Gods and Square Circles

By Dawson Bethrick

 

 

PREAMBLE

 

In March 2006, a fellow named Sonny contacted me through Gene Cook’s “Unchained Radio” debate forum where I am subscribed under the moniker “Sortion.” Sonny identified himself as a Christian from the Philippines and sought to establish a dialogue with me, apparently thinking I was a Christian. I agreed to continue dialogue with Sonny and asked what he would like to discuss. The conversation went slowly as Sonny did not reply promptly, but eventually in May he asked:


First of all, I want to know your Faith in God and know on How are you doing in that Faith.

 

I responded, writing the following:

 

To answer your question, I do not have faith in any gods or claims about any gods to begin with. And I'm doing quite fine in not having any faith.

 

I also made it clear that I was open to answering more of Sonny’s questions. After all, he was coming to me, so I considered the possibility that Sonny was open to learning something from me. I’m always happy to share the Philosophy of Reason with those who have embraced a worldview of faith.

 

A little while later Sonny did come back to me, and he had more questions for me. He asked:

 

1. Why is it that you have not faith in God?

2. Why you have said that your are fine of having no faith?

 

And I responded as follows:

 

1. Why is it that you have not faith in God?

 

This is like asking me "Why is it that you have no faith in square circles?" I don't have faith in square circles, and yet Christians typically do not have a problem with this. In my view, however, having faith in what theists call a god is philosophically analogous to having faith in square circles. The traditional notion of "God" is internally incoherent, just as is the notion of a two-dimensional shape that is both square and circular at the same time.

 

2. Why you have said that you are fine of having no faith?

 

The simple answer is: I don't need faith. So, just as I am fine not having my arm amputated, I am fine not lending my mind out to the hazards of a faith-based worldview.

I hope my statements help answer your questions. If you have others, please ask them, I will try to respond promptly.

 

Here I did a big no-no: I compared belief in a god to belief in square circles. This is utterly scandalous, at least in circles where god-belief is taken seriously. How dare I make such a comparison!

 

A little more than a month later, Sonny wrote back asking the following question:

 

Please consider this follow up questions.

 

1. You mentioned "faith in square circles".  Why are you comparing the belief in God in a square circles?  Could you please show to me how.

 

2. Your response shows to me that Christianity is not true for you, Am I right?

 

Apparently I was hitting a raw nerve, but this did not keep Sonny from coming back to me again. (He must really want my input!) So on July 4, I replied to Sonny with a more developed response:

 

Hello Sonny,

 

It is nice to hear from you again.

 

I am doing great!

 

You asked me two more questions.

 

1. You mentioned "faith in square circles".  Why are you comparing the belief in God in a square circles?  Could you please show to me how.

 

I compare belief in something like what the Christians call 'god' to square circles, because they are most comparable. As I mentioned, both ideas are internally incoherent. I take it that you agree that the idea of a square circle is internally incoherent, so I shall focus on why the Christian idea of god is likewise internally incoherent.

 

The Christian idea of god assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, but even to contemplate the idea one must be standing on the primacy of existence metaphysics. These are mutually opposed metaphysical platforms. Thus the statement "God exists" is a literal self-contradiction, for such a statement affirms two contradictory metaphysical bases.

 

A. The concept of truth assumes the metaphysical primacy of existence: Every time you make a truth claim, you are implicitly assuming that what you are calling true is true independent of the particular operations of your consciousness. E.g., you wouldn't say that Albany is the capital of New York only if you agree that it is, would you? Of course not. You recognize implicitly that Albany is the capital of New York whether you agree or not, whether you knew it or not, whether you wish Syracuse were the capital instead. That's call the primacy of existence. It is the recognition that the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over consciousness.

 

B. The idea of god assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics: However, the Christian idea of a god assumes precisely the opposite view, namely that the objects of consciousness ultimately depend on consciousness. In the case of Christianity's god, the objects are said to depend on the consciousness of their god for their very existence as well as for their identity, their relationship to other objects, their activity, etc. According to this view, everything that exists in the universe depends on some form of consciousness. Since the objects are said to depend on consciousness, so likewise the content of truth consequently depends on consciousness. And yet, just in declaring this as a truth, the Christian makes use of a metaphysical foundation which contradicts this outright. Thus, the Christian idea of god is internally incoherent. Q.E.D.

 

I think the best way to illustrate this is through what I call the cartoon universe analogy. Concepts like truth, reason, rationality, etc., assume a non-cartoon universe. That is, it assumes a universe which is not being controlled by an all-controlling, all-determining agent which can create any object it wants and revise their nature whenever it wants. But the Christian conception of the universe is analogous to the fictional realm of a cartoon. This realm is controlled by an all-controlling, all-determining agent which can create any object it wants and revise their nature whenever it wants. In such a universe, one could not say, for instance, that animals cannot speak human language, for the cosmic cartoonist could make a liar of anyone who makes such a statement at any time by creating animals which speak human language (such as a serpent which cons a woman in a garden, or a donkey which talks back to his owner). In such a universe, one could not say, for instance, that it is not possible to walk on unfrozen water, for again the cosmic cartoonist could make a liar of him at any time by having men walk on unfrozen water, such as on an inland sea. In such a universe, "truth" is whatever the cosmic cartoonist happens to will at that moment. But when Christians speak of 'truth', they talk about it as if it were absolute. But obviously there could be no absolute truths if the universe were as they described it. In other words, truth assumes the non-cartoon universe of atheism, not the cartoon universe of theism, and thus when Christians speak of truth as if it were absolute and unyielding to conscious preferences, they are in effect borrowing from a worldview which contradicts their own.

 

2. Your response shows to me that Christianity is not true for you, Am I right?

 

My response is that Christianity is not true, period. Our individual minds reside in the same realm of existence. What is true in this realm is true in this realm, since A is A. It's not a question of Christianity being true for one person, and yet untrue for another. You wouldn't say that it is true that Albany is the capital of New York for you, but not for me, would you?

 

Got any more questions? I have answers.

 

Best regards,

Dawson

 

Six days later, I heard back from Sonny again. He had asked me for a deeper explanation for comparing Christian god-belief to belief in square circles, and when I provided him with it, it apparently exceeded his command of English. So he requested my consent to forward my explanation to a fellow Christian believer. Sonny wrote:

 

I'm glad of hearing you again.  could I refer you to my friend?  I am planning to forward you ideas of the subject (Christianity) to my friend and let him continue this matter (talk).  As you may know, I am not very fluent in english language and I see a hard time in digesting on the taughts.  I love to learn more on this. I enjoy in asking you and I want to learn more deeper as this subject be discused and hope it ended up into more profitable for us all. So your conversation with my friend whom who may explains the truth of Christianity could help me understand much the idea.

 

I hope you agree.  Thanks.

 

In His Love,

 

Sonny

 
Sonny gives no indication of what he may have understood so far in the explanation that I had provided him. Nonetheless, I was happy to grant him my consent to forward the messages that I had sent to him to anyone of his choosing. I consented to this in my 11 July response to Sonny. Then silence.

 

Then two and a half months later, I received a message from a Christian named Jason Dulle. He runs a blog called Theosophical Ruminations. Jason’s response to me continued the same subject line as my conversation with Sonny, and trailing Jason’s message were the exchanges between Sonny and me that Sonny had forwarded to Jason.

 

Jason was eager to take me to task for comparing belief in the Christian god with belief in square circles, charging that the two are not comparable. His reasoning for this seems to be that the idea of a square circle is prima facie absurd, while the idea of god is not. But even if this were the case, there could still be similarities which make both beliefs comparable to each other. Moreover, I disagree that the idea of god is not prima facie absurd, but I do accept that this is a matter to be judged by the context that one brings to such assessments. The context which provides the backdrop of my evaluation is different from the context that Jason has. On his context, the idea of god is not prima facie absurd, but on my context it most definitely is. Therefore much of my response to Jason was focused on developing the context which supports my comparison in contradiction to the charge that Jason sought to level against it. In addition, I was careful to explain that my context is not in fact alien to his own thinking, but rather that he implicitly grants validity to the foundations of my context just by trying to interact with my points.

 

Jason’s response to me can be found here.

 

Below is my response to Jason Dulle.

 

 

 

RESPONSE TO JASON

 

Hello Jason,

 

You wrote:

 

Sonny Binayao forwarded me your email correspondence and asked me to respond to your arguments against theism.  I see you agreed to this.  I apologize for the delayed response, but everything in my life that could change has been changing, and I have had no time for email.

 

Welcome, Jason. Thanks for your message. I remember my correspondence with Sonny and it is true, I did give him my consent to share my message with someone of his choosing. I’m glad he forwarded my reply to another Christian. I always relish the opportunity to share my position with believers. It is particularly gratifying to see how well it stands up to what detractors of my position try to bring against it. It is also gratifying to introduce to believers a truly rational worldview. It’s my way of trying to make this a better world.

 

Jason:

 

Let me respond to your arguments.

 

Okay, please proceed.

 

Jason:

 

1.  You assert that the notion of God is internally incoherent on the same level as square circles.  Few would dispute the fact that the notion of God could be false, but equally few would argue that the notion of God is internally incoherent.  I was surprised to see you try to argue along that line. 

 

Yes, I compare the idea of a god to the idea of a square circle because, as I pointed out to Sonny, they are most comparable. You say that “few would argue that the notion of God is internally incoherent,” and even though I have not performed a survey on this, I’ll take your word for it and will also state that I am proud to number among that few. Regardless, the truth or falsity of a claim is not determined by the number of its proponents. Nevertheless, your statement and surprise to find that I argue along this line only suggest that you have not encountered many who argue as I do, and that alone would not surprise me. There aren’t many like me out there. Not yet anyhow. 

 

Jason:

 

But before I begin to engage your argument for the internally incoherent nature of theism, I would like to address your comparison of theism to square circles.

 

Okay.

 

Jason:

 

For the sake of argument let's assume theism is in fact internally incoherent.

 

If we assume this as an opener, then why proceed discussing the notion of a god any further? While I am happy in resting on the conclusion that the notion of god is internally coherent, I doubt you are, since you seem quite eager to defend your god-belief from that charge. So your “for the sake of argument” here seems rather baiting. That’s fine. I’ll bite.

 

Jason:

 

Even then, is comparing the internally incoherent notion of God truly comparable to square circles?

 

If two ideas are both found (or “assumed”) to be internally incoherent, there is prima facie a basis for comparison on this point alone, for they are comparable by the simple fact that both are internally incoherent. So I would say yes in response to this question. However, you disagreed:

 

Jason:

 

I don't think so.  This comparison seems more like a rhetorical device than an appropriate comparison.  Square circles are a prima facie logical absurdity while the notion of God is not.

 

You seem to be begging the question here, and indeed, against one who has already presented a case for the conclusion that the notion of god is internally incoherent. If my case is correct, then the notion of a god is just as logically absurd as – if not even more so fundamentally than - the notion of a square circle. And if that is the case, then certain comparisons become available.

 

Jason:

 

A square circle cannot exist by definition.

 

I would not put it this way, for “cannot exist” is not in the definition of “square circle” as I would phrase it. Rather, I would say that a square circle cannot exist by virtue of contradiction. Similarly, I would say that what Christians describe as “God” cannot exist by virtue of contradiction.

 

Jason:

 

Squares and circles are mutually exclusive. Their properties are not compatible.

 

Agreed. Similarly, the primacy of existence and the primacy of consciousness are mutually exclusive. Their properties are not compatible. Just as the notion of a square circle attempts to integrate two sets of mutually exclusive properties, so does the notion of a god. Hence the comparability of the two notions.

 

Jason:

 

We cannot imagine, yet alone conceive of a square circle, and thus we can reject the notion out-of-hand.

