Sunday, June 26, 2005

Is the Assumption of the Christian God Axiomatic?

Towards the end of his 7/27/04 discussion with Zachary Moore, Christian apologist Gene Cook asked the following question:
Why is my axiomatic assumption of the Christian god not a good starting point?
Gene's question itself makes a questionable assumption which needs to be probed. He assumes that his “assumption of the Christian god” (I take this to mean at minimum the assumption that the Christian god exists), is axiomatic in nature. Does he explain why his “assumption of the Christian god” is axiomatic? I could not find where he might do this. Instead, it appears that he wants just to slip it in, perhaps with the hope that it will be accepted unquestioningly. From what little he does give, it's unclear what Gene might mean by 'axiomatic' in this context. In fact, it’s unclear how axiomatic concepts could even make sense in the Christian worldview; the term is completely alien to the New Testament, and the idea of axiomatic concepts can only make sense in a worldview in which knowledge is understood in terms of logical hierarchy, and this in itself is foreign to Christianity as well. (Anton Thorn makes this latter point clear in his essay TAG and the Fallacy of the Stolen Concept.)

Contrary to what seems to be a common habit among Christian apologists, great care should be given to what we call axiomatic, for axioms identify the very foundation of our knowledge and worldview. The term is not to be used lightly. At the very least, axioms are not something we must infer from some prior point of departure. Rather, they name in the most general terms what we directly perceive, what we are first aware of.

So if Gene Cook wants to defend the position that his "assumption of the Christian god" is axiomatic, he would first have to identify the means by which he has awareness of what he has named "the Christian god." Did he have direct awareness of this god by looking outward at the world? It’s doubtful that this could be the case, because the Christian god is said to be invisible. When Gene looks out at the world, he sees the world of finite objects, not an invisible magic being. If Gene says that the world is evidence of his god, then he runs into the following problems:

1) he admits that his "assumption of the Christian god" is not axiomatic, for now it must be inferred from some prior point of departure (i.e., he is saying that his god's existence is inferred form what he directly perceives, and what he directly perceives comes first),
and
2) that which is finite, physical, corruptible and natural cannot serve as evidence of something that is said to be infinite, non-physical, incorruptible and supernatural. A is not evidence of non-A. (See for instance my blog Is Human Experience Evidence of the Christian God?)
Perhaps Gene will say that he has direct awareness of his god by looking inward. In other words, when he consults the inner workings of his mind, he “sees” his god staring back at him. If he says this, then he has the following problems:
1) Extrospection (the act of looking outward) always precedes introspection (the act of looking inward) - thus anything said to be known by means of introspection cannot be axiomatic, for ultimately it must refer to that which is perceived extrospectively; to introspect, there must be content. Where did this content come from? From magic?

2) How did he identify what he "perceives" inwardly as the Christian god as opposed to something else? He would need to have some knowledge already in order to do that, which simply is another point against his assumption that his "assumption of the Christian god" is axiomatic.

3) How does he distinguish what he calls "the supernatural" from what he imagines? This is a big problem for the theist, and I've not seen any theists attempt to answer this question cogently.
And
4) How does he know that he is not confusing his emotions with a means of knowledge? Proverbs 1:7 (“The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge”) suggests that the believer’s starting point is emotional in nature rather than axiomatic. An emotional response, however, is not a primary; emotions are reactions to things we learn, not self-generated phenomena which causelessly manifest themselves in our conscious experience spontaneously. So the introspective route will only prove problematic for Gene, if he chooses to take it.
If he says that his god spoke to him directly, then the problems compound:
1) how did he identify the voice he heard as that of the Christian god?

2) spoken communication requires words, and words are symbols for concepts. Where did Gene get those concepts? And to what do they refer? To understand the words spoken to him, he would need some prior understanding. Otherwise he's just making up things that simply derail the hierarchical structure of knowledge, and such a course will only invalidate itself.
Again, not axiomatic by a long shot. Besides, what if everyone ran around claiming to have knowledge as a result of hearing voices in his head? Incidentally, it was in consideration of this very question (in reference to how Abraham supposedly knew that the voice he heard commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac was that of the Judeo-Christian god), that presuppositional apologist John Frame threw up his arms and confessed, “We know without knowing how we know.” (Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (Part I)) So if Gene claims that he heard a voice and said it belonged to the Christian god, one would hope that he could do better than Frame, and indicate how he was able to distinguish the voice he allegedly heard in his head as belonging to the Christian god.

