Monday, November 28, 2005

Bahnsen's Poof Revisited

BJ of Men of Athens recently sent the following comment in response to one of my earliest blogs, Bahnsen's Poof:
Hi, I just read your blog and I think you are misreading or not hearing the argument that Bahnsen is making...so let me help you...the thrust of the argument (TAG) says that without the truth of the christian God being presupposed nothing can be proven at all. Now how should an atheist understand this? Easy. Given the most fundamental assumptions about reality that the atheist "HAS" he now should reflect on those basic presuppositions and he will realize that given his presuppositions science, logic, and morality would be "impossible". In the correspondence that followed the debate between Stein and Bahnsen, Bahnsen again showed Stein that his atheistic worldview could not even allow him to make since out of balancing his checkbook. As in the debate Stein kept appealing to the notion that atheist do have morality, science, and logic. Bahnsen rightly would point out to Stein that he could not use such tools for human experience to be intelligible if his worldview were "true". POOF....Christianity is true because of the impossibilty of the contrary. In its technical form it is an "reductio ad absurbdum" argument. If P then Q, P therefore Q or If morality, science, and logic are the case (P) then Q (Christianity) has to be affirmed as logically necessary "because" ("because" clause is vital here)Q is the precondition of P. That is the indirect argument. Now, how is that bold assertion proved? Assume not Q (in this case non-christianity)and then look for internal contrsdictions within a particualr worldview for it to refute itself. If you do not understand Kant then the odds are you will not understand what Van Til was up to. Basically atheism can not provide the preconditions for logic, science, or morality to have any "meaning" to our human experience. [sic]
In this blog entry I will interact with BJ's statements.

BJ: "Hi, I just read your blog and I think you are misreading or not hearing the argument that Bahnsen is making...so let me help you..."

BJ apparently wants to say that the conclusion of my analysis of Bahnsen's opening statement in his debate with Stein is wrong. My conclusion was that Bahnsen failed to present an argument in his opening statement. This conclusion was established as the result of a line-by-line analysis of the last paragraphs of Bahnsen's statement, for which - as an opening statement in a debate on the existence of the Christian god - Bahnsen should have been most prepared to present. In fact, since he begins these last few paragraphs with the statement "And so I come thirdly then to the transcendental proof of God's existence," we would naturally expect Bahnsen to use this opportunity to present any argument he might have. But instead of presenting an argument for his claim that his god exists, Bahnsen launches right into accusing Stein of two fallacies, even though Stein hasn't even had a chance to speak yet! (Did Bahnsen feel a need to poison the well at this early point in the debate?) He then tells us that his god-belief "is not tested in any ordinary way like other factual claims." So there are all these reasons why we should not expect to validate Bahnsen's theistic claims in ways that other claims can be validated. And yet in spite of such limitations he still wants to say it's a fact that his god exists. Does Bahnsen explain how his theistic claims can be confirmed and verified? No, he doesn't do this - he just tells us how they can't be verified. He then tells us that "we can prove the existence of God from the impossibility of the contrary," which he nowhere establishes, and which conflicts with teachings which are explicitly laid out in the New Testament (see below). Bahnsen asserts that "without Him, it is impossible to prove anything." But upon what this statement is based is never explained. It sounds like a conclusion, but no argument is given to support it. In fact, the statement assumes that Bahnsen's god exists, which is precisely what Bahnsen is called to prove. Does he offer a proof? No, he doesn't. Rather, he goes on to charge "the atheist world-view" with all kinds of failings, as if this served as a proof of the Christian god's existence.

Given that the conclusion of my analysis is that Bahnsen did not present an actual argument for the existence of his god in his opening statement, to show that my conclusion is wrong BJ would have to identify an argument present in Bahnsen's opening statement. Does BJ do this? No, he does not. Instead of identifying any traceable argument in Bahnsen's opening statement, BJ says that he thinks I am "misreading or not hearing the argument that Bahnsen is making." (So it’s my fault!) But if there's no argument presented, then obviously I cannot "misread" or "hear" something that's not there. What specifically am I "misreading or not hearing"? I reviewed Bahnsen's own comments from his opening statement - the statement for which he would have been most prepared to present. In my analysis, I showed that there is no argument since the apparent conclusion (which, in the case of an argument for the existence of a god should be something along the lines of "therefore god exists") has no inferential support to be found in Bahnsen's opening statement. Nothing in BJ’s comment to me overcomes this. One cannot insert an inference into Bahnsen's statement when there's no inference there as that would simply constitute tampering with the evidence.

BJ: "the thrust of the argument (TAG) says that without the truth of the christian God being presupposed nothing can be proven at all."

That's the "thrust of the argument"? Exactly what is meant by the term "thrust" here? My concern is not to find out how Bahnsen blasted himself into orbit, but to uncover any inferential support that Bahnsen might have given for the claim that the Christian god exists in the first place. The "thrust" of his non-argument may consist of the claim that the Christian god exists. But a claim is not an argument. What I'm looking for is the argument which Bahnsen might have presented. His conclusion is clear enough, but what were his premises? For instance, what premises support the claim that "without the truth of the christian God being presupposed nothing can be proven at all"? Since this claim itself assumes what Bahnsen is called to prove, all that such claims accomplish is to multiply the apologist's burden of proof while failing to meet any burdens already sitting in his cart.

