Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Case in Point, Part II

We continue now with the second and final installment of my interaction with a comment reacting to my blog Proof that the Christian God Does Not Exist posted by a Christian over on Prayson Daniel’s blog.

The initial installment of my interaction with the Christian author’s objections can be found here. In that installment, we saw that the author rejected Premise 1 of my argument, which affirms the recognition that “that which is imaginary is not real.” To affirm his rejection of Premise 1, the author used the example of a leprechaun that he imagined, saying:
…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.
Thus the author has already essentially admitted that the Christian god is something he has imagined, just as he imagined the leprechaun in his example. Why else would he find it necessary to say that my argument’s Premise 1 (“that which is imaginary is not real”) “isn’t even accurate on its face”? Why else would he state that the leprechaun he admits to imagining “has been given reality” in the context of defending his god from an argument that sets out to prove that it is not real?

But the author does not stop here. Oddly, he was not content attacking just one premise of my argument. Instead, he found it necessary to attack every premise of my argument.
In case readers do not know or recall what my argument looks like, here it is in its full glory:
Premise 1: That which is imaginary is not real.  
Premise 2: If something is not real, it does not actually exist.  
Premise 3: If the god of Christianity is imaginary, then it is not real and therefore does not actually exist.  
Premise 4: The god of Christianity is imaginary.  
Conclusion: Therefore, the god of Christianity is not real and therefore does not actually exist.  
As I have already examined the author’s attempts to refute Premise 1 in my previous blog entry, we now turn our focus on the author’s reactions to the remaining premises.

In response to Premise 2, the author writes:
This premise again begs the question. Not real for whom? If I am experiencing pain, the pain itself is, for me, quite real. However, a bystander would feel nothing (at least, would have no physical perception of my pain), and so would only experience it in an abstract, imaginary way. To the bystander, my pain is only real in the sense that he can empathize with the pain that I am experiencing. In the event that the bystander had never in his life experienced physical pain, my pain would lack reality even at the empathetic/ imaginary level, but would be no less real to me.
In what appears to be mere knee-jerk reaction, the author charges Premise 2 with begging the question. He provides no reason for doing so, and it is hard to see how this charge could stick. A conclusion can be charged with begging the question if the premises cited in support of it assume the truth of that conclusion. But what would justify the charge of fallacy in the present case? It is as though the author did not really understand the nature of the fallacy he says has been committed here.

Then, as we saw in his reaction to Premise 1, the author again resorts to relativism: something can be real “for” one person, but not real “for” another. On this reasoning, the Eiffel Tower may be real “for” you, but maybe it is not real “for” me. Clearly this is a blatant denial of primacy of existence and an open embrace of personal subjectivism. At least in his own idiosyncratic way, the author is somewhat consistent with himself: he uses subjectivism to defend subjectivism.

Now the author does present an example perhaps to help inform the contention he has in mind. And that example is pain. But who would say that pain is not real? Clearly my Premise 2 does not deny the reality of pain. So the relevance of the author’s chosen example to the truth of Premise 2 is not entirely clear. Presumably the fact that another person does not directly experience a pain you may happen to be feeling at any time is sufficient, on the author’s view, to call into question whether or not the pain you’re feeling is real. But if this is his objection against Premise 2, he is really reaching to say the least. While it is true that a bystander will not feel the pain you are feeling, it would not follow from this that to the bystander, the pain you are feeling is not real. If the bystander acknowledges that you are real, then he would have to acknowledge that since you are real, you are at least feeling something. For rational individuals, the mere report of experiencing pain is enough for one to suppose that one is feeling pain.

Thus to argue that since one is not feeling another’s pain, this alone would justify denying the truth of another person’s report of feeling pain, would ignore the essential context of the nature and cause of pain. Two different individuals do not share the same nervous system, so we should not expect another person to feel pain when we do. If the causal mechanism necessary for the transmission and experience of pain is not present, then whatever the situation is will not be experienced as painful. If someone hits my arm with several blows of a hammer, I will no doubt experience pain – probably an intense degree of pain. The person delivering the blows will not experience the pain that I do, since my arm is not connected to his nervous system. But if someone is doing this, he may very well be doing it in order to inflict pain. In such a case, he would clearly recognize that any pain I will experience from such an exercise will be undeniably real, even though he himself does not feel it.

However, if my arm is severed from my shoulder, and after this severance someone starts hitting my former arm with a hammer, I will not feel the blows of the hammer to my arm. Since the nerves in my arm are no longer connected to my nervous system, any nerve activity that may be occurring to my arm cannot be transmitted to my brain, and thus I will not experience pain as a result. Of course, if my arm is severed, I will likely experience pain just from this. But once my arm has been removed, anything can happen to it, and I will not experience pain as a result.

Thus, on a rational view, one can recognize that if sufficient cause can result in the experience of pain on the part of an individual who has suffered such cause, there is no stretch to acknowledge the reality of pain resulting from such trauma. If the area affected by the violence in question is connected to the individual’s nervous system, then there is sufficient reason to suppose that the person’s claim to experiencing pain is genuine, and therefore the pain he reports can be accepted as real. Thus it can be accepted as an actually existing phenomena, a phenomena which exists independent of the individual’s volitional mental activity: he can, for instance, wish that the pain go away, but wishing will not make pain go away. Indeed, who experiencing pain would not like to be able to simply wish that pain away? If that were possible, I surmise that there would be far fewer dentists in the world, and sales of novocaine would drop dramatically.

But is pain even analogous to what my overall argument has in mind? I do not think so. Rather, it seems that the author is desperate to find some kind of counter-example that will somehow undermine my Premise 2. While we can all readily grant that pain is real and that it therefore exists, even if we are not experiencing the pain in question firsthand, it would not follow from this would-be counter-example that the author has thus found something that can be real and yet not exist, or unreal and yet exist. Since Premise 2 equates the unreal with the non-existent, the author is going to have to keep looking for an example which will once and for all overturn my premise.

