Not Even Making a Dent

seddon's picture
Submitted by seddon on Wed, 2012-09-26 11:28

I have been a subscriber and contributor to JARS since the beginning and now regret to report that I have just read the worst article ever to appear in that journal. I’m referring to “Objectivist and Christianity” by Eric B. Dent which appears in the latest number of JARS.
The purpose of his article, according to Dent, is to show “how similar Christianity and Objectivism are as system of thought.” (188 – all page numbers refer to Vol. 11, #2 of JARS, unless otherwise indicated.) He then tells us on the same page that, “Christians can learn from the work of Objectivists and Objectivists can learn from the work of Christians.” This suggests some reciprocity is involved here, i.e., each can benefit from the other. Yet he seem to have forgotten what he wrote in the Abstract printed on p. 255, to wit: “the Christian philosophical axioms are more realistic and better supported empirically than the Objectivist axioms.” This sounds more like a teacher-pupil relation. So what we really get in this article are two theses (1) that Objectivism and Christianity are really similar and can learn from each other, and (2) that they are really different and Christianity is better in the sense of more scientifically grounded.
Pursuant to these two theses, he examines areas in which Objectivism can be “enhanced by assuming Christian axioms.” Here he seems to be arguing for thesis two.

AXIOMS

Assuming that SOLOists know the axioms of Objectivism, let us find out what Dent thinks are the axioms of Christianity that will enhance Objectivism. He lists eight axioms and unfortunately, none of them are axioms. How do I know? Given the criterion we find in both Rand and Aristotle, an axiom defeat its opponents by the fact that one has to accept it in order to reject it. Here is how Galt states this “An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it.” (FNI 155) None of Dent’s axioms stack up to this criterion. Take axiom 3. (Dent doesn’t number the eight axioms, he uses bullet points.) “God loves people and consistently acts in their long-term best interests.” I deny that and do not see how I have to accept it in order to deny it. And the same is true of every “axiom” (one can see why quotation marks are now necessary) he lists. Since these are not axioms, his claim that the “axioms” of Christianity can enhance Objectivism has to be rejected, at least until he provides us with some actual Christian axioms.
But that is not the worst of it. He actually deduces these “axioms.” From what does he deduce them. From six creeds + “other scriptural passages.” Since he doesn’t use the word “deduce,” I will produce the sentence that he does write: “This panoramic view of history [the six creeds] together with other scriptural passages RESULTS in several axiomatic statements. . .” (197 Emphasis mine) If the “axiomatic statements” are RESULTS, then they are not axioms, even in Dent’s sense of that term, to wit, “starting axioms.” (194) He doesn’t start from these axioms, but from the six creeds + scriptural passages.
And he even messes up the creeds. He claims that “all Christians accept the great ecumenical creeds of Christianity. . .” the first of which is “God in three persons . . .created the world.” Maybe he should Google “Unitarianians,” Christians who explicitly deny a triune God.

CREATION

Dent believes that the Big Bang theory give the lie to Rand’s claim that “existence cannot be created or annihilated.” (199 quoting PWNI 25) “According to the Big Bang model, the Universe expanded from an extremely dense and hot state and continues to expand today.” (Wikipedia, Big Bang) But this statement of the theory does not claim or support the view that the universe was created, but rather originated from a very hot and dense state, which already existed. Of course, Dent doesn’t have to accept this statement of the theory and is free, within limits, to choose his own formulation—which by the way he doesn’t do. In the second and last paragraph of this section he then writes that for millennia, the Bible was the “only document to describe the expanding universe” and he cites Job 9:8 and Zechariah 12:1 as proof. Both of these cites use the same expression, to wit: “He [God] alone stretches out the heavens.” This indicates a well-known problem with quoting the Bible; you can find anything in it. And one must ignore the fact that what these writers meant by “heavens” was not a 26 billion light year diameter universe.

