by Jim Pemberton
Up to this point, I have made a case for faith based on reason. In this article, I want go back to a section of a previous article that talks about how reason is based on faith. This is the article where I discussed the limitations of the scientific method. The section comprises the first half of the article and is entitled Unprovable Presuppositions.
We all rely on unprovable presuppositions. It’s unavoidable. This is why it is all too easy for one camp to level at the other the charge of circular reasoning. That is to say that one side says, “There is no God, therefore there can be no scientific conclusion that takes God into consideration.” The other side says, “God exists. Therefore, we must take into consideration the fact that God could either bring this into being using naturally observable causes or brought this into being using supernatural causes.” So drawing theistic conclusions allow for supernatural considerations and drawing atheistic conclusions necessarily means excluding supernatural considerations. So either case could easily be accused of assuming what it intends to prove.
If it is the case that both camps are guilty of circular reasoning, this opens up a field of logic that is not purely deductive. Deductive logic is limited by the assumption of the truth values of its premises. So how do you evaluate the truth values of premises? There are at least a couple of ways to accomplish this. The first is concurrence. The second is induction. In this article we will investigate concurrence. In the next article, I will investigate at least one kind of induction.
That is to say that while science appears to be circular, and is indeed circular, it is circular only in a deductive sense. But the evidence existed before someone applied presuppositions to evaluate the evidence scientifically. What we should look for is not a conclusion based on the presupposition that we like, but a conclusion that demonstrates independent concurrence between its presuppositions and its evidence. That is to say that we must ask a couple of questions of the system:
Does the evidence fit the presuppositions or do the presuppositions try to account for evidence that doesn’t fit?
Do people take conclusions as though they were evidence and bargain for concurrence?
Do people ignore the reliability, or lack thereof, of foundational principles when they present the accuracy of conclusions?
Take the generation of genetic code for example. It can be demonstrated that just the spontaneous formation of a single viable enzyme or other protein is unlikely, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 chance in 3×10^100. That’s not to mention that those proteins need to be digitally represented as genetic code. In order for the genetic code to reproduce itself, molecular folding machines made of specialized proteins need to exist. The code for those machines and the way they are to be folded need to be represented in the genetic code. So which came first, the machine or the code for the machine? This is not only unlikely, it’s impossible on its own. A scientist evaluating this with a non-theistic presupposition must try to find some other way to account for the formation of self-replicating genetic code. The theist has no problem. The evidence is concurrent with the theistic presupposition. In order to sidestep the jump to theism, some scientists are willing to speculate outrageous things such as that our DNA was actually created by some intelligent alien race and planted here. There’s no proof of this, of course. For someone desiring to deny the existence of God, it’s a more desirable explanation.
Let’s look at radiometric dating methods. Just to pick one, we’ll go with carbon dating. Given the half-life of carbon 14 as it decays, the assumption of equilibrium of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in the atmosphere, and the assumption of a relatively even distribution of carbon ions in the atmosphere at any given time, the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 can be tested to determine how long ago some sample of once-living material died. Did you catch the number assumptions listed? There are well more than that, although those are enough for now. Many things need to be taken into consideration in evaluating the results of testing the ratio of carbon ions. I daresay that single samples have often yielded diverse results in multiple tests. Typically, they count as reliable evidence in that case whatever date most closely matches a date speculated by other means. So while severe inaccuracies are admitted, carbon dating is generally only as reliable as information imported from other scientific disciplines. This isn’t a matter of concurrence; it’s a matter of cherry-picking evidence.
Lack of Faith Results in the Distortion of Truth
The question then becomes whether we can trust scientists that exclude concurrence because they are biased against possible explanations. They are closed to investigation that would demonstrate the existence of anything beyond nature. The theist can investigate purely natural phenomena scientifically. But the theist is open to the possibility of something that is either untestable, or testable by other means. The theist is able to accept concurrence for presuppositions that match the evidence best.
If there is evidence for something beyond nature in nature then only the theist is presuppositionally equipped to investigate it honestly. But that begs the question whether such evidence was placed there accidentally. If there is a God who created all things, then such a God is above all things. That means that the only way we know about him is that he created natural and discoverable evidence of himself. We have this evidence in abundance. I’ll not detract from the flow of thought here to list evidence because it is well documented. This evidence is concurrent with theism, specifically Christianity.
So why isn’t this evidence accepted by non-Christians and nontheists? The answer is the reason I gave a couple of paragraphs ago, namely the exclusion of concurrence because of presuppositional bias. Despite the fact that the evidence isn’t concurrent, one will often seek to explain the lack of concurrence away. People often bend over backwards intellectually to make it seem like it fits. To deal with the lack of concurrence honestly means that we need to either question our ability to evaluate the evidence accurately or we need to change our presupposition altogether.
What that means for the Christian is that we need to be faithful. I started this article talking about how our faith is reasonable. Concurrence means that our faith is both reasonable and contributes to our ability to understand. Trusting God, not because we are committed, but because that trust is so reasonable we can do nothing else is the key to knowing God with certainly.
There is an ethical and a confessional aspect to that trust. Our desire to please God and to testify of our knowledge of God is evidence that is often dismissed. It stems from the fact that believers are given the Holy Spirit. But I will leave that discussion until the next article.