If readers have been following along, one might expect at this point to find more god-talk than science in Anderson’s string of paragraphs. That would be due at least in part to the fact that the previous five cases have not survived scrutiny well at all, which is regrettable given that Anderson’s book enjoys a spot on Steve Hays’ list of Required reading for atheists. Incidentally, Hays’ list also includes William Lane Craig, Edward Feser and Craig Keener, and even plugs the ontological argument as well as Anderson’s own “Argument for God from Logic.”
But I digress.
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (Romans 13:1-5)
In spite of divine chastisements such as the apostle’s beloved rulers, some non-Christians are still too big for their britches, as Anderson observes:
Atheists who claim to have reason on their side will often insist that they have science on their side too. They’ll cite statistics about how scientists are less likely to believe in God than non-scientists. They’ll argue that science has disproven many of the central claims of Christianity; for example, that the theory of evolution has discredited the biblical account of human origins. (WSIBC, p. 126)
That said, we should keep in mind that “atheists” are not monolithic, nor is the scientific community. In fact, I’d wager that most atheists and probably even most scientists still retain dark smoky whiffs of the mysticism of their childhood and surrounding community, never fully realizing that the clean air of rational philosophy is not something that can be acquired and enjoyed through acts of congress or worker revolts. Overt giveaways of lingering mystical contamination can be observed in their moral pronouncements, taking some form or expression of altruism for granted as their moral standard, and also their uncritical endorsement of state-run education. (Bill Nye anyone?) As with the arts, “more funding” has become the battle cry of today’s scientific community, its members apparently unaware of how this reflects a summary erosion of the role of the scientific method, not to mention rightful skepticism, in their own domain. After all, 97% of scientists, we are told, can’t be wrong! Oh boy, can they!
More nuanced indicators also reveal uncritical adoption of faulty philosophical premises, ubiquitous among today’s academics, whether it’s the analytic philosophy, necessary-contingent dichotomy, a priori or innate knowledge, “justified true belief,” the Humean approach to induction, “possible worlds” fantasizing, intuitions, determinism, the prior certainty of consciousness (see below), and a whole host of stolen concepts, floating abstractions, and other forms of fallacies, evasions and contradictions. One might be inclined to think of these as merely “vestiges” of an old guard of bygone philosophers, but in fact these are money pits of modern academics – they’ve not only invested heavily in developing these errant solutions, they’ve doubled-down on them, evolving what is essentially a rival system of faith. After all, Marx styled his power-hungry social analysis as “scientific,” even though his method was anything but scientific, and when his predictions of a dwindling middle class and dramatic increase of poverty in the western nations proved to be diametrically wrong, his champions did not pause to re-examine his methodology and premises; on the contrary, they rationalized their authoritarian ambitions in ways that resemble the presuppositionalists’s defense of theism.
And the rest of the twentieth century is, in many milieus anyway, a most unfortunate history.
But the antidote to one form of mysticism is not to replace it with another form of mysticism. “Mysticism is the claim to the perception of some other reality—other than the one in which we live—whose definition is only that it is not natural, it is supernatural, and is to be perceived by some form of unnatural or supernatural means” (Ayn Rand, Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 63), such as “revelations” from an alleged divine mind, the “inner testimony” of some spirit squatting in one’s mind. It is mysticism as such which is the toxic, odorless gas which needs to be exposed and identified for the threat to the human mind that it is. This goes for the religious version as well as any secularized variant thereof, such as belief in the apocalyptic prophesies of a Karl Marx or an Al Gore. One cannot recognize mysticism at all effectively by viewing everything through the lens of a mystical worldview, whether he wears a presbyter’s smock or a lab coat.
Understanding the nature of the opposition between science and religion should not require much heavy lifting. The sciences arose in the west, not because of religion, but in spite of its dominance in the west’s social structures. And the pathology of religion’s impediment to development in the sciences is not a mystery, but rather can be traced directly to the conflict between faith and reason. Faith is a commitment to a belief in imagined alternatives to reality which one sustains in the absence of and contrary to evidence, while reason is the faculty which identifies and integrates the input of sense perception by means of concepts. One attempts to find the source of truth by looking inward, consulting speculations derived from groundless premises, ancient narratives, and conclusions deduced from fantasy, while the other finds truth by looking outward at the realm of facts, identifying those facts in conceptual form and inferring further facts from them by means of logic, “the art of non-contradictory identification” (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged). Which strikes you, O Dear Reader, as more compatible with the scientific method?
Fortunately for us today, and for the future of humanity, the west underwent a Renaissance, and as a result Christianity was also forced to upgrade itself, at least as much as could be expected. To a significant extent, this served to temper Christianity’s excesses, not least of which is the overt reliance on the appeal to force, the corollary to faith.
It’s important for Christians to address such challenges, but I want to do something else here: to dig below the surface of these objections into the foundations of science itself. I’m going to argue that science is only possible because God exists.. In other words, the very existence and success of science depend on God. (WSIBC, pp. 126-127)
I agree that investigating the foundations of science as such is important, and this is the task of the philosopher. But here I’ll point out that there is an important difference between a “worldview” and a philosophy. Christianity may in fact constitute a worldview (or rather, a subcategory thereof), but I do not see how Christianity qualifies as a philosophy per se. At best what can be said of Christianity with respect to this is what can be said of any religion, in that it is a primitive form of philosophy – that is, a primitive, pre-scientific attempt to explain reality, man’s nature, his knowledge and rightful action. Attempts to systematize Christianity have of course been made, but therein lies the admission that Christianity needs some kind of systematization to begin with. And for every attempt to systematize it, there have been multiple factions splintering off from that attempt. Such attempts then tend to have a dividing effect as much as they are aimed at uniting fellow travelers.
