Friday, April 16, 2021

Naturalism vs. Theism Chart from Paul Copan

Naturalism versus Theism: Which One Best Explains the Evidence?*

 

Phenomena We Observe

Theistic Context

Naturalistic Context

(Self-)Consciousness exists.

God is supremely self-aware/self-consciousness.

The universe was produced by mindless, non-conscious processes.

Personal beings exist.

God is a personal Being.

The universe was produced by impersonal processes.

We believe we make free personal decisions/choices.

God is spirit and a free Being, who can freely choose to act (e.g., to create or not).

We have emerged by material, deterministic processes and forces beyond our control.

We trust our senses and rational faculties as generally reliable in producing true beliefs.

A God of truth and rationality exists.

Because of our impulse to survive and reproduce, our beliefs would only help us survive, but a number of these could be false.

Human beings have intrinsic value/dignity and rights.

God is the supremely valuable Being.

Human beings were produced by valueless processes.

Objective moral values exist.

God’s character is the source of goodness/moral values.

The universe was produced by nonmoral processes.

First life emerged.

God is a living, active Being.

Life somehow emerged from nonliving matter.

Beauty exists (e.g., not only in landscapes but in “elegant” or “beautiful scientific theories).

God is beautiful (Ps. 27:4) and capable of creating beautiful things according to his pleasure.

Beauty in the natural world is superabundant and in many cases superfluous (often not linked to survival).

The universe is finely tuned for human life (known as the “Goldilocks effect)—the universe is “just right” for life).

God is a wise, intelligent Designer.

All the cosmic constants just happened to be right; given enough time and/or many possible worlds, a finely tuned world eventually emerged.

 

* Taken from Paul Copan, “A Moral Argument” in To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview, eds. Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland (Intervarsity Press, 2004), 114.

Christian Challenge Apologetic Series: Week Three

Apologetics Series

April 16, 2021

 

“Challenging Naturalism”

by

Richard Klaus

 

1.    Review from last week

 

a.    “Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”[1]

 

b.    “Philosophy of life” = worldview

 

c.     Worldview: Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics

 

d.    Worldviews in conflict and conversation

 

                                               i.     Proof

                                              ii.     Defense

                                            iii.     Offense

 

e.    Testing for the truthfulness of a worldview

 

                                               i.     Consistency

                                              ii.     Coherence

                                            iii.     Explanation

                                            iv.     Evidence

                                              v.     Existential fit

 

2.    Isaiah 44.9-20 and apologetics as “offense”

 

a.    Read Isaiah 44.9-20

 

                                               i.     Trying to get transcendent out of the material

                                              ii.     Irrational quest

 

b.    Context: The folly and failure of idols: Isaiah 40-48

 

41.7

42.8, 17

46.1-2, 6-7

41.21-29

44.9-20

48.5

 

                                               i.     “Many interpreters accuse Isaiah of creating a straw man at this point. They argue that he has engaged in reductionism of the worst sort, refusing to admit that no pagan ever thought his or her god was restricted to an idol. In pagan thought, the idol partook of the holiness of the being who was spiritually continuous with the idol but yet transcended it. The accusers say that Isaiah understood this quite well but conveniently chose to overlook it because it was much easier to attack the practice of idolatry.  Isaiah, however, is not disregarding that issue at all, as is clear from his case against the Babylonian gods in 40-48. He challenges their worshipers to produce evidence that any of the gods had ever explained "the former things" or, failing that, "the latter things." That is, could the gods explain how the world began or how it would develop in the future? Of course they could not because they are a part of the world's cycles, and, just as the thunderstorm does not know how it arose or where it will go, neither do the gods. A further question is even more pointed: which of the gods ever once specifically foretold the future? The answer is never. Of course there were plenty of cases of prediction, but like those of modern astrologers, they were so cloaked in ambiguity that they would always be "right" no matter what happened.

