Monday, February 04, 2008

Presuppositionalism and the Evasion of the Burden of Proof, Part 3

We now come to the third and final installment of Peter's series on the burden of proof, Christianity vs. atheism and the burden of proof, part 3. In my previous two examinations of Peter's position (here and here), we found that he offers no reason to suppose that atheists have any obligation to prove that the non-existent does not exist. Also, at several points he calls atheism "irrational," but nowhere explains what he means by "irrational," nor does he give much indication why atheism should be considered irrational. In his third installment, Peter repeats earlier mistakes (such as the claim that atheists presume to be "neutral," or that "everything in this universe is proof of God," etc.), offers some fresh errors of his own, and demonstrates just how confused Christianity is in the area of epistemology. Much of what he does say strongly indicates that, were he to attempt a proof of his god, it would seriously beg the question and thus fail because of its internal fallaciousness. Indeed, nothing he does say gives us any confidence that he could do otherwise if given the opportunity. All in all, Peter gives us some good opportunities to make some excellent contrapologetic points against presuppositionalism. So with that, let's jump into Part 3 of my series on Presuppositionalism and the Evasion of the Burden of Proof.

Peter writes:

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.

It should be clear now that Peter is simply repeating what he has read without examining whether or not it is true. For I am an atheist, and I make no claim to neutrality whatsoever. I’m wholly partial to truth, objectivity and rationality. So there’s no self-deception on my part here. What we have is Peter blindly and naïvely believing what he has read in some apologetics book. That is the essence of a worldview based on faith.

Peter writes:

He might even say that he's willing to accept God's existence if you meet the burden of proof.

But since one will never be able to prove that the imaginary is actually real, then whether or not the atheist is so willing is irrelevant. Besides, one does not catch fish with proofs and arguments. The Christian uses traps for this. The New Testament metaphor comparing evangelists as 'fishers of men' is no accident.

Peter writes:

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).

But just consider, as was mentioned in my response to Peter’s last post, that according to the Objectivist position everything in the universe is proof that god-belief is irrational. Now what?

Peter writes:

Now, the unbeliever might respond that if God doesn't exist then that's not true, then nothing proves God's existence.

Not only this, but also that one could still imagine a god and make the kinds of claims that presuppositionalists like to repeat. Invisible gods and imaginary gods look and behave very much the same.

Peter writes:

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!

There are two claims here that Peter has confused: one is that his god exists, the other is that “everything proves God’s existence.” The latter claim clearly assumes the truth of the former, but instead of proving the former, Peter added the second to see if it would work. When this bluff is not accepted, he gets frustrated. Observe:

Peter writes:

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.

I can’t speak for other atheists, but I have already gone on record indicating that I do not claim to be neutral. So why does Peter keep coming back to this issue? That an atheist considers himself neutral on the matter is not germane to Peter’s proof, is it? If so, then what does he do now when he encounters an atheist who acknowledges that he is not neutral?

Peter writes:

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.

This doesn’t follow, and contextually speaking it is nonsensical on its own terms. If anything serves as evidence for something else, then clearly there is an inferential connection that has been made. When the believer claims to know of evidence to support his claim that a god exists, the non-believer may choose to have the believer explain this inferential connection. This alone would not at all constitute an instance of “reasoning in a circle.” Nor would the non-believer be “reasoning in a circle when he says that the believer bears the burden of proof in the debate over God’s existence,” especially if the believer claims to have proof. If the believer makes the two claims that a) his god exists and b) everything proves his god’s existence, then the believer should be willing to acknowledge that these two claims need to be supported. If he doesn’t, he’s in la-la land chasing a fantasy. The burden to prove two unsupported claims is not met by making a third unsupported claim. But this is basic procedure that Peter is using here. Meanwhile, the non-believer will simply shake his head and go his merry unbelieving way while the believer stews in his own self-inflicted frustrations.

Peter writes:

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.

Anyone who enshrines an imaginary object of worship could make this kind of claim about that imaginary object of worship. That’s because the imagination does not need to obey any rules or adhere to any facts. The imaginer can make up things as he goes. He can imagine that there is an invisible conscious being behind everything he perceives in the world, and even imagine that this invisible conscious being “obligates Himself to make Himself known to everyone” in whatever which way the imaginer imagines it. Hopefully the believer is not so foolish as to believe that repeating statements like the one Peter recites above is going to be very convincing to non-believers. Essentially, the believer has accepted his god-belief on faith, and imagines that everything he encounters in reality somehow confirms it. Proof is the wrong vehicle to maneuver the human mind into such a perverted relationship with the world.

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.

Peter’s departure from the original topic at hand takes the form of mock preaching constituted by canned statements recited in sequence as if he thought they would do any good. (We will see that he never gets back on track, for what follows in his blog has nothing to do with the issue of who really has the burden of proof.) But as I pointed out above, anyone can make up anything about an imaginary object of worship, for he is not bound by any facts. He says “there is no created person who can obligate God to do anything.” But who is trying to obligate the non-existent to do something? That would be utterly nonsensical. The non-believer does not expect the believer's god to present proofs; the non-believer asks the believer if he (the believer himself) can prove his claims. That Peter shifts the matter to whether or not his god has an obligation to prove anything only demonstrates how easy it is for the believer to confuse himself with the deity he claims to worship.

