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, April 16, 2014

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Naturalism, Whatever Your First Name May Be

Begin by considering this.  If our brains are merely a random collection of atoms, responding to various stimuli, in accord with the laws of physics, biology and chemistry (whatever ‘laws’ may be in a materialistic universe), then true beliefs are illusory, since these beliefs would be only the consequences of these bits of matter reacting with other bits of matter in ways predetermined by antecedent material causes.  It seems inescapable that, according to materialism, our brains are just a random collection of atoms, which behave according to physical laws and predetermined antecedents.  It follows necessarily, then, that true beliefs are illusory, not least the belief in materialism. 

More than that, if the materialists’ perspective is correct, and our reason is reducible to brain stuffs, working as described above, then a subject’s seeming favorable attitude and volitional commitment to any ‘belief’ would likewise be determined not by meaningful reflection and rational deliberations but by material-only antecedents.  So, on your view, I don’t believe beliefs signify anything personal or rational, but are best understood to be sensational effects of purely material causes.   On materialism, I can find no grounds for believing in belief.   

At any rate, what difference this makes is insignificant in terms of materialism.  For like beliefs, truth—the object of knowledge—cannot exist within the context of the materialists’ world.  Truth itself is immaterial.  Moreover, it is eternal.  For instance, there never was nor ever will be a time in which the law of non-contradiction was or could be false.  This fact also points to the immutability and absoluteness of truth.  In a materialists’ world the only thing that enjoys these attributes—immateriality, eternality, immutability, absoluteness—is the fact that there is no ontological (or even logical) residency for such, and therefore no home for truth, thus leaving knowledge homeless as well. 

Your primary problem is rooted in your epistemological autonomy.  Granting your faith commitment to metaphysical naturalism and materialism, in your strivings for knowledge, you are left with and only with the epistemological perspective of pure empiricism.  This leads into a number of problems of significant proportion. 
Firstly, empiricism cannot stand the rigors of its own criteria for knowledge, e.g., “Knowledge comes only through sense perception.” The truth of this proposition is not itself something known through sense perception and observation.  Empiricism, ultimately, can tell us nothing about the future, since the future is yet to be observed, and all knowledge is reducible to observation through the senses.  Closely related is the fact that your man David Hume observed, namely that the cause and effect relationships presupposed by empiricists are (obviously!) not subject to empirical observation, analyses and/or verification, and therefore cannot be known, according to the rigors of empiricism.  At best, two events or states of affairs, what are commonly called “brute facts,” occurring in close relation to one another are mere coincidence, happenstance, without any meaningful relation.

Moreover, pure empiricism’s history cannot even agree about the metaphysical reality we’re supposedly observing.  Locke rendered “substance” to be inexplicable; Berkeley decided to simply do away with material reality; but, who really cares, since Hume discovered that there was no mental/immaterial self to do the observing!  Even if a consensus were established, it makes little difference, since empiricism, presuming the principle of induction, and not having an internally coherent justification always begs the fundamental question.  An eminent spokesperson of your stripe understood this much.

It has been argued that we have reason that we know that the future will resemble the past, because what was the future has constantly become the past.  But such an argument really begs the very question at issue...We have therefore still to seek for some principle which shall enable us to know that the future will follow the same laws as the past (Burtrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy [New York, NY: Barnes and Noble, 2004] 45).

Naturalists make much of ‘verification.’ However, the argument for empirical verification breaks a formal law of logic, and is therefore always fallacious.  It goes like this: If hypothesis P, then effect Q will result; Q was the result, therefore P is verified and may be considered ‘theory’ or ‘law.’  This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent.  Because every line of verification must proceed thus, no method of verification is logically valid or sound.  Besides this, if truth were dependent upon verification, then we’d never know anything to be true, since every verification would itself need verification, ad infinitum.  Empiricism has no answer to the problem of an infinite regress in establishing epistemic justification.  Furthermore, empiricism cannot verify, much less account for, the abstract, absolute, universal, and invariable logical laws and concepts it takes for granted. 

It may be added that empiricism leads to solipsism.  Empiricism begins, is checked, and ends with the subject’s mere (brute) perceptions; and, those perceptions can only be verified by other perceptions, thus leading to solipsism.  The epistemology which most loudly boasts objectivity actually eliminates genuine knowledge of any reality outside oneself—crass subjectivism.  Additionally, our senses are often deceptive, and empiricism provides no means of determining which and how the data should be filtered. 

Finally, empiricism is destroyed by means of the so-called ‘problem of criterion.’  Empiricism is an epistemological ‘method’ for investigating reality; it is a chosen criterion for judging and verifying claims made about what ultimate reality truly is.  The problem comes when one asks, “How do we know that empiricism is the proper criterion for evaluating reality, one that truly corresponds with reality?”  You see, empiricists would already have to know in advance, and exhaustively so, what reality is ultimately like before they would ever be able to identify their epistemological method.  But, they tell us that such is only achievable by means of their method, empiricism.  The point is: You must already presuppose your metaphysical perspective (i.e., materialism) in advance before ever selecting your method of investigation—you must first make a faith commitment.  This, ironically, is the very thing for which you attempt to mock Christians.  Therefore, I believe it apropos to cite Psalm 7:14—15 as a proper acclamation for the antitheistic position:  “Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood.  He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.”

Granting all this—making the concept of beliefs unbelievable, making truth a cosmological hobo, and by faith in a false metaphysical construct, making epistemic justification unjustifiable—your materialism, like the mute pagan idols of antiquity, make the idol of autonomous human reason, in a word, dumb. 

It was the Puritan Richard Baxter who declared, “Nothing can be rightly known, if God be not known.”  So, I suppose in a sense the above arguments are simply support for this unpretentious dictum.  The good news is that in the fullness of time God the Father sent forth his Son, Christ Jesus, to live such a life and die such a death and be resurrected in such a glory that rebels like you and I, by faith—not in our own will and reason independent of God; instead—in Jesus’ Name, offices, and work alone we might be saved.  That is, that we might be saved from God’s righteous judgment against our cosmic treason and rebellion, and restored to a right standing before him and relationship with him, having peace with God through Christ by the Holy Ghost. 

In addition, Jesus saves us from the various expressions of our sinful reasoning, such as naturalistic/materialistic antitheism.  Such false constructs lead straightway to epistemological self-destruction, as I believe foregoing succinctly demonstrates.  By the mercies of God in Christ, however, the Holy Ghost begins his work of transformation, which includes not least the renewing of our minds, recreating us in true knowledge and righteousness and holiness, after the image of him who created us, and thus conforming us into the image of Christ.  So, I am not inviting you to have faith at the expense of reason.  Rather, I am inviting you to a faith other than the one that you have now, antithetically other in fact.  This faith, faith in the Logos, Christ Jesus and his self-attesting Word, does not disparage reason; no, this faith is the only one that can save reason, just as it is the only one that can save sinners, like you and like me.

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