Saturday, November 18, 2006

Betting on a losing horse

Some positions aren't worth the effort to either prove or disprove. You don't need to learn enough about them to learn if they're true or false. You only need to learn enough to know that, even if they were true, they'd be losing propositions.

If Buddhism is true, then Buddhism is a blind alley. If Darwinism is true, then Darwinism is a blind alley.

Why learn more and more about every brick in a blind alley?

Suppose you're diagnosed with terminal cancer? Would you want to spend every moment of your remaining time learning everything you could about the ins and outs of terminal cancer?

If the truth does us no good, then why should we care? At that point, the truth becomes our enemy. If it's true, we're screwed.

So, as soon as we learn enough to find out that certain positions are losers, we can safely ignore them and redirect our attention to positions which are more promising—which would be beneficial if they were true.

The point I'm making is not that we should indulge in make-believe or wishful thinking. Rather, the only truth worth knowing is a truth that does us some ultimate good.

Otherwise, it's like measuring the gas chambers for new drapes. Picking the right fabric. Along with an upbeat color scheme.

If a certain proposition is a losing proposition, then we have nothing to lose by ignoring it. For, if it's true, then we're going to be on the losing end of the proposition either way, and there's nothing we can do about it. If it's true, then we lose whether we believe it or not. We lose whether we live by it or not.

So, we should invest our time in claims which, if true, offer a return on the investment.

Dawkins is betting on a losing horse. And he knows it’s a losing horse. First you die, then you rot.

What is more, he wants you to bet on his losing steed.

He thinks it’s terribly important to map the anatomy of his losing steed. Terribly important to know more and more about his losing steed.

You can never know too much about a losing horse. After all, it’s the only racehorse you’ve got.

Is it a thoroughbred loser or a half-breed loser? Arabian loser or losing Mustang?

We have high standards for our losing steeds. Peer-reviewed losers. Losers with doctorates from Ivy League universities. Tenured losers. Nobel Laureate losers.

Our losers are better than your losers.

Every losing horse deserves an Ivy League vet to shoot it after the race. Every losing horse deserves an Ivy League slaughterhouse.

And we can never been too fastidious about the jockey we hire to ride our losing horse. There’s a strict screening process. References. Background checks. Credentials from all the best racetracks. The Derby. The Belmont. The Gold Cup.

And it’s terribly important to narrow the odds. It isn’t enough to know that you’re betting on a losing horse. No, you need to know by how much the horse is going to lose.

It’s terribly important to determine whether Dawkins’ losing odds are right on the mark, or Wilsons’ losing odds are right on the mark.

It’s terribly important to know whether the margin of Dawkins’ losing odds are closer to the crushing defeat than Wilsons’ losing odds.

How long are the losing odds? Will we lose by 50 to 1 or 100 to 1? Whether the losing odds are long or short is a question of pressing importance.

And that’s not all. By how many laps did we lose? Two laps? Ten laps?

So much to learn, and so little time.

But what’s most important of all is to bet all your money on the losing horse. No hedging allowed!

It’s every man’s civic duty to bet his life savings on a horse he knows is a bound to lose. Anything less would be unsportsmanlike.

We may be losers, but we can take pride in our losing streak. It’s no small achievement to rack up an unbroken losing streak. That takes a lot of practice.

Some Common Objections To The Infancy Narratives

John Loftus recently posted an article that largely repeats some of Raymond Brown's objections to the historicity of the infancy narratives. John tells us that, in the process of rejecting Christianity, he "read the works by Christian scholars from a wide variety of scholarly sources". Apparently, he didn't read many of the works of the scholars who have been critical of Raymond Brown's arguments. And I doubt that he agrees with Brown's more conservative conclusions on issues like the virgin birth and Jesus' Davidic ancestry.

I'll be posting an article tomorrow on the alleged inconsistencies between the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. For now, I want to address some of the common objections that John raises in his article.

On the issue of why sources like Josephus don't report some of the events mentioned in the infancy narratives, see Steve Hays' comments and mine on Matthew 27:52-53 here and here. When a source like Thallus or Josephus does refer to the darkness at Jesus' crucifixion or refers to Jesus' performance of apparent miracles, for example, people like John Loftus reject the Christian claim anyway. Instead of just dismissing the Christian sources, they dismiss the non-Christian corroboration as well.

Furthermore, Bethlehem was a small town that wouldn’t have had many infants in it. Craig Keener writes:

"It is possible that he [Herod] also engaged in persecutions outside the scope of Josephus’s sources, as in the repression of the wilderness Essenes (Fritsch 1956: 23-24). In an era of many, highly placed political murders, the execution of perhaps twenty children in a small town would warrant little attention (see France 1979: 114-19). Although Josephus readily lists Herod’s atrocities, most of his reports surround the royal house or events known on a national scale; it is not improbable that Herod was no less brutal when acting out of range of Josephus’s sources" (A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], pp. 110-111)

Besides, the event in question already had Christian associations by the time Josephus wrote. He was writing for the Romans, and he had no interest in promoting Christianity to them. Josephus was aware of Jesus’ miracles, and he refers to them in passing in his account of Jesus’ life, but he doesn’t go into detail about what those miracles were. He had reasons, whatever they may have been, for not discussing such things in more depth. Similarly, he probably also knew about the conversion of the apostle Paul and other historical events favorable to Christianity, but chose not to mention them. Should we conclude that Paul probably didn't exist or was radically different from how he comes across in the New Testament, since Josephus doesn't discuss him? What do we do when one non-Christian source mentions something and another doesn't? For example, if Suetonius and Tacitus don't include all of the same people and events in their works, should we conclude that one of them is mistaken every time he's not corroborated by the other?

Regarding the census of Luke 2, see here and here. See also the discussion of Darrell Bock on pp. 903-909 in Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994). Aside from Luke's general reliability, we have a more specific reason to doubt that he mistakenly thought that Jesus was born at the time of the A.D. 6 census. Paul Barnett writes:

"Luke proves to be well informed about Herod at other points where we can evaluate his accuracy....Having located Jesus' birth in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, in one place (Lk 1), would he also locate it at the time of the controversial census (Lk 2) a decade later?" (Jesus & The Rise Of Early Christianity [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999], p. 99)

For reasons such as the ones Chris Price discusses in his article linked above, Luke probably does place Jesus' birth within the reign of Herod the Great. It's doubtful that he placed Jesus' birth around the time of the A.D. 6 census.

We also have some comments from later sources, such as Justin Martyr (First Apology, 34) and Tertullian (Against Marcion, 4:7), claiming that there were government records of such a census. "Finally, though never at Rome, on authority he [John Chrysostom] knows that the census papers of the Holy Family are still there." (Catholic Encyclopedia) We know that census records were kept, but it's possible that Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and John Chrysostom were all mistaken. Perhaps they were just repeating unreliable accounts they had heard. But they, or one of them, also may have been correct. I would assign some weight to this evidence, but not a lot. At the least, it shows us that the early Christians were so confident of the census account that they thought it was corroborated even by the Roman government. It doesn't seem that the earliest enemies of Christianity were responding to the Christian claim by arguing that no such census occurred.

Regarding Luke 2:22, Darrell Bock discusses multiple explanations consistent with the plural "their purification" (Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994], pp. 235-237). For example, "Joseph, because he aided in the delivery, was himself made unclean, since according to the Mishnah contact with blood in the delivery made one an 'offspring of uncleanness'" (p. 236).

John quotes Raymond Brown:

"Herodian knowledge of Jesus’ birth and the claim that he was a king. Rather, in Matt 14:1–2, Herod’s son seems to know nothing of Jesus. (d) Wide knowledge of Jesus’ birth, since all Jerusalem was startled (Matt 2:3), and the children of Bethlehem were killed in search of him. Rather, in Matt 13:54–55, no one seems to know of marvelous origins for Jesus."

Messianic interest in general and interest in Jesus in particular would have been less prior to Jesus' public ministry than it was after the ministry began, but it would have existed to some extent beforehand. John the Baptist wouldn't have been preparing the way for somebody he wasn't expecting (Mark 1:2-8). Though he had doubts about whether Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 11:2-3, John 1:33), Matthew 3:14 suggests that John the Baptist had a high view of Jesus prior to Jesus' baptism. The interaction between Jesus and Mary in John 2:3-5 is best explained by a prior relationship in which Jesus and Mary were both aware that Jesus was unusual in some manner. At the least, the comments of John the Baptist in Mark 1 suggest that there were general Messianic expectations prior to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, and Matthew 3 and John 2 suggest that John the Baptist and Mary had a high view of Jesus when His ministry began. There may have been others who held similar views, and the events of the infancy narratives may have been involved in leading people to those views. Brown's claim that "no one" held such views is unconvincing.

Brown cites Matthew 13:54-56 and the opposition to Jesus in Nazareth, but Nazareth is one city. It doesn't justify Brown's use of a term like "no one". Some of the people who opposed Jesus during His public ministry, such as His brothers and the people of Nazareth, didn’t witness the miracles surrounding His birth. Jesus lived in Nazareth, but the infancy events largely happened in other places, such as Bethlehem and Egypt. Mary, Joseph, and others involved would have had reasons to not tell many people, or anybody, about some of the details. Jesus’ siblings weren’t even alive yet, so they couldn’t have seen any of the supernatural events. Whatever their parents may have told them, they could grow increasingly skeptical as they saw Jesus live for decades without much of significance happening in His life, saw Him fail to meet common expectations for the Messiah, saw the respected religious leaders of their day condemn Him as empowered by Satan, etc. It’s possible that their parents and other people told them about some of the events surrounding their brother’s birth, and they believed those reports, but they struggled with the issue of whether the events reported came from God or from Satan, and following their brother as the Messiah may have required more of them than they were willing to give. To assume that Jesus' siblings and others in Nazareth would have made their judgments based entirely or almost entirely on whether they had heard reports of miracles surrounding Jesus' birth is simplistic. Other factors would have been involved. Nazareth is only one city, much of what occurs in the infancy narratives occurs elsewhere, and nothing in Matthew 13:54-56 leads us to the conclusion that the people of Nazareth had never heard of any of the supernatural events surrounding Jesus' birth.

The events of Matthew 13 occur after John the Baptist had said that he was preparing the way for the Messiah. Jesus had already performed miracles. The people in Matthew 13:54-56 mention that they had heard of Jesus' miracles (verse 54), and Matthew tells us that Jesus performed some miracles among them (verse 58). Their negative response to Jesus can't be a result of nobody having said anything about the arrival of the Messiah or nobody having reported any miracles. The focus of their criticism seems to be on disapproval of some non-supernatural elements of Jesus' life, even if those non-supernatural elements were accompanied by the supernatural. It may have been a matter of resenting the authority He claimed over them, disapproving of the type of Messiah He was claiming to be, or some combination of factors. The people of Nazareth would have been significantly influenced by the religious leadership, and they would have been told by those leaders that Jesus was a danger and was to be opposed (Mark 3:22, Matthew 9:34). There isn't anything in Matthew 13 or any other early source that should lead us to the conclusion that there was no Messianic interest in Jesus prior to His public ministry. The people of Nazareth cited some unimpressive elements of Jesus' background as an objection to Him, even though they also heard about some miracles He had performed. Likewise, they could have rejected reports about unusual events surrounding His infancy on the same grounds.

