Saturday, July 31, 2010

Nocterro's Anti-Objectivist Pseudo-Terrorism

There’s another critic of Objectivism who's hit the internet, and this guy’s got us on the run big time!! Finally someone has come along and refuted Objectivism. In his sleep, even!

No, I’m not making any of this up. Check out the original post for yourself right here: Why Objectivism Sucks

Nocterro raises numerous “challenges” (sic) against Objectivist philosophy. Let’s see how well they stand.

Problem #1: Nocterro says that Objectivism “tries too hard.” Thinkers should be so ambitious. They should cut themselves down to size, humble themselves before sovereign academic authorities who know better, or someone in the approved philosophical establishment might denounce or (gulp!) ignore them.

Nocterro writes:
Objectivism includes theories of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics.
That’s right – no philosophical system should attempt this. Therefore “Objectivism sucks.”

Nocterro writes:
Not only that, it is touted by some of its proponents as a massively complete philosophy that pwns pretty much everything else in existence. Nothing else in philosophy, as far as I have seen, makes such an incredibly bold claim.
Adherents of Objectivism think Objectivism is true. How preposterous! Imagine adopting a philosophical system because you’re persuaded that its principles and the application of those principles to every field of philosophy are sound! No one should dare do this! Thinkers should be contented with the intellectual shipwrecks endorsed at the college level, and never consider the possibility that a sea-worthy view of reality and life is available. Therefore “Objectivism sucks.”

Nocterro writes:
Consider, for example, metaphysical naturalism. It makes a claim regarding what sorts of things exist - nothing more. It doesn’t say ‘here’s a theory of knowledge’ or ‘here’s a political system’ - many different options are available for these things for a naturalist.
On Nocterro's view, one should never strive for an integrated worldview: he should not strive to develop an epistemology which is consistent with his metaphysics, or a theory of values which can stand on his metaphysical and epistemological views without contradiction. Rather, he should ensure that his worldview is a compartmentalized hash of conflicting elements, regardless of their discontinuity with each other. Objectivism is too principled in this regard. So instead of striving for non-contradiction among all its parts, today’s thinker should treat his philosophical needs as if it could be satisfied by channel-surfing the Ivy League – whatever demagogue happens to mesmerize him first rules the day.

Nocterro writes:
The first weakness of Objectivism lies in it’s incredible scope. Successfully challenge one part of it, and the entire thing crumbles. There’s too many possible weak points. Offer a counterexample to what its ethics entails - gone. Show that its political system doesn’t work - gone. For Objectivism to withstand any philosophical criticism at all, it must either narrow its scope, or be developed into the most mind-bogglingly airtight position philosophy has ever seen.
I’ve seen dozens and dozens of attempts to uncover any of the “many possible weak points” which Nocterro tells us afflict Objectivism. Unfortunately, almost all of them suffer from the very deficiency which characterizes Nocterro’s rant from beginning to end: a profound lack of firsthand familiarity with what Objectivism actually teaches. A telltale sign in Nocterro’s case is a complete absence of quotations from Objectivist sources. That alone ensures that he’s at a disadvantage. Additionally, he does not even interact with anything that Objectivism teaches through secondhand sources; he doesn’t address anything that Objectivism teaches. Objectivism’s great sin, in Nocterro’s mind, is that it academic philosophers do not, for whatever reason (critics love to insert their own list of complaints here), take it seriously. If the preferred group doesn’t take it seriously, then only a moron would take it seriously. This is how party insiders take care of their own. Nocterro is welcome to it.


Problem #2: Objectivism “has virtually no support in the modern-day philosophical community.” Never mind the fact that Objectivism never needed or asked for support in the modern-day philosophical community. They have their own problems (just look at today’s global mess), and Objectivism is more than happy to make a clean break from them.

Nocterro writes:
I suspect the first objection to this point will be something along the lines of “So? All those other philosophers are wrong!
Preposterous! All those philosophers have Ph.D.s! How could they possibly be wrong on anything? By the way, who are these folks? Oh yes, they remain unnamed. Nocterro has so much confidence in them that he doesn’t name one of them. Apparently they’re all supposed to be infallible thinkers whose views are to be accepted unquestionably. Otherwise, if you dispute what they say, Nocterro will accuse you of “wonkyness.” And nobody wants that!

Nocterro writes:
But consider this - there’s something else that A) Doesn’t have any support in the relevant community, and B) would have at least a moderate level of support if it were even plausibly true. So, what is this mysterious thing that’s analogous to Objectivism?
Only one other thing? What is that one other thing?

Nocterro writes:
Young-earth creationism.
Ah, guilt by superficial association. Nocterro would have us believe that everything that finds “backing” in “the relevant community” is perfectly sound and rational. That same community is what has given us the welfare state we now live in.

Now Nocterro ridicules the idea that Objectivism’s critics might be dishonest. And yet here he puts Objectivism on the same level of “Young-earth Creationism.” It should not be difficult for anyone with firsthand familiarity with Objectivism and any form of creationism to see the crass dishonesty in this. Nocterro inadvertently offers himself as confirmation of the suspicion of dishonesty (perhaps he thinks no one could ever be dishonest).

