Why is my axiomatic assumption of the Christian god not a good starting point?
Contrary to what seems to be a common habit among Christian apologists, great care should be given to what we call axiomatic, for axioms identify the very foundation of our knowledge and worldview. The term is not to be used lightly. At the very least, axioms are not something we must infer from some prior point of departure. Rather, they name in the most general terms what we directly perceive, what we are first aware of.
So if Gene Cook wants to defend the position that his "assumption of the Christian god" is axiomatic, he would first have to identify the means by which he has awareness of what he has named "the Christian god." Did he have direct awareness of this god by looking outward at the world? It’s doubtful that this could be the case, because the Christian god is said to be invisible. When Gene looks out at the world, he sees the world of finite objects, not an invisible magic being. If Gene says that the world is evidence of his god, then he runs into the following problems:
1) he admits that his "assumption of the Christian god" is not axiomatic, for now it must be inferred from some prior point of departure (i.e., he is saying that his god's existence is inferred form what he directly perceives, and what he directly perceives comes first),and
2) that which is finite, physical, corruptible and natural cannot serve as evidence of something that is said to be infinite, non-physical, incorruptible and supernatural. A is not evidence of non-A. (See for instance my blog Is Human Experience Evidence of the Christian God?)Perhaps Gene will say that he has direct awareness of his god by looking inward. In other words, when he consults the inner workings of his mind, he “sees” his god staring back at him. If he says this, then he has the following problems:
1) Extrospection (the act of looking outward) always precedes introspection (the act of looking inward) - thus anything said to be known by means of introspection cannot be axiomatic, for ultimately it must refer to that which is perceived extrospectively; to introspect, there must be content. Where did this content come from? From magic?And
2) How did he identify what he "perceives" inwardly as the Christian god as opposed to something else? He would need to have some knowledge already in order to do that, which simply is another point against his assumption that his "assumption of the Christian god" is axiomatic.
3) How does he distinguish what he calls "the supernatural" from what he imagines? This is a big problem for the theist, and I've not seen any theists attempt to answer this question cogently.
4) How does he know that he is not confusing his emotions with a means of knowledge? Proverbs 1:7 (“The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge”) suggests that the believer’s starting point is emotional in nature rather than axiomatic. An emotional response, however, is not a primary; emotions are reactions to things we learn, not self-generated phenomena which causelessly manifest themselves in our conscious experience spontaneously. So the introspective route will only prove problematic for Gene, if he chooses to take it.If he says that his god spoke to him directly, then the problems compound:
1) how did he identify the voice he heard as that of the Christian god?Again, not axiomatic by a long shot. Besides, what if everyone ran around claiming to have knowledge as a result of hearing voices in his head? Incidentally, it was in consideration of this very question (in reference to how Abraham supposedly knew that the voice he heard commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac was that of the Judeo-Christian god), that presuppositional apologist John Frame threw up his arms and confessed, “We know without knowing how we know.” (Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (Part I)) So if Gene claims that he heard a voice and said it belonged to the Christian god, one would hope that he could do better than Frame, and indicate how he was able to distinguish the voice he allegedly heard in his head as belonging to the Christian god.
2) spoken communication requires words, and words are symbols for concepts. Where did Gene get those concepts? And to what do they refer? To understand the words spoken to him, he would need some prior understanding. Otherwise he's just making up things that simply derail the hierarchical structure of knowledge, and such a course will only invalidate itself.
Also, by simply affirming that their god exists, Christians are in fact borrowing from the Objectivist worldview, for the Objectivist worldview alone affirms the fact of existence as its very starting point. In encounters with Christian apologists, I've asked many to explain where they got the concept "exist," for clearly they assume that it has meaning. But none can answer where they got it. Many are even confused by the vanity and futility of many modern philosophical trends which just confuse the whole problem of abstractions while pretending to be presenting a solution to it. For instance, some thinkers treat existence as merely one of many attributes or properties that make up an entity. On this view a soccer ball is roundness, rubbery-ness, black-and-whiteness, bounciness, resilience, and along with these also existence. This ignores the fact that an entity which exists, is all of its attributes, not just some of its attributes put together with something additional which somehow makes it real.
Others treat an entity that exists as "an INSTANCE of existence," as one apologist put it, perhaps as an "instantiation" of a "universal" which somehow precedes the entity in some immaterial, “transcendental” realm which allegedly exists, a realm which is itself supposedly not merely an "instance," but a source out of which all instances come. On this view, man's knowledge of the universals is not made possible by a mental process of abstraction based on perceptual input from his environment, but by means of what Platonists called “anamnesis,” which is supposedly a kind of reminiscence of a time when man existed in that allegedly “transcendental” realm. Such ideas linger in modern philosophy like a bad odor. It’s time to open a window and let the cleansing breeze of reason come through and quench the stuffiness that has built up in Academia. In other words, it’s time that thinkers shed the stolen concepts that they’ve accepted unquestioningly for generations, and clarify their starting point once and for all.
Another point which is easy to overlook is that, those who say that belief in a god is axiomatic performatively contradict themselves whenever they attempt to prove that their god exists by means of argument. Proof is a process of logically securing a position on the basis of inferring its truth from some prior point of departure, one which ultimately has its basis in what we directly perceive. So a position which is inferred from some previously accepted position cannot itself be axiomatic. An axiom is a starting point, not a conclusion to some prior argument. If one presents an argument to secure the conclusion that a god exists, then the supposition that his god exists consequently cannot be his starting point. At the very best, one of the premises supporting that conclusion may be his starting point, but this could only be determined on a case by case basis, depending on the content of the argument so presented. So the apologist needs to decide: is his assumption that his god exists axiomatic in nature, or does this assumption rest on proof?
So, to answer Gene's question about whether or not his axiomatic assumption is good or not, we must ask: Is the “assumption of the Christian god” truly axiomatic? It appears not. Indeed, those who want to say that the “assumption of the Christian god” is axiomatic have their homework cut out for them, for I have raised a number of crucial points to the effect that this could not be the case. Besides, as an Objectivist, I already know what the proper axiomatic starting point to knowledge and rationality must be, and the implications of that starting point spell disaster for those who want to believe in invisible magic beings which go around creating universes and assembling a “plan” by which human history supposedly unfolds.
by Dawson Bethrick