One of the Nagging Problems with Worldviewism

I should start out by saying that I, just like many of you, came into the Reformed faith during college. I was introduced to the concept and language of “worldview” through a number of sources, but almost all of them had some connection to Dutch neo-Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper, and then Francis Schaeffer. And a lot of this was very good. It helped me to see the ways in which my faith impacted the rest of life, and it helped me see the ways in which religion and core philosophy really matter for every other deeply-held conviction. The language of “worldview” also energized me to study more and ask critical questions about where an idea was coming from and what implications it would have on others. The title of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences says it all.

For most of my young education, and yes I was educated in public schools, I had been content to live in a two-tier universe. My religion was true, somehow, but also the things which contradicted my religion were also true, somehow. One set of ideas worked in church environments. The other set worked in school. In Church Adam and Eve were the first humans, and in school there were millions- now billions- of years of pre-humanoid development with neanderthals and cro-magnons and all sorts of other “cavemen” in the story. The cultural-social events which were neither church nor school were always a riddle. Which truths were true there? The language of worldview was a breath of fresh air in such a context.

But worldview also has a problematic side. Worldview can allow people to generalize, indeed overgeneralize, and then defend themselves by saying that this is the best or only way to think. Everyone’s got a “worldview” (by which they mean a system of thought which interprets all particulars), and so there’s no getting away from it. No particular fact can stand on its own, and so no particular piece of evidence is of value apart from the system or worldview which comes with it. And since we are religious, we already know which worldview is right, and so we really don’t have a burden to follow the evidence, hear the other side fairly, or make a consistent and compelling argument. Whenever a debate arises, we should instead go right to the core antithesis, whether one is a believer or not, and the rest of the issues will invariably fall into place.

This approach is relieving to the troubled conscience precisely because it provides an escape from having to answer questions. Any imaginable challenge or objection can be dealt with by naming the influences and worldview. And this leads to very bad intellectual habits. It also creates a sort of superiority complex, where the people possessing the correct worldview can be confident that they are always going to be right, at least on the stuff that counts. And that means that anyone who disagrees with them is always going to be wrong. In short, “worldview” methodology can be a license to be arational, because arguments are not actually being employed and followed out, and to consider oneself invincible, because it isn’t even possible for them to be wrong.

You also see this with debates about homeschooling versus private schooling versus public schooling. When I was growing up, the assumption was that homeschooling was weird and that it was unlikely that the parents would be competent. But now, in pro-homeschooling circles, I see the other assumption, that homeschooling is necessarily superior. And while there may be compelling reasons to support one form over the other, based on jurisdiction, religious beliefs, and other relevant considerations, it is still not true that one method will, on its own, do a better job at educating, imparting truth, and training children to think. To lay my cards out on the table, I happen to believe that classical Christian day schools are the best option, and so I don’t think that method is irrelevant. But method alone will not determine quality. There are plenty of very bad public schools, but there are also plenty of very good ones. And depending on the subject, the public schools may have better resources and better experts. A lot of Christian educators unfortunately avoid difficult or controversial subjects altogether, whereas the public schools will typically confront them, even if concluding erroneously.

So all of this is a long way of saying that “worldview” is not a substitute for argument. Identifying someone’s worldview is not a rebuttal of their particular claim. You might well be wrong, and the only way to honestly grow in wisdom is to, in the words of Socrates, “Know thyself!” John Calvin even added that you can only progress in the knowledge of God as you progress in the knowledge of self. The two are related. Self-doubt and the experience of being wrong is good for an education, and it is good for your religion.

Now none of this means that there isn’t a “secular humanist worldview.” There is. Or rather, there are secular humanist worldviews. But still, we have to be able to understand them, critique them objectively and reasonably, and offer up a more persuasive alternative. That is how the Christian should critique the culture. And that means all of the hard work of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. That means learning history, literature, science, philosophy, etc., and learning it accurately and rigorously. And that means being able to articulate one’s beliefs not in a purely subjective way- testimonials and evangelism- but also in an objective way, by pointing to incontestable truths and their necessary implications.

Sometimes it is scary to not know if you are right or not. The possibility is frightening. But take heart, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov. 25:2). God wants you to have intellectual challenges. He wants you to work through the doubt. It is the quality of kings. It is the mark of Christian wisdom.

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61 thoughts on “One of the Nagging Problems with Worldviewism

  1. Wow I was thoroughly blessed with this post Steve. While not discounting the existence of circularity with presuppositions of worldviews, I think in many areas how we learn and correct lesser tier truth claims in our web of belief is probably more of a “spiral”

  2. Hey Jon,

    Incontestable truths are true by virtue of their self-evidence and internal coherence and public rationality. They are not simply asserted to be true, but demonstrated as so. Thus, first principles of logic and rationality are incontestable, held “commonly” by all mankind. This concept is actually contrary to the strict worldview/antithesis school of thought.

  3. This is a biographical question: how, personally, did you come to believe in the existence of such truths? This is an historical question: when have you ever seen a natural law argument “work” (i.e., convince someone of something they didn’t already believe)? This is a philosophical question: how do you get from is to ought by reference only to ‘incontestable truths’? If you’ve written on this already, please forgive me for not having read it yet, but a URL would be appreciated. This is a pop culture question: How do you respond to Love and Rockets and their assertion “You cannot go against nature, because if you do go against nature, it’s part of nature too.” This is a sexual question: How does a natural law argument convince a lesbian who loves her partner that this love is counter to nature and thus needs to be reordered for justice to prevail in the situation.

  4. Great stuff. It’s also liberating to realize that every lie thrown at the church by the serpent throughout her history is for the purpose of her growth in wisdom. She now has a better Adam to lead her.

  5. And “know thyself,” it must be remarked, is not original to Socrates, but was carved on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, along with “nothing in excess” and “make a pledge and mischief/ruin (ath) is at hand.” Make of that what you will.

  6. Hey Jon (and others),

    1. Bio- I came to “believe” in them, after they were demonstrated to me. This was actually a pretty long and arduous process, starting with conversations I had with Joel Garver (sometime around 2007). I continued down this trail when I began teaching at a classical school and reading certain books associated with classical ed. Especially persuasive were Peter Kreeft’s The Best Things in Life and C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man. I was further convinced by my studies in the Reformers and their immediate successors. And then finally my friendship with Peter Escalante did me in. He explained the “back story” to the rejection of natural law and further aided my ability to understand the categories and put them in the proper order. While these elements are personal and subjective, the decisive force was the compelling nature of the argument in total.

    2. Historical- Natural law arguments themselves don’t necessarily “convince.” They support the reasonableness of a position, and in important ways, but usually the “convincing” happens through a combination of logos, pathos, and ethos. I have seen arguments from nature “move” thinkers from atheism to deism, or even to a sympathetic disposition towards the Abrahamic religions. I have also seen natural law arguments move people from political libertarianism to a more moderate political/economical outlook. But they don’t ever do the job of evangelism, nor can they.

    3. Philosophical- The category of the final cause. Essentially Hume is a sort of self-reductio in that he proves too much. Many times in life “is”es are “ought”s. As the commercial says, “even kids know that it’s not right to…” See http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-christian-hart-humean-head.html

    4. Cultural- I haven’t seen Love and Rockets, but the quote on its own is deterministic. The answer is to point to the role of the will. Nature does not do any acting. Individuals do. And they do have a certain amount of freedom to choose.

    5. Sexual- By giving them Alastair’s very fine essays! This will probably get back to Q&A 2, but I think you could also make some progress by asking whether or not the old category of “friendship” might not better fit the kind of love that she is receiving. Friendship used to be thought of as the highest love, after all. In my opinion, homosexuality has taken on such a prominent image in our culture today because we have demanded that the highest love always be erotic. If people were free to sort these different kinds of love out, they might come to very different conclusion about which ones need to do which things in their life.

  7. Thanks man. So on the biographical part, I will do my best to give those books you mention a fair reading. I’m glad you mentioned Feser because I tried to make it through his stuff online last week but it was a bit like verbal magic. Simply by analyzing what natures and causes are he gets almost all the way to Christianity. I’m not saying it doesn’t “work” but it also strikes me as exactly the kind of clever language game that highly evolved animals would invent to bring meaning to their mysterious intuitions, all of which are actually traceable to self-preservation. I had similar conversations with Joel and he proved to me that things need to have natures and then a week later I was back to credulity about occasionalism. I think I’m a slow learner or just stubborn. It reminds me of trying to understand why Wyn Kenyon believed he had improved the classical arguments to the point where they “worked.” I just didn’t see it. And Bryan Cross tried to get me to read in the “perennial philosophy” and Mauritain. But back to Feser, I’ll read the one you linked to and hope that it helps me get there. I know it sounds like I’m skeptical that philosophy is a science, but I wouldn’t go that far. I reached a point in my academic career where I had all my applications sent in for philosophy Ph.D. programs and I was taking a course in cooperation with the seminary and a local university from Eleanore Stump to try and get a jump on my coursework. The way argumentation worked in that class – reasoning from sparse definitions and “incontestable principles” to important conclusions really turned me off. I began to doubt the whole project of analytic philosophy and revoked my applications and sent in new ones for historical theology programs instead.

