Sunday, April 29, 2007

More Piqued Pike

Pike is back for more:

First, Dawson posed a question that he claimed “would have ruinous implications for the presuppositionalist approach to Christian apologetics.”

This is sheer sloppiness. I did not say that my question would have ruinous implications for the presuppositionalist approach to Christian apologetics. Rather I wrote:

If it can be determined that an "omniscient" consciousness would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts, this would have ruinous implications for the presuppositionalist approach to Christian apologetics which seeks to contrive aspects of man’s cognitive experience as evidence for an omniscient being whose thinking serves as the model for man’s mental abilities.

The next logical thing to do is to proceed to the task of showing that an omniscient being would not have its knowledge in conceptual form. In other words, my first task is to determine whether or not an omniscient consciousness would possess its knowledge in conceptual form. That's what my paper was about. The part about the ruinous implications for presuppositionalism can wait for another day, since I'm rolling out a thesis in stages. What's interesting is not only has Pike gone on the record affirming my argument's conclusion (he wrote: "God's knowledge--what He Himself knows--is not conceptual"), he has nowhere brought a significant challenge to the rationale I propose for that conclusion. In fact, it does not appear that he has even grasped it. At this rate, he probably never will.

Everything that Dawson put forth in his argument was done in order to demonstrate this “ruinous” presuppositional position.

Actually, what I presented in my paper was a rationale for supposing that an omniscient being, if there were such a thing, would not have its knowledge in conceptual form. Pike attempted to interact with this, and readers who’ve been paying attention have seen the results. He’s been all over the place, trying to find his way on the loose sands of the Christian worldview. It's been quite a spectacle.


Let me make this clear. Dawson’s reason for writing anything at all was, as he himself stated, because:

If it can be determined that an "omniscient" consciousness would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts, this would have ruinous implications for the presuppositionalist approach to Christian apologetics which seeks to contrive aspects of man’s cognitive experience as evidence for an omniscient being whose thinking serves as the model for man’s mental abilities.

Pike dishes up more carelessness. Even Pike quotes me saying that the determination that an omniscient consciousness would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts would have ruinous implications for the presuppositionalist approach to Christian apologetics, not the mere question itself as he stated above. Now, just to make sure, Peter does understand that presuppositionalism - at least the Vantillian sort - claims that man's thinking is "analogous" to the Christian god's thinking, does he not? He's already come out of the closet in agreement with my conclusion that an omniscient being would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts. So since he insists that this conclusion could not possibly have ruinous implications for presuppositionalism, perhaps he could explain how the conceptual can be at all analogous to the non-conceptual in the context of the points which my argument uses to derive its conclusion. Don't be surprised to see him dish up some piping hot ad hoc.

Pike states:

I responded to Dawson, pointing out that nothing of what he said was in fact ruinous to the presuppositional position.

Wishing doesn’t make it so. And Pike’s repeated failure to understand what’s been presented and demonstrable lack of any firm direction one way or another are hardly a recipe for much credibility for whatever position he wants to claim for himself on these matters from day to day. I suspect we have another specimen which has that nasty habit we've seen in presuppositionalists before: the failure to integrate.

Pike wrote:

My response to Dawson showed that his argument did not apply to the presuppositionalist position in the least, was based on faulty presuppositions of his own, and did not accurately reflect Christian understanding of the concepts of omniscience, etc.

Actually, none of this is true. Pike hasn’t even come close to touching my argument. He’s been stranded in confusion on the peripheries all along. He still is.

As for a "Christian understanding" of concepts as such, I would really like to see what passes for this among thinkers like Pike. The bible doesn't seem to be of much help here.


Dawson then claimed that I misunderstood his post and had responded to something he didn’t even write about.

This was the case in several instances, as I demonstrated in my first response to Pike. In his signature haste-makes-waste fashion, Pike assumed I was arguing that an omniscient being wouldn’t know what concepts are, while my argument nowhere attempted to derive such a conclusion. When confronted with this fact, Pike hung his head in defeat, referring to himself as “a victim” for whom his readers are supposed to feel sorry. Then he tried to put the blame on me. Amazing! I cannot make this up!


Now Dawson has posted another response. This one is basically ad hominem attacks against me. Hey, when it’s all you’ve got in your arsenal…

Now Pike accuses me of "ad hominem attacks." An ad hominem occurs when an arguer's opponent attacks the arguer personally with verbal abuse rather than attacking the argument which the arguer has presented. In the case of my recent exchange with Peter Pike, this is impossible for me to have done, for he has not presented any arguments for me to attack in the first place. If readers go back and review my first two responses to Pike (here and here), they will see that a lot of Pike's mistakes had to be corrected. This is still going on to this day in fact. Now Pike confuses sorely needed correction with "ad hominem attacks." If he's so thin-skinned, why did he choose to engage the matter in the first place?


Anyway, if we cut through the abuse, we find that Dawson has merely shifted the goalposts and forgotten the original point of his first post, as he typically does. Dawson’s original point was that if God’s knowledge was not held in the form of concepts, then this would be ruinous to the presuppositionalist position. Now, however, he claims that all his post was meant to show is that God’s knowledge could not be held in the form of concepts. He’s not even pretending to try to demonstrate how this provides “ruinous implications” for presuppositionalists anymore. Instead, he’s hoping to distract everyone with a song and dance routine in the hopes that no one will realize that he’s no longer defending his original premise.

Pike must be one of the sorest losers I’ve come across on the internet in years. Well, maybe the second sorest loser. I write a paper which seeks to provide a basis for the conclusion that an omniscient being would not have its knowledge in the form of concepts, and Pike is all upset because I didn’t spend more time explaining how this has ruinous implications for presuppositionalism. Pike is harboring on this so that everyone forgets how his initial response to my paper was a dismal failure due to his own carelessness and lack of understanding of what I have argued. Pike needs to learn to be a little more patient. If he thinks my conclusion does not have ruinous implications for presuppositionalism, then why’s he so worried about it? Since this is just the first stage of a much broader argument which I have yet to publish, it could very well be the case that Pike is speaking out of turn in a premature rush to judgment. Does he stop to consider that there’s more to come? No, he’s heard enough and wants to reject something even before it’s had its hearing. Clearly he’s afraid of something. Even the first stage of my argument is already doing its damage. I've lit a match, and Pike is worried that his house is going to burn down. He thinks he can prevent this by huffing and puffing.


But that has NOT always been Dawson’s argument. Remember, Dawson’s argument was: “If it can be determined that an ‘omniscient’ consciousness would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts, this would have ruinous implications for the presuppositionalist approach to Christian apologetics…”

This is most tiresome. Even Pike should be able to see that after I made this statement, I went on to show why an omniscient being would not have its knowledge in the form of concepts. That was the intention of my paper. Hence the title: Would an Omniscient Mind Have Knowledge in Conceptual Form?


Dawson, …you’ve only succeeded in making those mistakes.

This is just too funny! Pike has no arguments, so he resorts to schoolyard contradiction. For Pike, debate quickly becomes a pissing match between "Did too!" and "Did not!" In the heat of the skirmish, however, Pike proves himself oblivious to the fact that he's simply making matters worse for himself.

Here’s a snapshot of what has happened so far:

Me: Here’s an argument showing why an omniscient being wouldn’t have its knowledge in the form of concepts.

Pike: Of course God knows what concepts are! He’s omniscient after all!

Me: No, you’re missing the point of what I presented. I did not argue that your god (assuming it's omniscient) would not know what concepts are. I’m saying that it wouldn’t have that knowledge in the form of concepts.

Pike: Of course God can use concepts! Like when He communicates to man!

Me: Again, you’re completely missing the topic of my argument. This has nothing to do with whether or not an omniscient being could use concepts to communicate with other beings. It has to do with the form in which it retains the knowledge it allegedly has.

Pike: That's right, God’s knowledge is not conceptual.

Me: See, you agree with my conclusion after all. What’s the problem?

Pike: Well, you said this has ruinous implications for presuppositionalism! And it’s obvious that it doesn’t, since God can still use concepts!

Me: That your god can “use” concepts, such as when it communicates to other minds for instance, is not sufficient to show that the conclusion that your god would not have its knowledge in the form of concepts is not ruinous to presuppositionalism.

Pike: Well, wait! Here’s an analogy to show that an omniscient being could have its knowledge in the form of concepts!

Me: Well, I thought that you already said your god’s knowledge is not conceptual and that you were confident that this would not have ruinous implications for presuppositionalism. Now what's the problem?

Pike: Allow me to demonstrate the lunacy of your argument. It would be as if I said: “The sky is blue, therefore atheism is false.” You respond: “I agree the sky is blue. So what?” I then respond: “See! Dawson agrees with me that the sky is blue! That’s all my argument ever said. He’s such an idiot for arguing against me when he didn’t even understand what I was arguing in the first place!”

Me: I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say here. Earlier you affirmed that your god’s knowledge is not conceptual. But at times you seem to be saying otherwise. Which is it? Is your god’s knowledge conceptual or not, and what’s the rationale for your answer?

Pike: Your argument obviously does not cause ruinous implications for presuppositionalism!

Me: And above you said that’s because your god can still “use” concepts. But this only tells me that you’ve already wandered off-track again.

Pike: Well now you’re shifting goal-posts!

Me: No, actually I’m simply trying to help you understand what I was arguing in the first place since you still don’t seem to have grasped it.

Pike: But it’s not ruinous to presuppositionalism!

Me: Well, for one thing, it’s premature of you to assert this, for you’ve not seen how my conclusion will factor into a larger argument. Also, you’ve not shown that it is not ruinous to presuppositionalism, you’ve simply asserted – without argument – that it isn’t. Meanwhile, you initially came out in agreement with my argument’s conclusion even though you’ve nowhere presented an alternative rationale for doing so. What’s more, you nowhere tell us what your god’s knowledge is if it is not conceptual. You’ve had plenty of opportunity to speak on this, but you’ve fallen gravely silent on this topic. Why is that?

Pike: Well, you’re doing just what you claimed I did – you’re responding to things I didn’t write.

Me: That’s true, you did not write Isaiah 55:9 and I Corinthians 2:11, you merely recited them. And I did respond to them, that’s true. I can do that you know.

