Puritan Gems

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A False Dichotomy

A friend recently put up a short post on Facebook in which he dichotomises faith and science:

'There are 2 ways of looking at the World: faith & superstition, or the rigours of logic, observation & finally evidence. Reason & a respect for evidence are the only sources of human progress, they also provide a safeguard against fundamentalists & those who profit from obscuring the truth.'

It is the standard stuff we see from atheists, the usual quasi-scientific piety that collapses upon inspection. The quote is worth reproducing here since this view (in some or other variation) is so common among atheists and accepted as being self-evidently true.

'There are 2 ways of looking at the World: faith & superstition, or the rigours of logic, observation & finally evidence.'

1. As is all too common, the dichotomy is set up. Faith and superstition on one side, logic, observation and evidence on the other, with no sense of compulsion to argue for such a dichotomy. It is an unquestioned assumption and it is extremely simplistic and problematic.

2. Faith and superstition are put side by side with the negative connotation that they are necessarily in the same backward category, while science, of course, is free from all and any type of faith.

3. 'Faith' is thrown out with the intention of being derogatory, with no thought given to the term and how it can hold different levels of meaning in different contexts.

4. Biblical faith is multifaceted, and is very much an evidence-based faith, and not blind faith on a level with superstition, as the quote wants to suggest.

5. The quote fails to understand that certain scientific theories must be taken by faith. Take the standard and widely accepted Darwinian 'theory' of origins. The hypothesis of common descent and transformation is a hypothesis which has not been derived from the observational sciences, and is therefore a hypothesis that must largely be accepted on faith.

6. The atheist presupposes that the origin of the universe and all of life arose by purely naturalistic means. This is not a scientific position but rather a philosophical position, and it is a position that requires, one might say, an astonishing level of faith.

7. Atheism itself, from which these grandiose statements find their basis and confidence, is a belief which ultimately requires faith. Atheism is not some default position that is true unless proven otherwise; atheism shoulders a tremendous burden of responsibility, yet it is taken as a given by a vast number of its adherents.

'Reason & a respect for evidence are the only sources of human progress...'

1. Again, this sounds very grand, very noble. Trouble is, it is fundamentally flawed as, again, it presupposes reason and evidence are opposed to and separate from faith.

2. On a naturalistic scheme of things, how can one be sure that one's reasoning faculties are accurately corresponding with the world around them? If one believes that one's sense organs developed from blind, physical, non-purposeful natural forces, then how can one be sure that these sense organs provide accurate information about the world beyond themselves rather than simply inferred from them? The atheist must take by faith that their reasoning faculties are giving them accurate information about the world beyond those reasoning faculties.

3. Moreover, how can the atheist justify the validity of their reasoning faculties without appealing to their reasoning faculties, thus engaging in viciously circular argumentation? Again, the atheist must take by faith the validity of their reasoning faculties.

4. On atheism, what is human progress? To propagate one's genes, perhaps? But given evolutionary assumptions, whence lies the imperative to propagate one's genes? Why ought the human species keep on moving?

5. On Christianity, human progress can encompass a number of meaningful aspects, for example by cultivating right and wrong and moral and ethical norms in ourselves and in our young; by bringing ourselves and our young closer to the creator by studying His word and keeping His precepts; by loving our neighbour and impressing upon them that we are all image bearers of God with intrinsic value, purpose and significance to our lives; by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and aiming for the ultimate in human progress by means of the Spirit bringing the unbeliever out of bondage and into eternal salvation. It is the Christian who can rightly and without contradiction speak of human progress.

'...they also provide a safeguard against fundamentalists & those who profit from obscuring the truth.'

1. Again, this is a mere rhetorical device that doesn't really mean anything.

2. Are there 'fundamentalists' (typically, 'fundamentalists' here is being applied to all believers, with a complete misunderstanding of, and thus narrow, derogatory use of, the term) who wish to profit from their output, no matter how accurate that output? Sure. Richard Dawkins, I believe, in his The God Delusion, would qualify as one such wild-eyed, unthinking fundamentalist (properly applying the derogatory usage here). So what? Are all atheists unthinking, swivel-eyed, humanist manifesto-thumping fundamentalists?

