  “Nothing” has no properties.  It is the total absence of any fact.  The only “fact” we can say about nothingness is that the absence of all properties is called “nothingness.”  But the name is not the “nothingness” itself.  In fact, the only way one can talk about nothing is if there is something.

As Flaw and FF surely see (since they make so much of it in their critique of the transcendental argument), the description is not the thing itself.  To paraphrase his own words back to him, “the fundamental flaw is that this argument fails to make a distinction between the concept of nothingness and what it refers to.”

So why is there something rather than nothing?  It would not stretch a novice to see that because there is something does not mean that that something is necessary.

To return to my point, Flaw’s statements about knowing “reality” and necessary facts and their relationships is on a par with FF’s views about morality or neutrality or God.  They fail to rise above the level of opinion.   (more…)

Antitheism Presupposes Theism (5)

PART FOUR

This is the penultimate installment of this series on presuppositional apologetics. In this post I shall be dealing a little more with the erstwhile atheist “expert” appealed to by FF and company and demonstrating his ignorance. I shall also engage more comments by FF etc., and show how presuppositionalism overturns them.

The Facts of External Existence

What shall I call the individual whose video snippet attacking Jason Lisle and presuppositional apologetics was relied upon by FF?  As he poses as someone who has put his finger on “the fundamental flaw” of presuppositional apologetics, I shall dub him “Flaw.”

You will recall that Flaw presented presuppositionalists as mistaking the “distinction between the laws of logic and what these laws refer to.”  He then went on to misrepresent Lisle by showing an abbreviated clip of a longer presentation, which it seems he had not watched.  On the basis of the abbreviated clip he branded Lisle a liar, as well as slinging some other choice epithets his way, none of which I shall reproduce here.  One should note in passing that Flaw assumes a moral ground upon which to stand in order to malign Lisle.

Now, as I showed last time, Lisle in fact does make the very distinction he was supposed not to make.  As a matter of fact, this distinction between logic and the objects it describes is so basic that one has to wonder at the effrontery of Flaw in thinking we had missed it (ditto FF and his buddies).  But then again, arrogance is blind.

Within his short critique, Flaw quips about “the facts of existence” and “the relationship between those entities.”  He speaks about “the fact of identity, [which] depends on the existence of anything at all.”

Now, any reader of Cornelius Van Til will instantly note that the notion of “fact” in unbelieving worldviews is the very thing he trains his guns on.  The fundamental difference between the Christian philosophy of fact from the non-Christian view, is that for the Christian the facts are all preinterpreted by God, and are thus part of an integrated whole.  When our interpretation of any fact corresponds to God’s interpretation (though not exhaustively), we can claim true knowledge, and that knowledge is connectible to other knowledge.

But in the non-Christian approach to facts, it is not the mind of the infinite God who makes the facts what they are, and connects them up, but rather the minds of finite men.  So when the unsaved person comes across a fact, he or she must have another system in which to place it.  It will not be God’s system (though it will often of necessity overlap with it), so it must be one of their own making.  It is this new system; this alternative worldview, which the presuppositional apologist will go after.  Atheism in its guises is one of these systems.  Others are represented by the non-Christian religions and cults.

Turning to Flaw’s statements one can easily see that he assumes “the facts of existence” and their necessary connections without giving any basis for his assumption.  Remember that the transcendental argument for God’s existence (or TAG) asks the unbeliever to quit using the worldview he says he rejects (the biblical one), and contrive another worldview in which his assertions make any sense.  Flaw has to tell us how he knows “the facts of external existence” lie outside of his mind, that is, are actually external, and how he knows they are what he says they are.  This is no small feat.  In fact, it has eluded the greatest philosophers from Plato to Bertrand Russell.  Plato couldn’t prove that his realm of static forms existed, nor could he say how they related to a world of constant change.  Russell tried to tie the “facts” to a language of logic and ended up dismissing every vestige of knowledge into the empty void of Hume’s skepticism.  Readers who followed my correspondence with “Dormant Dragon” a few years back, or who read my interactions with FF will know that they were both presented with this problem.  Dormant Dragon, to her credit, at least admitted she did not possess the philosophical nous to respond.  FF simply ignored the point like it was never put to him.

Without the biblical God to assure him that his mind is not inventing reality, and the connections he is assuming, on what basis can the atheist talk about “the facts of [external] existence.”?  Can he do it empirically?  He runs smack into Hume’s critique of induction and causation.  That is, Hume (and Russell) said that we cannot empirically prove cause and effect.  Can he do it via logical deduction?  Then he must tell us how he knows the objects and class concepts he wishes to make inferences about actually exist beyond his brain.  Berkeley, along with many Hindus, say they didn’t exist.  Kant said they didn’t exist as we perceive them.

“Of course they exist” is not an answer.  We know they do – on the Christian worldview, but FF rejects that worldview!  If he cannot prove that anything exists beyond himself, how is he to use the laws of identity or non-contradiction?  The world out there may only exist like dreams “exist.”

A Deistic God

FF declaims,

“a deistic god can be defined as possessing all the necessary characteristics; after all, that’s what you are doing with Yahweh.”

Then he defines a deistic god this way:

“A deistic god is any god which while responsible for one or more aspects of the natural world, does not directly interact with its creation.  That’s it.”

Ooookay.  If any more validation needs to be given for my terminating the discussion with FF, this is it.  According to FF’s own definition, a deistic god does not have any interaction with its creation.  Now aside from the begged question of how one could possibly know whether this god created anything, let’s just focus for a moment on this position.  This definition rules out any revelation; verbal or natural; any miracle, any incarnation, any providence, any communicated attributes like love, mercy, justice, wisdom, truth, and logic.  But nevermind these incidentals, FF has told us, “a deistic god can be defined as possessing all the necessary characteristics.”!!!

This is the same person who couldn’t get the Trinity right; who thinks Mark’s Gospel says Jesus wasn’t called Jesus till after the crucifixion; thinks Jesus never existed anyway; and who thinks his ridiculous version of presuppositional apologetics correctly represents the real one – even when he is given samples proving his straw man fallacies.  All this from a supposedly unbiased position!

I shall not spend long over this one.  The God of the Bible, whether you trust Him or not, IS the God of the Bible!  If you are going to try to refute Him, you cannot do it by disproving a god who is NOT of the Bible!  A god of this variety is, by the way, often aimed at by proponents of evidential apologetics, which assumes neutral common ground with the unbeliever.  These are the very things presuppositionalism is dead against, which is why it rejects evidentialism (though not evidences).

The Autodidact

Being a “grad student in biology”, and a self-styled “autodidact” in debating theists has nothing to do with whether he is talking nonsense or not.  This is the fallacy of appeal to authority.  In this case his own.  It is a great help in these cases when the autodidact (i.e. he’s self-taught) gets to debate both sides.  If he decides the theist needs a well deserved clobbering, he can dish it out with alacrity.

Now please don’t think I am picking on an isolated instance.  This is an exemplar of the sort of thing one encounters from atheists.  Some of them will not be so ignorant of Christian Theology (though most will), and some will at least have enough about them to try to listen to the argument you present rather the invent one for you, but well nigh all will simply assume they are looking at the arguments neutrally – even the professional ones like Richard Carrier or Michael Martin.  One of these recent antagonists on FB tried to attack Stephen Meyer’s latest book without having read it or its predecessor.  When I wouldn’t give his “scientific” arguments the time of day he said it was I was avoiding the evidence!  What counts as evidence for an atheist is not always evidence for a Christian.  This is because, as I have already said, facts must be interpreted.  Under certain interpretations they become evidence, but under other interpretations they are not.   (more…)