Thursday, August 30, 2007

Goodnight, Rhology.

Greetings, Rhology!

I have decided not to offer a formal rebuttal to your posting, but rather a concluding summation. This summation shall be my last word in this continuing discussion, although I promise to read any response you might offer. One of the reasons I have chosen not to formally respond is I think your most recent posting is unhelpful and only serves to obscure the issues upon which we have hit. In the posting, you repeatedly pluck single sentences from my composition and then demand they be justified or explained. The problem, of course, is that you intentionally do not quote the very justification and explanation I already have provided in the composition to which you are ostensibly responding. I do not care to repeat myself ad infinitum. So, most of the answers to your questions can be easily found by reading my previous response.

More broadly, as it relates to your objections to my worldview, your line of questioning has grown increasingly hairsplitting, venturing dangerously close to absurdity. As “blacksun” (a commenter on my blog) wrote, “Forcing you to defend the term ‘evidence??’ … That's like arguing over what the definition of the word ‘is’ is.” The commenter continued, “Wow. I know there are loonies out there, but I haven't run into a discussion this absurd in ages.” While “garbage in, garbage out” is an accepted truism, I shall expand that to “absurdity in, absurdity out.” Your most recent line of questioning spectacularly exemplifies that, and I shall not fall into your well-laid trap.

Another problem with your most recent round of questions is that it presupposes your own worldview, which you have utterly failed to substantiate. [Note to readers: 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?] You believe there must be “grounds” for logic, reason and induction? OK, then explain what you mean by “grounds” and explain why those things demand such a foundation. Explain why your god character represents sufficient “grounds” while competing god characters (Vishnu, Enlil, Brahman, Ammon-Ra, Zeus) represent insufficient “grounds.” To this point, your contention is completely unsupported, devoid of evidence or explanation, and hardly coherent because you have failed merely to define your terms. What is more, you continue to presuppose the Bible is a perfect vessel of truth, which is another woefully unsupported truth-claim. In fact, looking back through all our interactions, I struggle to find a single instance in which you provide convincing evidence to substantiate the wild presuppositions upon which your worldview depends. By contrast, in my previous composition, I comprehensively defended my truth-claims and an evidence-centric worldview.

Overall, I am completely happy with the results of this discussion, and I eagerly would invite theists and atheists to read it. Among my achievements are

1. Presenting the case against “unlimited attributes,” which I convincingly argued represent an absurd contradiction of terms. If you posit a god character possessing “unlimited attributes,” and I have proved “unlimited attributes” are absurd, then your god character also is proved absurd.

2. 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).

3. Making the case that human language is only functional in its proper context—that being the natural world. When human language is wrenched from the natural world and shoved into a supernatural one (for example, trying to use the descriptor “infinitely powerful” to characterize your god invention), it ceases to be meaningful because it ceases to be in its context.

Of course, as already referenced, arguably my greatest achievement in this engagement has been demonstrating that, no matter how many times you are asked, you refuse to provide evidence to substantiate your presuppositions. You operate from an entirely presuppositional stance and, when asked to justify it, you instead choose to repeat the fantastical presuppositions being questioned. Once again, in stark contrast, my last composition was a thorough defense of my worldview, addressing every question you raised in a comprehensive, convincing manner.

Finally, I now shall explain how I could be convinced of god’s existence. In short, the only way to defeat atheism’s challenge (the challenge of a lack of theistic belief) is to support theism convincingly. You cannot tear apart atheism’s worldview because atheism, in itself, presents no worldview to tear apart. Atheism is a wholly negative stance, proffering no positive foundation.

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

1. Noted atheists Christopher Hitchens, Dr. Richard Dawkins, Dr. Daniel Dennett, Dr. Sam Harris, Dr. James Randi, Penn Jillette, Dr. Michael Shermer and Dr. Victor Stenger scour the country’s morgues to find a dead body on which they would like to experiment. The only absolute requirements are that the corpse must have been of average intelligence whilst alive, with no retardation of any type, and an adult. Other variables are irrelevant. Each atheist chooses a cadaver of his liking. Through a competitive coin-toss tournament, one atheist’s selected corpse is chosen for the experiment.

2. The corpse is brought to an examining area, wherein three doctors (all exhaustively trained in the human brain) study it and judge whether it has suffered brain death. The experiment can only continue when all three doctors agree that the corpse is dead and brain death definitely has occurred.

