A Case in Point, Part II
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.
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.
(from my blog A Proof that the Christian God Does Not Exist)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Again, this is an a priori assumption that is, in fact, far from being proved.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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