Friday, September 28, 2007

Atheist Musings for the Fundamentalist Christian "Soul"

The following seven questions/challenges/musings are intended for fundamentalist Christians. Liberal believers may not recognize themselves in this address.

1. The historical evidence for biblical truth-claims is thin, to be sure. I know of no secular historian who reports on Mary undergoing parthenogenesis, for example. Because this is the case, it seems to me that Christians ought to present some credible secular historical evidence to support their most cherished folklore. It is in this spirit I request the names and relevant works of at least two secular record-keepers—who lived at the same time as Jesus—who specifically mention Jesus as well as at least one of his alleged miracles (for example, bringing dead-long-enough-to-stink Lazarus back to life). Despite persistent requests, I have yet to be presented with any qualifying names.

2. Biblical-literalist Christians generally reject evolutionary theory, in spite of its near-universal acceptance in the scientific community. Evolution teaches us that various orders of animal roamed the planet (and, indeed, went extinct) before other orders of animal even came to be. Creationists argue that all orders of animal were created at about the same time; that is, humans and dinosaurs co-existed. As luck would have it, Young Earth Creationists have a way to falsify Darwinian evolution: the geologic strata. It is in this spirit I request at least two examples of horse fossils found in the Paleozoic strata (among trilobites and other such life forms). Alternatively, I, along with the late Dr. J. B. S. Haldane, request at least two examples of fossil rabbits found in the Precambrian.

3. According to fundamentalist Christians, the Bible is the word of god. That is, the Bible’s very words were directly inspired by him. Because the Christian god conception incorporates omniscience, a fundamentalist Christian must conclude the Bible boasts omniscient authorship. However, I think the evidence for such a conclusion is lacking. It is in this spirit I request two examples of biblical passages that provide brand new information about the natural order, which previously had been unavailable to humans living during biblical times. I shall relate an example: If the Bible had mentioned the true age and size of our universe, that would qualify as brand new information about the natural order, because first century commoners did not already possess this information. If the Bible lacks brand new information about the natural order, its claims of omniscient authorship are groundless.

4. The Yahweh-worshipping crowd’s delusion truly would have been convincing and persuasive if Yahweh-worship had appeared independently in several different cultures, rather than spreading when one population actively attempts (forcibly or not) to convert another. Consider the following example: The atheist would have had a difficult-to-defend position if, when Christian European explorers arrived in North America, they had discovered a significant percentage of Native Americans was already worshipping Yahweh. The odds of that deity (with his fantastical nature, distinct characteristics and unique demands) coincidentally being invented by two different populations are vanishingly small. If the Clovis people had worshipped Yahweh, it would have been good evidence that the deity revealed himself separately to at least two populations. It is in this spirit I request at least one well-evidenced example of Yahweh-worship being discovered in a geographically isolated population, which never previously had been exposed to a Yahweh-worshipper. [Editor’s Note: Credit goes to frequent commenter Tommy, who planted the seed from which this idea sprang.]

5. Our universe is a breathtakingly vast space. There are about 130 billion galaxies, each containing as many as 400 billion stars. Nobody is certain of how many planets are in our universe. A reasonable (albeit very rough) estimate is about 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, which is reached by multiplying 130 billion (galaxies), 400 billion (stars per galaxy) and one—representing planets (because an as-yet-unknown percentage of stars has planets, whilst some lack them). When one examines reality through the lens of cosmology, it seems laughable to think this entire creation is for us. After all, our planet is an infinitesimal speck within our own galaxy—let alone our entire universe! The corners of the cosmos hospitable to humans are exceedingly few. One would think that, if our universe was designed with us in mind, we would be able to explore it a bit, rather than being trapped on a metaphorical sidewalk square within an endless Metropolis. It is in this spirit I ask why, given the enormity of our universe, fundamentalist Christians think god crafted the cosmos for us.

6. Our universe is incredibly old. The best scientific estimates indicate that our universe is 13.7 billion years old. Allow me to quote Dr. Victor Stenger, emeritus professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Hawaii and adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado: Referencing the deity, he says, “Instead of six days, he took nine billion years to make Earth, another billion years or so to make life and then another four billion years to make humanity. Humans have walked on Earth for less than one-hundredth of one percent of Earth’s history.” This being the case, why should humans conclude everything was made for us? I shall put a finer point on this: Why would any god, who created a vast cosmos existent for nearly 14 billion years, containing roughly 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 planets, care about what human primates do whilst naked?

7. Homo sapiens sapiens have existed for tens of thousands of years, or more. The earliest inklings of the Abrahamic monotheism came several millennia ago—probably about four thousand years. Bearing this in mind, why did god wait tens of thousands of years to introduce hominids to the One True Religion? Assuming that the fundamentalist Christian ideology is sound, hominids living 25,000 years ago would have benefited from knowing about Yahweh and his regulations regarding behavior. Lacking god’s revelation, these primitives probably descended into all manner of silly superstition and false belief. If humans truly are god’s children and everything was created for us, why wait until 2000 BCE to roll out the correct religion?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Religion as an Accident of Geography

Today, just a quick thought, directed mainly at any Christians (or other theists, really) who might be visiting my slice of the internet. It is a sad fact that most people remain in the religion into which they were born. That is, most children inculcated into Catholicism remain Catholics, most children indoctrinated into Islam remain Muslims, most children raised as Hindus remain so, etc. A relatively small percentage of the indoctrinated eventually becomes “agnostic” or atheistic; I count myself among this percentage, because I abandoned Roman Catholicism roughly six years ago, as I became more educated and knowledgeable about Darwinian evolution, anthropology, philosophy and other subjects. Another small percentage of people switches from one superstition to another. For example, Cat Stevens, an entertainer from the ’60s and ’70s, changed his name to Yusuf Islam when he converted from Christianity to Islam. Again, though, Stevens is the exception to the rule: Most people, once inculcated, remain so.

