Saturday, October 11, 2014

Petersen’s Failed Attempts to Refute Leonard Peikoff: Preamble

In a brief essay titled A Response to Dr. Leonard Peikoff on the Existence of God, the founder of ”Answers for Hope Ministries” and “Clarkian Presuppositionalist” (according to his bio page) Jason Petersen interacts with a set of statements transcribed from Leonard Peikoff’s lecture series titled The Philosophy of Objectivism. The transcription of Peikoff’s statements can be found here. Peikoff’s statements encapsulate several brief reasons why it is proper for rational individuals to reject all forms of god-belief. Petersen treats Peikoff’s statements as though they were intended to be fully developed arguments, which they are not.

Although Petersen allows that Objectivism is “one of the more interesting atheist philosophies,” his goal in his paper is to “demonstrate that there is no substance to the Objectivist’s objections to God, or specifically, Christianity.” Perhaps Petersen is under the impression that merely interacting with Peikoff’s brief asides should be sufficient to discredit Objectivism in toto. If that is the case, Petersen puts his reputation as a serious thinker into grave doubt.

Before launching into his interaction with Peikoff’s statements, Petersen gives some prefatory remarks about Peikoff in particular and Objectivism as a whole. I will confine the present blog entry to considering the remarks he gives here and examine his responses to Peikoff’s statements in subsequent entries.

In that introductory section, Petersen writes:
When one argues about any topic and claims to have knowledge of a proposition, that person must be able to give an answer that is consistent with their own epistemology.
While I think consistency between one’s epistemology and the views he expresses is indeed very important, it strikes me as rather naïve to expect everyone who says anything about anything to be able to lay out an entire epistemology whenever he makes a pronouncement. If my daughter comes to me in the late afternoon, for example, and says to me, “Daddy, Mommy’s home!” I’m certainly not going to launch into some probing inquisition into my daughter’s epistemological processes in order to drive some inconsistency out into the open. Indeed, I’ll likely look out the window and see my wife getting out of her car and be comforted by the fact that my daughter’s epistemological processes are working just fine (after all, I’ve worked hard to protect her from every form of mysticism).

But Petersen’s use of “must” here suggests that he believes this is some kind of “duty” or obligation. Curiously, however, I don’t ever recall finding such a commandment given anywhere in the bible. For that matter, where does the bible speak of epistemology to begin with?

Epistemology is focused not only on the nature and source of knowledge, but also on the how of knowledge. Its chief importance to philosophy is in describing the proper methodology of rational thought. While Christianity as a form of philosophy is abysmally deficient in all these areas, it is in the area of method that Christianity leaves its adherents most empty-handed (see for example here). Indeed, as I have shown, the claim to knowledge by “revelation” only indicates that the believer knows things no how. Specifically, such a claim would mean that he has knowledge apart from any mental activity which he himself has performed, such as differentiating, isolating, identifying, integrating, inferring, inducing, deducing, etc. These are fallible operations (yes, we can make mistakes – which is why we need reason) and they are performed volitionally by the knower (which means he needs to choose an epistemological method which enables him to formulate knowledge on the basis of objective input and detect and avoid errors).

But a claim to “revelation” seeks to bypass any epistemological process that the knower performs and which may result in error. In essence, the claim to knowledge via “revelations” is a claim to infallibility. (For more pointers on this issue, see my blog The Futility of the Apologetic Appeal to “Revelation”.)

So it’s quite ironic to find Christians pontificating about epistemology as if their worldview had anything of value to contribute to such areas of study. To the extent that the task of epistemology is to articulate the process which a human knower needs to perform in order to ensure that his claims to knowledge are objectively informed and free of error, the notion of “revelational epistemology” is completely and ineluctably oxymoronic. Christianity does not even equip its believers with reliable principles by which they can distinguish what they call “revelations” from their own emotions, their own wishes and preferences, their own imagination. Indeed, we find numerous instances in the bible where the knower acquires knowledge through dreams!

So whatever “epistemology” Christianity is going to end up endorsing, it would have to be compatible with the notion that a man can come along and claim to know things because they were “revealed” to him in a dream. But this simply underscores the fact that believers need to wake up.

