A recent post by our friend Bill Vallicella exposes the philosophical ineptitude of militant atheists such as, in this case, Richard Dawkins. Here his target is the hidden axiom scientists (and I use the term in the sense of “those who practice scientism”) must rely on in order to deny the possible role of a Creator in the existence and evolution of the world. That axiom is, to paraphrase Bill’s words, “the rule that everything can and must be accounted for naturalistically, i.e., in terms of the space-time system and the laws that govern it.”
As a non-theist myself, I am intuitively disposed to accept that axiom. But I am no longer the pugnacious atheist I used to be, and I understand that this premise is an axiom, not a theorem, and is therefore unprovable, and that its negation — the proposition that there stands outside the space-time system a Creator responsible for the existence and evolution of the space-time system and its laws — is not, at least so far as I am aware, refutable.
This was, as you might imagine, a difficult pill for me to swallow — but this was because, having been marinated in scientism all my life, I had never bothered to engage with any serious philosophical opposition. That changed about ten years ago, when my online life began to bring me into contact with people like Dr. Vallicella, and through him, other theist philosophers, such as Edward Feser.
I am still an unbeliever, and a Darwinist, but the big difference is that I now understand that my framework for understanding the world rests on a doxastic choice, rather than on some bedrock truth that should be apparent as such to anyone of sufficient intelligence. (This unreflective assumption was in my case especially lazy and foolish, as I have all my life known religious men of exceptional intelligence — for example my own grandfather Ralph Calder, who was a Congregationalist minister in Scotland, and two very close family friends, namely the Rev. Robert Montgomery, chaplain of Princeton University, and the eminent scholar of Christian history, Dr. Horton Davies. That I never explored these questions with them during the decades of my youth when I knew them well, and saw them often, now grieves me more than I can say.)
Bill and I have our differences — in particular regarding his belief that consciousness is necessary for intentionality (see here for an old question of mine that he has never answered) — but on this he has persuaded me. I thank him for that. Let it not be said that nobody ever changes another’s mind by argument.