Nocterro writes:
YECism, like Objectivism, has little to no backing in the relevant community (science to Objectivism’s philosophy).
Is Nocterro saying that Objectivism has no confirming basis in the sciences? Clearly he’s not familiar with the work of David Kelley, Harry Binswanger, David Harriman and numerous others who have done their homework in this regard.

Nocterro writes:
Why is this? I think the most likely explanation is that the experts just don’t think it’s strong enough to be taken seriously, and thus dismiss it.
Yes, the high school clique of modern academia do tend to move in unison on many matters. No one wants to “stick his neck out.” If others in the academic establishment aren’t taking it seriously, then by all means, don’t touch it with a ten foot pole. You might lose tenure! You might lose your prime parking space. You might miss out on ice cream on Friday afternoons!

But where are the academic papers which present these devastating critiques of Objectivism? Oh, that’s right, the academics won’t give Objectivism the time of day. So if they denounce Objectivism, they may be doing so out of utter ignorance of what it teaches. Of course, this does not concern Nocterro. All that matters to him is that he does not find an entry on the issue of metaphysical primacy in Blackwell’s Companion to Philosophy or discussion of the hierarchical nature of knowledge in his introductory philosophy course in college. If it’s not taught in these infallible and omniscient sources, then only a kook would take them seriously.

Meanwhile, in response to Nocterro’s gratuitously uninformed rant against Objectivism, Gil S., another forum member, gave his glowing thumbs up response, saying he “couldn’t agree more” with what Nocterro has posted, and pointed to a diatribe by none other than “the Maverick Philosopher.” We’ve already seen examples of the kind of “rigor” one can expect from this inbred party-liner in examining Objectivism (see here).

Nocterro writes:
It’s a sad truth that there are many ideas posited that really aren’t worth taking seriously - see Jesus as myth, moon landing hoax, and 9/11 truthers.
So play it safe – don’t affirm any new ideas and bury your head in the crowd. If you propose an idea of your own, you might be shunned by the academic community, and for the secondhander that’s a fate worse than death.

Nocterro gives his recommendation:
We probably shouldn’t even be addressing these things - they should be ignored, or in the case of those that are immoral as well as silly (such as holocaust denial), ridiculed.
So far, it’s wholly evident that Nocterro has done precisely this in regard to Objectivism: he’s ignored it completely, demonstrating no informed familiarity with what it teaches, and showing more concern for the fact that academics joined at the click of the heel don’t like it than for interacting with its teachings intelligibly.

Nocterro writes:
Objectivism is almost certainly one of these - it’s an idea that’s been around for awhile, so the relevant experts have had a chance to look at it.
But have they? Where are the peer-reviewed papers criticizing Objectivism, tearing it apart to shreds?

Nocterro writes:
Very, very few accept it.
How many have even examined it? Nocterro gives the impression that they're all intimately familiar with Objectivism. My experience has confirmed quite the opposite in fact. Notice how unfamiliar Nocterro himself is.

Nocterro continues:
It’s certainly not “mainstream”.
I don't know of any Objectivist who has ever claimed that Objectivist is "mainstream."

Nocterro writes:
Not only that, there’s also the issue of conspiracy. What I mean by this is that to hold that Objectivism is philosophically tenable, one must posit the bizarre notion that almost every professional in the relevant field is either dishonest, or mistaken, in rejecting it.
It could be that they’re just not informed about what Objectivism actually teaches. Nocterro is a case in point. He doesn’t quote anything from Objectivist sources to make his points. His goal is simply to malign Objectivism, not to criticize what it teaches, and he does this (as has already been seen up to this point) in a manner that only a high-schooler would appreciate.

Nocterro:
So, you may ask, why am I addressing Objectivism? Simple: I’m an insomniac, and I’m bored at the moment.
Is that really why? Is Nocterro really being honest here?


Problem #3: In the next section, titled “Wonkyness,” Nocterro identifies his standard of measure:

“What”, you may ask, “is wonkyness?” Wonkyness is a measure of the amount of phrases that some idea employs that seem to be meaningless in the field of study of which the idea is a part. For example, the Intelligent Design crows commonly cites “complex specified information” or “specified complexity” as evidence. However, these terms don’t mean much to either biologists or information theorists. So, Intelligent Design has a certain level of wonkyness.
Since Nocterro styles “wonkyness” as “a measure” of something, what are the degrees by which that measurement is meted? Perhaps we could call it the “wonk.” Nocterro cites as an example theistic creationism in its latest garb, “Intelligent Design.” Nocterro does not indicate how many “wonks” can be calculated in examining Intelligent Design, but I’m sure he’d agree it is many. But notice how Nocterro thinks this system of measurement can be reliably applied: by going outside a system and seeing if that system’s terminology has any meaning to those who may very well be completely unfamiliar with the specifics of the system in question. The method of measurement he prefers makes no guarantee that those consulted will have the familiarity needed to generate a reliable wonk rating, nor does it seem to allow for an internal critique of the system in question. Also, it invites subjectivism since it provides no standard for determining the suitability of consultants. It’s essentially a method of surveying others’ opinions, a common theme in Nocterro’s remarks about Objectivism. Of course, if you ask an accounting expert about metallurgical terminology, you may find that metallurgy’s terms “don’t mean much” to the accountant. Therefore, according to Nocterro’s standard, metallurgy must have a certain level of wonkyness.