We shouldn’t think that the gospel writers themselves were ignorant of the sort of contrast Raymond Brown discusses. The account in Luke 2:48-50 of Mary’s misunderstanding Jesus and being rebuked by Him comes just after the infancy accounts that portray Mary as receiving revelation from God and cooperating with that revelation. Luke didn’t think that Mary’s early knowledge and cooperation required knowledge and cooperation on all future occasions, and neither should we. Mary will have to be rebuked by Jesus in John 2:4 (see here), yet she'll go on to tell the servants in that passage to do whatever Jesus tells them (verse 5) and will follow Jesus to the cross (John 19:26). Similarly, we see Peter and the other disciples of Jesus being inconsistent, sometimes even doubting or denying Jesus after seeing Him perform miracles.

The religious leaders of Israel knew of supernatural occurrences in Jesus’ life, such as the healings He performed, but they attributed His activities to Satan. In all likelihood, Jesus' immediate family struggled with His identity in much the same way that other people did. Mary, for example, probably was inconsistent in much the same way Peter was. She would have known that Jesus was unusual and that there were supernatural elements in His life, but she also would have known what the common expectations for the Messiah were, and she would have heard the arguments of the religous leaders to the effect that Jesus was empowered by Satan, for example. She would have to take all of these factors into consideration, and what all four of the gospels suggest is that she struggled with it. She knew of some supernatural aspects of Jesus’ life, but she also knew that He was a poor carpenter who wasn't fulfilling some common expectations for the Messiah, wasn't approved by the religious leadership, was associated with some of the most sinful people in society, and could be empowered by Satan rather than God. She also would have known that there would be some significant negative consequences to following Jesus. Even Jesus' closest disciples abandoned Him when He was getting close to the cross. Jesus was already involved in performing public miracles at the time He faced opposition from His family in passages like Matthew 13, Mark 3, and John 7. If they could oppose Him after He performed miracles as an adult, why should we think that they couldn't have done so if miracles had occurred 30 years earlier?

How much knowledge did the people in the infancy narratives have? It’s often suggested that somebody like the Mary of the infancy narratives had a high degree of faith and a deep understanding of who Jesus was and what He would do. But that’s not what the infancy narratives themselves suggest. Mary repeatedly is "perplexed" and "ponders" the meaning of what she’s told, and she asks questions (Luke 1:29, 1:34, 2:19, 2:33). The same sort of surprise, questioning, and uncertainty is seen in other people involved in the infancy accounts (Matthew 2:1-9, Luke 1:12, 1:18, 1:66, 2:18, 2:33). Being impressed by a supernatural event or understanding that Jesus was unusual in some manner isn’t equivalent to having the sort of faith Christians would have later, after events such as Jesus’ public ministry, His resurrection, and the building up of the church. How people first reacted to the events of the infancy narratives, when everything was unexpected and new to them and they hadn’t thought about these issues much, would be different from how they reacted after the passing of more time and after having to take more factors into account.

What about Brown's citation of Matthew 14:1-2? Here, again, we need to make distinctions about who knew what and when. We shouldn't read the infancy narratives as if everybody alive at that time knew what we know today. Herod the Great didn't experience what the shepherds experienced. The magi didn't know what Simeon knew. The people in Egypt would have had different experiences than the people in Jerusalem. Etc. Why should we think that Herod Antipas would have known much about the events surrounding Jesus' infancy? Herod the Great’s execution of the children of Bethlehem would have changed the expectations of some of the people involved. Herod and those around him, if they believed the claims of the magi (as opposed to acting on those claims only as a precaution), would have thought that the child was dead, and others may have made the same assumption. All that they had was general information about the beliefs of the magi. They didn't know who the child was.

The people of Jerusalem mentioned in Matthew 2:3 wouldn't have had much to go by either, and their thoughts would have been on Jerusalem, not Bethlehem, much less Nazareth. There's no indication that Herod the Great told the general population what he discussed in private with the magi and the religious leaders he consulted. Even if Herod Antipas knew of some or all of these things, why would he think that Herod the Great had been unsuccessful in executing the child, and how would he know that Jesus was that child? Besides, Luke 9:6-8 tells us that Herod Antipas already had some information on Jesus, so the question he asks in Luke 9:9 seems to reflect a desire for more information. It's not as though he doesn't know anything.

Brown's use of John 1:33 is likewise dubious. Darrell Bock explains:

"it seems possible that in these verses [in John’s gospel] John the Baptist is referring to the decisive knowledge of God’s personal confirmation about who Jesus is, rather than making a comprehensive statement about never knowing Jesus personally. Luke 1:41-44 would not contradict this Johannine distinction, since that passage has a prenatal act by John that Elizabeth interprets for him. Though the baby is prompted by the Spirit (1:15), the fetal John is hardly conscious of performing a confirming sign from God. John 1 is only making the point that John could not definitely know the Messiah was Jesus, until God showed him directly. Thus, Brown’s theory about Lucan composition is to be rejected….The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is not specified. Wycliffe seems to be responsible for associating the two as cousins" (Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994], p. 101, n. 47 on p. 126)

John the Baptist's parents gave birth to him in old age. They probably didn't live long after John's birth. We don't know what they or others told John about the events surrounding his birth and that of Jesus. We know that John lived a life committed to God prior to Jesus' public ministry, and the passage Raymond Brown cites has John expecting the Messiah before he receives confirmation that Jesus is the one (John 1:26-27). (It should be noted that John the Baptist's life in the wilderness and his expectations of a coming Messiah are consistent with the infancy narratives. Critics often object to supposed inconsistencies between the infancy narratives and Jesus' public ministry, yet John the Baptist's ministry is the sort of result we would expect from the events of the infancy narratives.) Matthew and Luke, the same authors who wrote the infancy narratives, portray John as doubting Jesus’ identity later in his life, despite knowing of Jesus’ miracles (Matthew 11:2-3, Luke 7:19), so why should we think that he couldn’t have done so earlier?

As I mentioned in some previous posts (here and here), the gospels of Matthew and Luke were widely known and accepted by the earliest patristic sources. If the fourth gospel was written late in the first century, it's unlikely that the author was unfamiliar with the gospels of Matthew and Luke and the relevant traditions behind them or that he rejected them. To read John 1:33 as a reflection of ignorance or rejection of Luke's infancy account is dubious:

"Suggesting that the Fourth Gospel is not directly dependent on the Synoptics need not imply that John did not know of the existence of the Synoptics; even if (as is unlikely) Johannine Christianity were as isolated from other circles of Christianity as some have proposed, other gospels must have been known if travelers afforded any contact at all among Christian communities. That travelers did so may be regarded as virtually certain. Urban Christians traveled (1 Cor 16:10, 12, 17; Phil 2:30; 4:18), carried letters (Rom 16:1-2; Phil 2:25), relocated to other places (Rom 16:3, 5; perhaps 16:6-15), and sent greetings to other churches (Rom 16:21-23; 1 Cor 16:19; Phil 4:22; Col 4:10-15). In the first century many churches knew what was happening with churches in other cities (Rom 1:8; 1 Cor 11:16; 14:33; 1 Thess 1:7-9), and even shared letters (Col 4:16). Missionaries could speak of some churches to others (Rom 15:26; 2 Cor 8:1-5; 9:2-4; Phil 4:16; 1 Thess 2:14-16; cf. 3 John 5-12) and send personal news by other workers (Eph 6:21-22; Col 4:7-9). Although we need not suppose connections among churches as pervasive as Ignatius’ letters suggest perhaps two decades later, neither need we imagine that such connections emerged ex nihilo in the altogether brief silence between John’s Gospel and the 'postapostolic' period. No one familiar with the urban society of the eastern empire will be impressed with the isolation Gospel scholars often attribute to the Gospel 'communities.'" (Craig Keener, The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], pp. 41-42)

Carr's canard

As I was checking something in the archive, I ran across this gem:


Here is what Swinburne says ''Suppose that one less person had been burnt by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Then there would have been less opportunity for courage and sympathy; one less piece of information about the effects of atomic radiation....' Such are the wise words of theologians.”

Interesting use of the plural. I didn’t realize until now that Richard Swinburne was more than one person. Does this mean that Mr. Carr believes in reincarnation? That does, indeed, raise tricky questions for personal identity.

As to his emotional reaction, it’s easy for us to develop a sentimental attachment to little bits of protoplasm, but thankfully Dr. Swinburne was able to override his evolutionary programming and appreciate how the death of one less or one more meat machine is a matter of moral indifference in an accidental universe.

It’s a pity that Carr is so shackled by the rusty chains of Christian dogma—that superstitious hooey about the imago Dei—that he has been unable to attain Dr. Swinburne’s level of evolutionary emancipation.


“And I see Triablogue are trying to justify Lot handing over his daughter's to be gang-raped...Truly there are no limits to the depths that these people will sink to.”

I don’t know if Carr is dumb or dishonest. I did quote Currid’s suggestion that Lot may have been attempting to bluff the Sodomites by trapping them in a legal dilemma.

To gang-rape a woman already espoused to a man (in the case of Lot’s daughters) was a capital offense in ANE culture.

Evidently, Mr. Carr is either too dense to grasp the explanation or simply too dishonorable to accurately reproduce the argument.

Dumb or dishonest—take your pick.

The argument from authority

The Evangelutionist responds:


Compromise. I find neither theological or scientific compromises that have to be made in my position. I was born and raised a YEC, and definitely "compromised", if that's what you want to call it, in deference to God's creation, God's general revelation to man. I came to understand that YEC interpretations of the word were contemptuous of God's creation, willfully dismissive and ignorant of what God made.

To be sure, a good amount of my YEC theology was abandoned, but so much for the good, toward a serious view of God's word as true in *real* way, not in some gnostic, mystical way that my YEC framework had bound me to.

Of course, neither is interested in a Christianity that harmonizes God's special revelation to man (the Bible) with God's general revelation to man. Young earth creationism is the most effective weapon atheism has ever had in proving Christianity false (YECs are more than happy to latch their theology to the whole of Christianity, in my experience. If YEC interpretations are wrong, Christianity is disproved, etc.)

It won't do for the fundamentalist atheist to have Christianity making peace with the facts of God's creation. Dawkins would be delighted to see all of Christianity chain itself to young earth creationism, and go down with that ship, the lot of us, as every new bit of evidence from God's creation further falsifies the YEC interpretation.


i) Notice how the Evangelutionist is unwittingly tipping his own hand. For his commitment to theistic evolution is just as agenda-driven as the motives he imputes to Dawkins or the YECs.

ii) I’d add that you don’t have to be a YEC to subscribe to a traditional interpretation of OT chronology. The ultra-liberal James Barr has defended the traditional interpretation on historical and exegetical grounds:

J. Barr, "Why the World Was Created in 4004 BC: Archbishop Ussher and Biblical Chronology," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester(1984-85) 67:575–608.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I don’t see much evidence that you’re “committed to the authority of the Bible as God’s special revelation to man.”