Petersen writes:
When one reads Romans 1, it becomes clear that those that reject God are futile in their thinking.
Notice how Petersen envisions this: the “clarity” he refers to only comes as a result of reading a passage in the bible. If an individual’s thinking is suffocating in futility, the believer apparently cannot discern this unless he goes to Romans 1 and believes what he reads there. In other words, he feels that it is perfectly acceptable to dismiss another individual’s thinking as futile without performing any kind of analysis or examination of that person’s thinking showing that it is indeed futile. And this is what we should expect from a worldview which fails to provide its adherents with a reliable method of detecting and correcting errors. Instead of actually examining what he is dismissing, all Petersen needs to know is that the individual does not hold to Petersen’s god-belief, and that’s sufficient to dismiss whatever that person thinks as futile; any interaction, then, is guided by a presupposition that what he’s interacting with must be false, “for the Bible tells me so.”

Like the claim to knowledge by “revelations,” this just represents another example of the believer’s anxiety to find a shortcut to knowledge as part and parcel of his quest for the unearned.

And it’s quite predictable to find Christian apologists appealing to Romans 1 in their attempt to poison the well against man’s mind. I’m supposing that, if apologists had something stronger than Romans 1 to support their contentions, they’d happily ignore Romans 1 in preference for something better. But Romans 1 is the best they can stand on, and that’s too bad for Christians. For in Romans 1, what we have is not what Petersen characterizes it as. Petersen characterizes Romans 1 as though it proceeded from the lips of the god he worships in his imagination. But at best, what we have in this tired, worn-out chapter, are the writings of some man who died long ago after devoting his life to campaigning for an offshoot of the Mysteries cults. And its author, believed by many to be Paul, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, was indeed quite fallible. As demonstration of his own fallibility, the author gave us verse 20 in this frequently cited chapter, which states:
the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
Here the author seems to have overlooked a glaring contradiction: if things are indeed “clearly seen,” it would be wrong to call those same things “invisible.” (For more on this, see my blog entry On Romans 1:20-21.)

So we can safely say that, if the apologist seeks to hide behind Romans 1, it’s a sure sign he’s on the ropes.

Petersen writes:
In the case of objectivists like Peikoff, what The Bible says in Romans 1 concerning futile thinking is quite evident.
Actually, far from uncovering any evidence of futility in Peikoff’s thinking, it is in the case of Petersen’s attempts to interact with Peikoff’s statements, and other writings by Christian apologists, that we find overwhelming evidence for the futility of the Christian worldview and its defender’s astounding philosophical inadequacy for the tasks they purportedly set out to accomplish. As I examine Petersen’s objections to Peikoff’s statements, I shall leave no question that this is the case here, particularly when apologists attempt to take on Objectivism.

Petersen closes out his introductory remarks with the following:
When it comes to the existence of God, Peikoff repeatedly leaves the bounds of what objectivst [sic] epistemology would allow him to know if we were to grant that the objectivist conception of epistemology is correct.
Throughout my interaction with Petersen’s remarks, we will find, with no uncertainty remaining in the air, that statements like this are made in disabling ignorance of the distinctive contributions Objectivism makes to the field of epistemology. Chief among those contributions is the objective theory of concepts, which Petersen must ignore throughout his interaction with Peikoff’s statements – either because he’s simply unfamiliar with the objective theory of concepts (and thus oblivious to what Objectivism actually teaches), or has little understanding of the cognitive role which concepts play in human knowledge (and thus as epistemologically empty-handed as any other mystic who comes along), or both – in preference for essentially what is nothing more than a cheap strawman argument against Peikoff.

As confirming evidence of my assessment here, one will find no acknowledgement of the objective theory of concepts, let alone any direct engagement with it, anywhere in Petersen’s paper. Indeed, I did a quick search of Petersen’s paper for keyword ‘concept’ (use control-F to do this yourself), and I found only two hits. The first is the sentence quoted from Petersen directly above, where he references “the objectivist conception of epistemology.” The second instance of ‘concept’ appears in Peikoff’s own statement, styled by Petersen as “Objection 4.”

While there are many deficiencies that we will find in Petersen’s paper, his lack of familiarity with Objectivist epistemology (shored up by plugging in his own assumptions about “secular philosophy” into the raging gaps in his own knowledge) and his apparent failure to recognize the importance of concepts in human knowledge (indeed, Christianity has no theory of concepts to begin with), are central to his paper’s overall fatal flaws. In my next post in this series, I will take up Petersen’s response to Peikoff’s “Objection 1” and begin the task of exposing Petersen’s many philosophical blunders.

Stay tuned!

by Dawson Bethrick

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16 Comments:

Blogger Knowledge is Power said...

Dawson,

I have been reading your entries here on your blog and I must say they are incredibly good. I am enjoying your dismantling of presuppositionalism and I await future posts. Keep up the great work!

Steve

October 11, 2014 11:36 PM  
Blogger l_johan_k said...

Looking forward to this!
Thank you!

