Presuppositionalist Christian Trinitarianism

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Presuppositionalist Christian Trinitarianism

Post #1

Post by theopoesis »

From Haven's original request:
Haven wrote: Theopoesis: I'm interested in debating you head-to-head on your postmodern-ish presuppositionalist epistemology. I'm interested in showing why such an epistemological view is incoherent, as well as putting forth a brief sketch of my own (secular) view on epistemology. What do you think?

If you accept, this is the format that i'd want the discussion to follow:

Post 1: Introduction and outline of argument (Theopoesis)
Post 2: Rebuttal to Post 1, outline of counterargument (Haven)
Post 3: Rebuttal to rebuttal, conclusion of the argument (Theopoesis)
Post 4: Rebuttal to Post 3, conclusion of the counterargument (Haven)

Debate ends.

No time limit (as we're both busy with school and work :)), no word limit, no source requirements (although sources are always helpful). What do you think?
I think it is a great idea, and three months later, after some interaction back and forth between Haven and I, I have composed a first post. It is shorter than it needs to be to really make the point (I'd need to write a book, and hope to one day of a much higher quality), and longer than it should be to keep anyone's interest. My first half of the argument was done before courses got heavy, the second during papers and exams. There is a noted difference in quality, and I stop linking to sources. I apologize for the difficulty this may cause, but next semester is even worse for me, so if I don't post now, I likely never will.

But I thank Haven for his willingness to dialogue, for his always open mind, for his astute reasoning, and for his patience in waiting for me to start this. Thanks for asking me to participate, and hope to see a post from you within a similar three months or so.

Haven and I are in agreement on the format, and I will post the first entry momentarily.


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Post #2

Post by theopoesis »

My argument will be in five stages:
(1) First, I will explain my basic epistemology, which is the foundation of my worldview.
(2) Next, I will explain why my epistemology is more viable than other alternatives.
(3) Then I will explain how the proposed epistemology might lead one to Christianity. This will be a brief component.
(4) I will then suggest three broad philosophical categories which I believe only Trinitarian theism can explain within my proposed framework. This is reason for me to continue in my worldview.
(5) The fourth argument will require me to demonstrate that the three categories in question are, in fact, not resolved by the secular alternative (which is the main alternative in question here).

Argument 1: Epistemology

I propose that there are two broad types of epistemology. First, we might have an evidentialist epistemology. This epistemology can go by several other names: inductive, scientific, a posteriori, etc. Though each of these words does have nuanced distinctive aspects, as a whole they point to the fact that this type of knowing is based on evidence. Someone who wishes to know something must begin by collecting data, information, evidence, etc. and from there proceed to draw conclusions from the evidence. Therefore, if someone wants to disprove a position (insofar as disproof is possible, which it isn't in a strong sense), that person must point to evidence in favor of an alternative, evidence against the rejected position, or an overall lack of evidence in support of the rejected position.

Let's take an example: An evidentialist approach to the question of Christianity probably would take the following two forms. Some Christian apologists would argue that there is overwhelming evidence in support of the resurrection (Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, N.T. Wright, etc.), that the textual evidence in support of the NT's historical tradition is strong (Richard Bauckham, Daniel Wallace) and perhaps put forward arguments for the existence of God (Thomas Aquinas and subsequent apologists). Against this position, certain atheists would suggest that the NT is historically very suspect (John Dominic Crossan, David Freidrich Strauss) that the resurrection and all miracles are impossible (David Hume), and that the NT is filled with textual contradictions, late additions, and blatant lies (Bart Ehrman). Arguments will also be given against God's existence or showing why the classical arguments for the existence of God fail (Bertrand Russell). The very brief list of names that I have included here should indicate that this has been the dominant approach to apologetics and to the question of Christianity in general across history.

However, it need not be the only approach, and it will not be the approach that I will take here. There is a second broad type of category which we might call the presuppositionalist. It is also known as the a priori, the postmodern, or the subjectivist approach, though again each of these terms do have nuanced differences in meaning. For the presuppositionalist, evidence matters, but all evidence is interpreted within a broad intellectual framework called a "worldview" or a "paradigm" or a "set of presuppositions." Our initial presuppositions will affect how we interpret our evidence.

If someone taking this second epistemological approach wants to determine whether a perspective is valid, he has several options. First, he can show how the conclusions of a set of presuppositions undermine the presuppositions themselves. This is called a reductio ad absurdam (a reduction to absurdity). On the popular level, there are two common arguments that roughly take this form. So, the Christian apologist might argue: The atheist presupposes that there is no God and believes that good and evil exist, but good and evil can only exist in an absolute/objective sense if they have an objective/absolute reference point, in other words God. Therefore, the atheist's belief in good and evil undermines the atheist's presuppositions. On the other hand, atheists might argue: The Christian presupposes a good, omnipotent God, but the Christian acknowledges evil, suffering, and pain all throughout the world. If there really was a good, omnipotent God there would be no suffering, therefore the conclusions undermine the presupposition of a good omnipotent God. Please note that I do not intend to use either of these arguments in this debate, and I also recognize that these arguments are often put forward and defended in a way differently from a presuppositionalist fashion. I merely intend to show them as easy examples of a method that I will shortly use in a more difficult fashion.

Second, someone using a presuppositionalist approach may appeal to a presupposition's explanatory scope. Suppose that there are several worldviews which are not self-defeating via a reductio ad absurdam? One way we could distinguish one from the other is through examining the explanatory scope of each option. By this I mean, how much can the presupposition do for us? Can it provide numerous answers to the things we encounter in the world? Can it really provide us with a way of life? By way of illustration, consider Rene Descartes' famous thought experiment. Descartes began by assuming extreme skepticism: he cannot really trust any of his experiences as true. However, even though he cannot trust the content of the experiences and thoughts, he cannot avoid the conclusion that he is thinking. And so he concluded: "I think therefore I am." Descartes went further than this, but let's suppose that he did not. Descartes has presupposed extreme skepticism, that all his senses could be wrong. But he has concluded that he exists. This is not self-defeating, as far as I see it. But it also doesn't get us very far. All Descartes' presuppositions allow for is his existence. It can't explain or validate anything else he experiences, and it doesn't seem to provide him with anything in terms of a way of life. Therefore, if we had another internally consistent worldview that could explain much more, it would make more sense to adopt the one with more explanatory scope.

Third, and finally (for present purposes at least), the presuppositionalist recognizes that non-logical factors play a role. If our assumptions shape the way that we reason, it is often difficult to choose our assumptions through the use of reason. Much of what we believe is as a result of experience, emotion, our culture, our family, history, etc. For example, it is no surprise that many people who are Christian were born in a Christian family, or in a culture where Christianity is common. Likewise, it is no surprise that many atheists were hurt by Christians or by the church. Does this automatically mean that Christians who were born in a Christian culture are wrong, or atheists who reject God partly as a result of their disgust towards the church are wrong? Hardly. It is quite possible to have clear logical reasons for a belief and still have emotional factors play a role in our initially choosing it. However, two problems can arise. First, someone may believe something that is contrary to their emotions or their experience. If a worldview cannot make sense of certain fundamental experiences, it is problematic for that individual, even if not for everyone. Second, if someone has an emotional reason for choosing a path but then does nothing to determine whether the intellectual claims that go along with that emotionally-based presupposition are valid, then there is a problem. For the presuppositionalist, the ideal is to acknowledge where an emotional experience impacted a conversion into a religion or deconversion out of a religion, to ask whether the experiences associated with and resulting from that conversion or deconversion fit with the resulting worldview, and then to ask whether the worldview is self-defeating and sufficient in explanatory scope.

Argument 2: Defense of Presuppositional Epistemology

Do we have any reason to believe that the presuppositional approach to epistemology is true? To answer this question, I will present five broad arguments and recent theoretical frameworks which support my claims.

(1) Thomas Kuhn's idea of the paradigm.

Philosopher Thomas Kuhn developed a philosophy of science around the idea of a paradigm. According to Kuhn, scientists have a specific paradigm, or system of study, which shapes their entire scientific endeavor. For example, each paradigm has specific unresolved problems that set the research program of the paradigm, which in turn results in a specific set of possible research outcomes. In other words, my basic paradigm has specific questions that it is concerned about, and I will only look for answers to questions of which I am aware. No one in the fifth century was looking for evidence of stellar red-shfting because no one was asking whether the universe was expanding (red-shift is evidence of this process). Furthermore, until the paradigm reaches a crisis, all evidence found as a result of experimentation will be interpreted in light of the commonly held paradigm. If I'm not even looking to explain whether the big bang is a one time event or whether there is an oscillating universe, then even if I do discover the red shift, I won't think to use that discovery to answer the question about whether the universe is expanding at a speed that will eventually require it to collapse on itself into another big bang. In other words, according to Kuhn and many subsequent (and even a few prior) philosophers of science, one's paradigm (we might think of our concept of worldview as analogous) will influence which questions that individual explores as well as how that individual interprets the data and incorporates it into other knowledge. The fact that our worldview determines the very questions we ask and the possible ways in which we can interpret the answers suggests that our proposed persuppositional epistemology is, in fact, viable. Presuppositions shape rational conclusions..

(2) Herman Dooyeweerd's argument of the archimedian point.

Kuhn's ideas of the paradigm get us just far enough to determine that our commitments to a worldview can shape what questions we ask and how we interpret the answers to these questions. But one could somewhat easily pick a new scientific paradigm. Herman Dooyeweerd develops an argument which explains the difference between choosing a paradigm and a worldview. A worldview is the comprehensive epistemological framework within which reasoning occurs. It is much bigger than just a scientific paradigm because it encompasses every single thing that we think. Dooyeweerd argues that there is no such thing as an archimedian point for rationality. Archimedes was a Greek geometrician who famously said of a lever: "give me a place to stand on and I can move the earth." The problem, of course, is that there is nothing to stand on. Similarly, Dooyeweerd argues that we cannot choose a worldview rationally because the process of reasoning itself depends upon a worldview. There is just no archimedian point. When trying to reason in determining a worldview, we are already reasoning according to a worldview and our selection will be biased as a result. For example, consider the following questions: Is empirical evidence superior to deductive logic?Can I trust my experiences as a basis of my worldview? Do the things I experience actually exist? Must my arguments be falsifiable? Is there such a thing as a supernatural event? Are there moral and immoral conclusions as to the best worldview? If we are picking a world view, each of these questions must be answered prior to rational analysis, but which answers we give for each of these questions will determine the resulting outcome of our use of reason. Therefore, Dooyeweerd teaches that one cannot change a worldview based on reason alone, thereby distinguishing between Kuhn's paradigm and our concept of worldview. It seems our presuppositional empistemology is again viable.

