Monday, March 28, 2005

Bahnsen's Poof

Presuppositional apologists point with glee to their champion defender, Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, and his performance in a 1985 debate with high-profile atheist Dr. Gordon Stein. Anxious apologists today rave about this debate in particular as an example of their apologetic strategy, known as presuppositionalism, at work in high gear against non-believers. Audio recordings of the entire debate are available for purchase, and they're also available for free on the internet. (I suggest that interested readers just download the audio file and save their money for something more meaningful.) There is also a written transcript of the debate available on the internet, from which I will be quoting for purposes of my analysis. A free audio file and two written transcriptions can be accessed here.

One point which many of Bahnsen's fans seem to overlook a little too conveniently, is the fact that Gordon Stein was a specialist in science, not in philosophy as such. And although Dr. Stein could have been a little better prepared for some of the tactics he would encounter in Bahnsen's delivery (I think Dr. Stein was expecting an honest debate), his area of specialty was certainly not the problem of universals. Even apologists would have to acknowledge this. When we keep this in mind as we examine the progress of the debate, Bahnsen comes across as a rather opportunistic predator whose intention is to overwhelm and bait his opponent rather than engage him on an intellectual level. If Stein lost the debate, it is not because Bahnsen won, but because Stein should have been more vigilant in pointing out his opponent's dishonest tactics.

That having been said, it must be noted that Bahnsen's challenges about the problem of universals can and has been met, indeed in a manner that Bahnsen could neither simulate on his own religious presuppositions, nor assail, given his presuppositions' negative implications regarding the human mind and their contempt for rational philosophy. But a treatment of the problem of universals is not what my blog today will focus on. Instead, today's blog has to do with the question of whether Bahnsen even presented an argument for his god-belief in his opening statement of the debate he conducted with Dr. Stein. I shall show that he presented no identifiable argument, and that what he did present would be more accurately called a form of bluffing than anything coming close to a legitimate case for any position Bahnsen wanted to defend in that debate.

Below I have pasted the last four paragraphs of Bahnsen's opening statement which are headed with the following subtitle: "The Transcendental Argument For the Existence Of God" - which would lead me to expect to find the presentation of an argument somewhere therein. But unfortunately, nowhere do I find any chain of inference which leads to the conclusion, "Therefore, God exists." Now, typically apologists have attempted to excuse Bahnsen for this apparent oversight by claiming that TAG is what they call an "indirect argument." Okay, but even Frame answers this response: "Any indirect argument of this sort can be turned into a direct argument by some creative phrasing." (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 76.) If that's the case, why doesn't Bahnsen do this, and, seeing that he hasn't, what "creative phrasing" do apologists offer in order to clarify what Bahnsen should have made clear? Does Bahnsen have an argument, or not? If he does, what is it?

Here are the last four paragraphs of Bahnsen's opening statement:

GB> The Transcendental Argument For the Existence Of God

GB> And so I come thirdly then to the transcendental proof of
GB> God's existence. How should the difference of opinion between
GB> the theist and the atheist be rationally resolved? That was my
GB> opening question. We've seen two of Dr. Steins errors
GB> regarding it: The crackers in the pantry fallacy, and the
GB> pretended neutrality fallacy.

GB> In the process of discussing them, we've observed that belief in
GB> the existence of God is not tested in any ordinary way like other
GB> factual claims; and the reason for that is metaphysically because
GB> of the non-natural character of God and epistemologically
GB> because of the presuppositional character of commitment for or
GB> against His existence.

GB> Arguments over conflicting presuppositions between world-views
GB> therefore must be resolved somewhat differently and yet still
GB> rationally than conflicts over factual existence claims within a
GB> world-view or system of thoughts. When we go to look at the
GB> different world-views that atheists and theists have, I suggest
GB> that we can prove the existence of God from the impossibility of
GB> the contrary.

GB> The transcendental proof for God's existence is that without
GB> Him, it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist world-view
GB> is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions
GB> of intelligible experience, science, logic or morality. The
GB> atheist world-view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity
GB> of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and
GB> moral absolutes. In that sense, the atheist world-view cannot
GB> account for our debate tonight.

In the first paragraph, Bahnsen makes it clear that he is going to present "the transcendental proof of God's existence.” But immediately he digresses into the issue of "the difference of opinion between the theist and the atheist," and turns the spotlight on "two of Dr. Steins errors" [sic]. What do Dr. Stein's errors have to do with Dr. Bahnsen's "proof"?

In the second paragraph, Bahnsen continues shining the spotlight on "Dr. Steins errors," reviewing his own efforts to excuse the question of God's existence form tests conducted "in any ordinary way like other factual claims." What specifically does Bahnsen mean by "any ordinary way" in this context? He doesn't say. Bahnsen's aim here is to distinguish the nature of his claim from "other factual claims," which makes me wonder what warrants his assertion's claim to factuality since he wants to put some distance between it and "other factual claims." Notice that Bahnsen has yet to present an argument. But, Bahnsen does add another burden to his plate here: Not only does he have to prove the existence of his god, he now has to prove "the non-natural character of God" as well as "the presuppositional character of commitment for or against His existence."

In the third paragraph, Bahnsen still has yet to present an argument "for the existence of God." Even before he's presented an argument demonstrating the existence of his god, he's already announcing limitations on what will and will not qualify as an acceptable means of validating his claim that his god exists. Bahnsen's statement suggests that "the different world-views that atheists and theists have" will somehow "prove the existence of God from the impossibility of the contrary." So, Bahnsen adds another burden onto his cart: not only does he need to prove that his god exists, he also needs to prove that it is impossible for his god not to exist.

