Monday, March 31, 2008

The Knowledge of God, TAG, Part C


Platonism was the philosophy of Plato, an Athenian who was the student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle. His philosophy is complicated in its detail, and like every worldview that I have described above, I will keep it short.

In Platonism, there are two separate and autonomous ‘realms’ of existence: the realm of matter and the realm of forms. Matter is considered to be a shapeless, changing, time-bound, and ‘unintelligible’ or chaotic surd. The ‘forms’ or ‘Ideas’ were impersonal, eternal, unchanging, timeless, abstract archetypes of all things and the source of all knowledge. The forms take matter and give it shape and substance, and matter “participates” in the forms. Thus, all dogs are ‘formed’ by the form or ‘Idea’ of ‘dog-ness’. All red apples are formed by the forms of both ‘apple-ness’ and ‘red-ness’.

As to man, Plato taught that man’s soul, being quasi-‘divine’, “participated” in that realm of forms but that it was imprisoned in the mortal body. Thus, the goal of man is to be rid of his evil material body so that he can return to his ‘heavenly’ home.

Platonism was and probably still is the closest attempt at building a successful, autonomous and non-theistic worldview. However, there are a great number of problems with Platonism, a number of which Plato’s student, Aristotle, pointed out:

  1. Instantiation: The first and most obvious problem with Platonism is the problem of instantiation. If the forms are impersonal, inactive, abstract things, then how could they cause matter to participate in them? At this point, Plato had to resort to admitted myths, namely a ‘divine’ personal being called the demiurge.

  1. Man’s Intellect is Changing: If man’s intellect learns, then it changes. But if it changes, then by Plato’s own standard, it is unintelligible and knowledge is impossible.

  1. Man Reasons in Temporal Categories: Related to (2) is the fact that man’s intellect has to reason in sequential and temporal categories, not unchanging and immutable ones. Thus, by Plato’s own standard, man’s reasoning process is incapable of reaching true conclusions.

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: If the only ordering powers in the universe are impersonal forms2, then man’s cognitive faculties would have had to come about through an impersonal manner, and thus, the chance that they would be reliable is, at best, inscrutable (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Both Realms Ultimate: If both realms are ultimate, then the forms cannot fully rationalize matter, and so, rationalism would be canceled out by irrationalism. Thus, because there is still some degree of unintelligibility in the sensory world, knowledge of that world is impossible.

  1. A Form of Evil?: In Platonism, the forms are morally good, and matter is morally evil. However, the very concept of ‘evil’ requires its existence as a form in the realm of forms. As Greg Bahnsen noted:

“This is embarrassing for Plato because he conceived of the realm of Ideas (the Ideal realm) as that which is good or of positive value. For evil things to be intelligible, there must be an Idea for them, but that awkwardly suggests that such Ideas are in their nature both evil (as to substance) and good (as to form) simultaneously.”3

  1. As Many Forms as Particulars: If there is a black cat, then that cat participates in the forms of ‘blackness’ and ‘cat-ness’. However, in order for the two forms to ‘form’ the cat together, those forms must both participate in the combined form of ‘black cat-ness’. But the cat isn’t simply black. It also has eyes, ears, teeth, enamel on those teeth, etc., and those things have a certain size, shape, color, etc. Thus, there must be an ultimate form for which all the more general forms participate in such that it describes the cat down to its very detail. So, for every particular in the universe, there must be a specific form just for it. Not only that, but since those particulars change, the particular-specific forms must change as well. However, if there are as many forms as particulars, and the forms must change with the particulars, then the forms are just as transient and thus unknowable as the matter which participates in them. Because of this, knowledge would be impossible.

  1. Infinite Regression of Participation: Again, Greg Bahnsen explains:

“If relationships are intelligible on Plato’s terms, they must be an instance of a general Idea. The relationship between particular things and their Idea is that of “participation,” said Plato. Similarly, each participation must itself participate in an Idea of participation, and that participation must in turn participate in its own Idea of participation, and so on ad infinitum. Thus, as Van Til indicates, on Plato’s own terms a man cannot know any one particular thing without having infinite knowledge.”4

  1. Unity or Diversity in the Realm of Forms?: Do all forms ultimately participate in each other making the realm of forms one giant form, or are all forms separate from each other with their own realms of existence? If they are separate from one another, then there is no way for them to interact with one another. This would mean that all particulars that participate in different forms5 would have their own separate realms of existence with their own ‘truths’. If they are, on the other hand, all ultimately one, then they would simply be, as Van Til put it, a completely colorless mass. It would be a bland Idea that said nothing, an ultimately irrational unity.

Ultimately, Plato had eternal, immutable, abstract thoughts without the necessary eternal, immutable Thinker from which those thoughts can be instantiated perfectly in the contingent universe without confusion. These problems can only be solved by placing the forms as ideas in the mind of the immutable God.6


Aristotle was the student of Plato and an instructor in the Academy at Athens until Plato’s death. Afterwards, he tutored Alexander the Great and later started his own school in Athens, the Lyceum. Aristotle tried to improve upon Plato’s philosophy by locating the universals in the particulars themselves instead of in a mysterious realm of Ideas. Thus, every object is composed of both an intelligible form as well as individual, transient matter. Knowledge of this object comes through the senses which “draw out” its intelligible form through mental abstraction. While this solves many of the problems with instantiation and the transient nature of man’s intellect in Plato’s philosophy, it fails to solve all the other problems and even creates some.

  1. Both Realms Ultimate: Aristotle kept Plato’s idea that universals and matter were both equally ultimate, and as with Platonism, the universals could not make matter fully intelligible. Because of this, all knowledge of contingent things would be impossible (see Argument 5. from “Platonism” above).

  1. As Many Universals as Particulars: Aristotle still had the same problem as Platonism of requiring as many universals as particulars (see Argument 7. from “Platonism” above). As Greg Bahnsen notes:

“If one devised a “complex” universal (e.g., the form or Idea of man weighing two hundred pounds, having a snub nose, etc.) for every particular met in one’s experience, there would be as many universals as particulars and no point to distinguishing between universals and particulars. Moreover, the problem would then arise of how the universal of snub-nosedness relates to the complex universal of Socratesness (and to every other universal that incorporates snubnosedness).”8

  1. Person-Specific Truth: “On Aristotle’s own assumptions, what an individual man knows (i.e., the abstraction, the intelligible species) is a result of the internal activity of his own mind and thus private to himself.”9

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: Aristotle still has the same problem as Platonism when it comes to the creation of man’s cognitive faculties (see Argument 4. from “Platonism” above). Although, in Aristotelianism, there is a ‘god’ called the Prime Mover, this ‘god’ simply puts everything in motion10 and is only aware of his own existence (making him functionally impersonal).

