The non-Christian attack often comes to us on matters of historical, or other, detail. It comes to us in the form of objections to certain teachings of Scripture, say, with respect to creation, etc.[i]
And so we are engaged. Popular engagement is on the creation-evolution front. Behind this is the question of world view. For several hundred years the conflict between Christianity and naturalism has raged. Particular battles have been between Galileo and church authority, the Scopes trial, and so forth.
One of the conditions which accompanies a debate on world views is that no world view be “proven” in any deductive sense. Though the effort of many is to provide some seemingly deductive proof, there just is none.
The question of world view consistency can be raised with questions as to soundness, or internal consistency. The paganism of naturalism[ii], and it’s modern cousin Marxism, depend on a view of knowledge which pretends to be a priori but is in fact a posteriori. The erroneously-categorized claim is the eternality of the natural universe, independent of creation. But this assumes that such knowledge, which depends upon nature, is able to assess nature. “Reason” is then raised above nature while at the same time depends upon nature for its existence.
Though the Reformed view places the source for knowledge within the context of revelation (thus removing responsibility for creating truth from people), not all Christians hold to this theological method. Both Rome and the Arminians place some source for reason and truth within human capacity[iii]. It is for this reason that the Christian apologist, when fighting in defense of the faith, is always attacking the particulars, such as specific evolutionary errors. But the net is that this evidential approach is always a defensive approach.
Darwin understood this when he presented a challenge to those who opposed his naturalistic world view and mechanism. His challenge:
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case.[iv]
Darwin established a framework for naturalism but did not posit a challenge to the presupposition, but to the evidence. He knew how to use evidence better than today’s Christian evidentialist. He first framed the evidence within naturalism and then set that presupposition above criticism, leaving the foundation for evidence to sit as pawn in the battle. In chess, one does not win by capturing pawn but by capturing the king. Darwin’s naturalism is thus as pagan as the Marxist.
Alvin Plantinga likewise sees a priori knowledge in a fashion similar to the Roman and Arminian. He says[v]:
According to the Cartesian tradition, we have privileged epistemic access to these [knowledge of self] matters. Some say it is impossible to be mistaken about them; we have incorrigible knowledge of these matters, where S has incorrigible knowledge of a proposition p if and only if it is not possible that p be false and S believe it, and not possible that p be true and S believe p. Other say, not that we have incorrigible knowledge here, but that we can have knowledge here by reflection alone; all you need to do to know whether you are in pain, for example, si think about it.
Here the tradition in question seems right. It is right, first, in holding that we have knowledge here.
Unfortunately Plantinga makes no reference to revelation as a source for knowledge. But he does take the positive step of showing that naturalism does not allow for a suitable knowledge of reality. Naturalism, he says, is incoherent because it cannot account for knowledge properly. While employing the methodology of analytic epistemology to analyze the epistemic products of naturalism, he concludes[vi], if naturalism is true, then (with respect to Dawkin’s blind watchmaker proposition):
Suppose you concur with Dawkins: can you then properly employ the notion of proper function in epistemology? If you can’t, you’ve got a problem; and you’ll have the same problem with much of contemporary science. For most of the disciplines falling under biology, psychology, sociology, economics, and the like essentially involve thoe functional generalizations of which we have spoken, and those generalizations, in turn, essentially involve the notions of proper function, damage, malfunction, purpose, design plan, and others in that family.
What Plantinga has done is none-the-less unique. He has attacked naturalism, not for its general incoherence as a world view as does VanTil, but for its particular incoherence failing as a world view. This leaves the evidence, evolution, floundering like a fish on the deck of a ship, waiting to be picked up and cast back into the sea as just so much flotsam.
If there were a weakness in Plantinga’s argument it would be his definitions of knowledge. But even so his position is a capable one, and adequate to accomplish the goal of attacking the foundation of naturalism, as VanTil has pursued.
[i] Van Til, Cornelius, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, Second Edition, 1974, R&R Publishing, p. 23.
[ii] “It should be clear, however, that although Marx was indeed an atheist, his theories all presuppose the non-dependence or self-existence of matter; physical matter, along with its innate law of dialectical development, is “just there.” Matter depends on nothing whatever, and all of reality is either identical with or depends on matter. For this reason, despite its protests to the contrary, Marx’s theory is based on a religious belief. And, what is more to the point, this religious belief is a typically pagan one since it takes something about the universe (matter and its dialectical law to be the self-existent segment of reality on which all depends.” Clouser, Roy, The Myth of Religious Neutrality, Notre Dame Press, p. 46
[iii] “The Arminian position is similar to that of the Romanist. Assuming with Romanism that many facts come to pass in history as the result of man independently of the plan of God, it is consistent for the Arminian position to argue with the nonbeliever about archaeology or miracles without bringing in the plan of God.” VanTil, p. 39.
[iv] Darwin, Charles, The Origin of Species : By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, p. 232
[v] Plantinga, Alvin, Warrant and Proper Function, 1993, Oxford University Press, p. 49
[vi] Ibid, p. 197