Grand Central: Thorn's Dialogues (index)

A Dialogue with Greg Bahnsen

By Anton Thorn


Following is a hypothetical dialogue between myself and Reformed Christian apologist Greg L. Bahnsen based on his own writings and recorded statements, and my reaction to them. Citations are given for every statement attributed to Bahnsen. My intention here is not to ridicule the memory of Dr. Bahnsen, but to interact with a number of his debating points and to show how a rational philosophy can effectively answer his characterizations of and accusations against non-believing worldviews. 

The structure of the dialogue follows an antiphonal format involving a response from me for every statement quoted from Bahnsen's writings. Topics covered include the accusation of prejudice, the reliability of the Bible, various aspects of TAG, the presuppositionalist notion of "autonomy," philosophical starting points, authority, suppression of the truth, circularity in argument, the instance of stolen concepts, and much, much more. Defenders of Christianity are encouraged to consider the points I make herein, and defenders of reason are encouraged to utilize and hone the rebuttals I offer in response to many of Bahnsen's assertions and characterizations. Of course, those who, after reviewing my interaction with Bahnsen's material, are confident that my rebuttals can be refuted or dispelled, are invited to send their reactions to me at

And the books were opened, and the coffee was poured...

Bahnsen: "One will often find that unbelievers, both educated and uneducated, take the offensive against Christianity before they have become familiar with what they are talking about." [1]

Thorn: Yes, it is certainly embarrassing when an individual attempts to argue against something with which he has little or no firsthand familiarity. Though it is the case that, in western society, most people have some firsthand familiarity with the teachings of Christianity, since it is the predominant religion in western society. But Dr. Bahnsen, isn't the bias you describe here essentially what your apologetic method encourages believers to adopt with respect to non-believing worldviews? One of the trademarks of presuppositional apologists that I have come to know them by is their overbearing presumptuousness. Non-Christian worldviews are presumed to be false, incoherent or somehow inconsistent, and on the basis of this presumption apologists set out on their offensive strategy, often railroading non-believers with bully tactics instead of actually presenting a defense of Christian theism. One presuppositionalist writer, Joel S. Garver, acknowledges this tendency of "many presuppositionists [to] come across as cocky know-it-alls who continually try to insult non-Christians," a behavior which he excuses on the basis that such apologists think that they are "in possession of a knock-down argument" or because such "abrasive apologists are just philosophical neophytes who wield arguments like a club." Garver notes that the desire among presuppositionalists "to argue for the sake of arguing" is "a not uncommon, but unfortunate trait." He also cites "Reformed culture, bunker mentality, self-righteousness, personality issues" as motivators for such behavior. [2]

But I'm curious, Dr. Bahnsen, since you are an esteemed authority on apologetics [3]: if non-believers are speaking on something about which they have little or no firsthand familiarity, why worry about them so much? It seems you should focus your attention on those who do have firsthand familiarity with Christianity, who, like myself, were themselves at one time in their life devoted believers. Such persons often have ample familiarity with what Christianity teaches. In fact, Dr. Bahnsen, as an informed non-believer, I've known many, many Christian believers who did not seem to have as much familiarity with their own worldview and professed beliefs as I have. Not only that, in addition to knowing the worldview of believers, I also know my own worldview quite intimately. This of course gives me an advantage if things should ever come to a debate, for often believers do not seem to know very much about their own worldview, and what they do know is often accepted uncritically, and very few indeed have any firsthand knowledge of my worldview. Indeed, in your many essays and articles, I don't know of any point where you interact with specifically Objectivist teachings.

Bahnsen: "In the place of research and honest assessment of available evidence concerning some aspect of the Bible, many unbelievers have substituted personal conjecture about what 'seems likely' to them." [4]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, do you think - or are you presupposing - that it would be impossible to formulate an honest assessment of any proposed evidence concerning any aspect of the Bible and still conclude that its teachings are false? You accept the possibility of a jealous god creating the universe by an act of will and all these other things we read in the Bible, but you do not accept the possibility that someone can honestly conclude that the biblical worldview is false after familiarizing himself with its contents?

Bahnsen: "The atheist world-view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes." [5]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, atheism is not a worldview. It's simply the absence of god-belief. When I say that I am an atheist, it only tells you what I do not believe, not what I do believe. The points you identify here are adequately addressed only by a rational philosophy. By its rational nature, such a philosophy is necessarily non-theistic in that it does not adhere to any god-beliefs. Do you interact with a rational philosophy in any of your writings, Dr. Bahnsen?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: Tell me, Dr. Bahnsen. You speak of non-believers who "have substituted personal conjecture about what 'seems likely' to them" in place of "research and honest assessment." Can you give some examples of what you mean?

Bahnsen: "For instance, since the Bible was supposed to be written so many hundreds of years ago, it just 'seems likely' to many unbelievers that we cannot trust the text of the Bible which we have in our hands today. Surely scribes have altered and supplemented the original text so much that we cannot be sure what was actually written by Moses, Jeremiah, John or Paul (if these characters were in fact the authors in the first place); for all we know, what we read in our Bibles came from the pen of some monk in the "dark ages"! This kind of ignorant criticism seems intellectually sophisticated to some unbelievers. After all, in our natural human experience, messages which are passed from one speaker to another usually get garbled or distorted or augmented, don't they?" [6]

Thorn: Well, I don't know how one could rule out or honestly ignore at least the very possibility that "scribes have altered and supplemented the original text" of the Bible. It seems to me that one who dismisses such a possibility out of hand is operating on unjustified prejudice. I think we can "trust" (to use your own word here) the Bible insofar as it records what some individuals believed thousands of years ago. But this in and of itself offers us nothing in regard to settling the question that what they believed and recorded was actually true. You seem eager here to dismiss criticism, whether informed or not, as "ignorant" and arising from uninformed "prejudice," as if there were no reason to question the validity of the claim, for instance, that Moses actually wrote the books attributed to him. It seems that Christians cavalierly assume that Paul wrote about the same Jesus that the gospels portrayed. But there are many reasons which suggest that neither of these is the case, Dr. Bahnsen. And it's demonstrably true that "messages which are passed from one speaker to another usually get garbled or distorted or augmented." You seem to want to allow this in the transmission of ideas except in the case of the Bible. Isn't this itself an instance of prejudice, Dr. Bahnsen? Perhaps if Christian literalists had more substantiation for their position, we'd see better defenses than the accusation of flagrant prejudice that you offer here.

Bahnsen: "To unbelievers who reason this way (about this or many other subjects related to the Bible), we must not tire of pointing out that they are relying upon conjecture, not research." [7]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, how do you know that "they are relying upon conjecture" instead of informed investigation? Do you intend that your readers simply presuppose that people who conclude that the Bible is not true are "relying upon conjecture," even though it is very possible that they are relying on something much more substantial than this? How do you discount the possibility that critics of the Bible may actually have some valid criticisms? Are you saying that this is simply not possible?

Bahnsen: "It may 'seem likely' that the Biblical text would no longer be reliable or authentic after all these years, but that 'likelihood' is an evaluation which rests upon prejudice. [8]

Thorn: With all due respect, Dr. Bahnsen, it seems that your eagerness to dismiss such findings as something that "rests upon prejudice" is itself something that "rests on prejudice." You're making a very broad generalization about everyone critical of the Bible, yet it's unclear how you could defend such characterizations. It almost seems like you're saying that anyone who is critical of the Bible could not possibly have any credibility whatsoever by virtue of the fact that he's critical of the Bible. I don't suppose you would think this way about someone who is critical about anything else. But please, Dr. Bahnsen, tell me more about what you think instills this prejudice in the Bible's critics.

Bahnsen: "The first prejudice is the assumption that the Biblical text is no different from any other written document which we find in our natural human experience throughout history - which, of course, begs the fundamental question over which the believer and unbeliever are arguing!" [9]

Thorn: Hold on a second, Dr. Bahnsen. How does this assumption beg the question? On what unprejudiced basis would one assume from the outset that the Bible is somehow "different from any other written document"? Aren't you essentially accusing Christianity's critics of prejudice for not sharing your prejudice?

Bahnsen: "If the Bible is, as it claims, the inspired word of Almighty God, then the history of its textual transmission may very well be quite different than other human documents since God would have ordained that its text be preserved with greater integrity than that of ordinary books." [10]

Thorn: But Dr. Bahnsen, that's the claim that you must defend, that we should approach the Bible as if its very nature warranted the allowances and special considerations that you want to grant it. It seems that you, rather than the Bible's critics, are the one who is begging the question here. Why, for instance, should we grant the Bible the immunity from criticism that you want to protect it from, and not, say, the accounts of Daoist adepts whose miraculous feats were recorded by supposed eyewitnesses? [11] You seem eager to reserve the epistemological rights to dismiss such accounts out of hand while granting the Bible an immunity which you would not allow other ancient documents to enjoy. You seem to think that the Bible's critics must present a proof to the effect that the Bible is not unlike other ancient documents. In other words, you're saying that the Bible's critics have the burden of proving a negative. And you're accusing others of begging the question?

Bahnsen: "The second indication of prejudice is that the unbeliever does not offer any concrete evidence that (say) some medieval monk tampered with the text before us today." [12]

Thorn: There is of course plenty of evidence that copies and translations of the Bible were made by medieval monks, and they were fallible human beings, were they not, Dr. Bahnsen? I don't think it is outside the purview of rationally assessed possibility that these monks could have erred in producing their copies or translations. Do you? I also don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that any one of these monks could have deliberately altered a text, either on his own prerogative or at the direction of a supervisor, in order to immunize it from contemporary criticism, or to slant the text in favor of a particular creedal affiliation or doctrinal commitment. Do you think such actions were not possible in the attending circumstances? Your own worldview is the one which says that all men are depraved and will sin if given the opportunity. Is a man exempt from the fallen nature that Christianity attributes to him by virtue of his profession as a copyist or translator? What other evidence do you want to secure that such fallibility, carelessness or indiscretion is at least possible, Dr. Bahnsen? Ample manuscript evidence, available to us today, in fact supports the conclusion that this took place. For instance, the earliest copies of gospel of Mark do not have the last twelve verses that we find in modern versions, and the earliest copies of the gospel of John lack the passages which make up its twenty-first chapter. In both cases, these passages were added later. They were added by somebody. But you seem to want us to be willing to dismiss these possibilities simply because you have dubbed this evidentially supported suspicion a product of prejudice. Speaking on this matter in his brief essay Did They Or Didn't They?, author and former Church of Christ preacher Farrell Till writes:

In scholarly circles, Mark 16:9-20 is known as the "Marcan Appendix," because there are sound reasons for believing that the author of Mark did not write this passage. Textual evidence indicates that as far as original materials are concerned Mark should end at verse 8 with the statement about the women being too afraid to tell others what they had seen. Verses 9-20 were redacted by a later scribe.

Till also notes that in his

own edition of the American Standard Version affixed this footnote at the beginning of verse 9: "The two oldest Greek manuscripts, and some other authorities, omit from ver. 9 to the end. Some other authorities have a different ending to the Gospel." My NIV edition has a bracketed statement between verses 8 and 9: "The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16: 9-20." Of the 17 versions of the New Testament in my personal library, 15 of them have reference notes to tell readers that this ending to Mark was not in the oldest and most reliable manuscripts.

I just checked one of my Bible's, this one being the New King James Version. It contains the following note referring to Mark 16: "Vv. 9-20 are bracketed in NU as not in the original text. They are lacking in Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, although nearly all other mss. of Mark contain them." The evidence for significant redaction of the text of the gospel of Mark is undeniable. But this is not a unique instance.

On page 87 of his book The Jesus Legend [13], author G. A. Wells points out that the "very final chapter 21" of the gospel attributed to John "is almost universally agreed to be a later appendix" and makes note of "the natural tendency of Christian controversialists to exaggerate the continuity of Christian tradition" in spite of this. Throughout the New Testament, certain passages are suspected of being the product of theologically motivated redaction, possibly with the intention to qualify a text as part of the canon, or as a vehicle for authorizing a theological teaching which was controversial at the time. On page 299 of his book The Jesus Puzzle [14], Earl Doherty lists seven scholars who conclude that the passage I Thessalonians 2:15-16 is a later interpolation. [15] In his essay Apocryphal Apparitions, New Testament scholar Robert Price argues that I Corinthians 15:3-11, which, if authentic, would be the earliest account of Jesus' resurrection in the Christian canon, is a "post-Pauline interpolation." The short list of such evidences could be extended, but this should suffice.

I suppose, Dr. Bahnsen, that you'd prefer to simply dismiss all of these points as merely an indication of prejudice?

Bahnsen: "This kind of remark is simply and arbitrarily advanced as a hypothesis to be endorsed for its 'likelihood', rather than its empirical credentials." [16]

Thorn: Are you assuming that it is necessarily the case that the mere suggestion that the biblical text could possibly have been altered at some point is one that is "arbitrarily advanced as a hypothesis to be endorsed" simply because it is said to be "likely" and that no "empirical credentials" can be mustered to validate it? What do you call the evidence put forward by the scholars I mentioned above? Here you put yourself in the uncomfortable position of having to defend a universal negative, Dr. Bahnsen. Can you not meet such challenges squarely? On the other hand, I suppose that if such a proposal were presented and backed up with empirical evidence (such as physical manuscripts of the gospel of Mark which are dated early but which also lack verses 9-20), you'd come up with a way to find fault with this as well, right? For instance, you could try your hand at the tiresome red herring, "How do you justify your empricism?" Such digressions may help eager apologists conveniently forget that manuscript evidence even exists.

Bahnsen: "If we want to play that way, of course, we could - with equal arbitrariness -- conjecture that the words which came down to us as Paul's were actually written, not years later, but years before the time of Paul!" [17]

Thorn: Well, you don't even have to conjecture that Paul's words came down to us "before the time of Paul" to be arbitrary. It seems that presuming Paul's words to be true without meeting the burden of proving them true is equally arbitrary.

Bahnsen: "Arbitrariness is a fickle friend to the scholar." [18

Thorn: You've shown that this cuts both ways, Dr. Bahnsen.

Bahnsen: "Cut loose from any demand for evidence, we could believe any number of conflicting things. [19]

Thorn: Yes, it is important to note that some people are willing to "believe any number of conflicting things," Dr. Bahnsen. I think Christianity encourages this in the case of metaphysical primacy, which is the most basic issue in all philosophy. When we delve into this matter, we will find that we cannot fail to conclude that the Bible is evidence against itself. The Bible is in fact self-invalidating. But we'll get to that later. Meanwhile, you had something more to say about prejudice?

Bahnsen: "[Another] indication of prejudice in the criticism of the unbeliever is that he or she has not taken account of the actual evidence which is publicly available regarding the text of Scripture." [20]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, what do you think qualifies as "actual evidence which is publicly available regarding the text of Scripture?"

"However, when the dispute is over more fundamental issues, as it is between believers and unbelievers, simple appeals to observational evidence need not be decisive at all. The reason is that a person's most fundamental beliefs (or presuppositions) determine what he or she will accept as evidence and determine how that evidence will be interpreted." [21]

Thorn: What does it profit the apologist to claim that he can produce "publicly available" evidence in support of Christian theism for non-believers to see while arguing that the Christian position must first be accepted before interpreting said evidence as evidence for Christianity? Which comes first, Dr. Bahnsen, the chicken or the egg? What holds priority, the worldview, or the evidence for the specific claims that inform the worldview? Your own "fickle" attitude about "actual evidence" that you claim is "publicly available" in regard to the Bible turns out to be a kind of valve that you can turn on and off at will, depending on how favorable or unfavorable the outcome will be in regard to your god-belief. On the one hand, you want to be able to accuse the non-believer of not having "taken account of the actual evidence which is publicly available regarding the text of Scripture" (and how you could know this about any individual, you do not say). But on the other hand, you want to say that "a person's most fundamental beliefs (or presuppositions) determine what he or she will accept as evidence and determine how that evidence will be interpreted." So on the one hand you accuse the non-believer of not even examining the evidence, and then you reserve the right to dismiss whatever "interpretation" the non-believer has of the evidence if you don't like its implications, preferring to relegate it as a product of ostensively a prioristic biases or illegitimate "presuppositions." This does nothing to prove your position; all it does is serve to insulate it from criticism, and not very cleverly: by stacking the deck beforehand so that criticism can be safely dispatched to the cornfield. 

