Sunday, September 18, 2005

Is the Contrary to Christianity Truly Impossible?

Presuppositionalist apologists are fond of saying that they defend the claim that Christian mythology is true "because of the impossibility of the contrary." This slogan seems to have first been used by Cornelius Van Til, who incorporated it into his apologetic scheme. The implication is that any worldview which is not identical to that of Reformed Christianity, is in one way or another impossible. In apologetic practice, this line of defense ultimately amounts to the claim that "unless you presuppose the existence of my imaginary being, you can't reason at all."

Apologists who seek to defend their faith in this manner have apparently lost sight of what their own worldview explicitly affirms. Within the context of the Christian worldview, the attempt to “argue from the impossibility of the contrary” would ultimately be self-refuting. And here's why.

Christianity’s positions are based on what is written in the bible, and the bible claims that “with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26; emphasis addedd). Now, that’s what the ‘good book’ says. I didn’t write it, so don’t get sore at me for what it says. The point here is that, if the believer claims that some particular thing is impossible, then he is blatantly disagreeing with what is explicitly stated in the bible. Since the presuppositionalist wants to defend his Christian faith-beliefs on the basis of what he calls “the impossibility of the contrary,” he’s clearly assuming that something is impossible, and this does not square with what the bible explicitly teaches. So this aspect of the “presuppositional method” of apologetics is in its entirety inconsistent with the worldview that it is intended to defend. For this apologetic strategy to have any force, it must borrow from a rival worldview which does not teach that “all things are possible,” and yet it is precisely such a worldview which the “presuppositional method” claims is impossible. Thus, such a strategy is, within the context of the worldview it hopes to protect, completely self-refuting.

The problem gets even worse for the presuppositionalist. Given what is clearly and unmistakably affirmed in Matt. 19:26, the believer must accept as a possibility any worldview which rejects primitive worldviews like Christianity. If one accepts the view that “with God all things are possible,” then he would have to accept along with this the supposition that it is possible that this god has created viable worldviews which do not acknowledge his existence. Indeed, if this god is both omnipotent and infallible, who’s to say it could not create in such a manner? All this is to say that, on Christianity's premises, there is no such thing as an "impossibility of the contrary." Thus for the presuppositionalist to want to "argue from the impossibility of the contrary," he must abandon his Christian presuppositions and seek a compatible theory of possibility in some worldview which he has already said is impossible.

Now surely the apologist is going to want to squirm out of this agonizing pinch somehow. To do this, he’ll probably want to say that I’m taking Matthew 19:26 out of context. After all, this is the verse that he's going to have to deal with one way or another. So if he takes this course, we must ask: what is the context that I’m leaving out of my interpretation? The verse does say what it says, does it not? Reading through the passage will quickly show that the context here is rather thin to begin with. The statement in Matt. 19:26 is the answer that the gospel writer puts into Jesus’ mouth in response to a question asked by the disciples in the previous verse: “Who then can be saved?” As is typical of the Jesus of the gospels, no specific answer is given. (I'm reminded of Luke 23:3, where Pilate asks "Art thou the King of the Jews?" and Jesus' very informative answer was "Thou sayest it.") Rather, the question, which I would think is of great importance to believers interested in who gets to be “saved,” is answered as vaguely as possible. So again, what context is being overlooked here? Blank out.

The apologist might say something like, “Jesus didn’t meant that everything is possible. That would be absurd!” Well, who’s disagreeing with the fact that Christianity is absurd? The Christian apologist apparently is, and yet he has to adopt a rival worldview’s premises in constructing an apologetic method which says that rival worldviews are impossible.

To settle the matter, the apologist merely needs to state whether or not he agrees with the statement that “all things are possible,” and then we can see whether or not he is willing to argue in a manner that is consistent with what the bible explicitly states. If he says “yes, I agree with Matthew 19:26 in that ‘all things are possible’,” then he concedes that “arguing from the impossibility of the contrary” is anathema to Christianity’s own premises. If he says “no, I don’t think it’s true that ‘all things are possible’,” then he simply disagrees with what the bible explicitly states and concedes that he borrows his conception of what is and is not possible from a non-Christian worldview in order to assemble his defense of the Christian worldview, thus refuting himself.

No doubt apologists confronted with these points will spit and stammer in their desperation to protect their commitment to a faith-based worldview from internal critiques of this sort. But basically the only hope for escape is essentially to claim “that’s what it says, but that’s not what it means” and hope it succeeds in snowing people. And though he may succeed in convincing himself that there’s no problem here, others will not be so easily fooled.

by Dawson Bethrick

26 Comments:

Blogger VanTilsGhost said...

BB stated:

"Christianity’s positions are based on what is written in the bible, and the bible claims that “with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26; emphasis addedd). Now, that’s what the ‘good book’ says. I didn’t write it, so don’t get sore at me for what it says. The point here is that, if the believer claims that some particular thing is impossible, then he is blatantly disagreeing with what is explicitly stated in the bible."

You just need to read the verses the RIGHT way BB...duh! Context! And you need to consult a few commentaries...and make sure they are the right ones, because sometimes they contradict each other...and ask your pastor...and pray...then it will all make sense!

:)

Excellent point...and since Van Tillians are so fond of complaining about non-believers needing to do an internal critique, you've given them one to chew on.

BB stated:

"The apologist might say something like, “Jesus didn’t meant that everything is possible. That would be absurd!” Well, who’s disagreeing with the fact that Christianity is absurd? The Christian apologist apparently is, and yet he has to adopt a rival worldview’s premises in constructing an apologetic method which says that rival worldviews are impossible."

That's not what Jesus REALLY meant by all things are possible...its just what he said! You need to learn Greek, and Hebrew, and consult the WCF, and buy some commentaries, and get Greg Bahnsen's tape #46...and then it will be clear...just as God intended. :)

BB stated:

"No doubt apologists confronted with these points will spit and stammer in their desperation to protect their commitment to a faith-based worldview from internal critiques of this sort. But basically the only hope for escape is essentially to claim “that’s what it says, but that’s not what it means” and hope it succeeds in snowing people. And though he may succeed in convincing himself that there’s no problem here, others will not be so easily fooled."

The apologists are strangely silent....

September 19, 2005 9:24 AM  
Blogger Paul Manata said...

The apologists are strangely silent....

I guess you'd need to prove that apologists need to answer every stupid arguments?

In order to "give a *reason* that implies we're both playing the "reason" game.

September 19, 2005 5:14 PM  
Blogger Not Reformed said...

Clown-prince mumbled:

"I guess you'd need to prove that apologists need to answer every stupid arguments?"

Your grammar is almost as poor as your spelling! LOL!

Seriously...all VTG said was "The apologists are strangely silent."

That was a true statement at the time, was it not? I didn't read any comments above his from apologists, or perhaps they are invisible apologists, like your beloved jehovah?

September 19, 2005 5:30 PM  
Blogger VanTilsGhost said...

Apparently the apologists are still remaining silent as to the topic of this post.

Don't worry, Mr Manata, I don't include you in the group I call "apologists," so don't feel slighted. Dawson has handled you on many an occasion, and I can understand your nervousness in taking him on again.

September 20, 2005 3:44 AM  
Blogger Jesse Gritter said...

Ok, I'll bite.

Part of Dawson's problem, is that he keeps reasoning about the Christian worldview in terms of his own atheist worldview. Nor does he reason about the Bible on its own terms. So when Dawson rejects God or the Bible, the reaction from the peanut gallery is, "Wow. What a big surprise." Dawson precludes even the possibility that God exists or that His self-revelation in the Bible is true. He's not neutral or objective. Now, you may say, "Neither are you!" I'll grant that. So how can the conflict between the two opposing worldviews be resolved?

Let's place them side by side and reason about them on their own terms. I think Dawson is trying to do that, but he has failed.

When Dawson argues against the Christian worldview in terms of Matt. 19:26, he imports his own precommitment to the belief that there is no Creator-creature distinction. For Dawson, both God and man are subject to possibility. However, in the Christian worldview, God Himself is the creator and determiner of that which is possible. God is not subject to possibility, but Himself determines what is possible.

What is possible? What is not possible? God has determined this.

The atheist however, finds himself in a sea of irrationality. In the atheist worldview, he does not know what's possible because he does not know "all things." In fact, anything could be possible because he can't prove that nature is uniform. There are no certainties in the atheist worldview. Things just are the way they are even though he can't be certain about the way they are. What's possible in an atheist worldview? Could be nothing. Could be everything. He simply can't be certain.