Pike: And I pointed out that these verses simply mean that we can’t assume that God’s knowledge takes the same form that our knowledge takes.

Me: I don’t assume your god has any knowledge to begin with, if you want to know the truth. Imaginary beings aren't real and can't have any knowledge to begin with. But what’s curious is how you seem unwilling to reaffirm your initial agreement with my argument’s conclusion. Why is that?

Pike: This is BS! (flustered, leaving in a huff)

I cannot make this up!

by Dawson Bethrick


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Pike's Pique

As I expected he would do, Peter Pike has posted a response to my gutting of his initial, poorly considered reaction to my blog Would an Omniscient Being Have Its Knowledge in Conceptual Form?

Even as he opens his response, he's overcome with fluster:

It's difficult to know how to respond to him now. I'd try to explain it, but this is probably best simply demonstrated.

Pike is one of those fish who was too slow-witted to elude the fishers' nets. Now that he's been hoisted up onto the deck, deveined and decapitated, he thinks he's in demand in the intellectual marketplace. He knows he gaffed big time, and now he's trying to recover himself before his fellow Triaboogers.

After pointing out that his reaction completely backfired on account of the fact that he failed to distinguish between the object of knowledge (what is known) and the form in which it is retained, Pike confesses:

I must have fallen victim to the notion that Dawson was trying to present an argument that was relevant.

The question Pike needed to ask at the beginning is: "...relevant" to exactly what? What I was presenting is in fact relevant, but not to something that Pike intimately understands. But simply because he does not see its relevance, does not mean that it has no relevance at all.

No, Pike fell victim to his own insidious anxiety to strike out against his adversary before understanding what he was striking out against. The lesson for Peter is: Look before you leap. Otherwise, stay out of the water, it may be too deep for you.


Since I assumed that Dawson was trying to interact with the position he was critiquing, I read it in that manner.

This is just too delicious! Did Pike really read what he tried to critique before he critiqued it? Obviously not very well. He ended up agreeing with my paper's conclusion! Now he's trying to cover his tracks. This is priceless! There are some days Peter should just stay home in bed. Wednesday April 25, 2007 was one of those days.


But I suppose I needn't bother myself with such "trivialities" in the future.

Here's some advice for Peter Pike: Decide BEFORE you post a critique whether or not you think what you're critiquing is trivial. Don't wait until after you've publicly planted both feet in your own mouth to make such determinations.

Pike still tries to recover the honor he sacrificed for the sake of impressing his peers:

Now Dawson's argument is simply that God does not hold knowledge in the form of concepts. To which I respond: so what?

That was always my argument. It has not changed. But in spite of this, on Pike's April 25 reaction to my paper was that it "demonstrates [my] inability to grasp basic Christian concepts." On that day he was determined to come across to his readers as confident in his position as one could be, but it turned out that he was so unfamiliar with his own position that he didn't see that he would end up affirming my conclusion. Now his response to my argument, after he's realized what it is, is "so what?" Why was it any different before I had to rescue him from his repetitive mistakes?

Pike writes:

This obviously does not cause "ruinous implications for the presuppositionalist approach to Christian apologetics" since God can still use concepts.

Then why did Pike get his panties in a bundle in the first place?


Surely Dawson is bright enough to realize this.

I spoke to this point already when I wrote:

I did not say that Pike's god could not have the ability to form concepts. I'm fully aware that someone who believes there's a god can attribute any abilities to it he imagines, since in the end imagination is what he has to go on.

Apparently Pike still hasn't gotten the message.


Surely, he meant more by his post than just the above.

In my original post? No, that was about the extent of I was trying to accomplish. Christians call "knowledge" something that could not be conceptual. Pike may say I'm wasting my time, but it is my time to waste. But look at what Pike gave us in return! This is a boon even I didn't expect. Even if I never end up incorporating what I have proved in my paper in future arguments, it's been well worth my while already, thanks to Pike. So if Pike thinks I'm wasting my time, what's he doing with his when he spends his time writing a reaction that he has to retract in the spirit of a sore loser?

Pike wanted to clarify the purpose of his citation of Isaiah 55:9 and I Coritinthians 2:11:

Back the truck up, Dawson. I quoted those verses in response to YOUR CLAIM that: "Many believers might think that, since Christianity teaches that man was created in the Christian god's image, man's thinking in the form of concepts would indicate that their god thinks in the form of concepts as well." I responded with those verses and concluded: "Given these passages, it would be very foolhardy indeed for a believer to argue, 'I think this way, therefore God does too.'" I wasn't quoting those passages as "an alternative rational for supposing" that "[G]od's knowledge is not conceptual." I was pointing out by those passages that a Biblical believer would be stupid to assume God thinks conceptually on the basis that they think conceptually.

So if Pike did not reference Isaiah 55:9 and I Corinthians 2:11 as a biblical rationale for supposing that his god does not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts, what is his rationale for agreeing with my conclusion? I was charitable enough to grant that he supposed that the bible offered at least some rationale for supposing this (even though we have yet to see anything that does). But now that he's backing away from this, telling us that these passages do not offer an alternative rationale for supposing that his god's knowledge is something other than conceptual in nature, I take this as an admission on Pike's part that the verses he quoted were in fact not saying anything about concepts. But for Pike, this means he comes to the table even more empty-handed than I was willing to allow! Is he going to change his mind now and say that his god's knowledge is conceptual? Or is he going to stick to his initial agreement with my conclusion? I hope it's the latter, but let's wait and see.

As for how stupid biblical believers can be, well, we don't need to look far for examples of this. Thanks, Pete.

Pike asked:

Am I to suppose Dawson doesn't think the definition of a term is needed "to understand the essentials of" that term?

Of course a definition is needed. But as I mentioned, not all concepts are defined in terms of prior concepts. Axiomatic concepts are defined ostensively. Moreover, one of the primary essentials of consciousness, on my view, is that it involves an object. Another is that it has identity, a nature. I really don't see how Pike could think these are controversial positions, but I'm certainly willing to allow him to affirm their opposites.

Pike asks:

So, tell me Dawson—how in your argument is "consciousness" anything other than an empty label?

The concept 'consciousness' could not be "an empty label" because it denotes something that actually exists. It denotes the attribute belonging to a class of biological organisms, among them man, by which they perceive objects existing in their surroundings. Someone who is so much smarter than me as Pike thinks he is, should be able to understand this. Now the question we need to ask here is, Is Pike asking so that he can learn something he doesn't already know, or is he just trying put the spotlight back on me in order to save face? Anyway, if Pike is sincerely interested in learning more about consciousness, I suggest he consult the Objectivist sources I cited in my paper.


You want to ignore all that and just assume "consciousness" as if consciousness could exist without a subject.

On the contrary, on my view consciousness is the subject. It can also be its own object (albeit secondary), in the case of those consciousnesses which can achieve self-awareness.

I had written:

Like other axiomatic concepts, it lies at the fundamental level of the conceptual hierarchy, which means: it is not defined in terms of prior concepts.

Pike continues to shove his foot deeper into his mouth:

So "consciousness" is meaningless in Dawson's world. Yet Dawson seems to know an awful lot about it. Dawson is giving us restrictions on what consciousness can do, etc. and yet he has acknowledged that he doesn't even have a way to define it.

It does not follow from the fact that a concept is axiomatic, and therefore not defined in terms of prior concepts, that it is therefore "meaningless" or that it cannot be defined at all. Watch:


Remember, Dawson originally said: "Consciousness is consciousness of something." So what he's really saying is "An undefinable term is an undefinable term of something." Very helpful indeed.

No, that's not what I said, nor is it what I'm "really saying," either. I nowhere said or even implied that the concept 'consciousness' is "undefinable." It can be defined, but only ostensively. What I said was that it is not defined in terms of prior concepts, and I gave a reason for this. In his habitual mental lethargy, Pike inflates this to mean that it is "undefinable" on my view, even though I never affirmed this. It is painfully obvious that Pike is trying whatever he can at this point to discredit my position by inflating it beyond recognition. His confusions are his own doing, not mine. As I had stated in my last response to Pike, this is all Basic Concepts 101 stuff.

After I tore his precious thought experiment to shreds, Pike bristled:

No analogy is ever going to be a perfect one.

Not even if its creator is perfect? That's so disappointing! Anyway, Pike could have at least tried for better. That his analogy was too weak for the job is not my fault. There are stronger analogies that I have thought of, but I keep Pike in suspense for now.

I wrote:

Then, without explanation, Pike adds an "observer." Is this observer part of the universe? If so, then we're asked to contradict what we were first asked to suppose, namely that the entire universe consisted of one room with two objects. Now it's a room with three objects, one of which is an observer. How many more changes to the thought experiment are we to expect coming down the pike?

Pike responded:

Surely you are able to think better than this. No, the observer is not a physical object within the thought-universe, just as God is not a physical object within the real universe.

Who said anything about a physical object? Pike inserted an "observer" into his scenario. Can this observer be aware of itself? If not, then it is not self-aware - it wouldn't even know it's conscious of anything. If it can be aware of itself, then it is itself an object of its own awareness. Pike should have decided these things before deploying his precious and yet admittedly imperfect analogy. Also, since we are asked to consider the observer, the observer - regardless of what it's made of or not made of - becomes an object of our consciousness. At this moment, the observer is the object of our discussion.


Since the analogy is linking the observer to the nature of God (that is, demonstrating that an observer can have full knowledge of all objects that exist within a universe and still be able to form concepts) then the only reason you have to assume I'm adding an object is because you're being willfully pedantic.

I'm simply not willing to smuggle assumptions into the mix, as Pike clearly wanted to do. And what's more, if the observer he inserts (without explanation, mind you) into his thought experiment is supposed to be analogous to his god, then - if it's the case that the knowledge which Pike's god allegedly has is "not conceptual," as he has openly affirmed - what's his thought experiment intended to validate? Pike provides a rationale which could only work against his own endorsement of my paper's concluion. This is just too much! Pike is well on his way to prime time entertainment.

Pike wrote:

Which completely ignores the fact that we're talking about an omniscient being here. Dawson forgot that he's the one who posed the original question: Would an Omniscient Mind Have Knowledge in Conceptual Form?

