Thursday, October 16, 2014

Petersen’s Failed Attempts to Refute Leonard Peikoff: Objection 4 and Conclusion

This is the fifth and final entry in a series examining attempts by Christian apologist Jason Petersen to discredit anti-theistic statements by Objectivist philosopher Dr. Leonard Peikoff.

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.

The fourth entry in this series (Objection 3) 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 4” against theism as well as Petersen’s concluding remarks. We will examine 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. Along with this, we will find just what a catastrophe Petersen's "Christian epistemology" really is.

Peikoff’s fourth objection is stated as follows:
“God” as traditionally defined is a systematic contradiction of every valid metaphysical principle. The point is wider than just the Judeo-Christian concept of God. No argument will get you from this world to a supernatural world. No reason will lead you to a world contradicting this one. No method of inference will enable you to leap from existence to a “super-existence.”
In response to this, Petersen allows that “Peikoff is not far off.” Actually, I’d say Peikoff is right on the money in everything he states here.

Let me propose a simple test: begin explicitly with the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness as Objectivism informs the (which is where should start) and remain entirely consistent with them. Now try to draw a sound inference arriving at the conclusion that a god exists. What would a god be if not a form of consciousness whose will is the source of everything else and to whose will everything else conforms? But that would be the primacy of consciousness, which is a violation of the axioms. For more on this, see my blog entry Dawson’s Razor.

Allan Gotthelf’s remarks on this matter are instructive:
It is not only that there are no good arguments for the existence of God, Ayn Rand held. The very concept of “God” violates the axioms as well. “Omnipotence”, “omniscience”, and “infinity” (as used for God) all violate identity. That God knows, and acts, without means violates causality. And so on. Most fundamental of all, to postulate a God as creator of the universe is to postulate a consciousness that could exist without anything to be conscious of. This, as we have seen, violates [the axioms of] existence and consciousness. “[A] consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something.” Existence precedes consciousness. Existence can, again, have no beginning, no end, no cause. It just…exists. (On Ayn Rand, pp. 49-50; Gotthelf quotes “Galt’s Speech” from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, pp. 933-934, also in For the New Intellectual, pp. 124-125.)
Readers can explore this further in the following resources:
Gods and Square Circles

The Axioms and the Primacy of Existence

Theism and Subjective Metaphysics

Before the Beginning: The Problem of Divine Lonesomeness

The Inherent Subjectivism of God-Belief

How Theism Violates the Primacy of Existence
And many more.

Then Petersen makes the following damning confession:
One cannot discover the truth of Christianity via reason, sense perception, or experience.
I have already commented on this admission earlier in this series (see here), but the essence of my point bears repeating.

In our quest for knowledge of reality, man has essentially two alternatives: he can look outward at the world using his rational faculties, perceiving objects, distinguishing them from other objects, integrating them according to various features he finds in them, forming concepts based on objective input and integrating those concepts into subsequent abstractions, etc. The faculty which allows man to do this is called reason, and its product is objectively informed knowledge, so long as his methodology adheres consistently to the primacy of existence – i.e., the recognition that the objects of consciousness exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity.

Or, he can look inward, turning the focus of his consciousness inward to the contents of his emotions, his wishing, his imagination, his dreams, his preferences, his temper tantrums, his fits of whimsy, etc. This alternative represents the choice to abandon objective input, reason, facts, and reality altogether, in preference for a fantasy and the emotional trappings it generates (cf. “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” – Proverbs 1:7). This is the subjective approach to knowledge, the only alternative available to thinkers if they claim that men “cannot discover the truth” of what they promote by means of reason, since it grants metaphysical to the subject of consciousness over any and all its objects. Essentially, just as the Christian god is said to have wished the universe into being, the Christian believer essentially wishes his worldview into “the Truth,” and he’ll be very sore at anyone who does not believe his claims on his say so (for he has nothing else).

So here Petersen makes it crystal clear that his worldview requires the abandonment of reason in preference for looking inward into the labyrinthine nightmares of a mind bereft of objective input and held captive by terrifying fantasies which he cannot psychologically escape. It should come as no surprise, then, that Petersen comes across as a very troubled young man.

