December 29, 2013
Bethrick’s Refined Primacy Argument Against God Refuted
(Note: there have been a few posts since this one on this subject, including the following: Rand's Primacy of Existence Argument Refuted, Three Refutations of Objectivism and Metaphysical Primacy, Timeless Truth and Atheist Presuppositionalism)
I will give credit to Dawson Bethrick for agreeing to my request to provide a summarized form of his primacy argument against God’s existence, as quoted in blue at the end of this post. Stephen Law was unwilling to provide any such outline or summary of his favored and long-winded EGC argument, as addressed here.
No amount of prolific prose can make up for precise premises in a structured and logical philosophical argument with a logical syntax. And it is truly a rare treat to find an atheist apologist willing to offer such an attempt at an argument in these terms. The reason why it is so rare is because summarized logical arguments distill elaborate presentations down to their essential features and it becomes much easier to identify and address logical flaws and fallacies.
Dawson's premises are not new, but are basically based on Ayn Rand's work many years ago. There are a number of false preconceptions implied in Dawson’s version, but, in my opinion, the most glaring problem is Dawson’s straw man portrayal of theist beliefs regarding primacy. His argument hinges on connecting Theism with what objectivists refer to as “the primacy of consciousness.” In order to do this, Dawson focuses on limited aspects of God’s nature and avoids aspects of Theism that refute his claim. The premise in question:
“Step 2: Theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics: P2-1: If theism affirms the existence of a being which can create existence by an act of will, alter the nature of objects which are distinct from itself by an act of will, and/or cause such objects to act by an act of will, then theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics.”
A Straw Man Fallacy
Dawson’s premise, Step 2-P2-1 is not in keeping with all the relevant characteristics of the God described in scripture. Theism affirms the existence of a being known as “God” who is eternal who can neither logically nullify Himself out of existence nor create Himself ex nihilo. If God exists eternally and cannot create or destroy Himself, then in what possible manner does Theism affirm a metaphysical primacy of consciousness? It does not, unless we avoid discussing ultimate reality here for Theism, God’s eternal nature.
Theist scriptures explicitly describe the primacy of the spiritual over the material, and the primacy of the eternal over the temporal, but not the conscious over the existent. Because God is the basis of prime reality in scripture, any relevant description of what Theism “assumes” metaphysically must be taken into account. Dawson fails miserably in this regard.
Defining the characteristics of the object of an argument (God in this case) according to one’s own biased terms and not according to all the characteristics which happen to be quite relevant and challenging to the argument is tantamount to creating a straw man argument.
To “create existence by an act of will” is to create ex-nihilo, from nothing. The Bible implies that God created temporal matter ex nihilo. However, the Bible never implies that God can destroy and then create Himself in the same manner. I know of no theist who believes that God can possibly create his own existence by an act of the will. If the context of Dawson’s argument against God is supposed to pertain to all that exists, as a metaphysical and philosophical argument about the nature of reality should, then Dawson’s straw man argument is insufficient. Step 2-P2-1 is false and his argument obviously fails to disprove God’s existence.
A False Dilemma Fallacy
Ayn Rand objectivists tend to stick to their guns and rehash old positions, even though the logical fallacies in their positions have already been pointed out. For example, Dan Marvin at the Debunking Atheists blog had published a post pointing out the false dilemma fallacy and the relativist fallacy implicit in these objectivist primacy arguments, as linked here. But here in Dawson’s latest argument version they appear again. Metaphysical reality is not limited to only two choices. Ayn Rand objectivists are the only ones continuing to pretend that this false-dilemma primacy of existence vs. primacy of consciousness is a valid philosophical dichotomy. This type of irrational tunnel vision underscores the cult-like nature of Rand objectivism.
The objectivist primacy dichotomy is incoherent on a very basic level. Existence is a prime requisite of any conscious being that would allow for the said being to be conscious in the first place and to create from consciousness. If the conscious being did not exist or have the ability to come into existence without help from another existing entity, then it would obviously neither have consciousness nor the ability to hold so-called metaphysical primacy. The objectivist primacy argument incorporates a subjective and relativistic approach which focuses on limited conditions that imply support, all the while ignoring conditions that are problematic.
Dan made another good point. If there is indeed a general “primacy of consciousness” then all of us humans could wish things into existence. But we cannot. So, the more precise definition they seem to be aiming for is the primacy of God’s consciousness. But perhaps this is a little too close for comfort to the true state of affairs, which is the metaphysical primacy of God.