    Love and Rockets was an eighties band. You can see the video for that song here:

    It’s really a very good song even if the message is ridiculous.

    Alastair’s essays didn’t make a dent with my homosexual or atheistic friends. They couldn’t care less if human flourishing is increased by promoting heteronormative marriage. Some values (like particular conceptions of equality) are more important than ensuring flourishing. Just like we raise the speed limit knowing, with actuarial certainty, that more people will die.

    Who is this Peter Escalante? I started hearing of him all of a sudden. Right now, for me, he’s like Melchizedek, King of Salem. I need to know his genealogy and the origin of his priesthood or I’ll keep worrying that he is actually your nom de plume 🙂

    Again, thanks for the help – I’m reading Feser the moment after I hit submit.

  8. OK, have read Feser and remembered that I read Hart too.

    Help me think through this.

    For Feser:

    1. Things have natures
    2. The nature of things direct them to certain ends that constitute the good for that thing
    3. Reason is a thing
    4. We can successfully argue that things have natures apart from revelation
    5. We can successfully argue that natures direct things to ends apart from revelation
    6. We can successfully argue that the ends to which a thing’s nature directs it is the “good” for that thing
    7. The “good” for a thing is the end towards which God would prefer the thing to be directed because God’s nature directs him to the end of affirming the good for all things?
    8. Objectively true moral conclusions can be derived from premises that in no way presuppose any purported divine revelation, any body of scriptural writings, or any particular religious tradition
    9. The good to which something like oxygen is directed is analogous to the good to which humans are directed

    For my atheistic friends:

    1. Simple things have natures (atoms, molecules)
    2. Simple things are not morally significant; iron is not responsible to bond with or not bond with oxygen, even though it tends to love doing this
    3. Complex things are made of simple things
    4. Complex living things are the way they are because of the accidents of history that formed them
    5. The nature of complex living things directs them to successful ends that ensure maximum offspring
    6. The most complex of living creatures, humans, accidentally have empathy as a side effect that insured maximum offspring
    7. Empathy directs most humans toward certain conclusions about what power should or should not be exerted over other humans, sometimes the empathetic animal gets more chicks and this leads to easier access to reproduction
    8. We can conveniently call the deductions from empathy “ethics”
    9. There is no “free will” thus there are no agents. There are sacks of molecules that happen to seek to multiply

    Doesn’t this easily illustrate Hart’s point? Don’t you have to agree that there is a meaningful analogy between the end to which something like oxygen is directed and the end/good to which a human ought to be directed? That is, don’t you need a religious point of view already to treat complex things as meaningfully having “natures?” The sack of flesh that bubbles “cat” and the sack of flesh that bubbles “human” seem to have all the same constituent natural parts. Why even ask the question as to whether these have different ends? Of course they don’t – survival is paramount to both.

    For my atheistic friends, ethics isn’t about figuring out what a thing ought to be directed towards, it’s about figuring out where to restrain a thing from privileging the tendency towards which it is directed (survival) over some other goal like childrearing or peace or freedom.

    Even Feser’s #3. How convenient that reason is a “thing” that can have an “end” to which it is directed. I understand the analogy between reason and a sulfur atom, but it strains credulity. Is and ought. Surely Hume is right. Set aside whether you can deduce one from the other, how do we even make the analogy between moral ought and natural end?

    Maybe reason is the most useful adaptation of all – directing me towards survival and not truth with the added benefit that we survive by the same kinds of actions so we can share argumentation on the basis of our end – survival.

    So, in other words, this reminds me of the ontological argument. Feser wins everything by definition. It’s why “language game” always comes up when people look at analytic philosophy.

    I said some sloppy things here and look forward to getting dinged.

  9. By the way, #7 under Feser’s premises is something I added in there; Feser may have no need of that. I was trying to bring in God somewhere other than in creation – as an agent with an opinion of things.

  10. Jon,

    There’s a lot of stuff to respond to, but for now I think the biggest impact was simply that music video… wow. I’m going to need a minute to take that thing in… 😛

    I’ll try my best to get some replies to these very good questions soon. But it will likely be Monday or later.

  11. I would have a hard time saying anything that would compete with a monkey playing a pan flute, so I understand your awe at Love and Rockets 🙂 Have a wonderful Easter, you Aristotelian you.

  12. Jon,

    Since there’s so much to respond to, I’d like to just stick with some of the issues in your “4:53” reply. We can get into Feser’s specific argument later, but it seems like good sense to spend some time in the prolegomena. That way we’ll know what we are talking about and how folks are using terms.

    So for starters: reason, natural philosophy, and natural law don’t need to “get us to Christianity.” That is not their purpose. As Christians we might want to invoke them as proof of the reasonableness of what we believe, but that’s a different (and later) point. Reason is primarily important so that we can have meaning and mutual understanding. A=A, A is not Not-A, etc. And when I express those statements, you can reasonably understand them. This is the first point at issue, and one which seems to me to be self-evident.

    Now, I suppose you could try to falsify this. You could appeal to the irreducible subjectivity of existence, competing worldviews, or the possibility that we are just a random combination of chemicals which has happened to produce mind-like entities which invent “clever language games… to bring meaning to their mysterious intuitions, all of which are actually traceable to self-preservation.” This perspective really isn’t anything new. It was represented by Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic. But it doesn’t and can’t work. And so what is the proper response?

    Again, let’s remind ourselves of a few things. The existence of reason and self-evident truths does not mean that people will always automatically assent to them. It doesn’t mean that they won’t continue to be irrational. It just means that they cannot reasonably disprove them. They might, by force (or perversion) of will, choose to simply assert something irrational, but they cannot publicly compel or persuade others through any actual force of their argument.

    For instance, you might say “A is too not-A!” and then put your fingers in your ears. You could do that, I suppose. But it wouldn’t be reasonable, nor would it compel an audience. So too, saying that there is no such concept as meaning is not persuasive. In fact, it is self-contradictory and self-refuting. If there is no meaning, then you cannot possibly expect me to understand what you are saying, and I can just as well (and justifiably so) hold to the contrary position. And, on your own terms, you cannot complain about this, for there is no meaning. It’s a hopeless position. If you want to take the Nietzschean track and simply laugh at this moment, you are personally free to do so (but not morally so), but you cannot expect anyone else to be convinced by you, nor can you reasonably complain when others go on to contradict you.

    This is all classical philosophy still. We haven’t moved on to “worldviews” or anything supernatural or scriptural. We are just talking about the building blocks of intelligibility. There has to be something true to all of this in order for argumentation to work. And if argumentation itself doesn’t work, well, again, you are stuck.

    Now this might sound a tad Bahnsen-ish. He actually did employ this style of argument at the end of his “Great Debate” with Gordon Stein. But at precisely this point, he was engaging in traditional, classical apologetics. This is not “evidentialist” because no outside “evidence” is actually invoked or necessary. We are not pointing to items “out there” in the world to then add up and come to a conclusion. We are simply discussing the contours of reason.

    But nor is this really “presuppositionalist,” at least not in the Van Tillian sense. Why not? Because we aren’t actually talking Scripture or uniquely Christian doctrine either. We are talking about the very basic components of human reason, those things which must be common to all persons in order for them to have meaningful and intelligent conversation. Indeed, as Richard Hooker would say, this stuff is all necessary in order to even read the Bible itself!

    And so, implied in all of this is the concept of meaning and meaningfulness. We are already, then, beyond the abilities of a purely random and materialistic philosophy, and so we have established the need for a “mind” and a personal subject.

    At this point, I’m also reminded of two very helpful books- 1) Marilynne Robinson’s Absence of Mind. In fact, you might want to go straight to this one first. She argues that modern philosophy– really anti-philosophy– has given up on the concept of the mind. She shows how mind and “nature” are inseparable concepts, and how altruism really is real, despite its recent topsy-turvy history, and how we have to have some sort of “nature,” something which is bigger than our individual experiences, which then makes sense of those experiences. It’s all a very powerful book, and it is not argued from a purely analytic point of view at all. In fact, as you might guess with Robinson, it is largely literary (C.S. Lewis is the same way, isn’t he?)

