Saturday, December 28, 2013

Notes on Craig's Cosmological Argument

While discussing William Lane Craig’s five arguments to believe in God (here and here ... originally at Faux News ), I said: can’t conclude that god is the best explanation for any of the proposed “mysteries” that Craig lists, because God does not exist independently of his arguments.

I’ve always felt that the argument from first cause was the single most interesting approach for a believer to claim the existence of God, simply because the questions of existence - Why? For what purpose? How? - are unsettling in their enormity and implication. Not knowing is scary. It is a great human endeavor - individually and as a species - to overcome that fear, and replace ignorance with knowledge. Where we can’t obtain knowledge, we can at least try to identify what qualifies as “not knowledge” so that we don’t clutter up our heads unnecessarily. Thus this post.

My personal summary of the argument from first cause is that it can conclude that there was a cause to the universe, but that’s all. The argument **as stated** does not even attempt to support the claim that God exists or of how God might create a universe. It doesn’t add to our knowledge, thus we can’t make judgements about what the possible cause could be. We don’t have the tools and techniques to address it yet. It could be that it’s the wrong question, we just don’t know.

Assuming it is the right question, then the argument is laid out in either of the following forms:
  • Every finite and contingent being has a cause.
  • A causal loop cannot exist.
  • A causal chain cannot be of infinite length.
  • Therefore, a First Cause (or something that is not an effect) must exist.

According to the argument, the existence of the Universe requires an explanation, and the creation of the Universe by a First Cause, generally assumed to be God, is that explanation.

In light of the Big Bang theory, a stylized version of argument has emerged (sometimes called the Kalam cosmological argument, the following form of which was created by Al-Ghazali and then strongly supported by William Lane Craig):

  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  • The Universe began to exist.
  • Therefore, the Universe had a cause.

There is, of course, lots of discussion to be had about both forms of this argument, some of it to the effect that
  1. our concept of causation is incomplete or incorrect;
  2. the idea that the universe is “contingent” may be wrong - it may be impossible for the universe to not exist;
  3. what we call “the universe” may just be part of a larger (or even infinite) ensemble;
  4. the claims about causal loops and actual infinities might be wrong;
  5. it could be chance - the ways that things could exist are nearly infinitely more numerous that the way that things wouldn’t exist;
There are probably other lines of discussion to follow, as well. Regardless, let’s compare what Craig said in his article to the second form of the argument listed at Wikipedia (and also often attributed to Craig).

Craig most recently said (I paraphrase for clarity):
  1. The universe cannot be uncaused.
  2. The cause must come from a transcendent reality
  3. There is an entity (assumed to exist in that transcendent reality) that is enormously powerful (assumed that it can create universes)
  4. The entity is an unembodied mind
  5. (assumed) this entity is God
  6. (assumed) this God is the Christian God.
If we grant premise 1, what reason do we have to believe that premises 2 through 6 are true?


He gives no reason to accept any of what he says.

As many folks have pointed out over the years, Craig is not attempting to persuade non-believers, he’s really just giving a pep talk to believers.

Just for the fun of it, though, we can annotate Craig’s argument a bit, for future reference.
  1. The universe cannot be uncaused.
    • as I stated in an earlier paragraph, our concept of causation could be incomplete or incorrect ...or...
    • the idea that the universe is “contingent” may be wrong - it may be impossible for the universe to not exist;
    • what we call “the universe” may just be part of a larger (or even infinite) ensemble;
    • the claims about causal loops and actual infinities might be wrong;
    • it could be chance - the ways that things could exist are nearly infinitely more numerous that the way that things wouldn’t exist;
  2. The cause must come from a transcendent reality.
    • this is a bare assertion. There is no reason to believe such a claim.
    • If we assent to this claim, then we must ask “how can this reality exist prior to our reality?”
    • And “doesn’t this insert an infinite regression into the argument?”
    • And “if this transcendent reality can exist without being created, then what’s to say this reality couldn’t exist without being created?” (a.k.a. “Special Pleading”)
  3. There is an entity (assumed to exist in that transcendent reality) that is enormously powerful (assumed that it can create universes)
    • Who created this entity?
  4. The entity is an unembodied mind
    • This is another bare assertion. What warrant are we given to believe such a claim?
  5. (assumed) this entity is God
    • This is yet another bare assertion. What warrant are we given to believe such a claim?
  6. (assumed) this God is the Christian God.
    • This is still another bare assertion. What warrant are we given to believe such a claim?
If you have any doubt as to how Craig’s argument fails, you might bookmark this.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fine-tuned putdown

