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The Argument From Reason: Something Has to Go

William_of_Ockham

So far we’ve seen that materialism necessitates determinism, and that determinism necessitates that reason is an illusion. Thus, if reason exists as something more than an illusion then determinism is not true: and if determinism is not true then materialism must be false as well. This brings us to the next part of the argument from reason:

                3. Reasoning is not an illusion.

I don’t think this is a terribly controversial stance to hold. The evidence for the existence of reason is everywhere. We reason about things, and those reasoning processes seem to match up with external reality. When Einstein reasoned that, against all common sense and the prevailing scientific theories of the time, time was relative he did so through a long process of reasoning. In the years since we’ve made observations that prove that his theory was accurate. If reasoning is an illusion then how does it give us such accurate and often non-intuitive knowledge about reality? C.S. Lewis once remarked that believing that our scientific knowledge is the result of a chain reaction of atoms instead of reasoning is like expecting a jug of milk that is thrown against the floor to produce a spill that creates a working map of London. If reason was merely an illusion then we would expect it to have similar odds of being correct as a flipped coin; yet, in our actual experience we find that people who reason through problems have a far greater ability to predict actual reality than a coin. If you disagree, then I would simply ask you why we would need to waste so much time educating and training scientists when we could have done just as well by asking random questions and flipping a coin to decide the result.

On a more fundamental level reason is something that we directly experience. We reason through things every day, whether it’s trying to figure out the best way get around road construction or simply trying to figure out the culprit was while watching a crime procedural on TV. Reasoning is such an immediate and undeniable observation that it would require some pretty striking evidence for us to believe that it is actually an illusion. It seems presumptive to abandon reason, which we have direct evidence of, in favor of keeping a belief in materialism, whose truth cannot be directly observed.

Finally, we must remember that the only reason we might come to doubt that our reasoning is real is because we have reasoned that if materialism is true then it must be so. The only way to get to the statement “reason is an illusion” is by using reason. But if reasoning is an illusion then it is ridiculous to imagine that our reasoning about materialism is accurate. Arguing that reason isn’t real is to argue against trusting arguments. By destroying reason materialism cuts off the branch that it is sitting on. It is an attempt to make a proof that there are no proofs, which is self-contradictory madness.

Surely any line of reasoning that would lead us to disbelieve in reasoning itself must be abandoned as futile. If reasoning is not real then the materialist has no advantage over the theist. He cannot say “Look, it’s irrational to believe in a god,” as the theist would merely reply “If materialism is true than it’s just as irrational to believe there isn’t one.” Of course the theist needn’t merely say that; for the theist has no trouble believing that reasoning actually exists. The theist believes that the foundation of all reality is not non-rational matter and energy, but rather a supreme rationality, a great mind that has produced all other minds. The theist thus has no trouble believing that abstract reasoning can discover truth; the materialist, on the other hand, must hold that reasoning is merely a convincing illusion.

Thus we come to the end of the first section of the argument from reason. If materialism is true then determinism must be true as well. If determinism is true then reason must be an illusion. Since reason is not an illusion, we know that determinism is not true. If determinism is not true then materialism is false as well. There is at least one thing that exists apart from combinations of matter and energy: the mind.

As for why we should believe that God is the best explanation for the mind, I’ll get to that in my next post.

The Argument From Reason: Determinism and Free Will

Rubenvent

Now that we’ve gotten the connection between materialism and determinism out of the way we can move on to the next point in the argument from reason:

2. If determinism is true then the process of reasoning is an illusion.

However, looking at it now, I can see that to explain this properly it would be better to split this into three separate points, as follows:

1. If determinism is true then free will is an illusion.
2. Reason requires free will.
3. Therefore, if determinism is true then reason is an illusion.

I’ll cover part 1 of that syllogism today.

