Bahnsen Burner's Presuppositional Apologetic For Objectivism, Part 2

Something which is difficult to grasp in apologetic encounters is the massive role of presuppositions. Even those who would label themselves “presuppositional” struggle with this because it is so all-encompassing; presuppositions affect everything. Disagreements between Christians and non-Christians are always traceable to the presuppositions which each party would have as their own even if they do not claim such presuppositions as their own. Even a discussion of the presuppositional method of apologetics, especially with an unbeliever, will ultimately come back to the presuppositions of each party involved. The current discussion with Bahnsen Burner illustrates this nicely.

The Christian worldview is predicated upon a total commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of life including philosophy. There is a philosophy which is according to Christ and there is a philosophy which is not according to Christ. (Colossians 2.8) These two philosophies, or worldviews, are presented as the only two throughout Scripture, and there is no middle ground between them. There is p and there is ~p and there is no in between. Christians are to view everything in terms of its relation to Christ Jesus, and anything which is not in accord with Christ is considered anti-Christ. This is logically required by the teaching of Scripture. Christ is fundamental to Christianity.

Objectivism, on the other hand, takes its view of everything in terms of existence. As Bahnsen Burner writes, “At the fundamental level of philosophy is the issue of metaphysical primacy”. There is a philosophy which adheres to the primacy of existence, and there is a pseudo-philosophy which adheres to the primacy of consciousness. As mentioned before, Bahnsen Burner is essentially offering two circles of his own, a presuppositional model allegedly based upon his worldview. Bahnsen Burner takes issue with my bringing this up and writes, “I didn’t just blow in and say your illustration is wrong because it disagrees with Objectivism.” Of course, I never meant to imply that Bahnsen Burner hand waives my illustration because it disagrees with Objectivism anymore than I would imply that Christian presuppositional apologists engage in hand waiving by virtue of their method but rather mean to highlight the presuppositional nature of this encounter. He continues, “I pointed out that the division on which your illustration is based is not fundamental”.

Now then, upon which presupposition is Bahnsen Burner asserting this statement? It is not upon the Christian’s presuppositions as we can see from the brief description in the paragraph prior to this one. It is not upon neutral presuppositions providing obligatory norms for all worldviews either as this would itself be a worldview set forth in opposition to the Christian worldview leaving us in the same position we are in now. Rather, this statement is made from within the context of Objectivism. This has been shown in the discussion of what Christianity and Objectivism define as fundamental. The disagreement here is presuppositional in nature. Again, “It is based on a non-essential difference, and the various worldviews which you group together in contrast against Christianity are united according to a non-essential”. Non-essential according to whom? According to which worldview? Christ is considered essential to the Christian worldview within the Christian worldview, and any position which excludes Christ because He is “non-essential” is properly placed with other positions that do the same (again, within the Christian worldview). Now again, will non-Christians agree with this? Perhaps not, but in terms of the Christian worldview, taking it as a whole and being fair to what its teachings are, it is impossible to get around. The Non-Christian worldview is characterized by a rejection of Christ even though this may not be claimed by or emphasized by members of that worldview. Characterization involves more than emphases, it is not contingent upon them. For example, Christianity is characterized by a commitment to an independence to Allah, though this is certainly not often emphasized. It is easy to imagine a situation in which such a commitment to independence from Allah may be emphasized though, for example if a Muslim is dealing with a Christian. To insist that a position which is non-Christian (such as Objectivism) is not characterized by being non-Christian or committed to an independence from Christ or however else you may want to put it is absurd; one need equivocate upon the meaning of “characterized” in order to reach this conclusion even given the non-Christian worldview. The Christian may define characterization in the stronger sense of the word as Van Til does in the quote provided, but why this supposedly presents a problem for the Christian worldview is not clear.
Now then, according to the Christian worldview, does Objectivism fit into the Non-Christian circle? Bahnsen Burner’s own words and attitude give us a good look at the answer to this question, so I will let them speak for themselves. My prayer (oh how I bet an Objectivist winces at that) is that the readers will be able to see what I am trying to get across, which is the reality of two worldviews on display here in complete opposition to one another. Remember that Christians are to view everything in terms of relation to Christ Jesus and anything which is not in accord with Christ is considered anti-Christ. That having been repeated, is Objectivism committed to Christ or opposed to Christ? Let us take a quiz.

