Presuppositionalism and the Evasion of the Burden of Proof, Part 3
In this third post on this issue I want to begin by highlighting the fact that the atheist is not at all neutral in the debate over God's existence even though he has deceived himself into thinking he is.
He might even say that he's willing to accept God's existence if you meet the burden of proof.
But just consider, as was mentioned in the last post, that according to the Christian position everything in this universe is proof of God (e.g. Psalm 19).
Now, the unbeliever might respond that if God doesn't exist then that's not true, then nothing proves God's existence.
The unbeliever might say that if God exists, ony [sic] then can the Christian position be true that everything proves God's existence, so you first have to prove God's existence. Think about that. The demand of the unbeliever is that he'll accept God's existence if you show him proof, but you can't use anything whatsoever as proof because the claim that everything proves God's existence already assumes His existence!
As was said, the atheist is not at all neutral in the debate over God's existence, and that includes, as has been the topic of these posts, the dispute over who has the burden of proof in that debate.
If everything is proof of God's existence, and this proof is overwhelming, unavoidable, perspicuous and compelling, just as the Christian position states, then the atheist is reasoning in a circle when he says that the believer bears the burden of proof in the debate over God's existence.
According the Christian worldview, God obligates Himself to make Himself known to everyone which He does on His own terms in a way that is completely clear, unavoidable and compelling.
Observe Peter's imagination at work. He writes:
Notice a couple of things about that statement. First, God is under obligation from no one but Himself to reveal Himself. After all, God is God -- there is no law above or outside Him that obligates Him to do so. There is no created person who can obligate God to do anything. Second, no one has an excuse for rejecting God. As Romans 1 says, ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.’ No one can reply to God that He offered no evidence. Why do many reject God? Because they ‘suppress the truth by their wickedness.’ And as v. 28 says, ‘Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind...’ According to Christianity, everyone already knows God. Although, of course, not all know God in a saving fashion; not all know God in His redemptive mercy in Jesus Christ.
he can say that his god does not wish, because Paul determines what his god is and is not, what his god can and cannot do. The reason why Christians have so many internal disagreements is because one Christian will imagine his god one way, while another Christian imagines his god another way, and never shall the two meet. Here's an instance where the way Paul imagines his god is at variance with the way Van Til imagined his god.
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.
But what of the second answer to this question? The Belgic Confession appeals directly to the contents of a storybook as the means by which men know its god's intentions and holy "plan." So while, according to the storybook itself, Saul of Tarsus was blessed with a personal visitation by the post-resurrected Jesus, the rest of us have to pull a book from a shelf and rely on our imaginations. The vicious circularity involved in this approach to adopting and shaping one's view of the world and history gorges itself by swallowing the believer's mind into a cyclone of cognitive destruction.
Now it is important to notice how both of the Belgic Confession's answers to how men know its god assumes the truth of what the believer ends up denying as a consequence of accepting its worldview, namely the Objectivist axioms and the primacy of existence. The believer assumes the truth of the primacy of existence, and with it the truth of the axioms which inform it, when he affirms that the Christian religion is true. For he is not supposing that it is true because he wants it to be true; he's saying it's true regardless of what he or anyone else might want to be the case. In other words, he assumes that facts obtain independent of conscious intentions. That's the primacy of existence in a nutshell. But now look at the content of what is being claimed: that a conscious being created the universe by an act of will, and by acts of will it preserves the universe and governs what takes place within it. In other words, the content of the Christian view of the world assumes the primacy of consciousness: that actions of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over all objects, including any fact which might be said to obtain in reality. On the Christian view, whatever is factual in the universe, is factual only because the Christian god chose for it to be factual. Facts, on this view, depend on conscious intentions. But this contradicts the assumption made when this view is said to be true. So the Christian worldview reduces to an explicitly duplicitous and self-contradicting basis: it requires the believer to both assume and deny the primacy of existence. This fundamental contradiction is camouflaged by an enormous quantity of doctrinal affirmations which are intended to keep the believer's attention occupied so that its faulty basis remains hidden.
The test for this? Ask the believer to explain how Christianity addresses the issue of metaphysical primacy. If he at all tries to address this question, ask for his sources, and see how consistently his worldview adheres to the basic principle he espouses. If my experience is any indication, it is highly unlikely that the believer will even take a shot at it - there's simply too much at stake, for he has a confessional investment to protect.
