Do the New Atheists Own the Market on Reason?
Without essences, we're left only with interpretations—but interpretations of what? Apparently, an interpretation of another interpretation. If we keep pressing that question, however, we're left just with interpretations of interpretations "all the way down," without any way to get started and experience something as it is, simply because no mental state is really about anything. And, if our mental states cannot really be about something, how would we ever know how things really are?
Fortunately, that's not how we experience life. Our mental states seem to have three essential features:
- They're "particularized." My thought about tonight's dinner, or my experience of drinking a Starbuck's chocolate smoothie, is not generic or unspecified. Each is about something particular.
- These mental states must be about something. Try having a thought that isn't about anything!
- That "aboutness" seems to be intrinsic, or essential, to each mental state. My thought about last night's dinner couldn't be about anything else and still be the thought it is. I could observe a raven, but that experience could not have been of my dinner.
How do we best explain these three apparently essential features of mental states? Dennett realizes that if mental states had essential natures, they really could be of their intended objects, so we could know them.
If atheistic evolution by NS were true, we'd be in a beginningless series of interpretations, without any knowledge. Yet, we do know many things. So, naturalism & atheistic evolution by NS are false -- non-physical essences exist. But, what's their best explanation? Being non-physical, it can't be evolution by NS. Plus, we use our experiences, form concepts and beliefs, and even modify or reject them. Yet, if we're just physical beings, how could we interact with and use these non-physical things? Perhaps we have non-physical souls too. In all, it seems likely the best explanation for these non-physical things is that there exists a Creator after all. That seems more reasonable to believe than evolution by NS or naturalism.
R. Scott Smith is Associate Professor of Ethics and Christian Apologetics at Biola University. His Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality explores these matters in greater depth.