Bolt’s Pile of Knapp
The following is a response to presuppositionalist Chris Bolt’s reaction to my blog The Uniformity of Nature. Bolt’s primary purpose was apparently to discredit my position while producing as little interaction with my arguments as possible.
My response is divided into the following sub-sections:
* * *
In my blog The Uniformity of Nature, I addressed questions which presuppositional apologists often raise in their debates with non-Christians. The overall purpose of pressing the questions which presuppositionalists pose to non-Christians is to put non-Christians on the defensive, thus keeping the spotlight of attention off their own religious worldview. When their questions are answered, apologists typically insist that the answers given to their questions by non-Christians are inadequate for some reason. The purpose here is to keep the spotlight trained on the non-Christian position, thus allowing their religious position to continue hiding in a fog.
There is another purpose behind pressing questions against non-Christians. That purpose is to get the non-Christian either to produce some kind of answer, or to confess ignorance on the matter altogether and do as the theist has done, namely to throw up his hands and blurt ”Duh, I donno, must be God did it!” If the non-Christian produces an answer, expect it to be dismissed as insufficient. If you’re lucky, the presuppositionalist may give some indication why the non-Christian’s answer should be dismissed as insufficient, but it is often the case that little or no counter-argument is given. The crucial task of the apologist at this point is not to enlighten his “opponent,” but to disqualify the non-Christian’s position as a viable solution to the matter in contention and to discredit the non-Christian personally as a thinker. The aim in doing this is to maneuver the non-Christian in the direction of confessing ignorance on the matter. The Christian delights in human ignorance, and seeks to uncover it everywhere he imagines it resides in other minds. Human ignorance is the darkness where the Christian seeks to locate his god. Whenever a non-Christian replies “I don’t know” to a question which the apologist treats as all-important, you can rest assured that the apologist is there, waiting like a spider, ever-eager to announce “Gotcha!” and thus claim a victory on behalf of his god-belief. The believer needs this, as he is ever seeking to validate his own god-beliefs within the confines of his own imagination.
The types of questions which I addressed in my blog The Uniformity of Nature have to do with, you guessed it, the uniformity of nature. This is a topic which presuppositionalists treat as a central point of contention between their worldview and whatever worldview a particular non-Christian might represent, particularly on the topic of justifying induction.
Apologist Chris Bolt recently offered a reaction to select portions of my blog, insisting throughout that I have not adequately addressed the issue and thus have failed to answer presuppositionalism’s challenge. Unfortunately, Bolt’s response to me is remarkably weak on substance, fails to address important challenges which I have raised in my piece, and gives the impression that he did not give my post a very careful reading before publishing a response to it.
An example of weakness on substance is Bolt’s objection to what he interprets my response to be in answer to the question “Why is nature uniform?” Now this was not one of the questions which I had set out specifically to address, but Bolt apparently decided that what did write was sufficient to guess at my response to this question would be, and that is, “It just is [uniform],” which he apparently takes to be a non-answer. What is weak about his discussion on this point is that he offers no reason to suppose that it is not true, even though he clearly rejects this view.
An example of failing to address important challenges which I raise in my blog would be Bolt’s decision to ignore totally a series of questions which I highlighted expressly in order to preempt the standard presuppositionalist obfuscations from clouding the issue. Since it just may be the case that Bolt did not see the questions on his first reading (which would be an example of not giving my blog a very careful reading of my blog), I will restate those questions here:
1. Is nature uniform? (Yes or no)
2. If no, we would likely have an instance of the fallacy of the stolen concept, for a denial of the uniformity of nature would have to assume that nature is uniform in order for that denial to make sense.
3. If yes , is nature uniform independent of consciousness, or is nature’s uniformity a product of conscious activity?
4. If nature is uniform independent of consciousness, the uniformity of nature cannot imply theism.
5. If it is thought that nature’s uniformity is a product of conscious activity, why suppose that such an overt appeal to subjectivism is at all philosophically impressive?
These questions cut to the heart of the matter as I see it, and thus I would be very interested in seeing how a presuppositionalist would respond to them. I would think that Bolt would want to preclude any confusion from obscuring what the Christian position affirms on the issue of the uniformity of nature, which is why I would think that he would welcome the opportunity to take a stand on the issues underscored by these questions. If he did in fact read my blog, I don’t know how he could have missed these questions, for the issues which they raise occupy a significant portion of the text. Perhaps he just thinks it is unimportant to clarify whether or not his worldview affirms that nature is uniform independent of consciousness. Or, he realizes that Christianity makes the uniformity of nature dependent upon consciousness, and he didn’t think it would be apologetically expedient to admit this. Either way, his choice to react to my blog and yet completely ignore these questions, speaks volumes.
In his reaction to my blog, Bolt sought to focus the discussion on a different set of questions. They are:
1. “Why is nature uniform?”
2. “How do we know that nature is uniform?”
In this post I will be examining the first of Bolt’s questions, leaving no doubt that it has been addressed, regardless of how “satisfying” Bolt finds my answer.
Bolt quoted me:
[N]ature is uniform on its own, independent of anyone’s conscious activity. A person can deny the uniformity of nature, but nature remains uniform all the same, in spite of such denials. This means that if no consciousness exists, the entities which do exist still act according to their natures.
And his response to this goes as follows:
Why is nature uniform? It just is.
Again, considering the question “Why is nature uniform?” was not the specific purpose of my post. But in spite of this, the position which I affirmed in my post did in effect answer this question definitively. I had stated at least twice that, on my view, nature is inherently uniform independent of conscious activity by virtue of the fact that it exists. Bolt interprets this to mean simply that nature “just is” uniform. While this overlooks many of the surrounding points which I made in my blog (for instance, it ignores my points about the concurrence of existence and identity and the objectivity of the uniformity of nature – that’s the part about nature being uniform independent of consciousness), let’s suppose that all I did say was “it just is”: “Nature is uniform because… it just is, like it or not, so get used to it.” This would be an answer to the question, so even though I did not set out to address it specifically, there’s no question that an answer to this question, which Bolt thinks is so important, can be obtained from what I did write, even if it has been under-appreciated by careless handling or deliberately de-valued for apologetic expedience.
Apparently Bolt does not find such a response acceptable. But why not? Why can it not be the case that nature “just is” uniform? Why can’t nature be inherently uniform independent of conscious activity by virtue of the fact that it exists? Bolt never explains why this cannot be the case. Nor does he raise any intelligent objections against the rationale which I had put forward on behalf of this view, namely that “existence exists, to exist is to be something, and nature, since it exists, is therefore itself.” To deny this, it seems that one would have to do at least one of the following:
1. Deny the premise that existence exists (but this would be self-defeating – the axiom being denied would have to be true in order for anyone to deny it);
2. Deny the premise that to exist is to be something (which amounts to a denial of the law of identity, which again is self-defeating – specifically what is being denied?);
3. Deny that nature exists (in which case one can only wonder why Bolt thinks his questions are so important); or
4. Acknowledge that nature exists but deny that the law of identity applies to nature (which too would be self-defeating, for it would be affirming the existence of something which is not something – a patent self-contradiction).
None of these options is very promising, to say the least.
Now if Bolt has any good reasons for supposing that nature is not or cannot be inherently uniform, he did not present them in his reaction to my post, and I for one would be curious to see them. But since I affirmed the position that nature is inherently uniform in my post, and he has published his reaction to it, I’d think that he would have taken the opportunity to educate me on the matter if in fact he knew any better. He did not. I am thus open to the possibility that he may in fact have no good reason against supposing that nature is inherently uniform. At any rate, my position thus far remains intact.
Bolt did follow up his own rendering of my position with this parenthetical statement:
(Stating that the contingent entities in question act according to their natures is another way of stating that nature is uniform but not an explanation for why it is uniform.)
First, Objectivism does not subscribe to the necessary-contingent dichotomy. In my examination of the law of causality, I nowhere characterized the entities which exist as “contingent.” Objectivism is well known, even among its more informed detractors, for its rejection of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy along with all its variants (see for instance Leonard Peikoff, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy” in Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pp. 88-121). By interpreting my position as affirming “contingent entities” Bolt indicates either that he is not very familiar with Objectivist epistemology, or that he has an unconscious habit of putting words into his opponents’ mouth. I suspect it’s a bit of both.
Second, if it is truly the case that stating that entities act according to their natures “is another way of stating that nature is uniform,” then denying the view that entities act according to their natures also denies the uniformity of nature. If Bolt holds that nature is indeed uniform and believes that the view that entities act according to their nature is just another way of affirming the uniformity of nature, why did he enlist the likes of John Robbins to argue against the Objectivist conception of causality (see here)?
