The Worldview Fallacies of Humanism and Human Autonomy
Worldview fallacies occur when people make false assumptions at the level of ultimate issues. In order to account for and justify all of human experience, we must acknowledge a self-authorizing, self-revealing, self-consistent Creator-God who Himself subsumes both unity and diversity within His own self-order. Human experience involves all of these characteristics, and yet no part of human experience itself—no part of creation—can provide final justification for them. Man’s attempts to do so all run him into absurdities, contradictions, and chaos. The attempt to erase the Creator and to account for reality independently through human reason always leads to dead ends.
It should stand as common sense that any attempt to justify human experience by human experience will inevitably include circular logic, and thus logical difficulties. Furthermore, the intrinsic finitude of human experience will naturally limit the conclusions man can reach when relying on that standard alone. Furthermore, the fact that human experience, from the Christian point of view, must pass through the filter of fallen human nature, intensifies and exaggerates the distortion—both in how man receives his experience, and in how he processes and communicates it.
Thus, we enter this study of Worldview Fallacies with double cautions: 1) autonomous human standards for reality will fail logically, and yet 2) fallen man will try every means possible to deny or hide this failure.
The fall of man and human autonomy
Paul teaches us that fallen man has rejected and continually suppresses the knowledge of God and His revelation; yet the same man cannot live without attempting to ground his experience in some ultimate principle. As Augustine famously confessed, “O Lord . . . Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” Paul explains how the children of fallen Adam wrestle with this restlessness:
Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Rom. 1:21–25).
Notice the multiple effects that this rebellion has upon the mind of man:
- they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened;
- yet they engaged (perhaps all the harder) in philosophy, and called themselves philosophers (lovers of wisdom), yet to no real intellectual gain (Professing to be wise, they became fools);
- they rejected man as the image of God and instead saw him akin to nature only (exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures);
- they succumbed to self-deception and their foolishness expressed itself in false witness (they exchanged the truth of God for a lie);
- they still continued in worship, but exchanged worship of the Creator for worship of creation (worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever); and thus,
- God sends judgment, for now, in the form of their own spiritual corruption. Their futility, foolishness, false piety, false witness, and false worship all become their own condemnation, proving their hearts corrupt (God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them).
In the following section, I will illustrate the intellectual foolishness bred from this rejection of God’s revelation, concentrating on the “futility” of such thought. Human autonomy, wishing to justify itself apart from God, grasps and strains at every possible straw of human experience, trying at various times and from multiple angles to create a lasting foundation for existence, knowledge, ethics, meaning, value and progress. With thousands of Adam’s rebellious children thinking and writing throughout history, the student will encounter dozens of “isms,” ideas, beliefs, or life-stances that have grown out the simple worldview fallacy of human autonomy—all of them equally futile and vulnerable to the same fundamental criticism.
All anti-Christian worldviews have at their core a rejection of the revelation of God, and, as such, will fail due to the limits of human experience. These limits will appear in the worldview in the form of some logical inconsistency, incoherence, or arbitrariness. The following overview covers some of the most common facets of autonomous intellectual expression.
Fallacies of autonomy
Naturalism and Materialism
Beneath every autonomous worldview secretly rests a belief about reality. This belief masquerades as an assumed answer to the question, “What is real, ultimately”? The assumed answer can only take two basic forms: supernaturalism or naturalism (excluded middle: S or not-S). All worldviews ultimately fall into one of these two categories, each category containing many fallacious varieties.
Christian theism can fall under the heading of supernaturalism although it forms a very special case: it constitutes the only viable worldview that involves no indefensible arbitrary assumptions or logical incoherence. In one sense we could categorize all worldviews under the two headings, “Christian theism,” and “Human autonomy,” but I will stick with what I have set up for now. The rest of the category of supernaturalism includes false religions, cults, New Age beliefs, and the like, all of which believe in an ultimate reality beyond the “nature” perceived by the human senses, but all of which fail in various ways. These particular failures lie beyond the scope of this book, and the reader can find them well-documented in various places.
