Friday, September 27, 2013

Douglas Wilson's Review of Thomas Nagel's "Mind and Cosmos"

Wilson wrote:
"Mind & Cosmos is subtitled 'Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.' When a book with this kind of subtitle comes out, written by a philosopher of Nagel’s caliber, and published by Oxford University Press, there should be no astonishment that it caused a stir. I wanted to note two very admirable traits of this book, and then engage at a couple of places where I think engagement could be profitable."
You can read Wilson's full review here.

I think I'll be adding this book to my reading list.  The "almost certainly false" is rather amusing.  Nagel raises the right question concerning the failure of materialism:  inability to account for consciousness, cognitive capacities, values and morals.  So, I'm curious to see what false "hope" he holds out for materialism -- but such qualification is typical of the skepticism of unbelieving professional philosophers  (it certainly keeps the profession going, for what that's worth).

Perusing the "Search Inside" feature at Amazon, I noted that Nagel (p. 4,5) is leaning to "neutral monism,"  a view posited by radical empiricist Ernst Mach.  Neutral monism is, at heart, a mere terminological shift -- it is just another more complicated version of attributive monism.  Some assert that neutral monism is the same as, or a very near kin of, idealism, phenomenalism, or panpsychism.   In any case, none of these can account for actual values and absolute morals (let alone unity/diversity, universals/particulars, individuals, space and time, among many others).

I plan to write on this version of "monism" in a future post. 

Update: The promised follow-up can be found here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Van Til on the Antithesis of Christian and anti-Christian Philosophy

The following excerpt from "My Credo" (in Jerusalem and Athens: Critical discussions on the theology and apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. 1971, E. R. Geehan, Ed. The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Nutley, NJ.) is Van Til's summary of the presuppositional apologetic.

Paragraphs B.4, C.4 and C.5 are a concise description of the approach of the transcendental argument.  Paragraph B.4.a is the positive argument ("The God of Christian theism is the necessary precondition for the intelligibility of all of human experience").  Paragraph B.4.b summarizes the negative argument (self destruction of anti-Christian philosophy, "Christian theism is true because of the impossibility of the contrary").   The outline also includes the summary of all anti-theistic philosophies:  they presuppose the dialectic of "regularity" (necessity) and "chance" and the antithetical presupposition of human autonomy1.

"B. My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking.
1. Both have presuppositions about the nature of reality:
a. The Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.
b. The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between “chance” and “regularity,” the former accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise.
2. Neither can, as finite beings, by means of logic as such, say what reality must be or cannot be.
a. The Christian, therefore, attempts to understand his world through the observation and logical ordering of facts in self-conscious subjection to the plan of the self-attesting Christ of Scripture. 
b. The non-Christian, while attempting an enterprise similar to the Christian’s, attempts nevertheless to use “logic” to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non-rationality of “matter,” he says that the chance-character of “facts” is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, “logic” must be legislative as to the field of “possibility” and possibility must be above God.
3. Both claim that their position is “in accordance with the facts.”
a. The Christian claims this because he interprets the facts and his experience in the light of the revelation of the self-attesting Christ in Scripture. Both the uniformity and the diversity of facts have at their foundation the all-embracing plan of God.
b. The non-Christian claims this because he interprets the facts and his experience in the light of the autonomy of human personality, the ultimate “givenness” of the world and the amenability of matter to mind. There can be no fact that denies man’s autonomy or attests to the world’s and man’s divine origin.
4. Both claim that their position is “rational.”
a. The Christian does so by claiming not only that his position is self-consistent but that he can explain both the seemingly “inexplicable” amenability of fact to logic and the necessity and usefulness of rationality itself in terms of Scripture.
b. The non-Christian may or may not make this same claim. If he does, the Christian maintains that he cannot make it good. If the non-Christian attempts to account for the amenability of fact to logic in terms of the ultimate rationality of the cosmos, then he will be crippled when it comes to explaining the “evolution” of men and things. If he attempts to do so in terms of pure “chance” and ultimate “irrationality” as being the well out of which both rational man and a rationally amenable world sprang, then we shall point out that such an explanation is in fact no explanation at all and that it destroys predication.
 C. My proposal, therefore, for a consistently Christian methodology of apologetics is this:

