Monday, April 04, 2005

Omnipotence and Sovereignty in the Cartoon Universe

Christians love to say their god is "sovereign." Bahnsen, for instance, writes of "God’s all-controlling sovereignty" (Van Til’s Apologetic: Reading & Analysis, p. 122n.106). And by this they generally mean that whatever their god wants, their god gets. I.e., its say-so is sufficient to bring about any outcome it desires, for its say-so is final and ultimately authoritative, and omnipotence is the power which makes this happen.

Enter now the Cartoon Universe of Theism. The theist is truly caught between a rock and a hard place here. If he affirms that his god can do in the universe what a cartoonist can do in his cartoons, then he confirms the appropriateness of the cartoon universe analogy and thus should not try to resist it. But if he denies that his god can do the things that a cartoonist can do in his cartoons, then he’s essentially saying that the cartoonist can do things that his god cannot do. But of course this would violate the principle of divine sovereignty.

Many Christians of course will still resent it when non-believers point out that the theistic view of the universe essentially amounts to the view that it is nothing more than a cartoon. So here are some questions readers might ask themselves to determine whether or not they really do ascribe to the cartoon universe premise of theism. Any "yes" answer to one of these questions affirms endorsement of the cartoon universe premise; a "no" answer affirms either that one is an atheist, or, if he thinks he is a theist, that he thinks his god is impotent.

- Can your god create something ex nihilo (i.e., without using materials that already exist)?

- Can your god create a water-breathing man?

- Can your god create green snow?

- Can your god create red grass?

- Can your god create flowers that speak Mandarin Chinese?

- Can your god create a human being with 42 arms?

- Can your god create a woman who gives birth to elephants?

- Can your god create a teacup that dances with a spoon?

- Can your god create a second moon to orbit the earth?

- Can your god remove all salinity from the world's oceans?

- Can your god create a biological organism which requires no nutrients or oxygen to live?

And so on...

Notice that these questions are not like the age-old "Can God create a square circle," for even a cartoonist would be stumped by such a challenge. But a cartoonist can do all these things in the context of a cartoon. He can make things suddenly pop into existence, or create a man who breathes underwater, or make green snow or red grass, etc. He can do all these things. Christians who claim that their deity is "omnipotent" will likely want to affirm that it can do all these things if it wants to. This puts their god on a par with the cartoonist, and its creations on a par with the cartoonist's cartoons. Those who urge us to believe these things essentially urge us to believe that the universe is like a cartoon: conforming completely to someone's wishes and designs. If a person truly believes these bizarre notions, why would he resent being identified as an adherent to the cartoon universe premise?

In the final analysis, it all boils down to this: Either you believe the universe is like a cartoon in the hands of a master illustrator (theism), or you don’t (atheism).

I don’t believe the universe is like a cartoon, so that makes me an atheist.

by Dawson Bethrick

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24 Comments:

Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

You outdid yourself again !

April 04, 2005 11:02 AM  
Blogger Damian, the Left-Hand Player said...

But what of those who believe that the illustrator has left, and the characters have been left to their own devices? Or that there is not one illustrator, but an entire animation staff?

Personally, I don't think there's an animator, but I'm addressing this in lieu of those who would bring this up with less tact...

April 05, 2005 12:14 PM  
Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

Those people are stuck with a fundamental epistemic problem (i.e. how the fuck would you know that he left).

April 05, 2005 6:03 PM  
Blogger Andronicus said...

Thanks for visting my site, and the kind words. I appreciated it. -Andronicu

April 12, 2005 7:32 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I invite you to post this and the corresponding "The Cartoon Universe of Theism" at me and my colleagues' website forum: Reformed Philosophical Society. We would also appreciate your defense thereof and subsequent interaction with us.

April 13, 2005 7:40 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

And to answer all your questions: Yes.

April 13, 2005 7:41 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I'm am absolutely thrilled that you didn't try to dig up the square circle class of logical contradictions. But, as a "presuppositionalist" (the term isn't very helpful since we do all have presuppositions), I don't see the force of the argument.

Yes, God certainly can make a teacup dance with a spoon or a water-breathing man. In fact, I think it would be very helpful and cool if he would make me amphibious. I could probably makes tons of cash pretending to drown. I'm sure that if somehow we all breathed water and you had an underwater blog, you'd ask, "Could God make a man who breathes air? How silly!" This simply isn't an objection of any import.

April 13, 2005 8:36 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim: "We would also appreciate your defense thereof and subsequent interaction with us."

Thank you for the invite, Tim, but I don't see what purpose my attendance on your forum would serve. You see, Tim, by answering yes to the questions I asked in Omnipotence and Sovereignty in the Cartoon Universe, which you make clear in your second comment, you simply concede my point. So to the extent that you would try to dismantle my analogy, you would simply be disputing your own worldview. That's the beauty of my analogy - it's the ultimate reductio against theism. Besides, since reason assumes that the universe is not a cartoon, it would not be fruitful to wage a debate with those who think the universe is a cartoon.

Regards,
Dawson

April 14, 2005 6:56 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Daniel: "I'm am absolutely thrilled that you didn't try to dig up the square circle class of logical contradictions."

Well, try not to get too over-excited, Daniel. To be sure, there are far graver problems in the theistic worldview than your god's inability to create a square circle.

Daniel: "But, as a 'presuppositionalist' (the term isn't very helpful since we do all have presuppositions), I don't see the force of the argument."

First of all, it's an analogy. Second, check out Tim's second comment - he gets it. Why don't you?

Daniel: "Yes, God certainly can make a teacup dance with a spoon or a water-breathing man."

You just sealed the case for my analogy. As I told Tim above, we have no dispute since you concede my point.

Daniel: "In fact, I think it would be very helpful and cool if he would make me amphibious. I could probably makes tons of cash pretending to drown."

I'm never surprised when I see Christians dreaming up ways to gain from others by means of pretense. That's why I think the question of which worldview one holds to is just as much a question of character as it is of philosophical ideas.

Daniel: "I'm sure that if somehow we all breathed water and you had an underwater blog, you'd ask, "Could God make a man who breathes air? How silly!" This simply isn't an objection of any import."

I see. So when Christians accuse my worldview of reducing to absurdity, then I can say "that simply isn't an objection of any import." Thanks for the tip!

Regards,
Dawson

April 14, 2005 6:58 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Your contention that you have proffered a reduction ad absurdum fails. A true reductio has its force by drawing out the contradiction(s) within an position. Your argument, however, is that "It is absurd to think that the universe is like a cartoon." Where the contradiction lies, I am not too sure. Though I do still desire for you to debate in the forum since this is not the best format.

You are welcome to copy and paste all subsequent discussion from the forums onto your blog for whatever purposes you desire.

April 14, 2005 8:52 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Your contention that you have proffered a reduction ad absurdum fails. A true reductio has its force by drawing out the contradiction(s) within an position. Your argument, however, is that "It is absurd to think that the universe is like a cartoon." Where the contradiction lies, I am not too sure. Though I do still desire for you to debate in the forum since this is not the best format.

You are welcome to copy and paste all subsequent discussion from the forums onto your blog for whatever purposes you desire.

April 14, 2005 8:52 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim: "Your contention that you have proffered a reduction ad absurdum fails. A true reductio has its force by drawing out the contradiction(s) within an position. Your argument, however, is that "It is absurd to think that the universe is like a cartoon." Where the contradiction lies, I am not too sure."

Sorry for not making this more clear. The contradiction lies between the fact that you have to assume that the universe is not a cartoon to the extent that you can assemble a plausible case for any truth claim (for reason and logic presume a non-cartoon universe), and the nature of the truth claim that you want to defend (namely that Christian theism is true) since its conception of the universe is analogous to a cartoon in the hands of a master cartoonist. I agree this can be developed more, and perhaps I'll dedicate a future blog to hash it out.

Tim: "Though I do still desire for you to debate in the forum since this is not the best format."

Again, I don't see what that would serve. Either you think the universe is like a cartoon (theism) or you don't (atheism). If you want to think that the universe is like a cartoon, I don't think I'll be able to convince you otherwise.

Tim: "You are welcome to copy and paste all subsequent discussion from the forums onto your blog for whatever purposes you desire."

Thank you, Tim.

Regards,
Dawson

April 14, 2005 10:02 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

If you desire to continue using the cartoon analogy, I would ask that you, for my sake, restate the exact similarities between the cartoon/cartoonist and universe/God. Often times people state analogies without any univocal point of contact, thus destroying the analogy. I do not believe you are guilty of this, so this is why I ask.

I fail to see the contradiction that you accuse me of. I believe you are trying to say that I have to assume the universe is not like a cartoon in order to maintain logic, but yet I must affirm that the universe is like a cartoon? Is this what you are saying? I have a response, but I do not wish to say anything until I understand the similarities between the cartoon and universe better.

Thank you.

April 14, 2005 10:05 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Tim,

Thank you for dropping by again.

Tim: "If you desire to continue using the cartoon analogy, I would ask that you, for my sake, restate the exact similarities between the cartoon/cartoonist and universe/God."

