Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Is Man "Created in the Image of God"?

The Christian worldview claims that man is "created in the image of God." This teaching is first given in the Genesis story which tells of the creation of allegedly the first man, named Adam, who was created in the "image" of his maker, Yahweh. There is no tangible, extra-biblical evidence of this, such as photographs of both Adam and Yahweh which could be compared side by side, which could put to rest any disputes over this matter in the Christian's favor. So people who accept this claim do so on faith, that is, without supporting evidence. In spite of any confirming support, the supposition that man is “created in God’s image” is reiterated as if it somehow explained certain phenomena that have proven philosophically difficult for many thinkers throughout history to explain and integrate, such as man's reasoning ability and concepts of value, good, purpose, etc. Thus we have another contentless religious expression intended to do much heavy lifting.

The apologetic value of the expression "the image of God" is its lack of clarity, its vagueness, its ambiguity and its imprecision. It is because this expression has no objective meaning that apologists can use it in such a wide variety of ways; it has no objective content and thus no obviously conflicting applications when doctrinally sloganeered as a kind of stop-gap. Its apologetic value is therefore its very meaninglessness - a conceptually referenceless putty that can assume virtually any shape impressed upon it, since it has no inherent shape of its own. Indeed, saying that "man was created in the image of God" makes no more sense than saying "Man was stencil-graphed in the JPEG of Geusha" or "Man was traced on the silhouette of Hoola." The only reason why people don't question the former is because they've been hearing it all their lives and are thus accustomed to its effect and prone to reacting to it as desired (namely by shutting down all further inquiry), even though its implications remain completely indefinite and unmeaningful. Moreover, cursory analysis of the notion of "the image of God" will show why it has no objective reference, and that the claim that man was "created in the image of God" consequently has no explanatory value and thus no valid apologetic use.

We should not be surprised, then, to find that apologists tend to have difficulty when pressed to explain precisely what they mean by "the image of God." Even simple and straightforward questions remain unanswered. For instance, what does it mean to say that something that is said to be invisible (cf. I Tim. 1:17) has an "image"? We usually tend to have in mind something visual - or at least understandable in terms of vision - when using the term "image." But something that is invisible doesn't have a visual image. So already we might suspect that the wrong term is being used here.

The Christian could not say, for instance, that man resembles the Christian god in that it has two arms and two legs, and walks upright, for these are bodily descriptions, and the Christian god is said not to have a body. John 4:24 says "God is a Spirit," and Luke 24:39 says "a spirit hath not flesh and bones." But man has flesh and bones, indeed a physical body. So in what sense does Christianity teach that man was "created in the image of God"?

Some Christians seem to think that man was “created in the image of God” in a “personal” sense. For instance, apologist Cornelius Van Til says, speaking of man as such, that "he is like God in that he is a personality." (Christian Apologetics, p. 40.) Here we must then ask: What is the defining characteristic of personality which serves as the common denominator to both the Christian god and man? It seems that this would reduce ultimately to consciousness, for man has consciousness, and Christians attribute consciousness to their god. For how could something be said to have personality if it did not first have consciousness?

But this raises some questions:

- Most if not all animals have consciousness, and yet it is only man which is said to be "created in the image of God." If the apologist admits that personality stems from or presumes consciousness, does he assume that animals other than human beings have no personality? If so, on what basis would he assume this? Most dog- and cat-owners would argue that their pets have distinct personalities. So something other than (or in addition to) mere consciousness must provide the distinguishing factor here. Believers might say that “spirit” is the distinguishing factor. But on further examination, such assertions prove unhelpful to clarifying what is meant by “the image of God” since the term ‘spirit’ remains just as indefinite and nebulous as the expression under consideration. One does not gain any mileage by explaining one ambiguous notion with another. Why say man has a "spirit" but animals do not? Again the apologist is confronted with Luke 24:39: "a spirit hath not flesh and bones," but man does undeniably.

- Also, what can we say about the fundamentally contradictory orientations to the objects of consciousness enjoyed by the Christian god as opposed to man? In the case of man, the objects of consciousness hold primacy over his consciousness. That is, the objects he perceives remain what they are regardless of his wishes and imaginings. The function of man's consciousness is to be aware of objects and to identify them. But the consciousness of the Christian god, given Christianity's own description of it, is entirely and radically different from the nature of man's consciousness in this most fundamental regard. For according to what we gather from the bible, the objects of the Christian god's consciousness conform entirely to its wishes and imaginings. In fact, there would be no objects of the Christian god's consciousness if it did not first create them out of its wishes and imaginings, which reduces the claim that it is conscious to the fallacy of pure self-reference. At any rate, how could one say that man, for whose consciousness the objects hold metaphysical primacy, was “created in the image of God,” whose consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects? It is in this sense that the claim that man was “created in the image of God” amounts to the view that objectivity finds its source in subjectivism, but this is nonsensical. A rational orientation of consciousness does not find its basis in its contradiction.

Van Til also says that “[man] is therefore like God in everything in which a creature can be like God” (Ibid.). Again we are given nothing specific to go on here, just a vague generalization suggesting that there are ways in which that which is natural, finite, imperfect, non-omniscient, non-omnipotent, fallible, mortal, temporal, destructible, physical, biological and visible can be “like” that which is supernatural, infinite, perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, infallible, immortal, eternal, indestructible, non-physical, non-biological and invisible. This raises a question on the Christian god’s ability to create. Could not the Christian god create a personality that is infinite, perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, infallible, immortal, eternal, indestructible, non-physical, non-biological and/or invisible? In this statement, Van Til apparently overlooked angels and demons. Are these not also created by the same Christian god, and yet are they not personal beings which have greater attributes and powers and are thus more "like" the Christian god than man? If man is the best that the Christian god could create, how could Christians turn around and say that their god is omnipotent? If we accept Van Til's statement, which fails to take into account Christian teaching about supernatural creatures like angels and demons, it would seem that the Christian god's expertise is in creating imperfection. Christians will likely want to point to the fall of Adam to account for man’s imperfections. In other words, they want to blame the creature rather than the creator, even though the state of affairs is said to be precisely how the creator intends them to be. But even by pointing to the fall of Adam, Christians implicate their god as something less than what they claim it to be. For Adam would not have fallen had he been endowed with perfect judgment, for one who has perfect judgment does not judge erroneously and consequently come up short morally. Since, on Christianity’s own story line, Adam could have only had imperfect judgment, those same premises necessarily imply that the Christian god is an imperfect creator, for a perfect creator does not create imperfection, by definition. Thus we uncover yet another inconsistency internal to Christian theism.

What other sense of “image” could the Christian have in mind when he says that “man was created in the image of God”?

Could he mean that man was “created in the image of God” in a physical sense? No, he could not mean this. While man is in fact physical, the Christian god is said to be non-physical - it is something other than physical (we are told only what it is not - we are not told what it is). Does it have arms and legs? Apparently it does and doesn't - sort of like the trinity: it's three but one. But Luke 24:39 and John 4:24 together strongly suggest that it could not be a physical image, and yet man is physical. If man is physical, how could one say that it bears the image of something that is non-physical? Unanswered questions abound.


“God’s Intellectual Image”?