 

Yahweh, on the other hand, did make specific predictions in case after case, particularly those of the exile and the return. He can do that, the prophet says, because he "sits above the circle of the earth" (40:22). He is not a part of the stars, "the host of heaven," but is the one who calls them forth by name (40:26). In short, Isaiah boldly asserts that Yahweh is not a part of earth's cycles. He is not a personification of any of its forces. He is beyond it and directs it. Therefore, he alone can specifically predict the future. Furthermore, he alone can do "new things." The gods can only do what they have always done. They cannot transcend the past because they are part of the past. Neither can they alter the future because they are whatever that future unfolds to be. This is a far more sophisticated argument than merely an attack on idol making. To be sure, the prophet includes idol making in his polemic because that is at the heart of the issue. Tomake your god into an idol is a fundamental expression of the conviction that the gods are continuous with the cosmos and fundamentally at one with it. The Bible's profound iconoclasm is aimed precisely at this point. 

 

“If Isaiah was struck in his call experience with Yahweh's absolute transcendence, both in essence and in character, there was something else that struck him in the experience with equal force. Although Yahweh is utterly other than the earth and all that is in it, it is his glory and his alone that fills the earth (6:3; cf. 40:5). Transcendence is often faulted by its detractors as making creation completely inaccessible to God and making God completely inaccessible to the creation. This was certainly the concern of the neo-Platonists, who sought to overcome what they saw as this inevitable outcome of the doctrine. Isaiah (and the rest of the Bible) is blithely unconcerned about philosophical conundrums. Although God is not the creation and has no essential continuity with the creation, he is everywhere present in his earth He can intersect it at any and every point.Thus, its glory is his glory, and it has no other. This is the wonder of the biblical doctrine of revelation. Truth does not emerge from within the cosmos because the cosmos is not self-explanatory. To attempt to make it explain itself is to deify it and that is the way of endless horror, as both Romans 1 and modern film culture amply demonstrate. 

 

“Instead, truth and glory have broken in upon us from beyond ourselves. More than that, God has broken in with his truth and glory for the express purpose of sharing that truth and glory with us. Thus, we have the astonishing phrase The Holy One of Israel." He is the only Holy One in the universe, and yet he has chosen to become immanent in Israel. He has chosen to be owned, as it were, by this broken, fallible people. He is pleased to become localized in them.”[2]

 

                                              ii.     Idols take glory away from God: Isaiah 42.8

 

                                            iii.     Idols distort the image of God in us[3]

 

1.    Humans are made in the image of God; when we commit idolatry we compromise the image of God in humanity

 

2.    Principle: You become like what you worship (Psalm 115.8; Isaiah 41.24; 44.9)

 

“If you worship that which is not God, you reduce the image of God in yourself.  If you worship that which is not even human, you reduce your humanity still further.”[4]

 

3.    Contemporary idol of naturalistic materialism

 

a.    Lose human freedom

 

b.    Lose human dignity

 

c.     Lose human reason

 

d.    Lose human consciousness

 

e.    Lose objective morality

 

                                            iv.     “Idolatry dethrones God and enthrones creation. Idolatry is the attempt to limit, reduce and control God by refusing his authority, constraining or manipulating his power to act, having him available to serve our interests. At the same, paradoxically, idolatry exalts things within the created order (whether natural objects in the heavens or on earth, or created spirits, or the products of our own hands or imagination).  Creation is then credited with a potency that belongs only to God; it is sacralized, worshiped and treated as that from which ultimate meaning can be derived.  A great reversal happens: God, who should be worshiped, becomes an object to be used; creation, which is for our use and blessing, becomes the object of our worship.”[5]

 

3.    Tonight: critically probe naturalism (OFFENSE)

 

a.    General structure of argumentation: 

 

                                               i.     Naturalism as a philosophical worldview has significant philosophical problems

 

                                              ii.     Defenders of naturalism are committed to reason but their worldview of naturalism actually undermines reason.

