Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Futility of the Apologetic Appeal to “Revelation”

A visitor commenting on my blog For Jonathan has asked me to comment on statements made by Christian apologist Jonathan Bradford towards the end of this item: Debate: Defending Christian Epistemology against an Objectivist. In the statements found there, Jonathan makes it clear that he appeals to “revelation” as the source of his religious knowledge.

For example, Jonathan declares that “Christian epistemology” is:
an epistemology based upon the foundation of divine revelation from the omniscient, omnipotent, infallible source of all knowledge.
I have to say, ever since learning about rational epistemology, I’ve always found it deeply puzzling when thinkers suppose that epistemology and “revelation” can go together. Christians claim revelation as a source for their knowledge.

Believers typically do not make it very clear what they mean by this, but rather aim to give the impression that they are beneficiaries of some specially bestowed knowledge transmitted directly into their minds from an infallible supernatural source. In actuality, this is just a term they use to conceal the utter secondhandedness of what they claim as knowledge.

When pressed on the matter, believers today typically do not say they are receiving new knowledge from the Christian god from fresh revelations being directly transmitted specifically to their minds. We of course could test this: ask them to tell you what you had for breakfast yesterday and watch the excuses fly. Rather, they usually designate two categories of revelation:

(1) “general revelation”: According to Bahnsen (Pushing the Antithesis, p. 276):
General revelation is the doctrine that God reveals himself in nature. This form of revelation is directed to all men (thus it is called “general” revelation). Though God’s revelation in nature does not show man the way of salvation, the Trinitarian nature of God, and many other such divine truths, it does show that God exists, that he is powerful, and that man is responsible to him.
In the same text (p. 62), Bahnsen briefly elaborates:
The doctrine of general revelation teaches that God reveals Himself in the created order (nature). It is that creational revelation which addresses man as man (the creaturely image of God, Gen. 1:26; 9:6). It reveals God’s existence (Rom. 1:20), glory (Ps. 19:1), power (Rom. 1:20), holiness (2:14-16), and wrath (1:18). This revelation is undeniably known by man, thus rendering him morally accountable to God (1:20; 2:1).
Thus, according to “general revelation,” presumably man is supposed to look outward at the natural world around us and somehow know from this that everything he sees in the world indicates that a supernatural being exists and that he owes his entire existence to it. It is not explained how precisely this works. The claim that “general revelation” is “directed to all men” and that it is “undeniably known” (again, presumably by “all men”), would rule out any kind of inference from facts one perceives, since inference is a volitional activity, and as such it is not a given that all individuals make the same specific inference. Also, inference is not infallible; one can make mistakes in inferring some conclusion from given facts. So if one infers something, he may be in error about his conclusions. But the Christian doctrine of “general revelation” seems expressly opposed to such outcomes. Thus it appears we have a mystery of sorts on our hands here.

Several times Bahnsen makes reference to Romans 1:20, a verse commonly cited by presuppositionalists in particular. Romans 1:20 states (ASV):
For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse
This verse states that “invisible things… are clearly seen.” But if something is “clearly seen,” on what basis can one say it’s also “invisible”? Thus this verse is blatantly self-contradictory. Examination of the original text bears this out. According to the Blue Letter Bible, the Greek word translated here as “invisible things” is ἀόρατος which means “unseen” (according to this lexical source), and the Greek word translated here as “clearly seen” is καθοράω is the passive voice of the present indicative verb which means “see plainly” (according to this lexical source). So the perceptual faculty of sight is indicated here.

Accordingly, Romans 1:20 essentially says that that which is “unseen… is seen plainly.” How can something that is “seen plainly” also be “unseen”?

So I’m convinced that we have a contradiction here: when we look out at the world, we do not “plainly see” attributes of something that are “invisible” or “unseen.”

Suppose the Christian claims that this means, when we look out at the world, we see “evidence” of the Christian god. But this too is deeply and insuperably problematic. For when I look out at the world, I see things that are natural, material, finite and corruptible. But as I ask in my blog entry Is Human Experience Evidence of the Christian God?:
How does that which is natural, material, finite and corruptible serve as evidence of that which is supernatural, immaterial, infinite and incorruptible? In other words, how does A serve as evidence of non-A? 
How does something serve as evidence of that which completely contradicts it?
Christians are at a complete loss as how to answer this, and yet it strikes to the core of the Christian doctrine of “general revelation.” When we look out at the world, we do not see an invisible, supernatural consciousness. We see rocks, dirt, puddles, mud, weeds, shrubs, trees, clouds, dust, hills, man-made things, etc. These things are not what Christians describe as their god, and we do not observe them coming into being by an act of consciousness (such as when an invisible magic consciousness wishes them into being). However, in spite of what we do perceive and do not observe, we can imagine that these things were “created” by a supernatural being which we likewise can only imagine.

Thus the doctrine of “general revelation” seems to be thoroughly problematic and unnecessary.

(2) “special revelation”: According to Bahnsen (Pushing the Antithesis, p. 280):
Special revelation is that disclosure that is given to God’s people (hence, it is “special”). It comes from God only by means of direct, personal, verbal (or visual) communication, either through special, prophetically endowed messengers or through the written record of those messengers.
In the same text (p. 64), Bahnsen briefly elaborates:
God reveals himself directly and propositionally to the mind of man in Scripture. Special revelation is that disclosure that is given to God’s people (hence, it is “special”). It comes from God by means of direct, personal, or verbal (or visual) communication, either through special, prophetically endowed messengers or through the written record of those messengers.
Here Bahnsen distinguishes between “direct, personal, or verbal (or visual) communication,” though it is not clear what the distinctions between these might be. The “verbal (or visual) communication” here typically refers to the text of the bible, but Bahnsen does not specify this probably because he wants to keep his options open. Unfortunately for Christians, propping the door open like this allows just as much to come in as it allows to go out. If someone claims to have received a “disclosure” from the Christian god that is “direct, personal, or verbal (or visual),” how would he go about validating this claim? On Christianity’s premises, it seems that it would be quite difficult to dispute such a claim. Christians often claim that if the content of some proposition contradicts some teaching in the bible, it could not come from the Christian god. That’s a good try, but what do we do in cases like the instruction given to Abraham to ready his own son for sacrifice? Believers might hasten to point out that their god provided a ram in the bush to take the place of Abraham’s son. But this misses the point: Abraham was still instructed to prepare his son as a sacrifice. What if the Christian god did not provide a ram? How does the believer know that a ram would be provided every time a believer is given such an instruction?

The question boils down to: if the believer were instructed by his god to kill, would he obey his god, or would he disobey it?

Believers might come back with the claim that their god would never provide such an instruction. But how does the believer, not being the Christian god, know this? Citing the 10 commandments’ prohibition against killing rests on numerous unargued assumptions. For example, Christians typically take this commandment to be a prohibition against killing other human beings. But on Christianity’s terms, it may be the case a demon appears to be human but is really a demon, and the Christian god wants the believer to destroy it. Moreover, Acts 5 has Peter curse a woman to death. In fact, that woman was a member of the church!