Third, pointing out the fact that entities act according to their natures is not intended (nor did I offer it) specifically as “an explanation for why [nature] is uniform.”
Fourth, I don’t think the question “Why is nature uniform?” is entirely valid philosophically. In fact, this is not the question which I set out to answer in my post. This is because the question “Why is nature uniform?” strikes me as fallaciously complex. I think it is fallaciously complex because it requires thinkers who attempt to answer it on its own terms to accept hidden illicit premises which have no objective basis.
When the presuppositionalist asks the question, “Why is nature uniform?” is he asking what causes nature to be uniform? If so, then the question is indeed fallaciously complex, for it assumes that the uniformity of nature is the result of some prior cause and in so doing it invokes a natural law (the law of causality) prior to the uniformity of nature. But this is conceptually absurd for it blatantly commits the fallacy of the stolen concept: it makes use of a concept (namely causality) while ignoring the metaphysical context in which that concept can only make sense (i.e., a nature uniform with itself). Christians confirm this analysis whenever they name the actions by which their god supposedly causes nature to be what it is, such as when their god “creates” and “sustains” nature according to its will. By naming these actions (“creating” and “sustaining”), the Christian confesses that he assumes that these actions do in fact have identity – i.e., that the law of identity does after all apply to action as well as to the entities which perform them. The laws of identity and causality are natural laws: they are formal recognitions that whatever exists has a nature. Thus the question “Why is nature uniform?” - if it is asking us to identity what “causes” nature to be uniform – is bankrolled on a stolen concept just as the question “Why does existence exist?” does.
Now it is important to note that Bolt nowhere attempts to validate the question “Why is nature uniform?” He just assumes that it is valid, perhaps never having paused to consider whether it is valid or not. Nor does he address the questions which I posed regarding the uniformity of nature, namely those having to do with whether or not nature is uniform independent of consciousness. For instance, in addition to those which I quoted above, I stated:
This is the central question to be considered before all others: is consciousness involved in “making” nature uniform, or is nature uniform on its own, regardless of what consciousness does?
Bolt does not address my questions because he knows that the Christian view characterizes the uniformity of nature as a result of prior conscious activity (thus tacitly employing a stolen concept). On such a view, this can only mean that nature is not inherently uniform, and that any uniformity which is said to obtain in nature can be turned on and off at will, depending on what the ruling consciousness wishes. I explained all this and the attendant problems which such a view entails, but Bolt ignores all of this completely in his reaction. Why?
the following statement:
There is another point that I would like to make, similar to the one which Jeffrey J. Lowder made in one of his debates. In his debate with Christian philosopher Dr. Phil Fernandes, Lowder, past president of Internet Infidels.
I want to make one point about the big bang model and the beginning of the universe. I'm going to paraphrase [Dr. Phil Fernandes]. He says, "But naturalism or atheism mystifies the beginning of the universe. It says it's just a brute fact, it offers no explanation. Whereas theism explains it." Notice there's going to be brute facts no matter what you believe. In every metaphysical theory there's going to be brute facts. It is impossible for a theory to explain absolutely everything, even its own basic assumptions. Even theism has a brute fact, namely why God exists instead of absolutely nothing. But what about Naturalism's brute fact that the universe exists instead of just nothing? I guess I just don't see the problem here. [The Lowder-Fernandes Debate – Naturalism vs. Theism: Where Does the Evidence Point? This debate took place September 26, 1999 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.]
The essence of Lowder's point here is that in any viable philosophical system (particularly if it is a form of foundationalism), there must be a starting point beyond which explanation is impossible (otherwise it ceases to serve as a starting point). We need to start somewhere.
Objectivism recognizes the fact that knowledge has a hierarchical structure to it. This hierarchical structure of knowledge should be apparent every time we develop new knowledge on the basis of already existing knowledge, such as when we integrate newly learned facts about someone with what we already know about him. For instance, just recently my boss, whom I’ve known for a while now, revealed to me that one of his uncles was involved in the raid at Los Baños, Philippines. This new information has now been integrated with the rest of what I know about my boss. Also, concepts can be formed by integrating previously formed concepts, which is how we have higher abstractions (see for instance chapter three of Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, “Abstraction from Abstractions,” pp. 19-28). The formalization of any inference is likewise a means of making the hierarchical structure of a conclusion vis-à-vis its premises explicit. As Peikoff rightly explains:
Human knowledge is not like a village of squat bungalows, with every room huddling down against the earth’s surface. Rather, it is like a city of towering skyscrapers, with the uppermost story of each building resting on the lower ones, and they on the still lower, until one reaches the foundation where the builder started. The foundation supports the whole structure by virtue of being in contact with solid ground. (Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 130)
If you continue to reduce your knowledge to its fundamental bases, you will eventually come to what is irreducible, the bedrock on which it all stands. The Objectivist axioms identify the conceptually irreducible foundations of knowledge (see here). That which is irreducibly primary cannot be “explained” in terms of anything prior, for there is nothing prior which can be referenced in explaining that which is irreducibly primary.
So, on my view, just as nature is uniform independent of consciousness (and is thus an objective fact about reality), and since nature is existence as it exists apart from conscious manipulation (cf. Rand’s concept of the man-made in her essay “The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It, pp. 23-34), if existence is irreducibly primary, there is nothing “prior” to nature to “explain” or “cause” its uniformity. Thus it is inherently uniform. The question “Why is nature uniform?” as Bolt has posed it tends to ignore all these facts, and thus can be dismissed as fallaciously complex.
Now Lowder refers to this type of bedrock as a “brute fact.” And by this he clearly means a baseline fact for which there can be no prior explanation. Now it may be the case that presuppositionalists like Chris Bolt will seize on Lowder’s use of this term to dispute what he says, but I don’t think even they can outrun his point. Presuppositionalists of course insist that there is no such thing as “brute facts” (numerous references to 'brute facts' and presuppositionalism’s rejection of them can be found in Bahnsen's Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, cf. pp. 38, 78, 268, 279-280, 310, 316, 355-57, 376-79, 570, 673). What they seem to be saying is that "It's a brute fact that there are no brute facts." This is the kind of absurdity that we can expect to find in presuppositionalism once we scratch the very top surface of its systemic gimmickry.
According to Bolt, even more important than the question “Why is nature uniform?” (which I considered above), is the question “How do we know that nature is uniform?” He asks:
More importantly how do we know that nature is uniform?
In spite of the fact that I devoted a portion of my post to explaining what I understand “uniformity of nature” to mean and to showing its direct relationship to the Objectivist axioms, Bolt insists that I did not address this question. But in fact I did address it. I had quoted Rand’s dictum from Atlas Shrugged that “Existence is Identity” (Galt’s Speech) and noted that
Nature is uniform with itself, since to exist is for something to be itself. If A exists, it must be A. (emphasis added)
The axioms of existence and identity tells us that, if a thing exists, it is itself (which is to say, a thing that exists is uniform to itself). Thus, if nature exists, it is itself, which means: nature is uniform with itself. I spelled this out in greater detail in my post when I stated:
The uniformity of nature, then, is essentially the applicability of the axiom of existence to all of reality and the absolute (i.e., exceptionless) concurrence of identity with existence. Both of these aspects of the uniformity of nature are undeniable – that is, they cannot be denied without self-contradiction. Since reality is the realm of existence, the axiom of existence necessarily applies to all of reality. Since reality is the realm of existence, existence and reality are concurrent absolutely - i.e., without exception.
In this way we can confidently say that nature is inherently uniform (since existence exists, to exist is to be something, and nature, since it exists, is therefore itself), and that it is such independent of consciousness.
Bolt did not interact with any of the above statement in his reaction, missing it entirely (and therefore failing to recognize its relevance to the question he emphasizes) and marching on to insist that I have successfully addressed his precious question. Of course, it may be the case that Bolt, given his lack of understanding of the Objectivist axioms, simply does not recognize the fact that my statements above address the question he considers so vastly important. Bolt is at least aware of the fact that the answer which I have presented refers to the Objectivist axioms, for he quoted a statement of mine which does in fact mention them:
This is the view consistent with the axioms “existence exists,” ”to exist is to be something” (i.e., to have identity), and “entities act according to their natures” independent of consciousness.
But he doesn’t see their relevance. He responded to this, saying:
Conveniently Mr. Bethrick merely asserts what he has already written (“entities act according to their natures” = nature is uniform) and labels it axiomatic or at least derivative of a tautological axiom.