 

But whether or not we can imagine something or not, is ultimately irrelevant to the truth of a claim. Imagination is not the final arbiter of truth, at least it’s not in my worldview. Truth rests on facts which obtain independent of the mind, not on the fantasies that the mind can produce. But if we apply your standard (imagination) to the notion of a god, we find that it too does not hold up. For I cannot imagine a consciousness which exists outside the universe, for universe is the sum total of what exists. I cannot imagine something existing outside the realm of existence. Moreover, I cannot imagine a universe which presupposes the primacy of consciousness. I could try, but any time I wanted to affirm something as a truth within that universe, the consciousness which holds primacy over that universe could make me a liar at any time by wishing an opposite state of affairs. Indeed, nothing in that universe could constrain that consciousness from doing so if it wanted to, for its wants would be the final court of appeal in such a universe. The closest I could come to conceiving that would be akin to what I see in some cartoons. But even these borrow from the metaphysics of a universe in which consciousness does not hold metaphysical primacy in order to keep from becoming completely incoherent. So even given your measure (imagination), there is an element of comparability here.

 

Jason:

 

We can, however, conceive of and imagine the existence of God.

 

Well, in one sense I agree with you: it is only in the imagination that we can entertain the notion of a god, for we do not find such a thing in reality. But this is not the same thing as imagining that god per se. But similarly, it is only in the imagination that we can entertain the notion of a square circle. But this is not the same thing as imagining that square circle per se. See the similarity here? I cannot imagine the realm of existence being created by a conscious being, for the conscious being would have to exist in order to create, and yet the reason for postulating it to begin with is to explain the realm of existence in the first place. So it double-backs and defeats itself. Why not simply start with reality, which we know exists, and move from there? That would keep things reasonable. Christians would not stand for this, for it would allow for independence of thought and life. And if men lived independent lives, they would not be sacrificing them to others, and unavailable for others to control.

 

Jason:

 

The notion is not a prima facie logical absurdity.

 

Hold on. You mean, the notion of a consciousness which holds metaphysical primacy over all its objects is not a logical absurdity? On what basis would you make this assessment? On the basis of the orientation that your consciousness actually has with its objects? Does your consciousness have the power to wish objects into existence? Can you alter the nature of the objects you perceive by wishing? Can you make your dining room table levitate off the floor by wishing? Can your god make your dining room table levitate off the floor by wishing? Can you make it a fact that copper melts at 400 F instead of 1984 F by wishing? Can your god do this by wishing? My supposition is that you will claim for your god’s consciousness powers which your consciousness does not possess. Moreover, you will likely claim for your god’s consciousness powers which no consciousness found in nature possesses. It’s easy to imagine a being that has these powers. But can you produce evidence that any consciousness possesses such powers? Furthermore, can you integrate such ideas into the broader sum of your knowledge of the world, particularly the knowledge which remains implicit in your day-to-day functions, without contradiction? Obviously not. Indeed, it is because you are not integrating that you can make claims such as “the notion [of god] is not a prima facie logical absurdity.” Similarly, if we do not attempt to integrate square and circle into one shape, we can say that there is no prima facie logical absurdity here either. After all, we see squares and circles all the time. But once we start integrating, which is a necessity of our consciousness, we run into problems. Look at the history of philosophy and see where it has lead thinkers who were reluctant to deal with their minds’ need to integrate. Look at the state of religious thought throughout history, and observe how disconnected from reality it is.

 

Let’s look at truth and see how absolute it is on your worldview. Can you make it true that Bakersfield is the capital of California instead of Sacramento by wishing? How about your god? Can your god make it true that Bakersfield is the capital of California instead of Sacramento by wishing? It’s unlikely that you would say that your god could not alter truth by wishing. After all, according to Christianity, its god is “sovereign.” This term “sovereign” is used by Christians to mean that their god as a conscious subject holds metaphysical primacy over all the objects of the universe. Indeed, they claim that all the objects in the universe were wished into existence by this subject in the first place. So why couldn’t it alter truth if it wanted to? This is the primacy of the subject metaphysics. In philosophy this is called metaphysical subjectivism: the subject holds metaphysical primacy over its objects. On this view, the objects are what the subject wants them to be.

 

Once one grants metaphysical primacy to the subject, what could the term “logical absurdity” possibly mean? Logic is a set of principles that are only valid on the basis of the primacy of the object metaphysics. The term “logical absurdity” could only have meaning on the basis of a metaphysical orientation which theism rejects. And yet here you claim that the notion of a god “is not a prima facie logical absurdity.” This of course depends on which metaphysical orientation you’re standing on. If you’re like me, you’re standing on the metaphysical primacy of existence. (In fact, we have no choice about this.) But if you are knowingly standing on the metaphysical primacy of existence, then you’d see that any view that affirms its contradiction (i.e., the primacy of consciousness) is itself absurd and cannot be true. On the other hand, if you pretend to be standing on the primacy of consciousness view, then what in the world could be considered “logically absurd”? By standing on the primacy of consciousness, you’ve abandoned the metaphysical foothold you’d need in order to invoke the term in a meaningful manner.

 

Jason:

 

It's one thing to say there is no good evidence for believing in God (an assertion I would dispute), but it wholly another to say the notion of God is internally incoherent on the level of square circles.

 

Maybe so. Of course, it could be the case that both claims are true. That is to say, there’s no contradiction in affirming both a) there is no good evidence the existence of a god, and b) the notion of god is internally incoherent. I think both are true not only of god-belief claims, but also of the notion of square circles. So again, we see there’s a strong aspect of comparability here.

 

Jason:

 

One is logically absurd on its face and cannot possibly be true, while the other is a logical possibility that could be shown false due to internal contradictions in the notion itself.

 

Hold your horses, Jason. The very idea “logical possibility” itself assumes the metaphysical primacy of existence. But you’re using the term to refer to a notion that reduces to the primacy of consciousness. To say that a view is logically possible when the view in question entails a contradiction to the metaphysical basis needed for the very ida of logical possibility as such to be meaningful, is clearly absurd. Meanwhile, notice that you’re merely asserting the “logical possibility” of your god’s existence while not presenting any specific, positive reasons why one should accept such a claim.

 

I think what’s happening, Jason, is that the logical absurdity of the notion of a square circle is simply more readily detectable than the logical absurdity inherent in the notion of a god. The ready detectability of logical absurdity in the notion of a square circle is afforded by the salience of the discordance of the shapes being combined in the idea. There is similar ideational discordance in the notion of a god, only it may not be as readily detectable to those who are not accustomed to thinking in terms of essentials. The idea of god has historically been so seductive for many thinkers simply because this discordance is easy to miss if one has no explicit understanding of the subject-object relationship. The authors of the bible nowhere demonstrate an informed understanding of this crucial relationship, even though there is no escape from it. The notion of god seeks to obscure the proper relationship between subject and object, which is why it comes as no surprise that Christian doctrine has nothing explicit to say about this inescapable relationship. When we dig into the notion of god and find that its metaphysical implications are contrary to what reality tells us in each waking moment of our lives, then we have uncovered the same kind of logical absurdity we readily detected in the notion of a square circle.  And once the mirage is broken, the logical absurdity of the notion of a god is just as prima facie as the logical absurdity of the notion of a square circle. So, again, we have a strong point of comparability between the two.

 

Jason:

 

We are prima facie justified in rejecting the notion of square circles, but we are not prima facie justified in rejecting the notion of God. 

 

I disagree entirely, and I do so on a basis that you have to assume even to deny or dispute it. You do not even seem to recognize the real issue of the debate at this point. Merely asserting that X is possible does not in fact make X possible. The concept ‘possibility’ assumes many things, among them a proper orientation between consciousness and its objects, between subject and object. Perhaps you need to think this through a little better before you attempt to battle it? Zeal will not overcome ignorance, Jason.

 

Jason:

 

Think of the Hindu belief of salvation.  Hindu's claim all reality is one.  You and I do not exist as distinct individuals (atman).  We are all part of Brahman.  The idea that we are distinct persons from each other, and distinct from the rest of the universe is an illusion (maya).  Salvation is obtained only when we finally come to recognize our connection to the Brahman, understanding that we do not exist.  But wait...how can I come to recognize that I do not exist if there is no I in the first place to recognize such a truth?  The Hindu religion is inherently incoherent in this regard.  But I would not dare say belief in Hinduism is like belief in a square circle.  The two are not comparable.  There is an internal self-contradiction involved, but not on the level of a logical absurdity such as a square circle.  Likewise concerning the notion of God.

 

Perhaps you’re just more timid in this respect than I am. When I find that an idea is logically absurd, I do not hold back in pointing it out. If two ideas are logically absurd, why wouldn’t they be comparable on this point? They share this point in common, so there’s a basis for comparison. I think you just don’t like the implications of comparing your god-belief to belief in square circles, principally because you have an emotional investment in your god-belief that you do not have in square circles. This emotional investment looms larger in your mind than the logical absurdity in that notion that I have identified, prompting you to resist my identification. But it will not go away because it hurts your feelings. All god-belief is irrational. But few believers are willing to admit it. Once they do admit it, they often walk away from “the faith,” as I did. I know where you are, Jason. I know because I was there once myself. It was very difficult at first. But facing the truth when you’ve been conned into believing a lie is often very difficult emotionally. No one likes the feeling of being betrayed, especially when the traitor turns out to be yourself.

 

 

 

Metaphysical Primacy and the Notion of a god

 

Jason:

 

Now let me address your attempt to prove that theism is internally incoherent.

 

Okay.

Jason:

 

A. I agree.  Whether one is a theist or atheist, most everyone agrees that ontology precedes epistemology.  Objective reality (what you call "existence metaphysics") is the truth maker, not our subjective beliefs (what you call "consciousness metaphysics") about reality.  Truth is obtained when beliefs/propositions just so happen to correspond to reality (a corresponding relation).  Without conscious knowers present to contemplate the existant reality there could be no truth--only bare reality.  No one except a few crazy postmodern epistemologists dispute this.

 

I think you’ve misunderstood something here, Jason. Primacy of existence over consciousness does not mean primacy of ontology over epistemology. The two are not equivalent statements. After all, one can affirm that “ontology precedes epistemology” (an expression that I nowhere used) and still hold an ontology which affirms that the subject of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over its objects (in fact, this is what Christians who affirm that “ontology precedes epistemology” in fact hold, whether they realize it or not). Also, I do not contrast “existence metaphysics” from “consciousness metaphysics,” but the primacy of existence from the primacy of consciousness. This distinction has to do with the relationship between consciousness and its objects, that is, the subject-object relationship. This is what theists tend to miss most readily when attempting to grapple with this issue.


Moreover, your statement that “truth is obtained when beliefs/propositions just so happen to correspond to reality” tells me more about what you’ve probably been ingesting in the place of rational philosophy than about the nature of truth per se. Throughout the history of philosophy, one thing that opposing schools of universals agreed on was that if consciousness took any active role in discovering and forming truths, whatever the result was could not be true knowledge. Thus both the realist and the nominalist schools of universals held that consciousness needs to be passive in order to have true knowledge. But while the realists believed that consciousness must be passive because we obviously have knowledge, the nominalists believed that we could not have knowledge because obviously our consciousness is active. The dichotomies simply multiply from this point of mutual departure as a result of unchecked half-truths and half-lies. Truth isn’t something that is achieved when some mysterious set of conditions “just so happens” to fall into place. On the contrary, truth is achieved when our consciousness obeys the primacy of existence, observing the severe constraints of the nature and needs of our consciousness as much as we observe the severe constraints of the nature of the objects we take into consideration. The primacy of existence is axiomatic; it cannot be evaded. Even to doubt it, you have to assume it. There’s no alternative here, but this does not keep thinkers from trying to find one.

 

Jason:

 

B.  You contrasted the above view with Christianity, claiming that ‘the idea of god assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics.’  I have had a difficult time understanding what you mean here.