Calling this episode in Acts “a pericope altogether repulsive to modern sentiment, the more so because the penalty is implemented by one who, at Mk. 14:66-71 and its parallel in Matthew, had committed the greater crime of denying his master with curses, G. A. Wells has to say (Can We Trust the New Testament?, p. 78):
The fate of Ananias and Sapphira shows the church to be a realm of holiness which kills unholy people who lay hands on it… The story also conflicts with the generalization of [Acts] 2:44 that “all that believed… had all things in common”; for the couple were reproached on the ground that they should have handed over all the money from the sale of their goods or none at all, as the surrender was voluntary. The sharing of possessions was obviously not a feature of first-century Christianity as a whole. Paul’s letters show that it was not established in his congregations; and Luke intended it only as an illustration of the ideal uniqueness of the very earliest days, not as a norm for his own time. He himself shows that it did not last, for when at [Acts] 11:29 the disciples decide to send relief to the brethren in Judea, “there is no longer any suggestion of pooling capital… The Christians are engaging in business and some at least were prospering - euporeito, had plenty (Barrett[, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Volume 1],p. 565).
When I was a Christian, one of the concerns that grew in importance on this topic stemmed from my recognition that reality and imagination are in fact fundamentally distinct. More and more I came to recognize that the doctrine of revelation provides no objective means whatsoever for the believer to distinguish between what may be a genuine “disclosure” from the Christian god, a deceptive influence from some other supernatural source, and one’s own imagination. When Abraham supposedly heard a voice commanding him to prepare his son Isaac as a burnt offering to his god (Gen. 22), presumably this qualified as a “revelation” – i.e., a “disclosure” from his god informing Abraham of its wishes in a form that was “direct, personal, or verbal.” In fact, in this case, it seems to have been all three! But how did Abraham know that it was issued by the creator of the universe? I have already presented an examination of John Frame’s attempt to address just this question in my blog John Frame’s Empty-Handed Epistemology. Even Christianity’s top brass cannot answer this. And yet Christian apologists continue to appeal to “revelation” as the source of their certainty.

It must be emphasized that the doctrine of “revelation,” intended as it is to substantiate the notion that infallible knowledge has been directly communicated to certain chosen individuals from a supernatural source such that they can be certain that they are not wrong, does not in the final analysis alleviate the individual of epistemological labor. Since human beings do have the capacity to err in spite of claims to having received revelations, and since human beings do have the ability to imagine, the individual claiming to have received a “revelation” would still need to determine whether any particular content he claims to be revelatory in nature was in fact a revelation from the Christian god. How does one know that he’s received a supernatural revelation? How does he identify that some content in his mind was revealed to him supernaturally as opposed to acquired through some more mundane means (such as the operation of reason, or simply something he heard someone saying)? How does the believer rule out the possibility that he has confused something he himself has imagined with what he calls “revelation”? To simply dismiss this possibility gives away the game: he would at this point be claiming in effect that he himself is infallible, thus putting himself on equal footing with the god he claims to worship.

Moreover, given Christianity’s affirmation of the existence of supernatural beings other than the Christian god – e.g., demons, devils, fallen angels, etc., the individual would also need to determine that what he calls a “revelation” is not actually a supernatural deception masquerading as a “divine revelation.” (I have discussed the notion of supernatural deception previously; see especially my blog entries Cognitive Reliability vs. Supernatural Deception and A Reply to Michael: Further Thoughts on the Issue of Supernatural Deception.) But so far as I can tell in my reading of “Scripture,” the bible provides no systematic, objective guidance whatsoever on how to make such determinations. We should not be surprised by the fact that apologists do not draw attention to what must be accepted as a possibility on Christianity’s premises, that they have been supernaturally deceived. It is clear that early Christians wrestled with this problem themselves, but the only “solution” ever given is that individuals simply need to put their faith in some leader, still very much human, who claims to have it all right – e.g., an “apostle,” a pastor, a bishop, a pope, etc.

Next, we need to ask what kind of “knowledge” the believer claims to have received in this “direct, personal, or verbal (or visual)” disclosure from his god. Is it useful knowledge that we can apply down here on earth, such as when the next natural disaster is going to strike a major urban area or the solution to some complicated engineering project? Can the believer even tell you what you had for breakfast yesterday? Obviously, such claims to knowledge would be testable. But the “disclosures” which Christian believers claim to have received are typically not of this sort. In fact, I’ve never encountered a Christian who has claimed to receive this sort of knowledge from his god. On the contrary, the “knowledge” which Christians typically claim to receive from their god via “revelation” is always some sort of otherworldly content that has no objective value whatsoever, such as that his god is real, that it endorses the contents of the sacred storybook (which itself has no value for rational individuals living on earth), etc. Many apologists pretend to have received “knowledge” of some philosophical value by means of “revelation,” but this always turns out either to be more chicanery or at any rate indiscriminate, secondhand acceptance of content they picked up from other human beings.

In fact, it is precisely in the area of theological doctrine that believers routinely conflict, and yet this is the kind of “knowledge” that believers say has been “revealed” to them from a supernatural source.

Examining the biblical record, the “revealed knowledge” its authors claimed to have seems to fall into two general categories: the course of human history (either past or future – e.g., the fall in the Garden of Eden, or eschatological fantasies about the violent demise of humanity), and what is expected of human beings (e.g., obedience to commandments, self-sacrifice, abandonment of worldly values, dietary codes, circumcision, intellectual resignation, etc.). The content of the “revealed knowledge” that we find in the bible is of no scientific significance; for example, we will not learn from the bible what the melting point of copper is, the distance to the moon, how to construct an internal combustion engine, the presence of microorganisms in the body, surgical techniques, how to determine which plants contain properties that can combat cancer, etc. The “disclosures” from supernatural sources never seem to have any value for those who intend to live right here on the earth that the supernatural deity itself is said to have created.

In terms of philosophy, the “disclosure” found in the Old and New Testaments provide nothing of value. It does not inform us of the nature of consciousness and the proper relationship between the subject of consciousness and its objects; indeed, it continually blurs this distinction throughout primarily because its own authors were ignorant on such matters themselves. It does not present any theory of concepts such that we can learn from it how the human mind forms concepts, how new units should be integrated once we have formed concepts, how measurement plays a role in concept-formation, how to properly define concepts once they’ve been formed. It provides no analysis of the nature of perception and its relationship to conceptual knowledge. It provides no explanation of the nature of values and their relationship to human life. It provides no theory of individual rights; slavery, we’re told, is “perfectly biblical,” and much in the bible can be cited to confirm this. It provides no guidance on how to systematically apply reason to specific areas of study, such as biology, botany, geology, physics, etc., in order to discover the nature of the facts involved in the world in which we live. It does not explain how scientists should conduct experiments to test their hypotheses. Given what we do find and what we do not find in the bible, it can be safely said that its authors were completely ignorant on these and other important philosophical and scientific matters.

In terms of theological matters, as mentioned above, the situation is no better. Since the dawn of Christianity, debates over “right doctrine” on virtually every teaching of the church have raged without cease and without clear resolution. Even a cursory examination of the history of Christianity shows how the fragmentation unfolding at an exponential rate since its inception can be traced to its tattered doctrinal beginnings. Everything from the doctrine of salvation to the observance of the Mosaic laws, from the nature of the resurrected body to predestination, from circumcision to unclean foods, from fellowship with unbelievers to marriage and divorce, etc., etc., are points of contention for the early believers, as documented in the New Testament itself. The apostle Paul’s many letters were written specifically with the intention of settling disputes, which were already raging in his day, even though his efforts seem to have done more harm than good (for those disputes have morphed and proliferated accordingly ever since). The NT writers never make mention of a “trinity,” and their treatment of the relationship between the Christian god, Jesus and the “holy ghost” is as vague as it is inconsistent. The bible’s authors seem to have been given “disclosures” which are not only harrowingly incomplete, but also ultimately incompatible with one another.

So when believers cite “revelation” as their “epistemology,” they are not talking about some defined, systematic method of discovering and validating knowledge which they personally perform by gathering facts, carefully examining and identifying them, determining their nature, looking at other relevant facts to confirm their findings, checking for error, etc. Ultimately, they really mean simply believing what they read in the bible, what they’ve been told by church leadership, guided as it must be by human interpretation, and the emotional and imaginative indulgences which they’ve allowed to seduce their minds (e.g., “I looked at the stars of the night heaven and knew that it must have all been made by God!”). There really is no epistemology to speak of here at all. It is fantasy mixed with the insistent stipulation that was is really only imaginary is “the Truth.”

There are many dead give-aways to the fact that this is all fraudulent artifice, but one which believers cannot get around is the fact that there is such wide disagreement among believers on so many teachings in Christianity. Just go to Triablogue and skim through the blog entries there. Remember the Spy vs. Spy feature in the old Mad Magazines? Well, there you will find Believer vs. Believer. If there’s a supernatural being out there personally revealing knowledge to believers, why are they constantly in such wide and contentious disagreement with each other? If we’re talking merely about an ancient text written by human beings living in a pre-rational, pre-scientific culture steeped in mysticism (e.g., formalized superstition) and unable to clearly distinguish between the real and the imaginary, then such wide variations in interpretation are what we can expect from those who champion these writings as if they were some kind of cosmically bestowed “Truth.” Either way, to call this “epistemology” is to trample the concept in mud.