Also, by simply affirming that their god exists, Christians are in fact borrowing from the Objectivist worldview, for the Objectivist worldview alone affirms the fact of existence as its very starting point. In encounters with Christian apologists, I've asked many to explain where they got the concept "exist," for clearly they assume that it has meaning. But none can answer where they got it. Many are even confused by the vanity and futility of many modern philosophical trends which just confuse the whole problem of abstractions while pretending to be presenting a solution to it. For instance, some thinkers treat existence as merely one of many attributes or properties that make up an entity. On this view a soccer ball is roundness, rubbery-ness, black-and-whiteness, bounciness, resilience, and along with these also existence. This ignores the fact that an entity which exists, is all of its attributes, not just some of its attributes put together with something additional which somehow makes it real.

Others treat an entity that exists as "an INSTANCE of existence," as
one apologist put it, perhaps as an "instantiation" of a "universal" which somehow precedes the entity in some immaterial, “transcendental” realm which allegedly exists, a realm which is itself supposedly not merely an "instance," but a source out of which all instances come. On this view, man's knowledge of the universals is not made possible by a mental process of abstraction based on perceptual input from his environment, but by means of what Platonists called “anamnesis,” which is supposedly a kind of reminiscence of a time when man existed in that allegedly “transcendental” realm. Such ideas linger in modern philosophy like a bad odor. It’s time to open a window and let the cleansing breeze of reason come through and quench the stuffiness that has built up in Academia. In other words, it’s time that thinkers shed the stolen concepts that they’ve accepted unquestioningly for generations, and clarify their starting point once and for all.

Another point which is easy to overlook is that, those who say that belief in a god is axiomatic performatively contradict themselves whenever they attempt to prove that their god exists by means of argument. Proof is a process of logically securing a position on the basis of inferring its truth from some prior point of departure, one which ultimately has its basis in what we directly perceive. So a position which is inferred from some previously accepted position cannot itself be axiomatic. An axiom is a starting point, not a conclusion to some prior argument. If one presents an argument to secure the conclusion that a god exists, then the supposition that his god exists consequently cannot be his starting point. At the very best, one of the premises supporting that conclusion may be his starting point, but this could only be determined on a case by case basis, depending on the content of the argument so presented. So the apologist needs to decide: is his assumption that his god exists axiomatic in nature, or does this assumption rest on proof?

So, to answer Gene's question about whether or not his axiomatic assumption is good or not, we must ask: Is the “assumption of the Christian god” truly axiomatic? It appears not. Indeed, those who want to say that the “assumption of the Christian god” is axiomatic have their homework cut out for them, for I have raised a number of crucial points to the effect that this could not be the case. Besides, as an Objectivist, I already know what the proper axiomatic starting point to knowledge and rationality must be, and the implications of that starting point spell disaster for those who want to believe in invisible magic beings which go around creating universes and assembling a “plan” by which human history supposedly unfolds.

by Dawson Bethrick

17 Comments:

Blogger groundfighter76 said...

Dawson,

I apologize ahead of time for not posting something relevant to your blog entry.

However, over at goose, you claimed that Rand's theory of concepts could avoid/solves the problem of induction (as proposed by David Kelly). Could you either give a link or summarize the view and how this theory of concepts could solve the problem?

Thanks.

June 27, 2005 2:52 PM  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

Hey Dawson, sweet blog entry. I think you explained the "axiomatic God belief" problem really well. I dont think their God belief is axiomatic, for it is not truly assumed from the get-go, but acquired or arrived at after some thought or acceptance of ideas.

And groundfighter76, Im not sure if you are referring to the same blog entry that I am thinking of, but I wrote an entry called The Problem With The Problem of Induction.

