Friday, July 29, 2011

Faith, The Scientific Hypothesis: John L. Mackie vs. Alvin Plantinga

In my last post, I tackled Plantinga’s question regarding the horror of irrationality. If you reread that post, you will find that I deem Plantinga’s question about irrationality to be a shocking question. I would have to agree with Locke there that, if one is deemed irrational, this is not only an affront to the individual...but also an affront to God, the Maker of all humanity. Why did the Lord God invest in humanity and provide us with an intellect if we are not going to use it? What’s the use of claiming “I have intellect” if one never cultivates it or develops it?

An adopted brother of mind read a book a few years back called “Fit Bodies, Fat Minds,” where the author argues that most Americans would rather exercise their bodies than their minds. And I have (though sadly) found this to be the case. I have seen more scientific research devoted to overweight, obese America than I have seen devoted to “mentally overweight, mentally obese” America! The truth is, that many in the world have no desire to cultivate the human mind. What we have done instead is surrendered the need for education saying, “Well, some are made for it.” When I was in college, I heard many of my family members say, “Some are made for it and some are not.” Can I tell you a secret that I don’t tell many? Having been through nine years of higher education (post-high school), let me say that no one is made for it! No one is able to handle the demands of education and life perfectly. Sometimes, students fall short in their balancing act and make mistakes on both ends. Sometimes, students put their work above their families (I stand guilty of this). But higher education is not about skill or ability; it’s merely about perseverance. Some will persevere through their intense studies and achieve academically, while others will not. I was one of those that persevered through my studies. I was not the smartest person in my classes, not the most intellectually apt, etc...but I applied my mind to academic study. I am where I am today not because I was “born with it,” but because of the grace of God and perseverance. We have bought into a very “animalistic, reductionist” view of humanity because we have listened to Darwinian, evolutionary theory for much too long.

I don’t desire to stay on this subject, but I wanted to make the case above that we seem to care more about the body than the mind. Why can’t we care about them both equally?

In today’s post, the atheist John L. Mackie and Dr. Alvin Plantinga will battle with words. Plantinga spends a lot of time quoting Mackie in Warranted Christian Belief, particularly because Mackie is not an evidentialist, but an evidentialist objector---that is, he believes Christian belief must have tangible evidence of its truth claims...but, rather negatively, deems Christian belief delusional because there is a perfectly natural explanation for all of life. Let’s approach Mackie’s position by looking at the quotes Plantinga provides. First, note that Mackie believes Christianity should have evidence:

“If it is agreed that the central assertions of theism are literally meaningful, it must also be admitted that they are not directly verified or directly verifiable. It follows that any rational consideration of whether they are true or not will involve [whether God exists] must be examined either by deductive or inductive reasoning or, if that yields no decision, by arguments to the best explanation; for in such a context nothing else can have any coherent bearing on the issue (pp.4, 6)” (John L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism; quoted by Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, page 91).

According to Mackie, the claims of theism are not “directly verifiable.” What does Mackie mean by this phrase? He means that God cannot be investigated “in a test tube.” God cannot be subject to scientific experiment, like natural explanations can. As I mentioned in the last post, God has revealed Himself (according to the apostle Paul) in the things that have been made (Romans 1:18-20). If this is true, then believers must study creation in order to know about the Creator. Mackie’s claim that Christian belief must have arguments and evidence is one that I think Romans 1 attests to. It seems that, in Plantinga’s discussion of Mackie, I will actually agree with Mackie on this one. There is nothing wrong with my God not being “directly verifiable.” The Lord of all the earth can handle the study of science to show His existence. I’m pretty sure God delights in humans using their intelligence (Locke was quoted in the last post).

But with this next quote, we see that Mackie is an objector to the existence of any evidence for Christian belief:

“Here, as elsewhere, the supernaturalist hypothesis fails because there is an adequate and much more economical naturalistic alternative” (Mackie, The Miracle of Theism, pg. 98; quoted by Plantinga, WCB, page 91).