So it is important to keep in mind the following: The Christian god is supposed by Christians to be an independently existing conscious entity which allegedly created not only the universe in which we live, but every nervous system that exists, has existed and will exist. The Christian god could not, on Christianity’s premises, be at all analogous to a sensation caused by assault to the flesh. Christianity does not teach that its god is analogous to something one can experience directly while every bystander can only “imagine” it, as the author characterizes pain. On the contrary, Christians teach that everyone “knows” the Christian god exists just as they know their own pain exists when they feel it. They cite passages from Romans chapter 1 as a prooftext for such a ridiculous claim. But this only means that on Christianity’s terms, the Christian god is not analogous to pain that someone else feels. So even on Christianity’s own terms, the author’s objection to Premise 2 is way off-mark.

Thus to recap: the author’s effort to refute Premise 2 fails. For one, he makes no effort to show that it begs the question. In order to do so, he would have to expose this fallacy in any inferential support given to secure Premise 3. But he has not done this. Second, the author’s recourse to relativism only means that he can defend his subjective position by using subjective means, which can only mean that objectivity is not on his side. Third, his example is not an example of something that is real but does not exist, so he fails to produce a counter-example which disconfirms Premise 2. If pain is real, then it exists. No rational person would dispute this, especially if one has rudimentary understanding of the basic causality of pain. Thus Premise 2 remains intact.

Now to Premise 3 of my argument, which states the following:
If the god of Christianity is imaginary, then it is not real and therefore does not actually exist.
The author responds to Premise 3 as follows:
This assumes that the God of Christianity is in fact imaginary: this is an a priori assumption, and a weak one at that, not even supportable by the first two premises. We have already demonstrated that the idea of “imaginary” is impossible to substantiate.
The author seems to have difficulty following the simple logic of an explicitly informed syllogism. For one thing, Premise 3 in fact does not in any way “assume that the God of Christianity is in fact imaginary.” What Premise 3 does assume is the truth of the two previous premises, 1 and 2, which have been explicitly stated just prior to Premise 3. Premises 1 and 2 are general principles; Premise 3 is simply a specific application of these general principles to a particular case. This is an example of what is called principled thinking - i.e., thinking guided by general principles, which necessarily involves integrating specific cases into general categories.

Moreover, that Premise 3 does not assume that the Christian god is imaginary should also be apparent from its hypothetical nature: if the Christian god is imaginary, then per Premises 1 and 2, it is not real and therefore does not actually exist. Premise 3 is not affirming that the Christian god is imaginary; that will come in Premise 4. What Premise 3 does is introduce an application of the previous two premises to a specific case, and it does so by means of a conditional statement, signified by the presence of if at the very beginning of Premise 3. This is common logical procedure.

One can swap out “Christian god” and replace it with something else to test its application of Premises 1 and 2. Consider the following:
Example A: If my house is imaginary, then it is not real and therefore does not actually exist.
But since my house is not imaginary – it does in fact exist independent of any conscious activity I or anyone else performs, including imagination – then it does not follow that it is not real and therefore does not actually exist.
Example B: If the 800-foot bunny I imagine doing pushups on the moon is imaginary, then it is not real and therefore does not actually exist.
Since the 800-foot bunny I imagined is in fact an invention of my imagination, it is imaginary. Thus, as Premises 1 and 2 tell us, it is not real and therefore does not actually exist. If I write a story about an 800-foot bunny doing pushups on the moon, this would not make what I imagined real. The result would merely be one more piece of fiction to line the bookshelf with.

However, on the author’s view, as we saw in my previous blog entry, since he believes that writing a story will make what is imagined in the story “become even more real,” he must think that if I write a story about the 800-foot bunny I imagined on the moon, that there would really be an 800-foot bunny on the moon. This is what the author’s objections mean when applied to specific examples. The author’s worldview has successfully managed to blur the distinction between reality and imagination in his mind. My view is that this confusion between reality and imagination can be traced directly to the believer’s acceptance of a worldview premised on the primacy of consciousness.

When the author states that he has “already demonstrated that the idea of ‘imaginary’ is impossible to substantiate,” it is unclear what he thinks he is referring to. At no point in his comment did the author “demonstrate... that the idea of ‘imaginary’ is impossible to substantiate.” The ‘idea’ of ‘imaginary’ corresponds to the activity which a mind performs when it forms a mental image by selectively rearranging things that have been perceived or experienced. I have not perceived or experienced an 800-foot bunny, but I have perceived bunny rabbits before. Thus I invent in my imagination a bunny that is 800 feet tall. The means by which I form this mental image is called imagination. So if the author thinks it is impossible to “substantiate” the idea of ‘imaginary’, why is it so easy for me to do so right here in my response to him? Or, could it be that he means something else here? If so, he needs to clarify, for given what he has written, it would only mean that “imaginary” is a nonsense word which has no demonstrable meaning. But he himself has admitted to imagining things, such as the leprechaun in his reaction to Premise 1.

The author then states that “Premise #3 has problems of its own outside of the difficulties shown with the first two premises.” What are those alleged problems? The author continues:
Premise #3 assumes that since something has not yet been proven to be true, beyond any shadow of a doubt, it should follow that: nothing not already proven to be true, can be true. Einstein proved that physical particles are incapable of moving faster than the speed of light; this “proof” is part of the theory that enabled mankind to harness the energy of suns. However, despite being “proved,” and despite this “proof” being part of the foundation of a very real result, it was later discovered that not only is it possible for physical matter to travel at speeds faster than light, but that there are cosmic particles already in existence that do just that. In other words, what was “proven” to be imaginary (faster-than-light travel), was, in fact, real.
Clearly the author is reading something into my Premise 3 than is actually there. Where he gets what he says here is a mystery. For one, neither Premise 3 nor my argument as a whole affirms, suggests or assumes that “since something has not yet been proven to be true..., nothing not already proven to be true, can be true.” Premise 3 makes no statement to this effect. There is no inconsistency whatsoever between recognizing that something which is imaginary is unreal and acknowledging truths that have been newly proved. Really, where does the author get the impression that Premise 3 is assuming what he has interpreted it to assume?

Since the author has completely mangled what Premise 3 states, his example about Einstein and the speeds at which physical particles can travel is simply irrelevant. Furthermore, since he seems to have little understanding of elementary logic when it comes to the nature of a conditional statement as it is used in a hypothetical syllogism, his charge that my Premise 3 “assumes” what in fact is substantiated in the support I have already provided on behalf of Premise 4 of my argument is baseless. So let’s move on.

