Sunday, December 24, 2006

Paul's "Necessary Propositions"

In his lengthy and often torturously confused diatribe against me, Christian apologist Paul Manata tried to make hay out of the issue of so-called “necessary propositions.” He tried to raise this issue in previous correspondence, stating “I don't see how necessary propositions would exist without a mind,” as if I had affirmed that there could be any propositions without a mind to form them. I corrected him by explaining that propositions are functions of a consciousness, and this seems to be problematic for Paul given his commitment to the analytic-synthetic dichotomy.

Paul had written:

Dawson has made this claim: “Propositions are functions of a consciousness.” And so the problem here is what to do with necessary propositions? Granting Dawson’s claim that propositions are functions of consciousness, it would appear that he’d need to have a necessary consciousness that exists in all possible worlds.

And I responded:

Wrong. For one, I reject the necessary-contingent dichotomy that the conception rooting Paul's alleged problem takes for granted.

Paul then replied:

And why does Dawson reject this, he doesn’t tell us. Maybe we’re supposed to be scared because he abruptly says, “Wrong?” Maybe it’s because he authoritatively tells us “I reject the necessity-contingent dichotomy?” Who knows?

I did not elaborate on why I reject the necessary-contingent dichotomy because a) I thought Paul was already familiar with Objectivism and simply needed to be reminded of this (see below), and b) the purpose of my blog was not to restate what has already been well stated (again, see below). But for my readers' sake, let me briefly explain. I reject the necessary-contingent dichotomy that is unquestioningly embraced in most philosophical circles because I think it’s false. Why would I embrace something I think is false? Blank out. Why do I think it's false? Because it assumes a false understanding of concepts. Specifically the necessary-contingent dichotomy confuses concepts with their definitions, a confusion which the objective theory of concepts avoids. The dichotomy in question arises because of this confusion and could not arise without it.

Paul then stated:

I know that Piekoff wrote on the “analytic/synthetic dichotomy,” but that’s not the only kind of “necessary-contingent dichotomy” there is.

Paul acknowledges that Peikoff has written on the topic (see his comprehensive essay "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pp. 88-121), but he demonstrates that he’s not familiar with Peikoff’s criticism of the issue in question. I quote Peikoff:

Objectivism rejects the theory of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy as false – in principle, at root, and in every one of its variants. (ITOE, p. 94; emphasis added)

In his essay, Peikoff focuses on numerous expressions of this insidious idea, and explains why they are false. They are false because they assume a false theory of concepts. And it should already be apparent that Paul will not be able to counteract this by running to the bible, for it does not present a theory of concepts, nor does basing a theory of concepts on the musings of an imaginary deity bring any value to the matter.

Paul continued:

Furthermore, as usual, Rand and other Objectivists only serve to show how ignorant they really are of philosophy when they make the claims they do.

Rejecting bad ideas does not mean one is ignorant of philosophy. In fact, it is because of knowledge that we can have good reasons to reject bad ideas. But rather than take the time and effort he needs in order to understand the criticisms that Peikoff raises or offer any intelligent input on the matter, Paul wants to turn this into an opportunity to ridicule me. Observe:

My guess is that Dawson will play the fool as well. But, again, we don’t know because he tried to bully us rather than argue.

I suppose no matter what I have to say, Paul is going to want to call me a fool regardless. And look how much effort and time he spends trying (however poorly) to refute someone he wants to call a fool. Why not just call me a fool, and leave it at that? Again, does Paul really consider what he’s saying? And he says I’m trying to bully my readers? Does Paul feel bullied? To my recollection, no one else has complained about this. Paul can call people who don’t believe in his invisible magic being “fools” (and disparaging names like “baboon,” “monkey,” “hack,” etc.) any time he likes, but when they take time to carefully explain why they think theism is false or interact with his defenses, he feels bullied. This is most interesting.

Paul continues:

What does it mean to say Dawson rejects necessary and contingent propositions? Does he mean to tell us that 2+2=4 is not necessary, or is? Does he mean to tell us that his wearing a green shirt on Friday is not contingnent [sic], or is? Does he mean to say that both of these are necessary, or both are contingent? He never tells us.

I reject the artificial dichotomizing of propositions into two mutually opposed types because I reject the theory of concepts that this procedure assumes. In my view, to qualify something as “necessary” is only contextually meaningful when considering purposes, and purposes vary from situation to situation, context to context, and often depend on the needs of the moment rather than on “eternal considerations” under which the notion of “necessary propositions” poses. I realize that this is anathema to the proponents of the necessary-contingent and related dichotomies, because they (whether they realize it or not) hold to the intrinsic view of concepts (or to nominalist borrowings from the same). It holds that “necessity” is intrinsic to (some) propositions, and implies that “propositions” (like “universals”) “exist” in some nether dimension independent of human cognition. Dig down to find out why, and you’ll find a heap of arbitrary notions and unjustifiable assumptions holding it all up.

Propositions are not irreducible primaries. They are composed of concepts, and without concepts there would be no propositions. Concept-formation is a volitional process; nothing in reality forces us to undertake it. When we look out at the world, we see concrete entities, not "propositions." We form propositions to identify what we conceive, remember, project, etc., but only after we have formed concepts which identify the entities, attributes, actions, etc. Nothing forces us to do this, we do this because we choose to do this. If the content of any given proposition is valid concepts denoting data we have gathered from objects we have discovered (i.e., facts), and its purpose is to denote those facts, then that proposition would be describing fact(s). Must the proposition "existence exists" describe a fact? It does denote a basic fact, but not because the proposition itself "must" do so. It does because of a human epistemological need, a need which we have as a result of our desire for knowledge, and knowledge requires a starting point. The proposition itself has no needs of its own to satisfy, as if it were going to be starved if we do not feed it something, or as if it had the ability to condemn us to an eternity of torment unless we sacrifice burnt offerings to it. It is true that 2+2=4, but readers will see below that whether or not propositions are true is the issue to which I tried to direct the discussion. Moreover, wearing a green shirt as opposed to a red one on Friday is not propositional. It is a physical state of affairs, since the person wearing the shirt and the shirt itself are physical, not propositional. On such matters, Objectivism does recognize the distinction between “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made” (see Rand’s essay of this title in her book Philosophy: Who Needs It).

I had written:

Also, the concern here should be for truth, not some vague notion called “necessary propositions” which could mean anything and nothing.

Paul responded:

55. Despite the hand-waving, this is just stupid.

55. The question is, are there any propositions that, because of their specific content, must describe facts.

I’m not sure which point 55 Paul wanted me to address (perhaps Paul really does have a problem counting?), but I have answers for both of them.

In the case of the first point, it seems that Paul is saying that my concern for whether or not a proposition is true constitutes “hand-waving” and is “just stupid.” This is a most autobiographical Kodak moment in Paul’s diatribe. Each reader should pause to consider it.

In the case of the second point, Paul wants me to weigh in on the question, “are there any propositions that, because of their content, must describe facts.” There are numerous ways to answer this legitimately, but none of them lead to positive outcomes for Paul’s theism. What comes to mind initially is a statement from the above-mentioned essay by Peikoff. He writes:

In the realm of propositions, there is only one basic epistemological distinction: truth vs. falsehood, and only one fundamental issue: By what method is truth discovered and validated? To plant a dichotomy at the base of human knowledge – to claim that there are opposite *methods* of validation and opposite types of truth – is a procedure without grounds or justification.
(ITOE, p. 101)

So again, I think the important issue in considering the value of any proposition is whether or not it is true. But when I raised this concern, Paul pooh-poohed it, calling it “stupid.”