Since Mackie thinks naturalism best explains the evidence, he dismisses Christianity outright. Plantinga’s response to Mackie’s statements is as follows:

“Clearly, this remark is relevant only if we think of belief in God as or as like a scientific hypothesis, a theory designed to explain some body of evidence, and acceptable to the degree that it succeeds in explaining that evidence” (Plantinga, WCB, 91).

If faith is deemed a scientific hypothesis, then it would be subject to the scientific experimental laws. This seems to make sense if faith is a scientific hypothesis. But Plantinga heavily disagrees with this idea:

“But why make assumptions like that? Why think that theism is rationally acceptable only if there are good arguments for it? Why think that it is, or is significantly like, a scientific hypothesis?” (Plantinga, WCB, 92).

This questions sound remotely close to the question Plantinga provided in the last post about the problem with being irrational. Why should we think Christian belief must have good arguments? Because that is what it means to be reasonable. Here’s the definition of “reasonable” provided by the New Oxford American Dictionary:

“adjective. 1. Of a person having sound judgment; fair and sensible; based on good sense; able to think, understand, or form judgments by a logical process.”

Here’s the definition of “rational” provided by the New Oxford American Dictionary:

“1. Based on or in accordance with reason and logic; able to think clearly, sensibly, and logically; endowed with the capacity to reason.”

Christian belief must have good arguments because to provide argumentation regarding a view is how one demonstrates that he or she possesses rationality. If Christian belief is to remain intellectual belief, believers will have to learn how to logically engage unbelievers in the faith.

Let’s look at Plantinga’s question regarding Mackie’s assumption once more: “But why make assumptions like that? Why think that theism is rationally acceptable only if there are good arguments for it? Why think that it is, or is significantly like, a scientific hypothesis?” (Plantinga, WCB, 92)

Why view faith as a scientific hypothesis? Because Scripture testifies that God Himself values evidence over blind faith. A good example of this would be the Mount Carmel Experience, where Elijah was pitted against the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). In 1 Kings 18:23-24, Elijah provides a “scientific” experiment to take place between himself and the prophets of Baal:

“‘Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood; but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.’ So all the people answered and said, ‘It is well spoken’” (1 Kings 18:23-24, NKJV).

This is the experiment: that Elijah and the Baal prophets would get altars, place bulls on them, wood under the altars, and call on their gods to bring the fire. The God (or gods) that brought fire would be the true God. This is a scientific experiment: placing bulls on altars and calling on God (or gods) to light the wood and cook the sacrifices. Notice, too, the response of the people. Who were “the people”? Look at 1 Kings 18:20---“the people” consisted of “the children of Israel” and the prophets of Baal. All of Israel and the Baal prophets think that Elijah’s experiment is a good idea (“it is well spoken,” they say; see 1 Kings 18:24). Clearly then, the Israelites and the Baal prophets believed that Elijah’s God could answer by fire and attest to His identity. If they did not believe it was possible, why would they agree with it? This is my question to Dr. Plantinga: “Why was faith deemed a scientific experiment in the Old Testament, if we are not to view it as such today?” When we say that faith in God cannot be treated as a scientific hypothesis, what we are saying is that God cannot manifest Himself in the physical elements. Do we not limit God, His sovereignty, and His power, when we say such things? If God is God over the elements and Lord of all the earth, can He not use the fire and wood and water (in the case of Elijah) to show Himself?

Notice what Elijah does in the text: he gives them a physical experiment to perform that everyone can visibly witness and testify to. The Baal prophets cry out to their god, mutilate themselves, and watch the blood run out of their skin while crying out to Baal to answer (1 Kings 18:28). When it gets to Elijah’s turn, he tells the people to fill the waterpots and pour the water on the offering and the wood...not once...not twice...but three times! In short, they poured 12 waterpots of water onto Elijah’s altar. Elijah cried out to God to manifest Himself, and He did: “then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kgs. 18:38). In short, God manifested Himself in the physical elements.

And I think that, if God could manifest Himself in the days of Elijah, He is more than God enough to manifest Himself in the physical elements today. And He has; all we need to do is just look around at our world. He is always staring us in the face.

Stay tuned; there will be more to come on the manifestation of God in the physical world. God bless.

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