Posted in Epistemology

I Probably Wrote This Article (An Exposure of Epistemological Agnosticism)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a digital copy of a Master’s Thesis written for Abilene Christian University by Derek Estes. It was published in 2016. The thesis is entitled, “Epistemology in the Churches of Christ: An Analysis and Critique of Thomas B. Warren.” I was very interested in the thesis since I have long been interested in epistemology, and since brother Thomas B. Warren was a great friend of my family and a dear friend of my father, and one of my teachers. As I have stated before, other than my father, no one has influenced me more as to the work that I now try to do.

Now let me state at the beginning that I am not opposed to anyone’s analyzing the epistemology of Thomas B. Warren. And I appreciate the courtesy extended to brother Warren by Derek Estes as he writes of him. But it is the crucial mistake that Estes makes that calls forth this short piece.

This is not a lengthy analysis of Estes’ thesis. It is but a brief effort at showing why it is that Estes is very wrong to find fault with Warren’s view that knowledge entails certainty. On page 41 of his thesis, Estes states the most crucial and objectionable part of his thesis. He reaches the conclusion that Warren was wrong in his epistemology in that his view of knowledge was that knowledge is characterized by certainty. And Estes declares that the idea that knowledge entails certainty must be rejected.

This position is old, false, dangerous, and irrational. It is old in that Estes’ paper is a mere modern expression of old epistemological agnosticism. It is false because epistemological agnosticism unintentionally presupposes the possibility of knowledge in order for it to even be expressed as a legitimate epistemological position to be considered. It is dangerous because to the degree that the agnosticism is absorbed by the church, our effort at the defense of the faith is ruined. There can be no justified defense of the gospel if the gospel cannot with certainty be known. It is irrational in that the very concept of epistemological agnosticism is an unintended attack on the laws of thought (the law of identity, the law of excluded middle, and the law of contradiction, as well as the law of rationality), the laws that intuitively govern human thinking and reason. (For a good treatment of these basic principles of rationality, see Lionel Ruby’s Logic—An Introduction, pp. 262-268).

No one can be an epistemological agnostic, as Estes would have us all to be, without being irrational. And what is it that Estes leaves us with? Probability. This is the same false position taken by others before him including J. D. Thomas at Abilene Christian University years ago. One can get Thomas’ book, Facts And Faith with a copyright of 1965 and read for himself the details involved in the attempt to justify epistemological agnosticism (though Thomas never called his view that) and mere “probability” knowledge, which Thomas argued is all that we can have. Thomas, among the various errors advocated, stated, “Never will Christian faith be dissolved into complete certainty, however, and we must expect that there will always be a degree of contingency” (p. 269). Also, “If Christianity and all its demands could be proved, there would be no need for faith” (p. 269). Thomas declares, “We must remember that no philosophical or reasoned argument can absolutely prove that God exists, neither can science ever speak significantly either for or against the existence of God” (p. 234). Thomas thinks that atheists have a “faith” and that Christians have a “faith” but that the Christians’ faith is more probably correct. The Christian “…falls short of absolute certainty, but he has more certainty than anyone else. The Christian faith is the most reasonable, the most rational of all. ‘It makes more sense’ than alternative faiths, even though its extra upreach be ‘irrational’” (p. 277).

Without exploring all the errors that Thomas promoted in the field of Christian Apologetics, let it be clear that at ACU there has been a history of epistemological agnosticism long before Estes wrote his paper in another defense of it.

But now, let me briefly show why it is false to contend that knowledge does not entail certainty. This is not to say that everything we claim to know is an actual justified claim, but I am saying that a justified claim to know must entail certainty. It cannot be any other way.

What would be the conceptual distinction between knowledge and non-knowledge (ignorance) if certainty is no trait of knowledge? In other words, exactly how would one describe the difference between knowing and not knowing if certainty is not an essential characteristic of knowing?

If Estes’ view is correct that knowledge does not entail certainty, then when someone says, “I know,” he is also saying, “I am not sure.” And “I am not sure” means “I am not certain.” What does it mean to claim both that “I know” and “I am not certain”? “I am not certain” means “I do not know for sure” or simply “I do not know.” Estes creates the confusion that one can “know” without at the same time being sure that he does. But how would this constitute knowledge? If “I am not sure” can mean “I know,” then what is meant by “I am sure” and its relationship to the claim that “I know”?

Or again, if knowing does not entail certainty, then how could we rightly identify not-knowing (ignorance) from non-certainty? Can one be ignorant of something and claim knowledge of that something at the same time? Of course, he can. But can he be ignorant and claim knowledge correctly at one and the same time? Of course, he cannot, if rationality exists (that is, if a man’s mind is in intellectual reach [contact] of reality).

If one could not be certain of a knowledge claim that is inaccurate (or false), and if he cannot be certain of a knowledge claim that is accurate (or true), then there is no knowledge at all (whatever you call it or how you describe it). Man’s mind is out of touch with reality. There is no sanity; there is no reason; there is no recognizable truth.

How does the statement, “I know but I’m not sure” differ from the statement, “I don’t know”? Estes’ view is that both can be rationally uttered and that a real conceptual distinction can be drawn between them. But can it? Consider the following true-false assertions:

  1. T/F Knowledge is not knowing. [If you answer “true,” you attack the law of identity.]
  2. T/F Non-knowledge (ignorance) is not knowing [True.]
  3. T/F Knowledge is knowing without knowing. [If you answer “true,” you attack the law of contradiction.]
  4. T/F Knowledge is knowing. [True.]
  5. T/F Knowledge is knowing without evidence to justify knowing. [False. To answer “true” would be saying that guessing is equivalent to knowing.]
  6. T/F Knowledge is knowing with evidence to justify knowing. [True. Warren taught us that knowledge is “justified, true belief”.]
  7. T/F To know means to be fully and justifiably sure. [True. When one is convinced by his intellectual contact with information and that reason has reasoned correctly about it, then certainty must follow. This is the way that rationality functions.]
  8. T/F One can claim to know without being fully and justifiably sure. [True, by drawing a premature conclusion or by lying.]
  9. T/F One can claim not to know when he really does know. [True, by telling a lie or by refusing to admit the force of the laws of thought.]
  10. T/F There is no conceptual distinction between one’s making a knowledge claim while being fully and justifiably sure and making a knowledge claim while not being fully and justifiably sure. [To answer “true” is to attack all the laws of thought, thereby denying the possibility of human rationality. That is to say, if one answers “true,” he is implying that the laws of thought either do not exist or that they are not applicable to human reason. That would mean then regarding “the law of identity” that something is not itself and a true proposition is not true, and it would mean then regarding “the law of excluded middle” that it is not the case that something is or is not itself or that a precisely stated proposition is either true or false, and it would mean then regarding “the law of contradiction” that something can be and not be in the same sense at the same time or that a precisely stated proposition can be both true and false in the same sense at the same time.]
  11. T/F There is an evidential difference between one who is fully and justifiably sure and one who is not fully and justifiable sure. [True.]
  12. T/F If there is no evidential difference between one who is fully and justifiably sure and one who is not fully and justifiably sure, then there is either no such thing as knowledge or whatever “knowledge” is, it cannot be conceptually distinguished from non-knowledge (ignorance). [True.]

In further exploration of the suggestion that “probability” is what we are stuck with, let us mention that probability actually presupposes certainty just as evil presupposes good and falsehood presupposes truth. There is no getting around this. The very idea that one cannot know (for sure) anything is preposterous because the claim being made, to be considered as a serious suggestion at all, first of all must be an actual and recognizable claim (or, a claim that is fully and justifiably recognized to be a claim being made). And, furthermore, the claim to be considered as a serious suggestion presupposes that the claim has been made. Claims do not make themselves! When someone says that he is probably correct (but that such a conclusion is the best that he or anyone else can do), he is also affirming that he, himself, has made the claim. If he is asked if he is certain that he has made the claim, he either answers in the affirmative or the negative. If he answers affirmatively, he is in self-contradiction to his claim. If he answers negatively, he admits that his claim is not merely a probability claim but that it is worthless for it cannot ever be known for sure to be true.

We all need to understand that the affirmation of a probability claim is at the same time an admission of the possibility of the accuracy of the contradictory. In other words, to claim that God probably exists is to admit at the same time that it is possibly true that God may not exist at all. So, to affirm that some proposition is probably true is to affirm at the same time that, after all, it may be false.

It is sometimes said that the “God Question” (Does God exist?) is the most important question that there is. But this is not true. It is true to say that God is the most important entity in ontology (reality), but the most important question is whether or not we can have knowledge (whether he exists or not). What would our position be if God exists, but we are incapable of knowing it? Our agnostic brethren think we are still all right. But they are wrong—seriously wrong!