We come now to the very last paragraph in his opening statement, and now it appears he's trying to get back on track to meeting the first of his confessional burdens. He makes the conclusion of his argument very clear: "The transcendental proof for God's existence is that without Him, it is impossible to prove anything." Now, this is an assertion which needs a defense. It's certainly not self-evidently true, and Bahnsen does not give us any reason why we should accept this claim as opposed to the claim that "without Geusha, it is impossible to prove anything." Does Bahnsen present an argument for his claim? No. Immediately he turns the spotlight back onto "the atheist world-view," claiming that it "is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic or morality." So, not only does Bahnsen not present an argument for his conclusion, he manages to lay another burden on his wagon. It's getting pretty heavy 'bout now. Has Bahnsen proven that his god exists? Not yet. Has Bahnsen proven that "the atheist world-view cannot account for our debate tonight"? No, not yet. He hasn't even presented an argument yet. He's simply asserted the very position he's called to prove, and he's added some more claims to his proof deficit. It seems that Bahnsen doesn't offer a proof here. Rather, we should call this the "Transcendental Poof of the existence of God," for it seems that Bahnsen presumes to have the power to say "poof!" and voilá, “God exists.” That is, Bahnsen's god exists because he wants his god to exist. Where's the argument?

by Dawson Bethrick

(Adapted from my May 13, 2004 post to the All_Bahnsen discussion list, which can be viewed on my own website here.)

17 Comments:

Blogger BJ said...

Hi, I just read your blog and I think you are misreading or not hearing the argument that Bahnsen is making...so let me help you...the thrust of the argument (TAG) says that without the truth of the christian God being presupposed nothing can be proven at all. Now how should an atheist understand this? Easy. Given the most fundamental assumptions about reality that the atheist "HAS" he now should reflect on those basic presuppositions and he will realize that given his presuppositions science, logic, and morality would be "impossible". In the correspondence that followed the debate between Stein and Bahnsen, Bahnsen again showed Stein that his atheistic worldview could not even allow him to make since out of balancing his checkbook. As in the debate Stein kept appealing to the notion that atheist do have morality, science, and logic. Bahnsen rightly would point out to Stein that he could not use such tools for human experience to be intelligible if his worldview were "true". POOF....Christianity is true because of the impossibilty of the contrary. In its technical form it is an "reductio ad absurbdum" argument. If P then Q, P therefore Q or If morality, science, and logic are the case (P) then Q (Christianity) has to be affirmed as logically necessary "because" ("because" clause is vital here)Q is the precondition of P. That is the indirect argument. Now, how is that bold assertion proved? Assume not Q (in this case non-christianity)and then look for internal contrsdictions within a particualr worldview for it to refute itself. If you do not understand Kant then the odds are you will not understand what Van Til was up to. Basically atheism can not provide the preconditions for logic, science, or morality to have any "meaning" to our human experience.

November 24, 2005 9:46 AM  
Blogger Clarence the Theologian said...

Mr. Bethrick,
The previous commentor above is right. You have indeed misunderstood the argument. I'm not sure who said this quote (and if you know, it will help me), it may have been Niebuhr or Heidegger, but "If God did not exist, we would not know to ask that question." Without God (as the source of logic and the precondition for knowledge, the epistemic a priori), all is arbitrary. As Sartre said, "Since there is no god, there is no theoretical difference between helping an old woman cross the street or pushing her in front of a truck." But there is a god, which is why it is repulsive to push women in front of trucks. Bahnsen proved god's existence by the impossibility of his non-existence. There is nothing accounted for in the atheist's epistemology to secure certainty in reasoning from A to B in his deduction or induction. In fact, since all thought is arbitrary (given the atheist's presupposition of epistemic relativism), it is true that there is god and non-god; Hitler=innocence; squares are round.

January 14, 2006 8:39 PM  
Blogger Robert Campbell said...

This arguement needs more work certainly. It did not even considere Bahnsen's main point, his presuppositions.

Thanks for the engagement.

July 18, 2006 10:44 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Robert,

What do you consider to be the main points that Bahnsen presents in the opening statement of his debate with Stein? While you're at it, can you reconstruct what you take to be the argument that Bahnsen is presenting in his opening statement?

Regards,
Dawson

July 18, 2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Dawson,
I'm not entirely sure why you are focusing only on Bahnsen's opening statement when it is followed by an entire debate in which Bahnsen does indeed show the impossibility of the atheist worldview. The opening statement is just that, an opening statement--it is not supposed to contain the meat of the argument, which follows later. Why not address the substance of his argument in the debate itself, and move beyond simply the opening statement?

August 06, 2008 1:57 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Christine,

Thank you for your comment! The reason why I focused on Bahnsen's opening statement in his debate with Dr. Stein is because this is the point in the debate in which he would have been most prepared to present his argument, if in fact he has one. As my analysis of his opening statement shows, he did not present a real argument here. You say that an "opening statement is just that, an opening statement," but it's not clear what you intend this to mean. I nowhere dispute that it's an opening statement. But opening statements are typically an opportunity for a participant in such debates to present his case, much like what Dr. Stein did in his opening statement. But I agree with you: there's no meat in Bahnsen's opening statement. As for whether Bahnsen "shows" in the remaining portions of the debate "the impossibility of the atheist worldview," I certainly did not see this. He does assert this over and over again, but simply asserting it does not make it the case. Indeed, it's not clear what anyone could possibly mean by "the atheist worldview." Atheism is not a worldview; it's the absence of god-belief. Atheism tells us what a person does not believe, not what he does believe. And it's certainly not impossible to disbelieve a claim, especially one which is so nonsensical as theistic claims.

Regardless, don't worry, Christine. I have copious notes on the remaining portions of Bahnsen's debate with Dr. Stein, and once I'm finished with them, I plan to roll them out on my blog. In the meantime, I've already made available plenty of material for you to examine and react to, and I would encourage you to take a look. You already know where to go. Now you just need to make the choice to engage your mind.

Regards,
Dawson

August 06, 2008 4:10 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

BB,

In ascribing atheism the status of worldview Bahnsen is dignifying atheists by acknowledging their attendant claim to rationality. You claim to be rational (and you tell other people to go and engage their own minds). That's a positive belief. Moreover, rational people aim to integrate their various beliefs, ensuring some kind of self-consistency, so the assumptions and implications of your claim to rationality are something you presumably have worked through systemtically, which is what worldview entails. Presumably also, you have found your views on the nature of reason, logic, etc. to be compatible with your absence of god-belief (your positive endorsement of the conclusion that god-belief should be absent, given reason).