In applying this system of measurement to Rand’s philosophy, Nocterro ignores the fact that Rand was often careful to explain her terms, especially terms that are key to her system’s essential principles. She not only gave her own definitions (and that in itself bothered a lot of folks – how dare she!), she developed those definitions in accordance to her own theory of definition (a major component of her theory of concepts). Moreover, the system she developed applied those definitions consistently. Perhaps this annoys folks like Nocterro as well. After all, Nocterro thinks it’s wrong to develop a comprehensive view of life and reality that is integrated without contradiction. We learned this in his opening statement.

Nocterro writes:
Now, back to Objectivism. One example I’ve seen cited in discussion regarding Objectivism is ‘the hierarchial nature of knowledge’. I’ve not seen this idea in any literature in the field of Epistemology that I can recall, and I’ve only seen it (briefly) explained once (here: http://tinyurl.com/27w5mnf).
That’s right: Nocterro’s never seen this idea before (he’s been learning about philosophy from under a rock apparently), so it can’t possibly have any merit to it. Therefore, “Objectivism sucks.” Nocterro’s “rigor,” wit and wisdom are simply amazing! He should run for president – he’d fit right in with the Washington crowd.

You will notice that Nocterro linked to this article on the Importance of Philosophy website. Nocterro is thus aware of a source where he can go to get some introductory information on the idea. But he does not tell us why it “sucks” or why it makes Objectivism “suck.” Again, he just tells us that this idea is new to him. Perhaps he thinks it’s a bad idea because of this.

Nocterro writes:
Another example of wonkyness is the ‘fallacy of the stolen concept’. A search for “stolen concept” on http://www.logicalfallacies.info/ returns no results. The only mention of this fallacy I can find on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is on the Ayn Rand page.
So Nocterro must mean that, since he cannot find information about the fallacy of the stolen concept on the one website he’s checked, a stolen concept can’t possibly be a real fallacy. Go ahead and affirm the validity of geometry while denying the truth of basic number theory, of measurement, of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square roots, Pi, etc.

Of course, some critics of Objectivism have insisted that Rand’s identification of the fallacy of the stolen concept is nothing new (though they have a really hard time pointing to a prior thinker who identifies it explicitly). Those same critics agree that it is a fallacy, but want to deny Rand any credit for discovering it. Nocterro pretty much put a capper on that one, all by citing a single source!

Nocterro writes:
There are most likely many other examples of wonkyness in Rand’s work; however to page through “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” looking for them is a bit more than I can bear.
Oh, but those examples of “wonkyness” are there, Nocterro assures us. He can’t produce any for us, even though they’re on every page of Rand’s novels. Just take Nocterro’s word for it. He’s shown himself to be really informed expert on Objectivism so far, hasn’t he?

Nocterro writes:
In any case, it’s apparent that at least these two ideas, upon which Objectivism seems to depend entirely, are in fact examples of wonkyness.
Now here’s something worse than “wonkyness”: Nocterro thinks that Objectivism depends entirely on 1) the idea that knowledge has a hierarchical structure, and 2) the identification of the fallacy of the stolen concept. Nothing about a theory of perception, a theory of concepts, axioms, the issue of metaphysical primacy, unit economy, a theory of entities, and all the other things that we’d apparently be mistakenly led to think are involved in informing the fundamentals of Objectivist philosophy were we to go by Objectivist sources.

Nocterro seems to put no limit on how far he can embarrass himself:
Now, you might ask: isn’t the idea of wonkyness itself an example of wonkyness? Well, no. Wonkyness, far from being some sort of logical or metaphysical core of this critique, is merely a name, or label I’ve given to ideas which are not employed in a relevant field. You can call it whatever you like - the idea behind it is that sometimes people have no clue what they’re talking about.
As if Nocterro’s shown himself to be a real expert on the matter that he’s been talking about.

In a section titled “Final Thoughts,” Nocterro writes:
Before I get a slew of comments from Objectivists attempting to defend their pet theory, I’d just like to point out one thing. This is not entitled “why Objectivism is false” or “why Objectivism fails”; but “why Objectivism sucks”. I am well aware that I have only indirectly critiqued what Objectivism actually posits. I have not addressed, for example, ethical egoism, or the relationship between consciousness and objects. However, I don’t really see a need to.
Exactly: not only has Nocterro failed into interact with what Objectivism actually teaches, he knowingly has failed to do so, and doesn’t think it’s necessary to do so. It’s more likely the case that he wouldn’t stand a chance had he attempted a more “rigorous” examination of Objectivism (academics are always patting each other on the back for their “rigor”).

Nocterro writes:
Objectivists, like others who have “dogmas” (YECs, Mormons, etc.) will most likely never give up this philosophy - at least not because of any argument against it.
Perhaps this is what’s behind Nocterro’s resentment against Objectivism – it has a loyal following. And if “argument against” Objectivism is what Nocterro has presented in “only indirectly critique[ing] what Objectivism actually posits,” guess again. He hasn’t even done that. Really, he’s simply given us an opportunity to be entertained.