I'm reminded of Phil Fernandes' telling admission in his debate with Jeffrey J. Lowder [22] when he stated, "I just believe that we are very good about lying to ourselves, and only accepting, uh, or interpreting the evidence the way we would like to." If Fernandes intends this to be true of all men, then it is just as true for him as it is for others, and thus his prejudice simply follows what he wants to be true, by his own admission. Such an orientation is certainly consistent with the position you describe for yourself, Dr. Bahnsen. Indeed, on page 20 of your book Always Ready, you indicate that Christian beliefs are not the product of rational investigation and verification of the Bible's claims, for this would concede too much cognitive power to the human mind. You cloak this admission - esssentially the admission that your worldview is not rational - in your condemnation of what you call 'neutrality', thus effectively muting the implications of what you do endorse. If you recall, you write

The man who claims (or pursues) neutrality in his thought does not recognize his complete dependence upon the God of all knowldge for whatever he has come to understand about the world. Such men give the impression (often) that they are Christians only because they, as superior intellects, have figured out or verified (to a large or significant degree) the teachings of Scripture. Instead of beginning with God's sure word as foundational to their studies, they would have us think that they begin with intellectual self-sufficiency and (using this as their starting-point) work up to a "rational" acceptance of Scripture.

A "rational acceptance" of anything would have to stand on reason, Dr. Bahnsen, since reason is the commitment to reason as one's only means of knowledge and only guide to action. If your position were demonstrably true on the basis of reason, you wouldn't have a problem with this. But here you are trying to obfuscate the nature and role of evidence in the context of one's knowledge. But notice the implications of what you say for even your own position. 

Many of your followers seem either not to catch this, or to think it's perfectly legitimate. On many occasions I've asked presuppositional apologists, who've claimed to know of evidence for their worldview, to produce said evidence so that we could examine it together. I'm certainly willing to do this. At this point they typically become reluctant to share it, citing essentially the same safety valve reservation that you offer here, claiming that I won't accept it as evidence anyway, that my "apparent neutrality" is a pretense (even though I do not claim neutrality), that I wouldn't believe even if I saw a man resurrected from the grave. [23] Well, we won't know this until he produces the evidence and we have the opportunity to examine it. Why doesn't Jesus simply appear to all men, like the book of Acts claims he did for Paul? Paul was a persecuter of the early church, and yet he believed when Jesus appeared unto him. But since this would thwart the religionist's ambition to inculcate a sense of powerlessness in their converts, the apologist has no choice but to stick to his rhetoric. Now if he attempts to produce tangible evidence from the real world, he would have to validate the claim, necessary to his use of it as evidence for the truth of Christianity, not only that the tangible can serve as evidence of the intangible, or that the physical can serve as evidence of the non-physical. No one is saying this cannot be done, but the apologist must validate this. Most importantly, he must validate the outstanding assumption, implicit in his claim to be in possession of evidence for the truth of his religious affirmations, that the natural can somehow serve as evidence of the supernatural. If your claims are legitimate, you should not resent such challenges.

Bahnsen: "If the critic had taken time to look into this subject, he or she would not have offered the outlandish evaluation that the Biblical text is unreliable." [24]

Thorn: Well, Dr. Bahnsen, I'm glad you're willing to grant at least this much. For I have taken a lot of time to examine this subject, and I don't think the evaluations that I have to offer regarding the supposed reliability of the biblical text are at all "outlandish." I think they are quite reasonable. In fact, what is "outlandish" is the claim that the Bible is true (why else would it need to be defended with such vigour?). In fact, I would even say that the Bible deliberately seeks to impress its readers with its intentionally outlandish stories of otherworldly personalities and events. Nothing you say suggests otherwise.

Bahnsen: "This came home to me with great force after taking an advanced course on Plato in graduate school, a course which took account of the textual criticism of the literary corpus of Plato's works. Our earliest extant manuscript of a work by Plato dates from right before 900 A.D. ('Oxford B', found in a Patmos monastery by E. B. Clarke), and we must remember that Plato is thought to have written roughly 350 years before Christ -- thus leaving us with a gap of over twelve centuries." [25]

Thorn: I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here, Dr. Bahnsen. I don't think Plato's Idealism is true any more than Christianity. What exactly is your point here?

Bahnsen: "By contrast, the earliest fragments of the New Testament date less than fifty years after the original writing." [26]

Thorn: Even five years is more than enough time to assemble and elaborate an inventory of fabricated ideas, Dr. Bahnsen, especially given the intersection of Judaism and Hellenistic ideas of the pagan world and the wealth of models to inspire such a project. I remember after Elvis Presley died in 1977, it was only a matter of months before his image appeared on newspaper tabloids hyping up ubiquitous "Elvis sightings" in the headlines. It wasn't long before "the King" was resurrected in popular channels. Surely it doesn't take long for legends to grow, Dr. Bahnsen. Best-selling novels can be written and distributed in a matter of months. But I'm curious how you determined the date of the "original writing" of the New Testament. Your words suggest that you think the entirety of the New Testament was written in a single, concerted effort, when the available evidence clearly suggests a scenario that is colored by competing theologies and traditions about a risen savior-god, an idea which has clear roots, not in Judaism, but in various pagan mystery cults that were in full bloom at the time. You seem unwilling to take these points into account, Dr. Bahnsen. [27]

Bahnsen: "The bulk of our most important extant manuscripts dates from 200-300 years after original composition." [28]

Thorn: I know you want to contrast this with the extant manuscripts of Plato's works, but it's a red herring. The issue is not how accurately the tradition was recorded, or how many copies of the New Testament we have, or how early these copies were made, but whether the tradition (or traditions) which are found in the New Testament are true. A relatively early dating of available manuscripts of the New Testament writings does not mean that what they say is true, Dr. Bahnsen. That conclusion simply doesn't follow.

Bahnsen: "The text of the New Testament is remarkably uniform and well established." [29]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, this is something you're going to have to prove. One of the glaring issues which you will have to surmount is the widely disparate portraits of Jesus between Paul's writings and the gospel narratives. You are advancing your position that they are uniform as if this were self-evident. It is not. A considerable body of literature in recent decades has brought this issue under penetrating scrutiny, and I don't think the findings of that investigation bode very well for the Christian worldview. In his reply to Christian apologist J. P. Holding on this very matter, G. A. Wells summarizes his findings as follows:

The problem, however, is not that the evidence concerning Jesus in the century from A.D. 50 to 150 is sparse, but that its witness to him is not uniform; for a considerable body of Christian literature is extant which is either earlier than the gospels, or at any rate earlier than the time when they had become generally known, and which signally fails to confirm what they say of Jesus and represents him quite differently. Only from the time when the gospels had become available do we find other extant Christian documents beginning to portray him as they do. [30]

So your claim that "the text of the New Testament is remarkably uniform and well established" is in significant conflict with Wells' remarks here and the support he gives for them. Only  by ignoring the content and details of the New Testament writings could one claim that they are uniform. In his essays that are available online and in his several books devoted to the subject of the various pictures of Jesus found in the early Christian documents, Wells leaves no stones unturned in his investigation of the long-standing claim to uniformity in that record, and shows why it cannot be true. Other writers have done similarly. So I don't think you can simply wave their findings aside with brash comments like this, Dr. Bahnsen.

Bahnsen: "The reliability of the Old Testament text has been demonstrated by the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls." [31]

Thorn: That's not a unanimous conclusion, Dr. Bahnsen. Yet here you seem to prefer that your readers regard it as such. In fact, some researchers are of the opinion that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls served simply to open up a whole new can of worms for Christian literalists. 

How for instance does one demonstrate the truth of the story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22)? Does the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate that this story is true? How so? Specifically, how does the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate that the voice that Abraham supposedly heard, a voice which according to the Genesis story commanded him to prepare his own son as a sacrifice, came from a god? Your colleague John Frame asks this same question: "How did Abraham come to know that the voice calling him to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22:1-18; cf. Heb. 11:17-19; James 2:21-24) was the voice of God?" But I don't see how believers could find his answer to this question very reassuring, for he ends the matter by saying, "We know without knowing how we know." [32] Frame certainly does not say that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates the truth of such stories, and I think for a good reason: this discovery in no way proves that the story content of the scrolls is actually true. If we unearthed an ancient collection of scrolls cataloguing all the Greek myths, would this prove that those myths were actually true?

In fact, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has only complicated matters for Christians in regard to the figure of Jesus in the New Testament. G. A. Wells brings this out in another essay where he draws attention to the possibility that the ideas which found their way into the New Testament as part of their picture of Jesus, particularly those which are associated with the Suffering Servant tradition, were already enjoying currency more than 100 years before the time that the New Testament indicates Jesus lived. Wells notes the presence of

some traditions about the Teacher of Righteousness who figures in Dead Sea scrolls written ca. 100 B.C. as a revered leader (not the Messiah, and not a supernatural personage) to whom God had made known all the mysteries of the prophets, and who had been severely persecuted. Whether he was an actual historical figure or largely a construction to give substance to his followers' conception of the founder of their movement cannot now be determined. In any case, the Scrolls show that his memory was still treasured a century or more after his presumed death. What his followers thought they knew about him was that he had lived long ago and had been maltreated and persecuted probably dying as a martyr. [33]

The content of the Dead Sea Scrolls tells us that traditions such as the one Wells points out were in the air long before the Jesus tradition itself emerged as the cornerstone of a new religion. In fact, the Jesus cult came upon the scene after a long succession of similar cults had already gained a foothold throughout the Mediterranean region. The elements of the Jesus story could simply be in one form or another a rehashing of many of these Mystery predecessors. At any rate, there are many other sources which disconfirm the unanimity you want to pass off here, Dr. Bahnsen, but these points are sufficient to bring your overstatement into serious doubt.

Bahnsen: "The overall authenticity and accuracy of the Biblical text is well known to scholars. Frederick Kenyon concluded: 'The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation, throughout the centuries'." [34]

Thorn: Statements like this, Dr. Bahnsen, are simply irresponsible. I know you want to believe the Bible is true, but wanting it to be true won't make it true. By making the Bible your starting point, you admit that you couldn't possibly know that its contents are true, even if any of it were actually provable. You've cut yourself off from any proof of the Bible's claims by assuming it's all true from the very get-go. Knowledge doesn't come by fiat, Dr. Bahnsen.

Bahnsen: "Such assessments from competent scholars could be multiplied easily -- which only goes to show the prejudice that operates in the thinking of unbelievers who offhand criticize the Bible for 'very likely' having a dubious text." [35]

Thorn: I suppose by 'competent scholars' you mean anyone who repeats the same position and points to his academic credentials and the names he drops as back-up. Yes, such could be multiplied on either side. But again you suggest that unbelievers must be motivated by some nefarious "prejudice" while ignoring your own obvious prejudice. Let's be frank about this, Dr. Bahnsen. The content of the Bible implicates itself, just as surely as a man on trial for murdering his wife would implicate himself if he claimed that the victim was slain by a vampire who turned into a bat and flew away after sucking her blood. I don't believe in vampires, Dr. Bahnsen. Would you say that I am unjustified in this "prejudice"?

Bahnsen: "In apologetics our task is to analyze the arguments which are advanced by unbelievers against the truth of Christianity and to produce sound arguments in favor of it. This will call for an understanding of how the truth of a proposition can be based upon the truth of others -- an understanding of empirical relations (evidence) and conceptual relations (logic). We take our best sanctified ability to reason and debate, using the empirical and logical tools of reasoning which God has granted us, and offer justification for believing Christianity to be true and rejecting the conflicting perspective of unbelievers." [36]

Thorn: It is interesting that you bring up the notion of evidence again, just as above you noted a "demand for evidence," especially since your apologetic exhibits a gamy attitude towards it. Do you have any evidence for your presupposition that the Bible is true? Given the vigor with which you trumpet your assent to the Bible, it seems that you would have more than mere prejudice and appeals to authority to back up your position. For starters, what is your proof that there is a god to begin with?

"The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him, it is impossible to prove anything." [37]

Thorn: So, you're making a very wide, sweeping claim here, essentially that the Christian worldview in its totality is true, and anything that does not agree with it is false. 

Bahnsen: "I want to specify that I’m arguing particularly in favor of Christian theism, and for it as a unit of system of thought, and not for anything like theism in general." [38]

Thorn: Yes, that is what I thought. Thank you for making this clear. You're not arguing simply for the existence of any god. In essence, you want to defend the position that the biblical worldview, drawing on both the Old and the New Testaments, is in its totality true. How would you go about proving such an enormous bundle of claim, Dr. Bahnsen?

Bahnsen: "From the impossibility of the contrary. No other world-view can justify the laws of mathematics or of logic." [39]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, I know that you believe this to be true, that only God can justify these things. The fact that you accept these claims is not in dispute here. What I'm asking is whether or not you can establish these claims through rational means, or are your readers supposed to just accept what you say unquestioningly on faith, on your say-so? Do you have an argument?

Bahnsen: "The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him, it is impossible to prove anything." [40]

Thorn: Well, you need an argument, Dr. Bahnsen. Without it you have no proof. By the way, what is that you believe I am obligated to prove?

Bahnsen: "When the perspective of God's revelation is rejected, then the unbeliever is left in foolish ignorance because his philosophy does not provide the preconditions of knowledge and meaningful experience." [41]

Thorn: Well, Dr. Bahnsen, I am an unbeliever; that is, I do not believe that Christianity is true, but here you're claiming knowledge about my philosophy. Specifically, you're claiming that my philosophy is deficient in some way. Have you examined my philosophy? If it is deficient in some respect, how would you know this unless you examined it?

Bahnsen: "To put it another way: the proof that Christianity is true is that if it were not, we would not be able to prove anything." [42]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, with all due respect, you seem only to be repeating the very claim you're called to prove.

Bahnsen: "In short, there is no shortage of empirical indicators or evidences of God’s existence, from the thousand stars of the heavens to the five hundred witnesses of Christ’s resurrection." [43]

Thorn: Ah yes, the "five hundred brethren" to whom Paul alleges the risen Jesus appeared. We read about this in I Corinthians 15:6. Tell me, Dr. Bahnsen, can you name any of these five hundred brethren?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: I see, not even one? Then I don't know what basis you propose that we accept Paul's statement here on. You seem to be assuming that it is impossible that Paul was exaggerating, mistaken or simply making up a testimony to impress the converts at the troubled Corinthian church. Also, nothing in I Corinthians 15, where the author [44] mentions "five hundred brethren" who allegedly witnessed the risen Jesus, suggests that they had an experience any different from Paul's own experience of Jesus at his conversion, which, according to Acts 26:19, he called a "heavenly vision." In his second letter to the same church Paul describes (II Cor. 12) "visions and revelations" that he claimed to have received "of the Lord" (verse 1). So how would you validate your assumption that what these anonymous five hundred individuals saw was a real man, and not just an apparition or an hallucination?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: I see. So, you can't really appeal to what Paul says here in your claim that "there is no shortage of empirical indicators or evidences of God's existence." You also mentioned "the thousand stars of the heavens." If by "stars of the heavens" you mean the celestial bodies which luminate the cloudless night sky, there's a lot more than a thousand of them. I think Carl Sagan was probably not exaggerating when he said that there are "billions and billions" of stars. How do you prove that all those stars were created by your Christian god? Now you have two claims to prove - not only that there is a god, but also that this god created all the stars. Nothing you've said so far leads me to believe that you even have an argument for these claims.

Bahnsen: "[You are] not presuppositionally neutral in [your] approach to factual questions and disputes... what [you] might call the pretended neutrality fallacy." [45]

Thorn: There's no pretense to neutrality on my part, Dr. Bahnsen. I do not claim to be neutral when it comes to issues of philosophy and reason. My worldview holds rationality to be a cardinal value. By rationality I mean specifically the commitment to reason as one's only means of knowledge and one's only guide to action. This is a commitment I choose with the full knowledge of what such a choice entails. Since I am committed to reason, I too am suspicious of pretenses or claims of impartiality with regard to man's knowledge and values. In fact, Dr. Bahnsen, it is because I am committed to reason that I am an atheist. You see, my atheism is not a primary; it is a consequence of my loyalty to reason. 