“The thing that is most characteristic of the philosophy of the unbeliever is its presumption of moral and intellectual autonomy from God.” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 109.)

According to Christianity and its affirmation of the Lordship of Christ in every facet of life, are the following statements written in opposition to Christ? Answer “Yes” or “No”.

“Notions of imaginary, non-existent beings are simply irrelevant and have no place in identifying fundamental principles of a rational worldview.”

“A worldview premised on the primacy of consciousness (such as Christianity) can only obfuscate truth and seek to replace it with a fantasy.”
“Your ‘Christ’ is neither here nor there.”

“An Objectivist’s position on Christ is simply not *fundamental*”
“Objectivism is not characterized…by ‘Ultimate commitment... to Christ of Scripture’”

“Objectivism does hold independence as a cardinal virtue”

“A so-called ‘commitment’ (whether ‘ultimate’ or ‘fundamental’ or ‘primary’) for or against your god is simply not a concern whatsoever to Objectivism.”

“the one worldview which is positioned wholly and consistently on the primacy of existence (namely Objectivism).”

“some atheists (like Objectivists) affirm the primacy of existence”


Very well, the encounter here is presuppositional in nature. It appears Bahnsen Burner and I cannot agree on even the most basic (there is a joke in there somewhere) things. Where do we go from here?

The answer to this question is the subject of the next blog post in this series…

3 comments:

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Chris,

I enjoyed your latest blog. Here are some thoughts in response to some of your statements.

Chris: “The Christian worldview is predicated upon a total commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of life including philosophy.”

And by contrast, the Objectivist worldview is predicated upon a total commitment to the primacy of existence. Example: wishing doesn’t make it so. Why? Because the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of consciousness; they do not conform to the subject’s intentions.

Chris: “There is a philosophy which is according to Christ and there is a philosophy which is not according to Christ.”

Actually, there are many philosophies which are “not according to Christ,” but among these many philosophies are numerous fundamental distinctions. I’m guessing this point is what causes you the most difficulty (if not my proposed “ultimate questions” above). The qualifier “not according to Christ” is not a fundamental characteristic of these philosophies. Their framers did not begin by first saying “let’s assemble a worldview that isn’t according to Christ!” and then build from there. They affirm other fundamentals.

Chris: “These two philosophies, or worldviews, are presented as the only two throughout Scripture, and there is no middle ground between them. There is p and there is ~p and there is no in between.”

Even according to this statement, the criteria distinguishing the worldviews which you set over against each other in your diagram should be revised. If “P” stands for “ultimate commitment is to Christ of Scripture,” the negation of either of these would logically be: “ultimate commitment is not to Christ of scripture,” because their “ultimate commitments” lie elsewhere. This is not at all logically equivalent to “an ultimate commitment to human independence from God.” This latter version, which currently appears on your diagram, ignores the fact that their “ultimate commitments” lie elsewhere. I would suppose that if you had full confidence in your position, you wouldn’t need to ignore such fundamental facts as this.

Chris: “Christians are to view everything in terms of its relation to Christ Jesus, and anything which is not in accord with Christ is considered anti-Christ.”

This is a dogmatic affirmation. It’s basically like a creed: “this is what we’re expected to believe.” It’s the old “for the bible tells me so” attitude which requires one to suspend his own judgment and accept indiscriminately what he is told to believe. Such formulations encourage the believer to turn a blind eye to facts, as we saw your diagram do above. But I’m guessing your proud to have this kind of attitude. No?

