Warden’s “Addenda” regarding the Nature of Truth
In this “Addenda” as he titles this section, Warden helps to make clear the stark contrast between the theistic view of truth and the view of truth which my case against theism incorporates. Warden mistakenly assumes that, since the conception of the nature of truth which my case incorporates has anti-theistic implications, my case therefore begs the question. On the contrary, what Warden fails to grasp is the fact that my case constitutes an application of the objective theory of truth to a particular area of inquiry, demonstrating those implications in that particular area of inquiry explicitly. Thus my case constitutes an application of a general truth to a specific matter. In classical logic this is known as deduction - the drawing of specific conclusions from at least one general premise.
The case against theism which I presented in my blog consists of three distinct syllogisms, the last of which drawing the conclusion “Therefore theism is incompatible with the primacy of existence metaphysics and consequently cannot be true.” At no point in any of the three syllogisms does the affirmation “theism is not true” figure as a premise. On the contrary, my conclusion is drawn as an implication from the premises which are stated in the three syllogisms respectively. Therefore, I emphatically deny the charge of begging the question given the standard deductive model which my case follows.
That my argument does not in fact beg the question can be confirmed by recognizing the general approach which my case takes. Contrary to Warden’s assumptions, my case identifies the necessary metaphysical precondition of the objective nature of truth, namely the primacy of existence, and proceeds to demonstrate theism’s inherent incompatibility with that precondition. Quite simply, my case highlights the fact that, if theism is incompatible with the necessary metaphysical precondition of the objective nature of truth, then theism cannot be true. Thus the disproof of theism is accomplished by demonstrating theism’s incompatibility with the objective nature of truth: if theism contradicts the necessary precondition of the objective nature of truth, then consequently we must conclude that theism cannot be true. Thus, there is no instance of begging the question, circular logic or petition principii at any point in my case; indeed no fallacy is committed therein at all.
Notice also that to charge my argument with the fallacy of begging the question, Warden must tacitly make use of the objective conception of truth while simultaneously denying it. Essentially Warden’s objection is that the conception of truth which my case assumes is questionable, and given its anti-theistic implications, its use in my argument renders my case fallacious. Above we see clearly that this is mistaken. Indeed, given the fundamental nature of truth and its necessity to knowledge, one cannot call into question the objective theory of truth without at least implicitly making use of that very theory in doing so. To say that “X is the case” (as when Warden says “Bethrick’s argument begs the question”), one implies that he is not affirming what he says is the case on the basis of what he wishes, feels emotionally, prefers, likes or dislikes, wants, imagines or even dreams. Rather, he is implying that “X is the case” independent of anyone’s wishes, feelings, preferences, likes or dislikes, wants, imaginings, or dreams. He certainly is not implying that his affirmation that “X is the case” can be trumped by someone else coming along and saying “I disagree because I don’t want X to be the case” or “I don’t believe you because I prefer that X is not the case.” In essence, he is affirming what he states (at least presumably) on the basis of facts which he thinks obtain independent of anyone's conscious activity. In this way the speaker makes use of the primacy of existence metaphysics, whether he realizes it or not.
Thus to the extent that Warden affirms that my case begs the question independently of anyone’s likes, wishes, feelings, preferences, imaginings, dreams, etc., he himself tacitly makes use of the very conception of truth which my argument incorporates and which he wants to call into question. Consequently, Warden’s charge of begging the question not only misses fundamental points about the nature of truth and the general structure of my case, it also commits the fallacy of the stolen concept.
We should also note that possession of at least a general conception of truth is logically prior to truth evaluations of specific claims. When the theist exclaims “theism is true,” we cannot make sense of this claim unless we already have some working idea of what it means for a claim to be true. Otherwise, the theist might as well be saying “theism is kbalgobut.” What does this mean? So even the theist needs us to have some understanding of what truth is prior to entertaining his claims, whatever those claims may be. Given this priority of the concept of truth over specific claims to being truthful, then, it is only logically proper to clarify what is meant by “truth” when evaluating the theist claim that his theism is true. By pointing out the fact that truth rests on the primacy of existence metaphysics in its initial step, then, my case cannot be faulted for begging any questions. One may challenge whether or not that conception of truth is itself true, but the ability to do this would not constitute a justification of the charge that my case is guilty of begging the question.
So Warden’s charge that my case is guilty of begging the question fails in multiple ways.