Bahnsen: "When we defend the faith with those who object to it, we should constantly point out, as Van Til does with his imaginary opponent in Why I Believe in God: 'in presenting all your facts and reasons to me, you have assumed that such a God [the All-Conscious, All-Conditioning Controller of every fact] does not exist. You have taken for granted that you need no emplacement of any sort outside of yourself.'" [sic][46]

Thorn: I think your mentor, Dr. Van Til, failed to recognize that for many atheists, their atheism follows naturally from their commitment to reason rather than a primary or "ultimate presupposition" which guides all their reasoning. See how Van Til wants to characterize non-believers? He wants to characterize them as assuming that his god does not exist. In fact, he implies that for the non-believer this negative assumption is his starting point. But Van Til does not argue to show this to be anyone's starting point, he simply assumes it, and seems all too ready to ignore the existence of rival religions, for he does not say that atheists also assume that Allah, Brahman, Zeus, Blarko or any other gods do not exist as their starting point. This makes your mentor look petty-minded, Dr. Bahnsen, yet you devoted yourself to composing a book over 700 pages long to promote his apologetic approach.

In the case of your worldview and mine, the antithesis is a direct result of the fundamental orientation to reality respective to our different worldviews. I'm talking here about metaphysical primacy of course, the relationship between subject and object which lies at the foundation of any worldview affirmations, specifically the concept of objectivity (the object holds metaphysical primacy over the subject, the objects of consciousness exist independent of consciousness) versus the subjectivist orientation inherent in the religious worldview (the subject holds primacy over its objects - objects conform to the intentions of consciousness). I do not begin my reasoning by assuming the non-existence of the Christian god any more than I begin by assuming the non-existence of Blarko or Avalokitesvara, even though I do not believe in these deities either. Man does not begin by negating; rather, he begins by perceiving and affirming on the basis of his perceptions.

Incidentally, Dr. Bahnsen, your argument against what you call the "pretended neutrality fallacy" is hard to distinguish your position here from arguments which attempt to conclude that there is no possibility of objectivity in human thought.[47]

Now, where do you prove that the stars were created by your god, Dr. Bahnsen?

Bahnsen: "Until men are driven to abandon their intellectual autonomy and to think in terms of the truth of God as their point of reference, they will never read the evidence properly for God's existence." [48]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, your words can only suggest that you believe men should be forced to think in a manner that contradicts how they naturally think. If your god-belief rests on the use of both force and contradiction, can you blame anyone for honestly concluding that Christianity is not only a false worldview, but also lethal to man as such? At any rate, you again provide ample evidence that Christianity is anything but rational. If it were rational, you wouldn't have to speak of "driving" men like some drive cattle.

Bahnsen: "Two philosophies or two systems of thought are in collision with each other. One submits to the authority of God's word as a matter of presuppositional commitment; one does not. The debate between the two perspectives will eventually work down to the level of one's ultimate authority. The presuppositional apologist realizes that every argument chain must end, and must end in a self-authenticating starting point. If the starting point is not self-authenticating, the chain just goes on and on. Every worldview has its unquestioned and its unquestionable assumptions, its primitive commitments. Religious debate is always a question of ultimate authority." [49]

Thorn: It is interesting that you bring up this idea of one's starting point being "self-authenticating." I don't know what exactly you think your starting point is, or how you come to the view that your starting point is "self-authenticating." In your book Always Ready, you cite Proverbs 1:7 ("the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge") to indicate your starting point on many occasions. [50] By assigning "fear" as "the starting point of all knowledge," you're placing fear prior to any knowledge, which can only mean that fear as such is thought of here as a self-sufficient primary, that is, fear without knowledge (since knowledge is said to be founded on this fear). How is fear without knowledge "self-authenticating," Dr. Bahnsen? You seem to be conscious of the need for a starting point and also of the point that one's starting point cannot be something that one can prove by argument. My starting point is the baseline recognition that existence exists - whether one willingly admits it or not, which can only mean that existence exists independent of consciousness. That is, existence exists whether anyone admits it or not, whether anyone likes it or not, whether anyone approves of it or not. You cannot go beyond the fact of existence, for to do so would be to make statements about something other than what exists. And this baseline recognition in my worldview is valid because for anything to be true, this fact - that existence exists independent of consciousness - must be true. "Many philosophers have attempted to build their systems on the denial of the existence of an independent reality. In maintaining that the independence of the real is axiomatic, Ayn Rand is in effect maintaining that every such attempt will ultimately make use of the very fact it is attempting to deny." [51] Dr. Bahnsen, you have to assume my starting point in order even to conceive of the one you claim for your worldview, which means you're committing the fallacy of the stolen concept. Also, since emotions are caused by the introduction of new knowledge as it impacts one's values, by asserting fear without knowledge, you commit the fallacy of the stolen concept.

Bahnsen: "The Christian, by placing himself on the unbeliever's position can show how it results then in the destruction of intelligible experience and rational thought. The unbeliever must be unmasked of his pretensions. Paul challenges 'where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?' (I Cor. 1:18-20). The unbeliever must be shown that he has 'no apologetic' for his viewpoint (Rom. 1:20). In Romans 1:20, Paul says that unbelievers are left 'without excuse', but etymologically one could actually translate it into English that 'they are without an apologetic'. They have no defense of the position they have taken. Non-believers are left, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:17-24, with vain, darkened, ignorant minds that need renewal." [52]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, is anything you've said so far meant to prove either that a god exists or that the stars were created by your god? You seem anxious to get the spotlight off your claims and to redirect it onto your contemptuous characterization of non-believers. In fact, you seem so anxious that you now seem to have forgotten to argue for your earlier claims. Now you have a number of new ones to defend, and you still haven't substantiated any of the earlier claims you've made. Again I think Van Til was way off: When I point to the facts that I perceive in the world, I am in no way assuming that your god does not exist. Again, I don't start by negating; by characterizting non-believers in this manner Van Til erects a straw man. Of course this is an easy accusation for apologists to make, Dr. Bahnsen, for I am not a believer. But it does not follow from the fact that I do not believe in your god that I am assuming that your god does not exist. The one does not in any way entail the other. I am not assuming that your god does not exist any more than I'm assuming that Brahman or Avalokitesvara does not exist. 

Also, speaking directly to your present point, suggesting that as a non-believer I am "without an apologetic," that "[I] have no defense of the position [I] have taken," I am here to say that I need no defense beyond the axioms and the primacy of existence principle, none of which you've answered, none of which you're capable of disputing without assuming them. For they are my position, Dr. Bahnsen. You're stuck here. Quoting St. Paul doesn't help you, for he doesn't interact with my worldview any more than you do, which is nil. You say that, as a non-believer, I "must be unmasked of [my] pretensions." But you've not demonstrated that I am pretending in anyway. In fact, I have long recognized that I would have to be dishonest to affirm your god-beliefs. For me to claim what you claim would be a pretense. I don't believe that there are any invisible magic beings, Dr. Bahnsen. This seems to bother you to no end.

Bahnsen: "[U]nbelievers argue in a way which assumes the very thing they should be proving (that this God does not exist) and in a way which blindly assumes that they are intellectually autonomous." [53]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, I have no onus to prove that your god does not exist. Your assertion that X is the case does not imply that those who do not believe that X is the case have a burden to prove that X is not the case. In the Far East, there are some who claim that Avalokitesvara exists. How do you prove that Avalokitesvara does not exist, Dr. Bahnsen? What is the quality of your "proof" that Avalokitesvara does not exist? You demand of those who do not believe in your god something that you are not willing to give yourself. And besides, I have no idea what kind of proof you would accept in any case. Remember, you are the one who's making a claim about the existence of an entity which I do not perceive, and for which you have yet to provide inferential support. I think it's clear why you worry yourself with how I as non-believer think, with what I assume or with why I don't assent to your beliefs. You busy yourself with these concerns because you don't really have an argument to support what you say, right? You have plenty of excuses for not providing an argument, that's clear. But that just means that you do not meet your burden of proof. And it's not at all the case that I "have taken for granted that [I] need no emplacement of any sort outside of [myself]." In order for me to identify myself as "I" as opposed to anything else, I must have awareness of objects outside myself, otherwise there is no way I could make such identifications. The world about me, the reality of facts, the irreducible primary fact that existence exists, that is my "emplacement" if you will. Far from taking these things for granted, my worldview makes these facts explicit from the very start. So I am not and cannot be guilty of these libacious assumptions you accuse me of. It also seems to be the case that you don't see any need to support these accusations you lob against non-believers. Apparently it's the seriousness of the charge that is enough for you to settle the matter in your mind, is that it, Dr. Bahnsen? For the record, Sir, I don't think you're familiar enough with my view on things to make such accusations.

Bahnsen: "Everyone uses some such system of ultimate generalities about reality, evaluative criteria, and structuring relationships. We could not think or make sense of anything without some coherent view of the general nature and structure of reality." [54]

Thorn: I think so as well. In my worldview, I start out with the broadest generality possible: Existence exists. In other words, we begin with the explicit recognition that there is a reality. By 'reality' I mean the realm of existence. We teach that at the foundation of all instances of thought there is a fundamental relationship between our consciousness and existence, that is, between the subject and its object(s). We recognize that this is not a relationship of equals, Dr. Bahnsen. We recognize that the objects of our awareness hold metaphysical primacy over the subject. In other words, the objects are what they are by virtue of the fact that they exist, not because the subject creates them or gives them their identity. The subject's task is to discover and identify those objects, not to create them or conform them to its wishes. This is the objective orientation to reality. Your worldview teaches the very opposite, Dr. Bahnsen, and does so right from the very beginning: God, you say, "created reality." [55] How did God do this? By an act of will. That is, by means of a form of consciousness. Here we have the subject assuming metaphysical primacy over its objects: the subject not only creates the objects and gives them their identity, the subject can also manipulate them and conform them to any whim that might flash through its mind. This is subjectivism, Dr. Bahnsen, the view that existence finds its source in a form of consciousness. Your worldview is explicit in this regard. How would one even attempt to validate the subjective basis of Christian theism? Thus, to live, the Christian must be a double-minded man, operating on the primacy of existence in any goal-oriented activity, but claiming in contradiction to this principle that the primacy of consciousness is philosophically valid.

Bahnsen: "The Scripture teaches us that 'there is one God, the Father, by whom are all things...and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things' (I Cor. 8:6). All things, of all sorts, were created by Him (John 1:3; Col. 1:16). But He is before all things, and by means of Him all things hold together or cohere (John 1:1; Col. 1:17). He carries along or upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). Therefore, to exist is to be divine or created. In God we live and move and have our being (Act 17:28). He, however, has life in Himself (John 5:26; Ex. 3:14). The living and true God gives the distinguishable unity or common natures to things (Gen. 2:19), categorizing things by placing His interpretation on them (e.g., Gen. 1:5, 8 10, 17; 2:9). It is He who also makes things to differ from each other (I Cor. 4:7; Ex. 11:7; Rom. 9:21; I Cor. 12:4-6; 15:38-41). Similarity and distinction, then, result from His creative and providential work. Both the existence and nature of things find their explanation in Him - whether casual (Eph. 1:11) or teleological (Eph. 1:11). God is the source of all possibility (Isa. 43:10; 44:6; 65:11) and thus sets the limits of possible reality by His own will and decree." [56]

Thorn: You give quite a mouthful here, Dr. Bahnsen, plenty for me to sink my teeth into, and I thank you for this. You start off answering my question by affirming that "The Scripture teaches us that..." Dr. Bahnsen, I'm aware of what I will read in the Bible. My question is not "What will I read if I open the pages of the Bible?" My question is, how do you validate the subjectivism that permeates Christianity like tobacco smoke in a Chicago speakeasy? How do you prove that the stars in the sky were created by your god? You seem quite unprepared to defend this claim by pointing to anything outside the Bible, and by pointing to the Bible you simply repeat the original claim which you are called to prove. I don't want to accuse you of begging the question, Dr. Bahnsen, but you don't give me any alternative here.

What is noteworthy about your statement here, however, is not only that you provide no reason why one should accept any of it as true (frankly, Dr. Bahnsen, you don't even try to do this), everything you describe in your statement here expresses the primacy of consciousness view of reality. Your theology arbitrarily divides the concept 'existence': "to exist is to be divine or created." You say that "all things... were created by Him" and that "He carries along or upholds all things by the word of His power." Presumably a conscious being which has the ability to speak words also has the choice of which words it will speak. It's not likely, given your Reformed Christian leanings, that you would deny the supposition that your god has free will to do what he chooses, so the causality of whatever your god creates must ultimately reduce to your god's wishing. Wishing is an act of consciousness, and thus we have an act of consciousness resulting in the creation of its objects as well as the identity of those objects. You say that "God gives the distinguishable unity or common natures to things" and "also makes things to differ from each other." These points reduce to the view that existence and identity are dependent on a form of consciousness, namely, as you call it, God's "will and decree." All instances you give are expressions of the primacy of consciousness view of reality, and in each case you offer no evidence to back up your claim. Indeed, you simply cite Bible verses as if that were sufficient to meet your burden of proof. Dr. Bahnsen, a claim is not true simply because it is written in an ancient book. If you want others to accept your claims, you should give both your ideas and your conversants the respect to argue for them. It's clear that you want to base the law of identity on the conscious actions of your god when you say that "the existence and nature of things find their explanation in Him - whether casual... or teleological." But your god would have to have an identity independent of his own conscious actions if it existed and had the power to create things. The stolen concept here should be obvious. What Objectivism teaches on this matter is inescapable: "Existence is Identity. Consciousness is Identification." [57] It seems that even you, Dr. Bahnsen, with all your seminary credentials and pious endowments, cannot escape these fundamental truths. Yet they figure nowhere in your theology or your apologetic.

Bahnsen: "Without beginning and ending our intellectual efforts with Him all basis for history, logic, and science are destroyed." [58]

Thorn: You grant an individual amazing powers, Dr. Bahnsen. For in his choice whether or not to affirm Christian theism lays "all basis for history, logic, an science." [59] You're saying here that if we don't make your god central to these pursuits, they will be "destroyed." Well, let's see if we can destroy them, Dr. Bahnsen. I hereby affirm that your religious views are false. Does this mean that history no longer exists? Does it follow from this that logic no longer exists? Do you think that by rejecting Christianity I have "destroyed" science? No, Dr. Bahnsen, not at all. History, logic and science all go on whether you or I approve of their findings or not. By affirming Christian theism, you simply remain in the Dark Ages. Now this doesn't mean that I don't understand what you're trying to say, theoretically. You want to say that the successful operation of the human mind depends on the existence of your god. It's one thing to repeat this belief over and over in a variety of ways, and surely you do this. But it's an entirely different matter to actually validate this view. You're not providing any reasons why one should believe it. It almost sounds like you expect me to believe what you're saying on your authority alone. 

Bahnsen: "In the nature of the case, God is the final authority. But if God's authority must be authorized or validated by the authority of human reasoning and assessment, then human thinking is more authoritative than God Himself - in which case God would not have final authority, and indeed would no longer be God. The autonomous man who insists that God can only be accepted if His word first gains the approval or agreement of man has determined in advance that God will never be acknowledged as God (the final authority)." [60]

Thorn: For one thing, Dr. Bahnsen, the authority of reason is demonstrable in man's life, otherwise it would be abandoned on a more consistent basis. No one who intends to live can abandon reason completely (though some do come close!). But what you appear to be saying is that, if you claim something on the authority of X, others are not allowed to question your claims by virtue of your supposition that X is "authoritative." That seems quite irresponsible, not to mention arbitrary. If your god's claim to authority were genuine, would you need to evade reason so explicitly? Here you show that your ambition is to insulate what you claim as authoritative from any inquiry on its credentials. I suspect, Dr. Bahnsen, that if its claim to authority had any legitimate credentials, we wouldn't get this run-around, and you'd willfully and ungrudgingly produce them.

Bahnsen: "The idea of supernatural revelation is inherent in the very idea of this system of Christianity which we are seeking to present to the natural man. But if this is so then the idea of the supernatural, infallible inscripturated revelation is also inherent in this system. Man as the creature of God needs supernatural revelation and man, [having] become a sinner, needs supernatural redemptive revelation." [61]

Thorn: Ah, I get it. Since you claim authority on the basis of a "supernatural revelation" you believe it should be above rational inspection. Is that right, Dr. Bahnsen? Well, that you want your claim to authority to be above inspection tells me a lot. I read the chapter of your book Always Ready, titled  The Problem of Knowing the "Super-Natural", and throughout I tried to find in your writing an answer to the question, so relevant to the topic, "What does Bahnsen mean by the term 'supernatural'?" I must say, Dr. Bahnsen, you spill a lot of ink on the topic of rebuking those who would question your assertion of "the supernatural". But it seems that your essay is more ironically titled than you might have assumed when you finished. For "the problem of knowing the 'super-natural'" is still a problem after you closed with your conclusion. For I don't see where you've indicated what you mean by this puzzling and overused term. Describing 'the supernatural' as "whatever surpasses the limits of nature" is not helpful in this regard; this could refer to anything, including the inventions of one's imagination. It seems that in writing this chapter of your book Always Ready, this would present you with a prime opportunity to discuss in positive terms what you as a Reformed Christian believer mean by this stubbornly elusive term. Other worldviews posit "the supernatural," yet you offer no reason to suspect that their usage of the term is illegitimate or that yours is legitimate. 

