Monday, May 05, 2014

Is the Concept of Evidence Itself Evidence that God Exists?

In a podcast hosted by “The Bible-Thumping Wingnut”, professional presuppositionalist grandstander Sye Ten Bruggencate makes the following claim (1:11:38 – 1:11:31):
The very concept of evidence is evidence that God exists.
Even though Sye claims he will explain this (in fact, he just makes additional assertions saying very similar things that eventually terminate in the claim “you can’t account for truth” or something along these lines), he offers no genuine argument for this assertion. Of course, that’s not surprising. Indeed, if one accepts this claim, why would one not accept the claim that “the very concept of evidence is evidence that Blarko the WonderBeing exists”? So often presuppers act as if their own say so were sufficient to establish their claims.

But if Sye is going to make this kind of claim about a concept, then we should ask what his worldview teaches about concepts in general. But as I have pointed out in previous blog entries, the bible says nothing about concepts. For the Christian worldview, the very concept ‘concept’ is a void that can be molded and reshaped to fit any need out of apologetic expedience. In Christianity, concepts as such have no objective identity; they can be made into whatever the believer wants them to be, simply because he wants them to be what he finds convenient under the pressure of the scrutiny of the moment.

But can Christians point to any passage in the bible which presents a theory of concepts, indicating what concepts are, how they are formed, how they relate to the units they denote, how they relate to the perceptual level of awareness, how their meanings include more than only what we perceive, how they are to be properly defined? No, of course not, Christians cannot do this. There is no such thing as a distinctively Christian theory of concepts.

Some time ago, I challenged Sye Ten Bruggencate (see here) to cite any passage(s) in the bible where he thinks it presents a theory of concepts. All Sye could do was quote Romans 11:36, which states:
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
Along with this Sye stated:
All things necessarily include concepts, thus my account. QED
“All things” would also evil, sin, abortion, murder, misery, injustice, sadism, disease, suffering, abuse, rape, slavery, torture, destruction, death, etc. So evil, sin, abortion, suffering, rape, etc., are all “from him and through him and to him.” So this response does more to damage Sye’s position than to address my challenge.

But suppose Sye and his ilk find Romans 11:36 copacetic on this matter. According to Sye, then, this one verse is the bible’s account for concepts. So let us ask: What do we learn about the nature of concepts from this verse? Does it answer the question “What is a concept?” Not that I can see. Does it explain how concepts are formed? No, it does not. Does it explain the relationship between concepts and their referents? No, it does not. Does it explain the relationship between the conceptual level of consciousness and the perceptual level? No, it does not. Does it explain why concepts are universal? No, it does not. Does it explain how concepts are to be properly defined? No, it does not.

In fact, we learn absolutely nothing about concepts from Sye’s proposed “account for concepts.” He simply threw this verse out there because he had nothing else to offer. If this is how Christianity “accounts for” concepts, then no wonder its apologists can give nothing but storybook understandings of knowledge, truth, logic, rationality, morality, etc.

So I stand by my earlier observation: The Christian worldview has no theory of concepts. And because knowledge is conceptual in nature, this ultimately means that Christianity cannot account for knowledge.

The Christian worldview’s failure to provide an account for concepts can only mean that any understanding that a Christian might have about concepts, had to be borrowed from a worldview that does have a theory of concepts. In fact, Sye does not even seem to be aware of the importance of concepts to human cognition. For in the same exchange with Sye on this matter, he stated:
I really don't know why you have your shorts in knot about concepts though, I do not call the laws of logic concepts, and I have never heard Bahnsen call them concepts either.
Here Sye is simply confessing more ignorance on the matter. That he would cite Bahnsen as though he were some kind of authority on the matter, already speaks volumes. I find no theory of concepts in Bahnsen’s work either, nor does he present a conceptual understanding of logic. Rather, Bahnsen simply spewed the same storybook understanding of logic that we find among presuppositionalists today.

We do not need Bahnsen’s endorsements to understand why logic is conceptual in nature. Consider the fundamental principle of logic, the law of identity. It is commonly expressed as the equation “A = A” (or simply “A is A”). Notice that we have a symbol here: “A”. Does this symbol stand for a particular thing? Is it a proper name, such as “John Smith” refers to a specific individual who works in a cubicle down the aisle from you? No, “A” here is not a proper name; its reference is not restricted only to a single existent. The symbol here is used conceptually, meaning that any and all existents are represented here. The symbol is thus open-ended, meaning that its scope of reference is potentially infinite.