 

It’s good that you admit this, Jason. I’d say you have some work yet to do here before you have cleared the weeds that have been growing in your mind. Already on point A above, there was some major untangling that had to take place before proceeding. I was in the same boat some 15 or so years ago. I didn’t realize then how far I had to go before I finally grasped the fullness of these points. But now that I have, they’re so obvious that it’s amazing to me that I even ever questioned them. Indeed, they had to be true in order for me to question them in the first place. So I’d suggest some patience as well as an uncompromising demand for honesty on your part if you really want to understand my case. Otherwise, if you do not take the time needed to grasp and integrate what I present, and if you are not honest to yourself, you’re going to continue to be lost.

 

Jason:

 

You say the Christian worldview is ‘precisely the opposite view’ of A, but I don't see how that is.

 

A gentle correction here, Jason. What I wrote was that “the Christian idea of a god assumes precisely the opposite view, namely that the objects of consciousness ultimately depend on consciousness.” Above your attempt to grasp my point A was botchy at best, and needed some important corrections before you could move on to B. I’m hoping it’s starting to be clearer now. But you’ll have to determine this for yourself. Ask more questions if you’re not certain.

 

Jason:

 

In A you made the simple point that ontology precedes epistemology, and that reality is what it is independent of conscious knowers.

 

I did not make the point that “ontology precedes epistemology.” I reviewed my message to Sonny and do not see that I ever made this statement. And yet twice now you have inserted it into my argument. Please be more careful here. But yes, I did affirm that reality is what it is independent of consciousness. The house I live in has two stories, whether I am willing to affirm this or not. My denial of this would not alter reality. Why? Because existence holds metaphysical primacy over consciousness. This is the simple recognition that the objects of consciousness do not conform to the subject of consciousness. This is not the same as saying that “ontology precedes epistemology,” for as I pointed out above, one can affirm that “ontology precedes epistemology” and yet affirm the ontological primacy of consciousness in the subject-object relationship. Indeed, Christians do precisely this in their god-belief claims.

 

Jason:

 

For the Christian worldview to be precisely the opposite would require that Christianity advance the notion that epistemology precedes ontology, or that reality is (human) mind-dependent.

 

Ah, look at that, Jason. You found it necessary to insert the modifier “human” into parentheses here. Why did you do that? I know why. It’s because you are willing to concede my point only so far, not as an absolute principle because that would endanger your god-belief. Why didn’t you put “canine” here? You do recognize that dogs are conscious too, do you not? Would you say that the metaphysical primacy of existence applies to human consciousness, but not to canine consciousness? I wouldn’t. No, it’s consistent across the board: all instances of consciousness that we encounter in nature are consciousnesses enjoying precisely the same essential relationship to their objects: the objects hold metaphysical primacy. You found it necessary to insert “human” into parentheses because you don’t want this principle to apply when it comes to the god you imagine. You want it to be exempt from the primacy of existence principle, because you want its consciousness to hold metaphysical primacy over everything. Notice the epistemological implications of this: it’s your wants - not facts that are obtained from nature and objectively validated – that lead you to making this reservation. You just gave away the game, Jason. Don’t tell me you didn’t hesitate when you added this.

 

Jason:

 

Clearly that is not the Christian worldview.

 

No, not the Christian worldview per se, because the Christian worldview is far from consistent, and it’s pretty difficult to be consistent with one position or another when it is never explicitly identified and understood. Also, if no position is ever explicitly affirmed, one can always claim that he never affirmed it, even though what he does affirm reduces to that view in terms of fundamentals. Moreover, no worldview which affirms the primacy of consciousness can be consistent in affirming it. It always has to allow for exceptions either way, for reality simply will not yield. What’s important to recognize at this point is that Christianity nowhere deals with the issue of metaphysical primacy in any clear and intelligible manner. Even St. Paul, the most prolific writer of the New Testament, nowhere addresses the specific question of the proper orientation of the subject-object relationship. And yet, there’s no escape from the subject-object relationship in philosophy. That’s because philosophy has to do with providing a comprehensive view that guides how we think. Thinking is a conscious activity, and as such it involves objects, whether perceived, postulated or imagined. So this is an inescapable issue in all philosophy. But where does Christianity address it? It certainly does not address it in any explicit manner. But the implications of what Christianity does affirm are unmistakable as far as they relate to this issue. All ideas have implications in terms of the subject-object relationship. Some of these implications are more salient than others. It’s the implications that are often harder to detect that tend to be more dangerous.

 

Jason:

 

So if you mean to say Christianity advances the primacy of epistemology over ontology you are mistaken.

 

I never found that Christianity explicitly affirms either ontology over epistemology or epistemology over ontology. Where does the bible weigh in on this matter? I don’t find it in any of my bibles, so it’s hard to see how you can say one view or the other is mistaken or correct. Again, this is not the issue that I raised. It would be quite unfathomable, however, if you denied the fact that Christianity affirms the metaphysical primacy of its god’s consciousness over the objects it allegedly created (!) and over which it allegedly rules (!). That is the issue that I have raised, but my experience is pretty uniform in that Christians have a very difficult time with it. Often they complicate the matter well beyond necessity, and this is due in part to a persisting failure to think in terms of fundamentals as well as an urgency to protect their god-belief, and this can be motivated by a variety of factors, more psychological than philosophical. Philosophy is typically after the fact for Christian believers. Their faith in an invisible magic being holds primacy over reason and rationality. For a child who is immersed in companionship with an imaginary friend, it’s pretty hard to persuade him that his imaginary friend is a fiction. He does not believe his imaginary friend is real because of philosophical reasoning. Rather, if he gets to the point of trying to assemble a philosophy, a worldview if you will, he’s going to build it on the basis that his imaginary friend is real. Notice the similarity to Christianity here. Take Cornelius Van Til for example. In his paper “Why I Believe in God,” Van Til makes it very clear that he was raised from his earliest days as a toddler to believe in the Christian god. He was schooled in institutions which further instilled this belief and reinforced it against any questions and doubts that might be raised against it. When he entered the seminary, he was even more immersed in his god-belief. With all the reinforcement and the desire to believe his god-belief claims are true, how would one be able to correct him? It’s very difficult to do this, and non-believers typically do not care enough to sustain a dialogue with stubborn believers. Non-Christians tend to be more live and let live, and do not presume a level of authority over other minds. This is unlike many Christians, as they adhere to a mind-control religion. Many Christians simply cannot stand it when non-believers are vocally open about their atheism. This prompts many to seek ways of vilifying atheists and atheism as such.

 

Jason:

 

If that is not what you meant to say (and it appears from your context that it is not) then you cannot claim the supposed Christian view you expound on in B is the opposite of the view expounded on in A.

 

I’ll recap briefly in answer to this: 1) I do not (and did not) argue that Christianity affirms either that “ontology precedes epistemology” or that “epistemology precedes ontology.” The early Christians, for instance, never seem even to have awareness for these terms, let alone the relationship either position implies. 2) I do hold that the Christian notion of god assumes the metaphysical primacy of consciousness, and I find it amazing to see Christians ever denying this while at the same time they claim that their god’s dictates hold “sovereignty” over the universe which it allegedly “created” ex nihilo by an act of will and whose contents obey its wishes without exception. 3) I do hold that the nature of truth assumes the metaphysical primacy of existence (i.e., that existence exists independent of any consciousness) and consequently 4) that the claim that Christianity is true therefore affirms two mutually opposing and contradictory metaphysics by implication. In that way 5) the notion of the Christian god is, like the notion of a square circle, internally incoherent.

 

Are you starting to get the picture now?

 

Let’s see what else you had stated.

 

Jason:

 

After reading and re-reading your email several times I think you might have been applying the ‘opposite view’ of A, not to Christians themselves, but to the God they claim to serve.

 

That’s more like it. After all, I had stated that “the Christian idea of a god assumes precisely the opposite view, namely that the objects of consciousness ultimately depend on consciousness.” This should not be taken to mean that I think the average Christian walks around thinking that the $10 bill in his wallet will turn into a $100 bill if he wishes hard enough (in a manner like the water in the water pots at the wedding at Cana turning into wine because Jesus wanted it to). On the contrary, I’m quite adamant about the fact that Christians do not consistently apply the metaphysical implications of Christian doctrine to their daily activities as a matter of general principle. Many Christian believers seem to be hungry for principles, but are so malnourished because of Christianity’s failure to deliver rational principles that they compartmentalize their stated beliefs and implicitly held assumptions to an extreme degree. This is why it is never surprising to see Christians turning on each other on the most arbitrary points and waging futile debates for century after century.

 

Jason:

 

If I am understanding you correctly, you recognize Christians assume the primacy of ontology over epistemology in the same manner as you, but argue that the God they believe in assumes the opposite.

 

Again, it’s unclear where you got this “primacy of ontology over epistemology” conception of my position. I do not at all think it is an accurate characterization of what I have affirmed for it is not at all the relationship I was isolating. I think Christians are like everyone else in that they have no choice about the fact that reality exists independent of consciousness, and they have to govern themselves according to this implicit recognition whether they consciously realize it or not in order to get anything done. Even to tie your shoes, you’re not going to expect them to tie themselves just by wishing them to be tied, even though your worldview’s stated affirmations entail that such is within the realm of possibility (I can hear the little kid protesting “my God can do that!”). No, you have to do just as I do, and bend down, grasp each shoe lace in your right and left hands and tie them together. It is very much a physical activity and it will not be accomplished by mere wishing. The same with getting your butt out the door and into your car. You’re not going to wish yourself into your car any more than you’re going to wish yourself over to your work place. We have no choice about this. Why? Because existence holds metaphysical primacy over consciousness (not because “ontology precedes epistemology”). We can wish all we want, but we’re not going to be able to turn water into wine, still stormy seas and weather, walk on the water, raise the dead, feed 4,000 with five loaves and two fishes, or cast mountains into the sea. Deep down Christians sense that these ideas are pure fantasy. But they’re so caught up into the trappings of Christianity’s devotional program which they’ve been duped into affirming and defending, that they claim they’re willing to die for these beliefs, as if those beliefs could somehow benefit from their deaths. Think of it: worshipping a set of ideas that you believe can benefit as a result of your willing demise. As I pointed out in prior writings of mine, there is a profound similarity between the Jesus of the gospels and the Jihadist suicide bombers of Islam: both willingly embrace a premature death. This is what we can expect from an anti-man, anti-reason, anti-reality and anti-life worldview.

 

Jason:

 

While Christian's believe the mind is subject to reality, when it comes to God they claim reality is subject to the mind (of God).

 

Right. They affirm two opposing and contradictory metaphysical orientations. Some Christians are more ready to admit this than others. For instance, see my following blog:

 

Confessions of a Vantillian Subjectivist

 

Jason:

 

Since the epistemological priority of Christian believers is the opposite of the God they serve, there is a contradiction.  Am I understanding your argument correctly?

 

Not because of “epistemological priority of Christians.” Again, that is not at all the issue I raised. Rather, the metaphysical orientation assumed by the concept ‘truth’ (namely the primacy of existence principle) vs. the metaphysical orientation that Christians claim their god has over the universe (namely the primacy of consciousness view). The two are in diametric conflict at the most fundamental level, and nothing can reconcile them. It’s like trying to season your food (truth) with poison (a false worldview). There are potentially lethal consequences to this. To apply the concept ‘truth’ to Christian claims denies the metaphysical basis of truth. This is the fallacy known as the stolen concept. A stolen concept occurs when one makes use of a concept (e.g., “true”) while ignoring or denying its genetic roots (e.g., the metaphysical primacy of existence). This occurs when one applies the concept ‘truth’ (which assumes the metaphysical primacy of existence) to an idea which presupposes the metaphysical primacy of consciousness (such as the notion of a god). Consequently, god-belief is inherently and systematically fallacious.

