Spinning Out of Orbit: Rick Warden Lost in the Outer Limits
Previous attempts by Warden to refute the argument from metaphysical primacy against theism can be found here:
There are two general areas at issue here, both closely related. The first is whether or not theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. I have argued that it does, and I have brought out many points of evidence documenting theism’s dependence on the primacy of consciousness. Warden has resisted this identification repeatedly, but he has done so in a very ineffectual manner. Briefly, the issue of metaphysical primacy has to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects, and in supporting my argument that theism assumes the primacy of consciousness I have cited, among other items, Christianity’s doctrine of creation (where the Christian god – which is supposed to be a conscious being – creates the universe by an act of consciousness; essentially it wishes and *poof* - the universe is zapped into being) and its doctrine of miracles (where the Christian god can alter the nature of objects by an act of will – for example, it can turn water into wine essentially by wishing and enable Peter to walk on unfrozen water by an act of will). Warden has contended that theism does not assume the primacy of consciousness because, according to his brand of theism, its god did not create itself nor can it cause itself to stop existing. None of these points are relevant to whether or not theism assumes the primacy of consciousness, and even though I have explained this, he continues to repeat these objections as though they had some kind of pertinence on the matter. They don’t.
The other issue is the conception of truth which my argument incorporates. I make it explicitly clear in my argument that it adopts the objective theory of truth – i.e., the view that truth corresponds to facts which obtain independently of conscious actions (such as wishing, liking, disliking, preferring, emoting, imagining, dreaming, etc.). Warden contests that my argument begs the question because clearly such a view of truth carries negative implications for theism (which is an odd objection given his objection that theism does not assume the primacy of consciousness) and that it is a minority view held only by a specific group, namely atheists or at any rate atheists influenced by the philosophy of Ayn Rand. In response to this, I point out that not only is some general understanding of what truth is necessary prior to evaluating specific truth claims (a point which Warden concedes), but also that the general conception of truth that my argument incorporates is not in fact some unusual philosophical thesis, but in fact the very conception of truth that Warden himself implicitly assumes when stating that my argument is defective in some way (since he’s not saying it’s defective because he wishes it to be so or learned it in some dream of his). Below I will point out that while the wording of the definition of truth on the objective conception may be novel to folks like Warden (which is unfortunate, but merely an autobiographical datum rather than a worthy basis for objection), the essence of the objective theory of truth in principle is not novel, but implicit in virtually any knowledge claim a person makes.
So let’s look at these in turn with Warden’s latest objections in view.
The Issue of Metaphysical Primacy
The first thing I notice about Warden’s latest blog entry is his attempt to completely redefine my argument’s terms. He has removed my premises and replaced them with some of his own fabrication which bear no resemblance to the original. Anyone examining my argument and points that I have offered in support of it can see that the issue of metaphysical primacy as it is understood in my argument has expressly to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects. Warden’s attempts to revise (or rather mangle) my argument completely ignore this relationship, the very relationship which I have highlighted time and time again in my efforts to correct Warden’s persistent habit of misunderstanding my argument and getting lost chasing rabbits of his own making.
In his new piece Warden says that “primacy” signifies “that which is most powerful and that which is preeminent,” and states:
According to basic definitions, metaphysical primacy relates to fundamental aspects of being and the nature of the universe that supervene over all others.
Thus Warden has AGAIN ignored what I have consistently and emphatically pointed out, namely that metaphysical primacy as my argument incorporates it has precisely to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects. Over and over again, Warden attempts to refute my argument without EVER grasping this distinction and incorporating it into his approach to critiquing it. Instead, Warden avoids – and from all that I can tell, deliberately - dealing with my argument on its own terms. But in fact, this is what we should expect if his sole ambition is to defend his god-belief (as opposed to discovering where the facts actually lead), for my argument is in fact more successful than even he senses as he attempts to refute a distorted version of my argument.
Warden has sought to invest the term “metaphysical primacy” with a meaning that he wants to generate from an analysis of the constituent terms in isolation from each other. This is a most elementary blunder. There are literally thousands of expressions in the English language which contain two or more constituent words and yet whose meaning cannot be derived by an analysis of the individual meanings of those words in isolation from the expression itself. The concept ‘take leave’, for example, cannot be fully understood by taking the meaning of “take” and “leave” and simply adding them together. The same with phrasal verbs (e.g., turn on, split up with, give up, etc.) as well as idiomatic expressions. Moreover, when it has been pointed out numerous times now that the issue of metaphysical primacy as my argument understands it has expressly to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects, Warden has no excuse for antics such as this.