And who is rejecting a non-existent being? There’s no need to. What I reject is the subjective metaphysics which underlies the Christian worldview; along with all other species of mysticism, Christianity is thus slashed off at its very root. Peter shows how uncritical one needs to be when it comes to what the bible says, for he recites Romans 1:20 which includes the contradiction that “invisible qualities... have been clearly seen.” If something has been seen, why call it “invisible”? Indeed, the invisible and the imaginary look very much alike, just as the supernatural and the non-existent behave very much alike. But if you see something, then obviously it's not "invisible." I would not say that “God... offered no evidence,” for it would first have to exist in order to offer any evidence to begin with. So again, Peter begs the question by assuming precisely what he needs to prove, namely his god’s existence. But again, Peter manages to multiply his burden of proof yet again: not only does he claim that his god exists and that “everything” is evidence proving its existence, he now says that “everyone already knows God,” which is clearly just another faith claim. He's doing it again: he's trying to shirk the burden of proving a set of unsupported claims by making yet another unsupported claim. This is a common gimmick in all religious apologetics, and presuppositionalism is no exception.

For amusement, let's prod this last claim a little more. How could Peter know what “everyone already knows” unless he were himself omniscient? Again, the believer essentially confuses himself with the omniscient being he imagines, which is easy to do since in the end the being he imagines does and knows whatever the imaginer imagines. In the end, the believer's imagination is the final arbiter of his god's identity. I made this point to Paul Manata when he declared that his god "doesn't wish" while other believers, such as several of the bible's authors and the granddaddy of presuppositionalism himself, Cornelius Van Til, in fact affirm that the Christian god can wish. I pointed out to him that

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.

How can we test for this? Simple: ask the believer to produce some objective fact which proves his claim. The problem is that there are no facts which will prove that the Christian god either wishes or doesn't wish. Indeed, there are no facts which will prove that the Christian god is real to begin with. It's all in the believer's imagination.

Peter writes:

So how, then, does God make Himself known? Broadly speaking, in two ways: general and special revelation (See here and here.)

Here Peter tries to make it look like he’s willing to step up to the bar on at least one of the burdens in his growing debt. But he does so by sending the reader to two very large documents, presumably to get lost in reading them so that he forgets why he went there in the first place. One of the links takes us to the Belgic Confession, a very longwinded statement of faith which is supposed to improve upon earlier creedal formulations by touching more bases. It is an understatement to say that the Belgic Confession assumes that the Christian god exists, so as a source of proving its existence, it is worthless. Curiously, when it attempts to explain how men know the god which it describes, the Belgic Confession indicates two means for this knowledge:

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.

Sound familiar? Note the Belgic Confession's citation of Romans 1:20. I have already pointed out the contradiction within that one verse: something that is "clearly seen" cannot also be "invisible." Also, by pointing to "the creation, preservation and government of the universe," the Belgic Confession begs the question on the point it is attempting to address, for this assumes as knowledge key points which it identifies as the means by which that knowledge is supposedly acquired. Besides, the "creation" of something is not a means by which knowledge is acquired in the first place. The first part of the Belgic Confession's answer to how men can have knowledge of its god fails to address that question completely. This is an epistemological question, but the Confession gives no epistemology here. Indeed, by comparing the universe to a book, the Confession simply confirms the cartoon universe basis of theistic metaphysics. Many Christian apologists have denied the cartoon universe heritage of their worldview, and yet their confessions wholly and unflinchingly embrace it. The essence of so-called 'general revelation' is that the universe is analogous to a cartoon as such, that the Christian god is a master cartoonist, and that human beings are simply characters in a cartoon. This is the Belgic Confession's first answer to how men know its god.

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.

Now let’s see if what Peter says in the following explains how the god of Christianity makes itself known to men.

Peter writes:

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.

The only things that I “know... immediately, by direct apprehension,” are the things that I perceive with my senses. The Christian god is said to be invisible, so on Christianity's own terms I certainly cannot see it. Is it accessible to my other senses? For instance, can I feel the Christian god brushing up against my skin? What would that feel like? Can I smell the Christian god? What does the Christian god smell like? Can I taste it? What does it taste like? Can I hear its voice? Many people claim to hear voices in their heads. But how would we know that it is the Christian god's voice we're hearing, and not the voice of, say, the god Neptune, or Iletus, or Odin, or Geusha? Or, perhaps we're imagining it? Immediately we see Peter's claim that we have "direct apprehension" of the Christian god start to crumble.

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.

Peter writes:

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.

So, human beings, which are created, material, non-divine, non-supernatural, biological, corporeal, non-invisible, finite, mutable, mortal, non-eternal, non-infallible, non-omniscient, non-omnipotent, non-omnipresent, imperfect, corruptible, prone to sin, and destructible, were created in the image of a being that is uncreated, immaterial, divine, supernatural, non-biological, incorporeal, invisible, infinite, immutable, immortal, eternal, infallible, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, perfect, incorruptible, incapable of sin, and indestructible? How do you figure? On every fundamental point, man is that which the Christian god is said not to be.

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)

The evidence, then, points to the opposite conclusion, namely that the Christian worldview has it reversed. The idea of ‘god’ was created on the basis of certain characteristics belonging to man, amplified beyond their contextual limits (by setting one's imagination on maximum) and “combined with the projection of impossible, irrational characteristics” which find their basis in man’s imagination, not in reality. So the claim that “mankind is created in God’s image” is a demonstrably false premise. Therefore, anything concluded on the basis of this false premise must also be false.

Peter writes:

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.

The denial of tabula rasa as the initial condition of his consciousness, only earmarks one’s position as initially out of line with the facts of reality. This does not bode well for any conclusions one seeks to draw from such pronouncements. However, it is not surprising to find Christians denying tabula rasa. It is necessary for Christians to deny tabula rasa as man’s beginning condition, for they want to claim that knowledge of their god is a priori or innate. They have to do this, because they know that they cannot infer the existence of their god from facts which we find in the world. So instead of ditching the notion of a god, they ditch the nature of man’s mind, and with it all legitimate knowledge in sum. Thus they dichotomize at this point, affirming knowledge of an a priori nature as well as knowledge of an a posteriori nature, so that they can have access to the legitimate knowledge they need as human beings to live in the non-cartoon universe of atheism. Thus they show how necessary it is to borrow from a worldview which contradicts their own even just to live. For without doing so, they will wind up like Jesus: willingly embracing a premature death.

