Saturday, June 21, 2008

Dodging the Subject-Object Relationship

Robert from Debunking Christianity recently left a most interesting comment to my blog Stolen Concepts and Intellectual Parasitism. In his comment he related his exchange between himself and a Christian in which he (Robert, a non-Christian) spelled out a carefully constructed syllogism against the claim that a creator god exists. The argument that he repeats from his exchange with the Christian defender is clearly influenced by Objectivist thinking, and he also quotes the Christian’s reaction to that argument. Robert’s argument proceeds as follows:

1. To believe that a theistic creator deity exists and is responsible for reality, the believer must imagine their deity was in some timeless fashion akin to "before" existence alone in a timeless, non-spatial, void without anything. That is alone as a consciousness, conscious of nothing or only itself without time, space, energy, location, dimensions, fields, concepts, knowledge, symbols, perceptions, physical natural law, logic or matter. Believers imagine that their deity was a primordial, immaterial, non-spatial, consciousness that wished existence to instantiate.

2. Consciousness is an irreducible primary.

3. Consciousness at the most common denominative rung on the ladder of complexity consists of awareness of existence.

4. Consciousness of consciousness necessarily requires primary consciousness to first obtain as awareness of existence.

5. Prior to existence there could not have been anything to be aware of.

6. Without anything to be aware of, there could not have been any awareness.

7. Without awareness there could not have been any consciousness.

8. From 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 there could not have been a primordial consciousness prior to existence.

9. Creator gods are defined as primordial consciousness.

10. From 8 and 9 Creator gods cannot exist.

First some comments in response to Robert’s argument.

In response to the first premise, he is correct in pointing out that belief that a creator-god exists and created the universe (or reality, the world, or what have you), requires at a base minimum that the believer retreat into his imagination. Just as the believer imagines that his consciousness will survive his death and be transported to a magic kingdom beyond the grave, he also imagines that the deity which created and resides within that magic kingdom also created the universe in which human beings exist and the mechanism, whatever it may be, by which the human soul supposedly traverses from the side of life to the side of death and the alleged realm to which death is thought to serve as a doorway. Robert is also correct in pointing out that the believer relies on his imagination when developing the image of his god in his mind, for it is within his imagination that the believer assembles a mental picture of what his god is like given the descriptive inputs supplied by his religious devotional program. In the case of Christianity, the source of this devotional program is, of course, the Old and New Testaments of the bible. The remaining essence of Robert’s first premise is remarkably similar to Anton Thorn’s argument that creator-theism inevitably results in what he calls the fallacy of pure self-reference. This fallacy is committed when a statement refers exclusively to its own referring (Thorn’s examples is the statement “This statement is true,” wherein the statement referenced is the given statement itself). The same fallacy is committed, Thorn rightly claims, when a form of consciousness is affirmed while prohibiting it from having awareness of anything other than itself. The quotation that Thorn cites from Binswanger is most topical:

Consciousness cannot be purely self-contained. That applies to any specific act of consciousness just as it does to consciousness as a whole. A statement cannot refer only to itself. More precisely, It cannot refer only to itself qua statement; a statement cannot refer only to its own referring. Its own referring to what?

It should be easy to spot the “blank out” here. What is denied in such instances is an object of consciousness, as if consciousness could exist all by its lonesome, without anything to be conscious of, inhabiting a completely empty void in which no other existent could provide itself as an object to the consciousness in question. The implication here should be obvious: a consciousness which is alleged to have created everything distinct from itself would have had nothing to be conscious of prior to creating anything distinct of itself. Both Thorn and Robert are correct in pointing out that such a scenario would require us to accept a fallacy here. And of course, theists are at a loss as to why one should do this.

Proceeding through Robert’s syllogism, he points out some basic facts about the nature of consciousness which are irrefutable. They are: that consciousness is irreducible (premise 2); that essential to consciousness is that it is consciousness of something that exists (premise 3); and that introspective awareness cannot be primary, that consciousness can be its own object only if it is a secondary object (premise 4). This latter position does not deny the authenticity of introspection; it simply points out that introspective investigation of conscious activity always involves some object independent of consciousness. For instance, if I think about how I came to the conclusion that running with scissors in one’s hands is dangerous, I could be aware of my own conscious activity only after I was aware of something in the world, something independent of myself, something independent of my awareness. Prior to being able to do this, my senses were active, giving me perceptual awareness of things like scissors and organisms capable of holding and running with them, consequently giving me the option of considering such activity and evaluating it, or ignoring it and going on with some other activity.

Robert’s premise 5 introduces the idea of “prior to existence,” which literally refers to nothing. The reason why premise 5 is important, is because of the absurdity which is implicated by the position to which Robert is responding: if one holds that existence was created by a consciousness, this could only mean that prior to creating existence nothing existed, not even the consciousness which allegedly did the creating. Moreover, if nothing exists (as would be implied by the view that existence was created), then there’d be nothing for consciousness to be aware of. To affirm that existence is a creation of some conscious activity, then, errs in at least two ways: first, it errs by affirming the existence of a conscious being while requiring that nothing exists; and second, it errs by affirming consciousness without anything to be conscious of, which is a contradiction in terms.

Premise 6 simply makes explicit what is already implicit in the foregoing: that the affirmation of a consciousness without anything to be conscious of is self-contradictory. In other words, if there are no objects for a conscious to be aware of, on what basis could one affirm the reality of a consciousness? Blank out. To ignore this kind of question is to ignore the nature of consciousness as such, which means: to ignore the nature of one’s own consciousness, which means: to indulge a fundamental evasion.Premise 7 has a tautological quality to it. It essentially says that if there is no consciousness, there is no consciousness of anything.

Premise 8 wraps up the truths of the prior five premises and draws the inevitable implication that “there could not have been a primordial consciousness prior to existence.” By “primordial consciousness” Robert means something like the Christian means by a supernatural consciousness which is alleged to have created the universe (premise 9). Where ‘universe’ refers to the sum total of everything that exists, then obviously there could be no consciousness outside the universe (or “prior” to the universe, assuming the universe did not at one time exist), for the reasons given up to this point.

Christians may attempt to rebut this argument in a variety of ways, and can be expected to give it their best effort since the argument targets the very fundamentals of god-belief. Robert clipped a portion of one response he got from a Christian, and as one would expect, it’s a valiant effort, but at the end of the day it is quite weak:

my point is 1) I can have the capacity to be aware of things without actually being aware of anything.

We need to make a distinction here:

A) Consciousness is having the capacity to be aware of things and

B) Consciousness is being aware of things. You sound like you accept B. I accept A.

And my second point is 2) Even if B were true, God could be aware of himself. One can be introspectively aware of themselves, their feelings, their thoughts, their character, etc. There is no contradiction there.

And my third point 3) Even if B were true, God the Father could be aware of God the Son. ...snip...

Robert then asked me to comment on how one might best respond to the Christian’s points here.