God is known immediately, by direct apprehension, in the entire created order, including our own selves. This is called general revelation. From the stars of heavens to the trees of the forest to the genetic make-up of creatures, God's power, sovereignty, and goodness are clearly and unavoidably known. But because sin entered the picture, God also, in His mercy, made and makes Himself redemptively known. Through miracles, theophanies, direct word, the prophets, etc. God revealed Himself, His will for our lives, and His plan of redemption for His people. This was most perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ. Though these events are in the past, many of them have been recorded in Scripture (itself a redemptive event) which, by God's grace, is now readily available.
Moreover, the Christian god is said to be supernatural, infinite, immaterial, imperceptible, incorruptible, perfect, immeasurable, and otherworldly. But the things which I directly apprehend are natural (or manmade), finite, material, perceptible, corruptible, imperfect, measurable, this-worldly things that exist independent of consciousness. So what I “know... immediately, by direct apprehension” could not – even on Christianity’s own terms – be the Christian god. Also, the nature of the things that I apprehend directly as natural or manmade, finite, material, perceptible, corruptible, imperfect, measurable and this-worldly things, indicates that it would be quite a stretch, to say the least, to consider them 'evidence' of a supernatural, infinite, immaterial, imperceptible, incorruptible, perfect, immeasurable and otherworldly thing. This would require us to accept as evidence of the Christian god things which fundamentally contradict it. Furthermore, the fact that the things that I “know... immediately, by direct apprehension” exist and are what they are independent of consciousness, only confirms that existence does not find its source in a form of consciousness. So on two fundamental counts, we have good reason to suppose that the Christian is either painfully mistaken or simply lying when he claims that his “God is known immediately, by direct apprehension.” Couple this with the fact that the believer proposes no objective method for reliably distinguishing between what he calls “God” and what he may merely be imagining, and we have good reason to suppose that his god-belief is quite simply false.
But should we attempt to entertain this notion of having awareness of a supernatural being even by inference from what we “know... immediately, by direct apprehension,” we encounter other problems. For instance, if we suppose that behind “the stars of heavens to the trees of the forest to the genetic make-up of [biological organisms],” there exists a form of consciousness which is responsible for it all, how could we identify it? It is not until relatively recently in human history that we have been able to discover moons orbiting distant planets, and these exist within our very solar system. But the consciousness allegedly responsible for having created them and everything else in the universe is said to originate from beyond the universe. So how could we know that this consciousness is identical to the god of Reformed Christianity, and not Geusha, Zalbitralca, Avalokitesvara, Hu, Mozga'ebatel’, or some other supernatural candidate? How could we rule these other gods out and not the god of Christianity at the same time, unless it were in the end a matter of preference (as we would expect to be the case if all of them, including the Christian god, were imaginary)? For instance, when I look at the stars and begin to imagine a supernatural consciousness behind their existence (and Christians indicate no alternative to imagining as a way to "apprehend" their god), why would I imagine that this supernatural consciousness had a son? Why not a daughter instead of a son? Why any offspring to begin with? See, that’s the trouble with this course of apologetic rambling: there’s no necessary reason to suppose that any supernatural consciousness inferred from the “evidences” Peter lists would be the Christian god as opposed to some other god. That’s because: god-belief constitutes a complete departure from the principle of objectivity, for it’s not facts which drive theism's conclusions, it’s the imaginative contents of a storybook which does this. Without facts, there is no objective content to inform a logical inference. You’ll notice that, in the bible, it is not facts which we discover in the world which lead up to the incarnation of Jesus, but a series of stories – “events... in the past,” as Peter puts it – essentially no different from any other fictional account. The problem for the Christian is that he can give no objective reasons for supposing that the stories found in the New Testament, for instance, are anything other than fiction.
As for a will for my life, I already have one, thank you. Specifically, it is my own will, and my choice is to live and enjoy my life, regardless of who disapproves (for it is in my self that I live, move and have my being). How do I know this? Simple: by reason.
It's also necessary to remind ourselves that mankind is created in God's image. As such, man is created and constituted by God in such a way as to recognize His "signature" and "voice" in all creation and in Scripture.
According to the bible, the Christian god is said to be “a spirit” (cf. John 4:24) and “a spirit hath not flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). But human beings have flesh and bones, so they could not be spirits on the bible’s own definitions, and yet we were supposedly created “in the image” of a spirit which “hath not flesh and bones”? Our identities are genetically tied to DNA, but what Christian thinks this is the case for his god? To put it mildly, we resemble bears, elk and trout for more than the supernatural deity of the bible.