Bahnsen: "It has been a repeated mistake of apologists to approach unbelievers as though their interpretation of certain areas of reality (e.g., 'nature') were quite intelligible in terms of their professed philosophy (regarding reality, knowledge, and ethics) and acceptable as far as it goes, simple needing to be supplemented with some propositions about the 'supernatural.' According to Van Til, the apologist's focus should not be restricted to this 'added' dimension, but rather should encompass the entire range of human knowledge." [62]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, let me just ask you point blank. If someone were to show you that there is no rational basis for belief in the existence of a god, would you still believe?

Bahnsen: "Uh, rationally speaking, if there is no basis for belief in the existence of God, I would relinquish that belief." [62a]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, there is no rational basis for belief in the existence of any gods. The principle of the primacy of existence is sufficient to show this. [63] Will you now relinquish your faith?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: Of course not. Your belief is not based on reason. Rather, it's based on faith, and it is on this basis that you want to say reason has its foundation. That's why we should not expect you to recant your professed beliefs even after they're shown to be irrational. Reason has nothing to do with them. By claiming that rationality presupposes your god-belief ("Without beginning and ending our intellectual efforts with Him all basis for history, logic, and science are destroyed"), you admit that your god-belief has no rational basis. You can't have your cake, and eat it, too. A dog chasing its tail may be entertaining to watch, but it doesn't make for valid philosophy.

Bahnsen: "How in a materialistic, naturalistic outlook on life, man in his place in the world, can you account for laws of logic, laws of science, and laws of morality? The atheist world-view cannot do it and therefore I feel justified in concluding as I did in my opening presentation this evening, by saying that the proof of the Christian God is the impossibility of the contrary. Without the Christian world-view, this debate wouldn’t make sense." [64]

Thorn: First of all, please tell me, are you assuming that everyone who doesn't believe in "the supernatural" must therefore be a "materialist"? Who specifically is asserting a "materialistic outlook on life"? I have nowhere committed myself to materialism. Also, I've already given you some indication of how my worldview would support the affirmation of the laws of logic, science and morality. I give you the Objectivist axioms: existence, identity and consciousness, and the metaphysical primacy of existence principle. Logic, science and morality, if they are to be objective, must assume these fundamentals, but your worldview is at its very foundation opposed to these principles by its assumption of the primacy of consciousness view of reality. And another thing, Dr. Bahnsen, even if you could show that a rival worldview cannot "account for" these things, that would not justify your claim that "the proof of the Christian God is the impossibility of the contrary." It simply doesn't follow from the fact that one view is wrong that a wholly different view is therefore true. This is a non sequitur, Dr. Bahnsen, but you seem to think it's good logic. Perhaps you think it's good logic because your worldview simply doesn't know what logic is, in spite of all your talk of it.

Bahnsen: "If the unbeliever is accustomed to thinking that people can only know things based upon, and pertaining to, the 'here-and-now', then the Christian's claims about the transcendent are an intellectual reproach." [65]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, Christianity is an "intellectual reproach" because it fails to distinguish between what is real and what you imagine, and because it allows you to say that reality is in essence subservient to somebody's whim. No, you don't put it in such terms, but that's essentially what Christianity is saying when it asserts that an invisible triune god exists, that this being created the universe by an act of will, that it created the first man and this man fell into disobedience and passed sin onto all his progeny, that it sent its only son to be crucified, that morality, truth and science need this god, not reason, in order to be reliable, etc. 

Bahnsen: "The validity of Scientific Laws were undermined by Hume when he contended that we have no rational basis for expecting the future to be like the past. Or if you will, for there to be types of events so that one event happening can be understood as a type of event so where it’s seen happening somewhere else, the same consequence can be expected from similar causation. Hume said we have no rational basis for that. Hume suggested that there was no rational basis for expecting the future to be like the past, in which case science is based simply on convention, or if you will, habits of thought. Do you agree with Hume?" [66]

Thorn: Not at all.

Bahnsen: "Years ago, David Hume noted that the scientists proceed on a scientifically unfounded, yet critically essential belief in the uniformity of observable nature. Yet, he pointed out, there is no reason (beyond psychological habit) for the naturalistic scientist to expect the sun to come up tomorrow. Science as an autonomous self-contained discipline has no honest answer to Hume. But if science, properly conceived, subordinates itself to God's revelation, then it knows why the sun will come up for it knows that God providentially controls all the operations of his created universe in a regular and dependable fashion." [67]

Thorn: I see you want to take Hume seriously. Perhaps this is itself a "psychological habit" of yours. But by committing yourself to the position that a secular philosophy "has no honest answer to Hume," you not only put yourself in the dubious position of having to argue for a universal negative, you also demonstrate that you need to catch up with the times, Dr. Bahnsen.

Bahnsen: "Do you now have an answer for Hume?" [68]

Thorn: Sure. First of all, I do not accept the premises central to Hume's framing of the problem, namely that a) the level of sensations is our starting point to knowledge, or that b) causality is simply a relationship between events. Both of these assumptions are crucial to Hume's skeptical conclusion about induction. Contrary to Hume, Objectivist philosophy teaches that perception, which is the level of consciousness which automatically integrates sensations into perceptual units, is our epistemological starting point, since it is the given with which we have our first awareness of reality. [69] Perceptual integration enables us to have awareness of objects as wholes, not as disintegrated sense qualities which we have to assemble by some conscious process (Hume called this "convention" and sometimes "habit", as you mentioned). Thus we have an objective starting point as opposed to the subjective groping which pretends to be a starting point (as Hume had). Also, Objectivism rejects the Humean conception of causality. Where Hume saw causality as a relationship between events, one happening for no apparent or discernable reason after another, Objectivism shows that causality is properly conceived of as a necessary relationship between an object and its own actions, which tells us that there is a necessary reason why an object behaves the way it does. That reason is the object's nature, its identity. Hence the tie between action and identity. Without these points - the level of perceptual integration instead of just isolated sensations, and the Aristotelian view of causality, one could not fail to come to Hume's skeptical conclusions about the human mind. Perceptual integration gives us an objective working model for conceptual integration, which is a consciously directed process of integrating the objects and the attributes of objects that we perceive, and conceptual integration gives us an objective working model, if it's done correctly, for inductive generalization.

Also, I think the way you have characterized induction, framing it in terms of "expecting the future to be like the past," is potentially misleading. Concepts of time are themselves non-axiomatic, as they are formed on the basis of certain assumptions, or "presuppositions" if you will. Specifically, they assume the axiomatic concepts of my worldview, namely existence, identity and consciousness. "Time is a measurement of motion; as such it is a type of relationship." [70] Time is thus epistemological, while that which it measures is metaphysical. When we ask questions about the future as opposed to the past, just by distinguishing the future as a frame of temporal reference, we are building into the question these more general, fundamental assumptions. For the concept 'future' to have any valid meaning at all, existence must exist, objects must have identity and consciousness must be valid. These truths are self-evident, in fact, they are self-validating. As we ask questions about "the future," we have to have an answer to the question "the future of what?" To answer such questions, we need the axioms, which are validated in every instance of consciousness.

If these fundamental truths were to change, we'd have a lot more to worry about than the validity of our inductive generalizations. In fact, we wouldn't even be around to do any worrying to begin with, since worrying is an act of consciousness which belongs to a living being which exists. If the fact that existence exists changes, everything would simply disappear, since a change to the fact that existence exists would mean that existence does not exist. What could possibly cause this, Dr. Bahnsen? Certainly not something that exists. So, we're on safe grounds if we guide our thought according to the principles of a rational philosophy, as opposed to the notions of the religious view of the world.

Bahnsen: "What is the basis for the uniformity of nature?" [71]

Thorn: Existence exists.

Bahnsen: "To say, 'well it’s always been that way in the past' is just to beg the question. We want to know on what basis your world-view allows for the uniformity of nature, and laws of science." [72]

Thorn: Excuse me, Dr. Bahnsen, I think you're misunderstanding me. I have not attempted to construct a proof that nature is uniform, nor am I basing my recognition that nature is uinform on the fact that "it's always been that way in the past." Rather, I'm simply pointing to the facts which tell us that nature is uniform with itself. The recognition that nature is uniform is a corollary to the axioms, not a product of circular argument. To recognize that an object is itself is not begging the question, since such a recognition is not proposed as the conclusion to an argument. It is a baseline identification naming facts which we directly perceive. Nothing I have stated in this regard amounts to a circular argument, for I'm not attempting to draw a conclusion from a set of premises which assume the conclusion. I'm simply naming primary, fundamental facts. When I perceive object A, I perceive object A. Since perception is a firsthand form of awareness (as if there could be such a thing as a secondhand form of consciousness), I do not need to construct a proof in order to validate it. It is on the basis of perception that I can recognize that an object is itself, that A is A. From this instance of perception, I already have the material to form the principle: If A should exist, it must be A. This is not a faith commitment, for I have an objective, perceptually available basis on which to form such recognitions.

Bahnsen: "Let me illustrate. Naturalism and supernaturalism are conflicting outlooks regarding the world in which we live and man's knowledge of it." [73]

Thorn: I see. What do you mean by 'naturalism'? What does the 'naturalist' you have in mind say?

Bahnsen: "The naturalist claims that what is studied by empirical science is all that there is to reality, and that every event can (in principle) be explained without resorting to forces outside the scope of man's experience or outside the universe." [74]

Thorn: What do you mean by "empirical science," Dr. Bahnsen? And what are "forces outside the scope of man's experience or outside the universe"? To what could these terms possibly refer?

Bahnsen: "'Empirical' is a term applied to that which is known by experience, observation, or sense perception. 'Empiricism' as a school of thought boldly claims that all of man's knowledge is dependent upon empirical means. [75]

Thorn: Well, if something is ultimately dependent upon something other than perception of reality, how could it qualify as knowledge of reality? Are you aware of these things by some means other than perception?

Bahnsen: "Created reality is revelational of the living and true God, and thus scientists deal with that which inescapably communicates God (Psalm 19:1-3)." [76]

Thorn: Ah, so, you think reality is "created"? This suggests that you think that whatever is real is created. That would mean that whatever created what is real must be something other than real. I take it that this is where you get the idea of "forces outide the scope of man's experience or outside the universe." That's going to put you in a bind if you want to say that god is real, since the universe is the sum total of all that exists. I'm still wondering, by what means would one acquire awareness of what you call "forces... outside the universe" and how does all this qualify as knowledge of reality, Dr. Bahnsen?

Bahnsen: "How do we know this worldview? We don't build it up block by block by block, piece by piece by piece, evidence by evidence by evidence. We know this worldview because it's been delivered to us in the pages of Scripture." [77]

Thorn: I see, then it is clear: you do not establish any of the Bible's claims by offering evidence to secure them. This means that your earlier talk about evidence was in vain, since in the final analysis evidence plays no role in grounding the foundations of your worldview. You're not integrating facts that you discover firsthand in reality and forming rudimentary principles on this basis. Instead, you start with consciousness with nothing to be conscious of, a vacant, empty consciousness which creates its own objects and thus invents knowledge according to no objective standard whatsoever. You simply swallow the whole Bible in one gulp, and claim it is all true on no basis at all. Apparently it's true because you want it to be true, is that right, Dr. Bahnsen?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: This does not qualify as knowledge of reality, Dr. Bahnsen. It is a massive confusion on your part. In the end, all you have is a vain appeal to empty authority.

Bahnsen: "[All this] is set forth by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-25. He says that all men inescapably know God the Creator. The eternal power and divinity of the Creator are clearly revealed throughout the cosmic order of nature. Thus, man possesses definite knowledge concerning the origin of the world and himself." [78]

Thorn: I see, so, it doesn't matter that your own words can only imply that the god you worship could not be real. Indeed, you go on to suggest that you have knowledge in your mind without having to discover and validate it by any process, objective or otherwise. This is a claim to automatic knowledge, Dr. Bahnsen, that is, "just knowing," or knowledge by no means, information from nowhere, deduction without reference to reality. It indicates that you have no argument for your claims. If you had an argument, you wouldn't need to appeal to automatic knowledge, you'd be able to rest your verdicts on reason. I think it also indicates a faulty understanding of the nature of the mind. Paul exhibits this same poor understanding in his writing, and you read it and believe it and on this basis claim it's true. This of course is a reversal: we should first establish that our claims are true and then we can have confidence in them.

Bahnsen: "A man's intellectual problems with the gospel are at base moral in character; that is why Paul says in 2 Tim. 2:25 that conversion is unto a genuine knowledge of the truth. Before a man is regenerated he has a knowledge of God but suppresses and distorts it (by mishandling it)." [79]

Thorn: You've taken a pass on your opportunity to present an argument to support the teaching of Paul's that you cite from the first chapter of Romans (specifically the claim that "all men inescapably know God the Creator"). Taking this position for granted, you go on to say that men "suppress" this alleged knowledge. This is as unfalsifiable as the Freudian claim that all women suffer from penis-envy. Any woman's denial of it can be interpreted as evidence of her guilt. There are some who actually believe this, Dr. Bahnsen, just like you claim to believe what you're claiming here. Do you have any evidence for these claims?

Bahnsen: "It is the Christian's contention that all non-Christian worldviews are beset with internal contradictions, as well as with beliefs which do not render logic, science or ethics intelligible." [80]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, can you name just one "internal contradiction" in my worldview?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, what beliefs does my worldview promote which "do not render logic, science or ethics intelligible"?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, supposing you could find a contradiction at some point in something I say, do you think it follows from this that my entire worldview is thus "beset with internal contradictions"?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: Can you prove your "contention that all non-Christian worldviews are beset with internal contradictions, as well as with beliefs which do not render logic, science or ethics intelligible," or do you just presuppose this to be the case?

Bahnsen: "Everybody has what can be called a 'worldview', a perspective in terms of which they see everything and understand their perceptions and feelings. A worldview is a network of related presuppositions in terms of which every aspect of man's knowledge and awareness is interpreted. This worldview… is not completely derived from human experience, nor can it be verified or refuted by the procedures of natural science." [81]

Thorn: When you say that "this worldview… is not completely derived from human experience," what exactly do you mean by 'experience' in this case? Do you think that a man's worldview is derived some kind of non-human (or inhuman) experience? How would you substantiate the case that a man's worldview is "not completely derived from human experience"? And can we "interpret" something before we've identified it? I question this because it's at points like this that one could insert anything they want to complement "human experience," and I want to make sure you know that I will be watching for this.

Bahnsen: "Not everybody reflects explicitly upon the content of his worldview or is consistent in maintaining it, but everybody has one nonetheless." [82]

Thorn: It's true, not everyone is explicitly aware of their philosophical orientation to the world. Generally speaking, I suspect that many people do not reflect explicitly on the content of their worldview because they don't value their minds very much, and/or simply take too much for granted. Indeed, most people have a mish-mash of ideas loosely assembled to provide them with what they need in a worldview, and often as part of this hodgepodge is the teaching that they should not value themselves very much, or that they should value others more than they value themselves. It's no wonder they don't take some time to do some mental housekeeping in that case.

Bahnsen: "A person's worldview clues him as to the nature, structure and origin of reality." [83]

Thorn: Yes, see, that's a very telling notion - this idea that reality has an "origin." I don't think this is a coherent idea. I don't know what exactly your conception of reality would be if you were to identify it explicitly. Reality is the beginning and the end. But it's clear from what you said earlier - "created reality" - and from the notion you offer here, that reality in your view has an "origin" - that it is contrary to my view on the matter. As I mentioned earlier in regard to the idea that reality is "created," I think such an idea could only mean that its creator is something other than real. The same is the case with the notion that reality has an origin. If you want to say that reality has an "origin," how could you say that it originates from something real? I'm not buying it, Dr. Bahnsen. Watch the infinite regress.

Bahnsen: "The unbeliever has no intellectual ground on which to stand in opposing God's revelation." [84]

Thorn: Well, here again, Dr. Bahnsen, you put yourself in the dubious position have having to prove a negative. Or, do you simply expect your readers to believe this without proof?