In that article, I attack the PoI with a water example by showing that PoI violates the axiom of identity. Then I attack the "grue" PoI idea from Goodman by explaining that grue is not actually a color, but something more; for color is merely a particular light frequency or frequency range, and that grue would be, by definition, something more than/other than a color itself.

It gets into more detail than that, but thats at least a starting point.

Did Dawson possibly also write about the Problem of Induction in an article that I am not aware of?

June 27, 2005 4:05 PM  
Blogger groundfighter76 said...

No dawson hasn't written anything on it (to my knowledge) but he was on goose claiming that David Kelley's theory of concepts had solved the problem. I asked him for a reference on goose but he neglected that part of my comment.

So I was wanting someone to spell out David Kelley's position. I've tried googling it but have come up short.

Are you (aaron) claiming that your 'article' represents David Kelley's position?


Oh and as far as this blog entry goes, it is a strawman - a large one. We don't claim that God is an axiom (bad choice of words for Gene to use in my opinion). God would be considered our ultimate authority/starting point/presupp. The reason this blog entry is a strawman is that it attempts to paint us with holding to a *temporal* axiom (temporal in reasoning); however, when we say we hold that God is our ultimate authority/starting point/presupp, we mean it in an *epistemological* sense not a *temporal* sense. Chris Smith tried to use this against Paul Manata over at one of the boards.

I'm surprised Dawson doesn't know this as John Frame points this out in one of his 'beginning' books (as he has claimed to read all the presuppositional apologists).

June 28, 2005 7:27 AM  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

I dont claim to represent Kelley. As far as I know, I came up with my objection to the PoI all on my own, based on my own interpretation of Goodman's "grue" problem.

June 28, 2005 8:40 AM  
Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

I talked about induction on our blog too. The "problem of induction" only applies to a pragmatic view of reality. It does not apply to us.

"The reason this blog entry is a strawman is that it attempts to paint us with holding to a *temporal* axiom (temporal in reasoning); however, when we say we hold that God is our ultimate authority/starting point/presupp, we mean it in an *epistemological* sense not a *temporal* sense"

Um... "axiom" in Objectivism means in the epistemic sense. That's obviously the sense Dawson meant as well. So can you explain why you think this has anything to do with temporality ?

June 28, 2005 12:58 PM  
Blogger groundfighter76 said...

Franc,

Dawson said, "Another point which is easy to overlook is that, those who say that belief in a god is axiomatic performatively contradict themselves whenever they attempt to prove that their god exists by means of argument. Proof is a process of logically securing a position on the basis of inferring its truth from some prior point of departure, one which ultimately has its basis in what we directly perceive. So a position which is inferred from some previously accepted position cannot itself be axiomatic. An axiom is a starting point, not a conclusion to some prior argument. If one presents an argument to secure the conclusion that a god exists, then the supposition that his god exists consequently cannot be his starting point. At the very best, one of the premises supporting that conclusion may be his starting point, but this could only be determined on a case by case basis, depending on the content of the argument so presented. So the apologist needs to decide: is his assumption that his god exists axiomatic in nature, or does this assumption rest on proof?"

This would make it temporal in that he said that we infer God from a previously accepted position which would be logic and more basic. However, we argue that God is our presupposition/starting point in the epistemological sense answering the question of what would be required for logic to even exist. It deals with modality and is more along the lines of what are the 'necessary preconditions for the possibility of intelligibility'.

June 28, 2005 1:33 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

GF76: “Oh and as far as this blog entry goes, it is a strawman - a large one. We don't claim that God is an axiom (bad choice of words for Gene to use in my opinion).”

Sorry, not sure I follow you here. You say my blog is a strawman. What exactly have I misrepresented? My blog was an interaction with Gene Cook’s statement. Where have I misrepresented what Gene stated? You admit that Gene’s use of ‘axiomatic’ was a “bad choice of words.” Fine and dandy. But it doesn’t follow from this that I have misrepresented anything. I’m not even claiming that Christians have an axiom. In fact, I don’t think they do.

GF76: “God would be considered our ultimate authority/starting point/presupp.”