  1. Evolution of Truth: Because man must come into existence through an impersonal process (as noted in 4.) and is still subject to that process, it follows that the way that he apprehends and forms beliefs about ‘truth’ will change as the process changes his mind (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Knowledge of Events Impossible: According to Aristotle, knowledge of things is only of their universals through abstraction, and thus, knowledge of individual particulars as they change through time is impossible. Again, Greg Bahnsen:

“Since eternal and unchangeable things are entirely unlike – indeed, contrary to the character of – brute and contingent facts, they would be destructive of the non-Christian’s conception of history as well. This is the dialectical tension inherent in Aristotle’s version of empirical knowledge. If the historical facts are knowable, they are eternal and unchangeable – and thus not historical at all. But if the facts are brute, contingent, and always changing, they are “historical” (in the sense given to that term in unbelieving worldviews), but unknowable.”11


Post-Modernism is basically unbelieving man’s recognition that true knowledge through autonomous means is indeed impossible. It accepts naturalism, and as a result, it states that all truth is relative because man is the product of his environment. Thus, any view of reality, or “meta-narrative”, which claims to be objective is simply a belief that is culturally conditioned, and so, there is no reason to believe in it. Post-Modernism is commendable in that it recognizes that truth cannot be apprehended through autonomous means. However, instead of surrendering through repentance to the God of Special Revelation who is Himself the Truth, it denies everyone knowledge by jumping into the abyss of epistemic nihilism. Of course, this too, has its problems:

  1. Post-Modernism is Itself a Meta-Narrative: By the post-modernists’ own standard, if all beliefs are socially conditioned, then the belief that all beliefs are socially conditioned is itself socially conditioned, and thus, there is no reason to believe in it! If the post-modernist makes a less sweeping claim that there is no way to know that a meta-narrative is true, then they are still refuting themselves since it amounts to the objective claim that objective knowledge is impossible. This would require them to possess complete, total knowledge of the universe in order to claim that they can’t have any knowledge of the universe! Reductio ad absurdum.

  1. Naturalism as Absolute Truth!: Most Post-Modernists are naturalists, and in order to believe in naturalism, Post-Modernists must accept evolutionary theory (in neo-Darwinian or some other naturalistic form) as objective truth. In fact, they must go beyond evolutionary theory and assume metaphysical naturalism as absolute truth! (See the lesson, “Overcoming the Anti-Metaphysical Bias” which goes into more detail.)

And of course, because most Post-Modernists accept naturalism, usually in the form of materialism, the four arguments against materialism mentioned above follow. These, along with (1) would question how the post-modernist came to ‘know’ naturalism is true in the first place:

  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above.)

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above.)

  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above.)

  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above.)

A Possible Objection: Is TAG a Skeptical-Threat Argument?

The main objection to the Transcendental Argument for God’s existence has been to accuse it of being a “skeptical-threat” argument. A skeptical-threat argument is basically an argument that throws out the possibility of a hypothetical situation in which human knowledge of the actual world (and the self!) would be impossible. An example of this would Rene Descartes’ Cartesian Demon scenario made popular by the movie, “The Matrix”.

However, this objection, or counter-argument, represents a fundamental misunderstanding of TAG. TAG is a transcendental argument which is, in fact, an *anti*-skeptic argument. In other words, the transcendental argument seeks to root out those pre-conditions for which knowledge would be possible and skepticism would not be warranted.

Not only do they have TAG wrong, they have the accusation facing the wrong direction. It is the unbeliever’s worldview that is a skeptical scenario which leads to epistemic nihilism. As shown above, TAG simply points this out.

Basically, this objection seeks to bar anyone from pointing out to the materialist (or any adherent of any worldview with an impersonal beginning to the universe for that matter) that he is committing the self-excepting fallacy. It seeks to allow him to get away with making the naïve assumption that he is a third-person, objective viewer of the universe. So, not only is this not a real objection to TAG, it is an argument against believing in non-theistic worldviews.


Ultimately, to allow for the possibility of man possessing knowledge12, the following conditions must be met:

  1. There must exist one13 personal Being who exists in Himself and created the universe out of nothing.14

  1. This Being must possess complete or analytical knowledge of both Himself as well as the universe.

  1. This Being must have created the universe and continue to uphold it in such a way that it is intelligible.

  1. This Being must have personally created man in such a way that man’s cognitive faculties are attuned to his surrounding environment and geared toward truth.

In short, this is Theism.15 In order to be justified in believing in anything, you must first believe in God. As one scholar put it:

“[I]n an order created by a perfect, omnipotent, and totally self-conscious Being, God, truth is both final, specific, and authoritative. God’s word can then be, and is inevitably, infallible, because there is nothing tentative about God himself. Moreover, truth is ultimately personal, because the source, God, is personal, and truth becomes incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ and is communicated to those who believe in Him. Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as the way, the truth, and the life, is also the Christian principle of continuity. The Christian doctrine, therefore, involved a radical break with the pagan doctrine of the continuity of being and with the doctrine of chaos. It also involved a break with the other aspect of the dialectic, the pagan, rationalistic concept of order. Order is not the work of autonomous and developing gods and men but rather the sovereign decree of the omnipotent God. This faith freed man from the sterile autonomy which made him the helpless prisoner of Fate, of the relentless workings of a blind order.”16

Appendix: The Problem of Universals

The basic problem which gives rise to the arguments from the ‘Evolution of Truth’ and ‘Person-Specific Truth’ against the worldviews mentioned above is the problem of universal truth. If truth is not universal, that is, constant throughout space and time, then it ‘evolves’ with time or is relative to each person. The problem boils down to the fact that if a worldview does not locate absolute, eternal, changeless truths in the mind of the eternal, personal God, then the apprehension of truth becomes impossible. Here are some quotes from well-known atheists and non-theists who acknowledge this17:

“Thus the question “Why science?” leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature, and history are “not moral”? No doubt, those who are truthful in that audacious and ultimate sense that is presupposed by the faith in science thus affirm another world than the world of life, nature, and history; and insofar as they affirm this “other world”—look, must they not by that same token negate its counterpart, this world, our world?—But you will have gathered what I am driving at, namely, that it is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—that even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine.”18

