Monday, June 26, 2006

Dawson's loony-tunes

Before plunging in I would observe that Bethrick likes to repeat himself a great deal. I do not.

Therefore, I’m not going to say the same thing 10 times over in reply to his love of redundancy.

Instead, I’ll try to focus on what little is new in his response.

“Here Steve admits his own hastiness.”

There’s nothing hasty about commenting on what a man says when he says it. If Dawson believes that he has said other things in the past that are directly germane to the present discussion, and if he wants me to take that into account, then he can draw my attention to that material at the time of the original thread.

Dawson has been doing this after the fact, as if it was my responsibility to troll through his entire archive in search of something that might possibly be pertinent to the current discussion.

I think it’s safe to say that Dawson hasn’t bestirred himself to read everything I ever posted over at Triablogue.

What has happened in the course of this thread is that when I catch him in some indefensible statement, he will then, in the next installment, refer me to something he posted in the past.

“All we have here is exposure of Steve's ignorance of my overall position and his own attempt to excuse himself.”

The onus is not on me to shore up the flagging fortunes of Dawson’s current argument with something he may have said in the past.

If Dawson thinks he said something in the past that is pertinent to the present debate, the onus is on him to draw attention to that previous post at the time of the current exchange.

But I do appreciate Dawson’s need for me to argue both sides of the case. To help him out with his own underperforming argument.

If I were him, with my radiator venting steam, I’d also have my thumb out to hitch a ride, leaving my broken down beater to languish in the desert air. So I can understand why he wants me to lend him a helping hand.

“How does the fact that actual cartoonists themselves are human beings like me living in the non-cartoon universe of atheism suggest ‘ontological commitment to a cartoonish worldview’? Steve does not explain this”

Actually, I did explain this at the time—unlike Bethrick, who constantly lacks behind the beat. Dawson originally said:

““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.”

To which I responded:

“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.”

If a real live cartoonist does exactly what he described above, then, by Dawson’s own definition, he subscribes to a cartoon universe. Sorry if Dawson is unable to connect his own dots.

“Steve needs to understand (I thought it was apparent already) that I am not a theist.
Had Steve grasped this point, he would see how wrongheaded his statement above is.”

The problem is not with my understandning. Rahter, the problem is with Bethrick, who doesn’t know how follow his own trail of breadcrumbs.

“What has broken down here is Steve's own confused analysis. Essentially, Steve has confused the ink, paper, celluloid, or other technology with which a cartoonist works, with the imaginary realm that he uses these materials to create, a fake environment that is analogous to a universe created by a supernatural consciousness which determines its contents and events. The cartoon universe analogy in no way requires that cartoonists ‘merely wish cartoon characters into existence,’ nor is this what it is intended to illustrate. And Steve nowhere provides an argument to validate the supposition that the analogy requires this.”

I don’t have to provide my own argument since I’m playing off of Dawson’s argument. He is using the cartoon analogy to illustrate metaphysical subjectivism.

But on that thesis, the ink, paper, celluloid, or software/hardware would be as much of a psychological projection as the imaginary realm of the cartoon itself.

“Steve is making the same mistake that Tim Hudgins made in response to the cartoon universe analogy over a year ago. He was expecting the analogy to model ‘exact similarities’ between cartoonists and the god he imagines, even though a strong analogy in no way requires such pervasive exactitude.”

Although an analogy does not need to be (and cannot be) identical at every point, it does need to be identical at the salient point of comparison—otherwise the parallel breaks down.

What Dawson does is to arbitrarily limit the analogy. He also has a habit, when he’s losing the argument, of redrawing the scope of the original analogy.

“Again, if Steve took the time to familiarize himself with the sources that I had cited in my post, he would see that he's merely raising issues that have already put to eternal rest.”

Sources he cited after the fact. Oh, and we will be getting back around to that material. Just wait.

“Note that Steve explicitly affirms a view which reduces to the metaphysical primacy of consciousness. Just by saying that this is true, he contradicts himself, for the very concept of truth presupposes the metaphysical primacy of existence. Consider: does Steve think that it's true that his god ‘can wish things into existence by sheer willpower’ because he wants that to be the case? No, of course not. When he offers a truth claim, he tries to make use of the primacy of existence in that the state of affairs he purports to be identifying is thought to obtain independent of his or anyone else's wishing. The concept of truth is only meaningful on the primacy of existence. On the primacy of consciousness, there would only be what we in a primacy of existence universe call 'absurdity'. There would be not 'truth' as we know it.”

In Christian theism, truth and existence are equally ultimate. God is the primary existent, and God is the exemplar of truth.

