Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Cartoon Universe of Theism

After examining many arguments offered by presuppositional apologists and considering the general view of the world that they want to defend and impart to others, I cannot help but see the formidable parallels between, on the one hand, the god they claim exists and the reality they say it created, and, on the other, an illustrator and the cartoons he draws.

Christians imagine that the universe is the product of a devising mind, just as a cartoon is the product of a devising illustrator. Just as the shapes we perceive in a cartoon conform to the content of the mind of the illustrator, the entities and their actions in the universe are thought to conform to the content of a consciousness whose initial state is consciousness only of itself. The illustrator, for purposes of entertainment, draws an imaginary realm where fifty-ton boulders fall on Wile E. Coyote, crushing him flat as a pancake only to have him crawl out from underneath it and shake himself off so he can proceed with his pursuit of the Roadrunner. Likewise the theist imagines a supernatural illustrator who wishes the universe into existence and controls it just as ably as it controls its own thoughts. The contents of the universe conform to the thoughts of the divine consciousness just as the scenes of a cartoon conform to the imagination of the illustrator.

But beyond this, significant differences begin to emerge. Where the cartoon illustrator is only seeking artful entertainment and whatever compensation the market will bear for it, theists want to take their savagely more perverse analogue very seriously, and they want you to take it seriously, too. And where the cartoon illustrator understands that the realms he creates in his drawings are just fantasy and play, theists have rendered themselves intellectually incompetent when it comes to distinguishing between reality and their imagination. And it is this blurring between fantasy and reality that inspires the hideous ideas which give Christianity, like other religions, its lethal nature as a worldview. It is this view of reality, the cartoon universe of theism, that presuppositionalists seek to defend. Only it's not funny. What's more is that they tell us that we must presuppose that things are this way – that the universe is essentially a cartoon realm created by a boundless consciousness no one can perceive – in order to make sense of the world and our experience in it.

But there is a distinction between reality and our fantasies. How could anyone think that reason and rationality are based on the theist’s perverse confusion of the two? The universe is not at all like a cartoon. An entity is itself, and its actions have a necessary relationship to its nature. Facts do not change because someone wants them to, and wishing doesn’t make it so. It is this hard reality that the theist finds depressing and, unable to cope, he seeks to evade it by retreating into a set of bizarre notions that disable his ability to make very important distinctions.

If you should ever find yourself in a debate with a presuppositionalist, point out to him that he is basically trying to defend the view that the universe is essentially nothing more than a cartoon. Ask him how seriously he takes the teachings of the bible, especially those attributed to Jesus in the gospel stories. Many of these teachings unmistakably confer this cartoon-like quality to the universe. For instance, Matthew 17:20 reads: "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you." Ask him if he really believes that Mt. McKinley is going to do what he wishes, or if he thinks such verses are to be taken as obvious hyperbole that no one should take literally. If he says the former, that indeed his wish-laden prayers can cause such devastation, his case is pathological, and there’s probably nothing you can do for him. If he concedes that such bible passages should be taken as figurative exaggeration, then ask him if the stories about the creation of the earth and heaven, the talking snake in the Garden of Eden, the worldwide flood, the seven plagues of Egypt, and Jesus’ resurrection are also to be taken as exaggeration. The intention here is to smoke out and expose the lunacy of god-belief, for surely it is there, and it needs to be driven out. The light of reason is the only tool necessary for this, for in it the absurd cannot camouflage itself.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Christianity vs. Objective Morality

In virtually mindless repetition of their mentors, presuppositionalists very often claim that their god is the necessary precondition for what they call "objective morality." Since the prescriptive notions presented throughout the bible in no way comport with what I understand by the term objective morality, it's stubbornly unclear what presuppositionalists might mean by this. For one, the bible nowhere affirms that its moral precepts are objective in nature. So if the morality given in the bible is at all objective in nature, its authors did not identify it as such. Also, since the bible nowhere even uses the terms "morality" or "moral," Christians need to clarify what they mean by this term, especially since they routinely posture themselves as authorities on matters relating to morality. They should also be careful to point out which teachings of the bible are supposed to be take as moral teachings, and which are merely fluff and poetry. While they're at it, they should explain why man needs morality, if in fact they think he does, for I don’t find this explained in the bible either.

