Sunday, March 03, 2024

Is the Axiom of Existence "Ambiguous"? A Reply to Eli Ayala

I’m often fascinated at the lengths to which Christian apologists will go in order to salvage the wreckage of their worldview when confronted with Objectivism. The amount of energy they pour into creating ways of obfuscating and evading can be staggering. And throughout it all, it is ironic to observe how high they set the bar for non-Christian worldviews on certain topics while ignoring the fact that Christianity itself has no player to send into the arena to compete. A great example of this is when apologists assert that non-Christian worldviews lack the necessary preconditions for knowledge while Christianity itself has no theory of concepts to begin with. Apologists themselves seem oblivious to this enormous shortfall.

We have observed apologists trying to wrestle with the axiom of existence in the past. It’s clear that to the last one, they undoubtedly sense the threat that the Objectivist axioms pose to the Christian worldview, and yet they fail to grasp the power of their truth. What’s most bewildering is their insistence to deny the axioms all the while unaware that their own denials would not be possible if not for the truth of the axioms they deny.

A noteworthy example of this is when Christian apologist Annoyed Pinoy denied the axiom “existence exists.” Some readers may recall this spectacle from my Exchange with a Presuppositionalist:
AP: “Existence doesn't exist. Existence is a property of things that do exist.” 
Me: I’m having a real hard time understanding what you’re trying to say here. So, in your view, existence is a property of things that do exist, and yet this property itself doesn’t exist? Yikes! How does that work? Is this from the bible some place? What does the bible say about these matters?
At one point, Annoyed Pinoy (AP) attempted to recover his self-inflicted contradictions by stating: “It depends on what one means by ‘existence’,” yet he had already made it clear that he thinks “existence is a property of things that do exist,” just after stating that this property “existence doesn’t exist.”

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated example. For the past 19 years (yes, 19!) on this blog, I have presented the undeniable receipts documenting the harrowing lengths to which defenders of the religious mindset will go to protect their confessional investment, sputtering, stammering and squirming in the futile hope of escaping the damning implications of their own affirmations. Two collections of my "From the Horse’s Mouth" series (see here and here) will attest, but those I’m afraid are just the tip of the iceberg. Readers are invited to share their favorite in the comments. 

Enter Eli Ayala

Recently in the comments of my previous entry, visitor Robert Kidd provided a link to a video on YouTube titled Presup REFUTED? on a channel called Revealed Apologetics. According to the website Revealed Apologetics, Eli Ayala is “one of the best among Christian apologists and debaters.” I often wonder how on measures apologists in order to rank them and arrive at such superlative accolades. I remember years ago how similar things were said of Sye Ten Bruggencate, but last I heard he’s under a vow of silence (see here).

Now as of this moment I have not listened to the entirety of Eli’s video (given the repetitiveness of what I have heard already, do I really need to?), and I don’t recall ever listening to any of his other broadcasts (at the time of this writing, his channel Revealed Apologetics has 296 videos). At the beginning of the video he announces that he had been scrolling through the comments of some of his videos and “came across, I mean, this amazing refutation of presuppositional argumentation and transcendental arguments, these sorts of things” (0:30 – 0:39). I did not see where he identified the specific videos where these comments he references can be found, so I haven’t seen the full context of the comments themselves or the exchanges that may have taken place where they were posted. The comments Eli references are from an Objectivist perspective. From what Eli has to say in his video (at least the portion I’ve listened to), it does not appear that he’s very familiar with Objectivism for, as we will see, much of his reaction to the Objectivist content in those comments suggests that he’s encountering Objectivism for the very first time.

