Presuppositionalism and the Evasion of the Burden of Proof, Part 2
In my next post (or perhaps two or three posts) I'm going to try and clarify the Christian position on the matter of the burden of proof, offer a way to resolve the dispute with the atheist, and finally to actually resolve the matter by demonstrating that the unbeliever's position, if he is consistent with himself, is irrational, and that to the extent the unbeliever does attempt to shift the burden of proof to the Christian that he actually has to rely upon the truth of Christian worldview, thus proving Christianity from the impossibility of the contrary.
In my review of Peter's second post, I will be paying particular attention for wherever he comes through on his above declaration. Will he actually "offer a way to resolve the dispute with the atheist"? Will he in fact "resolve the matter by demonstrating that the unbeliever's postioin... is irrational"? When I first encountered these declarations in my review of Peter's first installment in this series, I pointed out that it is troublesomely unclear what a Christian might mean by 'rational'. I will point out that it is also troublesomely unclear what a Christian, given his confession of faith in the bible's teachings, could possibly have against anything that is in fact irrational. These terms are foreign to the bible and seem to have been imported into Christian defense systems without good understanding of what they mean. So in my following review I will be on the lookout for the minimum requirement that Peter explain what he means by these terms and what he could possibly have against something that is "irrational." Without an understanding of what Christians might mean by rationality, and what they think distinguishes the rational from the irrational, their use of these terms - especially in the context of affirming stories of invisible magic beings, creation ex nihilo, worldwide floods, prophets conferring with angels of the Lord, virgin births, men walking on unfrozen water, miracle cures, exorcisms, dying and rising saviors, zombies emerging from their graves and walking through populated cities, etc. - is, to put it mildly, toothless.
With that, let's begin.
In the last post the observation was made that the debate over God's existence is not simply about the one mere claim of God's existence, but rather that the atheist and the Christian reason about that claim in accordance with their worldview, a network of presuppositions about epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, etc. In other words, the debate over God's existence is actually a clash of entire worldviews, not merely over one or a few conflicting claims.
What we have here is a most juvenile formula for digression, a tactic for diverting attention from the believer's claim that his god exists to anything but that claim, for the sake of sheltering it from scrutiny. In other words, it is an overt attempt to evade the burden of proof and shift it onto the shoulders of one's opponents.
Peter then found it necessary to repeat a portion of the first installment of his series on the burden of proof, so I will repeat what I had stated in response to these statements in the first installment of my response to Peter.
Both the atheist and the Christian theist have assumptions about what is acceptable evidence, how much evidence is needed, what is compelling, what can be known by the evidence, and so on.
An adherent to the rational worldview (i.e., one premised on the primacy of existence, whose epistemology is characterized by an uncompromising commitment to reason as man's only means of knowledge and his only guide to action, etc.) has what he needs to determine and validate the criteriological qualifications of legitimate evidence, namely reason. He does not need to rest his verdicts on faith in invisible magic beings and their supposed "revelations." He recognizes that those who rest their verdicts on faith concede that reason is on the side of their adversaries.
The Christian claims that an non-physical, supernatural, infinite and incorruptible being created the universe. But what evidence does he offer on behalf of this claim? If he points to evidence that is physical, natural, finite and corruptible, then he’s asking that we accept as evidence that which contradicts the nature of what he has claimed. (This approach is not uncommon in apologetics - see my blog Is Human Experience Evidence of the Christian God?) The fact that the Christian worldview assumes a metaphysical basis which in fact contradicts reality (because it grants metaphysical primacy to the subject in the subject-object relationship, a philosophical malady known as subjectivism), is sufficient indication that we should expect further contradictions like this from the believer when he tries to present his case for his god-belief.
Thus, when the dispute arises over who has the burden of proof, both the Christian and the unbeliever can be found reasoning about that issue in light of their presuppositions, in accordance with their worldview.