So there are two issues here that Christians need to settle before their claim to objective morality can even be entertained, let alone seriously considered. They must define what they mean by (1) morality, and (2) objective. If by "objective morality" they simply mean a set of behavioral "rules" issued from outside oneself (as one presuppositionalist put it to me in private correspondence, "God's law is objective, in the sense of being an outside standard, for human beings"), then essentially any dictator's whims would qualify as "objective" moral directives since, for his subjects, they come from without. We can, and should do better than this in defining our terms. And since, in the words of presuppositionalist Paul Manata, “the Bible was not meant to be a philosophic lexicon,” it is conceded even by Christianity’s defenders that we will have to look outside the bible for these answers.

One of the fatalistic assumptions vital to the religious mindset is that morality, to qualify as such, must consist of obedience to someone's commands. This assumption is unquestionable to the religious mentality, and it is essential to the behavioral codes we read in the bible. Commands are expressions of the commander's desires and are not a guarantee that their content is objective in nature. Commands are suitable for dogs and robots, but they are unsuited for man, for he does not live in a vacuum. On the contrary, he must factor in the inputs of his needs and environment in order to determine the actions he should take. This is a process which requires man to rely on his own reasoning skills, working within the context of his own knowledge, regardless of who disapproves. Obedience to commands is unfit to serve man's needs as a biological organism, and unnecessary for man's life because he has a rational faculty which guides his choices and actions.

Why Christianity's claim to objective morality is incoherent:

In one of my previous blogs, John Frame vs. the Human Thinker, we saw the famed apologist eager to challenge non-believers "to show how an autonomous self can come to moral conclusions in a godless universe." Also in that post, I showed why the presuppositionalist's notion of "autonomy" essentially means thinking with one's own mind. So Frame's challenge is for non-believers to show how their morality can be objective in nature when they do not ascribe to the view that a god which issues moral commandments exists.

Unlike Christians, non-believers can and do have solid and veritable answers to such challenges. First we need to define our terms. Then we must ask the question if man needs morality, and if so, why? After these basic questions are addressed, we will begin to see the nature of a genuinely rational morality whose basis is objective in nature.

Some brief definitions:

By 'morality' I mean a code of values which guides man's choices and actions.
By 'objective' I mean based on relevant facts, not on imagination or wishing.
By 'value' I mean those things which meet man's life needs and which he must act in order to gain and/or keep.

Now the question: Does man need morality? And if so, why?

Since man faces a fundamental alternative - life vs. death, and since his life is not guaranteed, he must act in order to live. And since he does not automatically know what kind of action to take, he needs a means of knowledge and a code of values to guide his choices and actions. It is by means of reason that man identifies the values that his life requires, and it is by reason that man identifies the proper action required to acquire and/or keep those values. Morality is the application of reason to the problem of living life: without it, man will die. So if man wants to live, he needs a code of values which guides his choices and actions, which means: he needs morality. It should already be apparent that the purpose of morality, then, is not to please a deity, but to enable man to live, for it is man's life that is morality's only concern.

The idea of a code of values implies a hierarchy of relationships: some values hold primacy over others. And this implies the need to identify a standard. In a rational worldview, the standard of man's values is his life, i.e., his nature as a biological organism. As a biological organism, man faces a fundamental alternative: to exist or to cease existing. What a man values is premised on whether or not he chooses to live. If he chooses to live, he has no choice about the fact that his life is conditional and that it needs certain values which make it possible for him to exist. Thus his most basic values are those things which keep him alive in the first place, namely food, water, shelter, etc. But he also needs a reason to live, which motivates his choice to live. For the rational man, that reason is to live and enjoy life, for life is an end in itself. In this regard, pleasure is a profound value in that it gives him incentive to live. These values are objective because their nature is determined the relevant facts of man's nature as a biological being. In rational philosophy, values are life-centric: they pertain to what man needs, not to what some invisible magic being wants.

