Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I Reject Christianity Because It’s Not True, Part I

Over on The Gospel Coalition site, in a posting titled I Reject Christianity Because _______________, highly-pedigreed champion of Christian apologetics James Anderson recently offered some responses to what are styled as “four popular objections” against Christianity, apparently in an effort to head critics of the Christian worldview off at the pass. This posting comes in the shadows of a book which he recently published called What’s Your Worldview: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions, which I have not read (and probably won’t). (The book’s Amazon page can be found here; there are loads of reviews praising the book, but it appears that most if not all of them are coming from folks who are already deeply committed to the Christian confessional investment.)

Unfortunately, as seems to be trending with much of what I’ve seen from Anderson lately, his counterpoints to these objections strike me as quite superficial, as though perhaps he were “dumbing down” his apologetic routine in order to reach a wider audience. It’s like watching Bjork transform herself into Britney Spears – going from something that’s at least somewhat original and fresh to a stale lifelessness packaged for mass consumption by the bubble-gummers. In the past Anderson appeared to be striving to achieve at least somewhat scholarly standards. But his recent offerings of pop pieces suggest that he’s opting for a different route in his apologetic approach. It may be that he’s trying to balance two different roles, but typically once one starts to compromise his standards, everything follows suit.

Now when I saw the title of the article – “I Reject Christianity Because _______________” – and even before I read it, my initial response to this was quite simple: I reject Christianity because it’s not true. And this is consistent for me: as an adult thinker, I do not knowingly accept claims or positions that are not true.

Sadly, this is not one of the answers to the title question which Anderson addresses. Rather, as with so many pop pieces in Christian apologetics, the approach taken seems to assume that the default position is acceptance of Christianity and ask questions later. Thus it is one’s rejection of Christianity that needs to be explained – as if the supposed truth of the bible were self-evident. If a non-religious person were to accept this underlying assumption present in so much apologetic literature these days, he would presumably need to answer similar puff pieces from other religious apologists, e.g.,
I Reject Islam Because _______________ 
I Reject Hinduism Because _______________ 
I Reject Taoism Because _______________ 
I Reject Blarkism Because _______________ 
And so on…
There is a much simpler way, of course, one which cuts off all religious belief off at the pass, namely the recognition that (a) truth presupposes the primacy of existence, and (b) religious worldviews deny the primacy of existence (i.e., the very metaphysical basis of truth). If that’s true (and I have argued that it is – for example, see here, here, and here), then Christianity gets tossed into the trash bin with all other forms of mysticism, and rightly so.

So again, why do I reject Christianity? Because it’s not true.

Now the four common objections which Anderson comments on do not include this fundamental recognition. Instead of tackling the objection that Christianity is not true, Anderson reacts to the notion that “truth is a personal and social construct,” the problem of evil, the question of whether or not Jesus rose physically from the dead, and the charge that Jesus was narrow-minded and intolerant. Now I grant that these objections may be common in some circles, but I would also point out that in my nine years of blogging here at Incinerating Presuppositionalism, none of these has occupied a leading role in my criticisms of Christianity. So even if Anderson does suitably answer these objections, mine are still left unanswered.

But let’s take a look at the objections as they are stated in the Gospel Coalition’s paper and Anderson’s reactions to them. (In the present entry, I will examine Anderson's reaction to the first of the four common objections cited his interview; subsequent entries will examine Anderson's responses to the remaining common objections.)

The first objection is the following:
How can you say your perspective on truth is any more valid than anyone else's? Truth is a personal and social construct, and it's intolerant to impose your exclusive views on me.
In reaction to this, Anderson states:
Certainly everyone has their own perspective on the truth, but it doesn't follow that all perspectives are equally valid or valuable. A neurosurgeon's perspective on the gray stuff inside your head is different from mine, but which of us would you rather have performing brain surgery on you? If anyone's perspective is just as valid as anyone else's, it would make no sense for us to talk about "experts" or "specialists" in different fields.
This response is rather unfortunate. If Anderson’s claim to truth had the facts on his side, he should simply state this. As an Objectivist, I can say this: I know that my position is true because it is based on facts. But Anderson does not reply with this correction. And he doesn’t because his worldview, as we shall see below, does not base its claim to truth on facts. So it’s no surprise that this type of response does not even occur to Anderson.

