Objections to Horn Two of Atheism’s Other Evolutionary Dilemma

The Reconquista Initiative


Objections to Horn Two of Atheism’s Other Evolutionary Dilemma

In a previous essay titled ‘Atheism’s Other Evolutionary Dilemma’, it was argued that the atheistic-naturalist is forced into a dilemma given that his worldview is essentially wed to the grand naturalistic version of the evolutionary narrative, which is indeed the only live option that the atheistic-naturalist can appeal to in order to explain the existence and development of all life. On the one hand, if the atheistic-naturalist denies the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative, then he suddenly has a worldview that has no viable explanation for the existence and apparent design of living things, as well as having a worldview that is thus based on blind faith given its lack of an explanation for biological life. On the other hand, if the atheistic-naturalist binds himself to the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative, then the fact that that narrative has no evidence for many of its major claims—such as, for example, abiogenesis or the emergence of consciousness—also means that the atheistic-naturalist’s worldview is based on blind faith. So whatever way that he turns, the atheistic-naturalist’s worldview is not one based on evidence, but rather it is a worldview built on a foundation of faith. And since believing things on the basis of blind faith is allegedly antithetical to the spirit of atheistic-naturalism, then this dilemma means that atheistic-naturalists should actually cease being atheistic-naturalists, for they hold a worldview which is antithetical to one of their own stated principles. And so this is a serious dilemma for the atheistic-naturalist. But, as with all arguments, some objections can be offered against them, and this one is no different, and so it is precisely those objections, or at least the ones related to the second horn of the dilemma, which this essay will address.

Now, the second horn of the dilemma notes that if the atheistic-naturalist does indeed tie himself to the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative, then he also encounters the problem that his worldview is based on blind faith, for the fact is that the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative has little to no evidence for many of its major claims—such as, for example, abiogenesis or the emergence of consciousness. And so, if the atheistic-naturalist embraces naturalistic evolution as the explanation for biological life—as he essentially must since it is his only live option—then he still does not escape from the charge that his worldview is one which is based on a blind faith and a lack of evidence concerning many of the most significant claims that he believes. And yet, in response to this horn of the dilemma, the atheistic-naturalist can mount two main objections.

Enough Evidence

First, the atheistic-naturalist can simply claim that, in fact, there is sufficient evidence for all of the major claims of the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative. Now, in the face of such a claim, the only truly appropriate response is laughter, for anyone making this sort of a claim has, quite frankly, drank the naturalistic Kool-Aid. After all, the truth is that atheistic-naturalists, apart from largely fact-free and often contradictory speculations, actually have no explanations for such events as the origin-of-life, or the existence of consciousness, or the existence of human language and rationality. And this is not even to mention the fact that more mundane issues, such as the origin of eyes or wings or molecular machines, are given little more than a naturalistic just-so story as the explanation for their existence. Thus, it truly is the case that any atheistic-naturalist who asserts that there is evidence, let alone sufficient evidence, for many of the major claims of the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative, is living in a fantasy world. So this is the first point to make.

However, let us, for the sake of argument, dive into this fantasy world as well, and let us thus pretend that there is evidence, even good evidence, for many of the claims of the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative. Does this fact help actually help the atheistic-naturalist? Not necessarily, and the reason for why this is so is deliciously ironic, for it is a case in which the atheistic-naturalist is hoisted up by one of his own favorite petards: namely, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Indeed, since many of the claims of the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative are truly extraordinary given that they are by no means mundane or common or observed or experimentally confirmed, and since they defy many aspects of our repeated experience—after all, we have no experience of life coming from non-life naturalistically, or consciousness emerging without prior breeding by conscious people (and these are just two examples that can be provided). Furthermore, as atheistic-naturalists routinely love to stress in the case of extraordinary miracles, it would take a massive amount of directly observed evidence for them to even consider contemplating the idea that a miracle occurred, and so is it any different for a non-naturalist to ask that the same standard be met for claims which the non-naturalist considers extraordinary in nature, such as that life can come from non-life naturalistically or that consciousness can emerge from mere matter-in-motion. Thus, the point here is, is that even if the atheistic-naturalist had evidence for all the major claims inherent in the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative—which he does not—this fact, in and of itself, would be insufficient to make belief in atheistic-naturalism rational for many individuals given the atheistic-naturalist’s own endorsement of the idea that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, for since many of atheistic-naturalism’s claims are extraordinary, and since this saying is largely subjective, then the atheistic-naturalist could never—or at least only with great difficulty—provide the extraordinary evidence necessary to make belief in his extraordinary claims rational. And so, as stated, the atheistic-naturalist is hoisted by his own petard.

Thus, the first option that the atheistic-naturalist proponent of naturalistic evolution can use to avoid this dilemma comes with its own serious difficulties and it does not negate the force of the dilemma.

