Thursday, June 22, 2006

Seventh-Day Advent Hoppism

“Steve Hays of Triablogue is still trying to wrest himself free of the cartoonish implications of the Christian worldview. Unfortunately for him, he has chosen to put before himself a hopless task. The only escape is to abandon Christianity and similar mystical nonsense altogether.”

For some odd reason, Bethrick has me confused with Arnold Rimmer: the lapsed Seventh-Day Advent Hoppist.

Since, however, I do not own a KJB which contains the offending misprint, or a pair of asbestos underpants, I have by no means chosen to put before me a hopless task.

But I suppose such confusion is inevitable when an unbeliever like Dawson inhabits a cartoon universe where the distinction between real people and fictitious characters loses its tenacity. And this will not be the last time in the cource of his reply that his bazookoid misfires.

“Nice try, but no cigar. Steve finds that he needs to caricaturize my position in order to wriggle out of the cartoonish implications of his professed worldview, and in so doing he not only misses the essence of the analogy (not only of the cartoon analogy, but also Paul's own potter-clay analogy), he also misses the nature of Christianity's metaphysical position. In order to do this, Steve has to ignore the fact that, on my worldview, man is an integrated being of matter and consciousness. Had he more familiarity with my position, he'd know that his rebuttal only makes him look ignorant rather than successfully discrediting my position.”

Once again, Dawson has to run away from his own words and come stumbling back with an armload of caveats which were distinctly absent from his original reply. I respond to what people say when the say it.

It’s true, though, that I’ve not chosen to immerse myself in all things Bethrickian—just as I don’t own The Essential Barry Manilow album, or a velvet painting of Elvis. Due to the brevity of life, we have to make many tragic choices with our limited time and resources.

“On my view, the frustration he projects does not exist; at least, not for me. I can, for instance, direct my own movements; my metaphysical viewpoint in no way contends against this fact. And through my physical movements, I can move other physical things. Steve cited the example of typing words out on a computer keyboard. I can direct my fingers to depress the buttons on my keyboard. If the keyboard and the computer to which it is connected are functioning properly, it is possible for me to type the words that I want to type by using the hardware to transmit my intentions.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is exactly how a cartoonist operates. He expresses his intentions through a physical medium, such as computer animation.

So all that Bethrick has succeeded in doing is to illustrate his ontological commitment to a cartoonish worldview.

“This, however, is not the same thing as conforming reality directly to my intentions in the manner that the cartoon universe of theism models. For instance, while I can wish that the buttons on my keyboard turn into hundred dollar bills all I want, no amount of wishing on my part will turn the buttons on my keyboards into something they are not. If I were the omnipotent deity that Christians imagine, then I could turn the buttons on my keyboard into anything I wanted them to be. After all, were I the Christian god, they would be buttons only because I intended them to be such in the first place.”

Notice how his cartoon analogy instantly breaks down. A cartoonist does not conform reality “directly” to his intentions. A cartoonist doesn’t merely wish cartoon characters into existence.

Yes, an omnipotent God can wish things into existence by sheer willpower, but this distinguishes God from a cartoonist.

“No, the objects of awareness do not obey wishes. I can wish that pizza, potato chips and apple fritters are not fattening when consumed in mass quantities. But the objects of the universe will not obey my wishes; pizza, potato chips and apple fritters will remain as fattening as they are no matter what I wish, no matter how hard I wish it. Because I am an integrated being of both matter and consciousness, I am able to direct my own movements. But even this has its limitations. No matter how much I wish, I cannot fly like a bird does, nor will I ever be able to run a mile in 60 seconds. If reality conformed to my intentions, however, there would be no such obstacles to such endeavors. In the non-cartoon universe of atheism, I must govern my actions according to nature's constraints. My wishing will not override them.”

Once again, a cartoonist cannot make things happen by a sheer act of the will. So Dawson’s precious analogy is a systematic failure.

“Now, notice that the cartoon universe analogy does not rely on a caricature of Christianity. After all, Christianity asserts the existence of a creator-god whose intentions directly control the objects which make up the universe. According to this view, nature's constraints do not impede the ruling consciousness' ability to control the objects of the universe, just as in a cartoon the images we see act according to the intentions of the cartoon's illustrator.”

A cartoonist does not exercise direct control over the animated images. A cartoonist is constrained by the limits of the physical medium.

“According to Christianity, if a man has two arms, it is only because the Christian god wanted it that way. If a slice of pizza has 600 calories, it is only because the Christian god wanted it that way. Nothing in the universe is the way it is without the Christian god's consent and decree. The Christian worldview is emphatic about the ‘all-controlling sovereignty’ it claims on behalf of its god.”

