Sunday, July 19, 2015

Being Prepared for Encounters with Evangelists

Missionizing religionists are anxious to proselytize and win converts. They get frustrated when their harvests are meager, when their nets bring in no fish. Indeed, it seems generally that witnesses for Christ have grown disenchanted, for I don’t see them out on the street as regularly as I did, say, 20 or 25 years ago. Now they seem to be a real oddity, but that might be because I live in a city whose overall political leanings are expressly liberal. But that would make this a great place to send missionaries, or so it would seem: aren’t there still some of “God’s chosen” here who need to be reached?

At any rate, as Christians are instructed by I Peter 3:5 to be “always ready,” I too like to be ready, and I want my readers to be ready as well. So I’ve taken some time to create a small list of questions to help the conversation along in the off-chance that I bump into a “witness for Christ” out doing “the Lord’s work” of spreading the “good news” and seeking converts.

Before we get to those questions, however, it is important to review a few considerations about the evangelist’s task.

I think it is appropriate to speak of those people who are minding their own business but nonetheless caught in the evangelist’s sights as “intended victims,” for even the biblical language itself suggests the predatory in nature of evangelism given the gospels’ own characterization of evangelists as “fishers of men” and that targets of evangelistic strategies as “fish” being snagged in their nets (cf. Mark 1:16-17 and parallel Mt. 4:18-19). The evangelist is essentially going out on a hunting spree of sorts, thinking “Whom can I ensnare today?” It is sheer irony when the author of I Peter (at 5:8) likens “the devil” (presumably Satan himself!) “as a roaring lion… seeking whom he may devour.” Christians thus imagine themselves as competing with nefarious supernatural forces in a battlefield of sorts, both sides striving to collect the same spoils – namely men’s souls, a sure formula for insatiable parasitism if there ever were one!

Quite often, street evangelists are going to initiate their proselytizing gestures with gambits like “Have you heard the message of Jesus?” or “Do you know where your soul will go when you die?” or “Are you saved?” The starting point of their initial questions will casually rest on a mass of underlying religious assumptions which they want to import into conversations with utter strangers. Even if they begin with the question, “How did the universe come into being?” they are making an assumption (namely that at some point in the past the universe did not exist) which they are not likely prepared to defend very ably.

Luke Cawley of Intervarsity Evagelism presents us with 6 Conversational Evangelism Tips from the Master Himself, a guide that even non-believers can learn from. Cawley encourages the would-be street minister to “see every person you meet as a potential conversation partner” and to pro-actively insert himself into social contexts where contact with non-believers is more probable. Cawley does not advise that evangelists jump right into bible talk; starting a conversation with a stranger with “Pardon me, Sir, but do you love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul?” might be more of a stopper than a starter. Cawley doesn’t want his evangelists to scare away the fish before they’ve gotten the net out!

Instead, he suggests the following strategy:
Tell them a story about your day. Ask them how their week has been, what they’ve enjoyed eating, reading, or watching lately. Discuss sports scores. Start light and see where the conversation goes. The worst that can happen is you have an interesting chat.
(I’m reminded of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, even Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 10:16 that his disciples be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (“What, little ol’ me?”), slithering about in guileful manner, slinking their way into their intended victim’s psychological network. The motives here are clearly ultierior.)

Cawley’s strategy here is designed not only to give the conversation some forward traction, but also to give the evangelist an opportunity to catch potential converts off-guard. He wants the evangelist to perfect his skills at cozying up to strangers, getting not only their attention but also their trust, before deploying their tactics. The intended victims are not to notice any invasion of privacy, but are to think of their captors as perfectly harmless.