Everyone is said to have a worldview, but not everyone has a philosophy. A man going aimlessly through life, spending his mornings in bed, his afternoons wandering streets, and his evenings in bars, may be said to have a worldview – i.e., an inebriated hodgepodge of implicitly held murky notions and beliefs, assumptions he holds without realizing it and with understanding why he holds them, regardless of their contradictions and in spite of their conflicts with other notions he holds, a completely unexamined state of affairs teeming with fallacies, stolen concepts, prejudices and outright falsehoods and misinformation indiscriminately absorbed into an amorphous mass of baseless pronouncements, most of them borrowed and none of it understood. Such is a mind succumbing to the inertia of mental inactivity and distraction. Ask him if he believes in a god, and he’ll say yes because his mother told him so.
By contrast, a philosophy is an integrated, systematic attempt to apply rational principles to develop a comprehensive view of reality. As Ayn Rand puts it:
Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man’s relationship to existence. As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists. In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible. (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 2)
But the claim here is clear enough. And it’s quite a claim, as claims go. What I’m curious to see here is an actual argument, if any, that Anderson can pull together to support such a claim. When I first read through this section of his book’s fourth chapter, it was not entirely clear how this argument was supposed to proceed, and from what premises. This is no small point. For if there really is no argument here, but rather a pretentious mirage (as we saw in Anderson’s previous case), then I surmise that there may really be a deeper problem in Christianity than even its decorated pundits are willing to admit.
It’s rarely recognized that science rests on a whole host of philosophical assumptions about the universe and about human beings that science itself cannot justify. No scientific experiment can prove these assumptions; rather, scientists have to take them for granted. But if those assumptions were false, science itself would be futile. (WSIBC, p. 127)
If a thinker is truly interested in the philosophical foundations of science, or of any human endeavor for that matter, he must be willing to start with the axioms, for these name the fundamental facts which must be the case in order for any human endeavor that involves knowledge to be possible. All human knowledge stands on the facts that existence exists, that any existing thing has identity, that consciousness is one’s faculty of awareness of what exists. He would also need to be willing to grasp the fundamental nature of the relationship between consciousness and existence, known as the principle of the primacy of existence, which is the recognition, in terms of a formal principle, of the fact that the objects of consciousness exist independent of the activity by which we are conscious of them, whether that activity is perception, thinking, believing, wishing, imagining, emoting, commanding, praying, etc. Science would be unnecessary if it were the case that wishing makes it so, just as science would be impossible if consciousness did not give us awareness of objects or if objects did not have identity. If consciousness did not give us awareness of objects, we would not be able to study anything, and if objects did not have identity there would be nothing to study.
So, yes, it is true that these fundamentals are taken for granted by most thinkers, scientists being no exception. But it’s even worse than that: philosophers have actually set out to unseat these truths, and they have unleashed some very inventive strategies to undermine our acceptance of them and our understanding of how they relate to knowledge, values, interpersonal relationships, even science.
In fact, defenders of Christianity, when faced with the Objectivist axioms, have made pronouncements for which they should be utterly embarrassed, but apparently are not. For example, in a discussion I had with one Christian apologist (the discussion can be found here), when confronted with the axiom of existence and the principle of the primacy of existence (cf. wishing doesn’t make it so), the apologist had no problem denying the axiom entirely, stating “Existence doesn't exist. Existence is a property of things that do exist.” So, in other words, on his view – specifically the Christian worldview - existence is a property of things which exist, but this property itself does not exist! Presumably some or even all things which exist and have properties, have this property of existence, but this property itself “doesn’t exist.” He clearly had no problem denying the axiom of existence, even though his denial resulted in an outright self-contradiction, and that is because his worldview – Christianity – does not affirm the axiom of existence and is in fact in conflict with the axiom of existence. The Christian may not resist acknowledging that things exist, but he is not willing to recognize the fact that things exist as an irreducible fundamental. Rather, as Peikoff has pointed out, “Such a person does not contest the need of an irreducible starting point, as long as it is a form of consciousness; what he finds unsatisfactory is the idea of existence as the starting point” (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 21). Indeed, the Christian thinks he can explain the fact that existence exists (if he’s willing to acknowledge that existence exists at all; this Christian would not even do that!) by asserting something that we can only imagine. Existence, he in effect says, had to be created - i.e., conjured by a magic wish as it were, and we are supposed to believe this… just because. No, such delusional notions are not in anyway preconditional to science!
But to cut through the flack, let us ask: Does science have an objective basis, or does science have a subjective basis? More to the point: Does science presume and operate within a universe of fact which exist and are what they are independent of anyone’s conscious activity (whether that conscious activity involves one’s beliefs, preferences, presumptions, wishes, emotions, imagination, etc.)? Or, does science presume and operate within a realm created and ruled by conscious activity, where wishing makes it so?
It is good that Anderson acknowledges that science rests on fundamentals that only philosophy can provide. But to grasp why this is the case, we need to have a strong understanding of what science is. Unfortunately I don’t find any informed discussion of this in Anderson’s book, nor do I find any discussion of the nature of science anywhere in the bible. On the contrary, what we find in Christianity is what is promoted in the bible, which is the exact opposite of a scientific approach. Science is the systematic application of reason to some specialized area of study, and as such science must rest on reason as the sole epistemological standard. This involves empirically gathering and investigating facts that we discover in the world by looking outward, ever mindful of the fundamental distinction between what is actually real and what is merely imaginary, preferred, hoped for, emotionalized, etc.
But the bible does not take such an approach. Rather, it impresses on its readers a set of assumptions which they are expected to believe regardless of what they might find through any application of reason to any area of study, specialized or not. And what they are to believe, taking the bible rather than reason as their source of knowledge, includes the notion that there are supernatural beings, that the universe was created by an act of consciousness, that miracles happen, that human beings are essentially marionettes carrying out the will of a supernatural puppeteer, that what is seen is controlled by something one can only imagine, that “dreams and visions” and other forms of mystical revelation are the keys to certainty, that a set of ancient stories, no element of which can anyone today verify to have actually happened, is to be accepted in place of rational principles as the guiding standard of what one considers to be true.
