Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Primacy of the Inner over the Outer

A regular visitor to my blog who comments under the moniker NAL brought my attention to some continuing discussions over on B.C. Hodge’s blog Theological Sushi, and although he specifically noted that a fellow commenting there under the name “Rian” has been raking Hodge over the coals, the first blog entry that I looked at when I visited TS did not feature any discussion between Rian and Hodge himself. Rather, what I found – in the entry titled Christianity Doesn't Require Omniscience from Its Adherents - is a discussion between Rian and none other than Steve Hays of Triablogue.

(I don’t think this was the thread that NAL had in mind, since Hodge does not interact with Rian in it. Rather, I’m guessing that NAL had in mind this blog entry, in the comments of which Hodge does interact with Rian, and which I have yet to enjoy reading. All in good time!)

Now I have not occasioned myself to read through the entire discussion between Rian and Hays, though I do intend to as time allows. But what I have read so far was more than enough to get me typing – something I haven’t been doing much of lately. While there’s much to say in response to the small portion I’ve read so far, I did manage to get the following reactions of mine written out, and I decided to post them in a new entry on my blog here on IP.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

Rian stated: “the claim that some internal confidence of [or?] feeling of the truth of Christianity leads you to know that Christianity is true seems to be rather fraught to me."

I would say Rian is right to raise this concern: appealing to some internal “feeling” –even if one wants to style it as “revelation” – in order to “justify” one’s position ultimately constitutes an appeal to emotion. “It makes me feel good, so it must be true!” This is an expression of the primacy of the inner over the outer – where knowledge of reality is acquired by looking inward and consulting one’s own emotions, wishing, imagination, etc., as opposed to looking outward at reality, discovering facts and drawing inferences based on those discovered facts. Mysticism is any form of claiming “knowledge” which grants epistemological primacy of the inner over the outer; by contrast Reason holds to the primacy of the outer over the inner.

Curiously, in reaction to Rian’s statement, Steve Hays wrote: “Since that's not what I argued for, your point misses the mark.”

Now I did not read Hays’ blog entry linked to from Hodge’s entry (the last thing I care to do is read another Triablogue screed), but I don’t think I’d need to. Further down in the comments, Hays writes:
“There's a common difference between knowing something's true and showing something's true. By regeneration, a Christian enjoys a tacit recognition of Christian truth. He can experience Christian truth in Scripture, miracle, creation, and providence.”
This “by regeneration” reference looks like an appeal to religious experience, which is at least close to what Rian described above (and from which Hays sought to distance himself). While it may be the case that Hays has not “argued for” this, it’s clear that he’s affirming it here, argument or not. (Indeed, what argument could one seriously offer here?) What Hays describes here boils down to the primacy of the inner over the outer.

I recall how, when I was a Christian, I could “experience Christian truth in Scripture” by means of imagination. I would read a passage – say from one of the gospels – and in my mind I would paint a picture of what the text was describing in my imagination. For example, in John 2, Jesus is reported to have turned water in “six stone waterpots” (2:6) into wine at a wedding . I could envision Jesus, his mother, the servants, the headwaiter, the bridegroom, the wedding guests, the house, the waterpots, etc., and I could envision the water in the water pots being magically transformed into wine. So in this way, I was experiencing not only “Scripture,” but also “miracle.” But in spite of how much emotional investment I may have packed into this experience, no matter how much I may have wanted it to be true, at the end of the day I had to admit to myself that my experience was primarily imaginary in nature. No, I didn’t imagine the bible in front of me, and the printed text was indeed real. But as I envisioned the elements of the story I was reading, this was an exercise of my own imagination, inspired as it was by the content of the passage I was reading.

Now, of course, when I was immersed in Christian teaching, at no point was I taught that I should be concerned about the distinction between the real and the imaginary. It never came up in Sunday school, the pastor’s sermons, men’s fellowship night, choir practice (oh yes, I was quite the tenor!). I never found any passage in the bible that articulated any concern for being aware of this distinction, and it did not come to my mind until after I got a little distance from the “brethren,” who never expressed concern for it either. So within the context of Christian practice, there was no instructional impediment to blurring the distinction between reality and imagination. Thus when I read my bible, just as when other believers read it, I built up the stories I read in my imagination and supposed that it was all true. After all, I was urged over and over again, on a regular basis, to do just this. So if anything was “tacit,” it was the license to pretend that what I imagined, inspired as it was by Christian teaching, was in fact real, real enough to scare me, real enough to motivate me to act within the limits set by that teaching. The whole point of going to church regularly, receiving instruction, devoting oneself to bible-reading and prayer, fellowshipping with other believers and even evangelizing on the street, is to reinforce a confessional investment of this very nature in a most deliberate manner.