Once the conversation is underway, Cawley advises that the evangelist deploy “a razor-sharp question that gets to the heart of who she is as a person.” It’s not clear what specifically Cawley would consider an example of “a razor-sharp question,” but I’m sure even the dimmest of Jesus’ serpents could come up with something. And to be sure, Cawley does have more advice on this point. He states:
Don’t think of yourself as the expert with all the answers. Until you’ve asked your conversation partner some questions, you may not even know quite how to relate the gospel to their lives. You can read more about asking good questions in Why You Should Ask More Questions in Spiritual Conversations.
The last line here, with the capital initials, contains a link, which is dead (it goes to “page not found”); fortunately, the intended page can be found here. There Cawley writes that “questions clarify that everyone needs to answer life’s big questions”; the question here becomes: to whom are they supposed to address their answers? Presumably we are expected to answer the evangelist’s questions to his satisfaction rather than our own. But while Christians do in fact like to pose questions to non-believers (in order to control the discussion, shift focus away from Christianity’s “solutions,” and redirect the focus on the non-believer in order to put him on the defensive), they resist answering questions themselves. Taking examples of Jesus in the gospels as a model, Cawley references passage in Luke chapter 10 where Jesus fields a question from a Jewish scholar, and writes:
The man wanted to pin Jesus down on the topic of eternal life, but Jesus threw the issue back at him and asked him to state his own position. We can do the same thing.
In fact, this is exactly what’s modeled in Luke 10: Jesus does not give a direct answer to the man’s question; instead, he replies with questions for the man to answer. This of course seems quite backwards: Jesus is trying to pass himself off as “the Messiah,” and the man came to him for answers. This would be a great opportunity to teach the man something since clearly he has expressed interest in learning on topics in which Jesus is supposedly an authority. Jesus, being omniscient, has nothing to learn from this individual, so it does no good to “throw the issue back at him.”

The behavior attributed to Jesus here can only be taken as evasive: he was asked a direct question, and – being the infallible, omniscient, all-loving god that Christians claim him to be – should have addressed the question in a loving and instructive manner. Instead, Jesus comes off as though he wanted to make the question of one’s eternal spiritual destiny a guessing game.

So anyone engaging in dialogue with evangelists should not be surprised when they start evading questions and trying to weasel out of presenting clear answers. They want you to think about their questions; they don’t really want to deal with yours.

Getting back to Cawley’s advise for evangelism, if you’re getting the impression that the evangelist’s techniques have certain similarities with those of predatory child molesters, you’re not alone! The shared goal here is to manipulate another person into a desired position of vulnerability.

Cawley’s advise that the evangelist should not think of himself “as the expert with all the questions” is not completely out of the blue. The deep dark secret here is that the believer has already made private judgments about non-believers, presumes to know their spiritual status, and pretends to have a pipeline to an omniscient and infallible source of supernatural knowledge. In his own imagination, the evangelist styles himself as an emissary of the creator of the universe, and he’s not about let this view of himself be corrected by those who are still enslaved in their sins. Thus Cawley is essentially warning evangelists to mask this presumptuousness, to keep it under wraps so that it’s not so off-putting.

Of course, there’s some practical value in this advise as well: since it’s a fact that the believer doesn’t have “all the answers,” he ought not come across as though he does. But this is a very fine trapeze act in itself: Christianity predisposes its adherents to be among “the chosen,” to be the receivers of a secret “mystery” knowledge to which outsiders are not privy (see, for example, the interplay between Jesus and his disciples as opposed to broader audiences in the 4th chapter of Mark). And of course, devotional references of the type that are common in evangelizing conversations – such as “God knows your heart” and “Jesus knows the hardships you endure,” attempts to use empathy to put potential converts at ease – can only invite the impression that the believer thinks he knows more about his intended victims than meets the eye.

Cawley’s counsel is that the evangelist should “listen to questions, then answer the question behind the questions” – i.e., in mind-game fashion use any questions posed by his intended victims as an opportunity to redirect the conversation elsewhere by subjecting their questions to self-serving interpretative devices that allow the evangelist to both evade the questions being posed to him and shift the burden back onto his intended victims. Cawley thus advises that the evangelist “try listening” – that is, to pretend to be listening, but in fact hear something other than what his intended victims might be trying to say. Cawley elaborates:
Try not to get caught up in arguments, but get to the core of their concerns. For example: A question about the biblical teaching on homosexuality is not necessarily an invitation to explain biblical sexual ethics. The underlying question may be something else like “Am I welcome in your Christian community?” or “Do you look down on me?” A good way to discern the underlying question is to say, “Why do you ask?” or “Good question, what do you think?” and then listen to what they say.
Cawley really seems to like the “Why do you ask?” comeback (see here). But if it’s sauce for the goose, it’s sauce for the gander. So we can reply in kind. When evangelists ask their questions (many of which are deliberately baiting anyway), we can simply respond by asking: “Why do you ask?” Remember: The evangelist initiated the conversation to begin with, which can only mean: he wants something from you. You have no obligation to give him anything.