When engaging mystics like the Christian whom Robert engaged, one may find it helpful to focus on the issue by refining the terminology. Thinkers untutored in Objectivism are frequently confused by the sheer breadth of concepts like ‘consciousness’ and ‘existence’. The issue of metaphysical primacy pertains specifically to the relationship between the subject of consciousness and any object(s) that it perceives, observes or considers. I’ve observed even institutional philosophers (e.g., Parrish, Toner, etc.) get tripped up on this point; the sheer breadth of these concepts seems to lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations, many of which are not at all what Objectivism has in mind. While the statement “existence exists independent of consciousness” is certainly true as Objectivism understands it, non-Objectivists tend to be lost by it, and I think this is the case not only because non-Objectivists are not in the habit of thinking in terms of essentials (just look at what passes as definitions in their views), but also because these concepts are so wide (‘existence’ of course being the widest of all concepts). Consequently, what is typically missed by non-Objectivists who participate in such discussions is the question of the relationship between the subject of awareness and the object of awareness. It is this distinction – between the subject and the objects of consciousness – and the relationship between the two, which need to be brought to the surface, for it is precisely here where Christians and other mystics depart from reality. In his comment, Robert referenced Anton Thorn’s essay The Issue of Metaphysical Primacy, which is a good place to start for those who are interested in expanding their understanding of this fundamental topic.

Robert’s Christian interlocutor seems to have the desire to make the debate revolve around whether consciousness is best conceived as “having the capacity to be aware of things” or as “being aware of things.” He seems oblivious to the fact that by introducing this distinction he accomplishes nothing more than delaying the inevitable. For one, the statement that “consciousness is having the capacity to be aware of things” would make more sense on a non-supernaturalistic viewpoint. What possesses “the capacity to be aware of things” if not certain biological organisms? And by what means do they have such capacity if not by a central nervous system, a brain, sensory organs, etc.? This would tend to rule out a so-called “immaterial” or “non-physical” being from possessing the capacity denoted here, because on this view consciousness is a capacity of an entity, not an entity in its own right (and I agree: consciousness is an attribute of an entity, not an independently existing entity). Perhaps what the Christian meant here was that consciousness is “the capacity to be aware of things,” which is at least slightly less problematic for his position, but it is still very much compatible with the Objectivist view. This would seem to have in mind generally the ability to be aware of things. One could say in this respect that mammals are conscious organisms, i.e., they have the ability to be aware of things.

But even then (here comes the inevitable part), when this ability is exercised, it is still awareness of things, i.e., of objects, and thus a relationship between consciousness and its objects pertains, and it is this relationship, specifically the orientation of this relationship, which the issue of metaphysical primacy isolates and identifies. Objectively speaking, one would not affirm the ability to be aware and qualify this as the ability to be aware of nothing, just as, again objectively speaking, one would not affirm that one is aware but is aware of nothing. When a conscious being is aware, it is always aware of something, of some object(s). If the Christian disputes this (and many whom I’ve encountered have), and affirm that consciousness could very well be awareness of nothing (or the capacity to be aware of nothing), this would render consciousness on such an account completely inert and contentless. Even as a capacity, it would be of no consequence whatsoever. So the distinction which the Christian introduces here gains him nothing, and strikes me as a blatant red herring. From what Robert quoted from his exchange, the Christian doesn’t even offer any argument for the alternative he prefers.

When the Christian says “I can have the capacity to be aware of things without actually being aware of anything,” what could he be describing if not simply a state of unconscious? When we are asleep, for instance, we still have the ability or capacity to be aware (because we are still alive and our sensory organs, nervous system and brain are still intact), but that ability or capacity is not being exercised. The Christian apparently thinks this point is key to evading Robert’s argument. But what does it gain him? He’s simply ducking for cover at this point.

The Christian then announces that, even if consciousness is awareness of things (i.e., of objects), then “God could be aware of himself.” By this I take him to mean that his god “could be aware of himself” if there’s nothing else to be aware of, since the context here is the question of what objects a creator-god, as a conscious being, could have in its awareness prior to creating anything distinct from itself (since every existent distinct from the Christian god is said to have been created by that same god, and it was allegedly conscious prior to creating anything distinct from itself).

The notion of being aware of oneself at the exclusion of anything else, strikes me as utterly fantastic and nonsensical, as a debating point thrown out simply to be contrary or salvage an otherwise untenable position. To say, for instance, that the Christian god, prior to creating any objects distinct from itself, was yet conscious of itself (and thereby conscious only of itself), is to concede that it was not conscious of anything else. The Christian backs himself into a corner by his own dogmatic stipulations. Not only does this acknowledge, albeit in roundabout fashion, that it does not make sense to speak of consciousness without anything to be conscious of, that the subject does in fact require an object.

But when the Christian god is said to be conscious of itself in this respect, prior to creating anything distinct from itself, existing all alone in an utterly empty void, what exactly is it conscious of? Again, we have what in human beings amounts to secondary conscious (introspection, awareness directed inward into its own operations), treated as if it were sufficient as primary consciousness. What exactly serves as the object of consciousness in this case? The Christian may say that his god’s thoughts are its objects. But again, as we saw above, this simply delays the inevitable: thoughts of what? The Christian may say his god’s thoughts are thoughts of what it plans to do. Plans to do about what? Round and round and round we go, without the Christian ever making good on the subject-object relationship.

Incidentally, to affirm that, prior to “the beginning” which the Genesis account references, the Christian god was aware only of itself and of nothing else (for there were no other objects yet to be aware of), simply confirms the point that it has no independent standard (something Christian apologists seem willing to affirm), which can only mean that its subjective whim prevails over all else. To call such a being “rational” and its decrees “objective” would commit the fallacy of the stolen concept, because both concepts are premised on the primacy of existence (i.e., of objects which exist independent of consciousness), and yet are applied in a context whose stipulations prohibit all legitimate objectivity whatsoever.

There is also the issue of epistemology which should not be overlooked or discounted. When the believer makes claims like “God the Father could be aware of God the Son,” by what means of knowledge could anyone know this to be the case? How does this kind of statement refer to reality? To understand such claims as legitimate knowledge of reality, we would need to understand how it reduces to the perceptual level, which is where our awareness of reality begins. (Those who deny that knowledge of reality begins at the perceptual level of awareness are simply announcing that whatever it is they call knowledge, it is not knowledge of reality.) If claims like “God the Father could be aware of God the Son” are admitted to have any basis in perception, the Christian has no recourse but to appeal to the storybook of the bible as the source of this so-called knowledge. And as we know from reading any storybook, the content of such sources simply excites and inspires the imagination, and what is imagined on the basis of reading stories like those found in the bible, or The Wizard of Oz, or Alice in Wonderland, can seem real to the reader if his energy is invested in the hope that what he is imagining is real. Social pressure and repetition are of course very effective here, which is why church attendance is so highly stressed in most Christian circles.

