The Enlightenment is Dead: Chapter 4 – From Modernism to Postmodernism: The Transformation of ‘Better Living through Chemistry’

Better Living Through Chemistry

Materialism and the Crisis of Meaningful Existence

The beginning of the twentieth century was the best of times and the worst of times for atheism.  Science was making stupendous discoveries and technological advances faster than any time in history, and science was interpreted as a product of atheism.   Darwinism had triumphed in the highest levels of all the institutions that governed the world.  The Great War (World War I) was welcomed as an opportunity for a great evolutionary leap forward for humanity by culling the weak and allowing the fit to triumph.  Yet the scene of massive misery, destruction, and death caused by the war was revolting.  The triumph of atheism that was supposed to be a triumph for humanity forced intellectuals to confront Nietzschean nihilism.  The term “crisis” became the word of the day among academicians in Europe, which called for an existential philosophy that addressed whether human life had any meaning.  Max Scheler wrote, “In our ten-thousand year history, we are the first time period in which the human being has become fully and totally ‘problematic’; the first time period in which the human being no longer knows who he or she is, but also knows that he doesn’t know.”[1]  The machines built by science threatened to destroy the self, the spirit, the soul.

Continental rationalists argued that the value of the inner, spiritual life of man needed to be reestablished to overcome the crisis of personal meaning brought about by strictly materialistic science, which they did not question.[2]  They focused on motifs of despair, dread, angst, the absurd, and fear of death.  They saw the human condition, broadly considered, as more important than debating the narrower issue of scientific knowledge and whether you can know that your hand is in front of your face.  They formulated their views as Cartesians and Kantians, not as a call to return to traditional Christianity.  Edmund Husserl tried to establish certainty of knowledge in terms of necessary, eternal essences of the human psyche, very similar to Plato and Descartes, and sought to establish other areas of knowledge like science from that basis.

Husserl’s student Martin Heidegger rejected his teacher’s attempt at Platonic certainty and took up the cause of an existential philosophy with an analysis of “Being” in general and how humans can live authentic, meaningful lives despite being thrown into a world not of their own making and with no transcendent meaning.  He declared that there are no satisfactory answers about the meaning of life, but we must ask the questions anyway.  Humans face inescapable dread in the face of their uncertainty and thrownness into a life without meaning.  Heidegger wanted to affirm the view of modern science that the laws of nature exist before they are discovered by humans, which implies a realist metaphysic; but the main thrust of his philosophy was a Kantian, anti-realist analysis of Being.[3]  Recognition that man is thrown into a world not of man’s making sets up any Kantian for failure because it contradicts the claim of the sovereignty of human consciousness over the laws and facts of nature.  That there is a world not of our own making implies that there is rationality beyond what we impose on the world.  But if humans are autonomous, there should be no meaning beyond what humans impose.  The individual is left with the disoriented feeling of thrownness into an unintelligible world, a strangely self-conscious speck arising from and floating in an infinite sea of irrationalism.  In the decade after the 1927 publication of his major treatise, Being and Time, Heidegger realized the failure of his approach.  He was followed by Sartre, who pushed existentialism to its logical conclusion of the absurdity of human existence, as I addressed above.


Empiricists’ Failure to Demarcate Between Science and Religion

Ignoring the problem of meaning and human consciousness, philosophers following the empiricist tradition pushed full-throttle materialism.   In the spirit of Kant, they wanted to make the case for the possibility of scientific knowledge and show that it is different from religious knowledge, even though God was dead among the intellectual class already because of Darwin and Marx.  Kant at least claimed that he wanted to “make room for faith,” but philosophers of the twentieth century generally wanted God completely eliminated.   Philosophers such as G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell led a revolt against idealist philosophy in favor of naturalistic, analytic empiricism.  Like Kant, they wanted to restrict all knowledge to phenomena, but they rejected Kant’s noumenal realm.  They held to a strict empiricism, which placed them basically in the same position as Hume’s philosophy.  But they thought this time, with an analytic emphasis on clearing up ambiguities in the use of language, they could solve many of the problems of philosophy.  By clarifying ordinary language, they thought that they could get rid of the illusion of a non-empirical aspect to reality like universals and God.

G.E. Moore promoted “common sense realism,” that our normal, common-sense view of the world is largely correct.  His “common sense” proof of an external world was “By holding up my two hands, and saying, as I make a certain gesture with the right hand, ‘Here is one hand’, and adding, as I make a certain gesture with the left, ‘and here is another’.”[4]  Impressive, right?  Of course, such a superficial analysis failed to prove his point.  He later wrote an essay called “Certainty,” and by the end of it admitted defeat because he could not know whether or not he was dreaming about seeing his hands, or sitting, or whatever his senses seemed to tell him.[5]  Even while materialistic science had come to rule the world at the beginning of the twentieth century, the philosophy of materialistic science was groping in the dark, unable to know whether there is a material, external world.

