Friday, August 31, 2007

Bahnsen on "Knowing the Supernatural" Part 10: "Pure Motives?"

Continued from Part 9.

"Pure Motives?"

Bahnsen wants to suppose there’s something more than intellectual behind anyone’s rejection of something he cannot distinguish from imaginative fantasy. He writes:

It would be profitable to pause and reflect upon an insightful comment by a recent writer in the area of philosophical metaphysics. W. H. Walsh has written, "It must be allowed that the reaction against [metaphysics – i.e., supernaturalism] has been ... so violent indeed as to suggest that the issues involved in the controversy must be something more than academic." (Always Ready, p. 182)

To appreciate the context of Walsh’s quote, it would be interesting to see some examples of what he considers “violent” reactions. Are they merely words on a page that believers in the supernatural find disturbing (some believers have shown themselves to be quite insecure, in fact), or are they actually riotous actions causing harm and destruction to life and limb? Would these theists consider my point-by-point examination of Bahnsen’s attempts to defend supernaturalism “violent” in some way?

And what about theist’s reactions to “anti-supernaturalism”? Is it not also vehement and full of indignation that they, too, can likewise be called “violent,” even if they do not result in the turning over of vehicles on the street and the burning down of houses? If the “violence” of the reactions that Walsh and Bahnsen has in mind turns out to be nothing more than, say, petty name-calling and insulting language, well, it seems that Bahnsen is prone to some “violence” of his own. As we have already seen, on pg. 56 of Always Ready, Bahnsen calls people who do not believe in his invisible magic being “dull, stubborn, boorish, obstinate and stupid.” Are we to suppose that there is something more than intellectual to the believer’s faith commitments when merely the existence of non-believers prompts him to contemptuous derision like this? If not, why not?

Of course, Bahnsen is all too happy to agree with Walsh:

Precisely. The issues are indeed more than academic. They are a matter of life and death - eternal life and death. (Always Ready, p. 182)

That must be it: non-believers must have some kind of death wish. That explains why they reject the supernatural and other irrational ideas. They deny religion because they secretly want to suffer the fate of religion’s non-believers. It could not be that they simply don’t believe what religion teaches, or in fact understand why religion is irrational. They want eternal torment. That is what Bahnsen apparently would have his readers believe. If they believe Christianity’s myths and legends, it is quite possible that they’ll believe Bahnsen’s apologetic hazing as well.

Bahnsen appeals to the bible to buttress his suspicions:

Christ said, "And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send" (John 17:3). However, if the unbeliever can stand on the claim that such a God cannot be known because nothing transcending the physical (nothing "metaphysical") can be known, then the issue of eternal destiny is not raised. (Always Ready, pp. 182-183)

As should be clear by now, we do not have to “stand on the claim that such a God cannot be known because nothing transcending the physical (nothing ‘metaphysical’) can be known.” Rather, we can stand on the truth of the axioms and the primacy of existence, truths which the religious believer himself must assume while denying, in order to expose religion’s commitment to irrationality. So long as one realizes that there is a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination, and religious defenders cannot provide an objective method by which one can distinguish between what they claim and what they may merely be imagining, then rejecting religious teachings is merely being intellectually responsible.

Bahnsen then identifies what he finds most worrisome:

Accordingly, men may think and do as they please, without distracting questions about their nature and destiny. (Always Ready, p. 183)

Why would it bother Bahnsen or anyone else if other “men may think and do as they please”? The thought that “men may think and do as they please” really bothered Jim Jones, too.

Why is it that religious leaders so often find intellectual liberty objectionable? Is it because intellectual liberty threatens their leadership, livelihood, or the perks of their station? Bahnsen claims that “every believer wants to see the truth of Christ believed and honored by others.” (Always Ready, p. 115) My initial thought on reading this was, “Does Christ want this, too?” If Christ is omnipotent and able to change non-believers into believers (as is supposedly the case with Christians themselves, according to Bahnsen’s type of Reformed Theology), then whatever is the case now must be what Christ wants to be the case now. After all, according to Bahnsen’s mentor Van Til, “God controls whatsoever comes to pass” (The Defense of the Faith, p. 160). Indeed, if Jesus can make a visiting appearance before Saul of Tarsus as he was on his way to persecute Christians, that same Jesus should be able to appear before anyone whose heart needs to be changed. If Jesus doesn’t do this, well, that is not the non-believer’s fault.

And what of those who do not consider “questions about their nature and destiny” to be “distracting,” even though they do not believe in any invisible magic beings? What of those who are pleased to contemplate such questions? Personally speaking, I enjoy contemplating such questions. But I still observe the distinction between the real and the imaginary, and this is what earns me the religionists’ contempt.

Then Bahnsen projects what worries him onto everyone else:

Men will, as it were, build a roof over their heads in hopes of keeping out any distressing revelation from a transcendent God. The anti-metaphysical perspective of the modern age functions as just such a protective ideological roof for the unbeliever. (Always Ready, p. 183)

An old polemical tactic is to broad-brush one’s accusations at large without naming specific culprits or citing evidence to substantiate the charge being made. Here Bahnsen shows that he is familiar with this tactic. Does Bahnsen identify those who allegedly “build a roof over their heads in hopes of keeping out any distressing revelation from a transcendent God”? No, he does not identify any particular individual who does this. Presumably Bahnsen has in mind anyone who disputes the existence of his god. Does he produce any evidence to substantiate his charge that those anonymous persons “build a roof over their heads” to keep out the Christian god? No, he doesn’t. All he provides is a quote from Nietzsche, but that didn’t prove anything but the fact that Bahnsen had to dig a quote out of a source that is some 100 or so years old to find an instance of a non-Christian apparently providing a case in point (when in fact it didn’t).

Worshippers of Geusha, the supreme being of the Lahu tribe, could play the same game. They could quite easily say that men seek to “build a roof over their heads in hopes of keeping out any distressing revelation from” Geusha. And on their Geusha-centric “presuppositions,” this would of course “make sense.” But is it an argument? No, it is not.

What’s noteworthy in either case, is the fact that there would be no need to “build a roof over” one’s head to begin with. Bahnsen betrays the very irrational fear that the bible seeks to inculcate in its readers, a fear which Bahnsen bought into and projected on everyone else.

Bahnsen was no doubt emotionally taken captive by passages such as Luke 12:5, which states:

Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell.

Of course, if one grants the whole bag of assumptions that the bible uses to entice fish into its nets, such passages will of course be very compelling psychologically. But that’s just the point: why grant the basic claims of the Christian worldview to begin with? This just brings us back to the original issue of “the problem of knowing the ‘super-natural’,” which Bahnsen leaves unattended in characteristic manner.

Indeed, what we have here is a classic case of projection: Bahnsen fears “the supernatural” because he thinks it is something both real and beyond his comprehension (and yet he insists that we accept it as “knowledge” and postures as a spokesman for its wishes and pronouncements). He wants protection from supernatural wrath, so as a matter of course he supposes everyone else does, too. Indeed, if one thought there were an angry supernatural deity in the first place, who wouldn’t want to take cover? Bahnsen takes cover in his feigned piety, by pretending to be a know-it-all when it comes to “the supernatural” (however, do not ask him how one can have awareness of “the supernatural” or distinguish what he calls “the supernatural” from his vain imaginations). Bahnsen simply projects his own irrationality onto everyone else, supposing all human beings are just as frightened and dishonest as he is. The choice to be dishonest “accounts for” the persisting and insistent delusions of the theist.

In spite of the deception that shines through the faded patina of Bahnsen’s feigned piety, he brings the discussion back to the topic at hand:

The fact is that one cannot avoid metaphysical commitments. The very denial of the possibility of knowledge transcending experience is in itself a metaphysical judgment. Thus the question is not whether one should have metaphysical beliefs, but it comes down to the question of which kind of metaphysic one should affirm. (Always Ready, p. 183)

I would agree that “one cannot avoid metaphysical commitments,” so long as “metaphysical” neither equates nor implies “the supernatural.” I certainly do not think it is the case that “one cannot avoid supernatural commitments.” I am living proof of this. As for considering “the possibility of knowledge transcending experience,” this not only depends on one’s metaphysical view, but also on what assumptions are packed into the notion of “knowledge transcending experience.” It is not clear what Bahnsen means by this expression, for he nowhere makes it explicitly clear. If he means knowledge that is implicitly available as a result of conceptual integration or inductive generalizations based on objective models, then yes, such knowledge is in fact possible. But if by “knowledge transcending experience” Bahnsen means to denote some ideational content that is ultimately fictitious or based on imagination (even if it is not admitted as such), then I would say it is wrong to call such content “knowledge.” ‘Fantasy’ is the appropriate concept to denote this.

And yes, if it is the case that “the question is not whether one should have metaphysical beliefs” – because “one cannot avoid metaphysical commitments” – I would add that “it comes down” not only “to the question of which kind of metaphysic one should affirm,” but also how consistently one’s worldview applies that metaphysic. My worldview openly and knowingly affirms the metaphysic of the primacy of existence in the subject-object relationship. And my worldview is consistent with this metaphysic. It is, in fact, an extension of this principle, the essential principle of objectivity, applied to the rest of philosophy. Christianity, as we have seen, affirms a metaphysic which grants primacy to consciousness. Can Bahnsen consistently apply this principle in his operative view of the world? Bahnsen nowhere engages the issue of metaphysical primacy, and yet here he is, talking about metaphysical commitments, judgments and their associated principles. Why does he avoid the issue of the proper relationship between subject and object? Did he not think there is a proper relationship between a subject and its objects? Or, is this something one need not address in his metaphysical views? Or, is it something anyone can be justified in taking for granted without ever understanding what his professed views imply in regards to this relationship? Since Bahnsen remained silent on this issue, we will never know. But one thing’s for sure: we won’t learn about the proper relationship between a subject and its objects from Bahnsen.