If someone claims that all we have is “probability” truth and “probability” knowledge and that he can say such because he has only probability knowledge with regard to his own state, we reply that he is merely playing games with himself and is implicitly denying the very laws of thought by which he is able to make a recognizable claim in the first place.

Let us raise a few more questions for Derek Estes:

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, know (I am certain and cannot be wrong about it) that I wrote a paper on Thomas B. Warren’s epistemology to fulfill my requirements to receive the Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian University.
  2. T/F I, Derek Estes, do not know (I am not certain and may be wrong in my view) that I did write a paper on Thomas B. Warren’s epistemology to fulfill my requirements to receive the Master’s Degree from Abilene Christian University.

Now, if Estes says that #1 is true, then he denies what he affirmed in his criticism of Thomas B. Warren (that is, instead of rejecting the idea of certainty as a characteristic or trait of knowledge, he now accepts it). But if he says that #2 is true, he is calling into question his own conscious awareness. He is consciously denying awareness of which he is aware. He is employing his own self-consciousness to deny itself. This is not only simply epistemological agnosticism regarding the existence of God, but with regard to everything including himself. This is an unintended attack on human sanity! Furthermore, he is caught in an ontological contradictory state. While being fully and justifiably aware that he wrote the paper (since he remembers doing it), he must now claim, to be consistent with his rejection of certainty as a characteristic of knowledge, that he is not sure that he wrote it.

But what if he tried to stay consistent and suggested that he is not really sure that he wrote his paper because, after all, memory can fail us? Well, let us see—

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, remember writing the paper.
  2. T/F I, Derek Estes, do not remember writing the paper.

Surely, he will claim #1 to be true or render himself ridiculous. But what if he says that the claim is still not certain because at times we think we remember what we only imagine, and sometimes we do not remember what, in fact, we have done. Well, we could then ask Derek if he is certain about this analysis. That is, we could ask him if he is sure or certain that at times we think we remember only what we imagine, and that at times we fail to remember what we have done. If he kept on claiming only “probability” knowledge, he would increasingly remove himself further and further from cognitive reality and from being taken seriously at all. He would be entrenching himself deeper and deeper in his unintended and confused attack on human rationality and the very concept of sanity itself. When one unintentionally attacks the “laws of thought” he is destroying the distinction between sanity and insanity! He is denying human rationality. He is attacking the relationship that exists between evidence and perception, conception, and reason. The reason that one cannot be aware of his own insanity (that is, to be actually insane is to be in a psychological condition that is not recognized for what it is) is that the laws of thought make sanity possible. One cannot “make sense” out of his insanity if he is really insane.

Now, what if Estes were to attempt to modify his view and dodge the force of the above true-false questions by saying that, in further consideration, we do have the right to claim absolute and infallibly correct knowledge (knowledge about which we cannot be wrong) about some conclusions empirically derived (that is, information that we receive through the five senses), but that we still cannot be sure about anything that is beyond the physical (which would entail any conclusion about God)? We would then affirm that this simply is not true, and its falsity is delivered via its own content.

Let us imagine that Derek were to modify his view and suggest that some things derivable from the five senses provide us with information so that we can make knowledge claims that are certain. (It might be good in passing to note that J. D. Thomas admitted, and rightly so, that science can provide us with no certain knowledge. Warren taught his students why this is so. The scientific method entails an invalid argument form. [See Ruby, pp. 274-276]).

But what if Estes were to change his mind and suggest that science can provide certain knowledge, but that since God is not the object of the scientific method, his existence (if he does exist) cannot with certainty be known? Consider the situation that he would then face:

  1. T/F I, Derek Estes, now realize that we can have some knowledge about some things but that the knowledge claims that we can make with certainty have to do with the physical and not with the metaphysical.
  2. T/F Since, God, if he exists, would not be physical, then his existence or non-existence cannot be known.

But do you see, dear reader, the problem with such a scenario? If one were to attempt to claim that all knowledge claims that are certain are restricted to the empirically derivable, then we would have to reject this theory of restriction that says certainty is possible only with physically derivable information (information derived through one of the five senses), since the theory itself is not derivable from such a source. It is a theory not received through one of the five senses. In other words, it is a metaphysical theory that contradicts itself!

Finally, let us observe that the nature of “probability” is such that it does not and cannot exist in external ontology. It is an intellectual calculation and as such exists in the mind only. Nothing occurring in nature does so by probability. “Probability” is an intellectual conclusion reached and exists in the mind of man. To affirm as the Bible clearly does that some things happen by chance (Eccl. 9:11; Luke 10:31-32) is not at all the equivalent of claiming that things that happened by chance only probably happened. To say that some things in the future will happen by chance is not to say that they will probably happen.

Also, we must remember that when we are talking about the existence of God, we are not talking about Someone whose existence could be merely an ontological possibility or a declared probability. As Anselm rightly claimed, God is the One greater than whom cannot possibly be conceived. “The non-existence, then, of that than which a greater cannot be conceived is inconceivable” (The Ontological Argument, edited by Alvin Plantinga, p. 18). He also said,

If it should be said that a being than which a greater cannot be conceived has no real existence, or that it is possible that it does not exist, or even that it can be conceived not to exist, such an assertion can be easily refuted. For the non-existence of what does not exist is possible, and that whose non-existence is possible can be conceived not to exist. But whatever can be conceived not to exist, if it exists, is not a being than which a greater cannot be conceived; but if it does not exist, it would not, even if it existed, be a being than which a greater cannot be conceived” (Ibid., p. 20).

It is true that Thomas B. Warren never did, in his formal encounter with Antony Flew, invoke the ontological argument of Anselm. He knew of the controversial history of that argument, but he also believed that a correct formulation of that ontological argument could be made. I know this is so because some time later I asked him about it. And even though he used only the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument, and the moral argument for the existence of God in his debate with Flew, when he used the word “God,” he was employing a term that, to him, necessarily or essentially had certain characteristics and whose existence was absolutely necessary (ontologically essential).

It would be good for us all to remember that on Wednesday night of the Warren-Flew debate in Denton, Texas, that Warren’s first true-false question for Flew was: “It is possible for God to be infinite in some of his attributes and finite in others.” Flew inaccurately and irresponsibly answered “True” (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 149).

Warren in response to such an answer replied, “I suggested a moment ago that Dr. Flew and I then are talking about different Gods. The God I am defending in this debate is infinite in all of his attributes” (Ibid.).

Warren was defending the concept of an infinite God! Under tremendous pressure, however, Flew began to deny the existence of a mere finite god, just as under pressure he began to advocate epistemological agnosticism rather than atheism! Flew began in the debate to relinquish bold atheism for a weak agnosticism. Unfortunately, Estes in his rejection of “certainty” is attempting to get us all to reject Warren’s bold claim by which Warren moved Flew from atheism to agnosticism! Of course, if Warren had believed what Estes has now concluded, he would never have defended the existence of God in formal academic combat with such a world renowned atheist as at the time Antony Flew was. Warren would never have been able to rout Antony Flew with the seeming ease that he did. When Flew years later surrendered his atheism for some form of theism, he referred to his encounter with Warren, but I do not think that he gave enough credit to Warren for Flew’s later shift in thought from atheism to, at least, some kind of theism. (See There Is A God—How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind, pp. 67-69).

Warren believed and willingly affirmed in his 1976 debate with Antony Flew: “I Know That God Does Exist” (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 131), and by “know,” among other things, he meant that he was certain! And he proved in that extraordinary discussion that he had a right and an obligation to be.

Posted in Announcements, Books

New Book: The Hopelessness of Humanism

unnamedThe Warren Christian Apologetics Center has released a brand new title by Mac Deaver critiquing the shortcomings of the humanist outlook. Their website describes it:

This 82 page book is a response to James A. Haught, Editor Emeritus of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia’s largest newspaper. For several decades, Haught has published materials advocating a skeptical philosophy of life. Mac Deaver, in The Hopelessness of Humanism, has shown the logical implications and the practical results of a society based upon atheism and agnosticism.

Published in April 2016 by the Warren Christian Apologetics Center, it can be ordered from them at this link.

Posted in Apologetics, Epistemology, Evolution, Metaphysics

The Illusion of the Unattended Brain

In an effort to ground morality in science, Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, wrote a book published in 2010 entitled The Moral Landscape with the accompanying cover description: “How Science Can Determine Human Values.” Also on the front cover, Sam Harris is touted as “New York Times bestselling author of The End of Faith.” Sam Harris is not shy about either attacking religion or about extending the traditional role of science. Having plodded through the book, in keeping with the way that Sam explains his nature and condition as well as that of the rest of the human species, I can now say that Sam is a bold brain, but I can’t say anything else if I remain within the confines of Sam’s own description of himself and the rest of us. If you have read the book or if you follow along in this paper, you should soon see what I mean.

