Saturday, March 15, 2014

Jason Lisle on Axioms

The topic of axioms was raised in Jason Lisle’s comment exchange with Tony and other visitors over on Lisle’s blog It’s not “Human Reason vs. God’s Word”!. Coming to this discussion from the perspective of a worldview which provides no “epistemologically self-conscious” understanding of axioms, Lisle is clearly unprepared to interact with this area of inquiry with any credibility. Instead of raising important issues that need to be addressed or even showing a willingness to learn from his interlocutors, Lisle can be seen flailing his arms around groping for anything that might stick in the heat of debate. Clearly his only ambition is to protect his god-belief. What does he want to protect it from? That’s obvious, he wants to protect it from reason.

Before getting started, I want to point readers to several posts on the topic of axioms that are available for readers to peruse on my blog:
I have also written about the validity of the senses, another topic that comes up in these exchanges, in the following:
I will not address everything stated in the comments of Lisle’s blog (there are 1,180 comments!), but will instead focus primarily on some of Lisle’s questions and statements about axioms that can be found on page 3 of his comments pages.
Lisle asked:
My main question is this: How do you know that your axioms are true?
I know that the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness are true because they identify facts about reality which I directly perceive. The “how” of this knowledge is in the formation of concepts directly on the basis of perceptual input. Concepts are knowledge; just as a percept is the form in which we perceive an object, a concept is the form in which we identify and retain the objects which we have perceive (or formed subsequently of concepts we’ve already formed, as in the case of broader abstractions). Axioms are formal statements about some general fact of reality which we directly perceive. These axioms themselves consist of a special class of concepts called “axiomatic concepts.” As Ayn Rand explains (“Axiomatic Concepts,” Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 55):
Axioms are usually considered to be propositions identifying a fundamental, self-evident truth. But explicit propositions as such are not primaries: they are made of concepts. The base of man’s knowledge—of all other concepts, all axioms, propositions and thought—consists of axiomatic concepts. 
An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest. 
The first and primary axiomatic concepts are “existence,” “identity” (which is a corollary of “existence”) and “consciousness.” One can study what exists and how consciousness functions; but one cannot analyze (or “prove”) existence as such, or consciousness as such. These are irreducible primaries. (An attempt to “prove” them is self-contradictory: it is an attempt to “prove” existence by means of non-existence, and consciousness by means of unconsciousness.)
When I open my eyes, I perceive objects. This is a fact. Even if I doubt that I’m perceiving objects, I am still perceiving them all the same. My senses operate automatically; the advent of painkillers only confirms this. When it comes to identifying what I perceive, I can only do this if implicitly I recognize the fact that I am perceiving an object. I can identify the object that I perceive, and I can also identify the fact that I am perceiving.

Also, I can only identify that I am perceiving if I am in fact perceiving; the act of perceiving comes first, then comes the process of identification – either of the object that I am perceiving, of the fact that I am perceiving, or both. The axiom of consciousness, then, identifies the fact that I am perceiving things. This axiom is undeniable since any attempt to deny it would itself constitute an instance in which it is true. To deny a statement, that statement must itself be the object of one’s awareness. So one would have to be conscious in order to deny the axiom of consciousness.

So not only does the truth of the axiom of consciousness rest on perceptually self-evident facts (its primary basis), it can be confirmed by means of retorsion – i.e., by pointing out that the axiom of consciousness must be true even if one wants to deny it, that the act of denying the axiom of consciousness constitutes a performative inconsistency (since ‘denying’ is a conscious action).

So the axioms are true, and we know they are true because they explicitly identify general facts which are perceptually self-evident.

Now we can safely predict that Jason Lisle –given his commitment to a worldview which does in fact deny the axioms (including the primacy of existence) and which has neither an objective starting point nor a theory of concepts to provide the map of how knowledge is acquired (see for example my blog Is Jason Lisle “Epistemologically Self-Conscious”?) – will try to find some way to undermine all this. He will not take a moment to digest this and recognize how it applies in his own case as well as in the case of other thinkers. On the contrary, Lisle’s reaction will be predictably Pavlovian: he will rightly sense that the explicit identification of these facts can only mean that his god-belief is irrelevant to knowledge, and react accordingly, with the ambition to destroy knowledge, not to learn about how knowledge is acquired.

One of the tactics that Lisle relies on to destroy knowledge is to push a mischaracterization of man such that he does not have the faculty necessary for reason. This constitutes an outright denial of man’s rationality. For example, when a commenter posting under the moniker Antichus “Tony” pointed out that the reliability of the senses is axiomatic, Lisle responded:
I understand that, but they still need to be justified. And I want to know how that’s possible in your worldview. How would it make sense that we are chemical accidents that just happen to have reliable senses? Those two beliefs do not comport.
Lisle’s own words, both here and elsewhere, give me much confidence that he understands what has been explained to him. And granted, from what I’ve seen, the commenters on Lisle’s blog could have done a much better job.

Lisle’s angle is to continually steepen any requirements needed for knowledge. But this is most ironic, for if one were to apply these requirements to Christianity, it wouldn’t get even a base hit. In that case, Christianity is the ultimate epistemological strike-out king.