Failing to address this issue when he had the opportunity, Bahnsen then sought to turn his guns on those who do not embrace his particular brand of subjectivism, namely Calvinist Christianity:

The apostle Paul teaches us that all unbelievers (including Nietzsche) "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18); they attempt to hide the truth about God from themselves due to their immoral lives. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7) and "minds earthly things" (Phil. 3:18-19). Those who are enemies in their minds due to evil works (Col. 1:21), and are foolish in their reasoning (Rom. 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 1:20), are led in particular to an anti-biblical metaphysic (e.g., "The fool has said in his heart there is no God," Ps. 10:4) - disguised as an anti-metaphysical posture in general. (Always Ready, p. 183-184)

Because he cannot present any epistemology whcih warrants any assertion of "the supernatural," Bahnsen wants to morph the issue into a matter of moral impropriety. He cannot rationally justify belief in the supernatural, but he's still anxious to vent his contempt for the spoilsports.So Bahnsen reiterates the Pauline accusation that non-believers "suppress the truth in unrighteousness," and "attempt to hide the truth about God from themselves due to their immoral lives." These are not light accusations to say the least. Apparently “mind[ing] earthly things” – like one’s own life, the welfare of one’s loved ones, the consequences of one’s choices and actions – is a vice. Note that he echoes these charges even though he nowhere identifies any means by which a human being can acquire awareness of what he calls "the supernatural," or by which we can confidently distinguish between what he calls "the supernatural" and what he may very well be merely imagining. It is common for those who are trying to hide something to redirect attention away from their subterfuge by making accusations against individuals. The goal of such a move is to put others on the defensive, thus enabling evasion. But here Bahnsen does not restrict his accusations to specific individuals. He broad-brushes with very wide strokes, accusing people he does not even know of living "immoral lives." And what's behind the charge that they live "immoral lives"? Merely the fact that they do not believe in Bahnsen's invisible magic beings. And why should they, especially given the fact that Bahnsen does not explain how we could be aware of "supernatural" agents or confidently discriminate them from the believer's imagination? Indeed, Bahnsen fails in this task even when he set its before himself. Can it be that Bahnsen is simply projecting here? Can it be that the immorality that is being swept under the rug is Bahnsen's own dishonesty as he triest to defend a worldview which insists on faking reality? All these sweeping accusations, asserted without any evidence whatsoever, probably made Bahnsen feel good for a moment. By putting the blame on a collective of anonymous persons despised because of their non-belief in his deity, Bahnsen finds momentary relief from his guilt, the guilt that results from enshrining a fake environment and pretending that it is reality while denigrating methods that even he uses on a daily basis.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bahnsen on "Knowing the Supernatural" Part 9: "Suprasensible Reality"

Continued from Part 8.

"Suprasensible Reality"

After sanitizing metaphysics of any dependence on sense experience, Bahnsen rests on the conclusion that “metaphysics eventually studies non-sensuous or suprasensible reality.” When reading this, it is hard to resist interpreting Bahnsen to mean nonsensical reality. After all, he has so far given us no guidance on how to discriminate “the supernatural” from sheer nonsense. Bahnsen wants to say that his god, its magic kingdom and its eternal gulag belong to the category of “suprasensible reality.” Why could not the Lahu tribesman make the same claim about Geusha, the supreme being of their religion? It is easy to see how a child might claim that his imaginary friend exists in a “suprasensible reality,” and thus should not expect its existence to be verifiable by means of empirical tests. If such claims are valid for Bahnsen, why could they not be valid for any claim that, on a rational basis, would appropriately be deemed arbitrary? Again, how do we distinguish between Bahnsen’s “suprasensible reality” and his imagination?

In this section of his chapter on “The Problem of Knowing the ‘Super-Natural’,” Bahnsen tells us of the methods that we should not expect to use in order to validate his supernatural claims, leaving unattended the identification of any reliable method by which one can validate his supernatural claims.

As I mentioned in an earlier installment of this series, we must be on guard for when Bahnsen really means supernaturalism when he uses the word “metaphysics.” Supernaturalism has engulfed metaphysics so completely for Bahnsen that even he is not aware of the perversity of this insidious equivocation. He has sought to hide this by arguing that the “ultimate conceptual framework” that philosophers use to separate the intellectual wheat from the nonsensical chaff is not something we perceive directly. But anyone could have told you this. Indeed, there is a fundamental distinction between the perceptual and the conceptual levels of consciousness. But this distinction in no way invalidates the senses or annuls their epistemological significance, nor does it suggest that “the physical realm” was created by an act of consciousness. In his effort to protect Christianity from the growing “anti-supernatural bias” of modern academics, Bahnsen has swapped metaphysics as a study of being for metaphysics as a study in concealing the subjectivism of one’s worldview. This is accomplished by keeping things vague and ambiguous.

For instance, Bahnsen writes:

In the nature of the case the metaphysician examines issues transcending physical nature or matters removed from particular sense experiences. And yet the results of metaphysics are alleged to give us intelligible and informative statements about reality. That is, metaphysics makes claims which have substantive content, but which are not fully dependent on or restricted to empirical experience (observation, sensation). (Always Ready, pp. 181-182)

Does Bahnsen give an example of what he means by “issues transcending physical nature or matters removed from particular sense experiences”? Do the issues which “transcend physical nature” have anything to do with the reality in which we actually live (as opposed to some imaginary realm)? He wants to say that “the results of metaphysics [so-conceived] are alleged to give us intelligible and informative statements about reality.” But how does this work? If metaphysics is an examination of “matters removed from particular sense experiences,” what informs them? What is their connection to the reality they allegedly describe? Can it be that the issues Bahnsen has in mind are actually the result of abstraction from sense experience, and Bahnsen simply does not know how this process works and thus mistakenly supposes that sense experience has no fundamental role in metaphysics? It does appear that this is the case. He’s all a-swirl in his own ignorance of how the conceptual mind works. How does Bahnsen know that the “substantive content” of (conceptually legitimate) metaphysical claims is “not fully dependent on or restricted to empirical experience (observation, sensation)”? Is it the case that what Bahnsen takes as metaphysical claims which have “substantive content” are actually based on imagination and fabrication rather than on an objective process of identifying reality? If they are based on reality, they need something to connect them to reality, namely a process by which their content is derived from reality. Otherwise, how could we have any confidence in the supposition that the content of those claims has anything to do with reality? What process of validation does Bahnsen propose? He has not identified any means by which we can gain awareness of what he calls “supernatural,” nor has he identified any means by which we can confidently discriminate between what he calls “supernatural” and what he is imagining. Unless Bahnsen can identify a connection between his metaphysical claims (which he presented above) and reality, are we to assume that a connection is there anyway? Who would encourage us to be so intellectually irresponsible and imprudent, and why?

Notice how 'always ready' Bahnsen is to identify those means by which his supernatural claims are not supported:

For that reason the means by which metaphysical [i.e., supernatural] claims are intellectually supported is not limited to natural observation and scientific experimentation. Herein lies the offense of metaphysics [i.e., supernaturalism] to the modern mind. Metaphysics [i.e., supernaturalism] presumes to tell us something about the objective world which we do not directly perceive in ordinary experience and which cannot be verified through the methods of natural science. (Always Ready, p. 182; italics added)

The “offense” of supernaturalism is not only in its stipulation of which means do not support its claims, but also in its conspicuous failure to identify in positive terms the means which allegedly do support its claims. Those who claim that the supernatural is real do not present evidence of the supernatural, and what they claim is difficult if not impossible to distinguish from what is merely imaginary. One can, of course, imagine the things Bahnsen claims (just as we can imagine the things described in a Harry Potter novel), but in order to accept such claims as truth, Bahnsen needs to identify some means other than imagination by which we can "know" what he's talking about.

With the development of science, thanks to the rebirth of reason which effectively put religion in retreat, many thinkers are now more critical about what they accept as truth, just as people who want to take care of their bodies are more critical about what they put into their bodies. So when they encounter claims which are not backed up by evidence and/or contradict knowledge that has already been validated, they naturally (and rightly) reject them, whether or not they find them “offensive.” In fact, it is typically the religionist himself who is offended when his claims are not accepted on his say so. After all, he accepted these same or similar claims on someone else’s say so, so it is very frustrating for him to find others who are not as unquestioning and uncritical as he is. Even worse, if thinkers arm themselves with fundamental principles which are impervious to the religionist’s anti-rational attacks (such as the primacy of existence), the religionist often becomes so inflamed that he resorts to name-calling (and some will even try to justify this behavior).

So we are finding that Bahnsen is no different in this respect. He is quick to point out the kinds of methods which will not substantiate or verify his supernatural claims, but he nowhere identifies any methods which will substantiate or verify those claims. This is most unhelpful to his own case, and yet he wants to slander those who don't readily accept such claims on his say so.