Perhaps I’m supposed to inconvenience myself for Bolt’s sake and suppose that there is no relationship between what an entity is and the actions it performs, in spite of its factuality and relevance to the foundations of knowledge. Bolt’s ideal must be a disintegrated mind – a mind which is lost in a never-ending tangle and constantly groping for anything which will enable its evasion from the distinction between reality and fantasy. I’m reminded of a point which Porter eloquently makes:
Cognition must obey the primacy of existence. That’s a severe constraint on knowledge, on all awareness of every kind, and it’s the cause of many other distinctive characteristics. It hasn’t been explicitly articulated so philosophers feel no discomfort in straddling it. But, like Ayn Rand’s axiomatic concepts they have to assume it in every assertion. Even when denying it as well. (Ayn Rand’s Theory of Knowledge, pp. 198-199)
when the axioms and the primacy of existence are identified explicitly, expect
those who have been trying to get away with evading them to buck hard, or to
roll over and take a Knapp.
As I noted in the previous section of this paper, Bolt completely ignores my points about nature being uniform independent of consciousness, perhaps out of reluctance to take a stand either way (for neither alternative bodes well for his theism). Also, he resists interacting with the view that nature is self-regulating (e.g., he gives no reasons to suppose that it is not self-regulating), even though this view is anathema to the presuppositionalist “account for” the uniformity of nature which insists that a supernatural being caused it to be so. Bolt fails to interact with any of this. He doesn’t even quote it for his own readers to examine, and, having provided no link to my post from his own, he apparently intends to convey the impression to his readers that his reaction accurately characterizes my position and interacts with it on its own terms. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the case.
Bolt apparently thinks it is wrong to relate the very concept of the uniformity of nature to the axioms. He writes:
Unfortunately this appeal to alleged axioms is irrelevant to the problem.
If the “problem” which Bolt has in mind here is the question “how do we know that nature is uniform?” then certainly the role of the axioms in anchoring our knowledge to reality, informing its fundamental content, and guiding us to distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary, is wholly relevant. The axioms would only be irrelevant to Bolt’s “problem” if he thinks anchoring our knowledge to reality, informing the fundamental content of our knowledge, and/or distinguishing what is real from the imaginary is of no concern to addressing the question “how do we know that nature is uniform?” So by insisting that the axioms have nothing to do with answering such questions, Bolt tells us about his own priorities here. They certainly do not include anchoring our knowledge to reality, informing the fundamental content of our knowledge, or distinguishing the real from the imaginary. Nowhere does Bolt make any of these points a concern in his reaction to my post.
But the point is worth pressing further. Since the truth of the axioms is a constant throughout all knowledge, they are always going to be relevant, at least if one seeks to ground his knowledge in what is real. Bolt is anxious to discount their relevance because if he were to admit the fact that the axioms actually do bear on the question, then he would have no choice but to admit that my position does in fact have a reliable answer to provide. And he will resist this precisely because it would defeat his apologetic pre-commitments. There is, of course, the additional fact that Bolt’s preferred “explanation” of the uniformity of nature involves an appeal to something which we can only imagine (for even on the Christian view of the world, human beings do not perceive the Christian god, angels, demons, devils, heaven, hell, etc.; we “learn” about these things by reading about them in storybooks written by ancient primitives who themselves lacked any explicit means by which to distinguish the real from the imaginary), and any acknowledgement of the truth and fundamentality of the axioms would directly threaten the Christian “explanation” of the uniformity of nature. So his reaction is predictable in this sense.
In addition to his ignorance of the relevance of the axioms, Bolt shows throughout his paper that he is unable to grasp Objectivism without importing his theistic presuppositions into the mix, which can only ensure that his defense does not take the form of an internal critique. For instance, he makes unargued and unexplained statements such as “Reality involves much more than matter in motion,” “God is transcendent and real,” “Nature is uniform because God created and controls it,” he asserts that appealing to “supernatural causation” as an explanation of the uniformity of nature “is an answer with no apparent problems,” and speaks of “’inside the natural order’ versus ‘outside the natural order’,” again without explanation of what any of this means or a defense of the assumed validity of such notions. He does not show that on Objectivism’s premises, the “account for” the uniformity of nature is self-contradictory, inadequate, reliant on non-Objectivist principles, etc.
Notice also that, for presuppositionalists, questions are “problems” for their opponents, not for themselves. When questions are posed to them (such as the five that I restated from my blog in the preceding section of this post), they can ignore them and pretend they were never asked (as Bolt does).
But Bolt does seem to sense a threat when it comes to the Objectivist conception causality, and rightly so. He writes:
The claim that “entities act according to their natures” does not follow from the claim that “to exist is to be something” or “to exist is to have identity”.
It doesn’t? Why not? Apparently because Bolt declares that it does not. Bolt does not think that action has identity to begin with. He has already made this opinion of his clear when he denied the Objectivist principle that the law of identity applies to action. For Bolt, action has no identity, which can only mean that, on his view, there is no way to distinguish one action from another, since the ability to distinguish things requires that the things being distinguished be distinguishable – and in order for things to be distinguishable from each other, they must have identity. But action is, on Bolt’s view, apparently exempt from having identity.
Curiously, Bolt has provided no argument for the view that action has no identity, and this viewpoint is in direct conflict with Bolt’s own action of identifying actions in his writings: every time he writes a sentence containing a verbal or noun construction which refers to action, he is performatively contradicting his own denial of the applicability of the law of identity to action by assuming that the actions he so names do in fact have an identity to be identified. By using concepts to identify actions such as “does not follow” (which he uses in the above quote) and distinguish these actions from other actions (such as “does follow” or “swim” or “races about”), Bolt is telling us through his own actions that actions do in fact have identity, that the law of identity does in fact apply to actions, in spite of his denial. Bolt’s actions speak louder than his protests.
Moreover, there is the inconvenient fact that action does not take place unless there is some entity which exists and performs that action. Action in this sense is not a metaphysical primary – the entity which does the action is. Action does not exist by itself, apart from the entities which perform it. And because of this, action depends on the entities which perform it. I have elaborated on and defended this conception of causality in my blog Causality as a Necessary Relationship. Thus, contrary to what Bolt asserts, it does indeed follow from the fact that “to exist is to be something” that “entities act according to their natures,” the intervening recognition that actions cannot exist apart from the entities which perform them being key to connecting these two intimately related recognitions.
Bolt made another statement which reveals how careless he’s been up to this point:
Apparently thinking that he has solved the Problem of Induction per Objectivist axioms…
has been Knapping throughout the discussion. I have nowhere indicated that
Hume’s problem of induction is solved exclusively by reference to the
Objectivist axioms. I have stated explicitly on numerous occasions throughout
our exchanges on the topic that the proper solution involves examining the
premises of Hume’s skeptical argument (which I have done here) as well as
showing how the Objectivist conception of causality (which I have defended here) and the
objective theory of concepts (see here) work
together in providing man with the cognitive ability to move from knowledge of
particulars to knowledge of general classes. All of this is geared toward
moving us in the direction of a conceptual understanding of induction as
opposed to the storybook understanding preferred by
Meanwhile, while I have challenged Bolt to take a stand on whether or not Hume’s argument for inductive skepticism is, on his view, sound, and even to reproduce Hume’s argument since he seems to think it’s so important, Bolt remains silent on these points, showing essentially no appreciation for questioning the soundness of an argument whose conclusion is supposed to be so secure. If Bolt believes that Hume’s conclusion is sound, and his “problem of induction” needs to be addressed on Hume’s terms, why does he make no effort to defend it?
As for the Objectivist axioms, my purpose in referencing them in my post on the uniformity of nature is to show that the uniformity of nature has a specific meaning within the context of rational philosophy and that this meaning is closely tied to the fundamental recognitions which the axioms make explicit at the base of our knowledge. It’s clear from the foregoing that Bolt’s attempts to critique all of this have fallen flat.
The Christian “answer” to the question “why is nature uniform?” is to assert the existence of a supernatural conscious being which allegedly
has created the universe in which we live (Gen. 1:1, Col. 1:16), and who sovereignly maintains it as we find it to be (Heb. 1:3)… This God has a plan for his creation (Eph. 1:11), not the least part of which is revealing himself to it (Rom. 1:19-20). Part of this revelation involves creating and sustaining the universe in such a way that his creatures are able to learn about it and function within it (Gen. 8:22). (Brian Knapp, “Induction and the Unbeliever,” The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 132)
In my post I developed a detailed critique of this view, pointing out that – instead of “accounting for” the uniformity of nature – it simply moves the problem back. It does so by characterizing – without evidence or even a good argument – the uniformity of nature as a product of prior causation, thus invoking one of the natural laws for which it is supposed to provide contextual justification in the first place. I interacted with the potential response to this problem which apologists may raise in their defense against it, namely that the Christian god does not affect the uniformity of nature by making use of “natural causality,” but does so instead by using “supernatural causality,” and pointed out that this nonetheless assumes uniformity – if nothing else, the uniformity of the supernatural.