/Johan

October 12, 2014 2:38 AM  
Blogger Jason Petersen said...

Bethrick,

Thank you for your response. I will be responding shortly as you made quite a few unjustified presumptions about the definitions of words, my knowledge of objectivism, and my intention with the original article that I wrote. I hope that my response will show you that you should be careful rather than overly presumptuous.

October 12, 2014 7:34 AM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Jason,

You wrote: “Thank you for your response.”

You’re welcome! Really, it was my pleasure entirely.

You stated: “I will be responding shortly as you made quite a few unjustified presumptions about the definitions of words,”

Really? Since definition is the final step of concept-formation, I would surmise that you would need a theory of concepts in order to raise any substantial epistemological objections against any given definitions. But that’s the problem for you: your worldview, namely Christianity, has no theory of concepts to begin with, which means you would have no worldview-consistent integrated basis for raising objections to any stated definition (that is, without borrowing from some non-Christian perspective on the matter). Therefore, if you are going to challenge any definitions affirmed by Objectivism, then you’re going to have to cite biblical definitions in contrast to them, otherwise you’ll be seen as borrowing from a non-Christian worldview. If borrowing from a non-Christian worldview is okay with you, then by all means, do your worst.

You wrote: “my knowledge of objectivism,”

Yes, your alleged “knowledge of objectivism.” If what you have published on your blog is any indication, your knowledge of Objectivism couldn’t be more superficial. But this will come out in further postings.

You wrote: “and my intention with the original article that I wrote.”

Backpedaling already? I quoted your own statements about what you had set out to accomplish in your “original article.” Now you want to say that your intention is something other than what you yourself stated there?

You wrote: “I hope that my response will show you that you should be careful rather than overly presumptuous.”

You “hope”? Hope is pretty cheap. Anyone can hope for anything. If what you’ve presented so far is any indication of what you can produce, you’re better off sticking to prayer. I believe that means you need to be on your knees, right?

Regards,
Dawson

October 12, 2014 8:03 AM  
Blogger Robert Bumbalough said...

George H. Smith explained why appeals to magic revelation fails religious mystics and witch doctors like Petersen.

// Revelation is a disclosure, a direct communication, from a god to a man. Since Christian theology
relies heavily on revelation, and since most theologians claim that revelation must be accepted on
faith, it is appropriate to discuss this subject in conjunction with faith.

We must keep in mind that revelation, since it entails a communication from God to man,
presupposes the existence of God so one must first accept the existence of the Christian God
before one can believe in Christian revelation. Our problem is complicated by the failure of
Christian theology to provide us with a coherent meaning for the term "God." We know roughly
that the Christian God is supposed to be a kind of "supernatural" being since this is entailed by the
definition of god, but we do not have an intelligible, non-contradictory description of this
mysterious being. [RB - or of the meaning of the term "supernature"]

Therefore, because we cannot understand the meaning of "God," the alleged source of Christian
revelation, we cannot make sense out of the Christian’s claim to have received a communication
from this being. He might just as well claim to have received a revelation from an "unie."

We thus see at the outset that no appeal to revelation can rescue the Christian God.//

Atheism: The Case Against God, public domain pdf, p.112

To accept Romans 1:18-22 as valid one must first "believe" in that which is unbelievable. Because the term "God" has no valid meaning, nobody actually believes such a being exists or can exist. That is the case because beliefs are completely dependent upon valid concepts that are formed as a consequence of certain conscious volitional activities observing an existence that is what it is independent of consciousness.

October 12, 2014 8:33 AM  
Blogger David Eriol Hickman said...

Poor Jason

Can Jason block me here as he so easily and readily did on Facebook?

I only asked him a question.

/munches popcorn

October 12, 2014 10:04 AM  
Blogger photosynthesis said...

Jason wrote:

«I hope that my response will show you that you should be careful rather than overly presumptuous.»

The irony! Jason, take your own advice! Be careful rather than overly presumptuous!

October 12, 2014 11:47 AM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

I had an exchange with Peterson about a year or so ago. There are some things he wrote about Objectivism which I replied to on his blog. His grasp of Objectivism doesn't seem to have improved much in that time.

I haven't read the entire thread for a while, but some of what he writes, along with my response(s), can be found in the comments section of your blog entry:

Some Thoughts on Pope Francis’ Recent Condemnation of Capitalism
http://bahnsenburner.blogspot.com/2013/05/some-thoughts-on-pope-francis-recent.html

Ydemoc

October 12, 2014 5:47 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Nice to hear from you! As you can see, there are some fireworks on display again.