Even if we bracket YEC distinctives, it is quite a trick to square Gen 1-2 with theistic evolution according to the grammatico-historical method.

iii) You also act as if the external world were available for direct inspection. But one of the ironies of modern science is that modern science has erected many filters between the percipient and the external world, viz. indirect perception, primary and secondary qualities, &c. As Stephen Hawking once said, “Reality is not a quality you can test with litmus paper.”

iv) Finally, one doesn’t have to read Behe, Berlinski, Dembski, Denton, Meyer, Wise, Wells, &c. to be suspicious of evolution, in part or in whole.

If you spend some time reviewing the vicious internecine warfare within the evolutionary community, that alone should give you pause to reconsider the foundations of evolutionary theory:


“If you publish a paper in a scholarly journal, it goes through a peer review process -- a ‘mini-consensus’ on the basic integrity of the methods, maths and plausibility of the findings, performed by peers also expert in that discipline.”

That works well enough most of the time, but when a theory like naturalistic evolution assumes the status of a worldview, then the peer review process can become a weapon to censor or blacklist dissent.

“OK, you don't believe in hominids. This begs the question stemming from the article I pointed to: what do you make of those 400,000 year old spears. You said you weren't disputing the timeline, and here you're saying there are only humans and simians as available choices. That seems a conundrum for you, then.”

You continue to conflate several distinct issues:

i) In response to the critics of my original post, I’ve been mounting an internal critique. I argue with them on their own grounds, according to their own methods and assumptions. That doesn’t commit me to their position. I simply proceed that way for the sake of argument.

ii) Apropos (1), I am not, for purposes of this thread, challenging the general propiety of conventional dating methods and results.

iii) At the same time, that doesn’t mean I can’t question a particular result. With reference to the article under review, the article itself raised the issue of what dating techniques were employed.

iv) To repeat myself— which, unfortunately, I have to do a lot of the time in responding to you because you raise the same objections ad nauseum as if I hadn’t already addressed your objections—when I raise questions about ice core dating as a relative dating technique, I referred to *secular* sources of information regarding the vicissitudes of ice core dating.

“To which group do you suppose the spears belonged? Humans or simians? I really can't venture to guess which way you'll answer, as each seems to present significant problems.”

Speaking for myself, I attribute the spears to cavemen, not to simians.

Moving along:


Science is agnostic with regards to metaphysics. It doesn't affirm the existence of God. It doesn't deny the existence of God. If you doubt this, then I'd ask you to produce some scholarly work that suggests that science includes any assertions, or even guesses about metaphysical truths.

You're apparently unhappy with science's epistemic foundation of methodological materialism, the same epistemic that flourished from the time of Newton and so many other God-fearing men of science. It's precisely this axiom of MM that keeps science right in its box where it belongs. MM restricts science from wandering into areas where it has no foundation.

Because of the nature of science, God will not, cannot be disproved, even in principle. It's not the perview of science to even entertain such questions. To ask such of science would be like asking you what the color "nine" smells like. It's a badly formed question.


i) Newton did not subscribe to methodological naturalism. Just for starters, this should be clear from his correspondence with Richard Bentley, as Bentley prepared for the Boyle Lectures by using Newtonian physics as a scientific argument for natural theology.

ii) You act as if evolutionary theory is a value-free field of investigation wherein the respective participants have no vested interest in the outcome. One only has to study the battle over sociobiology to see that both sides have an ideological ax to grind.

iii) For someone who talks about the unity of truth (“I hold it as axiomatic that all truth is God’s truth”), your attempt to compartmentalize religion and science is both internally inconsistent and philosophically jejune.

In practice, you believe in the disunity of truth. You divide the truth into autonomous departments that aren’t on speaking terms with one another.

So you actually operate with very modular notion of the truth, which only makes sense if reality is equally modular.

iv) The neutrality of methodological naturalism have been repeatedly challenged such high-level thinkers as Craig, Dembski, Plantinga, Poythress, and Del Ratzsch. Science cannot avoid metascientific assumptions:

v) Calvin Dude has been making the same point.

vi) One of the problems is the way you disregard the constitutive role of various models and metaphors in framing scientific questions and answers, viz.

M. Arib & M. Hesse, The Construction of Reality (Cambridge 1986)

A. Ortony, ed. Metaphor and Thought (Cambridge, 2nd ed. 1993)

D. Helman, ed. Analogical Reasoning (Kluwer 1988).

G. Holton, Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought (Harvard 1973)

As Gerald Holton, for one, explains:

“Themata embraced by opposing scientists often appear in opposing Dyads…Examples are continuum (e.g., in field) versus discontinuum (e.g., in atomism); complexity/simplicity; reductionism/holism; unity/hierarchical levels; causality/probabilism; analysis/synthesis. There are also a few triads, such as evolution/steady state/devolution, or mechanistic/materialistic/mathematical models.”

Now, you are implicitly operating with an incremental, bottom-up model, where the part is prior to the whole.

But it doesn’t follow that whatever is spatially composite is temporally composite. Bigger things may be composed of smaller things, such that bigger things can be taken apart or disassembled into discrete units. But this doesn’t imply that all big things can be put together or assembled by a discrete, stepwise process.

There is a competing intuition, stretching from Plato, Plotinus, Philoponus, Boethius, Anslem, and Cusa through Leibniz, Cantor, McTaggart, Blanshard, Gödel, Hardy, and Bohm, to Mellor, Plantinga, and Penrose—to name a few—for whom, to one degree or another, the whole is prior to the part, the infinite to the finite, the abstract to the concrete.

When I look at the world around me, not only do I see complexity, but concentric orders of complexity, like a giant Chinese puzzle box, consisting in compartments within compartments, ad infinitum—from cosmic to infinitesimal scales of magnitude.

Kurt Wise, in discussing complexity and integration (pp228-3o), in his chapter on "The Origin of Life's Major Groups," The Creation Hypothesis, J. Moreland, ed. (IVP 1994), does a nice job of succinctly summarizing the data.

And Michael Denton (although a theistic evolutionist) adds a lot of fine-grained detail in his book Nature's Destiny (Free Press 1998).

You are welcome to believe what you like, but my intuition, seconded by many of the finest minds in the history of ideas, tells me that concentric complexity, ranging along a continuum from the potential infinite to the potential infinitesimal, cannot be the end-result of a process, but is, rather, the initial state from which a process results. The initial state is instantiated ex nihilo, as a set of internal relations.

“To my knowledge, TEs do not appeal to supernatural mechanisms in scientific questions. For instance, I believe God created the universe, but I don't have any scientific evidence at hand that conclusively establishes that.”

Two basic problems:

i) If theistic evolution doesn’t treat God as a factor in the evolutionary process, then the cash-value of theistic evolution is indistinguishable from naturalistic evolution. As such, the role of God is relegated to a deus otiosus.

ii) To say that scientific evidence fails to “conclusively establish” divine creation is a completely different proposition from your prior claim that “it's not the perview of science to even entertain such questions.”

So your own position collapses into an incoherent and unstable compromise.

“The article. I stand by the article, and haven't retreated from it. This article alone puts a large hole in the idea that early man was defenseless against the threats of his environment.”

You continue to equivocate over the identity of early man. For some odd reason you seem to suffer from a persistent mental block. You raise an objection. I respond to your objection. Then you raise the same objection all over again as if nothing was said in answer to your objection.

“I have an understanding that accomodates this evidence -- the same understanding advanced by the researcher doing the actual science here. If I understand you right, the spears which have been found are 350,000 years old and were made by....? You'll have to answer that, because simians making spears seems a big problem for you, and humans making spears 350,000 years ago puts away the idea that (early) man was left to clawing as best he could with his fingernails to survive, at that point at least.”

As I’ve pointed out on several occasions now, it isn’t enough to arm early man at just one segment of along the evolutionary pathway. Is there some particular reason why repeated explications continue to bounce right off you?

“When you begin to question the dating technique, a regressive cycle begins that inevitable ends in: how does science know anything? What if the speed of light changed? Wouldn't radiometric dating be way off then? Etc. If that's the way you want to go, then we can declare a dead end on that point. It's a non-starter.”

Actually, these are legitimate questions. They go to the realist/antirealist debate in the philosophy of science.

I haven’t gone into that debate in the course of this thread. If I wanted to go there, I would have every right to do so.

The realist/antirealist debate is distinct from the creationist/evolutionist debate, although, depending on which side you take, it will have consequences for the creationist/evolutionist debate.

“As it is, though, you've agreed to the 350,000 years, so I'm content to revisit the article and re-assert that it puts weapons in the hands of man a very long ways back. That's not something you accounted for in your original argument.”

Half a bridge doesn’t get you across the river.



As for other archaeological evidence, I pointed to a piece on enhanced brain size and hearing capabilities, and you assert authority as an archaeological expert, dismissing the witness of these researchers. I can send you as many links as you want, but save me the time if you think you are more qualified than they to understand what the evidence says. Your dismissal of this was a good illustration of your divorce from science. Maybe you *do* know better than these archaeologists, and have better insight into what the evidence they've worked with suggests -- evidence you are reading about through an internet article. But the bottom line is, you've shown, and declared that you know better than the archaeologists what the evidence in the ground is, and what it means.

I can supply you with a good long stream of citations -- just a quick Google Scholar session on your own will prove the number of available items out there to look at. But it's a fools errand on my part if the testimony of the scientists involved is dismissed outright, because you believe you simply know better.


Several more problems:

i) Another one of your mental impediments is a persistent inability to accurately reproduce what your opponent actually said.

I haven’t “dismissed” any claims “outright” or “asserted my authority.”

What I have done, instead, is to subject the arguments I’m given to rational scrutiny.

ii) A number of Darwinians have written semipopular books or articles in which they make their case for evolution in order to persuade the general public that evolution is true, viz. Dawkins, Dennett, Eldredge, Futuyama, Gell-Mann, Gould, Kitcher, Lewontin, Mayr, Raup, Maynard Smith, &c.

They evidently believe that a layman is able to evaluate the evidence they present and come to the reasonable conclusion that evolution has the better of the argument.

But, by your lights, this exercise is worthless. Instead, you mount an appeal to blind authority.

iii) In addition, which side should the layman take when the experts disagree? Both Stephen Jay Gould and Kurt Wise are Harvard-trained paleontologists. Why should I accept the word of Stephen Jay Gould over the word of Kurt Wise?

iv) The epistemic status of scientific theories isn’t limited to scientific evidence alone. For there are metascientific assumptions which supply the interpretive grid.

Let’s take the case of dating. If I wanted to challenge conventional dating, I could do so on the basis of certain metascientific considerations:

a) There are philosophical and scientific arguments for creation ex nihilo. Cf. P. Copan & W. L. Craig, Creation out of Nothing (Baker 2004).

