The Bankruptcy of Atheism

For the past few days I have been traveling cross country with my family as we are en route to Pennsylvania to start a new job as the Outreach pastor for Grace Valley Fellowship. The travels thus far have been enjoyable. I have been driving a Uhaul accompanied by either one of my two sons taking turns in the truck with me…playing games, singing songs, and talking about life. It has been a great time being with them for an extended period of time. What has also been very enjoyable for me is the time I have had to listen to my ipod which is full of lectures on topics related to philosophy, theology, and apologetics. I wasn’t planning to write any posts until arriving in PA. However, after a full few days of pondering the objective reality of truth, beauty, and goodness, and since my family has decided to watch “Nanny McPhee” for the umpteenth time before bed, I’ve decided to spend a few minutes challenging the world from our hotel room.

Several weeks ago I wrote a few posts related to the fatal flaw of the atheistic/naturalistic worldview- which is its inherent irrationality. In this post I wanted to write a bit more about the inability of philosophical naturalism(atheism) to provide a rational account of reality. I hope to be very brief. Simply put…the atheistic worldview cannot account for the universal, necessary, and abstract laws of logic. The more I ponder the nature of logic, the more I become convinced of the bankruptcy of naturalism in explaining logic’s existence. At this point, I am not making a positive case for the existence of the Christian God. Rather I am attempting to show that the atheistic worldview cannot account for the existence of the laws of logic.

Atheism is a view of the world that does not admit any “super”natural entities. This means not merely that there can be no God or gods or angels or spirits, but it also means that there can be no immaterial reality. The naturalistic worldview admits only of materiality- physical stuff. All that exists is physical particles (called matter) of various sizes and shapes such as atoms, electrons, molecules, and other groupings of physical particles. According to atheism/naturalism, the physical stuff which comprises the universe is all that exists- there is no non-natural stuff. Even human beings are nothing but physical machines- matter in motion- their “life” and movement is not because of any immaterial aspect to their substance, but rather is due only to physical causes. Naturalism necessarily admits that humans are nothing but complex physical machines. Indeed, acording to this view, the universe is full of things that are only made up of material stuff. According to Carl Sagan “the cosmos is all there is, was, or ever shall be.”

So the question is (in view of this understanding of the cosmos) How can the naturalist account for the existence of universal, non-conventional, abstract laws of logic? To me the answer seems obvious…It can not. Of course naturalists use logic and claim for themselvers to be the upholders of reason and rationality. However, with a critical analysis, one discovers that although naturalists uphold logic, they are unable to account for its universal and thus immaterial existence, and inevitably must borrow the laws of logic from the Theistic worldview which is easily able to account for universal, non-conventional laws of various kinds. E.g logic, mathematics, etc. 

The atheist, though using logic to make his case, must deny the universality of logic- for how could logic be universal in a merely physical cosmos? In denying its univesality, does he suggest that logic only applies to certain areas of the physical universe and not to all areas? Is there any place that logic does not apply? If he does not deny its universalty, how does he acount for it? If he does deny its universality he is left with logic as a human convention. Is this tenable? If logic is merely a human convention then it necessarily becomes relative. This is a serious problem. If merely a convention, could one portion of humanity say that A can be not A thus contradicting the law of non-contradiction itself while another portion maintains it? Who would be correct and how would they decide?

How can the naturalist who is committed to a material universe account for these obviously universal and non-conventional laws of logic? Where could these immaterial aspects of reality come from in an atheistic worldview? If humans are (as the atheist maintains) merely matter in motion, did they create logic? or did they discover its existence? If they created it, then it is a convention and not universal- i.e. not applicable to all reality and thus relativistic. If they discovered it as a universal, immaterial aspect of reality…How does the atheist account for not only the improbability that human brains would evolve with this ability to discover abstract entities like logic and mathematics, but how does the atheist account for the existence of the immaterial entities themselves? If the atheist admits the laws of logic as universals, must he not cease to be a materialist? How does mere matter in motion produce universal abstract entities? Where do they come from? The atheist must say that they are “just there” as universals or as human conventions. But how does he account for them? If he says that they are just there, then he ceases to be a naturalist because he admits to their immateriality. The laws of logic are not phycal, are they? Of course not.

Logic is the sort of thing that is not bound by physical limits of space. The laws of thought are in effect in every place- they are universal and thus cannot be an invention of human brains. Furthermore, the laws of logic are not physical things. They are abstract and immaterial aspects of reality that do not fit into a worldview that admits only materiality.