He then reads the comment “word for word” (yet he apparently mixes his own words in) which runs as follows (4:49 – 5:58):
Point one: Existence exists, there’s something rather than nothing. [Point two:] A equals A, whatever exists is what it is and not simultaneously what it is not. Point three: Consciousness is consciousness of existence; consciousness is consciousness of something. A consciousness conscious of nothing is a contradiction in terms. An so he goes on to say: These axioms are not presuppositions so much as they are statements of fundamental truths. Their power lies in the fact that even attempts to deny them end up performatively affirming them. Hmmm… The axioms themselves – check this out, so – the axioms themselves require no proof, presupposition, justification, grounding, etc. This is in part because without them you couldn’t form any of those particular concepts or any other concepts for that matter. Existence is, he says, metaphysically primary and conceptually irreducible. All concept formation is ultimately grounded in existence. And so there you go: no god needed.
In response to this, Eli announces (6:57 – 7:26):
Now, of course, as you would imagine, there are a whole host of problems here. Of course, I am – for people who are a little slow, okay, um – of course, I don’t find this line of reasoning convincing at all. Uh, but the reason why I’m addressing it is because this is not the first time that I’ve heard it and so I’m trying to, uh, respond to thing that, um, us presuppositionalists will often hear and perhaps you’re not sure how to respond.
At this point, I’ll call out the points that Eli apparently wants to refute:
Point 1: Existence exists – there is something rather than nothing. 
Point 2: A equals A – whatever exists is what it is and not simultaneously what it is not. 
Point 3: Consciousness is consciousness of existence; consciousness is conscious of something; a consciousness conscious of nothing is a contradiction in terms.
Eli says that “there are a whole host of problems here.” Really? That’s fascinating. I have questions for Eli:
Is it not true that there is something rather than nothing? 
Is it not true that whatever exists is what it is and not simultaneously what it is not? 
Is it not true that consciousness is conscious of something?
I would think that if Eli does not “find this line of reasoning convincing at all,” he must presumably think that all three of these affirmations are false or at least untrue. So, if he is going to reject these affirmations as false or untrue, then he must align philosophically with the following three contrary positions:
Existence does not exist – there is nothing instead of something. 
Whatever exists is not what it is, but is what it is not. 
Consciousness is not conscious of anything.
Eli is so invested in his god-belief that he apparently finds it necessary to deny the axioms of existence, identity and consciousness in order to defend it. I know that apologists love to hear themselves, but I wonder sometimes if they ever listen to what they’re saying.

One thing I would be curious to know is whether or not Eli ever addresses the issue of metaphysical primacy – i.e., the relationship between existence and consciousness. In my experience, while Christianity and other mystical worldviews clearly and indisputably assume the primacy of consciousness metaphysics (e.g., consciousness creates, controls, dictates existence, including the identity of existents, and can alter what exists and what happens in reality at will, since reality is essentially a product of conscious activity – cf. wishing makes it so), Christian apologists – including presuppositionalists – never validate this critical premise. In fact, they seem oblivious of any need to do so. So far as I have observed, the resounding testimony is that adult religionists accepted implicitly at some point early in their lives the notion that reality is a product of conscious activity and as they matured into adulthood, they never explicitly grasped this or questioned this. Religion provides a deceptive mask for this assumption given all its reinforcing distractions. And yet, philosophically, it is the diametric opposite of objectivity. The notion that the subject in the subject-object relationship holds metaphysical primacy over its objects is the very essence of subjectivism (see here and here for starters).

Another question I would have is how Eli can explain how I and other thinkers can reliably distinguish between what he calls “God” on the one hand, and what he may simply be imagining on the other. Years ago I presented 13 points supporting my view that the Christian god is imaginary (see here). While there is no such thing as a burden to prove that the non-existent does not exist, I think a very strong case can be assembled to prove that the Christian god, and really any god for that matter, is imaginary. Indeed, even when apologists insist that their god is real and describe it and what it does, I still find that I have no alternative but to use my imagination to consider their assertions.

The prospect that the Christian god is in fact nothing more than a figment of one’s imagination would be pretty alarming for the believer. Years ago I presented the following argument:
Premise 1: That which is imaginary is not real. 
Premise 2: If something is not real, it does not actually exist. 
Premise 3: If the god of Christianity is imaginary, then it is not real and therefore does not actually exist. 
Premise 4: The god of Christianity is imaginary. 
Conclusion: Therefore, the god of Christianity is not real and therefore does not actually exist.
and asked the following pointed question:
When I imagine your god, how is what I am imagining not imaginary?
Whether it’s the claim “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), “Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17), “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matthew 27:52-53), I have no choice but to use my imagination to contemplate these fictions. But in spite of the fact that we must engage our imaginations just to contemplate these claims, Christians insist that their god is real and that these things really happened, and yet they face inescapable futility when trying to recover these elements of their worldview from the unrelenting jaws of fantasy. Christians insist that human beings have a soul which survives their death and faces an eternal judgment. This too requires us to engage our imaginations. Cornelius Van Til passed away in 1987, and we’re apparently supposed to imagine that he’s alive and well, wandering the hallways and rooms of some heavenly mansion located in some supernatural realm. I readily concede that I can imagine this, but that’s the problem: I can only imagine this. So again, how is what I imagine not imaginary?