Therefore, I pose a question to my theist friends who still follow the religion into which their parents indoctrinated them: Do you feel lucky to have been born into the correct religion? Researchers have concluded 19 major world religious groupings exist on this planet. Those groupings are subdivided into roughly 10,000 distinct religions (which is not to mention all the religions that have gone extinct over the millennia). Scroll through this list of religions, and ponder just how different your life would have been had you been born into a different superstition.

Please consider the following suggestion: If a devout Christian, who was born in Topeka, Kansas, had instead been born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he would have been a devout Muslim. If Osama bin Laden, who is a devout Muslim, had instead been born in Athens, Alabama, he would have been a devout Christian. I have said it before, but it warrants repetition: Religion spreads, passively, by the coincidental geography of one's place of birth and, actively, by parents’ talent for inculcating their defenseless, trusting young. Some people seemingly have a genetic predisposition to religious zeal; the religion to which they wed themselves has nothing to do with evidence and everything to do with inculcative history. The Christian apologetics that is utterly convincing to a person born in Hendersonville, Tennessee, would be infidelic venom to that same person, had he instead been born in Tehran, Iran.

Perhaps religion finally shall go extinct once more people realize that one’s piety, at least with regard to a particular superstition, is a mere accident of geography. A fundamentalist Christian, in other words, in an alternate reality, would be just another mujahid.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Reason Strikes Back: Revenge of the Nihilist

In this post, Rhology's quotes shall be in Verdana, whilst my rebuttal shall be in standard Arial.Ed.

Greetings, Rhology!

Rhology: In response to this post...the JN and John Morales apparently want me to write my positions in my own words, make a big deal out of it. I understand, but at the same time, I'm parroting and expounding on Bahnsen's ideas. You may consider his words mine in this case (it’s not imitation, it’s emulation ;-) ). Not everyone has time like apparently the JN has to type stuff. Though I could wish I did.

Nihilist: Obviously, the fact that you, to this point, had not explained your own ideas was problematic. However, I do not consider it the central weakness of your presentation, because I think your arguments (borrowed or not) range from unconvincing to specious. In any event, I simply mean to show that, for example, I never say, “I believe what Dr. Dawkins believes,” in response to one of your points. I think people should articulate their own arguments in their own words. Again, however, this issue is not one in which we should become ensnared.

Rhology: Unfortunately, the conversation has degenerated into a Who's Begging the Question Worst? match. Consider this most recent offering from the JN.

“You asked that I provide evidence that could substantiate the value of evidence. I did precisely that. My first principle, as I repeatedly have said, can be summarized as “The road to truth is paved with evidence.” That is, in order for human primates to happen upon truth (or its close approximation), the most reliable route is that of evidence (or, alternately phrased, the relevant facts).”

Of course, what's the predictable response from me? Yep - Fine, evidence is the evidence for the idea that the best way to discover truth is to examine evidence. What is your evidence for that, since we want to discover the truth about that idea?

And on and on. This may get tiresome for you the reader, but just imagine how it is for me! I have to keep repeating the same thing over and over again while getting roasted by the JN's sycophants in his comboxes and my own.

Nihilist: Here, you seem to be denying the nature of a First Principle (or axiom). In truth, it was unnecessary for me to show that evidence itself can substantiate evidence’s worth; First Principles, by their nature, are fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality. One generally does not seek to prove one's First Principles and axioms, because they are assumed self-evident and undeniable.

In showing that evidence, indeed, can be used to demonstrate the value of evidence, I simply showed that my First Principle is self-subsisting. That is, it supports itself and does not contradict itself. If evidence were not able to show evidence’s value, then my First Principle would be self-defeating. However, that is anything but the case. I have used evidence to support evidence, and thus crafted a self-subsisting First Principle.

Rhology: The very next sentence is classic:

“My first principle only would be self-defeating if it, itself, could not be substantiated through evidence.”

He then attempts to substantiate his principle by appealing to it. Which is, of course, circular.

Nihilist: Again, a First Principle or axiomatic statement should not need to be proved, because its truth is self-evident and it is essentially undeniable. I define evidence as being “the relevant facts” as they pertain to a larger, more complex truth. It is self-evident that the relevant facts guide us to larger truths. Again, I am not talking solely about scientific evidence here, such as what can be found under a microscope, but rather simply “the relevant facts” of any given matter.

I also find your criticism of evidence to be disingenuous. I have already given an example of why this is the case. Imagine that you are driving on the Interstate on a breezy evening. You notice that, on the car in front of you, the brake lights have illuminated. Upon noticing that fact, you apply the brakes on your own car. By taking that action, you have just utilized evidence. You took the other car’s brake lights as evidence it was slowing down. From there, you reasoned that, to avoid smashing into the slowing car, you also must slow down. That is just one example of a process you go through a thousand times every day. You notice the relevant facts, analyze them (if only for mere seconds) and climb to larger truths on the back of that evidence. In short, you prove my First Principle every day of your life. That is why, when you deny evidence’s utility, you are being, at best, extremely queer and, at worst, shamelessly hypocritical.

Your life—and my own—validates my First Principle.

Rhology: Then, we hear:

“Perhaps your questions are ‘easy’ for the theist because they are designed presupposing the theistic worldview.”