Premise 4 of my argument affirms the following:
The god of Christianity is imaginary.
The author reacted to this as follows:
Again, this is an a priori assumption that is, in fact, far from being proved.
Where does the author show that my Premise 4 is “an a priori assumption”? He produces no argument for this. So his objection is unsupported.

Also, we already saw in Part I that many Christians accept the notion of “a priori knowledge” to begin with. As a result, even if my Premise 4 were “an a priori assumption,” citing this point alone would not necessarily serve as a suitable objection from the Christian perspective.

But in fact Premise 4 is not “an a priori assumption,” since it is a conclusion drawn from relevant evidence. This answers the author’s second claim, that Premise 4 is “far from being proved.” In my blog I cited an earlier blog of mine in which I presented 13 points of evidence indicating no less than the fact that the Christian god is imaginary. Drawing a conclusion from gathered evidence does not yield “an a priori assumption.” Since the conclusion is based on evidence discovered and validated by the knower, the conclusion itself, if accepted as knowledge, would be a posteriori in nature. So the author is clearly mistaken here: not only does he fail to produce any reasons to support his characterization of my argument’s Premise 4, his characterization is demonstrably false.

The author continues, saying:
The fact that something is unseen does not militate against the fact that it is real. I cannot see the cliffs of Dover from where I am sitting, and have never seen them in my life—but this does not mean that the cliffs of Dover do not exist.
I agree entirely. What the author misses is the fact that his example is not at all analogous to the case I have presented on behalf of the conclusion that the Christian god is imaginary. Check the record for yourself: Nowhere do I argue “I do not see the Christian god, therefore it must be imaginary.” Clearly the author has not done his research; he does not realize what he is up against here.

Besides, if the author’s view is that it is wrong to say that the Christian god is imaginary, why did he attack Premise 1 in the first place? Premise 1 affirms that the imaginary is not real. But if the author were confident that his god is not imaginary, why would he have any problem with Premise 1? Blank out.

The author continues:
And in the exactly the same way that things too small to be perceived by the human eye (atoms, neutrons, electrons, quarks) actually exist, the same is true of Things (God) too large to be observed by the human eye.
But this, too, is not analogous to my case that the Christian god is imaginary. Nowhere in my case for the Christian god being imaginary do I argue that the Christian god must be imaginary because it is too large or too small to be perceived. My case happily recognizes the distinction between perception and imagination. Perception is a means of awareness of things existing independent of our consciousness. And while it is certainly true that human perception has its limitations (e.g., we cannot see an individual animal cell with the naked eye), we can develop instruments which overcome those limitations and bring the imperceptible within range of our perception, such as the microscope. What Christian is going to suggest that we can build some kind of omni-scope which will allow us once and for all to see his god? This would be anathema to the goals of religious indoctrination, which do not involve enhancing the human mind’s capacity for rational inquiry, but to bring the mind into submission and enslave the believer to a religious collective.

By contrast, imagination is a conscious activity by which we selectively rearrange things that we have perceived or experienced into a mental image which the mind can have as essentially an ersatz object to focus on. As mere images in the mind, the products of imagination are completely internal and have no existence, no reality, no identity, independent of the mind thus forming the images. As soon as the imaginative activity by which the mind forms such images stops, they “vanish” from the mind, as if they never existed. No one else has direct awareness of what another person is imagining. Even if one describes what he imagines to another person, the other person will at best for only an image that he alone can enjoy.

Of course, one can recall the activity he performed from memory in order to repeat the process, but there is nothing keeping the mind from forming a different image, from altering it at will, within the confines of his imagination. Imagination is a type of playground for a conceptual consciousness since it not only allows the mind to combine attributes found in reality in ways that are not found in reality, but it also allows the mind to vary measurements of those attributes in ways that are not found in reality. Thus one can imagine a bunny rabbit that is 800 feet tall. The imagination is great for experimenting and fueling aspirations. But no matter how much one aspires to something he imagines, he will have to work for it in order to achieve it, and there are no guarantees that he will in fact achieve what he imagines. Ask any music composer on this: is his final product exactly what he imagined when he first set out to compose?

The hidden assumption lurking behind the author’s objections is that imagination is a means of discovering and validating knowledge about reality. This is in its own way a tacit admission that imagination is crucial to god-belief. It is also not an isolated instance; readers will recall that Prayson Daniel made essentially the same assumption in an objection he raised against my argument in the comments of this blog.

Things exist. This is self-evident, and I accept this fact as an axiom. And it is conceptually possible to break down the things which we know to exist by analyzing them into smaller and smaller parts, units which comprise the hierarchy of subdivisions comprising what exists. Eventually we get to a smallest unit, whether it is the atom or the particles which make up the atom. If it is possible to continue the process, one may analyze the particles into more fundamental elements. Nothing in my position denies any of this.

But the opposite action, continually adding finite concretes into larger and larger finite concretes, will not produce anything that is analogous to the Christian god, for the resulting accumulation will be yet another finite concrete, and the Christian god is said to be neither concrete nor finite in the same sense as finite concretes that we find in the universe. Christians tell us explicitly that their god is beyond scientific detection, not because it’s “too big” for our instruments to detect. If that were the case, one might argue that, in time, technology will improve to reach the point where detection of things of such magnitude were possible. But what Christian would ever allow that the god he imagines to be accessible by means of scientific equipment? Science and god-belief can never be reconciled with one another. And this is where this truth is most demonstrable: What application of the scientific process will give anyone access to or awareness of the Christian god? Blank out. Christians do not allow that their god is physical in the first place, so it could not be “bigger” than the universe in terms of physical size.

The author then writes:
The Universe, because it exists within the infinite God, is wide enough that we can only guess at what exists on its edge but there is no question that it has an edge.
Beyond affirming what we saw James Anderson earlier characterize as ‘panentheism’, it is unclear what this statement is expected to accomplish in terms of raising an objection to my argument. None of the premises of my argument have anything to do with whether or not one can feasibly argue that the universe has an “edge.” So beyond digging his hole even deeper, the author seems to be inventing rabbit trails in order to draw attention away from the issue at hand.