(3) Michel Foucault's archaeology

I'd like to reinforce my claims initially made with reference to Kuhn through the examination of an influential postmodern thinker: Michel Foucault. This French thinker developed what he called "Archaeologies" which sought to uncover the episteme behind cultural epochs. Foucault argued that certain conditions of rationality, certain possibilities of thought characterized various cultures at various times. Only certain things can be counted as discourse, those things within these conditions of rationality. In other words, certain epochal works, ideas, and modes of thought end up defining discourse for a generation. These ideas or modes of discourse often become buried within a worldview such that they are not recognizable, but they in fact shape what can be counted as legitimate/rational thought. For example, consider the field of economics. Initially, economics lacked a clear theoretical framework to allow for academic/scientific discourse. Adam Smith and David Ricardo developed early theories that focused on distribution of money/capital between landholders, workers, and capitalists (i.e. investors). This framework allowed initial economic analysis to take the shape of discussions on distribution. Karl Marx later took this distributionist analysis and mixed it with Hegelian dialectics, creating a model of class conflict which allowed for economic discourses of Marxism. Later, the Austrians/Neoclassical economists developed the idea of marginalism, which allowed economic analysis to focus on utility, marginal benefit (i.e. the benefit gained from an additional unit of something) and marginal cost. This allowed for an entirely new mode of discourse on economics. So if you ask someone today to analyze an economic question, the answer is shaped by a long accretion of archeological ideas. The answer will likely be offered based on the trichotomy of land/labor/capital, focusing on utility (which itself depends upon utilitarian ethics) and marginalism (which depends on particular kinds of calculus) and perhaps with reference to class conflict, which depends upon a Hegelian view of history. Foucault would go a step further to say that the academic discourse in answering these questions also and more importantly hides certain power dynamics. Thus, any analysis today within any worldview will have certain hidden, presupposed ideas, power dynamics, theories, tools etc. that shape the discourse of that worldview. Insofar as these ideas are buried beneath our worldviews, they function to shape our worldviews in a systemic fashion as described by the proposed presuppositional epistemology, again giving it credibility.

(4) Charles' Taylor's views on the rise of secularism.

Charles Taylor's tome A Secular Age is probably the most thorough analysis of the rise of secularism yet written. Taylor's work is particularly relevant here because he analyzes how various cultural and intellectual developments modify the way that people relate to the world. One might say that specific "capacities" develop in individuals as a result of the cultural and intellectual milieu in which they live. In this way, Western culture once had faith as a default stance where it took great intellectual effort to not believe, but now many Western cultures (but not all!) have developed such that secularism is the default and it takes great personal effort to believe. In short, Taylor suggests that such latent factors as the development of capitalism, manners, and timetelling devices are as much behind the shift to secularism as specific intellectual movements because these cultural developments changed the way that we relate to the world around us, shaping the very capacities which determine what we can and cannot accept as plausible. This is important because it extends our analysis beyond Kuhn's research paradigm, and beyond Foucault's episteme, both of which were primarily evidence of how rational presuppositions shape conclusions. Taylor indicates that the pre-rational factors which shape worldviews may not even be presuppositions, but may be fundamental capacities within us which are tangentially related to these presuppositions. Taylor's analysis of history suggests that there are indeed certain pre-rational aspects of our worldviews that do shape our conclusions about the world and our way of being in the world, which again supports the proposed presuppositional epistemology.

(5) Stanley Fish and the reading community

Finally, I would like to draw attention to the views of Stanley Fish. Fish suggests, and quite compellingly, that our ability to interpret texts and any specific writing is influenced by the community which we are a part of. Everything from our interests (what we look for in a text), to the connotation of certain words, to our senses of humor, to our broad cultural commitments shape the meaning of texts in certain ways. Intertextuality is also important: each book we read will have levels of allusion where one books refers implicitly to other literary ideas. Thus, the broad scope of books that our culture reads will affect the way that we interpret each new book. Rhetorical patterns can also have their affects. For example (my example, not Fish's), students of Biblical studies have to attempt to learn to read as ancient near eastern readers would. The most common Semitic writing patterns involve repetition. In many Old Testament stories, God will command one thing and then two sentences later we will see a prophet repeating God's command to a third person. To the modern reader, this is a sign that ancient people were unimaginative and wrote in a boring fashion. To the history-conscious German scholar of the 1900s, this was a sign that someone had edited together several versions of the same story, leaving much repetition behind. However, Robert Alter has famously argued that the ancient Semetic reader would see this as a common and important literary tool. The second speaker would often change God's words in slight or subtle ways, and the key was to watch for these changes as the main way to develop characters and the plot. The specific changes the person made could reveal pride, sin, doubt, or any number of other things. In other words, the repetition which, culturally, was the main locus of meaning in the ancient world, has become something irrelevant or boring to the modern reader. Our interpretation of texts is determined by our reading community. Fish demonstrates that, even in something as simple as reading (and we do get much of our knowledge from reading) is not an objective practice, but can be shaped by commitments which we did not even know that we had.

Taken as a whole, these thinkers indicate that we can plausibly defend a presuppositionalist epistemology. Presuppositions shape our research programs, the way we read texts, which philosophical options are before us, and even what we are mentally capable of doing. Furthermore, it seems impossible to objectively choose a worldview; we are always automatically within one even during the act of choosing.

Argument 3: Why Christianity Might Initially be Accepted in Presuppositional Epistemology

If presuppositional epistemology is correct, there is no choosing a worldview or paradigm without already occupying that paradigm. With this in mind, one might choose Christianity for several reasons:

(1) One might be raised a Christian, and inherit the Christian worldview as the default.

(2) One might have an experience which is so fundamental as to be considered essential to that person's identity, and which that individual interprets as an encounter with the Christian God.

(3) One might have another worldview, but then find a major problem with that worldview, which would cause one to adopt a new one, perhaps Christianity.

For my part, I have been a Christian partly because of all three of these. I was not raised a Christian, but I converted when I began to read some theology and it began to call into question many of the things that I believed (thus #3). Because I was raised in America, Christianity was sort of the obvious cultural choice, even though I wasn't raised in it (hence #1). Shortly after accepting the intellectual aspects of Christianity, I had a conversion experience that fundamentally defines my self-understanding and identity, and which appears to be continually repeated in my life, not as conversion but through spiritual disciplines (thus #2).

What should a Christian do once she finds herself within the Christian worldview? Like anyone, she should strive to test her worldview for explanatory scope and internal coherence, while continuing to examine alternative views to see if they are superior, or whether they fall subject to a reductio ad absurdam. As she examines evidence, she will do so from a biased perspective. But, if her worldview can no longer make sense of the evidence, it will have insufficient explanatory scope. She will also likely consider whether her worldview can continue to explain certain fundamental experiences, and whether it can help her to grow morally, intellectually, emotionally, and interpersonally.

Argument 4: Three Broad Philosophical Reasons for Maintaining Trinitarian Christian Faith

It is now time to discuss some of the arguments that I find persuasive in favor of Christian Trinitarian theism. As I have tested and examined my presuppositional worldview, I have found many arguments that I find compellingly in favor of Christianity. At present, I am only going to focus on three arguments. Each of the three are arguments that can be resolved by either trinitarianism or the incarnation alone, which explains why I prefer my particular variety of theism. Granted, there are other problems that several varieties of theism can solve.

(1) The One and the Many: Contingency and Truth

Broadly speaking, we can divide all of human knowledge into two types. The first is positivistic, which attempts to derive knowledge from data, whether sensory or statistical, in order to arrive at truth. The second for our purposes I'll just call non-positivistic. This type of knowledge can be derived from logic and/or philosophy, from semantic meaning, or from a broader system of knowledge. However, it is considered truth based on abstract reasoning, and not based on positivistic data.

It has long been widely agreed that many aspects of non-positivistic knowledge are historically contingent. That is to say, the are derived from particular historical circumstances. So, for example, particular terminological distinctions arise in history and continue to play a role in the future ideas of future thinkers. Likewise, particular ideas persist in various forms throughout history (for example, Hegel's dialectic, Marx's dialectical materialism, Adorno's negative dialectic, etc). Particular methodological positions are taken in response to prior tendencies in philosophy (Husserl's phenomenology in response to perceived failings of idealism, Kant's transcendentalism in response to the perceived failures of empiricism, etc.). These aspects and more are all historically contingent. If Boethius had not defined a person as a rational thinking substance, or particular individual, Descartes would not have posited the cogito ergo sum, focusing instead perhaps on "I act, therefore I am" for example. Foucault then wouldn't have posited the "death of man" were man defined terminologically differently. Hegel wouldn't have imagined the divine subject as the process of spirit coming to self-knowledge in dialectical history. Feuerbach wouldn't have then explained that Spirit itself was a projection of human potential. Marx wouldn't have critiqued Feuerbach for not changing the world, and so on. Without a terminological distinction between "mind" and "body," mind/body dualism of the Cartesian sort wouldn't have been possible. This has just been a brief survey of philosophy, but similar surveys are possible in most non-positivistic areas of knowledge.

I bring this up to point to "Lessing's ditch." A necessary truth cannot be depend upon a contingent truth. A necessary truth is something that is true at all times and places regardless. A contingent truth is something that could have been otherwise. If a necessary truth is only "True" as a result of a contingent truth, it is by definition not "necessary." Most non-positivistic claims for necessary truth incorporate into themselves dozens of contingent truths, based on terminological distinctions used, historical precedent, philosophical method, and so forth. However, non-positivistic approaches to knowledge do not claim to be presenting us with truth for a particular culture, but with truth itself.

How can we overcome this problem such that we can obtain valid truth through non-positivistic methods? I am assuming here that we must have non-positivistic methods, if only because positivism itself rests upon non-positivistic methods (I've discussed the problems with scientism at length here. The solution is found in the incarnation. Christianity is unique insofar as it links a particular with the universal, one of the many with the One. In Christ, the Truth itself, the transcendent which we are trying to grasp through our historically contingent acts of knowing, entered into history itself. This is a metaphysical connection between a particular set of contingent truths and necessary truth itself. In the historical Christ, we encounter one whose teachings within contingent history are themselves a product of his knowledge of necessary truths. In other words, through the incarnation a particular trajectory of historical, contingent truths conform to necessary truth, and they must do so because Christ must be true to himself. We see the incarnation as a way to bridge the problem of contingency and necessity because historically conditioned claims about reality aren't the result of purposeless historical processes, but of ones guided by Providence, and connected with the absolute itself.

This is not proof that Christ is himself God, nor that Christianity is true. However, to one who (according to our presuppositional methodology) already knows Christ as God and Christianity as truth, it opens the possibility of obtaining non-positivistic knowledge. To turn from Christ already known as God is thus to turn from that possibility, and so, due to explanatory scope, a Christian is justified to retain faith until that faith reaches a point of intellectual crisis, rather than turning from that faith, and in so doing, turning from the possibility of knowledge.