Notice what takes place over the course of all this: Lisle insists that the non-believers could know that their senses are reliable; they answer by saying that this knowledge is axiomatic in nature; Lisle replies by saying that he understands this (really?) but then says that “they still need to be justified.” Lisle does not indicate any process or method of justification to which the senses need to be submitted in order for us once and for all say “our senses are reliable.” Of course he doesn’t; he wants to keep this completely undefined and approximate so that, should any of his interlocutors present anything beyond what they’ve already presented, Lisle can still say that whatever burden supposedly needs to be met, has still not been met. But all this ignores the fact that any attempt to “justify” the senses would itself have to take their reliability for granted. So I sincerely question Lisle’s claim that he understands any of this.

Next he says he “want[s] to know how that’s possible on your worldview.” The “that” here presumably refers to the position that the reliability of the senses is axiomatic. Thus, Lisle wants to know how the position that the reliability of the senses is axiomatic could be possible on the non-Christian’s worldview. (We already know that it could not be possible on Lisle’s own worldview – see here - but Lisle himself ignores the epistemological implications of his god-belief.) For myself, I have already explained this above: the axioms are explicit identifications of general facts which we directly perceive. This is possible because we are in fact conscious – i.e., because the axioms are true.

But in spite of his (feigned) curiosity for how a non-believer can affirm the reliability of the senses as an axiom on the basis of his own worldview, Lisle grants himself the privilege of telling the non-believer what his worldview holds. He writes:
How would it make sense that we are chemical accidents that just happen to have reliable senses? Those two beliefs do not comport.
If Lisle were to pose this question to me, then he would be disallowing me from answering his previous question – i.e., how I know that the reliability of the senses is axiomatic on the basis of my own worldview. For here he would be trying to speak for me, to tell me what my worldview holds, when in fact my worldview nowhere affirms that “we are chemical accidents.” The concept ‘accident’ only has its meaning in the context of action that would happen otherwise if it were under conscious control. Two automobiles involved in a fender-bender would be an accident; a cloud forming in the sky overhead given the atmospheric conditions which cause it, is not an accident.

By ‘chemical accidents’, to which he equates human beings in his projection of what the non-Christian worldview presumably must affirm, Lisle is clearly trying to reduce man from what he is to what he is not. Man is not a “chemical accident” but rather a biological organism possessing the conceptual level of consciousness. A “chemical accident” would be something like a spill, in a lab or along a rail line, resulting from some negligence or unforeseen cause by those involved – such as a lab tech who accidentally knocks over a beaker of acid, or a conductor who did not see the rupture in the rails ahead of his train. Simply going with the law of identity, it should be clear that such instances are not equivalent to human organisms.

In urban areas throughout Thailand, we have the phenomenon known as the “soi dog.” (A “soi” in Thailand is a side street branching off a main street, often used for residential purposes.) Soi dogs are dogs that basically live in the street and any open cavities along it, the canine equivalent to San Francisco’s homeless population. These dogs do not belong to any particular individual, but rather occupy their territory and often squat in packs. Locals happily tolerate their presence in spite of the occasional menace that they represent to their human neighbors. While soi dogs are typically docile, they do on occasion become aggressive and have been known to attack pedestrians. Since they are not cared for by human owners, they can be and often are diseased. Thus passersby should be weary of any soi dogs he might encounter.

Now, suppose Lisle were to be walking down a soi and encountered a group of soi dogs that started become aggressive and vicious, would he simply say, “Oh, they’re merely chemical accidents! Nothing to worry about!” No, I doubt he would. And you know what, I doubt any non-Christian would, either. Biological organisms are not the same thing as a “chemical accident.” This goes for human beings as well as other biological organisms. So regardless of who might actually want to affirm that human beings are “chemical accidents,” the only rational thing to do is recognize the fundamental distinction between these categories.

Now Lisle is likely to come back with the claim that the theory of evolution somehow necessitates the view that biological organisms are “chemical accidents.” But this would deny the law of identity; it is essentially saying that if the human species evolved by some natural means, then he could not be man. But there’s no reason to suppose this. A is A regardless of how A came about, so man is man regardless of how he came about. Also, since only biological organisms possess the faculty of consciousness, the characterization of human beings as “chemical accidents” constitutes a denial of the axiom of consciousness, thereby committing the fallacy of the stolen concept (for as we saw above, one would need to be conscious in order to deny anything, including the axiom of consciousness).

So while it may be the case that some secularists have taken a view that essentially equates human beings with “chemical accidents,” they are just as wrong here as Lisle is when he wants to point to the god he imagines as the ultimate source of everything we don’t imagine. The real does not find its source in the imaginary.

At any rate, this whole tactic of Lisle’s about “chemical accidents” is at best a red herring, and not at all an honest of at least some non-Christian worldviews (such as Objectivism, which in no way equates human beings with “chemical accidents”). Regardless of how man “came about,” man is what he is, he has the attributes that he has, and among them is his consciousness.

So there is no need to “justify” the axiom that the senses are reliable against the assumption that man is merely a “chemical accident.” There is no good reason to suppose that man is merely a “chemical accident”; there are excellent reasons to discard such a notion as utterly contradictory to what we find in reality; and such an effort would only be possible if the senses were reliable in the first place. We do not need to base the reliability of the senses on the theory of natural selection (for as Dr. Harry Binswanger points out in The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts, pp. 191-2), this would be a circular argument; nor can one base the reliability of the senses on the Christian worldview (for this would be equally circular, for the same reasons that Binswanger finds the appeal to natural selection on this matter circular, namely because such appeals make use of large bodies of knowledge (or, in the case of Christianity, developed fantasy) which would not be possible without the senses in the first place. The only rational solution to this is to recognize the fact that the reliability of the senses is axiomatic.