As for inductive vs. deductive, what Jonathan is trying to say here is that his belief that Christianity is true (a la presuppositional apologetics) is not based upon an analysis performed on each and every competing worldview and eliminating them from consideration due to the discovery of defects in each, thereby leading to the conclusion that Christianity, as the last one standing, is therefore the only true worldview. Jonathan is saying that this is not his method. (Of course, what he has in mind here is a process of elimination, not induction; induction builds to the general from the specific, but a process of elimination begins with a general and then weeds out specifics to arrive at a specific.) Rather, he’s saying he got this “truth” from “revelation” (essentially, believing what he’s been told – cf. John Frame: “In the final analysis we must believe Scripture on its own say-so” - Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 14). In this way he’s claiming general knowledge (e.g., “all non-Christian worldviews are false”) apart from induction. This is the stuff of faith – essentially believing that something is true because he wants it to be true (cf. Mike Licona: “I want it to be true”) – and in his mind it allows him to dismiss all non-Christian worldviews without ever examining them. In this way the appeal to “revelation” demonstrates itself as an attempt to find some shortcut to certainty.

If “revelation” is involved here, it is what the believer reveals about his own assessment of knowledge and his character as a thinker: he’s essentially saying that whatever it is he believes as part of his worldview is not something he has learned by means of applying a rational process. Bahnsen tells us that “without the Christian worldview ‘reason’ itself becomes arbitrary or meaningless – becomes unintelligible” (Always Ready, p. 196). This can only mean that one must accept Christianity first, before applying reason in order to determine whether or not any of it is true – “belief precedes understanding” (Ibid., p. 50), which means: according to Christianity, one must believe before he understands what he believes. For example, we are supposed to believe, apart from reason, that an act of consciousness produced the universe and that Jesus was born of a virgin. Only later, after swallowing the totality of Christianity (per the approved interpretations) is one allowed to “reason,” and then only in conformity with preset faith commitments which cannot be violated or obviated, and thus man’s mind must be kept on a tight leash for “reason seeks to distort, not affirm, the truth” (Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 83).

Regarding proof, Frame states (op cit. pp. 66-67):
One who requires proof may be doing it out of ungodly arrogance, or he may be thereby admitting that he has not lived in a godly environment and has taken counsel from fools. God’s norm for us is that we live and raise our children in such a way that proof will be unnecessary… it is possible to go beyond these general recommendations and produce specific arguments for God’s existence. A wise man does not really need these; they are for fools.
So to summarize: arguments are “for fools,” proof should be “unnecessary,” reason “seeks to distort, not affirm, the truth,” one must accept the Christian worldview before he can reason, and one “must belief Scripture on its own say-so.” Ultimately, this is what the believer means by “revelation.” It is strictly anti-rational.

Jonathan writes:
I know that 2 + 2 = 4. I don’t know this inductively because I have examined all possible answers to the question ‘what is 2 + 2?’. I know it deductively through other methods.
Notice that Jonathan does not explain what he has in mind by “other methods.” He leaves this completely uninformed. He does mention deduction here. But he seems to ignore the fact that deduction draws a specific conclusion from at least one general premise. This means that we must first have the general premise before one can deduce specific conclusions from it. This does not mean we know that 2 + 2 = 4 by means of a process of elimination, as Jonathan seems to believe (he apparently believes that’s what induction is). But it does mean that generalization comes before deduction, which means: we need to perform an inductive procedure in order to get that generalization before we can deduce specific truths from it. So if Jonathan is using deduction here, what are his general premises, and how did he get them (if not by induction)?

Perhaps more to the point, we might ask: Where did Jonathan get the concept ‘2’? If he says “by revelation,” we saw above that this is strictly anti-rational. Moreover, it indicates (“reveals”) that he has no theory of concepts to explain how he forms and makes use of concepts. And in fact, Christianity has no theory of concepts. By contrast, the objective theory of concepts provides an analysis of how measurement is integral to conceptualization and points out that measurement is already taking place at the level of perception – i.e., at a pre-conceptual level of awareness. When we see two objects, for example, we are perceiving them, and their sizes in relation to one another is self-evident. For example, if we see a beach ball and a tennis ball, it is perceptually self-evident that the former is larger than the latter. This is a form of measurement; it begins in perception – i.e., by looking outward at the world of facts as opposed to looking inward at the contents of our wishes or imagination (where “revelation” ultimately comes from). The subsequent process of abstraction enables us to form concepts of numbers.

Jonathan writes:
Now, if someone came up to me with a twenty page paper, with hundreds of equations, big long explanations and proofs, and at the end it appeared that they have proved 2 + 2 = 17, well, I know that they are wrong.
Well and good, and similarly, if someone comes up to me with a 700-page book claiming to have proved the existence of an invisible magic being (coming from those who claim that proof should be “unnecessary”), I know that they are wrong. But I don’t appeal to “revelation” for this. I can defend my verdicts on the basis of reason.

Jonathan writes:
I know that Christianity is true via divine revelation.
A fundamental problem with Jonathan’s approach is that, since it is strictly anti-rational, he cannot actually know that Christianity is true or that any other worldview is false. Knowing is the reward of the application of reason performed firsthand, by the knower himself, which involves the identification of facts one discovers by looking outward at reality and integrating them into a non-contradictory whole. By contrast, the believer who appeals to “revelations” has essentially surrendered his own mind and put his faith in the supposed authority of a storybook written by mystics thriving in an ancient pre-rational and pre-scientific culture whose own worldview provided no understanding for the relationship between perception and knowledge, had no theory of concepts whatsoever, and allowed for no explicit recognition of the fundamental distinction between reality and imagination.

If one accepts as true something another person claims on his mere say-so, as Frame stipulates, he cannot know whether or not what he has accepted as truth is really true or not. He has forfeited the opportunity to know anything in exchange for the ability to repeat something he himself doesn’t really understand.

Jonathan writes:
It’s based upon the revelation of God which He has made evident to me in such a way that I can know it, and can’t be wrong about it.
So say all the other religionists of the world with whose worldviews Jonathan’s worldview disagrees. Even other Christians who hold to different interpretations of various theological doctrines (the differences between virtually endless) claim that they know what they claim to know by “revelation of God” and that they “can’t be wrong about it.” Within Christendom itself since its inception, we have seen over and over again the same claim to infallibility on the part of each of its factions: “we are right, and everyone else is wrong,” all said to be the case on the basis of the appeal to revelation. How is it that the same general worldview results in a myriad constellation of contradictory affirmations, particularly when it is said to originate from the same omniscient and infallible source? If it’s all built ultimately on falsehoods and fantasies, such a state of affairs is entirely understandable, indeed expected. But if it’s all built on an infallible, unified truth, the state of affairs is entirely inexplicable.

Thus we can safely conclude that the apologetic appeal to "revelation" is hopelessly futile. It is strictly anti-rational, it raises epistemological conundrums which it cannot untangle, and given the fact that anyone can claim that their imaginative indulgences have their basis in supernatural revelation, such appeals inevitably lead to contradictions.

I'm glad these aren't my problems.

by Dawson Bethrick


freddies_dead said...

Another great post Dawson, so for that I thank you.

What I want to know though is, what the gibbering fuck is "the impossibility of the contrary" and how do they justify this pile of malodourous drivel? Not once have I ever seen a presupper back up this baseless claim and Colin Pearson (from the link you gave at the start of your article) is no exception.

What's to stop me simply responding by saying "Atheism is true because of the impossibility of the contrary" and then refusing to explain what the hell I mean?

Oh, that's right. Presuppers aren't interested in backing up their baseless assertions, they want us to just believe because we want to.