This open-endedness is the same attribute we find in concepts denoting concretes. Take for example the concept ‘man’. The concept ‘man’ denotes all men, including those who exist presently, those who have existed in the past, and those who will exist in the future. It includes men who live in the USA, men who live in Finland, men who live in Sub-Saharan Africa, men who live in Japan, men who live on a space station orbiting earth. It includes men who are tall and skinny, men who are short and fat, men who are doctors, men who are beggars, men who are 21 years old, men who are 91 years old; men who have beards and men who are clean-shaven; men who have long hair and men who are bald; men who are healthy and men who are diseased, etc. (For more on this aspect of concepts, see my blog Demystifying Universality.)

Now notice that the symbol “A” in the formula “A is A” behaves the same way that the concept ‘man’ behaves, only much broader in scope. The symbol “A” is not restricted only to men, but includes other animals, inanimate objects, actions, qualities, attributes, relationships, abstract ideas, etc. This open-endedness is a quality that only concepts have. Thus if logic is to be universal - i.e., denoting objects in an open-ended fashion as described above, it must be conceptual in nature, for only concepts are open-ended in the way that universal meaning requires.

But since Christianity has no theory of concepts, it necessarily fails to give its adherents a conceptual understanding of logic, so we should not be surprised that Bahnsen never refers to the laws of logic as concepts. He apparently did not know what concepts are any more than Sye does. (For more on the conceptual nature of logic, see my essay Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God?)

Since the proper way to form concepts is by an objective method, properly formed concepts are therefore compatible exclusively with the primacy of existence. According to the primacy of existence, the facts which give our concepts objective content exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity. On this view, the task of consciousness is not to “create” or alter the facts or objects we perceive, but to perceive and identify them on their own terms – i.e., according to what we discover about them by looking outward at reality.

But this can only mean that properly formed concepts are incompatible with the Christian worldview, for the Christian worldview rejects the primacy of existence and instead assumes the primacy of consciousness. The primacy of consciousness holds that consciousness does create and alter the facts and objects which we perceive. As James White states (as quoted in The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 215):
Any fact, that is a fact, is a fact because God made it that way.
Similarly, apologist Chris Bolt, in the same book (in a chapter called “Redemption in Apologetics”) writes (p. 162):
Every fact is what it is because God has said it is what it is.
Later in the same essay, Bolt writes (p. 180):
Every fact, and therefore every fact of history, is a fact created by Christ for Christ.
Facts, according to Christianity then, are products of conscious activity. Essentially, it holds that facts had to be wished into being by a supernatural mind. This same supernatural mind has the power to alter them at will. This assumption of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics is the indispensable basis for the notion of miracles, as Van Til explains (The Defense of the Faith, p. 27):
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, imbedded as it is in that 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 reason why “there is no inherent reason in the facts or laws themselves why this should not be done,” is that Christianity conceives of facts and laws as products of conscious activity. That is, Christianity assumes a subjective “philosophy of fact.”

Unfortunately, this means that Christians are essentially contradicting themselves at the most fundamental level of cognition when they claim that Christianity is true. When an individual affirms a statement as true, he is implying that it is true independent of anyone’s conscious activity. For example, if a person says “X is true,” he is saying that this is the case whether anyone else believes it or not, whether anyone wishes otherwise, whether it makes anyone uncomfortable, whether anyone imagines that it is not the case, etc. Thus he is saying that “X is true” as a fact that does not conform to anyone’s conscious activity. In this very way, simply affirming a statement as true – whether it is or not – assumes the primacy of existence. But clearly this is diametrically contradictory to the view that facts are products of conscious activity and can be altered at will by a supernatural mind, as Christianity understands them. It is also contradictory to the Christian notion of truth, which Bahnsen presents as follows (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 163):
The believer understands that truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God.
Bahnsen also states (Ibid., p. 227n.152):
God’s “thought content” actively makes things so (i.e., actively makes the truth).
In this way, the believer performatively borrows the primacy of existence from Objectivism every time he makes a truth claim, all the while contradicting the primacy of existence by assuming the primacy of consciousness in the content of his theistic claims.

Now let’s look at a question which Sye poses at another point in the podcast when he is asked to explain how he knows that the bible is true. In response to this question, Sye states (29:00 -29:34):
How do I know that the bible is true? Because if it wasn’t you couldn’t make sense of your question. Your question asks for the truth of my worldview, of my bible. So it presupposes truth. So when you say ‘How do you know the bible is true?’ you presuppose a concept that cannot be accounted for without the truth of scripture. I’m not saying you have to read the bible in order to know truth, but it must be true in order to justify truth. So what I say is unless you start with God and the truth of his word, you cannot justify truth. That’s when I would put the argument back to you. I would say something like, what is truth without God?
Of course, everything Sye states here is viciously circular: his answer to the question “How do you know that the bible is true?” presupposes the very thing he claims to know. His “knowledge” that the bible is true is thus built entirely on the rotted legs of fallacy. Thus Sye’s apologetic falls right in line with the question-begging nature of presuppositionalism (as can be seen here).