“As I already pointed out, the cartoon universe analogy in no way requires that actual cartoonists have the subjective powers that Christianity claims on behalf of its god, and Steve has offered no argument to show that the analogy does need this. Rather, it exemplifies the primacy of the creative will of the Christian god over the realm it allegedly created by noting the same primacy of the will of the cartoonist over the realm he creates in his cartoons.”

If he’s going to drop the subjective powers of the agent from his analogy, then all he’s left with is a correspondence between intent and artifact—between what a designer intended the artifact to be like, and how it actually turned out.

But that is not distinctive to cartooning, and it falls far short of metaphysical subjectivism. The correspondence between intent and artifact is a commonplace of the creative process, whether the creative agent is divine or human.

“In other words, fictional positions are not bound to the constraints of an objective universe. On the cartoon universe preimse of theism, imagination, not reason, is the means of validation.”

In Christian theism, the Creator is the exemplar of reason.

“Consider the implications for Romans 9 here: a potter cannot make things happen by a sheer act of the will. So Paul's potter-clay analogy is a systematic failure. Thus we have failure in the bible.”

Paul didn’t use the potter analogy to illustrate creation ex nihilo.

“As is typical with many apologists, Steve is here attempting to obfuscate the issue by multiplying concepts beyond necessity (which is commonplace in theology) and then charging his opponent with failing to make similar (albeit arbitrary or irrelevant) distinctions. Steve needs to decide for himself whether or not he believes the slice of pizza has 600 calories because his god ultimately wanted it that way. That is, is he or is he not willing to commit himself to the view that the objects of the universe obey his god's will ("intent") regardless of whatever immediate causes he may agree exist as a means of transmitting that will from its source to the object in its final state? What holds primacy here - the obedience of created objects to the creating will, or ‘immediate causes’ which we find in nature? Is it, or is it not the case, that "God controls whatsoever comes to pass," as Van Til tells us?”

Bethrick is trying to play a shell game. He is backing away from what metaphysical subjectivism implies to a weaker thesis of mere correspondence between creative intent and the created object.

But his weaker thesis doesn’t distinguish between divine agency and human agency. Presumably, the words on Dawson’s blog correspond to his creative intent. So does Dawson inhabit a cartoon universe?

“…while now he catches onto the actual point of the analogy, namely that in the cartoon realm that the cartoonist creates, he calls the shots (just as in the realm that the Christian god is said to have created, the Christian god is thought to call all the shots). Is Steve really unable to see the parallel here?”

The problem lies with the way in which the parallel is deployed. What is it intended to illustrate?

i) If this is parallel to divine creativity, it is also parallel to human creativity. It is parallel to what Dawson does on his keyboard. So does Dawson inhabit a cartoon universe?

ii) And, as I’ve said more than once, now, Dawson uses the cartooning analogy because cartoon characters are imaginary characters. And he trades on this invidious connotation to insinuate that if the Christian worldview is analogous to cartooning, then the Christian worldview is, itself, fictitious.

“What is essentially similar to both the cartoon realm created by the cartoonist and the ‘created realm’ of the Christian universe, is the predominating, determining will of the agent responsible for creating each. The objects and events which take place in each are determined by a conscious being outside it.”

The problem with this comparison, as I’ve said before, is that it’s trivially true of almost a creative process. In typing and posting on his blog, the product is determined by a conscious, external agent—Dawson Bethrick. He is responsible for the content.

His analogy fails to illustrate metaphysical subjectivism, which is a more radical thesis. And he seizes upon the cartoon analogy because cartoon characters are imaginary. But cartooning is merely one example out of countless others of the creative process.

“But the Christian god is fundamentally analogous to a cartoonist inasmuch as, like a cartoonist with respect to the contents and events that take place in the realms he creates, the Christian god is said to ‘control whatsoever comes to pass. What exists in the Christian god's universe is what the Christian god wanted to exist in it. What we see in a cartoon is what the cartoonist wants us to see.”

Bethrick is also a creative agent. We see on his blog whatever he wants us to see. He’s responsible for the content.

“This is the analogy. The analogy was never ‘cartoonists create ex nihilo the physical medium which they use in making their cartoons, just as the Christian god created the universe ex nihilo.’ So this is a most abtuse objection.”

Bethrick is now rewriting his own thesis. This is what he originally said in one of those earlier posts with which he thinks I should be “intimately familiar”:


So here are some questions readers might ask themselves to determine whether or not they really do ascribe to the cartoon universe premise of theism. Any "yes" answer to one of these questions affirms endorsement of the cartoon universe premise; a "no" answer affirms either that one is an atheist, or, if he thinks he is a theist, that he thinks his god is impotent.