Reasonable Faith

Now, the second option that the atheistic-naturalist who endorses naturalistic evolution can use against this dilemma is to essentially appeal to the so-called ‘success of naturalistic science’. Indeed, the atheistic-naturalist can claim that since science has allegedly been so successful in providing naturalistic explanations for physical phenomena while at the same time never having had to appeal to supernatural explanations for such phenomena, then it is reasonable to expect that science will provide us with a naturalistic explanation for the phenomena that atheistic-naturalism cannot, as of yet, explain. In essence, this is a position of ‘promissory-naturalism’, where the atheistic-naturalist has faith that science will eventually provide an answer to the problems that atheistic-naturalism currently cannot explain. And by appealing to this sort of promissory-naturalism, the atheistic-naturalist can claim that his belief in the worldview of atheistic-naturalism is not one which is built on blind faith, but rather it is built on a reasonable faith, which is borne from the success of science, and which assures the atheistic-naturalist that atheistic-naturalism will eventually have all the answers it seeks. There are, however, a vast number of problems with this appeal to promissory-naturalism.

First, note that, at best, this objection means that atheistic-naturalism is based on a reasonable faith, and yet, for all that one hears from atheistic-naturalists, one would get the impression that any position based on faith is not a rational one, and so it can be wondered why atheistic-naturalists can have a faith position, even an ostensibly ‘reasonable’ one, when they normally deny the validity of such positions to other worldviews. Should not such allegedly evidence-demanding atheistic-naturalists remain, at best, agnostic about atheistic-naturalism until and unless the grand claims of atheistic-naturalism are shown to be the case through evidence? And, to make matters worse, since such atheistic-naturalists also routinely claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, then, once again, we can wonder if it would not be more consistent for such atheistic-naturalists to refrain from believing in the grander claims of their worldview until and unless the extraordinary evidence for those claims was presented.

Second, and connected to the first point, it can be wondered whether atheistic-naturalists are truly consistent when it comes to this appeal to the present success of some discipline as being the grounds for having a reasonable faith in that discipline’s future success. For example, imagine a Christian who argues that since we continue to find ancient copies of the New Testament and the Gospels, then we can have a reasonable faith that we will soon find a Gospel dating back to within a few years of Jesus’s life; now, would the atheistic-naturalist be willing to grant the Christian a reasonable faith in this case, or in another case like it, or rather would the atheistic-naturalist simply dismiss the Christian’s promissory-gospelism and tell the Christian to come back once he actually has the evidence in hand, and then the atheistic-naturalist will believe it? Since it is almost a guarantee that the latter is the case, then can the atheistic-naturalist be any more surprised when people do the same with his promissory-naturalism?

Third, note that the atheistic-naturalist’s alleged claim that science has been so successful in providing naturalistic explanations for all phenomena and never having to appeal to supernatural explanations is a rather grand claim, and yet it is one which is readily disputable. For example, the certified miracles of Lourdes provide a number of cases of events examined by science which nevertheless have no naturalistic explanations. Furthermore, a number of cases in Craig Keener’s massive book Miracles also provide numerous examples of events that science arguably could not explain. So the claim that science has been so successful at explaining alleged supernatural events naturalistically is not only highly questionable, but even false. And while it is true that the atheistic-naturalist will no doubt dispute the aforementioned claims in favor of the miraculous, it can also be noted that perhaps trusting an atheistic-naturalist’s impartial assessment of these things is about as sound as trusting a defendant’s mother to be an impartial juror at that defendant’s murder trial.

Fourth, another cause for concern with the ‘success of science’ appeal is that quite often, when the so-called naturalistic explanations are examined in detail and with some scrutiny, what was claimed to be a naturalistic “explanation” turns out to be much more of a naturalistic just-so story. Indeed, when the atheistic-naturalist is asked to provide a clear explanation of how some phenomenon occurred naturally, what is all too often encountered is actually just a naturalistic conjecture, supposition, and appeal to possibility and/or plausibility. Or it is a massive extrapolation based on very meager evidence. For example, within evolutionary biology, because micro-evolutionary changes are seen to occur and are posited to have a blind and unguided naturalistic explanation for their occurrence, this evidence is then used to support the claim that massive macro-evolutionary changes can occur and thus serve as the explanation of all life. But this is just an astounding extrapolation that is completely unwarranted by the evidence that supports it. And so the point here is that the appeal to these naturalistic just-so stories and extrapolations in place of actual explanations raise doubts concerning just how seriously we should take the claim that science has been so successful in providing actual naturalistic explanations for phenomena, rather than just providing naturalistic possibilities for those phenomena. At the same time, another factor to note is that in certain cases, the explanations that atheistic-naturalists offer, do not actually explain the phenomenon in question, but rather just explain it away. For example, concerning consciousness, certainly atheistic-naturalists do not actually explain what consciousness is or how it arose, but rather they simply say that consciousness is an illusion, thus not explaining the phenomena in question, but rather just eliminating it from consideration. And so this is another technique that should give one pause concerning the claim that scientific explanations for phenomena have always moved in the direction from supernaturalism to naturalism, for in many cases, and for some of the most important phenomenon—such as consciousness, is just one example—the atheistic-naturalist is not so much explaining the phenomena in question but simply getting rid of it so that it does not cause an impediment to the rationality of his worldview. And so, the fact that many proffered naturalistic explanations are not even really explanations at all thus makes the appeal to promissory-naturalism a rather weak promise.

