Petersen’s Failed Attempts to Refute Leonard Peikoff: Objection 4 and Conclusion
The first entry in this series can be found here.
The second entry in this series (Objection 1) can be found here.
The third entry in this series (Objection 2) can be found here.
The fourth entry in this series (Objection 3) can be found here.
Dr. Peikoff’s statements in question can be found here.
Jason Petersen’s response to Peikoff can be found here.
In this entry I will examine Petersen’s attempts to refute Peikoff’s “Objection 4” against theism as well as Petersen’s concluding remarks. We will examine certain claims about “God’s nature” as Petersen would have us imagine it. Petersen raises a series of point-missing objections to one of Peikoff’s statements. Along with this, we will find just what a catastrophe Petersen's "Christian epistemology" really is.
Peikoff’s fourth objection is stated as follows:
“God” as traditionally defined is a systematic contradiction of every valid metaphysical principle. The point is wider than just the Judeo-Christian concept of God. No argument will get you from this world to a supernatural world. No reason will lead you to a world contradicting this one. No method of inference will enable you to leap from existence to a “super-existence.”
Let me propose a simple test: begin explicitly with the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness as Objectivism informs the (which is where should start) and remain entirely consistent with them. Now try to draw a sound inference arriving at the conclusion that a god exists. What would a god be if not a form of consciousness whose will is the source of everything else and to whose will everything else conforms? But that would be the primacy of consciousness, which is a violation of the axioms. For more on this, see my blog entry Dawson’s Razor.
Allan Gotthelf’s remarks on this matter are instructive:
It is not only that there are no good arguments for the existence of God, Ayn Rand held. The very concept of “God” violates the axioms as well. “Omnipotence”, “omniscience”, and “infinity” (as used for God) all violate identity. That God knows, and acts, without means violates causality. And so on. Most fundamental of all, to postulate a God as creator of the universe is to postulate a consciousness that could exist without anything to be conscious of. This, as we have seen, violates [the axioms of] existence and consciousness. “[A] consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something.” Existence precedes consciousness. Existence can, again, have no beginning, no end, no cause. It just…exists. (On Ayn Rand, pp. 49-50; Gotthelf quotes “Galt’s Speech” from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, pp. 933-934, also in For the New Intellectual, pp. 124-125.)
Gods and Square CirclesAnd many more.
The Axioms and the Primacy of Existence
Theism and Subjective Metaphysics
Before the Beginning: The Problem of Divine Lonesomeness
The Inherent Subjectivism of God-Belief
How Theism Violates the Primacy of Existence
Then Petersen makes the following damning confession:
One cannot discover the truth of Christianity via reason, sense perception, or experience.
In our quest for knowledge of reality, man has essentially two alternatives: he can look outward at the world using his rational faculties, perceiving objects, distinguishing them from other objects, integrating them according to various features he finds in them, forming concepts based on objective input and integrating those concepts into subsequent abstractions, etc. The faculty which allows man to do this is called reason, and its product is objectively informed knowledge, so long as his methodology adheres consistently to the primacy of existence – i.e., the recognition that the objects of consciousness exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity.
Or, he can look inward, turning the focus of his consciousness inward to the contents of his emotions, his wishing, his imagination, his dreams, his preferences, his temper tantrums, his fits of whimsy, etc. This alternative represents the choice to abandon objective input, reason, facts, and reality altogether, in preference for a fantasy and the emotional trappings it generates (cf. “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” – Proverbs 1:7). This is the subjective approach to knowledge, the only alternative available to thinkers if they claim that men “cannot discover the truth” of what they promote by means of reason, since it grants metaphysical to the subject of consciousness over any and all its objects. Essentially, just as the Christian god is said to have wished the universe into being, the Christian believer essentially wishes his worldview into “the Truth,” and he’ll be very sore at anyone who does not believe his claims on his say so (for he has nothing else).
So here Petersen makes it crystal clear that his worldview requires the abandonment of reason in preference for looking inward into the labyrinthine nightmares of a mind bereft of objective input and held captive by terrifying fantasies which he cannot psychologically escape. It should come as no surprise, then, that Petersen comes across as a very troubled young man.
That is because no one can obtain any epistemic knowledge whatsoever if they start from reason, sense perception, or experience.
(These points have been argued at length in other articles on this website.)
For Christians, since their worldview is in fact so empty-handed when it comes to understanding what knowledge is and how it is acquired and validated, the entire area of epistemology represents a vast opportunity for more god-of-the-gaps apologetic gimmicks. Presuppositionalism, both Vantillian and Clarkian, are the products of men who don’t understand how their own minds work hoping to ensure that no one else figures it out either.