The category of naturalism also contains many permutations which may include some religions (Confucianism, some forms of Buddhism, Taoism, and some New Age ideas) and broadly describes the belief that nothing exists except “nature.” The most popular embodiment of this idea appears among skeptics and “scientific” minded unbelievers. Among these, “nature” can best be defined by what it is not, namely, a universe beholden to a personal Creator God who sustains it and “interferes” with “the laws of nature” in answering prayers and performing miracles.
Consequently, this group of naturalists believes in a universe that never operates at variance with laws—laws which themselves exist inherently in and because of nature itself. This belief gives rise to a secondary belief called uniformitarianism—the idea that the universe and everything in it, for all of history, remains uniform in its operation. The universe has always operated, and will always continue to operate, according to predictable and understandable laws.
Such a worldview generates many problems. Firstly, it is arbitrary, and thus dogmatic. While the universe does display amazing orderliness, all philosophers will agree that the limitations of human knowledge make it impossible to prove a negative claim such as “no Supernatural God exists.” So while we can trust the orderliness of the universe to a great degree, engage in science, and generate remarkably precise and accurate predictions, we cannot logically jump to the abstract conclusion that such orderliness is the primary, let alone the only attribute of reality. To do so would be to operate on an unproven assumption, and thus would reveal more about the naturalist’s biases than about reality.
To maintain his arbitrarily chosen belief about nature, the naturalist “explains away” alternative views from within the confines of, and using the limited tools of, his own worldview. Since he has excluded any miraculous event or supernatural intervention by definition, then no evidence of a miracle could logically change his opinion. Why not? If ever confronted with a miracle—even an extreme miracle, for example, the resurrection of the dead—the naturalist would still attempt to take recourse to a natural explanation. On the one hand, he may attempt to offer a “natural” explanation (for example, that the corpse was not really dead to begin with, or that given the right medical circumstances a dead body can be brought back to life by CPR and electromagnetic nerve stimulation, etc.). No matter how weak such an explanation may be, it will have the merit (in the mind of the naturalist) of being “natural,” and thus for him will provide a more plausible scenario than any supernatural explanation. On the other hand, he may consent that naturalistic science currently has no answer to such a phenomenon, but nevertheless “scientists are working on it” and will ultimately arrive at one. The dogmatism of his position stands out at this point: he would essentially argue, in the face of a miracle, that if any explanation is to be given of the event, that explanation can only be a natural explanation.
This shows that even the naturalist’s own criteria of judgment—that is, natural “evidence”—could never change his fundamental commitments even when it contradicts them. Indeed, since he has already predetermined in his own mind that nothing exists except uniform nature, he will reinterpret any contradictory evidence as somehow not contradictory. This means that “nature” and “evidence” truly do not form the basis of the naturalist’s worldview (despite how much he boasts of this fact); rather, his unproven assumptions form the unchallengeable basis of his worldview.
Jesus speaks of such a problem with unbelievers. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31), Jesus teaches about a rich man who ignored God during his life, and, after death, lay suffering in hell. Shouting to Abraham from across a chasm, the man pleaded to have someone sent back to warn his brothers of the coming torment.
The dialogue that follows carries an important lesson about the limitations of miraculous evidence:
Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” But he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:29–31).
According to Abraham, those who are unmoved by the supernatural power of God’s Word will also remain unmoved by a supernatural intervention in nature, even one as drastic as a resurrection. Evidence will not move them, for their fundamental commitment is not for nature, but against the Personal Creator God.
From this perspective, the naturalist essentially creates his own intellectual limitations and then arbitrarily (on his own autonomous authority) defines all of reality as falling within those limitations. This behavior is akin to a fish in his bowl pontificating about the non-existence of everything outside. This is “peek-a-boo” philosophy—“I don’t see it, so it isn’t there.”
