Monday, March 03, 2014

Is Jason Lisle Epistemologically Self-Conscious?

Last September, astrophysicist and Christian apologist Jason Lisle posted an entry on his blog titled Are You Epistemologically Self-Conscious? In it he seeks to defend the claim that “Christian epistemology makes knowledge possible.”

Let us take a look at what he says there and see just how “epistemologically self-conscious” Jason Lisle himself is.

In his post, Lisle states:
epistemology is very important if we want our beliefs to correspond to reality.
Indeed, epistemology is very important. But, Lisle observes:
Most people have not consciously reflected on their own epistemology. They haven’t stopped to ask themselves, “How do I ultimately know anything? What are the standards by which truth is determined? And are these standards reasonable?”
Indeed, we are often told that Christians represent a majority of the population in the United States, and yet these are not questions that I find being raised in the Christian bible. The bible tells us what to believe, but it says very little if anything on how we know what we know. Consider John Frame’s epistemologically futile confession “we know without knowing how we know” (Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction Part 1 of 2: Introduction and Creation). When a top “Reformed” theologian makes this kind of statement, we are right to infer from this there is little promise for confidence in anything his worldview has to offer on epistemology. (For more juicy details about the bankruptcy of “Christian epistemology,” see my blog entry John Frame’s Empty-Handed Epistemology.)

Lisle states:
If our epistemology is wrong, then we could be wrong about everything we think we know.
I wholeheartedly agree. The crucial question is:
Do we discover the content of our knowledge by looking outward and identifying the facts of reality, or by looking inward and consulting our emotions, our wishes, our imaginations?
In his blog asking readers if they are epistemologically self-conscious, Lisle does not provide an epistemologically self-conscious answer to this fundamental question.

Lisle raises another issue:
The reason for a belief must itself be believed for a good reason – and so on.
This “stacking” of beliefs that Lisle alludes to here is in fact the hierarchical structure of knowledge. But now we must ask: Does unpacking our stack of beliefs in the manner that Lisle describes lead us into the endless journey of an infinite regress? Or, do we have a starting point?

I will say at this point, since Lisle seems concerned about “beliefs” (as opposed to knowledge) throughout much of his post, that beliefs as such are not conceptually irreducible. This is one of the fundamental reasons why I reject the view that knowledge is properly defined as “justified true belief.” Belief is essentially some degree of confidence that some position or statement is true falling short of certainty. Notice that in order to believe a statement, you must first be aware of the statement.

Lisle provides a good example to help me illustrate this:
Suppose Jenny says, “I understand they are building a new apartment complex down the street.” We might ask, “How do you know this?” Jenny responds, “Bill told me. He said he talked with the construction crew.” Is this a reasonable answer? It depends. The reason for Jenny’s belief is Bill’s statement. But is Bill’s statement reliable? If it is, then Jenny’s belief is reasonable. If not, then Jenny’s belief is irrational. So we must know something about Bill in order to know if Jenny is being rational.
The belief in question here is summed up in the statement “a new apartment complex is being built down the street” (I use passive voice here because who specifically is building the apartment complex in question is not the issue here). To “believe” this statement, one must first know what an apartment complex is, what ‘building’ means, what a street is, what ‘down the street’ means, etc. Virtually all beliefs can be analyzed into more fundamental units of knowledge without which they would be contentless. But ‘apartment complex’, ‘building’, ‘street’, etc., are not themselves beliefs; rather, they are concepts. So concepts are more fundamental than beliefs. We need to have concepts before we can assemble them into statements which we either affirm with certainty, believe, dispute, deny, etc.

It is because concepts themselves are formed in a hierarchical fashion that knowledge as such has a hierarchical structure and that Lisle can speak of one belief needing to be supported by a prior belief “and so on.”

Lisle makes an additional point about the importance of securing the reliability of a belief:
Jenny’s belief also depends upon the reliability of her own mind and senses. Perhaps Jenny hallucinates on occasion and only thought that she talked with Bill. Perhaps Bill does not actually exist, being only a projection of Jenny’s delusion. How can Jenny know that her own mind and senses are reliable, such that she can know that she really talked with Bill? Most people just assume that their senses are reliable without thinking about whether or not this belief is reasonable; they are not epistemologically self-conscious. But these questions must be answered if we are to be confident that we have knowledge of anything at all. If we are to be considered rational, then we must not continue to act on unsupported assumptions.
Lisle seems delighted to have the characters of his illustration doomed to walking around in an impenetrable fog. On his view, we should apparently be concerned that we are not hallucinating, deluded, talking to people who do not exist, that are senses might be unreliable, etc. But if all these things are grave epistemological concerns, then it seems we should require substantial quantities of evidence to present support for any belief we accept as true.