3. Traditionally, of course, a Christian fundamentalist would be one who holds to the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Unfortunately, the term has taken on a life of its own, with many an atheist showing no willingness to apply the term – and thus represent the Christian – accurately

Interestingly, we must conclude that the claim,

'There are 2 ways of looking at the World: faith & superstition, or the rigours of logic, observation & finally evidence. Reason & a respect for evidence are the only sources of human progress...'

is itself a claim that cannot withstand the scrutiny of logic and reason.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Euthyphro Dilemma

Put simply, the modern version of the Euthyphro Dilemma is usually presented something like this:

Are morally good acts good by virtue of their own nature, or are morally good acts good because God says they are good?

The first horn of the 'dilemma' implies that the good is external to, and thus independent of, God. The second horn implies God's commands would, therefore, be arbitrary.

There are multiple problems with this. We'll list a few.

1. The Euthyphro Dilemma assumes a very low view of God. It assumes a non-specific God who hands down to a disconnected creation laws which He is either subject to by virtue of their already existing outside of Himself, or to which He is loosely related through His arbitrarily revealing them to the creation.

It is important to point out that God's commands, or divine laws, flow from His very nature, which is essentially good. Being the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, God is beholden to no-one and nothing outside of Himself. As necessary Being, we can say, No God, no good!

2. The God of Christianity is Triune. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to one another necessarily and eternally. This interrelationship provides the very foundation of morality. The Persons of the Trinity are not beholden to any external law, nor are they subject to the arbitrary commands of one or the other. Rather, they are in co-relation out of perfect and uniform love for one another. God's commands, or laws, are a reflection of His very character and nature, not the result of whimsical arbitrariness or impulsiveness, nor are they the result of laws external to God to which He is beholden.

Once we take this into account, along with some of the essential attributes of God, like the supremacy of God, the sovereignty of God, the immutability, or unchanging nature of God, the self-sufficiency of God, and the goodness of God, we begin to understand that God's character and nature is the very standard of all that is good, and the objections posed by the Euthyphro Dilemma vanish. God loves morally good acts because He is good, and therefore His commands reflect His essential goodness. God is entirely self-sufficient, and is in need of nothing outside of Himself.

3. In some sense it is true that God loves morally good acts because they are morally good, and in another sense it is true that morally good acts are that which God commands. But this is a mere tautology. A necessary truth. It does not entail that there is a standard outside of God, nor that God's standard is arbitrary, and to argue such is to offer an incomplete analysis.

We have an innate awareness of God's divine commands, or laws. (Romans 2:15), thus moral obligations are divine laws. There is a necessary relationship between God's moral law and our moral obligations. Duty-related properties depend on God's commands, but evaluative properties, such as goodness, do not.

It is true that an action is morally obligatory since God has commanded it, but the goodness of an action does not depend on God's commanding it; the goodness itself flows from God's essentially good nature.

The proponent of the Euthyphro Dilemma usually fails to take into account this distinction.

Now, a standard objection will look like this (or some variation thereof):

'So God could have commanded that rape is good?'

No. God's very character and nature would prevent Him from doing so. See the non-arbitrariness of God's commands above.

1. To repeat, this simply ignores the rational and valid explanation given by the Christian, and is a rather transparent attempt to save the dilemma. God's very character and nature would prevent Him from declaring rape a morally good act. (see above.)

2. The objection shows that the objector is aware that rape is in fact not a morally good act. The contrast is clear. The objector attempts to communicate that God 'could' have commanded something bad to be good, hence the objector, in the very objection, demonstrates that they have an innate knowledge of what is good and bad. The objection demonstrates they are acutely aware of the absurdity of declaring rape to be a morally good act. And if they are aware of this, how much more God?

Soli Deo Gloria