What’s important to point out (and it’s important to point this out here given the nature of the conflict between science and religious worldviews like Christianity), is that the philosophical foundations on which science rests involve general facts which are available to thinkers anywhere and any time just by looking outward at the world and recognizing their objective nature. Which means: the foundations of science are not found in the specifics of some narrative, whether Christian or otherwise, especially one which supposedly took place thousands of years ago and thus beyond the reach of direct inquiry by anyone living (let alone doing science!) today.
For example, science does not rest on the assumption that the first human beings were a man and woman named Adam and Eve living in a place called the Garden of Eden; science does not rest on the belief that there was a worldwide flood escaped by a man named Noah, his family and his floating menagerie; science does not rest on the notion that a man named Abraham was promised a special land; science does not rest on the belief premise that the magical creator of the universe disguised himself as a human being, preached a message of altruism, was executed and rose back to life. Science does not presuppose that wishing makes it so just as it does not presuppose that the wisher is a divine threesome. Indeed, science does not presuppose that imagination can supplant facts as the basis of science. Like it or not, the empirical always trumps the imaginary.
Let us ask: Do the foundations of science allow that truth conforms to anyone’s preferences? How about to anyone’s wishes? How about to anyone’s fears? How about to anyone’s beliefs? How about to anyone’s imagination? If the answer is that the foundations of science do not allow that truths conform to any of these, what is the general principle that integrates these, according to the worldview in question?
We saw earlier that Anderson is already on record acknowledging that “the Christian worldview affirms that mind preceded matter” (WSIBC, p. 125). This is an open endorsement of the primacy of consciousness, the view that facts and truths conform to wishing, commands, preferences, and other types of conscious activity. We already saw that the Christian worldview’s fundamentals do not preclude the view that “existence doesn’t exist” while affirming that “existence is a property of things which exist,” and here were seeing that Christianity holds that matter is a product of conscious activity. What evidence is produced to support this? Of course, none whatsoever.
Now, the fact that scientists take certain fundamental philosophical assumptions for granted and that those assumptions are themselves not provable by means of scientific experimentation, does not give us license to assert just anything we want as those philosophical assumptions. Whatever they may be, they would have to be completely consistent with facts which we do observe, especially facts which are inescapable in every waking moment, such as the facts that existence exists and the objects of consciousness exist independent of and do not conform to conscious activity.
And the primacy of existence can be tested. The primacy of existence would be refuted if one could demonstrate the creation of matter by conscious activity alone, for example. Try it and see what happens. It could also be refuted by any instance of moving objects using conscious activity alone. Try commanding Mount Everest to cast itself into the sea. Didn’t work? Okay, try something smaller: take a coin from your pocket and command it to float from one room in your house to another. No, don’t throw it! That’s using physical force to achieve a physical result. The primacy of existence is not contravened by physical activity resulting in physical effects. Rather, use your mind, and only your mind, to alter the physical. The coin is still where it was? Try wishing. Still not working? Wish harder! No? How about praying? No? It’s just staying there? How about just believing that the coin will float into another room? No? Perhaps you’re not believing hard enough!
No, it really isn’t because you’re not wishing, believing, or commanding hard enough. It’s because existence holds metaphysical primacy over conscious activity, and this fact is as inalterable as it is inescapable. It is in fact an omnipresent fact in all our interaction with the world.
Science can only be pursued by beings with higher intellects and conscious minds, with the ability to make reliable observations of the physical world and rational inferences based on those observations. Indeed, science is founded on the assumption that our sensory faculties are equipped to give us accurate empirical information about the universe we inhabit. Scientists take for granted that how the world appears to us is generally reliable picture of how the world actually is. That’s not something science itself can prove, precisely because science has to presuppose it. It would be circular reasoning to use our sensory faculties to prove the reliability and accuracy of our sensory faculties. So on what rational basis do scientists make this crucial assumption? (WSIBC, p. 128)
Notice the power of the objective theory of concepts applied to the supposed opposition between appearance and actuality. The objective theory of concepts recognize that the conceptual level of awareness rests on and is informed by the perceptual level of awareness. We perceive objects and from this perceptual input we form concepts by means of abstraction, a process that involves measurement-omission. When we perceive things, we perceive them in a type of form dictated by the mode of perception involved – e.g., appearance, sound, taste, scent and tactile feeling.
The appearance vs. actuality dichotomy actually hinges on a crude reversal, as Dr. Harry Binswanger explains:
Kant reversed a crucial distinction, the distinction between the what and the how - between what one knows and how one knows it. Kant turns the means of awareness into the only object of awareness. We cannot know extra-mental reality, Kant says, because our means of awareness stand in the way; we are incapable of knowing “things as they are in theselves”; we can only know the appearances of things:…we can therefore have no knowledge of any object as a thing itself, but only in so far as it is… an appearance.But contrary to Kant, an “appearance” is how we perceive and know the object. Objects are grasped in a certain form, and what is thereby known is the object, the thing in reality.
By illicitly making the appearance into the [only] object of awareness, Kant is able to claim that what we are aware of is the wrong thing – not tables and rivers but only appearances of tables and rivers. Because we see a table by a certain means and in a certain form, we cannot see the table; we see instead our sight of the table. Likewise, because we conceive tables by certain means and in a certain form, what we are conceiving is our concept, not tables. The cognitive how turns into a what that blocks our way to knowing reality, locking us up inside our own minds. The existence of a means of cognition is held to make cognition impossible. Thus, Rand’s immortal demolition of Kant:His argument, in essence, rand as follows: man is limited to a consciousness of specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others, therefore, his consciousness is not valid: man is blind, because he has eyes – deaf, because he has ears – deluded, because he has a mind – and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them.(How We Know, pp. 385-6; quoting Kant The Critique of Pure Reason, B xvi, and Rand For the New Intellectual, p. 32)
Curiously, Greg Bahnsen seems to affirm this distinction when he writes:
the Bible distinguishes appearance from reality, and it provides an ultimate conceptual framework that makes sense of the world as a whole. The Biblical metaphysical affects our outlook and conclusions regarding every field of study or endeavor, and it serves as the only foundation for all disciplines from science to ethics (Prov. 1:7; Matt. 7:24-27). (Always Ready, p. 181)
As for Bahnsen’s claim to the bible providing “an ultimate conceptual framework that makes sense of the world as a whole,” I’m persuaded that this is something the biblical worldview cannot provide, given its rejection of the axioms, its reliance on the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, and its utter lack of a theory of concepts to begin with.