Not really, though one only wishes that the JN would then follow that line of reasoning.
The questions I've asked are not all that "specialised", when you think about it. I'm not asking "How do you think the Eucharist is best celebrated?" or "What do you think about the baptism in the Holy Spirit?" Far from it. Rather, the questions are designed to show that an atheistic worldview can't make sense of such important questions, whereas the biblical worldview can (as the JN has just admitted here).

Nihilist: In our engagement, it has become clear that you subscribe to The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG). All your questions tend to presuppose that argument’s soundness. I, however, emphatically have not been convinced of its soundness. In fact, when posed by Christians, the argument is so much question begging. When posed in a more vague way, which does not presuppose the Bible’s factuality, it does not work to prove the Christian deity at all, but rather any “sufficiently similar” god.

I think the Sufficiently Similar Deity refutation needs to be fleshed out, and now seems like a good time to do so. In my previous interactions with you, you have said that Yahweh uniquely satisfies TAG (whilst Brahman, Vishnu and others do not) because Yahweh is (a) infinite, (b) solely god, (c) eternal as god, and (d) unlike humankind. However, as I also have previously mentioned, I could invent a god named Hargazorn and endow it with the same core essentialities. Then, I could add variables to the deity to make it different from Yahweh, yet still sufficiently similar to maintain TAG’s soundness. In that case, I could use TAG to prove infinitely many sufficiently similar deities, all of whom happen to be (a) infinite, (b) solely god, (c) eternal as god, and (d) unlike humankind. Yes, with TAG, I could prove infinitely many “sole gods.” Something, we must conclude, is wrong with the argument.

Rhology: This may be my favorite admission from the JN:

“This question is fallacious because it presupposes that communication, reasoning and logic require ‘grounds’”

For someone who purports to be after the "truth", one really has to wonder what this could mean. So perhaps he means they don't require grounds - they just ARE. And God isn't. Which brings up a whole host of problems, not least of which is how the universe (ie, matter and energy) could arise out of non-personal abstract concepts. They are immaterial - where is material from?

But of course, if he can presuppose that logic just IS, then I can presuppose that God just IS. We are at an impasse now until each of us takes on the other's worldview to see which one comports to reality.

Nihilist: I reject the basis of your implicit comparison. To say a notion, such as logic, just “is” is different from saying a complex creature just “is.” There is no reason to think a supernatural consciousness is required for logic, mathematics, reasoning, communication or any other such thing. There is nothing statistically improbable about logic, math or reason—except creatures (humans) able to comprehend those things. We, as a species, are improbable. Our big brains are improbable. Our ability to engage in abstract thought is improbable. [Darwin’s elegant theory of evolution “climbs Mount Improbable” beautifully and effortlessly.] Given all those natural endowments, humankind discovering logic, rationality, reason, communication and the rest should not be seen as improbable.

By contrast, your god conception is vastly improbable. You are proposing a creature who can (a) create a universe, (b) fine-tune that universe’s constants, (c) send somebody to earth to die for humanity’s sins, (d) monitor everybody on the planet constantly, (e) hear prayers, (f) answer those prayers, (g) perform miracles, (h) offer comfort, (i) keep Heaven up and running, and (j) build things like logic and communication. Such a creature is millions of times more complex than, for example, a human eye. It is millions of times more complex than a pocket watch. Such brain-melting complexity—the very height of improbability—demands an explanation. You have no explanation at all for god’s existence, except to say god has always existed. To my intellect, that sounds a lot like saying, “The human eye always existed,” only millions of times worse in its evasion. The creationist dogma of “complexity requires a designer” is self-annihilating. In the case of greatest complexity (of all places!), religionists drop their intelligent design requirements.

Rhology: So, let’s do so. We will see that the JN or any atheist, by engaging the topic, has conceded the issue. The reason for that is that their presuppositions do not allow for the coming-forth of beliefs that are reliably believed to be true. This is the point of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) (see Plantinga’s statement here), and I’d state it two ways.

1) The way Darwin himself stated it:

“With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? (Darwin 1887)”

Related specifically to evolution.

Nihilist: I think, in posing this argument, you are mistaken in your understanding of Darwin’s theory of evolution. True, Darwin’s theory recognizes that all life forms on this planet have a common ancestor. This is called Universal Common Descent. However, on the vast Tree of Life, there is amazing diversity; having a common ancestor does not mean everything is the same. Saying a human brain is interchangeable with a monkey brain is like saying a tiger is interchangeable with a housecat. It simply is not the case. Through millions of years of evolution, our species has been endowed with a large, complex, wondrous brain. We far outshine even our closest relatives, the common chimpanzee. We are not “glorified monkeys” and birds are not “glorified dinosaurs”; the differences are substantive. I am the first to admit that humans are just another species of animal, roaming about the planet and trying to survive. However, it is irrational to deny our materially different physical endowments, leading to materially different abilities.

Rhology: Or,

2) Why would I believe that my own or anyone’s cognitive faculties are reliably geared to producing true beliefs when they are nothing more than neurochemical reactions? They are atoms banging around. As I’ve said, I don’t argue with my bottle of lotion, nor do I ask a fizzing can of Dr. Pepper who has the upper hand in the debate between the JN and me. Doing such would make as much sense, after all, as asking who is winning the debate on the other side of the room between the fizzing can of Coke and the fizzing can of Mountain Dew. The liver secretes bile; the brain secretes thoughts. How can we have confidence in these thoughts, these secretions of the brain?

Nihilist: I never declared my utter and ultimate confidence in anything. Humans, being fallible primates, make mistakes. However, upon examination of evidence, we tend to get things right eventually. Every conclusion we make is tentative, based upon what information we have and our cognitive limitations. But, the fact that we can be utterly certain of nothing does not mean we are unable to know anything. Again, the human brain, for all its limits, is a wondrous contraption.

