Tuesday, October 21, 2008

BPC Worldview Conference Notes: Lecture 3 "All is Vanity: Confronting Naturalism with the Biblical Worldview"


All is Vanity: Confronting Naturalism with the Biblical Worldview

I. Introduction
A. Quick review: Particularly with naturalists (or modernists or atheists or secular humanists, etc.), we must convince them that they are not neutral or “just following the facts.”

We must show them that behind their conclusions lie a web of presuppositions about the world; they too hold basic beliefs that govern their interpretation of the world. Email to someone: “It helps to realize that there is no such thing as philosophical neutrality. As one historian has said, "Religion must always be judged on the basis of another religion." The choice is not between belief and non-belief or faith and non-faith. The choice is which faith (objects of faith); that is, which worldview provides an adequate foundation for reality? You can't turn away from one without jumping into or appealing to the presuppositions of another (Hinduism, naturalism, existentialism, nihilism, Christianity, etc.). Facts do not interpret themselves. We interpret them in the light of an over-arching worldview or system of philosophy (wittingly or otherwise). As the great philosopher Michael Polanyi has said, there is no knowing without first believing. In order to know, we must believe something without proof. That's the nature of thought. Everyone or every worldview has a set of first principles or presuppositions (starting premises) that are taken to be true without proof. Remember the Lewontin quote. The Christian and the atheist are the same in this regard. The question is which worldview best accounts for the world as we see, experience and live in it?”
B. Method: Proverbs 26: 4-5
4 Answer not a fool according to his folly,
or you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
1. Present the Biblical Worldview: Do not answer the fool… according to his presuppositions or his ultimate criterion for truth but according to Christian presuppositions and Biblical theology.
2. Expose the non-Christian worldview: Answer the fool… Show how, on the assumptions of the non-Christian worldview, the non-Christian’s thinking and life is utterly and hopelessly irrational, unlivable, and ultimately reduces to hopeless skepticism and madness. Doing this goes beyond challenging specific beliefs (how old is the earth or does the universe have to have a cause), it challenges the very foundation of those beliefs. Is your approach to the world reasonable and livable?
II. First Naturalism, then Nihilism (life is meaningless): All is vanity and a chasing after the wind for those who live life as under the sun, but purposeful and joyous for those living life above the sun: Eccl 1:1-4; 9-11, 14
A. Personal story – a young man came into my office celebrating his new freedom from Christianity with its Hell, absolute morality, Holy God and exclusivity. “You know, it is liberating not to have that pressure on you all the time.” I said, “Yes, at least for a time, meaninglessness so that there is not a care in the world can be quite liberating. I bet it was liberating to Nazi executioners. If they knew it, I bet the would have sang Lennon’s song Imagine “Image there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky, imagine all the people, living for today.”
B. Key is to show people how naturalism (whether atheism, secular humanism, or Darwinian evolution, etc.) is a reality/universe that reduces to time + energy and therefore meaninglessness (e.g., nihilism).
C. Broken cisterns and scarecrows: Read Bertrand Russell – A sure foundation of despair
Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built. – Bertrand Russell
D. Nietzsche prophesied in the 19th century that modern man will start killing himself and others at unprecedented levels when it comes to grips with the fact that life is meaningless because naturalism is correct. The great error, he said, is that modern man was trying to walk a tight-rope. It wanted to maintain a belief in objective truth and morality but get rid of Christianity. However, they will one day realize that they can not have their cake and eat it too. With Christianity goes objective truth and morality. “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality from under one’s feet… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.” For modern man, then, “morality is not yet a problem…we stand on the threshold of this event.” Dislodge God and you dislodge the entire foundation of Western morality and objective knowledge. Man becomes entirely self-referential. This will lead him to despair and brutality. The 20th century shows him to be a prophet. Trace it historically like this: Mid 17th-18th century: God is foundational (Christian theism); 18th: God is unnecessary (Deism and methodological naturalism);19th: God is dead (philosophical naturalism and modernism); 20th: Meaning, Morality, and Truth are dead (nihilism, existentialism, and postmodernism); 21st: Schaeffer = The Un-man (man will be seen as less than man) or the Super-Man of Nietzsche (man will rise up out of the ashes and construct a super truth for himself).