Also, and importantly, how could anyone “know” apart from imagination whether or not the universe exists “within the infinite God” of any religion, whether Christian or otherwise? It seems that if the author fully recognized that he was defending his god-belief against the position that it was premised ultimately in imagination, that he would anticipate this question and take action necessary to address it and persuasively put it to rest. But he has not done this. We have no alternative, then, but to imagine that the universe “exists within the infinite God” of Christian theism. But this is no good if Premise 1 is true. And as we have seen, the author’s attempts to refute Premise 1 have failed. Thus any position which relies on imagining instead of reason to infer that something is the case, only condemns itself.

The author again demonstrates that he has not done his homework on the present matter when he writes:
God, being infinite, is incomparably broader than a universe that we are still unable see in its entirety. But the fact that He is unseen does not make Him imaginary.
No, and that is not what my case for concluding that the Christian god is imaginary argues. The author has not considered the list of evidences that I have assembled for my case and cited in support of my argument. In short, the fact that we have no alternative but to imagine the Christian god makes it imaginary. Consider all the ways in which the imagination is involved in “religious experience.” Why else would there be endless varieties of religious experience? Non-Christian religionists also have religious experiences. What is common among them all? The activity of the human imagination involved in interpreting those experiences.

If I believe I’ve had an “encounter” with “the divine,” I would have to rely on my imagination to inform the belief that I had such an encounter. I would have to take some experience I’ve actually had, ignore its actual nature, and interpret it specifically with imaginative content: I would have to imagine the god which allegedly promulgated such an experience; I would have to imagine that the things which actually happened were somehow caused or choreographed by said god; I would have to imagine that whatever interpretation I so derived from said experience was the interpretation that said god wanted me to take away from that experience.

Recall Christian apologist John Frame’s self-disarming efforts to explain how one could “know” that even the “voice” he allegedly hears in his mind could be justifiably attributed to the Christian god or any other supernatural source. In attempting to explain how Abraham “knew” that the “voice” he “heard” commanding him to prepare his son as a sacrifice as recorded in Genesis 22, Frame throws up his arms in bewildered ignorance and confesses, “We know without knowing how we know” (Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (Part I)). Thus when called to answer apologists’ own favorite question “How do you know?”, even well-credentialed Christian “scholars” are at a loss as to how to answer it on behalf of the more intimate issues at the heart of their belief system. Their “presuppositions” cannot account for the “knowledge” they claim to have, for they are left with nothing but ignorance in the face of explaining such claims to knowledge.

Of course, believers are not going to want to admit that their imagination is involved. And yet, how can one reliably conclude that imagination is not involved when a person claims that he has “heard” a “voice” from a supernatural source? Confessing “We know without knowing how we know” will certainly not cut it. Indeed, this seems to be an example of insisting on something being the case when it really isn’t; in this case, having “knowledge” when in fact all one is really doing is imagining.

Speaking for myself, I know for a fact that when I read through the Old and New Testaments, for instance, and consider what these sources say about its god, I must engage my imagination to “conceive” of the god it describes. I must use my imagination in order to envision the stories that I read in these sources. If I pray to the Christian god or any other god, I have to imagine that god: I have to imagine that it is real and that it is conscious; I have to imagine that it can turn its attention to me and hear my prayer; I have to imagine that it can understand my prayer and perhaps even read my mind; I have to imagine that it has an answer for my prayer; I have to imagine that it cares enough to take my prayer seriously. This would be all my doing, and my imagination would be indispensable to the whole undertaking. Similarly, if I observe an event and want to believe that it was miraculous, I have to imagine that there was a supernatural hand behind it causing to happen. If I want to believe that “the Spirit” is “moving” me, that it is telling me something, that it is guiding my steps and protecting me from evil forces, I have to imagine this. If I want to believe that the universe was created by a god’s act of will, I have to imagine this. Imagination is a precondition to such beliefs, and accepting the rudiments of a worldview which blurs the distinction between reality and imagination is a precondition to accepting those beliefs as though they were true.

Now, I know of no reason to suppose I am in any way unique or special in this regard. Would it not be a case of arrogance if I were different from everyone else? If I am relying on my imagination when I consider what the Christian bible teaches, and I have no alternative but to do so in order to “conceive” of what the bible tells me, why suppose that other individuals are somehow metaphysically privileged with some ability that I do not have, namely an ability which is distinct from imagination and which gives them awareness of what I must imagine as though it existed independent of conscious activity? Indeed, it seems that it would be easy for a person mystically inclined to claim a special ability that others do not have when in fact that “special ability” really turns out to be imagination. Isn’t this precisely what we have in the case of the world’s religions, essentially imagination that has departed from reality in an attempt to systematize a reality-negating worldview?

But the author thinks there is tangible evidence for his god-belief. He writes:
More evidence—philosophical, historical, archaeological, anthropological, psychological, medical—exists to support the idea of an Intelligent Creator, Moral Lawgiver and Uncaused Cause than exists to support the notion that there is not.
The author lists no less than six categories of evidence “to support the idea of an intelligent Creator, Moral Lawgiver and Uncaused Cause.” The author does not specify any of these alleged evidences that he presumably knows about. So he leaves us unenlightened. I am not to blame for this.

But let’s focus on the notion that the universe was “created” for a moment, simply to give this claim some attention and see whether or not there is any evidence to support the idea that the universe was created by a supernatural consciousness. To clarify, I understand this essentially to mean that the universe and everything within it was created by an act of consciousness, and that the consciousness alleged to have done all this creating is none other than the god of Christian theism, according to Christian teaching.

So let us ponder this in a way that anyone should be able to understand. When I go out into my backyard and pick up a pebble from the ground, according to creation theism, this pebble was created by an act of consciousness. But what in reality positively suggests that the pebble I'm holding in my hand was created by an act of consciousness? What in reality tells me that it was essentially wished or commanded into being? I certainly can imagine that the pebble was wished or commanded into being. But I know that imagination and reality are distinct from each other; what exists and what I imagine are not the same. I also know that imagination is not a means of discovering and validating knowledge about reality. Moreover, everything I do learn from reality indicates that conscious action does not have this kind of power over things that exist in the world: all evidence that I know of tells me that conscious activity does not have the ability to zap things into existence, and no evidence that I know of suggests otherwise.

