CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

[Note: This post is an excerpt from the draft of a book I hope to have published sometime next year.]
 
Naturalism has been described as belief that the universe is a self-contained system, consisting of strictly natural, material or physical phenomena, constituting all of reality that is knowable in principle. As C.S. Lewis remarked, naturalism means nature is "the whole show": there are no agents external to the natural system (or if there are such agents, they are incapable of interacting with or influencing the system). This belief is commonly said to enjoy two major strengths relative to Christian theism: (1) It is more consistent with observable evidence, since we at least know that nature exists; and (2) in keeping with the principle of Occam's Razor, it is more parsimonious (it contains fewer explanatory elements), since we do not know with any certainty that any entity outside of nature exists.
 
Those certainly sound like reasonable assumptions at first blush. But they are far from self-evident. For example, naturalism entails much more than the modest and wholly uncontroversial claim that "nature exists," but claims further that nature is all that exists (or at least all that can be known). To say that nature exists is no more evidence for naturalism than it is for Christian theism, since both explicitly posit the existence of nature. It's not saying much, really: When you get right down to it, most any serious claim about anything must take into account that the observable universe exists. (There are exceptions, like ontological idealism and solipsism, but these are generally taken seriously by neither Christians nor atheists.) Similarly, to say that naturalism is necessarily more parsimonious than Christianity asserts much more than can be demonstrated. For many observers (like me) naturalistic explanations for the origin of the universe, of life on earth, or of morality, appear to be exceedingly and even hopelessly complicated. Since these complicated explanations have been devised specifically as alternatives to more basic theistic explanations, there is no need for theism to invoke them and therefore it does not follow that theism entails more entities than naturalism.
 
But my rejection of naturalism extends beyond recognition that its strong claims cannot be verified. In addition I find naturalism less than fully coherent. I say this not because I believe naturalists are irrational people, but because the ambitious claims made for naturalism simply do not appear to square with nature itself. Naturalism stipulates that the universe (nature) is somehow self-existent, and perhaps infinite. But two of the most thoroughly verified fundamental properties of the universe, energy conservation and entropy, indicate that the universe is both finite and in need of an external power source. Or as the philosophers would say, the natural order is not necessary but contingent. This curious philosophical situation is made worse in light of the frequent appeals of naturalists to science and the scientific method. For if nature is not caused, how can it be amenable to the scientific method even in principle? Science is about physical (primarily causal) explanations, not metaphysical assertions. To say that the universe "just is," or "always has been," is to repudiate, or at least temporarily abandon, the scientific method, and thereby undercut the very foundation of naturalism. Christian theology of course not only permits but demands the repudiation of the scientific method regarding decidedly supernatural claims like the creation of the universe. But as a science-driven belief system naturalism can make no such allowances. On the issue of cosmology, then, Christianity appears more internally consistent than naturalism. 
 
Another objection to naturalism arises from consideration of rational thought itself. The "argument from reason," famously explicated by C.S. Lewis in Miracles and revised by contemporary philosophers like Victor Reppert, basically holds that non-rational physical or material causes cannot be expected to create rationality. In principle, a thoroughly natural system would not be capable of producing rational thought, capable in turn of reliably determining whether or not naturalism is true. Or as Plantinga suggests, "the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable, given naturalism and evolution, is low." This may not make naturalism completely self-contradictory, but it certainly provides fodder for skepticism: If our thoughts have been produced by mindless mechanisms of evolution, then our thoughts cannot at the same time be a product of reason and reflection. Besides, given evolutionary naturalism our brains—hence our thoughts—are still evolving at this very moment. Therefore the very principles of logic we consider rational and true today could be considered crazy and false tomorrow, as evolution dictates. Alternatively, what we believe to be logical or veridical might be false right now. Natural selection couldn't care less either way: If believing what is false confers short-term reproductive advantages upon our species, so be it.
 
A similar problem holds for the origin of morality: That is, non-moral physical or material causes cannot be expected to create morality, or at least not the sort of universally applicable objective morality that acknowledges love good and sadism bad for all people at all times. As a young man I recognized the truth of this. While a freshman in high school I recall witnessing a couple of bullies overpowering a smallish self-identified Jewish kid and literally shoving him into a trash can, laughing as he screamed in protest. My first thought (and one of my first serious reflections on such matters) was that if there were a God he would not have allowed such evils; but a second thought immediately followed: What exactly is evil if there is no God? My answer was, and remains, that "evil" conveys little meaning unless there is some ultimate, transcendent moral authority. In more sophisticated forms the same question confronts naturalists to this day.
 
Now it is just possible that rational thought and morality are somehow emergent properties of a wholly naturalistic system, but that seems intuitively implausible. In any event there appears to be no evidence for such a proposition, nor any way to test it. For all its accomplishments and merits, the scientific method cannot presently verify the hypothetical past emergence of rationality and morality from non-rational and amoral physical matter (whether by evolution or by divine creation from the "dust of the earth"). Per the epistemology of naturalism itself—that only scientifically rigorous beliefs are justified—naturalism is therefore an unjustified belief. That situation would perhaps be more epistemically tolerable if naturalism were also a properly basic belief, since even for a naturalist properly basic beliefs cannot be justified by external evidence. But no one thinks the truth of naturalism is strictly self-evident or incorrigible, and consequently naturalism is not properly basic. It is therefore a belief simpliciter, an article of faith. It turns out that naturalists have no leg to stand on when deriding theists for believing without sufficient evidence.   
 