One attempt to defend empiricism through clearing up language was to define rational meaning as language about things that could be empirically tested.  Since, they alleged, religious claims could not be tested empirically, religious claims must not be rationally meaningful – only emotionally meaningful.  This view was known as logical positivism.  If the logical positivists had been consistent, they would have designated mathematics and universal causation as meaningless because their universality cannot be empirically observed or tested.  R.G. Collingwood observes,

I do not know why the logical positivists have not thus pilloried as nonsensical the principle that mathematics is applicable to everything in nature; unless it is that they know this principle to be one upon which natural science ever since Galileo has depended, and still depends, for its very possibility. Being the declared friends of natural science, they would never dream of making a fuss about anything which natural scientists find it necessary to take for granted. So they let it pass, and to ease their consciences drop heavily upon the proposition ‘God exists’, because they think nobody believes in God except poor miserable parsons, whose luggage enjoys no such diplomatic immunity. If they knew a little more about the history of science, they would know that the belief in the possibility of applied mathematics is only one part of the belief in God.[6]

  Around the 1960’s philosophers realized that they could not solve the problems of the strict empiricism that they equated with hard science.  Ironically, or maybe with some cultural influence involved, this happened at the same time that “better living through chemistry” (a DuPont advertising slogan beginning in 1935) was transformed from a triumphant claim of modernistic scientism into a slogan for escapism through psychedelic drugs. The philosophers found that empirical testing was not such an easy concept to define.  The “verification” principle failed miserably.  Atheist philosophers and scientists cannot help but use abstract ideas in their speech, thus making those sentences rationally meaningless according to the verification principle.  The verification principle itself, that only sentences that are empirically verifiable are meaningful, is not empirically verifiable.  So it is self-refuting.  It also excludes common statements of science, such as “water always expands when it freezes,” because such universal statements cannot be verified by finite humans.[7]

Since verificationism didn’t work, Karl Popper proposed the falsification criterion.  He argued that a statement must be empirically refutable in some conceivable circumstance to be rationally meaningful.  This rule had the advantage of not disqualifying generalized statements like “water always expands when it freezes.”  But then some philosophers realized that any statement can resist falsification because nobody holds just one belief that an empirical test can exclusively target.  A person always holds a network of beliefs, and when a test seems to falsify a particular belief that a person doesn’t want to give up, another less strongly-held belief can be sacrificed.  This applies to atheist beliefs as much as traditional religious beliefs. Everyone has a “web of belief” (as W.V.O. Quine called it).  For people to differ in their worldviews means that they have different beliefs that are more central and strongly held onto and different beliefs that are more peripheral to the web and therefore more easily abandoned, but everyone has a web of belief of this structure.   Atheists, like Christians, can divert counter-evidence to defeat a less strongly held belief in order to preserve a more strongly held belief.  Because different people have their beliefs positioned in their web differently, different people will abandon different beliefs in light of the same evidence.

Imre Lakatos  used the example of a Newtonian scientist:  If an experiment brought into question Newton’s laws, a scientist committed to Newtonianism might be willing to give up this belief, but he also might propose some undetected planetary body or force as the cause of the unexpected result, or question the reliability of the measuring instruments, rather than give up his belief in Newton’s laws. [8]  Lakatos concluded that the falsification criterion fails as a self-sufficient tool for gaining scientific knowledge because “the prime target remains hopelessly elusive” to “the arrow of modus tollens.”[9]

The problem can be illustrated with a slight modification of the well-known Aristotelian syllogism:  All gods are immortal; Apollo is a god, therefore Apollo is immortal.  But what if we empirically verify that Apollo has died?  That could mean either that Apollo is not a god or that all gods are not immortal.  That could be expressed as:

    1. If all gods are immortal and Apollo is a god, then Apollo is immortal.
    2. But Apollo dies (is not immortal)
    3. Therefore it is not true that all gods are immortal and Apollo is a god.
    4. Either all gods are not immortal, or Apollo is not a God.

There is also the joke about psych inmate who was convinced that he was dead.  His psychologist proposed a test to prove him wrong.  He told the inmate, “Let’s prick your finger and see if you bleed because dead men don’t bleed.”  He pricked his finger.  It bled.  The psych inmate exclaimed, “Dead men bleed after all!”  In symbolic logic this can be expressed as follows:

    1. (p & q) -> r
    2. ~ r
    3. ~ (p & q)        1,2 MT (Modus Tollens)
    4. ~p v ~q           3   DM (DeMorgan’s rule)

Faced with counter-evidence to “r,” a person is within his logical rights to pick either of the two beliefs to abandon, “p” or “q.”[10]

Quine’s web of belief means that beliefs are “underdetermined by experience.”[11]   He says that, “the edge of the system must be kept squared with experience; the rest, with all its elaborate myths or fictions, has as its objective the simplicity of laws.  Ontological questions, under this view, are on a par with questions of natural science.”[12]  We posit things like objects, forces, abstract logical and mathematical entities like sets, or even gods in order to explain experience:

Objects at the atomic level and beyond are posited to make the laws of macroscopic objects, and ultimately the laws of experience, simpler and more manageable. . . .   Physical objects, small and large, are not the only posits. Forces are another example; and indeed we are told nowadays that the boundary between energy and matter is obsolete. Moreover, the abstract entities which are the substance of mathematics — ultimately classes and classes of classes and so on up — are another posit in the same spirit. Epistemologically these are myths on the same footing with physical objects and gods, neither better nor worse except for differences in the degree to which they expedite our dealings with sense experiences.[13]

As a materialistic atheist, Quine did not believe in gods, but he admitted that he could not exclude them, given that our beliefs are underdetermined by experience:  “Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits.”[14]  Atheists who seek naturalistic explanations for everything in experience and try to find alternate explanations where a divine miracle seems to have intervened in nature are operating at the same epistemological level in terms of their web of belief as Christians are in their web of belief when they appeal to God as an explanation and try to find alternate explanations of evidence that seem to disprove God’s existence. You could say that the atheist and the Christian are being equally “religious” in maintaining faith in their belief system in the face of apparent evidence to the contrary.  The atheist, however, faces a problem with his reasoning that the Christian does not:  The atheist is being inconsistent with his view of how he claims knowledge is supposed to be gained, by following the facts wherever they lead without regard to any non-empirical assumptions.  Excluding God is a non-empirical assumption, part of most modern atheist’s theoretical (non-empirical) definition of science.

