Saturday, January 10, 2015

Petersen vs. the Universe

Jason Petersen has posted a reaction to my several posts refuting his faltering attempts to criticize Leonard Peikoff’s assessments of god-belief. Petersen’s article can be found here: A Response to Dawson Bethrick: Leonard Peikoff’s Objections to God’s Exitence. Apparently Petersen believes that by responding to my blog entries, he’s somehow doing his position a service. He does not realize that he is simply giving his critics more ammunition. When religious believers attempt to erect defenses for their worldviews, they very often fail to see the inconsistencies they wander into and end up affirming. I’m glad this isn’t my problem!

Curiously, in examining Petersen’s lengthy diatribe (I don’t find David Smart or Sye Ten Bruggencate – both of whom have complained about the lengthiness of some of my blog entries – whining that Petersen’s article is “longwinded”), I nowhere found any active hyperlinks to my series of blog entries interacting with Petersen's objections to Leonard Peikoff, of which there are five! Petersen does give a few URLs to my blog entries, but in case anyone has missed them, I’m happy to post links to them here:
Now, don’t get me wrong. I admit that I really do like seeing Christians attempting to interact with my writings, if for nothing else the entertainment value that can come of such endeavors. But articles like Petersen’s also help get the word out for me, and given the wide array of issues covered in them, they also provide ample opportunity for more cutting-edge atheology! In fact, a number of my readers have informed me that they had discovered my blog through Christian sources and that they were glad to find my writings. So while Jason Petersen may think he’s out slaying dragons for Jesus, he is in fact helping in his own way to promote my ideas. So for this alone, I want to extend my gratitude to him. May Jason Petersen continue to be the gift that keeps on giving!

Throughout his reaction, Petersen complains repeatedly about the Objectivist conception of ‘universe’. In fact, throughout his article I found 65 instances of the words “definition” and “definitions” and an additional 31 instances of the words “define” (including “defines,” “defined” and even “redefine”). It's quite ironic that so much controversy over a definition of a term should be raised by defenders of a worldview whose primary source is so conspicuously deficient when it comes to presenting and defending definitions. Isn't it?
Petersen clearly thinks that Objectivists have undertaken the nefarious task of demolishing insidious strongholds and casting down false ideas throughout the domain of philosophy, institutionally reserved as it has been for the inbred and credentialed. Indeed, how dare we question the sacrosanct definitions of mainstream academia! What nerve we must have to defy the “received” precepts of the Ivy League! Such insolence cannot go unpunished.

Don’t Objectivists know that defining the concept ‘universe’ in any manner that deviates from the conventional establishment is as audacious as denying “global warming” – a form of thoughtcrime that needs to be stamped out once and for by any means necessary, especially if those means include some form of intimidation?

Well, to a degree Petersen is right: Objectivists have identified many fundamental errors in what the academics mercilessly pump into western culture, and in this way we are heretics to the mainstream’s authoritarian hegemony in university philosophy departments. But unlike Petersen, we Objectivists do not think that righting the wrongs of academia is a bad thing. On the contrary, we think this is work that is desperately needed by the world and for the future of the human race. And we’re right!

The Objectivist conception of ‘universe’ given in my blog was taken from Peikoff’s own lecture series, and is stated as follows:
The universe is the total of that which exists—not merely the earth or the stars or the galaxies, but everything. Obviously then there can be no such thing as the “cause” of the universe…
And Peikoff is clearly right: If by ‘universe’ we simply mean everything that exists, then it would be self-contradictory to posit something existing outside the universe. Since existence is a precondition of causation, the universe would have to exist for any causation to be possible in the first place. It’s hard to fathom that an adult thinker would find this hard to understand or even difficult to accept. In fact, in many dealings that I’ve personally had with Christian apologists, it has been conceded that, given this conception of ‘universe’, it would be nonsensical to say the least to say that the universe was created by something outside it.

But Petersen resists acknowledging the ironclad logic of such a position. Instead, he prefers to scorn Objectivists for their conception of ‘universe’. For example, Petersen writes:
The traditional definition of the universe is all physical things, such as matter and energy
Even though such trifling is ultimately irrelevant, Petersen cites no source to support his contention. I gather that apologists in particular, given their hope to validate their god-belief in some way, are fond of definitions which allow them to insert what they imagine into the gaps of our knowledge, so finding apologists trifling about the definition of ‘universe’ is nothing new to me. And indeed, looking in standard desktop dictionaries, one will find a variety of definitions for most any word, including the word ‘universe’. In TheFreeDictionary, for example, we find among others the following:
everything that exists anywhere  
The totality of all existing things
Merriam-Webster offers the following definition of ‘universe’:
the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated
I see no essential conceptual difference between these definitions and the Objectivist conception of ‘universe’.

In addition to these citations, there’s a most curious quote from physicist Brian Greene, who states in his 2011 book The Hidden Reality (p. 4; this book, incidentally, was nominated for the 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books):
There was once a time when ‘universe’ meant ‘all there is.’ Everything. The whole shebang.
So here Greene – a physicist specializing in research about the nature of the universe – affirms explicitly that the concept ‘universe’ has historically been defined as “all there is,” essentially like the Objectivist conception of the sum total of all that exists. But Petersen seems to think that “the traditional definition of the universe is all physical things, such as matter and energy.” Whom should we believe on this, an opportunistic internet apologist like Jason Petersen, or Dr. Brian Greene – someone who has been (according to his website) a professor of both physics and mathematics at Columbia University since 1996?

Speaking of “redefining” (which, ironically, Petersen accuses Objectivists of doing), consider the following statement about Greene’s book from his own website which echoes the above quote from his book:
There was a time when ‘universe’ meant ‘all there is,’ “writes Greene, but soon we may have to redefine that word, along with our own meager understanding of the cosmos. [sic]
Petersen has repeatedly accused Objectivists of “redefining” the concept ‘universe’ (as though that were some mortal sin; indeed, who affirms that all definitions are beyond question? Certainly not Petersen!). But given what Professor Greene states here, it appears that this is not the case. Rather, folks like Jason Petersen and Brian Greene (who, according to Wikipedia, holds that science is “incompatible with literalist interpretations of religion”) who are eager to “redefine” the concept ‘universe’.

Petersen wants to define (or shall we say, re-define?) the concept ‘universe’ in such a way that it is essentially synonymous or at any rate interchangeable with the Christian notion of “creation.” With such a definition, one could be forgiven for supposing that he’s trying to stack the deck in favor of his god-belief, at least a little. Indeed, if our conception of ‘universe’ deliberately specifies that only some of the things acknowledged to exist are included in its scope of reference, the implication is that some other things – things which are not specified – are excluded from its scope of reference. With the granddaddy of universal concepts, what could possibly justify such a move?

Petersen is certainly not alone in this. Many Christians have built into their very conception of ‘universe’ the notion that it excludes certain things from its inclusion. And we should not be surprised to discover that among the things such a conception of ‘universe’ is intended to exclude, are accessible to the human mind only by means of the imagination.