The atheist's position on this matter should not be so difficult for the theist to understand. The theist asserts the existence of an entity which, by the characteristics he attributes to it, the non-believer could not perceive. So its existence is simply not perceptually self-evident. That is why the theist needs to resort to proof in order to validate his claims. There is nothing illicit or fallacious about this. Indeed, the Christian himself would likely take the same approach if a Lahu tribesman comes up to him and says that Geusha is the supreme being of all reality. The Christian could easily say, "Well, where's your proof?" Does the Christian sit down and start developing proofs that Geusha does not exist? Perhaps, but that would be a waste of time (but Christians are known for wasting their time anyway - look how they squander their Sundays).
Moreover, Peter's comments raise the question: who is going to be able to reason consistently with his worldview’s most basic “presuppositions”? The Christian will of course say that he does (or that only he does), but does he really? Where does his worldview deal with the issue of metaphysical primacy? Or, does it? This is the most fundamental relationship in all philosophy, and it is an inescapable issue, since philosophy is essentially the software by which we operate our consciousness, and consciousness always involves an object. So the nature of the relationship between a subject and its objects will always be a concern throughout one's philosophy, even if he is ignorant of it, even if he attempts to evade it. And yet, far from presenting any intelligent treatment of this issue, no biblical author even suggests that he is even aware of this relationship, let alone its all-encompassing importance to philosophy.
The adherent to the rational worldview certainly will be able to reason consistently with his worldviews most basic fundamentals, for he alone can remain consistent with the primacy of existence metaphysics. But the Christian, whose worldview assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, will be exposed for borrowing from the rational worldview by his implicit assumption of the primacy of existence metaphysics at key points (such as whenever he claims that something is true), even though this foundation is incompatible with the god-belief he wants to defend. The test for this is whether or not the Christian thinks that his position is true because he wishes it to be true. If he is consistent with his worldview's "ultimate presuppositions," he would have to admit that he thinks wishing makes it so. If he acknowledges with the non-believer that wishing is irrelevant to what is true, then he is clearly shirking his professed worldview's fundamentals. At best, the believer will show that his worldview compartmentalizes itself by adopting duplicitous metaphysics, one which obtains in the actual world in which he lives (the primacy of existence, which he borrows from the non-believer), and another which obtains in the cartoon universe of his theism (the primacy of consciousness, which is the metaphysical basis of the assumption that wishing makes it so). He does grant that his god's wishes make it so, does he not? Or, does he suppose his god's wishes are impotent?
Therefore, if the Christian and the atheist reason about the question of the burden of proof in a way that is consistent with their
worlview they will necessarily end up disagreeing on this matter (logically speaking, that is, though not necessarily psychologically, but I won't go down that rabbit trail).
I have no problem disagreeing with Christians on philosophical matters. Indeed, there is no agreement between the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness, just as there is no agreement between the position that wishing doesn’t make it so and the position that wishing does make it so, and for the same reason. But don’t be surprised to find the Christian agreeing – if asked – with the position that wishing doesn’t make it so. The problem for him, however, is that his professed worldview fundamentally contradicts that position (for it grants metaphysical primacy to consciousness). To cull this out, ask if his god’s wishing can make it so. Then watch him squirm.
Peter then writes:
Why do the believer and unbeliever disagree over who has the burden of proof with respect to the debate over God's existence?
It has often been noted that a proof of God would be fatal to religion: a God susceptible of proof would have to be finite and limited; He would be one entity among others within the universe, not a mystic omnipotence transcending science and reality. What nourishes the spirit of religion is not proof, but faith, i.e., the undercutting of man's mind. ("Maybe You're Wrong," The Objectivist Forum, April 1981, p. 12.)
It's important at this point to keep in mind the overall context of the discussion. Peter asserts the existence of an invisible supernatural being. This is something I do not believe, but he wants me to accept this claim on his say so. (Otherwise, why does he balk at the burden of proving his claim?) Now I openly acknowledge his burden of proving this claim if he wants to persuade me. Is he saying here that he disagrees with me, that he does not have a burden to prove this claim? Fine. If he doesn’t try to prove it, he can’t blame me for not budging from my non-belief. But Peter has his own answer to this question.
Because their understanding of evidence and proof is already determined by their understanding of God. And yet, their understanding of God is itself one of the things in dispute between them!