The Christian view of morality, however, gives us a completely different picture. Its primary source is the bible, which nowhere defines the concepts 'moral', 'value' or 'objective'. These terms are completely alien to the language we read in the bible, and yet Christians tell us that the bible is the authority on these matters. Its morality (to the extent that it can be called that) is comprised of a number of commandments (how many are supposed to be followed is not clear) which allegedly find their source in a supernatural deity who supposedly revealed its wishes to a select few individuals (apparently by means of little voices resounding in their heads) who in turn proceeded to write them down and attribute them to this supernatural source. Their purpose is not to be understood, for Proverbs 3:5 tells the believer "lean not unto your understanding." Rather, they are to be obeyed on pain of eternal punishment, even if they are not understood. The content of these commandments is not determined by man's nature as a biological organism; his need for values is taken completely for granted. What is of highest importance in this view are the desires of the deity, not man's needs. According to Christianity, man's purpose is not to live and enjoy his life, but to sacrifice it in selfless service to the deity's imagined ends. So already a stark contrast between an objective morality and the Christian view of morality should be very clear: objective morality teaches men how to identify and acquire the values they need, while Christian morality teaches them how to sacrifice those values.

Objectivity is "the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver's consciousness." (Ayn Rand, "Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?") It is the principle which teaches us how to distinguish between fact and fantasy, between the way things actually are and the way anyone might ideally like them to be. Subjectivism is any view that results from a failure to make these crucial distinctions. In essence, subjectivism is any view which elevates desires and wishes (in whatever form) over the facts of reality (as if reality conformed to someone's will). We can know that the Christian view of morality is ultimately subjective because it is grounded in whim rather than fact. Christianity couldn't be more explicit in its endorsement of metaphysical subjectivism, the view that the world finds its source in a form of consciousness. According to the primacy of consciousness view of reality, what is, is only what the ruling consciousness wants it to be or allows it to be. On this view the subject holds metaphysical primacy over its objects, which is the essence of subjectivism. Christian morality is simply an expression of its subjective foundations: things are good because god says they are, not because they have a logical relationship to objective facts, and men must concern themselves with what their god wants, not with what their lives need. Certain actions are wrong or evil, not because they work against man's life, but because they go against what the ruling consciousness desires. Of course, reality does not bend to anyone's desires and wishes, as if they held some kind of causal force over reality. But Christians ignore basic facts like this when they affirm their religious views, essentially building their worldview on the notion that wishing makes it so, while lacking the courage to identify it as such.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Bahnsen's Poof

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

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

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

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

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

GB> The Transcendental Argument For the Existence Of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Dawson Bethrick

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

Sunday, March 27, 2005

John Frame vs. the Human Thinker

In his book Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction, Christian apologist John Frame writes (p. 169):

Unbelievers should surely not be allowed to take their own autonomy for granted in defining moral concepts. They must not be allowed to assume that they are the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong. Indeed, they should be warned that that sort of assumption rules out the biblical God from the outset and thus shows its character as a faith-presupposition. The unbeliever must know that we reject his presupposition altogether and insist upon subjecting our moral standards to God's. And if the unbeliever insists on his autonomy, we may get nasty and require him to show how an autonomous self can come to moral conclusions in a godless universe.

I found this one paragraph to serve as a fitting summary of the Christian’s basic mentality. It hits several key points that distinguish a Christian from other men. Those key points are as follows:

  1. Willingness to initiate the use of force against those who don’t agree with the Christian.
  2. Resentment for those who think with their own minds.
  3. Reliance on threats instead of argument to defend his viewpoint.
  4. Fear of other minds.
  5. Insistence on surrendering man’s mind to the mind of another.

All of these points of course just underscore Christianity’s antithesis with reason and rationality, which are the ultimate target of the Christian’s animosity and resentment. Let’s look at Frame’s statement to see how these points are expressed in it.

In the first sentence of this paragraph, Frame tells his readers that “unbelievers should surely not be allowed to” do something. This could only imply that believers are to presume authority over non-believers, and that believers have the prerogative to exercise that authority over non-believers such that they can disallow certain behavior. Essentially, this is the claim to having a right to take away another’s rights, which means: the right to initiate force against others. Apologists will likely object to this interpretation of Frame’s remarks, saying that he doesn’t mean this at all, but rather that the believer, in the context of a debate, for instance, should challenge the non-believer on certain issues. If that’s the case, then apologists should see the hazards implied by Frame’s language and object to it instead of to non-believers who interpret his remarks in this manner. Supremacy and authorization to the use of force are clearly implied here, and it will become clearer that this is the only thing that Frame could really have in mind.