You mentioned having an exchange with Petersen on his blog last year. Do you recall the blog entry where this took place? I would like to take a look.

If his understanding of Objectivism has not improved in the meantime, I wouldn’t be surprised. It appears that Petersen is more interested in destroying than in understanding. This is the “kill the infidel” mentality we see going viral around the world today. Petersen likely imagines himself as a valiant soldier of sorts “pulling down strongholds,” but in reality he comes across as a rather trigger-happy commando eager to shoot anything that moves.

Notice how his attitude precludes him from just taking some time to consider ideas and be willing to learn from them. In his comment above, he announces that he’s going to “be responding shortly.” Why not just take a look and consider what’s been presented before hastily leaping into more of the same undernourished diatribe?

He charges that I have “quite a few unjustified presumptions” about various things, but in his comment he did not give any specifics. What I have found in my examination of his paper on Peikoff is that he does not take Peikoff’s (or Rand’s) definitions into consideration. He focuses more on their conclusions without considering how they got to them. The point of contention does not seem to be Petersen’s own definitions, as he suggests in his comment, but the definitions in Objectivism which he ignores repeatedly. I will give details in my examination of his paper – the next entry, “Objection 1” – is already scheduled for later this evening (US West Coast time). So keep an eye out for it if you’re still up.

I’m pretty sure I haven’t encountered Petersen’s stuff before, not that I can recall anyway. But I searched his name in my email folder and saw that there was mention of a “Petersen” (I’m guessing Jason) in the comments sections of these blog entries:

Back in June 2013: Some Thoughts on Pope Francis’ Recent Condemnation of Capitalism

Also in June 2013: Klouda-ing the Issue

And in July 2013: TAG Defeated in One Fell Swoop

And no, like you, I haven’t read the comments posted here since way back when.

Regards,
Dawson

October 12, 2014 7:33 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

You wrote: "You mentioned having an exchange with Petersen on his blog last year. Do you recall the blog entry where this took place? I would like to take a look."

Here is the link I have for it, that I got from your blog entry's comments section which I mentioned earlier (and which "l_johan_k" initially posted in that thread):

http://answersforhope.com/a-very-brief-critique-on-an-objection-to-presuppositional-apologetics/

But when I followed the link to the site, it says that the page is no longer available. However, I think what I will do is attempt to find it on "The Internet Wayback Machine," and I'll let you know what I find.

Ydemoc

October 12, 2014 8:38 PM  
Blogger Bahnsen Burner said...

Hmmm... very interesting!

Is it possible that Petersen removed the entry from his blog entirely?

That wouldn't be a first. Recall Dustin Segers did this. (Details here.)

The "Internet Wayback Machine"? Fascinating! What is that? Is that like the Flux Capacitor of the internet or something? Truly cool!

Okay, I have a guest coming today. Gotta run!

Regards,
Dawson

October 12, 2014 8:43 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Dawson,

I came up empty in my search for the Jason Peterson piece that I previously mentioned. However, I did come up with this, which was posted a few months ago:

http://web.archive.org/web/20140628163704/http://answersforhope.org/portfolio_item/debating-an-objectivist-2/

Hope that helps.

Ydemoc

October 12, 2014 8:45 PM  
Blogger Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

The Internet Wayback Machine is an archive where one can search for discontinued (and current, I believe) web pages. In fact, I have sometimes used it to locate Anton Thorn stuff. But I've also used Reocities for that, as it's more specific to sites that were on Geocities where Anton Thorn's site resided.

Here is the link to the home page for The Internet Archive Wayback Machine ( their slogan is "435 billion web pages saved over time"):

http://archive.org/web/

Ydemoc

October 12, 2014 8:51 PM  
Blogger Jason Petersen said...

Bethrick,

I responded to your post.

http://answersforhope.org/bethrick/

Also, some of my articles were lost when I moved my blog from blogpress to wordpress. The article that was mentioned by Yedemoc is one of those articles.

October 12, 2014 10:39 PM  
Blogger freddies_dead said...

From Petersen's response to Dawson's preamble

Objectivism has three axioms:

1.) The Primacy of Existence

2.) Identity

3.) Consciousness


If this is any indication of Jason's familiarity with Objectivism then it doesn't bode well for him.

October 13, 2014 7:39 AM  
Blogger Glynn Worthington said...

Jason does like to delete things. His ministry offers the opportunity to 'Have Your Say', but simply deletes the comments if not to his liking. If you then happen to comment on the same Facebook page as him, he tells all and sundry he's being stalked. No doubt this comment will also play into his rather heightened sense of importance.

October 13, 2014 7:43 AM  

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