 

Jason:

 

Assuming I am understanding your argument correctly let me offer a rebuttal.  First, if God exists and is causally prior to the universe, of necessity we would have a situation in which mind has primacy over (physical) reality.  But where is the contradiction in this?

 

The contradiction occurs when such a statement is affirmed as a truth, since truth as such assumes the primacy of existence while the view that is being affirmed as a truth assumes the primacy of consciousness. You wouldn’t say that the claim “God exists” is only true if you want it to be true, right? In other words, you wouldn’t say that the claim “God exists” is true on the basis of the primacy of consciousness. And yet, the content of this claim explicitly affirms the primacy of consciousness, as you freely acknowledge. So you’re straddling two opposite and contradictory metaphysical orientations between subject and object. Hence, you have no choice but to engage a contradiction when affirming the claim “God exists.”

 

Meanwhile, only a false understanding of concepts could lead one to affirm the view that something “exists and is causally prior to the universe.” The universe is the sum totality of existence. If something exists, it is a member of the universe by definition. There is nothing “outside” the universe. To affirm this is to ignore the definition of ‘universe’. Webster’s agrees on this: ‘universe’ = “the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated.” (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/universe) So already I would reject the idea of something existing outside the universe. Also, the concept ‘causality’ presupposes existence, and thus can only be meaningfully affirmed in the context of what does exist, and what exists is the universe. I completely and emphatically reject the idea that the universe is a creation of consciousness. You can’t get more subjective than this. It is utterly irrational and philosophically untenable. It’s noteworthy to see Christian apologists attempt to defend the so-called “cosmological argument” for the existence of their god, and yet in deploying this argument they speak about the universe, but they seem unaware of its definition. Definitions are the guardians of rationality, so it’s not hard to figure out why apologists need to ignore them in order to make their case.

 

Jason:

 

There is nothing contradictory about believing a great mind created physical reality, and at the same time recognize that our minds do not have the same capability.

 

Actually, there is, since such a belief attempts a compromise between two opposite and contradictory metaphysical viewpoints. It’s apparent even in your own attempt to phrase the debate by distinguishing between human consciousness and some invisible magic consciousness which enjoys a metaphysical orientation completely opposite to human consciousness. My point is that, even before you get to speculations about what your god can or cannot do, you have already assumed, at the very least performatively, an orientation between subject and object which your god-belief requires you to jettison in order to affirm it. You only end up short-circuiting your own mind when you do this. On what basis would you believe that “a great mind created physical reality”? On the basis of an orientation which contradicts this, or on the basis of an orientation that is nowhere evidenced in nature?

 

Jason:

 

While the existence and nature of reality is subject to the mind who created it, reality is not subject to other created minds within it.

 

I take this as your agreement that I have accurately conceptualized the matter. It also confirms that the cartoon universe analogy fittingly applies to Christianity (I’ll discuss this further below). You affirm two completely different metaphysical orientations, one between your god and its objects, and another between man’s consciousness and his objects. Only one of these orientations is compatible with the concept of truth, and it’s not the one that you affirm in your god-belief. But notice the dichotomy your god-belief puts you in: on the one hand, reality is subjective (since it conforms to the dictates of a conscious subject); on the other hand, reality is objective (since it does not conform to the dictates of a conscious subject). You’re trying to have your cake, and eat it, too. By definition, this is an issue of metaphysical schizophrenia.

 

 

Artificial Intelligence Thought Experiment

 

Jason:

 

A simple thought experience demonstrates this to be true. Humans are creative beings.  We use our minds to create things all the time.  Let's say one day the minds of men are able to create artificial intelligence.  What was once a piece of metal and wires will be transformed into a conscious and intelligent being. Would it be a contradiction for these newly created conscious beings to acknowledge that their minds are subject to the reality created for them by their human creators, and yet recognize that the same is not true of their creators?  Of course not.  One mind created the reality of another mind, but only the created mind is subject to the reality created for it by its creator.  The mind who created their reality is not.  In the same way it is not a contradiction for Christians to acknowledge that their minds are subject to reality, all the while recognizing that the reality to which their minds are subject is itself subject to the mind who created it.

 

Apparently your thought experiment here attempts to put human consciousness in an analogous position to that which theism claims on behalf of its god. To do this, you seize on the idea of creativity. Man is creative, and so is god, according to theism. Human beings use their consciousness in creating things all the time, and so does god, according to theism. Objectivism does not deny the fact that man is able to create things by using his consciousness. However, the thought experiment your offering here trades on an insidious equivocation on the term ‘create’.

 

Moreover, your thought experiment involves a scenario which depends on the actuality of artificial intelligence, which so far as I know has not yet been achieved. So on this point, it is at best speculative, but this speculation is vital to the efficacy of your thought experiment. It boils down to a “what if?” scenario, which is not very compelling even on its own terms. And for what? Just to draw an analogy which trades on an equivocation? I’m sure you would do better if you could, Jason. But that’s just the problem: the terms of theism will not allow any better than this. Why? Because in the end theism retails in stolen concepts.

 

Even your characterization of the achievement of artificial intelligence blurs the matter at hand (probably because you still have not isolated it explicitly, as we found above to be the case when you mistakenly construed the primacy of existence as the “ontology precedes epistemology”). Notice this statement of yours:

 

What was once a piece of metal and wires will be transformed into a conscious and intelligent being.

 

Whatever it is that was “transformed into a conscious and intelligent being” would still be metal and wire if metal and wire were used in the construction of such a being. It would simply have acquired the faculty of consciousness, if in fact that was what was achieved. Similarly, the physical tissue which develops beyond the embryonic stage into a human baby and at some point acquires self-awareness, is still physical tissue. The physical tissue did not become “something else” – i.e., other than physical tissue. Human babies and adults both have physical tissue as well as the faculty of consciousness.

 

Observe how you proceeded from this point:

 

Would it be a contradiction for these newly created conscious beings to acknowledge that their minds are subject to the reality created for them by their human creators, and yet recognize that the same is not true of their creators? Of course not. One mind created the reality of another mind, but only the created mind is subject to the reality created for it by its creator.  The mind who created their reality is not.

 

But even in the context of your thought experiment, you’re not suggesting that the human beings who assembled their artificial intelligence “created” the reality in which it was possible for them to construct such a thing, are you? I strongly doubt it. That reality already exists, and it exists independent of the minds who undertook the project of developing artificial intelligence. The materials they used in developing that artificial intelligence already existed, they already had their specific natures which the developers had to consider in their development efforts, and the reality of the interaction between those materials when combined exists independent of their consciousness as well. The developers did not wish a new reality into existence ex nihilo. And the reality of their final product is not something which conforms to their wishing either. On the contrary, the human beings who participated in the endeavor exist in a reality that they did not create. Reality exists independent of their wishes, feelings, ignorance, affections, etc. And in their creative endeavors, they had to deal with reality on its own terms, and this took a lot of trial and error before success could be achieved. And even after initial successes were achieved, further improvements would become possible as additional relevant knowledge is acquired and validated.

 

But the equivocation here should be obvious. The human designers could only create with materials that already exist. They did not wish those materials into existence “ex nihilo.” On an objective metaphysics, consciousness does not create its objects, nor does consciousness assign objects their nature. This is the meaning of objective metaphysics: the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over the conscious activity of the subject. Creation for man is not what creation is claimed to be on behalf of a god, according to theism. There’s a fundamental dissimilarity here which the analogy in your thought experiment ignores.

 

In other words, for both the human beings as well as for the artificial intelligence they created, both are held to the same metaphysical orientation between their consciousness and any object(s) they perceive and/or consider. The human beings do not possess a consciousness which holds metaphysical primacy over their objects, and neither do the artificially intelligent products they manufactured. Both are subject to reality; neither enjoys an orientation between subject and object that the other does not also enjoy. There may be differences in ability, such as the human consciousness having the knowledge needed to construct an artificially intelligent product, while the artificially intelligent product itself lacks this knowledge; similarly human consciousness has certain abilities that feline consciousness lacks, but both have the same fundamental orientation between subject and object. Such distinctions are not differences in fundamental orientation. On the theistic meaning of the term, no new reality was “created,” for on the theistic meaning of the term nothing was created “ex nihilo” by a direct act of will. The human designers had no choice about the fact that, if they wanted to create something, they had to build from pre-existing materials, and in building with those materials they had to work in conformity with their nature.

 

You tried to draw from this dubious and speculative thought experiment the following conclusion:

 

In the same way it is not a contradiction for Christians to acknowledge that their minds are subject to reality, all the while recognizing that the reality to which their minds are subject is itself subject to the mind who created it.

 

Notice that the thought experiment, even in spite of its internal problems, does not deal with the point that I have raised against theism. My point against theism is that the theist has no choice, given the nature of theism as such, but to affirm two fundamentally contradictory orientations between subject and object. The thought experiment that you present does not give any proof, even hypothetically (which are its own terms), of the kind of orientation that theism claims its god enjoys. Theists never provide any evidence of such an orientation because there is no evidence of such an orientation. All they can do is CLAIM that some being (which just happens to be invisible and beyond the reach of all of man’s senses) enjoys such a capacity. There’s no collateral to back it up. It remains a perpetually unsubstantiated claim, and it’s been around a lot longer than Christianity has been. The problem originated with primitive human beings who simply did not understand the nature of their own consciousness, and thus had no explicit understanding about the relationship their consciousness has to the things they perceive and/or consider even though that relationship is constant and unchanging. Thus they did not have any reliable way to distinguish between what they called “the supernatural” and what they were merely imagining. Today’s theists find themselves in the very same predicament, and that’s because they’ve inherited the very same confusion and lack of understanding as their primitive forebears. Your misconstrual of the primacy of existence as a statement affirming that “ontology precedes epistemology” is merely a symptom of this confusion.

 

Now consider: On the basis of which metaphysical orientation between subject and object would one claim that there exists a subject which holds metaphysical primacy over its objects? Would you claim this on the basis of the metaphysical orientation that your consciousness holds between itself and any objects it comes in contact with? Or, would you claim it on the basis of an orientation that your consciousness does not have with respect to any of its objects? If you make the claim that such a subject exists on the basis of an orientation which is contrary to the one which your claim says that subject has, you’re defeating yourself. Performatively, you’re presuming that truth requires the metaphysical orientation that you have denied to the subject you claim exists. Now that’s not a formula for a very compelling case, and if it turns out that theism has no alternative to this, as I have argued in many papers on the topic, then I don’t think one needs any more compelling case against theism than this. After all, no one has an obligation to prove that the non-existent does not exist, so if there are no gods, no one needs to prove that they don’t exist. So this is a problem that the theist needs to overcome. And given what you have stated in your response to me, I’d say you’re doomed to failure on this matter. Of course, nothing will prevent you from CLAIMING that your supernatural conscious being exists. But that’s hardly a point in your favor, for one can CLAIM anything. But is that claim true? Well, we have to look at what the nature of truth entails and requires. My point is that truth necessarily entails the primacy of existence metaphysics and that it requires one to be consistent with this orientation. Theism contradicts the primacy of existence metaphysics in its god-belief claims. Hence, there’s a contradiction any time the theist claims that his god-belief claims are true, for the metaphysical basis of truth is contradicted by the content of those claims. There’s no rational way out of this conundrum but to renounce god-belief altogether and fully embrace an objective metaphysics.

 

 

The Cartoon Universe Premise of Theism

 

Jason:

 

While Christians believe reality is subject to the divine mind (consciousness), the nature of that subjection is not as you have portrayed it.

 

It’s not? Christians typically claim that their god has “sovereign authority” over the universe it allegedly created. In fact, from what I have seen Christians claim, it appears that they think their god holds greater power over the universe than a cartoonist has over the fictional realm he creates in his cartoons. Oddly, your statement here suggests that you think human cartoonists have more power over the fictional realms that they create in their cartoons than you allow your god to have over the universe it allegedly created. This is quite an astounding admission, though you may not be aware that you are making it. Theists (particularly Christian theists) claim that their god is “omnipotent.” But if the Christian god has less power over its creation than human cartoonists have over the realms they create in their cartoons, then how can this claim hold up?