For example, presuppositional apologist Cornelius Van Til offered the following definition of ‘universe’ in his book The Defense of the Faith (3rd ed., p. 42):
By the term universe we now mean the whole of the created world including man himself and his environment.
Here it is clear that the notion of “created” is a distinguishing characteristic which such a definition deliberately specifies. Van Til nowhere indicates the epistemological methodology by which he might form and validate such a definition, but that it assumes that the world is “created” is undeniably clear: Van Til’s very conception of ‘universe’ stipulates that it is a product of some divine act of creation. It seems, then, that any apologetic argument for the existence of the Christian god which appeals to “the universe” so understood would clearly be begging the question, for the notion of divine creation would be built into any premise referencing the universe.

When I first examined James Anderson’s paper If Knowledge Then God, I raised this concern to Anderson himself, given that each premise of “The One-Many Argument” proffered by Van Til makes reference to “the universe,” that if his argument’s premises assumed the existence of the Christian god by tacitly slipping in notions which definitionally presupposed the Christian god’s existence, the argument would end up being viciously circular. So on 7 January, 2005 – some ten years ago now – I emailed Anderson with the following query:
I suppose while you're at it, a definition of 'universe' as it is employed in the first premise of the OMA would also be helpful. But now that I think about it, this concerns me a little bit for the argument’s sake. I know many Christian sources build the notion of divine creation into their definition of the universe. For instance, Van Til clarifies that, for him, “the term universe… [means] the whole of the created world including man himself and his environment.” (DoF, 3rd ed., p. 42.) In some of Bahnsen’s papers that I’ve read, it seemed that he referred to the universe as “created reality” (cf. “The Person, Work and Present Status of Satan,” et al.). Such conceptions seem already to assume the Christian god, do they not? My concern for OMA is that, if the term ‘universe’ as it is used in its first premise imports such assumptions, wouldn't this mean that the premise includes a notion that assumes the existence of God already? Would this imply circularity? Is there a conception of ‘universe’ that does not presuppose God that could be used instead of those that Van Til and Bahnsen gave so that OMA would not imply a circular argument, or would using such a definition imply neutrality?
I’m guessing Anderson caught on right away, for his response to this – a whole 10 days later – was as follows:
Now, regarding definitions.? I'll answer the easier question first. By 'universe', I simply mean "the sum total of reality" or "everything that exists". There are no Christian theistic assumptions about creation built in to the term here. It certainly shouldn't be understood as interchangeable (even on a Christian view) with 'creation', since on Christian ontology it would cover both Creator and creation. [sic]
Here Anderson explicitly endorses essentially the same definition of ‘universe’ employed by Objectivism, and additionally he can be interpreted as affirming the view that “even on a Christian view” the concept ‘universe’ includes “both Creator and creation,” a position which Petersen is clearly resisting.

Again, notice the definitions for ‘universe’ which Anderson does offer: “the sum total of reality” or “everything that exists”.

A man after my own heart!

While Anderson nowhere provided these or any other definitions of ‘universe’ in his paper, I’m guessing that wisdom got the better of him when he was confronted with the possibility that an argument whose premises entail the definition of ‘universe’ as Van Til informed it, might in fact be fallaciously circular.

Consider Petersen’s attempt to react to an elementary point that I had made. In my blog entry Petersen’s Failed Attempts to Refute Leonard Peikoff: Objection 2, I wrote the following:
if the universe is the sum totality of everything that exists, then if something exists it exists within that sum totality, and thus it makes no sense to posit something existing outside that totality. This is essentially what Peikoff had stated earlier, and I think it applies quite directly to the present matter.
The point I make here is in keeping with the fact that the concept ‘universe’ is in fact a concept. Concepts are open-ended mental integrations which include everything subsumed within a category. Consider the concept ‘man’: the concept ‘man’ includes every man – whether currently living, whether living in the past, whether living in the future, regardless of where he lives, lived or has lived. In other words, the concept ‘man’ includes all men regardless of their specific qualities and without temporal and locational restriction (for time and place are omitted measurements). The concept ‘man’ does not have some numerical cutoff point beyond which new units are prohibited from its scope of reference. It’s not as though we can say that the concept ‘man’ can include only, say, 200,000 men, or 200,000,000,000 men, and after that we need to find a new concept. Concepts do not work that way.

When one makes a statement like “man is mortal,” he is making as wide a general statement about an entire class of objects as one possibly can. He has in mind all men - whether they are currently living, whether they lived 3,000 years ago, whether they will live in the distant future. He’s not saying, implying or even allowing that there are, have been or will be some men who are not mortal. This is because the unqualified use of a concept implies all units, however many that could possibly be, within its scope of reference. This is precisely why we do qualify our use of concepts when in fact we do qualify them; for example, this man, those men, men living in Paris in 1789, men working for IBM, etc. We qualify concepts in order to narrow our scope of reference since otherwise we would be implying a much greater scope of reference – indeed a universal scope of reference – when in fact we have only a subset in mind. In just this way, language follows concepts, not the other way around.

Consider the concept ‘existence’: it too is open-ended and allows us to include anything and everything that exists. If something exists, it is included in the scope of reference of the concept ‘existence’ by virtue of the mere fact that it exists. Given this, it would be completely arbitrary to posit the existence of something and yet insist that it lies outside the scope of reference of the concept ‘existence’.

Similarly with the concept ‘universe’. The concept ‘universe’ serves a legitimate conceptual purpose by denoting the sum total of everything that does in fact exist, regardless of its qualities, as a conceptual whole. If something exists, then, on this conception of ‘universe’, it exists within the universe. There is thus no justification for arbitrarily positing actually existing things “outside the universe” for such a notion can have no objective reference.

Now consider Jason Petersen’s reaction to the above quote from my blog entry. He writes:
This tired mantra has been addressed, but at this point, it may be profitable to further expose the futility of defending the universe as ‘the sum total of all that exists.’
The only thing that’s tired at this point is Petersen himself. Observe when he writes:
When the universe is redefined in such a way, it makes the definition of theuniverse meaningless.
How so? Is the concept ‘man’ “meaningless” because it includes all men who are living now, who have lived in the past, and who will live in the future? Of course not. Doesn’t it strike anyone as wildly ironic when Petersen suggests that giving a concept a definition somehow renders it “meaningless”? Typically thinkers object – or should object – to usage of concepts while ignoring their definitions. Apparently only in the Christian worldview does actually defining a concept make it “meaningless.”

And what argument does Petersen provide to the effect that defining the concept ‘universe’ as the sum total of everything that exists (a definition, you will recall, which we have even seen in standard desktop dictionaries) renders it “meaningless”? Let’s read on and see what we find.

Petersen continues:
The definition of ‘universe’ that objectivists give makes no ontological distinctions.
Really? Where does Petersen substantiate this claim? He doesn’t. He apparently does not understand that something existing - as opposed to not existing - is the most fundamental “ontological distinction” possible! Let’s spell this out for those who, like Petersen, have a hard time following the bouncing ball: if something exists, it is part of the sum total of everything that exists, by mere virtue of the fact that it exists. This means that, if we imagine something – such as Pat Robertson’s 900-foot Jesus, it does not exist and is therefore not included in the sum total of everything that exists. In other words, the concept ‘universe’ does in fact ontologically distinguish between that which is actual and that which is merely imaginary. Petersen may have psychological problems with this, particularly given its implications for a worldview which idolizes something that is accessible to the human mind only by means of the imagination, but the objection he proffers here is philosophically untenable. One would have to argue that the distinction between the actual and the imaginary is not only not fundamental, but not in any way ontological, for in fact the concept ‘universe’ does make such a distinction.

