The Knowledge of God
The Transcendental Argument for God, Part I
“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:
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
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
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.
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.