33 comments:

It's understandable that you would reject naturalism if it entails the beliefs that you describe. However, I don't think your description of it is realistic. As an example:

Per the epistemology of naturalism itself—that only scientifically rigorous beliefs are justified—naturalism is therefore an unjustified belief.

This simply is not the epistemological belief of naturalists. I think most would say that empiricism is the best way to categorize their epistemology. As with any reasonable epistemology, there must be some basis in foundational beliefs, including the unprovable assumption that the evidence of the senses provides justified knowledge. With empiricism as the basis, naturalism is the unavoidable consequent.

This simply is not the epistemological belief of naturalists. I think most would say that empiricism is the best way to categorize their epistemology. As with any reasonable epistemology, there must be some basis in foundational beliefs, including the unprovable assumption that the evidence of the senses provides justified knowledge. With empiricism as the basis, naturalism is the unavoidable consequent.

Well stated, Skeptical, and I agree that a reasonable epistemology must accommodate certain basic beliefs and unprovable assumptions.

However, I can't agree that naturalism follows from empiricism. There is evidently no empirical datum that even remotely suggests that the observable universe is self-existent, or that only the observable universe exists. And clearly evidence of the senses is not the only basis for justified knowledge, since we both agree that the basic beliefs necessary for knowledge to be justified are not experienced by the senses.

great post Don. I'll be looking forward to that book

There is evidently no empirical datum that even remotely suggests that the observable universe is self-existent, or that only the observable universe exists.

There is empirical information that suggests that things can come into existence without any observable cause. And modern physics tells us that the universe itself is no exception to this. What may or may not exist outside the realm of physical observation is unknown, but I don't rule out that there is something more than the observable universe. However there is no evidence to suggest that whatever might exist outside our universe must be an intelligent creator. Such a thing is considered to be supernatural. in my view, we might regard naturalism as being inclusive of, but not limited to what is physically observable. In other words, it doesn't exclude the possibility that there is more than what we have the capacity to observe, but it also doesn't posit that there is some supernatural entity.

And clearly evidence of the senses is not the only basis for justified knowledge, since we both agree that the basic beliefs necessary for knowledge to be justified are not experienced by the senses.

Yes, we all must make some kind of assumptions. The empiricist keeps those assumptions to a minimum. Even the rules of logic are grounded in observable physical reality. To introduce the supernatural into your worldview requires additional assumptions that the empiricist doesn't consider to be justified.

I can't agree that naturalism follows from empiricism.

Empiricism with no additional assumptions (such as the existence of any supernatural entities) leaves only naturalism.

There is empirical information that suggests that things can come into existence without any observable cause.

No there's not. That's deceptive advertising because when physicists say "nothing" they don't mean nothing they mean vacuum flux. Then you can't explain where Vacuum flux comes from. It's not nothing


And modern physics tells us that the universe itself is no exception to this. What may or may not exist outside the realm of physical observation is unknown, but I don't rule out that there is something more than the observable universe.


Nothing in physics proves that the universe came to exist without God



However there is no evidence to suggest that whatever might exist outside our universe must be an intelligent creator.

Sure is, several things. (1)you can't account for the rise of consciousness since you can[t define it (2) Fine tuning implies intelligent origin


Such a thing is considered to be supernatural.


No it's not. I've already demonstrated that SN is mystical experience nothing else.


in my view, we might regard naturalism as being inclusive of, but not limited to what is physically observable. In other words, it doesn't exclude the possibility that there is more than what we have the capacity to observe, but it also doesn't posit that there is some supernatural entity.

that would mean that Vacuum flux is SN. I would also mean Cause/effect is SN




And clearly evidence of the senses is not the only basis for justified knowledge, since we both agree that the basic beliefs necessary for knowledge to be justified are not experienced by the senses.

right which means we can forget what you just said


No there's not. That's deceptive advertising because when physicists say "nothing" they don't mean nothing they mean vacuum flux. Then you can't explain where Vacuum flux comes from. It's not nothing
- Joe, you missed my point. I was not arguing that there is nothing beyond our observable universe. I was specifically allowing for it. I was talking about cause.

Nothing in physics proves that the universe came to exist without God
- Science doesn't purport to prove anything. It does try to postulate the best explanation. As for the origin of the universe, there are several possibilities, and no good reason to assume that it must be supernatural.

Sure is, several things. (1)you can't account for the rise of consciousness since you can[t define it (2) Fine tuning implies intelligent origin
- You are merely presenting theistic arguments - not evidence. The fact is that the phenomena we associate with consciousness CAN be accounted for without resorting to supernatural means. And who says there is fine-tuning? That's just another assumption that theists make.

No it's not. I've already demonstrated that SN is mystical experience nothing else.
- Again, you missed my point. As a naturalist, I need some means of demarcating what I consider to be "natural" and what I consider to be "supernatural". Otherwise, there is no point in discussing the topic of naturalism. You may disagree with the way I define it, but then, you're not a naturalist.

that would mean that Vacuum flux is SN. I would also mean Cause/effect is SN
- Not by my definition.

right which means we can forget what you just said
- This comment is directed at Don?

There is empirical information that suggests that things can come into existence without any observable cause. And modern physics tells us that the universe itself is no exception to this.