Petersen continues:
That is because no one can obtain any epistemic knowledge whatsoever if they start from reason, sense perception, or experience.
This is essentially a declaration of ignorance on Petersen’s part. In tandem with his anti-mind, anti-man, anti-reason attitude is the fact that he simply does not understand the relationship between the conceptual level of awareness and its perceptual basis. He offers no argument for his claim that “no one can obtain any epistemic knowledge whatsoever if they start from reason, sense perception, or experience.” Rather, this is simply a dogmatic affirmation on Petersen’s part. But his ignorance cannot translate into knowledge on the matters he outright dismisses no matter how vehemently he might phrase his assertions.

Petersen adds:
(These points have been argued at length in other articles on this website.)
Yes, “thinkers” throughout history have “argued at length” that the human mind is impotent, that it can perform no activity which results in the acquisition and validation of knowledge, that it can only fail whenever it acts. This is what the witch doctors have “argued” (read: asserted) for millennia, and those who get suckered by their sophistry never stop to realize that the witch doctors clearly exclude their own minds from the sweeping damnation of their own conclusions. It’s just more concealed special pleading, and gravely disingenuous. But young believers, raised as they have been since a most vulnerable age to ingest religious dogma and spew venom against their own humanity, are of the molded character it requires to continue into adulthood allowing such dishonest and irresponsible behavior to go unchecked.

For Christians, since their worldview is in fact so empty-handed when it comes to understanding what knowledge is and how it is acquired and validated, the entire area of epistemology represents a vast opportunity for more god-of-the-gaps apologetic gimmicks. Presuppositionalism, both Vantillian and Clarkian, are the products of men who don’t understand how their own minds work hoping to ensure that no one else figures it out either.

Petersen writes:
The truth of Christianity is revealed to a person through direct intervention from God (John 6:44, Matthew 16:17).
Notice the overt circularity involved here. The alleged “truth of Christianity” has been “revealed… through direct intervention from God” – the same god which made the human mind so impotent that it cannot come to truth by its own faculties – and as “proof” of this we are directed to verses in the Christian bible – i.e., to what is styled as “revelation”. Internally, this could at best be a most question-begging appeal. For those of us outside the subjective mindset of the Christian, such claims are simply unpersuasive: one would first have to validate the Christian bible as truth to begin with before it could be available as a prooftext for further claims. But when those further claims are then used to “prove” that the bible is true to begin with, we have a nothing short of a dog chasing its own tail, and round and round it goes in an infinite loop.

This only underscores that “knowledge” as Christianity informs it couldn’t be further from rationality. As opposed to the end product of an objective method applied in a manner consistent with logical norms, “knowledge” for the Christian is something forcefully inserted into a man’s mind apart from any method or safeguards protecting him from error. Of course, anyone can claim that his “knowledge” was “revealed” to him, especially if that “knowledge” has no relevance to the world which we observe when we look outward. Take for example the notion of “the trinity” – the three-headed god of Christianity. Christians typically acknowledge that this “doctrine” is not something that can be generated on a rational basis, but rather that it had to be “revealed” to us by an invisible magic being. Clearly there is no objective way to test this idea and ensure that no mistake has been made in formulating it. Rather, we have no alternative but to go on someone’s say-so and accept it as though it were knowledge when in fact it bears no resemblance, either in content or in method, to the knowledge we acquire by rational means.

Petersen appeals to the Christian storybook to support his contention. In other words, he read it in the bible and believes what he understands it to be saying. If this is supposed to be persuasive, I suppose he could do worse, but then we’d be trifling. But just for grins, let’s see what the verses Petersen specifies have to say.

John 6:44 states:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
I don’t see anything in this verse relating to knowledge per se. It seems that Petersen has read his own interpretation into the verse a la eisegesis.

Let’s take a look at the other verse Petersen cited.

Matthew 16:17 states:
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! What we have in this passage is clearly a dramatic device intended to move the story along. But still, this verse looks much more promising than the one in John. Here we apparently have a transmission of information from a supernatural mind (styled “my Father in heaven”) to a human mind. The previous verses in the same Matthean passage make it clear that the item of “knowledge” in question was who Jesus is. In the previous verses, the author of Matthew has Jesus asking his disciples to tell him who they think he is. This is apparently after they’ve been traveling with him and listening to his sermons and story-telling for some many months.