So even though Pike referred to my paper as an "essay answering an age-old question," he did in fact offer his analogy to lend support to the view that his god's knowledge may in fact be conceptual after all! So then why did he agree with the conclusion of my thesis? In his initial reaction he affirmed unwaveringly that his god's knowledge is "not conceptual," and even though he implied that this is a long-settled issue in Christianity, he never provided any rationale for this position. Now it turns out that he meant his analogy to validate that an omniscient being could have its knowledge in the form of concepts. So why does he say that his god's knowledge is "not conceptual"? Blank out.

I wrote:

Again, Pike has missed what my paper argues. It argues that an omniscient being would not have its knowledge in the form of concepts. I did not say that Pike's god could not have the ability to form concepts.

In response, Pike asked:

So where's the problem with Presuppositionalism?

Oh, this is just too much! Peter needs to take a look in the mirror. Look how presuppositionalism leads Pike to embarrass himself. Isn't that enough? It's left him totally disarmed when it comes to philosophical discussions about the nature of knowledge itself.

Now I did conclude my response to Pike with a question, which Pike mistook as a "complaint," which asks:

But this does lead to a question: If the Christian god does not possess its knowledge in conceptual form, what is the form in which it possesses its knowledge?

In considering this question, I pointed out the fact that:

Pike did not speak to this.

Pike offers a slanted admission to my point:

Could that be because I was RESPONDING to your argument instead of presenting a positive one of my own?

I doubt it. It's more likely because Pike simply doesn't know. Indeed, he doesn't even answer my question in his nose-blowing follow-up. Perhaps he's still trying to think of an answer. Had Peter an answer to this question at the outset, I doubt he would have hesitated to present it. It would have been too irresistible to pass up another opportunity to say "See how stoopid Dawson is?"


In any case, Dawson has promised to use the concept that God doesn't think in concepts for another post. If it's anywhere near as torturous as this one, the Marquis de Sade would be well pleased.

Which can only mean: Pike will only read it if he's into self-abuse. So if he should offer a reaction to my future paper, we'll know what he's all about.

I suggest Pike stick to writing short stories about bus rides and beachside small talk.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Pike on Concepts and Omniscience

Peter Pike has attempted to interact with my recent posting on the question of whether or not an omniscient being would have its knowledge in the form of concepts. What’s interesting is that he tries to raise objections to several of my points, but at the end of his post he expresses firm agreement with my main conclusion. Throughout the content of his response, however, it seems that he did not grasp the issue that the paper talks about very well.

For example, he asks:

is it impossible for a being that knows all that is possible to know to know what a concept is? If it is possible to know what a concept is, then a being that knows all that is possible to know, would indeed know these concepts too.

This completely misses the point. Nowhere does my paper argue that an omniscient being would not know what a concept is. Rather, my point is that it would not possess that knowledge in the form of concepts. Pike fails to distinguish between the object of knowledge and the form in which that knowledge is held. He’s talking about the former while my paper talks about the latter.

Another example of Pike missing the issue is when he asks:

is it not possible for a being that knows all that can logically be known to use concepts that He knows to communicate to beings He created with the ability to understand these same concepts? If God intends to use concepts to communicate with His creation, how would that cause any logical problems?

This is a red herring which occurs repeatedly throughout Pike’s response. Nowhere does my paper conclude that an omniscient being cannot use concepts to communicate with minds which do possess their knowledge in the form of concepts. It crossed my mind at one point to make mention of this point, but I had supposed it was so obvious that I wouldn’t have to. Again, the question is not what tools an omniscient being would use to communicate to non-omniscient beings, but in what form would that omniscient being have its knowledge? This all goes straight over Pike’s head.

Then Pike wrote:

By now, you may be wondering just how Dawson defines what a concept is anyway. Seeing the definition helps to demonstrate why there is no contradiction in Christian theism.

If Pike agrees that his god’s knowledge is “not conceptual,” as he clearly affirms at the end of his post, then what is he worried about? My paper provides a rationale, based on the objective theory of concepts, for supposing that an omniscient being would not have its knowledge in the form of concepts. Pike himself said his god’s knowledge is not conceptual, but he did not provide an alternative rationale for supposing this other than the loose statements found in the bible which say nothing about concepts whatsoever.

Those statements are:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11).

Neither of these verses say anything about whether or not the god it speaks of possesses its knowledge in the form of concepts. In fact, just like Pike, the verses he cites make no distinction between the content of knowledge and the form in which it is retained.

Pike writes:

I’ll interrupt for a second to point out the obvious problem with the last sentence. “Consciousness is consciousness of something” demonstrates that Dawson cannot define “consciousness” without referencing the very thing he’s trying to define!

Several points.

First, my statement “consciousness is consciousness of something” was nowhere offered as a definition. Why does Pike suppose it was? Rather, it is a statement which makes consciousness’ need for an object explicit.

Second, ‘consciousness’ is an axiomatic concept. Like other axiomatic concepts, it lies at the fundamental level of the conceptual hierarchy, which means: it is not defined in terms of prior concepts. Any prior concepts would genetically assume what is being identified in the definition, since concepts presuppose consciousness. This is all Basic Concepts 101 stuff.

Again Pike shows that he misses the essence of the argument:

Now it should be noted that I have no objection to any of the above. Man certainly does seem to think in this manner. But how Dawson gets from the above definitions to the idea that an omniscient being cannot use concepts is where the problems are.

As I pointed out above, I did not argue that “an omniscient being cannot use concepts” such as when it seeks to communicate with other minds which do have their minds in the form of concepts. Rather I asked whether or not it would have its own knowledge in the form of concepts, and gave reasons why it wouldn’t. Pike is welcome to claim that his god has its knowledge in the form of concepts, but even he came out and expressed agreement with my position that his god’s knowledge is “not conceptual.”

Pike then got sidetracked on the unrelated issue of whether or not concepts are open-ended, and presented a thought experiment to substantiate his position that they don’t have to be. He writes:

Suppose the entire universe consisted of one room with two objects in the room. These objects both had the same shape. One observer looked in this room and said that the shape of the first object was “square.” The other shape is also a square. He can thereby state that if anything else were to pop into existence with that shape, it would also be square. He has abstracted the shape “square” and yet has full knowledge of all the actual existent objects in the universe.

Consider the problems here. For one it asks us to entertain the unreal by imagining it. That’s fine as far as it goes, but we need to keep in mind that we’re entering a fake environment at this point, and conclusions produced in the sterile zone of a fake environment are often not at all applicable to the actual environment. This is especially the case when that fake environment is deliberately concocted to neutralize the original issues. The original issue is whether or not concepts are open-ended, but the scenario Pike presents in his illustration is deliberately crafted so that open-endedness cannot apply.

Also, he asks us to assume that “the entire universe consisted of one room with two objects in the room.” “Room”? What does this mean? Where did he get this concept? That’s right, he got it from the real environment. To make his thought experiment work, he needs to borrow from outside it, which makes it an unclean laboratory for developing his point.

Then, without explanation, Pike adds an “observer.” Is this observer part of the universe? If so, then we’re asked to contradict what we were first asked to suppose, namely that the entire universe consisted of one room with two objects. Now it’s a room with three objects, one of which is an observer. How many more changes to the thought experiment are we to expect coming down the pike?

Another problem is that we’re asked to suppose we know something without any explanation of how we’re supposed to know it; we’re asked to suppose that the entire universe consists of one room with two (um, make that three) objects in the room. How would we know this? Pike doesn’t say. We’re supposed to “just know,” perhaps by stipulation for the sake of an artificial setting needed to make his point. But even then, Pike undercuts his own point by granting that the concept ‘square’ which he formed on the basis of only two objects is in fact open-ended when he says: “He can thereby state that if anything else were to pop into existence with that shape, it would also be square.” In other words, if a new object were discovered to possess similarities with those that were initially integrated to form the concept ‘square’, it could be integrated into that concept along with the rest. The concept is still open-ended, even on Pike’s thought experiment!

Pike writes:

Or, to put it another way, if you can conceptualize based on a few objects, you can conceptualize based on a few more than that. And if you can conceptualize with more objects, you can conceptualize even when you have all objects, both real and potential.

This does not reverse the facts that we are directly aware of only a small number of units at any time, that there are always many units of which we are not aware at any time, and that we need concepts to help us cognitively manage those units which lie outside our immediate awareness. Moreover, even if we conceptualize with a very large sum of units, as Pike proposes, our concepts will still be open-ended, they will still omit specific measurements, and they will still be useful to us because they condense an enormous sum of data into single units. Again, all these points are lost on Pike as he tries to swim upstream beyond his understanding.

Pike writes:

Of course, I should point out that Dawson did couch his argument in terms of "need" for he said: "Concepts are therefore a kind of mental shorthand which he needs because he does not have direct awareness of all members of a class." So perhaps he could argue that God did not need the ability to form concepts even though He could do so.

Again, Pike has missed what my paper argues. It argues that an omniscient being would not have its knowledge in the form of concepts. I did not say that Pike's god could not have the ability to form concepts. I'm fully aware that someone who believes there's a god can attribute any abilities to it he imagines, since in the end imagination is what he has to go on.

Pike then concedes:

But God did not need to create man either, and He chose to do so. Once God created man, then the need would certainly be there if He desired to communicate with man. If God did not wish to communicate with man, then here would be no need for Him to be able to form concepts; but because that view is heretical to the Christian position

So the Christian god "did not need to create man," but since it "chose to do so," did it have to create man with a mind that retains its knowledge in the form of concepts, or was this an option for the Christian god as well? The way Pike's response reads, it does not seem to allow his god any options on this matter once it chose to create man. I'd be surprised, however, if Pike did not think his god could have created man without a conceptual format for knowledge retention. Regardless, what Pike says here is damning enough for one of his later points.

Pike then writes that
the Bible doesn't treat God's knowledge as only "conceptual in nature."
I’d like to see where it treats any knowledge as “conceptual in nature.” From what I can tell, the bible doesn’t speak of concepts at all and its authors display no significant knowledge of the process by which concepts are formed.

Pike writes:

But what Dawson fails to realize is that an all-knowing God could still form concepts in order to communicate to those He created.