Lisle asked:
How do you know that your starting presuppositions are true?
Tony answered:
The validity of the senses is an axiom.
Lisle then wrote:
I understand that, but it doesn’t answer the question. Axioms are assumed. If you take validity of senses as merely an assumption, I want to know how you know that assumption is actually true.
In rational philosophy, axioms are perceptual self-evidencies. This means that, in the case of axiomatic knowledge, we do not infer its truth on the basis of more fundamental knowledge. We do not need to prove it. Axiomatic knowledge is fundamental, irreducible, and informed directly by perception. An axiom identifies in explicit form a general fact that is present in our awareness at the perceptual level of consciousness. So how does one know that the senses are valid? By opening one’s eyes and recognizing that this gives him awareness of objects. This recognition, even if it is only implicit, is knowledge. Since the task of the senses is to give us direct awareness of things existing in our immediate environment, we know that they are doing their job when we perceive anything. Hence, we know that they are valid and reliable.

Already by the time my daughter was three years old, she used to like to play a game of surprise with me. She learned this from me, of course, but she implicitly understood it without my having to explain it. And it’s quite simple – any child would probably love to play this. I would get something that I know she would like to have – such as a piece of candy or chocolate – and ball it up in my fist. I would then come to her and tell her to close her eyes, which she would do with excited anticipation. While her eyes were closed, she implicitly knew that she could have no awareness of what I might have in my hand should I open my fist. Hence I would remind her not to peek. Then I would open my hand and tell her to open her eyes, and then she could finally have awareness of what I had for her. Her reaction would always be one of amazement and joy.

Now even at the age of three, my daughter implicitly recognized the validity of her senses. She did not try to spoil the fun by saying, “Why should I close my eyes, Daddy? The senses are unreliable anyway. What difference does it make?” The implicit recognition of the validity of the senses is fundamental and concurrent with their operation. When you open your eyes, you see something and you are implicitly aware of the fact that you are seeing something.

Knowledge is identification. When I identify something that I perceive, I then know what it is. The process of identifying in the form of concepts what I perceive, is the how of conceptual knowledge. Axioms are the identification of fundamental facts given in perceptual experience; they explicitly affirm those fundamental recognitions that are implicit in our awareness when we perceive anything. The fact that I perceive an object tells me that things exist (the axiom of existence) and that I have awareness of things that exist (the axiom of consciousness). So the axioms are factual in nature, thus constituting knowledge that I gain about reality by looking outward (as opposed to looking inward into my imagination, wishing, emotions, etc.). Just by perceiving anything, then, I am validating the axioms. Rational philosophy makes this recognition explicit and formalizes it as an affirmative identification about our experience.

Notice that the validity of the senses does not rest on conceptual activity. Even if we never formed the concepts ‘sensation’, ‘perception’, ‘sense organs’, ‘awareness’, ‘consciousness’, etc., if we perceive anything, then the senses are reliable – for they are successfully performing their task of providing awareness of thins in our immediate environment. A dog, for instance, will never form these concepts, and yet it perceives objects all the same. Its ability to perceive is not dependent on the presents of a conceptual framework, nor is the validity of its awareness. Concepts can only come later, after there’s perceptual input to inform any concepts we might form.

The insistence that we must justify the senses through some kind of argument or appeal to something beyond their reach, is tantamount to suggesting that consciousness as such is not valid, but must be validated by something apart from the subject-object relationship already present in perceptual awareness of objects. Thus such insistence undercuts itself by committing the fallacy of the stolen concept by implying that consciousness is not valid while making use of consciousness. Either way you slice it, such insistence constitutes a denial of the axiom of consciousness.

Lisle continued:
If you can’t answer that, then you really don’t know that it is true. And in that case, you don’t really know that anything is true, since your other claims depend upon validity of the senses.
Lisle makes it clear in his proclamation here that the ability to answer the question “how do you know that?” is fundamental to knowing anything at all. He does not present an argument for this, but assumes this is the case when he takes this inability to answer to mean “you don’t really know that anything is true, since your other claims depend upon validity of the senses.” Of course, this is a mistake. One does not need to know how his microwave heats food in order to know that it does heat food. Similarly, one does not need to know how the senses reliably provide awareness of reality in order to know that they in fact do give us awareness of reality.

Luckily in the case of the senses, it’s much easier than trying to understand how a microwave works. Since the task of the senses is to give us awareness of objects, if I’m aware of any object, then I know, given my awareness of that object, that my senses are functioning reliably. Which means: the senses are valid.