Also, what’s curious (given that we’re talking about epistemology here) is the fact that Peter apparently did not know that this “knowledge” had been “revealed” to him, for Matthew has Jesus tell him this explicitly, using his voice to cause sound waves to travel to Peter’s ears, at which point he would hear the voice, identify what he was hearing, interpret the audio code thus transmitted, and integrate it so that he could comprehend what Jesus was telling him. But according to what Jesus tells him – i.e., the content of what Jesus says to Peter – what Peter knew was not acquired in the same way as Jesus was informing him right there in front of him. The scene suggests that, had one asked Peter how he “knew” that Jesus was the messiah prior to Jesus telling him that this “knowledge” had been “revealed” to him, we might very well expect him to say, “I don’t know,” for given what Jesus tells him, he surely could not have figured it out on his own (again, Peter is supposed to be an illiterate fisherman, certainly ready for any soothsayer to come along and beguile him with “words of wisdom”). To the extent that this is possible within the context of Christianity, it does not address one of the central questions of epistemology – namely “How do you know?” – at all adequately.

Indeed, how does one who believes that “knowledge” can be “revealed” to human minds by the creator of the universe distinguish between “revealed knowledge” and their own imaginations, speculations, emotionally-guided inferences, or just plain old deduction? It appears that the claim to “revelations” still does not avoid the possibility of making errors. Rather, I could think of nothing more effective than a claim to “revelation” to conceal errors and “suppress them in unrighteousness.” And history has shown just how readily Christianity as a worldview lends itself to predatory deceivers.

But so long as Christians claim “revealed knowledge” in some matter that has no relevance to life on earth, such as “the trinity” or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin – then they’re on safe grounds: reality can’t refute them. That’s the attraction which Christians find in affirming the arbitrary: so long as there’s nothing in reality that we can point to and say, “Hey, lookie here, this proves you’re wrong,” they’re happy to take this as license to go on affirming the arbitrary in place of truth.

Perhaps this is what drove John Frame, in his paper Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (Part I), to respond to the question “How do you know?” with the response: “We know without knowing how we know.” (For an analysis of Frame’s statement and the context in which he makes it, see my blog entry John Frame’s Empty-Handed Epistemology.

Recall when I had asked Chris Bolt if one could still be mistaken even if a “truth” were “divinely revealed” to him, and he answered affirmatively. This exchange can be found in the comments of my blog Chris Bolt on Hume and Induction, an proceeded as follows:

I asked:
can it be the case that the your god communicates with believers through the 'sensus divinitatus,' and believers still get it wrong?
In response to this question, Bolt stated:
Yes, this is the case.
So again, the appeal to “revelation” only shows that the believer’s whole worldview is epistemologically bankrupt. (For more on this, see my blog entry The Futility of the Apologetic Appeal to “Revelation”.)

Moving on, Petersen inserts a safety valve at this point in case he needs a means of rationalizing any future backpedaling. He writes:
However, if it is granted that reason, sense perception, and experience can lead to knowledge, then it turns out that Christians have better reasons to be Christians than the reasons atheists have to be atheist.
Such as? Petersen does not give any examples of the allegedly “better reasons” which Christians have to be Christians than atheists have to be atheists. According to his bio page, Petersen
was raised in a Christian home by loving, Christian parents. He prayed the sinner’s prayer at the age of eight.
So Petersen grew up in an environment which positively reinforced belief in invisible magic beings, probably on a constant basis, since he was in diapers. And by the time he was eight years old, he had it all figured out – metaphysics, epistemology, historical method, ancient historiography, etc. – and “prayed the sinner’s prayer.” (Is this available on Youtube?) But if we were to ask Petersen, how did he know that what he was taught to believe by his parents (and probably a wider community of believers, especially if his family were church-goers) was really true? Whatever “epistemological method” little Jason may have performed, must be so easy that a child could do it.