Scientific investigation rests on two further assumptions: first, that the universe is an orderly and rational place, and second, that the orderliness and rationality of the universe aligns with the orderliness and rationality of our minds. (WSIBC, p. 126)
The very concept ‘place’ makes sense only within the universe. The universe is not one place among several.
The orderliness of the universe is really nothing more but every bit of the fact that existence and identity are concurrent: to exist is to be something. This is the axiom of identity. There is no such thing, then, as a “disorderly universe,” not because there’s a supernatural consciousness holding everything together by an act of will (for such a view denies the concurrence of existence and identity), but because it’s a contradiction in terms: a disorderly universe would have to be one in which to exist is not to be something. Perhaps the religionist starts out with the assumption of such notions, taking them for granted and from there seeking an explanation for whatever alleged power supposedly holds existence and identity together. But if existence exists, then starting with such assumptions is no different from starting with an overt contradiction as one’s foundation.
Also, and I’ve raised this objection before in my writings, I don’t think it’s philosophically sound to characterize the universe as rational, or irrational for that matter. In informal speech, it may be harmless, but I find it so misleading as to think it’s just not a prudent use of the concept of rationality at all. There are two senses of rationality that I think are philosophically valid, one descriptive and the other prescriptive. There’s rationality in the sense of Aristotle’s view that “man is the rational animal,” meaning, not that all men are necessarily rationally behaved individuals, but rather that human beings as a species have the capacity for rational intellection. There’s also rationality in the sense of a chosen commitment to reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only guide to action, one’s only standard of judgment. A statement like “Jones’ ideas don’t seem very rational” is an extension of this type, in that the ideas in question appear not to cohere to reason as their source or standard. But I don’t think either sense can apply to the universe as a whole, just as I would not say that the universe is “smart” or “wise” or “reluctant” or “casually dressed.” It’s just another stolen concept waiting to hatch.
Think about it for a moment. The universe didn’t have to be an orderly and rational place. (p. 129)
The claim that “the universe didn’t have to be an orderly place” is essentially like saying to an existent doesn’t have to be something specific. If identity is concurrent with existence, then what we style as “the orderliness of the universe” is an inherent feature of everything that exists, i.e., of the universe. Anderson’s entire strategy in making such assertions is so mired in the primacy of consciousness metaphysics that it probably seems completely baffling to him that anyone would question them, let alone contest them outright. And yet that is what an objective perspective will in fact equip a thinker to do, given that an objective perspective teaches one to recognize violations of the primacy of existence principle.
There’s nothing logically contradictory about the idea of a universe that is chaotic and unpredictable, without rhyme or reason. (WSIBC, p. 129)
But to say that reality – or the universe, or existence (the universe being the sum total of all that exists) – is “chaotic and unpredictable, without rhyme or reason,” is essentially to affirm existence without identity. On such a view, things can exist, but they aren’t anything specific, they have no nature, and nothing to distinguish the one from the other. And, Anderson tells us, “there’s nothing logically contradictory about [this] idea.” Really? Is that so because he just declares it? After all, he gives no argument for this assessment.
But consider: if one acknowledges on the one hand that existence exists, but in the same breath denies that existence has identity (for it is “chaotic and unpredictable, without rhyme or reason”), what would inform logic? There is no answer to this without indulging in more concept-stealing. But that’s what will happen any time one denies the axioms. As Rand put it, “Existence is Identity” (Atlas Shrugged), or as I tend to put it: identity is concurrent with existence. This is axiomatic; it is not subject to proof – it is perceptually self-evident (any time you see an existent, you see something specific, something that has identity; you don’t need to “prove” this), and in fact this is preconditional to proof as such. One would not be able to prove anything if existence and identity needed some conscious activity to bring them together. But this is what the theist has to deal with, and this is why Anderson casually assumes that “there’s nothing logically contradictory” about the idea.
This severing of identity from existence is the cause of the confusion theists have when it comes to fundamental principles about the universe. Observe:
When we formulate theories about the laws of nature, such as the laws of gravity, we assume those laws apply in the same way across space and time. We assume those laws will be the same in the future as they have been in the past. We assume those laws operate in other galaxies in the same way they operate in our own galaxy. In short, we assume that nature is basically orderly and uniform, such that we can discover general laws of nature and exploit them for technological purposes.
But once again, science itself cannot prove that nature is basically orderly and uniform. It’s impossible for humans to directly observe the universe at every point in space and time. Only God could know in advance that the universe is basically orderly and rational. God would know that, of course, because God would be responsible for it. God arranged it that way! (WSIBC, p. 129)
But also what’s overlooked here is the open-ended nature of concepts given the omission of measurements which is inherent to the abstraction process by which concepts are formed. When we form the concept ‘shoe’ from a handful of samples (i.e., specific shoes that we perceive directly), we include all of its characteristics, but we omit their specific measurements. The operative principle involved in forming concepts is summarized as follows by Ayn Rand: “the relevant measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 12). My shoes are size 12, my wife’s size 7, and my daughter’s size 3; mine are black, my wife’s are blue, and my daughter’s are pink; mine are pretty heavy, my wife’s fairly light, and my daughter’s even lighter. In spite of all these and other variables, all these specific measures, we can integrate them into the same mental category by omitting these measurements, allowing for the variations to stay in place, but not requiring any of the measurements in the specific quantities that they actually have. And other measurements are omitted as well, such as time and place. These are not specified in the concept ‘shoe’. Thus the concept ‘shoe’ includes all shoes that exist now, all shoes that have existed, and all shoes that will exist, because time is an omitted measurement. It also includes all shoes everywhere they exist, whether it’s in the Australian outback, in Nova Scotia, in Cape Town, or on the International Space Station. Measurement-omission expands our awareness beyond the specifics of the perceptual and opens it up to the conceptual.