But for those who put their stock in the analytic-synthetic dichotomy and its nefarious offspring, Paul’s question points to the self-contradiction inherent in this jumble of confusion. On the dichotomy-laden view that Paul’s question assumes, any “facts” which a “proposition” might describe could only be contingent, and therefore not “necessary.” For instance, it may be a “fact” that man breathes air. But this is not “necessary” in all “possible worlds.” Those who put stock in the notion of testing claims against the standard of “possible worlds” would have to agree that there is a “possible world” in which man breathes sulfuric acid. So a proposition describing man’s need for air to breathe could not be a “necessary proposition.” Facts, according to the view assumed by Paul’s beloved dichotomy, “could have been otherwise,” as the saying goes. So Paul may be seduced into thinking that at least some “propositions..., because of their specific content, must describe facts,” but all is for naught on this view, for “facts” can vary according to whim, both the philosopher’s and the Christian god’s. Paul’s personal idol Cornelius Van Til makes this explicitly clear:

According to the doctrine of the Reformed faith all the facts of nature and of history are what they are, do what they do and undergo what they undergo, in according with the one comprehensive counsel of God. All that may be known by man is already known by God. And it is already known by God because it is controlled by God. (The Defense of the Faith, p. 99)

On this view, man’s need to breathe air instead of sulfuric acid, is up to “the one comprehensive counsel of God.” And who knows what this might be? Does Paul have the inside scoop on what his god plans? We should be careful here, because each believer tends to transpose his own will for his alleged god’s will at one point or another, as I explained in an earlier response to Paul. I had written:

Paul thinks that he can say that his god does not wish, because Paul determines what his god is and is not, what his god can and cannot do. The reason why Christians have so many internal disagreements is because one Christian will imagine his god one way, while another Christian imagines his god another way, and never shall the two meet.

Amazingly, the Christian’s god seems to want to have things just as they are and continue to be in reality. Isn’t that amazing? It must take a lot of talent to imagine a deity which has "counseled" to have things just as they are in this world.

So the "necessary propositions" issue may not be the land of promise that Paul had initially hoped it to be.

Paul asks:

Why doesn’t he understand what a “necessary proposition” is? Is he that backwards?

Yes, I must really be "that backwards." This is what Paul was after all the time: not to teach or inform, but to ridicule and name-call. This is what we can expect from presuppositionalists when their elusive argument is shown to be ineffective. It goes sort of like this:

Presuppositionalist: God exists because without Him, you couldn’t argue your way out of a paper bag.

Atheist: Really? How do you reckon?

Presuppositionalist: Because of the impossibility of the contrary. For instance, how do you account for necessary propositions?

Atheist: Duh, I donno. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a "necessary proposition" to begin with.

Presuppositionalist: You bafoon! Are you really that backwards? The question is, are there any propositions that, because of their specific content, must describe facts?

Atheist: Really, I was just wondering why you believe a god exists in the first place when it's so obvious that such a belief has its basis in the believer's imagination.

Presuppositionalist: I’m telling you why, you goof ball!

Atheist: Please, try to compose yourself. I was hoping we could have a civil discussion.

Presuppositionalist: How can civility be possible when you rebel against the preconditions of civility!!?

Atheist: Well, I’m trying my best to have a civil discussion with you. One of the preconditions of a civil discussion is the willingness of both parties to consider the other's viewpoint. But that's just it, you don't seem to be able to present your viewpoint.

Presuppositionalist: I've already sliced and diced your viewpoint, you monkey!

Atheist: Why don’t you just tell me where you began and how you ended up believing that your god exists? Can you do that?

Presuppositionalist: I began with God’s word, baboon!

Atheist: Well, that explains everything then. No wonder you believe this stuff. You began by swallowing it all hook, line and sinker. I know Muslims who do this with the Koran, and Buddhists who do this with Buddhist teachings.

Presuppositionalist: The Koranic god is self-refuting. Buddhist teachings are a jumble of absurdities!

Atheist: And now you should have a good idea of why I don’t believe in your god either.

Presuppositionalist: Why you stupid, ignorant fool! Don’t you realize that without God, you couldn’t argue your way out of a paper bag?

Atheist: Well, you did say this at the beginning, but so far you’ve made no progress in supporting this statement. Instead, you seem anxious to insult me rather than teach me what you might know. I’m willing to consider what you have to say, but you trash every opportunity I extend to you.

Presuppositionalist: You’re just trying to get the hoi polloi and all the teenagers to think you’re “hot stuff”!

Atheist: I see. I wasn’t aware that I had their attention. Regardless, aren’t you going to threaten me with hellfire and brimstone? That’s what the old churchmen used to do.

That’s about the sum of it. We learn nothing from Paul other than that he’s easily frustrated and that his feelings are easily hurt when someone doesn’t believe in his invisible magic being on his say so.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Theism and Subjective Metaphysics

Below I continue my examination of Paul Manata's lengthy diatribe against me. In this post I will survey some of Paul's "more substantive" points which were intended to exonerate Christianity from the charge of subjectivism. Those who are familiar with my criticisms of Christianity already know that one of my primary contentions against any religious worldview is that it assumes a subjective metaphysics, particularly in its assertion of a supernatural subject to which the objects of the universe conform. Here we will see that efforts to overcome this criticism are doomed to failure.

I wrote:

I've seen many Objectivist assemble arguments against theism, many of them pointing to the metaphysical subjectivism inherent in theism as its own defeater.

Paul responded:

Ah yes, Dawson’ (in)famous argument from metaphysical subjectivsm. Let’s address it. Bethrick wants to capitalize on the common undertsanding people have of “subjectivism.” Sometimes it’s taken to mean “relativism.” Now, if reality were dependant on multiple human minds, then we’d have relativism.

It is important to understand the distinction and relationship of the various types of subjectivism. In his lecture series The Primacy of Consciousness Versus the Objectivist Ethics, Bernstein identifies three general categories of primacy of consciousness. They are the personal, the social, and the cosmic or supernatural. The personal primacy of consciousness holds that reality conforms to one’s own conscious druthers. This is the orientation assumed by the solipsist. (But see also: Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist.)

The social primacy of consciousness is the subjectivism of the collectivist. He holds the view that reality conforms to the consciousnesses of a group of individuals, whether it is all human beings or some subset of them, such as a race, or those sharing a certain belief system (cf. “the elect,” etc.). The cosmic or supernatural primacy of consciousness is the subjectivism assumed by religious god-belief. On this view, man’s mind is essentially impotent, unable to do anything by itself. But a supernatural personality, which according to the believer’s imagination exists beyond the universe, is omnipotent, and reality conforms to its every whim (only the believer typically prefers to call it a “plan” or some other term to give it some implication of principle and structure). All three share the same basic essential: the primacy of consciousness. All three are invalid for the same reason, namely that they reverse the proper orientation between subject and object.

Of course, either view is held by an individual, and as such, the personal primacy of consciousness is always implied to some degree. In the case of the social or cosmic primacy of consciousness, for instance, the view held by the individual essentially says that reality conforms to collective or supernatural will because he wants it to. This is why it is important to ask apologists who become frustrated with non-believers in the midst of debate, whether or not they think we should believer their religious claims on their say so. Typically they will deny that this is what they expect, and hasten to replace their own say so with what they say belongs to their god: “No, don’t believe because I say so, believe because God says so!” This simply removes the issue back one step as the believer tries to disguise his assumption of the personal primacy of consciousness with the authority of an imaginary deity.

Then Paul conceded that the theistic view of reality is ultimately subjective:

But in theism, there’s a sense in which reality is subjective - based on the divine mind

What more need I say? Paul has finally come to admit that the theistic view of reality is subjective in nature. Note how obvious an error it is to assume that “reality is... based on [a] mind.” Is that mind not also supposed to be real? If so, then how can reality be based on it? If not, then how can reality be based on it? Either way, the theist comes up all blanks.

In spite of this admission, Paul wants to add a qualification to dilute it:

but it’s still objective for us humans.

Qualifications like this simply demonstrate that theists have no consistent metaphysic to begin with. Paul is essentially saying that reality is both subjective and objective, as if the orientation between subject and object could be redirected by the flipping of a switch, or as if one could strike a compromise between the two and integrate them into a non-contradictory worldview. The problem is that the assumption that the orientation between subject and object can be redirected at will itself reduces to subjectivism, and that subjective and objective metaphysics cannot be integrated without contradiction. What happens when one tries to mix food with poison? One can still swallow it, but it will no longer be fit for human life.