Sye himself does not explain what the concept ‘truth’ means according to Christianity, other than to say that this concept somehow presupposes the alleged truth of the Christian bible. Beyond that, it is a mystery what ‘truth’ could possibly mean, especially given what we’ve seen above – namely that the Christian worldview depends squarely on the primacy of consciousness metaphysics (e.g., “wishing makes it so”).

Given Christianity’s allegiance to the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, it is beyond dispute that its conception of truth can only reduce to metaphysical subjectivism. Simply eliminating the notion of the Christian god, however, is not sufficient to nurse the concept of truth back to health. In order for our concept of truth to be philosophically viable, it needs an explicitly objective basis. Thus it must be premised exclusively on the primacy of existence – i.e., the recognition that existence exists independent of conscious activity.

How then do I “account for” truth? I account for truth by the only objective means possible – namely by reference to the axioms, the primacy of existence, and the objective theory of concepts, none of which are compatible with the Christian worldview, and all of which theists such as Sye Ten Bruggencate must secretly borrow in order to make sense of any claim they make – even if that claim is not true. (For additional insights on this, see my blog entry Answering Dustin Segers’ Presuppositionalism, Part I: Intro and the Nature of Truth.)

As to the concept of evidence itself, it should be readily apparent that this concept can only function in the context of an objective understanding of reality. To treat something as evidence supporting a claim or position, is to imply that said evidence exists and is what it is independent of anyone’s conscious activity. It is to affirm a claim and point to independently existing facts which support or at any rate are thought to support that claim. Thus an objective understanding of reality is indispensable to the concept of evidence as such.

But an objective understanding of reality is necessarily premised exclusively on the primacy of existence. Indeed, that is what objectivity means. As Ayn Rand explains (“Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?” The Voice of Reason, p. 18), objectivity:
pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic).
Contrary to this, Christianity assumes that reality is a product of conscious activity, and therefore that reality depends on conscious activity. Thus Christianity’s fundamental basis is entirely incompatible with the very concept of objectivity, which means it is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of evidence.

Moreover, certain teachings in Christianity make it clear that one is expected to accept beliefs without evidence, suggesting that evidence is anathema to Christian thinking. For example, we have the story of Doubting Thomas in the gospel of John. There we find the following passage (20:24-29):
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
The message here is clear: Accept supernatural claims apart from any evidence supporting them.

John Frame echoes this teaching with regard to proof when he writes (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 66):
Scripture never rebukes childlike faith; indeed, Jesus makes such a model to be followed by adults (Luke 18:16). One who requires proof may be doing it out of ungodly arrogance, or he may be thereby admitting that he has not lived in a godly environment and has taken counsel from fools. God’s norm for us is that we live and raise our children in such a way that proof will not be necessary.
Frame suggests that arguments can be presented to non-believers, but hastens to add (Ibid., p. 67):
A wise man does not really need these; they are for fools.
So there are significant mitigating factors here – both those that are internal to Christianity as well as those that are compatible only with an objective understanding of reality – that Sye’s claim that “the very concept of evidence is evidence that God exists” is quite simply a most pretentious falsehood. The very concept ‘evidence’ can only have meaning on the basis of the primacy of existence while in fact the Christian worldview rejects the primacy of existence and assumes the primacy of consciousness. Further compounding this problem is Christianity’s lack of a theory of concepts which can be produced in support of Sye’s claim. Moreover, teachings within Christianity indicate that believers are expected to accept its supernatural claims apart from evidence, rendering it a concept altogether alien to the Christian worldview.

The bottom line here is that Christianity's rejection of the axioms, the primacy of existence and the objective theory of concepts simply means that concepts such as truth and evidence remain philosophically out of reach of apologists as they stumble amongst themselves in their attempts to rationalize their god-beliefs.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Blogger Ydemoc said...


Thanks for another great one!

You wrote: "The bottom line here is that Christianity's rejection of the axioms, the primacy of existence and the objective theory of concepts simply means that concepts such as truth and evidence [should there be "remain," "are," or "are left" or some other word or phrase here?] philosophically out of reach of apologists as they stumble amongst themselves in their attempts to rationalize their god-beliefs."

A summary of their position that I intend to put to use in any future dealings with apologists.


May 05, 2014 5:25 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Thanks again for your second pair of eyes. Yes, I probably meant to put "are" there, but since I had Windows reinstalled on my laptop a few weeks ago, the keyboard and mouse don't behave quite as they used to. It can get frustrating.

I inserted the word "remain" there - I think it works better. Thanks for the suggestion!


May 06, 2014 1:10 AM  
Blogger l_johan_k said...

Very interesting!
Thank you!

May 06, 2014 4:37 AM  

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