If atheism were disproven, but without proving God...

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by heymike, Jun 12, 2011.

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  1. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    Would this be a bridge between presuppositional and classical apologists?

    I am very unfamiliar with the presuppositional method, and am not sure of whether the disagreement lies with the workability of the ontological and cosmological arguments, or the appropriateness of using them in defense of the faith.

    But it seems there could be a harmonizing of the two positions, given that the 'God' arguments do not go far enough in proving God apart from oneself. That ultimately, philosophical speaking, there would remain a choice between theism and solipsism. Not that it is much of a choice.
  2. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    To disprove a negative is to prove a positive. Presuppositional apologetics tends to see the concept of direct arguments for the existence of God as wrong-headed because it's an attempt to argue on autonomous presuppositions.

    However, most presuppositionalists have ignored or misunderstood the ontological argument, as have most atheists.
  3. Rufus

    Rufus Puritan Board Junior

    Or you could disprove atheism and throw the person into agnosticism, pantheism, or polytheism.
  4. Skyler

    Skyler Puritan Board Graduate

    That is true, but disproving a universal negative (No God exists) only proves a universal positive (A God exists). It doesn't pinpoint a particular positive, i.e., the Christian God.
  5. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    Is there any other God who answers to the description "greatest of all possible beings"?
  6. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for the link to the John Frame article, I'll be sure to take a look at it.

    Just wanted to add a couple things to what's being said. The atheists I've dealt with, usually hold out for the possibility of an infinite regress or something from nothing, and believe that science will one day answer the question. What they almost entirely fail to realize is that those along with an uncaused cause are by nature empirically unverifiable. They are however within the scope of a little intuition with arguments like the ontological and cosmological.

    Concerning an uncaused cause, I once ran into a fellow in a philosophy group who was initially willing to consider an uncaused cause that is not aware of its action, but he didn't follow through for whatever reason. Whether it is an object of reason or faith I am not sure, but I maintain that it is aware of its action. And as a triune being, God would not experience loneliness by nature.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2011
  7. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks again for the link. While reading it, I remembered my philosophy of religion professor saying in class once that not everything in the Bible is false. He was an a real agnostic about the existence of God, and I thought whatever sliver of truth he was willing to accept in the Bible would eventually point towards God.

    One way that I've looked at apologetics or any debate is to begin with that which you agree on. And in dealing with atheism, I believe the point you inevitably begin with or come back to is that reality does not contradict itself.
  8. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    The trouble comes with the assumption of scientism---the idea that all knowledge is within the realm of empirical science. I think you will find (late) Wittgenstein and Michael Polanyi helpful here.
  9. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    Hi Philip, I've found that the 'scientists' are usually forced to backtrack when you say that science doesn't even give us the three 'possibilities' to begin with. Sproul's Defending the Faith is a good resource on this also. I haven't read Polanyi, but Mars Hill Audio had a great introduction to him. Wittgenstein is still a mystery to me.

    Just as an aside, in one of the great ironies of my philosophical studies, I had Paul Draper as my philosophy of religion professor at FIU. He is now at Perdue alongside William Rowe. In Draper's class I wrote a paper on the cosmological argumemt, and while looking at Rowe's book on the Cosmological argument, I discovered a critical fault when Rowe completely misunderstood Aquinas' dinstinction between the possibility of a set proceeding to infinity and the impossibility of it becoming actually infinite. That is the basic intuition which the argument rests upon.
  10. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    You're in good company. He's a strange bird, for sure. He's no friend to the church, but at the same time, he doesn't really deal with Christianity, mostly because he doesn't understand it. He attempts to make room for religion in his philosophy, but the claims of Christianity pretty much undermine his foundation.
  11. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    The differences are many and probably beyond the scope of one thread. But limiting ourselves to the arguments you mention we can say this, of course God is the first cause of the universe that is not a problem. The problem is in trying to directly prove this in an argument. There are some things that cannot be proven so nicley in a syllogism. If I fall in love with a girl I am not going to prove that to her by showing a nice neat syllogism, I bring her flowers etc. So I can "prove" it to her but the proof would be a different kind than syllogistic. In this case you face problem because causality is the crux of the argument. But how would answer Hume's criticisms of causality? Or what if Kant is right and causality is just one of the different categories that I use to form knowledge of the appearence of things. So it isn't really outside my mind but inside my mind. Sure every effect has a cause but why should I assume that the universe is an effect?