Thus Warden indulges in more context-dropping. He yet again demonstrates a persisting habit of failing to integrate. At this point, I can only surmise that it is deliberate on his part. Warden senses that my argument does in fact refute theism wholly and successfully, and given his confessional investment in theism, he fears losing everything he has committed to a life revolving around his god-belief. Like Mike Licona, Rick Warden wants his theism to be true.
According to what theism assumes, there is nothing more fundamental and primary in power than God’s eternal existence, to the extent that even an act of God’s own conscious volition could not logically nullify it.
Warden hastens to draw attention to “what theism assumes” as he understands it (i.e., with digressions concerning the details of his worldview’s particular mystical notions) in order to gain control of the discussion. But this only shows how desperate he is to avoid discussing the issue of metaphysical primacy – i.e., the relationship between consciousness and its objects - as it relates to my argument and the conclusion I draw in it. Since the relationship between consciousness and its objects is the central issue here, references to Warden’s god being “eternal” or its inability to “logically nullify” its own power or existence or whatever, are completely irrelevant. Warden can believe these things about his god all he wants, but if his god’s consciousness is characterized as enjoying metaphysical primacy in its relationship to any object distinct from itself, then the primacy of consciousness is thereby presuppositionally confirmed.
And ultimately, Warden’s entire attempt to refocus the discussion onto the question of whether or not his god created itself or can “nullify” its own existence misses a much broader epistemological point: How would anyone discover what Warden claims about his god? Stripped down to its essentials, Warden’s statement reduces to: “Christians imagine their god such that it did not create itself and cannot wipe itself out of existence.” Fine and dandy, but so what? Since this is all imaginary to begin with, it has no legitimate value. One can imagine a god creating itself just as easily as one can imagine it existing for all eternity. Similarly, one can imagine a god wishing itself out of existence just as easily as one can imagine that it does not have this ability. So Warden’s emphasis on “what theism assumes” as he informs it here carries no weight. The question at hand is whether theism assumes the primacy of consciousness or not. I have given ample reasons to conclude that it does. By contrast, Warden has given no reasons to suppose that it does not, and has actually confirmed that it does, such as when he wrote (in his blog Quantum physics proves that there IS an afterlife, claims scientist):
In essence, Lanza proposes that consciousness holds supremacy over the material world. This, of course, is in keeping with the biblical account of Genesis in which the material world was created by the consciousness and will of God.
In spite of this fundamental defect, Warden treats “what theism assumes” as he explains as though it were some kind of fact that everyone needs to cohere to. In this way Warden tacitly borrows the primacy of existence from Objectivism. It doesn’t even work in the case of Warden’s Christianity since the Christian worldview essentially holds that “any fact, that is a fact, is a fact because God made it that way” (James White, quoted in The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 215). On the Christian worldview, “facts” are just creations of a consciousness unconstrained by any facts to begin with. The starting point for Christianity’s god would be a factless void. So its whim holds metaphysical primacy over everything distinct from itself: it can do whatever it wants (as Psalm 115:3 affirms).
Contrary to Warden’s wishes, “what theism assumes” as Warden defines it, is not a fact. It’s simply a fiction. Thus Warden is attempting to shift focus away from the relationship between consciousness and its objects by drawing attention to what is merely a cocktail of imaginative fabrication in the first place. And since it does not address the relationship between consciousness and its objects, Warden’s point is completely ineffectual against my argument.
If metaphysical primacy relates to fundamental and primary supervening powers in the universe, and there is nothing more universally fundamental, powerful and preeminent than God’s existence according to theism, such that not even a conscious act of God’s own will could nullify God’s existence, then theism does not and cannot assume the primacy of consciousness metaphysics in a universal and timeless sense, the most important aspects of a metaphysical consideration.
The Christian god is said to be a conscious being. If it’s a conscious being, then the issue of metaphysical primacy invites us to examine the relationship this conscious being is said to have between itself as a conscious subject and any objects that are distinct from itself. Nothing in the statement Warden provides above addresses this relationship. As I pointed out previously:
If the Christian god is said to have created an apple and nothing else by an act of will, that alone is sufficient for the charge that it assumes the primacy of consciousness.