I recall occasions at the time, when I would sit at a bus stop and wait painfully long for my bus to come. I would pray to “the Lord” to make the bus come quickly (“Behold, the bus comes quickly!”). But often the minutes spooled away like a wasted thread. Having been repeatedly urged to be “mindful of the Lord,” I would have my usual one-way conversation with Jesus – with me doing all the talking, all the thinking, all the worrying – and often I began to wonder if I was being tested. Was I truly “longsuffering”? Was I “longsuffering” enough? Was I measuring up? Was I doing my best? Or, was I “coming short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)? Was I being punished by my “Lord and Savior” for being a “good servant”? Or, was the devil trying to thwart my movements and thus undermine my Christian soldier’s work? Since I was to always be prayerful and “mindful of the Lord,” naturally my imagination would run away with itself, with no objective bearing whatsoever to serve as a compass. Indeed, on Christianity’s premises, how could I know what to believe about my little ordeal? The Psalms give us plenty of models for complaining to the Christian god, and many of them read as though their author privately delighted in self-pity. This attitude is most infectious for the believer trying his best to be on good terms with the supernatural. To the extent that it has any practical outcomes, it results in a sense of powerlessness; to the extent that it has any “spiritual” outcomes, it results in the sustenance of pretense. But so long as one conscientiously buys into Christianity’s premises, his imagination is sure to run wild. The Christian confession could not survive without this.

Hays continued: “Humans can, and often do, register evidence at a subliminal level. I gave an illustration at the outset.”

The illustration he’s referring to was presented in his initial comment in the thread and had to do with forming the “belief” that it’s daytime on the basis of seeing sunlight. He gave this illustration in the context of affirming “a fundamental distinction between evidence and argument,” stating “we have evidence for things we don’t argue for,” which of course is true. But here I would point out a further distinction between drawing an inference and constructing a formal argument. Using Hays’ example, we perceive sunlight and on the basis of this we infer that it must be daytime. Hays may like to call this “register[ing] evidence at the subliminal level” (what specifically he means by this is not fully clear), but it is an inference nonetheless, and yet one does not need to explicitly identify a number of premises and ensure they’re assembled in a valid manner in order to make such an inference. So in this sense we have an inference without, at any rate, a formal argument.

I’m guessing that what Hays means here by “subliminal”, I would call an automatized thought process – i.e., an inference or series of inferences which a thinker has made many times in the past and now perform as a matter of habit, without needing to carefully think through various steps to reach a conclusion. This is one of the many ways the human mind economizes its tasks: we’ve drawn the inference that it is daytime from perception of daylight many times in the past, so there’s no reason to go through some lengthy inferential process to make this identification every time we see daylight. (Nor do we have to puzzle over whether or not we’re actually seeing daylight!)

But this does not seem to be anything remotely close to what Hays described above when he referenced “regeneration.” According to Hays’ brand of Christianity, regeneration of the believer is not self-initiated – the believer is a passive beneficiary of the regenerative process (however it is supposed to work), while inference – even automatized inference – is self-initiated. What Hays seems to be saying, so far as I can make from his threadbare statement, is that “regeneration” (i.e., a coercive interference from an invisible magic being resulting in some kind of psychic change in the believer) somehow endows the believer with some unspecified mental faculty by which he “enjoys” this alleged “tacit recognition of Christian truth.”

Now, to put it lightly, that’s quite a claim, but I don’t know how else to understand what Hays has written here. And it seems that this would be testable, unless of course it is confined to simply affirming that everything Christianity preaches is true. In that case, it seems to be just another empty appeal to mystical knowledge – i.e., the primacy of the inner over the outer.

In practical terms, given Hays’ additional point that “Humans can, and often do, register evidence at a subliminal level,” it appears that what he attributes to “regeneration” is really nothing more than a habit of referencing the imaginative construct of Christian supernaturalism throughout one’s interaction with the world. A person afflicted with such a habit might very well experience it as though it were a “tacit recognition,” when in fact it is a learned condition that has been positively reinforced through repeated indoctrination.

It is interesting, however, to see Hays apparently drawing a distinction between belief and knowledge. He writes:
“Christians can be justified in believing Christianity is true (indeed, Christians can know that Christianity is true) without having to argue for their belief.”
I’m guessing he was unsatisfied with mere “believing Christianity” here and wanted to fortify his point with something that was stronger for Christianity and had more positive implications for Christian adherents. But it is very common for Christian apologists to define knowledge as “justified true belief,” which I have criticized in the past. I don’t know if Hays holds to JTB or not.

On that note, if it’s the case, as Hays affirms here, that “Christians can be justified in believing Christianity is true… without having to argue for their belief,” then it seems only fair to say that atheists are justified in their atheism without having to argue for their atheism. If I don’t need to argue for my non-belief in magic pink unicorns, why should I have to argue for my non-belief in any magic beings? Blank out.

Hays writes: “Doubting Christianity presumes a standard of comparison. But that, in term, raises the question of how you justify your standard of comparison. Are criteria infinitely regressive?”

The only proper standard of comparison in any rational investigation is the principle of objectivity and any relevant implications it may have for a given context. Objectivity as such is self-justifying in the same way that it’s self-evident that wishing doesn’t make it so, and for the same reason, namely the truth of the primacy of existence. Indeed, objectivity is essentially the application of the primacy of existence to the task of acquiring and validating knowledge. And no, this criterion of comparison is not infinitely regressive, for it is grounded on a perceptually self-evident starting point, namely the fact that existence exists. Recognizing the fact that existence exists, whether implicitly or explicitly, means that the one doing the recognizing possesses the faculty of consciousness. Thus we have a relationship between the subject of consciousness and any objects it is aware of. The primacy of existence is the recognition that the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of consciousness. This is the root principle informing our recognition that wishing doesn’t make it so. If someone tells you that something is true even if you don’t like it, he is, whether he realizes it or not, appealing to the primacy of existence; he’s acknowledging that facts do not conform to conscious intentions. Thus the very concept of truth depends explicitly on the primacy of existence.