- Can your god create something ex nihilo (i.e., without using materials that already exist)?



“Of course, if the Christian god did ‘not require a physical medium to make things happen,’ then why did it create the physical medium in the first place?”

A couple of elementary confusions:

i) Making a physical medium happen and making things happen via a physical medium are two different things. God does both. But he doesn’t require a physical medium to make a physical medium.

Making a physical medium is itself an event. But it is not an event which makes use of a preexisting physical medium. Rather, the medium is the effect.

ii) God does not create a physical medium for his own benefit, but for the benefit of creatures that interact with a physical medium.

“This has already been answered above. As I pointed out, the analogy does not subsist on paralleling the abilities of a cartoonist with those attributed to the Christian god by believers in terms of being able to create his cartoons by an act of sheer consciousness (e.g., creation ex nihilo).”

That is what he pointed out in this post. But what he pointed out in an early post, to which he himself drew the reader’s attention, is the his assertion that creation ex nihilo is a feature of a cartoonish worldview—as he himself defined it.

“On Christianity’s view, Steve is just a puppet.”

This is a hackneyed objection of Calvinism. Am I now supposed to cry?

Fine, Call me a puppet. So what?

It’s an honor to be a puppet of the divine puppeteer described in Scripture.

To be a human puppet is to have all the attributes of a human being. I can live with that. Indeed, I do live with that—every day.

“Well, it's good that Steve is here conceding that the analogy at least proves something; above he said that ‘it doesn’t prove anything.”’And yet below, he went on to claim that I've provided no argument in the first place, and yet it seems pretty difficult to prove something unless one has presented an argument.”

My oh my, Bethrick is nothing if not a little dense.

To say that something either proves too much or too little is simply a way of saying that if the same argument can be deployed against either of two opposing positions, then it’s a wash.

“As we've seen several times now, Steve's attempt to dismiss the cartoon universe premise of the Christian worldview because actual cartoonists do not create their cartoons ex nihilo is based on a misunderstanding of what the analogy parallels. The analogy never claimed that ‘the causal process of cartooning’ is analogous to the Christian god creating the universe ex nihilo”

Except for the obstreperous fact that he did make precisely that claim in the past.

And if he chooses to drop that claim, then he’s left with a trivial analogy which fails to distinguish divine agency from human agency—even on his own worldview.

“The over-arching context of these promises on the Christian view is that they are issued by an agent which has the power to deliver on them. Also integral to the Christian context of these verses is that the god which issued them is trustworthy, that it will not lie, that it will not leave the believer in the cold, that it loves the believer and hears his prayers. Now, it needs to be borne in mind that these promises are not my statements; I did not author them - they came from the bible, which Christians tell me is true (indeed, many Christians like to ridicule me for not believing it). It also needs to be borne in mind that much theology is driven by the private recognition on the part of the theologian that he does not live in the cartoon universe that his confession affirms. This is why the more explicit teachings of the bible, such as the promises I itemized above, are frequently downplayed by drowning them in a context fabricated by amplifying surrounding statements beyond their scope and at the expense of the ‘harder sayings’ against which those surrounding statements are pitted. Of course, we should expect believers to deny that such promises are being downplayed. We should never be so naïve as to expect honesty from people who want to defend a faith scheme.”

Dawson now engages in special pleading. Every text has a context. Contextual exegesis is the only exegesis there is. That’s a feature of the grammatico-historical method.

And it doesn’t depend on your faith-commitments. Liberals write Bible commentaries, viz. Aune, Barrett, Brown, Charles, Childs, Clines, Fitzmyer, Goldingay, L. L. Thompson. That doesn’t prevent them from interpreting any particular verse within a broader context.

“There we have it: the alleged creation of the universe happened no how - and yet we're supposed to accept the claim that the universe was caused. How? Well, no how. How's that? No how. The overboiling of the Christian Zen pot makes a veritable Master Po of any internet apologist. Just as I pointed out: the 'how' is unimportant, so might as well deny all applicability of the term when it suits expedience.”

Yes, it was caused—not by a how, but by a who. A creative agent. The Creator was the cause.

“Indeed, in a cartoon universe, Australia could have been formed from a summit in the Andes (like Eve being formed from one of Adam's ribs), while the South American landmass could have been formed from the hip of the African continent after Noah's floating menagerie landed, thus providing a progressive land bridge on which some survivors (but not others) could have traveled to their final destination. Or, once Noah's ark landed, the divine cartoonist could have simply rearranged the continents and the distribution of the animal survivors, wishing Australia into place and magically teleporting the koalas and kangaroos into place. After all, in a cartoon universe, anything can happen, and the 'how' really doesn't matter, for in the end it all happens "no how" anyway.”

i) Dawson’s policy is if he can’t be acute, he can try to be cute.