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?

Peter writes:

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.

Statements like this show the futility of presuppositionalism in producing any proof whatsoever for the existence of the Christian god. Peter makes it clear that a circular (i.e., fallacious) argument is the best we can expect from presuppositionalists when he says “in the Christian worldview, God... meets His own self-obligation to make Himself clearly known to everyone.” In other words, if you first accept the Christian worldview, then you’ll accept the claim that its god has done what it needed to do “to make Himself clearly known to everyone.” But if one had already accepted the Christian worldview, he would already believe that the Christian god exists, and thus would have no further need for proof (unless of course he in fact really didn’t believe, but didn’t want to admit this to himself or anyone else).

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.

How does the Flabbergastian know all this? Well, because Flabbergast has put this knowledge into her head of course! In fact, everyone "just knows" this, just as the Flabbergastian does, only many people reject Flabbergast because of their anti-flabbergastianism.

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.

Peter writes:

We should appeal to the unbeliever's suppressed knowledge of God.

Likewise, the Flabbergastian should appeal to the unbeliever's suppressed knowledge of Flabbergast. Why doesn't the believer instead deal with the issue of metaphysical primacy, examine his own interaction with the world to see which version of metaphysical primacy he assumes when affirms a truth, reaches for a glass of water, or balances his checkbook? Does he believe that consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over the objects of his consciousness, or does he recognize that the objects hold metaphysical primacy over his consciousness? I wager that the believer will not investigate this issue because he senses that his professed worldview will not be sustainable once he does.

Peter writes:

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.

This is something I would really like to see. But just consider what Peter is saying (or parroting from some apologetics book). He says he's going to "reduce atheism to absurdity." We must ask: what is atheism? Break it down: the root word is 'theos' which means 'god'; -ism signifies belief system; a- means "not" or "without". Thus while 'theism' is god-belief, 'atheism' is absence of god-belief. So Peter says he's going to "reduce" the absence of god-belief to "absurdity." Now what could possibly be absurd according to someone who believes in the absurdity of invisible magic beings, miracles, divine revelations, etc.? For instance, would Peter consider it "absurd" if someone told him that he witnessed a group of rocks in the desert holding a conversation together? Well, according to the Christian worldview, the Christian god could make talking rocks. Bahnsen himself rhetorically asked of his god, "He could even make the stones cry out, couldn't He?" (Always Ready, pp. 109-110). In fact, how would the believer know that his god doesn't have a whole planet full of talking rocks revolving some star in our galaxy or somewhere else in the universe? This just underscores the problem with Christianity and the presuppositionalist ambition of reducing rival worldviews to "absurdity": the concept 'absurdity' would be meaningless in the cartoon universe of theism. So here the presuppositionalist gives us a prime example of conceptually borrowing from the non-cartoon universe of atheism in order to denigrate atheism.

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)

This can only mean that facts are neither stable nor consistent. Which could only mean: the facts we discover could not be reliable. At one moment, the pots are full of water, but at the next they are full of wine (cf. John 2:1-11). Why? Because on this view there exists a supernatural consciousness which can magically turn the water into wine just like that, completely at will. No fruit and yeast mixture, fermentation and aging are needed. As Van Til says, “there is no inherent reason in the facts or laws themselves why this should not be done.” Causality on this view has nothing to do with the natures of the objects involved, but has everything to do with the intentions of the supernatural consciousness which magically directs their movements, as a cartoonist directs the movements of the characters in his cartoons.
So logic is completely unhelpful on Christianity’s own premises. You can look into the pots yourself and see that there’s water in them. But moments later someone comes up to you and insists that they are now full of wine. You reply saying that you had just verified that they are full of water. No, says the other fellow, they’re full of wine. That’s not logical, you think, right? Well, you're assuming the non-cartoon universe of atheism at that point. On the Christian worldview, however, facts can change at the whim of the ruling consciousness, so logic will be of no avail in reliably identifying any state of affairs in the universe. To the degree that the believer relies on logic to identify facts, he is in fact borrowing from a worldview which fundamentally contradicts Christianity. At which point we can safely say: the Christian has conceded debate just by raising the issue of logic.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Presuppositionalism and the Evasion of the Burden of Proof, Part 2

I continue now with my review of Peter's blog series on the burden of proof, this time looking at his second installment, Christian vs. atheism and the burden of proof, part 2. Now recall how Peter ended his initial post in his series on the burden of proof with the following promise:

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.

Peter writes:

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.

Yes, Peter did mention these points: he wants to drag all kinds of other issues into the debate such that the debate is no longer about the existence of his god, which was the original contention under dispute. In his determination to shift the burden of proof, the apologist wants to put the non-believer on the dock, as it were, for everything he does affirm, since among his inventory of affirmations the stock item that the Christian god exists is not to be found. So the desire is to call everything the non-believer does affirm into question, and now have the non-believer defend it. In other words, on this view the non-believer's acceptance of anything as truth assures him a burden to prove it, even if it is not the initial focus of debate. The non-believer might hold that apples grow on trees, and according to the apologist, this constitutes a positive claim and is thus subject to debate. After all, these are positive claims, and doesn’t the non-believer himself hold that the asserter of positive claims has the onus of proof? No, I’m not making this up, this is precisely how the apologist is trying to play it, and the hope is that the non-believer doesn’t notice that the apologist never meets his burden of proving the claim that his god is real.

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.

Quote:

Peter wrote:

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.

Peter wrote:

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?