 

b.    Look at two issues of philosophical tension in naturalism

 

                                               i.     Rational order of the universe is not explained by naturalism

 

                                              ii.     Rational faculties of humans are undermined by naturalism

 

4.    Definition of naturalism

 

a.    “Naturalism asserts that all of reality—including us—consists at bottom of nothing more than fundamental physical particles and forces, operating according to the laws of physics.”[6]

 

b.    “Naturalism denies that there are any spiritual or supernatural realities transcendent to the world or at least we have no good ground for believing that there could be such realities… It is the view that anything that exists is ultimately composed of physical components.”[7]

 

5.    Rational order of the universe is not explained by naturalism

 

a.    “Order” can refer to different things…

 

                                               i.     Order of objects (classic design arguments): order is in the object

 

1.    Design of the human eye

 

2.    Bacterial flagellum

 

                                              ii.     Order of processes and patterns is different

 

b.    Order of process and patterns

 

                                               i.     Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne

 

“The orderliness of the universe to which I draw attention here is its conformity to formula, to simple formulable, scientific laws.  The orderliness of the universe in this respect is a very striking fact about it. The universe might naturally have been chaotic, but it is not—it is very orderly.”[8]

 

                                              ii.     This deep “formulable order” exists across space and time.

 

                                            iii.     Arizona State University astrophysicist Paul Davies further describes this reality:

 

“There exists a deep and elegant underlying mathematical unity that links everything together in an abstract conceptual scheme.  There is thus an underlying rational order of which the fall of an apple is but one example.  We could never get at that type of deep mathematical unity other than by using science, and it’s an astonishing thing that we can get at it at all because it seems to have no survival value.”[9]

 

                                            iv.     Paul Davies in a 2007 opinion piece for The New York Times “Taking Science on Faith”[10]

 

1.    “The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?”

 

2.    “Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity?If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.”

 

                                              v.     So naturalism recognizes the rational order of the universe 

 

1.    Uses the rational order

 

2.    But cannot explain the rational order—“ultimately… rooted in reasonless absurdity.”

 

                                            vi.     How to explain?

 

1.    Is it just “reasonless absurdity?”

 

2.    Naturalistic explanation: Multiverse

 

a.    Basic idea: There are many “universes” each with a different set of laws and varying degrees of orderliness.  We happen, so the theory goes, to live in one of the lucky ones with order that is compatible with the creation and sustenance of human life.  So, we should not be surprised to see the order around us.  It is simply a statistical probability that one of the many (trillions?) of universes will have the order needed to be compatible with conscious life.

 

b.    Problems with Multiverse

 

                                                                                                     i.     “The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn’t so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.”[11]

 

                                                                                                    ii.     No observational confirmation possible.  Astrophysicist Owen Gingerich:

 

“Let me remind you that alternative universes would be in their own spaces, not in shared space. Not only could alternative universes never bump into each other, but communication with, and therefore any physical evidence for, external universes would forever be lacking.  While the mathematics might show that alternative universes could indeed exist, it would be a matter of faith that they actually do exist, with no hope of observational confirmation.”[12]

 

                                                                                         

3.    J. P. Moreland asks, “So, how do we explain the existence and nature of these laws?  Where did they come from?”

 

“There are two major options here: (1) take them as unexplainable, brute entities, or (2) provide a theistic explanation. For many thinkers, myself included, the ‘unexplainable-brute-entity’ option is not a good one.  Since the actual brute entity might not have existed, we naturally seek an explanation as to whythe contingent entity exists instead of not existing. And the fundamental laws of nature are contingent realities—after all, it is easy to conceive of worlds that have different fundamental laws of nature.  So why does our world contain certain fundamental laws instead of others.”[13]

 

4.    Paul Davies notes…

 

“[T]he very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.”

 

6.    Rational faculties of humans are undermined by naturalism

 

a.    Faculties: perception, memory, intuition, introspection, testimony, moral sense

 

b.    Alvin Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism”[14]

 

c.     Naturalism and evolution

 

                                               i.     “For the nontheist, undirected evolution is the only game in town, and natural selection seems to be the most plausible mechanism to drive that process. Here is this stunningly intricate world with its enormous diversity and apparent design; from the perspective of naturalism or nontheism, the only way it could have happened is by way of unguided Darwinian evolution; hence it must have happened that way…”[15]

 

                                              ii.     Evolution is undirected and unguided: non-teleological

 

d.    Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism

 

                                               i.     The probability that our cognitive faculties are reliable, given naturalism and evolution is low.

