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There are many things that could be said about this campaign season, and there are many competent people saying them. But there is one essential similarity between both “liberals” and “conservatives” this election which I think has gone unnoticed. It is this essential similarity which reveals the root of our current political plight––and therefore, the potential solution. That similarity is mindlessness.

Of course, the rabbid mindlessness of the left began to flaunt itself as early as last year in the contrived campus protests, the racist Black-Lives-Matter movement, and the emotion-ridden hysteria of trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, and safe spaces. Many heroic voices have actively fought against the emotional insanity of these “precious little snowflakes” (hat-tip to Ben Shapiro, Steven Crowder, and Milo Yinnaupolis). But while criticizing the irrational insanity of the left, which began at simmer stage decades ago, and has now boiled over into full-blown bat-sh*t crazy, we failed to see a similar phenomenon bubbling up in our own “camp”. There’s no denying it now, though. The pure emotionalism and irrationality of Trump supporters demonstrates that this mind-eating malaria which seems to be in the air isn’t exclusive to the left.

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The idea of free will tends to run into problems (or at least perceived problems) in both atheistic worldviews (like Objectivism) and in theistic worldviews (like Christianity). The Christian Egoist advocates certain “brands”, or aspects, of both, and therefore I get a lot of questions about free will, or things pertaining to it. Whether you’re dealing with “strict” laws of logic and nature, or with “strict” ideas of God’s sovereignty and providence, many seem to think that such “suffocating” ideas must necessarily “crowd out” any possible notion of human free will. But could this be because such people haven’t thought very carefully about what free will is? I think so. ...continue reading

balance

Balance. It’s probably the fundamental functional morality for most people today. And it’s definitely the go-to answer for most moral conundrums. How do love and truth go together? Justice and mercy? Individualism and community? God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? Personal responsibility and charity? The answer: “Balance.”

A Dubious Assumption

But isn’t there a dubious assumption behind the idea that good and true things need to “balance” each other out? The idea of balance implies an inverse relationship between those things which are being balanced: the degree to which one goes up, the other goes down — and vice versa. The degree to which love goes up, truth goes down; and the degree to which truth goes up, love goes down. Such is the conventional wisdom. The key to morality then, in this case, is to “balance” the two out. But what does this mean?

Let us think about it on a spectrum (for this is what the idea of balance implies), with truth on the left, and love on the right. Say that the far left is a 10 on the scale of passion for the truth, and the far right is a 10 on the scale of passion for love. The further you are on either end of the scale toward one virtue, according to the modern conception of morality, the further away you are from the other virtue. Now, if maximum passion for truth is a 10 on one side, and maximum passion for love is a 10 on the opposite side, what would the “balanced” middle of the spectrum be but a zero for both?

Perfect “Balance”

Now, let us imagine all of these supposed dichotomous virtues on their own respective spectrums: Justice and mercy on opposite ends; individualism and community; etc.., with all of these spectrums intersecting at the same spot to make a sort of pin-wheel. Perhaps Justice is at 12 o’clock with mercy at 6; truth at 9 o’clock with love at 3 o’clock; and so on with all of the potential spectrums going “‘round the clock.” Now picture what the result would be if one were capable of achieving a perfect “balance” on all of these spectrums. If one’s passion for each of the virtues were measured at this point of equilibrium, the reading would be: zero. Zero virtue. The aim of balancing out the virtues means not aiming at any one particular virtue (this would cause imbalance), but aiming, rather, at neutrality to all the virtues. Such is the implicit ideal behind those who think of morality in terms of balance.

The Pendulum Effect

And such is the cause of the pendulum phenomenon: the swinging from one good “emphasis” to another — whether in culture or in the individual. In fact, if one has this view of morality (this idea of inverse relations between the virtues), there is no other option for the one who wishes to pursue the virtues, then to swing eternally from some “extreme” to another, in the desperate and futile attempt to arrive at the ideal of “balance,” “equilibrium,” neutrality; apathy. Isn’t that — the dreary spell of apathy — the inevitable end of those “mature,” lifeless, beings who have “grown up” and “learned to be balanced,” by avoiding all “extremes” — which means: avoiding all principles, and all virtue?

Balanced Death

Observe the spiritual death in the faces of those who have supposedly reached such “balance.” Observe the disdain in their faces (and their voices — as they write disparaging articles), looking down in self-righteous pity upon the “poor” and “naive” souls who are still trying to pursue some virtue or another; observe the frustration of the poor souls who love all of the virtues (as they ought to), but are eternally tortured because of that love — or rather, because of this twisted view of morality, which has condemned that very love for virtue as evil-–I mean, “imbalanced,” from the very start.

What evil, what torture, what agonizing psychological despair, such a view of morality heaps upon its victims. It turns the essence of morality (pursuit of virtue) into the essence of evil, and the essence of evil (neutrality toward all virtue) into the essence of the good. How much despair such a seemingly innocent conception as “balance” can inflict upon those who desire to be good. This is a first-rate example of the absolute necessity of thinking rightly; the necessity to properly integrate those things in life which seem dichotomous (like various virtues); the desperate need for thinking philosophically — lest one fall victim to such insidious doctrines of despair as the one laid out above.