Postmodern atheist philosophers of science realized that knowledge could not be completely reduced to sense experience.  This can be seen in the definition of science.  The definition of science cannot be derived from isolating a physical substance called “science” in a test tube.  The definition of science cannot be found growing on trees.  “Science” is an immaterial, universal concept.  The definition of naturalistic science is non-empirical.  That science requires empirical verifiability is not itself empirically verifiable – which leads to the absurd conclusion that any definition of science is unscientific.  The commitment of twentieth-century intellectuals to the materialistic faith, that the isolated particulars of sense experience are the source of all knowledge, logically excludes the possibility of knowing abstract universals, such as the definition of science.

To put it another way, the problem of the science/religion dichotomy is that verification that a claim is true requires some standard of truth by which to judge the claim in question.  But being committed to finite experience of isolated particulars as the source of knowledge, the atheist empiricists could find no fixed truth to serve as that standard.  They could not logically appeal to a universal standard to reject the universal concept of “religion.”  Certainty of anything was rejected by many of them, and indeed, logical consistency with their basic commitments required the rejection of certainty.  Some select “truths of science” were assumed to be absolute in practice, but again, logical consistency with their theory of knowledge would not allow knowledge of absolutes. With no fixed standard, verification is impossible.  A naturalistic, empiricist epistemology can provide no fixed standards.  Therefore, it has no fixed standard to separate science from myth.

The difference between science and religion that secularists imagined turned out to be an illusion, even though most secularists today are oblivious to this discovery by their own experts.  Most secularists and all liberal theologians still believe in the naïve dichotomy expressed by Galileo (interpreted in a Kantian sense that is alien to Galileo’s Christian beliefs that he held to his death), that “The Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”  Or as a leading modern evolutionist and Marxist has put it, science and religion are “Non-overlapping magisteria,” or “NOMA” for short (“magisteria” meaning teaching authorities).[15]  A.J. Ayer, a leading logical positivist philosopher, admitted the failure of that school of thought that championed a sharp epistemic distinction between science and religion.  Speaking of the “Vienna Circle,” a group of influential logical positivists that included Ayer himself, he says, “The Vienna Circle did not accomplish all that they once hoped to accomplish.   Many of the problems which they tried to settle still remain unsolved.”[16]   He admitted in a 1976 interview with Bryan Magee that logical positivism was false, even though he had been a primary promotor of it through his famous book published in 1936, Language, Truth, and Logic:

Bryan Magee:  “What do you now, in retrospect, think that the main shortcomings of the movement were?”

A.J. Ayer:  “Well, I suppose most of the defect is that at the end of it all it was false.”[17]

Here was the main philosophy that defined science in the twentieth century, and still considered today by most secularists as the view that defines science, and it was a bunch of baloney.  Likewise, atheist apologist Kai Nelson states:

While for Hans Reichenbach or Bertrand Russell or Ernest Nagel, there was a commitment to clarity in the service of a scientific world-perspective, for post-positivist analytic philosophers, there is no clear rationale for their clarifications:  there is no philosophical knowledge to be gained, no demarcation of science from metaphysics or ideology to be drawn, no systematic representation of our concepts to be constructed or critique of our society to be made.  Post-positivist analytic philosophers afford us no hope of the gaining of a framework from which such a critique could be carried out.  There is no clear conception of what the demand for clarity should come to.[18]

Similarly, in an essay entitled “The Demise of the Demarcation problem,” Larry Lauden writes:

           Indeed, it would not be going too far to say that, for a very long time, philosophers have been regarded as the gatekeepers to the scientific estate. They are the ones who are supposed to be able to tell the difference between real science and pseudo-science. In the familiar academic scheme of things, it is specifically the theorists of knowledge and the philosophers of science who are charged with arbitrating and legitimating the claims of any sect to “scientific” status. It is small wonder, under the circumstances, that the question of the nature of science has loomed so large in Western philosophy. From Plato to Popper, philosophers have sought to identify those epistemic features which mark off science from other sorts of belief and activity.

            Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that philosophy has largely failed to deliver the relevant goods. Whatever the specific strengths and deficiencies of the numerous well-known efforts at demarcation . . . . , it is probably fair to say that there is no demarcation line between science and non-science, or between science and pseudo-science, which would win assent from a majority of philosophers. Nor is there one which should win acceptance from philosophers or anyone else . . . .[19]

               The failure of naturalistic empiricism to establish a line of demarcation between science and religion is a failure of the central claim of naturalistic empiricism, that sense experience can account for all knowledge.  There is an unavoidable theoretical, non-empirical aspect of all knowledge claims.   Determining the origin of those mental concepts and how they can relate to and govern the functioning of the material world is the key to a sound philosophical account of knowledge.


Kuhn and Scientific Paradigms

Adding to the case against naturalistic empiricism, Thomas Kuhn wrote a famous book in 1962 called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Kuhn argued that science has not progressed merely by the discovery of more and more new facts, nor can it, contrary to the expectations of the naturalistic empiricists.  Science looks like a mere accumulation of new facts under “normal science,” when a scientific discipline has an accepted paradigm that appears to be working.   But anomalies that cannot be explained in terms of the accepted paradigm can build up.  They are either ignored or regarded by the establishment as puzzles to be solved within the rules of the paradigm, at least until there are so many anomalies that the scientists acknowledge that there is a crisis.  Scientific revolutions occur when someone tries to account for the anomalies by thinking of a new way of looking at the world, a new paradigm that can change the meaning of the facts already discovered and sets new rules about how to discover more facts.  This happened in physics when the Aristotelian view that bodies come to rest because of a principle of coming to rest that resides within bodies was replaced by the Newtonian view that gravitational forces act on bodies.  And the Newtonian view was later replaced by the Einsteinian view of curved space.  Often the younger scientists who have not invested their careers in the old paradigm have to replace the old guard before the new paradigm becomes the new normal science.  As physicist Max Planck purportedly said, science advances one funeral at a time.