But let’s apply Lisle’s proclamation to Christian theism. Specifically, let’s look at this notion of “revelation.” Suppose Lisle or some other Christian claims to have received knowledge via “revelation” from a supernatural being. How does he know that what he has received is a genuine “revelation”? Claiming that he learned this by “revelation” does not address the question; rather, it seems to be nothing more than an appeal to “revelation” to validate the appeal to “revelation,” and is thus entirely circular. But this is a crucial question, and of all people Lisle the “epistemologically self-conscious” astrophysicist-turned-internet-apologist should recognize its importance. After all, it would be very easy for a charlatan to imagine something and then claim that what he imagined is a “revelation” from a supernatural being. Both imagination and “revelation” would have to be accessed by a thinker by looking inward. So how does one make this distinction? Can Lisle explain? Can Lisle explain how he knows, for instance, that the voice which Abraham supposedly heard instructing him to prepare his son Isaac as a burnt sacrifice explain how the celebrated patriarch knew that the voice he supposedly heard was that of the creator of the universe?

Tony wrote:
Like the fact of consciousness, the axiom is outside the province of proof because it is precondition of any proof.
This of course is entirely true. But does Lisle accept it? Observe what he states in response:

Lisle wrote:
If it cannot be proved, then how do you know that it is true? If your answer is “I don’t know”, then you don’t really know anything, do you?
Lisle apparently does not accept that at least some knowledge is axiomatic and therefore known apart from proof. Hence he assumes a false dichotomy: either one can prove what he knows, or he doesn’t know how he knows. But if all knowledge must be the conclusion of a proof, we would have an infinite regress, void of any starting point. This does not occur to Lisle, who styles himself as “epistemologically self-conscious.” How does Lisle then prove that he is conscious without using his consciousness? It’s as though Lisle is not even considering what has been communicated to him. His entire concern is to corner Tony into saying “I don’t know.” This is the predatory parasitism of Lisle’s apologetic; it deliberately seeks out confessions of ignorance to feed on, as if it would die without ingesting a void.

In his book Without a Prayer: Ayn Rand and the Close of Her System, the late John Robbins (himself a devoted sycophant of Gordon Clark) made a similar mistake, as Bryan Register explains in his paper Has Objectivism Been Refuted? (the number in parentheses indicates the page in Robbins’ book where the quoted text can be found):
Robbins asserts that reason always relies on faith: "Reason can never cease to be the handmaid of faith: All thought must start somewhere, and that initial postulate is unproved, by definition... . The only question that remains is, Which faith-which axiom-shall reason serve?" (22) Since Objectivism is grounded on a set of axioms, which are by definition unprovable, Robbins concludes that Objectivism rests on an act of faith in those axioms. But this assumes that there are only two kinds of claims: those one proves and those which one takes on faith. In fact, as the Objectivist literature makes clear, there is a third type of claim: one which is valid because it formulates a fact that is directly perceived. Such are the most fundamental perceptual judgments and such are the axioms.
So let us ask, what is Lisle’s starting point? How does he know that it’s true? How does he prove it? If he does not prove it, how (according to his own view expressed here) could he know that it’s true? If he cannot prove it, then according to his own position, he doesn’t really know anything, does he? If he has a proof for it, does it assume its own truth? Or does it assume the truth of something else that he then needs to prove, and so on?

Lisle apparently does not have a very firm grasp on what proof actually is. Proof is the logical process by which we reduce that which is not perceptually self-evident to that which is perceptually self-evident. Perceiving is action; perceiving a thing is an act of consciousness. If we perceive something, we are conscious of that thing. That’s where we begin – with direct awareness of objects that exist in our immediate environment. From this basis we form concepts of concretes, and those concepts we subsequently integrate into broader abstractions, and we integrate those broader abstractions into yet broader abstractions, and so on. As we climb the hierarchy of abstractions, it is possible to lose sight of the perceptual basis of the overall structure; it is even possible to forget that the whole structure has a perceptual basis, particularly if we have climbed the structure in a manner that is not “epistemologically self-conscious.” Moreover, if some of what we accept as knowledge has no basis in perception (i.e., cannot be reduced to perceptual input), it should not be accepted as knowledge in the first place.

So again, I think Lisle needs to give this entire area of thought more careful consideration.

Tony rightly stated:
Proof consists in reducing an idea back to the data provided by the senses.
Notice that Tony even explained what a proof is to Lisle. Does Lisle integrate this into understanding? No, he does not. Observe:

Lisle responded:
But again, that presupposes that the senses are reliable, which is not only unproved, but unreasonable in an evolutionary worldview where such senses are merely the result of chance mutations.
Notice that Lisle does not raise any objection to the conception of proof that Tony articulated in his comment preceding Lisle’s. Indeed, by beginning his reaction with “But again…,” Lisle suggests that he is willing to accept this view. For Lisle to then go on about the need to prove that the senses are reliable only shows that he is not integrating anything that has been explained to him. If proof is the logical process of reducing that which is not perceptually self-evident to that which is perceptually self-evident, then logically we cannot expect one to prove the reliability of the senses, for this is already perceptually self-evident! Moreover, if it has already been pointed out that the reliability of the senses is axiomatic, then it should be clear on that basis alone that this knowledge is available apart from proof. But Lisle never seems to put two and two together to get four. He seems to be missing the chip needed for logically integrating two closely related facts.

The issue at this point in the discussion is the fact that some items of knowledge are known rationally apart from (indeed, prior to) proof. Those items of knowledge are identified by the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness. As formal axioms, they are explicit identifications of general facts that are present in any act of consciousness. They do not need to be proved because they do not need to be reduced back to data provided by the senses. Rather, they are data provided by the senses to which subsequent knowledge needs to be reduced. It is to these fundamental truths – and particular facts about particular things – that a proof reduces an idea. Facts are entities in relationships. As such they entail that things exist (the axiom of existence) and that they have specific natures (the axiom of identity), and one’s use of them in the development of our knowledge entails the fact that we are conscious of them (the axiom of consciousness). Moreover, as has been pointed out, the validity of the senses is itself an axiom, just as the axiom of consciousness is an axiom.