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file000704919536The following is my response to Wayne Grudem's recent article at TGC, Is Gaining Profit From Someone Else's Work Exploitation

A Great Article, But...

This is a great article, in that it demonstrates the glorious nature of wealth creation (and therefore life-enhancement) in a Capitalist system, while demonstrating some great Biblical principles which support such wealth-creation -- however the article seems to ground the 'goodness' of this employer-employee relationship (and implicitly, of Capitalism in general) in 'love for the other person', which has dangerous implications if carried out consistently (see the Marxist-sympathizing comments in the comment section for examples).

The Only Proper Foundation

While love for others certainly ought to be a strong driving motive of the Christian in all things, it should not (and cannot) be the foundation for the goodness of Capitalism (the system Grudem is implicitly defending above). The only proper foundation (Biblical or otherwise) for Capitalism is: Justice. ...continue reading

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aynrand

“There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism.... But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one's soul—(this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one's soul?)—Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one's soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one's soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one's soul to the souls of others. This is a contradiction that cannot be resolved.”

-Letter to Mrs. Austin, by Ayn Rand

The "Great Basic Contradiction"

Previously, I covered the beginning of this (and another quote) by Rand on the teachings of Jesus in regard to individualism and egoism (Read Ayn Rand on Christian Egoism: Part 1, here). In both quotes (each taken from personal letters), Rand begins by praising Christianity for its teaching on the sanctity of man's soul (ego) and for making the salvation of one's own individual soul the primary concern. However in both quotes, Rand goes on to elaborate on a fundamental contradiction which she sees in Christian philosophy: the contradiction between Jesus' teaching on individualism/ egoism and the morality of altruism: ...continue reading

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aynrand

"Christianity was the first school of thought that proclaimed the supreme sacredness of the individual. The first duty of a Christian is the salvation of his own soul. This duty comes above any he may owe to his brothers. This is the basic statement of true individualism."  

-Ayn Rand, Letter to Reverend Dudley

Ayn Rand on Christianity

Though Rand was obviously not a theologian or student of Scripture, she knew enough about Christian theology to identify this foundational moral principle in the teachings of Christ: that the chief moral imperative of the Christian is the salvation of his own soul. And, from this she concluded that Christianity did promote a similar sort of egoism to her own:

"The salvation of one's own soul means the preservation of the integrity of one's ego. The soul is the ego. Thus Christianity did preach egoism in my sense of the word, in high, noble and spiritual sense." -Letter to Rev. Dudley

Elsewhere, Rand writes:

"Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism—the inviolate sanctity of man's soul, and the salvation of one's soul as one's first concern and highest goal; this means—one's ego and the integrity of one's ego." - Letter to Mrs. Austin

Surely, many will likely object that as an avowed atheist, Rand had no business commenting on, or presuming to understand, the foundational morality of Christianity; that she is simply mistaken about this idea of individualism and egoism being an integral part of Christ's teaching. And so, the proper question to ask here is: is she right?

Jesus: The Chief Individualist (and Egoist)?

Did Jesus "teach the inviolate sanctity of man's soul, and the salvation of one's soul as one's first and highest goal" -- thus proclaiming "the basic principle of individualism" and the importance of "one's ego"?

"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and to lose his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" -Jesus, Mk8:36-37

The implicit answer: nothing. Nothing, Jesus is saying, can possibly be of more value to you than the salvation, integrity, and perseverance of your own soul. Why? Because it is your own individual soul which values -- apart from it, you cannot value anything. Why would there be no profit in exchanging one's own soul for the whole world? Because it is the soul which profits -- apart from it, there is no such thing as profit for the one doing the trading. If you gain everything that could ever satisfy your soul at the expense losing the very thing you wish to satisfy (your soul), then you gain nothing.

"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" -Jesus, Mt10:28

Translation: Your soul is of supreme value and importance. Your greatest fear should not be any physical threat, but the threat of the soul's destruction; Value the preservation and perseverance of your soul more than this life, itself.

Add to these, and the many others which could be listed, C.S. Lewis' observation that "nearly every description [given by Christ] of what we shall ultimately find if we do [as He commands] contains an appeal to desire" ; that the motive behind all of New Testament morality is the ultimate good of one's own soul (in its union with God). An honest look at Scripture makes it abundantly clear that, in spite of contrary 'Christian' opinions, the atheist, Ayn Rand, is absolutely right on this point: Christ was one of the first and greatest champions of individualism and egoism -- not in the superficial and carnal ways we mean those terms today, but in the deep, ultimate, and ironically spiritual sense which the atheistic philosopher has rightly pointed out.

Contradictions Do Not Exist

Whatever else Christ may have taught, it cannot be denied that He taught this much about the supreme value of the individual soul -- the ego. And if Christ is to be taken as the infallible Truth of God which Christians hold Him to be, then everything else He taught must be understood in such a way as to not contradict His teaching on the "inviolate sanctity of man's soul" -- man's ego.