3. The corpse is brought to a church for the next step, and a holy man is chosen to perform the miracle still to come.

4. Inside the church, with no medical equipment present, the holy man is to say, “By the power of Jesus Christ, the son of god, let this person return to life and full vitality! Do this in the name of the lord!” Then, for no more than ten minutes, all parties involved wait.

5. The corpse would come back to life and then be returned to the hospital from whence it came.

6. Three different doctors (all exhaustively trained in the human brain) perform thorough testing on the newly vibrant corpse. The experiment can only continue when all three doctors agree that the corpse is now alive and brain death has been reversed.

7. A relatively simple examination is administered to the dearly resurrected, to judge whether its brain is working properly. For example, 7th grade algebra would be of representative difficulty. An examination score of less than 50% would indicate a faulty brain and yield a negative result for the experiment.

8. The complete experiment—beginning to end—is broadcast live on television, both nationally and internationally. The production crew (composed of atheists and religionists in roughly equal numbers) must be professional, boasting considerable experience in live broadcasting. Finally, the earlier-referenced atheist cabal must be present for every second of the experiment. No funny business.

Admittedly, lesser evidence might make me question my atheism. Lesser evidence might cause me sleepless nights. However, after giving the issue considerable thought, I have concluded that only an experiment of this rigorous nature could utterly convince me of Christianity’s veracity.

It has been a pleasure.



Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Refuting Rhology: A Defense of Rationality and Reason

This composition is a rebuttal to this posting. Please note: Specially formatted passages are comments by Rhology, to whom I am publicly responding.—Ed.

In regards to everything you said,

There is no truth without examining evidence (#3). So, please provide evidence for this statement.

Let this response commence with an admission. This particular quote is somewhat problematic for me. Truth, in itself, exists quite apart from the evidences for that truth. Dinosaurs existed (and went extinct) before human primates had any evidence of dinosaurs. Neutrinos existed before we had any evidence of them. Pluto existed before we had any evidence of it. However—and I stand firmly behind this—evidence has proven to be the single most reliable method by which fallible human primates can discover truth (or its close approximation). The reason for this is the very definition of the word “evidence,” to which I later shall come. [I shall repeat this definition ad infinitum, so forgive my delay in presenting it.]

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 gladly would 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.

Making unsubstantiated assertions gets us nowhere (#5). So, please provide evidence that there is no truth w/o examining evidence. What is the evidence for these two statements?

As I already have admitted, in clarifying the truth-claim with which you started, the truth of any given matter simply exists, and it exists quite apart from our meager species happening upon evidence. The truth is not dependent upon primates such as we discovering it, through evidence or otherwise. [As I already have written, neutrinos existed before we were aware of them and before we had access to any evidence for them.] However, as I previously have argued—by means of presenting evidence—the relevant facts (the evidence) represent the best way to happen upon truth, and every person utilizes evidence every day precisely because it helps us make better choices about natural reality. Through evidence, we have a better chance of discovering the truth about whether it shall rain or be sunny, to beat my example to death mercilessly.

As it pertains to making unsubstantiated assertions, it generally is a masturbatory and useless exercise. I, myself, made unsubstantiated assertions to David about there being an ethereal cosmic catfish. I presented no evidence for the catfish, and I described it in vague, generalized, unfalsifiable terms. I added nothing to the dialogue in doing so, which was precisely the point of my argument. Anybody can posit anything, from TgOTB to magical elves to cosmic catfishes to Bertrand Russell’s teapot to Carl Sagan’s garage dragon. If no evidence is presented for a given assertion, one can dismiss the assertion as baseless. If, in addition to having no supporting evidence, the claim also is designed to be unfalsifiable, it goes beyond baseless and ventures into obnoxious.

As such, the atheistic position makes no truth-claims (#7). Should I consider that statement true or false? Is it or is it not part of the atheistic position?

The atheistic position has precisely one characteristic: Atheists lack a belief in god. That is all atheism says, ever has said and ever shall say. Much as I try, I cannot live up to atheism’s pure definition. My personal views and biases damn me to inject my stances in my compositions. No claims I make about natural reality should be interpreted as reflective of pure atheism, because atheism offers no positive worldview in itself. Atheism, in its pure and unadulterated form, denotes a lack and only a lack.

Where there are no truth-claims, there is no burden of proof (#8). How is this statement provable and why wouldn't you have the burden of proof as relates to it?