Even epistemologically, there are fundamental differences. Man possesses his knowledge in the form of concepts. But, as I have already shown, the Christian god – on account of its alleged omniscience – would not possess its knowledge in the form of concepts. Man is not omniscient, nor is he infallible. So he needs a guide to acquiring and validating knowledge. That guide is called reason, and it is the faculty by which he identifies and integrates what he perceives. An omniscient and infallible being would have no need for reason, for it would already know everything – it wouldn’t need to acquire and validate new knowledge, for there could be no new knowledge for it to acquire and validate. This means that there is something man can do that the Christian god could not do: man can learn, while the Christian god cannot. And yet man, who must learn in order to exist, is created in the image of a being that cannot learn?
Moreover, there could be no resemblance between man and the Christian god in terms of morality. Morality is a code of values which guides one's choices and actions. Man needs morality because he faces a fundamental alternative: to live or die. It is because he faces this alternative that he needs values in the first place. Indeed, it is because man is not immortal and indestructible, like the Christian god is supposed to be, that values have any relevance to his existence in the first place. Also, since man not only needs to act in order to live, but also does not automatically already know what constitutes a value to his life or the actions by which he will acquire those values which his life needs, he needs a code of values - a hierarchy of value importance - by which his values and the actions required to achieve them can be identified. However, none of this could apply in the case of the Christian god. The Christian god is said to be eternal, immortal and indestructible, needing nothing, absolutely perfectly complete in every sense (to "comprehend" this, just set your imagination to maximum). So unlike man, the Christian god would not need to act in order to exist; its existence would be guaranteed, even if it chose to do nothing but remain idle for all eternity. Indeed, why wouldn't it just remain idle for all eternity, since it would have no needs to satisfy? It certainly would have no objective basis for valuing one thing over another, so consequently it would have no objective basis choose one course of action over another. Any choice it would make, regardless of what that choice might be, would be purely arbitrary in the fullest sense of the term. So far from the Christian god serving as some kind of basis or standard of morality for man (a claim that could only indicate how little Christians understand about morality and why man needs it in the first place), morality would be completely useless and irrelevant to such a being.
On every essential, then, from man's nature, to his epistemology and capacity for morality, man is the diametric opposite of the thing Christians describe as their god. The slogan that man was "created in the image of God" only tells us that those who affirm it as truth have failed to integrate what they should know about man and what they claim in their theistic affirmations on anything approaching a rational level. The more one examines it, the more certain the conclusion that the notion of ‘God’ as the Christians understand it, was created ultimately in the image of man. As Rand succinctly put it,
It is an isolation of actual characteristics of man [e.g., consciousness capable of thought, judgment, emotions, volition, memory, wishing, etc.] combined with the projection of impossible, irrational characteristics which do not arise from reality – such as omnipotence and omniscience. (ITOE, p. 148)
In the Christian worldview, man is no ‘tabula rasa’. When people look around at the universe or at themselves, or when they are reading Scripture, they know they are beholding their Creator.
Notice, too, that, once one accepts as valid the notion of innate knowledge, one could claim any arbitrary notion as truth. The Lahu tribesmen could, like the Christian, claim that their knowledge of Geusha is a priori, denying tabula rasa and affirming their religious views on the claim to have been 'created' with this 'knowledge' already in their heads. If the Christian can claim this about his knowledge of the Christian god, why can't the Lahu tribesmen make the same kind of claim about their knowledge of Geusha? If the arbitrary is valid for one religion, why would it be invalid for a rival religion?
Thus, in the Christian worldview, God's meets His own self-obligation to make Himself clearly known to everyone. Not everyone knows God unto salvation, yet no one has an excuse for rejecting God. All men know God but many reject Him because they 'suppress the truth by their wickedness'. According to Christianity, therefore, the burden of proof has been met beyond reproach by God Himself. The demands of the unbeliever for evidence are based upon his supression of the truth in his wickedness. This does not mean we shouldn't discuss and debate these things with unbelievers, but it does mean that we need to remember that God is God, not us. He validates Himself. Man is not the judge of God to see whether He exists.
