Monday, April 28, 2014

Presuppositionalism, Circular Argument, and Oliphant’s Defense

Presuppositionalist apologists frequently complain that their critics have misunderstood their apologetic platform when they charge that their vindication of Christianity employs the fallacy of petitio principia - that their argument for the existence of the Christian god begs the question. Since this objection is raised by both Christians and non-Christians, advocates of presuppositionalism should be concerned. Indeed, from what I have been able to determine, only presuppositionalists themselves hold that their methodology is not fallaciously circular.

Whatever the case may be, since this objection is so frequently encountered, one would think that presuppositionalists would take greater care in locating the source of the problem – whether it is in fact a problem haunting their argument scheme, or the manner in which it has been marketed which misrepresents its product – and correcting it. Instead, presuppositionalists seem to have adopted a more reactionary stance of letting things sit as they are and circling the wagons when the objection is raised yet again, which of course is inevitable.

It is helpful to get a good understanding of what exactly this fallacy is, and why it is fallacious. So let’s survey a few sources and try to get the essence of the problem. In his Dictionary of Philosophy and Reason, William L. Reese states that petition principia (p. 225):
is committed when one assumes among one’s premises what one is supposed to prove.
In A Dictionary of Philosophical Logic by Roy T. Cook, we find the following description of the fallacy (p. 31):
Begging the question is an informal fallacy that occurs when a reasoner presents an argument for a conclusion but omits a crucial premise, one whose acceptance would entail prior acceptance of the conclusion.  
More generally, the term begging the question (or petition principii) is used for any fallacious argument where the truth of the conclusion is already implicit in one or more of the premises.
According to the mammoth Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, begging the question is a fallacious argument (pp. 2703-4):
in which the conclusion is itself required as a premise to support the argument being advanced to justify the conclusion. Many cases of this type of fallacy are disguised by being quite complex arguments - see Walton (1991) - but a simple case would be the following argument: someone asked to prove that God is benevolent replies, ‘God has all the virtues, therefore God is benevolent.’ Since benevolence is presumably a virtue, the premise requires the prior assumption that God is benevolent.
And finally we have Dr. David Kelley who, in his book The Art of Reasoning, describes the fallacy of begging the question as follows (p. 147-148):
…begging the question is the use of a proposition as a premise in an argument intended to support that same proposition. This is fallacious. The point of reasoning is to throw light on the truth or falsity of a proposition (the conclusion) by relating it to other propositions (the premises) that we already have some basis for believing to be true. If our reasoning does nothing more than relate p to itself, then it hasn’t gained us anything.
These descriptions of the fallacy of begging the question should give us some advantage when it comes to detecting the presence of this particular fallacy when it occurs in an argument. Of course, to determine whether or not a specific argument is fallaciously circular, we need to see the argument laid out as its defenders conceive of it. Not only this, however, we also have to understand how the premises of such an argument are to be supported by its defenders. I find it necessary to point this out because in my experience, apologists have indicated that if the fallacious nature of an offending premise of an argument they’ve proposed is not staring them in the face, that their argument would not be fallaciously circular. It is as though they will accept the charge that they are arguing in a fallaciously circular manner only if they proposed something along the following lines:
Premise 1: Whatever the bible says is true because it is the Word of God.  
Premise 2: The bible says that God exists.  
Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
Many apologists insist that this is not their fundamental reasoning behind their belief in the Christian god. Yet since apologists often appeal to what can be found in the bible as support for their theistic beliefs, one may well be forgiven for getting the impression that such “reasoning” is essentially what’s lurking behind the scenes.

The Wikipedia article on begging the question makes an important point when it classes begging the question as “an informal fallacy where the conclusion that one is attempting to prove is included in the initial premises of an argument, often in an indirect way that conceals this fact” (emphasis added).

Kelley points out that (op. cit., pp. 148-149):
A more subtle form of the fallacy occurs when the circle is enlarged to include more than one step: the conclusion p is supported by premise q, which in turn is supported by p (though there could be any number of intervening steps).
So an argument commits the fallacy of petitio principii if its premises smuggle its conclusion back into the underlying hierarchy of assumptions (or “presuppositions”) given in support of that conclusion, or even in support of one of its premises. For example, if one wants to argue for the conclusion that Blarko the WonderBeing exists, and he cites for this premise the fact that we have knowledge, and yet buried within this premise is the assumption that Blarko the WonderBeing is what makes knowledge possible in the first place, he would be begging the question outright since he is arguing for a conclusion by incorporating premises which themselves assume the truth of that conclusion. Thus we might have something like this:
Concealed Premise: (Blarko the WonderBeing makes knowledge possible.)  
Stated Premise 1: If we have knowledge, then Blarko the WonderBeing exists.  
Stated Premise 2: We have knowledge.  
Stated Conclusion: Therefore, Blarko the WonderBeing exists.
Here the concealed premise is not stated explicitly, but rather entombed beneath the stated premises. And yet, without this premise, the conclusion would not follow from the two stated premises. Indeed, in order to establish the view that Blarko the WonderBeing makes knowledge possible, one would first have to prove the claim that Blarko the WonderBeing actually exists, for only things that actually exist can make something possible.

Unfortunately from what I have seen from presuppositionalists over the years, much of their argumentation strongly resembles this. Couple with this the fact that presuppositionalism, as an extension of Christian theology, has no theory of concepts, it is poorly equipped (to put it mildly) to produce an analysis of knowledge which can reconcile its conceptual nature with theism. Concepts are mental integrations which an individual thinker forms in his mind ultimately on the basis of perception, and are thus a firsthand form of awareness (not a secondhand, derivative phenomenon transmitted to man’s mind by means of “revelations” a la “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”). Thus, due to the absence of a conceptual understanding of knowledge, the presuppositionalist case can be seen as supporting its circular argumentation on the basis of an appeal to ignorance.

Of course, as I have consistently maintained in my critiques of Christian apologetics, the notion of the Christian god assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, the fundamental assumption that the reality we perceive and experience around us finds its source in a form of conscious activity – for example, that a supernatural being essentially wished the universe into being (see for example here). Thus before attempting to prove that the Christian god exists, one would first have to validate the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. But how would one do this without assuming the primacy of consciousness to begin with and thus begging the question? The primacy of consciousness view entails the notion that wishing makes it so. But does the believer hold that his own wishing makes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics so? If yes, then he’s simply indulging in subjective fantasy. If not, then his basic assumptions are in conflict with what he’s trying to argue.

