Why atheism is self-defeating.
Whoever it was that first said, “The hardest part of my job is getting other people to do my job for me” apparently didn’t have the job of refuting naturalism, which is the belief (upon which atheism is based) that the natural world is self-existent, and therefore does not require an intelligent cause (God). This is because naturalism is a self-defeating belief system. By creating this self-defeating belief system, naturalists have left little work for the theist to do, other than to point out this self-defeating nature. The easiest way for one to see that naturalism is self-defeating is to realize that, under naturalism, we have no reason to believe that ANY of our beliefs are true…let alone a belief in naturalism. In fact, under the naturalist belief system, we have no reason to think that we even have the ability to reason accurately. David Wood writes in his essay The Explanatory Emptiness of Naturalism (as it appears in True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism):
“According to naturalists, our ability to reason is the product of natural selection acting on random mutation. Natural selection, of course, favors traits that help organisms survive and reproduce. So if human reasoning evolved naturally, it’s because it helped human beings survive and reproduce. Does this give us any basis for trusting our reasoning ability when it comes to questions of cosmology, or quantum mechanics, or neuroscience? Not at all. At best, our cognitive faculties would be reliable when it comes to finding berries, or using a spear against an enemy, or doing something to attract a mate. Interestingly, Darwin himself noticed this problem. He once admitted:
‘[W]ith me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?’
“In other words, our reasoning ability serves the same evolutionary purpose as the traits of other animals (e.g., the claws of a lion, the song of a canary, or the colorful buttocks of a baboon). We wouldn’t trust the traits of animals to lead us to the truth, because they weren’t developed for that purpose. Why, then, would we trust our own convictions, which are the result of the same evolutionary process? There’s no way around this problem for naturalists, for in order to escape the Problem of Reason, they would need to construct an argument. But this argument would presuppose the reliability of human reason, which is precisely the issue under investigation. Hence, if we take Naturalism seriously, we cannot take our reasoning ability seriously, and science falls apart.”
The renowned philosopher of neuroscience Patricia Churchland, despite being a staunch naturalist, admits to this problem with naturalism in her article Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience:
“The principal chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. . . Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing [the world] is advantageous so long as it . . . enhances the organism’s chances for survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”
Prominent atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel admits to the same in his book Mind and Cosmos, and devotes much of the rest of the book trying to wriggle free from theism. He writes:
“Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends.”
Naturalism, simply put, leaves us no reason whatsoever to think that any of our beliefs are reliable…such as a belief in naturalism.
Naturalism, simply put, leaves us no reason whatsoever to think that any of our beliefs are reliable…such as a belief in naturalism. Please recall that naturalism insists that the evolutionary mechanism of the mutation of genes is mindless and random. Also recall that natural selection selects for survivability, not for truth. And, if one stops to think, there is no reason to think that certain false beliefs could not provide just as much survival value as a corresponding true belief. For example, the belief that eating a particular plant should be avoided because doing so would cause one to turn into a werewolf provides just as much survival value as the belief that eating that plant should be avoided because doing so puts poison into one’s body. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga sums up this point in his book Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism:
“…neurology causes adaptive behavior and also causes or determines belief content [according to naturalism]: but there is no reason to suppose that the belief content thus determined is true. All that’s required for survival and fitness is that the neurology cause adaptive behavior; this neurology also determines belief content, but whether or not that content is true makes no difference to fitness. Certain NP [neuro-physiological] properties are selected for, because they contribute to fitness. These NP properties also cause or determine belief content; they associate a content or proposition with each belief. The NP properties are selected, however, not because they cause the content they do, but because they cause adaptive behavior. If the content, the proposition determined by the neurology (the NP properties of the belief) is true, fine. But if it is false, that’s no problem as far as fitness goes.”
Naturalism leaves us no reason to think that we can rely on our reason. By dismissing God, naturalists have stripped away any reason to think that human reason can lead to truth. We should therefore dismiss naturalism as having no more value than the empty “convictions of a monkey’s mind” (as Charles Darwin put it).
Christianity is responsible for the rise of science
What reason, then, does the theist provide for believing that human reason can lead to truth? Stanley Jaki, a leading philosopher and historian of science (and a physicist), provides perhaps the best articulated answer to this question. This article, titled The Origin of Science describes how Christian theism anchors man’s rationality in God’s rationality and how Christianity was responsible for the rise of science. Below is an excerpt:
In Christ and Science (p. 23), Jaki gives four reasons for modern science’s unique birth in Christian Western Europe: “Once more the Christian belief in the Creator allowed a break-through in thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be thought of as being powerful enough to create a nature with autonomous laws without his power over nature being thereby diminished. Once the basic among those laws were formulated science could develop on its own terms.”
“The Christian idea of creation made still another crucially important contribution to the future of science. It consisted in putting all material beings on the same level as being mere creatures. Unlike in the pagan Greek cosmos, there could be no divine bodies in the Christian cosmos. All bodies, heavenly and terrestrial, were now on the same footing, on the same level. This made it eventually possible to assume that the motion of the moon and the fall of a body on earth could be governed by the same law of gravitation. The assumption would have been a sacrilege in the eyes of anyone in the Greek pantheistic tradition, or in any similar tradition in any of the ancient cultures.”
“Finally, man figured in the Christian dogma of creation as a being specially created in the image of God. This image consisted both in man’s rationality as somehow sharing in God’s own rationality and in man’s condition as an ethical being with eternal responsibility for his actions. Man’s reflection on his own rationality had therefore to give him confidence that his created mind could fathom the rationality of the created realm.” “At the same time, the very createdness could caution man to guard against the ever-present temptation to dictate to nature what it ought to be. The eventual rise of the experimental method owes much to that Christian matrix.”
Atheists insist that naturalism is the worldview most compatible with science and that theism is unscientific. And this viewpoint certainly gets plenty of play in the media, in academia, and in popular thought. But, if naturalism does not provide us with any reason to trust our reason, why should we accept any naturalist reasoning? And if Christian theism was responsible for the rise of science (as I detail in Without Christianity, There Would Be No Science), why does naturalism so often get the credit for being the more scientific worldview? Perhaps Vladimir Lenin was onto something when he said, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”