The same process occurs when it comes to general principles about reality, or “laws of nature.” Since time and place are omitted measurements, the very process we use to form concepts of concretes, the applicability of those laws across time and place – i.e., any time and any place, always and everywhere – is not at all a troublesome notion. We have a theory of concepts which demystifies the expansion of cognition beyond the perceptual level, but also tying that expansion directly to its perceptual basis, ensuring its objectivity. Thus the facts that “those laws apply in the same way across space and time” and that they “will be the same in the future as they have been in the past,” are not blind assumptions without justification. The justification is in the very process by which we form concepts, a process one would have to apply in order to challenge the justification as such. To deny the validity of concept-formation would require knowledge of concepts and thus instance what has been called “re-affirmation through denial” (cf. Blanshard, The Nature of Thought, vol. 2, p. 252). To make use of concepts, then, is to grant validity to the conceptual level of consciousness as such, and, by extension, to the general process by which concepts are formed, even if a specific concept in question is faulty (which can and does happen). And if one grants validity to concepts, one grants validity to the ability to expand man’s consciousness by means of concepts beyond the immediately perceptible concretes to general categories subsuming an unlimited series of units. Thus to challenge the possibility for man’s mind to formulate universal principles such as the laws of nature, one implicitly grants validity to the very faculty which makes those universal principles possible, namely the conceptual level of consciousness.
So the faculty of conceptual awareness is self-validating in this way, and to deny its validity is to re-affirm its validity through that very act of denial. So while it’s of course true that “it’s impossible for humans to directly observe the universe at every point in space and time,” pointing this out is not an effective argument against man’s capacity to formulate knowledge of this nature. I do not need to see every shoe which exists now, which has existed and which will exist in order for my mind to form the concept ‘shoe’ and thereby have consciousness of all shoes. This is not perceptual consciousness – it’s conceptual consciousness. To object that “You can’t know because you can’t directly observe” is self-confounding, for it ignores the very nature of the conceptual level of awareness, the very level it utilizes to raise the objection in the first place!
Thus when Anderson claims that “only God could know in advance that the universe is basically orderly and rational,” it should be clear that this rests on a highly deficient understanding of the nature of concepts and of conceptual consciousness as such. It is into this void that he goes on to assert that “God would know that, of course, because God would be responsible for it. God arranged it that way!” Thus, if we could call this an argument, it is at best another argument from ignorance. And, sadly, at the conclusion of that argument, as valiant an attempt as it may be, we still find that we have no alternative but to imagine the god whose existence he apparently thinks he’s proven from his lack of knowledge of concepts. But just as Steve Hays has observed, that “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus,” so too is an imagined god just an imaginary god.
I trust you can see, then, that science rests on a host of philosophical assumptions, none of which science itself can prove. Science can be no more rational than the foundations on which it stands. Yet it’s extremely difficult to rationally justify those foundational assumptions from an atheistic perspective. (WSIBC, pp. 129-130)
If the universe is a gigantic metaphysical accident, with no rational mind directing and governing it – as atheists must believe – why on earth should we assume that it operates in an orderly and rational fashion? (p. 130)
Also, notice the false dichotomy involved in what Anderson does say: either “the universe is a gigantic cosmic accident,” or it’s a product of conscious activity which is governed and directed by a “rational mind,” specifically one which is only available to us by means of imagining it. Like many thinkers before him, Anderson fails to recognize that both horns of this bifurcation commit the fallacy of the stolen concept: the concept ‘accident’ has meaning only within the context of what exists, not to existence as such – there is no alternative to existence; also, the concepts ‘mind’ and ‘rationality’ have meaning only in the context of existence and thus cannot be rationally posited as the cause or master of existence.
Notice also that Anderson does not actually provide any argument for his assertion that “atheists must believe” that “the universe is a gigantic metaphysical accident.” I can’t say I’ve ever believed this, just as I do not believe that the universe is a product of wishing. It seems that Anderson’s apologetic depends fiercely on the presumptuousness to insert views into the mouths of his opponents. But this just makes him appear belligerent, which goes hand in hand with the incoherence of what he’s seeking to defend.
He also asks:
And why should we assume that our minds are equipped to accurately perceive and understand [the universe]? (Ibid.)
Additionally, perception is an automatic function of an organism. We perceive things long before we’re identifying them, and identifying objects of awareness in conceptual form is a precondition for any understanding. In fact, there’s no such thing as an “inaccurate perception.” Typically any example proffered in support of such a notion ignores the distinction between perception as such on the one hand, and identification on the other. It is possible to perceive things without identifying them (if you don’t believe me, try driving in the western outskirts of Bangkok during rush hour – you’ll see lots of things and ask “What in tarnation is that?”), while identification of the objects of perception is a volitional and fallible process. It’s why we need reason – “the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses” (The Virtue of Selfishness, p.20). It’s only when we’re identifying things we perceive – not perceiving itself – that the concepts of accuracy and precision apply. Perception gives us awareness of objects, and either we try to identify them – and do so accurately or not, or we don’t.
So instead of “assum[ing] that our minds are equipped to accurately perceive and understand [the universe],” we rather recognize the fact that we do in fact perceive things and also have the ability to form concepts on the basis of that perceptual input. But Anderson would prefer to charge thinkers of blindly assuming things that they are not allowed to justify, unless of course they reach for Anderson’s imaginary deity. And yet, as we can see, that charge itself rests on numerous blind assumptions!
