A Case in Point, Part I
Reacting to Ron Rhodes’ Apologetic:
In my blog entry, I quoted Christian apologist Ron Rhodes’ article Strategies for Dialoguing with Atheists, where he writes:
Some atheists categorically state that there is no God, and all atheists, by definition, believe it. And yet, this assertion is logically indefensible. A person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent to be able to say from his own pool of knowledge that there is no God. Only someone who is capable of being in all places at the same time - with a perfect knowledge of all that is in the universe - can make such a statement based on the facts. To put it another way, a person would have to be God in order to say there is no God.
Reasoning like this ignores the broader context of theism, namely that the theist’s god is said to exist outside the universe, that it is not just some item existing within it, like a rock, an asteroid, or particle of dust.
This misinterprets one of Christianity’s most basic premises, which is not that God exists outside of our Universe, but that the Universe exists within God. This will have significant bearing later in the discussion.
What the author affirms in place of the view that the Christian god exists outside the universe, resembles panentheism. As James Anderson explains in his paper The Theistic Preconditions of Knowledge: A Thumbnail Sketch:
According to panentheists, God contains the universe but is not identical with it (i.e., the universe is a proper part of God). The panentheist conception of God is often analogized to the dualist conception of human nature: the universe is thought of as God’s ‘body’, while his transcendent immaterial aspect is thought of as God’s ‘mind’ or ‘soul’.
Moreover, numerous examples can be gleaned from Christian apologetic literature showing that defenders of Christianity themselves hold that their god exists “outside the universe.” Here are just a few that I found quite readily:
Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry argues:
since a Transcendent God would exist outside the universe and not be dependent on it, it is logical to expect that such evidence for God's existence would share transcendent characteristics. In other words, they would exhibit qualities of a Personal Being who is independent from the physical universe.
Transcendence is a theological term that, when referring to the Christian God, states that God is outside of the universe and is independent of it and its properties.. God is "other," "different" from his creation. He is independent and different from his creatures (Isaiah 55:8-9). He transcends his creation. He is beyond it and not limited by it or to it.
Transcendence: That which is higher than or surpasses other things. What is transcendent is thus relative to what is transcended. God is conceived by traditional theologians as being transcendent with respect to the created universe, meaning that he is outside the universe and that no part of the universe is identical to him or part of him.
God’s transcendence represents His existence outside of and independent from the universe.
But what’s worse than all this is the fact that the author’s correction does nothing to answer my reaction to Ron Rhodes’ statement. Whether the Christian wants to say that his god exists “outside the universe” or that “the Universe exists within God,” it is clear that, according to either view, looking for the Christian god within the universe should not be expected to result in any success in discovering it. Indeed, the author has ignored the very next point which I stated in my blog entry, which is:
If an atheist had traveled the entire universe and found no god, the theist could easily say he was looking in the wrong place, for the theist says his god is infinite and not part of the material universe.
We will find that such self-deprecating antics are a norm with this apologist.
The author then quoted the following from my blog:
Even worse, given this kind of reasoning, one would have to have searched the entire universe to reject the notion of a square circle.
This is a logical fallacy. All one needs do to assume that a square circle does not exist, is realize that a “square circle” violates the Law of Contradiction.
Interacting with My Argument:
In regard to my argument proper, the author states:
moving to his premises and conclusion, it is easily demonstrated that none of his premises hold up under scrutiny, and that his conclusion therefore cannot be true.
Remember the first premise of my argument? It states:
Premise 1: That which is imaginary is not real.
This is an a priori assumption, and isn’t even accurate on its face.
The author provides no support for supposing that my Premise 1 is “an a priori assumption.” However, it is at least nominally relevant to point out the fact that many Christians have no qualms per se with a priori assumptions. So it is curious that the author would lead off with this allegation as if it were damning all around.
For example, presuppositional apologist Michael Butler states that a priori notions are inherent in the transcendental argument for the Christian god’s existence. This would mean that the notion of a priori knowledge is entirely consistent with the Christian worldview.
Butler explains that transcendental arguments as such are distinguished from other types of arguments “by the fact that they appeal only to a priori knowledge – what we can know without any appeal to experience” (“The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence,” The Standard Bearer: A Festschrift for Greg L. Bahnsen, p. 91). Clearly Butler assumes that the notion of a priori is compatible with Christian theism. Butler never produces an argument for this assumption, but it is indisputably present in what he assumes.