But if creation ex nihilo is true, then—to some extent, at least—the world is not the end-product of an incremental, bottom-up process.

I’d add that Craig is not an YEC. I believe he’s an OEC.

b) Or there’s the question of whether time has an intrinsic metric. If you’re a metrical conventionalist rather than a metrical objectivist, then our dating techniques don’t tell us anything about the “real” age of the universe, or any constituent thereof.

You don’t have to be a YEC to subscribe to metrical conventionalism. For example, this issue is discussed by Robin Le Poidevin—who is both an atheist and a temporal theorist—in his book Travels in Four Dimensions (Oxford 2003). Le Poidevin is sympathetic to metrical objectivism, but he admits that the arguments and counterarguments amount to a stalemate.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Richard Dawkins' Main Argument Against Theism

Richard Dawkins' Main Argument Against Theism

Darwin Strikes Back

A Good Summary but an Inaccurate Analogy., November 10, 2006
Reviewer: Fritz R. Ward "dayhiker" (Crestline, CA United States) - See all my reviews

It is not often that scientific debates generate intense public interest and commentary. The American public is fascinated by scientific advances and debates (how to classify Pluto, for example) but generally does not feel the need to elect school board members who support teaching specific theories and ideas. Intelligent Design, a broad category of ideas that suggests chance and natural law are insufficient to explain all that we encounter in nature is an exception to this rule. Not only is it hotly contested within scientific circles, but it also results in intense political debate within the general population. The main reason for this is that both evolution and intelligent design have theological implications that extend well beyond the scientific issues themselves. Moreover, debates even within science about intelligent design often seem more acrimonious than normal scientific dialogue. They include character assassination, charges and counter charges of poor science, and claims that one or the other side is faking evidence. For those who are interested in following a blow-by-blow account of this debate from the 1980s to the present, Thomas Woodward's book is a good start. He honestly admits he is writing from the prospective of one who is convinced by the claims of intelligent design, but as an historian he does a decent job of representing the arguments of key players in the debate and an excellent job of pointing his readers to other (and more complete) sources so they can read the literature directly for themselves.

'Darwin Strikes Back' is meant to complement Woodward's previous study, 'Doubts about Darwin' in which he chronicled the rise of the Intelligent Design Movement and which focused mostly on the writings of Philip Johnson. In this book, Woodward examines three other major design theorists: Michael Behe, Jonathan Wells, and William Dembski, and their various critics, notably biologist Kenneth Miller, philosopher Niall Shanks, educator Eugenie Scott, and the ubiquitous Richard Dawkins. In every case, Woodward finds that critics of intelligent design often offer flawed analogies and argue for a tautology: namely that intelligent design is unscientific (and hence that it cannot be falsified) while simultaneously offering the assessment that its claims are demonstrably false. This is problematic, as are the unfounded personal attacks that frequently accompany such arguments. (E.g. Jonathan Wells did no experimental research during his post doctoral work at Berkeley.) These points are not an argument for intelligent design as such, but it will certainly appeal to most reader's values about what is fair and reasonable in a debate. The book also discusses some of the advances in physics, the problems associated with the chemical evolution of life, and summarizes the work of such diverse scholars as physicists Paul Davies and Robert Jastrow, and the Chinese paleontologist Jun-Yuan Chen. In doing so, Woodward provides helpful metaphors and generally makes the hard science of these people accessible to the average reader. This is the mark of a very good work of popular science and Woodward should be commended for it, even by readers who do not share his affection for intelligent design.

In the final analysis, however, I am troubled by the persistent war analogy that runs throughout the book. Intelligent Design is an "explosion" on the scientific landscape. Critics respond to it with metaphorical "rockets and mortars." Perhaps this analogy, which actually supports the whole framework of the book, is useful. It may help keep the reader's attention, but I think this approach may actually distort what really happens in the scientific community. It probably reflects the author's own experience as a naval intelligence officer. My own experience (doctorate in church history) leads me to a rather different analogy. The reaction of some scientists to intelligent design is not so much to go to war as to "ex-communicate" those who dissent with them. Indeed, when I read the writings on evolution of the well known and very talented physicist, Lawrence Krauss, I do not see a general directing troops so much as I see the fourth century bishop Athanasius railing against heresy. It is almost as if "science" and its established "doctrines" are simply beyond question, and those who do so face the condemnation of the "full scientific community" just as Athanasius claimed that those who disagreed with him about the "nature" of Christ were "outside the church." And the problem is, science acts this way even when there are no theological issues at stake. University of Idaho anthropologist Jeffrey Meldum is under attack because he dares to even examine what scant evidence there is for "Bigfoot," a legendary creature that supposedly haunts the northwestern United States. Rather than examine and refute his claims, his critics declare his work "unscientific" and want him expelled from the "church" (i.e. academic employment). Jeffrey Schaffer proposes a new interpretation for the formation of Yosemite Valley and is denied a doctorate despite having done more detailed field research than anyone before him. He asks that his critics join him in the field and refute a single claim. They do not even attempt to do. Woodward's book thus touches upon a larger problem with the culture of science in general. Despite public professions of objectivity and "value free" research, much of theoretical science today is in fact highly dogmatic and political. Woodward's wonderful book highlights one of the most glaring examples of this. I highly recommend it to all.

"Mainstream science"


“I believe the 'Adam and Evolution' post reflected either a) unfamiliarity with mainstream science or b) wholesale rejection of it, based on the understandings that mainstream science brings to the table on the question of (early) man's capabilities.”

Throughout his commentary the Evangelutionist will resort to the sophistical tactic of labeling as a substitute for argument.

In particular is the talismanic use of the word “mainstream” or “community.”

Other issues aside, Einstein, Bohr, Schrödinger, and Heisenberg were all out of the “mainstream” of the scientific “community” when they challenged classical physics.

As Michael Crichton has pointed out, consensus is not a scientific appeal. Consensus is only invoked when the disputant has run out of arguments—or never had any arguments to begin with.

“What do you believe is science's position on…”

This is yet another bit of sophistry. “Science” doesn’t have a position on these issues. *Science* is simply an abstraction for what *scientists* believe, which varies from one scientist to another.

But to continue:

“What do you believe is science's position on: 1. Increased brain capabilities for hominids in the last 1-2MM years; 2. Technological capabilities for hominids in the same period; 3. Social organization for hominids in the same interval.”

Short answer: I don’t believe in hominids.

I believe in human beings, and I believe in simians. I don’t derive the former from the latter.

These are distinct, aboriginal nature kinds, with a certain inbuilt potential for adaptive variation.

“Without requiring a treatise from you (It could be very high level summaries), we can see whether or not you are, in fact, ‘divorced from science’, as I suggested earlier. We can check what your ‘overview’ of these key survival features looks like against the testimony of the science community. But the fact remains, you, and many of your peers, stand in general opposition to the methods, findings and conclusions of mainstream science. In saying that man is a non-viable competitor on the survival playing field, you, you are manifestly departing from the fundamental understanding of the related physical science communities.”

I’ve already pointed out one essential problem with his appeal to consensus. Here’s another basic problem:

The Evangelutionist is in no position whatsoever to wrap himself in the mantle of “mainstream” science or align himself with the scientific “community.”

For the Evangelutionist is a theistic evolutionist. But theistic evolution is not mainstream science. It is not the position of the scientific “community” at large.

Among other things, mainstream science operates from the principle of methodological naturalism. Hence, theistic evolution is an oxymoron. Theistic evolution is pseudoscience.

For, by definition, any appeal to a supernatural factor runs in direct opposition to methodological naturalism, which is the modus operandi of mainstream science.

And let’s be frank about this: theistic evolution is an intellectual and theological compromise.

The Evangelutionist is trying to marginalize traditional Christians, as if his only opposition comes from the religious right, while he himself stands foursquare with the entire scientific establishment.

Nothing could be more transparently false. His opposition comes as much from the secular left as it does from the religious right, and the secular left represents “mainstream” science or the scientific “community.”

So there are two fundamental failings in his line of self-defense:

i) He is invoking an unscientific principle (consensus) to defend his position while deflecting his opponents, and:

ii) If his appeal to consensus were valid, the it would invalidate his own position, for theistic evolution is way out of the mainstream.

As far as mainstream science is concerned, the Evangelutionist is a squatter.

“It hardly helps matters to assault dating (relative or absolute) here regarding spears. Asking me for a treatise on the dating hermenuetic isn't fruitful as *I* wasn't the one doing the dating -- the researchers were. Whether I concur with the dating isn't meaningful. What's at issue here (I suggest) is that right or wrong, you are at complete loggerheads with mainstream science.”

More patent sophistry, piled layer upon layer:

i) He refers me to an article to support his position.

ii) Now he tries to put some distance between himself and the article he referred me to as if it doesn’t matter whether or not he agrees with it.

iii) The dating isn’t “meaningful”? The dating was a key component of his argument. He referred me to this article to bolster his own argument.

The question is how the article functions in his argument. He is the one who is putting this article to his personal use.

So for him to suddenly assume a noncommittal stance, as if he has no personal stake in the matter, is both duplicitous and disingenuous.

iv) I didn’t assault absolute dating. What I did was to quote from the very article he pointed me to where one of the researchers said the dating was in dispute because absolute dating techniques were not employed.

That is not an assault on absolute dating. Rather, absolute dating was never in play.

v) Did I launch a general assault on relative dating? Once again, we need to set the record strait:

a) What I did was to ask if the article is alluding to ice core dating.

I then cited a couple of articles from “secular” sources on the vicissitudes of ice core dating. Indeed, on of these sources is from an anti-ID, anti-creationist site.

b) I didn’t take any position on relative dating in general. And I didn’t say the spears were misdated.

What I did was to simply ask how, in fact, the spears were dated.

d) Remember, the date is a key issue for the Evangelutionist.

As I pointed out before, the date is not a key issue for me, for the purposes of this thread, because I’m arguing on internal grounds.

The Evangelutionist likes to talk *about* archeological evidence as long as you don’t ask him *for* archeological evidence.

He likes to talk about archeological evidence in the abstract. But as soon as you start posing a few concrete questions about the process by which a particular result was arrived at, he wants to change the subject.

“You may be right, and all of science wrong.”

Have I ever said, in the course of this thread, that all science is wrong?

When you corner him using his own criteria, the Evangelutionist resorts to hyperbole.

“Does that seem a fair way to proceed?”

What the Evangelutionist has demonstrated thus far is that the only way he can defend theistic evolution is to employ devious reasoning as he hopscotches from one expedient to another.

No, it doesn’t strike me as fair, but that’s fine with me. If he can only win by cheating, then even if he wins the game, he loses the argument.

So I thank him for exposing the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of theistic evolution more effectively than I could have done without his collaboration.

Daniel in the Saber-tooth den


[Quoting me] And your argument isn’t really a scientific argument at all, but an atheological argument dressed up in pumps and a wing [sic].