In my blog The Axioms and the Primacy of Existence, one of my major points was that our epistemology needs to be compatible with the primacy of existence, since the truth of the primacy of existence is undeniable in human cognition. Believers are often found saying things like “God is real even if you don’t believe in Him” or “God’s existence is true no matter who denies it.” Notice how these statements attempt to make use of the primacy of existence principle, how they borrow from the fundamentals of a worldview fundamentally opposed to the one they’re intended to defend. They are essentially saying that something is the case (in this case, “God’s existence”) independent of anyone’s conscious activity – e.g., whether anyone knows it, believes it, wishes otherwise, is disturbed by it, etc. How often do we hear people saying “wishing doesn’t make it so”? I’ve seen even believers making this statement, a statement whose truth can be rightly taken for granted precisely because existence exists independent of consciousness, because of the primacy of objects in the subject-object relationship. Ask the believer who insists that you submit to his indoctrination, whether he thinks his god exists because he wants it to exist. He will likely insist that this is not what he has in mind. So even here, he seems implicitly willing, at this point of the conversation anyway, to conform his epistemology to the truth of the primacy of existence principle, even though he has no explicit understanding of this principle. As the discussion proceeds and it turns out that he appeals to divine revelation and the god he claims is real is said to have all kinds of magical powers of consciousness that we nowhere find in nature, we are essentially observing how quickly he abandons the principle which moments before he was invoking. I’m reminded of James 1:8 where it characterizes the “double-minded man” as being “unstable in all he does.” Just as the believer is encouraged to put his treasure on the other side of death, he also reserves for himself the permission to draw from that imaginary source and call it knowledge. What in fact he is doing is mistaking the imaginary for the real, and abandoning the primacy of existence principle is crucial to such pretense. For the Christian, the primacy of existence principle is true one minute, but happily jettisoned the next. And typically, the believer himself does not recognize this.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Stolen Concepts and Intellectual Parasitism

A visitor to my blog once suggested that Christianity comprises a long tradition of concept-stealing, and cited as examples the pagan mystery religions from ancient times (e.g., the eucharist, the virgin birth, a dying and rising savior, etc.), the adoption of non-Christian holidays (e.g., Easter, Christmas), even modern scientific advancements (such as hospitals) that are claimed as the byproduct of Christian intellectualism. I was taken aback by this comment because it demonstrated to me that even frequent readers of my blog may not have a good understanding of what is happening when one commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. For although the fallacy of the stolen concept is an error that is fundamental to the Christian worldview, these are not examples of concept-stealing (though the reasoning behind some of them may involve stolen concepts). There are important distinctions between the fallacy of the stolen concept on the one hand, and cultural hijacking and intellectual parasitism on the other. These distinctions can be missed due to unfamiliarity with the nature of the error committed by stolen concepts.



The Fallacy of the Stolen Concept

A stolen concept is not characterized by making use (either real or apparent) of a tradition of a worldview to which one does not ascribe. An non-Christian, for instance, is not committing the fallacy of the stolen concept if he gives out gifts to friends and loved ones every December 25. Similarly, I would not be committing the fallacy of the stolen concept by attending a Passover feast with one of my Jewish friends. On the contrary, the fallacy of the stolen concept is a cognitive fallacy involving specifically a breach of the knowledge hierarchy. It’s an insidious type of error which usually goes unnoticed, unless it’s so explicit that it’s difficult to miss. The fallacy of the stolen concept occurs when one makes use of a concept while denying or ignoring its genetic roots. An obvious example would be when someone affirms the validity of geometry while insisting that numbers are meaningless. As a mathematical science, geometry assumes that numbers are conceptually valid, that numbers have meaning. But how could something which assumes the meaningfulness of numbers be valid if numbers really are meaningless? One of the primary genetic roots, then, of the concept ‘geometry’ is the validity of numbers. So the fallacy of the stolen concept occurs if we make use of the concept ‘geometry’ while denying the meaningfulness of numbers.

Other clearly detectable examples of the fallacy of the stolen concept which may be encountered in the theist-atheist debate would include the following:

- “Consciousness does not exist, and here’s why I think that”: This statement commits the fallacy of the stolen concept because it assumes the actuality of thinking while denying consciousness, the faculty one needs in order to think in the first place. In fact, the fallacy occurs in two distinct ways. It occurs conceptually, because the concept ‘consciousness’ is a conceptual root of the concept ‘to think’, and yet it is being denied in the statement. It also occurs genetically, for the faculty of consciousness is the genetic root of the act of thinking.

- “Your consciousness is invalid unless you believe that God exists”: This statement obviously commits the fallacy of the stolen concept because it requires that one perform a conscious function (believing) in order to validate one’s consciousness. But if one’s consciousness is invalid to begin with, how could he use it to believe anything? And if he accepts the premise that the use of his consciousness is required in order to validate it, how could any believe he holds be true? Blank out. Just by perceiving any object, one’s consciousness is a fact. This is why Objectivism holds that the validity of consciousness is axiomatic. Any view which denies this ends up committing the fallacy of the stolen concept.

- “Existence cannot be ultimate for it is an impersonal starting point, and the impersonal cannot account for the personal”: One who affirms this kind of statement has a very poor understanding of why knowledge requires a starting point, and seems to think that the undesirable consequences of a certain position are sufficient to invalidate that position. The only alternative to existence is non-existence, but the proponent of the view expressed here wants to posit something that exists prior to existence, one answering to the descriptor “personal.” What is essential to “personal” if not conscious activity? Thus the view affirmed here seeks to place consciousness prior to existence, alleging that this consciousness “accounts for” existence as such. This view clearly commits the fallacy of the stolen concept by affirming consciousness before or outside existence, which is a contradiction in terms. It affirms the existence of a consciousness, and yet it affirms this existence “prior to existence.” The result is conceptually absurd, and yet it is on this basis that some would label contrary views absurd.

Most commonly accepted instances of stolen concepts, however, are not so obvious or easily identified, at least to those who have little understanding of the nature of abstractions and the process of conceptual reduction. On this point I’m in deep agreement with Peikoff when he writes:

The reason stolen concepts are so prevalent is that most people (and most philosophers) have no idea of the “roots” of a concept. In practice, they treat every concept as a primary, i.e., as a first-level abstraction; thus they tear the concept from any place in a hierarchy and thereby detach it from reality. Thereafter, its use is governed by caprice or unthinking habit, with no objective guidelines for the mind to follow. The result is confusion, contradiction, and the conversion of language into verbiage. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 136.)

Knowledge is conceptual in nature, and concepts are formed ultimately on the basis of perceptual input, or on the basis of previously formed concepts (which were formed ultimately on the basis of perceptual input). Knowledge is thus hierarchical: higher levels of knowledge rest on the truth of lower levels of knowledge. For instance, the mathematical science of geometry depends on the truth of basic number theory. Without basic number theory, there could be no science of geometry. One commits the fallacy of the stolen concept, then, if, for example, he affirms the validity of geometry as a mathematical science, but denies the truth of basic number theory. How could the calculation of the volume of a cone, for instance, be intelligible if the units of measure represented numerically could not figure in that calculation, because their quantification was impossible? Blank out.