(2) Trinitarian Communication and Deconstruction

One formidable challenge to recent modern secularism has come from the concept of deconstruction, and from various associated challenges to the possibility of real communication. (I'm taking much of this from Kevin Vanhoozer). These challenges can be reduced to three basic dimensions. First, there are challenges to the author. The author is not actually present in the text, does not actually control what the text means, and is not encountered in the text. Instead, the reader discerns meaning according to the reader's ability, predispositions, and effort. In a sense, when you read you are making meaning from the text yourself, say the postmodernists.

What of the reader? Isn't the reader equipped to uncover meaning in the text? Postmodern thought actually challenges this process of "equipping" the reader, suggesting that it is reducible to "constructing the reader" as part of a cultural construct. The reader encountering the text finds particular things in the text as a result of the particular things that are relevant to his cultural framework. Thus, when individuals from a similar culture and epoch read a text together, we appear to all come to the same conclusions about the text, and therefore decide that we have legitimate hermeneutic abilities. However, we really have simply discovered that we are part of the same body of readers, respond the postmodernists. The reader himself is nothing but a product of the culture, and meaning is not "uncovered" by the reader through exegesis, but read into the text through eisegesis.

What of the text? Is not meaning actually located within the words of the text itself? The postmodern movement also challenges this as a result of "intertextuality" and the ambiguitiy of all meaning. Words are defined in relation to other words, and those to yet other words, and so forth. There is no solid foundation. The text is merely ink on paper, but any meaning we encounter in the text is not a result of the text itself, but of the connotations that we are able to bring to the text as a result of our personal and cultural use of the text.

In short, postmodernism suggests that the reader is not meaningfully connected to the text or the author as other, but only projects the self into the text and onto the author. The reader herself is also reduced to a cultural construct, to the extent that a real possibility of communication is challenged. Communication beyond superficialities from one person to another is only possible by a cultural imperialism that must change the other into our own likeness.

I admit that postmodernism has not yet won the day, with atheists like John Searle and others fighting against it. They are having a difficult struggle. Christian trinitarian theism offers an easier solution to the problem through the Trinity. In the Trinity, Jesus as the Word is the self-communication of God, the Spirit is at work in the believer so that the Word can be recognized, and the Word is sent by the Father to signify him and point us to Him. Yet, Father, Son, and Spirit have an ontological connection. Postmodernism suggests there is no real connection between author, text, and reader, but the Trinity provides Christianity a resource for connecting all three on a fundamental ontological level, guaranteeing the possibility of revelation.

(3) The Person/Being Distinction

The modern conception of the person is in many ways dependent upon the development of Christian theology. In ancient thought prosopon meant a mask, and referred to the role that an actor would assume during a play. Particularly in tragedies, this can be seen as a temporary role in attempting to overcome fate and determinism. Ultimately, the prosopon is subject to determinism, and the identity assumed is only momentary. In the debates surrounding the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries, Christian theologians developed prosopon in a new way, connecting it with the word hypostasis, "subsistence", and differentiating it from the word ousia, or "being." In terms of the Trinity, it was posited that there was a "personal" aspect of the Godhead which was not determined by the "being" deterministically, and which was the basis of divine "subsistence" or "existence." For the first time in Western history, personal freedom became the fundamental ontological and philosophical principle instead of deterministic being.

The Trinity continues to be important in distinguishing between person and nature. Only in Christian theology is the basis of ontology a differentiation which states that one being can simultaneously be three persons. This is only possible if personhood is irreducible to being. Likewise, the doctrine of the hypostatic union suggests that one person can have two natures. The person in Christian ontology is an immaterial principle that is sustained by relation to God (or in the case of the Trinity, through God's relation to Himself).

Apart from this trinitarian ontology, it seems that there is nothing except nature. A "person" is fundamentally a body, and ontological monism is inescapable. This seems to necessitate determinism, as any "personal" action simply arises from and within the mechanistic processes of the body.

Argument 5: Why Secularism Falls Short

I will note a few short arguments as to why secularism fails in the above areas and elsewhere:

(1) The Relativism of the Contingent

Above I argued that the only way to obtain necessary truth from contingent historical events is to connect one or more of those historical events with the universal itself, with necessary truth itself. In Christianity, the incarnation accomplishes this. On the other hand, noteworthy scholars in secularism are increasingly arguing that such a connection does not exist, and that non-positivistic truth cannot be obtained. This is a common experience even on this site. However, I'd rather focus on Neitzsche, who probably can be credited with the origin of these views. In Genealogy of Morals, Neitzsche proposes a theory of how morality developed. What is important here is not the specific discussion of how this occurred, as subsequent theories continuously explain the evolution of morals in different ways. Rather, it is the fact that things that we believe are "necessary moral truths" are in fact products of historical social relations and ideas, and could have just as easily have been otherwise. "Good" and "Evil" are the product of the contingent events of the past, but there is nothing necessary about one or the other. Likewise, throughout his work Neitzsche argues for something which he terms "perspectivism," which claims that there are many possible perspectives on metaphysics and that most are a result of the personal preferences of the individual, and of the cultural surrounding of that individual. In other words, our attempts to understand "truth" are a product of our contingent history and psyche, and cannot be trusted to produce anything other than our own perspective. More often than not, this "perspectivism" has been supported by key thinkers in the secular academic world.

(2) Persons and Humanism

Secular humanism is one major branch of secularism, claiming to put humans as the central element of morality, culture, and progress. Unfortunately, I am convinced that a robust view of the Trinity and the incarnation are necessary to maintain the view of the person. After all, these two doctrines were the philosophical milieu in which the concept of the "person" first arose in any form recognizable to us today. If we eliminate the person/being distinction, which we have no reason to maintain apart from theology and some form of mind/body dualism, we wind up with an ontological monism. The human being is the body, and what makes us human is simply a property of matter. Why is this relevant? Besides the problems noted above, it means that being a human isn't rooted in personhood, in an intrinsic quality of humanity. Rather, it is rooted in some attribute which humans develop as they mature, and which can be shared with other animals. Typically, this is a human capacity such as consciousness. One notable thinker, Peter Singer, locates the basic capacity which can justify human morality and identity in the ability to hold preferences. However, some animals can hold preferences, and therefore they should have rights. On the other hand, unborn babies, infants, and senile adults may not have the ability to do so, and therefore lack rights. Singer's conclusions are logical from his premises. If we assume that some capacity is the locus of individual value, then some animals will meet the criteria and some human beings will not. In short, humanism seems impossible to maintain in a robust form apart from a notion of the person.

(3) Communication and Nihilism

According to Derrida, one of the leading postmodernists challenging the possibility of real communication, to define something clearly is to do violence to it by imposing one's own heuristic into it. Since there is no real communication, since my understanding of a thing linguistically cannot be the restatement of that thing's (or person's) definition of itself because my understanding is of necessity an imposition of my own culture, to speak is to constrain another. Our task, claims Derrida, is to overcome this through a constant project of deconstruction, constantly trying to undo the "precise" meaning of a thing and to show the alternative interpretations. This is becoming a widespread phenomena, not just in academia, but in popular culture. So you have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies trying to undo the meaning of the classic text and open it to new possibilities, for example. On the other hand, many people are actively working to undo meaning and repackage it for the sake of profit. Traditional cultural motiffs are being forced into new contexts to destroy any meaning that they traditionally had. So the cross is a typical decoration in rap videos, Chinese, Mexican, and Cajun culture are strewn about the food court devoid of all but a shell of their traditional meaning, all to make a profit. Secular alternatives to Christianity are actively working to undo and destroy meaning. Christianity is seeking to maintain it with a sense of the transcendent, and stands as a viable counter-universal to globalization.

(4) Transcendence and an Ontology of Violence

John Milbank has pointed out that most Western secular metanarratives are grounded in an "ontology of violence." That is to say, the way that they think metaphysically is fundamentally rooted in certain types of difference-as-violence. In ancient philosophy, difference in being must have arisen from violence to the divine monad. In Hobbesian (and subsequent) political theory, the state of nature is a state of war. In evolutionary theory, all of biological reality is rooted in the violent competition of survival of the fittest. And so forth and so on. I don't have the time to reconstruct the entire western history of thought, nor likely the aptitude.

Christianity offers an alternative, claims Milbank, In the Trinity, difference is a result of creative love for the other, and difference is meant to be perpetually sustained, not eliminated through the triumphal victory of one over another.


To conclude: Presuppositional methodology suggests that one must decide one's stance toward God (or if not decide, possess this stance) prior to analyzing the data. I find no data which sufficiently compel me to abandon belief, and I find numerous metaphysical arguments for the superiority of Christianity over secular alternatives. This has been a very cursory overview: I have lumped secularism together, where I would truly need to go through thinker by thinker and determine whether they are superior. In practice, that has been more what has happened. But rather than have a debate on Sartre, or on neitzsche, or on Zizek, this gives a general overview of key issues. To these might be added questions of morals, epistemology, and objectivity. But those issues we have already debated elsewhere. At present, I thank you again for the chance to debate, and yield you the floor.


Post #3

Post by Haven »

Thanks for your post, theopoesis! My full response will be up tomorrow afternoon; in it, I will defend an evidentialist epistemology from postmodern attacks and show why presuppositionalism is impossibly incoherent and essentially amounts to the fallacy of wishful thinking.


Post #4

Post by Haven »

First of all, I'd like to thank my opponent for typing up such a thoughtful, insightful, and cogent opening post. Theopoesis is one of the most formidable and respectful individuals that I've had the pleasure of debating, and his arguments and modes of thinking always challenge me and force me to evaluate my own belief system.

With that said, I'm going to give a brief outline of the structure of my rebuttal, and then dive right in to the meat of the argument. Unfortunately, my post won't be nearly as long as Theopoesis', both because of time constraints (I'm also working on a master's thesis and conference paper) and because of the content of my arguments themselves. In his opening post, Theopoesis advanced a postmodern account of epistemology, science, and Christianity that is largely at odds with modern rationalism and evidentialism. While I, a modernistic evidentialist, disagree in numerous ways with this account, it is not my intention in this debate to defend modern epistemology or refute postmodern epistemology. Instead, I intend to point out the weaknesses, fallacies, and inconsistencies in Theopoesis' worldview, and show why -- even on postmodernism -- there is no reason to prefer his "Presuppositionalist Christian Trinitarianism" over any other worldview.

The structure of my rebuttal will be as follows:

(1) I will point out the problems with Theopoesis' epistemology and worldview (as described in the post above), providing empirical, philosophical, and sociological reasons why it fails.

(2) I will lay out my own secular alternative to Theopoesis' form of Christianity, explaining both why it is philosophically preferable to the theistic alternative and how it can still account for esthetic and emotional things such as human dignity, beauty, and morality.