“Whereas the quarrel about universals and ontogeny had its meaning and significance within the context of medieval Christian culture, it is an intellectual scandal that some philosophers of mathematics can still discuss whether whole numbers exist or not…No, there are no preordained, predetermined mathematical ‘truths’ that just lie out or up there. Evolutionary thinking teaches us otherwise.”19

“Recent troubles in the philosophy of mathematics are ultimately a consequence of the banishment of religion from science…Platonism…was tenable with belief in a Divine Mind…The trouble with today’s Platonism is that it gives up God, but wants to keep mathematics a thought in the mind of God…Once mysticism is left behind…Platonism is hard to maintain.”20

“The very idea that the world or the self has an intrinsic nature – one which the physicist or the poet may have glimpsed – is a remnant of the idea that the world is a divine creation, the work of someone who had something in mind, who Himself spoke some language in which He described His own project. Only if we have some such picture in mind, some picture of the universe as either itself a person or as created by a person can we make sense of the idea that the world has an “intrinsic nature.” ”21

For Further Reading/Listening:


1 This worldview is critiqued here not only because it is a worldview in itself but also because some non-Christians, especially atheists, modify their worldviews by adopting Platonism. So, for example, the resulting worldview would be Platonic atheism.

2 Unless, of course, we want to include Plato’s admittedly mythical demiurge.

3 Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.325, ftnt. 129.

4 Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), pp.326-327, ftnt. 133.

5 Which would be, as per (7), all particulars.

6 And of course, in Christianity, matter is not evil.

7 Like Platonism, some non-Christians, especially atheists, modify their worldviews by adopting Aristotelianism. So, for example, the resulting worldview would be Aristotelian atheism.

8 Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.330, ftnt. 143.

9 Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.331, ftnt. 145.

10 Thus, he is not involved in the creation of man.

11 Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1998), p.333, ftnt. 155.

12 i.e., warranted true belief

13 Contra Dualism (see “Dualism” above).

14 That is, the material or spiritual universe cannot be equally eternal and thus ultimate as this Being. There cannot be an equal ultimacy like there is in the worldviews of polytheism, Platonism, Aristotelianism, etc.

15 This, of course, would not eliminate Deism which will be the subject of the next and last lesson, “The Necessity of Special Revelation”.

16 Rushdoony, op. cit., p.143.

17 This is in addition to those cited above in the main lesson.

18 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.

19 Yehuda Rav, ‘Philosophical Problems in the Light of Evolutionary Epistemology’ in Math Worlds, ed. Sal Restivo (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 81, 100.

20 Reuben Hersch, What is Mathematics, Really? (Oxford, U.K.: The University Press, 1997), pp.42, 122, 135.

21 Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, p. 21.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Knowledge of God, TAG, Part B

Dualistic Atheism

Dualistic atheism still says that there are no deities in the universe, but it does allow for the existence of the soul in order to deal with some of the problems with materialism such as the “Illusion of Thoughts and Self” problem. However, because this view still has an impersonal origin of man, all of the problems with Materialism remain:

  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: Because the soul still has its origin in the impersonal cosmos, the most we can expect out of this soul is impersonality, and thus, there is a still a denial of the self-conscious, cognitive ego (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above.)

  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above.)

  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: ‘Truth’ would still be relative to each individual soul since there would be no common, personal origin of these souls but an impersonal one instead (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).

Vitalistic Atheism

Vitalism, or rather neo-Vitalism, is the belief that the material cosmos has an unseen, inherent property, or “life force”, which causes matter to give rise to life. A small minority of scientists within the scientific community of the early twentieth century played around with this belief to deal with the “origin of life” problem. However, it still cannot avoid the problems associated with an impersonal universe as the origin of life and cognitive faculties:

  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: Because the ‘mind’ (which is still nothing more than matter) came from an impersonal cosmos, and thus, could only be as personal as the cosmos that gave rise to it, then it too would still be impersonal (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: Because the universe which gave rise to the cognitive faculties of man was impersonal, and an impersonal force is not concerned with truth (since truth is an abstract idea of a mind), then it follows that the reliability of man’s cognitive faculties is unreliable or inscrutable at best (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: (See Argument 3. from “Materialism” above. Of course, this would apply only if there was some element of non-teleological evolution involved as well.)

  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: ‘Truth’ would still be relative to each individual brain since there would be no common, personal origin of these brains but an impersonal one instead (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).

A Vitalistic Atheism that is also dualistic (i.e., including the soul) would still have all of these problems since, as I showed above, adding a soul but keeping its origin (as well as that of the body and its cognitive faculties) in the impersonal cosmos does nothing to solve these problems. (See the arguments against both “Dualistic Atheism” as well as “Vitalistic Atheism” above.)


Pan-psychism is a form of naturalism that attributes both a mental as well as a material aspect to all things. Even atoms have a degree of consciousness.1 Like Dualistic Atheism, this is an attempt to avoid the “Illusion of Thoughts and Self” argument that plagues materialism. However, because Pan-psychism’s cosmogony has an impersonal origin of the universe, man, and his soul, then it still suffers from the problems with man’s non-teleologically formed material body and mind interacting with the material universe.

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above.)

  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above.)

  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: ‘Truth’ would still be relative to each individual mind since there would be no common2, personal origin of those minds (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).


Polytheism is the belief that there exist many separate finite deities that came into existence in the distant past from the chaotic void or substance.3 To quote one scholar:

“All non-biblical cosmogonies, according to Keil and Delitzsch, ‘are either hylozoistical, deducing the origin of life and living beings from some primeval matter; or pantheistical, regarding the whole world as emanating from a common divine substance; or mythological, tracing both gods and men to a chaos or world-egg. They do not even rise to the notion of a creation, much less to the knowledge of an Almighty God, as the Creator of all things.’ The consequences of this non-biblical perspective are far-reaching. In this concept, being is evolving and in process. Because being is in process, and being is seen as one and undivided, truth itself is tentative, evolving, and without finality. Since being has not yet assumed a final form, since the universe is in process and is continually changing. A new movement or “leap in being” can give man a new truth and render yesterday’s truth a lie.”4

Also inherent in this worldview is the dialectic between the two eternal, impersonal principles of chaos and order causing the events of the cosmos. Thus, history proceeds in an impersonal fashion without end due to these principles of chaos and order ‘balancing’ each other out. Because of this, polytheism suffers from all of the same problems as materialism, only instead of the ground of existence being the material cosmos, it is the impersonal (and irrational!) chaotic void.

