Written by Jason Petersen
In Bethrick’s response to this author, he begins by going on a lengthy rant. 1 First, he complains that this article’s responses to him are lengthy. Apparently Bethrick doesn’t realize that half of the word count in this author’s responses to him is attributed to this author’s quoting of Bethrick’s work. Nevertheless, Bethrick has attempted to bury many other Christians in word count. This author is more than happy to return the favor. Bethrick also complains that this author did not link to Bethrick’s posts on his website, but this author provided a link to the post in question in every single one of the responses that has been written to Bethrick.
A good portion of this particular writing piece by Bethrick consists of griping and complaining. Bethrick does not like that this author has challenged him to be more precise in his semantics. For the sake of the reader, this author will skip over Bethrick’s complaining and will only give a response to the issues that have been relevant to Bethrick and this author’s dialogue concerning Leonard Peikoff’s objections to the existence of God.
Bethrick goes on a rant concerning this author complaining that Bethrick and other Objectivists redefine the word ‘universe.’ Bethrick then goes to insinuate that this author approves of mainstream-secular philosophy. As anyone who has read this author’s responses to Bethrick is aware, nothing can be further from the truth. This author has repeatedly proclaimed that secular philosophy is a failure. Bethrick’s attempt to frame this author as someone that supports secular philosophy lends support to the notion that Bethrick has not read this author’s responses to him.
The Response to Bethrick:
And Peikoff is clearly right: If by ‘universe’ we simply mean everything that exists, then it would be self-contradictory to posit something existing outside the universe.
Bethrick’s first mistake involves an elementary error in logic. Peikoff also made this same mistake. Christians define the universe as all matter and energy. In Peikoff’s critique, Peikoff changed the meaning of the word ‘universe.’ Because Peikoff used a different definition from what the Christians use, Peikoff committed the fallacy of equivocation. Equivocation is a fallacy where the meaning of a word is changed either within the context of a single argument or within a response to another argument. Bethrick’s affirmation of Peikoff’s objection shows that Bethrick commits the very same fallacy. One cannot respond to an argument by using a different definition of the word that is in question. This is Logic 101.
Since existence is a precondition of causation, the universe would have to exist for any causation to be possible in the first place.
This only assumes the objectivist definition of the universe. Because Christianity is the worldview that is being critiqued, the definitions that Christianity attributes to words must be used. Any attempt to read in objectivist definitions into Christianity commits the fallacy of equivocation. This author is sure that Bethrick would not like it if this author redefined objectivist terminology whilst critiquing objectivism.
But Petersen resists acknowledging the ironclad logic of such a position.
Since when did the fallacy of equivocation become logical?
The traditional definition of the universe is all physical things, such as matter and energy
Even though such trifling is ultimately irrelevant, Petersen cites no source to support his contention.
This author apologizes to Bethrick for assuming that he is competent enough to know what the conventional definition of universe is. This author will help bring Bethrick up to speed with several quotes from resources:
“All existing matter and space considered as a whole; the cosmos” 2
“the universe : all of space and everything in it including stars, planets, galaxies, etc.” 3
“All space-time, matter, and energy, including the solar system, all stars and galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space, regarded as a whole.” 4
everything that exists anywhere
The totality of all existing things
the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated
I see no essential conceptual difference between these definitions and the Objectivist conception of ‘universe’.
It is not uncommon in the English language for a word to have 4 or 5 definitions. Indeed, Bethrick is being dishonest by insinuating that the definitions offered in these sources support the Objectivist conception of the word universe. In order to tackle Bethrick’s web of deception, this author will address the nuances one at a time.
First, Bethrick is being dishonest in attempting to insinuate that any of the definitions in the dictionary affirm the Objectivist definition of the world universe. The definitions that Bethrick quoted are meant to be colloquial definitions. For instance, one might have heard a phrase such as, “God is the most powerful being in the universe!” Certainly, in this instance, God would be considered to be a part of the universe, for how can God be the most powerful thing in the universe if God is not in the universe? However, the definition that is used in this instance is not meant to imply anything metaphysical, whereas the Objectivist definition is meant to imply something metaphysical by postulating that the universe is the sum total of the things that exist and God is not a part of it.
Second, Bethrick conveniently ignores the other definitions in the sources he quotes that agree with the way that Christians and other philosophers define the word ‘universe.’ Here are all of the definitions from the respective sources that Bethrick quoted:
The Free Dictionary:
1. All space-time, matter, and energy, including the solar system, all stars and galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space, regarded as a whole.
2. A hypothetical whole of space-time, matter, and energy that is purported to exist simultaneously with but to be different from this universe: an alternate universe.
a. A model or conception of the earth and everything else that exists: “Apart from celestial beings, the aboriginals’ universe contained spirits of the land and sea” (Madhusree Mukerjee).
b. The human race or a subset of it: “It was a universe that took slavery for granted” (Adam Hochschild).
