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Victor Reppert on Materialist Strategies

"The Argument from Reason" in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: 2009), p. 350.

Defenders of materialism usually use three types of arguments to criticize the family of arguments I presented earlier. They use Error replies if they think the item that the antimaterialist is setting up for explanation can be denied. They use Reconciliation objections if they suppose that the item in question can be fitted within a materialist ontology. Moreover, they also use Inadequacy objection to argue that whatever difficulties there may be in explaining the matter in materialist terms, it does not get us any better if we accept some mentalistic worldview such as theism. We can see this typology at work in responses to the argument from objective moral values. Materialist critics of the moral argument can argue that there is really no objective morality, they can say objective morality is compatible with materialism, or they can use arguments such as the Euthyphro dilemma to argue that whatever we cannot explain about morality in materialist terms cannot better be explained by appealing to nonmaterial entities such as God.

However, it is important to notice something about materialist philosophies. They not only believe that the world is material, they also perforce believe that the truth about that material world can be discovered, and is being discovered, by people in the sciences, and that, furthermore, there are philosophical arguments that ought to persuade people to eschew mentalistic worldviews in favor of materialistic ones. They do think that we can better discover the nature of the world by observation and experimentation than by reading tea leaves. Arguments from reason are arguments that appeal to necessary conditions of rational thought and inquiry. Thus, they have what on the face of things is an advantage over other arguments, in that they have a built-in defense against error theory responses. If there is no truth, they cannot say that materialism is true. If there are no beliefs, then they cannot say we ought to believe that materialism is true. If there is no mental causation, then they cannot say that our beliefs ought to be based on supporting evidence. If there are no logical laws, the we cannot say that the argument from evil is a good argument. If our rational faculties as a whole are unreliable, then we cannot argue that the religious beliefs are formed by irrational belief-producing mechanisms. Hence, arguments from reason have what I call a transcendental impact — that is, appeal to things that, if denied, undermine the most fundamental convictions of philosophical materialists.