  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: If everything, including the soul arose from the chaotic void, its thoughts and even the self-conscious ego would be an illusion. It would be nothing more than the result of the outworking of the two impersonal cosmic principles of order and chaos (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: Although most polytheistic systems say that the gods or some personal agent created man, this only takes the problem one step backward since those very gods were themselves formed from an impersonal, non-teleological process (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: “Because being is in process, and being is seen as one and undivided, truth itself is tentative, evolving, and without finality.”5 (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above.)

  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: Because each soul derives its identity and its relation to the ‘outer’ (i.e. material) world individually from the impersonal, chaotic cosmos, ‘truth’ would be relative to each individual soul (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).


By dualism, I mean a form of polytheism in which there are two equal and opposing deities that fight over the universe. The form of Zoroastrianism under the Sassanid dynasty would be a kind of dualism. Because the two deities share space and interact in the universe, the universe must be more ultimate than they. Thus, either the impersonal universe gives birth to these deities, or there is some aspect of the universe which they cannot control (not to mention the two deities battling for control over it). Under the first scheme, there are all the problems associated with polytheism. As for the second, it would suffer from all the problems associated with metaphysical dualisms such as Platonism (see “Platonism” below).

Monistic Pantheism

Monistic Pantheism, or simply Monism, is the belief that everything is ultimately one and without division, and thus, all divisions are ultimately illusory. This view usually involves reincarnation. Buddhism and Hinduism are examples of this worldview (though they have serious differences).

  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: Because everything is an illusion, then you and your thoughts are also an illusion. Of course, this means that the belief that your thoughts are illusory is also an illusion, and this results in an infinite regress of illusory beliefs. Second, any supposed reason to believe in monistic pantheism is also non-existent since it too would be illusory. Finally, the belief in monistic pantheism would be an illusion as well, and thus, the belief completely defeats itself. Reductio ad absurdum.

  1. Argument from Truth: Since there are no differences, there is no contrast between ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’:

“Panikkar maintains that Indians cannot really accept the principle that might be called the backbone of western philosophical thinking: the principle of contradiction. For Indians, Panikkar insists, things can indeed ‘be’ and ‘not be’ at the same time. …This seems to be close to the Taoist idea of yang and yin, where all things participate in the reality of their opposites: light and darkness, male and female, good and evil, flesh and spirit, and so forth.”6

“There are those who argue that these Eastern patterns of thought are inviolable and Christianity must adapt to them completely. Jung Young Lee has argued that in Asia we must get out of the habit of thinking in terms of either/or; we must be able to think of both/and. Change, he believes, may be the key to the universe, and ambiguity and differences merely the reflection of aspects of reality. In traditional Chinese thought, yin and yang are believed to be complimentary modes of being….He seeks to apply this to his view of God.”7

“Zen is one thing and logic another. When we fail to make this distinction and expect Zen to give us something logically consistent and intellectually illuminating, we altogether misinterpret the signification of Zen.”8

If there is no difference between ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’, then everything and its opposite would be both ‘true’ and ‘false’ in the same sense at the same time. To make it even more absurd, this belief destroys itself: if everything is both ‘true’ and ‘false’ in the same sense at the same time, then that very belief would be false at the same time as being true! Thus, there is no reason to believe in this view (as opposed to not believing in it) since every reason to believe in it also presents us with a reason not to believe in it in the same sense and at the same time. Thus, knowledge (including the belief that monistic pantheism is true) would be impossible. Reductio ad absurdum.

  1. Argument Against Reincarnation: If everything is ultimately one and thus, an illusion, then man is also an illusion. That means that all of his experiences and actions of good and evil are illusions as well making the possibility (not to mention the very idea!) of reincarnation impossible. Furthermore, if all is one, then everything and its opposite are the same as well. This means that good and evil are simply two sides of one coin. Ravi Zacharias explains a story from the Bhagavad-Gita:

“There is a classic passage in the Bhagavad-Gita in which Krishna counsels young Arjuna, who is on the battlefield, facing the possibility of killing his own half-brothers. He struggles and cannot bring himself to do this. Krishna, who comes as his chariot-driver, talks to him about his duty. This was his duty, to fulfill his caste’s responsibility as a warrior. This is the way life moves on. But he told Arjuna not to fear to do his duty, for all good and evil are fused in the one ultimate reality, Brahman. In Brahman, says Krishna, the distinction breaks down. That which appears evil is only the lesser reality. In the end, all life, all good, all evil, flow from God and back to Him or it.”9

Thus, reincarnation is made impossible since there can be no ascending the scale of being for doing right or descending for doing wrong since all actions, whether good or evil, are both good and evil at the same time and in the same way. Reductio ad absurdum.

Dualistic Pantheism

This ontology posits the existence of both matter, spirit, and an impersonal power that controls the history of the material and spiritual universe. This would be your “Star Wars” type world (though I don’t know how many real religions like this are out there). In this worldview, like the chaos/order dialectic of paganism, the impersonal power would cause the events of history to fatalistically go back and forth between chaos and order, good and evil.10 Thus, this worldview would have all the same problems as materialism except that the hard determinism would come about through the impersonal force rather than through matter and physical laws.

  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: Because of this fatalism, man and his thoughts, being a part of the universe controlled by this impersonal force, would simply be a puppet to the swinging pendulum of history controlled by the impersonal power. Man would simply think and believe whatever the impersonal power needed him to believe in order to bring the cosmos back into “balance”. Man, as a personal ego, would technically not exist since he is simply the outworking of the impersonal force (see Argument 1. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: Like materialism, man and his cognitive faculties would come into existence as the result of an impersonal process moved along by this impersonal power (see Argument 2. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: Because man would come about via some form of evolution, ‘truth’ would ‘evolve’ (see Argument 3. from “Materialism” above).

  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth: Corollary to (1) is the logical conclusion that ‘truth’ would be relative to each individual (see Argument 4. from “Materialism” above).


This is the worldview in which the material universe is God’s ‘body’. This could take a number of forms. The first is one in which ‘God’ is not a personal being and would be the same as the “Dualistic Pantheism” mentioned above. But the most popular form of panentheism would be the view that ‘God’ is a personal but changing being that evolves along with the rest of the material cosmos (since it is his ‘body’). Thus, his cognitive faculties would be unreliable, and what he believes to be ‘truth’ would evolve with him. Likewise, it is usually held by those of this view that this ‘God’ had nothing to do with the emergence of man, and so, man came about as the result of a non-teleological process of evolution.11 This view would have the same problems as “Dualistic Atheism’s” enumerated above.