Meanwhile, apologists insist that they can prove the existence of their god by means of argument. And presuppositionalism is typically characterized by those apologists who champion it as possessing an insuperable arsenal of arguments proving the existence of their god. Yet it is not uncommon for presuppositional apologists to make statements to the effect that one must “presuppose God” in order to perform any reasoning whatsoever. As Greg Bahnsen famously put it in his highly celebrated debate with Dr. Gordon Stein, “the transcendental proof for God's existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything.” Thus, say presuppositionalists, no argument can even get off the ground unless the existence of the Christian god is presupposed. Now “presupposing” a thing to be true is a mental action. It is one thing to say that X is a metaphysical precondition of Y, quite another to say that one must presuppose X in order to affirm Y. Christians may hold that the former is the case with respect to the existence of their god (X) in relation to reasoning (Y), but they certainly affirm the latter. Moreover, presuppositionalists are well known for interpreting statements found in Romans 1 to mean that every human being already knows that the Christian god is real.

The charge of begging the question, then, seems quite inescapable when presuppositionalists affirm, on top of affirming these background points, that they can prove that the Christian god is real. Generally, proof is the systematic effort to draw a conclusion from more fundamental premises. Given what presuppositionalists say about their own position, the conclusion they claim to be able to establish in their “proof” is that the Christian god exists. But their background assumptions clearly show that they begin with the view that the Christian god exists already in mind. The existence of the Christian god is their starting point. So they have already assumed that their god exists by the time they get to assembling any proofs (since their god is, they say, necessary for proving anything), including the purported proof that their god exists.

It is bafflingly unclear how apologists could settle in their mind that such an enterprise is not fallaciously circular.

But K. Scott Oliphant thinks he can somehow rescue presuppositionalism from the charge of circularity. It is important to note at this point that Oliphant directs his defensive points in response to criticisms of presuppositionalism by another Christian apologist, Paul Copan. So Oliphant’s defense is cast in the context of believer versus believer. Indeed, it is curious how worshipers of purportedly the same god can disagree on such fundamental matters as how one should properly go about establishing that said god exists! Copan offered his criticisms of presuppositionalism in a paper he published on The Gospel Coalition website titled Questioning Presuppositionalism. In that paper, Copan states that presuppositionalism
engages in question-begging---assuming what one wants to prove. It begins with the assumption that God exists, and then concludes that God exists. Such reasoning would get you an "F" in any logic class worthy of the name!
If James Anderson thinks that the gospel narratives “have what C. S. Lewis called ‘the ring of truth’,” then it seems we can rightly say that Copan’s remarks here strike a deafening tocsin of fact.

Oliphant reacts to Copan’s criticism by saying “it is bit naïve to think that Van Til, with a PhD in philosophy, would have missed something so basic.” But in fact, it seems much more naïve to suppose that simply because someone has achieved a Ph.D. in a certain field, that his reasoning in the field of his specialty must therefore be flawless. Christians themselves should be acutely aware of this trap. Richard Carrier, for example, is (according to this article) “one of the leading current proponents of the Christ myth theory,” and in spite of the fact that he holds a Ph.D. in ancient history (see here), he is continually lambasted by Christian apologists as some sort of clobberheaded neophyte who doesn’t know which way is up (for examples of this, search the archives of Triablogue).

Oliphant insists that Van Til’s system does not “engage… in question-begging---assuming what one wants to prove,” and cites a footnote that he added to the 4th edition of Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith, which we shall get to momentarily.

In the meantime, it is important to cover some preliminary points.

Famed Christian apologist William Lane Craig, himself holding a Ph.D. in philosophy, makes the following statement about presuppositionalism in Five Views on Apologetics (pp. 232-233):
Where presuppositionalism muddies the waters is in its apologetic methodology. As commonly understood, presuppositionalism is guilty of a logical howler: it commits the informal fallacy of petitio principii, or begging the question, for it advocates presupposing the truth of Christian theism in order to prove Christian theism. Frame himself says that we are “forced to say, ‘God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion),’” even though such reasoning is “clearly circular” (p. 217). It is difficult to imagine how anyone could with a straight face think to show theism to be true by reasoning, “God exists. Therefore, God exists.” Nor is this said from the standpoint of unbelief. A Christian theist himself will deny that question-begging arguments prove anything.
So here we seem to have a contest between two Christian apologists, each one holding a Ph.D. in philosophy, the one insisting that presuppositionalism does not engage in petitio principii, the other insisting that it does. Craig cites John Frame’s own statement conceding the point. Frame himself even attempts to defend this distinctive characteristic of presuppositionalism by saying that such circularity “is unavoidable for any system, any worldview” (p. 217). Elsewhere he states “even a proof of God must presuppose him” (Ibid., p. 133). The example Frame gives and which Craig cites (“God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion)”) is undoubtedly fallacious: it is guilty of doing precisely what Kelley identifies as fallacious, i.e., it “does nothing more than relate p to itself.” One could use the same basic argument scheme used by presuppositionalists to “prove” that Islam’s Allah, Zeus, Osiris, Horus, Avalokitesvara, Ahura Mazda, Geusha or Blarko the WonderBeing exists. Observe:
Blarko the WonderBeing exists (presupposition), therefore Blarko the WonderBeing exists (conclusion).
One can “justify” this non-movement (relating p only to itself) by saying “such circularity is unavoidable for all worldviews.” What gives presuppositionalism any advantage over these and any other variants on the scheme?

Furthermore, Van Til himself states point blank that “the Reformed apologist will frankly admit that his own methodology presupposes the truth of Christian theism” (The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 100). And since Christian theism affirms that the Christian god exists, then the Reformed apologist’s “own methodology” must therefore presuppose that the Christian god exists. Insofar as this goes as a statement about the apologist’s position, this should be uncontroversial. Indeed, as Van Til himself states in the very next sentence:
Basic to all the doctrines of Christian theism is that of the self-contained God, or, if we wish, that of the ontological trinity. It is this notion of the ontological trinity that ultimately controls a truly Christian methodology. Based upon this notion of the ontological trinity and consistent with it, is the concept of the counsel of God according to which all things in the created world are regulated.
Of course, since the content and structure of one’s methodology is at issue here, the initial question which should concern us within the context of Copan’s charge of begging the question and Oliphant’s attempt to defend presuppositionalism against it, is: Why accept any of what Van Til states here as true? Why suppose that there is a god to begin with? Why suppose there exists a “self-contained God”? Why suppose there is such a thing as “the ontological trinity”? Why suppose that any of the doctrines of Christian theism are true? It is questions such as these that presuppositionalism seems most unprepared to answer in any non-question-begging manner.

