Sunday, February 02, 2014

A Reply to Matthias on Subjectivism and the Believer

This is the sixth and final installment in my interaction with a comment which Matthias McMahon of Choosing Hats posted on my blog Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist. In this entry, I explore the question of how subjectivism may express itself in the believer’s worldview affirmations. My original blog entry explains how subjectivism in metaphysics is indispensable to the Christian worldview: it affirms the existence of a conscious subject which creates its own objects, zaps physical things into being, alters their identity, controls their actions, etc., all by an act of will. Thus in terms of the subject-object relationship according to such teachings, the subject of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects. In previous interactions with Matthias’ comment in this series of blog entries, I have explored this matter further and cited additional evidence to confirm this observation of Christian metaphysics.

Of course, subjectivism in metaphysics leads to subjectivism in epistemology. Man’s knowledge needs a source of inputs informing it. How does he acquire these inputs? The objective approach is the epistemological model by which man looks outward at the facts of reality which exist and are what they are independent of his conscious activity. The task of consciousness in this case is to perceive, identify and integrate the facts he discovers by looking outward. This approach is called objective because it rests explicitly on and is guided by the recognition that the objects of consciousness exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity. In terms of the subject-object relationship, then, the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy.

But, as has been indicated so far, and as we shall see confirmed below, the believer does not acquire input for his god-beliefs by looking outward at the world. When we look outward at the world, we do not find any gods or consciousnesses which can zap physical things into existence or alter the identity of objects by an act of will. On the contrary, to find these things, the believer must look inward, consulting the contents of his imagination, his preferences, his wishing, his emotions, etc., and calling it “revelation.” In such a way we find that subjectivism in metaphysics necessitates subjectivism in epistemology.

Below I will explore how subjectivism can manifest itself in the believer’s worldview claims, survey various expressions of subjectivism, and highlight examples from the Christian bible which both model and encourage subjectivism in the believer’s own interaction with reality.

In the conclusion of my blog, I wrote:
In Christianity, we have a worldview which is terminally conflicted with itself given this deep internal antithesis between subject and object. The implication for apologetics is clear: any argument for the existence of god is an argument for the validity subjectivism, essentially the view that wishing makes it so constitutes the final criterion for all knowledge and truth. Because of his worldview’s fundamental commitment to subjectivism, the Christian has no uncompromised basis on which to tell non-believers that 'wishing doesn’t make it so'; he has no choice but to borrow from Objectivism to make such statements. In the final analysis, this is the ultimate reality for the believer: not only does his worldview teach that wishing in fact makes it so, it essentially teaches that only wishing makes it so.
In response to this, Matthias asked:
Do you know of many Christians who believe that their own wishing makes something so? Let’s ignore, for the moment, their wishing that Christianity were true (if this simply means the desire that it be true, then doesn't everybody?).
My first question at this point is: If a Christian supposes that his own wishing makes things so, would he be defying any specific teaching of Christianity? If so, what teaching would he be defying by thinking such? What teaching of Christianity says or implies anything to the effect that truth does not react or conform to a person’s wishing? To say ‘That’s just obvious’ will not do here, for I can just as easily say that it’s obvious that Christianity as a whole is untrue.

Unfortunately, since the bible itself nowhere provides any explicit teaching on the nature of man’s consciousness or even outlines how one might find out what is true about his consciousness, the entire question about the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects is left entirely unexplored by the Christian worldview. Christianity leaves the whole matter of what consciousness is, how it behaves and what its purpose might be is left completely uncharted.

I have known many, many Christians over my lifetime. Naturally some have been more gung-ho mystics than others; some have quietly identified themselves as Christians and subsequently said little or nothing about their faith or even implied much of any seriousness about the devotion to Christian notions. Others were rarely seen without their bibles and made concerted effort to invoke their Jesus-worship into every breath of conversation. But virtually all of them, across the board, indicated no awareness of the subject-object relationship and its bearing on what they claimed about their religion or pretty much anything else. Whatever view about the relationship between consciousness and its objects could be attributed to them, was taken entirely for granted, unexpressed in any explicit manner, and for essentially not understood. Of course, this lack of awareness on the matter allows for all kinds of inconsistencies to creep in and take over one’s thinking on any matter. And without clear understanding of starting points, the concept of objectivity, the need to base one’s knowledge on facts which we discover by looking outward, stolen concepts, etc., it is very possible for those inconsistencies to multiply themselves and evade detection.

I want to point out that this problem is not restricted only to Christians. In fact, it is a very widespread problem among the human race. Of course, the failure to attend to the subject-object relationship at the fundamental level of one’s worldview is essential to any religious belief system, whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. But many non-religious thinkers also suffer from this problem as well, and like their religious counterparts, they are completely unaware of it since even they too have not considered the question: What holds metaphysical primacy: existence, or consciousness? Posing this question to the random person walking on the street would likely get you a very puzzled look and a hasty dismissal, as if you were nuts.

The Christians whom I have known do not typically seem to have the view that their own wishing can create tangible, concrete objects. This would be clearly testable, and if any theist claimed to have such an ability, we could test it. I predict that any theist claiming to have such power would fail any test. Of course, this does not keep thinkers from imagining a supernatural consciousness which does possess such a power. Christians claim that the universe was created by an act of consciousness, and of course we can imagine this. But what objective evidence can they provide to support such a claim? What objective evidence can they produce to support the notion that any consciousness has such a power to begin with? I have seen no evidence for this, but I have seen a lot of excuses for why such evidence is never forthcoming.

But I would say that deep down, lurking in the psychological regions safely out of view, believers performatively assume that their own consciousness is endowed with some special faculty which cannot be scientifically explained (not now or ever), which is certainly not biological in nature, but which provides the believer with some kind of connection to another realm, a realm transcending the natural world. Very often the belief that one possesses such a special faculty begins with belief that others possess it. As Rand poignantly observes in Atlas Shrugged, “Faith in the supernatural begins as faith in the superiority of others.” I think this is true in the immediate sense of the notion that there exist other consciousness(es) superior to one’s own and in the consequent implication that one possesses in his own consciousness some faculty superior to what he originally did not imagine.