In spite of this, however, Warden apparently wants to make it seem that the Christian view is compatible with the primacy of existence. But to do this he would have to show that the objects of the Christian god’s consciousness exist and are what they are independent of the conscious activity attributed to the Christian god. On such a view, there would be no creation of the universe by an act of will; there would be no miracles; there would be no “plan” for human history; there would be no prayer; there would be no “salvation by faith”; there would be no “spiritual healings”; no doctrine of “divine providence”; no doctrine of “divine sovereignty,” etc. All the staples of Christian god-belief would be jettisoned with the abandonment of the primacy of consciousness underwriting them.
In fact, the Christian worldview is explicit in its endorsement of the primacy of consciousness in regard to the Christian god qua conscious being with respect to any objects distinct from itself. Christianity holds, for instance, that the Christian god essentially willed the universe into being. This is known in Christianity as the doctrine of creation. The Christian god essentially thought and as a result the entire universe came into being according to what it thought. On the Christian view, the universe is exactly what the Christian god wanted it to be. Thus on this view, the Christian god’s consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects.
The Christian god wanted to create a creature that is similar to itself in some unexplained way. Thus it took a pile of dust from the universe it had wished into being and wished that that pile of dust become a biological organism – man. According to the creation myth in Genesis, Adam was the first man. The Christian god wanted Adam to have a “helpmate,” so it took a rib from Adam’s body and wished that the rib become another biological organism – a woman. Accordingly, Eve was the first woman.
According to the Christian religion, the Christian god wished that its creatures “go forth and multiply,” and so they did. And when the Christian god got angry at them, it wished that all but a tiny handful be washed away in a worldwide flood, and according to the myth, that’s what happened. When you’re a consciousness that holds metaphysical primacy over all objects distinct from yourself, you can have them do whatever you want them to do. You can create objects at will; you can make them whatever you want them to be; you can manipulate them to do whatever you want them to do; you can do whatever you want, just as a cartoonist in the context of his cartoons can do. Hence Christianity gives us its own version of the cartoon universe of theism. In the end, the ultimate standard is the ruling consciousness’s wishing.
Recognition that this in fact reduces the Christian worldview to subjectivism is what prompted Christian apologist Paul Manata to break down and finally admit:
…in theism, there’s a sense in which reality is subjective - based on the divine mind.
But Warden insists on continuing to see darkly. His mistakes are unjustifiable, and corrections have been brought to his attention on numerous occasions now. I have repeatedly explained in my responses to Warden that the issue of metaphysical primacy has expressly to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects, and yet Warden continues to avoid dealing with this matter.
Warden’s Antagonism to the Objectivity of Truth
In regard to the concept of truth, Warden is still lost in his own fuzziness. He apparently does not understand what truth is. What is clear in Warden’s mind is that he wants to find my argument guilty of some defect, in this case the fallacy of begging the question. I explained in my previous blog that “possession of at least a general conception of truth is logically prior to truth evaluations of specific claims.” Warden does not contest this. But he does write:
Dawson does not seem to want to admit that his definition of truth in the "first step" of his argument is unique to his beliefs
Warden alleges that the conception of truth which my argument incorporates “does in fact define God out of existence from the onset,” and because of this my argument therefore begs the question. But this fails to take into account the fact that truth is not neutral, and thus Warden’s own objection here indicates just how far Warden has wandered away from the standard talking points of the presuppositionalist playbook. One of the beautiful points of my argument is that it exposes a fundamental contradiction in the theistic worldview – namely the contradiction between what theism affirms (e.g., “a supernatural consciousness created the universe and controls everything within it by means of conscious activity”) and the very notion of truth which the theist must employ in claiming what theism affirms is true (e.g., that truth does not hinge on conscious intensions). Just as consciousness does not have the power to wish reality into existence, we cannot objectively define the concept of truth such that it can apply to notions whose metaphysical basis contradicts the metaphysical basis necessary for the concept of truth. Perhaps what Warden fails to recognize is that the concept ‘truth’ does in fact have a metaphysical basis. So if we were to ask what the metaphysical basis of truth is in terms of the relationship between consciousness and its objects - i.e., the most fundamental relationship to all knowledge – what would theism’s answer be? Christians tell us that truth rests on their god’s existence, in which case, per Warden himself, any argument consistent with Christianity which seeks to establish the truth of theism would be begging the question. The implications of Warden’s approach is that he must beg the question arguing for the existence of his god to the same degree that he faults me for begging the question in my argument that theism is not true. Only my argument has an advantage that his does not have, and this advantage can only mean that my argument does not in fact beg the question, but rather exposes the inconsistency in any claim that theism is true (which I pointed out above).
