Richard Dawkins once claimed that

[a]n atheist before Darwin could have said, following Hume: “I have no explanation for complex biological design. All I know is that God isn’t a good explanation, so we must wait and hope that somebody comes up with a better one.” I can’t help feeling that such a position, though logically sound, would have left one feeling pretty unsatisfied, and that although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.[1]

My response to this claim, is that it is completely wrong, for many reasons. I will name a few; (i) “unguided evolution,” (ii) the problem of knowledge and reason, and (iii) the problem of evolution and naturalism itself.

I. “Unguided evolution”

The fact of evolution does not rule out a creator God. Some biology textbooks claim that evolution is “unguided,” but that does not follow from the facts themselves. The facts of evolution — fossils or mutations, for example — does not claim “we are unguided.” So to claim that Darwin made it possible to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist” is wrong.

II. Reason and knowledge

Naturalism, which is the view of that atheists claim,[2] does encounter some serious problems when confronted with the concept of reason and knowldge. To explain what I mean, I will take a look at C.S. Lewis’s book Miracles. In it, Lewis claims that the main problem of naturalists is to explain the concept of knowledge. He writes about the relationship between Reason and Nature, and Nature and Supernature. He claims that a Naturalist will “get into trouble” with his view, especially in accordance to Reason and Knowledge.

A naturalist must demand that everything is explained — or at least should be explainable — within “the whole system of Nature.” But Lewis argues that Reason necessarily stands — and must stand — outside and above Nature. He writes that “acts of reasoning are not interlocked with the total interlocking system of Nature as all its other items are interlocked with one antother… The knowledge of a thing is not one of the thing’s parts.”[3] Aquinas also claimed that because

man is able to know all bodily natures by means of his intellect, his intellect cannot have in itself a bodily nature. Having in itself a bodily nature would prevent the reception, and thus the knowledge, of any other bodily nature, since, for Aquinas, one knows by receiving the forms of what one knows into one’s intellect. Thus, if the intellect had a bodily nature, it would not be able to receive the forms of these things; but since it does receive these forms, it lacks any bodily nature.[4]

Lewis writes that “Nature can only raid Reason to kill; but Reason can invade Nature to take prisoners and even colonise.” And that every thing you see in front of you — your books, your Television Set, your clothes, your car, etc. — “bears witness to the colonisation of Nature by Reason: or none of this matter would have been in these states if Nature had had her way.”[5] But naturalists encounter a problem when it comes to reason and knowledge. If naturalism is true, then my reasoning faculty is just something that has happened by chance, and that poses a problem. A person know (have knowledge about) x (ie. he knows that x) if (i) he strongly believe that x; (ii) x is really true; and (iii) he has a good reason to believe that x. For instance; I know that my father just celebrated his 60th birthday because all criteria are fulfilled. The problem for the naturalist lies in the third. And this leads me to the next part.

III. The problem of evolution and naturalism

Naturalism does in fact encounter some serious problems because of Darwin. According to dr. Alvin Plantinga, evolution poses a treath to naturalism. But first, lets’ define the term. Platinga writes:

As Bas van Frassen notes, it isn’t easy to say precisely what naturalism is, for present purposes, suppose we take it to be the view that there is no such person as God, nor anyone or anything at all like him (it isn’t that you believe, for example, that there are one or more finite gods). Paradigm cases of naturalism would be the views of Daniel Dennett in Darwins’s Dangerous Idea or Bertrand Russel in “A free Man’s Worship”: you think that “man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.”[6]

Plantinga argues that “the conjunction of naturalism with the belief that human beings have evolved in conformity with current evolutionary doctrine–‘evolution’ for short–is in a certain interesting way self-defeating or self-referentially incoherent.”[7] Why, because of the problem of knowledge. This creates “a defeater that can’t be defeated.”[8]

Plantinga argues that you only have a good reason to believe something if that belief was formed by cognitive faculties that works correctly — that one can trust. But, if both naturalism and evolutiuon are true, how can we trust our cognitive faculties, how can we trust our reasoning (even when encountered with facts of evolution)? The problem is, you can’t. Plantinga writes:

Imagine, then, that you embark on a voyage of space oxploration and land on a planet revolving about a distant sun. This planet has a favorable atmosphere, but you know little more it. You crack the hatch, step out, and immediately find something that looks a lot like a radio; it periodically emits strings of sound that oddly enough, form senteces in English. The sentences emitted by this instrument express propositions only about topics of which you have no knowledge: what the weather is like in Beijing at the moment, whether Caesar had eggs on toast on the morning he crossed the Rubicon, whether the first human being to cross the Bering Strait and set foot on North America was left-handed, and the like. A bit unduly impressed with your find, you initially form the opinion that this quasi radio speaks the truth: that is, the propositions expressed (in English) by those sentences are true. But then you recall that you have no idea at all as to what the purpose of this apparent instrument is, whether it has a purpose, or how it came to be. You see that the probalitity of its being reliable, given what you know about it, is for you inscrutable. Then (in the absence of investigation) you have a defeater for your initial belief that the thing does, in fact, speak the truth, a reason to reject that belief, a reason to give it up, to be aggnostic with respect to it.[9]

David Jakobsen points out that N&E (naturalism and evolution) could explain why we have things like legs, arms, heart, lungs — and cognitive faculties. But that N&E gives us no reason to believe that these faculties should be “developed with a view to truth.”[10]

The argument can be put in syllogistic form (I have borrowed this from Morbus Norvegicus, a norwegian blog):

  1. Cognitive faculties which function correctly is necessary for real knowledge
  2. Man does have real knowledge
  3. Cognitive faculties which function correctly presupposes a designer
  4. Naturalism rules out a designer
  5. Naturalism is therefore wrong

When confronted with this by naturalists, bare in mind the Law of Causality. You cannot get more in the effect than in the cause, or in the sum total of all causes. So, if the cause is irrational, the effect cannot be rational. Even Darwin himself had doubts:

With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?[11]

David Jakobsen goes on pointing out the irony when atheists claim that we are irrational because of our theism. My point is that even though you can be an atheist, Darwin made it completely impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled one. But to be a Intellectually fulfilled theist — that is still possible!

Notes & references:

1. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 6, quoted in the Positive Atheism’s Big List of Richard Dawkins Quotations

2. Some buddhists are atheists, but not naturalists, as they claim that nature is an illusion.

3. Lewis, C.S., Miracles: A Preliminary Study (G. Bles, 1947; Collins, 1977, 1980), p. 29

4. “Thomistc Psychology” in Topics treated in Thomistic Philosophy (June 13th 2007)

5. Lewis, C.S., Miracles, p. 30

6. Warranted Christian Belief, p. 227. Quoted in “Naturalismen besejret” (Apologetik.dk, a danish apologetics blog, July 25th 2006) (July 13th 2007)

7. Plantinga, Alvin, “Naturalism Defeated” (1994) (June 13th 2007)

8. Ibid

9. Warranted Christian Belief, pp. 224-225. Quoted in “Naturalismen besejret” (see note 6)

10. Jakobsen, David, “Naturalismen besejret” (see note 6)

11. Letter to William Graham, Down, July 3rd, 1881. In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Including an Autobiographical Chapter, ed. Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1887), Volume 1, pp. 315-316. Quoted in “Naturalismen besejret” (see note 6)

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