Friday, October 22, 2010

Some Thoughts on Presuppositionalism and the Problem of Evil

Christian apologist Dan of Debunking Atheists agreeably affirms Greg Bahnsen’s solution to the problem of evil, which reads as follows:
God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists. (Always Ready, p. 172)
Bahnsen offers this statement (for which he cites no biblical citation specifically supporting it) as an overlooked premise which satisfies the problem of evil:
1. God is all-good.
2. God is all-powerful.
3. Evil exists. (Ibid., p. 171)
Bahnsen adds to this formulation of the problem of evil the claim that his god “has a morally sufficient reason” for evil. Bahnsen does not tell us what that alleged reason is. He does not even suggest possible candidates for what it could or might be. Bahnsen’s concern is to claim that his god does have a reason for allowing and/or committing evil, and that reason is “morally sufficient.” In essence, Bahnsen is passing judgment on something he has not seen; he is pre-judging as “morally sufficient” something which he cannot even show actually exists, and whose identity is unknown. Bahnsen nowhere explains how we can morally evaluate something that is unknown, and yet attempts to solve the problem of evil by affirming a premise which does exactly this. Such prejudice is rash and baseless, and the opposite of morally responsible.

All this is to say that Bahnsen offers a defense against the problem of evil, but fails to validate a crucial component integral to that defense, namely the notion of a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. As we examine Bahnsen’s own statements around his proposed defense against the problem of evil, and Dan’s additional comments on the matter, consider what kind of mind is required to take the view that there is such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. Bahnsen himself shows no indication that he winces at the idea; in fact, he seems gleeful in affirming it.

Bahnsen clues us in on the psychological process by which the Christian mind comes to the evaluation of reasons which are unknown, as “morally sufficient” when he states the following:
If the Christian presupposes that God is perfectly and completely good -- as Scripture requires us to do -- then he is committed to evaluating everything within his experience in the light of that presupposition. Accordingly, when the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should retain consistency with his presupposition about God's goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists. God certainly must be all-powerful in order to be God; He is not to be thought of as overwhelmed or stymied by evil in the universe. And God is surely good, the Christian will profess -- so any evil we find must be compatible with God's goodness. This is just to say that God has planned evil events for reasons which are morally commendable and good. (Always Ready, pp. 171-172)
Observe Bahnsen’s procedure here, and notice how its entire weight is borne on faith-based assumptions:
Step 1: Assume on faith (i.e., on the basis of hope and desire) that there is a god.
Step 2: Assume in advance of anything else, that this god “is perfectly and completely good.”
Step 3: Commit yourself “to evaluating everything within [your] experience in light of [these assumptions]” – i.e., deliberately allow them to predetermine the outcome of any evaluation, inference, supposition, judgment, conclusion you may make about said god.
Step 4: When you observe evil in the world, “retain consistency with [these assumptions] about God’s goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists.”
Step 5: Don’t worry about what specifically that reason might be; you might never know what it is (in fact, it’s preferable that you don’t know what it is). Bahnsen himself concedes that he has no idea what this “morally sufficient reason” could possibly be when he writes:
the Bible calls upon us to trust that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which can be found in this world, but it does not tell us what that sufficient reason is.
The apologist finds delight in such ignorance, pretending that it indicates some “higher knowledge” to which man has no access. The purpose here is not to establish the claim that the Christian god has a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. Rather, it is simply to assume, on the basis of prior assumptions accepted on faith, that whatever reason said god supposedly has is, sight unseen, a “morally good reason” for evil. Don’t even worry about knowing what such a reason could be; don’t try to hypothesize examples; don’t think critically about what you are expected to accept as knowledge. The important thing is not to evaluate specific instances, but to settle in your mind at any cost that whatever reason this god might have for allowing or committing evil, it’s a “morally good reason.”

Step 6: Rationalize Steps 4 and 5. For example, remind yourself that “God certainly must be all-powerful in order to be God; He is not to be thought of [i.e., imagined] as overwhelmed or stymied by evil in the universe. And God is surely good.” Given these assumptions which are affirmed in advance of contemplating anything that might be called evil in the world, pretend to have drawn the conclusion “[therefore] any evil we find must be compatible with God’s goodness.”

Step 7: Put out of your mind the fact that the very notion of evil being “compatible with God’s goodness” is indistinguishable from evil being compatible with the nature of an evil god. I.e., suppress genuine moral judgment in order to replace it with morally bankrupt prejudices resting on faith-based assumptions which are to be accepted in advance of any judgment for no good reason whatsoever (for to evaluate a reason as “good” would defy the very procedure under consideration).