The concept ‘truth’ that my argument incorporates, therefore, does not “define the Christian god out of existence from the onset,” since “the onset” here could only be the fundamental basis of the concept ‘truth’ which is metaphysical in nature, while definitions are epistemological in nature. Thus in attempting to salvage his charge that my argument begs the question on this point rests on a fundamental category confusion on Warden’s part. As I pointed out, we need a general understanding of the nature of truth prior to evaluating specific truth claims (such as “God exists”). Indeed, even though I pointed this out, Warden seems vacuously clueless on the fact that he himself tacitly administers the very conception of truth that my argument incorporates when he claims that my argument begs the question. Warden is not advancing his charge against my argument on the basis of his own wishing, preferences, likes and dislikes, imagination or dreams (!), is he? If he is, then they can be dismissed out of hand. Any rational individual should see this right off. But no, that’s not what Warden is purportedly doing. Rather, he’s saying that there really is a defect in my argument, and that no amount of wishing or preferring or liking or disliking, imagining, emoting or dreaming will change the situation. So here too Warden himself is making use of the objective theory of truth not only while not realizing it, but also while insisting that my argument is fallacious for making use of it, too!
Unfortunately for Dawson, his actual definition of truth employed in his argument (Step 1, Premise 1) is not a general concept or definition of truth, but is quite specific to his objectivist beliefs. If this is not so, could someone please post a quote and/or a link to other philosophers, other than Ayn Rand objectivists, who define truth with regard to primacy of existence versus a primacy of consciousness metaphysics.
By identifying the primacy of existence as the metaphysical basis of the objective nature of truth, Objectivism is not doing anything illicit. This is easy to demonstrate. Consider the following questions (which Warden will likely not weigh in on himself, though he should to make his position clearly understood by all – including himself):
1. Do wishes govern what is true?
2. Do likes and/or dislikes govern what is true?
3. Do emotions govern what is true?
4. Do preferences govern what is true?
5. Do imaginations govern what is true?
6. Do dreams govern what is true?
Now let us ask: What do each of these phenomena – wishes, likes and dislikes, emotions, preferences, imaginations and dreams – have in common?
Answer: They are all types of conscious activity.
Thus a consistent answer in the negative (i.e., “no”) to all of the above questions across the board implies a broader, more fundamental recognition, namely: that conscious activity does not govern what is true. In short, truth rests on the primacy of existence.
Warden offered three points as part of his objection against my argument’s explicit use of the objective theory of truth. Let's examine them.
1. If the theist God exists, it would be logically possible for God to be able to impart certain valid and important truths to humans directly from God’s consciousness to human consciousness through divine revelation, as described as a fundamental condition in theist texts.
Next, Warden wrote:
2. Bethrick’s definition of truth, as assumed in his “metaphysical” argument against God, offers that only truth values obtained separate from consciousness represent valid metaphysical truth.
3. Therefore, by definition, in his argument Bethrick has set forth a definition of truth that precludes the possibility of fundamental theist truth conceptions and therefore precludes the possibility of God’s existence.
What Warden finds objectionable is not my argument per se, but rather the fact that truth is objective since it does have correspondence to facts which exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity.
Dawson has offered that a general acknowledgement of truth must be assumed if any philosophical discussion is to take place. I agree.
But supposing he does agree (and his above statement suggests that he might), the question then needs to be asked: What is the metaphysical basis of truth in terms of the relationship between consciousness and its objects? If truth involves correspondence to facts (e.g., if a rock is indeed sitting in my backyard, then the statement “there is a rock sitting in my backyard” is true in that it corresponds conceptually to the state of affairs existing in the world), then we must ask:
(i) Do facts to which truth statements correspond exist independent of conscious actions like wishing, liking, preferring, emoting, imagining, dreaming, etc.?
(ii) Are the facts to which truth statements correspond what they are independent of conscious actions like wishing, liking, preferring, emoting, imagining, dreaming, etc.?
(iii) Does any consciousness have the ability to create and/or alter the facts to which truth statements correspond by means of conscious actions like wishing, liking, preferring, emoting, imagining, dreaming, etc.?
