Here is the last time the Jolly Nihilist and I discussed this particular topic, that of evidence, epistemology, and how we know stuff on this blog.
The JN later responded with this post. I didn't have time then to get to it, and so I just read it, interacted a little in the combox, and let it go and kept thinking about it.
The important thing about this post is that the JN has laid out his First Principle, that "evidence is the best, most reliable way for humans to approximate truth". He says, "Because a First Principle is foundational—that is, it cannot be deduced from any other assumption or proposition—it cannot be 'split' or independently proved."
He goes on in the post to contradict himself: "evidence (relevant facts) can be marshaled to demonstrate evidence’s utility. Because of this, my postulate is self-subsisting."
I agree with the 1st statement, so here we are going to analyse his FP to see if it is indeed self-subsisting. As an aside, let us remember that the God of the Bible as FP is fully self-subsisting and takes care of all these questions. It's good to follow Jesus.
Onto the points:
1) First of all, it's gratifying that the JN would say that his First Principle is a faith position. I have known that all along, but it's been quite a chore to get him to admit it. Such is obvious to the rest of us and I'm not used to seeing atheists admit stuff like this. In fact, "faith-free zone" seems to be an atheist shibboleth these days, so the JN is definitely breaking ranks with his atheist compadres, but that's OK - he is entitled to do that.
This is, in fact, partially a notification for said compadres - this guy is not exactly on your team. Don't get me wrong - the JN's approach certainly gets him out of the infinite regress (kind of) that I pull out on anyone else who claims they're an 'evidentialist'
Basically, it goes like this.
Atheist: Evidence is a good, maybe even the best, way to discover truth.
Me: What is your evidence for that?
Atheist: That I ask questions, formulate hypotheses, and then test them. The evidence that I find then allows me to form a conclusion.
Me: What is your evidence that formulating a hypothesis, testing it, and forming a conclusion is a good way to discover truth?
Atheist: It just is. It works.
Me: What is your evidence for that?
I simply continue to apply what is (by the atheist's own claims) a really good/the best way to discover truth to the each answer given by the atheist. Unfortunately, the buck never stops - it is an infinite regress that no person can exhaust.
Quite unlike the Christian worldview, where we know that evidence is a very good way to discover truth b/c God is a logical God. He thinks like that and we think like Him. Thus, we can have confidence in evidence. The atheist has no reason to have confidence in evidence (on atheism) - he simply has faith in it. The JN admits this. Most atheists to whom I've spoken won't.
2) Why choose this position? Just because? Does it make the JN feel better? Does it help him sleep better at night?
There is literally no reason (that I can think of) to choose "evidence is the best way to discover truth" rather than "fortune cookies are the best way to discover truth" and hold to that (again, by faith), and go through life that way. It's completely arbitrary.
To make an argument that it is right is to attempt to employ evidence in its favor, which can't be done as we've seen.
Moreover, there's certainly no reason to think that anyone should hold to it. Let's even grant that it's true. There remains no reason that I can think of to believe it, and even less reason to attempt to convince anyone else that it is true. Why even express it out loud, given the situation?
3) His choice of a First Principle is arbitrary in another way.
Can the JN's worldview pass its own test?
Obviously not - we just went over that in the examination of the infinite regress. So he believes that this is true, but has no evidence for it.
Since he has chosen a faith-based position for his First Principle, why not just go with "faith is the best way to discover truth"? Obviously evidence failed him in this question and faith resolved the problem. Why not just stick with that? Why go with what failed him in this most important, overarching question of First Principle?
This reminds me of the following conversation, for another illustration:
Richard: There is no absolute truth.
Matt: You mean, except for that statement?
Matt: The statement "there is no absolute truth" is an absolute statement in itself.
Richard: Ah. OK, well, there is no absolute truth except for that statement.
Matt: So now there are at least 4 absolute truths: 1) the statement itself, 2) the idea that statements can carry meaning, 3) you exist to make the statement, 4) the idea of "except" exists. Etc.
Richard: Fine. There are however many absolute truths that are required to sustain the statement that "there is only one absolute - that there are no other absolutes," but no more.
Richard would be well-advised to shop around for a better worldview, not to mention a better catchphrase. So would the JN.
Incidentally, the Christian worldview passes its own test just fine. God is self-existent and is logical, good, holy, and transcendent. "I am that I am." "He is before all things and in Him all things hold together." Etc. We ground everything in the timeless, infinite, wise, intelligent, personal, communicative God of the Bible.
4) The JN is cheating. I asked him for a, one, (1) First Principle, and he provides one that is totally inadequate, to the point that he has to smuggle in numerous other concepts that he didn't mention.
He does not define evidence; the definition of evidence as "data interpreted within a grid to bolster a particular point of view" requires that there is such a thing as "data", "interpretation", "worldview grids", "bolstering", "particular" (as opposed to "general"), and "point of view".
His FP must smuggle in the concept that mind exists. Why didn't he mention that? How is data transformed magically into evidence without a mind to interpret it? Is there some sort of Cosmic Automatic Data-to-Evidence-Transformer Principle? Why didn't he mention it as part of his FP?
His FP must smuggle in the concept that he is not a brain in a vat. Certainly such a concept cannot be determined to be true or false by evidence, so one must take it on total blind faith or have a coherent worldview presupposition that rules it out (which I as a Christian do).
His FP offers no solution to the one and the many, which, again, evidence cannot speak to.
This is no FP at all. It is but a fragment, a shard, a tiny piece busted and pried out of a working worldview (that is, my own), with the hope that no one will notice or be able to analyse it to see it for what it is - a sham. It is Principle 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D...1n.
Basically, he pretends to offer a FP, a complete automobile, that will take us to the realm of proper and rational living. What he has in reality is a chassis with no tires, no engine, no steering wheel. He has to bring those in from a different manufacturer and file off the "biblical worldview, Serial Number 48590230" engraving on each item, until he has assembled a whole car. But that fails the question I asked him. My own worldview is a complete car. The JN apparently doesn't like its style (because he has an unregenerate and unrepentant mind and heart) though he has no moral reason to dislike it and, as we've seen, no rational reason to dislike it either. He has to use Christian parts to get anywhere close to a working car, and then he wants to race me?
5) This FP says precisely nothing about how to inform any sense of morality. Period.
When asked about what evidence one can use or that he uses to prove that, say, raping a child is wrong, he begs the question repeatedly and says that it's wrong b/c it causes pain. So what? What's your evidence that pain is wrong? And on and on it goes, as we've recently seen.
By contrast, the Christian FP comes complete with all sorts of moral guidance. Misinterpretations, misapplications, or partial/total abandonment thereof by the objects of its revelation (human beings) have nothing to do with the fact that the moral laws laid down by it are objective, unchanging, and definitional.
In short, the gauntlet has been thrown, the JN tried to pick it up, but wound up instead dropping it, breaking all the toes of his right foot. The Jolly Nihilist has nothing. I challenge him to do the only rational thing - flee to Jesus Christ, ask Him for forgiveness, and trust Him and Him alone for salvation.