Could the Christian mean that man was “created in the image of God” in an intellectual sense? No, he could not mean this, for the Christian god is said to be omniscient and infallible. But man is neither of these. In fact, man needs reason precisely because he is neither omniscient nor infallible. Man needs reason to discover knowledge about reality (and without knowledge of reality he will not be able to live), and he needs reason to guide his mind, for it does not operate automatically. An omniscient, infallible being, however, has no such needs, and thus it would have neither need nor capacity for reason whatsoever. As it is described, if the Christian god existed, it would simply and automatically "just know" everything without effort and without any need to discover and/or validate new knowledge content (since there could be no new knowledge for it to discover and validate), and its infallibility would be equally automatic. A mind that is automatically always right would not have any need for a faculty which enabled it to discover and validate knowledge. So saying that man's reasoning ability is somehow "explained" by having been "created in the image of God" misses some enormous points.

But missing such points is common even with defenders of the Christian faith. For instance, in
his discussion with Zachary Moore, Christian pastor Gene Cook clearly ignores such vast and fundamental differences when he states that "part of being made in the image of God is the ability to reason." But do Christians give any reason to suppose this any more than that their ability to reason stems from having been created in the image of Allah, Geusha or Ripitornula? Indeed, to say that our reasoning ability comes from having been "created in the image of God" only results in making our faculty of reason all the more mysterious and thus incomprehensible; it sheds no light on how or why we reason or why we would need reason in the first place. Rather, it's just an empty faith claim void of content which consequently cannot be backed up by a rational appeal to fact, but which also cuts off an entire category of valid ideas from man's consideration and understanding.

Cook goes on to say "God says 'come reason with me,' then we have a... we have reasonableness universally, that is, man reasons logically." All this because man was "created in the image of God," right? It obviously doesn't fly. For consider: How can a man reason with someone who thinks he's always right? Reasoning with others necessarily involves the potential for mutual discovery on the part of all parties involved. The ability to discover and validate new knowledge is preconditional to the use of reason, and crucial to reasoning with others. But an omniscient and infallible being would be incapable of discovering and validating new knowledge, since from its perspective there would be no such thing as new knowledge to begin with. Also, reasoning with others involves a two-way dialogue which consists of the consensual exchange of information. But with the Christian god there is no possibility of such dialogue; any “discourse” between man and the Christian god would be one way and only one way – from it to man. Moreover, reasoning with others is only possible if knowledge is hierarchically contextual, which is the result of discovery and validation of new knowledge on the basis of previously validated knowledge, which reason makes possible for man but which is impossible for an omniscient being. Such would not be the nature of the Christian god’s knowledge, if it could be called that; its “knowledge” would not have a hierarchical structure for it could not have discovered and validated new knowledge by integrating it with previously validated knowledge for there would be no such thing as new knowledge for a being that somehow has all knowledge already. So again, on the Christian's own premises, man has an ability that an allegedly omnipotent deity could not itself have, and yet we are told that we are "created" in its image.

Cook tries to assert his way beyond such problems, as if he wasn't even aware of them, saying "since logic is an attribute of God, and we are made in His image, I now have a source for why I think logically." It's difficult to make sense of such statements, since they don't refer to anything that reduces to what we can discover and validate from what we can perceive. Cook makes it sound like he has some kind of uplink to his god's mind which thus serves as a "source" from which "logic" is downloaded into his finite, human mind so that he can use it for something his own god could not use it for, namely discovering and validating new knowledge. Additionally, the idea that "logic is an attribute of God" - something Cook asserts, but nowhere justifies - is nonsensical. Logic is not an "attribute" of entities, since logic is not a concrete. Indeed, we do not say that rocks are “logical” any more than we say that vinyl siding is. Rather, the term 'logic' refers to a conceptual method of organizing ideas in a way that exposes their inferential support, allowing a thinker to integrate new ideas with previously validated ideas and to reduce ideas to their perceptual basis. Thus ideas can be said to be logical or illogical; but such terms do not apply to the specific concretes to which those ideas ultimate refer but to principles that are derived from the axioms. But such misunderstandings as the one Cook offers here are to be expected from Christians, since their worldview does not teach an objective theory of concepts.


“God’s Moral Image”?

Could the Christian mean that man was “created in the image of God” in a moral sense? The answer here is clearly no as well, because the Christian god wouldn't even need morality, while man does. This would be the case whether we consult the Christian's subjective (whim-based) morality, or the objective (reason-based) morality of the rational atheist. On the Christian model, morality consists of commandments which must be obeyed on pain of eternal punishment, and man’s actions need to be commanded because thinking on his own (so-called “autonomous reasoning”) is strictly prohibited and anathema to the mindset desired by religious leaders. Quite simply, the Christian view is that man is intellectually impotent (a remarkable creation, is he not?) and thus cannot figure out what is good or evil on his own. As
one Christian puts it, “As finite beings there’s no way for us to know what’s right unless our creator tells us.” By contrast, the Christian god could hardly be said to have a need to be told by someone else what is good and what is evil, let alone any need to obey someone else's commands. Besides, those commands would have to come from some being that is somehow greater than the Christian god, but Christians wouldn't allow for the existence of such a being. So on Christianity’s own conceptions, it’s unlikely that the believer would say that his god would need morality, for saying that the Christian god needs morality would, on Christianity's own premises, be tantamount to saying that it could not guide itself autonomously and that it needs someone else’s imperative direction.

Furthermore, on a objective model, morality consists of a set of rational principles which guides one’s actions and choices. Man needs this because he needs to act in order to live; he cannot live by being inactive. But the Christian god is said to be immortal, eternal, indestructible, perfect and lacking nothing. Thus it could not be the case that the Christian god, were it to exist, would face the fundamental alternative that man faces, namely life vs. death. Man needs morality precisely because he faces such an alternative and because his actions are not automatic; he must choose to take those actions which make his life possible, and it is his nature as a biological organism and his environment which together dictate which actions will be pro-life as opposed to anti-life. Since the Christian god does not face such an alternative, it could not be said to have any need to act in the first place (remaining inactive would in no way hurt the Christian god), and thus it would have no need for a code of values which guides its actions. If such a being acts by choice, its choices and actions could be nothing but arbitrary.

Additionally, Greg Bahnsen’s suggested resolution to the problem of evil, which he gives in his book Always Ready (cf. pp. 171-172), makes it clear that the Christian god’s nature is not moral in the sense that man’s moral nature can and should be. Bahnsen frames the problem as follows:

1. GOD IS ALL-GOOD.
2. GOD IS ALL-POWERFUL.
3. EVIL EXISTS.
Bahnsen then suggests that the obvious tension among these premises is resolved by the following additional premise:
4. GOD HAS A MORALLY SUFFICIENT REASON FOR THE EVIL WHICH EXISTS.
While clearly resting his solution to the problem of evil on man’s ignorance of the Christian god (for Bahnsen admits on page 172 of his book that the believer does not need to know what that “morally sufficient reason to allow evil” might be), Bahnsen makes it clear that his god chooses not to stand against evil with all that is in it. But men can (and some men do) choose to stand against evil with everything that is within them, thus morally distinguishing themselves from the Christian god in ways that it could not achieve, given such responses to the problem of evil. What Christianity ignores is the fact that moral character is something one chooses for himself, not something that is dispensed by invisible magic beings. Those who choose a moral character would reject any view that suggests that there is such a thing as “a morally sufficient reason” to allow evil or “a perfectly good reason for the human misery” (Ibid.) that results at the hands of evil-doers, for they would see this as a contradiction in terms. On a rational view, this would essentially amount to saying that there are moral reasons for allowing immoral actions, or pro-value reasons to allow anti-value actions. The idea that it is good to allow that which is opposed to the good, is, on rational premises, completely and unavoidably self-contradictory. Christians do not see this as a contradiction, for they have already divorced morality from values, and to the extent that they embrace values, they experience personal guilt, for values are profoundly selfish, and selfishness is anti-Christ by nature. As a man devoted to his own values, then, every Christian must necessarily view me as anti-Christ by my own chosen nature.