Step 8: Having gone through Steps 1 through 7, pretend that you’ve established as a conclusion to prior reasoning that “God has planned evil events for reasons which are morally commendable and good.” Again, do not inquire as to what these reasons might be; what is important is that you presuppose that they are “morally commendable and good.”
If those reasons are in fact “morally commendable and good,” then, by deeming them as such, the apologist is essentially saying everyone should go and do likewise, for they are “morally commendable and good.” But what if everyone went around, like the Christian god, allowing and/or committing evil and claiming to have a “morally sufficient reason” for doing so? If this would not be a suitable formula for man’s choices and actions, then how can one call the Christian god’s supposed “reason” for allowing evil “morally commendable and good”?

In attempting to turn the problem of evil into merely an emotional difficulty as opposed to an actual contradiction, Bahnsen openly admits that he does not know what reason his god might have for allowing or using evil to achieve its ends:
The problem which men have with God when they come face to face with evil in the world is not a logical or philosophical one, but more a psychological one. We can find it emotionally very hard to have faith in God and trust His goodness and power when we are not given the reason why bad things happen to us and others. We instinctively think to ourselves, "why did such a terrible thing occur?" Unbelievers internally cry out for an answer to such a question also. But God does not always (indeed, rarely) provide an explanation to human beings for the evil which they experience or observe. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29). We might not be able to understand God's wise and mysterious ways, even if He told us (cf. Isaiah 55:9). Nevertheless, the fact remains that He has not told us why misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives. (Always Ready, p. 173)
I have already written on a broader problem in Christianity, what I call the problem of imperfection, in my blog Was Adam Created Perfect? Bahnsen avoids addressing, even acknowledging, that Christianity is unable to resolve the inherent contradiction in affirming the view that the universe was created by a perfect creator, while imperfections exist in that creation. The problem of evil is essentially a more isolated aspect, or manifestation, of this broader problem, which few apologists ever consider.

In trying to downplay the logical conundrum raised by the problem of evil, Bahnsen proposes a solution which affirms the notion that evil is justifiable if one has a “morally sufficient reason” for it, and, apparently pleased with himself, proceeds to call the persistence of the problem of evil a “psychological” problem rather than a philosophical problem. Bahnsen thus announces that he sees no philosophical problem in affirming the notion that evil is justifiable if one has a supposedly “morally sufficient reason” for it.

He says that the psychological problem of evil arises as a result of not knowing what that reason might be, for not having a suitable answer to the question, “why did such a terrible thing occur?” Bahnsen’s claim that whatever reason his god has for allowing or using evil to achieve its ends, it is a “morally sufficient reason,” is intended to calm the believer’s mind by appeasing the wrong end of the contradiction: by camouflaging evil with the guise of goodness to make it seem acceptable.

Bahnsen complains that “Unbelievers internally cry out for an answer to such a question also,” but “unbelievers” are not the ones whose worldview brews such a philosophical quandary in the first place, nor is it the “unbeliever’s” worldview which posits the notion of a “morally sufficient reason” for allowing or using evil as the solution to the problem of evil.

In spite of the raging nature of this question, given its mystical premises, Bahnsen reports that “God does not always (indeed, rarely) provide an explanation to human beings for the evil which they experience or observe,” that “He has not told us why misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives.” Bahnsen even suggests that believers “might not be able to understand God's wise and mysterious ways, even if He told us.” So Bahnsen acknowledges that he does not know what reason his god might have for using evil to achieve its purposes, and says that he probably wouldn’t understand it even if he were to learn of it, and yet he still calls it “morally sufficient.” For Bahnsen, the moral is not the understood, but the obeyed. Understanding plays no central role in the Christian conception of morality.

The bottom line for Bahnsen and his worldview, then, is that evil is morally justifiable so long as one does not disclose his reasons for adopting its use. Something does not need to be known or understood in order to call it “morally sufficient,” and Bahnsen was the type of individual who found this “solution” to the problem of evil satisfying.

Bahnsen does affirm that evil is a serious issue. He writes:
It is important for the Christian to realize –indeed, to insist upon – the reality and serious nature of evil. The subject of evil is not simply an intellectual parlor game, a cavalier matter, a whimsical or relativistic choice of looking a things a certain way. Evil is real. Evil is ugly. (Ibid., p. 164)
But if Bahnsen takes evil so seriously, why then does he offer as his solution to the problem of evil the claim that his god has a “morally sufficient reason” for evil? In giving this as his solution to the problem of evil, Bahnsen is essentially conceding that his god is ultimately responsible for the reality of evil in the world; we have already seen that Bahnsen thinks that “misery and suffering and injustice are part of His plan for history and for our individual lives” (p. 173). And, presumably, since this god is supposedly both omnipotent as well as free, it should be able to achieve its ends and create a universe without evil ever coming into the picture. So the conclusion that the existence of any evil anywhere is ultimately the responsibility of the omnipotent creator which is supposed to have created everything in the first place, seems unavoidable. Indeed, if Bahnsen didn’t think his god were responsible for the reality of evil, he wouldn’t need to claim that his god has a “morally sufficient reason” for evil. As I pointed out above, Bahnsen does not tell us what “morally sufficient reason” his god supposedly has for the evil that exists in the world; he doesn’t even give an example of a reason which he considers “morally sufficient” for allowing or committing evil. Indeed, to do so, Bahnsen would simply be giving us a glimpse into his own views, which he prefers to keep private for obvious reasons. So it comes as no surprise that Bahnsen does not elaborate on this point.