    2) Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos. This one is in the news a lot right now, and a big part of his argument is that the concept of teleology is necessary. If you’ve got teleology, then you’ve got natural law.

  13. Secondly,

    As to Alastair’s essay, your homosexual friends may not care for human flourishing. They may choose to prioritize their personal desire to human flourishing. I’m not shocked or surprised. But when they admit to doing this, then they forfeit the claim to being reasonable and moral interlocutors. This doesn’t mean that they are the most evil and wicked people ever. It just means that, by their own admission, they are selfish.

    Now it may appear that “freedom” is in conflict with “virtue.” That’s a common dilemma today. But for classical philosophy, and for monotheism really, no true virtues could ever conflict with each other. Thus true freedom was not the freedom to do whatever you wanted to do, but rather, the freedom to do what was right. This definition was even in play, at least in part, when Jefferson wrote his famous “pursuit of happiness” clause. You are free to “pursue happiness” so long as happiness is identification and unity with the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Again, if one chooses to dispute this, placing their personal appetite higher than virtue, we go back to the conditions for harmony and meaning, etc. Whose case is the most consistent and persuasive?

  14. Thirdly,

    Peter is a friend of mine who lives in California. He’s come to one BH conference, so you can verify with Jim Jordan, Rich Bledsoe, and Jeff Meyers that he is a real person. They’ve all met him. He is also acquainted with Andrew Sandlin. Finally he was in my wedding, and so if you look through my old facebook pictures, you should be able to find him.

    He is something of “an outsider” in that he didn’t go to any of the typical PCA/Evangelical colleges or seminaries, has never attended any of our buddies’ churches, and just generally traveled in different circles. But this can be explained by his background, theology, and location. He never was a theonomist, and so he’s not a post-theonomist. His project, and mine, is definitely unique among current Reformed options. We are theocratic and Christendom minded, but we ground this on natural law and traditional magisterial Protestantism. Because of this grounding, we also believe in true religious liberty and a certain sort of “open” public square. And we don’t want clericalism or ecclesiocracy. It seems weird, because neither our allies nor our critics quite articulate this. But stick with us, and I think you’ll start to see the consistency.

  15. Thanks very much!

    Just a first thing – I was kidding about Peter’s being your nom du plume. I know he’s a real guy 🙂

    As to my friends / Alastair’s essays – do you really think you can come to an answer about what the right speed limit should be on the basis of classical definitions of virtue? Does wisdom really admit of such clean lines? What is there about the nature of cars, roads, signs, humans, and causes that allows you to set the speed limit with any precision?

    As for reason – I’ll stipulate as “universal” all those trivial axioms of logic without any problem for the purposes of this discussion. But even if reason is a properly calibrated table saw, I still think an awful lot depends upon who is feeding the boards into it, which boards they select, and what they believe boards to be.

    I think the main heart of all this is “natures.” If my homosexual and atheist friends were philosophers, I think they would think you are equivocating on the use of the word “nature.” I think they would go along with the idea that iron has a nature based upon the arrangement of its sub-atomic particles and that they have natures down to a certain irreducible point that is beyond my knowledge of modern physics. But to say that something like a “human” has a nature or something like a “cat” has a nature seems to be a different kind of use of the word nature. So if you could speak to the idea that “everything” has a nature, including abstract things like “reason” or “anger” and that we can meaningfully predicate an analogous set of causes for “cat” and “anger” then that would really help my skepticism.

  16. Jon,

    Speed limits are not questions of natural law. So that’s easy enough to settle. In fact, in my article on natural law, I use speed limits as an example of a non-natural law issue that we still ground on natural law principles, all the while allowing variation in specifics.

    Also, I see what you mean now about definitions. There are two definitions which we need to highlight- “nature” and “things.”

    The natural law which under-girds speed limits has nothing whatsoever to do with the nature of cars. It has to do with the nature of people, which is that they are to seek the good. In the case of driving, that takes the form of preserving life. So we make speed limits with the goal of preserving life. There is no positive list somewhere “out there” which tells us the maximum speed limit for life-preservation. We have to use prudence. This involves observation, study, and the general consent of the governed. But it has the boundaries of morality. So while the people might be free to set or not set a speed limit, depending on where they lived, they can never be free to not care for human life or to take responsible action to preserve it.

    Back to nature. This is not a physical concept. In fact, for classical philosophy- which really was just philosophy for most people until the 18th century or so- a nature is an ideal/spiritual concept. Human nature is not the chemical makeup, but rather the “human being” or that which makes us humans as opposed to anything else. Thus natures are very rudimentary, and they refer to those basic things which are not created by humans, but which are already a part of creation. A table doesn’t have a nature really. But the things which it is made from do.

    Nature also implies purpose. Iron’s nature isn’t simply determined by its particles, but also by what it is “for.” That’s teleology. Iron is here for the purpose of being used. The act of putting it to use is actually called art or techne. Figuring out its use is a subset of metaphysics. This is where the great divide comes in between classical philosophy and modern. The moderns deny that “purpose” can be meaningfully demonstrated and defended. At this point we don’t have to get bogged down in proving every purpose for every thing. That job will come, but first we want to demonstrate that it is irrational to deny the notion of purpose (teleology). That’s the typically unspoken premise of moderns and skeptics- they don’t believe in purpose. But, as you can anticipate, if they don’t believe in purpose, then they are themselves purposeless, and they are back to the problem of meaninglessness which we talked about earlier. I don’t deny that some folks will require slow and consistent prodding on this point, but we need to recognize that it is the lynchpin so to speak. Establish this, and the other subsequent issues will be less challenging (or they will at least have less finality about them).

    So it’s all about definitions. Not to simply sound snotty or make an ipse dixit appeal, but I wonder how many people really have read Plato or Aristotle on this point of definitions, nature, and telos. They really do spend valuable time on these topics, and the exercise of meditating on such basic first principles is valuable, even life-changing given our current intellectual environment. Maybe it would be helpful to do a series on this stuff, with more bite-sized installments. That way we don’t have to have such big and complex exchanges all at one time.

  17. Can I add one comment from the cheap seats? In addition to the idea that the subhuman realm appropriately is directed toward human uses, we can also recognize that it has its own intrinsic telos. The natural telos of iron is to behave in all the ways that iron behaves, etc. This is the ultimate explanation for why science can make predictions about what that element will do: i.e., the final cause is what causes nature to be predictable, in a sense. It is the cause of causes, the one that moves the efficient cause to actualize a matter/form substance.

  18. Here’s what it sounds like to me you’re doing – you’re building meaning into existence from the very beginning so that you don’t find yourself later in the problem of deducing the former from the latter. It’s like you’re saying existence is already full to the gills with oughtness. Thus, there is no pure “is” from which one would even need to deduce “ought.” That works by definition. So why should I believe that is-ness is saturated already with ought-ness?

  19. Aristotle would agree: every substance in the world has final cause, which is its tend-ency. In other words, everything is already suffused with in-tent-ion. Human beings are unique in having the capacity to defy what their nature intrinsically tends towards.

  20. That forces me to reiterate my question – what reasons are there to believe that every substance in the world has a final cause?

  21. 1) Because we all feel it. You have to work pretty hard to teach/convince yourself that you don’t have a purpose/end.
    2) It makes rational sense out of existence and of mind, whereas its contrary leads to absurdity and self-contradiction.
    3) God exists, and His existence and Its effects are not dependent upon what individuals think about them. In other words, we are all acted upon, from the outside, by God.
    4) Reality exists and is not determined by popular majority. It too acts upon us from the outside, and we have to respond to it (not vice versa).

  22. I mean, seriously, let’s just think about this-

    Jews, Christians, Muslims, ancient pagans of various sorts, Platonists, Neo-Platonists, Hindus, Taoists, Dudeists– They all affirm that the universe is intelligible and beautiful. A few burned out Europeans in powdered wigs, some new-wave adolescents, and neo-Darwinist exhibitionists deny it.

    Might there be another explanation to this divide that the difficulty of the argument?

  23. The simplest reason to affirm there are final causes is that there’s no other way to make sense of predictability (Aristotle/Aquinas refer to thins that act “always or for the most part” in specific ways) in nature. Why does the moon obey centrifugal and gravitational forces, instead of spinning off into the sun? Because it’s final cause includes the disposition to obey those forces.

  24. 1. I definitely feel like I have an end. Feeling like I have an end is one of the most glorious illusions of evolution because it is yet another impetus to leave more offspring and it makes it less likely that I’ll commit suicide in light of the existential abyss I face.

    2. I’m not sure why believing every substance has an end helps me make sense of mind and rationality. As my ancestors clawed their way through the earth, those who could represent the dangers in the world mentally and take steps to avoid them were more successful at leaving ancestors than those who weren’t. Pretty soon, they were even able to do mathematics and calculate exactly how far to stand from the rock when it falls on the tiger. I don’t really care about truth, the success of my mental faculties is good enough for me.