Sam Harris attempts to build a case for ethics based completely on the physical nature of man as an evolved species on this earth. Without evolution as theoretical background and the all encompassing presupposition as the explanation for the existence of mankind, Sam’s argumentation for scientific ethics has nothing to offer, but with it, he thinks that he can argue rationally for an ethical approach to life based simply on a greater understanding of the human brain and its relationship to events in the world. But can he?

Interestingly, a reader does not get far into the text before he realizes that Harris tries, in one sense, to “distance” himself from evolution. He writes, “As with mathematics, science, art, and almost everything else that interests us, our modern concerns about meaning and morality have flown the perch built by evolution” (14). But just what in the world does that mean? How have we humans “flown the perch” that evolution built? Sam doesn’t tell us. But given the fact that he says such a thing impresses me that there is something incongruent about the concept of evolution and the concept of meaning and morality that Sam Harris recognizes. And it is a problem for him throughout his effort to base morality on physicality. Look at the situation like this. When Sam says that we humans have “flown the perch built by evolution” I submit to the reader that since he surely is trying to say something meaningful, that he is either saying:

  • (1) Evolution is false, so we need to distance mankind from it in making the case for evolutionary ethics; or
  • (2) Evolution is irrelevant to the discussion of evolutionary ethics; or
  • (3) Evolution is inadequate as a justification of any evolutionary ethical theory.

I know he not claiming (1) evolution is false, because to the end of the book he stays attached to the claim of its scientific accuracy. I know he is not claiming (2) evolution is irrelevant because throughout the book he constantly employs the concept to bolster his thesis. I conclude that he is conceding, without intending to, that there is something awfully incoherent about conceptually connecting the concept of morality to mere apes. And if the reader thinks that I am being too hard on Sam for referring to people as “apes,” simply read the book and see how many times he uses the word or some synonym or similar expression to describe the human family. His is simply another sad effort at building a case with a missing link. Somehow and in some way (isn’t it strange), Sam thinks that human concern with meaning and morality go beyond the purview of evolution (the expression “flown the perch” has to have some application), and yet throughout the book he writes as though there is perfect harmony between the concept of organic evolution including the evolving of apes to men and the concept of human morality.

Harris chides fellow scientists for claiming that science has nothing to say about morality, and he claims that he has found the explanation as to why science can say something about it after all. It is his contention that facts cannot be separated from value. We all know that scientific work is in the field of empirical discovery. Science attempts to tell us about facts. But, Harris claims, that values are attached to facts, so that if science can tell us what the facts are, it can tell us something about what the values are. And if we know the correct values regarding facts, we can more adequately choose correctly in making our moral decisions.

Of course, Harris’ thesis is that since we cannot separate facts from value and since science is in the business of discovering and reporting the facts, that science then is equally in the business of being able to tell us what the value of the facts are. But, it must not go unsaid, that Harris’ whole case is based on his unproven and unprovable notion that all “facts” are physical ones. This is necessary to the proving of his thesis, but he never does, and he never can prove that only empirically derivable conclusions reached in a scientific laboratory qualify as “facts.” This is what he assumes but cannot prove, and in his book he never seriously tries to do so. He simply writes his book while granting that most Americans still do not believe the theory of evolution, as if they should. He never attempts to prove the theory at all, but takes it as a scientifically established fact. But, here Harris is very wrong. The fact is, that evolution as an explanation for the arrival of the human species has never been proven. Furthermore, given the nature of science and the nature of origins (including the origin of man), such a discussion of the origin of man and the morality of man is outside the scope of science anyway.

On the first night of the four night public debate in 1976 between Thomas B. Warren (theist) and Antony G. N. Flew (at the time a world renowned atheist, but who later disavowed atheism), Warren gave Flew the following True-False question:

  • T/F Value did not exist before the first human being.

Flew answered the question “True” and wrote on the paper that value was a function of the human mind (Warren-Flew Debate, p. 15 and APPENDIX). In his first speech on Monday, Warren pointed out that Flew’s answer to the question meant that since Flew was claiming that value did not exist before the first human did, then value itself was simply a function of the human mind. And that meant that the concept of “value” then is reduced to the subjective likes and dislikes of a person. Warren likened it to “liking or not liking spinach” (Warren-Flew, p. 15). This means that according to Flew’s answer, he was unfortunately taking the position that when men approve of something or disapprove of something, that in saying it is “right” or “wrong” they are simply expressing their likes and dislikes. In Philosophy, that view is described as “the emotive theory” of ethics.

Of course, since Sam Harris is here either by creation or evolution, and since he asserts that he (as well as the rest of us) is here via evolution, he has no basis upon which to dignify the concept of “value” or “morality” that gives it the objective meaning or status that he wants it so desperately in his book to entail. He wants so badly to argue for some kind of “objective” ethics based on some things that humans have in common which tend toward general human well-being. But all of his argumentation amounts to nothing when one considers that “value” is simply an invention of the human mind per evolutionary theory. And that means that “morality” is a merely human invention, too. So regardless what Sam Harris’ thesis is as to how to go about establishing a good evolutionary ethic, it all amounts to the fact that Sam Harris is simply providing us via his book with his own personal wish for the world as he would like it to be. But that is as high a standing in “value” as his thesis can acquire. It represents Sam’s effort at getting his way because the world as he envisions it is the world he wants. It is made up of things he likes. And it is true that a lot of what he likes, others like, too. But that is no basis of morality. And Harris even admits that a view is not established as true by its numerical support. Hear him:

Does a lone psychotic become sane merely by attracting a crowd of devotees? If we are measuring sanity in terms of sheer numbers of subscribers, then atheists and agnostics in the United States must be delusional: a diagnosis which would impugn 93 percent of the members of the National Academy of Sciences” (Landscape, 157, 158).

So, while on the one hand Harris recognizes that any particular viewpoint is not established as actually true simply by counting the number of people who support it, yet on the other hand he does argue for a theory of ethics which is based on the overall well-being of or happiness of “the greatest number of people” (Landscape, 28 ). So, regarding ethical theory, numbers do count after all! This is just one of many incoherencies in the development of his thesis.

Thus, basing ethics on the well-being of the greatest number, Harris is ethically a “utilitarian.” Regarding the question of God’s existence, he is an atheist. In fact, he is an atheistic neuroscientist whose view is that science and religion are antagonistic (158-176). They cannot be reconciled. Regarding politics, he says he is a liberal (90), and concerning his origin and nature, he is a self proclaimed ape (2, 114). I am not making this up! He does have a doctoral degree, however, but how impressive should that be among apes? So, the book is the product of an atheistic ape who is attempting to tell the rest of us apes how science, a discipline invented by apes, can help apes live happier lives. Are you following this?

Now, let us get back to the massive wall over which Harris attempts to climb in his effort to establish a science of morality. He does not accept the conclusion of the famous Scottish skeptic, David Hume, who pointed out many years ago that no one can get “ought” from “is.” And to attempt to do so is to commit what has come to be called the “naturalistic fallacy.” Harris thinks that Hume was simply wrong (38). He contends that there is a way for science (which describes to us what our world is) to tell us something of how we ought to act in it. But, we respond, it is just not possible!

Several years before he met Warren in public debate, the then atheist Antony G. N. Flew wrote a little book entitled Evolutionary Ethics. It was published in 1967, and he debated Warren in 1976. In his book, Flew affirmed that one simply could not get from “is” to “ought” in an evolutionary world. He sided with Hume. Flew quoted from Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature:

In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with I have always remarked that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought or ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence….” (Evolutionary, 38).

According to Flew, Hume took the position that “value” was a projection of the human mind onto the things that are being valued. Rather than value existing in the thing itself, value was the position or status granted it by the mind. Mind gave value to the thing rather than the thing’s having a value that presented itself to the mind. This, of course, meant that “value” was not objective. Value was not a characteristic of the thing but rather a propulsion of the mind onto the thing. Mind created value. Flew described Hume’s view as being,

that values are not any sort of property of things in themselves, but that they are in some way a projection out on to the things around us of human needs and human desires. (One resulting problem, more obvious perhaps to us than to Hume, is that of explaining how values can be in some such fundamental way dependent on, and some sort of function of, human needs and human desires, without its thereby becoming the case that some purely descriptive statements about what people do want or would want must entail consequences about what ought to be” (Evolutionary, 39).

And let it be noted that between 1967 and 1976, Flew had not found the answer to that problem! He recognized a great philosophical difficulty for evolutionary theory and ethics. And he never reconciled the two. He saw the problem; he had no answer.