“Well, how about this? I've laid out the best case that ID Creationists can come up with, and point-by-point rebuttals and refutations of the claims.”

i) Since this thread was never about ID theory, your “rebuttal” is irrelevant.

But your diversionary tactics are duly noted.

ii) Please forgive me if I don’t think that Danny is the most reliable source of information when it comes to presenting the “best case” for ID theory.

“I wouldn't even dirty my brain with reading YEC stuff.”

Danny is like the cardinals who refused to peer into Galileo’s telescope for fear it would destroy their faith.

Nothing quite like self-reinforcing prejudice. Secular ignorance is bliss.

“Yes, that's an ‘unequal bias’. I'll gladly admit that my free time won't be wasted reading the PRATTs and canards of young-earth creationism.”

i) The only canard is the evasive maneuver of trying to change the subject of the thread to a debate over ID or YEC.

ii) If you click on his link, it will take you to an article at

How coincidental! In my reply to the Evangelutionist, I also linked to an article from on ice core dating techniques. So it’s not as if I got my supporting material for “reading YEC stuff.”

[Quoting me]: As such, naturalistic evolution isn’t even a live option, although we can still debate the point. Do you have an argument to show that evolutionary psychology does not commit intellectual suicide?

“Do you have an argument that it does? You presups always get things arse-backwards. The burden is on the claimant, pal. The question of whether evolution is ‘truth-directed’ or ‘survival-directed’ does not impinge upon an argument that natural processes cannot produce a brain that processes reality and uses logic. Survival is logic-dependent, after all. Is that so hard to see? Brains that don't comport with reality, and logical truths, won't be likely to survive long, will they? Illogical brain: Water or poison, doesn't matter which I drink! Tools, what the crap are they? What for? Survival fitness?”

Do I have an argument that it does?

i) Apparently, Mr. Morgan suffers from the premature onset of senile dementia. I’ve posted quite a bit of material on the self-refuting scepticism implicit in evolutionary psychology.

ii) Danny is raising a stock argument in favor of evolutionary psychology, as if no one had ever heard of this argument before, must less addressed it.

But Plantinga, for one, responded to that argument years ago. Evidently, this is another instance in which Danny can’t “dirty his brain” by consulting the standard literature from the opposing side.

Daniel is the secular equivalent of an Appalachian snake-handler.

iii) Dr. Anderson just posted a meticulously reasoned and well-documented essay on some of the fundamental problems with evolutionary psychology:

iv) And it isn’t just us Christians who have made that point. A number of high-profile Darwinians have admitted that natural selection selects for false beliefs.

Not only is Daniel too much of a secular fundy to keep up with our side of the argument, but his hillbilly atheism inhibits him from keeping tabs on his own side of the argument. I’m afraid all that evolutionary moonshine softens the brain.

v) Needless to say, the Darwinian has his own burden of proof, pal.

“You've basically rambled on and on about the faulty idea that fangs and claws and strength shrank before brainpower and socialization and tool-making had adequately developed.”

No, I didn’t make that claim. What I instead said is that given, on evolutionary grounds, there is a transition from one to the other, the onus is on the Darwinian to show that there was no fatal gap from the possession of a natural defense mechanism to the possession of a compensatory adaptation.

“Is that idea evidenced? No.”

He then links to an article that supposedly justifies the negation. Among other things, the article says the following:

“Chimpanzees in West Africa living under natural conditions habitually use stone tools as hammers and anvils (Box 1). Therefore, because Pan and hominins are almost certainly sister clades, it is probable that the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans
used stones as tools, though they may not have intentionally modified them
(Fig. 2).”

Are hammers and anvils a match for fangs and claws?

Perhaps Danny could be kind enough to link us to some footage in which chimps in the wild repel a leopard or pride of lions by throwing hammers and anvils at them.

“But don't ever let facts get in the way of a good speculation.”

Ah, yes, the “facts”! The “facts” in contrast to “speculation”!

And when we go to the link provided, what are the “facts”?

“Finding out what early hominins actually did and how they acted are tricky tasks, particularly since it is difficult to imagine what the landscape might have been like hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of years ago. While the fragmentary remains of the past are ingeniously interpreted by researchers, additional information is often required to corroborate some of the conjectures that arise.”

“Much of the archaeological evidence also points to a shift in dietary composition, although direct evidence of meat-eating is rarely found. Instead, meat-eating has been inferred from many different sources. One source is through the interpretation of the presence and quantity of different skeletal elements found in living floors (supposed places of hominin occupation). High densities of bones found in association with stone tools have led researchers to believe that processing and consumption of carcasses took place at these sites. However, interpretation of this information can often be misleading, particularly if taphonomy (the study of how archaeological sites are formed) has not been adequately investigated.”

Good thing that our man Daniel refuses to indulge in speculation. No, he is, instead, a man committed to the facts and nothing but the facts.

“Facts” defined in such factual terms as “tricky” facts, “fragmentary” facts, “ingeniously interpreted” facts, and “conjectural” facts—not to mention “misleading” facts.

Thank you, Daniel, for saving us from perils of “speculation.”

Oh, and one more fact from the same source: “The earliest stone tools—large, rough-hewn pebbles called Oldowan tools—appear in the fossil record at about 2.5 mya.”

Now that pretty well cinches the argument for Danny, don’t you think?

I mean, if flicking “rough-hewn pebbles” at a Saber-tooth tiger isn’t your idea of a foolproof defense-mechanism, then you’ve obviously been spending way too much time in church.

Unequal bias


“No Steve, your bias dismisses all science that goes against your theology. Your argument isn't really a scientific argument at all, but a theological argument dressed up in pumps and a wig.”

And your argument isn’t really a scientific argument at all, but an atheological argument dressed up in pumps and a wing.

“All bias are not ‘equal’. Yours commits you to a one way street that must reject all evidence to the contrary or forces you to re-evaluate your 'worldview'.”

I agree that not every bias is on an epistemic par. For example, the bias of naturalistic evolution commits one to evolutionary psychology, which undercuts rationality.

So, yes, I reject global scepticism. So, yes, I reject any self-refuting worldview. So, yes, I reject a worldview which torpedoes the necessary truth-conditions without which nothing can be known.

As such, naturalistic evolution isn’t even a live option, although we can still debate the point. Do you have an argument to show that evolutionary psychology does not commit intellectual suicide?

“It does not, unless you play mental gymnastics and dismiss outright mounds and mounds of dovetailing information from multiple disciplines of science.”

To *say* that I play mental gymnastics and to *show* that I do so are two different things. You have a very revealing habit of intoning rationalistic rhetoric as a substitute for rational argumentation.

“Again, you are playing intellectually dishonest games.”

Another assertion in lieu of an argument.

You see, unbelievers like you aren’t really concerned with reason and evidence—otherwise you’d be using reason and evidence.

Instead, you’re only concerned with projecting a rationalistic image. For you, it’s all about keeping up appearances. A poor man’s Russell.

“Why don't you just rest your argument on faith? That is a much more honest and respectfull approach.”

What makes you think that *you* get to define faith? The Bible does not oppose faith to reason. Rather, the Bible only opposes faith to sight.

It is dishonest and disrespectful of you to think that you get to redefine Biblical faith by superimposing your extrabiblical values on Scripture.

Moving along:

“But I think you are missing the point of the "brain" thing. Some wit and ingenuity make up for a whole lot of fangs and brute force. If we look at very primitive tribes in areas where lions hunt, do we see the humans snuffed out, sent off to local extinction because of their sorry capabilities? I don't think that's what you'd find, even in tribes with the most primitive, stone age tools/weapons. The point being that the larger brain works to prevent being "in the cage" -- at a tactical disadvantage -- in the first place. Hunting/traveling/dwelling in groups is an extraordinarily powerful defense mechanism, especially if you have the other advantages that (proto-)humans did.”

No, you’re missing the point of your own argument. This is how you originally framed your argument:

“Third, and which should be so obvious that the original poster appears not to have thought things through before posting this, even without the defensive capabilities of living/traveling/hunting in coordinated teams or using weapons, the enlarged brain itself is the ultimate survival weapon.”

So your original appeal to the “brain thing” as a “meta-weapon” or “ultimate survival weapon” explicitly left out the social dynamic of teamwork.

I was commenting on your own version of your own argument. Is there some reason why you can’t keep track of your own argument?

“New finds may be only 350,000 years old. You'll have to clue me in how 350,000 is different from 400,000 years ago in a meaningful way to the discussion.”

Okay, let’s spell it out:

1.You referred me to an article. So I’m commenting on the material you referred me to. Answering you on your own level.

2.The antiquity of the spears is crucial to your argument. You’re the one who’s accentuating the date, not me.

3.However, one of the issues that immediate crops up in the course of this article (or articles, since there are several online versions) is the dating methodology.

4.The question at issue is not limited to the results. Rather, the issue is with the dating methodology which is yielding the results.

5.I’m not the one who brought up the dating methodology. The article itself brought up the issue of the dating methodology—you know, the article you yourself referred me to?

6.The article admits that absolute dating techniques were not applied to the artifacts.

7.So, in the absence of absolute dating techniques, how were the artifacts dated? Why date them to 400,000 years rather than 40,000 years or 4,000 years or 400 years?

8.What the article goes on to suggest is that some sort of relative dating technique was employed in lieu of absolute dating:

“Of the animal bones at the site, most of them from horses, many have incisions and fractures typically produced during butchery, the German archaeologist says. The material probably dates to 400,000 years ago, based on its position in a soil layer sandwiched between deposits of previously identified ice ages, he adds.”

9.Does this allude to ice core dating? If so, which ice core dating technique was used?

To my knowledge, ice core dating involves several different techniques, not all of which are used in every case. What is more, there are many variables which affect the reliability of ice core dating in any given case.

For example, I once asked a scientist with a doctorate from MIT what he thought of ice core dating. I think I said that according to conventional reasoning, ice core dating was analogous to dendrochronology, viz. the seasonal layers were analogous to annular tree rings.

He told me that tabulating the layers was unreliable beyond about 2000 layers (as I recall) because the cumulative weight compresses the lower layers.

That’s not the only technique, but that’s one technique. Assuming that ice core dating was use in dating the spears, which technique was used?

“And please, don't make me go over the whole discipline of dating.”

I’m not planning to, and I don’t need to.

For purposes of this thread, I can stipulate to geological time scales. The problem this poses for you is that the amount of time separating one fossil find from another makes it difficult, to say the least, to establish lineal descent or compensatory adaptations at the time they’re needed.

So I don’t need to challenge geological time scales in the course of this thread. I’m arguing internally on the basis of your own operating assumptions.

“I'm happy to discuss details about this case or that.”

Fine. Proceed accordingly.

“I suggest none of the questions about overlap or timing in terms of ‘descending from trees’ matters, in light of the spears. If we find (proto-)humans crafting spears as part of their routine 400,000 (or 350,000) years ago, what else do we need to know. Early man was *not* at the disadvantage you offered. You have him naked, caged with a lion. The reality was that he had a huge mental advantage, a huge technology advantage, and a significant strategic advantage in his social and group-coordinated modes of operating.”