According to theism (as Paul has clearly admitted), reality is ultimately subjective, and that’s all there is to say. It’s not “objective” for anyone, for everything must ultimately conform to the dictates of a consciousness. Theistic creationism essentially teaches that the universe came into being as a result of supernatural wishing. You cannot get any more subjective than this. Any “objectivity” that the theist wants to claim, is borrowed from a rival worldview, one which holds diametrically opposite foundations and principles. And even within the Christian worldview, to whatever extent it might ostensibly seem to “make sense” to claim objectivity in regard to some method or assessment, it is always subject to being overturned by the whims of the ruling consciousness. Every believer can be made a liar by the turn of the deity’s tail. Objectivity simply does not apply, for the preconditions of objectivity simply do not exist in such a universe. In theism, reality is comparable to silly putty: ever-pliant, conforming to whatever shape is desired. We should not forget the implications that metaphysical subjectivism has in epistemology. Knowledge on such a view ultimately reduces to sheer imagination. That is why tokens such as faith, prayer, belief unto salvation, et al., are so common in religious worldviews. They follow naturally from the subjective metaphysics of religious doctrines.

Paul writes:

There are some respects which reality is the product of human consciousness. For example, Dawson’s mind causes blog posts to appear in the world.

This is so wrong-headed it’s childish. My consciousness does not cause blog posts to appear in the world. My physical actions do. Without a functioning computer hooked up to the internet and without my fingers busily typing away and pointing and clicking hyperlinks, etc., I would not be able to post even one word on my blog. My mind does not put the blog on the internet, my actions, along with the electronic mechanics of my computer and www.blogger.com, do.

Just last week I was editing a post on blogger.com when a storm outside caused the power to fail temporarily. I lost the edits that I had been making. My wishing was not sufficient to prevent this, nor was my wishing able to restore those edits once the power came back on. If my consciousness causes posts to appear in the world, my wishing should have been sufficient to do all this. But reality does not conform to consciousness. On the contrary, to get the job done, I had to start over, physically going through each paragraph again to review what was written and make any edits that needed to be made.

Paul writes:

The meaning of these posts is dependant upon consciousness. No consciousness, no meaning. If meaning is real, then it is subject to the primacy of consciousness. If it’s not real, then Bethrick lives in a relativistic universe. We make up our own meaning and there is no meaning that is the meaning.

This is quite convoluted. Meaning is the domain of concepts, and concepts are formed from objective inputs according to an objective method. Concepts are not formed by consciousness in an input-free void, without the benefit of objects which supply them with content. On the contrary, concepts are informed by the data we gather from the objects of our awareness. Consequently the meaning of any post is dependent on the subject-object relationship. This is why the principle of objectivity (i.e., object primacy) is so important. Without it, meaning would not be possible. Objectivity is the principle application of the primacy of existence metaphysics to knowledge and the choices we make. So contrary to what Paul insinuates, if meaning is real, it must depend on the primacy of existence orientation in the subject-object relationship. If consciousness did not have an object to consider and use as a guide for knowledge, there could be no meaning. Meaningfulness is not possible without both a subject and an object. In a theistic realm, meaning is ultimately subject to an invisible magic being’s whims: its wants are the only standard, the only guide, the only criterion which generates and informs any meaning, to the degree that meaning is even possible at that point. This is quite ironic, for many Christian apologists often make the topic of "meaning" a debating point, insisting that there would be no meaning whatsoever if their invisible magic being did not exist. Ravi Zacharias, for instance, asserts that

In a world without God there is no essential meaning or sanctity to humanity. (No Meaning from Matter)

Unfortunately for the theist, he cannot say that the meaning that his god allegedly creates is objective in character, for the objects on which it would base any meaning would themselves be meaningless creations. Granting the Christian mythology for argument's sake, the objects that the Christian god creates would be merely empty vessels whose identity would be assigned according to its pleasure (cf. Ps. 115:3) and revisable at will (cf. doctrine of miracles). Van Til confirms this explicitly:

According to the doctrine of the Reformed faith all the facts of nature and of history are what they are, do what they do and undergo what they undergo, in accord with the one comprehensive counsel of God. All that may be known by man is already known by God. And it is already known by God because it is controlled by God.” (The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture, p. 57; quoted in Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 106)

So the things that the theist would claim as objects of his god's awareness, would not be objects as we know them. In the non-cartoon universe of atheism, the objects of our consciousness are what they are independent of consciousness, and the task of consciousness is to perceive them and identify their nature. But in the cartoon universe of theism, the objects of the Christian god's consciousness could not be said to be what they are independent of consciousness. Its consciousness creates its objects and assigns their nature by divine fiat (cf. Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 26). So there is no objectivity in the theistic worldview after all. All is subjective whim, all is arbitrary. Indeed, to call theism arbitrary is a redundancy.

Paul wrote:

The Christian position is that an eternally existing and conscious God creates everything distinct from him (including you, the universe, and me).

This reduces to the fallacy of pure self-reference. For details, see here. Some apologists have suggested that the only way around this criticism is to compromise the doctrine of divine simplicity by asserting that the Christian god has "parts" which can serve as objects of its consciousness. Thus to overcome a fallacy, an arbitrary worldview will have to double cross some of its stated positions.

Paul wrote:

Note that this position entails that: [a] some existence is not the result of consciousness (since God does not create himself). Thus, the Christian position is not metaphysical subjectivism, the idea that all existence finds its source in a form of consciousness. [b] Our consciousness is a result of existence (God's existence), thus satisfying the central impulse of metaphysical objectivism.

Notice that Paul is trying (again!) to make Christianity square with the primacy of existence principle, while earlier he argued that it has no basis. Why would he now try to make his position cohere with something he earlier indicated to be baseless? At any rate, [a] simply concedes the whole shebang to Objectivism, for it acknowledges the inescapability of the primacy of existence. But [a] is not sufficient to rid a position of its metaphysical subjectivism. The metaphysical subjectivism is still there. According to Christianity, it’s here with us, in the universe of finite objects, the created reality made of pliant silly putty, the cartoon universe in which “God controls whatsoever comes to pass.” Christianity teaches that the whole universe was created by an act of divine will, i.e., that the entire universe finds its source in a form of consciousness, and that all the objects therein conform to its intentions. This teaching grants metaphysical primacy to the subject over its objects, and is thus sufficient to convict Christianity of metaphysical subjectivism. Contrary to what Paul insinuates here, a position does not need to affirm that "all existence finds its source in a form of consciousness" to commit itself to metaphysical subjectivism. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. The issue is the orientation between a subject and its objects. The assertion that any external object directly depends on and/or conforms to the will of a consciousness for its existence and or nature entails metaphysical subjectivism. This is all over Christianity. It can be found in Christian ontology (e.g., “creationism,” “miracles,” etc.), epistemology (e.g., faith in revelations), morality (e.g., divine commandments, pietism, self-denial and self-sacrifice, etc.), social theory (e.g., Christian collectivism, the “body of Christ,” etc.).

[b] gives Christian teachings the short shrift by downplaying the divine sovereignty of the Christian god. The objects that the Christian god are not, according to Christian teaching, a result of merely the existence of said god, as if their creation were automatic, unintentional or accidental. Rather, Christianity holds that they are a deliberate result of its will, i.e., its conscious activity.

God’s ‘thought content’ actively makes these things so (i.e., actively makes the truth). (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 227n.152).

Accordingly, the Christian god wishes, and POOF! Whatever it wishes magically comes to pass. Then to make matters even worse, once the Christian god got around to creating human beings, Christianity’s doctrines can only mean that they are puppets, like characters in a cartoon, since “God controls whatsoever comes to pass.” This same god

controls all events and outcomes (even those that come about by human choice and activity) and is far more capable and powerful than modern machines. (Van Til's Apologetic, p. 489n.43)

So [b] takes for granted something that is not logically compatible with Christian teaching, namely the assumption that human beings are actually conscious. On the contrary, according to what Christianity teaches, human beings are nothing more than mere puppets dangling on a string and being moved about to and fro according to an all-sovereign plan instigated by an all-sovereign invisible magic being long before they even existed. Puppets are not alive. They are not conscious organisms. Ironically, given its commitment to sheer determinism (which follows naturally from the primacy of consciousness metaphysics), Christianity's view of man cannot break past the gravitational pull of mere Hobbesian mechanism.

