Reveling in Reversals
In this post, I focus on some more of Paul's "more substantive" criticisms of the Objectivist axioms. If what he provided in this section of his post qualify in his mind as "substantive," Objectivism has nothing to worry about. But I'm supposing that readers who are already familiar with Paul's position and the ploys he utilizes in defense of it, already know this, too.
“Existence,” as such, has not always “existed” in Dawson’s worldview. “Existence” is a concept, concepts, according to Bethrick, is the creations of human minds. Dawson means “existENTS” have always existed.
"Existence"... is a collective noun, denoting the sum of existents. (OPAR, p. 4, emphasis added)
Paul says that I mean “’existENTS’ have always existed.” However, the concept 'existence' is used to denote “the sum of existents” as a whole, as a unit, thus providing for a single-term axiom, while the expression “existents exist,” while true, is not necessarily plenary, and invites the unnecessary question "Which existents?" Thus “existence exists” is preferred because it is broader, more general, and does not overstep the level of knowledge available at the point of an initial recognition by affirming plurality, which is a higher-level concept.
Paul then wrote:
Indeed, since “existence” is a concept then it appears that in Dawson’s little worldview “existence” was created by a form of consciousness!
The statement that “existence has always existed” is just another way of saying that existence is eternal, and really only means that existence as such is timeless – i.e., concepts of time do not apply to existence taken as a whole. On the Objectivist view, time is a measurement of motion or action, and thus presupposes that things exist. I.e., existence is preconditional to time. (More details are given here.) So in terms of my worldview, I have the conceptual justification to affirm the eternality of existence. Thus, since existence is eternal, it did not need a creator. Therefore, I have sufficient justification to reject any view which affirms such a creator as irrational.
We all have to start somewhere. What is your starting point?
Depemds [sic] on what we mean by “starting point.” “Starting point” for me has notions of preeminence. It has notions of “epistemological authority.” God’s word is my epistemic starting point in this sense. But, I suspect Dawson’s confusing the order of knowing with the orde rof [sic] being.
My question had to do with starting points. Objectivism begins with the object of cognition, for it is only after we are aware of an object that we can identify ourselves as having that awareness. The conceptually irreducible axiom of existence identifies explicitly in the widest possible terms what we perceive directly. This is our starting point: the explicit recognition that things exist. Knowledge begins where awareness begins: with the objects of cognition. Hence “Objectivism.” The alternative to this is subjectivism, i.e., beginning with the subject of cognition, such as something one imagines (e.g., “God created the universe by an act of will”).
My question to Paul was intended to give him an opportunity to identify what he takes to be his starting point. Notice how he chooses to dance around the point, looking for a way to take another potshot at me (he suggests that I am confusing something that I’ve been very careful to keep distinct!), instead of treating the matter seriously. Paul's reaction to such questions suggests that he feels threatened by them, as if asking them constituted an invasion of some secret misdeed of his that he doesn't want people to discover. Mockery for Paul is more important than clearly explicating his position, for that is what he gives us – mockery – when an opportunity to present his position has been extended to him. It's important because it's his form of barking at intruders so they stay away. If they stay away, they won't discover what he wants to hide. But it's too late for that. His guilty little secret has been exposed.
He says that “God’s word” is his “epistemic starting point,” by which he means “epistemological authority.” In other words, the say-so of an invisible magic being – as opposed to reason – is the final arbiter of what he accepts as knowledge. By “God’s word,” I suspect Paul means the entirety of the bible, from the first verse of Genesis to the last verse of Revelation, including everything in between (assuming the standard Protestant canon, of course). But obviously such an enormous mass of stories and tales is not conceptually irreducible, nor is their supposed truth perceptually self-evident. In fact, as I have pointed out before, to affirm “God’s word” as his starting point, the Objectivist axioms would have to already be true. For to affirm “God’s word” is to assume that something exists (there’s the axiom of existence), that that something is something specific – i.e., “God’s word” as opposed to Buddha’s word (there’s the axiom of identity), and that the one affirming all of this has awareness of what he is affirming (there’s the axiom of consciousness). So again, we find religion piggybacking its starting point on the axioms of a worldview which religious believers are committed to rejecting.
To clarify the question “what is your starting point,” consider the following question:
Why no straight answers to this question? Why the dancing evasions? Why the pussyfooting? Why the smartalecky attitude?