One thing’s for sure: children have the ability to imagine, regardless of how well they can infer truths from what they see and touch all around them. And I know of no reason to suppose Jason Petersen was any different from other children when he was being raised by his Christian parents. Indeed, the gospel stories have Jesus urging their readers to bring their minds to the level of a child in order to believe what they are told. For example, consider the following passages from the New Testament:
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4) 
"Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." (Mark 10:15)
John Frame tacitly concedes the pure subjectivism of Christian faith when he writes:
a person with a wish to be fulfilled is often on the road to belief. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 37)
Frame also tells us that:
Scripture never rebukes childlike faith; indeed, Jesus makes such faith a model to be followed by adults (Luke 18:16). One who requires proof may be doing it out of ungodly arrogance, or he may thereby be admitting that he has not lived in a godly environment and has taken counsel from fools. God’s norm for us is that we live and raise our children in such a way that proof will be unnecessary. (Ibid., p. 66)
Luke 18:16, which Frame cites above, states:
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.
I could certainly quote many more damning pronouncements from the bible, but this and everything else we’ve reviewed here can indicate nothing less than that Christianity is marinated in subjective premises.

It is possible to make a mistake in our path to knowledge. It is possible to believe things without understanding (and thus not know that we’re believing something that is not true). It is possible to confuse what we feel (emotionally), what we wish, what we prefer, what we imagine, with knowledge of the world. It is possible to suppose that something is true because we dreamt it. Given all the variegated possibilities for error in knowledge, we must ask:
What epistemological guide posts does Christianity offer its believers to ensure that they haven’t made any errors in their knowing process, especially when in fact what Christianity teaches seems to be one variety or another of any of these types of errors?
Nothing Petersen has stated offers anything even remotely approaching a probable cause for comfort in supposing that Christianity can address some of these concerns. And I already know that it cannot.

Petersen writes:
After all, William Lane Craig is an apologist that appeals to science and reason to show that Christianity is more tenable than atheists and even atheists agree that he decimates his atheist opponents.
I suppose that, if a thinker believes that the truth of his worldview is best demonstrated by someone’s performance on a stage, he might be impressed by what Petersen states here. Such a thinker is right where campaigners want him: ready to be swept off his feet by a smooth talker. Despite his trophies from degree mills, Craig is essentially an entertainer, like John Stewart, a crowd pleaser selling snake oil. For Craig, a public debate is essentially a platform for apologetic sophistry. Who or how many people agree that he wins his debates is irrelevant. Even according to Petersen’s own worldview, namely “Scripturalism,” if it’s not in the bible, it’s merely “opinion,” not knowledge (see for example here). On this view, Petersen and others may have the opinion that Craig “decimates his atheist opponents” (presumably they need to be carried away on stretchers), but Petersen’s own worldview cannot justify accepting such a claim as “knowledge” anyway. So who cares?

In his conclusion, Petersen begins by repeating the very errors that have been corrected throughout my series examining his critique of Peikoff’s statements. Petersen writes:
Peikoff repeatedly contradicts his epistemology and metaphysic when discussing the existence of God.
In previous installments in this series, we have already seen just how far Petersen has wandered from the facts when making statements of this nature. Most glaring is Petersen’s ignorance of just what Objectivist epistemology is. Over and over again, Petersen treats Objectivist epistemology as though it offered no recourse to concepts. He never argues for this assumption; rather, he simply takes this assumption for granted and acts on it as though it were somehow self-evident. So Rand’s work on her theory of concepts is simply ignored outright, and Peikoff’s book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, which contains an entire chapter devoted specifically to summarizing Rand’s theory of concepts (chapter 3: “Concept-Formation,” pp. 73-109), is likewise ignored, as though Petersen were simply unaware of the fact that these exist in the first place. It certainly is possible for thinkers to make pronouncements which are incompatible with the epistemological views their worldview espouses (and we’ll see some examples in Petersen’s own case below), but Petersen never shows this to be the case between anything Peikoff affirms and what Objectivist epistemology teaches. He simply asserts that Peikoff does this without ever demonstrating any informed understanding of Objectivist epistemology and showing just how Peikoff might be at odds with it. Most likely, Petersen assumes that Objectivism is essentially similar to other secular philosophies whose epistemologies borrow from the likes of Hume, Kant, Hegel, Popper, Russell, and other deeply confused thinkers. But if that’s the case, Petersen is, as I had earlier suggested, completely out of his element here.