I think, though, your main failing in this case is your refusal to recognize emergentism. That is, the pieces of the puzzle coming together—working together—to create something greater than the sum of the parts. Human thought depends upon emergentism, as does much of what makes humanity beautiful.

I shall quote my friend Francois Tremblay, with whom I have had some stinging debates about whether morality is objective or subjective:

“The reasoning of the theologian … is that matter does not contain properties such as logic, consciousness, morality, and that therefore no material system can contain those properties. But we cannot infer properties of the parts to the whole, insofar as the human mind is not a set of banging atoms but rather atoms which are assembled from birth to serve specific cognitive purposes. This is called emergentism – the fact that units, having a specific nature, assemble accordingly with that nature (a phenomenon we call ‘causality’) and form higher systems with new potentialities.”

“Emergentism is a fact of reality whether one likes it or not. Atoms form neurons, and neurons form nervous systems. Cells form brains, which form awareness. How this arises, is the role of science to find, not philosophy.”

To reduce everything to the level of atoms, and then to say everything composed of atoms is equal, is to deny emergentism, deny biology, deny observation and deny reality. To equate a human with a can of soda (which is not alive, much less in possession of a brain) is to betray a total misunderstanding of science, as well as atheism.

Rhology: This is what results when I take on the atheist’s worldview. Can we presuppose reason and not God? Sure, let’s see what happens when we do. We have several problems now:

The question of the origin of the universe. Since there is no personal First Cause, there is no answer to how matter and energy came into existence.

Nihilist: I readily admit that I cannot present a thoroughgoing explanation of our universe’s origin. Perhaps we live in a grand cosmic multiverse, of which our universe is merely a daughter. Perhaps aliens from another realm planted a cosmic seed, from which our universe grew. Perhaps an Ethereal Cosmic Catfish spit up a ball of slime, from which our universe sprang. Perhaps our universe’s mass-energy has always existed, infinitely changing forms. The fact that the origin of the universe remains unknown does not mean one should appeal to a god character. Indeed, appeals to a deity only exacerbate the problem. From whence did the deity come? If statistically improbable complexity demands an explanation, then god, the most statistically improbable being conceivable (based upon brain-melting complexity), demands an explanation of his own origins. And, if you believe god has always existed, why not cut out the middleman and just say our universe’s mass-energy has always existed?

Rhology: The question of why we should trust reason in the 1st place, as stated in the above 2 arguments.

Nihilist: Your arguments were based upon misconceptions (of science and evolution) and denials (of emergentism and species’ unique natures). I have addressed these sufficiently.

Rhology: Just b/c we presuppose reason does not mean that we presuppose logic.

Nihilist: Reason, logic, rationality, communication, utilization of evidence, mathematics, etc. are not improbable notions. Humans are improbable. Our brains are improbable. Our capacity for abstract thought is improbable. But, given our physical endowments, our ability to discover reason, logic, rationality, communication, utilization of evidence, mathematics, etc. is not improbable. They come with the territory of being biologically “blessed,” if I may steal a term.

Rhology: If we presuppose logic and reason, that means we have presupposed the existence of immaterial entities. If immaterial entities exist, materialism is defeated. I’m not sure whether the JN is a materialist, but if he presupposes logic and reason as brute facts, he can’t be a consistent materialist.

Nihilist: I believe that logic and reason, along with mathematics, could best be described as “abstractions of the material.” I do not necessarily think that logic and math were floating around in the universe, waiting for a human to evolve to use them. Rather, I think, once humans evolved, we developed certain tools to make sense of our surroundings. Logic, reason and math enable us to survive on this planet, and make our lives better and more productive. In any event, the existence of logic and reason as concepts is not equivalent to the existence of immaterial consciousness in the form of a deity. If you are attempting that equivalency, I call bullshit.

Rhology: So I’m not feeling too comfortable now as far as this goes. OTOH, the God of the Bible fulfills the role as grounder of intelligibility b/c these things flow out of His character, how and who He is. He is logical. He is reasonable. Our thinking processes and trust that our cognitive faculties can be relied upon to produce true beliefs in many instances reflect the fact that His cognitive faculties, if you will, are that way. How do we know this? Remember, now we are presupposing the Christian worldview and testing how far it comports with reality. A criticism of the Christian worldview, therefore, would need to presuppose it and then try to show how it is internally inconsistent on its own grounds, not on the grounds of some other worldview like naturalism.

Nihilist: I have sufficiently shown how your “trying on” of atheism is based upon misconceptions and denials (as well as an implicit presumption of TAG’s soundness). You deny emergentism, misunderstand evolution, irrationally equate everything composed of atoms, demand “grounds” you cannot prove necessary and presuppose one deity whilst shunning a sufficiently similar one. Even assuming TAG’s soundness, you have failed to show why Yahweh must be the grounds rather than Hargazorn, a competing deity I have defined as (a) infinite, (b) solely god, (c) eternal as god, and (d) unlike humankind. Your argument has no uniqueness proof, which hobbles it fatally.

Here is another problem with using a deity as the grounds of logic, morality, communication and everything else. If all those things are dependent upon the deity, as you claim them to be, they are contingent on the deity. That is, god could arbitrarily change them at any time, for any reason. As things currently stand, the fossil record serves as evidence for Darwinian evolution. But, perhaps, should god feel the need, he might make evolution evidence for the fossil record. If evidence is contingent on god, he could do that. If morality is contingent on god, he could make arson morally virtuous and feeding the poor morally reprehensible. If logic is contingent on god, he could make “X” equal to “not-X,” or make “Q” unequal to “Q.” When everything is contingent on a deity, he can change everything at any time, making the entire world senseless, arbitrary and incomprehensible.

