As Flynn explains, by “denying the principle that things really do, unexceptionally, have explanations, we throw ourselves into a catastrophic, self-defeating skepticism, where nothing can be counted as knowledge, or any belief rationally justified, including—and this is important—the belief that things lack explanation.” In short, brute facts end up being a universal acid that eats through the intelligibility of reality, including rationality itself, which is why Flynn spends so much ink analyzing many of the best naturalistic arguments and objections, and showing the reader why they ultimately lead either to self-defeat or to global skepticism.
There have been many attempts to prove the existence of God and disprove a sui generis universe in which sentient life is a mere accident of the Big Bang. A new book offers some fresh insights into why theism is a better explanation than naturalism for understanding reality, including the ability to do science.
“In fact, the fundamental claim of this book is that if one believes the world actually is intelligible—that things make sense, and ultimate explanation can be had—then God exists.” This is the provocative thesis of philosopher and writer Pat Flynn, whose new book, The Best Argument for God, insists that the real philosophical dilemma we face is not between theism and atheism but between theism and absurdity, or a reality that is utterly unintelligible.
To make his case, Flynn first offers some preliminary remarks about philosophy and science. Many people today believe that science is our most reliable method for arriving at certain knowledge, and that if something cannot be proved scientifically, its truth claim is questionable at best. There are problems, however, with this attitude. For one thing, the belief that science is our most certain source of verifiable knowledge cannot itself be proved by science since no scientific experiment could ever demonstrate it. It is therefore a philosophical posture posing as a scientific one. Furthermore, science itself rests on philosophical foundations (contra the objections of some pop scientists).
Consider, for example, that science can investigate the occurrence of change, such as ice melting, leaves falling, or animals digesting, to discover the physical processes that cause these material changes, but it cannot tell us what the nature of change is. In other words, science presupposes the reality of change to get off the ground—for without change there would be neither physical processes nor causes for scientific inquiry to examine—but it cannot tell us what logical categories are needed to make sense of what change is or how it is possible. Philosophy, however, can.
In fact, making sense of change was a major dilemma in early Western philosophy, when Parmenides argued that change was simply an illusion (which would, of course, destroy science), and Heraclitus instead contended that there was no stability, that everything existed in a state of constant flux. It was Aristotle who solved the puzzle by distinguishing between “potential being” and “actual being,” and by recognizing that “form” and “matter” are two irreducible categories of the natural world (known as hylomorphism).
That, however, is a story for a different day. The point for now is simply that philosophy considers the most general features of reality, features that science must take for granted before it can even get started. As Flynn puts it, “Philosophers latch onto and subsequently analyze experiential features of the world that are so broad that they cannot be coherently called into question and must therefore be considered pre-scientific. Philosophers work with experiences the denial of which would make science itself impossible.”
For instance, the denial of change not only makes scientific investigation impossible but also is self-refuting. After all, to deny change first requires formulating the relevant thought and then expressing that thought, which involves the mind and the body moving through a sequence of changes. So if change is undeniable, how do we make sense of it? Seeking an answer has led a great many philosophers down the ages to theism. This is because, as the thesis of Flynn’s book maintains, commitment to a complete explanation, or to an answer that is fully intelligible, must itself transcend the category of change altogether. In other words, whatever explains change must itself be unchanging, which makes it unlike anything we experience and therefore radically unique.
Furthermore, when we consider other fundamental features of reality, such as “contingency” (the fact that things in the world depend on other things for their existence) and the nature of existence itself, every ultimate explanation necessarily terminates in an unchanging and necessary being who, upon analysis, must be one, simple, eternal, immaterial, incorporeal, perfect or fully good, omniscient, and omnipotent.