So how does Christianity commit the fallacy of the stolen concept then? Obviously, it does not explicitly affirm a higher level abstraction (such as geometry) while explicitly denying its genetic roots (like basic number theory). Or does it? Numerous Objectivist philosophers have pointed that Christianity does in fact commit the fallacy of the stolen concept at the most fundamental level of cognition. However, it may not be so readily apparent to thinkers who are unfamiliar with the kind of error that makes stolen concepts fallacious.

Even broader than simply Christianity, theism in general commits the fallacy of the stolen concept by reversing the proper orientation of the subject-object relationship. It must be borne in mind that, since consciousness is consciousness of something, a subject by virtue of its nature qua subject presupposes the existence of some object(s) for it to be aware of. Theism commits the fallacy of the stolen concept by granting metaphysical primacy to the subject in the subject-object relationship. It does this most explicitly in its notion of a god, but it does this elsewhere as well. In terms of essentials, Christianity’s notion of a god amounts to affirming consciousness prior to any independently existing objects. Taking into consideration its full implications, Christianity basically asserts the existence of consciousness without anything to be conscious of, which is a contradiction in terms. In the actual world (as opposed to the imaginary realm of the theistic believer), the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of consciousness: objects are what they are independent of any consciousness which perceives or considers them. All rational activity presupposes this orientation in the subject-object relationship, and rational philosophy is firmly and explicitly built on this fundamental premise. To deny it is to affirm the reality of consciousness while denying its inherent need for objects to complete the relationship which distinguishes conscious experience from other phenomena.

The Christian god is said to be a conscious being which created the universe by an act of will. In other words, it wished, and this caused the universe of objects to come into being. On this view, the universe, defined as the sum totality of everything that exists, is a creation of consciousness. The consciousness in question here is clearly thought to hold metaphysical primacy over everything else. Christianity’s assumption of the primacy of consciousness is unmistakable. It’s also inexcusable. The primacy of consciousness means the primacy of the subject in the subject-object relationship. On such a paradigm, the objects conform to the subject, for the subject holds metaphysical primacy over its objects. This is the opposite of the principle of objectivity; in fact, it is the very essence of subjectivism, and Christianity’s embrace of subjectivism is explicit. (See for instance my blog Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist.)

The very notion of a bodiless consciousness commits the fallacy of the stolen concept by affirming consciousness while denying the biological processes which make consciousness possible. While the ancient primitives who first imagined a deity beyond the objects they perceived, lacked any scientific understanding of the brain, the nervous system, the organs of the senses, etc., which make consciousness possible in biological organisms, today’s theists do not have this excuse. When this fact is pointed out, theists often try to challenge it by insisting that the non-believer prove that consciousness is strictly biological. This maneuver, however, misses several important points. For one, it fails to take into account that all demonstrable examples of consciousness found in reality belong to biological organisms, be they cats, fish, horses, deer, orangutans, or human beings. Also, it fails to take into account how one forms the concept ‘consciousness’ in the first place. It is not up to the non-believer to prove that there can be no such thing as a consciousness without some biological organism which can host it. Rather, it is up to the asserter of such a view to explain how the concept ‘consciousness’ can be formed so as to allow for such assertions. For instance, what units does the believer discover and integrate into his concept of consciousness such that it allows for such notions? (The same type of error is found in attempts to evade the primacy of existence principle by allowing that existence may hold in the case of human consciousness, while affirming the existence of some non-human consciousness to which objects conform; for more on this, see my blog The Axioms and the Primacy of Existence.) And how does he distinguish what he calls a consciousness without a body from something he is simply imagining? Typically defenders of theism never consider these kinds of questions, let alone have ready answers to them. Instead, their goal is to deflect such considerations by insisting that the burden of proof is on those who do not accept their unsupported claims in the first place. So much effort can be found on the part of theists to cover their commitment to stolen concepts.

Christian apologists commit the fallacy of the stolen concept when they claim that their epistemological starting point is “the Word of God,” i.e., the entirety of the bible. For instance, Bahnsen asserts that “the true starting point of thought cannot be other than God and His revealed word” (Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 73) Elsewhere he asserts that “God’s mind is epistemologically the standard of truth – thus being the ‘ultimate’ starting point.” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 100n.33) But none of this is conceptually irreducible.

To say that “God” is one’s proper epistemological starting point likewise commits the fallacy of the stolen concept, for – because even according to Christianity itself, it is supposed to be imperceptible – it could not (even if we supposed it exists) number among the objects of which man is aware directly. Even if the believer claims that we all know his god directly (following Rom. 1:18f), he cannot identify any objective means by which one could have awareness of his god, let alone explain how one can reliably distinguish between what he calls “God” and what he may simply be imagining. If the believer says “God exists” is his starting point, we simply ask where he got the concept ‘exists’. He must have already formed this concept in order to apply it to his god, thus indicating that he in fact does have knowledge that is even more fundamental than his claim that his god exists. As Porter rightly points out, “anybody can deny the validity of ‘God’, but nobody can deny the validity of ‘existence’.” (Ayn Rand’s Theory of Knowledge, p. 176) As far as fundamentality is concerned, the Christian notion of god, for instance, is so packed with notions and assumptions that it could not possibly constitute a conceptually irreducible primary. What is “God”? According to Christianity, it is, along with many other things, the creator of the universe, the uncaused cause, a trinity, a sovereign being worthy of man’s devotion and sacrifice, the controller of history, etc., etc. None of these roles, descriptors or definitions are conceptually irreducible, and yet they are all supposedly needed in order to know what the Christian god is and to affirm its existence.

Moreover, the bible, beginning with the first verse of the first chapter of the book of Genesis and ending with the last verse of the last chapter of the book of Revelation, is an enormous sum of mystical stories, genealogies, accounts, hymns, poetry, letters, etc. The claim that the bible (either in part or in toto) is true, rests on many prior assumptions, and errs by failing to recognize the hierarchical structure of knowledge. Like other pieces of literature, the bible is composed of a long series of statements and propositions, each of which in turn is itself composed of a string of concepts. There are very few axiomatic concepts in human thought; the rest are definable in terms of prior concepts. This is particularly the case with the higher abstractions. In other words, most concepts, because they can (and must) be defined in terms of prior concepts (concepts resting on lower tiers of the knowledge hierarchy), are reducible to other concepts. And if concepts are not irreducible, then surely the statements and propositions consisting of such concepts are not irreducible. Even more, a chapter in a book which is constituted by a string of propositions, is far from conceptually irreducible. So the bible (i.e., “God’s word”) is not conceptually irreducible, and thus could not be one’s starting point. To call it one’s starting point is to deny the entire conceptual strata assumed by the thousands of concepts which make up its content, which means: such a claim commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. It would be better if the believer sit down and honestly think about what his true starting point might be. But apologetics provides a mechanism by which his true starting point will forever remain obscured to him. This is why presuppositionalism is such a farce: rather than identifying one’s philosophical fundamentals in a clear, concise and explicit manner, the presuppositional apologetic shrouds its underlying assumptions in a haze of verbiage, subterfuge and gimmickry, while demanding that any rival position satisfy challenges which the Christian worldview could never attempt to tackle without tacitly borrowing from fundamentally anti-Christian perspectives about the world.