Of what are you aware first: the object which you perceive, or
the means by which you perceive it?
Now Paul might say that the first thing he was aware of is his god, thus trying to assimilate an object-based starting point into his worldview (even though the bible never makes such epistemological claims). This would raise numerous questions which would need clear answers before such responses can be taken seriously. For instance, by what means did he acquire awareness of his god? How did he identify the object of his awareness as a god? How did he identify it as the Christian god? Is "God" a concept, or a proper name? If it is a concept, what units is it integrating? If it is a proper name, what is it naming? And how does a non-believer like myself distinguish between what believers call "God" and what they are merely imagining? After all, the non-existent and the imaginary look and behave quite alike. Unfortunately, Christians will spit and stammer to have their god-belief taken seriously, but they can never come through with clear answers to questions like these. And what's more, one Christian's answers to these questions very often conflict with another's, indicating a conspicuous lack of uniformity among Christian believers on such matters. And they tell us their position is "absolute"? Hmmm... couldn't fool us.
Meanwhile, I do recall Paul once stating that “God isn’t ‘one of my axioms’.” So unless he has changed his position since stating this, I would not expect his "God" to be among anything he might list as his axiomatic foundations.
This question may be difficult to answer if one is reluctant to let go of sacred cow assumptions and beliefs that he's in the habit of accepting as true on faith.
What does he mean by “accepting something as true on faith?” Does he think we must have evidence for all of our beliefs? Then what’s his evidence for his belief in his axioms? If there’s evidence for axiomatic beliefs then they’re not axiomatic.
Paul also wrote:
Furthermore, this assumption fals [sic] prey to an infinite regress argument.
It is important to notice how the theist's would-be starting point assumes the truth of mine.
But I’ve already sliced and diced yours.
Furthermore, notice that Dawson’s “starting point” is not true. Concepts are not true or false. “Existence” isn’t true or false.
See what I mean? Here Paul switched back to his mood where he denies the truth of the axiom "existence exists," which is my starting point. This is a complete statement. Either it is true, or it is not. Objectivism holds that it is true. Paul says it is "not true," but he has not shown that it is not true. Indeed, it would have to be true in order for him even to attempt to show it to be false, for to attempt to show it to be false, he would at the very least first have to exist, and by existing he would confirm its truth. And I have already shown how concepts of truth assume the axioms via the primacy of existence principle. As for Paul's "naked assertion" that "concepts are not true or false," see ITOE, pp. 48f.
I’ve also noted that the idea that “existence exists” is not axiomatic sicne [sic] it presupposes a consciousness which is required to create the universal “existence.”
Existence doesn’t depend on awareness. A is A no matter what awareness does. (ARTK, 210)
Dawson’s the cartoonist illustrating his little world.
After having read these, I wonder what Paul found so compelling about them. If these are the best that theists can produce against the overt cartoonish implications of their conception of the universe, then non-theists should be encouraged to use the cartoon universe analogy all the more. Oh, and yes, the concerns raised in those blogs have already been addressed. For instance, here, here, here, here, here and here. Selah.
If we begin with the fact of existence, then it should be obvious that it is nonsensical to ask for an explanation of existence. There goes the cosmological argument.
But of course, this is ridiculous. The cosmological argument doesn’t seek to show how any existing entity came to be, it seeks to show how the existence of “contingent” entities came to be. So, it’s entirely appropriate to ask for an “explanation” for the existence of contingent things.”
All models of the cosmological argument that I have examined nowhere seek to "show how" any entities "came to be." While the express goal of such arguments may be to validate the idea that the universe had a beginning, for instance, the real goal behind such arguments in a theistic setting is to affirm the idea that the universe is the product of some form of consciousness. But no model of the cosmological argument that I have examined successfully does this, for their defenders typically begin arguing in mid-stream, having taken for granted all kinds of assumptions (most notably the primacy of consciousness) and thus ignore certain key burdens which they would have to make good on in order for their arguments to really work. It is because theists are so prone to starting their inferences mid-stream, having already accepted all kinds of dubious assumptions without critically examining them, that calling them to identify their starting point is so effective. They aren't prepared to identify their starting point, because they don't know what it is. True to Rand's razor, challenging theists to identify their starting point effectively slashes off a whole category of invalid and useless ideas. That's why we get attitude instead of intelligence when we challenge them to identify their premises. It's not because we've done something wrong, it's because we're doing something right. It is they who have done something wrong, and now they're caught redhanded. Resentment is to be expected.