Now let’s consider what is involved in the discipline of science and ask where distinctively Christian-theistic theories of each can be found (I’ll list only a few):
- systematic observation
These are only a few of the key ingredients of scientific investigation, though they are critical to the discipline as a whole. Indeed, how can science be founded without our ability to form concepts? And yet we are told that “concepts have no place in Christian epistemology.” Indeed, just what exactly is “Christian epistemology” after all? And if I were a believer, where would I need to go to learn about what concepts are and how the human mind forms them? Indeed, if I were a believer, why do science anyway? What would be the point?
Sadly, in spite of their importance, one would search the pages of the Old and New Testaments in vain for even a whiff of systematic treatment of any of these features. Instead, what one will find in the bible are stories which, if taken as true, affect a seismic demolition on man’s confidence in his own cognition. Instead of providing useful knowledge that can be applied to the sciences, the bible’s narratives deliver a series of reality-defying fantasies caustic to the proper functioning of man’s intellect. The destruction starts with the fact that the believer must accept these narratives as true on faith - i.e., without any evidence to support them, even in spite of evidence contrary to what they would have the believer believe. Even if some elements of a particular biblical narrative were true, the believer is in no position to know this with any rational confidence; rather, he’s supposed to accept what he reads in the bible on its own say so regardless of the inaccessibility of its story elements. That in itself is wholly anti-scientific and in no way models the procedures required of science. Indeed, it is much worse than this.
Make no mistake here: Christian theism places all emphasis on believing, and urges the adherent not to “lean unto [his] own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). It even threatens the believer if he does not believe (one fellow compiled a collection of favorite hits here), and for “unbelievers” is reserved the worst of scorn (browse any apologetic blog, such as Triablogue, for any number of examples). Christianity’s pressure to believe the bible’s stories is unmistakable and undeniable, and such pressure requires the believer to surrender his own cognitive judgment on the altar of pious compliance, motivated by psychological sanctions resulting in guilt (see here).
Apologists, even Anderson himself, will pay lip service to the importance of cognitive reliability; this is a far cry from the churchmen of old who summarily dismissed the human mind as a devil’s workshop. Again, religion in the west had to upgrade itself in order to survive given the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, epochs which could not have happened were it not for a spirit of defiance against religion.
But let’s set aside apologetic pretenses and consider how destructive biblical teaching is just on induction, a staple of the scientific method. Induction is a conceptual process of drawing general truths from individual samples, and as such it uses concept-formation as such as its primary model. In a very practical sense induction is the application of causality to entity classes, and like concepts, induction expands our awareness beyond the immediately perceivable samples to which we have firsthand access, giving us a cognitive grasp of categorical truths most of whose units we have not observed and will never observe. A good theory of concepts is what justifies this (see here for more details on this fascinating topic). Induction relies on firsthand interaction with reality, given the truth of the axioms – fundamental truths which apologists find expedient to deny once they start to realize their threat to their faith beliefs.
Contrary to what we can learn about the world via induction, biblical Christianity essentially says: every fundamental rational principle that you can draw from your own experience of reality is to be jettisoned as wrong because what you can induce from your own firsthand experience can be overturned in an instant by a supernatural being to whose conscious intentions all of reality conforms. Experience will tell you uniformly that flowers do not recite Chinese poetry and that rocks cannot design automobiles. But such inductive inferences, informed by direct experience, validated sample aggregation and sealed by sound conceptual integration, are to be ditched in favor of the fantasy of an imaginary consciousness which could undo these truths any time, and which could have created disqualifiers to the rule without anyone’s knowing. If the god of Christianity had created a patch of daffodils on a remote island off northern Greenland in the year 1209 AD and had them all chanting verses from Yu Quan’s Chu Ci for an entire month straight, who would know otherwise? Similarly, if the god of Christianity had desired in the year 484 BC to assemble a group of rocks on the eastern shores of the Andaman Islands (you know, the place that was thought to be inhabited by wolf-headed people, that place!) and had them draw up plans for a six-wheeled dune buggy with fuel-injected turbochargers and folding side-passenger ashtrays, and yet no human being is recorded to have observed this and said deity has decided to withhold revelation of this rudimentary feat, who’s to say it didn’t happen? The Christian certainly cannot say that it could not happen, for how would he know? He believes in magical beings which can turn water into wine, impregnate virgins and raise dead people back to life.
The believer can be predicted to say “God would never do that!” But on what basis could this puny little fallible human speak for the creator of the universe? How does he know? And even if one were to accept such unargued objections, given Christianity’s teachings about angels, demons, devils, “unclean spirits,” and other supernatural spooks, who’s to say that some supernatural being other than the god of Christianity were not conjuring such oddities? Maybe a rogue angel has gone off and done these things. That’s the problem when it comes to affirming the supernatural: anything could be the case, and man would be none the wiser, degrees from theological institutes notwithstanding.
The point is that the very ground of the teaching of the bible sabotages man’s cognitive faculties, and with that his confidence in them, and that’s really the ultimate game plan, in terms of desired psychological effect, of Christian theism. The goal is to bamboozle thinking adults into surrendering their minds, the very resource which makes science possible in the first place. Thus the whole gambit that theism provides the necessary preconditions for science is just a ruse.
For centuries philosophers, the vast majority of whose premises have been polluted by one form of mysticism or another, have insisted either that induction is simply not a valid cognitive operation, or that at best it can give us only probably true conclusions. But both assessments are self-defeating. Are we really to believe that every instance of inductive reasoning can yield outputs that are only probably true? How do these thinkers know this universally exhaustive conclusion without relying on induction, which they themselves say is only probabilistic in nature?
And no, induction cannot be rescued by the presuppositionalists’ “transcendental arguments,” which are admitted to be deductive in nature anyway, thus requiring inductive input to get the whole shebang started. Induction cannot be rescued from faulty objections (a la David Hume, for example) by appeals to a worldview which sabotages man’s conceptual faculty to begin with. Meanwhile, the solution that that the apologists offer is precisely what undermines in wholesale fashion man’s confidence in his own cognitive faculties. Supernaturalism is inherently toxic to human cognition.
