As an example of how theistic apologetics gorges itself on ignorance, consider the ready eagerness of apologists to treat things that are abstract as though one could “account for” them only by appealing to the supernatural. Lacking a good understanding of the nature of concepts and the process by which the human mind forms them from perceptual input, theists assume that abstract ideas have no dependence on the facts we observe in reality around us. How we have knowledge of abstract ideas is supposedly mysterious (it is indeed mysterious to those unacquainted with rational philosophy), so the supernatural must be involved behind the scenes somehow. The world is an ever-changing collection of matter in motion, so – it is presumed – general principles which are static and absolute could not possibly “arise from” our awareness of the things in the world. The essence of the theist’s thinking on these matters amounts to: “I don’t know how man can get unchanging, absolute and universal laws from the ever-changing realm of particulars, so they must come from God.” In precisely this way, ignorance of the nature of knowledge provides an open doorway to mysticism.
Buttressing this presumption in the mind of the theist is the fact that, as such, affirmations about supernatural beings have no objective tie to reality: we do not perceive supernatural beings by means of our senses, so “knowledge” of these things cannot originate from sense perception. So a commonality between the presumption that general principles of thought cannot have their ultimate source in perception and the supernatural, emerges as an obvious truth for the theist. Just as we do not perceive the Christian god, angels, demons, heaven, hell, etc., we also do not perceive moral truths, the laws of logic, the inductive principle, etc. Typically theists readily grant that knowledge of their god is not something that one can derive from what we perceive: the Christian god is imperceptible, so knowledge of it does not come by means of perceiving; this knowledge must be “revealed” to us by the initiative of the supernatural itself. Christian apologists are anxious to justify their god-belief by appealing to the fact that we have knowledge of moral truths and the laws of logic, even though we do not directly perceive these things. Similarly with the Christian god: we do not perceive it, but clearly we (or some) have knowledge of it.
Again, we find more and more of the theist’s path to his god-belief hinging on ignorance: “I don’t see how universal and absolute moral knowledge could possibly come from the ever-changing realm of particulars, so it must come from God.”
Since sense perception gives us awareness only of those concrete objects that are right before us, material things which are ever changing, corruptible, and finite, it is supposed that any knowledge that “transcends” this must come from some place beyond the realm of concrete objects, i.e., from the realm of the supernatural. Awareness of concrete objects can only yield at best knowledge of unrelated particulars which are ever-changing, ever in flux. Thus there can be no causal tie between knowledge of general, abstract truths (such as moral truths, the laws of logic, etc.) and awareness of concrete objects. Two distinct realms of knowledge are presumed to be at play here, and knowledge of the abstract could never be dependent on knowledge of the particular.
Moral truths and logical principles are supposed to be absolute and unchanging. Thus it is believed that they cannot have any dependent relationship to the realm of facts, which are ever-changing and thus non-absolute. Indeed, it is surmised, facts could be otherwise, so they are at best “contingent,” while moral truths and the laws of logic are said to be “necessary.” Knowledge of moral truths and the laws of logic must have its basis in something other than the realm of ever-changing facts; it must have its basis in something eternal, immutable, infinite, and authoritative. Thus this knowledge must have its basis in something like the Christian god.
Notice that it is not some set of facts by reference to which such “reasoning” seems to imply theism, but in fact a vast chasm of unexamined ignorance and, along with this, an apparently happy willingness to discount any active role which the human mind might play in formulating general knowledge from awareness of particulars.
Thus complicit in this uniting of supernatural notions with abstract truths among the more sophisticated apologists, is the view that induction can give us only generalities that are at best tentative if at all reliable. Inductive conclusions will always be haunted by the possibility of defiant exceptions, it is thought, thus induction as such is insufficient to provide us with the certain and absolute generalities we need as reliable guides. If you pull 99 blue marbles out of a sack, it’s possible that the 100th marble will not be blue. And yet, it is ignored that this assessment of induction is itself an inductive generalization: the claim ‘all inductive generalities are tentative’ could itself be only an inductive generalization. But for some reason this one is allowed to be treated as certain and absolute, as though it were not tentative. Why? Not because it is demonstrably true, but because it serves an apologetic need.