Or are you conceding Bahnsen's claim that your atheism has no rational connection to your other views (ie. is irrational)? By denying that your atheism is part of your worldview, you certainly seem to be. Another reason atheists are disingenuous to claim they merely have an absence of a view, is that the notion of God encompasses such neutral categories as ontological ground. If you do not have some active alternative view in the categories God occupies, then you are not an informed atheist. You could only be an atheist regarding lesser "gods" that stake no ontological claim in relation to logic itself. Bahnsen's point is that when you set out to contend for the rationality of atheism, you assume your use of rationality without justifying it, and it is appropriate to challenge you to give an account for why you believe it exists and is reliable.

Regards,

Peter

March 30, 2009 9:21 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

BB,

Furthermore, Bahnsen's stance could be described in lay terms in the same form you use to describe atheism, namely, as merely the absence of atheist-logic belief. Bahnsen merely has an absence of belief in (consistent) atheist-rationalism. He not only sees it as contrary to Christianity (that's a given), but also as impossible (to justify). Due to those concerns, he thinks it doesn't even get off the ground, so is waiting for a justification to be advanced. If you want to fall back on the position of an absence of god-belief, as opposed to making an active claim, then don't complain if you perceive Bahnsen to be doing the same thing. You can't have it both ways!

Regards,

Peter

March 30, 2009 10:17 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Peter,

Thank you for your comments. Please consider my responses below.

Peter: “In ascribing atheism the status of worldview Bahnsen is dignifying atheists by acknowledging their attendant claim to rationality.”

No. Absolutely not. He did this to lighten his load. If all non-theistic worldviews could be put into one bucket, all the easier to carry them out to the trash heap. That was his intention behind his repeated use of the phrase “the atheist worldview”: to discredit all non-theism in one go, with one fell swoop, in spite of how silly this is. It had nothing to do with him “dignifying atheists.” To any degree that you might think he was trying to dignify atheists, it was wholly offset by statements like the following: “In actuality, this autonomous man is dull, stubborn, boorish, obstinate and stupid” (Always Ready, p. 56). A person who intends to grant dignity to others does not belittle them with name-calling like this. A child does this. Not a self-respecting adult. Bahnsen gave up his self-respect to the god he worshipped in his imagination. For Bahnsen, Jesus was an imaginary friend.

Peter: “You claim to be rational (and you tell other people to go and engage their own minds).“

Yep.

Peter: “That's a positive belief.”

Postive? Yes. ”Belief”? Not exactly. Belief is a degree of confidence less than certainty one might have in a position or claim. For instance, if my co-worker asks where Dave (our boss) is, I might say something like, “I believe he went to lunch” or “I believe he’s still in his meeting.” By using the verb “believe” in such statements, I convey to my co-worker that I’m not certain, that I could be wrong. I am not wrong about my rationality, or about other human adults in general having the capacity to engage their minds. I am certain of these things. “Belief” is too weak a concept for such convictions.

Peter: “Moreover, rational people aim to integrate their various beliefs, ensuring some kind of self-consistency,”

Right. They do not, for instance, worship contradiction.

Peter: “so the assumptions and implications of your claim to rationality are something you presumably have worked through systemtically, which is what worldview entails.”

Yes. For a brief outline, see this blog. I also provide some elaboration below.

Peter: “Presumably also, you have found your views on the nature of reason, logic, etc. to be compatible with your absence of god-belief (your positive endorsement of the conclusion that god-belief should be absent, given reason).”

Again here, merely “compatible” is too weak an assessment, and fails to take into account the fact that my atheism is a consequence of my devotion to reason.

Peter: “Or are you conceding Bahnsen's claim that your atheism has no rational connection to your other views (ie. is irrational)?”

Nope. The rational connection between my devotion to reason and my atheism is that the latter follows the formal as a natural consequence.

Peter: “By denying that your atheism is part of your worldview, you certainly seem to be.”

Where did I say that atheism is not part of my worldview? In one of my comments above, correcting someone named Christine, I pointed out that atheism as such is not a worldview. That’s not the same thing as saying that atheism is not part of one’s worldview. I’m an atheist. That tells you what I do not affirm; it does not tell you what I do affirm.

Peter: “Another reason atheists are disingenuous to claim they merely have an absence of a view, is that the notion of God encompasses such neutral categories as ontological ground.”

An atheist’s claims about himself are not made disingenuous by some belief held by a theist. The theist can say whatever he wants; nothing he says is going to make the atheist’s claims about himself wrong, dishonest or inaccurate.

Peter: “If you do not have some active alternative view in the categories God occupies, then you are not an informed atheist.”

It’s not clear what you mean by “the categories God occupies,” but perhaps you feel it is important to settle in your mind that I am “not an informed atheist.” Maybe that would make you feel better? Unfortunately, your statement here overlooks the fact that the only “categories” which a notion like “God” can “occupy” are fictitious, irrational categories. Legitimate categories do not depend on, nor are they informed by, an invisible magic being accessible only by means of imagination.

Peter: “You could only be an atheist regarding lesser ‘gods’ that stake no ontological claim in relation to logic itself.”

No, I’m an atheist alright. Because I have no god-belief. For details, see my blog I Don’t Believe It.

Peter: “Bahnsen's point is that when you set out to contend for the rationality of atheism, you assume your use of rationality without justifying it, and it is appropriate to challenge you to give an account for why you believe it exists and is reliable.”

If you’re interested in the Objectivist account of rationality, check out the literature. There’s a lot there. But here are a few pointers for you to consider. First, let’s define our terms (something I don’t find Bahnsen doing very often). Rationality is chosen commitment to reason as one’s only means of knowledge (thus rejecting any expression of mysticism, such as faith) and his only guide to action (thus rejecting any moral code based on faith, self-sacrifice, “duty,” etc.). Reason is the cognitive faculty by which one perceives and identifies what he perceives. Perception is an automatic process of our biology, but identifying what we perceive is a volitional process (we *choose* to identify the things we identify). We identify things by means of concepts, which we form by a process of abstraction. Concepts expand our awareness of objects beyond what we perceive directly. I have only perceived so many men, for example. I have not perceived all of them. But the concept ‘man’ includes all men who exist, who have existed and who will exist. The process of abstraction allows the mind to form general categories which are *open-ended* - i.e., not restricted to a finite set, not closed to the addition of new units. This is what universality is – an aspect of concepts. Nothing mysterious or supernatural about this. However, universality is one of Bahnsen’s tag-words for invoking the supernatural, as if only something supernatural could “account for” universality. He clearly did not have a good understanding of what universality is. He enlisted this bizarre disunderstanding in his attempts to hijack logic. “How do you account for universal, invariant and abstract entities like the laws of logic?” ask Bahnsen & co. He would also assert things like “the atheist worldview cannot account for universal, invariant and abstract entities like the laws of logic.” First he poses a question, suggesting that he does not know how an individual non-Christian “accounts for” these things, and then he makes a claim to knowledge, that the individual non-Christian cannot “account for” these things. Sounds like an assertion from ignorance to me. The questions he raises are answered by the objective theory of concepts (which explains how universality is an outcome of the abstraction process – something you won’t learn from Bahnsen). Unfortunately for Bahnsen, he doesn’t have a theory of concepts. The bible surely does not teach one, and his whole apologetic trades on ignorance of the objective theory of concepts. Had Bahnsen been an honest thinker, and had even a meager understanding of the theory of concepts, he would have walked away from presuppositionalism, even Christianity, long ago.

