Sunday, May 14, 2006

Bethrick's Blunders: Or, Up Dawson's Creek Without A Paddle

Steve Hays asks, "who is Dawson, anyway?" Well, Steve is not up to date on his pop culture. Dawson Bethrick is the man (who thinks with his own mind) who the WB based an entire series on. Dawson resembles his television doppelganger, except our Dawson is about a foot (or so) shorter than James Vanderbeek.

Growing up in Capeside was hard for poor Dawson. Trying to be the "good guy" never got him anywhere and so, out of subjective and selfish desires, he questioned meaning in life, this led him to reject God (Dawson claims to have been a Christian in his formative years). Dawson's buddy, Bob Reynolds (named "Pace" on the show), eventually taught Dawson about the world's greatest philosopher - Ayn Rand. Since then Dawson has found all of the answers to life by simply repeating a little mantra in times of need - "Existence exists!" Dawson also found stability back in the 90's by finding out that he does not need to prove or justify any of his beliefs as long as he calls them "axioms." Existence is axiomatic, the reliability of the senses is axiomatic, concepts are axiomatic, and, axioms are axiomatic.

These axioms, coupled with carrying around "The Fountainhead" wherever he goes, has led to some amazing philosophical advancements. For example, when Dawson wrote a post on one of the anonymous' comments we learned some pretty heavy-duty philosophical insights. Dawson writes,

If the question is as simple as “Where did life come from?” I have a simple and incontrovertible answer: life came from existence. Anyone who wants to claim that life came from non-existence, is free to present his case any time.


And don't you dare ask where "existence" came from, for "Existence Exists!" A problem here, though, is that "existence" doesn't "exist" on a materialist and nominalist understanding of the world. "Existence" is a universal that can be said to be exemplified by exisTENTS. Thus I can kick a rock, I can't kick "existence." Thus I can blow up a house, I can't blow up "existence." Therefore, "existence" doesn't "exist" on a materialist and nominalist understanding of the world (I've asked Bethrick to send me a picture of "existence" and not an "existent." His answer was, "I don't have a digital camera, or else I would." Needless to say, hardee har har). So, it looks as if, on Dawson's own terms, life came from something that does not exist, since "existence" does not exist (again, on materialist and nominalist understandings). To be technically correct, Dawson's position, then, is that life came from an existENT, or many existents. So, boiled down, Dawson's claim is that "life came from things:" "Hey' Dr. Smith, where did life come from?" "Well, don't you know, life came from stuff." "Oh, you're such a brilliant professor Dr. Smith. Why didn't I think of that?" "Well, maybe you would have if you were a man and you thought with your own mind." Now that is sophisticated.

Recently, Dawson has
written a post arguing against Steve Hays' and Jason Engwer's arguments against the hallucination theory of the resurrection. Dawson writes:

... there is an even larger concern here. While we are told that coincidental mass hallucination "seems unlikely," this is stated in the context of a defense of a belief system which tells us that "all things are possible" (Mt. 19:26), that the universe was created by an act of consciousness, that dead people rose from their graves (cf. Mt. 27:52-53), that serpents and donkeys and burning bushes speak in human languages, that water was turned into wine by a wish, etc. To assess the likelihood of some event or occurrence under consideration, a thinker, whether he realizes it or not, is making reference to fundamental premises that he holds about the world in general. As some apologists might say, he is "invoking his worldview presuppositions." Greg Bahnsen explains:
presuppositions have the greatest authority in one's thinking, being treated as your least negotiable belief and being granted the highest immunity to revision.(5)

What 'seems likely' to me is that the apologist is not mindfully conscious of his own worldview's basic premises and their implications as they concern the issues on which he makes such pronouncements. He is torn between the premises of the position he wants to defend, and premises he employs in that position's defense: on the one hand, the Christian's position affirms a fanciful, cartoon-like view of the universe where anything the ruling consciousness wishes is not only possible, but the very standard of reality as such; while on the other hand he seeks to dismiss alternatives to his paradigm on the basis that certain elements of those alternatives "seem unlikely." There's a fundamental inconsistency here, one that usually runs along undetected by the believer as he insists on a fantasy while illicitly borrowing from a reality-based worldview. On the basis of my worldview's fundamentals, I can consistently suppose that it is "highly unlikely" that a group of individuals will have the same hallucination, complete with shared uniform details, and for reasons not unlike those which Jason himself has mentioned. For instance, an hallucination is not only an individual and private experience, its distortion of what one perceives is most likely to be influenced by such an enormous number of imperceptible factors that it would be essentially unrepeatable. But if I held to the view that the universe is run by a magic spirit who choreographs all events in human history according to a divine "plan," on what grounds could I confidently say that uniform hallucinatory experiences shared by even enormous numbers of human beings is either "unlikely" or impossible? Blank out.