Chris: “As mentioned before, Bahnsen Burner is essentially offering two circles of his own, a presuppositional model allegedly based upon his worldview.”

Actually, it is a model based upon the two possible answers to one of the “ultimate questions” which I posed above, namely: “What is the proper orientation between the subject of consciousness and its objects?” There is the view that affirms the primacy of the objects in the subject-object relationship (i.e., Objectivism), and there are any number of views which in one way or another affirm the primacy of the subject in the subject-object relationship (i.e., subjectivism). No one who is conscious of anything can escape the fact that there is a fundamental relationship between himself as a conscious subject and the objects of which he is conscious.

Chris: “Now then, upon which presupposition is Bahnsen Burner asserting this statement? It is not upon the Christian’s presuppositions as we can see from the brief description in the paragraph prior to this one.”

No, it’s certainly not upon the Christian’s presuppositions, at least not the presuppositions which he confessionally affirms in his profession as a Christian. However, even the Christian does, albeit secretly, borrow from the same presuppositions which inform my statement, the very presuppositions which he is confessionally expected to reject. When you go shopping, for instance, do the products on the shelf conform to your intentions, or do they remain what they are regardless of what you’d like to see? You see a can of cashews for $7.99 and think, “Man, I wish they’d be as cheap as peanuts, at $3.99 per can.” Does the price tag on the can of cashews revise itself because you want it to? I’m betting that the price tag remains what it is no matter what you wish, no matter how hard you pray. Why? Because of the primacy of existence. Similarly, when you drive down a road, do you conform your steering to the road you see before you, or does the road conform itself to your steering? I’m betting the former is the case, that the road does not conform itself to your steering. Why? Because of the primacy of existence. Indeed, my statements are consistently in line with the same principle which underwrites the fact that wishing doesn’t make it so. But the Christian worldview rejects this position. Why? Because it affirms a view which grants metaphysical primacy to consciousness. The believer puts his hope in the notion that there is a consciousness whose wishing can revise the identity of the things which exist in the world.

Chris: “this statement is made from within the context of Objectivism.”

To be specific, it is made on the recognition that there is a proper relationship between consciousness and its objects. Anyone’s use of his own consciousness cannot escape this fact. It would not do to say that such matters do not concern the Christian, because it is something that has importance only “within the context of Objectivism,” since saying anything makes use of consciousness, and such affirmations assume a relationship between the consciousness making the affirmation and the point being affirmed.

I wrote: It is based on a non-essential difference, and the various worldviews which you group together in contrast against Christianity are united according to a non-essential.

Chris asks: “Non-essential according to whom?”

“to whom?” here is the wrong thing to ask, since I have nowhere appealed to some personal authority to seal my points. Rather, “according to what?” is the proper question. And the answer is: according to an objective theory of concepts, by which one can determine what is essential and what is not essential, such as in the formulation of proper definitions. To use the example I gave in one of my previous comments, one would not define the concept ‘man’ as “elbow-possessing entity.” Why? Because possessing elbows is not an essential which distinguishes man from other entities, either animate or inanimate.

Chris: “According to which worldview?”

According to any worldview which ascribes to the objective theory of concepts. Then again, I don’t think Christianity has a theory of concepts. I’ve never found one in the bible, for instance. Its authors seem to have no knowledge of concepts, either what they are, what their purpose is, how they are formed, how they should be defined, etc. A theory of concepts is the heart of a good epistemology. On that note, I find it quite telling that Van Til’s book, A Christian Theory of Knowledge includes no discussion of concept theory (the word ‘concept’ does not even appear in its index!), but instead seems to focus on how wrong everyone else throughout history has been. That would be like publishing a book with the words “music theory” in the title but which includes no discussion of scales, chord building, chord progressions, harmonic fluctuation, voice-leading, etc., and whose author spends most of his time condemning other theories of music for failing to honor the god Apollo.

