Dawson Bethrick, The Man Who Builds His House Upon The Sand

Bethrick's most recent response to my post here - http://choosinghats.blogspot.com/2009/09/all-bethrick-all-time.html is frankly one of the poorest responses I have ever seen him make.

Objectivists, as I understand it, have never quite been accepted in the realm of academic philosophy (if you do not believe me, try to research the topic via philosophical sources; most encyclopedias do not even mention Objectivism or Rand). Their terminology is often extremely vague, and there is reason for this. Rand was after certainty in a world which told her, and everyone else, that there is no such thing. She presented ideas to counter this, to give people a place to stand that is peppered with pragmatism. Philosophy is not a joke or a game to Objectivists, they want something they can live and die by without worrying about the skeptic.

Of course, fiction books and obfuscation are not the route to countering, for example, the rigorous skeptical epistemologies found in the non-Christian schools I grew up in nor the atheistic and liberal Philosophy and Religion departments I did my undergraduate work in. If one is to be honest with oneself, he or she cannot simply hand waive the arguments which have been offered by the skeptics since the beginning of recorded philosophical inquiry. Thankfully there is good news for gentlemen like Mr. Bethrick. Christ offers hope for those who would find none in their allegedly God-less, directionless worlds. Christ offers certainty and knowledge as a response to the foolish wisdom of the world. All of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him.

Unfortunately Bethrick has continued his dishonest (or perhaps ignorant, though I do not know how this could be the case at this point in his "career") denial of rather basic facts; substituting for reality his own arbitrary beliefs to try and escape from argumentation and the skepticism it leads to.

For example Bethrick writes that there is no such thing as a circular definition, which is just false. I invite the reader to study a little logic and he or she will come across discussions of circular definitions rather quickly. Even Googling "circular definitions" brings up a lengthy list. ( For example - http://www.onegoodmove.org/fallacy/circle.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_definition )

Bethrick often recommends books. I will return the favor and recommend Copi's Introduction to Logic, which contains a useful discussion of this subject.

Upon studying the topic of definitions in the broader subject of logic, one may also discover that definitions are often provided by way of example. Bethrick claims that I have written something "patently false" when I state that he does not provide a definition for "previously validated' by way of example. Calling something patently false with the result that it actually becomes such may be fine in Bethrick's Peter Pan epistemology, but it does not work out so well in reality. As I explained, the illustration provided by Bethrick does not exemplify "previously validated" at all, which is what is needed if Bethrick seeks to define the term by way of example. Again, the "definition" provided is circular, it presents us with no new understanding of the term in question. Further, “the illustration only shows an alleged use of previous validation in science rather than showing what this process is or how it works.” Bethrick responds to this, "You didn’t ask me to show how it works. I was only responding to the questions which you had asked." No, I did not ask him to show me how it works, I asked him for a definition of what it is. He may do this by way of a non-circular definition, example, obstensibly, etc. but the point is that he has done none of the above. It may help the reader to review my previous post concerning this.

I will not at this moment take the time to review what Bethrick said concerning whether or not previously validated (whatever that means, he still has not told us) facts can be unseated by newly experienced facts. It is possible I misquoted him. It is not important. If Bethrick thinks that new facts can unseat previously validated facts but do not ever actually do so then there is no pragmatic distinction being made. The argument remains the same.

The vacuousness of the next part of Bethrick's response is equivalent to that of the part already discussed as Bethrick fails to see when the very arguments he uses apply to his own position. Recall, for example, that Bethrick submits in his illustration that the scientist, after having apparently tested or at least after having relied upon testimony of the testing of water, knows that water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen. Now, I submitted that the scientist does not know this at all, for the scientist has only "previously validated" the elemental make-up of a particular sample of water in a specific time and place. Bethrick essentially equivocates on his use of the term "water" when he uses it in his illustration to refer to the specific sample of water and then uses it again to refer to water in a much more general, if not universal sense. The scientist does not know the elemental make-up of water as he has not tested water as such. It is, yet again, dishonest of Bethrick to act as though I have not provided a reason for the claim that I make that the scientist does not know the elemental make-up of water. Further, as mentioned, Bethrick's questions would cut both ways anyway. We may simply turn the questions Bethrick asks around for him to answer, "How do you know that the scientist [does know this]? How do you know what someone else does or does not know?" Of course on Bethrick's view I do not see how he can know that other people have the consciousnesses that I would presume are required for knowledge anyway, so asking questions like how one person knows what another person knows become even more interesting.

Obviously my mind is not identical to the mind which is said to know and control everything, and Bethrick is well aware that I believe this. Again with the dishonesty. This aside, a mind need not be identical to another mind in order to receive information from it.