Petersen continues:
If the objections that Peikoff raises against God’s existence is [sic] not validly deducible from the objectivist epistemology or metaphysic, then all of Peikoff’s objections contradict objectivist epistemology.
This could only have hope of being justifiable if and only if thinkers like Peikoff were confined exclusively to deduction. But this is not the case. Peikoff also has the ability to draw inductive inferences. But Clarkians reject induction. Says John Robbins, Gordon Clark’s belated disciple, “The correct Christian method is deduction, not induction.” I’m guessing many Christians would like to see a prooftext from the bible confirming this claim, but sadly the bible nowhere discusses induction, deduction, or epistemology as a whole to begin with. The rejection of induction is not good for Petersen and his Clarkian cohorts. In fact, the implications of this rejection are far more damning, and on a larger scale, than even they realize.

Let’s take a closer look at this.

In the same paper, Robbins elaborates:
Those Christians who put their trust in science as the key to understanding the material universe should be embarrassed by the fact that science never discovers truth. One of the insuperable problems of science is the fallacy of induction; indeed, induction is an insuperable problem for all forms of empiricism. The problem is simply this: Induction, arguing from the particular to the general, is always a fallacy. No matter how many white swans one observes, one never has sufficient reason to say all swans are white. There is another fatal fallacy in the scientific method as well: asserting the consequent. Bertrand Russell put the matter this way:  
All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: "If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true." This argument is, of course, formally fallacious. [It is the fallacy of asserting the consequent.] Suppose I were to say: "If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone and stones are nourishing." If I were to advance such an argument, I should certainly be thought foolish, yet it would not be fundamentally different from the argument upon which all scientific laws are based (emphasis added).  
Recognizing that the problem of induction is insoluble, and that asserting the consequent is a logical fallacy, philosophers of science in the twentieth century, in an effort to justify science, developed the notion that science does not rely on induction at all. Instead, it consists of conjectures and refutations. That is the title of a book by Karl Popper, one of the leading philosophers of science in this century. But in their attempt to save science from epistemological disgrace, the philosophers of science had to abandon any claim to knowledge: Science is nothing but conjectures and refutations of conjectures.
Now, the first thing I notice in this are all the generalizations, particularly generalizations about induction. When one says “all inductive arguments… reduce themselves to the following form…,” he’s explicitly talking about all members in a certain class. How does either Robbins or Clark know that “all inductive arguments… reduce themselves to” the form they describe? Is that a deductive conclusion? If so, what were the premises? Since the conclusion is general - i.e., about all members of a specified category, how does one come to this conclusion without relying on induction at any point in the coming to that conclusion?

Consider the following statement Robbins makes:
induction is an insuperable problem for all forms of empiricism.
Notice the two-fold inductive nature of this claim: it speaks generally of induction itself, and it speaks generally of “all forms of empiricism.”

Here’s another inductive claim:
The problem is simply this: Induction, arguing from the particular to the general, is always a fallacy.
So how does Robbins argue for his inductive claims without committing any fallacies? Blank out.

Robbins asserts:
No matter how many white swans one observes, one never has sufficient reason to say all swans are white.
This is the standard foil skeptics (yes, skeptics, like John Robbins) raise against induction, as if the discovery of black swans were somehow sufficient to imperil induction as such. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The implication of the discovery of black swans certainly contradicts the view that all swans are white. But this discovery did not contradict other inductive generalizations about all swans, regardless of their color, such as that all swans are aves, that all swans are vertebrates, that all swans are biological organisms, that all swans are products of a biological reproductive process, that all swans need to consume nutrients in order to live, that all swans have internal organs, that all swans have necks, etc., etc., etc. So to draw the inductive inference that induction as an entire class of inference is invalid because of the discovery of black swans, is simply a hasty generalization, motivated more by attitude than by understanding, whose own proponents do not consistently follow (for I doubt that John Robbins would have contested the generalization that all swans are vertebrates, but who knows!).