In his third affirmative speech on Monday night of his debate with Warren, Flew said with regard to value: “I can not give a complete account of the nature of value and particularly of moral value, which I regard as even halfway satisfactory…The general line I want to take, as I think all humanists do, is that value is somehow—somehow—a function of human desires, human wishes, and so on…” (Warren-Flew, 43).

Flew went on to suggest that moral value was somewhat like the market value of a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle, and he maintained the likeness throughout the discussion (43, 184, 201). Flew maintained this likeness because he thought it illustrated to him how that moral value (1) was on the one hand a product of human desire—someone’s interest in buying a Volkswagen, and yet (2) on the other hand, the price was not determined simply by any one person’s desire. A man couldn’t buy a 1974 Volkswagen for a price that his desire set or determined. The market price decided what the man must pay.

But in is fourth affirmative on Thursday night, Warren responded:

But I have a question for Dr. Flew along that line: if the Volkswagen is worth $500.00 at one place and $1,000.00 at another place, how is the actual or real value of the car to be decided? Or, does it have any real value? Now, if your illustration is worth anything at all, it will have to have some real value, or else you will have to say that no human being has any real value, and you will have joined the Nazis in a thorough-going way to say that the Jewish people did not have any real value (only a market value that might fluctuate up and down and therefore would be worth nothing under the regime of the Nazis). Dr. Flew, you ought to think those illustrations through before you give them” (Warren-Flew, 186, 187).

Flew responded in his fourth negative that night, “I hope that I did not confuse people about this. Of course I do not think that moral value is in all respects like market value. One terribly important dissimilarity is precisely that market value does vary very freely with a place and time” (Warren-Flew, 201). Flew simply reiterated his point that at least the illustration presented a situation in which value was the product of human desire and yet one man’s desire did not determine what the value of the car would be. However, he was stuck with an illustration that, if like moral value, allowed for a relativistic view of ethics.

The sad thing is that Sam Harris concedes the whole point that, granted evolutionary theory as the accurate explanation for the arrival of the human species, we are stuck with evolutionary value. That is, we are in a situation such that moral values can change! So, on the one hand Harris says that “morality can be linked directly to facts about the happiness and suffering of conscious creations” (Landscape, 64); on the other hand he grants that what makes conscious creatures happy will not necessarily remain the same (84). And, of course, he has no way of countering Flew’s contention that science alone cannot tell us that what humans do, in fact, currently desire is what they ought to desire.

So, it is clear that, given evolution, there can be no such thing as “objective” ethics or, to put it another way, there can be no such thing as an act that is intrinsically good (that is, good in and of itself) or an act that is intrinsically evil. And yet Harris, while admitting this, continues to attempt to establish an evolutionary ethic. In fact, Harris concedes that, given evolutionary theory, it is possible that the science of morality may eventuate into perhaps a contradictory kind of morality so that what is now seen as good could be later viewed otherwise. Listen to Harris:

But what if advances in neuroscience eventually allow us to change the way every brain responds to morally relevant experiences? What if we could program the entire species to hate fairness, to admire cheating, to love cruelty, to despise compassion, etc. Would this be morally good? Again, the devil is in the details. Is this really a world of equivalent and genuine well- being, where the concept of ‘well-being’ is susceptible to ongoing examination and refinements as it is in our world? If so, so be it. What could be more important than genuine well-being?” (Landscape, 84).

Wow! Per Harris, if it turns out that current good is eventual evil and that current evil is eventual good, so be it! Of course, whether current or eventual, his ethical utilitarian theory is that if most people gain happiness by an act, that act is “good.” So, even now (much less later), if a majority of people would gain overall well-being and happiness from an act that gets rid of the minority, such would be good! Flew had no way of overcoming this objection to his concept of ethics; Harris has no answer either. Harris says that if the brain can be changed to look at ethics differently, that is the way that it will be. “The devil is in the details,” he says. No, the devil is behind the very idea of trying to justify ethics without God!

Of course, Harris goes on to express the view that a radical change in the way that we currently look at ethics is not likely to happen, but the fact that he allows for this is a tremendous insight into his theory of ethics. He is advocating “relative” ethics rather than “absolute” ethics, and by his imagination, he has treated us to his view that that is the nature of ethics. And that means that there is no such thing as an absolutely good act or an absolutely bad act! Consider the following:

  • T/F 1. An act is intrinsically good or evil in and of itself (Sam Harris says “False” because an act is only “good” if it contributes to the overall well-being of the majority of the people).
  • T/F 2. The Nazi killing of the Jews in World War II was an intrinsically evil act. (Sam Harris would have to say “False” since no act to him is an intrinsically evil act. And there are conceivably circumstances in which the annihilation of the Jews would contribute to the happiness or over all well-being of a majority of people in a nation or in the world).

Consider that Harris in a footnote bemoans the current standing of atheists in American society. He claims that “atheists are the most stigmatized minority in the United States—beyond homosexuals, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Asians, or any other group” (Landscape, 234, 235). Then, I humbly ask, is it conceivable that we could reach a moment in our history in which the killing of atheists (on the grounds that they are atheists) would be acceptable ethical practice if the majority of Americans and/or the majority of all men deemed that the happiness of most men would be enhanced? According to the basis of Harris’ concept of ethics, neither he nor any other man would be able to pronounce such killing at such time as intrinsic evil! In fact, according to “utilitarian” ethics, such killing would be the right thing to do!

But now, consider the following statement from Harris: “I believe that we will increasingly understand good and evil, right and wrong, in scientific terms, because moral concerns translate into facts about how our thoughts and behaviors affect the well-being of conscious creatures like ourselves” (Landscape, 62). Now, regarding the quotation please notice the following:

  • Sam expects more of us in the future to accept the concept of good and evil as a scientific matter.
  • There are no moral concerns outside the realm of facts (which to Sam must be empirical).
  • Our thoughts and behaviors are determined by empirical facts only.
  • We are conscious creatures.
  • Sam believes this.

Now, dear reader, what you need to see at this point is that the above affirmations are reducible to the last one: Sam said, “I believe that….” We could give attention to each part of the quotation, but such is not necessary because of the relationship that Sam Harris has to the claims. Who believes the assertions? Sam Harris says that he does. Well, who is Sam Harris? And amazingly throughout the book he writes (1) as though a real person named Sam Harris exists who is, in some way, ontologically distinguishable from mere matter while all the time (2) attempting to convince us that neither Sam Harris nor any of the readers actually exists! Do you think that I have simply misread Sam Harris? Follow closely.

To assert that men are simply instances of conscious matter is incredibly self-contradictory. “Consciousness” is not a material property! It is not simply an empirical characteristic of anything. And consciousness has never been found in science (or anywhere else) capable of expressing itself without rationality. Apes have feelings, but apes cannot articulate those feelings in language. And language requires thought. Consciousness cannot express itself without thought. Animal life can express itself by mere animation (movement). But consciousness to express itself beyond movement requires thinking.

But, Sam Harris claims that all thoughts are merely and exhaustively empirically driven or produced. In other words, Sam attributes human thought completely to the human brain! And the brain is simply conscious matter. There is no “real” person attending the brain. The brain, according to Sam Harris, is an unattended physical organ that produces the “mind” with its thoughts and intentions! Furthermore, he (Sam Harris) as a neuroscientist studies the brain, and having studied the brain a lot (to the reception of a doctoral degree), he is now in position to tell us that there is no real Sam Harris! Furthermore, anyone reading his book needs to read it while recognizing that not only is Sam Harris nonexistent, but that the reader is equally ontologically unavailable! And all the while this conceptual and linguistic joke is carried on as though it has real scientific merit. Listen to Sam:

Your ‘self’ seems to stand at the intersection of these lines of input and output. From this point of view, you tend to feel that you are the source of your own thoughts and actions. You decide what to do and not to do. You seem to be an agent acting of your own free will. As we will see, however, this point of view cannot be reconciled with what we know about the human brain” (Landscape, 102).

Again, “All of our behavior can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge: this has always suggested that free will is an illusion” (Landscape, 103). Again, “From the perspective of your conscious mind, you are no more responsible for the next thing you think (and therefore do) than you are for the fact that you were born into this world” (Landscape, 104). Sam claims that “thoughts arise (what else could they do?) unauthored and yet author to our actions” (Landscape, 105).

Dear reader, can you (and I mean the real YOU) believe it? You may ask, “Well, if no one is responsible for his own thoughts, then who is doing the thinking? Sam would have “us” to believe that the brain is the thinker! Per Sam Harris, the brain produces what “we” think of as the mind and its thoughts. “Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc. are causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world” (Landscape, 105).