Now for those Christians who admit that they want their religious beliefs to be true, that’s well and good. High-profile Christian apologist Mike Licona declared outright “I want it to be true” in a discussion with Gary Habermas and Robert Price (see my blog Mike Licona Says: “I want it to be true”). I don’t think Licona is unique in this sense. After all, the Christian faith is essentially a personal investment of a confessional nature. Christianity requires its believers to devote their entire lives to the god they imagine. In fact, the bible holds up the Old Testament figure Abraham as an exemplary model of faith, who unflinchingly acted in obedience to a command to prepare his own son as a sacrifice to a supernatural being. In Luke 14:26, we are told that anyone who does not hate “his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be [Jesus’] disciple.” The believer is to renounce the world, renounce personal pleasures, renounce selfish pursuits, his own flesh and all passions. As Nicola Tafuri puts it:
Do you want perfect unity with Jesus? Then you must renounce the world. Reading the Gospels, it is clear that He launched many an attack on the world through His words and actions. He condemned it, and even excluded it from His divine prayers. The world then must be seen as a great enemy that you, O Christian, must wholly hate, seeing that it was so hated by the Heart of Jesus, eternal truth and infinite wisdom. 
Despise the goods of the world, they contain nothing but seductions and the poison of death. Despise the maxims of the world, they are all false, hollow and contrary to divine law. Think nothing of the hatred of the world, if Jesus Christ was treated as a madman, it is no surprise that His followers are likewise treated. The world is mired in malice, friendship with it means enmity with God, an if you follow the world, you too will become worldly with the worldly, corrupt with the corrupt…therefore despise it all, so as to be able to say with St Paul, the world is dead to me and I am dead to the world. (TO LIVE IN UNITY WITH JESUS WE MUST RENOUNCE THE WORLD (ST PAUL: “THE WORLD IS DEAD TO ME AND I AM DEAD TO THE WORLD”))
The believer is to extract himself from the affairs of the world and “separate” himself from them (cf. II Cor. 6:17) and to immerse himself in his god-belief with all his heart, all his mind, all his soul, all his strength (cf. Mk. 12:30; Mt. 22:37; Lk. 10:27). He is to spare nothing in his willingness to sacrifice himself to his god.

Thus if a believer commits himself in such a manner, no doubt he will be motivated to hope that he’s not done so in vain. The apostle Paul writes in I Cor. 15:14-17, “if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain... if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” Of course, what person who has already accepted the premises that he is innately depraved, that he is inherently guilty simply by being human, and that if he should die in that state he will suffer for all eternity, will want to remain “in [his] sins”?

So strong motivation to hope that the Christian devotional program is all true is indeed strongly encouraged by that very devotional program. If an individual invests himself confessionally in that program, he is not going to want his sacrifices to be “in vain.” He’s going to want that his actions of devotion and sacrifice were premised on certainties that are true. Thus psychologically there is more than merely a spark of “hoping makes it so” in just this sense, which is not essentially different from “wishing makes it so.” Indeed, the bible itself associates faith with hoping (cf. Heb. 11:1).

Of course, we should not forget that the bible itself contains references which, on a plain reading, clearly indicate that the conscious activity of the believer can either alter or at any rate override the constraints we find in reality. I will cite five such examples.

First, we have the incident recorded in Matthew where Peter walks on unfrozen water. Here is the relevant passage (14:25-32):
And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.
When Peter had faith, he could walk on unfrozen water without any problem. But when he doubted, he began to sink in the water. Although different Christians offer different definitions of ‘faith’, what is common among them is that faith denotes a positive mental disposition or attitude of one sort or another. Some refer to it as an act of will (e.g., one pastor I knew defined faith as “the determination to act as if something were true, even though you do not believe it”). Greg Bahnsen affirms that “to ‘have faith’ that something is true… is the same thing as ‘believing’ that the claim in question is true” (Always Ready, p. 202n.1). Thus the implication in the Matthean passage here is clear: reality conforms to faith – i.e., to some kind of conscious activity. That’s the primacy of consciousness, and the bible is clearly indicating here that such power over the objects of one’s consciousness can be enjoyed by believers.

My second example comes from Matthew 17:14-21, which states:
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
After rebuking the devil in the “lunatick,” Jesus turns and rebukes his devoted and faithful followers. Why does he rebuke them? He rebukes them for their “unbelief” and lack of faith. Jesus the instructs them that just a wee bit of faith (he compares it to the size of a mustard seed) will give the believer enough power to command a mountain into the sea. In other words, if one essentially believes that the mountain will obey his commands, the believer can essentially wish it into the sea. In fact, Jesus says that the believer can accomplish this by telling the mountain to do this, and presumably the mountain will understand the believer’s instruction! On this basis, namely the view that the objects of consciousness will obey and conform to the dictates of conscious, Jesus affirms that “nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Again, we have a clear, unmistakable affirmation of the primacy of consciousness which the believer himself is supposed to believe he can enjoy. If the believer tries this and the objects he commands fail to obey his directives, it must be the case that he simply does not have enough faith. The problem is not with the bible, but with the believer. The believer is not to question the primacy of consciousness assumed by this teaching, but to assume that he is doing something wrong or is deficient in some way.

Next we have a passage from the gospel of John, where the following words are put into Jesus’ mouth (14:12-14):
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
The instruction attributed here to Jesus is clear: believing some mental content will give one the power to do “greater works than these” – i.e., works which the disciples have observed Jesus performing over the course of his ministry. This is just another variant of wishing makes it so. Now the gospels record some pretty marvelous works performed by Jesus, among them raising deceased persons from the dead. I remember back in the early ‘90s how my pastor claimed to have done this years before. Of course, no one present at the time of his telling this was present when he supposedly did this, but we were not supposed to question his claim anyway. We’re supposed to “just believe” what we’re told, right? But with so many believers walking around with their holier-than-thou faith, their ability to quote scripture and their rehearsed familiarity with all the apologetic arguments, surely some of these apologists should be able to do some pretty remarkable things.

There are several passages in the gospels where Jesus restores eyesight to blind persons. Now I am not blind, but I have needed corrective lenses since I was about nine years old. My eyesight has gotten progressively worse over the years. In fact, about every two years (I’m in my later forties now), I need to get new lenses with stronger vision correction. Without my eyeglasses, things 10 feet away are quite blurry now. My eyesight is getting worse. Given promises such as we find in John 14 and precedents of Jesus healing blind people, this should be a snap for Jesus’ faithful followers. So some years ago, atheist blogger Anthony Kinney posted Operation: Pray Dawson's Way to 20/20 Vision asking Christians with a direct pipeline to the supernatural to pray for my eyesight to improve. This was back in August of 2006 – over seven years ago now! Sadly, either no Christians have undertaken to pray on behalf of my eyesight, or if they have their prayer requests were not fulfilled as promised in the above passage, for my eyes have only gotten worse since August 2006. Perhaps Matthias is the real McCoy and will finally get an effective response from the Christian deity on this matter.

The fourth example comes from James 5:14-16, which states:
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Clearly the believer is to believe that his prayers will have some kind of effect in reality. Prayer is essentially uttering one’s feelings, wishes, complaints, etc. in a manner that the believer believes the supernatural consciousness will receive and understand. The believer is to believe that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick.” What exactly “save” here is supposed to mean is not explained. Does it mean “heal”? Or, does it mean “cleanse” the sick of “sin”? It does say, referring to the afflicted who is prayed over, that “the Lord shall raise him up” suggesting that healing is in view here. The passage goes on to say that “if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him” suggesting that spiritual salvation is in view here. And the next verse says that believers should “pray for one another, that ye may be healed.” So it appears that “save” means more than one thing here. But either way, praying is supposed to have some sort of effect on reality. Thus we have another expression of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics attributed to the believer: in some way he is to expect reality to conform to his conscious activity.

