Saturday, September 13, 2014

What Alternative Do “Apostates” Have After Leaving Christianity?

Over on Triablogue, Steve Hays posted a blog entry reacting to statements made by Christian apologist Mike Licona (remember – he’s the guy who blurted out “I want it to be true” in a podcast featuring a discussion between himself, Gary Habermas and Robert Price - see here for details).

In his blog entry, Hays' remarks are instructive in that they expose how a mind marinated in religious doublethink tries to gerrymander a selected handful of data sets in favor of a confessional investment. In his blog entry, Hays quotes from and reacts to a post by Christian apologist Mike Licona.

Hays quotes Licona, who writes:
I’ve doubted the truth of my Christian faith many times; sometimes to the point of almost walking away from it.
Reacting to this, Hays writes:
Professing Christians who feel this way need to stop and ask themselves, where would they be going? Walk away…for what?
In addition to asking why they feel this way, I think this is a fair question for believers to contemplate since departing from one worldview naturally leaves a void which would need to be filled by something else. And indeed, it’s quite likely that most people who depart from Christianity have no reliable set of principles which can guide them to a proper, fully integrated and non-contradictory worldview that should fill that void. After all, Christianity does not provide a thinker with such reliable principles. So leaving Christianity, can at first, seem like entering into utter darkness. What’s ironic is that this darkness was there all along, and Christianity was simply trying to divert the believer’s attention to contentless trivialities that have no importance to human life in the first place. So it is true that leaving Christianity is a good start, but it’s not an end in itself. Making the decision to stop believing in religious nonsense is wonderful, but this choice in and of itself does not determine what should replace it. At least one could say Christianity is an attempt – albeit one steeped in mystical primitivism – to address questions which a worldview worthy of a thinking human being should address. So if one leaves Christianity, where should he go?

Generally, there are two ways to address the question of what a former believer might (or should) accept as a worldview in place of Christianity. The first way is to use reason as his guide. The other way is to abandon reason and exchange one form of irrationality for another. Of course, if Christianity is one’s starting point, he has already abandoned reason and thus needs to rediscover it, just as the West did during the Renaissance. But given these two alternatives, which one does Hays recommend? Let’s examine his reaction to the problem.
Hays writes:
Imagine if you accidentally slide down a cliff. On the way down you grab hold of a shrub on the face of the cliff. You have two options. You can either try to climb back up, or you can let go.
Hays is right on schedule – in many ways. First, he implores his readers to go by their imagination. “Imagine” a certain scenario. Sounds like a John Lennon song I once heard. Mystics cling to the imaginary. It’s their stock and trade, their bread and butter. Their entire artifice is nothing without the contrivances that can be erected in the imagination.

Notice how the scenario which Hays wants his readers to imagine involves sliding down - particularly in a sudden, violent fashion. Hays assumes that leaving Christianity necessarily involves a downward fall of sorts, as if becoming a Christian involved some kind of arduous climb involving effort that brings one to some unprecedented vista over everything else. He does not attempt to justify the assumption that walking away from Christianity results in some kind of “fall,” yet in his defense I suspect he would not think a justification is needed since he pretty much just preaches to the choir.

But on closer inspection, even the Christian worldview does not characterize either conversion or Christian virtue as a result of personal effort that one would be throwing away by walking away. Getting “saved” according to Christianity is not the result of some productive effort one puts into something; it’s supposed to be a “free gift” that is bestowed upon the believer by the Christian god’s own initiation, apart from anything a person does or has done. That’s the whole notion of “grace” as Christianity imagines it. Specifically, Christian salvation cannot be earned. On the contrary, it is an unearned “gift” that one must accept at the expense of someone else – namely, at the expense of someone who gave up his life so that the believer can enjoy the fruits that are supposedly gained by giving up an ideal life.

Moreover, Christianity is a religion. Just as a grass hut is a primitive form of architecture, a religion is a primitive form of philosophy. Primitive in this sense means pre-rational and pre-scientific. And indeed, there is nothing either rational or scientific about Christianity. Rationality is uncompromising allegiance to reason as one’s only source of knowledge, his only standard of judgment and his only guide to action. Christianity condemns this primary engine of “the wisdom of the world” for the “autonomy” it gives to its users. People who develop and rely on their own reasoning skills don’t need a faith-based worldview telling them simply to “believe” what it insists as truths but cannot demonstrate as truths. Reason does not teach a man to fear imaginary things, like supernatural spirits which can allegedly wreak havoc on a man’s life and soul through an inscrutable system of rewards and punishments. Reason teaches a man to think for himself, to go by the facts that he comes in contact with firsthand, to discriminate which inputs he will accept and trust.

Science is the systematic application of reason to some specific area of study (no, you won't learn what science is by reading the bible). Epistemology, for example, is the scientific study of the nature of knowledge and the process by which an individual acquires and validates his knowledge. But there’s no scientific study of knowledge found anywhere in the bible. For example, one can comb the contents of the bible from Genesis through Revelation and nowhere find any informed discussion of the nature of concepts, the unit of knowledge. In the stories of biblical heroes, to be sure, there’s a lot of “just knowing” going on, a lot of mystical transmissions from supernatural spirits, a lot of “believe it because it is written” kind of shtick, even "revelations" distributed by means of dreams! But we don’t find any mature, thoughtful and penetrating discussion of method, of logic, of deduction, of induction, of testing samples, etc.; its authors don’t even seem to have any awareness of what a fallacy is. It seems that any worldview which attempts to address any of these matters would be a huge step up from Christianity!

We can see throughout history how the embrace of reason results not only in the withdrawal of faith, but also in the lifting of civilization as a whole and the improvement of individual well-being to unprecedented levels. The Renaissance signaled a re-discovery of reason, and this prompted the slow, difficult climb out of the brackish waters of the Dark Ages. Western civilization began to distinguish itself in an unparalleled fashion against the rest of the world given the posthumous influence of Aristotle, and, for the most part, religion has been in retreat ever since. For example, we no longer have rulers in the West who claim authority by the divine right of kings. To the degree that western civilization adopted reason as its guide, individuals began to enjoy freedom and privacy in ways never realized before in history. The culmination of this was called the Age of Reason, an era that gave us the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the idea that each individual has the right to his own life, his own liberty and the pursuit of his own happiness. These are not Christian ideals. Far from it! Such ideals are explicitly selfish in nature, and Christianity, like other primitive philosophies, would have the individual renounce his own liberty and happiness (“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” – Mk. 8:34) and be willing to surrender his values on command (as Abraham is modeled to have done, and as the Christian god did actually do, according to the gospel myth).

So the very starting point of the scenario which Hays wants his readers to concoct in their imaginations is already way out of tune with Christianity.

Hays continues illustrating his imaginative scenario:
But what does the second option amount to? What does letting go mean? Letting go for what? If you let go of the branch, what awaits you? You will fall to your death. Splat!
Notice the implicit appeal to self-interest here. Certainly one does not want to jump out of a tall skyscraper only to fall to his death. But taking actions necessary to preserve one’s own values is necessarily selfish in nature. But Christianity abhors selfishness and urges believers to deny themselves and follow Jesus’ model of self-sacrifice. As one Christian source puts it, “Self-denial is the condition for being a disciple of Jesus.” Paul Washer shows that he understands the essence of Christianity when he states (Die to Self, Surrender to Christ):
It is really what Jesus said: die and give your life to Him. Die.
“Die.” That’s what Jesus wants you to do: “Die.” Do you want to live? Too bad. Jesus says “Die.”

No, I’m not making this up.

Luke 14:33 puts the following words into Jesus’ mouth:
…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Reacting to this, a Christian writing under the name of “Armen” offers the following in his explanation of this verse:
It’s about what we must be prepared to do to follow Jesus. It’s about giving up everything, even our very lives for Him.
But if I’m to take such a teaching to heart – that I should “die to self” and be ready to “give up everything” that I have, including my own life, why would I care if I fall to my death and go “Splat!”? That's ultimately what the Christian god wants - "That's what Jesus wants you to do: die!" Hays is borrowing from a worldview which advocates selfishness, the preservation (as opposed to the sacrifice) of one’s own values, in an attempt to discredit alternatives to Christianity (at least one of which – namely Objectivism – is proudly defiant in its uncompromising endorsement of selfishness and express rejection of self-sacrifice). In Orwell’s language, what Hays dishes up here is pure “doublethink” – i.e., “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” (1984, p. 124). Indeed, Christianity requires just such a “power” on the part of the believer, and not only in the sphere of values, but also in knowledge, interpersonal relationships, one’s own interaction with the world, his understanding of the universe, etc. Throughout his worldview, he is to view everything as though it were choking in “apparent contradictions,” as Van Til put it (cf. Common Grace and the Gospel, p. 142).