Theopoesis has attempted to establish four primary conclusions with his five arguments:

1) That a modernist epistemology, based in scientism and postivism, has fatal flaws.
2) That a postmodernist, presuppositionalist epistemology, based on a priori viewpoint, is the only one within human capabilities
3) That an evangelical Christian worldview, rooted in trinitarian theism, offers the best "worldview" from an intellectual and emotional standpoint.
4) That secular alternatives to Christianity are unintelligible or fail to account for personhood, morality, or other human pursuits.

However, each of his arguments is based on a number of hidden assumptions and logical fallacies, which ultimately serve to undermine both the conclusions and Theopoesis' entire line of reasoning. I'll discuss each of these hidden assumptions and fallacies below, and illustrate why they undermine Theopoesis' arguments and conclusions.

One of the biggest failures of my opponent's argument is that it succumbs to ethnocentrism, an unjustified and arbitrary focus on one's own cultural norms to the exclusion of any and all others.

In his opening post, Theopoesis only examined two "worldviews": Western Christianity and positivistic, modernistic Western secularism. In adopting such a Eurocentric approach, he excluded the vast majority of the ancient and medieval intellectual, philosophical, and religious pursuits human beings have undertaken, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Middle Eastern thought, and African philosophy, as well as more recent philosophical and social theories coming from non-Western scholars, particularly those from India and China. In doing so, my opponent sets up a kind of myopic false dichotomy, forcing us to choose from two options, when in fact there are many, many more.

Many of the "unique" aspects of trinitarian Christianity Theopoesis cites as reasons to prefer it over the secular alternative, such as "divine communication" and "ontological unity," are in fact not unique to Christianity at all, but are common in non-Western religious traditions. For example, Hinduism has a concept called the trimurti, a trinitarian union in which the Hindu god eternally exists in three persons, Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer), and Shiva (the destroyer / renewer). Ayyavazhi, another Indian religion, also has a trinitarian conception of God, with the supreme being existing in three persons: Ekam (The Soul), Narayana (The Spirit), and Muthukutty (The Human Body). Furthermore, like Christianity, Ayyavazhi also features a doctrine of incarnation, with Narayana, the second person of the Ayyavazhi trinity, incarnating as the human being Ayya Vaikundar. Other religions and mythologies, such as those of the ancient Greeks, the Sami people of Finland, also feature trinities and triads.

Even granting, for the same of argument, all of my opponent's points, what reason have we to prefer trinitarian Christian theism over its Hindu or Ayyavazhi alternatives? It seems we have no reason, other than cultural bias, to do so. Certainly cultural bias is not a good reason to accept or reject a worldview; there must be something more substantive there.

Another example of Theopoesis' ethnocentrism is when he cites one of his reasons for accepting Christianity: personal divine experience through the spiritual disciplines (fasting, prayer, meditation, etc.).
theopoesis wrote:Shortly after accepting the intellectual aspects of Christianity, I had a conversion experience that fundamentally defines my self-understanding and identity, and which appears to be continually repeated in my life, not as conversion but through spiritual disciplines (thus #2).
However, individuals practicing many non-Christian religions, including the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, also report identical "spiritual" experiences through the practice of the "spiritual disciplines" of fasting, prayer, and meditation (Moore, Kloos, & Rasmussen 2001). Again, what reason, other than cultural bias, do we have for preferring Christian religious experiences over the religious experiences of non-Christians?

Lastly, my opponent cites the "ontological unity" of the three persons of the Christian trinity as the only way for humans to access objective truth. Granting his postmodernistic epistemological assumptions for the sake of argument, other religions -- again non-Abrahamic faiths from Eastern nations -- posit a similar "ontological unity," either among their god(s), human beings, or existence as a whole. For instance, the Dakota, a Native American people, had a religion / spiritual tradition that emphasized the ontological unity of spirit in all things, whether divine being, human, animal, or inanimate object. Zen Buddhism posits the ontological unity of all human minds, such that knowledge can flow between them. Surely, on Theopoesis' assumptions, such systems of ontological unity would make knowledge possible?

The Worthlessness of Nature

On the person-being distinction and nature of "personhood" in Christianity and Western Secular Humanism, Theopoesis writes:
theopoesis wrote:Secular humanism is one major branch of secularism, claiming to put humans as the central element of morality, culture, and progress. Unfortunately, I am convinced that a robust view of the Trinity and the incarnation are necessary to maintain the view of the person. After all, these two doctrines were the philosophical milieu in which the concept of the "person" first arose in any form recognizable to us today. If we eliminate the person/being distinction, which we have no reason to maintain apart from theology and some form of mind/body dualism, we wind up with an ontological monism. The human being is the body, and what makes us human is simply a property of matter. Why is this relevant? Besides the problems noted above, it means that being a human isn't rooted in personhood, in an intrinsic quality of humanity. Rather, it is rooted in some attribute which humans develop as they mature, and which can be shared with other animals. Typically, this is a human capacity such as consciousness. One notable thinker, Peter Singer, locates the basic capacity which can justify human morality and identity in the ability to hold preferences. However, some animals can hold preferences, and therefore they should have rights. On the other hand, unborn babies, infants, and senile adults may not have the ability to do so, and therefore lack rights. Singer's conclusions are logical from his premises. If we assume that some capacity is the locus of individual value, then some animals will meet the criteria and some human beings will not. In short, humanism seems impossible to maintain in a robust form apart from a notion of the person.
In stating this section of his argument, Theopoesis makes three related, highly dubious hidden assumptions:

1) That nature itself has no inherent worth; that humans must be ontologically separate from nature in order to have worth and dignity.

2) That non-human animals have no inherent worth, and that humans must be ontologically separate from them in order to have worth, freedom, and dignity.

3) That ontological monism entails a nihilism of value.

I should point out that my opponent has not offered any evidence or argument in favor of these assumptions, but has only restated his existing biases that no doubt come from his European-American, Judeo-Christian cultural background. Once again, he falls prey to the fallacy of ethnocentrism. I invite him to produce arguments or evidence supporting these unsubstantiated claims.

Still, there exist a number of religious and secular worldviews, including Jainism and many forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, that view human beings as ontologically united with animals, plants, and non-living nature, and see this as a positive rather than a problem. Jainism, for example, asserts that both people and non-human animals have souls, spirits, and minds, and cannot be killed, harmed, or abused for any reason. Far from devaluing and cheapening human life, this principle dispenses with the prejudice of speciesism by elevating the dignity of animal life, recognizing its importance and condemning the abuse and exploitation of animals that is justified by Western, Judeo-Christian cultures. In doing this, Jainism also elevates human persons,

The Wishful Thinking Fallacy

Theopoesis' arguments are intended to point out that only Christian trinitarian theism can satisfactorily account for morality, knowledge, and truth. In fact, he goes as far as to invoke Sartre, Nietzsche, and the nihilism associated with them in essentially making the case for the absurdity of existence without Christianity.

However, even granting the conclusion of Theopoesis argument -- i.e., that life is absurd without Christian theism, that there exists no basis for morality, purpose, human dignity, knowledge, or truth without the Christian god -- I still see no compelling reason to accept the Christian worldview. Perhaps, as Camus concluded, life is absurd. Perhaps morality, human dignity, knowledge, truth, life purpose, epistemic knowledge, and objective truth do not exist as anything more than arbitrary social constructs and power plays. Perhaps, as Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Foucaut, and de Bouvoir said, we need to recognize this nihilism and invent our own meanings, morals, purposes, and reasons for living.

If these conclusions necessarily follow from secularism, why, philosophically, rationally, intellectually, does it matter? The conclusion that naturalism obtains and existential and moral nihilism, as well as epistemological relativism, follows is logically coherent and evidentially sound, and so cannot simply be dismissed out of hand. To do so would be to fall into the trap of wishful thinking, rejecting a well-supported conclusion (atheistic nihilism) and embracing another conclusion (Christian trinitarianism) simply because one dislikes the implications of the former. Obviously, I do not need to point out why wishful thinking is both logically fallacious and intellectually responsible.

Kindism: A Secular Alternative

Despite my attacks on his overall argument, I agree with Theopoesis' critique of Secular Humanism. I agree that Secular Humanism is based on Christian assumptions which it cannot account for; I'd also add that Secular Humanism itself is highly ethnocentric, entirely dependent for its morals and ethical viewpoints on modern Western rationalism and evidentialism, Western "justice" and "rights" political thought, ethical utilitarianism, and capitalism. Such a system is equally myopic as Christianity, and ultimately collapses under its own weight.

Instead of Secular Humanism, I propose another secular "worldview" of life stance called Kindism, which is similar in some respects and yet accounts for both the diversity of human cultures and the new ontological realities brought on by secularism. Kindism allows humans to escape nihilism while holding on to metaphysical naturalism, and offers a better account of human dignity, purpose, and morality than does traditional Christian theology.

Kindism is a "life-stance" based on the principles of many Western, Eastern, Southern, and Indigenous religious and philosophical teachings. The philosophy can be summed up by a few short sentences: the thesis "kindness is good," (where "kindness" is defined as that which flows from a kind disposition / focus / heart / character (love, respect for life, promotion of equality, self-sacrifice, peace, humility, justice, mercy, hope, etc.), the imperative "be kind!" (that is, foster a kind disposition within yourself and perform kind acts), the antithesis of "unkindness is evil," where unkindness is defined as that which flows from an unkind character / heart (hatred, disregard for life, promotion of inequality, selfishness, gratuitous violence, greed, pride, etc.), and the imperative "don't be unkind!" (that is, foster a character that is averse to unkindness and refrain from performing unkind acts).

These are some of the implications of Kindism; keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive.

All members of the human community, both individually and collectively, possess intrinsic value and are equal in moral and worth. They possess certain inalienable rights, including (but not necessarily limited to) life, freedom, happiness, self-determination, social equality, social opportunity, and economic equality. They are owed kindness, tolerance, dignity, and respect.

All sentient non-human animals possess intrinsic value and moral worth, and should not be killed or caused harm by human beings, except when essential to protect and / or sustain human life.

The natural world is intrinsically valuable, and must be defended, protected, and preserved, except when essential to protect and / or sustain human life.

And from these conclusions, more conclusions follow:

All human individuals, regardless of sex or gender identity, are entitled to equal civil, political, economic, and social rights. This includes, but is not limited to, the right to choose, and, if they so wish, marry, a person of her / their / his choice.

All human beings, regardless of sexual orientation, are entitled to equal civil, political, economic, and social rights. This includes, but is not limited to, the right to choose, and, if they so wish, marry, a person of her / their / his choice.

All human “races,� ethnicities, nations, religions (including the lack of religion), and cultures are equal in every respect, none is more or less valuable than any other. All such groups are entitled to equal civil, political, economic, and social rights.

All human beings have the responsibility to treat other human beings with kindness, equality, tolerance, dignity and respect. As far as it is possible, it is incumbent upon all people to assist other humans and sentient creatures in their time of need.

