In a comment which he recently posted to his own blog, Bolt asked me a series of questions.
While I am happy to address them, I surmise that Bolt will probably not interact with my answers. I have responded to Bolt’s questions before (see for example here, here, here, and here), with no further discussion on Bolt’s part. One can interpret the situation in a variety of ways, such as that Bolt cannot respond to my answers, that Bolt doesn’t care to, that he’s still working on a response, that he’s utterly flabbergasted by them, that he has not read them, or that he’s not interested in pursuing the matter any further once I’ve had my say. The upshot is that, if he thinks I am wrong, he passes up the opportunity to make his points known.
The kind of questions which Bolt typically asks me, seems to be aimed at exposing some crucial area of uncertainty on my part. And while I have no problem admitting that there are many areas of inquiry in which I have little or no knowledge (things like the history of papier mâché, Tagalog, Azerbaijani cuisine, Britney Spears’ discography, etc., come to mind), let alone certainty, I would suppose that Bolt is essentially in a similar position, having little or no knowledge of many things, and thus no certainty on a variety of topics. Whatever relevance this has, needs to be explained. Is one’s lack of knowledge or certainty on a certain subject important for some reason? Is that where we are going to discover something that cancels out everything else we know? If this is the predicament which I allegedly face, it seems that the same predicament would apply to every human being, including those who claim to have knowledge “revealed” to them from a supernatural source.
What do you mean by "previously validated knowledge"?
Now I had used the phrase “previously validated knowledge” in my 31 Aug. comment on Bolt’s blog, when I explained to him that his own comment (posted on the same date) did not deal with the failure of his “global skepticism” argument. Clearly it is important to Bolt that I lack certainty in some area of my knowledge. But I openly admit that I am neither omniscient nor infallible. But neither is he. So we’re in the same boat. (And appeal to “revelation” does nothing to shore up a Christian's own ignorance, as I show here.) My statement specifically was:
We take in facts and integrate them, as we discover them. But these facts do not unseat previously validated knowledge.
Bolt then asked:
Is it not a possibility that you will come across some fact in future experience which will overturn your apparent knowledge concerning what rain is made up of?
Perhaps Bolt thinks I need to go out and test every raindrop that has ever fallen on earth in order to be “certain” that rain is composed of water droplets. With such requirements for any generalized certainty, it seems to be an unattainable commodity, even for someone who thinks he’s receiving knowledge from a supernatural source (which prohibits any testing whatsoever). But if we understand the causal process which produces rain (cf. condensation of water vapor in the atmosphere), why would such tests be needed? Do people who depend on and collect rain water for their survival need to perform such tests?
Of course, I would not accept as a “possibility” the proposal that rain is actually composed of 24-caret diamonds or automobiles cleverly disguised by a reality-controlling consciousness to look like water droplets. If I believed such a consciousness actually existed, I have no idea how I could rule out such proposals as legitimate possibilities, since on such a view “all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26). But that’s not my problem.
Bolt then stated:
So far as I know Christianity does not teach anything about an invisible magic being who manipulates a lawless world;
Bolt then asked:
but really, how do you know that water might not turn into merlot the next time you drink it?
But to answer Bolt’s question, it is simple: I know this by a means of knowledge. Specifically, by means of reason. Its method is called logic, an objective method of integrating new knowledge with previously validated knowledge, beginning with the truth of the axioms.
Of course, if we are not allowed to be certain that water will not magically turn into merlot the next time I am about to drink some, how can Christians claim to be certain that their god is real, or that what they call “God” is not really some malevolent agent deceitfully portraying itself as what Christianity defines as “God”? Blank out.
Bolt’s next question was:
What percentage of the universe do you think you have access to anyway? Does 4% sound reasonable?
Bolt then asked:
Do you really believe you have enough facts in to make the kinds of judgments you do?
Bolt then made a confession:
I am not even sure why you would think your conceptual map meshes with the external world, if there is such a thing.
On the other hand, Christianity takes armchair omniscience seriously as the ideal model for knowledge, which means that knowledge is ultimately unattainable by man. Consequently, for him to know anything, an invisible magic being needs to spoonfeed it to him, and man, on this model, has no choice but to accept whatever he receives from this alleged source at face value, and believe it unquestioningly, without examination, on faith. Which means: he can never really know anything, since independent verification is prohibited. How this model provides something that constitutes “knowledge” is never explained, since the Christian worldview does not provide a theory of concepts, and man’s knowledge is undeniably conceptual in nature. It requires that we “just believe,” while many non-believers simply want to know. It is no accident that the thing which was prohibited to Adam and Eve in the Garden was knowledge. They were punished when they acquired knowledge. On Christianity’s terms, we’re not supposed to know, and when we know, we’re condemned for knowing.
Bolt then asked:
I know, "existence exists" (whatever that means), but what types of things exist and how do you know? I mean are we talking about external things?
How do we know? By means of reason: the faculty which identifies and integrates what we perceive or observe.
Are we talking only of “external things”? Bolt himself posed the question, so he needs to address this. But if “external things” is understood to refer to things distinct from conscious activity, I would point out that the same method by which we identify and integrate “external things” so defined, applies in principle to identifying and integrating the actions of consciousness. See specifically chapter 4, “Concepts of Consciousness,” of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, which deals specifically with this area of inquiry.
The answers are there. If Bolt is truly interested, he can seek them out and enlighten himself.
by Dawson Bethrick