On the contrary, I am fully aware that a god can do whatever its believers are willing to imagine it does. Imagination is the ultimate standard when it comes to the content of god-belief. But notice how Pike still hasn't grasped what my paper is arguing? Take a look:

God knows what concepts are; if He is all-knowing, He knows not only all objects but all true conceptualizations of these objects too. God can use them to communicate (revelation) with man. There is nothing inherently illogical with this.

Pike still confuses the object of knowledge with the form in which it is possessed. My paper does not argue that Pike's god would not know what concepts are, or that it would not know "all true conceptualizations." Rather, it asks in what form would it possess that knowledge, and answers that it would not be in the form of concepts.

Pike continues:

Dawson, after quoting Bahsen [sic], concludes:

Since, according to this view, the Christian god "has no 'percepts' from which He constructs His knowledge," it would have no need for a faculty which "integrates and thus condenses a group of percepts into a single mental whole."

Once again, Dawson begs the question. He supposed God would have no "need for a faculty which 'integrates and thus condenses a group of percepts into a single mental whole'", which begs the question that God does not wish to communicate to concept-based beings! God most certainly WOULD need the faculty to do so if He wished to relate to His creation, and (as I argued above) it is not illogical to state that God can do so. Since He logically can do so, and since Christians state God does want to communicate to us, then Dawson has no argument left.

How is this begging the question? If it is the case that that the Christian god "has no 'percepts'," as Bahnsen has affirmed, then it could not - on an objective understanding - have concepts, for concepts are ultimately formed from the basis of percepts. So I'm simply taking Bahnsen's point to the next logical step.

At any rate, Pike himself stated above that his god "did not need to create man" in the first place. On Pike's view, his god chose to create man. If the issue at this point is the Christian god's use of concepts for the purpose of communicating with minds which do possess their knowledge in the form of concepts, this would - as I indicated - still not be an issue of need. Pike himself makes it a matter of his god's wishing, even though Paul Manata tells us that "God doesn't wish."

Pike concludes:

God's knowledge--what He Himself knows--is not conceptual.

I am pleased that Pike has agreed that his god’s knowledge is not conceptual. I am pleased because this conclusion will later lend itself as a premise in a broader argument, and I have it on record now that Pike endorses it. But this does lead to a question: If the Christian god does not possess its knowledge in conceptual form, what is the form in which it possesses its knowledge? Pike did not speak to this.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Would an Omniscient Mind Have Knowledge in Conceptual Form?


It is noteworthy how casually Christians assume that their god, which they claim is omniscient, would have knowledge in the form of concepts, just as man does. This is most curious to me, and from my perspective it indicates not only the ad hoc nature of their god-beliefs and their intent to assimilate non-Christian ideas into the Christian worldview, but also their lack of understanding of the nature of concepts to begin with.

Many believers might think that, since Christianity teaches that man was created in the Christian god’s image, man’s thinking in the form of concepts would indicate that their god thinks in the form of concepts as well. But this only obscures the insidious reversal which lies at the base of the thesis that man was created in the image of the Christian god. The assumption that the Christian god has knowledge in the form of concepts in fact confirms the suspicion that the Christian god was concocted in the image of man, i.e., that believers have imagined their god in the image of man by

isolat[ing]... actual characteristics of man combined with the projection of impossible, irrational characteristics which do not arise from reality – such as omnipotence and omniscience. (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 148)

The problem is that, when we allow the imagination to inflate its concoctions beyond the scope of the real, many of our concepts lose the context they need to apply to reality in an objective fashion.

If it can be determined that an "omniscient" consciousness would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts, this would have ruinous implications for the presuppositionalist approach to Christian apologetics which seeks to contrive aspects of man’s cognitive experience as evidence for an omniscient being whose thinking serves as the model for man’s mental abilities. It would not make sense to suppose that man’s cognitive functions are patterned after a consciousness whose awareness is so vastly superior to or different from man’s consciousness that it would have no use for the kinds of functions man’s mind employs.

What Concepts Accomplish

To understand how erroneous it would be to assume that an omniscient, all-seeing and omnipresent consciousness would possess its knowledge in the form of concepts, we need to consider what concepts accomplish for man. And to understand what concepts do for man, we need to understand the essentials of his consciousness. Consciousness is consciousness of something, i.e., of an object(s). And man’s consciousness begins with perception of the world around him. Perception does not give man awareness of concepts; it gives him awareness of particular entities, their attributes, actions, etc. Sense perception gives man awareness of these things in the form of percepts.

A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism. It is in the form of percepts that man grasps the evidence of his senses and apprehends reality. (ITOE, p. 5)

But man can perceive only a limited number of existents at any moment, and his perceptual faculty can retain and integrate only a limited number of sensations at any moment. However, man can get “beyond” these limitations by means of conceptual integration. Conceptual integration allows him to expand his awareness beyond the objects of his immediate, perceptual awareness by combining them into classes which include not only the particular entities which he perceives in the “here and now,” but also similar entities which he has perceived, may one day perceive and may never perceive. What makes this expansion of man’s consciousness beyond the immediate inputs of sense perception possible, is the process of abstraction: integration of multiple units into categories by means of measurement-omission according to common isolated essentials. (The mechanics of this process are expounded in Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.)

Concepts thus allow man to treat as a single whole an unlimited series of existents which he has not observed or directly perceived, on the basis of those which he has observed or directly perceived. Concepts are therefore a kind of mental shorthand which he needs because he does not have direct awareness of all members of a class.

An Example of a Poor Understanding of Concepts in Apologetic Action

Christian apologists frequently expose their poor understanding of the nature of concepts when they try to assemble arguments for the existence of their god. Quite often theists expose their lack of understanding just in setting up their argument, flashing their ignorance before the world before their arguments even get off the ground. Attending believers, anxious to find anything to confirm their beliefs, nod in agreement regardless of whether or not they fully understand what is being endorsed.

Examples of misuse of conceptual issues are legion in the apologetic literature. But for present purposes, observe what Alvin Plantinga considers as the basis from which to mount an argument for the existence of his god (quoted from Welty here):

Suppose you find yourself convinced that (1) there are propositions, properties, and sets, (2) that the causal requirement is indeed true [that is, that there must be a causal connection between object of knowledge and knower], and (3) that (due to excessive number or excessive complexity or excessive size) propositions, properties, and sets can’t be human thoughts, concepts, and collections. Then you have the materials for a theistic argument (Warrant and Proper Function, 121 fn. 25).

Actually, given Plantinga's conceptions (particularly his points (1) and (3)), what we have here is the makings of a gap into which theistic imaginations can be inserted. But the gap is contrived against the relief of a profound ignorance of the objective nature of concepts. For one thing, at the very least, propositions are not irreducible; they consist of concepts. To speak of propositions intelligently, we need to understand propositions, and to understand propositions, we first need to understand concepts. Also, as mathematical collections, sets concretize certain conceptual aspects - such as treating groups of objects as single wholes, but they too are not irreducible. Since sets consist of units, it is therefore the formation of the concept 'unit' which needs to be understood if we are to have a rational understanding of sets. In regard to properties, we need to clarify if by 'properties' we mean particular attributes which exist in specific measures (if so, which ones and which measures?), or the concepts which integrate particular attributes into mental units, in which case we're back to the need to understand the nature of concepts.

Let us look a little closer at this notion of "excessive number." What quantity constitutes an “excessive number” in this respect? How does one determine which number is "excessive," thus warranting the conclusion that whatever exists in this quantity must not be human or graspable by the human mind? And how would such a conclusion follow? If Plantinga can quantify it, then obviously it is a number that man’s mind can grasp, which would undercut his claim that an “excessive number” of “propositions, properties and sets can’t be human thoughts, concepts, and collections.” Indeed, what number can the human mind not grasp? Concepts allow us to bring an "excessive number" of any type of units into the range of human consciousness by means of unit-economy, that is, by condensing it into a single unit which the human mind can easily retain and integrate into the sum of his knowledge. Thus by quantifying them, Plantinga would demonstrate that whatever he is quantifying is within the grasp of his mind.

If, however, Plantinga does not know how many propositions, properties and sets there are, then how could he claim that there is an “excessive number” of them, such that they “can’t be human thoughts, concepts, and collections”? How could he know, as it were, that the quantity of propositions, properties and/or sets has exceeded the magic number? Plantinga’s own personal ignorance of how many "propositions, properties and sets" there are, may be a fact that he has to live with, but such ignorance is not hardly a credible platform from which to argue for the existence of a god. Similarly with “excessive complexity or excessive size.” Either way you slice it, such a procedure is self-defeating.

Notice how theism often attempts to exploit the limitations of man’s mind - whether actual or inflated - to validate the existence of something beyond his ability to perceive and understand, and yet we’re expected to accept this as knowledge. What Plantinga’s “materials for a theistic argument” indicate is his own poor understanding of the nature of concepts. Plantinga himself uses concepts to identify what he is talking about, concepts which the average human thinker can grasp, and yet claims that what these concepts cannot be human concepts. This ignores the fact that it is the task of concepts to reduce an “excessive number or excessive complexity or excessive size” of things (be they “propositions, properties, and sets,” or anything else), to the range of man’s consciousness. Even indefinite descriptors, such as Plantinga uses to state the supposed problem, reduce what he is talking about to something easily grasped by the human mind. In this way, concepts enable man to work extremely efficiently within the limitations of his consciousness rather than being incapacitated by them and held hostage to the intellectual permafrost of mysticism.

Man’s Conceptual Faculty

Leonard Peikoff explains how concepts bring that which is beyond the reach of man’s senses (including things existing in “excessive number or excessive complexity or excessive size”) into the reach of man’s overall awareness:

Consciousness, any consciousness, is finite. A is A. Only a limited number of units can be discriminated from one another and held in the focus of awareness at a given time. Beyond this number, the content becomes an unretainable indeterminate blur or spread, like this: /////////////////////////

For a consciousness to extend its grasp beyond a mere handful of concretes, therefore – for it to be able to deal with an enormous totality, like all tables, or all men, or the universe as a whole – one capacity is indispensable. It must have the capacity to compress its content, i.e., to economize the units required to convey that content. This is the basic function of concepts. Their function, in Ayn Rand’s words, is “to reduce a vast amount of information to a minimal number of units...”