As for the neurosurgeon’s perspective vs. that of some guy on the street, I’d prefer not to undergo brain surgery in the first place. Indeed, the guy you meet on the street just might happen to be a neurosurgeon! But what does what we would “rather have” have to do with determining which perspective on the truth? Truth does not hinge on our preferences any more than it hinges on our wishes, our imaginations, our emotions, our temper tantrums, etc. That is why Objectivism points out that truth rests on facts which obtain independently of conscious activity. People implicitly know that “wishing doesn’t make it so,” but many unfortunately fail to identify the primacy of existence as the underlying reason for this (and then go on to posit an imaginary consciousness to whose wishes truth conforms!). Besides, if the mind is not dependent on the brain, why should the surgeon’s perspective on truth matter? What harm could come? He may botch the surgery, but if my mind does not depend on my brain, it really shouldn’t matter, should it? And if I am to sacrifice my self (to “die to self”) and live a life of selflessness, I should not care what happens to either my brain or my mind. So even if I suppose that my mind does depend on my brain, if I am not to be selfish, then I shouldn’t care what happens to either my brain or my mind. After all, being concerned for my own welfare is selfishness, and if I am to refrain from selfishness, I should be selfless and therefore indifferent to my well-being. For example, shouldn’t I sacrifice my own needs and donate the money I would pay for my own neurosurgery to the local orphanage or old folks’ home? (Maybe I could qualify for a halo with higher wattage that way!) But Anderson’s point assumes that an individual does in fact care what will happen to him if he undergoes brain surgery. In this very way, Anderson implicitly grants moral propriety to selfishness when it comes to outcomes stemming from one’s perspective of truth. And that’s quite fortunate. But something tells me he would not grant this explicitly. Rather, there seems to be a strong undertow of worldview inconsistencies for Anderson here.

So while the overall point Anderson makes here – namely that not “all perspectives [on truth] are equally valid or valuable” – is certainly true, this is not a very strong counterpoint to the objection he’s batting at. Indeed, there’s nothing here to suggest that Anderson’s own perspective on the truth is any better than that of a Muslim extremist (who similarly believes in supernaturalism). I’m supposing that if Anderson had the facts on his side, he’d waste no time pointing this out. But from what he does write here, it appears that pointing to the facts had not even crossed his mind, which should not surprise us.

Anderson continued:
The claim that "truth is a personal and social construct" is self-defeating, since it would mean the claim itself is merely a personal and social construct—in which case it doesn't have to be universally true. It also appears to be an "exclusive view" since it excludes other views of truth.
The notion that “truth is a personal and social construct” suggests the view that truth is whatever conforms to an individual’s or group’s preferences, that “agreement” among one’s peers is the ultimate factor in determining what is true. Of course, this view assumes the primacy of consciousness – i.e., the view that reality conforms to conscious activity – either on the personal level, or on some social level (or both). To say that such a view is true would then involve a performative inconsistency: he’d be affirming as a fact (i.e., as a state of affairs that just is the case, independent of anyone’s preferences, wishes, ideals,or other conscious activity) that a certain state of affairs obtains (namely that truth is what conforms to personal and/or social dictates), thus essentially contradicting himself.

Of course, Anderson does say that the view in question here is self-defeating, but he does not do so by pointing out that the underlying metaphysics – i.e., the primacy of consciousness – is itself untrue. And in fact, he would not be able to do so and remain consistent with his Christian pre-commitments – for they are not compatible with the primacy of existence and in fact rest on the primacy of consciousness as well. (See for example my blog How Theism Violates the Primacy of Existence.)