September 20, 2005 9:36 AM  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

Christian theist said:

What is possible? What is not possible? God has determined this.


Yes, and according to Gods word, ALL things are possible. So why are you trying to show that something, anything, is impossible?

The atheist however, finds himself in a sea of irrationality. In the atheist worldview, he does not know what's possible because he does not know "all things." In fact, anything could be possible because he can't prove that nature is uniform. There are no certainties in the atheist worldview. Things just are the way they are even though he can't be certain about the way they are. What's possible in an atheist worldview? Could be nothing. Could be everything. He simply can't be certain.


Non sequitor. If we were to assume that the rest of that paragraph were true, then the atheist doesnt find himself in a sea of irrationality, but uncertainty.

Irrationality comes from you holding fast to an ancient book that claims to have ultimate truth, promotes human sacrifice as a virtue, and was written by human beings in a time when they thought the earth was flat. There is your irrationaly, Christian.

September 20, 2005 10:21 AM  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

Don't worry, Mr Manata, I don't include you in the group I call "apologists,"

Manata is most certainly not an apologist. He is a cheerleader waving pom-poms and handing out gatorade to the real fighters. LOL

September 20, 2005 10:23 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

CT: "What is possible? What is not possible? God has determined this."

Aaron: "Yes, and according to Gods word, ALL things are possible."

Exactly. According to what we read in the buy-bull, "God has determined... [that] all things are possible."

So, the charge that I "import [my] own precommitments" into the matter is baseless. The issue is the conflict between what Christianity teaches and the apologetic methodology used by presuppositionalists. Since it is clearly incompatible with what Christianity teaches, presuppositionalists need to abandon that methodology. QED

September 20, 2005 11:16 AM  
Blogger Jesse Gritter said...

Aaron writes: "Yes, and according to Gods word, ALL things are possible."

BB writes: "Exactly. According to what we read in the buy-bull, 'God has determined... [that] all things are possible.'"

Unfortunately, you're assuming that certain things are possible that, in fact, are not possible. God determines what's possible and impossible. He's not subject to possibility. I know I'm repeating myself here, but I am doing this because you're suggesting that God might possibly do things that He won't do. You should be thankful that God isn't arbitrary.

Is it possible that God will do something that He doesn't want to do? No, because God Himself determines what is possible; He's not subject to possibility.

Your definition of what "all things" are is unfortunately informed by your belief that God is subject to possibility.

All things are possible, then, that God has determined to be possible. God determines what "all things" are. Not you.

September 20, 2005 11:45 AM  
Blogger Not Reformed said...

CT said:

"All things are possible, then, that God has determined to be possible. God determines what "all things" are."

Chapter and verse please? It appears you're just pulling this out of your butt, not from the Bible, which is the only place you will be able to find out about your God, correct?

September 20, 2005 12:18 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

CT: "Unfortunately, you're assuming that certain things are possible that, in fact, are not possible."

No, we're assuming no such thing. We're just going by what the bible says.

CT: "God determines what's possible and impossible."

We have several options here, CT. One of them is to go by what the bible says. According to Mt. 19:26, "all things are possible." That's option 1. Another option is to go by what CT says. But why do that if we want to find out what the Christian god has determined? According to the bible, its god has determined that "all things are possible." This has nothing to do with what I or anyone else assumes. It's just reading what it says.

CT: "He's not subject to possibility."

I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, or what relevance it has. I suspect it's just a red herring.

CT: "I know I'm repeating myself here,"

You are, and you don't seem to be very prepared to interact with the points that have been presented.

CT: "but I am doing this because you're suggesting that God might possibly do things that He won't do."

Who has? I haven't done this. Aaron hasn't either. What do you think is being suggested that your god won't do? And how would you know what your god won't do (unless you're god)?

CT: "You should be thankful that God isn't arbitrary."

There's nothing more arbitrary than a god.

CT: "Is it possible that God will do something that He doesn't want to do? No, because God Himself determines what is possible; He's not subject to possibility."

So, it's not possible that your god will do what it wants to do? You're not stating things very clearly here.

CT: "Your definition of what 'all things' are is unfortunately informed by your belief that God is subject to possibility."

You've not shown this, nor have you shown that this would be illicit even if it were the case. What's clear is that you want to limit what "all things" can mean. Indeed, it says "all things are possible," so your points die on the vine.

CT: "All things are possible, then, that God has determined to be possible."

And according to Matthew's Jesus, that's "all things." But you want to say it's not all things. So you simply disagree with what the bible says. Got it.

CT: "God determines what 'all things' are. Not you."

Nor you, right? I'm not saying I've determined this. Your god had every chance to qualify this remark when the bible was being written, if we follow the party line. But it doesn't limit it any way. You want to limit it, which just means you don't agree with the teaching that "all things are possible." Fine. We get that, CT. You don't agree with the bible. That's clear.

Thank you,
Dawson

September 20, 2005 12:20 PM  
Blogger groundfighter76 said...

Oh my, I'm having flashbacks. I feel like I am listening to one of James White's debates on Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

September 20, 2005 1:20 PM  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

You should be thankful that God isn't arbitrary.

Having a creator who sets all the rules according to nothing but his own desires is, by definition, arbitrary.

God has no outside objective standard by which he made his rules. If there was an outside standard, then God would not be God. But if there is no outside standard, then God is doing things arbitrarily.

September 20, 2005 3:42 PM  
Blogger Jesse Gritter said...

AK: "But if there is no outside standard, then God is doing things arbitrarily."

Begging the question. Prove it.

September 21, 2005 6:50 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

CT, I think what Aaron was saying was that, since there are no constraints which can serve as both motive and guide for your invisible magic being's actions (it's immortal, indestructible, knows no threats, faces no fundamental alternatives, etc.), then it doesn't matter what it does, period. Given what Christians claim about their god, it wouldn't need to act to begin with, since it has no needs of any sort. Its actions would be chosen purely out of any context assuming needs that must be fulfilled in order to continue existing (as in the case of man). Your invisible magic being could sit on its hands, metaphorically speaking, and do absolutely nothing for all eternity, and it would still be what believers imagine it to be: an eternally unchanging, completely inert being. Thus, any actions it is said to take, would be actions taken in a complete void, that is, they would be utterly without any real purpose, since purpose presupposes a need to act (such as man's actions in living his life). Thus, those actions would be, by definition, as Aaron rightly said, arbitrary. So, there's no question-begging going on here on the part of the non-believer. It's just applying rational principles to your primitive worldview.

Aaron, does that summarize what you were saying? Please add to or correct my comments as you see fit.

September 21, 2005 7:41 AM  
Blogger Jesse Gritter said...

To say that there are no constraints on God is to misrepresent the Christian worldview. True, there are no external constraints on God. Yet, God is constrained by His own character. He acts in keeping with who He is. This is one of the reasons He revealed Himself to Moses as, "I am who I am." Neither are there any absolutes outside of God, nor is God arbitrary. If you want to assume that's false in order to prove that it's false, then that's your problem.

Besides, to charge God with being arbitrary is to assume some way of knowing or some standard by which to judge that God is being arbitrary. And if you're going to do that then I defy you to account for this standard.

C'mon, Dawson. I'm urging you to become a Christian. Pray for forgiveness. God renews His people noetically as well.

September 23, 2005 11:48 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

CT: “To say that there are no constraints on God is to misrepresent the Christian worldview.”

It is? How so? In your very next breath, you say:

CT: “True, there are no external constraints on God.”

There you go, CT. Since you agree with me on a universal level (“there are no external constraints on God” - emph. added), you cannot get away with saying that I am misrepresenting Christianity. You just conceded my very point.

CT: “Yet, God is constrained by His own character.”

Which is ultimately constrained only by the believer’s imagination. This is evident because of the impossibility of the contrary: hundreds of thousands of theistic worldviews which in one way or another claim that their god is constrained by nothing external, that its only constraints are its own 'nature' (which cannot be discovered by any scientific application of rational principles). Since no two theists that I’ve ever met wholly agree on all points, it must be the case that they imagine differing gods. For how else do they have “knowledge” of their god if not by imagining them from the inputs supplied by texts they are taught to consider holy? Imagination at the expense of reality is religion’s stock in trade. Why else are the gospel stories so prized by believers? The gospels offer graphic settings in which the supposedly incarnated deity lowers itself and visits earth and participates in earthly affairs by performing its deeds in the body of a human host. In those texts you read of a man pretending to be a god that performs miraculous deeds among other human beings (surprisingly, we don’t find gospel details attested to by any contemporary historians; for instance, we don’t find Josephus recording the unspecified number of “saints” who allegedly rose from their graves at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and “showed themselves unto many,” as we find related in Matt. 27:52-53). Modern believers have no choice but to rely on their imaginations to envision these events. And it is in their imagination that their religious experience lives.