1. That we use the same principle in apologetics that we use in theology: the self-attesting, self-explanatory Christ of Scripture
2. That we no longer make an appeal to “common notions” which Christian and non-Christian agree on, but to the “common ground” which they actually have because man and his world are what Scripture says they are.
3. That we appeal to man as man, God’s image. We do so only if we set the non-Christian principle of the rational autonomy of man against the Christian principle of the dependence of man’s knowledge on God’s knowledge as revealed in the person and by the Spirit of Christ.
4. That we claim, therefore, that Christianity alone is reasonable for men to hold. It is wholly irrational to hold any other position than that of Christianity. Christianity alone does not slay reason on the altar of “chance.”
5. That we argue, therefore, by “presupposition.” The Christian, as did Tertullian, must contest the very principles of his opponent’s position. The only “proof” of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of “proving” anything at all. The actual state of affairs as preached by Christianity is the necessary foundation of “proof” itself.
6. That we preach with the understanding that the acceptance of the Christ of Scripture by sinners who, being alienated from God, seek to flee his face, comes about when the Holy Spirit, in the presence of inescapably clear evidence, opens their eyes so that they see things as they truly are.
7. That we present the message and evidence for the Christian position as clearly as possible, knowing that because man is what the Christian says he is, the non-Christian will be able to understand in an intellectual sense the issues involved. In so doing, we shall, to a large extent, be telling him what he “already knows” but seeks to suppress. This “reminding” process provides a fertile ground for the Holy Spirit, who in sovereign grace may grant the non-Christian repentance so that he may know him who is life eternal."

1 The atheist "robots," such as Rosenberg, Provine and Harris, deny human autonomy but inconsistently claim rationality and possession of "truth." In other words, they assert that it is true that they are devoid of free agency (i.e. "robots." cf. Invasion of the Atheist Robots) yet claim this conclusion is rationally and logically derived.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Apologetic Situation: Claims to Knowledge

In an apologetic debate, the situation is not that both unbeliever and believer have shared epistemological standards, and that we are just to argue from supposed brute facts to a "best" or "probable" conclusion concerning the existence of God.  But, sadly, this is the typical approach used by Christian evidentialists in their approach to apologetics.  In so arguing, they have adopted the unbeliever's non-self-verifying standards and have adopted an antitheistic presupposition.  They have reduced themselves to the skeptical position of the unbeliever in which there is no certain knowledge of anything.

To be sure, there is a purely formal agreement between belief and unbelief regarding deduction, induction, and the scientific method -- but the similarity ends there.   The disagreement is over the nature, source, and authority of these. The unbeliever has no justification for his principles of deduction or induction or why the scientific method works.   They are all merely assumed in his worldview.  They are also epistemological presuppositions that do not comport with his espoused metaphysics (e.g., how immaterial, abstract, unchanging laws of thought arise out of ever-changing material in flux.).  The unbeliever can provide no reason for reason.

For instance, the unbeliever must assume the future will be like the past (uniformity of nature) in order for induction to proceed, but he has no proof of such.  It is not a necessary truth, it cannot be deduced or demonstrated.  Induction itself cannot be invoked to support induction.  It is a circular argument.  Past and present evidence provides no basis for extrapolation to the future.  The only appeal is "so far, so good."   It is a faith commitment.  Hume's skeptical argument regarding induction remains unanswered.  Further, the unbeliever cannot even assign a probability to the uniformity of nature.  That would require him to know everything -- to have been everywhere for all time -- to be God.

The same problem exists with causation. Causation (continued necessary conjunction of causes and effects) itself assumes the uniformity of nature. This is a faith commitment.  Unbelievers of a superficial scientific bent (which is the majority of unbelievers in this modern age of technology) have repeatedly said things of the sort: nature appears to be orderly, let's assume it's so. 

Let's not.  As Christians we do not.  To assume this in vacuo is to assume the atheist presupposition that the material universe is the totality of reality -- self-existent with eternal inherent properties.  This is the atheist's circular (and self-contradictory) faith commitment.  The morally culpable unbeliever worships the creation rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).   But, the universe is not the totality of reality, it is not self-existent, and the idea of eternal physical matter is self-contradictory. 

