Tag Archives: naturalism

What Explains the Laws of Logic and Mathematics?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The laws of thought and mathematics are absolutely true.  The law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, and the law of the excluded middle – the three fundamental principles of thought, otherwise known as the laws of logic – are all undeniable.  To deny them is to assume they are true.

They are true regardless of time, place, or who is thinking about them.  There is no possible world where they could not be true.  Likewise with mathematics.  2+3=5, and this is true regardless of time, place, or who is thinking about it.  There is no possible world where 2+3 does not equal 5.

So, any worldview which claims to explain all of reality had better have a good explanation of how this could be true.

How does atheistic naturalism explain the laws of thought and mathematics?  Since everything, on naturalism, must be reduced to physical matter, an explanation for the laws of thought and mathematics will be hard to come by, for these laws are clearly not made out of matter.

Naturalists take a couple different routes.  First, some of them say that there is no explanation for these laws; they just exist and that’s it; they are brute facts of the universe.  But surely these laws that transcend time, space, and matter, that existed before humans ever came on the scene, and will still exist after humans are extinct, are uncomfortable bedfellows with electrons, skin cells, and hydrogen atoms – the things of physical science.

How will the scientific methods of physics, chemistry, and biology explain the laws of thought and mathematics when they are built on them and rely on them? It’s like trying to explain the cinder block foundation of a house by appealing to a second-story window.

A second explanation is the following: some naturalists deny that these laws actually transcend time, space, and matter.  They claim that these are merely human conventions, laws that human beings have simply invented.  But this claim seems incredible.  Are we to really accept that 2+3 does not equal 5 unless human beings say it does?

I feel quite confident that even Klingons would agree that 2+3=5.  Can you imagine there being any dispute between a human and a Klingon over math? Of course not. The idea is absurd. This explanation just won’t fly because these laws are absolute; it doesn’t matter one bit whether any one of us ever discovered these laws, as they would still be true.  You can’t imagine a time or place where these laws aren’t true.

How does Christian theism explain the laws of thought and mathematics?  Instead of denying that these laws are transcendent, Christian theism affirms our basic intuitions that they are.  Christians identify the source of the laws of thought and mathematics with God, who is timeless, spaceless, and has always existed.

These laws are a part of God’s eternally existent nature.  They are built into God, in a matter of speaking.  So Christian theism not only provides an explanation for these laws, it also provides an explanation that makes sense of the absolute and transcendent nature of these laws.  They have always existed because God has always existed.

What Explains the Existence of the Physical Universe?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it is that the physical universe exists. I think we can safely ignore anyone who believes that the universe is just an illusion or that we are in the “matrix.”

But if the universe exists, what explains it? Why does it exist? Any worldview worth considering needs an answer to this question. Let’s look at how Christian theism and atheistic naturalism attempt to answer this question and see which worldview offers a better explanation.

Atheistic naturalism has commonly offered a few responses to this question, all of which I believe are unsatisfactory.  First, some naturalists will answer that the question itself is meaningless.  They say that it is a nonsense question that has no answer.  The universe just is and there is no explanation for it.  As an explanation, however, this is no explanation at all.  Everyone but the naturalist seems to know what the question means, so we can safely assume the naturalist simply doesn’t want to answer the question because their worldview has no answer.

Second, naturalists have answered that the universe is self-existent, and that it has always existed.  The problem with this explanation is that is has been soundly refuted by modern cosmology, by one of the very sciences that naturalists claim to be the arbiters of reality.  There is also a philosophical problem with this explanation.  Every physical object we observe in the universe is caused to exist by something else, so how can it be that the whole universe can be uncaused if everything in it is caused?

Here is an analogy.  Let’s say you see a perfectly smooth, 1-foot diameter, glass globe sitting in the grass.  You would conclude, without much thought, that something or someone caused that glass ball to come into existence.  Now take that glass ball, blow it up, and make it the size of Jupiter.  The Jupiter-sized glass ball still needs a cause, doesn’t it?