Lastly I come to the doctrine of “salvation by faith.” This is one of the more important doctrines for the believer personally, for this is what devotion is ultimately supposed to be all about for him: his “eternal salvation.” For this example I quote Romans 10:8-13, which states:
The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
The formula for salvation which the apostle Paul gives here seems clear enough: one must (a) speak some words (like a magic incantation of sorts, invoking the words “the Lord Jesus”) and (b) believe in one’s “heart” (presumably something other than the muscle which pumps blood throughout the body) that “God hath raised [Jesus] from the dead.” If one does these things (both acts of consciousness), he “shalt be saved,” for “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” Just “believe” (an act of consciousness), and you’ll be “righteous,” just like that! In fact, since “salvation” essentially means the cleansing of one’s soul of all sin and spiritual impurity before the ruling consciousness, salvation as such entails a metaphysical transformation of sorts. Christians insist that this change is real, and clearly this change is effected by speaking some magic words and “believing in thine heart” a certain ideational content that has no objective basis (for the tale that Jesus was raised from the dead is simply something one reads in a storybook, imagines in his mind upon reading it, and affirms it over and over on a daily or weekly basis as an item of faith). All of these are forms of conscious activity, and they are said to result in metaphysical changes to the believer. “Just believe” and you’re “saved from your sins.” This is another example of the primacy of consciousness through and through.

So there’s clear and emphatic affirmation of the primacy of consciousness throughout the bible, and in many ways the plain reading of the text unmistakably suggests that believers are to expect their consciousness to hold some metaphysical sway over reality, whether it’s altering the interaction of substances (such as Peter walking on water as a result of having faith and not doubting), commanding mountains to cast themselves into the sea, doing works greater than those attributed to Jesus in the gospels as a result of “believing” on Jesus, healing the sick or believing one’s way to salvation.

Matthias continued:
I don’t agree with that, and Christians understand their own belief to mean that whatever God says is true regardless of their wishing.
Naturally I would not expect most Christians to come out and admit that their god-belief is a wishful fantasy that has no objective basis. Christians have been trying for centuries to validate their beliefs. In spite of what the bible suggests, merely having faith has never been enough for any believer, especially if he has an active mind. He wants to validate his faith somehow. He does not want his faith to rest on mere wishing. They know implicitly that wishing doesn’t make it so, even if they don’t understand why this is the case (indeed, the bible never explains why it is not the case).

I have pointed out for years that, in spite of the biblical worldview having nothing to say about the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects, Christians in fact assume the primacy of existence principle performatively - i.e., in the very act of affirming a claim as truth. We all do. The primacy of existence is inescapably true. The contradiction occurs when the content of what is claimed assumes the primacy of consciousness. This simply means that the act of making a claim and the content of that claim are neither consistent nor compatible in terms of their metaphysical and epistemological orientations. The act makes use of the primacy of existence while the content assumes the primacy of consciousness.

In an online presentation titled Objective Reality, Dr. David Kelley makes this very point (26:56 – 28:12):
As a way to confirm that the primacy of existence is a fundamental axiomatic truth, notice that even if you try to deny it, you end up affirming it. Suppose someone asserts the opposing view, the primacy of consciousness. He says the existence or identity of things depends on our consciousness of them. Well, does he think that his statement is true? That it’s something he knows to be the case? Then by his own thesis, his statement is made true only by his own consciousness, the fact that he’s thinking it to be true. That’s obviously not what he intends, right? When he claims that the objects of knowledge depend on the knower, he’s asserting this as an actual truth about the nature of consciousness and objects. In the same way, when he claims that the primacy of existence is false, he’s saying that those who believe in the primacy of existence are wrong; they have failed to grasp the real objective nature of existence and consciousness. In another words, someone who asserts the primacy of consciousness in any form, is asserting it as a fact that does not itself depend on consciousness, even though he is claiming that there are no such facts. So he’s contradicting himself.
This problem is not avoided by saying that someone else’s consciousness has primacy over existence. For, as should be obvious, this simply means that whatever consciousness is said to have primacy over existence contradicts itself any time it affirms that something is true. Also, the individual affirming the existence of such a consciousness could easily be contradicted by it without ever realizing it (e.g., if he says “rocks do not think,” he could not say this with any certainty or objective grounding at all since it’s possible that the ruling consciousness has created rocks that think somewhere without his knowing).

However, pace Kelley, the Christian does intend that his god’s claims are made true by its own consciousness, by its own thinking that something is true, by simply declaring whatever content it affirms is true. Of course, this could only mean that truth as such is ultimately subjective on the Christian worldview, for truth is whatever the Christian god says is true. But this is in essence precisely what Christianity teaches. Several quotes from Bahnsen’s Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis make this very clear:
The believer understands that truth fundamentally whatever conforms to the mind of God (cf. Ps. 111:7-8; John 14:6; 16:13). (p. 163) 
God’s “thought content” actively makes these things so (i.e., actively makes the truth), while man’s “thought content” does not (being passive with regard to the truth. (p. 227n.152) 
He is and He makes the truth that man comes to know. (p. 230)
Statements like these and many others that can be found affirmed by believers, theologians, even the Christian bible itself. That Christianity underwrites the concept ‘truth’ with the primacy of consciousness is unmistakably clear. Objectivism identifies three general categories of the primacy of consciousness in terms of whose consciousness is believed to hold metaphysical primacy over existence:
1. the personal primacy of consciousness 
2. the social primacy of consciousness, and 
3. the cosmic primacy of consciousness.
In each variety, consciousness is thought to hold metaphysical primacy over existence in some fashion, either for the very fact that things exist (e.g., some form of conscious activity creates objects ex nihilo), that they have the nature they have (cf. “every fact is what it is because God has said it is what it is” – Chris Bolt, “Redemption in Apologetics,” The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 162), their actions (e.g., Peter walking on unfrozen water), or their transformation into something other than what they are (e.g., water into wine), for the content of truth as such (e.g., wishing makes it so), etc.

When a person seeks to evade a fact because he resents its implications for something he prefers to believe, this is an example of the personal primacy of consciousness. When the Soviet leadership would say “The citizens of the USSR are happy, well-fed and free,” in spite of years of famine, destitution and stagnation, this is an example of the social primacy of consciousness. When Christianity affirms that a supernatural consciousness wished the universe into existence, this is an example of the cosmic primacy of consciousness. In each case we find the same essential orientation between consciousness and its objects: the object of consciousness are thought to conform to the dictates of consciousness.

Determining whether or not your worldview affirms the primacy of consciousness is very simple. Simply ask:
According to your worldview, does reality conform to conscious intensions (that’s anyone’s conscious intensions – whether yours or someone else’s), or not?
Now if the believer concedes the fact that the primacy of existence obtains in the case of his own consciousness – i.e., that facts and truths do not conform to his own wishing, imagination, feelings or other conscious activities – then clearly he must adopt an epistemology that is wholly compatible with the primacy of existence. This means at minimum that he needs to begin his quest for knowledge by looking outward at the world and apply an objective standard to identify and integrate what he discovers by looking outward. But he wants to say that there exists a consciousness which enjoys the opposite orientation to truth and knowledge, that it accesses truth and knowledge by looking inward and that everything we find by looking outward was created by the conscious activity of such a being.