Bethrick, in his gimboid confusion, is repeatedly conflating two quite distinct propositions:

(i) Correspondence between object and intent

(ii) Causal immediacy

These are not interchangeable or mutually inclusive propositions.

“Similarly, in the context of a cartoon, the cartoonist controls whatsoever comes to pass. Nothing in the cartoon will appear unless the cartoonist willingly permits it to be there. The cartoon universe premise is particularly evident in the biblical notion of miracles. Take for example the miracle that the gospel of John has Jesus perform at the wedding of Cana. When it is discovered that there is no wine for the wedding guests, Jesus wishes the water in the six waterpots to turn into wine, something we would only see in cartoons. What the cartoon universe analogy serves to illustrate to a far greater degree than Paul's potter-clay analogy can hope to show, is the pervasive will-based sovereignty that Christians imagine their god has over the contents of the universe. Just as the universe is said to be dependent on the Christian god's intended designs for its origin and existence, the cartoon is dependent on the cartoonist's intended designs for its origin and existence. The contents of the universe, on Christianity's own premises, are what they are because the Christian god wants them that way. Similarly with the contents of a cartoon: they are what the cartoonist wants them to be.”

Observe the shifting definition. What is metaphysical subjectivism? Does it not ascribe a constitutive power to consciousness? That reality is subjective because existence is instantiated by mental acts alone?

But Bethrick has now downshifted to the banal equation of correspondence between intent and its intended object.

Yet as Bethrick admits, that relation obtains in his own creative activity, such as blogging.

“Of course not, because I do not believe that the universe is analogous to a cartoon. A cartoon can portray a talking computer keyboard, one which dialogues with its user. And according to Christianity and the powers it attributes to its god, this is in the realm of possibility, for it endorses the view that reality is dependent on its god's conscious intentions. The serpent in the garden, for instance, holds a conversation with Eve, the woman that was produced when the Christian god commanded Adam's rib to become "an help meet for him" (Gen. 2:18).”

Bethrick is now committing a level-confusion. This is no longer a relation of causal immediacy between a cartoonist and the cartoon, but a relation between animated objects within the cartoon.

Yes, all sorts of things can happen “in” a cartoon. But that is not analogous to the ontological relationship between a cartoonist and a cartoon. The cartoonist is not, himself, a cartoon character who directly interacts with other cartoon characters or animated scenery.

A cartoonist exists outside the cartoon, and creates the cartoon through the manipulation of a physical medium.

“I can only ‘impose my will’ on my own being, which is an integration of both matter and consciousness. My will does not directly manipulate the keys on my keyboard. If it did, I would not need to use my fingers to type them. Even in the case of volitionally directing the movements of my fingers, this only occurs within certain constraints within which I must work if I am to achieve my aims. I cannot, for instance, type 5,000 words per minute, or make the words flash in five different colors when they are read by someone named Hank or Judy. If all my fingers are broken or my hands are cut off, I'm not going to be able to type in the first place.”

Exactly the same thing applies to a cartoonist or computer animator.

“Non sequitur. The keystrokes conform to the physical interaction of my fingers. If I did not have fingers, or if I forewent their use, the keys on my keyboard would not type out my thoughts as I think them. And in using my fingers to type, they do not conform exactly to what I wish, as I pointed out above. Nature requires me to practice my typing to develop my ability, and check my accuracy as I go. That's the non-cartoon universe of atheism in which I live.”

And in a non-cartoon universe, a cartoonist must also use his fingers to depress the buttons on his computer keyboard.

By contrast, God is fundamentally disanalogous to a cartoonist inasmuch as God does not require a physical medium to make things happen. Indeed, he creates the physical medium itself.

“Steve views my analogy as an argument proving that Christianity is false.”

No, it doesn’t prove anything since the analogy is systematically bungled.

“The analogy simply brings out the absurdity of Christianity.”

No, what it brings out is the inability of Bethrick to think straight.

“Again, characteristic of Christians, Steve seeks to put a burden on my shoulders, albeit rather clumsily, even though he's made absolutely no progress in dispelling the cartoon universe analogy. Christianity's analogues to a cartoonist and the cartoons he creates are the Christian god and the universe as Christians imagine it. They imagine that the universe was created by an act of consciousness (according to their mythology, the Christian god willed the universe into being), and that the objects populating it conform to the creator's wishing.”

