Monday, October 23, 2006

Lucky Charms Atheology

Ayn Rand disciple, Dawson Bethrick, recently tried to justify his fallacious attacks on Christianity in his latest post: Is the Expression ‘Invisible Magic Being’ “Pejorative”? This is all understandable given that this line of attack seems to be Bethrick’s bee in his bonnet. Rather than take the bit between his teeth and engage the theist in real debate, Bethrick’s all thumbs approach to atheological argumentation makes him known as the enfant terrible of theist-atheist debate. He employ’s Fabian tactics. Actually, Bethrick doesn’t write to engage theists. His hubristic writing is meant to appeal to the dyed-in-the-wool atheist. But not the intelligent sort, the hoi polloi. Dawson plays to the gallery. This is all fine and dandy, except when an outsider analyzes the situation, T-blog does not suffer fools gladly.

What is Bethrick’s method? It’s fallacy ridden. Bethrick’s modus operandi is to argue by slogans. He uses expressions (e.g., “cartoon universe,” “invisible magic being”) to produce thoughtless knee-jerk reactions of agreement from the hoi polloi on the basis of the familiarity of the words, rather than on reason. Bethrick’s blog posts function like the logo for the Oakland Raiders. The team stinks, but the logo induces fear, or respect. Bethrick also relies heavily on hyperbole. He draws absurd extensions from the claims of his interlocutors. (These are not to be confuses with reductio ad absurdum arguments.) Another tactic of Bethrick is to argue ad baculum. He takes the fear of having a “cartoon worldview” and exchanges that for honest interaction with the other side. Bethrick’s post also employ much argumentum ad ignominiam. He thinks that he can shame his opponant into submission by the use of employing claims which commit the above fallacies. Bethrick also makes use of arguing dicto simpliciter (for example, he frequently will argue that the ‘all’ in Jesus’ claim that “all things are possible” includes the possibility that God could cease to exist, or that people who trust in Jesus could possibly end up in hell). I believe that these types of fallacies make up the sine qua non of Bethrick’s atheological arguments against theism. Having said that by way of introduction, let’s now turn to Bethrick’s latest laid egg.

Bethrick begins his post by stating the purpose he’s writing it:

“Recently Christian apologist James Anderson visited my blog and, while posting some comments critical of one of my posts, he stated:

“I’ve never understood why you feel the need to pepper your writing with playground pejoratives like “invisible magic beings”, which add nothing to your analysis.”

James states that he “never understood why” I use this term, so I will take this opportunity to explain it. Others believers may benefit from this as well, as a number of Christians have apparently taken umbrage at the term. So hopefully after reading my reasons here, James and others will finally understand.”


I would encourage everyone to visit Dawson’s link to “one of his posts” above. James Anderson offered some critical remarks on Dawson’s position on the problem of universals. Rather than spending his Saturday offering something useful, Betrhick instead chose to talk about why he uses the term “Magic Being.” Bethrick’s all style and no substance. I would also like to point out Bethrick’s hail-fellow-well-met approach to interaction with people he considers lost in a delusion. His posts are actually intended to offer left-handed compliments. Bethrick’s playing dumb and he knows precisely why James Anderson thinks the tem “invisible magic being” is “pejorative.” But instead he treats Dr. Anderson as a confused individual needing Dawson Bethrick to enlighten him. If we read between the lines of Bethrick’s soft soap we can quite easily discern that he sails under false colors. If I’m wrong then we must read Bethrick as sincerely thinking that Christians can “benefit” from the reasons for why we believe in an “invisible magic being.” I think the obvious reading is that Bethrick intends this to be another insult, though in a glad-hander sort of way. Lastly, note that Bethrick “hopes that James and others will finally understand.” Why would he hope that we would finally understand? To my knowledge this is the first time Bethrick has justified his shool yard tactics. He acts as if he’s taken pains to explain all of this before, and now he’ll explain it yet again and “hope” that we “will finally understand.” This is all very lowbrow.

After the back-handed insults, Bethrick plays dumb. He writes,

“In a nutshell, I use the term “invisible magic being” because I think it accurately captures the imaginary personal entity that Christians and other religionists insist exists.In fact, it seems dubious to me that any religionists would consider my use of this expression ‘pejorative.’”


We’ve made no progress. Well, we can add a new fallacy. Bethrick constantly peppers his posts with question begging epithets (e.g., “imaginary” personal entity). This is the fallacy of slanting. Bethrick uses terms like this to denote as well as connote an evaluating attitude.

