Sunday, March 15, 2020

WSIBC: "God and Reason"

We come now to the fourth section of the fourth chapter of James Anderson’s book Why Should I Believe Christianity? which is subtitled “God and Reason.” Here he presents his case for the view that reason is best explained by Christian theism.

Anderson opens this section as follows:
Critics of religion often pride themselves on their rationality, and they like to cast the debate in terms of reason versus faith. Atheists stand on reason, we’re told, while religious folks have to fall back on faith. Richard Dawkins, for example, pejoratively refers to religious believers as ‘faith-heads’ while presiding over the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. (p. 115)
It’s true that disagreements between religionists and rational thinkers often touch on the conflict between reason and faith, and this is a serious issue. I see it as a good thing that Anderson at least acknowledges that it is an issue. However, I found that the word ‘faith’ appears only three times in this entire section, and those three instances are confined to just this first paragraph. The statement here reads as though Anderson disagrees with the view that reason and faith are in conflict with each other, but he does not actually expand on this in the proceeding section. I’d think that, if he suspects that critics of religion are mistaken in concluding that faith and reason are at odds with each other, this section would be a great place to put that supposed myth to rest once and for all. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens here. Rather he drops the topic of faith just as in “God and Existence” he dropped Heidegger’s “The Question.” Seems to be a pattern here. 

Generally speaking, I often get the impression that defenders of Christianity become uncomfortable whenever the topic of faith comes up. Faith is the ED of modern-day Christianity: the believer is reluctant to discuss it because of the embarrassment it causes him before others, and yet he cannot avoid the matter altogether because it is an inescapable condition of his confession as a theist. Yet here comes another apologist, limping along trying to keep it up. Hence apologists seem eager to move on to other issues once the topic of faith comes up, or at the very least to recast the matter in preference for other terms so as not to remind either themselves or critics of religion that faith is essential to their worldview.

And to be sure, it must come up because it was important to the early Christians who penned the documents found in the New Testament. But much has happened since those times two thousand years ago, including the development of philosophy, the rediscovery of reason, the printing press, widespread literacy, the increased secularization of education, the Enlightenment, the emancipation of the intellect, etc. Faith has, for many good reasons, acquired some disreputable baggage over the centuries. But a defense of Christianity must at the end of the day entail a defense of faith.

To determine whether or not faith and reason are compatible or in conflict, one would need to understand what each of these is and what distinguishes the one from the other. I have already outlined Ten Ways Faith Opposes Reason and to date I’ve not seen any challenges to my points.

Often when theists and atheists debate issues surrounding reason and faith, there’s a tendency to operate on vague understandings of each. Faith seems especially elusive to pin down. Some theists treat faith as simply another word for belief, others say it’s another word for trust, some apparently think of faith as a kind of intimacy. But since we already have perfectly well-suited concepts for these ideas, such treatments tend to make ‘faith’ rather redundant, when in actual practice religious adherents make it very clear that faith is extremely important and yet not exactly reducible to these other concepts.

When in doubt, I would think that going to the source should help clarify. The closest passage I can find in any of my bibles by way of a definition of ‘faith’ is found in Hebrews 11:1 which explicitly links faith to hope. Exactly what is “the substance of things hoped for” if not the imagination? I’m not trying to be incendiary here, but as a human being who is certainly capable of hoping, I am in just as good a position as anyone else to introspect into the nature of hoping. What do I hope for? Do I hope for things that I already have? Even the apostle Paul makes the point that we don’t hope for what’s already in our possession when he wrote “hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Romans 8:24-25).

Thus, if I go to the dentist and he confirms I have no cavities, I find myself no longer merely hoping that I have no cavities, as I had been when I was driving to the clinic. If I discover that my colleague has been awarded the promotion to the open manager’s position, I no longer hope that I’m going to be the lucky candidate. But in both situations, my imagination was very much an active force behind my hoping: I imagined that the dentist could find a cavity in one of my molars and thereupon ruin my day, and I imagined how great it would be to come home to my wife with the good news that I had gotten the promotion I had been working for.

Consequently, one of the persistent problems with defending faith is disambiguating it from commitment to the imaginary. Loose definitions, feel-good terms, inconsistent usage along with common parlance make this task all the more challenging for those apologists who seek to maintain an exterior of respectability for their religious beliefs. While believers can be predicted to resist and object, there seems to be no fundamental difference between faith in the Christian god, on the one hand, and faith in animistic deities on the other. Even secular movements, such as Marxism and “climate alarmism,” exhibit all the hallmarks of an irrational commitment – a commitment which is borne on the desire to remain faithful in the face of any and all evidence to the contrary. Sometimes religious faith and secular faith combine to produce a most destructive amalgamation. I’m thinking of the Heaven’s Gate cult for example, but I grant that they were more religious than secular.

Moving on, Anderson writes:
In reality, there’s no conflict between reason and belief in God, for there are excellent reasons to believe in God. I’ve discussed some of them already, and there are more to follow. At this point, I want to make a more provocative claim: Our very ability to reason presupposes the existence of God. (WSIBC, p. 115)
While I will demonstrate below that Anderson is entirely wrong here (and I’ve already shown that the “reasons” he’s already covered up to this point are ill-conceived – see here, here and here), there is cause to rejoice here. What I mean by this is that statements like this show how at least some strains of Christian tradition have evolved over the centuries, inching closer to a pro-reason inclination, if only in word. I take that as a good sign overall (I’m trying to anyway), but it is mixed with danger as well (hence my examination of Anderson’s cases!).