Nocterro writes:
Rather, like the other aforementioned groups, they must come to realize it is untenable on their own.
If “critiques” like Nocterro’s are the worst that are available (and I’ve seen many attempts which were actually serious), then if there really is something wrong with Objectivism, we certainly will not learn what it is from Nocterro.

Nocterro writes:
This post was written because I was bored, and for anyone considering studying Objectivism to see whether it’s a decent idea.
Nocterro wants his readers to think that he wrote his pile of slander because he was bored, as this would give the impression that it takes little effort to challenge Objectivism. And though it’s true that his spew indicates that he’s put precious little effort into examining Objectivism (has he shown that any one thing which Objectivism teaches is false? Not that I can see), someone who is truly interested in determining whether Objectivism is “a decent idea” or not would do better to examine Objectivism from its own sources rather than through third-hand and fourth-rate displays of uninformed naysaying that Nocterro serves up.


So there you have it: another devastating critique of Objectivism without one quotation from an Objectivist source modeling extravagance of attitude and scarcity of content. It all goes to confirm what I’ve said before: the only alternative to Objectivism is some form of subjectivism. For Nocterro, Objectivism “sucks” because his crowd is either ignorant of it, they don’t like it, or they resented Rand for daring to speak on philosophical matters without their approval. And while we can point to the results of the academic establishment’s ideas put into action (national stagnation, welfare statism, government confiscation of wealth, collectivization of “the masses,” the sacrifice of the individual to the in-crowd’s designs, genocidal pogroms, etc.), Nocterro cannot point to anything like this that has come about as a result of Objectivism. Objectivism provides a defense of human reason and individual liberty. It is therefore to be denounced, ridiculed, vilified and condemned by the establishment community, as reason and liberty are direct threats to their self-enthronement.

Like many secular critics of Objectivism, Nocterro gives no indication of what he considers a worthy alternative to Objectivism. Though it’s clear that any alternative must bear the academic community’s inbred stamp of approval. His profile identifies him as a “deist,” which tells us that whatever specifics his worldview affirms, he grants metaphysical primacy to consciousness at least insofar as his deism is concerned. But deists are a mixed bag when it comes to other things that they endorse. Deism has no inherent theory of concepts (in fact, Nocterro seems to think that talk of concepts is “meaningless” – a stolen concept if there ever were one), no inherent view of morality, of politics, etc.

Also, just as theists who seek to rescue their god from the problem of evil tell us about themselves, Nocterro’s tirade against Objectivism is more autobiographical than anything else: his laziness as a thinker is conspicuous, he writes in a state of drowsiness , he shirks the responsibility of honest interaction, he comes across as so preoccupied with his own bitterness against Objectivism that it’s clear that his attitude will probably get in the way of any learning he’s capable of for quite some time. He also tells us that he prefers the safety of anonymous numbers, as if the consensus of an anonymous group who presumably agree with everything he says were the key to unlocking the deeper secrets of truth.

If Nocterro were to try to put some actual content to his raging beef against Objectivism, what would the result be? If he challenged the primacy of existence, would he not be affirming his position’s adherence to the primacy of consciousness while smuggling the primacy of existence in the process? If he challenged the view that nature has a hierarchical structure, would he not be likening knowledge to “a village of squat bungalows, with every room huddling down against the earth’s surface” (Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 130), thus confirming Rand’s prediction that her critics were burdened by what she called “concrete-bound thinking” (cf. “How to Read (and Not to Write),” The Ayn Rand Letter, I, 26, 5)? If he were to challenge Objectivism’s egoism, would he not be endorsing some form of sacrifice in ethics? Nocterro has learned academia’s lessons well: don’t stick your neck out, don’t take a stand, hide in the shadows, keep your head lowered in the huddle, and hope for the safety of the group.

It is no secret that Rand was an outsider who had no interest in acquiring the necessary passkeys to the prestige of inbred academia. She was a successful businesswoman, a defender of individual liberty and capitalism, an intransigent atheist and an outspoken critic of communism abroad and the New Left at home. Each of these put her in the academic establishment’s sights. How dare she question their authority!

Just take a quick look at the consistent record of intellectual bankruptcy that academic insiders have given the world, from Cartesian rationalism to Kantian idealism, from Humean skepticism to Dialectical Materialism, from Logical Positivism to Linquistic Analysis, from Anal Phil to Pragmatism, from the Existentialist worship of nausea to Post-Modernism, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on. Objectivism represents a clean break from this track record of disappointment and letdown which are the heritage of the philosophical establishment. A rejection of Objectivism is a vote for a continuation of the tragedies that these highbrowed failures have brought on men throughout the ages. But the Nocterro’s of the world are not concerned about the results of their philosophical views when put into practice; their chief concern is to be part of the in-crowd, to assume the role of a useful idiot and achieve a rank in some ruling class.

by Dawson Bethrick

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is the Christian God's Existence "Self-Evident"?