The laws of logic, however, fit very nicely into the Christian worldview which admits an intelligent God as the source of all reasonable thought and the Creator of rational beings in His image. The universe is full of universal, abstract, immaterial entities because it was created by a God who is the unifying eternal source of all truth, beauty, and goodness. All other worldviews which deny God unavoidably fall into internal contradiction and relativism. Both of which are easy tests as to whether the worldvew is indeed true or false.

In this post I have not made a positive case for Christian theism but rather have indirectly argued for it by showing very briefly the impossibility of the contrary. Atheism cannot be true, because it cannot rationally account for the laws of logic. It is inherently irrational. If atheism is irrational, then it is false. If atheism is false, then some form of theism must be true based on the law of the excluded middle.

Simply put:

The laws of logic are a universal and immaterial aspects of reality. (They are not conventions nor are they physical in nature)

Atheism by definition cannot account for the universal immaterial nature of logic. (If naturalists admit logic as being “just there” they cease to be naturalists)

Atheism is therfore a worldview unworthy of adherence because it is internally inconsistent. (Atheists use logic though they are unable to account for its existence from within their own conceptual system)

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19 thoughts on “The Bankruptcy of Atheism

  1. Hey rand, whats up… interesting post but i think you are allow your own perception to cloud your logic:

    “Atheism is therfore a worldview unworthy of adherence because it is internally inconsistent.”

    By this argument Christianity would also be considered unworthy.

  2. Very interesting post, nice work. A few things I noticed that I think should be pointed out. The first is that an “A” is a letter invented by humans to help in communication and different parts of the world actually do use “A” in different contexts and formats. So a disagreement about “A” can take place where both parties are correct. It is how you perceive the “A” that matters. An example of this is mathematics, again an invention of humans to help explain the natural world as well as help in ordering things, places, space, time, distance, etc. OK, the example. A + B=C can be written as X + Y=Z. A mathematical function does not care what numbers or figures or letters are placed in the function. They are merely place holders. The function is going to work in the exact same fashion every time. That is because mathematics is a series of logical steps, one following the other that leads to another. As humans we devised a number system that we use for counting. The numbers again could have been anything we desired, they could have been ordered as 3,7,6,A,&, and so on instead of 1,2,3,4 and so on. The point is that no matter the variables, the logical function still functions. It is because of humans ability to think logically that we were able to derive complex functions such as mathematics. Where did our ability to think logically come from? I think Mr. Wagner answered that already, using logic.

  3. Atheism is a view of the world that does not admit any “super”natural entities. This means not merely that there can be no God or gods or angels or spirits, but it also means that there can be no immaterial reality.

    Sorry, but, no. Atheism isn’t any such thing.

    Atheism is a word that indicates the absence of god-belief in a human being. Conversely, “theism” indicates the presence of god-belief within a human being.

    What you are describing is called “metaphysical naturalism”. MN incorporates atheism. In other words, atheism is a part of MN – but MN is not synonymous with atheism. It can’t be.

    Atheism and theism are polar opposites. They describe a binary equation. God-belief (of any kind – it does not matter which god) is either present or absent within a human being. On or off. There or not-there. Black or white. Atheist or theist.

    So, nice rant and all, but what you’re ranting against isn’t atheism.

  4. John,

    Christian Theism is not internally inconsistent. Naturalism is however, unable to account for the universal, invariant, abstract laws of of logic or any other abstract entity. It is inherently irrational. This is not simply name calling.

  5. Brent

    I do not know of a single atheist that is not also a naturalist. Neither are theists and neither admit “super”natural entities. If you are an atheist and do not subscribe to naturalism, what are you? Agnostic maybe. I do realize that there are distinctions between terms and that there are even various types of naturalists. I equate athesim and naturalism for simplicity for the reader. Your attempt at correcting my definitions is a waste of time. I understand the the difference between theism and atheism and all the various worldviews. If you are not a theist, you are either a monist or a naturalist. We might discuss our understanding or definition of terms, but my guess is you understand what I am getting at. It is not out of bounds to basically equate atheism and naturalism. Anyway, neither atheist nor naturalist can account for the universal, invariant, abstract laws of logic. You might call my post a rant but at least it is not contradictory. So far I have not received an account of logic from any naturalist. Peace

  6. Royal,

    Thanks for the props. A couple quick thoughts about your response. I think you may have misunderstood my use of the letter A in representing the law of non-contradiction which is the idea that a being (call it A or whatever letter or symbol you would like) can not exist and not exist at the same time or in the same sense. The law of non-contradiction is just one of many laws of thought such as the law of identity and the law of the excluded middle. These laws are universal, invariant, abstract, immaterial laws of logic that the naturalist can not account for in his worldview. The naturalist is also unable to account for mathematics. Mathematics is not a human invention/convention. Math like the laws of logic are something that humanity discovered. Universals not conventions of men. thanks for your thoughts brother- peace

  7. Logic is universal, just like science. I can account for them easily with naturalism- they hold true because they reflect how the universe work. They are concepts- they don’t have a physical existance and are merely a descritpion of how things work- an idea.