    Its these questions point to the fundemental flaw in this argument, you must prove causality first. Van Til proposed that we seek to logically explain what we all already experience causality. Who's presupositions make the most sense out of explaining causality? Does it make sense to assume causality in a purely random universe? Van Til sought to reform, no pun intended, the classical arguments in a presupositional way to avoid these problems. As far as solipsism goes I read something that Bertrand Russell said, he said that some lady wrote him a letter claiming that it is obvious that solipsism (this is the beleif that only oneself exists everything else is just a product of your mind) is the only rational point of view to have, and then she complained that there were not more preople like her.
  12. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    By saying "nuts" to Hume: by questioning systematic doubt of our God-given faculties. Causality is a given.
  13. Douglas P.

    Douglas P. Puritan Board Freshman

    As long as the classical apologist argues that there are truths that can be accessible by reason alone without first presupposing our necessity on revelation from God, then no, there can be no bridge.
  14. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Of course it is a common-sense given but that hardly answers the historical problems with explaining causality. We know there is cause and effect what we don't know is why. We know there is such a thing as morality or science what we don't know is why.
  15. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    It's a necessary truth---effects have causes by definition.
  16. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    Yes, but does everything that begins have a cause...

    First of all, thank you for the engaging response and of course God is the first cause. Now proving it is another matter even if one is unwilling to question causality. For causality may be granted, and the question of an infinite regress remains. Aquinas' distinction between the possibility of a set proceeding to infinity and the impossibility of it becoming actually infinite is key. I am unfamiliar with a syllogism that proves the distinction. It is just a basic intuition of the mind. Like understanding that a contradiction cannot be true.

    If I am not mistaken space and time were also of the mind for Kant. Objective nonetheless. Hume's criticism or skepticism was different. There comes a point where Hume's eloquence is stripped and the foolishness is obvious. An epistemology professor in a very severe tone asked the class whether the white wall was really red, to which a student replied, "then what color is the fire extinguisher?" To which the professor mumbled under his breath, "I know what he is doing," and then changed the subject.

    I do not believe causality has to be explained or defended unless someone is questioning it. But it seems the questioning of causality is more supported today because of what is being observed in quantum physics. There are different ways to approach this skepticism. I like to ask why these supposedly random events do not otherwise affect the universe, or my computer, or my dog's behavior. If they were truly random, then there should be more interaction. Hearing this, an atheist with an undergrad in physics asked why these quantum events couldn't explain the beginning of the universe or the origin of life... no kidding. I'm fairly certain that causality does not become an issue until it is seen how it connects with disproving atheism. Similarly no one would question the impossibility of forming an infinite set through successive addition, and yet a PhD in mathematics actually did that.

    While Bertrand Russell was making fun of it, I wonder if he was also was haunted by the fear that no one is out there. As brilliant as he was I imagine that he could often see through people. Augustine once pondered the question in a treatise on the trinity, and elsewhere he said that there were times when he was preaching he was overwhelmed by the faces looking back at him, as deep calling unto to deep, or something like that.
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2011
  17. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Sorry it has taken me so long to answer you and heymike, my new job has me working long hours outside in the Florida heat. Of course formaly speaking it is a necessary truth. The question is are there causes and effects out there in the real world, back to Hume and Kant.
  18. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    You are correct about an infinite regress question, I normaly turn to science to dispel that idea, especialy the second law of thermodynamics. But you stated that "causality may be granted", that is one problem that Van Til had with classical apologetics, it allows the unbeleiver to take too much for granted. Sure it is common sense that causality is there but why is it there? That is where Van Til would push the argument, with your unbeleiving presupossitions about reality explain why there is such a thing as causality? About Aquinas' distinction, I am unfamiliar with it myself. But it does seem to be an interesting line of thought. Could you perhaps lay out his argument if space permits it?

    For Kant the categories are subjective only. We use them to form knowledge, there is nothing really objective about them. For Hume I think that he was only pointing out a flaw in autonomous thinking itself. We can very well believe in causality but proving it on autonomous rational grounds was impossible. He of course never used the term autonomous but he unknowingly was pointing that out. He showed how if we accept Western philosophical presupossitions about epistemology, basically that reason can answer every question and solve every riddle, than we are hopless in reaching our goals in Epsitemology. Those goals are a complete foundation for knowledge that is located withen the individual, no wonder Kant came along. Hume pointed out that we then are incapable of reaching our goal, through his I believe it is called "Hume's fork", because of inherent problems with deductive and inductive reasoning by itself.