Contrast the desire Anderson expresses here to show Christianity to be on good terms with reason with the writings of some church leaders who recognized the threat of reason to the Christian faith.

The early church father Tertullian in his famous De Carne Christi made his celebration of paradox very clear when he wrote “The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed--because it is shameful. The Son of God died: it is immediately credible--because it is silly. He was buried, and rose again: it is certain--because it is impossible.” But the faithful urge us not to consider these outright contradictions, but rather human expressions in response to a supernatural “mystery,” which the faithful are to accept as knowledge even though they stubbornly defy comprehension.

Then there’s Martin Luther, whose scorn for reason is legendary. In his Table Talk, Luther tells us that “reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but--more frequently than not--struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” He urges that “we ought not to criticize, explain, or judge the Scriptures by our mere reason,” but should instead rely on prayer, and admonishes that “he who wholly renounces himself, and relies not on mere human reason, will make good progress in the Scriptures.” Notoriously anti-Semitic, Luther referred to reason as “the devil’s greatest whore.”

And of course we can’t forget Kant’s confession “I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith” (The Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the 2nd Edition).

I know, many defenders of Christianity will give us the tired and outworn “that’s what they said, but that’s not what they meant” or “you’re quoting him out of context.” We should expect this. But there are many more examples which serve to confirm the old saying that when a believer sacrifices himself for his imaginary god, the first thing to go is his mind. And with that, he turns his back on reason.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides the following synopsis of the conflict:
The basic impetus for the problem of faith and reason comes from the fact that the revelation or set of revelations on which most religions are based is usually described and interpreted in sacred pronouncements, either in an oral tradition or canonical writings, backed by some kind of divine authority. These writings or oral traditions are usually presented in the literary forms of narrative, parable, or discourse. As such, they are in some measure immune from rational critique and evaluation. In fact even the attempt to verify religious beliefs rationally can be seen as a kind of category mistake.
The story of Abraham and Isaac illustrates in concrete form the disposition required of the believer, namely one of utter unquestioning obedience to commands. The ideal here is diametrically opposite of what reason requires. The image of a father willfully and obediently preparing his own child as a burnt offering at the command of a voice he hears in his head, is beyond horrific, especially against the backdrop that this is supposed to be a virtuous act. By contrast, the mere act of questioning biblical doctrine or a statement of faith is, in the mind of the believer, an act of hostility, a threat to what he believes he needs to defend as “the Truth,” like a soldier defending someone else’s fort. It’s all a secondhanded mission, and the believer is just as disposable in all this as an apparatchik doing The Party’s bidding in a communist state. (The parallels here are indeed deep!)

The attitude of the believer towards the bible is a howling give-away that reason is not the guiding standard of Christian belief. Long before examining any of it, the believer is to accept and affirm the assumption that everything stated in the bible is true no matter what, and any point between Genesis chapter one and the final verses of the Book of Revelation which seems to conflict with reality, must be due to man’s deficiencies, not any error in the writings themselves. Christianity is the original guarantor of user error as soon as the package is opened. And yet even believers do not do this with any other source. The justification for this attitude is strictly mystical in nature, not rational: it was authored by an omniscient, infallible supernatural being which revealed its will for mankind to select writers who have long since died. If reason was involved at any point in the believer’s orientation to the world, it was dropped long before this and replaced with imagination and propelled by emotionalism, in particular fear (we’re all going to face a judgment, right?). As the believer becomes more and more confessionally invested in the faith, more and more of his psychological livelihood is at stake. As Christian apologist Michael Licona once candidly admitted, “I want it to be true.”

Here’s the upshot: Christianity’s teachings are said to come from an authoritative source and therefore are beyond question. If they are beyond question, then they are certainly not to be challenged. But if they cannot be either questioned or challenged, then there is no way to test them against rational standards. Thus reason is not the standard.

For believers like Anderson, the very notion of rational standards comes into play primarily for apologetic purposes. Typically we do not find fellow believers scolding each other for promoting something that’s feared to be irrational. Rather, the concern here is to build up a defense against outsider criticism. Rather than defend faith (again, notice that Anderson drops all discussion of faith as soon as he introduces it), the apologist will manipulate the discussion in an effort to make it appear that rational standards would not be possible were his religious beliefs true in the first place. Hence statements like Anderson’s “Our very ability to reason presupposes the existence of God” are commonplace in apologetic literature these days.

