Given my blog and public profile, I regularly get internet atheists who try to goad me into debate. My primary goal in ministry is to have honest discussions with people who are open to ideas, so I tend to ignore those who are trolling apologists looking for a debate. However, every once in a while I may engage someone if I think the exchange will be useful as a learning tool for my readers.
Last week, a Twitter user going only by the name Truth who objected to one of my tweets. He claimed "I am open to believe whatever is true." Looked on his Twitter profile and he only describes himself as "Naturalist." I've written previously on how naturalism cannot ground reason. You can see a short article here, or read my contribution to the book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. So, I decided to see how someone who claims to be open to truth understands what truth is. I've reproduced the exchange below:
Started on Dec 18, 2016
Posts You May Have Missed: The Irrationality of Indifference to God t.co/C5EMwP2KqG comereason tweeted on Dec 18, 2016 06:47Reply
@comereason This is absurd. There is no good reason to believe in life after death. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 06:54Reply
@comereason I am open to believe whatever is true The supposed consequences of not believing a specific claim is not evidence for the claim. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 06:56Reply
@Gottisttot44 How do you know what's true? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:39Reply
@comereason Through the use of reason, evidence etc. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:40Reply
@Gottisttot44 Do you ascribe to philosophical naturalism or did I read your profile wrongly? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:42Reply
@comereason methodological naturalism gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:42Reply
@Gottisttot44 Thanks for the clarification. So, how can you trust your reason then? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:44Reply
@comereason do you want to take this conversation to chat? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:45Reply
@comereason it's going to take more than a 140 characters to have a debate on presuppositionalism gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:47Reply
@Gottisttot44 But I'm not a presuppositionalist. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:47Reply
@comereason I think it is going to be a lot more difficult to debate in full like this but I will if you are not willing to move to chat. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:49Reply
@comereason didn't say you were. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:50Reply
@Gottisttot44 Who's debating? I'm trying to understand where you're coming from. Why does a methodological naturalist place trust in reason? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:56Reply
@comereason because it leads to effective results. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:57Reply
@Gottisttot44 But effective results doesn't mean it's true, right? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:58Reply
@comereason it will just boil down to that. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:51Reply
@comereason it means corresponding with reality. Which is how I define true. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:58Reply
@Gottisttot44 But beliefs can be effective and not true. Michael Ruse holds that morality is a useful fiction. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:00Reply
@comereason I didn't say that the belief was effective. I said the results were. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:02Reply
@Gottisttot44 Right. But my original question was "How do you know what's true?" You answered reason and then proffered effective results. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:06Reply
@comereason your original question was why do you 'trust' reason and I said because it provides effective results:corresponding with reality gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:08Reply
@Gottisttot44 My question was based from our prior exchanges: Why do you trust reason to discover the truth. That includes true beliefs. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:13Reply
@comereason because when I use reason it leads to results that correspond with reality. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:14Reply
@Gottisttot44 Again, results that correspond with reality prove neither the truth of a belief nor that your reasoning is correct. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:16Reply
@comereason I disagree, if you make a claim and it corresponds with reality then the claim is true and belief is justified. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:17Reply
@Gottisttot44 Do you see the mistake you made above? What we wish to discern is *whether* the claim corresponds to reality or not. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:29Reply
@Gottisttot44 You said the way you do this is through reason. I asked why do you trust reason and you said "b/c it corresponds / reality." comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:30Reply
@Gottisttot44 You find truth through reason and you trust reason b/c you say it's true. You've argued in a circle. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:31Reply
@comereason no. I 'trust' reason because it works. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:33Reply
@comereason there is an argument to be made here but not the way you are presenting it The bigger problem is your position doesn't help fix* gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:35Reply
@Gottisttot44 A man can reason that he must run 3 miles to keep the fat demons away. He tests his theory and it works! comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:18Reply
@comereason Oh ok... so we are done reasoning. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:45Reply
@Gottisttot44 All I'm saying is you have expressed no good basis to trust your reasoning will lead you to truth. So, how do we proceed? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:57Reply
@comereason I told you, the conclusions we get to using reasoning are matched and verified by empirical observation. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:03Reply
@Gottisttot44 And I've given you an example that contradicts that. What is the naturalist's explanation for why we should trust our reason? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:11Reply
@comereason What example? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:37Reply
@Gottisttot44 Belief in fat demons keep a mans weight away. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:41Reply
@comereason How is it reasonable to conclude there are fat demons? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:42Reply
@comereason by reason i mean using logic to come to a conclusion based on valid and sound premises. In this example the man did not do this. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:46Reply
@Gottisttot44 First of all, arguments are valid and sound, not premises. Premises are either true or not true. Again, arguing in a circle. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:07Reply
@comereason actually premises are sound or unsound. But yes the argument as a whole is either valid or invalid. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:11Reply
@comereason I just ran out of space. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:11Reply
@comereason and you still haven't explained how my reasoning is circular... gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:12Reply
@Gottisttot44 Why wasn't it reason? Bc it wasn't using truth in the premises. Circular. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:19Reply
@comereason You are making no sense... gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 12:08Reply
I'll leave aside his confusion with soundness and validity for the moment. What you should pick up on is how he keeps switching his understanding of truth. He states that truth is "that which corresponds to reality, which is the definition of the Correspondence theory of truth. However, when asked why one should believe that reason is a trustworthy tool to arrive a truth, his response is "because it provides effective results," which is the Pragmatic theory of truth. This is the basis of his confusion.
