Tag Archives: philosophy

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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

ATHENSVJERUSALEM

"What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"

-Tertullian

In its modern usage, this quote means: "What does Philosophy have to do with Scripture?" "What does reason have to do with Christianity?" "What does objective reality have to do with God and His people?" The answer:... Everything.

Why the Dichotomy?

What is it that makes Christians think that there is some sort of necessary dichotomy between these things? If objective reality has nothing to do with God, then God is not objectively real. If reason (i.e. truth) has nothing to do with Christianity, then Christianity is not true. If Philosophy (i.e. foundational ideas about reality) has nothing to do with Scripture, then Scripture has nothing to do with reality. If Athens has nothing to do with Jerusalem, then Jerusalem is just a Middle-Eastern version of the North Pole.

If you really want to know why so many force such a dichotomy, you need only to listen to their repetitive bromides: "You can't build a ladder of reason to God", "We shouldn't attempt autonomous reason, independent from God", "We should follow God's Word, not 'Greek speculative thinking'", etc... All of this assumes that reason or knowledge which does not come from Scripture is necessarily not knowledge revealed by God; that the attempt to obtain any knowledge about God outside of Scripture is the attempt to "autonomously" reason our way to God; that 'secular' knowledge (knowledge discovered by non-Christians, like in Athens -- or discovered outside of Scripture) is second-class truth, at best - and "mere speculation" at worst. But where does this assumption -- that God's revelation of Himself, and knowledge about Him, is exclusively contained in Scripture -- come from? Certainly not the Bible!

"because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

-Romans 1:19-20

Notice first, where this knowledge about God outside of Scripture is coming from: it is coming from God. "He made it evident to them".

"The heavens declare the glory of God; and their expanse is telling of the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words where their voice is not heard. Their sound has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world"

-Psalm 19:1-4

Who created the heavens and causes them to do all of this proclaiming, speech, and revelation? Not man, God.

So, this "autonomous reason"; this knowledge of God outside of Scripture; where is it coming from: from God or from man? The verses above make the answer crystal clear: God is revealing Himself outside of Scripture -- which means that this knowledge outside of Scripture is also revelation. It is what theologians refer to as "General Revelation".

General and Specific Revelation

General Revelation refers to any true knowledge of God outside of Scripture, and Specific Revelation refers to true knowledge of God which is contained in Scripture. General Revelation is general, primarily in respect to its audience (everyone) and its content (knowledge about God's existence, essence and attributes). Specific Revelation is likewise specific, primarily in respect to its audience (the Church) and its content (many particular details about God's relationship to His people and His dealings with the world). Notice that both are revelation.

 At this point, the insecure Christian may concede that both are revelation, but he is hasty to insist that, in the event of any disagreement between the two, Scripture (or Specific Revelation) should always be given the priority over Philosophy (or General Revelation), "because it is more clear", he might say.

But I would suggest that there is a fundamental confusion in this mind-set which must be dealt with, and it has to do with a failure to distinguish between the object and the subject. "Disagreement between the two" -- two what? Disagreement between God's various means of revealing Himself (the object)? OR, disagreement between someone's particular understanding (subject) of what God has revealed in the two?

You had better not mean the former - that would imply that God is contradicting Himself in His revelation. If you mean the latter, then the question should not be "whose opinion should we go with: the pastor or the philosopher?" -- that is wildly subjective and evil. The questions should be "which position (if either) is true -- and what mistakes have been made in the other position to give rise to this disagreement?"

The Pastor vs. The Philosopher

For example: If a pastor is quoting Hebrews and claiming that faith should replace reason, and a philosopher is explaining that faith cannot lead to truth - only reason can, your first instinct should not be to side with the pastor (or the philosopher, for that matter). Remember, God is revealing truth both in and out of Scripture -- and no one person is guaranteed to get it right, in either case! So, your first instinct, rather, should be to ask "which is objectively true?" [Now, to answer that, you will need to have a pretty good idea of what truth is, and how to identify it (i.e. epistemology) - but that is a separate topic.] Once you've determined which is objectively true (in this case, the philosopher), then you can move on to question what mistake the pastor might have made which brought him to his error. [For the answer on what mistake the pastor has made regarding faith in this instance, see my post: Faith: The Fruit of Reason]

The point is that the object, God's revelation of Himself (no matter the form) is not the same as the subject's understanding of that revelation. Therefore, we should permit no disagreement between the different forms of God's revelation, because God does not contradict Himself. If we think there is a disagreement, the problem is with us, and our current understanding of it -- not with God and either of His forms of revelation.