Additionally, [b] would also imply:

1) a lack of consistent metaphysics (Paul wants to flip-flop back and forth between the subjective and the objective orientation),

2) the inability of the Christian god serving as the standard of man's knowledge - for man's standard needs to be consistent with the nature of his consciousness and the orientation it has with its objects (see here), and

3) fatal implications for the notion that man was created in the image of this god viz. rationality, for man's rationality is premised on the primacy of existence, while the Christian god enjoys the primacy of consciousness.

Needless to say, Paul's defenses are falling down pretty hard.Let's see what else he said.

Paul wrote:

Since Christianity does not claim that all existence is the result of consciousness - because God doesn’t create Himself, He’s not a “result” - then Christianity claims that some existence is the result of consciousness.

If the Christian god did not create itself, then its nature is not something it ever intended. Its nature is a mere cosmic accident, a fluke, a product of chance. This is the implication of presuppositionalism's own kind of reasoning:

If the mind of God does not sovereignly determine the relationship of every event to every other event according to His wise plan, then the way things are in the world and what happens there are random and indeterminate.(Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 110n.64)

The gist of this kind of reasoning is clear enough: if something is not under the control of the Christian god, then it must be "random and indeterminate." Since, as Paul explicitly states, this same god did not create itself, its existence and the nature it has could not be a "result" of its own intentions. So it's "just by chance" that it is what it is. No overseeing consciousness can be said to have been responsible for ensuring the Christian god's nature is rational or coherent. The Christian doctrine of god falls by presuppositionalism's own sword.

Paul asked:

Now, does Bethrick hold to: (a) all existence is the result of a consciousness; (b) some existence is the result of consciousness, (c) no existence is the result of consciousness?

My view is that there is always a distinction between an object and the cognitive faculty by which one is aware of it. Cognition does not create the objects it perceives, nor does it dictate what their nature is. In other words, my worldview holds that the objects of cognition always hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of cognition. Hence "Objectivism." Christianity, however, gives us the notion of a god, “an isolation of actual characteristics of man combined with the projection of impossible, irrational characteristics which do not arise from reality – such as omnipotence and omniscience.” (ITOE, p. 148) This being allegedly possesses a consciousness which has the power to wish entire universes into existence and manipulate the identity of any object it chooses. The result is a blurring between subject and object, a reversal of metaphysical primacy, and a worldview built on stolen concepts and choking in floating abstractions.

Paul writes:

If he holds to (a) then he’s a metaphysical subjectivist. Christianity holds to (b) and since Bethrick thinks Christianity holds to metaphysical subjectivism Bethrick can’t hold to (b). That leaves (c}. Bethrick must maintain that no existence is the result of consciousness. So, since thoughts exist they must not be the result or creation of consciousness. So, we have eternally existing thoughts.

Again, my view is that the objects of consciousness are distinct from the process by which we are conscious of them, that the objects are what they are independent of consciousness, that our consciousness does not create its own objects but rather perceives and/or considers them. My position has been unflinchingly consistent on this: reality is not a creation of consciousness, nor does reality conform to the dictates of consciousness.

Paul somehow thinks that thoughts or ideas constitute a counter-example to this, but in fact they do not. Thinking is the action of a consciousness capable of conceptualized cognition. Since consciousness is an active faculty, no new existence is "created" when consciousness performs its functions. It is the nature of consciousness to act. When a man thinks, nothing new in the universe comes into existence. It simply doesn't work that way. His consciousness already existed, and he did not create his own consciousness by an act of his consciousness. Again, consciousness is axiomatic.

Paul asked:

Just how, exactly, does Bethrick’s position deny “invisible magic beings?”

By consistently embracing the primacy of existence metaphysics and avoiding the fallacies inherent in believing that invisible magic beings and other constructs of the imagination are real.

We have seen time and time again that Paul's efforts to criticize my position continue to fail as he body-slams himself into the wall of rational philosophy. Full of self-inflicted cuts and bruises, he has been unable to cohere his god-belief with the primacy of existence, which we need as the basis of rationality. And he has been unable to undermine the primacy of existence as the foundation of a rational philosophy. Is this the best that presuppositionalism has to offer? If so, it's in big trouble.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Apologetic Evasion Overload

We continue now with more examination of Paul's lengthy, problem-filled diatribe against me. In this installment, we will find numerous attempts by Paul to evade points that have been explained to him repeatedly. There's a reason why my initial encounters with Paul Manata in the spring of 2004 inspired me to compose a one-act play. If it seems prophetic, Paul can thank himself for this, for he has fulfilled what I saw.


I asked:

How is that “mak[ing] a mountain out of a molehill”? Does Paul have any sustainable objection to make against Objectivism?

Paul responded:

I suppose I could just spout unjustified assertions as you are.

This does not answer either of my questions. This is a persistent habit of Paul's: avoid interacting with direct questions which probe his own assertions and assessments. And if you pay attention, you just might find that his own evasive ploys divulge his own modus operandi, which he projects onto his interlocutor. For instance, so far, that’s all Paul has been doing: spouting unjustified assertions, the very thing he accuses me of doing. But he wouldn’t be able to do this if the axioms were not true. Meanwhile, it’s obvious that he has no sustainable objection to make against Objectivism. But he still tries, however inadequately, to recover his reputation as a thinker. Observe.

I wrote:

Does [Paul] begin by identifying a starting point that does not assume the truth of mine? No, he begins by mischaracterizing the Objectivist axiom 'existence exists', which he shouldn't need to do if he were so confident in his contention…

Paul responded:

But above he said my understanding was “pretty close.” So, a “pretty close” characterization of Objectivism is a “mischaracterization” in Dawson’s little sophistic world. Can the guy even keep his thoughts straight from sentence to sentence?

If Paul had read carefully, he would have noted that my “pretty close” was in regard to one paragraph in particular that he had written (and that I quoted in full), which was a brief outline description of the points he has chosen to criticize. My assessment was not in regard to his attempts to criticize the points in question. In his brief paragraph, he identified the three primary axioms of Objectivism. Things began to fall apart quickly for Paul after that. In his criticism, he chose not to integrate the points he himself had identified. For instance, we saw that he assumed that Objectivism derives the primacy of existence principle from merely one axiom, the axiom of existence. But the primacy of existence characterizes the proper relationship between existence and consciousness. Thus he failed to recognize the importance of the axiom of consciousness to the primacy of existence. Having listed the axiom of consciousness in his brief description of the points which he has chosen to criticize, he has no excuse for this. How can one assess a principle identifying the proper relationship between existence and consciousness when you forget to include the axiom of consciousness, a vital element in that relationship, in your examination of that principle? Blank out. Integration of rational principles is basic methodology to Objectivism, and Paul tries to criticize Objectivism without understanding this. Simply listing points does not assure understanding. So “pretty close” is just not close enough. What excuse does Paul have? I’ve seen none to suppose his attempts to criticize Objectivism are authentic and sincere.

I wrote:

How will making an argument cause “existence exists” to no longer be axiomatic?

Paul responded:

Because you just told us that “existence exists” really means that “unconscious stuff has always existed” and this isn’t axiomatic. Got it?

Paul does not show how making an argument will cause the axiom ‘existence exists’ to no longer be axiomatic, even though this is what he had affirmed. Instead, he gives us the red herring dodge that I have inserted a questionable meaning into that axiom when in fact I have nowhere done this. I reviewed my post to find where I equated the axiom of existence with an affirmation that “unconscious stuff has always existed,” and did not find it. So Paul is deliberately trying to spread misinformation here, which is deceitful.My position has been clear and consistent. Even if there are things that exist which possess consciousness (and I explicitly recognize that there are with the axiom of consciousness), the axiom ‘existence exists’ still applies. If Paul is concerned that others might think that “unconscious stuff has always existed” (a statement which I have nowhere affirmed), why doesn’t he present his reasoning for supposing that “unconscious stuff has not always existed”? Why does he continue to play hide and seek like this?

Contrary to Paul’s interpolation, the axiom ‘existence exists’ does not stipulate what exists or what must exist. Our knowledge of the specific nature of what exists requires discovery, which can only come after the initial recognition of existence. Now, if we later learn that everything is physical (a view which I have not affirmed), my bases are still covered, for if it exists and is physical, the axiom ‘existence exists’ still applies. If, however, we later learn that consciousness exists (which I explicitly affirm with the axiom of consciousness), my bases are still covered, for if consciousness exists, it is part of existence by virtue of the fact that it exists. "Existence exists - and only existence exists." (ITOE, p. 109, emphasis added.)

