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Monday, November 08, 2004

The Argument From Reason

A couple weeks back I attended a lecture by Dr. Ned Keller, a physicist who teaches college in Grand Rapids Michigan. The lecture was entitled "The Nature of Knowledge" and was the first in a series he did discussing "Theories of Origins" at an area church. In it Dr. Keller provided a basic outline of how we know what we know in order to provide a foundation for what he was to talk about the rest of the weekend. Although I didn't get to attend any but the first lecture, I found it interesting that among his preliminary topics for the weekend was:

The preliminary question is whether the universe is best described with a natural or a supernatural worldview. What are miracles? Can they occur and have the occurred?

To answer this question Keller went to chapter 3 of C.S. Lewis’ 1947 book Miracles titled “The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism”. In that chapter Lewis makes an argument for God and against Naturalism (that nature is the “whole show”) based on the existence of human reason. Interestingly, after Miracles was first published a debate on Lewis’ argument was held at the Oxford Socratic Club between Lewis and philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. By all accounts Lewis lost the debate and subsequently rewrote the chapter for subsequent editions of the book.

In his lecture Keller talks both about chapter 3 and about miracles in general.

Lewis’ argument for the existence of the supernatural is known as the “Argument From Reason” or the "Argument From Mind".[1] In short Lewis puts the argument in syllogistic terms like so:

  • If supernaturalism is not true, then Nature is all there is and so "every finite thing or event must be (in principal) explicable in terms of the Total System [i.e. Nature]." This is called physicalism by Moreland.
  • Therefore if any one thing can be shown to be not explicable in terms of the Total System, then naturalism is not true
  • Human reasoning can be shown to be something not explicable in purely physical terms and so naturalism is therefore not true. Man’s "rationality is the little tell-tale rift in Nature which shows that there is something beyond or behind her." [2]

Lewis then defends his conclusion by starting with the premise that all knowledge depends on the validity of our reasoning. If reasoning does not lead us to true conclusions about the world around us, but is rather a product of feelings in our own mind, then all science and all knowledge is worthless. This, says Lewis, points out that strict materialism or physicalism is self-defeating. In other words physicalism may be true, but one cannot argue that it should be believed based on evidence or reasoning.

Lewis then goes on to argue why it is that human reasoning cannot be explained in terms of the “whole show”. He illustrates this through the two different senses of the word "because". In the first sense because can be used to mean a cause and effect relationship ("Grandfather is ill today because he ate lobster yesterday"). In the second sense because is used in a Ground and Consequent relation, for example, "Grandfather must be ill today because he hasn’t got up yet (and we know he is an invariably early riser when he is well"). The first sense indicates a connection between a state of affairs while the second is a logical relation between beliefs that involves an act of knowing or seeing or rational insight. Another example of the second sense of because is the mathematical reasoning if A=B and B=C then A=C.

Lewis then explains that every event in nature, including our very thoughts, must be of the first type if naturalism is true. If this is the case, then when we ask "Why do you think this?", the actual answer must always begin with a Cause-Effect style because. As a result, all of the thoughts that go into answering the question lie in a cause-effect relationship to one another including the final answer. But we know that to be caused is not to proved and so the physicalist, if he is consistent, must admit he has no way to know whether what he thinks is true. He has no way to bridge the gap between the two distinct senses of because. In fact, as Lewis notes, in argumentation people often act as if the two were unrelated so that if a person can find some bit of background about you that might indicate why you believe something (Cause-Effect) they can more easily discount your position. However, in our experience we know that not all of our thoughts are based on wholly on Cause-Effects relationships (we don’t draw all of the inferences possible from each thought). Some of our thoughts can cause other thoughts by being seen to be a ground for them (Ground-Consequent). Therefore, since some of our thoughts can be shown to be true acts of knowing or seeing that cannot be accounted for by naturalism, then naturalism is false. This then explains why all human reasoning and therefore science and knowledge must be thrown out for the physicalist since it depends on Ground-Consequent style thinking including the physicalist’s own conclusion that nature is the whole show. This is why that position is self-refuting. As Lewis conludes:

"But this, as it seems to me, is what Natualism is bound to do. It offers what professes to be a full account of our mental behaviour; but this account, on inspection, leaves no room for the acts of knowing or insight on which the whole value of our thinking, as a means to truth, depends."

He also goes on to address the naturalists claim that our reasoning is the product of natural selection and/or cultural evolution. Against natural selection as the origin he argues that natural selection can only improve man’s physical responses to the world around him and could never in principle develop a relationship between knowledge and truth since there is no connection between the two, no way to bridge the gap. Against cultural evolution or the belief that over time, men were conditioned to make inferences based on experience (where there is smoke there is fire), Lewis argues that inferences are the basis of animal, not human reasoning. The real difference between animal and human reasoning is that human reason need not appeal to experience at all. For example, our belief that A=C as above is not derived from our experience that we’ve never not know A to equal C. Rather, it is based on a real insight that "it must be so". These are the insights that a physicalist cannot explain.