I think I'll stick with reason instead. I'll look less like a lunatic.

blarkofan said...

Inferring the existence of God from nature means that before they know God exists (because they haven’t inferred it yet), people have to use reasoning to gain that knowledge, but that's impossible according to the presuppers. Sye TenB claims any attempt to use reason without knowing God exists falls into an infinite regress (he never demonstrates how God-belief prevents an infinite regress, however).

Using the presuppers' preferred “justified true belief” definition of knowledge, the assertion that I know God exists fails:
- How is this knowledge supposedly justified? God is not directly perceptible. Inferring God from nature means using reason before I know God exists, which (as mentioned above) is supposedly impossible. If the Bible is supposed to justify this knowledge, why should I (or anyone) accept that? What authority does the Bible have (without begging the question of God’s existence)? Also, a claim is not its own proof.
- How is this supposed knowledge established as true? Without proof, claiming this is true is either begging the question or an arbitrary assertion.
- I definitely do not hold this belief. The presuppers must either call me a liar or say that I hold this belief unconsciously and suppress it unconsciously.

blarkofan said...

On Dogma Debate, Sye said, "What I know, I know by and through revelation." He denied that special revelation occurs nowadays and only specifically mentioned the Bible as a means of revelation. How does Sye know with certainty: that Canada is north of the equator, what the square root of 81 is, who the first president of the United States was, what his own name is, etc.?

If everything Sye knows with certainty was revealed to him by God and God is the lord of Sye’s reasoning (another of his claims), then Sye has no excuse for ever being wrong about anything. If Sye tries to excuse his mistakes by saying the revelation is perfect but he is not, he has introduced his own human fallibility into his apologetic.

blarkofan said...

Sorry, forgot to say thanks for another great post, Dawson. I had been thinking recently that analogical thinking and the appeal to revelation were ripe topics, and now you have addressed each in your usual comprehensive fashion.

I'll shut up now so someone else can talk.

wakawakwaka said...

@ freddies_dead
thats nothing you should see Jason Lisle and his nonsensical dribble, he cant even tell that he is actually using an inductive argument for his god! take a look

anyways great post Dawson!thanks for all your help!

blarkofan said...

Dr. Jason Lisle is the guy who said, in a lecture on creationism, “Ultimately, if the Big Bang were good science we would still have to reject it in favor of scripture, because scripture’s never wrong.”

Anonymous said...

Hello Friends. Thanks Dawson for yet another good blog, and thanks to Freddie, blarkofan, and waka for salient comments.

Dawson cited Jonathan > (e.g., “I looked at the stars of the night heaven and knew that it must have all been made by God!”)

This is an example of an theist expressing his faith based incredulity when faced with the concept of natural formation of complexity, but complexity arises from simplicity all the time. ( ) This goes in lock step with the belief a magical metaphysical realm overlays reality like a transparency depicting internal organs overlays a skeleton diagram in a biology textbook.

Happy and Good

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Blarkofan et al.,

Thanks everyone for your comments!

Some additional thoughts on all this:

Christians only succeed in inviting internal tension into their worldview predicament when they claim their knowledge by way of “revelation,” particularly if they imply that this means that they cannot be wrong.

Back in October 2009, in the comments of my blog , I asked presuppositionalist Chris Bolt the following question:

<<Or, can it be the case that the your god communicates with believers through the 'sensus divinitatus,' and believers still get it wrong?>>

In response to this question, Bolt stated:

<<Yes, this is the case.>>

But when Christians insinuate that they cannot be wrong since their “knowledge” comes from “revelation,” they’re essentially disagreeing with what Bolt says here.

How can this be? Who’s right? If Christians get their knowledge by means of revelation from the Christian god, and this god is non-contradictory as they claim, how could there be any disagreements among believers, especially on such fundamental matters as this? As I point out above, it is specifically in areas of “doctrine” where believers find themselves most at odds with each other, and this is the “knowledge” which is said to be communicated through “special revelation.”

In his defense of presuppositionalism against fellow Christian Paul Copan, presupper K. Scott Oliphant writes:

<<Misconceptions of so-called presuppositional apologetics abound. One reason is surely the fault of presuppositionalists. As an apologetic "school," emphases and tenets vary from person to person, according to one's theological system. This is inevitable, but is also unfortunate because confusing, and is one reason why I think the moniker "covenantal" best applies to the apologetic approach argued by Cornelius Van Til. Whatever he might have in common with other apologists, Van Til's approach is uniquely Reformed in a way the others are not.>>

How can this be? How can “emphases and tenets [!] vary from person to person”? How can “one’s theological system” be different from another among Christians - among those who claim to have received their “knowledge” via revelations? Oliphant says that such diversity (which, he acknowledges, results in confusion!) is “inevitable.” When Christians defend against these points by claiming that such confusion and disagreement are a result of Adam’s fall, they seem to be ignoring the NT teaching that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:17). In effect, it’s all an admission that their whole claim to “revelation” is pure, undiluted BS.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi freddies,

Thanks for your comment.

You asked: “What I want to know though is, what the gibbering fuck is ‘the impossibility of the contrary’ and how do they justify this pile of malodourous drivel?”

This “impossibility of the contrary” is really nothing more than a slogan which presuppers deploy as part of their ‘huff-and-bluff’ methodology. There is no rational content to it, and if an apologist attempts to substantiate it, he will likely chase himself down any number of rabbit trails as he hopes to elude your focus.

I did write a blog once on this – see Is the Contrary to Christianity Truly Impossible? - in which I suggested that Matthew 19:26 (“with God all things are possible”) provides serious internal tension for the presuppositionalist at the worldview level. They are the one’s saying that the Christian god exists, that entirety of the bible is true, and that Christianity is true by reason of “the impossibility of the contrary.” But if it’s the case that “with God all things are possible,” how can the Christian justify the claim that anything is impossible?

Apologists reacting to this will typically ridicule me personally for making this suggestion. But to do so misses the point that this is not my problem; it’s an internal problem for the Christian who asserts the claim that Christianity is true “because of the impossibility of the contrary.” I am not the one who affirms that “with God all things are possible,” nor am I the one who claims that Christianity is true “because of the impossibility of the contrary.” Anyway, I find the whole thing rather humorous.

You asked: “What's to stop me simply responding by saying ‘Atheism is true because of the impossibility of the contrary’ and then refusing to explain what the hell I mean?”

Well, certainly you can, and I would also say that you are under no obligation to explain yourself to a Christian, so you’re well within your rights to do this. Likely he will start to recite some canned objections about atheism (as though it were a positive) which he’s read on some cheap apologetics site aimed at coddling the converted with abysmally superficial treatments. And of course, in response to this, if those objections are false, you can point out that he’s misrepresenting you position, and that if he can defend his position only by means of caricature, it’s not worth defending to begin with.

Why can’t I say: “Existence exists because of the impossibility of the contrary”? To say that non-existence is possible, existence must exist. Moreover, the concept ‘possibility’ inherently presupposes existence: possibility of what?


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Robert,

You wrote: "Dawson cited Jonathan > (e.g., “I looked at the stars of the night heaven and knew that it must have all been made by God!”)"

Actually, I was not quoting Jonathan here. Sorry if I implied this. This is just a common claim I hear from Christians - it's a common anecdotal apologetic.

But you're right, it's indicative of an appeal to incredulity or even ignorance. It's as if to say "I have no idea how all the stars of the universe came to be, so it must be God!" It's just more "Duh, I donno, must be God did it!" We find essenitally this kernel of intellectual resignation throughout the vastness of apologetic bloviation. It's even present in William Lane Craig's arguments.


wakawakwaka said...

your posts and refutations are so well done Dawson, it makes me wonder if people like Lisle whom claim that he has never found a good refutation of his argument are either lying or just live under a rock

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone. Thanks again Dawson for correcting my assumption about your example being a citation of Jonathan.