Chris: “Christ is considered essential to the Christian worldview within the Christian worldview, and any position which excludes Christ because He is ‘non-essential’ is properly placed with other positions that do the same (again, within the Christian worldview).”

Of course, this does not justify the assumption that any of the worldviews in question are characterized by “an ultimate commitment to human independence from God.” The recognition that “Christ” is simply non-essential is not logically equivalent to “an ultimate commitment to human independence from God.” That was one of the points I was trying to make in my initial comments to you.

Chris: “The Non-Christian worldview is characterized by a rejection of Christ even though this may not be claimed by or emphasized by members of that worldview.”

Non-Christian worldviews (notice the plural here) may in fact be “characterized by a rejection of Christ” or Christian teachings (just as many of them can at the same time be characterized as a rejection of Islamic teachings, of Zoroastrian teachings, of Bahai’ teachings, etc.), but this rejection is not an “ultimate commitment,” as your diagram indicates. As I pointed out, to insist that it is an “ultimate commitment” is to misrepresent your rival positions.

Chris: “Christianity is characterized by a commitment to an independence to [from???] Allah, though this is certainly not often emphasized.”

I’m not sure what emphasis has to do with this; emphases can be appropriate to place depending on context. The issue is not “emphasis.” The issue has to do with the use of “ultimate commitment.” Is Christianity characterized by an “ultimate commitment to independence from Allah”? I don’t see how a Christian would say it is. You yourself had stated above that “The Christian worldview is predicated upon a total commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of life including philosophy.” And your diagram describes Christianity as an “ultimate commitment to the Christ of Scripture,” not as an “ultimate commitment to an independence from Allah.” The very idea of an “ultimate commitment to an independence from Allah” would really only make sense if in fact there were an Allah. But if Allah is imaginary, such a notion would be nonsensical. Is Christianity characterized as an “ultimate commitment to independence from the ghost of Andy Warhol”?

Chris: “It is easy to imagine a situation in which such a commitment to independence from Allah may be emphasized though, for example if a Muslim is dealing with a Christian.”

Right, if the context warrants it. But again, the issue is not emphases, but “ultimate commitments,” remember?

Chris: “To insist that a position which is non-Christian (such as Objectivism) is not characterized by being non-Christian or committed to an independence from Christ or however else you may want to put it is absurd;”

Perhaps you’ve misunderstood. Sure, one could say that Objectivism is non-Christian, but this is not a fundamental which distinguishes Objectivism from other worldviews. Lots of worldviews are non-Christian, but that does not erase what fundamentally distinguishes them from one another. In fact, that Objectivism is non-Christian is not what fundamentally distinguishes the former from Christianity in the first place. It is non-Christian for many reasons, reasons which lie behind the fact that it is non-Christian.

But I would not say that Objectivism is “committed to an independence from Christ” any more than I would say it is “committed to an independence from the ghost of Andy Warhol.” Christ, Andy Warhol’s ghost, Horus, Thor, Geusha, Brahmin, and other imaginary beings simply have no relevance. No one needs to declare independence from something that is not real.

Chris: “Now then, according to the Christian worldview, does Objectivism fit into the Non-Christian circle?”

Only if according to the Christian worldview misrepresenting other worldviews is acceptable scholarly practice.

Chris: “My prayer (oh how I bet an Objectivist winces at that) is that the readers will be able to see what I am trying to get across, which is the reality of two worldviews on display here in complete opposition to one another.”

I don’t think anyone will disagree that Objectivism and Christianity are in complete opposition to each other. The problem for the Christian, however, is that he secretly borrows from the Objectivist worldview just to get out of bed in the morning. He implicitly assumes in his practical day-to-day actions (e.g., putting on his socks, brushing his teeth, driving to work, dialing a phone number, pulling money out of an ATM, talking to his wife, planning the next day’s events, etc.) that the world around him does not conform to conscious intentions (e.g., that wishing doesn’t make it so), but his professed Christianity cannot consistently support this assumption. Thus he needs to compartmentalize his Christian beliefs from the world in which he actually lives.