Peter wrote:

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.

Unquote

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?

They disagree because while the believer wants the non-believer not only to accept his god-belief claims (and to do so on the basis of faith), but also to undergo fundamental changes in his life as a result of accepting them (to submit in cowering fear to those who pretend to have some metaphysical upper hand by virtue of their numbering among "the chosen"), he also recognizes deep down that he has no good proofs and is in fact probably embarrassed by the reasons he would give for holding such beliefs. The believer wants the non-believer to accept his god-belief claims on his say so, not on the basis of proof. Philosopher Dr. Leonard Peikoff makes this point when he points out:

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.)

At the point within the bible where it comes closest to defining its notion of 'faith', the book of Hebrews explicitly aligns it with hope. Faith is essentially acting on the hope that something is true, even though you do not believe it. If you actually believe something to be the case, you wouldn't need faith to act on it. A sure bet requires no act of faith. The biblical notion of faith has an insuperable share of its own problems; I have catalogued them in the following blogs: Faith as Belief Without Understanding, and Lord Oda on Faith. It is ultimately because god-belief rests on faith instead of proof that believers will resist accepting any burden to prove their god-belief claims and attempt to shift it to the non-believer. To the degree that believers seek to evade the burden of proof, they performatively concede that no proof is up to the job.

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.

Peter writes:

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!

My understanding of evidence and proof is not determined by the notion of any god. Rather, my understanding of evidence and proof is determined by reason, the nature of human consciousness (the kind I have and whose nature I have to work with if I want to know anything), the nature and process of forming concepts, etc. Essentially, my understanding of evidence and proof is determined by rational philosophy. I don't know why any adult thinker would have a problem with this, but many who like to claim their position is rational and yet have apparently no legitimate understanding of what rationality is, always seem to be troubled by this. The problem here is not mine: I have a conceptual understanding of evidence and proof, while the believer insists on a storybook understanding of evidence and proof, i.e., evidence and proof falsely so-called.

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.

Peter writes:

They both find themselves reasoning in a circle about who has the burden of proof.

Now Peter seems to be unthinkingly mouthing stock presuppositionalist slogans that he's found in some apologetics book. Unfortunately, his conclusion doesn’t follow, at least in the case of the non-believer. The concepts 'evidence' and 'proof' are not primaries, they are not irreducible concepts. They reduce to more primitive fundamentals which do not assume the presuppositions which Peter's allegation here insinuate they do. So there is no "reasoning in a circle" necessary on the non-believer's part here. Also, recognizing that a person is deluded into believing what he imagines is neither an instance nor a result of “reasoning in a circle about who has the burden of proof.” Now if Peter is admitting that he’s “reasoning in a circle about who has the burden of proof,” that’s a good start. But this is his problem, not the non-believer's.

Peter writes:

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.

I'm sure that's well and good for anyone who wants to believe that his god exists. The problem here, however, is that one could make this kind of claim about any deity he imagines. The Lahu tribesman, for instance, can easily make the claim that everything in the universe, from the orbits of planetary bodies to the dust particles on his shoes, is evidence for the reality of Geusha. And on his question-begging premises, it is.

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.

Peter writes:

Therefore, when the unbeliever says that he hasn't yet found any convincing evidence of God's existence he is reasoning in a circle.

How so? And how does this follow from what Peter said above? Above he affirmed what Christianity says on the matter. But that’s neither here nor there for the non-believer. But that does not even remotely imply circular reasoning. Indeed, given the fact that anyone could slap the label “unavoidable, perspicuous, entirely compelling proof” for any imaginary being he dreams up, the non-believer is simply being wise as well as consistent to point out to the believer that what he offers as “evidence” is not convincing. Not by a long shot! Simply pointing this out is not an instance of “reasoning in a circle.” Would the Christian say that the non-believer is “reasoning in a circle” if he mentions that he “hasn’t yet found any convincing evidence” of Osiris’ existence? Or Horus’ existence? How about Geusha’s existence? If person A proposes the existence of something, and person B says he “hasn’t yet found any convincing evidence” of what person A proposes, how is that “reasoning in a circle”? Peter needs to do more than recite stock apologetic mantras here.

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.

Peter writes:

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.

Again we have another unargued assertion. And it's demonstrably untrue. All the non-believer needs to do is recognize that at the beginning of the inquiry, he has not been convinced so far. Pointing to an apple, for instance, does not demonstrate that it was created by an act of consciousness, or that a conscious being chose for it to exist at this point in time. Recognizing this is not the same thing as actively “assum[ing] that God doesn’t exist.” We assume in terms of positives, but Peter is claiming that we assume in terms of negations. This constitutes a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of human consciousness.

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.

Peter writes:

Yet that's the very thing in dispute!

Ah, now it’s back to the existence of the believer’s god being “the very thing in dispute,” while earlier it was “actually a clash of entire worldviews, not merely over one or a few conflicting claims.” The believer wants to retain the liberty of toggling back and forth between the debate on rival worldviews and the debate on whether or not his god exists, essentially to suit his apologetic insecurities. His ultimate interest in confronting non-believers is not to establish rational verdicts or to persuade them to some truth they may be overlooking, but to discredit them simply for not believing in any invisible magic beings.

Peter writes:

The unbeliever rejects the Christian position because he rejects the Christian position.

