Evidence, Interpretation, and Preconditions: Atheistic Naturalism vs Christian Theism

So, as I was (s)trolling through Twitter the other day, I saw a Tweet from a blogger who goes by the handle of Non-Alchemist and I let it slide by because I hadn’t had enough coffee to think about it at the time.

So, after imbibing a sufficient amount of coffee, I went back to see what the Tweet was about. In the thread was a link to this article over at The Secular Outpost titled “When Are Appeals to Human Ignorance a Legitimate Defeater of an Evidential Argument?”.

In the article, two arguments are presented, as well as two objections that pose a significant threat to the propositions presented in the arguments. At the close of article, the bulk of which are the the arguments and rebuttals this statement is made,

“I’ve never understood why most proponents of (A2) seem to think (O1) is a good defeater of (A1) while not simultaneously thinking (O2) is a good defeater of (A2).

A response seems to be, what is being presupposed when examining these arguments? Not understanding why one can stand and not the other depends entirely upon the presuppositions that inform the interpretational grids used to analyze evidence. To assume that one can neutrally analyze evidence ignores the fact that one must believe certain facts about the world that do not stem from a position of neutrality. As the late RJ Rushdoony has written,

“One of the most pernicious and evil myths to plague the human race is the myth of neutrality. It is a product of atheism and anti-Christianity, because it presupposes a cosmos of uncreated and meaningless factuality, of brute or meaningless facts. Because every atom and fact of the cosmos is then meaningless and also unrelated to every other fact, all facts are neutral.

What’s interesting about that is that atheists will often be honest about their presuppositions behind closed doors. As Richard Dawkins wrote in River Out of Eden,

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. 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. (p. 133)

The obvious problem with such presuppositions is that one cannot live consistently with them, as we see in the complaint that marks the opening lines of the second chapter of another of Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, where he writes,

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

The obvious question, if one had read the prior book and took the presuppositions seriously, would read the second and say, what’s wrong with any of that? The problem is that most atheists aren’t necessarily concerned about actually justifying any of their beliefs about morality. All that you have to do is see how many will appeal to a subjective morality based in empathy, which is demonstrably insufficient for justifying moral claims, since one is tacitly assuming that it’s moral to be empathetic.

All that is necessary to just get to the first argument raised in the Secular Outpost piece, which is offered as,

“Evidential arguments from ‘evil’ say: known facts about the types, quantity, and distribution of good and evil are much more probable on naturalism than on theism.

The thinking Christian should immediately ask, how do you know what the “facts” are in relation to “good and evil” on naturalism? The problem with such arguments, by their own administration is that they are a posteriori arguments, as this article discusses. The problem with such arguments is that they fail to account for what is necessary, preconditionally, in order for the experience to not only be intelligible but also meaningful.

In truth, atheistic naturalism is philosophically unable to call anything “good”and anything “evil”, because “good and evil” don’t arise from nature (ie the physical world). Good and evil are metaphysical qualities, and so they must necessarily come from a self-justifying metaphysical reality. This is where the objector to the argument gets it right, philosophically,

“…the assumption that theism is true (and there exists a morally perfect and omniscient being), there could easily be reasons, way beyond our understanding, why such a being would allow the facts about good and evil to obtain.

Remember, anyone claiming that something is “good” or that something is “evil” is assuming that they have a coherent justification for making such claims. What the atheistic naturalist is wanting to evade in making such a distinction in their experience of it is whether or not they have epistemological grounds for recognizing such facts as facts. In failing to do this, they are proving the Christian claim that they know God exists and are actively suppressing that knowledge.

As to the second argument,

“Evidential arguments from cosmic ‘fine-tuning’ say: the life permitting conditions of our universe are much more probable on theism than on naturalism.

The question is, how is this possible? After all, the objector makes a good point,

“…the assumption that naturalism, a/k/a source physicalism, is true (and there was no one around at the earliest stages of the universe’s history to make physical observations), there could easily be mechanistic explanations, way beyond our understanding, why our universe is life-permitting.

That objection has an problem that should be obvious: how does the person making the argument know that there “was no one around at the earliest stages of the [universe]”? The objector cannot know this, in fact it is admitted that it is merely an assumption.

But okay, let’s run with the idea that source physicalism is true. Well, depending on how it is defined, one can run into a problem with nominalism, which is the denial of the reality of abstract objects, such as numbers and concepts and universals. The problem is that physicalism is a concept and it purports to be universal. On his attributed assumption, Dawkins was right: someone got lucky, and that someone was us. There’s no reason to make assumptions about moral questions from there.

The Christian who embraces a revelational epistemology, namely that,

“…God has created the “universe.” God has created time and space. God has created all the “facts” of science. God has created the human mind. In this human mind God has laid the laws of thought according to which it is to operate. In the facts of science God has laid the laws of being according to which they function. In other words, the impress of God’s plan is upon his whole creation[…]

has grounds for not only making moral judgments, being able to call something “evil”, but examining and expecting to be be able to gain understanding about the created order. The Christian has grounds for accounting for experiences, categorizing them, and criticizing them because of what God has made known in creation and conscience.

Naturalism assumes certain facts about the world it cannot account for as well as providing a coherent justification for believing that they’re true, and so must steal them to another worldview that can. Thus demonstrating its incoherent nature. The reason why the writer does not understand the problem is because he doesn’t even have grounds for concluding such a problem exists.

The atheist wants the Christian to cede the ground, to just take certain assumptions about the world as a given. The Christian cannot do that, must not do that. This world belongs to Christ and to allow the unbeliever to dictate terms is to deny our Lord, our Savior, and our God.

Bonus: Pastor Glen Scrivener Spoken Word Poetry on His Encounter With a Young Atheist