So, there you have it. It is not simply true that the real, personal, spiritual, metaphysical, ontologically distinguishable, Sam Harris has disappeared, but that, according to Sam Harris (whoever that is), there has never been a Sam Harris. But still, “we” have to account for Sam’s thoughts. Well, that is attributed to “Sam’s” brain. Sam is claiming that he is brain. He is conscious matter. But the conscious matter is not personally attended. It is still matter only that somehow in evolution reached a level of consciousness. And now at that level of consciousness, the brain all alone and unattended produces thoughts which express themselves at times in actions.

Dear reader, can you believe such? Of course, it never dawned on Sam that as he was writing his book and trying to inform us all that “we” do not exist but rather that our “brains” are the existent empirical entities that alone are responsible for our thoughts, that he was at cross purposes with himself. First consider the following:

  • T/F 1. I, Sam Harris, am a person ontologically (in the nature of being) distinguishable from my material body (Sam says “False). Per Harris, there is no immortal soul (Landscape, 110).
  • T/F 2. I, Sam Harris, am my brain and body, and my brain is physically distinguishable from the rest of my body (Sam would say True).
  • T/F 3. While I, Sam Harris, am composed of brain and body, it is “my” brain that is responsible for all my thoughts and intentions. (Sam says True).

Now, dear reader, please look at #3 again. The word “my” is placed in quotations because the sentence is written as though Sam somehow exists apart from body and brain, but according to Sam, he clearly does not. Furthermore, he writes this way throughout his book. He writes as though he has a real metaphysical status and that his readers have an actual metaphysical status while all the time attacking the very concept of anyone’s having real metaphysical status.

Please consider the difficulties that one faces when attempting to deny himself (that he actually has a metaphysical existence). Consider the following statement:

I, Sam Harris, deny myself.

The sentence makes sense in that it is pieced together with words each of which has meaning, and the whole of the arrangement seems to be stating a complete thought. However, the sentence does not make sense conceptually. For example, when we consider what is being affirmed and what is being denied, we must face the fact that either (1) the “I” (whoever it is) has to exist in order to make the denial of oneself, or (2) the “myself” has to exist in some sense in order to be denied. So the “I” must be here as denier or the “myself” must be here as the one to be denied. If one says, well, the answer is that the “myself” is not here for it is the very thing being denied, so far so good, it would seem. However, the denial itself must be attached to the “I” in order for the denial to be made. The brute fact is that there is no denial being made at all if someone is not making the denial and neither is someone being denied.

Furthermore, since Harris denies that he exists as an “immortal soul,” then let us consider a further difficulty. When he says that he does not exist, we then face the following possibilities. It is either the case that:

(1) a soul is denying itself; or

(2) a soul is denying its body (including brain); or

(3) a brain is denying its soul; or

(4) a brain is denying its body (including itself).

Since Harris denies having a soul, obviously then he cannot be meaning either (1) or (2). A soul cannot be doing anything since it simply is not there. So he cannot possibly be meaning that a soul is either the “one” (a metaphysical being) denying self or denying its body. So (1) and (2) are out of the issue. If it is then suggested that Sam means (3), that would mean then that a brain would be denying its soul. But since, per Harris, a brain has no soul, how could and why would a brain do that? How can a merely physical organ deny an ontological attachment to a metaphysical entity? A gall bladder can’t do that, nor a liver, nor a lung, nor a physical heart, etc. How is it possible for a merely physical organ, derived from an evolutionary background to go into the negative in describing its own nature? Can an empirical entity create the metaphysical category only to deny that it has any occupancy? And by the way, how would a mere brain know that anyone had ever accused it of having any attachment to a metaphysical entity in the first place? Such would be absolutely absurd!

Either a brain is not a purely physical organ (this, Sam as an evolutionist would deny), or it must be in some way connected to a metaphysical entity that is utilizing it in denying whatever it is that is being denied!

Harris has a personally unattended brain saying that it has no association with or connection to a soul. And, per Harris, the brain’s thoughts are not metaphysical constructs but rather are physiologically driven. Thoughts are the products of the mind which is the product of the brain. Thoughts, anyway, are simply like gas that has escaped the brain. We might say that his view more or less means that a brain merely “erupts” into thoughts. There is no purpose to them nor design for them. They are random secretions for which no person whatever is responsible!

Remember, he has told that “the conscious mind cannot be the source of its own thought and intentions” (Landscape, 216). And furthermore, he says, “Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me” (Landscape, 104).

And that leaves us with (4): a brain is denying its body (including itself). When Sam Harris claims that he does not exist, he must be telling us that he as a brain is denying that the brain is there (with its body or that the body is there with its brain). But we know that Sam can’t mean to be suggesting (4) because that would mean that the brain is denying itself. And Sam in the book is quite insistent to claim that it is only the brain (with accompanying physical body) that does exist, and that the brain alone is “responsible” for thinking! Each of the four theoretical possibilities is thus eliminated from what Sam could actually be meaningfully saying. Regardless what with his incongruent combination of language and concepts he is attempting to do, the elimination of each possibility shows us that no one can rationally deny himself! And yet the ethic proposal that Sam proposes in his book is grounded in this irrational attempt!

But all the way through his book, Sam is taking the brain as being there and the metaphysical soul as not. He writes, “It seems to be that few concepts have offered greater scope for human cruelty than the idea of an immortal soul that stands independent of all material influences, ranging from genes to economic systems” (Landscape, 110). First, let it be said that without that immortal soul Sam can’t be rationally calling in question the existence of anything, much less himself! Dirt can’t deny the existence of dirt! Apes can’t deny the existence of apes, and they can’t even try.

Only metaphysical entities attached to empirical substance or form or bodies can have the capacity on this earth to deny one or the other of their conceptually distinguishable natures (physical or metaphysical). A purely physical entity has no ontological capacity to deny anything. Only a metaphysical entity has capacity to affirm and deny. Second, Sam is critical of the existence of any independent immortal soul that is not under the influence of “material influences.” But let it be said just here that we theists recognize that the mind or soul currently utilizes the brain. And any damage to the brain certainly can have a significant effect on the mind and its capacity to think. If the brain is the organ that the mind uses (as opposed to the liver, gall bladder, etc.), then any damage to the brain can certainly affect what the mind can or cannot currently accomplish. No one denies this that I know. But that is certainly not the same thing as to claim that there is no metaphysical mind as is proven by the fact that brain study has determined that a damaged brain affects thinking.

Sam Harris has studied the human brain a lot. But Sam has drawn some conclusions regarding human nature, the nature of truth, and the nature of morality that simply cannot be rightly deduced from that study. His denial of himself cannot “square” with his empirical investigation of the human brain. Someone is doing that study. But according to Sam it is merely one brain looking at another brain, and when thoughts are produced, they are unauthored by a person and no person is responsible for them. Notice the following:

  • T/F 1. Sam Harris as a metaphysical soul within a physical body is responsible for his book. (Sam says False).
  • T/F 2. Each reader of Sam’s book is a metaphysical soul within a physical body who is responsible for what he does with Sam’s book (Sam says False).
  • T/F 3. Sam Harris’ brain is alone responsible for Sam’s thoughts which in an “unauthored” way has provided us with Sam’s book (Sam tries to justify this as True though it is a self-contradictory affirmation).
  • T/F 4. Some unidentified brain produced the mind which produced the thoughts which produced the book called The Moral Landscape, attributed to Sam Harris as author (According to Harris’ argumentation as to the nature of man [he is a completely physical entity], this would be True).
  • T/F 5. The “people” who “read” Sam’s book are actually (according to Sam’s view of human nature) only other unidentified brains that produce minds which produce thoughts which produce action, so that only unidentified brains are “responsible” for minds allegedly produced by them (True, if Sam Harris’ view of human nature is correct).

A conscious mind cannot be held responsible, Sam tells us (Landscape, 216). Furthermore, he says that our thoughts are not even “authored.” Remember, he has told us that “…thoughts simply arise (what else could they do?) unauthored and yet author to our actions (Landscape, 105). On the cover of The Moral Landscape we find these words describing Sam Harris: “New York Times bestselling author of The End of Faith.” Therefore, even though Sam Harris is an “author” of books, he assures us that his thoughts have no author other than a personally unattended brain. Believe it who can! How can such drivel be allowed such publication and distribution for public consumption? It is as though Sam is telling us and trying to convince us that our situation is comparable to one computer communicating with other computers, telling them how they ought to act. And there is no “one” in the picture except computers. There is no “mind” behind the brain which uses the brain. There is no Maker of the mind but Sam knows that there can only be a computer and correspondence carried on between computers if someone made the computers and if someone uses the computers. But irrationally, Sam contends the situation is otherwise for the, according to him, evolutionarily developed human species!