So we have four fundamental problems here:
1) there is no evidence which supports the view that the pebble was created by an act of consciousness;  
2) all evidence available to me indicates that conscious activity cannot wish something into being;  
3) I must rely on my imagination in order to "believe" that the pebble (or anything else) was "created" by an act of consciousness; and  
4) I know that the imaginary is not reality.
So what “evidence” does the author propose to overcome all of this? What evidence can he specifically produce to suppose that a pebble I pick up in my own backyard was “created” by an act of consciousness? I am not asking for an argument from ignorance here; we cannot rest our belief that the pebble was created by an act of consciousness on our inability to answer the question “Well, how else did the pebble get here?” I openly admit that I do not know specifically where the pebble I found in my backyard came from; generally, I hold that it came from existence, from the universe. But this does not require me in any way to suppose that it was created by an act of consciousness, nor does it require me to affirm anything contrary to the evidence that I know or to affirm something that has no evidence in support of it. So my position is entirely consistent with itself; there are no “loose ends” which can be transformed into a “gap” into which the believer’s god magically fits.

So this is what the theist needs to explain: why suppose that any pebble – not only the one I found in my backyard, but any pebble that exists anywhere – was created by an act of consciousness in the first place?

Unfortunately, it is questions such as this which theists are consistently unable to answer. By blocking off appeals to ignorance (e.g., the “Duh, I donno. Must be God did it!” version of apologetics which is so handily disguised as something more than it is), the theist is challenged well beyond the utility of his worldview. Since his own presuppositions prove epistemologically hopeless, he can only come back empty-handed on this score, which will not bode well at all for the alleged philosophical solvency of his god-belief.

However, if the author or any other Christian thinks he has any secure evidence for me to suppose that a pebble I pick up in my backyard was created by an act of consciousness, I am happy to let him produce that evidence. It will be up to him to specify what exactly that evidence is and explain how exactly I can distinguish what he calls “evidence” from something that I need to imagine. He will also need to explain precisely why whatever he proposes should be accepted as evidence for what it is intended to support. If he cannot do this, then he will have to be content to let me rest on my conclusion, given the many different facts that I have surveyed, that such belief is a concoction of mystical imagination. If he makes no effort to produce any evidence to support the supposition that a pebble I pick up in my backyard was created by an act of consciousness, he should not get sore at me for the anti-theistic conclusions that I draw in an entirely consistent manner about his god-belief. It is up to him to defend his theism, and I am free to follow the evidences I have discovered to their rightful conclusion.

But in anticipation of any anti-theistic conclusion, the author writes:
To state categorically that the Christian God is imaginary is to assume that the preponderance of evidence can simply be ignored out-of-hand.
It is unclear what it means according to the author to state something “categorically.” Again, the author did claim to have evidence which can be categorized under six different headings, but he has not stated what that evidence is. But to be clear, I hold absolutely and on rational grounds (which I have provided) that the Christian god is imaginary. I have given my evidence for this conclusion. The author has found it necessary to challenge the premise of my argument that the imaginary is unreal (Premise 1) to begin with. Thus it is difficult to understand why he would have a problem with the conclusion that the Christian god is imaginary if he thinks Premise 1 is not acceptable in the first place. If it is the case, as the author has affirmed, that “[b]eing imaginary is not mutually exclusive from being real” (see his 7 March comment here), then why would he have any problem with the supposition that his god is imaginary? If he truly accepts as true what he has said on behalf of his worldview, then he should be comfortable with the report that his god is both imaginary and real at the same time. Or does the author perhaps recognize, albeit only privately, that the imaginary is indeed unreal? If not, then his protests seem inconsistent with the position that he has taken to buck against this view.

In the interest of charity, then, I can only suppose that the author of the comment criticizing my position found on Prayson Daniel’s blog simply has not thought very carefully about the matter at hand. Fundamentally, he does not seem to understand what the mind is doing when it is imagining something. I infer this carelessness on the part of the author due to the fact that he continues to suppose that something that is imaginary can also be real. But I admit that this allowance of charity is hard to reconcile with the author’s clear resistance, as we saw above, to the view that the Christian god is imaginary. While he states in a subsequent message on the same page that “[t]here is no need to refute Premise #4, when Premise #1 doesn’t pass muster,” he clearly wants to promote the idea that there is evidence supporting the view that the Christian god is not imaginary. Unfortunately, not only does the author fail to produce any evidence on behalf of this view, he also fails to interact with evidence to the contrary. Indeed, if anyone can be accused of ignoring evidence “out-of-hand,” it certainly is not me. After all, I have presented evidence on behalf my position; the author has not challenged any bit of it; and I am happy to examine any “evidence” supporting the view that even a pebble in my backyard was “created” by an act of consciousness, a state of affairs which would have to obtain if Christian theism were true; and Christians have produced no evidence to support such a superstition.

I can only surmise, given what we have examined here, that the author believes what he believes (if in fact he does believe it), simply because he wants it to be true, not because there really is any objective “evidence” to support any of it. Otherwise, we should expect that he would have produced such evidence already.

I’m glad these aren’t my problems!

by Dawson Bethrick

Labels: ,

19 Comments:

Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

You wrote: "And Ydemoc, I really appreciate your efforts to engage the fellow over on Prayson’s blog."

That's good to hear! As I told "bethel" over on Prayson's blog, I derive great value from doing so -- so much so, that I plan on heading over to Prayson's blog a little later and informing them of your latest blog entry!

Ydemoc

March 13, 2013 1:39 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson: "Thus it is difficult to understand why he ["bethel"] would have a problem with the conclusion that the Christian god is imaginary if he thinks Premise 1 is not accept in the first place. If it is the case, as the author has affirmed, that “[b]eing imaginary is not mutually exclusive from being real” (as he has affirmed in his 7 March comment here), then why would he have any problem with the supposition that his god is imaginary? If he truly accepts as true what he has said on behalf of his worldview, then he should be comfortable with the report that his god is both imaginary and real at the same time. Or does the author perhaps recognize, albeit only privately, that the imaginary is indeed unreal? If not, then his protests seem inconsistent with the position that he has taken to buck against this view."

Borrowing this blast from the past: "Zoom! Right over his head!"