Sadly, the theistic alternative is not any better. “The believer,” writes Greg Bahnsen, “understands that truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 163). This makes truth dependent on a supernatural being’s whims. Since according to Christianity everything distinct from and/or external to the Christian god was created by it and is also subject to revision by its all-controlling, all-conditioning will, the Christian god has nothing that is ultimately objective on which to base its dictates. “God’s decree controls all things,” declares Van Til (The Defense of the Faith, p. 182). Such dictates, then, would be purely fiat decrees, with no objective constraints whatsoever. As Bahnsen also states, “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)” (Ibid., p. 227n.152). So “truth” on the Christian worldview is ultimately and exclusively ad hoc since it is simply an invention of a supernatural mind whose dictates are free of all objective constraints. Thus even if the believer claims that, from his own perspective, there is an objective reference point for his knowledge, in the ultimate scheme of things it is ultimately based in subjectivism. Moreover, since the “knowledge” which the Christian claims on behalf of his worldview's distinctives could only be ultimately acquired by looking inward at the contents of imagination (either one’s own, or by devouring whole or in part stories penned by authors who were themselves looking inward), even this claim cannot hold water.

Of course, this only brings up a whole unnecessary category of problems for the believer, namely the “how” of epistemology on behalf of the believer. If “truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God,” how can the believer tap into this resource and discover truth for himself? Epistemology for the believer seems to reduce to divine mind-reading. Surely the believer cannot find out what’s in his god’s mind by looking outward at the facts of reality, for when we look outward at reality, we do not find a god or its mind. Instead we find physical objects like houses, patio furniture, backpacks, automobiles, trees, mountains, clouds, human beings, dogs, etc. True, we can imagine that all these things were created by the Christian god (or Allah, or Brahmin, or Ahura Mazda, or Geusha, or Blarko, etc.), but we do not learn this by looking outward. So the view that “truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God” seems to cut off any epistemology which proceeds by looking outward from consideration.

For example, I might look in my wallet and see four twenty-dollar bills. But on Christianity’s terms where “truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God,” how would I know that it’s “true” that I have 80 dollars in my wallet? On what basis could I presume that what I see in my wallet conforms to what’s in “the mind of God”? What gives me such presumptuous license? It could be that there’s really a different sum of cash, a different denomination, or no cash at all, in my wallet, and some supernatural being has played a trick on me, and I would be none the wiser. Or, it could be that I do in fact see 80 dollars in my wallet and have identified this sum correctly, but when I close my wallet and put it away, the Christian god zaps that 80 dollars into the coffers of an orphanage in greater Kolkata, leaving my wallet completely empty. (If the believer says “God would not do that,” we can quite readily agree: non-existent being don’t do anything, period. But how would the believer know this? How could the believer simply make decisions on behalf of his god like this?) Or it could be that, on the Christian view, what I see in my wallet simply has no relevance to what’s actually true. If “truth fundamentally is what conforms to the mind of God,” then truth has nothing to do with what we observe in the world around us by means of sense perception. Truth cannot serve two masters.

But this is why Anderson does not (and cannot, if he’s consistent with his espoused worldview) respond to the above objection by pointing out that truth conforms to facts and then proceeding to identify what those facts might be. Indeed, as Van Til himself declares (The Defense of the Faith, p. 7):
It is impossible and useless to seek to vindicate Christianity as a historical religion by a discussion of the facts only.
For the Christian, some ideational content accepted apart from facts (“presuppositions”) holds epistemological primacy over any facts that may otherwise be or appear relevant to the matter at hand. It should not surprise us, then, if those “presuppositions” already include a commitment to supernaturalism and other things which we never observe in the world by looking outward, but rather must develop in our imaginations. And since Christianity is a “historical religion” in that its content is informed by an unfolding story whose players are said to have actually existed and to have actually done what they story says they did, this ultimately amounts to the view that the standards of truth are premised in some reading of history. Yet this is a logical reversal: we cannot explore what happened in the past without first already having some understanding, implicit or otherwise, as to what truth is and what makes a true statement true. Thus given the worldview that Anderson has chosen to devote his life to defending, he has severed the relationship between truth and facts in preference for the notion that truth conforms to the dictates of a being which we can only imagine.