This is a hasty generalization, one which special pleads the Christian case purely for the sake of the Christian's personal preference. Contrary to what Peter asserts here, I reject Christianity because I reject all species of mysticism, and Christianity is only one species of mysticism. Since I reject mysticism in general, I consequently reject any species of it. Mysticism is any worldview that is ultimately premised on the primacy of consciousness view of reality. My rejection of mysticism, then, is a logical outcome of my commitment to reason and rationality. So my atheism is actually a consequence of my devotion to reason. Essentially, I reject Christianity for the same reasons I reject Islam, Hinduism, New Age religion, Bahá'í faith, Zoroastrianism, Greek pagan religions, Geusha-belief, Aztec beliefs, etc., etc., etc. When Christians condemn my atheism, then, they are essentially condemning devotion to reason. So make no mistake about it, Christians who heap their scorn on spoilsport non-believers are simply telling us who they are.

Peter:

The atheist is not at all neutral.

Nor do I claim to be “at all neutral.” Devotion to reason certainly does not make one "neutral."

Peter writes:

However, the Christian can also be found reasoning in a circle.

Whereas Peter's charge that non-believers are "found reasoning in a circle" fell on hard times, it is good that he admits that he himself "can... be found reasoning in a circle." He has to assume his god's existence in order to argue for it. In the debate between the believer and the non-believer, the believer is alone in committing this fallacy. He cannot validate his supernaturalism without appealing to the supernatural. So he has an interminable vicious circle on his hands. It’s good that Peter acknowledges this. But he errs in supposing everyone else is guilty of the same thing. This is the believer's proclivity for reckless projection at work here.

Peter writes:

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).

And when the non-believer hears the believer say that the universe was created by a supernatural form of consciousness, he thinks to himself, “That’s ridiculous. Everything in this universe confirms that such fantasies are absurd.” He doesn’t even have to add the parenthetical precautionary “so to speak.”

Peter writes:

Everything proves God's existence. If anything, the burden is proof is on the atheist’.

What exactly is the atheist called to prove? That the non-existent does not exist? Again, the atheist has no burden to prove that the non-existent does not exist. So if it’s a fact that the Christian god does not exist, then the atheist would not need to prove this fact. And if the Christian never makes an attempt to prove that his god is real and not merely imaginary, then he forfeits the opportunity to catch another fish. It’s his choice. Meanwhile, the non-believer goes his merry non-believing way, and the believer is left fuming in his frustrations.

Peter writes:

And if God exists then that's entirely true. But the unbeliever and the believer dispute God's existence.

So where’s the apologist going to start? Is he going to start by presenting a case for his god’s existence, or is he going to try to establish the truth of his worldview in toto? Or is he going to launch a series of question-begging assertions, as we have seen so far, assuming the truth of what he is called to prove, and continue in his self-inflicted frustration? A minimally rational approach would be to declare one's starting point. This would help avoid wasting a lot of time. But apologists don't know what their starting point is, particularly in terms of conceptual irreducibles.

Peter writes:

How, then, can this dispute be resolved?

Easy: the believer needs to face the fact that his god is imaginary, that the primacy of existence is the only valid orientation in the subject-object relationship, that mysticism (including Christianity) entails a fundamental contradiction of the primacy of existence, and that truth can only be consistently affirmed on the basis of the primacy of existence. But the believer is not likely to do this. It’s possible, but it’s not likely. But that is the only rational way to resolve the dispute.

Peter writes:

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?

So long as an individual insists on affirming an arbitrary position, debate with that individual is not really possible. They can squabble, but squabbling achieves nothing of value. Since the believer does not produce legitimate evidence for the existence of his god (he simply asserts that everything that exists in the universe is evidence of his god's existence, and yet this is most unhelpful, for reasons given above), he is essentially affirming an arbitrary position, and that is why "debate" with believers is so easily muddled and unproductive.

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.

Peter writes:

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]

Actually, the preconditions of intelligibility already exist before anyone even begins to develop a worldview. Those preconditions are named by the axioms: existence, identity and consciousness. The axioms are the foundation of a rational worldview. Once a worldview is starting to be assembled, the relationship between consciousness and its objects is of utmost importance, as well as a theory of concepts. But where does Christianity identify the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects? Where does Christianity lay out a theory of concepts? The apostle Paul, for instance, was the most prolific writer of the New Testament. And yet he nowhere addresses the issue of metaphysical primacy. Nor does he spec out a theory of concepts. How can one claim to have a theory of knowledge when he doesn’t have a theory of concepts? And how can you claim to have a worldview which “provide[s] the preconditions of [intelligibility]” when you don’t have a theory of knowledge? Triple blank out.

Peter writes:

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.

Why would we need a worldview which is based on a storybook whose content includes narratives depicting miracles like water being wished into wine, men walking on unfrozen water, dead corpses crawling out of their graves and walking through a city showing themselves to everyone they encounter, etc., when we don't find anything like this in reality? Peter says that "the atheist worldview doesn't correspond to reality," and yet he endorses a worldview whose storybook depictions bear no resemblance whatsoever to the reality in which we find ourselves. We find ourselves in a reality in which the objects of our awareness do not conform to conscious intentions. For instance, I cannot wish water into wine, as we find in the sacred storybook. So why would a worldview that is generated by taking the sacred storybook seriously at all have any relevance to life in the reality in which we find ourselves? Again, blank out.

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.

Peter writes:

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.

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.

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

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Presuppositionalism and the Evasion of the Burden of Proof, Part 1

Internet apologists are constantly trying to buck their burden of proof, whining that, if they have a burden to prove that their god exists, then atheists have a burden to prove that the theist's god doesn't exist, or something along these lines. Some time ago, Peter over at Atheism Presupposes Theism rolled out a three-part series on just this issue. I will examine each installation in this series one by one. In the present post, I will review Peter's initial post in that series, Christianity vs. atheism and the burden of proof, part 1, which attempts to tackle the age-old dispute between theists and atheists as to who bears the burden of proof. Frequently, I've seen apologists try to evade the burden of attempting to prove their god-belief claims by arguing that believing in some invisible magic being is vastly more popular than not believing in one, which makes the atheist the odd man out, as it were. To his credit, Peter does not seem to take this naïve approach to the issue, but instead prefers a presuppositionalist treatment. So this is right up my alley.