Ydemoc

March 13, 2013 3:19 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Thanks for quoting that section! It helped me see a couple typos that needed correcting. The passage now reads as follows:

<< Thus it is difficult to understand why he would have a problem with the conclusion that the Christian god is imaginary if he thinks Premise 1 is not acceptable in the first place. If it is the case, as the author has affirmed, that “[b]eing imaginary is not mutually exclusive from being real” (see his 7 March comment here), then why would he have any problem with the supposition that his god is imaginary? If he truly accepts as true what he has said on behalf of his worldview, then he should be comfortable with the report that his god is both imaginary and real at the same time. Or does the author perhaps recognize, albeit only privately, that the imaginary is indeed unreal? If not, then his protests seem inconsistent with the position that he has taken to buck against this view. >>

The clause "if he thinks Premise 1 is not accept in the first place" now has "acceptable" instead of "accept."

Also, I changed the parenthetical "(as he has affirmed in his 7 March comment here)" to "(see his 7 March comment here)" to avoid the redundancy. (Don't worry, the hyperlink has been left intact.)

So thanks for helping me edit my own work!

And yes, "Zoom! Right over his head!" is correct. I get the impression that "bethel" is going to argue against anything I affirm simply because I have affirmed it. If I affirm that jet airplanes make it possible to traverse large distances in relatively shorter travel times, he might argue against this as well.

Btw, interesting discussion going on over at this Choosing Hats blog entry. Check it out.

Regards,
Dawson

March 13, 2013 4:28 PM  
Blogger freddies_dead said...

I suspect that bethel will most likely ignore this comprehensive refutation of his poor attempt to deny your initial argument.

Fortunately, anyone who is actually interested in holding a rational worldview will be able to see your thorough dismantling of his bizarre claims, so thank you for your efforts Dawson.

March 14, 2013 4:31 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

HI Freddies,

Thanks for your message. And you’re welcome! It is my pleasure.

“bethel” repeatedly denies Premise 1 and demands proof for it. This is very odd. For one thing, it seems self-evident to me that the imaginary is not real. In fact, it seems rather dubious insist that it be defended. But I think I’ve provided sufficient analysis and examples to settle the matter in favor of Premise 1. The examples which “bethel” has produced (e.g., the shape of the earth, the speed at which particles can travel, etc.) do not in any way pose a challenge to Premise 1. If one imagines that the earth is a cube, does this make the earth a cube? I would suppose that even “bethel” would agree that it would not. So what relevance do his examples have? None that I can see.

I think the simplest way to determine whether or not the imaginary is real is to observe something and compare that thing you’re observing when you apply your imagination to it. Observe a glass of water and imagine the water turning a different color or the glass floating up into the air before your eyes. What happens to the glass of water? Do the thing you imagine it doing happen? Or, does it remain unchanged regardless of what you imagine? Premise 1 will support the prediction that nothing will happen to it. The denial that “bethel” has infamously proffered will only support the prediction that what you imagine will prevail in the world you are observing. Again, I can only suppose (and hope) that this fellow just isn’t thinking through these matters at all carefully. But then again, perhaps that’s part of the beauty of my argument: it compels Christians to come out into the light and expose the naked irrationality of their worldview.

As Ydemoc pointed out in the previous discussion, “bethel” wrote in his 11 March comment:

<< Notwithstanding the Christian view, in order to be a premise something must be universally accepted, or nearly so >>

Is this a criterion for qualifying a premise affirmed by Christianity proper? If so, then Christianity itself fails by its own criterion: since Christianity is not “universally accepted, or nearly so,” the Christian worldview cannot “be a premise.” But I have never gotten the impression that Christianity has ever endorsed such a teaching. But even then, unless everyone (“or nearly so”) agrees with the criterion itself, then this criterion cannot be accepted.

Really, it is such a strange comment for “bethel” to make that, again, I can only suppose/hope that he’s not thinking through what he is saying very carefully at all.

One last point. “bethel” seems to think I have been insulting him. I did not realize that I was doing this. Since he does not cite any examples of what he considers to be insults against him on my part, I have no idea what he is referring to. I typically try to focus on the topics rather than making things personal, at least I very much try to do this. Recall our exchanges with Michael Rawlings – I really did try to give him the benefit of the doubt early on, and I did not resort to insults until things got way, way out of hand (and even then I resisted). I try my best to be fair, but it seems that folks out there tend to be rather thin-skinned.

Or am I missing something?

Regards,
Dawson

March 14, 2013 5:07 AM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

You wrote: "Thanks for quoting that section! It helped me see a couple typos that needed correcting."

You're welcome! And thanks for that Choosing Hats link. I didn't read it fully, but it looks like an interesting conversation. Hopefully I can give more attention at some point.

As for your recent blog entry, as I was reading it, I kept asking myself, "Why would 'bethel' be so unwilling to accept Premise 1 of your argument? Does such resistance stem mostly from a mind warped by religious indoctrination? Or is it a result of his desire for something to be the case even though it isn't? Or could it be a combination of these and other factors?"

I think I found the answer to my question when you wrote: "I can only surmise, given what we have examined here, that the author believes what he believes (if in fact he does believe it), simply because he wants it to be true, not because there really is any objective 'evidence' to support any of it. Otherwise, we should expect that he would have produced such evidence already."

And so we have yet another believer demonstrating for us, in his own words, how tightly bound wishing and hoping are to imagination and, in turn, to god-belief itself.

Ydemoc

March 14, 2013 2:45 PM  
Blogger John D said...

Hello Dawson,

Two questions in response to this well-thought out post. I do not intend to enter the fray of the imaginary debate yet, but rather have a few questions based on things you said in passing.

1)You said, "Things exist. This is self-evident, and I accept this fact as an axiom." Presuppositionalists who follow Gordon Clark hold "The Bible is the Word of God" as an axiom. What would you say in response to them?

2) How do you go about choosing axioms?

3) Do you have an opinion on the origin of consciousness?

March 17, 2013 12:35 PM  
Blogger photosynthesis said...

The discussion at choosing hats has become hopelessly circular. Ben should tell the other guy that imagining that some supernatural being solves a problem neither means that the imaginary being solves the problem, nor that the imaginary being exists.

That leaving aside that induction holds easily from identity. It's foundational whether we want it or not. Gods? Just bullshit anthropomorphisms.

March 17, 2013 4:11 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello John,

Thanks for your questions. Let me respond briefly, and if you have additional questions, I would be happy to consider them.

You asked: “1) You said, ‘Things exist. This is self-evident, and I accept this fact as an axiom’. Presuppositionalists who follow Gordon Clark hold "The Bible is the Word of God" as an axiom. What would you say in response to them?”

