November 25, 2012
A Refutation of Dawson Bethrick's Central Argument Against Theism
Rand's Primacy of Existence Argument Refuted, Three Refutations of Objectivism Metaphysical Primacy, Timeless Truth and Atheist Presuppositionalism and Bethrick’s Refined Primacy Argument Against God Refuted)
In modern philosophy, the straw man lives and thrives among atheist apologists. For example, one of the most popular books supporting atheism today is based on a logical fallacy known as a straw-man argument. Richard Dawkins argues that God needs a designer because God is complex. However, when the true nature of the theist God is considered, Dawkins is obviously offering a straw-man argument. Though he loves to travel and promote his books, Dawkins offers illogical excuses for avoiding any rational debate where his ideas would be dismantled faster than the scare crow was ripped apart by the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz.
Dawson Bethrick is another atheist who continues to promote straw-man arguments. Bethrick operates a personal blog and website related to defending atheism and disproving argument's supportive of God's existence. He is basically an Ayn Rand objectivist whose central argument against Theism may be dismantled with a simple pin-prick of thoughtful consideration.
I. Dawson Bethrick's Argument
II. Dawson's Logical Fallacies
III. The True Nature of God
No matter what the given subject, Randian objectivists hold to an underlying set of presuppositions referred to as axioms that are supposedly rock-solid, conceptually sound truths. For example, one Randian axiom is, "existence exists." As others have noted, the word existence is an abstract concept. Existence does not exist because existence is nothing in particular at all. Matter exists, people exist, and, in very real sense, the laws of physics exist, even though though we may not be able to see them. Even if you forgive the blunder of this summarized statement, presuming that things in the universe "just exist" with no metaphysical cause or explanation is nothing more than a metaphysical presupposition. It is not a metaphysically incontrovertible axiom. This fallacy, however, is not the crux of my criticism. My main criticism has to do with a type of straw man argument perpetuated at Bethrick's blog and website related to another axiom.
I. Dawson Bethrick's Argument
One of the main axioms used to attempt to disprove Theism relates to what is known as "the primacy of existence." Objectivists hold that the primacy of existence is a metaphysically true condition and that theists hold to a "primacy of consciousness" because God's will is sovereign over his creations. Because human perceptions tend to support the primacy of existence explanation, it is presumed that the primacy of consciousness supposedly inherent in Theism is a fallacy. This presumed dichotomy is described at Dawson's website, Katholon:
"In metaphysics the objective position is the view that the objects of consciousness are what they are independent of any subject’s conscious activity, while the subjective position is the view that the objects of consciousness depend in some way on a subject’s conscious activity, either for their nature, the actions they perform, their very existence, etc. Given this explicit understanding of these two antithetical metaphysical viewpoints, it should not be difficult to see how theism rests on the subjective orientation in the subject-object relationship, particularly in the case of its object of worship, a universe-creating, reality-ruling consciousness which sovereignly calls all the shots. The notion that the universe as a whole is a cosmic king’s whipping boy, obediently conforming to its commands and dutifully carrying out its wishes, undeniably assumes the metaphysical primacy of consciousness."
As noted, Dawson offers that there is an "objective position" and "subjective position" that are "antithetical metaphysical viewpoints" in an either-or dichotomy. Dawson believes his objective position is true and the subjective position is false. In accordance with criticisms he has received, at some point, Dawson had refined his argument to exclude a key aspect of God's nature, questions related to God's creative ability, and at least two logical fallacies are noted in a post from (12/26/08).
II. Dawson's Logical Fallacies
"The objective argument which I defend (actually special pleading) is not that god-belief is subjective because its god allegedly created itself (straw-man: excluding the nature of God's creativity). Rather, the argument is that god-belief is subjective because it ascribes metaphysical primacy to a subject..."(12/26/08).
As noted in the previous quote, Dawson's main "objective" argument includes at least two logical fallacies. Firstly, in accordance with the tenets of critical thinking, Dawson is not offering an objective argument at all, which is a bit ironic. According to both the scientific method and the basics of critical thinking, any influential variables should be included in any hypothesis in order to achieve valid, objective results.