The final line in the above quote from Van Til only confirms the fact that Christian theism is inherently rooted in the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, for it assumes that everything in the universe was created by an act of will and that it is “regulated” by the consciousness of the Christian god. The assumption of the primacy of consciousness here is not open for debate. Christian theism explicitly holds that the objects populating the universe are the product of some unexplained activity of a supernatural consciousness and that they conform to that supernatural consciousness’ will. The primary fundamental governing the universe, according to such a worldview, is not identity or causality, but somebody’s wishing.

Van Til goes on to say that (ibid., p. 101):
To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.
It is not clear how admitting one’s own presuppositions and point out those of other thinkers “is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is… circular reasoning.” But it does seem that the view that “the starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” would be a convenient way for one to defend something that is clearly arbitrary in nature.

Elsewhere Van Til makes statements which are disturbing in their implications for his system’s reliance on circular argument. In his A Survey of Christian Epistemology, Van Til claims that
that the Christian method uses either the inductive nor the deductive method as understood by the opponents of Christianity, but that it has elements of both induction and of deduction in it, if these terms are understood in a Christian sense.
It is not entirely clear what Van Til might mean by “a Christian sense” in which induction and deduction are understood (I can find no discussion of these methodologies in any of my bibles), but he does state that “when these two elements are combined, we have what is meant by a truly transcendental argument” and insists that
neither of them [i.e., induction and deduction] could be thoroughly Christian unless they already presupposed God.
So Van Til’s method, then, appears to incorporate both induction and deduction in such a way that “they already presuppose… God.” Thus the charge of fallacious circularity seems unavoidable here: the “truly transcendental argument” that Van Til has in mind is developed by joining two methodologies both of which “already presuppose… God.” If one has already accepted the claim that the Christian god exists (e.g., on faith), why bother with assembling arguments which purportedly prove its existence? Whom exactly is Van Til trying to convince? If his apologetic methodology requires that one accept the claim that the Christian god is real prior to assembling any arguments, how does Van Til expect his argument to be at all persuasive to those who do not accept the claim that the Christian god is real in advance of examining it?

Van Til acknowledges that, on their own, both induction and deduction cannot take one beyond the universe and into a supernatural realm. By themselves, these methodologies leave apologists vulnerable to opponents’ objections. In response to this predicament, Van Til writes:
if it be said to such opponents of Christianity that, unless there were an absolute God their own questions and doubts would have no meaning at all, there is no argument in return.
But again, why accept the claim that “unless there were an absolute God,” Christianity’s opponents’ “own questions and doubts would have no meaning at all”? Van Til never seems to make any progress getting beyond relating p to p. Why did Van Til accept any of this? In fact, Van Til himself gives a very telling indication of why he embraced Christianity in so committed a fashion as he did in his paper Why I Believe in God. There he explains how, when he was a young child, he spent a night in a cow barn and was scared out of his wits essentially by things he imagined. (See my blog A Reply to Matthias on Imagination and Its Role in Theism for details on this.)

Van Til’s own reaction to the charge of arguing in a circular manner does not give cause for rescuing our confidence in his system. He writes (A Survey of Christian Epistemology):
And this brings up the point of circular reasoning. The charge is constantly made that if matters stand thus with Christianity, it has written its own death warrant as far as intelligent men are concerned. Who wishes to make such a simple blunder in elementary logic, as to say that we believe something to be true because it is in the Bible? Our answer to this is briefly that we prefer to reason in a circle to not reasoning at all. We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. The method of implication as outlined above is circular reasoning. Or we may call it spiral reasoning. We must go round and round a thing to see more of its dimensions and to know more about it, in general, unless we are larger than that which we are investigating. Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about him any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of opposition to Christianity. Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle as discussed above.
I would expect that portions of this quote would make any committed Christian bristle with astonishment, for Van Til characterizes “believ[ing] something to be true because it is in the Bible” as “a simple blunder in elementary logic.” Christians the world over and throughout history believe many, many things because they are affirmed in the pages of the bible. Whether it is the creation account, the Noachian flood, Abraham and the promised land, the adventures of Moses, David and Goliath, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, etc., Christians believe these stories expressly because they are “attested” by the bible. Many a faithful Christian has adopted the attitude concisely summed up by the creed “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Given such a dogmatic confession, no more further thought need be put into one’s worldview. Indeed, Van Til himself states (The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 108):
In the first place it must be affirmed that a Protestant accepts Scripture to be that which Scripture itself says it is on its own authority.
Similarly, Greg Bahnsen tells us (Always Ready, p 73):
The divine word is authoritative in itself, carrying its own evidence inherently. Consequently, no man has the prerogative to call it into question (Rom. 9:20); instead, those who contend with God are required to answer (cf. Job 38:1-3; 40:1-5). God’s veracity is to be automatically presupposed (Rom. 3:1), for He speaks with unmistakable clarity (Rom. 1:19-20; Ps. 119:130).
Then we have John Frame who states (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 51):
God has the right to command and be obeyed. He has, therefore, the right to tell us what to believe.
Given such assumptions, why would Van Til wince at “believ[ing] something to be true because it is in the Bible”?

As we saw above, Van Til famously asserts that circular reasoning is unavoidable, and that the only alternative to circular reasoning is “not reasoning at all.” His statement about needing to “go round and round a thing” in order to “know more about it, in general, unless we are larger than that which we are investigating” is baffling. The Empire State Building is larger than I am, but I don’t see what good it would do to “go round and round” it. Nor is it clear what relevance the size differential may be between us as knowers and the things we investigate would have for such an endeavor. But what is clear is that Van Til equates “transcendental argument” with “circular argument,” and seems to treat circular reasoning and circular argument interchangeably. The relevance of this will become clear when we get to Oliphant’s defense against the charge of begging the question, which I shall now take up.