Bahnsen continues:

Of course, antipathy to metaphysics [i.e., supernaturalism] is even more pronounced in the case of Christianity because its claims about the entire scheme of things include declarations about the existence and character of God, the origin and nature of the world, as well as the nature and destiny of man. Such teachings do not stem from direct, eyeball experience of the physical world, but transcend particular sensations and derive from divine revelation. They are not verified empirically in a point by point fashion. Scripture makes absolute pronouncements about the nature of the real world as a whole. Biblical doctrine presents truths which are not circumscribed or limited by personal experience and which are not qualified or relativized by an individual's own way of looking at things. Such authoritarian claims about such difficult and wide-ranging matters are offensive to the skeptical mood and religious prejudices of the present day. The modern age has a contrary spirit regarding philosophical (especially religious) claims which speak of anything super-natural, anything "beyond the physical," anything metaphysical. (Always Ready, p. 182)

Here’s a case in point. Bahnsen tells us that Christianity’s claims “do not stem from direct, eyeball experience of the physical world,” they “are not verified empirically in a point by point fashion,” they “are not circumscribed or limited by personal experience” and “are not qualified or relativized by an individual’s own way of looking at things.” Bahnsen tells us which criteria do not support his supernatural claims, but he does not tell us which criteria do support them. He simply tells us that the contents of his claims “transcend particular sensations and derive from divine revelation.” In other words, he appeals to magic in order to substantiate them. He tells us that his worldview's magic is real, and to validate this claim he appeals to magic. This is just another instance of tape-loop apologetics. Round and round in a circle we go. And meanwhile, as is typically the case with Christianity's defenders, what the apologist calls "divine revelation" is indistinguishable from simply and uncritically accepting what is written in an ancient storybook. And to rationalize this, Bahnsen concocts an epistemology of negation, telling us how his claims are not validated, and remaining silent on how they could be validated.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Bahnsen on "Knowing the Supernatural" Part 8: "Ultimate Questions"

Continued from Part 7.

"Ultimate Questions"

Bahnsen titled the next paragraph of his chapter “Ultimate Questions,” but yet he does not ask one question anywhere in it:

So then, "metaphysics" studies such questions or issues as the nature of existence, the sorts of things that exist, the classes of existent things, limits of possibility, the ultimate scheme of things, reality versus appearance, and the comprehensive conceptual framework used to make sense of the world as a whole. It is not hard to understand, then, how the term "metaphysics" has come to connote the study of that which is "beyond the physical realm."" Simple eyeball inspection of isolated and particular situations in the physical world cannot answer metaphysical questions like those just enumerated. An individual's limited personal experience cannot warrant a comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be. Empirical experience merely gives us an appearance of things; empirical experience cannot in itself correct illusions or get us beyond appearance to any world or realm of reality lying beyond. Nor can it determine the limits of the possible. A particular experience of the physical world does not deal with the world as whole. Nor does the nature of existence manifest itself in simple sense perception of any physical object or set of them. (Always Ready, p. 181)

Some clarification is in order here before proceeding any further. He says that “’metaphysics’ studies such questions or issues as the nature of existence, the sorts of things that exist,” etc., but earlier he seemed to mean specifically “supernatural” things when using the term “metaphysics.” It is doubtful that even Bahnsen held that only supernatural things exist. So at best, on the understanding of ‘metaphysics’ that he gives here, it would include but not be limited to study of “the supernatural.” Presumably, since natural things exist, if ‘metaphysics’ studies “the nature of existence, the sorts of things that exist,” the field of metaphysics would at minimum entail the study of natural things. So unless it is already assumed that “the supernatural” is real and not imaginary, a person using the term ‘metaphysics’ would not necessarily have “the supernatural” in mind, especially if he did not subscribe to any form of supernaturalism. Contrary to what Bahnsen’s earlier statements have indicated, then, one can be “anti-supernatural” without being “anti-metaphysical.”

But Bahnsen might have differed with this analysis, for he says that “it is not hard to understand... how the term ‘metaphysics’ has come to connote the study of that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’.” By constraining metaphysics to include “that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’,” Bahnsen implies that metaphysics would have no interest in studying that which is found within “the physical realm” unless “the supernatural” were taken seriously and granted primacy over it. But I see no reason why we should accept this. What exactly is the difference between something that is admittedly natural or physical and that which is “supernatural” or “beyond the physical realm”? Distinctions like this are obviously assumed by Bahnsen, but he nowhere pinpoints them. Consequently any distinction between “the supernatural” and “the physical realm” remains unexpressed, vague, approximate. Perhaps we’re supposed to “just know” how they are distinguished, as if it were a secret we’re not supposed to put into actual words.

Bahnsen seems to think that “’metaphysics’ has come to connote the study of that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’” because, according to him, it also studies the “limits of possibility, the ultimate scheme of things, reality versus appearance, and the comprehensive conceptual framework used to make sense of the world as a whole.” Even if we accept this, it is still not clear why a “supernatural” realm needs to be posited in distinction to “the physical realm.” If metaphysics is devoted to the study of what is real, and “the physical realm” is real, then certainly we should not expect metaphysics to ignore that which is within “the physical realm.” But on Bahnsen’s view, “the physical realm” is, for reasons he does not clearly state, at best relegated to a secondary position and subordinated to a realm which he calls “supernatural” if not shoved aside altogether. The result is that, if metaphysics is “the study of that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’,” it becomes troublesomely unclear why it would have any importance for beings which exist in “the physical realm.” We are physical beings (those who doubt this can verify it by taking a physical knife to their physical skin) and we live in a physical world. We value physical things (e.g., food, water, shelter, clothing, shoes, beds, television sets, CDs, computers, cars, other human beings, etc.), and we obtain them through physical means (action, effort, work, money, trade, etc.). A worldview whose metaphysics focuses on “that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’” seems to abandon man along with “the physical realm” that it seeks to ignore. What could possibly justify this?

Perhaps Bahnsen thinks that metaphysics studies “that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’” because the form in which our knowledge of metaphysical truths and principles is not itself physical. After all, a “comprehensive conceptual scheme,” which Bahnsen lists among the things which metaphysics studies, is not something we put in our pocket or contain in a jar. But this would be most naïve as it would indicate a dismally primitive understanding of man’s mind and the process by which he forms concepts. Indeed, Bahnsen makes mention of a “comprehensive conceptual scheme,” but his biblical worldview provides no native theory of concepts. Concepts do not represent a supernatural dimension; on the contrary, the mind’s ability to form concepts is as natural as its ability to perceive physical objects. But for Bahnsen, the conceptual realm somehow implies a supernatural realm, apparently because the conceptual is not a physical object that can be studied in a chemistry lab.

One of the most important relationships which a serious metaphysics should study, but which Bahnsen nowhere lists among those things which metaphysics – on his understanding – studies, is the relationship between consciousness and its objects. An objective worldview is one in which the object of consciousness is understood to hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of consciousness. On this view, for example, an object is what it is no matter what the subject wishes it to be. This is the proper orientation between a subject and its objects. A subjective worldview is one which allows the subject to hold – either always (in the case of a privileged subject) or at least occasionally (when such bestowals are distributed) – metaphysical primacy over its objects. On this view, there exists at least one subject which has the power to wish its objects into anything it prefers them to be. This power is often called “authority” or “sovereignty,” as in the case of Bahnsen’s god. The subjective view thus constitutes a reversal of the objective view, for it trades on reversing the proper orientation between a subject and its objects.

Inherent in Bahnsen’s habit of conflating metaphysics with supernaturalism is the reversal of the relationship between the subject of consciousness and its objects. Note that, in addition to studying “such questions or issues as the nature of existence, the sorts of things that exist, the classes of existent things” and other matters, metaphysics is also the branch in which the relationship between consciousness and its objects is first encountered. The object of study in metaphysics is reality, and the awareness that there is a reality requires a means of awareness. The issue of metaphysical primacy asks whether reality exists independent of consciousness, or whether it conforms to consciousness. This is the most fundamental issue in all philosophy, for however one answers it, defines the rest of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, etc. Unfortunately, Bahnsen expresses no concern for understanding this fundamental relationship. Whatever observations, inferences, conclusions or verdicts one reaches in metaphysics, they are by means of consciousness about some object of consciousness. Thus the question of the relationship between consciousness and its objects is inescapable.

The closest Bahnsen comes to the issue of metaphysical primacy is “reality versus appearance.” But he does not bring this issue up because there is an actual problem here, or because he has an actual solution to the supposed problem. Rather, Bahnsen brings it up in order to sow doubt in the mind of the reader about the efficacy of his own mind, for he nowhere explains how appearance is different from reality, nor does he explain how any difference between how reality appears and how reality actually is can be overcome. He interjects this dichotomy for the express purpose of posing a conflict between man’s mind and the world he perceives. In actuality, the problem is between Bahnsen’s worldview and the world in which we exist.

On an objective theory of perception, there is no insidious conflict between appearance and reality whatsoever. Appearance is merely the form in which we are visually aware of something. In any instance of awareness, there is the object of which we are aware (the what of awareness) and the form in which we are aware of it (the how of awareness). When we perceive an object, we are perceiving that object. Kelley explains:

Consciousness is not metaphysically active. It no more creates its own contents than does the stomach. But it is active epistemologically in processing those contents. What we are aware of is defined by reality – there is nothing else to be aware of – but how we are aware of it is determined by our means of awareness. How could there be any conflict between these two facts?... Metaphysically, our cognitive faculties determine the manner in which we grasp reality, but it is reality we grasp. In perception, the way objects appear to us is partly determined by our perceptual apparatus...; but the objects themselves appear, the objects themselves we are aware of by means of their appearances. (The Evidence of the Senses, p. 41)

When we perceive an object, we have awareness of that object. We do not “perceive appearances” – that would be a stolen concept. Rather, we perceive objects in the form dictated by the nature of our awareness and the objects we are perceiving. But what we are perceiving all along are the objects themselves. And since our consciousness is real, the form in which we perceive something is just as real as the object that we are perceiving. Understanding what distinguishes them from one another allows us to recognize that there really is no conflict here at all. But the “reality versus appearance” dichotomy is still likely to hold sway with the defender of supernaturalism, not because he really thinks there is a conflict between his means of perceiving a turn in the road, a tree, or a stop sign, and the turn, the tree or the stop sign itself, but because has accepted a false model of consciousness to begin with, and this false model of consciousness is vital to his god-beliefs.