    3. Woah, God is not in evidence here.

    4. Yep, reality exists. It’s sheer givenness is amazing to me. I’m one of the few animals with a sense of awe – possibly the only species that has attained that yet.

    My atheistic friends think the universe is intelligible and beautiful. But to compare “the purpose of human life” to the moon’s behaving qua object-with-mass just strains credulity. And saying that reason is a thing that has an “end” just like iron has an “end” – I just don’t see it.

  25. 1. I definitely feel like I have an end. Feeling like I have an end is one of the most glorious illusions of evolution because it is yet another impetus to leave more offspring and it makes it less likely that I’ll commit suicide in light of the existential abyss I face.

    Well, you can’t have it both ways. If you really believe that it is only a feeling, then you know it’s a lie. And so it doesn’t get to justifiably give you comfort. Please, whatever you do, don’t read any Cormac McCarthy in this state of mind!

    2. I’m not sure why believing every substance has an end helps me make sense of mind and rationality. As my ancestors clawed their way through the earth, those who could represent the dangers in the world mentally and take steps to avoid them were more successful at leaving ancestors than those who weren’t. Pretty soon, they were even able to do mathematics and calculate exactly how far to stand from the rock when it falls on the tiger. I don’t really care about truth, the success of my mental faculties is good enough for me.

    This is Nagel land, but the short of it is that having an end implies a purpose and, for humans, the ability to think on all that that entails. Having a purpose also entails a Purpose and a Purposer of sorts, and that gives you mind in general, from which your awareness gets you your mind. Also, your last sentence makes this all futile. If you don’t care about truth, then why do you keep asking more questions? It’s self-contradictory to do so. But you DO care about truth, which is why you keep coming back.

    3. Woah, God is not in evidence here.

    Sure He is. In Him we live and move and have our being. God is always in play, even when you don’t want Him to be.

    4. Yep, reality exists. It’s sheer givenness is amazing to me. I’m one of the few animals with a sense of awe – possibly the only species that has attained that yet.

    Well good. This is a start at least. Now you are admitting that there is a real (that’s what “nature” meant in the old writers) and that it has some intelligibility and meaning. Now stick with that and work from it.

    My atheistic friends think the universe is intelligible and beautiful.

    Great, then they are on their way!

    But to compare “the purpose of human life” to the moon’s behaving qua object-with-mass just strains credulity.

    Not if irreducibly complexity is true. It’s just a few more steps of questioning down the line.

    And saying that reason is a thing that has an “end” just like iron has an “end” – I just don’t see it.

    Reason is simply a name for the consistent act of the mind, thinking in straight lines and articulating definitions clearly and consistently.

  26. “But to compare “the purpose of human life” to the moon’s behaving qua object-with-mass just strains credulity. And saying that reason is a thing that has an “end” just like iron has an “end” – I just don’t see it.”

    I feel that some really deep things are being read into the idea of “the purpose of human life” here. It’s perhaps better to avoid the language of purpose or end, and speak of something scientists would be more comfortable with. Perhaps, let’s say, dispositional properties. Water has the disposition to freeze when lowered by its environment to 0 degrees celsius. Aristotle would call this “disposition” a final cause. It’s a characteristic intrinsic to water to behave this way when acted upon in that way.

    Similarly, reason has intrinsic properties, which, when other external objects of various kinds interact with it, are actualized in certain ways. All human faculties, body parts, and properties have dispositions-to-actualize in this sense. It’s not a big mystical thing; it’s just common sense. (And that was Aristotle’s point.)

  27. Or, I should say, that disposition is a form; the final cause is, in the example, the form of ice that water is disposed to take on.

  28. (keep in mind I’m responding here in the character of a materialist atheist)

    “If you really believe that it is only a feeling, then you know it’s a lie. And so it doesn’t get to justifiably give you comfort.”

    It’s weird, but it does give me comfort, whether it’s a lie or not. I enjoy getting to know people, learning stuff I didn’t know before, hearing beautiful music. I’m perfectly charmed by all the things in nature that made me the way I am. Just like like my lungs love oxygen, my brain loves music and symmetry, and it no more calls for an explanation than the enjoyment of a beer buzz calls for explanation. It’s all chemicals, baby. Ethyl alcohol is awesome here, but if I’d evolved on Gleepglop 12, I would be a silicon based life form longing for sand ale.

    “If you don’t care about truth, then why do you keep asking more questions? It’s self-contradictory to do so. But you DO care about truth, which is why you keep coming back.”

    I’m just trying to head off your Plantinga move. I think my reason evolved to give me lots of reliable information about the world, and I’m happy stopping short of calling that “truth” – calling it “success producing” is good enough for me. That’s why your theism is so ridiculous. The average mushroom has shown me more about its nature than this god you keep speaking about. Funny how something that gives your whole life meaning is so obscure and something you say I can’t really justify knowing is so clear – don’t eat the red ones! And so I keep asking questions because I enjoy it. Just like I enjoy scratching my back on a tree.

    All your claims about God are just claims at this point.

    Yes, I admit there is a real world. That’s all there is and all there ever will be.

    “Reason is simply a name for the consistent act of the mind”

    So how does a consistent act have a “nature” that has a particular end? My mind acts consistently, I’ll grant you that, because those red mushrooms seem to kill anyone who tries them, no matter what time of year. So I’ll definitely stay away from those in my quest to leave more offspring.

  29. What’s your point of contact with this atheist guy? That he believes that atoms exist?

  30. To return to an earlier topic, I think most people will see the discussion of what pair bondings to allow in law very similarly to the question of setting the speed limit. Yet one of those you say is more closely associated with “natural law” than the other. It seems to me that whenever wisdom enters into a decision, it is an admission that virtues can be apparently in conflict. And whether or not they are actually in conflict is beside the point; knowing the nature of all the entities and forces involved in a situation adds a degree of complexity to the casuistry. In addition, at times you seem to know the final cause of a thing, and I don’t know how it is that you got there. How do you know the final cause of a human? I could imagine a lot of candidates for that that would present themselves to me were I starting from the place my atheist friends do.

  31. “It’s weird, but it does give me comfort, whether it’s a lie or not. I enjoy getting to know people, learning stuff I didn’t know before, hearing beautiful music. I’m perfectly charmed by all the things in nature that made me the way I am. Just like like my lungs love oxygen, my brain loves music and symmetry, and it no more calls for an explanation than the enjoyment of a beer buzz calls for explanation. It’s all chemicals, baby. Ethyl alcohol is awesome here, but if I’d evolved on Gleepglop 12, I would be a silicon based life form longing for sand ale.”

    I think this needs a two-fold deconstruction. Despite the popularity of this move, I think we are far too quick to “explain” immediate phenomena (moral and aesthetic experience) by virtue of an ontology which reduces to something which really has neither. In my judgment, this method can never really avoid giving “just so” explanations – even if an efficient causal chain is identified. But there is also an existential deconstruction! Sweet. I have no doubt that the above perspective is descriptively true of certain persons – having flirted with such a perspective myself. But the flirtation always reveals something interesting to me. Charles Taylor does a great job in “A Secular Age” of showing how the modern unbelief narrative is suspended in something like an ethic of “bravery.” That is, brave persons who don’t need the childish things of religion and objective morality can stare at the cold dark impersonality of the world and still say “I accept” in all its Nietzschean bravado.

    And yet, let’s be honest. Can we really make sense out of this dramatic cast of unbelief in irreligious terms? We’re innoculated against the depressing aspects of impersonality by making it dramatic, meaning-filled, and personal after all. I mean, Dawkins can’t even sell this without calling it “The Greatest Show on Earth.” And, to make the point even more, I don’t think that this is a purely subjecting thing either. This sense of wonder and amazement is only sustained by really thinking of this meaning and harmony and whatnot as “outside” of ones-self, but ascribing objective mystery to the “eternal recurrence” (or whatever) which I subjectively respond to. And this, of course, suggests that we should consider the epistemic point above. Why reduce the basic square-peg of phenomenological experience into a round-hold theory? Connor Cunningham’s “Darwin’s Pious Idea” is an excellent treatment of this , by the way.