Rather than interacting directly with any of the points I raise in response this potential objection, Bolt sought to turn the spotlight on me. For instance, he writes:
Mr. Bethrick is not satisfied with the answer provided by Christians for why nature is uniform.
No one should be “satisfied with the answer provided by Christians for why nature is uniform” if a concern for truth is a minimum criterion. The “answer” which Christianity provides for this question cannot be true. This is because the Christian answer presupposes the primacy of consciousness, which is a false metaphysics. Truth presupposes the primacy of existence, not the primacy of consciousness, and this should be easy to recognize for any honest thinker. The primacy of existence is the principle that the objects of consciousness exist independent of the conscious activity by which we are aware of those objects. A statement is true when it maintains fidelity to the natures of the objects which we perceive and/or consider – i.e., to that which exists independent of our consciousness. To say that statement X is true is to say that it corresponds to the state of affairs to which it refers apart from the wishes, preferences, ignorance, commands, imaginations or emotions of the subject of consciousness. If we say that New York City has seven million inhabitants, we are saying that this is the case regardless of anyone’s conscious activity, that this is the case independent of consciousness. It is the case whether anyone agrees, has no idea, prefers a different number, loves New York City, hates New York City, wishes it did not exist, imagines fewer people live there, etc., and truth recognizes that facts are what they are independent of such conscious activity. Thus truth presupposes the primacy of existence. But Christianity assumes the primacy of consciousness (see here and here), which directly contradicts the primacy of existence, and thus the Christian account for the uniformity of nature presupposes the primacy of consciousness. Thus it is inherently opposed to the metaphysical basis of truth.
Bolt says that I
attempt… to restrict the actions of God to being essentially natural causes. By “natural law” Bethrick means “the law of identity applies”. The Christian is not committed to this Objectivist idea that natural law is essentially identity applied to action. Such an idea is inconsistent with the Christian worldview since there are actions God has taken which may be identified but have nothing to do with anything natural (e.g. the exchange of love between the Persons of the Trinity).
But notice the point which I did raise in my blog. By claiming that the uniformity of nature is caused by some action performed by the Christian god (it “created” and “sustains” the world as we find it to be), the Christian answer clearly characterizes the uniformity of nature as the result of some prior cause, and thus invokes the law of causality, a natural law, and in the very sense which Bolt himself has denied. In fact, assumption of the very sense of causality which Bolt has denied is inescapable for the Christian “account for” the uniformity of nature, since it in fact names the actions by which its god allegedly affected uniformity in nature: by means of “creating” and “sustaining.” Just by naming these actions, presuppositionalists tacitly admit that the law of identity does in fact apply to action – in particular to the actions which they claim their god has performed – since they could not do this if those actions did not have identity – i.e., if the law of identity did not apply to action.
Bolt announces that the Christian worldview “is not committed” to the fact that actions do in fact have identity, but instead must prefer the view that actions are indistinct from each other and from anything else. That is the only alternative possible here: either action has identity, in which case the law of identity does in fact apply to action; or, the law of identity does not apply to action, and therefore actions are not distinguishable from anything else, and thus the very concept ‘action’ and any other concepts specifying one action as opposed to another (or anything else) is meaningless.
While I agree with Bolt that the idea that action has identity is in fact “inconsistent with the Christian worldview,” Bolt still attributes specific kinds of actions to his god, borrowing concepts such as “exchange” and “love” from the realm in which actions do have identity to apply in a context which denies identity to action, while failing to explain how he can name actions if the law of identity does not apply to them. Thus, in order to distance his god from the “natural,” Bolt sacrifices the law of identity, and consequently every affirmation he makes about his god acting in one way or another commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. A god which is not subject to natural law would be a god without identity performing actions which have no identity, and thus could not be distinguished from something that is not a god. And yet Christians speak of their god as if it were “unique,” which could only mean that the law of identity applies.
In my post, I had asked:
what exactly is ‘supernatural causality,’ and how is it different from natural causality?
While Bolt does repeat this question of mine in his reaction to my post, it is important to note that he does not answer it. He does not deny the applicability of the notion of “supernatural causality” within the context of his god-belief, but he does not tell us what could possibly be different about the category of actions which his god is supposedly capable of performing vis-à-vis those actions which happen in the natural (i.e., actual) realm. Instead of taking the opportunity to educate us about his position, he chooses to complain:
If Bethrick does not know what “supernatural” means as opposed to “natural” then I am at a loss as to why he constantly uses the words in his own writings.
I certainly know what I mean by “supernatural” (I have explored it in great detail here), but I expect that Bolt would object to my understanding and criticisms. So I don’t think it would be very helpful for Bolt’s interests to leave definitions of his worldview’s key terms up to me. Christians use the term “supernatural” to characterize their god and other beings associated with the imaginary realm of their god-belief, and as a critic of Christianity, I reserve the right to use the term when referring to the Christian god, just as Christians do. Unfortunately, Christians typically hesitate to put a clear definition to this enigmatic term, especially one which they can defend consistently. Notice that Bolt himself does not take the opportunity to define it for the record. The question is: Why not?
Bolt says that
Reality involves much more than matter in motion.
How does Bolt know this? What other than “matter in motion” exists? Now, before Bolt confuses me with those who do affirm that “only matter in motion exists” (a claim which I have never affirmed or endorsed), as an Objectivist I affirm that existence exists, and only existence exists. Since reality is the realm of existence, reality is only that which exists, and it is fundamentally distinct from what any individual happens to imagine.
Bolt supposes that the claim that “God is transcendental and real offends me. On the contrary, it amuses me. It’s in the same league as a child who believes that the stories he reads in Harry Potter are true. It’s quite a fantasy, but typically the avid fan of the Harry Potter series eventually grows up.
Since Bolt claims that his god is transcendental and real, my question for him is: by what means does he have awareness of this “transcendental and real” god, if not by means of his own imagination? Christians typically describe their god as having no corporeal body, being invisible, beyond the limits of human perception, etc. But clearly Bolt must have awareness of this being, does he not? It is supposed to exist independent of his own psychology, right? As such, can he identify any means of awareness by which he has awareness of his god which cannot be confused with the internal explorations of the imagination?
In the past, Bolt has affirmed what Reformed Christians call the “sensus divinitatus,” but it is unclear how the believer can securely distinguish between this alleged faculty and his own imagination. Moreover, believers who appeal to the “sensus divinitatus” often affirm contradictory positions and exhibit noteworthy difficulty when it comes to explaining how they cannot be deceived by this mystical apparatus (for instance, see here and here). To make matters worse, when asked if it is possible for the Christian god to communicate with believers through the “sensus divinitatus” and believers still get the message from their god wrong, Bolt openly admitted, “Yes, this is the case” (see Bolt’s 10 Oct. 2009 comment in this blog). So the theistic approach here, far from producing a convincing case that the uniformity of nature is a product of a supernatural consciousness, offers no bankable promises at all on these matters.
Bolt confirms my suspicions that the Christian “account for” the uniformity of nature does in fact assume the primacy of consciousness when he claims:
Nature is uniform because God created and controls it as mentioned in Knapp’s article…
All we have here is a statement of faith, a bald assertion which is supposed to be accepted as if it were true without question or contention, requiring the utmost credulity that any individual can summon up. Bolt provides no argument for the claim that his god “created” nature, let alone for the premise that nature needed something “outside” of it to make it uniform. He just asserts his theistic view, demands that non-theists present elaborate arguments for theirs, and when they do, he dismisses them as if their inadequacy were self-evident (for he does not explain why they’re so insufficient).
Bolt expresses the opinion that
Labeling this explanation “supernatural causation” does not change the fact that it is an answer with no apparent problems.
But several problems with this “answer” were in fact pointed out in my post. Note that Bolt does not reject the label “supernatural causation” in referring to his god’s alleged creative and controlling activity which is said to result in nature being uniform. Thus he openly accepts the premise that his god affects uniformity in nature through some kind of action. But this in itself implies uniformity – even if it is uniformity merely on the supernatural level – for which Bolt provides no account or justification. Bolt completely ignores this problem, thus confirming that Knapp only succeeds in moving the initial problem back rather than resolving it. This is on top of his failure to (a) validate his assumption that nature is not inherently uniform; (b) justify the notion of “supernatural” in the first place, and (c) address my questions about metaphysical primacy.