Dawson cited K. Scott Oliphant > "…As an apologetic "school," emphases and tenets vary from person to person, according to one's theological system. This is inevitable, but is also unfortunate because confusing…"

This problem has haunted Christianity from its beginnings as Apostle Paul fretted in 2 Cor 11:3-4
3 But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. 4 For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (digression: The last clause does not go with the first clause. Why would Paul be afraid if he was confident the Corinth Christians could bear the preaching of other Jesus' and the beautiful receiving of other spirits. The last clause might be an interpolation.)

That Christianity has always been a squirming wad of competing sects with divergent doctrines and even more so in modern times is a bullet proof point of evidence that can render the consequent probability of metaphysical primacy of existence so high as to yield an exceedingly low Bayesian probability of Christianity being true even when arguing a fortiori with 50% vs 50% priors.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Wak,

Thanks for your comment!

I checked out Jason Lisle's blog ( I think this is my first time ever visiting it - at least, I don't recall ever going there before.

There seems to be no recent activity - everything just stopped back in September. If things don't pick up again, perhaps it will be a good candidate for the Theistic Blog Morgue (on my blog's main page).

As for why people like Jason Lisle and other religionists continue in their anti-intellectual stupor, it defies rational explanation. But that's because it's irrational. What's important is to recognize that it is in fact irrational and to be able to point out why it is irrational. As for motivations of adherents for persisting in their irrationality, we can just shake our heads and do our best not to become like them. I really don't understand what could motivate a person to defend Christianity as they do. I found trying to live as a Christian to be painfully miserable. But that's probably because I really did think about it and tried to integrate its teachings into a non-contradictory whole, which of course is entirely impossible.

I read through some of Lisle's blog entry on Christian epistemology (the most recently published entry). If he's satisfied with what he writes there, I'd say he's way beyond the reach of rational persuasion. This is a choice that he has made for himself.


wakawakwaka said...

thanks for your response Dawson, but what i find really amusing is that after Jason Lisle stopped allowing comments on his blog, he 5 MONTHS later started to anwser people's comments by splicing his own into their posts and acted like it was possible for them to counter-respond

Bahnsen Burner said...


Yes, 2 Cor 11:3-4 is a good passage to keep in mind here. This passage provides evidence that even back in Paul's day (this was before the gospel narratives were written), there were competing versions of the Jesus story already in circulation.

Notice that nowhere in Paul's writings does he allude to any specifics as to time, place or circumstances of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. He nowhere puts it at Jerusalem, he nowhere indicates that it took place circa 30 AD or even during his own lifetime, and nowhere is it suggested in any of Paul's authentic letters (supposing any of them are) that Jesus was crucified under Pilate. Paul nowhere mentions a virgin birth; Paul makes it clear that Jesus was "made of a woman, made under the law" (Gal. 4:4) and that he “was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3). Far from suggesting anything unusual about Jesus’ birth, what Paul does say can only suggest that he was born naturally “of the seed of David according to the flesh.” Matthew and Luke are the only documents in the NT that indicate a virgin birth, and they both make it clear that David was not his biological father. Apologists love to cite Romans 1, but not this part of it. Paul also nowhere suggests that Jesus performed miracles, healed the lame and cured the blind, argued with priests, traveled the countryside with disciples preaching “the word” and teaching his teachings. Paul nowhere mentions that Jesus spoke in parables. Etc., etc., etc. The portrait Paul and other early epistle writers give of Jesus does not match up with what we read in the gospel narratives and in fact conflicts with it at many points. Paul famously says that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7, ASV; KJV has “made himself of no reputation” and NIV has “made himself nothing” instead of “emptied himself”). Apparently Paul had no knowledge of traditions portraying Jesus as a celebrity preacher going around and wowing “multitudes” by performing miracles, whose name went out among the nations (cf. Mk. 6:14). In fact, Paul does not treat Jesus’ earthly life as something at all recent.

In response to critics who claim that the legend theory provides no explanation for how the Jesus story could have gotten started, Wells cites the mass crucifixion of Pharisees under Alexander Jannaeus, the king of Judea from 103 BC to 76 BC. According to the article cited here, “Josephus reports that Jannaeus brought 800 rebels to Jerusalem and had them crucified. Even worse, Jannaeus had the throats of the rebel’s wives and children cut before their eyes as Jannaeus ate with his concubines.” Josephus himself writes of the aftermath: “Upon which so deep a surprise seized on the people, that eight thousand of his opposers fled away the very next night, out of all Judaea, whose flight was only terminated by Alexander's death” (Jewish War, Book I).

No doubt this event left a lasting impression among the local Jewish population of the region. Stories of the atrocities committed against the Jews in this fashion likely circulated for decades after the event. It’s quite possible that the Jesus story that Paul got himself sucked into originated from some strand of tradition originating from this event. With the rise of Jewish messianism, inspired as it was by the Wisdom literature, there were probably many competing versions of the Jesus story, or some like it, well before Paul came along.

Anyway, all fascinating stuff!


Bahnsen Burner said...


Did he really do that? Gees! That's pretty extreme.

There's one blog entry of his (It’s not “Human Reason vs. God’s Word”!) that has 1,180 comments! Good grief!

I haven't read them. Not sure if I can spend my time even opening that link. But there it is for anyone who might be interested.


wakawakwaka said...

oh and one more check out this discussion that Lisle had with a reviewer on amazon

feel free to join in

Ydemoc said...


You dubbed the mysticism that is Christianity, "formalized superstition..." What a great way to put it! No doubt this will come in handy in my interactions with apologists. Boy, do they hate being thought of as "superstitious," but that is exactly what they are.


wakawakwaka said...

Ydemoc are you photosythsis on the we are smrt blog?

Anonymous said...

Good Morning Dawson. It's 6 am central time with windy and overcast but unseasonably warm conditions here in Mesquite Texas, and it was good to see your blog reply in my inbox.

Yes you're quite right, Wells had a most interesting case. I've five of his books and they provide ample material for discussion with Christians regarding Paul's views and the multiplicity of early Jesus sects all with very different notions. Fascinating stuff and very useful for planting seeds of doubt in the minds of the silent lurking majority of Christian blog and social media forum readers. However, if one uses Wells stuff, they should paraphrase and not direct quote or cite because of Wells admission to belief in Kloppenborg's Helenistic Cynic Sage Jesus model which will be twisted by Liars for Jesus (apologists) to imply as if a smear, Wells' belief in NT Gospel Jesus.

Thanks and Best

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Robert,

I'm glad you also enjoy Wells' work. (In fact, I have seven of his books, so I got you beat!)

As for your recommendation not to quote Wells directly viz the Kloppenborg issue, that's a new one on me. I'll have to look into it. But frankly, I doubt that this by itself would make a person's views vulnerable simply by quoting Wells. I guess I'll take my chances.

I have a very high degree of admiration for G.A. Wells. I don't know how future generations will view his work, but I know that I have learned immensely from what I have read in his books and the few papers of his that are available online. In my estimation, he is up there with some of the best composers, from Schubert to Schoenberg, from Berg to Shostakovich. Reading his work is like listening to a finely crafted symphony.

(That's not to say that I agree with everything I find in his writing... but I'll leave that for another day...)

Anyway, Robert, I really enjoy your comments - all of them. I really like it when you chime in on things.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Nice to hear from you. I know you're busy, but I always value your input.

As for "formalized superstition" - this was a creation that resulted from editing. I had something else written there (I can't recall what specifically - it's gone for ever now), but after thinking about it, I thought "superstition" was approptiate, but not enough. Well, superstition is definitely involved in the genesis of religious beliefs, but religious beliefs are in fact more formalized than folksy superstitions (since they've been developed into formal "doctrines"). Hence, I think "formalized superstition" is a suitable synonym for "religion."

Ah, the joys of thinking!


Bahnsen Burner said...


Here are a few questions one might want to ask someone like Jason Lisle:

1. If a person says he has seen something that he says is invisible, would he be contradicting himself? Yes or no?

2. According to your worldview, would it ever be morally right for a parent to stand by and allow his child to be tortured and readied for execution without the parent intervening to protect his child? Yes or no?