Curiously, and without any evidence to support his theory, Harris attributes all thought to a physical organ that is metaphysically unattended, and Sam Harris intellectually attacks any concept of personal moral responsibility! Somehow our moral world is going to be improved when we all face up to what this neuroscientist is telling us: No real person is responsible for anything. Only a brain is! Remember, Harris contends that a “person” is no more responsible for his thoughts and actions than he is for being born into this world (Landscape, 104). As it turns out, given the explanation of the human situation according to Sam Harris, ethics has nothing whatever to do with personal responsibility! Now, there is your ape morality! And mixing such absolute fiction with some sort of “moral guidance” direction for the further development of the human species cannot save it from its on self-destruction.

There are many more very serious mistakes made in the book, The Moral Landscape. But we will not go into the exposure of every wrong turn that Sam took in arriving at his current confusion and explanation regarding morality. Once we see how the foundation for the theory (that science can determine human values) is based on such ontological self-contradiction, we see that everything else to be discussed is peripheral and secondary.

The very idea of a self-styled ape trying to convince other alleged apes how to live is laughable. And while I do sympathize with Sam in his horror over evil done in the name of religion, I cannot sympathize with him in a solution that embodies such incoherence and self-contradiction. And who among us can accurately apprise the misery caused in this nation already over the pseudo-scientific advocacy of organic evolution in its expression of current immorality? Sam incoherently warns us against self-deception (Landscape, 163, 176), all the while assuring us that there is no actual ontological “self” to be deceived! Such confusion is no help in trying to contribute to a better world.

It Is Only My Brain Talking

He said to me that he is not here.
“Who is not here?” I replied.
“Me,” he said as if unaware
That his denial had just been denied!

“If you are not here,” my inquiry began,
“To whom shall I make my reply?”
Someone responded (and I’m not really sure who),
“Me,” without blinking an eye.

“But how can I talk to you when you’re not here?”
“It is merely my brain,” he said with a smile.
“But how can that be?” I asked in response.
He said, “It’s been that way all the while.”

“Your brain? I asked with a skeptical look.
How can that possibly be?
The brain cannot be ‘your’ brain at all
For you just told me that the brain had no ‘me!’”

“There is no ‘my’ brain,” I tried to point out,
Not sure that he at all apprehended.
“If you are not here, the brain is not ‘yours.’
Indeed, the brain is completely unattended.”

Posted in Apologetics, Existence of God, Metaphysics

“Something” or “Nothing”?

The issue of “origin” as a concept has to begin somewhere. From whence did everything that is arrive? What is the source of all that we experience on earth? Ultimately, we are going to have to face two theoretical possibilities. Either there was a point at which there was “nothing,” or there has never been a point at which there was “nothing.” But before we go further, let us make sure that we are all on the same page regarding what nothing “is.” Look at those last quotation marks. They indicate that the very concept of “is” is opposed to the very concept of “nothing.” If we say that nothing is so and so, we are trying to give nothing some sort of ontological or “being” status, which by definition it simply cannot have. Nothing is not something. Nothing has no characteristics or qualities. Nothing is void of everything. It is the absence of anything and everything. It is the negation of all being. And by “being,” we mean existence at its most fundamental ontological level. If “nothing” were to be the absolute ultimate ontological condition at a given point, then we as men could not “think” it. As humans we cannot live with nothing and our minds are not equipped to even clearly grasp the meaning of the term we choose to describe as the absolute ontological contradiction to “being.” We have to think of “nothing” as a “something” even to bring it forward as a concept for discussion. Isn’t that amazing? And isn’t that insightful?

So, when we talk about “nothing” as a theoretical possibility regarding origin, we are having to intellectually squirm around in the effort to make sense of that which we are trying to describe. It is hard for a finite mind to get hold of the concept of nothing. It would do well for atheists to contemplate this point the next time they criticize the concept of eternal “something”. As humans we can only contemplate “nothing” as a topic from the background of the something that already impresses itself constantly on our minds. The backdrop of the discussion of “nothing” exists as a “something”. It cannot happen any other way. Since a human mind is certainly “something,” then we can only begin to attempt to fathom the concept of nothing via something, that is, our human minds. Minimally, the existence of at least the human mind is always the ontological presupposition to the discussion of “nothing”. Without our minds, there is no discussion, there is no issue, there is no controversy about the ultimate origin of all there is. So either “something” or “nothing” as the ultimate ontological explanation for all else is only relevant to a mind.

Now, just what does that insight tell us? It tells us that “nothing” can only be thought about by “something”! The approach to the topic of “nothing” can be made only by a mind. But a mind must exist before the concept can be thought. It is, then, impossible for “nothing” to be an intellectual category of existence all by itself. It can only exist in some sense as someone’s thought. If there were no thinker, then “nothing” could be thought or mentally produced as a concept. If there were no thinker, “nothing” could ever be known to be the ultimate ontological condition. If there were no thinker, “nothing” could never be discovered to be the ultimate ontological condition. “Nothing” as a concept only exists in a mind. Without a mind, there is no “nothing” to be thought or discussed. If “nothing” were (and without an eternal Mind) to be the ultimate ontological condition, then that “nothing” would have to continue as the ontological state. Out of nothing, nothing comes! That is, ontologically speaking, something cannot come from nothing! It is irrational to attempt to contradict that basic truth.

Think about it this way. Non-being cannot “be”. Non-being is not being. And not-being cannot be an existing ontological category that permits exploration or discovery as an existent category can. This means, then, that when in language we attempt to discuss the concept of “nothing,” that we can only do so by approximation. We can approximate the proposed ontological category of “nothing” only by language accommodation. But we can never actually get our minds around “absolute nothing,” because a mind can only think of “something”. That is the nature of thought. A thought cannot contain “nothing”!

Just as “something” is ontologically prior to “nothing” (as truth is to falsehood and as good is to evil), logically a mind is ontologically prior to the discussion of the possibility for any kind of “nothing”. That means that “something” is ontologically prior to “nothing”! “Nothing” as a category of thought or being only makes any sense either ontologically (in the totality of reality) or conceptually (in someone’s thought) with something already existing. Ontologically “nothing” can be isolated and in concept identified only against the background of “something”. It is, as already stated, like the concept of good or the concept of truth. “Evil” makes sense only on the ontological precondition of an existing good. And falsehood only makes sense on the precondition of an existing truth. Just so, “nothing” means nothing (that is, not anything at all) conceptually unless ontologically “something” exists with which it can be contrasted.

So, it is impossible for “nothing” to exist because “nothing” is “non-existence.” In one sense, to say that “nothing exists” is to say that nothing both exists and does not exist, which is a logical contradiction. This means that nothing cannot be anywhere located. It cannot be discovered because it cannot be found. It cannot be found because, by definition, it has no existence. If it has no existence, it has no accessibility to discovery. We talk about it only in some accommodative sense by an approximation in concept and then in language. Since one cannot discover “nothing,” he can only get close to it by altering the meaning of it. Since men cannot conceive of “absolute nothing,” we imagine a condition that is “almost nothing.” That is the best that we can do regarding the topic of origin. When we try to imagine a state of “absolute nothing,” we always fail. So, perhaps without thinking, we redefine the “almost nothing” that we imagined to be good enough to be the “absolute nothing” that is necessary in the discussion of origin as an alternative to an eternal “something”. So then, we should see that in our discussion of “nothing” and “something,” we cannot even discuss the contrast between the two without at the same time granting some sort of existence to the concept of “nothing” so that our minds can handle the discussion.

Now, think about the fact that if we could comprehend “nothing” (complete and universal non-existence absolutely) without accommodation and approximation, the concept itself could not have clear and precise definition. That is, it could not have clear meaning to us. Why? Because definition distinguishes something from something else. That is what definition does. By the fact that we can discuss “nothing” in some way that seems to make intellectual sense to us in the discussion of origin, we learn that it is being contrasted with “something” already. And I submit to you that the precondition or the backdrop or the contrast that makes the discussion of “nothing” a theoretical possibility in a way that is rationally intelligible is the existence of our minds. Our minds are always being the precondition or the “something” with which the “nothing” we seek to explore is held in contrast. “Nothing” is meaningful as a concept only because of “something” already being presupposed which presupposition is the human mind itself! This is the way that it is; this is the way that it always must be. We think at times that we are really grasping “nothing” because we try to imagine a blank or a void outside of our minds. But the mind itself is so constructed as to impose by its own nature conceptual limitations on our thinking. “Nothing” at minimal ontological reduction must be at least a concept or a thought we try to think or that is manufactured by our imagination, but we can never quite rid it of all content. Never!