Examples of this rationale abound in secularist and atheist literature. For example, atheistic philosopher Daniel Dennett has created a metaphor to describe what types of explanations we should accept when talking about the origins of the universe. What kind of explanation do we need to do our intellectual “lifting”? To answer, he contrasts “skyhooks” with “cranes.” Quoting the Oxford English Dictionary, Dennett defines a “skyhook” as “An imaginary contrivance for attachment to the sky; an imaginary means of suspension in the sky.” Notice the repetition of the word “imaginary” and the inclusion of the word “contrivance.” Dennett adds, “Skyhooks would be wonderful things to have. . . . Sad to say, they are impossible.” Rather than refer to the supernatural directly, Dennett uses his metaphor to criticize any explanation of nature that does not creep along step-by-step according to Darwinian theory. In other words, any non-Darwinian, non-naturalistic explanation of the universe is by definition (according to Dennett) imaginary, contrived, and impossible. He has defined God away at the start!
Naturalistic explanations, however, he refers to as “cranes.” “Sky-hooks are miraculous lifters, unsupported and insupportable. Cranes are no less excellent lifters, and they have the decided advantage of being real.” Of course, cranes can only lift as high as they can reach, so Dennett (as a faithful Darwinian) stretches the metaphor further. Just as sometimes contractors use smaller cranes to assemble bigger ones, we can understand nature using small steps to achieve greater results.
Vast distances must have been traversed since the dawn of life with the earliest, self-replicating entities, spreading outward (diversity) and upward (excellence). Darwin has offered us an account of the crudest, most rudimentary, stupidest imaginable lifting process—the wedge of natural selection. By taking tiny—the tiniest possible—steps, this process can gradually, over eons, traverse these huge distances. Or so he claims. At no point would anything miraculous—from on high—be needed. Each step has been accomplished by brute, mechanical, algorithmic climbing, from the base already built by the efforts of earlier climbing.
Ignoring the very fundamental question that arises from this—Where did the first “step” or “the base” come from to begin with?—Dennett’s naturalistic assumptions stand out here. He further elaborates:
a skyhook is a “mind-first” force or power or process, an exception to the principle that all design, and apparent design, is ultimately the result of mindless, motiveless mechanicity. A crane, in contrast, is a subprocess or special feature of a design process that can be demonstrated to permit the local speeding up of the basic, slow process of natural selection, and that can be demonstrated to be itself the predictable (or retrospectively explicable) product of the basic process.
Dennett reinforces my earlier point that naturalism essentially amounts to a negative position, defined not by what it is, but by what it is not—it exists merely by denying a Creator “mind” from the universe, not by establishing proof of itself. Notice how this assumption infuses Dennett’s explanations: a “mind-first” approach would present an exception to the norm, which is mindless by definition. The “mindless, motiveless mechanicity” of natural selection forms the basis of his worldview. Anything that does not fit this mold he labels as “imaginary.”
One can easily see the arbitrariness of this position. Dennett has no ultimate justification for choosing a natural versus a supernatural explanation for ultimate reality (not minor changes in nature, but the existence of all of nature and nature’s “laws” and constants to begin with). Rather, he chooses his assumption autonomously, based on his own personal experience. With this presupposition of naturalism as the norm in place, he erects the false dichotomy of “skyhooks” versus “cranes” to describe the possible acceptable types of explanations. But loading his worldview into his initial definitions stacks the deck against any countering argument. His categories of skyhook and crane do not fairly present the fight between supernaturalism versus naturalism, for they are both naturalistically conceived definitions. To accept his metaphors would be to concede to naturalism up front, and this method simply Begs the Question (more on this fallacy later).