Next, note that the ‘success of science’ appeal is also rather general, and as such, it is questionable whether the appeal to the success of science actually works when science is separated into different disciplines, as it should be in order for it to be properly appealed to in support of the cause of atheistic-naturalism. For example, do the successes achieved in physics or chemistry apply directly to biology or psychology? Of course not, for these are all separate fields, each with their own successes and failures, and each with their own track-record. So when discussing such a thing as the naturalistic explanation for a historical event like the origin-of-life on our planet, which is the purview of a forensic science, it is rather unsound to appeal to the success of an experimental science like physics in order to claim that origin-of-life studies will ultimately provide a naturalistic explanation for the origin-of-life. Furthermore, in certain fields, and thus when looking at particular disciplines, such as origin-of-life studies, it is questionable whether science has been moving towards having a naturalistic explanation or actually away from it; indeed, consider, for example, that science has been studying the origin-of-life since, arguably, the time of Darwin, and yet not only is science not closer to an explanation for the origin-of-life, but given the complexities discovered by science in even the simplest cell, a naturalistic explanation for the origin-of-life seems further from discovery at present than closer to it. Indeed, when the first cell was thought to be nothing more than just a glob of stuff, a naturalistic explanation for it seemed highly plausible, but as science showed us that the cell was a thing filled with complexity and molecular machines, the provision of a naturalistic explanation for such a thing seems further off than it was before, not closer. Thus, science itself, by trying to find a naturalistic explanation for such things as the origin-of-life, and yet not finding such an explanation even after both greater and longer searching for it, thus pushes us away from a naturalistic explanation, not towards one. And the same could be said for such things as the naturalistic explanation of consciousness, language, and so on. And so, in many cases, science is making the chances of finding a naturalistic explanation for certain phenomena less successful, not more so.

Finally, even if, for the sake of argument, it was granted that science was been successful in always providing naturalistic explanations for certain phenomena, this would not necessarily count as evidence in favor of atheistic-naturalism. Why? Because science, as it is practiced today, is a discipline that uses an approach of methodological naturalism, which in essence, states that only naturalistic explanations are viable scientific explanations. And so what this means is that of course science has always provided naturalistic explanations for certain phenomena—when it provides explanations at all—for those are the only types of explanations it is allowed to provide in order for those explanations to count as scientific ones! And so can it be any surprise that science always seems to come up with naturalistic explanations? Can it be any surprise that a scientific explanation is always a naturalistic one? Of course not, for the whole system is designed to only accept naturalistic explanations. But then the whole ‘success of science’ shtick is just a Catch-22: if an explanation is naturalistic, it is scientific, but if the explanation is not naturalistic, then it is not scientific, and so naturalistic explanations cannot fail to be scientific while non-naturalistic explanations can never be scientific. In fact, the use of methodological naturalism means that science will appeal to a naturalistic explanation for phenomena even if it is the false explanation for that phenomena! Furthermore, since the atheistic-naturalist can always appeal to promissory-naturalism, what this means is that the atheistic-naturalist never has to admit that some phenomena does not have a potential naturalistic explanation, for he can endlessly claim that science is still seeking an explanation, and since a scientific explanation must be a naturalistic one, then if a scientific explanation is ever found, it will be considered naturalistic. But what all this means is that the appeal to the success of science as a support for the reasonableness of promissory-naturalism is both useless and without force, for it is a rigged game where science always generates naturalistic explanations, and where no explanations exist, promissory-naturalism can be continuously and endlessly appealed to. And so, given the fact that promissory-naturalism is the magical promise that never expires, the appeal to promissory-naturalism does not look reasonable, but rather it appears contrived, unfalsifiable, and dogmatic.

And so, for all these reasons the appeal to the success of science as a means of making belief in promissory-naturalism reasonable is a rather weak move; furthermore, since we are not merely worried about a naturalistic explanation for how some phenomena came about naturalistically, but whether it even can come to be naturalistically, then the fact is that, in such a case, it is more rational to wait for to see if a naturalistic explanation is even possible for the phenomena identified in this dilemma than it is to trust to promissory-naturalism. Consequently, this option does not save atheistic-naturalism from the force of this dilemma.

Agnosticism and Theism

Now, in saying all of the above, please note that the dilemma that the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative provides to atheistic-naturalism is not, in and of itself, an argument for theism. Rather, it is a dilemma which is meant to show that the atheistic-naturalist, in order to be rational, should be an agnostic about the truth of atheistic-naturalism, but he should not be an actual atheistic-naturalist, for it is not rational to be so. Thus, at best, this dilemma should merely move an atheistic-naturalist away from atheistic-naturalism towards agnosticism, but not necessarily towards theism.