I enjoy a good put down as much as anyone. Pharyngula commenter drl2 made me smile with a goodie this morning as I continued to read through the comments on PZ’s takedown of WLC Craig’s tired old list of arguments for the existence of God at Faux News.

In an exchange on why the fine-tuning argument is a sham, he summarizes with this zinger:

So while it’s true that there are probably an infinite number of universes in which we couldn’t exist, there’s a good chance there’s also an infinity of possible worlds where WLC could still be a slick-talking moron.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

What's Wrong With Arguments for God?

Those non-believers that came to their non-belief by observing what’s wrong with the world - as compared against the conjecture that it was created by God - or analyzed the arguments for God and found them fallacious, absurd, or otherwise double-plus-ungood, can probably guess what’s wrong with all of Dr. William Lane Craig's reasons to believe in God, but it doesn’t hurt to re-state it occasionally.

In a nutshell, you can’t conclude that god is the best explanation for any of the proposed “mysteries” that Craig lists, because God does not exist independently of his arguments. He can't be found by looking for him directly. He can only be imagined. If he can only be imagined, what good is he as an explanation?

Say, for instance, if Galileo had peered into the heavens and seen God staring back, you might consider that evidence that god exists. If every astronomer since Galileo peers into the heavens and sees God staring back, you might say that God most probably exists.

If Darwin had set sail on the Beagle and found that every species of plant and animal sprang into existence within the last few thousand years, you might infer that they where created simultaneously. If every biologist and botanist since Darwin found only evidence of recent creation, this might lend further credence to that inference. When the DNA of all animals is eventually found to be perfect, containing no junk and no mutations, you might further infer creation by something perfect that knew what it was doing. It could be the same entity that Galileo observed. It might be God, and that might bolster the argument further.

I could go on, but I don’t really need to - the examples become repetitive very quickly. Everything that every branch of science observes leads us to believe that our patch of existence expanded into its present form about 13.7 billion years ago. No where has a God hypothesis - any God - risen to become even a remote contender as an explanation. The imperfect - and predictable - way that the universe evolves and that life evolves indicates wholly natural origins.

God may be used as an explanation for mysteries when people like Dr. Craig speak, but he never appears independently from Craig's (or anyone else's) arguments. It’s as if apologists can’t think of plausible explanations to life's complicated questions, but the most fantastical explanation imaginable is perfectly acceptable.

It’s a mystery that believers don’t see this

An Early Christmas Present from William Lane Craig

It really is a Christmas present, this re-cycling of the same 5 arguments for the existence of God that Dr. William Lane Craig trots out for anyone who will pay him - this time at the Fox News website . What makes it a great present? Well, many of my favorite bloggers took it down, each of them in their own unique style:They all - and their commenters - seem to recognize that Craig continues to preach to the choir, and continues to make a darned good living at it.

In my now-dusty “Another Imaginary Debate”, I used one of Dr. Craig’s debates from 1998 as the foil for my contrived rebuttal. His schtick has not changed one bit in the 15 years since. If you’re sporting an even average bullshit detection kit, you can see right though this stuff. That doesn’t seem to stop him. As Hank Fox sez - it’s ”slippery arguments, subtle misdirection, and blatant lies.”

So bring a hot drink, a blankie, your favorite web-browsing device, and settle down for a warm read on a cold winter night.

Happy Yule y’all!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An Interview with God

In my teens, I began a sincere effort to find out whether god is real. After decades of searching, I was able to finally track down the elusive deity, and spend a few minutes asking him as much as I could about what makes him tick. What follows is an edited transcript of our auspicious and improbable encounter.