Speaking of my own experience as a member of a Christian church back in the early 1990s, the teachings of the congregation I belonged to were hyper-bibilocentric. On a score of one to 10, my church was about a nine in terms of emphasis on biblical teachings (my pastor would say his goes to 11!). I would say nine because I have seen more extreme; at least in my church there were no restrictions on electronic appliances, head coverings, chin-shaving, or eyeglasses. Some modern conveniences were allowed, but any source of knowledge other than the bible (and even then, only the “authorized version”) was treated with the utmost suspicion. Churches just down the street were characterized as “devil dens” and other denominations had been taken over by Satan’s minions, with the knowing complicity of their leadership. And the most suspect sources of all, ironically, were those authored by theologians, for unless they could prove themselves to be the real McCoy, they were likely responsible for leading the faithful astray – “lions in sheep’s clothing.” And reason itself was like garlic before a vampire. That is to say, all these attitudes found their justification in biblical passages. It went without saying that reason – what was denounced as “man’s wisdom” – was a tool of the devil. As the apostle Paul writes:
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise: and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. (I Cor. 1:22-29).
Again, as I have noted before, I can imagine all of this, and in reality imagining it is all that I can do here with respect to considering such statements. But this is precisely why Christianity can be so powerful in the believer’s mind, for it takes over his psychology by means of his imagination. Once he starts imagining what is described in the bible, the imagery take on an intimacy that no mathematical equation or logical syllogism can compete with. If at the same time he has accepted implicitly the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, then the imagery he develops in his imagination, guided by the descriptions he reads in the bible, are poised to take over his mind emotionally. Acceptance of the primacy of consciousness is key here, for an explicit grasp of the primacy of existence will secure recognition that the imaginary is not real.

So lip service to the effect that faith undergirds reason or “Our very ability to reason presupposes the existence of God,” tends to ring hollow on its surface as just that: mouthing words to prop up a certain exterior for the faith, a shiny exterior concealing a writhing animosity for man’s mind within.

This is how the believing mind is predisposed to accepting apparent coincidences, emotional spasms, confessions of fellow believers, and even dreams and visions, as “proofs” confirming one’s faith. Here the concept of ‘proof’ is co-opted by a process of assimilation, wresting the concept from its genetic roots in empiricism and retrofitted with mystical import. There’s no actual proof here at all, but rather a psychological complex of bias confirmation, while the desire of believers to always be on the lookout for further proofs suggests that even those who tell us confidently that their beliefs are so true are themselves never quite satisfied with their own current state: there’s always got to be something more to finally clinch it, just one more sign, one more coincidence, one more dream, one more argument, one more debate, one more witty riposte, one more sound bite. This may in fact be the real impetus which lies behind Anderson’s confession of desperation when he states “we desperately need to hear our Creator’s voice” (WSIBC, p. 148). The psychological emergency which Anderson acknowledges here is perpetual and insurmountable, forever gnawing away at the believer’s mental well-being, what little of it he may have left! (The image of a very strained-faced Dustin Segers comes to mind here; does the apologist appearing in this segment strike you as someone who’s mentally stable?)

Now we must be careful not to equivocate here. When one speaks of reason as a faculty or standard, this is different from having “reasons” for believing something. This distinction is blurred out when Anderson states on the one hand that “there’s no conflict between reason and belief in God,” and on the other goes on to say “for there are excellent reasons to believe in God.” Even people who reject reason as standard can claim to have “reasons” for beliefs they have accepted. I’m sure followers of Jim Jones, David Koresh and Marshall Applewhite could all cite “reasons” why they found their beliefs mutually aligned with these dangerous fanatics, but they certainly were not operating on reason as an objective standard. So I readily grant that many theists think they have reasons for their beliefs; I would certainly hope so! But having “reasons” for believing something is not the same thing as a commitment to reason as one’s only standard of knowledge, means of validation and guide to action. Nor does simply peppering your writings with a bunch of "therefore's" qualify one's position as genuinely in accordance with the norms of reason (see here). Typically when thinkers discuss the conflict between faith and reason, I take it to mean that there is a conflict between faith as a religious endowment of source leading to alleged knowledge and reason as an objective epistemological faculty.

This equivocation can be very sneaky, so I think it’s important to call it out. It should be well known that one can “reason” from false premises, and in spite of their falsehood those premises can be cited as “reasons” for believing further falsehoods. So one’s starting point is of crucial importance here, just as one’s epistemological standard is as well. If one assumes as his starting point the premise that everything in the universe was created by an act of consciousness and governed by an act of will, virtually any conclusion can be drawn. Hence the proliferation of many different religions and even many different strains within a religion. There are many takes on the Christian doctrine of atonement, for example, but there’s only one take on what 2 + 2 equals.

Consider the example of Anderson’s fellow Scotsman Dennis Nilsen, a serial murderer who was finally tried and convicted in 1983 after having murdered up to 15 or so young men. Accounts of Nilsen’s story invariably mention the lasting impression that the death of his grandfather, Andrew Whyte, had on Dennis when he was just six years old. In his biography of Nilsen, Brian Masters relates a personal account by Nilsen:
Relatives would pretend he had gone to a ‘better place’. ‘Why’, I thought, ‘should he go to a better place and not take me with him?’ ‘So death is a nice thing,’ I thought, ‘Then why does it feel so miserable?’ Father and grandfather had walked out on me, probably to a better place, leaving me behind in this not so good place, alone... (Killing for Company: The Case of Dennis Nilsen, pp. 46-47)
How often have we heard the sentiment expressed upon a person’s death, “He’s gone to a better place”? Is a grave really a “better place” than above ground living a lively life? If the deceased had a choice in the matter, would he really say, “Yeah, I’d prefer to rot in a casket”? And indeed, if grandpa has “gone to a better place” when he died, why wouldn’t a six-year-old think “I want to go too!”? But this is just one way, not actually uncommon at that, in which a false premise can worm its way into someone’s mind and create psychological trauma. In our philosophically naïve childhood, we’re told all sorts of untruths and many we go on to believe as if they were true. There’s nothing that’s going to prevent someone who has accepted such false beliefs as treating them as “reasons” for further untruths. Luckily Nilsen is an extreme case.

