The typical arguments one hears in atheist vs. theist debates generally do not interest me. However, the argument from reason is one of those arguments that would definitely cause me to struggle with atheistic claims if I were an atheist.
It should be noted that this is not an argument “for” Christianity, but rather an argument against atheism, specifically atheism animated by philosophical materialism and/or naturalism. An argument for Christianity would follow a very different set of rules.
Naturalism essentially states that nature is a closed system in which all events within the system are explainable (or are explainable in principle) in terms of the natural order. Thus, naturalism excludes any idea of “god” since the divine does not lie within the total system. If one accepts these presupposition then all events, including that of thought, must be explainable in purely natural/material terms. In short, all events must be the result of mechanical processes linked in a casual chain of events that could be traced back to the very beginning of the universe, if one were so inclined.
The trouble for the Naturalist comes into play when one considers the event of human thought. Since thoughts are events, all of our thoughts should be fully explainable in mechanistic terms and not according to a person’s free-agency. But any thought which is not guided by what is “true” but guided rather by mechanistic, physical necessity is not rational. Hence, Naturalism, philosophically speaking, slits its own throat.
Again, if our thoughts are the inevitable play of firing neurons in our brain set in motion by causal necessity then what we think would be the result of whatever the total system delivered to us and not because it accorded with “truth” necessarily. If the claims of Naturalism are held with consistency, one would have to concede that belief in Naturalism occurs only because nature has determined it (sort of an atheist’s equivalent of Calvinism). And if one arrives at his philosophy not because he chose it, but rather because it was all the total system would allow, then Naturalism is, philosophically, self-defeating.
I like what the late Professor Haldane of Oxford University said concerning the logical conclusion of a strict naturalism: “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason to suppose that my brain to be composed of atoms.”
Victor Reppert, piggy-backing off the ideas put forth in the book, “Miracles,” by C.S. Lewis, which gave a well-articulated criticism of naturalism, gave the following syllogism to help summarize the argument:
- No belief is rationally inferred if it can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes.
- If materialism is true, then all beliefs can be fully explained in terms of non-rational causes.
- Therefore, if materialism is true, then no belief is rationally inferred.
- If any thesis entails the conclusion that no belief is rationally inferred, then it should be rejected and its denial accepted.
- Therefore materialism should be rejected and its denial accepted.
Reppert continues, “Explaining how a person, as a matter of personal history, came to believe something in a rational way is critical to understanding that person as a rational agent.” Naturalism unwittingly denies such an explanation.
In essence, naturalism is a philosophy of existence which precludes human beings from being truly free, rational agents. The very power of reasoning which they use to levy arguments against God is the very power which gives witness to an “intellectual” source for reason in general. Rational inference is the ultimate elephant in the room during most atheist debates.
According to a consistent Naturalism any notion of god must be excluded, but its more than that: any notion of good and evil, right and wrong, love and hate, etc., must also be treated as mythical. At best they are nothing more than helpful categories of thought, but categories with no existence (or ontology) of their own. Life would then be essentially meaningless since its ultimate goal is mere survival, a goal wholly unattainable in a world where death is guaranteed.
This is an extremely brief treatment of the argument and I’ve tried my best to summarize my understanding of its main elements. For the sake of time I’ll let whatever discussion ensues from this article help to ferret out those finer points which were left untouched. Thanks for reading!