Wow, there's an awful lot wrong with this. First, the role of empirical data is (obviously) not to tell us what cannot be observed. And an unobserved cause is not the same as a nonexistent cause. Second, it's not at all clear how modern physics could show that a universe riddled with contingency and entropy is capable of self-existence even in principle. The only physics that could possibly show this is metaphysics. Third, the statement that the universe is "no exception" to physical entities arising without cause implies that non-causation is somehow the rule. Such a rule would turn science completely on its head. Fourth, given that empiricism suggests that things can begin to exist without observable causes, and given that God is an unobservable cause, God is a postulate of empiricism.

What may or may not exist outside the realm of physical observation is unknown, but I don't rule out that there is something more than the observable universe. However there is no evidence to suggest that whatever might exist outside our universe must be an intelligent creator. Such a thing is considered to be supernatural. in my view, we might regard naturalism as being inclusive of, but not limited to what is physically observable. In other words, it doesn't exclude the possibility that there is more than what we have the capacity to observe, but it also doesn't posit that there is some supernatural entity.

That's fair. I agree that it's not strictly necessary that whatever is responsible for bringing about the universe must be an intelligent designer. That said, I think it's more coherent to maintain belief, by faith, that the universe was created by God, than it is to maintain belief, by appeal to carefully selected scientific observations, that the universe has no explanation at all.

You are merely presenting theistic arguments - not evidence. The fact is that the phenomena we associate with consciousness CAN be accounted for without resorting to supernatural means. And who says there is fine-tuning? That's just another assumption that theists make.

Skeptical – I realize you're addressing Joe here, but let me jump in for long enough to say that I don't believe there is a need to choose between arguments and evidence. In fact I would say that "facts" don't qualify as evidence at all until they are worked into a larger conceptual framework, that is, a theory and the arguments used to support it. Also there are plenty of non-theists who acknowledge fine-tuning, but resists its implications with hypotheses like the multiverse.

I would say that "facts" don't qualify as evidence at all until they are worked into a larger conceptual framework...

Oops, I meant that to read:

I would say that facts don't qualify as "evidence" at all until they are worked into a larger conceptual framework...

First, the role of empirical data is (obviously) not to tell us what cannot be observed. And an unobserved cause is not the same as a nonexistent cause.
- If a cause is not observed, we cannot conclude that there is one. Physics does not require causes. It only explains phenomena as behavior in accordance with physical laws.

Second, it's not at all clear how modern physics could show that a universe riddled with contingency and entropy is capable of self-existence even in principle.
- Contingency is not a physical concept. And the universe started out from a state of no entropy.

Third, the statement that the universe is "no exception" to physical entities arising without cause implies that non-causation is somehow the rule. Such a rule would turn science completely on its head.
- When matter arises spontaneously from the quantum vacuum, there is no discernible cause. Same for the universe itself. Science has not been turned on its head. I understand this is a problem for theists.

Fourth, given that empiricism suggests that things can begin to exist without observable causes, and given that God is an unobservable cause, God is a postulate of empiricism.
- Empiricism does not postulate what is not in evidence. Naturalism does not postulate God. Only theism does that.

I agree that it's not strictly necessary that whatever is responsible for bringing about the universe must be an intelligent designer. That said, I think it's more coherent to maintain belief, by faith, that the universe was created by God, than it is to maintain belief, by appeal to carefully selected scientific observations, that the universe has no explanation at all.
- I see no reason to think there's intelligence or intent involved. I think that's an egocentric view of the world - that there's something special in creation, and we're it.

I realize you're addressing Joe here, but let me jump in for long enough to say that I don't believe there is a need to choose between arguments and evidence. In fact I would say that "facts" don't qualify as evidence at all until they are worked into a larger conceptual framework, that is, a theory and the arguments used to support it. Also there are plenty of non-theists who acknowledge fine-tuning, but resists its implications with hypotheses like the multiverse.
- It's nothing but speculation. Nobody knows that the universe is fine-tuned. At best, some insist that it appears to be fine-tuned. Others disagree. For all we know, there could be no other possibility. There is plenty of material available that argues against the idea of fine-tuning. Speculation is not equivalent to evidence.

No there's not. That's deceptive advertising because when physicists say "nothing" they don't mean nothing they mean vacuum flux. Then you can't explain where Vacuum flux comes from. It's not nothing
- Joe, you missed my point. I was not arguing that there is nothing beyond our observable universe. I was specifically allowing for it. I was talking about cause.

all talk of cause is derived from correlation. We never see causality happening. That was Hume's whole deal. We assume causes for everything natural, that's part of the definition, naturalistic c/e. why then should we suddenly assume no cause just because we don't see one or understand what it would be?

Nothing in physics proves that the universe came to exist without God
- Science doesn't purport to prove anything. It does try to postulate the best explanation. As for the origin of the universe, there are several possibilities, and no good reason to assume that it must be supernatural.

Exactly. You have to disprove the God hypothesis or accept it as something from another magisterium.




[Joe:]
Sure is, several things. (1)you can't account for the rise of consciousness since you can[t define it (2) Fine tuning implies intelligent origin


- You are merely presenting theistic arguments - not evidence. The fact is that the phenomena we associate with consciousness CAN be accounted for without resorting to supernatural means. And who says there is fine-tuning? That's just another assumption that theists make.

Ok then account for it? solve the hard problem? explain veto power. You are also lapsing back into the improper use of SN. SN does not mean anything connected to God. we know that super natural exists because mystical experience exists.



