Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Petersen’s Failed Attempts to Refute Leonard Peikoff: Objection 3

This is the fourth entry in my series examining attempts by “Clarkian presuppositionalist” Jason Petersen to refute a series of statements by Objectivist philosopher Dr. Leonard Peikoff on the topic of the existence of a god.

The first entry in this series can be found here.

The second entry in this series (Objection 1) can be found here.

The third entry in this series (Objection 2) can be found here.

Dr. Peikoff’s statements in question can be found here.

Jason Petersen’s response to Peikoff can be found here.

In this entry I will examine Petersen’s attempts to refute Peikoff’s “Objection 3” against theism. In the present entry, we come to certain claims about “God’s nature” as Petersen would have us imagine it. Petersen raises a series of point-missing objections to one of Peikoff’s statements.

In his lecture series The Philosophy of Objectivism, Peikoff is on the record stating the following:
Is God omnipotent? Can he do anything? Entities can act only in accordance with their natures; nothing can make them violate their natures . . .
Petersen responds:
Answer: Peikoff is confused about the attributes of God’s nature. God cannot violate his own nature. This is not because God doesn’t have the power to do something that his nature would forbid, rather, it’s because God will do what he pleases, and what he pleases stems from his nature (Psalm 115:3). In other words, the way God exercises his power is within the bounds of what he wills and decrees(Eph. 1:11). Thus, Peikoff’s objection is based on a misunderstanding of omnipotence.
Notice how much we have to rely on our imagination even to consider what Petersen says here about his god. He says his god “cannot violate his own nature.” It is true that I can, with Petersen, imagine this to be the case. But what epistemological method can I use to know that his god exists, let alone the assertion that it cannot violate its nature? And even though Petersen postures as a kind of know-it-all on things pertaining to epistemology, he offers no epistemological method at all, so we have no idea what inputs might possibly inform such a claim or how his method safeguards itself against possible errors. For all we know, Petersen may have learned it in a dream, like numerous characters in the biblical storybook. Or perhaps he’s simply accepted claims that someone else learned in a dream. Does he even know?

One thing that is certain is that Petersen did not learn what he asserts here by means of reason, and he tells us ths explicitly. Later on in his interaction with Peikoff’s statements about theism, Petersen himself states:
One cannot discover the truth of Christianity via reason, sense perception, or experience.
That is one tremendous self-damning admission. It only confirms that Christian god-belief is irrational, since one must use something other than reason in order to “discover” the alleged “truth of Christianity.” But rationality is the “acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action” (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 25). If a thinker affirms “truths” while at the same time acknowledging that those truths cannot be acquired and validated by means of reason, he is openly admitting the irrationality of his system. This is precisely what Petersen has done in the case of his entire worldview.

Also, what does it mean to say that whatever “pleases” the Christian god “stems from [its] nature” when its nature is supposed to be infinite? Christian apologists often make a retreat to the notion that their god would not do something because its nature somehow constrains its range of choices and actions. But if its nature is infinite, as Petersen himself imagines his own god to be (see here), then what constraining power could its nature possibly have over itself? If its nature is infinite as well as omnipotent, then its nature could have no constraining function over its choices and actions.

Remember that this is the same god which allowed its own child to be tortured and executed: according to the gospel narratives, Petersen’s god stood by watching everything that was happening to its own child as he was being maimed, beaten, whipped, spat on, and nailed to a cross, and in spite of this injustice it chose not to intervene to protect its own child from his executioners. That’s the Christian gospel mythology in a nutshell. Standing by and watching its own child being tortured to death and not intervening to rescue its child must certainly be something that “stems from its nature,” for the Christian lore characterizes precisely this. Indeed, this is supposed to be a god which “has a morally sufficient reason” for evil (Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 172). This can only mean that allowing evil and even using evil to achieve its ends must likewise be something that “stems from [the Christian god’s] nature.”

So I submit that the appeal to “God’s nature” to answer Peikoff’s objections is just more question-begging smoke and mirrors.

As for Peikoff’s statement, clearly he’s speaking from an objective point of view which is apparently incomprehensible to Petersen. And what’s important to note here is that Petersen’s remarks do nothing to refute anything that Peikoff affirms here. Specifically, Petersen cites no facts which contradict the viewpoint which Peikoff affirms. All Petersen can do is take cover in the imaginary trappings of what is ultimately a subjective worldview.

Petersen probably does not even notice that he is performatively contradicting himself when he affirms his god-belief claims as truths. Specifically, he makes use of the primacy of existence, just anyone does when he affirms something as factually supported, while the content of what he affirms assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. This is like making a statement on the tacit assumption that wishing doesn’t make it so, while the content of that statement itself assumes a metaphysical viewpoint which essentially boils down to “wishing does make it so.” The primacy of existence cannot be integrated with the primacy of consciousness without contradiction. But irrational thinkers don’t like to be reminded of this.

And no, I don’t think Peikoff has misunderstood the notion of “omnipotence” in the least. The storybook examples of the Christian god in action found in the bible make it clear that Peikoff has it right. According to the holy storybook, the Christian god creates the universe by an act of consciousness, assembles the first human from dust, submerges the entire world under a massive flood, stops the sun in the sky, turns water into wine, enables men to walk on unfrozen water, cures blindness by spitting into their eyes, raises dead people from the grave, etc., all by force of sheer will, and these are examples of what Peikoff has in mind when he raises the objection that “entities can act only in accordance with their natures; nothing can make them violate their natures.” Yes, we can certainly read about these things and thereby imagine them happening as we read about them, but we never find this in the real world. We have no alternative but to imagine them. It is all imaginary. It all belongs in the same category as Harry Potter and The Wizard of Oz. The believer essentially pretends that what he imagines is real because he has invested himself in it emotionally and resists consistently acknowledging the fact that the imaginary is not real.

Next, we’ll get to Petersen’s interaction with Peikoff’s final objection, and Petersen’s concluding remarks.

by Dawson Bethrick


freddies_dead said...

I have enjoyed watching as Dawson laid to rest Petersen's so-called response to Peikoff's objections to the existence of God.

However, I went back to have another squint at Jason's original response to Dawson's preamble. It's a real goldmine of plain old stupidity and a thorough misunderstanding or what Objectivism teaches.

Take this for example:
An objectivist such as Bethrick will argue that all proof presupposes existence. However, existence presupposes the law of contradiction. After all, when the objectivist says, “existence exists,” they are not saying “existence does not exist.” So then, what is presumed to demonstrate existence? The law of contradiction. How is it, however, that the law of contradiction can be derived from the external world without first assuming it? Objectivists unwittingly presuppose logic in order to defend objectivism.

Oh dear...

Bahnsen Burner said...

Petersen asks: "How is it, however, that the law of contradiction can be derived from the external world without first assuming it?"

Seriously, Petersen doesn't know the answer to this question? I'm sorry for him. His ignorance has really gotten the better of him. I guess the response to this question that Petersen expects must be something akin to "Duh, I donno! Must be goddidit!"

Is that supposed to help Petersen's case for anything?

I'm glad these aren't my problems.


l_johan_k said...

Well, Mr Petersen also stated that "existence exists" is irrelevant since it...(what for it!)...does not exist!

l_johan_k said...

Should have been "wait for it".


Unknown said...

Petersen // How is it, however, that the law of contradiction can be derived from the external world without first assuming it? //

A =\= ¬A is not derived or deduced. It is directly sensed and automatically differentiated and integrated by our brain's perceptual cortices. Petersen refuses to think outside his abstract rationalism paradigm.