All human beings have a responsibility to work for the good of their families, local communities, the human community, other sentient animals, and the natural world. Individuals, as far as they are able, are responsible to protect innocent life Specifically, each person and human community must work toward social justice, including (but not necessarily limited to) the eradication of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, neurotypicalism, ethnocentrism, religious bigotry, speciesism, poverty, non-defensive violence, economic inequality, and unequal protection under the law.

All human beings have the responsibility to, as far as they are able, eradicate all forms of unjust suffering from the human community and the non-human animal world.

Violence, both on the individual and collective levels, is antithetical to the above axioms and values and must be avoided and vigorously condemned. Specifically, war, genocide, murder, rape, sexual assault, child abuse, animal abuse, bullying, and personal violence are abhorrently evil and must be avoided. Recourse to violent actions is morally permissible when, and only when necessary to defend human beings from deadly or otherwise grave harm. In such situations, one must use the minimum amount of force necessary to protect the person / persons in need.

Any person who knowingly and intentionally violates one of the above principles is morally blameworthy, and is deserving of punishment in proportion to their act. Except for the right to life, which is absolute, any aforementioned right and/or entitlement may not be taken except for just cause with due process of law.


Once again, thanks to Theopoesis for participating, this is an informative and interesting topic and he is a highly intelligent and well-thought-out opponent.

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Post #5

Post by theopoesis »

Hi Haven:

Thanks for your response. I appreciate your compliments in your first post, and want to express my own high regard for your character. If anyone here is genuinely seeking the truth, it is Haven. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to present my understanding of the truth, and the opportunity to learn where I may be wrong.

I would like to begin by stating that I don't think we are on the same page at all, unfortunately. And I believe that the problem may not be on my end. In your initial post, you stated,
Haven wrote: Theopoesis: I'm interested in debating you head-to-head on your postmodern-ish presuppositionalist epistemology. I'm interested in showing why such an epistemological view is incoherent, as well as putting forth a brief sketch of my own (secular) view on epistemology. What do you think?
As such, I tailored my entire discussion to a presentation of my epistemology, and an explanation of why that epistemology made me conclude that trinitarian Christianity is superior to secular alternatives. Then, in your first rebuttal, you state,
Haven wrote: While I, a modernistic evidentialist, disagree in numerous ways with this account, it is not my intention in this debate to defend modern epistemology or refute postmodern epistemology.
If you do not intend to defend what I have challenged, and what was explicitly named as the topic of this debate, then it would seem that I have already won. Of course, winning is irrelevant for the most part, as the main point of debates here is to learn. But I merely point out that the bulk of my initial post remains unchallenged and un-refuted. It also results in us talking past one another to a degree, and any response to your rebuttal will necessarily have to return, at least to a small extent, to the epistemological discussion in my original presentation. I don't know how to fully extricate what we've started from questions of epistemology.

Furthermore, in your original challenge, you led me to believe that I should deal with secularism as the alternative under consideration. I even posted subsequent times in your challenge thread to clarify that this was the case. Then, in your rebuttal, you continually hold me responsible for not responding to such views as Jainism, Hinduism, etc. All the while you do virtually nothing to defend secularism against the challenges that I have made against it. As such, it seems that secularism stands challenged and perhaps refuted by my arguments (at least for the purposes of this debate). Again, it seems we are not on the same page.

With that being said, I now turn to the the task at hand. As agreed upon, my second post is to be a rebuttal of your rebuttal, with your final response engaging my words here. As such, I'll simply go through each of your objections:

Am I an Ethnocentrist, or Are You Culturally Imperialistic?

In your account of ethnocentrism, I find two criticisms of my position:
(1) I assume the western options of Christianity and secularism, an ethnocentric assumption.
(2) I ignore non-Western equivalents to the Trinity.

The first objection is easiest to respond to. As stated above, your original request was for me to defend my Christian position in light of your secular alternative. As such, the arguments presented focused on reasons why Christianity was superior to the secular alternative, as per the original agreement. This is not to ethnocentrically ignore the fact that different arguments would need to be presented to refute, say, Buddhism. But the subject at hand (I thought) was secularism vs. trinitarian christianity, and so I focused my argument on that. Of course, I cannot avoid completely cultural bias, and I cannot consider every possible religion (I know almost nothing about Taoism and I don't even know the name of ancient Incan religion), but that fits into my presuppositional epistemology. I inevitably am trapped to some degree by my culture. You, on the other hand, seem to deny that you are culturally located, and therefore tend to read other religions according to analogies in your own Western culture, an imperialistic move (as I will soon show). This leads me to your second objection.

You claim that I am ethnocentric in ignoring alternative parallels to Christian trinitarianism. Again, I did not refer to them previously because I thought the focus was on secularism, but I will do so now.

Trinitarianism has several metaphysical components that make it unique (as far as I am aware). I'll focus on three:
(1) Ontological monism rooted in simplicity. According to the philosophical idea of simplicity, the being of the Godhead is simple, i.e. not made of parts, and therefore the three persons fully share the one being because the one being cannot be divided.

(2) Relational differentiation: The persons of the Trinity are not divided by any separate nature, but only by relation. The Father is different from the Son because the Father eternally begat the Son, and the Son was eternally begotten. I claimed in my first post that Christianity was unique in making personhood not rooted in nature. This is one important aspect: relation is the principle of individuation, not role, nature, or identity.

(3) Perichoretic Participation: In trinitarian theology, two things are important in terms of divine action. First, we ought to note the ad intra and ad extra distinction. Ad intra (within the Godhead) the actions of the Persons are properly differentiable. The Spirit is spirated, the Son begotten. Ad extra (outside of the Godhead) the actions of the Persons are differentiable only "in a certain mode." While we attribute creation to the Father, for example, we see that the Son and Spirit were both active in creating according to the Scriptures. Second, because the Persons are ontologically one, the subsistences are said to "mutually interpenetrate" through perichoresis. Any action that one takes, the others all take as well.

Ok, so metaphysically, I make use of all three distinctions in my arguments. For example, the argument with respect to communication assumes that there is ontological and perichoretic union between the Persons of the Trinity. The argument about Persons assumes that the principle of differentiation is relational and not ontological or functional (the latter is modalism, and is impossible in Trinitarianism because of #3).

So, you point to Eastern examples of what you call Trinitarianism, but I think that in so doing you are culturally imperialistic. You see a triad and assume that the trimurti is identical to the Trinity. However, despite many requests on this forum, I have yet to see anyone cite a primary text from history in which the trimurti is described using any of the three specific metaphysical principles which I list above. For example, the Kurma Purana is supposedly an example of the trimurti. 1.8 depicts Vishna, Shiva, and Brahma as having three different bodies, which would suggest an ontological distinction between the three. Furthermore, Brahma also had a son named Daksha (1.12), and there is also a Laksmi who gives Vishnu powers, "but is no different from (Vishnu) in essence" (1.1). Thus, there are more than three in this "triune" union. Shiva emerged from Vishnu's anger, but Brahma from Vishu's body, indicating both a divide in Vishnu (contra simplicity) and a distinction in nature between Shiva/Brahma. So this "trinity" has none of the same metaphysical principles, and has more persons than three (source). An attempt to make the trimurti a Trinity is in fact an effort to shoehorn the trimurti into western metaphysics, rather than letting it stand on its own terms.

I have to admit a complete lack of knowledge of the Ayyavazhi religion. I looked on Wikipedia out of curiosity, and it had much of the content you were pointing to. I am reluctant to take Wikipedia as a reliable source, so merely point to its words as demonstrating that the analogy you make is questionable. I will need to study this further before I am certain myself. So, Wikipedia says "Akilam narrates that the Avatar (incarnation) of Vaikundar is the combination of three dimensions of God and it happens in three stages." If the three stages of soul/spirit/body do not eternally coexist, this is more akin to modalism than trinitarianism. Furthermore, it would seem that soul, spirit, and body would have different attributes (for example soul is considered "beyond consciousness" and spirit "absolute consciousness.") And I don't see where the relations are the principles of individuation here. I could be wrong, but I'm just not seeing it (source). In the article on Ayyavazhi theology, Wikipedia states that "During this (marriage with the deities), Vaikundar unifyied into him all the deities" (source). It's not clear what sort of unification this refers to, but if it is an ontological one, we clearly do not have divine simplicity here but rather a composite. Again, it's taking an Eastern metaphysic and trying to shoehorn it into Western trinitarianism.

This seems to be a major trend that occurs throughout modernism that postmodernism responds to. This is evident in your proposal of kindism, for example (which I will mostly deal with later). You state, "Kindism is a "life-stance" based on the principles of many Western, Eastern, Southern, and Indigenous religious and philosophical teachings." Then you go on to give four sentences that summarize it. Let's just look at the first: "kindness it good." Then you link kindness with a long list of things: "love, respect for life, promotion of equality, self-sacrifice, peace, humility, justice, mercy, hope, etc." But do the West, East, South, and the Indigenous all view "justice" in the same way? Isn't there a major difference between the "justice" of the Eastern Hindus who believe in reincarnation and consider it wrong to strive for social equality between the castes because to do so would be to undermine karma and between Western Judaism's ideal of Jubille, which sought to restore property and land only to Jews in order to restore God's promise, and between Christians who say "there is neither gentile nor jew, slave nor free" and considered justice to be the mutual sharing of everything in Acts 2? Isn't there a difference in the idea of "hope" between the Western Islamic hope of being blessed with virgins in the afterlife and the Eastern hope for the dissolution of the self in Nirvana? Isn't there a difference between "mercy" or "grace" in Western practices of almsgiving (i.e. giving a gift of charity mercifully without expecting anything in return), and anthropologically studied Indigenous gift economies, where receiving any gift puts an honor obligation on the individual to return a gift to the giver? You see, modernism tends to offer "lowest common denominator" universals, but in so doing it strips all the particulars of their true form. Inevitably, this leads to the projection of on particular perspective shaped by particular presuppositions on all cultures. Sure, everyone believes in "justice", but when it comes down to defining things, if you assume everyone means what you do by that term, you'll imperialistically impose your own culture on them.

A presuppositionalist is very aware that there are different perspectives shaped by different cultures, and as such he avoids ethnocentrism. A modernist who claims universal reason and ignores these presuppositional differences just ends up imposing his view on others without going through the trouble of actually examining his own or other presuppositions.

On the Importance of Being a Person

Haven's next objection is that I make unwarranted assumptions about the problem with human nature. He again links this with a charge of ethnocentrism. With respect to the latter, I'll only say that, as per our original agreement, the debate was between trinitarian christianity and his secular alternative, and as such I was showing why secular views like Singer's were inferior to trinitarian christianity. When comparing christianity to Jainism, for example, different arguments would need to be used. Had my opponent wanted me to refute every religion, he should have said so in the challenge, and then waited the additional 6 months it would have taken to do so. In my opinion, such a task is far too broad to undertake in a single debate, especially given the percentage of my original argument that Haven has needed to pass over. Therefore, I will continue to focus on secularism in this part of my response. After all, you are advocating a variety of secularism, not Jainism.