[Joe:]
No it's not. I've already demonstrated that SN is mystical experience nothing else.

- Again, you missed my point. As a naturalist, I need some means of demarcating what I consider to be "natural" and what I consider to be "supernatural".

then learn what SN really means .I already explained the two are not opposites.


Otherwise, there is no point in discussing the topic of naturalism. You may disagree with the way I define it, but then, you're not a naturalist.

Begging the question. There probably isn't since naturalism is predicated upon a straw man argument (ie the false definition of SN)You are really just saying that can't be right because if it was you would be wrong.


that would mean that Vacuum flux is SN. I would also mean Cause/effect is SN


- Not by my definition.


especially by your definition: they are unseen they beyond the realm of study by science,




right which means we can forget what you just said
- This comment is directed at Don?


You said: "And clearly evidence of the senses is not the only basis for justified knowledge, since we both agree that the basic beliefs necessary for knowledge to be justified are not experienced by the senses"

that contradicts naturalism because it opens the door to jnowledge from beyond the empirical

IMS says: "Fourth, given that empiricism suggests that things can begin to exist without observable causes, and given that God is an unobservable cause, God is a postulate of empiricism.
- Empiricism does not postulate what is not in evidence. Naturalism does not postulate God. Only theism does that."

Unless Mystical experience is the God correlate, then we have an observable index to God's reality just like finger prints or tracks in the snow.

Thanks for the word of encouragement there Joe.

Speaking of books: I'm giving The Trace of God a second read. I really enjoyed your treatment of the old "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" principle, and intend to work some bits from it into a related argument in my own book (if I can manage to get it published).

That's sort of relevant in this discussion, now that I think of it. The universe existing without cause or explanation seems to me an extraordinary claim.

If a cause is not observed, we cannot conclude that there is one. Physics does not require causes. It only explains phenomena as behavior in accordance with physical laws.

Okay Skeptical, let's forget causality for the moment. We are still left with no explanation for the origin of physical laws themselves – not to mention the physical reality they are said to govern. At issue here is what explains the origin of the universe. What you seem to be suggesting here is that the universe can simply exist inexplicably. But then naturalistic cosmology becomes an article of faith that confers the attribute of self-existence upon the universe, a universe which, according to the same empirical-scientific method that underlies naturalism, demonstrably does not have that attribute. All of which is why I said in my post, 'To say that the universe "just is," or "always has been," is to repudiate, or at least temporarily abandon, the scientific method, and thereby undercut the very foundation of naturalism.'

Contingency is not a physical concept. And the universe started out from a state of no entropy.

Right, so physics can't really tell us that the universe is somehow self-existent (not contingent). Only metaphysics can address that question. And the only way the universe can start with no entropy is, evidently, to circumvent the first law of thermodynamics. That again appears scientifically arbitrary, if not incoherent.

Empiricism does not postulate what is not in evidence. Naturalism does not postulate God. Only theism does that.

Recall that my post was not titled, "Why I Am a Theist," but "Why I Am Not a Metaphysical Naturalist." If naturalism is justified by empiricism, as you said, an empirical investigation of the thermodynamic properties of the universe suggests that the naturalistic postulate of a self-existent universe cannot be justified.

That's all the time I can spare this morning. Thanks meanwhile for your comments.

Okay Skeptical, let's forget causality for the moment. We are still left with no explanation for the origin of physical laws themselves – not to mention the physical reality they are said to govern. At issue here is what explains the origin of the universe. What you seem to be suggesting here is that the universe can simply exist inexplicably. But then naturalistic cosmology becomes an article of faith that confers the attribute of self-existence upon the universe, a universe which, according to the same empirical-scientific method that underlies naturalism, demonstrably does not have that attribute. All of which is why I said in my post, 'To say that the universe "just is," or "always has been," is to repudiate, or at least temporarily abandon, the scientific method, and thereby undercut the very foundation of naturalism.
- You please understand what I said and what I didn't. I argued that there may well be some greater or deeper reality that gives rise to our universe. For clarity here, I do not call this thing a universe. Let me refer to it as a "superverse" For you, that greater reality is God. For me, there's no reason to suppose that it has the attributes that you ascribe to God - specifically intelligence and intent. If there is such a thing, then we are both in the same boat. You can complain all day long that it can't exist without a cause, and I can reply that your concept of God suffers from the same problem. To say that there are special rules for God is special pleading.

Right, so physics can't really tell us that the universe is somehow self-existent (not contingent). Only metaphysics can address that question. And the only way the universe can start with no entropy is, evidently, to circumvent the first law of thermodynamics. That again appears scientifically arbitrary, if not incoherent.
- Regardless of what physics tells us, I think we both agree that something exists. And it is incoherent to assume that all things must be explained by something else, because that results in an infinite regress. Therefore, something exists without explanation. As for entropy, I'm not sure you understand the concept. If the universe came from a singularity, as is the current theory, then zero entropy is the only state consistent with the laws of physics.

If naturalism is justified by empiricism, as you said, an empirical investigation of the thermodynamic properties of the universe suggests that the naturalistic postulate of a self-existent universe cannot be justified.
- I don't know what you mean by this. What laws are being violated, and how so? Would you care to argue that point to a physicist like Krauss?