Half a roof doesn’t keep the rain out. You keep equivocating over the identity of “early” man. But, according to evolution, the identity of “early” man is fluid.

The fact that cavemen might have the weaponry and teamwork to repel natural predators is beside the point. That’s is just one segment of the evolutionary trajectory. For the (proto-) human species to survive, you need a continuous series of viable intermediates.

Invoking hundreds of thousands of years (or more) makes the case harder, not easier. How much time between the loss of natural defense mechanisms and encephalization? How much time between encephalization and the invention of weapons or rudimentary speech to facilitate teamwork?

If you have a big gap anywhere along the timeline, between the loss of his natural defense mechanisms and the development of compensatory adaptations, then “early” man, during that interval, is left defenseless.

You’re the one who’s committed to gradualism, not me. You’re the one who has to stretch out the process, not me.

Unless there is an overlap between the loss of natural defense mechanisms and the acquisition of compensatory adaptations, then early man, at that segment of the evolutionary continuum is at the mercy of natural predators.

Pointing to a later phase in the continuum is irrelevant. Every stage needs to be covered by one or the other for “early” man to survive in the face of predation.

My argument is building on your own assumptions. You own timeline. Your own admission of the need for some sort of defense mechanism.

For some reason you seem to think you can gloss over these elementary, common sense questions with half-baked answers.

“What I am saying is that these advantages on the whole represent an overwhelming position for man, and man has pulled away in terms of the ‘dominance’ gap comcomitant with his growing brain, technology and organizational skills.”

*Once* early man has acquired these survival advantages, yes. How did he survive before he acquired these survival advantages?

Why do you find it so difficult to ask yourself such as simple question? Is it because your bias in favor of the theistic evolutionary compromise inhibits you from questioning of your own position?

“I'm still not clear on how amenable you are to evidence from "secular" science sources, so I won't go on at length here (happy to elsewhere if it matters)”

I’m still not clear on how amenable you are to the need for specific evidence to substantiate specific claims.

“Here’s a quote from a New Scientist article a couple years ago:

‘Early humans evolved the anatomy needed to hear each other talk at least 350,000 years ago. This suggests rudimentary form of speech developed early on in our evolution.’

Here's the link:”

How do you justify the leap from “hearing” to “speech?”

Many animals have acute hearing, but only human beings speak to each other.

Once again, the evidence you cite is not specific to the claim you make. For some reason you continually fail to see the need for a specific match between the level of the evidence and the level of the claim.

In order for your claim to be evidentially warranted, there must be a point of correspondence between the specificity of the evidence and the specificity of the claim. Why is it so hard for you to grasp that rule of evidence?

As Jacob Neusner likes to say, you don’t know what you can’t show. And that is certainly true when it comes to reconstructing the distant past.

“I'm too lazy to go dredge it up for this comment (especially not knowing what credit conventional sources receive from you), but I remember reading a paper that documented the skull of homo habilis showing am enlargement/bulge in the area of the brain that houses speech functions in humans (Brocah area?).”

As I’ve already said more than once by now, to establish encephalization you first have to establish lineal descent. You do have a noncircular argument for lineal descent?

The Darwinians keep telling me about the overwhelming evidence for evolution, but as soon as I ask for specific evidence to corroborate specific claims, it’s like pulling teeth to extract the information.

And what they do cough up falls far short of the mark. Can you do better?

“Wilma. Ok you lost me there.”

Try Fred Flintstone’s significant other.

The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge: A Thumbnail Sketch

[The following is copied from an article hosted here.]

One of the distinctive claims of Van Tilian apologists is that human knowledge presupposes the existence of God; therefore, since we know at least some things, it follows that God must exist. In recent months, while surfing the blogosphere, I have encountered several times the insinuation that Van Tilians invariably forward this claim without any argument. For example, one commenter going by the moniker ‘Yo Mama’ (not to be confused with Yo-Yo Ma, the acclaimed Chinese-American cellist) remarked that she had never come across a presuppositionalist who had offered argumentative support for the claim that knowledge presupposes God. In truth, I suspect this tells us more about Yo Mama’s diet of reading than about the efforts of presuppositionalists to defend their arguments. Reasoned support for the claim can be found in the writings of Cornelius Van Til, John Frame, Greg Bahnsen (see also his lectures and debates, particularly his debate with Edward Tabash), and Michael Butler. Similar arguments have been formulated by Alvin Plantinga, Dallas Willard, and Victor Reppert; and while these Christian philosophers would not consider themselves ‘presuppositionalists’ in the conventional sense, their arguments have often been endorsed as supportive of presuppositionalist claims. (See the bibliography below for references.)

However, rather than merely inviting sceptics like Yo Mama to ‘get out more’, I want to take the opportunity to offer one particular line of argument in support of the claim that theism is a precondition of knowledge. I will first argue that there is no place for knowledge within a naturalistic metaphysic, before considering some prominent non-naturalist alternatives. I conclude that only a theistic metaphysic seems to have the features needed to underwrite the preconditions of human knowledge.

Knowledge and Normativity

Let us begin by analysing the notion of knowledge to elucidate some of its essential features. (I will be focusing exclusively here on propositional knowledge: knowledge that such-and-such is the case.) It is almost universally accepted by contemporary epistemologists that ‘truth’ and ‘belief’ are necessary components of knowledge. I cannot know that p if I do not believe that p (for what sense does it make to say, “I know that p even though I don’t believe that p”?). Moreover, even if I believe that p, I cannot know that p if p is false.

Now, one might pause here and observe that even these two basic features of knowledge—belief and truth—are problematic for metaphysical naturalists. Naturalism, as typically defined, is committed to the thesis that only ‘natural’ entities exist, i.e., entities which can be described (at least in principle) in terms of the methods and inventories of the natural sciences (e.g., physics and chemistry). All phenomena are thus explicable (in principle) in objective scientific terms. This applies even to mental phenomena, which must either be reduced to the physical (i.e., explained in terms of more fundamental physical phenomena) or eliminated (i.e., explained away altogether). But it has been argued that beliefs possess intrinsic features, such as subjectivity and intentionality, which cannot be reduced to the physical or eliminated. Similarly, the concept of truth—understood as a property of certain thoughts or propositions or statements—is not susceptible to analysis in terms of purely natural qualities (such as mass, electromagnetic force, or electrical charge). Thus there seems to be no respectable place for ‘beliefs’ and ‘truths’ in a naturalist ontology. Indeed, the manifest difficulties faced by those who try to carve out a place for them have driven some thoroughgoing naturalists (e.g., Paul and Patricia Churchland) to doubt whether there really are such things after all.

But leave these matters aside for now, because I want to focus on a third essential component of knowledge. I’ve noted that truth and belief are necessary for knowledge, but they are clearly not sufficient for it. It is possible to believe that p, and for p to be true, without actually knowing that p. For example, I might believe that it will be sunny on my birthday in a fortnight’s time, simply because I’m an incurable optimist; but even if that belief later turned out to be true, no one would concede that I knew it would be sunny two weeks in advance.

So a third ingredient is needed for knowledge, an ingredient commonly labelled ‘justification’ or ‘warrant’. (For consistency’s sake, I will hereafter use the term ‘warrant’ to refer to this third ingredient.) Contemporary epistemologists have vigorously debated precisely what constitutes ‘warrant’, but fortunately there is no need to take sides in these debates in order to defend the point I want to make here. For there is a common intuition behind all analyses of warrant to the effect that a true belief must be formed or held in the right way, or in an appropriate way, in order to count as knowledge. A warranted belief cannot be formed or held in just any old fashion. There are right or appropriate ways and there are wrong or inappropriate ways. As an example, suppose I come to believe that it is raining outside; suppose further that it is, in fact, raining outside. If this belief is formed on the basis of perception (e.g., I can see and hear the rain through an open window), then the belief is very likely warranted; but if this belief is formed on the basis of a superstitious conviction that it always rains on the days I forget to bring my umbrella, then the belief will not be warranted. The difference is that in the former case the belief is formed in a fitting or appropriate manner, while in the latter case it is not.

Careful reflection on the concept of knowledge in general, and on paradigm cases of knowledge, make it clear that this notion of ‘epistemic rightness’ or ‘epistemic appropriateness’ is an essential feature of knowledge. But observe that this notion is clearly a normative one: it pertains to how beliefs ought to be formed or held (in order to count as knowledge), rather than how beliefs are formed or held. It is not a descriptive notion, but a prescriptive one. It implies that there are epistemic norms which determine (in part) whether or not one’s belief that p is actually knowledge that p.

That the concept of knowledge has an essentially normative aspect, and thus there are such things as epistemic norms (if there is such a thing as knowledge), is a point widely recognised by contemporary epistemologists. For example, Jaegwon Kim writes:
[Epistemic] justification manifestly is normative. If a belief is justified for us, then it is permissible and reasonable, from the epistemic point of view, for us to hold it, and it would be epistemically irresponsible to hold beliefs that contradict it. . . . Epistemology is a normative discipline as much as, and in the same sense as, normative ethics. (Kim, 1988, p. 383, emphasis original)

Knowledge and Naturalism

The fact that there is such a thing as epistemic normativity has interesting implications. In the first place, it poses a serious problem for metaphysical naturalism, for there is no place within a thoroughgoing naturalism for any irreducible normativity. According to the metaphysical naturalist, all phenomena are ultimately explicable in scientific terms (if explicable at all), but science is a purely descriptive discipline. Science describes rather than prescribes. It tells us how things are, as a matter of empirical fact; it has nothing to tell us about how things ought to be. As Alvin Plantinga has remarked:
[Naturalism’s] Achilles’ heel (in addition to its deplorable falsehood) is that it has no room for normativity. There is no room, within naturalism, for right or wrong, or good or bad. (Plantinga, 1998, p. 356, emphasis original)

So naturalism, as a metaphysical position, cannot accommodate the notion of right or wrong ways to form or hold beliefs. Consequently, it cannot accommodate the notion of epistemic warrant. In short: if we know anything at all, then naturalism must be false.

(Remarkably, some naturalists have conceded this point—at least, in a fashion. W. V. Quine and his followers in the school of ‘naturalized epistemology’ have argued that the classical [i.e., commonsense] conception of knowledge should be abandoned altogether, and the normative discipline of epistemology dropped in favour of the descriptive discipline of psychology. In short, we ought to think a whole lot less about how we ought to think and a whole lot more about how we do in fact think. If the reader detects a whiff of self-referential absurdity in this radical recommendation, he is not alone.)

In the remainder of this section, I will press home this general point by considering some different kinds of normativity to see whether epistemic normativity can be analysed in terms of some other (presumably more fundamental) kind of normativity. But before doing that, I want to briefly consider one widespread account of epistemic warrant that may be the first port of call for many common-or-garden naturalists.

