B.C. on Religion:
A Response to The Christian Research Journal


Some time ago, while I was browsing the web for material about Gerald Gardner, I discovered a web essay entitled "The Modern World of Witchcraft, Part Two" by Craig S. Hawkins. The essay is a Christian apologist's criticism of Wicca (and, to a lesser extent, Paganism) that attempts to use logic to illustrate contradictions in Wiccan beliefs, and thus invalidate Wicca.

Personally, I believe that theory must be self-correcting, and therefore, must be open to criticism. I read, with pleasure, material which takes a position which contradicts my own -- after all, if my beliefs are wrong, how will I ever know, except to listen to criticism? David Brin once said:

Criticism is the only known antidote to error.

At times, material I have read has raised legitimate issues which cause me to re-evaluate my own beliefs. Sometimes, well-written commentary can expose major issues in a particular discourse.

But, to be frank, Hawkins' article annoyed me. The article, in my opinion, misrepresents pagan theology and uses extremely poor arguments in support of its thesis. So, I've decided to write this response to Hawkins' article.

I shall follow Hawkins' line of reasoning closely. His essay employs four principal points:

  1. that the Bible speaks out against witchcraft and the occult
  2. that the Wiccan metaphysical notion of "reality" is obviously false
  3. that Wiccans supposedly argue against "logic" and "science" in a self-defeating fashion
  4. and finally, that Wiccan beliefs are inherently unethical.

I don't plan extensive commentary on what the Bible says about witchcraft and the occult. I can't claim to be a Bible expert, and I'll leave any discussion of what the Bible means to the biblical scholars.

But I will offer up that in my mind, there is a distinction between what something means and what something is interpretted to mean that makes it impossible for me to conclude, as Hawkins concludes, that the Bible expressly condemns Wiccan practices. How people choose to interpret their own belief systems is of little interest to me, and it ill-behooves me to tell them that their choices are wrong for them. However, I think Hawkins can stand to be corrected when he takes it upon himself to interpret Wicca for others.

On Metaphysics and Madness

Hawkins makes clear his position when he says:

The idea that each world view is like one more flower in the garden of life is a nice sentiment, but it does not fit the real world. In fact, it is nothing short of metaphysical madness.

But Hawkins offers no reference, no evidence and no argument in support of this position. Instead, he relies on a "common-sense" argument that posits that it's obvious. That, in essence, everyone knows that it's true, and therefore, he doesn't have to defend his pronouncement.

It's not obvious. In fact, the question of how we know the real world is one of the fundamental questions of epistemology (a word which Hawkins claims familiarity with). Certainly, one can make claims about the truth of propositions in definitional and axiomatic systems like mathematics, but the "real" world is not such a system. The "real" world is a sensible system -- that is to say, it is perceived and understood by sensing it with touch, smell, and sight. The definitions and axioms of the "real" world, if any exist, aren't generally available for us to review.

Epistemology: Is It Truth, or Is It Memorex?

Hawkins not only has difficulty with making unsubstantiated claims, but he also tends to misunderstand the material that he cites. For example, he claims that:

Witches further believe that everything one experiences is in some sense real and therefore true. Since reality is multiple and diverse, and since the possible levels or planes of meaning are infinite, there is always more to experience.

In support of this claim, he cites Margot Adler [1986:172]... but he has clearly misunderstood the passage in Adler's book.

Adler quotes Aidan Kelly as saying:

Reality is infinite. Therefore everything you experience is, in some sense, real. But since your experiences can only be a small part of this infinity, they are merely a map of it, merely a metaphor; there is always an infinity of possible experiences still unexplored. What you know, therefore, may be true as far as it goes, but is cannot be Whole Truth, for there is always infinitely further to go. [emphasis added]

So when, later, Hawkins suggests that Witches have difficulty distinguishing experience from truth, I submit that he's mistaken. Witches outright deny that experience equates to truth; in fact, Kelly proposes that we cannot even know the truth, only a metaphor of Whole Truth.