CT: “He acts in keeping with who He is.”

Which is whatever the believer wants it to be. Here’s the “consistency” you think your worldview enjoys. Not only do you ascribe to the subjective view of metaphysics (since you grant primacy ultimately to a form of consciousness – that is, the subject of experience rather than the object of consciousness), you also allow your wishing (via your imagination) to dictate how these subjective ideas are applied at the philosophical level (while ignoring the fact that you must borrow from a non-Christian worldview even to form your first concepts).

CT: “This is one of the reasons He revealed Himself to Moses as, ‘I am who I am’."

You beg the question by assuming the truth of the bible’s contents in an effort to validate your worldview. Because your case relies on fallacious reasoning, it must be rejected.

CT: “Neither are there any absolutes outside of God,”

This is a universally negative claim, and is in dire need of substantiation. I see that you haven’t offered any. I’m not surprised by this silence. At minimum, to rescue yourself here you would have to explain in detail what you mean by "outside of God." But you don't do this, so it remains unclear as to what you might mean, and this only strengthens the suspicion that our leg is being pulled.

CT: “nor is God arbitrary.”

Again, you beg the question, for this is one of the charges that has been leveled against your worldview, and it has been substantiated by references to your worldview’s own teachings (see my last comment). Repeating a position of yours that is in dispute does nothing to resuscitate it.

CT: “If you want to assume that's false in order to prove that it's false, then that's your problem.”

I don’t have to “assume that’s false in order to prove that it’s false.” If you cannot validate it, then the objections I’ve presented already remain unchallenged and thus are up to the task they were set out to achieve. All you offer is your own psychological denial. That only tells us about your personal condition; it does nothing to validate your views.

CT: “Besides, to charge God with being arbitrary is to assume some way of knowing or some standard by which to judge that God is being arbitrary.”

In other words, “How dare you presume to use your mind to judge my claims in a manner that is unflattering to them!” Get over it, CT, your apologetic is washed up because your worldview is a washout. Indeed, it’s completely washed away any mind that you might have had. It's up to you to reverse the damage that has already taken place. But I'm willing to admit that you're beyond help at this point. I hope I'm wrong on this.

CT: “And if you're going to do that then I defy you to account for this standard.”

The “standard” is the very basis you assume while denying it at the same time for the sake of expediency with respect to your worldview’s confessional assertions. That basis is, the primacy of existence orientation of the subject-object relationship, which is fundamental to my worldview, and which you must assume to be true in order to attack it. It’s unmistakable that the Christian worldview assumes the subjective orientation of the subject-object relationship. That’s why it’s not a surprise that apologists don’t address this point – they can’t. They know their worldview grants the subject primacy over its objects. That’s what subjectivism is. Subjectivism is primacy of the subject over its objects in the subject-object relationship. There’s not much else to say for the Christian worldview, for it offers nothing of value to begin with. Since its whole basis is a lie, it offers man only one thing: death. And that’s why the New Testament’s portrayal of Jesus going so willingly to his execution is the only Christian symbol we need to see to recognize its true nature. It’s unlikely that Christian apologists would claim that their Jesus was not operating in a manner that is inconsistent with his worldview’s presuppositions when he “took up the cross” and marched himself up Calvary Hill and allowed himself to be hammered to those heavy beams of wood that were hoisted high in the sky so that he would die. That is the end result that can be expected from any worldview premised on the primacy of consciousness metaphysics: the admired leader willingly embracing a premature death. In this very important worldview element, Jesus shares a basic essential with Islam’s suicide bombers: both Jesus and the suicide bombers willingly embrace a premature death. And just as suicide bombers want to take innocent by-standers with them into death, so did the gospels' Jesus want to take the two malefactors with him into what the gospels call "Paradise" - that is, to the magic kingdom that believers imagine exists beyond the grave.

CT: “C'mon, Dawson. I'm urging you to become a Christian. Pray for forgiveness. God renews His people noetically as well.”

It won’t happen, CT. I value my honesty far too much to give it up for something so empty as your worldview.

Regards,
Dawson

September 23, 2005 8:45 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Erm, how could ANYONE miss the qualifier??????!

The Bible doesn't say "Christians claim all things are possible."

It says (are you ready for this) "With God..."

Folks, that's the qualifying component of the statement. The rest needs to be read in that light, not divorced from it.

Here's how to read the verse with intellectual integrity: "With God, all [other] things are possible."

Duh.

Duuuuuuuuuuuuh.

Now what is "the contrary" in reference when a presuppositionalist refers to "impossibility of the contrary"? It's an existence without God. Not "some particular thing" Dawson. No, the very negation of the above qualifier.

Therefore, there is no contradiction between this verse and the presuppositional method.

To assert that there is, one would have to read it without charity and intellectual integrity, thus: "With God, even 'no God' is possible."

Dawson, you're one of the worst biblical literalists I've seen! No serious interpreter wields your hermeneutic.

April 09, 2009 6:19 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Peter: “Erm, how could ANYONE miss the qualifier??????! The Bible doesn't say ‘Christians claim all things are possible.’ It says (are you ready for this) ‘With God...’”

Ummm... how could anyone miss the title of my post? What it asks is quite clear: “Is the Contrary to Christianity Truly Impossible?” If you didn’t see that, please take note of the following statement: “The implication is that any worldview which is not identical to that of Reformed Christianity, is in one way or another impossible” (emphasis added). I see nothing contrary about positing a god (with whom “all things are possible”) and the possibility of a non-Christian worldview. In fact, both William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas, as well as other defenders of Christianity, often buttress their case for the resurrection by pointing out that belief in the existence of their god is of central importance to whether or not the resurrection of Jesus is the “best explanation of the facts.” Why? Because, if one believes that a universe-creating, reality-controlling consciousness exists and can do as it *pleases* with what it has allegedly created (cf. Ps. 115:3), then he has no basis for ruling out as *impossible* a whole assortment of proposals, including the existence of a worldview that is contrary to the Christian worldview.

Peter: “Now what is "the contrary" in reference when a presuppositionalist refers to ‘impossibility of the contrary’? It's an existence without God. Not ‘some particular thing’ Dawson.”

From what I’ve seen, that’s not always the case, and it is the context of these other cases that my point applies. Typically I have seen the slogan used in reference to the supposed “truth” of the *Christian worldview* (a specific thing, not identical to “the existence of God”). For example, check out Bahnsen (in print, mind you) when he tells us:

“In various forms, the fundamental argument advanced by the Christian apologist is that the Christian worldview is true because of the impossibility of the contrary.” (Always Ready, p. 122)

“By placing the two perspectives in contrast and showing ‘the impossibility of the contrary’ to the Christian outlook, the apologist seeks to expose the unbeliever’s suppression of his knowledge of God and thereby call him to repentance, a change in his mindset and convictions.” (Always Ready, p. 253)

“In short, presuppositional apologetics argues for the truth of Christianity ‘from the impossibility of the contrary’.” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 6)

Etc.

Now, perhaps you can show how one can consistently affirm on the one hand that “with God all things are possible,” and then on the other tell me that “the contrary” to Christianity (e.g., Logical Positivism, Islam, Buddhism, Objectivism, etc.) is “impossible.” If you argue that these non-Christian worldviews are impossible because they “deny” the Christian god, you’ll have to explain how that makes them “impossible.” Denying something (especially if that something is a falsehood) is certainly possible.

Then again, if an invisible magic being exists, who’s to say it cannot create a wide assortment of worldviews? Greg Bahnsen? There goes Mt. 19:26. I think my point was clearly stated when I wrote:

“The point here is that, if the believer claims that some particular thing is impossible, then he is blatantly disagreeing with what is explicitly stated in the bible.”