On to your main objection...
Haven wrote:In stating this section of his argument, Theopoesis makes three related, highly dubious hidden assumptions:

1) That nature itself has no inherent worth; that humans must be ontologically separate from nature in order to have worth and dignity.
It is unclear here whether you mean nature as in the ecosphere, or as in susbtance/essence. In my arguments I focused on the latter, but it seems perhaps you focus on the former. Regardless, I do not assume that nature has no worth. Nor do I assume that humans must be ontologically separate from nature in order to have worth. In fact, Christianity claims that the world was created good, and that humans are so linked with the world that when they sinned, the entire world was affected. If the world created consists of various substances, they too are good. Rather, I suggest that secular humanism is rooted in the idea that persons are the basis of morality. So, for example, the Humanist Manifesto 2000 says, "The underlying ethical principle of Planetary Humanism is the need to respect the dignity and worth of all persons in the world community." (source) If "persons" are the basis of morality, we must then ask whether secular humanism can maintain a sufficient definition of persons. Here is where my objection comes in: personhood must be differentiated from nature (i.e. essence, not the biological world) in order for all humans to have enduring worth. Otherwise, it would seem that Singer is correct in saying that some attribute of human nature makes one a person, and that therefore certain humans who have not yet developed these attributes are not yet persons, and therefore do not yet have rights.
Haven wrote: 2) That non-human animals have no inherent worth, and that humans must be ontologically separate from them in order to have worth, freedom, and dignity.
Incorrect again. I do not assume that non-human animals have no worth. I assume they have less worth than humans. Christianity teaches that God was pleased in creation with all the biodiversity of the world, and it was good. But only humans are created in God's image. So, for example, imagine you are driving at 60 miles per hour down a two lane road. You come around a curve and suddenly see a baby lying in one lane, and an adult deer standing in the other. You don't have time to brake, but only have time to swerve and decide which lane to drive in, and therefore whether to run over the deer or the baby. I'm assuming the right choice is to hit the deer, then to get out of the car and help the baby. Sure, it's sad to hit a deer, but better to save a baby. But I'm saying that the logical conclusion of secularism may be different. According to Singer, we should hit the baby and let the deer live. The baby, after all, hasn't developed the necessary attributes of personhood. I say this is a major problem, and that it is rooted in a deficient secular metaphysic of personhood.

Furthermore, with respect to "freedom" I think you are equivocating on the word "nature." When I say that personhood must be distinct from nature to have freedom, I don't mean nature as in the birds and bees and squirrels. Rather, I mean nature as in our substance, our essence, our being, etc. If there is no distinction, whatever actions we take are a result of the mechanistic processes that we have identified as controlling our substance, and mechanistic actions cannot be free. That is why the person/being distinction was historically linked with the much higher emphasis on human freedom and responsibility in the Christian West.
Haven wrote: 3) That ontological monism entails a nihilism of value.
I don't see where this comes from at all. I grant that Singer's ontologically monistic view gives value to things, but simply claims that the values have the wrong hierarchy.

May I suggest a flaw in your tactics here? You are pointing out that I have presuppositions that I have not justified. Besides the fact that your identification of these presuppositions isn't very accurate, you face another problem. I have already argued that every possible intellectual position has unjustified presuppositions. You have opted not to challenge this fact. Therefore, when you point out that I have unjustified presuppositions, you aren't pointing out anything problematic or surprising. I have proposed an (again unchallenged) method to deciding which presuppositions are better: considering whether the conclusions undermine the premises. Then, I suggest that the presupposition of secular humanism that all human beings as persons have value is undermined by the conclusion that not all human beings are persons because of ontological monism. You do not explain why my argument is wrong, but rather show that I, like secular humanism, have presuppositions. However, if my presuppositions aren't self-defeating, but secular humanism's are, then my presuppositions are preferable. Thus, in this section you have done nothing to discredit my preference for Christian trinitarianism over against secular humanism.

Wishful Thinking, Fundamental Experiences, and Necessary Metaphysical Components

Haven charges me with wishful thinking, saying...
Haven wrote: Perhaps morality, human dignity, knowledge, truth, life purpose, epistemic knowledge, and objective truth do not exist as anything more than arbitrary social constructs and power plays.
Do I only reject nihilism because I want there to be truth and meaning? I believe the answer is no, but suppose I could be wrong. I say no for two reasons. First, I suggested in my discussion that certain fundamental experiences need to be accounted for in considering a world view. I have had, and think most people have had, experiences that point toward the appearance of truth, meaning, and value in the world. Thus, I would expect a worldview to be able to account for that truth, meaning, and value in ways that nihilism does not. Thus, nihilism lacks explanatory scope. Second, I suggested that worldviews could be self-defeating. If nihilism claims that knowledge is impossible, and that there is no truth, how can we know anything about nihilism and claim that it is true? Thus, nihilism seems to be self-defeating (presented in a minimalist way).

The reader should note that I have argued that secularism leads toward nihilism because of the problem of contingency. Haven has not responded to this argument, but rather only says "so what? what if there is no truth or knowledge?" You should also note that his proposal of kindism completely sidesteps the question of epistemology, i.e. how we know what we know. Is this really an adequate worldview, though? Can we really sidestep the question of truth? I am convinced that the answer is no, and that Christianity can overcome the problem of contingency through the incarnation in ways that secularism cannot. (Again, to avoid the charge of ethnocentrism, a brief word on eastern incarnations. Most of these are mythological, i.e. occurring before recorded history. Thus, it is hard to link these incarnations with any specific historical tradition. Christianity, on the other hand, claims an incarnation in which the universal was linked to a particular during a time of historical record, in such a way that historical data can be analyzed, and in such a fashion that we can expect significant amounts of Christian tradition to be rooted in the words and practices of Christ and the disciples. Here, Christianity is superior to many eastern religions with an incarnation and much superior to secularism which lacks one. Furthermore, I have never been shown from primary, historical texts that Eastern incarnations have the same metaphysical structures as the Christian doctrine of the hypostatic union. But this metaphysical framework is essential to my understanding of why Christianity is a superior worldview. Here again, Eastern worldviews seem inferior.)

Why Kindism Doesn't Get Us Very Far

Haven has put forward a secular alternative to trinitarian Christianity called kindism. I find many flaws with this "worldview" which I will list here:

(1) Kindism isn't a worldview: Kindism, as presented by Haven, does not appear to be a worldview. This is because it sidesteps the following questions: Is there truth? How do we know it? What is a human being? What is the world? How is a human related to the world? What happens when we die? Since these and other questions are not answered, it seems that kindism lacks the explanatory scope to truly be a worldview. I am sure that Haven has answers to these questions, but kindism as presented doesn't answer them. Instead, we would need a kindism plus something else (kindism+). Since we don't have kindism+, we really cannot evaluate it as equivalent to a worldview like trinitarian Christianity, or secular humanism, or hinduism. Even if kindism+ is presented by Haven in his final post, it will presented at a time when it is too late for me to evaluate it and discuss it, as this is my final post. Regardless, since kindism doesn't answer these questions, I see no reason to prefer kindism over my own worldview, which has broader explanatory scope. In fact, if I already accepted kindism and found a non-contradictory view with more explanatory scope, I would abandon kindism.

(2) Kindism is so tautological as to be unhelpful: Haven says that the basic life stance of kindism is defined as "kindness is good." And that we ought to "be kind." He then defines "kindness" as "that which flows from a kind disposition." But this is basically defining the term kindness with the term kind. What is a kind disposition? We don't know. And so kindism, in my opinion, seems to boil down to meaning whatever we want it to mean. Christianity, on the other hand, has the story of the life of Christ as the example of what it means to love and be kind. This is not a vacuous concept of kindness, but a very concrete one. Thus, I see Christianity as preferable here.

(3) Kindism falsely presents itself as a global ethical system, but is inevitably culturally imperialistic: As suggested above, Haven claims that kindism is rooted in Western, Eastern, Southern, and Indigenous views. However, it does not account for differences in each of these cultural regions with respect to questions like: what is kindness? What is justice? What is hope? Sure, most cultures agree that we should be just, but the problems come about when we try to define justice, which Haven does not do. Lacking a definition, those who adopt kindism will inevitably impose their own cultural understanding of kindness/justice/etc on kindism, and assume all other cultures agree since kindism is, after all, a global view. This is culturally imperialistic. Christianity (at its best), on the other hand, recognizes that the church is the locus of ethical action, and further recognizes that there is a difference between the church and the world. We should not expect the world to understand "kindness" or "justice" in the same way that we do, and should not impose our views on them until they have come to join the church through faith in Christ. (I admit many Christians have forgotten this traditional teaching of the two kingdoms).

(4) Kindness is insufficient as a basis for ethics: Kindism doesn't tell us what to do ethically in situations that are not interpersonal. Is it kind or unkind to be lazy? Is it kind or unkind to be proud? Is it kind or unkind to covet? Is it kind or unkind to lust? These and many more questions don't, to me, seem to have a clear answer. Other ethical systems give us answers to these questions. Again, kindism lacks explanatory scope, but Christianity gives us answers to these questions.

(5) Kindism doesn't give us anything that Christianity doesn't already provide us: Perhaps, though it does not explain some of the things that Christianity does, kindism might explain things that Christianity does not. However, it seems to me that kindism isn't much more than the golden rule: "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Since I already grant this ethic of kindness, and supplement it with further ethical maxims that kindism does not provide, I see no reason to leave Christianity for kindism.

(6) The supposed "implications" of kindism do not follow from the premises: Here I will simply list several claims from kindism that do not follow from the four initial premises. Granted, someone who accepts kindism may accept these things as well without any logical contradiction, but Haven suggested that these are "implications", which indicates that they logically flow from the premises. They do not, and this is again evidence that the four premises of kindism are insufficient to be a worldview. They cannot on their own provide enough explanatory scope:

(a) Haven claims that kindism indicates that all have a right to economic equality. But this does not follow from the mandate "be kind." Is it kind, for example, to reward someone for not working by giving them equal pay, reinforcing their lethargy? Is it kind to pay someone equally if they have medical or personal needs that require them to spend more to survive? Couldn't kindness fit with a Rawlsian system of inequality, where we can grant the kindness to all that we wouldn't put them in a situation we wouldn't accept were we to live with the same abilities and choices? In short, kindness does not entail equality. I'm not against equality, but you can't get there from kindness alone. In fact, it seems hard to derive a system of economics from kindness alone.

