Monday, December 22, 2008

My diagnosis of Drange vs. Wilson

This is a very old post that someone commented on just recently, so I thought I would update it.

I have decided to work through the dialogue in the Drange-Wilson debate to see what sense can be made of it. It was my contention that Wilson drops the ball, and I was hoping that some of you supporters of presuppositonalism can pick the ball up for him.

I am following the thread through Wilson's opening statement, going to Drange's first rebuttal and on into Wilson's second rebuttal, Drange's third rebuttal, and the final statement by Wilson.

The opening statement presented a version of the argument from reason, and I have few if any complaints about that. I would, however, not argue that any argument from reason establishes the Christian God as opposed to, say, an Islamic conception of God. So Drange's use of the Other Gods objection would not be a concern for me.

But Drange argues that one can be neutral with respect to world-view and try to explain the existence of reason while remaining agnostic on whether or not there is a God. Of course to do that you'd have to explain reason naturalistically, as if it had emerged from an atheistic universe. And insofar as such universes do not allow reason as basic explanations, this would be something I would find objectionable. On the other hand there are non-theistic world-views which are mentalistic at bottom (Absolute Idealism would be one of those) and I don't think AFR refutes AI, though I might argue against it in other ways.

He then mentions nonmaterialist atheism. I would admit that perhaps absolute idealism would be a version of nonmaterialistic atheism, and again I would admit that AFR does not attack that. But what he seems to be proposing here is a view in which there are propositions in existence as well as material things, and here I would just point out that if one's world-view is basically materialism plus propositions, then how there timeless entities can be relevant to the actual occurrence of belief as a psychological event is going to be severely problematic. In other words Drange is going to be hard put to show that the fact that A entails B, which is something that does not occur at a particular place or time, can possibly affect S's being in brain state B, which does occur at a particular place and time.

Drange also claims that there are materialists who attempt to show how reason can emerge from matter. It is not just like the shaking of a Pepsi can, but it involves a long evolutionary process. I of course, will argue once again that such scientific accounts will be hard put to show how an eternally existing logical relation can be causally relevant to a space-and-time bound brain state. You can refer to some of my anti-Carrier responses on this blog from last summer to see how I am likely to go about arguing that.

Drange thinks that since Wilson is trying to prove the existence of God he has to establish each step beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't think this is required, though to get the kind of certainty the TAGger wants, perhaps he must assume that kind of burden of proof.

And then Drange offers the Inadequacy Objection, which I spent an entire chapter dealing with in my book.

Now this was a fair batch of arguments by Drange, and it was time for Wilson to step up to the plate and answer them, perhaps the way that I have sketched out my response here.

Instead, we get complaints from Wilson about the way Drange formulates his argument. He complains that there instead of there being only two frameworks in which to consider the emergence of rational thought there is only one-Christianity. But that is to state the conclusion of the debate. The debate must first begin with two opposing viewpoints. One could just as easily say that in agreeing to the debate Wilson lost it, because he had to allow the legitimacy of the atheist viewpoint in order to get the debate going, when in fact his own position denies the very possiblity of an atheist viewpoint.

And here also the dreaded "Circularity? No problem!" response comes up.

Another problem can be seen in Dr. Drange's formulation of the TAG. As he states it, "As shown by ART, the fact that rational thought exists entails the conclusion that the Christian God must exist." Again, he has assembled the key elements, but he is not holding the thing right side up. The fact that rational thought exists does not entail the conclusion that God exists. It presupposes God's existence. The argument is not "rational thought, and therefore God." The argument is "God, and therefore rational thought." God is never the conclusion; He is the only necessary premise of any argument. This is why many people accuse those who present the transcendental argument of committing the fallacy of petitio principii, that of begging the question. How can one debate the existence of God by assuming or presupposing that God exists? Are you not assuming you are supposed to prove? Exactly so.

But this is not a problem because all ultimate questions involve circularity, and we might as well get used to it. The virtue of the Christian transcendental argument is that this feature which is necessary to all creaturely thought is simply embraced and understood, and the right ultimate question is properly identified. But the process of necessary circularity can be still seen when anything is falsely elevated to the level of ultimacy. To the fellow who says, "You can't tell me that God exists just because He does. By contrast, I base all my thoughts on reason." I would reply, "Oh? What is your reason for doing so?" He may not like transcendental circularity, but he is stuck with it too. How can an embrace of reason be justified through an appeal to reason? That is no different (at least as far as circularity is concerned) than the fellow who says that God must exist because otherwise He could not have written John 3:16.