So how would we discover that this is the case by looking outward? How would we be able to apply an objective method of knowledge to discover that knowledge is ultimately subjective? How could we apply an objective method of determining the nature of reality and discover that reality is at root subjective?

In my blog The Axioms and the Primacy of Existence, I raised concern over how an individual thinker who acknowledges the primacy of existence as the proper relationship between his own consciousness and the world of facts, can generate the notion of a consciousness which enjoys the opposite orientation. I asked:
So what inputs inform the theist's concept of consciousness beyond his own firsthand experience such that he thinks it is meaningful to suppose that there exists a consciousness possessing the exact opposite relationship that his consciousness has with its own objects? What gives his concept of consciousness such latitude? What units has he discovered and integrated into his concept of consciousness which allows him to affirm two contradictory metaphysics? We know already that the method by which he informs his concept of consciousness must be consistent with the nature of his consciousness, for he has no alternative to using his own consciousness in developing and securing the knowledge he seeks to hold. So this rules out his own use of the primacy of consciousness as a means of arriving at a point where he can reasonably affirm the primacy of consciousness. For instance, since the primacy of existence applies to his own conscious interaction with the world around him, he cannot reasonably adopt a method of affirming the primacy of consciousness which reduces to the assumption that reality conforms to his conscious operations. Not only would this be fallaciously circular, it would short-circuit the nature of his own consciousness and invalidate any conclusion he wants to draw. He cannot, for instance, rationally say that the primacy of consciousness is valid because he wants it to be valid, for his consciousness does not have the power to alter reality; his wants and wishes are ineffectual.
Acknowledging the truth of the primacy of existence in the case of one’s own conscious interaction with the world can only mean that he must adopt the epistemological model of looking outward at the world as the source of inputs which inform his knowledge. The alternative to this, looking inward, will not supply a thinker with objective input to inform his knowledge; he will consequently inform the content of his consciousness with his own wishing, preferences, emotions, imagination, etc.

Bahnsen himself states that
Christians cannot be satisfied with intellectually lazy and ultimately subjective beliefs. They must offer proof for what they assert about God, man, salvation, etc. How can this be done? (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 262)
Of course, just by saying that Christians “must offer proof for what they say about God” can only concede the fact that the Christian god itself could not be the believer’s fundamental philosophical starting point. (See here.)

So what objective inputs from reality can substantiate the notion of a consciousness which can create its own objects by an act of will, zap physical things into existence by an act of will, alter their identity by an act of will, “make the truth” by an act of will, and “control whatsoever comes to pass” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160) by an act of will?

Bahnsen tells us that:
God can only be known by a voluntary revelation by the Son and Spirit of God (Matt. 11:27; 1 Cor. 2:10)... The understanding which the believer lacks can only be provided when his mind has been opened (e.g., Luke 24:45) and has been convicted by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:8)... One can only come to a knowledge of Him who is Truth (John 14:6) when the Son grants him the understanding which is lacking (1 John 5:20). (Always Ready, p. 85; italics original)
This can only suggest two things:
1. There are no objective inputs which can legitimately inform one’s understanding of consciousness such that the notion of a consciousness which can create its own objects, zap physical things into existence, alter the identify of objects, “make the truth,” and “control whatsoever comes to pass,” all by an act of will, has an objective basis; one does not acquire evidence for the existence of such a consciousness by looking outward - rather, one must look inward for this, consulting the contents of his imagination, his feelings, his wishes, his preferences, etc., and call it “revelation”; 
2. Such “knowledge” and “understanding” as Bahnsen calls it must be impose on the believer by force - i.e., by a supernatural being imposing its will on the mind of the believer (as characterized by Christianity itself) and insisting that the believer call whatever it installs in his mind “knowledge” and “understanding,” even though he has no objective input to inform it and indeed must ignore facts that he discovers whenever he looks outward at the world, all of which confirms Rand’s observation that “faith and force are corollaries” (Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 66)
So much for Bahnsen’s concern that Christians not allow themselves to be “satisfied with intellectually lazy and ultimately subjective beliefs.” Indeed, by insisting that an invisible magic being must force its way into one’s mind, Bahnsen is conceding that he has no objective proof for his god-belief claims. Matthias continued:
If Christians believe that only God can wish something into existence, then it’s not a true “subjectivism” they’re holding, is it?
Why wouldn’t it be? The Christian god is said to be a conscious being. Thus it would be a subject relating to the realm of objects it is said to have wished into existence. This would be the primacy of the subject in the subject-object relationship. But that’s subjectivism.

In fact, since everything we find in the world, in the universe, in reality, is said to be a creation which the Christian god essentially wished into existence, even from man’s perspective (man on this view also being a “creation” that was wished into existence), subjectivism is the ultimate metaphysical precondition of the reality we know, according to Christianity.

Yes, Christians are explicit in their insistence that the reality we inhabit is a creation - a product of some conscious activity. For example, consider the following statements in Greg Bahnsen’s Pushing the Antithesis:
God and God alone defines the world and reality. (p. 61) 
…the personal, sovereign God of Scripture created all things and gave them their properties. (pp. 151-152) 
…the very idea of God’s speaking reality into existence itself requires rationality. (pp. 153-154)
There is no question that the views expressed by Christianity here assume the notion that a subject of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over all reality. Pointing this out to Christian apologist Paul Manata several years ago prompted him to admit that: theism, there’s a sense in which reality is subjective - based on the divine mind
(for details, see my blog Theism and Subjective Metaphysics). So a Christian who insists that the Christian view of the world does not reduce to metaphysical subjectivism is simply trying to have his cake, and eat it, too. One cannot say, on the one hand, that all of reality is a creation of conscious activity and continues to conform to conscious activity, while claiming on the other hand that objectivity is only possible on his worldview (which openly and expressly grants metaphysical primacy to the subject of consciousness).

Of course, we never observe any consciousness creating physical objects by means of conscious activity. I have never witnessed this. I have never witnessed, for example, someone wishing a bicycle, a house, a pile of cash, a sack full of diamonds, or a human being, into existence. Indeed, it seems that if there were such a consciousness, all our troubles would be over. But our troubles are not over, and our needs, our fragility, our mortality as biological organisms have not vanished from this “created reality.”