What Clarkians like Robbins and Petersen really fear is that man’s mind does have the ability to draw generalizations from what they perceive, and they fear this because this can only threaten their quest for religious hegemony over other minds. A rational mind is a free mind, and a free mind is antithetical to religious indoctrination. Such an ability would mean that thinkers would have an alternative to remaining in stultifying ignorance of the world and thus vulnerable to the witch doctors’ mystical claims. If men can think for themselves using their own minds, they are in a position to question the witch doctors’ claims and show them to be the destructive untruths that they are. So the witch doctors seek to cut the human mind off from the world and from its own ability by telling men that their consciousness can go no further than their brain stems. So the motivation behind Robbins’ self-refuting hasty generalizations is ample, and it stems from religious commitment, not from rational understanding.

Notice how Robbins et al. must use concepts in order to repudiate induction. Do they not understand that concepts are categories including all units of a class? In the third entry of this series, I gave the example of the concept ‘shoe’ and explained how the concept ‘shoe’ includes all shoes that exist now, that have ever existed in the past, and that will exist in the future. Thus the concept ‘shoe’ is a general category, just as the statement “all swans are biological organism” is a general statement: both pertain to an unlimited quantity of qualifying units. I also explained (albeit briefly) how I can form the concept ‘shoe’, which includes all shoes present, past and future, from the particular shoes which I have personally seen. How is this possible, to go from the particular to the general? By means of abstraction – most importantly, the process of measurement-omission, which Ayn Rand explains in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.

So when Robbins proclaims “Induction, arguing from the particular to the general, is always a fallacy,” we must ask:
- Where did he get the concept ‘induction’?

- Where did he get the concept ‘argue’?

- Where did he get the concept ‘particular’?

- Where did he get the concept ‘general’?

- Where did he get the concept ‘always’?

- Where did he get the concept ‘fallacy?
If Robbins is like you and me, he never had firsthand awareness of every instance of induction, and yet he’s making an inductive claim about all instances of inductive generalization. How could he do this without committing the very fallacy he has in mind, if in fact what he claims is true? Blank out.

In Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Rand points out the following:
Thus the process of forming and applying concepts contains the essential pattern of two fundamental methods of cognition: induction and deduction.  
The process of observing the facts of reality and of integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction. The process of subsuming new instances under a known concept is, in essence, a process of deduction. (p.28)
Thus whenever Robbins makes use of a concept, he is - according to his own words - committing “the fallacy of induction.” This can only mean that he would have to stick to grunting in order to avoid committing any fallacy. It also means that every time he uttered a pronouncement about anything, he was refuting his own position.

Robbins also says that:
There is another fatal fallacy in the scientific method as well: asserting the consequent.
At this point, Robbins appeals to Bertrand Russell (and he says Christians “should be embarrassed by the fact that science never discovers truth”?). What does Russell do? He starts by declaring an inductive generalization:
All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: "If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true."
But if induction is a fallacy, as Robbins says, on what basis could he then trust this statement, which is clearly inductive in origin? Robbins’ own epistemology backfires on itself, showing how inconsistent he needs to be to move forward with his anti-rational agenda.

What Robbins fails to recognize is that affirming the consequent is a formal fallacy in deductive logic. And since it is a formal fallacy, it can be avoided by reformulating the offending argument. Also, Robbins fails to understand science. As explained in this Youtube video on precisely this topic (thanks to Johan for bringing this to my attention!), scientists use modus tollens - not to prove their theories, but to assure whether or not they are falsifiable. It’s only by mistaking scientists’ use of modus tollens as formal proofs of their theories that Robbins could make such dunderheaded gaffs as this.

Moreover, attempts to invalidate induction as such by claiming that it involves affirming the consequent, ignore the fact that affirming the consequent is a formal fallacy of deduction, not induction. Such relevant distinctions are lost on such thinkers. So already they’re mixing apples and oranges. Also, there are two other errors involved in attempts to discredit induction.

The first, as should be clear from what I’ve presented above, is that such attempts cannot avoid committing the fallacy of the stolen concept. Arguments which seek to conclude that induction is somehow invalid are essentially attempts to draw a general conclusion about an entire category, in this case an entire species of reasoning. Specifically, such arguments seek to draw the conclusion that all inductive inferences (i.e., an entire class) are invalid. But this itself would have to be an inductive inference, thus contradicting itself.

