Evidence for God: Argument From Reason Redux


My post on The Argument From Reason generated considerable discussion but not nearly enough understanding. I’m going to take another run at explaining those things here, since I think some of the blame is mine for not being clear enough as to what the argument was intended to do.

What The argument intends to do

This is an argument against a form of atheist materialism (or naturalism, or physicalism) that believes that nothing exists in all reality except matter and energy interacting according to natural necessity (natural law). For the remainder of this post I will use “materialism” to refer to that specific belief. There are atheists who do not accept this kind of materialism, but it’s a prominent opinion among New Atheist leaders including Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Sam Harris (although he is agnostic with respect to consciousness), Alex Rosenberg, and Lawrence Krauss.

Indirectly it is an argument for God, since the conclusion of this argument is that there must be something going on in humans that can’t be explained the way most non-theists explain in. It’s one piece in a cumulative case for the God of the Bible, but on its own it isn’t intended to be a direct argument for God, and it isn’t intended to be an argument for the God of the Bible specifically.

The form of the argument

  1. If materialism is true, then reasoning and rationality cannot exist.
  2. Reasoning and rationality exist.
  3. Therefore materialism is false.

I need to make it clear that the argument in (1) is that reasoning and rationality cannot exist in any form, in any organism, to any degree whatsoever. The existence of any reason or rationality at all thus fulfills (2).

The materialist who agrees, in a way

I was asked in the last thread to name materialists who accept (1) and (2). (I was never actually quite clear what I was being asked by the person who made that request, but this probably comes somewhere close to it.) I am only aware of one materialist, Alex Rosenberg, who accepts (1). He concludes that reasoning is an illusion.

  1. If materialism is true, then reasoning and rationality cannot exist.
  2. Materialism is true.
  3. Therefore reasoning and rationality do not exist.

It’s an odd conclusion and a performative contradiction. A performative contradiction is a statement that may not be logically contradictory in itself, but which cannot be expressed truly. For example, “I have not been born yet,” or, “I am unable to express any thoughts in words,” or (á la Rosenberg) “I conclude that reasoning does not exist.”

Materialists mostly disagree

Other than Rosenberg, who is refreshingly honest about what materialism entails even if he is not logically consistent with it, I do not know of any materialists who accept (1). If they did, they could hardly be materialists except after the manner of Rosenberg. Therefore I see it as my responsibility in this post to show that (1) is true, and that materialists who deny (1) are wrong.

Back to the past post

I thought about replaying that argument here, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m still satisfied with the way I did it in that previous post. I’m hoping that clarifying my intentions and my terms here will help us continue the discussion more successfully.

This is one version of what’s known as the Argument From Reason. Lenny Esposito wrote another version as chapter seven in True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.