Sunday, February 25, 2018

Does Following the Evidence Lead One Over a Cliff?

Over on Triablogue, apologist Steve Hays has posted a blog entitled Am I a presuppositionalist? In this entry, Hays runs through a number of topics pertaining to the distinctions between presuppositionalism and evidentialism, both schools of Christian apologetics. His post is a reply to a description of evidentialism given by fellow apologists Tim and Lydia McGrew.

There’s a lot to consider in Hays’ post, and I have been tempted to give it a more thorough treatment, but I decided to keep today’s post relatively short as I want only to interact with a statement Hays makes towards the end of his post, where he fits in his predictable jab against atheism.
Hays writes:
If following the evidence wherever it leads ends up leading you to a blind alley, then you need to back up. I refuse to follow the evidence over the cliff, which is what atheism amounts to.
So, atheism leads one over a cliff? How so? Let’s test this by considering my evidence for atheism and see if it leads me over a cliff. What is my evidence? All I need is the primacy of existence. Throughout all my waking experience, without exception, I have observed the following truths, which I have subsequently found to be fundamental, universal and inescapable:
- wishing doesn’t make it so  
- denying a fact does not make it go away  
- reality does not conform to imagination  
- ignorance of a fact does not prevent it from existing  
- believing something does not make it so  
- commanding does not animate inanimate objects  
- praying does not alter reality - hoping does not change facts
These are just a handful of many more similar truths that I could cite here, but what’s important to note is what makes them similar: in each case, the realm of facts obtains independent of conscious activity, whether that conscious activity is wishing, denying, believing, praying, commanding, imagining, hoping, etc. Let's apply these facts to what Christianity tells us.

The Christian bible tells me that a supernatural consciousness essentially wished the universe into being; but my direct, firsthand experience of reality tells me uniformly that wishing doesn’t make it so. The Christian bible tells me that if I command a mountain to cast itself into the sea, it will obey my command (cf. Matt. 17:20); but my direct, firsthand experience of reality tells me uniformly that commanding inanimate things will not animate them and make them obey my commands. The Christian bible tells me that if I believe in Jesus, I will be able to do the same works and even greater ones that the gospel stories say he performed (cf. John 14:12); but my direct, firsthand experience of reality tells me uniformly that simply believing something does not make it so.

I have also observed, as I’ve pointed out numerous times in my writings on this blog, that I have no alternative but to imagine the supernatural consciousness which the bible portrays as the creator of the universe and its object of worship. I admit that I can imagine a glowing ghost sitting on a cosmic throne, its holy beard swaying to and fro, and boldly commanding galaxies, stars, planets, moons, comets, asteroids and interstellar dust to come into being. But once I realize that what I’m doing all along is imagining all this, I can’t “unknow” the fact that I’m merely imagining, nor will any attempt to deny the fact that I’m merely imagining make my imagining go away. And my direct, firsthand experience of reality tells me uniformly that reality does not conform to imagination.

The only sober conclusion to draw from these and similar observations, given their fidelity to fundamental facts which I have discovered and repeatedly confirmed without exception, is that theistic claims are not only simply not true, but in fact contrary to everything that is true. Hence I reject theism as irrational and acknowledge myself as a non-believer, i.e., a non-theist, i.e., an atheist. Now I can choose to ignore these facts and charge on in spite of them claiming that there is a god and that everyone should “believe” this anyway, but I’ve made the choice to be honest about the nature of reality, so I won’t ignore these fundamental facts. Would apologists prefer that I choose not to be honest about the nature of reality and instead embrace a cauldron of lies? That would not speak well for their religious devotion. At any rate, my direct, firsthand experience of reality tells me that ignoring a fact does not prevent it from existing.

Behind the scary black door of following the evidence where it leads is not only atheism, as I’ve described it here, but intellectual liberty. And the key that unlocks the door is acceptance of the primacy of existence.

Now, have I gone over a cliff? Not that I can tell. On the contrary, I’ve succeeded in orienting my mind objectively to the fundamental nature of reality, namely its existence independent of conscious activity. Now I can deal with reality in an adult manner. Really, what else needs to be said here?

Hays ended his post with:
I have no epistemic duty to embrace nihilism. That's diabolically idiotic.
I’d say that Hays has no duty, epistemic or otherwise, to embrace nihilism, and I agree that such a notion is idiotic, diabolically or otherwise. But more and more I’m coming to the view that an implicit nihilism is what drives an adult thinker to adopting mystical assumptions, including Christianity, in the first place. Essentially, the thinker has for whatever reasons (usually really bad ones) come to assess reality as bleak and hopeless and, desperate to find hope in something, he flees to religion to seal his abandonment of his own mind. And while he may find momentary relief from the specter of nihilism in the emotionalism of religious fantasies, those bad still continue to haunt him nonetheless, for he has chosen not only to leave those bad reasons that drove him to mysticism unchallenged, he has chosen to act on them, thus investing the forward momentum of his life on the assumption that those bad reasons are valid and true, even though he doesn’t know that they’re true, he just “feels” that they are true.

And we find confirmation of this analysis in apologetic methodology itself: apologists (including Hays himself!) are continually pushing the narrative that atheism entails or leads to nihilism and that the only antidote to this is to convert to Christianity. Notice that they never make a strong case for the assumption that atheism entails or leads to nihilism, but they’re happy to repeat the claim that it does over and over and over again for apologetic expedience.

So while the doorway to a sound mind is through the evidence via the primacy of existence, the doorway to religion is the acceptance of an implicit nihilism that drives a thinker to retreat into a realm of imagination and fantasy.

by Dawson Bethrick


Unknown said...
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Ydemoc said...

Thanks again, Dawson!

Joe said...

Excellent concise post Dawson! Your closing paragraph sums it up very nicely.Thanks for sharing.

Truth said...

Lets rewrite his comment so it's accurate

Evidence will help you conclude that they is a hidden door in the alley wall that leads to a vault with 1 trillion dollars. While blind faith leads to you bumping into the wall praying that Jesus will make the wall vanish

Evidence leads you to realize there is a bridge across the cliff . While blind faith tells you to jump and hope Jesus will catch you .