Regards,
Dawson

Bahnsen Burner said...

Chris,

Here are some additional thoughts, as well as some questions for you to consider.

Chris: “Disagreements between Christians and non-Christians are always traceable to the presuppositions which each party would have as their own even if they do not claim such presuppositions as their own.”

I would agree that disagreements between someone like myself and a Christian are traceabel to each respective party’s fundamentals. The Objectivist, for instance, begins with the primacy of existence (i.e., with the object of consciousness, hence Objectivism), while the Christian begins with the primacy of consciousness (i.e., with the subject of consciousness, hence subjectivism). The only alternative to Objectivism is some form of subjectivism. In your last blog, you had mentioned the importance of “ultimate questions.” Though you did not state what questions you consider “ultimate,” I proposed two of my own:

1) What is your starting point? and

2) What is the proper orientation between the subject of consciousness and its objects?

Perhaps you are not clear on what the second question is asking. Let me pose a few more ultimate questions to help you answer it:

3) Are you conscious? (yes or no)

4) If you are conscious, are you conscious of any objects? (yes or no)

5) If you are conscious of any objects, what is the relationship between yourself as a subject of consciousness, and any object(s) of which you are conscious?

In response to this last question, there are only two possible answers:

a) The objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of consciousness – i.e., objects are what they are independent of consciousness, their natures do not conform to anyone’s wishing, desires, emotions, commands, etc. Hence Objectivism.

b) The subject of consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over the objects of consciousness – i.e., objects are what some consciousness wants them to be, their natures conform to someone’s wishes, desires, emotions or commands, etc. Hence subjectivism.

Of course, those who presuppose subjectivism may imagine that there is some third category, but this would miss the fact that the subject-object relationship is not a relationship between equals. This is demonstrable through some simple tests that anyone can perform.

Regards,
Dawson

C.L. Bolt said...

Your most recent comments are by far the most exciting part of our exchange so far, I look forward to engaging more of what you have said very soon.

Something like the following paragraph is much more like what I actually wanted in response to the original post that you commented on. I repeat it here and acknowledge that I need to think through it and take it into account as far as changes to the diagram are concerned.

“Even according to this statement, the criteria distinguishing the worldviews which you set over against each other in your diagram should be revised. If “P” stands for “ultimate commitment is to Christ of Scripture,” the negation of either of these would logically be: “ultimate commitment is not to Christ of scripture,” because their “ultimate commitments” lie elsewhere. This is not at all logically equivalent to “an ultimate commitment to human independence from God.” This latter version, which currently appears on your diagram, ignores the fact that their “ultimate commitments” lie elsewhere.”

That having been said, I will take issue with a few other points and save the remainder of your description of Objectivism for another post where I hope to dive into something meatier than these definitional problems we have been discussing.

“The qualifier ‘not according to Christ’ is not a fundamental characteristic of these philosophies. Their framers did not begin by first saying ‘let’s assemble a worldview that isn’t according to Christ!’ and then build from there. They affirm other fundamentals.”

This statement is only true if the Christian worldview is not true. Remember, I believe that the problem with these individuals is first moral then intellectual; they hold the truth down in unrighteousness and build these false epistemologies to try and justify themselves.

“And your diagram describes Christianity as an “ultimate commitment to the Christ of Scripture,” not as an “ultimate commitment to an independence from Allah.” The very idea of an “ultimate commitment to an independence from Allah” would really only make sense if in fact there were an Allah. But if Allah is imaginary, such a notion would be nonsensical.”

Sure, I agree with that, but I think I answered it already when I wrote that it “is easy to imagine a situation in which such a commitment to independence from Allah may be emphasized…for example if a Muslim is dealing with a Christian”. If there were an Allah, both of our worldviews might be justly categorized according to an ultimate commitment to an independence from Allah. So then, if the Christian God exists, why not the same in terms of what I have presented?