A. It is a Straw-man Argument to First Eliminate Qualities of God's Nature.
The nature of God's creative abilities is certainly a valid aspect to consider when attempting to honestly evaluate subject-object relationships and Theism. But Dawson's metaphysics conveniently removes this question that would disprove his argument. "The objective argument which I defend"... is basically a subjective one. As Dawson states in the article, "Now it’s well and good that a system of god-belief holds that its god did not create itself." This subject is actually not very "well and good" for Dawson's argument, because this is quite enough to show that volition and consciousness do not hold metaphysical primacy in Theism. If God cannot whimsically cause Himself to exist and not exist, then there is no metaphysical primacy of volition is Theism. By excluding this important issue, Dawson is committing the fallacy of special pleading and he is offering a straw-man God whose unique creative abilities are being ignored in the subject object relationships of Theism. Dawson's excuse is that objectivist definitions are unique, as we'll see later.
According to the standard philosophical definition of subjective reality, God's own mind and God's own existence satisfy the qualifications for discerning that reality in accordance with God's existence is not subjective. The philosophical definition of subjective is as follows: relating to or of the nature of an object as it is known in the mind as distinct from a thing in itself.
That is a fairly standard definition similar to ones that may be found at various Internet sites, such as this one. Why should we rely on Dawson's own personal definition of "subjective" when there are more commonly accepted definitions? The impetus is on Dawson to convince us why this is necessary, but, instead of strong reasoning, we find confusion within the ranks of objectivists as to how to define the mind / body relationship.
The distinction between God's knowledge and God's nature is definable and rationally understood in the context of Theism. If God cannot will Himself to exist or not to exist, then God's existence is not subject to the knowledge of His existence or God's will. If God cannot will Himself to sin or to lie - against His eternal nature - then God's nature is not subject to the knowledge of his nature or His will to change it.
Dawson's emphasis on the Creator-created relationship is an arbitrary condition used to display his subject-object argument. He avoids the more subtle distinctions between personal volition and personal nature that would undermine his argument.
Dawson's argument conveniently eliminates aspects of God's nature by using the unique definition of 'subjective' offered by objectivists, which, as I'll show, has no justification. In creating his own definitions and defining limited arbitrary parameters, Dawson is only advancing his own disconnected definitions and theories. It is a straw man argument supported by straw-man definitions utilizing a straw-man God. Once conventional definitions are used, the arbitrary nature of Dawson's God and Dawson's argument parameters becomes evident.
B. Definitions and Concepts Within Objectivism are Inconsistent and not Cohesive
When asked to justify his unique definition of 'subjective,' Dawson stated, "And the definition which Objectivism provides for the concept ‘subjective’ is entirely consistent with its metaphysics and epistemology."
1. Dawson claims "Objectivism provides for the concept ‘subjective’ is entirely consistent with its metaphysics and epistemology."
2. When twice asked to summarize his theory that defines the mind/body relationship (a fundamental issue regarding subjectivism) with respect to a number of other explanations offered by objectivists, Dawson refused to actually define it in philosophical terms within this context.
3. Therefore, Dawson, in his apparent unwillingness to clarify his own definitions with respect to the many other inconsistent variants, is underscoring the fact that Objectivism does NOT allow for definitions entirely consistent with its metaphysics and epistemology.
Objectivists define the mind / body duality in a number of inconsistent explanations, as noted by Daniel Barnes:
"Nathaniel Branden has tentatively plumped for panpsychism. Roger Bissell holds what appears to be a version of identity theory, with hard-deterministic implications. Binswanger has the above causal substance dualism, which is apparently "controversial" among Objectivists. But it is hardly any "spookier" than Rand and Peikoff's position, which from what can be made out, is a vague but interactionist position."
C. Ayn Rand's reason for claiming there is no mind / body dualism is inadequate.
Rand offers very shaky foundation for objectivist presumptions regarding the subject of mind body dualism:
"Just as there can be no dichotomy between mind and body, so there can be none between the true and the good. Even in regard to metaphysically given facts, cognition and evaluation cannot be sundered. Cognition apart from evaluation is purposeless; it becomes the arbitrary desire for “pure knowledge” as an end in itself. Evaluation apart from cognition is non-objective; it becomes the whim of pursuing an “I wish” not based on any “It is.”
Rand is quite wrong. The differences between true and good are in no way similar to the differences between mind and body. Rand simply makes a bald assertion - which is a logical fallacy. Mind has no substance and is not quantifiable, body has substance and is measurable and quantifiable. Truth and goodness do not offer these contrasts in any way. As a comparison and juxtaposition it is a terrible misfit.