I argued that there may well be some greater or deeper reality that gives rise to our universe. For clarity here, I do not call this thing a universe. Let me refer to it as a "superverse" For you, that greater reality is God. For me, there's no reason to suppose that it has the attributes that you ascribe to God - specifically intelligence and intent. If there is such a thing, then we are both in the same boat. You can complain all day long that it can't exist without a cause, and I can reply that your concept of God suffers from the same problem. To say that there are special rules for God is special pleading.

With respect, we are not in the same boat. You have claimed that your view of the universe (or "superverse") is consistent with an epistemology of empiricism. Speculation about "some greater or deeper reality that gives rise to our universe" is not consistent with empiricism. I have maintained that the origin of the universe is not a matter of physics but of metaphysics. Faith in God, derived from metaphysical considerations is consistent with the deeper reality underlying a contingent, entropic universe. (I suspect that Joe would borrow from Paul Tillich here and call this the "ground of being.")

The charge of special pleading holds only if I have claimed that God is a postulate of science, but somehow he gets to cheat the laws of science for reasons I can't explain. But God is not a postulate of science. In principle God is the creator of the cosmos, which means he transcends the laws of science altogether. Granted, I cannot demonstrate this with scientific data, any more than I can demonstrate the truth of properly basic beliefs with scientific data. I appeal to coherence, and the near-universal human sense of the "numinous" that Joe could tell you all about, rather than empirical verification.

Regardless of what physics tells us, I think we both agree that something exists. And it is incoherent to assume that all things must be explained by something else, because that results in an infinite regress. Therefore, something exists without explanation.

Agreed. But doesn't naturalism forbid the existence of things that are scientifically inexplicable in principle? If not, naturalists should think twice before complaining about my "god of the gaps."

As for entropy, I'm not sure you understand the concept. If the universe came from a singularity, as is the current theory, then zero entropy is the only state consistent with the laws of physics.

That's a fair objection. I didn't explain myself well, and I'm nothing like a cosmologist or physicist in the first place. But to venture further: To the extent that I do understand it, zero entropy for a high energy physical state is consistent with the laws of physics only if a high energy state has already come into being, a state which the first law of thermodynamics would prevent. Wasn’t it Hawking who declared that the laws of physics "break down" at a singularity?

- I don't know what you mean by this. What laws are being violated, and how so? Would you care to argue that point to a physicist like Krauss?

If the laws of physics were "already" in operation as the big bang occurred, then the big bang circumvented them. If the laws of physics were not already in place at the big bang, then someone or something (God? Superlaws?) put them in place sometime afterward. And no, I wouldn't want to argue the technicalities of physics with a leading physicist. I would, however, happily argue to Krauss or anyone else that Christian theism is more coherent naturalism.

With respect, we are not in the same boat. You have claimed that your view of the universe (or "superverse") is consistent with an epistemology of empiricism. Speculation about "some greater or deeper reality that gives rise to our universe" is not consistent with empiricism. I have maintained that the origin of the universe is not a matter of physics but of metaphysics. Faith in God, derived from metaphysical considerations is consistent with the deeper reality underlying a contingent, entropic universe. (I suspect that Joe would borrow from Paul Tillich here and call this the "ground of being.")
- As you said, this is just speculation. Same as you speculate about a God, and both with the same evidence. The difference: I don't claim that it exists (I merely say that it could, because I don't know), and you do. I don't assign it supernatural powers, and you do.

The charge of special pleading holds only if I have claimed that God is a postulate of science, but somehow he gets to cheat the laws of science for reasons I can't explain. But God is not a postulate of science. In principle God is the creator of the cosmos, which means he transcends the laws of science altogether. Granted, I cannot demonstrate this with scientific data, any more than I can demonstrate the truth of properly basic beliefs with scientific data. I appeal to coherence, and the near-universal human sense of the "numinous" that Joe could tell you all about, rather than empirical verification.
- I have made no appeal to empirical verification. All I have done is speculate about what might exist outside the universe, as you have done. And if there is such a thing, I don't make any claims that it must obey the laws of physics (which, after all, apply to physical things in the universe - not things that exist outside of space and time). What I did say is that as a matter of logic, for you to claim that anything that exists must have a cause with the single exception of your God, is indeed special pleading. It's the very definition of special pleading.

Agreed. But doesn't naturalism forbid the existence of things that are scientifically inexplicable in principle? If not, naturalists should think twice before complaining about my "god of the gaps."
- Who says naturalism forbids things that can't be explained. All it says is that everything is natural, as opposed to supernatural. And it is not "god of the gaps" reasoning to say that we don't have all the answers. It is "god of the gaps" reasoning to say that God must be the answer when we don't currently have a scientific explanation.

That's a fair objection. I didn't explain myself well, and I'm nothing like a cosmologist or physicist in the first place. But to venture further: To the extent that I do understand it, zero entropy for a high energy physical state is consistent with the laws of physics only if a high energy state has already come into being, a state which the first law of thermodynamics would prevent. Wasn’t it Hawking who declared that the laws of physics "break down" at a singularity?
- Yes, the laws of physics cannot be said to apply outside the realm of space-time. But it was you who claimed that this would "circumvent the first law of thermodynamics".