Just to clarify what you probably already know, I don't need your permission to do anything. As for finding "exact similarities" between these things, I don't think there is anything in reality that can serve as an exact analogy to what Christians and other mystics call "the supernatural," simply because it bears no objective reference to reality. But I think the relationship between a cartoonist and the cartoons he creates comes closest to capturing the essence of the relationship Christans say their god has to the universe. In my blog The "God's Good Pleasure" Principle and the Cartoon Universe Premise, I proposed that my cartoon universe analogy is far stronger than Paul's potter and the pot analogy of Romans 9:21. Your own affirmative responses to the questions I asked in Omnipotence and Sovereignty in the Cartoon Universe tell me that you should agree with this if you're consistent. Nevertheless, I think you're right to find this worrisome as a Christian who wants to spread his worldview, for the implications of my cartoon universe analogy are many and deep, and I wouldn't be surprised if more atheologians start using it.

Tim: "I fail to see the contradiction that you accuse me of."

Well, perhaps you just need to give it some more thought. It's there alright.

Tim: "I believe you are trying to say that I have to assume the universe is not like a cartoon in order to maintain logic, but yet I must affirm that the universe is like a cartoon?

Pretty close. Reason and logic presume a non-cartoon universe - i.e., one whose nature and contents are not dependent on consciousness (this is the principle of objectivity). But Christian theism claims the opposite - that there is a consciousness which holds metaphysical primacy over everything in the universe, just as the cartoonist does in the case of the images he draws in a cartoon. Only the cartoonist understands that his cartoons are just visual entertainment, while the theist wants to think this is the actual state of affairs in reality.

Tim: "I have a response,"

I'm sure you do, Tim. Hopefully it's not as dismissive as Matt's "this guy doesn't get it at all."

Thank you again, Tim.

Regards,
Dawson

April 15, 2005 7:57 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Dawson: "I don't think there is anything in reality that can serve as an exact analogy to what Christians and other mystics call "the supernatural," simply because it bears no objective reference to reality."

With all of your references to "reality", it would be nice to have a definition; for I think it will help me to understand your position better. Could you please provide me with one?

Dawson: "Nevertheless, I think you're right to find this worrisome as a Christian who wants to spread his worldview"

I don't believe I ever expressed worry. I have no problem answering the aforementioned questions in the affirmative.

Dawson: "Reason and logic presume a non-cartoon universe - i.e., one whose nature and contents are not dependent on consciousness (this is the principle of objectivity)."

What is logic and what is the "principle of objectivity"?

Dawson: "Only the cartoonist understands that his cartoons are just visual entertainment..."

I'm having trouble seeing continuity with your analogy. God does understand that His creation is dependent upon Him and that He has done all He does for His glory, are you implying that He does not?

Dawson: "...while the theist wants to think this is the actual state of affairs in reality."

I'm having trouble understanding the argument in this last sentence. You seem to start with the intention of making a contrast between the cartoonist and God, but then in the second half of the contrast you talk about the theist. What does the "this" refer to?

Thank you for your time.

April 15, 2005 4:03 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

April 15, 2005 4:03 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello, Tim. I'm glad you came back to me again.

I wrote: "I don't think there is anything in reality that can serve as an exact analogy to what Christians and other mystics call "the supernatural," simply because it bears no objective reference to reality."

Tim: “With all of your references to "reality", it would be nice to have a definition; for I think it will help me to understand your position better. Could you please provide me with one?”

I understand your concern here, Tim. You expect terms to have meaning. Rest assured, they do, at least when I use them. The term ‘reality’ however cannot be defined in terms of prior concepts. Reality is the realm of existence – i.e., what exists is real. In other words, it can only be defined ostensively. This is contrasted with what people might imagine exists, but does not.

Dawson: "Nevertheless, I think you're right to find this worrisome as a Christian who wants to spread his worldview"

Tim: “I don't believe I ever expressed worry. I have no problem answering the aforementioned questions in the affirmative.”

You are here to defend your worldview from my criticism, are you not? If you were not concerned that my criticism had any substance, I doubt you would be bothering with me. In the forum you linked me to in your first comment, a guy named Matt mentioned that my “criticisms of presuppositionalism… pretty much go unchallenged.” Isn’t apologetics essentially a form of damage control in those cases when it appears that the faith is being challenged? Or is it the case that you think you can learn from me?

Dawson: "Reason and logic presume a non-cartoon universe - i.e., one whose nature and contents are not dependent on consciousness (this is the principle of objectivity)."

Tim: “What is logic and what is the ‘principle of objectivity’?”

Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. The principle of objectivity is the general truth that the objects of awareness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of awareness. I.e., that reality (what exists) does not depend on or conform to someone’s conscious activity.

Dawson: "Only the cartoonist understands that his cartoons are just visual entertainment..."

Tim: “I'm having trouble seeing continuity with your analogy. God does understand that His creation is dependent upon Him and that He has done all He does for His glory, are you implying that He does not?”

In my blog The “God’s Good Pleasure” Principle and the Cartoon Universe Premise, I pointed out the bible’s own conception of its god’s guide to action, namely its own pleasure (cf. Ps. 115:3). But in the end, what a person’s god understands or doesn’t understand, is ultimately determined by that person’s imagination.

Dawson: "...while the theist wants to think this is the actual state of affairs in reality."

Tim: “I'm having trouble understanding the argument in this last sentence. You seem to start with the intention of making a contrast between the cartoonist and God, but then in the second half of the contrast you talk about the theist. What does the ‘this’ refer to?”

I was simply cutting past unnecessary notions and speaking of those things which actually exist, namely the human being who is a cartoonist, and the human being who hopes his theism is true. But if you want me to compare the cartoonist with the Christian god at this level (assuming for sake of illustration that it were real), then yes, it’s clear that both are seeking entertainment. In the case of the cartoonist, he is seeking entertainment that he can offer to others in exchange for values that he can use to put toward his life’s needs (e.g., rent money). In the case of the Christian god, it is simply seeking entertainment for its own pleasure’s sake, as Ps. 115:3 makes clear. On this view, we as its creations do whatever it wants us to do, just as the characters in a cartoon do whatever the cartoonist intends them to do. Bahnsen makes this crystal clear, “God sovereignly governs every event that transpires, determining what, when, where, and how anything takes place – from the movement of the planets to the decrees of kings to the very hairs on our heads (Eph. 1:11).” (Always Ready, pp. 225-226)

Are you starting to see the rich and enduring implications of my analogy, Tim?

Regards,
Dawson

April 15, 2005 9:16 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Dawson: "Reality is the realm of existence – i.e., what exists is real. In other words, it can only be defined ostensively. This is contrasted with what people might imagine exists, but does not."

The unfortunate outcome of using existence in the manner you have prescribed is that it becomes a meaningless predicate and/or noun because it can be attached to anything. A word that can be used for or with anything effectively means nothing. Anything can be said to exist, from unicorns to hallucinations. The question is, what are unicorns and hallucinations.

Dawson: "The principle of objectivity is the general truth that the objects of awareness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of awareness. I.e., that reality (what exists) does not depend on or conform to someone’s conscious activity."

Maybe I agree with this, but only to the extent that we are limiting the "subjects" to ourselves. How is logic destroyed (or unaccounted for) if reality is dependent upon a supreme consciousness? If reality is not dependent upon God (the supreme consciousness), or any conciousness (our own), and your principle of objectivity must be held true in order for logic to be accounted for, then is logic something outside of ourselves? Is logic a conventional rule of thought (therefore dependent upon conciousness) or is it an abstract law outside of ourselves?

Dawson: "You are here to defend your worldview from my criticism, are you not? If you were not concerned that my criticism had any substance, I doubt you would be bothering with me."

There are other reasons, I assure you, but I also believe I can learn from you. Let us forget this issue since it is not important anyway.

Dawson: "But in the end, what a person’s god understands or doesn’t understand, is ultimately determined by that person’s imagination."

Well of course...if you believe that God is nothing more than a product of an individual's imagination. This is what is in question, though.

The only quarrel I have in the last paragraph is your continual use of existence and real. As I stated above, such concepts are nothing are empty of significant meaning. Thank you for maintaining the proper analogy for the sake of argument, though. I have no problem with God controlling all things and doing whatever He pleases.

"Are you starting to see the rich and enduring implications of my analogy, Tim?"

To the extent that it accurately represents the Christian God, yes. I believe you have yet to say anything more than: "I don't like the idea of reality being like a cartoon (meaning it is subject to the whim of the Creator); it is absurd. Therefore God is nothing more than a product of human imagination."

Whether you like it or not matters little. Absurdity is dependent upon the law of logic, not your desires.

April 16, 2005 7:19 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Good afternoon, Tim.

Dawson: "Reality is the realm of existence – i.e., what exists is real. In other words, it can only be defined ostensively. This is contrasted with what people might imagine exists, but does not."

Tim: “The unfortunate outcome of using existence in the manner you have prescribed is that it becomes a meaningless predicate and/or noun because it can be attached to anything.”