Let me anticipate your response: “God is possessed of a particular nature and, because of that nature, God would not alter the rules.”

The problem is that you, like many Christians, define god as being infinite. If god is infinite then, presumably, god also is possessed of an infinite nature. It would be downright asymmetrical for an unlimited creature to be possessed of a limited nature. By contrast, human comprehension is limited. Bearing in mind that 840 billion is 0% of infinity, even if humans knew 840 billion elements of god’s nature, humans would still have 0% knowledge of his nature. I think, with 0% knowledge of a subject, one should be cautious in drawing any grand conclusions about what god would or would not do. Indeed, even declaring god infinite is overly speculative, in my judgment.

You say that god condescended to reveal himself to humanity. I draw an analogy of humans revealing ourselves to gnats. Gnats simply do not have the capacity to comprehend humans—even if we, as humans, deliberately reveal ourselves to them. Even this example, though, is woefully insufficient; humans are not infinitely greater than gnats but merely much greater. There is no analogy in the natural world of an infinite thing revealing itself to a finite thing. But, if there were, it would be even more devastating than my human-gnat attempt.

Rhology: Finally, when I say that the JN borrows capital from the Xtian worldview to attack the Xtian worldview, I mean this. He presupposes the worldview that includes the 4 major problems I listed above, which cast serious, serious doubt on the reliability of his or anyone’s cognitive faculties to produce true beliefs. He needs to deal with those problems and then we can talk.

Nihilist: Dealt with.

Rhology: Otherwise, his worldview precludes him from having any confidence in intelligibility or rational thought, which means that he has to implicitly stand on the platform of a worldview where intelligibility and rational thought ARE supportable. That worldview is the Xtian one.

So he stands on Xtianity in order to use its framework for rationality and intelligibility (b/c those things reflect how God is and how He has revealed Himself to be) and then employs intelligible, rational arguments to assert that this God does not in fact exist. He stands on my stage and denies my stage exists.

Nihilist: Again, why does the Hargazornian worldview fail this test? Remember, I have defined Hargazorn thusly: (a) infinite, (b) solely god, (c) eternal as god, and (d) unlike humankind. If you insist upon your fallacious reasoning, you, at the very least, must confront the Sufficiently Similar Deity challenge. If you believe only Yahweh can be the grounds, you must demonstrate how each and every part of Yahweh’s nature is materially crucial to TAG.

By the way, you have not done the hard explanatory work I requested:

1. Explain why, in a godless universe, smoke pouring out an apartment window would not be evidence of fire.

2. Explain why, in a godless universe, a primate grasping his throat whilst turning blue would not be evidence of choking.

3. Explain why, in a godless universe, a primate could not figure out X cannot simultaneously be not-X.

4. Explain why, in a godless universe, a community of primates could not invent a language of guttural yelps to pass along messages.

Rhology: I have recently taken up a contributing role to the Beggars All Reformation blog, and so my time at that blog is going to cut into my time here and in this discussion with the JN. Please note therefore that my substantive responses, if any are necessary, on this subject may be slower in coming than before. Patience is appreciated, and I commend the JN, John Morales, Tommy, and the other commenters (Lucian excepted) for not busting my chops for running away just b/c I haven’t said anythg in a while.

Nihilist: I do not intend to bust anybody’s chops in this discussion. I eschew insults, ad hominem attacks, schoolyard taunts and other such nonsense in the name of intellectual seriousness. I take my arguments seriously, and I believe I can win on their merits, without recourse to juvenility. I have enjoyed our interaction over the weeks, and I have neither ill will nor animosity toward you.

However, all good things must end. This discussion cannot go on in perpetuity. Therefore, I propose an end game. I assume you shall be desirous of responding to this essay; I welcome your response. However, assuming you accept this plan, I shall not rebut you point by point as I did this time. Instead, I shall offer a closing summation. Then, I shall grant you the last word, letting you make a closing summation. Then that will be that, with no further arguments from me. If you are satisfied with this proposal, please let me know in the opening of your response.



Friday, September 7, 2007

How "The Transcendental Argument" Begs the Question

I posted a refutation of The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG) on a few internet forums, and have generally gotten positive feedback. However, some people seem to have trouble understanding precisely why I believe TAG begs the question. For that reason, I have decided to break things down systematically, in hopes that my analysis becomes clear and inescapable.

1. TAG intends to prove the existence of god. Because god’s existence is the argument’s conclusion, god’s existence may not be presupposed in the argument’s premises. If god is presupposed, the argument begs the question.

2. TAG, in short, says that rationality, logic, induction, communication and other such things are only possible if god exists. Because humans employ rationality, logic and all the rest, god exists. Indeed, says the presuppositionalist, in order to deny god, the atheist must utilize god’s gift of reasoning.

3. Indisputably, this argument depends upon god having a particular nature that suits it to be the “foundation” of rationality, reasoning and logic. The argument is not called The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of Rutabagas or The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of Sea Monkeys. TAG inescapably implies that god possesses a particular nature and set of characteristics, which suit the deity to be the “foundation.”

4. Therefore, because this argument depends upon god having a particular nature that suits it to be the “foundation,” anybody proposing the argument holds certain things about god’s nature to be true.

5. We must wonder: Where did these proponents get information about god’s nature? The answer, for Christians, is the Bible.

6. The Christian Bible offers descriptors for god and dispenses information about the deity’s nature. Through reading the Bible, Christians come to know that god is infinite, solely god, eternal as god and other such tidbits. In short, TAG’s presuppositions about god’s nature come from the Bible.