However, the specific definition of truth set forth in Dawon’s first step and first premise is in no way general, but highly specific to Ayn Rand objectivists.
So this is a most weak objection on Warden’s part. Since he is preoccupied with the association of my argument’s conception of truth with Ayn Rand, he will happily reach for any petty means by which he can try to undermine it. But can he deal with the real issues at hand? His performance to date indicates consistently that he cannot.
In fact, folks like Warden should he pleased when an atheist makes his conception of truth explicitly understood. As we see in the initial installment of my interaction with Dustin Segers’ apologetic, Segers’ first question for atheists when he went to the 2012 Reason Rally was:
"What is truth in your worldview? What's your definition of 'truth'?"
But even better, as I point out above, what my argument does is explicitly identify the metaphysical basis of the concept of truth in terms of the relationship between consciousness and its objects. By doing so, it slashes off entire categories of arbitrary and irrational notions. Warden objects to this because his god-belief is one of the things that are discarded as a result, and he wants to protect his god-belief. No one is saying Warden cannot imagine his god any more. He can do this all he likes. But he contradicts the very nature of truth by calling his theism “true” to the extent that he means it is true regardless of anyone’s wishing, preferences, likes or dislikes, emotions, imaginations, dreams, etc. So long as he claims that his theism is true independent of such conscious activity, he is performatively contradicting himself, and my argument exposes this contradiction. No wonder he doesn’t like it!
In the end, we can say with full confidence that Warden has adopted the same intensional orientation between himself as a subject and my argument as one of its objects that he imagines his god has between itself as a subject and the universe it is said to have created as its object. Just as the Christian god is imagined to have the power to magically turn water into wine by an act of will, Warden imagines for himself the power to turn a sound argument into an argument riddled with basic fallacies that even a first-year philosophy student would be careful to avoid. And all of this is made possible courtesy of a number of routine fallacious maneuvers on Warden’s part: mischaracterization, context-dropping, non sequiturs, stolen concepts, missing the point, etc., etc., etc.
Warden has no excuse for this. I have been clear in laying out my argument’s premises and explaining the meaning of their terms as my argument incorporates them. I have given examples and corrected many of Warden’s basic errors on numerous occasions now. Since Warden is clearly unwilling to examine my argument according to its own terms – specifically avoiding the discussion of metaphysical primacy in terms of the relationship between consciousness and its objects – I can only conclude from my interactions with Warden’s ill-fated attempts to refute my argument (first without knowing what its premises are, and then subsequently repeating fundamental mistakes that have already been corrected) that he senses the devastating damage it poses to theism and therefore is hell-bent on destroying it at all costs. As part of the entry fee for joining the Christian fold, Warden has already had to pledge to sacrifice himself on behalf of his god-belief. And the Christian god, as its worshipers imagine it, demand full sacrifice and allows for no withholdings or reservations on the part of the believer. Warden demonstrates that, while he may not actually be the real McCoy, he certainly wants to be and will spare nothing in his effort to sacrifice himself for his god, or at any rate make it appear to others that he is the real McCoy. Among the things he has sacrificed are his intellect, his integrity, his grasp of reality, his ability to focus on essentials, any ability to recognize his own errors and correct them, and that's just for starters.
So just as Abraham was unflinching in his willingness to sacrifice his own son as a burnt offering at the command of a voice he attributed to a supernatural being which we can only imagine, Warden is unflinching in his willingness to sacrifice his own mind on behalf of a worldview which is insatiable in its demand for personal sacrifice. Thus I shall make a prediction (which even my baker could make at this point): Warden will likely reply again and still fail to grapple with my argument on its own terms: he will fail to defend his theism from the charge that it assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics in terms of the relationship between consciousness and its objects, and he will fail to acknowledge the objectivity of truth in terms of that same relationship. I also predict that he will continue to avoid answering the questions I have posed that directly pertain to these and related matters, for he prefers to hide in the shadows and not make his stance on objectivity explicit.
But going forward, when Warden charges my argument with some defect or another, we need only ask:
Is my argument defective because Warden wishes it, imagines it, wants it, emotes it, dreams it, dislikes it, etc.? Or, is my argument defective because of some factual state of affairs that obtains independently of anyone’s wishing, imagination, wants, emotions, dreams, likes or dislikes, etc.?
by Dawson Bethrick