So on both the Christian and the objective models of morality, there are fundamental differences between man and the Christian god as Christianity has conceived of it. Consequently, saying that man is “created” in the Christian god’s “moral image” ignores these fundamental distinctions, thus slighting both man and Christianity’s teachings about the nature of its deity.

Man is biological, but the Christian god is not. So where does the "image" part come into play? Here Christianity draws a blank, and the believer is left in the darkness of its perennial cave. The coldness he experiences upon reading such words is not causeless; indeed, it is the result of his monstrous worldview.


Exposing Christian Absurdity:

The "image of God" is really an image projected against the blank screen of a desperate mind that seeks to evade reality and hopes to rationalize that evasion by submitting to an imaginary authority and by claiming that all human beings have a duty to do likewise. Such evasion is possible only when one rejects reason as his only means of knowledge. Indeed, we saw above that, according to the Christian view, man’s mind is impotent, therefore his reason is likewise impotent. According to Christianity, man cannot figure things out for himself; rather, he needs to be told what is true, and he can only do what is “right” if he does so in obedience to someone’s commandments.

In the case of all religious viewpoints, we learn of them - not from the being alleged to have authored these "truths" - but from other men, finite human beings who are just as fallible and ignorant as the rest of us. They call us "the damned" while they reserve for themselves the pretended privilege of numbering among "the chosen." As fallible men, religious leaders are just as prone to confusing their imaginations with what is real as anyone else, and more likely to do so since their religious teachings offer no guidance on objectively distinguishing between the one and the other. This opens up a chasm in the minds of the believer who invests religious anecdotes, which he reads in biblical literature, with images he selects from his memory of personal experiences and rearranges in his imagination to fit the descriptions depicting those anecdotes, thus making the religious stories he reads in the bible seem more real than they really are. There is no way to visualize the events described in the gospels, for instance, without fitting one's imagination to the scant details they supply. The believer has most leeway in filling in those details which are not specified in the stories. The more the believer invests the stories with his own imaginary content, the more real they become in his mind and the more incapable he becomes when it comes to distinguishing fact and fantasy. Here the image is all in the believer’s mind, one invested with inputs he’s gleaned from personal experiences and assembled according to anecdotal cues given in the narratives themselves. This is the real "image of God" - an entirely subjective construct encouraged in the religious literature itself.

In the final analysis, a grand reversal is suggested by the inescapable conclusion that the Christian god is created in man's imagination: those who imagine that there is a god, imagine a being modeled on man's nature but free of the constraints of that human nature at the same time. Herein resides the inherent contradiction that grounds the Christian god-belief, a contradiction which is exposed when the claim that man is “created in the image of God” is examined closely given what can be known of man, and what Christianity claims about its diety.

by Dawson Bethrick

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Cooking with Gene’s Arbitrary Presuppositions

In his discussion with atheist Zachary Moore, Christian pastor Gene Cook of Unchained Radio announced that "the fact that the Bible is the Word of God is the presupposition that drives my worldview." This statement suggests that he takes the alleged truth of the bible as his most fundamental starting point. And yet, how could this be? The statement "the Bible is true" is no more irreducible than the statement "the Bible is the Word of God" or "the Bible is not true." Indeed, as mentioned in my previous blog, the claim that "the Bible is true" is simply a shorthand way of claiming that all the pronouncements and teachings found in the Christian bible, from the very first verse of Genesis to the last verse of Revelation, are true, factual and historically accurate. To affirm the truth of all these things in one gulp is quite a land grab to say the least, so voluminous and complex that to affirm it at the level of one's starting point is beyond absurd. Indeed, by saying that "the Bible is true," or some statement akin to this, is one's most fundamental starting point, presuppositionalists are essentially admitting that attempts to prove that the bible is true are completely hopeless.

In other words, instead of trying to prove that there is a god, that it created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh, that Adam was the first man and that Eve was made from his rib, that there was a pristine garden in which they lived along with a talking snake, that the first murder was of a man by his brother who went out and married a woman from who knows where, that the diversity of languages is due to the rash anger of a god threatened by men who constructed a tower (apparently that same god is not threatened by modern skyscrapers), that there was a worldwide flood that was survived by a man named Noah and his family in a wooden ark, and that on that ark he had gathered samples of all the species of fauna on the earth (apparently the flora had to survive on its own), that this god made some sort of agreement with a man named Abraham, etc. (and we're not even out of Genesis yet!), the presuppositionalist wants to just wave his hand and say "It's all true!" and everyone's supposed to believe it on his say so.

In response to my characterization of this apologetic tactic, the presuppositionalist would likely say "No, not on my say so, on God's say so." And yet that would simply beg the question. Apparently we're supposed to believe it's "God's say so" on the apologist's say so. The only thing that the presuppositionalist demonstrates is the fact that the defense of the arbitrary cannot proceed without recourse to logical fallacy. And yet, if an atheist made the sweeping claim that everything Michael Martin said and wrote was incontestably true, the presuppositionalist would demand that we go through everything he said and wrote piecemeal to prove it. So expect circular reasoning to be followed up by a rash of double standards and special pleading.

When Moore asked Cook "did you make that conclusion based on any evidence, or did you just decide...[?]" Cook starts to answer by saying "Based on evidence...," but then shifts to an appeal to Romans 8:16 which "says that the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." Thus he's essentially saying "the Bible is true" because he accepts a statement in the bible to be true, which is utterly circular; one does not prove the bible to be true by reciting any of its content. Moreover, Cook doesn't offer any objective evidence to accept the statement in question as truth. All that he has is a claim to something internal, a feeling or sensation which he attributes to a "Spirit" which "indwells" within him some place, somehow. He does not even indicate how he could have concluded that the feelings he feels were caused by what he attributes them to, namely his god. It's as baseless as the claim that a stain on a wall or a burn mark on a tortilla that kinda-sorta looks like a human figure, is "the Virgin Mary." How does one prove that it's an image of Mary, and not an image of, say, Socrates' mother or Jack the Ripper's first victim? How did Abraham know that the voice he heard in his head commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac, was that of a deity? John Frame's only answer to this question is "We know without knowing how we know"
(Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction - Part I), which isn't helpful at all.

Cook admits that his position boils down to nothing more than a faith commitment; and he must do this, given the inconvenient preponderance of appeals to faith throughout the bible. But he then rushes to give his religious appeal to faith a glossy coating by saying "Faith is not fideism, it's not a blind leap into a dark chasm. Faith is... based on reasonable... reasons."