Again, the topic of Bahnsen’s chapter is “The Problem of Knowing the ‘Super-Natural’.” In knowing anything, there is, as Kelley reminds us, the what of which we are aware, and the how by which we are aware of it. For Bahnsen to gain any credibility in his endorsement of supernatural claims, he would at minimum have to enlighten us on both of these concerns. Remember that on the jacket of Always Ready, Douglas Wilson hails Bahnsen’s mind as “nothing if not precise.” What precisely does the term “supernatural” denote? How precisely does Bahnsen have awareness of it? At every turn, Bahnsen resists addressing both questions with any specificity, even though they are fundamental to any claim to knowledge of “the supernatural.”

Bahnsen goes on to tell us that “simple eyeball inspection of isolated and particular situations in the physical world cannot answer metaphysical questions like those just enumerated.” In other words, he is saying, perceptual observation “cannot” address such issues as “the nature of existence, the sorts of things that exist, the classes of existent things, limits of possibility, the ultimate scheme of things, reality versus appearance, and the comprehensive framework used to make sense of the world as a whole.” Bahnsen’s reason for stating this is clear enough: “An individual’s limited personal experience cannot warrant a comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be.” This can only mean that Bahnsen is taking omniscience as a minimum necessary condition for answering the metaphysical questions he mentions and forming “the comprehensive framework used to make sense of the world as a whole.” To possess answers to the issues he lists, one would presumably need “unlimited personal experience” and something more than “simple eyeball inspection of isolated and particular situations in the physical world.” On this view, in order to have “a comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be,” he would presumably need to have exhaustive knowledge of “every sort of existent there may be.” So on Bahnsen’s own standard, unless he himself was omniscient, he didn’t have any answers to these questions. Bahnsen would likely reject this conclusion for he holds in his back pocket a substitute consciousness which allegedly possesses the omniscience his standard requires. Thus we have an epistemology of vicariousness: the believer himself confesses that his own mind, allegedly created by a perfect, infallible and omnipotent creator, is basically worthless when it comes to supplying “the comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be” which metaphysics is intended to deliver, but this does not matter for he has access (by means he does not identify) to a consciousness which is supernatural (which he does not precisely define in positive terms) and which has all the answers already. It’s the standard “I may not know, but my god knows” position in philosophy.

Bahnsen is on record repeatedly claiming that the Christian worldview is the precondition to intelligibility of human experience. This is one of his fundamental debating points, a claim which is couched in the context of epistemological vicariousness described above. Naturally we would not expect Bahnsen to confess that he himself lacks “the comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be.” And although he would likely claim to possess such a framework, he would likely admit readily that he himself does not have direct awareness of “every sort of existent there may be.” He does not need such awareness, for all he needs to do is stipulate that “every sort of existent there may be” was created by his god. Since his god is omniscient and created every existent distinct from itself, it necessarily has exhaustive knowledge of “every sort of existent there may be,” and that exhaustive knowledge is the master “comprehensive framework” in which “every sort of existent there may be” finds its proper orderly place. So on this view, Bahnsen himself does not have the requisite exhaustive knowledge needed to inform “the comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be” which is allegedly the precondition to the intelligibility of human experience, but he claims his god has this knowledge. How could he know this? Well, that question comes under the topic of his present chapter: “The Problem of Knowing the ‘Super-Natural’.” So again, the what and the how of this alleged cognition are what Bahnsen needs to address, but so far he’s not addressed either in the slightest.

All throughout, Bahnsen seems to be denigrating the role of sense experience in developing the “comprehensive framework” that metaphysics is supposed to deliver. Indeed, if Bahnsen thinks that this “comprehensive framework” is pre-packaged by an omniscient deity in the first place and somehow deposited into select human minds (such as Bahnsen’s own), then talk of “developing” this comprehensive framework from some fundamental starting point is anathema to Bahnsen’s position. Since Bahnsen’s “limited personal experience cannot warrant” this “comprehensive framework” any better than anyone else’s experience can, he wouldn’t know where to begin if he had to assemble it on his own. He’s so familiar with it and his own mental abilities that he doesn’t know how he or any other human being could build such a contrivance.

But whatever the case may be, Bahnsen is sure that one cannot develop such a “comprehensive framework” from the “limited personal experience” man has in the world. No experience that man can have will ever be enough for Bahnsen. The senses are inappropriate anyway, because whatever divine agency created them, in all its otherworldly brilliance, saw to it that they merely give us awareness of appearances, not of reality proper. As Bahnsen puts it, “Empirical experience merely gives us an appearance of things; empirical experience cannot in itself correct illusions or get us beyond appearance to any world or realm of reality lying beyond.” Bahnsen happily tells us that “the Bible distinguishes appearance from reality,” perhaps in order to nag his readers without going into any detail. At any rate, all this means that empirical experience could not be the means by which Bahnsen acquires awareness of “the supernatural.” Again, Bahnsen only tells us how he does not know what he calls “the supernatural”; he does not explain how he could know what he claims to know. He constantly keeps this issue conveniently and safely out of sight.

Bahnsen avoids disclosing his position on what role empirical experience does play in acquiring knowledge. Does sense experience for Bahnsen play no role in acquiring any of the knowledge which ultimately informs the “comprehensive framework” by which we make sense of the world? Bahnsen does not confront this question, but from what he does say one can easily get the impression that, on his view, the senses (“empirical experience”) play no role of any significance. Sense experience is limited, and what we presumably need is unlimited experience. Also, “empirical experience merely gives us an appearance of things,” which suggests that the senses cannot give us direct awareness of reality itself, or anything “beyond the physical realm.” “Appearance” is a kind of distorting filter through which we can only “see... darkly” (cf. I Cor. 13:12). Bahnsen never questions his supposition that there is a “beyond” to begin with, for he assumes that there is such a place, even though he nowhere explains how he or anyone else could know this. And in spite of this failing, rejecting “supernatural” claims is always unwarranted and indicates an unjustifiable bias. Go figure. And since for Bahnsen there is a difference – indeed, a conflict – between appearance and reality – a conflict Bahnsen nowhere explains how one could resolve – sense experience could only deceive or at best lead us off track. Man’s cognitive inabilities are no doubt a testament to the infinite wisdom of his creator.

So two assumptions are vital to Bahnsen’s discounting of sense experience, at least to the extent that he wants to marginalize any cognitive role they may play in providing man with the “comprehensive framework” he needs for making sense of the world in which he exists. They are:

- sense experience is limited (and our “comprehensive framework” must have
“unlimited” experience)

- sense experience leads to the “reality-versus-appearance” conflict (and sense experience is unable to resolve it)

Bahnsen apparently has both angles covered. Even if one wants to argue that man can assemble a “comprehensive framework” suitable for making sense of the world in which he exists on the basis of the limited experience that his senses provide, Bahnsen can hit him with the “reality-versus-appearance” conflict. And if one wants to argue that the distinction between reality and appearances do not in fact prohibit the senses from providing him with the “comprehensive framework” he needs to make sense of the world in which he exists, Bahnsen can hit him with the “sense experience is limited” objection.

Unfortunately, throughout all this, Bahnsen ignores two important factors:

- the need to identify some alternative means of awareness to supply the inputs needed for objective knowledge of reality (since sense experience has been discounted)

- the nature and role of concepts which inform that knowledge

If we throw out sense experience, or even neutralize its epistemological significance, we need an alternative mode of awareness in order to acquire the knowledge which informs the “comprehensive framework” by which we make sense of the world in which we exist. It will not do to say that we have knowledge of X but no mode by which we could be aware of X or of the stepping stones needed to infer X. Bahnsen hastens to discount sense experience, but does not identify an alternative mode of awareness. He wants to discount the senses in part because they allegedly only give us “appearances,” not reality as such. But if appearance is simply the form which our awareness of objects takes, then there really is no conflict here, since both the object we perceive and the form in which we perceive it have identity and are factual, i.e., objective. Once we grasp this fact, we have what we need for avoiding the conflict that Bahnsen might charge on account of the “reality versus appearance” dichotomy.

The other reason he wants to discount the senses is because they only give us limited awareness. But what could possibly be an alternative to limited experience? Unlimited experience? Why suppose such a thing is either possible or achievable? Why suppose such a notion is actually meaningful? What would “unlimited experience” be like? We can put the words “unlimited” and “experience” together, just as we can put the words “square” and “circle” together. But together are they really meaningful? Indeed, it seems that once we have called something “experience,” it is limited to what is meant by the concept ‘experience’. Since to exist is to be something specific, since A is limited to itself, the claim that “unlimited experience” is either possible or real seems quite incoherent. If Bahnsen wants to argue that “limited experience” is insufficient, and his preferred alternative is supposed to be “unlimited experience,” then he needs to explain what he means by it before it can be seriously entertained. Otherwise, it seems that he is straining to manufacture points against the efficacy of the human mind, something which he wants to claim his perfect creator-deity created. Quickly it appears we will find ourselves in the quicksand of a Kantian gimmick if we follow Bahnsen on his wild goose chase.