To make matters worse, apologists happily allow what they are willing to consider ‘possible’ to be contaminated by the arbitrary. “I don’t need any evidence to say that something *possibly* exists,” one apologist once wrote, “all I need to do is conceive its existence.” In other words, if one can imagine something, then it must be considered a legitimate possibility. This view, one presuppositionalists share with David Hume, lends itself quite nicely to the ‘possible worlds’ locution commonly employed to defend the retreat into arbitrary scenarios and the treatment of the facts of the worlds as provisional, unbinding, contingent. It just so happens to be the case that water at sea level boils at 212F and that the earth has only moon, but we can imagine otherwise, so things didn’t have to be this way. In the strictest sense, these are not “necessary” truths. We can “conceive” – i.e., imagine – a “possible world” wherein water boils at 58F at sea level and the earth has 48 moons or no moon at all. So the imagination ultimately holds primacy over facts in what is considered possible, compliments of the necessary-contingent dichotomy. This is just one of the many ways that the primacy of consciousness metaphysics systemically interweaves itself throughout presuppositionalist “epistemology.”
When non-theistic thinkers point out the fact that abstract knowledge in fact finds its ultimate basis in perception and is formulated by a process of conceptualization ultimately based on perceptual input, theists will typically react, not by considering the account so proposed and weighing its merits, but by condemning the senses as unreliable, or at any rate affirming that “trust” in the reliability of the senses is preconditional to such methodology and therefore “a priori” in nature, which would imply that the view that abstract knowledge finds its basis in perception and is therefore a posteriori, is self-refuting. This of course is false: one does not “trust” anything before he first perceived, and the operation of the senses is not contingent on anyone’s trust of anything. “Trust” (which is a mental activity) is certainly not preconditional to either the operation or the reliability of the senses, nor is trust a substitute for the discovery of their reliability, a discovery which is made possible by means of reason. In this way such objections commit the fallacy of the stolen concept: they rely on reversing the proper relationship between automatic physiological functions and volitional mental activity. Objections of this nature are motivated, not by actual facts relevant to the matter, but by apologetic need, such as the need to sever man’s knowledge from the realm of facts (which are characterized as “contingent,” as we saw above) and the need to undermine man’s confidence in his own mind (just as inductive truths are supposed at best to be tentative and possibly false or incomplete, one has no “epistemological right” to take the validity of the senses for granted).
Reason – The Antidote
If reason – i.e., the building of knowledge on the basis of perceptual input by mental activity guided by an objective method – is not unseated as the ultimate standard by which knowledge claims are vetted and validated, then not only are individual human beings at liberty to think for themselves, but also theistic claims have no hope of being passed off as rationally acceptable. So again we find apologetic need motivating the theist’s attack on the human mind: reason must be toppled for the apologists’ ends to be achieved. Apologists use both the gimmickry of the skeptics and the doctrine of unearned guilt to accomplish the task of bringing the human mind to its knees. Complete intellectual surrender is the apologists’ goal. Reason is their arch-nemesis. Man must not be free to govern his own mind; he must be philosophically and psychologically emasculated, just as the apologists have allowed to happen to themselves. On page 121 of their book Knowing God 101, Christian authors Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz proudly brandish an anonymous quote: “Sin is man’s Declaration of Independence from God.” Accordingly, “sin” is a desire for liberty, and this desire must be condemned, and men must be brought to languish in the most profound guilt for having this desire.
By contrast, the rational man declares his independence daily, and he does not accept the unearned guilt peddled by mystical charlatans for using his mind against their disapproval. This is the spirit of defiance which the apologists seek to kill. In the good old days of Christian hegemony, the fishers of men did not need to resort to voluminous arguments delicately constructed to answer objections and demolish the human mind. People in those days had yet to be emancipated by the Age of Reason. They had no philosophical defense against the mystics’ tyranny of the arbitrary. Evangelists in olden times could simply and effectively shrivel individuals into submission by threatening them with divine wrath and everlasting hellfire. Few lacked the courage necessary to challenge such taunts, especially when they were backed up by state-sponsored Inquisitors who specialized in using force to extract even the most reluctant confessions. Man must not be free, and he must be punished if he dares to desire freedom.
Once Thomas Aquinas rediscovered Aristotle, things began to change, albeit slowly at first. Reason was loosed from its bottle and slowly men found not only the courage but also the means they needed finally to think for themselves. It was an uphill battle, of course, as Christianity’s witch doctors did whatever they could to put reason back in her bottle. This typically involved recourse to the use of force. From Spain’s Inquisition to Calvin’s Consistory, examples had to be made; the people needed to see in graphic form what happens to those who dare to defy their authority and think with their own minds. Whether it was Michael Servetus or Galileo Galilei, the lessons of the Church were clear: all thinking outside the confines of the pre-approved Christian box was subject to the charge of heresy, and accordingly punishable by Church officials. The message was crystal clear: Dare not presume to be able to think for yourselves, Church leaders have a direct pipeline to the mind of God and are His mouthpieces to the world. It was a simple message anyone could understand: obey, or suffer. Take your pick.