Theism works essentially the same way, at least for most believers. Probably the vast majority. In childhood they’re taught to believe in the supernatural and as they mature they carry beliefs associated with this notion into adulthood. Often they are told not to question these beliefs – adults who didn’t question them as they grew up certainly must know better! – and even scolded if they do. I’ve heard parents myself tell their children, “You ask too many questions!” Clearly something’s at stake, or someone’s trying to protect something. But all of this works to build a barrier against reason as a standard.

Anderson writes:
Just as we take for granted our ability to make meaningful moral judgments, so we take for granted our ability to reason: to judge between truth and falsehood, to extend our knowledge of the world using logical inferences and evaluation of evidence, and to decide what’s reasonable and what’s unreasonable. Everyone reasons – although clearly some people reason better than others! We take our ability to reason for granted, but it’s a truly remarkable thing that we possess the intellectual faculties that we do. Few of us ever reflect deeply on why we have them or how we acquired them. No other species on this planet has the ability to reason as we do. Not only are we able to reason, we’re able to recognize and reflect upon our ability to reason. We can reason about reason itself. (We’re doing it right now.) (WSIBC, pp. 115-116)
Here we see in action precisely how I described presuppositionalism as an apologetics method in my blog Preliminary Worldview Considerations before Anderson’s WSIBC: “this approach involves hijacking some assumption people commonly take for granted in order to construe it as evidence on behalf of Christian theism.” Yes, many people do in fact take their ability to reason for granted. But it’s striking how little people tend to understand reason. After all, in grade school we all took math, spelling, reading and writing, history, science, physical education, art, glee club, etc. But whoever took a course on reason?

It’s also true that man is unique among the fauna of the earth, so far as we know, in his reasoning capacity. But clearly man is not unique in the capacity to sense and perceive. This is something that needs to be borne in mind. Consciousness is biological in nature, and like other animals, man is a biological organism. The distinctive ability which human beings have is the ability to form concepts on the basis of perceptual input. This is what makes reason possible. As Ayn Rand explains:
Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. (“Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 62)
While it’s certainly true, as Anderson points out, that comparatively few thinkers have reflected deeply on the nature of man’s consciousness with specific regard to his ability to form concepts, Ayn Rand is one philosopher who did, and her theory of concept-formation is presented in her book Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. From her theory we can learn just how it is that “we can reason about reason itself.”

While reason does equip us “to judge between truth and falsehood, to extend our knowledge of the world using logical inferences and evaluation of evidence, and to decide what’s reasonable and what’s unreasonable,” before any of this is possible, we need to be able to differentiate, identify and integrate the objects of our awareness, and man’s consciousness has the ability to do this in the form of concepts. Thus concept-formation is non-negotiable here. Without concepts, there are no propositions, for propositions are assembled from concepts. In order to judge the truth-value of the statement “Smoking can cause cancer,” one would have to have already formulated the concepts ‘smoking’, ‘can’, ‘cause’ and ‘cancer’. Without knowledge of these concepts, one could not determine whether or not the statement is true or false. If I said “Lorsies can be flotished in besks,” you’d probably have no idea what I was talking about, and thus could not determine whether or not my statement is true. You’d rightly be asking, “What are lorsies? What are besks? What is ‘to flotish’?”

The question I would have for Christians, especially those who would make the claim, in effect, that the truth of the Christian worldview is preconditional to reason, is: Where would I learn about concepts in Christianity? I have searched my bibles repeatedly for any information or analysis on concepts, and I’ve not found anything there. Even worse, one Christian apologist has assured me that “concepts have no place in Christian epistemology.” In fact, I think the problem is even deeper that even this: Christianity has no epistemology to begin with. Indeed, if the task of epistemology is at the very least to lay out the ground rules for discovering, validating and integrating knowledge, why would this be needed in a worldview in which knowledge is simply piped into one’s mind by an omniscient and infallible supernatural being? A person who possesses “the mind of Christ” has no more need for epistemology than an acorn needs a jumbo jet.

Anderson next asks:
How then do we account for this truly remarkable human ability, this indispensable feature of our lives? (WSIBC, p. 116)
There is, on the one hand, the objective approach, which accounts for reason by reference to the axioms, the primacy of existence, and the objective theory of concepts. The axioms anchor knowledge to the realm of facts, the primacy of existence aligns our methodology in accordance to the fact that wishing doesn’t make it so, and the objective theory of concepts explains how the human mind forms abstractions on the basis of perceptual input. None of this is explained anywhere in the bible, and what the bible does affirm detaches knowledge from the realm of facts and invites the mind to ignore the distinction between reality and imagination by enshrining a supernatural being which creates the universe by an act of wishing and controls everything that exists by sheer acts of will. Such a phenomenon is not something we find in reality by looking outward at facts we can discover by rational means; on the contrary, we can contemplate it only by looking inward into the contents of our imagination, fantasies and emotions.