We know at least some inductive conclusions with certainty because induction follows the conceptual process. Concept-formation involves a process of measurement-omission. This allows for widening the range of unit variables beyond the specific measurements of the samples we perceive directly. This is key to concept-formation just as it is for induction. We can form the concept ‘shoe’ based on the few samples we have seen, allowing us to go into a large shoe store and say “Wow, look at all these shoes!” How do we know all those things on the shelves are shoes? By means of applying the concept ‘shoe’ which we already formed much earlier. Concepts are open-ended mental integrations allow us to subsume an unlimited series of new instances. Similarly with induction, I can draw the inference from the few human beings I have known to the universal conclusion: all human beings are biological organisms which need air, food, and other resources in order to live. There’s really no mystery to all this, and certainly no role for a supernatural being which we can only consider by means of imagining to solve in understanding and validating this process, which is crucial to science. And yet, contrary to Anderson’s snake oil, theism would only undermine induction, just as so many secular philosophers have sought to do.
Ignoring not only the key ingredients of science but also the destructive implications that theistic belief has for human cognition, Anderson rattles off the following assertion:
the Christian worldview provides a firm foundation for science. If the universe is the creation of a personal God, whose mind is supremely rational and orderly, and if our minds are designed and equipped by God to discover truths about the natural world, then it makes sense to pursue science – and we have an explanation for why science has been so successful. Moreover, the Christian worldview also provides the moral framework within which science can flourish and promote the common good. (WSIBC, pp. 130-131)
Premise 1: If the universe is the creation of a personal God, whose mind is supremely rational and orderly, and if our minds are designed and equipped by God to discover truths about the natural world, then it makes sense to pursue science – and we have an explanation for why science has been so successful.”
Premise 2: (Here Anderson would presumably affirm the twin hypotheticals he listed out)
Conclusion: Therefore, “it makes sense to pursue science – and we have an explanation for why science has been so successful.”
So where is Anderson’s argument for his theism? This can’t be it, for it takes his theism for granted, and it requires us to enlist the creative powers of our imagination to see it through. Moreover, it ignores all the issues of epistemology in a real-world setting, which need to be explored and understood, not merely bundled off into a god-shaped body-bag as if one could simply say “God takes care of that!” We know the primacy of existence is true, so we need to deal with reality on its own terms, and develop our epistemology accordingly (see Dawson’s Razor).
Anderson states that, assuming theism as the proper foundations for science, “we should expect that over time the discoveries of science will support belief in God,” and goes on to announce “I believe that’s exactly what we find.” Before we get too giddy, however, he lists a few disclaimers to temper our expectations, such as that sciences “are fallible human beings…” who “have worldviews which shape how the interpret evidence” and that “we need to distinguish between supposed discoveries of science… and genuine discoveries of science” and that scientists even “disagree among themselves as to exactly what the scientific method has discovered” (WSIBC, p. 131).
All these disclaimers of course should not strike us as controversial, though I do wonder what method the believer would incorporate in order to reliably “distinguish between supposed discoveries of science… and genuine discoveries of science,” especially given the destructive implications for induction that we saw above, the rejection of the primacy of existence (in favor of the metaphysics of wishing makes it so), and the believer’s choice to commit himself to belief in a series of ancient narratives in place of rational principles. Of course, it’s hard not to suspect that Anderson’s concern behind drawing our attention to the distinction “between supposed discoveries of science… and genuine discoveries of science” is to leave in place a plausible caveat to dismiss the theory of evolution as not qualifying in the latter camp. So, science is really great, but theists reserve the right to pick and choose which scientific discoveries they’re willing to accept as legitimate and those which are devil-driven.
As for Anderson’s expectation that “over time the discoveries of science will support belief in God,” the trend appears to be completely the opposite. Anderson himself alluded above to the use of statistics showing “how scientists are less likely to believe in God than non-scientists” (WSIBC, p. 126), so if those statistics do in fact show such a trend over time, that does not bode well for Anderson’s theistically drive expectations.
But as I have pointed out before, the fundamental metaphysics of theism is in fact testable, and one does not need to have a doctorate in a laboratory science to conduct such a test successful. After all, successful tests are important, are they not? The metaphysics of theism is characterized by the primacy of consciousness. Remember Anderson’s acknowledgement that “the Christian worldview affirms that mind preceded matter” (WSIBC, p. 125). That’s a clear, unmistakable expression of the primacy of consciousness. On such a view, existence is a product of conscious activity, and conscious activity can alter the nature of existents and even annihilate them out of existence, all by a sheer act of will. This is essentially the metaphysics of wishing makes it so. Now, if the fundamental metaphysics of theism were indeed true, even “ultimate” as theists themselves like to say, then even casual observers, let alone beaker-wielding scientists, should be able to confirm or discount this by firsthand experimentation. But I have yet to see any demonstration confirming the metaphysics of wishing makes it so. Rather, what we typically get instead of actual demonstrations, are stories in which consciousness creates reality, performs miracles, cures blindness, suspends the laws of physics, etc. Theists will assure us, verbally, that all these things happen, but we never actually observe them happening. We’re told that there are people who have observed them, and apparently that’s supposed to be good enough: “Believe what I’m telling you!” is the essence of their case. And as they tell us their second-hand and further removed yarns from afar, we may not even be aware that we slip from using our reason to using our imagination, and there – in the oneiric simulations and reality-departing quadrants of our imagination, we certainly can imagine Peter walking on water and Jesus curing the leper with the touch of his hand.
But science does not operate on replacing reason with imagination. So if the compatibility of faith-based worldviews with science is to be established, we need to stay on reason’s turf and not depart from it. I’m fond of the example of the pebble one finds in his backyard. If theism is true, any pebble you pick up in your backyard must have been created by conscious activity. So, applying the systematic rigors of science, what in that pebble is going to tell us that it was created by an act of consciousness? What would the believer have us accept as evidence to support the notion that the pebble we’re holding in our hands was literally wished into existence? Stories about Noah, Abraham, King Saul and Solomon’s concubines won’t do here. What hard evidence do we have that the pebble was created by a supernatural being? Remember, any explanation causing us to ditch reason and retreat to imagination will only prove once again that theism rests on false metaphysics. After all, we all know deep down that wishing doesn’t make it so.