(b) Haven claims that one implication of kindism is "the natural world is intrinsically valuable." This is a pure non sequitur. How do we get from "kindness is good" to "the world is intrinsically valuable?" In fact, I don't see that we can derive a view of the environment from kindness alone.

(c) Haven claims that the statement "all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation, are entitled to equal civil, political, economic, and social rights...(including) the right to choose, and... marry, a person of (their) choice" follows from kindism. Again, I do not see that this is the case. Kindism does not offer an explanation of what a human being is. If humans are designed for something, or if certain human actions have positive or negative consequences on the human, then presumably certain actions may be detrimental to that person. Is it kind to allow actions that result in self-harm? It would seem the answer is no. Therefore, we need a substantive anthropology, explaining what a human is and should be, in order to determine what marriages are acceptable. However, I don't see that we can derive a view of anthropology from kindness alone.

(d) Haven claims that kindism indicates that humans have a responsibility to work toward eliminating non-defensive violence. But can we really say that it is kind to another to harm them, even if they are harming us? Who do I have a greater obligation to be kind toward, myself or the other? Is turning the other cheek kinder than an eye for an eye? Unfortunately, kindism does not tell us. This is because we cannot derive any hierarchy of goods from kindness alone.

(e) Haven claims that kindism entails that those who violate these principles is morally blameworthy and "deserving of punishment in proportion to their act." Any right can be taken except the right to life. Again, this does not follow from the mandate "be kind." Kindness alone cannot explain a system of culpability. Is someone who uknowingly commits a crime culpable? Do laws need to be promulgated? Are certain formulations of rights unjust, and therefore violable? How do we respond to unjust laws? Furthermore, Kindness alone cannot determine what is a just punishment "in proportion to their act." Is it kind to fine someone $1000 for stealing and spending $2000, thereby kindly showing mercy? Or is it kind to put them in jail for ten years, kindly deterring them from future crime and giving them an opportunity to change? What sort of retribution is necessary: retributive or restorative? How do we know which rights are inalienable? Why life but not freedom? Kindism alone cannot give us any of these answers. This is because it is impossible to derive a legal and judicial system from kindness alone.

The list could go on, but the point is made. Kindism, as defined by these four premises, doesn't get us very far. It doesn't provide a view of anthropology, of legal and judicial justice, of the environment. It doesn't give us a hierarchy of goods. In fact, as noted above, it is ambiguous on what kindness even is. It isn't sufficient to explain ethics, and it falsely claims to be global but only is so insofar as it fails to offer a substantive definition of kindness, justice, love, hope. Once a substantive definition is given, then it ceases to be universal in this respect.

In saying this, I in no way mean to suggest that Haven doesn't have answers to the questions raised above. Quite certainly he does, and I have even seen him debate some of them on this forum. Haven is intelligent, and his views (when presented) are nothing to scoff at. The problem is that there are deeper presuppositions that shape his proposal for kindism. Kindism isn't really doing the work that he says it is. Thus, kindism isn't really an "alternative" to trinitarian Christianity because it doesn't answer the questions that a worldview should. And rest assured, all people have a worldview. But what is Haven's?


I have suggested that kindism isn't really the worldview of Haven. Something deeper is telling Haven that life is an inalienable right. Something deeper is telling him that there should be economic equality. Something deeper is telling him that same sex marriages are a good thing. Something deeper is telling him that the environment should be cared for along with human beings. In his response to my rebuttal, Haven will likely be able to explain why life is an inalienable right, for example. But when he does so, he will likely not appeal to the four principles of kindism (at least I do not see how he can do so in a logically consistent way). What, then, is Haven's worldview?

It seems to me that Haven, deep down somewhere, accepts many of the same presuppositions as modernism, or Western secularism. This is the predominant non-religious option of our culture, emphasizing rights over duties (as does Haven), freedom of choice over intrinsic design (as does Haven), environmentalism, just-war ethics, and multiculturalism (as does Haven). But this secular view is the view that I have severely critiqued in my opening posts as not epistemologically sustainable. If Haven understands kindism according to a secular Western culture, his understanding is historically conditioned, contingent. But if it is contingent, it cannot be necessary truth apart from some metaphysical explanation. Why, then, accept his alternative to trinitarian Christianity, especially when I have suggested (and not been challenged on the claim) that the Trinity and Incarnation allows us to overcome the problem of contingency in historically derived worldviews?

At the conclusion of my chance to write in this debate, it seems to me that I have defended a presuppositionalist epistemology without challenge, used it to demonstrate that there are significant weaknesses in the secular alternatives, and suggested that Christianity overcomes these weaknesses. I have then shown how, per the terms of this debate and contra Haven, I did not pursue an ethnocentric course, and that Haven's "alternative" was really no alternative at all. Rather, he seems to be operating within the secular view that I have already raised objections to. As such, I feel that I am justified continuing to hold to my Christian worldview against the secular alternative.

I want to thank Haven for the invitation to debate. It was helpful to me, and enjoyable. I do regret that we didn't seem to be on the same page, and that if you engage my substantive critiques of secularism in your final rebuttal that I will not be able to respond. However, it is a bit late in the game to change the format, and I will be starting my semester in a few days, as I know you will too. I hope this semester goes well for you. Blessings to you and to your family, and thanks again.



Post #6

Post by Haven »

First, I'd like to thank theopoesis for his continued participation in this debate, as well as for his tolerance for our differences of opinion. I'd like to apologize for skipping many of his arguments in my rebuttal, the reason for doing so was brevity: he raised so many issues that I feel I couldn't effectively respond to them all, so I went after what I felt were the most important failures in his arguments.

In this post, I will take on the three large tasks of defending secularist epistemology from theopoesis' criticisms, "fleshing out" Kindism (or Kindism+ ;)) as a viable worldview, and defending Kindism from theopoesis' attacks. Because the majority of my energies will be directed at the above, I will spend only a brief time discussing theopoesis' responses to the charge of ethnocentrism and ignoring Eastern religions, as well as his very brief critique of epistemological nihilism.

(Modern) Secularist Epistemology: What Can We Know?

Theopoesis, along with other postmodernists, are right in their critique of the early modernist concepts of autonomous reason and absolute, necessary knowledge. Yes, each individual's ability to reason is limited by her biology, her education, and her cultural background, and as such must be considered subjective. Also, given determinism (which I fully accept) and the lack of a necessary basis for knowledge, such as a god, knowledge is by definition contingent, and Truth, defined as "that which corresponds to reality," cannot be known with certainty.

However, this need not cause the modernist to reject reason and retreat into postmodernism and presuppositionalism, as there are two principles which still allow us, in a modernistic way, to gain knowledge, defined as "justified true belief," of what is true, defined as "that which works" (such a pragmatic conception of truth is justified, as that which works is very likely to correspond to reality, and that which corresponds to reality is very unlikely to work; therefore truth [as defined here] gives us a decent approximation of Truth). These principles are:

1) The principle of aggregation: The idea that unbiased knowledge emerges from the aggregation of subjective viewpoints seeking truth. Mathematically stated, this principle asserts that as the number of truth-seeking viewpoints increases, the biasing effects of subjectivity decreases, allowing us to gain a more-or-less accurate picture of reality. This is because people's subjectively held biases, presuppositions, cultural contexts, and opinions are not the same, but different, and when added together, cancel each other out, regressing us toward the mean, the average position that is likely very close to reality.

2) The scientific method: When a large number of researchers, each having her own gender, race, class, culture, biases, wants, etc. come together and scientifically investigate a specific phenomena, with the goal of discovering truth. Such a process of developing hypotheses, performing experiments, and replicating results, especially when it is carried out by a large number of researchers, each of whom have a variety of different perspectives, is very likely to lead to that which works, i.e., truth. This can be seen in the practical results of science: cars, computers, life-saving drugs and surgeries, Mars rovers, air conditioners, and many other inventions and aids are the products of scientific inquiry, and all work to improve the lives of humans and animals around the world. We KNOW science works because its methods have been used time and time again when lives are on the line, to much success. Non-scientific methods of inquiry, such as tradition, religion, and authority, have nowhere near as successful a track record as science, so science should be preferred to all other known epistemological methods.

Science, when carried out in accordance with the principle of aggregation, leads to knowledge (as defined above) of truth, and truth, given the aforementioned principle, leads to a decent approximation of Truth. Science, in accordance with aggregation, is the only valid epistemological tool. Other methods may be useful in small-scale circumstances, but such methods do not lead to knowledge, only local function.

Kindism+: Why it is a Viable Alternative to Christianity and Secular Humanism

In his critique, theopoesis rightly pointed out that my original formation of Kindism was lacking in substantive "meta" claims and definitional content to be a viable worldview. In my quest to make Kindism an all-encompassing, universal system of belief, I removed much of the content necessary for it to function on its own as a viable worldview. In this section, I will rectify that, stating the underpinnings of Kindism's metaphysics, personhood, and metaethics, clearly defining what is meant by "kindness" (and why "kindness" is not, in and of itself, culturally contingent) and related terms ("hope," "love," "justice," etc.), and showing how the practical actions I described flow from Kindist presuppositions. I'll also lay out how Kindism differs from secular Humanism (and why it is superior), as well as why it is preferable to Christian theism, or, for that matter, all theistic worldviews.

Kindism is based on the philosophical supposition of metaphysical naturalism -- the view that the natural world is all that exists. This view, which entails atheism (unless "god(s)" can be redefined in naturalistic terms, big bang cosmology, evolutionary biology, and other truths discovered through modern science, posits that truth, beauty, knowledge, and, morality reduce to, or supervene upon, natural principles. On this view, the human being, or person if you will, is simply a biological lifeform -- an animal, like any other -- that evolved, due to natural processes, on planet Earth.

On Kindism, there is no qualitative difference between human life or "essence" (in fact, metaphysical naturalism / Kindism is eliminativist about "essence") and the lives of other animals. We are all simply evolved living creatures inhabiting the planet Earth, each seeking (more or less) the same goals -- survival, happiness, health, and so on. This view eliminates the arbitrary and indefensible concept of personhood, which puts Kindism+ in a superior position to secular Humanism, which tries to shoehorn the doomed concept -- really a holdover from Christianity -- into a naturalistic worldview, with absurd results. This meta-Kindist view, which I'll term the fundamental equality of all life, elevates non-human animal beings to equal worth with humans, finds common ground with Eastern philosophies like Jainism and Hinduism and eliminates the speciesist bigotry so endemic to Western philosophical systems like Christianity and secular Humanism.