BJ: "Now how should an atheist understand this? Easy. Given the most fundamental assumptions about reality that the atheist 'HAS' he now should reflect on those basic presuppositions and he will realize that given his presuppositions science, logic, and morality would be 'impossible'."

Before addressing the points here, it should be pointed out that, had Bahnsen presented a clear argument for his god's existence, BJ's statements here would not be necessary. Also, it should be pointed out that BJ's statement here does nothing to rescue Bahnsen from the verdicts of my analysis. All that BJ succeeds in doing here is to give his own interpretation of TAG. But this does not get Bahnsen off the hook. Moreover, any problems which any particular atheist's "presuppositions" might have, whether actual or hypothetical, are irrelevant to the matter, for it does not follow from an instance of error in a non-believer's view of the world that the Christian god therefore exists. This would make said god's existence contingent on someone's intellectual error, and typically theists claim that their god's existence is absolute rather than contingent. So we have here already an instance in which the presuppositional apologetic is incompatible with the theism which it purports to defend (since presuppositionalism depends on the discovery of errors in rival worldviews). In spite of this, the typical habit of presuppositional apologists is to dwell on their resentment of what they call "the atheist world-view" rather than identify in clear terms why they believe what they claim to believe.

Turning now to BJ's own points, I offer the following points in return.

BJ seems to think that, as an atheist, I should consider my "most fundamental assumptions about reality" and subject them to scrutiny. I have no objection to this recommendation. In fact, it is a challenge which my "most fundamental assumptions about reality" are quite prepared to satisfy fully. That is because my "most fundamental assumptions about reality" are made explicit by the axioms as opposed to hiding in some dark cave of mysticism. (I respond to criticism of my worldview's axioms in my blog post
Probing Mr. Manata's Poor Understanding of the Axioms.)

Specifically, my axioms are:
1) that existence exists (i.e., there is a reality),
2) that to exist is to be something (A is A, the law of identity), and
3) that consciousness is consciousness of something (the axiom of consciousness).
These axioms would have to be true even to deny them. In order to deny these axioms, there would have to be a reality which serves as a point of reference, the axioms would have to have identity (so that there is something that is being denied), and there would have to be someone who is conscious to do the denying (since denial is a conscious activity). Together these axioms imply a general, inescapable principle known as the primacy of existence - that is, that existence exists independent of consciousness, which means: the object(s) of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over the subject of consciousness. This is the objective orientation of the subject-object relationship. The only alternative to this is the opposite view - that the subject of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects (such as when the Christian god creates the universe ex nihilo by an act of will, or causes an entity to behave in a manner that is contradictory to its nature by an act of will - cf. the doctrine of miracles).

Now, let's do as BJ recommends, namely "reflect on those basic presuppositions," and see if "given [these] presuppositions science, logic, and morality would be 'impossible'." First let's look at science. (By science I generally mean the systematic application of reason to specific areas of study based on controlled observations.) Does science presuppose that existence exists, i.e., that there is a reality? Sure it does. Without something that exists, there would be nothing for science to study. Does science presuppose that a thing has identity? Sure it does. If things existed but did not have identity, scientific study would be futile for it could yield no reliable conclusions. If the things that exist had no identity, then there would be nothing specific to observe. Does science presuppose that consciousness is consciousness of something? Sure it does. If consciousness were consciousness of nothing, then what faculty would make scientific inquiry possible? Non-consciousness? And if there were no consciousness at all, what would do the observing? Clearly scientific inquiry requires consciousness of things that exist, for science inherently involves observation of objects. So science requires the truth of the axioms.

Now let's look at logic. (By logic I generally mean a set of principles that guide the mind in forming non-contradictory identifications.) Does logic presuppose that existence exists, that there is a reality? Sure it does. If nothing exists, then logic doesn't exist, either. And if nothing existed, there'd be nothing to be logical about, and there'd be no one to think logically. So logic undeniably presupposes the first axiom. Does logic presuppose that things have identity? Sure it does. The very foundation of logic is the law of identity, that things are what they are, that to exist is to be something specific, that a thing is itself, that A is A. It is because things are what they are that the principles of logic can be applied in the first place. Does logic presuppose that consciousness is consciousness of something? Sure it does. It would be illogical to say that consciousness can be consciousness of nothing. The alternative to consciousness of something is consciousness of nothing. This would mean that there is no object to consider. But without an object to consider, what would be considered? Obviously nothing. And if nothing were considered, there would be nothing to think about logically. Thus there would be nothing to which logical principles could be applied. So like science, logic clearly requires the truth of the axioms.

Now let's look at morality. (By morality I generally mean a code of values which guides one's choices and actions.) Does morality presuppose that existence exists, that there is a reality? Sure it does. If nothing exists, then man does not exist, and consequently the fundamental alternative between life and death which he faces and which makes morality a necessity for him does not exist. This would mean that there would be no basis or need for morality. Does morality presuppose that a thing has identity? Sure it does. Specifically it presupposes that man and his environment have identity, and with this that man's identity is such that he faces a fundamental alternative, namely between life and death. If man did not face this alternative, he would not need a code of values which guides his choices and actions. Does morality presuppose consciousness? Sure it does. Since man's moral actions are chosen, he could not make choices if he did not have a conscious faculty which could identify alternatives and make selections among them in the first place. Clearly, morality presupposes the truth of the axioms.