When confronted with these matters, apologists often resort to personal attacks, as though the one pointing out the grievous liabilities of their subjective worldview were the problem. Frankly, I find it difficult to have an adult conversation with someone who will likely end up spewing the equivalent of “You exposed the irrationality of my worldview! I’m taking my toys and going home!”

I don’t know how Eli Ayala would address these challenges to Christianity, but perhaps like some believers I’ve encountered, he might seek to discredit Premise 1: That which is imaginary is not real. But either way, believers are going to be motivated to refute my argument somehow given their commitment to believing that their god is real. 

“The axiom of existence is ambiguous.”

In the portion of Eli’s video that I watched (the first eleven minutes or so), he states over and over again that the axiom “existence exists” is “ambiguous.” That’s very strange because the comments he cited (and even repeated!) made very clear what the axiom “existence exists” means (4:49 – 4:53):
Point one: Existence exists, there’s something rather than nothing.
One wonders if Eli has actually considered what it is that he’s trying to refute before trying to refute it. And even though what “existence exists” means was spelled out to him (so as to spoon-feed him a most basic recognition), he insists over and over again that it is “ambiguous.” I can only suppose that he has not reviewed the relevant Objectivist sources, either at all or at least in a charitable manner, to understand what is meant by the axiom ‘existence exists’ by those who affirm it, or if that would do any good given his predetermination to discredit it. From what he does say, it sounds like he did very little preparation before broadcasting his reactions on Youtube.

Nevertheless, I’m happy to explore this.

To say that something is “ambiguous” is to say either that it is doubtful or uncertain, or that it is open to more than one interpretation. It would be rather ironic if Eli meant that the statement “existence exists” is uncertain given that many detractors have protested against Objectivism for its affirmation of the axiom of existence as a solid, incontestable certainty. “You can’t be certain of that!” is a common reaction from subjectivists, unaware that they themselves are uttering a certainty and their own actions confirm the truth of the axiom of existence – after all, they have to exist in order to deny the axiom of existence! Moreover, it is hard to fathom that a serious thinker could sincerely find the recognition that there is a reality – that existence exists – is “doubtful” – and even if one did doubt its truth, that would not make the truth itself dubious, but would rather call into question the thinker’s cognitive well-being. Who seriously doubts that existence exists? From what I have observed, thinkers who dispute the axiom of existence are doing so because they feel threatened by it somehow.

To state that “’existence exists’ is ambiguous” in the sense that it is open to different interpretations is rather dumbfounding. What different interpretations are available here? Does Eli list a number of different interpretations and provide cues from the Objectivist literature suggesting a difficulty in understanding which interpretation might be intended while others are still possible? Perhaps if one deliberately distorts the meaning of the axiom, one might be able to imagine alternatives to what Objectivism is actually stating with the axiom of existence. But this would be a misrepresentation and any objection raised against the axiom of existence on such basis could only constitute a challenge to something other than Objectivism. That would be an instance of the fallacy known as straw-manning.

The axiom of existence identifies a perceptually self-evident fact – namely the fact that things exist, that reality exists – explicitly in the form of a conceptually irreducible statement – i.e., an axiom. The concept ‘existence’ cannot be analyzed in terms of more fundamental concepts – indeed, there are no concepts more fundamental than the concept ‘existence’. It is an axiomatic concept. To have objective meaning, concepts must refer to things which exist, either directly as in the case of concepts denoting concretes, or ultimately as in the case of higher abstractions which rest on more fundamental concepts informed by perceptual input.

Leonard Peikoff observes:
We start with the irreducible fact and concept of existence – that which is. 
The first thing to say about that which is is simply: it is. As Parmenides in ancient Greece formulated the principle: what is, is. Or, in Ayn rand’s words: existence exists. (“Existence” here is a collective noun, denoting the sum of existents.) This axiom does not tell us about the nature of existents; it merely underscores the fact that they exist. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 4)
So, in essence, the axiom ‘existence exists’ is essentially the recognition that things exist – that there is a reality – reduced to a single concept. Or, if you like: all things that exist, exist.

