Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist
We've all heard the expression "wishing doesn't make it so" and its many variations. Christians have told me things like "Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean he doesn't exist!" and "Saying there's no god doesn't mean that God is not real!" Statements of this nature are, whether their speakers realize it or not, expressions of the primacy of existence principle, which is the philosophical recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of consciousness. Wishing, believing, affirming, denying, ignoring, evading, etc., are all acts of consciousness, and the primacy of existence principle holds that these conscious actions will not alter the facts which obtain. For instance, if I choose to ignore the oncoming traffic on a busy street, this will not reduce my risk of getting clobbered by a speeding vehicle if I try to cross it. My act of ignoring the state of affairs will not alter the state of affairs. Nor will my wishing, and this is because the primacy of existence principle is true.
It is this principle which is the basis of the concept of objectivity - the active commitment to the principle that existence exists independent of consciousness - that the task of consciousness is to perceive and identify objects, not create and revise them according to will. We call this 'objectivity' because it is the recognition that the objects of awareness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of awareness, that the subject does not create its objects, bring them into existence, or assign them their natures.
The opposite notion, which we call subjectivism, constitutes a reversal of the primacy of existence principle, affirming either implicitly or explicitly that the subject of awareness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects, that the objects find their source in the knowing subject, that the subject creates the objects which exist and assigns them their identity. The reversal of the orientation between subject and object which is the defining essence of subjectivism, is the root error behind the belief that wishing does make it so, which most adult thinkers implicitly recognize to be false. When someone tells you that "wishing doesn't make it so," he's essentially saying that subjectivism is not true. This is correct, and this recognition has the backing of the primacy of existence.
It is my conviction that Christianity is lethal to human life because of its commitment to subjectivism at the most fundamental worldview level. And even though expressions of subjectivism can be found throughout Christianity's metaphysical, epistemological and moral doctrines, its defenders stubbornly resist acknowledging this fact in so many words. But soon as they start telling us about what they believe, it's like an 800 lb. gorilla in a dining room: you just can't hide it. Thus when someone treats wishing as if it were the final arbiter of truth, he may very well be borrowing from the Christian worldview.
By now my readers know that I have no qualms considering apologetic defenses of Christianity in the words of those who seek to vindicate its teachings. A bountiful source of specifically presuppositionalist discourse, arguments and musings can be found in the Van Til Discussion Lists, which unfortunately are no longer active. I enjoy paging through these archives because not only is there no end to the many ways apologists attempt to hold their god-belief together with their elaborate rationalizations, there are also some very telling confessions to be found as well.
Take for example this February 26, 2004 posting by apologist Mike Warren in which we find the following ripe statement regarding the fundamental differences between the orientation between man's consciousness and the objects of his awareness, and that allegedly belonging to the Christian god. Warren writes:
In knowing a flower, for example, God knows everything about the flower. Humans can have that flower as an object of their knowledge as well, so there is a similarity in the knowledge; but a difference is that humans cannot know the flower exhaustively. Not only is there a quantitative difference between divine and human knowledge of the flower, but there are qualitative differences. God knows the flower originally. Everything about the flower originates from His own consciousness. Indeed, God's thinking about the flower makes it so. In contrast, humans know the flower as something originating external to them. Their thinking about the flower does not make it so. Human knowledge claims about the flower can be incorrect, unlike God's perfect knowledge. These are similarities and differences that characterize a biblical view of human knowledge as analogical of God's knowledge.
In knowing a flower, for example, God knows everything about the flower. Humans can have that flower as an object of their knowledge as well, so there is a similarity in the knowledge; but a difference is that humans cannot know the flower exhaustively.
1) The Christian god's relation to the flower in terms of the subject-object relationship vs. man's relation to the flower in terms of the subject-object relationship: In the case of man, the object holds primacy over the subject of consciousness (this is the primacy of existence, i.e., objectivism); and in the case of the Christian god this orientation is reversed: the subject holds primacy over any objects of which it is allegedly conscious (this is the primacy of consciousness, i.e., subjectivism). For the Christian god, the identity of the objects of its awareness conforms to consciousness; for man, however, consciousness conforms to identity of the objects which he perceives.