Now if the cosmological argument “seeks to show how the existence of ‘contingent’ entities came to be,” then it suffers from the fallacy of deriving its conclusion by stipulation of contrived definition. For instance, a defender of the cosmological argument for the existence of an invisible magic creator can simply define everything that is "finite" or "material" or "physical" as "contingent," and since "contingent" things (allegedly) need to be explained in terms of something prior (such as a magic consciousness which wished them into existence), then the conclusion that God or Wod or Geusha or Blarko exists seems to follow rather naturally. Typically (and what I had in mind when I wrote the above statement), the cosmological argument seeks to argue that the universe had a beginning and thus needed to be caused. But what is the "universe"? The universe is the sum total of all that exists. So the cosmological argument asserts causality prior to the sum total of existence, which is a blatant stolen concept. Such nonsense is unnecessary if we begin with the fact that existence exists.
However, let me say, I am in full agreement that it’s nonsensical to ask for an “explanation” of God’s existence!
And I agree: it is nonsensical to ask for an explanation of something that does not exist.
Where does Christianity explicitly affirm the axiom ‘existence exists’?
Taken as the idea that something has always existed, we affirm it in God.
Meanwhile, we have here a prime example of Christian assimilation caught in the act. At least Christians sometimes know a good idea when they see one. The trouble is, their worldview does not contribute any good ideas. On the contrary, it pilfers them from rival positions and tries to squeeze them into Christian costuming so that they can claim them as their own. But scratch the surface, you'll find that the idea was ripped off from a prior source.
The axiom 'existence exists' is not simply "the idea that something has always existed." The recognition that existence exists is not the same thing as affirming that existence has always existed, for this affirmation requires more information than is available at this stage of cognition. Incidentally, we have already seen how Paul himself tried to use this fact to argue that the axiom of existence is not sufficient to support the primacy of existence principle. The axiom did not provide enough knowledge, according to Paul's argument, to conclude that what exists, exists independent of consciousness. Now, however, the axiom provides enough information to infer that his invisible magic being is eternal. This constant flip-flopping is simply amazing!
The axiom of existence is the recognition of a conceptually irreducible fact of which we have direct, firsthand awareness. Where does Christianity identify existence as a conceptually irreducible fact of which we have direct, firsthand awareness? Where does the bible, as the primary source of Christian doctrine, address the issue of metaphysical primacy? Where does it teach its readers what the proper relationship between a subject and its objects is? From what I can tell, its primitive authors nowhere breathed a word of this matter, as if they were completely ignorant of an issue that is so crucial to knowledge. Why is that? Paul does not offer anything to support the idea that Christianity ever addresses these points. Instead of addressing them, Christians want to assimilate them in a parasitic orgy of consumption and demolition.
It's true that the claim that a god exists assumes the fact that existence exists, but I've been pointing this out all along: my worldview's fundamentals would have to be true for them to assert their god-belief in the first place. Paul flip-flops back and forth, saying that "existence exists" is not true one moment, then claiming that this fact is packaged in Christianity's affirmation of an eternal invisible magic being, then he says that it's uninteresting, then he insinuates that Objectivism's identification of these facts is not unique (though he does not show any other philosophy which identifies them in the manner that Objectivism does), etc., etc. The ebb and flow of Christian psychosis is strong with this lad. He continually seeks ways to evade, mischaracterize, or drop context, while my position remains constant and sure. In the process of trying to discredit Objectivism's fundamentals, Paul seems aloof to the fact that he's constantly making use of those same fundamentals. This has been pointed out to him before. See for instance Probing Mr. Manata's Poor Understanding of the Axioms. He's been corrected numerous times before. But he continues in his mistaken path. I can only suppose this is intentional, for he should know better by now. I do not think that Paul is stupid, or this thick-headed. Rather, he's got a confessional investment to protect, and he's willing to stoop to the lowest possible levels in order to do just that. In obeying the Christian directive to "deny himself" (cf. Mt. 16:24), Paul has denied his honor along with everything else.
Objectivism can’t affirm this in this sense since “existence” was created by consciousness.