Skepticali: God! Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to talk with me.

God Almighty: No problem, glad to do it.

Skepticali: As you can imagine, I have a ton of questions for you, so let me cut to the chase. First, what religion describes you best? Which religion is correct?God

God Almighty: Boy, you don’t beat around the bush! Well, I’d have say Christianity does ... You’re Christian, right?

Skepticali: No ...

God Almighty: Okay, then Judaism is the religion to follow ... You’re Jewish, right? You do look Jewish.

Skepticali: No ... I’m ...

God Almighty: Okay, you don’t look Hindu, give me a hint.

Skepticali: Actually, I’m an atheist.

God Almighty: Atheist? ATHEIST??? You’re talking to me - God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, visible and invisible, personal friend of William Lane Craig - are you nuts?

Skepticali: No, actually ...

God Almighty: What’s it take for you atheists? I just don’t get it.

Skepticali: Actually, the fact that I think that I’m talking to you doesn’t prove you exist. It only proves that I think that I’m talking to you. I don’t think anybody else can see or hear this.

God Almighty: ...but what about the people that will read this interview? Won’t that be sufficient evidence for everyone else?

Skepticali: I think that’s the problem, sir, word of mouth is not really evidence.

God Almighty: Technically you’re right, but this word-of-mouth thing has worked for thousands of years ... Has something changed?

Skepticali: No sir, nothing’s changed. It’s just that, over the millennia, things that people used to attribute to you have been discovered to have natural causes - so when someone claims that a timeless, spaceless entity of unimaginable knowledge, power and compassion is the cause of the universe and is personally flipping switches and spinning dials in favor of believers - well, fewer and fewer people think that’s rational.

God Almighty: Rational ... Ptooey! I hate that word. What’s with you guys? Why can’t you just believe what people tell you? And why do you keep calling me “sir”?

Skepticali: sorry sir ... Madam? How should I address you?

God Almighty: Madam doesn’t work, either. What makes you think I have a specific gender?

Skepticali: Well, we humans tend to anthropomorphize you, so we attribute gender to you. Somehow, someone figured you were male. I’m guessing it was a male, your godliness.

God Almighty: Anthropomorphize? That’s a great word! Say THAT five times while you’re drunk! Anthropomorphize ... Another misconception. Why the heck do you think I have a human form? Isn’t that a little conceited? I mean, the universe is unimaginably large, do you think that I’d make a motley crew like you in my image? The Jaggorabex Energy Entities - now that’s probably closer to what I’d morphize - if a non-morphic being could chuck wood.

Skepticali: Excuse me?

God Almighty: Never mind - I'm big on woodchuck humor. Where were we?

Skepticali: Gender - or, how do I address you?

God Almighty: Bob - call me Bob.

Skepticali: Huh?

God Almighty: Yep! I always liked the name “Bob”. Short, sweet, symmetrical - Occam’s razor and all that. Now - what’s your next question?

Skepticali: Okay Bob. Well ... Since you brought up Occam’s Razor, let’s go there. Occam’s Razor posits that “among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected.“ Given that, how do you explain your existence?

God Almighty: Well ... It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Skepticali: That doesn’t answer the question, Bob. How does your existence, and the possibility that you’re omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, and supposedly created the universe, and will judge believers and non-believers upon their death, and assign them to heaven or hell for all eternity depending on some criteria that no one is really clear on, how does all that pass the smell test with people that have even the faintest familiarity with Occam’s Razor?

God Almighty: It usually doesn’t.

Skepticali: Huh? I expected a more robust defense,

God Almighty: Not from me. Say, can I have one of those Twinkies there? That would taste really good right now.God - reimagined

Skepticali: Sure, Bob, help yourself.

God Almighty: Mmmm ... That is one tasty Twinkie. I do love the taste of a good Twinkie. You mind if I have some of your tasty beverage to wash this down?

Skepticali: Go right ahead.

God Almighty: Ah, hit the spot.

Skepticali: Say, I feel like I’m in Pulp Fiction or something. Could you please answer the question about Occam’s Razor?