Next, note that Bethrick isn’t certain as to why Christians would consider the use of “invisible magic being” in place of our Holy Lord as disparaging and belittling. Either Bethrick is so thick-headed that he sincerely believes we would find no problem, or he’s, again, playing dumb. I opt for the latter, the charitable reading. Everyone knows that God is Dawson’s bête noire. Does he expect us to believe that he intends no belittlement of God by this phrase? Does he not think that “invisible magic being” has negative connotations? If he does not, then he’s plain ignorant. If he does, then he’s a liar. Dawson acts concerned how we take his claim, but it’s obvious he’s laughing up his sleeve.

After the glad-handing, Dawson gives us the reasons for why he does not think this term pejorative. He writes,

“Christians, for instance, claim that their god exists, and often refer to it as a “being.” They claim that their god is “the supreme being,” a “divine being,” an “infinite being,” etc. So I don’t know why Christians like James would find my use of this term bothersome.

Also, Christians claim that their god is invisible – that is, no one can see it, not even believers themselves. Van Til himself affirms that his god is invisible in The Reformed Pastor and Ecumenism when he favorably quotes Col. 1:13-20. In fact, the bible itself, upon which Christianity is (for some part anyway) based, tells us that its god is invisible in I Tim. 1:17. So again, I don’t know why a Christian would be disturbed by the use of this term.

The controversial element of the expression in dispute, then, must, by process of elimination, be the use of the adjective ‘magic’. But in my view, this term is wholly warranted. According to Webster’s dictionary, magic is:

“the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces,”

or

“an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source.”



Bethrick’s tactic is to take each single word and conclude that we shouldn’t have a problem with either “being” or “invisible” used to describe God, and so since “magic” is the only word left then we only have a problem with the phrase because "magic" is in there. But this isn’t necessarily so.

Bethrick seems to confuse words and terms. Of course Christians have used the word “invisible,” but it’s not the word that we’re concerned with in Bethrick’s case, but the meaning poured into the word. The “invisible” as used with respects to Jehovah is different than the “invisible” used in, say, the term “invisible friend.” When I tell people that my son has an “invisible friend” they know that this means he has a pretend and imaginary friend. “Invisible” here, then, is used to connote the idea of “imaginary.” Indeed, when people hear that a child has an “imaginary friend” they know that this means he has an “invisible friend.” Or, take Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. In the cartoon this is meant to be real, and so it’s not imaginary, but is that what Christians mean when they say God is invisible?

Bethrick cites I Timothy 1:17 where we read that God is “invisible.” But what does this mean? Bethrick’s stuck at the superficial level of words. Of course this deficiency is advantageous for the one who employs equivocation as one of his main weapons. But if one were to be honest with his analysis one would move beyond the similarity of words and into the real of meaning. Only then can real critique be made. This only goes to show that Bethrick has no interest in honestly engaging Christian theists, instead he quibbles over words.

And so what is the Bible trying to convey when it uses the term “invisible” of God? It is indeed true that God cannot be placed into a Petri dish and examined, but that’s because he’s spirit. He’s a person without a body (or, more accurately, God is three persons without a body). He’s immaterial. I don’t think it is necessarily the case that “invisible things” could not be detected. Take Wonder Woman’s jet for a thought experiment. From what I remember, people could touch the jet and so there was some sort of empirical investigation that could be done on the jet. So it’s conceivable that something invisible could be detected by empirical means. It’s not conceivable that pure spirit could be directly investigated by one of the five (or, six) senses. So I don’t think “invisible” is the term to use when describing God’s ontological status. Rather, I think “invisible” has epistemological and spiritual connotations in the Bible. God is “invisible” (I Tim. 1:17) because he “dwells in inaccessible light” (I Tim. 6:16). Frequently “see,” as used by Paul, means “understand” (cf. Rom. 1:20, 5:6, 7:23, 11:10; 2 Cor. 10:9, etc.,). (Do you see what I mean!) God’s “invisible” according to Paul because “He dwells in unapproachable light. Calvin comments,

“He means two things, that God is concealed from us, and yet that the cause of obscurity is not in himself, as if be were hidden in darkness, but in ourselves, who, on account of the weak vision, or rather the dullness of our understanding, cannot approach to his light. We must understand that the light of God is unapproachable, if any one endeavor to approach to it in his own strength; for, if God did not open up the entrance to us by his grace, the prophet would not say: "They who draw near to him are enlightened." (Ps. 35:5).

And so it certainly can be the case that we would even have a problem with Bethrick’s use of the word “invisible.”

Since I have no quibble with Dawson over calling God a “being,” since I assume he’s using that word in roughly the same sense I am, let’s move on then to his justification for applying the term “magic” to God. It’s important to note that Bethrick calls magic a “term.” The problem is that he runs to the dictionary. Dictionaries do not have terms in them, only words and the building blocks for making a term. Also, a dictionary is something like a history book. It simply reports how words have been used by society. They are little more than helpful hints as to how used have been used. Furthermore, he uses Webster’s, but that’s not the only dictionary. Dictionary dot com has “magic” defined in various ways,

1.the art of producing illusions as entertainment by the use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, etc.; legerdemain; conjuring: to pull a rabbit out of a hat by magic.