So when someone tells me that he and five hundred other people saw a resurrected man nearly 2,000 years ago, how can we determine whether or not that person was hallucinating or deceived or suffering from some mental disorder that blurs the distinction between reality and imagination? Perhaps those five hundred persons did not actually exist, but were in fact just a projection of the speaker’s delusions. How can we know that the speaker’s senses were reliable? The speaker did over 1900 years ago, so he’s long gone – we’ll never be able to examine his mental faculties.

Of course, I have in mind the passage found in I Corinthians 15 where the apostle Paul provides the earliest listing of the risen Jesus’ alleged post-resurrection appearances found in the New Testament (i.e., before the gospel narratives were written). Paul states there that the post-resurrection Jesus appeared to “above five hundred brethren.” But no details are provided: Paul does not indicate when this happened, where it happened, the circumstances in which it happened, etc. Paul does not even identify one of these “above five hundred brethren,” so we don’t know who any of these people might have been. Paul does not explain what exactly they saw or how they came to identify what they saw as a man who had been executed by means of crucifixion and later resurrected. Yes, Lisle is right: we should be epistemologically self-conscious and reject such threadbare accounts as the lunacy that it is.

But I gather that Lisle would disagree with me on this. As a Christian, he would likely insist that we accept what we read in I Corinthians – and everything else in the New Testament – as wholly and absolutely true, even though we are in no position to secure the reliability of what is written there given the issues that he himself has raised. For example, he titles a section of his post with the claim “Christian epistemology makes knowledge possible.” But my examination of “Christian epistemology” which I referenced above does not bear this out.

But let’s see if Lisle’s case can bear scrutiny.

Lisle opens his case with the following claim:
The Christian worldview alone makes it possible for us to answer these questions and have genuine knowledge.
This statement sums up the burden of Lisle’s case. This is what he must prove. My first question at this point is: What does Lisle mean by ‘knowledge’? Surely someone as “epistemologically self-conscious” as Lisle would not fail to provide a definition of the very term at issue, would he?

Unfortunately, instead of providing a definition of ‘knowledge’ (“Most people just assume that” they know what knowledge is when in fact “they are not epistemologically self-conscious”), Lisle follows up his above claim with yet another:
This is because knowledge stems from the nature of God (Proverbs 1:7, Colossians 2:3).
Unfortunately, by immediately citing the Christian bible, Lisle is off to a most predictable start. It is as though he has forgotten the questions he raised in the previous section about hallucinations, delusions, mental disorders, the reliability of the senses, etc. If these are epistemologically relevant issues for us today, then it is safe to suppose that they were relevant for the folks who lived back in “biblical times” and composed texts while posturing as mouthpieces for a supernatural being (which we have no alternative but to imagine). Indeed, how do we know that Lisle’s cognitive functions are reliable when he makes his claims here? If they come under dispute, it seems that there’s nothing he could say to overcome our resulting doubts in his intellectual credibility, for anything he might say in his own defense may be corrupted by some yet to be identified mental disorder. Lisle may likely point to his Ph.D and work as an astrophysicist to vouch for his credibility. But would this really be sufficient? Even if we accept his claim to having such credentials as true (e.g., supposing he’s not hallucinating about his educational achievements and work experience), it is still a possibility that Lisle is delusional. After all, don’t creationists think that secularists with Ph.Ds who deny Christianity are deluded?

What Lisle does not begin with is an analysis of knowledge and an examination of the knowing process. He does not begin by providing a definition of ‘knowledge’ and discussing the fundamental characteristics of man’s nature which provide the metaphysical preconditions for knowledge – such as the possession of consciousness, perception of objects distinct from ourselves, the ability to differentiate objects one perceives, the ability to isolate an object from its surroundings and focus on its attributes, the ability to recognize similarities between the objects one perceives, the ability to treat similar objects as belonging to a group, the ability to treat that group as a unit and subsequently integrate it into a more abstract group, etc. Lisle does not even raise an “epistemologically self-conscious” consideration of whether man acquires his knowledge by looking outward at the facts of reality, or by looking inward at the contents of one’s own wishes, emotions or imaginings. Nothing about man’s nature enters the equation here, and yet Lisle is presumably outlining an epistemology fit for human consumption.

Instead, Lisle cites “Scripture.” At this point he has two verses in mind, namely Proverbs 1:7 and Colossians 2:3. Let us examine each one.

Proverbs 1:7 states:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Again, we have no working definition of ‘knowledge’ here, but presumably whatever knowledge is, its beginning is “the fear of the Lord.” Fear is an emotion - specifically an emotional response to some perceived threat to one’s values or danger posing such a threat. Thus according to “Christian epistemology” the starting point of knowledge is emotional in nature. But Christians would have us know that this is no ordinary emotion – this is not like the fear that one’s car will get dirty after a rainstorm. No, what the bible has in view here is something much more guttural, visceral, and dreadful. This is “fear of the Lord.” What is “the Lord”? Well, we cannot point to it. In fact, we cannot have awareness of “the Lord” by looking outward at the world, gathering facts, identifying them according to an objective process and integrating them into the sum of our knowledge without contradiction. On the contrary, our only option is to look inward and imagine this “Lord” which we are supposed to fear so intensely. On this, the points I raise regarding Cornelius Van Til’s conversion experience are most helpful (see my blog A Reply to Matthias on Imagination and Its Role in Theism for details on this).