The opposite view is the primacy of consciousness, which is any view which reduces to the objects of consciousness depending on and/or conforming to the subject of consciousness. The view that wishing does make it so, is an expression of the primacy of consciousness, for such a view grants metaphysical primacy to the subject of consciousness over reality. The view that consciousness can create existence by an act of will – essentially wishing things into existence – is clearly an expression of the primacy of consciousness.

Thus while objectivity is the consistent and uncompromising application of the primacy of the object in the subject-object relationship (hence objectivity), the primacy of consciousness is the view that the subject of consciousness enjoys metaphysical primacy in the subject-object relationship (hence subjectivism).

No, you won’t learn about any of this by reading the Christian bible. Its authors were careful not to give away the game.

Hays frequently refers to what he calls “the explanatory power of Christianity,” which to me seems to be a rather inbred and self-aggrandizing attribution. It also seems anchored in a very childish view of the world where everything is ultimately explained by an appeal to magic. The old “God did it!” does not explain anything; on the contrary, it is something we might expect from someone who has no explanation whatsoever.

As a worldview, Christianity assumes the truth of the Old and New Testaments as contained in our present-day bibles (content variations notwithstanding). In these writings you’ll learn about model believers who got their knowledge through dreams, offered blood sacrifices to their deity, and affirmed their claims as deliverances of revelation; one might be forgiven for wondering why this deity doesn’t just give everyone the same revelation rather than us finding ourselves in the position of having to take someone’s word for it when they claim to have a message originating in some private revelation and risk the very high chance of falling for some inscrutable string of deceptions. Indeed, why doesn’t the risen Christ appear to everyone, as it is said to have done in the case of the persecutor Saul of Tarsus, rather than to just one individual who we are supposed to believe had such a privileged encounter nearly 2,000 years ago? Thank you, but I’ll go with the explanatory power of science – i.e., the systematic application of reason to some aspect of reality. Thanks to science, we have microwaves and jumbo jets. Thanks to Christianity we have Inquisitions and centuries of cultural stagnation.

But let’s suppose I’m wrong here. Let’s grant, for sake of demonstration, the possibility that Christianity has some impressive explanatory power. How about a test case? For instance, how does Christianity explain concepts? I’ve not found anything in the bible which speaks to this area of interest (of interest to me at any rate), and yet concepts are of crucial import to any discussion of epistemology. We can find out a lot about things like circumcision and blasphemy in the bible, which is well and good if those are important to you. But we can’t find out anything about concepts in the bible. I can only infer that circumcision was more important to the bible’s authors than the form in which we integrate and retain knowledge. (I did a quick keyword search on for ‘circum’ I found 90 hits in the NASB; for ‘concept’ I found two hits – and in each case the word found in the text was not ‘concept’ but ‘conception’ - as in a woman becoming pregnant with a child, and even then only one of them appears in the actual text; the other is a parenthetical heading added by the publisher.)

I know, discovering all these things and pointing them out must make me some stupid “village atheist.”

But is that really my problem?

I trow not.

by Dawson Bethrick


Daniel GodIsTime said...

Thanks Dawson. I saw NAL's comment but because I do not know all of the blogs that your posters frequent I had no idea to what NAL was referring when he mentioned what he did about Rian. Great post.

I'm currently speaking with an old classmate of mine about the underlying issues of any conversation regarding "faith". But he just doesn't seem to understand any of what I'm getting at. I've even quoted you and some of your strongest points (i.e. Lord Oda on Faith, Faith as the Belief in the Imaginary, but to no avail. "Faith" remains a valid means of knowledge and completely compatible with reason.

It's a good thing I get into these discussions with my old pals merely for the mental exercise it brings me. Otherwise, I would probably end up pulling my hair out. HA.

In Humanity,

Daniel GodIsTime said...

P.S. I found this fun little book by Erwin W. Lutzer called, "Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible" (1996).

I looked everywhere on line for a complete critique of the "book" ("book" because it's less than 200 pages) but to no avail. So, I've decided to do one of my own...for the joy of it, of course.

To give you a quick preview of the bountifully unyielding rationale will have to wade through, here is one excerpt from the first chapter titled, "A Logical Reason";

"This unit (structural unity), is so precise it defies human wisdom. For example, in Genesis 1:1 we read, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The word God is a plural noun; although the text teaches that there is only one God, the plural noun leaves room for a belief in the trinity which will be revealed later in the Scriptures."

As you can see, this will be fun. It will be my first attempt to do something like this, but I take seriously the challenge of Rand to do my own thinking so this seems like a good little project to start on.

It'll be on my blog and I will keep you all updated if there is anyone who wants to read my musings on this "formidable tome" of "apologetics".

In Humanity,

Ydemoc said...


Another great read! Thanks!


NAL said...


You're right, I had in mind the non-steve thread.

I was unsure about the meaning of his "regeneration" reference. Theists loathe being specific and when asked to be specific, ignore the question. Hodge seems to have a tight little argument, so I decided to see how it would work on superdupernaturalism.

Bahnsen Burner said...


Interesting stuff, though a little confusing, probably because I haven’t read the foregoing discussion.

So I scrolled up and started looking at some of the exchanges between Hodge and Rian, and I saw the following. In an Oct. 16 comment, Hodge writes:

”I start with belief in revelation that does not assume I must come to that knowledge myself. Hence, I believe and then argue from there.”