Bahnsen: "Christian supernaturalism… believes that there is a transcendent and all-powerful God who can intervene in the universe and perform miracles which cannot be explained by the ordinary principles of man's natural experience." [85]

Thorn: Well, there goes any and all reliability of induction, then.

Bahnsen: Huh?

Thorn: Well, if I believed that "there is a transcendent and all-powerful God who can intervene in the universe and perform miracles which cannot be explained by" what you call "ordinary principles of man's natural experience," then I would be wrong to claim any confidence or certainty in my estimates of future happenings. On my worldview's premises, I could rationally suppose that tomorrow gravity will continue to hold me to the earth's surface. But if I believed what you are saying, I'd have to allow for the possibility that God could reverse gravity for reasons unknown to me. If I believed in a supernatural being who can "perform miracles which cannot be explained" through rational means, I'd have to grant that things like this, which in my understanding would be completely arbitrary, are possible. The next time I try to pour myself a glass of water, the water might go up to the ceiling or straight out across the room instead of into my glass. When I take a sip of that water, it might have turned into wine. The next time I take my kids to the lake, they might walk on the water instead of dive into it and swim like dolphins. Of course one could say that this is all one should expect if he adheres to a worldview that teaches a person not to "lean unto his own understanding" (Prov. 3:5), for in such a world one could never hope to have any understanding: the Mystery of God would be the ultimate "explanation" to everything that happened, regardless of its chaotic and senseless nature.

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: I know you've devoted a lot of your time and energy to writing in defense of these things, but I seriously wonder how much genuinely critical thought you've put into these matters, Dr. Bahnsen. You seem to have taken so much for granted. On the one hand, you want to rebuke those who adopt a pro-reason worldview which does not indulge in religious fantasies, and on the other hand you demand the philosophical license to proclaim these fantasies not only be true, but to be what you might call "ultimate truth." [86]

Bahnsen: "Differing worldviews can be compared to each other in terms of the important philosophical question about the 'preconditions of intelligibility' for such important assumptions as the universality of logical laws, the uniformity of nature, and the reality of moral absolutes." [87]

Thorn: You don't have to take my word for it if you don't want to, Dr. Bahnsen, but your Christian worldview is not up for a match with mine, and it never will be. Your worldview derails intelligibility from the very get-go, at its very foundation, by reversing the subject-object relationship. Your worldview essentially teaches that the object is something that the subject creates at will. Take the universe for example: you say that your god created the universe by an act of will. This reduces to utter subjectivism: the subject creates its objects, that is, consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over existence.

My worldview, on the other hand, affirms the very opposite principle, the primacy of existence principle. The object is what it is, regardless of the intentions of the subject. The subject doesn't create its objects, it discovers and identifies them. You cannot completely deny this in the case of man, but you completely deny it in the case of the god you claim exists. Thus, your worldview attempts to have its cake (the primacy of consciousness) and eat it, too (the primacy of existence) when you say all this is "true." The very concept of truth presupposes the proper orientation of the subject to its objects, which is the primacy of existence principle. But what you're claiming to be true reduces to the primacy of consciousness view, which is invalid. Since this internal contradiction is so central to everything in your worldview [88], you have no worthwhile worldview to the degree that it is consistent with its initial premise, Dr. Bahnsen.

Bahnsen: "We can examine a worldview and ask whether its portrayal of nature, man, knowledge, etc. provide an outlook in terms of which logic, science and ethics can make sense." [89]

Thorn: We sure can, and I have done just this in the case of both my worldview, and yours, Dr. Bahnsen. I don't think yours could ever "provide an outlook in terms of which logic, science and ethics can make sense." Your writings and lectures drip with the assertion that Christianity provides for intelligibility while all non-believing worldviews fail to do so, but you don't prove either of these positions. When you try to defend the former claim that Christianity provides for intelligibility, you offer a most superficial position, worrying yourself about "immaterial entities," "the impossibility of the contrary," "the pretended neutrality fallacy," "the crackers in the pantry fallacy," and the "creator-creature distinction," which is simply an expression of the mystical dualism to which your worldview is inherently married and the desire to reduce man to a subhuman brute who, mired in servility to supernatural forces, cannot think for himself. When you attempt to defend the latter claim that no non-believing worldview can provide for intelligibility, you tend either to misrepresent your opponents' positions, or to pillory one example (sometimes in an uncharitable fashion and always with more critical scrutiny than you're willing to train on your own positions) and assume it suffices to refute all others. Looking back on your debate with Gordon Stein, you certainly spent a lot of your energy trying to discredit him as your opponent. But no matter what errors Stein makes, this will not prove that Christianity is true.

Bahnsen: "It does not comport with the practices of natural science to believe that all events are random and unpredictable, for instance." [90]

Thorn: Right, which is the very reason why I think a worldview which endorses the idea of miracles could not possibly serve as a suitable ground for scientific inquiry and research. Even if you hold (for convenience's sake?) that God will not miraculously change the objects in your enviroment, thus thwarting your inductive certainties (I didn't know that the finite could limit the infinite), you still have to allow that Satan can, for Satan is characterized as an invisible magic being also, and capable of mischief. Either way, it does not comport with the practices of natural science to believe that all events occur in comformity to some supernatural being's wishes and directives. You seem to be operating on a false dichotomy, Dr. Bahnsen. It seems that you think there are only two options: either that all events are directed by a supernatural being whose alleged existence reason cannot prove, or that "all events are random and unpredictable." There is a third option, which you fail to consider, and that is the objective position: that objects act in accordance with their own identities. This is the essence of the law of causality when properly understood as a corollary to the law of identity: "The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action." [91] If we assert the concept 'action', we cannot fail to recognize that an entity is doing the acting, and that the action it is performing is within the realm of possibility for that entity. If by "random and unpredictable" you mean there is no causality to an entity's actions, then I don't see how the horn you want to reject in the dichotomy you present could apply. Furthermore, the horn which you want to embrace in your dichotomy assumes the primacy of consciousness, and I've already indicated some reasons why this is false. What's ironic about your position, Dr. Bahnsen, is that, if we allow in our epistemology that the events of the universe are directed by a supernatural consciousness, there's all the more reason to conclude that we'll have to contend with the "random and unpredictable." Claiming that God's choices and actions are rational from his own perspective would not help the believer, unless of course he claims to read God's mind. Could any of the guests at the Cana wedding in the second chapter of the gospel of John predict that the water in the jugs would turn into wine? Could anyone have predicted Saul's conversion on the Damascan road? You miss the point utterly, Dr. Bahnsen. 

Bahnsen: "It is one of those embarrassing historical ironies that modern science could not have arisen except in the atmosphere of a Christian world-and-life view. Nevertheless, the scientific community today persists in playing the prodigal by assuming an antagonistic stance against the Christianity of divine revelation. Hypnotized by Darwin's evolutionary scheme and enchanted with the products of scientific technology, modern man has granted science a secularized godship and bows before it in fetish idolatry." [92]

Thorn: You come across as one who is as jealous as the god he worships, Dr. Bahnsen. The authority once enjoyed by priests and popes has been replaced by the marvels of reason, as it should be. Of course, you want to characterize this in negative terms without forfeiting the occasion to give credit to your Christian worldview for the success of science and technology as such. If "modern science could not have arisen except in the atmosphere of a Christian world-and-life view," why did it take 1500 or more years after the time of Jesus to come into being? The period preceding the Renaissance (i.e., rebirth of Reason) was a period of Christian dominance in the west and was characteristically defined by pervasive cultural stagnation and religious intolerance. It's puzzling that you would take exception with the antagonism that science has for "the Christianity of divine revelation." Science is based on reason, while belief in revelations rests on the abandonment of reason. I know you probably are reluctant to admit this, but of course, you have a confessional investment to protect. What is ironic is how you characterize the theory of evolution as "hypnotizing" when the religious beliefs you champion bear a vastly more striking resemblance to this. Your comparison of science to religion (you say "modern man has granted science a secularized godship and bows before it in fetish idolatry") misses some fundamental points. There is as wide a gulf as possible between the scientific approach to reality and the religious mentality, and it cannot be bridged by casting the admirers of scientific progress in a bad light, or denigrating their fundamental orientation to reality. Science does not advance on the basis of blind belief or uncritical acceptance of proposed theories. Scientists do not urge their peers to accept their conclusions on the basis of faith. Scientists are eager to prove the validity of their ideas on the basis of controlled experimentation which religion could never match. They begin with perceptually available facts and invite scrutiny of their methods, while religionists insist that we accept their pronouncements as "ultimate truths" in one lumpsum, hasten to point out the unreliability of the senses and man's mind, and condemn those who do not submit as "heretics."

Contrary to science, religious authorities, for instance orthodox Christians, often demonstrate animosity towards requests for evidence as an indication of a lack of faith, as the lesson of Doubting Thomas illustrates (cf. John 20:26-29). Scientists do not threaten their readers and listeners with damnation and eternal torment if their conclusions are not accepted. Genuine scientists have enough confidence in their theories and their ability to reason to submit their views before other authorities for review and criticism. They realize that peer review can very often help researchers strengthen their case. By contrast, debates between proponents of rival religious views tend to result in emotionally embittered clashes that are not resolved by turning to more rational alternatives, and therefore perpetuate those rifts that have splintered the major religions into competing sub-cults for centuries. We see this within Protestantism in the clash between Calvinism and Arminianism. Scientists deal with the real world and offer real explanations (and often reliable predictions) that can be verified through a process of unbiased testing, which an individual can under some circumstances employ himself in order to verify a particular scientist's verdicts (e.g., space flight, pain-killers, microprocessors, seismographs, organ transplants, etc.). Religious authorities offer no means of unbiased testing which conclusively verify their claims; in fact, they continually remind us that their religious "truths" are outside the realm of "empirical testing." [93] Scientists operate on the assumption that comprehensible answers and explanations can only come as the fruit of their efforts. Religionists' claims, on the other hand, in all cases, ultimately resort to appeals of the unknowable, to the enshrinement of the incomprehensible, claiming to have knowledge already, not as a result of argued research and experiment, but by virtue of conversion. [94] Honest scientists admit their fallibility, while religious persons are reluctant to concede the possibility that they're wrong. But at the same time, genuine scientists do not reject man's mind as a valid tool for discovering the facts of reality, and do not discard or overlook facts which they might determine as detrimental to their pet theories. In contrary manner, religious authorities attempt to interpret facts as confirming the dogma to which they've adhered. Unlike scientists, religious authorities begin with an unalterable dogma to which all viewpoints and discoveries must be made subservient.

Bahnsen: "The pitting of science against revelation is certainly odd." [95]

Thorn: How so? Scientists do not expect their verdicts to be revealed to them from mystical sources. Nor do they argue for them on the basis of revelations. Quite the contrary, scientists examine and test the objects of their study, relying on reason to base their hypotheses on relevant findings. They certainly don't learn about the workings of the universe by listening to voices in their heads (cf. Noah and Abraham). So there is no direct verbal revelation going on here. Also, since the Bible is no science book, and has no authority on scientific matters, scientists cannot consult it (so-called "special revelation") to discover and validate their scientific conclusions. Now, you might take the tack that by 'revelation' you mean what the scientist learns by firsthand observation. But this would be begging the question, Dr. Bahnsen. For it assumes the very issue that you must validate, namely the metaphysical primacy of consciousness. So far from proving it, you don't even seem to be cognizant of the underlying issues at hand. We know that existence exists, and we know that consciousness is consciousness of existence. But what you want to do is to assert a form of consciousness prior to existence. That's a logical reversal, and it always ends up short-circuiting the conceptual process.

Bahnsen: "For, a certain state of affairs is needed for the scientific endeavor to be meaningful or fruitful. The scientist must believe that the state of affairs is conducive to science, or he would not venture into the scientific enterprise. He must believe that there is a world of things and processes that can be known, and that he himself sustains a relationship to this world that allows him to know these objects and events." [96]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, nature doesn't have to conform to science; rather, science must conform to nature. The scientist doesn't have to "believe that there is a world of things and processes that can be known." He knows this directly, by perception. This is not a "belief" in the sense that he has some hazy or weak confidence in this premise. He can see with his own eyes, just like you and I can, that "there is a world of things and processes," and since he has a means of awareness (beginning with sense perception), and since he has a way of identifying and integrating what he perceives (reason), he can discover those processes and validate his knowledge of them. And yes, you're getting quite warm when you say that the scientist has a "relationship to this world that allows him to know these objects and events." That relationship is the primacy of existence principle - that reality exists independent of consciousness, that the subject does not create its objects, nor does the subject give them their identity, and that if the subject intends to acquire knowledge about its objects, it must do so by a specific means, which is reason (as opposed to faith in revelations, for instance). Anything other than this would simply undermine the scientific project.

Bahnsen: "But then, what reason can the scientist give for his belief that the state of affairs is actually conducive to science? Why is the world such as it is and not otherwise?" [97]

Thorn: I'm not sure I understand you, Dr. Bahnsen. How else do you think the world could be, and why do you think this? For the scientific enterprise to be possible, there must be a reality ("existence exists") and there must be conscious beings capable of conceptual thought who will do the scientific research (human beings). There is no such thing as a state of affairs that is not a state of affairs. To ask for a reason (or cause for) why reality is what it is commits the fallacy of the stolen concept: it assumes that the concept 'reason' (or 'cause') can be applied outside the context of reality. It seems like you're simply inventing burdens for others to hurdle so that you don't have to tend to your own. At any rate, this is a conceptual error and that's why you would not find it possible to press me with the charge of circular reasoning: I have an objective starting point.

Bahnsen: "Here the scientist, who depends on the self-sufficiency of his logico-empirical procedures, is in a predicament. His response is usually to make various hypotheses about the world and then point to the beneficial results that flow from such hypotheses; he gives, can give, no reason for those hypotheses -- they just are, because they work." [98]

Thorn: Which scientist are you talking about here, Dr. Bahnsen, and which hypotheses do you have in mind? You do realize, do you not, that there comes a point in tracing our knowledge back to its most primitive starting point beyond which we cannot assert any more concepts, otherwise we would have an infinite regress? Everyone who is willing to identify his starting point must be willing to say that his starting point is the way it is, and go forward from there. Even if a person says that God is his starting point, he most likely is not willing to say that his god is what it is because it was created to be what it is, or that some prior causality shaped it into what it is, for then it wouldn't qualify as a starting point. Besides, believers are at the very least emotionally reluctant to think of their god as something that is created. [99] Objectivism stresses an important point here: you cannot assert anything prior to existence. Once you assert something, you're already affirming existence. If you say that the universe is random because it wasn't created, the same would be said about your god, if you say it was not created. So whatever defects you want to attribute to an uncreated universe, would of course apply to an uncreated god for the same reason, no matter how much you try to special plead your case. Ascribing consciousness to your god does nothing but multiply your philosophical burdens and conceptual liabilities. Instead, such a move simply announces that you're not willing to identify an irreducible starting point. 

Bahnsen: "After all, the fear of the Lord is the starting point of all knowledge (Prov. 1:7)." [100]

Thorn: So, your epistemological starting point is emotional in nature?

Bahnsen: (silence)

Thorn: I see. Anyway, you wanted to make a point about the scientist you were discussing?

Bahnsen: "If pressed, or if he is philosophically inclined, he may even go so far as to say that his 'working hypotheses' have no reason unless it be 'chance'." [101]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, how many scientists have you talked to who guide their scientific investigations by rational philosophy? It doesn't seem you've done so if all the scientists you have talked to are telling you that things happen because of "chance." By 'chance' I assume you agree with your colleague John Frame when he defines 'chance' as referring to "events that occur without cause or reason." [102] Non-theistic scientists are not forced to view events in this manner, for they can recognize, with Objectivism, that events are actions of entities, and that an event's cause is the nature of the entities involved, as covered above.

Bahnsen: "In other words, the consistent naturalistic scientist seems to hold to an irrational set of beliefs about the state of affairs simply in order that his 'rational' scientific endeavor may get off the ground." [103]

Thorn: Well, this depends on what you mean by 'naturalistic' and 'rational', Dr. Bahnsen. I suspect you've packed your desired outcomes into your conception of these terms. And you've not shown that non-theistic scientists are necessarily committed to "an irrational set of beliefs about the state of affairs." You have no authority on this if you ultimately base your assessments on a faith scheme, for that would necessarily imply the primacy of consciousness view of reality, which invalidates itself and anything that assumes it as a premise. The state of affairs is the state of affairs - A is A. The important point here needs to be emphasized again: the task of consciousness is to identify the state of affairs, not create it. Objectivism is consistent in this regard, and such recognitions are indispensable to science. But where do they figure in your apologetic? It seems you're constantly reshuffling your deck so that certainty is available to no one except yourself, and even then you do not identify in clear, objective terms what grounds your certainty. 