Bethrick fails to distinguish between causation and a particular causal process in his response, something I did not do in my post, as he writes, 'How do you know that I cannot observe causation?' in response to 'Bethrick does not know the causal process..." Once he does this we can move on to topics like how his worldview supposedly allows him to observe causation and how his worldview supposedly allows for causality which is knowable. Based on Bethrick's previous rampant redefinition of terms to suit his fancy I suspect we will be receiving some completely nonsense 'description' of causal processes made up in order to skate around the problems raised rather than to actually deal with them.

Bethrick writes: “I openly admit that I am neither omniscient nor infallible. But neither is he. So we’re in the same boat.” When I write, “Of course this is not true, as I believe in an all-knowing God who has revealed Himself to us and cannot lie” the referent of "this" is the statement regarding being in the same boat together. Is Bethrick really so ignorant of Christian beliefs that he thinks I am claiming omniscience for myself? Of course not. It is just more dishonest, empty rhetoric. I ask the reader to question why someone would need to constantly resort to this type of tactic.

Bethrick asks, '...what does merely believing "in an all-knowing God who has revealed Himself to us and cannot lie" have to do with anything?' I trust that the reader is competent enough to understand the argument and that Bethick has no answer for it, hence the pretended ignorance. All-knowing, truthful God revealing His certain knowledge to us provides us with certain knowledge of what has been revealed. I am sorry, this is not difficult.

Once again I call upon Mr. Bethrick to repent from his sin and believe on the living Christ who will not cast him away.


Mitchell LeBlanc said...

I hope to respond, indirectly, with an essay discussing induction. I will post the link when I have completed.

Bahnsen Burner said...

Hello Chris,

I wanted to make a few comments here.

First, regarding Rand and the acceptance of her philosophy in academic circles, you’re correct: Objectivism is for the most part shunned if not reviled by many in academia. There are reasons for this.

For one thing, Rand was not an academic herself, but an outsider.
Academics can be extremely territorial ("we're the experts, get outa here!"). That was one strike against Rand so far as academics are concerned, and it has continued after her death.

Another strike against her is her unwavering and principled defense of capitalism. Academics tend to be lefties, and lefties are notorious for their contempt for anything resembling capitalism. Rand obviously did not share the lefties’ resentment for capitalism, and this made the academics bristle.

Also, Rand was a business woman, and there's often a natural rift between those in business and those well placed in the Ivy Towers. Business people aren't supposed to know anything, especially when it comes to the domain of philosophy. So in several ways, Rand was seen as outsider intruding on hallowed ground. In addition to this, Rand was an iconoclast, irreverently breaking with the traditions on both the right and the left, refusing to accept their unquestioned assumptions as incontestable knowledge, essentially clearing the table and starting from scratch, which means that all the precious work which the academics have done is ultimately irrelevant to Rand's system. She pulled no punches, and was very critical of much of the stuff coming out of the universities, and for good reason. Thus she is seen as reckless, destructive and out of control, and, generally speaking, well-placed academics don't like people who are not under their spell.

You wrote: “Bethrick writes that there is no such thing as a circular definition, which is just false.” Oh, you got me, Chris! You’ve found some other sources which affirm the existence of circular definitions. Okay. Then again, how do you know that there’s not some as-yet-undiscovered fact out there that will undermine your certainty that there is such a thing as “circular definitions”? Of course, the examples cited in those sources would not, in my view, really constitute legitimate definitions in the first place. It’s been a while since I’ve read Irving Copi, and I don’t recall specifically what he has stated about definitions. But I’m sure even he would have understood the difference between a definition and a description. In my brief comment to you, I was not intending to provide definitions, but a description, particularly of something that I thought you’d be able to understand given the context of what I had stated. My bad if I over-estimated you here.

You stated:

“Bethrick fails to distinguish between causation and a particular causal process in his response, something I did not do in my post, as he writes, 'How do you know that I cannot observe causation?' in response to 'Bethrick does not know the causal process...’"

Actually, if you review what I wrote, you’ll see that my question “How do you know that I cannot observe causation?” was asked in response to your statement “not only can he not observe causation.” You stated that I cannot observe causation, and I was asking how you could know this. Instead of addressing this, you sought to discredit me personally, which leaves my question unanswered.

As for my statement “patently false,” this was not, as you say, in response to your charge that I do “not provide a definition for ‘previously validated’ by way of example,” but rather in response to your charge “nor does he offer an example,” which is relevantly different.

As for the remainder of what you’ve stated in the above post, it seems rather vacuous.

As for your previous blog entry, I have posted my response here:

Bolt’s Loose Screws


Mitchell LeBlanc said...