Paradigms are global visions of how the world works, and might not, especially initially, explain all the facts better.  A new paradigm is sometimes accepted by scientists because it appears to promise better solutions to the crises with more research in the future. [20]  Kuhn says that this was initially true in regard to those who endorsed the Copernican Theory over the Ptolemaic Theory.[21]  As I will discuss later, Galileo promoted the Copernican Theory without providing substantial evidence for it.


Wittgenstein, Atomism, and Universals

Russell’s prize student, Ludwig Wittgenstein, wrote a celebrated defense of atomistic empiricism in his treatise Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.  But then he reconsidered what he had written and decided that atomistic empiricism did not necessarily clear up language.  The meaning of language can’t be defined with logical precision.  Language is much more ambiguous and a product of the flux of human life in all the various human communities. To ask what are the parts of something can have various answers depending on the intent of the question.  Are the parts of the tree the branches, or the molecules?  “To the philosophical question: ‘Is the visual image of this tree composite, and what are its component parts?’ the correct answer is:  ‘That depends on what you understand by “composite”.’ (And that is of course not an answer but a rejection of the question.)”[22]  Wittgenstein pointed out that the same word is often used in many different ways; therefore, the atomistic empiricists were mistaken to think that a word should always stand for one, simple object.

Wittgenstein thought that he had “dissolved” the problem of universals by the observation that the same word can be used in different ways.  But as long as there are similarities in the ways that we use a word, “family resemblances” as he called them to avoid the atomistic view of language, we are still dealing with universals.  To quote Nietzsche again, “I am afraid we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar.”  Out of all the similarities between different things in the world, we can pick a certain similarity or group of similarities and attach a word to them, but there will always be other sets of similarities that we could choose to attach the same word to.  This gives language a quality of arbitrariness, but it does not dissolve into the chaos of unrelated particulars, which would be a place where humans could never learn to use language because the future would never resemble the past.  If nothing were similar, a particular word could never describe more than one object, and every object would have only a momentary existence before it became another object in the flux of experience.   Humans can invent words and learn to apply them because there is an objective unity to the world, about which humans, being made in the image of God, can communicate with each other using the words that they invent.

Wittgenstein urged rejecting specialized philosophical lingo in favor of ordinary language.  But is that going to solve all philosophical problems?  Is ordinary language perfect? – all the different languages of all the different cultures that all the people in all the world and throughout time have used in ordinary life?  Since some cultures believe things that contradict what other cultures believe, making ordinary language the ultimate standard of truth would mean that contradictions are true.  That is the end of philosophy, the end of any refinement towards greater accuracy of thinking.  And while Wittgenstein is anti-metaphysical, his appeal to ordinary language can’t exclude those who talk of God and angels and souls in their ordinary speech.  Wittgenstein wanted to reform philosophy, but his approach is self-destructive.  He wanted to “let the fly out of the fly bottle” of “artificial” language; but he could not help but speak from his own fly bottle, behind his own pair of glasses that interpret the world, using the words of his own language-game to critique other language games.  His philosophy is radically anti-metaphysical, so he has no way to say that he has found an absolute truth, a universal that transcends the particular language games to allow knowledge of an objective, common world.  Like atheist worldviews in general, he is stuck with the self-refuting claim that the truth is that there is no truth.  Everyone is playing a language-game with no reality behind the game, including Wittgenstein.  His goal was a philosophy “that is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question,”[23] but he failed to do that.[24]  Wittgenstein is right that we cannot get outside of language to describe language and the world, but there is still an objective world beyond what human language may describe because the world is created by a linguistic God, the Word, the Logos, who created the world with a rational structure through speech (Gen. 1; John 1:1-3).[25]


Secularism Undermines Objective Factuality

The recognition of the truth that all facts are interpreted facts by secularist postmodernists only highlighted their inability to account for science.  Any interpretation of facts developed by autonomous, finite minds (assuming such minds could arise from the ultimately non-rational in the first place) would be completely arbitrary.  The discovery of a new fact could never be an indication of what is true about the world.  On the basis of human autonomy, whether based on empiricism or rationalism or some combination of the two, any regularity of nature that a scientist might conceive has no better standing than any ancient mythology.  The autonomous human mind can provide no Archimedean fulcrum, no absolute that ought to be central in the web of belief and serve as a judge over other beliefs.  With anyone’s web of belief being as good as anyone else’s, there is no basis for distinguishing between the beliefs of a person who is insane and the beliefs of a tenured college professor, much less make a distinction between religious beliefs and scientific beliefs.  Once again, an ultimate commitment to isolated particulars has excluded universals, resulting in the very possibility of science being undermined.


Creationism is Scientific/Science Depends on Metaphysics

When evolutionists claim that creationism doesn’t count as science because its claims are not empirically verifiable, they are committing two logical fallacies:  begging the question of naturalism and making a self-refuting statement.  In terms of begging the question of naturalism, they are excluding evidence for supernatural creation by definition, before they look at the evidence.   Naturalism is a lens through which they interpret the evidence.  Yet to have an interpretive lens rather than just look at the facts is anti-naturalistic.  Thus the claim is also self-refuting.  From this we can conclude that the naturalistic lens is a false one, a lens that distorts the world rather than clarifying it.  “The sinner has cemented colored glasses to his eyes which he cannot remove. And all is yellow to the jaundiced eye.”[26]  As I will explain, Christians have a basis for saying that they know the Truth even though all facts are interpreted facts; Christians can say that they have the true interpretation.  Christians are able to acknowledge an interpretive lens without being self-refuting in the context of the epistemology and metaphysics of their worldview.