As for “fools” who “despise wisdom and instruction,” perhaps a good test for Lisle here is to see how open he is to the objective alternative to his emotion-based epistemology.

The next verse that Lisle cites is Colossians 2:3, which states:
In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
The pronoun “whom” here refers to “Christ.” This “Christ” is something we do not find in the world by looking outward. Again, we must look inward and consult something we can only imagine, and according to “Christian epistemology” we are to believe that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are “hid” in this scarecrow that we are to erect in our imaginations (for we are to approach what we imagine there in “fear”).

The view expressed here can only suggest that all talk of epistemology is absurd. According to this view, knowledge is “hid” in an imaginary being whom we are supposed to fear. Epistemology would be a systematic process by which a human mind can independently discover and validate knowledge in a firsthand fashion. But this only makes sense on the view that knowledge can be discovered in the first place, namely by looking outward at the facts of reality and mentally processing them according to an objective standard. But if knowledge is “hid” in a being which we have no alternative but to imagine and which we are to fear with guttural intensity, there can be no objective standard available to us (for we have turned inward into the depths of our subjective experience, giving primacy to imagination over facts) and there can be no firsthand discovery of knowledge (for knowledge has been stored out of our reach and must be dispensed to us by means of “revelations”).

And Lisle thinks this is the path to epistemological self-consciousness?

Lisle continues:
God has revealed some of His knowledge to us. Some of this knowledge is hardwired directly into us, and other knowledge is revealed by God through tools that He has given us – like logic and reliable sensory organs. The Christian worldview gives us rational justification for all the things that we rely upon in order to have knowledge.
Given what we’ve seen so far, I have no idea what Lisle could possibly mean by a “rational justification” for anything. Rationality has already been completely sabotaged at its very foundations by this point. Rationality is the recognition that reason is one’s only means of acquiring and validating knowledge, one’s only standard of judgment and one’s only guide to action. Reason is the faculty which identifies and integrates the objects of perception; its primary tools are concept-formation and logic. Employing something other than reason (e.g., wishing, emotions, imagination, mystical “insights,” prayer, “divine revelation,” etc.) means that one has abandoned rationality. What Lisle has described so far is anything but reason. What Lisle calls a “rational justification,” he really has in mind appeals to fear, imagination, invisible magic beings, looking inward instead of looking outward. None of this is genuinely rational. To call it such is sheer perversion.

And so far Lisle has confirmed what I suspected above, namely that since knowledge on the Christian view is “hid” in a being which we can only imagine and which we must fear, he appeals to “revelations.” Of course, this is deeply problematic – see my blog The Futility of the Apologetic Appeal to “Revelation”.

He also makes the claim that “some of this knowledge is hardwired directly into us,” but he provides no argument for this; it’s just a bare assertion, and he provides no examples of what he considers to be knowledge that is “hardwired directly into us.” How would one as epistemologically unself-conscious as Lisle reliably know that some knowledge has been “hardwired” directly into anyone’s mind? This claim automatically rules out the possibility that the items of knowledge in question were not learned through some active process, such as early in one’s life, the steps of which he did not explicitly understand or take note of.

Now Lisle does allow for “other knowledge” that he says “is revealed by God through tools that He has given us – like logic and reliable sensory organs.” This would seem to be a reference to the looking outward model of epistemology, but it is fatally contaminated with Lisle’s mysticism. Of course, Lisle cannot deny the fact that we discover knowledge by looking outward. But this only means that knowledge obtained in this manner is not “hid” in some invisible magic being before which we must grovel in fear in our imaginations. So far from being “epistemologically self-conscious,” Lisle is describing a completely fractured, discoordinated and unintegrated view of knowledge. Here is an overview of what constitutes “Christian epistemology” so far:
- the starting point of knowledge is the emotion of intense dread in reaction to something we can only imagine; 
- knowledge is “hid” in something we can only imagine; 
- we cannot discover this knowledge by looking outward - we must look inward into the contents of our subjective experience – e.g., our emotions and imagination; 
- some "knowledge" is “revealed” to us by an invisible magic being (again, which we can only imagine); 
- some "knowledge" is “hardwired” into us; 
- some knowledge we do get by looking outward (yet the cautions here are prohibitive: we could be under the influence of delusions, hallucinations, mental disorders, unreliable senses, etc.); 
- consequently the "knowledge" we have is a blurry mishmash of revelation, hardwired content and questionable discoveries whose reliability can never be established with certainty.
That’s the predicament into which “Christian epistemology” leads us. There’s no mention of the importance of measurement, differentiation, similarity-detection, concept-formation, abstraction, definition, non-contradictory integration, etc. Nor is there any reference to a set of principles by which a Christian believer can distinguish between these different types of knowledge – knowledge that is “revealed” directly to us, knowledge that is “hardwired” and knowledge that we acquire through logic and our senses.