Webster's defines 'fideism' as "reliance on faith rather than reason in pursuit of religious truth," thus confirming that there is an antithesis between faith and reason (as I mentioned in
my previous blog, Christians tend to view things in terms of pro-Jesus vs. anti-Jesus, while rational individuals view things in terms of reason vs. anti-reason). So Cook needs to make a choice here: does he go with faith (the route endorsed throughout the bible), or with reason (which is incompatible with the religious worldview)? His statements make it sound like he wants to have it both ways, but reason and faith are as incompatible with one another as are oil and water. Why not just go with reason, and cut loose all this unworkable religious mess? Indeed, why not simply be honest and just admit that the universe is not a cartoon?

But notice his statement, that his "faith is... based on reasonable reasons." One would think, with all the talk about "presuppositions" and "ultimate presuppositions," that Cook would be willing to clearly identify his starting point, his most basic affirmation, what he takes to be irreducible and primary. On the one hand he says that "the fact that the Bible is the Word of God is the presupposition that drives my worldview," thus suggesting that he takes the statement "the Bible is the Word of God" (or "the Bible is true") as his irreducible primary. Notwithstanding the gaping problems I mentioned in
my previous blog with affirming such statements as one's starting point, Cook does not seem to have a problem with Moore's characterization of this position as a conclusion. If it's a conclusion to an argument that supports it, then it's not his most fundamental premise, simple as that. Something else must come before it. But what? He confirms this suspicion by saying that his "faith is... based on reasonable reasons." But what are those "reasonable reasons"? And on what are those based? Where does he start? Like with virtually all apologists, the answer to such questions remains stubbornly unclear, and presuppositionalists give no indication that clear answers to any such questions will ever be forthcoming.

by Dawson Bethrick

Friday, May 20, 2005

Arbitrary Presupposition vs. Reasoned Conclusion

Christian apologists have come to use the term "presupposition" so loosely that it is not always clear what precisely they mean by it. But the intended approximate meaning is evidently some very basic assumption or "belief" that governs all or most all other positions in one's worldview. Apologist John Frame defines 'presupposition' as "the belief that governs all other beliefs, or the most fundamental commitment of the heart" (A Van Til Glossary), which clearly suggests a belief or position held at the foundational level of one's thinking. Apologist Greg Bahnsen wants to equate “presuppositions” with “elementary assumptions.” (Always Ready, p. 13.) Both authorities on presuppositional apologetics thus agree that the term ‘presupposition’ as they use it refers to some very basic affirmation that serves as a foundation in one’s thinking.

In
his Aug. 3, 2004 online radio discussion with non-Christian scientist Zachary Moore, Unchained Radio host and Christian pastor Gene Cook of 'The Narrow Mind' insisted on speaking for Moore's position, a common apologetic practice. "See," said Cook, "we both have presuppositions. Yours is now that the Bible is not true." As a presuppositional apologist, Cook has a motive for making such a charge: he wants to debate with Moore's position as a non-believer on the assumption that non-belief in the Christian worldview is no less arbitrary than the Christian's own position. The effect is to put both positions, the Christian and the non-Christian, on the same level for the purpose of taking control of the issue, when in fact they do not enjoy the same level in the hierarchy of ideas.

In this blog I will show that the judgment that the bible is not true is not a presupposition in the sense that it is 1) a starting point, 2) an unargued conclusion, 3) an emotional prejudice or 4) an "ultimate commitment." In a following blog I will show why Gene Cook's presupposition that the bible is true, is arbitrary and rationally untenable.

1) Why "the Bible is not true" is not a presupposition in the sense of a starting point:

My starting point is not the statement "the Bible is not true." On the contrary, I start with the axioms - existence, identity, consciousness, and their logical corollaries and implications. I would agree that these axioms, taken in their full context, do in fact imply that Christian theism is false, but they also imply that Islam, Hinduism and virtually any other form of mysticism are false as well, since they imply the falsity of all forms of mysticism as such. (This would most likely irk Gene Cook since he'd probably rather not view Christianity as just one more variant of mysticism, while I see them, philosophically speaking, as kissing cousins to one another.) Also, the statement "the Bible is not true" could not in any way qualify as a conceptual starting point, for its terms assume prior concepts. We know this because certain terms in that statement can (and must - in order to have meaning) be defined in terms of prior concepts. We have the concept of a bible which refers not just to a stack of papers bound together on one side, but to an enormous sum of claims ranging a broad spectrum of topics, from history to morality to genealogies to predictions to cosmology, etc. Those claims do not make statements that are verified by direct perception, so each one of them would have to be argued for if one were to accept them as truth. So the concept of 'bible' is certainly not irreducible. Nor is the concept 'true' irreducible; it too must be defined in terms of prior concepts for it to be meaningful. Furthermore, the human mind starts by affirming - namely what it is directly and immediately aware of - not by negating. We don't start by saying "Not X," but by affirming what we directly perceive in the form of a general statement, such as "there is a reality" or as Rand put it "existence exists." Where religion obscures this foundation, Objectivism makes it explicit and unmistakable. So the statement "the Bible is not true" is not a "presupposition" if by "presupposition" one means a starting point.

2) Why "the Bible is not true" is not a presupposition in the sense of an unargued conclusion:

It is not difficult to assemble arguments which are wholly consistent with the axioms mentioned above and the system they imply, and which also show why the bible is not true. Those arguments can be against the philosophical content of religions based on the bible's teachings, or they can be against the historical claims that are found in the pages of the bible. Many persons who conclude that the bible is not true base that conclusion on such arguments. For instance, one can argue against the bible on the basis that its philosophy assumes a false metaphysics, namely the primacy of consciousness. This is a particularly effective way to argue against the bible since one would have to assume the truth of its opposite - the primacy of existence - in order to assemble and deploy any defensive arguments on behalf of a bible-based worldview. Also, one can argue that much of the content which is found in the bible is legendary in nature by exposing the progressive steps its authors took as their stories grew wider and wider in legend, thus showing why one should not accept its historical claims as truth. Moreover, the claim that the bible is true assumes that the bible is internally uniform, and this is untenable (see these essays by G.A. Wells). So the claim "the Bible is not true" is not a presupposition in the sense of an unargued conclusion. In fact, it is a conclusion that can be soundly defended on a philosophical basis which even Christians have to assume and make use of in order to think at all.

3) Why "the Bible is not true" is not a presupposition in the sense of an emotional prejudice:

In my worldview, emotions are not the arbiter of truth. On the contrary, reason is our only guide to knowledge and truth. In fact, people believe the bible either because they find some of its claims comforting for some reason, or because they're afraid its threats might be true. Consequently, if any worldview can be said to be based on an appeal to emotion, it is the one that takes the bible seriously for such reasons.

Contrary to the supposition that all atheists are atheists on account of their emotions, many atheists themselves are in fact former believers whose deconversion was a very painful emotional process. Many persons who were nurtured on the idea that there is a cosmic father figure watching over them and caring for their needs and directing their future course, experienced deep personal trauma when they discovered that there is no such thing and had to face the fact that they have to look out for themselves. Indeed, those who once thought that they could count on prayers to overcome obstacles or cure diseases or other ailments, are often left intensely disappointed when they realize that prayer not only fails, but that recourse to prayer can only imply intellectual surrender in life (which is essentially what presuppositionalism encourages when it speaks against so-called "autonomous reasoning").