Meanwhile, we should ask: What is so insufficient about “limited experience”? When I see a tree, my experience is limited to what I experience. But if I see a tree in my experience, I still see a tree. I still have awareness of an object. Indeed, I do not need awareness of all trees in the universe and across eternity to have awareness of the one tree before me. It is a fact that I am seeing something. Perhaps at this point Bahnsen would like to raise the “reality-versus-appearance” objection. “How do you know what you’re seeing is a tree?” So now I am supposed to have a mind sufficiently sophisticated to produce all kinds of reasoning to prove that what I see is actually a tree, and yet I am supposed to buy into the premise that my senses are so deceptive that I might not actually be seeing a tree. And really, what argument would Bahnsen accept at this point? Perhaps Bahnsen would be satisfied if I were to say something like, “I am absolutely certain that what I perceive before me is a tree because the triune God of Christianity has guaranteed that He will not lie to me, that as creator of my empirical apparatus He will not allow me to be so misled.” This is nothing more than the invisible magic being defense: it does not deal with the issue whatsoever, and only lays a new, completely arbitrary burden on the load of burdens Bahnsen would have us accept on our way to adopting such confessions.

Now, the conventional attack against the senses has often been the charge that knowledge has universal scope while the senses do not provide universal awareness. Therefore the leap from awareness of particulars to universally binding knowledge is unwarranted, unjustified, arbitrary, subjective, or any other denigrating adjective the haters of man’s mind want to apply to it. Perception on this view could hardly serve as a suitable tie between knowledge and reality. This is Bahnsen’s (unargued) assertion that “empirical experience merely gives us an appearance of things.” Couple this with the supposition that the senses distort the objects we perceive, and we have Bahnsen’s two-fold attack against empiricism in a nutshell. Keep in mind that, all the while, we as readers of Bahnsen’s writing are expected to follow the arguments of this “precise” and “brilliant scholar,” even though our faculties are too incompetent to distinguish between the reality of what he has written and he may merely appear to have written.

Of course, attacks like this only tell us that the attacker does not understand how concepts are formed in the first place. Universality is a property of concepts; it is not a property we should expect to find in perception. Even more importantly, neither “unlimited experience” nor omniscience is a precondition for the universal scope of conceptual reference. Concepts are how the human mind expands its awareness beyond the immediate inputs provided by sense perception. The content of concepts is based ultimately on what we perceive, but it is not limited to only those units which we have encountered personally. In fact, if the Objectivist account of concepts is true, then there is no problem in supposing that we can acquire knowledge having universal scope on the basis of “limited personal experience.” On the Objectivist account, concepts can be formed by integrating as few as only two units which are similar in some way. All objective units have the minimal similarity in the fact that they exist. (Incidentally, these points blow Van Til’s “One-Many” argument out of the water.) If we are able to form concepts – i.e., open-ended classes which are universal in their scope of reference – on the basis of only two (or more) units, then “limited personal experience” is no hindrance to developing a “comprehensive framework used to make sense of the world as a whole.” If “an individual’s limited personal experience” incorporates the Objectivist account of concepts, he has all the “warrant” he needs for informing the “comprehensive framework” he needs to make sense of the world and his existence within it. And if we have such a “comprehensive framework” along with the “warrant” we need for whatever reason to have it, then we have what we need to “correct illusions.” This is one of the functions of reason: to correct misidentifications. But what reason will not do is take us from this world to another world contradicting it. The only thing that can do this is the imagination, and its product is fantasy, not knowledge. And it is against these – fantasy and imagination – that Bahnsen fails to distinguish his god and whatever else he claims exists “beyond the physical realm.”

Now internal to Christianity, Bahnsen’s attempts to discredit empirical experience are not without their consequences. If empirical experience is insufficient to get us from the world of appearances to some realm that exists “beyond the physical realm,” then what are we to make of Romans 1:20? This passage, beloved by many Reformed apologists, states the following:

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

Now it has always struck me as odd to say that “invisible things... are clearly seen.” If they are seen at all, whether clearly or obscurely, one can hardly call them “invisible.” At any rate, if the mode of awareness indicated here by the phrase “clearly seen” is taken to be a type of empirical experience (e.g., eyesight), then what are we to say of the distinction between appearance and reality, which Bahnsen himself says the bible acknowledges? If there is a distinction between appearance and reality, then there very well may be a distinction between what appears to be “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world” and the world as it really is. Bahnsen would no doubt want to immunize the bible’s own statements from the objections he wants to raise against man’s perceptual faculties.

As for the “limits of possibility,” this actually belongs to the branch of epistemology, since possibility is epistemological, and what we determine to be possible depends on our understanding of what is actual rather than the other way around. Indeed, it is in the context of a “comprehensive conceptual framework used to make sense of the world as a whole” that we are able to rationally assess the possibility of any proposals.

And though for some thinkers “the term ‘metaphysics’ has come to connote the study of that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’,” this is misleading. It is not as if metaphysics as a field of study were happy to ignore “the physical realm”; however many thinkers may in fact feel intimidated by physical realities which do not conform to their preferences, and thus retreat into an imaginary realm where anything goes. If one is serious about studying “that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’,” he would at minimum need to identify the means by which he acquires awareness of “that which is ‘beyond the physical realm’,” if anything in fact exists “beyond the physical realm.”

Bahnsen writes:

Simple eyeball inspection of isolated and particular situations in the physical world cannot answer metaphysical questions like those just enumerated. An individual’s limited personal experience cannot warrant a comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be. (Always Ready, p. 181)

Again, there goes Romans 1:20.

If “a comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be” does not come from “an individual’s limited personal experience,” then where does it come from? Is it magically installed into our minds? Is it then infallible? What if mine disagrees with someone else’s? Is the “comprehensive framework” that Bahnsen has in mind conceptual or something other than conceptual? If it is conceptual, what is Bahnsen’s account of concepts? If it is something other than conceptual, how can Bahnsen claim to know it? Blank out.

The task of statements like the one Bahnsen gives above, is to discount the role and relevance of one’s own firsthand perception of the world in developing “a comprehensive framework.” Essentially, Bahnsen’s reasoning is: ‘Since one’s own firsthand awareness is not awareness of everything (i.e., since one is not omniscient to begin with), he cannot formulate his own “comprehensive framework”.’ If man’s consciousness were bound to the perceptual level of consciousness (i.e., if it had no recourse to the conceptual level), there might be some argument for this; though as an argument for skepticism, it would still have its work cut out for itself. However, since man has the ability to form concepts on the basis of what he perceives, Bahnsen’s argument is not only fallacious, it’s downright naïve, especially coming from someone sporting a philosophy degree. At the very least, such statements betray a glaring ignorance of concepts, how they are formed and how they expand our awareness beyond the perceptual level of consciousness.

It needs to be pointed out that we demonstrate the ability of concepts to expand our awareness beyond our perceptual limitations whenever we talk about great distances, for example, in terms of units that reduce to the perceptual level. Applying arithmetic operations to units of measurement is one means by which we expand our awareness beyond what we perceive at any given moment.

Sadly, Bahnsen himself probably did not even realize how profoundly he was undercutting his own case by slipping his own head through the noose he had just fashioned, for after all, he was operating on the basis of a Dark Ages worldview.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bahnsen on "Knowing the Supernatural" Part 7: "Distinguishing Appearance from Reality"

Continued from Part 6.

"Distinguishing Appearance from Reality"

In this brief section of his chapter "The Problem of Knowing the 'Super-Natural'," Bahnsen makes the following claims:

Therefore, the Bible distinguishes appearance from reality, and it provides an ultimate conceptual framework that makes sense of the world as whole. The Biblical metaphysic affects our outlook and conclusions regarding every field of study or endeavor, and it serves as the only foundation for all disciplines from science to ethics (Prov. 1:7; Matt. 7:24-27). (Always Ready, p. 181)

This is a rather quizzical statement. Where exactly does the bible "distinguish appearance from reality"? What does it say in this regard? And what exactly is the distinction between appearance and reality? Does the bible tell its readers how they can reliably distinguish between appearance and reality? Is Bahnsen saying that appearances are not real? If we trace it further, wouldn’t this amount to saying that consciousness is not real? On the same token, did Bahnsen fully understand that there is a distinction between what we imagine and what is real? If his followers claim that he did, where did he make this distinction explicit, and why didn’t he guide his worldview accordingly?

Bahnsen himself was fond of referring to the first chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In the first chapter, twentieth verse, the apostle writes:

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.

The verse already dumbfounds itself by tidily encapsulating an internal contradiction. For how can something that is invisible be “clearly seen”? But add to this unworkable conundrum Bahnsen’s statement that “the Bible distinguishes appearance from reality.” How well does this statement integrate with what we read in Romans 1:20? Could it be that the “invisible things” which appear to our seeing that the apostle wanted to take as evidence of the Christian god, are merely an appearance, and not reality? Supposing the presuppositionalist proposes a method by which appearance and reality can be reliably distinguished (not that he ever will), does Paul’s epistle offer any evidence that he applied that method in order to make sure that “the invisible things” he claims “are clearly seen,” are not merely a passing appearance, but in fact are real?