Some things simply are obvious; and, it should be noted, the types of “truth-claims” on which you call me out are utterly different from the types of truth-claims you yourself frivolously posit. I am advancing truth-claims of a most innocuous and nearly self-evident nature. You, on the other hand, are claiming a very specific CREATURE, which is CONSCIOUS, is EXTANT in a specifically SUPERNATURAL REALM. Then, you claim to know that creature’s NATURE and claim the creature directly INSPIRED a BOOK that is TOTALLY PERFECT. Then, you claim the creature presides over an AFTERLIFE where all people either will be REWARDED or PUNISHED for ETERNITY. This seems just a bit different from my truth-claims (which include “only through evidence can humans reliably discover truth”; “reality exists and is perceptible”; “language can convey meaning”; “absurdities exist”; “contradictions exist”; “analysis can be reasoned”; “blame can be placed”; etc.).

If somebody is not claiming something, one need not provide evidence. Why? One cannot provide evidence in support of a non-existent truth-claim. “I lack belief in god” is not a truth-claim because it is not a claim at all. Evidence does not apply to a statement which claims nothing. On the contrary, “god exists” or “god does not exist” both represent claims. “I lack belief in god” is not a claim and, thus, evidence is inapplicable (and would be patently absurd).

The burden of proof is not on the doubter (#12). I doubt that this phrase is correct, so please provide proof that it is true.

Again, these types of claims are utterly different and wholly unanalogous to your claims, which involve things like JESUS being CRUCIFIED, BURIED and RISING FROM THE DEAD. Then, you claim he subsequently WALKED AROUND for some disputed length of time before ASCENDING BODILY into HEAVEN. If the truth-claims you plucked are the best you could muster in your quick-as-a-whip response, I have been diligent in avoiding extraneous truth-claims.

As to the claim in question, I already have addressed this. In order to present “proof” for something, there must be “a something” to which proof is applicable. A true, by-the-definition doubter is not advancing anything, but merely doubting what others have advanced. To say, “I doubt what you advance” is not a truth-claim, so no evidence possibly could be applied to it and no burden of proof possibly could be levied. The burden of proof only exists when an individual states, “X is the case” or “X is not the case.” To say, “I lack belief X is the case” is to claim nothing about reality. That statement expresses lack—the utter antithesis of a positive assertion.

Without evidence, the doubter can dismiss you out of hand (#14). OK, unless you can help me out on #s 3 and 5, I'll go ahead and dismiss everything you've said out of hand.

I am confident I have supported these “truth-claims” sufficiently, and I am confident my claims were innocuous and obvious enough that this response is virtually superfluous. You are attempting to analogize my truth-claims to your own, yet they are so utterly different that you do yourself a disservice when you respond in this manner. Your response, in my view, represents a clever strategy to avoid providing the convincing evidence for which I asked in relation to your truth-claims.

Once again, if the truth-claims you outline above are the worst you could find in my 3636-word reply, I pat myself on the back for eschewing extraneous truth-claims in refuting your presuppositional philosophy.

Nature is material, finite, limited and comprehensible (#20). And you're part of nature, so why should I believe you when you presume to speak on the topic of that which is immaterial, transcendent, infinite, and beyond the bounds of knowledge?

I offer my abundant thanks for your word choice. You have done me a great favor and helped me (temporarily) avoid my characteristic verbosity. You essentially have said god is “beyond the bounds of knowledge.” Therefore, you possess no knowledge of god, because said deity is beyond knowledge’s bounds. Thusly, the discussion is concluded, with the doubter victorious.

There are infinite theoretically possible explanations for the universe’s mass-energy (#30), and attributes, by definition, are limited (#29). Hmm, not sure I can make sense of this one.

I shall make sense of it in a single sentence: Theoretically possible explanations for cosmic origins are not “attributes.”

Because that is resolved, I now shall elaborate on this whole issue. I already have given examples of attributes in my previous extended reply. I also explained why “infinite attributes” are self-contradictory and, thus, absurd. There is no such thing as a man who is “infinitely tall” and such an idea is self-defeating. To use the word “tall” to describe a man is to imply there is an end to the man’s height. If the man goes on forever into oblivion, the word “height” cannot even apply to the man. There is no such thing as a man who is “infinitely fat,” and such an idea is self-defeating. To use the word “fat” to describe a man is to imply an end to the man’s weight. If the man goes on forever outward in limitless girth, the word “weight” cannot even apply to the man. No being can be “infinitely hairy.” No being can be “infinitely muscular.” Descriptors unavoidably imply limits, and to take away limitation itself is to take away the meaningfulness of descriptors. Analogously, the words “knowledge” and “power” also imply limits, as is the case for all descriptors. The “unlimited attribute” is a fallacy…a flagrant contradiction of terms that leads inexorably to gibberish.