Matthias wrote:
If there are Christians who hold that their own wishing is "creative," we can both understand they’re simply incorrect.
But if a supernatural consciousness is calling all the shots, how could we know this? If we accept the view that everything in the universe is a creation originating in the mind of a supernatural being which is omnipotent and capable of doing whatever it wishes, who’s to say that some believers do not have the ability to wish things into existence? Greg Bahnsen tells us:
Very simply, according to the Biblical witness: “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6). Therefore, in terms of the Christian worldview, there is nothing “too hard” for God to do according to His own holy will (Gen. 18:14). Because of who He is, “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26; cf. Mark 14:36). Nothing can stay His hand or prevent Him from accomplishing what He wishes. (Always Ready, p. 226)
Given what Christianity urges us to accept as fundamental worldview premises, how could we know that a person does not have the ability to create things by wishing? How could we infer with any certainty that there are no human beings which have been endowed with conscious powers of this sort, such that their wishing can create things? Christians are always telling us that miracles are real and that we’re wrong whenever we deny or dismiss reports of miracles (particularly when those reports are from Christian sources). It seems that the Christian god bestowing extra-human conscious powers to a human being would qualify as a miracle. And yet, if we (as non-Christians) deny such reports, we’re accused of all kinds of fallacies and prejudicial side-taking. It seems that, by asserting that “Christians who hold that their own wishing is ‘creative’... [are] simply incorrect,” Matthias is essentially affirming something which could not be known given his worldview’s fundamentals. It may be that he’s simply borrowing important premises from a non-Christian worldview without realizing that he has done so.

by Dawson Bethrick


Ydemoc said...


Your series of posts interacting with Matthias' comments has been great!

Your sections on "faith" in the entry above brought to mind a conversation I had over Thanksgiving with a relative of mine (but not the same relative that I've mentioned in the past).

She took offense at something I said and asked: "When you get on a plane, you have have faith that it's going be a safe flight, don't you?"

I denied that faith had anything at all to do with it. I pursued a defnition of "faith," and a bible was brought out, but our discussion was cut short due to other activities.

I also didn't get a chance ask the following questions, but I should have (and will in the future should the opportunity present itself): "What would my having faith do as far as the plane making it safely to its destination or not? What role does faith play? If you looked out the window and saw that a wing was missing on your plane as it was heading out to the runway for takeoff, would you still have faith that the plane would safely reach its destination? If I have faith that the plane *won't* reach its destination, and it does anyway, what does that say about faith? What does my conscious activity as a passenger have to do with a plane safely reaching its destination?"


Karen S. said...

Hello Dawson, it's me again and I would like to put a counter-presup idea forward to get your feedback.

It goes like this: when a presup asks "how do you account for (logic, reasoning, etc.)" I'd answer: "Well, tell me, if I could account for logic and reasoning, would my reasoning improve? What is the benefit of accounting for my reason?"

If the answer is "Yes" (my reasoning would improve) I'd ask for proof: They should be able to show that people who have the Christian worldview are able to reason and use logic "better."
In fact, they should have scientists and thinkers rushing to become Christians in order to improve their minds by being able to account for their logic and reason. Why would they want to wallow in absurdity? (I am saying this sarcastically of course!)

But the truth is, the reverse is likely more true:

And if they dance around it or say no, then that means accounting for it is IRRELEVANT. Why does one need to account for reasoning if it makes no difference when they do?

I tried this out on a pre-sup in a comment area on YouTube and they said I was conveniently creating a straw man to avoid answering and refused to comment further. So I take this as a "dance around NO."

I believe this is a situation where the pre-sup cannot use the standard "God has revealed it to me in a way I can be certain (that your reasoning would improve by having justification)" because it's something that CAN be demonstrated with evidence in the here and now.

If you see any problems with this, I'd like to hear them.

Thank you,


Karen S

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Karen,

It's nice to hear from you again, and thanks for the link. I'll have to take a look at it some time when I have time.

As for presuppers and their possible replies to your question, in my experience, presuppsers do not show any concern for anyone's ability to reason better. In fact, many will say (so as to appear willing to concede ground) that many non-believers are more skilled in logic and reasoning than are some Christians. They always want to come back to their claim that non-Christians cannot "account for" reason as such (a claim which puts the burden of proving a negative on their shoulders).

Of course, the question "How do you account for reason" (or anything else) seems to be nothing other than a ploy to get the non-believer to throw up his hands in ignorance and say "I donno!" creating a gap into which the apologist wants to wedge his god-belief. Notice how many apologists continually fire back with the question "How do you know?" over and over again. They don’t really want to know your thoughts on reason or your worldview’s “account for” reason. They really don’t care about reason to begin with. If they did, a mature, rational conversation would be possible with them and they wouldn’t be ending conversations in a mad huff accusing you of straw-manning or what have you.

Also, questions about epistemology take a lot of serious, in-depth exploration, lengthy explanation, careful validation, etc., which apologists are notoriously uninterested in examining in a civil manner. If they do stick with the discussion, it is typically either to keep pressing their nonsense and accusing you of dodging their questions, or to quibble over some triviality in order to divert the attention away from essential issues. Meanwhile, do not expect them to address your questions.

One approach which takes all the steam out of their huffing and bluffing is to just say, “Let’s suppose I can’t account for reason. So what? I do know that there is a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination, and I also know of no alternative to imagination as a means of considering the god you claim exists.” Apologists will typically come back with “But you… but you… but you…” in accusatory manner, not realizing that he’s missed the point entirely.

That being said, I do think it is important to have a good understanding of the nature of reason and why it is the only epistemological method suited for man. Throughout history of philosophy there have been constant assaults on reason, and if thinkers fall victim to these assaults, they’ll be sorry (or their descendants will be).

Anyway, my $0.02.


ActionJackson864 said...

"how do you account for (logic, reasoning, etc.)"

I like answering: "I can account for my reasoning and logic because I know that the primacy of existence and its related axioms are true." Usually they will ask for an explanation, AND/ OR they hear the word "existence" and immediately quote descartes "I think therefore I am" and begin to refute descartes, at that point I say "that is not my argument". Hope that helps : ]

ActionJackson864 said...

Hey Dawson, my name may be changed to Ro Bot after all that youtube comment shaboozy...this is ActionJackson864

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi AJ,

Yes, my "short answer" to such questions is: I account for reason/logic/induction/morality/science, etc., by the axioms, the primacy of existence, and the objective theory of concepts. These identify the essentials.

Of course, the presupper won't understand any of this and will need it explained. But he will resist understanding any of it, and he will insist on nitpicking it, throwing charges of fallacy around, often performing an external critique without realizing it (which is supposedly a no-no for presuppers - they're supposed to be able to show that a worldview is false by an *internal* critique - this never happens in the case of Objectivism).

Meanwhile, apparently we're supposed to be satisfied with "God did it," which explains nothing and gives us no new understanding about how the human mind works, what reason is, what logic is, how inductive generalizations are drawn, etc. I just point out that they're using concepts to participate in the discussion and ask where their bible offers a theory of concepts. Are they going to point to II Kings or Jeremiah or the epistle to the Hebrews for this? Of course not. They're sunk right out of the gate.


Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,

Nice that you have figured out that pressupers are far from wanting to know about your worldview, and are rather prompt to try and dismiss any answers you give them.

Anyway, when they ask me, for example, to justify reason and logic I tell them that if they manage to question reason and logic without using any reason and logic, then I might start to think that reason and logic require justification.

Of course, they are never able to do so. Often they ignore the point completely. So don't get too surprised that they stopped answering your requests. They could not care less.


Matthias said...