It is fascinating that any thinker genuinely interested in getting to the fundamental level of knowledge would find this formalized recognition at all problematic. Meanwhile, Christians criticize the recognition that things exist as somehow “ambiguous” all the while affirming belief in an invisible magic being which can wish entire universes into being and never explain either how they could know this or how the alleged magic being is supposed to have done this (cf. here). I’m reminded of the scolding thrust into Jesus’ mouth in Matthew 23:24: they “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

Now it may be that Eli has a different objection in mind when he charges the axiom of existence with “ambiguity.” He seems to think that the axiom should do more than what Objectivism itself expects of it. He states (7:31 – 7:59):
Let’s start with the statement ‘existence exists’. There is something rather than nothing. Now I want you to notice something, all right. I want you to notice how ambiguous and abstract this statement is, okay. Existence is asserted, but no content is given to the nature of existence. Isn’t that right? What does it mean to say ‘existence exists’, there’s something rather than nothing? What is the something?
If Eli stopped with “there is something rather than nothing” and asked whether or not that is true, I think he’d be on the right track. Does Eli think the statement “there is something rather than nothing” is not true? To address the axiom of existence at its own level, i.e., at the foundation of human cognition, the question is: is it true? Is it true that existence exists? Is it true that all the things that exist, exist? Or, as we saw with Annoyed Pinoy above, does Eli think that existence does not exist? Or that all the things that do exist, do not in fact exist? Well, he does not come out and say either way, but he sure seems very committed to taking issue with the axiom of existence as a basic recognition. Instead of confronting it head on, however, he chooses to move beyond it quite suddenly, ignoring the question of whether or not it is true, and urges his audience to “notice how ambiguous and abstract this statement is.”

Mind you, simply calling a statement “ambiguous” or “abstract,” is not an argument. If Eli has an argument against the recognition that existence exists, what is it?

Apparently, Eli misses the distinction between a metaphysical starting point and a full-blown dissertation. The axiom ‘existence exists’ is only a starting point, an initial recognition at the base of knowledge. As a starting point, it cannot presume prior knowledge. And the axiom of existence does not presume prior knowledge. The very function of the axiom of existence qua starting point of knowledge is not to affirm omniscience about everything that exists, full of details about every existent in the universe, but to serve as the marker of where human cognition begins. It is not a stopping point - it is a starting point. At the level of one’s cognitive starting point, we would not expect one to know the kinds of details which apparently concern Eli. The kinds of details that Eli apparently has in mind would necessarily be later discoveries.

Moreover, it is important to note that the axiom of existence is not a deductive starting point. Objectivism does not pretend to deduce all its principles and affirmations from the axiom of existence. On the contrary, as a starting point, the fundamental recognition that there is a reality, that things do in fact exist, is just the beginning of our cognitive journey. We still need to move forward on that journey and gather facts in the realm of existence to inform the content of our knowledge. Essentially, we need to identify what we discover in order to integrate what we discover into the sum of our knowledge. We do this by forming concepts (for details on how this is done, I recommend Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology). We cannot, for example, derive deductively from the recognition that existence exists that “therefore the circumference of a circle can be calculated by multiplying its diameter by Pi.” We still need to do the hard work of discovering this. There are no shortcuts to knowledge. The “secrets” of the universe will never be “revealed” to the human mind by supernatural beings. That is a fantasy through and through.

It may be helpful to think of this as a two-step process. The two steps would entail, in order of performance by the human mind: first the discovery that a thing exists, and then second, further inquiry into discovering details about the attributes which make up the thing’s overall identity, to identify what exists – the “content” to which Eli refers. Adult human thinkers perform this two-step with such frequency and fluence fluency – they’ve been performing this two-step process throughout their lives – that simply recognizing it as a critical aspect of epistemology may seem rather “beneath” us. But as thinkers interested in general epistemology, we cannot take for granted what we might otherwise take for granted!

(I’m reminded at this juncture of my examination of Christian apologist James Anderson’s book Why Should I Believe Christianity? where Anderson, whom by the way Eli has interviewed, calls out “existence” as the first item that thinkers take for granted. He writes on pg. 135 of his book: “I’ve argued that we need to acknowledge the reality of God in order to make sense of various things we take for granted and depend on every day: existence, values, morality, reason, mind and science.” See here: WSIBC: Presup Enters Rehab)

Notice that there is an undeniable order to this: The first step must precede the second step; the second step cannot happen unless and until the first step has been performed. This is wholly in line with the observation Leonard Peikoff makes in the excerpt quoted above. The axiom of existence represents the first step in view here while Eli seems to be conflating the second step with the first, expecting from the first step what can only be gained in the second step while taking the first step completely for granted, putting the basic epistemological order completely in reverse. This is what Greg Bahnsen might call “a tremendous philosophical mistake” (see here).