Bolt suggested that we compare my position on the uniformity of nature to that of the Christian worldview. But if Bolt really wants such a comparison, why didn’t he speak to my questions pertaining to metaphysical primacy? The answer to this should be obvious: the Christian cannot deal with the issue of metaphysical primacy consistently. While the Objectivist view holds explicitly that the objects which exist in the world are what they are independent of consciousness (and therefore that the uniformity of nature is not a product of conscious activity), the Christian worldview explicitly characterizes the world as a creation of consciousness and the identities of the objects which exist within it as subject to the ruling consciousness’ personal whims. In short, Objectivism maintains fidelity to the objective understanding of nature, while Christianity affirms a subjective view of nature.
We will delve deeper into the problems of the Christian position as it pertains to the uniformity of nature in my next installment of this series. For now, consider Bolt’s following statement:
Mr. Bethrick has failed to answer why nature is uniform but Knapp is not after this answer at this point.
Bolt’s statement that I have “failed to answer why nature is uniform” is patently false, as we saw above. I did in fact give an answer to this question, namely that nature is inherently uniform independent of conscious activity by virtue of the fact that it exists. Bolt cannot say that I “failed” to answer this question; even he himself acknowledged (see the first section of this paper)that I answered it by interpreting me to have affirmed the view that nature “just is” uniform. How has he forgotten this so quickly? It may simply be the case that he does not like my answer (which is irrelevant; whether he likes or dislikes a position is no indication of whether or not it is true), but he has not shown that it cannot be the case that nature is inherently uniform. He may wish that there’s some supernatural cause for nature’s uniformity, but a wish is not to be confused with fact. He may imagine that there’s some supernatural being which compels nature to be uniform through some conscious activity, but again imagination is not reality.
Bolt says that
neither Brian Knapp nor Dawson Bethrick nor I have denied the uniformity of nature.
This is false. Christians deny the uniformity of nature in their metaphysics in order to allow for miracles. On the Christian view, any uniformity which nature happens to exhibit must be put there by some conscious action originating outside of nature. This can only mean that nature itself has no identity of its own, since any identity it might have has been assigned to it by the will of the ruling consciousness. Thus when presuppositionalists point to Christian theism as the worldview which provides the only justification for the assumption that nature is uniform, they are indulging in the crassest of absurdities, paying no mind to the implications their worldview has on the matter.
This analysis is confirmed in the defenses which Christians produce in response to criticisms citing the doctrine of miracles as a stumbling block for providing a justification for the uniformity of nature. In his essay “Induction and the Unbeliever,” for instance, Brian Knapp sought to defend Christianity against the objection of “the possibility of [miracles] presenting a challenge to the Christian’s claim that induction presupposes Christianity” (The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 139) on the basis that such an argument would be “sound only if [Christian theism] assumes that nature is absolutely uniform, which it does not” (Ibid., p. 140). In other words, on the Christian view, nature is not inherently uniform; any uniformity which nature happens to exhibit is put there by some force “outside” of nature, by means of intentional activity on the part of a supernatural consciousness, which can only mean one thing: that nature is inherently non-uniform on the Christian view. The most that Christians affirming this view could say is, not that nature is uniform, but the way in which their god manages it is uniform. But even this would compromise the Christian doctrine of miracles, so – following Knapp – Christians would have to add the caveat that the way their god manages nature is not absolutely uniform: sometimes it departs from its “normal” ways of managing nature in order to exercise abnormal “procedures” for some purpose or another.
So yes, presuppositionalists do in fact deny the uniformity of nature, and they provide no convincing explanation for how they could know how their god will manage its creation from moment to moment. Knapp even admits that man does not know this.
As an added bonus, Chris Bolt has indirectly but resolutely denied the uniformity of nature. Did you catch it? Let me show you where he does this.
In his post Knapp’s “Induction and the Unbeliever” Bolt stated that the view that “entities… act according to their natures is another way of stating that nature is uniform.” A bit further, he equated the view that entities act according to their natures with the view that nature is uniform:
“entities act according to their natures” = nature is uniform
So Bolt is saying that the Objectivist conception of causality – i.e., the law of identity applied to action – is another way of saying “nature is uniform.” But just a bit later, in the very same post, Bolt made it clear that Christianity rejects the Objectivist conception of causality. Bolt wrote:
The Christian is not committed to this Objectivist idea that natural law is essentially identity applied to action. Such an idea is inconsistent with the Christian worldview since there are actions God has taken which may be identified but have nothing to do with anything natural (e.g. the exchange of love between the Persons of the Trinity).
If the Objectivist premise that the law of identity applies to action is the basis for the view that entities act according to their natures (and it is), then denying that the law of identity applies to action is equivalent to denying the basis for the view that entities act according to their natures. Bolt says that the view that entities act according to their natures is just another way of saying that nature is uniform. But he also says that Christianity is opposed to the premise upon which the view that entities act according to their natures is based, namely the premise that the law of identity applies to action. Bolt thus affirms that his worldview is opposed to the very basis of the uniformity of nature. Thus for Bolt to affirm that nature is uniform is to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept: he is, on his own understanding, affirming a position while denying its genetic roots.
Moreover, keep in mind what Cornelius Van Til has stated:
God may at any time take one fact and set it into a new relation to created law. That is, there is no inherent reason in the facts or laws themselves why this should not be done. It is this sort of conception of the relation of facts and laws, of the temporal one and many, embedded as it is in that idea of Go in which we profess to believe, that we need in order to make room for miracles. And miracles are at the heart of the Christian position. (The Defense of the Faith, p. 27)
If nature – including the facts and laws which exist all around us – is as malleable and open to revision as Van Til here holds, then it is nonsensical to speak of nature being “uniform” in any objective sense. On this view, nature has no inherent identity, which is a contradiction in terms: it is to affirm that nature has no nature, that it is a contentless void waiting for content to be given to it, and that content is subject to revision at will at any time by supernatural forces.
The upshot of all this can only mean that the Christian does not and cannot consistently affirm that nature is uniform because his worldview is at odds with it in principle. In Christianity, the uniformity of nature is sacrificed on the altar of the doctrine of miracles, for – as Van Til exclaims – “miracles are at the heart of the Christian position.” Knapp himself hastens to tell us that Christian does not affirm that is absolutely uniform, which is just to say that nature is not really uniform at all to begin with. A supernatural form of consciousness is need to make nature uniform. This can only mean that, far from providing a justification for induction, Christianity can only stifle inductive reasoning as such. The presuppositionalist argument employing inductive skepticism as a debating tactic is, quite plainly, a self-defeating ruse.
Bolt says that
…a question has been posed which asks “why is nature uniform?” and “how do we know that nature is uniform?” Mr. Knapp is a Christian and has shown that he is able to provide consistent answers to these questions. Mr. Bethrick has not.
Where does Bolt get all this? For one, I stated explicitly in my post The Uniformity of Nature that nature is inherently uniform. Bolt has nowhere shown either that this is not the case, or that it is inconsistent with my worldview’s basic premises. Also, in regard to knowing that nature is uniform, I traced the connection of this knowledge directly to the Objectivist axioms. The axioms are knowledge; in fact, they represent the most fundamental knowledge man has. So tracing our knowledge that nature is uniform directly to the axioms shows not only what is properly meant by the concept of the uniformity of nature, but how we know that nature is uniform. Again, Bolt has nowhere shown either that the axioms do not play a central role in this knowledge, or that my view is inconsistent with my worldview’s fundamentals. It may be the case that Bolt does not understand what I have stated (he gets a lot of things wrong), but his misunderstanding is not a justification for claiming that I have failed to address these concerns.
Additionally, I pointed out numerous problems with Knapp’s stated view, as expressed in his essay “Induction and the Unbeliever”:
Man does not have exhaustive knowledge of how the universe operates; God does. Man does not know whether the features of the universe will continue to be as they are at present; God does. Man can be mistaken in what he experiences and how he reasons from those experiences; God is never wrong. (The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 134)
In my consideration of Knapp’s stated view, I made the following points:
Contrary to what he intends, Knapp is simply giving us reasons why Christianity cannot give us any confidence in the presupposition that nature is uniform throughout the universe. He has in effect abandoned the problem of induction, which is ostensibly the topic of his essay, and moved on to a new problem, namely that of how one can know what a supernatural conscious being knows. It is of no epistemological value for man to list things that he does not know, and then point to a supernatural being which does have knowledge on these things. This does not tell man how he can know what he needs to know in order to live. It is epistemological self-deception to concede, on the one hand, that one does not know something, only to claim, on the other, that this ignorance is “made up for” by an imaginary friend which is said to know everything. When it comes to the uniformity of nature, Knapp demonstrates only that, on the Christian worldview, one could have no confidence that nature is uniform. Everything is “whatever God wills,” and unless the believer is identical to his god, he would have no way of knowing what his god wills from moment to moment.