Another site giving tips for evangelists lists the following suggested questions:
1. Do you believe in an after life?  
2. What do you think happens when you die?  
3. If you died right away, do you think you’d go to heaven? Why?  
4. Do you feel fulfilled in your life?  
5. Do you ever feel like something is missing?  
6. Do you ever pray?
These questions are chosen specifically to get the focus of the conversation onto the intended victim’s beliefs, his moral assessment of himself, his habits, his feelings, and any lack of fulfillment he may have in life. They may be quite personal and therefore invasive and unwelcome.

But don’t be mislead here: if a stranger comes up to you and starts asking you whether or not “you feel fulfilled in your life,” it’s clearly none of his business. Do you really think he’s interested in whether or not you find your own life fulfilling? Perhaps a good response might be: “My life is so fulfilling that I couldn’t care less if yours is or not.” This will tell the evangelist all he needs to know at this point. But then you could follow this up with: Why do you want to know? For clearly he would have no basis to be genuinely concerned about whether or not your life is fulfilling.

In fact, he’s hoping that your life *isn’t* fulfilling so that he can ply his evangelistic devices! If you reply that your life is wholly fulfilling, he’s either going to give up (sensing rightly that there’s no room for his mysticism to get a foothold in conversation with you), or he’s going to try to find some weakness in order to destabilize your certainty – for your certainty is his chief enemy.

It is because of the insidious nature of religious proselytizing that many non-believers are unwilling to let themselves become involved in such conversations. While I understand and sympathize with this sentiment, in some ways that’s regrettable, especially if there’s a chance to execute a reversal of sorts – namely to de-evangelize the evangelist. I think one way to remedy this reluctance is to make sure one is prepared for those occasions in which he finds himself face to face with missionizing believers. So I’ve come up with a few questions of my own that I think may come in handy, should the opportunity to practice a little ‘reverse evangelism’ present itself. These are for the most part polar questions (yes-no) which I have broken them into general philosophical categories. The words “On your view” can be inserted at the beginning of some questions, but given the context this may be redundant or even undesirable.

I. Metaphysics:
1. Does wishing make it so?  
Related questions:  
a) If I wish really hard, will that make what I wish for real? Why or why not?  
b) If I believe something with all my might, will that make what I believe true?  
c) If I pray fervently for something, will my prayers make it so?  
d) If I meditate on something with full concentration, will my meditation make it come to pass?  
e) If I command a mountain to cast itself into the sea (cf. Mt. 17:20), will that mountain obey me?  
f) If I speak a sentence, will my speaking make that sentence true?  
g) If I think a thought, will my thinking make that thought true?  
h) If I imagine something, will my imagining it make it real?  
The purpose of these questions should be clear to anyone familiar with the issue of metaphysical primacy. If the evangelist should hesitate to answer any of these questions without reservations, explain that they are all testable. For example, if he is unwilling to admit that praying fervently for something won’t make whatever is prayed for a reality, tell him that you’re willing to find the answer by means of experiment. If he doesn’t want to give it a try, ask if that’s because he doesn’t want to give prayer another chance to fail.  
2. Is nature’s uniformity a result of some prior conscious activity? Or, is nature uniform independently of anyone’s conscious activity?  
3. If everything that exists other than your god was created by your god, what was it aware of before it did any creating?  
4. When I pick up a little pebble in my backyard, what specifically will I find in that pebble that tells me that it was created by an act of consciousness?
II. Epistemology:
5. Do we discover knowledge of reality by looking outward at the realm of facts, or by looking inward to the contents of our imagination, wishing, feelings, and/or preferences? 
6. How can I reliably distinguish between what you call “the supernatural” and what you may merely be imagining?  
7. How exactly is faith distinct from believing what is merely imaginary?  
8. Do you realize that, even if you present an argument for your god’s existence, I still have no alternative but to use my imagination to contemplate the god you claim to have proven by the time I get to your argument’s conclusion?  
9. Specifically what convinces *you* that your religion is true, and how did it convince you?  
10. What argument can you give for the existence of your god that does not ultimately reduce to “Duh, I donno, must be God did it!”?
III. “Spirituality”:
11. Can you demonstrate that you are truly saved?  
12. If your god wants me to believe that it is real and repent, why doesn’t it appear before me right here and now, just as it is said in the book of Acts to have done on behalf of Saul the persecutor?  
13. Why would I be interested in your religion when it explicitly teaches (in Luke 14:26) that anyone who is to come to Jesus must hate his father, his mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, even himself, while in fact I love myself and my family members?  
14. If you make it to heaven and find that some of your loved ones did not make it, and must therefore be burning for all eternity in hell, how could you be happy and fulfilled knowing this?
IV. Morality:
15. If I am in fact expected to be truly selfless, why would I care if I’m not saved?  
16. Can it ever be morally justified for a parent to turn his back on his child when his child is being beaten and tortured, even murdered? Yes or no?  
If the evangelist says that this can in fact be morally justified, ask how he could back this and at the same time be against abortion, child rape, kidnapping, and the like.  
If the evangelist says that this can never be morally justified, then explain why you could never worship the Christian god, even if you thought it truly did exist – as, given the gospel story, it’s an immoral monster.  
17. Is there anything you would not be willing to sacrifice for Jesus?  
18. If Jesus commanded you to kill someone, would you do it?  
Perhaps you can discuss the problem of evil with the believer. Consider the following question:  
19. In his book Always Ready (p. 172), Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen offers as the solution to the problem of evil the premise that “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.” Bahnsen himself does not disclose what specifically this reason is or how we can determine that it is “morally sufficient.” Perhaps you can. Can you tell me what exactly that reason is, and explain why we should suppose that it is “morally sufficient”?
Perhaps you can think of additional questions that would help move the conversation along. If so, feel free to leave a comment.