That is the direction to which Rand turns in both quotes cited above, and the topic of the next blog: did Christ's other teachings contradict His teachings on the value of man's soul presented above? Is Rand right that "there is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus", and are modern Christians right to insist that Jesus was a staunch advocate of altruism? Stay tuned.

Read 'Ayn Rand on Christian Egoism: Part 2' >>

Related Posts:

Selfish Love: With C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand

If Jesus Was a Socialist, He Would've Stayed in the Tomb

Jonathan Edwards on Egoism

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Ideas Are Inescapable

Christians seem to have a curious sort of love-hate relationship with knowledge, ideas, thinking, and philosophy. They have to love it - to an extent - because without it, you don't have Christianity. After all, the word Gospel means "good news" -- and news is information, and information is communicated through ideas, and ideas are evaluated by thinking, and accurate thinking is the science of philosophy, and once an idea has been thought about and accurately understood to be true, it is held in the mind as knowledge. Therefore, the extent to which a Christian wishes to take Christianity seriously, he will find himself in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with all of that dirty intellectual stuff quite a bit.

I say that he finds himself in an uncomfortable position because it is almost an unspoken rule that a Christian ought to despise intellectual work, at worst, or be highly suspicious of it, at best. The intellect, nowadays, and everything which goes along with it, is considered to be more of a dangerous and necessary evil which should only be consulted when absolutely necessary, than it is considered to be a remarkable and glorious tool to be wielded expertly by all.

In a sense, these Christians have the right idea about the intellect: it is extremely dangerous - for the one who does not know how to use it. It is one of the deadliest weapons in the universe, being used to produce every moral atrocity ever known to man. And the realm of ideas is a treacherous place to find one's self - if one does not know how to navigate it. Therefore, the desperate longing in most men to steer clear of that most dangerous weapon (the intellect), and to escape that perilous realm (of ideas) is almost understandable -- almost. The reality, though, is that there is no escaping it. Man, by his nature, is inextricably inside of the realm of ideas, and cannot ever escape it but by the futile attempt (seen all over culture today) to revert himself back into a 'beast of the field'. And the sword of the intellect is so inextricably a part of man that he cannot ever fully be parted from it -- his only option, if he wishes to renounce his union to it, is to turn it upon himself and to fall on it.

Ideas Are Dangerous

But forget about it being impossible for man to consistently renounce the intellect and the realm of ideas. The modern man (and much less, the modern Christian) cares very little for consistency--he is quite happy to have his evasive, head-in-the-sand cake, and eat it, too. Consider therefore, the more practical, and hopefully obvious, implications of the very dangers which keep so many away from ideas. If ideas are so powerful, and if all of the good powers and institutions in the world are too fearful to come near them, what do you think the evil powers and institutions of the world will do in response? Do you suppose that evil is as afraid of that power as you are? Do you suppose that evil is shy about picking up the sword of the intellect or about reigning supreme in the realm of ideas (the very realm which no man can escape)? As Christians cower on the battlefield of ideas, paralyzed by the fear of appearing 'arrogant' to their brothers, do they suppose that their enemy has stopped its advance; that it has loosened its torturous grip on those very brothers whose superficial judgement he so fears?

Yes, there is danger in picking up a sword. There is danger and a right kind of fear associated with taking arms. But in the middle of a war, it is the height of effeminate indecency to fear the sword more than the advancing enemy. There are many potential dangers to intellectual rigor, but the gravest danger of all is to allow those lesser dangers to keep your from it.

The Cowardice of False Humility

Do you fear that your knowledge will 'puff you up' and make you arrogant? Then, learn how to not be an arrogant fool! Perhaps the only reason that a little bit of knowledge tends to puff you up is because you are only taking in a little bit of knowledge. Perhaps you only see five feet in front of you on the battle field, where your brothers lie wounded on the ground and all you can see is their wounds, compared to your lack of wounds. Maybe looking up (i.e. thinking harder and deeper) in order to see further down the battle field, where your stronger brothers are valiantly riding against the enemy will humble you a bit. Perhaps climbing an intellectual mountain, in order to see the whole scope of the war, will help you to forget about your petty arrogant self so that you can focus on the more important things. There are a million things you could think of and learn about to cure you of your arrogance, but there is one thing that sure as hell is not going to help: sitting on the battlefield, closing your eyes, and saying "I must not be arrogant, I must not be arrogant" as people are slaughtered all around you.

Do you fear that you will make a mistake? Then, focus more, try harder, and get over your weakness! This isn't about you and your ability to handle ideas perfectly. The battlefield is not a pageant, and swordsmanship is not a show. No one is sitting on the sidelines, taking notes on your form. If they are, slay them! -- they deserve it. And if you are one of those side-line judges, passively critiquing aspiring intellectual soldiers on non-essentials, rather than helping them in the battle in every way you can, watch out! The Lord of the battle will not deal pleasantly with those who scoff at His soldiers over frivolities in the face of war.

