An atheist tries to refute the Argument from Reason

Here is an example of missing the point:

Even though the argument from reason may sound good, the argument is a good example of begging the question (I.E. circular reasoning). The premise (that physical sources cannot constitute a rational source) is the conclusion (That naturalism – which says physical sources can constitute a rational source – is wrong). The reason that this is hard to see initially is due to the way in which the argument is laid out.

I think this is flatly incorrect. Saying that physical causes cannot be rational is not the same as saying naturalism is false. I think it gives a good reason to reject naturalism, but it might turn out that we are not rational and naturalism is true.

The central point of the argument is that merely physical sources cannot constitute a rational source, and therefore Lewis (and others) come to the conclusion that naturalism is self-refuting. Yet this premise is left without a proper explanation, and I don’t see why merely physical sources cannot constitute a rational source – in fact, this is one of the things that naturalism argues – that rationality can arise out of a purely physical source. A person employing the Argument from Rationality simply posits as a premise that it cannot, and then claims that this makes naturalism self-refuting. Obviously, we could refute nearly any worldview in this manner. Similarly, we could claim that any abstraction – from love to opinions to ideas to art – cannot arise out of purely physical sources and our argument would be no different. Why abstractions cannot arise out of physical sources is not explained, and I think they clearly can. It’s easy to create an imaginary solution to an imaginary problem.

No, this is a clear case of missing the point. We know that at a fundamental level physical causes don’t act for reasons. The reason an asteroid hits the Earth isn’t because it thinks colliding with our planet is the best way to achieve some end. It is acting in accordance with the laws of physics, and these laws (plus relevant physical conditions) comprehensively explains the event. So we have a prima facie case against the physical constitution of rationality. Is an emergent account possible? Perhaps. Is such an account forthcoming? Doubtful. Therefore the argument constitutes a good reason to reject naturalism.

Sophistry is a joy!



I’m reading Susan Haack’s Evidence and Inquiry, and she proposes a moderate evidentialist position that she believes shoots between the difficulties of foundationalism and coherentism, yet takes the best of both positions. Before I make any initial remarks on her arguments, I feel that this position may go overlooked simply because of the unfortunate word “foundherentism”. I think it’s a rule for analytic philosophers to come up with the most unwieldy names. Blech. Moving on….

FH1: A subject’s experience is relevant to the justification of his empirical beliefs, but there need be no privileged class of empirical beliefs beliefs justified exclusively by the support of experience, independently of the support of other beliefs.

FH2: Justification is not exclusively one-directional, but involves pervasive relations of mutual support.

Haack thinks experience is a necessary portion of justification which serves somewhere in the basic region of the foundations, but what is interesting to me is her claim that such experiences aren’t incorrigible. She uses the ophthalmologist’s fan test to show that you can, in fact, be mistaken about how something appears to you.

It seems that you can be confused about how you are experiencing a very basic sense deliverance. Are the lines the same size? Do some appear to be larger or bolder? For me personally, the answer isn’t entirely clear, which serves as a prima facie defeater of the incorrigibility of basic sense experiences.


Reading through Pascal’s Pensées today, and I was struck by the similarities between Reid’s critiques (and by extension, Plantinga) of evidentialism (and internalism/foundationalism) and Pascal’s critiques. Pascal here:

The chief arguments of the sceptics- I pass over the lesser ones- are that we have no certainty of the truth of these principles apart from faith and revelation, except in so far as we naturally perceive them in ourselves. Now this natural intuition is not a convincing proof of their truth; since, having no certainty, apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, or by a wicked demon, or by chance, it is doubtful whether these principles given to us are true, or false, or uncertain, according to our origin. Again, no person is certain, apart from faith, whether he is awake or sleeps, seeing that during sleep we believe that we are awake as firmly as we do when we are awake; we believe that we see space, figure, and motion; we are aware of the passage of time, we measure it; and in fact we act as if we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have on our own admission no idea of truth, whatever we may imagine. As all our intuitions are, then, illusions, who knows whether the other half of our life, in which we think we are awake, is not another sleep a little different from the former, from which we awake when we suppose ourselves asleep?
And who doubts that, if we dreamt in company, and the dreams chanced to agree, which is common enough, and if we were always alone when awake, we should believe that matters were reversed? In short, as we often dream that we dream, heaping dream upon dream, may it not be that this half of our life, wherein we think ourselves awake, is itself only a dream on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death, during which we have as few principles of truth and good as during natural sleep, these different thoughts which disturb us being perhaps only illusions like the flight of time and the vain fancies of our dreams?


Reid here:

The sceptic asks me:
Why do you believe in the existence of the external object that you perceive?
Reply: This belief, sir, is not made by me; it came from the mint of nature; it bears her image
and official stamp, and, if it isn’t right that’s not my fault; I took it on trust, without

(accessed here)

There is much more to Reid’s argument than just this, but I think I’ve supplied enough to show they were on to the same scent. Both are committed to being reasonable (neither is an epistemological nihilist), but neither thinks we have evidence for the basics of our epistemological foundations.