Thursday, March 23, 2006

Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist

I. THEORY

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.

II. DETECTION

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.

When I first read this statement two years ago, I was impressed with its open admission of crucial points which many apologists have been reluctant to acknowledge. I was impressed because I found myself, in a sense, agreeing with just about everything Warren was saying here. In light of the clarification I made above regarding the concept of objectivity and the error rooting subjectivism, let's examine Warren's statement bit by bit to see once and for all just how deeply Christianity is committed to subjectivism. As we go through the various points of Warren's confession, observe the contradictory metaphysical orientations between subject and object which the believer accepts and will seek to rationalize in his defensive ploys.

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.

Actually, given the dogmatic stipulations of Christian god-belief, the two positions that "God knows everything about the flower" and "humans cannot know the flower exhaustively" are outcomes of difference that is even more fundamental than Warren acknowledges which erases any impression of "similarity" the believer wants to claim between his own knowledge and the "knowledge" he attributes to his god. It is an outcome of a two-fold, internal antithesis within the Christian worldview:

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."

Warren continues:

Not only is there a quantitative difference between divine and human knowledge of the flower, but there are qualitative differences.

Right, according to reasonable inferences from the mythology, the Christian god will always be said to have more "knowledge" than man ever will; specifically, the Christian god will always be said to "know" everything that is possible to be known about the flower, while man will know no more than a mere portion of that alleged sum of "knowledge," that portion being whatever he can discover and validate by means of reason. The purpose of claiming such "knowledge" on the part of the Christian god is not to explain some legitimate philosophical quandary, for, unlike man who needs some (but by no means all) knowledge, the Christian god, which is characterized as an eternally indestructible entity, would have no need for knowledge whatsoever. The real purpose is to equip the priestly class with a ready means of usurping unearned authority over others: if an individual buys the faith-based premise that there's an invisible magic being who "knows and sees all," he will likely make an effort to please it in word and deed, and this ambition typically takes practical expression in accepting the authority of the priestly class, even though its members have already abandoned reason in preference for mysticism.

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.

Warren continues:
God knows the flower originally.
Of course, and this is because the flower's identity came from and conforms to the Christian god's will, i.e., a form consciousness.

Warren makes it explicit:

Everything about the flower originates from His own consciousness.

Bingo. That's called subjectivism.

Warren makes it even more explicit:
Indeed, God's thinking about the flower makes it so.
Here we have it stated explicitly: the object conforms to the subject in the same sense that "wishing makes it so!" That's subjectivism to a T.

Warren then states:
In contrast, humans know the flower as something originating external to them.
Right. That's the primacy of existence, which affirms the opposite of the primacy of consciousness.

Warren states:
Their thinking about the flower does not make it so.
Right. We must look outward (sense perception) in order to discover (not "create") and validate (not stipulate) the identify of the objects which exist. By contrast, the Christian god need not look outward (for before it creates anything "out there," nothing existed "out there"); rather, it looks inward, into its subjective states where its wishing and imagination provide all the standards.

Warren points out:
Human knowledge claims about the flower can be incorrect,
Right, because human beings start out tabula rasa, and must discover and validate their knowledge by means of a process which they must learn before they can master it. (Of course, many theists like to exempt themselves from having to do this.)

Warren states:
unlike God's perfect knowledge.
Exactly: Reason has nothing to do with the Christian god's alleged "knowledge," and could only be characterized as knowledge from nowhere. This is the "perfect" ideal for the believer: the claim to knowledge which is to be accepted unquestioningly without validation.

Warren concludes:

These are similarities and differences that characterize a biblical view of human knowledge as analogical of God's knowledge.

Differences? Yes! Off the map, in fact. Similarities? Not at all. Indeed, Warren points to nothing similar between man's knowledge of the objects he perceives and identifies, and the so-called "knowledge" Christians attribute to their god. And he cannot because their basic orientation is, respectively, wholly antithetical to one another. It will not do for the Christian to say that man's knowledge is "analogous" to the Christian god's supposed "knowledge" by pointing to similarities that simply aren't there. Nor will it do to say that "man's knowledge of the facts is then a reinterpretation of God's interpretation" (Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 203f), for the process of discovery and validation is not equivalent to reinterpretation of another mind's wishing. Men do not read minds, nor is wishing - as we have seen - a means of validation.