If I’m acting to preserve myself from actions which will result in my own destruction, such as avoiding a fall that results in “Splat!”, I’m acting in my own self-interest, regardless of who disapproves or believes otherwise, and I need a worldview which consistently supports in practice and in principle my choice to act in such a self-preserving manner. A worldview which teaches that I am depraved from birth (or before birth), that I am inherently “sinful,” that I am riddled with guilt from head to toe, that I have some “duty” or “obligation” to sacrifice myself, my loved ones, my values, my very life, is not a worldview that can at the same time consistently and in practice and in principle support the choices I make to act in the interest of my own self-preservation and the preservation of my values. It’s simple as that. Objectivism is not a worldview that needs to enlist the vice of “doublethink” in order to rationalize self-preserving choices and actions against the backdrop of teachings that one “give up everything” he has and “die to self.”

Hays asks, rhetorically:
Before you leave Christianity behind, ask what you're leaving it for.
Again, I think this is a worthy question. It is a question that I faced when I departed from Christianity. Since I was no longer going to embrace a god that I had enshrined in my imagination, what was I going to embrace in its place? That’s a fair question. Indeed, what could possibly compete with something that I had invested so much energy imagining for so long and with so much artificial enthusiasm? The reality that I was experiencing directly and firsthand was never going to be as good as the dreamworld that I had erected in my imagination. On a pure likability scale, a fantasy will always score way higher than what is real and actual. The vacation I actually take in the Bahamas will never be as good as the one I imagine it will be like as I’m packing my suitcase. Then again, what actually exists may in fact be full of pleasant surprises. If I retreat into my imagination and cower in fear of the world, I’ll never discover what’s actually out there. But notice how the question of how my actual trip will compare with the one I imagined before I even left home presupposes the very distinction between the real and the imaginary that Christianity seeks to blur in the minds of believers. Believers are to imagine that there are demons, devils and unclean spirits lurking around throughout the world causing mischief and tumult, and they are to suppose that what they imagine is real at the same time. Once one allows himself to blur this distinction, the resulting impact on one’s emotions can be stronger than any drug I’ve ever tried.

Moreover, after giving so much priority to what I had been imagining, how could I turn my back on that and return to the real world and face it in a mature, adult manner? Yes, that was tough. At first anyway. I admit, this was no easy task. But given the fact that I had made a conscious choice to be honest to myself, I realized that the choice I faced was between what was real and what was merely imaginary. After adhering to a worldview which systematically blurs reality with what’s merely imaginary, recognizing that reality does not conform to my imagination brought its share of challenges. I knew implicitly that what was merely imaginary was not real. I also knew that Christianity required me to ignore this implicit knowledge by emphatically treating what I imagined as though it were real, by deliberately blurring the distinction between the real and the imaginary, by inculcating a terrifying dread of the things I was taught by Christianity to imagine – much like a young Cornelius Van Til when he tried to sleep in the hay-barn one night. Indeed, where in the bible does any author give rational guidance on distinguishing between the two? Nowhere does it do this. To do so would be entirely counter-productive to its overall religious agenda. It would give away the game.

Another point that worked against Christianity’s favor was the fact that I knew that I needed a guide that I could understand. All that Christianity offered me was a guide which insisted that I “lean not” on my own understanding (cf. Prov. 3:5), to “let go and let God,” as the pastor and his deacons would continually implore, and to constantly assume that if there was some kind of problem in my life, it was always because I was doing something against “God’s will,” which was forever beyond the reach of my understanding. Since I was “born into sin” and “innately depraved,” my very existence was “against God’s will.” If I’m supposed to “die,” so long as I’m alive I’m doing something wrong simply by living. Exploring the meandering, circuitous path of “whys” which were offered to “explain” all this simply lead to a multiplicity of cognitive dead-ends. In sum, Christianity required me to choose and act regardless of whether or not I understood the whats and the whys of what was expected of me. Consequently, even if I did not understand why X was the right course of action (as it was purported by Christianity to be – such as sacrificing anything I enjoyed in life), I was expected by Christianity to obey anyway and to consider such obedience as somehow virtuous. Obedience, not understanding, was what Christianity requires of its adherents. And I was supposed to imagine that such obedience somehow pleased the Jesus I concocted in my imagination. But contrary to this requirement of Christianity, I wanted to understand why I was doing what I was doing. Against this, Christianity required me to adopt the mindset which makes choices and actions apart from understanding.

But as Hays himself puts it in another blog entry (see here):
an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus.
There’s no question that, as a Christian, I was imagining Jesus. I imagined Jesus every time I read the gospel stories; I imagined Jesus every time I prayed; I imagined Jesus every time I went to work or walked down a street; I imagined Jesus every time I witnessed to potential converts. Every time I turned my mind to Jesus, I was imagining. I found also that this is what everyone else was really doing – imagining Jesus and pretending that what they imagined was real. But as Hays rightly points out, “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus.” The imaginary is not real.

The recognition, albeit merely implicit, that one does not believe something because it is essentially imaginary, is a momentous step in the right direction – i.e., in the direction of a reality-affirming worldview. But this recognition by itself is not enough; it does not spell out the distinction between the imaginary and the real in an explicit manner, and it does not teach a thinker how to distinguish between himself as a subject of consciousness and everything he is aware of as objects of his awareness in an explicit, formal and principled manner. Also, knowing implicitly that the imaginary is not real is not enough to dispel the emotional impact that can result from ignoring this distinction.

This is one of the most basic reasons why any thinker needs rational philosophy: to teach him to distinguish between fact and fantasy consistently. If one cannot distinguish between fact and fantasy, he will have no way to distinguish between truth and non-truth. Since truth is conceptual correspondence to facts, one must at minimum be able to distinguish between facts and non-facts in order to discover and validate truth. But Christianity does not teach such skills to its believers; the bible nowhere provides believers with the necessary rational tools by which they can distinguish between that which is real and that which is merely imaginary. Indeed, if believers have no alternative but to imagine the god which Christianity demands they worship, then rational principles by which believers can reliably distinguish between what is real and what they are merely imagining is the last thing that such a worldview, given its confessional investment in the imaginary, will ever offer to its adherents.

So right off the bat we can confidently say that one alternative to Christianity is a worldview which teaches thinkers to distinguish consistently between reality and imagination, between fact and fantasy, between truth and non-truth. A person who makes the decision to be honest to himself and about the world he lives in, should be overjoyed to leave Christianity and embrace such a liberating worldview. But I don’t think an individual can do this unless he makes the choice to be honest to himself and about the world around him.

Hays asks:
What lies ahead? Atheism? How's that any different than a free fall to the rocky ground below?
Contrary to common religious propaganda, atheism as such is not a worldview. Lacking a belief in a deity does not positively inform views on metaphysics, man’s nature, the nature of knowledge, the nature of values, the social theory proper to man, etc., any more than lacking a belief in magic elves or Santa Claus does. Indeed, lacking a belief in a deity can be made compatible with many teachings in the bible. For instance, an atheist may hold that reality is deterministic, that man’s nature is inherently corrupt, that the human mind is inherently defunct, self-sacrifice is virtuous, that some form of collectivism is the proper template for human society, etc. Indeed, many apologists have accused atheists of borrowing from the Christian worldview. The Communists are a good example of this. Meanwhile, atheism as such is also compatible with (and, I would argue, necessary for) the rejection of such perverse notions. When an individual identifies himself as an atheist, he’s only telling us what he does not believe; he is not telling us what he does believe or hold to be true.

Again we see the characterization of departing from Christianity as resulting in some kind of “fall” to something lower than Christianity. One can only fall from something that is above something else. What hill does one climb to become a Christian? But as we saw, even according to Christianity’s own teachings, an individual does not become a Christian by his own choosing, his own effort, his own choices, his own merits; being a Christian is not something one earns according to Christian teaching. On the contrary, according to Christianity, the believer was chosen by an all-powerful being whose will is irresistible. And, as we also saw, self-denial is a precondition to Christian discipleship. It is Christianity that requires individuals to sacrifice their values and surrender their lives. If a person is a Christian, the loss has already taken place. There is nothing lower to “fall” to – he’s already at the bottom. Renouncing such childish fantasies as Christian god-belief can only open the doors which must be opened for climbing out of the pit to be possible.

From the perspective of a rational worldview, it’s hard to see how one can descend further than adopting a form of mysticism, of which Christianity is the most philosophically developed. But then again, from the perspective of rational philosophy, departing from rationality can only lead downward in the first place, whether it is in exchange for a religious worldview or a secular variant of the same (such as dialectical materialism or logical positivism). Apologists like Hays will never be able to explain how choosing not to believe in imaginary beings will necessarily result in some kind of loss of values. But that’s how Hays is characterizing “apostasy.” Maybe he needs to try it out for himself and discover just how brainwashed he’s been all these years.