It can be used in reference to anything that exists, and only to what exists. Since it refers to what exists, it has meaning. You do agree that things exist, do you not? Is saying that something exists meaningless in your view? For instance, if I the earth exists, do you think this is a meaningless statement?

Tim: “A word that can be used for or with anything effectively means nothing.”

How does that follow, Tim? The term ‘exists’ can be used in reference to anything that exists. Is the term ‘exists’ therefore “meaningless”? Not at all. It’s an axiomatic concept – i.e., it cannot be defined in terms of prior concepts, it must be defined ostensively. Do you think the concept 'existence' can be defined in terms of prior concepts? If so, to what would those concepts refer, to something that doesn't exist?

Tim: “Anything can be said to exist, from unicorns to hallucinations.”

Even angels and demons, right? I don’t think unicorns exist, and I don’t think angels and demons exist, either, Tim. People might imagine that they do, but they don’t. These terms certainly don’t refer to anything we directly perceive. And they don’t refer to other concepts that are ultimately based on what we directly perceive, either. What exists in this case are those who do the imagining, not the things they imagine. We cannot apply the terms ‘exists’ or ‘real’ as I explained them to things that we only imagine, and I think I made this clear above (I stated “This is contrasted with what people might imagine exists, but does not.")

Dawson: "The principle of objectivity is the general truth that the objects of awareness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of awareness. I.e., that reality (what exists) does not depend on or conform to someone’s conscious activity."

Tim: “Maybe I agree with this, but only to the extent that we are limiting the ‘subjects’ to ourselves.”

Of course. You want a magic cartoonist that has precisely the opposite orientation to its objects that we as subjects have to our objects. This only means that you cannot use the principle of objectivity consistently. I can. To be sure, it is completely alien to many of the views expressed in the bible. E.g., to affirm the reality of miracles is to performatively contradict oneself since truth claims are made on the basis of the primacy of existence, but the content of what is being claimed in miracle claims necessarily assumes the primacy of consciousness.

Tim: “How is logic destroyed (or unaccounted for) if reality is dependent upon a supreme consciousness?”

Essentially because there would be nothing non-contradictory to identify, and no non-contradictory means by which to identify it. Both the laws of identity and causality would have no meaning or applicability whatsoever. Induction would not be possible. Induction is only possible because there are no invisible magic beings that mess with reality (i.e., which can revise the identity of anything at will, or bypass natural causation just by wishing). If the primacy of consicousness were true, could not make any reliable truth claims whatsoever. You could say that Greenland is larger than Iceland, but the ruling consciousness could make you a liar any time it wants by reversing this at will. So on your premises, knowledge could only be possible to the extent that your god restrains itself, but it would never be certain, and one could have no stable guide to action.

Tim: “If reality is not dependent upon God (the supreme consciousness), or any conciousness (our own), and your principle of objectivity must be held true in order for logic to be accounted for, then is logic something outside of ourselves?”

Logic stands on the relationship between ourselves as subjects and any object we perceive or have under consideration. In other words, logic stands on the objective orientation of the subject-object relationship that constitutes human conscious experience. This relationship itself is objective (since its nature is not based on anyone's wishing), and the orientation of this relationship is fixed and absolute, since any instance of consciousness requires an object (something to be aware of), and the nature of the relationship between subject and object cannot be reversed (e.g., the object cannot switch sides with the subject).

Tim: “Is logic a conventional rule of thought (therefore dependent upon conciousness) or is it an abstract law outside of ourselves?”

I think this is a false dichotomy, both horns of which deny precisely the point I expressed above. The objects of our consciousness are certainly involved, and so is the nature of our consciousness. It is independent of consciousness in the sense that its nature does not conform to anyone's wishing.

Dawson: "But in the end, what a person’s god understands or doesn’t understand, is ultimately determined by that person’s imagination."

Tim: “Well of course...if you believe that God is nothing more than a product of an individual's imagination. This is what is in question, though.”

It’s indisputable, Tim. In the final analysis, you have nothing objective to point to as support for one quality or another ascribed to your god. It’s all internal inferences from arbitrary premises. Your imagination’s profound role in sustaining your god-beliefs is the only source of consistency you’ll find in your god-beliefs (since your god-beliefs are premised on the primacy of consciousness, and in your imagination you can dream up anything you want), though it cannot be sustained when it comes to governing your goal-oriented actions. Religious imagery then serves as a paradigm that you use as a filter when observing and thinking about what does actually exist. In essence, you rationalize.

Tim: “The only quarrel I have in the last paragraph is your continual use of existence and real.”

That does not come as a surprise to me. My axioms already spell death to arbitrary notions.

Tim: “As I stated above, such concepts are nothing are empty of significant meaning.”

I don’t know what you mean by “significant meaning” then. The terms ‘exist’ and ‘real’ refer to those things that exist and are real. I use these terms all the time. I’m supposing you do, too. So if you think these terms are “empty of significant meaning,” why would you use them?

Tim: “Thank you for maintaining the proper analogy for the sake of argument, though.

You’re welcome, Tim.

Tim: “I have no problem with God controlling all things and doing whatever He pleases.”

I know, Tim. You like the idea. Perhaps you find it comforting. I suppose you’re committed to it and don’t want to give it up for anything. That's fine, Tim. You're free to believe what you like. But to say it’s true, you have to borrow my concept of objectivity since you want it to be a fact independent of anyone’s consciousness, including mine, yours and even its own alleged consciousness (i.e., true whether anyone is willing to acknowledge it or not). That’s why my position is indisputable - one must assume it even to deny it.

Dawson: "Are you starting to see the rich and enduring implications of my analogy, Tim?"

Tim: “To the extent that it accurately represents the Christian God, yes.”

Very good, Tim. I’m glad you’ve come to recognize its strength as an analogy. You would agree, would you not, that the cartoonist and his cartoons more fully capture the supposed relationship between the Christian god and its creations, than does the apostle Paul’s potter and pot analogy of Rom. 9:21?

Tim: “I believe you have yet to say anything more than: ‘I don't like the idea of reality being like a cartoon (meaning it is subject to the whim of the Creator); it is absurd. Therefore God is nothing more than a product of human imagination’."

If you review my blog articles and our exchanges in this comments section, you'll that I have not made this an issue of my likes or dislikes, Tim. As I explained, the universe is not like a cartoon, regardless of my likes or dislikes. That’s why many cartoons are so amusing in the first place, since they provide such imaginative contrast to what is real.

Tim: “Whether you like it or not matters little. Absurdity is dependent upon the law of logic, not your desires.”

Exactly, Tim. My position is consistent with this principle (objectivity) throughout. Yours is not (since you want to say this applies to only some consciousnesses, not to all).

Thanks again for your questions.

Regards,
Dawson

April 16, 2005 12:47 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Dawson: "It can be used in reference to anything that exists, and only to what exists. Since it refers to what exists, it has meaning. You do agree that things exist, do you not? Is saying that something exists meaningless in your view? For instance, if I the earth exists, do you think this is a meaningless statement?...Even angels and demons, right? I don’t think unicorns exist, and I don’t think angels and demons exist, either, Tim. People might imagine that they do, but they don’t. These terms certainly don’t refer to anything we directly perceive. And they don’t refer to other concepts that are ultimately based on what we directly perceive, either. What exists in this case are those who do the imagining, not the things they imagine. We cannot apply the terms ‘exists’ or ‘real’ as I explained them to things that we only imagine, and I think I made this clear above (I stated “This is contrasted with what people might imagine exists, but does not.")"

Although I maintain my position on needing to discard the term "exist" and "existence" in the manner you use it, I will move on to a more critical point that may prove more fruitful.

You asserted, "These terms certainly don’t refer to anything we directly perceive. And they don’t refer to other concepts that are ultimately based on what we directly perceive, either," which clearly reveals your empiricism. Could you please explain to me how we perceive with our senses "thought", "love", "logic", "energy", etc. If unicorns, demons, and angels do not exist because no one has directly perceived them, then neither does logic exist because you cannot directly perceive a relationship, consciousness, or orientation; for you said yourself that "logic stands on the objective orientation of the subject-object relationship that constitutes human conscious experience" or at least logic is based upon such things. (Note: Unicorns have not been directly perceived in the past, but can you say that they never will be perceived in the future? God has not been directly perceived, at least by you, so are you then to conclude that He does not “exist”? This is the fallacy of induction I will touch on later, and if would behoove you to study Hume on this issue if you have not already.)

Dawson: "How does that follow, Tim? The term ‘exists’ can be used in reference to anything that exists. Is the term ‘exists’ therefore “meaningless”? Not at all. It’s an axiomatic concept – i.e., it cannot be defined in terms of prior concepts, it must be defined ostensively. Do you think the concept 'existence' can be defined in terms of prior concepts? If so, to what would those concepts refer, to something that doesn't exist?"

My point is that you say something only exists if it is directly perceivable or based upon concepts that are directly perceivable. However, once your empiricism is destroyed (which I hope to demonstrate throughout), you should see that the term “exist” can then be predicated to anything, be they external phenomena or thoughts and hallucinations. The question will then be “How does something exist?” (i.e. in what manner?).