Dan writes:
This can't be a discussion as to "God is going to clear up the mess." He will, but that is not an adequately sufficient answer for the non-believers here. The question the Atheists here have is not whether God will 'take care of it' but, why did God allow it? Why is there a mess to begin with? Is God sadistic or impotent?
Actually, the question is more like:
How could a good god, which is characterized as a “loving father,” choose to allow it?
Or, consider the following:
How is a god which allows evil, and/or makes use of evil to achieve its goals, any different from a god that is evil?
If the Christian god is supposed to be “all-good,” then presumably any action it chooses to do must originate from good intentions, since all its intentions would supposedly be good. Also, bear in mind that this god is supposedly in control of everything. Presuppositionalists in particular are eager to affirm such a view. Observe:
God controls whatsoever comes to pass. (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160)
God’s thoughts make the world what it is and determine what happens – which is why all facts are revelatory of God… (Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 243)
God controls all events and outcomes (even those that come about by human choice and activity) and is far more capable and powerful than modern machines. (Van Til's Apologetic, p. 489n.43)
So how does the Christian square events and outcomes which are not good in nature, with the view that the Christian god, which is supposed to be “all-good” and only “all-good,” is in control of everything? Bahnsen’s own proposal, that his god has “a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” does not reconcile the matter. On the contrary, all it accomplishes is portraying the Christian god on cozy terms with evil. So the problem persists.

Predictably, Dan writes:
The Atheist are [is] in a real quandary when he tries to argue for the problem of evil, he has to first make a moral judgment that is objectively correct. Objective moral judgments can only be grounded in the transcendent God of Christianity.
Several points here:

First, Dan misses the internal nature of the critique launched by the problem of evil. The problem of evil points to a state of affairs which is inconsistent with what the Christian worldview would have us believe. Christianity affirms both horns of the conflict, namely that an all-good, omnipotent and omniscient creator created the entire universe and all its contents, even “control[ing] whatsoever comes to pass” within it, and that evil exists in the world. The conflict is thus confined within the Christian worldview.

Contrary to what presuppositionalists typically say, the conflict to which the problem of evil draws our attention is not the non-believer’s (alleged) failure to ground moral judgment without reference to the Christian god. On the contrary, since both sides of this conflict are affirmed by Christianity, so the problem obtains regardless of what the non-believer can or cannot do.

This conflict not only destroys the Christian worldview from within, it also has profoundly damning implications for the moral character of those who actively seek to defend it, especially in a manner like Greg Bahnsen. By definition and by virtue of its nature, an all-good being would not willfully use evil to achieve its ends: its all-good nature would preclude any willingness complicit with evil. Consequently, a being which does make use of evil to achieve its ends cannot rightly be called “all-good.” But this is what Christianity essentially teaches in this respect: that its god is all-good, but also that its creation contains evil, and the “all-good” god is ultimately responsible for the evil. The task of the apologist is to reconcile these teachings without contradiction. But the contradiction cannot be reconciled without compromising either side of the conflict, even if the believer wants to say that his god has a “morally sufficient reason” for the evil it uses to accomplish its ends. Indeed, the very notion of a “morally sufficient reason” to allow or make use of evil is a contradiction in terms: that which is morally sufficient abstains absolutely from evil. Is there such a reason as a “morally sufficient reason” to commit murder? Is there such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” to rape children? Is there such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” to burglarize a house? Is there such a thing as a “morally sufficient reason” to evade relevant facts in one’s reasoning? These are questions for the Christian who affirms the notion of a “morally sufficient reason” for allowing or committing evil to consider.

Second, Dan incorrectly assumes (most likely because he wants it to be the case) that “objective moral judgments can only be grounded in the transcendent God of Christianity.” He does not establish this claim; no apologist really does. Apologists love to repeat this kind of claim, but it is typically accepted by believers on faith: they want it to be true, and on the basis of this desire, they affirm it as if it were true. A dead give-away here is the use of the concept ‘objective’ in qualifying “moral judgments,” a concept that is anathema to the Christian worldview (see here).

We’ve already seen that the Christian worldview is opposed to moral judgment as such. Actions which are chosen by a volitional agent are always subject to moral evaluation. But Christians have imperatively insisted that no one has the right to judge their god’s chosen actions. Even this insistence, however, is at odds with what Christians like Greg Bahnsen urge us to swallow: they tell us that their god and all its actions are good, which is a moral evaluation. And yet we’ve been denied the right to make any moral evaluations. In fact, we’re told that we have no basis to make moral evaluations to begin with.