My indirect response is here:

(I hope my posting of the link worked)

Dr Funkenstein said...

Objectivists, as I understand it, have never quite been accepted ...encyclopedias do not even mention Objectivism or Rand).

It's a minority view, but there are still a number of (as far as I can tell) credible philosophers at credible universities who subscribe to it, as seen here:


Either way, popularity (or lack of) doesn't constitute a vindication or refutation of an idea or set of ideas.

This complaint would also work against your own philosophy, since I gather that presuppositional apologetics also barely registers if it does at all in mainstream academic philosophy.

the rigorous skeptical epistemologies found in ....departments I did my undergraduate work in.

Christ offers certainty and knowledge as a response ...wisdom and knowledge are in Him.

I'll be honest Chris, whatever you think of Objectivism, it amazes me that just like Greg Bahnsen you've done a degree in Philosophy yet can't see through the multitude of logical fallacies present in presuppositionalism. Like all other presuppositionalists you also appear completely unable to demonstrate to any degree of satisfaction how Christ presents you with wisdom, knowledge or certainty despite these bold claims.

To give examples of these fallacies

1. The fact that the entire premise is based on argument from ignorance and could as easily be used to 'prove' that aliens cause crop circles via 'the impossibility of the contrary'

The best you could hope to prove is that someone you are debating directly or people in general are ignorant of some particular fact(s). This doesn't constitute a validation of some idea you may hold, the onus is on you to support your claims regardless of what anyone else might know or not - from your interactions with Dawson pretty much all I can see that you've done is asserted the truth of various ideas you believe.

2. The fact that assertion is considered to be as good as a well supported argument eg that the believer has some means of direct communication with God allowing him/her to know certain things about the world, which is just blatant nonsense since they can't actually demonstrate this fact. If you do genuinely believe that you have this ability, I know that I (and I'm fairly sure anyone else reading this) would like to see you demonstrate it.

As regards the biblical authors' claims to this ability, you're no doubt aware (since Dawson has pointed it out to you several times) folk like John Frame concede that they don't have a clue how to validate the claim that God communicated with the biblical writers beyond simply claiming 'we know that we know without knowing how we know'

3. The fact that loads of their arguments contradict each other, often within a few sentences of each other eg the idea that God provides the conditions for knowledge or uniformity of nature yet as van Til says can set one set of facts into new relation to 'created law' any time he so wishes - how could anyone claim to know anything, or claim that the world is likely to remain uniform on that view?

4. The fact that they openly admit to affirming contradictory ideas that they have no good explanation for eg the Trinity, the 100% man/100% God doctrine, the ones in point 3 above etc etc, yet at the same time claim that internal contradictions are what invalidate other worldviews!

5. Certain claims are so vague or meaningless as to not be worth bothering with eg Bahnsen's claim that while God accounts for logic, God's logic may not be the same as ours - who does he think he's fooling with this sort of vacuous rubbish?

Dr Funkenstein said...

(part 2 due to character limits)

Obviously my mind is not identical to the mind which is said to know and control everything...mind in order to receive information from it.

It was probably just a poor choice of words on your part, but you did say in response to Dawson's statement

DB "I openly admit that I am neither omniscient nor infallible. But neither is he [Chris Bolt]. So we’re in the same boat."

CB "Of course this is not true, as I believe in an all-knowing God who has revealed Himself to us and cannot lie."

Dawson points out that neither of you are omniscient etc, to which you responded of course this is not true as regards yourself. Taken at face value, this would imply that you thought you were in fact infallible etc. hence the request for clarification.

Regarding the latter part of your response, first of all simply because you believe in such a being, it does not follow that such a being does actually exist. Even if we were to concede such a being did exist for argument's sake this is still no better than me saying something like 'Robert Oppenheimer had an immense knowledge of nuclear physics therefore this means I also have an immense knowledge of nuclear physics' - just because someone or something has a certain level knowledge on a given matter, it doesn't follow that everyone else also acquires this knowledge by proxy.

Presumably you consider at least some of this knowledge to have been imparted by divine revelation, but then this just open a hold new world of problems most of which have already been pointed out to you:

eg how would you distinguish revelation from delusion or revelation from evil spirits or a lying God (remember, simply assuming God doesn't lie doesn't answer the question - any liar can insist that they only tell the truth (verses like 2 Thessalonians 2:11 don't exactly favour your point in this regard either))?

How would you validate the revelation claims of the biblical writers beyond simpy taking it on their say-so? (especially when you consider that a. substantial amounts of discoveries in the physical and life sciences, history, archaeology, medical research etc would indicate that the biblical authors were either wrong or ignorant on a number of matters) and that b. Christianity endorses a number of contradictions (see earlier examples))? none of this is what we'd expect from people who had access to an infallible source of knowledge.