[1] There are several other arguments for God’s existence that can be used including the Ontological Argument, the Cosmological Argument (which has three different forms), and the Argument from Design. The books Scaling the Secular City by J.P. Moreland and Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig have very readable introductions to these arguments.

[2] Moreland also gives other reasons for thinking that there are entities that cannot be explained naturalistically including moral values, numbers, and universals (concepts such as color)


Anonymous said...

Re: the argument from reason

You seem to be confusing Lewis' argument with the more general argument made by Henri Bergson in Creative Evolution in 1907, which is the genesis of all current arguments that evolution (and molecular biology) must have had a designer or creator and that this creator must have been divine. Bergson said that evolution does not explain, it merely exists; what explains the existence of evolution; he supplies the answer of a creator.

Of course, this argument isn't even that new. Plato and Socrates made the same argument in the Timaeon and the Republic, arguing that there must have been a "Demiurge" or in greek "themiurgo" which roughly translates as "maker" or "artificer". Socrates is made to argue by Plato that the "Demiurge" created the earth and the universe and all of its processes roughly 9,000 years ago, dating this by the Story of Atlantis.

So even the argument is ancient and neo-Platonic.

Ok, so you're dealing with a neo-Platonic argument of demiurgy, wrapped up in a pig's blanket of CS Lewis nominalism v. phenomenalism.

Ok, this is easy to unwrap. First, if the universe has always existed, or even if it came about from a big bang, there is no need to provide any explanation as to why or who created it, only a description of the physical laws governing its existence since it started 20 or 30 billion years ago.

Second, can we conceive of this and can the conception be true independent of reason? Of course it can. God exists independent of reason or thought or man's idea's, forms or conceptions. God, Jesus and the Holy Trinity incarnate as defined in the Athanasian Creed and as expressed in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea exist whether man thinks they do or not.

Thus, God is phenomenal and not noumenal; God is not of the "nous" or mind, as the Greek word goes.

This is the point of nearly all of Kantian thought; that Religion must exist outside of pure reason because God himself is immanent and exist's outside of man's reasoning and even outside of his moral and ethical understanding.

Plato and Socrates would agree, incidentally, since Plato and Socrates clearly believe in a God, and as Clement of Alexandria argues, Plato was familiar with the Jewish or Hebrew God, and wrote about him in his writings, and when Plato refers to God, he is referring to Jahweh or the God of the Hebrews. That is the foundation of the Christian Father's neo-Platonic synthesis, which reaches it's apotheosis with Augustine's readings on Plotinus in City of God.

Consequently, there is, as Kant concluded, no way to prove or disprove God's existence, or the existence of the demiurge.

The argument from design also fails for the same reason.

However, we do have Pascal's wager, which is based on probability theory. This does hold up well, since we are wagering a guess on the unknown. Since we cannot reason as to the purely immanent and phenomenal which is not scientifically proveable or disproveable, e.g. God's existence, this is unknowable; therefore we are in the realm of probability theory where we have an unknown and unknowable outcome.

The probability is between 0 and 1 as to whether there is a Holy Trinity; the consequence of being wrong is eternal damnation.

Under such circumstances, it is logical to accept Pascal's wager and assume belief in the Nicene Creed and in the Orthodox Catholic Church of the 8 ecumenical councils.

--AJ Kyriazis
Philadelphia, PA

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Anonymous said...

Hello AJ,

I really doubt that you will read this but here goes...
I stumbled upon this blog as I was reading/looking up supplementary reading.

I found your comment quite interesting.

If I may...

You said,
"First, if the universe has always existed, or even if it came about from a big bang, there is no need to provide any explanation as to why or who created it, only a description of the physical laws governing its existence since it starting 20 or 30 billion years ago..."

What exactly are you saying when you mention this?
You wrote, "If the universe has always existed... there is no need to provide any explanation..." Aren't these two big claims in and of themselves?
Firstly, how can something "come about from" something else and have "always existed?" This seems to be a mental fluke. Although, I'm sure you may be able to come up with some examples.

Second, how can one say "there is no need to provide any explanation as to ..?"
The whole idea of science and philosophy and... I would dare to say knowledge in general is to "provide an explanation." How can one suppose that "there is no need..?" Of course there may be no need. One could argue that there is no need for anything that we know, "there is no need for science, no need for rationality, no need to truth." But arguing for the "un-need" of something does not make it true. The skeptic must provide as much as the person who provides a belief.

As for your summaries on Kant and Pascal's wager, they were very refreshing to read.

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