On my recent post on whether assumptions of god are rational a commenter named "mdeltoro" has brought up quite a few questions. I figured that I could not fully answer them all and do the answers justice in a blog comment, so I've promoted the answers to a full blog post. Below is a response to those comments.
mdeltoro's first complaint to my argument is this:
You secularists stake everthing on your ability to observe emperical evidence...But this assumes that the information conveyed to our brains by our senses is an accurate representation of the things "out there" in the world, which our senses are supposed to be observing. This is undemonstrable other than by . . . empirical evidence.
On first blush, one might think that this poses a significant problem, although wouldn't it pose a problem for both atheist and theist alike? Except that it's not an assumption of naturalists to assume that our senses are accurate. We sense that the sun moves around the Earth, but this is not accurate. The idea of using empirical study and the scientific method is to remove the inaccuracies that can come from our senses. And, of course, it's highly pragmatic - simply put, it works. It's not an assumption, but a conclusion that empirical results, once verified and tested over and over, and held provisionally until new data comes along and overturns our conclusions in favor of new, better ones, is simply superior to any method that has yet been devised, especially any religious method.
Next, mdeltoro has argued that it's an assumption to believe that other humans can understand my blog. I argued that this is a demonstrated reality, in that we were having a conversation, which was met with an argument about postmodern literary interpretations:
Many a literature professor would disagree with your notion that this is a "demonstrated reality," as attested by the fact that so often the question has become NOT "What did the author mean?" but "What does this mean TO YOU?"
Yet, this misses the mark by a bit. We can both ask what the author of a piece means and what it means to us, they are not mutually exclusive, nor is this any sort of answer to the demonstrated fact that we are having a conversation via this blog and our meanings (not always fully conveyed, but enough for the purposes of answering this challenge) are being comprehended.
So, now we get to the meat of it:
What I am saying is that, on the basis of your worldview, none of these assumptions can be justified.
Hmmm, let's explore that. So far, none of the supposed assumptions that naturalists hold are actually assumptions. So, let's see where this goes.
In a universe moved along by random chance (which secular evolutionists assure us is THE key to explaining how things came to be as they are), it actually makes just as much sense to affirm as to deny that the sun will not rise tomorrow, that our brains may not have sufficient continuity of process that we really understand each other, or that gravity will shut off tomorrow.
OK, so yeah, in a universe where everything is determined by a roll of the die, it wouldn't make sense. But, that's a strawman representation of the naturalist's position. Do random factors play into how the world works? Of course. Randomly mutating genes of animals provide the change that allows natural selection to select the critters that will propagate their genes, but who said that that is a random process? Answer: no one except creationists.
Let us put the question this way: "Why does the fact that things have 'always' operated in a certain way imply that they will continue to operate in the same way?" How can a secularist answer this question? To say, "We know by empirical observation that things have consistently operated this way in the past" is to (1) assume the basic reliability of our senses (unjustified on a secular worldview, we've already noted) and (2) to beg the question.
I'm confused here. Isn't it a good indicator of how things work that they seem to be consistent? In no way do I have to assume the reliability of my senses or beg the question to conclude that it is highly likely that the sun will continue its pattern of rising in the morning (or more properly that the Earth will continue to rotate in such a way that my senses tell me the sun is rising). Does this mean it will? No, it does not, but it would take a major catastrophe (in which case we'd all be dead) or a violation of the working models that we have of the universe...which leads me to mdeltoro's next argument.
I've argued that if one believes in a god that can and does perform miracles, then one can not conclude that the sun will necessarily rise tomorrow, that natural laws will not be violated, etc. We know that this god (if the Bible is correct) has made the sun stand still in the sky, which would be a violation of physics. Believing in a god that can do and does do these things at any time means that one can not be confident that miracles will not occur and can't assume an orderly universe. mdeltoro's response to me follows:
I know this is a sacred cow of secular science, but it is simply neither historically nor logically demonstrable. Theistic and Christian scientists have made and continue to make valuable scientific discoveries, because they are seeking to discover the universe and the laws which God created.
So, I'm failing to see what "historical" demonstration would look like, nor how it is relevant. Logically, it's pretty sound. If you believe that an entity exists that can violate physical law, then how can you believe those laws are inviolate? And, as an aside, this has nothing to do with whether scientists who are Xians can do science. Of course they can. The problem for mdeltoro is that in order to do science they must check their religion at the door.
From a logical point of view, affirming that God can and has done miracles is not the same as affirming that He does them willy-nilly or does them all the time.
This is true, and it's a good point, but it doesn't address my point, which is that if this god exists, then the potential exists at any and all times for the laws to simply change or be violated at the will of this deity.
If the purpose of Christian scientists is to discover the laws God made that normally govern His universe, no harm is done in affirming that God can and at times has acted outside those laws.
And, here's the crux - this is the problem that arises. All data is called into question once one assumes a god that can change anything and everything on a whim. How can we be certain of the data that leads us to a conclusion, when it might be an anomaly of this god's whim?
None of this, of course, refutes the fact that the god assumption is irrational and that using this assumption and then arguing to a conclusion does not make the conclusion rational. In fact, I think this actually supports my arguments. In order to perform science, we have to check our religious assumptions at the door. We have to ignore the religious conclusion that any or all of our data could be faulty due to god's interference. We have to ignore that a god such as the one in the Bible could very well change physical laws at any time and make anything happen, regardless of what we've previously observed (i.e. the sun may not rise tomorrow morning and yet we would not be dead).