 

1.    Why think this is so?

 

2.    Evolutionary processes don’t track for truth but for survivability.

 

a.    “Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing.  The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive…. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival.  Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”[16]

 

b.    Charles Darwin expressed this doubt

 

“With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.  Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”[17]

 

c.     NOTE: Even if naturalistic evolution can create basic perceptual belief-forming mechanisms that track for truth, this does not explain our ability to engage in metaphysical, abstract thinking.

 

                                                                                                     i.     Since our natures/capacities are contingent (they didn’t have to be this way), how is it that they are able to gain contact with the realm of necessary truths of, for example, logic and mathematics, when we can easily imagine worlds in which they fail to have this ability?  How can we explain creatures with these abilities, especially when they go far beyond what is needed in the struggle for survival?”[18]

 

                                                                                                    ii.     “The main explanation why they evolved those faculties, on the usual story, is that having such faculties was adaptive in Pleistocene environments: useful for feeding, flying, fighting, and reproducing on the plains of Pleistocene Africa.  But why would cognitive faculties selected for success at those tasks in those environments have required reliability with respect to abstract metaphysical, reliability with respect to questions about the deep structure of realities underlying the appearances, knowledge of which would’ve been wholly irrelevant to life on the plains of Pleistocene Africa?  From a fitness point of view, such cognitive capability seems wholly unnecessary.  But if  so, the probability that is should have evolved seems low.”[19]

 

                                              ii.     If someone believes in naturalism and evolution and sees that, therefore, the probability of his cognitive faculties’ being reliable is low, then he has a defeater for the belief that his cognitive faculties are reliable.

 

1.    “Defeater” = a reason to think that a belief is not true or, at least, open to serious question

 

2.    “For example, I look into a field and see what I take to be a sheep.  You come along, identify yourself as the owner of the field, and tell me that there aren’t any sheep in that field, and that what I see is a really big dog that’s indistinguishable from a sheep at this distance.  Then I give up the belief that what I see is a sheep.”[20]

 

                                            iii.     If someone has a defeater for the belief that his cognitive faculties are reliable, then he has a defeater for any belief produced by his cognitive faculties (including his belief in naturalism and evolution).

 

                                            iv.     Therefore, if someone believes in naturalism and evolution and sees that, therefore, the probability of his cognitive faculties being reliable is low, then he has a defeater for his belief in naturalism and evolution.

 

                                              v.     Conclusion: Naturalism and evolution cannot be rationally accepted.

 

1.    Argument is not that naturalism is false

 

2.    Naturalism is not reasonable to believe

 

7.    Problems with naturalism—not rational!

 

a.    Rational order of the universe is not explained by naturalism 

 

                                               i.     Truth test: EXPLANATION

 

                                              ii.     Truth test: COHERENCE

 

b.    Rational faculties of humans are undermined by naturalism

 

                                               i.     Truth test: COHERENCE

 

                                              ii.     Truth test: EXPLANATION

 

8.    Isaiah 44.9-20

 

a.    Trying to get the transcendent of the merely material

 

b.    Naturalism is a form of idolatry

 

* “Creation is then credited with a potency that belongs only to God…”[21]

 

c.     Idolatry is fundamentally irrational (cf. Romans 1.21-23)

 

d.    My attempt: to bring out the nature of this irrationality for naturalism

 

 

 

 

Naturalism versus Theism: Which One Best Explains the Evidence?*

 

Phenomena We Observe

Theistic Context

Naturalistic Context

(Self-)Consciousness exists.

God is supremely self-aware/self-consciousness.

The universe was produced by mindless, non-conscious processes.

Personal beings exist.

God is a personal Being.

The universe was produced by impersonal processes.