Bahnsen says that “the Bible... provides an ultimate conceptual framework that makes sense of the world as whole.” But how effectively can the bible do this when it doesn’t even have a theory of concepts, and its very foundation is built on stolen concepts? The bible clearly and incontrovertibly grants metaphysical primacy to consciousness, and yet the primacy of consciousness is false. How can one “make sense of the world as whole” when he views the world as a creation of consciousness? As a creation of consciousness, it is subject to whatever the ruling consciousness desires it to be at any given time. We can say “rocks do not sing,” but if we grant that there is a universe-creating, reality-ruling consciousness which “controls whatsoever comes to pass” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160), how could anyone be confident that “rocks do not sing”? Bahnsen himself asks, "He could even make the stones cry out, couldn't He?" (Always Ready, pp. 109-110) It is doubtful that he would have answered this question negatively. For all we know, the ruling consciousness could have an entire quarry of singing rocks chorusing its praises in the wilderness. The apologist has no epistemological jurisdiction here, for his own worldview’s foundations would undermine any claim to certainty on such basic things. At most he could only claim to be certain that he can never be certain (an "apparent contradiction"?), for the only prevailing standard would be absurdity as such, and nothing more.

So ironically, Bahnsen is correct when he says that “the Biblical metaphysic affects our outlook and conclusions regarding every field of study or endeavor.” Of course it would, if it is taken seriously as a truthful portrait of reality. But it does not follow from this that “it serves as the only foundation for all disciplines from science to ethics,” and it’s not unsurprising that Bahnsen gives no argument to support such a bizarre and untenable thesis.
by Dawson Bethrick

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bahnsen on "Knowing the Supernatural" Part 6: "The Christian Metaphysic"

Continued from Part 5.

"The Christian Metaphysic"

Bahnsen describes the globally encompassing nature of Christianity’s metaphysic:

The Christian faith comprises a metaphysical system on this account also. Scripture teaches that all things are of God, through God, and unto God (Rom. 11:36). We must think His thoughts after Him (Prov. 22:17-21; John 8:31-32). In this way we can understand and interpret the world as a whole. The Word of God gives us light (Ps. 119:130), and Christ Himself is the life-giving light of men (John 1:4), in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). Hence we can discern the true nature of reality in terms of Christ's word: in Thy light we see light (Ps. 36:9). (Always Ready, p. 180)

We already saw in the last installment that Bahnsen will try to disqualify one’s own “limited personal experience” as the means by which a comprehensive metaphysical framework could be developed. And when I read statements like the above, it is clear to me that Bahnsen has adopted a metaphysic which has nothing at all to do with one’s firsthand experiences, save for his emotions. And the only way that the above could relate to one’s own experiences is through his imagination. One can certainly imagine that there is a god, that it created everything, that “all things are of God, through God, and unto God” (including all the evil and suffering in the world), that this god “is the life-giving light of men” and that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are “hid” in this god somehow. But imagination is not the basis of an objective metaphysic, and to suggest that its inventions can substitute as a metaphysic is pretense.

Bahnsen speaks of Christ as a “life-giving light,” a metaphor which allegorically plays to the senses (specifically vision). This “light” is presumably not the same thing that we find in nature, such as from the sun or fire, or from artificial sources, such as incandescent light bulbs. The “life-giving light of men” could not be either natural or artificial, for this would undercut the appeal to supernaturalism. But how are we to make sense of such notions when they are couched in terms which only make sense on the basis of sense experience, and yet are supposed to refer to things that are inaccessible to the senses, if not by retreating to the imaginary? Nevertheless, even though he still has not shown how one can have awareness of “the supernatural” or distinguish what he calls “the supernatural” from mere imagination, or how one can "know" what he calls "the supernatural" by means other than imagination, Bahnsen makes it clear that “the supernatural” is of central importance to his worldview’s metaphysical thesis. The natural, on his view, depends on the supernatural. The supernatural created and governs over the natural. This again suggests the involvement of one’s imagination. One can look at anything in nature and imagine a supernatural force behind it propping it up, “explaining” it in some way, “accounting for” it, etc. What metaphysical view requires that the natural be explained by an appeal to the supernatural, if not one which grants metaphysical primacy to consciousness? Indeed, does Bahnsen anywhere show how his views can be reconciled to the metaphysical primacy of existence? Not at all.

Bahnsen thinks the key to understanding and interpreting the world as a whole is not found in conceptualizing that material provided by perception (i.e., the process of reason), but by thinking the thoughts of the Christian god after it. Again, if what one imagines is one’s standard, what would keep one from supposing that any thoughts he thinks are the thoughts of an infallible invisible magic being? And if one supposes that one’s own thoughts are the thoughts of an infallible being, then he is naturally conferring infallibility to his own thoughts. This of course could be tested. It would not be very convincing to claim that one’s thoughts are thoughts one thinks after his infallible god, only to have those thoughts turn out to be just as fallible as anyone else’s thoughts. Someone claiming to think his god thoughts after it can easily be interrogated to see just how well his thinking holds up. A proper test would not include questions whose answers could easily be sought beforehand, such as “In what year was construction on the Empire State Building completed?” Rather, we could ask, for instance, what the product of 32,815.48 times 0.0912 plus 4116.87 times 28.813 is. If his answer does not match what a calculator gives us, should we assume that the calculator is wrong?

Though the presuppositionalist may be confessionally motivated not to admit it, the fact is that the believer is stuck with non-believers on this point. We think our own thoughts, and pretending otherwise does not produce a method by which “we can understand and interpret the world as a whole.” Such pretense is an attempt to fake reality, and no value can come from it. An attempt to fake reality surrenders thought to the arbitrary, such that no legitimate thinking can be claimed at that point. It constitutes an evasion in the guise of a “pious truth.”

Bahnsen further elaborates the "Christian metaphysic":

The Bible sets forth a definite metaphysical scheme. It begins with God who is a personal, infinitely perfect, pure spirit (Ex. 15:11; Mal. 2:10; John 4:24). The triune God (2 Cor. 13:14) is unique in His nature and works (Ps. 86:9), self-existent (Ex. 3:14; John 5:26; Gal. 4:8-9), eternal (Ps. 90:2), immutable (Mal. 3:6), and omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-10). Everything else that exists has been created out of nothing (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 11:3), whether the material world (Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11), the realm of spirits (Ps. 148:2, 5), or man. (Always Ready, p. 180)

One can easily claim that “the Bible sets forth a definite metaphysical scheme,” but one could just as easily make the same claim in regard to the tales of Tolkien, Baum, Lucas, Rowling, and other story-writers. It could also be said about the sacred texts of non-Christian religions. The bible has a god which “is a personal, infinitely perfect, pure spirit,” while the worlds of Rowling, Tolkien and Baum are populated by warlocks and witches, and the outcomes in the ancient and distant galaxies of Star Wars are determined by an everpresent, omniscient and omnipotent cosmic power called “the Force.” Modern mysticism shares the same fundamentals with the mysticism of the ancients. Boiled down to their implications for the subject-object relationship, storylines like those found in the bible are essentially no different from those by modern fantasy writers in that their mystical dabbling is inspired by the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. The common denominator joining each into one is the directive and regulating role of the imagination.

At root, Bahnsen’s metaphysic thus shares with other versions of fantasy the same orientation between subject and object, both in content and in method. The content of such stories grants, to one degree or another, metaphysical primacy to a conscious power, and the method involved in informing such stories is governed by the imagination (cf. “whatever surpasses the limits of nature”).

Bahnsen outlines the Christian metaphysic as it pertains to man as follows:

Man was created as the image of God (Gen. 1:27), a being who exhibits both a material and immaterial character (Matt. 10:28), surviving bodily death (Eccl. 12:7; Rom. 2:7) with personal awareness of God (2 Cor. 5:8), and awaiting bodily resurrection(I Cor. 6:14; 15:42-44). (Always Ready, p. 180)

Here Bahnsen affirms the standard biblical view that “man was created in the image of God,” and yet this is a most puzzling doctrinal affirmation given what we know of man and what Christianity claims about its god. Man, for instance, is physical, biological, mortal, corruptible, destructible, imperfect, neither omniscient nor infallible, given to his passions, prone to making mistakes and capable of moral improprieties. On the other hand, however, the Christian god is said to be non-physical, non-biological, immortal, incorruptible, indestructible, perfect, omniscient, infallible, imperturbable, unerring and incapable of moral improprieties. Man faces a fundamental alternative, namely life versus death, and has needs that he must meet in order to continue existing, while the Christian god does not face any such fundamental alternative (it is supposed to be immortal, eternal and indestructible). In the language of analytic philosophy, the Christian god is said to be “necessary,” while man is supposed to be “contingent.” And while we are supposed to accept the claim that the Christian god is a perfect creator, it is hard to see how one could sustain this view given the imperfections, not only in men, but also in the world, which is constantly undergoing change. Wouldn’t the product of a creator that is perfect also be perfect? So in what way is man “created as the image of God”? It could not be man’s rational nature, for rationality assumes non-omniscience. Rationality is the commitment to reason as one’s only means of knowledge and his only guide to action. An omniscient and infallible mind would have no need for any means of knowledge, for it would already possess all knowledge infallibly. So a means of knowledge could only imply a starting point of non-omniscience and an ability to error, and the Christian god is said not to have either of these conditions. Also, rationality is a conceptual faculty, and as I have already shown, an omniscient mind would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts, such as man does.