Now make the glass ball the size of the observable universe.  Wouldn’t you agree that the universe-size glass ball even more obviously needs a cause than the 1-foot ball or the Jupiter-sized ball?  Likewise, to say that even though everything smaller than the universe needs a cause, but the universe doesn’t need a cause, is simply implausible.

A third explanation is that our universe is merely one of an infinite sea of universes that exist.

How is this an answer that naturalists can offer?  Naturalists claim that only what the physical sciences can observe and describe constitutes reality.  But no universe except our own has ever been observed.  In addition, even if there were an infinite sea of universes, the question of what caused all those universes needs to be answered.  Instead of offering a cause of our one universe, the naturalist has multiplied by infinity the number of effects that need a cause, and thus makes the problem infinitely worse.

What is the answer from Christian theism?  Christians answer that the universe exists because a self-existent first cause (God) has brought it into existence and is continuing to hold it in existence.  Why is this a better explanation than what atheistic naturalists offer?

It seems obvious that physical objects in the universe need a cause to bring them into existence.  A thing cannot cause its own existence.  But, in order to avoid an infinite regress of causes, we need a first, uncaused cause.

Here is an analogy from movement.  We can say that a stone is moved by a stick, which is moved by a hand, which is moved by an arm, which is moved by a brain, and so forth and so on.  But eventually the explanations have to stop at something that is not in need of being moved. We need an unmoved mover, and that is God.

Christians recognize that the universe simply cannot be the cause of itself.  The cause must transcend the universe and it must be able to exist on its own, with no need of an outside cause for its own existence.  This cause we call God.

Why Talk So Much About Atheism?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you’ve probably noticed that there are quite a few blog posts dedicated to discussions of atheism (there is no god or gods) and the philosophy of naturalism (all that exists is found in the material universe).  Atheism and naturalism generally go together, although not always.

Some of you may wonder why I (Bill) should spend so much time talking about atheistic naturalism when less than 5% of the population explicitly subscribes to this worldview.  Most of us don’t personally know practicing, outspoken atheists, so why bother addressing this worldview so often?  That’s a good question and one that I’ve asked myself.

The answer is that although the general populations of Europe and North America (the areas of the world that impact American culture the most) are not explicitly atheist, the percentages go way up for those who inhabit the highest levels in academia.  The academic world’s embrace of atheistic naturalism is unique among all the challengers to Christianity.

This may just confirm for some of you that academics are “not right in the head” or “out in left field” and that we should just ignore them.  While some of them may be like that, we ignore them at our peril.  I firmly believe that the ideas that are imbibed in the universities among academics eventually make their way to the general population.  History has proven this out time and again.

The battle of worldviews is being fought at our western universities and the major contenders are Christian theism and atheistic naturalism.  As a Christian apologist, I feel drawn to this battle as I consider it to be the heavyweight bout.

Now, I am not saying that we should ignore other worldviews that attack Christianity.  On the contrary, on this blog we have addressed many other worldviews, especially Mormonism, as my co-blogger Darrell is a former Mormon and understands that worldview extremely well.  I am merely saying that atheistic naturalism deserves a lot of ink because of the devotion of many western intellectuals.

Even though our friends and neighbors are rarely hard core atheists, atheistic naturalism impacts our culture often in ways we don’t even realize.  There are more and more people who are practical atheists, even if they don’t call themselves atheists.  They live as if God does not exist, even though they would not say they don’t believe in God if they were asked.  Our friends and neighbors are taking in naturalistic ideas without even knowing it.

How are they taking in these ideas?  Through the pop culture.  How is pop culture picking up on these ideas?  From western intellectuals.  We cannot just ignore the academic world.  We owe it to our fellow man to counter atheistic naturalism.  C. S. Lewis, as always, is ready with a helpful bit of advice.  “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”

Is the Act of Knowing a Physical Process? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 of this post, we discussed Francis Parker’s argument that the process of knowing cannot be physical.  A purely physical account of knowledge simply does not work.  In part 2, we pick up where we left off.