The truth of Christianity is revealed to a person through direct intervention from God (John 6:44, Matthew 16:17).
This only underscores that “knowledge” as Christianity informs it couldn’t be further from rationality. As opposed to the end product of an objective method applied in a manner consistent with logical norms, “knowledge” for the Christian is something forcefully inserted into a man’s mind apart from any method or safeguards protecting him from error. Of course, anyone can claim that his “knowledge” was “revealed” to him, especially if that “knowledge” has no relevance to the world which we observe when we look outward. Take for example the notion of “the trinity” – the three-headed god of Christianity. Christians typically acknowledge that this “doctrine” is not something that can be generated on a rational basis, but rather that it had to be “revealed” to us by an invisible magic being. Clearly there is no objective way to test this idea and ensure that no mistake has been made in formulating it. Rather, we have no alternative but to go on someone’s say-so and accept it as though it were knowledge when in fact it bears no resemblance, either in content or in method, to the knowledge we acquire by rational means.
Petersen appeals to the Christian storybook to support his contention. In other words, he read it in the bible and believes what he understands it to be saying. If this is supposed to be persuasive, I suppose he could do worse, but then we’d be trifling. But just for grins, let’s see what the verses Petersen specifies have to say.
John 6:44 states:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
Let’s take a look at the other verse Petersen cited.
Matthew 16:17 states:
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
Also, what’s curious (given that we’re talking about epistemology here) is the fact that Peter apparently did not know that this “knowledge” had been “revealed” to him, for Matthew has Jesus tell him this explicitly, using his voice to cause sound waves to travel to Peter’s ears, at which point he would hear the voice, identify what he was hearing, interpret the audio code thus transmitted, and integrate it so that he could comprehend what Jesus was telling him. But according to what Jesus tells him – i.e., the content of what Jesus says to Peter – what Peter knew was not acquired in the same way as Jesus was informing him right there in front of him. The scene suggests that, had one asked Peter how he “knew” that Jesus was the messiah prior to Jesus telling him that this “knowledge” had been “revealed” to him, we might very well expect him to say, “I don’t know,” for given what Jesus tells him, he surely could not have figured it out on his own (again, Peter is supposed to be an illiterate fisherman, certainly ready for any soothsayer to come along and beguile him with “words of wisdom”). To the extent that this is possible within the context of Christianity, it does not address one of the central questions of epistemology – namely “How do you know?” – at all adequately.
Indeed, how does one who believes that “knowledge” can be “revealed” to human minds by the creator of the universe distinguish between “revealed knowledge” and their own imaginations, speculations, emotionally-guided inferences, or just plain old deduction? It appears that the claim to “revelations” still does not avoid the possibility of making errors. Rather, I could think of nothing more effective than a claim to “revelation” to conceal errors and “suppress them in unrighteousness.” And history has shown just how readily Christianity as a worldview lends itself to predatory deceivers.
But so long as Christians claim “revealed knowledge” in some matter that has no relevance to life on earth, such as “the trinity” or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – then they’re on safe grounds: reality can’t refute them. That’s the attraction which Christians find in affirming the arbitrary: so long as there’s nothing in reality that we can point to and say, “Hey, lookie here, this proves you’re wrong,” they’re happy to take this as license to go on affirming the arbitrary in place of truth.
Perhaps this is what drove John Frame, in his paper Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (Part I), to respond to the question “How do you know?” with the response: “We know without knowing how we know.” (For an analysis of Frame’s statement and the context in which he makes it, see my blog entry John Frame’s Empty-Handed Epistemology.
Recall when I had asked Chris Bolt if one could still be mistaken even if a “truth” were “divinely revealed” to him, and he answered affirmatively. This exchange can be found in the comments of my blog Chris Bolt on Hume and Induction, an proceeded as follows:
can it be the case that the your god communicates with believers through the 'sensus divinitatus,' and believers still get it wrong?
Yes, this is the case.
Moving on, Petersen inserts a safety valve at this point in case he needs a means of rationalizing any future backpedaling. He writes:
However, if it is granted that reason, sense perception, and experience can lead to knowledge, then it turns out that Christians have better reasons to be Christians than the reasons atheists have to be atheist.
was raised in a Christian home by loving, Christian parents. He prayed the sinner’s prayer at the age of eight.