Regards,
Dawson

March 31, 2009 8:54 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Peter,

Here are some more thoughts in response to your second comment.

Peter: “Furthermore, Bahnsen's stance could be described in lay terms in the same form you use to describe atheism, namely, as merely the absence of atheist-logic belief. Bahnsen merely has an absence of belief in (consistent) atheist-rationalism.”

I wouldn’t expect that such childish wordplay would have been above Bahnsen. But why not simply recognize that the concept ‘atheism’ is a negation of the concept ‘theism’? The concept ‘theism’ (“theos” + “-ism”) denotes some form of god-belief. The concept ‘atheism’ (“a-“ + “theos” + “-ism”) denotes the absence of any form of god-belief, a *position* (rather than a *negation*) which some people do in fact affirm. If there weren’t any theists, there’d be no need for the *concept* ‘atheism’. The wordplay you propose above shows that you do not have a good understanding of our need for concepts and the purpose which they are used to meet. It also shows a poor understanding of how concepts are defined. Concepts are defined by isolating the essential attribute(s) distinguishing their units from other concepts and upon which most attributes belonging to the units they subsume depend. By these criteria, it would be wholly dishonest to say that theism, for instance, could be defined as "as merely the absence of atheist-logic belief." Bahnsen clearly described his stance in terms of a commitment to the Christ of the New Testament. A "mere... absence of atheist-logic belief" is not a distinguishing attribute of Bahnsen's commitment to the Christ of the New Testament. Someone describing his "stance" "as merely the absence of atheist-logic belief," could, for all it tells us, be a Muslim, a Hindu, an theistic-animist, a polytheist, etc.

Peter: “He not only sees it as contrary to Christianity (that's a given), but also as impossible (to justify).”

Why would anyone need to “justify” his atheism? To whom would he have to “justify” it? To theists? What theist is going to accept an atheist’s justification of his atheism? Why would he need to bother with such silly things? My recommendation is that theists simply get over the fact that some people are just never going to believe in their invisible magic beings. If they don't like it, tough. Reality is not going to reshape itself to suit their sore feelings.

Peter: “Due to those concerns, he thinks it doesn't even get off the ground, so is waiting for a justification to be advanced.”

Bahnsen’s dead. He’s not waiting for anything. As for “those concerns,” what justifies them? Can one justify them without ultimately resting on the primacy of consciousness? On this point, let me ask you: have you ever heard (or used) the expression “wishing doesn’t make it so”? Do you think that statement is true (that wishing something to be the case does not in fact make it so)? If so, why do you think this? Is your worldview wholly consistent with this? What about your god’s wishing? Does not the universe it allegedly created conform to whatever it wishes?

Peter: “If you want to fall back on the position of an absence of god-belief, as opposed to making an active claim, then don't complain if you perceive Bahnsen to be doing the same thing. You can't have it both ways!”

Oh, I make many “active claims,” if by “active claim” you really mean positive claims. Check out my blog. Check out my responses to you. Lots of positive claims there. I’m not “falling back” on anything (if by “fall back” you really mean “retreat”).

Now, in my blog above (Bahnsen’s Poof), I presented an analysis of Bahnsen’s opening statement in his debate with Gordon Stein, specifically looking for any actual argument (i.e., a chain of inference) by which he supposedly draws the conclusion “therefore God exists.” The conclusion of my analysis is that he did not present any such argument, that there is in fact no argument at all presented in Bahnsen’s opening statement for the existence of his god, the one statement for which he would have been most prepared to deliver an argument. Now my questions for you at this point are:

1) Have you read my analysis?

2) If so, do you agree with the conclusion of my analysis, or do you think my conclusion is wrong? – I.e., do you think there really is an argument there that I have missed?

3) If you say that my conclusion is wrong, please present Bahnsen’s argument - using only statements taken from Bahnsen’s opening statement, and let’s review it together.

What do you say?

Regards,
Dawson

March 31, 2009 9:10 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Dawson,

Thank you for the careful and lengthy replies. Those are helpful to my understanding of your views. However the approach of developing your paragraphs off each of my sentences or parts thereof I do find unhelpful, because I do not delineate my central points according to your knife. By interrupting a self-contained flow of thought (like my paragraphs, such as they are), the interpretive context is gone, and you are able to get away with misinterpretation.

For example, with your first splice, you took a connotation of my word "dignifying" and ran with it. Your "response" is to someone other than me, because it doesn't speak to the point I was making in context. I did not make the point that Bahnsen intended to go around portraying atheists as people with dignity. I'm not interested in defending Bahnsen's character (although I have no problems with it). I only said in passing that he IS dignifying atheists by doing something ELSE. Your inability to make that distinction, and subsequent similar guffs has me questioning your hermeneutic ability, and/or motives.

Lest anyone doubt your lack of nuance, take your response to a portion of one of my sentences ("rational people aim to integrate their various beliefs, ensuring some kind of self-consistency"). This is self-evident and noncontroversial. I did not even say that they are always successful - I just said they aim to do it. Rational people eschew contradiction... it hardly needs stating. Your response? To take issue with it anyway, in order to take a pot-shot at Christians. If this is your approach I'm fast losing confidence that your blog will be worth my time as a counterperspective to mine. Evidence is mounting that you are not engaging Bahnsen just as you are not engaging me.