Petersen writes:
If God exists, then he is part of the universe by implication of the objectivist’s definition of universe.
It has been said that even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. Here Petersen gives the scant impression that he’s catching on. It should be very easy for an educated adult to grasp this elementary point of logic: if the concept ‘universe’ includes everything that exists, then if something exists, it therefore exists within the universe, regardless of what it might be, regardless of whatever attributes it may have, regardless of whether or not we have the means of discovering its existence.

Petersen writes:
Anything that is immaterial would also be ‘part of the universe.’
Only if it exists. If it does not actually exist, then no, it would not be “part of the universe.” See? Objectivism is entirely consistent here.

Petersen continues:
If the universe is the sum total of all things that exist, then it is impossible to posit something outside of the universe given the objectivist definition of universe.
Petersen often gives the impression that he is utterly unteachable. But here we have evidence that he does in fact have the rudimentary ability to make elementary inferences. It is because believers generally do exhibit basic conceptual ability that their unteachability is primarily attitudinal in nature.

Petersen then stumbles:
Thus, Peikoff and Bethrick are being inconsistent by saying that we cannot posit something outside of the universe when the very definition they give includes the sum of all things that exist.
Here I can only guess either that Petersen does not understand the meaning of the concept ‘inconsistent’, or that he has placed its meaning on ignore for purposes of making it appear that he has scored some point against Objectivism here. In fact, Objectivists would be inconsistent if, on the one hand, they affirmed the definition of ‘universe’ as the sum total of everything that exists, and then, on the other, posited something existing outside the universe. But Objectivists are not doing this, and Petersen surely has not shown that either Peikoff or I have done this. On the contrary, we are being entirely consistent here, as my points above should make crystal clear, and I suspect that it is precisely because we are so consistent that Petersen has become so frustrated with all this.

Petersen attempts to conclude from his own in-the-dark groping:
Therefore, the objectivist definition of the universe is without ontological distinction and ultimately meaningless.
As we saw above, both of these charges are completely baseless. In fact, they require one to ignore the very definition in question. Since the concept ‘universe’ does in fact denote an entire category of objects – namely everything that exists – it does in fact have meaning. A concept which denotes actually existing things in open-ended fashion surely must have meaning. Petersen has not shown that the concept ‘universe’ as Objectivism defines it does not have meaning. If I define ‘universe’ as the sum total of everything that exists and then make the statement, “I live in the universe,” how can one suppose that I am making a statement that is in any way deficient in meaning? One might not personally like such a statement, but to claim that it has no meaning only shows a deep-rooted disconnect on the part of the claimant.

Also, we saw above that, since the Objectivist definition of ‘universe’ specifies the essentializing criterion distinguishing its units – namely the fact that they exist – the concept as Objectivists employ it is therefore not “without ontological distinction.” Existing is certainly distinct from not existing, and this is most assuredly the most fundamental ontological distinction possible.

Petersen continues:
Anything that is outside of the physical world would still be part of the universe.
What Petersen does not like about the Objectivist conception of ‘universe’ is that it does not hinge on distinguishing between “physical” and “non-physical.” It’s very simple: if something exists, it exists (i.e., we apply the concept ‘existence’ to it), and it therefore exists within the sum total of everything that exists. Note that Petersen does not object to applying the concept ‘existence’ to things that are “physical” and allegedly “non-physical,” so why should he object to including them within the sum total of everything that exists? Blank out.

Petersen writes:
Such elementary blunders highlight one of the reasons that the only people that take objectivist philosophy seriously are objectivists.
The only “elementary blunders” we’ve seen so far in all this are Petersen’s own. He clearly wants to reserve the right of using the concept ‘existence’ for certain things while reserving for himself the arbitrary privilege of being able to posit things outside the sum total of everything that exists. And he says I’m being inconsistent?

Most likely, Petersen’s primary objection to the Objectivist conception of ‘universe’ is one which he has not put forward fully (though he has clearly hinted at it), namely that it throws a major wrench into his theological confession. But that’s the beauty of Objectivism: it slashes off entire categories of philosophically useless and arbitrary notions at their very basis.

Consider the invisible magic dragon which I imagine sitting in my driveway. Does it actually exist? Well, certainly I exist. But does the invisible magic dragon that I’m imagining exist? On a worldview which blurs the distinction between the actual and the imaginary, a thinker will have a hard time wrestling with such questions consistently. But Objectivism empowers the mind such that it need not be burdened with such useless trifles. We can say with all certainty that the invisible magic dragon that I’m imagining in my driveway does not exist; and since it does not exist, it is not part of the universe.

Similarly with Petersen’s god: we have no alternative but to use our imaginations when it comes to contemplating the deities described in the Old and New Testaments. Indeed, we have no alternative but to use our imagination when it comes to contemplating Jesus dying on the cross and magically resurrecting back to life in a cave. Because Christianity inherently requires its adherents to blur the distinction between that which is real and that which is merely imaginary, its adherents will always have a hard time with Objectivism. Objectivism is explicit in recognizing the distinction between the actual and the imaginary because it begins with the axioms and the primacy of existence. By contrast, Christianity begins by denying the axioms and by affirming the primacy of consciousness. So it should be no surprise when we find its defenders making such a spectacle of their own self-inflicted confusion as Petersen has done so poignantly.

Petersen writes:
Bethrick argues that God cannot create the universe because God is not part of the ‘sub [sic] total of all that exists.’
Well, not exactly. Rather, the point is that the notion that the universe was “created” by something allegedly existing outside it is nonsensical since there can be nothing outside of the universe. Put another way, the notion that the sum total of everything that exists was created by something allegedly existing outside the sum total of everything that exists is nonsensical since there can be nothing outside of the sum total of everything that exists. Again, Petersen needs to follow the bouncing ball (if it’s going too fast for him, he should consider a career change).

Similarly with the concept ‘existence’: the notion that existence as such was created by something existing is also nonsensical: that thing would have to exist (and therefore existence as such would already exist, and thus not need to be created) in order to do anything at all – including any creative action.

As for why the Christian god cannot create the universe, it’s quite simple: that which does not exist, cannot create anything. If the Christian god does not exist, then it cannot even tie my shoes, let alone create the universe. And we can know that the Christian god does not exist because it is not real. And we can know that the Christian god is not real because it is imaginary. The imaginary is not real, and just as – as Steve Hays puts it here - “an imagined Jesus is just an imaginary Jesus,” an imagined god is just an imaginary god.

I know for a fact that when I contemplate the stories I read in the bible, I’m using my imagination. I know for a fact that, when I was a Christian and prayed to the Christian god, I was using my imagination. I know for a fact that, when I was a Christian, every time I feared the supernatural, I was using my imagination. I know for a fact that, when I was a Christian, whenever I worshiped the Christian god, I was using my imagination. I also know for a fact that, even now as a mature thinker, whenever I examine an argument for the Christian god’s existence, by the time I get to its conclusion I am left with no alternative but to use my imagination and imagine the god whose existence it is said to prove.