Parker draws out more disturbing consequences of the materialistic account of knowing.

If, on the other hand, the particles that you actually see are really in the brain . . . , then another disturbing implication arises. Since everything which is known—the objects of all science and common sense would then be physically contained in human brains, the arduous and painful process of education would seem to be rather inefficient, to say the least, for we ought then to be able to learn everything that is known by the relatively simple process of brain surgery? We would be able to learn a given thing, presumably, simply by opening the appropriate skull, and the brain surgeon should therefore be the wisest of all men.

It hardly needs to be mentioned, however, that no brain surgeon will ever find a book in your brain (at least while you are thinking about a book), nor when what you know is the universe will he find the universe in your brain—for this would mean that the whole is contained in a rather small and insignificant one of its parts. Nor would it help for the “under-the-hat” theorist to object that this may be because our present knowledge of the brain is far from complete.

It is nonsensical to think that what we know physically resides in our brain, because we know things that are much larger than our brains!  But it gets worse for the materialistic account, because it’s not even clear that we can know anything in our brain, whether it physically fits or not.

Finally, having seen that on this view you could never know anything outside your own brain, there is a serious question as to whether you could even know anything in your own brain. For here again the process of “knowing” would be a physical one, whose beginning and whose end are consequently different. If, for example, the object of your knowledge were a certain structure in one of the fissures of your frontal lobe, your knowing of it would consist in a physical series whose last member would be located somewhere else in your brain. If, for instance, your knowledge of that frontal fissure consisted in part in the formation of a visual image of it, that visual image would not occur until the process had terminated in the back of your head, in which case the object of your knowledge is not the frontal fissure at all, but rather something in your occipital lobe. And if you were to know this particle in the back of your head, what you would know would be another particle somewhere else. And so on indefinitely.

In short, when we ask the Materialist where the object of his knowledge is, he must, if he is consistent, answer that the object which he “really knows” is at best different from the object which he “thinks he knows” (the former being under his hat or projected out from under his hat) and at worst no object at all—since his knowing of anything means that he does not know it, but rather something different, ad infinitum. So the Materialistic account of the act of knowing is untenable . . . when we consider the location of its object of knowledge.

Parker, in his essay, goes on to provide even more reasons why the materialist account of knowledge fails, but I consider the case to be made at this point.  If you are a person who does not believe in the existence of immaterial things, then what do you do?  How do you counter Parker?

Is the Act of Knowing a Physical Process? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you are a materialist, physicalist, or naturalist, then you must say “yes” because everything reduces to physical processes on those views.  Francis Parker, Professor of Philosophy at Haverford College, argues, however, that the act of knowing cannot be a physical process.

Parker offers the following scenario that a materialist may offer for how a person would know the contents of a book:

First of all, there is the book—a real, physical thing existing in a certain definite spatial location. Then there is the light reflected from this book, waves or particles (or “wavicles”) of light passing from the surface of the book to your eye. Upon reaching your eye, you may continue, these particles of light pass through the cornea, aqueous humour, lens, and vitreous humour and then strike the nerve-endings in the retina where they produce an electrochemical impulse. This impulse, you may then say, travels along the optic nerve to the occipital lobe of the brain in the back of your head, whereupon, finally, you say you “see” the book. Thus awareness, you may suggest, is merely a straightforward physical process, just like any other.

After this account of knowing the book, Parker asks, “Where is the object of your knowledge?  Where is the book you see?”  If the materialist eagerly offers, “The book is out there, in space, where we see it,” this presents a problem.

Parker walks us through the problem the materialist now faces.

Let us look once more at the process involved. The seeing of the book requires all of the steps enumerated above. You do not see the book until after all these steps have occurred, until the end of the process. And when the process is completed, the earlier stages no longer exist. But where is the end of this process? In the back of your brain. Hence it would appear that the physical thing that you physically see is not “out there,” separate from you in space, but rather in your head—”under your hat.” And for this reason this materialistic account of the act of knowing has sometimes been called the “under-the-hat” theory.