If a believer says, for instance, that a dog writing novels in Chinese is “impossible” (as one Christian I know has insisted), that would conflict with the claim, to which he as a Christian is confessionally bound, that “with God all things are possible.” Here we’re being told on the one hand that there is a god and that with this god “all things are possible,” but then we’re being told that a certain thing is in fact not possible. If the believer is consistent with what Christianity teaches, he really has no basis to rule out anything as impossible, even the proposal that he may be completely deceived as to the identity of God. How could he rule out as an impossibility that a supernatural being had deceived him into believing that the Christian god is real?

Peter: “Therefore, there is no contradiction between this verse and the presuppositional method.”

Oh, yes, Peter, there is, if in fact the presuppositional method involves the claim that some particular thing is impossible. It would directly conflict with what the bible records Jesus saying.

Peter: “To assert that there is, one would have to read it without charity and intellectual integrity, thus: ‘With God, even 'no God' is possible’."

Well, of course, I did not argue this specifically. But then again, it’s not my view that there is a god which makes “all things possible.” So again, these are not my problems.

Peter: “Dawson, you're one of the worst biblical literalists I've seen!”

Why thank you, Peter! But you know, flattery will get you nowhere with me.

Regards,
Dawson

April 09, 2009 8:57 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

Dawson,

"Ummm... how could anyone miss the title of my post? What it asks is quite clear"

In fact I understood your post with great clarity. You stated clearly what your points are (eg. "The point here is that...")

Your explicit third paragraph should NOT be ignored in favour of your seven-word title. Your scattered references to Matthew 19:26 ("what the bible explicitly states") are clearly at the core of your argument. Are you trying to say you did not in your post treat this as an unqualified/unconditional statement? Of course you did (in your second last paragraph you had severally dropped the conditional). It was a sophomoric mistake, as I showed. Are you now pretending you were just talking about Christianity all the while, and not the claim of Matthew 19:26?

Here's what you said: "Christianity’s positions are based on what is written in the bible, and the bible claims that 'with God all things are possible'"

So, it is a conditional statement. Given the existence of God, all things are possible. In other words, excepting what contradicts the given.

It rules IN the possibility of any particular thing (given God's existence), and it rules OUT the possibility of "God does not exist" (given God's existence).

You said, "The point here is that, if the believer claims that some particular thing is impossible, then he is blatantly disagreeing with what is explicitly stated in the bible."

And I have shown how you are blatantly wrong.

--

Now of course presuppositionalism has a particular kind of God (transcendent, personal, etc.) -- are you with me so far?

What presuppositionalism regards as "the contrary" begins with the contrary presupposition ("No God, at least not like that"), but it does not treat it as a disembodied view anymore than it disregards its own embodiment in the minds of its proponents -- still with me?

When it refers to "the contrary" it refers both to the ontological status of "No God" and the embodied view (in an atheist, say) that reasons/holds this to be the case.

That's how you should understand the shorthand, "on the atheist worldview." It is not only about the atheist's held beliefs, or a universe where they are true, but both. It is about an ontological-epistemological fit, and whether one's ontological views, if they do obtain, provide the necessary preconditions for even the formulation of a person's views, rationally, ie. for rationality itself.

For practical purposes, myriad religious views are included in the notion of "the contrary," because quite simply, with regard to the distinctive Christian God they are a-theist.

Your insistence that "the contrary" says that "some particular thing" is impossible is wildly misrepresentative.

Presuppositionalism doesn't merely claim that some particular thing, like the laws of logic, is impossible. Have you not been reading your sources?

It claims that it is impossible IF the ultimate presupposition "No God" obtains.

--

Further, you show a clear misunderstanding with this:

"If one accepts the view that “with God all things are possible,” then he would have to accept along with this the supposition that it is possible that this god has created viable worldviews which do not acknowledge his existence."

Assuming you are trying to make a point in your favour... the "impossibility of the contrary" has nothing to do with acknowledgement. It does not say atheists can't exist -- are you making this up as you go along? As I said on another post, you are "de-ontologizing Bahnsen," by which I mean you are often to be found making everything about the mere belief. The presuppositionalist is discussing not only human beliefs, but scenarios where those beliefs might be true in reality. OF COURSE it is possible, if God exists, that He has allowed the possibility of atheist worldviews, as views. You are missing the point, which is that, if God exists, the "possibility" of an atheist worldview being correct with respect to God's nonexistence, is disqualified as a possibility.

--

My observation is far from flattery. Time and again you take a reductionist "reading" of other people's views, and even your own posts if it will serve to distract. You often end up engaging not with the views other people actually hold, but with reinterpreted phantoms. Elsewhere you suggested I questioned your character rather than your arguments -- no, it's your method that's the problem, and it helps you esteem your "arguments" more highly than I do. In any case I have addressed your argument again, as before.

April 10, 2009 4:53 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Peter: “Are you trying to say you did not in your post treat this as an unqualified/unconditional statement? Of course you did (in your second last paragraph you had severally dropped the conditional).”

Beyond the phrase “with God” in Mt. 19:26, what do you take to comprise the conditional qualification of the claim that “all things are possible”?

Peter: “So, it is a conditional statement. Given the existence of God, all things are possible. In other words, excepting what contradicts the given.”

Of course, I do not see where the bible says “excepting what contradicts the given.” You may claim that it is “understood” implicitly, but to the extent that it is so understood, it is undermined by Christian dogma. If I believed that an omnipotent supernatural consciousness existed, I have no idea how I would be able to rule out some proposal simply because it contains a contradiction or contradicts some “given” germane to such belief. I know this from my own experience. I also know that, at its core, Christianity involves the worship of a contradiction (a being which is said to be both “wholly God, wholly man”), so it is again inconsistent to embrace contradiction so fully on the one hand, and then reject something else on the other simply because it is said to contain a contradiction. As I asked in my blog, “who’s disagreeing with the fact that Christianity is absurd?”

Peter: “It rules IN the possibility of any particular thing (given God's existence), and it rules OUT the possibility of ‘God does not exist’ (given God's existence).”

Did I argue that the believer needs to entertain as a possibility specifically the proposal that “God does not exist” given what Mt. 19:26 states?


--

Peter: “Now of course presuppositionalism has a particular kind of God (transcendent, personal, etc.) -- are you with me so far?”

Very much like Geusha, the supreme being worshipped by the Lahu tribe of northern Thailand. Only Geusha didn’t have a son.

Peter: “What presuppositionalism regards as ‘the contrary’ begins with the contrary presupposition (‘No God, at least not like that’),”

You’ve stumbled onto another mistake within presuppositionalism: it seems to assume that one can begin by negating (with something like “No god” as his starting point). This is false. We do not begin with negations, we begin by affirming. Actually, I think a discussion of starting points would be quite beneficial at this point. Christians often tell me that they begin by “presupposing” the existence of their god. I point out that my starting points would have to be true in order for them to do this, and also that their claim that such a being exists directly conflicts with these prior fundamentals. But anyway, you were saying?

Peter: “but it does not treat it as a disembodied view anymore than it disregards its own embodiment in the minds of its proponents -- still with me?”

We’re talking viewpoints, right? Such as the view that a god exists, that no gods exists, that there’s a pantheon of gods, that there’s a god but it’s really just a tuna sandwich, etc. No?

Peter: “When it refers to ‘the contrary’ it refers both to the ontological status of ‘No God’ and the embodied view (in an atheist, say) that reasons/holds this to be the case.”

I see. You’re worried about that??? Wow! Of course, if there is a god which makes “all things possible,” why couldn’t contrary views be possible? Take Buddhism for instance. I would say Buddhism is not only possible, but very much real – Buddhism in fact exists as a set of mystical beliefs and devotional practices.

Peter: “That's how you should understand the shorthand, ‘on the atheist worldview’. It is not only about the atheist's held beliefs, or a universe where they are true, but both. It is about an ontological-epistemological fit, and whether one's ontological views, if they do obtain, provide the necessary preconditions for even the formulation of a person's views, rationally, ie. for rationality itself.”

Perhaps the pain point for you is in supposing that a contrary worldview is “possible,” it necessarily involves in entertaining that it is possible the supposition that it is also *true*. I would not agree with this of course. It is possible for people to believe all kinds of things that are not true. Christianity is a good example.

Peter: “For practical purposes, myriad religious views are included in the notion of ‘the contrary’, because quite simply, with regard to the distinctive Christian God they are a-theist.”