Many theists argue that individuals turn atheist because are put off by religion's strict prohibitions on certain kinds of actions, particularly those which result in personal pleasure, sexual or otherwise (even though Psalms 115:3 makes it clear that pleasure is the Christian god's sole guide to action). This not only ignores the fact that the church is full of hypocrites - people who claim to be believers but who also thwart religious behavior codes as a matter of habit, it also suggests that theists who make such arguments consider a life without the threat of dreadful god-beliefs looming overhead to be a life of sheer indulgence, irresponsibility and hedonism. In actuality, however, quite the opposite is normally the case. Leading one's own life apart from pre-packaged behavioral imperatives issued on pretended authority typically means taking responsibility for one's own choices and actions. The overall effect of religious moral codes essentially reduces man to a sheepish robot, mindlessly obeying commandments out of fear of punishment and concerned primarily with pleasing an insatiable, unchanging deity whose attributes can only be imagined and never perceived. The threat of eternal damnation can be extremely powerful, emotionally speaking, to those who take it seriously. The bible even admits that its epistemological basis is emotional in nature when it tells us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov. 1:7). And fear of course is an emotion. And we should not forget that, for those who seek the unearned, the idea that forgiveness of wrongdoings and moral shortcomings can be had just for the asking (cf. I John 1:9) may in fact be too enticing to resist; and for those who feel guilty simply because they exist, may in fact be suckers for the promise of unearned forgiveness. Unsurprisingly, since theists have to assume the truth of at least the basic core of the rational atheist's worldview (e.g., the axioms, the primacy of reason in goal-oriented action, etc.), theistic apologists in fact have a hard time contending that non-believing worldviews are false on the basis of anything more than that they find any alternative to their own worldview depressing. For instance, in his response to a quote by a non-Christian thinker, Christian apologist Paul Manata finds that he can only say "oh, what a sad and pathetic worldview." Apparently he cannot assemble any serious argument against the views he disdains so furiously.

4) Why "the Bible is not true" is not a presupposition in the sense of an "ultimate commitment":

Many presuppositionalists want to understand the term 'presupposition' to refer to an ultimate commitment, as Frame puts it, "the most fundamental commitment of the heart." This characterization strongly resembles what a rational thinker would mean by starting point, which would make it susceptible to the same objections noted above. Does the conclusion that "the Bible is not true" constitute "the most fundamental commitment of the heart"? Not if it is a conclusion to prior argument. Nevertheless, apologists who insist that the statement "the Bible is not true" constitutes the atheist's "most fundamental commitment of the heart" would have to explain why the statement "the Quran is not true" would not be one as well. Christians tend to give their own particular religion's views a biased preference over other religious views, sometimes acting as if theirs were the only religious worldview available, even though those views share many essentials in common with other religions, such as belief in the supernatural beings, miracles, life beyond the grave, commandment-driven morality, endorsement of self-sacrifice and self-immolation, etc. While Christian believers tend to view worldview conflicts in terms of Christian vs. non-Christian, rational persons view worldview conflicts in terms of rational vs. irrational. Accordingly, Christians tend to view fundamental commitments in terms of pro-Jesus vs. anti-Jesus (cf. Mt. 12:30) and pro-doctrine vs. anti-doctrine, while rational persons view fundamental commitments in terms of pro-reason vs. anti-reason and pro-value vs. anti-value. Intellectually, man has a fundamental choice: to think or to evade thinking. If he chooses to think, by what ultimate standard will he guide his thinking: by reason, or by anti-reason? And what principle will guide his actions: one that is pro-value, or one that is anti-value? The religious believer has made his ultimate choice: he has chosen to go with anti-reason and anti-value. He has made this choice by virtue of his commitment to a faith-based worldview which logically leads to self-sacrifice. And although an atheist's non-belief does not guarantee that he will guide his thinking by reason, an atheist does not need to embrace a faith-based worldview. On the contrary, he is free to choose a rational worldview. Rationality is one's commitment to reason as his only means of knowledge and his only guide to action. So for those atheists who embrace a rational worldview, their "ultimate commitment," intellectually speaking, is to reason, for their "ultimate commitment," metaphysically speaking, is to life as an end in itself.

The only rational conclusion to draw, then, is that there are strong grounds on which to contest Gene Cook's charge that the atheist's judgment "the Bible is not true" is a "presupposition" in the senses considered here. The only sense that this judgment could be considered to be "presuppositional" in nature, is as part of a much broader context on which subsequent conclusions are drawn. But such cases do not entail that this judgment is baseless, untenable or acceptable only on faith. For instance, one can establish the fact that "the Bible is not true" as a conclusion stemming from prior facts (such as those to which I alluded above), and then incorporate this truth as a premise in drawing the subsequent conclusion that it would be wrong to teach biblical ideas as truth to young, impressionable children. Only in this restricted sense, one could call such a truth a "presupposition" in the functional sense of a logically relevant antecedent fact. For instance, consider the following argument, noting the embedded sub-argument and its conclusion's presuppositional function in supporting the conclusion of the larger argument:

1) If a particular viewpoint or set of claims is not true, it would be wrong to teach philosophically defenseless children that that viewpoint or set of claims is true.
2) The bible is not true.

a) Any set of teachings that assumes the truth of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics is not true.
b) The bible is a set of teachings that assumes the truth of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics.
Subconclusion: Therefore, the bible is not true.

Conclusion: Therefore, it is wrong to teach philosophically defeneseless children that the bible is true.

In this argument, we see that the truth that the bible is not true is presuppositional to the conclusion that it is wrong to teach philosophically defenseless children that the bible is true. But since this truth is supported by inference from more fundamental truths, it is clearly not a presupposition in the sense of a starting point, an unargued conclusion, an emotional prejudice, or an "ultimate commitment." But this is unsettling to apologists, for they want their religious teachings to be true, and they want others to take them seriously, even though they cannot show them to be true. Thus they are motivated to cast the atheist's judgments in a bad light and ridicule them with the pejorative notion that they are borne on untenable prejudice, which in fact appropriately describes the apologist's own commitment to theism, which I will show in my next blog.

by Dawson Bethrick

Monday, May 09, 2005

I Don't Believe It

It's not that I want to disbelieve what the religionists tell me. It's not that I want it to be untrue. It's just a simple fact that I don't believe it. And I don't believe because I don't think it's true.

I don't believe the universe was created by conscious activity. I don't believe that the flora and the fauna were "designed" by some conscious overseer. I don't believe that the entire earth was covered in water as the result of a vengeful act of a consciousness unhappy with its creation. I don't believe that my life would be meaningless if there were no "infinite mind" or "absolute person" which they tell me meaningfulness needs. I don't believe it.

I don't believe that this "infinite mind" incarnated itself and walked the earth some two thousand years ago. I don't believe anyone back then was born a virgin, even though many religions in the day taught this about their savior-gods. I certainly don't believe the earth is flat, which is what the biblical authors obviously believed. I don't believe there's a magic kingdom called "heaven" where some people's consciousnesses go when they die. I don't believe there is any conscious experience after a person dies. Why would I believe such things? I don't believe it.