III. Life is Meaningless if Naturalism is True
1. Life is meaningless, because matter is all there is. There is not matter and mind or the material and immaterial, there is only the material or matter. Sagan (mocking our Gloria Patri), “The cosmos is all that is, ever was, or ever will be.” Astronomer, “In the beginning, Hydrogen.” The Universe is ultimately impersonal and purposeless, it only appears uniform and rational, because chance is impersonal and purposeless and all events are caused or determined by seemingly fixed natural or scientific laws that spontaneously affixed themselves to the natural universe (everything from solar eclipses to crime to love). Indeed, there is no reason to expect the future to be like the past except that it’s always been that way. History is a meaningless mechanical march to nothingness. There is no overarching purpose, no intentionality in biology, no reason for anything that happens. Death too just happens for no reason and nothing is on the other side of it for anything or anyone. Human beings are a product of blind chance, as are our births and deaths. Jacques Monod said, simply, that humanity’s “number came up on the Monte Carlo game.” Even human choices ultimately only appear to be “free” or “volitional.” Remember Kant. That is, we “know” from empirical science that everything is perfectly determined by natural processes, but it is useful to operate “as if” we are free (intellectual schizophrenia or mind-splitting Kantian style). Humans are forced to wear two hats. What we know: man is a machine controlled by impersonal natural laws of physics) and what we believe in order to function and feel like life is worth living (man is not a machine, but a significant and important creature). Pinker, “The mechanistic stance allows us to understand what makes us tick and how we fit into the physical universe, but when those discussions wind down for the day, we go back to talking about each other as free and dignified.” So behind all our acting, we know that life is purposeless - hardly worth living because it’s pointless, going nowhere, won’t matter in any ultimate sense. We are mere gears in a giant machine, mechanically going through motions governed by the blind laws of physics.
GK Chesterton - The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts. Then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mind. In his book on politics, he attacks men for trampling on morality, and in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men...By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.
Of course, in Christian theism, ultimate reality is personal and purposeful; all events, good and bad, have a reason and purpose behind them, the universe is intentionally created out of nothing, upheld and maintained by the word and power of Christ Himself (Heb 1:3), it is orderly, rational and uniform and can be expected to remain so in the future because its Creator is orderly and rational. History is a series of meaningful events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes in the world, namely making the people and creation good again through Christ. Like his Creator, man has a moral conscious that guides and condemns him; making him responsible for his actions. That is, man’s actions are meaningful and significant. After I pointed out that committed Christians are more charitable than unbelievers, a student said that Christians are charitable only because they fear Hell or are trying to earn Heaven. Well, if there is something about Christianity that might make people charitable for selfish reasons, then there is something about atheism that might make people not charitable at all. I’m sure the poor and sick would prefer the former risk of the latter.
2. Life is meaningless, because we can’t know anything truly – the ground of man’s reasoning is ultimately non-rational and impersonal. Today, we can only know the material world or material things, if we can know anything at all. That is, we only know things through our senses. This is called empiricism. Science will tell us what we can know because science is empirical or based on our senses. Everything else is mere opinion.
In Christian theism, we can know the world and expect there to be a real correspondence between our minds and the world around us because God created the world and our minds and reveals to us real knowledge. Schaeffer: Just as our lungs were made to breath in this planet’s atmosphere, our minds were made to understand this planet’s attributes. Our lungs fit this world and our minds fit this world because both our lungs and our minds and this world have a common Creator. This is my Father’s world, should we be surprised if true knowledge of the world is possible? This Christian principle laid the foundation, by the way, for all of modern science and explains why science did not get off the ground operating within cultures governed by other worldview systems like Hinduism and Islam (Stark, Schmidt). Further, we can think rationally because our Maker is rational. Naturalism ultimately traces man’s reasoning back to something that was not itself rational, personal/intelligent, or purposive in nature. Man’s reasoning somehow arose out of that blind mechanical unintentional process. On what basis can man’s reasoning be trusted? As Samples has said, “If that which produced human reasoning is itself non-rational in nature, then why trust one’s present ability to reason at all?” The laws of rationality or logic do not exist in a naturalist universe because laws of logic, along with laws of morality and science, are immaterial things. Therefore knowledge does not exist in a naturalist universe because without laws of logic, morality, and science, knowledge of any sort is impossible. A personal absolute is necessary for these things and only Christianity has one. What about science? There is no reason to expect our minds to properly understand the world in naturalism because we can’t know whether the meaningless collision of atoms in our brains are properly interpreting the world. As Doug Wilson has said, if naturalism is true, our brains are simply fizzing, not thinking. So, Christianity is necessary as a precondition for knowledge of any sort (logic, morality, and science) to be expected and trusted. Quick refutation of empiricism: How do we know that we can only know that which we sense? Isn’t that knowledge of something that we did not sense? Empiricism can not justify empiricism.