3. If you believed that your god commanded you to destroy something, would you obey this command, or not? Yes or no?

4. Is there anything you would not sacrifice for your god? Yes or no?

I can address these. But would someone like Jason Lisle? How would a Christian address them?


Anonymous said...

Hi Dawson. Yeah. You're right. The Kloppenborg issue isn't important unless one is arguing for a purely mythical Jesus associated with Christian origins. (I should'nt comment or post prior to having coffee.) Upon further thinking, that Kloppenborg's case is as least as strong as the case for Q, then it functions as a point of evidence refuting Biblical literal Christianity, and that's a good thing. We know what happened when Christianity ruled over western civilization.


Ydemoc said...

Hi wakawakawaka,

You wrote: "Ydemoc are you photosythsis on the we are smrt blog?"

I think you're asking me if I use the moniker "photosynthesis" over on the wearesmrt blogs.

No, I don't. I'm registered over there as "Ydemoc," but I've never posted anything that I can recall (chatted as a guest once with "gnardude" and sent a private note once, but that's about it).

As far as "photo" goes, he's a regular poster over here on Dawson's blog, too -- although, it's been a couple weeks or so since I've seen him around. I really enjoy his stuff, as he tends not to pull any punches when it comes to interacting with apologists. For examples, check out his contributions on the comment thread of this blog entry:

And to see even more examples, check out his comments on the blog entries that follow that one.


Anonymous said...

Just a quick note to clarify that Ydemoc and me are two different persons. No two-in-one or three-in-one bullshit at all. Two different individuals, etc, etc.

Ydemoc said...


Thanks for that. I can see that upon re-reading what I wrote that I wasn't as clear as I could've been.


Bahnsen Burner said...

[cross-posted at At a Loss for Words: Rick Warden’s Latest Comment]


I saw Warden's latest comments in reply to you and Vince (here).

Seriously, I frankly don't know what to say. He is so strung out on tangents, it's clear that he will never face the fundamental issues.

At one point (details here), he makes an accusation: “Dawson Bethrick refuses to define or clarify what Rand's "metaphysical primacy" specifically refers to.”

As I have shown in the link, this accusation is so wildly off the mark as to suggest that Warden simply hasn’t paid any attention whatsoever to what has been presented to him, or that there’s some deeper defect in his comprehension skills.

When you remind him of this, he launches off into yet further diversionary tactics, never once acknowledging that his accusation is completely false. In fact, he calls your comment “truly astounding” and goes on to accuse me of other transgressions.

He then goes on to repeat his charge that I have indulged in “metaphysical cherry picking.” By this he apparently means I’m wrong to focus on certain facts which support my case (such as Christianity’s assumption of the primacy of consciousness in the relation between its god and everything it is said to have created). Why this would be wrong is beyond me.

Then he goes on about my lying analogy, which I introduced simply to make a point which he has completely missed. He references an earlier post of his where he asks: “Why is Bethrick’s lying analogy an extremely poor example of metaphysical primacy regarding Premise 4?” But the lying analogy was not intended as an “example of metaphysical primacy,” but rather to show that an inconsistency does not erase anything that is actually there.

Here’s what I originally wrote (here):

<< By analogy, suppose someone is caught lying. The evidence that he was lying is clear, and he even admits that he was lying. It will not do to say that in some other situation he was not lying, as if this would cancel out the fact that he was indeed lying in the first case. A lie is still a lie. >>

Warden has repeatedly attempted to defend theism against the charge that it assumes the primacy of consciousness on the basis that theism does not claim that its god (a) created itself or (b) can extinguish itself by an act of will. None of this addresses the charge in question, just as citing a situation in which a liar was not lying does not erase (“cancel out”) the fact that he did lie on a particular occasion. I have shown ample evidence that theism assumes the primacy of consciousness in the relationship it affirms between its god and everything distinct from itself. Warden’s defense ignores all this and his own admissions to the same. If anyone is guilty of “metaphysical cherry picking,” it’s him, not me.

I have repeatedly pointed out that even theists cannot maintain the primacy of consciousness consistently - i.e., in all areas of thought. Warden ignores this too.


Bahnsen Burner said...

In my several blog posts and comments interacting directly with Warden’s attempted defenses, I asked many, many questions, virtually all of which he has ignored. I pressed him repeatedly on three in particular:

<< 1) If your god wills that an apple exists in a certain location at a certain time, will the apple come into existence as willed or not?

2) If your god wills that the apple is of the golden delicious variety, will the apple be a golden delicious apple?

3) If your god wills that the apple becomes a banana, will the apple become a banana?

These are straight-to-the point polar questions (i.e., they need to be answered yes or no) which focus on the relationship in question – namely between the Christian god as a knowing subject and some object distinct from itself that it is claimed by Christianity to have made.

When Warden did finally address my questions (see his 10 Feb comment here), he answered them each with a “yes”. Of course, he has to. But in so doing he confirms the truth of the charge that Christianity assumes the primacy of consciousness in the relation between its god as a knowing subject and anything and everything distinct from itself - regardless of whether or not that god is thought to have created itself or can or cannot extinguish its own existence.

He also says that I “claim… that it is a ‘red herring’ to ask for the definition of the central concept of the central argument” (emphasis added). But in fact I have nowhere said or even implied that it is a red herring simply to “ask” for a definition. Rather, Warden used his own confusions on the definition of metaphysical primacy in a most embarrassing attempt to shift focus away from my argument in order to quibble over some matter which his own worldview does not even address! All of Warden’s concern at this point was to avoid dealing with the implications of theism in terms of the subject-object relationship. That’s when Warden then accuses me of “refusing” to explain what the issue of metaphysical primacy refers to, which at this point can only be a bald-faced lie.

Even worse now, instead of acknowledging that in fact I have addressed the concerns which Warden claims I “refuse” to explain, he now gives you a list of duties that you are now supposed to perform.

He says that I have “made [myself] scarce,” but in fact I’m right where I’ve always been.

The guy is really whacked.


wakawakwaka said...

thank you for the clarification Photo! anyrate i am still after all these month bogged at Jason Lisle and his lik

Anonymous said...

It might be a useful tactic in discussion with Rick Warden to point out what Ba'al Chatzaf stated on the Objectivistliving forum in discussion of QM and consciousness affecting matter.

Consciousness is an electro-chemical process that takes place mostly in the brain and spinal column. Yes, it affects matter. It moves your muscles.

It is a physical process with physical effects. It is a -branial- thing not a mental thing. We have brains. No one has ever objectively detected a mind with any kind of scanning equipment.

This would lay ground for asserting Rick has a burden of proof to show consciousness is a substance that "exists" independently of existence. Continuously hammering on this while ignoring all his red herring he-said-she-said muddying of the waters might get some attention from his readers.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dawson,

I followed that link (I thought that my comment would never get through, so I did not try and follow, and I have a policy never to subscribe for notifications on Christian bullshit).

It gave me a headache. He avoided my answer, and started on on stuff that my comment was not at all about. He lied about you refusing to define your terms, so he rather distracts me from this fact by shooting as many questions and complains as possible about something else. Shit!

I've been reading guys. I like the activity around here. I just have had too little to add.

Anonymous said...


I posted at Jason's as "Nadie." One of those linked at the right margin (recent comments) is an answer to a Christian who devastated his own position beautifully. His post might deserve further examination. The last sentence is incoherent.

wakawakwaka said...

yes i see, photosyntesis, dont you find it strange of what Lisle is doing right now, keeping his blog closed while still splicing his comments into that of other people?

Anonymous said...

Hey wakawakw,

Well, I have to say. Lisle did not read anything carefully. He was quick at making hasty generalizations, much more interested in quick rhetorical twist than in actually talking to anybody. So, what he is doing now does not surprise me too much.

There was another apologist whose name escapes me now, also a presuppositionalist, who erased a whole conversation after noticing that I was being too clearly devastating his position. Maybe some of these guys are sincere, but my experience, as started with Sye and then with one of his early disciples, indicates that presuppositionalist do not care one bit about being right, but rather about the appearance of winning. So they will use as many tricks as possible to distract readers from their failures at addressing anything to keep the focus on trying to ridicule the opposition. Of course, this ridiculing comes via "creative" rhetoric, not via anything of substance.