Lisle writes:
For example, consider the rationality of the mind. If we had no reason to believe that our mind is rational, then we would have no reason to trust any of our own thoughts.
One must choose to be rational; nothing in reality will make this choice for us. Rationality will certainly not force itself on us. That said, I am finding that I have no reason to believe that Lisle is willing to explore these matters rationally. Thus I have no reason to trust any of his thoughts on these matters.

Lisle writes:
In that case, we couldn’t know anything!
So far, Lisle has given no objective reasons for supposing that what he calls “knowledge” really is knowledge at all. Lisle writes:
In the Christian worldview, we can have some degree of confidence in our mind’s ability to be rational since human beings are made in the image of God.
But according to Christian belief, man being “made in the image of God” was not sufficient to prevent “the fall” of Adam. Nor is it sufficient to prevent the rest of the human race from being contaminated with a “sin-nature” and the epistemological fallout that this is said to incur in man’s mental habits. Thus according to Christianity, in spite of being “made in the image of God,” man is inherently defective, innately depraved, epistemologically incompetent. So Lisle’s statement here is in fact not supported by parts of the Christian story that he does not mention here.

Lisle writes:
God’s mind is perfect by His nature.
We can, with Lisle, imagine such a perfect mind. But we also need the epistemological honesty to recognize the fact that we are merely imagining at this point and be willing to acknowledge the fact that there is a fundamental distinction between reality and imagination. But so far, Lisle’s “Christian epistemology” does not appear to equip believers with this kind of honesty. Indeed, I never find in the bible any discussion of the importance to distinguish between reality and imagination or any presentation of the epistemological tools necessary for reliably drawing this distinction.

Lisle writes:
And God has given us the ability to pattern our thoughts after His.
Indeed, I can imagine an invisible magic being – call it Blarko – and imagine that it thinks a certain way about things. Then I can use the way I imagine it thinking as a template for my own thinking. How is what Lisle describes here any different from this? Lisle does not even seem concerned about such possibilities.

Lisle writes:
In fact, for our benefit, God has commanded us to pattern our thoughts after His, so that our thoughts will be truthful (Isaiah 55:7-8, John 14:6)
So “Christian epistemology” has actually “commanded” us to do what I’ve described above. I am proud to defy such nonsensical injunctions.

Lisle writes:
As another example, we can trust that our senses are basically reliable because God has created them (Proverbs 20:12).
That’s a stupid reason to “trust that our senses are basically reliable.” We would have to be able to use our senses to read Proverbs 20:12 or learn about anything Christians tell us about their god, which means we would have to have a basis for trusting our senses that is independent of these things. We were using our senses long before we developed the ability to read; similarly, we were using our senses before we developed the ability to imagine - whether it’s imagine Harry Potter flying around on a broomstick or the Christian god. In fact, when we explore the nature of the senses and their relationship to knowledge, we find that the notion of “unreliable senses” is a stolen concept – it is self-contradictory from the ground up. The senses are biological functions, like blood circulation, respiration, digestion, body growth, etc. Their causality is biological in nature. The senses do what they do because of their nature, not because of some choice they make on their own. Fallibility only enters the picture when choice is a possibility. But my optical nerve does not have a choice in what signals it sends to my brain. I cannot look at a 1987 Ford while my eyeballs decide to “deceive” me into thinking that I’m looking at a brand new Maserati.

Indeed, if we suppose in our imaginations that our senses were “created” by an invisible magic being which has the ability to alter whatever it has created, why suppose automatically that they are therefore reliable? How does this follow? Lisle suppresses a key premise here, but why? Also, if this same invisible magic being can deceive people – such as when it is said to have sent out a “lying spirit” in I Kings 22:22-23 – any trust one puts in this god would be premature and without warrant. Apologetic efforts to answer this objection do no good. For example, Matt Slick of has this to say about the “lying spirit” in I Kings 22 (from his Why did God send a lying spirit if God cannot lie?):
No, God sending a deceiving spirit does not mean that he is a deceiver. He was merely sending a demonic force, allowing it to perform what was natural to it, to do something that was part of the greater plan of God. If I send my wife to the store to get something, I am not the one doing it -- she is. If I know that in the process she is going to speed and break the law, am I the one guilty for her speeding? Of course not, since she is exercising her free choice.
Of course, Slick is concerned here to protect his god from the charge of lying. As an apologetic response, it’s as weak as they come. By the same token, if I send someone to go kill my neighbor, and he does it, “I am not the one doing it – [he] is.” If he goes and kills my neighbor and the rest of his family as a bonus, am I the one guilty of this deed? On Slick’s reasoning, no, I’m not – “since [he] is exercising [his] free choice.”