Now, interestingly, Hawkins states that good, rational-minded people can't possibly know all truth -- and on this point, the passage from Adler's book agrees with him. Where Witches differ from Hawkins is in his assumption that one can know some truth; instead the Adler passage suggests that truth is not knowable, except in terms of metaphor.

So, really, Hawkins' exposé of the Wiccan metaphysical framework is a strawman argument; he's missed the point completely.

Logic: It's Not Just for Vulcans, Anymore!

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

-- Einstein

Under the heading "Is Logic Necessary?", Hawkins begins his rationalist critique of Wiccan beliefs. But, as is clearly typical of him, he misses the salient features of Wiccan belief and ends up constructing a strawman argument.

For example, he begins this section with a "proof" that one cannot disprove logic without, at the same time, employing logic. Okay, whatever. But even if his "proof" is valid (and I'm not saying it is), he's missed the point. The conclusion that he is later trying to arrive at is that the Wiccan belief in magic is illogical and not rational, and therefore invalid (because logic always applies). Before we get into that discussion, let's highlight Hawkin's fallacy: the issue is not "Can logic be disproved?" but "Does logic apply to everything in the 'real' world?".

People can use logic. People can use logic to talk about logic. People can even use logic to talk about the "real" world. But is the real world completely reducible to logical elements? I don't believe that it is; for my part, when it comes to the "real" world, I favour the school of empiricism, which posits that the world is understood through experience and sense-data. This isn't a specifically Wiccan perspective; the origins of empiricism go all the way back to Aristotle.

Let's consider a real-world example: can we use logic to answer the question, "Is it raining?" Or even, can one use logic to accurately, and reliably predict the weather every day for the next twenty years? These are finite, straight-forward questions, without much possibility of paradox. But we can't answer them. Now, there's a valid argument that if we were able to define all the variables, and collect all salient data, we could accurately predict the weather. That's nice for dogmatists, but pragmatically speaking, the rationalist idea that logic always applies does little to help us arrive at the answer. For me, in the present world, and for the world that I speculate will exist for my entire lifetime, experience is far more useful that rationalism.

But Hawkins, clearly a rationalist, believes that logic applies to everything, even though he seems incapable of applying logic effectively. Let's consider one of his examples:

A case in point is Stewart Farrar, who approvingly quoted C. G. Jung's assertion that "everything human is relative." To which we respond: Is this statement relative too, since it was uttered by a human? If it is not relative, then the statement is not true. But if the statement itself is relative, that would mean there are times when it is not true -- when some things human are not relative, and are hence absolute. But this would contradict Jung's original statement. Thus, it is both false and self-defeating. Clearly, the sword of logic cuts both ways.

Hawkins seems to have deftly constructed a paradox, but if we look at his formulations, we'll notice some curious translations. He equates relativity and opposition (the fallacy of equivocation -- Hawkins should know better!), evidence of simplistic, binary thinking. Just because one's experience is different (relative to the individual) doesn't mean that the experience is opposite.

For example, I could argue that "everyone's experience of the colour of my shirt is relative". Some people may perceive my shirt as blue-green, some as yellow-green, and still others as brownish-green. But that doesn't mean someone is necessarily going to experience my shirt as not-green. (And what does 'not-green' mean, anyway?)

Similarly, relative experiences of relativity do not have to include the experience of not-relativeness (absoluteness). "Different experiences" is not the same as "all possible experiences". It is not necessarily a contradiction to assert that the statement "everything human is relative" is, itself, relative. People will take that statement different ways (as Hawkins and I clearly have).

Clearly, the sword of logic doesn't cut anywhere near Hawkins.

Now Let's Talk About Magic




In short, the Hawkins article exhibits these flaws:

  1. Hawkins makes claims (such as his "metaphysical madness" line) without supporting them.
  2. Hawkins views the subject matter from a fundamentally different viewpoint -- as a result, he often fails to understand the subject matter, and this makes him fall into the trap of using strawman arguments.
  3. Hawkins applies binary thinking to non-binary problems, and neglects other possibilities.

Copyright © 1997 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated: October 21st, 1997

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