Does this automatically mean that Jason Petersen himself is necessarily relying on his imagination when he worships and promotes his god? Let’s look at it this way: like me and anyone else, Jason Petersen has the ability to imagine. Given this, Petersen needs to explain how I can objectively distinguish what he calls “God” from something he may merely be imagining. Does Petersen claim to be directly aware of what he calls “God”? If so, then by what means, and how can we reliably distinguish those means from his imagination? If he does not claim to be directly aware of what he calls “God,” is there any rational alternative to inferring its existence? If so, what would that be? If not, does he claim to have inferred his god’s existence?

Often Christians appeal to statements found in Romans 1, statements claiming that “that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (v. 19). Neither this nor any other passage in the New Testament presents an epistemological analysis explaining how any of this has allegedly taken place. And of course, it would be easy to claim that everyone “just knows” a deity that is entirely imaginary. I can easily make the claim that the invisible magic dragon that I imagine in my driveway has made itself “manifest” to all human minds, and that those who are denying its existence are simply “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.” And without any epistemological analysis of how anyone could know this, there’s no substance here that can be considered rational, and consequently no objective means of reliably distinguishing between the thing claimed and the imagination of the one affirming the claim.

So here’s what I want to know: Christians claim essentially that the universe (however they happen to define it on any given Sunday) was created by an act of consciousness: the god they imagine is said to have essentially wished the universe into being. Even to say that it “spoke” the universe into being cannot be literally meant consistently since speaking is a physical action – it requires a mouth, lungs, a larynx, a tongue, teeth, lips, a working nervous system, metabolism, air, etc., meaning: speaking needs a physical body, something which the Christian god, as Christians imagine it, is said to lack.

This would mean that a pebble I pick up in my backyard was allegedly created by an act of consciousness. But what in the world tells me that any pebble I pick up from the ground was created by an act of consciousness? When I look outward at the world and the pebbles I find in it, what do I find that tells me that pebbles were created by an act of consciousness? I know of nothing that I find when I look outward at the world which even remotely suggests this. Now of course, when I look inward - as into the contents of my imagination - then (and only then) do I get this notion that the pebble was created by an act of consciousness. I can look at the pebble all day, crush it into bits, put the bits under an electron microscope, perform an array of laboratory tests on it, and still never discover any evidence suggesting that it or any part of it was created by an act of consciousness. But if I imagine, then I’m free to ignore everything I find by looking outward at the world and pretend that what I have found was created by a conscious being which I have also concocted in my imagination.

Petersen writes:
Bethrick is arguing that God could not create the universe because God does not exist.
Petersen is certainly free to believe what he wants, just as he is free to abandon reason in preference for the trappings of his god-belief. But I would strongly suggest that Petersen obtain a stronger grasp of logic and the nature of fallacies that plague uncritical thought such as that which he puts on display. Pointing out that the imaginary is not real and therefore does not exist is not an instance of begging the question. Indeed, if something does not exist, how could it do anything, whether it’s “create” something or wash a car or nibble on fruit? Petersen does not explain this. Indeed, he does not seem concerned with presenting any positive arguments for his god-belief; on the contrary, he’s only concerned with trying to manufacture ways of accusing those who reject his god-belief with some fallacy or another.

Petersen writes:
Thus, he is arguing that Christianity is false because he says it is false.
Here Petersen is projecting. I have not argued that any facts about the nature of Christianity follow as a result of my say so. Again, Petersen demonstrates that he simply has not grasped what he has read.

Petersen writes:
This is far from convincing, and it shows that Bethrick probably has not read very much philosophy beyond objectivist propaganda.
Actually, although I’ve not kept a minute count, I would wager that I’ve read a lot more material written by Christian apologists than material written by Objectivists, especially over the past ten years. A brief examination of my blog should surely demonstrate that I have not only read Christian apologetic literature extensively, but also interacted with it. In addition, I’ve studied (not merely “read”) works by numerous secular philosophers other than Objectivists.

But so what? What does this have to do with anything? The security of Petersen’s position surely does not stand or fall on the quantity of philosophy that I’ve read, something he could have no substantial knowledge on in the first place. So seriously, what relevance does this have? It’s not about me, it’s about the ideas. But Petersen doesn’t like ideas. He only likes his faith-based beliefs and anything that can be construed into support for it.

Petersen opines:
The notion that God created the universe does not contain any logical inconsistency despite insistence by Peikoff and Bethrick.
You can lead a horse to water…

Petersen continues:
Genesis 1:1 says that God created the heavens and the Earth.
As I’ve indicated many times before, I can imagine this. But what evidence can we find by looking outward which supports such a fantasy? Again, blank out.

Petersen writes:
Universe is defined as all matter and energy.
Such a definition, of course, leaves us free to imagine all kinds of things “outside” of “all matter and energy,” which is what Petersen’s defense desperately needs – namely some opportunity for the imagination to invent alternatives to the reality that we find by looking outward. If we define our terms in such a way that affords us the arbitrary license to look inward and treat what we imagine as though it were factual, then clearly such “definitions” (which have no legitimate conceptual basis – Petersen does not even attempt to argue for any legitimate basis for his preferred definitions) will be useful if our aim is to promote a fantasy in place of truth. And this is precisely why Petersen feels it’s so necessary to raise objections – any objection, no matter how frail – against the Objectivist conception of the universe.

Petersen continues:
Since the proper definition of universe is ‘all matter and energy,’ God can create the universe without contradiction.
Notice this? All that Petersen thinks is in his way here is the definition of ‘universe’. So long as the definition of ‘universe’ does not get in his way, his imagination is the limit. He apparently thinks he does not need to argue for his claim that “the proper definition of universe is ‘all matter and energy’”; he can simply assert this since he’s seen it affirmed by other apologists – apologists who, like Petersen himself, find it apologetically expedient to incorporate definitions which deliberately make room for that which is merely imaginary.

Also, Petersen ignores the fact that such a position can only mean that his god has no energy to begin with, which only serves to raise more questions that Christianity cannot answer. How does an entity do anything when it has no energy? Even worse, how does an entity “create” energy when energy does not exist in the first place? Can we rely on Petersen to explain this? What does he offer on such questions? He doesn’t even seem to have anticipated them. All he gives us is more failure to integrate.

Moreover, Petersen does not explain how energy can be “created” by an act of consciousness – essentially by an act of wishing. Yes, we can – as I’ve conceded here and elsewhere - imagine such things. But we can imagine Harry Potter flying on a broomstick as well, yet most thinking adults typically do not confuse such notions with reality. So what excuse does Petersen offer for his childish things here? Again, blank out.

Petersen raises another objection:
Bethrick’s notion that God cannot create mindindependent concretes is based on a bad inductive inference.
It is? How so?

Petersen continues:
For example, in one article, Bethrick argued that the mind cannot mold reality because he cannot bend the paper clip on his desk using his mind. [9]
As readers can see, Petersen placed a reference here – the [9] at the end of this statement. The reference is hyperlinked, but clicking it does not take me anywhere. (In fact, Petersen’s system of footnoting is quite unusual; I found no less than 13 instances of “[9]” throughout his article with no apparent connection between all 13 instances.) But if we scroll down a little ways, we do find a list of corresponding footnotes. For the one referenced here, we find the following:
9. I would certainly rather be dyslexic than to have a disdain for critical thinking that the acceptance of objectivism entails.
To characterize Objectivism as requiring “disdain for critical thinking” from those who subscribe to its principles can only suggest unfamiliarity on the part of the one making such a characterization with either Objectivism or critical thinking as such, or both. It is Objectivism which explicitly draws our attention to the distinctions between fact and fantasy, reality and imagination, reason and mysticism, rationality and faith.