As for what the notion 'god' means, I understand 'god' to denote something which the believer can only apprehend by imagining it, and that this something is in fact imaginary. The believer’s failure to provide an objective method for reliably distinguishing between what he calls “god” and what he may merely be imagining, is confirming evidence of my understanding. Several believers have attempted to meet my challenge for them to articulate an objective method by which I can reliably distinguish between what they call "God" and what they may merely be imagining, but their attempts have ended in failure. See for instance here, here, here, here, here, here and here. I have also pointed out that imagination is of central importance to god-belief.
They both find themselves reasoning in a circle about who has the burden of proof.
In the Christian worldview, everything in this universe, both general revelation (all creation) and special revelation (miracles, theophanies, prophetic word, Scripture), all of reality, all of it is unavoidable, perspicuous, entirely compelling proof for God.
Unfortunately, Peter needs to do more than simply slap the label “evidence for God’s existence” on everything that exists. Everything I find in existence is natural or manmade, finite, material, corruptible, changeable, etc., all the qualities that the Christian god is said not to be. Contrary to what Peter claims here, everything that I encounter in the universe confirms the primacy of existence principle - i.e., the recognition that existence exists independent of consciousness. Why would I ignore this prevailing evidence in favor of a view which fundamentally contradicts it by affirming that everything that exists ultimately depends on some consciousness? Blank out. Moreover, since Peter claims that there is evidence for his god’s existence, he’s admitting that he has inferred its existence (as opposed to having direct awareness of it, such as when we perceive concretes, as he claims in his next installment in this series). So he needs to hash this out, step by step, to see how well this inference stands up to scrutiny.
Therefore, when the unbeliever says that he hasn't yet found any convincing evidence of God's existence he is reasoning in a circle.
Consider two scholars, the one a scientist, the other a New Age sociologist. The New Age sociologist is trying to validate a sample taken from the field as evidence for his thesis that all human behavior is determined by engrammatic residue allegedly possessed by every human being as a result of being dropped in a vat of fermented six-row barley within his first six months of life. The scientist reviews the sample study and finds no evidence that any of the individuals in that sample were ever dropped into a vat of fermented barley, least of all within their sixth month of life. The New Age sociologist then retorts, "Well, you don't see the evidence that's plainly there because of your understanding of evidence! You're reasoning in a circle!" Now, why take the New Age sociologist seriously on this matter? Peter and other presuppositionalists are offering nothing better than precisely this. What they unpocket is nothing more than a gimmick for discounting rational scrutiny, for dismissing one's exercise of rational judgment as an occasion of fallacy.
Again, the universe is full of finite, material, corruptible and changing entities. How could any of these either individually or collectively serve as evidence of something that is allegedly infinite, immaterial, incorruptible and unchanging? Until the apologist can explain how something can serve as evidence for something that contradicts it on multiple levels, he's just mouthing idle incantations.
When the atheist says he hasn't come across any compelling proof for God existence he can only do so if he assumes that God doesn't exist.
Moreover, the non-believer may have actually examined the philosophical issues involved and discovered that truth on the one hand presupposes the primacy of existence metaphysics, while god-belief assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, and thus the believer locks himself into an irresolvable self-contradiction whenever he claims that his god-belief is true. This too is not the same thing as “assum[ing] that God doesn’t exist.” Indeed, the nature of the relationship between a subject of consciousness and any objects in its awareness is of fundamental importance to philosophy (it comes long before one ever gets to the question of whether or not a god exists), and yet it is the one issue which theistic philosophers and apologists routinely avoid addressing. Also, if, after giving the proposed “evidence” a review, the non-believer still remains unconvinced, the Christian is simply going to have to lump it, whether he likes it or not. His charges of fallacy ring hollower with every repetition.
Yet that's the very thing in dispute!
The unbeliever rejects the Christian position because he rejects the Christian position.
The atheist is not at all neutral.
However, the Christian can also be found reasoning in a circle.
When he hears the unbeliever say that the Christian has the burden of proof, the Christian thinks to himself, ‘That's ridiculous. Everything in this universe bears the stamp of the Creator’ (so to speak).
Everything proves God's existence. If anything, the burden is proof is on the atheist’.
And if God exists then that's entirely true. But the unbeliever and the believer dispute God's existence.
How, then, can this dispute be resolved?