 

Let’s proceed to the content of your rebuttal.

 

Jason:

 

I am referring to your cartoon universe analogy.  Your understanding of God as a cartoon-maker is not true to the Christian worldview.  Christians do not believe, nor does the Bible proclaim, that God will change the world at a whim.  In fact, on the Christian view God has given us His word that He will not do so.  Having said that, clearly God could change reality if He wanted to.  In fact, on the Christian worldview He does so on a small scale on various occasions.  We call these miracles.  A miracle is when God does something in a way that differs from the way He normally does it.  Frankly I don't see how miracles argue against absolute truth, but I'll say more about that in a bit.

 

You say that my “understanding of God as a cartoon-maker is not true to the Christian worldview.” But it’s not at all clear how this conclusion follows from what you present. In fact, I have never affirmed an “understanding of God as a cartoon-maker,” for the only cartoon-makers I know of are human beings, not divine beings. Rather, my cartoon universe analogy simply points out that the relationship claimed by theists on behalf of their god to the universe it allegedly created, is analogous to the relationship a cartoonist enjoys between himself and the fictional realm he creates in his cartoons. I have defended this at length in a series of entries on my blog.

 

See for instance the following posts:

 

The Cartoon Universe of Theism

The “God’s Good Pleasure” Principle and the Cartoon Universe of Theism

Omnipotence and Sovereignty in the Cartoon Universe

Hays on the Cartoon Universe Premise of Theism

Steve’s Hays-ty Reaction to the Cartoon Universe Premise of His Worldview

The Strengths of the Cartoon Universe Analogy

Steve’s Persisting Haysiness

Metaphysical Subjectivism and Christianity’s Cartoon Universe, Part 1

Metaphysical Subjectivism and Christianity’s Cartoon Universe, Part 2

 

Moreover, many theists themselves have explicitly admitted this to be the case.

 

For instance, Christian apologist John Frame makes the following admission in speaking on the very topic of the causal relationship between his god and the world it allegedly created:

 

Perhaps the best illustration... is this: In a well-crafted novel, the author creates a world in which events take place in meaningful causal relationships to one another. Each event has an intelligible cause within the world of the novel. But of course each event also has a higher cause, in the author's mind. Normally, such an author will try to maintain the orderly causal structure of his created universe. He may, of course, also work "without, above, and against" that causal order when he is pleased to do so. Usually, however, when an author disrupts the causal order of his novel, the narrative becomes less satisfying. Critics accuse such an author of bringing things about by a deus ex machina. (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 82)

 

Here Frame likens his god to the author of a novel, that is, to a creator of a fictional realm who dictates all aspects and details of every setting and who manipulates every character’s choices and actions and determines all events, both their causes as well as their outcomes, including who participates in those events and who is affected by them. This is just one minor step away from the cartoon universe analogy. And making that one step, namely animation, brings the illustration much closer what the Christian worldview actually affirms than Frame’s novel author analogy. For Christianity affirms not only a relationship that is analogous to an author of novels and his fictional realm, but also that the events its god is said to preside over actually happen in time, not merely in the imagination of the reader.

 

Frame’s mentor, Cornelius Van Til, wrote the following:

 

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, imbedded as it is in that idea of God 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, 3rd ed., p. 27)

 

Notice how Van Til provides the optimal formula for a most bizarre understanding of the universe, one which is in no way confirmed by what we experience in the world. (Again, lack of evidence in support of a view in no way prevents a person who wants to affirming from claiming that view is true.) On the view that Van Til gives here (namely that “there is no inherent reason in the facts or laws themselves why this should not be done...”), can only be taken to mean (on the basis of an objective philosophy, that is) that the objects of consciousness do NOT exist independent of the subject, that the subject of consciousness has final say over what those objects are and whether or not they conform to some law or another or to no law in particular. They can be revised at will by the ruling subject. This is pure, undiluted subjectivism. Van Til makes it clear that his express concern here is “to make room for miracles,” for “miracles are at the heart of the Christian position.” His concern is not for reason, rationality, objectivity, truth, honesty or any other virtue man needs in order to exist. Rather, his concern is to give shelter to a fantasy, an imaginary realm which serves as a playland for consciousness. I’m reminded of the question, “why be born again when you can just grow up?” Indeed, I found that I had to leave Christianity in order to grow up and be honest to myself.

 

Similar to what the Frame quote gave us above, apologist Vern Poythress also makes a key admission. He writes:

 

Dorothy Sayers acutely observes that the experience of a human author writing a book contains profound analogies to the Trinitarian character of God. An author’s act of creation in writing imitates the action of God in creating the world. (Why Scientists Must Believe in God: Divine Attributes of Scientific Law)


If “an author’s act of creation in writing imitates the action of God in creating the world,” why is the cartoon universe analogy off? Blank out.

 

Meanwhile, commenting in reaction to my cartoon universe analogy, Christian apologist Travis White made the following statement:

 

I never understood how Bethrick's assertion was supposed to be an argument in the first place. So the allegation is that in some ways the Christian worldview's world is similar to a cartoon. First, does anyone deny this? Second, so what? And third, as Steve pointed out, the same goes for his worldview too. So why are we supposed to care, Mr. Bethrick? (combox of Cartoon Cosmology)

 

Contrary to your own protestations, Jason, White makes it clear from his statement that Christians should NOT deny the accuracy of the cartoon universe analogy. He asks “does anyone deny this?” Well, actually, yes, many Christians have denied it. But White seems to think that believers should be happy to affirm it. He asks “why are [Christian believers] supposed to care?” suggesting that they shouldn’t care. But my response to this is partially supplied already by White’s initial statement, which is an expression of his own ignorance. He writes: “I never understood how Bethrick’s assertion was supposed to be an argument in the first place.” But where do I say that the cartoon universe analogy is an argument? It’s an analogy, not an argument. When White asks whether or not he or other believers should care, I’m not about to tell other people why they should care one way or another about what they put into their heads. What a person cares for is up to that individual; it’s not up to me to tell others what they should care for. If a person does not care that his conception of the universe is analogous to a cartoon, then I highly doubt anything I say will compel him to care, for anything I could offer will only be meaningful on the basis of the recognition that the universe is not analogous to a cartoon. He needs to make a decision for himself. If he doesn’t care about what he believes, then why would I care what he believes? I’m simply pointing something out, and White’s response to this is essentially “So what?” He offers no reason to suppose that my point is wrong or mistaken. I take this as the theist saying he doesn’t really care about his own mind. Indeed, so what?


Unfortunately for the theist, however, by admitting that his worldview conceives of the universe in a manner analogous to a cartoon, he concedes his presuppositionalist ploys to the atheist whose worldview does not conceive of the universe in a manner analogous to a cartoon. After all, in an atheistic worldview like mine, there’s no counterpart to theism’s god, and thus nothing analogous to a master cartoonist manipulating the objects of the universe at will. Moreover, on my worldview reality is not the creation of a conscious being; since reality exists independent of consciousness, there’s no need to posit a consciousness which manages its content and internal affairs. So White’s claim that “the same goes for [my] worldview” is clearly mistaken, for my worldview does not affirm the existence of anything analogous to a master cartoonist which created the universe and sovereignly presides over it as if it were some fake environment, like a cartoon. The problem is even doubly worse for presuppositionalists, for reason, logic, science, moral absolutes and all the other tokens to which they seek to hijack, assume the non-cartoon universe of atheism (where the task of consciousness is not to create and manipulate its objects, but to perceive and identify them), not the cartoon universe of theism (where anything the magic subject wishes goes). So presuppositionalism essentially impales itself by its own presuppositional commitments, thus collapsing in on itself.

 

It seems that your reaction against the cartoon universe analogy pivots on whether or not “God will change the world at a whim.” But the discussion of such a question is in fact premature to the question of the cartoon universe analogy’s relevance and applicability to Christianity. After all, we never see the Roadrunner protesting that the Coyote’s ability to emerge from beneath a boulder that has just dropped on him to be an instance of whimsicalness or absurdity. Indeed, the inability to judge something as whimsical is one of the outcomes we would expect in a cartoon universe. So in fact just by raising this concern as you have, you’re playing into criticism I’ve raised. But as I’ve said, this is premature, so let’s set it on a back-burner for the moment and see whether or not the cartoon universe analogy applies to Christianity.

 

The cartoon universe analogy holds that the relationship between the Christian god and its creation is analogous to the relationship between a cartoonist and the fictional realms he creates in his cartoons. A cartoonist determines what appears in his cartoons, just as the Christian god is said to determine what exists in the universe it allegedly created. Similarly, just as a cartoonist determines what takes place in his cartoons, the Christian god is said to determine what takes place in the universe it allegedly created. From beginning to end, the cartoonist is in control of what appears and happens in his cartoons. Similarly, Christianity affirms that its god is in control from the beginning of the universe to the end of the world. The similarities between a cartoonist and the cartoons he creates and the Christian god and the universe its worshippers claim it created, are unmistakable. So as Christian Travis White admits, the cartoon universe analogy definitely applies to the Christian worldview, for it conceives of the universe in a manner analogous to a cartoon in the hands of a cartoonist. To deny this is to deny the sovereignty and authority that Christianity claims on behalf of its god.

 

If it is true that Christians do not think their god’s actions in the so-called “created realm” are absurd or arbitrary, then they must think that stories such as the creation of Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, the Noachian flood, the tower of Babel, the virgin birth of Jesus, Jesus walking on water, Jesus turning water into wine, the raising of Lazarus, the feeding of the 4,000 (or was it 5,000?), the stories of healing the blind, lame and leprous, etc., even the resurrection of Jesus itself, are not absurd or arbitrary. Is that right? What then, in the universe as Christianity conceives of it, could be said to be absurd or arbitrary? If these bizarre things can be rationalized as being neither absurd nor arbitrary, what could? See, that’s the problem: once you’ve accepted the cartoon universe premise, you’ve abandoned the very foundation you would need to judge something either absurd or arbitrary. In a cartoon universe, nothing can be rightly judged as either arbitrary or absurd, for there’s nothing that is neither arbitrary nor absurd to serve as a contrast. That is, in a cartoon universe, everything is absurd and arbitrary. A human being with 22 arms is no more or less absurd or arbitrary than a human being with only 2 arms, since both are created by the same ruling subject. In the Christian worldview, that ruling subject is the Christian god.

 

Jason:

 

Christians do not believe, nor does the Bible proclaim, that God will change the world at a whim. 

 

It’s important to keep in mind what the bible does in fact say. Psalm 115:3 makes it explicitly clear when it says “our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” Now, according to the teaching, the Christian god is not constrained by any external limitation, requirement, obligation, need or barrier which constrains what it can or cannot do. And according to this verse, its only guide to action is its own pleasure. Mind you, it does not say that this god has done merely “what he hath pleased,” but “whatsoever he hath pleased,” which is much stronger and more open-ended. This suggests that the choices it makes on the basis of its pleasure are not impeded by any external constraints. Its wishes, i.e., its whims, are in no way held in check by anything. It does whatever it wants and only whatever it wants. And yet, here you say that “Christians do not believe, nor does the Bible proclaim, that God will change the world at a whim.” Well, if it changes the world (and there’s no evidence that it exists in the first place, let alone evidence that it is changing something in the world), it does so, not according to some objective constraint that has involuntarily been placed upon it, but according to its unbridled pleasure. If that’s not whim, then what is? What’s happening here is that you want to affirm what the bible says, you just don’t like its explicit affirmations being characterized according to their implications.

 

Jason:

 

In fact, on the Christian view God has given us His word that He will not do so.