Observe, once more, how he merges two distinct propositions: (i) created by an act of consciousness; (ii) corresponding to the creator’s intentions.

A cartoonist does not create a cartoon by a sheer act of consciousness.

A cartoon may well conform to his intentions, but if what is what Bethrick means by a cartoonish worldview, then this is descriptive of his own worldview—in which agents, through the use of a physical medium, regularly make objects conforming to their designs.

So this is the problem with Dawson’s precious analogy:

i) It is disanalogous with the Christian worldview vis-à-vis creation ex nihilo

ii) It is analogous to his secular worldview vis-à-vis the relation between intent and its extramental objects.

iii) With respect to (ii), this is also analogous with the Christian worldview, vis-à-vis the creature/Creator relation.

But if (ii) picks out the Christian worldview as cartoonish, then by the same token it also picks out the secular worldview as cartoonish. So the analogy either proves too much or too little.

“For instance, man has two legs and two arms, not because of biological causes, but because the creator-god wanted him to have two arms and two legs. The Christian god could just as easily have created man with 22 arms and 14 legs. Since Christians believe that their god created the universe, they claim that their god is ‘bigger’ than the universe, and that nothing in the universe is exempt from its ‘all-controlling sovereignty.’ Similarly, a cartoonist can choose to draw images with two arms and two legs, and he can also choose to draw them with 22 arms and 14 legs if he so pleases. The cartoonist is ‘bigger’ than his cartoons in the sense that he calls the shots in dictating what takes place in them. To the extent that Christians claim that the universe was created by the Christian god and possesses the nature that it allegedly gave to it, Christians are affirming the cartoon universe premise that is integral to its form of theism.”

As we’ve seen several times now, this comparison falls far short of metaphysical subjectivism. For the ontology of creation ex nihilo is essentially disanalogous to the causal process of cartooning.

“That having been said, however, it is unlikely that someone who wants to believe in a cartoon universe is going to accept any demonstration of the inherent falsehood of such a model.”

It is especially unlikely that someone will accept Dawson’s demonstration when his demonstration is so thoroughly inept.

“Steve is a prime example of such stubbornness and futility.”

Yes, I’m stubborn in the face of philosophical incompetence. A terrible character flaw of mine.

“ It is, however, self-apparent to me that the cartoon universe premise of theism completely misconstrues the nature of the universe, since I have found no evidence of a consciousness which can manipulate its objects by means of mere wishing, as the Christian god is said to be able to do. In fact, all evidence that I have reviewed demonstrates precisely the opposite case: that consciousness must conform to its objects rather than having the power to conform its objects to its intentions, as I have explained numerous times in my writings. In fact, the very concept of truth itself assumes that the task of consciousness is not to create its objects and assign their identities at whim (cf. metaphysical subjectivism), but to perceive and identify them by means of proper names and concepts. The very concept of truth, then, necessarily assumes the non-cartoon universe of atheism.”

i) Since creation ex nihil is sui generis, it would fall outside secondary causality.

ii) The absence of evidence has no demonstrative power.

iii) You can also have indirect evidence via the effect.

iv) Actually, there is evidence in the parapsychological literature of telekinesis.

“I have yet to find a Christian who gets into an automobile and expects its engine to turn on by wishing rather than by inserting the key into the ignition and giving it a good twist with a couple light pumps on the accelerator.”

That’s because, unlike Bethrick, the Christians he has met are not dull enough to equate the divine mode of agency (e.g. creation ex nihilo) with a human mode of agency.

“Like the atheists they resent so much, Christians act as if the objects of their consciousness will not simply conform to their wishing. And in so doing, they performatively acknowledge the falsehood of their professed worldview. Indeed, they are in essence borrowing from a non-Christian orientation between subject and object.”

Perhaps Dawson likes to burn a straw man argument in hopes that all the smoke will conceal with fundamental failure of his precious analogy.

“Not at all. Both cartoonists and the cartoons they create are very real, just as a potter and the clay he works with are real. If cartoons were not real, how would people watch them on their TV screens? The validity of the analogy does not in any way depend on its Christian analogues being actual.”

Now he’s equivocating. Cartoons are entities. So they are ontologically real. But the world they depict is fictitious.

And Bethrick trades on that connotation when he says that Christianity has a cartoonish worldview. And in so doing he commits a level-confusion. Once again, his analogy falls apart.