Now on the face of things I would have to say someone who really believed this should not be agreeing to a debate. What it looks like is that Wilson wants to shape the argument to meet the demands of presuppositionalist theory, but what he actually does is effectively destroy the debate. If Van Til's position is more complex on the question of epistemic circularity, we need some development of that position. It is interesting that the disciple of Bahnsen doesn't employ a more sophisticated conception of epistemic circularity, if indeed the Van Tillian position has one.

Here you get a mere assertion that reason cannot arise from matter, with no explanation as to why. He does say that there is a difference between describing thought in materialist terms and explaining it in materialist terms, and this is a valid point worth developing, but without further development it's just an assertion. For example, he says:

In his science objection, he rallies to a quasi-defense of the atheistic materialism he does not hold. He concludes by saying that science "has come a long way towards explaining rational thought in materialist terms." But here, Dr. Drange has actually confused an explanation of rational thought with a description of rational thought. Materialist scientists observe and describe various phenomena, and then give it a scientific name to conceal their helplessness. When it comes to explaining immaterial phenomena, such as reason, scientists as scientists have absolutely nothing to say.

But surely we should expect a statement like that to be backed up. Neuroscientists are able to explain a lot of things. So I wouldn't make this kind of statement about science, even though I don't, for example, see them on their way to unlocking the key to intentionality.

So the arguments remain underdeveloped. If you are really going to argue against the atheist, then argue against him. If you don't have to argue against him, don't agree to a debate.

7 comments:

Don Jr. said...

I was interested in hearing people's comments on this since I am not very familiar with the topic (that is, presuppositional apologetics). Hopefully some will respond. In the meantime: Personally, I think that some worldview where reason or immaterial mind, not just substance, is viewed as fundamental to the world as a whole is a good, or rather, necessary place to start. I don't even think some forms of absolute idealism can explain the existence of reason. If that immaterial essence is non-intentional at rock bottom then that world, as far as I can tell, has no real advance over strict naturalism (or materialism) at accounting for the existence of reason.

In regards to presuppositional apologetics specifically (that kind in the form of "Christian theism must be presupposed for anything to occur"), it does seem to be fallaciously circular in nature. If one wants to maintain that in order for any type of argument (atheistic or theistic) to be advanced, reason must be presupposed, then that doesn't seem controversial. But to say that God and theism—and even Christian theism—need to be presupposed seems a little unnecessary and ad hoc to me. Of course one can argue, as the AFR tends to go, that a sort of theistic world is the best explanation given the existence of reason; but that doesn't seem to be what many presuppositionalist do.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Reppert,

To be short, read Steve Hays' reply. In it he noted that there are different schools of Van Tillian apologetics. I think one of the distinctives of 'right-wing' school holds that the Christian God can be proven with certainty; while the other seems to take a more modest approach.

Check out the Van Til lists here: www.vantil.info/lists.html

The more philosophical proponents tend to be David Byron, James Anderson, Greg Welty, and Sean Choi. Michael Sudduth also has some good posts there.

Randy said...

And insofar as such universes do not allow reason as basic explanations, this would be something I would find objectionable.

What does "reason as a basic explanation" mean? Been puzzling over that and the sense still eludes me.

Steven Carr said...

I do find Victor extremely baffling :-

'I of course, will argue once again that such scientific accounts will be hard put to show how an eternally existing logical relation can be causally relevant to a space-and-time bound brain state.'

Does this mean Victor thinks 'eternally existing logical relations' are not causally relevant to material systems?

Computer scientists can easily explain how the laws of chess are causally relevant to the workings of Fritz.

Does Victor think they are misguided?

Would he claim that when explaining what appears on the screen, the laws of chess can play no part in the explanation?

Even the author of Fritz explains the workings of Fritz by referring to logical relations, rather than atoms and molecules.

Does Victor know better than the author of Fritz how Fritz works?


What is Victor's syllogism here?

That if something cannot be explained, it cannot be accepted?

A quote from Lewis is relevant here 'A man may eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him.' and 'Indeed, if we found we could fully understand it, that very fact would show that it was not what it professes to be-....'

So why is a difficulty in understanding something an impediment to accepting it?

And how do supernatural entities affect the brain again?

Almost as hard as explaining how the material in ethanol affects the immaterial mind of a drunk person.

(But easier if you think thoughts are the produce of synapses poisoned by ethanol)

Paul Manata said...

I defend and explain Van Tilian circularity here:

http://presstheantithesis.blogspot.com/2006/02/debunking-john-w-loftus.html

Gregory said...

Presuppositionalism confuses the "order of being" with the "order of knowing".

Ontology precedes epistemology in the order of "being". But epistemology precedes ontology in the order of "knowing".

Presuppositionalism simply posits "being" as the condition of knowing (i.e. ontology). But the question that is being asked is "how do you know x" (i.e. epistemology).