Exactly how you define "existence" ostensively is quite beyond me. Can you point to "existence"? Of course you cannot. However, you can point to everything and say that it exists, which seems to be close to your position. Can you, then, point to logic? Of course not, it's just a relationship between the subject and object. This is more like a Platonic Form than it is anything else, and directly perceiving those would be quite a task.

Dawson: "Of course. You want a magic cartoonist that has precisely the opposite orientation to its objects that we as subjects have to our objects. This only means that you cannot use the principle of objectivity consistently."

That's because I do not hold to your "principle of objectivity."

Dawson: "To be sure, it is completely alien to many of the views expressed in the bible. E.g., to affirm the reality of miracles is to performatively contradict oneself since truth claims are made on the basis of the primacy of existence, but the content of what is being claimed in miracle claims necessarily assumes the primacy of consciousness."

Exactly, your empiricistical "principle of objectivity" is foreign to the Bible. I cannot say much about your statements using "existence" as a basis for truth claims because I disagree with your use of the term. While on that note, however, do you directly perceive truth? Do you directly perceive truth claims or propositions?

"Essentially because there would be nothing non-contradictory to identify, and no non-contradictory means by which to identify it."

You are asserting that every thing would then be contradictory, but you have not given the reason why everything would be so. Could you please draw this out?

Dawson: "Both the laws of identity and causality would have no meaning or applicability whatsoever. Induction would not be possible. Induction is only possible because there are no invisible magic beings that mess with reality (i.e., which can revise the identity of anything at will, or bypass natural causation just by wishing)."

I do not see how the law of identity (A is A) would be destroyed upon my position. I reject the "law of causality" per Hume's explosion of the concept. Do you perceive causes? No. You perceive one event followed by another event in temporal succession. Believing in a "law of causality" is nothing more than a veiled fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Likewise, induction falls into this same problem and is logically fallacious by definition. Reasoning from two "some" premises to an "all" premise (particulars to universals) is called "the fallacy of induction." This is all we can do, however, upon empiricism, which you evidently hold.

Dawson: "Induction is only possible because there are no invisible magic beings that mess with reality (i.e., which can revise the identity of anything at will, or bypass natural causation just by wishing)."

Even if I were to grant that induction is valid, you would still be faced with a problem, which you should know from reading Bahnsen. You assert that induction isn't possible upon the Christian worldview because God (or any other supernatural force) could "mess with reality", supposedly destroying any reason to believe that reality is uniform. Yet this is contrary to what the Bible teaches, namely, that God is immutable. God works in a uniform fashion in upholding His creation so that we can make valid assumptions, based on habit, of how things will work. Your statement is a straw-man of the Christian position. However, upon your view of a random universe (though somehow uniform?) are we not to suspect that anything is possible? It is apparently possible for life to arise from non-life and meaning from meaninglessness, so why would a few “miracles” not fit in to your system? Indeed they should, as just another random product of the universe that we have yet to understand, but surely not the work of God contrary to His normal fashion in upholding creation.

Dawson: “If the primacy of consicousness were true, could not make any reliable truth claims whatsoever. You could say that Greenland is larger than Iceland, but the ruling consciousness could make you a liar any time it wants by reversing this at will. So on your premises, knowledge could only be possible to the extent that your god restrains itself, but it would never be certain, and one could have no stable guide to action.”

Actually, upon my position - that of Clarkian presuppositionalism and the Westminster Confession – the only knowledge per se that we can have is that which is derived from the propositions of Scripture and any valid inferences that follow. Scripture, the revelation of God himself, tells me that He is immutable. Being a steady and unchanging God, He does and will work in a uniform manner with His creation until the consummation of history. Likewise, as is stated in Scripture, “miracles, signs, and wonders” were for a certain time, acting as pointers to God, but now are no more. The only thing we need is Scripture to reveal God. With the closing of the canon and the establishing of the Church comes the end of “miracles.” God works uniformly until the consummation.

Dawson: “Logic stands on the relationship between ourselves as subjects and any object we perceive or have under consideration. In other words, logic stands on the objective orientation of the subject-object relationship that constitutes human conscious experience. This relationship itself is objective (since its nature is not based on anyone's wishing), and the orientation of this relationship is fixed and absolute, since any instance of consciousness requires an object (something to be aware of), and the nature of the relationship between subject and object cannot be reversed (e.g., the object cannot switch sides with the subject).”

So logic is objective in that it is not dependent upon the subject and is absolute, but it is not objective in that it meets your “principle of objectivity” because it does not “exist” outside of yourself? Have you experienced all possible situations in which you could test the laws of logic? Is the statement “p is not-p” always false? Again you draw universals from particulars.

Dawson: “It’s indisputable, Tim. In the final analysis, you have nothing objective to point to as support for one quality or another ascribed to your god. It’s all internal inferences from arbitrary premises.”

If I were to play the “ostensive definition game” I guess I could point to the Bible, God’s self-revelation (which is my axiom) as being the support for my belief about God’s qualities. However, as I stated above, that game is ridiculous. I would like to see you point to logic or your support of it. I would like to see you point to the conjunction “and” or the disjunction “or.” Could you point to “energy” or the concept “color”? Indeed you may be able to point to colors (i.e. red, blue, black) but where is “color”? Such an abstraction is anathema to your empiricism.

My “internal inferences from arbitrary premises” may better be stated as “conclusions from premises based on my axiom.” All of us have an axiom, a starting point, Dawson; and that axiom cannot be proven, but only asserted. The question, then, is whether or not your axiom produces a consistent and coherent system.

Dawson: “Your imagination’s profound role in sustaining your god-beliefs is the only source of consistency you’ll find in your god-beliefs (since your god-beliefs are premised on the primacy of consciousness, and in your imagination you can dream up anything you want), though it cannot be sustained when it comes to governing your goal-oriented actions. Religious imagery then serves as a paradigm that you use as a filter when observing and thinking about what does actually exist. In essence, you rationalize.”

I need not respond to the first half of this for it is nothing more than pontifical conjecture. In regard to the last two sentences, I am quite amazed to see that you seem to believe that your “non-religious” paradigm does not filter your perceptions. I have no problem accepting that my worldview is that of Christianity, and I interpret all things according to it. Will you accept that your worldview is that of materialistic atheism and it filters your views just as much as my own?

Dawson: “My axioms already spell death to arbitrary notions.”

That’s interesting, considering that axioms are, by nature, arbitrary (in that you do not believe them based upon proof; if you did, then they wouldn’t be axioms).

Dawson: “The terms ‘exist’ and ‘real’ refer to those things that exist and are real.”

A beautiful tautology, no doubt, but this does not answer the question, “What is existence and reality?” Your answer above was “That which exists.” Again, quite tautological, providing me with no information. Then you asserted elsewhere your “principle of objectivity” in which something “exists” and is “real” when it “exists” independent of the subject (in the “external world”). This was a bit of a step, aside from the use of “exist” in the definition (and using “real” does not help either since you use them synonymously). Then I got a hint of your empiricism in your revealing comment about “direct perception.” Clearly, for you, something is not “real” or does not “exist” when it is not based upon direct perception or upon concepts derived from direct perception. This is a beautiful example of the evolutionary theory of language and its development, but it falls into the problems stated above. Upon this basis, you can no longer consistently speak of logic, thoughts, laws, truth, etc.

Dawson: “I know, Tim. You like the idea. Perhaps you find it comforting. I suppose you’re committed to it and don’t want to give it up for anything. That's fine, Tim. You're free to believe what you like. But to say it’s true, you have to borrow my concept of objectivity since you want it to be a fact independent of anyone’s consciousness, including mine, yours and even its own alleged consciousness (i.e., true whether anyone is willing to acknowledge it or not). That’s why my position is indisputable - one must assume it even to deny it.”

You are free to believe as you like as well. I’m sure it’s comforting in believing yourself to be your own god and “master of your fate.” It’s comforting to believe that in the end, no one can tell you what to do or how to live. But I would rather not talk about the speculative psychology of it all. I do not, however, borrow your concept of objectivity because you equivocate on the meaning. First, objectivity refers to “that which is outside of the subject and directly perceivable”, but then in other places it is simply “that which is not dependent upon any consciousness.” Well, my understanding of absolute truth and objectivity (that which is not dependent upon humans) is that truth and objectivity are defined and established by God (in accordance with His thinking); and He does not change. His truth remains so whether or not anyone will accept it. Yet in your random worldview of constant flux, how can anything remain stable and unchanging? Even if you could make sense of concepts like “truth” and “objectivity” upon your pure empiricism, they would seem to have no correspondence with your Heraclitean universe.

It is quite amusing to see you chide Bahnsen and Van Til for saying the anti-theist uses “borrowed capital” when you turn around and accuse the Christian of the same thing. I will turn it right back around on you, as you despise, and assert that you must assume the truth of Christianity in order to deny it; for without the immutable God of Scripture who is logic, you would be left in a world of flux with no certainty.