Yet such unfairness characterizes all worldview fallacies, especially that of naturalism. For example, atheist Richard Dawkins takes Dennett’s metaphor and runs. Dawkins writes, “The very least that any honest quest for truth must have in setting out to explain such monstrosities of improbability as a rain forest, a coral reef, or a universe is a crane and not a skyhook.” This is true, apparently, by definition. He elaborates, exposing his assumption:
The crane doesn’t have to be natural selection. Admittedly, nobody has ever thought of a better one. But there could be others yet to be discovered. Maybe the ‘inflation’ that physicists postulate as occupying some fraction of the first yoctosecond of the universe’s existence will turn out, when it is better understood, to be a cosmological crane to stand alongside Darwin’s biological one. Or maybe the elusive crane that cosmologists seek will be a version of Darwin’s idea itself: either Smolin’s idea or something similar. Or maybe it will be the multiverse plus the anthropic principle espoused by Martin Rees and others. It may even be a superhuman designer— but, if so, it will most certainly not be a designer who just popped into existence, or who always existed.
Apparently, Dawkins will accept any explanation as possible, as long as that explanation does not involve an Eternal Supernatural Creator. Such a Designer he must rule out immediately by his definition:
If (which I don’t believe for a moment) our universe was designed, and a fortiori if the designer reads our thoughts and hands out omniscient advice, forgiveness and redemption, the designer himself must be the end product of some kind of cumulative escalator or crane, perhaps a version of Darwinism or another universe.
“Must be,” you see. Any designer of this universe must be himself the product of a “crane”—a previously existing building block. The most god-like being Dawkins can imagine still must bow before the Almighty dictates of nature. Elsewhere Dawkins puts it more bluntly: he speaks of skyhooks as “including all gods.” In other words, Dawkins, because of his presupposition of naturalism, refuses to even acknowledge the possibility of a supernatural Creator. If any kind of a superhuman being exists, that being must be subject to the same natural laws as we. Such beings must have evolved (according to Dawkins) by the same evolution humans have, the superhuman beings will simply have progressed further in evolution than we.
As arbitrary (and absurd) as this assumption sounds, Dawkins sticks to it. He reveals further implications of his worldview—aliens. He expounds,
I do think that there may very well be, somewhere in the universe, evolved beings which are so far advanced compared to us that we would, if we saw them, we might very well be tempted to call them gods; and it is also possible by the same token that if our species goes on evolving either genetically and/or culturally for a sufficient number of millennia, our descendants might be so advanced that we would be tempted to call them gods. However, I don’t think I would wish to call them gods, because however advanced they are—however ingenious, however intelligent, however their technology would strike us with awe—they would still be evolved beings. They would be beings that had evolved by a process of slow, gradual, incremental evolution.
In the same lecture, Dawkins made it clear that only naturalistic science (and thus never God Himself) can provide reasons. He said, “There may be good reasons for believing in a god, and if there are, I would expect them to come from, possibly, modern physics, from cosmology, from the observations that—as some people claim—the laws and constants of the universe are too finely tuned to be an accident.”
Thus, when faced with even pure scientific ignorance on a matter— such as the origins and development of the universe—Dawkins will not remain silent with an “I don’t know,” but he exercises his faith in naturalism. Knowing that physicists have no answer for such a question, he urges, “We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics, something as powerful as Darwinism in biology.” Of course, for those who think Darwinism provides a weak justification for biological origins, then perhaps physics would do well to travel a different path. This aside, note Dawkins’ persistence in maintaining—without evidence—that the explanations for the physics of the cosmos must be a “crane”—that is, must be natural.
Other naturalists characteristically (almost stereotypically) commit the same error. They assume their position as true by definition rather than proving it. For example, the Humanist Manifesto II, published by the American Humanist Association, declares that traditional religion does “a disservice to the human species,” because, “Any account of nature should pass the test of scientific evidence.” Alright, then, what about “scientific evidence” itself? By what criteria do we account for that? If by scientific evidence, then the circularity of naturalism becomes apparent. Of course, the whole standard is arbitrarily imposed anyway. This Manifesto continues, “Nature may indeed be broader and deeper than we now know; any new discoveries, however, will but enlarge our knowledge of the natural.” At least the document admits its bias up front, and does not attempt to hide it: “As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.” They begin by assuming that nothing but nature exists. The conclusion follows logically that any new discovery will only reveal more about nature. The assumption itself, however, has absolutely no logical warrant or authority, and therefore rests on a fundamental fallacy.