What is it that Frame wants believers to stop non-believers from doing? He wants to disallow non-believers from “[taking] their own autonomy for granted in defining moral concepts.” What does Frame mean by “autonomy” here? In a footnote on page 5 of Apologetics to the Glory of God, Frame gives us a clue to what he means by “autonomy.” He writes: “To encourage the unbeliever to think autonomously is to encourage him to think without the correction of revelation – that is, to think ‘neutrally’ (which is actually to think disobediently, replacing God’s standards with the unbeliever’s own).” On page 42 of the same book, Frame equates “thinking autonomously” with “recognizing no absolute standard outside [oneself],” and on page 55 he equates “claiming autonomy” with “denying God’s sovereignty.” In another book, Frame defines ‘autonomous’ to mean “subject only to [one’s own] law,” and holds that “the autonomy of the human mind” means that “the human mind… is to be its own supreme authority, its own criterion of truth and right.” (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 45.)

It’s hard to see how a practitioner of any religious view could not adopt this same kind of terminology and recast it to favor his religious views while excoriating any rival view. In such a case, the Muslim could easily accuse the Christian of the sin of “autonomy” for not thinking according to Allah’s “revelation,” and the believer in Geusha, the supreme being of the Lahu tribe of northern Thailand, can accuse both the Christian and the Muslim of “autonomy” for failing to guide their reasoning according to the will of Geusha. So the essential here, then, is not which deity is being held as the ultimate standard. Rather, the essential here is the rejection of one’s own mind in obeisance to some other mind, either real or imaginary. Frame’s ideal, then, is to think, as it were, not with his own mind, but with the mind of his god. Autonomous reasoning, then, is, in terms of rational essentials, simply thinking with one’s own mind. And it is this which Christians resent in non-believers: non-believers do not void out the content of their own minds and replace it with what believers tell them to accept in place of what non-believers can discover and verify firsthand. That is, Christians resent those who think with their own minds, especially when it comes to matters on which Christians have historically claimed exclusive authority, such as morality. As Frame himself puts it, non-believers “must not be allowed to assume that they are the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong.”

But of course, non-believers are going to do what they do no matter how much Christians and other religionists disapprove. This of course will only give increase to the Christian’s contempt for non-believers, a contempt that is part resentment and part envy (indeed, according to Ex. 20:5, the Judeo-Christian god is said to be jealous, having all perfections, and in Matt. 5:48 Jesus commands his followers “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”)

What, then, is Frame’s advice in such circumstances? In the spirit of his religious ancestors who sought to keep frightened believers in order by means of bloody public example, he resorts to threats. As often may be the case, such threats initially take the form of seemingly benign warnings. As Frame writes, “[unbelievers] should be warned that that sort of assumption [i.e., thinking with one’s own mind] rules out the biblical God from the outset and thus shows its character as a faith-presupposition.” Of course, people who don’t believe in that which does not exist, are typically not afraid of what the non-existent might do when such warnings are not heeded; non-believers don’t believe that the non-existent can hurt them. But to be sure, even though the recognition that we think with our own minds is by no means a recognition one acquires or verifies on the basis of faith, those who fear the consequences of thinking with one’s own mind will do what they can to stop others from doing likewise. Frame issues his threat a second time: “if the unbeliever insists on his autonomy, we may get nasty…” And since John Frame at this time has no political power over anyone, this should not cause any heightened alarm. But should persons of this mentality acquire public standing whereby they have access to instruments of force, we should all beware and be vigilant.

All of this points to an attitude which betrays the believer’s profound fear of other minds, which is key to the psychology of his own religious commitment. Why else would John Frame want to disallow other men from the free use of their own minds? In fact, it is because believers fear other minds that they want others to do what they themselves have done: Surrender them. And this is biblical, for in the bible, especially in the New Testament, we read many passages endorsing the virtue of unanimous agreement among confessing believers. In the book of Acts, for instance, we frequently read that the apostles were of “one accord” with each other (e.g., 1:14; 2:1, 46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6), ignoring the many conflicts between them that Paul mentions in his many letters (as GA Wells aptly recounts, “when Acts was written, Paul, Peter, and James will all have been dead, and it must have been hard then to think that they had ever been bitterly divided” – Can We Trust the New Testament? , pp. 78-79). And even though the ideal of having everyone agree in unanimous accord with each other is something that has never been achieved by the Christian church (quite the opposite was the case even among the earliest Christians), it’s not even a reasonable goal to expect, given that each thinker acquires his own unique inputs from his own experiences which give him a completely unique context from which to draw conclusions on any given matter. It’s as if Frame and other believers could just wish away the need for contextual relations which support a man’s understanding of the world and the knowledge he acquires of it.

Philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand eloquently captured the essence of this mindset with arresting penetration in the following statement from her novel Atlas Shrugged:

A mystic is a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others. Somewhere in the distant reaches of his childhood, when his own understanding of reality clashed with the assertions of others, with their arbitrary orders and contradictory demands, he gave in to so craven a fear of independence that he renounced his rational faculty. At the crossroads of the choice between “I know” and “They say,” he chose the authority of others, he chose to submit rather to understand, to believe rather than to think. Faith in the supernatural begins as faith in the superiority of others.

Men have the choice, either to think, or to evade thinking. In social contexts, this alternative translates into the choice to think for oneself, or to believe what others say on their say so. Christian apologists who attempt to assemble arguments for their god-belief are caught in the contradiction of performatively operating on the assumption that those who consider their arguments have a mind to do so while positionally affirming the view those same persons should sacrifice the use of their minds and pretend to have a different mind in place of their own, “the mind of Christ” as I Cor. 2:16 puts it (cf. also Phil. 2:5). And since such ideals are not based on reason, but rather on faith, there is nothing to keep believers from seeking to bend others to their will. As Rand pointed out, “Faith and force… are corollaries: every period of history dominated by mysticism, was a period of statism, of dictatorship, of tyranny.” (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 66.)

So Frame’s statement ultimately translates to the following:

People who don’t agree with me should not be allowed to think with their own mind when defining moral concepts. They must not be allowed to think that their minds are for judging anything, and should be forced to agree with whatever I say is true. Indeed, they should be warned that if they dare to think with their own minds, then they risk pissing off my God. People who don’t agree with me should know that I resent his audacity for daring to think with his own mind and that I insist that they subject their minds to my will. If people insist on thinking with their own minds, I just might get nasty and require them to prove that he can think with his own mind when my God says they don’t have any minds to begin with.

It boils down to: we won't let non-believers think, because if they think, then they will guide their own choices and actions by their own thinking and not ours. We want to have final say over their choices and actions, since we are the holy spokesmen for the divine, so it is by divine right that we have final say over their choices and actions, and this gives us a right to carry out our holy orders at any and all costs. This of course is a corollary of their faith: they say that their god exists because they want their god to exist.

Reason and rationality require that men think for themselves, that they think freely, that they be independent of others, that they think without coercion or duress. Just as one cannot force a person to understand algebra or music theory, threatening a person with eternal torment does not prove one’s claims or authority. As the most philosophically developed religious system in the world, Christianity represents the fullest assault on man’s reason that has ever been devised, and it is for this reason that its antagonism to the human thinker must be exposed.

by Dawson Bethrick

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Presuppositionalism vs. Causality

Presuppositional apologists like to use words like "random" and "chance" as little barbs suited for maligning rival positions. Just as they are prone to overstating their case (atheist philosophers, we are told, are constantly "failing miserably" in their efforts to formulate a rational view on things), they also assign a heavy workload (primarily for offensive emotional effect) to single words (such as "chance" and "random" in metaphysics, or "relative" in morality, etc.) which are intended to discredit the non-believer's point of view while alleviating the theist from the need to produce an argument. The following captures the essence of their thinking, as I have seen it displayed:

If mutations are "random," then evolution is "chance driven" and it's "just by chance" that man evolved the way he did. Therefore the "Naturalistic" philosopher presupposes a universe built on the slipping sands of chance.

That's basically how the standard refrain goes, but it has numerous variants. Essentially what is being said in such charges is that the apologist disparages any view which does not adopt his frozen abstraction, namely substituting volition, which is a type of causation, for causality as such. If any given action is not an action that was intended by some consciousness (ultimately they have their god in mind here), then it has no causal basis at all - it's "chance" implying a "chaotic" universe. This is standard thinking in the religious mind which wants to credit all the workings of the universe to his imaginary being. Without his god, everything would fall apart.

Of course, this reflects a very poor understanding of causality as well as a commitment to the primacy of consciousness. Causality is the law of identity applied to action, which means: the actions of an entity depend on its nature (contrast this view with the Humean conception which views causality as a relationship between events instead of a relation between an entity and its own actions). This is a general, absolute fact that even the theist must obey in order to achieve any end he chooses to pursue, whether it's tying his shoe, pouring a glass of milk or getting his butt to church on time. Wishing is not a means of causality. But if theism were an accurate description of the universe, wishing would be the only type of causation, and this would render induction completely impossible as a means of acquiring and validating knowledge of the universe. As an acquaintance of mine once put it, induction is valid because there are no magic beings that can mess with the universe (paraphrase).