God Almighty: Say 'what' again. Say 'what' again, I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say what one more Goddamn time!

Skepticali: Good grief!

God Almighty: Sorry - sometimes I fall into that “Tarantino is God” trap myself. be continued...

Munchhausen Trilemma

The Munchhausen Trilemma serves as a criticism of justifying knowledge that goes like this:

If we ask of any knowledge: "How do I know that it's true?", we may provide proof; yet that same question can be asked of the proof, and any subsequent proof. The M√ľnchhausen trilemma is that we have only three options when providing proof in this situation:

  1. The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other (i.e. we repeat ourselves at some point)
  2. The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum (i.e. we just keep giving proofs, presumably forever)
  3. The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts (i.e. we reach some bedrock assumption or certainty)
As a layman, the Trilemma is helpful in summarizing the ways we can justify knowledge, but does what it says represent a declaration that knowledge is ultimately impossible? For me, the answer is no.

First, i’ll acknowledge the ways the term “knowledge” can be used:
  1. ”knowledge that” - comprehension of concrete facts or abstract concepts that can be demonstrated in the real world.
  2. ”knowledge how” - comprehension of approaches or techniques in accomplishing simple tasks or complex endeavors.
  3. ”knowledge of” - acquaintance with people
I also have to declare my belief that absolute knowledge of anything is unattainable. When I say this, I mean that with regard to any of the three ways the term “knowledge” can be used, I can never be genuinely 100% certain that I know something is true. I may be certain to a reasonable doubt, or certain beyond conceivable doubt, even certain that my belief will never be falsified in human history - but I have to acknowledge that there could be a 1-in-a-centillion chance that I could be wrong about it.

Given my skepticism about absolute knowledge, the Trilemma sorts itself for me in the following way:
  1. circularity is unacceptable - I won’t knowingly go there.
  2. Infinite regression will get me closer to the truth, but never fully reach absolute truth. There’s a point of diminishing returns in this approach.
  3. Axioms are useful when regression has proceeded to an absurdly detailed level. This serves as a practical substitute for 2).
This becomes part of my toolbox for thinking.

My work here is done.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Objective Moral Values - a conclusion

This summer, I started a personal evaluation of whether objective morals existed (here and at the links contained therein), by focusing first on what objectivity meant. In my sloth, I left that endeavor incomplete, and the world was left poorer for it. :-)

Let me tie up the loose ends. I started to realize that the word “objectivity” can be defined differently depending on what we are claiming to be objective about.

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

It might be helpful to ask questions like a reporter would. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?. Since the point of this disquisition is to sort out my thoughts on “objective moral values”, I’ll append a “what ought to be done?” to the list during the essay. How are these questions used, and when can we be objective about the answers we obtain?

When considering physical things - space-time, matter, energy and their behaviors and relationships - human beings can usually agree on what objects look like, sound like, behave like, consist of, etc. Given the right tools and techniques, we can observe and measure to a very high degree of accuracy. It may be that some approaches - powerful telescopes, particle colliders, radiometric dating - are available only to qualified experts, but those experts will usually agree on the results of the observations when the observations repeat to a very high degree. We can refer to these as being objective physical facts, because they will be the same for all observers, given a specified accuracy and the required tools and techniques. We can be objective about questions we’re interested in once we’ve reached a level of repeatability that is recognized as significant. (For LHC/Higgs fans, that figure was 5 Sigma, or a one in 3.5 million chance that the measurements obtained were erroneous).

When considering qualitative things - for example, what the meaning is of a particular set of observations - we run into divergence on interpretations. We then find objectivity - the ability to obtain the same interpretation by all observers - more difficult - even in the scientific arena. This leads to more hypotheses, more tests, and hopefully more knowledge.

Segue into the area of human affairs, and the need to do more interpretation and less physical measurement dictates that we get less consensus on what happened and why. We can be objective about many of the facts of what human beings have done, but not always. We begin to ask more qualitative questions - why and how - and we eventually get into the area of ethics and morals - what ought to be done. It is here that objectivity is often hardest to come by.