If you want to be more provocative, you can invoke examples like Solomon (cf. I Kings 3:5) and Joseph (cf. Mt. 1:20, 2:12-13, 19, 22) and respond to the evangelist’s answers and assertions with the question: “Was that revealed to you in a dream?” Indeed, if he’s not receiving revelations in the form of dreams, maybe he’s not really saved.

Here’s a suggestion: Jot some of these questions down on a piece of scrap paper and stick it in your wallet, your purse, your coat pocket – something that’s sure to be with you pretty much anywhere you go. If an evangelist approaches you and engages you in a missionizing conversation, tell him that you have a few questions of your own and pull the paper out. This by itself will likely make quite an impression, demonstrating that you’re ready to have the conversation – that you’ve in fact been waiting for just this kind of opportunity.

On the other hand, if you’re an evangelist yourself, feel free to give your answers to the above questions. We’d love to hear from you.

by Dawson Bethrick


Justin Hall said...

You need to go down to pioneer square on a Saturday. There is usually someone loudly arranging the passing crowds with dire threats of hell fire:)

Ydemoc said...


You wrote: "When I pick up a little pebble in my backyard, what specifically will I find in that pebble that tells me that it was created by an act of consciousness?"

Yep, I've employed this one with some success. The Christian I used it against had no real answer and ended up changing the subject, i.e., evading.

You've produced a bunch of questions that should really come in handy.

And here's a question that that I recently posed to the very same Christian, "Other than what's written in your bible, what informs your concept of Hell? Where can we go to verify that Hell actually exists as opposed to Hell just being a product of imagination?"

The crickets chirped loudly after that one.

Thanks again!


Joe said...

I am sure you have heard of the presuppositionalist, like Douglas Wilson, use the illustration that in a pure naturalistic world humans are no different than fizz in a bottle. Humans are just atoms fizzing in a different way. The idea is that if humans are just chemicals reacting then human beings have no meaning or purpose. Do you have a blog article dealing with this kind of argument? How would you respond to it? I have recently heard a Catholic apologist use this fizz example with an atheist. I find your writing and your blog very helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for your comments.

In order…


I didn’t know that. I pass PS every day, but on the weekdays. I’m not inclined to go there on the weekends if I can avoid it – and I can! Besides, I’m not the type to get into a yelling match. I’d rather it be a calm, quiet conversation. But you and I should get together again soon!