On the other hand, there is an assortment of mystical views which treat reason on a most superficial level, ignore reason’s basis in perception and its need for objective grounding, and treat as “knowledge” those figments of speculation premised in arbitrary notions which have no tie to facts. All its “conclusions” represent instances of deduction without reference to reality.

Anderson continues:
Once again we find that the Christian worldview makes excellent sense of this obvious fact. The ultimate reality is a rational reality. God is the supreme intellect. Since God is both perfect and personal, He knows and understands all truths; more than that, God knows and understands how every truth relates to every other truth. What this means is that our universe has its source in a rational mind. While there are aspects of it that seem to defy our rational understanding, the universe as such isn’t intrinsically irrational or unintelligible. (Ibid.)
Here we are not given an argument, nor does Anderson identify any facts which one can independently discover and verify by looking outward at reality. No examination of pebbles, trees, clouds or galaxies is going to provide us with evidence pointing to a supernatural consciousness existing “beyond” the universe. Instead of an argument citing actual facts, Anderson lists out a series of assertions echoing his religious beliefs. This is quite ironic in fact given that his whole case here is about the importance of reason and the need to give an “account for” it. Each of his statements here, in fact, requires the reader to retreat into his imagination just to contemplate what Anderson tells us.

What does it mean to say that “the ultimate reality is a rational reality”? No explanation is given. Presumably this means that reality is not some swarming mass of chaos. But if reality is not inherently a swarming mass of chaos, why is a supernatural mind needed to give it “order” in the first place? Luckily we have the axiom of identity: to exist is to be something specific. Identity is inherently concurrent with existence. “Existence is Identity,” as Rand rightly observed. But does the concept ‘rational’ really apply to “reality” as such? Rationality is “the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action. It means one’s total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one’s waking hours” (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 25). Clearly this is a virtue that applies to a specific class of entities, namely human beings, for only human beings have need for such a virtue. We do not say that a cat or a cloud or an iceberg is either rational or irrational. So in what way can we reasonably apply it to reality as a whole?

Anderson says that “God is the supreme intellect” and “is both perfect and personal” and “knows and understands all truths.” Again, no argument is given here. Indeed, there’s no suggestion of how any of this is inferred, either from general facts we discover in the world or from the particular nature of reason and man’s ability to reason. I recognize that I can imagine a “supreme intellect” which “knows and understands all truths,” but that means I am imagining such a thing when I do so. Does Anderson’s worldview acknowledge the fundamental distinction between reality and imagination?

Even if we accept the claim that “God knows and understands how every truth relates to every other truth,” how does this explain the operation of man’s mind? How does it provide any enlightenment on how man’s mind functions? It doesn’t. Claims about what an alleged supernatural being supposedly knows and understands moves us no closer to discovering and understanding how man identifies and integrates the objects of his awareness and draws inferences from knowledge he has validated. It all leaves man completely in the dark. As I have argued here, an omniscient mind wouldn’t even have its knowledge in the form of concepts. So claims to analogy fumble at the first down.

Sadly, all of what Anderson asserts here underscores Christianity’s allegiance to the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. In Christianity, “mind preceded matter” (WSIBC, p. 125). This is metaphysical subjectivism. But this means that Christianity is inherently opposed to objectivity, and thus cannot “account for” reason and rationality.

Anderson goes on:
Furthermore, Christianity teaches not only that we were created by God but specifically that we were created in God’s image. One aspect of that, which we considered earlier, is our capacity to make moral judgments. Another aspect is our capacity to reason. Just as human morality find its source and explanation in God’s absolute goodness, so human rationality finds its source in God’s absolute intelligence.(WSIBC, pp. 116-117)
Again, no argument here. Just more assertions of what Christianity teaches. We aren’t even given any citations to biblical prooftexts to confirm that this is actually what Christianity teaches.

Anderson then contrasts the beliefs he has recited here with his standard foil, Naturalism. Here he lays out the deficiencies of Naturalism as he sees them:
Despite the pretensions of atheists to have reason on their side, the leading atheistic worldview – Naturalism – faces great difficulties in accounting for our rational faculties. One of those difficulties I’ll come to in the next sections. But the central problem can be simply stated: Naturalism is committed to the idea that reason came from non-reason. The physical universe as such doesn’t have a mind. It doesn’t have an intellect or any rational faculties. At the beginning of time, the universe was just a highly compressed lump of matter – and lumps of matter have no thoughts at all, never mind rational thoughts. So the Naturalist has to believe that rational beings arose out of entirely non-rational materials and processes. That’s no easier to swallow than the idea that moral beings arose out of entirely non-moral materials and processes. (p. 117)
None of this appears to be a strictly philosophical objection. Rather, it has more to do with how things may have developed over the eons, which is a scientific matter in that it would require specialized knowledge to investigate, and the conclusions drawn from such an exercise would have no direct impact on philosophical fundamentals. In other words, regardless of how “rational beings” might have come about, it’s still a fact that existence exists, existence exists independent of conscious activity, human beings are conscious organisms, consciousness is a biological faculty, the imaginary is not real, etc. These are foundational to science, and nothing we discover by means of science will overturn them.