I get the impression from his comments that Slick is so averse to moral responsibility that if he sent his wife to the grocery store and she were killed in a traffic accident as a result of fulfilling his desire, that he would feel no responsibility in this. Indeed, even if none of this were his fault, don’t you think he would be kicking himself for the rest of his life, asking “Why didn’t I go instead?” No, Slick probably wouldn’t. “It’s all in the hands of the Lord,” as Christians like to say, which is all the excuse any habitual evader could ever want.

But none of this addresses the broader epistemological implications which Lisle does not even mention, let alone address, namely that since Christianity affirms the existence of supernatural beings other than just its god – e.g., demons, devils, “lying spirits,” etc. – which can deceive human beings, we have all the less reason to suppose that any of our cognitive functions are reliable. After all, if we were deceived, we’d be none the wiser. And yet, Christianity – regardless of what Lisle and other apologists want to say about its “epistemology” – insists that its adherents believe that these are real beings and that they pose a real threat to human beings. Thus on Lisle’s Christian premises, he could be utterly deceived and not know it. Even if he insists that he is not deceived, such insistence is what we might expect from someone who is deceived and doesn’t know it. Since he’s been deceived by an invisible magic being, and since he’s deceived about things that we cannot discover and validate by looking outward at reality, he would have no way of discovering if he’s been deceived.

Lisle writes:
What our eyes see and what our ears hear do correspond to reality.
What Lisle gives here appears to be a version of representationalism – i.e., the view that what we perceive when we perceive are “appearances” of objects, not the objects themselves. In fact, what our eyes see is reality, not some unidentified intermediary which in turn “correspond[s] to reality.” When I see a table, I see the table, not a representation of the table formed in my mind. Perception gives us direct awareness of real objects. Correspondence comes into play only after we have formed concepts from what we have perceived and assemble them into integrated statements which are supposed to refer to reality – i.e., to correspond to reality.

Lisle writes:
Of course, on occasion our senses fail us because we are finite and also because of the curse.
So again Lisle confirms what I had stated above. Of course we are finite – anything that exists must be finite give the fact that it exists. A thing is itself, which means: a thing is itself and not more than itself. (Here I refer readers to Justin Hall’s discussion of the concept ‘infinity’ here, which I admit I have not read in its entirety yet – but what I did read was spot on.) So to cite the fact that we are “finite” is not an argument securing the claim that “our senses fail us.”

But Lisle does throw the category of knowledge which we acquire by means of the senses under the bus, just as Christianity proper does, when he makes reference to “the curse” – i.e., “Adam’s fall” – as the impetus for allegedly faulty sensory activity. If the senses can fail us, how would we know when they have failed us? Would we have to use further sensory activity to discover this? But given the premise that the senses can fail us, this would not allow us to escape “the curse.” On Lisle’s “epistemologically self-conscious” view, any knowledge one acquires by through sensory activity is cognitively suspicious.

Lisle writes:
An optical illusion is an example of this, and so is a mirage.
Actually, these are not examples of the senses “failing” us. Rather, they are a testament to their exceptional reliability. The senses provide an enormous context of information. If we are out in the desert and we see what appears to be a lake in the distance, this very well could be a mirage. What we see is not wrong; what our senses are doing is not an example of failure. Heat rises from the desert floor affecting the travel of light waves. This is what we see, and it is entirely accurate. The error comes, not in sense perception, but in identifying what we are perceiving. If we think we are seeing a lake, we are erring in identifying what we are seeing. If we think we are seeing light waves traveling at differing speeds due to heat rising off the desert floor, we are correctly identifying what we are seeing. The error is not in the senses; the error is in identifying what the senses give us awareness of. That is why we need reason, not primitive philosophy like Christianity.

Lisle writes:
But God has given us several different senses and the rationality to compare data from different senses so that we can discern these rare instances. So we can be confident that our senses are basically reliable.
Lisle’s antidote to the effects of “the curse” on man’s senses is of no avail, for it still has one making use of his senses to confirm what he has identified. Lisle’s problem is not solved by multiplying the source of the problems. This only makes things worse. If the senses can “fail” us as Lisle has asserted, then recourse to the senses in order to make corrections will not ensure a defect-free product. It’s better to recognize the proper relationship between sense perception and the conceptual level of cognition. But where would a Christian go to learn about this? Certainly the bible does not speak on these matters. One would have no alternative but to look outside Christianity for these solutions to problems which arise in Christianity itself (as Lisle has confirmed in his “epistemologically self-conscious” attempt to outline “Christian epistemology”).

Lisle writes:
As a third example, consider the laws of logic. We use these laws instinctively to rightly judge certain kinds of truth claims. We know that the statement, “My car is in the garage and it is not in the garage (at the same time and in the same way)” is false because it violates a law of logic. But how do we know that laws of logic are reliable? Even if they work sometimes, can we have any confidence that they work all the time, or in future situations that we have never experienced? In the Christian worldview laws of logic are a reflection of the way God thinks. Hence they will necessarily be right because God’s mind defines truth. Laws of logic will be true everywhere in the universe and at all times because God is omnipresent and does not change. We can know laws of logic because we are made in God’s image, and can think in a way that is consistent with His nature.
Christians like Lisle love to assert that logic implies the existence of their god. But that’s ultimately all they have: raw, unargued and philosophically unsupportable assertions. Luckily I have already addressed the example of logic in my paper Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God? - it leaves no question that the Christian claim that logic presupposes the Christian god is wholly absurd and entirely false.

