Why should I, even as I write now, be able to reflect on what I am doing and why should you, even as you read now, be able to ponder my points, agreeing or disagreeing, with pleasure or pain, deciding to refute me or deciding that I am just not worth the effort? No one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have any answer to this…the point is that there is no scientific answer.” (p. 73)
Whether he realizes it or not, Ruse has touched on a very important point. From the naturalistic standpoint that Darwinists adopt, there can be no satisfactory explanation for the thinking capacities of the human mind. It is this intuition that forms the basis for our next piece of evidence for the existence of God: The human mind, our reasoning capabilities, and the entire philosophical and scientific enterprises. While Michael Ruse has admitted that there are no compelling naturalistic explanations forthcoming to explain how atoms can think, the problem actually runs far deeper than that.
The problem is that the very tenets of naturalism are at odds with the justification that is put forth for it. As C.S. Lewis explains in the third chapter of his book Miracles,
A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its own credentials. (p. 14 – 15)
In other words, just as the conditions we observe in the universe must be conducive to our existence as observers, so the worldviews and scientific explanations we reason through must be conducive to such the existence of our reasoning. If they don’t, they will ruin their own foundations. It is the conclusion of the Argument from Reason that this is exactly what philosophical naturalism does; it undercuts the very framework used to support it.
First Things First
In order to understand how the Argument from Reason shows Philosophical Naturalism to be self-refuting and why this is significant for belief in God, we need to first understand what naturalism is. Philosophical Naturalism is a belief that there are no supernatural beings or events, i.e., that nature is all there is. Carl Sagan summed up this view in a positive way quite nicely saying, “The universe is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” (Cosmos p. 4) Beyond this belief there are three basic principles that philosopher Victor Reppert, a prominent formulator and proponent of the argument from reason, identifies as common to naturalism, or at least any form of naturalism worth arguing against.
First, the universe is closed to influence from anything outside it. This is called the Causal Closure Principle, and it follows directly from the strong form of naturalism denying anything outside nature or the universe. Second, there is a single fundamental sort of explanation, a “basic level of analysis,” to which all phenomena can be reduced, and from which all phenomena derive their characteristics. This is most often construed to be the material level, where laws of physics provide the fundamental explanation for all events (i.e., things like chemical and biological properties derive from physical properties). Third, if mental states exist, they supervene on physical states; in other words they are caused by physical states and can’t be other than what the physical state demands they be.
As I mentioned, nowadays the laws of physics provide the basic level of analysis. These laws, being scientifically derived, rest (as do all sciences and philosophy), on the process of rational inference, which is to say reasoning. These inferences may be inferences from the truth of the premises of a deductive syllogism to the truth of the syllogism’s conclusion, inferences extrapolating from prior cases to the future cases, or inferences from effects to causes; to wit, deduction, induction, and inference to the best explanation. The scope of rational inference is not limited to science and philosophy; we draw inferences every day, with varying degrees of success.
According to Reppert the existence of rational inference implies nine things:
- States of mind have a relation to the world we call intentionality, or about-ness.
- Thoughts and beliefs can be true or false.
- Human beings can be in the position of accepting, rejecting or suspending belief about propositions.
- Logical laws exist.
- Human beings are capable of apprehending logical laws.
- The state of accepting the truth of a proposition plays a crucial causal role in the production of other beliefs, and the propositional content of mental states is relevant to the playing of this causal role.
- The apprehension of logical laws plays a causal role in the acceptance of the conclusion of the argument as true.
- The same individual entertains thoughts of the premises and then draws the conclusion.
- Our processes of reasoning provide us with a systematically reliable way of understanding the world around us.
These are all facts we take for granted when we make rational inferences, whether they be scientific and philosophical inferences or merely everyday inferences. However, these features are each difficult to reconcile with philosophical naturalism. Indeed, Reppert has himself used the following points to create no less than six separate arguments from reason against naturalism by demonstrating that points 1,2, and 6 – 9 are flatly inconsistent with naturalism. Consequently if naturalism is true, it is impossible to use rational inference – either philosophical or scientific – to support it.
How It Works
Still wondering how the argument works? Let’s take just one of the several arguments from reason and develop it a little further. Recall that a key feature of philosophical naturalism is that there is a fundamental level of explanation. For materialists that level of explanation is provided by the laws of physics, in light of which all other phenomena must be explained. As a consequence, if mental events such as thoughts and reasoning are not denied outright, then they must be explained in terms of the physical state of the brain, and must be determined by this physical state. There may be more than one physical state that yields a given mental state, but not the other way around. We call this the “supervenience” of the mental state on the physical one.
Thus the current physical state of my brain arose from a previous physical state of my brain, which had associated with it a previous mental state. That previous physical state of my brain arose from one before it, again with its own associated mental state, and so the regress continues. Notice that in this account a given mental state plays no role in determining what mental state follows it. Consequently all of the mental states leading up my current mental state are irrelevant to my current mental state.
This flies in the face conditions necessary for rational inference to occur, since rational inference is dependent on one mental state causing another. I no longer believe that Socrates was a man, and all men are mortal, therefore Socrates was mortal, because this implies that one mental state causes another by virtue of its propositional content, not because of the underlying physical state of the brain. Now we can follow Reppert in framing just one version of the Argument from Reason:
Premise 1: If naturalism is true, then no event can cause another event in virtue of its propositional content.
Premise 2: But some events do cause other events in virtue of their propositional content. (Implied by the existence of rational inference.)
Conclusion: Therefore, naturalism is false.
This result can be summarized by saying that if naturalism is true, those who believe it to be true cannot possibly support it by rational argumentation. The very act of giving reasons implies the falsity of naturalism. Thus naturalism effectively removes itself from rational discussion.
A Few Conclusions
What then explains the human mind and its capacity for rational thought? Evidently the explanation will need to respect the fact that rational agents exist (or else run afoul of Reppert’s eighth point) and arrive at their conclusions via reason and the propositional content of their beliefs. Mind, reason, and logic must be basic to such an explanation. While monotheism is not the only such explanation, it certainly is the best, especially with naturalistic atheism out of the way. Other worldviews that respect intelligence and the existence of minds can’t be ruled out on the basis of this argument alone, but we have at least ruled out naturalism as a plausible theory.
Still, a God who created humans with rational minds capable of grasping the laws of logic is the best explanation of their existence, since each of the nine consequences implied by rational inference seems quite probable in the light of an intelligent creator who values reason and discovery. Human minds themselves point beyond the natural laws governing the universe to a mind outside which designed and created them. We have covered much ground, and our journey is only beginning!