My point is that if you’re going to attack the credibility of the narrative, you need to stick with what it actually says, and not interpolate extraneous assumptions into the account, as if that was part of what the narrative taught, and then disprove the account by citing contrary evidence.

Unbelievers try to hold a Christian to certain implications of the Biblical account which are not, in fact, internal to the account, but are interpolated by the unbeliever to generate a trumped up tension between the narrative and the evidence.

ii) Dawson is also assuming, without benefit of argument, that all the animals had to migrate on their own steam. Yet to take but one counterexample, sailors often introduce new species into a foreign habitat.

“And the ever-ready ad hoc plasticity of the cartoon universe of theism, which ultimately reduces to ‘it happened no how,’ sees to this. The cartoon universe premise inherent to Christian theism allows the believer to piggyback on the arbitrariness of his imagined god: the sky's the limit when it comes to supposing what ‘accounts’ for the current state of affairs.”

He is once again confounding creation ex nihilo with ordinary providence. His deficient grasp of Christian theology is one of the root-causes of apostasy. So many apostates were rooted in shallow ground. They defect from the faith due to their defective understanding of the faith.

“As I expected, Steve does not come out and say whether or not he agrees with Christianity that the universe has a cartoonish nature. At this point, he should understand what this means if he had been considering what I've been saying rather than merely reacting.”

I didn’t accommodate him by walking into an ambush. Sorry to be so uncooperative.


“But Steve does ask some juicy questions here. Can the cartoonist be part of the cartoon? According to Christianity, the answer is YES: the cartoonist can and did play a role in his own cartoon universe. This is the role of Jesus, the god of the heavens who "took on flesh" (i.e., assumed a form like other characters in his cartoon) and intermingled with its creations. In such a case, the cartoonist is of course initially distinct from the cartoon he creates. But as with any piece of art work, a cartoon is full of autobiographical elements which are sourced in the agent who creates it. Same with the Christian universe, according to Christians. We are told that "there is a rational God who has created a rational universe" (The Christian Professor), and that the supposed 'rationality' of the universe is a "reflection" of this "rational God" which allegedly created it. And since this god is all-powerful and "does whatever pleases him" (Ps. 115:3), nothing could stop the super-cartoonist from penciling himself into his own cartoon. And according to the Christian myth, this is precisely what the super-cartoonist did. Development of these points can wait for another occasion.”


Bethrick continues to retail in equivocations. The Incarnation is not a transmutation of divinity into humanity.


Daniel Morgan said...

Steve is just digging himself deeper with comments like these:
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.

You didn't call him to the carpet on this, but let's consider it--if God doesn't require "a physical medium", then at least God requires some medium, in which "things" can happen, where we suppose that "things" are separate entities from God itself.

Is "spirit" not supposed to be some substance, analagous to matter, in that it occupies a specific volume of, and position in, space in relation to other substances? Could God do anything without its cartoon book? If it didn't have a medium on which to project its will, it would only have itself. Indeed, your analogy is not only strong, I would dare to go so far as to call it perfect.

Steve is probably just miffed that he lives in a cartoon universe, and was called on it, by those who look around them and recognize that such a universe is just as subject to the cartoonist's eraser as it is his paint brush. No natural laws exist in a cartoon. The "illusion" of them is the cartoonist's desire to have its cartoon characters believe in them. The primacy of existence, as you pointed out, is undermined.

I'm glad non-Christians like us don't live in such a universe. Losing the boundaries of possibilities is akin to living in a dream...a nightmare. This cartoonist can do anything, at any point in time, and I have reason to suppose that it won't. Demons, leprechauns, fairies, unicorns, all are possibilities, composed of this "immaterial" spirit stuff, which is kind of like a different palette that the cartoonist uses--one whose colors are transparent 99% of the time, which is indistinguishable [to us] from these objects "poofing" into existence at the cartoonist's whim 1% of the time, kind of like a peripheral/ fancy/ complex character meant to "spice up" the tenor of the cartoon.

I called my deconversion "returning to sanity" for good reasons.


No, God doesn’t require any medium for himself. The medium exists for the benefit of the creature, not the Creator.

God doesn’t have to do anything. But creatures need a medium to do things—whether in time or space.

For the Trinity to only have itself would be sufficient for itself.

No, spirit is not a substance analogous to matter. And a “substance” need not be material.

Spirits are incomposite.

A spirit does not occupy a specific volume or position in space in relation to other substances.

No comments:

Post a Comment