Whatever your fear of ideas and intellectual rigor may be, there is no excuse for not overcoming those fears for the sake of what is at stake in the battle of ideas. I do not say: don't be afraid of making mistakes, but rather: become an expert, so you make fewer mistakes! Your fallibility is not an excuse to stick your head in the sand and give up.

"Do not say that you're afraid to trust your mind because you know so little. Are you safer in surrendering to mystics and discarding the little that you know? Live and act within the limit of your knowledge and keep expanding it to the limit of your life. Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority. Accept the fact that you are not omniscient, but playing a zombie will not give you omniscience—that your mind is fallible, but becoming mindless will not make you infallible—that an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error." -Ayn Rand

Permission Is Not Enough

"But", you might object, "there are lots of Christian leaders who decry anti-intellectualism and encourage people to use their minds -- who are you arguing against?". Yes, there are good Christian leaders who - almost reluctantly - confess that anti-intellectualism is a bad thing and that the mind is a good thing, but that is about as close as these supposed generals get to picking up their swords and doing any real battle. Look at the literature and works of those leaders within Evangelicalism who speak out the most about the necessity of the intellect and observe that even among these, you will find 90% warnings about the dangers of the intellect with 10% mild and vague approval of using one's intellect. In other words, our most courageous generals in the battle are riddled with fear to the point that the most they can offer -- beyond warning of the dangers of picking up the sword -- is to grant you approval for doing so.

But it is not mere permission which is needed, today. Fear-laden generals who pay lip-service to battle are of very little good to the soldiers who need leaders that will actually fight -- and fight well. We need leaders who are so over the fears associated with intellectual rigor that they are experts in the war of ideas. We need generals (and soldiers), who are not only over the fear of picking up the sword, but who have mastered it in such a way that it is now an extension of their own body (like it actually was from the very beginning -- as noted above).

The Kind of Serious Soldiers We Need

This means: the ability to speak critically about a dangerous idea without the need to speak about one's own humility before, during, and after such criticism. It means analyzing major ideas and ideologies for coherence, validity, and value (1 Cor 2:15). It means questioning obscure language to discover any hidden premises or poisonous assumptions being smuggled into innocent peoples' minds. It means relentlessly taking ideas to their logical conclusions in order to track and project the inevitable trajectory of any given idea -- whether true or false. It means discovering the proper criteria for deciding whether an idea is true or false. It means discovering the proper hierarchy of ideas in order to know which types of ideas are foundational (and therefore determinative) for other types of ideas. In other words, it means taking ideas seriously; which means taking reality seriously.

Anything less is nothing more than cowardice. Do not say "at least it's humble". Obsessing over one's own humility in the face of such a battle is the anything but humble. Do not say that it's loving. Love does not stand by idly while one's beloved is poisoned, tortured, deceived, and destroyed. Do not say that it is not your 'gift' or your 'calling'. The extent to which you are involved in communicating or promoting ideas (i.e. the extent to which you are acting as a human being) is the extent to which you are directly responsible for the content, value, and trajectory of those ideas you are communicating to others. It is time for Christians (and people in general) to stop making excuses, and get their butts onto the battlefield -- where the enemy has been (and will continue to be) happy to rage as long and as violently as he is allowed.

Related Posts & Pages:

-The Christian Intellectual 

- Epistemology

- The "Christian" Fairytale

- There is No Such Thing as Scripture "Apart" From Philosophy

- Athens & Jerusalem: General and Specific Revelation

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The debate between Objectivist philosopher, Andrew Bernstein, and Christian Apologist, Dinesh D’Souza, which was hosted by The Objective Standard and The University of Texas Objectivism Society, held at the University of Texas in Austin on February 8th, was indeed a historical event. It was the first (and hopefully not the last) time that a major intellectual in Objectivism went toe-to-toe with an influential figure in Christianity. As the first of what is hopefully to be many such encounters, this event proved to unearth some important issues which must be addressed by both sides if either wishes to move forward in “being good for mankind”.

The Wrong Topic

That was the topic of the debate: “Christianity, Good or Bad for Mankind?” The discerning reader will notice right off the bat that such a topic is logically premature. You cannot have a reasonable debate over the morality of a worldview without first establishing the reality of that worldview. In other words, you cannot legitimately discuss whether Christianity is good without first discussing whether it is true. Morality comes from reality – and never the other way around. If Christianity is true, it will be good - and if it is false, it will be bad. As I’ve said before, “If Christianity is false, then it should be wiped from the face of the earth. If it is true, then it should be spread over the face of the earth. Such is the nature of ideas. They are either false and evil or true and glorious. There is no in-between.”

It is no wonder, then, that while the two debaters did cite some historical and modern statistics about relatively “good” or “bad” things which have been associated with Christianity, they spent a larger amount of time debating the truthfulness or rationality of Christianity. Such a topic would have been more appropriate for the debate to begin with, but in spite of the poorly chosen topic, they did get around – rather quickly – to the more fundamental issues. And it is those fundamental issues which I wish to cover in this review, because those are the essential issues which must be properly grasped by both sides if either wishes to be any good for mankind.