So if knowing is a physical process, then the object we know is actually not “out there” but in our brain where the visual process ends.  This seems like a strange result.  If knowing is a purely physical process, then the objects of our knowledge only exist spatially in our brain.  We don’t know anything at all outside of our brains.

Is this what materialists want to sign up for?  Part 2 of this post will uncover more problems for the materialist account.  Stay tuned…

Can the Mind Be Explained by Physics?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Some naturalists are betting on it, because ultimately physical laws, in their worldview, have to explain everything.  For the naturalist, there is nothing but physical reality which is governed by physical laws.  That being the case, everything, including the human mind, must be reduced to the purely physical and mechanistic.

Philosophers have pointed out serious problems with this attempt to reduce the mind to physics.  In a fascinating discussion of the origins of modern science, philosopher Richard Swinburne explains that mental states have been purposefully excluded by scientists because mental states were not seen as anything that science could measure or investigate.  Here is Swinburne:

Thermodynamics was conceived with the laws of temperature exchange; and temperature was supposed to be a property inherent in an object.  The felt hotness of a hot body is indeed qualitatively distinct from particle velocities and collisions.  The reduction was achieved by distinguishing between the underlying cause of the hotness (the motion of the molecules) and the sensations which the motion of molecules cause in observers. . . .  But this reduction has been achieved at the price of separating off the [sensation] from its causes, and only explaining the latter.  All reduction from one science to another dealing with apparently very disparate properties has been achieved by this device of denying that the apparent properties (i.e., the ‘secondary qualities’ of colour, heat, sound, taste, etc.) with which one science dealt belonged to the physical world at all.  It siphoned them off to the world of the mental.

But then, when you come to face the problem of the sensations themselves, you cannot do this.  If you are to explain the sensations themselves, you cannot distinguish between them and their underlying causes and only explain the latter.  In fact the enormous success of science in producing an integrated physico-chemistry has been achieved at the expense of separating off from the physical world colours, smells, and tastes, and regarding them as purely private sensory phenomena.  The very success of science in achieving its vast integrations in physics and chemistry is the very thing which has made apparently impossible any final success in integrating the world of mind into the world of physics.

Swinburne’s point is profound.  Modern science was never meant to deal with the mind and its mental states.  Not only that, but its very avoidance of explaining the mind is what has made it so successful.  Naturalists who demand that science explain the mind are asking it to do the impossible.  Maybe the mind is not reducible to physical laws.  Maybe it’s just the opposite – physical laws are ultimately reducible to The Mind.

Can Science Test for the Supernatural?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Christians believe that a supernatural being can be reasoned to by working backward from effect to cause.  We observe ourselves and we observe the world around us (those are the effects) and we reason that a supernatural cause is the best explanation for the things we observe.  This is how almost all arguments for God’s existence work.

Science can shed additional light on what we observe in the world around us, so in that sense science can be employed in arguments for God’s existence.  For example, science seems to have shown that the universe had a beginning and that the physical laws and constants that govern the universe are fine tuned for advanced life.  Both of these scientific finds are often used in arguments for God’s existence.

Those who hold a naturalistic worldview (the natural world is all that exists) seem to be divided on this subject.  Some naturalists deny that science can ever be used to test the existence of God and others affirm that science can test for the supernatural and that those tests have all turned out negative.  Still others, like evolutionary scientist Donald Prothero, appear to hold both views at the same time.  Consider the quotes below from Prothero’s book Evolution.

Prothero first suggests that scientists “cannot consider supernatural events in their hypotheses.”  Why? Because “once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it.”  He adds that scientists are not allowed to consider God or miracles (i.e., the supernatural) because they are “completely untestable and outside the realm of science.”  All right, it seems that Prothero is firmly in the camp of those who say that science cannot say anything about the supernatural.

