Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rationality purported from irrationality?

John Lennox gives a talk on rationality and irrationality and the consequences of atheism in the realm of science.

John LennoxJohn Lennox is Reader in Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green College, University of Oxford. He holds doctorates from Oxford (D.Phil.), Cambridge (Ph.D.), and the University of Wales (D.Sc.) and an MA in Bioethics from the University of Surrey. Dr. Lennox has weighed in on the science-religion debate with a new book, God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

(1 part-approx 7 minutes)

I would say that I agree with him on the concept that atheism tries to establish rationality from irrationality. However talking to atheists, their line of defense for their rationality is evolution eg. survival of the fittest. This may attempt to answer evolutionary rationality problems but does not touch the pre-life "randomness".

I would like to give a reply that C.S. Lewis made on this subject that challenges the idea that through evolutionary principle "survival of the fittest", we gain reliable rationality.

From his book "Miracles":

"'But', it will be said, 'it is incontestable that we do in fact reach truths by inferences'. Certainly. The Naturalist and I both admit this. We could not discuss anything unless we did. The difference I am submitting is that he gives, and I do not, a history of the evolution of reason which is inconsistent with the claims that he and I both have to make for [32]inference as we actually practise it. For his history is, and from the nature of the case can only be, an account, in Cause and Effect terms, of how people came to think the way they do. And this of course leaves in the air the quite different question of how they could possibly be justified in so thinking. This imposes on him the very embarrassing task of trying to show how the evolutionary product which he has described could also be a power of 'seeing' truths.

But the very attempt is absurd. This is best seen if we consider the humblest and almost the most despairing form in which it could be made. The Naturalist might say, 'Well, perhaps we cannot exactly see--not yet--how natural selection would turn sub-rational mental behaviour into inferences that reach truth. But we are certain that this in fact has happened. For natural selection is bound to preserve and increase useful behaviour. And we also find that our habits of inference are in fact useful. And if they are useful they must reach truth'. But notice what we are doing. Inference itself is on trial: that is, the Naturalist has given an account of what we thought to be our inferences which suggests that they are not real insights at all. We, and he, want to be reassured. And the reassurance turns out to be one more inference (if useful, then true)--as if this inference were not, once we accept his evolutionary picture, [33] under the same suspicion as all the rest. If the value of our reasoning is in doubt, you cannot try to establish it by reasoning. If, as I said above, a proof that there are no proofs is nonsensical, so is a proof that there are proofs. Reason is our starting point. There can be no question either of attacking or defending it. If by treating it as a mere phenomenon you put yourself outside it, there is then no way, except by begging the question, of getting inside again.

A still humbler position remains. You may, it you like, give up all claim to truth. You may say simply 'Our way of thinking is useful'-without adding, even under your breath, 'and therefore true'. It enables us to set a bone and build a bridge and make a Sputnik. And that is good enough. The old, high pretensions of reason must be given up. It is a behaviour evolved entirely as an aid to practice. That is why, when we use it simply for practice, we get along pretty well; but when we fly off into speculation and try to get general views of 'reality' we end in the endless, useless, and probably merely verbal, disputes of the philosopher. We will be humbler in future. Goodbye to all that. No more theology, no more ontology, no more metaphysics . . .

But then, equally, no more Naturalism. For of course Naturalism is a prime specimen of that towering speculation, discovered from practice and going far beyond [34] experience, which is now being condemned. Nature is not an object that can be presented either to the senses or the imagination. It can be reached only by the most remote inferences ........

On these terms the Theist's position must be a chimera nearly as outrageous as the Naturalist's. (Nearly, not quite; it abstains from the crowning audacity of a huge negative). But the Theist need not, and does not, grant these terms. He is not committed to the view that reason is a comparatively recent development moulded by a process of selection which can select only the biologically useful. For him, reason--the reason of God--is older than Nature, and from it the orderliness of Nature, which alone enables us to know her, is derived. For him, the human mind in the act of knowing is illuminated by the Divine reason. It is set free, in the mea[35]sure required, from the huge nexus of non-rational causation; free from this to be determined by the truth known. And the preliminary processes within Nature which led up to this liberation, if there were any, were designed to do so.

