Argument From Correct Choice
by Francois Tremblay
In this article, I present an argument which I call the Argument from Correct Choice. To understand the basis of the argument, it would benefit the reader to understand the basics of Materialist Apologetics, as it is a materialist argument and therefore is based on its analysis of the fundamental incoherency of theistic worldviews.
The Argument from Correct Choice is one way of disproving theistic standards. For two others, see ‘Refuting Theistic Epistemic Standards’.
The argument starts from the fact that theologians contend that theism is a “correct choice”, that is to say, that choosing theism is the most sensible action. But underlying this proposition is the fact that theism is a choice, at least implicitly. The fact that one is a theist, or an atheist, is in some meaningful sense a choice because it is constantly subject to our free will. We are atheists or theists at all points in time, and we may decide to change positions at any time.
At any rate, I do not need to justify my use of the word “choice” in an implicit manner. The argument can very well only apply to conscious choice, and would still be relevant to the debate. Since after all, what is the debate between atheism and theism but a desire to consciously justify or demonstrate one’s position, thus making it a conscious choice by corollary? So while a random believer may not hold theistic beliefs by conscious choice, and not think about the issue at all, making his belief completely implicit, we cannot say the same at all of any theologian, or of anyone who argues for the theological worldview.
Given this “correct choice”, we must ask: how does the theologian make such a choice, such a decision? How does he examine the issues involved and still say “I believe in a god”? Obviously, it must be based on some criteria of what a “correct choice” is – which implies some principle of correctness.
Given this, we can use materialist apologetics to mount an argument against the very choice of theism. That is to say, not that theism is false, but that the mere possibility of being a theist is self-contradictory. The argument can be formalized as such:
- Materialist apologetics is true, principles and absolutes are impossible to justify from the theological worldview.
- Theism implies divine causation is true.
- If divine causation is true, then all facts in the universe are contingent.
- If all facts in the universe are contingent, then no principles or absolutes are possible (since the uniformity of reality is no longer necessary).
- Any choice implies a principle of correctness.
- Choosing the theistic worldview is a choice, and therefore implies a principle of correctness. (from 2)
- Choosing the theistic worldview is self-contradictory. (from 1 and 3)
Now, when I say that a principle of correctness is involved in any choice, I mean an implicit or explicit epistemic basis. I do not mean that this principle is rational or conscious. A principle does not have to be rational or valid in order to be labeled a principle. Furthermore, for the argument to be logical, it suffices to have a conscious choice (premise 2). The fact that the underlying principle used is implicit or explicit has no bearing on the argument.
This principle of correctness can be reduced to ethical terms, insofar as it concerns how we should act, specifically how we should take epistemic decisions. Given this, we can also generalize the argument to:
- Materialist apologetics is true, morality is impossible to justify from the theological worldview.
- Any choice implies a selection of values – a form of morality.
- Choosing the theistic worldview is a choice, and therefore implies a form of morality. (from 2)
- Choosing the theistic worldview is self-contradictory. (from 1 and 3)
I foresee three objections to this argument.
Objection 1: One could claim that there is fault with premise 2 – that choices imply one or many principles. What about whimsical spur-of-the-moment choices? If I suddenly decide to sing in the shower, or to eat some ice cream, surely no principles are involved in such a process? And perhaps the choice of the theological worldview can be of this sort also.
I mentioned earlier that I do not include such choices as part of the argument, as I am specifically arguing against conscious choices. But even such choices are subject to an implicit epistemic principle, that whimsical choices are valid. Every decisional process implies the truth of that process in some way or context.
One may very well reply that this makes the assertion of a principle trivial. If all choices imply principles, does this not make the notion of a principle trivial? First of all, one may point out that principles are inherent parts of choices, not choices, and they also apply to many non-decisional contexts.
But most importantly, the fact that choices imply principles, echoes one of the presuppositions that all humans are subject to, the necessity of value assignment. As living, acting organisms, we have no choice but to have implicit or explicit values. And values are reducible to principles, and values dictate virtues, which include the epistemic direction that is our “principle of correctness”.
The argument here is that the necessity of value assignment makes the existence of “principles of correctness” necessary. If this is true, then choices must imply principles.
Objection 2: The theologian could reply that the Argument from Correct Choice may be true, but God wants you to believe in itself, so it would allow this “principle of correctness” to exist. If a god exists, it would want us to believe in it, and so would not want to undermine the “principle of correctness”.
The inherent problem with such statements is, how do you know that? The theologian cannot argue from any specific doctrine, such as the Bible, because such a choice would be self-contradictory. The only possibility would be to use omnibenevolence as making the “principle of correctness” a logical necessity. The argument would go something like this:
- Materialist apologetics tells us that divine causation makes all principles unjustifiable.
- Because of its omnibenevolence, a god would only want good to obtain.
- A god would desire some principle to obtain, because the Creation event as a whole is morally better than if the principle is not created.
- Therefore materialist apologetics is false.
This argument seems to be reversing the Problem of Evil on the materialist. If we say that a god should only effect good, shouldn’t we agree that a god would bring about order instead of confusion? But in that case, we should observe that everyone believes in God. That is to say, the idea that a god would want people to believe in him does not prove that:
A god would desire to bring about principles of correctness.
Every single human being would believe in God.
Omnibenevolence implies that a god would desire to bring about a state of affairs where everyone believes in it.
Because people’s beliefs are contingent to such a god, and it could not permit people to be subject to eternal torture. This premise is part of what is called the Argument from Non-Belief.
Of course, the underlying premise of the theologian answer is that free will is an intrinsic good for God, and so God would value a multiplicity of principles of correctness more than a single principle of correctness. But this proposition has never been demonstrated.
Objection 3: An agnostic may accept the validity of the argument, but argue that the atheist is on an equal footing in this debate: that the conscious choice to be an atheist is not any more possible.
This is an argument of presuppositionalism, which I address in “Why Presuppositionalism Is Wrong”. But I do not need to get into that here. All I need to do is point out that atheism does not fall into the same problems than theism within the Argument from Correct Choice. In the argument, I have faulted the theological worldview for one reason: it entails that all material things are contingent, which makes principles impossible. While it is entirely possible to be an atheist and hold that all material things are contingent, it is not at all necessary. The rational-scientific worldview certainly does not hold such a thing, and since it is the worldview we support on this site, we can dismiss the possibility of applying the objection to us.
I see no other way for the theologian to get out of the inevitable conclusion. If the Argument from Correct Choice is correct, then his action of merely considering the theological worldview is self-contradictory, since no one can consider such choice without self-contradiction. This is not a surprise, since all materialist arguments (not solely the Argument from Correct Choice) demonstrate that any other position but strong-atheism is based on presuppositions that it cannot justify.
But this particular argument is even deeper, since it extends our reach to even mere consideration of any other position, similarly to noncognitivism. The following statements:
- The proposition that “a god exists”, or that “a god may exist”, is credible.
- I could believe the proposition that “a god exists”, or that “a god may exist”.
- I could choose a position which includes the proposition that “a god exists”, or that “a god may exist”.
Make no sense given that the word “god” is noncognitive, but also make no sense given that such a choice presupposes that there is no god. Both arguments cast such a great doubt on the very nature of theistic belief that it is my opinion that it will never recover. There seems to be no way to save the theological worldview at all except by changing its very language to a materialist perspective.
August 3, 2004