As we learned earlier, determinism states that everything exists in a cause-effect relationship in which every effect is necessary given the causes that preceded it. In other words, this world is one big chain reaction, the largest physics equation that ever existed, and there is only one possible outcome to any particular reaction within that chain. What’s important to note here is that we as individuals are a part of this chain reaction. Who we are and what we do are just as much a cause and effect reaction as a billiard ball knocking another ball into a corner pocket. If a physicist had enough information about you and the circumstances around you he could predict your every thought and action. He could tell exactly where you were going to go and what was going to happen to you long before you know yourself: indeed, with enough information the physicist could have known it thousands of years before you were born, or even from the Big Bang itself.

But wait a moment. This seems to go directly against our own experiences. After all, if I go to the dry cleaners I go there because I decided to, and I could theoretically have gone a number of other places. I could have decided to go to the beach instead, or stay home and read a book, or even rob a gun store and go on a shooting spree. Now granted, I’m not going to go on a shooting spree because there are ethical and practical reasons which would make that a very bad idea. Still I feel like I could if I wanted to.

However if determinism is true then the fact is that I couldn’t do any of those things. If I go to the dry cleaners then that was the only thing I could have done. After all I am only a complicated collection of matter and energy (according to the materialist point of view) and matter and energy does not get to make choices. Matter and energy follows the laws of physics exactly. Just as a billiard ball does not get to decide which way it will be knocked by a cue stick so I do not get to decide whether I will go to the dry cleaners or not. I feel like I have free will, but that feeling is actually an illusion.

Strangely enough I’ve encountered many self-described materialists who reject this conclusion. They claim that they do have free will to make their own decisions. Many of them appear to believe this is possible because brains are terribly complicated. However no matter how complicated a brain is it is still made of matter and energy, and matter and energy do not get to decide how they will react to things. All the complexity of the brain could do is obscure this fact from us. While the neurons in my mind are reacting to the impulses the senses provide them it feels as if I’m deciding whether to do one thing or the other. However neuroscientist with a perfect understanding of how the brain works could measure each electrical impulse in my mind, calculate the results, and then know exactly what “decision” I was going to come to. Whatever I decide is an inevitable result of the chain reaction that is occurring in my brain.

If a materialist still doesn’t accept that determinism destroys the concept of free will, all I can suggest is that they do some research. A vast majority of philosophers who believe in materialism do not believe in free will. Dr. Alex Rosenberg wrote in his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality that there is “no chance” that free will exists. Simply googling “materialism and free will” or “naturalism and free will” or even “determinism” is bound to give you some helpful links for studying the issue.

So if materialism is true, then determinism is true, and if determinism is true then free will is an illusion. What does this have to do with reason?

We’ll look at that in my next post.

The Argument From Reason: Getting Started

Things went so well with my short series on the moral argument that I knew I’d have to dive into my favorite argument of all: the argument from reason. However the argument from reason is a difficult one to convey, and I’ve seen well intentioned people absolutely butcher it while trying share it with skeptics. So I thought I would start with a simple and very rough outline of what the argument from reason is before diving into the specifics in other posts. I’m going to take this one nice, slow, and careful.
The argument from reason is, very, very roughly, as follows:
1. If materialism is true then determinism must be true.

2. If determinism is true then the process of reasoning is an illusion.

3. Reasoning is not an illusion.

4. Therefore, materialism is false.
This initial rough argument only takes us as far as rejecting materialism, in much the same way that the moral argument does (note: the primary point of debate here is number 2, though I’ve seen people argue against 1 and 3 on occasion). However there is a second part to the argument from reason:

 

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

2. At some point my mind began to exist.

3. If reasoning is not an illusion then the mind was not wholly caused by naturalistic processes.

4. Therefore an eternal and non-naturalistic cause must have been ultimately responsible for the existence of my mind.

 

Again, this is a very rough outline. There are many points along the way where a reasonable person might disagree: therefore I’d ask that you save any particular objections you may have to the arguments as written until I put up posts that go through these points step by step. Unless, of course, you simply disagree that I have basic argument outlined correctly, in which case feel free to comment with your critiques.
I’m looking forward to diving into this in detail over the next few weeks! I hope you’ll join me.