Bahnsen says that man is “a being who exhibits both a material and immaterial character.” But what exactly could this mean? How does man “exhibit” a character in this sense? Objectivism views man as an integrated being of both matter and consciousness. The axiom of consciousness is affirmed by Objectivism at its foundations. But above we saw Bahnsen affirm that the believer “must respond to the onslaught of the unbeliever by attacking the unbeliever’s position at its foundations.” This could only mean that as a Christian he must find the axiom of consciousness objectionable for some reason - namely because a non-believer has affirmed it. So he is committed to rejecting it, even though such rejection involves an act of consciousness. Frequently apologists seem to have some aspect of consciousness in mind whenever they speak of things “immaterial,” such as “spirits.” But if consciousness is rejected as a matter of apologetic principle, then it would be inconsistent to turn around and affirm consciousness in Christianity’s doctrines. Bahnsen needs to make up his mind, and live with the results.

Also, Bahnsen mentions a “personal awareness of God,” presumably something the believer is supposed to have. In mentioning it, Bahnsen acknowledges that it is an issue, that awareness of the supernatural deity central to Christianity is something the believer allegedly possesses. But Bahnsen nowhere identifies the means by which the believer is supposed to have such awareness. To be aware of the Christian god, for instance, does the believer look outward, or does he look inward? What options are available, besides the senses, if this awareness is supposedly had by looking outward? Bahnsen does not say. If the believer acquires awareness of the Christian god by looking inward, then the question of how one distinguishes between what one calls the Christian god and what he may merely be imagining becomes a central concern.

Bahnsen also makes mention of the notion of an afterlife as part and parcel of his worldview’s metaphysical view of man. Here, as with many other doctrinal affirmations, Bahnsen radically departs from science and affirms Christianity’s view of man on what could only be a storybook basis. Of course, anyone can imagine that man has a soul which survives his “bodily death” and floats like a vapor up to a magic kingdom somewhere beyond the cosmos. But again, imagination is not reality. I have pointed out before that the cross is a most fitting symbol of death, which makes it the ideal symbol for the Christian worldview. The Christian view of man was eloquently summarized by Ayn Rand as follows:

They have taught man that he is a hopeless misfit made of two elements, both symbols of death. A body without a soul is a corpse, a soul without a body is a ghost – yet such is their image of man’s nature: the battleground of a struggle between the corpse and a ghost, a corpse endowed with some evil volition of its own and a ghost endowed with the knowledge that everything known to man is non-existent, that only the unknowable exists. (For the New Intellectual, p. 138)

Rather than viewing man as an integrated being, religion wants to disintegrate man by tearing him asunder. His “flesh” is that necessary evil that the Christian god, in its self-immolating mercy (which we are supposed to believe temporarily squelched its jealousy and wrath), took on as it allowed itself to be gestated, birthed, raised, spat upon, praised, worshipped, flogged, crucified and resurrected. In reptilian manner the flesh was shed and the soul was set free from its constraints. The grave now held a promise not achievable while still residing in flesh, and morticians could finally serve as gatekeepers to a further installment of the Christian fantasy: eternity in an imaginary realm populated by imaginary beings, where “the chosen” live happily ever after.

Bahnsen goes on with his description of the Christian metaphysic:

In creation God made all things according to His unsearchable wisdom (Ps. 104:24; Isa. 40:28), assigning all things their definite characters (Isa. 40:26; 46:9-10). God also determines all things by His wisdom (Eph. 1:11) - preserving (Neh. 9:6), governing (Ps. 103:19), and predetermining the nature and course of all things, thus being able to work miracles (Ps. 72:18). The decree by which God providentially ordains historical events is eternal, effectual, unconditional, unchangeable, and comprehensive (e.g., Isa. 46:10; Acts 2:23; Eph. 3:9-11). (Always Ready, p. 180)

This statement resoundingly confirms the Objectivist analysis of religious thought, specifically the conclusion that the religious view of the world reduces to the primacy of consciousness metaphysics (i.e., subjectivism). Notice how consistently the primacy of consciousness is assumed in the points which Bahnsen emphasizes:

- "God made all things according to His unsearchable wisdom" - this puts "wisdom," which is a faculty of consciousness, prior to the "things" which were "created," and that includes "all things." On this view it is clear: existence is a result of prior conscious activity.

- "assigning all things their definite character" - this again puts conscious activity prior to the nature of any thing which could serve as a distinct object of that consciousness. On this view it is clear: identity is the result of prior conscious activity.

- "God also determines all things by His wisdom..., preserving..., governing..., and predetermining the nature and course of all things" - this means that whatever happens conforms to the intentions of a consciousness. On this view it is clear: whatever happens in the world is the result of prior conscious activity.

- "thus being able to work miracles" - this means that the ruling consciousness can revise the identity of any object at will. On this view it is clear: the universe is analogous to one very long and involved cartoon, where the cartoonist makes whatever it wants appear and be whatever it wants.

Bahnsen says that “the decree by which God providentially ordains historical events is eternal, effectual, unconditional, unchangeable and comprehensive.” Because it is “eternal” and “unchangeable,” it sounds like even god cannot change it, which seems to render it quite powerless before its own decrees. This would render its omnipotence utterly useless, for its unchangeable decree would lock it into whatever course has been decreed, resulting in an unending circle. So not only is the primacy of consciousness consistently affirmed in the Christian religion, the power which Christians attribute to their god is self-defeating anyway.

Apparently not concerned with these problems, Bahnsen goes on to say:

These truths are paradigmatic for the believer; they are ultimate principles of objective reality, to be distinguished from the delusions set forth in contrary views of the world. What the unbelieving world sees as wisdom is actually foolish (I Cor. 1:18-25). (Always Ready, p. 180)

It is through statements like these, which are thrown out in a “defend at all cost” manner, which amusingly paint the apologist into a most uncomfortable corner. It does so by conceding to his opponents precisely what the apologist wants to deny them. Now he is committed to calling whatever the non-believer may affirm “delusional,” by virtue of the fact that they are “set forth in contrary views of the world.” No matter what the non-believer affirms – even if they are undeniable truths – Bahnsen has already classed it as “actually foolish.” For instance, I see truth, knowledge, reason, values, rational self-interest, and individual rights as points of wisdom. So given what Bahnsen is telling us here, he thinks each of these things are “delusions” and "actually foolish."

In spite of this self-defeating approach, Bahnsen insists that everyone else is wrong:

Since the minds of the unbelieving are blinded (2 Cor. 4:4), they err according to the faith described above, thus having only a "knowledge falsely so-called" (I Tim. 6:20-21). (Always Ready, p. 180-181)

Sensing that he has no rational defense for his position - and yet unwilling to admit it, Bahnsen opts for an easy copout: everyone who doesn't agree with his position is "blinded." Accordingly, he's right, and anyone who does not believe what he claims, is cognitively defective. That takes care of that, right? Perhaps it helps to chase away doubts in the minds of those who are simply determined to affirm their religious programming at all costs, but only momentarily. Unfortunately for the apologist who takes this route, the doubts will of course continue to linger, and for good reason. It's certainly not an intellectual approach to these matters. (It calls to mind the image of a stubborn pre-teen who plugs up his ears and shuts his eyes tight while screaming "I'm right! You're wrong! I'm right! You're wrong!" over and over again to silence any unwanted input.)

Meanwhile, it is not likely that non-believers in general are going to be very moved by Bahnsen's charge of error when it comes to getting his faith-based confessions right; after all, they're non-believers, and they would be wise to consider the source. But again, Bahnsen commits himself to calling whatever a non-believer professes to know "false," even before he knows what it might be. It's hard to see how this could be considered at all responsible. For instance, I know that there is a reality. According to what Bahnsen affirms here, this is "knowledge falsely so-called," simply because I, a non-believer, am affirming it. Let Bahnsen have it his way. But that would amount to saying there is no reality. Why should we believe this? Because Bahnsen has no actual defense for his belief in “the supernatural” (he doesn’t even address the most basic questions when he sets out to pontificate on “The Problem of the ‘Super-Natural’”), he has little option but to take the low road.

Not that it can do his position any good, Bahnsen gives an example of what he means:

For instance, resting in the appearance of total regularity, an unbelieving metaphysic does not teach that Christ will come again to intervene in the cosmic process to judge men and determine their eternal destinies (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-7). (Always Ready, p. 181)

The non-believer who does not believe that "Christ will come again" is simply being consistent, then. By virtue of his non-belief, he does not adopt a worldview which does "teach that Christ will come again." He may not even believe that the Christ depicted in the New Testament actually came the first time around to begin with. But notice how Bahnsen's own characterization of the non-believer's consistency indicates that irregularity is key to holding the Christian view of the world. If "an unbelieving metaphysic" is thought to need to "rest on the appearance of total regularity" in order not to "teach that Christ will come again to intervene in the cosmic process to judge men," this suggests that belief that Christ will "come again" involves the supposition that regularity in the universe can be turned off and turned back on at will. Such supposition would only undercut any claim to certainty on anything at its very root.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bahnsen on "Knowing the Supernatural" Part 5: "A Comprehensive Metaphysic"

Continued from Part 4.