Now, this unbelief of mine bothers some people, because they apparently want these things to be true. And I say this - that they want these things to be true - because their actions overhwelmingly suggest this. Just observe how strenuously Christian apologists try to defend their religion's claims. Indeed, it is not unusual for apologists to resort to name-calling and other childish antics when engaging with "stubborn" non-believers like me. I've been called an "ass," a "moron," a "fool," et al. If not believing stories about an invisible magic being which directs every event in the universe means I'm a "fool," well I guess I have to consider the source of such epithets. But what could account for this behavior other than the believer's desire to vindicate his confessional commitments? Christians want to cite I Peter 3:15 as the source of their standing instruction to "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh [them] a reason of the hope that is in [them] with meekness and fear." But resorting to name-calling does not suggest either hope or meekness. On the contrary, such behavior only suggests desperation and conceit.

Many believers have tried to take my non-belief to task by asking whether or not I believe other historical accounts, accounts which are commonly accepted as true or probably true by historians and other scholars. For instance, the believer might ask "Is it true that Socrates drank the hemlock?" referring to the story of the ancient philosopher's execution by the state. And while I was not there to observe the event firsthand, it is a story that is repeated in the history books, and I know of no reason to dispute it. This story does not contradict any knowledge that I have validated, so there's no prima facie reason to reject it. Regardless, I suppose it happened, but it's not very important to my life if in fact Socrates escaped from prison and joined a circus. But I will point out that the story of Socrates drinking the hemlock does cohere with what we know about hemlock: it is poisonous to the human body, and the story holds that this is how Socrates died. But if the story said that Socrates was a Christian (some 400 years prior to the purported time of Jesus' life) and that because of his belief in Jesus the hemlock did not harm him (per Mark 16:18 - "if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them"), I'd suppose it was legend at best - indeed one applied retroactively - and thus not at all reliable. Likewise, if the story told us that, upon drinking the hemlock, Socrates turned into a condor and flew away, I wouldn't believe that, either. Does the Christian think I should believe such a story? After all, on his Christian premises, how could he dispute it? On what grounds would he be able to reject it, unless he borrowed from my worldview?

But if Christians still insist that I believe their claims, perhaps they could start by demonstrating the truth of Mark 16:18 for me. Indeed, it claims that drinking deadly substances will not harm those who believe the gospel. Perhaps while they're at it, they can explain the causality behind this: how does the content of one's beliefs immunize his body from substances that are otherwise lethal to human beings?

You see, apologists, I don't believe these things. But I encourage you to continue trying to convince me, at least in the interest of sport. Perhaps in the process, you might convince yourselves, but I doubt even that will happen. To be on the safe side, I'd recommend that you have a phone nearby if you take a sip of hemlock as you try to prove the truth of Mark 16:18 - be ready to dial 911 ASAP, because I think you're going to need emergency medical help after your first swallow. But maybe I'm wrong and you're right. I know of only one way to settle this dispute, so bottom's up!

by Dawson Bethrick

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Five Hundred Anonymous Witnesses

Many Christian apologists naturally want to put a lot of weight on the so-called testimony of those who allegedly witnessed a living Jesus after he was said to be crucified and entombed. Unfortunately for Christians, however, there are very few purported witnesses to the events that we read about in the New Testament, and even those are too shaky to serve as reliable evidence. So it is not surprising to find Christian apologists trying to exploit certain passages in the New Testament to say more than they really do say as they try to find a shortcut that bypasses this problem.

An common example of this is a reference to five hundred anonymous believers who allegedly saw Jesus after his crucifixion in I Corinthians 15:6. The verse reads as follows:
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. (KJV)
If five hundred or more believers saw Jesus at one of his post-resurrection appearances, as the typical apologetic reasoning goes, this would serve as astounding evidence for the gospel stories.

And even though such passages do not seem to figure largely in the apologetic writings of Cornelius Van Til (I Cor. 15:6 does not even earn an entry in the scriptural index of Greg Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis – cf. pp. 741-744), appeals to eyewitness testimony are apparently not the exclusive territory of evidentialist apologists. John Frame, for instance, himself a well known spokesman for presuppositional apologetics, writes the following:
It is quite legitimate, as we shall see, to argue on the basis of evidence, such as the testimony of the five hundred witnesses to the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). Eyewitness accounts may be used argumentatively as follows: “If Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances are well attested, then the Resurrection is a fact. His post-Resurrection appearances are well attested; therefore, the Resurrection is a fact.” (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 9.)
Regardless of the particular apologetic orientation of any would-be defender of Christian theism, whether evidentialist or presuppositionalist or otherwise, the tradition that there were “five hundred witnesses to the Resurrection” could in no way be considered “well attested,” because it is mentioned by only one writer in all of the New Testament, and he mentions it only one time. And if there were any known extra-biblical attestation of these alleged five hundred witnesses, apologists wouldn’t stop trumpeting it from every mountaintop. Indeed, if it were true that so many people saw a man who they thought was divinely resurrected from the dead, it would be amazing that only one person mentions it, and even then only in passing!

But already there’s a massive sleight of hand at work in Frame's statement, and most apologists would themselves probably not detect it, let alone encourage its exposure. There is no testimony of five hundred witnesses to the Resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:6. The testimony here is the author’s – a single man, namely the apostle Paul – not a testimony endorsed by the five hundred persons he alleges as witnesses. So we have the testimony of one man here, and one man only. One man does not count as five hundred.

Also, even if we grant that these five hundred persons did in fact see the man named Jesus, even Christians cannot say that they were “witnesses to the Resurrection,” for “the Resurrection” allegedly took place in a sealed tomb where no one could witness it! Apologist Gary Habermas admits this very point on p. 307 of Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ, acknowledging that
nobody was sitting inside the tomb and saw the body start to vibrate, stand up, take the linen wrappings off, fold them, roll back the stone, wow the guards, and leave.
So Frame errs when he insinuates that these alleged “five hundred brethren” witnessed Jesus' resurrection. If there were five hundred such persons, and they saw a man named Jesus, all they witnessed was a man, not a dead man miraculously coming back to life.

To defend the reliability of Paul’s claim that “above five hundred brethren” saw the resurrected Jesus, Habermas gives the standard reaching defense in response to Strobel’s perfunctory interrogation on the matter:
Now stop and think about it: you would never include this phrase unless you were absolutely confident that these folks would confirm that they really did see Jesus alive. I mean, Paul was virtually inviting people to check it out for themselves! He wouldn’t have said this if he didn’t know they’d back him up. (The Case For Christ, pp. 312-313.)
Now to say that this response is weak – especially coming from someone who holds a Ph.D and whose dissertation was on the resurrection – is an understatement. Yet this is the standard reply given to those who ask about the legitimacy of the “the five hundred brethren” cited in I Cor. 15. There are several reasons why this canned response fails. For one, we must remember that 1 Corinthians is a letter written by the apostle when he was ministering at Ephesus (I Cor. 16:8), and this letter was delivered to the church at Corinth by someone else (probably by Sosthenes, according to Felix Just), and perhaps read to the congregation once it was received. This means that members of the audience at the Corinthian church, supposing it was read to them, could not have asked Paul directly for details about these “five hundred brethren,” unless they traveled to Ephesus and arranged a meeting with him. This would apply also for any members of the church who only read the document.