Finally, and as argued in these past three essays, let it be noted that while atheistic-naturalism suffers from a dilemma where both horns point towards blind faith when it is coupled with the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative, the same problem does not arise for a worldview like theism, especially Christian theism. After all, on theism, God is infinite in power, ability, and knowledge, which means that we know, by definition, that God would have the power to create life, consciousness, and so on. Thus, on theism, while there might be a question of how God created these things, there is no question that God could do so, and so theism is a worldview that does indeed have a genuine ‘reasonable faith’ concerning these questions, for we know that God could do these things even if we do not know how He did them. By contrast, atheistic-naturalism, as argued, only has a blind faith concerning these matters given that it neither knows how these things occurred naturalistically or even if they ever could occur naturalistically. And this is the critical difference, for whereas theism, by definition, knows that God could create these things, the atheistic-naturalist does not even know if these things could come about on atheistic-naturalism, let only how they did come about. Therefore, whereas theism combined with evolution offers no ‘blind faith’ dilemma to the theist, naturalistic evolution combined with atheistic-naturalism does indeed offer such a dilemma to the atheistic-naturalist.

And so, the long and short of it is this: the grand naturalistic evolutionary narrative does indeed pose a dilemma for atheistic-naturalism, and the various objections that can be mounted against this dilemma do not save atheistic-naturalism from its force. Thus, in light of this dilemma, the atheistic-naturalist, if he is to be rational, has good grounds to move away from atheistic-naturalism and towards agnosticism.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 06

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

The Reconquista Initiative


Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

Within the past generation, one of the most interesting arguments against the rationality of belief in atheistic-naturalism has been Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, or EAAN for short. In essence, Plantinga’s EAAN states that, since unguided “naturalistic” evolution is ultimately only “concerned” with an organism’s survival, and since survival-enhancing behaviors in no way require the possession of true beliefs, and since, furthermore, the number of false and yet still survival-enhancing beliefs vastly outweigh the number of actually true but survival-enhancing beliefs, then this means that if unguided evolution is true, then all human beings have good grounds to doubt the reliability of their cognitive faculties, for it is either very likely that their cognitive faculties are producing false beliefs rather than true ones or they just cannot know which of their beliefs are true and ones are false (and it should be understood here that the term ‘cognitive faculties’ means all of a person’s reasoning ability, sensory inferences, memories, and so on). But now, if human beings have good grounds to doubt the reliability of their cognitive faculties, then they simultaneously have good grounds to doubt any deliverances of those cognitive faculties, such as the deliverance that evolution is true or that atheistic-naturalism is true.  Thus, Plantinga argues, if both evolution and atheistic-naturalism are true, then human beings have good grounds to doubt the truth of anything delivered to them by their own cognitive faculties, including their belief in evolution and atheistic-naturalism, and even belief in simple atheism as well. So this is a potent argument against the rationality of believing atheistic-naturalism.

Now numerous critics have argued against Plantinga’s EAAN, and though Plantinga has responded in detail to many of these critics, the fact remains that such critics still routinely claim that Plantinga is incorrect in asserting that unguided evolution would not lead us to have reliable truth-tracking cognitive faculties. Indeed, for while such critics grant that our perceptions and the beliefs we form from them when combined with our rationality are adapted to behaviors well-suited to survival and reproduction, they argue that this nevertheless still likely involves the formation of beliefs which properly track the truth of states of affairs in the world. Thus, such critics contend that unguided evolution did create us with reliable truth-tracking cognitive faculties; and this does indeed seem to be the only reasonable strategy for the atheistic-naturalist to take in order to salvage the rationality of his belief in atheistic-naturalism given that atheistic-naturalism is, for all intents and purposes, wed to the truth of unguided evolution. And yet, this is precisely where the atheistic-naturalist falls into the teeth of another dilemma which also challenges the rationality of atheistic-naturalism. For even if Plantinga’s critics are totally correct in their critique of the EAAN, and even if the evolutionary process could produce truly and highly reliable cognitive faculties in human beings, even this fact still works against atheistic-naturalism. Why is this the case? Because no matter which way the atheistic-naturalist turns, unguided evolution—and let us simply assume that it is unguided for the sake of argument—nevertheless provides us with a reason to reject atheistic-naturalism itself. And to understand how this could be so, consider this argument:

  1. If evolution is unguided, then the ‘truth-tracking’ reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced will be either low, or average, and hence inscrutable, or high—or various permutations thereof.
  1. But if the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced are either low or inscrutable, then human beings have a defeater for any belief produced by those cognitive faculties, including the belief that atheistic-naturalism is true or rational to hold.
  1. But if the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced is high, then human beings have good grounds to believe in the truth of the beliefs produced by those cognitive faculties.
  1. Yet the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have created have, in both the past and the present, almost universally produced the belief in human beings that atheistic-naturalism is false and that theism and/or supernaturalism is true. Indeed, almost all human beings, both past and present, have held to a theistic and/or supernaturalist worldview of one type or another. And so, if the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced is high, then human beings have good grounds to believe that atheistic-naturalism is false and that theistic-supernaturalism is true, for that is precisely the belief that these reliable cognitive faculties have told people, both past and present, is the case.
  1. Therefore, regardless of whether the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this unguided evolutionary process have produced is low, inscrutable, or high, it is still the case that human beings have good grounds to believe that atheistic-naturalism is false. And so, this is the dilemma that evolution creates for atheistic-naturalism, and even for atheism in general: namely, if the atheistic-naturalist holds that unguided evolution produced human cognitive faculties of low or inscrutable reliability, then he has every reason to doubt the deliverances of those cognitive faculties, including what they tell him about evolution and atheistic-naturalism. But if the atheistic-naturalist holds that evolution produced cognitive faculties of high ‘truth-tracking’ reliability, then the fact that belief in theism and/or supernaturalism has been almost universally produced in all human beings provides us with good grounds to believe that that particular belief is true and reliable, and hence this is good grounds to believe that atheistic-naturalism is false. And so, regardless of whether the reliability of the cognitive faculties within the human beings that this evolutionary process have produced is low, inscrutable, or high, it is the case that the evolutionary process creates a defeater for atheistic-naturalism.