The idea that the bible is the proper epistemological starting point isn’t even really biblical. The bible itself never enumerates which books properly belong within it, nor does it come out and say that it should be one’s starting point. On the contrary, the bible is explicit on what should be one’s starting point. According to Proverbs 1:7, fear is “the beginning of knowledge.” But this constitutes yet another stolen concept, for it seeks to place an emotion prior to any knowledge, and yet emotions presuppose at least some knowledge. If X is one’s starting point to knowledge, then X could not assume knowledge prior to itself. But how could one have fear of something and not have at least some knowledge to give that fear its content? Indeed, if one can validly say that “the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge,” one could with equal validity say that “the love for Blarko is the beginning of knowledge.” Both are “equally valid” because both equally lack any objective basis and both turn the knowledge hierarchy on its head. Either way you slice it, , fear is certainly not man’s epistemological starting point. Perception is, and those who contest this fact simply mire themselves down in a flood of stolen concepts.

Believers witnessing for their faith commit the fallacy of the stolen concept quite regularly without realizing it. Take for example the claim “God exists whether anyone believes it or not.” One will see this kind of claim (in various renditions) in encounters with defenders of the religious worldview quite frequently. Without realizing it, the religious witness making this kind of claim is making use of the primacy of existence, the principle which recognizes the fact that reality exists independent of consciousness, that things are what they are regardless of thoughts, wishes, ignorance, emotions, memories, etc. And yet this principle is being applied to religious claims which assert the existence of a consciousness which allegedly has precisely the very power that is denied to every other consciousness. On the Christian view, there exists a supernatural being whose consciousness has the power to create, shape and revise anything in reality. Bahnsen makes this unmistakably clear: “The believer understands that truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 163). “God is the creator of every fact,” says Van Til (Christian Theistic Evidences, p. 88; quoted in Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic, p. 378.) If one affirms that truth is “whatever conforms to the mind of God,” and “God is the creator of every fact,” this can only mean that he cannot consistently hold to the fundamental principle underlying the claim that something is the case “whether anyone believes it or not.” For he has made allowance for the primacy of the subject in the subject-object relationship by affirming a consciousness with abilities that no consciousness we find in the world possesses. Such a being would enjoy precisely the exact opposite orientation between itself as a subject and anything in its awareness that man and other biological organisms have. So the witness is borrowing a principle that is fundamentally alien to the worldview he proclaims in order to defend it. This can only mean that it is indefensible on its own terms. It constitutes a stolen concept because he enlists the help of a position (the primacy of existence) to defend a position which fundamentally denies that position (by affirming the primacy of consciousness).

Intellectual Parasitism

Now the cultural borrowings mentioned at the beginning of this blog are components of Christianity’s parasitic campaign of intellectual assimilation. Christianity’s goal of mass assimilation is the cultural outworking of its ethics of the unearned, which has its primary locus at the level of the individual. In Christianity’s moral theory, the believer is expected to accept unearned guilt (which he “inherited” from the original transgressors Adam and Eve by virtue of being born human) and to prize unearned forgiveness (“mercy” in the form of the “free gift” of “salvation” and “redemption”, neither of which he can “earn” through his own effort or on his own merit). By granting justification to the pursuit and acceptance of the unearned in morality, Christianity has no principle basis for restraining new iterations of this vice in other areas of human endeavor. Given its self-righteous claim to the unearned, Christianity’s lust for cultural assimilation is inevitable.

On the broader societal level, Christianity seeks to absorb entire cultures as well as individual minds or souls. Its appetite for assimilation is insatiable as it creates in its leaders a hunger to devour both achievers and their achievements, using underachievers and non-achievers as their instruments. Those who resist Christianity are to be destroyed, typically by turning them into non-persons through personal demoralization and public character assassination (burning at the stake is no longer allowed in the west), while those achievements which challenge Christianity’s doctrines must be reinterpreted so as to neutralize their damaging effect, or stigmatized through repetitive castigation (consider how vocal Christianity’s defenders are in reaction to the scientific theory of evolution). When Christianity moves into a new populace (think of Vladimir I’s autocratic baptismal of Kievan Rus in 988 AD), rival religious traditions are the first to be absorbed, because this netted the largest numbers of a culture’s population. An entire culture can be a tempting catch – and also a handy tool – for enterprising fishermen. In just two or three generations, entire traditions could be recast with Christian accoutrements, and the new generation, having never clearly understood the original meaning of the assimilated tradition in the first place, accepted the traditions in their new Christian guise as originally Christian. For instance, in Europe Christianity absorbed pagan traditions like Yule, while effacing the personalities and lore associated with those traditions and replacing them with its own, such as the nativity scene inspired by the gospel stories.

In modern apologetics, Christianity’s compulsion for cultural assimilation has created entire crusades to assimilate all of academia, to convert entire university faculties as well as their subject matter, teachers and students from their secular basis to a specifically Christian monstrosity. They focus on the humanities, the philosophy departments particularly, but by no means exclusively. Van Til made this ambition crystal clear when he announced:

Why am I so much interested in the foundations of science? It is (a) because with [Abraham] Kuyper I believe that God requires of us that we claim every realm of being for him, and (b) because with Kuyper I believe that unless we press the crown rights of our King in every realm we shall not long retain them in any realm. (The Defense of the Faith, 1st ed., pp. 279-280; quoted in Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 26.)

For Van Til, it’s all or nothing, and his worldview guarantees him that the ends justify the means. Non-Christians do all the enterprising work, the experimenting, the analyzing, the fact-checking, the risk-taking, the heavy-lifting, etc., and Christians come along afterwards, survey the results through the filter of their arbitrary religious views, and claim them on behalf of the magic kingdom. You almost expect them to show up on horseback in plate armor. That was how it happened in the olden days, before the Declaration of Independence. Today they serve up a piping hot dish of circuitous casuistry, sophisticated fallacies, deceptive tactics, and the promulgation of divisionary prejudices all found throughout a vast and growing apologetics literature that is prone to repeating itself over and over and over again (as if by ceaselessly chanting a mantra, one will eventually begin to believe it). In many cases one will find an attempt to make the achievements of men appear possible only on the basis of Christian theism in the first place. Often the attempt is as simplistic as mere association. Isaac Newton, for instance, was a professing Christian; because of this his achievements in mathematics and science are thought by many to be logically related to Christian teaching somehow.

Is this an unfair assessment? Not at all. Apologist John Frame also openly admits the intellectual grand larceny which he promotes as an integral part of the Christian worldview:

On the basis of Christian theism, we can use the knowledge discovered by unbelieving scientists, while observing the problems into which their unbelief has led them. (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 335)

Since Christianity represents a full assault on reason and man’s intellect, its adherents have no choice but to look to the achievements of non-Christian thinkers. They certainly have no intellectual claim to scientific achievements, this much is clear. Science is strictly a this-worldly concern, and Christianity teaches its adherents to put their heart in a magic kingdom beyond the grave and not to be concerned with the cares of this world. Even in the case of scientists, for instance, who profess faith in the Christian god, any achievements they may make in the field of science are made in spite of their Christian beliefs, not because of them. This is because Christian beliefs, as we have seen, are integrally mired in stolen concepts and other conceptual errors which inhibit the mind in its pursuit of knowledge and truth. It is only by compartmentalizing religious beliefs so as to segregate them from one’s activities in the real world, that these scientists are able to do anything, even drive an automobile.