Also, Paul does not name one single individual of the five hundred he mentions, so how could anyone follow up on his claim that the resurrected Jesus was seen by so many people at one time? If Paul doesn’t name any of these alleged witnesses, his readers wouldn’t have any way to confirm his claim, unless they consulted with the busy missionary himself. We should also ask how Paul knew that so many people saw the resurrected Jesus at one time. How did he learn of this event? Was this a tradition passed down to him by other Christians? Was Paul himself there? If he was one of the five hundred, why doesn’t he give more details, and why doesn't he mention it in any of his other letters? For that matter, where did it happen? Did it happen outside Jerusalem? Did it happen at Galilee? Again, the apostle gives his readers no details about this alleged event, so his readers wouldn’t even know where to start if they wanted to go out and confirm his claim. And supposing five hundred people did see a man, how would they have known that it was the Jesus whom Paul preached that they were seeing? Paul gives no indication of how the individual seen by the “five hundred brethren” demonstrated himself to be the Jesus who died as a result of being crucified. So not only is it wrong to say that we have the testimony of five hundred persons, the apostle’s own claim is inadmissible as testimony since it provides absolutely no confirmable details and has no chance of surviving cross-examination. It is even possible that the story was made up, either by Paul himself, or by someone who reported it to Paul. And if it were part of an oral tradition that was finally passed on to the apostle, it could easily have been exaggerated as it was retold.

Finally, it seems that Habermas takes for granted that no member of the Corinthian church did in fact try to investigate the claim about the five hundred brethren. If someone did try to investigate the claim about the anonymous five hundred brethren, and yet found no evidence to confirm the apostle’s claim that they witnessed the resurrected Christ, should we expect Christians to have advertised this? Such negative results of an investigation into the matter could easily have been suppressed. And, for all that we know, it is entirely possible that someone who learned of Paul’s claim about five hundred witnesses of the resurrected Christ, either by reading his letter, or by attending a sermon in which it was read, or by hearing it repeated from missionaries who cited Paul’s letter, could have sought to inquire about the five hundred persons in question. Such a person would probably have begin his inquiry with the Corinthian church’s leadership. But what details would they have been able to provide? At best, they could have referred him to Paul, a busy missionary traveling abroad and campaigning in the interest of spreading the new religion. But if the church leadership revered Paul as an apostle of Christ, they probably would not have been inclined to send a skeptical someone to nag him about a point he referenced in one of his letters, let alone encourage his questioning of what was fast becoming church doctrine. It’s not a secret that congregants of a Christian church are prone to accepting what their leadership tells them uncritically. Indeed, the underlying message of even contemporary spokesmen like Habermas is quite difficult to miss: believe what the apostle claims in his letters on his say so – it is a suitable substitute for genuine evidence.

So if a Christian apologist attempts to validate the belief that Jesus was resurrected by parroting I Cor. 15:6, rest assured he’s reaching and hoping that others will confuse a claim with the non-existent proof that is supposed to support it, just as he has done.

by Dawson Bethrick

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Real Genesis Creation Account

(As translated from the original Nefuritic by Dawson Bethrick.)

1 In the beginning, God created the cartooniverse.
2 And the cartooniverse was without images and void of color; and darkness was upon the face of each frame. And the spirit of God took up the magic marker.
3 And God said, Let there be images, and there were images.
4 And God saw the images, that they were good: and God divided the colors from the shapes.
5 And God called the shapes and colors cartoons, and he did populate the cartooniverse with many diverse cartoons.
6 And the Lord God did use the magic marker to give life to the cartoons, to make them an help meet for Him, and did converse with them as was His pleasure.
7 And God said it was good.
9 And in the center of the cartooniverse, God did illustrate a great garden.
10 And in the garden created He a great water pot which He called Nung.
11 And He adorned it thereof with floral decoration and images of beasts and creeping things, and gave it color and shape.
12 And God did dress the water pot and set it upon a pedastal, and He put it in the garden.
13 And God said it was good.
14 So the Lord said unto the water pot, Hold thee in thyself all the rains of the forest, that thou mayest contain it therein for my cartoons, and givest thou Me thine report after the season.
15 And Nung obeyed and did as the Lord commanded him when the rains did come.
16 And the Lord did send the rains, and it rained therein over the forest. And Nung did catch the rains as the Lord commanded.
17 Then after a season as the rains did cease, the Lord did come unto the water pot and saw no rainwater therein. And the Lord was wroth with anger.
18 And the Lord spake with Nung saying, Why hast thou disobeyed me?
19 And Nung was puzzled, for there was a large crack in his side toward his nether region.
20 And Nung answered, My Lord, didst thou not knowest that thou hast formed me insufficient to thine task which thou hast commanded of me thy servant? For the rains did come and filled my basin, but the rainwater hath escaped out the crack in my nether region.
21 And the Lord waxed angry with Nung and saith unto him, Thou cursed and disobedient servant! Thou art unworthy for My garden.
22 And Nung asked the Lord, Why hast thou such anger in thine heart? Didst not thou form me as thou hast desired? Recall thou saidst it is good when thou created me.
23 And the Lord's wrath grew against Nung and He saith unto him, Thou presumest it a light duty to create cartoons.
24 And Nung answered saying, Hath not the cartoonist power over the cartoon, of the same image to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
25 And the Lord seethed in anger saying, Thou mockest thine illustrator. I gave thee color and shape, and formed thee in My image. Thou ingrate, be thou removed hence to the void.
26 And the Lord wished the water pot offscreen into the void never to be seen again.
27 And God said it was good.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Difficulty Keeping the Party Line Straight

I remember some years ago when an apologist used the expression “Christian epistemology,” I was completely baffled. I knew what epistemology is, but what could possibly be meant by the term “Christian epistemology”? I thought it was self-evident to anyone who understood the basic project of epistemology, that such a notion as “Christian epistemology” was oxymoronic. Epistemology has to do, not only with the nature of knowledge of reality, but also with the means by which we discover and validate that knowledge. In reading the New Testament, however, the primary concern is about belief (specifically belief in things that are not observed in nature), not about knowledge and the way it is acquired and confirmed. Thereafter believers tend to confuse the two by ignoring their essential distinctions.

It is hard to see how the so-called "knowledge" that the bible claims for its believers could be characterized as anything other than automatic, even magical in nature. Some modern believers even go so far as to claim that this "knowledge" is rational in nature (a claim that even the bible doesn't make for itself!), but it's not hard to see that this could not be the case. Knowledge that is rational is knowledge that is acquired and valiated on the basis of reason, not on the basis of "revelations" which are allegedly transmitted into a person's mind from a magical source.

Quite unlike rational individuals, the believer can supposedly "just know" his religious "truths," such as that there is a god, that this god is the god of the bible, that everything he reads in the bible is true, that this god sent a son to live as a man on the earth, and that this son died so that the believer can go to heaven. The believer is also supposed to "just know" that this god is an all-good, omniscient, omnipotent and perfect creator of the universe and everything within it, including the believer himself, but he is also supposed to "just know" that this same perfect creator created the believer imperfect and "totally depraved" (even though he is said to have been created in this perfect god's "image"). On top of all this, he is supposed to "just know" that this imperfection and depravity are the creature's fault, not the perfect creator's. And though all these claims are completely arbitrary, having no basis in reality, we are told not only that they are incontestable truths, but also that all our knowledge necessarily presupposes their alleged truth. This latter assertion has been popularized in recent times with the development and spread of presuppositional apologetics, a defense of Christian theism that attempts to hijack philosophical issues and recast them as if they could "make sense" only on the basis of Christian premises.