    “These laws are universal, invariant, abstract, immaterial laws of logic that the naturalist can not account for in his worldview.”

    You are aware that part of science is the “laws” of the universe- descriptions of things that have never been violated and (we think) never will? They are considered the bedrock of naturalism.- I fail to see the contradiction. After all, scientific and logic laws don’t exist in the aether- they are emergent.

  8. Rand,

    I have to point out something special about the laws of thought: they are necessary truths, and hence would exist with or without God. There is no possible world in which something is and is not, at the same time and in the same respect. The law of non-contradiction is often stated in a metaphysical form: “something cannot both be and not be.” This is a necessary metaphysical law; it must exist.

    Reason is intimately connected with God. Or as John the Apostle writes, “In the beginning was the Word (Logos — Reason), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This stresses even more the eternality of Reason and the laws of thought; and, as God is the necessary being and as John connects and unites God and Reason, we Christians must hold that Reason (or “Logic”) was not a set of laws willed by God into existence, but rather that Reason is and always has been. (We also must hold this because of the necessity of the laws of thought, or Reason in itself.)

    Also, it may be better to divide worldviews according to what each believes is eternal. Doing so recognizes that the debate is not merely atheist vs. theist, but instead material monist vs. spiritual monist vs. dualist vs. deist vs. theist. Surrendra Gangadean, one of my former professor’s mentors, wrote a book that (probably) covers this in detail; the book is “Philosophical Foundation: A Critical Analysis of Basic Beliefs,” and it’s available on Amazon.com.

    With all due respect, I recommend that you be careful to not set up a straw man of atheism. It is true that popular-level, everyday atheists on the street often fail to have good arguments for their atheism, but there are many well-studied, philosophical atheists that actually have substance to their view. There is intellectual material on both sides of the fence, for theist and atheist. The question is which view will stand to critical testing by reason.

    If you get a chance, do read some of William Rowe’s work. It may help you understand the other side of the fence.

  9. Samuel,

    Naturalism can’t account for universal, invariant, and abstract entities. You use them of course as you must to attempt to prove anything. However, what you are advocating is not naturalism as is traditionally understood. Maybe we should listen to Rob and define our terms better. As I said, you use logic and insist it is apart of the world- but you simply say that it is just there. A materialistic universe cannot account for such things as laws. In my post I addressed this. If you suggest that the laws of logic are universal (not simply a result of human convention) then you must admit that they are not material- as you did in your response. When I use the term naturalist, I am speaking of a worldview that admits that the physical world is all that exists. You claim to be a naturalist yet admit non-physical entities (e.g. logic) Without simply saying that it is just the way it is, how can you account for the universal, absract, and invariant nature of the laws of logic? You claim that laws are the bedrock of naturalism and so they are. The laws (the uniformity of nature) are indeed necessary for doing any kind of science at all. You must presuppose this for any rational discourse. However, you presuppose the laws and the uniformity but your worldview not only can’t account for them but it makes them highly improbable. I maintain that in using logic or any other universal presupposition, you are borrowing from the Christian Theistic worldview which is the only worldview that can rationally account for such presuppositions. Again I ask: How in an atheistic (matter in motion) worldview can there be uniformity of nature? How can matter in motion account for universals? Naturalism can not do this.

  10. Rand,

    Sorry that I miss understood your use of A, I thought as I stated that you were saying that A could not represent two distinct forms by different parts of humanity. Thanks for the insight on your part. As for the invention vs. discovery of math. I will agree that some aspects of math were discovered, like the laws of motion. They were in work and in place before they were put on paper. However, certain forms such as addition and subtraction, I maintain are human inventions. The logic behind the math is a given, but the use of the math and how it is used is an invention of man. We invented the numbers, figures, letters, etc. that allow the functions of the math to work for us in the context that we need them. If math is not an invention than nothing in the human world can be called an invention. Everything from computers to growing crops depends on math in some form or another so in your stance the word invention should not even exist. I will give an example of why I think this. Like I stated the laws of motion where in use by nature long before humans arrived and we started to use our logical brains. However the world did not use any form of addition or subtraction in the form of math. Sure things were added and taken away from the world, but at no time did nature say, “one apple has fallen from the tree and then another apple fell from the tree, giving two apples”. The apples were just there, the reason for them being there is known to God, but as for the counting and adding, that is purely humans showing our ability to use logic to invent a way of deciphering the world. Call it what you want, discovery or invention. Thanks for the thought provoking blog and rebuttal, I enjoyed them both.