7. Anybody seriously proposing TAG obviously hopes to prove god exists. Therefore, such a proponent accepts the argument’s premises as true. [If a serious person rejected the premises, he would abandon the argument.] Because god’s nature has been shown to be part of the argument’s premises, one can conclude that proponents of the argument accept the truth of god’s nature.

8. However, to accept the truth of god’s nature is to imply the Bible is truthful. If god’s nature is revealed in the Bible, and god’s nature is accepted as true, the clear implication is that the Bible is truthful.

9. The Bible is rife with stories about god doing and saying things. The deity fills the pages of the Bible, acting as a very real and present character. Therefore, if the Bible is presumed truthful, the god contained therein is presumed truthful. That is to say, god is presumed to exist.

10. TAG begs the question because it presumes god existent (because it presumes the Bible truthful, which cannot be denied because it presumes god’s nature truthful, which cannot be disputed because god’s nature is central to the premises).

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Rhology: A New Beginning

Well, I have gone back on my own words, returning to a never-ending spiral of a debate with Rhology. Below, find my most recent rebuttal. For clarity’s sake, note the distinctive format: After a short introductory paragraph, there will be a quoted snippet from one of my previous responses, followed by Rhology’s reply to it, followed by my rebuttal to his reply. Enjoy!—Ed.

Rhology, I have perused your most recent posting and, to me, it seems like just another flawed pseudo-philosophical argument for the existence of god. It has been hashed out and rehashed on the internet for years. I do not intend to respond to some guy’s opening statement; I hope you noticed I never directed you to respond to anybody but me. Therefore, the following reply has been written from the perspective that you still have not presented evidence for your presuppositions (because another person’s opening statement in a debate does not constitute substantiation for your specific stance). I want explanations in your own words.

“I think your most recent posting is unhelpful”

This is entirely due to the question-begging way in which you responded to me. If I ask you a question and then you beg it twice, and then I point that out twice, the direction of blame is clear.

You asked that I provide evidence that could substantiate the value of evidence. I did precisely that. My first principle, as I repeatedly have said, can be summarized as “The road to truth is paved with evidence.” That is, in order for human primates to happen upon truth (or its close approximation), the most reliable route is that of evidence (or, alternately phrased, “the relevant facts”). My first principle only would be self-defeating if it, itself, could not be substantiated through evidence. After all, presumably, a first principle is judged true by its holder, and I have said humans reliably discover truth through evidence. That is why, in my post entitled, “Refuting Rhology: A Defense of Rationality and Reason,” I used evidence to substantiate evidence. Indeed, this exercise comprised a great deal of that lengthy post. You have refused to consider my evidences.

“only serves to obscure the issues upon which we have hit.”

I disagree 100%. The questions I've asked are easy for a theist and impossible for you. Which is what I wanted to make clear.

Perhaps your questions are “easy” for the theist because they are designed presupposing the theistic worldview. For example, you asked me something along the lines of, “In an atheistic universe, what functions as the grounds for communication, reasoning and logic?” This question is fallacious because it presupposes that communication, reasoning and logic require “grounds” and presupposes that your god character represents sufficient grounds. Now, I know I am much more verbose than you are, but could you not devote a few paragraphs to explaining explicitly why those things require “grounds” and why your deity fulfills that requirement? It seems, when dealing with your own truth-claims, you too often fall into two-sentence sound bites of questionable worth.

“you repeatedly pluck single sentences from my composition and then demand they be justified or explained.”

And would it kill you to go ahead and justify/explain them?

Why even talk to me anymore? Oh wait, you're not. ;-)

I do not write in sound bites; I write in paragraphs. Generally speaking, my paragraphs are coherently organized and thematically unified. Plucking a single sentence is tantamount to handicapping my argument from the start. In the future, I would strongly encourage you to deal with my comments as they were written—a stringed together chain of thoughts connected by a central theme or argument. Sometimes, debating with you reminds me of film advertisements in the newspaper, where a critic is quoted as saying, “Fun.” Issues of this magnitude transcend single sentences, and I encourage you to recognize that.

“The problem, of course, is that you intentionally do not quote the very justification and explanation I already have provided in the composition to which you are ostensibly responding.”

1) Then point that out and make it obvious to me and the readers. Make me look like a fool.

2) All justification and explanation you have made are question-begging. In light of your accusations that I do so, I'm pointing out your inconsistencies.

Here is an extended quotation from my composition entitled “Refuting Rhology: A Defense of Rationality and Reason”:

“With that clarification in mind, I shall use evidence to prove that evidence is the single most reliable method by which fallible humans can discover larger truths. Let us consider the American criminal justice system as an example. Say a football star is charged with inflicting brutal, sadistic torture on innocent canines. The only reliable way to decide whether this football star is guilty or innocent is to examine the evidence in the case. Certainly, the jury arbitrarily could declare the person guilty or innocent based upon rhetorical flourishes and prosecutorial aggressiveness (or some other basis unrelated to evidence), but we surely would have many innocents rotting in jail and equally many thugs roaming the streets. ‘The truth’ exists apart from the examination, and presence, of evidence. However, for the best chance of finding that truth, evidence is the road on which one must travel. The reason? ‘Evidence’ is just another way of saying ‘the relevant facts’ as they pertain to a larger truth-claim, incident, phenomenon, event, etc.

“Quickly, let us consider another example. Say you (god forbid) have a relative who is gravely sick with cancer. Numerous types of treatment are available to be tried, but they must be done exclusively, rather than in combination. I have a feeling that, in this hypothetical instance, you would gladly accept that evidence (the relevant facts) is a damn good guide to reaching the larger truth about which method of treatment would have the best odds of saving your beloved relative’s life.