As mentioned above, Oliphant quotes his own remarks in defense of presuppositionalism against the charge of petitio principii from a footnote he included in the 4th edition of Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith. (I have only the 3rd edition, so I cannot confirm this directly.)

There Oliphant says that “circular reasoning is not the same as a circular argument.” Thus he wants to introduce a distinction here between “reasoning” and “argument.” But an argument is essentially a formalized course of reasoning. I am not off here. This online dictionary gives the following definitions for ‘reasoning’:
1. the act or process of a person who reasons.  
2. the process of forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences from facts or premises.  
3. the reasons, arguments, proofs, etc., resulting from this process.
Perhaps when Oliphant reasons, he is not “forming conclusions, judgments or inferences from facts or premises.” But then what exactly is he doing?

Now it may be that some thinkers distinguish between circular argument on the one hand, and circular reasoning on the other. But given what we have already seen above (both from Van Til himself and his pupil John Frame), the suspicion that presuppositionalism involves a question-begging (i.e., fallacious) argument has plenty of support.

Oliphant goes on to explain:
A circular argument is one in which the conclusion of the argument is also assumed in one or more of the premises.
It seems, however, that if one reasons his way to a conclusion in such a manner that it is assumed at some prior point in his chain of reasoning, such reasoning would therefore also be circular as well, and therefore fallacious. This is what we saw above: “God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion)”for “even a proof of God must presuppose him.” Moreover, if one attempts to prove the existence of the Christian god by assuming an analysis of knowledge which explicitly presupposes the Christian god and then argues for the existence of this god by pointing out that we have knowledge, he’s arguing fallaciously. One could do the same for Blarko the WonderBeing, but Christians would reject such an argument, most likely citing its fallacious circularity as its fundamental defect.

Oliphant next says that
Van Til's notion of circularity is broader, and more inclusive, than a strict argument form.
But this is a formal concern. The fallacy known as petitio principii is an informal concern. Does the apologist have an argument for his god’s existence or not? If he has an argument, does it beg the question? If his argument must assume the existence of the Christian god in order to prove its existence, then the conclusion that it is fallacious is unavoidable, regardless of the vague notions Oliphant attributes to Van Til’s “notion of circularity.” Indeed, does Van Til get to rewrite the rules that inform logic?

Oliphant gives an example of circular reasoning which is presumably not fallaciously circular:
For example, in William Alston, The Reliability of Sense Perception (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), Alston argues that it is impossible to establish that one has knowledge in a certain area without at the same time presupposing some knowledge in that area. His example is an argument for the reliability of sense perception. Any argument for such reliability presupposes that reliability.
It is not at all clear how such an argument, given that it presupposes what it sets out to prove, avoids the charge of petitio principii. Part of the confusion here is the purpose of argument as such. We do not need to argue for what is perceptually self-evident. If I see a car passing in the street from a window in my house, I do not need to construct an argument for the car’s existence. Rather, argument takes us ultimately from that which is perceptually self-evident to that which is not perceptually self-evident. Moreover, the reliability of the senses is axiomatic (see for example here). Here too confusion is often encountered, especially if one fails to distinguish between perceiving objects (an automatic function of the sensory organs) and identifying the objects which one perceives (which is a volitional activity of a conceptual consciousness). Thus to assemble an argument to prove that sense perception is reliable would of course assume the very point in question, and skeptics would be all too happy to shoot down such arguments as fallaciously circular, since they assume what is called to be proven in such a case.

Thus given the distinction which Oliphant wants to introduce here, namely between circular reasoning and circular (i.e., fallacious) argument, he might attempt to find a better example to support this.

Oliphant continues, saying on behalf of Alston that an argument for the reliability of sense perception must presuppose that reliability
because of the epistemic situation in which human beings exist. Alston is right here, it seems. Not only so, but, to go deeper, the epistemic and metaphysical situation in which human beings exist is one in which the source of and rationale for all that we are and think is, ultimately, in the Triune God of Scripture. Circularity in this sense is inevitable. We will never be outside the context of image of God as we think and live---not in this life or the next.
Here Oliphant seems to be suggesting, by reference to what he calls “the epistemic situation in which human beings exist,” that the question of the Christian god’s existence is somehow analogous to the question of whether or not sense perception is reliable. If circular reasoning is required to establish the reliability of sense perception given the “epistemic situation” in which we find ourselves, such reasoning should be available for establishing other aspects of our “epistemic situation,” such as Christianity’s metaphysical claims.

Unfortunately this doesn’t work. For one thing, given the axiom of consciousness, the reliability of sense perception does not need to be established by means of circular reasoning. Sense perception would already have to be reliable before one could embark on such an enterprise to begin with. Also, in the case of sense perception, we are not talking about establishing an entity existing independent of our faculties. The fact that we perceive is self-evident, and our perception is not something existing apart from us. But the Christian god is supposed to be an entity existing independent of our faculties. This would put the Christian god into the broad category of independently existing things, such as rocks, puddles, chunks of concrete, clouds, telephone poles, etc. But unlike these things, the Christian god’s existence is not perceptually self-evident: we perceive clouds and piles of leaves directly, but we do not perceive the Christian god directly. In fact, speaking for myself, I have never perceived something that I could, given Christianity’s descriptions, identify as the Christian god. On the contrary, I know of no alternative but to imagine the Christian god, just as I have no alternative but to imagine Blarko the WonderBeing. Unfortunately for Christianity, however, I am honest enough to recognize that what I imagine is not real.