  11. Rob,

    Thanks for your helpful post. You are absolutely right about the transcendental nature of the laws of logic. Christians often are asked why a transcendental God is necesary if the laws of logic are transcendental themselves. Your response obviously shows that you have reflected on this issue. Your second paragraph provides the answer. My thesis is that of course the laws of logic are transcendental and necessary truths and that no other worldview other than Christian Theism can account for them. In this post I am only coming against naturalism. I do realize that naturalism is only one worldview and admit that there is also a need to come against the monism of Parminedes or Spinoza rather than the pluralists. I like your thoughts about categorizing by what is eternal. I also appreciate your warning to steer clear of setting up a straw man. The last thing I want to do is be fallacious. What part of my discription of atheism was false? I admit that I probably should have clarified which type of atheism I was refering. However, by using the term atheism I am merely using a term that has traditionally refered to naturalism as it is traditionally understood. Where do you think I should have been more clear- so that I can be more clear in the future? Thanks for your comments. Hope studies are going well! peace

  12. Royal,

    Thanks brother for your insights. Please allow me to clarify a few of my thoughts regarding math. When I say that math was not invented, I mean that it is not a convention of men that they somehow created. Mathematical propositions such as 2+ 2 = 4 is a universal abstract truth that would be true even if humans never came to be. Many scientists today only accept as knowledge what is empirically verifiable. However, it is obvious that there are things we can know without empirical verification (not to say that some of these things can’t be verified empirically). Such as…the laws of logic, first person introspection of our internal states, other universal abstract entities like mathematical propositions, and other self evident truths like the idea that mercy and compassion are virtues and not vices and that torturing kids for fun is morally wrong. Regarding our knowledge of mathematical propositions it seems as though a distinction must be made between a priori and a posteriori knowledge. Much like the laws of logic are necessary truths as Rob mentioned in his comment so too are mathematical propositions. The law of non-contradiction and the proposition 2+2=4 are transcendentally true in every possible world. They are abstract concepts that can’t not be true. When we grow up from being infants and begin to learn mathematical concepts of course we learn through sense experience (a posteriori). But once we learn for example the concept two, the concept sum (+), the concept equal to (=), the concept 4, we also learn that 2 + 2 is necessarily 4 and not 53. We may learn this through sense experience but we don’t prove it through sense experience. Mathematical propositions are concepts we know a priori or in other words they are concepts that we justify by reason only. You are absolutely right that the use of symbols and the actual “doing” of math did not take place until humans arrived on the seen. It seems to me however, that humans did not invent the concepts but merely began to apply them. I think that I have only restated what you wrote. Did I misunderstand you? Again I really appreciate your comments as I think they contribute as opposed to detract from the discussion. Peace

  13. This blog is a nonphysical object. It merely exists as a collection of ones and zeros in a sea of silicon wafers. And yet it has an “existance”. The blog doesn’t physically exist any more the titles do or the rules of logic.

    The president exists, the office of the president doesn’t. Ideas “exist”, but are only a reflection of reality- the laws of the universe aren’t encoded on atoms for example.

    The laws of logic are merely a description- they have no physical form. Concepts don’t have physical form. This isn’t a violation of naturalism- concepts are simply was of describing things. The things they are describing do exist.

  14. Samuel,

    You said some good stuff, but you still haven’t explained how naturalism can account for the universal, invariant, abstract, laws of logic which are really information. You simply ssay that is just the way it is. Naturalism teaches that the cosmos is matter in motion without an intelligence to guide its processes. How does naturalism account for information without simply asserting that there is no problem because that’s just the way things are? I don’t think an explanation will be forth coming because naturalism can not account for the kind of reality we find in the universe. In fact the term “universe” means unity in diversity. Though naturalism borrows unity from Theism it is by definition only diversity. Diversity or pluralism can not account for abstract entities that admit universal uniformity of particulars.