So in the case of science, logic and morality, it should be clear: my "most fundamental assumptions about reality" would have to be true for these endeavors to be possible in the first place. By retortion (presumably a technique championed by presuppositionalists), let's deny these fundamentals and see if science, logic and morality can survive. Let's deny the first fundamental, the axiom of existence. Let's say there's no existence. Well, just by saying "there's no existence," we've already contradicted ourselves, for we would have to exist in order to say this. Since science does not stand on contradictions, this could not be true. Thus the axiom of existence would have to be true in order for science to be possible. The same outcome would be the case for logic as well: logic does not rest on self-contradiction. Nor does morality. Indeed, if existence did not exist, there would be no science, no logic and no morality. So by retortion the axiom of existence must be true for science, logic and morality to be legitimate human concerns.

Let's try denying the second fundamental, the axiom of identity. Let's say that to exist is not to be something. If this were the case, then what would do science? We could not say that man will do science, for this presupposes that man is man, that a thing that exists is something specific and has specific attributes (such as a conscious faculty). And what would be observed and studied, if to exist is not to be something? We could not say that we would observe and study things that exist, for this presupposes that things are what they are, that they have a nature. What would do any logical thinking if things that exist had no identity? We could not say that man does the logical thinking, for this assumes that man is something specific, namely an entity capable of performing logical thought. And what use would morality serve? Morality is only useful to man because of his specific nature: he faces a fundamental alternative and his life is not automatically guaranteed to him - he must act in accordance with his nature in order to live because of his nature. So by retortion the axiom of identity must be true for science, logic and morality to be legitimate human concerns.

Now let's try denying the third fundamental, the axiom of consciousness. Let's say that consciousness is consciousness of nothing. That would mean that consciousness is irrelevant. (For to say that consciousness is consciousness of nothing is to assert consciousness without a relationship to any object to perceive and/or consider.) If consciousness were irrelevant, what would do the observing and studying that science requires? Obviously nothing, for on this view consciousness has been denied. So science presupposes consciousness of objects. What about logic? Could there be any use for logic if consciousness had no objects? This would mean that there is nothing for a consciousness to be logical about. Since logic requires objects to provide content to our identifications, inferences, deductions, etc., logic presupposes consciousness of objects. What about morality? Could there be any morality if we were not conscious of objects? If it were the case that we were not conscious of objects, we would not be able to identify either values or potential threats. Thus we would not be able to identify the kinds of actions we need to take in order to obtain and protect our values and avoid destructive threats. Consequently morality, too, presupposes consciousness of objects. So by retortion the axiom of consciousness must be true for science, logic and morality to be legitimate human concerns.

So by the presuppositionalist's own standard, the argument by retortion, the axioms obtain, and their denial would constitute their very validation at the same time (which means: denial of the axioms results in absurdity). Contrary to what the presuppositionalist would like to see, "the most fundamental assumptions about reality" made by my worldview are validated by the presuppositionalist's own preferred form of testing.

BJ: "In the correspondence that followed the debate between Stein and Bahnsen, Bahnsen again showed Stein that his atheistic worldview could not even allow him to make since out of balancing his checkbook."

This point is not relevant to my post, since my post was concerned with whether or not Bahnsen presented a proof for his god's existence in his opening statement, or if he simply offered a poof - i.e., a series of assertions which are presented on the pretense that they offer an argument when in fact the speaker offers no argument whatsoever. As for the claim that "Bahnsen again showed Stein that his atheistic worldview could not even allow him to make [sense] out of balancing his checkbook," yes, Bahnsen did make claims like this throughout the debate, but simply claiming this to be the case does not constitute a demonstration of the truth of that claim, nor does it constitute a proof of the existence of Bahnsen's god. Keep in mind that Stein was not a philosopher; rather, he was an expert in the special sciences, specifically biology if I'm not mistaken. So I would not expect Stein to have been prepared to give a play-by-play analysis of how the mind works (e.g., on how concepts are formed on the basis of perception and integrated into statements of recognition, inductive generalizations, deductive conclusions, etc.) since this was not the area of his specialty. At best, all Bahnsen may have shown is that Stein specifically did not have detailed knowledge of these things. It would be embarrassingly fallacious to try to draw from Stein's ignorance the conclusion that a god must therefore exist. But this is principally what Bahnsen seemed eager to do, which is simply an admission that his god-belief ultimately stands on ignorance as such. In this way TAG is just another tired god-of-the-gaps strategy (notice I did not say 'argument' here, since Bahnsen did not present an argument). The apologist is supposed to be able to ask vague and open-ended questions like "How do you account for logic?" and the non-believer is apparently supposed to throw up his hands and say "Duh, I donno! Must be God did it!" What else does the apologist offer?

BJ: "As in the debate Stein kept appealing to the notion that atheist do have morality, science, and logic. Bahnsen rightly would point out to Stein that he could not use such tools for human experience to be intelligible if his worldview were 'true'. POOF...."

Yes, Bahnsen did claim this. But that's not the same as proving this to be the case. And we already know that he didn't offer an argument in his opening statement, the very statement which he would have been able to prepare in advance. Furthermore, I just showed how the axioms of my worldview are necessary "for human experience to be intelligible" since they identify the preconditions of experience to begin with.

BJ: "Christianity is true because of the impossibilty of the contrary." [sic]

While Bahnsen does make a similar claim in his opening statement, he nowhere substantiated it. At any rate, I answer this mindlessly repeated slogan in my blog article
Is the Contrary to Christianity Truly Impossible?