Since it is impossible to empirically test all of one’s beliefs, or even one’s most important beliefs about the world, atheist scientists are being philosophically naïve and self-refuting when they claim that only scientifically testable beliefs are rational.  Science requires empirically untestable beliefs as a precondition for doing empirical science.  Science depends on rational categories, like rules of logic and mathematics, in order to evaluate sense impressions.  Scientists do not test for the uniformity of natural law.  They assume it in order to conduct experiments.  Even atheist scientists “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) when they assume that future will be like the past since they have never seen the future.  The assumption of the existence of God, especially if it supports the scientific enterprise, is no less rational than the assumption of the uniformity of nature.

Early twentieth-century philosopher Alfred North Whitehead pointed out that scientists that adhere to Hume’s naturalistic empiricism despite its failure to account for knowledge are making a blind leap of faith that science is rational:

For we shall find that since the time of Hume, the fashionable scientific philosophy has been such as to deny the rationality of science. This conclusion lies upon the surface of Hume’s philosophy. . . .  If the cause in itself discloses no information as to the effect, so that the first invention of it must be entirely arbitrary, it follows at once that science is impossible, except in the sense of establishing entirely arbitrary connections which are not warranted by anything intrinsic to the natures either of causes or effects. Some variant of Hume’s philosophy has generally prevailed among men of science.  But scientific faith has risen to the occasion, and has tacitly removed the philosophic mountain.[27]

Science among atheists can continue so long as atheists don’t take their atheism too seriously.  If their actions were logically consistent with their atheist philosophy, they would stop doing science.  A more thoroughly secular society would be a society where science dies, and eventually civilization as well.  Again, quoting Whitehead:

In the first place, there can be no living science unless there is a widespread instinctive conviction in the existence of an Order of Things, and, in particular, an Order of Nature. I have used the word instinctive advisedly. It does not matter what men say in words, so long as their activities are controlled by settled instincts. The words may ultimately destroy the instincts. But until this has occurred, words do not count.[28]

Thank God that, for now, the instinct remains (a remnant, as we’ll see, of the influence of Christianity on western civilization) and the secularists’ words do not count as much as they could.  They are not yet fully epistemologically self-conscious.


Justifying Induction in the Twentieth Century

The empiricist philosophers in the twentieth century failed make any headway finding a solution to Hume’s problem of induction, that there is a universal law of cause and effect.  Bertrand Russell admits as much.[29]

Karl Popper opens his book, Objective Knowledge, with the claim that “I may be mistaken; but I think that I have solved a major philosophical problem: the problem of induction.”[30]  But it turns out that he is not talking about the same problem.  He says that a prediction can found to be false by present or past observations.  But he acknowledges that no reason can be given for affirming that a scientific theory is true or probably true by present or past observations.

Frederick L. Will argues that inductive inference is justified because we are constantly confirming that instances that were future resemble instances prior to those instances.  In this sense, the future is observable.[31]  But it misses the point of Hume’s objection, that we don’t have an empirical basis for knowing that the future will be like the past prior to the future becoming the present or past.

Some have offered a pragmatic justification of induction:  if induction turns out to be true, we will have some chance of success to assume that it true; but if we assume that induction is not true, we have no chance at success.[32]  Betting on induction being true, however, does not prove that it is true.

Others have claimed that the demand for a justification of induction is improper because conformity to inductive standards is included in what we mean by the term “reasonable,” like when we say that a scientific theory is reasonable.  That is, induction is a necessary, analytic truth, like saying that a triangle has three sides.  But that the future will be like the past is contingently true, if it is true at all; so it is not a necessary, analytic truth.  We can’t make something true simply be defining it as true.  A group of people could define “wishful thinking” as reasonable, but that does not make wishful thinking true.

While the a posteriori, the pragmatic, and the linguistic approaches to justifying induction fail, I will argue that an a priori theistic argument is the only way to justify induction.[33]


Postmodernism and the Failure of Atheist Philosophy

Bertrand Russell rightly observes,

Hume’s philosophy, whether true or false, represents the bankruptcy of eighteenth-century reasonableness. He . . . arrives at the disastrous conclusion that from experience and observation nothing is to be learnt. There is no such thing as a rational belief:  “If we believe that fire warms, or water refreshes, ’tis only because it costs us too much pains to think otherwise.”  We cannot help believing, but no belief can be grounded in reason. . . . Subsequent British empiricists rejected his scepticism without refuting it. . . .  The growth of unreason throughout the nineteenth century and what has passed of the twentieth is a natural sequel to Hume’s destruction of empiricism.[34]

Ironically, Hume’s naturalistic, empiricist view of the world and human knowledge was shown to be a failure by Hume, yet naturalistic empiricism has become the reigning paradigm of rationality since Hume.   The history of epistemology since Hume has been a series of failed attempts to explain how scientific knowledge is possible without God, all the while boastfully equating godless knowledge with science.  It’s a charade, and it’s time for Enlightenment philosophy to be called out for the fraud that it is, for the good of science.

Because of the failure of modern philosophers to make sense of the world, Richard Rorty has called for a post-philosophical era, particularly in regard to the issue of epistemology – how we can have knowledge.[35]  He says that since philosophers have failed to explain how we can have knowledge, the question shouldn’t be asked anymore.  Yet, Rorty acknowledges that philosophers are supposed to provide the first principles that “give direction to the whole movement of human thought.”[36]  Rorty’s suggestion, then, leaves apologists for atheistic science with nothing – no way to defend “science” (as they define it) against any rivals or detractors.  Since the modern philosophy department is largely the philosophic apologetics headquarters for the atheistic, materialistic worldview, the whole atheist program for how to shape the world is in trouble.  The atheist foundation is sand, so the whole edifice built on it must eventually crumble.