Notice how Lisle is trying at this point to divert the discussion down an irrelevant rabbit trail. We saw this tendency above. It appears to be a habit of his that he enacts as a type of reflex in the face of clear threats to his god-belief. It involves projection of assumptions and motives which may in fact not even apply to his interlocutor. Has Tony come out and affirmed “an evolutionary worldview where such senses are merely the result of chance mutations”? Lisle does not even establish the relevance of how the senses “resulted” from anything to the topic of whether or not they are valid. Suppose we have no idea how they resulted. Would this diminish the fact that the senses successfully give us awareness of things in our immediate environment? Of course not – consciousness does not hold metaphysical primacy over reality. Our ignorance does not have the power to reshape reality or alter facts. Similarly if we are wrong about how the senses “came about,” this too would not affect their reliability, and for the same reason – consciousness does not hold metaphysical primacy over reality. What Lisle ignores (cf. missing the point) is precisely the axiomatic nature of the reliability of the senses, even though he’s been informed about it repeatedly by visitors to his site. If the reliability of the senses is axiomatic, it is not dependent on the theory of evolution (cf. Binswanger’s objection to such lines of reasoning above). Indeed, if it’s axiomatic, it is not based on any developed viewpoint.

Thus it appears that Lisle does not understand the relationship between the special sciences and primary philosophy. The fundamentals of rational philosophy are not based on specific findings in the specialized sciences; rather, we need the fundamentals of rational philosophy before we can embark on any area of specialized scientific study. All this appears to be lost on Lisle. We recognize the fundamentals of rational philosophy first, and then apply them systematically to specialized areas of study (science being the systematic application of reason to some specialized area of study). So we do not embark first on some specialized area of study – without the fundamentals of rational philosophy – in order to discover those fundamentals. This would be a reversal: whatever we discovered and attempted to validate, would not be the product of a systematic application of reason, since reason would not be available in that process – since it would in this case be its product. Meanwhile, rational philosophy shows precisely why such knowledge as the reliability of the sense is axiomatic – meaning that it is known apart from and prior to the systematic application of reason to anything. Thus if we subsequently discover that the senses are the result of “chance mutations,” and we can validate this in a manner that is consistent with our philosophical fundamentals, what’s the problem? Where’s the conflict? We already know that the senses are reliable. So this would not change anything. It would simply be another fact about reality uncovered by the systematic application of reason to some specialized area of study. So Lisle’s angle here is completely fallacious.

Tony wrote:
These data themselves, the foundation of all subsequent knowledge, precede any process of inference. They are the primaries of cognition, the unchallengeable, the self-evident.
Lisle responded:
The problem is, it is not remotely self-evident in an evolutionary worldview that the product of mindless chemistry should necessarily be able to perceive the universe.
Again, notice that Lisle is still pushing the same reversal – that a theory discovered as a result of the systematic application of reason to some specific area of study should rewrite the very fundamentals that made such a discover possible in the first place. There’s no reason to suppose that any scientific discovery should result in us discarding the fundamentals which made that discovery possible in the first place. But this is what Lisle’s projection requires. Objectivism is thus immune to this line of attack. But Lisle does not seem to grasp it.

Thus here we can see Lisle reaching for anything that might stick as an objection to any non-Christian position, regardless of its lack of rational solvency (or as a result of its assumed lack of such solvency, given Lisle’s projections). Here he recycles his allusion to “an evolutionary worldview,” even though it’s unclear what exactly this is supposed to denote. Nor does it appear to apply to anything Tony has been saying. In fact, Lisle throws this out there, not because Tony has been appealing to (for instance) the theory of evolution to explain any of this, but in order to create a haze of smoke to make it appear that Tony has not met some undefined lingering challenge.

Lisle relies on the connotations of negatively charged phrases – e.g., “mindless chemistry” – to do the bulk of his heavy lifting for him. We can readily acknowledge that chemical compounds do not have minds. Chemistry is not a biological entity, but rather an area of scientific focus. But this fact does not undermine the axiom of consciousness. So Lisle’s attempt to cast the non-Christian position in deliberately degrading terms does not accomplish what he wants. He needs an argument, but instead he offers only unargued assertions and innuendo. Besides, two can play at that game. Lisle believes that the universe was designed and created by a brainless god. If minds do in fact require brains (and all objective evidence indicates without exception that they do), then his theism is worse off than even the characterizations he casts on the non-Christian position.

Lisle continues:
Your worldview just doesn’t make any sense. It is like assuming as an axiom that a magic 8 ball is rational.
Rational thinkers will readily agree that appealing to magic will not explain anything and will not rationally make sense. That is why rational individuals reject Christianity. Supernaturalism is essentially the appeal to a magic realm, a fantasy realm which we can only imagine. Thus it is ironic to see Lisle here condemning what Tony has presented so far as not making “any sense” and likening it to “assuming an axiom that a magic 8 ball is rational.” Nothing in what Tony has presented here is even remotely suggestive of what Lisle characterizes it to be.