“Wrong again. If Paul's potter and clay are analogous to his deity and its creations, then so are a cartoonist and the cartoons he creates, for the same essential reasons. In fact, as I have shown, the cartoon universe analogy is even stronger than Paul's analogy of the potter and clay. In the case of Paul's analogy in Romans, the potter is working with a pre-existing substance - namely the clay he uses to mold artifacts. Here's a point of disanalogy with what Christianity claims about its deity and its creation which the cartoon universe analogy symbolically overcomes: the universe, claims Christianity, was created ex nihilo. In other words, the deity did not take some pre-existing material and then reshape it, as a potter does with clay. In the case of a cartoon, however, the cartoonist approximates the ex nihilo creation of the universe claimed by Christianity by starting with a blank slate and drawing whatever he wants, where he wants and when he wants, just as the Christian god is alleged to have started with no pre-existing materials and proceeded to create what it wanted, where it wanted and when it wanted by wishing them into existence. For instance, cartoonist can give his cartoon a horizon with 27 moons instead of our one moon. Similarly, the Christian god can create a planet with 27 moons (Christians think that their god created Uranus too, don't they?). The cartoonist could decide to give his cartoon horizon 27 moons "just because," as he faces no constraints on his blank slate that will limit his creativity to a number less than this. Similarly, the Christian god, when creating a planet, can give it 27 moons "just because," since no constraints will limit its creative abilities. It just wishes, and the planet and its moons will magically appear.”

No, the cartoon analogy does not “approximate” creation ex nihilo. That confuses the fictitious world of the cartoon with the real world of the cartoonist. The difference could not be more elementary or elemental. And it thereby fails to distinguish the Christian worldview from his own worldview.

You can say that a bachelor approximates a husband, which is true is most respects, but if the analogy breaks on the very point of disanalogy, then approximation is worthless.


What the bible explicitly teaches and what a particular theology teaches are often quite different. Rival Christian groups are always pointing this out to each other. But here the bible is explicit in its promise that its god will deliver when asked. Observe:

Mt. 7:7-8 states: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."

Mt. 18:19 states: "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven."

Mt. 21:22 states: "And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive."

Jn. 14:13-14 states: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it."

Jn. 15:7 states: "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."

Jn. 16:23-24 states: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."

I welcome Steve's and any other Christian's efforts to downplay promises such as these, for I do not believe them either. They are, however, just a few of the verses that one can find in the New Testament which explicitly promise wish fulfillment. In terms of Christianity's cartoon universe, the believer is like Bugs Bunny having acquired self-awareness and being told by his illustrator (in whose "image" he was illustrated) that he can have whatever he wants just by asking for it. "Ask, and ye shall receive," says the promise of the divine cartoonist. The promise does not say, "Ask, and I might grant it." It clearly states "ye shall receive." But it is interesting to see Christians backpedaling from the bible's explicit promises, giving us the image of Bugs Bunny asking his cartoonist to give him a parka when he's drawn in an arctic setting, the cartoonist saying, "No, not just yet... You're going to have to freeze your little tail off first." All too often the bible models the divine cartoonist playing with its creations.


We don’t downplay these promises. We also don’t quote them out of context, detaching them from a theology of prayer.

“The obviousness of a cartoon's fictitiousness is due to its overt modeling of metaphysical subjectivism. This of course varies from genre to genre, but is most explicit in children's programs, and also in worldviews like Christianity. Once one realizes this, he will see that Christianity is clearly false, because it assumes a false metaphysical basis. Reason and rationality assume the non-cartoon universe of the atheist, for the universe we live in operates according to Bacon's famous dictim: ‘Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.’ We saw this above in the example of typing on a computer keyboard. To transmit my intentions, I have to work with reality, because the objects with which I work do not obey my intentions. On the contrary, they obey natural law, and I have no choice but to work with natural law if I want to achieve anything.”

This is a sustained straw man argument since the Christian worldview does not equate the mode of divine agency with the mode of human agency. To the contrary, it distinguishes between primary and secondary causality.