Here’s a question for you, Peter, since you seem to think I’m such a dullard when it comes to interpreting Bahnsen, presuppositionalism, etc. Bahnsen tells us that the Christian should “argue from the impossibility of the contrary” when defending the Christian worldview. (Let me know if you need quotes to support this characterization of Bahnsen’s apologetic.) My question for you is: How does Bahnsen first establish this “impossibility of the contrary” if it is the launching pad for his apologetic? He tends to treat it as a kind of starting point in itself, but the question is why should anyone think it’s true? I’ve scoured his debate with Gordon Stein, and I can’t find where he establishes this claim. It almost seems as if Bahnsen thinks he has direct awareness of something “supernatural” and “transcendent,” but he never explains how so far as I can tell. I know that I do not have direct awareness of anything “supernatural” or “transcendent” in Bahnsen’s understanding. I can certainly *imagine* such things, and imagining something does in some ways feel like direct awareness of what is imagined. But any grown adult should understand that the imaginary is not real. How would I distinguish between what Bahnsen calls “God” and what he may merely be imagining?

Peter: “Your insistence that ‘the contrary’ says that ‘some particular thing’ is impossible is wildly misrepresentative.”

I guess you’re still missing the broader point to all this. Here it is in a nutshell: Christians tell me all the time that such-and-such is impossible (e.g., evolution, reason without the existence of a god, the development of a legend in less than 40 years, etc.), but their own worldview says that “all things are possible” so long as they believe that there is a god. On the one hand, a whole list of things are impossible, but on the other hand “all things are possible.” Presuppositionalists seem unwilling to entertain the very real possibility that they are wrong. Etc. Perhaps you still don’t understand?

Peter: “Presuppositionalism doesn't merely claim that some particular thing, like the laws of logic, is impossible. Have you not been reading your sources? It claims that it is impossible IF the ultimate presupposition ‘No God’ obtains.”

Well, for one, I don’t know who has “the ultimate presupposition ‘No God’,” for reasons I mentioned above. This simply would not be an “ultimate presupposition.” It may be a conclusion one draws from prior premises, but this would mean it’s not an “ultimate presupposition.” It would rest on the truth of something more fundamental.

And yes, I’m well aware of what presuppositionalism claims. It’s just not clear to me how presuppositionalism can *establish* these heavy-weight claims. In the case of the laws of logic, for instance, it is clear to me that Bahnsen has a storybook understanding of logic rather than a conceptual understanding of it. That is a significant failing and in my view it simply dooms the presuppositionalist venture. It’s also clear that Bahnsen does not deal with the issue of metaphysical primacy, and also that his worldview is squarely premised on the primacy of consciousness (which contradicts itself, btw). So it’s not surprising that Bahnsen comes short when it comes time to pay the bill on his claims.

You wrote some more stuff, but that will have to wait until later if it’s important to you. I have to get ready for work.

Regards,
Dawson

April 10, 2009 6:16 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Thank you for the opportunity to engage with each other's views, an opportunity you have regrettably passed up. That's not an emotional jab, but my conclusion from specifics during interactions with you and analysing your other interactions. I must say it is very disappointing to encounter people more interested in the triumphalistic debate paradigm, as some kind of sport, who lean heavily on rhetorical techniques of distraction and ridicule. You seem incapable of the basics of intellectual integrity, such as allowing proponents to be the authority on their own views. A childish modus operandi is beneath me and a waste of my time. You are wasting your own time as well.

Exhibit Q: Countering my reference to the distinctives of the Christian's God with a childish comparison to Geusha.

The various Lahu tribes in Thailand are known as Musur, not Lahu. Having been privileged to spend time with two of these tribes (through personal connections, inaccessible to tourists), and having an anthropological sensibility and academic interest in varieties of religious belief, particular with respect to deity, I am qualified to make an informed distinction between the Musur conception and the attributes of the God I take to exist. Nonethless, I don't tell Musur what they believe, I listen and observe. It would have made a fascinating account if their views resembled mine, but they don't. Even with overt Christian missionary influence, Musur have failed to identify their animistic pantheon with Christianity. Their syncretism and reversion to animism is well-known, and visibly attested by the boarded and dilapidated Catholic-established "churches." As is characteristic of "primitive" animistic worldviews, formed as they are from a close connection to nature and a visceral fear of the numinous, the Musur are monists for practical purposes. Spirits, for the most part, are infused in physical things, such as idols and trees, hence the offering of physical things like food. The inference to a necessary creator figure is natural (just as it is for Japanese children despite their contrary influences, according to recent research). But the creator of the world, people and animals, etc. for the Musur is actually not Geusha, and the Musur are actually not monotheists. Sure, Geusha is the boss, just as males are dominant in Musur culture, but all he did was make the sky, leaving eveyrthing else for his wife, Aiyema.

As one committed to the objective pursuit of Truth, and willing to sacrifice much time and effort for the sake of anyone interested in pursuing it in conversation (regardless of who agrees with whom), I reserve much contempt for people who duplicitously and passive-aggressively hijack such basic human sincerity for their own ends.

If all you can offer is a "very much like Geusha" caricature of the Christian God, in the context of the point I was making (and I should know, being a Christian and an atheist with respect to Geusha), then you are manifestly insincere.

"I see. You’re worried about that??? Wow! Of course, if there is a god which makes “all things possible,” why couldn’t contrary views be possible? Take Buddhism for instance. I would say Buddhism is not only possible, but very much real – Buddhism in fact exists as a set of mystical beliefs and devotional practices."

Another deliberate caricature -- deplorable tactics, empty rhetoric, deliberate equivocation. I already called you on this deceitful ruse - you must be the only person in the entire world willing to suggest that Christianity denies the existence of Buddhists or other atheists (yes, buddhism is atheistic) -- I said before that this is not the case (as if you didn't already know...)

One last time, the "impossibility of the contrary" does not refer to whether views could possibly exist as views in people's minds, it refers simultaneously to whether the claims made by those views could exist in reality, and in turn, predicate the existence and reliable use of faculties and CONCEPTS used by people in the act of reasoning about belief. Why would Bahnsen even debate Stein if he thought that Stein couldn't possibly self-identify as an atheist? Give me a break. I was quite clear on this in my post, and the way you simply reassert your parody is very transparent.

Finally, before I leave you to gloat over another perceived victory as I have seen you do elsewhere, the issue of ultimate presuppositions.

You say Bahnsen does not deal with the issue of metaphysical primacy. It is impossible to read Bahnsen and not know that this area is the prime focus of his method and argument. You disagree with him, of course, but that's a moot point.

The notion of an ultimate presupposition being "No God (that is ultimate)," is a substitute for whatever a given atheist happens to regard as ultimate, ie. ontological ground, necessary, original, or however you wish to put it. If that is "eternal nothingness," fine, if a singularity, fine, if an eternally existent cosmos, fine, whatever, the net result is that it is something other than the specific transcendent Creator being references by the Christian. People aren't as stupid as you condescendingly make them out to be Dawson - everyone is well aware that the source of all contingent things could not literally be "No God" -- must everything be spelled out for you?

"My question for you is: How does Bahnsen first establish this “impossibility of the contrary” if it is the launching pad for his apologetic? He tends to treat it as a kind of starting point in itself, but the question is why should anyone think it’s true? I’ve scoured his debate with Gordon Stein, and I can’t find where he establishes this claim. It almost seems as if Bahnsen thinks he has direct awareness of something “supernatural” and “transcendent,” but he never explains how so far as I can tell. I know that I do not have direct awareness of anything “supernatural” or “transcendent” in Bahnsen’s understanding. I can certainly *imagine* such things, and imagining something does in some ways feel like direct awareness of what is imagined. But any grown adult should understand that the imaginary is not real. How would I distinguish between what Bahnsen calls “God” and what he may merely be imagining?"

Hmmm, why should anyone consider that the "impossibility of the contrary" is true? Surely you're aware of the concept's pedigree? No, it's nothing to do with "direct awareness" (ie. intuition in the classical sense) of something supernatural. Again, you ridicule with the notion of "imagining." You seem unaware that the notion of "impossibility of the contrary" is a term for apagogical reasoning, indirect proof, reductio ad absurdum. You'll find that in Webster's, but it goes back to Cicero and beyond. Leibniz wrote, "necessary truth is that the contrary of which is impossible or implies contradiction." If the alternatives, or generalized alternative to Christianity implodes via self-contradiction then it is impossible (via the law of noncontradiction), and its contrary is thereby shown to be established (if it truly be a contrary with no excluded middle, etc.). Because this is all so basic, and part of philosophical heritage, Bahnsen does not need to give an explication. Similarly, Stein does not need to ask for one, or challenge him as though he were using some mystical mumbo-jumbo. I am amazed you think it is "almost" like "direct awareness," when in fact it is a radically different thing. Why are you blogging about something you haven't even grasped?


