Have you heard about Dr. Angus Menuge’s ontological argument against naturalism?

Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division test the new M-17 pistol

My friend Seth mentioned to me that he likes the argument from reason, so I thought I would post something about it from a Christian scholar who I really admire. Dr. Angus Menuge offers the best (I think) argument for the proposition that theism is the best ground for our reasoning capability.

Let’s start with some information about Dr. Menuge:

Dr. Angus Menuge joined Concordia University Wisconsin in 1991. He earned his BA from the University of Warwick, England, and his MA and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied philosophy, computer science and psychology. Menuge’s dissertation was on the philosophy of action explanation, and his current research interests include philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and Christian apologetics.

In 2003, Menuge earned a Diploma in Christian Apologetics from the International Academy of Apologetics, Evangelism and Human Rights, which meets each July in Strasbourg, France. His thesis, a critique of scientific materialism, went on to become the book Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004).

[…]A frequent speaker, Menuge has given presentations on Christianity and culture, science and vocation, philosophy of mind, C. S. Lewis, Intelligent Design and the case against scientific materialism. He is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

Dr. Menuge presented a paper at a recent Evangelical Philosophical Society conference for students and professors of philosophy, and you can download the paper here as a PDF. I got these straight from the source, and got permission to post them, too.

Here is the introduction to the paper that Dr. Menuge read at the EPS conference:

The argument from reason is really a family of arguments to show that reasoning is incompatible with naturalism. Here, naturalism is understood as the idea that foundationally, there are only physical objects, properties and relations, and anything else reduces to, supervenes on, or emerges from that. For our purposes, one of the most important claims of naturalism is that all causation is passive, automatic, event causation (an earthquake automatically causes a tidal wave; the tidal wave responds passively): there are no agent causes, where something does not happen automatically but only because the agent exerts his active power by choosing to do it. The most famous version of the argument from reason is epistemological: if naturalism were true, we could not be justified in believing it. Today, I want to focus on the ontological argument from reason, which asserts that there cannot be reasoning in a naturalistic world, because reasoning requires libertarian free will, and this in turn requires a unified, enduring self with active power.

The two most promising ways out of this argument are: (1) Compatibilism—even in a deterministic, naturalistic world, humans are capable of free acts of reason if their minds are responsive to rational causes; (2) Libertarian Naturalism—a self with libertarian free will emerges from the brain. I argue that neither of these moves works, and so, unless someone has a better idea, the ontological argument from reason stands.

The paper is 11 pages long, and it is awesome for those of you looking for some good discussion of one of the issues in the area of philosophy of mind.

By the way, the epistemological argument from reason (P(R) on N & E is low) is the argument made by the famous Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. I blogged about that argument before. It’s good to know BOTH of these arguments. They both work, and they are both awesome. If you put these two arguments together with William Lane Craig’s moral argument, that’s three strong philosophical arguments that are easy to use, but backed by solid analytic philosophy.

Powerpoint slideshow

But there is more than just the paper! At the EPS apologetics conference, which is meant for lay people as well as scholars, he presented this slideshow which I converted to PDF. The slides are easier to understand than the paper, but the paper is not too bad.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

10 thoughts on “Have you heard about Dr. Angus Menuge’s ontological argument against naturalism?”

  1. Sounds great! But I don’t what the words he uses mean to understand what he is saying. I could quote the statements to someone but would hope that no one asked me what any of the words meant.

    I would need to read a doctorate’s worth of material to use those words. But I am very happy to know that there are scholars with a Christian view that can deal in that realm.

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  2. I recall having a discussion with some atheists on a similar theme. In trying to get a basic definition of our positions, so we could understand where each of us were coming from, I boiled naturalism down to the idea that we are all just bags of meat and squirting chemicals. There is no free will, and it’s all just stimulus/response. Even our very thoughts are just the result of chemicals released in our bodies. They agreed that this was essentially what they believed. How, then, I asked, could we even be having this conversation? How could there be logic and reason? How could we made choices and decisions, if we have no free will, and our thoughts are just chemical responses? I got various responses about how this things were not incompatible, and even one person flat out saying, yeah, everything I’ve said in this conversation is just the result of chemical reactions, and I have no problem with that.

    They simply could not follow the trail of logic, and couldn’t even see that their stance had no rational foundation. But, of course, because they were atheists (anti-theists would be the more accurate description), they were the rational ones. Anyone who believed differently than them were the irrational, illogical ones. Circular reasoning. It was like talking to a brick wall at the bottom of a well. Round and round and round…

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  3. C.S. Lewis had a gift (I’m jealous…) for succinctly expressing solutions to complex issues in clear language. He famously nailed the dead-end of thinking within the materialistic worldview in his Religion Without Dogma essay (1947/2002: 138)

    “It is like that with naturalism. it goes on claiming territory after territory: first the inorganic, then the lower organisms, then man’s body, then his emotions. but when it takes the final step and we attempt a naturalistic account of thought itself, suddenly the whole thing unravels. The last fatal step has invalidated all the preceding ones: for they were all reasonings and reason itself has been discredited. We must, therefore, either give up thinking altogether or else begin over again from the ground floor.”

    LEWIS, C. S. (1947/2002) God in the Dock. (Walter Hooper ed.). Eerdmans Grand Rapids MI 347 p.

    There’s more VERY interesting material in Lewis’ RWD article, but Lewis may well have been inspired by a very brief, yet VERY pointed (and ironical) comment, made a hundred years previously by the famous Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell at the end of an article entitled Analogies in Nature (1856):

    “the only laws of matter are those which our minds must fabricate, and the only laws of mind are fabricated for it by matter.”

    MAXWELL, James Clerk Essay (1856) Analogies in Nature (February) reprinted in The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell: 1846-1862, volume I, edited by P.M. Harman, p. 376 Cambridge University Press 1990 (the quote appears on p. 383)

    But in Maxwell’s time materialism was so prestigious, even he seems to have been shy of pushing the matter “too far”.

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  4. I’ve often argued this with atheists thus:
    1. Rationality is, in part, the ability to freely choose between conceptual alternatives
    2. Naturalism negates free will
    3. Therefore naturalism renders true rationality impossible.

    And thus, no rational discussion or debate is possible under naturalism.
    I always get one or more of three answers: silence, denial and or cute little mems telling me how stupid I am

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    1. You’ve got it! I just completed a snarky summary of a debate with an atheist, and he denied free will in one breath, and then urged Christians to make moral choices and choose more reasonable beliefs in the next.

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  5. If there is no God (per naturalism), then we are all here by accident.

    If we are all here by accident, then why can’t the white accidents own the black accidents?

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      1. Yes, horrifying, isn’t it. Still, with such extremism on the Left on open display, I’m actually encouraged for the 2020 elections. I don’t think hardly any independents support infanticide, socialism, high taxes or the Rancid New Deal being pushed by AOC and her ilk.
        It would be great to not only see Trump reelected, but also take back the House and maybe even pad our lead in the Senate.
        We’ll have to wait and see.

        Liked by 2 people

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