Now the apologist speaks of “objective moral judgments.” But does he understand what objectivity is? His claim that “objective moral judgments can only be grounded in the transcendent God of Christianity.” In other words, in the apologist’s view, objective moral judgments are not grounded in reason. The presuppositionalist literature in fact confirms this analysis. Bahnsen explains the presuppositionalist understanding of objectivity as follows:
For Van Til, objectivity in the Christian worldview is not a matter of having no presuppositions (and letting a pretended neutral reason find the pretended external truth, which is actually organized by the subjective mind of man), but a matter of having the right presuppositions – that is, having the divine point of view gained through revelation. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 286)
So clearly, for the presuppositionalist, reason has nothing to do with objectivity. If it did, why wouldn’t Bahnsen make mention of this when he gives the Christian “understanding” of objectivity?

Moreover, the presuppositionalist conception of objectivity does not rule out the view that wishing makes it so. On the basis of the Christian worldview, wishing does make it so, especially if the wisher is the Christian god (see here). Think of it: a conception of objectivity which allows wishing to make it so!

This is how the Christian worldview divorces “objectivity” from reason: by underwriting its conception of objectivity with the primacy of consciousness, and doing away with reason in epistemology. It manifests itself by accepting an enormous sum of mystical premises as “truth” which are said to be “divinely revealed” and are consulted as the ultimate guide to understanding the world. It should be obvious that one can easily claim to “know” anything by an appeal to “revelation,” especially when it comes to “knowledge” of “the supernatural” and “duties” which men are supposed to adopt and follow. So the appeal to divine revelation offers absolutely zero safeguards for ensuring genuine objectivity in one’s identifications and conclusions.

Of course, apologist Dan does not anticipate this objection, for not only does he take it for granted that reason has nothing to do with moral judgment (he voices no concern over the absence of reason's mention in the presuppositionalist script), he expects his claim that moral judgments need the Christian god in order to be objective, to be accepted on faith (i.e., on the wish that it be true), essentially on his own say so. He gives no argument, so he does not even present this claim as a conclusion to prior reasoning. It’s a stipulation, not a conclusion, not a discovery one makes by applying reason to the world.

But perhaps I’m hasty in assuming that Dan means the same thing as Van Til does with the word “objective.” In that case, what could he possibly mean by “objective”? He uses this term as if its meaning were self-apparent. But going by what I understand by the concept ‘objective’, his claim that objective moral judgments need to be grounded in the Christian god is clearly false. This is because objectivity is essentially the methodical application of the primacy of existence to knowledge, while Christianity is fundamentally opposed to the primacy of existence (see here). Consequently, the apologist is using a concept (the concept ‘objectivity’) while ignoring its genetic roots (the primacy of existence) by underwriting it with a worldview which explicitly denies its roots (i.e., Christianity). In other words, we have here an instance of the fallacy of the stolen concept.

Dan writes:
The Atheist cannot logically generate the problem of evil.
What Dan means here is that, by virtue of his atheism, an atheist has no rational basis for moral concepts (like ‘good’ and ‘evil’) that is consistent with his non-belief in the Christian god. Of course this overlooks the internal nature of the problem of evil. As I pointed out above, the problem of evil is a problem within Christianity regardless of what any particular atheist can or cannot do.

Additionally, notice that Dan nowhere establishes this claim by means of proof. He simply asserts it, apparently expecting everyone to accept it on faith. After all, that’s how he accepted it. Accepting a claim on faith essentially means supposing it is true because you want it to be true. Dan wants this claim to be true, so he pretends that it is true. In this very sense, faith is a pretense.

Dan write:
Its not a problem for the believer
What Dan is really saying (without the courage to come out and say it plainly), is that the believer doesn’t have a problem with evil. He’s already conceded that, according to Christianity, his god has a cozy relationship with evil since it uses evil to achieve its purposes. Dan does not explain how this can be morally good, and apparently doesn’t see any need to. Indeed, he doesn’t see any need to explain this because he ultimately doesn’t care.

Like any believer, Dan’s concern is to be an obedient worshiper who disallows himself the freedom to judge his god as anything other than a “good” god. But by doing so, he destroys the meaning of the very concept ‘good’. Since his god is on friendly terms with evil, it is a god which deliberately chooses not to take an uncompromising stance against evil. So just by worshiping such a god and calling it “good,” the believer concedes by his own actions that he has no problem with evil. Just as the god he worships, the believer is ultimately indifferent to evil, because he’s ultimately indifferent to values, and this is because he is ultimately indifferent to life on earth. So logically, while the believer has no problem with evil, he has an insurmountable problem with good.

What should be noted here, however, is that even the believer himself is not consistent with the logical implications of his worldview’s stated position on its god and evil in the world. On the contrary, the believer routinely acts as if his own values were important. In other words, his own actions defy the moral ambivalence inherent in his theism.