Now, just let that sink in for a moment. Really, I think it says it all. I cannot think of a more intellectually irresponsible way to govern one’s own mind, whether it involves Christian theism or anything else. Mind you, in the case of Christianity, “revelation” here denotes at the very least the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. That’s an enormous amount of content, almost all of it consisting of specific claims that are alleged to be historically accurate (there’s also aphoristic writings and poetry, etc., which are not historical narratives). So Hodge is saying that he believes all this first (my bible is some 1100 pages long!), and “then argue[s] from there.” Even if the contents of the bible were true, such indiscriminate acceptance (and on so wide a scale!) would not in any rational way be justified. There is no such thing as automatic knowledge, so there’s no way one could automatically know that the contents of the Old and New Testaments are true. (I’m assuming Hodge considers knowledge to be a species of belief, as many others do with their affirmation of JTB, but this is not necessary for my point.)

Consider the Hitler Youth movement in Nazi Germany. All these impressionable little kids were taught to love Der Führer and be willing to defend the Fatherland to the death at first call. Think of the schoolchildren in North Korea who are given history lessons that have been pre-approved by the state. Kim Jong Il is essentially god-like, and he did all these heroic things, and the Korean population is constantly being attacked by the United States, etc. Then there are the Islamic militants in their Wahhabi schools and the indoctrination they are taught. Or how about what school kids in Oceania (from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four) would be taught under Ingsoc. And like good Christian Sunday schoolers, all these folks are/would be expected to believe everything they’ve been taught and “then argue from there.”

The formula Hodge gives here, presumably with a straight face, is utterly frightening.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Daniel,

You wrote: “But he just doesn't seem to understand any of what I'm getting at. I've even quoted you and some of your strongest points (i.e. Lord Oda on Faith, Faith as the Belief in the Imaginary, but to no avail. ‘Faith’ remains a valid means of knowledge and completely compatible with reason.”

I don’t know the details of your conversation with your former classmate, so I don’t know what he’s having a hard time understanding. But I’ve had similar experiences myself. Some people find opposing views very threatening and consequently resist giving it a fair hearing, distort it, look down their nose at it, etc. Sometimes they simply do not want to understand. I don’t know if any of this is going on with your former classmate, but I have encountered it many times. (I encounter it here in Thailand to the Nth degree!)

But here’s something you might take up. If your former classmate holds that faith is a means of knowledge – a process by which knowledge can be acquired and validated, here’s what I would ask him:

1. Can he find any basis in the bible for supposing that this is what faith is for? From what I can tell, in the bible, faith is about action, not about knowledge. For example, see the “faith chapter” – Hebrews 11. Other examples of faith typically have a person doing something as a result of his faith – as though faith were a kind of conviction that enabled one to act beyond any emotional barriers (such as when Abraham acts on the instruction to prepare Isaac as a sacrifice – no flinching, no questioning, no resisting, just ups and goes about the task as if he were cleaning the kitchen…). So I’d love to see any biblical basis for the view that faith is a means of knowledge.

2. Ask him how it works. With reason, we can examine the steps we take to arrive at some item of knowledge, review them to make sure we performed them correctly, and identify errors if any have been made. With reason we can make a mistake, because it is an objective process. But what about with faith? How would one know if he’s made an error when he goes by faith? What are the steps involved in arriving at knowledge by means of faith? How does one go from ignorance on a matter to confident knowledge by using faith? What would I have to do in order to repeat the process he performed to come to what he claims as knowledge by means of faith? Or is “faith” just another word for believing something that’s ultimately based in imagination? How does one ensure that imagination is not involved in what he claims to know by means of faith?

I think these are all very fair questions, but don’t expect too much if you do get around to asking them. In my experience, Christians tend to retreat to the approximate and resist stating their views on such matters in a definite matter. But maybe he’ll try to give some good answers here. Either way, feel free to post an update here, or link to one from your blog.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Here’s something else.

In one of his comments (again, on this blog) reacting to statements by Rian, Steve Hays writes:

“Christians don't use ‘God did it’ to explain everything. Christian theism doesn't entail occasionalism. The Bible has a doctrine of ordinary providence. Many things happen by natural causes. God doesn't do everything himself. He created personal agents and natural agencies that do many things.”

And yet, we have statements like the following:

“God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” – The Westminster Confession of Faith, 5.1

Looks like “God did it” to me.

“God controls whatsoever comes to pass.” – Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160

Looks like “God did it” to me.

“God’s thoughts make the world what it is and determine what happens.” – Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 243

Looks like “God did it” to me.

God governs all things. The world and the universe do not operate randomly by blind chance or under their own inherent power. God actively controls all things and continuously directs them to His own wise end.” – Greg Bahnsen, Pushing the Antithesis, p. 29

Looks like “God did it” to me.

“Any fact, that is a fact, is a fact because God made it that way.” – James White, The Dividing Line Broadcast, quoted in Jamin Hubner’s The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 215

Looks like “God did it” to me.

Of course, Hays could not resist taking another potshot at Rian. He concludes his paragraph with:

”Are you just ignorant of basic Christian theology? Is that your problem?”

So who is it that’s “ignorant of basic Christian theology” here?


Bahnsen Burner said...

And another…

Rian wrote: "Untrue - I have the certainty that I am having sense experiences."

Steve Hays responded: “No, you only have the certainty of being appeared to, which you construe as sensory experience. But that's consistent with a dream, hallucination, virtual reality, &c.”