One thing’s for sure: children have the ability to imagine, regardless of how well they can infer truths from what they see and touch all around them. And I know of no reason to suppose Jason Petersen was any different from other children when he was being raised by his Christian parents. Indeed, the gospel stories have Jesus urging their readers to bring their minds to the level of a child in order to believe what they are told. For example, consider the following passages from the New Testament:
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4)
"Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." (Mark 10:15)
a person with a wish to be fulfilled is often on the road to belief. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 37)
Scripture never rebukes childlike faith; indeed, Jesus makes such faith 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 thereby be 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 be unnecessary. (Ibid., p. 66)
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
It is possible to make a mistake in our path to knowledge. It is possible to believe things without understanding (and thus not know that we’re believing something that is not true). It is possible to confuse what we feel (emotionally), what we wish, what we prefer, what we imagine, with knowledge of the world. It is possible to suppose that something is true because we dreamt it. Given all the variegated possibilities for error in knowledge, we must ask:
What epistemological guide posts does Christianity offer its believers to ensure that they haven’t made any errors in their knowing process, especially when in fact what Christianity teaches seems to be one variety or another of any of these types of errors?
After all, William Lane Craig is an apologist that appeals to science and reason to show that Christianity is more tenable than atheists and even atheists agree that he decimates his atheist opponents.
In his conclusion, Petersen begins by repeating the very errors that have been corrected throughout my series examining his critique of Peikoff’s statements. Petersen writes:
Peikoff repeatedly contradicts his epistemology and metaphysic when discussing the existence of God.
If the objections that Peikoff raises against God’s existence is [sic] not validly deducible from the objectivist epistemology or metaphysic, then all of Peikoff’s objections contradict objectivist epistemology.
Let’s take a closer look at this.
In the same paper, Robbins elaborates:
Those Christians who put their trust in science as the key to understanding the material universe should be embarrassed by the fact that science never discovers truth. One of the insuperable problems of science is the fallacy of induction; indeed, induction is an insuperable problem for all forms of empiricism. The problem is simply this: Induction, arguing from the particular to the general, is always a fallacy. No matter how many white swans one observes, one never has sufficient reason to say all swans are white. There is another fatal fallacy in the scientific method as well: asserting the consequent. Bertrand Russell put the matter this way:
All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: "If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true." This argument is, of course, formally fallacious. [It is the fallacy of asserting the consequent.] Suppose I were to say: "If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone and stones are nourishing." If I were to advance such an argument, I should certainly be thought foolish, yet it would not be fundamentally different from the argument upon which all scientific laws are based (emphasis added).
Recognizing that the problem of induction is insoluble, and that asserting the consequent is a logical fallacy, philosophers of science in the twentieth century, in an effort to justify science, developed the notion that science does not rely on induction at all. Instead, it consists of conjectures and refutations. That is the title of a book by Karl Popper, one of the leading philosophers of science in this century. But in their attempt to save science from epistemological disgrace, the philosophers of science had to abandon any claim to knowledge: Science is nothing but conjectures and refutations of conjectures.
Consider the following statement Robbins makes:
induction is an insuperable problem for all forms of empiricism.
Here’s another inductive claim:
The problem is simply this: Induction, arguing from the particular to the general, is always a fallacy.
No matter how many white swans one observes, one never has sufficient reason to say all swans are white.
What Clarkians like Robbins and Petersen really fear is that man’s mind does have the ability to draw generalizations from what they perceive, and they fear this because this can only threaten their quest for religious hegemony over other minds. A rational mind is a free mind, and a free mind is antithetical to religious indoctrination. Such an ability would mean that thinkers would have an alternative to remaining in stultifying ignorance of the world and thus vulnerable to the witch doctors’ mystical claims. If men can think for themselves using their own minds, they are in a position to question the witch doctors’ claims and show them to be the destructive untruths that they are. So the witch doctors seek to cut the human mind off from the world and from its own ability by telling men that their consciousness can go no further than their brain stems. So the motivation behind Robbins’ self-refuting hasty generalizations is ample, and it stems from religious commitment, not from rational understanding.
Notice how Robbins et al. must use concepts in order to repudiate induction. Do they not understand that concepts are categories including all units of a class? In the third entry of this series, I gave the example of the concept ‘shoe’ and explained how the concept ‘shoe’ includes all shoes that exist now, that have ever existed in the past, and that will exist in the future. Thus the concept ‘shoe’ is a general category, just as the statement “all swans are biological organism” is a general statement: both pertain to an unlimited quantity of qualifying units. I also explained (albeit briefly) how I can form the concept ‘shoe’, which includes all shoes present, past and future, from the particular shoes which I have personally seen. How is this possible, to go from the particular to the general? By means of abstraction – most importantly, the process of measurement-omission, which Ayn Rand explains in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.