Postmodernist philosophers don’t see everything else crumbling with the end of philosophy because they still hold that there must be some truth to the scientism that has been so productive during their lifetimes, even though they admit that they haven’t been able to explain it.  Rorty expresses his loyalty to the science/religion distinction even while saying there is no rational argument that can prove it:

We are heirs of three hundred years of rhetoric about the importance of distinguishing sharply between science and religion, science and politics, science and art, science and philosophy, and so on. . . .  We are fortunate that no little perplexity within epistemology, or within historiography of science, is enough to defeat it.  But to proclaim our loyalty to these distinctions is not to say that there are “objective” and “rational” standards for adopting them.[37]

Rorty and the other postmodernists realize that their idea of historical progress as the increasing reliance on naturalistic science depends on their discredited distinction between the objectivity of scientific facts and the subjectivity of metaphysical belief.  But, like Rorty, who was taught Marxism at his mother’s knee, they still seem to assume, or desperately hope, that Christianity’s loss of influence and secularism’s gain in influence during the twentieth century was some sort of Hegelian/Marxist/Darwinist inevitable progress of history toward greater enlightenment, despite mistakes along the way.  Their acknowledged philosophical failure to account for scientific knowledge in terms of their naturalistic worldview means that they should know better.  They tenaciously and irrationally hold on to their secular faith.  Rorty says that he considered a theistic solution, but the secular inertia of his life was too strong to redirect it:

As I tried to figure out what had gone wrong, I gradually decided that the whole idea of holding reality and justice in a single vision had been a mistake that a pursuit of such a vision had been precisely what led Plato astray.  More specifically, I decided that only religion – only a non-argumentative faith in a surrogate parent who, unlike any real parent, embodied love, power, and justice in equal measure – could do the trick Plato wanted done.  Since I couldn’t imagine becoming religious, and indeed had gotten more and more raucously secularist, I decided that the hope of achieving a single vision by becoming a philosopher had been a self-deceptive atheist’s way out.[38]

The raucous inertia of secular thought with only small intellectual resistance from Christianity keeps secularism dominant in current society despite its intellectual bankruptcy.

Rejecting any sort of unchanging truth, Rorty appeals to continued conversation through the course of history as the source of and guide to progress in civilization.  However, as Richard Bernstein observes, Rorty simply substitutes one myth for another, “the historical myth of the given” for the “epistemological myth of the given.”[39]  Rorty’s appeal to historical conventions provides no criterion to choose one convention over others as more enlightened.  The conversations that he values are those among political liberals like himself; but with no criterion, choosing that tradition of conversations is special pleading.  The arbitrary preferences of Rorty’s ego are projected upon the world, and he expects the world to conform to his will to power.

Postmodern philosophers don’t have the courage of their convictions to consistently follow their philosophy because it would end in the Abyss.  They still want to be human and cling to the hope that the basic program of the Enlightenment can be rescued, justifying science in secular terms.  Rorty holds onto a historical given as objective truth.  Quine still clings to his belief “in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods.” Jacques Derrida protests, “I totally refuse the label of nihilism which has been ascribed to me and my American colleagues.  Deconstruction is not an enclosure in nothingness, but an openness towards the other.”[40]  But the “other” would have to be deconstructed like any other text.  He holds out hope for an objective other, even though his philosophy gives him no basis for hope.

Most atheists are still under the delusion of modernism.  They have failed to recognize the philosophical bankruptcy of the ideas that undergird their understanding of science.  Of those who have heard of the postmodern rejection of the demarcation between science and religion and the problems with empiricism, they readily dismiss the philosophers of science.  But they inevitably fall back to their own philosophy of science that just consists of slogans from Hume and Popper that have already been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  Philosophers have already rigorously examined it, vigorously tried to defend it, but eventually had to admit that it is a failed attempt to account for science.


Hawking’s Failed Epistemology

A prime example of this is the famed physicist Stephen Hawking, who claims that physics has proven that God did not create the universe.  He declares that philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with modern science.[41]  Yet he relies on a philosophical position that is bankrupt, the epistemology of positivism,[42] which is unable account for scientific knowledge and which presupposes the non-existence of God.  He admits that “From the viewpoint of positivist philosophy, one cannot determine what is real.  All one can do is find which mathematical models describe the universe we live in. . . .  So what is real and what is imaginary?  Is the distinction just in our minds?”[43]  But an appeal to “the universe we live in” is an appeal to something real.  And as I argued earlier with respect to Charles Darwin’s positivism, this view of knowledge fails to account for mathematics and the predictability of phenomena.    Like Darwin, Hawking tries to have a scientific claim substitute for a philosophical claim, all the while relying on a bankrupt philosophical claim, that of positivism, which determines the theological question in the negative before the scientific research begins.[44]


Flew’s Parable of the Imaginary Gardener

Anthony Flew wrote what has been said to be the most widely read philosophical essays of the second half of the twentieth century, called “Theology and Falsification.”  He presented the paper at the Socratic Club at Oxford in 1950, and it was published in 1955 in New Essays in Philosophical Theology.  This was during the heyday of linguistic philosophy and its rejection of religious language as meaningless because it involves unfalsifiable claims.

In the parable, two explorers come across a clearing with flowers and weeds growing.  One of the explorers, the Believer, says that a gardener must care for the flowers.  But a series of empirical tests fail to produce evidence of the gardener. The Believer then claims that the gardener must be invisible and intangible.  But his companion, the Skeptic, exclaims that there is no difference between the Believer’s invisible, intangible gardener and no gardener at all.

