Monday, May 23, 2011

Is Naturalism Irrational?

In his 1993 book, Warrant and Proper Function, Dr. Alvin Plantinga argued that we as humans cannot truly possess knowledge unless our cognitive faculties function properly, but there is little reason to believe that naturalism can produce proper functioning cognitive faculties.

In the final chapter of the book, titled, "Is Naturalism Irrational?", Plantinga presents his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN), a summary of which can be found here, where he argues that it is irrational to believe in both naturalism and evolution. This is because the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable, given naturalism and evolution, would be fairly low since they were produced by processes which were not aimed at producing true beliefs, but at survival and propagation. This defeater for the reliability of our faculties provides a defeater for belief in naturalism itself.

At the 2010 Evangelical Philosophical Society's Apologetics Conference, Dr. Angus Menuge spoke on the subject, "Reason Cannot be Located in a Materialist World" where he gave a number of arguments against naturalism's ability to meet the requirements for reasoning to take place. Wintery Knight has an excellent post with links to Dr. Menuge's paper, a copy of his PowerPoint presentation, and a link to where an mp3 of the presentation can be purchased.

For some time now, I have been compiling a list of things which atheists must believe, can't believe, or can't account for, all of which comprise an argument that atheism is irrational. (I realize that not all atheists are naturalists, but for my current purposes, I will use the terms atheist, naturalist, and materialist interchangeably.)

The atheist must believe...

• that many things we sense to exist, such as the mind, are illusions
• that strictly natural processes, including random mutations, can account for the appearance of design in nature
• that complex specified information can arise from matter and does not require an intelligent cause
• that life can come from non-life
• that the objective moral values and duties we perceive are merely human conventions
• that there is, therefore, nothing objectively wrong with murder, rape, child molestation, genocide, racism, etc.
• that some form of determinism is true
• that something can come from absolutely nothing or that matter and energy are eternal

The atheist cannot believe in...

• free will
• the existence of any ultimate meaning or purpose to life
• the existence of objective moral values or duties
• the existence of any moral facts
• the inherent dignity or value human beings

The atheist cannot account for...

• human reasoning
• human knowledge
• universal laws of logic
• the uniformity of nature
• the fine tuning of the universe for intelligent life
• why anything at all exists rather than nothing
• the truth of anything

Note that nothing in this last section is meant to imply that atheists can't reason, use logic, or prove the truth of propositions. He simply cannot provide any grounding for these things unless he borrows tools from the theist's toolbox.

Finally, the atheist must believe in naturalism even though there are defeaters for the belief in naturalism itself.


  1. According to
    Between 29 and 30% of the world is Christian
    19 to 23% is Islamic
    About 16% is Atheist or Non-religious
    7 to 23% is Buddhist
    Approximately 14% is Hindu
    About 4% are Animist
    About 1% fall in the African traditional category.
    About 0.2% are Judaic
    Less than 1% is Other.

    Which of these do you think pose the greatest threat to Christianity?

  2. Of course it depends on what you mean by threat, but if you're asking which of these groups I would least like someone to be a member of, I really don't have a preference, except, of course, I would prefer that they all be Christians.

  3. If you're wondering why I'm blogging about atheism rather than Buddhism or Animism, it's because atheism seems to be gaining ground in our increasingly secular society and it has spokesmen who claim that Christianity is irrational (or worse) while often claiming for themselves that Atheism isn't a belief system at all. My contention is that Atheism is indeed a worldview which carries with it very specific, and irrational, implications.

  4. You said:

    "The atheist cannot believe in...

    • free will
    • the existence of any ultimate meaning or purpose to life
    • the existence of objective moral values or duties
    • the existence of any moral facts
    • the inherent dignity or value human beings"

    Don't atheists agree with you on these points?

  5. I think consistent atheists would agree with these points, but many others retain a belief in objective moral values and the inherent dignity of human beings. So, for example, they recognize that child molestation is objectively wrong despite the lack of justification for such a view within materialism.

  6. Is child molestation wrong only because God says so?

  7. No, child molestation is wrong because it violates God's character.

  8. Something I have to note is that the statement "moral facts" is a paradox. Morals are opinions and facts are facts, right? So how could a moral be a fact and an opinion at the same time? Even if you are talking about human psychology, it's still a subjective thing. Also, things like murder and rape are wrong because people deemed it wrong. There are real life consequences to doing wrong, not just being condemned by god.

  9. Hi Anon, I do not believe that morals are simply opinions, so there is no contradiction.

    If murder and rape are wrong simply because we have deemed them to be wrong, we could simply deem them to be right and they would be right. But don't you really believe that any society that would legalize rape, murder, child molestation, and torture of people simply because of the color of their skin, for example, would be wrong to do so?