But another very important fact should not be missed. And that is: by characterizing the objective nature of truth, which my case incorporates in generating its conclusion against theism, as “atheistic” in nature, Warden concedes that the theistic view of truth cannot be objective. Consequently, on the Christian view, given its renunciation of objectivity, truth cannot be absolute. In the main body of his blog, Warden makes it clear that the view “that truth is derived solely from observing the material world” necessarily “implies and presupposes an atheist explanation of truth” (at which point he added a note instructing readers to “see addenda for more elaboration on this point”). In the introductory statements of my case I make it clear that the general conception of truth on which it rests is characterized by the view that "wishing doesn't make it so." Warden says the conception of truth which my case incorporates is "atheistic" in nature, which can only mean that on the Christian view, wishing does make it so. Other statements of Warden’s, such as several which we will examine below, make this concession crystal clear.
Generally speaking, there are essentially two distinct approaches one can take with regard to the source of truth and knowledge: one can look outward at reality in order to discover and identify facts which obtain independently of anyone’s conscious activity (such as wishing, preferences, likes and dislikes, emotions, imagination, dreaming, etc.); or one can look inward, consulting the contents of one’s own consciousness as if this were the source of truth and knowledge, thereby ignoring or discounting the evidence of the senses and therefore the facts of reality which obtain independently of conscious activity. The former model of looking outward is the objective approach to truth (since it bases truth on the nature of facts, i.e., the objects of consciousness, which are acknowledged to exist independently of anyone’s conscious activity); the latter model of looking inward is the subjective approach to truth (since it envisions truth conforming to the subject of consciousness as opposed to the objects it perceives).
In terms of metaphysical primacy, the primacy of existence, which is the explicit recognition that existence exists independent of conscious activity, is the metaphysical precondition of the objective conception of truth since it alone holds that truth is based on facts which exist and are what they are independent of consciousness. The primacy of consciousness, which essentially holds that existence, reality, the objects of consciousness, the facts informing reality, etc., depend on and conform to the content or dictates of consciousness, is assumed by the subjective view of truth.
Thus by characterizing the objective conception of truth as expressly “atheistic” in nature, Warden concedes that theism is essentially left with only one alternative, the subjective conception of nature. All the foregoing is brought out in Warden’s “Addenda” to his blog. Consider what he writes there.
1. Dawson's definition of truth is unsubstantiated in his argument.
The most basic understanding of truth holds that truth corresponds with reality.
Contrast this with the Christian view of truth, which imagines truth as correspondence to the content of a supernatural (i.e., imaginary) mind. Here’s Greg Bahnsen on the matter(Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 163):
The believer understands that truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God.
Christians interpret every fact in the light of the same story. For them the nature of every fact in this world is determined by the place it occupies in the story. The story they cannot get from any other source than supernatural revelation. (The Defense of the Faith, pp. 213-214)
God may at any time take one fact and set it into a new relation to created law. That is, there is no inherent reason in the facts or laws themselves why this should not be done. It is this sort of conception of the relation of facts and laws, of the temporal one and many, embedded as it is in the idea of God in which we profess to believe, that we need in order to make room for miracles. And miracles are at the heart of the Christian position. (The Defense of the Faith, p. 27)
Therefore, since on the Christian view nothing exists independently of the Christian god’s creative acts, nothing outside the Christian god’s mind could constrain its creative choices and actions. Whim rules the day. Creating man with two arms would be just as arbitrary as creating him with 45 arms. Nothing in “reality” independent of the Christian god would constrain it to create something one way as opposed to another, since on the Christian view there is no such thing as reality independent of the Christian god in the first place. It’s all subjective whim. It is because Warden has chosen to champion a view which reduces facts to subjective fiat, that he objects to the objective conception of truth which my case incorporates.
And contrary to Warden’s implication that I have provided no support for the objective conception of truth, I have indeed presented a defense of this view in my blog Answering Dustin Segers’ Presuppositionalism, Part I: Intro and the Nature of Truth. Had Warden bothered to do some homework, he could have spared himself the growing embarrassment he heaps on himself. My answers are already right there in white on black.
Dawson has assumed a more narrow definition of truth pertaining only to “reality based on facts which obtain independently of conscious activity.”
According to Dawson, a dream which accurately foretells the future could not be considered a source of truth, even though dreams are obviously considered real phenomena and, though difficult to verify after the fact, predictive dreams have been recorded throughout history.