Anonymous said...

Hi Photo and waka. These guys are liars for Jebus, so don't be surprised at their antics. Their standard operation procedure is to distort or strawman, ad hominem, red herring, muddy the waters, evade and repeat ad nauseum, and then declare victory. Arguments aren't directed at the apologist but rather to the audience.

wakawakwaka said...

dont worry Robert, i figured out that a long time ago, you can even see several of my comments on Lisle's blog were i mention "preaching to the choir" and " that Sye ten guy's rhetoric" i realised after a few weeks of talking with Lisle that there is no point in trying so i got my self banned on purpose so i wouldnt be able to be tempted to even post on his website

Anonymous said...

Good morning friends. I found Anya's description (in post #40) of her understanding of metaphysical primacy of existence interesting.

I am not a neuroscientist, but I do ascribe to the general metaphysics of George H. Smith and Aristotle (not to treat them as a unit), and for related reasons as a determinist. My answer would be: consciousness is a name for a phenomena whose reality lies in the relationships of the various properties of matter. If we want to be meriological nihilists we might say that consciousness does not 'exist', i.e. does not have a particular substance, but that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't real (that is, we are addressing a real relationship, but relationships do not 'exist' the way hammers do). Whether or not we do this, we will wind up saying that the existence of the matter is logically and ontologically prior to the existence of derived properties in the relationship.

Now, consciousness/mind would then be something derived from recursive patterning, analog computing, and whatever else complicated machinery is used to achieve logical thought and faculty coordination. The question of whether consciousness affects matter might be like asking whether voltage effects matter. No particular electron or molecule is acted on by 'voltage', yet material structures most certainly feel the effects of changes in voltage and it can't be denied that the 'voltage' phenomena is objective. Consciousness is something analogous to that, the systematic structure of the brain itself involves will/intentionality generation and cognitive capacities, which in turn affect the fine material scale which is 'set up' to respond to shifts in the overall system.

It's very complicated, but I think the answer is 'yes, and consciousness derives from matter'.

That consciousness derives from matter is consistent with Anton Thorn's description of metaphysical primacy of existence: The term 'primacy' in this context means the state of ranking first~

Anonymous said...

Anton Thorn commenced his essay with citations from Rand, Peikoff and Johnson to identify the issue of metaphysical primacy.

In order to begin, let us look at the principle of metaphysical primacy, as defined by its originator, Ayn Rand. In her essay, "The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made," Rand introduces the idea of metaphysical primacy as the fundamental principle which guides all philosophy:

… the basic metaphysical issue that lies at the root of any system of philosophy [is] the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness… The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity. The epistemological corollary is the axiom that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists - and that man gains knowledge of reality by looking outward. The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness - the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both). The epistemological corollary is the notion that man gains knowledge of reality by looking inward (either at his own consciousness or at the revelations it [allegedly] receives from another, superior consciousness). [3]

The term 'primacy' in this context means the state of ranking first. Dr. Leonard Peikoff, in his book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand [4], clarifies why existence has primacy over consciousness:

The primacy of existence is not an independent principle. It is an elaboration, a further corollary, of the basic axioms. Existence precedes consciousness because, consciousness is consciousness of an object. Nor can consciousness create or suspend the laws governing its objects, because every entity is something and acts accordingly [i.e., according to its identity, not according to the desires of consciousness]. Consciousness, therefore, is only a faculty of awareness. It is the power to grasp, to find out, to discover that which is. It is not a power to alter or control the nature of its objects. [5]

Eric Johnson, in his review of Peikoff's book, restates this very point:

Since the nature (identity) of consciousness is to be aware of reality, existence is prior to, necessary for, and not subject to the control of, consciousness. As a rephrasing of more basic axioms, the principle could be said as "It is....whether you want it to be or not.". In essence, the point is that consciousness, in and of itself (barring physical action) does not change existence.

Not only do we find in our activity in reality that the objects which we perceive do not respond directly to our desires, commands or whims, we also find that, when we focus on the reasons why this is the case, a hierarchical relationship between the objects we perceive and our act of perceiving them becomes evident. Since our consciousness is consciousness of something - i.e., of something which exists, the issue of metaphysical primacy is implicit throughout all cognition, beginning with our first perception of the entities in our environment.

Forgive me if I'm missing something here, but this is very clear. Metaphysical primacy means what came first and what consequently has ultimate control, reality or awareness of reality.

Anonymous said...

If Metaphysical primacy means what came first and what consequently has ultimate control, reality or awareness of reality. , then the issue of metaphysical primacy describes a meriologic relation between existence and consciousness in exact lock step with Peikoff's explanation.

Anonymous said...

Faith Is A Slippery Pig with Peter Boghossian

This is good stuff. Boghossian is probably some sort of Kantian representaionalist, but that's ok. He's on the side of reason and rationality. He says "Faith is pretending to know something you don't really know." - Spot On!

wakawakwaka said...

so photosynthesis,what do you think Lisle will try and say when he tries to splice his inane comments in your responses? (its probably gonna happen)

Justin Hall said...

Hello everyone. I just posted a defence of my rejection of the infinite relying heavily on objectivist and Aristotelean logic. You can read it here

Anonymous said...


I don't really know. Lisle has a limited set of answers. If he inserts "answers" into my comments, then they might be the very same things I already refuted. He might try and isolate each of my sentences to distract from the whole, and put mockery and hasty generalizations having nothing to do with my comments.

wakawakwaka said...

well you should read the comments on that amazon review of lisle's book I found its quite funny actually and the rebuttals given to lisle are pretty good, join n if you dare/want to though photosythsis

wakawakwaka said...

anyways i am reading through dawsons blogs and re read photosynthesis posts on lisle's website and i think its finally starting to sink into my head! it took me awhile to appreciate how really clever your arguments are Dawson, you too photosynthesis!

Anonymous said...

waka said > " it took me awhile to appreciate how really clever your arguments are Dawson, you too photosynthesis!"

Oh yeah. primacy of existence argument can't be refuted. It drives theists nuts and makes lurkers think. Antics of apologists make for jolly good sport and offer rich veins from which to mine rational philosophical commentary. Especially they try to drive a wedge between epistemic and physical probabilities. This offers opportunity to defend the evidence of the senses and induction. The apologists attack response then tears down their reliance upon ancient reports of sensory experience of miracle events. In turn offering an educational opportunity to lurkers who learn how they can't have their cake and eat it too and that wishing doesn't make it so.

Best and Good

wakawakwaka said...

oh and one last update it seems Lisle reopened his blog today, i dunno if any one of you guys care or not, but just to let you guys know

Anonymous said...

Hello Waka. Please fill me in. What would be a good strategy with which to engage Lisle? What's this guy's M.O.? I'm willing to work in a team effort to present the Objectivist naturalism case that concludes with strong atheism. In order to be effective I or we would need to have a game plan. What would be the starting point? What would we specify as our first set of plays or arguments?

Best Good Happy :)

wakawakwaka said...

his MO is to confuse, mock and make himself look smart in front of his followers. He will ask you for an account of the absolute unchanging laws of logic and claim that only Christianity provides objective morals and then say no other worldview but his own can solve the problem of induction . (which of course its all impossible for him to prove anyways, but he disguses it in lots of sophstry)

wakawakwaka said...

for example just check out the link to an amazon review of his book i found, there are plenty of examples of this sophistry i had mentioned when Lisle "rebuts" a critic of his book

Anonymous said...

Thank you waka.

Waka > "his MO is to confuse, mock and make himself look smart in front of his followers."

Elements of a game plan might include

1. Use some time and effort dedicated to doing the home work reviewing refutations of presuppostionalism.

2. Start with Non-Cogntivism

A. Challenge target on starting point of cognition. What is the starting point of cognition? When target says his god, then respond with charges of ad hoc and question begging. Reiterate multiple times; ignore evasions-red herrings-digressions.