    Don't you think that these things would still be wrong even if society said they were right?

  10. @Bombo
    Are you trying to state facts or trying to present an opinion, then? If you are trying to state hard facts, then your opinion is obsolete.
    As for your second question, of course I would think it's wrong. I was taught that such things are wrong. But, in the eyes of that society it isn't wrong. Society cannot simply say out of nowhere that murder and rape is okay. The people who lived to know that it wasn't okay and hold onto their own beliefs will refuse to accept that. But, if you teach an entire people from birth that murder and rape is okay, then they will grow up thinking that murder and rape is okay.

  11. You are correct that my opinion is not very relevant here, but I am not trying to present an opinion.

    You said, "Society cannot simply say out of nowhere that murder and rape is okay." But why not? You said that murder and rape are wrong "because people deemed it wrong." So, why can't they deem it to be right? That is, unless there is something objectively wrong about murder and rape.

    So, if society deemed these things to be right, we both agree that they would be wrong to do so, don't we? So any statement such as, "rape is morally good" would be a factually incorrect statement. However, this is not because people would refuse to accept it. Wouldn't these things still be wrong even if everyone accepted it?

    I also agree with you that if an entire civilization were taught from birth that murder and rape are okay, they would grow up thinking that murder and rape are okay. But that wouldn't make murder and rape right, would it?

  12. @Bombo
    When I said, "Society cannot simply say out of no where that murder and rape is okay," I meant that it would be difficult and require extreme amounts of effort for any society to adapt the idea that rape and murder is okay, not that it is impossible. I probably should have said that in the first place.
    What I've been trying to say this entire time, in the most simple of words I can come up with, morals cannot be proven. They are based off of human emotion, which at times can be much stronger than any fact, but they still cannot be proven. Murder and rape are simply acts creatures use against each other. Only when they are considered in the light of human emotion do they become "right" or "wrong". If I were to say whether or not murder and rape were still wrong we society was to deem it right, I would be stating an opinion.

  13. So, let's say that there are two societies, one of which consists of people who believe that rape and murder are morally good and the other is comprised of people who believe that rape and murder are morally bad.

    Is it your position that one of these societies is correct about rape and murder and the other one incorrect (whether or not you can prove it). Or are they simply different views, but each one morally equivalent.

    Do you believe that rape and murder morally neutral acts? One person says they're ok. Another says they're not ok. They're both simply opinions and opinions are neither right nor wrong. Is that your view?

  14. @Bobmo
    My view is that both societies are not wrong or right in having an opinion. Both opinions will produce consequences of sorts, whether they be good or bad. And since you can't prove them, you cannot say that one is wrong and the other is right from an objective stand-point. Not to say that either society protected from the consequences, just that you can't say for certain that it's wrong or right. Your opinion is not wrong or right, but you shouldn't tote it as a fact. That's kind of rude.

  15. So, child molestation, rape, murder, and torture for fun are neither wrong nor right. they're just opinions. Is that your position?

  16. CORRECTION: So, child molestation, rape, murder, and torture for fun are neither wrong nor right. Saying otherwise is just an expression of an opinion (in other words, there is no "truth of the matter"). Is that your position?

  17. @Bobmo
    Pretty much, though most everything we say about it is going to be an opinion, even if you agree with the statement. There are grey areas such as society's norms and what other people think and do and such, but my basic opinion is that morals are opinions at base value.

  18. Does the name Ariel Castro mean anything to you? He's the man who kidnapped three young girls in Cleveland, Ohio and imprisoned, raped, and tortured them for 10 years. Do you seriously believe that nothing he did was wrong?

  19. @Bobmo
    By society's moral standards, what he did was wrong. In objective fact, what he did cannot be defined as right or wrong, as they represent value and opinion, not true and being. Basically, the things that are fact are that he did that and that law and people will punish him if they can. The opinion is whether or not what he did was right, wrong, or otherwise, and what should be done about it. Since moral is the idea of what is right and wrong, it is an opinion.
    I choose not to say what I believe because I believe that my personal opinion of right or wrong does not apply to the topic. The entire point of me bringing up anything was to state that moral is not fact. Despite my wordiness and all that I've said, all I'm really trying to say is that moral was something society made. Yes, usually there a negative consequences to doing bad things, but what is "bad" changes depending on who you ask.
    But, in the end even what I am saying can be considered opinion, and we have pretty much been saying the same thing to each other. So at this point it's better to say that we agree to disagree and end the discussion so that we both can move on to more productive conversations.