Meanwhile, I have yet to see anything from Lisle which suggests that the view that the reliability of the axioms is axiomatic “just doesn’t make any sense.” He may not like it, but the primacy of existence already tells us that reality does not conform to anyone’s liking, Jason Lisle’s included. Lisle has simply chosen not to interact with the matter honestly. Indeed, his Christianity could not survive one moment if he chose to be honest to the facts of reality even for a moment.

Lisle continues:
You do believe in things like laws of logic, and reliability of the senses, the ability of the mind to be rational. But these things only make sense in the Christian worldview.
The laws of logic are compatible only with the primacy of existence metaphysics. Christianity blatantly denies the primacy of existence and clearly assumes the primacy of consciousness – cf. wishing makes it so. Evidence of this is clear in the doctrine of creation: the Christian god – a form of consciousness – “creates” the entire universe by an act of consciousness; it essentially wishes, and reality conforms to this act of wishing. You can’t get more subjective than this. The laws of logic rest on fundamental facts of reality which we discover by looking outward, beginning with the facts which we formally identify by the axioms. Also, since as we saw above that proof is the logical process of reducing that which is not perceptually self-evident to that which is perceptually self-evident, logic only applies objectively when its premises are factually informed. But this rules out Christianity, as we’ll see below.

The reliability of the senses also does not make sense on the Christian worldview. If the senses can be deceived by supernatural beings (and if we believed there were supernatural beings, how could we know that none are deceive us to begin with?), then there’s no objective basis whatsoever for supposing that they are reliable. We would never know when our senses are being reliable or when they’re being deceived. But such imaginative notions are inherent to the Christian worldview. Indeed, given the supernaturalism of Lisle’s worldview, his belief that “these things only make sense in the Christian worldview” could itself be the result of supernatural deception. How could he know otherwise? Indeed, he’d have been deceived and wouldn’t know it.

Similarly with rationality: rationality is the recognition that reason is one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only standard of judgment and one’s only guide to action. But clearly Christianity does not affirm this about reason. Christianity wants to leave open for mystical sources of knowledge – e.g., “divine revelation,” the “sensus divinitatis,” even dreams (!). We cannot discover the Christian god by means of reason; Christians themselves will acknowledge this outright. Reason requires us to acquire knowledge by looking outward at the facts of reality and identifying them according to an objective process (i.e., according to a process which, in an “epistemologically self-conscious” manner, consistently applies the recognition that reality exists independent of consciousness). But Christianity requires us to look inward at the contents of our emotions (cf. Prov. 1:7), our imagination, our wishing as though they were suitable replacements over facts as the basis of our knowledge of reality. Of course, they are not. Thus the premises of Christianity are not factually informed, which can only mean not only that logic cannot apply objectively within Christianity, but also that Christianity cannot at all be compatible with either logic or rationality.

So in fact, contrary to what Lisle asserts here, none of these points – the laws of logic, the reliability of the senses, or the ability of the mind to be rational – is at all compatible with the Christian worldview. Lisle nowhere shows that the laws of logic, the reliability of the senses and/or the ability of the mind to be reliable can obtain on the basis of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, which Christianity assumes. Lisle has a lot of assertions, but he has no “epistemologically self-conscious” account for anything he asserts.

Lisle claims:
To accept as an axiom something that only makes sense if your worldview is wrong is irrational.
Exactly. That is why we start with the axioms and apply them consistently throughout the rest of our knowledge. We build our worldview on axioms as their only basis and ultimate standard. The axioms not only provide the foundation for knowledge, they also provide the fundamental guideposts we need to keep our knowledge in contact with reality.

When it comes to thinking, we have volition. While perception automatically puts us in contact with reality, our thinking is not automatically in contact with reality. As David Kelley notes in his presentation on Objective Reality (1:22-35)
we have free will to direct our minds, so it takes choice and effort to keep them aligned with reality, to maintain a commitment to objectivity, and put aside temptations to evade.
Thus we explicitly affirm the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness. Together these axioms bring to light the fundamental principle about the relationship between consciousness and its objects – the primacy of existence. This is the fundamental recognition that the objects of consciousness exist and are what they are independent of consciousness, that the task of consciousness is not to create or fabricate its objects, or alter them by an act of will if we don’t like something about them, but to perceive and identify them. Thus we need the primacy of existence to guide our identification of objects so that we are actually identifying those objects and not pretending that they are something they aren’t or confusing them with our own emotions, imagination, wishing, etc.

So Objectivists do not accept worldview claims that conflict with the axioms and the primacy of existence. Hence we do not accept the notion of a supernatural realm, a cosmic being which creates existence by an act of consciousness, the notions of miracles, prayer, and other accoutrements of the religious worldview. The axioms are incompatible with the axioms and the primacy of existence, so religion is to be rejected.

Moreover, since the truth of the axioms is both undeniable and inescapable, one must assume them even if his worldview implicitly or explicitly rejects them. Thus the religionist does in fact implicitly accept the truth of the axioms and the primacy of existence, yet his worldview is explicitly contradictory to their truth. The notion that consciousness can create its own objects is a violation of all the axioms: it is the view that existence is not absolute, that the objects of consciousness spring from and conform to the dictates of consciousness, that a thing is not what it is independent of consciousness, but that consciousness assigns identity to things it creates and can alter their identity at will. The notion that the mind acquires knowledge, not by looking outward at the world and identifying the objects one perceives on their own terms, but by looking inward to receive “revelations” from a supernatural mind is a denial of the axiom of consciousness since it is a complete distortion of what consciousness is and how it operates. Thus the Christian doctrines of creation, miracles, revelation, prayer, etc., all constitute a rejection of the axioms.