One Final Point

There is much else which needs to be said on this topic (including an explanation of how both forms of revelation hold different sorts of priority over each other), but that will have to wait. However, there is one thing which must be grasped from the above.

The Christian (and particularly the Pastor and the Theologian) is concerned with knowing all of God's truth accurately, and glorifying Him to the max with all that He is revealing about Himself. Therefore, though there can be many non-Christian philosophers, there should not be many (if any) non-philosophic Christians. The degree to which a Christian is dealing with and spreading ideas about God is the degree to which he must be dedicated to accurately understanding all of the ideas being revealed about God, in both forms of revelation. How will one exult in the glory of God as revealed in Scripture if he is not convinced that God exists outside of Scripture? How will one trust a particular promise of God in Scripture without being convinced of the absolute impossibility of God to contradict Himself outside of Scripture? How can the God of Scripture be fully enjoyed apart from a full understanding of His "invisible attributes, eternal power, and His divine nature" as revealed certainly outside of Scripture? How can Jerusalem (the Church) enjoy and glorify God in everything, if they exclude Athens (the rest of reality) from that enjoyment and that glory?

Related Posts & Pages

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

The "Christian" Fairytale

Epistemology

The Christian Intellectual

 

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The-Atlas-Statue-At-Rockefeller-Center

The "Objectivist Observer Blog" on Facebook recently asked people to share their thoughts on God. The following is my response. It is also a very abridged sneak-peak at the content and theme of my book in progress:

The Galt-Like God: Meditations of a Christian Egoist

My Thoughts on God?

I think God is that “glaringly evident truth which everyone has decided not to see” – and that’s why He’s seemingly so “hard to explain”.  –Romans 1:19-21
I think His face was the one for which Ayn Rand pined as she conceptualized the heroic being.  Acts 17:27

I think He is the Ultimate Egoist, doing absolutely all that He does for the sake of enjoying His own greatness.  – Psalm 115:3

I think He is the ultimate creative Producer – who is in need of absolutely nothing; who owes nothing to anyone; and upon whom everything and everyone else is utterly dependent for everything, whether they wish to recognize it or not –Acts 17:24-25

I think He is terrifyingly patient, allowing billions of metaphysical parasites to blather on in childish arrogant rebellion about His “non-existence”, His “impotence”, and His “irrationality” as they mooch off of Him with every second, every breath, every thought, every word, and every step –Romans 9:22

I think His intransigent justice demands that all irrationality which defames and devalues the most valuable things in reality (particularly, Himself and His attributes); all rebellion against truth and against reality; all evil be condemned under His just wrath. –Romans 1:18

I think His surpassing pleasure in Himself overflowed in the desire to save some from His just wrath in order to put more of His greatness on display – Isaiah 48:9-11

I think in His marvelous and creative wisdom, He designed a plan to execute salvation for some of those rebellious parasites in a way that compliments, rather than contradicts, His intransigent justice (“righteousness”) ; providing a substitute capable of absorbing the just wrath which is due to each of them – Romans 3: 21-26

I think He will not extend patience forever, but that when He has accomplished all of His good pleasure in this historical drama of rebellion and redemption, He will fully, finally, and decisively put a swift end to all rebellion and irrationality, settling all accounts, and executing His divine justice against all stubborn rebels – simultaneously being exulted in by all who have laid down their arms in happy and rational surrender to the One whom they now solemnly revere. – 2 Thessalonians: 9-10

For a brief, but succinct, explanation of what I mean when I say that the existence of God is glaringly evident, see this post. 

For Objectivists who do not wish to be evasive by using straw-men, please see these posts.

And for corrections to a whole host of epistemological assumptions, see these posts

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In my last post, I spoke of an epistemological category called “Logical Necessity”, and suggested that it being missed or downplayed in philosophical circles has led to the downfall of many epistemological systems. As a quick refresher, epistemology is the branch of philosophy which studies truth criteria; it aims to study the nature of truth and to identify the proper criteria for judging particular ideas as either true or false. In a way, epistemology is thinking about your thinking; analyzing your process of analysis - to be sure that your analysis is as accurate as possible.