Another (unpopular) form taken would be to give priority to this ‘God’s’ spiritual nature over his material one. This would allow this ‘God’ to be an unchanging being that could make man with properly functioning cognitive faculties. However, that view would simply be a form of theism and somewhat similar in terms of the affect on epistemology (but still vastly different in many other important ways) to Christian theism’s doctrine of God’s omnipresence.

In summary, if this God is impersonal or personal but evolves or learns of himself12, or if he had nothing to do with the emergence of man, then man is doomed to epistemic nihilism for the above mentioned reasons. The opposite of that view would simply be a form of theism.


1 There are typically two views of pan-psychism. The first says that each entity down to the very particle has its own consciousness. The second says that the entire material universe possesses a collective consciousness like an organism. I will be dealing with the first view under this heading. The second view can range from Dualistic Pantheism to Panentheism, and thus, it would be susceptible to any of the arguments I list under those headings below.

2 Since each thing down to the very atom has its own consciousness which is limited in scope, knowledge of the universe would be specific to the individual composed of those individual atoms. If, however, one argues that the material world has a collective consciousness, then this view would reduce to something akin to panentheism (see below).

3 I am not dealing, here, with another polytheistic view like that of Tolkien’s Middle Earth which says that the gods were created by an eternal, self-existing Deity. This would actually be a form of Theism. In fact, there is a slight similarity in Scripture to this since God did create other ‘mighty beings’, namely the angels.

4 Rousas John Rushdoony, The One and the Many (Thoburn Press: Fairfax, VA., 1978), p.143.

5 ibid.

6 Stephen B. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1992), p.5.

7 William A. Dyrness, Learning about Theology form the Third World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp.140-141.

8 D.T. Suzuki

9 Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message (Nashville: W Publishing, 2000), p.119.

10 This would not be the same as Divine Providence since, in the Christian doctrine, God causes all things to come to pass through both secondary as well as primary means. Thus, while both of these views are deterministic, the Christian Providential view would be a form of compatibilism which allows for free, human actions but the pantheistic view cannot avoid being a form of hard determinism.

11 One could hold to a view in which this ‘God’ created man, but it would still suffer from arguments 2 and 3 since, like polytheism, it would place the problem one step backward to the ‘God’ who is himself evolving.

12 That is, if this ‘God’ either does not have complete knowledge of himself or the material universe (which, in this case, would also be part of him), then it follows that there could be some remnant of unknown potentiality, whether in his own spiritual being or the material universe, which would affect his ability to know and create humans with properly functioning cognitive faculties attuned to man’s environment.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Knowledge of God, TAG, Part A

The Knowledge of God

The Transcendental Argument for God, Part I

God’s Existence

“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ” (Psalm 14:1)

“Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”


Having discussed the attributes of God and the nature of man, we are now finally ready to discuss God’s existence. From our study of Romans 1 and Acts 17, we have already seen that man has an *intimate* knowledge that God exists but suppresses that truth in unrighteousness. We have also seen that because of this suppression, man has invented worldviews that specifically deny God, and he interprets the world around him according to these beliefs. Thus, any evidence for God’s existence will simply be re-interpreted through the lens of the unbelieving worldview, and the premises of the old philosophical arguments for God’s existence will simply be denied on account of his worldview presuppositions. However, because these false beliefs deny the most obvious and necessary reality, the God who exists in Himself, these worldviews will reduce to absurdity, namely epistemic absurdity.

Thus, the claim of this argument is that if God does not exist, then knowledge, being defined as warranted1 true belief, is impossible.2 Or more simply, knowledge is possible if and only if God exists.3 Therefore, the unbeliever has no logical reason to believe in his worldview or attack Christianity, or as Van Til4 himself put it, “If you cannot believe in God, then you cannot logically5 believe in anything else.”6 This is a wonderful argument for God’s existence, not just because of its simplicity or that it leaves the unbeliever without a foundation, but also because it shows him that he is suppressing the obvious truth in unrighteousness, pointing him toward repentance.

What shall follow will be several sub-arguments showing how atheistic materialism reduces to total skepticism.7 After this, I will show how several of these arguments (and others) can be applied to all other non-Christian worldviews. The necessity of special revelation will await the next lesson. [I will note, before I begin, that I have had no formal philosophical training, and so my arguments may not use the proper philosophical language. I will also accept correction if any of my descriptions of these worldviews is incorrect.]

The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence, Part I, God’s Existence


Materialism, very simply, is the belief that all that exists is matter. It may also be called Physicalism (although this sometimes has a more precise technical meaning). Corollary to this is the belief that all living things, including man, emerged and evolved from non-living chemicals and non-teleologically8 at that. Therefore, several arguments can be put forth that show that Materialism destroys the possibility of knowledge:

  1. Argument from the Illusion of Thoughts and Self: If all that exists is matter in motion without guidance or truth in mind, then you and all of your thought processes are materially caused in a non-teleological fashion. But if all of your thought processes are materially caused9, then so is the thought that your thoughts are materially caused!10 This means that your thoughts are illusory. However, that means that the thought that your thoughts are illusory is also illusory. This would also mean that the thought about your thought that your thoughts are illusory would itself also be illusory, and on and on it goes.

If man is nothing more than the impersonal product of an impersonal universe, then he and his thoughts are nothing more than a cog in the machine of the cosmos without warranted true belief. Corollary to this would also be the fact that the self, the cognitive-ego, is itself also illusory, and thus, knowledge is completely impossible since knowing requires a knower. Reductio ad absurdum.