2.the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature. Compare contagious magic, imitative magic, sympathetic magic.

3.the use of this art: Magic, it was believed, could drive illness from the body.

4.the effects produced: the magic of recovery.

5.power or influence exerted through this art: a wizard of great magic.


The American Heritage dictionary cites these two examples first,

1. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.

2. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature. The charms, spells, and rituals so used.

It seems, though, that most people have the idea of humans doing something that can be attributed to the divine, and so when the divine works a miracle, that is not “magic.” So, Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary states,


Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary - Cite This Source
magic

The Jews seem early to have consulted the teraphim (q.v.) for oracular answers(Judg. 18:5, 6; Zech. 10:2). There is a remarkable illustration of thisdivining by teraphim in Ezek. 21:19-22. We read also of the divining cup ofJoseph (Gen. 44:5). The magicians of Egypt are frequently referred to in thehistory of the Exodus. Magic was an inherent part of the ancient Egyptianreligion, and entered largely into their daily life. All magical arts weredistinctly prohibited under penalty of death in the Mosaic law. The Jews werecommanded not to learn the "abomination" of the people of the Promised Land(Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:9-14). The history of Saul's consulting the witch ofEndor (1 Sam. 28:3-20) gives no warrant for attributing supernatural power tomagicians. From the first the witch is here only a bystander. The practice ofmagic lingered among the people till after the Captivity, when they graduallyabandoned it. It is not much referred to in the New Testament. The Magimentioned in Matt. 2:1-12 were not magicians in the ordinary sense of the word.They belonged to a religious caste, the followers of Zoroaster, the astrologersof the East. Simon, a magician, was found by Philip at Samaria (Acts 8:9-24);and Paul and Barnabas encountered Elymas, a Jewish sorcerer, at Paphos(13:6-12). At Ephesus there was a great destruction of magical books (Acts19:18, 19).

And so we see that with so many definitions there’s an air of subjectivity to which definition one will choose.

Recall that Bethrick gave Webster’s definition and then said that he’s “warranted” in applying this term to God. Though he may think he is warranted in applying this term to God, we’ve actually steered off course now. Bethrick’s job, as he told us, was to show how this word was not pejorative as applied to God. But, since “pejoratives” are words meant to belittle or degrade something then it matters not if Bethrick is “warranted” in using the term! Betrhick forgot what he was trying to prove not even four paragraphs into his blog entry! I feel I am “warranted” in referring to Bethrick as a hack, but does this mean that the term is not a “pejorative?” Certainly not. One should think twice about the “arguments” of a man who can’t even keep his own thoughts straight four paragraphs into a argument or defense piece. We can all agree that Bethrick failed to defend his case and answer James Anderson. More than that, I think it is obvious that Bethrick intends his claim that God is an “invisible magic being” to have negative and belittling connotations attached to it, and therefore it is indeed a pejorative. But, he still wrote more than his opinion that he’s warranted in using the term, and so we can continue to subject his post to critical analysis.

Let’s look at his definition:

“the use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces,”

or

“an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source.”

Now, we can knock out the first definition since God doesn’t use “charms or spells” to have “supernatural power” over “natural forces.” Indeed, give the reformed view of providence, there are no such things as “natural forces.”

Second, these definitions clearly imply the common use of the word in that it is understood that humans are the ones doing the “magical acts.” They “have power” which comes from a supernatural force.

Third, even if we applied this to God, this would not be a good definition since it fails to distinguish God from, say, another worker of magic. Stated another way, Dawson has broken one of the rules for making a good definition.

Fourth, it is clearly obvious that the vast majority of people have something like Harry Potter in mind when they think of “magic.” Even when I was a god-hater I never thought of God as “magical.” Indeed, in all my research of this term I did not see one instance where Jehovah was ever referred to as magical. However, I did see a plethora of instances where this term was applied to something humans did.

But, Dawson really has something more basic in mind when he applies this term to God, so let’s look at what that is. He writes,

“Do not Christians believe that their god has "supernatural power over natural forces," that it possesses "an extraordinary power or influence"? Is their god not said to be "a supernatural source"?”


First, I do not believe in “natural forces.” Second, I don’t know what Bethrick means by calling God a “supernatural source.” All of this is very sloppy. But despite the sloppiness, we can still offer something by way of reply.