Think about that for just a moment: Any method of analysis must, itself, be accurate. If you attempt to use a faulty method of analysis, the conclusions of your analysis will always be skewed. Epistemology is the most general method of analysis; it analyzes, shapes and defines every other method of analysis (science, history, morality, etc..) because it analyzes and identifies the nature of the thing which all of those others depend upon: truth. Notice, though, that epistemology is, itself, a method of analysis -- in fact, it is the method of analysis. Imagine the ideological (and therefore practical) destruction which might ensue if one’s epistemological principles were not accurate. Nothing else in one’s thought world (and therefore in one’s life) could be certain, accurate, or fully in tune with objective reality. Hopefully you are not only beginning to see the significance of epistemology, but also the grave importance of ensuring that you have an accurate epistemology - an accurate method of defining and identifying truth.

And that is where epistemology must be turned in on itself, so to speak. One’s epistemological principles must, themselves, be analyzed for accuracy. How is an epistemological principle determined to be accurate or not? We will begin to touch on that in the next post, however in this post, I want to point out what should be obvious: that one’s epistemological principles ought to at least stand up to their own criteria. I want to encourage everyone to get into the habit of testing epistemological principles by first asking “does that principle at least stand up to its own standards? If we apply that standard to to the principle, itself, does it stand or fall?” If an epistemological principle cannot even stand up to its own demands, then how on earth could it possibly be used accurately as a standard for all other truth? The answer: it can’t. Going through this simple process will automatically eliminate a whole host of epistemological errors and free you from years of unnecessary confusion.

Why do I bring this up in talking about logical necessity? Because every epistemological system which attempts to deny logical necessity fails to stand up to its own professed criteria. Here are a few examples:

1) “Only that which is falsifiable can be considered true”. Is that proposition falsifiable? Can you falsify the idea that all truth is falsifiable?

2) “Only that which is empirically observable can be considered true.” Is that proposition empirically observable? Can you empirically observe all truth being empirically observable?

3) “Only that which is reducible to perception can be considered true.” Is that proposition reducible to perception? Can you reduce “all truth being reducible to perception” to perception?

Notice the important qualifiers in each of these: they are claiming to apply to all ideas  or to all truth (which means that they must obviously apply to themselves as well). If one wished to say “some truth is falsifiable”, or “those things which are empirically observable can be considered true”, or “most truth is reducible to perception”, then there would be no inherent contradiction, and one could use further means of establishing the accuracy of these principles. But as it is, all of them fall immediately under the weight of their own demands - and are therefore unfit principles for universally judging all other ideas.

Ironically, though, these self-contradicting principles reign supremely in most of what is considered to be the “rational” and “academic” circles of our day. You will find very few legitimate intellectual institutions today which do not operate primarily off of one (or more) of the above epistemological assumptions (or some variant thereof)  - totally ignorant of the fact that their entire worldview is founded on a glaring contradiction.

How did principles which appear to be so obviously contradictory become so popularly championed among apparent intellectual authorities? Well, charitably, a lot of it is likely oversight: many just don’t think to ask such obvious questions, like “does this supposed all-encompassing principle meet its own standards?”. But that amount of charity cannot be extended to all. There are many who should have (and likely did) know to ask such questions, but refused to - for fear that some very uncomfortable ideas might be let into the room. Ideas like theism. And ultimately, you will find that the dogmatic insistence with which many so stubbornly hold to such epistemological principles (one’s which discard or deny logical necessity) is rooted in a deep-seated desperation to ban any form of theism as inherently irrational. In other words, many of today’s supposed champions of rationality are often consumed and driven by the very emotional (i.e. non-rational) need for reality to be God-less. They know (even if subconsciously) that to allow for logical necessity is to allow for theism - and that, above all, must be avoided.
Stay tuned for a reasoned defense of logical necessity.

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philosophy-who-needs-it-ayn-rand-paperback-cover-art

...Because there is no such thing as Scripture apart from reality.

“Keep philosophy out of Scripture. Scripture is the authoritative Word of God - philosophy is just the opinions of man. Just tell me what the Bible says - apart from Greek speculative categories”.

If you're a Christian in today's world - or if you've had any significant conversation with Christians in today's world - you may recognize some of that sort of language. To the modern Christian, it's the epitome of piety. To the Objectivist,  it's  the beginnings of a mystical fairy tale -- and the Objectivist is right.

The modern Christian's anti-philosophical demands are horribly wrong-headed, and based upon a number of defunct philosophical assumptions. But, this is just a single blog post, so we can't get into all of that here. All of the details and inevitable objections regarding this issue could fill an entire book - and may well some day! 😉 But for now, I simply give you a brief breakdown of what Scripture and philosophy actually are, in order to better understand how they should properly relate to each other.

