Wednesday, December 28, 2005

With Minds of Children

I have often asked Christian apologists if they expect non-believers to accept their god-belief claims on their say so, as if their voice carried the cosmic authority they attribute to the god they enshrine in their imagination. I ask this question because religious believers who set out to defend their beliefs from the threat of non-belief offer precious little in clearly explaining why they believe what they claim to believe, and why others should believe what they claim. In my experience apologists typically seem to think this not a serious question, for few have offered a sincere answer. In encounters with apologists, even if their claims are given the attention they apparently think they deserve, questions about why they should be believed or why one should think they are true are either ignored or ridiculed, or effort is made to discredit the character of those who posed them in the first place. Such behavior simply indicates that those who would defend the religious view of the world have little or no confidence in any answers they might provide in response to questions posed about their beliefs and the claim that those beliefs are true.

But this no doubt does not put a stop to apologists seeking to rationalize their mystical beliefs (often by vilifying alternative positions) even while evading questions that sometimes strike at the very core of those beliefs or the motivation to carry on the pretense that they are true. And what is it that they are saying is true? Stories of magical personae and events, tales of conscious beings existing beyond our perception and beyond our ability to discover and know rationally, claims of an invisible magic being which created the universe by wishing it into existence and which "controls whatsoever comes to pass" (1), etc. All this strikes a reasonable thinker as legends and tales which are no more true than Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz.

Some apologists are quite open about the fact that it requires the mind of a child to take such stories seriously and accept them as truth. This is quite refreshing in fact, since it serves to confirm a basic point that I have observed in religious believers who on the whole otherwise seem at least somewhat intelligent. And that point is that god-belief will take its root best when the believer, like a naïve child, is philosophically defenseless against the false premises which lurk under theism's pre-packaged exterior of anecdotes, pretended authority, fake promises of vindication and the like. It is, in the case of Christianity for instance, the absurd and nonsensical which distinguish its teachings from other worldviews most dramatically, insisting that adults lower their minds to the level of a 6-year-old, prone to trusting persons in postions of authority and intellectually unable to recognize any abuse of that trust. It is the recognition of religion's predatory defrauding of the human mind and spirit that prompted Rand to point out to us that "faith in the supernatural always begins with faith in the superiority of others," that "A mystic is a man who surrendered his mind at its first encounter with the minds of others." (2)

Various passages in the bible make it clear that one must have the mind of a child rather than an adult to qualify as an approved believer. For instance, consider the following:

"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)

Presuppositional apologist John Frame tells us that

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. (3)

Luke 18:16, which Frame cites above, says:

"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."

Christianity needs the believer to lower his mind to the level of a child because it can only survive by exploiting his ignorance, and exploiting an individual's ignorance will be more difficult if that individual thinks as an honest adult, is intellectually informed, does not indiscriminately give his trust to just anyone or automatically presume that other minds are superior to his. Apologists recognize that the only way to goad adult thinkers into renouncing their adult minds is by coaxing them into questioning their certainty. It is for this reason that the deployment of many apologetic schemes are so unpersuasive: not only do they fail to draw on objectively verifiable facts which can be examined impartially by all viewers, they also fail to apply concepts in a self-consciously meaningful and consistent manner (which can work against a child's mind, but many adults tend to sense that their leg is being pulled).

For instance, when apologists say things like "[t]he ground of rationality must be the living and triune God" (4), it is entirely unclear what they might be trying to say since the term 'rationality' is not a Christian concept. And we know that 'rationality' is not a Christian concept because a) it is not a biblical concept, and b) the very basis of the concept of rationality, which is the primacy of existence principle, is wholly antithetical to the fundamental metaphysical orientation underpinning Christianity (which is the primacy of consciousness view of reality). Moreover, apologists tend to use such terms while ignoring the need to clarify any working definitions they may assume in the context of their claims and characterizations.

In the interest of undermining the non-believer's certainty (which is rightly perceived as an obstacle that must be removed for there to be any hope of vindicating Christianity from criticism), a favorite tactic of Christian apologists is to barrage a non-believer with numerous questions, questions which they apparently picked up in an introduction to philosophy course or from some apologetics primer. The immediate aim is to uncover some area of ignorance on the non-believer’s part while the underlying strategy is to focus on any hint of ignorance on virtually any issue and exaggerate its proportions by driving a wedge of uncertainty deep into its core. This uncertainty is then used to manipulate the non-believer into doubting the efficacy of his mind and the truth of his verdicts, and Christianity - like a bully who takes pleasure in kicking a guy when he's down - waits in the wings to fill the void.

This tactic can be seen in action in these illustrative examples of questions posed by Christian apologists:

"how does the atheist account for non-material logical laws?" (5)

"Now, how does the atheistic worldview account for morality? can one account
for laws of logic? How can the atheist account for any abstract, universal law?" (6)

"assuming that non-theism were true, on what basis could we assume the validity of the inductive principle (or, in simple terms, the continual uniformity of nature)?" (7)

Such questions are supposed by apologists to have no "cogent" answer on the basis of "the atheist worldview," an expression which implies a uniformity in the thinking of atheists which does not exist.