Your rant built off my usage of "justify" suggests you don't know that logic justification, ie predication, is being referenced. Is all your reading this uncharitable?

Your retort that Bahnsen is dead, I believe, is an intentional (and therefore intellectually dishonest) twisting of the tense used -- I was referring to his debate with Stein when he was alive. DUH. The technique is passive-aggressive.

You end your first post by defining terms in restrictive ways that neither myself or Bahnsen has been using. As someone setting themselves up as an interpreter of Bahnsen you are doing an embarrasing job. Do you seriously think mine or Bahnsen's use of "rationality" refers to an exclusive epistemology? Pulllease. The convention is well known: a suffix of -ism refers to the concept writ large. Why are you so disingenuous? Where's your intellectual integrity? Seriously?

Similarly when Bahnsen uses the concept of universality in "universal, invariant and abstract entities like the laws of logic," it's very easy to see in context that he is characterizing the "law" of noncontradiction and principle of identity, ie. the nuts and bolts of logic, as things we assume are law-like in nature, universal in a way analogous to gravity. How is it we feel we can trust that mere human conventions would pertain in a distant galaxy, he might ask.

Here is one point you seem bent on twisting: Bahnsen used the concept of a generalized atheist worldview as an efficient proxy label for two components common to all individual atheist's worldviews, that is, the set of all atheists WHO DEBATE or defend their view. Those two components are a lack of belief in any God, and a reliance upon logic (the nuts and bolts of reason).

And of course after so much bluff and distraction you finish by challenging me to interact with your claim that Bahnsen didn't offer any argument in his opening statement. Here's my honest response to that: I thought it was a stupid point to make, because Bahnsen is free to follow a debating strategy of not fully tipping his hand with his opening statement (if in fact that's what he did), and I thought others responded well enough to you already. I only entered the discussion when I noticed you were trying to get away with de-ontologizing Bahnsen's intended meanings.

April 01, 2009 5:02 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Peter,

Thanks for your comments. Here are some points in response for you to consider.

Peter: “you took a connotation of my word ‘dignifying’ and ran with it.”

Can you specify which connotation of your word ‘dignifying’ I took and “ran with”? I do not recall specifying one myself.

Peter: “I only said in passing that he IS dignifying atheists by doing something ELSE.”

That’s fine. And I pointed out that “To any degree that you might think he was trying to dignify atheists, it was wholly offset by statements like....,” and I gave an example from Bahnsen’s own hand.

If your quarrel is with my use of “trying” in that sentence, feel free to excise it.

Peter: “Lest anyone doubt your lack of nuance, take your response to a portion of one of my sentences (‘rational people aim to integrate their various beliefs, ensuring some kind of self-consistency’). This is self-evident and noncontroversial. I did not even say that they are always successful - I just said they aim to do it. Rational people eschew contradiction... it hardly needs stating. Your response? To take issue with it anyway, in order to take a pot-shot at Christians.”

How did I take issue with your statement here? I wholly agreed with this point.

Peter: “You end your first post by defining terms in restrictive ways that neither myself or Bahnsen has been using.”

I state the definitions of my terms as I understand them to be defined, according to my worldview. This is the responsible thing to do. I have sought out definitions of these and other key terms which Bahnsen uses in his writings, and they are not easy to come by, nor do I think what he does give in this regard are adequate when he does state them. I do not have time this morning to hunt down examples, but if this is a pain point for you, perhaps later I can do some searching. Or, you are welcome to state your/Bahnsen’s definitions yourself. My point in presenting my definitions, is that it is important to understand exactly what we are talking about, to make the meanings of key terms explicit.

Peter: “Do you seriously think mine or Bahnsen's use of ‘rationality’ refers to an exclusive epistemology?”

No, and I don’t think I implied this either.

Peter: “Similarly when Bahnsen uses the concept of universality in ‘universal, invariant and abstract entities like the laws of logic’, it's very easy to see in context that he is characterizing the ‘law’ of noncontradiction and principle of identity, ie. the nuts and bolts of logic, as things we assume are law-like in nature, universal in a way analogous to gravity. How is it we feel we can trust that mere human conventions would pertain in a distant galaxy, he might ask.”

I wouldn’t liken the laws of logic to gravity in the first place myself, since the causality behind each is so different. Also, I do not consider the laws of logic to be “human conventions” if by this expression they would be understood to *depend* on agreement between individuals. Again, I point to the primacy of existence, and reject the primacy of consciousness. Are you familiar with this distinction?

Peter: “Here is one point you seem bent on twisting: Bahnsen used the concept of a generalized atheist worldview as an efficient proxy label for two components common to all individual atheist's worldviews, that is, the set of all atheists WHO DEBATE or defend their view. Those two components are a lack of belief in any God, and a reliance upon logic (the nuts and bolts of reason).”

By doing this, Bahnsen is ignoring fundamental differences (belief or lack of belief in any god is not a fundamental issue) and package-dealing points of view (or worldviews in the broader sense) into one lump sum. The dishonesty of this approach is borne out later, when he attributes the failings of one school of thought (which happens to be non-theistic) to all the others. For instance, moral relativism, a “chance-bound” universe, something from nothing, logic is mere convention, etc., etc., etc. As for “reliance upon logic,” it is important to keep in mind that reliance on reason is not quite the same as reliance on logic. There is a significant distinction which I would say Bahnsen misses even here. One can emphasize logic while ignoring reason. Many thinkers miss this because they often implicitly assume they are interchangeable concepts somehow. They aren’t. Reason specifies the source of inputs which inform logical inferences, namely the evidence of the senses. Many philosophies have disparaged the evidence of the senses in one way or another, and have sought some substitute as the source of inputs for their logical inferences (e.g., arbitrary axioms, storybooks, etc.). So there are two fundamental points here: the attribution of “worldview” to “atheism” is wrong (atheism is not a worldview; identifying oneself as an atheist only tells us what one does not believe, not what he does think is true), and characterizing atheism per se as a worldview proper allows for much misrepresentation of various non-theistic worldviews. Defend it if you like, but it is a mark of very poor scholarship.