If Rand is way off in foundational issues such as her evaluation of mind / body duality, we cannot assume any further objectivist assertions built upon this false foundation have any merit. Here we are again, back up Dawson's Creek without a paddle.
Dawson's straw man argument is evidenced in other areas as well, as noted at his website:
"The notion that the universe as a whole is a cosmic king’s whipping boy, obediently conforming to its commands and dutifully carrying out its wishes..."
The use of the word "notion" here implies that these views are what scripture teaches. We theists, however, do not summarize God merely as a personal will that has a sovereign volition. By narrowing God down to one characteristic and focusing only on God's volition, Dawson is offering another straw man version of God.
And, as you read on a little further, you pick up the thrust of another one of Dawson's straw-man arguments...
"[God's personal nature] undeniably assumes the metaphysical primacy of consciousness."
God is not merely a personal being with volition, God is also eternally conscious and eternally existent, and, therefore, in a temporal sense, there is no dichotomy according to the ultimate metaphysical reality proposed in Theism according to the true theist "notion" of reality.
All the three main branches of Theism underscore that God is an eternal being. For example, Isaiah 57.15 offers that God is the "High and Lofty One...who lives forever." Even if a skeptic were to propose an absurd notion that God could create Himself, that would be irrelevant to this argument, because that is not what scripture offers.
III. The True Nature of God
- Ultimately, Theism ascribes metaphysical primacy to all aspects of God in harmony - God's existence, God's consciousness, God's glory, God's holiness, God's truth, God's nature, God's omnipotence, God's omniscience, God's omnipresence, all hold metaphysical unity and primacy in the universe and there is no dichotomy between these aspects of God.
- Nowhere in scripture is it implied that God's own nature is subservient to His will. Numbers 29.13, for example, implies that God's will is metaphysically subservient to His nature: "he is God, that cannot lie."
- Unchanging aspects of a person's inherent nature hold metaphysical primacy over a person's volition.
- What holds ultimate metaphysically primacy (God's existence) represents the most significant aspects of reality in the universe.
- Because there is no dualism or primacy between existence and consciousness in the eternal unchanging God, then there is no dualism or primacy in the most significant aspects of reality in the universe.
It is quite clear that Dawson is offering convoluted straw-man arguments based on anything that will possibly help his case and justify the world view he has chosen to believe, no matter how he has mischaracterized his "objective" argument and the true nature of God.
Because Ayn Rand, Dawson Bethrick and other objectivists are quite intelligent and aware that the theist God is described in scripture as a much more than simply task master barking commands, then one is forced to surmise that either their arguments against God's existence are based upon an intentional dishonesty, or, as the Bible describes, their minds are "blinded" to the point where they cannot perceive logical fallacies such as their straw-man arguments.
So, what do you believe is the case with Dawson Bethrick? Why does he perpetuate obvious straw-man arguments against Theism? Do you believe he is intentionally disingenuous, or do you believe he is simply blinded to the reality of his own straw-man God? The fact that this type of argument has been perpetuated since Ayn Rand was alive and many people continue to support it implies that these people simply aren't conscious of the fact that their "objective" philosophy and arguments are loaded with materialistic preconceptions. These "objectivists" have truly believed that their arguments against Theism are logical and valid. Thus, the biblical explanation of their actions seems to hold more veracity as an answer, that they are simply blinded to the truth. Though fraught with problems, Free Thought Blogs recommends Bethrick's blog and calls presuppositionionalism "intellectually dishonest" - as though Bethrick is offering an intellectually honest and valid argument against God's existence. Is it logical to answer theist presuppositionalism with atheist presuppositionalism? Hardly. Why am I not surprised Free Thought Blogs would recommend Dawson Bethrick? Free Thought Blogs is the home of PZ Myers - who rails on theism and offers no logical arguments for his beliefs whatsoever.
Tags: atheist straw-man arguments against God's existence, Dawson Bethrick disproved, Objectivism is not objective but presupposes materialism and atheism, Incinerating Presuppositionalism debunked, objectivism debunked, false metaphysical dichotomy, primacy of existence versus primacy of consciousness in objectivism
(this post was updated 12/03/12)
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