I take it that Dawson is calling the traditional attribute “omnipotence,” magic. He’s saying, “Hey, God is supernatural, and he has power, therefore he’s magical.” But this is obviously an equivocation. The problem here is that if this is what it is to be “magical” than the term can be applied to nothing else! No, “magic” is traditionally understood as the non-supernatural “tapping in” to the supernatural in order to have some control over the environment, or discern some information from the netherworld. God is not like this in any respect. Actually, what pops into most people’s minds when they hear the word “magic” is maybe an image of a Leprechaun. Or Harry Potter. But none of these beings are anywhere close to being like God. It’s not even a comparison. The only way that it’s close is if one views the God of the Bible as being a creature like this, but the problem is that this then is not the God of the Bible anymore. So, to the extent that you view God like Harry Potter, you’re not attacking Christianity anymore. To the extent that you want to say that God of the Bible is “magic” then those other beings I mentioned above would not be “magic.” Either way Dawson ends up going against our basic intuitions of either God or magic workers.

At any rate Dawson is calling the traditional doctrine of omnipotence, magic. Let’s define God’s omnipotence as “being able to do all His holy will, including doing anything with what He‘s created.” So when we read that God is “magic” we must read my definition into the word.

Next Bethrick tries to cash in on his equivocal argument by making some claims which he thinks follow from it. He writes,

“According to its spokesmen, this magic-endowed personal agent can wish things into existence (cf. “creation ex nihilo”).”


Bethrick again makes use of pejoratives (e.g., “wish). The problem is that God doesn’t wish. Wishing is usually understood as the desire for something you cannot have, or want really really bad, but it’s so unattainable that the only way to get it is by “wishing” for it. Again, Dawson’s just preaching to the choir. Creation ex nihilo has never been understood by any atheologian as “wishing.” But, remember our clarifications. Dawson’s claiming that: “a being able to do all His holy will, including doing anything with what He‘s created” created the world out of nothing. The claim that an “all-powerful” God created a universe from nothing isn’t logically or conceptually or biblically or rhetorically problematic.

Dawson then makes some interesting blunders,

“Also, it can revise the identity of entities or substances (e.g., turning water into wine), or enable an entity to behave like an entity which it is not (e.g., men walking on unfrozen water), just by wishing.”


We’ve already dismissed the “wishing” term. Next, let’s look at this claim that God “revises the identity of entities or substances.” Some background information is required here. Bethrick is part of what atheist Michael Shermer calls “The Unlikeliest Cult In History." Dawson’s an “Objectivist.” Objectivism has three axioms which they think are unique to Objectivism and unique to Dawson’s own worldview and also devastating to Christian theism. They are: the axioms of (1) existence, (2) identity, and (3) consciousness.

Real fast and in order, (1) is also called by the famous phrase “existence exists” (when you ask Objectivists what “existence exists” means they’ll tell you it means “things exist”). (2) Simply states that an entity is itself and not another thing (A is A). (3) States that (a) consciousness does not have primacy over existence (something must exist in order for you to be conscious, a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is, according to Rand, a contradiction in terms) and (b) consciousness is axiomatic because you’d have to be conscious to deny that you were conscious.

It’s dubious how these can be used as an argument against theism, though. For example, how does the fact that “things exist” even remotely count as an argument against theism? And, how is this at all unique to Bethrick’s position? Christianity teaches that God exists and has existed eternally. Christianity begins with the creation account. One could say that one of the things you come away with no matter what from reading Genesis 1-2 is that “things exist!” The Objectivist makes a mountain out of molehill with this one. So, my contention is that one cannot possibly mount a successful atheological argument from the axiomatic claim that “things exist.” To the extent that an argument can be made, “existence exists” will not be axiomatic anymore and hence subject to all the epistemological missiles who choose to launch at it. So the objectivist has two options: (a) keep his axiom and loose his critique against Christianity or (b) loose his axiom and be forced to defend a position not unlike this one: “existence exists means that only indestructible hard bits of matter exist and even an omnipotent God cannot affect them.” When the objectivist makes this move ((b)) it won’t be too hard to slice and dice him.

I’ll address (3) briefly since (2) concerns us with the post by Bethrick that I’m replying to. So, regarding consciousness: (i) Dawson’s a materialist and so I don’t think he can account for consciousness. That is, if Dawson’s Objectivism (I say Dawson’s since I don’t know if materialism is necessitated by Objectivism) is correct, then we’re not conscious in any interesting way. Indeed, beliefs, thoughts, and intentionality cannot be had on Dawson’s materialism. (ii) At best the axiom let’s us say that we are conscious, not any one else. That is, Objectivism doesn’t escape the ego-centric predicament. (iii) Dawson has made this claim: “Propositions are functions of a consciousness.” And so the problem here is what to do with necessary propositions? Granting Dawson’s claim that propositions are functions of consciousness, it would appear that he’d need to have a necessary consciousness that exists in all possible worlds. Though I’d not use the term “function,” it appears that Dawson’s stating Theistic Conceptual Realism! And (iv), it’s hard to see how “consciousness” could be used as an argument against theism unless it has non-axiomatic meaning poured into it. At this point it looses it’s privileged protection as an “axiom” and is subject to critique.