But Warden prefers the looking inward model, consulting the contents of one’s own mind as a means of acquiring “knowledge,” whether it’s dreams, wishing, imagination, fantasies, etc. He objects to my argument because my argument does not adopt his model of truth by looking inward. In essence, he objects to my argument because it is objective.
Warden makes reference to people throughout history claiming that their dreams were a means of predicting or knowing the future. But how could one objectively verify this? Acceptance of Warden’s Christian worldview is contingent on accepting personal testimony on its own say so, as if simply saying “X is the case” were sufficient to make it so. This is essentially what “supernatural revelation” amounts to, since it involves taking the contents of the Christian bible as true on its mere say so, not because there are facts we discover in the world which independently corroborate what we read there. There are no facts which we discover in the world, for example, which independently corroborate the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin or was resurrected after being crucified to death. We are expected to accept these claims as true on the assumption that the reports given in the New Testament are reliable testimony and that we should therefore accept them as true on exclusively this basis. It’s all part of Christianity’s storybook worldview.
The looking inward model is vital to holding this storybook worldview. With this worldview firmly in mind, Van Til asserts:
The Christian finds that his conscience agrees to the truth of the story. (The Defense of the Faith, p. 214)
Van Til also writes:
He holds that those who deny the truth of the story have an axe to grind. (Ibid.)
Van Til continues:
The Christian finds, further, that logic agrees with the story. (Ibid.)
I could go on, but these citations should make it sufficiently clear that the storybook worldview of Christianity rests squarely on the looking inward model of truth.
Furthermore, Dawson's definition of truth precludes the possibility of divine revelation.
As I have pointed out before, anyone can – along with Rick Warden, Greg Bahnsen, Cornelius Van Til, James White, Sye Ten Bruggencate, etc. - imagine a supernatural being which possesses a magical consciousness that can zap things into existence by wishing and alter their identities at will. Similarly, one can, along with these individuals, imagine that this supernatural being has “divinely revealed” whatever it is he wants to be true. If one wants it to be the case that circumcision is an outward sign of devotion to this supernatural being, one can imagine that this “knowledge” was delivered to him by means of “supernatural revelation.”
Consider the following passage from I Corinthians chapter 7:
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. (vss. 8-12)
Dawson has not offered any reason or proof of why any divine revelation of truth would not be possible, he simply presupposes this.
Also, the notion of “divine revelation” assumes the existence of the god supposedly distributing revelatory deliverances. But if there is no god, then logically there can be no such thing as “divine revelation.” Thus it seems that Warden has blanked out on the fact that he’s commenting on a blog in which a case against theism has been made; if that case is successful, then that would serve as sufficient proof that the very basis of “divine revelation” is non-existent.
Furthermore, I have presented a proof for the non-existence of the Christian god that is very easy to understand. That proof can be found here. Thus if this proof is successful, then indeed I have offered more than sufficient “reason or proof of why any divine revelation of truth would not be possible.” Since I have presented these and numerous other blog entries critiquing reason and discussing rational epistemology, what Warden says here is simply not true: I am not “simply presupposing” that “divine revelation of truth would not be possible.”
But so what if I were? What objection could Warden really have against this? Christians are always telling me that they “presuppose” their worldview. So why can’t I “presuppose” mine? Warden offers no reason why one should fault me if in fact I did what he accuses me of doing (even though I didn’t).
Now of course the Christian is still going to insist that “divine revelation” be accepted as a legitimate possibility. But what Warden fails to recognize is that he is the one with the burden of proof here. Warden does not even attempt to vindicate the notion of “divine revelation.” He does not even give a good explanation of what it is supposed to be. Does Warden want us to believe that he’s hearing voices in his head? If so, how would he know that the voices he thinks he’s hearing are “divine” in nature? Warden gives no indication here whatsoever.
Or, perhaps “divine revelation” is really nothing more than a mystical euphemism for believing what one reads in some text or set of texts arbitrarily designated as “divinely authored.” This would be significantly less impressive, but also somewhat less cause for worrying about Warden’s sanity. But if reading some set of texts and blindly believing what they say is what Warden has in mind here, how would this qualify as “divine revelation”?
Thomas Paine, who believed that “divine revelation” was actually possible, made an important point in his book The Age of Reason. He writes (pp. 51-52):
But admitting, for the sake of a case, that something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and consequently they are not obliged to believe it.
It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication — after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.
In regard to any attempt to take seriously the notion of “divine revelation,” numerous questions mind. For example:
- How does “divine revelation” work?