Generally, my response to Clarkians on this matter would be two-fold:

A) What they propose as an axiom in no way satisfies any of the criteria which a philosophical axiom needs to satisfy. For example (where “it” refers to the statement Clarkians propose as their axiom):

- It does not identify a perceptually self-evident fact
- It is not conceptually irreducible
- It is not a universal truth (it’s a statement about a specific set of writings)
- it is not undeniably true
- it does not name an objective fact (e.g., we have no alternative but to imagine the god whose word the bible is said to be, etc.)

B) Also, I would point out that what the Clarkians propose as an axiom assume the truth of my worldview’s axioms (existence, identity and consciousness), meaning: my worldview’s axioms would have to be true even for the Clarkian to be able to consider the statement he proposes as an axiom, let alone defend it as such. Unfortunately, however, my worldview’s axioms together point to a fundamental principle which, when applied consistently, rules out theism. That principle is call the primacy of existence. On this, you might want to read my Feb. 2010 blog entry How Theism Violates the Primacy of Existence.

You asked: “2) How do you go about choosing axioms?”

I don’t think we exactly go “shopping” for axioms, as we do for sportswear or vegetables, selecting those that suit us better than others. Rather, since the task of an axiom is to identify in general terms the facts of which we are aware of directly, we should first ask: what facts are we aware of directly? When I look out at the world I see things - concrete objects which exist in my environment. I also perceive these things in forms other than visual. For instance, they make sounds and I hear them; I can feel them if I touch them; some things have a fragrance or put off an odor, and I can smell them, etc. So in all cases, my awareness has an object or group of objects. In general terms, all my actions of consciousness have something in common: things exist (i.e., “existence exists”). Another fact that all my actions of consciousness have in common is the fact that each object in my awareness is distinct from every other object. This gives us the axiom of identity: to exist is to be something specific, to be itself. And thirdly, another general fact which all my actions of consciousness have in common is the fact that they are actions of consciousness, which gives us the axiom consciousness: consciousness is consciousness of something.

The criteria which formalizing our axioms would need to satisfy are the following:

- objective
- conceptually irreducible
- perceptually self-evident
- undeniably true
- universal

You asked: “3) Do you have an opinion on the origin of consciousness?”

Sure, at least generally. My view is that consciousness has its origin in existence (as opposed to in “non-existence”). How’s that?

I’m guessing my responses will generate further questions on your part, in which case you are welcome to submit them at your leisure. I’ll try to get to them as time allows.

Regards,
Dawson

March 17, 2013 5:24 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Photo,

I agree that, in the discussion over at Choosing Hats, Ben is foregoing some ripe opportunities. But that is not unusual in what I tend to see among most atheists "out there," not only Ben. Ben seems to approach knowledge in general and apologetics in particular from a mishmash of varying and probably incompatible philosophical assumptions, some of which likely stem from philosophical skepticism.

I think the choicest quote from Knapp's blog entry is its very last line, which states:

"I have found that skeptics generally aren’t skeptical enough, and our friend is no exception."

I have often noticed that when presuppositionalists are pressed on their claims about knowledge, philosophy, etc., that skepticism is a kind of "fall-back" position of theirs. Chris Bolt clearly thought that "answering the skeptic" was a top priority, as if satisfying their denials of knowledge somehow qualified as an accomplishment. Also, notice that presuppositionalists seem to have readied themselves only to attack skeptics, and thus "presuppose" that non-believers are necessarily or ultimately philosophical skeptics. Of course, many critics of the Christian worldview fall right into this trap, which only confirms in the presuppositionalists' minds that they've got everything figured out. But clearly they don't. Far from it!

I hope to comment on the discussion over there more at some point, time allowing of course.

Regards,
Dawson

March 17, 2013 5:35 PM  
Blogger John D said...

Hello Dawson,

Thanks for your answers. You are correct that your responses have led me to ask a few more questions. I'll limit it to just two additional questions for now:

1. What makes those criteria for axioms necessary? I see problems in the listed criteria. Specifically, "perceptually self-evident" depends on the general reliability of perception and "undeniably true" would seem to require omniscience to determine. That is, unless you mean practically undeniably true as opposed to objectively undeniably true.

I am going to read more about the Primacy of Existence since I want to understand it, but have not done so yet.

2. You say consciousness has its origin in existence as opposed to non-existence. I would agree. But, how did consciousness arise in history? Was there time when there was no consciousness? If so, do you have an opinion on how/where consciousness arose?

March 23, 2013 5:54 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello John,

Thanks again for your questions.

You asked: “1. What makes those criteria for axioms necessary? I see problems in the listed criteria. Specifically, ‘perceptually self-evident’ depends on the general reliability of perception and ‘undeniably true’ would seem to require omniscience to determine. That is, unless you mean practically undeniably true as opposed to objectively undeniably true.”

Is that the only one you object to? It is entirely compatible with the others that I listed. I don’t know about you, but I rely on my perception every waking second of my life. I couldn’t do this if perception were not reliable. If you perceive at all, then you perceive something. In other words, you have perceptual awareness of something. Thus if you perceive anything, then your perception is working qua perception. Thus it is “reliable” in this very sense, and that is essentially all that is needed here.

We have to be careful not to confuse the perception of an object with the subsequent identification of that object. I can perceive an object but still err when it comes to identifying it properly. Identification is a conceptual task which requires the mind to be able to form concepts, an ability we learn to do in a rather rote and sometimes faulty way early in our childhood. I remember when my daughter verbalized her first concept around her first birthday. She used the verbal symbol ‘bob’, but it was in reference to the dogs that she encountered. She took the name of the first dog whose name she learned, “Bob,” and used it to refer to all dogs rather than as a proper name for just one animal. This was the first time that I observed her forming and applying a concept. A real milestone. A cause for celebration. Nothing to be taken for granted, but most people do take it completely for granted. That’s too bad, they’re missing something wonderful.