That’s a good question. I should add it to the list. But, which category? It sort of straddles a couple or three. I do think it would make quite an impression on some young, eager evangelist, to take out a slip of paper from my pocket with a list of questions for him, essentially saying, “I’ve been waiting for you…” Hear the < gulp!>


Thanks for visiting my blog. I’m glad you’ve found it helpful. Yes, I’ve heard the fizz thing on and off for years, going back to Wilson’s debate with Till I think it may have been. And yes, I’m aware that it’s enjoyed a revival of sorts among presuppers. I believe I heard Sye or one of his clones using it recently – perhaps against Dillahunty? I’m not surprised that mystics other than presuppers would find its use opportune.

I don’t have a blog entry addressing specifically the fizzing characterization. And I can’t say I’ve seen any good responses to it. So I’ll add it to my list of writing projects. I have notes on it somewhere already. But I can already think of many obvious objections.

Okay, I have to run off to work.


Anonymous said...


I am sure you have heard of the presuppositionalist, like Douglas Wilson, use the illustration that in a pure naturalistic world humans are no different than fizz in a bottle. Humans are just atoms fizzing in a different way.

Well, I would tell them that I expect Christians to despise human nature enough to compare it to fizzing, given that their fantasies tell them that we're all but crap undeserving of mercy, and that just a few will be shown "grace." Undeserving forgiveness. So, if they rather be some god's despicable, but forgiven, pieces of crap, that's their choice. That doesn't mean that I have to despise myself the way their religious fantasies teach them to.

The idea is that if humans are just chemicals reacting then human beings have no meaning or purpose.

Again, not surprised that Christians would have such low opinions about human nature that they're compelled to compare themselves to "mere fizzing," while pretending that being some god's undeserving puppets is somehow meaningful.

That's but a start.

My advice. don't buy into their bullshit as if you had to answer their demands. Their demands are but projections of their own shitty worldview. Their low self-respect and their low opinion of humanity is a product of their religious fantasies. Thus, it's them who are responsible for their own prejudices. I have no reason to buy into them. If they want to project the problems of their worldview onto mine, then it's them who have a problem. I won't solve it for them. They can keep them all for themselves.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Photo,

Nice to hear from you. As always, I enjoy your comments.

You wrote: “So, if they rather be some god's despicable, but forgiven, pieces of crap, that's their choice.”

I think the fundamental take-away point for Joe (and anyone else) to consider here, is that the Christian would *rather* things be some way other than what it they actually are. He prefers his god to be real and his god-beliefs to be true (“I want it to be true,” says Mike Licona), so he denigrates any alternative as though it were offensive or degrading (meanwhile his own religion denounces man as a sin-ridden incompetent who can only do wrong when left to his own devices). The “fizzing” thing is really just a mischaracterization designed to make the clapping choir go “That was a good one, Doug! You really got him there!” It’s Doug Wilson trying to have a rock star moment without any demonstrable musical skills.

I strongly suggest that we learn to notice when believers characterize belief in their god as a result of a choice. They characterize non-believers as choosing *not* to believe that their god is real, which is a tacit acknowledgement that they think the whole thing boils down to a simple choice between (a) “God exists” and (b) “God doesn’t exist,” and that one makes this choice arbitrarily. If this is not *the* ultimate root of the apologist’s projections, it’s surely one of them. He has made the arbitrary choice to believe in his god – why haven’t you?

Look, man is whatever he is regardless of what anyone wishes him to be or finds uncomfortable about his nature. A sober, mature and rational approach is to consider what man is based on the facts we discover by looking out at the world rather than seeking refuge in emotions and self-pity. Even if one is disenchanted with the direction one’s culture is heading (and there’s always been plenty of good reason for this throughout history), that does not justify giving up on human nature and retreating into a worldview informed by fantasies.

Photo: “If they want to project the problems of their worldview onto mine, then it's them who have a problem.”

Of course, the apologist is arguing that the problem in question (mind = fizzing) is a problem that arises from assumptions entailed by “naturalism.” And no doubt, the apologist can easily cough up quotes from champions of “naturalism” which substantiate this characterization. It never occurs to the apologist that the naturalists he quotes may in fact be “borrowing” assumptions from mystical worldviews like Christianity.


blarkofan said...