Moreover, on the points which he mentions, Knapp does not even tell us what specifically his god supposedly knows about these matters. When Knapp states that “Man does not know whether the features of the universe will continue to be as they are in the present,” but figures that the assertion “God does” somehow makes up for this shortcoming, what exactly does his god know, and what good does that do for man in his inductive investigation of the universe if he cannot know it? Blank out. For all Knapp knows, his god could know that the universe will turn inside out in the next second. But since Knapp’s mind is not identical to his god’s mind, simply saying that his god knows something that he does not know, is of no use to him or to anyone else, particularly when it comes to answering Hume. On the contrary, Knapp’s attempted “solution” fully concedes that Christianity has no genuine solution, not only because he fails to question Hume’s own premises, but also because he fails, due to his allegiance to a subjective worldview, to adopt an objective approach to the matter in the first place. If Knapp proves anything, he proves that Christianity can only intensify the epistemological darkness which Hume’s skepticism brought to the world.
Bolt nowhere addresses any of this in his reaction to my post on the uniformity of nature. Check it out for yourself, and see if he does. You will find that he does not.
Bolt then projects his own denial of reality onto the skeptic he imagines:
Second, it is of no consequence to the skeptic to state that denying the uniformity of nature entails that statements about the uniformity of nature are nonsensical as this is the point of the skeptic’s argument.
How does Bolt know that “it is of no consequence to the skeptic to state that denying the uniformity of nature entails that statements about the uniformity of nature are nonsensical”? Bolt intimates that this is the case because “this is the point of the skeptic’s argument.” Specifically, what is the “skeptic’s argument”? What are the premises of that argument? What conclusion are those premises supposed to support? Do this argument’s premises consist of concepts? If so, how did the skeptic form those concepts? What do those concepts mean? Do those concepts mean the same thing every time they’re used? Or do their meanings chaotically fluctuate with each use? How does the skeptic validate the concepts he uses in informing his argument’s premises? If the skeptic has in fact presented an argument, does that argument adhere to rules of validity? If so, how can there be rules of validity without a consistent sub-context of reference? Does the skeptic have an explanation for how the concepts he uses can have a consistent meaning if nature is not uniform? I wager that just by claiming to have an argument, the skeptic assumes the uniformity of nature as I have informed it, and I see no reason why pointing out the fact that such an argument is self-defeating does not sufficiently answer the skeptic. What more could put him in his place?
Bolt suggests that pointing out these problems will not faze the skeptic. Maybe so. But so what? Does that mean that the skeptic’s “argument” (if he even has one) should faze us? Bolt is welcome to be fazed by these things. Those who subscribe to a worldview which is itself built on stolen concepts, are already in the habit of being incapacitated by ideas which commit the same fallacy.
Bolt did accuse me of affirming a known falsehood, but in so doing he has garbled what I actually stated. He writes:
At one point Mr. Bethrick mentions that presuppositionalists do not recognize that the justification of induction is an epistemological issue. This alleged lack of recognition is false and Mr. Bethrick knows that it is false as does anyone else who has spent any time examining presuppositionalism. If Bethrick is implying in this same section that there is some other solution to the Problem of Induction which does not involve the uniformity of nature he is welcome to produce it.
The following is what I actually stated:
Involved with the presuppositionalist strategy is the tacit assumption that the principle of the uniformity of nature is the end-all and be-all of induction, that the uniformity of nature is equivalent to the so-called “inductive principle.” (This habit is common outside of presuppositionalist circles as well, which is probably where presuppositionalists get it in the first place.) If it can be proven that nature is uniform, so the implicit reasoning goes, then induction is justified. Of course, this approach takes for granted – and leaves completely uninvestigated – all the activity which the human mind performs in the activity we call inductive reasoning. It rests all of induction’s validity on whether or not nature is uniform and how one “accounts for” this. This tendency fails to recognize that while the uniformity of nature is a metaphysical concern, the justification of induction is an epistemological issue. Sadly, those who take the presuppositionalist approach are missing much of the story.
I made this statement specifically in response to Brian Knapp’s article “Induction and the Unbeliever,” which focuses exclusively on justifying the assumption that nature is uniform and treats this as equivalent to justifying induction while ignoring entirely the conceptual process which lies at the heart of inductive generalization. Conceptual integration is the process by which the human mind integrates specific objects which it has directly perceives to form general classes to which those objects belong and similar objects encountered elsewhere can be integrated. It is hard to see how someone familiar with how this cognitive operation works could miss the inductive implications inherent in it. But presuppositionalists typically fail to grasp any of this, and I think the reason why they don’t is because to do so would jeopardize their apologetic agenda.
Bolt also stated:
Questions remain for Dawson Bethrick. What are natural laws? Why are they that way? How do we know? I am aware that Mr. Bethrick especially hates that final question, “How do we know?” Wonder why?
Either Bolt did not read my post very carefully, or he didn’t read it at all. For I addressed the question of what the laws of nature are specifically when I wrote:
The laws of nature are not divine commands on the contents of the universe, nor are they rules which the objects literally obey in an effort to remain in good standing with “the Lord.” On the contrary, the laws of nature are conceptual integrations, and as such they are general identifications based on perceptual input (as all concepts are ultimately). They represent discoveries of facts which are integrated into open-ended principles which can be applied to all particulars of a certain class. They do not originate from outside the universe, for they are based on facts which obtain within the universe and which are discovered and integrated by minds which also exist in the universe. There is no “outside the universe” to begin with. There is the universe (the sum total of all that exists), and there is what we imagine.
Anyone who knows much about Objectivism should be able to see that what I have written here is consistent with Objectivist epistemology, since Objectivist epistemology affirms reason as the only proper means by which man knows anything (definitively answering Bolt’s supposedly lethal question of “How do you know?”), as reason is the cognitive process by which man identifies and integrates the material provided by his senses (see here). Reason is a conceptual process (as explained in Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology), and the above paragraph quoted from my blog makes direct reference to this means of knowing by characterizing the laws of nature as conceptual integrations representing general identifications based on perceptual input.
If Bolt did in fact read this section of my blog (and I’ve yet to see any convincing evidence that he has), he clearly did not recognize that I have answered his questions already probably because he is still unfamiliar with what Objectivism teaches, has little understanding of what reason is (he probably thinks it’s what Saul of Tarsus did in the streets of Ephesus and Athens), and has basically zero philosophical understanding of concepts (since his worldview has no theory of concepts).
Bolt insinuates that I have not “provided any valid answers to the challenges posed to [my] worldview,” but it is important to keep in mind that he has not shown that any of the answers I’ve produced in response to “challenges to [my] worldview” are untrue or invalid. As we saw just above, he appears not even to recognize when answers have been provided to the types of questions he considers important (and yet fails himself to answer in terms of his own worldview!). For instance, he has not shown that the laws of nature are not conceptual integrations involving general identifications based upon perceptual input representing general facts; he has not shown that these are open-ended principles which can be applied to all particulars of a certain class; he has not shown that man does not know the laws of nature through reason; he has not shown that there is in fact an “outside the universe”; etc. Indeed, he seems not even to have read any of this in my original post. He has asserted that that my answers are inadequate or insufficient, but he has not demonstrated any of this. For instance, in response to my view that nature is inherently uniform in keeping with the primacy of existence, has Bolt shown that this is not the case? Has he shown that nature is not inherently uniform, or that its uniformity is the result of subjective intentions? Not at all. Go back and review the first section of this paper, and check for yourself. He hasn’t even tried to show that my position is wrong. He simply dismisses it, either because he just doesn’t like it, or because his confessional investment is gravely threatened by it.
Bethrick continues his attempt to try and find something wrong with what Knapp wrote.
Let me just say here, I didn’t have to try very hard. But I do realize that Christians prefer that readers of their books not critically examine the claims made in those books. But that’s what I did: I read what Knapp says, and I raised questions about it, the same types of questions which Bolt calls “challenges to [my] worldview” but insists that I did not answer.
Keep in mind what Knapp writes in his essay:
In the Christian’s worldview, at least from the Reformed perspective, laws are not so much “natural” as they are “supernatural”. They are an expression of the way in which God providentially orders his creation, rather than something that is “built-in” which operate on their own and independent from God. [sic] (“Induction and the Unbeliever,” The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 121n.4)
Presumably we’re supposed simply to accept what Knapp says here as truth without question, but I had to go and throw a wrench into things by asking the very question which Bolt says I “hate”: how do you know? Specifically, one of the questions I asked in response to what Knapp writes here was:
But how would anyone be able to acquire knowledge of ‘the way in which God providentially orders his creation,’ if said ‘God’ is a mind distinct from the believer’s own mind?
