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.