Dawson: “Very good, Tim. I’m glad you’ve come to recognize its strength as an analogy. You would agree, would you not, that the cartoonist and his cartoons more fully capture the supposed relationship between the Christian god and its creations, than does the apostle Paul’s potter and pot analogy of Rom. 9:21?”

No. I believe Paul’s analogy in Scripture is quite clear and sufficient.

Dawson: “If you review my blog articles and our exchanges in this comments section, you'll that I have not made this an issue of my likes or dislikes, Tim. As I explained, the universe is not like a cartoon, regardless of my likes or dislikes. That’s why many cartoons are so amusing in the first place, since they provide such imaginative contrast to what is real.”

Yet you have not stated how the universe is NOT like a cartoon other than “God does not exist, thus there is no cartoonist to make the cartoon, necessitating that we do not view the universe as a cartoon.”

Dawson: “Exactly, Tim. My position is consistent with this principle (objectivity) throughout.”

Are you equating the “principle of objectivity” and the laws of logic?

Dawson: “Yours is not (since you want to say this applies to only some consciousnesses, not to all).”

Do I want to say the law of logic or the “principle of objectivity” only applies to some consciousnesses? If you were referring to the laws of logic, then your statement is false because I believe that logic applies to all consciousnesses. If you were referring to the “principle of objectivity” then I must reject this a priori because I deny your principle, and have shown how inadequate and fallacious it is.

Regards,
Tim

April 16, 2005 8:40 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I am done here. If you wish to engage in any more discussion, please continue it at RPS Forum: Incinerating Presuppositionalism.

I enjoyed this thoroughly and I pray that you would believe in the Lord Jesus' perfect sacrifice of atonement made for all that will believe, so that you would be saved.

God bless.

April 16, 2005 8:43 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim: “Although I maintain my position on needing to discard the term "exist" and "existence" in the manner you use it,”

I’m not sure why anyone would discard the terms ‘exist’ and ‘existence’. You do say things exist, do you not? Where’d you get the concept? Why use it while saying you discard it?

Tim: “I will move on to a more critical point that may prove more fruitful.”

Tim: “You asserted, ‘These terms certainly don’t refer to anything we directly perceive. And they don’t refer to other concepts that are ultimately based on what we directly perceive, either’, which clearly reveals your empiricism. Could you please explain to me how we perceive with our senses ‘thought’, ‘love’, ‘logic’, ‘energy’, etc.”

These concepts are based on other concepts which ultimately reduce to the perceptual level.

Tim: “If unicorns, demons, and angels do not exist because no one has directly perceived them, then neither does logic exist because you cannot directly perceive a relationship, consciousness, or orientation;”

Again, you’re missing a step that I clearly indicated, and which you repeated when you quoted me, namely the part about being ultimately based on what we perceive. This is crucial. Our most basic concepts are formed on the basis of what we directly perceive. But we are not restricted to using only those concepts. The same method by which we formed those baseline concepts allows us to form abstractions based on those baseline concepts in order to form higher and higher level abstractions; the only difference is that the content of baseline concepts is perceptual in nature, while the contents of higher abstractions are other concepts. My point was that the notions of unicorns, demons and angels are not formed in this manner, while concepts of consciousness are (since we can identify the objects of our consciousness and the means by which we are conscious at the same baseline level – these are axiomatic concepts).

Tim: “for you said yourself that ‘logic stands on the objective orientation of the subject-object relationship that constitutes human conscious experience’ or at least logic is based upon such things.”

Indeed, and since conscious experience is a firsthand experience, one has all he needs to identify it. This is completely consistent with the position I have laid out. I suppose you might just need to give it some more thought is all.

Tim: “Unicorns have not been directly perceived in the past, but can you say that they never will be perceived in the future?”

I have little or no factual basis on which to assess such proposals, Tim, and I don’t know what importance it has. I’ve seen some amazing things coming out of genetics research labs. One of my former housemates was a geneticist from the Czech Republic some years ago, and he showed me pics of mice that had been genetically enhanced to produce "spare parts" if you will. One mouse had a human ear growing on its back. It was the darnedest thing, made possible by some very good science. From this I can only suppose it might be possible for someone in the future to genetically alter a horse in such a way that it had a horn growing out of its forehead. But I doubt it could produce offspring that had such features. I don’t know, but again I don’t see what relevance this has.

Tim: “God has not been directly perceived, at least by you, so are you then to conclude that He does not ‘exist’?”

Tim, I don’t believe your god exists, I don’t believe Allah exists, I don’t believe Geusha exists, I don’t believe Avalokitesvara exists, I don’t believe Osiris, Astarte, or Un-nefer exists. You seem to have a problem with me not believing your god exists, but you don’t seem to have a problem with me not believing these other things exist. Why is that?

Tim: “This is the fallacy of induction I will touch on later, and if would behoove you to study Hume on this issue if you have not already.)”

I have. Hume is worthless. Study Kelley on this if you haven’t already.

Dawson: "How does that follow, Tim? The term ‘exists’ can be used in reference to anything that exists. Is the term ‘exists’ therefore “meaningless”? Not at all. It’s an axiomatic concept – i.e., it cannot be defined in terms of prior concepts, it must be defined ostensively. Do you think the concept 'existence' can be defined in terms of prior concepts? If so, to what would those concepts refer, to something that doesn't exist?"

Tim: “My point is that you say something only exists if it is directly perceivable or based upon concepts that are directly perceivable.”

This is not what I said, and I suspect you’re on the verge of building a straw man. You asked about the meaning of the term ‘reality’, and I explained that this term cannot be defined in terms of prior concepts since it is axiomatic. I did not say that something can only exist if I perceive it.

Tim: “However, once your empiricism is destroyed (which I hope to demonstrate throughout), you should see that the term ‘exist’ can then be predicated to anything, be they external phenomena or thoughts and hallucinations. The question will then be “How does something exist?” (i.e. in what manner?).

Tim: “Exactly how you define ‘existence’ ostensively is quite beyond me. Can you point to ‘existence’?”

Yes. I can point to all kinds of things that exist, such as my wallet, the tree in my backyard, the ocean outside my front yard, etc. They are existence.

Tim: “Of course you cannot.”

Tim, how would you know what I can or cannot do? I point to things that exist all the time. They are existence. That’s what I mean by the term. It’s an axiomatic concept.

Tim: “However, you can point to everything and say that it exists, which seems to be close to your position.”

Indeed, that’s how the concept is formed, on the basis of what we directly perceive. The concept ‘existence’ names what we directly perceive. This concept is then available to be used in reference to things that we don’t directly perceive but which others do directly perceive, such as when my aunt calls from the Midwest and tells me about the birdhouse her son built in their garage.

Tim: “Can you, then, point to logic? Of course not, it's just a relationship between the subject and object.”

Again, you’re missing the hierarchical nature of abstractions that I alluded to in my prior response. Hopefully this is starting to clear up for you. But I understand it does take some focused attention and study.

Tim: “This is more like a Platonic Form than it is anything else, and directly perceiving those would be quite a task.”

No, it’s not. Platonic forms, if they existed, would be irreducible, frozen abstractions (even this is not an appropriate term for what Plato meant) that are not formed through a process of hierarchical conceptualization. But logic is an abstraction that can be reduced to its constituent parts (such as subject and object, both of which are perceptible). The very fact that terms like logic and abstraction can be given objective definitions is enough to show this, since definition is the final step in concept-formation.

Dawson: "Of course. You want a magic cartoonist that has precisely the opposite orientation to its objects that we as subjects have to our objects. This only means that you cannot use the principle of objectivity consistently."

Tim: “That's because I do not hold to your ‘principle of objectivity’."

Exactly, Tim. The alternative to the principle of objectivity is subjectivism: the view that reality conforms to consciousness, just as Christianity teaches throughout. Again, we wind up with the cartoon universe of theism.

Dawson: "To be sure, it is completely alien to many of the views expressed in the bible. E.g., to affirm the reality of miracles is to performatively contradict oneself since truth claims are made on the basis of the primacy of existence, but the content of what is being claimed in miracle claims necessarily assumes the primacy of consciousness."

Tim: “Exactly, your empiricistical ‘principle of objectivity’ is foreign to the Bible.”

As I have said many times. I don’t know why believers have a problem with this fact. You seem to get it (though I suppose much of this is new for you). In fact, I've never read the words 'objective' or 'objectivity' in the bible anywhere. It seems not to have been a concern for its authors.

Tim: “I cannot say much about your statements using ‘existence’ as a basis for truth claims because I disagree with your use of the term. While on that note, however, do you directly perceive truth? Do you directly perceive truth claims or propositions?”

The concept ‘truth’ is not an axiomatic concept, Tim. It is a higher abstraction which is ultimately based on axiomatic concepts (again, conceptual knowledge is hierarchical - another fact that I did not learn from the bible). It identifies the accuracy of correspondence between statements and their intended objects of reference. This correspondence obtains between axioms and the state of affairs which they identify, thus providing an instance to be named, which we call truth. This is all in keeping with the objective theory of concept-formation.

I wrote: "Essentially because there would be nothing non-contradictory to identify, and no non-contradictory means by which to identify it."