Peter opens the topic as follows:

In the debate over the existence of God the claim is often made by atheists and agnostics that since the burden of proof is on the one making the positive claim that therefore the burden of proof rests upon the Christian.

It's both strange and telling that a Christian would have a problem accepting the burden of proof if he wanted others to accept his claim that his god is anything more than imaginary. How much confidence does the believer have in his god-belief? How much confidence does he have in his reasons for believing what he claims?

Peter continues:

The unbeliever reasons that because he is not the one positing the claim of someone's existence (in this case, God) that he bears no burden to disprove God's existence since the claim isn't true or can't be known unless it is first proven.

No, that’s not why the atheist does not have the burden of proof. The atheist has no burden of proof because no one needs to prove that the non-existent does not exist. If the Christian god does not exist, no one needs to prove that it does not exist; in that case it simply doesn’t exist, and people either accept this or live in denial, hoping that it does exist. Again, the theist is asserting the existence of an entity, an entity which he says exists beyond our ability to perceive (so we have no means by which we can have direct awareness of it), beyond our ability to measure (so we could never know how to integrate it conceptually into the sum of our knowledge), beyond our ability to prove (for proof requires evidence, and legitimate evidence is finite while the Christian god is said to be infinite). We are expected to accept as knowledge something that we could never know, given the characteristics Christians use to describe their god. At best, we can only use our imaginations to "know" such a being, and yet it needs to be borne in mind that the imaginary is not real. So not only does the theist bear the burden of proof, he also boobytraps any attempt at proof given the nature of his god-belief claims. This accounts for why so many theists resent the burden of proof being put on their shoulders: deep down they know it's a hopeless task, because deep down they know their claims are simply not true.

Peter writes:

But such reasoning by the unbeliever betrays that he is either unaware of or dishonest about the nature of the debate between the Christian and the atheist.

Not at all. The atheological reasoning I present simply rests on the acknowledgement that a) the non-existent does not exist, b) there is no obligation to prove that the non-existent does not exist, and c) if someone claims that the Christian god exists, either he presents his proof (if he has one), or doesn’t. Also, who wants to persuade whom? Atheists tend to be very live and let live, and typically don't care if other people fill their heads with tales about invisible magic beings and suppose those tales are true. Remember that it's the Christian who is on a mission to seek converts and fill the church pews; his religion demands this. Atheism does not require atheists to go out and turn theists into atheists. So with atheism there is no prima facie obligation to convince theists that they're wrong. Indeed, if there were no more theists, atheists would lose a major supply of entertainment. As for the believer, if he shirks his burden of proof, fails to present a proof, or the proof he does attempt to present is unpersuasive or found to be defective in some way, too bad for him and his god-belief.

Peter writes:

There's alot that can be said regarding the issue of the burden of proof, so maybe I'll have to divide this up into a few posts.

There is no reason to complicate the matter like this. In fact, it is really quite simple: Does the Christian acknowledge that he has a burden to prove his claims, or not? If he does, then he should get down to business and present his proof. If he does not acknowledge that he has a burden to prove his claims, then he should state his denial explicitly and be prepared to live with the results. He should realize that he has no basis to protest non-believers who do not accept his god-belief claims and remain in their non-belief. They certainly aren't going to "believe" on the theist's say so, and theists who renounce their burden to prove their claims need to learn how to get over this.

Peter writes:

But let me start by saying that if an unbeliever and a Christian do engage in debate over the question of God's existence then it's necessary to do just that: to debate.

Actually, there really is no need for a debate. All the non-believer needs to do is say: I don’t believe it. Now what is there to debate over? Does the Christian deny the non-believer’s testimony that he does not believe it? If so, that’s tantamount to calling the non-believer a liar. Why, then, would someone want to engage in a debate he considers a liar? Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if the non-believer says that just by showing up for the debate, the believer performatively concedes that his god-belief is false.

Peter writes:

That involves offering evidence, proofs, reasons, arguments.

Let's not forget poofs!

Peter writes:

If the unbeliever shows up to the debate and says that he's not going offer any proof that God does not exist then he concedes the debate to the Christian.

How so? What exactly is the atheists conceding? As I pointed out, there is no burden to prove that the non-existent does not exist. By not proving that Geusha does not exist, am I conceding that Geusha does exist? That’s utterly nonsensical. Claims about supernatural beings do not enjoy such default status. The believer needs to acknowledge the nature of the kind of claim he is making when he claims that a supernatural being exists. But this is usually what believers are trying to evade.

Peter seems so desperate to "win" a debate that he'll take anything - even the atheist's silence - as a sign of victory. Meanwhile, the atheist will pose a handful of basic questions, questions which the believer will ignore. And yet the theist is so anxious to think he's "winning" debates. It is no wonder that the gospels have Jesus tell us that one must become as a little child to number among his "chosen" (cf. Mk. 10:15; Mt. 18:3-4; see also my blog With Minds of Children).

Peter writes:

It's like saying, "I want to debate but I'm not actually going to debate."

Actually, it’s more like: “You claim that your god exists? Okay, what’s your proof?” Then, when the theist presents his case (if he has one), there's something for both parties to examine. I don’t know why any Christian apologist would resent such a stance. At least such an atheist is willing to give the apologist a chance to present his case. But if the theist announces at the very beginning of their conversation that he doesn't acknowledge any burden to substantiate his god-belief claims, he should be willing to live with the consequences: the non-believer goes his merry way, and the believer is left to his own frustrations.

Peter writes:

If the unbeliever does try to offer proofs for his position then he assumes that he does have a burden of proof, otherwise it wouldn't make any sense for him to debate, and yet atheists do debate.