If we discover out that “unconscious stuff has always existed,” what would it profit me to deny this fact? Blank out. Paul is simply wearing his feelings on his sleeve for all to see: he doesn’t like it when other thinkers might think outside his little religious box and accept facts they discover in reality. Religionists for millennia have sought to control this, but they never will be able to. And this causes them deep resentment.

I wrote:

What “epistemological missiles” could have any meaning if the axiom ‘existence exists’ were not true?

Paul responded:

My statements can have meaning apart from the claim that “unconscious stuff exists.”

Again, Paul fails to address my question. Specifically he fails to explain how his criticism could have any meaning if the axiom of existence were not true. If the axiom of existence were not true, that would mean there’s no existence whatsoever. Even Paul would not exist in that case, nor would his criticisms, nor would what he wants to criticize. Does Paul think that meaning exists in a vacuum? Even if he thought this, there could be no meaning existing in a vacuum if there were nothing existed to begin with, for if nothing exists, then meaning doesn't exist either. Paul’s habit of blanking out is his childishness raging out of control.

He continued:

“Unconscious” because Dawson contrasts the primacy of existence with the primacy of consciusness. [sic] So, the existence that exists must be “unconscious.”

Again this does not address my question, and only digs him deeper into the pits of deliberate misrepresentation. For one thing, I do not contrast the primacy of existence with “the primacy of consciusness.” [sic] Rather, I contrast it with the primacy of consciousness. But that’s not what I asked about. I asked how something could have meaning if the axiom of existence were not true. Instead of addressing this question, he offers a broken-down dodge.

Moreover, I do not equate existence with “unconscious,” a la John Robbins. (Doesn’t Paul have any original criticisms of his own?) This would be a stolen concept for it would be asserting a concept while ignoring its conceptual roots. The concept ‘unconscious’ is only available to us after the concept ‘consciousness’ is available to us, and even then it only applies in certain contexts. Moreover, the concept ‘existence’ includes both non-conscious as well as conscious entities. For instance, the concept ‘existence’ applies, among other things, to rocks, water molecules, gold anklets, asteroids, quasars, etc. But I would not say that these things are “unconscious,” as if they’ve been put under anesthesia and will eventually "wake up." Again, my bases are covered, and Paul is the one who needs to wake up.

I wrote:

“The axioms are invulnerable; they have to be true for anyone to launch any "epistemological missles"[sic] in the first place.”

Paul responded:

Not your axioms, as we’ve seen. Notice though that all Dawson does is repetes [sic] himself, over and over and over again. He thinsk [sic] this counts as an argument.

I have shown how well Paul’s efforts to disprove the axioms have fared. (See here, here, here and here for instance.) By complaining that I “repete” [sic] myself “over and over and over again,” Paul implicitly acknowledges that I have at least been consistent (while he’s been tossed to and fro, like a discarded Styrofoam coffee cup on the side of a busy road). For it is when a position is repeated that inconsistencies, if they are present, can be detected (I'm reminded of the gospels here). And I doubt any inconsistency in my position would get by the razor-sharp wits of Sherlock Manata.

It is interesting, however, to find Paul complaining about me repeating myself “over and over and over again.” That’s the impression I get whenever I pick up Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis. It says pretty much the same thing in different ways from cover to cover: “God exists, unbeliever bad! God exists, unbeliever bad!” But you don’t see Paul accusing Bahnsen of thinking that this counts as an argument.

Also, if Paul thinks I’m simply repeating myself, why doesn’t he just deal with whatever it is that I’m supposedly repeating in one shot, and get it over with once and for all?

Paul writes:

I launch missiles, not “missles,” whatever those are.

I hope Paul invites us to his next launch. I’d really like to see how well his missiles fly. Hopefully better than his concept-stealing, self-negating attempts to criticize Objectivism! So far there’s been a lot of red glare, but nothing’s been able to break beyond earth’s gravity.

Paul had written:

So the objectivist has two options: (a) keep his axiom and loose his critique against Christianity or (b) loose his axiom and be forced to defend a position not unlike this one: “existence exists means that only indestructible hard bits of matter exist and even an omnipotent God cannot affect them.”

And in response, I wrote:

I was hoping that Paul would explain how assembling an argument (any argument?) would cause 'existence exists' to lose its status as an axiom. Instead, he does a drive-by on this and assumes that's sufficient, then lists two alternatives (as is so common with religious apologists: they love to back people in between an imaginary rock and a fictitious hard place) from which we're supposed to make some difficult choices. The question is: Why are Paul's (a) and (b) our only two options?

Paul responded as follows:

Because they way you understand “existence exists” isn’t axiomatic.

I explained how I understand “existence exists,” and it is in fact axiomatic. It is the general, conceptually irreducible recognition that things exist, formulated as an explicit single-concept affirmation. In my use the axiom ‘existence exists’ it has remained conceptually irreducible and its denotation of perceptually self-evident facts has remained constant. Paul has not shown otherwise, and again seems to think that cognition has some strange need to stop with the axiom of existence, when in fact it initiates it. The problem for Paul is that his criticism requires cognition to stop with the first recognition, because he's afraid of integrating it with additional recognitions and grasping the fundamental principles to which they lead.

Rand herself was emphatic on this point:

An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest... The first and primary axiomatic concepts are “existence,” “identity” (which is a corollary of “existence”) and “consciousness.” One can study what exists and how consciousness functions; but one cannot analyze (or “prove”) existence as such, or consciousness as such. These are irreducible primaries. (An attempt to “prove” them is self-contradictory; it is an attempt to “prove” existence by means of non-existence, and consciousness by means of unconsciousness.) (ITOE, p. 55)

Rand also pointed out that there is a big difference between grasping the axiom of existence and affirming that the physical world exists:

...what’s the difference between saying ‘existence exists’ and ‘the physical world exists’? ‘Existence exists’ does not specify what exists. It is a formula which would cover the first sensation of an infant or the most complex knowledge of a scientist. It applies equally to both. It is only the fact of recognizing: there is something... The concept “matter,” which we all take for granted, is an enormously complex scientific concept. And I think it was probably one of the greatest achievements of thinkers ever to arrive at the concept “matter,” and to recognize that that is what the physical world outside is composed of, and that’s what we mean by the term “physical.” (ITOE, 247)

So, contrary to what Paul alleged above, the axiom of existence does not mean "unconscious stuff has always existed." It does not because it cannot. If the concepts “matter” and “physical” are complex conceptual formulations as Rand held, then obviously they would not be available at the level of fundamental axioms. Rand was simply cohering her view with the hierarchical structure of conceptual knowledge, which is what makes logic both useful and necessary. But Paul seems unable to grasp the difference between fundamental recognitions like those identified by the axioms, and higher-level formulations which involve many prior concepts and take into account a broad category of discoveries made well after those initial recognitions. For his efforts to criticize Objectivism continually play havoc with the knowledge hierarchy, as if fundamental truths could be swapped out and replaced by higher-level formulations. What is so hard to understand about any of this? Paul again gives me the impression that he’s flip-flopping on the matter: one minute it is so obviously true that it is “uninteresting” or worse, the next it is so racked with controversy that no one should accept it. Contrary to what he has stated, I am able to keep my axiom and my critique against Christianity, for my axiom states a fundamental truth, and Christianity is not able to stand with it. Paul’s back-and-forth pussyfooting is merely a confirmation of this. The axioms together form the primacy of existence principle, since together they explicitly recognize that the objects of awareness do not depend on the process by which we are aware of them. I.e., existence exists independent of consciousness. Paul has to struggle against this premise because it is so obvious that Christianity affirms the opposite view: that objects ultimately depend on a form of consciousness.

Paul wrote:

There are two options. Either your view is axiomatic, or it’s not.