Peter: “And of course after so much bluff and distraction you finish by challenging me to interact with your claim that Bahnsen didn't offer any argument in his opening statement. Here's my honest response to that: I thought it was a stupid point to make, because Bahnsen is free to follow a debating strategy of not fully tipping his hand with his opening statement (if in fact that's what he did),”

It appears that you’re indirectly agreeing with my conclusion then. My conclusion is that Bahnsen did not present an argument for the existence of his god in his opening statement. Your opinion that this is “a stupid point to make” does not effect the conclusion of my analysis. I only wanted to know if Bahnsen presented an argument in his opening statement, or not. Many (and I mean *many*) presuppositionalists have directed me to Bahnsen's debate with Stein to get a good grasp of the "transcendental argument" in action. So my quest was to find out what exactly that "argument" is, what its premises are, how it is supposed to secure its intended conclusion (whatever that might be). That was the reason for my analysis. You seem to be acknowledging that Bahnsen did not after all present an argument in his opening statement, but you have an explanation, apparently speculative in nature, for this, namely that he was following “a debating strategy of not fully tipping his hand with his opening statement.” On this explanation, he deliberately chose not to present an argument in his opening statement. Am I reading you correctly?

Peter: “I thought others responded well enough to you already.”

Are you speaking specifically of BJ’s comments? If so, I responded to them shortly after he posted them in this blog. BJ also fails to reproduce any would-be argument from Bahnsen’s opening statement. But BJ did say that I was “misreading or not hearing the argument that Bahnsen is making,” which suggests that he thought Bahnsen did deliver an argument in his opening statement. That would conflict with your point above.

Regards,
Dawson

April 01, 2009 6:31 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Dawson,

For clarification:

I said the issue you raised with this post was to me "stupid" (in hindsight, "arbitrary" or "pointless" would have been clearer), for the in principle reason that Bahnsen is completely free to refrain from articulating an explicit argument in his opening statement. He is free in principle to do so for any intended reason, or unintentionally, in a debating context. I cited strategy merely as one possible reason. This is a hypothetical example, and not a concession to your claim. I did not have BJ's post specifically in mind, no. I would go no further than Christine's point, which in her original context was crystal clear as to what she intended to mean. You claimed part of her response was not clear. C'mon. Everyone else understands!!! You could only respond that it is conventional to utilise the opportunity of opening statements to make explicit arguments. Is it your point that Bahnsen broke with convention? If so, are you making this out to be uncharitable? If so, why do you yourself break with the convention of giving charitable interpretations? You conclude with another cheapshot, the implication that Christine is yet to choose to engage her mind.

For said reasons I am unmotivated to parse the transcript anew to find out, either way. I was happy with my competence in reading it through in times past.

Regards,

Peter

April 05, 2009 6:45 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Peter: “I said the issue you raised with this post was to me "stupid" (in hindsight, "arbitrary" or "pointless" would have been clearer), for the in principle reason that Bahnsen is completely free to refrain from articulating an explicit argument in his opening statement. He is free in principle to do so for any intended reason, or unintentionally, in a debating context. I cited strategy merely as one possible reason. This is a hypothetical example, and not a concession to your claim.”

Peter, either Bahnsen presents an argument for the existence of his god in his opening statement, or he doesn’t. Numerous presuppositionalist apologists have insisted that I review this debate between Bahnsen and Stein because it exemplifies the transcendental argument in action. The majority of these individuals have pointed to Bahnsen’s opening statement to get an understanding of the transcendental argument, rather than re-present it themselves. So on their recommendation I have reviewed the opening statement, and I found no argument there.

It is also worth pointing out to you that the online transcript of the Bahnsen-Stein debate (found on this PDF link) divides Bahnsen’s opening statement into three major sections. Section C is titled “Opening Case for the Existence of God.” The third subsection of this portion of Bahnsen’s opening statement is titled “The Transcendental Proof of God’s Existence.” Both section titles imply that an argument is about to be presented. They also tell me that even the individual who transcribed the debate was under the impression that Bahnsen was presenting some kind of knock-down blow-‘em-away argument in his opening statement. In that third subsection, Bahnsen makes the following statement: “The transcendental proof for God's existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything.” From what you seem to be saying, Bahnsen never got around to presenting this proof in his opening statement.

Whether or not “Bahnsen is completely free from articulating an explicit argument in his opening statement” is neither here nor there. It’s utterly irrelevant. That Bahnsen “is free in principle to do so for any intended reason, or unintentionally, in a debating context” is not something I am disputing. These are completely irrelevant concerns. My only concern is to find whether or not Bahnsen does actually present an argument in his opening statement (the portion of the debate for which he would likely have been most prepared).

While you have not explicitly stated agreement with my conclusion, it appears you do agree with it, for you are offering reasons for why one should not necessarily expect Bahnsen to present an argument in his opening debate. That’s fine, but again irrelevant. Indeed, your point that “Bahnsen is completely free to refrain from articulating an explicit argument in his opening statement” would only make sense if Bahnsen did not in fact present an argument in his opening statement.

Now I’ve examined the remainder of the Bahnsen-Stein debate as well, but I’ve not found where Bahnsen presents an argument with clearly stated premises that are supposed to inferentially support the conclusion, “Therefore God exists” or something along these lines. Perhaps you’re of the opinion that Bahnsen is completely free to refrain from presenting an argument anywhere in his debate with Stein?

Peter: “I did not have BJ's post specifically in mind, no. I would go no further than Christine's point, which in her original context was crystal clear as to what she intended to mean.”

Okay, that’s important to clarify. In your previous comment, you had stated “I thought others responded well enough to you already.” Notice the plural here (“others”). There were four commenters who posted responses to my blog before you. From what you stated, I had no way of knowing that you had Christine’s message specifically in mind.

Peter: “You claimed part of her response was not clear. C'mon. Everyone else understands!!!”

Well, I’m not “everybody else,” nor do I have a private line to what “everybody else understands.” Ultimately I can only go by what I personally understand. Christine’s point seems rather cryptic to me. She stated, “statement is just that, an opening statement--it is not supposed to contain the meat of the argument.” Christine gave no explanation for her claim that an opening statement “is not supposed to contain the meat of the argument.” I’ve examined lots of debates, and I can’t say I remember any specifically in which one party deliberately withheld presenting his chief argument in his opening case. The opening statement, as I mentioned to Christine, is a prime *opportunity* for doing this, if in fact he has an argument to make. Otherwise, it seems that the debater may have some ulterior ambition in mind (a “debating strategy”?), and may actually have no argument to present in the first place.