 

Well, I’m not sure where Christians think the bible says that its god will not change the world at whim, but if Christians believe this, well, what does that matter? Believing something does not make it the case, nor does disbelieving something alleviate problems associated with what has been affirmed. Again, what constitutes whim on the Christian worldview? I have no idea, since Christianity jettisons the foundations needed to distinguish whim from non-whim. On my view, turning water into wine, walking on unfrozen water, commanding storms to subside, feeding thousands with just a few loaves of bread and fish, etc., are all examples of a whim-based state of affairs, especially if they were brought about by an invisible magic being who made them happen at will. Clearly on the Christian view, if being born of a woman who has not been inseminated by a male is not an instance of whim, then what is? Given theism’s allegiance to the cartoon universe premise, anything could be rationalized as non-whim. Since there’s no objective standard to go by, there’s no way to reliably judge individual cases. It’s just a matter of what the theist is willing to accept or reject, and this determination itself is based on his whims, since in the end all he really has to go on is his imagination. This is where the subjective metaphysics of Christianity inform a subjective epistemology for the believer. Facts are simply a creation, according to the Christian worldview, subject to revision without prior notice. The Van Til quote above makes this crystal clear. Why wouldn’t Christians be consistent with this presupposition in their epistemology? The only reason why they wouldn’t be, is the fact that it is an untrue presupposition. Try living in a reality while denying that reality’s own terms. What do you get?

 

Jason:

 

Having said that, clearly God could change reality if He wanted to. 

 

Indeed, that’s the teaching: nothing will stop the Christian god from creating human beings with bat wings if it wanted to. And if the Christian god chose to create human beings with bat wings, what Christian would call that creation arbitrary? What Christian would say his god acted on whim? For that matter, how does the individual believer know that his god’s future plans do not involve the distribution of bat wings to select human beings? If he claims to know this, what evidences does he appeal to? Does he appeal to vague incantations in the bible that can be read any which way? Primitive poetry is a miserable substitute for rational epistemological principles. Running to the bible’s alleged promises is simply an attempt to barricade oneself in the dark shell of his beliefs without making any serious contribution to the realm of knowledge. From the evidence available to Mary prior to the angel Gabriel’s visitation to her, would she have been able to infer that she had been chosen by the Christian god to carry the baby Jesus? If so, would she really need a visit from the angel Gabriel to inform her of something she could have inferred by herself? Then again, who would say that she could have inferred this, and from what evidence available to her would she have assembled such an inference? Could Lazarus have inferred, prior to his death, that Jesus was going to raise him from the grave at some point, after he had already begun to stinketh? Christians say that there god could change the world, but that the decision to do so would not be whimsical, and yet what can be inferred about what their god might do from the available facts? They simply don’t want critics to call a spade a spade.

 

Jason:

 

In fact, on the Christian worldview He does so on a small scale on various occasions.  We call these miracles.  A miracle is when God does something in a way that differs from the way He normally does it.  Frankly I don't see how miracles argue against absolute truth, but I'll say more about that in a bit.

 

This characterization of miracles is intended to downplay the philosophical ramifications of miracle-belief. Enabling Jesus and Peter to walk on unfrozen water is just the Christian god doing something in a way that’s “different” from its normal way of doing things. Of course, doing things in a whimsical way is simply doing them in a way that’s different from the normal way. Here we have defense by retreat to semantics, in order to avoid the connotations, and more importantly the philosophical implications, of uncomfortable terms that are suitable to the arbitrary positions Christians confessionally affirm. You say that you “don’t see how miracles argue against absolute truth,” but your present inability to see something does not mean it’s not there. Indeed, miracles do not “argue” for or against anything, since there are no miracles to begin with. But belief in miracles does in fact cause a problem for anyone who wants to claim that any truths are absolute. That goes back to the point that I had elucidated earlier, namely that the idea of truth assumes a metaphysical orientation that the idea of miracles does not accept. The two cannot be integrated without contradiction because they assume contradictory metaphysical orientations.

 

Jason:

 

When I speak of God changing, or to use your word, ‘revising’ reality, I am thinking of large scale, permanent changes such as changing the physics that undergird our universe.

 

Yeah, like this happens every day, right? Can you identify any actual examples of this that can be scientifically verified? Or, are they just something in a primitive book of stories that you believe for no clear reason? I see that you kept your examples theoretical, so perhaps you have nothing actual to point to here?

 

Jason:

 

For example, theoretically speaking God could decide He wants to slow the speed of light to 1/2 its current speed, or cause hydrogen to repel oxygen, thus eliminating the existence of water.  What if He did?

 

If your god did this, I highly doubt you would say it was arbitrary, simply because your worldview compels you to assume an obsequious disposition to your god’s whims. After all, you wouldn’t want to piss it off, right?

 

Jason:

 

Would that be evidence against His existence?

 

Your question here requires one to grant validity to a fake environment that one can only imagine to be the case. But that which is fake cannot serve as a standard for reality-based judgments. All you’re doing is asking a question which essentially boils down to “What if the primacy of consciousness were true? Would that be evidence against the primacy of consciousness?” My question to you should be clear now: Where did you get the concept ‘true’? And what orientation between subject and object does that concept assume?

 

Jason:

 

What if God went on a creative spurt so that every day you woke up you woke up to a radically different type of universe?  Would that be evidence against His existence.  Clearly not!

 

More question-begging “what ifs,” Jason. Hardly compelling to someone who does not grant theism’s fundamental premise in the first place.

 

Jason:

 

Creators have the sovereign ability to change what they created whenever they want without consulting the thing they created.  Human creators exercise this prerogative all the time.   For example, every year human creators revise the motor vehicles they created the previous year.  It is absurd to think a creator cannot exist if he possesses, yet alone exercises his ability to modify his creation.  Why hold a divine creator to a standard you won't apply to human creators?

 

This is the same insidious equivocation we saw above, namely on the term ‘create’. I do not hold “a divine creator” to any standards, because there are no divine creators to begin with. Should I hold unicorns to the standard I would apply in calculating the galloping speed of Arabian horses? Why would I do that if unicorns don’t exist in the first place?

 

 

Truth in a Cartoon Universe?

 

You claimed that “truth would still be truth in a cartoon universe,” which can only suggest that you are now in agreement with me that the cartoon universe suitably applies to theism. This agreement is probably motivated in part to anaesthetize the cartoon universe analogy (so as to say that, if it applies, you can say “So what? It doesn’t matter after all” as we saw with Travis White’s admission above), and also in part because you probably recognize now, after thinking about it a little bit, as did Travis White, that the cartoon universe analogy in fact does apply to Christian theism.

 

Jason:

 

Let's continue with this idea of God revising reality on a daily basis.

 

Okay.

 

Jason:

 

Such a world would be entirely unpredictable just like your cartoon universe.

 

Right. We would not be able to make inductive inferences with any reliability whatsoever, since the constants that inductive inference requires would not be available. As I’ve pointed out before, contrary to presuppositionalism, the so-called “problem of induction” does not find its solution in theism. On the contrary, theism will only disable induction completely.

 

Jason:

 

Would that change the nature of truth as you claim (You said, "In such a universe, 'truth' is whatever the cosmic cartoonist happens to will at that moment. But when Christians speak of 'truth', they talk about it as if it were absolute. But obviously there could be no absolute truths if the universe were as they described it")?  No.  It would only change what is true.

 

Actually, it would be much worse than this. It would make truth completely unattainable, even to the ruling consciousness. Self-control requires the constancy of the law of identity, and the metaphysical precondition of the law of identity is the metaphysical primacy of existence. But a cartoon universe is a universe in which existence does not hold metaphysical primacy, so the law of identity could not apply. Thus even the ruling consciousness would have no bearing by which to control itself. So it would have no way of knowing what course the reality it creates would take from moment to moment. For human beings, it would be even more disparaging, for, as you admitted, “such a world would be entirely unpredictable.” So no human being could ever claim to have acquired something he could confidently call “true knowledge.” Meanwhile, you seem oblivious to the fact that your point of reference in interacting with my position in fact assumes that the universe is not cartoon-like, an assumption which in fact is true, but for reasons which your worldview cannot explain (since they are not available to the Christian worldview given what it affirms).

 

Jason:

 

Remember, truth is a corresponding relation between a belief/proposition and the objective world (the way the world really is in itself independent of mental knowers).

 

See my point on this above.

 

Jason:

 

If reality (the objective world) was constantly changing, a belief that was true one day could be false the next, but the nature of truth would remain the same.

 

Again, you’re borrowing your conception of truth from a non-cartoon universe worldview in order to make this statement. Even when you indicate that reality is objective, as you do in your statement here, you’re ignoring the premises of the cartoon universe you’re trying to defend. You’re flopping like a herring that just got reeled onto the deck of a fishing boat. Jesus, the master fisher of men himself, would be proud.

 

Jason: If the sun appeared yellow yesterday, and I believed it was yellow, to say "the sun is yellow" would be true yesterday.

 

But where did you get the concept ‘yesterday’, and to what would it refer in a cartoon universe? Again, you’re making use of a constancy that is available only in the non-cartoon universe of atheism to make your point in defense of theism.


Jason:

 

If the sun appears green today, and I believe it is yellow, to say "the sun is yellow" would now be false.

 

False for whom? You could say “false for me,” but this smacks of acute relativism, and just by distinguishing yourself from anything or anyone else, you’re again borrowing a constancy that is not available in a cartoon universe. So what is true at this point? Even to contemplate the position you want to defend against mine, mine has to be true to lend you a hand. Otherwise you’ll sink in quicksand and not even know it, for knowing requires an objective orientation between subject and object, and that’s not reliably available in a cartoon universe.

 

Jason:

 

I would have to believe the sun is green to know the truth today.

 

Actually, as a creature in a god’s universe, you would be analogous to a character in a cartoon, and you could not do anything that the sovereign cartoonist didn’t want you to do. You wouldn’t even be able to distinguish between today and yesterday or green and yellow unless the ruling subject allowed it. And even then, you wouldn’t know this, for that’s not how knowledge works. You’d simply be programmed to reiterate certain patterns which, on the basis of a non-cartoon universe, may or may not resemble the visual-audio coding of language that is available in the non-cartoon universe of atheism.

 

Jason:

 

While that kind of a world would be very difficult to navigate in, the nature of truth would remain the same.

 

“...remain the same...” as what? As truth in the non-cartoon universe? Not at all. For in the non-cartoon universe of atheism, truth reflects a state of affairs that obtains independent of consciousness, while in the cartoon universe that theism imagines truth refers to a shifting flux that does not benefit from any objective constants.

 

Jason:

 

What was objectively true, or absolutely true yesterday was objectively and absolutely true at that time. What is objectively and absolutely true today is objectively and absolutely true at this time.

 

Again, you’re borrowing from a different worldview to make this statement. Concepts of time assume an objective standard, such as the motion of the earth around the sun. What would provide this standard in a cartoon universe? Blank out.

 

Jason:

 

While the content of truth would change, the nature of truth would remain the same: objective.

 

Not at all, because truth in a cartoon universe would be subjective, that is, dependent on the whims of the ruling subject. Since in a cartoon universe there are no states of affairs which obtain independent of consciousness, there’s nothing at all to serve as an objective standard to begin with.

 

See, Jason, without my worldview, you cannot even understand the problems that the theistic worldview would create, if you attempted to govern your mind according to its metaphysical implications consistently. You’d be lost without the truths that you are constantly borrowing from my worldview to provide you the equilibrium you need while affirming a subjective worldview.

 

Jason:

 

Even in a stable world like our own this is true.

 

In “a world like our own,” truth is possible because of the primacy of existence, the very principle which the cartoon universe of theism rejects. Again, you’re borrowing from my worldview here to defend yours.