I don't know if my interlocutor believes that all truth claims must have some kind of empirical point of verification. I do know that he cannot escape his circular justification for his beliefs, though. Not all naturalists would hold to his view; some would rightly believe that there are certain things one can know directly and immediately without even using reason (such as the laws of logic themselves!) But, even there, a naturalist is stuck in justifying such a belief.
Image courtesy Bart Everson and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.
It looks like you two were arguing past each other, as a result of misunderstanding what you were each saying/asking.ReplyDelete
Lenny, your original question about "how do you know what is true" sounded like a question about arriving at true beliefs rather than defining/analyzing the concept of truth. So, for example, when Gottisttot44 said that he justified the use of evidence and reason by appealing to what has been demonstrated to work, he was not, as you thought, affirming a pragmatic theory of truth. Rather, he was simply noting that if a certain method of inquiry has been demonstrated to work, then we should trust that method of inquiry.
As for naturalism in general, I have not read your book but I certainly do not see why justifying using our powers of reason is a problem for naturalism, nor how Christianity helps at all in attempting to offer such a justification. I only hope you are not referring to the dubious and undefending Bahnsen-esque claim that the laws of logic or principle of induction require independent justification, and that Christianity is the only way to get that independent justification.
My questions are leading somewhere. I only wanted my interlocutor to admit that results don't necessarily determine truth. One can have a false belief and follow a course of action to a desired result *even though the belief itself is untrue.*Delete
Remember, this individual wanted to ask me about God. He's interested in beliefs, not truth in the abstract.Thus, it's important to understand how he arrives at truth.
As to naturalism, there's a huge problem in the naturalist's trust of reason. Simply put, the naturalist cannot ground reasoning as offering a true reflection of reality. The best it can do is say "it provides the results I desire." That's simply because on the naturalist's point of view the brain is ultimately responsible for judging truth but the brain itself. But why trust the brain? At best, it is an organ that was created purposelessly over time. As long as it helps us survive, it matters not whether it tells us the truth about the world or not. Survival, not truth value, is it's function.
Thanks for the response.
Sure, I think it is obvious to pretty much everyone---a minority of pragmatists notwithstanding---that what works doesn't determine truth.
But I still don't see the alleged problem with naturalism, here. What sort of "ground" are you demanding, that you think the naturalist (a) must provide, but (b) cannot provide? And how does Christianity provide the ground you think is missing on naturalism?
Also, let's not forget that an informed naturalist does *not* blindly trust the deliverances of his brain. Since naturalistic evolution selects for reproductive success and not directly for truth-aptness, we should expect that many of our beliefs will be false even where we follow our limited powers of reason. In contrast, Christianity offers no such prediction in this regard.
Thanks for the comments, Ben. One of the more sophisticated explanations of the argument from Reason is offered by Victor Reppert. He's made it available here: https://appearedtoblogly.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/the-argument-from-reason.pdfDelete
@Ben Wallis. Actually, the old and new testaments are psychologically rich. Some behaviours and conditions mentioned: being inherently flawed in our reasoning; preferring ideas and beliefs that promote our own agendas; self agrandisement out of insecurity; intellectually avoiding and suppressing evidence for God and moral responsibility; intellectual laziness; as well as just plain bloody-mindedness in the teeth of evidence. The bible teaches that our faculties are indeed inherently flawed, but sufficient to perceive truth unless overridden by self-interest.ReplyDelete