Consider how tightly logical this is: awareness that something exists precedes (i.e., must take place before) awareness of what that something that exists is. If I’m walking along a path and I see something shiny, I’m going to know that it exists before I know what it is. In fact, while I have already discovered that something shiny exists, there’s no guarantee that I will discover what specifically it is: I may ignore it and carry on my way, never having stopped to investigate; or, I may stop to investigate and still puzzle over what it might be. This is the course of human epistemology: we come across things in reality (existence exists) and it is up to us to move forward with the task of identifying what we find if we so choose.

The same epistemological order is observable in inference as well. If an astronomer infers from observing a slight wobble in the orbit of a distant planet that there must be some other celestial body nearby influencing its orbit, identifying that nearby celestial body as a moon could not happen prior to the inference that it likely exists. Inference is a conscious activity and therefore a form of awareness. And even then, there is still much to discover about the moon – e.g., its surface features, its composition, its approximate age, the degree of its rotational axis, etc. None of these attributes could be known before we first discover that it exists, and simply discovering that it exists does not give us these details. The general order here must be followed even in astrophysics.

Things are no different at the fundamental level of one’s cognition: we first perceive objects in our surroundings and recognize however implicitly that they exist (existence exists), and then we have a choice to make: do we examine those objects in order to identify them, or pass them over and go on to do something else? Sometimes we stop and examine them, and sometimes we ignore them and pass them over. There is certainly no obligation to stop and examine everything we perceive in order to enumerate their attributes. Consider when you’re driving down a road lined with trees on either side: do you count all the trees as you’re driving through the forest? Do you identify every species you see? Do you determine the age of each tree that you pass by? Do you ascertain how many branches and leaves each tree has? In each case I’m betting that the answer is a resounding no – on the contrary, you ignore them, you pass them by, they are unimportant to your task. While trees are certainly in your field of vision at some point, your focus is on the road, on other vehicles that may be sharing it, and on your driving. We perceive more than we identify.

But Eli was not finished trying to make his point that the axiom of existence is ambiguous. Here I will cite his words at length – but be warned, his rant gets a bit raggedy and repetitive. He states (8:38 – 10:43):
But notice this person says existence exists, there is something rather than nothing, and uh, we’re not told what this something is, okay, and I want, I want you to notice here that this… this person is going to remain ambiguous on the nature of existence and then also – this is important – he’s going to make a bunch of metaphysical and epistemological claims without first fleshing out how he knows these things given his worldview and the ambiguity of his starting point ‘existence exists’. Uh, you’re going to see this ambiguity throughout, okay? And this is important, because when people make epistemological statements or statements of of fact or whatever, you have to understand that all of those statements presuppose a particular metaphysical scheme, but what we’ll have here which is often the case is that um, they will sneak in me, well, they’ll assert something metaphysical, but it’s, but it’s ambiguous and undefined, okay, and then from that ambiguity they will build the rest of their case and of course we’re not going to, um, allow that as we are in apologetics dealing with a worldview clash, okay? We don’t do this from from the Christian perspective when we say we have a worldview, we have a specific metaphysical, um, u, we are making metaphysical claims, uh, we are saying something about God the nature of God and the… his ontology, these sorts of things, and we make claims about how we can know this and these sorts of things, okay. But I want you to notice that this person is going to remain ambiguous on the nature of existence and then he’s going to make a bunch of metaphysical and epistemological claims without fleshing out how we know these things, um, how he knows these things in light of his ambiguous metaphysical starting point, namely, uh, existence exists. For instance, he uh, asserts that, uh, he asserts a logical truth for example, A equals A, this is the law of identity. So those who are unfamiliar with logic, and you have the three basic laws, law of identity, law of non-contradiction, law of excluded middle, okay, law of identity basically is A is A, A is equal to A, so something is what it is, it’s not what it’s not, okay,…
Alright, I think that’s enough.