Christine went on to say that “Bahnsen does indeed show the impossibility of the atheist worldview,” but in my examination of the remainder of the debate I have not seen this. Bahnsen repeats over and over things like the following:

- “the atheist world view cannot account for our debate tonight.”

- “because in the atheistic world you cannot justify, you cannot account for, laws in general”

- “An atheist universe cannot account for the laws of logic.”

- “The atheist world view cannot account for the laws of logic, [and] cannot account for
any universals or abstract entities, for that matter. [It] cannot account for the uniformity of
nature, and therefore, [it] cannot account for the successes of science.”

- “The argument is that their world view cannot account for what they are doing.”

-“from a transcendental standpoint the atheistic view cannot account for this
debate tonight; because this debate has assumed that we're going to use the laws of logic as
standards of reasoning, or else we're irrational; that we're going to use laws of science; that
we're going to be intelligent men; that we're going to assume induction and causation and all
those things that scientists do.”

These are not arguments. At best, they could be conclusions of prior reasoning (inferentially drawn from supporting premises, which is what an argument is), but throughout Bahnsen’s statements I see no reason why anyone should accept these as established conclusions. Indeed, throughout much of the content of his portion of the debate, Bahnsen seems to have confused mere assertion with argumentation. What really seems to have happened is two things: 1) Bahnsen thinks that atheism is a worldview (that’s not true, as I have pointed out earlier in our discussion), and 2) Bahnsen simply does not know how a non-theistic worldview (there are many, and they don’t all affirm the same things) would “account for” the points he raises in his statements (e.g., logic, uniformity, moral absolutes, etc.). Bahnsen then takes his own ignorance of how a non-theistic philosophy does handle these matters to mean that none can do so, which of course is a non sequitur. He is certainly eager to take Stein’s or any other non-believer’s ignorance on these matters as confirmation of his slogan “the impossibility of the contrary,” but this just shows not only that Bahnsen’s conclusions rest on his own ignorance, but also that it preys on anyone else’s ignorance.

Rest assured, Bahnsen’s claims about “the atheist worldview” and its supposed inability to do anything, can be answered. But some important corrections are needed first (e.g., that atheism is not a worldview, that one individual’s ignorance of the issues Bahnsen raises does not confirm the existence of a god, etc.), and some of the points are a little more complicated than the simplistic type of answer Bahnsen apparently thinks is sufficient to address them (e.g., “God did it” or something along these lines). Crucial to an understanding of logic, universals, uniformity of nature, moral principles, etc., is a good understanding of concepts. But Bahnsen nowhere shows that he understands concepts very well, and in fact Christianity proper does not have a native theory of concepts (which is a glaring deficiency for a worldview). In fact, I have already pointed out that an omniscient mind wouldn’t have its knowledge in the form of concepts in the first place, which only tells me that presuppositionalists are looking entirely in the wrong place when they point to their god if they’re intention is to get an understanding of the matters Bahnsen raises.

Peter: “You could only respond that it is conventional to utilise the opportunity of opening statements to make explicit arguments. Is it your point that Bahnsen broke with convention? If so, are you making this out to be uncharitable? If so, why do you yourself break with the convention of giving charitable interpretations?”

I nowhere appealed to "convention" in my response to Christine’s comment, even though I don't think one would be wrong to do so (since structured debates do involve some consensus among those participating, e.g., the format, allotted time, Q & A, etc.). I think I was clear when I stated in my response to her, that “opening statements are typically an opportunity for a participant in such debates to present his case” (emphasis added). Going by what you have stated, I am apparently expected to suppose that Bahnsen simply passed up this opportunity, “for any intended reason, or unintentionally.” That's not my problem.

Peter: “You conclude with another cheapshot, the implication that Christine is yet to choose to engage her mind.”

Peter, in my response to Christine, I wrote: “Now you just need to make the choice to engage your mind.” I’m confident that this is the comment you have in mind. Calling it a “cheapshot” misses the point. We all have the choice to engage our minds, or to evade. Reminding a person of this choice is no “cheapshot.” If you want an example of some “cheapshots,” check out Bahnsen. I gave one from his book Always Ready earlier (indeed, an explicitly insulting statement). In his debate and elsewhere, Bahnsen is constantly reaffirming disparaging opinions about people who do not believe in his invisible magic being. So don’t gripe at me about “cheapshots.” I find them on virtually every Christian apologetics site I’ve seen. Atheists are continually characterized as stupid, dishonest, immoral, obstinate, thickheaded, hardhearted, devious, depraved, etc., etc., etc.

Now, if you do think that Bahnsen has presented an actual argument for the existence of his god elsewhere in his debate with Stein, I would really love to see it. You mentioned in your comment that you are “unmotivated to parse the transcript anew to find out,” which is unfortunate. If you change your mind, I invite you to present what you see here.

Regards,
Dawson

April 05, 2009 11:24 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Peter,

Here's a good example of the kind of hype Christians give for the Bahnsen-Stein debate:

"I have a scholarly friend who tells me this is the best debate to listen to in order to learn the transcendental argument. He tells me he has listened to it 15 times." (The Great Debate: Bahnsen -vs- Stein on MP3 for 1 penny, emphasis added)

The same author quotes a promotional statement from the cite offering an audio copy of the debate, which states:

"Hear how hard it is to deny God's existence and how intellectually rigorous the Christian position actually is.""

"...intellectually rigorous..."? Good grief!

With hype like this, one would really expect to find at least a clearly stated argument for the existence of the Christian god somewhere in Bahnsen's statements (opening or other). But I've not come across it anywhere. Why do you suppose these folks are so impressed with it? It's not "intellectual rigor" so far as I can see.

Regards,
Dawson

April 05, 2009 11:34 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

I don't disagree that this particular debate is over-hyped. So are your arguments/blog, just like much of the rest of the online atheist-theist exchange.