Dan writes:
but it is, ironically, the problem for the unbeliever.
Not the Christian problem of evil. The atheist does not posit an “all-good,” “all-knowing” and “all-powerful” god which uses evil to achieve its own ends. That’s the problem of evil. This is a problem for the Christian worldview. As we have seen, the Christian’s “solution” to this is essentially to wipe out all rational meaning from the concept ‘good’ in order to justify his belief in a god which deliberately uses evil to achieve its ends. Notice that even when Dan repeats Bahnsen’s claim that the Christian god “has a morally sufficient reason” for evil, he does not (just as Bahnsen did not) identify what this supposedly “morally sufficient reason” might be. This only indicates that the apologist is not looking for a way to resolve the logical conflict highlighted by the problem of evil, but rather to prop up a psychological means of rationalizing belief in such a thing. He’s essentially trying to have his cake, and eat it, too. Most non-Christians should see right through this farcical distortion of morality.

Dan writes:
The Atheist need to make good on the statement that its evil first.
Again Dan ignores the internal nature of the problem of evil. It is Christianity which affirms the existence of evil in the world, regardless of what specifically the atheist’s worldview might happen to teach. Presuppositionalists guarantee us that they will continue in their failure to address the problem of evil so long as they ignore the internal nature of its critique of Christianity.

But presuppositionalists do have an incentive to ignore the internal nature of the problem of evil, namely the fact that it cannot be defeated. Christianity says that the world was created by an all-good, all-knowing, all-controlling and omnipotent god, and it also says that evil exists in the world. As an example of evil in the world, Dan himself cited the torture of children (he quoted Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov at length to give an example of this). If one accepts the premise that an all-knowing, all-controlling and omnipotent god created the world, he cannot logically escape the implication that any evil that exists in the world is ultimately there because that god put it there. Essentially, the apologist needs to explain how evil finds its source in something that is supposedly “all-good.” Bahnsen fails at this task. So does apologist Dan.

by Dawson Bethrick

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Rick Warden's Critique of Objectivism

A Christian named Rick Warden who has attempted to commandeer the comments section of my blog refuting Sye Ten Bruggencate’s “proof” for the existence of a god, posted his objections to the philosophy of Objectivism.

While the objections which Rick raises against Objectivism are superficial and reflect a profound unfamiliarity with what Objectivism actually teaches, his mistakes are common among theistic apologists attempting to debate non-believers on the topic of logic.

Rick openly admits that he is “still in the learning mode regarding Objectivism” – i.e., he acknowledges his own unfamiliarity with what Objectivism teaches. But this does not stop him from running roughshod into battle even though he’s completely unarmed. In spite of acknowledging his ignorance of Objectivism, he thinks he’s already found a bunch of fallacies in Objectivism.

I will examine Rick’s criticisms below. We will find that, as with so many critics of “non-Christian thought,” Rick has a talent for making a lot of errors in the space of just a few statements.

Rick writes:
I would be interested to know your criticisms on this response to your premise from an article:
Okay. Bring it on.

It is an undeniable fact that a subject is distinct from the objects of its awareness: a subject and its objects are not one and the same – the two are engaged in a relationship.
Rick asked:
Is it really ‘an undeniable fact’?
Rationally speaking, yes, it is. Whenever an individual perceives and/or consider any object, his action of perceiving and/or considering that object is distinct from the object he’s perceiving and/or considering. On what rational basis could anyone deny this? Even in denying it, he would be instantiating the very distinction he’s denying.

Rick wrote:
As far as we may surmise, pure, unadulterated logic does not submit into an absolute metaphysical subject/object dualism explanation.
It’s not clear what Rick is trying to say here. He introduces the notion of dualism, which has many meanings and connotations in the history of philosophy. Greater precision of expression is recommended here if Rick has a point he wants to get across.

At any rate, logic does have a metaphysical basis, and it is not consciousness in isolation from any object it’s conscious of. Rather, the metaphysical basis of logic is the subject-object relationship – i.e., the subject of consciousness engaged in awareness of some object(s). A subject’s awareness of some object(s) is a metaphysical fact – i.e., objective, since this awareness itself is not the product of conscious intentions. When we sense things, we have no choice over the fact that we sense or what it is we are sensing. Anyone who has experienced pain realizes this, at least implicitly: when one feels pain, he cannot choose not to feel it. If we could, we wouldn’t need painkillers or anesthesia, nor would we be so reluctant to go to the dentist.

Rick wrote:
Ask an objectivist: “In terms of human perception, is logic considered a subject or an object?”
The question, as I understand it, seems rather incoherent. Why specifically “in terms of human perception” here? We do not perceive logic; logic is conceptual. Also, logic itself is not the subject of consciousness: the concept ‘logic’ does not denote a conscious being. Subjects (in the sense that I use it in the passage quoted from my blog above) are conscious beings. I, Dawson Bethrick, am a subject; the reader who is reading this is a subject. Logic, on the other hand, is a set of abstract principles which regulate identification; identification is an activity performed by a conscious subject.