Here's the beef: You are an atheist, you believe that the universe has not been created by a logical, rational being who can thus provide grounds for using logic and rationality, for knowing what they are. Please provide evidence that the secretions of your brain, that the banging-around of atoms inside your skull that produce tappings on a keyboard, are meaningful. Nobody holds a bottle of lotion up to their ear to hear what it has to say about theism, yet it is no less a collection of atoms banging around than your brain.

A quick correction: Contrary to your summation, my stance much more accurately could be described as lacking belief that the universe was created by a logical, rational being. To advance being-belief would be to make a truth-claim. To categorize being-belief as false would be to make a truth-claim. I, on the other hand, simply do not possess this belief.

I really think you need to elaborate on this summation somewhat. Yes, essentially everything on this planet is composed of atoms. However, that certainly does not mean everything is the same and must be treated identically. Humans have evolved into wonderful creatures, capable of reasoning, learning, analyzing, loving, having passions, feeling joy and much else. A bottle of lotion is inanimate and vastly different from humans (and different from aardvarks and yaks, not to mention daffodils and chrysanthemums, as well). Where is the valid point of comparison, sir?

In short, you really need to explain the problem at which you are trying to get.

Gloriously, I have an answer to the conundrum - humans are made in the image of God. You'll say, "Proof?" Evidence is available, but to quote the highly-quotable Doug Wilson, I want evidence that evidence is valid. You can start by answering the questions raised above.

You seem to have constructed a strange, menacing ogre out of the word “evidence,” making it into a frightening threat to your leap of faith. Evidence, as I already have articulated ad infinitum, simply means “relevant facts” as they relate to a truth-claim, phenomenon, event, incident, etc. Doug Wilson wants me to explain why relevant facts are of use in attempting to discover larger, more complex truths? I would guess Mr. Wilson checks the Weather Channel on occasion, to learn the temperature, humidity or see the radar in his local area. That way, Wilson can dress appropriately and, perhaps, grab an umbrella as he leaves the house (surely off to do something that shall leave utterly defeated atheists in his glorious wake). I chose one small example here but, clearly, in all the rest of his life, Wilson relies upon relevant facts in order to make decisions and approximate truth on larger matters. Then, in one instance, where it threatens his theological construction, Wilson decries evidence—relevant facts—as questionable in itself.

Show me somebody who eschews relevant facts in conducting his daily affairs, and I shall show you somebody who credibly can decry evidence.

With my claims now fortified, I briefly shall introduce questions for you. First, it is clear that you project a high degree of confidence as it relates to your god character. You would have your readership believe you are downright certain of Christianity’s truth. However, consider for a moment the Palestinian mujahideen, who eagerly strap bombs onto themselves and blow their bodies into a billion pieces. Consider the individuals who flew planes into skyscrapers at 500 miles per hour. As abominable as those deeds were...that is unwavering certitude. You are utterly certain of Christianity; they are utterly certain of Islam (as well as your eternal, fiery damnation). Why is your certainty more valid than their certainty? Why do you know unknowable things better than they know unknowable things?

Finally, with respect to TgOTB, could your mind possibly be changed, or is it unchangeable?



Sunday, August 12, 2007

Descent into Madness: Challenging Christianity to be Rational

Beginning with this article, and in all future compositions, I consistently shall refer to the deity as "god," with a lower-case "g." I also shall use lower-case letters when referencing invisible garden banshees.Ed.

I recently have been reading "Atheism: The Case Against God," by George H. Smith. It has inspired me to compose a list of a dozen arguments/questions for Christians. These are not the typical issues with which many Christians might be familiar, so I urge thoughtful consideration, rather than unthinking dismissiveness.

1. Is god supernatural? If god is natural, then we have to entirely redefine our god concept and, essentially, start over from scratch. If god is supernatural, we may continue.

2. If god is supernatural, then how can humans possess any knowledge of god? Humans are part of nature, and, as such, our knowledge is bounded by nature. The very notion of something existing beyond nature is wholly incomprehensible, given that our knowledge and thought processes are nature-bounded.