Several materialists have recognized11 this:

“If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true…and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”12

“The Astonishing Hypothesis is that ‘You’, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells, and their associated molecules.”13

“Objectivity nevertheless obliges us to recognize the teleonomic character of living organisms, to admit that in their structure and performance they decide on and pursue a purpose. Here, therefore, at least in appearance, lies a profound epistemological contradiction.”14

Why is thought being a secretion of brain, more wonderful than gravity a property of matter? It is our arrogance, it is our admiration of ourselves.”15

  1. Argument from the Reliability of Cognitive Faculties: If the materialism’s corollary account of man’s genesis, namely non-teleological evolution, is true, then man’s cognitive and sensory functions came about as the result of the stochastic process of random mutation and natural selection of phenotypic16 fitness.17 However, if this is the case, then those cognitive faculties are not geared toward truth but only toward survival-value (i.e. fitness) which does not *of necessity* have to be synonymous with truth-value.18 In fact, given the absolute non-teleological nature of impersonal evolution, it likely does not, or the degree to which it does is, at best, completely inscrutable. Thus, since the degree to which our cognitive faculties present our mind with truth is totally inscrutable, it follows that knowledge19 is impossible. Because this is the case, any method or argument a materialist uses to argue for his worldview would be totally self-defeating since he has to utilize his cognitive faculties in order to use these methods and arguments. Reductio ad absurdum.

To quote a few materialists who acknowledge this:

“If we are ever to understand the dynamics of cognitive activity, therefore, we may have to reconceive our basic unit of cognition as something other than the sentence or proposition, and reconceive its virtue as something other than truth. … The notion of truth, after all, is but the central element in a clutch of descriptive and normative theories (folk psychology, folk epistemology, folk semantics, classical logic), and we can expect conceptual progress here as elsewhere.”20

“Boiled down to essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in…feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing. The principle chore of nervous systems is to get the body parts where they should be in order that the organism may survive. Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chance of survival. Truth, whatever it is, takes the hindmost.”21

  1. Argument from ‘Evolving’ Truth: If non-teleological evolution of man is the case, then it follows that man’s consciousness evolved. If his consciousness evolved, then that means that his ability to apprehend and discern truth also evolved. The logical conclusion of this is that truth ‘evolves’, or rather, a full apprehension of the truth lies in an unreachable abyss which man is slowly getting closer to (but will never fully reach) with every positive mutation selection. Further, though man is getting closer to a truer apprehension of the truth, we don’t know how close he actually is. Man could still be 4 billion generations (and dozens of new species developments) away from our minds truly being able to do ‘correct’ thinking.

If one argues that we already do correct thinking with our logical syllogisms, then this begs the question: how do you know that *that* is the correct way of apprehending truth (given the presupposition of naturalism, of course). Our chimp-like ancestors probably thought that their mode of thinking was the proper way too, and the same goes for our ancestors mid-way between the chimp-like and us. What if there is some much-more evolved way of thinking, a super-syllogistic logic that a species far more evolved than us will use? To quote Charles Darwin himself:

“Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”22

Actually, given that non-teleological evolution is *non-teleological*, then it follows that our apprehension of truth does not become greater as we evolve since non-teleological evolution is geared toward survival value, which is not necessarily the same as truth value. This means that as evolution occurs the direction toward a correct apprehension of the truth could be forward, backward, static, or oscillating. In short, the direction is inscrutable. To quote the atheist, Bertrand Russell:

“Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoon to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoon, who gives us this assurance.”23

Therefore, because truth lies in an abyss, the apprehension of truth is impossible or at least unknowable as to its accuracy. Since that would be the case, knowledge is impossible. Reductio ad absurdum.

  1. Argument from ‘Person-Specific’ Truth24: As pointed out in (2) and (3), because men’s brains are simply matter and chemical reactions and came about through the non-teleological, stochastic process of Darwinian evolution, it follows that men’s minds are geared toward survival value and not necessarily truth value. Also, since all men’s brains are different because of differing DNA, it likewise follows that what one brain says is truth will differ from what another brain says is truth. To quote Richard Dawkins:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.25

But on this basis, how can you differentiate between brilliance and idiocy? How can one know truth from falsehood? Logic from illogic? Since one’s valid syllogism and another’s invalid syllogism both came about as the result of a chemical reaction in their respective brains, then they are both just as valid or invalid. How can one chemical reaction be deemed more syllogistically valid than another?26 There would be many equal truths, and ‘truth’ would be just as true as ‘falsehood’. Every man would be his own little universe. Because of this, warranted true belief would be impossible. Reductio ad absurdum.

To quote Democritus, the founder of Atomism, an ancient form of materialism:

“We know nothing in reality; for truth lies in an abyss…atoms and Void (alone) exist in reality…We know nothing accurately in reality, but (only) as it changes according to the bodily condition, and the constitution of those things that flow upon (the body) and impinge upon it…Man is a universe in little (Microcosm).”27


1 i.e. Held on adequate grounds rather than fallacious or haphazardly ones.

2 And, of course, the converse, if God exists, then knowledge is possible, is obviously part of the Christian claim, here.

3 It should be noted that a Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence using morality is also possible but does not have as much force as the epistemic approach.

4 The original Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence created by Cornelius Van Til and repeated by many of his followers, namely that God *must* exist, simply does not follow from the argument. Just because *epistemology* requires God’s existence does not mean that God exists. In other words, just because you have defeated all opposing worldviews’ epistemologies does not mean that you have defeated their ontologies. In all possible worlds, it could be the case that knowledge is truly impossible.

5 I take “logically”, here, to mean ‘with epistemic warrant’. That is, the unbeliever has no reason to believe in his non-theistic worldview since reason itself presupposes God’s existence.

6 The funny thing is that many unbelievers have acknowledged this (as we will see) but excepted themselves from their conclusion in order to create or defend their anti-Christian worldview. They do this by naively (and unknowingly) assuming that they are a third-person, objective viewer of the universe around them. In reality, they are very much a part of the cosmos that impinges upon them, and if their worldviews are true, then it follows that they would have no reason to believe their worldviews to be true since knowledge presupposes the existence of the God of Scripture.

7 I should note, here, that the charge that TAG is a skeptical-threat argument, similar to a ‘Cartesian Demon’ argument, is completely unfounded since it is an anti-skeptical-threat argument! In fact, it is the unbeliever’s worldview that is like Descartes’ ‘Cartesian Demon’ scenario, and thus, the objector has misidentified the skeptic. See my discussion under “Possible Objections”.

8 i.e. Without purpose or design.

9 And again, without teleology. This is to be understood every time I use ‘materially caused’ from now on.

10 The attempt to use the supposed randomness of electrons in quantum physics as a source of free-will is of no help to the naturalist. First, it isn’t certain that the electrons are truly random. That is a metaphysical assumption made by certain physicists due to lack of knowledge. In other words, it is a “randomness-of-the-gaps”. More importantly, random electrons will only yield total randomness, not a free-will. Instead of there existing a fixed hard determinism of action starting at the beginning of the universe (as in Newtonian mechanics), there would simply exist a *random* hard determinism of action occurring second by second. So, there is still a hard determinism of simple matter that lacks a self-conscious ego whether the naturalist chooses the quantum physics option or not.