On a broadly ethical level, meta-Kindism, rooted in naturalism, avoids Humanism's nihilistic implications and implicit borrowing from Christianity by pointing to the natural functions, or teloses, of everything that exists, including living things and, by extension, human beings (for clarity's sake, this approach, which borrows heavily from Aristotle views "telos" in a significantly different way than does Christianity. Instead of Christianity's view of telos being imbued by an external designer (God), meta-Kindism views "telos" as a product of physical, biological, and/or cultural function). Each "kind" of thing has a different natural function, or telos (these words are intended to be identical). For instance, a Higgs boson has the telos of providing mass, a star has the telos of fusing elements, and a tree has the telos of engaging in photosynthesis. Complex or artificial objects may have several relevant teloses, which may be defined by nature, culture, or some combination of the two. For instance, a galaxy has the teloses of producing stars, producing black holes, and drawing mass together, a stick, used by a chimpanzee as a spear, has a telos of catching ants, and an elephant has the teloses of eating plants, relating well to its community, and socially interacting with its fellow elephants.

These teloses are each determined by a "properly functioning example," defined as "a representation of an average, undamaged member of its kind." These "proper functions" are defined by physics or evolution, though for artificial objects (such as cars or shoes) and more complex, social lifeforms (such as dolphins, chimpanzees, and humans), they may also be defined by culture.

For instance, a properly functioning example of an ant has six functioning legs, a solid exoskeleton, and a functioning brain that allows her to eat, procreate, and perform functions required of it by its colony. Any condition, such as fungus infection, injury, or death, that deviates from this properly functioning example is correctly classed as a disease or defect, and robs the ant of enjoying the telos of "anthood," which can be said to be "bad," or out of accordance with nature. Ants which conform to this properly functioning example can be considered "healthy," fine examples of their kind.

A properly functioning human has, among other things, two legs, two arms, one beating heart, and a brain that allows her to think and behave rationally, take care of her own needs and the needs of her family, empathize with other sentient beings, relate well to others in her social group, to use reason to gain greater knowledge of herself and her world, and create cultural artifacts such as music, dance, and language. Anything that causes a human to deviate from this properly functioning example, such as cancer, paralysis, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, or death, is rightly classed as an illness or defect that prevents her from enjoying the full telos of what it means to be human. Things that take individuals away from the properly functioning example of "human" can be rightly said to be sick, bad, or tragic, and are things we seek to avoid. A human who comports with this example can be considered "healthy," a good specimen of her kind. Additionally, on a pragmatic level, this is the model that the medical community uses to determine disease, and has worked quite well in eradicating human suffering over the past few centuries.

What does any of this have to do with kindness or ethics, you ask?

To answer this question, let's return to the idea of the meta-Kindist human telos, which is rooted in the properly functioning example of a human being. This properly functioning human being, as defined by evolution, possesses both a highly intelligent, rational mind (rooted in an advanced brain), the ability, desire, and need to participate in social relations (especially those involving love, sex, care, and kinship ties), and a strong sense of empathy, fairness, and (broadly defined) duty to oneself and one's community. Furthermore, this properly functioning human being also has desires, placed by both biological evolution and social / cultural relations (which supervene on biological evolution, which supervenes on physics): the desire to be healthy, the desire to be safe, the desire to be free from oppression, the desire to see one's children, family, and community flourish, and the desire to be a virtuous person (although what "virtue" consists of is, admittedly, culturally contingent).

This properly functioning human, due to her brain: knows her desires, due to her rationality, is able to figure out a plan to reach her desires, due to her empathy, knows other humans and sentient animals have similar desires, and due to her capacity for social relations, desires for her community, species, and all sentent life to flourish. This plan will be in accordance with her telos, and, in fact, is the only plan in accordance with the telos of her kind.

This plan is synonymous with the Kindist conception of kindness (literally, in this case, "kind-ness" or "that which is in accordance with the properly functioning example of the human kind), and the character traits from which it flows serves as Kindism's definition of the Kind Human, the ideal character type that perfectly fulfills the four functions of Kindism, the character type that all humans should seek to fulfill.

Given these things, Kindism is a type of virtue ethics (based on Aristotle's virtue ethics, sometimes termed "kindism" by philosophers). As such, it is not concerned with specific acts or specific consequences, but on the character traits that spawn those acts. A kind person will perform kind acts, while an unkind person (a person who does not fulfill the properly functioning type of a human brain / mind) will not. The goal of Kindism is to become a kind person, kind acts will follow from there.

Now to address some specific points raised by theopoesis and other possible objections:

1) Aren't selfishness, greed, hate, anger, violence, etc. also evolved human traits? How can you arbitrarily eliminate these from the human telos?

Well, yes, these are human traits given to us through evolution. However, these traits aren't necessarily used for evil, in fact, they serve many good functions. For instance, selfishness can motivate us to become more industrious, more qualified, and more useful to our families, communities, and society, greed can motivate us to work harder, hate can motivate us to pursue justice against evil and those who practice it, fear can motivate us to avoid dangerous and damaging situations, and so on and so forth. Also, keep in mind that, on Kindism, the project of ethics is aided by reason, and reason can help us distinguish between exercises of the above traits that reach kind ends and exercises that reach unkind ends.

2) Can't someone reach his goals by being unkind, for instance, stealing to satify his desire for a bigger home, slaughtering an animal for fun, unnecessary food, or sport, or murdering to avenge a wrong done to him?

Well, yes, but performing such unkind acts will take a man away from his telos of being a social, empathetic creature, which is "bad" by definition. In addition, the man's community, upon discovering his deeds, will react negatively to the man's unkind acts, ostracizing him from the community, placing him in jail, or otherwise damaging his social standing. As a social creature desiring community, this will go against the man's desires, making it more prudentially compelling to be kind than to be unkind.

3) Doesn't your view imply that "unkind" (evil, etc.) people are simply sick, not morally flawed?

Not necessarily. While all unkind acts and character traits go against the human telos, only some are caused by disease or illness. Certainly, much "unkindness" is caused by sicknesses or medical deficiencies: many violent or otherwise morally repugnant acts are triggered by mental illness, such as antisocial personality disorder, which leads to sociopathic behavior and sometimes murder or rape, or extreme cases of paranoid schizophrenia, which, in rare cases, can cause violent delusions. Such acts are indeed the manifestations of illness, and not personal moral failure.

In addition to mental illness, some unkind acts are caused by ignorance of the relevant facts surrounding a situation or beliefs that are factually incorrect. For instance, much of the prejudice against African-Americans, women, LGBT people, Native Americans, and others in Western society during the 18th and 19th centuries was due to the mistaken belief that such people were biologically inferior, religiously sinful, cursed, or created by God to be subservient, culturally inferior, or some combination of the three. Once such faulty beliefs were exposed as incorrect, most people abandoned the unkind moral beliefs on which they were based and their "moral natures" (based on the properly functioning example) produced kind acts toward members of these groups. The fact that greater knowledge can lead to moral evolution is a positive aspect of Kindism that is absent from many other forms of moral thought, most notably Christian theism.

In addition, there are some cases in which unkind acts are the products of conscious individual (and even collective, as in the case of, for example, the Nazis) moral failings. In such cases, a properly functioning, mentally healthy, empathetic, etc., person can consciously choose to act in a manner contradictory to his telos, intentionally rejecting kindness in favor of unkindness. On Kindism, a person making such a choice is the most blameworthy of all, because he, unlike those who unintentionally do wrong due to mental illness or ignorance, consciously rejects virtue in favor of anti-virtue, he consciously chooses to abdicate his own humanity. This is Kindism's version of "evil."

4) What about the deer / baby dilemma?

As a refresher:
[color=orange]theopoesis[/color] wrote:So, for example, imagine you are driving at 60 miles per hour down a two lane road. You come around a curve and suddenly see a baby lying in one lane, and an adult deer standing in the other. You don't have time to brake, but only have time to swerve and decide which lane to drive in, and therefore whether to run over the deer or the baby. I'm assuming the right choice is to hit the deer, then to get out of the car and help the baby. Sure, it's sad to hit a deer, but better to save a baby.
On Kindism, the "kind" thing to do, assuming there is no alternative that could save both, would be to hit the deer and save the baby. This, once again, has to do with the telos of humanity -- we are "designed" (by evolution, of course, but still a "design" in a sense) to care for our "own": our families, our social groups, and the members of our own species. Through reason, we can recognize that other species also have desires, wants, etc., and are thus deserving of kindness and moral consideration, but the drive to take care of our own is still present, strong, and forms an important part of what it means to be human.

Given this, a kind person should hit the deer and save the baby for the same reason that one should pay for his daughter's cancer treatment instead of the cancer treatement. Within the human telos (indeed, within the telos of all sentient biological life), what "kind" x belongs to matters. One's primary responsibilities and duties are toward one's own "kind": an individual's immediate family before her extended family, one's extended family before her wider community, her wider community before all of humanity, all of humanity before other sentient lifeforms, and other sentient lifeforms before non-sentient lifeforms and non-living things. All matter, all are important, all possess value and telos, but when unavoidable and consequential dilemmas arise, one's responsibilities fall into this hierarchy. This is what follows from the "properly functioning example" and the principles of Kindism as a whole.

5) What is justice?

This is a very complex topic, and one which, in my opinion, requires an entirely separate discussion. To give a very brief explanation: on Kindism, "justice" is that which is most optimal toward reaching the goal of allowing all sentient beings to fulfill their teloses. The exact conceptions of this will vary somewhat between cultures, time periods, and situations, although some general principles (care for those that need it, non-enslavement, ahimsa or "non-harm," non-aggression, etc.) will be present in all just societies. Kindist justice is always distributive and restorative, aimed at creating a better, kinder society in which all beings can fulfill their teloses and unkind people can become kind, and not at simply punishing wrongdoers or executing "wrath" (this makes it superior to Christian and secular Humanist forms of justice). However, in rare cases retributive action may be necessary to aid in the wider project of creating a rare society. Once again, the goal of Kindism, and the virtue ethics that flows from it, isn't to prescribe or proscribe exact actions, but to promote character traits that will lead to right action.

Kindist epistemology is identical to the secular epistemology I named above, so there's no need to repeat it here. Still, following Kindist principles makes the project of knowledge-gathering easier for what should be obvious reasons.

Odds and Ends: Some Brief Responses to Ethnocentrism, Nihilism, and Eastern Religion

My point in raising Eastern religions was not to assert that they are identical to Christianity, but to serve as a counterexample to your trinitarian Christianity in order to undermine your justification for presupposing it on the basis that all other worldviews are incoherent. As you haven't challenged this, my original criticism still stands: your adoption of Christianity is largely based on cultural factors, and that if you were raised in India, you'd probably be a Hindu right now.

Your criticism that my position was based on cultural imperialism is inaccurate because you misunderstood my position; my Kindist worldview's assumptions are clear and the exact way in which Kindism is practiced does vary from culture to culture.


So, as you can see, secular epistemology is viable for producing truth (despite contingency), Kindism is a viable worldview that can account for purpose, morality, and epistemology, and Christian theism is based upon contradictions and obfuscations that are irresolvable.

I'd like to thank my opponent, and wish him a great semester.

In Kindness,

Haven :)

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