So here are a couple points that Eli is missing here. First, in regards to his claim that the axiom of existence is “ambiguous” in that it does not tell us what a thing is, he misses the fact that whatever specific existent one perceives is irrelevant to the axiom of existence. Since many, many things exist in the world, one does not need to specify the what to understand the importance of the that of awareness. Again, as pointed out above, we first become aware that a thing exists, and then – and only then – are we in a position to move further to identifying what that something is. It could be a rock, it could be a shoe, it could be a microwave oven, it could be a fan belt, it could be a cloud, etc. The axiom of existence does not specify what the object you perceive must be – it could be anything in existence. That’s the beauty of the axiom of existence – since the concept ‘existence’ is the widest of all concepts – it includes everything that exists – the axiom applies regardless of whatever specific things a person happens to find in reality. This is how we know that the axiom of existence is universal to all human cognition: it applies to a child in ancient Greece watching a sparrow just as much as it applies to an elderly grandmother kneading bread dough in 1970s Nebraska. In either case, existence exists. As a starting point, its truth prevails regardless of whatever specific thing one happens to discover or perceive. We don’t need a separate axiom for the awareness of rocks, and another axiom for the awareness of shoelaces, and another axiom for the awareness of razor blades, and yet another axiom for the awareness of clouds. One axiom does it all in all cases everywhere and always. This is epistemological economy. This is the power of human cognition.

Second, in regard to the claim that the axiom of existence is ambiguous in that it “remain[s] ambiguous on the nature of existence” – that is, presumably, that the axiom does not do enough to tell us more about what existence as such is, this objection ignores the fact that existence is conceptually irreducible: existence cannot be analyzed or defined in terms of more fundamental concepts. As Peikoff rightly puts it, “existence exists, and only existence exists” (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 32). No matter what makes up existence, whatever it is, it exists. So again, we can get no more fundamental than what the axiom of existence affirms.

To have objective meaning, concepts would need to have reference to things which exist, either directly, or by way of abstraction. There are no concepts more fundamental than the concept ‘existence’, so one cannot define ‘existence’ in terms of more fundamental concepts. Existence is the foundation – there’s nothing more fundamental. Moreover, since ‘existence’ here is used as “a collective noun, denoting the sum of existents” – i.e., as a concept which includes the totality of everything that exists, the axiom of existence is at least as meaningful as the concept ‘universe’. When theists say that their god created the universe, do they bicker amongst each other saying it’s “ambiguous on the nature of [universe]”? No, they don’t. Eli reserves the right to apply a criticism, a vacuous one at that, to non-believing worldviews which he would probably never apply to his own. And yet we have an answer to the claim that the axiom is ambiguous: there is nothing ambiguous about existence. Existence exists. If Eli is confused on what ‘existence’ means, the fault does not lie with Objectivism. Perhaps his confusion originates in his own worldview which has no objective starting point.

At no point does Eli actually demonstrate that the axiom of existence is in fact ambiguous. Rather, he seems to be importing his own ignorance of Objectivism into his own objections against Objectivism, which is neither charitable nor noble. Perhaps he believes that just by labeling the axiom of existence ‘ambiguous’, that is sufficient to make it ambiguous. But reality does not conform to wishing, for wishing does not make it so. And he has no argument against its truth. Indeed, any attempt to argue against the axiom of existence would performatively affirm its truth, which is what was stated in the comments Eli himself read out on his video. Again, does he ever listen to what he says?

If Eli has an alternative starting point, what is it, and how does it not take for granted the truth of the Objectivist axiom of existence? Where does human cognition begin if not with the unadorned, fundamental awareness that things exist? Even if Eli were to say that “God exists” is his starting point, he is affirming existence. (He would also be affirming the primacy of imagination over fact.)

On Eli’s view, does consciousness have an object? Does it need an object? If consciousness has an object, what according to his view is the nature of the relationship between consciousness and its object? Does he think that the object of consciousness is a creation of conscious activity (i.e., consciousness creates its own objects ex nihilo), or does he think that the object exists independently of conscious activity and it is by means of conscious activity that one becomes aware of the object of his consciousness?

For example, I open my eyes and see a wall before me, and on the wall a painting is hanging. Sense perception gives me direct awareness of the wall and the painting. Did my consciousness create the wall and the painting such that they now exist and available for my eyes to perceive, or did they already exist and by opening my eyes I became aware of things which exist independent of the conscious activity by which I became aware of them? Or, perhaps Eli thinks there’s some other alternative to consider here. Perhaps he doesn’t think perception gives awareness of anything, or perhaps he thinks that the things we perceive don’t actually exist.