Lisle writes:
As a fourth example, we can have knowledge of morality – “right” and “wrong.” God has revealed to us how we should behave according to His will. And God will hold us accountable for our actions. Hence, all people have an objective reason to behave according to the standards laid down in God’s Word. We are morally obligated to our Creator.
What Lisle calls “morality” is really just his religion’s code of “right behavior.” It really has nothing to do with morality as such. The religious code of “right behavior” is merely a means of pooling human individuals into a teeming collective which can be ruled by authoritarian means. It has nothing to do with reason, values or man’s need for a rational code which guides his choices and actions. What Lisle’s worldview endorses is really nothing more than a code of death. As a symbol which Chritstianity holds up as the ultimate model for “right behavior,” the image of Jesus volunteering to his execution is no mistake. For more details and the rational alternative to religion’s code of death, see my blog The Moral Code of Life.

Lisle continues his blog entry with a section on the alleged “failure of secular epistemologies.” But in it he does not interact with Objectivist epistemology. Instead, he makes a series of blanket assertions based (to the extent that he provides any basis for them) on standard cliché’s which Christian apologists love to recycle and statements that are clearly not “epistemologically self-conscious.” For example, consider his own example:
For example, “I know Saturn has rings because I have observed them with my eyes through a telescope.” But this assumes that our eyes are reliable – a Christian concept.
How quickly Lisle forgets that the Christian worldview holds that the senses can fail and that they are subject to “the curse.” As we saw above, Lisle provides no escape to the fallout of these premises. Indeed, he makes reference to the notion of “a Christian concept.” But Christianity has no theory of concepts to begin with. So how can one know that he has not inadvertently imported non-Christian concepts into his understanding of Christianity? Lisle nowhere addresses this huge problem.

I could spend more time parsing through Lisle’s tired and outworn stereotyping on these matters, but these things have all been addressed before; if he were truly interested in answers to questions like “Why in the secular worldview should we suppose that our mind has the capacity to be rational?” he could find them. But what cannot be missed in all this is that, far from what Lisle apparently wants his readers to believe, he does not at all seem, even to a remote degree, “epistemologically self-conscious.”

by Dawson Bethrick


wakawakwaka said...

Yes it is very helpful,,and I don't think Lisle even realizes that concepts are non christian! Also I've seen him claim that it's possible for the uniformity of nature to be a brute fact, but if presupptionalism is the most "biblical" way of Christian aplogetics wouldn't it be impossible for him to claim any thing to be a brute fact?

freddies_dead said...


Christians are forever committing the fallacy of the stolen concept.

Quite often they'll do it because they simply haven't thought about it enough.

However, with presuppers I believe that they know they're stealing concepts, but, because they're liars for Jesus, they see nothing wrong with it.

If you point it out to them they'll actually commit the fallacy in answering your accusation and carry on doing it as if you never pointed it out. They are inherently dishonest it seems.

And you're right, brute facts in philosophy are things that cannot be explained - they just are. Of course the presupper wants you to believe his claim that God explains everything hence there shouldn't be any such thing as a brute fact in the presup worldview.

His reliance on such things just shows he's incapable of connecting the uniformity of nature to his God without stealing from an objective worldview first.

wakawakwaka said...

Lisle reminds me so much of DAN from debunking athiests

freddies_dead said...


They're definitely similar.

On a separate but related note. I don't know if anyone's seen but it seems from Dan's latest post that his wife has breast cancer.

wakawakwaka said...

well if you notice on his website jason has been refuted several times,but thanks to some gool old fashioned sophstry and hand weaving he creates i must say an excellent illusion of victory

Ydemoc said...

It really is amazing witnessing someone who is supposedly intelligent, pushing the erroneous idea that "on occasion our senses fail us," and attempting to support this falsity by citing as an example an "optical illusion."


Reynold said...

I was going several rounds with Lisle on his blog; then when he shut it down for a while, I posted on his facebook account.

I basically pointed out how wrong it is to claim that the xian worldview is the only one that can account for the unchanging laws of nature while at the same time relying upon "miracles" to preserve their idea of a young universe.

Anonymous said...

None of this is genuinely rational. To call it such is sheer perversion.

Indeed it is. Wow. Talk about epiphany.

Reynold said...

His response, inserted as usual, into my comment:

My response:

He can't seem to get his head around chemical reactions, can he?

wakawakwaka said...

no he cannot.... anyways lets see if this comment gets through and how does lisle respond

Ydemoc said...