As before, if you have some infallible means of acquiring knowledge that isn't open to non-believers, we'd expect you are able to tell us things you couldn't possibly otherwise know about us - anyone who makes such a claim should surely realise that they are going to get called on it sooner rather than later.

C.L. Bolt said...

Another Objectivist? Are you also unable to answer how you know water will not turn into merlot the next time you drink it in under 20 pages worth of material?

Bahnsen Burner said...

Dr. F.,

That is an excellent summary of some of presuppositionalism’s fatal weaknesses. I, too, am stymied when individuals educated in philosophy can allow themselves to ignore the fallacious nature of a position and still embrace it. But then again, one can jump through all kinds of academic hoops and acquire degrees in any field, and still cling to irrational positions.

I will reply to Chris’ comment shortly.


Bahnsen Burner said...


You apparently do not accept the answer I gave to your question about knowing whether or not water will turn into merlot the next time I drink it. My short answer to this was: by a means of knowledge, specifically by reason (since reason is my only means of knowledge).

I gather that my answer was insufficient for you, possibly because the concept of reason is foreign to your understanding of human conscious activity. Fair enough. Please allow me to provide a little more detail (without writing 20 pages on the matter).

First, it is important to understand what reason is. Reason is “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” Its method is logic, “the art or skill of non-contradictory identification.” (These definitions come from Rand’s essays “The Objectivist Ethics,” in her book The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 20, and “Philosophical Detection,” in her book Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 15, respectively.) Objectivism is correct to take the “testimony” of the senses as metaphysically given, precisely because they are metaphysically given (they are part of our identity as biological organisms). I suspect that you’ll have a problem with this, but I’ll leave it up to you to raise your own objections here.

Now, on an objective understanding of reality, which Objectivism provides, there would need to be something which causes the water in a drinking glass to turn into merlot. In other words, since we reject the notion of "causeless action" as self-contradictory, the conditions which could cause water to turn into merlot would have to exist in order for the water in a drinking glass to turn into merlot.

Since the objective view of reality is firmly premised on the primacy of existence, this securely eliminates any form of wishing or commanding as a potential cause for water in any drinking glass to turn into any type of wine. Given the primacy of existence (a principle which would have to be true for someone even to deny it), then, the idea of an invisible magic being willing water into wine must be rejected as contrary to reality. The actions of consciousness cannot alter the identity of objects. Why? Because existence holds metaphysical primacy, i.e., the objects of consciousness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject of consciousness. Hence Objectivism. The negation of this principle, that a subject holds metaphysical primacy over its objects, is known as metaphysical subjectivism. On a worldview premised in metaphysical subjectivism, one cannot in principle raise any objection to the idea that a consciousness can alter the objects of its awareness, such as by an act of will. When a theist affirms that wishing doesn’t make it so, or that atheism is not true simply because the atheist does not believe in a god, he is in effect borrowing from worldview which fundamentally unlike his professed theistic worldview (though he probably does not realize this, since he is not accustomed to examining worldview questions in terms of the subject-object relationship).


Bahnsen Burner said...

Part II

So this means that, if one wants to entertain the notion that water could turn into merlot, he would have to identify a cause for such transformation which squares with the primacy of existence. We know that merlot wine is produced by a process which involves the fermentation of a specific kind of grape in large quantities. This process requires a sufficient amount of time for the fermentation of the grapes to take place. Without the grapes, the fermentation, and the time it requires for the grapes to ferment, merlot is not going to be produced. (Ask any viniculturalist if you’re unsure on this.) Since a glass of water has no grapes to ferment (we can know this by inspecting the glass of water), we know that the causal conditions for producing wine in the glass of water do not exist. Given this fact, one can be wholly certain that the water in his glass is not going to turn into any type of wine, including merlot. You can even let the glass of water stand for several days, but since the causal conditions for the production of merlot are not present, the water in the glass is not going to turn into merlot.

Now, I highly doubt that any of this is going to satisfy your inquisitiveness, since you’re probably eager to find some way to discredit it, and - as we have seen so far - you tend to critique rival positions according to your own worldview's premises. But how are you going to do this without tacitly employing the very principles which Objectivism affirms? And what would motivate such eagerness, if not religiously-motivated resentment for the fact that people who disbelieve in your god have solid grounds for certainty? Meanwhile, I have yet to see how someone who affirms the existence of a universe-creating, reality-ruling consciousness which is known for turning water into wine (cf. John chap. 2), could know that the water in his water glass will not turn into merlot, without of course borrowing from a worldview which diametrically conflicts with his own theistic premises.