4. A sphere of interest, activity, or understanding: “their almost hermetically sealed-off universe of part-time jobs and study and improvised meals” (Sue Miller).
5. Logic See universe of discourse.
6. Statistics See population.
the universe : all of space and everything in it including stars, planets, galaxies, etc.
: an area of space or a world that is similar to but separate from the one that we live in
: the people, places, experiences, etc., that are associated with a particular person, place, or thing
1. : the whole body of things and phenomena observed or postulated : cosmos: as
a : a systematic whole held to arise by and persist through the direct intervention of divine power
b : the world of human experience
c (1) : the entire celestial cosmos (2) : milky way galaxy (3) : an aggregate of stars comparable to the Milky Way galaxy
: a distinct field or province of thought or reality that forms a closed system or self-inclusive and independent organization
: population 4
: a set that contains all elements relevant to a particular discussion or problem
: a great number or quantity <a large enough universe of stocks … to choose from — G. B. Clairmont>
The definitions that Bethrick used ignored other definitions that disagree with Objectivism. In fact, the definition from Merriam-Webster that was quoted by Bethrick disagrees with the Objectivist definition of the universe, for Webster was the founder of Merriam-Webster, and Webster was a Christian. 5 Obviously, since Webster was a Christian, he would disagree with the metaphysical implications that come from the way objectivists attempt to define the word, ‘universe.’ Therefore, the definitions that Bethrick cited actually does not agree with objectivism, for the purpose of the definitions Bethrick cited was not meant to have any implication on the metaphysical. Bethrick is, once again, showing that he is a careless and sloppy thinker.
In addition to these citations, there’s a most curious quote from physicist Brian Greene, who states in his 2011 book The Hidden Reality (p. 4; this book, incidentally, was nominated for the 2012 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books):
“There was once a time when ‘universe’ meant ‘all there is.’ Everything. The whole shebang.”
So here Greene – a physicist specializing in research about the nature of the universe – affirms explicitly that the concept ‘universe’ has historically been defined as “all there is,” essentially like the Objectivist conception of the sum total of all that exists.
This author has already given numerous sources that define the universe as all matter and energy. This author has also shown that the definitions that Bethrick cited are colloquial definitions that are not mean to have metaphysical implications. Unfortunately, Bethrick has chosen to continue to be dishonest in his writing. He has quoted Briane Greene out of context. Here is the entire quote:
“There was a time when “universe” meant all there is. Everything. Yet, a number of theories are converging on the possibility that our universe may be but one among many parallel universes populating a vast multiverse. Here, Briane Greene, one of our foremost physicists and science writers, takes us on a breathtaking journey to a multiverse comprising an endless series of big bangs, a multiverse with duplicates of every one of us, a multiverse populated by vast sheets of spacetime, a multiverse in which all we consider real are holographic illusions, and even a multiverse made purely of math—and reveals the reality hidden within each.” 6
In the context of the quote that Brian Greene is using, Greene is making a distinction between the universe that we live in and other universes that he believes are located within the multiverse. If Brian Greene were saying that the traditional definition of the universe was the ‘sum total of all that exists’ then there would be no reason to differentiate between this universe and other universes within the multiverse. If Brian Greene were defining the universe as the sum total of all that exists, there would be no need to differentiate between the universe we live and ‘other universes.’ When Brian Greene says that the there was one time where everyone thought the universe meant ‘all there is,’ he was referring to the notion that our ‘universe’ was the only ‘universe’ in existence. Such a terminology is expected in a book that is supposed to be about the multiverse. Obviously, Greene does not mean his statement in the way that Bethrick wishes it to mean.
Dawson Bethrick ought to be ashamed for trying to twist Green’s words in order to make the feeble philosophy of Objectivism to look more promising. This author is appalled at Bethrick’s incompetence, sloppiness, and intentional dishonesty. This author doubts that Bethrick has read Greene’s book, but this author has a copy of Greene’s book sitting on a bookshelf in his study.
By this point, it is pointless to respond to the rest of Bethrick’s blog post. Bethrick has blatantly been dishonest and has misrepresented Brian Greene in his book. The rest of Bethrick’s blog post involves other people defining the universe in different ways. The original point of this author is that the Christians define universe differently from Objectivists, and that Peikoff and other Objectivists equivocate the word ‘universe’ when responding to objections to Christianity. Bethrick fails to address this central point and insists on redefining the word ‘universe’ in his critique of Christianity despite the fact that he is committing the fallacy of equivocation. This author sees no point in a further dialogue with a person that will be so openly dishonest in his representation of others.