I anticipate you will rely with the same techniques as before, to ignore how I am engaging your PREVIOUS post, to particularize mine below the level of my intended points, and to interject your tangential repostes, which do violence to the art and science of understanding another person's views.

I expect you will take your right of reply, but I expect I will take my right of leave, for abovementioned reasons. It's too bad really, because I would have relished proper engagement of views as a means to check and sharpen my own, but your failure to engage has already wasted too much of my time in simply responding to belligerent mischaracterizations.

April 10, 2009 10:48 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

I asked: “How does Bahnsen first establish this ‘impossibility of the contrary’ if it is the launching pad for his apologetic?”

Peter responded: “Surely you're aware of the concept's pedigree? No, it's nothing to do with ‘direct awareness’ (ie. intuition in the classical sense) of something supernatural... Because this is all so basic, and part of philosophical heritage, Bahnsen does not need to give an explication. Similarly, Stein does not need to ask for one, or challenge him as though he were using some mystical mumbo-jumbo...”

I didn’t see an answer to my question in anything you had written here. Can you clarify what you wanted to say here? Or, better yet, can you piece Bahnsen’s case for “the impossibility of the contrary” (preferably with citations, so that I can follow along), since it is from this assumption that he seeks to defend Christian theism?

Regards,
Dawson

April 10, 2009 11:42 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Also, before I forget...

Peter: “You say Bahnsen does not deal with the issue of metaphysical primacy. It is impossible to read Bahnsen and not know that this area is the prime focus of his method and argument. You disagree with him, of course, but that's a moot point.”

The issue of metaphysical primacy pertains to the orientation between a subject and its objects in the subject-object relationship. If you think it is in fact “impossible to read Bahnsen and not know that this area is of prime focus of his method and argument,” can you quote some specifics on this point from Bahnsen’s writings? Where does he talk about the proper relationship between a subject and its objects? Please, I’d really like to know.

Regards,
Dawson

April 10, 2009 11:48 PM  
Blogger Peter said...

"The issue of metaphysical primacy pertains to the orientation between a subject and its objects in the subject-object relationship. [SNIP] Please, I’d really like to know."

Like to know, or like the opportunity to simply slap down similar responses to what you've given elsewhere on this topic? (Your favourite "arguments" seeming to be "wishing," "imagination," "cartoon," and "poof!") I honestly think your sincerity here is feigned, and while you're free to post whatever reply you like, I'm not going to be drawn in to your triumphalistic sporting paradigm, nor dance to your on-demand questions. I am beginning to discover that others have experienced your rhetorical tactics too. Can a Brethrick changes its spots? Doubtful. Readers won't have to wait long to find out. For the set of all sincere readers, which may or may not include the set of all Dawson Brethricks, I am happy to offer a parting gift in case anyone is not aware of this:

God has ontological primacy. Bahnsen's work is saturated with this notion. Moreover, no less than Paul of Tarsus affirms to the Stoics and Epicureans that human being is contingent upon God's divine being (he actually employs the philosophical term "ontos"). Thus, the marvelous human subject is epiphenomenal of divine personhood, as the Imago Dei concept aptly conveys. Only with this grant from transcendent existence, this liberation from complete continuity with nature, from the inner necessity of deterministic causal processes (contra the naturalistic dogma of closed causal systems), can we have real identity (personhood, spirit) and function as free beings (consciousness), free from the flux and impermanence of particulars ("dust," matter, "under the sun"). [Side note: Animal being is similar in terms of having extrinsic/contingent being, and having immaterial consciousness, but different in lacking proclivities substantially analogous to the divine.]

Now, I'm sure you must know that "metaphysical" means ontological (my preferred term) as distinct from epistemological concerns, so of course the human subject cannot have metaphysical primacy. You might contend that as a human subject my "starting point" (your conception thereof) is epistemological, but then you have missed the whole point of reasoning transcendentally. Yes, even to reason transcendentally is to begin with finite minds, hence the critical importance of "giving an account for" (ie. predicating) the reasoning faculty.

Elsewhere, you conflate the negative (solipsistic) connotations of "subjectivism" with any kind of subject (being with mind), and when it suits you, will accuse any Subject of wishful rather than proved thinking, or "wishing" for short. You feel victorious if a theist agrees that God is more like a subject than an object, as though it is self-evident that God's consciousness presupposes "existence" [your mistake here is to fail to treat necessity/contingency, or the question of what is ontologically prior to spatiotemporal existence]. You criticise "the assumption that the orientation between subject and object can be redirected at will," when in fact the problem is your own assumption that existence is monistic (as stated, you don't distinguish necessary existence from contingency, as far as I can tell, and that leads you to conclude that primacy itself is relativistic, a constraint of monism, so that one has to choose one or the other "orientation": subject-object or object-subject.)

The Christian view I have described would more accurately be rendered: [Intrinsic, necessary Being] => [Contingent spatiotemporal order, extrinsic being] => [Contingent, extrinsic (human) being]. Here, the human subject can only be qualitatively differentiated from mere objects because there exists a qualitatively different order of existence to impinge on it (the Creator "breathing" spirit into lifeless dust, as it were). Else, how does any truly novel property (a qualitative difference) emerge from something that is only impinging on itself? Matter in any configuration is still matter, differently arranged. Whence mind? (Yes, I am aware of supervenience, dialectical monism and so on). Another way to describe this is with the notion of species - if the human species has continuity with evolutionary ancestors (which it must do if telos or goal-directedness is rejected), then there is no ontic referent, no correlative anchor to rescue its very function from transient flux, such that there can be no definition for what constitutes normative (normal) and abnormal functioning of any biological system, including the human brain. The reliability of thoughts become as transient and malleable as the monistic conception of speciation, which does not truly establish individuation/identity, since all being must lie on the same continuum (which reduces to non-conscious being, or matter).

This hints at something of what may be argued in terms of "the contrary" being "impossible," but I am not arguing anything here, just stating views in response to an interest (and apparently conceded ignorance) of a Christian view on the matter of subject-object.

Bahnsen, since you asked and I happen to know, assumed what I said was a given, that it is ourselves, as subjects, who begin our reasoning, as well as another obvious truth, that there is an external world more fundamental than us. This is not a "gotcha!" concession to the smoke and mirrors deployment of Randian axioms, it is just something that doesn't need to be spelled out. Bahnsen has moved on to more nuanced considerations, such as Kantian judgments, classes of truth, necessities and contingencies, etc. If you are looking for his treatment of those things they abound, but you may wish to begin here: http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/PA018.htm

Good luck in your sincere investigations.

April 11, 2009 8:00 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Peter: “Like to know, or like the opportunity to simply slap down similar responses to what you've given elsewhere on this topic?”

Peter, you stated that “it is impossible to read Bahnsen and not know that this area [the issue of metaphysical primacy] is the prime focus of his method and argument.” I have scoured several of Bahnsen’s apologetics books (most notably Always Ready, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, and Pushing the Antithesis, as well as many articles of his available online, and I do not see where he addresses this matter (what *I* mean by metaphysical primacy). So I have asked you, since you seem to think he did address this (and that it is apparently “impossible” to miss in his readings), to cite some examples. If you don’t want to, that’s fine. But what am I to infer from your choice not to do so?

Peter: “(Your favourite "arguments" seeming to be "wishing," "imagination," "cartoon," and "poof!")”

Actually, my favorite arguments are the argument from existence, the argument from concepts, the argument from the insufficiency of Christianity, etc., etc. But let me speak to the points which apparently cause you pain. In the case of wishing, I have seen many Christians repeat the statement “wishing doesn’t make it so.” But I don’t think they’re being consistent with their professed worldview’s teachings. Why would it be wrong to point this out? As for imagination, I have asked Christians to explain to me how I can reliably distinguish between what they call “God” and what they may only be imagining. I get a haze of evasions in response. With respect to the cartoon universe, how is my analogy unwarranted? If there is a supernatural consciousness which “controls whatsoever comes to pass” as Van Til claims (The Defense of the Faith, p. 160), how is this not analogous to a cartoonist with respect to his cartoon in the manner that I have observed? As for “poof,” this should be obvious: Bahnsen claims to have offered a “proof” for his god’s existence, but upon examination there’s no proof at all. Nothing close to a proof in fact. It seems he thinks he can simply assert its existence, and “poof” it must be true. You and every other Christian have the opportunity to show otherwise, but so far no one has. Even you seem to agree with me that Bahnsen does not present an argument in his opening statement in his debate with Stein, and have not shown where in the rest of this debate he has presented an argument for his god’s existence. Bahnsen focuses his efforts in that debate on getting Stein to “account for” the laws of logic, uniformity of nature, etc. Suppose Stein just throws up his arms and says, “I have no idea!” What relevance would this have to proving the existence of a supernatural being? Is such ignorance really so integral to the transcendental poof... sorry, “proof”? It sure looks like it, but I’m open to consider other alternatives. For this my sincerity is questioned and my character is vilified. I’m used to this though. It’s what Christians usually dish out when one questions their god-beliefs.