Now, (2). Bethrick uses the idea of “reversing identity” to support his “invisible magic being” pejorative which, as we saw, may be warranted (even though it’s not given my analysis) but it’s still a pejorative. Why is turning water into wine a problem? Well, because A is A. Water is water. But we can gladly agree that A is A. Wine is wine. How does it follow that “a being able to do all His holy will, including doing anything with what He‘s created” can’t turn water in to wine. Water is still water. Wine is still wine. Jesus’ miracle at Cana didn’t mean that water was wine, it means that wine is wine. Apparently, it looks as if the Objectivist’s argument is that nothing could turn something into another thing, lest it defy the law of identity. But the law of identity doesn’t tell us that. All it says is that while A is A it’s A. Unfortunately for Dawson, his argument helps theism. The problem is that evolution teaches us that, say, dinosaurs became birds. Is Bethrick seriously advocating that time plus mutation plus chance can turn something into its opposite, but that a “being able to do all His holy will, including doing anything with what He‘s created” cannot do this? It’s obvious that Dawson’s arguing from prejudice here. But, even if nature can do this, how is turning, say, the non-living into the living not a violation of the law of identity on Dawson’s own terms? That’s just as much a “violation” of the law of identity as is “turning water in to wine.” Bethrick can’t argue that how something turns into something else is relevant since the law of identity doesn’t have that information included in it. (As a side, a man walking on water is not a violation of the law of identity unless Bethrick means to argue that it is necessarily a part of man’s nature that he can’t walk on water.) And so Dawson’s “victory” is a pyrrhic victory. To beat theism he needed the cut his own throat in the process.

25 comments:

  1. Boo yeah!!!

    Awesome work, brother Paul!

    I warned Bethrick that he'd be in trouble once you got a hold of his latest 'work.'

    Hoo boy!

    You nailed him, Paul, and your "lucky charms" title was really clever too.

    Bethrick has been DISCOMFITED!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Blark,

    Yer act is gettin' old, brother!

    Boo yah!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree,

    Discomfiter and Brother Blark need to take a rest.

    Sheesh...theists....

    ReplyDelete
  4. At least the Discomfiter was funny. Brother Blark's like a cheap suite impression of the parody the Discomfiter brought us.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Okay, but so what? So what that the Discomfiter is better equipped at parody than I am? I'm doing the best I can. You guys are mean!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Okay, honestly. That slam on evolution and the law of identity was tiiiight, homey! Boo-yah!

    Okay, now back to me and my second rate parady...

    ReplyDelete
  7. I hear Paul Manata and Brother Blark are the same poster.

    It explains a lot, actually.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm not brother blark.

    The discomfiter claim to be brother blark because he knew that would silence his attemtp at parody. I claimed to be brother blark and atheists banned him from their blogs and would not read his parody blog.

    It was so easy to dismantle him, kind of the same with other atheological arguments.

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  9. Disappointed_Father10/23/2006 4:08 PM

    Paul says:

    "I claimed to be brother blark and atheists banned him from their blogs and would not read his parody blog."

    Lying for Jesus. Cute. Thinking Gods thoughts again. The unrepentant heart of a psuedo-Christian.

    Disgraceful.

    ReplyDelete
  10. No, apologetical tactic.

    But, since you say God is a liar, then why would my lying make me a "pseudo-Christian?"

    You just can't keep your refutations straight.

    However, I understand that this is all you have on me, you've lost the intellectual debate, so continue on with your puny, ridiculous, petty, and annoying comments.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Disappointed_Father10/23/2006 4:43 PM

    Why should anybody read the frantic scribblings of an admitted liar?

    "Apologetical" tactic = lying.

    Arguing for the faith by lying.

    Just like the Apostle Paul.

    Manata, the serious apologist...who has on MULTIPLE OCCASIONS online lied for his lord.

    Why does Jesus need his modern day disciples to lie?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Based on your definition of lying, Christians could never be actors, or military generals who employ the use of deception to win wars. Christians can never use sarcasm, or hyperbole. I think rational people can see that this is absurd, so you're only making yourself look ignorant.

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  13. What was this post about again? Was it Paul Manata's tendency to deceive, or was it his dealing with Dawson?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

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  14. Paul Manata has the tendency to deceive inasmuch as you have the tendency to throw surprise parties. But, yes, it was about Dawson.

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  15. Paul, why do you not believe in “natural forces”? Is not this the same as “secondary causes” as the Confession says or I am incorrect?

    ReplyDelete
  16. Vytautus,

    Well, I don't know what "natural forces" means. it's waaaay too ambiguous.

