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Introduction To Materialist Apologetics

by Francois Tremblay



The rising movement of presuppositionalism has diverted attention from the Christian classical arguments, which have always failed, to a clash of worldviews, following the principle “if you can’t beat ‘em, deny their premises”. This primitive tactic has been used in many other instances, such as post-modernism and its insistence that science is useless because it is socially-motivated.

This, however, may have been an eye-opener for atheists also, since the presuppositionalist move has unleashed a new, more devastating class of strong atheistic arguments in reply. That is to say, it has demonstrated the utter incoherency and self-refuting nature of the theistic worldview. Michael Martin’s Transcendental Argument for the Non-existence of God (TANG) was the first salvo, because it proved that Christians had no grounds for using logic, morality and the uniformity of nature (science). This has proven fatal to presuppositionalists because they have no way of defending themselves against TANG.

So it is important to understand materialist apologetics – the necessity of a materialist universe for cognition and values – in order to understand why the theistic worldview and its arguments are fundamentally corrupt. One basic point that Martin makes with TANG is this:

Thus, God could make the law of non-contradiction false; in other words, God could arrange matters so that a proposition and its negation were true at the same time. But this is absurd…

On the one hand, on this view what is moral is a function of the arbitrary will of God; for instance, if God wills that cruelty for its own sake is good, then it is.

Note that we don’t need to say that God actually does make A be not-A, or that God actually does make gratuitous cruelty good (although one can use the Bible to prove it). Rather, the point is that such a thing is possible if a god exists. This alone is enough to deny the necessary nature of anything, and therefore to deny logic altogether – since logic is necessary. It cannot be the case that A is not-A (for example).

But if logic and the uniformity of nature do not exist, then we cannot know anything. Knowledge is based on our capacity to use logic and to find regularity in nature – induction. For instance, how can we know that eating is good if the very concept of “metabolism” is a fiction, and ingesting nutrients can kill you? Even using words and concepts is based on induction, and concepts are necessary for knowledge.

In theism, there is no more reason to think that nature will continue like it did before. This is called the “problem of induction”: ironically, some theologians argue that atheism cannot answer it, but it is the theological worldview that has that problem. How can a theist affirm that an inductive process is valid, if a god exists? Such a thing is impossible.

This is why I call it “materialist apologetics”. Only a self-contained universe can have logic and uniformity of nature, because outside influences affect the uniformity of nature, and an infinitely powerful being – such as a god – nullifies it. Materialism – that is to say, the absolute observability of everything – is self-contained, because something that is not part of the whole, not caused by another part of the whole, cannot be observed.

A theistic universe is not only not self-contained and non-deterministic, but completely subjective (to God’s will). Knowledge, including knowledge that “a god exists”, becomes complete fiction. As such, for a theist to say that he knows or believes that a god exists is completely absurd: he cannot even know what he’s talking about.

A theistic universe may very well be compatible with an ontological uniformity, but is incompatible with any knowledge of ontology. In a theistic universe, there are no mental processes and therefore no will. Will comes from the human brain, which is too complex to exist in an indetermined universe. Imagine, for instance, a 747 flying through the air in a completely indetermined universe. Pressing a button may retract the wheels, but it may also crash the plane, or turn it into confetti. Not doing anything may keep the plane flying straight, or it may turn the plane upside down, or go into a nosedive. In such conditions, how would we know anything in regards to keeping the plane straight?
The human mind, likewise, could not have evolved its complex algorithms and functions if it did not exist in a deterministic universe, where the laws of nature apply uniformly in nerves and brain tissue.And if there is no uniformity of nature and no sovereign will, then there is no knowledge, no values, and therefore no purpose (which is nothing more than long-term values applied by the sovereign will of the individual).

In essence, the theist tries to have his cake and eat it too. He desires a universe where there is will, knowledge, values and purpose (indeed, he claims that atheists cannot have those things), but he also desires a subjective, indetermined universe, without laws, without causality. This is, to put it mildly, impossible. Theists balk at quotes such as this one:

A revised and modernized materialism concludes from all this that human thought and feeling is the product of a series of unthinking and unfeeling processes originated in the big bang. (Richard C. Vitzthum, “Materialism: An Afiirmative History and Definition,” Prometheus Books, 1995, pp.218-219)

Without realizing that their resistance shows how absurd their position is. What they want is a universe that thinks and feels – an indetermined, subjective universe – instead of a universe where we can think and feel – an objective universe. What they believe in, is precisely what they wish to escape: a universe where all value and purpose is taken out of our hands.

One reply that theists have made is to say that, while it is true that they cannot know anything (then how can it be true?), God gives them knowledge directly. Or the Bible tells them what to think. Either way, this begs the question of how they know this to be true. At any rate, my article ‘Refuting Theistic Epistemic Standards’ discusses how to refute such standards.

In a materialist, atheistic universe, there is knowledge, value and purpose, which our sovereign will derives from determined reality. If a god existed, no such thing could exist. The only escape from such a contradictory, nihilistic, absurd and bleak worldview is to affirm that there is no god.

Here is a typical materialist argument:

Posit a cognitive feature F (examples: logic, morality, induction, etc).

  1. F is necessary or has a necessary part.
  2. If theism is true, then a hypothetical god is Creator (source of the entire material universe) and/or Sovereign (in control of the entire material universe).
  3. If theism is true, then all in the material universe is contingent (on a hypothetical god’s will), and no part of it can be necessary.
  4. If theism is true, then there is no necessary feature or necessary part of a feature in the material universe.
  1. Theism is false. (from 1 and 4).

Last updated: January 1, 2005