Below are some comments I left over at a blog post on Choosing Hats. They are presently awaiting moderator approval. I do not know if they will be published on that site, but I wanted to share them with my readers here. Don't worry, I won't be moderating any comments on my blog. Feel free to have your say if you have a response to what I've written.


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Agreus: “There is no need to provide an argument justifying the existence of logic and in fact such an endeavor would be pointless. The same does not hold true for the existence of God.”

Zao Thanatoo responded: “Special pleading fallacy.”

Agreus’ position could occasion the special pleading fallacy only if the word “God” refers to some cognitive aspect of man’s consciousness, just as the concept ‘logic’ does. In this sense, logic is self-evident (at least its fundamental principle of identity) in the same sense that consciousness is self-evident. Consciousness is axiomatic, just as the law of identity is (i.e., the most fundamental law of logic).

But the Christian god is supposed to be an independently existing entity, not a cognitive aspect of man’s consciousness. So there is a fundamental distinction here which Zao is missing, and the fact that he’s missing it tells us something that Christians do not want to admit.

The reason why Chris Bolt thinks there’s “an opportunity to reply with the same statement substituting ‘God’ for ‘Logic’” is because the Christian god is actually imaginary, not real. It’s all in the believer’s mind, not an independently existing entity. This is precisely why apologists continually point to cognitive phenomena – such as logic, universals, moral principles, and the like – as if they were in the same class of objects as the Christian god. While logic, universals, moral principles, etc., are components of conscious operations, the Christian god seems so close to these in the believer’s understanding precisely because it is imaginary – i.e., residing in the believer’s mind.

The only way that “God” would be “self-evident” in the same sense as logic is, is that if “God” were cognitive or psychological in some sense, available to man’s awareness by means of introspection. But Christians tell us that it is a real entity, existing independent of human conscious operations. So Zao’s charge of fallacy here doesn’t stick. In fact, it is a tacit admission of the fact that the Christian god is imaginary in nature.

Agreus: “God’s existence is not self-evident.”

Zao Thanatoo: “Ipse dixit fallacy.”

I think Agreus is simply making an honest observation here. After all, by what means is he supposed to have direct awareness of the Christian god? Even the bible tells us that it is invisible, that it has no body, that it is incorporeal, immaterial, non-physical, etc. Certainly Agreus cannot perceive the Christian god through his senses. But, Agreus could *imagine* it, just as Christians do. Then it might seem “self-evident” if one subscribes to a metaphysics which allows for the distinction between the real and the imaginary to be blurred (as Christianity does).

Agreus: “The fact that Christian apologists attempt to argue for the existence of God seems to indicate that God’s existence is not self-evident.”

Zao Thanatoo: “Enthymeme suppressing premise to conceal unsoundness.”

I would agree with Agreus here, and find no compelling reason to agree with Zao’s unargued counter-retort. Agreus is right: the apologist’s own actions speak louder than his words. We do not need to argue for the existence of something which we can perceive directly – i.e., for that which is self-evident. Argument is a vehicle for articulating inference from what is ultimately directly perceived to that which is not directly perceived. So just by trying to argue for the existence of their god, Christians are in effect conceding that its existence needs to be established by means of argument, and this would not be necessary if it were in fact self-evident. Again, by what means is Agreus supposed to be directly aware of the Christian god, if not by means of imagining it (as Christians do)? By “faith”?

Agreus: “I would have no problem with the theist stating God is self-evident, if that is how they desire to express their belief in God.”

Zao Thanatoo: “God is self-evident.”

Ipse dixit fallacy. Just by saying that “God is self-evident,” along with all the other characteristics that Christians attribute to their god, Christians are in fact conceding that their god is imaginary in nature.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Storybook Worldview

Presuppositionalists prefer to deploy their apologetic devices in terms of an antithesis between Christians and non-Christians. Much of the way in which they conceive of this antithesis is imaginary in nature, as it is framed in terms of their theology, and their theology is informed by elements culled from a book of stories which only take life in the imagination of the reader. The presuppositionalist concept of antithesis consists of deliberately filtering their understandings and inferences in terms of an us-versus-them perspective, as the pitting of one collective locked in a death match against an opposed collective. In the end, on the Christian’s faith-based presuppositions, one’s ethical import is determined by which collective he belongs to. Like giddy high-schoolers anxious to be part of the clique, it’s all about belonging to a group, because validation is attainable for such persons only by being accepted by the group. (Notice how many Christian blogs have a team of contributors who have found it necessary to join forces, apparently unable to stand alone.)

But there is a hint of truth to the claim that an antithesis exists, at least between the Christian on the one hand, and the one who adheres to an objective understanding of the world on the other. Unlike the rational human being, who recognizes the fact that reality sets its own terms independent of human inventions, the Christian intentionally views everything through the prism of a collection of stories, stories which even on the his own premises the Christian could not genuinely know to be true, regardless of how strongly he believes them to be true. Indeed, it is one thing to believe that something is true, and another to know that it is true. This distinction is lost on most presuppositionalists, since they tend to construe knowledge in terms of belief in the first place (I have already criticized this view here).