How is this different from what Gene stated? He called “the assumption of the Christian god” axiomatic. And here you equate your god with what you call “ultimate authority/starting point/presupp.” Are you saying there’s a difference between an axiom and an ultimate starting point? Can you elaborate?

GF76: “The reason this blog entry is a strawman is that it attempts to paint us with holding to a *temporal* axiom (temporal in reasoning); however, when we say we hold that God is our ultimate authority/starting point/presupp, we mean it in an *epistemological* sense not a *temporal* sense.”

My blog “attempts to paint [whom?] with holding to a *temporal* axiom (temporal in reasoning)”? Gene stated that his “assumption of the Christian god” is axiomatic. That’s what I interacted with. This notion of a “temporal axiom” is yet another useless distinction which is introduced in order to create an imaginary point of antithesis. I can say this because the concept ‘temporal’ is not conceptually irreducible, while a legitimate axiom is. What both you and Gene need, GF76, is a conceptual starting point. But you won’t identify one because you don’t have one.

GF76: “Chris Smith tried to use this against Paul Manata over at one of the boards.”

My, you really do follow Paul’s movements. Should we think of you has his one and only fan?

GF76: “I'm surprised Dawson doesn't know this as John Frame points this out in one of his 'beginning' books (as he has claimed to read all the presuppositional apologists).”

Where have I “claimed to read all the presuppositional apologists”? Can you cite where Frame discusses what you’re talking about for further reading enjoyment?

GF76: “This would make it temporal in that he said that we infer God from a previously accepted position which would be logic and more basic.”

It’s not clear how inferring something from some prior point of departure makes that which is inferred “temporal.” You have some hidden premises here that you need to bring out and expose to the refreshing breeze of reason. That won’t happen on the All-Bahnsen list, so you’re right to come to me for your education. Again, you need a conceptual starting point. If you don’t have one, don’t blame me – you’re the one who wants to believe in invisible magic beings. The issue here is one of logical hierarchy, not temporality. Try to stick with the topic.

GF76: “However, we argue that God is our presupposition/starting point in the epistemological sense answering the question of what would be required for logic to even exist.”

Just by admitting that this is something you argue, is sufficient to tell me that you’re not thinking very clearly on this matter, or that you’re simply not integrating the points that I presented, or both. Why not go back through my blog and address the questions that I raise? For instance, by what means are you aware of what you call ‘God’ and how did you distinguish it from other things, either real or imagined? I’m supposing you’ll never give any clear answers to such questions, for your god-belief relishes the darkness of an anti-conceptual cave.

GF76: “It deals with modality”

Can you explain this? Or are you just going to leave it like this – completely unexplained (and thus completely contentless)?

GF76: “and is more along the lines of what are the 'necessary preconditions for the possibility of intelligibility'.”

If you think your god-belief provides “the ‘necessary preconditions for the possibility of intelligibility’,” you need to explain what you mean by “intelligibility,” and where you got this term. It’s not something I’ve ever read in the bible. Methinks you’ve confused poetry for doctrine.

GF76: “No dawson hasn't written anything on it (to my knowledge)”

Actually, I’ve written lots on induction. But to date I have not published any of it on my blog. Perhaps in the future I’ll get a chance to. But for the interim, I defer to Kelley.

GF76: “but he was on goose claiming that David Kelley's theory of concepts had solved the problem. I asked him for a reference on goose but he neglected that part of my comment.”

For one, it’s not Kelley’s theory of concepts, it’s Rand’s which makes induction superbly intelligible (one certainly isn’t going to achieve intelligibility by appealing to invisible magic beings). Kelley elaborates on this in his “Universals and Induction.” I thought I referenced this before, but if I didn’t, my deepest apologies. In principle, induction is a problem for those who adopt a faulty understanding of concepts, such as did Hume. Hume’s conception of the inductive enterprise is all too often accepted uncritically on Hume’s own terms (Bahnsen had this very naïve habit himself). Last year, I approached James Anderson, author of Secular Responses to the Problem of Induction. He clearly was not familiar with the Objectivist conception of induction. For one, he doesn’t deal with it in his paper (he would need to if he wants to eliminate it from the realm of possibilities). But that could be explained by willfully ignoring it. What tells me that he’s not at all familiar with the distinctive approach to induction that Objectivism affords was his response to a statement I had made.