In that post I show how the presuppositionalist's claim that "Christianity is true because of the [impossibility] of the contrary" violates one of presuppositionalism's own feigned standards, namely that of internal consistency. Since the bible is clear in explicitly affirming that "all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26), a defense strategy which contradicts this (by affirming that there is something that is impossible) is unfit for what it's intended to defend, namely a worldview which clearly and explicitly affirms that "all things are possible." I've yet to see a good response to my point. Additionally, my worldview is clearly contrary to what Christianity teaches, and yet it is a reality. So on this point the claim that the contrary to Christianity is impossible is clearly false.

BJ: "In its technical form it is an 'reductio ad absurbdum' argument."

To the extent that TAG is a reductio ad absurdum, it is unsuitable as a defense of Christianity, for the reason I just gave above. Moreover, since Christianity assumes the primacy of consciousness view of reality (I prove this
here), the very claim that Christianity is true contradicts itself, since the concept 'truth' assumes the opposite principle, the primacy of existence.

BJ: "If P then Q, P therefore Q"

If only Bahnsen could have developed his opening statement in such a logical fashion. Then (and only then) would there be an argument to dissect in that statement. Of course, he would have to validate the inputs plugged in for the variables here, had he presented an argument in the first place. However, not only did he not present an argument, he nowhere validated the inputs he plugged into any of his assertions. Essentially, he showed up DOA - defeated on arrival. No matter what faults can be found in what Stein presented, Bahnsen failed to prove that his god exists.

BJ: "or If morality, science, and logic are the case (P) then Q (Christianity) has to be affirmed as logically necessary ‘because’ (‘because’ clause is vital here) Q is the precondition of P."

On the contrary, since Christianity assumes the primacy of consciousness view of reality, it necessarily disqualifies itself as a viable precondition for any fundamental anchoring morality, science and logic since morality, science and logic, as I showed above, require the axioms and the primacy of existence principle. In fact, my analysis of the axioms and their relationship to science, logic and morality above demonstrate an opposite conclusion, to wit: If science, logic and morality are the case (P), then O (Objectivism) has to be affirmed as logically necessary because the truth of Objectivism is the precondition to P. Christianity falls as one casualty among a whole host of mystical worldviews which stand on the primacy of consciousness view of the world, which is anathema to science, logic and morality (since the primacy of consciousness violates the axioms while science, logic and morality would not be possible without the axioms).

BJ: "That is the indirect argument."

And as such, it shows that its defenders are not very aware of the nature of the fundamentals of either science, logic or morality. These areas of concern simply offer apologists an occasion for bamboozling unprepared non-believers. What is telling is that presuppositionalism fails to make any relationship between either science, logic or morality and the teachings of Christianity clear and traceable. All in all, presuppositionalism essentially consists of nothing more than a claim to magic (which is a consequence of enshrining ignorance).

BJ: "Now, how is that bold assertion proved? Assume not Q (in this case non-christianity)and then look for internal contrsdictions within a particualr worldview for it to refute itself." [sic]

Okay, I offer my non-Christian worldview. Where are the contradictions within it? Please, show me. Don't forget that the concept 'contradiction' assumes the primacy of existence principle, for only if the objects of awareness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of awareness would contradictions be objectionable. To say that contradictions are objectionable, then, the theist must borrow from my worldview which is the only proper philosophical custodian of the concept of objectivity.

BJ: "If you do not understand Kant then the odds are you will not understand what Van Til was up to."

Even though Van Til sought to replace Kant's categories and antimonies with Christian theism and "apparent contradictions," both thinkers erred in granting validity to the primacy of consciousness view of reality, which is self-defeating.

BJ: "Basically atheism can not provide the preconditions for logic, science, or morality to have any 'meaning' to our human experience."

It is not the task of atheism to "provide the preconditions for logic, science, or morality" any more than the task of music theory is to provide men with the aural nerves they need for listening music. If music theory could do this, Beethoven would not have died such a frustrated man. Atheism is simply the absence of god-belief. As such, it tells us only what someone does not believe, not what one does believe. Therefore it constitutes a fundamental misunderstanding to hold atheism accountable for failing to "provide the preconditions for logic, science, or morality." Besides, I do not think it is at all accurate to say that a worldview "provides" these things; these preconditions are metaphysical and exist in nature, and they are competently identified by the axioms. To say that a worldview must "provide the preconditions for logic, science, [and] morality" is incoherent; those preconditions would need to be in place for the worldview in question to be possible in the first place. What a worldview enables one to do is to identify those preconditions in explicit terms (here's where the axioms come in) and integrate them into a coherent whole in accordance with those preconditions which in turn enables him to identify the values his life requires and the actions he needs to take in order to achieve those values. Writes Ayn Rand:
The task of philosophy is to provide man with a comprehensive view of life. This view serves as a base, a frame of reference, for all his actions, mental or physical, psychological or existential. This view tells him the nature of the universe with which he has to deal (metaphysics); the means by which he is to deal with it, i.e., the means of acquiring knowledge (epistemology); the standards by which he is to choose his goals and values, in regard to his own life and character (ethics) - and in regard to society (politics); the means of concretizing this view is given to him by esthetics. ("The Chickens' Homecoming," The New Left, p. 107.)
As for bickering over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, the theologians are free to waste their time with such arbitrary and worthless matters.