Tim: “You are asserting that every thing would then be contradictory, but you have not given the reason why everything would be so. Could you please draw this out?”

The reason was given in your question – the notion of a reality that is ultimately based on consciousness. This would constitute a complete reversal of objectivity as I have defined it. It is only because reality is objective (i.e., objects hold primacy over the subject) that we are able to identify statements that contradict it. But if that were to be reversed – i.e., if reality were subjective (i.e., subject holds primacy over its objects), what could possibly constitute a contradiction? Again, I think you just need to give this some more thought, Tim. By the way, in my view, what the bible calls “miracles” constitute contradictions in my view, since they are violations of the laws of identity and causality.

Dawson: "Both the laws of identity and causality would have no meaning or applicability whatsoever. Induction would not be possible. Induction is only possible because there are no invisible magic beings that mess with reality (i.e., which can revise the identity of anything at will, or bypass natural causation just by wishing)."

Tim: “I do not see how the law of identity (A is A) would be destroyed upon my position.”

I do.

Tim: “I reject the ‘law of causality’ per Hume's explosion of the concept.”

I do not adhere to Hume’s conception of causation. Hume saw causality as a relationship between events, which consequently means that causality has no necessary basis. On the contrary, per my view, causality is the relationship between an entity and its own actions, and this is a necessary relationship, since its actions are based on its nature. (That’s why human beings can’t breathe under water or fly by flapping our arms.)

Tim: “Do you perceive causes? No.”

Sure I do. When I see a bird flying through the air, I see exactly what enables him to do so: the actions of his wings, which I can perceive. If what I perceive has nothing to do with causality, then nothing would keep me from concluding that the bird's chirping enables it to fly. But we know that's absurd because we can see causes, and we can test our hypotheses about causes, too.

Tim: “You perceive one event followed by another event in temporal succession.”

No, I see an entity in action. That is the cause. As for “events,” I’m not even sure how to qualify or quantify what people call “events.” When the wheel on my bicycle is spinning, how many events are going on there? It's just a very imprecise term that can only invite vague notions.

Tim: “Believing in a ‘law of causality’ is nothing more than a veiled fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc.”

On Hume’s conception perhaps. But again, I don’t adhere to much of anything that Hume had to say. Look what his view of causality does for induction? It pulls the rug right out from underneath it. That’s entirely unnecessary.

Tim: “Likewise, induction falls into this same problem and is logically fallacious by definition. Reasoning from two 'some' premises to an 'all' premise (particulars to universals) is called 'the fallacy of induction'. This is all we can do, however, upon empiricism, which you evidently hold."

I'm well aware of what you're talking about here, Tim. My position avoids this problem, principally due to its conception of causality (which is not Humean), and its theory of concepts (which provides induction with a working model of integration). I strongly suggest you study Kelley's work in this area. It is truly groundbreaking.

Dawson: "Induction is only possible because there are no invisible magic beings that mess with reality (i.e., which can revise the identity of anything at will, or bypass natural causation just by wishing)."

Tim: “Even if I were to grant that induction is valid, you would still be faced with a problem, which you should know from reading Bahnsen.”

This very statement is based on induction, Tim. Don’t you see it? Or are you saying that induction is suddenly free of fallacies if you confess Jesus as your savior? (Given some of the amazing absurd things I've read from GH Clark and your apparent endorsement of his "Scripturalism," this just might be the case.)

Tim: “You assert that induction isn't possible upon the Christian worldview because God (or any other supernatural force) could ‘mess with reality’, supposedly destroying any reason to believe that reality is uniform. Yet this is contrary to what the Bible teaches, namely, that God is immutable.”

I’m not speaking about your god’s alleged immutability (which says nothing, btw - see below). I’m speaking about its ability to revise the nature of objects and their range of action simply by wishing, which is the essence of what the doctrine of miracles presents.

Tim: “God works in a uniform fashion in upholding His creation so that we can make valid assumptions, based on habit, of how things will work.”

I don’t think even the bible says this (not uniformly anyway), and to the extent that you think it does, I would say it’s just another contradiction in its pages, or just meaningless nonsense. Was the Noahic flood “uniform”? With what? Blank out. Was the talking snake in the Garden of Eden “uniform”? Certainly not! Again, blank out.

Tim: “Your statement is a straw-man of the Christian position.”

Actually, I think it is your own statement above (“God works in a uniform fashion…”) that is misrepresentative. At best it’s meaningless.

Tim: “However, upon your view of a random universe (though somehow uniform?) are we not to suspect that anything is possible?”

This is another misrepresentation, Tim, one that you nowhere substantiate. Did you not read my first blog Presuppositionalism vs. Causality?

The universe would be completely random if a miracle-performing consciousness were ruling it. It’s amazing how some people don’t get this. Most people I know understand this quite readily.

Tim: “It is apparently possible for life to arise from non-life”

I’m not sure how one could rule out such a possibility. But again, I think this is a question for science to answer, not for mystics to decree.

Tim: “and meaning from meaninglessness,”

I’m not even sure what this is supposed to mean. It appears to be another canned apologetic barb. If meaning is a problem in my worldview, it’s ten times the problem in yours.

Tim: “so why would a few ‘miracles’ not fit in to your system?”

I think I already explained this. Miracles are a violation of the law of causality. A miracle is conceived of as a conscious intrusion on the “natural order.” As such, it would simply introduce an element of subjectivity into an otherwise objective reality. Why would someone believe this? In fact, declaring any event a miracle is always premature. You would have to be omniscient to know it was a miracle, for only then could you say with any certainty that there is no natural explanation for the alleged event. You need to do better than this, Tim. Your own statements demonstrate that you’re not omniscient.

Tim: “Indeed they should, as just another random product of the universe that we have yet to understand,”

If, like the religionist, I thought the universe were random (i.e., that there is no necessary relationship between entities and their actions), I’d have no contention. But since I know the universe is not random (the actions of entities necessarily depend on their nature), I have a firm basis on which to reject such primitive notions.

Tim: “but surely not the work of God contrary to His normal fashion in upholding creation.”

I have no idea what “normal” would mean in a theistic universe. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever read any statement in the bible attributing normality to anything its god supposedly does. Even as literature, its way of making itself known to anyone is through utter abnormality.

Dawson: “If the primacy of consicousness were true, could not make any reliable truth claims whatsoever. You could say that Greenland is larger than Iceland, but the ruling consciousness could make you a liar any time it wants by reversing this at will. So on your premises, knowledge could only be possible to the extent that your god restrains itself, but it would never be certain, and one could have no stable guide to action.”

Tim: “Actually, upon my position - that of Clarkian presuppositionalism and the Westminster Confession – the only knowledge per se that we can have is that which is derived from the propositions of Scripture and any valid inferences that follow.”

Yes, I’m familiar with Clark and his gang. I’m quite unimpressed. I wonder what the bible teaches about "valid inferences." I don't think I've ever read either of these words in any of my bibles.

Tim: “Scripture, the revelation of God himself, tells me that He is immutable.”

Tim, you don’t believe everything you read, do you? Or are you really this gullible?

Tim: “Being a steady and unchanging God, He does and will work in a uniform manner with His creation until the consummation of history.”

And of course, your notion of “uniform manner” would have to be flexible enough to include all the miraculous intrusions that we read about in “Scripture.” So it’s entirely unhelpful for your case.

Tim: “Likewise, as is stated in Scripture, ‘miracles, signs, and wonders’ were for a certain time, acting as pointers to God, but now are no more.”

I see. To solve the problem, you put a capper on your god. Very nice, Tim! You just made him completely impotent. But most Christians say that their god is still performing miracles all the time, such as when they were saved. In fact, I can't think of any Christian I've met who doesn't attribute this supposed salvation to a miracle instigated by his god.

Tim: “The only thing we need is Scripture to reveal God.”

No one “needs” this, Tim. You just want it to be true is all. Again, this is where you are consistent with your religion: both your religion and your "method" of "knowing" it's "truth" are based on the primacy of the subject (i.e., subjectivism).

Tim: “With the closing of the canon and the establishing of the Church comes the end of ‘miracles’. God works uniformly until the consummation.”

This only tells me that there was a time when “uniform manner” of your god’s working used to include “miracles, signs, and wonders,” and now “uniform manner” does not include these things. And yet you say your god is “immutable.” Believe as you want, Tim. I’m not going to stop you.

Dawson: “Logic stands on the relationship between ourselves as subjects and any object we perceive or have under consideration. In other words, logic stands on the objective orientation of the subject-object relationship that constitutes human conscious experience. This relationship itself is objective (since its nature is not based on anyone's wishing), and the orientation of this relationship is fixed and absolute, since any instance of consciousness requires an object (something to be aware of), and the nature of the relationship between subject and object cannot be reversed (e.g., the object cannot switch sides with the subject).”

Tim: “So logic is objective in that it is not dependent upon the subject and is absolute, but it is not objective in that it meets your ‘principle of objectivity’ because it does not ‘exist’ outside of yourself?”