    The question of causality is not what but why? Why is there causal relationships in this universe? If quantum mechanics is completly correct and everything is random, which is a gross oversimplification QM I admit, than why is there any sort of orderly causal relationships at all? We christians can readly say that we believe in a God who keeps the cosmos in order and that is a perfectly rational beleif. I think that QM is a perfect example of autonomy because they say they have made a perfect vacuum and observed particles forming and disapeering in and out of "nothing". Really we sinful humans are that pridful to think that we are observing everything involved in that proccess? How do we know we are really observing nothingness? They also abandon reason to speculate, reasonably of course, about all sorts of weird counterintuitive ideas to explain how something came from nothing or parralell dimensions, yet they seek to rationaly explain this to you, how odd. These questions I have asked are ironically not physics questions but metaphysical questions, which implies that contemporary physics in need of metaphysicians to ground them logically again. They have tried to make science autonomous to basically avoid these sorts of questions and are forced to adopt a double truth theory, what is true in logic can contradict what is true in science and both are true.

    Solipsism is probalimatic because to even debate is disprove it. Plus it implies a complete control over everything we experience because of course we are creating it, but none of us seem to posses this Matrix type ability. Also it makes us God. We must be self-existent because if something else created us it disproves solipsism. We also have no paradigm cases to compare what solipsism and non-solipsism experience is like. All of our experiences are of other people and things so we have cases to compare our experiences to, that is called I believe a Paradigm case argument.
  19. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    It's pretty blasted obvious that there are---this was Reid's point. Hume and Kant are still stuck in the delusion that once you go down the skeptical path, there might still be a way to reason your way out of solipsism. Going down the path of skepticism is a conscious choice, not a given of reasoning.

    And where is the need to do so? Why prove causality at all? Why question it in the first place?

    Let's remember that "random" in science really means "I don't know what's causing it." The problem is when scientism arises and pretends that science is supreme.
  20. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Which line of argument is that? I hear atheists and such use it all the time, abortion is obviously the right thing to do, and my senses morality is working just fine. Well if the question of causality is just a psuedo-problem, like when we were debating morality, than you have a point but if it isn't than Reid is just sticking his head in the sand to avoid the hard logical problems of philosophy. Again if a person's other beleifs have absolutly no logical bearing on these beleifs than that is fine too but they do. If metaphysics has absolutly no bearing on my other beleifs whatsoever than metaphysics seems about as useful as a science about unicorns.

    Who said anything about proving causality? My contention is that how we view the nature of things will affect the possible variaty of things we could hope to see in that "universe", is causality one of them? Again Reid is great in showing that skepticism is untenable but once you move from what to why than you have problem, a great series of psuedo-problems we call philosophy.

    Well they seem to want to believe that the only possible things that might be "guiding" or "ordering" the quantum realm might be nothingness, othe dimensions, or alternate timelines. The good scientist are kind of like practical atheists, they may believe in God, religion, or philosophy but they live as if there is none of those things. I agree with you about scientism but they all seem to practicaly favor a materialistic metaphysics. They can deny it all day long but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck than it just might be a duck.
  21. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I don't see how it's a hard problem---inferring cause from effect is a basic function of our doxastic design plan. It's only when philosophers attempt to impose their preconceived notions on the world that problems arise. Instead, they should impose the world on their preconceived notions.

    If you can show how these beliefs directly contradict causality, then show it and we can reject them. Otherwise carry on.

    Why not simply construct our great cosmic in such a way that it actually reflects the cosmos? Why not reason from effect to cause in this way?

    Let's be fair---when we're studying the created order, we are studying that which is observable. It's simply bad science to insert God---yes, God is the ultimate cause, but we're doing empirical science. Since God is not empirically observable in laboratories, positing Him as a cause isn't helpful in conducting a scientific experiment. We can't observe God with an electron microscope. That's not to say that He's not in the creation, just that empirical observation won't reveal Him directly.

    The question is what "it" is, exactly. To simply say "God did it" is scientific laziness---yes He did it, the question is what mechanism He's using.
  22. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    James, I'm having a hard time following the discussion you're having with Philip, but I think this may be relevant to an earlier point about explaining causality. I think the idea that things do not begin or happen without cause is pretty basic once you strip the fancy language off of what says otherwise. Which would be similar to explaining why contradictions are necesarily false or infinite sets are not brought about through successive addition. As R.C. Sproul said, there are things that can be said even if they are unthinkable.

    About Aquinas' argument for the possibilty of a set proceeding to infinity without ever becoming actually infinite, if I'm not mistaken, I remember the statement went without explanation. But it has been awhile.
  23. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    I think to save space I will try to answer both Philip and Mike. I have been very busy at work but things seem to be slowing down so I may have lots of time to engage in a more prompt fashion these threads.

    Philip: I think that we have a confusion that I am saying that at no times can an unbeleiver refer to science or morality in any situation. No, I am saying that in the apologetical situation, which may not always come up, I can legitimatly ask them to account for certian essential beleifs, as Reid showed there are, like science to help me in the apologetical task of showing that they have no rational foundation for their point of view and they cannot account for something like causality if they try to account for it on any unbeleiving philosophies basic presupositions about the world. In a purely random universe causility cannot rationaly exist. Its not that order can randomly happen.