  15. As you said at the bottom of your response, you stated exactly the point that I made in my response, the logic of math was already there, the characters that humans use to do the math and what that represents to us is purely human. Do remember however that 2+2 can equal 53, it depends totally on the meaning and perception of the 53. If I state earlier that 4 is equal to 53, then the statement holds true without going against any mathematical laws, also if some other culture decided that the number system would be 1,2,3,53, then the statement would also still be true. I still say that math is a human invention, not totally, but in parts. I say this for the reasons I have stated previously and because of our expansion of the mathematical field, expecially in terms of imaginary numbers which rarely follow any of the logic used in what is deemed “normal” math. Actually imaginary numbers do not even follow the logic of “normal” math. If you want to get into some seriously heavy illogical thinking, which I think is funny, because you just end up rethinking what is logical, then look into imaginary numbers.

  16. Nice going Rand! You really got people’s attention with this one.

    Perhaps it would help if you started with a definition of Logic. I don’t think you have ever given one. Before you reach for the dictionary and copy something, remember that you have made some extraordinary claims about the nature of logic. Your definition should encompass the transcendental connection expressed in your statements such as “God is logic.” Also, it might be helpful if you would explain how our experience might be different if God did not exist.

    There is a difference between non-material things such as logical principles, number systems – all types of ideas, and supernatural entities such as God, gods, angels and spirits. The existence of the first class can be intuited through contemplation of the natural world and abstraction from it. Supernatural entities can only be known through special revelation. A naturalistic worldview does not exclude the existence non material abstractions that exist in our minds. Naturalism does deny the existence of non-material minds and personalities that exist in heaven on some other invisible world. You don’t seem to see any difference between these two classes of things.

    The origin of consciousness is a difficult problem. Difficult problem therefore God? Consciousness therefore God? You ask “How does mere matter in motion produce universal abstract entities?” You can start from observations such as: “A single object cannot exist in two places at the same time.” “An object cannot be totally black and totally white (mutually exclusive qualities) at the same time.” “A causal event must precede its effect in time.” Our rules of logic proceed from seeing the external world in three spatial dimensions with time as the single dimension of experience. You say: “Logic is the sort of thing that is not bound by physical limits of space.” This is because there is no space you can imagine that does not extend in three dimensions and you cannot imagine it outside of the dimension of time. Logic is part of the fabric of space and time that is apparent to all minds that are bound by its parameters. Logical choices are apparent to animals as well as to humans. I asked you before: If humans were to encounter intelligent extraterrestrial life, would you expect to be able to communicate with them through a common logical framework or not?

    You say: “The laws of logic, however, fit very nicely into the Christian worldview which admits an intelligent God as the source of all reasonable thought and the Creator of rational beings in His image.” Your attempts to pose God as the solution to problems of human consciousness are really self-referential and narcissistic. You define the problem our human experience and then define God into the solution. It’s nothing but an idealized self-portrait. You may think that you have objectively established the existence of God through your Kalam argument and your “I think, therefore God” arguments, but you have not. Even if you had established the logical necessity of God, that does not establish God’s actual existence beyond the level of an idea.

  17. What is so hard about logic and the laws of logic emerging from randomness? If I remember correctly, at the bottom (really really tiny), everything is random and is measured in probabilities. However, if you have enough of them, the probabilities approach the values and they get more concrete (like fliping a coin- once is random, but a trillion times gets you half heads and half tails).

    So the laws of logic and reality emerge out of that. Similar to how social… “laws” emerge out of large enough numbers of people. Except harder- people are more… mushy.

  18. Samuel,

    The laws of logic (i.e., the laws of thought) are necessary and eternal; they exist in all possible worlds and cannot be otherwise. It must be that a thing cannot both exist and not exist at the same time, in the same respect (the metaphysical formulation of the law of non-contradiction).

    Your account of the laws of logic arising out of randomness has to assume the law of non-contradiction in order for you to make your argument; your account says that there was a time when the law of non-contradiction was not, but in order to say that, you have to assume that the law of non-contradiction held before it existed.

    The laws of logic are not analogous to the laws of societies. Logic and mathematics are a priori; the hard sciences and political science are a posteriori.

    Your coin-tossing example commits the gambler’s fallacy; flipping a coin numerous times will not necessarily produce the same number of occurrences of heads and tails. Each time you flip a coin the probability of getting tails is 1/2. There never comes a time when you are more likely to get heads than you are to get tails, and vice versa.

    Keep in mind that naturalism is not an essential foundation of science, and no scientist is really an unbiased observer. Science is empirical, and we interpret our experiences (and thus, observations) by our basic beliefs about the world. You have given us just one interpretation of quantum physics, and it might not be true. (After all, science is fallible.)

    And this blog is a physical object. We can see it. What we can’t see are the propositions it has recorded. You have to grasp those by reason.

    I’m glad that you are willing to critically examine other people’s beliefs. Now please critically examine your own.

    May God bless you.

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