Bolt says that I “would not have to ask this question” since I have “interacted with Greg Bahnsen’s material.” It is true – I have interacted with Greg Bahnsen’s material. Bolt has in mind specifically the off-the-cuff retort Bahnsen made in a debate with Gordon Stein:
How do we learn about those things? He revealed Himself to us. Again, these are simple answers, the sorts of things Sunday School children learn, but, you know, I’ve yet to find any reason not to believe them.
If Bolt thinks this answers the questions that I raised in response to Knapp’s admitted ignorance pertaining to the uniformity of nature, I’ve apparently given him too much credit as a thinker. Saying that Christians learn these things in Sunday school simply dodges the question. The epistemological process of knowing these things in the first place would be a precondition without which conducting a Sunday school lesson would be impossible. The teachers of Sunday school would need to know about this process before they could give lessons on it. So one would have to have this knowledge independent of any Sunday school setting, but Bolt does not explain it. But where do the Sunday school teachers go to learn it? Certainly not from Sunday school, do they? In that case, we would have an infinite regress.
By pointing to Sunday school, Bahnsen & co. simply defer the question, which is to fail to answer it. Indeed, Bahnsen himself was deferring Stein’s question in order to evade it. Presuppositionalists press non-believers to answer the question “How do you know?” but look at what they themselves offer when the same question is posed to them.
Moreover, Bolt’s response fails to take into account what Knapp actually says. Knapp says repeatedly that man does not know these things, but adds “God does.” Bolt’s appeal to Sunday school and Sunday school children does not explain how “God knows” purportedly compensates for the ignorance Knapp attributes to man.
Finally, it is in part because I have interacted with Greg Bahnsen’s material that I continue to pose questions like this to presuppositionalists, because Bahnsen himself has failed to answer them. For instance, in chapter 31 of his book Always Ready, Bahnsen published a piece titled “The Problem of Knowing the ‘Super-Natural’.” Given the title of this piece, as well as Bahnsen’s profession as a defender of beliefs couched in the mysticism of supernaturalism, one would think that Bahnsen is going to explain the epistemological process by which man can reliably acquire knowledge of “the supernatural.” But as I show in my analysis of this chapter of Bahnsen’s book, he comes nowhere close to doing this. The definition which Bahnsen gives for the term “supernatural” – namely “whatever surpasses the limits of nature” (Always Ready, p. 177) – gives no indication how one can exclude things which are merely imaginary from the rubric “the supernatural.” We can all imagine things which “surpass the limits of nature,” and Bahnsen’s wildly open-ended definition of “supernatural” (“whatever surpasses the limits of nature”) would include these imaginings. As I explained in my post:
As the believer imagines his god, his mind departs from reality in radical fashion. When he ascribes the course of nature to the handling of a being which he can only imagine, the believer ignores the constraints of rational epistemology (which addresses the how of his knowledge), because he is no longer speaking from knowledge, but from imagination. This is why the believer can speak of “the way in which God providentially orders his creation” as if he were intimately familiar with the universe of details which such cosmic handling of the contents of the universe would entail. It essentially represents the believer attributing what he takes completely for granted (and does not understand philosophically) to the activity of a being which resides only in his own imagination.
Bolt does not interact with any of this; in fact, he apparently does not see the problem. But if I were concerned about defending a worldview which is supposed to be rational and objective (which I do), you can bet your bottom dollar that I would not leave my definitions open to including the imaginary on the same par as the real (which Bahnsen clearly does).
Even though I included a link to my analysis of Bahnsen’s chapter on “knowing the ‘super-natural’” in my post, Bolt does not reference it in his objection that I should know the answer to the question which I pose to Knapps’ statement above. Indeed, if Bolt took a little time to consider the issues I raise in response to Bahnsen’s chapter on “knowing” the supernatural, he might have a little more appreciation for where I’m coming from. Indeed, if the issues which I raise were so easily resolved, why doesn’t Bolt address them?
Chris Bolt is sore over the fact that I consider his god to be imaginary. That the Christian god is imaginary is, according to Bolt,
something [Bethrick] constantly asserts but does not prove; he admits that he does not even think that it needs to be proven
Bolt is correct that my view is that the Christian’s god is, like the Muslim’s and the ancient Roman’s, a pure fantasy, a concoction of the believer’s imagination, a construct guided to one degree or another by the inputs selectively culled from a fictional storybook. Bolt says that I do not prove that his god is imaginary. But from what I have seen, he has not interacted with my writings on this topic, to which I provide links below.
Now anyone can imagine that there’s some “supernatural” being existing beyond the universe (or, as Bolt puts it, “outside of the natural order”) which “created” and “sustains” the way things are in the world, that this supernatural being “has a plan” for its “creation.” Anyone can imagine that there is some conscious force “back of” (as Van Til puts it) everything we see, feel and hear, causing it to be what it is. And since anyone can imagine the Christian god, and we never perceive it firsthand (as we do with non-imaginary entities which exist independent of our cognition), it would behoove apologists to explain how we can reliably distinguish between what the Christian calls “God” and what may in fact merely be imaginary.
But they don’t do this.
Unfortunately, believers have invested their psychology so deeply in their god-belief that they don’t even realize that what it is they call “God” is only imaginary. When confronted with this fact, they evade and deny and attempt to change the subject.
Several facts work in tandem to support the conclusion that the Christian god is merely imaginary:
1. Anyone can imagine a supernatural being, including the god described by Christianity or any other religion.
2. Religious philosophy provides no epistemological alternative to the imagination as a means of “knowing” its god.
3. Adherents learn details about their god from written stories (which puts the Christian god, for example, in the same camp as characters in texts which are known to be fictional).
4. Religious philosophy squelches reason as man’s only means of knowledge, crippling the mind’s ability to distinguish the rational from the irrational (thus allowing the adherent to believe that concepts like ‘omniscience’ and ‘omnipotence’ are valid).
5. The failure of religious philosophy to provide the mind with a sound metaphysical theory which securely and reliably allows the adherent to distinguish between reality and imagination.
6. The dominant role of allegory in religious thought provides the imagination with the fundamental material to work with in developing lifelike as well as larger-than-life psychological replicas of heroes, villains and events portrayed in religious literature while allowing for a strong element of personal relevance.
7. In Christianity, the bible requires adherents to have child-like faith, and a prominent feature of child psychology is an active imagination.
8. Intentional subordination of the world which the believer perceives and in which he lives, to alleged personal forces which he cannot perceive and which are indistinguishable from what is only imaginary.
9. Personification of imaginary beings (they “hear” the believer’s prayers, “see” his actions, “know” his thoughts, etc.) to amplify their impact on one’s emotional life.
10. Use of repetition to reinforce artificially a self-imposed obsession with the supernatural in a never-ending effort to convince oneself of something which in the end he can never truly believe.
Readers may want to consider two fascinating cases in which believers speaking on behalf of their religion make it entirely clear that their god-belief comfortably finds its primary residence in their imagination. The first is found in Cornelius Van Til’s own autobiographical statement of his childhood conversion to Christian theism found in his essay Why I Believe in God, in which he writes:
I can recall playing as a child in a sandbox built into a corner of the hay-barn. From the hay-barn I would go through the cow-barn to the house. Built into the hay-barn too, but with doors opening into the cow-barn, was a bed for the working-man. How badly I wanted permission to sleep in that bed for a night! Permission was finally given. Freud was still utterly unknown to me, but I had heard about ghosts and "forerunners of death." That night I heard the cows jingle their chains. I knew there were cows and that they did a lot of jingling with their chains, but after a while I was not quite certain that it was only the cows that made all the noises I heard. Wasn't there someone walking down the aisle back of the cows, and wasn't he approaching my bed? Already I had been taught to say my evening prayers. Some of the words of that prayer were to this effect: "Lord, convert me, that I may be converted." Unmindful of the paradox, I prayed that prayer that night as I had never prayed before.
Here Van Til openly reveals the central role which his own imagination played in scaring him out of the daylights at a very young age, resulting in a lifelong commitment to Christian theism. He says he “had heard about ghosts and ‘forerunners of death’,” never stopping to question whether or not these were real or imaginary. As he lay in the barn all alone one night listening to the rustling of cattle chains, he began to imagine that there was someone else there, “someone walking down the aisle back of the cows,” coming for him, someone who represented a mortal threat to his very being. It was in this state of hysterical panic that the young and impressionable Van Til sought refuge in another concoction of the imagination which he believed could rescue him from the imagination which terrified him so much. It was all in the mind of a young child who was effectually unable to distinguish between reality and imagination. And it was the imagination which won out in the end.