Christians tend to portray themselves as a collective bound together by a story, a story which they insist is true, even when facts are brought against it. In actuality it is their acceptance of this story – which is a volitional action on each adherent’s part – which gives them this shared sense of mutual connection and commonality. Just accept the story, and Presto! you’re immediately part of the beloved clique, the 'happnen' in-crowd.

Not only does this acceptance of a story give Christians a sense of unity (mind you, a unity which crumbles into splinters very easily), it also shapes in the way they understand the world. As Cornelius Van Til puts it in the Mein Kampf of presuppositionalism:
Christians interpret every fact in the light of the same story. For them the nature of every fact in this world is determined by the place it occupies in the story. The story they cannot get from any other source than supernatural revelation. The Christian finds that his conscience agrees to the truth of the story. He holds that those who deny the truth of the story have an axe to grind. They do not want the story to be true; they do not want the facts to be what the story says they are. (The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., quoted in Hubner, Jamin, The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 239).
It is a story, then, which serves as the believer’s filter in “interpret[ing] every fact” that he encounters and is willing to consider. The believer presumes, as an inherent consequence of his acceptance of the story as a fundamental truth about the world and as a non-negotiable premise of his worldview, that “every fact in this world is determined by the place it occupies in the story” which he has accepted as the ultimate standard of his waking cognition. Thus an implicit circularity installs itself in his outlook as the self-attesting reassurance that what he has accepted is true, in spite of its stark departure from the reality with which he interacts on a daily basis. On the Christian’s premise, the story as such supersedes facts as such, for any facts which the believer finds himself dealing with are to be “interpreted” in terms of the story’s dictates. The story provides an imaginative backdrop, an artificial overlay, which the believer actively projects onto the sum of his experiences in order to bring his mind into conformity with the prescribed devotional program of the bible.

Those who do not accept the story are characterized as willfully resisting what the believer considers an incontestable truth: “They do not want the story to be true; they do not want the facts to be what the story says they are.” Non-believers are represented in the literature as slaves to their nefarious, truth-denying desires: they don’t want the story to be true; they do not want the facts to be what the story says they are. Acceptance of the story somehow provides the believer with intimate familiarity of non-believers’ motivations. The believer is not at the same time encouraged to consider the possibilities that non-believers honestly do not believe the story is true, and that believers are the ones who are held captive by their desires in wanting the story to be true. Such proposals are kept safely out of sight, as they are not to be considered, for the believer has no rational defense against them.

As with other specimens of fiction, the bible-believer’s story takes its residence in the believer’s imagination. However, it is not a story which the believer’s own imagination creates, but which his own imagination informs as he tries to digest its contents into the sum of his cognition, whose inner workings are situated beyond his own understanding (for he does not endeavor to understand the nature of his imaginative indulgences when it comes to his theism), given his focus on seeking to enshrine the elements of the story as a guide to his understanding of the world. The more concrete elements of the story are unavoidably open to being imagined differently from believer to believer, but certain stereotypes have as a matter of tradition inserted themselves into the images which believers cultivate as they recreate biblical scenes in their minds. When Jesus commanded the water pots to be full of wine at the marriage in Cana (cf. John 2:1-11), for instance, the believer may imagine that he wore a white robe and had a long beard, was he taller than most of the other guests, had an austere sense of omniscient awareness and wisdom, spoke softly and compassionately, that he radiated with a holy glow visible to “the chosen,” etc. These images have worked their way into the believer’s imagination courtesy of earlier believers who concretized their imaginings of the same story in media such as paintings and the silver screen. But they are all imaginary just the same.

In the passage by Van Til quoted above, the Christian is explicitly encouraged to believe that “those who deny the truth of the story have an axe to grind,” which is not intended to be complimentary. The believer’s experience of the world is carefully managed by those who watch over him, who oversee the constant surveillance over his devotion to the program, as he is told specifically how to view all outsiders to the faith, given the fact that they are outsiders to the faith. The us-versus-them collectivism inherent in the religious allegiance to the Christian worldview is affirmed explicitly in the substance of the narrative itself (cf. Mt. 12:30: “He that is not with me is against me”). To put it bluntly, those who have not chosen, as the Christian believer has chosen, to accept “the story” as some incontestable cosmic truth about reality, are to be seen as stubbornly resisting truth in an irresistible fit of contempt, a product of their depravity, as a result of some fundamental choice they have made in opposition to the ethical path which only the story can offer.

So acceptance of the story as truth, regardless of actual truth value, its content and its meaning under examination, is of paramount importance to the devotional program of Christianity. The believer is expected to adopt the disposition that the story is worth dying for. And even though it is never explained how the story can benefit from the believer’s self-sacrifice, he is told explicitly that “religious faith is something to die for and something to live every moment” (Kreeft and Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 14). The believer is to give priority, just as in Kreeft and Tacelli’s statement, to being willing to die for the story. The believer is not to consider the fact that differing interpretations of the same story are what has caused Christianity to implode on itself since its very inception, resulting in hundreds if not thousands of schisms, sects, denominations, factions and cultic offshoots. He is not to consider the fact that each believer’s imagination plays an essential role in his reading of the story and in his overall religious experience, a role which governs his interpretation of the story. What is important is that the believer do his best not to fall prey to the “false prophets” of other religions, and other interpretations of the same story. There is only one story, he is taught, and only one interpretation of that story. Anything else is heresy and depravity.