What likely rankles thinkers like Eli and other presuppositionalists even further than its truth as an axiom, is that the axiom of existence is presented as an expression of fundamental certainty on behalf of a non-Christian worldview. Apologists resent non-believers who are certain in their position, especially if the position in question provides a bullwork for their rejection of mystical worldviews like Christianity. And yet, Eli is likely oblivious to the performative contradiction he commits every time he affirms the existence of his god. When a thinker states “X is the case,” he is implying that this is true regardless of whatever anyone wants, believes, prefers, wishes, hopes, denies, ignores, forgets, etc. And yet when the “X” affirmed is a supernatural consciousness to whose will all reality allegedly conforms, his affirmation is immediately at cross purposes against itself: he is saying the primacy of consciousness is true, which is presented as a fact which obtains independent of conscious activity. He might as well say “The statement I am saying is false.”

What I would challenge Eli to make clear is the following:

First, does he acknowledge that there is a reality? Either he does, or he does not.

Second, assuming he acknowledge that there is a reality, does he think that reality is a product of conscious activity (e.g., wishing, commands, mental projection, etc.), or does he think reality exists independently of any and all conscious activity? Or, has he just never really given this question any careful thought before?

Objectivist metaphysics explicitly observes that reality (existence) exists (‘existence exists’) independent of any and all conscious activity, whether that activity is characterized as wishing, commanding, demanding, ordering, wanting, preferring, insisting, projecting, imagining, hoping, supplicating, praying, etc. Objectivism observes that existence is a necessary metaphysical precondition for any conscious activity to begin with. The order of nature is not: consciousness, then (or therefore) existence, but rather: existence, and organisms capable of conscious activity are conscious in some way (by means of sensation, perception) of existence. Where does the Christian bible directly address these matters? Or, does it leave them terminally ambiguous?

Lastly, I invite him to weigh in on the question of whether or not, according to his worldview, wishing makes it so. Does he believe that wishing makes it so? If so, can he provide a demonstration? Or does he recognize that wishing is metaphysically inert in that no amount of wishing will alter reality? If he acknowledges that wishing doesn’t make it so, can he explain in a manner consistent with his own commitment to theistic metaphysics why that is the case?

As we have witnessed time and time again right here on this blog, the presuppositionalist is motivated by a concern to protect his confessional investment in theism at all costs, even at the cost of his own reputation as a thinker before his peers. This is his self-sacrifice in action. He wants his god to be real, and given the primacy of this psychological investment in his interaction with the world (especially socially), he will naturally view any alternative to his view as a threat to be combatted at all costs, even if it requires him to deny the fact that existence exists outright. He rightly senses that conceding the truth of the axiom of existence will only undermine his god-belief at the most fundamental level of thought, so he will sense an urgency to discredit it somehow, even if his effort makes him look silly as a thinker. I am perfectly content to rest on the following:
P1: If existence exists, then there’s no rational justification to assert a god. 
P2: Existence exists. 
C: Therefore, there’s no rational justification to assert a god.
In short, since existence exists, all gods are out of a job.

by Dawson Bethrick


Robert Kidd said...

Good evening, Dawson.

I'm reading your post a second time and when I came across this statement: "we first become aware that a thing exists, and then – and only then – are we in a position to move further to identifying what that something is."

It struck me that this is the exact opposite order to the procedure theists use.

They start out by identifying what God is and then set about trying to show that it is.

Robert Kidd

Bahnsen Burner said...

Yep, exactly. All their arguments for their god presuppose its existence. Their arguments do nothing to establish its existence. In the final analysis, their god-belief is a claim to automatic knowledge – knowing without any process involved to take the mind from ignorance to knowledge. Cf. John Frame’s “we know without knowing how we know” (see here). They go from zero to omniscience in the space of a wish. Apologist Mike Licona said the quiet part out loud when he blurted out “I want it to be true” (see here). They can afford no space to actual epistemological procedure because that would allow for fallibility, and they want their belief to be absolutely infallible. It’s a pretense, not a form of actually knowing.

Notice how their arguments are attempts to draw implications from the assumption that it does exist, without ever proving that it does exist, without ever enlightening us as to how they could possibly know that it exists. E.g., logic is immaterial, unchanging and universal, so it must point to an immaterial, unchanging, universal deity. That is to say: logic is a reflection of this other thing which we can only imagine, but they would never admit to the imagining part. But how can they rule out the imagination? They can’t.

This is why folks like Greg Bahnsen, James Anderson, Eli Ayala, etc. won't touch questions referencing the universal human capacity to imagine with (as Eli put it) "a 10-foot pole." They “discover” their god in their imagination, and then they attempt to construct arguments which somehow validate their belief that it is real, in order to convince primarily themselves. When those same tactics don’t succeed in convincing others, well, there’s something wrong with them – e.g., they don’t want to believe (doesn’t that give something huge away?), they “hate God,” they want to cling to their sinning lifestyles, etc.