Therefore, TAG turns out to be an argument by mere stipulation since God is injected at the beginning of the argument...which really isn't an argument at all. If you must begin with God, then what need can there be (i.e. logically speaking) for any argumentation?

Consider this presuppositionalist maxim:

"if you begin with God (i.e. starting point/premise) then you will end with God (i.e. conclusion). If you begin with non-God then you will end with non-God"

An argument which has the conclusion contained within the premise is either necessarily true by definition or is an argument that begs crucial questions. If you begin with God then it's "game over"....there's no further need of argument if you're trying to reach a conclusion that's already reached!!

What's worse is that presuppositionalism is riddled with the problem of incommensurability of competing world-views....such that no "rational" bridge can be built between oppositional points of view. The theist cannot help but believe in God; while the non-theist cannot help but not believe in God. Furthermore, language, truth and logic would be equivocal between person's of differing world-views; such that true communication would not even be possible. Therefore, the idea of giving "reasons" or "defenses" of the Christian world-view is incoherent at best...blasphemous at worst---since a "gestalt switch" would only be possible by something like "divine regeneration"....in truth, Calvinism is the real fuel that drives the presuppositionalism scheme. If you're not a Calvinist, then presuppositionalism isn't even an apologetics option for you.

Consider Van Til's proclamation that:

"I would not go on and on about 'facts' with the unbeliever. Rather, I would challenge his philosophy of 'facts'". (my paraphrase)

What possible "challenge" could Van Til pose, if not by some "facts"? Does Van Til believe that the sheer force of his magnetic charisma will supplant deeply ingrained presuppositions of non-believers?

Whatever that "challenge" consists of, it's certainly not by "reason" or by "facts".

Interestingly, the irony of Van Til is that he has much more in common (i.e. presuppositionally) with Hume and Hume's distinction between "logic" and "matters of fact", and with Kant and Kant's noumena/phenomena distinction and transcendental method, than with Christianity.

Gregory said...

To Steven Carr:

The problem with this rhetoric is that it lacks common sense.

Since an "idea" would have to be identical to a particular type of "brain-state", then whosoever possesses that particular "brain-state" will also have the correlate "idea".

But nobody possess identical "brain-states" because nobody possesses identical brains. Yet we still seem to share common "ideas", common languages and common reasoning, even though we are different persons with different brains.

So what "law" can explain unity and differentiation, given the notion of "the uniformity of nature"? How can differing brains, brain-states and ideas be plausibly explained by "uniform" law?

How can the very ideas about "law", "brain-states", "naturalism" and "material entities", which are allegedly produced wholly by physics and chemistry, be anything more than circumstantially determined outcomes which have nothing to do with "rationality"...but everything to do with "causality"?

Do you believe that you are just a mere causal input/output system, operating entirely uniform with natural law? And if so, how do you explain our differences of opinion?

So, if we are merely just input/output systems of natural causality, then "reasoning" itself falls prey to the whims of natural law.

In fact, it's very possible (i.e. on physicalist assumptions) that a naturalist/physicalist would become an Evangelical Christian because of some determined outcome of physics and chemistry---of which he/she could not control.

To reply with the statement:

"Well, I just don't see that ever happening"

....it needs be reminded that this statement, itself, is not the product of a rational, premise-selecting, free-agent who's endowed with powers of inference; instead, this statement (i.e. according to naturalism/physicalism) was wholly the outcome of input/output physical causation.

And even if I were to reply to you with:

"Well, I happen to agree with your statement"

it is not because I think and I believe your statement to be true; instead, I'm causally necessitated to reply in that fashion.

This is the problem with physicalism/naturalism: that it cannot pull itself out of the quagmire of irrationality (i.e. that "causality", instead of rational inference, wholly accounts for "beliefs", "perceptions", "inferences", etc.,).

Consequently, the notion of "communication" needs to be struck from our vocabulary since it's only meaningful in a non-naturalistic ontology.

Perhaps this comparison and contrast will better drive home the argument from reason:

Is the origin and cause of "reasoning" and "consciousness" better explained by "mind" or by "non-mind"?

Can water really rise above it's source?

Can green taste good or bad?

Can a man really donate to charity when he actually possesses nothing?

If you answered "yes" to any of these last three questions, then:

"Congratulations....you've just won yourself a beautiful, shiny new non-supernatural, naturalistic universe"

As far as I'm concerned, there is no analogue to human consciousness and inferential reasoning in "the nature of physical things". Therefore, I find Mind (i.e. God) as the more plausible explanation for the origin/source of human emotion, reason and will.

I would even go so far as to say that man was created in the image of Mind...and not in the image of matter.