Good brain work out reading Lewis LOL.




  1. Do you really truly think that a guy talking to himself like this one did, does indeed know what a well-informed atheist would say?

    Do you really think that atheists who just do not give a damn about these "philosophical" problems would answer that way?

    Do you really think that this convinces anybody but you? (Which seems to be always the case. Apologism seems to be the act of convincing the convinced while being blind, completely, to logical argumentation.)


  2. Hey G.E.

    Well for one thing, Lewis was an ex-atheist so his view is valid.
    Secondly if you would consider Dawkins as a well-informed atheist...
    Dawkins answer to Lennox about this in one of the debates if I remember correctly was that truth is just as we perceive it...that was it? Yet he thinks it is highly unlikely there is a God? doesn't follow. He himself said that we have probably got a wrong view of our world. Atheism is a view of the universe that relates to ultimate truth...Dawkins didn't seem to reassure us that we can find ultimate truth (as what I thought he said). If that is the case...we are living in a world of imagined fairy tales (even atheism) and we can believe what we want.

    Thirdly, Your comment dis-ed the form of argument but that was it? Why not give your thoughts?

    Thanks for stopping by,
    Have a great weekend as well!


  3. Hi DB,

    My post did not argue a lot because this guy was doing a false monologue, and never made a clear point. Trying to argue would require me to chose one of several layers of mistakes and also trying to find one clear claim other than "atheists would say this and that." Even if he was an atheist, it seems like he was not a very brilliant one. His iew is not valid unless he were saying, "as an atheist I would have said", rather than generalizing as if he knew what most atheists would say. I for instance, I would never claim to know, nor to represent what most atheists would say. Actually, the bunch visiting you lately are about the best, intellectually-speaking, that I have read around. Other "groups" are quite the stupid and I have no way of discerning what most atheists, generally speaking, would be and answer, like. As such, if I made an argument it would be that this guy cherry picked possible "atheist" arguments to make his "case" (the case is not so clear), more compelling.

    As of "ultimate truth," you would have to define it so we would be able to discuss it. Dawkins, is nether a representative of most atheists, nor the epitome of intelligence (though maybe he is among the ones with highest cultural background).

    Anyway, keep having a great weekend.


  4. Ex-atheist is an essentially meaningless phrase with no weight behind it to any other Atheists. It's a marketing to Christians phrase, not a marketing to atheists phrase.

  5. Antony Flew is an ex-atheist...does that have any meaning?

    Antony Flew also said that C.S. Lewis was one of the best apologists he had debated (when he was an atheist).

    "Although he found Lewis to be "an eminently reasonable man" and "by far the most powerful of Christian apologists for the sixty or more years following his founding of that club,""

    Note G.E. that this little paragraph is actually just a part of a whole chapter discussing how we can "know" things.
    You can find the whole chapter here:

    He is an honest thinker...he actually lost a debate on this topic by a fellow philosopher and
    revised it so that it had the qualities that it lacked.

    hope your guys weekend was good :)

  6. Hey DB,

    Antony Flew is an ex-atheist...does that have any meaning?


    He is an honest thinker...he actually lost a debate on this topic by a fellow philosopher and
    revised it so that it had the qualities that it lacked.

    He, so he revised his already debunked argument to make it appear more convincing? I am, unfortunately, not kidding. But I might check that link later. Other Christians have referred me to Flew. I have always found him lacking. But we will see.


  7. Oh shit, see what I was saying?

    [17]If Naturalism is true, every finite thing or event must be (in principle) explicable in terms of the Total System.

    Not at all. This guy started wrong already. Should I keep reading? All having natural "explanations" does not mean all those explanations are even attainable.

    I say 'explicable in principle' because of course we are not going to demand that naturalists, at any given moment, should have found the detailed explanation of every phenomenon.

    Trying now to sound reasonable, but, of course, he still started wrong. This one is not what I said. I said we do expect that not all "explanations" are even expected to be attainable. I hope you see the difference.