Also note that a burden of proof consideration comes into play here as well. After all, both the atheistic-naturalist and the theist / supernaturalist are making positive claims, with the latter claiming that gods and/or supernatural entities exist or are rational to believe in and with the former claiming that such entities do not exist or at least are not rational to believe in. However—and here is the key point—if evolution has created human beings with reliable cognitive faculties, and if those cognitive faculties have almost universally created the belief that theism and/or supernaturalism is true, then would it not make sense to start as if theism and/or supernaturalism were true, and atheistic-naturalism false, until and unless shown otherwise. After all, if our cognitive faculties produce reliable ‘truth-tracking’ beliefs, then should we not consider one of the most ubiquitous beliefs that they have produced—namely theism and/or supernaturalism—as true and reliable until shown otherwise. Furthermore, this idea has even more traction when we consider that, in many ways, it parallels arguments for belief in such things as other minds; for indeed, no one puts the burden of proof on the person asserting belief in other minds, but rather the burden of proof is placed on the radical skeptic, and this is done, in large part, because belief in other minds is natural and instinctive, and we consider this belief reliable until shown otherwise, and so until and unless we have reasons to see the belief as false, we hold it to be true. And so the same could thus be said in the case of theism and/or supernaturalism given that it is a belief produced by the same cognitive faculties that produce our belief in the existence of other minds.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  when it comes to the issue of considering what kind of reliability evolution has created human cognitive faculties with, whichever way the atheistic-naturalist turns, he is in trouble. After all, if he considers the reliability of evolution-created human cognitive faculties to be low or inscrutable, then he has reason to reject belief in atheistic-naturalism—along with all his other beliefs given that they have been produced by those same cognitive faculties. But if he considers the reliability of evolution-created human cognitive faculties to be high, then the fact that those reliable ‘truth-tracking’ cognitive faculties have almost universally led human beings to reject atheistic-naturalism, means that this is also a reason to reject atheistic-naturalism. Thus, whichever way the naturalist turns, evolution provides us with a defeater for belief in atheistic-naturalism. And so this is the dilemma that evolution creates for atheistic-naturalism. And while there are objections to this particular dilemma, these will be dealt with in a separate essay.

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Anno Domini 2016 12 16

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma: A Dialogue

The Reconquista Initiative


Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma: A Dialogue

In the previous essay titled simply “Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma”, it was argued that while the theist does indeed have to contend with the standard Euthyphro Dilemma—a dilemma which the theist has a number of ways of answering and which the theist has answered for centuries now—the fact remains that the atheist, or more specifically, the atheistic-naturalist—which is the most popular and coherent form of atheism—has to deal with a similar type of dilemma, but one which is more dangerous to the rationality of atheistic-naturalism than the standard Euthyphro Dilemma is to theism. And while in the aforementioned essay the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma was explained and articulated, the fact is that since the original Euthyphro Dilemma was presented in dialogue form, then, as tribute to this fact, I thought it fitting that the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma should also be presented in the same manner. And so here is the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma in dialogue form:

Richard (the Atheist): …so that is the Euthyphro Dilemma, and there is no way that the theist can get out of it.

Theo (the Theist): Actually Richard, the theist, especially a theist who posits a lower-case ‘g’ god, has a number of strategies to deal with the Euthyphro Dilemma, and so the theist as been able to answer this old dilemma for many years without too much problem. But let’s leave that aside for now. What I want to focus on for a few minutes is the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma.

Richard: The Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma? What are you talking about?

Theo: Well, it is a dilemma that the atheistic-naturalist is subject to and which, if not properly answered, essentially renders atheistic-naturalism irrational.

Richard: I’ve never heard of it, so why don’t you spell it out for me.

Theo: Alright. So the Atheist’s Euthyphro Dilemma could be roughly stated as follows: If, at the fundamental level, all that we are, and all that reality is, is just matter-in-motion, as the atheist-naturalist believes, then it is absurd to posit the existence of any absolute moral rules and absolute moral duties on such a view, for immaterial and absolute moral rules and duties do not arise from mere particles banging around. After all, you cannot get a ‘should’ from an ‘is’ no matter how much you try. But, at the same time, if we do not posit the existence of any absolute moral rules or any absolute moral duties—such as, say, the moral rule that it is always and everywhere wrong for a human being to torture another human being purely for personal pleasure as well as the moral duty that every and all human beings, if they see another human being being tortured purely for the personal amusement of another human being, are always and everywhere obliged to at least do something to try to stop this from occurring—then this means that we must believe that in some circumstances, it would be impossible to morally condemn as absolutely wrong a human adult’s torture and rape of an innocent infant purely for that adult’s personal pleasure. But such a view is also an obviously absurd, and thus irrational, belief.