by Dawson Bethrick

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bahnsen's Three Charges of Prejudice

On pages 135-138 of his book Always Ready (page numbers in this blog entry refer to this publication), presuppositional apologist Greg Bahnsen seeks to indoctrinate his readers with the presumption that criticism of Christianity is necessarily borne on "prejudicial conjecture," that

unbelievers, both educated and uneducated, take the offensive against Christianity before they have become familiar with what they're talking about. In the place of research and honest assessment of available evidence concerning some aspect of the Bible, many unbelievers have substituted personal conjecture about what "seems likely" to them. (p. 135)

Apparently "unbelievers" are not supposed to put much stock in what "seems likely" to them, but why they shouldn't remains unexplained. Regardless, we should not let ourselves be fooled by Bahnsen's use of "many unbelievers" as if he meant only a portion of those who do not number themselves among Christendom. It's clear from the context of his statements that he wants to give his devotees the impression that all non-believers are uninformed about the teachings of Christianity (even though a great number of non-believers in the west are themselves former Christians or have at least been widely exposed to Christian zealots), and therefore their criticism of Chistianity couldn't possibly have any bearing on the matter. For instance, on p. 137, Bahnsen writes: When we defend our Christian faith, then, we must constantly be on the lookout for the way in which the reasoing of unbelievers rests on prejudicial conjecture. When stated in this fashion, the impression is that one is supposed to that "the reasoning of unbelievers" will be the product of "prejudicial conjecture," even before this has been established. Apparently Bahnsen thinks this is responsible advice.

At any rate, Bahnsen goes on to cite three indications of prejudice which budding apologists should expect to detect in "the reasoning of unbelievers." Let's review them.

1) Prejudice vs. Impartiality: "The first [indication of] prejudice is the assumption that the Biblical text is no different from any other written document which we find in our natural experience throughout history - which of course begs the fundamental question over which the believer and unbeliever are arguing!" (p. 136)

If it is the case that "the assumption that the Biblical text is no different from any other written document...begs the fundamental question over which the believer and unbeliever are arguing," wouldn't the opposite assumption - namely the assumption that the biblical text is significantly "different from any other document which we find in our natural experience throughout history" - also "beg the fundamental question over which the believer and unbeliever are arguing"? Bahnsen's rebuttal to reasonable impartiality regarding texts presented for review to non-believers requires him to take for granted the premise that the bible is singularly different from other texts without the need to first establish this premise. In other words, he takes the bible's utter uniqueness as a self-sufficient primary which does not need to be validated. If he could validate this premise, why would he need to do this? Also, we might ask whether Bahnsen would be able to validate his god-belief if he did not take such a premise for granted. In essence, he seems eager to reserve for himself the privilege of "beg[ging] the fundamental question over which the believer and unbeliever are arguing" while simultaneously denying this privilege to non-believers. The anxious defender of a weak case would need such an advantage.

But is it really so inappropriate to view the books of the bible as "no different from any other written document"? Bahnsen gives no reason against this other than that it allegedly "begs the fundamental question over which the believer and unbeliever are arguing." The Muslim could deploy the same tactic with respect to the Koran. In actuality, there are overriding general features of the bible that it shares with all other written documents which put the bible on the same level. For example, like other written documents, the bible itself is a written document. Like other written documents, the bible consists of words written on pages which can be read by readers who can read the language in which those words are written. Also, like other written documents, the bible consists of written statements which readers can examine and relate to the broader sum of knowledge which they have acquired throughout their lives, and thus form judgments about the quality of its content, whether it is true or false, useful or useless, meaningful or meaningless, etc. This is the case with the bible just as it is with a play by Shakespeare, a poem by Pushkin, a play by Molliere, an essay by Jefferson, or a book by Greg Bahnsen. In the case of Shakespeare's play, Pushkin's poem, Molliere's play, Jefferson's essay and Bahnsen's book, each can be judged by its content. Is Bahnsen saying that we should do this in the case of every written document except the biblical text? Is Bahnsen worried about what outcome may transpire if someone does judge the bible by its content? If he were so confident that everything in the biblical text is true, would we expect him to fear the outcome of people independently judging it by its content, just as we do in the case of an essay by Russell or a newspaper article?

Bahnsen goes on to say:

If the Bible is, as it claims, the inspired word of Almighty God, then the history of its textual transmission may very well be quite different than other human documents since God would have ordained that its text be preserved with greater integrity than that of ordinary books. (p. 136)

This is a common refrain coming from apologists, but the special pleading and appeal to unseen magical forces are simply embarrassing. In actuality, with the invention of the printing press and the print technology available today, the accurate replication of texts does not present the great potential for error that dogged the copyists of past centuries. Today one can go into any bookstore and pull a Mario Puzo novel off the shelf, and the same title sitting right next to it is precisely the same, right down to a typo on page 172, since they were replicated from the same print master by the same automated technology. Modern technology has at the very least significantly reduced the enormous potential for error that plagues copying texts by hand. No doubt the bible's copyists would have been green with envy had they known about the ease with which their precious bibles could be mass produced today. So ironically, Bahnsen is correct, in a way he did not intend, when he supposes that "the history of [the bible's] textual transmission" is "different than other human documents," since there is no shortage of "other human documents" whose textual reproduction is far more faithful to their respective originals than one could ever hope for in the case of the biblical text, since the automated print technology in use today was not used in the preservation of the biblical text.