I left a comment over at Dr. Lisle's blog, notifying him of Dawson's most recent blog entry. I also replied, in part, to his response to Robert with a quote from Dawson regarding consciousness. Let's see if and how he responds to either.


wakawakwaka said...

take a look at Lisle's latest response.....

wakawakwaka said...

@Reynold no seriously his latest "response" to you is absolutely INSANE

Bahnsen Burner said...

You’re right, Wak, Lisle’s responses to Reynold (if that’s “the_ignored” here) are quite a spectacle. Poor guy – I would feel sorry for him if I didn’t suspect that his apologetic were as dishonest as it is stupid.

The whole comparison of human beings to fizzing baking soda and vinegar is just a recycled projection of a composition fallacy. Granted, there have been thinkers who have affirmed such a view of man, and they were not Christians. Apologists err in supposing that such a view is inherent in any non-Christian conception of man. But they don’t care that this is erroneous – it’s apologetically expedient since they know that it will throw many non-Christians off during an exchange (which is their primary aim). Sadly, they don’t realize that their worldview offers nothing better.

Man is a biological organism, not baking soda and/or vinegar. As an Objectivist, I have the axiom of identity, so I am consistent with my worldview in recognizing this distinction. Contrary to either baking soda or vinegar, a biological organism faces a fundamental distinction: life vs. death, and it must act in order to preserve its life. Its existence as a biological organism is conditional – man needs values in order to continue living. This is not the case for either baking soda or vinegar.

Now notice that the Christian cannot say this about his god: it’s supposed to be eternal, immortal, indestructible, facing no fundamental alternative, and not needing to act in order to preserve its existence. It is not a living organism, and according to what Christians say about their god, its existence is not conditional. If anything, the Christian god is more like baking soda and vinegar than a human being: like baking soda and vinegar, the Christian god does not face the fundamental alternative of life vs. death, it does not need to act in order to preserve its life, and its continued existence is not dependent on procuring those values which it needs in order to sustain its life. How can man honestly be considered an “image” of such a being when such fundamental differences are as significant as this? Blank out.

Also, man is conscious. Even more, man has achieved the conceptual level of consciousness. As an Objectivist, I have the axiom of consciousness, so I am entirely consistent with my own worldview on this matter. Notice that the bible nowhere affirms the axiom of consciousness. None of my bibles even has the concept ‘consciousness’ anywhere in their texts; one must go outside the bible to discover what consciousness is. The bible does assume the reality of consciousness, but so does a Harry Potter novel. Both are storybooks which lend themselves for bedtime reading – to put little ones to sleep.

The conceptual level of consciousness which man has achieved, entails that his consciousness is volitional in nature. Volition is the conscious ability to select between alternatives. Insofar as Lisle’s recycled projection of the composition fallacy is intended to deny this aspect of man’s nature (viz. baking soda does not have a choice about fizzing when it contacts vinegar), he certainly is not accurately characterizing the Objectivist worldview (not that that matters to him). But a denial of man’s volitional nature is characteristic of Christianity insofar as its affirmation of determinism is concerned (though Christianity is not internally consistent here). According to Christianity, all of human history is being guided by “God’s plan.” If a man takes a rifle into a mall and starts shooting, this is all part of “God’s plan” and accordingly he was predestined to do this for all eternity. On Christianity’s view, we’re just puppets, no better or worse than fizzing baking soda. Ask Lisle if abortion is part of “God’s plan.” See what he does.

Okay, I’m off to Cambodia on business today. I’ll try to be back tomorrow.


Reynold said...

Mind if I make use of at least some of your argument Dawson, if I decide to go over to Lisle's blog again? You say it better than I can.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Okay, I'm back from Cambodia, safe and sound. Long drive, I'm exhausted. Heading to bed soon.

Reynold, yes, of course, use anything you like here. That's what it's for - it's a resource, and it's not any good unless it's used.


Ydemoc said...

From what I can tell, Dr. Lisle still hasn't published the comments I left for him a couple days ago.


wakawakwaka said...

what else can you expect?

Bahnsen Burner said...


Yes, you're correct. I've been keeping an eye out on this as well. He has not published your comments, nor has he added a new blog entry. The most recent entry on his blog is the one he published back in September and which has the only currently running activity so far as I can tell.

Similarly, Rick Warden has not published Vince's comments (see here) which somehow found their way into my inbox back on Feb. 26.

Christians are always accusing non-believers of "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness." And yet, keep in mind that it is their own worldview which condemns man as inherently a moral villain. First and foremost, then, folks like Thom E. Notaro must be speaking for themselves when they issue man-damning statements such as:

<< The heart is indeed desperately wicked and, as the center of our being, wreaks moral havoc throughout us… Total depravity is total-person depravity. It cuts through all aspects of our being, not between them… The person as a unit misuses all his abilities. They conspire against the truth. While sin compounds sin, resulting in further “punishments,” such as deeper folly and greater hardening of hearts, there is never a time when our minds are unpolluted by original corruption... This whole defilement includes the minds of socially good people, kind, reasonable people. Even model citizens fall far short of the glory of God on the heart level; and even the minds of brilliant, overtly sensible people suffer serious corruption. While total depravity does not imply that we are as evil as we could be, it does mean that we are corrupt through and through. >>

(from Notaro’s “A Confessional Apologetic” (Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics, p. 158.)