A concept integrates and thus condenses a group of percepts into a single mental whole. It reduces an unlimited number of perceptual units to one new unit, which subsumes them all. It thereby expands profoundly the amount of material that a person can retain and deal with cognitively. Once the term "man" is defined and automatized in your consciousness, for example, the vast sum of its referents is available to you instantly; it is available in a single frame of awareness, without the need of your trying to visualize or describe and then somehow hold in mind all the individual men that are, have been, or will be. One mental unit has taken place of an endless series, and you can proceed to discover an unlimited knowledge about the entity. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 106)

As should be clear from the foregoing, concepts are vital to man’s cognition because they expand his awareness beyond the immediate reach of his senses. Concepts thus allow man to reach beyond what he is directly aware of by giving him the ability to manage a vast amount of information in the form of a single unit, even though he does not directly perceive all the information which that single unit integrates at any one moment. Concepts make it so that he can speak about all men, for instance, whether they exist now, will exist, or existed in the past, without having seen all men; in fact, he never will see all men. In such a way, concepts universalize classes from the small number of units which an individual does perceive directly, which is the essential process of induction. Thus concept-formation provides a working model or blueprint for inductive generalization.

It should be noted here that conceptual integration holds the key to debunking the staid objections against empiricism that are all too commonplace in presuppositional apologetics. (See for instance Bahnsen, Always Ready, pp. 181-182, or Michael Butler's The Pulling Down of Strongholds: The Power of Presuppositional Apologetics.) If the human mind can form open-ended classes of existents on the basis of the limited input of the senses, then there is no reason to suppose that all of one’s knowledge cannot be ultimately grounded in sense perception. After all, the content of one’s knowledge had to be acquired somehow, and those who contend that all knowledge is not grounded in sense experience do not identify an alternative to sense experience which can work without the operation of the senses. Besides, an objective theory of abstraction settles both the standard and the more refined objections that are commonly raised against perceptually-based cognition.

Predictable Theistic Denials

The theist will most likely want to deny the first statement in Peikoff’s explanation, which is a universal statement characterizing all consciousness. Christians imagine in their god an allegedly infinite consciousness. They will thus deny that their god could discriminate “only a limited number of units... from one another,” that it holds in the focus of its awareness at all times everything that exists, has existed and will exist for all eternity, for such “all-knowingness” is the basis of its “plan” for mankind and the universe. It is, given such imaginations, not limited to discriminated awareness of only a small number of units at any time.

But such denials will only play into my point, namely that the “knowledge” which Christians claim on behalf of their god could not be conceptual in nature. Since its awareness is not limited to only a small number of units at any given time, it would not possess its knowledge in a form which omits specific measurements in order “to extend its grasp beyond a mere handful of concretes.” Such a method of cognition would actually destroy its omniscience, for it would obliterate its immediate awareness of all the details belonging to everything that exists save for a statistically insignificant few.

Bahnsen confirms the essence of this point when he writes:

Van Til makes the point that in nothing that God knows is He utterly passive and receptive; He has no “percepts” from which He constructs His knowledge. Rather, by His own original and constructive (creative) concepts, God determines the nature of reality and all the facts of history. (Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 353n. 180)

Since, according to this view, the Christian god “has no ‘percepts’ from which He constructs His knowledge,” it would have no need for a faculty which “integrates and thus condenses a group of percepts into a single mental whole” in knowing its objects. In other words, it would have no need for concepts. It could hold in its immediate awareness every detail of every existent that exists, ever existed or will exist, without any need to condense that mass into measurement-omitting units that a non-omniscient consciousness such as man has requires.

Notice how, in spite of these points, Bahnsen errs by proceeding to affirm that such a being would have its knowledge in the form of concepts as well as explicitly affirming a view which entails the primacy of consciousness (see specifically Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist). Because an omniscient and all-seeing consciousness would be conscious of absolutely everything at all times for all eternity, the Christian god, if it were omniscient and all-seeing, would have no use for a faculty which “reduces an unlimited number of perceptual units to one new unit, which subsumes them all.” Since its awareness is already absolutely maximal and all-encompassing, it would have no use for a faculty which expands its cognition beyond what it perceives at any moment, for if it perceives at all, it perceives maximally already; there would be nothing beyond its perception to expand to. Thus the theist’s use of the concept ‘concept’, when applied to his god which is supposedly omniscient and all-seeing, becomes a stolen concept, for it is affirmed while denying or ignoring its genetic roots. This is clear the moment the theist denies Peikoff’s claim that “any consciousness, is finite.” The theist will deny this because he does not want to allow it to apply to the god he imagines.

And yes, I say imagines here, because imagination is the faculty by which the believer conceives of such a being. For instance, we can of course imagine a being which is not saddled with the kinds of limitations that man has. But this is merely imagination. We can imagine a being, which we might call Wod, which “sees all” and “knows all,” from whose voyeuristic awareness nothing can escape. Such an entity, being omniscient and all-seeing, would not need to reduce the vast information it supposedly possesses to a minimal number of units. As an omniscient and all-seeing being, it would be able to hold all that information, however much there may be, in its eternal awareness. If it did not, it would not be omniscient and all-seeing. Although we will always be capable of imagining beyond what is real, the problem for the theist is that the imaginary is not real.

In a Nutshell

Quite simply, one would not need concepts if he knew everything and contained everything that exists in his immediate awareness eternally. Concepts are how a “finite mind” economizes the enormous amount of data that it discovers in the world throughout its life. Concepts are a form of mental shorthand that allows a “finite mind” to treat as a single unit a massive and ever-growing volume of information collected from its awareness of a limited number of particular units bearing similar attributes in various specific measurements.

An omniscient mind, on the other hand, would not need such a shorthand method of organizing the objects of its awareness, because it could retain all the specific information about each particular at all times in its present awareness, and it would know each particular in terms of its uniqueness – i.e., specifically – rather than having to lump particulars into generalized or universal classes which omit the particular measurements of the units they subsume.

We (“finite minds”) omit measurements in order to condense specific particulars into the form of general classes because we cannot retain the enormous amount of data in our memory. It is, then, from a theistic point of view, a deficiency (cf. “finiteness”) which necessitates conceptualization. An “infinite mind” (i.e., a mind that is not hampered by the limitations that our human minds have) would not have such deficiencies (e.g., it would be able to hold every detail of every particular regardless of when it exists in its present and eternal consciousness), and thus would not need a form of knowledge which is geared to condensing that information in order to compensate for such deficiencies.

Concepts, then, imply non-omniscience because they imply the finiteness of non-divine minds. Thus it is incoherent to expect that an appeal to a so-called “infinite mind” would explain the conceptual order that characterizes the form in which man acquires, validates and holds his knowledge. Consequently, the presuppositionalist argument that knowledge as man possesses it implies the existence of an “infinite mind” – such as that allegedly belonging to the Christian god of presuppositionalism – simply backfires: their own god would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts, so we must look elsewhere for an explanation of the relationship between the one and the many, the conceptual and the particular. The solution, then, lies in an understanding of how the human mind retains the data it discovers in the form of concepts.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Christian Reaction to Virginia Tech

It seems I've gone and caused some trouble again. This time it was by asking how Christians could feel outrage over last Monday's murderous rampage at Virginia Tech. This question was so disturbing that, not one, but two Christian apologists found it necessary to sit down and write reactions to me and post them on their own blogs. What's interesting is that neither apologist answered the question I asked! Instead, they spent their energy spitting and stammering over certain points I raised, claiming that I don't understand or took bible quotes out of context on the one hand, then basically agreeing with the points that I presented in developing my question. It all makes for some good wholesome atheological fun!

The two reactions can be found here:

The Good, the Bad, and the Bethrick, by Steve Hays

The Events at VT as Evidence Against Christianity, by Jet
Below I examine what these apologists say individually, beginning with Steve Hays' reaction.

I. Hays' Reaction

It is unclear why Hays decided to title his reaction after a famous spaghetti western movie, for he never explains this. But this is only the beginning of what turns out to be a series of missed opportunities and ironic disappointments.

Hays opened his reaction with the following statement:

On a preliminary point, it’s quite revealing to see so many militant unbelievers revel in this tragedy as a pretext to attack the faith.

It very often seems to be the case that, when Christians read my blog, they mix what they read with an ample dose of projection and presumption. Here Hays insinuates that I am “reveling” in tragedy, but nowhere supports this accusation. Toward the end of his reaction he characterizes my inquiry as "an attempt to exploit the Virginian Tech massacre," but fails to defend this accusation as well.

Asking whether or not a reaction of outrage is appropriate on Christianity's premises is hardly "reveling in tragedy" nor "exploiting" a massacre. But forcing such characterizations goes over big with many of Triablogue’s readers, for they haven’t much else going for them.

In my blog, I had written:

Many Christians have expressed outrage over the senseless and bloody massacre that took place at the beginning of this week on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. But if they are truly faithful to the worldview they preach, why would they feel any outrage at all?

On the Christian worldview, life is eternal. For the 32 victims and the gunman who “died” on Monday, their lives did not really end. They just passed on to the next stage. Biological demise is simply a doorway to a supernatural eternity thereafter. Rather than great loss, “to die is gain,” wrote St. Paul (Phil. 1:21). It seems believers should be rejoicing, if they truly believed, for the god of the bible is glorified by such things.

Hays responded to these two paragraphs in a most puzzling manner (I'm assuming he’s as smart as he portrays himself). His first bullet point was the following:

i) This is a truly dumb statement since it would be, at best, applicable to the heaven-bound and not the hell-bound.

This is a truly dumb retort, for I make it clear in the very portion of my blog that Hays quotes that my question is for believers to consider. My question is directed to Christians about what Christianity teaches. So of course it is applicable to those who want to see themselves as “heaven-bound.” It was intended to be!

Hays continued:

When St. Paul said that “to die is gain,” he was referring the fate of Christians, and not the damned.

That’s exactly the point. As I had mentioned, Christians think that there is an afterlife and that they have been “chosen” to go on to a paradise once their biology meets its demise. The question I ask in my opening paragraph is not why non-Christians would feel outrage, by why CHRISTIANS would feel outrage. Whether he realizes it or not, Hays is simply confirming the appropriateness of a statement that he just called "truly dumb."