--

By painting Bahnsen's use of "universals" as "bizarre" and suggesting he must not have heard of your Randian objectivist theory of universals, one could be forgiven for thinking it must be you who are not well-versed in differing views on this age-old philosophical discussion.

Rand conflates the conceptualist school with nominalism, stating that it is unrelated to the facts of reality, when in fact conceptualism is precisely the abstraction of universals from the facts of reality. A notable conceptualist, Peter Abelard, does not fit Rand's characterisation at all, and the irony is that her views resemble his fairly substantively (according to one scholar, without qualitative difference). The Randian deliniation of views on the problem of universals is flawed, and Rand's Objectivism is really conceptualism.

Be that as it may, my point here is that you are showing yourself to be an unqualified (or else disingenuous) interpreter of Bahnsen, since you reduce the infamous problem/debate to nothing more than your own view on it. You assert that univerals are an aspect of concepts, as though your view settles it once and for all. In the debate, Bahnsen at least attempts to ascertain and engage with Stein's view on universals, showing that he is aware that the idea has differing interpretations. Since you claim Bahnsen's realist USE of the term universals is a "bizarre" "disunderstanding" and ignorant of your view, are you going to cast all universal realists from Plato to Kurt Gödel in the same way?

However you might respond to this, I don't see how you could undo the bizarre characterisation you've already given of the issue itself. Who knows, perhaps you are an expert on the history of the problem of universals? That would only make you disingenuous here.

Come clean, Dawson -- is it really Bahnsen you can't stand or is it just realist metaphysics?

April 09, 2009 7:57 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Peter: “I don't disagree that this particular debate is over-hyped.”

Of course, that was not the main point of my analysis. My point was to uncover Bahnsen’s argument, if he did in fact present one, in his opening statement. You seem to be in agreement that he did not in fact present an argument in his opening statement, for you have sought to excuse him for not doing so because of “strategic” concerns.

Peter: “So are your arguments/blog, just like much of the rest of the online atheist-theist exchange.”

Really? Who is over-hyping my arguments and/or blog? I'd really like to know. If the number of commenters who visit my blog and post their reactions is any indication, I don’t get a whole lot of readers. And I don’t often find people “hyping” my blog very much.

--

Peter: “By painting Bahnsen's use of ‘universals’ as ‘bizarre’ and suggesting he must not have heard of your Randian objectivist theory of universals, one could be forgiven for thinking it must be you who are not well-versed in differing views on this age-old philosophical discussion.”

If he did not have an understanding of these things himself, perhaps you’re right: one could forgive him. But I would prefer to teach him rather than forgive. If he learns something, it would be a lot more valuable than forgiveness.

Peter: “Rand conflates the conceptualist school with nominalism, stating that it is unrelated to the facts of reality, when in fact conceptualism is precisely the abstraction of universals from the facts of reality. A notable conceptualist, Peter Abelard, does not fit Rand's characterisation at all, and the irony is that her views resemble his fairly substantively (according to one scholar, without qualitative difference). The Randian deliniation of views on the problem of universals is flawed, and Rand's Objectivism is really conceptualism.”

While I would agree that Rand was probably not aware of the similarities between her view of concepts and Abelard’s specifically (see for instance Peter St. Andre’s intriguing essay on this), I don’t think Rand exactly “conflates” conceptualism with nominalism per se. In the Foreword to her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, she speaks of “the ‘conceptualists’,” stating that they “share the nominalists’ view that abstractions have no actual basis in reality, but who hold that concepts exist in our minds as some sort of ideas” (p. 2), but she does not identify specifically whom she has in mind. There have been a wide variety of people who have at one time or another been categorized as “conceptualists,” and Rand may have had in mind those who represent what she indicates in her Foreword. Reese, in his Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, points out that “the position of Conceptualism is extremely difficult to distinguish from some versions of Nominalism on the one hand, and from moderate Realism on the other. Any philosopher listed as a Conceptualist might be assigned and probably has been assigned elsewhere either to Nominalism or Realism.” So if Rand was mistaken here (again, who ever claimed that Rand is infallible or inspired by an omniscient being?), it’s likely that she’s not alone, even among tutored academics. Throughout the rest of her book, Rand does not say much of anything substantive about the conceptualist school. At any rate, it's not clear how any of this sidebar controversy indicates that Rand's theory is "flawed."

Peter: “Be that as it may, my point here is that you are showing yourself to be an unqualified (or else disingenuous) interpreter of Bahnsen, since you reduce the infamous problem/debate to nothing more than your own view on it.”

Well, I guess anyone’s criticisms could be cast in such a light. But the intention here seems to be specifically to discredit me (personally, that is) in some way, rather than to interact with things I have argued. Come clean, Peter - is it really me that you can't stand, or is it rational philosophy that you detest? ;)

Peter: “You assert that univerals are an aspect of concepts, as though your view settles it once and for all.”

I somehow doubt that you really have a problem with someone thinking his view “settles it once and for all” (cf. Bahnsen’s slogan “the impossibility of the contrary”). But perhaps you take offense that I might think that about my position? By the way, I had stated that universality is an aspect of concepts, which is not equivalent to the view you have attributed to me here. And I explained this. As for Bahnsen, it’s not entirely clear to me what exactly he thought universality *is*, but it is clear that he thinks it presupposes an omniscient mind. He seems to be more concerned with the association he thinks universalty has with his god. The Objectivist theory of concepts shows why such notions are indeed to be rejected.

Peter: “In the debate, Bahnsen at least attempts to ascertain and engage with Stein's view on universals, showing that he is aware that the idea has differing interpretations. Since you claim Bahnsen's realist USE of the term universals is a ‘bizarre’ ‘disunderstanding’ and ignorant of your view, are you going to cast all universal realists from Plato to Kurt Gödel in the same way?”

What I find bizarre about Bahnsen’s understanding of universality is that he thinks it necessarily implies the existence of a supernatural, omniscient consciousness to whose will the world of objects we know as the universe directly conforms. I think Bahnsen also ties into this the notion that the Christian god is omnipresent as well. (If Bahnsen himself does not do this, I’ve encountered many apologists who have.) Given what I have learned about how the human mind forms concepts, such notions as these are quite bizarre to me. And yes, I think Plato is quite bizarre too.

Regards,
Dawson

April 09, 2009 8:54 PM  

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