But what about those who are not “in the Christian worldview,” who want to know why anyone would accept it as truth to begin with? This is the area where presuppositionalism is weakest as a type of apologetics. It is most likely well suited to those who are eager to convince themselves that they are right when they claim that a god exists, or to temporarily chase off salvation doubt. But as a recruiting device, presuppositionalism is too laden with disclaimers, spring-loaded dichotomies, evasive ploys and dearth of positive arguments for its fundamentals to do much good. At most, apologists who make use of presuppositionalism can only hope that non-believers who encounter it will be overwhelmed with its aggressive offensiveness, predatory bluffing and rhetorical gimmickry, and consequently bamboozled by its piping hot bullshit.
But also note that the apologist gives us what anyone trying to defend belief in an imaginary being could say about the being he imagines. Simple parody is enough to show this. For instance:
In the Flabbergastian worldview, Flabbergast meets Her own self-obligation to make Herself clearly known to everyone. Not everyone knows Flabbergast unto flabbergation, yet no one has an excuse for rejecting Flabbergast. All men know Flabbergast but many reject Her because they 'suppress the truth by their anti-flabbergastianism'. According to Flabbergastianity, therefore, the burden of proof has been met beyond reproach by Flabbergast Herself. The demands of the unbeliever for evidence are based upon his suppression of the truth in his anti-flabbergastianism. This does not mean we shouldn't discuss and debate these things with uneblievers, but it does mean that we need to remember that Flabbergast is Flabbergast, not us. She validates Herself. Man is not the judge of Flabbergast to see whether She exists.
This is on the same level as the Freudian insinuation that all women suffer from penis envy. How do you prove that they suffer from penis envy? Why, women prove it by virtue of the fact that they're women. Their denial of wanting a penis only confirms that they in fact do suffer from penis envy. It's utterly unprovable, unfalsifiable, easily parodied, completely baseless and could be claimed about any invisible magic being one sets up as an object of worship.
We should appeal to the unbeliever's suppressed knowledge of God.
I plan to do this in the next post when I reduce atheism to absurdity by showing that the atheist cannot make sense of the very idea of proof itself, and that the idea of proof and the burden of proof only make sense when reasoned about according the Christian worldview. I think I'd like to move on to other topics soon, so I'm going to try and do that in one post.
But the presuppositionalist still may wonder how I as an atheist "make sense of the very idea of proof itself." I can assure you, it's not by asserting the existence of an invisible magic being. First, we need to understand what we mean by 'proof'. We won't find this information in the pages of the bible, so I'll give my own rendition: proof is the conceptual process of identifying the logical relationship between that which is not perceptually self-evident and that which is perceptually self-evident. This is a conceptual process because it makes use of logical principles, and logical principles are conceptual in nature. A principle is a general (i.e., open-ended) truth upon which other truths logically depend. In other words, universality is a property of concepts, and the universality of logic derives from its conceptual nature. Man is born not knowing anything, so he must learn by identifying and integrating what he encounters perceptually by means of a conceptual process. But this is not an infallible process, so he needs a guide which enables him to adhere his knowledge to reality - that is, to preserve the logical integrity of his knowledge which what he perceives. Proof is one way to do this. It is by proof that a thinker can assure that the identifications he makes about what he perceives are in fact hierarchically consistent with what he perceives and with other truths which he has validated. This is all in keeping with the primacy of existence principle, which is the recognition that the objects one perceives are what they are independent of the subject's intensional operations (e.g., awareness of them, wishing, hopes, emotions, cognitive errors, etc.).
Now consider: how can one make sense of proof on the metaphysical basis assumed by Christianity? At minimum, proof requires consistent as well as stable reference to facts; it requires the facts we discover in the world to be reliable. A non-theistic worldview is compatible with this requirement if it adheres to the primacy of existence, for upon the primacy of existence facts obtain as they are independent of consciousness – that is, there’s no invisible magic being that can mess with the facts. So the facts we discover in the non-cartoon universe of atheism are in fact reliable, since there's no supernatural consciousness which could come along and magically revise them at will. But on the Christian worldview, facts can change for no objective reason whatsoever. Van Til makes this very clear:
God may at any time take one fact and set into a new relation to created law. That is, there is no inherent reason in the facts or laws themselves why this should not be done. It is this sort of conception of the relation of facts and laws, of the temporal one and many, imbedded as it is in that idea of God in which we profess to believe, that we need in order to make room for miracles. And miracles are at the heart of the Christian position. (The Defense of the Faith, p. 27)
by Dawson Bethrick