Anderson does not explain what we might take as evidence that a pebble we find in our backyard was created by an act of consciousness, but he does announce
I would contend that the more we learn about the natural universe – and especially our small corner of it – the more evidence we find for a biblical worldview. For example, we’ve learned from the laws of thermodynamics that the universe hasn’t always existed. If the past were infinite, the universe would have completely ‘run down’ by now. The universe must have had a first moment of existence. So either it simply popped into existence for no reason, with no explanation, or it was brought into existence by some transcendent cause. (WSIBC, p. 132)
My suspicion is that what we have here is an example of precisely the opposite of the scientific method on shameless display. The theist begins with the position that the universe was created and therefore not eternal, and then sets out to find “evidence” to support this. Depending on the time of day and how many cups of coffee have been downed, he may reach for the necessary-contingent dichotomy to accomplish this, or for the laws of thermodynamics to do the same. He cannot start with the axioms, which he must assume even to deny them (we saw above that the claim “existence doesn’t exist; existence is property of things that do exist” contradicts itself), and proceed in rational fashion to the conclusion “therefore existence did not exist at some point in the past,” even though this is essentially what he’s saying when he claims that the universe is not eternal. If this is not what he intends to say, he needs to go back and rethink his steps, beginning with a solid clarification of his starting point: is he starting with a conclusion for which he has no rational support, or is he starting with a conceptually irreducible, perceptually self-evident truth which must be assumed even in an act of denying its truth?
A similar reversal is observable in the following statement:
We’ve also learned that the universe as a whole, and our own solar system in particular, appear to be ‘fine-tuned’ in numerous ways to support the existence of organic life. If the laws of nature had been even slightly different than they are, no habitable planets or solar systems would ever have formed. In fact, the evidence indicates that our own solar system is fine-tuned not merely to support organic life, but to accommodate conscious organisms. The odds of all this happening by sheer luck are so miniscule as to rule out chance as a serious explanation. As more than one scientist has noted, it appears that the cosmos has been rigged. (WSIBC, p. 132)
Again, what is the starting point here? Do we start with man in isolation of existence on earth, decontextualizing his nature as a biological organism which, like all organisms, evolved so as to survive in the environments we find ourselves on earth, and then bring in the earth and the moon and the sun and say “Wow, look how that environment is so ideal for man! Must be magic!” Or, do we look at man in the context that we know is real, namely his nature as one biological organism among many which have evolved on a planet which exists in what scientists call the “habitable zone” (which likely allows for greater variability than Anderson would find comfortable for his apologetic purposes)?
If we take Anderson’s reasoning as our template, why not apply the whole strategy to existence as such? Existence seems so fine-tuned to support the blunders of apologetic arguments that existence must have been created for the express purpose of supporting them! What are the odds of that happening? Indeed, what greater confirmation of theism would one need at this point?
I have to say, when apologists start talking about “the odds” against something happening, I suspect they must realize they’re really on the ropes, for at this point they lose all appeal to absoluteness and concede sacred ground to the possibility that their premises lack the power they wish they had. It all misses the point that uniqueness is the identity of every thing that exists. How many banknotes are in circulation around the earth at this moment? Must be billions multifold. And yet, I just pulled a single dollar bill out of my wallet with the serial number B 02331028 H with the year 2013 noted on it. It’s absolutely unique. What are the odds that this single dollar banknote issued seven years ago and in circulation ever since, would wind up in my possession on this particular date? Now, I can imagine that a supernatural consciousness planned this all along since time immemorial. But then I’d be imagining. Also, I would be ignoring the law of causality. What justifies treating the imaginary as real? What justifies ignoring the law of identity applied to action? Blank out.
Also, who’s proposing “chance as a serious explanation” for anything? Certainly not the Objectivist! If action has identity, then there’s no such thing as “chance” defined as “events that occur without cause.” It’s very typical for theistic thinkers to assume yet another false dichotomy in such circumstances: either an event has no causation to explain it, or it must have been caused by an act of supernatural consciousness. But science does not assume either of these false alternatives.
Notice the appeal to supposed improbability still captivates the apologist’s fascination:
Discoveries in chemistry and biology are pointing in the same direction as physics and astronomy. Ongoing research into the origins of life has only underscored how incredibly unlikely it is that the first living cells arose by a combination of natural chemical processes and chance events; on the contrary, the basic building-blocks of organic life bear the distinguishing marks of design. (WSIBC, p. 133)
Again and again, I’m trying to see what exactly Anderson’s argument for the existence of his god might actually be, and the further we probe his case, it not only gets weaker, but looks more and more like it’s not really an attempt to show how one can infer the existence of a god from what we find in reality at all. Rather, it more and more resembles a string of quackeries informed by the same tired strategy of misleadingly characterizing things as though they needed an explanation that can’t be found in reality, thus giving license to evacuate from reality altogether and hide in the imagination.
He states that his goal is “to point out that when it comes to scientific arguments, there are always two sides to the debate, and we ought to give a fair hearing to both sides.” But if one side recognizes that existence exists independent of consciousness as an irreducible fundamental while the other side is confessionally invested in a worldview premised on the metaphysics of wishing makes it so, what exactly would be the point of such a debate? Anderson acknowledges that “our worldviews inevitably influence how we interpret evidences and evaluate theories,” and that is very clear. If one rejects the axioms, abandons the primacy of existence and comes to the table without a good understanding of the nature of concepts and how the human mind forms them, his interpretations and evaluations are going to lack objective basis and invite any assortment of ad hoc chicanery. The result will not magically produce truth, nor will it provide science with the objective basis it needs to support its methodologies and conclusions.
In sum, Christianity and all other forms of mysticism need to leave the room and let the adults get back to work.
by Dawson Bethrick