So when Robbins proclaims “Induction, arguing from the particular to the general, is always a fallacy,” we must ask:
- Where did he get the concept ‘induction’?If Robbins is like you and me, he never had firsthand awareness of every instance of induction, and yet he’s making an inductive claim about all instances of inductive generalization. How could he do this without committing the very fallacy he has in mind, if in fact what he claims is true? Blank out.
- Where did he get the concept ‘argue’?
- Where did he get the concept ‘particular’?
- Where did he get the concept ‘general’?
- Where did he get the concept ‘always’?
- Where did he get the concept ‘fallacy?
In Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand points out the following:
Thus the process of forming and applying concepts contains the essential pattern of two fundamental methods of cognition: induction and deduction.
The process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction. The process of subsuming new instances under a known concept is, in essence, a process of deduction. (p.28)
Robbins also says that:
There is another fatal fallacy in the scientific method as well: asserting the consequent.
All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: "If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true."
What Robbins fails to recognize is that affirming the consequent is a formal fallacy in deductive logic. And since it is a formal fallacy, it can be avoided by reformulating the offending argument. Also, Robbins fails to understand science. As explained in this Youtube video on precisely this topic (thanks to Johan for bringing this to my attention!), scientists use modus tollens - not to prove their theories, but to assure whether or not they are falsifiable. It’s only by mistaking scientists’ use of modus tollens as formal proofs of their theories that Robbins could make such dunderheaded gaffs as this.
Moreover, attempts to invalidate induction as such by claiming that it involves affirming the consequent, ignore the fact that affirming the consequent is a formal fallacy of deduction, not induction. Such relevant distinctions are lost on such thinkers. So already they’re mixing apples and oranges. Also, there are two other errors involved in attempts to discredit induction.
The first, as should be clear from what I’ve presented above, is that such attempts cannot avoid committing the fallacy of the stolen concept. Arguments which seek to conclude that induction is somehow invalid are essentially attempts to draw a general conclusion about an entire category, in this case an entire species of reasoning. Specifically, such arguments seek to draw the conclusion that all inductive inferences (i.e., an entire class) are invalid. But this itself would have to be an inductive inference, thus contradicting itself.
Second, proponents of the view that induction is invalid typically affirm the validity of deduction. But what is deduction without induction? Consider the standard syllogism we find in introductory logic classes:
Premise 1: All men are mortal.
Premise 2: Socrates is a man.
Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
I’m glad these aren’t my problems!
Petersen ends with the following statement:
Peikoff’s inability to give arguments against God’s existence demonstrates that his own epistemology is incapable of deducing theorems that can coherently account for his own metaphysic.
Now unlike Petersen, Peikoff is philosophically mature enough to recognize these facts, and he recognizes them fully. Peikoff understands, for instance, that the notion of a god presumes the primacy of consciousness, and Peikoff already knows that the primacy of consciousness is false metaphysics. There is no such thing as an argument that is wholly consistent with the primacy of existence which can conclude that the Christian god exists. Peikoff also recognizes that there is a fundamental distinction between what is real and what is merely imaginary. And just as “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus,” likewise an imagined god is just an imaginary god. Now I want to make some final concluding comments. In a discussion forum on Facebook (which has been made available to me by a visitor to my blog via private correspondence), Petersen is on record as saying of me:
Bahnsen Burner is nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is.
But I strongly urge Christian apologists like Petersen to refrain from making such discussions so personal. For me, my work on Incinerating Presuppositionalism is not about me personally, nor is it about promoting myself in some way. After all, I don’t have a “ministry,” and I make no financial gains by the work that I do here. Also, you won’t find me posting Youtube videos of myself lecturing people to dumb down their minds and sacrifice their lives for something allegedly “greater” than themselves. It’s about ideas, because ideas do in fact matter, ideas are in fact important, and ideas come under the purview of reason. When apologists react with personal grumbling like “Bahnsen Burner is nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is.,” they’re just playing the sore loser, apparently offended because someone doesn’t believe that their imaginary friend is real. The attitude summed up by “You don’t believe in my God? Well, I’ll show you!” does not suggest that the one donning it is prepared to deal with reality in an intellectually sustaining manner.
by Dawson Bethrick