Hi all,

This is the short form of the Doug Wilson quote:

If there is no God, then all that exists is time and chance acting on matter. If this is true then the difference between your thoughts and mine correspond to the difference between shaking up a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bottle of Dr. Pepper. You simply fizz atheistically and I fizz theistically. This means that you do not hold to atheism because it is true, but rather because of a series of chemical reactions… Morality, tragedy, and sorrow are equally evanescent. They are all empty sensations created by the chemical reactions of the brain, in turn created by too much pizza the night before. If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means that we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical fizz we call reasoning or right and wrong to the irrational reaction we call morality. If no God, mankind is a set of bi-pedal carbon units of mostly water. And nothing else.

The quote above is a combination of things Wilson said in a debate with Farrell Till. It is frequently found on the web in this condensed form, as at this site:

I just found the following link, which has some of the original debate:

I made some notes about the short quote, which I would be happy to share with anyone.

Note that Wilson is not claiming that, if God doesn't exist, the world could not exist. He is assuming the world can be exactly as it is but without God, thereby conceding this is possible. He has given up the need for a creator, or for a god to author logic, morality, and the uniformity of nature.
• If he denies this is possible (for the world to exist exactly as it is but without God), then he has no basis for his assertion. He is just fantasizing about something he believes is impossible - not the world we actually inhabit - so there's no need to give his fizzing any more consideration. He could just as easily be fantasizing about poker-playing purple pixies on Pluto.
• In his scenario, we still have science, philosophy, art, language, pizza, mathematics, culture, technology, etc. and it all results from "chemical fizz" without God. We still have love, laughter, morality, logic, etc. without God. Clearly the electrochemical processes of our brains are nothing like "swamp gas over fetid water"; they are more like powerful, flexible organic supercomputers.
• If we have the world exactly as it already is without any god existing, why try to introduce one into the picture?
• Why should we think Wilson, whose understanding of reality is fundamentally wrong in his own proposed scenario, has any valid insights into the nature of a godless world?

Anonymous said...

A sober, mature and rational approach is to consider what man is based on the facts we discover by looking out at the world rather than seeking refuge in emotions and self-pity.

This is nicely put. One of the ideas dancing in my head as I wrote that semi-answer. They think that we should start with what we "believe," with what we might imagine (such as imagining that we're but fizz). But that's them. We start with what we can discover by looking around at the world. A very important distinction.

Reynold said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reynold said...

In regards to question number 18: "If Jesus commanded you to kill someone, would you do it?" which is supposed to make them question their morality.

I've found that apparently, the answer would be "yes", at least with some of them.

I remember dealing with Jason Lisle on his blog when the topic of morality came up. This is what happened:
I got into it with a poster named "josef" who said this in response to my asking him if killing babies was moral if god said to do it:

"Of course. Whatever God commands is absolutely moral because God himself is the absolute standard for good. In fact, if God really did command to do something, such as kill babies, then it would be immoral not to do it. And on what basis do you have to disagree with this outside of mere opinion?"

I brought that up to Lisle, and this is what happened:
Lisle says, quoting me at first:
"Remember Joseph saying that it would be immoral to NOT kill a baby if god commanded it?

[Dr. Lisle: Joseph is right. What God commands is necessarily right. Any other definition of morality is ultimately arbitrary and therefore logically unjustified.]"

95BSharpshooter said...

I'm grateful that someone like you has the patience to deal with such people as I lost patience with many years ago, and that patience gets shorter and shorter as I get older. :-(

Unknown said...

Hello Dawson and readers. Thanks and kudos to Mr. Bethrick for yet another good blog.

Best Wishes.


praestans said...

Hello Dosun

Just looking in.

Nowadays, I always ask Xtians as to why ask I must believ in Jesus, the deity that makes mums n dads eat their own Jer 19.9.

Prhaps I can rescus a nice lass from the Christ clutch.

We need to disabuse the prevalent marcionite view. Jesus is the ego eimi (isa 43:10, 51.12 - Jn 8.58) How quickly Xtians forget this when I say, 'Jesus says in Genesis....

Hope ur riting projects ar going well. A book would be great. Du send complimentary copy to eerdmans or zondervan..