    Mnay times it's taken to mean that God sort of "built" a "law" into nature and nature runs according to some mechanism. For God to act, then, is said to be a "violation" of "the laws of nature."

    Frame's discussion of Miracles in his Doctrine of God is helpful, also this quote from Bahnen taken from his book Always Ready:

    "It is sometimes thought that miracles are super-natural because they amount to divine intrusions into the ordinary and predictable operations of an otherwise "closed" and self-perpetuating domain of "nature." Mechanical metaphors are often used to give a picture of this natural order, for instance the metaphor of a well-designed clock which God devised, wound up, stood back from, and now runs on its own - except for those rare occasions when the clock-maker steps in to interfere with the way He intended the clock to operate.

    The more philosophically sophisticated way to describe this situation is to speak of "natural law." The events which transpire in the universe, whether monumental or minuscule, are viewed as inevitable and predictable according to causal factors which can, in theory, be described in systematic, law-like principles. Many ancient Greek philosophers (e.g., Heraclitus, the Stoics) conceived of an eternal and impersonal "logos" or "reason" governing or flowing through the realm of matter, thus organizing all motion or activity into a rational order.

    The religious version of this notion that there are "laws of nature" postulates a personal God as the origin of the material world and of the causal principles by which it operates, but this God (and the free or arbitrary exercise of His almighty will) is nevertheless "separated" from the ordinary and ongoing workings of the world He made. God has chosen not to directly govern every detail in the created world on a moment by moment basis, and thus "nature" has laws inherent in it which determine what things are like and how things happen. Variations on this conception of God's world as governed by impersonal natural laws are found in a wide range of Christian professions, from Deism to Thomism (Roman Catholicism) to evangelical Arminianism.

    Given the above conception, the super-naturalness of a "miracle" consists in its "violation" of the laws of nature. God interferes with the machinery of the world in its law-directed actions and procedures. This is a flawed and terribly misleading way of thinking about the cosmos and about God, however. God's self-revelation in the Scriptures offers no support for the idea that there are impersonal laws of nature which make the world operate mechanically and with an inevitability which is free (ordinarily) from the choices of God's will. In fact, the Bible offers us a view of the world which is quite contrary to this, one where God and His agents are seen as intimately, continuously, and directly involved in all of the detailed events which transpire in the created order.

    God personally created and now personally directs all the affairs of the world. The sustaining of all animal life and renewing of the plants in this world is the work of God's Spirit (Isaiah 63:14; Psalm 104:29-30); Jehovah's Spirit is intimately involved with the processes of the created world, from the withering of the flowers to driving the rushing streams (Isaiah 40:7; 59:19). God's decretive will governs all things which happen, from the changing of the seasons (Genesis 8:22) to the hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). Even the apparently fortuitous events in this life are planned and carried out by His sovereign will (Proverbs 16:33; 1 Kings 22:28, 34). Paul declares that God "works all things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11). That is, He causes everything to happen which happens. There is no semi-autonomous, self-operating realm of "nature" whose impersonal laws are occasionally "violated" by the God who reveals Himself in the pages of the Bible. Nothing is independent of Him and His sovereign, immanent, personal will."

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  17. Good job Paul...

    ReplyDelete
  18. In response to James, at the thread of Dawson's:

    Sorry for the lack of clarity. What I was trying to do is go to someone who I thought held your view -- that "human-only" conceptualism fails, as you described in your comment above. Let me address that comment in my attempt to clarify the point I was trying to make:

    In your view, I take it, universals are identical (or reducible) to concepts; specifically, human concepts. (We don't want any "invisible magical being" to get a foot in the door, right?) So the fact that the ball is round, that it possesses the property of roundness, is ultimately grounded in the application of our concept of roundness to the ball. Insofar as there are such things as properties, they are not mind-independent; if they exist at all, then they are purely conceptual.

    What I would say (I have physicalist leanings, but am not dogmatic about it) is that the properties of objects in the universe are described on the basis of human perception. Those properties are known through a layer of our perception, and this "layer", when not present, does not remove the properties of the objects themselves -- and we can not say with certainty whether or not the layer distorts these properties or transmits them "as they are". Now, if the properties were nothing, as Kant pointed out, then there would be nothing for our perception to perceive. That is, the substance, or properties, of objects exist in a mind-independent fashion ("things in themselves"). That is a brute fact. I know that Dawson agrees with me here. I am not sure that Dawson agrees with me about many other aspects, and I'm not trying to defend him, or his position. I'm attempting to explicate my own.

    The question of whether or not "roundness" exists, as a concept, is irrelevant to the question of whether the object exists, and whether the "layer" of human perception in any way affects "the thing in itself." I would argue, no, and I believe anyone with sanity would as well. So...whether we exist or not, whether we perceive objects or not, they exist, and they have properties; whether those properties, as we know them, are "as they are" from some external frame of reference is of little interest.