What is Philosophy?

Philosophy is the study of the most fundamental aspects of reality - aspects which contain everything else in reality. I know that it is fashionable today to speak of philosophy in a very subjective manner, as though one’s philosophical beliefs are no different than their dessert preferences, but that is not what philosophy properly means, and that certainly is not what I mean. Philosophy is properly comprised of three fundamental categories: Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics. In layman’s terms, this means everything that exists - including the natures of those things which exist (Metaphysics), the nature of truth and how we can know it (Epistemology), and the nature morality (Ethics). In short, philosophy studies the most general aspects of all of reality. There is nothing in reality which falls outside of the realm of philosophy. To demand that something be “apart from philosophy” is to demand that it be apart from reality, reason, and morality - and if something is apart from those three, then it is against those three. Something “apart from philosophy” would be unreal, irrational, and immoral. Such is the end - whether intended or not - of the supposedly pious Christians above when they attempt to divorce Scripture from philosophy.

What is Scripture?

Scripture is communication from God with very specific details about reality, with a very specific overall message and purpose, given in the midst of very specific contexts, and with very specific theological aims. In the same way that Scripture deals with historical and scientific details, and yet it is not meant to be an exhaustive historical or scientific textbook - so also Scripture deals with many philosophical ideas and yet is not meant to be an exhaustive philosophical treatise. Scripture is not meant to be a substitute for all knowledge (whether historical, scientific, or philosophical), and therefore it is not necessary to set up an artificial dichotomy between Scripture and all other knowledge. Further, because Scripture deals with many historic, scientific, and philosophical concepts, it is absolutely detrimental to the study of Scripture for one not to properly study other general areas of knowledge in concert with Scripture, where relevant. And because, as explained above, philosophy is foundational to all major aspects of reality, the study of philosophy is always relevant to the study of Scripture -- if you believe that Scripture actually pertains to reality.

That is your choice, “pious” Christians: Scripture has nothing to do with reality or Scripture is to be studied in concert with philosophy (i.e. the study of general reality). One or the other.

Related Posts: 

The "Christian" Fairytale

Jesus Christ AND Ayn Rand?

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Balance

Ayn Rand railed, with eloquent precision, against many modern evils in the realms of morality and politics. She was able to pierce through the “moral grayness” of our culture in order to see the heart - the principle - behind any moral issue, and then dismantle it with fierce and articulate moral clarity. But she failed to do in the realm of epistemology what she so stringently demanded (and marvelously provided) in the realm of morality: to clearly state one’s principles. Just as in the realm of morality, when epistemological principles are left undefined, the result is a type  of grayness - an intellectual grayness, which is potentially far more destructive than it’s moral counterpart. Epistemology is, in a sense, the court of the intellect - and as such, it requires clearly defined and understood laws which must be adhered to consistently in order to guide one’s worldview into conformity with reality. When left undefined, epistemological principles decay into arbitrary, contradictory and subjective reactions such that the result is an intellectual climate which resembles the political-economic climate under the Anti-Trust Laws which were so adequately denounced by Ms. Rand in the following quote:

The Antitrust laws—an unenforceable, uncompliable, unjudicable mess of contradictions—have for decades kept American businessmen under a silent, growing reign of terror. Yet these laws were created and, to this day, are upheld by the “conservatives,” as a grim monument to their lack of political philosophy, of economic knowledge and of any concern with principles. Under the Antitrust laws, a man becomes a criminal from the moment he goes into business, no matter what he does. For instance, if he charges prices which some bureaucrats judge as too high, he can be prosecuted for monopoly or for a successful “intent to monopolize”; if he charges prices lower than those of his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “unfair competition” or “restraint of trade”; and if he charges the same prices as his competitors, he can be prosecuted for “collusion” or “conspiracy.” There is only one difference in the legal treatment accorded to a criminal or to a businessman: the criminal’s rights are protected much more securely and objectively than the businessman’s.

