Why God is Necessary for Rational Thought

The view presented to us by the modern worldview is that God is either nonexistent or unnecessary. We are told that everything in the physical world can ultimately be explained by the natural sciences. According to this atheistic view, everything we experience can be explained ultimately by physics and chemistry. Such a view is called naturalism or physicalism.

Philosophers have wrestled for centuries with several concepts that give naturalism trouble, including:

  • Consciousness from unconscious matter
  • Beauty and quality of life
  • The basis for morality

These things have been the subject of much discussion since ancient times. It is difficult for the naturalist to explain how one set of visual sense data can be more beautiful than another while still holding that they are all caused by natural forces. Often the conversation turns to survival of the individual or group. Survival seems to be a favorite motivator for naturalists when there is no other obvious explanation. Survival motivations present still more problems, as we have discussed previously (see here)

But for the sake of argument, let us assume that all that exists are natural physical forces such as gravity, electromagnetism, friction, and the like. We will even throw in survival, since it is so important to our naturalist friends’ worldview. If true, then natural forces would seem to explain all effects that we encounter, including the drive for survival and human consciousness.

Atheist guru Richard Dawkins has said “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” So according to naturalists like Dawkins, our thought processes just are, and we are dancing to their music. Atheists like Sam Harris go to great lengths to explain how humans do not have free will, since all our thoughts are determined by previous causes, which were in turn caused by physical laws of nature. Harris short book Free Will has a picture of the words free will being controlled by puppet strings, with the clear message that we do not control our own thoughts, but rather all our thoughts are controlled by natural forces.

As several philosophers have pointed out, the naturalistic explanation of human thought and action does not require our thoughts to be accurate, but only follow natural forces and promote survival. If all rabbits run from all lions because they think the lions are playing a fun game of tag, or because some bit of DNA causes them to suddenly have the urge to urinate underground, the effect is the same, but the reasoning is wrong. If God does not exist, human reasoning is ultimately from natural forces, and does not have to correspond to reality. It merely has to promote survival and follow natural forces. To the naturalist, we use our minds to come to the conclusion that minds do not exist.

Therefore if it is true that God is not necessary to explain human minds, then the conclusions of our minds are not because of a correspondence to the real world. The DNA to which we dance just happened to be the DNA that corresponded to survival, not necessarily the DNA that reports the world as it actually is.

Lest we think this a silly philosophical thought experiment, consider how many times a person is deceived, how many times we draw wrong conclusions about how reality works. We see the data, yet make conclusions that align with the data, and quite often false conclusions are held for someone’s entire life. Stage magicians have learned the art of fooling us because they know what we will perceive and what we will think happened, yet they are doing the trick right in front of us. Such situations are why some people wrongly hold to a coherence view of truth and claim that as long as a series of truth claims are coherent in reference to each other, it does not matter whether the truth corresponds to reality.

When the naturalists denies God, they deny the objective reference point that allows us to ground our thinking in the real world.

In reality, we think and view the world the way we do because God has created us separate from the world and given us a rational soul with the capacity to make judgments about the world.



About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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6 Responses to Why God is Necessary for Rational Thought

  1. keithnoback says:

    Good synopsis of Plantinga’s EAAN. But I don’t see how you can critique one coherence theory of truth (it all follows from selection) with another (it all follows from God). The only advantage of the latter is the option to claim that God is necessarily right, but that does not give us access to truth, it just makes us minds in God’s vat. We then face the problems which Pascal confronted.
    Besides, it’s a straw man. You can make this kind of argument against a certain kind of physicalism, but not against the best versions. If you have strong supervenience, for instance, you simply have a rose by another name, and it will smell as it smells without necessarily conforming to a sweetness rule. Yet we will still be justified in calling it sweet, even by Plantinga’s criteria – properly understood.

    • humblesmith says:

      I take the approach to truth of a limited / modified realism. We simply know that two objects are different…..no one ever had to teach a human that the dog is different than the dog food. We just know it because reality is that way, the distinctions are foundational. Truth statements can therefore be measured against reality to see if they correspond. Thus coherence theory of truth is false and correspondence theory is correct. This post attempts to explain that God is necessary to give us the powers of rational judgment needed to make the distinctions.

      I think I see your point about the supervenience….I think. But it seems to me that it does not refute strong skepticism. Hume’s billiard balls still move into each other, but if we are but perception machines, a la Harris and Dawkins, we could not be sure of what we percieve, no matter the number of times we see a repetition of the effects. It still seems to me that realism provides a better answer.

  2. keithnoback says:

    If ‘powers of rational judgment’ are truth-making, then you have a coherence theory don’t you? Or at least a very troubled correspondence theory, because the dog is dog food. And dog food is what actually nourishes dogs. The distinctions seem to be relational rather than foundational, unless you think that God establishes all the myriad tokens we perceive. If so, don’t you have something inscrutable, in the world and in God? This is an old problem and I don’t see a solution here.

    • humblesmith says:

      If we cannot make distinctions between objects in reality, we will never get there through philosophical thought. If we learned anything from Descartes and Hume, it is that if we start in the mind, we are forever locked there with no way of getting out. The fact that objects in the world are distinguishable is not a fact that can be proven in philosophy. If we do not start with knowing that the dog is different than his food, and instead hold that there are no distinctions there, then we have no way of predicating attributes, logic is gone, and we are down the hole with Alice and the wabbit.

      I am not saying that “powers of rational judgment are truth-making” but rather that powers of judgment are truth discovering. Basic distinctions are indeed basic, while meaning is made by powers of rational judgment.

      Realism is very different than analytic philosophy, where the rest of the world seems to be mired. I might suggest two books for you to see the difference: Henry Veatch’s Two Logics gives a good contrast between realism and analytic philosophy. And the most readable explanation of Thomistic epistemology of which I know is Thomas Howe’s Objectivity in Biblical Interpretation. Don’t let the biblical reference scare you — it’s really an explanation of Aquinas’ epistemology–how we get meaning from texts is the same process as how we get meaning from the world.

    • humblesmith says:

      Further, if you are denying the correspondence theory of truth, then you are saying that reality corresponds to the coherence theory of truth. The statement “reality corresponds to a coherence theory” is a statement of correspondence. The position is therefore self-refuting. If you are not saying reality corresponds to any description of truth, you are not making a statement about reality and I cannot respond.

  3. Pingback: Do We Get Our Identity From God Or From Nature? | Thomistic Bent

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