According to modern physics, the world is not quite as orderly as the scientifically naive say.  The modern view of naturalistic science is that reality is a combination of both law (supposed invariant properties of matter) and lawlessness (irreducible and unknowable chance, i.e., metaphysical irrationalism).  On this basis, the claim that nature is uniform is completely undermined since what occurs is, in fact, given by ultimate lawlessness (lack of causality) filtered through inexplicable law-like patterns (properties of matter).  Some even assert that the laws themselves are also "flukes" and not necessarily invariant (e.g., John A. Wheeler's remark: "The only law is the law that there is no law," quoted in James Gleick, Genius: the Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1993), p.93).  The unbeliever doesn't even know if additional undiscovered forces are "lurking in the unknown mysterious universe," only to be triggered by some catastrophic uncaused random event.   In any case, the unbeliever, in the face of such, is devoid of knowledge.    He cannot even claim he has a mind engaged in volitional reasoning.  Whatever physical processes are occurring in his physical brain are also lawless random events filtered through a maze of patterns.  His brain is nothing more than a quantum mechanical pachinko machine, in which every "thought" is nothing more than random effects -- the clatter of random motions of pachinko balls.  There is nothing in those random processes that can be called a "mind" or the free exercise of "reason."  There is nothing in his brain that corresponds to a self that is making arguments and logical choices.  Yet, in the face of such analysis, the unbeliever asserts his freedom (autonomy) and personality, and holds that rationality is accounted for by the (nonexistent) mind of man -- not the mind of God.  The unbeliever then presumes to argue against Christ by way of his (nonexistent in his worldview) "autonomous reason."    An incredible example was Christopher Hitchens: "Nonetheless, here I am reasoning."  [Hitchens-Wilson interview Imus in the Morning.]  It is in the light of such evidence (atheists actually arguing against Christianity) that Bahnsen remarks that "if naturalism is true, the naturalist has no reason to believe it" and that the atheist has already lost the debate by showing up at the debate.  That is:  The unbeliever's worldview is self-contradictory and his actions do not comport with his metaphysical presuppositions.

So then, the unbeliever cannot account for and neither does he know these things (induction, uniformity of nature), and since he has no knowledge of them, anything derived from them is not knowledge.  Therefore, with no knowledge, there is no certain foundation from which he can conduct a case to judge any fact or prove anything.   In short, nothing in the unbeliever's worldview yields certain knowledge of the external world.  And with that goes the claim of scientism: "only science yields knowledge."  A claim that, we have mentioned before, is itself not a scientific truth, since it is neither deducible nor empirically observed.  Thus, not being science, the claim declares itself to be not known.

The Christian does have justification for each of the above (deduction, induction, the uniformity of nature) in the absolute transcendent God, the eternal Sovereign Creator of the cosmos.

God has created man in His image with volition and a mind that has the capacity to think rationally according to the abstract laws of thought ("logic").  These laws of logic as constituted in man are a reflection of God's thoughts.  

The law of induction works because God is the author of physical causation and the uniformity of nature, and according to his unchanging character, He maintains the creation; the laws he has created will be the same tomorrow as they are today and were yesterday.  Only on the presupposition of the absolute personal God revealed in the Bible can a scientist make the claim to knowledge.  Only on the basis of Christianity is there knowledge, and that knowledge is rooted in the certain knowledge of God.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:  And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:16-17)

God...  hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;  Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;  (Hebrews 1:1-3)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 The same was in the beginning with God.  3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
So then, the unbeliever, in sinful rebellion, takes himself as the final authority and presumes to explain reality by means of his own merely assumed and inexplicable non-self-verifying principles.   He rejects God's revelation surrounding him and within him by his assumed incoherent philosophy of necessity, chance, and his own autonomy.  As his own final authority, he asserts his freedom and personality. He presumes to interpret himself, his existence (as uncreated by God), and the facts of a godless and impersonal random universe (of which he, too, is just a random fact).   He falsely takes himself as an innocent truth seeker and in no need of a Redeemer.  Christians believe none of that.  Our final authority is the self-attesting and self-authorizing absolute God who is the Creator of man and the cosmos; it is in terms of God's revelation in the Bible and in nature that we interpret ourselves and the cosmos.    From that we have the assured basis of true knowledge, human reason, deduction, induction, and the scientific method.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. The self-destruction of material monism.

A few weeks ago, I was contemplating why there are no atheist works on "systematic atheology"  (at least I was unaware of any.)  After all, there are many Christian works on systematic theology that lay out the basis and scope of Christian beliefs.   My interest in such a "systematic atheology" was that, should such a work appear, the self-contradictory nature of atheism would be laid bare -- straight from the horse's mouth. 

As it turns out, there has been an attempt, of sorts, in The Atheist's Guide to Reality by Alex Rosenberg.  The book lays out the hard-line implications of his particular denomination of atheism: material monism (matter is all there is) with scientism as his epistemological article of faith. Many of the absurdities of atheism are exposed to the light of day.   (And there is a final absurdity that Rosenberg says implicitly, but does not utter, which we will examine below.)  Some of the conclusions that follow from material monism (" a godless material reality" in which the only causation is physical causation) and which Dr. Rosenberg fully embraces are: 
  • The only kind of  'mind' is a brain.
  • There is no 'free will.' We are all robots moving according to the physical properties of matter.
  • There are no objective morals of any sort.  Right, wrong, good and bad, they are all the same.