Frame makes it clear that, so long as the believer can benefit from “the knowledge discovered by unbelieving scientists,” that knowledge is useful to the believer. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But if the believer should make use of that knowledge, he is compelled by his confessional commitment to discredit its source. Making use of such knowledge demands of the believer a colossal feat of compartmentalization, for now he must rationalize his use of knowledge while maintaining that the method by which it was acquired – cf. “the wisdom of this world [which] is foolishness with God” (I Cor. 3:19) and “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8) – is to be avoided for its satanic associations.

Notice how the pursuit of the unearned is intimately intertwined not only within presuppositionalism’s methodology, but also in its ambitions. This is most clearly evident in presuppositionalism’s deployment of pat slogans which are intended to bring any discussion with its opponents to a screeching halt. For instance, the presuppositionalist will claim that his god exists “because of the impossibility of the contrary.” Does he ever establish this alleged “impossibility of the contrary”? No, he does not, but he insists that it be accepted as a justified premise within his “argument” for his god’s existence. If the apologist himself believes it, he believes it for no clear reason.

The pursuit of the unearned is also evident in the emphasis on canned interrogative tactics rather than genuine arguments. We’ve all seen them before. Apologists will bully their opponents with questions like “how do you account for universal statements when you have only a finite mind?” or “how do you account for immaterial entities in a material-only worldview?” The goal of posing a series of questions and challenges to the non-believer in rapid-fire succession, as many presuppositionalists are wont to do, is not to acquire new knowledge from the non-believer; the presuppositionalist has already concluded that the non-believer is incapable of acquiring and validating knowledge in the first place. The apologist dispenses his playbook of readymade questions and over-worn challenges for the purpose of alleviating himself of his burden to defend his god-belief claims in any cogent manner and overwhelming his non-believing opponent with fabricated burdens which are specifically intended to be unanswerable, even though it is typically the apologist who wants the non-believer to accept Christianity’s religious claims, and not the other way around. The effect of all this suggests that the apologist hopes to break the non-believer down in the interest of extracting the confession “Duh, I donno, must be God did it!

All these are expressions of the Christian’s love affair with the unearned. The non-believer is expected to accept unearned burdens (e.g., he may not identify himself as a “materialist” but the apologist insists that he defend materialism nonetheless), while believers reserve for themselves a free, undeserved pass when it comes to substantiating their bizarre and otherworldly claims. Surprisingly, it really irks them when their gimmicks are exposed.

Frequently, however, when some of the more astute apologists do try to contrive arguments for the existence of their god, we are presented with a swarm of issues that are so complex and full of subtle ambiguities that most people couldn’t follow them very well at all, let alone be persuaded by them that a god exists. The average pew-sitter, for instance, surely did not convert to Christianity because he is convinced that Christianity’s conception of a triune god somehow solves the problem of universals. Such arguments are ultimately intended to bamboozle by means of bewilderment, hoping to exploit the non-believer by steamrolling him with the impression that the apologist is so intelligent that he must be right. (The use of Latinate phrases is a favorite device for this.) The apologist appears to be presenting what looks like a logical case, but upon deeper examination his premises point to nothing. It is all part of an elaborate bluff designed to shield the apologist’s own evasions from detection and exposure. It seeks to do this by putting the non-believer on the run, pressuring him psychologically either to renounce his non-belief, or flee from the apologist in defeat. More often than not, however, it is the apologist who flees the debate, particularly when he finds a non-believer who’s happy to engage him and examine any argument (or pseudo-argument) he might present on behalf of his god-belief. When the slogans and jargon fail to cast their spell on spoilsport atheists, the apologist typically grows frustrated, either lashing out with condescending invectives, or abandoning the discussion altogether so that he can seek out other fish that will be easier to catch in his flimsy net.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Faith as Hope in the Imaginary

I have already demonstrated how Christian faith involves belief without understanding. There is another component to Christian faith which is often ignored, especially by those who seek to defend Christian dogma. The New Testament itself tells us that Christian faith is aligned with hoping. Hebrews 11:1 makes this clear when it says that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Hope by itself is akin to wishing, only stronger, while the hope that informs faith is like the down payment on a major psychological investment. It is putting your heart into what you wish for, making a commitment to that wish as if it were real, bankable and imminent. The more unbelievable the better.

And what does the faithful believer hope for? According to the bible’s own teachings, he does not hope for things that he has perceived and knows are real. Romans 8:24 confirms this:

“For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?”

When a person hopes, he hopes for something he “sees” in his “mind’s eye,” that is, he hopes for something which he imagines. In the case of the Christian believer, he sets his hope on an afterlife, an eternity in a magic kingdom. Are these things real? Has he seen these things? According to Romans 8:24, he wouldn’t hope for them if he had already seen them. No, he imagines these things, and he has no alternative to imagining them. To have faith that these things are real is not simply to believe that they are real. Contrary to popular parlance, faith is not mere belief. One has faith when he puts his hopes in the things he imagines and purposes to act on those hopes. This way one can doubt, as most believers frequently do, but he can still have faith. Even if he does not always believe that his god is there looking out for him and guiding his steps through life, the believer can still act on the hope that the deity he imagines is really there, right beside him, the ultimate imaginary friend.

A hope that is continually indulged can easily become an obsession, and Christianity pressures the believer to invest himself in its faith program as an all-consuming obsession. Rick Warren, bestselling Christian author and mega-church pastor, explicitly incorporates obsession-generating practices into his teaching:

The Bible tells us to "pray all the time." How is it possible to do this? One way is to use "breath prayers" throughout the day ... You choose a brief sentence or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath: "You are with me ... You are my God." Pray it as often as possible so it is rooted deep in your heart. (The Purpose-Driven Life, p. 89)

Prayer is the means by which the believer can commune, albeit one-sidedly, with an imaginary being. Talking to the imaginary makes it seem more real. If practiced consistently, the believer begins to feel like someone is actually listening. And he will take anything – even the barking of a dog – as a sign from the supernatural back to him.

Now apologists of course become noticeably squeamish when the topic of prayer comes up in debate. There are all kinds of reasons, we learn from them, why we should not expect prayer to make any actual difference in the world. But we already know this. For amusement, ask an apologist whether or not prayer can alter “God’s plan.” It’s a yes or no question that will typically not be answered in a yes or no fashion. Rather, what you’ll often get is cheap, uninformative ridicule from an incensed defender of hopes in the imaginary who suddenly finds himself incapable of affirming absolutes. Then we are told that prayer is about building a relationship between the believer and the ruling consciousness. In fact, it is a means of taking the propagandistic tactics from the church hall out into the street in the form of a reiterative verbal self-inducement device. The effect is to replace values-oriented motivation, which is worldly and selfish, with the motivation to stay on good terms with an imaginary being, regardless of the cost to one’s values.