Statements from apologists repeating the affirmation that "the atheist worldview" or non-believers in general "cannot account for" some feature of cognition read like indistinct widgets rolling off an assembly line, as if those making the affirmations were as robotic as the machines manufacturing the widgets. The uniformity of mindlessly repeated utterances indicates uniform mindlessness on the part of those who make them. Some choice examples include the following:

The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist world view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes. In that sense the atheist world view cannot account for our debate tonight. (8)

The atheistic world view is inadequate… [it] cannot adequately explain the existence of the world… is unable to provide the necessary preconditions to account for the laws of science, the universal laws of logic — and, of course, absolute moral standards… cannot account for the meaningful realities of life. (9)

The atheistic worldview is irrational and cannot provide an adequate basis for intelligible experience. An atheistic world is ultimately random, disorderly, transitory, and volatile. It is therefore incapable of providing the necessary preconditions to account for the laws of science and the universal laws of logic. In short, it cannot account for the meaningful realities people encounter in life. (10)

On an unbelieving basis, however, there is no particular reason to believe that there are laws that actually describe facts. Who is to know that reality is regular at all? If the world is ultimately the result of chance (or ‘ultimate matter’, which is the same thing), surely it is equally likely that the world will become random or chaotic; and if our senses and reason seem to be telling us differently, why should we believe that in a world of chaos they would be telling us the truth? And if chance is king, where do laws come from? They do not exist in the objective world, because that world is the result of chance, not the product of a designer who gives it a structure of regularity. (11)

In the atheist worldview, rationality and ethics are the anomalies that require explanation. In the Christian worldview, irrationalism and evil are the anomalies. At the very least, atheism, not Christianity, has the up-hill battle in explaining how the existence of human rationality makes sense in their worldview. But the atheist’s ultimate explanation for anything can be only one thing, the irrational. Therefore, in terms of the atheist worldview there can never really be a rational explanation for anything." (12)

The anti-theist worldview can not account for the uniformity of nature on which to base the scientific process. (13)

The non-Christian's presuppositions cannot account for any area of human experience. (14)

The essence of the presuppositional strategy is to lampoon non-belief as such, typically by charging it with crippling intellectual disabilities through a variety of vilifying caricatures, presumptuous generalizations and uncharitable translations of certain positions affirmed by certain individuals, thereby making Christian god-belief somehow seem superior, more empowering, more philosophically informed. This tactic and other trademark elements of typical apologetic maneuvers suggest that apologists are really hoping that non-believers respond to their line of interrogation by throwing up their arms and saying "I donno, must be God did it!" After all, apologists give us nothing to suppose that this is not what they did themselves when it came to the task of using their minds.

In such a way, this interrogative style of apologetics is intended to get the heat off the believer and his task of providing reasons for believing what he claims while trying to undermine the non-believer's confidence in reason and his own mind (ironically characterized as a fault-ridden faculty which was allegedly created by a perfect creator). Since the apologist likely knows deep down that his god-belief claims have no rational defense, his concern is to hide them behind a blanket of challenges posed to those who have not surrendered their minds in similar fashion, not because their philosophical orientation is truly faulty, but because they are perceived to be a threat. All the while, the apologist seems completely oblivious to the need to provide a reason for believing the claims he apparently wants us to accept.

This whole approach to apologetics smacks of the behavior of an incorrigible child hoping to entrap adults in his midst whom he resents for being right. Children are not only often overly trusting, suggestible, imprudently credulous and intellectually vulnerable, they are also often prone to lacking self-restraint, social crudeness, and depth of intellect. And it is common knowledge that a child who is reluctant to grow up is sometimes given to petty nitpicking, emotional outbursts, temper tantrums. Non-believers who are willing to engage Christian apologists should not be surprised that such tendencies may show in their opponents since, as we saw above, this childishness is actually encouraged by the Christian worldview. As Van Til confessed unabashedly,

My whole point [is] that there is perfect harmony between my belief as a child and my belief as a man… My unity is that of a child who walks with its father through the woods. (15)

And of course, this is because Van Til never grew up. Which just underscores the $64,000.00 question:

Why be born again when you can just grow up?

by Dawson Bethrick

(1) Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160.
(2) Atlas Shrugged
(3) John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 66.
(4) Douglas Wilson,
Second Rebuttal to Theodore Drange
(5) Michael Butler, TAG vs. TANG
(8) Greg Bahnsen, Opening Statement
(9) Hank Hanegraaff, Is Atheism Logical?
(10) Rolaant McKenzie, Why Christianity?
(11) John Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 77.
(14) Harry Callahan, Opening Statement
(15) Van Til, Why I Believe in God