But Bahnsen seems oblivious to another point which we would be wrong to ignore when considering his statement here. And that point is the fact that, when we attempt to justify a position by asserting the existence of an invisible magic being, one can argue anything. On the premise that there's an invisible magic being that can intervene in human affairs and actualize its wishes such that reality conforms precisely to its will (cf. metaphysical subjectivism), one could even argue that there is no need for a biblical text that must be read in the first place. On such a premise, one could simply argue that "divine knowledge" was zapped into the his mind by "the hand of God," thereby implying that the biblical text is completely superfluous. After all, if there were a magic being that could do this, why wouldn't it, and why would we need to rely on our own reasoned interpretation of "the Scriptures" to come fallibly to the "knowledge of God" which Christians claim to possess? The point is that, if we make allowance for the arbitrary, the arbitrary becomes the standard and reason becomes the first casualty. And when reason has been rejected in this fashion, the human mind has no way to recover itself.

2) Prejudice vs. Consistency: "The second indication of prejudice is that the unbeliever does not offer any concrete evidence that (say) some medieval monk tampered with the text before us today." (p. 136)

While above Bahnsen was happy to proceed on the premise that "God would have ordained that [the biblical] text be preserved with greater integrity than that of ordinary books," for which he supplied no supporting evidence, he now expects "the unbeliever" to offer "concrete evidence" to substantiate what is prima facie a reasonable possibility. Does Bahnsen really expect people to believe that it is impossible that some medieval monk deliberately tampered with the text? Is he expecting us to suppose that it is impossible that some medieval monk made a mistake in copying the biblical text? Indeed, it seems that one would have to be quite conflicted psychologically to expect people to accept on the one hand the possibility that an invisible magic being works through human hosts down through the centuries to preserve a religious text which would be superfluous anyway, while on the other hand denying the possibility of deliberate mischief or human error. Perhaps this is akin to the kind of skewed thinking one author of the gospel had in mind when he had his Jesus scold the "blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel" (Matt. 23:24). Indeed, the biblical text itself, in Romans 3:4, tells us "let God be true, but every man a liar," which explicitly endorses the assumption that human beings are by nature deceivers. Unless Bahnsen can show that the medieval monks who were responsible for the duplication and preservation of the biblical text were something other than human beings, it seems that the biblical text itself clearly supports the presumption that those same monks were just as prone to deception and vice as everyone else is supposed to be. So on biblical assumptions, we would be wrong to suppose that the medieval monks who took on the task of copying the biblical text were above deliberate tampering with that text as they copied it. But perhaps consistency was not one of Bahnsen's stronger points.

Nevertheless, in considering Bahnsen's claim that "the unbeliever does not offer any concrete evidence that (say) some medieval monk tampered with the text," we should ask: is he expecting his readers to take this claim at face value, without any supporting argument? Does he suppose - and/or does he expect his readers to assume - that critics of the Christian worldview are completely ignorant of what it teaches, in spite of the facts that Christianity is the dominant religion in the west and that former Christians typically make the most informed critics of Christianity? Do Bahnsen's gratuitous assumptions comport with the awareness he is trying to raise against prejudice? It seems that, if Bahnsen were genuinely concerned about prejudice, he would not answer alleged prejudice with just more prejudice.

In fact, there is concrete evidence that someone tampered with the text, in some cases even before the monastic orders were instituted by the church and commissioned with copying it. For instance, the oldest known manuscripts of the gospel of Mark end at 16:8, while today's bible's have Mark end at 16:20. At some point, probably still very early, these latter 12 verses were tacked on, and I doubt a talking snake did this. The same is the case with the final chapter of the gospel of John, often referred to by scholars as the Appendix. The gospel most sensibly ends at chapter 20, but the version we find in our modern bibles includes a 21st chapter.
One article on the topic describes it as follows:

The text of the Gospel of John appears to reach a conclusion at the end of chapter 20, as the text summarises the many signs that Jesus performed for his followers, not all of which could be recorded in the Gospel. John 21 begins simply with After these things... (Greek: Μετὰ ταῦτα) and nonchalently recounts another appearance of Jesus, as if the conclusion at the end of the prior chapter hadn't been there - as if the text was going "...and they all lived happily ever after. The end. Anyway, back in galilee they ...".

Who tacked on these endings on these gospels? In the case of the gospel of Mark, this is especially significant since without the added ending, Mark would end (and originally ended) without any post-resurrection sightings. And if believers insist that the last 12 verses of Mark's gospel are authentic scripture, then I have a jar of dark liquid for them to drink.