So let’s apply this to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus who, according to the book of Acts, is alleged to have been “appeared to” by the risen Jesus. In Galatians 1:15-16, Paul alludes to (but does not describe) his conversion experience, saying that “God… was pleased to reveal His Son in me.” Elsewhere, in I Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul (merely) lists different post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, stating in v. 8 that the risen Jesus “appeared to me also” (NASB). This passage uses the verb phrase “appeared to” in reference to the other post-resurrection appearances which are listed here.

According to Hays, this “being appeared to” by which the New Testament characterizes Paul’s and other people’s encounter with the risen Jesus, is “consistent with a dream, hallucination, virtual reality, &c.” So on what Hays gives us here, Cephas (commonly understood to be the same as Peter), “the twelve,” the “above 500 brethren,” James, and Paul, could all have been dreaming or hallucinating. Indeed, who’s to say – if one accepts all the supernaturalism and miracle stories of the bible – that they were not victims of a “virtual reality” stunt which people from the future (maybe even centuries from now) pulled in order play a practical joke on history which quickly got out of hand? We’ve been reading about it for over 1900 years, and yet it hasn’t even taken place yet. Ha! There’s a Bruce Willis movie idea for you.

What’s noteworthy, in addition to what Hays gives us here, is the wording of the NASB has Paul state in the Galatians passage that the Christian god chose ”to reveal His Son in me.” Notice that the preposition used in this translation here is not “to” but “in.” As I stated in my blog, this points right back to the primacy of the inner over the outer, indicating a subjective experience.

The point is, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well.


NAL said...

I just copied and pasted Hodge's comment and made the appropriate modifications. Originally done as a lark, superdupernaturalism is not refutable using Hodge's metaphysic/epistemology. His metaphysic can't prevent an infinite regress.

Bahnsen Burner said...


You will find that, no matter how deeply one explores what they offer as "epistemology," one will find no objective process by which error can be either detected or corrected. See the second question that I proposed to Daniel above. How does their "epistemology" guard against error? If it can't guard against error, it's utterly worthless. We can be assured of this because we are in fact capable of error. So we need an epistemology that helps us identify and avoid errors. We don't need an "epistemology" that allows us to remain in the dark. But that's all that religion offers us.


Daniel GodIsTime said...


Right. Thank you for the response. I have posted the full extent of the conversation over at my blog. However, for someone pressed on time it is already a lengthy read and the points I’ve made on faith (and that you have made on the subject) are spread out through several exchanges. To this end, it would be disjointed if I post sound bites of the conversation. But I’ll give one example.
Your points (#1 & #2) on faith means of knowledge not being a Biblically defendable position ultimately (up to this point, anyway) has only resulted in him retreating to a canned response attempting to define faith. Something like this:
“Wouldn't faith be hope in action. Similar to hope even starting as hope then taking it further into an action? Like at first I hope God is real then saying I'm going to put it into action and step out in faith saying God I hope your real and now I believe withy (sic) human mind as much as I can you are so will you forgive me and save me. I know that answer still isn't all "facts" it's still the "unknown" but would that kind of define faith?”
This definition wasn’t his first one. This definition came after at least 20 pages of dialogue between him and me. This definition is, at least, his 4th attempt. And as you can see, we have gotten nowhere. So, all I can assume, is that he doesn’t want to understand my (our/your) argument; that he is willingly being ignorant.
I don’t mind continuing the conversation with him even though he isn’t being honest with himself. Partly because I know him from my past and partly because he did say that he would continue to try to learn and study the issue so that he could better present it to me. Hopefully, by taking the initiative to learn, he will find the holes in the arguments himself. That (fingers crossed) will likely be the best way he will come to the truth; on his own. That’s how I came to it.

In Humanity,

Daniel GodIsTime said...

Correction in grammer:

Bring up your points (#1 & #2) on faith as a means of knowledge not being a Biblically defendable position, ultimately,(up to this point, anyway) has only resulted in him retreating to a canned response attempting to define faith. Something like this:

Daniel GodIsTime said...

Has anyone heard of Ravi Zacharias? He has a wealth of sermons online and is often touted as a premier defender of Christianity today.
I have very vivid memories of my dad listening to his sermons when I was in my late teens. I remember his speeches making me uncomfortable and thinking that the "Holy Spirit" was exposing my sin to me. Now of course, I know that it was my innate reason fighting the intellectual drool but not being able to put my finger on the "whys".
You can find is intricate double-talk at
I think after I dismantle “Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust The Bible” I will begin to systematically disarm this fellow.

In Humanity,

P.S. He printed a complete fail-of-a-book called “The End of Reason” in response to Sam Harris’ book “The End of Faith”. For those who have extra time on their hands to watch to people with equally subjective worldviews battle it out over semantics, check it out.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that people go through academically demanding degrees that are all aboutn learning how to better believe that their fantasies are real. It's worse that when they get their theology degrees they think that they really know something about something real. Worse even when we discuss things with such people and they show incapable of reasonable discussion.

Daniel GodIsTime said...


This last comment of yours was the EXACT nature of a conversation my wife and I just had on our way home today. Must be the work of the Lord.

She was asking me why people go to seminary and get PhDs, since you can skip it all and make just as much money as a charlatan without wasting all the time and resources. The only thing I could think of was that it lends a sense of credence to their imaginary constructs.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Many of them end up selling books and getting cushy jobs at those very same institutions. Religion is a form of big business. There's money to be made in conning people and robbing them of their psychological integrity. It's a real shame, if you ask me, but it's been going on for millennia, and all over the world, too.