So it’s hard to see why a Christian would consider this to be a suitable objection against my Premise 1, unless of course he is not a presuppositionalist and rejects the notion of a priori knowledge. But this would invite further controversies within the Christian tent which by themselves would only confirm one of the premises I’ve offered on behalf of the conclusion that the Christian god is imaginary. Point 11 in my list of evidences showing why the god of Christianity is imaginary states the following:
Conflicting versions of “the supernatural” among those professing the same religious confession strongly indicate a subjective nature to god-belief, especially given the failure of those who clash with each other due to such conflicts to reach consensus. Within Christianity alone, believers differ on the topic of salvation, the nature of faith, the importance of the resurrection, the nature of the atonement, the role of free will, predestination, hell, heaven, the “end times,” the trinity, God’s love, God’s wrath, God’s judgment, prayer, apologetic methodology, the continuation or cessation of miracles, etc., etc. Where believers find themselves in conflict is in their conception of “the supernatural.” In mundane matters, they find themselves in agreement: mountains are composed of dirt and rock, rivers carry water, trees have roots, cars go on streets, supermarkets sell milk, elected officials can be corrupt, pens have ink, radios receive radio waves, etc. In areas concerning actually existing things which can be perceived directly by means of the senses, there is nearly universal agreement. But in areas which vary from one imagination to another, there is a predominance of conflict and contradiction.
Of course, I do reject the notion of a priori knowledge since such a notion denies the nature of man’s mind. We need input from reality to develop any knowledge of it, and we need a means of acquiring it, namely the senses. This means experience is required for knowledge. Genuine knowledge of reality comes only by means of an active, rational process which the knower performs volitionally. If one claims to know something apart from experience as such, what he claims to know is not knowledge.
But does this make knowledge of what my Premise 1 affirms beyond our reach? Of course, it does not. I know what is real by applying reason to what I experience, by identifying and integrating what I perceive by means of concepts, and I know what it is to imagine something because I have experienced imagining things. I also know by comparing and contrasting these two types of experiences – perceiving and identifying things which exist independent of me, and imagining things – that they are not the same types of conscious activity. Moreover, I can observe an object while I imagine it undergoing any kind of transformation I can think of, and watch to see if my imagination has any effect on it. I can, for instance, observe a book sitting on my table while I imagine it levitating and flying around the room I’m in. When I observe that the book is not in fact doing what I imagine it is doing, I can see firsthand from this complex experience that the book and what I imagine are distinct from each other. I can, from such observation, formulate the general principle that (a) imagination and reality are distinct from one another, and (b) the imaginary is not real.
So, contrary to what the author baldly asserts, my Premise 1 is not an a priori assumption after all. It is a general principle anyone can draw from experience.
The author also states that the view that that which is imaginary is not real “isn’t even accurate on its face.” We should read this statement autobiographically: it tells us about the author, not about the actual nature of products of imagination. He saying that, from his standpoint, not only that the recognition that the imaginary is not real is not true, but that as a matter of reflex the imaginary should be treated as though it were real.
So on the author’s view, if I imagine an 800-foot tall bunny rabbit doing pushups on the surface of the moon, there really is a giant bunny doing pushups on the moon. Why? Because the view that the imaginary is not real “isn’t even accurate on its face.” So anyone saying that the bunny I imagine on the moon is not real must be wrong, according to the author.
But is that at all rational? Let us examine what else says next.
To whom is it not real?
If something exists, doesn’t it exist independent of personality, independent of any individual’s viewpoint, independent of anyone’s experience? The author’s question suggests that what exists is in fact dependent on personal perspective, individual experience, perhaps even personal preference. Why suppose that the view that the imaginary is not real “isn’t even accurate on its face,” but the view that something can be real to one person but unreal to another is “accurate on its face”? Would the Christian be comfortable if we say that the Christian god is real “to believers,” but not real “to non-believers”? Would he accept this? I’m guessing not. Christians like to claim that the god they imagine is real to everyone, whether one believes it or not. (In this way, they borrow the primacy of existence principle from Objectivism.)
So again, if I imagine a giant bunny rabbit doing exercises on the surface of the moon, who’s to say the robot I’m imagining is not real? Who’s to say there is no bunny rabbit actually doing things on the moon? Per the author’s retort here, this could be real “to” someone, even if it is not real “to” someone else. On such a view, reality is completely subjective, and what may be happening per the subjective impulses of one person may not be happening per the subjective impulses of someone else.