Hello Dawson,

In an effort to be as concise as I can, without appearing disrespectful to you for the time you took to reply to me by my replying with an exponentially shorter comment than your posts, I'm going to do my very best (and likely, last) to simply lay out a sort of "order of existence" as understood by Christianity. And then I must be on my way. Where I do not thoroughly address questions you raised, I intend to "set straight" misunderstandings that you have concerning my position.

1. God exists.
2. God is Conscious.
3. God (i.e. His Consciousness) Creates all things, which necessarily imbues them with dependence upon His existence for their own. This includes conscious beings like us. He creates us to possess means of perceiving what he has created (senses)and a capacity for contemplating it (reasoning).
4. We perceive what God has created, and that these things exist.
5. God tells us true things about what he has created, including ourselves (i.e. the Bible).
6. We know these things truly if we contemplate them in light of what he has already said to be true. (e.g. "there is only one God" "I am God," "I created the world," etc.) We do not know these things truly if we fail or refuse to contemplate them in light of what he has said to be true.

and a few closing thoughts:

1. "Miracle," rightly understood, presupposes a uniformity of nature.
2. Imagining the object you're reading about does not mean the object is real. But it also does not mean that object isn't real. True knowledge of particular things and particular people is possible from merely reading about them, regardless of whether one has directly sensed them. Your concept of "looking inward" doesn't seem to allow for this. What you understand to be implications of Christianity being true results from your dis-understanding of Christianity.
3. It is precisely with regard to the nature of God (e.g. Creator/creature distinction, Divine Aseity and Simplicity) that your critique misses the mark, as I said to begin with. And so if God is who he is, then Christianity is true.
4. If God exists, and if Christianity is true, the world would be exactly as it is. Assuming God does not exist, existence would not exist.
5. I must allow and live with the possibility that I may have misunderstood you at some points (though I believe I have understood your position correctly where I have chosen to address it), because I really must move on.
6. Yours is the last word.

I do thank you for the exchange, and all the commenters for observing it. I realize that you write for more than just myself such that my departure will likely not put a sizeable (or otherwise) chink in your armor, or stem your vigor. You have helped me expand my mind. Or perhaps my ego. In any case my head is pounding. Take care.


Justin Hall said...


Your claim No.3 undermines the metaphysical requirements that allow you to make claims No. 1 and 2. You therefor have perfromitively invalidated your position by the time you finish making claim No. 3.
I realize that you probably don't see the stolen concept fallacy or as I like to call them begging the answer but its there non the less plain as day.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Matthias,

I’m sorry that you have apparently chosen not to continue the discussion in progress here. There are a number of points I was hoping to discuss with you, including:

- starting points;
- how you would know what is in a sealed box given your own statement about how reality is known and statements in Christian literature emphasizing the total antithesis between Christianity and non-Christian worldviews like Objectivism;
- my reasons for supposing that the authors of the bible were confusing reality with imagination;
- the various passages I quoted from the bible which encourage believers to adopt a subjective view of reality
- Etc.

In response to your parting points, I wanted to state the following (but not in hopes of having the last word):

1. Miracles: I don’t think the notion ‘miracle’ presupposes the uniformity of nature. For one, ‘miracle’ presupposes the metaphysical primacy of consciousness – i.e., the assumption that the things which we find in the universe conform to the dictates of a consciousness. It’s hard to see how any Christian would deny this, and yet the recognition that nature is uniform with itself is incompatible with the primacy of consciousness. Also, according to Christianity, the uniformity of nature itself would have to be a product of the Christian god’s conscious activity, just as miracles are. In fact, many Christians would say that uniformity in nature is itself miraculous (since the Christian god is said to have created the universe and also continually sustains the order we observe in it). So it seems that it would be more in line with Christianity to suppose that the uniformity of nature presupposes miracle.


Bahnsen Burner said...

2. Imagination: I have written abundantly on this matter and how it pertains to religious belief. I have given numerous examples in my writings, and they are free for readers to explore. I have argued that what a person imagines (i.e., the imagery he assembles in his mind), even if it is based on things he has observed in the world, is not an independently existing entity. In my initial blog reply to you, I gave the example of my wife’s desire to go skydiving someday. Now my wife does in fact exist – she exists independent of my conscious activity, and I did not discover her existence by imagining her (I have awareness of her by looking outward), nor do I communicate with her by means of prayer. But I can imagine her nonetheless. When I imagine her skydiving, what I am imagining is not real – it does not exist independent of my conscious activity. It’s all in the mind. She is really on the couch relaxing with her iPad, not 20,000 feet up getting ready to jump out of a Cessna 172.

Moreover, I have cited numerous other reasons for supposing that the Christian god is imaginary (see my blog The Imaginative Nature of Christian Theism). But I do know that I cannot discover the Christian god or have awareness of it by looking outward; rather, I must look inward and use my imagination. I gave a number of examples of how Christians themselves essentially confess that this is the case (cf. Van Til’s account of his childhood conversion). So if you believe that you have direct awareness of your god, do you have this by looking outward, or by looking inward? How do you distinguish the means by which you believe you might have direct awareness of your god (if you believe you do) from your imagination? How can I reliably distinguish between what you call “God” and what you may merely be imagining? These are perfectly legitimate questions.

The epistemology of reason (looking outward) does not disallow learning about real things by reading. The standard and source of reference, however, must be looking outward. If I read about a motorist in Michigan who was caught on camera doing 110 mph, I can prima facie accept this as at least probably true, for I already know that such things are possible by looking outward. Such a story does not contradict any fundamentals that I know are true. But I have never observed by looking outward a conscious agent zapping things into existence ex nihilo by an act of will. However, I can imagine such a thing. In determining the truth, what holds primacy: what I discover by looking outward at the realm of facts, or what I imagine when I look inward and ignore facts?

Objectivism says that we should go with the facts that we discover by looking outward. Christianity, given its insistence to reject and attack every aspect of any non-Christian worldview, would seem utterly incompatible with this, given its exclusivism and declared antithesis.


Bahnsen Burner said...

3. “Creator/creature distinction”: I interacted with this and showed how it does not salvage Christianity from my critique. In fact, if the “Creator” is imaginary (one of the positions which I have argued), then the “Creator/creature distinction” itself is imaginary and thus has no bearing on the matter. In fact, appealing to this notion is itself a question-begging appeal.

4a. Present state of the world: Supposing the Old and New Testaments were true, it seems that explaining the present state of affairs (it is now AD 2014) would be extremely difficult if not completely impossible. That is, supposing that the Christian god were in fact what it is claimed to be and faithful to its word. The OT tells how the Christian god sought to rid the world of sin and iniquity with the flood. This of course did not work, so it later sent its own son and stood by and allowed evil people to torture and kill him (quite a loving father!). But this too did not rid the world of evil or “conquer death” (for people continued dying and still do). Some 1900 years of calamity, warfare, bloodshed, institutionalized injustice (for “rulers are servants of God” per Rom. 13:6, and we are to “be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient” per Tit. 3:1), etc., have passed with no sign of evil being abated in any way. In the 1940s we saw the Holocaust in which millions of human beings were systematically exterminated. Similar atrocities occurred in Armenia, Soviet Russia, Communist China, Cambodia, Iraq, the Balkans, etc. If the Christian god exists, its actions are those of a god that is completely indifferent to human life. If the Christian god had included all this evil in its plan from the beginning, what distinguishes it from an evil god? If the Christian god “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” as Bahnsen tells us (Always Ready, p. 172), it only means that this god is on cozy terms with evil. So again, what distinguishes the Christian god from an evil god? To call the Christian god “good” is psychopathic; to call it “the standard of good” is even worse.