May I also currect u: in that 'Be evr ready' is at 1 Peter 3:15
(not vurs 5 as this post has it.)


praestans said...

Incidentally Dawson I read somwhere here that causation presupposes existence. Whot du u say about "the *first* cause" was there ever wun?
Does this nesasrily intail or imply an uncaused cause?


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Alif,

You wrote: “I read somwhere here that causation presupposes existence.”

Yes, I have affirmed – and continue to affirm – this view. But it’s important to understand why I say this, and understanding why will help address your questions.

Causality is the law of identity applied to action. This means that actions, like the entities which perform them, have identity. This is self-evident: swimming is distinct from walking, which is distinct from flying, which is distinct from having a conversation, which is distinct from operating heavy machinery, which is distinct from composing a sonata, etc. We distinguish between various actions all the time. We could not do this if actions themselves did not have identity. In fact, it is because actions have identity that we can distinguish one from another (as well as from the entities which perform them), and thus identify them in conceptual form. For example, my daughter swims in a swimming pool, and a fish swims in a lake. The actions are performed by different types of entities, but they’re similar enough to be identifiable with the same concept.

There are a number of corollaries to this fundamental recognition, but crucial here are the facts that (a) the actions which an entity performs depend on the nature of the entity which performs them (e.g., when a bird flies, it does so by flapping its wings to produce lift), and (b) the entity which performs an action (whatever action that may be) must first exist in order for it to perform that action – and thus for that action to happen (as Kelley puts it, “you can’t have a dance without a dancer”).

No, we won’t learn such things by reading the bible, but I digress…

Alif: “ Whot du u say about "the *first* cause" was there ever wun?”

It depends specifically on what this is intended to mean. If we mean that existence is the first cause, I see no problem with this insofar as it goes, but it does not seem to speak to the question very satisfyingly. But in fact, that is what I would say: first, existence exists, then things which exist act. So if “cause” refers to something that performs action, you can’t get any more fundamental than existence, though this is a collective noun (denoting everything that exists), and we usually think of specific things that perform actions.

What I do not hold is that we can start with action and then treat existence as a product or “effect” of an action. This would commit the fallacy of the stolen concept. What specifically was doing the action? Didn’t it have to exist in order to act? Again, you can’t have a dance without a dancer. You can’t have action without something that performs the action.

Alif: “Does this nesasrily intail or imply an uncaused cause?”

The clear implication of the axioms is that existence is uncaused. Existence is not a result of some prior action, causation, or conscious activity.

The way I see it, there’s only one rationally viable starting point: the fact that existence exists. If one doesn’t like starting with existence, then he would be compelled to start with non-existence. But why do this when we know that existence exists?

Theists who posit a creator of the universe (i.e., the sum totality of all that exists) imply that the proper starting point is with non-existence, and thus posit their god (which they claim exists) to “explain” the fact that existence exists. This is a non-starter and leads to a whole host of stolen concepts.

Why not start with existence, and go from there? Why begin with fantasizing alternatives to existence? Is this not a childish habit that people simply don’t allow themselves to outgrow?

I hope that helps!


praestans said...

Thanks for the illumination Dawson

(I feel a right compunction in not using a more standard spelling, which I'll do so now albeit I might use older forms eg 'stopt'; 'det' etc).

Isn't the whole enterprise of the theist to advance

'you can't have 'creation' without a 'creator'.

now, we recognise the tea drunk; the stone turnd; the lawn mowd; the field ploughd; the seed sown; the crops thresht etc we perceive agency. I mention crops because there's a standard quran verse used by muslim dialecticians ['mutakallimoon' whence 'kalam' - first cause argument]

Starting from existence is *precisely* the wont of the theist...though they tend to go backwards (and forwards: ie to eschatology].

what existence caused the universe into its existence?

Ex Nihilo, Nihil Fits say Parminedes. Comment?

Or at Quran 56: Have you thought about what you cultivate? Is it you who make it germinate or are We the Germinator? The trilemma is: it's god; it's you; or it happens by itself.

Care to take on Allah?



Unknown said...

Alif (or Afzal?),

Although I do not, in any way, speak for Dawson, I thought I would share some information.