In the case of human affairs, the word “objective” starts to look like more of a consensus that groups of people hold about a topic. For example, I might think that I’m emotionally detached and non-judgemental about what should have been done in a situation, and can claim - without warrant, so far - to be objective. If I present that claim to a few people for scrutiny - the neighborhood, for instance - I might discover that my opinions coincide with theirs, thus the neighborhood might claim objectivity about that situation. If I subject my claim to a larger group, then that larger group can potentially achieve broader consensus, and thereby stake a larger claim to objectivity. There is no guarantee, however, that my neighborhood and a neighborhood half-way around the world will agree on that situation, therefore we can’t say that there is global objectivity about it.

The point above is that there will be differences among individuals and groups as to the affairs of humans. And what has been done, and what ought to be done, are subject to debate, consensus or disagreement, and any consensus will shift over time and context. That leads me to conclude that the term “objective” is a fluid concept when used about human affairs. Thus “objective morals” - although not completely absent in the world - are a very small subset of the morals that might exist across all people and all contexts. In the absence of any natural or supernatural agents actually specifying and enforcing morals that must be adhered to, I have to conclude that moral values are largely relative. I can see attempting to identify commonalities across legal, social and religious contexts, but I’d expect that very few ethical questions are unconditionally resolved in the same way in all contexts.

Objective moral values that all humans can agree to, then, seem limited to a very few topics. My interest in whether the existence of objective moral values is evidence that God exists is attenuated further by the fact that, until you and your interlocutor agree specifically on examples, you probably don’t know whether you’re talking about the same thing. Until these terms are stipulated, any argument that uses “objective moral values” in a premise is pretty useless.

BlogPress doesn't suck

I've complained at least twice that blogging from iPad sucked.

No more!

I tried BlogPress on my iPad, and it actually works! It's not perfect, but it allows me to write my own html, which I want very much to do.

My main gripe? After posting to Blogger, I have to close the app altogether and re-start it in order to navigate to the Manage screen to edit existing drafts or posts. I'm willing to live with that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Murky no more

I had a follow-up to my prior post all ready to publish, then decided it might be worth changing tack to focus less on Alethian Worldview commenter “murk” personally, and more on the presuppositional argument he and others use. Mind you, murk still gets held up as an exemplar of “not very good apologetics”, but I’ve realized he’s not that much at fault, given what little that presuppositionalism supplies in the way of material.

I skimmed over the Bahnsen Procedure earlier this year - here, here and here - and concluded that it still suffers the same flaws that all apologetic efforts do:
  1. it asserts the existence of God without evidence or justification
  2. it claims that God is the reason that (insert your mysterious phenomenon here) exists without warrant as to how God could be that reason
  3. it doesn’t account for how the apologist can know these things
It is really no better than any other flavor of apologetics. The main twist is a crafty maneuver called the “Transcendental Argument” that hopes to inoculate against the first flaw by concluding God’s existence is a necessary precondition for some phenomenon. This is a classic bare assertion fallacy, thus invalid reasoning. Only apologists take this seriously.

From Wikipedia, here’s how it attempts to succeed:

(transcendental arguments) are also distinct from standard deductive and inductive forms of reasoning. Where a standard deductive argument looks for what we can deduce from the fact of X, and a standard inductive argument looks for what we can infer from experience of X, a transcendental argument looks for the necessary prior conditions to both the fact and experience of X.

You can guess that the “looks for the necessary prior conditions to both the fact and experience of X“ activity is less than intellectually rigorous (see my “three flaws” above). Murk doesn’t patch this up to make it effective, and experienced apologists don’t patch this up to make it effective. You see he and they claim that God is necessary, but never demonstrate why this might be true.

That’s it, in a nutshell.

Apologists like murk, whether they’re novices or masters at debate, are using a defective strategy. The novice probably doesn’t even know these flaws exist, thus they repeat them - over, and over, and over. That might explain why presuppositional arguments seem like filibusters.