The Right Topic

In his opening statement, Dr. Bernstein touched on one of the most (if not the most) essential issues of the entire debate; and in doing so, issued a solemn indictment against - and warning to - modern Christianity. The issue, though not explicitly named by him at the time, was that of epistemology (truth criteria). The indictment: modern Christianity has no objective truth criteria. The warning: in such a void, anything goes. To the extent that modern Christians base their Christianity (or anything else for that matter) in “faith” rather than reason, they declare that there are no objective standards for determining truth. And if there are no objective standards for truth, there can be no objective standards for morality. And if there are no objective standards for morality, then anything goes. Such is the inevitable conclusion of faith-based “knowledge”.

Bernstein, therefore, is absolutely correct when he says that such conceptions of Christianity “set the stage” for all kinds of evil in the Twentieth Century, by promoting the irrationality of subjectivism – of holding to ideas, not by reason, but by “faith”; not because of the ideas’ connections to reality, but because of one’s mere desire for the ideas to be true. A worldview (whether Christian or other) which holds anything other than reason as the standard for belief, is a worldview begging to be consumed by irrationality; by corruption; by evil. When there is no objective (i.e. reasonable) standard for truth, there is no reason to condone one action, or to condemn another. A priest may say he’s been called by God to donate to a charity, or he may say that he’s been called by God to slaughter children. If “faith” is the only connection to God (i.e. the only way to know anything about Him), then the priest’s “faith” in the calling to charity, and his “faith” in the calling to homicide are equally unquestionable to the outside observer. You may claim to know that God is against such homicide, but if that claim is founded in nothing but your own personal “faith” (and faith is necessarily a personal – subjective – experience), then it’s your “faith” against his. And he’s a priest. You lose. There cannot be objective morality without objective epistemology – i.e. without objective truth criteria.

As epistemology goes, so goes morality. And that is the fundamental issue in this debate – and the fundamental issue which both Christians and Objectivists must focus on. Bernstein did a fantastic job pointing this out and thus challenging the audience to examine the errors in modern Christian epistemology, but he shouldn’t have stopped there. Bernstein, and Objectivists in general, would do well to check their own epistemological premises to ensure that they, themselves, are not likewise setting a similar stage for all kinds of irrationality and evil in future generations – I would argue that they are. More on that later, though. First, let us examine D’Souza’s presentation of his epistemology, identify the errors, and correct them accordingly.

D'Souza's (and the Modern Christian's) Blunders

We get an early glimpse of D’Souza’s epistemology in his opening statement when he describes faith as that which “goes where reason cannot”. To illustrate, he talks about the speed of light. We can measure the speed of light here and now, but we cannot measure the speed of light in the past or in distant galaxies. Therefore, the assumption that the speed of light is the same at all times and at all places cannot be based in reason. If we are going to believe that, D’Souza insists, we must believe it “by faith”. Notice quickly that D’Souza equates “reason” here with empirical observation or measurement. Whenever D’Souza speaks of reason, he means that which is empirically verified – and when he speaks of that which is not empirically verified, he calls it “faith”. Keep that in mind – it will be essential to understanding his epistemology.

Now, skip ahead to his second speaking session where he clarifies for us what he considers to be the distinction between knowledge and belief. “Knowledge” he says, “means you know. Belief means you don’t know, but you believe”. While these descriptions are circular on paper, their intended meaning is obvious in the context in which D’Souza brings them up. What he means is that knowledge is strictly that which can or has been empirically verified, and belief is in regard to everything which cannot be empirically verified. So, empirical observation (“reason” for D’Souza) gives us knowledge. Non-empirical ideas (“faith” for D’Souza) give us beliefs. The conclusion, therefore, is that no one can know anything about that which is not empirically verified. That is why D’Souza astonishingly says the following:

“Now we are in a university setting so we can stop talking nonsense, and ask the question ‘do we know for a fact that God exists or doesn’t exist on the basis of reason?’ I would concede we do not know…I call myself a believer because I am not a knower… I think we have to admit, if we are honest, that we have no answers to the most fundamental questions of existence.”

And now, we have come to the atrocious end of D’Souza’s epistemology. “To claim to know for a fact that God exists”, D’Souza (the theist!) declares, “is nonsense” – the type of nonsense which is not fit for a university setting. The rest of the quote is even worse, but focus in on the implications of that one part for a moment. D’Souza, here, condemns all theists (and therefore all Christians) to irrationality and nonsense – to the extent that they actually believe that what they believe is true. If a theist, like myself, claims to know for a fact that God exists (and I do), he is condemned by D’Souza as nonsensical – because knowledge only pertains to the empirically verified, and you can’t empirically verify God; which means that you can’t know that God exists; which means that if you believe that God exists, it must be apart from reason; which means that belief in God is no more significant than belief in a fairy-tale. Revealingly, D’Souza later confirms the fairy-tale nature of his beliefs when he attempts to justify Christianity to the audience, not on the grounds of its basis in reality, or its objective big-picture context good for Mankind, but on the grounds of the subjective, personal benefits which he derives from believing that it is true.