But in the very next paragraph in his book, he completely reverses course.  Prothero explains, “In fact, there have been many scientific tests of supernatural and paranormal explanations of things, including parapsychology, ESP, divination, prophecy, and astrology.  All of these non-scientific ideas have been falsified when subjected to the scrutiny of scientific investigation. . . . Every time the supernatural has been investigated by scientific methods, it has failed the test.”

Huh??  Is your head spinning like mine?  Prothero first claims that science cannot test the supernatural and then he says that science has tested the supernatural.  Which is it?  It can’t be both.

I am not pointing this out to poke fun at Prothero, but because I see some skeptics making this mistake over and over again.  They want to desperately cling to the claim that science can say nothing about the existence of God (so that they can remove science as a tool in the Christian’s evidential toolbox), but they also desperately want to tell people how science has shown that God doesn’t exist (they retain science as a tool for skeptics to nullify the supernatural).  Unfortunately, holding both of these positions at the same time is flatly contradictory.  The skeptic must choose one or the other. Either science can test for the supernatural or it cannot.

I have seen this same mistake made in the intelligent design/evolution debate.  Evolutionists will claim that Michael Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity is non-scientific or scientifically untestable, but these same evolutionists will then produce scientific research they claim scientifically disproves irreducible complexity!  If it’s not scientifically testable, then how are they producing research which scientifically disproves it?

If you’re a Christian talking to a scientific skeptic, watch out for this skeptical two-step.  If you’re a scientific skeptic or naturalist, make up your mind which it is, because you are really confusing me.

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Can Science Answer the Most Important Questions of Life?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Have you ever noticed that the most important questions in life cannot be conclusively answered by the scientific method of empirical observation and experimentation?

We can use science to study the weather, to create wireless communication, to study the respiratory systems of whales, to better see the stars, to learn about soil erosion, to build skyscrapers, and to fly aircraft.

All of these subjects yield themselves to scientific investigation such that mankind can eventually come to know these areas in extraordinary detail and precision.  We just continue collecting data, analyzing data, and testing hypotheses – over and over again until we finally understand.

These subjects are all wonderful, in and of themselves, but they aren’t what’s truly important.  What about God, love, friendship, morality, heaven and hell, human consciousness, the meaning of life, the origin of the universe?  These are the questions that strike us in the middle of the night when a loved one is in the ICU at the hospital, or when we witness the birth of a child, or when we suffer financial ruin, or when we contemplate marrying the person we love, or when we just have some peace and quiet and can immerse ourselves in deep thought.

None of these questions ultimately lend themselves to the scientific method, but they are the most important questions.

My family loves the silly movie Nacho Libre.  In the movie, one of the characters is asked if he believes in God, and he answers, “I don’t believe in God.  I believe in science.”

It is fitting that the movie is a comedy because this response is truly comical.  The person who believes in only science is fundamentally punting on all the major questions of life.  They are saying, in effect, “We are going to limit ourselves to the lesser things of life, the things we can know with a high degree of scientific certainty.”

It’s comical, but it’s also sad.  What impoverished existence – cutting off oneself from the only things that ultimately matter.

Must Science Exclude Intelligence as a Cause?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

According to John Heininger, the answer is “no.”  What follows is an extended quotation from John, who submitted this as a comment to our blog.  His comment makes some great points in a succinct fashion about the nature of science, especially with respect to the ruling of the Dover trial in 2005.

Methodological Naturalism: The Severing of Science.

In recent decades there have been ideologically driven efforts by versed interests to sever science and remove it from its complete and proper context; on the mistaken notion that science must be solely about naturalistic material processes, to the exclusion of all else. This assertion is neither scientific nor realistic – and is unsustainable.

Firstly, naturalistic science falls well short of ever answering ultimate questions of origins and existence. A reality acknowledged even by hard core atheists, who, none-the-less, operate on the blind faith notion that naturalism and raw materialism will increasingly explain all of reality, to the point where nothing beyond the material world is ever necessary, including God.

