Self-Defeating Naturalism

Self-Defeating Naturalism

Be sensible: join us for the Reformation Hymn Sing, and Ross’s abundant humor, Sunday evening from 5p to 8p. We’ll sing, then feast. Featured dessert will be the world-renowned, gold-medal winning, browned-butter-frosted pumpkin cookies of Irwin. Let the glycemic index rejoice.

After a long time away from the subject, I’ve enjoyed teaching Apologetics at our own Covenant Christian High School (even though I’m out of practice). One of the current apologists I’ve leaned on is John Lennox, an Oxford mathematician who has a wonderful, vibrant faith and who happens to be the uncle of Kristyn Getty (of Keith & Kristyn Getty fame, several of whose hymns Ross has taught us).

About a month ago, listening to a YouTube video of Lennox speaking at Harvard, I was struck by two comments he made. The first was commentary on something said by Bertrand Russell; the second was a direct quote of the remarkable philosopher (and believer) Alvin Plantinga. Lennox used both quotes to illustrate how atheistic Naturalism, which denies Supernaturalism in general and God in particular, is a self-defeating system of thought.

Here’s the easier of the two from Russell: “What science cannot tell us, mankind cannot know.” In his lecture, Lennox simply asked, Is Russell’s comment a statement of science? The answer is, no. He’s not making a statement of science; he’s making an assertion. Therefore we cannot know it. If what he’s saying is true, then what he’s saying is false. (Russell’s assertion is actually a statement of faith.)

The Plantinga quote is more involved. He’s referring to “new atheist” and Biology professor Richard Dawkins, and Dawkins’ assertion that all that exists is the product of purely natural causes, by definition random and meaningless. Plantinga said, “If Dawkins is right, and we are the product of mindless, unguided processes, then he has given us strong reason to doubt the reliability of human cognitive faculties, and therefore to doubt the validity of any belief that they produce, including Dawkins’ own science and atheism. His biology and his belief in naturalism would therefore be at war with each other in a conflict that has nothing to do with God or belief in God.”

That last bit is so compelling: if Dawkins genuinely holds to Naturalism, in which all that exists is unguided, random, and meaningless, then his own work as a biologist is suspect, since it’s the product of his own mind which is, in turn, a product of meaningless processes. I love that Plantinga takes God entirely out of the discussion, clarifying that Dawkins holds views that are fundamentally self-defeating. As my friends in the south say, we don’t have a dog in that fight.

Anyway, all this has given me a new appreciation for the vital truthfulness and depth of Proverbs 3:5-8 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”