So, D’Souza, when taking his epistemology seriously, reduces Christianity to a “feel-good fairytale” or a moralistic fable – at best. But he doesn’t stop there. He not only denies the possibility of knowledge regarding the existence of God, but he also denies (as his epistemology requires him to) the possibility of knowledge regarding “most fundamental questions of existence” – which is no surprise. After all, the fundamental questions of existence cannot be empirically verified. But while we’re speaking of that which can’t be empirically verified, there’s one assumption which seems to have slipped through the cracks – the very assumption upon which his epistemology rests.

D’Souza’s epistemology states, in effect, that “You cannot know that an idea is true if that idea cannot be empirically verified”. But, that is an idea. It is an idea which D’Souza assumes to be true. And it is an idea which cannot be empirically verified. You cannot empirically observe “all truth being empirically observable”. This is the fundamental problem of empiricism. D’Souza adopted empiricism, which denies knowledge regarding the non-empirical, and then he simply said “that’s ok, because we’ve got faith for everything else”. Apparently he missed the memo about empiricism being inherently self-contradictory, and therefore fundamentally destructive as an epistemology.

Bernstein's (and the Objectivist's) Blunders

But D’Souza isn’t the only one who seems to have missed the memo. Bernstein dabbles in his own form of empiricism – the Objectivist form of it. No, Bernstein doesn’t go as far as D’Souza, claiming that knowledge only pertains to the empirically verified – Rand taught him better than that. Instead, he would likely claim – along with other Objectivist intellectuals – that all knowledge is based in the empirically verified (in perception). How does this resemble the empiricism of D’Souza? Well, before we dive into the similarities, it will be helpful to first note the important differences.

To be fair, Bernstein’s Objectivist empiricism is far less immediately destructive than D’Souza’s faith-based one. Whereas D’Souza outright denies the possibility of any knowledge outside of the empirical, Bernstein – as a subscriber to Objectivist epistemology – would at least allow some. He would cite the process of abstraction as that which allows some knowledge of the non-empirical: that we can abstract certain qualities from perception in order to discover universal laws which apply to that which has not been perceived. The most fundamental of these is logic: A is A; Contradictions don’t and can’t exist. This is a principle which Bernstein holds as a universal – a law which applies to everything – rather than strictly pertaining to the empirically observed. So, unlike D’Souza, Bernstein does allow knowledge of the non-empirical, but he is very selective about that which he allows and that which he does not. This is common among Objectivists, and it is due to a flaw in their epistemology to be explored a little later. But first, let’s look at some examples of Bernstein’s epistemological inconsistency as we analyze his major arguments against the existence of God.

There are three main arguments which Bernstein submits against theism. The first is on sound epistemological ground – it rightly allows and employs knowledge regarding the non-empirical – while the other two effectively revert back to D’Souza’s fundamental epistemology: that knowledge of the non-empirical in “nonsense”. Bernstein’s first argument against the existence of God is based in what he believes to be a violation of axiomatic truths on the part of theists. He states that existence exists; that existence is not, and cannot, ultimately be a product of consciousness; that existence holds a logical primacy over consciousness, because to be conscious means to be conscious of something – something which exists. In all of this he is absolutely correct. And notice, in this argument, that he is (rightly) claiming knowledge of the non-empirical: that these axiomatic truths apply to everything – even things which have not been perceived; which means that they must also apply to God. His epistemology and reasoning are absolutely accurate here. So what’s the problem? Recall his application of this reasoning to theism: God, he states, is a consciousness which precedes existence; a consciousness which could not be conscious of anything because nothing existed for it to be conscious of. God is a consciousness which is conscious of nothing but its own consciousness. This is plainly a contradiction, and therefore such a God could not exist. Case closed. Right? Wrong. There’s a flaw in this argument, but it isn’t a flaw in his epistemology; in his reasoning – it’s a flaw in his conception of theism.

Theism claims that God exists – and that He is conscious. Note the difference. God is not a “consciousness”. He is an existent which is conscious. Conscious of what? Of His own existence. God exists, and He is conscious of His own existence. This argument from Bernstein (and Objectivists in general) is nothing more than a straw-man which attempts to redefine the metaphysical nature of God into an inherent contradiction, and then impose that contradiction onto the position of the theist. It’s disappointing too, because as stated above, this is his only argument on sound epistemological ground. The other two fall very quickly because they share the same empiricism as that of D’Souza.

Bernstein’s last two arguments are very simple in nature. One states that the idea of consciousness without a body has no basis in evidence; that all of our knowledge of consciousness involves beings with physical bodies – and since God does not have a physical body, the idea that He could be conscious is completely unfounded. The other states that creation ex nihilo (from nothing) likewise has no basis in evidence; that all of our knowledge of creation involves a re-fashioning of already existent material – and therefore the idea of God creating everything out of nothing is also completely unfounded. Notice the similar reasoning between these two arguments. When boiled down to their essence, they both basically say “We’ve never experienced that, so it can’t be true”. This is where Bernstein’s Objectivist empiricism enters the picture. In his first argument, Bernstein correctly reasons that we can have certain knowledge about that which we have not experienced (via logical or axiomatic reasoning), but here in these two arguments, he assumes that something which is outside of our realm of experience is necessarily impossible. This is a selective sort of empiricism which the Objectivist only applies as it suits him.