Something does not have to “exist outside of myself” in order to be objective, Tim. The nature of my liver is not "outside myslf," yet it is objective. Objective means not dependent on someone’s conscious intentions (e.g., I can't wish my liver to be healthy if it's infected). My consciousness has a nature, one which is what it is whether I like it or not (for instance, I cannot choose to have a consciousness which reads other people’s minds, or that can automatically calculate advanced trigonometric formulations without understanding basic mathematic principles), so its nature is objective in this sense. Logic is objective in the sense that its nature does not bend according to someone’s wishes. This is because nature of the relationship on which it stands does not bend according to someone’s wishes, either.

Tim: “Have you experienced all possible situations in which you could test the laws of logic?”

I don’t know. How many situations do you think are needed to test the laws of logic? How do you arrive at that number? What's the consequence of falling short? What's the point of your question?

Tim: “Is the statement ‘p is not-p’ always false? Again you draw universals from particulars.”

Of course I do, by a process of abstraction. A conceptualizing consciousness can do this.

Dawson: “It’s indisputable, Tim. In the final analysis, you have nothing objective to point to as support for one quality or another ascribed to your god. It’s all internal inferences from arbitrary premises.”

Tim: “If I were to play the ‘ostensive definition game’ I guess I could point to the Bible, God’s self-revelation (which is my axiom) as being the support for my belief about God’s qualities.”

For one thing, Tim, it’s not a game. You asked what I thought was a serious question, and I gave you my answer. You seem still to have problems with it, but it’s not clear what your problems are. Nonetheless, my concepts serve me as a biological organism just as they’re intended to, so I don’t know why you would want me to discard them. But I get the impression from your statement that you would consider pointing to your bible and what you call “God’s self-revelation” to be game-playing, so I don’t suppose you’re proposing this with seriousness.

Tim: “However, as I stated above, that game is ridiculous. I would like to see you point to logic or your support of it.”

I did – the subject-object relationship. I can certainly point to myself, and I can certainly point to any object. Together these constitute the metaphysical basis of logic, since the nature of both is objective.

Tim: “I would like to see you point to the conjunction ‘and’ or the disjunction ‘or’. Could you point to ‘energy’ or the concept ‘color’?”

For you to see me pointing to anything, Tim, you’d have to be here in my room with me. Again, it seems you’re presuming that I am incapable of forming higher level abstractions, but you’ve not shown that this is the case. Indeed, it seems that you may be reasoning on the basis of a false dichotomy: either strict empiricism (our concepts can only refer to what we directly perceive) or strict rationalism (our concepts and what we perceive have nothing to do with each other). I don’t accept either horn. Whether or not you’re suggesting such a dichotomy remains to be seen; but I’ve encountered many who have, and they argued a lot like you do.

Tim: “Indeed you may be able to point to colors (i.e. red, blue, black) but where is “color”? Such an abstraction is anathema to your empiricism.”

Yep, I was right. You are proposing such a dichotomy.

Tim: “My ‘internal inferences from arbitrary premises’ may better be stated as ‘conclusions from premises based on my axiom’.”

Same thing. You’re deducing from a completely arbitrary foundation, formulated quite unmistakably by Clark’s axiom “The Bible alone is the Word of God.” If this is “valid,” why isn’t “The Tritsat-lak alone is the Word of Geusha”? Clark's axiom assumes that the bible is uniform with itself throughout, and since this ignores an enormous host of facts which show otherwise, it just begs the question.

Tim: “All of us have an axiom, a starting point, Dawson; and that axiom cannot be proven, but only asserted. The question, then, is whether or not your axiom produces a consistent and coherent system.”

That’s not the only question to ask. One question to ask is: Is it conceptually irreducible? (If it's not, it's assuming something prior to it.) Another is: By what means are you aware of it? In the case of my axiom (existence exists), the answer to the first question is a resounding Yes: My axiom is irreducible because the concept ‘existence’ cannot be defined in terms or prior concepts. In answer to the second question, I am aware of it by means of direct perception: the statement “existence exists” names what I directly perceive (since everything I see exists). My philosophy starts where our consciousness starts: with perception.

Dawson: “Your imagination’s profound role in sustaining your god-beliefs is the only source of consistency you’ll find in your god-beliefs (since your god-beliefs are premised on the primacy of consciousness, and in your imagination you can dream up anything you want), though it cannot be sustained when it comes to governing your goal-oriented actions. Religious imagery then serves as a paradigm that you use as a filter when observing and thinking about what does actually exist. In essence, you rationalize.”

Tim: “I need not respond to the first half of this for it is nothing more than pontifical conjecture.”

That’s not why you’re not responding to it, Tim. And it’s not conjecture. You learned about your Jesus by reading stories about him, such as the gospels. When a person reads stories, whether fictional or not, one’s imagination plays a very important role in visualizing the characters and actions they read about. The religious process is essentially to take these visualizations seriously and project them as if they were actually true as a matter of personal commitment. This establishes a kind of “working environment” which serves as a paradigm that can be superimposed on the persons and actions that you experience in your life.

Tim: “In regard to the last two sentences, I am quite amazed to see that you seem to believe that your ‘non-religious’ paradigm does not filter your perceptions.”

I didn’t say anything about myself in that statement, Tim, so I suspect you’re projecting. But to be sure, my position does not require me to rationalize, for I am not trying to make what I perceive fit into the constraints of a confessional investment. I simply take what I perceive on its own terms.

Tim: “I have no problem accepting that my worldview is that of Christianity, and I interpret all things according to it.”

I take this as your agreement with my earlier statement.

Tim: “Will you accept that your worldview is that of materialistic atheism and it filters your views just as much as my own?”

I have no idea what you mean by “materialistic atheism.” I know many who have called themselves materialists, and many of them have expressed views that I do not share.

Dawson: “My axioms already spell death to arbitrary notions.”

Tim: “That’s interesting, considering that axioms are, by nature, arbitrary (in that you do not believe them based upon proof; if you did, then they wouldn’t be axioms).”

This is another false dichotomy, the very one John Robbins (a devoted Clarkian) used when he tried to critique Objectivism. It basically holds that a position can only be based either on prior proofs, or they’re arbitrary (and accepted on faith). My axioms are not based on proof, but they’re not accepted on faith, either, since they name what I directly perceive. Thus my axioms are not only conceptually irreducible, they have objective reference, and thus constitute a third type of position that your dichotomy here ignores.

Dawson: “The terms ‘exist’ and ‘real’ refer to those things that exist and are real.”

Tim: “A beautiful tautology, no doubt, but this does not answer the question, ‘What is existence and reality?’ Your answer above was ‘That which exists’. Again, quite tautological, providing me with no information.”

It seems you’re expecting these concepts (existence and reality) to be defined in terms of prior concepts. They can’t. As I asked above: To what would those prior concepts refer, if not to things that exist? Blank out.

Tim: “Then you asserted elsewhere your ‘principle of objectivity’ in which something ‘exists’ and is ‘real’ when it ‘exists’ independent of the subject (in the ‘external world’).”

To clarify, the principle of objectivity holds that the nature of what exists does not rest on someone’s conscious activity (e.g., wishing doesn’t make it so).

Tim: “This was a bit of a step, aside from the use of ‘exist’ in the definition (and using ‘real’ does not help either since you use them synonymously).”

I tend to think that those things which exist are also real, Tim. I don’t see how this can be controversial.

Tim: “Then I got a hint of your empiricism in your revealing comment about ‘direct perception’.”

If we are conscious, Tim, we directly perceive things. I directly perceive the computer monitor before me, just as you do when you’re reading this on the computer screen. Again, it’s amazing that someone would think this is controversial, but I know many people who do.

Tim: “Clearly, for you, something is not ‘real’ or does not ‘exist’ when it is not based upon direct perception or upon concepts derived from direct perception.”

It appears you may be on the verge of another straw man here, Tim. It seems you are taking my statements about how I define the terms in question and repositioning them in an argument declaring what can or cannot exist. Just to be clear: I did not state that something cannot exist if I don’t perceive it myself. The issue I was talking about has to do with the validity of the concepts we use to identify those things which exist and the relationships we discover. It was not a proposal stipulating what can or cannot exist. I’m open to the fact that there are things which exist and yet which no one has ever perceived, such as a mountain range on a distant planet (as an example).

Tim: “This is a beautiful example of the evolutionary theory of language and its development, but it falls into the problems stated above. Upon this basis, you can no longer consistently speak of logic, thoughts, laws, truth, etc.”

You’ve only been able to conclude this by assuming a number of false dichotomies and building a number of straw men, which I dismantled above. Since on my view I can form concepts on the basis of previously formed concepts to arrive at higher and higher abstractions (such as logic), there’s no problem.

Dawson: “I know, Tim. You like the idea. Perhaps you find it comforting. I suppose you’re committed to it and don’t want to give it up for anything. That's fine, Tim. You're free to believe what you like. But to say it’s true, you have to borrow my concept of objectivity since you want it to be a fact independent of anyone’s consciousness, including mine, yours and even its own alleged consciousness (i.e., true whether anyone is willing to acknowledge it or not). That’s why my position is indisputable - one must assume it even to deny it.”