Like other presuppositionalists, Oliphant assumes that circularity is “inevitable” at the basis of one’s worldview, not because this is really the case, but because apologists are projecting here. Presuppositionalists are telling us about themselves when they make such assumptions. And what they’re telling us is the fact that their worldview has no objective starting point. An objective starting point does not need to be established or validated by means of argument. It is not something inferred in the first place. Rather, as an irreducible primary, the truth ofan objective starting point is perceptually self-evident. Hence Objectivism begins with the axiom “existence exists.” The fact that existence exists is perceptually self-evident: we just open our eyes and see existence directly. Some thinkers don’t think we see existence. But in fact we do. “’Existence’… is a collective noun, denoting the sum of existents” (Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 4). Or, as Tom Porter puts it (Ayn Rand’s Theory of Knowledge, p. 205):
... anybody who’s seen an existent has seen existence. Then what does existence look like? Well, what color is a rainbow? If you’ve seen anything real, you’ve seen existence too. But perhaps you haven’t; perhaps you’ve only introspected your sensations, your feelings or your linguistic experience. Too bad, you’ve missed a lot. But you have eyes: look! You’ll see things, real things. And you’ll see existence too.
The axiom of existence simply identifies a perceptually self-evident fact in a formal and explicit manner. There’s no need to prove that existence exists. As I explain in my blog Jason Lisle on Axioms:
Proof is the logical process by which we reduce that which is not perceptually self-evident to that which is perceptually self-evident. Perceiving is action; perceiving a thing is an act of consciousness. If we perceive something, we are conscious of that thing. That’s where we begin – with direct awareness of objects that exist in our immediate environment. From this basis we form concepts of concretes, and those concepts we subsequently integrate into broader abstractions, and we integrate those broader abstractions into yet broader abstractions, and so on.
When presuppositionalists tell us that circular argument “is unavoidable for any system, any worldview” (Frame, Five Views on Apologetics, p. 217), they are essentially telling us that they do not know how a worldview can be founded on facts whose truth is perceptually self-evident. Frame says (Ibid.):
One cannot argue for an ultimate standard by appealing to a different standard. That would be inconsistent.
And this of course is true. In fact, it is why apologists will never be able to prove that their god exists, since proof rests on the primacy of existence (the standard of objectivity), while the notion of “God” assumes the primacy of consciousness (a “standard” of subjectivism). But what Frame misses here is the fact that an objective starting point is not established by argument – circular or otherwise – in the first place. Argument is the presentation of an inference from a set of premises to a conclusion. If one thinks that his starting point is the conclusion of an argument, he’s made a fundamental error, for the premises on which his conclusions rest are more fundamental than his conclusions. He needs to rethink his steps and dig into those premises to see what their basis is.

But presuppositionalists have no alternative to this, since their starting point (the god which they imagine) is neither perceptually self-evident nor objective in nature: we do not discover the Christian god by looking outward at the world. Quite the opposite: we have no alternative but to look inward into the contents of our imaginations and create this god on the basis of descriptions that we select from whatever source(s) and concoct into a mental invention. This explains not only why apologists like Van Til and Frame think that circular argumentation is unavoidable, but also why they tend to cite other mental phenomena – e.g., “abstract entities,” the laws of logic, moral absolutes, etc. – as “evidence” of their god. (For more along these lines, see for example my blog entry A Critique of Sye Ten Bruggencate’s www.proofthatgodexists.org.)

Lastly, Oliphant begs the question by appealing to the Christian notion that man is the “image of God.” We could be the image-bearers of the Christian god only if the Christian god actually exists. Oliphant might have a case that given the existence of the Christian god it is not circular to suppose that we are its image-bearers. But when the apologist's task is to offer support for his claim that the Christian god exists, its existence is clearly not a given at that point. Nor does this appeal help Oliphant rescue presuppositionalism from the charge of petitio principii by supposing that, as in the case of the reliability of sense perception, man’s being the “image of God” is part of the “epistemic situation” in which he finds himself. One cannot argue in a non-question-begging manner from the supposition that man’s “epistemic situation” involves his being the “image of God” to the existence of said god, nor can he appeal to such a supposition to justify his circular reasoning in defense of his theistic commitments.

Oliphant raised another point in his footnote:
Van Til's affirmation of circular reasoning should be seen in the context of the point he makes in various places about "indirect" arguments. Any petitio principii is, by definition, a direct argument---containing premises and a conclusion.
Again, this seems to be a concern over argument form while in fact petitio principii is an informal fallacy – i.e., it does not manifest itself in the form of an argument, but in the erroneousness of an inference. Van Til claimed to have had an argument for his god’s existence. As Oliphant indicates, Van Til claimed that his argument was “indirect” rather than “direct.” Does Van Til’s “indirect” argument not have premises and a conclusion? Is it merely a set of assertions with no logical structure tying them into a goal-oriented whole? John Frame’s discussion of this matter is instructive. He writes (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 76):
In theistic argument, the indirect argument would run like this: “God doesn’t exist; therefore causality (or whatever – ultimately everything) is meaningless.” Since we are unwilling to accept the conclusion, we must negate the premise and say that God does exist.
At best, to the extent that one could call this an argument, it would be an argument by means of deliberate manipulation. Apologists figure that non-believers are not going to want to say that causality is meaningless, so they use this unwillingness as an expedient point of departure. And just as Frame indicates that one could replace causality with anything else (“or whatever – ultimately everything”), one could likewise replace “God” with anything else he imagines, such as Blarko the WonderBeing. Such apologetic schemes are essentially nothing more than shortcuts from nowhere. If the apologist objects that there is no apparent relationship of dependence of causality on Blarko the WonderBeing, he’s catching on. One would first have to establish the existence of Blarko the WonderBeing and then establish the dependence of causality on Blarko the WonderBeing. But apologists continually seek to avoid such steps, and that’s no accident.

Frame continues (Ibid.):
Are indirect arguments really distinct from direct arguments? In the final analysis, it doesn’t make much difference whether you say “Causality, therefore God” or “Without God, no causality, therefore God.” Any indirect argument of this sort can be turned into a direct argument by some creating rephrasing… if the indirect form is sound, the direct form will be too – and vice versa.
Oliphant either disagrees with Frame on this (i.e., more believer vs. believer), or he is unaware of what Frame says here (which means he should do more research). Or he’s ignored it for some reason. But what Oliphant does say – namely that Van Til’s argument is “indirect” and that “petitio principii is, by definition, a direct argument---containing premises and a conclusion” – suggests that what Van Til has in mind here does not contain premise and a conclusion to begin with. This is implied by the way Oliphant characterized the distinction between “indirect” and “direct” arguments. But if Van Til does not have premises and a conclusion in the first place, then how does whatever it is he has qualify as an argument? Blank out.