REASON

If one is interested, as Dent claims to be, in the definition of reason as is occurs in Rand and the Bible, why go to the a dictionary? He begins he quest for reason’s definition with reference to the OED. Now the OED is a very good dictionary, but it is useless for the purpose Dent has in mind. He doesn’t get to either Rand or the Bible until the third paragraph of this section and then doesn’t give Rand’s definition, even though he knows her definition and gives it early in the book on p. 195. What he gives instead of her definition is, “reason is man’s only means of grasping reality and gaining knowledge.” (198) But this is a result of what reason is, i.e., a “faculty that identifies and integrates the material provide by man’s senses.”
He is even worse with Christianity and admits that it is “not more specific and detailed” about reason. What he should have said is that the Bible provides NO definition of reason. And his references to the Bible on this topic are misleading. He only quotes from ACTS. “ACTS 17:2 reports that ‘as his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (198 Dent’s Emphasis) The second reference is to ACTS 17:16 and Dent supplies the word “reason” before quoting the text. “. . .Paul reasons ‘in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” (199) The Greek word that is translated by “reason” is διελεξατο. Many translators do render it as reason but not all. I have a Greek-English interlinear New Testament. It provides two translations; a literal one with each Greek word printed above the literal English, and in the column of the each page, the New Revised Standard translation. The literal meaning of διελεξατο is “preached,” but the NRSV has “argued.” How to adjudicate this? It “reason” or “preached” or “argued” a better rendering. Well recall what happens in chapter 17. Let us look at what Paul does in this chapter. After leaving Thessalonica, Paul goes to Athens where after “preaching” in a synagogue there, and he is taken to the Areopagus and asked, “May we know this new teaching you are speaking? (17:19) He begins to tell them. “I proclaim to you the God that made this world and everything in it. . . “ (17:24-32) No arguments are presented nor is any reasoning done in these nine verses. He is simply cataloguing a list of his beliefs. But even if we grant to Dent the use of the word “reason,” he himself admits that there is no definition of “reason” in the entire Bible! This makes it difficult if not impossible to say that Christianity is one of the two philosophies (the other being Objectivism—itself a wild claim to say the least) “upholding reason in the United States today.” (189) It also makes it impossible to say that Christianity, like Objectivism, is pro-reason.

PRODUCTIVE WORK

In order to show that the Bible values productive work, Dent tells us that the word “work” appears 2005 times in the Holy Book. (201) But in the Douay it only appears 859. So a lot depends on what translation one is reading. Let’s look at Genesis. The word “work” appears six times (Douay trans.) but twice it refers to God’s work (2:2 and 3) and once it tells us what Tubalcain “work” was, i.e., a hammerer of brass and iron (4:22); once as a curse (3:17) and once it refers to Noah who will comfort us from our work (5:29). Genesis hardly offers a ringing endorsement of productive work as we find in Galt’s speech, where it is one of the seven virtues in the life of a moral man.
He does the same thing with “reason.” He tells us “reason” appears 588 times in the Bible according to Bible.org. We are not told what translation Bible.org was using. I checked, at random, the Douay translation and it listed 72 times. But this isn’t the point. How was reason used? Was it used in the same sense that Rand uses it? Again, let’s look at Genesis. (I’m too lazy to check all 72 uses,) In the Douay translation it is used four times (I include “reasonable”) and none are said of someone who is reasoning or using his reason. In 35:17 we read, “By reason of her hard labor she began to be in danger. . .” 48:10 has “For Israel’s eyes were dim by reason of his great age.” I found the same use of the word in Exodus, Joshua, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and finally got bored. The interested Soloist can pursue this if interested.

ONE LAST PROBLEM

Consider the following two quotations taken from Mt 22:37-39; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The problem with these two is that they mention “God.” Why is that a problem? Dent tells us that he does NOT “assume a transcendent God” as part of the Christian philosophy. Okay. Isn’t that like detailing the Objectivist philosophy without assuming existence exists? Doesn’t Christianity have something to do with Jesus Christ and isn’t he God? Opps. Can’t say that without assuming a transcendent God. Isn’t Christ the Son of God the Father. “Opps, I did it again.” (Apologies to Ms. Spears) How Dent can propose to discuss without God is a problem beyond my poor powers. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with God since there is no way he can show either 91) that this is something Christianity can teach Objectivism or (2) that God is something we O-ists have in common with Christianity.

There is more to be said on this article, but like Popeye, “that’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.”

Fred


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Ross

seddon's picture

"I hope people read the original article."

I agree. It's even worse than I had time or the inclination to report.

Fred

Further, take...

Ross Elliot's picture

...the creation/existence thing.

Objectivism's appraisal of this is quite temporal. Existence exists. We must deal with it. The idea of beginnings and endings is moot.

Axioms: he tries to do the right thing by stating that axioms are things that must be referred to in order to disprove them but then he goes on to conflate assertions with axioms.

I hope people read the original article.

Fred...

Ross Elliot's picture

...you should have provided a link.

I'll do it: Article

I ask, what's the point? The equivocation is so silly, it's dumb.

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