2) Man's need for a means of knowledge acquisition and validation (reason) vs. the Christian god's lack of such a need (the Christian god "just knows" and does not need to acquire and validate knowledge): For man, knowledge is only possible by discovering facts of reality and integrating them by means of concepts, which he forms, initially on the basis of perceptual inputs, and subsequently on the basis of concepts so formed. That is, man needs a process for acquiring and validating his knowledge, for his knowledge is not automatic. This is in keeping with the primacy of existence principle as noted above: the task of consciousness is to perceive and identify objects, not create and revise them according to will. The opposite is the case for the Christian god, as Warren points out: it has no need to discover and validate its "knowledge," for it "knows" automatically, that is, without any process of acquisition and validation. The task of its consciousness is to create its objects and assign them their identity, revising them when it suits its pleasure, all at will. It could not be stated clearer: for man, the primacy of the objects of consciousness (cf. the concept of objectivity) characterizes the fundamental orientation which roots his knowledge, and for the Christian god the primacyof the subject of consciousness (cf. subjectivism) characterizes its orientation to knowledge. While for man wishing does not make it so, for the Christian god wishing does make it so.
So when Warren claims, as he does in the opening statement of his message, that "Van Til's philosophy is wholly based on the problem of the one and the many," he is actually camouflaging the real problem that lies at the heart of the religious worldview, which is its contradictory metaphysical orientations. Man knows, and can only know, that which he discovers and validates by reason (that is, somehow), and the Christian god "knows" apart from reason (that is, no how). The only correlativity between man's knowledge and the Christian god's alleged "knowledge," is that, in the case of the believer as it is supposed to be in the case of his god, the subject holds primacy over the objects of consciousness: the Christian god wishes its objects into existence, and the believer wishes his god-belief into "the Truth."
Not only is there a quantitative difference between divine and human knowledge of the flower, but there are qualitative differences.
And yes, there are fundamental qualitative differences between man's knowledge and the Christian god's so-called "knowledge," as I have indicated above. It's not simply a matter of degrees of knowledge (one possessing more than the other), but the relative subject-object orientations of the two kinds of consciousness involved in Warren's working model: the Christian god's consciousness (the subject holds primacy over the object) vs. man's consciousness (the objects hold primacy over the subject). Two wholly contradictory standards are thus endorsed at the heart of Christian theism.
God knows the flower originally.
Warren makes it explicit:
Everything about the flower originates from His own consciousness.
Warren makes it even more explicit:
Indeed, God's thinking about the flower makes it so.
Warren then states:
In contrast, humans know the flower as something originating external to them.
Their thinking about the flower does not make it so.
Warren points out:
Human knowledge claims about the flower can be incorrect,
unlike God's perfect knowledge.
These are similarities and differences that characterize a biblical view of human knowledge as analogical of God's knowledge.
As can be seen, however, there is no basis to the claim that man’s knowledge is in any way like the knowledge Christianity claims for its god. Man discovers and validates his knowledge, and the Christian god whips its “knowledge” out of nowhere, declaring its self-authored content “truth” by fiat. The fundamental distinctions outlined here can only mean that Christians should probably use a completely different term to refer to whatever it is they think their god has in its consciousness, for it surely could not be knowledge as man has it. Because the content that allegedly resides in the Christian god’s “mind” is not put through any validation process, referring to that alleged content as “knowledge” constitutes a stolen concept (hence my use of quotations when using the term in this manner).
In Christianity, we have a worldview which is terminally conflicted with itself given this deep internal antithesis between subject and object. The implication for apologetics is clear: any argument for the existence of god is an argument for the validity subjectivism, essentially the view that wishing makes it so constitutes the final criterion for all knowledge and truth. Because of his worldview’s fundamental commitment to subjectivism, the Christian has no uncompromised basis on which to tell non-believers that “wishing doesn’t make it so”; he has no choice but to borrow from Objectivism to make such statements. In the final analysis, this is the ultimate reality for the believer: not only does his worldview teach that wishing in fact makes it so, it essentially teaches that only wishing makes it so.
by Dawson Bethrick