    “I’m just trying to head off your Plantinga move. I think my reason evolved to give me lots of reliable information about the world, and I’m happy stopping short of calling that “truth” – calling it “success producing” is good enough for me. That’s why your theism is so ridiculous. The average mushroom has shown me more about its nature than this god you keep speaking about. Funny how something that gives your whole life meaning is so obscure and something you say I can’t really justify knowing is so clear – don’t eat the red ones! And so I keep asking questions because I enjoy it. Just like I enjoy scratching my back on a tree”

    Are you referring to Platinga’s evolutionary critique of naturalism? If so, I don’t see how this is headed off here, especially in its recent variants. Plantinga’s argument is that evolution cannot guarantee of a link between the “truth-value” of our beliefs and their evolutionary utility. And if this is the case, then evolution has acted as a universal acid to eat through this very argument. Even making the distinction between what is “good enough” versus Steven’s alternative is to make a logical distinction which presumes the universal acid has not, in fact, made its potent move. But of course, this cannot be granted.

    And just to jump in on another point…

    “My atheistic friends think the universe is intelligible and beautiful. But to compare “the purpose of human life” to the moon’s behaving qua object-with-mass just strains credulity. And saying that reason is a thing that has an “end” just like iron has an “end” – I just don’t see it.”

    I think it only strains credulity from a theoretical, but not from a “commonsense” standpoint. The former is a function of our cultural denial of final causality and the correspondent way in which our era tends to pull apart science and the humanities.
    But this connection would not really have been perceived to be credulous in previous eras or in most cultures. And in a “commonsense” way now, I still don’t think it is. The regularity of nature, the intentionality of human consciousness and the “end” for which human mind and will exists seem to be basically related to notions of “nature” and the “characteristic” acts of nature. What does the moon do? What is its end? What do human beings do? What are their ends (procreation, etc)? Gee. The moon seems fairly consistent in respect of its end. Human beings do not. What’s the difference? Human nature includes will, etc. Sure, we’re not used to thinking this way, but I’m pretty sure my six-year-old sees the world much more this way (and I promise I’ve taught him nothing about Aristotle!) than its alternative.

    There is an irony in all this, by the way. It strains credulity to talk “intentionality” in nature (because that’s MIND language!), but materialism tends to kill any meaningful explanation of “intentionality” at the level of “mind.” There’s that damn “universal acid” again! If it’s all just atoms and quarks, what are we talking about when we talk about the phenomena of “intentionality” and “freedom” and “ends,” etc. If mind can’t project itself onto matter, can matter project mind on itself? In the end, it seems to me that either it’s “mind” and “matter” all the way up and down (sans God) or its neither. And this makes sense, right? Mind, intention, etc is just basic phenomena. If our theories eat it up, that’s a reductio ad absurdum, right?

  32. Jon,

    I honestly think you are making the case of the absurdity of your atheist friends’ positions quite well and quit apparent. Essentially you are saying that you don’t know why or how you find meaning in life, but you just do, and that you just like doing whatever it is that you do as you do it. You choose to not follow out any implications of this to a consistent end, but rather take a sort of happy-go-lucky nihilism (and a neo-darwinist mythology) to justify your immediate appetites. But again, the problem with this is that it cannot reasonably and consistently justify itself or why others shouldn’t contradict it. If there is no meaningful rational anchor, then it is all really just preference. Yet the feelings of justice are so deep and so strong that they cry out beyond this.

    Gay marriage is a perfect illustration. It’s pretty clearly a parroting of the heterosexual status quo, a status quo built on common law tradition and the basic social impulses which undergird it. Alastair’s essays make the point well. But we could also let Justin Raimondo, a homosexual libertarian, make the point:

    Marriage is all about children: otherwise, there is no real reason for it, and especially not in the modern world, where internet hook-ups, de facto polygamy, and rampant promiscuity are widely accepted. It is, in short, an economic institution, a financial framework for the bringing up of a new generation. Marriage is an agreement between two adults that they will, together, provide for the needs of their offspring, and, indeed, when the time comes, pass on their accumulated wealth.

    This is not to say that childless marriages aren’t really marriages, or that all the emotional and psychological trappings of traditional marriage–monogamy, commitment, and, yes, love—are irrelevant. I am here talking about the civil institution of marriage, as it has evolved in the English-speaking world, and not the cultural phenomenon that has evolved over many millennia—something not created but rather co-opted by the State.

    As Camille Paglia points out:

    I think [gay marriage] is a flash point for antigay backlash…. That’s the problem: calling it a marriage. If you ask the working class guy on the street, ‘Do you believe in gay marriages?’ it makes him absolutely have a convulsion of revulsion. Marriage was traditionally meant for male and female. It was a bond for the raising of children, so it always had a procreative meaning too, and it has a long sacred tradition behind it. I hate any time that gay causes get mixed up with seeming to profane other people’s sacred tradition. The gay activist leadership has been totally clumsy about that. Rather than treating it in a serious way and saying ‘We respect the tradition of marriage,’ gay activism is associated with throwing balloons of blood at the steps of St. Patrick’s.

    Pagilia is right. Marriage is not a civil institution but a religious-cultural tradition that the State has (so far) been forced to respect and recognize—and it is centered around procreation, which is not an issue most homosexuals have to deal with.

    Which brings us to the central argument against gay marriage, which is that it is based on a heterosexual model of sexual and emotional relationships, one that just doesn’t fit the gay lifestyle. The whole idea of getting gays hitched is derivative of the central error of egalitarianism, the counterintuitive conception of human beings as being “equal” and, therefore, interchangeable—and therefore one-size-fits-all. Egalitarianism isn’t really a political ideology: it’s a religion, one quite capable of withstanding a sustained assault of clear evidence to the contrary.

    http://takimag.com/article/gay_marriage_sucks/print#ixzz2PL4q6xen

    The real issue in all of this is the notion that people– and Americans in particular– “should be equal.” But why should that be the case, unless there is some ethical foundation under that?

    You see, there really is no way to both take away a rational metaphysical base and to also argue for everyone else to respect certain rights.

  33. And so back to “telos” or “purpose.” Why have rights at all if there is no purpose? In fact, let’s just stop and think about the term “rights.”

    Rights for what?

    Think back to our Declaration of Independence, written by a Deist, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Isn’t that just one giant assertion, according to your atheist friends? Shouldn’t they reject the foundation of our nation’s government as absurd and tied up with meanings that run contrary to their own philosophy and view of existence?

    But they won’t do that, and they can’t do it because they know it will undermine the rest of their case as well. They do believe in meaning and purpose, but they resist any implications of this that cramp their style. Additionally they co-opt the virtues of sympathy and equality already supplied by the Christian collateral of our culture and use that against the “mean” and “oppressive” discriminators. But all of those aspersions lose potency if it they aren’t frustrating rational and moral ends.

  34. What your post and Joseph’s have in common is that you’re taking a commonsense viewpoint and then building a metaphysics around it. What my atheistic friends do is take a commonsense viewpoint and live a successful, commonsense life with it. When they reflect, in a second order way, they are trying to explain the genealogy of their intuitions via evolution. Yes, these are just-so stories, but they are simple stories backed up by at least some evidence like bacterial resistance.

    Now, you recognize that it is possible to live this way – the happy go luck nihilism – but you say that “the problem with this is that it cannot reasonably and consistently justify itself or why others shouldn’t contradict it. If there is no meaningful rational anchor, then it is all really just preference. Yet the feelings of justice are so deep and so strong that they cry out beyond this.” And my atheistic friends would agree. Of course, it can’t justify itself. The best we can do is note that people like me, with my deep feelings of justice, exist, therefore this must have allowed my ancestors to be successful and flourish, and humans with a different sense of justice died out. Yeah us.

    You say “there really is no way to both take away a rational metaphysical base and to also argue for everyone else to respect certain rights.” I could simply appeal to success. Dear Fathers and brothers. 75% of us feel that murder is wrong, and there wouldn’t be so many of us murder-dislikers around if it didn’t give us an evolutionary advantage at some point in the past. So what’s say we consider murder “wrong” in order to continue this winning streak. Plus, it would give me a lot of grief if you were to kill my friends, and we all know grief feels bad, so let’s form a truce to reduce grief and go with what our intuitions tells us. After all, we wouldn’t have these intuitions if they weren’t the kinds of things that produced flourishing.

    And that works fine.

    So let’s recap. All this natural law stuff works only when you get an inconsistent atheist to admit that he or she conceptualizes the world in the kind of way only a Christian would, but doesn’t believe in Christianity. Otherwise, there are plenty of atheists who are content to prefer evolutionary just-so stories because at least that way they are keeping things simple. I think it takes a religious conversion to believe in the existence of final causes. Nothing buttery can carry atheists a loooong way.

  35. Well, part of my point (not being included among the Steven and Joseph duo, of course) was going to be that the common sense recognition of teleology demands recognition of the existence of a Creator sustaining the universe in being right now, and directing it towards its particular purposes. No amount of evolutionary just-so stories can get around that.