As Van Til states:
Scripture presents itself as being the only light in terms of which the truth about facts and their relations can be discovered. (The Defense of the Faith, p. 108)
In other words, for the Christian believer, the story comes first, and then the facts, which are admitted only after the story has been accepted as true, and which are “interpreted” in terms of the story as the believer comes to understand it. The facts themselves do nothing to inform or confirm the story. Rather, they are to be placed, by a selective process performed by the believer, into their proper role as the story is held to govern them. The story does not need to conform to facts that are independently discovered and integrated according to a rational system of cognition; rather, the facts are to be made to conform to the story. And the story is to be found in a storybook, which is to be revered as a sacred artifact having supernatural origins and supernatural content, and therefore unquestionably true no matter what it says. The storybook’s contents are to be accepted as true even before the believer has read what it says.

Christianity, then, is a worldview based on a storybook, and which requires that its adherents view the world through the prism of a storybook. For those who do interpret the world in terms of what the storybook would have them believe, those who do not take the storybook seriously and similarly look at the world in terms of what the storybook says, are to be scorned, despised, held in contempt and considered to be a threat. It is for this reason that believers always reserve for themselves the option of simply ignoring what critics of Christian philosophy have to say: since they do not accept the story, non-Christians are considered to be darkened in their understanding, given over to demonic influences, and beyond the reach of the “reasoning” which believers themselves find so persuasive and enticing.

For the Christian, the atheist is the most despicable of spoilsports. He’s a spoilsport because his very existence, given the fact that he is a non-believer, serves as a constant reminder to the believer that the storybook is actually a cauldron of deception. This is not only why non-believers are so despised, but why they are also the target of so much Christian animosity and resentment. Defeating the non-believer is of utmost priority to defenders of the Christian faith, as his very existence constitutes a lethal threat to the sanctity which they want their storybook to possess. Defeating the non-believer on his own terms is unnecessary and even to be discouraged, for it could end up in failure. Discrediting by means of insult is ultimately the only way out for believers, and they know this, which is why many internet apologists have learned to head directly for this path when they encounter criticism.

Philosophically, the storybook leads the believer into a pit of internal conundrums and contradictions, mental snares which are acknowledged to exist but characterized as “paradoxes” so as to construe them as evidence of the supernatural genius and mysteriousness of its alleged author, for “God must always remain mysterious to man” (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 14). It portrays its god as a father which allows his only begotten son to be tortured and murdered by vicious villains, and equates this same god with “love” (I Jn. 4:8). It claims that its god is uncreated and equates it with light (I Jn. 1:5), and it tells us that light was created (Gen. 1:3). It tells us that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23) and that “the law is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12), but insists that the law is not sin (Rom. 7:7). It tells us that things which are invisible are “clearly seen” (Rom. 1:20).

The story which Christians accept as truth, characterizes man as inherently defective. And yet his creator is supposedly “perfect” (Mt. 5:48), whose “work is perfect” (Deut. 32:4), whose “way is perfect” (2 Sam. 22:31). This perfect creator created imperfection (see here). The perfect creator’s greatest creation – which is man – turns out to be one of the biggest bungles of all history, according to Christian doctrine itself.

Left alone, man will – according to the storybook-informed Christian worldview – automatically deviate from “the truth,” for “the truth” is not something that he can discover on his own. According to Christianity, truth is something that must be “revealed” to man from some supernatural source. Once the priests’ underlying premises are accepted, the believer has no basis to question their propagandistic influence and manipulation, and is thus prone to sacrificing himself to their lead, believing that such sacrifice is good, moral, noble. As for the problem that results from supposing that man is inherently defective on the one hand, and created by a perfect creator on the other, the priests have an explanation for this: man chose to depart from the true path. That is, one man chose to depart, and all men were thus infected with this defect as a result. Not only does this clue us in on the collectivistic conception of guilt which Christianity fosters in the believer’s psyche, it is also an example of blaming the product rather than the producer for the product’s faults. Not only are all the products vulnerable to the defects of one, but the producer continues to produce more products after its first product has proved defective, allowing the defect to propagate throughout the general population. The storybook would have us believe that this is the choice of a perfect creator. And responsibility for the summary deficiencies resulting from the choices on the part of the producer, is laid at the feet of every product. It’s the lemon’s fault that it is a lemon.

But this distortion of justice is all part of the story which the believer is supposed to swallow hook, line and sinker. Christian apologist John Frame puts it as follows:
As Calvin said, the Christian should look at nature with the “spectacles of Scripture.” If even unfallen Adam needed to interpret the world according to God’s verbal utterance, how much more do we!... To allow Scripture this corrective work, we must accept the principle that our settled belief as to Scripture’s teaching must take precedence over what we would believe from natural revelation alone. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 23)
So while, according to the story, the entire creation is saturated with defects (cf. “sin”), the creator itself is to be revered as incapable of doing wrong, and “the creature” (i.e., the believer) is to take on “the spectacles of Scripture” and “interpret the world according to” the “verbal utterance” of the one who created the mess in the first place. And rather than correcting the problem in the product, the Christian god has chosen instead to offer a patch – namely the storybook – which the believer is required to apply to himself by accepting its contents as unquestionable truth and joining a group of people seeking to do the same.