Like Jesus willfully allowing himself to be nailed up on a cross, the author offers himself as a case in point: Christianity deliberately blurs the distinction between the real and the imaginary, and here is a clear, unambiguous example for all to see.
The author then asks:
What are the conditions for “reality?”
In terms of discourse, it appears that the author is trying to create a smokescreen, a haze concealing some shifty maneuvering with basic concepts, albeit with the clumsiness of a novice unaware of his lack of skill. He apparently expects his readers to be as unclear on basic principles as he is. Perhaps he is accustomed to readers who are willing to go along with the kind of obfuscation he is seeking to implement with such questions. If so, it is good that he has ventured out of his comfort zone.
The author then writes:
I think we can all agree that leprechauns are not “real,”
The author then “reasons”:
but if I were to draw a leprechaun on a sheet of paper, it would exist in reality despite the fact that it did not exist elsewhere.
The author makes another attempt to provide some reasoning:
If I write a story to accompany the illustration, the leprechaun becomes even more real in that its character, actions and interpersonal relationships are described in detail; the more detail I add to either the drawing or the story, the more “real” the leprechaun becomes.
Adherents learn details about their god from written stories (which puts the Christian god, for example, in the same camp as characters in texts which are known to be fictional). Written stories give the human mind an opportunity to develop vivid imaginations and fantasies. The dominant function of allegory in religious literature is to provide the imagination with the fundamental material to work with in developing lifelike as well as larger-than-life psychological replicas of heroes, villains, events, and cosmic personalities portrayed in religious literature while allowing for a strong element of personal relevance. The Christian believer, for instance, reads about his god in the Old and New Testaments. In these sources, which are dubbed revelatory communication directly from the god he reads about in their pages, the believer finds stories which provide often vivid narratives which the believer personalizes in his imagination of them and accepts as truthful, historical accounts.
I made a similar point in my blog The Role of Imagination in Christian God-Belief:
Imagination is a central ingredient to the religious experience. Religious stories are the prime vehicle for religious beliefs: they supply the props and motifs which inspire the initial content of the believer's imagination, and it is the believer's imagination which serves as the fundamental content of his belief experience. In the case of Christianity, it is because the stories of the gospel narratives and other "histories" are 'uploaded' into the believer's imagination and combined with content taken from everyday experiences, that they seem vital, real and alive to him.
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.
The author then states:
The story and the drawing are limited in scope only by my imagination, not by the constraints of empirical reality; even though leprechauns do not exist in “the real world,” there is, clearly, one leprechaun which does exist– mine.
So here we have a true act of religious creation: first you imagine something, then you do something to make the imaginary seem more real, including casting it into a story, even talking to it as though it were real. Just as the Christian god is said by believers to have created the universe by an act of consciousness, here we see the tell-tale signs that believers create their god by an act of consciousness, namely by means of imagination.
But here’s the mystery given the position the author is defending: on what basis can he affirm that “leprechauns do not exist in ‘the real world’” when clearly he is implying that something does exist when one imagines it? Blank out.
The author then proposes his own revision of my Premise 1:
In light of this, the more accurate premise would be: That which cannot be imagined is not real. However, since our leprechaun can be imagined, it has been given reality. So to say that God, Who can be imagined, is not real based on the premise that He is imaginary begs the question.
What’s also clear is the fact that the author believes that imagining something gives what is imagined “reality,” for he states explicitly that “since our leprechaun can be imagined, it has been given reality.” Stated as this has in the context of defending one’s god-belief, the implication that imagination is in fact the type of conscious activity involved in apprehending the Christian god is inescapable: Since the Christian god can be imagined, goes the author’s reasoning, it has been given reality. The author in turn seeks to use this reversal of reasoning as the basis for leveling a charge of circular reasoning against the view that the imaginary is not real. Unfortunately, like the god the author worships, the fallacy he feigns to have detected in my Premise 1 is clearly a figment of his own imagination.
Really, I’m not making any of this up. It’s all right there on Prayson Daniel’s blog. As I’ve stated before, let Christians hang themselves. Just let them defend their god-belief, and their lunacy cannot fail but to come out.
To be continued...
by Dawson Bethrick