The prevailing tendency throughout the bible is that the reader is expected to believe whatever is written in its pages on its say so. When biblical authors do get around to devoting some attention - however superficial - to epistemological issues, it is only in the interest of wiping out any identifiable means by which religious "truths" are to be discovered and validated. This is typically accomplished by vaguely indicating only what the preferred means of knowledge is not (it's not whatever method the non-believer uses), and by diverting attention to the antithesis that the believer is supposed to assume toward the world of non-believers around him. The apostle Paul, for instance, in the opening chapters of his first epistle to the Corinthian church that he helped establish and nurture, makes it clear that the faith he was spreading was antagonistic to the epistemological methodology of those who were not initiated in the Christian faith. Referring to non-Christian epistemological norms of knowledge collectively as "the wisdom of the world" (I Cor. 1:20) and "the wisdom of men" (I Cor. 2:5), the apostle made it very difficult for modern believers, who unwittingly enjoy the benefits of the rational philosophy of non-believers on a daily basis, to distinguish between reason as such on the one hand, and what the apostle was trying to denounce on the other. If reason is not "the wisdom of the world," what is? If the apostle was not denouncing reason, what specifically was he denouncing? In his book Always Ready, Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen carries on the apostle's tradition of denouncing the man's means of knowledge, referring vaguely to it as "the thought patterns of worldly wisdom" (cf. pp. 16, 19, et al.). If the expression "the thought patterns of worldly wisdom" is intended to refer to something other than reason, why isn't more care taken to make this clear? Why leave such crucial matters so imprecise?

It is Christianity's inherent antagonism to reason that prompted Bahnsen's unwitting moment of candor when he admitted that "Christians are often befuddled about 'reason', not knowing whether it is something to embrace or to eschew." (Ibid., p. 113.) Such confusion is to be expected when, on the one hand, man cannot live in the universe without reason, while on the other hand he is told that it is virtuous to denounce and reject reason, just as the apostle Paul does in his letter to the Corinthian church.

So if "knowledge" is not to be acquired and confirmed by means of reason, what process enables the believer to "know" what he claims to "know"? To state the obvious, there is no clear and uniform answer to these questions. Theologians and apologists appeal to numerous cryptic channels through which magic knowledge is supernaturally transmitted into their minds, and this magic knowledge is said to be incontestable and fundamental to any and all other knowledge. They make claim to vague and indefinite notions such as "grace," the "guidance" of the "Holy Spirit," "the image of God," the "sensus divinitatus" - any form of "just knowing" that will enable them to bluff their way through the moment. Notice that they do not appeal to reason when speaking about the "knowledge" they claim to have about an allegedly "higher reality" to which we're supposed to believe they have access. Apparently we're supposed to accept their claim to such knowledge on their say so (just as they did in the case of the bible's claims), for they give precious little else for us to go by. The apostle Paul, for instance, claimed that believers have what he called "the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16). And since Christ is supposed to be infallible, it must be hard for those who want to believe that they are endowed with such a mind to resist the temptation to suppose that their own thoughts are therefore likewise infallible. When we don't believe what they say, we're dismissed either as fools, or as too stupid to understand.

Presuppositionalist apologists like to draw a distinction between what they call "general revelation" and "special revelation." The former is used to refer to

God’s revelation of His person, glory, and attributes to all men in all ages through nature, conscience, and history, so that they are without excuse for not worshipping Him correctly and leading righteous lives; unlike special revelation, it is not verbal in character or redemptive in content. (Greg Bahnsen, By This Standard, p. 355.)

Notice that Bahnsen specifies only what this "revelation" is not - "it is not verbal in character." This tells us nothing about how this "revelation" is made known, or how it can be confirmed. Perhaps these issues were not a concern for Bahnsen. This "knowledge" is apparently beamed into man's mind somehow (no how?), and we're expected not to question it. (Which just makes one wonder: If such "knowledge" cannot endure questioning, why accept it as knowledge?) At any rate, such "revelation" is supposedly not something we learn by reading from a book. Rather, "all men in all ages" are said to have knowledge of the Christian god's "person, glory, and attributes" from sources that are more or less equally available to all: "through nature, conscience, and history." The biblical impetus for creating this category of "revelation" is found in the first chapter of the apostle Paul's epistle to the Romans. Romans 1:19-20, a passage fondly recited by presuppositionalist apologists, reads as follows:

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

This passage clearly seats this alleged knowledge on firsthand empiricism. But since we don't see these "truths" directly, it would have to be the case that they be inferred from what is seen, and this of course would invite ample potential for error and uncertainty, and at best provide for conclusions which could at best only hope for a probable truth status, something presuppositionalists dogmatically reject out of hand when it comes to their faith claims. (Van Til wrote "The argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity is objectively valid. We should not tone down this argument to the probability level" - Common Grace and the Gospel, p. 62.) And even though it is not explained how something that is said to be "invisible" can also be "clearly seen," this type of "revelation" is contrasted with "special revelation," which is said to refer to

God’s verbal and (usual) redemptive revelation of Himself to specific people at specific times; special revelation is communicated to us today through its inscripturation in the Bible. (Greg Bahnsen, By This Standard, p. 360.)

In other words, the "knowledge" that is made available through this type of "revelation" must be acquired by reading a book. And yet we must read a book ("special revelation") to learn of what is supposedly available to all men without reading the book ("general revelation").

The easily spotted conflicts in these views and the biblical passages that gave birth to them often lead to rather embarrassing consequences in the writings of modern apologists. They certainly make it very difficult for Christianity's spokesmen to present a uniform account of these things. For instance, on page 78 of his book Apologetics to the Glory of God, Christian apologist John Frame writes:

General revelation is so plain and clear that it obligates belief and obedience - leaving us without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20). John speaks of Jesus' miracles ("signs") warranting belief (John 20:31), and Luke speaks of the "convincing proofs" (Acts 1:3) which Jesus presented to the disciples after the Resurrection. The evidence for Christian theism, therefore, is "absolutely certain." Or, to put it in moral terms, there is no excuse for disbelief. The evidence obligates belief.

Compare Frame’s statement with Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen’s statements on p. 181 of his book Always Ready:

Empirical experience merely gives us an appearance of things; empirical experience cannot in itself correct illusions or get us beyond appearance to any world or realm of reality lying beyond.

Like the apostle Paul, Frame holds that the evidence for the Christian god "is so plain and clear" as to be unmistakable, and thus non-belief is inexcusable. But Bahnsen in effect tells us that we cannot rely on the evidence of our sense. Bahnsen needs this skeptical position in order to support his points against those who do not readily accept claims about "the supernatural." So, contrary to what we read in Romans 1, Bahnsen takes the position that empirical experience is not sufficient to "get us beyond appearance to any world or realm of reality lying beyond." If we take Bahnsen's statement as truth, however, we would at the very least have to question the passage from Romans. So here we have two authorities representing the same school of apologetics who have a deep difficulty keeping the party line straight. The one holds to the position stipulated in the primitive New Testament account, while the other departs from it in order to defend it.

As a non-believer, these are certainly not my problems. But as a defender of reason and man's right to exist for his own sake, I think it is important to point out such problems, and to clarify why these problems arise in the first place - because of the believer's rejection of reason and a reality-based worldview. To be sure, there are answers to the religionist's quandaries. But those answers spell death to his religion.

by Dawson Bethrick