Similarly, The Anti-Truth laws - an inarticulable, unintelligible, uncompliable mess of contradictions - are the un-named epistemological “laws” by which Objectivists operate - not on their worldview, but on the worldview or positions presented by those with whom they disagree. Under these Anti-Truth laws, a position becomes irrational from the moment it is conceived, no matter what it’s foundations. For instance, if it uses logic to an extent which some objectivists judge too much, it is dismissed as rationalism; if it uses abstraction to an extent which some objectivists deem too high, it is smeared as a “floating abstraction”. There is only one difference between positions which are accepted by Objectivists and those which are rejected on these auspicious epistemological grounds: the conformity (or nonconformity) of the position to the Objectivist’s subjective whim.

For all of the Objectivist’s talk of cutting edge innovations in the realm of epistemology, they are remarkably incapable of explicitly articulating (and then consistently following) their epistemological laws - which is why it is more appropriate to place Miss Rand’s innovations regarding concept formation in the realm of cognitive science rather than in the realm of epistemology. As argued in a previous post, epistemology is primarily truth criteria - meaning that epistemology primarily requires clearly defined and consistently followed laws. Suspend the need to explicitly state your epistemological laws and you can play it deuces wild - which is exactly what many Objectivists do.

Test this though. Ask an Objectivist to clearly and explicitly state their epistemological laws. Then, before checking to see if the rest of their worldview adheres to the laws, first check to see that the laws adhere to themselves. You will find, particularly with the “laws” which they wish to impose on Christian arguments, that they do not.

Stay tuned for examples of such self-contradictory laws as well as my articulation of proper epistemological laws.

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Standard

Epistemology is simultaneously the most crucial aspect of Man’s thought, and the least understood. In contrast to Metaphysics and Ethics (the two other main branches of philosophy), Epistemology has received very little attention – and the little it has received has been deplorably less than sufficient. Needless to say, therefore, there is much work to be done in this field. Almost all errors in epistemological theory stem from one crucial mistake – a mistake in accurately identifying what Epistemology is.

Generally, the three branches of philosophy are presented in the following basic fashion:

Metaphysics is the study of reality. Epistemology is the study of how we know reality. And Ethics is the study of the proper implications of the first two upon the life of Man.

Now, focus in on the description of Epistemology and see if you notice a dangerous sort of ambiguity. When asking “How do you know?”, there are two very different questions you could be asking – and if you fail to distinguish between those two different questions (as almost all philosophers have), you will consequently fail to distinguish between the two different answers. You could be asking “How did you discover that?” or you could be asking “How does one know that it is true?” Granted, many times these two questions (and their respective answers) could be very closely related, but not always – and that is where the trouble comes in.

Let us break these questions down in order to see the importance of their differences. The first – ‘How did you discover that?’ – emphasizes the subject (‘you’, in particular), and the subject’s experience (discovery). The second – ‘How does one know that it is true?’ – emphasizes the object (‘it’ – whatever it may be) in relation to all subjects in general (‘how does one’ rather than ‘how did you’), and the grounds upon which it is considered to be true (‘that it is true’). So the first is focused on one person’s subjective (though not entirely irrelevant) experience of the object, while the second is focused on the object and the way in which any given subject can know that it is true. That is a pretty radical difference to gloss over. Can you see, now, the chaos that could (and does) result from failing to make this crucial distinction? Without consciously making this distinction, one could confuse one’s own subjective experience of a thing with the objective ground for the truthfulness of that thing. Such is the confusion in most philosophical systems – including Objectivism.

To flesh this out, let’s look at an example:

-A child learns the ABC’s from his parents. Then he learns to count from his parents. Then he learns a plethora of other things – also from his parents. If this child were to consistently confuse his own subjective experience for the objective grounds for believing something, he would conclude that the primary test for whether an idea is true or false is whether or not his parent’s have taught it to him. Obviously, he would be mistaken. Even if everything his parents had ever told him was true, the fact that they taught it to him is not the proper objective ground for believing that it is true.

And that – the objective ground for belief – is the proper aim of Epistemology. The other – a person’s subjective experience in developing that belief – is more appropriately the subject matter for the Cognitive Sciences.  It is not descriptions of subjective experiences and personal discoveries that Man needs in order to guide his worldview, but objective criteria (grounds for belief) with which he may accurately judge between the true and the false.

This, recognizing the crucial need for objective truth criteria, regardless of subjective experience, is the first - but not the only - step that needs to be taken in establishing rational epistemological principles with which Man can accurately and consistently discover the truth.

Look for future posts on Epistemology covering examples of proper truth criteria as well as further coverage on faulty epistemological assumptions in Objectivism and other philosophies. 