So who is it that is “accept[ing] as an axiom something that only makes sense if your worldview is wrong is irrational”? Certainly not the Objectivist! His worldview is based explicitly on the axioms and is consistently constructed on their basis in an “epistemologically self-conscious” manner.

Lisle wrote:
If the law of the excluded middle were merely a description of reality, then it would be unreasonable for it to be universal and invariant, because reality changes with time, and no one has universal experience.
Is the reason Lisle gives for what he claims here – namely that “reality changes with time” – itself universal and invariant? If so, then we have a fact about reality which is universal and invariant which could serve as the basis of fundamental logical principles such as the law of the excluded middle. If it is not universal and invariant, then it is not a sufficiently stable basis for Lisle’s objection.

But we don’t even need this. We have the very fact that there is a reality - i.e., that existence exists. In other words, we have the axiom of existence. The fact that existence exists does not change. Change can only take place within existence; the fact that things exist itself will not change. If that changed, then there’d be nothing that exists at all. So long as we can discuss these matters, the fact that existence exists obtains and it is incontrovertibly true. So it is invariant. Also, the fact that existence exists is literally universal - for it applies throughout the entire universe. (By ‘universe’ I mean the sum total of everything that exists.) So the axioms of existence and identity are in fact universal and invariant, and notice also that they do not require a god to make them true. In fact, to suggest that a god makes these facts true undercuts itself by implicitly denying their absoluteness while assuming their truth at the same time. So to assert a god here will only result in another stolen concept.

Plus, as an obvious advantage which Objectivism has over Christianity’s so-called “transcendent” truths, the fact that existence exists is perceptually self-evident, which means: we don’t need to imagine it (nor do we need to imagine a “creator” in order to “make sense” of it). When we look outward at the world, we perceive objects. Thus we know directly that the axiom of existence is true. But Christianity cannot claim this about its supposed universal and invariant “truths”; for these, we have no alternative but to look inward and imagine the Christian deity and pretend that what we’re imagining is some kind of universal and invariant truth. It’s not only unnecessary to do this, it’s also destructive to man’s rationality.

Lisle wrote:
Descriptions based on our observations (“tractors are red”) are only legitimate until someone observes a counter-example (“I found one that isn’t.”)
In the case of incidental facts like the color of tractors, this is certainly true. But what would constitute a viable counter-example to the observation that there is a reality? How could one claim that he observes that there is no reality? In order for a man to say this, he himself would have to be real, and thus reality would have to be. Also, he would be saying that reality is that there is no reality, which is a contradiction. It would all be self-contradictory. So the observation that there is a reality is in fact universal and invariant: the fact that existence exists does not change, and existence exists throughout the entire universe (since the universe is the sum total of everything that exists). Moreover, the concept ‘existence’ – like other concepts – is open-ended, i.e., “universal” in that it subsumes everything that qualifies – even things we have not discovered and never will discover, even things that no longer exist as well as things which do not yet exist in addition to what does exist (since time is an omitted measurement), as well as things that exist in places where we personally do not exist (since place is also an omitted measurement). So if logic requires something that is “universal and invariant,” the Objectivist axioms supply this need entirely. (For more on the objective understanding of universality, see my blog Demystifying Universality.)

Lisle goes on:
If laws of logic, such as the law of the excluded middle were merely descriptions of our observations of reality, then there is no reason to assume that they would apply to future situations or unexperienced truth claims.
I personally do not think of the laws of logic as “descriptions” in the sense that “that tractor is red” is a description of a specific thing. Rather, the laws of logic are principles which are based directly on general facts that we observe (formally identified by the axioms) and which we (should) use to guide our thinking. Thus, on the Objectivist view, the laws of logic have a factual basis, and the facts on which they are based are implicit in every act of consciousness.

Also, as indicated above, since the laws of logic of logic are conceptual, time and place are omitted measurements. Thus they apply to future situations as well as to present and past situations; likewise they apply to things which we have not personally experienced. So again, Objectivism prevails over Christianity on this matter in spades. We can say this because Objectivism has a theory of concepts which explains all these points while relating them to the nature of man’s conscious interaction with the world he perceives, thus making the matter relevant to man’s means of knowing while giving logic an objective basis (i.e., on the basis of facts which we discover by looking outward at the world as opposed to fantasies of supernatural beings which we concoct in our imaginations).

So there you have it: again Lisle is adrift without a paddle, clinging to the philosophical wreckage of the Christian worldview while pretending that he’s aboard the Love Boat setting sail for another joy-filled voyage. Nothing could be further from the truth.

by Dawson Bethrick


blarkofan said...

Absolutely brilliant! Thanks, Dawson

Ydemoc said...


Yep, what blarkofan said -- excellent! Do you know (or does anyone else know) whether or not Lisle has been made aware of these recent blog entries yours? Because if he isn't aware of them, perhaps I should venture over there and leave a note or two to make him so.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Thanks for your comment.