The Fallacy of the Unsupported Assertion
Any metaphysical argument regarding the nature of reality must begin with well-supported or self-evident claims. In the opening premise of Dawson’s argument against God’s existence, the definition of truth presupposes that truth is derived solely from observing the material world. This definition implies and presupposes an atheist explanation of truth (see addenda for more elaboration on this point.)
If God exists, then, according to Christianity, God’s eternal and unchanging nature is the fountainhead of all that we experience and is the basis of all truth. Breakthrough discoveries in quantum physics have led scientists to make statements that support this understanding of truth.
Materialists basically tend to assume that truth, logic and information are derived from the material world. However, some physicists are now claiming the opposite is implied by material universe. It is not so much that information is derived from the physical world, but that physical world is derived from information. In the MIT Technology Review in an article entitled, The Foundation of Reality: Information or Quantum Mechanics?, the following quote was among the concluding statements: "All this work stems from the growing realization that it is not the laws of physics that determine how information behaves in our Universe, but the other way round." This link outlines peer reviewed articles and scientific discoveries regarding the nature of metaphysical reality in harmony with theist conceptions.
The biblical understanding of truth includes moral truth claims. The fact is, the present leading philosophical debater in the world, William Lane Craig, holds a consistent record for winning logical debates and a foundational argument of Craig's regards the nature of objective moral truth based on defending the existence of God. Anyone interested in the present status of philosophical arguments related to the nature of truth should probably be aware of such arguments. Dawson has not provided any reason why we should doubt present winning theist arguments regarding the nature of truth or any substantive basis for believing his own definition of truth.
The Fallacy of Begging the Question
Because Dawson’s first premise offers an unsubstantiated definition of truth that is neither universally agreed upon nor philosophically self-evident in support of his argument, he is guilty of the unsupported claim fallacy. This ties into another fallacy, begging the question. Dawson's explanation of truth in the first premise presupposes that atheism is true, the very conclusion he wishes to prove. According to Theism, truth ultimately corresponds with the ultimate reality of God's existence and the moral and personal aspects of this truth are quite relevant, as noted previously in this post with regard to winning moral arguments presented by William Lane Craig.
It’s not clear how and why Rand objectivists have come up with their false dilemma primacy dichotomy. It seems to be a desperate grasp for any narrative that could be remotely utilized in an attempt to disprove God’s existence. It may be somehow based on the atheist preconception that conscious life on earth evolved from immaterial matter. But we are not shown how this might possibly tie in logically to this argument. There is neither a reference to the theory of abiogenesis nor is there is there an acknowledgement that the theory is scientifically unproven and philosophically open. Darwin's quintessential 6th edition of The Origin of Species. actually presents a theist explanation of the origin of life, as outlined at this link.
I have to point out the irony that Dawson’s blog is entitled, “Incinerating Presuppositionalism” when it is quite obvious that Dawson’s favored “objectivist” argument is fraught with subjective atheist presuppositions. It seems as though Dawson sincerely believes his argument proves that God does not exist. This is strong evidence that spiritual blindness is a very real and present condition.
In contrast to a philosophical argument fraught with unsupported presuppositions and logical fallacies, the created world provides observable evidence that the universe is embedded with a certain precise, detailed and hierarchical logical structure that defies explanation from a secular atheist point of view. I challenge anyone to critique or disprove the following argument for God’s existence:
The Organizing Principle of the Universe: Hierarchy and the Central Truth
Dawson Bethrick’s recently revised argument, as copied from his blog:
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Three Steps Proving that Theism Cannot Be True
In the comments section of my previous blog entry, Christian apologist Rick Warden of Templestream Blog has requested that I produce “a summary of the specific premises and logical syntax of the argument” which I employ against theism.
Curiously, Warden’s request comes after he posted a blog of his own in which he attempted to refute my argument. Warden’s methodology seems logically reversed; one would hope that Warden would already be familiar with my argument’s premises before publishing his attempts to refute it. Perhaps Warden has simply “presupposed” that my argument is unsound and, eager to act on this presupposition, didn’t bother to check the facts from the beginning. Needless to say, this would explain a lot.
Below I present three steps sealing the conclusion that theism cannot be true. Step 1 is a proof that truth as such rests exclusively on the primacy of existence metaphysics (this is the reason why we often hear the undeniably true retort, “wishing doesn’t make it so”). Step 2 is a proof that theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics (think of the claim that a god created the universe by speaking, that it governs human history by its “counsel,” that it “controls whatsoever comes to pass,” etc.). Step 3, drawing from the previous two Steps, is a proof that theism therefore cannot be true.