It’s curious how, in trying to explain why the author of Luke-Acts did not include citations of his sources, one Christian recently wrote (see the comment here):

“sometimes we forget that Luke probably didn't think that people would be reading his books 2000 years after he wrote them. He probably expected Christ to return in his lifetime or maybe a few generations after him. But not two millennia. If he had known, I'm sure he would have cited and documented more than he had since he's careful in other areas like geography etc.”

Christians of the NT times believed that Jesus was going to return during their lifetimes and that they were living in “the end times.” The end never came. But people still believed. This is entirely compatible with Christianity being a set of fictions. In fact, it is what we would expect, and that is what we have.


Bahnsen Burner said...

4b. Existence being dependent on the Christian god: The notion that “assuming God does not exist, existence would not exist,” commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. For one, a person must exist (and therefore existence would have to exist) in order to assume anything. So for this reason the statement needs revision. But suppose it says: “If God did not exist, existence would not exist.” This too commits the fallacy of the stolen concept by treating existence as a creation or product caused by something prior to it. But that something prior would have to exist in order to do anything, including create things. Moreover, it implicitly suggests that we need to start with a zero as our starting point, instead of the fact of existence (for it presumes that we need to explain the fact that existence exists). But this in itself commits the fallacy of the stolen concept: the notions ‘nothing’, ‘zero’, ‘nil’, etc. only have meaning in contrast to what does exist, and are thus not conceptually fundamental, while the concept ‘existence’ is conceptually fundamental. Moreover, even Christians hold that their god did not create itself, so even Christians are forced to acknowledge that existence is ultimately not a product of mindful creation. Furthermore, the Blarkist can just as easily say: “If Blarko did not exist, existence would not exist.” There is nothing in reality which suggests this is the case; it is all based in the imaginary, just as the Christian version is.

Anyway, it is your choice to discontinue discussion with me, but it is not clear to me why you have made this choice. I realize that you initiated contact with me and that you wanted to make some points in response to what I have written. I certainly did not want you to get the impression that you’re barking up the wrong tree, for I am happy to engage in discussion on these topics. It is certainly fruitful for me, but if you deem that otherwise is the case for you, I understand.


Karen S. said...

Thank you for your prompt response, Dawson and photosynthesis. Yes, I agree the pre-sup could care less. It's a one way conversation. Some disagree with my recommended approach not to talk with them at all, but once I refused to grant their assumption that it's necessary to "account" for reasoning and logic, I don't think it would go much further.

The other question I might ask, which I am trying to determine how to properly express or word, is "Are you ALWAYS RIGHT"--it's sort of like that question posed to Ken Ham at that debate with Bill Nye recently as to whether anything could change their minds. (Ham said nothing, Bill said "yes, evidence"). I suppose I could say it that way. That question (and its likely answer) is for anyone listening--because it exposes the absurdity of how they are completely closed off to objection.

By the way, if you've heard of Matt Dillahunty, he's challenged Sye Ten Bruggencate to a debate today. Sye Ten responded, telling Matt to contact him "at his website." So I think Matt will be getting the run around, but I hope not. I'd enjoy seeing them debate.

All the best,

Karen S

Justin Hall said...

@Karen S.

I have come to a similar conclusion, especially after discussion here and on my blog over the last 3 years. It is kind of pointless. I would go further and say that any world view that does not incorporate some method of error correction is a form of insanity. Who would want to debate the insane?

Ydemoc said...

For anyone who's interested:

Answering Sam Harris’s “Moral Landscape Challenge”

by Ari Armstrong

The Objective Standard


Unknown said...

Hello Dawson and Friends. I'm feeling better today and am finally recovering from my bout with the flu-bad-cold-crud. Thank you for communicating with me and for allowing me to comment.

Dawson wrote My original blog entry explains how subjectivism in metaphysics is indispensable to the Christian worldview: it affirms the existence of a conscious subject which creates its own objects, zaps physical things into being, alters their identity, controls their actions, etc., all by an act of will.

Although Dawson did not intend to remark upon the alleged diving attributes fantasized and imagined by ancient Christian prelates his statement upon the will of the Christian's alleged Deity brought to mind an obvious contradiction that perhaps can be characterized as an incoherency. Christian adherents who claim to believe any creed specifying their god to be triune and immaterial are accepting what is clearly contradictory. Three separate and distinct minds cannot have a single volitional center of initiation of decision. It seems quite clear then that the alleged Christian God, can't actually have a will. Even worse still for the Christian believer is the obvious contradiction between their alleged Deity's Divine attributes of complete perfect omniscient foreknowledge and complete libertarian freewill. If it were to exist, and if its will were actually libertarian, then it couldn't know when or if it'd intervene in reality with a violation of physical uniformity of nature. Additionally, since it couldn't know when or where it'd violate physical uniformity of nature, it'd not be able to know if it'd answer its worshipper's pleas for special violations, nor could it know if it'd intervene to prevent evil. Hence, it couldn't know if it were good or not. On the other hand, if it were to posses perfect omniscient foreknowledge, it'd have to "know" when and where it'd perform miracles and thus its will would be fully determined. Either way it would not conform to the (ahem - clears throat and ques up best Charleston Heston Mosses impression) Christian "definition" of God. No being can both be omniscient and have libertarian freewill, nor can three minds jointly possess a single will for initiation of decisions.

Many Thanks and Best Wishes to Dawson and any readers.

Unknown said...

Thanks Ydemoc for the link to Armstrong's essay. Armstrong is spot on. Sad that Harris will ignore it in favor of his rather arbitrary whimsical version of utilitariamism.

Unknown said...

Hello Dawson and Mathias. Although we disagree on matters of philosophy and religion, I hope Mathias sticks around. He seems to be a nice person.

Matthias wrote > 1. God Exists.

Dawson, if you find time, would you explain why that statement is self-contradictory.

Thanks and Best Wishes

Unknown said...

Dawson's closing paragraph noted

Christians are always telling us that miracles are real and that we’re wrong whenever we deny or dismiss reports of miracles (particularly when those reports are from Christian sources).

Except when Protestant Christians reject reported Catholic Christian miracles and vice versa. Prostestants reject validity of Marian apparitions. Catholics reject reports of Protestant healings.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Robert,

You asked: “Dawson, if you find time, would you explain why that statement is self-contradictory.”

No problem! I’ll try to encapsulate it as briefly as possible.

The statement “God exists” (and statements like it) affirms two *contradictory* metaphysics in one fell swoop.