I wrote: “I must say, however, I'm always surprised, when reading a paper that attempts to deal with induction, that there is no discussion of concepts, the nature of their forming, or their relationship to inductive generalization, as if these issues did not matter.”

In response to this, James wrote:

Well, it's not immediately obvious to me how the nature of concept formation bears either on the description of the problem of induction or on the development of cogent solutions. Perhaps you can elaborate.

This simply suggests to me that presuppositionalists do not approach induction as a conceptual matter. Indeed, here’s where the “temporal” error is committed on the part of the presuppositionalist who tries to defend BTAG: Bahnsen, like Anderson, treats induction as a matter of temporal estimation rather than a matter of conceptual integration. For instance, in his paper Anderson asks “What reason do we have to think that we can draw reliable conclusions about future (unobserved) instances on the basis of past (observed) instances?” Anderson drew a blank on the conceptual aspects of induction principally because he has no working theory of concepts. And that’s because his worldview, Christianity, has no theory of concepts. Christians have to look outside the bible even to find the word “induction,” let alone a worked up theory.

Yep, Christianity has a lot of problems. I’m glad they’re not mine.

Regards,
Dawson

June 28, 2005 6:04 PM  
Blogger groundfighter76 said...

Dawson,

Your snide remarks aside, if you want to continue in this strawman fashion then be my guest. The VT presuppositionalist starting point was also dealt with by Bahnsen (I'll leave it to you to figure out where).

You said, "For instance, by what means are you aware of what you call ‘God’ and how did you distinguish it from other things, either real or imagined?"

Bahnsen has also already addressed this as well, but you have not interacted with any of it.

June 29, 2005 6:21 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

GF76: "Your snide remarks aside,"

Which remarks of mine do you consider "snide," and why?

GF76: "if you want to continue in this strawman fashion then be my guest."

I responded to your accusation of misrepresentation. I also asked what specifically you think I was misrepresenting since you did not say. I was interacting with a statement by Gene Cook. Did I misrepresent him? You have not shown that I have. And still you accuse me of straw man.

GF76: "The VT presuppositionalist starting point was also dealt with by Bahnsen (I'll leave it to you to figure out where)."

Must not be very important if you deliberately withhold citations. Either that, or you're afraid that I'll show it to be intellectually worthless.

ME: "For instance, by what means are you aware of what you call ‘God’ and how did you distinguish it from other things, either real or imagined?"

GF76: "Bahnsen has also already addressed this as well, but you have not interacted with any of it."

And you're not going to tell us where Bahnsen "addressed this," because.... ?

Can anyone tell me, why do these guys want to hide so much? I take their constant dodging as confirmation of one of my major points: presuppositionalism is all bluff.

Regards,
Dawson

June 29, 2005 6:39 AM  
Blogger groundfighter76 said...

No one is hiding. You are the one attempting to refute presuppositionalism. You are doing this without being familiar with it. You have claimed in the past to have read bahnsen - now if you want to retract that then go ahead but then you'll be made to look like a fool in attempting to refute someone without reading them. Bahnsen dealt with the first two 'questions' and devoted a chapter to it in one of his books. I am not going to spell it out for you as you have claimed to 'read' him and you should know where it is.

I know you 'responded' to my accusation. But I'm still not seeing where you attempted to understand what Gene meant by what he said, you just assumed you knew what he was saying. That's a good tactic.

June 29, 2005 6:53 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

GF76: "No one is hiding."

Then you're a no one, and you are hiding.

GF76: "You are the one attempting to refute presuppositionalism."

Actually, I'm simply showing how presuppositionalism refutes itself. If you were a careful thinker, you'd see that by now yourself.

GF76: "You are doing this without being familiar with it."

What was it about Gene's comment that I was unfamiliar with?

GF76: "You have claimed in the past to have read bahnsen"

Indeed, I've quoted him quite a bit in my pieces. How could I do this if I had not read him? Also, I've asked you for specific citations of points that you apparently think are important, and yet withhold for reasons that you do not make clear. Cat and mouse? Absolutely, you are hiding.