Even worse, for such a characterization to come from a proponent of a religious worldview – in particular Christianity – suggests that the one making it has chosen to ignore the disdain for critical thinking that is so essential to the Christian faith. After all, it’s not called a “faith” for nothing. Let us not forget that it is in the New Testament gospel of John where we find disdain for critical thinking so shamelessly affirmed, as in the pericope which has Thomas famously expressing doubt in Jesus’ resurrection, given that he had not seen the risen Jesus, wounds and all, walking among the living after dying on the cross. The gospel has Jesus responding to this resistance to blind acceptance of claims with the words, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Such passages are no accident, and their purpose is to encourage the shutting down of all critical inquiry and the ready acceptance of claims about the supernatural.

Jason Petersen’s own approach to knowledge, as we saw in my blog entry Jason Petersen’s “Epistemology,” is one which begins with the uncritical acceptance of claims about the supernatural. In the video of him quoted in that blog entry, Petersen announces the following:
I start with the revelation of Scripture. I view Scripture as sufficient. I view um God as self-sufficient, as a self-sufficient authority that is explanatory within his own nature.
If this statement accurately reflects what Petersen takes to be his philosophical starting point, then clearly he cannot have vetted such affirmations prior to accepting them. On the contrary, given that he begins by uncritically accepting an enormous sum of dogmatic religious confessions, it is Petersen’s own worldview which is rightly characterized as having “disdain for critical thinking.” Where does Objectivism advocate anything of the sort?

This is no isolated or unique case. Indeed, it is inherent to Christianity as such. Literalist Christians are expected to accept the entire contents of the bible as unquestionable truth, even though today’s believers are in no position to determine whether the events recorded in it actually took place. Consider the story of Abraham and Isaac, for example, in Genesis 22. Here we have a tale of the biblical god issuing a command to the patriarch Abraham. The command is for Abraham to prepare his only son as a burnt offering. At no point does the story model Abraham even wincing at the idea, let alone examining it critically. Indeed, how did Abraham know that what he understood as a command to prepare his own child as a sacrifice really came from the biblical god? How did he know that he was not merely imagining this, or dreaming it, or – given that the biblical worldview affirms the existence of demons, devils, ghosts and “unclean spirits” – how did Abraham know that it was not some supernatural deviant planting foul notions in his mind? Nothing in the story provides any clue as to that questions were ever considered, let alone how either Abraham could have answered them, or how today’s believers could answer them.

When John Frame considers this very question in his paper Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction Part 1 of 2: Introduction and Creation, he poses the following question:
How did Abraham come to know that the voice calling him to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22:1-18; cf. Heb. 11:17-19; James 2:21-24) was the voice of God? What the voice told him to do was contrary to fatherly instincts, normal ethical considerations, and even, apparently, contrary to other Words of God (Gen. 9:6).
Here is how he responds to this question:
I cannot explain the psychology here to the satisfaction of very many. In this case as in others (for we walk by faith, not by sight!) we may have to accept the fact even without an explanation of the fact. Somehow, God manages to get his Word across to us, despite the logical and psychological barriers. Without explaining how it works, Scripture describes in various ways a “supernatural factor” in divine-human communication. (a) It speaks of the power of the Word. The Word created all things (Gen. 1:3, etc.; Ps. 33:3-6; John 1:3) and directs the course of nature and history (Pss. 46:6; 148:5-8). What God says will surely come to pass (Isa. 55:11; Gen. 18:14; Deut. 18:21ff.). The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16; cf. Isa. 6:9-10; Luke 7:7ff.; Heb. 4:12). (b) Scripture also speaks of the personal power of the Holy Spirit operating with the Word (John 3:5; 1 Cor. 2:4,12ff.; 2 Cor. 3:15-18; 1 Thess. 1:5). Mysterious though the process may be, somehow God illumines the human mind to discern the divine source of the Word. We know without knowing how we know.
Talk about "disdain for critical thinking”! If an Objectivist made a statement even remotely approaching the view that “we may have to accept the fact even without an explanation of the fact” or “we know without knowing how we know,” chances are someone like Petersen would point to it as evidence that Objectivists have no clue about epistemology. But this statement did not come from an Objectivist. It came from a high-ranking Christian theologian. How does Frame even know that the story is factual in the first place? Blank out. He simply accepts it blindly along with the rest of his faith.

Consider the actual, real-life account of Boyce Singleton, Jr., who was convicted of murdering his pregnant girlfriend. According to the article When God Talks, People Listen ... and Trouble Follows published by the Huffington Post in June 2012:
Boyce Singleton Jr. admits that he shot and stabbed his pregnant girlfriend to death in their New Jersey home, but as he told the jury, "It was the right thing to do because it was something God was telling me to do." His conviction has been overturned, because that, my friends, is certifiably wacko-rama-ding-dong.  
Despite God's published views on slaughtering the Amalekites, not to mention the hapless Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, I agree with the court: such claims are insane. But this raises a more important question here: Aren't all such claims of private revelation from God either cynical or nuts?
The same article includes this noteworthy example:
A pro football player who leapt from his burning third-floor apartment in Liberty Lake Thursday said he started the blaze with a marijuana blunt because God told him to ... Kevin Marcus Ellison, 25, a starting linebacker/defensive back for the Spokane Shock arena football team, initially told firefighters that he'd been smoking in bed, but ... Shock general manager Ryan Rigmaiden ... said Ellison told him he started the fire with a marijuana blunt at the advice of God...
But we should not be surprised by any of this, and indeed, I am not. Belief in “the supernatural” encourages the very “disdain for critical thinking” that Petersen wrongly attributes to Objectivism. Example after example – both from the pages of the bible and from those who tout it as truth – can be cited ad nauseum - for indeed, such stories will make a rational adult quite sick to the stomach!

Today, thanks to the influence of the Aristotelian understanding of the world and of man, people claiming to have received a revelation from a supernatural being commanding them to kill or perform other destructive acts, are suspected of having deep psychological disorders, and rightly so. But why should we treat similar cases from history any differently? I don’t think they should. But that’s primarily because I adhere to rational philosophy: belief in the supernatural is already a form of mental self-abuse, and if it is indulged persistently it can seriously degenerate an individual’s mind and lead them to very destructive outcomes. Muslim jihadists are a more graphic example of this, but to varying degrees – given how seriously and consistently believers attempt to take the bible’s teachings – Christian believers also exhibit such damaging dysfunction.