Ironically, D’Souza, the avowed empiricist, calls Bernstein out on his form of empiricism here by noting that according to Bernstein’s reasoning, we “knew” with certainty in the 5th Century B.C. that no other stars or planets existed which could not be seen with the naked eye. This is a great demonstration of the problem in Bernstein’s Objectivist empiricism – unfortunately D’Souza’s faith-based empiricism is no better. Neither can legitimately and consistently justify knowledge of the non-empirical – of those facts which must be discovered through the use of logic. D’Souza reduces the application of logic to “faith” and consequently swings the door wide open for the logical and illogical at the same time – without any objective means of differentiating between the two. Bernstein (and Objectivists in general) allows the use of logic for non-empirical knowledge out of one side of his mouth when it suits him, but forbids it out of the other when it doesn’t – with no objective means of differentiating between when the use of logic is appropriate and when it is not.

To be fair, Bernstein, as an Objectivist, would likely cite some vague generalities about the use of logic being connected to, or based in, perception – but nowhere in Objectivist epistemology will you find clearly stated, objective clarification on what this “connection to perception” means, and does not mean; nowhere will you find clearly stated and objective rules regarding the use of logic which do not automatically contradict themselves - thus rendering the line between “proper” and “improper” use of logic completely arbitrary and subjective. Just as D’Souza’s form of empiricism relegates non-empirical truth to subjective whim via faith, Bernstein’s empiricism relegates non-empirical truth to subjective whim via inconsistent and un-stated criteria. Neither can provide an objective foundation for non-empirical truth.

Such is the fundamental problem which must be addressed, and remedied, by both parties: Christian and Objectivist alike. Both desperately need to recover a proper and rational epistemology – an epistemology which neither reduces logic to faith, nor vaguely obscures the necessary distinctions between its proper and improper applications. Both need to retrace their epistemological premises, and follow those premises to their logical conclusions in order to see the irrationality of them. Then, both need to discover and adopt objective, rational, epistemological foundations upon which to build an objective and rational worldview – which takes the entire world (all of reality) into account. Such epistemological foundations are possible – and they do demand the existence of God, but not just any God. They demand a God much like the one described in “Bernstein’s Wager.”

Bernstein's Wager

If God exists, Bernstein argues, He would value rationality, since He created man as a rational being. And since God would value rationality, only those who were completely rational would receive His blessing and be brought into Heaven. This is truer than Bernstein could imagine. Only, more than simply valuing rationality because of creating rational beings, God values rationality because He is supremely rational, Himself. He is not capable of irrationality, and therefore He has the highest standards of rationality for man. Now, if this supremely rational God exists, how does Bernstein imagine He would feel about men who claimed to be rational, while employing contradictory and evasive epistemologies? How would He feel about metaphysical moochers who assume His eternal attributes (logic, good, reason) when it suits them, but deny them when they do not? How would this supremely rational God feel about men who claimed to value truth regarding every other aspect of reality, but not regarding His existence and nature – which are foundational to the rest of reality? Yes, God is supremely rational and expects nothing less than supreme and consistent rationality from man. Therefore evasive reasoning, inconsistent epistemologies, subjective emphases and insincere claims about valuing the truth will not cut it in His court.

And that is what ultimately needs to be taken into account regarding what is good for Mankind. The Objectivist is right that what is rational will ultimately be good for Mankind – but the selective rationality of Objectivism will not cut it. What man needs (because of his nature and because of the nature of the God who created him) is absolute, consistent, objective, all-encompassing, relentless, and passionate rationality. D’Souza’s got the God-part (partially) right, but the importance and nature of reason atrociously wrong. Bernstein’s got the reason-part (partially) right, but the existence and nature of God atrociously wrong. Therefore, neither advocates a worldview which is actually and consistently good for Mankind. There needs to be a rational synthesis of the two, which integrates the good of each, while rejecting the irrationality of each; which embraces the supposed dedication to reason by Objectivists, while rejecting the subjective restrictions they place on reason; which embraces the rational theism of Christianity, while rejecting the modern irrationality of “faith-based” reasoning. It is such a synthesis which the reader will find progressively presented by The Christian Egoist.

Related Resources

For a proper understanding of faith and its relation to reason, see Faith: The Fruit of Reason

For more on Epistemology, see The Christian Egoist's page on Epistemology

For an argument for the existence of God founded in a rational epistemology, see God: The Immovable Mover

For a full presentation of this integrated worldview, be on the look-out for my book in the works, The Galt-Like God: Meditations of a Christian Egoist

And for more on proper epistemological principles, and details of an integrated and rational morality, stay tuned by subscribing to the blog and liking The Christian Egoist on Facebook.

8 Comments

charity


It is not contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself, or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness. If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man's love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity. . . That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being. The saints love their own happiness. Yea, those that are perfect in happiness, the saints and angels in heaven, love their own happiness; otherwise that happiness which God hath given them would be no happiness to them.