B. Challenge on concept formation. Where in the Bible can an epistemology or definition of concepts and description of concept formation be found? Describe objective concept formation to show "God" isn't a valid concept. Use incompatible properties argument showing "God" isn't a valid concept.

4. Challenge with Argument from Fact of Existence emphasis on Issue of Metaphysical Primacy.

A. Support 1st Axiom, Existence Exists with description of its obvious truth and validity via subject-object relationship.

B. Support 1st Axiom, Existence Exists, with charge target is begging the question regarding the diaphanous model of consciousness as per David Kelly in Evidence of the Senses Chapter One.

5. Materialist apologetics.

6. Have stock replies ready as text files to cut and paste immediately.

That might be a rough outline of a game plan. What do you think? As for the mocking, that is inappropriate. If it continues, the discussion cannot. Rational people have no use for such. Lisle and his groupies can busy themselves licking each others rectums.

wakawakwaka said...

sounds interesting and good but remeber Lisle due to "trolling" might not let it through, and his mocking and distraction is very subtle

wakawakwaka said...

or you could first if you still are interested in talking to Jason ask him if he wants to debate else where on a different website and do it there where its harder for him to play his mind games

Anonymous said...

Good Morning Dawson, Waka, Ydemoc, Freddie, Justin, Photo, Blarkofan

In a comment above Dawson noted how Lisle inserts softball questions into comments posted by visitors to his blog and how he ridicules responses with which he disagrees. He's really got nothing more, so I suspect, than a lengthy flame file. Like all presuppers he probalby argues his ad hoc fantasy with a liberal dose of insults and derogatory innuendo. Thus your suggestion that a response piece be defended in a forum where he does not have control has merit. Such a discussion requires much work and time and so to keep it from being too much of a burden upon anyone, it'd seem desirable to under take such an effort as a team. The Fundamentally Flawed and Beyond Facebook group is constantly working against Sye Ten Bruggencate who refuses to acknowledge his positions have been refuted. They might enjoy taking on Lisle as well. I'll post a request and links to Lisle's crap in the group.

BTW, if you haven't yet read Dawson refutation of STB, it's lovely. Here's the link.

I will drop by Lisle's blog and post an invitation to discuss his views on Dawson's blog with a link to Dawson's "Three Steps Proving That Theism Can't Be True."

Now it's time for me to go fix my bicycle. The bottom bracket came loose, so the cup and ball bearing spindle needs adjustment. I pulled the crank arms last night and found that I don't have proper wrenches for this job. Got some on order for next time, but perhaps I can do it with a large Cresent or adjustable spanner. (Sometimes it's tough being a tool-fool. I have to resist my geekish obsession with having tools until I find I need a tool I don't have. Frak.)

Best Wishes and Have a Great Day

Anonymous said...

Hello Friends. I posted the following comment upon Dr Lisle's blog.
Greetings Dr. Lisle

I request you approve my following comment for posting upon your blog without inserting any additional text. Thank you for your honesty.

You are respectfully invited to read Mr Dawson Bethrick’s blog “Three Steps Proving that Theism Cannot Be True” located at

The readers of Mr Bethrick’s blog would be grateful if you could spare time to read Mr Bethrick’s argument and post a thoughtful reply.

Best Wishes to You and Your Family

Robert Bumbalough

Dr Lisle is an astrophysicist who advocates young earth creationism.

Here's the rational wiki page about him.

Many Thanks and Best Wishes.

Justin Hall said...


Unfortunately Fundamentally flawed recently podcast their last show. They are calling it quits.

wakawakwaka said...

@Robert oh my it seems Jason Lisle has responded.....

wakawakwaka said...

Dawson you also should look at Jason lisle's response.... you really should

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Wak and everyone else,

I've been quite busy lately, but I have been doing my best to watch what's going on.

I saw Jason Lisle's response to Robert. It's as expected. Lisle simply re-affirms that he prefers the subjective view of truth. The fact that he denies a premise which affirms the dependence of truth on facts tells us all we need to know.

But if that's not enough, I have posted an interaction with Lisle's blog on being "epistemologically self-conscious." You can read it here:

Is Jason Lisle Epistemologically Self-Conscious?

Hopefully you'll find it helpful.


samonedo said...

The absence of an objective method makes them free to believe whatever they feel like. Why they just don't go and admit it?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Claudio,

Good question.

Keep in mind that, along with the sustained insistence that an irrational position is true comes the willingness to be dishonest about the nature of that position and one’s insistence about it. The dishonesty of Christianity is a precondition of adherence. As I’ve pointed out before, when an individual sacrifices himself to a god, the first thing to go is his mind. Christian apologists sacrificed not only their minds, but their entire character (after all, how can you sacrifice the one without sacrificing the other?), long before they hit the streets to defend their god-belief. Their “reasons” for accepting their god-belief were not intellectual in nature; they were explicitly anti-intellectual. Probably the vast majority of them were raised in Christian households to begin with, or converted at a tender young age before knowing anything about what they were getting into. They accept it first, then later try to find reasons to justify what they’ve accepted.

As Bahnsen puts it, “Faith is the precondition of a proper understanding” and “faith precedes knowledgeable understanding” (Always Ready, p. 88), which can only mean that, accordingly, one must accept “faith” before he understands what it is he accepting or why. But Bahnsen goes on to say that “faith requires that one be born of God” (ibid., p. 89), which is supposed to mean that the believer does nothing to initiate his acceptance of the “faith” which is “the precondition of a proper understanding.” This can only mean that belief in Christianity is not volitional on the part of the believer. But then why do apologists act like we’re doing something on purpose when we don’t accept their worldview? Again, any way you slice it, it comes up contradictions.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Many apologists will openly admit that they do not expect their arguments to win anyone over. They’re seeking “a change of heart,” as some call it, meaning a complete revision in one’s orientation to the world. The goal of presuppositional apologetics is to disorient non-Christians so that they’ll be vulnerable to mystical suggestion. They hope to achieve this by sniffing out instances of ignorance – especially on matters that an individual takes for granted. This is why they are constantly hounding non-believers to explain how they know things, how they can “account for” things, etc., even though the bible itself nowhere addresses these same matters in an “epistemologically self-conscious” manner. (For example, where does the bible speak of logic, induction, inference, axioms, science, the uniformity of nature, values, etc.? And what about John Frame’s “We know without knowing how we know”?) This is all done under the guise of concern for “intellectual” matters, which is simply part of the pretense. They couldn’t care less – these are just opportunities in which they seek to deploy their devices.

Of course, they’re not going to come out and admit that it’s all ultimately based in the imagination. For one, they’ve already accepted a worldview which readily blurs the imaginary with the real, so this objection is alien to their thinking – they’re so accustomed to treating what they imagine as real that they are unable to recognize the distinction between the two in any consistent manner. Second, we have to understand that the believer has made a personal commitment to his god-belief: he has invested himself emotionally and intellectually (to the degree that there’s any intellect there) in the premise that his god-belief is true. Who wants to abandon one’s own investments? It takes tremendous courage to do this, and Christianity has already seen to it that the believer has no courage to begin with. Third, there’s the element of “holy terror” involved here – a psychologically paralyzing fear that it may all be true, and if one turns his back on it, he will regret it for all eternity. This is how Christianity seeks to close the door on an individual once he’s entered the labyrinth. It’s the seal intended to keep him in. Once one accepts its irrational premises, he’s like putty, frightened out of his wits and unable to challenge those premises. So, he figures, he might as well just press on with the pretenses, even though he does not allow himself to admit that they’re merely pretenses.


Anonymous said...

Peter Boghossian said well when he noted that 'Faith is pretending to know something you really don't know.'

Anonymous said...

I thought you might be interested in this, you're of course free to delete it or ignore it as you see fit:
Physical evidence of the Resurrection
Yeshua ha Mashiach, died on the cross for your sins as according to the Scriptures, on the 3rd day He raised again And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom are fallen asleep.After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of Paul also, as of one born out of due time. (Like when I saw Him) If you repent and trust him, you will have eternal life and reign w Him in His Kingdom.