As for Petersen’s reference to the point about the paper clip, he again puts his own confusion on display before us. Petersen no doubt has in mind an example which I included in my 2006 blog entry The Axioms and the Primacy of Existence (one of my all-time favorites!). In this blog I explain how anyone sitting at home before their computer can demonstrate the truth of the primacy of existence principle – the principle that explicitly acknowledges the fact that the objects of consciousness exist and are what they are independent of the activity by which we are conscious of them. In the section subtitled “Validating the Primacy of Existence,” I propose a simple experiment that anyone can do anywhere. As I explain:
In this experiment, just find any object in your immediate awareness and focus your attention on it. Any object will do. Right now I’m looking at an ordinary paperclip that’s sitting on my desk. It is a single continuous wire bent round three times into its pristine manufactured shape, about one and a half inches long, steel-colored, and by all accounts a normal paperclip. This is the object that I see. But now I begin to exercise my consciousness in regard to the paperclip, to see what effect it will have on it. First I begin imagining the wire of the paperclip to unfold itself, straightening itself out. In my imagination I can "see" this happening, but the paperclip sitting on my desk remains in the shape it had when I first looked at it. My imagining had no effect on it. Now I make a wish: that the wire of the paperclip straighten itself out. It remains motionless, still folded into its paperclip shape. My wishing had no effect on it. (Perhaps I didn't wish hard enough?) Now I command it: “I command thee to unfold thyself!” I say in a loud booming voice. The paperclip stubbornly defies my command, which has no effect on the paperclip whatsoever. Then I simply deny that the paperclip is not simply a straight piece of wire, without any curves from end to end. This too, has no effect. The paperclip remains just as it was when I first looked at it. I can do this all day long, varying my imagination, wishing, commands and other conscious functions. But what will remain constant throughout? What remains constant is the relationship my consciousness has with the paperclip: the primacy of existence. The object of my consciousness does not conform to the dictates of my consciousness. This is inescapable, and Objectivism holds that this inescapable, constant fact is philosophically important, since it pertains to all instances of man’s consciousness, and therefore also to his knowledge.
Petersen has apparently understood my inclusion of this experiment proposal as an argument to the effect “that the mind cannot mold reality because [I] cannot bend the paper clip on [my] desk using [my] mind.” Here Petersen is simply trying to trivialize an important philosophical fundamental while using such an opportunity to lampoon what I have written. Anyone who has examined the experiment that I have proposed can clearly see that I state that any object can be used in my experiment. It does not have to be a paperclip. Indeed, since the primacy of existence is true generally, I’m more than confident that any object one uses in performing my experiment will achieve the same results, namely that the objects of consciousness do not conform to conscious activity. Clearly I am not making the argument: “I cannot bend the paper clip on my desk, therefore the mind cannot mold reality.” Rather, Petersen has things reversed: since a conscious mind cannot mold reality to conform to its internal contents, I will not be able to manipulate a paperclip sitting on my desk by thought alone (cf. Christianity’s notion of “by faith alone”). I can in fact bend a paperclip, but only by using physical means, such as picking it up with my fingers and giving it a twist. But what Petersen fails to grasp is that my inability to manipulate a paperclip by means of thought is simply one expression of a fundamental principle, not the premise upon which that principle rests.

What’s important to note at this point is the fact that Objectivism has indisputable experimental evidence – evidence that is available to every human being – supporting its fundamental principles. The experimental evidence serves unmistakably as confirmation of the primacy of existence. What experimental evidence can Christians point to that any natural substance we find in the universe – whether it’s a pebble one finds in his backyard or the planet Venus – was created by an act of consciousness? That’s right: None, nada, nil, zilch. In fact, all evidence demonstrates that such an idea has its origins squarely in the human imagination.

Petersen uncritically accepts his confused assessment of my validation experiment and proceeds to say:
There are two issues with this ‘proof’ that mindindependent entities cannot be created by God.
Notice how Petersen himself has changed his own botched construal of my validation experiment. First he mistakenly construed it as an argument that the mind cannot mold reality because I cannot bend a paperclip that’s sitting on my desk. Now he construes it as a “’proof’ that mindindependent entities cannot be created by God” [sic]. As we find in the New Testament stories about Jesus, the narrative morphs with each retelling!

So what’s the first problem? Petersen explains as follows:
First, Bethrick has apparently never considered that Christianity does not hold that humans are able to bend paperclips by their own will and power. The truth of Christianity does not entail every individual having the power to bend spoons with their mind. Thus, the critique of Bethick misses the mark in the first place.
Of course I’ve considered such things. But the bible never clearly states that the human mind does not have such powers. And in fact, given that the believer’s faith – i.e., a mental disposition elected by choice on the part of the believer – has according to Christianity such power as to play a role in the determination of one’s eternal destiny, clearly the bible grants metaphysical primacy to human consciousness in this respect. Moreover, given that believers are to accept as truth claims which are clearly fantastical in nature, this too represents a strong subjective undercurrent inherent to the Christian worldview. (I’m reminded of Mike Licona’s “I want it to be true!”)

Then there are examples from “Scripture” – such as we find in Mark 6 of Peter walking on the water – which clearly model believers conforming reality to their wishes through faith. Believers are told that “if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Mt. 17:20). Bending a paperclip by means of wishing would indeed raise some eyebrows. But wishing Pike’s Peak into the Pacific Ocean would be vastly more impressive, and this is what we find preached in the Christian bible – yea, inserted into the mouth of Jesus himself!

But yes, it is rather ironic that a non-believer would need to remind defenders of Christianity of what their own worldview teaches. Happens all the time.

Petersen continues:
Second, the argument that Bethrick makes is an inductive inference. Even if it is true that Bethrick cannot bend the paperclip on its desk, it does not follow that such a notion proves that God is incapable of creating the universe. In inductive arguments, even if the premises are all true, the conclusion can still be false. This is logic 101.
Here Petersen is simply recycling the same misunderstanding he presented above, namely his error in assuming that I have presented an argument that essentially states: “Because I cannot bend a paperclip with my mind, then the Christian god cannot create the universe.” I can only suspect at this point that Petersen is garbling my words on purpose.

So yet again, we find the conclusion that Jason Petersen is in over his head on these and other matters, is unavoidable. Even when one goes out of his way to give Jason the benefit of the doubt, he performatively looks such acts of generosity in the mouth and tramples them in his own childish tantrums, digging the hole of his own self-discrediting ever deeper in the process. Over and over again, Petersen is found inflicting himself with numerous unnecessary afflictions, including persistent point-missing, speaking beyond his knowledge, ironic self-effacement, etc.

Petersen wrote a bunch of other stuff, and perhaps we can examine it in detail in due course. But I will make the prediction here and now that should we look any further, we will find more of the same. What is past is prologue.

by Dawson Bethrick


l_johan_k said...


Anonymous said...

Petersen is painfully incompetent. I'm flabbergasted that some of the Sye-clones consider this Petersen guy an erudite of sorts.

Unknown said...

Presuppositionalism is designed to silence unbelievers rather than convince them that religious propositions are true. It's a form of psychological warfare. No unbeliever has any obligation to disprove the arbitrary, and they know that. Their discourse then is mostly for the entertainment of their fan club members. Nevertheless, it is clever and instructive to use religious nonsense as a foil from which to elucidate proper rational philosophy. In that regard, many thanks are owed to Dawson. Consider the efforts of Dawson's readers to read and understand his blogs over the years that if lifted from the context of this blog and modern civilization and applied to various tasks of preindustrial survival would result in a bare living infected with magical presuppositional superstitions. The benefits I and the other readers have acquired from Objectivism and this blog are Dawson's and the Objectivist philosopher's gift to humanity. This is worthy of admiration in the John Galt sense.