11 Of course, they committed the self-excepting fallacy in order to come to this conclusion which, if true, would defeat the very reasoning processes they used to come to it.

12 J.B.S. Haldane, Possible Worlds (1927; reprint, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2001).

13 Sir Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis (New York: Touchstone, 1994), p.3.

14 Jaques Monod, Chance and Necessity (London: Collins, 1972), p.31.

15 Charles Darwin as cited in Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836-1844: Geology, Transmutation of Species, Metaphysical Enquiries, transcribed and ed. By Paul H. Barrett, Peter J. Gautrey, Sandra Herbert, et. al. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), p.291.

16 i.e. Body-plan. A genotype would be the genetic code that would yield the body-plan.

17 i.e. The ability for an organism to survive and reproduce.

18 While truth-value would most certainly provide survival-value, the converse is not necessarily true. It could be the case that your faculties would present your mind with falsehood in order for you to react in such a way as to remove yourself from danger.

19 Again, knowledge is being defined as warranted true belief.

20 Paul M. Churchland, “On the Ontological Status of Observables,” chap. 8 in A Neuro-computational Perspective: The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT/Bradford, 1990), pp.150-151.

21 Patricia S. Churchland, “Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience,” Journal of Philosophy 84, (October 1987): 548.

22 Charles Darwin as cited in Francis Darwin, ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (New York: Basic Books), 1959, I, 285.

23 Bertrand Russell, On the Scientific Method in Philosophy, ch. 6 (1917).

24 While the last argument related to men as a whole but over time, this argument relates to each individual man at any time.

25 Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (London: Phoenix, 1995), p.133 (emphasis added)

26 i.e. That would be a category error.

27 Democritus, Fragments 117, 9, and 34.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Knowledge of God, A Refutation of Scientific Realism

The Knowledge of God

A Refutation of Scientific Realism


In modern times, the great hope for many unbelievers to gain knowledge of the universe and the meaning of life has been and still is, for many, the epistemology of a philosophy of science called “Scientific Realism”. Scientific Realism basically states that the results of scientific theories should be regarded as accurate descriptions of the ‘true’ world. It is usually said that scientists are objective and neutral when looking at the facts while theologians are dogmatic and cannot accept the truth. There are a number of problems with this1:


Psychological Factors

  1. Group-Think: The history of science has shown that scientists almost always believe in whatever the current scientific fad is. This is what Thomas Kuhn called a scientific ‘paradigm’. Anyone who does not conform to the current paradigm is usually dismissed and ignored.

  1. Political Motives: Sometimes scientists with certain political persuasions will skew the data of a study to influence society and especially politicians toward implementing their political philosophies into law. For example, it is becoming more and more transparent that the science behind the anthropogenic global warming movement is fueled by a desire for global socialism and the destruction of Western-Capitalistic dominance. See this documentary here, here, here, here, and here,2 and also this lecture here, here, here, and here.3

  1. Metaphysical Motives: Often times, atheists will go into the sciences simply because the study of the material universe is the epistemology of their metaphysical belief. Thus, it is no wonder that the scientific community, especially biologists, is so inimical to creationism. They have metaphysical motives for rejecting it prior to seeing the facts. Take these quotes, for instance:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to the understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science – in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a concept and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door…To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.”4

“I am talking about…the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that…My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.”5

For an example of this in the formation of Darwin’s Theory, see here.6 Also, a book that discusses this topic is Cornelius Hunter’s Darwin’s God.

  1. Sub-Conscious: Much of the time, when scientists are examining the data, the formation of a theory will be at least partially influenced by their particular background. This could relate to b. or c., but in this instance, the guidance of the theory-formation is in the sub-conscious.

Educational Factors

  1. Lack of Logical Training: Scientists often lack a good training in the basics of logic. Theoretical physicists and biologists are among the worst in engaging in circular reasoning, false dichotomies, and over-extended conclusions. This comes out especially when they are critiquing other theories or arguing that theirs must be right.

  1. Straw-Men of Alternative Ideas: Scientists, especially when attempting a critique of Creationism, usually misrepresent opposing views, sometimes due to ignorance but sometimes with the desire to propagandize.

Procedural Factors

  1. Theory Laden: Starting with an a priori assumption of the reigning theory, scientists will often interpret data through the lens of the current theory and then claim that the same data is proof of that theory! The thought of circular reasoning never comes to their mind.

  1. Forcing Data to Fit the Theory: From time to time, scientists will force the data to fit the current scientific theory. A great example of this can be seen in the compromise on the date of the human/ape slit between paleontologists who used geologic dating methods and molecular biologists who used the “molecular clock” method. It never occurred to these scientists that if the methods they used to date this event in time differed so greatly, then either one or both of the methods that they used or even the entire assumption of evolutionary theory might be wrong. Another glaring example can be found here.7

  1. Ignoring Certain Facts: When a certain scientific paradigm holds sway, the reigning theory will be assumed a priori, and all data that is contrary to it will be ignored as ‘extreme data points’ or something of the like.

  1. Contrary Evidence as ‘Problems’ to Be Solved: Sometimes when ‘extreme data points’ are recognized as being contrary to the stated theory, scientists will often view the contrary data as ‘problems to be solved’ but still within that same theory/paradigm, or they will tweak the theory enough to accommodate the data. This is sometimes done by creating hypothetical entities that cannot be proven to exist. It will never occur to them (until a paradigm-shift in the entire community occurs) that the existing theory is, in fact, wrong. See here for example.8

  1. Suppression of Alternative Ideas: Scientific theories that don’t conform to the current scientific paradigm or are contrary to many scientists’ worldview are usually either ignored or suppressed. It will usually be argued that a scientific theory should be ignored because it hasn’t been published in any reputable scientific journals, and at the same time, it will be argued that the scientific theory shouldn’t be published in a reputable scientific journal because the majority of the scientific community doesn’t believe in it! The vicious circularity is obvious.