Hays’ second bullet point was:

ii) And even where Christians are concerned, while death may be a boon to the individual, it is not necessarily a boon to those he leaves behind. The survivors. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and spouses. They will suffer the emotional loss of extended separation.

Why wouldn’t it be “a boon to those he leaves behind”? It’s all part of “God’s plan,” isn’t it? Isn’t the glory of “God’s plan” a “boon” to believers? Or does “God’s plan” get them bummed out?

Hays’ presumption that “the survivors will suffer... emotional loss” begs the question, for it is not established that they are Christians who truly believe. Indeed, the question is not directed to unnamed “survivors” whose beliefs are not known, but to Christians who react with outrage. I’m fully aware that those who were touched directly by the consequences of Cho Seung-Hui’s massacre will suffer emotional loss. But my question was not directed to them. I’m asking Christians, like Hays, who were not directly affected by the incident. Hays gives us no answer to this question in his response. Hays needs to explain why HE feels outrage – if in fact he does (perhaps he doesn’t) – in response to the Virginia Tech massacre, given his professed beliefs. This is precisely what needs to be explained, given what Christianity teaches, if Christians truly believe.

Now, if a parent truly believed in the magic kingdom view of Christianity, and truly believed that his or her son or daughter killed in the rampage were “saved,” why wouldn’t that parent rejoice? The notion of “emotional loss of extended separation” smacks of utter selfishness, and yet the believer is called to “deny himself” (Mt. 16:24). Kreeft and Tacelli characterize selfishness as "the meaning of sin, the very disease Jesus came to cure" (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 67). It seems dubious that non-believers need continually to remind believers of what their worldview teaches, but it happens.

Hays also wrote:

The Bible describes the grieving process. So there’s nothing unscriptural about
our reaction to the massacre.

Consider Hays’ reasoning here. The bible describes many things, such as murder, harlotry, incest, disobedience, idolatry, haughtiness, deceitfulness, stealing, genocide, raping, pillaging, etc. Does the mere fact that the bible describes these things mean that “there’s nothing unscriptural about” them? The New Testament demonstrates crass, uncaring indifference to those whose loved one dies when one of Jesus' disciples asks him to wait while he goes off to bury his dead father, and Jesus replies "Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead" (Mt. 8:22). So much for "the grieving process." Corpses are to be left to rot in the streets.

Moreover, even if “the Bible describes the grieving process,” this does nothing to address my question. A description of the grieving process does not explain why someone who believes that the Virginia Tech massacre was all part of the “plan” of a universe-controlling consciousness who “has a morally sufficient reason” to sanction the evil that happens in the universe, would feel outrage over such an incident.

Also, my question has to do with what the bible teaches, not merely with what it describes. That Hays would slink to falling back to mere descriptions in order to justify actions is quite revealing indeed. Aren’t the teachings in “the good book” good enough?

Hays then really went into left field:

Most of the victims were twenty-somethings. Suppose I lost my older brother to this gunman. Suppose both he and I are Christians. Even so, I will not see him again for another fifty or sixty years, give or take.

Okay. So? Even if “most of the victims were twenty-somethings,” or that one of those victims was Hays’ older brother, whether or not his older brother was a Christian, Hays professes to be a Christian who believes that everything that happens in the universe (including down here on little ol’ earth) is all part of some unfolding “plan” set in motion by an invisible magic being which “controls whatsoever comes to pass” and “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.” In comparison to the enormous “glory” that Hays’ worldview ascribes to the unfolding of "God's plan," is Hays really worried about not seeing his brother “for another fifty or sixty years”? I took Hays for a presumptuous man, but I didn’t realize he was this presumptuous. He would have probably scolded Cho Seung-Hui’s victims if they were so presumptuous as to figure they had “another fifty or sixty” years. And even then, “fifty or sixty years” is a mere blink of time when one has all eternity to contemplate his halo.

Hays' next bullet point was:

iii) Let’s also recall the context of Phil 1:21. Paul is a speaking for himself, as a sick old man who sacrificed the natural blessings of life in the service of the gospel. So, for him, at this stage, death would be a boon.

Hays can of course take this route if he wants. After all, just a few verses later, St. Paul writes: ”Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:24), suggesting perhaps that the members of his immediately intended audience are younger and still have “work” to do here on earth before passing through the door of death to the magic kingdom that awaits beyond the grave (as if that "makes sense"). But this misses the broader ethical context ever-present throughout the New Testament, namely that the believer should be willing to lay down his life at any moment, principally because he is not to think it his own, but a possession owned by an invisible magic being who can take it away any moment. In a parable about a rich man (both Jesus and Cho Seung-Hui expressed resentment for the wealthy), Jesus condemns the presumption that one can enjoy the wealth he has produced in his lifetime here on earth. The parable has the Christian god say to the rich man:

Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose sahll those things be, which thou has provided? (Lk. 12:20)

The New Testament puts the following words of advice into Jesus' mouth:

"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Mt. 10:28)

There are constant reminders in "Scripture" that the believer is not to think he can enjoy his life for long.

And if the individual whose life is taken from him by the invisible magic being “believes” what Christianity commands him to believe, then it would be hard to see how a Christian who truly believes this stuff would not count the prospect of death, as St. Paul modeled when he was apparently facing his biological demise, as “gain.” Though we may dismiss St. Paul’s words, as Hays is anxious to do, as merely autobiographical trivia given his particular circumstances, the revered apostle was in fact modeling the appropriate orientation of mind to the death that we all have coming. Why else would he include this kind of detail in an open letter to an entire congregation?

Hays continued:

This doesn’t mean that he would always regard death as preferable to life, regardless of one’s age or station in life.

Again Hays misses the point of his own bible’s teachings, probably because he does not have both feet firmly planted in his professed faith. St. Paul would not have regarded his willingness to pass through his biological death as "preferring death to life." On St. Paul’s premises, he found the afterlife that the Christian tradition promises to be preferable to mere biological existence here on earth. This is the real context underlying his statement to the church in Philippi that “to die is gain.” Christians can dismiss these words, as Hays prefers to do, but this only tells us about them, not about what Christianity teaches. Nor does it explain why Christians who truly believe what Christianity teaches would feel outrage over something like the Virginia Tech massacre.

Hays writes:

The Christian faith is a life-affirming faith. You can find that throughout the OT.

This of course depends on what one means by “life-affirming.” A this-worldly life-affirming orientation requires reason, not faith. Faith is preferred over reason when the object is imaginary and the goal is irrational. Contrary to what Hays asserts, Christianity is an afterlife-affirming faith, which is nothing short of death-worship (there's a reason why an instrument of execution is a fitting symbol of Christianity). To begin with, it is a view held on the basis of faith (i.e., on the hope that it is true; Hays does hope Christianity is true, does he not?), and the “life” it “affirms” is not the biological flourishing that is human life, but an eternity in a magic kingdom beyond the grave. This is the promise that is dangled like a carrot before the believer, keeping him as true to the faith as possible. But the question is essentially: How possible is that?

Hays also wrote:

It’s one thing for a believer at the end of life to look forward to the afterlife (e.g. Lk 2:28), quite another thing for a teenager or twenty-something, who has yet to fully experience the natural blessings of manhood (or womanhood), to rate the afterlife above the earthly goods of God’s handiwork here below.

It's one thing for a believer who thinks his death is imminent to begin taking his worldview's teachings about the afterlife seriously, quite another for someone who professes to believe but doesn't really believe to carry on before his peers as if he believes.

On my view, I can understand why a teenager or twenty-something would look forward to a bountiful and enjoyable future "here on earth." I would expect this to be the case. In what we might call the earlier part of human life, where one can look forward to future experiences, man’s capacity for values is at its prime because his capacity for selfishness is at its prime. A young man or woman is learning what his or her abilities are, and the enjoyment produced by successful goal-oriented endeavors increases as the magnitude of his or her goals increases. This is what I would expect on my worldview’s conception of life.

But this is what the Christian needs to explain on behalf of Christianity. What does the believer love more – his god and its alleged “plan” (which could include any fate for the believer at any time, no matter where he is in his life), or his life here on earth? Where does he put his treasure? In the magic kingdom, or in this life? He cannot have two masters, can he? According to the story, Jesus was in his early 30’s when he was called (or called himself?) to give up his life. In his prayer to his god, Jesus is modeled as giving in to what he believed an invisible magic being required of him: “not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt. 26:39).

Hays offered yet another bullet point:

iv) There is, moreover, a difference between good and evil, on the one hand, and good, better, or best, on the other. The Bible doesn’t teach us to despise the good just become something better might come along. Rather, we are to savor the good.

This just shifts the question over without addressing it. From the Christian perspective, what could be better than eternity in the magic kingdom? The teaching attributed to Jesus in the New Testament makes it pretty clear:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Mt. 6:19-21)

Values here on earth can be corrupted by moths and rust, so don't bother going after them. A promise awaits you in death.

I had written:

The lesson of Abraham (cf. Genesis chapter 22) is clear: Be willing to kill.

And in response, Hays asked:

And the point of this reference is what, exactly? Yes, there are times when we should be willing to kill. For example, what pity that none of the students was able to return fire and stop the assailant dead in his tracks before he could take any more innocent lives.

Hays wants to know what the point of my referencing the lesson of Abraham in Genesis chapter 22 is. Well, what’s the point of the story in Genesis 22? This is a part of biblical teaching that is keenly relevant to Christianity, for the New Testament holds up Abraham and his willingness to kill his son on his god’s orders as a proper example of faith. “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac” (Heb. 11:17). So the point here is to identify what Christianity teaches and models to its adherents.

Hays agrees that “there are times when we should be willing to kill,” and as an example he cites a situation in which one should be willing to kill in self-defense. On a view which affirms the value of human life, such as my worldview, I can agree that one should be willing to kill in such circumstances if he has the opportunity.