A good post of Dawson's to read that addresses some of your questions would be "Basic Contra-Theism" from 05/04/2006.

Here are some highlights from that post:

“An age-old ploy in the attempt to validate god-belief involves the supposition that the universe needed a creator. Arguments to this end have been formalized in numerous variations, but the basic argument makes the claim that the universe is something that 'began to exist,' and ends by positing a deity which is said to have created the universe, allegedly by speaking or wishing it into existence.”

“Just as the universe is not an 'event,' the universe is also not an effect, whether caused or uncaused. The universe is the sum totality of all that exists.”

“...causality necessarily presupposes existence.”

“...theistic creationism itself consists of two fundamental errors, namely that something exists 'outside the universe' (that's one error), and that this extra-universal thing is a form of consciousness which wished the universe into existence (there's a second error). Thus in the final analysis, theistic creationism is presented as an explanation on the basis of the misguided notion that two wrongs make a right, and this simply does not fly.”

Combined with what Dawson has already written in this thread, hopefully that post will help you understand why the question “what existence caused the universe into its existence” is fallaciously formed, at least from an Objectivist point of view.

I would encourage you to utilize the search function of this blog to find many good points on this topic from Dawson's writing over the past 10 years.

Also, it should be pointed out that Dawson is an equal opportunity anti-mystic, though he does spend the majority of his time dealing with the Christian version of mysticism. His critiques, however, are equally applicable to a wide variety of anti-rational beliefs.

Brandon D Dickens

Unknown said...

Alif (Afzal),

One more point...

I noticed in your examples of causation, you have conspicuously left out actions that do not imply agency, such as "the tree grew," "the rock fell," or "the fire burned." In any event, for a good Objectivist exposition of causality, please see Dawson's post from 03/10/2010 entitled “Causality as a Necessary Relationship.”

Here are some highlights:

“...causality is essentially the identity of action, which is directly consistent with the Objectivist axiom of identity: to exist is to be something, to have identity. Since action exists, it has identity, just as do the entities which exist.”

“There can be no action without an entity to perform it. The existence of something which acts is a necessary precondition for any action. Also, action is the action of the entity which performs it. As such, action is an attribute of something that exists, which means: it is part of its nature.”

“...if action did not have identity, how could we formulate concepts which identify actions? Think of all the verbs in the English language. Verbs like ‘to walk’, ‘to swim’, ‘to think’, ‘to exercise’, etc. All these verbs name actions. How could actions be named if they did not have identity?”

Hope that helps.

Brandon D Dickens

praestans said...

Thank you both. (Alif is to Afzal as A is to Ayn) Tho' I'm used to 'Alif', familiarly.

I hear that scientists say 'the universe came into existence'. Would Objectivism admit this? Or is it immaterial ( I mean unimportant)?

It seems people here hold universe just *is*.
But is this the 'steady state eternal model'? This is somewhat old hat.

Language. Some verbs describe states not actions. what does nomenclature has to do with its nature/identity? All this is convention between communities.

In my community 'fanny' is completely different to what others mean.

Not altogether sure what point is being made here, sorry. Are we talking Wittgenstein and language games? I wonder how Wittgenstein is seen in objectivism.

I'm not sure how I omit'd that which 'implies' no agency when I gave the specific example from the Quran of the seed germinating: tellingly there 'Allah' asks which agent makes it 'germinate' - You? (human beings)or 'Allah'?

why does - and this goes to the pith - the germination process or a quark doing what it does, 'imply' no agency? Seems question begging. If I see an action I assume an actioner, surely - rightly or wrongly.

In posts here -which are most informativ- there's a frequent inveighing contra consciousness being impotent over matter.

This seems an Aunt Sally fallacy: since when do theists equate the consciousness ['Will'] of deity with eg the will of me?! I will a Pina Colada...and God wills fire not burn...have no parity.


(still sans pina colada)

Unknown said...


More or less, my point is provide information and to encourage study and self-reflection.

And I would point out, again, that many of your questions have been answered in Dawson's writings, which are easily available and searchable on this blog.

Here are some search terms that can help you get started:

"Primacy of existence"
"Metaphysical subjectivism"
"Dawson's razor"
"Uniformity of nature"

Brandon D Dickens