If the laws of physics were "already" in operation as the big bang occurred, then the big bang circumvented them. If the laws of physics were not already in place at the big bang, then someone or something (God? Superlaws?) put them in place sometime afterward. And no, I wouldn't want to argue the technicalities of physics with a leading physicist. I would, however, happily argue to Krauss or anyone else that Christian theism is more coherent naturalism.
- The laws of physics certainly apply as soon as the "bang" happens. What laws may be in effect before that are in question. But there is no logical reason to assume that some intelligence must have put them in place. Maybe they are random. Maybe they are the only laws that could possibly exist. We don't know. There's nothing incoherent about saying that we don't know all the answers. We speculate about possibilities, and so do you. But you go beyond speculation, and claim that you do have the answer, and that anyone who disagrees with your speculation is illogical and incoherent.

Okay Skeptical, we're beginning to talk past one another again. I'll give you a few more replies just because I like you (even if you do badmouth me on your blog). :-)

As you said, this is just speculation. Same as you speculate about a God, and both with the same evidence. The difference: I don't claim that it exists (I merely say that it could, because I don't know), and you do. I don't assign it supernatural powers, and you do.

Fair enough. Let's suppose the issue is so undecidable that I literally tossed a coin, called "heads" for God and it came up heads. If you don't claim that your version of events is the true one (which per above you don't), why would you have a problem with me not being a metaphysical naturalist? Let me be an a-naturalist in peace!

I have made no appeal to empirical verification. All I have done is speculate about what might exist outside the universe, as you have done. And if there is such a thing, I don't make any claims that it must obey the laws of physics (which, after all, apply to physical things in the universe - not things that exist outside of space and time). What I did say is that as a matter of logic, for you to claim that anything that exists must have a cause with the single exception of your God, is indeed special pleading. It's the very definition of special pleading.

That's not an argument I typically make, but the usual framing of it is slightly different: "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." On that premise, given that the universe began to exist means it requires a cause. And given that God by definition is eternal, God does not require a cause. Or something like that.

Who says naturalism forbids things that can't be explained. All it says is that everything is natural, as opposed to supernatural.

I could have sworn it was you who claimed that empiricism leads inescapably to naturalism. How can the identity of inexplicable things be derived from empirical observation?

And it is not "god of the gaps" reasoning to say that we don't have all the answers. It is "god of the gaps" reasoning to say that God must be the answer when we don't currently have a scientific explanation.

Right, but who says that God must be the answer when we don't have a scientific explanation? I've certainly never said that. What I do say is that widespread belief in God as creator of the universe and life within it precedes the Enlightenment by millennia, yet despite great scientific advances the origin of the universe and the origin of life within it remain two of the biggest mysteries confronting us. I would further suggest, that's probably not a coincidence.

Yes, the laws of physics cannot be said to apply outside the realm of space-time. But it was you who claimed that this would "circumvent the first law of thermodynamics".

And referring to that statement and your previous objection to it, I said: "That's a fair objection. I didn't explain myself well, and I'm nothing like a cosmologist or physicist in the first place."
Why are you arguing a point I have already conceded to you?

Don, I argue these points in the spirit of good-natured debate. You defend your position, and I defend mine. Eventually, we get to a point where nothing new is being said. For what it's worth, I think you are a much more reasonable debate adversary than Stan.

Fair enough. Let's suppose the issue is so undecidable that I literally tossed a coin, called "heads" for God and it came up heads. If you don't claim that your version of events is the true one (which per above you don't), why would you have a problem with me not being a metaphysical naturalist? Let me be an a-naturalist in peace!
- You can certainly be an a-naturalist, and I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is your claim that naturalism is incoherent - based on an overly restrictive definition of the "epistemology of naturalism", as I explained in my first comment, as well as other claims that are inconsistent with naturalism. Why won't you let me be a naturalist in peace?

That's not an argument I typically make, but the usual framing of it is slightly different: "Everything that begins to exist has a cause." On that premise, given that the universe began to exist means it requires a cause. And given that God by definition is eternal, God does not require a cause. Or something like that.
- Fine. Then why do you have such a problem with the idea of what I have called a "superverse"? That would be a natural entity that exists outside our universe that would serve to explain the origin of the universe.

I could have sworn it was you who claimed that empiricism leads inescapably to naturalism. How can the identity of inexplicable things be derived from empirical observation?
- Empiricism provides epistemic justification for belief based on the evidence of the senses. It does not restrict us from speculating about what else might exist as a matter of logical necessity. But there is still nothing in evidence to justify some kind of supernatural entity.

Right, but who says that God must be the answer when we don't have a scientific explanation? I've certainly never said that. What I do say is that widespread belief in God as creator of the universe and life within it precedes the Enlightenment by millennia, yet despite great scientific advances the origin of the universe and the origin of life within it remain two of the biggest mysteries confronting us. I would further suggest, that's probably not a coincidence.
- Theists say that God must be the answer when we don't have a scientific explanation. The origin of the universe, the origin of life, and the existence of conscious experience are things for which there is not a scientific consensus. That doesn't mean that there is no explanation in principle or even that there are no theories about them. It is simply the fact that we don't yet have all the answers that allows you to claim these things as the "biggest mysteries", and as the bastion of god-as-explanation. Remember, it has been only two or three dozen decades since the bastion of god-as-explanation was far larger, encompassing virtually everything.

Why are you arguing a point I have already conceded to you?
- Because it didn't sound at all like a concession. It sounded like you were insisting that the origin of the universe would necessarily violate the laws of physics.

You can certainly be an a-naturalist, and I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is your claim that naturalism is incoherent - based on an overly restrictive definition of the "epistemology of naturalism", as I explained in my first comment, as well as other claims that are inconsistent with naturalism. Why won't you let me be a naturalist in peace?

Alright Skeptical, it looks like we're coming to an impasse, possibly even a mutual understanding.

Now honestly, one reason I might hesitate to let you be a naturalist in peace is personal. That is, you've called me a science denier, and insinuated that I am a liar and a semi-educated fool. You've given me every reason to seek conflict rather than peace. But I simply like peace better than conflict. And as a Christian I believe God does, too.

So in the interests of peace let me clarify that for me naturalism is not incoherent in the technical sense of clear logical self-contradiction, but in the general sense of having disparate elements that are not easily reconciled – a claimed basis in empiricism but with metaphysical inferences (e.g., the existential self-sufficiency of the natural order) not based in empiricism. This is what I meant in my posted message: "... I find naturalism less than fully coherent. I say this not because I believe naturalists are irrational people, but because the ambitious claims made for naturalism simply do not appear to square with nature itself [emphasis added]."

OK. I'll end this with a note on the claims of naturalism vs. the claims of theism. Naturalism is, in essence, the belief that what you see is what you get. What we all see is a physical world. We don't see any gods or spirits floating around. And furthermore, a scientific understanding of nature supports the idea that it doesn't take any unseen spiritual beings to make the world work in just the way that we observe. You say naturalism doesn't square with nature. I say theism doesn't square with our observations of nature.

The only reason you think naturalism is incoherent is that you make theistic presumptions that are incompatible with observed nature. If you take a scientific perspective, you start with no such presumptions, and then you follow the observed evidence to the best explanation. This is not incoherent with respect to nature, but it is incoherent with respect to your theistic presumptions.

Naturalism makes no claims about what exists that are not supported by objective evidence. Theism does. You can reason to the existence of a supernatural being, but that line of reasoning always involves making assumptions that are not supported by objective evidence. An example of this is the idea that mind is non-physical. This is an assumption, not supported by objective evidence. Science has yet to put it all together in a single theory of mind, but there is no question at all among genuine scientists that it is purely physical. This isn't based on any dogmatic belief, but on solid evidence. As a theist, you reject the notion that mind is physical. Not because of the evidence, but because it violates your theistic beliefs about immaterial beings. Following the evidence is out of the question for you.

Same is true for evolution. You'd rather listen to a handful of crackpots who deny (and deliberately lie about) the evidence than to the thousands of real scientists whose theories are solidly based on real observed evidence. Again, your reason for denying the evidence is not because the evidence isn't real, but because it violates your theistic beliefs about where mankind came from.

OK, so we're incoherent because we don't accept your theistic assumptions. But without making those assumptions, your own beliefs are completely unsupported. They have no basis. The real difference between theism and naturalism is theistic assumptions at the base, or no theistic assumptions at the base. One is more reasonable than the other.

*sigh*

And you were doing so well, too.

What happened, Skeptical? Why the sudden and completely unprovoked flood of unfounded assertions, blanket generalizations and personal mischaracterizations?

My best guess is that you caught yourself thinking for a moment that either (1) naturalism might really be incoherent, or (2) Christian theism might not really be a pack of lies after all. Or maybe both. On this hypothesis (notice, please, that I'm not claiming outright to know your thoughts or motives), your little outburst above is an attempt to quickly correct the resulting cognitive dissonance before it causes any further disturbances.

That would be disappointing, but understandable.

In any event consider your remarks noted.

Sorry. I didn't mean to get personal. I just find it baffling that you can say that materialism is incoherent and involves "ambitious claims", when it actually involves believing what we see and nothing more, while theists deny observed evidence (this is a simple statement of fact) and instead believe things that are never observed. If I'm wrong about any of this, please correct me.

No harm done, Sir. Thanks for that.

I do think you're wrong on both counts, naturally (heh-heh), and will try to explain later. But I can't imagine what could have prompted the second in particular. Was there a specific form of evidence that you think theists deny?

Was there a specific form of evidence that you think theists deny?
- I quote your own statement regarding evidence for evolution: "For starters, I have heard much about a certain "mountain of evidence" supporting the larger-scale theory, but wherever that mountain is supposed to be, for me at least it seems to be shrouded in thick clouds of metaphysical speculation."

Please note that I presented a link to a wealth of empirical and testable evidence. This evidence is denied by the relatively small group of creationists (or ID scientists) who go against the grain of the larger scientific community because they have their own theistic theory that is based more on metaphysical speculation than real evidence.

Skep said,
"Naturalism makes no claims about what exists that are not supported by objective evidence.

This is false. This describes pure empiricism. Naturalism includes non-empirical claims such as those made about historical evolution - which cannot possibly be proven with objective evidence. Naturalism is not based on evidence: it is a philosophical position which makes evidentiary demands that exclude, by definition only, things which are defined as "not natural" or "supernatural".

From plat.stanford.edu:
1. Ontological Naturalism
1.1 Making a Causal Difference
A central thought in ontological naturalism is that all spatiotemporal entities must be identical to or metaphysically constituted by physical[3] entities. Many ontological naturalists thus adopt a physicalist attitude to mental, biological and other such “special” subject matters. They hold that there is nothing more to the mental, biological and social realms than arrangements of physical entities.

The driving motivation for this kind of ontological naturalism is the need to explain how special entities can have physical effects. Thus many contemporary thinkers adopt a physicalist view of the mental realm because they think that otherwise we will be unable to explain how mental processes can causally influence our bodies and other physical items. Similar considerations motivate ontologically naturalist views of the biological realm, the social realm, and so on.

According to Stanford.edu, then, causality is the driving premise for ontological naturalism. (Methodological naturalism is the other type).

Maintaining that effects occur without causes is not part of naturalism of either type. Nor is it replicable, falsifiable and objective observable knowledge.

"Theism does. You can reason to the existence of a supernatural being, but that line of reasoning always involves making assumptions that are not supported by objective evidence."

So does evolution, paleontology, anthropology, etc. Your Tu Quoque fails.

"An example of this is the idea that mind is non-physical. This is an assumption, not supported by objective evidence. Science has yet to put it all together in a single theory of mind, but there is no question at all among genuine scientists that it is purely physical. This isn't based on any dogmatic belief, but on solid evidence."

This is false. There is no "solid evidence" that the mind is purely physical. This is a Scientistic claim made without any references or data for support. It is purely a "belief", not an objective claim.

"Same is true for evolution. You'd rather listen to a handful of crackpots who deny (and deliberately lie about) the evidence than to the thousands of real scientists whose theories are solidly based on real observed evidence."

This is totally false, it is a falsehood and an Ad Hominem Abusive, and is without any actual content of a rational nature. There is exactly NO OBSERVED EVIDENCE for evolution; Skep knows that yet he doubles down on this falsehood. Skep is a true believer (tm), who denigrates those who call him out on the lack of actual, real, non-extrapolated opinion which is posed as FACT and TRUTH. He cannot and will not produce any such thing.

" Again, your reason for denying the evidence is not because the evidence isn't real, but because it violates your theistic beliefs about where mankind came from."

A second form of the same falsehood, which he knows is false, and another Ad Hominem Abusive.

"OK, so we're incoherent because we don't accept your theistic assumptions."

False again. You are incoherent because you say things which are not valid, truthful facts, and which are actually false, yet you claim to have the superior knowledge of issues which are outside of your professed domain - which is naturalism. That is incoherence, squared.

" The real difference between theism and naturalism is theistic assumptions at the base, or no theistic assumptions at the base. One is more reasonable than the other."

Again, completely false. The real difference is the type of argumentation logic being used: Aristotelian, deductive, testable, with first principle grounding (theist), vs. Random, false "Facts" as premises, making claims about existence which are outside the professed ontological knowledge container of existence, while believing absurdities such as natural effects occurring without causation being a principle of naturalism (Atheist naturalism).

Skep said,
"Please note that I presented a link to a wealth of empirical and testable evidence."

Scanning through, I find no such link. However, you have provided links before with the same claims about their content, and those claims, empirical, testable evidence, was blatantly false. Maybe you have new links, but I seriously doubt it.

"This evidence is denied by the relatively small group of creationists (or ID scientists) who go against the grain of the larger scientific community because they have their own theistic theory that is based more on metaphysical speculation than real evidence."

False. The reason that this "evidence" is denied is purely because it is not -NOT- empirical, objective, experimentally replicable and falsifiable data. It -IS- pure speculation which is extrapolated beyond the found facts, and the speculation is purely imagined stories created in the minds of the proponents. This is the type of evidence which Skep will, in fact, believe, because it is congruent with his worldview.

Hey Stan. Thanks for stopping by and offering your input on this. You're right, there was a lot of ad-homen-izing going on there. I like Skeptical, but in our discussions he tends to argue more with stereotypes than with me. My very deep misgivings about evolution, for example, have almost nothing to do with creationist literature, which I have seen very little of since the eighties. And I don't recall arguing anywhere that physicalism is false because it violates my "theistic beliefs about immaterial beings." I feel almost like he interviewed some other theist somewhere and got the names mixed up.

Don,

It's a shame that the conversation has been shut down. Stan has done this to me numerous times now. I was hoping to hear the responses you had promised.

As for ad hominem abusive, I never called you any names or said anything derogatory about you. There was a little back-and-forth between us, with you attacking my beliefs and me attacking yours, but neither of engaging in to-the-man abusiveness. But that's what Stan did when he called me (not my argument) incoherent. Ironically, he did this immediately after accusing me of it. Stan has called me a number of derogatory things. If he understands the definition of ad hominem abusive, which seems doubtful, he's not ashamed to use it.

I have tried to have a reasoned discussion with him, and he's the one who couldn't control his behavior. Now, here he is again, shutting down a discussion that he wasn't even a part of.

If you don't want me to comment here, just say so, and I won't come back.

Skeptical,

Give me a day or two to answer. I'm in the middle of a busy weekend, that's all.

And please don't think that by agreeing with Stan on one point that I am taking sides in any conflict you may have with him. That's not my business. I do enjoy interacting with people here, whether it's people like you or people like Stan. As far as I'm concerned, then, you and Stan are both welcome to comment here whenever you like.

Skep,
So you talk about me, rather than attack my analysis above. That is outside the parameters of a debate, of course.

As for your arguments being non-coherent, that stands. If I called you personally non-coherent, I apologize. But you should reference where I did that, rather than make undocumented assertions about my character.

Finally, this is an open blog, I assume, since membership is not required in order to comment here. So your discussion is not your sole property then, is it?

Why not address the issues I raised? Or do you prefer victimhood claims to rational analysis?

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at christiancadre@yahoo.com.