But if one truly believes that the unfolding of events in the world are all part of “God’s plan” and that the believer’s moral duty is to “deny himself,” this readiness to kill in self-defense needs to be explained. A man’s resolve needed to act in self-defense requires a code of rational values, such as my worldview teaches. The bible teaches a morality of duties, and holds up as a virtue the unquestioning obedience of adherents to divine whims, not a morality of values. Jesus nowhere talks about man’s need for values.

Hays makes reference to “innocent lives,” but elsewhere he has already stipulated – in agreement with what Christianity teaches – that "no human being is completely innocent." We’ll revisit this issue below.

It should be pointed out that, when Abraham was preparing to kill his own son, he was not acting in self-defense. His son did not pose any threat to Abraham’s life and well-being. To interpolate a motive of self-defense to the Genesis story of Abraham misses that story’s point completely. Abraham’s son represented no threat to his father’s values. Quite the contrary, the story says that Abraham loved his son very much (Gen. 22:2); Isaac was one of Abraham’s chief values. Abraham believed his god wanted him to kill his son as a proof of loyalty. The story nowhere depicts Abraham resisting this. In the story, Abraham nowhere attempts to reason with his god, or even make sure he got the instruction right. We don’t read a dialogue between Abraham and his god such as the following:

Abraham: "Excuse me, Lord. I know you’re great and wonderful and all, but did I understand you correctly? You want me to kill my son Isaac?"

God: "Yep, you heard right, Abe. Go now. Gather up thy sticks and thy son and thine ass and get on your way to the altar."

Abraham: "Well, hold on, Lord. Can I ask why you want me to do this? You know that I love Isaac. He’s my son! Why do you want me to act against my own values?"

God: "You’re not to value anything over me. Go now, get ready to kill your son."

Abraham: "What is that supposed to accomplish? Do you think I’ll love you more once I’ve killed my son?"

God: "Go now, do as I command thee, or you will suffer. If you question my commandments, you will wish you had never been born."

Abraham: “I guess I just don’t understand.”

God: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:5).

Abraham: "Alright, alright. You don’t have to start quoting Scripture on me! Isaac! Where are you, boy?"

No, we don’t see Abraham even questioning his god’s instructions to prepare his son for sacrifice. And this is no accident. This is precisely what the story intends to model: unquestioning obedience, even if it means the irrevocable destruction of human life. This can all be rationalized in the believer’s mind as an intended part of “God’s plan,” which means he is not morally opposed to whatever happens, because whatever happens is part of “God’s plan” anyway. To oppose what happens is really to oppose “God’s plan.”

I wrote:

The lesson of Jesus (cf. the four gospels) is also clear: Be willing to die.

Hays replied:

A nice case of acontextual prooftexting. Indeed, there are situations in which a Christian should be willing to die. But, needless to say, there is no general mandate in Scripture to lay down your arms.

How is my point that Jesus was willing to die a “case of acontextual prooftexting”? Jesus’ sacrifice is commonly held up to Christian believers as a model sacrifice. The Christian atonement for sins by sacrifice has its roots in the Old Testament tradition of animal sacrifice.

Also, to lay down one’s arms, he first had to have taken them up. Where does the bible mandate that one take up arms in the first place?

At any rate, the bible need not be so explicit as to command believers to lay down their arms (assuming they’ve taken them up to begin with). The general mandate of the bible to the believer is to lay down his will to live for the sake of an invisible magic being that could not gain from the believer’s sacrifice in the first place.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Mt. 16:25)

“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Lk. 14:26)

Perhaps Kreeft and Tacelli make the point clearest when they tell us that “religious faith is something to die for.” (Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 14)

Regarding Cho Seung-Hui and his murderous rampage, I had written:

And his victims? On the Christian worldview, the ideal attitude proper for the believer is one of selflessness. The believer is to "deny himself" (Mt. 16:24), to "resist not evil" and "turn the cheek" (Mt. 5:39), and to present his body as "a living sacrifice," which is said to be a "reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1).

Hays retorted:

i) We’re treated to more acontextual prooftexting. For example, the Sermon on the Mount is dealing with personal slights to one’s honor—and not a threat to life and limb.

The instruction that the believer is to “deny himself” is not taken from the Sermon on the Mount. This is a general precondition for being a follower of Jesus:

"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mt. 16:24)

Also, the instruction that the believer present his body as “a living sacrifice” is also not from the Sermon on the Mount. It is an instruction from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.

The New Testament is chock full of instructions which undermine man's self-interest. The god of the bible is too small-minded to allow human beings to live for their own sakes.

Moreover, it is only consistent that a worldview which enshrines a god that “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” to command its adherents to “resist not evil.” We should not forget that the god of the bible is on very cozy terms with evil.

Hays also writes:

ii) In addition, Bethrick isn’t bright enough to realize that there is more to resisting evil than self-defense. For example, a Christian husband and father should be prepared to defend his wife and kids at the risk of his own life. So it isn’t just a case of protecting myself against an assailant. To the contrary, it may often be the case of protecting others from an assailant, at my own risk.

Always one to resort to personal attacks (“Bethrick isn’t bright enough to realize...”), Hays still tries to skirt around the issue. Of course I realize that “there is more to resisting evil than self-defense”; Hays cites nothing in my writings to establish that I do not realize this. He simply manufactures an opportunity to belittle those who do not believe in his invisible magic being.

So again, I ask: Why would a Christian believer, who truly believes that “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” think it necessary to resist evil regardless of whose well-being it threatens when the explicit instruction in the bible is: “resist not evil”? If he truly thinks that “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil” it sanctions in the world, why resist this evil?

I wrote:

And we cannot call Cho's victims "innocent," for - as one believer puts it - "no human being is completely innocent." Either the Christian god was calling them home, or they were getting their just desserts.

Hays writes in response:

More simplemindedness. The fact that everyone is guilty before God doesn’t mean that everyone has wronged everyone else. It doesn’t mean that Cho’s victims did anything to him deserving of death at his hands. They can be innocent in relation to him without being innocent in relation to God.

Whether or not Cho's victims did anything to him to deserve his massacre is irrelevant since, in a Christian universe, the primary concern on this point is that one is guilty before the Christian god. Since “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” whether Cho’s victims “deserved” to die at his hands or not is completely beside the point, from the Christian perspective. The primary concern in the Christian perspective is that the Christian god is calling all the shots, and according to the storybook we've all been judged guilty of sin (cf. Rom. 5:12), even before we've had our day in court. Being “innocent in relation” to Cho is utterly nugatory. Cho is just a vehicle for “God’s plan,” a character in the Immaculate Animation.
Hays then stated:

For someone who prides himself on the intellectual superiority of atheism, Bethrick likes to raise an awful lot of awfully lame-brained objections to the faith.

It is expected that apologists are going to call any objection to their faith “lame-brained” or worse. Their refutations often consist of negatively charged adjectives indicting the non-believers who present them rather than actually addressing the concerns they have raised. For instance, Hays offers nothing in his response to explain why someone who truly believes the Christian worldview would be outraged by the Virginia Tech massacre. It’s as if he didn’t even realize the question had been asked. I’m sure the man can read, but his zeal clouds his comprehension.

He then writes:

Finally, like so many other unbelievers, Bethrick acts as if he’s discharged his own burden of proof by simply punting to the believer. But leveling a string of objections to the Christian faith, even if they were successful objections, would do nothing to refute the objections to his own position.

What burden of proof is Hays talking about here? And to whom am I called to prove anything? To those who believe in invisible magic beings on faith? I have no delusion that I am going to be able to prove something that adherents to a faith-based worldview don’t want to accept. As for objections to my position, I have already presented those in my blog, and my detractors have fallen silent.

Hays concluded his post with the following statement:

As a matter of fact, though, Bethrick loses on both counts. In his attempt to exploit the Virginian Tech massacre, his feeble attempt at showing the inconsistency of the Christian reaction is systematically inept, while, in the meantime, he has done nothing to show, on his own grounds, why Cho did anything wrong.

Hays is really reaching here. The purpose of my blog was not to identify the reasons why Cho's actions were wrong. Nor was it "to exploit the Virginian Tech massacre," as Hays has alleged. Rather, it was to explore whether or not feelings of outrage in response to the massacre are compatible with Christianity given what it teaches. Hays has not added any positive substance to this effort. Rather than focusing on the issues I raise, Hays' primary concern seems to be to disparage me personally for raising such questions, which is telling in itself and also quite typical.

II. Jet's Reaction

Now we turn to a blog entry written by someone who signs his name "JET." I will refer to him as "Jet" in my response to him. (I'm assuming Jet is a man.)

Jet writes:
Dawson Bethrick (the author) is asking Christians, “On the basis of your worldview, why consider what happened at VT an outrage?” So, the tables seem to have been turned. The problem is that this argument fails, and fails badly at a number of points.
Why is it that apologists for Christianity so often fail to distinguish a question from an argument? It’s probably because they want their questions to be considered arguments in their own right. The problem is that a question is not an argument. It’s a question. Why do Christians have such problems coping with simple questions?

Jet then says that I "seem ignorant of the Bible," and then quoted me at length, where I wrote:

On the Christian worldview, life is eternal. For the 32 victims and the gunman who “died” on Monday, their lives did not really end. They just passed on to the next stage. Biological demise is simply a doorway to a supernatural eternity thereafter. Rather than great loss, “to die is gain,” wrote St. Paul (Phil. 1:21). It seems believers should be rejoicing, if they truly believed, for the god of the bible is glorified by such things.

The lesson of Abraham (cf. Genesis chapter 22) is clear: Be willing to kill.

The lesson of Jesus (cf. the four gospels) is also clear: Be willing to die.

Cho Seung Hui and his victims find their models in the bible, which Christians claim is divinely inspired and fit for us to follow.

In response to these statements, Jet wrote:

Without trying to be argumentative, this is an outrageous twisting of what the Bible actually teaches!

It is?

Yes, the Bible does teach that once created, the souls of man are eternal. God sustains them forever.

Okay, I was correct there.

But, when the Bible uses terms like “eternal life” is speaking more of the quality of life.

It is? Why doesn’t it say “better life” instead of “eternal life”?

Eternal life is life forever in God’s blessed presence.

Ah, so I was right about this as well.

So, while those who are judged in eternity will never cease to exist, biblically speaking, they do not have “eternal life.”