Best Hopes for the Reader's Success.

Brad J Tankersley said...

I discovered your blog by googling ways to debunk STB's and WLC's presuppositionalists arguments. I can say you have lifted a veil of darkness from my eyes and I am, at last, illuminated.

Though, I would like to see, if you could provide one, a generic recipe to follow for debunking said arguments. I already have a decent grasp of the "tells;" those words and phrases that reveal a presuppositionalist argument is bound to begin but I am not so clear on how to connect the steps from existence to consciousness. Sye (STB) has his aggressive argument style and William (WLC) practically starts with the precedence of consciousness but I'd like to find a step by step response for their minions who haven't grasped the subtleties of debate.

ActionJackson864 said...

"Presuppositionalism is designed to silence unbelievers rather than convince them that religious propositions are true. It's a form of psychological warfare. No unbeliever has any obligation to disprove the arbitrary, and they know that. Their discourse then is mostly for the entertainment of their fan club members. Nevertheless, it is clever and instructive to use religious nonsense as a foil from which to elucidate proper rational philosophy. In that regard, many thanks are owed to Dawson. Consider the efforts of Dawson's readers to read and understand his blogs over the years that if lifted from the context of this blog and modern civilization and applied to various tasks of preindustrial survival would result in a bare living infected with magical presuppositional superstitions. The benefits I and the other readers have acquired from Objectivism and this blog are Dawson's and the Objectivist philosopher's gift to humanity. This is worthy of admiration in the John Galt sense. "

well said, could not agree more.

Thanks Dawson for your continuing efforts, your writings are quite a marvel.



Anonymous said...

Tanner be James,

Please don't ask for a recipe. If you want to argue with those imbeciles, do it by reasoning, not by following a script. Scripts is what they have. We have reason.

Most of those I have argued against are unreachable by reason. I only answer for the sake of readers who might benefit. So that would be my advice, rather than a recipe, if you're going to answer, do it for you and others, forget about the ass-hole. I have shown them how stupid their position is, bit to bit, and they still claim victory. They're too stupid or too dishonest (or both, and I have no problem considering the latter).

Anyway, Make sure you understand what Dawson has written. Once you do, spotting the problems with each presuppositional version of their mantras will be easy, and your answers straightforward. Don't try to make them happy with your answers. Don't try to comply with their requests. If you notice that the requests are nonsensical, then show them so. Etc.

Again. Scripts and irrationality are all theirs to keep. We have reason.

Unknown said...

Here's a bit from Nathaniel Branden:

// Such grudging admiration as has been given man’s mind, has been reserved exclusively for the abstract theoretician; intelligence has been admired only when it was aimed at the stars, never when it was aimed at this earth—on the premise that thinking can be of moral significance only to the extent that it appears to dissolve into mysticism in its lack of concern for the problems of man’s practical existence. Hence the scorn for technology or applied science as against “pure” science. Every productive use of the mind, either theoretical or practical, requires and expresses ability; and all knowledge, however abstract, ultimately does have practical application to man’s existence. But the concept of ability, in its prevalent and popular usage, more specifically denotes the achievements of human intelligence and ingenuity in the direct service of man’s practical needs. And it is to this that men have been morally indifferent. //

Branden, Nathaniel (2014-12-06). The Moral Revolution in Atlas Shrugged (Kindle Locations 670-676). The Atlas Society. Kindle Edition.

An so it is with the religious apologist who seeks to denigrate human thinking, intellect, and knowledge of concept formation for such knowledge serves Man in the here and now for purposes of life on earth.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Robert et al.,

Thanks for everyone’s comments. I appreciate the discussion and am happy to encourage more. I’m sorry I cannot participate more – again, I’m consumed with many responsibilities as of late.

In case no one else has noticed, Jason Petersen has posted another article responding to me. You can all find it here:

A Response to Dawson Bethrick Part 2: Objectivist and Christian Epistemology

I have not read all of it very closely yet, but the parts that I have read bear out what is fast becoming an axiom of sorts that Petersen is anxious to exploit every opportunity to put his abysmal ignorance on display before the world.

For example, Petersen writes:

<< Where do concepts fit in in Christian epistemology? Concepts have no place in Christian epistemology, rather, concepts are used to function and communicate with others. Concepts, like sense perception, helps a human or animal function. The ability to form concepts is instilled in us a priori(prior to experience) so that creatures can function. >>

So here we have it: “Concepts have no place in Christian epistemology” – at least one of them admits it!

Notice that Petersen postures himself as though he could speak for Christianity as such, as opposed to his own personal version of it. Would other Christians agree? Does he cite any teaching in the bible on this? Of course, he does not. Does he even explain what “Christian epistemology” (whatever that is – there’s no epistemology to speak of in the bible to begin with) might mean by “concepts”?

Petersen’s statement implies that organisms other than man are capable of forming concepts. That’s rather odd coming from a Christian, but again, not entirely surprising given their lack of understanding in this area (as confirmed by Petersen’s own thoughtless comments).

Here’s another example:

In my blog Jason Petersen on the Fallacy of Pure Self-Reference, I had written:

<< Can Petersen back this up with “Scripture”? Indeed, he gives no citations. Is he just “making it up”? Where does he get this from? >>

Petersen responds as follows:

<< Bethrick is asking about this author’s statement that Christians don’t believe in the ‘primacy of consciousness.’ The author can back up his comment by simply citing Genesis 1:1. It was not consciousness that created the universe, for concepts do not create anything, nor do they have any causal relation with any object. Rather, Genesis 1:1 says that God created the heavens and the earth. The concept of consciousness and God are not identical. Just the same, God exists, but this does not make the concept of existence and God identical. Existence and consciousness are concepts that refer to particular properties of God and other particulars. >>

I mean, good grief! Clearly he does not grasp anything he’s trying to respond to here.

From what I’ve seen, these are not unique instances. Feel free to cite any others that catch your attention.


Unknown said...


I am afraid that no amount of grandstanding will salvage your own position.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Answers for Hope,

Nice of you to drop by.

I'm happy to report that my position needs neither grandstanding nor salvaging to begin with. So your comment is quite off the mark.

While you're here, can you explain how I can reliably distinguish what you call "God" from what you are merely imagining?

I'll await your answer.


Unknown said...

Petersen is a Christian heretic.

//The concept of consciousness and God are not identical. Just the same, God exists, but this does not make the concept of existence and God identical. Existence and consciousness are concepts that refer to particular properties of God and other particulars.//

This statement presupposes that his "God" is a substance and hence material in nature, but standard Christian doctrine holds that "God" is pure essence without substance transcending reality.

Unknown said...

Petersen // The concept of consciousness and God are not identical... //

Indeed, there is an unbridgeable chasm of difference between the concept of consciousness and the floating abstraction of "God". The former has referents in reality, the later term refers only to its own refering and hence has no meaning.

Anonymous said...

It's odd that Petersen denies that his "God" is a form of consciousness.