Hays writes:
If you're consistent, you will keep falling until you hit the hard surface of nihilism. That's where apostasy logically bottoms out. What breaks your fall breaks you.
So in Hays’ mixed-up mind, the only logical alternative to Christianity is nihilism. Of course, this is what Hays wants his Christian readers to believe. But in reality, if they’re Christians, they probably already believe something along these lines anyway, without Hays’ prompting. Regular church-goers are already getting weekly doses of religious indoctrination which are intended to keep them in the fold, and this typically involves an ample degree of vilifying those outside the fold, especially those who were once part of the fold and have since left it for something else. This “something else” must then be characterized as something bad as well, regardless of what it might be, even if it is in fact better. It can only be something one “falls” to, according to Hays.

But if one’s departure from Christianity is prompted by things like a choice to be honest to oneself, the recognition that god-belief ensconces the mind in the imaginary, the realization, however reluctant, that one simply does not believe what he’s been urged to believe, that what he’s been urged to believe is in fact nothing remotely true, how can such a departure qualify as a “fall” of any sort? According to rational philosophy, the choice to be honest is to be commended. So is the acceptance of the fact that the imaginary is not real. It’s true that there may be bad reasons for rejecting religious brainwashing, but there’s a world full of good reasons to do so. Far from considering any of these, Hays carries on as though it were a foregone conclusion that good reasons do not exist for leaving Christianity. Which means: on the Christian worldview, the recognition that reality and imagination are fundamentally distinct, the choice to be honest, the admission that one does not believe something that is not true, etc., are not good for anything, that acting on such reasons can only result in some kind of downward spiral leading to self-destruction.

Of course, given Christianity’s endorsement of self-sacrifice, why suppose that self-destruction is an undesirable end for oneself? After all, according to the gospel myth, Jesus came to earth expressly to sacrifice himself – as an ideal, sin-free man sacrificing himself for the sake of non-ideal people who are expected to accept that sacrifice as somehow virtuous – and believers are urged to follow Jesus’ example for their lives, wherever such devotion might lead them in their lives.

But let’s examine Hays’ thesis here a little more closely. On his view, nihilism is the only logical alternative to Christianity. Apparently supposing that it would help make his point, Hays offered a couple definitions for his readers to feast on (from this source). Let’s look at the first one:
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless…It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.
I’ve known quite a few atheists over the years, and this does not describe any whom I’ve met. Of course, Hays would simply say that they’re not consistent with their atheism. But again, this would hazard the error of equating atheism as such with some worked-out worldview, and one that somehow fulfills everything Hays needs it to fulfill in order to suit his scandalous projections. If that’s the case, maybe they aren’t “atheists” after all, but non-theists. Hays says nothing in his blog entry about “non-theists.” What’s the difference? Well, Hays has loaded “atheism” with all kinds of presuppositions of his own choosing. Who’s to say that those same presuppositions are inherent to non-theism as well? And if mere fiat is the means by which meanings are determined, then anyone can simply revise these terms to mean what they want them to mean, just as Hays does.

But if, properly understood, "atheism" is in actuality nothing more than simply an individual’s lack of acceptance of theism, then there is no basis for the alleged inherent kinship between atheism and nihilism. Not believing in a god in no way impels an individual to “the belief that all values are baseless.” Speaking from my own experience, it was when I became a Christian that I found that I needed to sacrifice all my values in the first place, even though their basis was rooted in my nature as a biological organism. It was Christianity that drove a massive psychological wedge between me and everything I valued. Luke 14:26 makes this crystal clear:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.
Christianity’s salesmen told me that Christianity was all about love. But once inside the fold, I discovered quite the opposite is the case: now I had to show my devotion to an imaginary Jesus by hating my own family members. I was told that as the resulting rift between myself and my family widened and deepened, that I was getting a “new family” – a congregation of randomly assorted persons all trying desperately to convince themselves that the things they were taught to imagine were real. (That’s why they had to assemble on a regular basis and repeat the same devotionals over and over and over again, hoping that eventually it would sink in.) These same “family” members told me what we’ve seen here: that I needed to deny myself, to sacrifice myself, to “die,” because this thing that I had concocted in my imagination and became scared of wanted this. It could in no way benefit from any sacrifice I could make, but that didn’t matter – it demanded my sacrifices all the same. What was to happen to me as a result of this alienation to my own values that was now required of me? I was being hollowed out from the inside. And the hollowness was supposed to be filled by something that can only be imagined – a god which could at any moment end my life simply as a matter of whim. Greg Bahnsen was “taken home” when he was only 47. Given lifespan averages, he could have easily gone another 30 years or so. But no, “the Lord” saw fit to take him out. Christians are able to imagine all kinds of reasons why their god did this, but those reasons are all just as imaginary as their god. Again, “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus.”

So how is the believer supposed to maintain optimism under such circumstances? He is to hate his family members, his own wife and child, his parents, even himself; he is to sacrifice his values, praise those who were willing to do the same – cf. Abraham and Isaac, and worship a god that sacrificed its own child; he is to “give up everything” and “die” for no reason other than that something he imagines requires this of him. His life is not his own; he’s an eternal slave who has no right to anything – certainly no right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – those are out of the question. What cause for optimism do slaves sitting on death row have? Of course, believers might say that they’re hoping for an eternal life in some imaginary place they call heaven. But this too is merely imaginary. And just as “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus,” so too is an imagined heaven just an imaginary heaven. Indeed, what alternative to imagination does the believer have in all this? Blank out.

And which worldview “condemns existence”? Certainly not Objectivism! Objectivists relish existence, especially their own, and we work to enjoy every moment of it. “Serenity comes from the ability to say ‘Yes!’ to existence” (Ayn Rand, “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 27). But how can one enjoy existence if he is to deny himself, sacrifice his values and “die”? According to Christianity, man is condemned from the womb forward. His very existence is condemned as a systematic requirement of the Christian devotional formula. “You can’t sell salvation unless you sell damnation,” goes the old Danny Barker favorite. And Christianity is all about selling damnation. According to the bible, we were “created in God’s image,” but damned right out of the shrink wrap.

And which worldview promotes “radical skepticism”? Again, certainly not Objectivism! Objectivism recognizes the power of man’s mind, of his ideas, of his ability to use reason to discover and identify facts, to integrate what he discovers and put his ideas into practical form. Indeed, Objectivism celebrates this ability of man – an ability which other worldviews seem to take completely for granted and condemn at the same time. There are few defenders of man’s mind out there today, and we’re living through the consequences of this now as the world crumbles into decay, stagnation and conflict. But a worldview which treats man’s mind not as merely impotent, but as inherently depraved right out of the shrink wrap, robs its adherents of any chance for overcoming the inevitable skepticism to which such a worldview can only lead. And we see stark evidence of this as a matter of routine in the presuppositional method of apologetics which continually treats the human mind as if it could not know anything. The clanging “How do you know?” which Christianity cannot answer, is ultimately the only tool in their toolbox since in the end they’ve already accepted the premise that the human mind is a barren wasteland from which no good can come. That’s Christianity which teaches this. Not Objectivism. It is precisely because the human mind is thought to be so soiled and stained that it needs to be “renewed” and “born again.” Radical skepticism is Christianity’s epistemological starting point, which is why we should never be surprised to see its darkened influence reverberating throughout its apologetic contrivances.

The definition of ‘nihilism’ which Hays cited states that “A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” But the imaginary is nothing, and that’s what Christians believe in: imaginary things. If the Christian god is merely something believers imagine, then it is nothing, and the claim to believe in it is a confession to believing in nothing. And just as “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus,” so too is an imagined god just an imaginary god. What Christian does not imagine the god he worships? And where do his loyalties lie? We already saw that he is to hate his parents, his wife and children, even himself. If he can’t even be loyal to himself, then he’s completely up for grabs to whatever nihilistic force gets him first. And if all one’s hopes are ultimately bound in what is imagined to lie beyond the grave, what ultimate purpose could he possibly have, if he’s consistent with such hopes, other than self-destruction? Again, blank out.

So far, the definition of ‘nihilism’ which Hays has cited seems to have Christianity pegged through and through.

How about the next definition that he gave? Let’s check it out:
Ethical nihilism or moral nihilism rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values. Instead, good and evil are nebulous, and values addressing such are the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures. Existential nihilism is the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value…“the highest values devalue themselves. The aim is lacking, and ‘Why’ finds no answer.”
Of course, Objectivism does not “reject the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values.” On the contrary, the Objectivist ethics are based on facts, and nothing is more absolute than facts. See The Moral Code of Life for pointers. Moral values, as Objectivism conceives of them, are as absolute as the facts that man is a living biological organism and faces a fundamental alternative: to live or die. These facts cannot be imagined out of existence; they are truly absolute, even if we would prefer to believe that one day we’ll be “resurrected” and live again in some realm which we can only imagine.