As I have been arguing and will argue more fully in the next chapter, empiricism is a bankrupt theory of knowledge, unless God is assumed as the Creator of the world.  The proof of God’s existence is not the result of a scientific experiment but as the necessary condition for the possibility of scientific experiments.  Flew’s essay assumes the failed modernist position of naturalistic empiricism.

Alvin Plantinga revived philosophical interest in theism with his 1967 book God and Other Minds.  He observed that belief in God is a lot like belief in other minds.  Empirical arguments for God and for the existence of other minds share the same strengths and weaknesses.  Yet a person is within his epistemic rights to believe in other minds, and so he is warranted to believe in God as well.  Plantinga attacked Flew’s assumption of, as Plantinga called it, “classical foundationalism,” which is that the only rationally justified beliefs are those that are self-evident, evident to the senses, or rationally incorrigible (impossible to deny).  But many of our basic beliefs, such as our belief in other minds, that objects endure when we aren’t looking at them, and that memories are reliable, cannot meet this test.  Yet they are still rational beliefs.  Even the small number of scientists and philosophers who deny the existence of a mind do not interact with other people as if they had no mind.  Additionally, Plantinga pointed out that the criteria of classical foundationalism cannot meet its own standards of justification.

Plantinga went on to argue that, if God does exist, then it is reasonable that a sensus divinitatis (the innate awareness of God) produces a basic belief in God, just as belief in other minds is a basic belief.  As a basic belief, people are rationally warranted for believing in God even if they can’t provide evidence for the belief.

While Plantinga found a number faults with the cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments as traditionally stated and did not try to prove the conditional, “if God exists,” in his book, I will get to that in the next chapter using a transcendental argument that is different than the traditionally-stated arguments.  This proof is in terms of God’s existence being necessary for the possibility of knowledge of any fact.  If this proof is sound, every fact of experience is proof of the existence of God.  Rather than the Gardener being undetectable regardless of how many facts we look at, the Gardener is necessarily evident in every fact of experience.  No fact of experience can fail to bear God’s mark of ownership.



Both the modernists and postmodernists fail to realize that modern science is relying on principles borrowed from their ideological enemy, Christianity.  As Phillip Johnson observes in respect to naturalistic science, “Idolatrous programs may appear to succeed spectacularly for a while, but in the end they use up their borrowed fuel and succumb to their own inherent contradictions.”[45]  The sooner the mythology is exposed, the sooner we can get to a better, more consistently rational and scientific world.  “What is falling, we should still push.”[46]

When God is denied, philosophers are forced to explain how human knowledge and reason could arise in an ultimately non-rational universe.[47]  Secularists have failed at this.  Kant was right that bare particulars are unintelligible.  Facts need order to be intelligible.  All facts are interpreted facts, as postmodernists have recently emphasized again.  Atheists who believe that there is an objectively knowable world beyond what the human mind has rationalized are borrowing from the Christian worldview.  They are relying on a view of science and knowledge that Hume, Kant, and the postmodernists have shown to be impossible to rationally defend in terms of the atheist worldview.  Not only was Kant right that bare particulars are unintelligible, he was also right that on the assumption of human autonomy and the assumption that there is something external to the human mind, bare particulars are unavoidable.  Since all facts are interpreted facts, if the human mind is autonomous, then there are no facts until the human mind rationalizes them.  Outside the autonomous human mind, all is irrational.  Hegel provided the useful concept of the “concrete universal” to extend knowledge beyond Kant’s solipsistic cage, but he was still basing his philosophy on human autonomy, so his philosophy does not provide a true universal and therefore doesn’t overcome the problem of Kant’s noumenal irrationalism.   In the next chapter, I will show how the idea of a concrete universal, when placed in a Christian context, provides the philosophical foundation for science.

[1]  Max Scheler, “The Human Being and History,” Gesammelte Werke IX, p. 120; quoted in “Max Scheler,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, revised Oct. 18, 2018,; Peter E. Gordon, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2010), p. 108.

[2]  For example, Edmund Husserl, “Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man”(1935).

[3] Gordon, Continental Divide, pp. 232-233.

[4]  G.E. Moore, “Proof of an External World,” G. E. Moore: Selected Writings, T. Baldwin (ed.) (London:  Routledge, 1993), p. 166.

[5]  G.E. Moore, “Certainty” in Philosophical Papers (London: Allen & Unwin/Unwin Hyman, 1959).

[6]  Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics, p. 257.

[7]  For the history of verificationism and falsificationism, see Greg Bahnsen, “The Problem of Religious Language,”, originally published as a series in The Biblical Worldview (Part I-Vol. VIII:9; Sept., 1992), (Part II-Vol. IX:1; Jan., 1993), and (Part III-Vol. IX:5; May, 1993), and republished in Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Atlanta, GA:  American Vision Press, 1996), chapter 33.

[8]  Imre Lakatos, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes” in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, edited by Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 174-75.

[9]  Ibid., p. 175.

[10]  If either p or q could be proven to be necessary truths, then modus tollens would have to point to the non-necessary one as the false one; but the naturalistic, empiricist worldview of modern atheism excludes absolutes like necessary truths that are not mere tautologies, which would not be the subject of empirical testing.

[11]  Willard Van Orman Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” (1951, revised 1961),

[12]  Ibid.

[13]  Ibid.

[14]  Ibid.

[15]  Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,”

[16]  A.J. Ayer “The Vienna Circle,” in The Revolution in Philosophy, ed. Gilbert Ryle (New York: Macmillan, 1956), p. 86.  See Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Evidences (Nutley, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), pp. 143, 146.