  36. Personally, I also think one of Feser’s original points bears repeating:

    “Hence, suppose Hume’s stricture against deriving an “ought” from an “is” really were well-founded. It would follow that the purely theological ethics to which Hart seems committed, no less than natural law theory, cannot get off the ground. For statements about what has been divinely revealed, or what God has commanded, would be mere statements of “fact” (as Hume understands facts), statements about what “is” the case. And how (given Hume’s account of practical reason) does that tell us anything about “value,” about what we “ought” to do? The most we can have are the merely hypothetical imperatives Hart rightly (if inconsistently) derides as insufficient for morality. If we happen to care about what God has said, then we’ll do such-and-such. But that tells us nothing about why we ought to care. Hart, like so many other Christian philosophers and theologians eager to accommodate themselves to Hume and other moderns, fails to see that he has drunk, not a tonic that will restore youthfulness to the Faith, but a poison that will kill the modernizer no less than the traditionalist.”

    If the hypothetical atheist is correct to follow Hume, Christianity is destroyed too. It will eat up any particularly Christian, theological (special revelation) ethic as well as any natural law ethic.

  37. Jon,

    Again, your friends are simply declining to do metaphysics at all, which has the unfortunate side-effect of also declining to have any sense of true justice. You even used the expression “different sense of justice.” Under such a paradigm “justice” changes and is not eternal or even universal. It’s just majority vote.

    So again, point out the implications of what they believe. If they simply respond that they “don’t care” and are just being practical, then you respond that they can choose that for themselves (though they will live an impoverished life because of it) but they cannot put that on others, nor can they make universal claims from it (which they always want to do). They are still being led by their appetite, and that’s it.

    As to your statement about this all requiring a religious conversion, I think you really are describing an enlightenment. Plato said as much in his allegory of the cave. Most people prefer not to think.

    But that’s not actually a religious conversion. Enlightenment doesn’t get you saved, nor does it give you the content of special revelation. Believing in a purpose for life (final cause) is hardly three irreducible persons in one self-same essence, without division or parts. And it has historically been pretty universal. Your friends are WEIRD.

  38. Jon,

    I think this overlooks a fundamental issue. A large portion of the metaphysics are always already there. We don’t infer, for instance, that the things in front of my face are “metaphysically real” based upon a first-order perceived mental experience. No, the “reality” of the thing is given with the experience. It is experienced “as” object, as real, etc. QED the moral order, oughtness, etc. That is to say, the default settings are metaphysically charged (not irreducibly pragmatic) settings. And what neo-Darwinism does is actually make us skeptical of “first order” default metaphysical settings. But it cannot do this without eating through the very tools of deconstruction. If these “default settings” (with all the “I really DID see it, mama!” convictions of my two-year-old) either work, or you can’t show that anything works. I’d just argue that oughtness (etc) are of a package with this stuff.
    In any case, it is highly dubious to argue that these “just so” stories are backed up by actual evidence. A genealogy which can only deal with efficient causality (how something came to be) cannot, in principle, deal with the teleological aspects of reality that Andrew is highlighting. And furthermore, I would not argue that they “explain” these phenomenon. They do so by reducing them to something other than they phenomenologically are. As I mentioned earlier, they reduce round-peg phenomenological experience into square-peg explanations. But this is not to explain. This is to simply assert “this is that,” even if you can identify a causal sequence. Again, “Connor Cunningham. Goooooood.”
    In any case, I do think it is important to go back and be honest about our atheist pals. My best friend is one, by the way. =) Two things. 1. I mentioned it earlier, but I’ll say it again. I don’t think we can really get away from the fact that there is a real mythology in all of this – a lived and implied objective moral metaphysic of intellectual bravery and mystery without which this system is unlivable. Even saying the “so what?” just fits into the cosmic drama. And again, this is basically an objective ethic. You have bad taste if you don’t respect their bravery. 2. The appeal to neo-Darwinist explanation, while I find it reductionistic in the extreme, is just an alternative metaphysic – assuming a particular take on reality as true (even apart from my thinking so). You keep insisting that these folks can recognize the “goodness” of a certain path in relation to “fittness,” etc. But this assumes that science has made contact with reality – and this assumes a lot about our senses, cognitive faculties, etc. Now, distinct from the move to skepticism, I don’t think we have to “prove” that all these things work well to use them and enjoy their fruit. But what you cannot do is assert a metaphysical foundation (materialism) which is a defeater for and in direct tension with the likeliness that our faculties function well and are reality-involved. Again, neo-Darwinism is a universal acid, even against neo-Darwinism. Analogously, you don’t need to see the ground to stand on it. But you need ground to stand on nevertheless. And neo-Darwinism is thin air with respect to the “standing” of the human faculties and their ability to reliably infer something like neo-Darwinism.

  39. Andrew – that section you quoted from Feser is not very strong or convincing, but it has that surface appearance of a gotcha. He’s acting as though Hart simply adds God’s word to a universe where you can’t get is from ought. God’s word is yet another “is” from which he can’t derive an “ought.” Hart is saying that in order to figure out oughts we need God’s perspective. He’s saying that you don’t find “oughts” in nature, you just find “is.” The Christian has God’s oughts ringing in his ears, however, because of special revelation. It’s the difference between having an unassembled Ikea bookshelf with and without the instructions. Yes, x fits into y but ought it? Now add in the instructions, you know that while x does fit into y, the designer intended you to insert it into z.

  40. Steven, I don’t think my friends are weird. The fact that most people walking around share your sense that universal justice exists has nothing to do with the fact that they are enlightened. They simply haven’t carried out their beliefs about what the world is to their logical conclusion. Asking the average, informed atheist to become an Aristotelian is a bridge too far. Nothing in their view of the world demands that there be a universal justice. They lose the ability to justify saying anything is properly “wrong,” but they retain the convenience of saying it because they are talking about maximizing survival. They don’t lose the ability to admit a conscience since there are plausible evolutionary reasons why such phenomena might exist. They can point to something like altruism in nature even, as my atheist friend recently pointed to colony animals which have various roles – some to fight and die for the colony. As you say, “point out the implications of what they believe” – but the implication is that they have to live practically and admit a lot of ignorance about the big questions. But they can point to the lack of evidence of any of the parts of my worldview. I mean, I can’t show them a single videotape of a miracle. I can’t show them a single xray of a before and after healing. I can’t show them a single human in the fossil record that predates the dinosaurs.

    Joseph, I think your point about Neo Darwinism’s trying to make us doubt what is right in front of our faces is a promising line of argument. I feel like there is universal justice, but it is part of the “bravery ethic” that you guys have talked about to put such childish things aside. I think there, you’re pointing out a real disconnect between their feeling of universal justice and their ability to justify its existence. Again, I don’t think you can demonstrate that universal justice exists, but I think you can demonstrate that a feeling of universal justice exists and that some worldviews make sense of that feeling and some don’t. But again, you guys are the hardcore “worldview thinking is lazy” guys. I really haven’t seen you argue successfully for universal justice or teleology in nature by simply getting into the oven and thinking about causes.

    As for whether neo-darwinism becomes just another metaphysics, yes, I think it does. Materialism is a metaphysics. And I think what you’re saying about Plantinga’s argument is what I understand it to be as well. But again, Plantinga just demonstrates that if the neo-darwinist is right, he has to expect less than “universal truth” which is fine with him, I’m sure. Do you really think Jerry Fodor read Plantinga and slapped his forehead and said “oh, that proves it, reason is what Plantinga says it is and I can’t have that kind of reason with evolution.” No way.

    This is why I think you guys are too quick to criticize modern philosophy, especially Hume. Hume allows an apologist to point out that “even your own poets” have demonstrated that you have no way to justify belief in induction or getting an ought from an is. If you are willing to give up ethics and science, that’s fine with me, but don’t tell me that Christianity is intellectual suicide. Suppose the guy can refute Hume – then it’s likely he’s a precisianist Aristotelian anyway, and he’s already close to the kingdom, or at least close to the stuff you hope to demonstrate as Christian prolegomena. Do you know of any non-classical refutations of Hume? It’s not really my field, so I can’t be sure there aren’t. If I’m talking to an atheist and he says he can believe in induction by instinct, then there’s no problem in pointing out that I can believe in the existence of universal morality by instinct.

  41. Jon,

    I want to take a step back here for a second. For all the “fun” of philosophical theology and getting into the mud of distinguishing various sorts of teleology (etc), I don’t suffer under the illusion that this sort of analysis will actually persuade people. To be clear, I might think that this stuff is all true and real. I might think that it is justified and warranted. I might think that people ought to believe it – even that they ought to believe it because it stands to reason and observation. But “persuasion” is a tricky business, and subject to all the complex and subjective dimensions that make up a real person who is coping with the world.