John 12:25: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”

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

Clearly, for the believer, the imaginary is more prized than the actual, even when it comes to the human beings that are closest to him.

The purpose of getting into the habit of constantly praying to an imaginary being is to lose sight of the fact that what the believer is praying to is in fact merely imaginary, and also to marinade his mind in the depths of the devotional program with the hope that eventually he'll be convinced its teachings are true. Conviction is never perfected, which is the reason why constant repetition and reinforcement are needed. A significant philosophical outcome to this is that the believer loses the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary. If it is written in the holy storybook, then it’s true no matter what reason, science and technical experts have to say on the topic. And defending the holy storybook from criticism is a means by which the believer can become even further invested in its confessional demands. By this point, the believer has lost touch with genuine knowledge, and is suffocating in fantasy.

Now of course the believer still perceives and interacts with real objects in the real world, but the devotional program requires him to imagine supernatural powers "back of" those objects. The believer is not encouraged only to pray, but to “watch and pray” (cf. Mk. 13:33, Mt. 26:41, Lk. 21:36). The word “watch” here is code for imagining invisible magic beings “back of” everything in the universe. As Van Til put it, "I could believe in nothing else if I did not, as back of everything, believe in this God." (“Toward A Reformed Apologetic,” 1972) Anyone can imagine anything “back of” the objects he perceives, and if he lacks the philosophical principles by which he can distinguish between what is real and what is merely imaginary, he’s a prime candidate for Christian indoctrination, a fish waiting to be hooked, gutted, filleted and canned by the ministry of fishers. It is because anyone can imagine invisible magic beings “back of” the things he sees, touches and hears, that anyone can become a Christian. Just imagine that Jesus is real, and you’re on your way to faith. As John Frame acknowledged, “a person with a wish to be fulfilled is often on the road to belief.” (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 37) The gospel formula of promising the unearned to men, lures those who seek the unearned into its tangle of traps. And those who are trapped by Christianity’s confessional devices, end up steeping in resentment of those who still roam free.

The believer does not imagine only good invisible magic beings “back of” everything he sees and touches. Not in the least. Indeed, there are demons, devils and other evil magic beings “back of” the things the believer experiences too. These malevolent forces are blamed for the stubbornness of those awful non-believers, spoilsports as they are for them who prefer the imaginary over the actual. Every non-Christian, the believer is encouraged to imagine, is infested with these evil invisible magic beings who have beguiled them with worldly wonders and despicable delights. They are obsessed with non-believers, because the very existence of non-believers poses an incriminating challenge against their devotional program. For if its teachings were really true, how do you explain non-belief? The devotional program makes its attempts to explain this annoying fact, but they’re far from convincing, so by themselves they would not be enough. Non-believers are thus treated collectively, generally characterized as afflicted souls seeking deliberately to do evil, deliberately rejecting “truth,” as people without hope. Again, it’s all about hope, hope in the imaginary.

This is where the fear kicks in. The Christian devotional program requires the believer to take fear seriously. But he doesn’t fear the possibility of mundane accidents or common criminals. Rather, he fears things that are imaginary. He fears what he is told can happen after people die. And more than this, he wants other people to be consumed with this kind of fear, just as he is. So just as he puts his hopes in the imaginary, the believer also puts his hopes in fear. He hopes that by instilling fear in non-believers, they’ll either be converted or silenced, for he cannot stand their presence, and this is because he cannot stand being reminded that he’s been had. But to instill this fear in a non-believer, the believer’s going to have to get the non-believer to start imagining things, just as the believer did when he started out in the faith. Imaginative scenarios are often conjured to concretize the peril of the non-believer's imagined spiritual situation. Consider the following:

Suppose you were exploring an unknown glacier in the north of Greenland in the dead of winter. Just as you reach a sheer cliff with a spectacular view of miles and miles of jagged ice and mountains of snow, a terrible storm breaks in. The wind is so strong that the fear rises in your heart that it might blow you over the cliff. But in the midst of the storm you discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide.... (Why Faith Alone)

Now, I have never been to Greenland, and I have never attempted to explore a glacier, either known or unknown, even in good weather. Such things really do not interest me; I have better ways of spending my time. But I can certainly imagine myself in such a situation. By imagining such a situation, I can project myself into the perilous danger described here, an emergency in which the whole universe seems to have turned malevolently against me, with no course of action available for rescuing myself. The analogy is of course acknowledged by the Christian to be marginal, for in such a situation the danger is "merely physical," and the peril which the Christian has in mind is supposed to be "spiritual" - i.e., supernatural, with “eternal implications,” affecting one's "soul," etc.

So even if I imagine myself at the edge of an arctic glacier during a violent ice storm with neither shoe nor shelter, that’s not really enough imagining. I’m supposed to imagine something even worse than this. The believer wants me to wade deeper into my imagination, for only there will be found the kind of fear that he wants to take seriously. But how do you concretize something as woeful and dreadful as what the Christian wants you to take seriously? A materialist would not likely be impressed with the glacier scenario. He could easily say to it, “it would be the ride of a lifetime! The chest-pounding exhilaration of my last moments of life would be worth it all! And it would end as suddenly as it began. After all, when I’m dead, I’m worm bait anyway.” So such imaginative scenarios are in fact rather self-defeating for the apologist, for unless one blurs the distinction between the real and the imaginary, they tend to accomplish precisely the opposite end that is desired.

But the point that non-believers do not accept the believer’s religious premises seems to be lost on the believer. Instead, the believer, who dutifully recites the dogma that he has no righteousness of his own, casts himself in the dire scenario he describes, and there he imagines himself standing before a self-sufficient and holy deity, thinking "What command would I rather hear than this: 'Hope in my love!'?" Of course, it is easy to imagine that an imaginary being has demands and is capable of love, that it loves and provides and protects. Imaginary beings are capable of whatever the imaginer imagines it to be capable of. And if the only condition for salvation from the utter deficiency and depravity that believers imagine for man, is that the believer pretend that an invisible magic being will be there to save him and that its terms are that he put his hope in it, he will naturally want to call this "good news." For it really requires nothing from him other than that he desire the unearned and go along with the devotional program’s pretenses. It has no initial material cost, but it demands that he sacrifice his conscience and live a lie. It’s all downhill from there.

But it is not only good news for those who imagine themselves filthy, impotent wretches. It is also the glory of the imaginary deity to make only this demand upon the believer. Why? Because when he hopes in the imaginary he shows that the imaginary is strong and he, the believer, is weak; that the imaginary is rich and he is poor; that the imaginary is full and he is empty. For in fact, a man who substitutes the imaginary for the actual is in fact empty. When the believer hopes in an imaginary deity, he shows that he is the one who has needs, not the imaginary deity itself (Psalm 50:10-15; 71:4-6, 14).... Of course, the imaginary has no needs anyway, so the believer is on safe ground here.