3. Life is meaningless, because we have no access to ethical standards –
Basis of Ethics - The basis for all ethics reduces to “Man will do what is right in his own eyes.” Ethics are determined from within the system, not from without. In other words, there is no reference point outside of man to which man must appeal for ethical standards and to which all men everywhere are obligated. Rather, ethics are determined from within. They are determined by the individual, by the majority, or by those in power. (e.g., FoxNews vote on what is fair). Most naturalists say that ethics should be determined by the majority according to what maximizes the well-being of the most people (utilitarianism). If so, then nothing ‘just is’ good or evil. Rather, it only becomes good or evil depending upon the consequences. If executing jaywalkers ultimately saves more lives because you would only have to execute one to make the point and the number of people hit by cars would go down greatly, then it is ‘good’ to do and it is nonsensical to speak of executing jaywalkers as “unjust.” Proper punishment or fair punishment and the like are meaningless words in utilitarianism. Also, a morally superior act would be a millionaire giving $5000 to the poor for impure reasons (tax break) over a poor man giving $500 dollars to the poor because his heart breaks for the under-nourished. What matters is whether the consequences of an action benefit the most people. Of course, this violates God’s ethical principles written on each of our hearts.
Nature of Man - Man is a machine, his brain is a three pound computer made of meat, all human processes are like all other processes (i.e., reducible to natural causes; atoms banging around). Are Humans different? Some say no (hardcore Darwinists and materialists) and others say yes (secular humanism), but none can say that humans are different in kind (with intrinsic worth and dignity). They all say that either man is valuable because he says so (value by convention) or he is not any more valuable than animals. With this view of man, there is clearly no firm basis for human rights. Indeed, it invites us to “care” for humanity like we do livestock (using reproductive practices and euthanasia, we can “weed” out runts and the impaired, those who suffocate the group, for the sake of the larger species).
Origin of Ethics – evolved as a survival mechanism. We evolved beliefs about morality, and God too for that matter, in order to help us survive. How do we know? Because evolution is only concerned with survival, not truth. British philosopher Roger Trigg says of evolution, “it does not matter if a belief is true or false, as long as it is useful, from a genetic point of view.” Our brains tell us what we need to believe in order to survive and ethics is one such thing. Truth is not it’s concern. Of course, if what our brains tell us about God or morality is designed to help us survive and not to help understand what is true, then so is what our brains tell us about evolution and survival. There is a pretty simple logic in all this: if the universe is caused or controlled by impersonal chance forces (naturalistic evolution), then you will end up with naturalism as the basis for morality, social and political philosophy too. So, book after book is written trying to explain (with admittedly no data) how it must be [given what we believe about naturalism and evolution] that all human behavior, including our sense of ethics, must have an evolutionary background Even rape, we are told by some, must somehow confer some evolutionary advantage otherwise it would have been weeded out by natural selection. People may object, but not on the basis of naturalism. You must accept the conclusion (rape is natural and somehow advantageous biologically) if you accept the premise (all behaviors have an evolutionary background). Peter Singer, famous Bioethicist at Princeton, understands this well. He writes, “In the West,” we have a “Judeo Christian tradition” that teaches that “humans alone are made in the image of God.” But evolution has shown that to be ludicrous. Rather we are animals and once we understand this, infanticide (killing the runt of the litter) and sex across species “ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings” and will sometimes be the right/best thing to do in order to enhance our survival. Few naturalists will want to agree with Singer, but he is consistent.