You might think that apologists would see these flaws and either correct them, or abandon this approach because the flaws cannot be corrected, but they don’t. It keeps coming up, and it keeps getting knocked down because no one should get the mistaken impression that it presents even a minimally compelling argument. It just doesn’t.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Murky Apologetics

Presuppositional apologetics is fun because it’s just so weird. Recently, Russell Glasser did a post-mortem on one of his recent Atheist Experience shows to review his performance against a presupp caller, because he felt he hadn’t gotten his point across effectively. He had, of course, done just fine, but the presuppositional script drives even experienced counter-apologists to distraction. To quote AXP commenter somnus:

“I half suspect that people have such a hard time responding to it the first time they hear it because they’re flabbergasted by the breathtaking nerve it takes to assert it.“

As Russell said when summarizing his debate with Pastor Stephen Feinstein , it’s “impenetrable quasi-philosophical wankery”. Nonetheless, it has entertainment value.

Another candidate for the looney tunes hall of fame is Deacon Duncan’s occasional foil “murk” at Alethian Worldview. Starting with DD's blog post “The subjective choices of religion“ we’re treated to some industrial-grade presuppositional babble. Almost immediately murk imparts this little pearl of wisdom:

“science is good i agree – but it cannot function apart from comprehensive universal metaphysical commitments:
which science itself cannot demonstrate – it rests on them – if they were not science would be impossible... “

...followed by a laundry list of topics that we are supposed to assume are killer problems for non-Christians - but for which he provides no good reason to take seriously. Since we’re fun-loving sorts, let’s try to unknot some of this.

Specific claim #1:

“(Science) cannot function apart from comprehensive universal metaphysical commitments such as uniformity of nature“

As a software developer, I may not be the best choice to address what appear to be philosophical issues, but this is worth taking a poke at. First, a definition: “uniformity of nature is the principle that the course of nature continues uniformly the same”

An example of what murk probably means is given by this snippet on uniformitarianism in Wikipedia:

“The assumption of spatial and temporal invariance of natural laws is by no means unique to geology since it amounts to a warrant for inductive inference which, as Bacon showed nearly four hundred years ago, is the basic mode of reasoning in empirical science. Without assuming this spatial and temporal invariance, we have no basis for extrapolating from the known to the unknown and, therefore, no way of reaching general conclusions from a finite number of observations. (Since the assumption is itself vindicated by induction, it can in no way "prove" the validity of induction - an endeavor virtually abandoned after Hume demonstrated its futility two centuries ago).“

The implication being that Hume’s formulation of the problem of induction

“calls into question all empirical claims made in everyday life or through the scientific method “

In the same article, Karl Popper:

“argued that science does not use induction, and induction is in fact a myth. Instead, knowledge is created by conjecture and criticism. The main role of observations and experiments in science, he argued, is in attempts to criticize and refute existing theories.“

We laypeople can simplify this to "science attempts to falsify hypotheses". Those hypotheses that withstand attempts to be falsified are more likely to be an accurate model of reality, thus more likely to be true.

Given that induction is not universally accepted as the path to knowledge, murk's first claim about science resting on induction does nothing to undermine our confidence the knowledge can be obtained.

What does this mean to the casual observer? I’d “concluded” decades ago that absolute knowledge was not obtainable, and the best that we could hope for was to be more confident that what we think we know is in fact probably true. Nowadays, I think of personal knowledge in terms of the Sunrise Problem when attempting an off-the-cuff explanation of my certainty about a topic. (Trust me - I’m RARELY prompted to do this in practice). So ... does the problem of induction cause me to worry? No. I am, and probably have been for most of my adult life, more empiricist than anything, so arriving at knowledge purely by means of thinking about it wouldn’t be my preferred approach, given that resources were available to test it out.

My conclusion: murk uses the phrase “uniformity of nature” as a buzzword meant to impress the uninformed and divert the informed from the real issue being discussed: the existence of God. If he could produce a compelling argument for God, he wouldn’t need to blow smoke about vaguely tangential topics.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Blogger sucks

Thanks Blogger, for making blogging from iPhones and iPads practically impossible. You Suck.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Large God Collider

The Large Hadron Collider (“LHC”) was able to detect what many physicists understand to be the (or “a”) Higgs Boson. It determined to a 5-sigma probability that its mass resides in the 126 GeV area. Thousands of people, billions of dollars and decades have been expended in this search for one of the building blocks of reality.