To say that the concept ‘existence’ is not axiomatic, is to say it stands on prior concepts, concepts which name something that comes before existence, concepts which give the concept ‘existence’ is content, concepts which the concept ‘existence’ assumes. Has Paul identified any concepts which come prior to the concept ‘existence’, or any concepts which name something that comes before existence? Of course he hasn’t. And he won’t be able to. “Something’s got to be at the base [of man’s knowledge], and [the axiom of existence] is it.” (Kelley, The Primacy of Existence) Paul does not suggest what could be more fundamental than Objectivism’s axioms. Instead, he simply plays the naysayer, inventing non-objections and pretending that they're devastating objections, not recognizing the self-inflicted fallacies he’s committing along the way.

The opponents of these axioms pose as defenders of truth, but it is only a pose. Their attack on the self-evident amounts to the charge: “Your belief in an idea doesn’t necessarily make it true; you must prove it, because facts are what they are independent of your beliefs.” Every element of this charge relies on the very axioms that these people are questioning and supposedly setting aside. (OPAR, p. 10)

Consequently, since my use of “existence exists” maintains its status as an axiom, then there is no reason to accept the false alternatives that Paul has proposed. There is in fact a third alternative which he finds uncomfortable and has been trying to evade, but which is invulnerable to his attacks: I can have my axiom, and my critique of Christianity, too. Why? Because a) the primacy of existence principle (the principle which states that an object of awareness exists independent of the cognitive functions by which one is aware of it) is a corollary of the axioms (cf. OPAR, 19), b) this principle is necessary to knowledge (cf. ITOE pp. 55-61), and c) Christianity contradicts the primacy of existence by affirming the primacy of consciousness in its metaphysics, epistemology, morality and other branches of philosophy.

I wrote:

Namely: Begin with the fact that existence exists, recognize that it exists independent of consciousness, and move on from there. What’s wrong with that?

Paul responds:

Where’s the argument for this? Nowhere.

Paul was asked to explain what is wrong with the basic procedure I described above. But he does not identify anything that is wrong with it. Instead, he asks for an argument. But this is absurd, since the axiom of existence does not rest on arguments. Arguments are possible only if the axioms are true. Moreover, Paul has not identified anything that is more fundamental than existence. If existence is irreducible and primary, and we are aware of it, then why shouldn’t we start there? Why start with higher-level assumptions without identifying (or understanding) what they assume, without recognizing their hierarchical dependence on something more fundamental? If the axioms are in fact axioms (Peikoff provides a proof for this in OPAR, pp. 9-11; see also Probing Mr. Manata’s Poor Understanding of the Axioms), then a) they do not need to be established by an argument (ITOE, pp. 55-61), b) they are justified by any and every act of perception (ARTK, p. 217), c) they are conceptually preconditional to any argument (see below), b) attempting to establish them by means of argument would commit the fallacy of the stolen concept (ITOE, p. 55), e) denying them is self-refuting (OPAR, pp. 9-11), etc.

By asking for an argument, Paul essentially wants me to produce an argument to prove the facts that a) things exists, b) we are aware of things that exist, c) there is a fundamental distinction between the objects of awareness and the processes by which we are aware of them, and d) knowledge requires a specific orientation between a consciousness and its objects. But consider: What is an argument? Generally speaking, an argument is the conceptual derivation of a truth from prior truths on which it depends by means of a specific method (i.e., logic). Argument is vastly more sophisticated than merely grasping axiomatic truths, and necessarily assumes that knowledge has a hierarchical structure (otherwise logic would not be applicable). So the axioms would have to be true before an argument could be assembled for any conclusion, whether true or false. Does Paul not realize that argumentation requires a conceptual foundation? If he realizes this, does he not also realize that the foundation required for argumentation to be possible need not be established by argumentation (since that foundation logically comes prior to argumentation)? Indeed, for Paul to assemble an argument (even a bad one), he would first have to exist (there’s the axiom of existence), an argument would have to have a certain structure to qualify as an argument (there’s the axiom of identity), and Paul would have to be conscious in order to formulate it (there’s the axiom of consciousness).

Paul needs to come clean on this: does reality depend on consciousness? Or, does reality exist independent of consciousness? When he offers childish comebacks and smart-alecky wordplay in response to straightforward questions like this, then we know he’s cornered and has no defense.

Paul continues:

Indeed, I argued that “existence exists” is dependant upon consciousness since “existence” is a term, or universal, and thus created by consciousnesses.

This statement is a dance in equivocations if it is supposed to be a criticism of Objectivism. It’s trying to pass itself off as an internal critique, but as such it fails due to its own clumsiness. As a criticism it is similar to efforts that Paul has tried before in that it seeks to trade on his own (and probably many of his readers’) confusion between subject and object, a confusion which Objectivism safely avoids. Yes, there is the concept ‘existence’, but there is also what the concept ‘existence’ denotes. It is the distinction between the concept and what it denotes that Paul’s statement above is intended to blur. The concept ‘existence’ was formed by a cognitive method; it is the form in which a consciousness identifies a basic fact which it perceives or experiences directly. But the fact which the concept ‘existence’ denotes was not formed by consciousness, nor does it depend on consciousness. This is not problematic for Objectivism, because Objectivism recognizes that we need to use concepts to identify such facts and recognize the distinction between what concepts identify and the process by which we form concepts. Ironically, the antidote to Paul’s confusion is the position he’s seeking to discredit. As we have seen, in order to argue against Objectivism, Paul has continually found it necessary to confuse epistemology and metaphysics, which he can do precisely because he rejects the fact that there is an objective distinction between the objects of awareness and the means of awareness. Paul is confusing the fact identified by the axiom ‘existence exists’, which is metaphysical, with the act of recognizing it in explicit conceptual form, which is epistemological. Essentially, Paul is objecting to conceptualization as such. If one does not understand the distinction between conscious activity and the objects of consciousness, he may be prone to confusing the two, as Paul has done. But this is precisely why Objectivism is so badly needed here.

Axiomatic concepts distinguish the objects known from the function, means and experience of knowing them.” (ARTK, p. 215)

It is axiomatic concepts that identify the precondition of knowledge: the distinction between existence and consciousness, between reality and the awareness of reality, between the object and the subject of cognition. (ITOE, p. 57)

It is true that the concept ‘existence’ is universal (for it applies to everything that exists in the universe) and, qua concept, ‘existence’ is formed by a cognitive process. But the fact which the concept ‘existence’ denotes is not itself conceptual, nor was it produced by a cognitive process. When Objectivists affirm “existence exists” as an axiom, they are making an affirmation about the fact, not about the concept. It appears that Paul is in bad need of a dose of objectivity!

It is also important to note that we are able to talk about concepts – their nature, their usage, their formation and their denotation – only after we’ve formed some and thus have some units to serve as secondary objects of our awareness, which is possible through introspection. Introspection is a profoundly selfish activity (for it is a deliberate focus inwards on one’s self), one which those who accept as a moral imperative the command to “deny himself” cannot perform without guilt.

Paul then asked:

Does Bethrick think that “existence” exists? I mean, could he take a picture of it? What does “existence” look like?

Not that it matters to Paul, but yes, I think that existence exists, as what Objectivism means by this statement. It would have to in order for Paul to ask his question and for me to consider how to respond to it. And yes, I can take a picture of existence. Any picture I take will be a picture of something that exists, i.e., of existence.

Existence and identity are not attributes of existents, they are the existents... The units of the concepts “existence” and “identity” are every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or will exist. (ITOE, p. 56)

... anybody who’s seen an existent has seen existence. Then what does existence look like? Well, what color is a rainbow? If you’ve seen anything real, you’ve seen existence too. But perhaps you haven’t; perhaps you’ve only introspected your sensations, your feelings or your linguistic experience. Too bad, you’ve missed a lot. But you have eyes: look! You’ll see things, real things. And you’ll see existence too. (ARTK, p. 205)

Now Paul will expend his energy to make this look silly. He has to, otherwise he gives up on trying to save face. But it will not be an internal critique, which is what he needs if he is going to be successful in discrediting Objectivism.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Reveling in Reversals

We continue now with some of my thoughts in response to Paul Manata's "Bethrick Burner." Readers will recall that Paul had tried to "burn" me, but here I am, alive and kicking, enjoying life as much as ever, and ready to correct Paul where he's wrong (a very time-consuming task!).