Second, proponents of the view that induction is invalid typically affirm the validity of deduction. But what is deduction without induction? Consider the standard syllogism we find in introductory logic classes:
Premise 1: All men are mortal. 
Premise 2: Socrates is a man. 
Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Those who reject induction typically have no problem affirming the validity of this deductive argument. But where did they get the initial premise, which makes a statement about an entire class of objects? Such a statement is available to us only by means of induction, which is at root a conceptual process. If you throw out induction, you throw out general knowledge, which means: you throw out the entire conceptual level of cognition. And invariably they attempt to make use of concepts in assembling their fallacy-laden case in order to show essentially that concepts are invalid.

I’m glad these aren’t my problems!

Petersen ends with the following statement:
Peikoff’s inability to give arguments against God’s existence demonstrates that his own epistemology is incapable of deducing theorems that can coherently account for his own metaphysic.
No doubt the flock of sheep standing in the choir will be impressed with Petersen’s lofty words here. But in actuality, all Petersen is doing here is openly announcing his own philosophic immaturity. No one – including Peikoff – has any onus to prove that the non-existent does not exist. If something does not exist, it doesn’t exist whether anyone sets out to try to prove or “demonstrate” its non-existence. Choosing to spend one’s time with things other than trying to demonstrate the non-existence of that which does not exist, does not mean there’s still a possibility that the non-existent may actually exist. If it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist regardless of who tries to prove or disprove its non-existence.

Now unlike Petersen, Peikoff is philosophically mature enough to recognize these facts, and he recognizes them fully. Peikoff understands, for instance, that the notion of a god presumes the primacy of consciousness, and Peikoff already knows that the primacy of consciousness is false metaphysics. There is no such thing as an argument that is wholly consistent with the primacy of existence which can conclude that the Christian god exists. Peikoff also recognizes that there is a fundamental distinction between what is real and what is merely imaginary. And just as “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus,” likewise an imagined god is just an imaginary god. Now I want to make some final concluding comments. In a discussion forum on Facebook (which has been made available to me by a visitor to my blog via private correspondence), Petersen is on record as saying of me:
Bahnsen Burner is nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is.
Perhaps Petersen is right. Maybe I am not a clever man. I’m happy to have the reader be the judge of this. I am just a man who guides his choices and actions by means of reason. Anyone can do this if he chooses to. The problem is that so many people in the world choose not to let reason be their guide, but rather want an invisible magic consciousness which they imagine to be their god.

But I strongly urge Christian apologists like Petersen to refrain from making such discussions so personal. For me, my work on Incinerating Presuppositionalism is not about me personally, nor is it about promoting myself in some way. After all, I don’t have a “ministry,” and I make no financial gains by the work that I do here. Also, you won’t find me posting Youtube videos of myself lecturing people to dumb down their minds and sacrifice their lives for something allegedly “greater” than themselves. It’s about ideas, because ideas do in fact matter, ideas are in fact important, and ideas come under the purview of reason. When apologists react with personal grumbling like “Bahnsen Burner is nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is.,” they’re just playing the sore loser, apparently offended because someone doesn’t believe that their imaginary friend is real. The attitude summed up by “You don’t believe in my God? Well, I’ll show you!” does not suggest that the one donning it is prepared to deal with reality in an intellectually sustaining manner.

by Dawson Bethrick


l_johan_k said...

Really appreciate this, Mr Bethrick!
Thank you, not only for this series, but for your whole blog!

Bahnsen Burner said...

The pleasure's all mine, Johan!

Anonymous said...

Poor Jason is pathetically out of his game. Arrogance and stupidity don't go well together. Maybe Jason should renounce at least one of them.

Bachalon said...

Wait wait wait, if, as Petersen claims, "One cannot discover the truth of Christianity via reason, sense perception, or experience," then that makes TAG a performative lie (in addition to its circularity).

I would say that's another nail in the lid of presuppositionalism's coffin, but at this point, it seems there is little room left for another one.

Ydemoc said...


Excellent! By the way, I think I've located Peterson's attempt to interact with someone who had some familiarity with Objectivism. which I mentioned to you on a different thread. It was in one of my files. I can post it if you'd like.

