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.