Like the Humanist Manifesto II, atheist Richard Carrier argues “if anything exists in our universe, it is a part of nature, and has a natural cause or origin, and there is no need of any other explanation.” It wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if he acknowledged the limitations of “nature”; even if he defined “universe” up front as natural and then admitted there may exist something beyond, I would have no problem. But he lets naturalism rule his worldview completely and therefore says that if anything exists it has a natural explanation and does not require any other explanation. This is a pure assumption.
Carrier quickly denies this charge that his worldview rests on a prior assumption: “This belief is not asserted or assumed as a first principle, but is arrived at from a careful and open-minded investigation of all evidence and reason. . . .” Of course, since his standards (evidence and reason) for arriving at this belief themselves lie within the worldview of naturalism, and are therefore subject to the limitations of that system, then the conclusion he arrives at should hardly surprise anyone. Again, the fishbowl limits both the fish’s knowledge as well as the range of assumptions it can make about all other knowledge. But the naturalist, unlike the unwitting fish, self-imposes his intellectual limitations. Thus, Carrier depends upon his naturalistic standards which he has derived from his assumption about naturalism, in order to define and support his naturalistic worldview. Reasoning does not get any more circular than this.
Like Dawkins and Dennett, Carrier asserts his faith in naturalism even when faced with what he does not know:
Likewise, there are certainly other physical “laws” besides those we know—which may even permit things beyond our imagining, things we would otherwise call miraculous, just as a tribal shaman would call a jumbo jet’s flight—but these would be no different than the laws we already know: brute properties of the universe that describe how its dimensions and materials manifest and behave. And the cause and origin of all these things we believe to be natural in turn: a simple, non-sentient fact.
Echoing the basic commitment of naturalism, Carrier believes that whatever overarching basis for the universe we may find, that basis will without question be natural and therefore “non-sentient”—that is, not an intelligent Creator or Mind. Like the other examples above, Carrier arrives at this point because he started at this point. The assumption of naturalism leads to the standards of naturalism which drives to the “conclusion” of naturalism.
Yet, given the limitations of his position—just as we have seen with Dennett above—he cannot escape the inherent arbitrariness of holding to a “nature only” worldview. These atheists have no justification for rejecting the Creator God by definition, they just do so. They have no authority for such a decision; they rely solely on their own experience and standard. The ultimate authority for such a standard lies in the individual, not any transcendent or objective fact.
This understanding of naturalism therefore exposes the fact that despite the naturalist’s claims to objectivity, his worldview (and his behavior) reveals him logically as a subjectivist. Just as his worldview rests on an unproven assumption about the universe as “only natural,” so also his belief in a predictable, uniform, and orderly reality rests on an unprovable assumption. Both are assumptions that he himself makes independently and autonomously and thus, they can represent only his opinion about the universe. Since he cannot prove his worldview without first assuming it, then he cannot communicate it definitively to other people, and it cannot stand as authoritative independently of him. This does not mean he cannot persuade others to believe it, for indeed he does; but persuading is not logically proving (as this book will expose over and over), and to the extent that other people join the naturalist in his naturalism they will only be making the same assumptions (and thus the same leaps of logic and faith) that he does. Thus the naturalist will only succeed in creating an army of subjectivists with his skepticism.
So, we have seen that naturalism relies on unproven assumptions about nature (not even just nature itself ) in order to uphold its worldview. These assumptions render nearly any criticism or contradiction of the position futile since the naturalist will reinterpret even the most outstanding evidence against his view as somehow fitting within his view. The only way to confront the naturalist, then, is to attack the faultiness of the assumption he has made up front—expose the fallacies of the assumption itself. Finally, we recognize that his arbitrary assumptions and his inconsistent treatment of evidence both point to the subjectivism inherent in his worldview: his worldview originates and terminates with his own mind and carries no further authenticity or authority.
We will move from this fallacious authority to see its fallacious effects on all of life. (To be continued. . . .)
This excerpt taken from the author’s Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice, pp. 77–88.
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