    That is to say, the truth value of the claim: "to humans the ball is round, but their sense perception is skewed; to alien X the ball is square, and their sense perception is reliable," or something like that, is both of no concern and unverifiable, which I believe you admitted below.

    The problem, however, is that your conceptualism implies that reality is dependent on human consciousness. Facts, such as the fact that the ball is round, are ultimately the product of human thought.

    The ball exists.
    The ball has properties which are mind-independent ("the thing in itself"), P, that we can only know through our perceptions, P', from which we derive our "concepts" of those properties, U.
    If humans do not exist, U do not exist, P' do not exist, but P and the ball still exist.

    Why is that wrong?

    If there were no human consciousness, then strictly speaking the ball would not be round -- indeed, it would possess no properties at all (since there would be no concepts applied to it). On your view, then, the way the world really is turns out to be a product of our minds.

    Now this is transcendental idealism, it seems. You are saying that we create these properties, rather than perceiving that which already exists. If the substance, upon which our perceptions work, did not exist, there would not be an object to perceive, unless you think that we create objects, and create properties, with our minds. If we only observe/perceive them, and they translate through our faculties and the "veil of perception" to be something like "roundness", then certainly, "roundness" itself doesn't exist if we do not, but the object still does, and its properties still do. I quoted Kant in the last comment because you seem to deny "the thing in itself":
    From Critique of Pure Reason --
    SS9 I:
    In phenomena, we commonly, indeed, distinguish that which essentially belongs to the intuition of them, and is valid for the sensuous faculty of every human being, from that which belongs to the same intuition accidentally, as valid not for the sensuous faculty in general, but for a particular state or organization of this or that sense. Accordingly, we are accustomed to say that the former is a cognition which represents the object itself, whilst the latter presents only a particular appearance or phenomenon thereof. This distinction, however, is only empirical. If we stop here (as is usual), and do not regard the empirical intuition as itself a mere phenomenon (as we ought to do), in which nothing that can appertain to a thing in itself is to be found, our transcendental distinction is lost, and we believe that we cognize objects as things in themselves, although in the whole range of the sensuous world, investigate the nature of its objects as profoundly as we may, we have to do with nothing but phenomena...

    SS9 II:
    In confirmation of this theory of the ideality of the external as well as internal sense, consequently of all objects of sense, as mere phenomena, we may especially remark that all in our cognition that belongs to intuition contains nothing more than mere relations. (The feelings of pain and pleasure, and the will, which are not cognitions, are excepted.) The relations, to wit, of place in an intuition (extension), change of place (motion), and laws according to which this change is determined (moving forces). That, however, which is present in this or that place, or any operation going on, or result taking place in the things themselves, with the exception of change of place, is not given to us by intuition. Now by means of mere relations, a thing cannot be known in itself; and it may therefore be fairly concluded, that, as through the external sense nothing but mere representations of relations are given us, the said external sense in its representation can contain only the relation of the object to the subject, but not the essential nature of the object as a thing in itself. [emphasis mine]


    Does this make sense of why I quoted Kant before? Sorry I was unclear about the relevance of his words.

    If Objectivism is to be retained, you'll have to shift your understanding of universals either toward nominalism or toward realism.

    There are other solutions, as I indicated in my first comment. Eg, “conceptual natural realism” and a “conceptual intensional realism” (see Logic and Ontology, sections 6-8, pp. 139-46).

    Realism would be the better option: universals (such as properties) really exist and do so independent of human thought.

    Then in the scenario I outlined above, I have chosen this option -- the objects and their properties exist, we perceive them and form concepts to describe them. The objects and their properties are mind-independent, because if they were not, there would be no "substance" upon which to perceive, and our perceptions would not differentiate between objects.

    On the realist view, universals exist but are not perceivable entities (one can perceive a round ball, but not roundness per se).

    Exactly. The concept "roundness" does not exist in our spatio-temporal universe (outside of our minds), but objects with properties that human beings perceive and describe as "round" do. We have no ultimate way to verify even the veracity of our perceptions, but we all take their reliability for granted, and we must. We cannot say what "the thing in itself" is, but we can conclude with some confidence that the thing exists in a mind-independent fashion.

    So apparently you can no more countenance the existence of mind-independent universals than the existence of God.

    I think that, given Kant's conclusions and my own attempt to use them to ask you how your position makes sense, this is probably the best point to press you on. Are you saying that "roundness" itself exists inside of God's mind? Is that necessary? For instance, we know why universals exist with respect to the properties of objects -- things are round because gravity is a symmetric force, for instance, and things are red because they reflect wavelengths around 700nm...Simply put, does "redness" have to exist in God's mind, or can God not just see "the distance between electron orbitals which results in an E absorption and emission that give the perception of 'red' to humans"? Does that make sense? I am saying that there are physical phenomena that underlie universals (dogness is a commonality of genetic features)...is it necessary that God even conceives of these things in universal ways, or can God not conceive of particulars only? Is that not sufficient? Perhaps our universal abstractions are invalid and result from flawed human brains abstracting in flawed ways?