Peter: “I honestly think your sincerity here is feigned, and while you're free to post whatever reply you like, I'm not going to be drawn in to your triumphalistic sporting paradigm, nor dance to your on-demand questions. I am beginning to discover that others have experienced your rhetorical tactics too. Can a Brethrick changes its spots? Doubtful. Readers won't have to wait long to find out. For the set of all sincere readers, which may or may not include the set of all Dawson Brethricks, I am happy to offer a parting gift in case anyone is not aware of this:”

For one, it’s Bethrick, not “Brethrick.” Another thing: if you really doubt my sincerity, why do you keep coming back to engage me? What will it profit you? In the meantime, you’re giving me another example of a theist at work. So while you appear to have some frustration, it seems to be self-induced. Also, don’t forget that you came to me; I did not come to you. You have made numerous claims throughout our exchanges, and naturally I have questions about those claims. Now that I have asked some of them, you now want to disengage before answering them, characterizing my questions as something that you need to “dance to.” You have stated in more ways than one that I have misunderstood Bahnsen, that I have misrepresented him, that I apparently just don’t get it. So I ask questions, hoping to learn from someone who apparently presumes to understand these things better than I do. But you resist answering those questions saying that you don’t want “to be drawn in to [my] triumphalistic sporting paradigm.” Your actions are puzzling. You keep coming back to me, you make numerous claims which you do not support, and when asked to support them you attack my sincerity. This is rather odd behavior. Just what is it that you’re trying to accomplish?

Peter: “God has ontological primacy. Bahnsen's work is saturated with this notion.”

I know this. But it is not what I have asked. I think I stated the question clearly, so unless you have any questions as to what it means, I won’t ask it again. But note that even in making the statement “God has ontological primacy,” one is making a statement about reality (or “super-reality” if you prefer) which presumably obtains independent of the speaker’s conscious activity. So he is assuming, at least performatively, what Objectivism calls the primacy of existence. But the content of what he is affirming to be the case grants metaphysical primacy to consciousness – i.e., a god which “controls whatsoever comes to pass” by its acts of will. The statement performatively contradicts itself. I’ve asked Christians to show how there is no contradiction here, but typically their answers indicate that they do not fully understand the problem. The criticisms which one theist brought against this post (scroll down to the section titled “Interaction”) are not atypical. I’ve sought to make it all clear by the use of thought experiments (for instance here, but as soon as I present them, theists seem to take a vow of silence. Bahnsen strikes me as essentially no different. While he may claim that “God has ontological primacy,” I don’t see where he’s dealt with the issue of metaphysical primacy (or “ontological primacy” if you prefer). Simply affirming “God has ontological primacy” does nothing to address it.

Peter: “Now, I'm sure you must know that ‘metaphysical’ means ontological (my preferred term) as distinct from epistemological concerns, so of course the human subject cannot have metaphysical primacy.”

Good. Then one should not expect his claims to be taken simply on his say so. After all, he’s not saying his god-belief claims are true because he believes them, right? The question raised at this point is whether one can consistently suppose that any subject has (or can have) metaphysical primacy over actually existing objects distinct from itself. Christianity of course answers this question with a firm “yes” in its postulation of an omnipotent, supernatural deity. It not only creates all objects distinct from itself by an act of will (how this is essentially different from saying it wished them into existence has not been credibly explained to me),

Peter: “You might contend that as a human subject my ‘starting point’ (your conception thereof) is epistemological, but then you have missed the whole point of reasoning transcendentally. Yes, even to reason transcendentally is to begin with finite minds, hence the critical importance of ‘giving an account for’ (ie. predicating) the reasoning faculty.”

Can you clarify what “the whole point of reasoning transcendentally” is? (Or would that be another “on-demand question”?) I ask you for clarification because what “reasoning transcendentally” is supposed to denote seems to vary from apologist to apologist. I ask so that I do not misattribute to you something you do not mean by this phrase (not so that I can “triumphalistically” claim a victory point).

Van Til says that “The Christian’s process of reasoning rests upon the presupposition that God, speaking through Christ by his Spirit in the infallible Word, is the final or ultimate reference point in human predication” (The Defense of the Faith, p. 180). This suggests to me (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), that the Christian’s “process of reasoning” assumes the existence of his god from the very get-go. This seems obvious given what is stated here (and in similar statements I’ve read in the presuppositionalist literature). Apparently on the basis of this assumption the Christian can supposedly build an argument which “proves” that his god really does in fact exist. Here’s another one from Van Til: “Basic to all the doctrines of Christian theism is that of the self-contained God, or, if we wish, that of the ontological trinity. It is this notion of the ontological trinity that ultimately controls a truly Christian methodology” (Ibid., p. 100). So how does he establish this “notion of the ontological trinity” which “controls a truly Christian methodology”? Does he use “a truly Christian methodology” which is controlled by this “notion of the ontological trinity” to do so? It’s unclear to me how any of this is not an instance of begging the question. Presumably speaking for all Christians, Van Til famously states that “we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all” (A Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. 12). He seems to have accepted a false dichotomy here: either one reasons in a circle, or one simply cannot reason at all. I have not found a good explanation for why one should suppose these are the only alternatives available. My view is that Van Til is cornered into this dubious position precisely because his starting point (the existence of his god) has no objective basis. You have stated that Bahnsen’s case has “nothing to do with ‘direct awareness’ (ie. intuition in the classical sense) of something supernatural” (even though I did not have “intuition in the classical sense” in mind here at all). Since he is apparently not directly aware of his god through some faculty of consciousness, does he infer its existence? If so, then something else must be more fundamental, at least epistemologically. What is that fundamental something from which he draws the inference of his god’s existence? What is the starting point, and how does the chain of reasoning go that leads him to the conclusion that his god really does exist?

Peter: “Elsewhere, you conflate the negative (solipsistic) connotations of ‘subjectivism’ with any kind of subject (being with mind), and when it suits you, will accuse any Subject of wishful rather than proved thinking, or ‘wishing’ for short.”

This is not true. I am very careful in my writings to explain what I mean by subjectivism, and I certainly do not “conflate” it “with any kind of subject”. I am a subject, but I do not conflate subjectivism with myself. It has to do with the orientation between a subject and the objects of its awareness, not with solipsism per se. Solipsism would simply be a consistent subjectivism, but I’ve not found anyone who embraces subjectivism consistently. Typically what I find is like the Christian: he compromises the objective (which he cannot fully escape, and upon which he performatively operates in his day-to-day activities) with subjective ideas (e.g., a deity whose will “controls whatsoever comes to pass”).

Peter: “You feel victorious if a theist agrees that God is more like a subject than an object, as though it is self-evident that God's consciousness presupposes ‘existence’ [your mistake here is to fail to treat necessity/contingency, or the question of what is ontologically prior to spatiotemporal existence].”

I don’t know how you have awareness of what I “feel,” but suppose I do “feel victorious” when key points I make in defense of my verdicts are conceded. Does this bother you? As for the necessity-contingency dichotomy, I reject it. If you have any familiarity with Objectivism, I’d think you’d know this. Perhaps you don’t? Also, I do not divide the concept of ‘existence’ into “spatiotemporal existence” as opposed to some other type of existence, certainly not at the fundamental level. If something exists, it exists. There’s no good reason to divide an axiomatic concept against itself.

Peter: “You criticise ‘the assumption that the orientation between subject and object can be redirected at will,’ when in fact the problem is your own assumption that existence is monistic (as stated, you don't distinguish necessary existence from contingency, as far as I can tell, and that leads you to conclude that primacy itself is relativistic, a constraint of monism, so that one has to choose one or the other ‘orientation’: subject-object or object-subject.)”