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.


Paul wrote:

“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.

Paul's charge here, like others he has presented, trades on equivocating between metaphysics and epistemology, a confusion which Objectivism avoids by explicitly distinguishing the role of the subject and the status of its objects. To correct Paul's confusion, we only need to right the reversal his statement commits by recognizing the difference between the concept 'existence' and what that concept denotes, i.e., the objects to which it refers. The concept 'existence' denotes anything and everything that exists. As Peikoff explains,

"Existence"... is a collective noun, denoting the sum of existents. (OPAR, p. 4, emphasis added)

The axiom "existence exists" is not making a statement about the concept 'existence'. Rather, it is merely an affirmation stating that what the concept denotes (namely “the sum of existents”) exists. Paul's contention above blurs a crucial distinction that should be obvious to any honest thinker. His mistake is no different than if, upon being welcomed into his home and invited to sit in a chair, I remarked "I can't sit in a concept!" If I did that, he'd be right to think me a smartass.

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!

Paul's sarcasm simply demonstrates how unserious he is as a thinker. Again we need to distinguish between the concept 'existence' and what that concept denotes. Objectivism nowhere teaches that what the concept 'existence' denotes "was created by a form of consciousness.” But this fact is lost in Paul's interpretation. Indeed, what about the affirmation "existence exists independent of consciousness" does Paul not understand? Does Paul cite any Objectivist source which affirms that reality was created by a form of consciousness? No, he doesn't. Rather, he relies on distortion and sleight of hand to wring out such a characterization. But it’s a misrepresentation either way you slice it. The question is: if Paul’s position is so true, why does he so find it neccessary to misrepresent a rival position so frequently?

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.

I asked:

We all have to start somewhere. What is your starting point?

Paul responded:

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.

Quite the opposite: my concern has consistently been to observe and safeguard the distinction and proper relationship between consciousness and its objects. And Paul's been resisting Objectivism precisely for this all along. And yet he accuses me of "confusing the order of knowledge with the orde rof [sic] being"? I can easily avoid such confusions because I have the axioms. Paul's worldview, however, plays fast and loose with the subject-object distinction, such that the believer never knows which is which.

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:

Of what are you aware first: the object which you perceive, or
the means by which you perceive it
?

Why no straight answers to this question? Why the dancing evasions? Why the pussyfooting? Why the smartalecky attitude?

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.

I wrote:

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.

Paul responded:

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 says that "if there's evidence for axiomatic beliefs then they're not axiomatic." It's not clear what he means by "axiomatic beliefs," nor is it clear why he thinks evidential support for a conceptually irreducible fundamental disqualifies it from being axiomatic. He just puts it out there - as he calls it, a "naked assertion." Paul needs to find some clothes for his assertions, because they're shivering in the chill air, susceptible to epistemological hypothermia. Where does he get these assertions? The bible nowhere discusses axioms and the nature of their evidential support, so he must be getting them from some other source. Is his god feeding these ideas directly into his head, in which case he expects his readers to accept what he says on faith, just as he accepted them? Is he going to begin insulting us when we do not accept what he asserts on his say so? To accept a claim as true on faith, is to accept it as true not only without evidence, but in spite of evidence to the contrary. For instance, all available evidence tells us that men cannot walk on unfrozen water. But faith can push such evidence aside in preference for storybook content which states otherwise: men can walk on water, goes the teaching, if one has sufficient belief in the preferred invisible magic being. Again, notice how this view grants metaphysical primacy to conscious functions: believing makes it so for the believer, just as wishing makes it so in the case of creation ex nihilo.

Paul also wrote:

Furthermore, this assumption fals [sic] prey to an infinite regress argument.

Not if one has an objective starting point and grasps that consciousness is consciousness of something. Ultimately our knowledge has its basis in perception. The subject-object relationship and the nature of our consciousness demonstrate this. Those who contest this are likely seeking to protect some illicit license that they have granted themselves to replace knowledge of reality with arbitrary notions (like belief in invisible magic beings). But even those who contest the objective point of view are making use of it in their rejection of it. They're saying X is the case, which is intended to mean that it is the case independent of their wanting X to be the case. So they borrow from the very view they deny.

I wrote:

It is important to notice how the theist's would-be starting point assumes the truth of mine.

Paul responded:
But I’ve already sliced and diced yours.
We've seen Paul's attempts to "slice and dice" the axioms (see for instance here and here). One thing that has remained constant in them is their allegiance to distortion, deception, context-dropping, and other anti-intellectual vices. Along with this, there are times when Paul seems to acknowledge their truth while claiming that they are not unique to Objectivism, then he says they're not true, then he says that Christianity affirms them in its affirmation of a god, then he says they're uninteresting, etc. We see back-and-forth desperation against a backdrop of cunning deceit. This tells me that the axioms accomplish precisely what I expect of them.

Paul continuted:

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.

Paul wrote:

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.”

Again Paul misses the genius of the Objectivist axioms. It is true that “the idea that ‘existence exists’” requires a consciousness to conceive and hold it qua idea, since ideas are mental, and mental means pertaining to a conceptual consciousness. But it must be borne in mind that the Objectivist axiom “existence exists” is concerned primarily with affirming the fact that existence exists, and this fact does not require consciousness. As Porter correctly observes:

Existence doesn’t depend on awareness. A is A no matter what awareness does. (ARTK, 210)

Now, ever since I unrolled my cartoon universe analogy as a way of showing just how absurd Christianity (particularly Calvinism) is, apologists have predictably missed its point and figured that the analogy applies to non-theistic conceptions of the universe as well. Some have even gone so far as to deny any applicability to the theistic model, which has puzzled many because the analogy between a cartoon and the theistic conception of the universe is so obvious. But here's Paul, again right on schedule:

Dawson’s the cartoonist illustrating his little world.

Again Paul ferries out one of his "naked assertions," giving no "substantive" explanation for why states things like this. When reading his posts, one gets the impression that he takes too literally the advice, found in many an apologetic primer, that he should try to turn every criticism and objection raised against Christian mysticism back on those who have raised them. Others have tried this in the case of the cartoon universe analogy (see here, here, here, here, here and here, for examples). The problem for these theists is that a non-theistic worldview typically does not conceive of the universe as something whose content was "created" by a devising, planning mind (such as a cartoon) which "controls whatsoever comes to pass" (Van Til, Defense of the Faith, p. 160) within that universe. Consequently there is nothing in the non-theistic conception of the universe that is analogous to either a cartoon or a cartoonist, while there is in the theistic model. So there's a major disconnect going on here for these theists, which calls into question their ability to integrate simple points in a rational manner. Now Paul did list five links to blog postings which supposedly deal with my "cartoon worldview argument." I hope my readers have had a chance to look at them. I have pasted those links below for their benefit:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/06/incinerating-bethrick.html

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/06/seeing-thru-bethrick-wall.html

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/06/dawsons-mickey-mouse-philosophy.html

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/06/dawsons-loony-tunes.html

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/05/bethricks-blunders-or-up-dawsons-creek_14.html

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.

I wrote:

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.

Paul responded:

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.

Paul wrote:

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.

I asked:

Where does Christianity explicitly affirm the axiom ‘existence exists’?

Paul responded:

Taken as the idea that something has always existed, we affirm it in God.

But above, Paul said that "existence exists" is "not true." Now he wants to claim that the Christian worldview affirms this "in God." So again, he's trying to have it both ways: it's "not true" when my worldview affirms it, but it's true so long as the existence of his invisible magic being is part of the package. He goes backwards so that he can be going forward, which confirms the diagnosis of systemic reversalism.

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.

Paul wrote:

Objectivism can’t affirm this in this sense since “existence” was created by consciousness.

Objectivism does not hold that existence was created by consciousness. What part of the statement "existence exists independent of consciousness" does Paul not understand?

Paul wrote:

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.

Does Paul think that conscious bits of matter have always existed? I see nothing problematic with the view that matter has always existed. I already understand that it is not created by an act of consciousness.

Paul had written:

Christianity teaches that God exists and has existed eternally.

And I responded:

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.

Paul now responds:

See, Christianity taught the axiom that “something exists” before Objectivism did!