Also, do you know (or does anyone else know) if Peterson has responded to what you've written here, other than what he responded to in the Preamble?


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Thanks for your message. And yes, if you would like to post excerpts from Petersen's interaction, feel free to do so. Offer any comments you might have on it.

As for Petersen's response to what I've posted this week, I only know *of* his response to my Preamble, but I have not read it. There were some excerpts posted by some visitors here, and I commented on some of it. But I have not gone to Petersen's blog since I started rolling out my examination of his comments on Peikoff. Frankly, I really don't see any need to. Everything I've seen from Petersen confirms my initial assessment in spades.


l_johan_k said...


this is what I found on the "Answers for Hope" fb-page:

1. "Apparently Dawson Bethrick thinks that he can define what the concept of 'length' is. Oh boy, this will be fun. I will be waiting to post my next response until after Bethrick is done posting his four-part monologue.


2. "This is a portion of an upcoming response to Dawson Bethrick:
"One must ask, can concepts be true or false? Are concepts not just categorizations? In the objectivist conception, categorizations are made by individuals. Is the concept of 'treeness' true or false? Is the concept of 'duckness' true or false? More to the point, can categorizations be true or false? Concepts are not true or false. If concepts are not true or false, then they are not propositional. If concepts are not propositional truth, then they cannot be said to be knowledge. For instance, if someone asked a person to picture a tree, that person may picture a magnolia tree. If a person down south is asked to picture a tree, they may imagine a pine tree. Which concept of 'treeness' is true and which is false? They are not the same tree. If two people picture pine trees, the pine trees would look different from one another in some way. Which concept of 'pine treeness' is true and which one is false? In fact, which pine tree within 'existence'(as the objectivist says) are they picturing? Is not anything that is within the sum total of existence imaginary according to the objectivist? Is one concept of treeness true or false if there are other trees that are not identical to the concept of the tree that is being pictured? Should we then have more than once concept of 'treeness?' If everything must be not only identical to itself, but also of specific quality/quantity, then would not every individual tree require a concept? By such implications, every tree must be a proper noun, for if one tree is not identical to another tree, then their quantity cannot be said to be the same. Thus, there can be no concept of 'treeness' in the objectivist worldview, rather, every tree must be treated as an individual, and thus, a concept must be made for every individual tree. Thus, a concept of 'treeness' would not be identical with reality because the concept will not contain the quantity that every other tree in 'existence' possesses. Thus, concepts are not ultimately reflections of reality and do not lead to knowledge."



Anonymous said...

Petersen apparently wrote:

«One must ask, can concepts be true or false? ... blah, blah, blah ...»

Holy shit. This guy is not only way out of his game. He's an uneducable imbecile.

Anonymous said...

So now Petersen deployed an attack on concepts ignoring both, the definition as informed by Objectivism, and the most basic definitions available in a dictionary, all the whole imagining that, without checking carefully what a concept is, he could make a case against something, but who knows against what. Maybe he imagines that he's attacking Objectivism, but his concept of a concept is ridiculously stupid by any standards. Not ono;y that, he mistakes different conceptual levels within that single tirade of bullshit. If only he was asking for the sake of learning, rather than under the false, and stupid, impression that he's making some kind of devastating point.

So many words, and all what that shit means is

«I, Jason Petersen, could not care less about understanding what Objectivism is, or what Dawson writes, all I care about is giving the impression that I know what I'm talking about by obfuscating the issues with quickly-fired and twisted rhetorical bullshit.»

But then again, that's what presuppositionalism is all about.

Ydemoc said...

Hi Dawson,

Thanks for the reply. I've had no time today to post the Peterson thing, but perhaps I will do so tomorrow, even though his understanding of Objectivism, from then until now, has shown no improvement that I'm able to tell, but only confusion -- and seemingly willful at that!


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

No worries. Post whenever you like, wherever you like. There’s no hurry here, so take your time.

In the meantime, here’s a new blog entry:

Jason Petersen’s Abysmal Ignorance of Concepts

I this entry, I examine the paragraph that Johan pasted above. If anyone has the link to where Petersen published this paragraph, please post the link to my new blog entry discussing it.


Unknown said...

Thanks Dawson, Ydemoc, Photo, Johann and Bachalon.