It’s not clear what you’re trying to accomplish here. Are you trying to defend the assumption that the orientation between a subject and its objects can be redirected at will? Or do you agree that this is a bogus idea? As for the necessary-contingent dichotomy, see above. As for assuming “that existence is monistic,” it’s not clear what you mean by this, or what connotations you have loaded into this description, which you think are problematic. Also, it’s not a matter of choosing one orientation or the other, but of recognizing what the proper relationship between a subject and the objects of its awareness actually is. Whether one wants to argue or dispute whether or not “existence is monistic” (whatever that is exactly supposed to mean), it is a fact that consciousness is consciousness of some thing, of some object. There’s a relationship here that needs to be identified, since it is fundamental to everything that the subject does (whether it be perceiving, thinking, inferring, inducing, emoting, imagining, “philosophying,” etc.).

Peter: “The Christian view I have described would more accurately be rendered: [Intrinsic, necessary Being] => [Contingent spatiotemporal order, extrinsic being] => [Contingent, extrinsic (human) being]. Here, the human subject can only be qualitatively differentiated from mere objects because there exists a qualitatively different order of existence to impinge on it (the Creator ‘breathing’ spirit into lifeless dust, as it were).”

The points you state here are moving further and further away from the question I asked. I’m not sure if you think these points address my question or not, but rest assured, it does not. Clearly “the Christian view” which you have described assumes the validity of the necessary-contingent dichotomy, a dichotomy which I reject and consider a fatal problem to any view which assumes or endorses it. But so what, right? Your statement about “the human subject” and its being “qualitatively differentiated from mere objects” suggests either that you do not understand my question, or I have not been clear enough in posing it. By “object” I mean any thing (it can be a person, too) of which a subject is aware. There is no reason why a human being cannot be an object. I’m not sure what you mean by “mere objects,” but I’m supposing you mean inanimate things, like rocks, decaying tree bark, scissors, etc. These of course can be objects, but so can human beings, since a subject can be aware of human beings (just as when I am speaking to my wife, she is one of the objects of my awareness). As for positing “a qualitatively different order of existence” which supposedly “impinge[s] on” the human being qua subject, I have no idea why one would think there is such a thing. What exactly is “a qualitatively different order of existence”? Again, is it something you have direct awareness of? (And by “direct awareness” I do not necessarily mean “intuition in the classical sense”; when I perceive something with my senses, I have direct awareness of it). If so, by what means? If not, then what justifies positing such a thing? Did you infer its existence? From what bases? What leads to the conclusion (if it is something you’ve inferred) that there is such a thing as “a qualitatively different order of existence”? How can I reliably distinguish it from something you might only be imagining? These are real questions. They are not “cheapshots” as you might want to characterize them. If you want to say I’m simply stupid because I have such questions, just understand that this does not answer them.

Peter: “Else, how does any truly novel property (a qualitative difference) emerge from something that is only impinging on itself?”

Your question here is key to understanding the true mechanics of the presuppositional method of apologetics. First it posits a supernatural consciousness as the factor which “accounts for” whatever phenomenon is under inquiry, and then asks “What else could explain it?” It’s as if having no alternative explanation is supposed to be sufficient for affirming the existence of a god. In this way the presuppositionalist method feasts on the apologist’s own ignorance.

The next set of statements is also key to the mechanics of the presuppositional method. They exemplify the effort through which the problem which positing “God” supposedly solves is deliberately characterized in such a manner that it seems to need some supernatural explanation. Crucial to this characterization is the treatment of “mind” (or any aspect of consciousness) as something otherworldly, opposed to the “matter” which makes up the objects populating the universe.

Peter: “Matter in any configuration is still matter, differently arranged. Whence mind? (Yes, I am aware of supervenience, dialectical monism and so on). Another way to describe this is with the notion of species - if the human species has continuity with evolutionary ancestors (which it must do if telos or goal-directedness is rejected), then there is no ontic referent, no correlative anchor to rescue its very function from transient flux, such that there can be no definition for what constitutes normative (normal) and abnormal functioning of any biological system, including the human brain. The reliability of thoughts become as transient and malleable as the monistic conception of speciation, which does not truly establish individuation/identity, since all being must lie on the same continuum (which reduces to non-conscious being, or matter).”


This may or may not surprise you, but I do think that “the human species has continuity with evolutionary ancestors,” but also that goal-directedness is involved. However, it is not the goal-directedness of a supernatural will overseeing everything according to some divine “plan.” I don’t think it would even make sense to say that a being with the characteristics which Christians attribute to their god would have any goals or purpose to begin with. To say that the Christian god acts with purpose would be an instance of the fallacy of the stolen concept. Goal-directedness, or purpose, is not so mysterious as apologists seem to want us to believe. It is concurrent with biology, just as identity is concurrent with existence. To exist is to be something specific. Nothing extraneous to some existing thing is needed to “establish” its identity or give it identity (as if it were some amorphous, identity-less something to begin with). A biological organism acts according to its needs qua living organism: life is conditional (I’m talking real life here, not imaginary things like an invisible magic being which is said to be eternal, indestructible, immortal, etc.). The “ontic referent,” if this is to have any objective meaning, would be existence as such (since it is absolute; the fact that existence exists does not change), and the organism’s nature qua living organism: it needs values in order to live, and it must act in order to acquire and use those values, whether it is a plant (whose process of photosynthesis is autonomic) or a human being (whose use of his mind is volitional). Since existence is absolute, and since the actions of an entity necessarily depend on its nature (the law of causality), there is no “transient flux” to be rescued from.

Underlying all of what you said above, but remaining unaddressed, is the relationship between subject and object. When one speaks of a mind, he is necessarily speaking of something that is conscious. Consciousness of objects is a precondition of knowledge, of thoughts, of “mind.” So if we’re going to ask questions like “Whence mind?” we should first focus our attention on the precondition of mental activity, which is consciousness. Again, that’s why the issue of metaphysical primacy is so important in philosophy. It sets everything in motion, either in the right direction, or in the wrong direction. Ignoring it or simply saying that “this is all so basic, and part of philosophical heritage,” and therefore that one “does not need to give an explication,” only tells me that one’s position may have taken false assumptions for granted, and that he’s in no position to recognize this. That’s no formula for a very reliable thesis.

Peter: “This hints at something of what may be argued in terms of ‘the contrary’ being ‘impossible’,"

If so, then I’m right to consider Bahnsen’s slogan bullshit.

Peter: “but I am not arguing anything here, just stating views in response to an interest (and apparently conceded ignorance) of a Christian view on the matter of subject-object.”

What I was hoping for were citations to Bahnsen’s own writings where he address the issue of metaphysical primacy. I still have yet to see where Bahnsen does address it, if in fact he does. I myself don’t think he does (and I know that Paul of Tarsus does not), but if you feel otherwise, I’m happy to examine whatever you can produce from his writings.

Peter: “Bahnsen, since you asked and I happen to know, assumed what I said was a given, that it is ourselves, as subjects, who begin our reasoning, as well as another obvious truth, that there is an external world more fundamental than us.”

Of course he assumes it, at least performatively. But he does not explicitly address the matter of the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects. He takes the matter completely for granted, which is most irresponsible. By simply assuming it as a given, he has inherited a long tradition of error on this most fundamental concern. Consequently, since he does not address the matter explicitly, he fails to recognize that there is in fact a proper relationship between consciousness and its objects, and it is not the relationship which Christianity attributes to its god. This one fact brings Christianity toppling down into ruins. It’s the kind of silver bullet presuppositionalists wish they had, but can’t have.

Peter: “This is not a ‘gotcha!’ concession to the smoke and mirrors deployment of Randian axioms, it is just something that doesn't need to be spelled out.”

The very fact that you think “it is just something that doesn’t need to be spelled out” is itself a “gotcha!” concession if there ever were one! It only tells me that presuppositionalists are unequipped to deal with the most fundamental issue in all philosophy. That’s pretty huge. What could be huger?

Peter: “Bahnsen has moved on to more nuanced considerations, such as Kantian judgments, classes of truth, necessities and contingencies, etc.”

I know this, Peter, perhaps more than you realize. Bahnsen takes for granted a whole array of fundamental assumptions which he does not examine, and proceeds on the basis that those assumptions are all true. It is most irresponsible, intellectually speaking.

Regards,
Dawson

April 11, 2009 2:06 PM  

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