As for natural selection, you're completely right that its processes are not "random" and that its outcomes are not "chance-driven." Binsanger makes this point in one of his lectures:

Natural selection is really the law of causality applied to life. It says (1) the survival of an organism depends on its actions... That's the conditional nature of life on which the Objectivist ethics is built... And (2) the actions of an organism depend on its nature - that's the law of causality. Therefore its survival depends on its nature. Thus every variation in the nature of an organism has a survival significance... It promotes survival, or it hurts survival... Nothing is neutral to life; everything is pro-life or anti-life. The pro-life variations survive better on average than the anti-life variations - that's natural selection.

One of the many assumptions driving the theist's slander of evolution is related to those framing his moral views, namely that life on earth doesn't matter (in fact, the theist wants to believe that he's got another life waiting for him on layaway beyond the grave - believing such nonsense can only lessen one's value of his life on earth; cf. Muslim suicide bombers). Because of the theist's irrational orientation to life on earth, man's nature as a biological organism has no relevance to the theist's conception of science, and it has no relevance to his morality or to what the theist would identify as a value. "God" is the number one value, any theist will likely say, for "God" is the standard of all values (though he won't be able to cite a bible passage that affirms this - the bible is deafeningly silent when it comes to values - at best, they're just taken for granted). The claim that "God" is the standard of value ignores the fact that the being they describe and call "God" could, on the basis of their descriptions (e.g., "immortal," "indestructible," "perfect," "lacking nothing," etc.), have no capacity for values, since its existence would be completely unconditional. It is because man's life is conditional (i.e., he faces the alternative between life and death) that values are both possible and necessary. The facts of reality don't factor into anything since they don't count: they're "contingent" and are not "necessary" in "all possible universes." And notice the duplicity of mind that this massive disconnect spurs on in religious teachings: on the one hand, "God" loves all human beings (enough to kill his son), but on the other, "God" is willing to throw the statistically vast majority of human beings into the garbage can for what amounts to nothing more than simply using their own minds (cf. the presuppositionalists' hatred for what they call "autonomous reasoning" - i.e., thinking with your own mind). That is not the disposition of a being who clearly understands the nature of his values, and it's clear what generates this kind of thinking: the religionist's notion of "love" has nothing to do with values to begin with, for his conception of morality has nothing to do with the facts of reality.

If anything is "random," it is the Christian's view of things. After all, it's "just by chance" that their god exists. They will say he is a "necessary existence," but what's to keep us from pointing out that it's "just by chance" that "God" is a "necessary existence"? And, since this god's nature is eternal and unchanging, it's "just by chance" that it happened to be a "good god" instead of an "evil god" (again, keep in mind these terms 'good' and 'evil' have no basis in objective values); god didn't choose to be good (that would imply that he's not "necessarily good," and Christians won't stand for that), he "just is" good (i.e., by chance, in the theist's own locution). For Calvinism it's even worse. It's "just by chance" that the Calvinist was picked by god for divine bestowments (regeneration, salvation, rebirth, or whatever they call it), for he did nothing to merit this. It's just the luck of the dice from the believer's perspective (which means thanking god for being numbered among "the chosen" is incoherent - this was "pre-ordained" from all eternity, not chosen). So not only does the Calvinist affirm what amounts to be a worldview based on chance (as apologists conceive of it), he has also completely negated volition - even god's! - since god's actions are "necessary" and "immutable."

Since the theist wants to reject natural causality, appeals to "intelligent design" reduce to an affirmation of the metaphysics of chance: it's "just by chance" that god "designed" man with two arms instead of 14; it's "just by chance" that god "designed" the earth and other planets with gravity instead of without gravity; it's "just by chance" that god "designed" the sun radiates light and energy and plants turn them into energy they can use; it's "just by chance" that bees don't spin webs and spiders don't produce honey; it's "just by chance" that god chose to create us in this "possible universe" and not in some other "possible universe."

by Dawson Bethrick

(Originally posted on Strong Atheism dot net, March 25, 2005.)