"A Comprehensive Metaphysic"

Bahnsen further explains the task of the philosophical branch of metaphysics:

"Metaphysics" can also be seen as an attempt to express the entire scheme of reality - of all existing things. The metaphysician must resolve conflicting accounts about the true nature of the world (over against mere appearances), and he does so in terms of an ultimate conceptual framework. Metaphysics tries to make sense of the world as a whole by articulating and applying a set of central, regulating, organizing, distinctive paradigms. These principles govern or guide the way in which a person interrelates and interprets the different parts of his life and experience. Everyone uses some such system of ultimate generalities about reality, evaluative criteria, and structuring relationships. We could not think or make sense of anything without some coherent view of the general nature and structure of reality. (Always Ready, p. 179)

Given these points that Bahnsen himself lists as those items which the branch of metaphysics should cover, it is tellingly curious that he does not even mention the subject-object relationship. Does reality exist independent of consciousness, or is it a creation of consciousness? Does consciousness perceive objects which exist independent of itself, or does consciousness create its own objects? Given what Bahnsen states here, you wouldn’t know what his answer to such questions might be. Since Bahnsen charges into philosophy with no clear understanding of the relationship between consciousness and its objects, it is no wonder that he nowhere provides any clue on how his readers might be able to distinguish between what he calls “supernatural” and what is imaginary. Wouldn’t such questions be topical to “an attempt to express the entire scheme of reality”? And if it is the metaphysician’s task to “resolve conflicting accounts about the true nature of the world,” how could he do this if he has no objective method by which to distinguish between fact and fiction, the real and the imaginary, the true and the untrue?

Bahnsen makes passing mention of “an ultimate conceptual framework.” But if it is the case, as Bahnsen will soon claim, that “[a]n individual's limited personal experience cannot warrant a comprehensive framework encompassing every sort of existent there may be” (p. 181), then upon what is this “ultimate conceptual framework” supposed to be based? Is it supposed to be based upon something outside his experience, something to which he has no epistemological access, or that contradicts one’s own personal experience, regardless of how limited or broad it may be? What Bahnsen’s theology fails to provide is precisely what an “ultimate conceptual framework” needs a working knowledge of, namely: a theory of concepts. We will see that, if concepts are to relate to the reality in which we live, they need to be formed on the basis of what we perceive in the world. Otherwise, they do not integrate things that exist in this world, but are informed instead by otherworldly content (such as what an individual might imagine), and such is of no use to man.

As for “mak[ing] sense of the world as a whole,” we do need a set of general principles which guide our thinking and allow us to discriminate between the real and the imaginary. By ‘principle’ I have in mind a general truth upon which other truths logically depend. But specifically what are these principles, how do we acquire them, how do we know they are true, and upon what are they based? For the Objectivist, those principles are informed by the axioms (existence, identity and consciousness) and the primacy of existence (the objects of consciousness exist independent of consciousness). These principles are atheistic because they expose the falsehood of god-belief. (See for instance my essay The Axioms and the Primacy of Existence.)

Bahnsen holds that Christians “must argue with those oppose the truth of God’s word” (Always Ready, p. 129), and tells the believer that he “must respond to the onslaught of the unbeliever by attacking the unbeliever’s position at its foundations.” (Ibid., p. 55) Bahnsen wants his believing readers to attack the principles upon which my worldview stands. But what exactly is wrong with those principles? Does he think they are wrong? On the contrary, to say they are wrong, he would have to assume their truth. So what principles does Bahnsen propose as suitable alternatives for the basis of “an ultimate conceptual framework”?

The relevance and importance of my questions are underscored by what Bahnsen himself states:

Instead of dealing with simply one distinguishable department of study or one limited area of human experience (e.g., biology, history, astronomy), metaphysics is comprehensive - concerned with, and relevant to, the whole world. For this reason one's metaphysical views will affect every other inquiry in which he engages, illumine a a wide range of subjects, and form the "first principles" for other intellectual disciplines. (Always Ready, pp. 179-180)

Bahnsen acknowledges that the truths established in the metaphysical branch of philosophy are “concerned with, and relevant to, the whole world.” They are not truths like “water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit,” or “Cornelius Van Til was born in the Netherlands,” or “an Italian sixth chord usually resolves into a chord on the dominant.” Metaphysics is concerned with truths that apply to all areas of human interest. Hence they will, as Bahnsen rightly points out, “affect every other inquiry in which [man] engages.” What could occupy such a fundamental role more comprehensively than the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness? And in what area of human interest does the object of consciousness not hold metaphysical primacy over the subject?

Now consider, if one adopts as his metaphysical principles ideas which contradict the axioms of Objectivism. Suppose one takes Bahnsen’s exhortations to reject this non-believer’s foundations seriously. He would have to argue on a basis which opposes the axioms. Accordingly, he would have to argue on the assumption that there is no existence, that there is no identity, that there is no consciousness. Further, he would have to assume that whatever exists (which he has already denied) must conform to consciousness. So in order to oppose Objectivism he would have to oppose himself. So again, it would be curious to know what Bahnsen proposes as alternatives to this non-believer’s foundations.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bahnsen on "Knowing the Supernatural" Part 4: "Fundamental Distinctions"

Continued from Part 3.

"Fundamental Distinctions"

In the following paragraph, Bahnsen identifies the fundamental tokens of Christianity’s metaphysical commitments:

The Scripture teaches us that "there is one God, the Father, by whom are all things...and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things" (I Cor. 8:6). All things, of all sorts, were created by Him (John 1:3; Col. 1:16). But He is before all things, and by means of Him all things hold together or cohere (John 1:1; Col. 1:17). He carries along or upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). Therefore, to exist is to be divine or created. In God we live and move and have our being (Act 17:28). He, however, has life in Himself (John 5:26; Ex. 3:14). The living and true God gives the distinguishable unity or common natures to things (Gen. 2:19), categorizing things by placing His interpretation on them (e.g., Gen. 1:5, 8 10, 17; 2:9). It is He who also makes things to differ from each other (I Cor. 4:7; Ex. 11:7; Rom. 9:21; I Cor. 12:4-6; 15:38-41). Similarity and distinction, then, result from His creative and providential work. Both the existence and nature of things find their explanation in Him - whether casual (Eph. 1:11) or teleological (Eph. 1:11). (Always Ready, p. 179)

Consider what Bahnsen affirms here in light of the questions I posed in Part 3. Does the view that Bahnsen outlines here entail subjectivism, or does it entail objectivism? If you answered subjectivism, you’d be correct. As is always the case with subjectivism, reality is split into two mutually exclusive categories. As Bahnsen puts it, “to exist is to be divine or created.” There is the supernatural realm of the divine creator, and under its control is the created natural realm. The divine creator creates and controls the natural realm “by the word of His power,” that is, by means of its conscious will. The things that exist in the natural realm are assigned their identity by the wishing of the Christian god.

The creator “categorize[es] things by placing His interpretation on them.” In other words, the identity of the things that exist in the natural realm derive from the content of the divine creator’s consciousness, which means its consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over those things which exist in the natural realm. There is in what Bahnsen describes no instance of an object of cognition holding metaphysical primacy over the subject of cognition when the consciousness of the divine creator is concerned. The starting point is an omnipotent consciousness, the divine creator, and the natural realm is an object it creates by a sheer act of will. The divine creator wishes, and POOF! - whatever it wishes becomes reality. “Creation, on Christian principles, must always mean fiat creation.” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 26; italics added) You couldn’t get more subjective than this if you wanted to. It should not surprise us then, when believers in this stuff turn around and launch arguments purporting to conclude that the intelligibility of man’s experience depends on the reality of this same divine creator which voluntarily incarnated itself in human flesh, becoming “fully God fully man," and allowed itself to be executed for a creation gone totally wrong.

The idea that “the existence and nature of things find their explanation in [the Christian god]” is the purported capital that the presuppositionalist apologist is hoping to cash in when he challenges non-believers to “account for” some aspect of experience or cognition, such as the assumption that nature is uniform, inductive generalization, laws of logic, science, morality, etc. The apologist poses as having a “ready explanation” at hand, a woolen blanket that covers his own eyes and which he hopes to pull over everyone else’s. It’s the old “God did it!” formula that seems to have a validity all its own once we grant its fundamental premise, namely the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. Once we grant that the universe and all its contents, events, possibilities and relationships were created by and continue to conform to a conscious will, then all that is needed at that point is a name for that conscious will to give it some semblance of identity in the imagination of the believer. For the Christian, "Yahweh" (or "Elohim," or "Jehovah," or "Jesus") “accounts for” all these things; for the Muslim, "Allah" “accounts for” all these things; for the Lahu tribesmen, "Geusha" “accounts for” all these things, etc. It’s nothing more than the wave-of-the-wand metaphysics that informs the myths of old and the storybooks of today’s popular literature. Each shares the same fundamental common denominator: the primacy of the subject over the object at the most crucial point.

But Bahnsen isn’t finished yet. He continues, stating:

God is the source of all possibility (Isa. 43:10; 44:6; 65:11) and thus sets the limits of possible reality by His own will and decree. (Always Ready, p. 179)

What Bahnsen describes in this unargued assertion is nothing short of the cartoon universe premise of theism. All facts, objects and events found in the universe conform to the ruling consciousness’ wishes and decrees. Its wishes and decrees not only determine what is actual and what actually happens, but also what is possible to begin with. The entities, persons and happenings of the universe are analogous to features in a cartoon, while all of history itself is analogous to the cartoon itself and the Christian god is analogous to a master cartoonist who has created a cartoon that begins with the creation of the earth and ends with its destruction. In terms of fundamentals, this view of reality grants metaphysical primacy to a form of consciousness: it is the view that the subject of awareness holds primacy over the objects of awareness. This view is known as metaphysical subjectivism. It characterizes Christianity from its foundations to its outermost dogmas.

by Dawson Bethrick

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