But above Paul said that my axiom is "not true," just after saying that he has "already sliced and diced" it. Now he says that Christianity taught this same axiom "before Objectivism did!" He wants it both ways, and then some. I don't even find the word "axiom" in any of my bibles. Nonetheless, an opportunity has been extended to Paul to show where Christianity explicitly affirms the axioms of Objectivism. He has not shown where it does this, and yet he still wants to claim that Christianity taught these axioms before Objectivism did. Where’s the evidence for this? I simply pointed out that Objectivism’s axioms would have to be true for Paul to entertain Christianity’s “naked assertions.” It does not at all follow from this that Christianity taught Objectivism’s axioms before Objectivism did. The primitives who contributed to the bible took many assumptions for granted. Among these are fundamental truths which all thinkers must take for granted. Objectivism is the only philosophy which has come out and named them explicitly and integrated them consistently into a working philosophy fit for man and his needs.

Paul then wrote:

Dawson confuses my ability to entertain the idea with God’s eternal existence.

Here's another of Paul's signature "naked assertions." I think he pulled this whamo out just so he could feel like he had a response to one of my points. But let's consider: have I confused Paul's "ability to entertain the idea" of his god "with God's eternal existence"? No, I haven't done this. A man's ability to entertain ideas is real, but the invisible magic beings he imagines are not. I think what happened was that Paul simply did not grasp what I had stated above. Let me explain so that he gets it going forward. He stated that "Christianity teaches that God exists and has existed eternally." And in reply to this I pointed out that "just to entertain such a teaching, the Objectivist axioms would have to be true." I explained what I meant by listing the basic facts that would have to obtain in order for Paul to be able to entertain any teaching, whether it is Christianity's or anything else. The axioms "identify the preconditions of knowledge: the distinction between existence and consciousness, between reality and the awareness of reality, between teh object and the subject of cognition." (ITOE, p. 57) Just to consider a certain teaching, something needs to exist (such as the person doing the considering), that thing would have to be distinct from other things (such as what is being considered), and the one doing the considering would have to be conscious (since considering in a conscious exercise). These facts are identified by the axioms. They are more fundamental to any claim Paul wants to make about the teaching he has accepted on faith. On the contrary, rather than confusing Paul's "ability to entertain the idea with God's eternal existence," I observe the proper conceptual hierarchy involved. Paul did not grasp this point because the biblical worldview does not equip him with knowledge of concepts, so he views all ideas as if they were primaries, which not only short-circuits any conceptual relationships he might claim for his ideas, but also logical inference as a means of arriving at them. While the objective theory of concepts enables thinkers to develop their ideas by building upwards from a solid foundation, like a city full of skyscrapers, the primitive worldview of the bible treats knowledge "like a village of squat bungalows, with every room huddling down against the earth's surface" (OPAR, p. 130), enslaving the believer's cognition to the level of contextless concretes and debilitating their capacity for conceptual thought. It is because mystical worldviews like Christianity do not grasp the hierarchical nature of knowledge, that their adherents do not recognize the importance of a conceptually irreducible starting point (which Paul has not been able to identify on behalf of Christianity) or see any intellectual problem in accepting and affirming stolen concepts (since those who do not understand that knowledge has a logically hierarchical structure will not know when that hierarchy has been breached). But simply because a problem is not seen, it does not mean that the problem does not exist. Stolen concepts are the carbon dioxide of cognition: tasteless, odorless, virtually undetectable without the right equipment.

Paul continued:

So, since Dawson affirms that Christianity taught this before Objectivism did, then Dawson myst [sic] presuppose the Christian worldview to “understand” what he said.

Now really, does Paul actually think that one must presuppose all the stories and tales of the bible to understand the axioms? This is why he is so unteachable: his commitment to division for its own sake chokes any hope of him actually considering the merits of a position which does not bow to his invisible magic being. It’s all a game to him at this point. He has no choice but to resort to this kind of childishness because he has no hope against the axioms.

Paul had written:

The Objectivist makes a mountain out of molehill with this one.

And in response I asked:

How so? Objectivism is simply making the rational thinker's conceptually irreducible starting point explicit.

Paul responded:

Because in the uninteresting sense, “things exist” isn’t unique to you.

The issue is not whether it is "unique" to any individual or another. Objectivism holds that it is universally unavoidable anyway. So I don't know where Paul gets this concern for vanity. The issue is that it is unavoidable, even if only implicitly, and that failing to grasp the fact that things exist independent of consciousness has adverse consequences for philosophy.

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.

Paul writes:

As you poured meaning into the term, e.g., "uncreated, unconscious stuff," we saw that this wasn't "axiomatic."

Where did I "pour meaning into the term" such that "things exists" really means "uncreated, unconscious stuff"? Paul does not quote me doing this. Why? Because I never stated this. Nor have I implied it. Paul is projecting his own fears into my mouth; he is the one who has poured these meanings into the axiom, in order to say it isn't axiomatic, in order to evade it. It's nowhere in the original. All this caricature is quite unnecessary, and only serves to get Paul's blood pressure up.

He writes:

Remember, "existence exists" doesn't tell us anything about the nature of what exists.

Yes, and we should remember also that "existence exists" is not the only axiom, and that the mind does not stop with the axioms anyway. Anyone who doubts the primacy of existence principle has a wealth of material available to confirm it. I even suggested simple experiments that anyone can perform anytime to check it. Paul ignores all of these points because they get in the way of his apologetic. He cannot deal with Objectivism on its own terms, so he has to "slice and dice" it, e.g., ignoring context, failing to integrate its points, insisting on stolen concepts, and indulging other nefarious misrepresentations in order to keep his head above water. The gap that Paul creates in his own understanding is so big that he thinks he can fit his god into it. Watch him stuff it.

Paul wrote:

And so the uninteresting claim, "something exists" isn't problematic,

Then why all the fuss from theists when Objectivists point it out in their foundations? I know why. The reason for all the fuss is when the axiom of consciousness is introduced, thus indicating the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects. This is what theists do not like to be reminded of, this is what theists want to ignore, this is what spoils their fantasy. And that is why Paul focuses only on the first axiom and ignores the rest. And that is why Paul feels the need to make a mountain out of a mole hill. He figures that if he can keep the focus of the discussion on the axiom of existence exclusively, then he'll never have to deal with the issue of metaphysical primacy because that issue pertains to the relationship between existence and consciousness, and this exposes the lie behind theism. If the axiom of consciousness can be ignored, then so can the issue of metaphysical primacy. But all along, Paul is making use of his own consciousness to participate in the discussion (and deliberately misinterpret the axiom of existence), which means that even he cannot ignore this issue. Paul needs to deal with all the axioms, rather than pick and choose one and ignore the rest. But he doesn't do this because his theism will not survive it, and he knows this.

Paul wrote:

but your qualified claim is [problematic] since it's not axiomatic not acceptable given what else you say. [sic]

How is "existence exists" not axiomatic? Paul's explanation is that "it's not axiomatic... given what else you say," which confirms my earlier assessment: he wants cognition to stop with the initial axiom. And he wants it to stop there because he doesn't want to deal with what comes next, namely the issue of metaphysical primacy. But herein lies Paul's problem: cognition does not stop with the initial axiom. Cognition begins with the axioms, it doesn't discover one and then come to a halt. There's still the relationship between what is known and the means by which it is known that must be dealt with and understood. Paul isn't ready to go there yet. He wants to stall the discussion because of apologetic hesitation, which short-circuits his mind's conceptual capacity entirely. He insinuates that I have inserted additional meaning into the term beyond what is available at the axiomatic level, but again this charge is based on sheer context-dropping: the knowledge I integrate into my view is available at a later stage of cognition, one which I came to long ago, but which Paul never wants to visit. Meanwhile, I have already shown that he continually fails to integrate the axiomatic concepts into a foundational principle suited for a rational epistemology.

Paul writes:

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 is true that I do not "say that what exists is 'an eternally existing conscious God'." Indeed, there are no objective inputs that I have discovered in reality to support such a claim. I renounced the god-belief of my youth for good reasons.
Paul wrote:

If that is denied, then your claim does tell us "something" about the nature of what exists.

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.

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

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