 

Jason:

 

What was true one day may not be true the next.  Consider tensed truths.  If I am scheduled to lecture on Christianity September 30th the following proposition would be true: "I will lecture on Christianity September 30th."  However, on October 1st that proposition would be false.  Now the proposition, "I lectured on Christianity September 30th" is true.  While this is not a change in physical reality, the principle remains the same: propositional beliefs about reality have changed their truth value.  No one would consider these sorts of changes in what is true to mean the nature of truth has changed.  We simply adjust our beliefs to fit the new tensed reality.  If we can do so on a micro-level, why couldn't we do so on a macro-level?  There is no principled reason we couldn't.  So truth does not assume reality is unchanging (non-cartoony) as you assert.  Truth assumes that our beliefs about reality correspond to reality, whatever that reality may be, whenever it happens to be it.  It is false to think God cannot change reality without sacrificing the nature of truth.

 

All your points here implicitly assume the primacy of existence principle to provide them with the foothold you intend them to have. Truth assumes the constancy of the objective orientation between subject and object, and this constancy is what theism derails by its assertion of a being that enjoys a subjective orientation between subject and object. My analysis of truth does not affirm that facts cannot change. Rather, it recognizes that facts obtain independent of consciousness, and my worldview can be consistent with this recognition because it makes this recognition explicit and refuses to depart from it.

 

I had written:

 

But when Christians speak of 'truth', they talk about it as if it were absolute. But obviously there could be no absolute truths if the universe were as they described it. 

 

Jason:

 

I think part of the problem may be your conception of ‘absolute’.  Absolute does not necessarily mean ‘unchanging’.  It simply means it is part of the objective world; i.e. its truth value is not subject to mental subjects. Granted, absolute carries the connotation of unchanging because many of the truths we label "absolute" do not change over time, but the fact remains that "unchanging" is not essential to its denotative meaning.  If God wanted to turn water different colors every day, it would be absolutely true that water changes colors on a daily basis.  If God turned the water purple on Tuesday, it would be absolutely true that the water is purple on Wednesday.  If God turned the water red on Wednesday, it would be absolutely true that the water was red on Thursday.

 

By ‘absolute’ in this context, I do not mean unchanging per se, but obtaining independent of wishes, feelings, preferences, ignorance or other dispositions of consciousness. Since the universe as Christianity describes it would be a universe in which consciousness holds metaphysical primacy, absolute truth as I have described it would not be possible. A Christian universe would be a subjective world, since it would be the creation of consciousness. The essential to absolute truth is not unchangingness alone, for truth is also contextual. For instance the statement “The population of Tokyo is 1.2 million” may have been true at one time, but today it is no longer true. But I cannot change the population of Tokyo by wishing or preferring it to be one number as opposed to another. It should be obvious that this conception of truth assumes the metaphysical primacy of existence and denies the metaphysical primacy of consciousness. On the Christian view, however, the population of Tokyo is whatever the Christian god wants it to be at any given moment. Since an objective conception of truth is never possible to completely evade (since the primacy of existence is impossible to evade), Christians implicitly recognize that truth must somehow integrate facts which obtain independently of their own consciousness. But Christians are not willing to let matters rest here. They still want to imagine a supernatural consciousness which enjoys the opposite orientation, which is utterly absurd. The reason why they do not admit this absurdity is due in part to the fact that they have no explicit understanding of the subject-object relationship and, consequently, also to the fact that they have no consistency on this matter. But even your own scenarios (“If God wanted to turn water different colors every day, it would be absolutely true that water changes colors on a daily basis”) jettisons the objective analysis of truth that it verbally makes use of by making the wishes of a conscious being the cause behind the facts that inform truths.

 

 

How is Reality Subject to the Divine Mind?

 

Jason:

 

Earlier I affirmed the Christian belief that reality is subject to the divine mind, but said the nature of that subjection is not as you have portrayed it.

 

Yes, you did say this.

 

Jason:

 

At the time I merely argued against your conception of this subjection as a cartoon universe.

 

Yes, you did try to. But I see that my position has prevailed in spite of what you tried to raise against it.

 

Jason:

 

Now I would like to positively and briefly explain the manner in which Christians believe reality is subject to the divine mind.

 

So, you’re speaking for all Christians? On whose consent? It’s interesting how many Christians assume a uniformity in Christian thought and then when we look a little closer, we find all kinds of infighting, suggesting that there really is no such uniformity after all.

 

Anyway, go on.

 

Jason:

 

Reality is subject to the divine mind in the fact that the existence of the universe is contingent on a conscious agent who willed it into existence.

 

I’m with you so far. This does not go against the cartoon universe analogy in anyway. Observe: The fictional realm of a cartoon is subject to the cartoonist’s mind in the fact that the fictional realm of the cartoon is contingent on a conscious agent (namely the cartoonist) who chose to illustrate it.

 

Go on.

 

Jason:

 

And as I acknowledged earlier, while God possesses full authority to shape, change, or improve His creation, He does not do so except in isolated, minute ways.

 

Such reservations are intended to downplay the implications of the position affirmed here, but, as we saw earlier when you tried to do this, they’re ultimately irrelevant. The fact is that you still affirm the primacy of consciousness. You’re essentially saying “Yeah, consciousness holds metaphysical primacy, but the ruling subject only invokes this privilege once in a while,” suggesting a universe of alternating current in terms of the subject-object relationship. I urge you to continue along these lines, Jason, for it only compromises the intensity of your god-belief.

 

 

Ad hoc

 

Jason:

 

Now let me address some specific comments you made.

 

Okay.

 

I had written:

 

In such a universe, one could not say, for instance, that it is not possible to walk on unfrozen water, for again the cosmic cartoonist could make a liar of him at any time by having men walk on unfrozen water, such as on an inland sea. In such a universe, ‘truth’ is whatever the cosmic cartoonist happens to will at that moment. 

 

Jason:

 

The same could be said of the atheistic, evolutionary world you claim to live in.

 

How so? The world that I live in is not controlled by a supernatural consciousness. Why is it that, when Christian apologists get pinned on an issue, they always reach for the tu quoque (as if that alleviates the problem in their worldview) when in fact there are no mystical counterparts to their worldview in the worldview of their non-believing critics? This is juicy!

 

Jason:

 

Evolution in its most basic sense means change over time.

 

If the term is unqualified by a specific context, this may be the case. Of course, I did not affirm an “evolutionary world” as you seem to think. Moreover, if there is change in the world (such as the climates, the shifting of tectonic plates, the water level of lakes and rivers, the distribution of elements in silt beds, etc.), these changes occur on the basis of causal laws which obtain independent of wishing, preferences, ignorance, temper tantrums, etc. Again, the primacy of existence is in operation here. I’m simply being consistent with my worldview’s explicit affirmations.

 

Jason:

 

What was true of the universe at one point in time may/will not be true of the universe at another.

 

If the contextual analysis of truth that my worldview endorses is in fact valid, then this is not a problem in my worldview.

 

Jason:

 

The only difference is the amount of time it takes to change the universe.

 

You mean the difference between my worldview’s conception of changes and the theistic worldview’s conception of changes? You mean, this difference is restricted only to time scales? No, I don’t think so. According to the theistic worldview, a ruling subject is directing and managing these changes on the basis of its “good pleasure” (cf. Ps. 115:3), while on my worldview they occur on the basis of objective law. Why would a Christian discount his worldview so readily, unless he sensed a problem? Indeed, why should we be surprised to see the Christian running out of a burning house?

 

Jason:

 

A divine creator can change the world instantly, whereas evolution can only do so slowly over time.

 

The difference is not in the rapidity of the change, but in its causation. According to the theistic worldview, the cause of such changes is the ruling subject’s whims, not the mind-independent natures of the entities involved. On the theistic conception of the world, there are no mind-independent entities to begin with, since it holds that they were all created by an act of will by the ruling subject. Indeed, the difference is not in how quickly our respective positions propose these changes take place, but the metaphysical orientation between subject and object that roots our respective conceptions of those changes.

 

Jason:

 

But the fact remains that in both worlds what was true of reality at one point in time will not be true in another because evolution (rather than God) has changed reality.

 

Not because of “evolution,” but because of causality (according to my worldview). Evolution is not some cosmic force which determines the course of nature by some internal intent. That’s more along the lines of theism.

 

Jason:

 

Are you prepared to say evolution could make a liar out of you?

 

To make me a liar, evolution would have to produce a consciousness which holds metaphysical primacy over existence. I have no evidence to suppose that this will ever happen.

 

Jason:

 

And you can't appeal to physical laws to guarantee a static universe.

 

I don’t need to, for it is not up to me to “guarantee a static universe.” Any effort on my part to appeal to anything will not guarantee something that the universe has already taken care of, so to speak. The fact that existence exists does not change. The fact that there is a universe is a point of constancy that I cannot deny. The existence of reality is a precondition to any laws, including the law of causality.

 

Jason:

 

For one, physical laws have been in place since the beginning of time, and yet the world as it existed billions of years ago is radically different than the world we live in today.  More importantly, physical laws really aren't even laws.  They are descriptions of the way things normally work.

 

My view of “laws” in this regard is really that they are general principles, i.e., general truths upon which subsequent truths logically depend. The law of identity is axiomatic; it is the fact that existence exists understood from a specific perspective, namely from the perspective of an entity’s relation to itself. A thing is itself. The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action: a thing acts according to its nature. No, I did not discover these principles by reading the bible. I certainly would not look to the bible if I wanted to understand the world in which I exist.

 

Jason:

 

There is nothing to which matter must conform on an atheistic worldview.

 

Well, if that’s the case, then obviously your statement above, namely that “the same could be said of the atheistic, evolutionary world you claim to live in,” was off the mark, especially if the question is whether or not matter conforms to the whims of an invisible magic being, for atheistic worldviews typically do not imagine such beings.

 

Jason:

 

It's just matter in motion.

 

Actually, on my view, matter is itself, for to exist is to be something, and a thing is itself. If it moves, it moves according to its nature. I cannot think of any actual thing that could qualify as an exception to this.

 

Jason:

 

It's not subject to anything.  It is whatever it is.

 

More accurately, a thing is itself, independent of consciousness.

 

Jason:

 

There is no reason to think the way physical reality behaves today, it must do so tomorrow as well.

 

Why would you think this? The reason you’re ignoring is the constancy of the relationship between a thing and itself, i.e., the law of identity.

 

Jason:

 

They could change tomorrow, or over the next eon.

 

They could? In what way, and on what basis? Are you claiming that, according to my worldview, they “could change” without causation? My view does not affirm that, for change is the identity of causation.

 

Jason:

 

So how can you be assured that physical laws (rather than God) won't make a liar out of you?

 

On specifically which position that I have affirmed am I supposed to “be assured that physical laws... won’t make a liar out of [me]”? Do you think I need some kind of assurance that “tomorrow” A will still be A? To what does the term ‘tomorrow’ refer? Does it refer to something that has an identity distinct from something else? If so, then the assurance you’re looking for is built into your conception of the problem as such. Again, the law of identity is axiomatic. ‘Assurance’? As opposed to what? As opposed to something other than assurance? Well, you’re assuming that what you’re calling “assurance” is something distinct from something other than itself, which means: you’re assuming the law of identity. So you’re looking for something to guarantee the law of identity? All I need for this is to point to the fact that existence exists, i.e., that there is a reality. This fact alone is the metaphysical pretext for as well as the guarantor of all distinction. Do you think you need to assert the existence of an invisible magic being to guarantee the law of identity? To do this, you have to assume the very thing you’re hoping to guarantee. So how is asserting an invisible magic being at all productive in this endeavor? Meanwhile, notice how my worldview’s axioms have to be true in order for you to even muse on the idea of an invisible magic being.

 

Jason:

 

On an atheistic worldview you have no assurance that the laws of physics will remain the same.