- What steps would one take to ensure that he has received a “divine revelation”?
- What steps would he take to ensure that he has understood it correctly?
- What steps would he take to ensure that he has not confused his own mental content (whether it’s his own wishing, preferences, imaginings, dreams, subjective visions, etc.) for what he calls “divine revelation”?
- How would he ensure that he has not been supernaturally deceived?
Christian apologist John Frame wrestles with this question in his paper Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction Part 1 of 2: Introduction and Creation. There he writes:
I admit that it is difficult to construe the psychology of such faith. How is it that people come to believe a Word from God which contradicts all their other normal means of knowledge? How did Abraham come to know that the voice calling him to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22:1-18; cf. Heb. 11:17-19; James 2:21-24) was the voice of God? What the voice told him to do was contrary to fatherly instincts, normal ethical considerations, and even, apparently, contrary to other Words of God (Gen. 9:6). But he obeyed the voice and was blessed. Closer to our own experience: how is it that people come to believe in Jesus even though they have not, like Thomas, seen Jesus’ signs and wonders (John 20:29)?
I cannot explain the psychology here to the satisfaction of very many. In this case as in others (for we walk by faith, not by sight!) we may have to accept the fact even without an explanation of the fact. Somehow, God manages to get his Word across to us, despite the logical and psychological barriers. Without explaining how it works, Scripture describes in various ways a “supernatural factor” in divine-human communication. (a) It speaks of the power of the Word. The Word created all things (Gen. 1:3, etc.; Ps. 33:3-6; John 1:3) and directs the course of nature and history (Pss. 46:6; 148:5-8). What God says will surely come to pass (Isa. 55:11; Gen. 18:14; Deut. 18:21ff.). The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16; cf. Isa. 6:9-10; Luke 7:7ff.; Heb. 4:12). (b) Scripture also speaks of the personal power of the Holy Spirit operating with the Word (John 3:5; 1 Cor. 2:4,12ff.; 2 Cor. 3:15-18; 1 Thess. 1:5). Mysterious though the process may be, somehow God illumines the human mind to discern the divine source of the Word. We know without knowing how we know.
Dawson presupposes a narrow atheist explanation of truth in an argument against God and has not justified this definition.
Above I give a link to a blog entry which I published back in April 2012 where I present a more detailed discussion of the nature of truth. Where does the bible do similarly on behalf of its own view? Blank out. Where does Warden vindicate his subjective view of truth? Blank out. Why does Warden continually borrow from the objective understanding of truth when he contests the very basis of it? Blank out.
Also above I quoted Greg Bahnsen who states that “truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God.” And yet John 14:6 tells us that Jesus the person is “the truth.” In my experience, when asked what truth is, many believers have told me that “truth is Jesus” or some such nonsense. According to the storybook, Jesus was a physical person walking around “in the flesh.” But are we to suppose that truth is really a physical thing? Believers seem ready to say just about anything in order to be able to say that they’ve provided an answer to some fundamental question, even if what they say in such cases is simply ridiculous.
This results in two fallacies: the unsupported claim and begging the question.
In the case of his charge of “begging the question,” Warden begs the question himself by assuming the subjective analysis of truth (the looking inward model) in raising this objection to my view of truth. And yet, at the same time, he borrows the primacy of existence from my worldview by charging me with fallacy in the first place: he’s not telling his readers that my argument commits a fallacy because he learned this in a dream, or wants this to be the case, or simply imagines this, or “hopes” it’s the case. No, on the contrary, he’s saying that this is the case about my argument because that’s the way it (allegedly) is independent of his wishing, likes, dislikes, preferences, hopes, imaginations, dreams, fantasies, emotions, etc. So for his charge even to carry the weight he wants his readers to think it has, he must adopt the very view he’s condemning. Thus he commits the fallacy of the stolen concept.
Meanwhile, as I demonstrated above, my argument is not “begging the question.” It certainly is not simply restating one of its premises in its conclusion (as can be seen by an examination of the syllogisms that I have laid out). Rather, my argument models an application of a general truth (e.g., truth is objective in nature) to a specific area of inquiry. That’s called deduction. Warden, in spite of all his empty lip service to “logic,” should make some effort to better acquaint himself with formal argumentation. But before he can do this properly, he needs to abandon the subjective model of truth which he wants to defend while secretly pilfering from worldviews he openly condemns.
I’m glad these aren’t my problems!
by Dawson Bethrick