GF76: "- now if you want to retract that then go ahead"

Retract what, and why? Because you don't like it? You give no substance - just unargued, unsubstantiated accusations ("strawman," "you are doing this without being familiar with it," etc.).

GF76: "but then you'll be made to look like a fool in attempting to refute someone without reading them."

The proper pronoun referring to the antecedent "someone" would be either "him" or "her" (since the antecedent is singular, not plural like the pronoun you used). As for making me "look like a fool" (apparently an ambition you share with Paul Manata - you grow in resemblance with every comment), you have all the opportunity to do this. But you offer no substance. Like Paul, you just offer baseless charges and name-calling. In doing so, you help seal my case, so I invite you to continue posting your comments. They make great specimens.

GF76: "Bahnsen dealt with the first two 'questions' and devoted a chapter to it in one of his books. I am not going to spell it out for you as you have claimed to 'read' him and you should know where it is."

I see. So not only do you insist on hiding, you want to play games. That's fine. I'm supposing if Bahnsen really had anything of substance to say on this matter, you'd be yelling it from the rooftops. But instead, you slink in the shadows. Again, you make a great specimen.

GF76: "I know you 'responded' to my accusation."

And how!

GF76: "But I'm still not seeing where you attempted to understand what Gene meant by what he said,"

Read my blog. My blog article was where I attempted to make sense of what Gene might have meant by what he said. It would be helpful if Gene explained himself, but I think there's a good reason why he didn't try to do this.

GF76: "you just assumed you knew what he was saying. That's a good tactic."

Actually, that's not the case. I explored many possibilities of what he might have meant. You're welcome to introduce more, but you seem to prefer the darkness of your shadows. When you muster up the courage to actually defend your belief in invisible magic beings and cartoon universe, please, offer something more substantial.

Regards,
Dawson

June 29, 2005 7:07 AM  
Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

"groundfighter76" is like Manata, "much ado about nothing". If you cross out all the unnecessary or vacuous parts of his posts, there's nothing left. "groundfighter76" has nothing to offer to anyone, and his religion has nothing to offer to any thinking person.

June 29, 2005 12:43 PM  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

Dawson, you handled that one very well. Good job.

June 29, 2005 2:41 PM  
Blogger groundfighter76 said...

yeah aaron you are right. Let's hope he uses this when he enters into a debate with a VT presuppositionalist.

June 29, 2005 2:54 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Franc: "'groundfighter76' has nothing to offer to anyone, and his religion has nothing to offer to any thinking person."

Right, and that's the bottom line for Christianity: it offers no value to man, and is useless to those who choose to live on earth.

June 29, 2005 5:06 PM  
Blogger groundfighter76 said...

Dawson,

you said, "Kelley elaborates on this in his “Universals and Induction.”"

Are you referring to his audio lecture series 'The Foundations of Knowledge' for $75? They are out of stock at the objectivist store. Is this book form which is perhaps cheaper?

July 01, 2005 1:42 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello GF76,

Yes, that would be a good place to start your discovery of a rational understanding of induction. I regret the price of the product, and its absence from the shelf, but that does not undo the product's importance.

The way I see it, is that you have two basic options. One, you can imagine that an invisible magic being takes care of all your worries in every department, be it conceptualization, induction, integration, understanding, or philosophizing. Or two, you can investigate the nature of man's mind in order to learn and understand how it works, to discover how he perceives, forms concepts, and integrates those concepts into higher abstractions.

I've had several discussions with Dr. Kelley. I'm happy to report that he agrees with my general conception of the inductive process, that it essentially consists of applying the law of causality (which is the application of the law of identity to action) to entity classes (which concept-formation makes possible). This is a natural process of human consciousness which does not require recourse to any god-belief.

I realize it's frustrating to those who want to point to an invisible magic being in order to "account for" things that have puzzled previous thinkers. But you know, there is such a thing as reality, and it's not such a bad thing. Man's mind is not incompetent, regardless of who disapproves.

I say to you, Paul, live, and let live. What's wrong with that?

July 02, 2005 10:32 PM  

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