Bahnsen Burner said...

By the way, Daniel, yes, I've heard of Ravi Zacharias. The first time I heard of him was back in 1997 when Doug Krueger published his review of Zacharias' book A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism.

Krueger's interaction with RZ's book can be found here:

That Colossal Wreck: A Review of Zacharias's A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism (1997)

On that page you'll also find a link to a review by Jeffrey Lowder of another book by RZ. That link is in the "Related Documents" box towards the top of the page. I do not recall if I've read Lowder's paper or not, but I have read Krueger's Copin' with Copan many times (though not in recent years). This paper is also linked there.

I hope you find these resource helpful.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Rian wrote: "Evolution may be blind and directionless, but it does tend to optimise survival."

Steve Hays replied: “Is that why Darwinians say about 98% of species are extinct? Evolution seems to optimize extinction rather than survival.”

If it’s true that 98% of all species have gone extinct, what would that say about the Christian god who, according to Hays & co., created the world and everything in it? We might rightly say that, given Christianity’s premises, the Christian god “seems to optimize extinction rather than survival.”

And Christians wonder why we think their god would be evil if it were real?


Justin Hall said...


The figure I’ve heard is more like 99%. Anyway why does Hays equate optimization with efficiency. Something can be optimized in that it is best at a give task among many it can preform and still fall far short of the desired efficiency. Frankly this is what I would expect from a blind unguided self organizing emergent phenomenon.

Justin Hall said...

Ah one more thing. Given that the environments on earth are over the long haul constantly changing and sometimes quickly catastrophically and on a global scale and yet life is here. Life has weathered it all. I'd say that evolution is very very very good at finding the 1% that are going to make it and insuring that they do. Viewed in this light evolution is very efficient.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Justin,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Hays is projecting his mysticism in a variety of ways onto evolution and subsequently reacts to the evolutionary thesis based on his projected premises. Unlike Hays’ confessional investment, evolution is something we discover in the world by means of scientific inquiry. It is not a set of dogmatic affirmations that we must confess and believe. Evolution is what it is just as reality is what it is. Its details are not set out by a group of self-appointed priests who issue a statement of faith and then say “That’s what you need to believe on pain of eternal punishment.”

In connection with this, and again unlike Hays’ confessional investment, evolution is not some “personal commitment” that we glom onto in some emotionalistic manner. We don’t “own” it in the manner that a Christian has his “walk with Christ.” The idea of looking out at the world and discovering a vast pattern of facts and recognizing the patterns for what they are and then identifying them in a systematic matter, must be so alien to the Christian mindset that he simply cannot or will not appreciate the objective basis of the overall evolutionary thesis. This is very hard for the believer to do especially in the present matter given evolution’s implications for religious dogma, which is what he focuses on either primarily or exclusively. “Evolution is a threat to my faith, so I must defend against it at all costs” – that’s what seems to be going on in the mind of someone like a Steve Hays.

Evolution is a summary outcome, not some blueprint that was assembled before the emergence of life and continually tweaked and revised in reaction to whatever incidents got in the way of its unfolding. Thus I really don’t think calling it a “blind” process is at all helpful here, for doing so seems to allow an insidious and plainly false premise to sneak in; insofar as this is the case, it simply concedes the underlying notions of the mystical projections of someone like Steve Hays. Something that is “blind” is still conscious; Helen Keller was blind, but she was still conscious. But on the summary level that evolution is qua vast outcome, there is no consciousness involved, guiding or not. The process of natural selection is causal in nature, while evolution is the general outcome which, so far as I can tell, is still underway and will be long after I’m gone.

The point is, whatever the shape of this outcome, we don’t have to “justify” it in the sense that we need to find silver linings or balance the good with the bad. It is what it is, it is factual, it is causal, and our moral judgments simply do not apply here. We don’t say that a rock’s position in some dale is intrinsically good or bad; the intrinsic theory of values is irrational nonsense. But the religionist cannot let go of it; he doesn’t even realize that he’s accepted an utter con game here.

And yes, Justin, I think you’re entirely right in pointing out the environmental factors that have played a huge role in shaping the outcome that is evolution. And the catastrophes here do not necessarily have to be what we, from our human perspective, would see as a catastrophe. A heavy downpour would be a catastrophe for an ant colony. So the ants have adapted to this by digging their elaborate tunnel systems which, so I understand, protect at least some of the colony. Meanwhile, the downpour would not be a catastrophe for us in our nice comfy homes.

Anyway, those were some of my thoughts. Maybe I’m wrong somewhere here?


Bahnsen Burner said...

Also, in regard to the 98 or 99%... I don’t think it matters. Maybe it’s 99.9%. It makes no difference to my point. Say the extinction rate is only 50%. My point is, if this is what science discovers about our biological past, it’s a fact whether anyone likes it or not. Adopting some worldview does not make it go away. So my point is to turn this back on someone like a Steve Hays who wants to ridicule evolution for apparently a very spotty strike record. That’s all part of his projection though. So it needs to be turned back on him. In the case of evolution, whether the extinction rate is 50% or 99%, doesn’t change the facts, nor does it allow us to make some kind of moral assessment in terms of success or failure rates. The concepts ‘success’ and ‘failure’ apply only at the individual level, since, again, evolution did not begin as some blueprint or design that was to be implemented by some “blind force.” (Again, I really think that’s a very bad way to put it.)