If Dawson means this to mean that unconscious bits of matter have always existed, then where’s the argument? I certainly don’t assume that "unconscious bits of matter has always existed" when I deny it.
Paul had written:
Christianity teaches that God exists and has existed eternally.
And just to entertain such a teaching, the Objectivist axioms would have to be true: something would have to exist, that something would have to be itself as opposed to something other than itself, and you would have to be conscious in order to have awareness of such teachings.
See, Christianity taught the axiom that “something exists” before Objectivism did!
Paul then wrote:
Dawson confuses my ability to entertain the idea with God’s eternal existence.
So, since Dawson affirms that Christianity taught this before Objectivism did, then Dawson myst [sic] presuppose the Christian worldview to “understand” what he said.
Paul had written:
The Objectivist makes a mountain out of molehill with this one.
How so? Objectivism is simply making the rational thinker's conceptually irreducible starting point explicit.
Because in the uninteresting sense, “things exist” isn’t unique to you.
Now if Paul can cite another philosophy which explicitly affirms the primacy of existence as Objectivism understands it, and remains loyal to this principle throughout its development, then I would like to know what it is.
Regardless, I never claimed that “things exist” is “unique to [me].” I pointed out that my axioms, which Paul is continually trying to discredit and then assimilate, would have to be true for him to assert the existence of his supernatural pet.
As you poured meaning into the term, e.g., "uncreated, unconscious stuff," we saw that this wasn't "axiomatic."
Remember, "existence exists" doesn't tell us anything about the nature of what exists.
And so the uninteresting claim, "something exists" isn't problematic,
but your qualified claim is [problematic] since it's not axiomatic not acceptable given what else you say. [sic]
If your claim doesn't say anything about the nature of what exists then it doesn't say that what exists is "an eternally existing conscious God."
It's not clear which claim of mine Paul has in mind; I suppose he's still talking about the axiom "existence exists" or some basic recognition close to this. If so, I have already dealt with this sophomoric attempt to refute the primacy of existence (indeed, it refutes itself). But this much is certain: to affirm that the Christian god exists, Paul needs to assume the core premise central to such an idea, which is: the primacy of consciousness. It is clear enough that he senses this need, and it's also clear that he senses the impossibility of validating this premise. He senses that I am right in showing that concepts of truth assume the primacy of existence principle, for the alternative to this principle - ultimately the view that wishing makes it so - is simply too bold an expression of metaphysical subjectivism to defend. So he finds that he needs to constantly shape-shift his position, doubling back on his own words at every turn as he seeks to cover his evasions under a blurry mass of poorly executed reversals. He's evading the encounter between the axiom of existence and the axiom of consciousness, for it is the relationship between these two fundamentals that worries him the most. This is why he treats the axiom of existence as if it were the only axiom and ignores the axiom of consciousness altogether. This habit of evasion is what remains constant throughout Paul's apologetic as he tries to play a game of catch-me-if-you-can, which is hardly indicative of a position held in confidence and conviction. Paul's antics demonstrate that he fails to recognize the fact that he's a one-man show who's taken his act to what he considers "the big time" – the whiz kids of Triablogue, whose other members tolerate him because they, like Paul, need the comfort of a group huddle and the ostentatious security of traveling in numbers.
If that is denied, then your claim does tell us "something" about the nature of what exists.
Paul tried it on his own for a while, but he rightly recognized that he was in over his head and that he would be better off as Hays' & Engwer's court jester, indulging in self-abasing bafoonery in the hope of eliciting range-of-the-moment reactions of "at-a-boy, Paul!" and other back-slapping gestures from fellow doom-wishers as he deploys his brand of sick-'em-Fido apologetics.
As a spokesperson for Christianity, Paul shows how he chooses to represent his god - through condescension, pettiness and hypocrisy. No doubt these are "virtues" in the book of "aren't-you-stupid" contentiousness that characterizes much of Paul's writing. If I were inclined to accept the stolen concepts assumed by the religious view of the world, and persuaded that an invisible magic being created the world and "controls whatsoever comes to pass," I could not bring myself to believe in Paul's god. If this god is anything like its earthly representatives, I want nothing to do with it. They can have it, and it can feast on its own. May we each get what we deserve. I'm sure counting on it.
by Dawson Bethrick