It is often claimed that what distinguishes knowledge from mere true belief is that in the former case one possesses adequate reasons for thinking the belief in question to be true. Intuitive though this analysis may seem, there are several difficulties with it. First, it falls foul of Gettier-style counterexamples: it isn’t at all difficult to generate hypothetical scenarios in which one has adequate reasons for holding belief B, but it turns out that B is true only by good fortune (i.e., it is true for reasons other than those held by the believer). Second, this account invites an infinite regress. Presumably one’s reasons for B must themselves be warranted if B is to be warranted. That is to say, B cannot be warranted on the basis of reason R unless one is also warranted in believing R to be true. But if epistemic warrant simply consists in having adequate reasons for beliefs, then one will only know that p if one has reasons for believing that p, and reasons for those reasons, and reasons for those reasons, and so on. Since possessing an infinite non-circular series of reasons is impossible, none of our beliefs could ever be warranted on this account. This is precisely why most contemporary epistemologists accept that at least some of our beliefs (e.g., perceptual beliefs) must be properly basic: epistemically warranted, but not by virtue of our having reasons for taking them to be true.

So this account of epistemic warrant—an account that takes knowledge to consist in having true beliefs based on good reasons—faces considerable objections. Indeed, as a general analysis of knowledge, it is fatally flawed. But even if were not, it wouldn’t offer the metaphysical naturalist a solution to the problem of accommodating epistemic normativity, because on closer inspection the account simply off-loads the normativity in question to a different concept rather than explaining it (or explaining it away) in purely naturalistic terms. For the concept of ‘having a reason’ is no less freighted with epistemic normativity than the concept of ‘having epistemic warrant’. Consider: if belief X gives one adequate reason for belief B, but belief Y does not, isn’t this just because the relationship between X and B meets certain epistemic norms or standards that the relationship between Y and B fails to meet? How could one account for the epistemic difference between these two belief-pairs without reference to some normative criteria?

Commenting on the project of ‘naturalizing’ epistemology, Kim writes:
The implicit requirement has been that the stated conditions must constitute ‘criteria’ of justified belief, and for this it is necessary that the conditions be stated without the use of epistemic terms. Thus, formulating conditions of justified belief in terms such as ‘adequate evidence’, ‘sufficient ground’, ‘good reason’, ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, and so on, would be merely to issue a promissory note redeemable only when these epistemic terms are themselves explained in a way that accords with the requirement. (Kim, 1998, p. 382, emphasis original)

So the idea that the normativity of knowledge can be explicated simply in terms of having reasons for one’s beliefs in no way removes the problem for the naturalist. (Similar considerations can be applied to the idea that epistemic warrant consists in having ‘evidence’ for one’s beliefs.) Let us therefore turn our attention to various ways in which naturalists might account for epistemic normativity in terms of some other species of normativity.

First of all, there is the familiar notion of deontological normativity: the normativity of ethical duty. It is at least plausible to think of epistemic norms as a subset of ethical norms. On this view, I know that p if and only if p is true and I have flouted no relevant ethical obligations in believing that p (e.g., the obligation not to deliberately avoid considering any evidence against p). Unfortunately, even if this analysis were defensible (and it faces numerous difficulties), it would be of no use to naturalists. For as the ethicist Richard Taylor (among others) has argued, the notion of genuine moral obligation only makes sense in a theistic context. Taylor writes:
A duty is something that is owed, something due, and to be obligated is, literally, to be bound. But something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as a duty in isolation, that is, something that is owed but owed to no person or persons. (Taylor, 1985, p. 75, emphasis original)
[T]he concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain, but their meaning is gone. (Ibid., p. 84)

The naturalist may be tempted to reply here that we do have genuine obligations to some persons, but those persons are merely human persons; that is, we humans are bound to certain moral obligations because we impose duties on one another (perhaps by way of social contracts and suchlike). This amounts to saying that ethical norms are essentially conventional and contingent on human cultures and societies. But even if this move satisfies the naturalist ethicist, it won’t save the naturalist epistemologist because it would follow (on the view that epistemic norms reduce to ethical norms) that what counts as knowledge is contingent on human opinion. So it would be possible, at least in principle, for there to be a society in which beliefs formed on the basis of reliable perceptual faculties are not warranted while beliefs formed on the basis of wishful thinking are warranted. (Indeed, perhaps with sufficient propagandist efforts we could bring about such a society.) But clearly this can’t be right. Human opinion is subject to epistemic norms, not constitutive of them.

I mentioned in passing that the claim that epistemic norms are merely ethical norms is open to some serious criticism. Nevertheless, it might be argued that epistemic normativity is analogous to ethical normativity: similar in many ways, but not identical. Perhaps it does make sense to think of epistemic warrant in terms of ‘intellectual blamelessness’, but not quite the sort of ethical blamelessness that, when eschewed, invites a slap on the wrist or some other fitting reproof.

However, this analogized deontologism is hardly a lifeline for the naturalist, for if a naturalist ontology has no place for the notions of ethical duty, guilt, blamelessness, etc., then we have every reason to think it has no place for analogues of duty, guilt, blamelessness, etc. It might be countered that compatibility with naturalism is precisely one of the points of difference between ethical duties and epistemic duties. But this would be a patently ad hoc move with no argumentative merit.

Where else might the naturalist turn? Another possibility is teleological normativity: the normativity of purpose and design. Alvin Plantinga and Michael Bergmann have argued (persuasively, in my judgement) that the kind of normativity involved in epistemic warrant is that of proper function. On this analysis, only beliefs formed by properly functioning cognitive faculties can be warranted. Yet this analysis doesn’t hold much promise for the naturalist either. If some faculty or system has a proper function, then it follows that it was intended or designed to function in certain ways as opposed to other ways; but surely this flies in the face of metaphysical naturalism, one implication of which is that the human brain is not the product of intention or design, but rather the product of unintentional, undirected, unintelligent natural processes (whatever variety of evolutionary naturalist aetiology one favours). So accounting for the normative component of knowledge in teleological terms is not a live option for naturalists.

A naturalist might reply (perhaps with a degree of desperation) that strictly speaking his metaphysic is compatible with the claim that human cognitive faculties are designed, so long as the designer of those faculties is also taken to be a purely natural organism (e.g., an enterprising extra-terrestrial). I readily grant the point. But this response doesn’t resolve the problem of accounting for epistemic normativity within a naturalistic framework; it merely pushes it back one species. The important thing to recognize is that naturalism has no place for an ultimate and irreducible teleology, whether located in our solar system or some far-flung corner of the cosmos. A proper function epistemology can only be accommodated by naturalism if teleological normativity can be reduced to some non-teleological feature of the natural universe. The burden lies with the naturalist to explain how that is possible.

At this point, the naturalist may consider it more productive to approach the problem from behind, as it were, by first asking whether there are any kinds of normativity that can be accommodated by naturalism and then asking how epistemic norms might be accounted for in those terms. For example, it might be thought that natural laws are normative in a certain sense. After all, locutions such as “The ball ought to fall to the ground when I release it” appear to be perfectly intelligible. Here, however, appearances are deceiving. For the ‘ought’ in such cases is merely a manner of speaking; specifically, a manner of speaking about expectations (“The ball is expected to fall to the ground when I release it”). And expectations, understood as probabilistic predictions based on generalizations from past observations, can be explicated in purely descriptive terms without any hint of normativity.

So the ‘normativity’ of natural law is a mere pseudo-normativity and is therefore unsuitable as a framework for explaining the normativity of knowledge. Indeed, this can be seen quite clearly by reflecting on what it would mean to reduce epistemic norms to natural laws. Since naturalism is committed to the claim that all human thinking operates in purely naturalistic terms and thus strictly in accordance with natural laws, it would follow that all human thinking necessarily operates in accordance with epistemic norms. But as anyone who has watched so-called ‘reality television’ will appreciate, this is plainly false. Indeed, on such an analysis it would be impossible to have any unwarranted beliefs.

Another tempting option for the naturalist might be to appeal to statistical norms, that is, norms based on the probabilistic characteristics of naturalistic processes. The obvious route here would be to adopt some form of epistemic reliabilism, according to which a belief is warranted if and only if it has been produced by a cognitive process or faculty that gives rise to predominantly true beliefs. On this analysis, beliefs formed via sense perception would be warranted, while beliefs formed via wishful thinking would not (given that the former is a reliable source of beliefs and the latter is not).

Unfortunately, merely adopting a form of epistemic reliabilism will not alleviate the difficulty of accounting for knowledge within a naturalistic metaphysical framework. In the first place, the naturalist needs to explicate the crucial notion of cognitive reliability in purely naturalistic terms, which in turn requires naturalistic accounts of ‘belief’ and ‘truth’. (How does one explicate the notion of a ‘belief’ being ‘true’ in terms of nothing other than the entities and properties studied by physicists and chemists?)

But problems of naturalistic reductionism aside, reliabilism as such is inadequate as a theory of warrant. For it is easy to generate counterexamples which show that cognitive reliability, while perhaps necessary for warrant, is by no means sufficient. Here is one simple example. Imagine a person—let’s call him Sam—who is unwittingly exposed to a high dose of cosmic rays which dramatically alters the structure of his brain. As a result, on random occasions Sam spontaneously forms the strong impression that certain very large numbers are prime numbers. Furthermore, nine out of ten times these impressions turn out to be true. Sam knows nothing regarding the origin of his beliefs about these numbers, nor does he have any means of verifying them. Nevertheless, the process by which these beliefs are formed is a very reliable one; it gives rise to predominantly true beliefs. It should be obvious, however, that these beliefs are not in the least bit warranted for Sam. He doesn’t genuinely know that the numbers in question are primes.

Alvin Plantinga provides another counterexample to epistemic reliabilism: ‘The Case of the Epistemically Serendipitous Lesion’. Plantinga invites us to imagine a man who develops a rare brain lesion that instigates a number of cognitive processes, most of which produce predominantly false beliefs. However, by sheer dumb luck, one of these cognitive processes results in this man forming the belief that he has a brain lesion. Moreover, we can stipulate this particular cognitive process produces no other beliefs (whether true or false). So the man’s belief that he has a brain lesion arises from a cognitive process that is statistically reliable—indeed, it is 100% reliable. Moreover, there is a relevant causal connection between the belief and the belief’s object: the belief about the brain lesion is actually caused by the lesion. So the causal requirement imposed by some more sophisticated versions of reliabilism is also satisfied. Yet despite these reliabilist conditions being met, it should be clear that the man’s belief is not epistemically warranted; even though the belief is true, the man does not really know that he has a brain lesion.

The clear implication of such counterexamples is that epistemic warrant requires some ingredient in addition to reliability. What is needed here is a further condition or constraint that rules out cases where a belief has been formed by a process or faculty that is only reliable by mere accident. The obvious remedy is to impose a teleological condition: the reliability must be intentional or purposeful. But as we have already noted, a genuine teleological normativity (with respect to human cognition) cannot be countenanced by a thoroughgoing metaphysical naturalism.