But without doubt, logic can be an object of awareness, but I would not say of perceptual awareness. We don’t see, feel or touch logic. Logic does not make noises, nor does it produce an odor. But we can think about logic, we can examine logic, we can write about logic, we can talk about logic, we can marvel at logic. When we do any of these things, logic is the object of our awareness. So logic can be an object of our awareness, just as it is in this very sentence – since I’m talking about logic.

Rick wrote:
If the objectivist says logic is a ‘subject’, then it is considered a part of the mind.
Actually, if one were to say that logic is a subject, he’d be saying (as I have used the terms) that logic is a conscious being in its own right. I don’t think this is the case, and I don’t see why anyone would think this. This would be an instance of personifying an inanimate object.

Rick continued:
Logic, from a utilitarian view, is a tool, an aspect of reasoning. Without a mind, logic would have no use whatsoever. This implies, from a materialist perspective, it should be a cart the horse of reason pulls. But objectivists have a problem here. While Logic is used personally, as a tool for subjective reasoning, it is not ONLY personal, it consists of universal laws, it endures from one generation to the next, as do known ‘external’ natural laws.
Let’s keep in mind what specifically it is we’re talking about when we talk about logic. “Logic is the art or skill of non-contradictory identification” (Ayn Rand, “Philosophical Detection,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 15). Logic’s very purpose is to guide man’s ability to identify and integrate what he perceives. This is entirely in keeping with the proper understanding of the nature of reason:
Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 20)
Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. (Ayn Rand, “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 62)
Only biological organisms (specifically human beings) identify and integrate what they perceive conceptually, and since logic is the method which regulates this process, it is man who needs logic (as he does not automatically identify and integrate what he perceives). Essentially, logic is to epistemology what a code of values is to morality. Since the process of identifying and integrating what we perceive is a volitional operation, we need a structured set of guidelines to guide our cognitive choices. Only where a conceptual consciousness is concerned, is logic even going to be a consideration.

Rocks do not need logic; rivers do not need logic; a pile of leaves does not need logic; shooting stars do not need logic. Given this context, then, it is definitely true that “without a mind, logic would [be of] no use whatsoever.”

Now it is true that logic as a set of principles guiding human thought endures from one generation to the next. To put it short, logic is the same for everyone. But this fact does not undermine the Objectivist position or its understanding of logic. “Logic has a single law, the Law of Identity, and its various corollaries” (“Philosophical Detection,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 15). The law of identity does not change, either from place to place, or person to person, or generation to generation. It is rooted directly on the one fact that everything in the universe has in common, namely the fact of existence: if something exists, it is what it is.

Moreover, on the Objectivist view, logic is conceptual in nature (see here), and human beings possess consciousnesses capable of the conceptual level of cognition. It is the open-endedness or “universality” of concepts, given their the process by which they are formed (i.e., by abstraction, specifically the operation known as measurement-omission), which gives logic its universal applicability. This is why a good theory of concepts is indispensable to understanding the issues which Rick has raised. Logic certainly does in fact depend on human minds, but not on their whims, rather on their essential nature as conscious subjects in a relationship with the objects of their awareness, i.e., the primacy of existence. Logic owes its stability, immutability and universality of applicability to its conceptual nature and its foundation on the law of identity.

That the nature of concepts is the key here can be demonstrated with a simple example, the concept ‘man’. We form the concept ‘man’ on the basis of just a few perceptual inputs - in fact, only two are really required. “ A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 13). Based on those few perceptually given samples, say Jones and Smith, we omit the specific measurements of each – Jones is 6’2” tall, portly, bearded, wears glasses, dressed in a white coat, is a doctor, is 53 years old, speaks four languages, etc., while Smith is 5’8” tall, slender, clean-shaven, wears a three-piece suit, is a company CEO, is 48 years old, speaks English and a little pig Latin, etc. – and integrate them into a single mental unit – the concept ‘man’. Because of measurement-omission, we can integrate more “units” – i.e., other men – into the same concept, as we discover them. There is no quantitative limit to integration; the concept ‘man’ is open-ended – i.e., “universal” – in that it includes every man who exists, who has existed and who will ever exist. It is a universal classification.

Notice how this allows for us to communicate with each other. You have formed the concept ‘man’ based on specific individuals whom you have encountered over your life, and I have formed the concept ‘man’ based on the specific individuals whom I have encountered over my life. Unless we grow up in the same small town, the specific individuals in your encounter set are going to be entirely different from those in my encounter set. However, since we have both formed the concept ‘man’ by essentially the same process – i.e., by a process of abstraction, we can each have an idea of what the other is talking about when we speak of men.