    Like I mentioned before, I’ve certainly tasted atheism. I have told many of my friends that it always has been and probably always will be my chief intellectual struggle. And, I’ve kept friends around to keep me honest. My best friend is an atheist and a neo-Darwinist to boot – and might I add – the most brilliant version of both that I’ve ever met. He’s one a pile of atheist pals and interlocutors that certainly keep me on my toes. And yet, since I’ve mentioned illusions already, I’d want to add that I also don’t suffer under the illusion that this is only an intellectual struggle, a battle over alternating propositions which are more or less “correspondent to reality.” Sure, that’s part of it, but the longer I’ve walked this road with Christ, the more clear it is to me that this is a battle that involves my whole person – from propositions to personality to pathology to…something else that starts with “p.”

    So it is not surprising to me that people aren’t persuaded by these claims. I mean, Jerry Fodor (himself and atheist critic of neo-Darwinism) isn’t even persuaded by Elliot Sober’s (one of the coolest atheists) response to Fodor’s criticism of neo-Darwinism! How much less hope do I have that he’ll love Jesus once he sees Aristotle’s teleology?! We are creatures who move through the world (even most of our intellectual life) by evaluating things through our aggregated plausibility structures. And Aristotle’s teleology has fallen so far outside that structure that even a reasonable case is made for him, he doesn’t “feel” right. This is not even to get to the good stuff: resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, divine judgment!

    So when I speak about a bravery ethic, I don’t mean to simply point out an alternative “take” on the world. I mean to point out a personal motivation that is actually “overlooked by” most atheists. That is to say, it determines many of their intellectual moves even when they think they are but trafficking in the realm of ideas and objective propositions. To wit: I’m not (as Steven knows) anything close to an anti-Darwinist, but materialistic neo-Darwinism is, like, totally not obvious. Again, even atheists like Fodor, who have ever reason to buy into it, don’t think it has the explanatory power that it claims for itself. And when you start going beyond just the pure biologists and get to the biochemists, the physicists, and the mathematicians, and the philosophers (woo hoo!), the “vocal minority” gets worse. And here I’m not talking about “intelligent design” or “irreducible complexity.” I’m talking about Darwinists who think that a purely materialist and “efficient causality sequence” explanation of the world just doesn’t hold up. Alright, last try. Connor Cunningham: “Buuuuuy hiiiiis boooook.” Let me know is the hypnosis worked. I’m trying to get a license.

    So where are we? Right. My point in this is that claims can be reasonable without being persuasive – and I think this is precisely what is going in a lot of cases with the clash between neo-Darwinism and traditional Christian philosophical claims. I am more and more persuaded that neo-Darwinism has not really grappled sufficiently with questions concerning the human mind, human reason, our default experiences of the world – all of which are the primal datum of experience and which any “system” must explain. And, I think if we’re playing fair, we’d say that explanatory power should not reduce a thing to something other than it phenomenologically is (mind to matter, ethics to ether, beauty to bosons), but that it should honor the reality with which we are most immediately familiar – the kind that the neo-Darwinist has 99% of the time and that your grandmother can’t imagine otherwise.

    And here, I think Aristotle’s teleology helps. It might help to shove aside a few of our assumptions and just soak it in for a bit and see if it makes its case. And then add your Darwinism back on. Interestingly, if this is the procedure, I find that you get Darwinists who think that Darwin explains this handful of stuff, but not THAT handful of stuff (and in so doing they honor all of reality). Gilson’s book on Aristotle and Darwin is a pleasant read here. As well, I don’t mean to presume that critics of Darwinism-in-general aren’t worthy of any consideration. I’m just saying there are reasonable alternatives to the status-quo (and demonstrably so) even within the Darwinist camp.

    And now I can get back to honesty. Materialist neo-Darwinism is decidedly NOT just a “less than universally accurate” guess about reality. It is an assertion about the way reality is “apart from my thinking so.” It is true. Correspondent to what is. To deny it is to live in fantasy land. Etc. And I’m arguing something more than the inconsistency of this proposition with cognitive reliability. I’m arguing that there is a real tension between this proposition and any reason to think that it is so. Plantinga’s case is more than just an argument against “reliability,” but an argument against a “connection” between beliefs and truth-content at the level of deterministic human intentionality – which reduces to brain processes. That is to say, we’re not just saying that the brain might be 50% accurate, and neo-Darwinism is a great example of us getting it “right.” It is a statement that we cannot, in principle, say that any of our beliefs are held by virtue of their truth-content – but only by virtue of the material composition of our brains determining that we believe neo-Darwinism over its alternatives.

    Finally, a comment about worldview. It depends on what you mean. I don’t think worldview analysis is lazy, as such. I just don’t think that everything reduces back to it. It is useful for deconstructing what makes claims plausible to certain persons and not others, for instance – though I think we need to add in the way in which practices and habits interact with out ideas in this sense. I’m not expanding on it here, so let me just say (in the words of Joe Biden) that this is a BFD. But I also think that, whatever “worldview” is held, there is actually a lot of overlap between people. We might have different “systems” (x-as-related-to-y), but we have lots of overlapping “x-as-x” that provide a common frame of reference for conversations and analysis. Sure, it’s fine to talk about “models” and which one makes “more sense out of” reality. But I think we can also work the other direction. What moves can we make from the ground up, so to speak? And can we identify false moves, inferences which are in tension with ground-level phenomena, etc. And, of course, any conversation like this will be slow and ultimately involve more than just an engagement of mind. It will involve relationships, love, patience – the environment within which reason shines brightest and thought can proceed with the greatest clarity.

    And now, let me take one final step back and try and get to the “big picture.” Jesus is the Logos, the supreme principle of all of reality and the one in whom all things hold together. And He is the pattern of which creation is the finite canvas, in all the whole-picturedness of our largest metaphysic to all the smallest strokes of our smallest observations. And in all my own personal struggles with these matters, I have never been disappointed to be freely and constantly persuaded that a broader and patient look at reality points right back to its Pattern – that surface tensions have deep concord. Christianity is persuasive not as a geometric proof, but as an emergent picture of all our smallest insights and boldest “grasps” at reality. The shape of these things – the outline – reaches for the missing puzzle pieces of God’s special revelation. And, of course, we’ve had this revelation, from the beginning. The testament of natural revelation has always been attended with the testament of special revelation – a mutually affirming revelation of the Pattern of all created structure, free human existence, and historical development.

    And finally (seriously!), let me take many steps forward to lived human reality (the kind my normal-person wife has). As much as I love all this stuff, I’m sure (given my own temptations) that the “glue” that holds me to it is Jesus through His Spirit. But that is an existential perspective on what is a normative question. The reason I “ought” to believe what I do might be different than why I believe it and what finally makes it “take” for me. But this only suggests the very tension of the human experience – a tension with reality itself – a tension between my own lordship and that of Another – a tension which the pagan sages have recognized themselves. Aristotle is quite aware that his views can piss folks off. And this, from the “ground level” of my own experience, makes it all hold together. An intentioned universe, natural law, Jesus, science, are all true. But being persuaded is as much a moral as an intellectual moment – a whole-personed moment. And indeed, it is a process – both ideological and practical – a path along which there is great forgiveness and divine power. The pursuit of being (Augustine style) is a pursuit of our real crisis (sin) and to our real solution (Jesus). Of course, this is given to us in special revelation – which suffices for many. Some of us like long paths. But I’d argue that God has woven the universe to as to get, as Bavinck puts it, a cosmos out of chaos – order by way of freedom – conviction and worship by way of whole-personed persuasion.

  42. Steven, I don’t think my friends are weird.

    WEIRD is an acronym standing for “Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic,” and the term “rich” is based on a world scale. So I’m pretty willing to bet your friends are that. And the point of bringing it up is to show that they are not simply “following the facts” or going with the most compelling reason, but rather declining to do much reasoning in favor of what is most appealing and consistent with their socio-economic and educational background.

    The fact that most people walking around share your sense that universal justice exists has nothing to do with the fact that they are enlightened.

    My reference to being enlightened was from Plato’s cave. The point was not to say that moderns are or are not enlightened, but rather the dramatic change in outlook that you are describing is not necessarily a religious conversion but a philosophical enlightenment.

    They simply haven’t carried out their beliefs about what the world is to their logical conclusion.

    Actually, it is more likely that they haven’t really examined their beliefs deeply, or at least not beyond a certain set level. And it is very unlikely that they have rigorously systematized those beliefs. Most people just operate on a pragmatic and pleasure-conserving basis. But the point of the philosopher (as well as the Evangelist) is to challenge this and spur them on to a more investigative and contemplative life.