    Now, you seem to advocate that the reason objects have the property "round" is because God willed it such? So every object in the universe, and its properties, are basically metaphysical dreams of God? And yet you accuse Dawson of idealism, and say it is wrong, and say Kant was wrong? I don't understand this. It seems that the basic "stuff" of the universe either exists in a mind-independent fashion (even from God's mind) or it doesn't. If God can will it into and out of existence, and alter its properties by will, then how can you claim a foundation for your knowledge and perceptions?

    What I have yet to hear you explain is how objects and properties cannot exist without our cognizing them? Why can there not be "the thing in itself"?

    Of course, if you want to retain your conceptualist intuitions without jettisoning your commitment to metaphysical realism, you could always adopt theistic conceptual realism (as recently defended by Greg Welty, among others). Unfortunately, the 'theistic' component of TCR is not an optional accessory. :)

    Perhaps you can enlighten me on these last few paragraphs as to why one would want to deny the primacy of the existence of objects, and their properties, which give us an objective and foundational universe to live in, which we perceive and conceive of, being part of the universe ourselves; and do this in order to adopt a dream-like, metaphysically subjective universe that Dawson has accurately described elsewhere as a cartoon?

    How is it that your "account" of roundness (that it exists in the mind of God, and somehow gets instantiated as a property of all things in our universe which humans perceive as round) is superior to the primacy of existence and identity? Keep in mind that I am not an Objectivist, but I do not see how the argument you have raised here defeats Dawson's way of thinking.

    I would try to say it like this:
    X exists in a mind-independent fashion.
    X has properties we can call P, which are "the thing in itself", that are indirectly accessible to us; what we know of X are our perceptions of P, P'.
    P result from the physical existence of X and are not necessarily universal -- matter and energy interconvert and change.
    P' are capable of being categorized, generalized, and abstracted into universals by human beings - U.
    U's do not have an empirical, tangiable, or verifiable existence outside of human minds.
    The existence of U does not affect P' -- the ability of a human being to perceive the color "red" is not changed by the concept "redness".
    The existence of P' does not affect the existence of P -- human perception of "red" does not (in theory) alter the properties of X, P.
    P is thus foundational to, and primary to P'. X is foundational to, and primary to P. X "just" exists, as the thing in itself.

    Feel free to point out something if I'm just dense. That is entirely possible.

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  19. Danny,

    I thought I read elsewhere that you were a Platonist. If so, why defend the position you're defending above?

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  20. Paul,

    I really don't want to hijack the thread onto my personal views. But...

    No, I'm not. I explain why I mentioned Platonism here (scroll down to the last three paragraphs). I've yet to get a response back from CalvinDude, as he's busy critiquing (SP?) Prof. Witmer's response to PS.

    In short, I was asking two separate questions re Platonism:
    1) Is it ontologically possible to have two separate frameworks? Logic as a Platonic form (which is not instantiated as physical objects, but as a part of the cosmos, woven into it just as the fundamental forces are), with all of the physical universe as "mere" physicalism?
    2) Is it necessary to "justify" or "account for" logic, when confronted by a PS to do so? After all, if you claim that belief in God and belief in the Bible is basic, can I not claim that belief in logic's validity is? I gave some analogies to justify this, as well as pointing out the incorrigibility of logic (can't prove it false, as then you assume logic to be true, by using it, in attempting to do so). I also pointed out that if you cannot "import" your presuppositions into my worldview (as you insist I cannot into yours), I saw no logical reason that this is not a defeater for your claim. It is you that holds the presupposition that logic needs to be "accounted for" beyond simple justification (self-evidence and incorrigibility), not me. Therefore, demanding an "account" from me, which reaches into ontological and metaphysical depth, is a demand from your presuppositions, not mine. (Although I attempted to reference some possible metaphysical/ontological justification, sections 6-8, pp139-46).

    Again, let's stay on the topic above, if possible. You can start a new post if you want on this, but I will not guarantee much interaction, as I've responded at length on these topics already at CD's blog.

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  21. :::YAWN!!!:::

    Paul, the career topic dodger, does it again....

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  22. Paul, have you worked out how a donkey could evolve speech yet?

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  23. Simon,

    You've been refuted over and over again. Care to tell us how this would be *IMPOSSIBLE?* I'm still waiting for the argument.

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  24. Yes Simon, PROVE A NEGATIVE!!!

    Stupid atheists :P

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  25. Paul, I admire you tremendously. You are brilliant. And better yet, you are right.

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