The noted atheistic philosopher Jean Paul Sarte however highlighted the absurdity of this aspiration, and finally conceded that this hope could never be achieved. Said Sarte, “A finite point without an infinite reference point is meaningless and absurd.” He realized that because human knowledge would forever be finite and limited humanity would never ever be in a position to have the ultimate big picture. And science has discovered that the further we push back the frontiers of scientific knowledge the more unanswered questions we have.

This is not to say that we should not continue with increased effort to discover all we can about the natural world, and always seek “firstly” to explain the mysteries of nature and the universe in purely naturalistic terms, as the empirical and scientific science method does, and does well.

Science is about the facts. It’s about discovering truths about the natural world, entirely by natural laws and processes alone (Dover). However, this is only the “initial” part of what constitutes science and the scientific method, and utterly ignores the foundational realities on which all of science ultimately rests and operates.

The foundational truth about science and the natural world is that it cannot be ultimately explained by naturalistic laws or material processes alone. Every scientist knows that all of science ultimately rests entirely on phenomena that have absolutely no naturalistic explanation.

The Dover ID trial severed science, and turned science on its head. It was decreed at Dover that natural law and material processes alone must define what is science. This turned out to be ultimately loopy logic, as the gatekeeper itself, natural law, has no naturalistic explanation, and there is nothing to suggest this will ever change (Sarte). This is rather like appointing an unidentified alien to guard planet earth from all other unidentified aliens, particularly God.

None-the-less, this loopy logic was made both the measure, and the means of defining science. It was both inadequate and defective. While matter, energy and other natural phenomena are the principle focus of science, the scientific community has absolutely no idea of what matter and energy ultimately is, or how it came into existence. This is particularly true in regard to the origin and nature of the dependent universe itself.

A contingent dying universe that is running down towards head death and maximum entropy cannot explain itself. And there is absolutely no verifiable naturalistic explanation as to how our dependent cosmos came into being, or how a dead universe devoid of energy would ever wind itself up again to the initial state of minimum entropy, a state of maximum usable energy, information, and order.

Moreover, all of science is based on material and mathematical relationships. But no scientist has even the foggiest notion of how these material and mathematical relationships came into existence. Nor is there the foggiest notion of where the cosmological constants came from, naturalistically.

Secondly, central to science is the foundational acceptance that we live in a universe that clearly manifests regularity, predictability and mathematical order. A reality every scientist in every field automatically assumes in order to be able to do science. All scientists assume we live in a universe where reason and intelligence can be applied to science, and such a universe must of necessity clearly manifest intelligence, at every level.

Therefore, to argue that the ID concept – of the universe being intelligently designed by an intelligent cause – has no place in science or science education, is to deny the foundational reality on which every field of science and western technology ultimately operates, every day, and in every way.

Methodological naturalism severs science. It’s insistence that all of science and science education must be restricted exclusively to purely naturalistic explanations is to split science in two. And specifically excludes the principle phenomena and foundational principles on which all of science is founded. And this is exactly what happened at Dover – no intelligence allowed.

The unsustainable methodological naturalism now being imposed on science and science education must be challenged. It is nothing less than indoctrinating students on philosophical naturalism and atheism, which the highest court in the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court, has ruled to be a religion, in the full sense of the word.

How Does Atheistic Darwinism Explain the Origin of Language?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Not very well, unless you believe that fairy tales from evolution’s past count as evidence.  This excerpt comes from A. N. Wilson in a recent article he wrote for the New Statesman.

The phenomenon of language alone should give us pause. A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: “It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names.”

This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah’s Ark. More so, really.

Do materialists really think that language just “evolved”, like finches’ beaks, or have they simply never thought about the matter rationally? Where’s the evidence? How could it come about that human beings all agreed that particular grunts carried particular connotations? How could it have come about that groups of anthropoid apes developed the amazing morphological complexity of a single sentence, let alone the whole grammatical mystery which has engaged Chomsky and others in our lifetime and linguists for time out of mind? No, the existence of language is one of the many phenomena – of which love and music are the two strongest – which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat.

Well put, I think.