    Obviously many things will only be explained when the sciences have made further progress.

    This one is fine. We do not know all that is attainable, nor all that will be attainable.

    But if Naturalism is to be accepted we have a right to demand that every single thing should be such that we see, in general, how it could be explained in terms of the Total System.

    This is unreasonable. Completely unreasonable. It already seems to point to the idea that "Goddology" is better because it does explain everything. But it does not. It just pretends to do. Pure crap from the beginning. Sure this is what you wanted me to read DB?

    If any one thing exists which is of such a kind that we see in advance the impossibility of ever giving it that kind of explanation, [18] then Naturalism would be in ruins.

    Nope, naturalism means everything comes naturally, not that we can find every explanation. Crapy crapy, crapy. The guy gets his own expectations about naturalism, unfounded expectations, then thinks he can "demand" stuff. he can't. He does not get to define naturalism the way he pleases. In other words, he builds a straw man, and then tries to set it in fire.

    If necessities of thought force us to allow to any one thing any degree of independence from the Total System--if any one thing makes good a claim to be on its own, to be something more than an expression of the character of Nature as a whole-then we have abandoned Naturalism.

    Non-sequitur anyone? Who said that lack of explanations, or non-attainability mean we have to ask for an unnatural explanation?

    For by Naturalism we mean the doctrine that only Nature--the whole interlocked system--exists.

    Thus it does not follow that we should be able to foresee that everything will have been explained as we advance our scientific knowledge. It just means what it means. Only nature exists.

    And if that were true, every thing and event would, if we knew enough, be explicable without remainder (no heel-taps) as a necessary product of the system.

    Heck, so the guys re-complicates and re-states to sound even more convincing. Of course everything has to be a product of the system. That still does not mean we can know everything in the system.

    The whole system being what it is, it ought to be a contradiction in terms if you were not reading this book at the moment; and, conversely, the only cause why you are reading it ought to be that the whole system, at such and such a place and hour, was bound to take that course.

    DB, I am skeptical already. DO you think any further reading is useful? I doubt it. I stop before I vomit.


  8. He, I just noticed something else in this one (cited also above):

    if any one thing makes good a claim to be on its own, to be something more than an expression of the character of Nature as a whole-then we have abandoned Naturalism.

    What an idiot! We do not expect everything in nature to be dependent of the whole system. Who does this guy think he is kidding? We learn by bits and such. Now this guy wants me to understand natural selection in terms of the quantum mechanics of the atoms at Alpha Centauri?

    Shit. I detest these builders of bullshit. Especially those who want to sound "erudite."


  9. Holy!

    the only cause why you are reading it ought to be that the whole system, at such and such a place and hour, was bound to take that course

    What? The whole system? Who said everything is connected just for myself? So, if I move two degrees to the right you will have an ulcer? This guy is a true idiot. "Determinism" is not the same as "naturalism," by the way. Also, determinism is about predicting using the variables within a problem, not "the whole system."

    Confounding, equivocating, all on purpose. This guy is/was a charlatan. An educated snake-oil salesman.


  10. G.E.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalism_(philosophy)
    Naturalism: "There are at least two basic types of philosophical stances characterizing naturalism. One is concerned with existence: what does exist and what does not exist? The second is concerned with knowledge: what are methods for gaining trustworthy knowledge of the natural world?

    In its broadest and strongest sense, naturalism is the metaphysical position that "nature is all there is, and all basic truths are truths of nature."[1] All things and powers commonly regarded as supernatural, for example, God, souls and witchcraft, are asserted to be nonexistent. This position is commonly referred to as metaphysical naturalism, or sometimes as ontological naturalism.

    Methodological naturalism, sometimes called scientific naturalism, is an epistemological view that is specifically concerned with practical methods for acquiring knowledge, irrespective of one's metaphysical or religious views. It requires that hypotheses be explained and tested only by reference to natural causes and events.[2] Explanations of observable effects are considered to be practical and useful only when they hypothesize natural causes (i.e., specific mechanisms, not indeterminate miracles). Methodological naturalism is the principle underlying all of modern science. Some philosophers extend this idea, to varying extents, to all of philosophy too. Science and philosophy, according to this view, are said to form a continuum. W.V. Quine, George Santayana, and other philosophers have advocated this view."