[17]  “A. J. Ayer on Logical Positivism and Its Legacy,” (1976),

[18]  Kai Neilson, “On Being Skeptical About Applied Ethics,” in Clinical Medical Ethics:  Exploration and Assessment, Ed. Terrence F. Ackerman and Glenn C. Graber, et al. (Lanham, MD:  University Press of America, 1987), p. 107-08.

[19]  Larry Lauden, “The Demise of the Demarcation problem,” in But Is It Science?:  The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy, Michael Ruse, ed. (Buffalo, NY:  Prometheus Books, 1988), pp. 337-38.

[20]  Charles Darwin’s book Origin of Species was published in 1859, and while prominent scientists opposed it, all the academic disciplines were reinterpreted according to Darwin’s theory of evolution before the end of the 1870’s, before there was much hard evidence for it.  Darwin and his contemporaries didn’t even know about genes, believing instead in the Lamarckian view of inheritance of acquired characteristics.  An experiment that purported to prove natural selection was not even published until the 1950s (H.B.D. Kettlewell, “The importance of the micro-environment to evolutionary trends in the Lepidoptera,” Entomologist, 91:214-224 [1958], and H.B.D. Kettlewell, “Darwin’s Missing Evidence,” Scientific American 200(3):48-53 [1959],, and that experiment contained major flaws of unnatural positioning of the variously-colored peppered moths (Jerry Coyne, “Not Black and White”, Nature, 396 [Nov 5, 1998], pp. 35-36; Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? [Washington, DC:  Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2000).  Darwin noted the lack of transitional fossils discovered in the geological record in his time and admitted that it “is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against my theory.”  He blamed the problem on the “extreme imperfection of the fossil record” (Darwin, Origin of Species, 6th edition, 1872 [London: John Murray, 1902], p. 413, available at  Darwin’s followers had faith that more digging would remedy that evidential problem.  At least in regard to pre-Cambrian life, even many evolutionists have admitted that the evidence is simply not there, as documented by Stephen C. Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Harper One, 2013) (also see  To cite one pro-evolution admission: “Even if bilaterians were tiny in the Precambrian, they would be capable of being preserved in the microfossil record, suggesting that their absence is real” (Maximilian Telford, Graham Budd, and Hervé Philippe, “Phylogenetic Insights into Animal Evolution,” Current Biology, Volume 25, Issue 19, 5 October 2015, pages R876–R887).

[21]  Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 76, 154, 157-58.

[22]  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1958), § 47.

[23]  Ludwig Wittgentstien, Philosophical Investigations, § 133.

[24]  See Greg Bahnsen’s critique of Wittgenstein in “Pragmatism, Prejudice, and Presuppositionalism,” in Foundations of Christian Scholarship.

[25]  For more on God and universals, see Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic:  Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1998), pp. 235-41.

[26] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Philadelphia, 1955), Ch. 5, 1.

[27]  Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: The Free Press, 1997), p. 4.

[28]  Ibid., pp. 3-4.

[29]  Bertrand Russell, ‘On Induction’, in The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967).  In this section I am following the outline of James N. Anderson’s “Secular Responses to the Problem of Induction,”

[30]  Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (Oxford: Clarendon Press, rev. ed., 1979), p. 1.

[31]  Frederick L. Wills, ‘Will the Future Be Like the Past?’, in Antony Flew (ed.), Logic and Language: Second Series (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953), pp. 32-50.

[32]  Wesley Salmon, ‘The Pragmatic Justification of Induction’, in Richard Swinburne (ed.), The Justification of Induction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 85-97.

[33]  As James N. Anderson suggests in his “Secular Responses to the Problem of Induction.”

[34]  Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy: And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1945), pp. 672-73.

[35]  Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2009), pp. 209-12, 357ff.

[36] Richard Rorty, “The Philosopher as Expert,” in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 395.

[37]  Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, pp. 330-31.

[38] Richard Rorty, “Wild Orchids and Trotsky” in Wild Orchids and Trotsky:  Messages from American Universities, Mark Edmundson, ed. (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1993), p. 41.

[39]  Richard J. Bernstein, “One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward:  Richard Rorty on Liberal Democracy and Philosophy,” Political Theory 15 (Nov. 1987), pp. 538-63.  Also see John Patrick Diggins, The Promise of Pragmatism:  Modernism and the Crises of Knowledge and Authority (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 450-62.

[40]  Quoted in Richard Kearney, Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers (Manchester:  University Press, 1984), p.124.

[41]  Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York, NY:  Random House Publishing Group, 2010), p. 5.

[42]  Stephen W. Hawking, The Universe in a Nutshell (New York, NY:  Bantam Books, 2001), p. 31.

[43]  Ibid., p. 59.

[44] On Hawking’s appeal to imaginary time in order to deny a beginning to the universe being a metaphysical appeal, see William Lane Craig, “The Ultimate Question of Origins: God and the Beginning of the Universe,” Astrophysics and Space Science 269-270 (1999): 723-740,,

[45]  Phillip E. Johnson, The Wedge of Truth:  Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 2000), p. 38.

[46]  Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part Three, “One Old and New Tables,” §20.

[47]  It’s essentially the reverse of the problem of evil (which I address more fully in the second section of the book).  The theistic problem of “If God is all good, how could evil arise?” is parallel to the atheist problem of “If the universe is ultimately non-rational, how could rationality arise?”  Christians can rationally appeal to mystery where they can’t explain everything because they are appealing to the absolute rationality of God, but atheists don’t have that prerogative because there is no mind higher than the human mind in their worldview.  They would be appealing to the non-rational to appeal to mystery.

This entry was posted in Apologetics. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please enter an e-mail address