“Every day, we all operate according to evidence—that is, according to the relevant facts. We carry an umbrella when we see storm clouds or hear a negative weather report. We go to the doctor when we feel a strange, unfamiliar lump on our body. We call the police when we see a swarthy miscreant looming outside our house in the dead of night.

“Once again, to be obnoxiously repetitive and abundantly clear, ‘evidence’ is nothing more than ‘the relevant facts’ as they pertain to a larger, more complex truth. Through the collection and examination of the relevant facts, fallible humans grant themselves the best opportunity to capture truth—as imperfectly as we do so.”

In any event, I still agree with blacksun that this whole exercise is absurd. It is insanity to question the importance of relevant facts (evidence) as they pertain to a larger, more complex truth. Essentially every discovery humankind has achieved has been the result of gathering facts, analyzing those facts, comparing them to other facts and then reaching conclusions approximating larger truths. If anything is self-evident, it is the value of evidence.

“So, most of the answers to your questions can be easily found by reading my previous response.”

Well, they're "answers" in the sense that they are words on a page found directly after a point I made.

This, along with single-sentence plucking, illustrates the “intellectual bad will” on your part that provoked me to terminate debate. You asked for evidence of evidence’s validity; I provided it. I supported my first principle (“The road to truth is paved with evidence.”) by employing that very principle. And, luckily for me, the value of evidence is self-evident to everybody who is not already blinded by bias.

“Another problem with your most recent round of questions is that it presupposes your own worldview”

Precisely. Interestingly, insofar that you assume that communication, reason, and logic are in force in talking to me, you presuppose my worldview as well. You just won't admit it.

I refuse, however, to take on a worldview like yours, which is irrational and cannot even account for the questioning I'm engaging in, in a discussion. As you said, absurdity in, absurdity out. I want to presuppose a worldview that actually makes sense.

Once again, in your haste to be concise and respond quickly, you leave out all substantiation with respect to your truth-claims. Please explain, in your own words, the relationship between Christianity, on one hand, and communication, reason and logic on the other. Additionally, please explain, in your own words, why a universe lacking your god character necessarily also would lack communication, reason and logic. The connection is completely unclear and I am incapable of refuting what you staunchly refuse actually to explain.

Consider, for example, the statement “X cannot simultaneously be not-X.” This is a statement of logic, and a true one. Explain why, in a godless universe, a person could not comprehend that logical statement. I fail to see your connection. Additionally, explain why, in a godless universe, primates would be unable to string syllables together to pass along messages (the art of communication). Again, the connection is visible only to you, and your coyness with respect to your reasoning makes me feel as though you have spectacularly weak substantiation, if any.

“Go back to my 3636-word, three-part response a couple rounds back. Of all Rhology’s truth-claims that I called into question, which has he substantiated?”

1) All that is intentional. I wanted evidence that evidence is trustworthy 1st. Which you didn't provide. Why should I continue on a futile quest?

2) You keep trumpeting how long your post was. Do you want a gold star for the "Most Words Typed" category?

As I have already articulated, it is insanity to question the value of relevant facts (evidence) as they pertain to a larger, more complex truth. Every day, you utilize the relevant facts in making decisions. That is, every day, you utilize evidence. You cannot pervasively utilize evidence whilst simultaneously decrying evidence. I shall take any further questioning of the value of evidence as a sign of intellectual dishonesty. Please, Rhology … we need to break free from absurdity.

“OK, then explain what you mean by ‘grounds’ and explain why those things demand such a foundation.”

"Grounds" = a justification for the foundation of the thing in question.

I can trust evidence, logic, reason, induction, and communication b/c they reflect the character and attributes of a Creator God. W/o Him, they seem to me to be impossible. I'm asking you to justify them. I want you to explain your faith in empiricism.

How things “seem to you to be” is profoundly irrelevant. In your own words, explain why, in a godless universe, evidence, logic, reason, induction and communication would be either nonfunctional or nonexistent.

  • Explain why, in a godless universe, smoke pouring out an apartment window would not be evidence of fire.
  • Explain why, in a godless universe, a primate grasping his throat whilst turning blue would not be evidence of choking.
  • Explain why, in a godless universe, a primate could not figure out X cannot simultaneously be not-X.
  • Explain why, in a godless universe, a community of primates could not invent a language of guttural yelps to pass along messages.
  • Explain why all these things would disappear or become nonfunctional were god divorced from the cosmic equation.

Once again, your reasoning here is invisible to all but you. I have no idea of your argument’s basis and, thus, you have immunized it to the disproof I would readily offer.

“Explain why your god character represents sufficient ‘grounds’ while competing god characters (Vishnu, Enlil, Brahman, Ammon-Ra, Zeus) represent insufficient ‘grounds’.”

Sure. See how easy it is? Why couldn't you do the same?

1) None of those named are solely God; ie, there are other gods.

2) Several (maybe all) of them have not eternally been God.

3) None of them claim to be the grounds. Why should I think they are if they don't claim to be?

4) All of them exhibit characteristics of having been devised by human imagination. i.e., they are presented as being able to die in their own essence, have sex w/ humans, are gratuitously cruel, etc.

OK, I have an announcement to make. Last night, as I was half-asleep in my bed, I experienced a brush with the divine! God condescended Itself to me! The only thing is, this God was Hargazorn. Here is some information about Hargazorn, provided straight from the deity Itself:

1. It is solely God.

2. It has eternally been God.

3. It claims to be the grounds of evidence, logic, reason, induction and communication.

4. It is wholly unlike humans. For example, it cannot die in its own essence, cannot have sex with humans, is not gratuitously cruel, etc.