A slightly different approach to remedying the shortcomings of epistemic reliabilism simpliciter is offered by virtue epistemology. According to virtue epistemologists, for a belief to be warranted it must not only have been formed by a reliable cognitive process or faculty, but also by the exercise of an intellectual virtue. The notion of intellectual virtues has been defined in various ways by different virtue epistemologists, but one common understanding is that such virtues may be thought of as good intellectual character traits. Examples of such traits would include honesty, reflectiveness, fair-mindedness, thoroughness, and curiosity.

Does virtue epistemology lend itself to a naturalistic account of knowledge? On the face of it, it is difficult to see how metaphysical naturalism can accommodate the existence of normative objective virtues (including intellectual virtues); that is, virtues which do not originate in mere human opinion. Why would one configuration of atoms be more virtuous than another configuration merely on account of its physical properties and relations? But in any case, if one considers how the notion of intellectual virtues needs to be spelled out in order to provide an adequate theory of warrant, we find the naturalist faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, if intellectual virtues reduce merely to cognitive dispositions or processes which typically result in the formation of true beliefs, regardless of the subjective motivations of the believers, then a virtue theory of warrant offers no advance over reliabilism, because it falls foul of the sort of counterexamples raised by Plantinga and others. On the other hand, if the exercise of an intellectual virtue necessarily involves some commendable intention on the part of the believer—say, an intention to attain some worthy epistemic goal, such as the acquisition of truth and the avoidance of falsehood—then we seem compelled again to introduce some teleological dimension to knowledge (e.g., the notion of good epistemic ends). Yet if epistemic relativism is to be avoided then the relevant epistemic telos (whatever it turns out to be) must be objective and not dependent on human feelings or opinions. In other words, it cannot be a telos of our own choosing. But as I noted earlier, the idea of objective teleological normativity should be anathema for any self-respecting naturalist.

If the naturalist wishes to defend some variant of a reliabilist theory of warrant, he will have to address those counterexamples which clearly show that cognitive reliability alone is insufficient for warrant. The most promising approaches to addressing the shortcomings of reliabilism simpliciter are to supplement it with further conditions expressed in terms of cognitive proper function or intellectual virtues. But in order to be successful these supplements must appeal to kinds of normativity that are off-limits for metaphysical naturalism.

To summarise the argument thus far: Any adequate analysis of knowledge must involve some notion of objective epistemic normativity, but metaphysical naturalism has no place for objective norms, that is, norms not dependent on human consciousness. If epistemic normativity can be explained in terms of some other species of normativity, the two most promising candidates are deontological normativity (i.e., norms of duty) and teleological normativity (i.e., norms of purpose or function). Neither of these, however, is welcome in a purely naturalistic universe.

Knowledge and Theism

I have argued that knowledge presupposes the falsity of metaphysical naturalism; therefore, knowledge presupposes the truth of metaphysical supernaturalism (in the broad sense). But this alone does not secure the conclusion that knowledge presupposes theism, for there are other non-naturalist ontologies to consider. In this section, therefore, I will briefly review some major alternatives to theism and assess how each might fare in accounting for epistemic normativity.

As I noted above, only two of the various analyses of epistemic warrant considered earlier would appear to be live options (given the stated shortcomings of the other accounts): deontological epistemology (which would include quasi-deontological notions of epistemic norms) and teleological epistemology. According to these two approaches, epistemic normativity is cashed out either in terms of intellectual duty (or something in that conceptual neighbourhood) or in terms of proper cognitive function (or proper cognitive ends).

It isn’t difficult to see that both of these analyses sit quite comfortably within a theistic framework. God’s character and commands are normative for us by virtue of the fact that we are his creatures and created to reflect the divine image. As Richard Taylor notes, it is natural to think that if there is a God then we are bound to him in an ethical sense: we have obligations toward him (including intellectual obligations). Similarly, certain human epistemic practices are virtuous because they accord with those goals and characteristics valued by God—truth-directedness, consistency, impartiality, prudence, etc.—and his general intentions for human existence. And the notion of cognitive proper function makes perfect sense on the view that humans (including our noetic faculties) have been created by God (whatever view one takes of the process of creation).

But what about the alternatives? Consider first whether a modern-day non-theistic Platonism could underwrite either of these analyses. On this view, epistemic normativity would be grounded in something like non-spatiotemporal abstract ideals (and thus not explicable in purely scientific terms). However, it is difficult to see how mere impersonal abstracta could give rise to epistemic duties or could account for cognitive design, because such notions only make sense in terms of personal relationships. (How could we have obligations of any kind toward non-persons? How could our cognitive faculties have been designed by non-persons?) One of the pressing difficulties here for the Platonist is that of bringing the immanent realm of particulars (which includes us) into meaningful contact with the transcendent realm of universals (which would presumably include the ideals that ground epistemic normativity). Why should transcendent impersonal abstract entities be so much as relevant to the activities of immanent personal concrete entities (such as we are)? After all, even Plato had to appeal to the activity of the Demiurge to account for the relevance of the Forms to the sensible world! But clearly such appeals are bound to move us in a theistic direction.

Another popular alternative to theism (at least in terms of worldwide adherents) is monistic pantheism: the view that all is God and all is One. On this view, all ultimate metaphysical distinctions are illusory. Reality is, at bottom, one undifferentiated entity. It ought to be obvious that such a metaphysic cannot support any cogent analysis of epistemic warrant, let alone the two delineated earlier, since all such accounts presuppose a real distinction between warranted beliefs and unwarranted beliefs. Likewise, paradigm cases of human knowledge take for granted a genuine distinction between the subject of belief and the object of belief. But even if one dispenses with monism, it seems to me that pantheism will still face problems insofar as it fails to uphold a clear distinction between the norm and the normed. For if everything is divine then surely it follows that everything is normative—or, at the very least, everything is normal. What place, then, for ignorance or irrationality? The moment one divides the universe into the normative and that which is subject to the normative, the essence of pantheism has been abandoned.

A third alternative to consider would be panentheism, sometimes known as ‘process theism’. According to panentheists, God contains the universe but is not identical with it (i.e., the universe is a proper part of God). The panentheist conception of God is often analogized to the dualist conception of human nature: the universe is thought of as God’s ‘body’, while his transcendent immaterial aspect is thought of as God’s ‘mind’ or ‘soul’. And one of the crucial tenets of panentheism is that neither aspect of the duality is absolute or independent of the other: they are mutually dependent and the interaction between them accounts for God’s temporal progression from potentiality to actuality.

How then would one account for objective epistemic normativity within a panentheistic scheme? In some strains of panentheism, God is not thought to be a personal being, in which case (to recycle my earlier point) it is very hard to see how objective epistemic duties would apply to us or how the notions of purpose and design would pertain to our cognitive faculties. But even among those process theists who hold that God is a person, there is a reluctance to ground moral obligations in the character or will of God. Equally unwelcome is the notion that our cognitive faculties are the product of divine design. (I know of no process theist who does not affirm some version of the neo-Darwinian account of human origins; indeed, one of the attractions of panentheism is that it purports to reconcile an unthreatening supernaturalism with the methodological naturalism of modern scientific orthodoxy.) So even if the panentheist’s God is a personal being after all, this personal being is not the source or ground of objective epistemic norms for human thought (whether construed deontologically or teleologically). But then what would account for the existence of these norms? What is perhaps the most tempting route—an appeal to transcendent abstract ideals—offers no advance on the non-theistic Platonism considered above.

In any case, I believe a more general problem for panentheism can be raised. For reasons similar to those rehearsed earlier in discussing metaphysical naturalism, epistemic norms within a panentheistic scheme would need to be grounded in the transcendent aspect of God rather than the immanent aspect—in the ‘mind’ of God, as it were, as opposed to the ‘body’. Cognitive agents within the universe (such as human beings) are subject to epistemic norms. And norms necessarily transcend that which is subject to those norms. Thus, in the epistemic arena, the transcendent aspect of the panentheist's God would (in some respect) serve as the norm while the immanent aspect would serve as the normed. But wouldn’t this introduce a fundamental asymmetry of privilege into the panentheist’s metaphysic? Surely any norm enjoys a certain priority or superiority over that which is subject to the norm. One serves as the ideal; the other is judged with respect that ideal (and may well fall short of it). But if God’s transcendent aspect is privileged in this way over God’s immanent aspect, would it not be better to reserve the title ‘God’ for the transcendent aspect alone? All this is just to say that once this fundamental asymmetry with respect to normativity has been conceded, the resultant scheme would be better characterised as a form of theism than a form of panentheism.

Some general conclusions can be drawn from all this. It appears that any worldview whose ontology can underwrite a viable account of epistemic warrant must exhibit the following features: (1) it must be non-naturalist (i.e., it must make room for real objective normativity); (2) it must posit a fundamental ontological distinction between that which grounds or originates epistemic norms and that which is subject to epistemic norms; and (3) it must posit a ground of epistemic normativity that is personal (i.e., exhibiting features such as intellect and volition). In short, we are looking for a worldview with an ontology that includes a supernatural personal being whose character or intentions give rise to norms for human thought; that is, a broadly theistic worldview.

In conclusion, then, we have solid reasons for believing that if human knowledge is possible then there must be a God. Knowledge presupposes the existence of objective epistemic normativity, which in turn presupposes an ontology that can account for the existence of such normativity. Naturalism, as many of its contemporary advocates now acknowledge, has no place for objective epistemic normativity. And non-theistic non-naturalisms fall short on other grounds: by trying to ground epistemic normativity in the non-personal, or by failing to distinguish the normative from the normed, or by leaving unexplained the connection between the normative and the normed. Only theistic worldviews have the metaphysical resources to underwrite the most defensible analyses of epistemic warrant. In four words: if knowledge, then God.

Selected Bibliography
  • James Anderson, ‘If Knowledge, Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til’, Calvin Theological Journal 40:1 (2005), 49-75.

  • Robert Audi, Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2003).

  • Jason Baehr, ‘Virtue Epistemology’, in James Fieser & Bradley Dowden (eds), The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2006).

  • Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1998).

  • Michael Bergmann, Justification without Awareness: A Defense of Epistemic Externalism (Oxford University Press, 2006).

  • John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1995).

  • John Greco, ‘Virtue Epistemology’, in Edward Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2004).

  • Jaegwon Kim, ‘What is “Naturalized Epistemology?”’, in James E. Tomberlin (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives 2 (Ridgeview Publishing Co., 1988), 381-405.

  • Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate (Oxford University Press, 1993).

  • Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press, 1993).

  • Alvin Plantinga, ‘Afterword’, in James F. Sennett (ed.), The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader (Eerdmans, 1998).

  • Alvin Plantinga, ‘Two Dozen (or So) Theistic Arguments’ (unpublished lecture notes).

  • Victor Reppert, C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea (InterVarsity Press, 2003).

  • Richard Taylor, Ethics, Faith, and Reason (Prentice Hall, 1985).

  • Dallas Willard, ‘Knowledge and Naturalism’, in J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig (eds), Naturalism: A Critical Analysis (Routledge, 2000).