Bahnsen: "It is rather obvious that prior to any scientific endeavor we must begin either from speculation (about 'chance' hypotheses) or from revelation." [104]

Thorn: No, this is not obvious, Dr. Bahnsen. And it's not at all true. You confine yourself unnecessarily to another false dichotomy. No one has to "begin either from speculation... or from revelation." Your worldview's inherent invalidity and hatred for man's mind have conned you to adopting this dichotomy. However, it is entirely possible for one to begin with perceptually self-evident certainties about reality, and these are the Objectivist axioms. In fact, that is what every consciousness does, though many do not recognize this, and still others resist this, deny it as if it meant death to their very livelihood, and/or seek to choke other minds with a stranglehold of skepticism, self-doubt and self-renunciation. With regard to the truth of the axioms, there is no "chance" element here (for the axioms must be true for concepts such as 'chance' to have any meaning), nor are the axioms a form of speculation or guessing. According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, to speculate means "to take to be true on the basis of insufficient evidence." In the case of the axioms, there's sufficient evidence for their truth; indeed, the concept 'evidence' would have no meaning, nor could anyone employ it, if they were not true. So the claim that the axioms are speculative in nature would give us another stolen concept. Moreover, scientists typically take exceptional care expressly to avoid hastiness and unsupported conjecture in developing their conclusions; quite often, their very livelihood depends on the care they give to their study. It must be noted that even speculation, as defined here, presumes existence, identity and consciousness. On the contrary, the axioms name the general facts which we directly perceive and of which we are certain on the basis of our perception. We must affirm them, either implicitly or explicitly, even to deny or debate them.

Also, let's consider the faulty nature of the alternative you want to promote - "revelation." Right off it should be seen that this can only lead to conflict and uncertainty. If one claims that his starting point is true because it is a revelation, and it conflicts with someone else's starting point which itself is claimed to be true because it is a revelation, by what means would you resolve the conflict? If we accept the notion of revelation as a valid idea to begin with (and you, Dr. Bahnsen, have yet to provide us a reason to), and we believe that revelation must be our starting point, there is no rational way to resolve conflicts between those who claim contrary things on the basis of revelation. Why? Because you're claiming a truth on the basis of something other than reason. Remember that rationality is the commitment to reason as one's only means of knowledge and his only guide to action. The alternative to reason is force. [105] Your religious "epistemology" sets the stage for certain violence, Dr. Bahnsen, and the history of conflict within Christianity as well as its many clashes with other religions bears this out. Specifically, how do you validate "revelation"? Or do you? If you say it is self-validating (or "self-authenticating"), what keeps someone else from making the same claim about his revelation? It seems that to make the claim that revelation is self-validating presumes a more fundamental basis for making such a claim, namely some standard which informs us how to identify when something validates itself (or "authenticates" itself). The claim that revelation is self-validating is not irreducible, for it presupposes numerous prior concepts (the fact that the terms 'revelation' and 'valid' have definitions proves this). For instance, where did you get the concept 'authenticate'?

Bahnsen: "The Scriptures (of the one Person who knows) reveal how it is that this world, and man in it, are such as to make scientific endeavor meaningful." [106]

Thorn: I see. You use many words to say very little while grabbing an awful lot. But I take it that by 'revelation' you essentially refer to believing whatever is written in the Bible or believing whatever you read in the Bible. And it is indeed more than a mere stretch to claim that the conception of the world as is found in the pages of the Bible should in some way or another serves as the foundation of science, as you say, "to make scientific endeavor meaningful." I think it's clear what you are willing to accept as "meaningful" and what you will not accept as "meaningful." Consider, for instance, the passage we read in Genesis 30 where Jacob haggles with Laban for past wages on the services he had rendered to Laban. They made a deal in which Jacob would stay on hire to Laban in order to tend to his herd, and in return Jacob would be allowed to keep all the spotted or speckled goats and black sheep of the herd for himself, and from these he would raise his own herd. Laban agreed, and naturally Jacob wanted to increase the size of the portion of the herd that he would be able to keep under such an agreement. Thus he sought to engineer the color patterns of any offspring produced by the herd. How did he do this? Genesis 30:37-39 make Jacob's plan clear:

Jacob cut branches from some poplar trees and from some almond and evergreen trees. He peeled off part of the bark and made the branches look spotted and speckled. Then he put the branches where the sheep and goats would see them while they were drinking from the water trough. The goats mated there in front of the branches, and their young were spotted and speckled. [107]

A footnote in the CEV to verse 38 enlightens us modern thinkers as to what the author imagined was going on in Jacob's head: "It was believed by some that what sheep and goats saw at the time of breeding would determine the color of their young" (emphasis added). 

Now, Dr. Bahnsen, is this at all scientific? 

This is an instance of the primacy of consciousness in the animal kingdom! According to the elements of the story, an animal's perception controls physical outcomes which modern science has discovered to come under the purview of the animal's genes. Whose right? The Bible? Or the geneticist?

Come to think of it, Dr. Bahnsen, I cannot think of any character in the Bible who was a scientist or who is known for scientific discoveries. Most personalities in the Bible tend to be barbaric, superstitious, cunning, subservient, devious, and always in need of divine handholding. I cannot think of one that I would admire, given the Bible's descriptions. God's "chosen" are continually portayed as helpless in their own lives, being pushed and pulled in whatever direction an invisible magic being desires, be it God or his pitchfork-wielding adversaries. I know you want to claim that science somehow presupposes the characteristics that you ascribe to the biblical god, but you seem all too eager to ignore the fact that the Bible's heroes exemplify anything but the sobriety of mind or orientation to reality that scientists need. We have, for instance, Noah, who is told to build an ark because an unprecedented rainstorm will flood the whole of the earth (cf. Gen. 6:13-17). Noah doesn't ask how this could happen, nor does he seek to verify such a claim by examining confirming instances of empirically accessible facts. This would be anathema to the disposition desired of the believer, for an inquiring attitude would model a lack of faith to readers. We have Abraham who is ordered to put his son to death (Gen. 22:1-13). Does the Bible portray Abraham asking why he should act against one of his highest values, or trying to reason with God? Not at all. In fact, Abraham is uplifted as an example of faith for accepting his plight and not working to overcome it (cf. Heb. 11:8-10). This models a defeatist as opposed to a rational, can-do attitude towards life. From such examples it is clear that God is not a being one could hope to reason with. The message here is clear: with God man cannot win. We have Job whose family God allows to be slain and whose flesh is overcome with boils when God wagers Job's fidelity in a bet with the devil. Does Job question the behavior of a being that would indulge in such unsavory conduct? Not at all. We have Jonah who is said to have been swallowed by a large fish or whale for three days, only to be vomited out onto the shore alive and well. This is a story that belongs in the foundations of science? [108] In the book of Daniel (cf. chap. 3), we read of three men who were cast into a fiery furnace that would reduce a man to ashes in mere moments, yet these three individuals survived with not even a blister. This is a story that constitutes a foundation for science? In the New Testament we have the affirmation of the primitive belief that mental disease and other ailments were caused by devils [109], that touching the hem of a holy man's robes can cure diseased people (cf. Matthew 9:20-22), and that the saliva of certain persons had magical properties, such as the ability to reverse blindness. [110] In the New Testament we have all kinds of supernatural stories, exaggerated with each retelling, with instances of men being raised from the dead by means of incantation (cf. John 11:41-43), men walking on unfrozen water (cf. Matthew 14:25-29), water being turned into wine (cf. John 2:1-11), and scenarios which could only make sense on the assumption that the earth is flat [111]. No, Dr. Bahnsen, the Scriptures you speak of do not enlighten us on how the world truly works. On the contrary, it tells us how primitive cultures sought to preserve their legends and portraits of heroes and to make them bigger than life. And today's believers indicate how determined some adults are to embarrass themselves as they buy into such nonsense. Any source which trumpets stories like these as truth may make for escapist entertainment, but it certainly could not be rationally accepted as having anything to do with serving as a foundation for scientific understanding of the world.

Bahnsen: "The state of affairs that exists is due to the creation and providence of the sovereign God." [112]

Thorn: The state of affairs that exists is due to the fact that existence exists and that to exist is to be something specific (i.e., to have identity). These truths are fundamental and inescapable. They are not accountable to something "before existence"; you cannot go "before existence." Asserting something "before existence" commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. Even your own characterization of the state of affairs must assume these fundamental truths. You can't get around them, Dr. Bahnsen. But that's what you continually want to do: you want to bypass existence in order to assert a form of consciousness before it. You made this clear above when you characterized reality as something that is "created." [113]

Bahnsen: "If science (so-called) could actually refute the truths of Scripture, then there would be no actual basis for science at all." [114]

Thorn: Of course, Dr. Bahnsen, you're assuming that science presupposes what you are calling "the truths of Scripture." You've not demonstrated this to be the case. In fact, I have shown above that you have to drop an enormous context in order even to try to argue for such a position. And to answer your point more directly, I don't think science needs to refute what the Bible says. As what I've presented so far indicates, the Bible refutes itself to the extent that it is taken seriously. You've not shown otherwise, Dr. Bahnsen.

Bahnsen: "The desire of the scientific community to pit its enterprise and conclusions against Christian revelation is ultimately suicidal." [115]

Thorn: Is that supposed to be a threat, Dr. Bahnsen? Science does not proceed on the basis of a religious commitment to unproven stories of events that allegedly took place two thousand or more years ago. Science is based ultimately on the most general truths, truths which you as a Christian apologist take for granted at the very basis of your thought but which you nowhere identify as fundamental to your worldview and which your worldview tramples under foot in its promotion of god-belief. In fact, when it comes to the subject-object relationship, your epistemology is silent. It's as though you had never even considered the matter of the objective relationship between consciousness and existence before, let alone its fundamentality to thought. Weren't you a graduate student in philosophy at Westmont College? 

Bahnsen: "When we study physics, we do not usually think of the fact that we are dealing with revelation."[116

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, that's because, if our methods are rational, we aren't "dealing with revelation." 

Bahnsen: "We study the individual objects in the physical universe. We try to see in accordance with what laws they work. We try to bring the particulars and the universals together. We deal, therefore, first of all with the object-object relation." [117

Thorn: But that's part of the problem, Dr. Bahnsen. You cannot speak of a relation between objects unless there is an objective relationship between subject and object. For it is the subject which is making statements about various objects. Philosophically speaking, the relationship between subject and object holds priority to the discovery and identification of any relationships between objects, for discovery and identification are conscious actions belonging to a subject. And there can be no subject without an object for it to be aware of. 

Bahnsen: "But we must also deal with the object-subject or subject-object relation. It is the human mind or subject that seeks to get information about the objects of knowledge." [118]

Thorn: Right. But we need to deal with this relationship first, and neither you nor Van Til proposed do this. By "deal with it" I mean we need to identify it in explicit terms and recognize its proper place in the hierarchy of our knowledge. Since knowledge is knowledge of something (knowledge of an object), and since knowledge is a function of consciousness (the subject), this relationship between subject and object is fundamental and universal to all knowledge. Without a subject and object, there could be no knowledge. Just as there must be an entity which acts in every instance of causality, there must be a knower (the subject) who knows something (the object) in every instance of knowing.

Bahnsen: "We hold that God has so created the objects in relationship to one another that they exist not as particulars only, but that they exist as particulars that are related to universals. God has created not only the facts but also the laws of physical existence. And the two are meaningless except as correlatives of one another. Moreover, God has adapted the objects to the subjects of knowledge; that the laws of our minds and the laws of the facts come into fruitful contact with one another is due to God's creative work and to God's providence, by which all things are maintained in their existence and in their operation in relation to one another." [119

Thorn: Don't you see how you've completely doubled back on yourself here, Dr. Bahnsen? You're so close, and yet so far. You are essentially saying that the subject creates its own objects, especially in the case of the super-consciousness you call God. This is the primacy of the subject over its objects. In other words, subjectivism. The Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind (Chris Eliasmith - ed.) agrees with me when it states "something is subjective insofar as it is dependent on either a particular mind or minds in general." You're saying that the objects of consciousness depend on the subject, since you want a subject to be ultimately responsible for their existence and identity. You amplify your error when you say that "God has adapted the objects to the subject of knowledge," when in fact the reverse is the case: to acquire knowledge of its objects, the subject must adapt itself to its objects. The mountain will not come to Mohammed; only in the story books does this happen. To read a note that's pinned on a wall, I (the subject) must walk up to the wall in order to perceive the writing on it; I cannot expect the wall (the object) to come to me. When an astronomer wants to study the moons of Jupiter, he must extend the range of his consciousness (e.g., by inventing the telescope) so that he can acquire awareness of his intended objects; the objects he studies won't overcome his limitations for him. If for instance I receive a bill (an object) in the mail and it says that I owe $300, I as the subject cannot adapt the bill to my wishes (the subject) to say I owe only $30. As subject, I must conform myself to the objects that I perceive. You may say that I am adapting the bill as my object to myself as the subject in that I must turn the bill right side up in order to read it. But the stated purpose here (to read it) explains why this only confirms my view that the subject conforms to the object: it is because I as the subject must adapt myself to the bill as my subject that I must turn it right side up. The object remains what it is even if I do not turn it upside down. The objective here is a conscious objective: to read the symbols printed on the face of the bill. I cannot do this unless I (as subject) have the proper orientation to the bill (the object). If the light is too strong for my eyes, I may squint a little or attempt to block it with my hand in order to read. If the writing on the bill is too small for me to read it, I will have to use my magnifying glass in order to read it. My conscious faculties require these modifications in order to act as a subject.

Bahnsen: "The antagonism between science and Scripture historically came to a head in the question of origins. The Christian asserts that the world is conducive to the scientific task precisely because God created it that way. (And this creation is revealed to be 'nature', a completed work of God not subject to the continuing progressive development posited by evolutionary theory). Even within the Christian community, remnants of this bitter confrontation are still evident in the dispute between those who hold to a 'mature' (completed) creation, and those well-meaning scientists and theologians who would accommodate to the 'science-in-vogue' by holding to 'theistic evolution'. Yet, it must be remembered, the non-Christian naturalistic scientist considers the 'fact' of evolution as the supreme case against the Bible." [120]

Thorn: For centuries, the sciences, to whatever degree there were any, were subservient to the church, assuming more or less what the church said was true. Scientific discoveries which conflicted with church dogma were slapped down forcefully. But the church didn't really know anything about science; it was the churchmen, Dr. Bahnsen, who were speculating, and their guide was fearsome, anti-rational dogma - something assumed to be true but never validated, in fact invalid philosophically. You want to say that "the world is conducive to the scientific task precisely because God created it that way," but it's actually quite the reverse of this, Dr. Bahnsen: the world is not tailored to our science any more than the human body is tailored to fit a pair of trousers. On the contrary, we must tailor our scientific verdicts to what we discover in the world. Indeed it is because there are no invisible magic beings messing with the workings of the universe and causing metaphysical mischief that science is possible. If there were supernatural beings intervening on the identity of objects such that they conform to their will regardless of the violence this would do to the objects' respective natures, the most a scientist could hope to be is a helpless spectator, ever at the mercy of whatever miracle might happen next. He could not rely on the law of causality, for causality is the relationship between an entity and its actions. In a realm where miracles occur, there is no necessary causal relationship between an entity and its actions; an entity under the influence of the miraculous operates in a manner that is inconsistent with its own identity. That's the whole point to miracles: to impress spectators because of the incoherence between an object and its actions. This is seen in the case of those accounts of miracles that we read about in the gospels. Under objectively causal circumstances, men do not have the ability to walk on unfrozen water, and saliva does not have the ability to cure blindness. But under miraculous circumstances, these things can do whatever miracle-performer wants; an object's specific nature is irrelevant, for the miracle-performer has the power to revise it at will. Thus, someone's will - a form of consciousness - holds metaphysical primacy over existence. 

