I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Unloading the Debate

To what might we compare the debate between the Christian and Naturalist worldviews? We can liken it to a tractor-trailer driver delivering to Georgia Pacific in Big Island.

As Debbie, our driver, descended southward down route 501, something on a nearby mountainside caught her attention. Approaching the plant, Debbie recognized the mountainside diversion as a series of large rocks arranged to read, “WELCOME TO BIG ISLAND.”

Debbie thought to herself, “There are really only two hypotheses that can account for how those rocks obtained their arrangement on the mountainside. Either they came to rest in that position by means of purely impersonal, non-purposeful natural causes; or the rocks are the result of a personal, purposeful agent who works according to a good plan.”

Setting the bigger question aside for a moment, Debbie knew that whatever their cause, the rocks confirmed that she had finally reached her destination.

While being unloaded, Debbie met Greg, another driver. Soon their conversation turned to the rocks.

“You know,” Greg started, “before I drove a truck, I was in the construction business, and anyone who has the ability pull off something like that has my greatest respect. I know people might say, ‘Big deal, it’s just a bunch of rocks,’ but something like that requires intelligence and skill that very few have.”

“Greg,” Debbie interrupted, “I don’t mean to contradict, but before I started driving, I went to grad school and minored in geology. If you think that something like that overgrown rock garden can’t exist but for personal design, then you just need to go to the library a little more. There are many things in nature much more complex than that rock-pile that are caused by purely natural means.” She concluded, “A naturalistic explanation is quite possible.”

“In theory, I suppose the natural explanation might be possible,” Greg concurred. “Nevertheless, simply because something is theoretically possible, it certainly doesn’t follow that the theory is true. Whether either of us is willing to admit it or not,” Greg continued, “we’re assuming the truth of our respective hypotheses, even when arguing for them. You actually start with the non-purposeful, impersonal conclusion you’re supposed to argue for; and I begin assuming the truth of the personal, purposeful explanation that I’m to argue for. It would seem therefore that neither will convince the other of their position.”

“Well, then,” Debbie said with resolution, “I guess we’ve reached an impasse. You believe the rocks are the result of some imaginary person; and I think that we needn’t venture beyond the ‘fact’ of the rocks, looking for some mysterious purpose or person. The naturalist view tells us all we need to know about the rocks!”

Optimistically, Greg pressed a bit. “Debbie, I think we can resolve our disagreement. Well, at least resolve which hypothesis is the rational one.”

Debbie, seeming a bit skeptical, agreed to consider the solution. “I’m all ears, Greg.”

“One question is all that’s needed to determine which hypothesis is rational. So let me ask you, Debbie: When you finally arrived here, did you think that the arrangement of stones communicated something independent of themselves?”

“I don’t follow your logic, Greg.”

“Put simply, if you hold that the rock arrangement is merely the result of natural causes, without any intelligent, personal plan behind it; but then, when you saw the rocks you believed that they communicated an intelligible, reliable message—that you were in fact entering Big Island—then your belief in the naturalistic hypothesis is silly, in a word, irrational. Is that better?”

“Interesting,” Debbie said, “well, look, we’re both unloaded…It’s been nice talking, Greg.”

So it is also with the debate between atheistic Naturalism and Christian theism. Both worldviews come to the ‘facts’ of experience interpreting them through their respective pre-commitments. The former, Naturalism, argues that the universe is ultimately impersonal, non-purposeful and random. The latter, Christianity, begins with its fundamental commitment to the absolute-personal Creator-Controller-Redeemer God. Both argue that their worldview fits the facts of human experience, not least, the fact that our sensory organs give us true and intelligible information about the world of experience (independent of themselves), and that our reasoning ability provides a reliable means of ciphering and systemizing that information, that message (which we believe exists independent of our minds).

However, without even skirting the questions, Naturalists simply presume these things and then go on to use them (rationalism) to build a worldview that makes them impossible (irrationalism). For if Naturalism’s the case, then human sense perception and reason are simply part of an infinite series of non-purposeful, impersonal, unguided accidents. But if that’s so, there is quite literally no reasonable grounds for believing that our senses and reason provide any meaningful information about anything.

Therefore, as Greg said in other terms, atheistic Naturalism is simply irrational.


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