Consider also the case of Canon Michael Cole, whose testimony about his own religious experience suggests that a form of self-hypnosis is involved in theistic belief:
Now the evidence that he is God does not depend entirely on the resurrection. Many other things as well. I think I also want to bring in personal experience. I said earlier on that I’ve been a Christian from the age of twelve. And I’m just aware of God being there in the person of Christ in all sorts of different situations, speaking to me by his spirit through the word of God. There was one particular experience when I was very, very conscious of the risen Christ, actually standing with me in the church I was serving, asking whether we would make him Lord of that church... I wouldn’t say anything about that for 24 hours, it was too personal, too close. (taken from my blog Carr vs. Cole)
Cole wants his audience to believe that he was in the presence of a supernatural being which no one else present could perceive. He never questions whether or not he has rationally understood his experience. In fact, he cites this experience as evidence for the supernatural. Cole does not identify the means by which he could have awareness of “the risen Christ” allegedly “standing” right next to him. The question “How do you know?” seems to be of no concern whatsoever. From what Cole states here, it is implicit that everyone else present lacked the means by which he was aware of this supernatural being powerfully manifesting itself in his presence, since he tells us that he had to wait a day before telling anyone else what happened. So does Cole have some faculty of awareness that no one else has? Or could it be that he was caught up in the hysteria of his god-belief and, like the young Van Til, allowed his imagination to take over?
Apologists like Bolt insist that non-believers prove that the Christian god is imaginary (and seriously, what proof would they find acceptable?), while failing to demand proof from believers who claim to have experienced god. Experiencing the Christian god is to be encouraged, not critically examined. The dirt little secret behind such an attitude is that supernatural beings are in fact merely imaginary, and confessionally invested believers are people who refuse to admit this.
I have already written much on the imaginative nature of Christian god-belief. For instance, see the following blog posts which I have published:
has interacted with each of these and has shown that the points which I secure
in them are wrong, he cannot say that I’ve not successfully established the
verdict that the Christian god is imaginary.
Additionally, in my study of belief in ”the supernatural" as Bahnsen defends it, I uncovered the following shortcomings which collectively indicate that our leg is being pulled:
1) Bahnsen nowhere identifies in clear terms the starting point which grounds a “comprehensive metaphysic” suitable for man, the means by which one might have awareness of its starting point, or the process by which one can know that its starting point could be true.
2) Bahnsen’s conception of “supernatural” (“whatever surpasses the limits of nature”) is too open-ended for his own apologetic interests. It does not specify any actual thing, and could apply to anything one imagines. To accept "the supernatural" on Bahnsen's conception of it, would be to accept not only Christianity's supernatural beings, but also those of other religions, since - like Christianity's supernatural agents - the supernatural agents of other mystical worldviews likewise "surpass the limits of nature." Also, in practical matters, “whatever surpasses the limits of nature” quite often spells danger and disaster for man.
3) Bahnsen nowhere enlightens his readers on how they can know “the supernatural," even though the very title of the 31st chapter of his book suggests that this is something he would be setting out to do in that chapter.
4) Bahnsen totally neglects the issue of how one might have awareness of what he calls “the supernatural.” He notes at many points that one does not have awareness of “the supernatural” by means of sense-perception, or by any empirical mode of awareness. However, this only tells us how we do not have awareness of “the supernatural.” It leaves completely unstated how one does have awareness of “the supernatural,” if in fact he claims to have such awareness. Bahnsen resists identifying what that mode of awareness is.
5) Bahnsen’s theology entails knowledge acquired and held by a passive, inactive mind, which is a contradiction in terms. The “knowledge” in question is the “knowledge of the supernatural” that Christians claim to have as a consequence of divine revelation, which is characterized as the Christian god coming to man rather than man "speculating" or "groping" his way to it through some cognitive activity.
6) Bahnsen promulgates a most tiresome and outworn dichotomy: either the mind is passive and inactive in its acquisition of knowledge (since its “revealed” to him by supernatural spirits), or he is left with “arbitrary speculations.” This arbitrary dilemma ignores the very faculty by which man acquires and validates knowledge in the first place, namely reason.
7) Bahnsen provides no indication of how one can confidently distinguish “the supernatural” from what he is imagining. If there is a difference, then the ability to distinguish them is of vital concern, since neither “the supernatural” nor the constructs of one’s imagination exist in the “here and now,” are beyond the testimony of the senses, and “surpass the limits of nature.” In other words, since the imaginary and "the supernatural" look and behave very much alike, the absence of an objective process by which the one can be reliably distinguished from the other indicates a glaring epistemological oversight of enormous proportions, suggesting that our leg is being pulled.
8) Bahnsen exhibits a hesitant fickleness regarding the role of inference in knowing “the supernatural.” Is his god’s existence inferred from objectively verifiable facts (if yes, from what objectively verifiable facts?), or directly known (if yes, by what mode of awareness?)? At times he seems to be affirming the former, at others the latter. At no point is he explicit in how exactly the human mind can have knowledge of a being which "surpasses the limits of nature."
9) Bahnsen expends much energy focusing his readers’ attention on purported failings of non-believing worldviews, even though they are irrelevant to explaining how one can acquire and validate knowledge of “the supernatural.” The detection of internal problems within Logical Positivism, for instance, is not a proof of the existence of "the supernatural," nor does it serve to inform any epistemological basis to suppose that "the supernatural" is real.
10) Bahnsen seems resentful of epistemologies which take sense perception as a starting point - that is, as the fundamental operation of consciousness upon which knowledge of reality depends - but nowhere identifies any clear alternative. Indeed, he seems not to have thought this through very well at all. For upon analysis it becomes clear that “special revelation” (i.e., accepting whatever the bible says as truth) requires sense perception in order to “read the book,” and “general revelation” (i.e., inferring the Christian god’s existence and/or message from what we discover in nature) also involves sense perception (as a mode of awareness of nature) as well as at least in part consulting “internal evidences” – which could be feelings, wishes, imagination, hopes, etc. So there is strong evidence here of an ad hoc approach to epistemology as such.
11) Bahnsen is oblivious of how conceptualization works. This is can be attributed to the fact that Christianity does not have its own theory of concept-formation. Specifically, much of his case against supernaturalism’s detractors demonstrates that he does not understand the relationship between the perceptual level of awareness and the conceptual activity. For instance, Bahnsen supposes that a comprehensive metaphysic cannot be based ultimately on sense experience because sense experience is “limited.” But concepts allow a thinker to expand his awareness beyond what he personally experiences and while still basing his knowledge ultimately on what he experiences. So the conflict against which Bahnsen reacts is really due to his own ignorance of the nature of concepts.
12) Bahnsen shows that he must appeal to the supernatural in order to validate the supernatural, which is terminally circular.
13) Elements in Bahnsen’s case are incompatible with elements that are part of the worldview which he is trying to defend (e.g., that appearances are distinct from reality, and yet “the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen” per Romans 1:20).
In order to vindicate belief in “the supernatural,” apologists would at minimum have to undertake the major endeavor of correcting these issues as well as addressing the facts which I highlighted in the previous list. Until this work is done, defenders of the Christian faith can have no legitimate objection against the supposition that “the supernatural” is in fact merely imaginary. My prediction, however, is that apologists like Chris Bolt will evade all these points and continue in their attempt to shift the burden onto non-believers as if Christianity had all the answers. It doesn’t.
My examination of Bolt’s reaction to my post The Uniformity of Nature leaves us with only one conclusion: Bolt’s attempts to rescue Knapp’s defense of the Christian “account for” the uniformity of nature and, subsequently, the claim that only Christianity can provide a justification for inductive reasoning, are unresuscitable.
The problems he faces begin with his worldview’s assumption of the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, circumstantially confirmed by his own decision to ignore the questions I posed on whether or not nature according to his worldview is uniform independent of consciousness. Had he a defensible response to these questions, we could reasonably expect that he would have answered these questions. However, he did not. Moreover, in response to my examination of Knapp’s defense of Christian theism as providing the proper justification for assuming that nature is uniform, Bolt’s efforts to salvage the Christian position were weak to say the least. He gives no reason to suppose that nature could not be inherently uniform, and provides no argument for supposing that uniformity must be imposed upon nature by some outside force (particularly by means of some conscious activity). In regard to the question of how we know that nature is uniform, Bolt’s insistence that the axioms of existence and identity play no role in this knowledge is inexplicable.
Meanwhile, Bolt neither explains how one could know that nature is uniform on Christian grounds, nor does he adequately deal with the relevant areas of ignorance which Knapp claims on behalf of man which are supposedly compensated by the accompanying claim that “God knows”: it is not explained how “God knows” is of any help when it is insinuated that man has no knowledge on the issues under consideration. Ironically, presuppositionalism models the saying put into Jesus’ mouth at John 3:19, that “men loved darkness rather than light,” for these apologists continually show their preference for hiding in the darkness of evasion and non-answers while cursing the enlightenment of reason.