Bahnsen on "Knowing the Supernatural" Part 6: "The Christian Metaphysic"
The Christian faith comprises a metaphysical system on this account also. Scripture teaches that all things are of God, through God, and unto God (Rom. 11:36). We must think His thoughts after Him (Prov. 22:17-21; John 8:31-32). In this way we can understand and interpret the world as a whole. The Word of God gives us light (Ps. 119:130), and Christ Himself is the life-giving light of men (John 1:4), in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Hence we can discern the true nature of reality in terms of Christ's word: in Thy light we see light (Ps. 36:9). (Always Ready, p. 180)
Bahnsen speaks of Christ as a “life-giving light,” a metaphor which allegorically plays to the senses (specifically vision). This “light” is presumably not the same thing that we find in nature, such as from the sun or fire, or from artificial sources, such as incandescent light bulbs. The “life-giving light of men” could not be either natural or artificial, for this would undercut the appeal to supernaturalism. But how are we to make sense of such notions when they are couched in terms which only make sense on the basis of sense experience, and yet are supposed to refer to things that are inaccessible to the senses, if not by retreating to the imaginary? Nevertheless, even though he still has not shown how one can have awareness of “the supernatural” or distinguish what he calls “the supernatural” from mere imagination, or how one can "know" what he calls "the supernatural" by means other than imagination, Bahnsen makes it clear that “the supernatural” is of central importance to his worldview’s metaphysical thesis. The natural, on his view, depends on the supernatural. The supernatural created and governs over the natural. This again suggests the involvement of one’s imagination. One can look at anything in nature and imagine a supernatural force behind it propping it up, “explaining” it in some way, “accounting for” it, etc. What metaphysical view requires that the natural be explained by an appeal to the supernatural, if not one which grants metaphysical primacy to consciousness? Indeed, does Bahnsen anywhere show how his views can be reconciled to the metaphysical primacy of existence? Not at all.
Bahnsen thinks the key to understanding and interpreting the world as a whole is not found in conceptualizing that material provided by perception (i.e., the process of reason), but by thinking the thoughts of the Christian god after it. Again, if what one imagines is one’s standard, what would keep one from supposing that any thoughts he thinks are the thoughts of an infallible invisible magic being? And if one supposes that one’s own thoughts are the thoughts of an infallible being, then he is naturally conferring infallibility to his own thoughts. This of course could be tested. It would not be very convincing to claim that one’s thoughts are thoughts one thinks after his infallible god, only to have those thoughts turn out to be just as fallible as anyone else’s thoughts. Someone claiming to think his god thoughts after it can easily be interrogated to see just how well his thinking holds up. A proper test would not include questions whose answers could easily be sought beforehand, such as “In what year was construction on the Empire State Building completed?” Rather, we could ask, for instance, what the product of 32,815.48 times 0.0912 plus 4116.87 times 28.813 is. If his answer does not match what a calculator gives us, should we assume that the calculator is wrong?
Though the presuppositionalist may be confessionally motivated not to admit it, the fact is that the believer is stuck with non-believers on this point. We think our own thoughts, and pretending otherwise does not produce a method by which “we can understand and interpret the world as a whole.” Such pretense is an attempt to fake reality, and no value can come from it. An attempt to fake reality surrenders thought to the arbitrary, such that no legitimate thinking can be claimed at that point. It constitutes an evasion in the guise of a “pious truth.”
Bahnsen further elaborates the "Christian metaphysic":
The Bible sets forth a definite metaphysical scheme. It begins with God who is a personal, infinitely perfect, pure spirit (Ex. 15:11; Mal. 2:10; John 4:24). The triune God (2 Cor. 13:14) is unique in His nature and works (Ps. 86:9), self-existent (Ex. 3:14; John 5:26; Gal. 4:8-9), eternal (Ps. 90:2), immutable (Mal. 3:6), and omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-10). Everything else that exists has been created out of nothing (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 11:3), whether the material world (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11), the realm of spirits (Ps. 148:2, 5), or man. (Always Ready, p. 180)
At root, Bahnsen’s metaphysic thus shares with other versions of fantasy the same orientation between subject and object, both in content and in method. The content of such stories grants, to one degree or another, metaphysical primacy to a conscious power, and the method involved in informing such stories is governed by the imagination (cf. “whatever surpasses the limits of nature”).
Bahnsen outlines the Christian metaphysic as it pertains to man as follows:
Man was created as the image of God (Gen. 1:27), a being who exhibits both a material and immaterial character (Matt. 10:28), surviving bodily death (Eccl. 12:7; Rom. 2:7) with personal awareness of God (2 Cor. 5:8), and awaiting bodily resurrection(I Cor. 6:14; 15:42-44). (Always Ready, p. 180)
Bahnsen says that man is “a being who exhibits both a material and immaterial character.” But what exactly could this mean? How does man “exhibit” a character in this sense? Objectivism views man as an integrated being of both matter and consciousness. The axiom of consciousness is affirmed by Objectivism at its foundations. But above we saw Bahnsen affirm that the believer “must respond to the onslaught of the unbeliever by attacking the unbeliever’s position at its foundations.” This could only mean that as a Christian he must find the axiom of consciousness objectionable for some reason - namely because a non-believer has affirmed it. So he is committed to rejecting it, even though such rejection involves an act of consciousness. Frequently apologists seem to have some aspect of consciousness in mind whenever they speak of things “immaterial,” such as “spirits.” But if consciousness is rejected as a matter of apologetic principle, then it would be inconsistent to turn around and affirm consciousness in Christianity’s doctrines. Bahnsen needs to make up his mind, and live with the results.