So, the human soul lives eternally, or it doesn’t. Which is it? Pick a position and stick with it. Meanwhile, the New Testament is pretty consistent with itself in affirming belief in an eternal afterlife.
Jet then tried to explain why life is sacred:

Life is sacred because man is created in the image of God.

How does that make life “sacred”? And what exactly is this “image of God” that we are “created in”? The god of the bible is said to be supernatural, infinite, omniscient, everpresent, infallible, omnipotent, incorruptible, indestructible, perfect, etc. It is as inhuman as one could imagine. After all, in contemplating what believers tell us about the god they worship, imagination is all we have to go on.

To attack the image is to slander the One whose image we represent. To slander God’s vice-regent is to slander the Great King of the universe.

How does one “slander” that which is supernatural, infinite, omniscient, everpresent, infallible, omnipotent, incorruptible, indestructible, perfect, etc.? And if it feels slandered by someone’s actions, why doesn’t it confront that individual and discuss the matter? The way it is here on earth, it all sounds like a mere human being getting all offended because we aren't taking his imaginary being seriously. This is probably not too far from what sent Cho Seung-Hui over the edge.

The distinct worth of human life is intimately tied to our position as God’s image.

”...distinct worth of human life...”? And this “distinct worth” hinges on the will of a deity which sent a tsunami in December 2004 to kill some 300,000 human beings? This deity, which “has a morally sufficient reason” to sanction evil against man, determined in its unrivaled wisdom to wipe out the equivalent of Toledo, Ohio of “images of God” in a single day’s work. And this “loving” deity is central to “the distinct worth of human life”?

In Gen. 9:6 it says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Notice that the reason for capital punishment of murderers is that man is created as God’s image (and we’ll leave the issue of whether this command is still in play today on the backburner for the moment).

So how does this go to show that what I wrote is “an outrageous twisting of what the Bible actually teaches”? Was not Abraham, a man whose faith is held up as a model for all believers in Hebrews 11:17, expected by his god to be willing to kill his son, Isaac? The story in Genesis nowhere shows that he was unwilling to do so. Was Jesus not expected to be willing to die?

Also, when Paul says that to die is gain, he is referring to Christians.

Very good. And the question I asked in my blog was directed to Christians.

For a Christian to die is to into rest with God until the resurrection.

I really wish Christian bloggers would proof-read their entries before they post them. This sentence is missing a verb, just as the author of the blog entry itself is missing the point. At any rate, it’s clear enough that death for the Christian means going to the magic kingdom and enjoying cosmic hymnal lessons for eternity. So why would someone who looks forward to this find all the bloody details of a college campus shooting disturbing?
For the nonbeliever, judgment for cosmic treason awaits them.
Oh no! Cosmic treason! Sounds cosmically over-melodramatic if you ask me.

I had written:

And what of Cho Seung Hui and his actions? What about them? “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” says Van Til (The Defense of the Faith, p. 160). It’s all an inevitable part of God’s plan.Were Cho Seung Hui’s actions evil? The question is irrelevant, given what Christianity teaches. Why? Because “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” writes Bahnsen (Always Ready, p. 172).

Jet responded:

Does the Bible teach that God controls all things, including the sinful actions
of humans? Absolutely (Eph. 1:11).

Okay, good. So I got another point right.

After all, in Acts 4 we’re told that the most heinous action ever taken, the murder of the innocent Son fo God, Jesus Christ (what theologian John Murray used to call the arch crime of human history) was planned and brought about by the hand of God. So, Yes, the Bible does teach that God, in some mysterious way, does bring about these things. Ultimately, God’s the One telling the story. But this in no way means that the characters in it (you and I, and Cho Seung Hui) do not commit morally significant actions. And with moral significance comes responsibility.

It can only mean that we are all analogous to characters in one very long cosmic cartoon, some having bigger parts than others, but none in control of what’s going to happen next. The one in control is the cosmic cartoonist. The cosmic cartoonist conceived of a cosmic cartoon in which he would insert himself as one of its central characters. He then created other characters whose role was to fasten him to a cross. After they did this, he got angry at them and then drew them in the confines of a cosmic torture chamber. See, isn’t that a logical use of one’s creative powers?

I had written:

The gunman’s proper attitude, given what the doctrine of predestination teaches, could only be expressed by one uncompromising statement: “Yes, Lord.” He is only carrying out the ruling consciousness’ will. And his victims? On the Christian worldview, the ideal attitude proper for the believer is one of selflessness. The believer is to “deny himself” (Mt. 16:24), to “resist not evil” and “turn the cheek” (Mt. 5:39), and to present his body as “a living sacrifice,” which is said to be a “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). And we cannot call Cho’s victims “innocent,” for - as one believer puts it - “no human being is completely innocent.” …

Jet then asserted:

There is nothing, either in the Bible or in Christian theology, that says that people who do things that directly contradict things that God forbids can appeal to the fact that God has ordained it. Absolutely nothing.

So, biblegod did not require Abraham to be willing to kill? That’s what the story clearly models.

In fact, in Isaiah 10 we find the opposite dynamic at work. In this chapter the nation of Israel has violated the covenant with God, and He must now punish them according to the stipulations made in the book of Exodus. The model of discipline that God uses is the nation of Assyria. In fact, in the chapter they are called God’s “rod of anger.” Assyria will defeat Israel in battle as God’s punishment.

Just by citing Isaiah 10 as a counterexample, Jet is assuming that the entirety of the bible is wholly consistent with itself. But where does he establish this? If the bible does not present a wholly consistent position on such matters and in fact contains mixed messages, then it will be possible to run to one section of the collection in order to say “See! Look here! The Bible says the complete opposite to what you’re saying!” in reaction to any cited passage. This is why apologists have an easy time defending many objections – because the bible affirms multiple positions on the same matter. At points “God’s chosen” are commanded to kill, at others they are commanded not to kill.

Jet continued:

Now, here’s the interesting bit. Later, in the same chapter, God states that He will now punish Assyria for attacking Israel. Why, because the nation of Assyria, while in one way is being used of God for His purposes, does not acknowledge God, and attacks Israel for its own glory. So, we find a two-level “responsibility” at work, and Assyria is punished because it is a sinner, rebellious nation.

I’m always curious about what wheels are turning in the Christian’s mind when he speaks of “responsibility.” Christianity tells us that everything in the universe was created ex nihilo by their god, and that this god “controls whatsoever comes to pass,” and that everything that happens is part of one enormous, unfolding “plan.” Clearly they think their god is calling the shots. But whenever they speak of “responsibility,” they never tell us what responsibility their god has. Indeed, they want to say that their god made everything the way it is and dictated every event that ever occurs in the world, but then act as if their god has no responsibility whatsoever. It can do just whatever it wants, but man ends up being “responsible” for all its blunders. The believer’s capacity for delusion is seconded only by his ability to compartmentalize.

Likewise, Cho Seung Hui can properly be acknowledged as wrong, sinful, and horrible. Why? Because he explicitly violated the commandment of God forbidding the murder of innocents.

Two points. One, the bible nowhere says that murder is “wrong.” I defy Jet or any other apologist to show where the bible says “murder is wrong.”

The other point is that, according to Christianity, no one is innocent. If the Christian wants to call Cho Seung-Hui’s victims “innocent,” he’s borrowing from a non-Christian worldview, for Christianity couldn’t be more explicit on this point (cf. Rom. 5:12).

The apostle Paul, who himself had an extremely high view of God’s control over all things, frequently condemns certain types of practices, despite knowing that God brought the event about.

Well here we have it laid out explicitly: the believer condemns parts of “God’s plan.” By doing so, the believer indicates that he would plan differently if he were calling all the shots, and thus implies that he knows better than his god does. This might explain why the believer would experience moral outrage at something like the Virginia Tech massacre, but it requires that the believer presume himself a higher authority over his god. This of course is not a problem for non-believers, because they aren’t under the delusion that there is an invisible magic being calling all the shots in the first place.

It appears as if Bethrick is erecting an argument based on cut-and-paste quotes. He references to “turn the other cheek,” “deny yourself,” etc. are all taking radically out of context.

So, is the believer to “deny himself” as Mt. 16:24 requires, or not? Should we go by what the bible says, or by some internet apologist who doesn’t give his name?

This ties into another point mentioned in the “Pointers” series. Bethrick is launching his critique against Christianity based on what he think is appropriate for Christians to think and feel, rather than what is actually taught in the Bible.

This is amazing! Even when I cite what the bible teaches, I am accused of going by what I think rather than what the bible teaches. This is as humorous as it is incredible.

Christianity does not teach fatalism, and that’s exactly what Bethrick makes it out to be.

Here we have simple, unadorned and outright denial. What could be more fatalistic than the belief that whatever happens in the world was predestined to happen from all eternity?

Such an attack against the faith cannot be seriously considered.

On the contrary, the apologist shows that my observations cannot be seriously countered. All he can do is deny them. But simply denying them does not prove them untrue or mistaken.

And when I say this I do not mean that Bethricks comments are worth listening to. As a creature created in God’s image, Bethrick’s thoughts are valuable.

So, on the one hand, my “thoughts are valuable,” but he does “not mean” that my “comments are worth listening to.” He’s apparently not sure whether he’s coming or going.

What I do mean is that this type of argumentation betrays a ignorance of scripture and a lack of care in taking people’s words in context.

The common habit of dismissing an objection on the unargued grounds that it “betrays a [sic] ignorance of scripture” or stems from an out-of-context reading, indicates an anxious readiness to resort to the cheapest of defense tactics. The goal here is not to enlighten and explain the texts that have allegedly been taken out of context, but to settle the matter in the mind so that he does not continue to fidget in persisting doubts. By writing his blog entry, Jet can say “I answered that guy!” even though he nowhere explains how the believer can truly experience moral outrage over an incident like the Virginia Tech massacre while remaining faithful to what Christianity teaches.

If I grabbed various quotes from Bethricks blog and pasted them together to make him out to say the very opposite of what he actually believes, he couldn’t appreciate it.

Deliberately taking something out of context would simply result in mischaracterization. This is what Jet accuses me of doing. But as we have seen, even from his own statements, he agrees with many of my points without outright saying so.

by Dawson Bethrick

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