“But the universe as Christianity essentially conceives of it operates according to the cartoon dictim: ‘Nature, to be commanded, must be willed.’ According to the myth, what the Christian god wills, immediately becomes reality. The Christian god wills the universe to be, and it is. No fussing with natural laws here. What Christian would say that the objects of the universe do not directly obey his god's will? The Christian god will say to this rib, ‘Become thou Eve!’ magically the rib turns into Eve upon command. The Christian god will say to the rain clouds, ‘Flood ye the earth!’ and the rain clouds will obey, letting loose their waters to flood the earth, just as the divine cartoonist has commanded. The Christian god says to the flora and fauna of the earth, ‘Go now to Noah and get your sorry butts into his waiting barge!’ and in the cartoon universe of theism, they obey as commanded. We are not told how koalas and kangaroos find their way to Noah's ark from the Australian landmass, but according to the myth they did so, just as they were commanded. For in the cartoon universe of theism, there is no exception to the primacy of divine wishing, no exception to the obedience that this wishing brings about in the objects which populate the universe. The ‘how’ does not matter, for the lessons that the bible is intended to impart are not meant to have practical applicability in the non-cartoon universe of atheism where questions like ‘How did that happen?’ make sense. What's important here is obedience to the ruling will, the all-controlling subject, on the part of any object. This will has the power to command any object in the cartooniverse, and any object so commanded shall obey without exception, just as the actions of Bugs Bunny obey the wishes of an illustrator.”

i) Bethrick never advances the argument. To the contrary, he merely deepens the rut. Like a blinkered ox that keeps plodding round and round in a circle, tethered to the millstone, Bethrick continually confounds two distinct propositions: (i) the constitutive act of willing something into existence and (ii) the correspondence between the created object and the creative intent.

ii) And if that were not bad enough, he is also confusing creation, providence, and miracle. The flood is not the effect of creation ex nihilo. Gathering the animals into the ark is not the effect of creation ex nihilo.

There is no “how” to creation ex nihilo. There may or may not be a “how” to a miracle. It depends on the miracle. There is always a “how” to ordinary providence.

BTW, Genesis doesn’t say that there were koalas and kangaroos in Australia before the flood. It doesn’t say Australia was there before the flood. It doesn’t say the current species or subspecies of koalas or kangaroos existed before the flood, or—if they did exist—where they were.

Unbelievers try to make the flood account looks artificially problematic by interpolating a number of extra-narrative assumptions into the narrative.

“Now, I certainly do not think the universe is analogous to a cartoon. Either Steve agrees with me that the universe is not analogous to a cartoon (and thus implicitly agrees that a worldview which likens the universe to a cartoon misconstrues the nature of the universe), or he disagrees with me, thus affirming that the universe is analogous to a cartoon.”

What I don’t agree with is a maladroit confusion between two distinct modes of subsistence. What would be mean to say that the universe is analogous to a cartoon? Does that mean that the cartoonist is a part of the cartoon? That he’s a cartoon character? Or that he is apart from the cartoon?

“Steve has not made his position on this clear. I think that part of Steve's problem is that he's been working himself too hard, nervously posting hasty reactions to criticisms of his cartoon universe worldview without giving his own position the critical consideration it so sorely needs.”

Yes, my computer keyboard is slippery from the blood-bespattered buttons due to all my nail biting as I hastily react to Dawson’s devastating criticisms. I have to have a blood transfusion every time I type a reply.

“Child psychology is effective on the mind of a child who doesn't want to grow up.”

Actually, a sure mark of arrested development is the spectacle of a grown man who feels the incessant need to remind the world of how grown up he is. Only someone who is very insecure feels the constant need to convince us of his maturity.

Who’s he trying to impress, anyway? Mother Rand? Father Thorn? How many times must they pat him on the head before Bethrick is ready to go outside and play with the big boys?


  1. Steve Hays, I have always had a mental image of you as Kryten. The obscure Red Dwarf reference fits.

    "The greatest of these is hop."

  2. "Steve has to ignore the fact that, on my worldview, man is an integrated being of matter and consciousness."

    I'm just joining this party. Should I assume that you've already been around the block with these guys on the notion of "consciousness" in an atheistic universe being a synonym for "nothing"?

  3. Bethrick frequently uses phrases like "magic" and "cartoon" to poison the well, even after the fallacious nature of his use of those phrases has been explained to him. What he can't produce in terms of argumentation he tries to make up for with terminology that assumes the truthfulness of his position without proving it.

    He assumes naturalism, then dismisses anything that isn't consistent with his naturalistic worldview as "magic", "cartoonish", etc. Why should anybody find that approach convincing?

    Jim Crigler said that he's "just joining this party". Jim, if you go to the archives of this blog from recent months, you can find a lot of articles written in response to Bethrick by Steve, by me, and by Paul Manata. To give you some idea of Bethrick's credibility, when commenting on early Christianity he cites sources like Earl Doherty and G.A. Wells, and he thinks he's making a highly significant point when he argues that naturalistic accounts of Jesus' life are possibly true. Apparently, Bethrick thinks that assuming naturalism and proposing possible naturalistic alternatives to supernatural accounts is sufficient.