Friday, February 8, 2013

Atheism Deceptively Fideism

My second email to Dr. James Anderson:

Let me try to clarify the atheist's main objection(s) to the transcendental argument for the existence of God, so that you might be able to help clear up my confusion.

You asked me in your response if the atheist committed himself to the claim that knowledge is viciously circular (e.g. A is justified by B, and B is justified by A). The atheist did in fact claim this. I believe this atheist has listened to a lot of Greg Bahnsen, so he states we all have an ultimate authority in which we appeal to (e.g. The rationalist's ultimate authority is reason, and for the empiricist it's experience). As Frame puts it in his outline for lectures on DKG,

"C.    Justification for believing in revelation or Scripture.
1.      The ultimate standard (Scripture, revelation) must justify itself. It would be contradictory to try to justify an ultimate by something more ultimate.
2.      This fact introduces a kind of circularity into the justification. However,
(i)                 All systems of thought are circular when they seek to defend their ultimate principle. Rationalists must appeal to reason, empiricists to sense-experience. (In bold for emphasis)
(ii)               We should distinguish between narrowly and broadly circular arguments.
(A)  Narrow: Scripture is God’s Word, because it is God’s Word.
(B)  Broad: Scripture is God’s Word, because it is logically consistent, is supported by this evidence, etc.
(1)   Still circular, because Scripture is the final criterion for judging evidence, logic, etc."
I believe the atheist I have been dealing with got a hold of the idea that a world view is justified by its ultimate principle and applied it to knowledge. Thus he claims all knowledge is circular at its foundation. What follows from his claim is that TAG does not demonstrate God's existence. He reaches this conclusion by reasoning that although the Christian claims that the Christian world view is the precondition for human experience, it is rather the case that the preconditions of human experience is induction, the reliability of the senses, the external world, and other minds.

So the atheist is saying that the Christian claims:

P is the precondition for Q
Therefore, P

The Christian world view is the precondition for the world to be intelligible. The Christian proves this by letting induction, logic, or morality stand for Q to show that the Christian world view is the precondition for Q. What the atheist I have been dealing with wants to say is that TAG's conclusion is unnecessary. He says that the precondition for making sense of the world can be simply understood as induction, logic, and the reliability of the senses. I guess in some way this atheist is trying to argue for something like Kant's categories? I don't know. To me the atheist seems to claim, for example, that the uniformity of nature can be understood as a precondition and presupposition we all must concede in order for the world to be intelligible. The atheist accounts for this presupposition in the uniformity of nature by saying that if it wasn't the case we could not prove anything.  

I don't quite understand how to argue against this atheist's claims. Since he says knowledge is inherently circular, it is difficult to use TAG since he will simply say that his presupposition is that the preconditions for making sense of the world is the uniformity of nature, logic, and the reliability of the senses. In other words, as TAG argues that unless the Christian world view is true, it would be impossible to prove anything. The atheist I am dealing with claims that unless the uniformity of nature and the reliability of the senses is true, it would be impossible to prove anything. The atheist is claiming that since Christians claim the Scriptures are self-justifying, it could be simply argued instead that the assumption of the uniformity of nature and the reliability of the senses is self-justifying on account of it being the preconditions for the world to be intelligible.    

In Christ,

Ryan Dozier

Dr. Anderson's reply:

Sorry for taking a while to respond here.

Some comments in reply:

1. Your atheist interlocutor is an unabashed fideist, which is a rather strange position for a self-styled freethinker and champion of reason! He recognizes that human reasoning has preconditions, but he's content simply to "posit" the fulfilment of those preconditions"on faith" rather than trying to find some deeper explanation.

2. Similarly, he is remarkably philosophically incurious. Most philosophers have sought ultimate unifying explanations for the phenomena of human experience. What ultimately "accounts" for the uniformity of nature and the orderliness of the universe? What ultimately "accounts" for our ability to reason inductively, to gain emprical knowledge, to know "a priori" truths, etc.? Your atheist friend is apparently content to ignore those questions altogether and not to seek ultimate explanations. But then he misses the force of the theistic argument: the theist's worldview can offer a "coherent unifying explanation" for these phenomena in a way that the atheist's worldview (e.g., naturalism) cannot. For that very reason, theism is rationally superior to atheism.

3. To elaborate on this last point: the atheist has to simply resort to positing a lot of brute facts --both unexplained and unconnected. It's just a brute fact that the universe is orderly. It's just a brute fact that human sense organs are reliable. It's just a brute fact that there are objective moral values. It's just a brute fact that the universe exists at all. The atheist can offer no overarching and unifying expanation for these facts; he can offer no cogent account of them. In contrast, the theist has a worldview that can straightforwardly account for "all" of them. Clearly a worldview that can offer such an account is philosophically superior to one that cannot. The atheist resorts to sheer fideism whereas the theist resorts to reasoned metaphysical explanation.

4. Here's the point put schematically. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that human reasoning has five metaphysical preconditions: A,B, C, D, E. (In reality there are many more.) The Christian claims that the existence of God accounts for these preconditions; in other words, if the God of the Bible exists it follows naturally that these preconditions obtain. In contrast, the atheist has to admit that if there is no God then there's no good reason to think that these preconditions obtain; either they could not obtain at all (e.g., if human reason presupposes certain objective moral values, as Frame argues in AGG) or else they only obtain by sheer chance. So the atheist has to appeal to brute fact "for each individual precondition." Any appeal to brute fact is rationally inferior to the metaphysical explanation provided by the theist; and to multiply such appeals (i.e., make such an appeal for "each individual precondition,"as your atheist friend does) is to sink further into obscurantist fideism.

5. Consider the analogy of a crime scene: Mac's fingerprints are on the table, the DNA from traces of saliva on a glass matches his own, distinctive footprints in the sand outside the beach house match his shoes, a witness saw someone matching his description leave the house at the time of the crime, he had a clear motive for the crime, and soon. The theist's explanation for the preconditions of human experience is equivalent to the claim that Mac committed the crime; that's a simple and coherent explanation for all the facts. The atheist's explanation (which isn't really an explanation at all) is equivalent to the claim that all these facts "just happened" to be the case. It's not even as though they each have individual, but unrelated, explanations -- it's far worse than that! The atheist is saying, in effect, that these facts don't even have individual explanations; they're just inexplicable brute facts; end of story. (Can you imagine a defense attorney relying on such a desperate line of defense in order to exonerate his client?) It should be clear just who holds the more rational position and who is the real fideist.


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