Moreover, moral values, according to Objectivism, are not “the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures.” Far from it! Since values are those things which man needs in order to live, their nature qua values is determined by facts relevant to man’s nature as a living biological organism. This of course includes food, water, shelter, clothing, skills, education, happiness, romantic relationships, art, etc. No matter what some social group or emotion might suggest, man needs values because his life depends on them. Neither the preferences of a social group or some emotional mood swing will be able to alter the nature of man’s needs, the values he needs to obtain in order to meet those needs, or his need for values as such. Indeed, properly understood, moral values are the product of rational effort, meaning: man governing his mind by reason in the task of living his life. Values, then, must be earned. Contrast this with Christianity: the believer’s greatest “value” (i.e., “salvation,” which the believer can only imagine he has) is only available if someone else (i.e., Jesus) sacrifices himself. The Christian soteriological formula requires of its adherents the kind of character which seeks and accepts the unearned and collects on the sacrifices of others. This is all ultimately due to the fact that Christianity prefers a substitute to facts as its basis for what it calls “the good.”

A worldview which prefers to fantasize alternatives to the facts that we face in our lives, will not equip its followers to deal with reality on its own absolute terms. A worldview which seats its moral teachings on something other than facts relevant to man’s life, can only fail to give its followers the cognitive tools necessary to discover what is a value and what is not a value to his life, and to understand why he needs morality in the first place. I’ve already pointed out The Moral Uselessness of the 10 Commandments. A rational code of morality is one which can be discovered and validated by means of reason. But reason does not couch its principles on what is merely imaginary. Rather, reason goes by facts and is only possible in the context of a worldview which consistently and securely distinguishes between reality and imagination, fact and fantasy, truth and untruth.

Indeed, what could be more “nebulous” than notions which have no objective tie to reality? Notions that are ultimately anchored in the imaginary have no objective tie to reality. Notice the striking degree of disagreement among Christians on various ethical issues, such as celibacy among the clergy, infant baptism, homosexuality, wealth accumulation, acceptance of the findings of science, "white supremacy," etc. Individual Christians imagine their god differently, and the god they enshrine in their imaginations will naturally reflect certain aspects of the believer’s own character. They create their god after their own image. Indeed, what does Christianity mean by “good” and “evil” anyway? And what value can Christianity’s definitions of good and evil (whatever they may be) have if in the end, believers will say that their god “has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” (Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 172)? Clearly the Christian god is not absolutely opposed to evil if it allows evil or “has a morally sufficient reason” for allowing evil. If a man goes and kills another person, this is “evil,” but if the Christian god does it, it is “good.” Plus, if the Christian god causes a man to go and kill another person, the Christian god’s actions are “good,” but the actions of the man who does the killing are “evil.” According to Christianity, would it ever be “good” for a father to stand idly by and allow his child to be tortured and executed? Well, when the Christian god did this, it is considered one of the best things since sliced bread (or before even!). Nebulous indeed!

But Christianity ensures that the fleeting nebulousness of its moral notions can never be overcome, for, as the late John W. Robbins, a spokesman for Christianity, put it:
The distinction between right and wrong depends entirely upon the commands of God. There is no natural law that makes some actions right and others wrong… Were there no law of God, there would be no right or wrong. (An Introduction to Gordon H. Clark)
So whether an action is right or wrong depends entirely on the say-so of a supernatural conscious being which is only accessible to the human mind by means of imagination. Believers, of course, would point out that this supernatural being gave its “word” in the form of “scriptures,” a la the “Holy Bible.” But this misses the point that such contentions fail to give us an alternative to imagining that the bible is the product of a supernatural being in the first place. Christians themselves tend to concede that human beings penned the books contained in the bible, but insist that a supernatural being was their ultimate author. Muslims make similar claims about the Koran. It is quite easy to take some text and attribute its contents to a mere fantasy. Christianity’s own formula of “just believe” shows how easy this is.

Hays writes:
Many apostates begin with dutiful idealism, which they derive from their Christian upbringing. Dutiful idealism about truth and goodness. A duty to follow the evidence wherever it leads. They view themselves as honest, virtuous, disinterested truth-seekers.
I guess I’m not quite of the mold that Hays has in mind here. When I left Christianity, I knew firsthand that I had made a decision to be honest to myself, come what may. I know that this was not a consequence of a “Christian upbringing,” for I was never taught to be honest to myself by Christianity, not this way at least, not in a way in which I acknowledged the fact that I had lost sight of the distinction between reality and imagination somewhere along the way. Was it a matter of “duty”? Of course not. To the extent that there was any “duty” involved anywhere in all this, it was in the “duty” to sacrifice myself, and this is simply one of the things I rebelled against (because I did want to take precautions not to fall and go “splat!”). Was this virtuous? I wasn’t quite sure yet, because Christianity – the worldview which I was leaving – never gave me a solid understanding of what virtue was, other than that it necessarily involved self-sacrifice. Was I a “disinterested truth-seeker”? Certainly not! I was extremely interested! I wanted to know. I wanted knowledge. I wanted knowledge of the truth, and I wanted knowledge of good and evil, the very knowledge that Adam and Eve, according to the Genesis myth, were punished for discovering. Most importantly, I wanted – or rather yearned – to know the proper way to acquire and validate my own knowledge. I wanted to think for myself and to know how to know. Christianity did not teach me any of this; it won’t teach anyone this. It demands self-denial from its adherents, beginning with the denial of one’s own mind. On the Christian worldview, belief is more important than understanding, and even then “understanding” is really just a euphemism for imagining that one is on the divinely approved path to nowhere. The bible does not lay out a developed epistemology explaining how the human mind works – e.g., how we go from perception of objects to conceptual integrations uniting those objects into classes and categories. The bible’s authors themselves show no clue that they even wondered about this amazing process, let alone had some infallible understanding of it. The bible takes everything epistemological completely for granted, just as it takes the production of values for granted. One is taught that he must “give up” things for the Christian god, but he’s not taught how to go about getting those things in order to have them to give up in the first place.

The biblical worldview deliberately keeps the human mind epistemologically darkened, stranding it on the barren island of faith, i.e., hope in the imaginary, cutting it off from the world of reason, and shackling it to ancient Dead Sea folklore. Is this the high standard of rightness from which Hays fears “apostates” will fall if they depart from Christianity? Van Til taught that “all teaching of scripture is apparently contradictory.” So for the Christian up is really down, and down is really up. Thus if apologists campaigning for Christianity claim that believers will fall downward if they walk away from Christianity, perhaps it is the very opposite that they fear: that those who walk away will discover truths that apologists would prefer they never discover at all and break free from Christianity’s slave mentality. After all, if believers find that they go into a self-destructive free fall if they leave Christianity, what would prevent them from coming back? Wouldn’t they turn around and head back for safety? Doesn’t the Christian god look out for its own? Won’t the Christian god take them back? Isn’t this supposed to be a loving god – the very god that turned its back on its own son when he was being tortured and readied for execution? With love like that, who would want to walk away? Perhaps these questions answer themselves.

Hays continues his caricature:
In their view, this led them out of Christianity. Yet by leaving that behind, they implicitly turn their back on the very basis for duty that spurred them on that ill-fated journey in the first place. Their destination contradicts their starting-point. Their sense of duty makes no sense. Transplanted from Christianity to atheism, duty dies on the dry, barren soil.
Perhaps this describes some former believers, but I doubt it describes very many. At any rate, it doesn’t come close to my experience. A “sense of duty” had nothing to do with my departure from Christianity. I made a decision to be honest, and it was not a “sense of duty” that resulted from this. A “duty” is something one obeys even if he doesn’t like it, doesn’t want it, has no interest in obeying it. By contrast, I wanted to be honest to myself. To be sure, there was no “duty” to be honest to oneself that I picked up from Christianity. Quite the opposite in fact – a “duty” to go along with the pretense that the imaginary is real, and by making the choice to be honest to myself, I was committing the ultimate act of rebellion.

But is it true that my “destination contradicts [my] starting-point”? If by “starting-point” here we mean the initial impetus that gave me the courage to leave Christianity once and for all, then the answer is a resounding no. It was my choice to be honest that opened the door to my individual liberty, and my destination – a life guided by reason – is the logical outcome of following such a choice consistently. If one gets out of burning car, he doesn’t struggle to get back into it. And that’s what I did: I climbed out of the wreckage by my own effort using my own wits, and the freedom I’ve enjoyed since then is a freedom that I earned. And it is precisely this – this individual declaration of independence that I make daily – that Christians resent so deeply. I don’t have the burden of spending my psychic energy slavishly trying to appease an imaginary deity, and believers resent me expressly for having earned just such a liberty. They heap their venom and spite on me, call me names and threaten me with eternal torment, all the time wishing they could make good on those threats. They want me to die just as they have died. It is the fact that I am alive that they hate most of all.

Hays quoted Licona:
I’ve asked myself, “Have I been brain-washed? Am I unable to think objectively because I was brought up to believe?”
Licona, we should remember, admits that he has “a very real bias” whose influence is clearly very strong, and made it explicitly clear that he wants Christianity to be true. And given his tremendous investment in pursuing educational degrees and ministerial positions within the church, I’d say he has a lot riding on the outcome of any “inquiries” he might make into the matter.