    His whole talk in the book is an argument for miracles as far as I know. Supernaturalism against naturalism. I have read this chapter only of the book so far. When I read it I found it rather interesting. I hope you read on...

    I assume what he means by total system as in everything is interlocked (laws of cause and effect...you do believe in them right?) and by nature we should be able to link everything eventually...possibly :), I agree with him. Though with my limited undrstanding.
    (Note that he wrote this in the sixties)

    As he did say in "principle"...which is correct as far as we know.

    (I am writing this with limited time off the top of my head).

    The person he lost the debate with stated that he reformed it so that it did have those qualities, so it is fixed as far as I know. It is known as the argument from Reason. Victor Reppert has taken up this argument further in modern times.

    Also...you know that I am a Christian so why do you insult me be using bad language? There is no need to? please don't do it again.


    So you at last brought some of your thoughts :)


  11. If you want to talk about fallacies then poisoning the well seems to be the one you are using alot, giving the impression that everything else he says will be idiotic.

  12. DB,

    OK, let us leave this guy alone for now. I know you answered in haste. yet, your quote from wikipedia did not agree with this guy's version. It was still a straw man. You cannot expect to tell somebody: Ah! You are an atheist, so you must submit to these ideas: You are a naturalist, which means everything is the consequence of the whole, so do not even attempt to study or explain anything by itself. You have to come to anything from the whole system.

    I will try and read again sometime later. But the one poisoning the well is this guy. Not me.


  13. DB,

    What would you expect from a book that started:

    Christians should believe that everybody has to be burn at the stake for the slightest contradiction about their beliefs ...

    Would you think there might be something of value afterwards? Would you think the person probably did not use that introduction for concluding whatever the person has concluded?


  14. G.E.

    "You are a naturalist, which means everything is the consequence of the whole, so do not even attempt to study or explain anything by itself. You have to come to anything from the whole system."

    I agree with this. Is this not what Cause and Effect means?...everything interlocks causing everything else...and I assume this is what Lewis is bringing out.
    I read on a bit in the chapter and he talks about science and its new discoveries vs a philosophers mind :) etc and moves in to different areas. Be patient and look at what he is saying as a whole. Don't just pick out the stuff you disagree with but look for thought provoking bits as well.

    In fact this point,
    "Christians should believe that everybody has to be burn at the stake for the slightest contradiction about their beliefs ..."

    I disagree with this statement but I would have to read it in CONTEXT before I judge it.
    I ask you to do the same with Lewis.

    I admit that sometimes Lewis can appear to be contradicting but when read in context and finding out what he is actually saying throws a different light on things. Don't prejudice.


    P.S. Thankyou for the language clean up :)

  15. Hey DB,

    I will read, but, if that is what naturalism means to you, then I am not a naturalist. What I know I am is a scientist (which can have tons of different philosophies into one). Even a PEARList, but not a naturalist.

    Have a great day,


  16. I cannot imagine how something natural can be without cause and effect. I might be wrong...This is one reason why I see God as the uncaused Causer...supernatural.

  17. Well, the cause/effect has to stop somewhere. I just do not see why we would have to use an imaginary being to feel relieved that we can imagine something uncaused, or to feel like we already know where it ends. To me, the uncaused can be natural, whether we can know what that is, or not.

    Think of gravity. Gravity is a property of matter. Does this property have to have a cause?

    Does matter and energy have to have a cause when there is a principle that states that they cannot be created, nor destroyed, just transformed?

    I am not saying gravity does not have a cause, maybe it does. What I am saying is that there are/will be points where we reach first principles, laws of nature that just ARE. I do not see why the cause/effect thing cannot stop naturally. We might not know where, but it still does not mean we have to postulate an improvable God to solve the problem and stop thinking. Our lack of imagination does not automatically mean God exists. Lack of imagination means t=exactly that: Lack of imagination.