Frame insists that he is “not advocating dogmatic adherence to ideas based on half-baked exegesis and rejection of, say, scientific theories on the basis of such sloppy theologizing” (Ibid., p. 23n.26), though he does advocate the rejection of the scientific theory of evolution because of its damning threat to the biblical worldview (cf. pp. 103, 129, et al.). It is interesting that Frame characterizes evolution as a form of idolatry, saying,
Nobody can prove evolution. Evolution is a hypothesis held by faith, and all supposed facts must be made to fit into its framework. It is a “paradigm” in Thomas Kuhn’s sense, a criterion for judging other proposals, itself not subject to judgment. Indeed, evolution is necessary, once one rejects creation. For either the earth was produced supernaturally (i.e., created0 or it was produced naturally, apart from God. Any naturalistic origin of the world will involve evolution, for it will be the result of natural laws operating upon primitive matter, producing complexity over time. Thus, the concept of evolution did not begin with Darwin. Rather, it has been characteristic of every non-Christian philosophy since that of Thales in the sixth century B.C. (Ibid., p. 197)
So, for Frame, and many other Christian believers, the theory of evolution is a story competing with the storybook of the Christian bible. As with the story line of the Christian bible, evolution requires its adherents to make “all… facts… fit into its framework.” It’s okay when the guiding story involves the supernatural beings of “Scripture,” but if it involves science which man can discover and validate by his own faculties, it is an unprovable “hypothesis held by faith,” and thus, apparently, to be abandoned, even condemned.

Are you following this?

Also, Frame tells us that he is not saying
that our settled beliefs concerning the teaching of Scripture are infallible… But I repeat: those settled beliefs must take precedence over our beliefs, settled or not, from other sources. Otherwise, we do not allow Scripture to be a true corrective to our understanding of natural revelation. (Ibid., pp. 23-24n.27).
Frame speaks of not allowing “Scripture to be a true corrective to our understanding” of nature, as if there were some dismal consequence to be worried about here. But what would be wrong in allowing nature to speak for itself? What is the danger here if not the fact that nature does not conform to what the storybook says? If nature did naturally confirm what the storybook says, would Frame have such concerns? I suspect not. If nature does not naturally confirm what the storybook says, what does this tell us about the value of the storybook?

I found the following statement from Frame most curious. He writes:
there are some who claim that proof is necessary for them… Scripture does more than simply rebuke them. It provides much persuasive testimony of God’s reality and also points us to sources outside itself where more testimony can be found. (Ibid., p. 66)
Note that the storybook’s content is characterized as “testimony.” And “testimony” for Christians, at least when it comes from a Christian source, is supposed to be taken as unimpeachably factual. If there is a non-circular argument for such a self-serving view, I’d like to see it.

What I find interesting about this statement is Frame’s view of proof. Presuppositionalists insist that their “transcendental argument” is “absolutely certain proof” of the Christian god’s existence and of “the truth of Christian theism” (cf. Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 103), and that it is the only apologetic scheme compatible with the bible. So if there is a “proof” of the Christian god’s existence which is so compatible with what Christians call their god’s verbal revelation, why would that verbal revelation rebuke or condemn those who expect proof?

In regards to presuppositionalism proper, notice how it involves appeals to a storybook in order to settle age-old philosophical questions. The problem of universals, for instance, is “answered” by pointing to a triune god – i.e., to a character in a storybook which the believer has no alternative but to imagine in his own mind. It is supposedly in the mind of this supernatural triune god where “the one” and “the many” – “unity” and “plurality” – are fundamentally related. Thus, instead of understanding the relationship between the multitude of concrete objects which we perceive and the abstractions by which we unite them in a conceptual manner, the presuppositionalist approach prefers to attribute this relationship to the mind of a character found in a storybook which takes residence in the believer’s imagination. Similarly with the so-called “problem of induction” raised by the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Instead of questioning the premises of Hume’s skeptical argument, presuppositionalists prefer to take Hume’s argument for granted and point to a character from their sacred storybook as the solution to the ill-conceived problem. On presuppositionalist grounds, the problem of induction is “solved” – not by recognizing the objective nature of reality and understanding the conceptual process by which the human mind performs inductive inferences – but by pointing to a storybook character which has allegedly “created the universe in which we live (Gen. 1:1, Col. 1:16), and who sovereignly maintains it as we find it to be (Heb. 1:3)” (Brian Knapp, “Induction and the Unbeliever,” The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 132). Does this bring us any closer to a rational understanding of induction? Of course it doesn’t. But it conforms to the believer’s devotion to the view that the storybook is true, and that’s what’s important to the believer.

We cannot expect a storybook which departs from reality so radically as the bible does, to provide rational answers to such important questions. Instead, we are expected to simply don “spectacles of Scripture” and ignore its discrepancies with reality as if they did not exist, as if they would disappear if we ignore them long enough. Such is the presuppositionalist’s last resort, one which he takes more often than he’d like to admit.

by Dawson Bethrick

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