If one follows the above type of reasoning, one will usually wind up lost. I call this phenomena: Up Dawson's Creek Without A Paddle. Let's look at some of the problems:

1) Dawson's verse he uses to show that "anything can happen, willy-nilly" in a Christian theistic universe, is specifically talking about salvation.

2) Does that verse really mean that anything can happen, that anything is possible?

a) If so, Dawson's should provide an argument for it. He needs to because his case rests on this.

b) Just because it uses a word that is universal, does not mean that is how it is being used in this passage. There is such a thing, which philosophers of language recognize, as restricted quantification. Philosopher of language William Lycan, speaking on restricted quantification, writes that, "What logicians call the domains over which quantifiers range need not be universal, but are often particular cases roughly presupposed in context" (Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction, p.24).

c) Is there more to the story? That is, should we assume that this is not to be taken universally because of other basic presuppositions? Well, the Bible tells us that, indeed, not everything is possible. For example, God cannot lie or deny Himself (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:13). Also, it was "impossible" that death should hold Jesus (Acts 2:24).

d) Therefore, Dawson's foundational premise has been refuted.

3) Since that premise has been cut off at the knees, Dawson's other points are nothing but hasty generalizations. God creating the world, talking animals and the like, does not imply that we should suspend belief on, say, the resurrection because since those things happened, maybe hallucinations happened. Maybe they did, but you're not going to get there from where Dawson starts.

4) Dawson mentions that the things we believe show our fundamental beliefs about the world as a whole. I agree with him on this. The problem, though, is that Dawson only gives half the Christian story. God is the determiner of what is possible and impossible. On the basis of God's revelation, I believe it was "impossible" that death should hold Jesus. Furthermore, the Bible reports these things as true. It reports the sightings as true sightings of the risen Jesus, not hallucinations. So, taking in to account the rest of the story, I have every right to believe that these things happened, and that they were not hallucinations. The Bible proclaims that these people witnessed the resurrected Lord, it proclaims this as fact. So, holding to my fundamental presuppositions, I do rule out the hallucination story (this is not to go against what Engwer has argued, but is a presuppositional approach to the matter). Thus, Dawson asks the believer to take only part of his story, while neglecting other crucial aspects. Christianity comes as a unit.

5) The mere fact that God could have deceived people, does not imply that He did. This is a modal fallacy.

6) Dawson makes reference to what the believer is "torn" over. As I illustrated above, the believer is only "torn" if he leaves out other parts of his worldview. Thus Dawson's critique looks like thus: RESTATED: "If the Christian only believes some parts of the Christian worldview, then he'll have problems believing other parts." Sorry, but this is not intellectually convincing, in the least. Thus Dawson's attempts at an internal critique is a completely abortive one.

7) Dawson makes mention of a cartoon universe. Well, if ours is a cartoon universe, his is a fairy-tale one: "Once upon a time (read: "billions and billions of years ago"), a frog turned in to a prince (read: "one species turned in to another species"). It's also an alchemists worldview. The alchemists tried to get qualities to turn in to their opposites, such as making gold from led. Well, in Dawson's fairy-tale universe we have: scales turning in to feathers, the non-flying acquiring flight, the non-moral becoming moral, the non-rational becoming rational, etc.

8) Dawson says we're inconsistent because we have fantasy intertwined with reality. Well, if all you need to do to win is label someone's view false, then Dawson has a problem, "one that usually runs along undetected by the believer as he insists on [fairy-tales and alchemy] while illicitly borrowing from a reality-based worldview."

9) An, last but not least, we find ourselves up Dawson's creek without a paddle. Dawson writes,

On the basis of my worldview's fundamentals, I can consistently suppose that it is "highly unlikely" that a group of individuals will have the same hallucination, complete with shared uniform details, and for reasons not unlike those which Jason himself has mentioned. For instance, an hallucination is not only an individual and private experience, its distortion of what one perceives is most likely to be influenced by such an enormous number of imperceptible factors that it would be essentially unrepeatable.


Therefore we see that if Dawson is to be consistent with his "worldview's fundamentals" then he should believe in the resurrection and deny that it was hallucination (note that the hallucination approach does not have more explanatory scope in that it fails to address the empty tomb)! Dawson's "worldview fundamentals" lead him to affirm fundamentals of a "cartoon universe!"

At the end of the day, though, no argument of this sort is going to convince a man who loves his sin. We are told that even in the presence of the resurrected Lord, "some doubted" (Matt. 28:17).

Engwer points out:

Here we see another example of how Dawson Bethrick doesn't understand the issues he's discussing. Christians don't argue that hallucinations would be supernaturally impossible. What Christian ever denied that God could produce mass hallucinations? That's not the issue. Rather, the issue is the unlikelihood of these hallucinations occurring naturalistically. If Bethrick wants to argue that God made these people hallucinate, then we can interact with that argument. Until then, our focus will be on naturalistic theories, since Bethrick and other critics aren't arguing for supernatural theories.