-On Charity and It’s Fruits, by Jonathan Edwards

Yes, that came from Jonathan Edwards - the 'puritanical' man with a wig. You may be surprised to learn that he, and other puritans, had a lot more in common with joy-filled philosophers like Ayn Rand than both the modern Church and the modern school system would have you believe.

The quote he has provided above is an excellent description of true egoism - not the twisted cultural projections of blood-thirsty beasts, or of self-absorbed vanity queens, or of narcissistic idiots who can’t see past a mirror. Those are all fine distractions, employed to stoke your hate for the real thing. And the real thing – the real egoism – is simply this:

“that a man should love himself, or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness”

So Christians, you think that Christianity is opposed to man ultimately ‘loving himself’ and ‘loving his own happiness’? Well, Jonathan Edwards (for one) disagrees with you. In fact, not only does he disagree with you, but he implicitly condemns you as a destroyer of mankind.

If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man's love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity. . . That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being.”

But isn’t that the great aim of modern Church culture - to destroy man’s love for himself? Isn’t that the supposed great and mighty sin against which Christians of all denominational stripes can unite – that men love themselves and seek their own happiness? Isn’t this warred against as the very essence of evil in almost all Christian ministries? Yes – and they are dead wrong.

to destroy man’s love to himself, and to his own happiness” is “to destroy the very spirit of humanity”. And to “destroy the very spirit of humanity” is to destroy the very image of the One in whom humanity is made. An assault against the essence of Man is an assault against the essence of God (Gen.9:6b). The attempt of altruism, to destroy Man’s love for himself and his own happiness, is the attempt to destroy his very being, because Man's value for himself and love for his own happiness is inextricably tied to his very being. Ayn Rand parallels Edwards on this point very eloquently:

The doctrine that concern with one’s own interests is evil means that man’s desire to live is evil – that man’s life, as such, is evil. No doctrine could be more evil than that.” – The Virtue of Selfishness

If the modern Church culture aims to destroy Man’s love for himself, his love for his own happiness, and his concern with his own interests, then modern Church culture aims to destroy the very life and essence of Mankind – which means that the modern Church culture is either wickedly confused or wickedly malevolent; but wicked, nonetheless.

It is likely that they are wickedly confused – confused because they see the Bible saying things like “if anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt.16:24), and because of their militant anti-intellectualism and self-appointed bondage to defunct philosophies, they are entirely (and willfully) incapable of integrating that with other verses like “satisfy yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps.37:4). They are incapable of such integrations because, like Man’s life, they have dismissed as evil the very tool of such integrations: Man’s mind.

Make no mistake. The altruistic aims of the modern Church are evil to the core, and if the Church is to ever get off of its monumentally evil war-path against the essence of Man as created by God, it will need to take up the responsibility of thinking –thinking through the dilemmas of seemingly contradictory truths in order to discover a rational integration.

It is true that Man ought to love himself and his own happiness (Edwards, above ; Mt 12:31, Eph.5:29)

And

It is true that, in order to follow Christ, Man must deny himself and pick up his cross (Mt.16:24).

Both are true. Its your job , Christian, to figure it out.

 

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.” - Ayn Rand

5 Comments

The Straw-Man series is meant to concisely and clearly present common straw-men used in arguments against a true Christian worldview and to properly dismantle them. A straw-man may be concocted purposefully for the purposes of deception, or assumed accidentally by virtue of a genuine misunderstanding, but the result is always the same: a distorted argument which overwhelmingly misses the point and therefore requires correction.

SUPER-NATURE

The Straw-Man: “Super-nature is the existence of something that is above or beyond existence”

The Real-Man: “Super-nature is the existence of something that is above or beyond physical existence.”

The Objectivist does not believe in ‘Super-nature’ because, as he argues, nature is all that exists. Therefore, if something is ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ nature, then it is above or beyond existence – meaning that it does not exist.

Such reasoning, in itself, is absolutely accurate. If something is ‘above or beyond’ existence, then that thing does not exist. The problem is that the ‘nature’ in ‘Super-nature’ is not synonymous with ‘existence’, and no rational advocate of Super-nature has ever suggested otherwise. Rather, the nature in ‘Super-nature’ refers to the physical world –to physical existence.  The claim of philosophical Super-naturalism is not that “something beyond existence exists”, but that “something beyond the physical universe exists”. And this is quite different from the straw man that Objectivists so passively attack.

At this point, the Objectivist will likely claim that such a concept : ‘non-physical existence’ is “arbitrary” or a “floating abstraction”, having no basis in reality. This is because Objectivist epistemology reduced ‘reality’ down to perceived reality. But, such a reduction is, itself, “arbitrary” by their own definition. All of that, though, is to be covered in future posts (stay tuned!). The purpose here is only to show that the concept of Super-nature does not contain the inherent contradiction that most Objectivists eagerly assume it does. If the concept of Super-nature is to be refuted by Objectivists, it must be done on some other grounds than the straw-man presented above.

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