Choosing to offer counter-proofs (or simply raising objections to arguments presented by believers, or pointing out flaws in their apologetic case) does not constitute an acknowledgement of a burden to do so. The non-believer does this as a gratuity, not to meet some imaginary obligation. This often stirs up the believer's pangs of insecurity though. Are atheists willing to debate? Some are. Many simply enjoy the entertainment that theists provide. Others enjoy sharpening their anti-apologetic chisels.

Peter writes:

In summary, to put it crassly, either put up or shut up.

Incidentally, this is what the non-believer can rightfully say to the apologist: if you don’t want to present any proofs for your god’s existence, fine. Move on, then, and stop wasting our time. After all, as I mentioned above, virtually every non-believer I’ve ever met is more or less live and let live, and has no gripe if a person wants to believe in a personal god. It’s sort of like letting a child have his imaginary friend. At any rate, I don't see how anyone could reasonably accuse little ol' me of failing to "put up," if by "put up" Peter means presenting a defense for one's stated verdicts. Those who are interested in reviewing what I have to say are free to rummage through my blog archives or through the material I've posted on my personal website.

Peter writes:

Neither the Christian nor the atheist want to hold to their respective positions arbitrarily, assuming they want to be rational. I think that even an atheist can follow and agree with this reasoning.

The non-believer is not obligated to accept obligations which Christians put on him. If the non-believer points out the fact that he has no obligation to prove that the non-existent does not exist, the believer can either whine about this, or move on. If he wants, he can politely ask the non-believer to entertain his case for the existence of his god, but this will likely expose the apologist to further criticism, and this is typically what he’s trying to avoid (which is why he’s trying to shift the burden of proof in the first place).

Peter writes:

However, the atheist may still want to reply that even though he's not 100% certain whether God exists he still knows that Christianity is wrong or false.

Yes, he may state something along these lines. Of course, apologists find encouragement in uncertainty. Where they tend to interpret a non-believer's certainty as a sign of arrogance, they tend to see in any instance of uncertainty a glimmer of hope, hope that they might have a chance to "win" a debating point, hope that they might be able to exploit any instance of uncertainty as an occasion to bamboozle the non-believer, hope that he might catch a fish of his own, just as the believer himself was caught in someone else's fishing net.

Now if the non-believer announces that he is 100% certain that god-belief is irrational (a positive claim the burden of proving which a non-believer is certainly capable), then there's something to debate. But this moves the debate into the non-believer's court, and naturally this will irritate the Christian. But that’s when the entertainment begins.

Peter writes:

Thus, the unbeliever may want to show up to the debate in an attempt to disprove the claims and arguments of the Christian theist while at the same time admitting that he himself hasn't necessarily proven that God does not exist (the problem of the universal negative, which by the way is not a problem for the Christian, but I'll save that for another time).

He may do this. Or, he may “show up to the debate” by pointing to the homework he’s already done on the matter, and in addition to this mention that he has not seen the apologist’s rebuttal to the points he’s raised against god-belief in that body of work. The non-believer, for instance, may ask the Christian how he deals with the issue of metaphysical primacy. Or, does he? If he doesn’t, then the Christian is in big trouble with this non-believer. Or, the non-believer might ask the believer to identify the theory of concepts his religious worldview endorses, and what its source might be. As for “the problem of the universal negative,” this isn’t the non-believer’s problem either. After all, it’s already been pointed out that there is no burden to prove that the non-existent does not exist. What the believer needs to do is explain how outsiders to the faith can reliably distinguish between the believer’s god and what the believer may merely be imagining. This poses a clear and present danger for the theist because one can always imagine that a non-existent thing is real. For instance, if someone says Geusha exists, but in fact Geusha is non-existent, the Geusha-believer is called to demonstrate that Geusha is not imaginary. If he doesn’t meet this challenge, don’t blame the non-believer for this – it’s not his fault that the believer can’t distinguish between his deity and his imagination.

Peter writes:

But it is still irrational for the unbeliever to conduct himself in this way. Why? Because when the unbeliever denies the existence of God or claims that there is a lack of compelling evidence to believe in Him the unbeliever presupposes a whole host of positive claims for which, by his own admission, there'd be a burden of proof.

Why is this a problem? What exactly is being debated when the theist wants to debate whether or not his god exists: the theist's claim that a god exists, or the non-theist's positive claims about reality? If the former is the case, then the non-believer's own positive claims are not the issue of the debate. If the Christian wants to challenge the non-believer's positive claims, he needs to identify which claims he wants to challenge and make his objections to those claims clear. A prepared non-believer would relish such an opportunity, for it may be the case that the believer himself unknowingly assumes the truth of those very claims which he wants to discredit. We can start with basic positive assumptions like, “there is a reality.” Does the Christian deny this? Well, if he does, then so much for his claim that his god is real. If the Christian doesn't deny the non-believer's claim that there is a reality, then what's the problem? Since the theist knows he cannot substantiate his god-belief claims, he's going to continue looking for a way to manufacture objections against spoilsport atheists. That's when the fun really begins. Bring it on, I says!

Peter:

The atheist is not at all neutral in the debate over the existence of God.

Of course he isn’t. Indeed, theists are the only ones who accuse non-believers of claiming to be neutral, but who actually does claim this? An atheist may very well be like myself, being wholly committed to an integrated rational worldview. This is certainly not neutral. And if the believer rejects the integrated rational worldview of the non-believer, why should the non-believer try to prove it to him? After all, a rejection of rationality would entail the rejection of the efficacy of proof. And seriously, if the non-believer does prove that Christianity is irrational (a simple feat, mind you), what Christian is going to accept that proof? His denial of such a proof is itself proof that he rejects the efficacy of proof. So the Christian's lipservice to the rationality of a position is just that - lipservice. Besides, if belief in invisible magic beings can be construed as "rational," anything can be construed as "rational" at that point, for by this point it has lost its meaning as a legitimate concept thanks to theism's destruction of concepts.