So the churchmen of the olden days had it pretty easy, so long as they had in their possession the keys to power. Taunts and threats were sufficient to make most men’s spirits buckle and shrink to the level of a snail. But once men began to emancipate themselves, thanks primarily to the Rebirth of Reason, the churchmen faced new challenges. Now they needed to dust off those old arguments that the church fathers had used when Christianity had to compete in the marketplace of ideas. But a good many of those arguments had by now been debunked, and still others were useful only against other forms of mysticism. Reason turned out to be a bigger challenge than any of them had ever anticipated. Thus apologists had to up the ante, so to speak, in their assault on the human mind. It wasn’t going to be so easy as threatening people with eternal damnation to make them surrender. They needed a different kind of stick. They thus found it necessary to refine their arguments, or even invent new ones, such that today they are churned out by the dozen. Thus if one argument doesn’t work, another can be readily unpocketed and deployed.
The Shallowness of Presuppositionalism
Treating the human mind as though it played no active role in the formation of general principles or the development of abstract ideas (the human mind is unreliable: it is fallible, prone to error, innately depraved, etc., so its products are doomed to unrelieved doubt), apologists prefer to focus on what would at best be superficial affinities between such knowledge and what they call “the supernatural.” The supernatural, they say, is “immaterial,” and wow – so is abstract knowledge! What a coincidence! Of course, all of this rides on the unargued assumption that abstract knowledge is some kind of entity in its own right, something that “transcends” the “material universe,” something that is not a product of human mental activity. The human mind, condemned as helpless by its own fallibility and, even worse, its “sin-nature” inherited from Adam, could have no active role in the formation of abstract ideas, and therefore must at best be merely a passive recipient of such supernaturally-sourced entities passed by means of “revelations.”
Thus if abstract ideas are entities, they must be “immaterial.” Hence these “abstract entities” are “immaterial entities.” And “immaterial entities” are not what we perceive by means of the senses. Thus knowledge of these “immaterial entities” cannot itself originate in sense perception. This is a concurrent thread in the reasoning underlying the apologetic program of Vantillian presuppositionalism. Thus we do not need any tangible evidence for the Christian god (it’s everywhere all around us anyway, so they claim), since the nature of knowledge itself should be sufficient evidence already: the “abstract entities” which populate human knowledge are “immaterial” in nature, and the Christian god and other supernatural beings are also “immaterial” in nature.
It is essentially on the basis of this kind of sophistry that presuppositional apologist Michael Butler can say (in his TAG vs. TANG):
That the Christian worldview can account for the principles of logic is readily demonstrable. Christianity allows for abstract and universal laws. Abstract because the Christian worldview teaches that more things exist than material objects. Thus it makes sense for there to be abstractions.
But it is not difficult to see through this mirage which apologists seek to conjure in order to cloud the mind. Once we grasp the fact that knowledge is conceptual in nature along with all that this implies in relation to the issues which apologists seek to hijack in service to their defensive strategies, the presuppositional program cannot fail to crumble. Additionally, when we couple this understanding with the recognition that the imagination is indispensible to mystical theorizing and stipulation, the fate of presuppositionalism as a doomed defensive strategy is sealed.
The fundamental key to exposing presuppositionalism’s inherent weakness in these matters is recognizing that the “evidences” which apologists seek to contrive from the fields of ethics, logic, science, et al. on behalf of their god-belief, are psychological in nature. Properly understood (that is according to an objective approach to identifying their nature), moral principles, logical principles, inductive principles, etc., are conceptual in nature, a category which fits into the broader genus of psychological activity. Other categories falling into this broader genus would include emotions, desires, memories, and imagination. Thus by citing things like moral principles and the laws of logic as things that are similar to their god, apologists inadvertently concede that their god is analogous to psychological phenomena – i.e., it’s all in the mind.
Presuppositional apologists characteristically focus on conceptual phenomena, such as ethical and logical principles, without identifying them as such, and without drawing attention to other psychological phenomena which may in fact play a formative role in the substance of what they are seeking to defend. And yet, they’ve already put their god into this category as a pivotal function of their apologetic, so there’s no going back.
by Dawson Bethrick