3) Prejudice vs. Informed Criticism: "The third indication of prejudice in the criticism of the unbeliever is that he or she has not taken account of the actual evidence which is publicly available regarding the text of Scripture. If the critic had taken time to look into this subject, he or she would not have offered the outlandish evaluation that the Biblical text is unreliable." (p. 136)

This is the same tired and over-used generalization that critics couldn't possibly know what they're talking about, and as such constitutes a prejudice on Bahnsen's part which he is more than happy to promulgate among his devotees. Bahnsen tries to bring his point home with the following autobiographical anecdote:

This came home to me with great force after taking an advanced course on Plato in graduate school, a course which took account of the textual criticism of the literary corpus of Plato's works. Our earliest extant manuscript of a work by Plato dates from right before 900 A.D…. and we must remember that Plato is thought to have lived roughly 350 years before Christ - thus leaving us with a gap of over twelve centuries. By contrast, the earliest fragments of the New Testament date less than fifty years after the original writing; the bulk of our most important extant manuscripts dates from 200-300 years after original composition." (pp. 136-137)

It is unclear what exactly Bahnsen thinks this contrast, which non-believers should have no problem acknowledging, is supposed to prove. Presumably Bahnsen's concern is to prove that Christianity is true, not that the earliest copies we have of the text of the New Testament are closer in time to their original writing than Plato's works. Even if we found a copy of Baum's The Wizard of Oz that was produced two weeks after he had completed it, what would this prove? Would this prove that there was actually an Emerald City populated with horses which perpetually changed colors and witches who could fly on broomsticks? Of course not. Perhaps Bahnsen is saying that, if we accept the existence of a man named Plato on the basis of his writings whose earliest manuscripts date some twelve or so centuries after the time when he is supposed to have lived, then we should accept the existence of a god-man named Jesus whose extant biographical documents date to within decades of their supposed original composition. But this is a non sequitur which relies on blurring certain key distinctions. For one thing, in the case of Plato's writings, someone had to compose them. Whether they were originally written by Plato himself, or by his pupils, is really irrelevant. The teachings in those writings are attributed to a man, and whether this man's name was Plato or something else, is not really that big a deal. Since non-believers are not people who worship a god, they aren't going to deify Plato either. If it turned out to be the case that the ideas we attribute to Plato were actually conceived and developed by a small band of Scythians, would it cause us to change our lives? Let's not forget also that none of the texts in the New Testament purport to have come from Jesus' own hand. Many of the texts are anonymous, some are clearly pseudonymous, and contrary to what Bahnsen claims, the New Testament record is far from "remarkably uniform." (p. 137; see my blog Reckless Apologetic Presumptuousness.)

But still, Bahnsen claims that there is "actual evidence which is publicly available regarding the text of Scripture." Evidence which supports specifically what? That the New Testament was written almost 2,000 years ago? Who disputes this? Is Bahnsen saying that there's "actual evidence which is publicly available" which supports the view that the events it records actually happened? In regard to "Scripture," Bahnsen says that "its truth has a public nature, open to inspection" (p. 127), but complains that teachings such as those about a "[c]onscious life following physical death, everlasting damnation, and a future resurrection are not readily accepted." (p. 126) But what evidence does Bahnsen or any other Christian apologist present to support its teachings? For instance, "the text of Scripture" claims that there is a heaven. What "publicly available" evidence can Bahnsen or other Christians supply to support this claim? Where is this heaven, and how can its existence be verified? Can such a claim be scientifically tested? If not, why not? The existence of extraterrestrial places, such as planets, moons, asteroids, comets, nebulae, galaxies, etc., can be scientifically verified, so why can't heaven? "Scripture" also claims that there is a hell, presumably a place where souls are flame-broiled without reprieve for all eternity. (I thought souls were immaterial - how is it that they can burn? If God has a soul, is it flame-retardant?) What "publicly available" evidence do Christians supply to support these claims? Do they accept them because they know of concrete evidence for their existence, but choose to keep that evidence to themselves? Or, do they accept these teachings as truth without evidence, perhaps in the fear that it might be true?

Let's consider another example. In Matthew 27:52-53, the following event is said to have occurred when Jesus died on the cross:

52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

Now, this is quite a remarkable event indeed. Either that, or it's a complete fabrication. Since Christians want to say that the entirety of the bible is wholly true, inerrant and infallible, they consequently would defend the claim that this event really happened. But what evidence do we have for this that is "publicly available"? No other New Testament document corroborates this alleged event - perhaps that's what Bahnsen meant by the "The word of the Lord is self-attestingly true and authoritative"? (p. 25) But if such an event did occur, it would be astonishing to find that no one other than the author of Matthew would have thought to make a note of it. Indeed, no extrabiblical source supports it. Imagine a crowd of reanimated corpses walking throughout a city who "appeared unto many" of its inhabitants, and yet no witness had the presence of mind to write about it! Apologists may claim that the author of Matthew was an eyewitness, but even the book of Matthew does not claim this; indeed, it records other things that its author could not have been an eyewitness (such as the virgin birth, the temptation in the wilderness, etc.). Perhaps we're supposed to believe this story on the basis of the supposed fact that the earliest manuscripts date to within 200-300 years of its original writing? I trow not.

For that matter, what "publicly available" evidence supports the claim that Jesus rose from the dead? The bible cannot serve as proof of this since it is where this claim is found in the first place. A claim does not double as its own proof. It is the claim which needs to be proven in the first place. Showing that the copies of the writings in which the claim is found date to within 200-300 years of their original composition does not prove that the claim contained in those writings is true. A proof needs support relating to the details of the claim which is being proved. (Of course, there's no way to prevent apologists from delivering a
Poof!)

So it seems that Bahnsen's charge that non-believers operate on the basis of prejudice is itself an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. In fact, it's rather easy to see through. What's sad is that Bahnsen's devotees lap up his contempt for non-believers as if it were water at the height of drought season. Whatever makes them feel better, I guess.

by Dawson Bethrick

Monday, November 14, 2005

What Happened to Paul?