So my point is that we need to turn these things back on the theist, since on his premises there is a guiding consciousness where concepts of success and failure do apply. Thus if it’s the case that the extinction rate is only 50%, what does that say about the supernatural consciousness which is said to have created the universe and “control whatsoever comes to pass”? If evolution can be characterized as “optimiz[ing] extinction rather than survival,” then the same must be said on behalf of the ruling consciousness which is said to have created everything in the world and to have been governing every little detail and outcome. And yet in the case of the theist’s paradigm, moral assessments would apply, since it entails a consciousness making choices. Morality is about guiding choices; if no choice is possible, no morality is possible. But with a ruling consciousness like the Christian god, it’s purely choice – it faces no constraints within which it has to work. So the sting that Hays wants his words to bite us with only work in his direction, not ours, since evolution is not the result of conscious intentions. In reality, there’s no cosmic “Mother Nature” straining over tough choices – “should this ant colony stay, should that one go.” But on the theist’s premises, these kinds of choices have been being made by the ruling consciousness all along.

Turn it back on them. They’re the ones on the wrong side of reality. They’re the ones whose faulty projections are based on erroneous premises. Call their bluff, for they have nothing else.


Anonymous said...

Thus I really don’t think calling it a “blind” process is at all helpful here, for doing so seems to allow an insidious and plainly false premise to sneak in; insofar as this is the case, it simply concedes the underlying notions of the mystical projections of someone like Steve Hays. Something that is “blind” is still conscious

I wholeheartedly agree. We often get so used to the metaphoric that we allow theists to project their mysticisms into our thinking and arguing. I fail myself too often. In any event, I have insisted to make clear that metaphors are not the described phenomena, and your comment, Dawson, helps a lot to remind me of this key issue. So often will an apologist equivocate on the basis of metaphors.

Anonymous said...

Turn it back on them. They’re the ones on the wrong side of reality. They’re the ones whose faulty projections are based on erroneous premises. Call their bluff, for they have nothing else.

Exactly. The main problem when arguing with presuppositionalists is that they could not care less if we have answers or not for their "challenges." So we should not focus on meeting a burden of proof that we really don't have. So I focus on turning it back on them. Just show their incoherence.

Daniel GodIsTime said...

Thanks Dawson. Checking those recommendations now.


Anonymous said...

Why is it so hard to explain people that they are mistaking concepts with their referents?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Most people simply have no idea what concepts are. Where would they learn about it? In school?

Here's a question. Back in junior high and senior high school, we took math, geometry, algebra, etc., we took English, wood shop, bio science, social studies, history, maybe a foreign language, P.E., home economics, whatever.

Right? We took these and a few other classes.

But here's my question: Did you ever take a class on reason?

I never did. I never saw such a class offered. Why not?

Reason is what makes learning in all these other fields possible in the first place, and yet it is one of the most elusive areas of inquiry. Some might say that we learn reason in the process of learning these other things. But I say that's not good enough - it is simply a default position: maybe we'll learn reason, maybe we won't. Basically leaving it up to "chance" as they say.

And no, I don't think a course on critical thinking (which was not offered at my high school anyway) is the same thing. A course on reason would begin with a discussion of man and why he needs it, and go through all the aspects of the nature and foundations of reason, all the way up to how to apply it in living life, studying other subjects, and protecting one's mind.

I have been sketching out what I would like to see as a course curriculum. Some might argue it's too advanced for high school students. But I say: high school may be even too late to introduce this vital aspect of our lives.

If people had gone through a course on reason, they would have no problem understanding what you're talking about. But they don't know what reason is. In fact, many people out there seem to think that reason is the territory of religion. Really, that's how clueless people are these days.

Okay, gotta run. Lots on the plate!


Anonymous said...

I think there should be some stuff on reason. I had logic in high school, but I don't think that's nearly what's needed either. I agree that the earlier the better.

Anyway, the case that got me flabbergasted is that we refer to an event as true, because it is/has/will happen. But that does not mean that the events need someone to think that they are true in order to happen. Yet, these mystics say that events "are true when they happen," and that therefore there's a need for an "eternal mind" (their god) because otherwise how could events be true if nobody can think of them as being true and truth is eternal, abstract and therefore mental?

Shit! Oh shit! How bad has their reasoning to be in order to get so stupidly wrong and not notice it? I don't think there's a proper adjective for this level of stupidity.

Justin Hall said...


yes it is called weapon's grade stupid

Cameron Roth said...

I really don't see that great of arguments on here and the utter inability to see how theism can mesh with reality is why I could never be an atheist. It's too much of a fulfillment of Rom 1:18-20, and leads to inconsistencies, which if we dialogue I'm sure will become self evident, bless your heart.

Now my reply to some of your statements on this post:

1. Biblical faith is in the context of believing Jesus to be whom he claimed to be, Lord, not a context of empirical acknowledgment - as there are even multiple biblical examples of why the latter fails to bring repentance.

2. You have a false dichotomy of Christianity vs. science, whereby you myopically assume that science and the advancement of technology is inherently atheistic. Knowing more about how the world works does not magically preclude a "Who" behind it all.