But Dawson's got bigger problems than showing how the resurrection could happen naturally. Dawson needs to show now naturalism can do anything. Taking naturalistic presuppositions, why trust our reasoning (cf. Reppert's "C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea;" Plantinga's "Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism," etc). Why trust our senses? Dawson will tell us that those things are axiomatic, but he must admit that the senses do, sometimes, deceive us. How does he tell when they do and when they don't? Why trust the chemical reactions in your grey matter? Why assume a real order to the universe? You see, at the end of the day, on Dawson's "reality based worldview" everything is a miracle.

9 comments:

  1. Dawson's Creek? It's more like Dawson's Creak don't you think?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your point about "existence exists" is one that I've made before with Dawson too. Existence doesn't exists. Things exists, and existence is not a thing--it's an attribute of a thing. (Note: "things" can incorporate non-physical things too, such as thoughts and concepts, although such things naturally exist in a different manner than physical existence.)

    Saying "Existence exists" is about as meaningful as saying any other attribute attributes. It'd be like saying "Knowledge knows" or "Tallness talls."

    In actuality, though, I think that the term "Existence exists" is a false attempt at the Law of Identity, given the Objectivist's love for the sacrament of "A is A." But "Existence exists" is not "A is A" (if it were, it would need to say "Existence is Existence").

    But even if we were to grant them that Existence = Exists, then "Existence exists" is nothing more than "A is A"; which is a mere tautology. "A is A" tells us nothing about what A is, other than that whatever it is that is what it is. Thus, "A is A" does not tell us if A is physical, large, small, real, or imaginary.

    Likewise, if we take "Existence exists" as the same tautology, it tells us nothing about "existence" at all. It does not tell us if it is physical existence, immaterial existence, or what. In fact, it does not even tell us what "exist" means. It only tells us that "A is A" and leaves "A" as completely undefined.

    Thus, "Existence exists" is, IMO, pointless. It's better to stick with "A is A" if one wants to use the tautology of the Law of Identity, since "Existence exists" is not accurate and requires us to butcher the English language to make it fit. And if we already have "A is A" then "Existence exists" is superfluous even if it actually was rational.

    But of course atheists will do anything to avoid having to think maybe God is real after all....

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dawson's creek?

    That's weak, Paul.

    My brother, Bill, and I think that the cartoon universe analogy is a good one. And the best you can do is say "well yours is based on faith too!"

    Yee Haw!

    ReplyDelete
  4. No, Billy Bob, if you read it I said that his was "fairy-tale" based and "Alchemy" based.

    As far as the cartoon Universe, I said that if all somoene has to do to win is to lable someone's view as false, then how 'bout my labels?

    Oh, and you'll note that the major premise for the cartoon universe is that God can just wish anything he wants to. I already refuted that premise.

    So, it appears that in your alechemy based worldview, reading comprehension is not a priority. Hey, maybe you'll evolve: the illiterate turns in to the literate!

    Lastly, is the best response you can give yo my post a "yee haw?" How sophisticated. I must admit, that's better than Dawson's response would be, though. His response will be about the depth of a ye haw, but he'll write about1,000 ye haws, rather than 1.

    ReplyDelete
  5. PaulMantrata,

    You got it wrong, I'm Randy Mulkey, not Billy Bob. My brother Bill and I are the "Mulkey Brothers," one of the hottest tag teams of the 80's. I stumbled across this blog while searching for old NWA t-shirts.

    "Yee Haw" is how we speak in my parts. It may not be as sophisticated as "Dawson's Creek," and for that I'm quite sorry.

    Dawson's 'fairy tale' world is on equal footing with your 'magic wish' world. Two apples from the same orange tree, if you ask me.

    Git.

    ReplyDelete
  6. No, I call all backwards hick, Billy Bob, got it?

    I already refuted the "magic wish" premise.

    You wrestled against straw men in your wrestling career, and now you wrestly against straw men in your intelelctual wrestling career.

    Oh, and still waiting for you to deal with the substance of the post... is Nacho Libre scared?

    Yeeeee doggies!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mr Mantrata -

    Don't knock my wrestlin' career. If you stepped in the ring with me, or my brother Bill, there would have been a big ol' can of whoop ass opened on your sorry self.

    Your big fancy words and Dawson's Creek comments don't make much sense to me, but it simply seems that you're 'faith' and Bethrick's 'alchemy' are the same thing.

    But his doesn't have talking bushes and snakes.

    Don't make me come find you and slap the 'mulkey paddle' on your butt...

    ReplyDelete
  8. I laugh at your career like Randy laughed at George the animal Steel.

    In fact, you're like "The Animal" in your intellectual wrestling career -foaming at the mouth and gnawing on turnbuckles.

    If you don't understand my words, why does my faith and Behtrick's alchemy seem like the same thing? You understand enough to see that? Sounds kooky!

    Here's the difference: my faith must be presupposed in order to know anything.

    ReplyDelete
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