The Naturalistic Fallacy – If Naturalism, then no morality. Do NOT let the naturalist commit the naturalistic fallacy (saying something ought to be the case because it is observed to be the case; what is natural can’t be wrong). When speaking with an atheist, he told me that we know what we ought to do out of empathy (we know how it would make us feel). This commits the fallacy. Telling us that we should have empathy because we do have empathy does not justify empathy as the basis for ethics. And what of those who have no empathy? On what basis in naturalism is he not justified in suppressing the empathy that he feels in order to please himself by hurting others? He can use his naturalism to say any of the following: He will reason that his empathy is only a vestigial artifact of evolution; that he can’t know even that empathy is good because his brain is only telling him what he needs to believe for the sake of human survival, not what is true. He will reason that, for the good of humanity, fatal experimentation on sickly infants will advance human evolution or happiness and any remaining empathy that he feels is rightly suppressed for the sake of the greater good. He will reason that the elimination of the "unfit" among us is good for the species (like weeding a garden). He will reason that the ultimate "good" is self-pleasure self-defined. He will reason that in the struggle to survive there are winners and losers; too bad for the losers, but hey, nature ran its course. He will reason that ultimate reality is meaningless random chance so get yours while the getting is good because you only live once. Naturalism will justify any of these positions. If all we can know is what IS the case (through empirical observation), then we can never know what ought to be the case. And if we can’t know what ought to be the case, then our decisions about the good are totally subjective and arbitrary. Building an orphanage to save children is no different than building an orphanage to molest them. Some like grape, some like rape, it’s all personal preference. Empiricism or science can tell you that stabbing kills. It can’t tell you that stabbing is wrong. Science can tell you the measurements or age of a fetus, but it can’t tell you whether or at what point the fetus is a dignified person. In other words, if you rely upon science for all truth, you will be left speechless about the most fundamental questions in life (immaterial in nature). Simply put, no naturalist can say that we SHOULD do anything because claiming to know what we should do violates his standard of truth which is empiricism. THAT SAID: Most will continue to speak of ethics and the good. So point out that his life provides evidence that he is aware in his heart of hearts of the truth of Christianity. Point out that his worldview forces him to wear two hats; that their worldview makes them split their minds (intellectually schizophrenic). They want to say that they can know only that which is material or what is, but they also want speak as though they know the immaterial reality of what we should do). Ask them, what scientific experiment can you conduct which will tell us that murder is wrong? Some say, We should prevent murder because doing so increases our fitness" (chance for survival). That is a perfect example of the naturalistic fallacy. It does not explain why murder is wrong and should be prevented. It only tells us that doing so increases our fitness. It just moves the question back. Why should we increase our fitness? Why care if we don't? Why care about the fitness of others? Why care about the behavior or life of others if their life does not affect my own? If fitness is our goal (arbitrarily decided in a naturalist worldview), why should I not kill others if my fitness is enhanced by their suffering? Whatever you say next will beg another question and on and on. Ultimately, the answer you are going to have to give in a universe reduced to matter and chance is that we should do this or that because YOU HAPPEN TO THINK SO, which only demonstrates how atheism reduces ethics and truth to personal preference and opinion. Things that we do may be materially known. Things that we should do are immaterially known (in Christianity, through revelation). And naturalism has no access to the immaterial. So don’t let the naturalist tell you that you ‘should’ use logic, ‘should’ not try to impose Christian values on him, ‘should’ disbelieve the scriptures, ‘should’ treat others with respect, unless he is able to explain how in the empiricism of naturalism, we can know what we ‘should’ do at all.

The irrelevance of ethical behavior - Ethics are also irrelevant if there is no God with whom we must deal. Dostoevsky once said, “If there is not God, then everything is permissible.” In naturalism, there is no God, after-life, ultimate good, ultimate judgment, etc. There is only a promise of non-existence in our future. To the atheist, I ask “How can the promise of non-existence in the future motivate anyone to suppress evil impulses in the present?” Using the assumptions of naturalism, what will you say to a vile person at his deathbed? He really did do it his way and got away with it. There is no standard to reign in a vile atheist on the assumptions of atheism. Tell the story about the two remarks on the unethical professor in the universitiy department.
Of course, in Christian theism, man is, as Pascal said, neither angel nor beast; he is inherently dignified and valuable, having been made in the image and likeness of God; he shares with His creator many attributes like a moral conscious, creativity, capacity for rationality, capacity and desire for companionship like we see in the glorious Trinity, ability to know the world truly, sovereignty (though ours is on loan) over the earth, etc. Ethics are grounded in the transcendent character of God and known by men through revelation from God and all men are accountable to God our moral judge both in this life and the next. There is a real good and real evil and the ultimate standard for good is God Himself, having shown ultimate goodness to undeserving sinners by subjecting himself to human control and torture to take on the penalty for the offenses of others. Psalm 8 lays this down rather nicely: we are not gods or an authority unto ourselves, like the Enlightenment thinkers said (what is man that You are mindful of him); but nor are we merely beasts like many Darwinists say today (a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned with glory and honor). Christianity, in contrast to any other worldview, explains what we all know and experience to be true about man, his moral sense, his intrinsic worth and his potential for both greatness and debauchery. Pascal: “Man's greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.”
Conclusion: Naturalism leaves man lost at sea in a rudderless boat. He is left with no purpose, no dignity, no guidance, no hope, and no reason to live. But Jesus is the Way the Truth and the Life and offers man hope for tomorrow. How firm a foundation is the Word of our God!

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