Notice that they do not follow this procedure with any other item of knowledge. For everything else, the procedure is first to discover that something exists, and then to investigate what it might be. A stronger approach would be: first, establish the existence of their god, and then argue that its existence must be necessary for (e.g., the uniformity of nature, the universality of logic, the absolutism of moral standards, etc.). But they don’t do this, rather, they compress the two issues into an unanalyzable whole and dress it in the guise of a syllogism. For example:

Premise 1: In order for nature to be uniform requires the existence of the Christian God and nothing (or no one) else to uphold and sustain it, since the immutability and providence of this God is a necessary precondition for nature to be uniform.

Premise 2: Nature is uniform.

Conclusion: Therefore, the Christian God exists (and by extension, Christianity is true).

(from here)


Bahnsen Burner said...

They want to compel the conclusion that their god exists as a necessary presupposition to a premise which is commonly assumed independently of religious commitment – e.g., the uniformity of nature. But this strategy just invites parody:

Premise 1: In order for nature to be uniform requires the existence of Blarko the Wonderbeing and nothing (or no one) else to uphold and sustain it, since the immutability and providence of Blarko the Wonderbeing is a necessary precondition for nature to be uniform.

Premise 2: Nature is uniform.

Conclusion: Therefore, Blarko the Wonderbeing exists (and by extension, Blarkism is true).

And yet, I openly acknowledge Blarko the Wonderbeing is entirely imaginary.

They have no epistemology in terms of stable principles. Hence, they never achieve the self-awareness necessary to recognize the fundamental reversal involved in their theistic defenses. It’s completely lost on them. That is a hallmark of delusion.


James P. Caputo said...

“ Moreover, since ‘existence’ here is used as “a collective noun, denoting the sum of existents” – i.e., as a concept which includes the totality of everything that exists, the axiom of existence is at least as meaningful as the concept ‘universe’. When theists say that their god created the universe, do they bicker amongst each other saying it’s “ambiguous on the nature of [universe]”?

Failure to grasp that a concept subsumes all entities of a class whether known or unknown leads to Eli’s epistemologically premature concern with the nature of existence. To be a subsumed under the concept “existence” a thing must be. What do you mean by “be”? At this point we gesture toward the whole of existence - much of which we perceive and whose nature we don’t know much about beyond its physical appearance - and say, “it’s this to which I’m referring.” At that point our interlocutor can identify innumerable existents whose nature about which we know precious little. So what? We know they exist without such knowledge.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello James,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, that's correct: we don't need such knowledge (i.e., familiarity with what it is that exists) to know that something is exists. Knowing that it exists will necessarily come before knowing what it is. It's almost embarrassing that someone would need this explained. But given Eli’s reaction to the axiom of existence, this is where things sit.

Curiously, I found the following statement from a presuppositionalist on a forum active back in 2008. You just have to read it for yourself:

“The unbeliever is already a defeated adversary. As Mr. Tim has already pointed out, the unbeliever is already without excuse because natural revelation is sufficient enough to convey that God is there. Any aspect of natural revelation can be used to show this, from the existence of morality to the existence of existence itself.”

(See the comment by Zenas dated 23 July 2008)

“…the existence of existence itself”? That has a familiar ring to it, does it not?

We saw in my entry above that James Anderson apparently acknowledges that existence is real, and here the apologist Zenas does as well. Why, then, do apologists like Eli Ayala and Annoyed Pinoy (and others) deny the axiom of existence? In the case of Anderson and Zenas, they’re addressing a sympathetic audience, so they can affirm some things that they couldn’t affirm in the presence of non-believers. In Eli’s and Annoyed’s case, they’re trying to defend Christianity in response to Objectivist principles, so they have to find some way to discredit the Objectivist axioms (e.g., the concept ‘existence’ is “ambiguous” and “ill-defined” or “Existence doesn’t exist. Existence is a property of things that do exist”), for granting them would concede the debate. This is an example of how apologetics is like political activism: defending the faith permits one to obfuscate and evade inconvenient truths while posturing as defenders of “the Truth.” But if a position is incompatible with the fact that existence exists, that position cannot be true. The apologist is not defending a truth, but rather a confessional commitment: too much is at stake to allow that commitment to be exposed for what it is.