Hays reacts to Licona’s words here with the following questions:
What if that's exactly how God saves many people? By raising them in Christian families? By raising them in Christian churches?
Is it just a coincidence that Islam’s Allah operates essentially the same way? And isn’t this the same kind of pattern we see in other primitive philosophies, whether it is Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, etc.? Having observed the locals here in Thailand for over three years, it is precisely what I have seen here as well: children are indoctrinated into Buddhist traditions from infancy, and that indoctrination is positively reinforced throughout their lives, whether in the home, at school, even on the street as they routinely encounter wandering monks draped in their bright orange robes carrying their bowls and waiting for passers-by to kneel before them and offer them food. This is a daily occurrence here. Christians in the West haven’t had it this good since the good ol’ days of the Inquisition and the Consistory. Then again, the East never had a Renaissance; there never was a rebirth of reason in this hemisphere, and society here shows this. Today Thailand’s population boasts nearly 95% Buddhist affiliation, and from firsthand observations I’d say this is, at least on the nominal level, entirely correct. Here Buddhism has not had to compete very hard with rational philosophy since reason is still very much an alien thing here.

Hays goes on:
It can be good to ask, am I Lutheran (or Baptist or Presbyterian) because that's how I was raised. But those are intramural Christian questions.
How about the believer asking himself why he’s a Christian in the first place? If he’s a Christian ultimately because he was raised to be one, this pretty much puts him on a par with the average office worker in Bangkok who, on a Thursday morning, goes out and buys some fruit and noodles to give to the first monk she encounters on her way to her job in some tall skyscraper. She doesn’t stop to think about the implicit contradictions in all this, just as Christians don’t stop to think about the implicit contradictions between worshiping a god which sacrificed its own son and spending their Saturday afternoons going over their finances to make sure the books are good.

Yes, I’m glad these aren’t my problems!

Again, Hays quotes Licona, who asks:
“What if I’m wrong?”
At least Licona has the courage to ask such questions, and for this I can give him a slight tip of my hat. Unfortunately, he’s still in the frame of mind that desperately seeks any excuse to pretend that he’s not wrong. How often does Hays ask himself this question? I’m guessing more than he would admit, for maintaining the persona of a cock-sure internet apologist needs to continue unperturbed at all costs.

Reacting to Licona’s blunt question, Hays remarks:
Assuming, for the sake of argument, that you were wrong to believe in Christianity, so what? If you're wrong, it's not as if you have anything to lose.
According to Hays, there’s nothing to lose. So says a man who has already sacrificed everything! (And if he hasn’t sacrificed everything, then he’s just another charlatan trying to hypocritize his way to internet fame.)

Since Christianity demands that one “give up everything” and “die” for the sake of an imaginary Jesus, either the believer has already given up everything, or he’s holding something back. If he’s already given everything up, he already lost everything by becoming a Christian. If he still has something to lose, he hasn’t given everything up for the Jesus he imagines and thus has no business peddling Christianity. Which category does Hays fit into? Since he continues to blog, it’s clear he hasn’t given up his computer, so it’s not very mysterious where the evidence points on this matter.

Hays goes on to say:
If nihilism is the logical alternative, then you're better off being wrong.
Should we be surprised to see a Christian claiming that one is “better off being wrong” if the question involves Christianity being wrong? “If Christianity is wrong, then by golly be wrong!” says the apologist. It apparently does not occur to Hays (or he doesn’t want it to occur to his readers) that if something turns out to be wrong, then something turns out to be right, and that thing that is right cannot be self-contradictory (for that would mean it couldn’t be right). But Hays has a vested interest in perpetuating the myth of the false dichotomy he’s erected in his little blog post: either Christianity or nihilism. Of course, he nowhere justifies this bald-faced bifurcation, and I suspect he’s bright enough to know that he couldn’t in a million years. But he knows that many of his readers lap up everything he says as if it were divinely graced, and that’s enough motivation to run with something as bankrupt as this.

In a comment left on the same blog post, Hays wrote:
For apostates to say intellectual honestly led then out of Christianity misses the point. For intellectual honesty has no normative value in atheism. In effect, they are saying intellectual honesty led them to deny intellectual honesty. It's self-defeating.
Hays misses the point. The point is not that “intellectual honesty has… normative value in atheism,” but that intellectual honesty ultimately requires atheism – i.e., the shedding of theism and the embrace of reason. Christianity does not require intellectual honesty. On the contrary, it feasts on minds who haven’t the foggiest clue what intellectual honesty is. Watch how Mike Licona openly wrestles with this very problem. At least he’s willing to let us see it. And it’s clear that it’s plagued him for a long time – decades in fact. He really wants his belief in Christianity to be justified, so he searches hard, enduring a painful, torturous psychological existence in order hopefully to find that one last piece of evidence that does the trick. Unfortunately, he’ll never find it, for it doesn’t exist. The real world does not conform to imagination – it’s simple as that. As soon as thinkers get this through their thick skulls, they’ll discover the value of their own thinking. Until then, they’ll either not think at all, or they’ll be like 1984’s Winston Smith keeping his diary safely out of sight of the telescreens, hoping no one will discover his inner-most private thoughts which are hounded by unceasing, unquenchable doubts that threaten to bring the entire artifice crumbling down to the dust that it really is.

Yes, I’m certainly glad these aren’t my problems!

by Dawson Bethrick


Ydemoc said...


I started reading this morning, but I had to put it aside very early on to work on some things. However, based upon the little I've read, it looks as though you've produced another great piece, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Great to hear from you. I hope you enjoy my new entry. I have already made a few minor edits. I had most of the day free yesterday, so I decided to devote to my blog. However, I didn't have much time to go over everything once I was ready to post it. Reading it with fresh eyes this morning, I saw a few places that needed polishing. Overall, though, I'm quite happy with it!

By the way, I noticed over on Ryan's blog critiquing Objectivism, he has not responded to your last comment - which you posted back on Aug. 31 - two weeks ago (by my time zone). Perhaps those links you posted gave him something to think about.

Okay, gotta run!


Unknown said...

Thanks Dawson for yet another good blog.

Indeed, the religious mind enshrines the imaginary and fantasy as I recall from my own experience as a Christian 40 years ago. There was no basis for my acceptance of the Christian story except a naive trust in those who told me the Jesus story was the real deal, and as it turns out those based their "faith" on the say so of others and so on. It's no wonder Steve Hays acts as though his say so is sufficient to validate his proffered but false dichotomy. That's how Christianity works.

Consider Acts chapter 17's portrayal of Paul's preaching at Mars Hill. When the Athenian skeptics rejected Paul's allegations of proclaiming the "UNKNOWN" God, he "went out of their midst." In this example of model Christian preaching, no evidence or argumentation was offered. Instead the plate was filled with mere assertions from Luke's or the redactor's imagination.

Peikoff touched on nihilism in OPAR.

// Kant's Copernican Revolution reaffirmed the fundamental ideas of Plato. This time, however the ideas were not moderated by any pagan influence. They were undiluted and thus incomparably more virulent.

Plato and the medievals denied Existence in the name of a fantasy, a glowing super-reality with which, they believed they were in direct, inspiring contact. This mystic realm, they said (or at least its lower levels) can be approached by the use of the mind, even though the latter is tainted by its union with the body. Man, they said, should sacrifice his desires, but he should do it to gain a reward. His proper goal, even the saints agreed, is happiness, his own happiness, the be attained in the next life.

Kant is a different case. He denies existence not in the name of a fantasy, but of nothing; he denies it in the name of a dimension that , by hse own insistent statement, unknowable to man and inconceivable. The mind, he says, is cut off not mearely from some aspects of "things in themselves," but from everything real; any cognitive faculty is cut off because it has a nature, any nature. Man's proper goal, says Kant is not happiness, whether in this life or the next. The "radically evil" creature (Kant's words) should sacrifice his desires from duty, as an end in itself.

Occasional fig leaves aside, Kant offers humanity no alternative to the realm of that which is, and no reward for resounding it. His is the first philosopher in history to reject reality, thought, and values, not for the sake of some "higher" version of them, but for the sake of the rejection. The power in behalf of which his genius speaks in not "pure reason" but pure destruction. // p.457

Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately, due the fact that I've been working all day long, I still haven't been able to read your entry. But I plan to as soon as time allows.

Also, I checked out Ryan's blog about a week or so ago and noticed that he hadn't responded to my post. Despite this, I think it's great that those links are there, so that other believers visiting his blog are able to see that the objections he raises are fully dealt with.


Bahnsen Burner said...


Thanks for the comment. Yes, those points you quoted from Peikoff are quite apropos. It just goes to show that Kant was indeed more consistent in the nihilistic tendencies that self-sacrifice leads to. Christianity holds up the mirage of a pretense, and Kant just said "let's get rid of the bullshit and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of sacrificing ourselves." Both lead to the "Splat!" that Hays postures himself as worried about.