III. CONCLUSION

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

3 Comments:

Blogger Zachary Moore said...

Great post. Once again, Christianity falls on its own sword.

March 23, 2006 6:45 PM  
Blogger McFormtist said...

Hello Dawson,

I do hate to keep piling on comments while you're working on something. I know you said I could post a reaction on your other post, but I think it would be easier here, since I reference what you say above. Thank you for directing me here, in any case. It does give me a more precise understanding of your position.

I can think of one way, immediately, in which our approaches to concepts differ. As Christians, we begin with a description of God as set forth in the Bible. We begin with what the Bible plainly says about nature, reality, even God’s intent in creating. It is from there, (if we’re being consistent, granted) with those things as a given, that we begin to surmise concepts of existence. We conceive of how reality must be in light of how God is (in cases where the Bible doesn’t describe how a certain part of reality is. It’s all systematic in nature, which is appropriate for a worldview.). You said in a comment on the other post that your understanding of concepts is largely garnered through or by reason of your senses/experience. And from there it seems you conceive of possible ways God God must be in light of your understanding of how reality is. And so the Christian approach is fundamentally different than that of the Objectivist.

“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.’”

Here's one attempt at demonstrating the relation between a subject and its objects to varying degrees: A person (A) who is familiar with the make and model of a car does truly know about the car, but less about it than the person who has read about and is familiar with the type of engine and all the parts that make the car up. That person (B) will know less about the car than the person who machined the individual parts and put them all together in place. And, stay with me here, but even that person (C) knows less than the person (Z) who authored the concepts “car,” “car parts,” “carburetor,” “machining,” assuming arguendo there is such a person.

Not only does (B) know more about the car than (A); but he knows it more fully, and so in a qualitatively different way. There is an analogous relation between (B) and (A). Same relation exists still between the auto machinist extraordinaire and the author of the concepts to begin with. It’s an actual, non-ad hoc difference. The author of the concepts knows what the machinist knows in addition to what he knows, himself. In that sense they all have similar knowledge. As long as we understand that “similar” doesn’t mean “utterly equal.” Christians use (or should use) “similar” and “analogy” with that proviso. In fact, “analogy” entails “lack of utter equivalence.”

“Two wholly contradictory standards are thus endorsed at the heart of Christian theism.”

If they’re not ontologically equivalent in their opposition (and they’re not, per the Creator/creature distinction) they cannot be said to be contradictory, except only apparently so. This, Van Til terms "paradox."

“It will not do for the Christian to say that man's knowledge is 'analogous' to the Christian god's supposed 'knowledge' by pointing to similarities that simply aren't there.”

Of course to say something that isn't there is there is absurd. But the illustration I gave above easily dispels your assertion that they aren't.

[continued...]

January 16, 2014 5:45 PM  
Blogger McFormtist said...

...

“Nor will it do to say that 'man's knowledge of the facts is then a reinterpretation of God's interpretation' (Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 203f), for the process of discovery and validation is not equivalent to reinterpretation of another mind's wishing.”

This is only if you fail to take into account the creative nature of God’s consciousness as informed by Christianity. And so man’s reinterpretation of pre-interpreted facts is not equivalent to “reading minds.”

“the Christian god whips its 'knowledge' out of nowhere, declaring its self-authored content 'truth' by fiat.”

It follows quite naturally that if God creates self-authored content, it is therefore “truth,” “by fiat,” and necessarily so.

“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.”

With respect, the term existed before Objectivist philosophy ever laid hands on it. But Christians do use a different term than “knowledge” for God. We use “God’s knowledge.”

“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.”

Do you know of many Christians who believe that their own wishing makes something so? Let’s ignore, for the moment, their wishing that Christianity were true (if this simply means the desire that it be true, then doesn't everybody?). I don’t agree with that, and Christians understand their own belief to mean that whatever God says is true regardless of their wishing. If Christians believe that only God can wish something into existence, then it’s not a true “subjectivism” they’re holding, is it? Nor is it an antithesis. If there are Christians who hold that their own wishing is "creative," we can both understand they’re simply incorrect. The antithesis you speak of exists if and only if, as I said above, there is no distinction made between Creator and creature; if God thinks in a way that is utterly equivalent with that of man. With this in mind, it is my opinion that your critique ultimately misses the mark.

Hoping this reaches you well,
Matthias

January 16, 2014 5:45 PM  

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