In contrast to this, science involves the discovery and identification of the causal nature of objects and the relations they have with other objects. You could not form reliable principles identifying causal relationships in a realm where you thought miracles were an actual possibility (regardless of their frequency), because there would be no way to discover what the miracle-wielding consciousness is going to do next. We don't read minds, and such a consciousness is not going to announce its supernatural stunts beforehand, or publish a schedule of planned miracles so that scientists could prepare themselves for exceptions to their principles and the hypotheses these principles make possible. (The biblical examples of miracles are not portrayed as coming after publicized announcements.) Indeed, on what basis would one formulate scientific principles and hypotheses in a universe where miracles are believed to be possible? And indeed, an announcement by God of any upcoming miracles he planned to perform would defeat the religious purpose of miracles, which is nothing more than to convince believers that they are powerless in the world and in their own lives, just as the mortals in the Bible are portrayed. 

When you say that "this creation is revealed to be 'nature'," it's clear that you're trying to camouflage what's really going on: you blindly believe whatever you read in the Bible, for reasons which you are not willing to clarify and  which simply beg the question to the extent that you come close to clarifying, but label this "revelation" so as to give it pious import. It's deceptive, Dr. Bahnsen, but not very clever. I'm sure you've misled many young, impressionable minds with this kind of subterfuge. Also, when you characterize what you call "created reality" as "a completed work of God not subject to the continuing progressive development posited by evolutionary theory," it's clear that you're trying to preempt the findings of science which you find threatening to your dogmatic preconceptions. What's ironic here is that, in order to preempt scientific discoveries, you have to limit your god. With the wave of your hand, Dr. Bahnsen, you've announced that you have more power than your god, able to lock him into a cage so that he must assume a relationship to its creation that meets your satisfaction. It seems that if we accept the claim that there is an omnipotent, magic being that could create the universe by an act of will, how could we rule out the supposition that it could make the universe behave in whatever manner it wants rather than how Dr. Bahnsen wants?

You admit that not all Christians are on board with your condemnation of the theory of evolution, and this is cause for at least a little hope. But your stubbornness in this area compels you to regard those believers who recognize the validity of natural selection in the biological realm as doing so because it's trendy or fashionable. So as not to come across too contemptuous or to alienate your Christian readers, you find such scientists are "well-meaning," but probably only to the extent that they affirm the basic core of your religious beliefs. Beyond this, they're straying from righteousness, right, Dr. Bahnsen? And of course, non-Christian scientists cannot be allowed to be thought of as "well-meaning," right? It is crystal clear, however, that the real motivator of your angst against evolution is not that you think it is an unsound scientific theory, but that it is contrary to your religious affirmations. As you yourself put it, "the non-Christian naturalistic scientist considers the 'fact' of evolution as the supreme case against the Bible," and this has bothered Christians ever since Darwin proposed his thesis in his book The Origin of the Species in 1859.

Bahnsen: "Despite the enthusiasms of modern science in pursuing study and research on the 'origin of life', it must be recognized that all questions of origins fall outside the realm of empirical science!" [121]

Thorn: Oh come now, Dr. Bahnsen! The aim of such pronouncements should be obvious: by removing such issues from the purview of scientific study, you're simply trying to kidnap them in order to display them under the banner of your religion. You don't even give an informed argument for this end.

Bahnsen: "The methodology of science is simply not equipped to deal with events that are neither recurring or repeatable under experimental control." [122]

Thorn: Well, Dr. Bahnsen, how do you know this is the case? And why assume that the origin of life, even if it did have a beginning, is "neither recurring [nor] repeatable under experimental control"? Since scientists readily admit that they are not omniscient, it may be the case that they simply do not have enough data or understanding to design such experiements at this time. Or, since scientists readily admit that they are not infallible, it may be the case that they have overlooked certain facts which are pertinent to the design of such experiments. With the exploration of neighboring Mars, for instance, where evidence of a history of water has been discovered by recent probes, we may in fact have a fresh opportunity to design such experiments. We dare not allow such obviously dogmatic and obstinately unrelenting ideas as the ones which you parrot here, Dr. Bahnsen, influence the nature and future of science. Had scientists of the past allowed the church to impede their progress, we would not have the science of anatomy, anaesthesia, the heliocentric view of the solar system, probably even the discovery of America itself. Look at how the churches protest the science of cloning and stem cell research today. Time and again, it is the religionists who are standing in the way of scientific progress.

But you miss an important point about evolution, Dr. Bahnsen, one that should be pretty obvious, which suggests that you've not really examined the issue very carefully. Evolution is continuously ongoing, so it is observable and testable. The fossil record also gives us evidence that we can observe and test, and from this evidence, coupled with evidence from other sciences such as geology and volcanism, broad-ranged implications can be assembled and examined for their reasonableness, and frequently confirmed by later discoveries. Of course, we cannot speak definitively about evolution without integrating the concept of natural selection.

Natural selection is the mechanism behind evolution; it's the principle explaining why organisms have the features they do, why they are adapted, how evolution has occurred. Evolution is essentially the law of causality applied to life. It says, one, the survival of an organism depends on its actions... that's the conditional nature of life on which the Objectivist ethics is built, and two, the actions of an organism depend on its nature. That's the law of causality... Therefore its survival depends on its nature. Thus every variation in the nature of an organism has a survival significance; it promotes survival, or it hurts survival. Nothing is neutral to life; everything is pro-life, or anti-life. The pro-life variations survive better on average than the anti-life variations. That's natural selection. [123

Denying the possibility of evolution therefore amounts to denying the reality of biological causality. Yet if you've raised a child or ever raised animals on a farm or ranch, you would have daily evidence of this principle so necessary to life. And even if it were the case that we could not repeat the beginning of life or certain evolutionary cycles under experimental control, it would not follow from this that the theory of evolution is invalid. You need to do better here, Dr. Bahnsen. The so-called "creation scientists" don't do any better either.

And you know, Dr. Bahnsen, there is one last point I want to make here before you think that Christianity explains the origins of life. For one thing, saying "God did it" is no explanation whatsoever. There are no inputs from reality which support such a claim, so it is not something that can be rationally affirmed. It's simply a mystical assertion, accepted on faith, that is, because you want it to be true. What's more, however, is that even if you attempted to generate a context by which to secure the claim that God created life on earth, that still would not address the question of the origin of life as such. If you claim that God is alive (and most Christians seem to take it completely for granted that the god they worship is a living being), your position amounts to the view that an explanation of the origin of life is impossible, for you're starting out with something that is already living. Since you begin with something that's said already to be living, you admit to having no explanation to begin with. The scientist, on the other hand, takes the issue of biological origins far more seriously, not to mention honestly: he approaches the matter scientifically - that is, by investigating the evidence he discovers in reality and applying rational principles to what he discovers. The religionist takes a radically different approach, claiming to have knowledge already, seeking to conform all matters to preconceived notions which have no logical relationship to the realm of facts, and thus ironically committing himself to a position of perpetual ignorance. That's not a foundation for science and reasoning, Dr. Bahnsen.

Bahnsen: "In the matter of origins, where the scientist can neither observe nor experiment, one is left to depend either on guesswork speculation or infallible revelation. The choice should be simple; for the Christian, it is." [124]

Thorn: Nonsense, Dr. Bahnsen. We have already seen several instances of your readiness to deny the applicability of rational principle in favor of promoting a religious agenda on the basis of fallacy. You do this here by presenting the scientist with a false dichotomy: according to you, he must "depend either on guesswork speculation or infallible revelation." Above you presented a similar false dichotomy, namely that the events of the universe are either directed by a supernatural consciousness (and specifically the one you have in mind), or they are "random and unpredictable." In that instance you not only denied the objective causal relationship between an entity and its own actions (that is, that an entity acts the way it does on the basis of its own nature independent of consciousness), you also missed the point that a universe at the mercy of a divine consciousness is just as "random and unpredictable" as the chaotic and chance-governed universe that you foist on science. That dichotomy in part drives the one you're trying to pawn off now: in matters "where the scientist can neither observe nor experiment, one is left to depend either on guesswork speculation or infallible revelation." For one thing, you fail to validate your claim that the scientist is left with only these two options. Also, you ignore the fact that the scientist can rely on rational principles which are objective in nature (unlike the twin horns of the dichotomy you endorsed).

Now, I can understand why you would think that these are the only two options available to men, Dr. Bahnsen. For this is all that you have available to yourself as a Christian theist. Having forfeited rational principle (which requires the primacy of existence, which theism rejects), you have nothing but "guesswork speculation" in those areas where the Bible is silent (such as in the case of the laws of logic). Where the Bible speaks, you want call this "infallible revelation." But where the Bible does not speak, you have given yourself no other option but to speculate and guess, just like all the other people who want to claim as you do. The consequence of rejecting rational principles is that your arguments are the product of speculation and guessing, while camouflaging these to be the logical outcome of what you want to call "revealed truths," which is nothing more than dogmatically enshrining Bible quotes. By blurring the distinction between the two as you employ them in your arguments, many of your eager readers are easily taken in by your subterfuge and are thus prone to calling your conclusions "true." 

Bahnsen: "Naturalistic science will usually retort that examination of present materials and processes enables us to extrapolate backwards so as to determine what must have occurred. But here again, forsaking his own basic methods, the scientist is speculating (not observing) on the course of historical development; he assumes (but cannot show experimentally) that not only is nature uniform now but always has been, that processes seen today have always worked as they do now." [125]

Thorn: Dr. Bahnsen, when you say that the scientist is "forsaking his own basic methods," which methods specifically do you have in mind here? You seem to think that "observing" and "experimenting" are his basic methods, where just above you said that the only options open to scientists are "guesswork speculation" and "infallible revelation." I must point out that you're pawning off a frozen abstraction here. [126] You did this in your debate with Dr. Stein when you tried to grill him for what you called "the crackers in the pantry fallacy." Specifically you stated that "the assumption that [all existence claims] are answered in the very same way is not merely oversimplified and misleading, it is simply mistaken." [127] If one critically examines your side of the debate, it will be seen that you nowhere identify any method for verifying your religious "existence claims." Rather, your whole apologetic is concerned with dismissing criticism of your religious claims, and to do this you rely on sleight of hand tactics, which I've been exposing. In fact, knowledge claims are validated by the same general method, and that method is called reason. What is reason and how does this work? 

Reason is the faculty which perceives, identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses. Reason integrates man's perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man's knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic - and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. [128

You nowhere showed in your debate with Stein that reason is unreliable as man's means of validation. To argue effectively against reason, you would have to employ reason, and that would be self-defeating: to the extent that your argument would succeed, it would invalidate itself. 

You characterize any scientist who does not self-consciously adhere to your religious code essentially as a blind groper, as one who "assumes (but cannot show experimentally) that not only is nature uniform now but always has been." If you're looking for a "proof" of the uniformity of nature, you're asking for something that is outside the realm of proof, indeed something preconditional to proof, and thus baiting your opponents to beg the question. Your eagerness to accuse non-believers of circular argument, so typical of presuppositionalists who have modeled their debating tactics on yours, confirms that this is what you want to do all along. Doing so enables you to discredit non-believers, and with them all their ideas that you find distasteful. But proof is not the only means by which we can acquire certainties about reality, Dr. Bahnsen, and neither is induction. We have direct perceptual awareness of certain facts, and it is on this basis that we form our first concepts which integrate our own firsthand perceptions and name those facts that we perceive generally. Since awareness is awareness of an object, just by perceiving an object we have the implicit concept existence. We do not "derive" this concept from prior knowledge, for knowledge is conceptual and there are no concepts that could come logically prior to the concept 'existence'. To what could a concept that is placed prior to the concept existence in the hierarchy of concepts refer? The notion of non-existence only has meaning in contrast to what exists. The notion of the uniformity of nature is simply a collective term referring to the basic principles which ground our thought in relation to the objects which we perceive. Namely, the primacy of existence principle and the law of causality. These principles find their validation, not in religious affirmations (for the content of religious beliefs is fundamentally contradictory to these principles on every point), but in perception. We could not have awareness of religious affirmations without perception. And any affirmations which attempt to discredit perception would themselves have to be acquired on the basis of perception, and thus be self-defeating.

If there were no causality (i.e., if there were no objective relationship between an entity and its actions), then we could not speak objectively about motion, and therefore we could not speak of time, for time is the measurement of motion. Your conception of the problem facing the secular scientist wants to grant the possibility of fundamental changes to the identity of nature on the basis of the mere passage of time. Your conception of nature not only wants to grant time a power it does not have (and which you do not show time to have [129]),it also commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. You want to assert concepts of time while reserving the right to deny their genetic roots. The genetic roots of concepts of time are the primacy of existence, that is the objective orientation of the subject to its objects, and the law of causality. By even supposing that temporal concepts could have validity apart from these basic principles, you show a commitment to a faulty, non-objective view of concepts. While I have not read every piece of writing you have published, Dr. Bahnsen, I've examined large portion of it, and I don't see where you discuss concept-formation in your epistemology. From what I have read from your hand, you show little if any awareness of the importance of concept-formation in philosophy. It's clear from instances like this that your worldview is desperately vulnerable in this area. You seem to be taking concepts completely for granted, treating each as if they were self-sufficient primaries, as if they could have meaning even if they stood alone, thus denying not only their necessary hierarchical relationship to one another, but also their full context and ultimately their content. This renders the terms of your position utterly meaningless. Your "challenge" to the scientist amounts to: How can you prove that nature is uniform while denying the preconditions of the concept 'proof'? Dr. Bahnsen, where did you get the concept 'proof'?

The fact that we are able to form concepts on the basis of perceptual input is sufficient to confirm our initial principles that existence exists independent of consciousness and that there is an objective relationship between an entity and its actions. Asking how one can know whether or not nature will be uniform in the future is like asking how one can know whether these fundamental principles will change over time. But have you asked yourself, Dr. Bahnsen, where did you get the concept 'time'? When you use the concept 'time' in such a manner, does it have an objective basis? If so, what is that basis?

Bahnsen: "It is of particular significance to see clearly that the laws of mathematics are but modes of the created universe. They are not, as theologians have all too often held, existences that are independent of God. Many theologians have followed Plato in thinking of the laws of mathematics as somehow existing from all eternity alongside of God. And what holds true for the laws of mathematics holds equally true for the conception of time. Time is not a moving image of the abstract notion of eternity. It is God-created as a mode of finite existence." [130]

Thorn: Now you're begging the question, Dr. Bahnsen, for you're assuming at this point that the proper use of these concepts ultimately relies on an explicitly subjective view of reality, namely the primacy of consciousness. It is this principle that you're called to validate, for without it your god-belief can only prove to be irrational. You're essentially saying at this point that your conception of time, however blurry, is not objective, insisting that it is created by consciousness with the strong suggestion that it is metaphysical ("Time... is a mode of finite existence"), not epistemological. Van Til's own words on this point confirm this when he declares that "God is the creator of time itself as a form of created being." [131] Since your conception of the problem of induction wants to straddle the dichotomy between the notion of God-ordained uniformity and the implication that time "God-created as a mode of finite existence" has a power to change the nature of objects above and beyond the objective view of causality that I have endorsed, it's clear that your conception of induction is married to arbitrary constructs which you nowhere attempt to validate. Moreover, the notion that a form of consciousness "created" time (at least on the creationist-theistic notion of creation ex nihilo) commits the fallacy of the stolen concept, especially if you hold that time is a metaphysical pre-condition to action. It is like asserting that action needed to be "created" by an actor who acted to create it. It fails to recognize that the concept 'create' presupposes concepts of causality and action. So here we have a massive contrivance calling itself "presuppositionalism," a term which might suggest keen awareness of the logical hierarchical relationships among concepts, but which is ever clumsy when it comes to integrating ideas according to an objectively hierarchical structure of concepts. 