Oliphant provides some more clues here:
Van Til's indirect method moves one out of the context of a strict proof or direct argument, and into the context of the rationale for any fact or law assumed to be, or to be true. Thus, circularity is inextricably linked to the transcendental approach, and is not meant to be in reference, strictly speaking, to direct argumentation.
I would suggest that the circularity which plagues Van Til’s system is a result of its roots in subjectivism. Notice the “philosophy of fact” implicit in what Oliphant states here: facts, on his view, require a “rationale” for them “to be” (i.e., for facts simply to exist) “or to be true” (i.e., to be factual). A “rationale” is “a reasoned exposition, esp one defining the fundamental reasons for a course of action, belief, etc.” (Dictionary.com). Do facts need “a reasoned exposition” in order to be or to be true? On what would this exposition be based if not on prior facts? And from what would this exposition be reasoned if not from facts one discovers in the world existing independently of oneself? The “philosophy of fact” assumed in all this is squarely seated on the primacy of consciousness metaphysics: facts are “presupposed” to be products of some conscious activity. We do not discover that facts are produced by conscious activity by looking outward at the world. Rather, we have no alternative but to imagine this. This is precisely how “the starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 101). The starting-point here is the primacy of consciousness metaphysics; the method is subjective speculation driven by mystical imagination; the conclusion is that facts are the product of conscious activity, which in turn is used to create a context that is offered as a substitute for genuine proof.

This is why the presuppositionalist argument becomes more mysterious the more we investigate it. Essentially the apologist is bluffing: he claims to have an argument, but when called to present it he offers instead a series of disclaimers. The disclaimer that presuppositionalism relies on “indirect” arguments turns out to be nothing more than a copout: if the apologist has an argument, let’s see it. If it turns out to be a circular argument, the apologist should be willing to acknowledge this and abandon it, simple as that. But this is not what happens. Notice what does happen: the apologist shows up claiming to have a “nuclear-strength” argument (as Bahnsen claimed to have had). He does not spell out a series of premises and show how they support his conclusion. In fact, it’s not always clear what conclusion he is really trying to establish, but he allows his audience to presume that he’s all about proving the existence of his god. But when it is pointed out that he’s presupposing the existence of his god - the very thing he is purportedly setting out to prove – all along, he comes back with the disclaimer that circular reasoning and circular argument are two different things. How exactly are they different? He never makes this distinction clear. He then says that given man’s “epistemic situation,” circular reasoning is unavoidable. But his example is not analogous to what he is called to prove: he cites the reliability of sense perception, but this is not analogous to proving the existence of an independently existing being which we cannot perceive (and which we can only imagine). Moreover, the example he gives suggests a profound misunderstanding on his part about the nature of knowledge and its conceptual structure, rooted as it is in perceptually self-evident facts. Then he says that his argument is “indirect” rather than direct, and that begging the question can only occur in a direct argument, so his circular logic is off the hook.

This is a wild goose chase. If the apologist has an argument, he should present his premises and his conclusion and be willing to see matters through without constantly trying to cover his tracks. That he is constantly trying to cover his tracks only confirms the rightful suspicion that our leg is being pulled.

Oliphant closes the section with the following question and comment:
Maybe we can put it more simply. Is it possible to posit any truth at all without that truth having its genesis and its impetus from God's creating and sustaining activity? If not, then every truth presupposes that God is, that he is the Creator of all that is, and that he sustains it.
In response to this, we must consider a number of points.

First of all, what one considers as “possible” (the realm under consideration in Oliphant’s initial question here), is ultimately determined by the fundamentals of one’s worldview. If one accepts, for example, that all of reality conforms to the will of an invisible magic being, then one must accept as “possible” whatever he thinks this invisible magic being can do. If the invisible magic being is imagined to be “omnipotent,” then there’s really nothing that it cannot do. Thus to ask what is possible on such a pretext can have no factually based answer since all facts are said to be creations created ex nihilo by this same invisible magic being, and this invisible magic being can revise them at will. This is confirmed by apologists’ own reaction to arguments against the resurrection of Jesus premised on what is deemed to be possible. If the omnipotent Christian god is real, then suddenly the resurrection of Jesus loses its apparent improbability. An omnipotent deity can make anything happen, so talk of possibilities and probabilities becomes irrelevant. Indeed, if one accepts the view that reality conforms to the will of an omnipotent mind, what objective basis would he have for assessing the probability of any proposal? Blank out.

Second, if truth is objective, then it must be based on facts which obtain independently of any consciousness, including the consciousness of the god which theists enshrine in their imagination. In other words, the objective theory of truth is premised explicitly and uncompromisingly on the primacy of existence metaphysics. It has to, otherwise we surrender our cognition to “wishing makes it so,” and most thinkers will acknowledge the fact that wishing in fact doesn’t make it so, at least when they’re honest or need to. (For more guidance on the objective theory of truth, see my blog entry Answering Dustin Segers’ Presuppositionalism, Part I: Intro and the Nature of Truth.) But theism is essentially premised on the metaphysics of “wishing does make it so.” That’s the whole point of Christianity – to get everyone scared witless of the imaginary wisher they call “God,” because if you don’t fear this magic wisher, it just might wish you into the cornfield. So obey, or suffer.

So if we understand truth to be objective in nature, then clearly the answer to Oliphant here is: Absolutely yes, it is “possible to posit any truth at all without that truth having its genesis and its impetus from God's creating and sustaining activity.” In fact, since the Christian god is simply a figment of men’s imagination, no truth has “its genesis and its impetus from God’s creating and sustaining activity.” Truth is an aspect of identification, and identification is a function of man’s conceptual consciousness. Truth hinges entirely on the relationship between man’s consciousness and the objects he perceives and the method by which he secures his identification of those objects.

The concept ‘possible’ does not apply to just any alternative to reality that we can fantasize. And yet, this is precisely how the theist uses the term in his apologetic schemes. Consider the question, popularized by presuppositionalist Sye Ten Bruggencate (which I am paraphrasing here): “Can God reveal something such that I can be certain of it?” Once one accepts the premise of the primacy of consciousness which the notion “God” assumes, then clearly one would have to answer this question affirmatively. But basing one’s views on the primacy of consciousness can only result in fantasy by allowing the imagination to substitute whatever it invents for facts. If this premise is not accepted, then all bets are off; the question can only be answered negatively. One can hold that “God can reveal something such that I can be certain of it” only if he grants metaphysical primacy of wishing over reality. This is what Bruggencate’s question needs, this is what Oliphant’s defense of Van Til’s presuppositionalism needs, this is what Christianity needs.