I take it that since such statements are made universally about all men, they at least apply to Christians themselves (especially since this is their worldview talking). Notice the choices and actions that these apologists make. These are what marks them as “consistent” with their own worldview’s teachings. They say this outright about themselves. This is why Christians’ comments will not be “suppressed” on my blog – everything they do and say is an autobiographical statement, Lisle and Warden incuded.


wakawakwaka said...

i bet its alot harder for Lisle to redicule or make bad rationlizations that could put up a smokescreen for his followers with Dawson's work as he does things so detailed and concuslive, so what else is left? just deny the comment of course!

wakawakwaka said...

one more example of Lisle's sophstry here

Bahnsen Burner said...

Wak et al.,

I have posted another blog entry replying to Jason Lisle, this time more focused on the topic of the reliability of the senses. You can find it here:

Answering Jason Lisle on the Reliability of the Senses

In it I include a link to a previous entry I wrote, back in April of last year, on the validity of the senses. I also include a direct challenge to Jason Lisle on whether or not he can validate his consciousness without assuming its validity. I'm guessing he won't be able to do this.


Unknown said...

Hello Good Morning

Rand cited this in the forward to ITOE. It's appropriate in consideration of Lisle's position.

"All knowledge is in terms of concepts.If these concepts correspond to something that is to be found in reality they are real and man's knowledge has a foundation in fact; if they do not correspond to anything in reality they are not real and man's knowledge is of mere figments of his imagination." (Edward C. Moore, "American Pragmatism: Pierce, James & Dewy, New York: Columbia University Press, 1961 p.27

wakawakwaka said...

take a look at this Dawson from Lisle's blog

i had used your arugment from that post back last april and see how he responded

Ydemoc said...


Thanks for your thoughts on Dr. Lisle 's apparent reluctance to publish my comments over on his blog.

As I mentioned previously, I had responded, in part, to his reply to Robert. In that reply, Lisle states that "God is conscious." I responded by quoting you as follows:

"Hello, Dr. Lisle,

You wrote, in response to Robert: 'God is conscious.'

Theists often make this claim. But, to quote Dawson Bethrick: 'So what inputs inform the theist’s concept of consciousness beyond his own firsthand experience such that he thinks it is meaningful to suppose that there exists a consciousness possessing the exact opposite relationship that his consciousness has with its own objects? What gives his concept of consciousness such latitude? What units has he discovered and integrated into his concept of consciousness which allows him to affirm two contradictory metaphysics? We know already that the method by which he informs his concept of consciousness must be consistent with the nature of his consciousness, for he has no alternative to using his own consciousness in developing and securing the knowledge he seeks to hold. So this rules out his own use of the primacy of consciousness as a means of arriving at a point where he can reasonably affirm the primacy of consciousness. For instance, since the primacy of existence applies to his own conscious interaction with the world around him, he cannot reasonably adopt a method of affirming the primacy of consciousness which reduces to the assumption that reality conforms to his conscious operations. Not only would this be fallaciously circular, it would short-circuit the nature of his own consciousness and invalidate any conclusion he wants to draw. He cannot, for instance, rationally say that the primacy of consciousness is valid because he wants it to be valid, for his consciousness does not have the power to alter reality; his wants and wishes are ineffectual.'"

I also provided Dr. Lisle a link to the original blog entry from which this was excerpted.

As for your comments regarding Christians actions and words being "autobiographical," I'm finding this to be the case more and more, with an awful lot of projecting going on.

For instance, just the other day a Christian who is going through marital troubles (his wife is also a professed Christian) stated to me that, with the difficulties he's experiencing right now, he doesn't understand at all why anyone would bother getting married if they weren't Christian.

There's so much loaded into this kind rather odd statement, and it really does tell us more about the Christian than it does about non-Christians.


wakawakwaka said...

well its been like a week so i so i doubt lisle will ever publish it, your comment its still "in moderation" is it not Ydemoc?

Ydemoc said...

Hi waka,

I suspect that it probably is still "awaiting approval" or whatever, as last I checked it hadn't been published. In fact, every time I go to the site to check, I no longer see my comment nor the message informing me that it's "awaiting approval." I clear my browser on a regular basis, so that might have something to do with it.


wakawakwaka said...

well i dunno if there is a point to informing Lisle about Dawson's new posts, at anyrate it would be better to get him to post on Dawson's blog so that its harder for him to do his rhetroical nonsense

wakawakwaka said...

so Reynold your not planning to respond to Jason Lisle anymore? well, i suppose it's a good idea as after all there is only so much nonsense that he can blather out before you really get bored of it, espically after he dismissed Dawson in his latest post to Robert