If the Christian and the atheist reason about God and proof for His existence in terms of a worldview that is already conditioned by their beliefs about God, how can the two actually debate?
Now if the believer stops for a moment to consider the issue of metaphysical primacy, recognizes that the primacy of existence is the only answer to this issue, and understands how the religious worldview contradicts it, then he should see that debating about the existence of something he merely imagines is a waste of time. But the believer is anxious to protect a confessional investment, so he’s not likely to take this route.
The answer is that we need to place the unbelieving worldview beside the Christian worldview and reason about each one on its own terms to see which one can provide the preconditions of intellgibility. [sic]
We need, for the sake of argument, to reason about each worldview on its own terms in order to see which one can rationally makes sense of reality, including the very idea of the burden of proof. What you will discover is not only that the atheist wordlview doesn't correspond to reality, nor is it coherent, you'll also discover that the degree to which the unbeliever has any successes in his reasoning is attributed to his assuming the truth of the Christian worlview. Christianity is proven from the impossiblity of the contrary, and in this particular case as it relates to making sense out of proof and the burden of proof.
When Peter says that "the atheist worldview doesn't correspond to reality," which "atheist worldview" does he have in mind? Atheists are not monolithic; it is naïve to suppose that all atheists ascribe to one single worldview simply by their self-identification as atheists. So it may be the case that the particular "atheist worldview" which Peter has in mind "doesn't correspond to reality," but this remains to be seen; we would have to look at the specifics to determine this, and Peter has given no indication of why the worldview he has in mind is faulty. And even if it were faulty (as many philosophies surely are), this would in no way indicate that other non-theistic philosophies are also faulty. That would simply be another hasty generalization.
What is more likely is that Peter feels that a worldview which does not derive from the storybook of the bible and enshrine belief in invisible magic beings somehow fails to correspond to reality. What, then, could Peter have in mind when he speaks of "reality" if not the cartoon universe of theism? True, the Objectivist worldview, to which I ascribe, does not correspond to the cartoon universe of theism. But the cartoon universe of theism is a fantasy, not reality. Which means: there's no problem on my part here.
So rather than meeting his burden of proof in the case of his claim that the Christian god exists, Peter throws onto his burden cart a whole host of other claims he needs to prove now. Peter simply succeeds in multiplying his burdens, without meeting any.
Again Peter closes his post with the assertion that atheism is "irrational." One wonders what the believer understands by either atheism or rationality for him to make such statements. As I pointed out at the beginning of the present review, Peter closed his last post with the promise that he will "try and clarify the Christian position on the matter of the burden of proof," but now he says that it will be in his next installment that he will "present the Christian position concerning the burden of proof with respect to God's existence." He's already made it pretty clear that he doesn't think he as a Christian has any burden to prove anything. He apparently thinks he can assert anything, and everyone's supposed to "just believe" whatever he says on his say so. No, he doesn't come out and explicitly present his view in so bald a manner, but we shouldn't expect someone who holds such a view to be so open and brazen about it. But he does come as close as he can to this without making it open and brazen.
In the next post I'll present the Christian position concerning the burden of proof with respect to God's existence, and if time permits me (though I don't think it will) I'll reduce the competing unbelieving position to absurdity -- both of which in order to demonstrate that making sense of the idea of the burden of proof itself proves God's existence and exposes atheism as irrational.
As I stated at the end of my last post, I intended in my review of Peter's second installment in this series to look especially for where he might explain what he means by "rational," for he had stated in his first post that "the unbeliever's position, if he is consistent with himself, is irrational." Unfortunately, Peter so far has not come through on this point. When Christians make statements like this about "unbelievers," it boggles my mind what they could possibly mean by "rational." If Christianity's doctrines pass as "rational" in the mind of a Christian, I can only suppose it's a good thing if he thinks my position is "irrational." Of course, the Christian, having very little understanding of what constitutes rationality, likes to use words as bludgeons, as if they could force others into submission and compliance by threatening to label them with certain words, regardless of their genetic roots. So what we have here is the Christian threatening to call us "irrational" if we don't believe in his invisible magic being. Is everybody scared now?
by Dawson Bethrick