Richard: Wait, so are you trying to say that whatever way the atheistic-naturalist turns, his position is absurd and thus irrational.

Theo: That’s exactly right. If the atheist believes that at bottom, everything is ultimately just chunks of moving matter, and yet he also believes that absolute moral rules and duties exist, then he holds an incoherent and thus irrational position, for how can absolute and binding moral rules and duties—which are, if they exist, immaterial things—arise in a universe that is, at bottom, just matter and energy and combinations thereof. For again, immaterial things, especially of a moral nature, cannot arise from mere combinations of matter. So it’s literally an absurd mix of beliefs. But at the same time, if the atheist denies the existence of absolute moral rules and duties, then he must admit that such things as infant torture and rape, as well as not trying to stop infant torture and rape, are, at least in some potential cases, not objectively or absolutely wrong. And while the atheistic-naturalist may not like such behaviour in a personal subjective sense, he cannot call such behaviour morally wrong in an objective or absolute sense; nor can he claim that we have an actual absolute duty to at least try to stop such behaviour whenever it occurs. And yet this latter belief is also utterly absurd.

Richard: But…

Theo: In fact, and perhaps ironically, via my moral intuition, I have greater certainty that it is absolutely wrong to torture an infant for pleasure than I have certainty that matter actually exists, and so if I believe that matter exists—which the atheistic-naturalist cannot coherently deny—then I have all the more reason to affirm the existence of absolute moral rules and duties as well. Or at least one such moral rule and duty, which is all that I need for this dilemma to have force. So the atheistic-naturalist is, for all intents and purposes, screwed!

Richard: But what if someone denies the existence of such a moral rule and duty like you just mentioned? What would you say to him?

Theo: Well, two points. First, such a person would be a moral monster, which is a problematic enough point on its own. But second, and more importantly, if someone denies the specific moral rule and duty which I hold with such certainty, then it is more likely that the person is cognitively-defective in terms of his moral intuition than it is likely that that particular moral rule and duty is false. Indeed, it is rational for me to treat someone who denies the moral fact that I mentioned like the equivalent of a deaf person; he is, essentially, cognitively-disabled in the moral realm, much like a deaf person is disabled when it comes to hearing sound. And just as the deaf person’s inability to hear sound does not negate the actual existence of sound, so to is it the case that the person’s inability to perceive the moral rule and duty does not negate the actual existence of that absolute moral rule and duty. And indeed, in my assessment, this is the rational stance for me to hold.

Richard: But what does this have to do with God?

Theo: Honestly, at this point, nothing. The argument has nothing to do with God right now, although it could be re-formulated into a stronger version that argues for God’s existence, but that is not the aim right now. Right now, this is just an argument to show the irrationality of atheistic-naturalism, not an argument for theism.

Richard: But what about Christianity or the Bible? After all, you are a Christian, so—

Theo: Again, those have nothing to do with the argument. They are red herrings and are irrelevant at this point, so I am sorry, but I not getting distracted by such unrelated objections.

Richard: Well, fine, so it’s not about God or the Bible. But then getting back to the dilemma, what about our development as evolutionary organisms? Doesn’t that give us a reason to believe, or at least feel, that there are absolute moral rules and duties?

Theo: Hmmm, see, first off, even if we evolved to feel like there are absolute moral rules and duties, this does not mean that these absolute moral rules and duties actually exist. Feelings do not make for objective existence.

Richard: Of course they don’t.

Theo: So that won’t work. But at the same time, there is another reason that appealing to our evolutionary development will not work. Namely, our existence as evolutionary organism may actually give us a reason to do the exact opposite of what we all take to be patently obvious absolute moral rules and duties.

Richard: What do you mean?

Theo: Well, consider the moral rule and duty that I have already argued all rational people know: namely, that it is absolutely wrong for a human being to torture an infant for fun and that we have an absolute duty to at least try to take some actions to stop this behaviour whenever we see it. Or, for a different example, take the idea that incest is wrong and that we have a duty not to do it; and this is a belief that all cultures have essentially had.

Richard: OK.

 Theo: But now think of what would happen if we just looked at the issue from the perspective of an evolutionary organism striving to maximally propagate its DNA.

Richard: Fine.

Theo: Yeah, so think of it as if those moral rules and duties I just mentioned just sort of developed in us as good rules of thumb from an evolutionary perspective because, on the whole, those rules helped human evolutionary organisms to maximize the spread of their genes. But now, consider the fact that while these rules of thumb might be sound in most cases and for most evolutionary organisms, in some cases they may be the absolute opposite of what an evolutionary organism should do.

Richard: What?! What do you mean?