To illustrate the impossibility of thinking of “nothing” without approximation (getting only close to its real meaning), let me offer a few items. Let us say that someone objects to our treatment of the topic and says that he can think of and describe, with absolute comprehension, the meaning of “nothing”. Let us say that our objector says that he thinks of “nothing” and can adequately describe it as a hollow or an empty place (void) or a place without form or color or shape. But you see, dear reader, that he is thinking about “nothing” from the viewpoint of “something”. The human mind is stuck right here in its capacity to conceptualize anything. We can only approximate the concept of “nothing”. We cannot grasp it accurately and certainly not comprehensively. We can only think in terms of “almost nothing”. This is as close as we can get! When the objector says that he thinks of “nothing” when he thinks of a hollow or an empty place, he is affirming “something” by which he means to be describing “nothing”!

Interestingly, the first definition in my dictionary of the word “nothing” is “something that does not exist.” And even the second definition, “NOTHINGNESS,” by the “-ness” on the end of the word suggests, somehow, “something” (see Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 577). That is, “nothing” is being considered as “something”. We cannot mentally get to the concept of “nothing” without identifying it as “something,” some state of affairs or condition or situation or location, etc. Now, isn’t that instructive? The human mind simply cannot get its arms completely around the concept of “nothing”. That means that when we attempt to think it or try to discuss it, we are doing so by means of some kind of conceptual and language accommodation, so that each of us knows what the others are meaning to say without anyone’s actually and precisely saying it when we refer to “nothing”. No human being can at one and the same time (1) exist and (2) claim accurately that “nothing” is possible of comprehension. The already existing mind cannot “get it”. We can only intellectually arrive at the border or the idea of the concept of it by thinking and speaking in terms of “almost nothing”. And that is as far as we can go. The bottom line is, then, that in the discussion of origin, we cannot even consider the idea of “nothing” without first presupposing “something”. By negation of “something,” we conceptually arrive at its opposite “nothing”. But that “nothing” cannot have complete meaning without the “something” that it opposes. To make this clear, let me offer the following. Let us identify the ways in which we can think of “something” and “nothing”. We can think of “something” in the following ways:

Possibilities for “Something

1. Something as only a concept (that is, it exists only in a mind).

2. Something as an actual ontological existent (that is, it exists also outside of the mind).

3. Something as only a word or sound (that is, there is no ontological referent for it even though the word can be written or spoken).

4. Something as an actual non-existent.

Number 1 can be illustrated by a 4,000 pound horse.

Number 2 can be illustrated by a real horse.

Number 3 can be illustrated by a unicorn.

Number 4 can be illustrated by a horse no longer alive and whose bones and flesh have been completely absorbed by nature.

Possibilities for “Nothing

1. Nothing as only a concept (that is, it exists only in a mind).

2. Nothing as an actual ontological existent (that is, it actually exists outside of the mind and without a mind).

3. Nothing as only a word or sound (that is, there is no ontological referent for it even though the word can be written or spoken).

4. Nothing as an actual non-existent.

Number 1 means that “nothing” is never outside the mind at all. There cannot be an “absolute nothing”.

Number 2 is a contradiction by definition. “Nothing” cannot be “something”.

Number 3 is actually a denial that “nothing” exists since it is only existing by a sound or a word that names it but gives it no ontological standing. We have a sign without a referent to which the sign points or for which the sign stands. “Nothing” is really simply a word or sound with no meaningful referent.

Number 4 is the meaning of “nothing” being attempted in the discussion of origin, but we arrive at the concept of “nothing” only by conceptual approximation.

Now why is this important to consider? It is important because it means then that, ultimately, there is no alternative to the eternal existence of “something”! Since out of nothing, nothing can come, and since the human mind can only approximate the condition of nothingness by the description that “almost nothing” exists, we are seeing and saying that “something” has always existed. And the very description that “almost nothing” exists becomes itself void of significance in the effort to identify theoretical possibilities in the discussion of ultimate origin. Why? Because we are affirming that “something” really does, after all, exist! And, ontologically speaking, that is the contradiction of the claim that “nothing” exists. In other words, to say that “almost nothing” exists is to say that “something” exists! So, to claim that “almost nothing” exists is not much of a claim, as it turns out, after all.

Think about the concept of improbability. If someone says that it is improbable that God exists, since the claim of improbability is the admission of the possibility of the contradictory, then whoever says that it is improbable that God exists is saying at the same time that God may exist after all! More strikingly, however, when someone says that it is possible that at a point “nothing” existed, since he can only approximate “nothing,” he is saying that at a point “almost nothing” existed, which implies, at that point, “something” existed after all!

Think about it this way. What if someone is discussing a box that he thinks has been emptied of all the apples in it. Suppose he says to a friend of his that the box is empty. Then suppose that his friend looks into the box and finds one remaining apple. Being shown this, the original claimant who said the box was empty now, in response, says that the box is “almost empty”. What does this mean? Obviously, if the box is only “almost empty,” then clearly it is not empty at all! Now to apply this easy illustration, when we find that the “ontological box” is almost empty (conceptually as we attempt to think about “nothing” as a category of inquiry and discussion), we are finding that the “ontological box” is not empty at all. “Something” is in it. But it looks like that something is barely in it. That is, the box looks to be almost empty or void of anything except this one lone, isolated apple.

Ah yes, it looks like there is a large encompassing atmosphere that envelops the one lone apple. The box is larger than is the apple within it.

And here is where the application of this illustration breaks down because the actual ontological condition cannot be that way. Why not? Because the ultimately identifiable “something” has no encompassing atmosphere that is larger than it is. If there is a larger encompassing something that is beyond what the already identified ultimate “something” is, then the “something” identified could not be the ultimate “something” possible! This reminds us, does it not, of Anselm’s correct insight regarding the ultimate Being as being that “greater than which cannot be conceived”. It is not merely coincidental that Scripture claims that God inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15; cf. Psalm 90:2). Conceptually, that is not anything close to saying, for example, that God inhabits Georgia. What God inhabits cannot be properly conceptualized as being a place larger than the inhabitant. The nature of ultimate Being cannot be described that way.

The Bible claims, and the situation must ontologically obtain, that beyond time and beyond everything else that there could ever possibly be, something had to be already “in place” with the “place” not being something like geography (e.g. Georgia) but a condition beyond time and place. The ultimate something, whatever or who it is must be beyond time in the sense that everything in time is characterized by the property of merely enduring through moments or segments of durative existence. That is, everything in time is marked by time and must be in the process of passing away or passing out of time. I would describe time basically as the process of diminishing change. The ultimate something or existent must be beyond time. Too, the ultimate existent has to be beyond place in the sense that it must be its own place. When Scripture declares that God inhabits eternity, it is saying that God is his own residence! He simply cannot exist in a place that preceded him, and he could not possibly exist in a place that succeeded him! God is his own area or “place”. He, himself, constitutes the only location there is, at least before any creation occurs.

This means that ultimate Being is something beyond both time and place as we are forced to think about both concepts, because we can only think of time as it applies to things created (that is, finite things); we can only think of place as location always in some sense larger than any possible existing inhabitant. Interestingly, according to Scripture, there is a sense in which God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and he inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). God is the “I Am That I Am” (KJV) or the “I Am Because I Am” (ASV) per Exodus 3:14 in that he is not an effect but the eternally existing Being whose being is explainable only in terms of its own and only ontological self-sufficiency. The reason for God is God. As Aquinas taught us, his essence simply is “to be”. In one sense, it sounds so strange, but when the finite mind begins to explore the nature of reality, the absolute essentiality of such an ultimate essence is found to be not simply a possibility but an essentiality. So, again, God is beyond time and he was, since he was outside of time, the only “location” before creation.

Following creation, all of creation must be “in him”. This is why Paul can tell the philosophers in Athens that men live “in God” (Acts 17:28). The whole creation is a different sort of thing (by the nature of any created thing) from the Creator himself. All of creation must be “in God” in that God is greater than any and all of what he makes. The effect cannot be greater than the Cause. To revert to our “almost empty basket” illustration earlier, we see that God is not simply the lone apple left in the basket that shows that the basket is only “almost empty”. Rather he is the essential and necessary “basket” that contains any and all apples that can exist. So, as it turns out, the “something” that is implied by the “almost nothing” is, in fact, not merely a lone “something” that means that the basket is barely occupied, but rather the “something” turns out to be the necessary Lone Something—or God—that is able to contain everything else that ever there is or could be.

Now, what if someone grants the contention that it is really impossible, after all, for the human mind to completely comprehend the concept of ontological “nothingness,” but then registers the objection that such is irrelevant in the discussion of origin since the human mind cannot fathom the concept of eternity either. Suppose a skeptic says, for example, that the impossibility of complete comprehension of the idea of “nothingness” is not important to the discussion anyway, since the concept of eternity is equally off limits to human comprehension. Let us explore this possible objection and see if there is some merit to it.