Tim: “I’m sure it’s comforting in believing yourself to be your own god and ‘master of your fate’.”

I don’t believe that I’m a “god,” Tim. I am a man. That’s all. Meanwhile, you seem to be having a very difficult time convincing me of your god-belief claims.

Tim: “It’s comforting to believe that in the end, no one can tell you what to do or how to live.”

Actually, it’s a big responsibility, Tim. I can understand why some people want to evade it.

Tim: “But I would rather not talk about the speculative psychology of it all.”

Then don’t.

Tim: “I do not, however, borrow your concept of objectivity because you equivocate on the meaning. First, objectivity refers to ‘that which is outside of the subject and directly perceivable’, but then in other places it is simply ‘that which is not dependent upon any consciousness’.”

I think you’re on the verge of another straw man here, Tim. I did not use the term “outside” in my descriptions of the principle of objectivity. I just checked (twice) using control-F to find all instances of the word “outside” in our dialogue. All instances were from your statements, not mine. So if your case that my position equivocates is based on using “outside” to describe the principle of objectivity in one instance, and later using other terms, then your case is sunk. For I did not do that. I hope you would be fair on this, Tim, for I have been very careful to be consistent and not equivocate on this matter.

Tim: “Well, my understanding of absolute truth and objectivity (that which is not dependent upon humans) is that truth and objectivity are defined and established by God (in accordance with His thinking); and He does not change.”

Yes, I imagine your conception of objectivity would be phrased in such terms. Of course, I’ve never read this in the bible, so I don’t know where you got it. But it is so woefully inadequate that it hardly bears mentioning, for it can be applied in any religious context, Christian or otherwise, and thus justify whatever someone dreams up (since in the end it’s based on someone’s conscious intentions). Besides, it doesn’t speak to anything that is philosophically important (namely, man’s life needs), so it’s utterly useless. As for the droning refrain “God does not change,” neither does anything else that doesn’t exist. A precondition of change is existence; something cannot change unless it exists. So you’re pretty safe on that bet, Tim (but it is at best only a bet).

Tim: “His truth remains so whether or not anyone will accept it. Yet in your random worldview of constant flux, how can anything remain stable and unchanging?”

The fact that existence exists does not change, Tim. Thus there’s no “constant flux” to speak of.

Tim: “Even if you could make sense of concepts like ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’ upon your pure empiricism, they would seem to have no correspondence with your Heraclitean universe.”

As I thought! You assume that I am a strict empiricist a la David Hume. Tim, I suggest you move beyond the 18th century.

Tim: “It is quite amusing to see you chide Bahnsen and Van Til for saying the anti-theist uses ‘borrowed capital’ when you turn around and accuse the Christian of the same thing.”

The difference, Tim, is that I can demonstrate this by pointing to clear examples of this, while all Bahnsen and Van Til can do is lob baseless charges. In my blog Do I Borrow My Morality from the Christian Worldview? I showed quite clearly how Bahnsen’s charge that, as a non-Christian, I “borrow” from Christianity’s moral notions, is utterly misguided. I have yet to see anyone respond to it.

Tim: “I will turn it right back around on you, as you despise, and assert that you must assume the truth of Christianity in order to deny it; for without the immutable God of Scripture who is logic, you would be left in a world of flux with no certainty.”

I do not have to assume that a god exists in order to know that I don’t believe a god exists. No one has any onus to prove that the non-existent does not exist. I certainly do not need to assume that a god-man was resurrected from the grave after being executed by the Roman state to understand why 2+2=4. There’s nothing in Christianity that I must assume to be true in order to live my life. To say one must do that is beyond absurdity. But you’re welcome to keep asserting it if it makes you feel better.

Dawson: “Very good, Tim. I’m glad you’ve come to recognize its strength as an analogy. You would agree, would you not, that the cartoonist and his cartoons more fully capture the supposed relationship between the Christian god and its creations, than does the apostle Paul’s potter and pot analogy of Rom. 9:21?”

Tim: “No. I believe Paul’s analogy in Scripture is quite clear and sufficient.”

I guess you didn’t read my blog then (the last I looked, you didn't copy it to your forum). If Paul’s analogy is “clear and sufficient,” then mine is a hundred times more so (you should agree since you answered yes to my questions: a cartoonist can make flowers that speak Chinese, while a potter cannot).

Dawson: “If you review my blog articles and our exchanges in this comments section, you'll that I have not made this an issue of my likes or dislikes, Tim. As I explained, the universe is not like a cartoon, regardless of my likes or dislikes. That’s why many cartoons are so amusing in the first place, since they provide such imaginative contrast to what is real.”

Tim: “Yet you have not stated how the universe is NOT like a cartoon other than ‘God does not exist, thus there is no cartoonist to make the cartoon, necessitating that we do not view the universe as a cartoon’.”

If you don’t think I made this clear, Tim, you’ve not been reading very carefully. Since the universe exists independent of consciousness, it could not be a cartoon (since the contents and actions in a cartoon depend on the consciousness of the cartoonist).

Dawson: “Exactly, Tim. My position is consistent with this principle (objectivity) throughout.”

Tim: “Are you equating the 'principle of objectivity' and the laws of logic?”

No, that would be a frozen abstraction; objectivity is meta-logical – i.e., a precondition of logic. That’s why I said that logic would be meaningless in the cartoon universe of theism.

Dawson: “Yours is not (since you want to say this applies to only some consciousnesses, not to all).”

Tim: “Do I want to say the law of logic or the ‘principle of objectivity’ only applies to some consciousnesses?”

According to your earlier statement, yes. For after I explained what I mean by objectivity (“the objects of awareness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of awareness” etc.), you then stated “Maybe I agree with this, but only to the extent that we are limiting the ‘subjects’ to ourselves.” You want to leave room for a subject which enjoys an orientation to its objects that is precisely opposite to the one you must have.

Tim: “If you were referring to the laws of logic, then your statement is false because I believe that logic applies to all consciousnesses.”

On what basis would you believe this, if not on the basis of your cartoon universe?

Tim: “If you were referring to the ‘principle of objectivity’ then I must reject this a priori because I deny your principle, and have shown how inadequate and fallacious it is.”

Are you saying my principle is “inadequate and fallacious” because you want it to be so (subjectivism)? Or, are you saying it’s “inadequate and fallacious” independent of anyone’s wishing? If you say the former, it matters not (since wishing doesn't make it so). If you say the latter, then you’re assuming precisely what you’re denying.

Regards,
Dawson

April 17, 2005 11:10 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Tim: “I am done here.”

Yes, I think you’re right.

Tim: “If you wish to engage in any more discussion, please continue it at RPS Forum: Incinerating Presuppositionalism.”

Thank you again for the invite. As I stated before, I don’t think participating in your web would be very fruitful. My work is here on my blog. Besides, I’ve answered you on every point already.

Tim: “I enjoyed this thoroughly”

I did too, Tim. Thanks in part to your wonderful questions and interaction, I was able to develop my analogy quite a bit. I have demonstrated that it is a very fitting analogy for Christian theism. I most sincerely thank you for this.

Tim: “I pray that you would believe in the Lord Jesus' perfect sacrifice of atonement made for all that will believe, so that you would be saved.”

Well, may the Force be with you.

Regards,
Dawson

April 17, 2005 11:18 AM  
Blogger Belteshazzar7 said...

- Can your god create something ex nihilo (i.e., without using materials that already exist)? No. He creates everything out of His being to create.

- Can your god create a water-breathing man? Yes. But we tend to live on land, not under water.

- Can your god create green snow? Snow is white which means it has ALL colors including green, so yes He did.

- Can your god create red grass? Yes, but green is way perfect.

- Can your god create flowers that speak Mandarin Chinese?
To what purpose? But He did have a burning bush that did not get consumed and was used to by God to speak to Moses. Is that not superior?

- Can your god create a human being with 42 arms? Yes, but that human would be quite useless and rather top heavy.

- Can your god create a woman who gives birth to elephants? Yes, but will never because that would imply beastiality and that is a Sin.

- Can your god create a teacup that dances with a spoon? Yes, and He also placed a sword which moves every which way protecting the way to the tree of life, is that not cooler?

- Can your god create a second moon to orbit the earth? Yes, but one was enough and considering we (USA) can't get to the first moon anymore why have a second?

- Can your god remove all salinity from the world's oceans? Yes, but then the oceans would freeze over and the world would die.

- Can your god create a biological organism which requires no nutrients or oxygen to live? Yes, they are called Angels.

However, these questions possed are silly. How about can the cartoonist create anything that speaks? No he can not because he needs a voice actor, a recording studio and sound guy to make that happen, or how about animate the cartoons, no he can't he will need to have an animator for that. Not to mention editors, producers to finance the cartoons and a TV channel to support the play time.

What about a cartoon that actually has characters that not only eat, but go to the restroom? I guess he didn't think of that. But lets take the outlandish questions and answer them all Yes and anything you can think of including the square that is a circle, the cartoonist may be able to "create" cartoons, but only until he dies or gets cancelled.

June 13, 2012 1:39 AM  

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