Christians have to gold incompatible thoughts in order to defend their bullshit. Most specially the presuppositionalists. So I'm not surprised that Petersen would go that way. If we had a discussion with several of them, they would deny one thing, and all would say they always thought so, and next day they would affirm the very same thing they were denying a day before. Think about it. They are lying, they are relying on their imaginations, so they have to defend mutually exclusive ideas. They don't notice because they can't keep track of all the patches they have to put here and there. They can't hold to one percent of the "standards" they demand from people who don't agree with them.

Anonymous said...

It's odd that Petersen denies that his "God" is a form of consciousness.

But, of course, his god is not a form of consciousness, it's an imaginary friend.

Anonymous said...

On Petersen's incompetence,

Petersen writes:

«One might also ask, if the objectivists hold to axioms, then why are they accused of circular reasoning?»

Oh, we know why, because Petersen is an idiot, as we're about to witness.

«The answer is that the definition of ‘axiom’ as used by objectivist is different than the conventional definition of ‘axiom.’ The conventional definition says that axioms cannot be demonstrated, but objectivists say that their axioms can be demonstrated.»

Interesting statement. Let's check, google, oh, look what we get first and foremost:

An axiom or postulate is a premise or starting point of reasoning. As classically conceived, an axiom is a premise so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy.

I don't see anything about axioms being indemonstrable. OK, ;et's look for axioms in philosophy. Just in case:

An axiom is an irreducible primary. It doesn't rest upon anything in order to be valid, and it cannot be proven by any "more basic" premises. A true axiom can not be refuted because the act of trying to refute it requires that very axiom as a premise. An attempt to contradict an axiom can only end in a contradiction.

Oh, so it was Petersen's incompetence all along! It says that axioms cannot be proven by any "more basic" premises. Petersen forgot the next bit. So, nothing about axioms being indemonstrable.

«Of course, any argument that the axioms can be demonstrated will assume the truth of the axiom in the first place.»

By necessity Petersen. Not by choice. Do you understand what this means? Even more noticeably Petersen, any attempt at challenging them also assume the truth of the axioms in the first place, which demonstrates the axioms without the use of more basic premises you idiot!

«If the objectivist denies a circular argument such as, ‘The Bible is demonstrably true because it says it is true,’ then any notion that the objectivist axioms are demonstrable is blatant intellectual hypocrisy.»

There's a very important difference Petersen. Defending and/or challenging the truth of the bible don't need to assume that the truth of the bible. The axioms are inescapable. Can you understand how those two are different all by yourself now?

Your incompetence speaks volumes about what it takes to defend your bullshit of a worldview. You have to have shit for brains.

Anonymous said...


Apparently, noticing how incompetent he was at attempting to respond to Dawson, Petersen erased his blog posts!

Wow, and to think that the idiot started by calling Dawson a hypocrite.

At least I saved that bit of immeasurable incompetence that Petersen displayed in regards to axioms and his trying to present them as circular arguments. Poor incompetent idiot. I repeat: I'm astounded that Christians regard Petersen as some kind of authority. A pompous idiot, that's what Petersen is.

Bahnsen Burner said...


Interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing!

I hadn’t notice that Petersen had taken down his articles. It appears that all the articles on Answers for Hope have been taken off the web. Perhaps it’s just temporary. But if Petersen has actually taken them down for good out of embarrassment, that would show at least that he’s capable of a wise decision once in a while.

As for “controversy” surrounding the Objectivist understanding of what an axiom is, it seems that the only controversy that ever pops up is when someone is trying to distort Objectivism beyond recognition in order to ridicule it. To suppose that the axiom “existence exists” is at all controversial is beyond me, unless of course the one trying to hype up controversy simply does not understand what it expresses or doesn’t want to understand.

When Petersen objects to the view that the Objectivist axioms can be demonstrated, I suspect what he means by “demonstrate” in this case is not what Objectivists have in mind. But if Petersen has read anything in the Objectivist literature about the axioms (ask: Does he quote any O-ist literature on the matter? I didn’t see any quotes), he should know what Objectivists mean. Again, he comes across as groping in the dark hoping to stumble upon the Arx of the Covenant. It’s just not going to happen.

And yes, the definition you found on Google is not as different from the Objectivist conception of axiom that his point assumes. But even if the Objectivist conception were radically different from “the conventional definition,” so what? Objectivism is very careful to explain what it means. Certainly what Objectivism means by ‘axiom’ is not off; it may be, at best, that Petersen thinks Objectivism should use a different word. But then his objection reduces to a semantic complaint, to which we can happily say: Get over it.

Quoting Petersen:

«Of course, any argument that the axioms can be demonstrated will assume the truth of the axiom in the first place.»

See, this is what I mean. Petersen assumes (in his blithering ignorance) that “demonstrate” as Objectivists use it in the present context is equivalent to “prove by means of argument,” in which case he is trying to bolster the charge of circular reasoning. But that’s not what Objectivism means by “demonstrate” when it comes to validating the axioms. Just open your eyes and look out at the world. What do you see? You see things that exist. You see existence. You don’t need any *argument* to prove that what you are seeing actually exists. If Petersen thinks he needs to prove the existence of things that he sees with his own eyes, he’s more radically skeptical than I realized. In which case, I can only say: I’m glad these aren’t my problems!

Addressing Petersen directly:

“You have to have shit for brains.”

I’ve been trying my best to think of an argument to refute this, but everything I come up with is immediately bested with an insuperable counter-argument.

As I said: the gift that keeps on giving!


Unknown said...

Do not be so hopeful. The posts were simply transferred to a different site that is currently under construction. It may be a couple of weeks before the articles are back up.

Bahnsen Burner said...

"Do not be so hopeful" saith "Answers for Hope."

Oh the irony!

This guy makes Nidiot look like a real bore!



Anonymous said...

Answers for Hope said...

«Do not be so hopeful. The posts were simply transferred to a different site that is currently under construction. It may be a couple of weeks before the articles are back up.»

Oh, goody. I was just starting to have fun describing your incompetence Jason. Good to know your stupidity will be back online for the world to witness.

Ydemoc said...

Answers for Hope,

Please do let us know just as soon as you have these posts up and running again.


Unknown said...

Incendiary rhetoric deployed regarding Petersen is just; doing otherwise is to act out a moral failure of the sanction of the victim.

Unknown said...

Dawson, Robert, Photo, et al.

Here's a great article I'm working my way through on Rand's take on "life as the ultimate value".

The author deals with the treatments of Douglas Rasmussen, Nathaniel Branden, Irfan Khawaja, and Allan Gotthelf regarding this two fold problem and then proposes his own treatment of it in which in one respect life is the ultimate value and in another it is happiness.

I'm still working my way through it. Looks good so far.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Daniel,

Good to hear from you.

Thanks for the link. From what you say about it, the article you mention sounds interesting. I have downloaded it and will add it to my reading list.

The paper is written by one Ole Martin Moen of the University of Oslo. I'm always gratified when I see Rand's views being discussed outside the U.S., especially by academics (where her ideas are needed so desperately!).


Justin Hall said...


Thank you as well. I downloaded and plan to read through it before heading back to work.

Unknown said...

Dawson and Hall,

You are welcome.

I noticed that he seems to propose a treatment that I have considered to be in-line with what I've always thought Rand intended all along; a position that I have always assumed as my own as a matter of simple intuition.

Being that I work full time and go to night school it, takes me some time to get through extracurricular activities.

Will have more to contribute later.