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A Reason for Faith: Christianity on Trial

Objectivist philosopher Andrew Bernstein accused Christianity of rejecting reason in his recent debate with apologist Dinesh D'Souza.

by
Walter Hudson

Bio

February 14, 2013 - 7:00 am

How does a man born blind conceptualize the color red? He lacks the sensory ability necessary to perceive color. He thus has no perception to apply logic to. He may accept on the authority of others that something called “red” exists. However, to him individually, the concept will only ever be what Rand called a “floating abstraction.” From Objectivism Wiki:

The fallacy of the “floating abstraction” is Ayn Rand’s term for concepts detached from existents, concepts that a person takes over from other men without knowing what specific units the concepts denote.

As we consider our hypothetical blind man, we recognize that a strict application of objectivist epistemology leaves him unable to claim that he knows there is a color red. Yet the color exists, not just as a concept but as a metaphysical reality. So we may conclude that reality, or that which exists, is not limited to that which can be perceived.

D’Souza made this point in his debate with Bernstein, noting that a person of the 5th century B.C. could only be aware of a fraction of the stars that we know of today. Our perception has been expanded by technology, increasing our range of knowledge. Yet all the stars exist whether we perceive them or not.

In fairness, Objectivism does not deny the existence of the unknown. It merely claims that knowing occurs through a rational process of applying logic to perception. Since the supernatural cannot be perceived, it cannot be known to exist. However, Objectivism does not stop at an agnostic skepticism. It claims to prove through logic that there is no god or supernatural realm of any kind. Bernstein spent the bulk of his speaking time on this point, offering up two fascinating arguments.

The first centered around the relationship between existence and consciousness. Bernstein reminded the UT audience that “existence exists,” which is the Aristotelian law of identity. A thing is what it is. He next evoked the law of causality, which says that a thing acts according to what it is. A glass of water behaves as a glass of water, and not as sulfuric acid. Bernstein then pointed out that consciousness is the faculty which perceives existence, and therefore is dependent upon existing. On the other hand, existence is independent of consciousness. A rock exists without knowing it.

Bernstein asserted that Christianity violates this basic principle known as the primacy of existence. Christianity starts with an all-knowing consciousness without existence, he claimed, pointing out that consciousness cannot create anything. “What does God create the universe from?” he asked. “If you start with nothing, you end with nothing? There is no God. There is no creation. The universe is eternal.”

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Again, Bernstein's failure to articulate anything more than a riualistic approach to Objectivism in his debate is going to hurt the philosophy for a long time. He should admit his failure and retire.

Then, going to epistemology which you correctly identify as the crux of philosophy (along with the metaphyiscs upon which it is founded), a blind man can be given plenty of evidence about the existence of the color red that would allow him to effectively conceptualize it. Just like I can be given plenty of information about an atom to conceptualize it even though I may not ever see one in person.

This basically completely destroys your argument. But I will continue.

You said: "Consent lies at the heart of the Christian life, consent to an offer of salvation through grace, and consent to obey God’s commandments. It is impossible to spread Christianity by the sword. To the extent men have tried, they have succeeded only in compelling false conversion and distorting what Christianity is."

Uh, no. Christianity was the fountainhead of violence in the West for 1300 years. If you honestly believe that it would have the influence it has today without forced conversions, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. Before the Roman legions started spreading your religion on the tips of their spears, it was just another crack pot attempt at explaining the universe by another iron age messiah.

Being a messiah was a very popular method of escaping the daily drudgery of life back then, you know. Sure, you were likely to be executed at some point but, hey, very few people lived past 25 back then. Might as well live it up if you can, right?
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
After the burning of the library we begin again with scraps and fragments and the little that we know.....

Hence, what is the rationality of reason? The faith in what you see and can take for granted as casuality. Reading the entry on wiki for 'reason' you can see that 'reason' cannot account for all the aspects of itself, either by explanation or justification......
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
I think therefore I am. I have faith in God therefore I will be.

Oh, and am I the only one around here who is grateful for the Crusaders who fought back the Muslim hordes intent upon subjugating the known world?
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Nope. The Western/White Culture hating Leftists in Acadamia have given us a false narrative on the Crusades as persecution of the poor Muslims who only wanted to practice their "religion of peace".

The Crusades were a morally mixed bag, like almost every major event in human history.
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
Perhaps I missed the thrust of the argument, but if the discussion is about the rationality of Christianity, both Bernstein and the commentor, Hudson, miss an essential point. For most of Christian history, Faith and Reason were seen as complementary, (Faith seeking understanding- St. Augustine and Understanding seeking faith - St. Thomas) not as contraries. In St. Thomas' case, he believed it was through reason people came to faith (why do you think there are so many catholic institutions of higher learning, and have you ever gotten into a logic argument with a Jesuit?) His Cosmological argument for God is exactly a cause and effect argument positing a First Cause because the universe cannot be eternal because a) it is dependent (at least on a Big Bang, which would preclude the eternal part) and b) because of entropy, for if it were eternal it would have experienced a cold death by now.
St. Augustine's argument is even stronger in that he argues that without God there is no reason! How many random, chaotic, chance, irrational events must transpire before a reliable reason emerges and by what measure do you test it to know that it is a rational intellegence? Intelligence comes from intelligence and so Augustine says he believes so he might understand. By this definition, only believers are rational!
To put it into today's more snarky style, --"you say you believe in reason? What color is it, how much does it weigh, does it speak to you, from where does it come, where is it located, and does it tell you right from wrong? What--- you believe in an unseen force, that speaks to you in your own head that none of the rest of us can see that tells you an objective truth about the universe and morality? You expect us to believe that?"
2 years ago
2 years ago Link To Comment
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