Each Step consists of its own two-premise argument stated in the form of a hypothetical syllogism. Each argument is formally valid. This means that, if the premises of each argument are true, then their conclusions cannot fail to be true. Thus Warden should be satisfied by these proofs since he has expressed concern for “logical philosophical arguments.”
So without any further ado, let us proceed…
Step 1: Truth rests exclusively on the primacy of existence metaphysics:
P1-1: If truth is the identification of reality based on facts which obtain independently of conscious activity (such as preferences, likes and dislikes, wishes, fantasies, emotions, temper tantrums, evasion, etc.), then truth rests exclusively on the primacy of existence metaphysics.
P1-2: Truth is the identification of reality based on facts which obtain independently of conscious activity (such as preferences, likes and dislikes, wishes, fantasies, emotions, temper tantrums, evasion, etc.).
C1: Therefore, truth rests exclusively on the primacy of existence metaphysics.
Step 2: Theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics:
P2-1: If theism affirms the existence of a being which can create existence by an act of will, alter the nature of objects which are distinct from itself by an act of will, and/or cause such objects to act by an act of will, then theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics.
P2-2: Theism affirms the existence of a being which can create existence by an act of will, alter the nature of objects which are distinct from itself by an act of will, and/or cause such to act in any way by an act of will.
C2: Therefore, theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics.
Step 3: Theism cannot be true:
P3-1: If theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics, then theism is incompatible with the primacy of existence metaphysics and consequently cannot be true. (From Step 1 above)
P3-2: Theism assumes the primacy of consciousness metaphysics. (From Step 2 above)
C3: Therefore theism is incompatible with the primacy of existence metaphysics and consequently cannot be true.
So there you have it – a tidy little summary of my argument against theism. Naturally the premises of each argument can be defended. But providing these defenses in this blog entry would make it much longer than it already is, and Warden has expressed reluctance for reading lengthy treatments (the books on his shelf must be quite thin). Besides, I have already posted many blog entries over the years addressing these matters and providing the necessary defenses for the premises I incorporate in the arguments above. That being as it may, I welcome questions and even challenges to what I have presented here.”
1. Dawson's definition of truth is unsubstantiated in his argument. The most basic understanding of truth holds that truth corresponds with reality. Dawson has assumed a more narrow definition of truth pertaining only to "reality based on facts which obtain independently of conscious activity." According to Dawson, a dream which accurately foretells the future could not be considered a source of truth, even though dreams are obviously considered real phenomena and, though difficult to verify after the fact, predictive dreams have been recorded throughout history. Furthermore, Dawson's definition of truth precludes the possibility of divine revelation. Dawson has not offered any reason or proof of why any divine revelation of truth would not be possible, he simply presupposes this. Dawson presupposes a narrow atheist explanation of truth in an argument against God and has not justified this definition. This results in two fallacies: the unsupported claim and begging the question.(Addenda added 12/31/13)
2. I asked Mr. Bethrick to acknowledge that his subjective and biased definition of primacy of consciousness is not valid in a following post. The points are entitled, A Logical Problem of Primacy in Bethrick’s Argument Against God’s Existence. He has yet to acknowledge that his definition is flawed. Therefore, I created a new set of points in a logical form and posted them in a comment for Bethrick to address:
Bethrick's Invalid Definition of Primacy of Consiousness
1. Objectivist Bethrick claims that theism supports a primacy of consciousness metaphysics (PCM) that violates primacy of existence metaphysics (PEM).
2. This claim is based on the fact that theism describes a supernatural God who created the material universe through an act of volition.
3. According to Bethrick, his definition of PCM excludes two aspects that undermine his claim.
4. First, Bethrick claims that the fact that a supernatural and eternal God cannot logically nullify his own existence or recreate Himself is excluded from his definition of PCM.
5. Second, Bethrick claims that the fact that theists cannot generally create objects through an act of volition is excluded from his definition of PCM.
6. Objectivist Bethrick has created a highly specialized definition of a universal concept that denies the universality of that concept and arbitrarily excludes aspects that refute his claims.
7. Any highly specialized definition of a universal concept of reality that denies the universality of that concept and arbitrarily excludes aspects for subjective reasons is an invalid and false definition of that concept.
8. Therefore, Bethrick’s definition of primacy of consciousness is invalid and false.
Comment posted at this link:
Tags: atheist presuppositionalism, atheist logical fallacies, Dawson Bethrick Philosophy, metaphysical primacy arguments, the nature of truth