Yes, those links are very handy indeed! The next time someone brings up John Robbins, just send him these links. I noticed that, when you left your first comment on Ryan's page, he got back to you quite promptly. But then, after you posted another comment with those links, he's gone silent.

On another note, I visited Choosing Hats and found that their site is "presently down for maintenance." If they're doing "maintenance," why would they need to take it down?


95BSharpshooter said...

I see a lot of parallels here and in Andrew Bernstein's review of Stark's "Victory of Reason". Add to that, to AGW "models as science", and to Keynesian economics.

Truly, enviroMentalism is not the only popular refrain that has a theological model.

Someone once described theology to me as "Starting at your preconceived conclusion and working backwards". I think they were on to something.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for you comments (here and in the other blog entry).

Also, thanks for drawing attention to Bernstein's review of Stark's book. I have the full version of this review in my files (on MS Word). The review is available online (here), but not in full.

I haven't read it for some years, so I can't recall specifically any parallels between what Bernstein writes and what I have written. Can you cite any specifics? I'd love to see what you're seeing!

I will try to read Bernstein's review again in the near future. But I have a huge reading list, so I have to prioritize.

Yes, starting with preconceived conclusions (if they can even be called conclusions) and working backwards... That describes pretty much all theology that I've ever seen.


95BSharpshooter said...


What I see are loads of claims, unsupported, or "support" that is pure non-sense.

You might also find this a close fit to your work:

Some of the comments from other columnists(Charlie Martin, Dave Swindel) are typical RR tripe.

Harry Binswanger does make a grand "punch-back" in the follow-up comments.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for posting the link. Some time ago, I had such high hopes for Bill Whittle, but in the past couple years I started wincing more and more at what I heard him saying and defending. Such a potential bright light under duress of his own Christian-inspired dimness.

In response to what Klavan and Whittle say here, check out Don Watkins' article IS AYN RAND CONFUSED ABOUT ALTRUISM?.

This time, Watkins beat me to it.


MiiamiDan said...

I didn't have time to read the whole thing, elderly mother in the hospital and I want to keep this brief to go be with her. I've had the page open for days out of curiousity from the title and I just wanted to see what it is. I may or may not come back to it in the future because I'm totally focused on her right now.

But I do want to comment on what I find a little comical. I checked out a few paragraphs on this page and a few from a linked page about what Licona had said. I couldn't help but find it humurous that you're ranting about what he and others have said when you konw full well that it has no baring on whether Christianity is true, or the Christian worldview is valid. But I'm sure you also know most people won't realize that, and so you rant because you want Christianity to not be true. It's kinda funny because on the one hand you say things that you cannot support, such as there being no evidence to support the historicity of the resurrection, as well as other things, but then on the other hand you support Christianity, if only by default, when you admit that without Christianity there is no light: "So leaving Christianity, can at first, seem like entering into utter darkness. What’s ironic is that this darkness was there all along..."
So, you rant and rave out how false Christianity must necessarily be even though, admittedly, without out it you're in total darkness and thus cannot know anything about which you speak! You're basically saying, "I don't know what the truth is, but I know what it aint; it aint Christianity!" Well, if you don't know what it is, then you cannot know what it's not. Peace.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello MiiamiDan,

You wrote: “I didn't have time to read the whole thing, elderly mother in the hospital and I want to keep this brief to go be with her. I've had the page open for days out of curiousity from the title and I just wanted to see what it is. I may or may not come back to it in the future because I'm totally focused on her right now.”

I see. You’re attention is “totally focused” on something of immediate concern in your life at this time, but you have chosen to comment on something you clearly haven’t read very closely or carefully. Got it. Let’s take a look at what you wrote.

You wrote: “But I do want to comment on what I find a little comical. I checked out a few paragraphs on this page and a few from a linked page about what Licona had said. I couldn't help but find it humurous that you're ranting about what he and others have said when you konw full well that it has no baring on whether Christianity is true, or the Christian worldview is valid.”

I’m glad you found something in my blog to give you a smile in what must be a dreary time in your life. But I think you’ve misunderstood the point I make by citing Licona’s autobiographical statement. I thought the context of my point was sufficient in what I had written, but of course if a reader’s attention is divided and primarily focused elsewhere, misunderstanding and confusion are to be expected. But let me help a little here.

As an associate professor at a Christian university who goes around giving lectures and participating in debates about Christianity (ranting and raving?), Licona is essentially a professional apologist for Christianity. When a professional apologist for Christianity openly admits his own personal biases and confesses that what he defends is something he wants to be true, particularly in light of the attending context of what a defense of Christianity entails (cf. its heavy reliance on the imagination) and what the Christian worldview demands of its adherents (i.e., a life of self-sacrifice), I think that’s quite noteworthy and I’m happy to draw attention to it. If you don’t think it’s significant, fine. But you err quite badly if you’re thinking that I draw attention to this because I assume it has bearing on whether or not Christianity is true. I give many reasons, reasons entirely independent of Licona and his psychological conflicts, for the conclusion that Christianity is false, and if you allow yourself to read with less divided attention, I’m confident that you would grasp this eventually.

You wrote: “But I'm sure you also know most people won't realize that, and so you rant because you want Christianity to not be true.”

I see. So you think I’m deliberately trying to mislead people? Again, I think you need to refine your focus as you read my paper before you start making accusations like this.


Bahnsen Burner said...

You wrote: “It's kinda funny because on the one hand you say things that you cannot support, such as there being no evidence to support the historicity of the resurrection, as well as other things, but then on the other hand you support Christianity, if only by default, when you admit that without Christianity there is no light: ‘So leaving Christianity, can at first, seem like entering into utter darkness. What’s ironic is that this darkness was there all along...’”

Wow, I had no idea someone could misinterpret what I’ve written so wildly. But again, if your powers of concentration are “totally focused” on something else while reading my blog, that explains much. But let me make a few points in reaction to what you’ve stated here.

First, some questions:

1. When you say that I “say things that [I] cannot support,” what specifically did I say (i.e., give a direct quote with citation please)?

2. What specifically do I not have evidence to support (a universal negative claim)?

3. How do you know that I don't have evidence to support what exactly I have stated (i.e., how do you prove your universal negative claim)?

I’ve written much about the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, and the New Testament record relevant to these matters on my blog, which is now nearing its 10th anniversary. There’s a lot of material there, so you may stop and ask yourself if you might have overlooked something given that your attention has been “totally focused” elsewhere during your reading of my blog.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Regarding my point about the darkness having been there all along, again you have apparently misunderstood some key points if you think this qualifies as support for Christianity. (Is Christianity really so desperate for support that what I’ve stated here can be taken as support for it?) I suggest you re-read (or read for the first time) the entire section from which you’ve excised your quotation of my words. I think it’s pretty clear what I meant there, but let me rephrase in case you’re still having difficulty.

The point is that when a person leaves Christianity, it may seem at first like he’s entering darkness, when in fact, he’s been in this darkened state for his entire time as a Christian, and leaving it is when he begins to recognize just how in the dark he’s been all along. That’s why I wrote: ”this darkness was there all along, and Christianity was simply trying to divert the believer’s attention to contentless trivialities that have no importance to human life in the first place. So it is true that leaving Christianity is a good start, but it’s not an end in itself.” I think this is very clear, but if you’re still having trouble, please let me know.

By “darkness” here I essentially mean the absence of rational principles which guide an individual’s choices and actions. The believer still has to make choices and act, but the Christian worldview does not provide rational principles to guide her. In fact, it denies them outright by precluding the very basis of rationality, which is the primacy of existence metaphysics. So in essence, she’s in the dark as it were, and I surmise that it takes actually departing from Christianity’s devotion to fantasy to fully recognize this. Of course, if you’re a Christian yourself, MiiamiDan, it may be that you are not in a position to fully appreciate this, especially if, like Mike Licona, you want Christianity to be true.

You wrote: “So, you rant and rave out how false Christianity must necessarily be even though, admittedly, without out it you're in total darkness and thus cannot know anything about which you speak!”

Hopefully now you’ll see how far off you’ve been in your divided efforts to understand what I’ve written.


Ydemoc said...


I just finished reading the rest of your blog entry. Excellent! So many good points in there, many of which I've text-clipped and saved for future reference.



wakawakwaka said...

Dawson i dunno if you written about this before (and if you do please point me to the way)
do you guys believe the idea of the substitutionary atonement doctrine immoral and stupid? I mean no christian would say its right to get your mom punished in your place if you commited a murder right?

here is a link from Matt Slick trying to defend it do you think his defense just misses the point?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Wak,

There are a number of competing "theories" on the notion of the atonement - i.e., the "doctrine" describing the relationship between Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and salvation. The "substitution" theory is just one of several. Michael Martin, in his book The Case Against Christianity, examines eight (8) such theories. He does not address any theory called the "substitution" theory, though of the ones he does survey, one or more may be the same but known under a different name. (Seriously, with so many differing views on this matter alone, it can get hard to keep everything straight... but that's not our problem).