Perhaps what you might be objecting to here is the implication that knowledge begins with perception. Many thinkers have tried to argue against this over the centuries, but all such arguments amount to stolen concepts. Ultimately such arguments trade on a false understanding of the nature of concepts, often assume that the notion of ‘a priori knowledge’ is legitimate, and endorse some kind of mystical alternative to rational knowledge (i.e., knowledge based on reason, reason being the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses). Perception is in fact an objective feature of our nature, just as are our heartbeat, digestion, respiration, circulation, etc. We have organs which are clearly associated with the different modes of perception, and so long as we are alive we cannot shut down our perception at will. If you have a toothache, for instance, you can try to deny it, but this will not make the pain go away. You will still feel it. Since perception has a causal basis which obtains independent of any conscious activity we may volitionally perform, perception is objective. Thus I would not dichotomize between the practical and the objective.

Keep in mind: we do not begin with concepts already formed in our head. We have to form concepts on the basis of input from reality, specifically perceptual input. Perception is our primary means of awareness of reality. Without perception, there would be no knowledge, since knowledge is built ultimately on perceptual input.

You wrote: “I am going to read more about the Primacy of Existence since I want to understand it, but have not done so yet.”

Good idea. You may have questions on this as well. I’d love to help you understand.

[continued…]

March 23, 2013 8:23 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

You asked: “2. You say consciousness has its origin in existence as opposed to non-existence. I would agree. But, how did consciousness arise in history? Was there time when there was no consciousness? If so, do you have an opinion on how/where consciousness arose?”

These seem to be scientific questions rather than philosophical issues per se. I do not know how consciousness “arose,” but if it did, I’d suppose that its development was pre-historical. Was there a time when there was no consciousness? I don’t know, but I don’t see anything wrong per se with supposing consciousness has not always existed. Consciousness is a biological in nature and belongs to a specific class of biological organism, namely animals, organisms which are not fixed in place and need some means of being aware of surroundings in order to move around and obtain food successfully. Thus if there was a time when no animals existed, then no consciousness existed. And yet, existence still exists. Since we have the primacy of existence, we know that reality does not depend on consciousness and that reality is not a creation of consciousness. Thus if consciousness did arise, as I suspect it did (all biological indicators are that it did), it arose with the development of those animals which first evolved the rudiments of sensory awareness. There were no journalists around documenting what happened, so scientists have no alternative but to explore this development long after the fact. That seems like a daunting task to me, but certainly full of promise of fascinating discoveries.

Hope that helps!

Regards,
Dawson

March 23, 2013 8:23 PM  
Blogger NAL said...

An organism that is aware of it surrounding, that is conscious, would have a significant evolutionary advantage.

March 25, 2013 1:36 PM  
Blogger photosynthesis said...

Hi NAL,

Besides consciousness did not have to be human-like in order to be useful, which might push it's origins way farther back/deeper than in animals.

March 25, 2013 5:53 PM  
Blogger Justin Hall said...

@Ydemoc, Robert and gang

Something for your comic amusement. Just something I thought up out of boredom.

http://court-of-reality.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-rudeness-of-christians.html

March 25, 2013 11:37 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Nal and Photo,

Both of you are correct. An organism’s awareness of its environment gives it a significant advantage in terms of survival potential. So does being able to move! An organism that is fixed in place, such as a blade of grass, a shrub, a tree, cannot move itself out of danger’s way. But an organism that is not fixed in place, has a means of movement and can also sense threats to its life, can in many cases escape danger. I’m thinking particularly right now of a certain rodent that has taken residence in the walls of my kitchen (crafty little bugger!), but even more primitive organisms have the ability to outrun some dangers.

As to Photo’s point, the spectacular success of the insect kingdom is far more than sufficient proof that even primitive forms of awareness provide for survival advantage. The strata of sophistication evident across the spectrum of organisms in existence today is a mirror of sorts for the evolutionary development of organisms possessing consciousness as well as other mechanisms that provide survival advantage. Snails, for instance, have very primitive eyes located at the end of eye stalks which can be retracted in response to some forms of stimulation. No doubt snails do not perceive objects in forms analogous to how we perceive objects. But I’m guessing their eyes allow the snail to sense varying intensities of light, thus enabling it to avoid moving in some directions as opposed to others. Naturally a snail moving directly into sunlight could make it vulnerable to dehydration. The snail doesn’t “know” this in the sense that we know things (i.e., conceptually). But given that it has light receptors of some sophistication, it can move to avoid this threat to some degree. In my experience, most snails that I have found have been in cool, dark and damp areas of a garden. Those that are unlucky enough to move outside of such retreats often dry up and die.

So an organism does not have to have the sophistication that we possess in order to have a survival advantage. And some organisms, such as bats and certain birds of prey, possess far more sophisticated sensory abilities than we do (bats’ hearing, for example, and an eagle’s eyesight, etc.).

By the way, everyone, my latest post, Incinerating Presuppositionalism: Year Eight is now up. Join me in celebrating another year of punching Christianity in the nose!

Regards,
Dawson

March 26, 2013 5:18 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Justin,

Thanks for sharing!

In your blog, you wrote: “the creation of the universe was a rush job.”

I love it!

By contrast, human builders are often very careful, taking sometimes years to build large-scale projects (such as a subway or highway system). They need to be careful, since their values can be endangered if they aren't. Human beings have a stake in their vocations. An immortal, indestructible and eternal god could be entirely indifferent to all results of its choices and actions.

On the other hand, since the Christian god is imagined to be able to simply wish the universe into creation, why would it take more than one microsecond to create the universe? What's this "six days" crap? That's not omnipotence!

Clearly the creation story as we find it in the Christian bible is based on entirely human analogues. After all, the ancient Israelites needed some way to explain why people should rest on “the Sabbath.”

Of course, I will happily decide for myself when I shall work and when I shall rest. And as long as I am not yet in my grave, I shall not rest! There’s way too much that I want to do and enjoy in my life. Living is too much fun to sit and do nothing. Of course, a deity which has no body, no need, no pleasure receptors, no hands, no requirement to work with reality on its own terms, no challenges, no objective way to measure accomplishments against failures, no ability to fail in the first place, could never know the pleasures that I am capable of achieving and have achieved. What can I say? Sucks to be it!!! And what a joy to be entirely human and “merely” human!

Regards,
Dawson

March 26, 2013 5:37 AM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Justin,

Thanks for the heads up on your blog entry! I started reading it earlier this morning, but because I was pressed for time, I found myself rushing, not giving it the attention it deserves, so I quickly abandoned the effort. But I do plan to go back and give it a read.

Ydemoc

March 26, 2013 2:24 PM  

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