An Application of the Epistemological Argument

October 8, 2009 — Leave a comment

A couple of days ago, we explored the idea of an epistemological argument for the existence of God. In Philosophy of Religion class today, we were examining the contents of the argument for God from the fine tuning of the universe for the existence of life. The basic idea (and this is probably an oversimplification) is that given the set of evidence for the universe being fine-tuned for existence of life, theism is the more probable hypothesis than atheism. Or in other words, given this set of data, theism is the more probable explanation and interpretation of the data.

Now I won’t get into the atheistic response to that conclusion, I just used the example of this argument to show that it is very similar to the epistemological argument, with one difference. In the epistemological argument, this can be used for any given set of data in the universe, and the question is not “which hypothesis (atheism vs. theism) is more probable, but which hypothesis can even make sense of the data from an epistemological vantage point.

That is more or less what we were getting at a couple of days ago, but I suppose a concrete example might help to clarify.

Let’s take Richard Dawkins’ argument in  The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. He states no less than 17 times in the opening chapter that evolution is a fact, in a chapter which is, mind you, less than 20 pages. Now, to examine this epistemologically, we would need to ask, what else needs to be true for evolution to be a fact, but not just a fact, a fact that should be believed as “true” by you and me. Dawkins is not arguing for people to simply recognize the truth of evolution in a subjective sort of way, which in the end we could just say, “Well bully for you Richard, but I find creationism to be more appealing to my personal tastes.”

No, Dawkins is arguing for the recognition of evolution as an absolute truth, something that everyone everywhere is compelled to believe if they are to be logical/rational. Which of course is the charge being made against the nay-sayers, or history deniers as Dawkins calls them (which then spirals quickly to a comparison to Holocaust deniers).

But that, as it turns out, is the biggest weakness for his argument.

Dawkins, like most atheistic scientists is a metaphyiscal naturalist, which is the belief that only nature exists. I’ve talked about that elsewhere if you want a fuller account of it philosophically, but the point is that on Dawkins’ own worldview, something like absolute truth could not exist. It is something that transcends nature and is something that could not evolve over time, or just show up at some point later by arising from natural processes. On the basis of his understanding of what people believe as true, truth cannot correspond to any sort of external, transcendent, absolute truth, but rather it is simply something to be believed because it of value either to survival or quality of life. As such, what one would think of as “true” on Dawkins’ worldview, does not necessarily have to be “true” in the sense of corresponding to some kind of external fact of the matter.

So here’s the rub…

If Dawkins is correct about evolution being a “fact,” then he would have to resort to something besides logic (like say fear-mongering or belittling) to convince you to believe that it is indeed true for you as well, or something to be believed. As such, to be consistent, he could not accuse anyone of being illogical for rejecting his claims, because in his worldview there is not absolute truth, there is just true for me and true for you. He may find value in believing evolution to be true, but if I don’t, I’m not necessarily being illogical.

The other alternative is to give up his metaphysical naturalism and then he can appeal to absolute truth, and in which case, one would be illogical to not accept what he presents as true (if of course he is reasoning deductively, but that’s tomorrow’s post). Truth in that instance would then transcend my own personal preferences.

But unfortunately again for Dawkins, if evolution is in fact true, there is no reason to trust my ability to reason. For the same reason I don’t ask advice from the animals at the zoo, if all I am is an advanced animal then I shouldn’t trust my ability to evaluate the evidence at hand and make a correct conclusion. It might seem right to me, but I have no guarantee I am evaluating things properly, and then again, the charge can be made that what I believe to be “true” in fact does not correspond to any external absolute truth, but is just something I need to advance my genes.

So once again, I’m not illogical to ignore Dawkins’ conclusions. Further still, if he drops metaphysical naturalism and admits absolute truth, then we have other options that are viable and we have other evidence that becomes admissible. Most prominently in the absence of metaphysical naturalism, there could be a person, say the Triune God of the Bible, who in fact created the universe and revealed this fact through his prophets.

This of course is not a scientific explanation per se, but it makes better sense of the data at hand, like the notion of absolute truth and the existence of things like logic. Dawkins cannot account for either of those items and technically his worldview excludes them. But given the existence of logic and the notion of truth corresponding to some kind of fixed reality (another way of saying absolute truth) a worldview that cannot make sense of this evidence is hardly a worldview worth holding.

So in short, given evidence L and T (logic and truth), the evolutionary worldview presented by Dawkins cannot make sense of either (or even really allows for their existence) and so is epistemologically defective. His worldview does not furnish us with an explanation for the epistemological tools he has to use to even present and argue for his worldview. Logic and absolute truth are simply tools borrowed from the toolbox of the Christian worldview and then used to construct and argument against it. But when, as an apologist thinking Christianly, you properly ask for the tools back, the house of cards men like Richard Dawkins constructs quickly falls to the ground.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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