As Christians, we must say 'bravo' to Dr. Rosenberg!  If physics fixes everything then the above conclusions would be true.  His book is a brilliant self-refutation of atheistic material monism using its own presuppositions. . .and, thus, is TAG (Transcendental Argument for God) in brilliant display.

Dr. Rosenberg takes us down the same path on the implications of material monism that prominent presuppositional apologists Dr. Cornelius Van Til, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, and others have marked out before.   As well, some similar analysis has been posted in this blog.

Dr. James N. Anderson writes in his review of this book: 
"Christian philosophers have been developing and refining arguments for the existence of God since the earliest times, but it’s not often one comes across a convinced atheist making a powerful philosophical case for the existence of God. Yet that’s precisely what we find—quite contrary to the author’s intent—in Alex Rosenberg’s book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality."
Anderson's insightful review can be read at his blog.

I will add just a few observations.  A central tenet of presuppositional apologetics is that all non-Christian philosophical systems of thought (worldviews) are contradictory and reduce to absurdity, which Anderson discusses.  The coup de grace delivered by presuppositional apologetics is that non-Christian worldviews, when examined solely on the basis of their presuppositions, lead to the destruction of truth and knowledge.

Rosenberg's book promotes the conviction that only science leads to truth ("scientism").  He preaches with fervor the "truth" that everything consists of collections of fermions and bosons.  This is a scientific "truth."  Everything that is, or happens, is the result of laws of physics (properties of matter).  But then he asserts, after many chapters:
"Look, if I am going to get scientism into your skull, I have to use the only tools we've got for moving information from one head to another: noises, ink-marks, pixels.  Treat the illusion that goes with them like the optical illusions in Chapter 7.  This book isn't conveying statements.  It's rearranging neural circuits, removing inaccurate disinformation and replacing it with accurate information.  Treat it as correcting maps instead of erasing sentences." (p. 193. emph. added).
There are many falsehoods in that paragraph -- almost as many as there are words. (See Anderson's review, and his remarks on intentionality and aboutness.)   But the final epistemological suicide of material monism lies in these words: "This book isn't conveying statements."  And that is a really strange and fatal statement.  Here's why: statements (or propositions) are the carriers of truth value, which, from the implications of material monism, his book does not contain. . . a conclusion of material monism with which we wholeheartedly agree.

So then, Rosenberg has told us that his book contains no capacity to convey truth or knowledge (and that applies, as well, to: "This book isn't conveying statements.").  This is futility and the destruction of knowledge.  Nonetheless, Rosenberg tells us that "scientism" yields "truth," when by his own mouth he implies it doesn't.  Rosenberg's false metaphysics (material monism) supplies no basis for Rosenberg's false epistemology (scientism).

If material monism were true, then it would be false.  It is, therefore, false.

And that is the end of the matter.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Heideggerian Nonsense. Asking the Wrong Questions Revisited.

In a discussion over the certain existence of the Christian God, an interlocutor, who admitted that his position had been poked full of holes (a refreshingly honest response), attempted the diversion: "Rather than asking about the existence of God, one should ask why there is something rather than nothing."  This is sheer desperation and atheism unadulterated.

That question is Heidegger's famous question (or pseudo-question).

As Michael Inwood has written in his book Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction, depending on whom you ask, 

 "He [Heidegger] was (with the possible exception of Wittgenstein) the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century.  He was (with the possible exception of Hegel) the greatest charlatan ever to claim the title of 'philosopher', a master of hollow verbiage masquerading as profundity."
To ask Heidegger's question (a prejudicial question that, in itself, presupposes a reality of pure contingency) is to deny it.  To ask "why . . . rather than . . ." is to ask for a causal agency, and such a causal agent is then itself "something." The question is meaningless and self-contradictory, pure and simple -- empty verbiage masquerading as profundity.  The venerable maxim "Ex nihilo nihil fit"1 has no exceptions.   Heidegger was a charlatan.

So then:  The issue is not that there is "something"; the issue is the nature of that eternal and ultimate "something."  Both sides in the debate have an ultimate. The ultimate "something" of atheism
of the material monist variety is eternal impersonal matter 2.   Material monism explains nothing.  This worldview of a "godless material universe" is self contradictory (e.g., eternal matter is incoherent as discussed here), and further, it cannot account for immaterial abstract entities such as logic, absolute morality, minds, human free agency, or rationality. . .none of which can emerge from mere "matter in motion."