3. Does god possess any characteristics? Characteristics are determinative and limiting. That is, once a being has characteristics, those characteristics lead to certain capacities and abilities. Dogs, for example, can do certain things. However, dogs cannot build an umbrella; doing so would be contrary to their nature and their characteristics. Humans cannot undergo photosynthesis; doing so would be contrary to our nature and our characteristics. If god is possessed of any characteristics, then god is limited by them (if only in the sense that possessing Characteristic X means one cannot possess Characteristic Not-X). If god has no characteristics, then god is indistinguishable from nothingness.

4. Do you accept omnipotence, omniscience and consciousness as characteristics of god? If you do, we may continue.

5. Humans live in nature, and our knowledge is bounded by nature. There exists in nature nothing infinite. Therefore, humans have no comprehension of anything being “infinitely Characteristic X.” If humans cannot conceive of infinity, then how are the “omni” characteristics meaningful?

6. To say a being is omnipotent is to say the being has all power. Therefore, god need not engage in actions, processes or anything else in order to get what it wants. After all, a being possessed of all power need not do anything to achieve its desired results. [Upon further consideration, having a desire/purpose also might be unnecessary, because it is an extra step with which an omnipotent being should not need to concern itself.] In short, god’s power is incomprehensible since it involves getting its way without first possessing desires, taking actions or executing processes. How is this meaningful?

7. To say a being is omniscient is to say the being has all knowledge. In the natural world in which humans live, knowledge is gained by study/observation (learning) and verification (confirmation of that which is observed/learned). God never could have learned anything nor had any information verified, since that would imply a time during which god lacked comprehensive knowledge. Thus, god’s knowledge is wholly dissimilar to our own and utterly incomprehensible. How is this meaningful?

8. Free will cannot co-exist with an omniscient, creator deity. Let us say that I am a ten-year-old boy. God, being omniscient, knows that, on my thirtieth birthday, I will rob a convenience store and shoot the clerk. Is there any way for me to disprove god’s foreknowledge and not commit this heinous crime? If so, then god is not omniscient, since its foreknowledge can be disproved. If not, then I lack free will, since my actions are determined before they occur, and I cannot possibly change my destiny.

9. Omniscience and omnipotence are incompatible and lead to insoluble contradictions. Suppose that, on Monday the 14, god knows, based upon its omniscience, that it shall smite Bob Washburn on Thursday the 17. Come Wednesday the 16, can god change its mind and decide to spare Bob Washburn? If so, then god can disprove its own foreknowledge and cannot be categorized as omniscient. If not, then god cannot be called omnipotent, because it lacks the ability to change its mind (and thus disprove its own foreknowledge).

10. Is god conscious? Consciousness, as understood by humans, who are bounded by nature since we are products of nature, is an emergent quality of some biological life. Humans can conceive of no consciousness divorced from biological life, since such does not exist in nature and any such consciousness would be different not in degree but in kind. How do Christians resolve this?

11. Does god have any similarity with humans? It seems not. For example, humans have some knowledge, whereas god has all knowledge. However, we neither comprehend knowledge of an infinite kind (since humans only comprehend limited things) nor understand what knowledge might mean in a supernatural realm, which itself cannot be comprehended (since we are bounded by nature and cannot conceive beyond it). As another example, humans have some power, whereas god has all power. However, in god’s exercise of power, it does not employ purposes, actions or processes, since such would be encumbrances to limitless power—an obvious contradiction. This being the case, the word “power,” especially in an incomprehensible supernatural realm, signifies something of an unknowable, altogether different, kind. Christians, can this be made sensible?

12. Most Christians admit that god cannot cause logical impossibilities to occur. For example, god cannot craft a circular square or a deceased living rabbit. The theist might say nonsense is nonsense, and the deity cannot actualize an inherent contradiction. However, most Christians also say that god’s omnipotence allows it to perform miracles, which might be something as silly as making a desk lamp respire. However, is this not also logically impossible? A desk lamp is possessed of certain characteristics, which, in themselves, define it as being a desk lamp—and are both limiting and determinative. A square boasts four 90-degree angles and four straight, equally long sides. A desk lamp is inanimate, used to illuminate a workspace and does not respire. As such, a desk lamp cannot breathe anymore than a square can be a circle. Thus, omnipotence reveals itself as purveying logical impossibilities, be they obvious or subtle.

To any Christian considering responding, I implore thoughtful consideration.