Given these points, if we consider the matter generally in terms of metaphysical primacy, the answer to Oliphant’s question boils down to whether we accept the primacy of consciousness or the primacy of existence. If we accept the metaphysical equivalent to the notion that “wishing makes it true” – i.e., the primacy of consciousness, then we do not say that “the sky’s the limit,” but rather that “the imagination is the limit,” for on the primacy of consciousness, reality conforms to whatever consciousness might dream up. If we align our thinking according to the primacy of existence, then we simply have to tell the theist to go jump into a lake.

So do Oliphant’s attempts to salvage presuppositionalism from the charge of begging the question succeed? I’m afraid I cannot say that the jury is out on this one. Deliberation did not take long since the evidence is so obviously against presuppositionalism. We have seen how Van Til’s own words write presuppositionalism’s own “death warrant,” as he put it himself. We have seen John Frame affirm an overtly circular argument (“God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion)”) as the species of reasoning that his system’s presuppositions force him into affirming. We have seen Oliphant’s own attempts to heap questionable qualification after questionable qualification on presuppositionalim’s ever-increasingly mysterious argument to both excuse its circularity and claim that it’s not really circular at all. None of this helps the presuppositionalist’s enterprise. I suggest Christians abandon this doomed form of apologetics as soon as they catch their breath.

by Dawson Bethrick

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8 Comments:

Blogger Daniel GodIsTime said...

"Truth is an aspect of identification, and identification is a function of man’s conceptual consciousness. Truth hinges entirely on the relationship between man’s consciousness and the objects he perceives and the method by which he secures his identification of those objects."

Truth based in any way on man? Watch the heads of the devotedly religious explode like over-inflated bike tires. Ha. They just can't deal with their own identity. I think that is part of the appeal of religion; an attempted escape from what one perceives his identity to be. I'm glad I've found my power.

Great blog. Good long read. Nice to dig in to long one.

Daniel

April 29, 2014 5:35 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

You wrote: "This is a wild goose chase."

It struck me while reading... not only are presuppositionalists' arguments circular, but so are their attempts at evading this very fact. They just go round and round and round.

Ydemoc

April 29, 2014 6:50 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Daniel,

You wrote: "Truth based in any way on man? Watch the heads of the devotedly religious explode like over-inflated bike tires."

Yes, I think you're right - theists (if they were to engage my position) would likely mock this conception of truth. But in doing so they would essentially be making use of the very thing they're mocking. They would be making identifications, and they would be presuming that their identifications are true independent of anyone's feelings, wishing, imagination, preferences. So how do they account for this assumed epistemological basis when their metaphysics essentially says "wishing makes it so"?

I would really like to see how theists would engage what I've written here. A standard question which folks like Sye Ten Bruggencate fall back on is "what is truth in your worldview?" We already know that according to presuppositionalism, "the believer understands that truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God" (Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Reading & Analysis, p. 163, that "God's 'thought content' actively makes these things so (i.e., actively makes the truth)" (Ibid., p. 227n.152, and that "God's thoughts make the world what it is and determine what happens." So on the theist's view, there is no possibility for an objective standard. The Christian god's formation of truths is not constrained by facts which obtain independently of its consciousness; all facts are said to be created by its conscious actions in the first place. So pure, undiluted and utterly capricious whim is its only standard, and it can alter whatever it has created at any time. And how would the believer know what conforms to "the mind of God" unless he were "God" himself? The claim to "revelation" only signifies more subjectivism on the believer's part: he has no alternative but to look inward at the contents of his own imagination in order to "know" what his god allegedly has in its mind.

Meanwhile, I have the objective theory of truth, which recognizes man's need for an objective method of identifying the objects which exist independent of his consciousness and which he perceives by means of a causal process.

So they have no case here.

Regards,
Dawson

April 29, 2014 10:32 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

You wrote: “It struck me while reading... not only are presuppositionalists' arguments circular, but so are their attempts at evading this very fact. They just go round and round and round.”

Right, all they can do is relate P to itself. This is why Frame, in his stupefying habit of giving away the game, admits that ultimately the presuppositionalist case boils down to “God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion).” Talk about flabbergasting face-palms! This kind of BS needs to be thrown back in their faces, and relentlessly so.

Similarly with Van Til’s “The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.” They start with a commitment to subjective notions (“God exists (presupposition)”), they are determined to conclude with subjective notions (“God exists (conclusion)”), and their methodology, as we have seen above, is subjective as well. And throughout it all they pretend that their evasions make them clever moving targets. They boast that they have this magic bullet argument, but when we begin looking into its specifics, they proceed to qualify it with an unending series of disclaimers that only serve to deflate all their hyping.

As I said, it’s just a bluff.

I suspect some of them know deep down that their position is completely irrational (remember Licona’s frank admission “I want it to be true”), but their spirit is so broken that they can’t find their way out of their psychological labyrinth and escape the holy terror they’ve erected in their imaginations. Of course, they would never admit this to the world, but if such irrational fear does not have them in its grips, then they’re not doing Christianity at all right.

The irony of Christianity is indeed ripe. Just as hell is for believers (as I’ve pointed out here), it is Christians who are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.

The choice to be honest is ultimately the only thing a believer needs to liberate himself from the nightmare worldview he's allowed himself to get sucked into.

Regards,
Dawson

April 29, 2014 10:52 PM  
Blogger Equiv said...

Dawson:

Long time lurker, finally decided to post. Loved this analysis!

Seeing how much they defend the circularity argument suggests to me they were aware of the Munchhausen Trilemma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchhausen_trilemma). Philosophers for a very long time have always ignored the axiomatic branch as "arbitrary" and argued over the truth of the other two. I would assume the presuppositionalists try to defend the circularity horn because the skeptics they fight against argue for the regressive horn (or at the very least, are okay with it, since they deny certain starting points).

Both sides of course, do not take the axiomatic side seriously, and haven't for a couple thousand years.