There are also the atheists of the pluralist sort, those who merely posit a plurality of eternal, incoherent co-ultimates.  This incoherent reality is populated with such things as realms of abstract logic and abstract moral laws, chance, matter, minds, space-time, and a whole host of other brute facts.  This is, essentially, atheistic Platonism.  This incoherent philosophy explains nothing, as well as violates the principle of Ockham's razor, of which most atheists are very fond -- unless it applies to them.  These Platonic brute-fact worlds of the pluralist interact magically via Platonic mysteries!   These are even more brute facts.  This is a great deal of question begging.  We will deal with this version of atheism in a future essay.

All varieties of atheism contradict themselves and resort to question-begging presuppositions and special pleading.  They end in futility and destroy the possibility of knowledge.  So then, we know God exists because of the impossibility of the contrary (transcendental argument or apagogical argument via internal critique).  Since atheism, on its own presuppositions and its epistemological "standard," is self-refuting, there is a God.

In Christian theism, ultimate reality is the personal Triune God who is the Creator and who sustains the universe.  He is the source of all life, morality, rationality and the whole of creation.  Again, it is ONLY Christian theism which is consistent and provides the foundations for all of human experience.

1 Out of Nothing Comes Nothing.
2 The term "monism" is actually a verbal ruse, which I plan to address in a future blog post.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Varieties of Anti-theism

In the not too distant past, my favorite agnostic asserted strongly that he was not an anti-theist.  In the context of the discussion, I knew he was talking of militant atheists, such as Dawkins, Hitchens, et al., and that he was not of their ilk.

That definition of anti-theism is very narrow.  My preference is to refer to Dawkins as a "militant atheist," and reserve anti-theism for any position or thought that stands in opposition ("anti") to theism.   That is how I have used the word in my essays.

For a comprehensive survey of "anti-theism" refer to this wikipedia entry, particularly the section titled, "Opposition to the idea of God."   There, the Chambers Dictionary defines anti-theism as:  "1. doctrine antagonistic to theism; 2. 'denial' of the existence of a God; 3. opposition to God."

Within the broader definition of anti-theism in the first definition, agnosticism and even some religious positions/postures are anti-theistic.

A particular case of the latter is the concession to the "myth of neutrality" on the part of Christian "evidentialist" apologists who debate atheists on the supposed "neutral" ground of "reason" in an attempt to "reason" to a probable God.  However, to debate in that way is to presuppose that reason exists in a possibly godless reality -- that presupposition is anti-theistic.  By adopting the epistemological standards of the unbeliever, the evidentialist violates Prov. 26:4, "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him."

Here is the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen's discussion of the "myth of neutrality":

[Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic Readings and Analysis, p. 146.]
"... the epistemological disagreements between believers and unbelievers [can] not be resolved in a neutral fashion, as though the issue of God's existence and character ... [can] be treated as secondary ­ and thus temporarily set aside without any commitment one way or another ­ while abstract philosophical issues [are] debated and settled. It is often, but vainly, imagined that once we come to agreement on our epistemology, we can apply those epistemological standards to the questions of whether God exists, whether miracles occur, whether the Bible is true, etc. By contrast, Van Til taught that abstract epistemological neutrality is an illusion and that, given the kind of God revealed in the bible, imagined neutrality is actually prejudicial against God.
"If God exists and is as the Christian world view claims, then His existence has an undeniable bearing on how we understand the process of knowing, the standards of truth and evidence, ultimate authority, and other crucial matters in epistemology.
"There is no pristine, religiously neutral, abstract 'reason' to which all men first swear their allegiance, only then to turn to such secondary matters as man's nature, moral character, relation to God, destiny, etc. The kind of man who is doing the reasoning already determines something about the way in which he thinks about reason and engages in reasoning. Thus Van Til stated, 'It is impossible to speak of the intellect per se, without taking into consideration whether it is the intellect of a regenerated person or of a non-regenerated person.'
"Van Til simply called for honesty and realism here. The metaphysical situation and object of knowledge (e.g., God's existence, the relation of created things to Him), as well as the psychological/moral situation and the subject of knowledge (i.e., man as a knower, someone using reasoning ability), cannot be ignored as we develop our views of knowing. 'Reason' is simply an intellectual tool, rather than an ultimate standard of knowledge (more authoritative even than God), and as such will be affected by the regenerate or unregenerate condition of the man using it. A person's epistemological behavior and commitments are ethical in character. According to Van Til, one's theory of knowledge is not neutral, but subject to moral assessment in terms of the ultimate authority to which one submits and which one attempts to honor."