3. The Bible says plenty about answering philosophical issues such as accounting for concepts, hence John 1, Jesus is the eternal Logos (logos is partly where we get our word logic from). Again, are you a Naturalist? If so, then tell me what makes more sense, that minds come from prior minds, or from non-minds, or something else?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Cameron,

You wrote: “I really don't see that great of arguments on here”

Oh darn!

You wrote: “and the utter inability to see how theism can mesh with reality is why I could never be an atheist.”

Hmm… I’m not sure if you phrased this appropriately. The “utter inability to see how theism can mesh with reality” is more than sufficient reason to be an atheist.

You wrote: “It's too much of a fulfillment of Rom 1:18-20,”

I’m afraid I don’t follow you. What exactly is “too much of a fulfillment of Rom. 1:18-20”? Your “utter inability to see” something? Atheism? Theism’s failure to “mesh with reality”? Try being less telegraphic.

You wrote: “and leads to inconsistencies, which if we dialogue I'm sure will become self evident, bless your heart.”

Again, what exactly “leads to inconsistencies”? I agree that inconsistencies should be avoided. Hence when one says that “invisible things” have been “clearly seen,” he is either confused or is speaking in absurdities.

You wrote: “1. Biblical faith is in the context of believing Jesus to be whom he claimed to be, Lord, not a context of empirical acknowledgment - as there are even multiple biblical examples of why the latter fails to bring repentance.”

Faith is essentially belief in the imaginary. Even you, Cameron, have no alternative but to imagine the Jesus you worship.

You wrote: “2. You have a false dichotomy of Christianity vs. science, whereby you myopically assume that science and the advancement of technology is inherently atheistic.”

You’re simply reacting to my position emotionally, which is why you are so concerned about my view is that “science and the advancement of technology is inherently atheistic.” Science is the systematic application of reason to some specific area of inquiry. Reason can only be applied consistently when it adheres to the primacy of existence (cf. “wishing doesn’t make it so”). In contrast to this, Christianity rejects the primacy of existence in preference for the primacy of consciousness (cf. the world was wished into being).


Bahnsen Burner said...

You wrote: “Knowing more about how the world works does not magically preclude a ‘Who’ behind it all.”

I agree. In fact, the more we learn about how the world works, the more it should be apparent to those who are honest enough to admit it that the notion of “a ‘Who’ behind it all” can only be contemplated by means of imagining it.

You wrote: “3. The Bible says plenty about answering philosophical issues such as accounting for concepts,”

Really? Where? I have found no discussion of concepts anywhere in the bible, and I’ve looked specifically for this. If you think the bible does present a theory of concepts, can you cite the biblical definition of ‘concept’ for starters? Book, chapter and verse would be most helpful here.

You wrote: “hence John 1, Jesus is the eternal Logos (logos is partly where we get our word logic from).”

For one, “logos” as Christianity uses it does not denote concepts. Concepts are mental integrations formed through a process of abstraction. What John chap. 1 identifies as “logos” is not a mental integration formed by a process of abstraction. Nor does it mean logic, which is a conceptual system by which truths can be established. Besides, the mere mentioning of a term in passing does not constitute a worked out theory pertaining to that term. So even if one assumes that “logos” = concepts, we still learn nothing about the nature of concepts, the process by which they are formed, their relation to their referents, the proper method of formulating their definitions, etc., from anything we read in John, or anywhere else in the Christian bible. So I stand my affirmation that the bible provides no theory of concepts. Even worse, if the bible provides no theory of concepts, then apologists cannot really say that their worldview provides a distinctively Christian view of concepts at all. And if the Christian worldview has no theory of concepts, then it has no theory of knowledge (since knowledge is conceptual in nature).

Second, John’s use of “logos” appears at best to be a borrowing from Greek philosophy, most likely via Philo (20 BC – 50 AD) or those influenced by him in the intervening years who found their way into Christianity. “Logos” was surely not originally a Jewish idea, but was co-opted by Hellenized Jews like Philo from Greek (“gentile”) sources. Since Christianity was developed predominantly by Hellenistic Jews, it’s not surprising that this idea would eventually be assimilated with its Christology.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Third, the Christian use of “logos” is clearly imbued with the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. Words, thoughts, ideas, etc., are products of conscious activity, and yet according to Christian theology, the “word” made the world. On this view, one essentially begins with consciousness (represented by its products) to arrive at existence. This is a complete reversal of the principle of objectivity. It’s essentially a denial of consciousness’ inherent need for objects which exist independent of its activity, thus beginning with consciousness conscious only of itself, which is a contradiction in terms. Thus Christianity begins with contentless consciousness and moves to the world as its product. How did this contentless consciousness create the world? It did so by means of magic wishing.

You asked: “Again, are you a Naturalist?”

I’m a human being who ascribes to Objectivism, the philosophy of reason.

You asked: “If so, then tell me what makes more sense, that minds come from prior minds, or from non-minds, or something else?”

The notion that “minds come from prior minds” implies an infinite regress. This is the view that Christianity takes, and to avoid the infinite regress, they arbitrarily stop it with the supernatural mind that we can only imagine. On my view, minds are biological in nature; they are a part of our being as biological organisms. Our mind develop from the first light of consciousness in infancy to wherever we take them, within the limits of human ranges, as we mature. When my daughter was first born, there was no mind there to speak of. But as she began to develop and interact with the world, her mind concurrently developed. If her development ceased, her mind also would have ceased.

Hope that helps!