Anderson had something else to say on the matter:
As a Christian, I don't seek to impose my views on other people, but I do try to explain the reasons why I hold those views, reasons I hope they'd also find persuasive.
I’ve read many articles by Anderson. If they have persuaded me in any way, they have only further persuaded me that Christianity is not true.

Anderson remarked:
Knowing the truth is important to all of us, in all areas of life, and it would actually be quite selfish to keep our reasons to ourselves if they might help others in their pursuit of the truth.
I actually see things quite differently. Depending on the context of one’s purpose and motivations in broadcasting his thoughts to the world, it may very well in fact be entirely selfish for a person to tell the world what he has learned and try to persuade people to accept the verdicts he has established. Of course speaking for myself here (as I do in fact know my own motives and the goals I want to achieve through my writing), my activity on my blog is deliciously selfish in nature. You see, I want a better world, and I know that human beings can do better than what the majority of them are doing now. I know that the man-made woes of this world can be traced directly back to irrational worldviews, including primitive philosophies (i.e., religion) and their secularized versions (like any form of collectivism, such as communism, fascism, socialism, etc., take your pick). It is explicitly selfish of me to proclaim my verdicts to the world because I do hope to persuade people to discover the Philosophy of Reason; I want to see the world embrace reason and learn to apply it to their lives, which could only make it better for me and my loved ones in the long run.

A genuinely “selfless” broadcasting of a message would stem from an attitude of indifference over the content of that message. It would be indifferent to how any outcomes might improve the future for oneself and those whom he values. If I were truly selfless, I would sit down on what I know, ignore what I see in the world, and surrender my opportunity to champion reason. This is what many probably have done, and it is what anyone who promotes any form of mysticism does do, for such a person is deliberately seeking to make the world continue its downward spiral into collective guilt and hopeless stagnation toward a “renaissance” of the Dark Ages. This can happen, and if more do not take the side of reason, I worry that it probably will. As Ayn Rand wrote in her novel The Fountainhead, “The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.” Shame on Mr. Anderson and all defenders of Christianity for contributing to it!

In the next installment in this series, I will take up Anderson’s remarks on the problem of evil. Hold on tight – they’re in for a wild ride!

by Dawson Bethrick


Unknown said...

Good morning friends.

Good blog. I read it last evening while riding DART Light Rail Green Line to my stop.

I reject Christianity for the same reason I reject all forms of "supernaturalism", and that's because they all explicitly affirm metaphysical primacy of consciousness, a false metaphysic. Existence has always existed. The false vacuum in which our cosmic domain or Cosmos exists is past eternal. Organisms with consciousness may evolve in true vacuum domains where ever conditions permit. And it still is a self-evident fact that requires no proving that consciousness is a faculty of awareness that is metaphysically passive and epistemicly active.

In case a mystical religion believer reads this, I ask: 'How do you know your brain can cause an electron-positron pair to If you were placed into a sensory deprivation tank of warm salt water so you were buoyant, your senses were all covered so you were to be alone with yourself and almost no sensory input, and you were meditating to focus on your mental core self, could you then cause an electron to spontaneously nucleate from our cosmic domain's space-time quantum vacuum?

I'm very sure that can't be accomplished; I might be wrong, but I think the prior and consequent probabilities are on the side of determinism here. If so, then consciousness probably couldn't cause an inflaton particle to spontaneously emerge from the quantum vacuum of The Multiverse.

Best Wishes to All and I'm Looking forward to Dawson's next installment of this current series of blog entries.

RB :)

Ydemoc said...


Another good one! Looking forward to the other installments.

In your blog entry you wrote: "People implicitly know that 'wishing doesn’t make it so,' but many unfortunately fail to identify the primacy of existence as the underlying reason for this (and then go on to posit an imaginary consciousness to whose wishes truth conforms!)."

Yes. And your parenthetical goes right back to your question that I've referenced many times: "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?"

I've yet to see a satisfactory response to this from any theist, which isn't surprising. But, now that I think about it, I'm hard-pressed in recalling any responses at all.