The same is the case with the concepts which inform the principles of logic. Since they too are concepts formed by the same process, they have their analogues in every mind which has performed that process to form them, just as you and I both had sufficiently similar concepts of ‘man’ already formed in our knowledge base. Of course, it can get tricky as we form abstractions on the basis of previously formed abstractions, as we now start developing a hierarchical structure, and the need for uniform definitions becomes crucial. This is where the objective theory of concepts proves its worth. “The final step in concept-formation is definition. This step is essential to every concept except axiomatic concepts and concepts denoting sensations” (Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 96) In other words, until we’ve secured our concepts with proper definitions, our work in forming them is not finished. “A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 40). It is often in the realm of definitions where thinkers encounter their greatest point of conflict with each other. This is why I urge my theistic interlocutors to make their definitions clear. They frequently have a hard time doing this, and I think a major reason why is that they simply do not have a good grasp of concepts.

Let me re-emphasize the broader point: Since existence holds metaphysical primacy, logic will always have its proper anchor: the law of identity , regardless of who is using it. Since existence exists independent of consciousness, and consciousness is consciousness of objects, there is a proper orientation between the subject of consciousness (the human thinker) and its objects (anything he perceives and/or considers). That orientation is identified by the primacy of existence: the objects of consciousness are what they are independent of the conscious activity by which the subject is aware of them.

So the answer to the supposed conundrum which Rick raises here, is supplied by Objectivism’s axioms, the primacy of existence, and its theory of concepts.

Also, a couple of other cautionary corrections for Rick here:
1. Objectivism is not a form of Utilitarianism.
2. Objectivism is not materialism.

Rick wrote:
If the objectivist says logic is an ‘object’, then it is presumed to be a part of the ‘external’ world and they have another problem.
This is a non sequitur. Logic indeed can be an object of consciousness (just as it is in the case of this discussion – it is one of the objects under our consideration), but it does not follow from this that logic is “part of the ‘external’ world” exclusively. We do have the capacity for introspection, in which case our own consciousness can become an object to itself. When I introspect, I am aware of my own conscious activity, and that conscious activity of which I am aware, is the object of my introspective awareness. When I see a ball (an object in “external reality”), I am perceiving it; when I think about my perceiving the ball, my perception of the ball becomes what is properly understood as a secondary object of my consciousness (since I had to perceive the ball first in order for my perception of the ball to be an object of my awareness).

Similarly with logic. Logic is a set of principles, informed by concepts, which regulates proper identification of objects, and it too can be an object of our awareness. An object, mind you, as I use it in the passage which Rick quoted from my blog, is anything one perceives and/or considers. It can be an extramental entity (such as a ball), or some conscious activity (such as my awareness of the ball).

So, the problem which Rick raises here does not afflict Objectivism.

Rick wrote:
No one has ever perceived logic, or its effects, with his or her senses and thus cannot ‘objectively’ account for its existence.
This is another non sequitur. It’s likely a consequence ignoring not only the conceptual nature of logic, but also our capacity for introspection.

Since, as I pointed out above, we can introspect, we do have the capacity to identify the process by which we form concepts. And here’s why: since this process of forming concepts does have identity (e.g., it works one way and not others), and we can become aware of it (by means of introspection), we can objectively identify it (by adhering to the primacy of existence). So yes, we can objectively account for it, but only if we maintain fidelity to the primacy of existence and have a good understanding of concepts. (Christianity provides for neither, which is why you think these are problems for non-Christians.)

Rick: “If the objectivist says gravity is similar because it is not seen but known by its effects, it seems to be a weak corollary.”

But the Objectivist did not say this. Next?

Rick: “What does this imply metaphysically?”

The Objectivist is beyond implications at this point, because he as the primacy of existence – i.e., he has explicitly identified the proper relationship between a consciousness and its objects.

Rick: “Therefore, if there is a question of which has primacy metaphysically, logic does.”

The issue of metaphysical primacy has to do with the proper relationship between a consciousness (i.e., a subject) and its objects. I already explained why logic is not the subject – it’s not a conscious entity. And yes, we saw how logic can be an object. But it’s only one of many objects, and it could only be a secondary object at best (since we need to introspect to become aware of it). So it would not do to say that logic specifically has metaphysical primacy; this would be too narrow, and it would fail to identify the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects in terms of essentials - i.e., consciousness and existence. Indeed, the concept ‘logic’ is not conceptually irreducible, and since the issue of metaphysical primacy must be settled at the axiomatic level of cognition, we must address it in terms of axiomatic concepts.

Rick: “If the existence of logic refutes the assumed metaphysical subject/object duality and logic metaphysically predominates over reason, then an absolute subject/object duality, strictly based on human reasoning, should not be considered a metaphysically reliable premise.”

The existence of logic does not refute the primacy of existence. On the contrary, the primacy of existence makes it possible (since the primacy of existence is its fundamental basis) and necessary (since the human mind in the effort to identify its objects is fallible).