On the one hand, the *content* of the claim affirms the primacy of consciousness – it asserts the existence of a consciousness from which all objects distinct from itself are said to have originated and to whose intentional activity everything is supposed to conform. This conscious being whose reality the speaker affirms is said to have created the universe and assign the identity to everything within it by an act of will. Its consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects; the objects of its consciousness depend on and conform to its conscious activity. That’s the primacy of consciousness.

On the other, the claim *performatively* assumes the primacy of existence in that it is an affirmation whose truth is supposed to obtain independently of the speaker’s own wishes, desires, preferences, hopes, imagination, expectations, etc. He is presuming to simply be *identifying* a factual state of affairs which is what it is regardless of what anyone believes, thinks, wishes, hopes, imagines, prefers, etc. The speaker is not saying that his god exists because he himself wants it to be the case or wished it into being. He’s treating the matter as he does any other truth claim (e.g., apples grow on trees, my driver license will expire next year, Albany is the capital of New York, Hawaii is located in the Pacific Ocean, the earth has one moon, etc.). Such statements rest on the implicit recognition that the objects of conscious activity exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity. That’s the primacy of existence.

The claim “God exists” needs both of these, the primacy of consciousness and the primacy of existence, and yet they are diametrically contradictory to each other and thus cannot be integrated without contradiction. Without the primacy of consciousness, the speaker cannot affirm that his god created the universe and has the ability to alter reality (cf. miracles) or guide all of history (cf. “God’s plan”). Without the primacy of existence, he’s just telling us what he wants and/or imagines to be the case (without acknowledging at as such).

Does that help?


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi again Robert,

I wrote: “Christians are always telling us that miracles are real and that we’re wrong whenever we deny or dismiss reports of miracles (particularly when those reports are from Christian sources).”

You replied: “Except when Protestant Christians reject reported Catholic Christian miracles and vice versa. Prostestants reject validity of Marian apparitions. Catholics reject reports of Protestant healings.”

Yes, indeed, this is true. Protestants do indeed dismiss (one way or another) Catholic miracles, but they can never seem to present any kind of objective principle which qualifies their own religious narrative while serving to effectively discount their rivals’ narratives. Everything they offer is drummed up *after* they’ve accepted one or the other and are subsequently faced with having to maintain their arbitrary distinctions.

Many alleged appearances of Mary are far better attested to than anything we have in the bible. For that matter, the testimonial evidence for Joseph Smith’s golden plates is overwhelmingly better than anything we have of Jesus being resurrected after his crucifixion, and yet Protestants and Catholics alike reject this as some kooky nonsense (which of course it is, but so are all their tales and legends).



Ydemoc said...

Dawson and Robert,

On the topic of miracles, I once asked my Christian relative if a Muslim prayed for a cure for his ailing child and the child recovered, would you consider that a miracle (i.e., from Allah)?

What came from a mind suffocating within the bubble his own brand of confessional investment, was a flat-out "No."


Unknown said...

Hello Ydemoc, sir if I may make a suggestion for a topic of conversation with your Christian relative due to Christianity being a religion based on historical claims of miracles. Consider Lataster's explanation on arguments from historical miracle claims.

history cannot prove a religion’s supernatural claims. A religion that makes supernatural claims, that makes mention of miracles, cannot be confirmed historically. As discussed in Part I, though it might sound odd, history is not the determination of what actually happened – we don’t have access to that. If we had a time machine, perhaps we could find out what actually happened, although it would no longer be a historical argument, but an empirical argument, as we would have directly observed it. Instead, history tries to explain what most probably happened. [327] Since a miraculous hypothesis, by definition, is generally the least likely explanation (otherwise it wouldn’t be miraculous!), it cannot be proven by historical means.   We earlier discussed the important principle of analogy which justifies the historian’s bias against miraculous explanations. Any naturalistic explanation makes for a better historical argument, than one that makes appeals to the supernatural, even if that natural argument is boring, such as “the Babylonian Jews exaggerated”, or complex, such as, “the Romans and the Sanhedrin cooperated in an elaborate conspiracy, to steal Jesus’ body, leaving an empty tomb”. Those theories, while unpopular with believers, are far more likely to be true than “God really did send an angel down to Earth to slaughter thousands of Assyrian soldiers” or “God raised Jesus from the dead, and that explains the empty tomb”. And complete fabrication, particularly when dealing with supernatural stories, might be the most probable explanation of all.

Lataster, Raphael (2013-09-02). there was no Jesus, there is no God (pp. 149-150). . Kindle Edition.

Ydemoc said...


Thanks for the suggestion! I must say, though, that I have found it to be a slippery slope when dealing with Christians, to attach any probability or likelihood (no matter how small) to claims of so-called miracles. I prefer to point it out to them that such miraculous claims cannot even be considered as being probable (or even possible), unless evidence is provided to show otherwise (and, as well, that there exists no evidence against such claims). If and until such evidence is supplied, I see no reason to seriously entertain such claims as anything other than arbitrary, i.e., these claims aren't worthy to even enter the realm of being considered as knowledge.

And, in my view, the concepts "possibility" and "probability" are legitimate terms (.e., objective), and much too valuable (as Leonard Peikoff notes in OPAR p. 176) to be used as " epistemological blank check[s]," whether it be the theist or the non-theists that is attempting to do so.

This is not to say that I failed to find the passage you posted, useful. I did. And I appreciate you making me aware of it.


Unknown said...

Hello Ydemoc. Thank you for some rather salient points. Of course I agree with you. If the goal of a conversation is to prompt a person to think, then it may be wise, depending upon a judgement call of the person's attitudes, to employ a wedge strategy. Introduction of ideas they are willing to consider is more likely to result in integration. Theists cling to the conceptually invalid notions of miracles as if they were castaways on the sea of reality grasping for broken planks of the good ship Religion after she has floundered upon the rocks of reason.

Stupid metaphors aside, it's ok for your relative to think miracles can happen if they'll just accept that ancient historical claims of miracles can't justify ancient miracle beliefs. Once a person starts thinking in probabilistic terms, their mind opens up. That's the way it went for me. I started as total fundy believer and sequentially morphed through evangelical, liberal, agnostic Christianity, weak atheism, to Objectivism.

BTW, thanks for all the great comments and points you've posted.


Ydemoc said...

Hi Robert,

You wrote: "...thanks for all the great comments and points you've posted."

Thank you, Robert. You also!


Justin Hall said...

for everyone's amusement

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Justin et al.,

Thanks for posting this link, Justin. Yes, it is a double face-palm moment for sure.

But Rick Warden is the gift that keeps on giving.

I will never forget my 6th grade teacher telling us back in 1977 that "maturity means knowing when to stop."

Well, unfortunately, this is a lesson that Rick Warden has apparently never learned, for he incited yet another double face-palm moment again with a new comment of his today.

You can find details here:

At a Loss for Words: Rick Warden's Latest Comment

Frankly, I really don't know what to say on behalf of Warden's condition. It seems to be worsening with each passing day.