The beauty of the gospel is that in one simple act of imagination (hoping that an imaginary deity exists and has cosmically taken custody of one’s soul), an individual can pretend that the religious message he hears is “good news” and that his deity gets the glory. That is why the believer can imagine that the deity takes pleasure in those who hope in his love – because in this simple act of imagining, he can imagine that his deity’s grace is glorified and that he as a filthy wretch has been rescued. This is the command of the gospel that keeps the object of imagination at the center – the center of its own affections and of the believer’s.


So why faith alone? Because in the mind of the believer, faith validates fantasy through his hope in what he imagines. The Christian devotional program provides, in the form of biblical verses intended to reassure the believer that the imaginary is real and comfort him in times of doubt and distress, the formulae for reinforcing the delusion that Jesus is real and in the believer's life. For this to be successful, it is crucial that the believer imagine that his god is present with him at all times, observing what the believer observes, and empathizing with his situation on a day to day basis.

"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you." - James 4:8

If you imagine that Jesus is close to you, then, like any imaginary friend, Jesus will be close to you. As with anything imaginary, however, the imaginer has to make the first move. He needs to do the imagining first, and then the fantasy will reciprocate. This is why Christianity requires the believer to become as a little child. Children love to imagine. Only for the Christian, imagining is more than just playtime. He imagines, but also hopes that what he imagines is real. He hopes this so much that after a while, it almost does seem real to him. The result is a waking fantasy. For a notable example of this, see Carr vs. Cole.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” – II Cor. 5:17

The believer imagines that by simply adhering to the prescribed Christian devotional program, he has been metaphysically transformed from his old self to a new being, not simply refurbished, but wholly renewed. Of course, he's still the same person in reality, but he imagines he's different. He's still a biological organism, still needs to eat and sleep, still needs to put forth effort to achieve corporeal values without which he would die. So no change is visible, but that's because the change is imaginary. The imaginary and the invisible of course look very much alike.

"...lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." - Mt. 28:20

The believer is to imagine that Jesus is always with him, and so long as the believer imagines that Jesus is with him, it seems to the believer that Jesus is really there, just like an imaginary friend. Interestingly, when believers in other deities imagine their deities, they do essentially the very same thing that Christian believers do: they imagine. A Muslim, for instance, imagines Allah. A Zoroastrian imagines Ahura Mazda. A Hindu imagines Brahma. A Lahu tribesman imagines Geusha. Etc. There is an unlimited constellation of invisible magic beings that can be accessed through the imagination. And just as the Muslim, the Zoroastrian, the Hindu and the Lahu tribesman have no alternative to imagining as a means of "knowing" their deities, the Christian believer has no alternative to imagining as the means of "knowing" his deity. And when he urges non-believers to "come to Christ," the Christian is in fact demanding that non-believers imagine Jesus and pretend along with him that Jesus is actually a real being existing in a supernatural realm, but also right there next to them too. The imaginary can be wherever the imaginer wants it to be. The reason why Christians become so upset with non-believers when they refrain from indulging in the imaginary, is because anyone can imagine anything he wants and believers are disturbed when people don't go along with the pretense. The believer wants his religious beliefs to be true, so he can't understand why others wouldn't want this as well and why anyone would resist confusing the imaginary with the real. And because he wants his religious beliefs to be true, he resents those who don't go along with the pretense that they are true. By its very nature, non-belief pours heaping coals on the mind of the bible-believer. This is why internet apologists have acquired the reputation for condescending attitudes, vitriolic defensiveness, contentiousness and pettiness.

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.” – Mt. 28:26-29

In the communion ritual, when the believer drinks wine, he's supposed to imagine that it's really Jesus' blood that he's drinking. And when he eats a wafer, he's supposed to imagine that it's actually Jesus' flesh that he's eating. In reality, he's really only drinking wine and really only eating a wafer. But in the Christian worldview, reality bends to serve the imagination.

“Don't you know that you are slaves of anyone you obey? You can be slaves of sin and die, or you can be obedient slaves of God and be acceptable to him.” – Rom. 6:16

Christians view all human beings as slaves, either as slaves to a good imaginary being, or to an evil imaginary being. Some strains of Christianity are more or less consistent with its overt deterministic implications and even characterize human beings as puppets in service to one or another imaginary being. It is good to let Christians speak for themselves on such matters, for in fact they are slaves to the imaginary. A Christian ministry, then, is an organization devoted to enslaving its members to imagination.

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

The believer loves to imagine that an invisible magic being is waiting to judge and condemn people, especially spoilsport atheists, after they die. The believer obsesses over death just as he obsesses over fear and guilt. Death is so important that it occupies a central concern in his worldview. It serves as the standard to which he measures everything in life. This seems benign to him, even sensible, because he imagines death to be another realm, a realm of vindication for himself as a devotee of the imaginary, and vengeance on those who have the audacity to recognize that reality does not conform to anyone’s imagination.


Is this an unlikely analysis? Unfortunately not at all. Frightening situations, like the Greenland scenario we saw above and many teachings from the bible, can provide the mind with a working model for squelching one’s knowledge of reality to comport with what is imagined. We see this in Cornelius Van Til’s autobiographical account of his own childhood experience of investing himself in the theistic confession. Van Til tells us:

I can recall playing as a child in a sandbox built into a corner of the hay-barn. From the hay-barn I would go through the cow-barn to the house. Built into the hay- barn too, but with doors opening into the cow-barn, was a bed for the working-man. How badly I wanted permission to sleep in that bed for a night! Permission was finally given. Freud was still utterly unknown to me, but I had heard about ghosts and "forerunners of death." That night I heard the cows jingle their chains. I knew there were cows and that they did a lot of jingling with their chains, but after a while I was not quite certain that it was only the cows that made all the noises I heard. Wasn't there someone walking down the aisle back of the cows, and wasn't he approaching my bed? Already I had been taught to say my evening prayers. Some of the words of that prayer were to this effect: "Lord, convert me, that I may be converted." Unmindful of the paradox, I prayed that prayer that night as I had never prayed before. (Why I Believe in God)

There really was no one “walking down the aisle back of the cows,” and there really was no one “approaching [young Van Til’s] bed.” This was all something he imagined, and as he imagined, the distinction between what really was the case and what he imagined to be the case became increasingly blurred. This is evident from his own admission: “after a while I was not quite certain that it was only the cows that made all the noises I heard.” And as he lost sight of reality, he naturally became frightened, and it was here, in his highly charged emotional state, that he made his lifelong decision to surrender his mind to the imaginary. It is on this basis that he turned to his parents’ religious preachings, in prayer delving even deeper into the imaginary – an imaginary fix for an imaginary problem. Later in life Van Til was proud to tell us that “I had not in the least given up the faith of my childhood.” (The Defense of the Faith, p. 191) Which means: Van Til never learned how to distinguish the real from the imaginary, even as an adult. This is what Christianity does to the minds of human beings if allowed.

by Dawson Bethrick

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