Rick raised another criticism:
The Primacy of Existence theory supposedly disproves Theism because it assumes a single world view cannot entertain both a primacy of existence example (man) and a primacy of consciousness example (God). But there is a third possibility, based on the existence of logic, that something may, in fact, be independent of- and indefinable by the apparent subjective and object duality.
Let’s see if any of this this successfully applies to Objectivism.

Essentially, Rick’s objection amounts to the view that the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness are not jointly exhaustive, that “there is a third possibility” that is allegedly an alternative to the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness.

An argument has already been developed in anticipation of this kind of claim, and can be found here: Are the Primacy of Existence and Primacy of Consciousness Exhaustive Metaphysics? While I would phrase certain statements in this essay differently if I were writing it myself, the overall gist of this paper brings the point home rather well. The following point is noteworthy when considering Rick’s speculative proposal:
Of course, if you're a believer in the Primacy of Consciousness, you might think that there are things other than consciousness and existence, because your consciousness could create [i.e., imagine] them. In this case, you could advocate the Primacy of Something Else, although this would be highly illogical, in that you've already presupposed that your consciousness has created these new things, and that, presumably, they are existents. But besides, the Primacy of Consciousness is false.
Notice that, not only does Rick propose his alternative to the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness in a tentative manner (he casts it as a “possibility… that something may…” rather than an actually existing and defensible alternative), but also that he does not present any argument for his claim. In fact, his whole effort to evade the choice between the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness indicates that he does not understand the issue of metaphysical primacy to begin with. This is extremely common among theistic critics of Objectivism.

Also notice that, after reading my argument, Rick does not come out and endorse the primacy of consciousness, which I argue to be the underlying premise of theism. This is not unexpected. Theists typically try to distance themselves from explicitly endorsing the primacy of consciousness metaphysics once its failings have been pointed out to them. And yet, like other theistic critics of Objectivism who are reluctant to admit the subjective underpinnings of their worldview, Rick does not explain how his theism could survive without it; he does not explain how one could believe in a universe-creating, reality-ruling god without assuming the primacy of consciousness.

Given what he does write in response to my argument (Rick interacts with very little of it), it’s clear that Rick’s reading of it is faulty. This is evidenced by the fact that he wants to introduce a “third alternative” to the jointly exhaustive orientations identified by the issue of metaphysical primacy. For one thing, Rick does not seem to grasp that the issue of metaphysical primacy pertains to the relationship between a consciousness (the subject) and its objects (what the subject is conscious of). This is why there are only two perspectives to consider in weighing the issue of metaphysical primacy: the primacy of the objects of consciousness (i.e., the primacy of existence, the objective position) vs. the primacy of the subject (i.e., the primacy of consciousness, the subjective position). We are limited to these two alternatives because a consciousness and its objects are the only parties to the relationship.

Also, since the relationship between a subject and its objects is not a relationship between equals (an object and the activity by which the subject has awareness of it are not the same; the actions which produce awareness are performed by the subject, even those actions which are involuntary), it cannot be the case that both the subject and its objects jointly share metaphysical primacy. This would ignore the nature of consciousness as a faculty which must discover the nature of its objects as it seeks to identify them. Man is not omniscient, nor does he begin his awareness of the world with exhaustive knowledge of the objects which he will eventually encounter in his conscious experience.

So there can be no “third option,” as Rick would like to believe.

Another tragic mistake of Rick’s is his attempt to base the possibility of a “third possibility” on “the existence of logic.” Recall that logic is “the art or skill of non-contradictory identification.” If logic in fact exists, it can only imply that those consciousnesses which make use of it, do so because knowledge of the identity of the objects they encounter is not an automatically given, but a goal which they must pursue by incorporating logic as a method which regulates identification. In other words, logic necessarily presupposes the primacy of existence by virtue of its role in the cognitive process: to ensure the conformity of man’s mind to reality as he develops his knowledge beyond the level of perceptually self-evident facts.

That Rick thinks this “third possibility” (alternative) to the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness “may, in fact, be independent of- and indefinable by the apparent subjective and object duality,” could only signify its irrelevance to the subject-object relationship, if in fact such an animal were accepted as a reality. Indeed, Rick offers no reason to suppose that his “third possibility” would at all be relevant, let alone tell us what exactly it is he has in mind. Perhaps he has his god in mind here, but this would be most odd since he characterizes it as a “possibility” which is “based on the existence of logic,” which would make logic’s existence prior to and independent of his god’s existence. It is hard to see how such a view could avoid the charge of heresy within the Christian religion.

In conclusion, Rick’s criticisms of Objectivism fall flat on their face. In presenting them he demonstrates that he is not sufficiently familiar with Objectivism to critique it intelligently, and makes numerous blunders as a result. Given Rick’s lack of familiarity with Objectivism, he is in no position to raise defensible objections against its view of logic, the primacy of existence, or its arguments against theism. And as I have shown above, it is his own mistakes which supply the thrust to his criticisms.

by Dawson Bethrick