Also, Bahnsen mentions a “personal awareness of God,” presumably something the believer is supposed to have. In mentioning it, Bahnsen acknowledges that it is an issue, that awareness of the supernatural deity central to Christianity is something the believer allegedly possesses. But Bahnsen nowhere identifies the means by which the believer is supposed to have such awareness. To be aware of the Christian god, for instance, does the believer look outward, or does he look inward? What options are available, besides the senses, if this awareness is supposedly had by looking outward? Bahnsen does not say. If the believer acquires awareness of the Christian god by looking inward, then the question of how one distinguishes between what one calls the Christian god and what he may merely be imagining becomes a central concern.
Bahnsen also makes mention of the notion of an afterlife as part and parcel of his worldview’s metaphysical view of man. Here, as with many other doctrinal affirmations, Bahnsen radically departs from science and affirms Christianity’s view of man on what could only be a storybook basis. Of course, anyone can imagine that man has a soul which survives his “bodily death” and floats like a vapor up to a magic kingdom somewhere beyond the cosmos. But again, imagination is not reality. I have pointed out before that the cross is a most fitting symbol of death, which makes it the ideal symbol for the Christian worldview. The Christian view of man was eloquently summarized by Ayn Rand as follows:
They have taught man that he is a hopeless misfit made of two elements, both symbols of death. A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost – yet such is their image of man’s nature: the battleground of a struggle between the corpse and a ghost, a corpse endowed with some evil volition of its own and a ghost endowed with the knowledge that everything known to man is non-existent, that only the unknowable exists. (For the New Intellectual, p. 138)
Bahnsen goes on with his description of the Christian metaphysic:
In creation God made all things according to His unsearchable wisdom (Ps. 104:24; Isa. 40:28), assigning all things their definite characters (Isa. 40:26; 46:9-10). God also determines all things by His wisdom (Eph. 1:11) - preserving (Neh. 9:6), governing (Ps. 103:19), and predetermining the nature and course of all things, thus being able to work miracles (Ps. 72:18). The decree by which God providentially ordains historical events is eternal, effectual, unconditional, unchangeable, and comprehensive (e.g., Isa. 46:10; Acts 2:23; Eph. 3:9-11). (Always Ready, p. 180)
- "God made all things according to His unsearchable wisdom" - this puts "wisdom," which is a faculty of consciousness, prior to the "things" which were "created," and that includes "all things." On this view it is clear: existence is a result of prior conscious activity.
- "assigning all things their definite character" - this again puts conscious activity prior to the nature of any thing which could serve as a distinct object of that consciousness. On this view it is clear: identity is the result of prior conscious activity.
- "God also determines all things by His wisdom..., preserving..., governing..., and predetermining the nature and course of all things" - this means that whatever happens conforms to the intentions of a consciousness. On this view it is clear: whatever happens in the world is the result of prior conscious activity.
- "thus being able to work miracles" - this means that the ruling consciousness can revise the identity of any object at will. On this view it is clear: the universe is analogous to one very long and involved cartoon, where the cartoonist makes whatever it wants appear and be whatever it wants.
Apparently not concerned with these problems, Bahnsen goes on to say:
These truths are paradigmatic for the believer; they are ultimate principles of objective reality, to be distinguished from the delusions set forth in contrary views of the world. What the unbelieving world sees as wisdom is actually foolish (I Cor. 1:18-25). (Always Ready, p. 180)
In spite of this self-defeating approach, Bahnsen insists that everyone else is wrong:
Since the minds of the unbelieving are blinded (2 Cor. 4:4), they err according to the faith described above, thus having only a "knowledge falsely so-called" (I Tim. 6:20-21). (Always Ready, p. 180-181)
Meanwhile, it is not likely that non-believers in general are going to be very moved by Bahnsen's charge of error when it comes to getting his faith-based confessions right; after all, they're non-believers, and they would be wise to consider the source. But again, Bahnsen commits himself to calling whatever a non-believer professes to know "false," even before he knows what it might be. It's hard to see how this could be considered at all responsible. For instance, I know that there is a reality. According to what Bahnsen affirms here, this is "knowledge falsely so-called," simply because I, a non-believer, am affirming it. Let Bahnsen have it his way. But that would amount to saying there is no reality. Why should we believe this? Because Bahnsen has no actual defense for his belief in “the supernatural” (he doesn’t even address the most basic questions when he sets out to pontificate on “The Problem of the ‘Super-Natural’”), he has little option but to take the low road.
Not that it can do his position any good, Bahnsen gives an example of what he means:
For instance, resting in the appearance of total regularity, an unbelieving metaphysic does not teach that Christ will come again to intervene in the cosmic process to judge men and determine their eternal destinies (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-7). (Always Ready, p. 181)
by Dawson Bethrick