Peter:

The key to resolving the disagreement between the Christian and the unbeliever over the issue of the burden of proof lies in understanding the nature of the debate between the two over the question of God's existence.

Actually, the key to determine who has what burden of proof, lies not only in what either party happens to be asserting, but also in what the asserting party expects of the other party. The Christian claims that his god exists, and he wants others to accept this claim as knowledge. This bestows a burden of proof upon him, especially if he wants others to accept his claims as truth. I have no god-belief. The Christian should be happy to accept my word on this. After all, he thinks personal testimony is reliable: he does in the case of authors who lived some 1900 years ago - authors whom he cannot interview, so why wouldn’t he do so in the case of someone he can interact with firsthand?

Peter:

The debate is not merely about one isolated claim, i.e., God exists. Rather, both the Christian and the unbeliever bring to that debate a whole host of presuppositions about the nature of reality, possibility, about ethics, about epistemology, truth, teleology, and so on (Bahnsen often spoke of the "big three": metaphysics, ethics, and epistemology).

Notice how Peter not only wants to shift the burden of proof, he also wants to make the debate over more than just whether or not his god exists. Either his god exists, or it doesn’t. But, as is typical with theists (there's always something more), he wants to make his god's alleged existence relevant to everything else in life. Why make it so complicated? That bestows upon the believer yet another set of burdens. Indeed, suppose his god does exist. So what? Why suppose it is any more relevant to our life than a rock that exists on one of Jupiter's moons? The believer wants you to think his god's alleged existence is more relevant than some rock sitting idly somewhere out there in the solar system; he wants you to think that his invisible magic being deserves a central place in your life. This simply means he has some more unmet burdens. This is certainly no burden of mine.

Here’s a better way to go about it: Why not simply name your ultimate starting point, and identify the process by which you know it is true? After all, given the litany of issues that Peter wants to drag into the debate, this question is inevitable. But now it becomes a debate on starting points. Again, don’t be surprised if the non-believer points out that the Christian’s starting point assumes the truth of his non-believing starting point.

Peter:

Both have what Reformed Christians often call a ‘worldview’, a philosophy of life/reality by which they reason and interpret their experiences.

Yes, I certainly do have a worldview. Mine is a worldview founded on the primacy of existence, one which supplies me with the conceptual equipment needed to distinguish between the actual and the imaginary, the reasonable and the irrational, the truth and the fiction. Without a worldview grounded in the primacy of existence, one lacks the cognitive tools needed to recognize such distinctions.

The Christian worldview assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. This is why Christians confuse fiction for reality, as they do when the insist that the stories they read in the New Testament are true. Since the very foundations of their worldview reverse the proper orientation between subject and object - giving the subject of awareness causal primacy over its objects - believers forfeit any claim to rationality on account of the fact that they have surrendered the objective basis needed to distinguish between fact and imagination.

Contrary to Christianity, the rational worldview recognizes the primacy of existence metaphysics. By pointing out that the primacy of consciousness metaphysic is invalid, self-contradictory and irrational, the non-believer will have toppled Christianity at its roots. There is no recovery available to the Christian once this has been done.

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.

Peter:

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 worldview's 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?

Peter:

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:

Neither one is neutral on this issue.

Of course. There is no neutrality between truth and falsehood, just as there can be no compromise between objectivity (the rational worldview) and subjectivism (e.g., the Christian worldview). Curiously, this is typically not the reason presuppositionalists give for designating "neutrality" as a pretense; they like to see matters in terms of commitment to their invisible magic being as if it were fundamental: either you are devoted to the Christian god, or you reject it. On the presuppositionalist view, orientations to truth, rationality, objectivity, etc., only come later, and are determined by one's commitment to or rejection of the Christian god. However, even by the Christian's own premises, awareness of the Christian god (assuming it were real), let alone commitment to or rejection of it, could not be fundamental. As is so common with presuppositionalists, they have a most confused sense of cognitive hierarchy.

Peter writes:

In fact, if both rightly understood their opponent's position then they ought to know even before they debate that they're going to disagree on the question of the burden of proof.

Sure we’re going to disagree. The non-believer will rightly point out that he has no obligation to prove that the non-existent does not exist, and the believer will continue to evade his burden of proof by trying to shift it onto the non-believer.

Peter writes:

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.

Oh, I’ve got to see this! For one thing, I'd really like to know what a Christian might mean by the word "irrational," or for that matter, what he means by "rational." It's not a word that I find in any of my bibles, and on my understanding of rationality (the commitment to reason as one's only means of knowledge and as his only guide to action), Christianity is anything but rational. So obviously the Christian must have a different understanding of what constitutes a rational position. If he has understanding of what "rational" means, what does he think it means, and what is so irrational about non-belief in invisible magic beings? I will review Peter's next installment on his series on the burden of proof and see whether or not he comes through on this point.

Peter writes:

In the end I hope that readers will see that the the question of the burden of proof in the debate over God's existence is actually a great way to prove God's existence and the truth of Christianity.

“Hope” is the operative word. After all, that’s what faith is all about: it is substantiated by hope. Reason and proof have nothing to do with it. Indeed, according to Christianity, it's not a matter of being intellectually convinced of some rationally demonstrable truth. It's about accepting an enormous sum of assertions on the basis of threats and fantasy. The "arguments" intended to rationalize that sum of assertions only comes later, well after major downpayments on the confessional investment have been made.

by Dawson Bethrick

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