Why is your god character better “grounds” than the God who condescended Itself to me last night?

“What is more, you continue to presuppose the Bible is a perfect vessel of truth, which is another woefully unsupported truth-claim.”

Said he who can't provide any justification for using the phrase "unsupported truth-claim".

If you have not utilized relevant facts (evidence) to substantiate a given truth-claim, it generally stands as an unsupported truth-claim. You believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of god. That is fine; please substantiate this belief. If you cannot substantiate it, then you are wasting people’s time.

“Presenting the case against ‘unlimited attributes,’ which I convincingly argued represent an absurd contradiction of terms.”

1) Said he who can't provide any justification for using the phrase "absurd" or "contradiction".

2) "Infinite" is an attribute as well. Not limitable. Just give it up - human language is indeed inadequate for the task in all its enormity, but it is sufficiently useful in many ways to describe.

1. You have failed to demonstrate the necessity of the “justification” you request. You said something about logic, induction, communication, etc. “seeming to you” to be impossible in a universe lacking god. Answer my related questions, and I shall attempt to offer the “justification” you request.

2. You have alleged god is possessed of “infinite power” and “infinite knowledge.” To say either of those is to utter an absurdity. As already stated multiple times, those attributes are as absurd as saying a creature is possessed of “infinite weight,” “infinite height,” “infinite hairiness” or “infinite muscularity.” Attributes imply limitation; divorcing limitation from attributes is also to divorce meaningfulness from them. If you want to give god attributes, you necessarily must limit him.

“Getting you to admit (sans prodding, no less!) that god and the supernatural are beyond the bounds of knowledge (and, thus, nobody can offer any descriptor in relation to the deity or its native realm).”

Quite a non sequitur there. Just b/c God in His entirety is beyond the bounds of human knowledge does not mean that He remains totally incomprehensible given His condescension to reveal Himself to humanity. I've mentioned that quite a few times in our discussion; I don't know why you don't take it into acct. Trying to score cheap debate points?

You have failed to substantiate your claim that your god character condescended to reveal himself to humanity. Until you substantiate this point, you cannot build upon it; as any architect would tell you, one cannot build upon an illusory foundation.

“When human language is wrenched from the natural world and shoved into a supernatural one ceases to be meaningful because it ceases to be in its context.”

1) In your worldview, it's not even necessarily meaningful to describe natural or human attributes.

2) Once again you ignore the fact that God has revealed Himself.

Human language is meaningful in its context, that context being the natural world. Although a word has not been invented to describe every natural phenomenon, every such phenomenon could be potentially described with words. The only absurdity would be to shove natural language (language created by natural creatures) into a supernatural realm; such would be obliterating language’s context, thereby making it meaningless. And, for the fifty-eighth time, you have failed to substantiate your belief that god has revealed himself. If you wish to make progress, I implore you to offer convincing substantiation.

“no matter how many times you are asked, you refuse to provide evidence to substantiate your presuppositions.”

If evidence is not trustworthy (which I've been asking you to assure me of), then what would be the point?

You, personally, reveal evidence’s trustworthiness by utilizing relevant facts (evidence) every day in all areas of your life. One cannot utilize evidence pervasively and simultaneously decry the very evidence one utilizes. Such would be flagrant irrationalism.

“You cannot tear apart atheism’s worldview because atheism, in itself, presents no worldview to tear apart.”

That is manifestly untrue - it's why I kept noting the positive assertions you made. If you won't step up to the plate of your positive assertions, this is pointless.

You must distinguish The Jolly Nihilist, the human being, from atheism, the philosophical position indicating a lack of theistic belief. Your fevered attempts to tear apart my worldview have nothing at all to do with defeating atheism. Try as I might, I cannot excise my prejudices and views from my writings. Therefore, at best, you are attempting to slay my prejudices and views. The only way to defeat atheism—the philosophical position indicating a lack of theistic belief—would be to substantiate theism. Where theism remains unsubstantiated, atheism wins by default. Atheism is a wholly negative stance, proffering neither a positive foundation nor essential principles. You are attempting to slay a phantom, friend.

“Here is a systematic breakdown of an experiment that would transform me into a Christian:”

"If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.".

I don't believe this for one instant. You and they all know God exists; if this occurred, you'd just find some other explanation for it or slough it off into the "ok, well, that gives me some food for thought" category. But it wouldn't do anythg to incite you to believe in the God of the Bible. You are dead in sin and blind to goodness. Repent of your sin and ask God to forgive you, to help you believe. Those are the steps if you are interested in the truth.

Prithee, spare me the prideful, condescending, obnoxious preaching. I do not engage with Christians in order that they can preach at me. Put yourself into my shoes for a moment, and imagine an Islamic cleric blathering mindlessly about how "dead in sin" you are. Imagine that the cleric avers, "Abandon your false messiah and embrace Allah as revealed by the Prophet Mohammed, or else be damned to an eternity of agonizing torment!" Would you consider this cleric to be prideful? Obnoxious? Deluded? Dangerous?

Let us keep this objective, neutral and rational.

That said, I beg to differ with your conclusion. If the experiment were to be carried out systematically, with no compromises, and the result was positive, I surely would become a Christian. If you read the experimental protocol carefully, I built several safeguards into it to ensure scientific integrity. If the experiment were completed successfully, Dr. Carl Sagan’s handy “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” standard and Hume’s maxim would be fulfilled by your faith. As things stand, you have barely mustered weak evidence, let alone extraordinary evidence.

Now, more than ever before, I remain supremely unconvinced. Ah, the joy of heathendom!