When someone says that the concept of an eternal something (God) is just as hard to intellectually grasp as is the concept of an ontological “nothing,” we would suggest that since we humans are here to look at the topic of origin, something is certainly existing now. We must begin the exploration of the nature of the origin of our universe by virtue of the fact that something is already in place. The “something” and all the “somethings” that are present display their nature to be finite (limited) and contingent (dependent) effects without efficient cause and without sufficient reason from within themselves to explain themselves.

It is an obvious feature of our universe with its component parts, that the items that when combined constitute that universe are such as to cry out to us that they cannot explain themselves and they cannot cause themselves. The idea of something’s causing itself is a contradiction in terms. “X” cannot cause itself to exist because if “X” is the cause, it already exists before its effect does, and if “X” is the effect, it cannot be the effect of “X” that does not exist previously. It is irrational to suggest that anything can cause itself! It is an impossible situation that amounts to a claim for an ontological contradiction which is absurd. Well, if it is impossible for anything to cause itself, what about the possibility of something’s being the reason for itself? Those who study philosophy may be familiar with the principle of efficient causality and with the principle of sufficient reason. These are two different principles of tremendous worth. And both of them cover the existence of everything that there is! The principle of efficient causality covers everything that is an effect (which is everything but God). The principle of sufficient reason covers everything including God.

No man thinking correctly can say that (1) he caused himself to exist or that (2) he has the sufficient reason or explanation for himself within himself. Every man, if he thinks about the matter at all, surely realizes that the explanation for himself lies outside of himself and the cause for himself is outside of himself. And such is characteristic of every particle of this physical universe! The efficient cause and the sufficient reason for everything within the universe and the universe itself is outside of itself. That is the very nature of the essence of physicality. And even regarding the mind of man, by self-reflection, each of us can know that (1) he did not cause his mind to exist (since it is a contradiction to claim that a mind caused itself to exist) and (2) the sufficient reason for the existence of his mind within his body indicates that the sufficiency for the arrangement is not within the arrangement itself. It has to come somehow from the outside. Each of us would begin to explore the cause and the reason for ourselves by taking the first step and claiming that our parents are our efficient cause even if they cannot be the sufficient reason for us. According to Scripture, all men have a heritage of efficient cause all the way back to Adam and then to God who is the ultimate efficient cause and sufficient reason for the existence of everything outside of himself.

Every “something” in the universe, or the universe as a “something” considered as one entity, indicates its complete ontological inadequacy in explaining itself or being the reason for itself or in being the cause of itself. Every feature of our world points to a “something” that must exist and not by causing itself (which as we have seen is a contradiction in terms) but which must have the reason for itself within itself. But a mindless “it” or a simple piece of matter has no capacity to be its own explanation or reason, as we see in looking at our universe and all that composes it. The ultimate principle of the universe cannot be just an “it” or an “It” or an “IT”. All of the “its” as a category are effects at best of something that is not. The essence of the ultimate Being has to be greater than everything that composes a part of our universe and greater than the universe as a whole.

The ultimate “something” or “Something” has to be this way! God has the reason for himself within himself. He does not cause himself because such is impossible and also because he is no effect. But he does and must have within his own essence the essential claim on existence. And all effects must be less that all causes. And the total effect of creation must be less, in some sense, than the ultimate Creator. Aquinas taught us that God’s essence is to exist. Now, we may not be able to completely fathom such an essence, but we can fathom the necessity of such an essence when we are considering how it is possible for anything now to exist at all.

So, let us look at our two possibilities as we think about the origin of our universe. Everything is the result finally of either (1) “nothing” or (2) “something”. Now, it is correct to say that it is hard for a human and finite mind to comprehend an “eternal something”. But the “eternal something” is implied by every “finite something” that exists. The fact that it is hard for a finite mind to comprehend an infinite and “eternal something” ought to make us humble, reverent, and submissive while admitting to ourselves that it is impossible for us to completely grasp the nature of divine essentiality. But what we do know is that while we cannot grasp the nature of essentiality (and thus the sufficient reason for God’s infinite eternality), we can grasp the necessary nature of that existence as an explanation for whoever it is that causes everything else to exist. The first cause must be his own explanation. It simply has to be this way. And this is what the Bible means in affirming God!

It is true that we cannot fathom completely the concept of “nothing”. We can know, however, that “nothing” cannot be the ultimate cause of anything. And “nothing” cannot explain anything. We can approximate the category of “nothing” only by looking at it against the background of “something”. In fact, “nothing” is always being considered “something” as we try to imagine it. It is also true that as we talk about the eternal God as the ultimate cause of everything outside of himself and as the sufficient reason for himself, that we are claiming something that we cannot completely comprehend.

However, the two situations are not parallel in that—

1. “Nothing” can ever be the cause or the explanation for anything, period!

2. “Something” necessarily or essentially existed forever in order for something to exist even temporarily today.

3. The incapacity of the human mind to grapple completely with the concept of “nothing” only indicates the necessary background of “something” as the precondition for the discussion of “nothing” anyway.

4. We cannot know “nothing” as such, and we cannot know the essence of essential existence that must characterize the ultimate cause of the universe.

5. But we do know that since out of “nothing,” nothing comes, and that since “something” has come, then the “ultimate Something” somehow carries his own eternal ontological credentials for himself within himself. It cannot be any other way.

In the 1976 Warren-Flew debate on the existence of God, Warren said that an atheist cannot disprove the existence of God by appealing only to the concept of God (see p. 54 of The Warren-Flew Debate). Rather, Warren said that the attempt at disproof would necessarily entail not only the concept of God (which concept by itself is coherent), but such would entail combining the coherent concept with some empirical fact which supposedly contradicts the concept. This is what is involved when atheists attempt to disprove God by the so-called “problem of evil”.

So, according to Warren (and this was never denied by the atheist Flew in the debate), the coherent concept of God plus some empirical fact alleged to be contradictory of the concept would be required to attempt to disprove theism and to establish the claim of atheism.

Now, what have we been saying in this article? We have been saying, in effect, that the concept of “nothing” is really an incoherent concept at best. We simply cannot make sense of “absolute nothingness”. The state or condition or situation of any proposed “absolute nothingness” is an incoherent concept in and of itself! It only becomes intelligible by making it “almost nothing” against the backdrop of a “something”. By itself the concept of “nothing” or “nothingness” can never rationally be suggested as an alternative to the necessity of creation. The concept of “God” is a coherent one, and the atheist Antony Flew did not deny such. But the concept of “absolute nothingness” is not even coherent! In the Warren-Flew debate, Flew suggested in his rejoinder on Monday night, “It seems to me that someone could perfectly consistently be an atheist and believe that the universe is going as a matter of fact to have an end, or believe that it had had a beginning but was not going to have an end. However, I am myself inclined to believe that matter is without end and without beginning. But I do not see why as an atheist I have got to” (ibid., p. 65).

Thus, as an atheist Flew wrongly accepted the irrational notion that (1) “something” can come from “nothing,” while at the same time wrongly accepting the view that (2) matter is eternal. But Flew also conceded correctly that the concept of God by itself is coherent! Warren exposed Flew for accepting the self-contradictory view from Strato of Greece, called the “stratonician presumption,” which claims that “everything there is is a product of nature” (ibid., p. 170f.), which if true would mean, as Warren pointed out, that nature produced itself (now who can possibly actually believe that when he understands what it means?) and he told Flew that he needed to get on with the business of attempting to prove the eternality of matter (p. 187)! Warren used the Second Law of Thermodynamics in physics to show that the claim that matter is eternal is false (ibid.).

Finally, if the concept of “God” is coherent, and if the concept of “nothing” is incoherent, and if the attempt at disproving God must entail not only the coherent concept of “God” but an empirical fact judged to be contradictory to the concept, then what can we finally say about the concept of “nothing” plus some empirical fact? Notice that the incoherent concept of “absolute nothing” plus any empirical fact, means that “something” exists! Why? Because the empirical fact exists alongside the incoherent concept of “nothing”.

So, the concept of “God” plus some empirical fact is what is necessarily attempted by atheists to disprove God when they use the so-called “problem of evil,” but no facts can disprove God, because all facts ultimately demand God for ultimate explanation! As Professor Warren used to teach us, “if one thing exists, then God exists. If the one thing that exists is God, then God exists, and if the one thing that exists is not God, then it requires God for its existence”. And the incoherent concept of “nothing” plus some empirical fact proves “something” rather than “nothing” exists because the empirical fact is “something”.

It is impossible, then, to build a rational case for atheism either by the alleged eternality of matter or by “something” coming from “nothing”. There is no room in the discussion of ultimate explanation of the origin of anything, rationally speaking, for claiming anything other than God!