Theo: Well, think about it. As disgusting as it sounds, say that you just happen to be one evolutionary organism who—and I shudder to say this but we have to think about it—only gets sexually aroused by torturing children or by engaging in incest. There are, after all, very deviant people out there. So in such cases, and looking at the issue only from the perspective of being an evolutionary organism, then that evolutionary organism would be perfectly rational in torturing a child or in committing incest in order to enhance its sexual arousal so it could then spread its genes. And this is not even considering how it might also be evolutionarily advantageous to commit other abhorrent and absolutely immoral acts, such as murder or rape. So the evolutionary perspective not only does not give us absolute moral rules and duties, but it actually provides us with a reason to break the moral rules and duties that we all essentially consider absolute to begin with. So appealing to evolutionary biology just isn’t going to do the work that the atheistic-naturalist needs it to do in order to avoid the horns of the Atheist’s Euthyphro dilemma. And remember that I could give many other such examples if I had more time.

Richard: Yeah, well, okay maybe. But what about something like Platonic forms? Couldn’t they provide a basis for absolute moral rules and duties?

Theo: I guess they might, but an atheistic-naturalism that appeals to immaterial Platonic forms seems to be a very strange sort of atheistic-naturalism, doesn’t it? In fact, it almost seems to make atheistic-naturalism so broad that it can accommodate almost anything!

Richard: Well, I can see your point, but couldn’t this be at least one way that the atheistic-naturalist could avoid your so-called dilemma, even if it is a very unorthodox method for the unbeliever to take?

Theo: Let me think for a second…

A short pause.

Theo: I just don’t see it, Richard. After all, even if the Platonic forms could somehow serve as the ground for absolute moral rules, why would I ever have an absolute moral duty to these impersonal forms? I mean, think about it. I have duties to fulfill towards other people, but do I have any duty towards an abstract form of something like “justice”, or the abstraction of “compassion”? Such an idea seems almost unintelligible. So I just don’t see how Platonism is going to help you here, even if you could combine Platonism with atheistic-naturalism in a way that was actually coherent, which I think would be difficult in and of itself.

Richard: Okay, but…

Theo: Anyway Richard, all I’m saying is that it seems to me that the atheistic-naturalist really is in a kind of bind. On the one hand, if the atheistic-naturalist decides to hold to the existence of moral rules and duties that are binding at all times and in all places and in all circumstances—and note what that really means: it means that if we were somehow teleported to the second after the Big Bang, it would still be just as wrong for me to torture a child then as it is for me to do so now—and if the atheistic-naturalist also believes that all of reality is fundamentally just particles moving around, then the combination of these two beliefs forms an overall worldview picture is just incoherent and absurd, for there just does not seem to be any way that matter-in-motion can give rise to anything like immaterial and absolute moral rules and duties. But, on the other hand, if the atheistic-naturalist denies the existence of absolute moral rules and duties then he must, at least in principle, concede that certain actions, such as torturing an infant for pleasure, are ultimately not wrong in the objective or absolute sense, which is itself obviously absurd. So either way the atheistic-naturalist turns, he runs face first into absurdity and irrationality. And so this is the atheistic-naturalist version of the Euthyphro dilemma. And quite frankly, I just don’t see how the atheistic-naturalist can get out of it.

Richard: Well…who caused God then?

Theo: Jeez, Richard, really!


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Anno Domini 2016 12 12

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Trump, Clinton, and Presuppositional Apologetics

The Reconquista Initiative


Trump, Clinton, and Presuppositional Apologetics

One of the most interesting insights provided by the proponents of so-called ‘Presuppositional Apologetics’ is that neutrality concerning the question of God’s existence is a myth, and that, ultimately, when it comes to a topic that is as fundamental as the question of God’s existence or the truth of Christianity, no one is neutral concerning these matters, and thus no one is an objective assessor of the evidence concerning these issues given the serious emotional, psychological, and behavioral consequences that on the line. Consequently, and due to the very motivated reasoning which exasperates different cognitive biases, everyone is pulled in one direction or the other, and this taints and colors the way that they see the evidence for God and how they react to it. And this insight concerning Man’s inability to be neutral about the God-question then leads to a further insight which comes from the presuppositionalists; and that is that when it comes to fundamental matters like a person’s core worldview, it is often useless to try to convince someone of the falsity of their worldview by adopting a neutral and agreed-upon foundation with them and then simply arguing about the evidence for and against a certain position, because the person’s worldview presuppositions color their perspective to such a degree that they view the exact same evidence as you do from a totally different angle. Thus, any direct approach to arguing about the evidence is doomed to failure because the person’s presuppositions literally change the way that he perceives and interprets the same data that you do, and that different perception and interpretation is so strong that it will simply overcome any evidence against the person’s position through the modification of how the evidence is perceived. And so this is why presuppositionalists often recommend an indirect approach to apologetics, where evidence is indeed discussed, but the focus is more on demonstrating that the opponent’s worldview is incoherent, ad hoc, and inconsistent with itself, thus prompting the opponent to re-evaluate his worldview from within. It is, in essence, an apologetic approach that seeks to break the opponent’s worldview from the inside out, rather than trying to smash it from the outside in by bombing it with evidence. Finally, note as well that presuppositionalism also claims that, in many cases, people can be self-deceived; thus, at a fundamental level, a person might know the truth of a certain claim, but he suppresses that truth for fear of the consequences that might follow if he admits it to be the case. And in the case of presuppositionalism, the truth that it claims that people suppress is the truth that God exists, and people suppress this truth in order to freely engage in immoral behavior without a guilty conscience.