    Mike: I am not saying that causality doesn't exist but how one logicaly explains why causality is there to begin with. It is near impossible to reason backwards from an abstract law, that being completly seperate from concrete examples, as cause and effect to causality being actually in the world. We all know of course that causality is there but it is a matter of accounting for why it is there in the first place. It is here where Van Til pressed the unbeleiver to answer that question, in which they can't. So they end up assuming the validity of causality in actual experience without being able to say why.
  24. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    Hey James, I just saw your reply, I too have been busy elsewhere. Hope you are well.

    I'm not sure if I'm following you:

    "It is here where Van Til pressed the unbeliever to answer that question, in which they can't. So they end up assuming the validity of causality in actual experience without being able to say why."

    Where is here? The point at which a person does not deny causality and cannot explain it, or the point where a person questions causality?
  25. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    Any transcendental argument starts with some piece of experience, like causality, and asks for the logical asumptions that must be true for that piece of experience to make sense or be accounted for in one's worldview. The unbeleiver knows that causality is there but they cannot explain why it is there, could there be causality as we experience it in a totaly random universe?
  26. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    What is special about the apologetic situation that all beliefs need an argument for them? Metaphysics is the question of why something happens, not whether it happens.

    This is a category mistake. A point of view doesn't have a rational foundation as a point of view determines what is to be considered rational.

    Which is why multiverse theory is the flavour of the day.
  27. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    The apologetical task is when we are put a position to offer a "reason for the hope that is withen us", that is to say when we must remind the unbeleiver that they are in God's creation and it cannot be otherwise. We also remind them that they are made in God's image and cannot be anything other than God's image bearer. I say that to illustrate one of Van Til's most important ideas, Christianity is true no matter what. He reminded us that we start as creatures, all of us, in God's creation as his image bearers. That is why in his book The Defense of the Faith he says that "there is no such thing as atheists", because we know that there is a God, the atheist is just deluding his or herself into thinking otherwise. That really is the essence of the transcendental argument as Presupositionalists use it, simply pointing out what is obvious to everyone that we are God's creatures in his creation and so no other alternative point of view can possibly makesense out of creation than the truth, that is Christianity. We can all use creation all we want for whatever end but we cannot make sense out of creation except as viewing it as creation. And I agree with you about metaphysics and I would poingt out that the question of why is still logically valid.

    Actually every point of view predetermines in some way what is rational or not. To avoid pure relativism here I would follow Van Til in reminding us that we are all God's creatures and image bearers and therefore must, this is my view that I think is fully inline with his, use the tools (reason, senses, etc...) to think and talk about the same stuff (creation). Logic as a tool does inform us as to what is rational or not, even if we don't consistantly use that tool correctly. That is how we can we decide what is a rational foundation, not in the foundationalist sense, or what isn't.

    True but even this multiverse begs the question of where did it all come from. Remember that they kepp needing to posit another universe to explain this universe to explain that universe so on and so forth into an infinite number of dependent universes. But an infinite number of dependent universe still results in a big infinite dependent thing.
  28. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    But in that case, our response is to present the Biblical narrative of creation-fall-redemption-consummation.

    Making sense is subjective. The metanarrative of Scripture makes sense to me, but to Bertrand Russell, it did not. Making sense is a function of one's paradigm.

    But it's only interesting to a select group of people.

    But it's a tool that only works correctly from correct premises. Without a correct starting premise, the syllogism is flawed.

    To which the multiverse theorist will inevitably reply that the question is unanswerable---remember also that multiverse theorists are largely scientistic in their paradigm and as such, there is no room for God, at least not the God of Christian theism.

    All this is to say, without a word from the outside, no atheist is going to buy your argument, even if you deconstruct his. He still has warrant for using reason, even if he can't explain it metaphysically---most atheists haven't studied metaphysics extensively anyway.
  29. heymike

    heymike Puritan Board Freshman

    I said earlier that explaining causality was like explaining the principle of non-contradiction or why an infinite set cannot be made through successive addition. And by causality, I mean specifically that things do not begin or occur by nothing.

    Atheists generally accept that things do not come into existence uncaused, but they suppose that this can happen at the quantum level. I think your point may be that they accept principles of causality in everyday life, even though they cannot explain why they do.

    Or it may be that they are the kind of atheist who strongly maintains the principle of causality, but nevertheless holds to an infinite regressive universe or multiverse (same idea if multiverse is causally connected). But then he cannot explain why the principle of causality is such. BUT neither can he explain why contradictions are necessarily false. They just are.

    BUT then again, if he is a committed rationalist, he would also see that a first cause is necessary, even if he will not admit it.
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