As for me personally, I have not devoted a blog entry specifically on the atonement, though I do have some writings from many years ago (well over a decade ago) on the atonement. Perhaps I might dig them up and dust them off at some point. In the meantime, check out Martin's work if you can, though it's been ages (a decade or more) since I last read Martin's book, so I can't say at this moment how much I would recommend his arguments. But at least he does treat these matters directly.

As for Slick, I haven't read his work in a long time, and I really don't miss it. He's a non-entity. I've never been persuaded by anything he's written to any conclusion other than that he has a lot of emotional problems. Everything I've read by him seems to confirm precisely this.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you enjoyed my long, long post. I've re-read parts of it again. I really don't know how someone like Hays could respond to it in a manner that successfully salvages any credibility on behalf of Christianity.

Meanwhile, over on Ryan's blog, I noticed that another comment has been posted. This one was posted directly after your 31 Aug. comment, and has the date stamp of 22 Sept. The author of the comment, a "Johzek," writes defending the axioms against Ryan's abounding cluelessness. It's nice to see.

Okay, gotta run.


Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

Thanks for the update about the new post over on Ryan's blog. I checked it out and you're right: it is nice see others chiming in and defending the axioms. I just wish I had more time lately to do so myself. Many times I've started writing replies to what others have posted, only to find myself shortly thereafter going, "This is going to take a lot longer than I thought," and so I end up putting it on the back burner.

And here's something I wanted to post a couple days ago... a thought which was inspired by something you wrote in your latest entry:

Christianity teaches that we are all depraved -- morally guilty -- just for being born. Given that this is the Christian teaching, I wondered: Why, then, should the bible specify any sins at all (e.g., adultery, lusting in one's heart, etc.)? I mean, if we're all sinners just for being born, what's the point in discussing specific sins when everything you do, by virtue of being born, is a sin!?

I haven't fleshed it all out, but I think you probably get what I'm driving at.


Unknown said...

Mr. Bethrick,

I found your blog about 3 months ago, and I have worked my way through your many years of posts, as well as your website. Thank you for your hard work, your excellent prose, and your critical thinking.

It may interest you to know what caused me to discover your blog. I have a friend who is a student of James Anderson. As we regularly discuss the rationality (or lack thereof) in our respective world views, my friend presented me with Anderson & Welty's TAG argument.

After providing what I felt was a strong case that the logical absolutes cannot be contingent upon a mind, I decided to google Anderson and found a few of your discussions with/about him, including your refutation of the same argument.

However, of particular interest to me was your brief exchange with him in the comments section of "Frame's Summary of Van Til's OMA" (Sept., 2006) regarding universals. Anderson tries to impale you upon the horns of the realist/nominalist/idealist trilemma in his ignorance of your world view.

I have read your extended response to Anderson on your website -- it is interesting, well-written, and informative.

Would you mind satisfying my curiosity as to why you did not publish it on your blog?

Thank you, and keep up the good fight. Rationality, unfortunately, cannot defend itself.

Brandon D.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Brandon,

Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your kind remarks about my writings.

What you stated about having a friend who is a student of James Anderson is quite interesting, especially if you’ve been discussing these matters with him. I’d be curious to know if you’ve directed him to anything on my blog, and if so, what reactions he might have had.

Yes, I remember my interaction with Anderson’s comments on my blog entry about Frame’s thoughts on Van Til’s OMA argument. I worked on that piece over a number of months and finished it some time (I’m guessing a two or three years) after Anderson had posted his comments on my blog. I don’t recall any particular reason why I hadn’t posted it on my blog, but I think it may have been the case that I had finished it while I was in the midst of rolling out a series on my blog (there are several) and I didn’t want to interrupt the sequence, but wanted to get it on my website nonetheless. While there's no rule, it just seems a bit strange to post a blog entry reacting to comments years after they were submitted, but of course there may be good reasons to do so.

You’ll notice that there are a number of things on my website which have not appeared on my blog, so it’s in no way unique.

Speaking of Anderson, just yesterday I read an interview with him on his book What’s Your Worldview?, which I have not read. After learning that the book has a “yes/no” format which sends the reader in different directions depending on how he answers those questions (I’m guessing it’s similar in this way to Sye Ten Bruggencate’s website), I'm less interested than I originally was (which I admit wasn't much to begin with). I’ve never seen a book in such a format before, which is not necessarily a strike against it, but depending on how the questions are phrased and its terms defined (or left undefined), I can’t help but suppose that such a format is somewhat manipulative in nature.

Anyway, I hope that helps assuage your curiosity.


Unknown said...

Mr. Bethrick,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post.

You have satisfied my curiosity, though I would love a series on the topic of universals. From what I have read, Objectivism lacks a thorough treatment of this subject and your critical perspective would be a valuable resource. But I do recognize that you write when you are able, amidst working full time, raising a child, and being a husband, so you must prioritize.

I agree with your assessment of Anderson. My experience with his writing leads me to believe that he is simply a more educated and more refined version of Sye Ten (not that either of those qualities are particularly hard to accomplish with regards to Sye). As you aware, manipulation and intellectual dishonesty are prerequisites of the presuppositional world view. I do find it amusing, however, that Anderson's book is in a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style -- yet more support for your well-argued position that many Christians cannot help but to recognize, at least implicitly, the role of imagination in their beliefs.

Regarding my friend, I have directed him to several of your blog posts. However, I am quite sure that these recommendations are lost to the aether. His goal is to "save" me from the punishment of his tyrannical god by "demolishing" my worldview -- a very Christian notion indeed. As such, he is not very interested in seeking out critiques of his own beliefs.

Despite this, I have had some success with pulling him away from presuppositionalism, a task that is proving to be both arduous and painstaking. This was accomplished in no small part by the undeniable truth of the Objectivist axioms, as well as much of your writing which has helped me to refine my own arguments and to better understand the presup position.

It is very concerning to me when otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people, such as my friend, stop caring about evidence for their beliefs. To my mind, fundamentalist Christians -- especially those of the Van Tilian and Clarkian flavor -- are just as dangerous as any other fundamentalist. Any Christian who wants to claim the moral high ground over another religion does not have to look very far to be proven wrong, No True Scotsman fallacies notwithstanding. To quote Voltaire: "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

Thank you again for the work you do.

Brandon D.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Brandon,

You wrote: “I would love a series on the topic of universals. From what I have read, Objectivism lacks a thorough treatment of this subject and your critical perspective would be a valuable resource.”

I don’t know what Objectivist literature you’ve read, but if you’re interested in this topic (which I find endlessly fascinating), I’d suggest you examine Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (or “ITOE” for short). Part of the controversy in my exchange with Anderson was my treatment of “universals” as concepts, with the necessary attendant qualifications that by “universal” in this context I do not mean some Platonic “Form” or what I would call a “third-party” aspect of knowledge existing independent of the knower’s mental activity.

As I wrote in my interaction with Anderson’s comments:

<< Objectivism: Unlike the herd of philosophers before her, Ayn Rand understood the problem of universals as an epistemological concern rather than a metaphysical controversy which pre-occupied medieval thinkers. Rand dedicated an entire book to the issue, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, consisting of a series of notes which she had published in The Objectivist between July 1966 and February 1967. In her book, these articles appear as separate chapters and Rand suggested that they “be regarded as a preview of my future book on Objectivism” (p. 1), which she never ended up producing. Specifically, Rand saw “the problem of universals” as actually an “issue of concepts,” which she considered to be “philosophy’s central issue,” and therefore extremely important: >>

The so-called ‘realist’ view of universals treats universals as independently existing entities which exist in some realm which we can only imagine. For Objectivism, there are the objects we perceive and the activity of the subject which perceives and identifies them; the subject identifies them by a process of abstraction which unites objects into concepts. The ‘realist’ view adds a “third party” to this – the “universal,” which is neither in the objects we perceive (since the objects we perceive all exist in specific measurements) nor in the activity of the knower (for this, presumably, would make “universals” so-conceived to be “subjective”). So on this view “universals” become a (wholly needless) third category which needs to be accounted for, and as such it gets all this attention from philosophers who at the same time ignore the epistemological activity taking place in the knower’s identificatory experience.

Naturally this may raise more questions, and I’d be happy to look at them. Kind of rushed this morning though, so I must close now.


Bahnsen Burner said...

I see that Ryan has finally responded to Ydemoc.

Ydemoc posted two links in response to Ryan’s post titled A Systematic Refutation of Objectivism.

These are the articles that Ydemoc linked to:

Has Objectivism Been Refuted? - by Bryan Register
John Calvin vs. Ayn Rand Or, The Theological Theatrics of John Robbins - by Jim Peron

In response to Ydemoc’s post, Ryan writes “Thanks for the links.”

Did Ryan read the articles that Ydemoc linked to? Ryan does not indicate one way or the other.

Ryan writes: “Objectivism isn't really a topic of interest to me - I only studied it because I wanted to enter a few essay contests - and I'm not very interested in defending Robbins per se.”