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Immovable Mover

Ayn Rand claims that the existence of God is incompatible with her philosophy and morality – but is it? What if atheism, rather than theism is entirely incompatible with her philosophy?

Rand’s atheism was primarily, a very understandable reaction to the anti-intellectual ‘theists’ in popular culture – Christians in particular. But modern Christianity, like modern Capitalism and modern Conservatism, is very heavily influenced by the defunct philosophical assumptions of Immanuel Kant and his successors – which is why modern Christianity can often be referred to appropriately as ‘Kantianity’. This Kantianized Christianity (which has dominated the cultural scene for centuries) is, indeed, characterized by the propagation of irrationality, mysticism, and altruism – as Rand rightly points out. However, just as Rand was able to distinguish true Capitalism from its Kantianized distortions, she would have found a similar phenomenon with Christianity, had she desired to aim her focus in that direction. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, she did not. No matter. I shall.

In addition to her highly commendable aversion to irrationality in modern Christianity, Rand’s main explicit reasons for rejecting theism had to do with some unfortunate misunderstandings about the claims of theism.  Rand thought that the super-naturalism of theism meant the existence of things beyond existence 1. She thought that the attributes of God were supposed to defy the laws of logic 2. She thought that God was merely a consciousness, conscious of nothing but its own consciousness 3. If theism actually demanded any of the above contradictions, she – and everyone else – would be absolutely right to reject it. The problem is: it doesn’t. No rational theist has ever taught or advocated the contradictions which Rand and her followers attribute to theism. They are all straw men.

But I’m not simply claiming that there is room for theism in Ayn Rand’s philosophy. I am arguing that Ayn Rand’s philosophy demands it. The ‘essence of Objectivism’, as Ayn Rand put it, is the supremacy of reason:

…and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows. This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism.4

Very well. This means that, no matter what the jarring implications to preconceived notions may be, that which reason leads to must be earnestly embraced. Therefore, if reason demands (as I am about to argue) that God, in fact, exists, then no amount of inconvenient implications arising from this fact can negate its truthfulness or sufficiently excuse an atheist from taking it seriously. So, take a moment to forget about the emotional hang-ups and the difficult philosophical implications if its true, and just follow the simple reasoning presented below as objectively as you can.

The following is a very simple and concise demonstration of the rational necessity of theism, using basic facts and the simple laws of logic. It is my own re-statement of the ‘Prime Mover Argument’.

1)      Things can only act according to their natures. This is the law of causality.

2)      Regarding action, the nature of a thing is either purposeful or accidental – meaning that an action is either purposeful or un-purposeful, intentional or unintentional.  This is the law of the excluded middle applied to the nature of action.

3)      Accidental actions are necessarily the result of some sort of interaction – which means that every accidental action necessitates a prior action of some kind.

4)      There cannot be an infinite regress of accidental actions. An infinite regress of a series cannot exist because a series must have a beginning in order to exist.

5)      There must have been an action which triggered the beginning of accidental action (3 & 4), and this ‘trigger’ action could not, itself, have been accidental (3).

6)      If the beginning to accidental action could not have been accidental, then it must have been purposeful (2).

7)      A purposeful action is a volitional action and volition presupposes a mind and values.

8)      An actor with mind, values, and volition is a person.

9)      A personal actor began all accidental action in the universe.

That’s it. The extent to which it seems complex is merely the extent to which it needs to be worded in a specific way in order to avoid foolish misunderstandings and objections. The above could be summed up in the simple thought that “something with a sufficient nature to begin all of this must exist – and nothing but a personal, divine-like being, would be sufficient”.

I’ll admit that the above does not firmly establish that this personal actor is ‘divine’ or that it even still exists – let alone that it resembles historical conceptions of God. However, such can be easily concluded by a continuation of the simple reasoning process demonstrated above. In fact, given the proper philosophical tools, it is not difficult to see how this Mover is very similar, in character and motive, to the heroes of Ayn Rand’s writing. But, I’ll save that for future posts (and for my book!) haha.
For now it is sufficient to recognize that the classical argument for a ‘Prime Mover’ is fully and legitimately necessitated by anyone committed to reason. Those who genuinely desire to know the truth will eagerly pursue more detail about this Mover, and those who are simply playing intellectual games will employ every manner of evasion possible in order to dismiss the need to follow reason in this matter.

Which will you be?

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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.

Related Posts

Omnipotence - A Straw Man

Primacy of Consciousness - A Straw Man

Responses to Objectivism