Beyond that, I really don’t see a real problem here. If reason “came from” anything, it came from existence. But notice also that attempting to explain reason by pointing to more reason, does not explain reason; it just re-affirms it. So it’s unclear what Anderson is really expecting here. It’s true that “the physical universe as such doesn’t have a mind,” but man does. And that’s what’s at issue here. The universe is just the sum total of all that exists, an exhaustive collection of all existents. And human beings do have minds. And our minds are so powerful that we can imagine minds residing “outside” the universe. But we should be sharp enough also to recognize the fundamental fact that the imaginary is not real.

Moreover, if reason is in fact the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses, as Objectivism observes, then there is no problem for Objectivism at all to what Anderson attributes to Naturalism. Existence exists, and there exist biological organisms which possess physical structures which allow them to sense and perceive objects in their surroundings, and among them is a special class of organisms which can identify and integrate the material provided by their senses. These are called human beings, and they do this by means of forming concepts on the basis of perceptual input. What exactly is the problem here? Blank out.

Anderson continues:
The most common explanation offered by Naturalists is an evolutionary one: we humans gradually developed the ability to reason over millions of years by a process of natural selection. Our reason gives us a clear survival advantage, so it is argued. This explanation faces several formidable objections, one of which I’ll develop in the next section: only conscious beings can reason, but there’s no good evolutionary explanation for how physical processes alone could produce conscious minds. (WSIBC, pp. 117-118)
Suppose Anderson is correct in saying that “there’s no good evolutionary explanation for how physical processes alone could produce conscious minds.” So what? Does this give us license to retreat into the imaginary and invest our psychology in religious fantasy? Indeed, uncovering gaps in knowledge is crucial to apologetic gimmickry, for it is by means of amplifying such gaps that apologists seek to justify their god-beliefs. No form of ignorance justifies pronouncements about what lies “beyond” the universe. Besides, the human project of knowledge is an ongoing work in progress. If it really is the case that “physical processes alone could produce conscious minds,” that’s a fact no matter what anyone believes or feels, no matter what failings one might uncover in anyone’s worldview. Discovering “how” any of that happens is a scientific matter.

Now it may be the case that Anderson is just incredulous here, essentially telling us that he simply cannot believe that “physical processes alone could produce conscious minds.” Such autobiographical details do not constitute a legitimate philosophical objection. Rather, at best he’s uncovered a question which has yet to be fully explored and answered. That’s great! We’ll get our best people right on it! But all incredulity and joking aside, no matter how inconceivable it may be that “physical processes alone could produce conscious minds,” it’s still the case that existence exists independent of consciousness, and that rules out Christian theism at its very roots. Again, it’s important to check your premises.

Anderson lays out another objection to Naturalism:
But there’s another strike against the Naturalist’s evolutionary account. Most of the organisms on this planet survive and reproduce perfectly well – far more efficiently than humans! – without the slightest ability to reason. If evolution is driven by natural selection, as Darwin’s theory dictates, then evolution doesn’t care a whit for what an organism believes. It only cares about how an organism behaves. From an evolutionary perspective, it doesn’t matter whether an organism has true beliefs, false beliefs, or no beliefs at all, as long as the organism can efficiently preserve and pass on its genes. Evolution isn’t truth-directed. It’s only survival-directed. (WSIBC, p. 118)
This seems to be an objection looking for a basis. ‘Evolution’ is an abstraction; it has no cares or want one way or the other, nor does evolution have a “perspective” on things. Also, reason’s value is not in generating “beliefs,” but in discovering and validating knowledge by identifying and integration the objects of awareness, and knowledge is very much a value to human survival. It may be that algae and sparrows get by just fine without reason, but man would not last very long without reason. Man does need to act, but his actions need to be value-centric if they’re going to promote his life. That is not automatic. Man must identify what is a value to his life and the actions he needs to take in order to achieve and preserve those values his life needs, and he needs to identify what is a threat to his life as well as the actions he needs to take in order to avoid what threatens his life. Evolution will not do this for him, and I know of no biologists who argue that it does. What he needs in order to do all of this is reason. If we have anyone to thank, I’d say it’s Aristotle!

Anderson continues:
But our faculty of reason is truth-directed. The very purpose of reason is to guide us towards truths. What’s more humans possess many higher intellectual powers, such as the capacity to understand advanced calculus, music theory, poetry and philosophy, none of which confer any obvious advantage when it comes to biological survival and reproduction, the driving force of evolution. (It’s tempting to suggest that people with highly advanced intellects are at a disadvantage in those areas.) (p. 118)
Our faculty of reason is object-oriented and therefore identity-oriented. Rand summed this up very poignantly in Atlas Shrugged: “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.” The purpose of reason is to help us live. Truth is not an end in itself, but life is. Moreover, truth is not some object-less abstraction which has no tie to reality or reference to existence. On the contrary, truth presupposes not only existence, but also identification. Without first identifying objects, there’s nothing to call true or untrue; without identification, there are no units to inform the concept ‘truth’ to begin with. Thus truth as such is not an irreducible primary, but a quality belonging to identification (see here).

It may be the case that calculus, music theory and poetry do not “confer any obvious advantage when it comes to biological survival and reproduction”; they might confer no advantage whatsoever when it comes to mere survival and reproduction. But that’s not an argument. The purpose of man’s life is not to evolve the species, but to live and enjoy his life. And if the technological advancements which calculus makes possible enhance his ability to produce resources for human life in abundance and the fulfillment which music and poetry provide man gives him incentive to put more effort into living a productive life, so much the better for his future and the future of his offspring. How then does “the driving force of evolution” have any relevance here? If anything, human beings have evolved beyond the level of mere subsistence of other organisms summed up as “biological survival and reproduction.” Only a most cynical worldview would cite the human flourishing made possible by advances in knowledge as some kind of stain.