So now that Ryan has been given links to articles which present devastating interactions with Robbins’ book (not to mention his worldview), which Ryan himself cites numerous times and endorses with statements like “These drawbacks of Objectivism convincingly vindicate Robbins’ conclusion that Objectivism is a contradictory philosophy,” he says he’s not really interested in Objectivism and “not very interested in defending Robbins per se.” But several of Ryan’s appeals to Robbins were central to the points of criticism he was seeking to establish in his paper against Objectivism. In spite of this, he says “I consider my critique to stand on its own, so replies to Robbins don’t necessarily impact this essay.” In the body of Ryan’s paper, I counted 16 direct references to Robbins, and 11 different references in the footnotes (in nine different footnotes). Indeed, after Rand, Robbins is the most cited author throughout Ryan’s paper so far as I can tell. In addition to own caricatures of Rand’s views, Ryan’s would-be refutation seems to depend quite substantially on Robbins’ discredited work.

Ryan does not attempt to defend Robbins’ criticisms of Objectivism from any of the criticisms brought against them by either Peron or Register. He says he’s not interested in doing so, but quite frankly, I don’t think anyone (including Ryan) could do so successfully even if there was a will to do so.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Ryan then posted reactions to comments of mine that I had posted to one of my own blogs. There I had written: "The concept ‘arbitrary’ essentially denotes a position or view accepted without the support of evidence. It’s hard to see how one can suppose that a living organism with conceptual ability would have no alternative but to make the choice to live arbitrarily. If Rand enjoyed living and was aware of this fact, that would be more than sufficient evidence to ground her choice to live rather than to die."

Ryan asks: “What evidence does Dawson have or did Rand have that enjoying life and self-awareness of this fact is sufficient to ground a choice to live rather than die?”

This is like asking what evidence one has that pain hurts. Keep in mind that Ryan asserts that “Rand’s choice to value life rather than non-existence was arbitrary” and that “her choice of which values to regard as important and thus select for artistic recreation were arbitrary.” Ryan nowhere presents a good argument for these assertions. Indeed, he does not explain how one could “value… non-existence,” the alternative to valuing life, in the first place. What would it even mean to “value… non-existence”? The notion of valuing non-existence is nothing more than the notion of valuing nothing. What value does nothing have? Blank out.

At the very least, an organism capable of valuing anything can value pleasure and enjoyment. The evidence that pleasure is pleasurable is firsthand; one need not prove to someone else that pleasurable activity results in pleasure in order for pleasure to serve as an incentive to continue living. Of course, if one doubts it, he can try the activity in question for himself and determine whether he finds it pleasurable as well. But even if he does not, this by itself would not constitute a refutation of the value of pleasure as such, or the role pleasure plays in one’s fundamental choice to continue living. Even the expectation to experience pleasure in the future serves as an extremely powerful incentive to continue living and working to make life successful. I know this firsthand. If Ryan doesn’t, too bad for him – he’s missing out on a lot, to put it extremely mildly.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Ryan asks: “Why should one do what one enjoys?”

This question as Ryan poses it is so vague as to be unhelpful. A “should” or “ought” is contextual, and so is the enjoyment one experiences from a given activity. In short, an answer to Ryan’s question here depends at least in part on what it is that one enjoys, how it impacts him and his values, how it may impact others, whether it results in the production of values or the destruction of values, etc.

On the most general level, assuming that the activity producing enjoyment does in fact produce values and does not deprive others of their property, one should do what he enjoys because the enjoyment of life is itself an incentive to continue living. Enjoyment and pleasure are incentives to continue the work necessary to continue living.

A man on death row awaiting execution has no hope of continuing his life, so given knowledge of his impending execution, he will not be able to enjoy much of anything.

But a man who has his life before him, who is enjoying his right to own life, his own liberty and pursuit of his own happiness, enjoyment of all kinds, big and small, serves as a tremendous incentive to continue living.

What incentive to continue living does a worldview which tells you to hate your father, your mother, your siblings, your wife, your children, even yourself, and to die, offer an individual? Christianity robs individuals of the incentive to continue living by teaching them that they are inherently guilty and that any enjoyment they find in life is essentially incompatible with the will of a supernatural being which they can only imagine.

It’s no wonder that Ryan puzzles over such questions!

Bahnsen Burner said...

I had asked: "Does Ryan not eat food, drink fluids, work for an income, maintain a shelter, etc.? Our nature as biological organisms is the metaphysical basis of what we identify as values and how we determine their importance."

Ryan responds: “This sounds like Rand's ‘The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.’ You can refer to the original essay for my reply.”

I saw Ryan’s reaction to this quote of Rand’s. Far from answering the question that I asked, it only shows how satisfied Ryan is to rest on his own willful mutilation of Rand’s statements. Ryan only shows that he does not understand what an essence is, and he’s content to completely garble Rand’s statement (from a dialogue in Atlas Shrugged) that “you do not have to live as a man; it is an act of moral choice.”

Rand was not saying here that man can choose instead to be a fish or a salamander. But Ryan’s critique of Rand’s view requires such deliberately uncharitable parsing.

In his paper, Ryan wrote: “if existence precedes essence, there is no necessary reason to choose to be human, in which case Rand’s particular code of morality would not apply.”

To be something, on the one hand, and to “live as” something, on the other, are two different things. Ryan ignores such crucial distinctions.


Bahnsen Burner said...

I wrote: "Elsewhere, in a footnote (#24), he asserts that Rand was ‘an ontological nominalist whose consciousness creates abstractions ex nihilo.’ What support is given for this? Rand did not hold that abstractions were mind-independent entities to begin with, but rather the *form* in which the mind integrates and retains knowledge."

Ryan responds: “If I'm not mistaken - and you or Dawson may feel free to correct me - Rand held no two physical entities are exactly alike. Is that not true?”

Notice, again, Ryan does not answer the question, namely: What support does he offer for characterizing Rand as “an ontological nominalist whose consciousness creates abstractions ex nihilo”? He has no support for this. Instead, he tries to redirect the discussion away from his own unsupported characterizations. If he had support for how he characterizes Rand, he would not find the need to do this.

I wrote: "Metaphysically, knowing is a type of *activity* - which ultimately means that abstraction is a type of action, not an entity as such."

Ryan responded: “Depending on how you define entity, ok.”

There you go. Ryan’s “refutation” just hit a massive iceberg. No life-saving salvage is possible at this point.


Bahnsen Burner said...

I wrote: "The entity involved is man and anything or things he perceives, identifies and integrates. Also, since abstractions are formed by means of a conceptual process (cf. concept-formation), there would be no ‘ex nihilo’ to speak of: concepts are formed on the basis of perceptual input. What part of ‘the material provided by the senses’ does Ryan not get?"

Ryan responds: “The part where I pick and choose what characteristics of two ‘entities’ seem similar enough for me to refer to them by the same concept (allegedly) even though there is no ontological overlap between those two ‘entities’."

It’s not clear what Ryan means by “ontological overlap” as he does not explain it.

But perhaps we can help his confusion (or self-inflicted blindness?).

Take two different entities that we discover in the world by looking outward. For example, a rock and a teacup. Both of these things already have something fundamental in common, a similarity, namely the fact that they exist. We are right to integrate both objects in the concept ‘entity’ by virtue of the fact that they exist as distinct objects which exist and which we find in our perception of the world around us. Does this commonality – the fact that both the rock and the teacup exist – qualify as “ontological overlap”? If so, then what’s the problem? If not, then why not? What does Ryan mean? More to the point: Why can we not include a rock and a teacup in the concept ‘entity’? Ryan does not explain. Perhaps he can? I’d love to see.

Ryan wrote: “In short, the basic problem of nominalism: what legitimately grounds our use of universals?”

I’m glad this is not one of my problems! Perhaps Ryan could explain how Jesus addressed this problem.


Unknown said...

Mr. Bethrick,

Thank you again for a swift reply.

I did not mean to imply that current Objectivist literature does not deal with universals. I only meant to say that what I have read does not achieve your level of clarity, at least for me.

You tend to be consistently explicit in your explanations. In most cases, the only way you can be misunderstood is through willful ignorance. Because of this, a series on universals would be a valuable resource to me in my discussions with both theists and atheists.

But in any case, you are certainly not here to satisfy my whims. I appreciate what you have written and what you hopefully will continue to write.

Brandon D.

Anonymous said...

Ryan asks: “Why should one do what one enjoys?”

I was left astonished at how much stupidity Ryan was able to concentrate into a single tiny question.

Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

Thanks for the notification of Ryan's response. I hadn't seen it until you posted your comments.

I know that he addressed his reply to me, but perhaps I'll just refer him to your comments over here (or copy and paste your comments over there) since I'm finding it very difficult right now to find the kind of time needed to craft a point-by-point response.


Unknown said...

Thanks Dawson for your replies to Ryan. It's always interesting to see the passion or Ayn Rand's critics.