Bahnsen: "The 'theistic evolutionist' likewise assumes that today's processes must be basically similar to God's creative activities. This, in effect, is to say that creation was 'immature', that God did not finish his creative work at a point in the past." [132]

Thorn: Well, you could choose to view it this way, but then again, whenever one talks about what God does or what God could have done, will do or would do given different circumstances, he ventures well outside the realm of the rational and wanders endlessly in a realm of speculation without impediment to fabrication. This is because the being which Christians describe as God would have no objective standard to guide his choices and actions. Why for instance would God choose to create the earth in six days instead of twenty-two? Why not one or one hundred and sixty-eight? Why create the earth with gravity instead of without it? Why give man two arms when he could have four or six or eleven? Why create water wet or fire hot? Why create life requiring sustenance instead of being self-sufficient? Since you're claiming that the world is the way it is because God created it according to his will, you're essentially saying in the final analysis that it's all arbitrary: he can do whatever he wants when it comes to designing the universe. Claiming that man has only two arms because God created man in his own image begs the question; if man had forty arms the theologian would say that this corresponds to God's image as well. Your speculations, Dr. Bahnsen, about what God would do or why God did what you claim he did, are no more valid than anyone else's. Thus the "theistic evolutionist" could easily respond that the evolutionary processes in the biological kingdom were planned by God from the beginning, just as the extinction of the dinosaurs was planned, just as the shift of the earth's tectonic plates was planned by God, just as the rise, eruption and eventual erosion of volcanic mountains were planned, just as the increase in the population of New York City throughout the twentieth century was predestined by "God's plan." Such a theist might point out that this position does not imply "that creation was 'immature', that God did not finish his creative work at a point in the past," any more than the maturation process of a human being from infancy to adulthood or the incremental development of western culture would imply this. In fact, Dr. Bahnsen, your own mentor, Dr. Van Til, wrote that "created being" - i.e., the universe - "is in the process of becoming by virtue of the plan of God." [133] So the biological evolution of the species could easily be argued as a "manifestation" of this "becoming" within "created being." Don't you see, Dr. Bahnsen? That's just the point when it gets to god-belief: once an individual asserts "the supernatural," he nominates himself as the sole discretionary arbiter of what he will allow to be called "truth." He can say anything and claim it applies to his god. How could one refute it? The history of Christian theology documents how the arbitrary can run away with itself on the shoulders of those who take it seriously.

Bahnsen: "To pretend to answer questions about origins by extrapolating the observable present into the unobservable past is to reason in a circle; it is to forsake the proper descriptive role of science and to make it an arbitrary determiner of the past instead." [134]

Thorn: Identifying the unknown by reference to the known is not an instance of reasoning in a circle, Dr. Bahnsen. Does the forensic investigator of a crime scene wait on revelation to tell him who the perpetrator of the crime is, or does he piece together the evidence from the scene and work backward from there, tracing the chain of causality back to its human agent? Even if one wanted to claim a truth on the basis of revelation, he would still have the burden of proving that the "revelation" given to him is true in a court of law. (Claiming that something is true on the basis of "revelation" does not make that claim true.) Why not just be honest and go with reason?

Bahnsen: "It is evident that the Christian defends the possibility of metaphysical knowledge, therefore, by appealing to certain metaphysical truths about God, man, and the world. He reasons presuppositionally, arguing on the basis of the very metaphysical premises which the unbeliever claims are impossible to know in virtue of their metaphysical nature." [135]

Thorn: What you're describing here is fallaciously circular reasoning, Dr. Bahnsen. You're saying that "the Christian defends the possibility of metaphysical knowledge" by appealing to what is being disputed according to your characterization: "metaphysical truths" (which, in terms of Christianity, is simply a naked appeal to "the supernatural"). One doesn't defend something from criticism by simply reaffirming what is being criticized. But your endorsement of circular reasoning here is explicit: you say that the Christian should argue "on the basis of the very metaphysical premises which the unbeliever" disputes. If a non-believer were to defend his claim that Christianity is false by re-affirming his belief that it is false, you would accuse him of circular reasoning. But here you are saying that this is precisely what the Christian should do with respect to defending his god-belief.

In closing, there is one thing you seem to be overlooking throughout your apologetic, Dr. Bahnsen, and that is your reliance on the authority of your reasoning in order to undermine the authority of human reason as such. So you find yourself in the following duplicitous quagmire: when you rely on 'revelation' (that is, the authority of an invisible magic being), you announce that you've abandoned reason; and when you attempt to argue for your case, you're essentially trying to use reason in order to defeat reason, thus refuting yourself. If you had a stronger case for your god-beliefs, Dr. Bahnsen, I supposed we'd have seen it by now.

You look like you could use another cup of coffee, Dr. Bahnsen.


[1] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1). (This links to a web version of an essay of the same name that makes up chapter 28 of Bahnsen's book Always Ready, ed. Robert Booth, (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996), pp. 133-149. Throughout the remainder of the dialogue, citations to this chapter will be referred to the web version of this essay.)

[2] See Garver's essay A Primer on Presuppositionalism.

[3] Bahnsen is commonly described as "the man atheists fear most" (cf. A Biography of Greg Bahnsen, homosexuality as sin : greg bahnsen). Is this generalization a result of polling among atheists (most of whom have probably never heard of Greg Bahnsen), or is it wishful thinking on the part of Bahnsen's followers?

[4] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[5] The Great Debate.

[6] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[7] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[8] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[9] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[10] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[11] See for instance Michael A. Turton's The Christ of Daoist Alchemy.

[12] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[13] Chicago: Open Court, 1996.

[14] Ottawa, Canada: Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999.

[15] Those scholars and the works in which they announce this verdict are given by Doherty as follows:

[16] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[17] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[18] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[19] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[20] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[21] The Heart of the Matter. (This links to a web version of an essay of the same name that makes up chapter 26 of Bahnsen's book Always Ready, pp. 117-124. Throughout the remainder of the dialogue, citations to this chapter will be referred to the web version of this essay.)

[22] See   The Lowder-Fernandes Debate: Naturalism vs. Theism - Where Does the Evidence Point?.

[23] I have in mind here the pericope of Luke 16:31, where the evangelist, imagining a conversation with the Jewish patriarch Abraham, has the latter say, "If they don't listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." Here we have one of the germs of presuppositionalism's presumptuousness, the desire to insert into non-believers' mouths not just words but an entire attitude of antagonism to what believers want to call "the Truth" before even giving their own position a fair hearing While such presumptuousness is intended to cast aspersions on non-believers, it actually reflects the poor confidence that believers have in the substance of their worldview and the negativity they harbor for man in general.

[24] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[25] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[26] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[27] See for instance Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' a Pagan God?, (London: Thorsons, 1999).

[28] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[29] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[30] A Reply to J. P. Holding's "Shattering" of My Views on Jesus and an Examination of the Early Pagan and Jewish References to Jesus (2000) (emphasis added).

[31] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[32] Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (Part I).

[33] See Wells'  Earliest Christianity.

[34] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[35] Tools of Apologetics (Part 1).

[36] Answering Objections. (This links to a web version of an essay of the same name that makes up chapter 27 of Bahnsen's book Always Ready, pp. 125-132. Throughout the remainder of the dialogue, citations to this chapter will be referred to the web version of this essay.)

[37] The Great Debate.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] The Heart of the Matter.

[42] Ibid. 

[43] The Great Debate.

[44] Recall Robert Price's essay, Apocryphal Apparitions, which argues that I Cor. 15:3-11 is "a post-Pauline interpolation.

[45]  The Great Debate.

[46] Van Til's Why I Believe in God.

[47] See for instance my An Aborted Rise to Challenge.

[48] Pressing Toward the Mark: Machen, Van Til and the Apologetical Tradition of the OPC.

[49] At War With the Word - The Necessity of Biblical Antithesis.

[50] Cf. pp. 5, 7, 20, 29, 87, 111, 253.

[51] Allan Gotthelf, On Ayn Rand, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2000), p. 42n.

[52] At War With the Word - The Necessity of Biblical Antithesis.

[53] Van Til's Why I Believe in God.

[54] The Problem of Knowing the "Super-Natural" (Part I). (This links to a web version of an essay of the same name that makes up chapter 31 of Bahnsen's book Always Ready, , pp. 177-191. Throughout the remainder of the dialogue, citations to this chapter will be referred to the web version of this essay.)

[55] On Worshipping the Creature Rather Than the Creator.

[56] The Problem of Knowing the "Super-Natural" (Part I).

[57] Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, p. 934.

[58]  Prolegomena to Apologetics.

[59] That Bahnsen thinks this is a choice is evident in his book Always Ready. For instance, on pages 9 and 13, Bahnsen repeats the following imperative: "Choose this day whom you shall serve!" On page 51 he writes, "one must choose to ground his intellectual efforts in Christ" (emphasis added). This of course conflicts with the Calvinist viewpoint of Reformed theology, with which Bahnsen associated himself.

[60] Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 95n.20.

[61] Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 269, quoting Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 1st ed., p. 165; 3rd ed., p. 148.

[62] Van Til's Apologetic, p.83n.109.

[62a] The Great Debate.

[63] See for instance my Argument from Existence.

[64] The Great Debate.

[65] The Problem of Knowing the "Super-Natural" (Part I).

[66] The Great Debate.

[67] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[68] The Great Debate.

[69] Cf. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 19; Philosopy: Who Needs It, p. 90; Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 5, et al.

[70] Leonard Peikoff, "The Philosophy of Objectivism" lecture series (1976), question period, Lecture 2; quoted in Harry Binswanger, ed., The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z, (New York: Meridian, 1986), p. 503.

[71] The Great Debate.

[72] Ibid.

[73] The Heart of the Matter.

[74] The Heart of the Matter.

[75] The Heart of the Matter.

[76] On Worshipping the Creature Rather Than the Creator.

[77] Excerpted from Tape GB940, Q&A session of tape 3 of Bahnsen's lecture "Developing a Christian Worldview." Taken from Robin Griffin's 08 Sep 98 post to the Van Til List titled Bahnsen on objectivity of TAG(?). Incidentally, given the excerpted statement I have quoted here, it seems that Dr. Bahnsen's lecture was ill-titled. In the statement I quoted above, he's explicitly saying that the Christian worldview is not something one 'develops' - "We don't built it up block by block by block…" Rather, it is something that is presented to the believer as a pre-packaged whole and ready for sale.

[78] On Worshipping the Creature Rather Than the Creator.

[79] Prolegomena to Apologetics.

[80] The Heart of the Matter.

[81] The Heart of the Matter.

[82] The Heart of the Matter.

[83] The Heart of the Matter.

[84] Answering Objections.

[85]  The Heart of the Matter.

[86] The phrase "ultimate truth" is tossed around repeatedly by devotees of Bahnsen's apologetic stance. But Bahnsen himself does not seem to have used it frequently in his published writings. See for instance Bahnsen's False Antithesis: A Critique of the Notion of Antithesis in Francis Schaeffer's Apologetic where he writes: "This philosophical perspective may or may not be radically muddleheaded, and it may or may not be overly humble about finite man's ability to conceptualize ultimate truth; but it is still miles from being the renunciation of logical validity and rational thinking which Schaeffer paints it to be."

[87] The Heart of the Matter.

[88] I expose this internal contradiction in my essay How the Theist Checkmates Himself

[89] The Heart of the Matter.

[90] The Heart of the Matter.

[91] Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, p. 954.

[92] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[93] Such provisoes are common in the apologetic literature. Consider for example Bob and Gretchen Passantino's comments in their essay Religion, Truth, and Value Without God: Contemporary Atheism Speaks Out in Humanist Manifesto 2000, Pt. 2, where they write:

Testing a statement about something intangible or immaterial doesn't combine the empirical with the rational. In such cases sense-oriented tests are actually inappropriate.... Someone convinced that empirical or "scientific" tests are always adequate possesses a belief that is actually self-contradictory, or self-refuting. Once this is established, the Christian can present a powerful argument for the existence of God called, appropriately, the transcendental argument. (Italics original)

[94] Bahnsen himself tells us (Always Ready, p. 17) that 

the new man, the believer with a renewed mind that has been taught by Christ, is no more to walk in the intellectual vanity and darkness which characterizes the unbelieving world (read Eph. 4:17-24). The Christian has new commitments, new presuppositions, a new lord, a new direction and goal - he is a new man. That newness is expressed in his thinking and scholarship...

[95] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[96] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[97] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[98] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[99] Though it is ironic how much religious believers must rely on their imaginations in order to envision the details of their worldview.

[100] Always Ready, p. 111.

[101] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[102] See John Frame's A Van Til Glossary. To substantiate this definition, Frame cites Bahnsen's Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), p. 728, where he quotes at length part iv of Van Til's My Credo. See also my review of Van Til's essay, Why Van Til Believed in God.

[103] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[104] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[105] Cf. my essay By Means of Threat: Mysticism and the Transmission of Ideas.

[106] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[107] CEV, emphasis added.

[108] In a chapter on Jonah, apologist Richard M. Riss attempts to insulate the story of Jonah from the accusation of legend by citing "several documented accounts of people who have been swallowed by whales and large fish, and have lived to tell about it, even after several days." In trying to make the story believable, however, Riss simply gives his readers reasons to suspect that such an event is not miraculous in nature, but completely natural. Of course, even if it were documented to be the case that there have been sailors who survived the belly of a fish or whale in relatively recent times, this would not prove that Jonah was a historical figure or that he was similarly swallowed and vomited forth. Riss believes that the discovery of the "name 'Yunas' or 'Jonah' at the ruins of Nineveh also confirms the historicity of the Jonah story." But the discovery of ruins with the name "Jonah" or its local cognate does not confirm miraculous stories attributed to the named individual. It's not difficult to see how legends may have grown up around a famous or infamous personality after his life. Discoveries of ruins bearing the seal of Alexander the Great, for instance, do not prove that his claim to godhood was true (cf. Plutarch's Life of Alexander, 2). Regardless, the supernatural element motivating the story of Jonah can only undermine science, for reasons indicated, rather than "grounding" it.

[109] Note: Cf. Matthew 4:24; 8:16, 28-32; 9:32-33; 12:22; 17:14-18; Mark 1:32-34; 5:2-13; 6:13; 7:24-30; 16:9; Luke 4:33-35, 40-41; 8:2, 26-33; 9:1, 38-42; 11:14. Readers of this dialogue are fortunate to be living in a time after the Age of Reason when diseases are understood in scientific rather than religious terms!

[110] See my artcle Spittle and Sand for a study of this embarrassing gospel tradition.

[111] See for instance Robert J. Schadewald's The Flat-Earth Bible in which are collected numerous passages from the Old and New Testaments and apocryphal writings which could only make sense on the assumption that the earth is flat.

[112] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[113] See Bahnsen's  On Worshipping the Creature Rather Than the Creator.

[114] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[115] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[116] Cornelius Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, pp. 65-66, quoted in Bahnsen's Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), p. 259.

[117] Ibid.

[118] Ibid.

[119] Ibid., pp. 259-260.

[120] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[121] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[122] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[123] Dr. Harry Binswanger, Selected Topics in the Philosophy of Science (Audio), (Second Renaissance Books, 1993), Tape 2, Side B. Emphasis added.

[124] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[125] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[126] See my essay Common Fallacies for an explanation of the frozen abstraction fallacy.

[127] The Great Debate.

[128] Ayn Rand, "Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World," Philosophy: Who Needs It, (New York: Signet, 1984), p. 62.

[129] Of course, one could propose any number of arbitrary notions to serve as a foil against inductive viability, and, as is the nature of the arbitrary when it is taken seriously, such notions will impede our quest for certainty when we attempt to integrate them with the perceptual data which we have of the world around us. Take the following three common examples: 

a) the notion that objects can change spontaneously without cause
b) the notion of a supernatural being (God or a diabolical agent, assuming there's a difference), and
c) the notion that "Time" or "Space" (some mysterious combination of these) possesses the power to rearrange nature in a chaotic, haphazard manner.  

If we did not isolate a rational basis to our understanding of natural phenomena (as informed by the axioms), or if we were to intentionally ignore it (which many philosophers do), our cognitive faculties would be at the mercy of these and other arbitrary notions. It's inevitable that some will be delighted with their dire consequences that the arbitrary has for our consciousness and will, as history has shown, attempt to take them seriously. But we have a rational basis on which to view the world, and it does not oblige us to entertain arbitrary notions as serious philosophical obstacles to cognition. We know from perception that existence exists, that an object is itself (the law of identity - A is A; if A should exist, it must be A) and that the actions of an entity depend on its nature (the law of causality - if A should act, it must only as A can act).

The skeptic, wanting to take any alternative to the objective view seriously, might ask "But how do you prove that time does not have such power, that there are no supernatural forms of consciousness, and that objects cannot change spontaneously and causelessly?" We have no onus to prove that these things cannot happen or exist. It is incumbent upon those who assert these notions as legitimate possibilities to validate their claim that they are actually possible. How would someone prove that time has omnipotent power? How would one prove that a supernatural being exists? What does "supernatual" mean anyway? Bahnsen does not tell us. How would someone prove that objects can change spontaneously and without cause? Most importantly, we must ask the skeptic: where did he get the concept 'proof'?

[130] Cornelius Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, pp. 65-66, quoted in Bahnsen's Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), p. 260.

[131] The Defense of the Faith, pp. 29-30.

[132] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[133] The Defense of the Faith, p. 29.

[134] Revelation, Speculation and Science.

[135] The Problem of Knowing the "Super-Natural" (Part 3).

© Copyright by Anton Thorn 2004. All rights reserved.


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