Anderson keeps going:
In fact, when we take into account what most humans actually believe, the Naturalist faces something of a conundrum. Either evolution is truth-directed or it isn’t. If evolution isn’t truth-directed, then the Naturalist has no basis for assuming that his intellectual faculties can be trust to guide him towards truth, in which case he ought to doubt the truth of his own beliefs – including his belief in Naturalism. But if evolution is (somehow) truth-directed, we have to wonder why most people today are religious. Why has evolution tended to favor beliefs which, according to Naturalists, are so radically out of step with reality? (WSIBC, p. 119)
Maybe it’s just me, but I have no idea what Anderson might mean by the clause “evolution is truth-directed.” And unfortunately Anderson does not explain. Apparently he’s borrowing from Plantinga here. But to the degree that there’s any coherence here, it’s a category mistake. As I pointed out above, truth is a quality of identification, but evolution is not a means of identification. Similarly, it would be incoherent to say that photosynthesis is either truth-detected or it’s not. The concept ‘truth’ doesn’t apply at this level, and assuming it does simply invites more stolen concepts. If we say that digestion is not truth-directed, does that invalidate the purpose of our stomachs? Obviously not.

It would even be wrong to say that perception is truth-directed. Perception simply gives us awareness of objects qua distinct entities. Evolutionarily speaking, that’s an immensely important advancement over the level of sensations. But does calling perception therefore not truth-directed disable our ability to have awareness of objects qua entities? Clearly not. Reality does not conform to our identifications; on the contrary, our task is to conform our identifications to reality. That’s what reason equips us to do.

The concept of truth only enters the mix when identification does, which means only after we have formed some concepts which we can assemble together to express a coherent thought. For only when we start identifying things can we have something to evaluate in terms of true or untrue. If one makes the statement “Mt. Etna is a mountain in Italy,” that’s an attempt to identify a fact, and since it successfully identifies a fact (i.e., it corresponds to the fact in view without contradiction), we call that “true.” If one says “Mt. Etna is the tallest mountain in the world,” then a mistake has been made; it is in contradiction to another fact, namely that there are other mountains in the world that are taller than Mt. Etna.

But since evolution is not a means of identification, there’s something fundamentally amiss in Anderson’s case here. This is an example of how far one can go astray from rational constraints as a result of having no solid grasp of the nature of concepts.

As for why there are many religious persons, I don’t think that evolution has anything to do with this. Evolution brought human beings to a certain stage of development, and that includes a volitional consciousness. We are not automatons performing movements which we were programmed to perform. Leave such determinism to the mystics. Moreover, human beings are neither omniscient nor infallible; we don’t know everything, and we can and do make mistakes, including with regards to the content we harbor in our minds. False beliefs are in fact very possible, and most of us acquire many false beliefs in our childhood. Carrying these false beliefs into adulthood does not render human sexual activity infertile; again, nature does not conform to consciousness. Religious persons who pair-bond and engage in intimate relations are fully capable of producing offspring regardless of the degree to which their beliefs are incongruent with reality. Whether religious or not, people do this by choice, and even the churchmen of yore understood that human sexual desire is far stronger than religious inhibitions. Religious belief itself is not a genetic trait. But evolution happens at the genetic level, not at the conceptual level.

As for why mysticism continues to hold widespread influence over human populations, there are many factors to consider here, not the least of which is cultural momentum. If I were born and raised in Karachi, the odds would have it that I’d be a Muslim. If I were born and raised on the outskirts of Bangkok, the odds are that I would be Buddhist. But I was born and raised in the United States, and what would you know, I was raised by parents who were influenced by Christianity. Who’d a thunk it? On a more individual level, however, I have come to see that the real engine behind the persistence of mysticism is implicit acceptance of the primacy of consciousness, for this is what all forms of mysticism share in common and this is what ultimate distinguishes mysticism from a rational orientation to reality. Most thinkers, even in adulthood, have probably never heard of the issue of metaphysical primacy or considered it in different terms, let alone identify the proper orientation between the subject of consciousness and its objects. Just check out any story in the bible and you’ll see that no biblical writer ever raises or addresses the topic, the most fundamental issue in all philosophy. And with the advent of state-run education, expect it to continue!

Evolution will not correct for mistaken beliefs, at least most of the time. And frankly I see that as a good thing. There are many very good people who have some very bad ideas. Some will come around, many will not. But my hope would be that in spite of their false beliefs, they nevertheless live happy and prosperous lives.

After presenting his remarks against “Naturalism,” Anderson asks:
In the end, the crucial question is this: Which worldview gives us the most reasonable account of reason itself? One in which our reason has its source in a Higher Reason or one in which our reason has its source in no reason at all? If our very ability to reason depends on God, nothing could be more contrary to reason than denying God.
The most reasonable account for reason itself can only be possible on the consistent application of the axioms, the primacy of existence and the objective theory of concepts. Reason is the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by the senses, and the means by which the human mind identifies the inputs provided by the senses are concepts. Concepts formed in a manner consistent with the nature of what is perceived and in accordance with the fundamental recognition that the objects of awareness exist and are what they are independent of the conscious activity by which we are aware of them, are the only objective bases by which we can make rational inferences and develop true knowledge about reality.