    Asking the average, informed atheist to become an Aristotelian is a bridge too far. Nothing in their view of the world demands that there be a universal justice. They lose the ability to justify saying anything is properly “wrong,” but they retain the convenience of saying it because they are talking about maximizing survival. They don’t lose the ability to admit a conscience since there are plausible evolutionary reasons why such phenomena might exist.

    This sounds like you are actually deconstructing their position. As soon as they admit the conscience is purely pragmatic, then it does lose its moral force, and they should, on their own accord, be able to see why this is a problem. And if they individually will not, it is certainly the case that any onlooking audience will.

    They can point to something like altruism in nature even, as my atheist friend recently pointed to colony animals which have various roles – some to fight and die for the colony.

    Yet humans always defy these supposed conventions. We don’t care for our children purely out of survival or extension of the family name. We actually, bizarrely, want them to flourish and be happy for their own sakes, and sometimes that means we discipline them or remove benefits for a time in order to craft their character. It’s all very complex, strange, and human.

    As you say, “point out the implications of what they believe” – but the implication is that they have to live practically and admit a lot of ignorance about the big questions. But they can point to the lack of evidence of any of the parts of my worldview. I mean, I can’t show them a single videotape of a miracle. I can’t show them a single xray of a before and after healing. I can’t show them a single human in the fossil record that predates the dinosaurs.

    But we don’t simply “admit a lot of ignorance about the big questions.” We claim to have a sure knowledge based on the vision of God. And of course, faith isn’t based on “evidences” of the material-scientific sort, but upon experience, rationally-compelling, and persuasion. As Peter Escalante wrote:

    Ultimate commitment is different from faith because, although saving faith is fiducia, it is living trust based on the vision of the absolute reality of God and the absolute certitude of His promise. Faith transcends speculative reason, because its object is at once too big for it and too small: too big, because God in His essence absolutely transcends the powers of our mind, and too small, because the particular object of saving faith is an economic act (the atoning passion and victorious ascension of Jesus), and thus not the kind of logical universal which affords science to the mind of man. But faith is nevertheless science, because its objects are certain; and while we cannot rationally attain knowledge of God in His essence, nor foresee (as if a necessity of Being) the saving economy of God in history, nevertheless belief in these is not irrational, and can be supported and defended as reasonable.

    Justin Martyr and some of the other patristics used to say that philosophy was a preparation for the gospel. It doesn’t itself get you the gospel- Christians have always denied that. But it does leave you asking certain questions and expecting certain kinds of answers. That’s the valuable point here.

    This is why I think you guys are too quick to criticize modern philosophy, especially Hume. Hume allows an apologist to point out that “even your own poets” have demonstrated that you have no way to justify belief in induction or getting an ought from an is. If you are willing to give up ethics and science, that’s fine with me, but don’t tell me that Christianity is intellectual suicide.

    Hume is perfectly fine for that purpose, showing the self-refuting nature of modern philosophy. But the difference between him and when Paul cites a pagan poet is that Paul believes the pagan poet is actually telling the truth. We believe Hume is thoroughly confused and wrong, even if effective as a demolition man within limits. But Paul cited Aratus, not in order to then reject Aratus, but because Aratus was actually telling the truth. This all gets us back to a belief in real reality, objective truth, and interpretable and ascertainable wisdom. If Hume is right, then none of those things really exist. But we believe that those things do exist. Thus we are not going to cheat and climb the Humean ladder only to kick it down once we are the top. We don’t believe it works at all.

    Do you know of any non-classical refutations of Hume?

    James Beatty:

    http://www.classicapologetics.com/b/beatev.pdf
    http://www.classicapologetics.com/b/BeatEv2.pdf

    http://www.classicapologetics.com/b/beattru.pdf

    Also, Thomas Reid.

  43. Thanks for the WEIRD link. I apologize that in my haste, I didn’t notice it was a link. I’ll read Beatty. I read Reid in college, but I remember nothing. Thanks for bearing with me.

  44. One quick think, you say “As soon as they admit the conscience is purely pragmatic, then it does lose its moral force, and they should, on their own accord, be able to see why this is a problem.” Why is it a problem? I literally have a friend right now who expect an answer on that. He doesn’t see the problem. I don’t see the problem in his worldview – in fact, it’s pretty consistent with his worldview. So what should I say to him? For him, if reality is a problem, then oh well, reality has problems.

  45. Jon,

    Because, in that case its truth value is negated. The good is not actually Good. It’s just the path of least resistance. In the event that someone wills to power, you have nothing to say in response. Just, “Oh well, I guess he felt like doing something different.”

    And no human can actually bear this. It’s a delusion. To channel Samuel Johnson, just kick him in the shin and say, “I refute it thus!”

    OR, even more fun, watch I Heart Huckabees with him.

  46. “The Christian has God’s oughts ringing in his ears, however, because of special revelation. It’s the difference between having an unassembled Ikea bookshelf with and without the instructions. Yes, x fits into y but ought it? Now add in the instructions, you know that while x does fit into y, the designer intended you to insert it into z.”

    Jon, The problem is, how do we detect God’s oughts in our ears? Understanding communication is just an instance of perceiving teleology in facts (in the “is”). Communication in sound waves or in ink on paper or in interior psychological experiences just is a kind of fact-with-purpose.

    But teleology is just as evident in nature as it is in mystical experiences or visions, or however it is that God speaks to us “in our ears”. The same logic that led Hume to deny the obvious telos in nature will lead one to deny there is any purpose behind the experience we are calling “God’s ought ringing in our ears”.

    This is the thing many moderns miss, I think. Hume’s logic, if followed consistently, destroys all knowledge of everything. Not just of morals. The trick is to get off the conveyor belt at the beginning, not to try to jump off just before you hit the saw.

  47. Andrew,

    Yes! Teleology goes all the way down.

    For whatever reason, Hume thought he could exempt his own rationality from the ubiquitous skepticism that he saw everywhere else. But if the skepticism goes even down into his own questions and question-asking ability, well, we’re in quite the Jaberwocky.

  48. Just to clarify briefly why I say that teleology is evident in nature:

    (1) Material substances clearly have definite dispositions. E.g., water will freeze when its temperature is lowered to 0 degrees celsius.

    (2) But to be disposed to something is to be “aimed at” becoming a certain way. Water has a natural potency to become actually ice under certain conditions, and that is what explains why it does so under those conditions (rather than, say, turn into Lava or a Unicorn).

    (3) But that as-yet-unactualized ice does not exist in the material world, so it cannot be the efficient cause of the water’s disposition.

    (4) The only way a form that does not exist in the material world can be the cause of its coming to be actual is if it exists as an idea in the mind of an agent.

    (5) So it is clear there is an intelligent agent governing the natural world.

    But if you deny the obvious teleology here, how can you consistently infer a mind is behind whatever words or ideas might be appearing in your mind or to your ears? Why not conclude random synapses are firing, or that there is no cause for these things at all? (Remember, Hume is alleged to have undermined any basis for believing in causality of any kind.)

  49. Sorry to confuse things by adding another Jon here, but I’ll try to help by addressing the former Jon as “Dr Barlow.” Also, for what it’s worth, I mostly studied languages, lit & theology in college, not philosophy, so I’m out of my element here, and full disclosure, natural law has little interest to me, at least now. Sorry. Two things, though:

    1. Dr Barlow, you mentioned that Steven’s & Joseph’s posts were “taking a commonsense viewpoint and then building a metaphysics around it. What my atheistic friends do is take a commonsense viewpoint and live a successful, commonsense life with it.”

    Would you say it’s better for Christians by contrast to take their metaphysical viewpoint & build successful, commonsense lives with/around it?

    2. Steven, I know you know this, but OCD requires I point out that the etymology of “weird” has nothing to do with the clever acronym that co-opted it to mean “Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.” The original word of course is deeply metaphysical – Middle English /werde/, fate, having power to control fate, from Old English /wyrd/, fate – http://thefreedictionary.com/weird.

  50. “Would you say it’s better for Christians by contrast to take their metaphysical viewpoint & build successful, commonsense lives with/around it?” Yes.

  51. “if you deny the obvious teleology here, how can you consistently infer a mind is behind whatever words or ideas might be appearing in your mind or to your ears?” I would never want to deny the ‘obvious teleology.’ What I would deny is the ability for human reason, unaided by revelation, to justify believing in the teleology. Why would I invite someone who can’t justify his own belief in teleology to treat God’s existence like a hypothesis?

  52. “What I would deny is the ability for human reason, unaided by revelation, to justify believing in the teleology. Why would I invite someone who can’t justify his own belief in teleology to treat God’s existence like a hypothesis?”

    If the teleology is obvious, why couldn’t they justify believing in it, though?

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