Does anyone know what happened to Paul Manata? He seems to have departed the scene completely, and without even saying goodbye! There's been no activity on his blog Pressing the Antithesis since Oct. 14, and the last I saw of him in any comments section was when he tried to tackle one of my arguments in this post of Goosing the Antithesis. And while I've been described by Aaron Kinney as "a proverbial Navy SEAL in the war of ideas," Paul typically displayed a formidable tough-guy persona when interacting with non-believers. Could it be that his bad-boy image was just that, an image fabricated for purposes of intimidation? Where oh where has Paul run off to?
Will we be seeing milk cartons with Paul's picture on it with the caption "Have you seen me?" or "Missing since 10/14/05"? Perhaps it would include details that might give a clue as to how to locate him. For instance, it could say "Ht. 6'1", Wt. 190 lbs. Last seen embarrassing himself on non-Christian blogs trying to defend belief in invisible magic beings," or something along these lines.
Come to think of it, it seems that Paul's retreat is not a sole instance, for other apologists seem to have given up as well. Perhaps they all decided to take a vow of silence? Of course, that would mean that they couldn't tell us lest they break their vow silence.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Tape-Loop Apologetics

If you find yourself confronted with an apologist - especially one steeped in the mystical casuistry of presuppositional apologetics - it won't be long before he brandishes one or more of his shiny terms of endearing negation before you and challenges you to "account for" some philosophical issue covered in some apologetics handbook. One such term is the word 'immaterial', an elusive notion which is integral to modern apologetic discourse, but which apologists typically do not define in positive terms. As Rand so poignantly noted, "their definitions are not acts of defining, but of wiping out." (Atlas Shrugged, p. 951) The concept 'immaterial' supposedly refers to something (which presumably exists) that is "not material." Of course, this only tells us what it is not, not what it is, so whatever it is remains unidentified. This is most ironic of course, since Christian apologists tend to make "meaning" an important element in how they characterize the antithesis between believers and non-believers, frequently intimating that "meaning" is only possible if there's a god, and yet here they are often hard-pressed to provide meaning to their key terms.

As an example of what they mean by 'immaterial', apologists often like to point to "the laws of logic," just as Greg Bahnsen did in his debate with Gordon Stein. Yes, that's right, it is strange to see people who enshrine invisible magic beings and other religious notions carry on as if they were concerned for logic. And it's not surprising that a religionist would seize on the laws of logic as an example of what they mean by "immaterial" since religionists in general typically have little or no understanding of concepts. Indeed, I've never found any book in the bible that teaches a theory of concepts. And how exactly does one prove that the laws of logic are in fact "immaterial"?

The presuppositional playbook stipulates that the apologist keep control of the conversation (which he quickly wants to characterize as a debate) by focusing the discussion on the non-believer's view of the world while the apologist hides his own faith-based worldview behind his back, keeping its nonsensical teachings conveniently out of sight. This is the real purpose behind the apologist's attempt to challenge the non-believer to "account for" some item that is usually topical to the mind and its operation, such as the assumption that nature is uniform, logical inference, scientific inquiry, moral judgment, etc., as if his religion had anything important to say on these matters whatsoever. The apologist doesn't really care about the issues that he challenges the non-believer on; if he did, he'd have already adopted an honest-to-reality philosophy. On the contrary, the apologist hopes to keep the non-believer busy explaining his own non-believing position while hoping to spring his Christian dogmas on the non-believer to "clean up" after the non-believer's worldview has been "destroyed" by the apologist's shallow grasp of philosophical matters.

Again the apologist exhibits a most pungent irony here, for in spite of all the feigned importance that the he places on being able to "account for" such things, we should not be surprised when the apologist shows himself unable to "account for" the totems of his worldview. The following brief dialogue shows how the apologist loses at his own game:

Presupposer: "How can your chance-bound, relative-only materialistic worldview account for immaterial entities?"

Non-Believer: "I'm not sure what you're asking. But please, tell me, how does your Christian worldview account for the 'immaterial'?"

Presupposer: "By the self-attesting sovereignty of the Triune God of Christian theism."

Non-Beleiver: "Is this god material or immaterial?"

Presupposer: "God is wholly immaterial."

Non-Believer: "So let me get this straight: you 'account for' that which is 'immaterial' by appealing to that which you say is 'immaterial'? How does that explain anything?"

Presupposer: [blank out]

Notice how the apologist's challenge is so easily shown to loop around and bite him in his nether regions. For if he appeals to the very thing that's being called to be explained, then he simply makes no progress in providing an explanation, for in the end he simply winds up with what he's called to explain. And indeed, if the apologist is challenged to "account for" the "immaterial," what options does he have? If he points to something material to "account for" that which he calls "immaterial," then he's basically admitting that matter is "ultimate" (a favorite presuperstitionalist term). But if he points to something allegedly "immaterial" to "account for" that which he characterizes as "immaterial," has he really explained anything?

The same kind of problem arises when apologists claim pretend that pointing to their god will somehow explain the origin of life. But their god is said to be alive already, so pointing to somethat that's alive does not help explain the origin of life. They're just pointing to what needs to be explained. In the final analysis, it is shown that the apologist is guilty of the very charge he levels against non-believers: the failure to "account for" something important in his own worldview.

Such muddlemindedness is what we can expect to find when we examine the tape-loop antics of presuppositional apologetics. Like a dog chasing its tail, presuppositionalists simply make no progress except in digging their own intellectual graves.

by Dawson Bethrick