April 30, 2014 4:57 AM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

Dawson wrote > "Oliphant provides some more clues here:
Van Til's indirect method moves one out of the context of a strict proof or direct argument, and into the context of the rationale for any fact or law assumed to be, or to be true. Thus, circularity is inextricably linked to the transcendental approach, and is not meant to be in reference, strictly speaking, to direct argumentation.
I would suggest that the circularity which plagues Van Til’s system is a result of its roots in subjectivism. Notice the “philosophy of fact” implicit in what Oliphant states here: facts, on his view, require a “rationale” for them “to be” (i.e., for facts simply to exist) “or to be true” (i.e., to be factual). A “rationale” is “a reasoned exposition, esp one defining the fundamental reasons for a course of action, belief, etc.” (Dictionary.com). Do facts need “a reasoned exposition” in order to be or to be true? On what would this exposition be based if not on prior facts? And from what would this exposition be reasoned if not from facts one discovers in the world existing independently of oneself? The “philosophy of fact” assumed in all this is squarely seated on the primacy of consciousness metaphysics: facts are “presupposed” to be products of some conscious activity. We do not discover that facts are produced by conscious activity by looking outward at the world. Rather, we have no alternative but to imagine this. This is precisely how “the starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 3rd ed., p. 101). The starting-point here is the primacy of consciousness metaphysics; the method is subjective speculation driven by mystical imagination; the conclusion is that facts are the product of conscious activity, which in turn is used to create a context that is offered as a substitute for genuine proof. "

Believers assume the doctrine of divine conservation (DC) proof texted from Col: 1:17, John 1:1 & 8:58. DC would be manifested as a holistic field overlaying all existence. Victor Stenger discussed this in his "God and the Folly of Faith."

Since the 1970s, New Age gurus and promoters of psychic phenomena have been making the claim that quantum mechanics implies that human consciousness can affect reality, not just here and now but every place in space and every time in the past and future. This implies that the universe is one unified whole with the human mind tuned into a “cosmic consciousness.” This incredible notion is not supported by either empirical evidence or by the actual quantum theory itself as it is understood by experts. The theistic claim that modern physics has undermined materialism and points toward a holistic universe is also not borne out by the facts. The standard model of particles and forces, which is based on relativity and quantum mechanics, is fully materialist and reductionist.

Stenger, Victor J. (2012-04-03). God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion (p. 293). Prometheus Books. Kindle Edition.

Theists are, as always, working their imaginations overtime while cheating themselves of the pay that's rightfully theirs.

April 30, 2014 9:41 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Equiv,

Thanks for your comment. Please feel free to add to any discussion here.

I think you’re right that, at least those presuppers coming out of university philosophy departments, were exposed to things like the Munchhausen trilemma. This and the conflicts with skeptics (which presuppers tend to take more seriously than they should) likely influenced the shape of their apologetic. But there are other factors as well.

One of the main reasons why presuppers opt for the view that circularity is necessary is that their worldview fails to provide any understanding on the relationship between concepts and perception. Skeptics fall prey to this failing as well.

Compounding this matter is the fact that they have adopted certain tendencies from the coherentist view. Coherentism may be portrayed as promoting integration, but this is merely a pose. Instead, in a way similar to rationalism, coherentism draws its implications by dogmatic necessity given the set of beliefs accepted at its core: everything else has to cohere or agree with those central beliefs. (Think of Plantinga’s “properly basic beliefs.”) This certainly does not necessitate non-contradictory integration since, as we see in Christianity, all manner of contradictory notions have to be absorbed into the same “coherent” sum. In fact, it encourages the acceptance of entire categories of contradictions which are then downplayed as merely “apparent contradictions.” Thus the theologian’s task is to hide a lot of things, including their own evasions.

But if the theist gives himself license to say “that which appears contradictory to man because of his finitude is not really contradictory to God” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed., p. 229) about one thing, he can say it about anything.

As for Munchhausen’s and other such “trilemmas,” I think a fundamental problem with these is the underlying implication that we need to choose our model of knowledge on the basis of a process of elimination. “It can’t be this, it can’t be that, so it must be this other thing…” Thus it is not driven by a direct analysis of knowledge, but rather the imposition of an assortment of assumptions about knowledge that have been accepted prior to investigation. That’s what appears to be happening in such schemes.

I suspect that the distrust axiomatic systems resulted from a poor grasp of what is legitimately axiomatic as well as the detection of flaws in proposed axiomatic models. They certainly were not axiomatic as Objectivism understands axioms (i.e., perceptually self-evident, conceptually irreducible, undeniably true, etc.). Since it’s now customary to reject axiomatic systems out of hand (sight unseen), they brush off Objectivism without any further investigation. And most would not like it anyway since it does not allow their pet beliefs and “apparent contradictions.”

Regards,
Dawson

April 30, 2014 8:43 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your post.

I agree that theists “are working their imaginations overtime” – that’s an incontestable truth. But I wouldn’t say that they’re “cheating themselves of the pay that’s rightfully theirs.” In fact, many are doing quite well financially by putting out books, going around and giving speeches at conferences, working in think-tank like “institutes,” consulting churches, etc. There’s a lot of money in religion. Likely there always will be.

But your quote from Stenger is quite topical. The mystics’ hijacking of quantum mechanics, so far from what I can tell, has been accommodated by many in the physics departments themselves. The interpretations of experimental outcomes is guided by one’s philosophical assumptions. The David Harriman interviews I linked to recently in another comment thread bring out the fact that many of the movers and shakers in physics over the past two centuries have been highly influenced by Kant and his progeny. From the outright denial of the law of causality to the acceptance of the primacy of consciousness (whether overt or subtle), the physics departments have essentially handed the mystics an open invitation. It’s like the pilot of a jumbo jet opening the cockpit door and asking the hijacker, “You wanna give it a go?”

I’ve long suspected that a compare/contrast between Neils Bohr and Deepak Chopra might uncover some revealing results. But frankly I don’t have the stomach or the background knowledge for such an enterprise.

Harriman does present a brief compare/(mostly) contrast between Bohr and Newton in his blog entry Newton Is Not “Bohr”-ing. It’s quite to the point.

Stenger is right that the theistic notion of the universe and the human mind being “tuned into a ‘cosmic consciousness” is not supported by the evidence, but so far as experts are concerned, apparently it depends on which ones you consult. Some experts’ statements strike me as quite imbued with the magic woo.

Anyway, my $0.02.

Regards,
Dawson

April 30, 2014 8:43 PM  

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