The Barriers of Scientific Theorizing

  1. The History of Scientific Theories and the Root of the Problem: The idea that science is an objective accumulation of truth is simply false. Instead, science goes through cycles just like philosophical speculation. A theory that becomes popular does so usually because it can answer recent problems and new data that the previous theory could not. That theory holds sway and is (naively) regarded as “fact” until new data is discovered which presents problems for the reigning theory. That new data is sometimes discarded as “outliers” or “anomalies”, it is forced to fit the theory, or the theory is tweaked just enough to accommodate the data. Eventually, when the amount of data builds up to such a degree that the current theory has too hard of a time explaining it or a new theory explains it better, a ‘paradigm-shift’ occurs in the scientific community in which the old theory (which was considered “fact”) is discarded for a new and sometimes extremely different theory. Once the majority of the scientific community believes in it, this new theory is also considered to be the new “fact”. Then, the cycle begins again. There are numerous examples of this:

  • Geosynclinal Theory: As William Dembski explains:

“In the nineteenth century the geosynclinal theory was proposed to account for the origination of mountain ranges. The theory hypothesized that large trough-like depressions, known as geosynclines, filled with sediment, gradually became unstable, and then, when crushed and heated by the earth, elevated to form mountain ranges. To the question “How did mountain ranges originate?” geologists as late as 1960 confidently asserted that the geosynclinal theory provided the answer. In the 1960 edition of Clark and Stearn’s Geological Evolution of North America, the status of the geosynclinal theory was favorably compared with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Whatever became of the geosynclinal theory? An alternative theory, that of plate tectonics, was developed. It explained mountain formation through continental drift and sea-floor spreading. Within a few years, it had decisively replaced the geosynclinal theory. The history of science is filled with such turnabouts in which confident claims to knowledge suddenly vanish from the scientific literature.”9

  • Newtonian Mechanics: Again, Dembski exlains:

“Physicists thought that Newton’s laws provided a total account of the constitution and dynamics of the universe. Maxwell, Einstein, and Heisenberg each showed that the proper domain of Newtonian mechanics was far more constricted than scientists first believed. Newtonian mechanics works well for medium sized objects at medium speeds, but for very fast and very small objects it breaks down. In the latter case, we need to invoke, respectively, relativity and quantum mechanics.”10

  • Aether: Aether was hypothesized to be an invisible substance, a medium through which light and planetary bodies traveled. It was believed in by scientists for much of the nineteenth century, but by the early twentieth century, it was thought not to exist after a few complicated experiments failed to detect it. Even after the theory had many problems pointed out to physicists, it continued to be held as dogma. As the author of this Wikipedia article put it:

Contemporary scientists were aware of the problems, but aether theory was so entrenched in physical law by this point that it was simply assumed to exist.”11

  • The Ptolemaic Universe: This highly ridiculed belief was actually held by many cultures throughout history. It could predict the position of stars, planets, the moon, and the sun with a great degree of accuracy and was simply taken for granted as a “fact” of the universe. It was replaced by the heliocentric universe during the days of Copernicus and Galileo.

  • Phlogistic Chemistry: Thomas Kuhn explains:

“The much-maligned phlogiston theory…gave order to a large number of physical and chemical phenomena. It explained why bodies burned – they were rich in phlogiston – and why metals had so many more properties in common than did their ores. The metals were all compounded from different elementary earths combined with phlogiston, and the latter, common to all metals, produced common properties. In addition, the phlogiston theory accounted for a number of reactions in which acids were formed by the combustion of substances like carbon and sulphur. Also, it explained the decrease of volume when combustion occurs in a confined volume of air – the phlogiston released by combustion “spoils” the elasticity of the air that absorbed it, just as fire “spoils” the elasticity of a steel spring.”12

  • Others include: Caloric Thermodynamics, the Corpuscular Theory of Light, the increasing amount of appeal to catastrophic explanations in geology, the shift from Darwinism to Neo-Darwinism, etc.

A scientific theory once thought to be “fact” can at any moment with the discovery of new data or problems be relegated to the trash-bin of scientific history and regarded as “myth”. The only scientific theories which I can think of that can be assigned a probability13 of accuracy at all are those historical sciences which have the benefit of eye-witness testimony to the event(s) in question.

A Possible Objection

A possible objection to this and an argument put forth in favor of scientific realism has been to point out the success of scientific progress through history. However, the success, in large part, has to do with the practical application or “instrumentality” of those theories and not the “truthfulness” of the theories themselves. In other words, if one looks at the history of science, one will find that it is the engineering aspects of the sciences that have had such great success and an accumulation of technology, but the factuality of the theories of those sciences have changed, sometimes drastically. For example, the Ptolemaic universe helped man to predict the positions of the sun, the moon, the planets, and stars, but it was, as a matter of fact, false. So, all this objection proves is that science is good for engineering purposes, not epistemological ones. This particular philosophy of science is called Instrumentalism.


Due to its subjective and ever-changing nature, science can never serve as a reliable epistemic base.14 See here15 for a great example of why a Christian (or anyone for that matter) should never believe that scientific theories have the level of epistemic certainty.

The only way for someone to accurately pontificate on the nature of the cosmos is if a.) that person possesses complete knowledge of the universe 16 or b.) that person has a basic conception of reality imparted to him by one with complete knowledge of the universe. We will come back to the implications of this later.

UPDATE (12/14/08): did a post refuting scientific realism that adds several more points to my list above.


1 I will note again, before I begin, that I have had no formal philosophical training, and so my description of Scientific Realism and the arguments against it may not use the proper philosophical language. I will also gladly accept correction if I have misrepresented it.

4 Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p.31. I should note, here, that Lewontin’s conclusion that science is pointless if miracles can happen simply does not follow. In fact, it was under Christianity that science flourished. Because of the Christian worldview, man can assume the constancy of ‘natural’ laws because they are upheld by the immutable God of Scripture. In fact, Scripture reveals that God works mostly through ordinary providence (i.e. ‘natural’ laws in His creation) rather than special providence (i.e. miracles). Secondly, God commands man to take dominion over the natural world as His vice-regent (Genesis 1:26). All these things not only allowed for but caused science to thrive under Christianity.

5 Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp.130-131.

9 William A. Dembski, ed., Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2005),

10 ibid.

12 Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Chicago University Press: 1996), pp.99-100.

13 The degree of probability depends on the situation, the amount of testimony, etc.

14 I am not casting doubt upon the *general* reliability of empirical data gathering such as the five senses. However, I have shown that those scientific theories which lack the benefit of eye-witness testimony cannot serve as an epistemic base or be regarded as “absolutely” or even “likely true”. Instead, I take the Instrumentalist position that scientific theories are simply useful (but not “true”) formulations to help us engineer things and make life better.

16 i.e. Omniscience