 

Which laws of physics are you talking about? If we cannot identify them specifically, how can you know that I have affirmed that those laws “will remain the same”? Of course, if there are no invisible magic beings to mess with those laws of physics, then that eliminates one source that would theoretically pose a menace to them. Moreover, if the law of identity obtains, then that would eliminate causeless action (so-called “chance”) from the list of would-be menaces. So I’m not sure what you’re point is here. Or maybe I’m just seeing through it.

 

Jason:

 

All you can say is that this is the way things have been up to this point, and it's likely they'll remain this way in the future.

 

Well, even if that were the case, what would be wrong with that? It’s true, I do not know what will happen tomorrow. Tomorrow a truck could run off the road and wind up in my living room. Am I supposed to “know” that this won’t happen for some reason?

 

Jason:

 

That's all the inductive nature of the scientific discipline will allow you to say.

 

It’s not clear how you came to this assessment of my position. On my view, induction is the application of the law of causality to entity classes, and as such it is an extension of concept-formation. I have a lot to say on this point, but I’ll reserve it for later if you’re interested to learn more about it. (Hint: It’s another thing I didn’t go to the bible to learn.)

 

Jason:

 

Anything else is pure speculation.

 

Can you be specific here?

 

Jason:

 

Theism actually provides a foundation for the belief that the universe will (not "might") continue as it has, because it is being directed by an intelligent being who has willed that it do so, and we can be assured of that because He has communicated it to us via revelation.

 

Induction is not a matter of belief, but of extending the integration that takes place in concept-formation. Christians continually demonstrate to me that they do not have a conceptual understanding of induction, and this is fallout from the fact that their worldview has no native theory of concepts. The belief that an invisible magic being pushes and pulls the universe in whatsoever direction it pleases, is hardly a guarantee that “the universe will... continue as it has.” Indeed, the whole notion that you need this verbally communicated to you in the first place tells me that you couldn’t figure it out on your own, which itself constitutes a tacit admission that you gave up on your own mind. Consider: you worship a “perfect creator” which allegedly created your mind, and yet that mind cannot figure out things as simple as this on its own, while atheist thinkers come along and point you in the direction of the light at the end of the tunnel while spinning circles around you intellectually. That’s pretty humorous!

 

Jason:

 

Whether theism is true or false aside, theoretically speaking theism provides a better foundation for believing in the stability of reality as we know it.

 

It does? Where did you get the idea of “reality”? And in affirming this position, are you supposing that it is true because you believe it (i.e., on the basis of the primacy of consciousness), or because the relevant facts substantiate it (i.e., on the basis of the primacy of existence)? 

 

Jason:

 

How are we borrowing from a worldview that contradicts our own when we ‘speak of truth as if it were absolute and unyielding to conscious preferences’?

 

Because your worldview affirms a metaphysical basis which does not support truth, so to affirm truths you have no choice but to borrow from a worldview which supplies the metaphysical basis that truth requires. That’s how. I explained this at length above.

 

Jason:

 

Whether God exists or not it doesn't take a genius to figure out that we are subject to reality, and not reality to us.

 

It’s true, recognizing the fact that reality exists independent of consciousness does not require a genius. But what’s interesting is that the history of philosophy went on for centuries before a thinker came along and made this recognition explicit and constructed a worldview that is consistent with it. Meanwhile, notice how your own statement here renders the existence of your god irrelevant to the matter. I have pointed this out to Christians before: if their god actually did exist, it would be irrelevant.

 

Jason:

 

All it takes is one time of running into a wall when you're a kid.  Ha!

 

You’re right: reality has a way of defying our irrational expectations.

 

Jason:

 

It's typically non-theists who speak of truth in a subjectival and relativistic sense.  Why?  Because the best foundation of absolutism is theism, and they know it.

 

No, that’s not the reason why non-theists might “speak of truth in a subjectival and relativistic sense.” They do so (to the extent that they do), as Van Til himself had put it, because they’re borrowing from a theistic worldview. As we have seen, theism affirms a ruling subject to which all the objects of consciousness conform. If truth consists of contextual correspondence to those objects (such that truth is dependent on the objects of consciousness), and yet the objects of consciousness depend on a ruling subject (as Christianity affirms), then truth in the end is ultimately subjective on the Christian worldview. Any non-theist who affirms a subjective conception of truth is certainly not borrowing from my worldview. Chance are he’s borrowing from yours, and he may not even know it (for even your worldview does not make the recognition of these points explicit).

Jason:

 

2.  I completely agree with you.  There is no such thing as ‘true for you’ vs. ‘true for me’.  What determines truth is reality, not our personal feelings, likes, or dislikes.

 

And my worldview explains why this is the case explicitly in terms of fundamental essentials, and my entire worldview is consistent with that explanation. Since the concept ‘truth’ requires the primacy of existence principle, the idea that something is true on the basis of someone’s wishing, feelings, pleasure, displeasure, etc., is self-contradictory. Why? Because such a position attempts to seek a compromise between two opposite and mutually contradictory metaphysical orientations, as I have explained. Christianity, however, cannot explain why this is the case, nor can Christians consistently affirm that truth identifies states of affairs that obtain independently of consciousness, for Christianity clearly affirms that there are no states of affairs which obtain independently of consciousness. Hence to say that Christianity is true simply commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. That is, it affirms a concept while denying its metaphysical roots. It’s akin to saying that geometry helps to make the building of skyscrapers possible while denying the validity of basic mathematics. Why would anyone do this?

 

Jason:

 

You are right.  You probably won't persuade me to walk away from my belief in God, but not for the reasons you would expect.  At the end of the day I am a theist, not because it gives me personal comfort to believe in God despite the evidence, but rather because I find the Christian worldview to be the most rational among competitors.

 

I have no idea what a Christian could mean by “rational” if he applies it to what Christianity affirms. It makes no sense to me whatsoever to claim that a worldview which affirms invisible magic beings, universes created ex nihilo, talking snakes, men walking on water, virgins giving birth to savior-gods, the dead raising at the instigation of wishing, mountains casting themselves into the sea at the command of a faith-driven fanatic, or men being cured of congenital blindness as a result of saliva being smeared into their eyes, is in any way “rational.” I can only suspect that such claims are made in utter ignorance of how the mind works and what rationality really is. Regardless, if the Christian says that Christianity is “rational,” he clearly means something completely different by this term than what I take it to mean. By ‘rational’ I mean a volitional commitment to reason as one’s only means of knowledge and one’s only guide to action. On the other hand, Christians accept Christianity’s claims on the basis of faith, and guide their actions according to the dictates of an invisible magic being. None of this is rational. Nor can it be.

 

Jason:

 

The existence of God is the best explanation for what we know about our world.

 

Really? How do you figure? If we accept the metaphysical underpinnings of Christianity, namely the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, what makes the Christian god any better as an “explanation” than, say, Geusha, the supreme being of the Lahu tribe? Once we grant metaphysical primacy to any consciousness, the choice of the identity of which supernatural consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over the universe becomes completely arbitrary. That’s simply a result of placing choice prior to identity in the first place, which of course is self-contradictory, since A would have to be A in order to identify something as a choice to begin with. The primacy of consciousness simply undercuts itself. That is why believers need to abandon it and seek refuge in worldviews which contradict their own. It’s like a house that’s burning down: it is completely inhospitable to human life.

 

But consider: I exist and have a specific nature, namely a biological nature, and the objects which I encounter in the world do not obey my wishes. My consciousness did not create them, so why would I suppose that another consciousness did? And why would I suppose that a worldview which affirms that objects of consciousness find their source in consciousness – a view that is diametrically opposed to my everyday experience – provides “the best explanation for what we know about our world”? How does a worldview which portrays a world that I have never existed in serve as “the best explanation” for the world I know and exist in? Do you hear yourself, man?

 

I do not observe any conscious entity in nature enjoying subjective primacy over its objects, so on what basis would I suppose that there is an invisible conscious being existing beyond everything I do see and sense that does enjoy subjective primacy over the objects that I do observe? Would I suppose this on the basis of an orientation that my consciousness does not have with its objects? That would entail denying what I know to be the case firsthand. If someone told me that I have four arms instead of the two that I can verify firsthand, why would I accept his claim? If his claim contradicts what I can verify firsthand, what motivation would I have to deny what I can verify firsthand in order to accept what I cannot verify firsthand? Blank out. How does “the existence of God” explain any of this? Indeed, it does not explain it, unless I think an explanation needs to be found in a story-filled worldview which discards what I know on a firsthand basis to be real in order to explain the real. But that amounts to appealing to the unreal in order to explain the real, and that does not make any sense to me. Indeed, the notion of a god is explicitly nonsensical, by the theist’s own confession: he alleges that there is a supernatural subject beyond the reach of all my senses, i.e., nonsensical, and he expects me to accept this allegation as knowledge. But knowledge is knowledge of reality, and knowledge of reality requires an objective process. I.e., a process that is consistent with the nature of man’s consciousness, and the nature of man’s consciousness is that the objects of his consciousness neither depend on nor conform to consciousness, either for their reality or for their nature. The only means which theists offer me in “knowing” their god is an imaginative means. That is, the most I can do is imagine the being that theists tell me is real but beyond the reach of my senses. But imagination is not a means of validating knowledge, nor is it a means of discovering facts of reality. Moreover, I am in control of my imagination, as it is a faculty of my conscious experience. I can imagine, for instance, a four-headed god just as easily as I can imagine Christianity’s three-headed god. What makes my imagination “false” but the Christian’s imagination “true”? Again, what is truth? Truth is the identification of fact(s) of reality in accordance with those facts and by an objective process which guides our conscious functions. An objective process keeps us anchored to the fact that the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over our consciousness. So we can already see that an objective process, if it is applied according to its built-in constraints, will not lead to the subjectivism assumed by Christian god-belief. Christian excuses do not overcome these hurdles, because they’re not merely hurdles. They’re facts, and wishing does not overturn facts in the non-cartoon universe of atheism. Thus even to make the claim that Christianity is true, the Christian has no choice but to borrow from a worldview which he has confessionally rejected, perhaps even ridiculed.

 

Jason:

 

His existence best explains the existence of the universe, the finely-tuned properties of our universe, the origin of life, consciousness, our moral experience, and the reliability of our cognitive faculties.

 

The Lahu tell me that the existence of their Geusha “best explains the existence of the universe,” etc. So now what? Meanwhile, I have already explained why the need to “explain” the universe by appealing to something beyond it is conceptually absurd.

 

Jason:

 

Atheism is simply an explanatorily inferior worldview, rationally speaking.

 

Atheism is nothing more than the absence of god-belief. It is not a worldview, it is not an attempt to explain anything, it has no obligation to explain anything. It’s simply the state of not believing in any gods. By treating atheism as a worldview, Christian apologists seek to alleviate themselves of the task of dealing with specific philosophies which are not theistic in nature, such as Objectivism. Nothing you’ve presented in your message suggests to me that you are either familiar with Objectivism or capable of launching an informed critique of its positions. So you prefer to treat atheism as if it were a monolithic worldview which is uniformly adopted by all non-theists. This is quite naïve, Jason. What’s noteworthy is that we find that Objectivism’s foundations would have to be true in order for you to make even a half-hearted (let alone serious and robust) attempt to disparage it. As I have pointed out to many Christians, even considering what the Christian worldview says would not be possible if Objectivism’s basis were not true. If Objectivism’s founding truths were not true, there’d be no reality, no identity and no consciousness. Meanwhile, Christians unwittingly affirm the truth of Objectivism any time they affirm any truth, even when they claim that their worldview’s false teachings are true, for any claim to truth implicitly assumes the primacy of existence, which Objectivism alone affirms explicitly and integrates consistently.

 

Jason:

 

I would be more than happy to offer some of the reasons I believe in God if you are willing to consider them.

 

You’re free to present whatever you wish. But I think it would be a more productive and profitable use of your time if you explored the points I have presented here and in the sources I linked above a little deeper so that you don’t waste your time.

 

Best regards,

Dawson Bethrick

 



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