While I would agree that Lisle needs to be made aware of these and many other points, I suspect that he will simply ignore it all. He probably won't publish your comment (he hasn't published your last one, right?), and given that he likes to go for the "low-hanging fruit" as it were, he's not likely to interact with anything I have to say at length. Then again, Robert's comment did get through a few weeks ago (which was aimed specifically at directing Lisle to one of my blog entries), though we saw that Lisle just dismissed it with the wave of his hand. Also, I saw a few occasions when Tony's comments which included links to my blog were posted, but that's not quite the same since Tony was already involved in discussions with Lisle.

Lisle does not seem that active these days anyway. His last blog entry was posted back in September, and he has confined his activity primarily to tidbit-commenting here and there. I assume he's busy gazing at his sun spots.

But make no mistake, the guy is a major evader. All that matters to him is reciting the usual slogans. Areas of philosophical interest are simply a means to an end that leaves those areas unexplored. That's really the way it is with all of them.

Okay, time for breakfast!


Anonymous said...

But make no mistake, the guy is a major evader. All that matters to him is reciting the usual slogans.

Exactly. When one of his admirers asked specifically that he should interact with my points, all Lisle did was repeat the very things I had refuted. Lisle does not care one bit.

Unknown said...

Hello Dawson. I've only just started reading this latest blog entry. I've little I can add due to the high quality reasoning you characteristically exhibit, but, I can cite Richard Carrier from his book "Sense and Goodness Without God" on notions like the Cartesian Demon or The Matrix.

"It only makes sense to talk about the world as an illusion (or 'computer simulation', ect) by reference to other possible experiences that would justify the label. Even if the experiences (of the 'true reality') are not in practice possible, they must at least be possible in theory, or else the term 'illusion' would not be applicable. If there is no way, even in theory, to tell that this world is not what it seems, then it is meaningless to claim that this world is not what it seems." ~ SGWG, 32

Lisle and those who choose to attack the axioms and evidence of the senses bear a burden of proof (that presupposes the validity of the axioms, ect) to show how their posited other reality is possible in theory. Unless they can hoist such a burden their positions along such lines are nonsense. Does Lisle offer any evidence reality isn't real or that what is perceived as existence is some sort of simulation by reference to an objective other-than-existence?
If not, then he's just playing make-believe.

Justin Hall said...


exactly. The matrix hypothesis adds nothing and is unfalsifiable. It is an arbitrary conjecture that presupposes the everything it wants to question. It is not up to me to defend the perceptually self evident and even if we grant the possibility of the matrix how does it advance our knowledge.

wakawakwaka said...

thanks for all your help Dawson! anyways there is one more response that Lisle made i found really amusing

you dont have to make another post on him Dawson but i do encourage everyone to read it, its quite revealing of Lisle's beliefs

Unknown said...

First Direct Evidence of Cosmic Inflation

Primordial Gravity Waves left predicted B-mode polarization in Cosmic Microwave Background light. Discovered by BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization)telescope at the South Pole, the signals, expected to be weak, were much stronger.

"This has been like looking for a needle in a haystack, but instead we found a crowbar," said co-leader Clem Pryke (University of Minnesota).

Read more at:

I suppose presuppositionalism will get a huge boost by this news as it effectively shuts off any hope the religious mind might cling to for a natural evidence based theology.

Justin Hall said...


I read this article as well. The really interesting part is that they confirmed gravity waves and most recently the LHC has shown that SUSY or grand unification theory may hold no water. I see this as a boost for the old classical theory of general and special relativity. Perhaps they will trump quantum physics after all.

Ydemoc said...


You're right: Last I checked (yesterday), Lisle still hadn't published my comment, and he probably won't do so anytime soon (leading me to conclude that he probably won't approve any of my future comments either). Still, it might be worth it to make another attempt to post links to your work, on the outside chance that he does put them through and then they can be seen by more rationally minded folks whose minds aren't as marinated in the imaginary as Lisle's mind seems to be.


wakawakwaka said...

you shoudl see Lisle's latest comment about you Dawson

wakawakwaka said...

the most ironic part of Lisle' latest comments to Robert was where he said

"Everything else on his site could be just as easily refuted by anyone who is epistemologically self-conscious. But I think it’s a time-waster."
should you laugh or cry?

Unknown said...

Hello Friends:

I posted a comment on Dr Lisle's blog which I then posted as a blog entry on my stupid blog.

Dr Peter Boghossian, author of "Manual for Creating Atheists" might think Dr. Lisle is suffering from some undiagnosed cognitive pathology.

Best Wishes

wakawakwaka said...

very good Robert,if Lisle lets this one through i would wonder what mess of a clutter of words he would try to anwser

wakawakwaka said...

so Dawson are you gonna leave a comment for Lisle as he thinks really highly of his arguements and that you are making strawmen of his arguments

Bahnsen Burner said...


If you're asking whether or not I'm going to post comments to Lisle's blog, my answer is: most likely not.

If/when I get a chance, I'll take a look at what Lisle has recently written, and if I think more needs to be said, I'll post what I have to say on my blog.


wakawakwaka said...

well just pay attention to what he says at the end of his latest comment to robert

""Everything else on his (Dawson's)site could be just as easily refuted by anyone who is epistemologically self-conscious. But I think it’s a time-waster."

this statement killed at least half my remaining brain cells