The Christian worldview falls flat on each of these points: its metaphysics constitutes an outright denial of the axioms and hinges on an explicit contradiction of the primacy of existence by its assumption of the primacy of consciousness, and it has no native theory of concepts to begin with – not even a bad one.

Indeed a worldview Indeed, a worldview which is informed by ancient stories and what is essentially folklore is not and cannot be on the same table in this regard as one informed by rational principles based on input to which all human beings have direct access, regardless of when and where they live. There is no way today to verify if there was an Abraham with a son named Isaac and, if so, if they did and said what is described in the story about them in Genesis. It reads like a story and whether or not there were such individuals who believed whatever three or more thousand years ago, is philosophically irrelevant to anyone living today or even since. Many human beings walking around today have never heard of the Abraham and Isaac story, and yet the fundamentals of reason are still firmly within their grasp.

Also, it should not be necessary to point out (but I will anyhow) that a worldview which endorses an epistemology of “dreams and visions” (cf. here, here and here; see also here, here, and here) has strayed far off from any path that could lead to a rational analysis of reason and knowledge. Similarly with notions such as prophecy and prayer. According to this Christian source, dreams and visions are clearly considered to be a source of knowledge. There the author, someone named Lesli White, tells us:
If you’re wondering if God speaks to us through dreams and visions, the answer is yes. The Bible tells us, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). God actively speaks to us through them and these can have scriptural meaning… God uses our dreams and visions to bring instruction… God instructs through dreams, imprints upon the soul and through lasting impressions in a similar way that a seal is used to make an imprint in wax on a document. We can learn a lot through these instructions. We just have to be open to listening to what He is saying… Our dreams are used by God to break down our walls of self-defense. They are produced through our subconscious minds. Because of this, they normally bypass our self-defense mechanisms and our preconceived notions about our strengths and weaknesses. Our dreams go right to the truth of the matter. By breaking down the walls of self-defense, and allows us to see the true motives and conditions of our hearts. We have the opportunity to listen to God and enter a whole new place of healing.
So, not only are dreams and visions an important source of knowledge in Christianity, we’re told that the creator of the universe, the Big Kahuna Himself, uses them to speak directly to us! And yet in a recent blog entry Christian apologist Steve Hays reminds us that “dreams are imaginary.” Is it really at all credible to claim that a worldview which slathers itself in such mystical hysteria, is in fact a worldview which “gives us the most reasonable account of reason itself”? Indeed, all this strikes me as tragically un-self-aware!

Christianity, by means of character portrayal in the New Testament, rests on alleged “revelations” from another dimension as the primary epistemological units of human knowledge. Now, of course, given the creativity of the human imagination, anything can happen in a story; no one watching a science fiction thriller is going to scream out, “That’s not real! That can’t happen!” Well, they could, but that would defeat the purpose of consuming such stories, which is to be entertained. But even the bible nowhere explains how one can distinguish between what are deemed “revelations” and what may merely be one’s imagination. Presumably there is a distinction here, right? If so, is there some objective way to differentiate the one from the other? I’d think even believers would want to have some reliable way to distinguish concoctions of their own psychological making from authoritative transmissions from the Holiest Holies. But where does the believer find any guidance here?

Consider the passage we read in I Corinthians 7:8-10, where Paul speaks about marrying and staying married:
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
Here Paul makes it clear that some of the advice he’s issuing here is of his own devising, while other bits of advice are from “the Lord.” So in the same breath, he’s issuing instructions that he has come up with himself and other instructions that he’s just passing along; presumably the latter instructions were “revealed” to him somehow, though Paul does not explain how that happened. But he is clearly distinguishing the one category from the other, yet they’re both floating around in his mind. How does he know that some is his own authority, and the other is from “the Lord”? If one believes that supernatural knowledge has been revealed to him by a supernatural being, how does he really know that he hasn’t imagined any of this himself? That’s question one. Question two is: How can other people (especially those of us who are far removed from Paul and will never be able to interview him or cross-examine his statements) know that he’s not just imagining here when he claims to have received instruction from “the Lord”?

None of this is explained; rather, believers are simply expected to believe these stories simply on the basis that they’re written down in the holy storybook. Thus it requires precisely the opposite of critical thinking, rather complete gullibility, to accept all this as truth. And that acceptance does not come as a result of the exercise of one’s mind, but the surrender of one’s own intellect. And yet we’re told that Christianity can “account for” reason?

In conclusion, I suppose that when Anderson or any other apologist claims that only Christianity can “account for” reason, since we do not find this stated, explained and defended in the bible, we must ask: “Are you dreaming?”

by Dawson Bethrick

1 comment:

Ydemoc said...


You wrote: "And our minds are so powerful that we can imagine minds residing 'outside' the universe. But we should be sharp enough also to recognize the fundamental fact that the imaginary is not real."

Great! I need to remember to use this the next time a certain Christian I know tells me that humans have "puny"ineffective minds (as against the non-existent mind of the imaginary god he worships).

Thanks once again for another awesome entry!