We believe we make free personal decisions/choices.

God is spirit and a free Being, who can freely choose to act (e.g., to create or not).

We have emerged by material, deterministic processes and forces beyond our control.

We trust our senses and rational faculties as generally reliable in producing true beliefs.

A God of truth and rationality exists.

Because of our impulse to survive and reproduce, our beliefs would only help us survive, but a number of these could be false.

Human beings have intrinsic value/dignity and rights.

God is the supremely valuable Being.

Human beings were produced by valueless processes.

Objective moral values exist.

God’s character is the source of goodness/moral values.

The universe was produced by nonmoral processes.

First life emerged.

God is a living, active Being.

Life somehow emerged from nonliving matter.

Beauty exists (e.g., not only in landscapes but in “elegant” or “beautiful scientific theories).

God is beautiful (Ps. 27:4) and capable of creating beautiful things according to his pleasure.

Beauty in the natural world is superabundant and in many cases superfluous (often not linked to survival).

The universe is finely tuned for human life (known as the “Goldilocks effect)—the universe is “just right” for life).

God is a wise, intelligent Designer.

All the cosmic constants just happened to be right; given enough time and/or many possible worlds, a finely tuned world eventually emerged.

 

* Taken from Paul Copan, “A Moral Argument” in To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the

 Christian Worldview, eds. Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland (Intervarsity Press, 2004), 114.

 


     [1]Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976), 1.

     [2]John N. Oswalt, “The Book of Isaiah: A Short Course on Biblical Theology” Calvin Theological Journal39 (2004), 69-70.  For more general reflections on similar themes from Acts 17 see my essay “Thoughts on God’s Transcendence and Immanence.” Available online: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2013/02/thoughts-on-gods-transcendence-and.html.  

     [3]Thoughts in this section inspired by the excellent discussion in Christopher J. H. Wright The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative(Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2006)—chapter five “The Living God Confronts Idolatry,” 172ff.

     [4]Wright The Mission of God, 173.

     [5]Wright The Mission of God, 165.

     [6]James N. Anderson, Why Should I Believe Christianity?(Christian Focus, 2016), 98.

     [7]Kai Nielson as quoted in Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 9.  James Sire’s The Universe Next Door—5thed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2009) has a chapter—chapter four: “The Silence of Finite Space: Naturalism”—which contains a good discussion of philosophical naturalism.  

     [8]Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God(Clarendon Press, 1979), 136.

     [9]Paul Davies, Are We Alone? Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995), 124.

     [11]Paul Davies, “Taking Science on Faith,” The New York Times(November 24, 2007)—online: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/24/opinion/24davies.html.

     [12]Owen Gingerich, “’God’s Goof,’ and the Universe That Knew We Were Coming” in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? ed. Paul Kurtz (Prometheus, 2003), 56.

     [13]J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2018), 141.

     [14]This argument is formulated in many places but its latest form, by Plantinga, is in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), chapter 10, pp. 307-350.  A version of this chapter can be found online: https://appearedtoblogly.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/plantinga-alvin-where-the-conflict-really-lies-ch-10.pdf. For a short YouTube video introducing Plantinga’s argument see “What is the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ5RPn6nlwo.

     [15]Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 24.

     [16]Patricia Churchland, Journal of PhilosophyLXXXIV (October 1987), p. 548—as quoted in Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 315.

     [17]Letter to William Graham, Down, July 3rd, 1881—as quoted in Alvin Plantinga,Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 316.

     [18]J. P. Moreland, “A Reluctant Traveler’s Guide for Slouching Towards Theism: A Philosophical Note on Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos,” Philosophia Christi 14.2 (2012), 435.

     [19]Tom Crisp, “On Naturalistic Metaphysics” in Blackwell Companion to Naturalism, ed. Kelly James Clark (Wiley Blackwell, 2016), 5 [pagination is to online version]—online: https://thomasmcrisp.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/on-naturalistic-metaphysics-final.pdf.

     [20]Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 340.

     [21]Wright The Mission of God, 165.