Now, with all these points about presuppositionalism in mind, let us move to politics. During the course of this year, 2016, two of the most interesting things to have been observed in the recent American presidential election is both how wrong numerous experts were about the election as well as the unique reactions of many politic participants both before and after the election itself. And the reason that these things are mentioned in the context of this short essay on presuppositionalism is because for many people—especially people on the left—politics have become a surrogate religion (or at the very least the most fundamental part of their worldview), and so this year’s political cycle brought forth reactions and behaviors of such a type and magnitude that they were a strong example of presuppositionalism’s ideas in action. And so this is why this essay wishes to link politics with presuppositionalism.

First, consider the issue of neutrality: for many individuals on both the right and the left, there was no neutrality in this election, nor was there any possibility of weighing the evidence objectively or dispassionately. For example, for some Donald Trump supporters, their support of Trump was set in stone no matter what, thus showing a lack of interest in actually weighing the evidence for and against that particular candidate. By contrast, some non-Trump supporters had such a tainted view of Trump that no matter what he did, they would never support him; at the same time, they would endlessly support Hillary Clinton regardless of her past or future faults. In essence, the emotional and psychological investment for many people on both sides of the political spectrum was just so extreme that a dispassionate view of the facts was impossible. In many ways, this reminds us Christian apologists of certain naturalists who readily admit that even if Jesus’s resurrection was shown, to their satisfaction, to have occurred, or even if the stars themselves moved and spelled out the Apostle’s Creed, these naturalists would merely accept a far-fetched naturalistic explanation—such as a mass hallucination—for these events rather than admit that a supernatural event occurred. For them, the evidence would always be superseded by their presuppositions, as was the case for many Trump and Clinton supporters during the 2016 election.

Next, consider the way political presuppositions colored people’s interpretation of the evidence. For example, given that many people on the left already had a presupposition which viewed Republicans, conservatives, and anyone to the right of them to be morally suspect, the moment that Trump said certain controversial, but not insane things—such as the need to secure the country’s border with a physical wall or the need to seriously vet people from countries prone to creating terrorists—people on the left, given their presuppositions, turned these points into evidence that Trump was an utter racist, bigot, and was “literally Hitler”. At the same time, many on the left perceived that Trump supporters could only be driven by bigotry and racism, not by the entirely rational and/or pragmatic considerations that motivated many of them to support Trump. So, in essence, the evidence itself, though present, was magnified out of all proportion once it was filtered through the left’s presuppositions, thereby allowing the evidence to fit the left’s narrative rather than changing the narrative to fit the evidence. Indeed, rather than matching their outrage to the extent demanded by the evidence, they magnified the evidence to the extent demanded by their outrage. Additionally, the left would perceive the tiniest scrap of questionable evidence as proof that Trump was, say, a white nationalist or an opponent of homosexuality, but they would ignore the evidence immediately in front of them—like Trump waving the homosexual flag at his convention, or Trump having a homosexual man speak at his convention, or Trump saying in an interview that homosexual marriage was already decided by the courts. At the same time, the left would minimize evidence of Clinton’s major problems. And note that, in many cases, the same thing was evident on the right side of the political spectrum as well. And again, this is often what apologists see, where a non-believer, when presented with a plethora of evidence for, say, miracles, will use selective hyper-skepticism and selective evidence assessment as a means to escape the inference that the evidence points to.

Finally, we can also note how wrong so many pundits and commentators were about the election, with some leftist organizations even assessing that Clinton’s chances of winning the election were in the high nineties. Now, granted, in many cases, these individuals were following the polls, but the point is that nearly everyone—the commentators, experts, pollsters, and so on—were wrong about the election. And what this smacks of is self-deception, were an overwhelming desire to have Clinton win, combined with some evidence that supported that conclusion, blinded them to the very real possibility that Trump could win. And thus they were all dumbfounded and shocked, even physically so, when that possibility came true. They deceived themselves about important evidence—the silent Trump voter, the lack of enthusiasm for Hillary, the non-existent repudiation of Trump by minorities, the size of Trump’s rallies and the enthusiasm for him, the “outlier” polls, and so on—in order to maintain the conclusion that they desired. And this, once again, brings us back to the idea that no one is neutral when it comes to matters that they hold as fundamental, and they will even deceive themselves, in many cases, to hold fast to what they wish to be true.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  from an apologetic perspective, the reason that the 2016 election has been so interesting is that it has shown that some of the ideas behind presuppositional apologetics can manifest themselves in other areas, such as politics. And lest we think that the same issues cannot arise concerning religion, note that if the animosity, disdain, and emotional reaction that people had to Trump existed in part because of some of his more conservative-type claims, then how much more animosity, disdain, and emotional reaction would there be to a God who commands people to act in a way that they object to? Obviously, if there was a pull to skew the evidence in the former case, the pull to do so in the latter case would be just as strong, if not substantially stronger. And this is why, in many cases, the presuppositionalists are right that an indirect approach to apologetics is required, and that mere evidence is insufficient to sway people out of their worldview; and the 2016 American presidential election is an imperfect but nevertheless still good example of this point in action within the political realm.

Anno Domini 2016 11 30

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam