Monday, May 14, 2012

Rom 1 reply 1: Re ten questions for intelligent Christians -- is it turtles all the way down?

(Cf. parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

I have been asked by a young Christian believer to provide answers to the list of ten questions posed as a challenge to "intelligent Christians" -- which itself shows the condescending and dismissive tone involved -- by the anonymous site God is Imaginary [which of course intends to argue just that, being sponsored by a "naturalist"; cf the reply site here], and which has been spread across the skeptical internet and Youtube for several years.

As asked, I intend to address the questions in turn, but must first note that the framing of the issue as an exercise in manipulative rhetoric by loaded questions and snide insinuations is wrong-headed.

The correct way to build a worldview, instead starts by squarely facing the turtles problem:

Turtles all the way down . . . ?
That is, when we take a claim that we accept, say A, let us ask, why? Generally, there will be some B -- another claim, a fact, a perception etc -- that warrants it. But, why accept B? That leads to C, D, . . .

So, is it turtles all the way down, or turtles in a circle, or does the last turtle stand somewhere?  Obviously, we cannot have an infinite regress of demands for warrant, or we cannot confidently know anything. Similarly, turtles in a circle begs the question -- and the site in question seems to do just that. So, we are left with a last turtle that has to stand somewhere, hopefully solid. Or, we see how at the base of a chain of warrant for what we know, we are at a point where we must accept some first plausibles as apparently true and reliable without further warrant, i.e. by faith. 

In short, all of us must live by faith and reasoning is itself inextricably intertwined with faith.  

The pivotal worldviews question then is which faith, why, not if faith. And, at the base level, all major worldview alternatives will have difficulties, so the issue is to compare difficulties and see which on balance best accounts for the evident facts, is most coherent, and is simple and powerful in its ability to explain, without becoming simplistic. This process of systematically asking and trying to answer hard basic questions across different worldviews is called comparative difficulties, and it is the basic method of philosophy.

That is why the idea that if you cannot answer a string of loaded questions I pose to you as an engineer or a doctor or a nurse or a teacher -- not, as a philosopher or theologian! (i.e. the trick is to pose hard questions to those who have not been trained to think them through and answer them . . . ) -- then you must abandon your Christian faith and accept skeptical, atheistical evolutionary materialism or the like, is utterly wrong-headed.

For, such skeptical, atheistical evolutionary materialism needs to ask and answer its own turtles questions, and it needs to compare the quality of its answers to alternatives.

As just one example, let us consider the question of the credibility of the mind as an instrument for reasoning and knowing under such assumptions. Haldane's summary is crisp and to the point:
"It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms." [["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]
Similarly, let us note what Nobel Prize winner Sir Francis Crick inadvertently implied when he said in his The Astonishing Hypothesis, in 1994:
 . . . that "You", your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased: "You're nothing but a pack of neurons." This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.
No wonder, Intelligent Design thinker Philip Johnson remarked that Sir Francis should have therefore been willing to preface his works thusly: "I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."  Johnson then acidly commented:  “[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.” [Reason in the Balance, 1995.]

The point can be made in more details as linked at the world "consider" just above. But it should be quite clear that once the mind is identified ever so exactly with the brain and the forces that have shaped it through genes and accidents of culture and one's life, then the mind soon becomes a plaything of forces that are simply irrelevant to making intelligent and responsible choices about what makes sense and what that logically entails. Of course, many evolutionary materialists are ever so quick to brush this off but the point is there, and it is by no means so easy to answer as is often pretended. 

(And it is closely linked to the problem that the proposer of the ten questions is ducking all the way along: how can he ground his ideas of what OUGHT to be, on the things that he is willing to accept as foundational entities for his worldview? That too is a challenge, as can be seen here. And remember, unless the proposer answers this question soundly, he is quietly borrowing the Christian concept of right and wrong, in order to try to object to it. So, which is it: (a) right and wrong have no objective basis in which case the whole list of questions collapses in amorality, or (b) right and wrong do have an objective basis, in which case we need to answer why. Where, as we can see here on, (c) the strongest candidate for that is that we are morally governed creatures living in a world created by an essentially good God, and given the precious gift of the ability to love, thus to choose.)

In short, right from the outset, then, we need to bear in mind that the proposer of the ten questions has some considerable home work to do, if he is to invite us to stand on his pile of turtles.

(And, as a Christian, I can invite you to consider an introductory survey on the reasons for my faith-commitment here and here, for a start. Of course, in the end, I have no doubt that there is a God, because I have met him, in the face of Jesus the risen Christ, and have had a reconciled relationship with him for decades. Including, the odd miracle or two, such as that if it were not for answers to my mom's prayers, I should have been dead forty and more years ago now. [Skepticism, in short, has to first brush away the experience of millions over centuries that they have met God in life-transforming power, including people at the level of a Pascal, with his November 23, 1654 Fire experience. One of the consequences of such a radical dismissal is that if the human mind is so delusional, then it is highly doubtful that we can know anything of consequence. that is the skeptics, too, are caught up in their own rhetorical webs.])

One last thing for today.

The very first -- and presumably most challenging -- question is: why is it that God does not hear the prayers of amputees that they be healed, inferring from this that God "ignores" the prayers of such amputees, suggesting onwards of course that this is because God is imaginary.

But, just before he says this, the presenter notes that 3/4s of doctors "believe" that miracles of healing occur today. Oops, who would be the best qualified and placed people to have adequate warrant for being confident that such a belief is true and reliable?

Why, doctors of course!

In short, the most credible witnesses, by what would be called a consensus vote, overwhelmingly vouch for the reality of miracles of healing today.

Perhaps, we do not have credible accounts of amputees being healed today, but once it is credible that healings are real, then we do have miracles. We may have a problem explaining why one class of people do not seem to have such miracles, but that is a very different thing from there being no credible reason to accept that miracles of healing do occur today.

Food for thought, at least. More, next time. END