The Large God Collider (“LGC”) has not yielded any results - because it hasn’t been built. Theists and the organizations they belong to - religions, if we must - have not seen fit to employ thousands of people, billions of dollars and decades in the search for a god. I’m personally disappointed by this. I think the spectacle of smashing less powerful supernatural entities together - maybe some garden gnomes - to produce an indication of a higher-powered supernatural entity - say an invisible pink dragon - would be fun for the whole family.

What could be the reason the LGC hasn’t been built?



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sense and Goodness without God

I have to ’fess up to lacking motivation lately. The general arguments against theism - or the supernatural in any form that I’m aware of - are too strong for me to take theism seriously right now. And lesser baloney just hardly seems interesting - at least this month. That’s not to say that there isn’t good larnin’ to be had out thar in the internetz.

Case in point: Richard Carrier recently took the Objective Moral Values topic to new heights in his posts “What Exactly Is Objective Moral Truth?”i & “The Moral Truth Debate: Babinski & Shook”. Therein, it becomes clear that Carrier expects commenters to be at least familiar with his relevant other writings, so I took the bait and purchased Sense and Goodness Without God.

I like Carrier’s writing. It’s scholarly and extraordinarily well organized. It is essentially a thesis that defines “worldview”, then goes about in fine detail how to construct a rational one without resorting to God. I’m only a third of the way through it, because I tend to stop and reflect often and at length when reading works of this nature, but I’ll go out on a limb (not very far) and recommend it. At the very least, the clear and logical layout is a template for most of us to follow - but I’ll bet the content will be enjoyable and instructive to most free thinkers as well.

Buy it!


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Burden of proof - another take

If you and I have a disagreement on whether something exists or not, we can resolve it in the following way:

Assume we each have the same amount of knowledge about the world, i.e. we have the same background information.

Assume that you feel that "X" exists.

Assume that I have never experienced anything that leads me to believe that "X" exists.

We can conclude that only you have a motive to present a case for the truth of your belief that "X" exists, because I, not having this belief, have no motive to develop a case about “X”, one way or another.

The responsibility resides with you to make your case about “X”.

It’s that simple.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The KCA continues to fail

I keep seeing debates on the existence of God that contain the Kalam Cosmological Argument as support for the contention that God exists. In case you forgot, it takes this general form:

1 – Everything that begins to exist has a cause.

2 – The universe began to exist.

3 – Therefore, the universe had a cause.

Over and over, the glaring, fatal defect in the KCA is that, unless God's existence is independently proven, and he/she/it can be independently established as that cause, the conclusion can only be 3, "Therefore, the universe had a cause" - nothing else. The KCA does neither of those things. It only takes you a third of the way. All of the lip-flapping and arm-waving about actual infinities being impossible, and actual things popping into existence uncaused also being impossible, are irrelevant. They're irrelevant because God's existence has always been hypothetical, and no real ability to cause actual things can even begin to be confirmed until he stops being hypothetical.

So STOP ALREADY! The Kalam Cosmological Argumen just doesn't work as an argument for the existence of God!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Big Idea

Digital Cuttlefish commenter Margaret posted on FTB:

I think the scientific method (or skeptical inquiry, or whatever you want to call it) is the Big Idea, and that leads to knowledge of the universe, which makes the wiggle room for the existence of any gods smaller and smaller, which leads to the trivial conclusion of atheism (a trivial conclusion is a little idea, not a Big Idea).

Her reference to “skeptical inquiry” led me to boil that down to simply “inquiry” ... As in

“inquiry is the Big Idea that leads to knowledge of the universe, which makes the wiggle room for the existence of any gods smaller and smaller, which leads to the trivial conclusion of atheism.“

Objectivity and intent

As I zero in on what I can be objective about, I think I understand that, as long as my senses are accurate, then I can describe the physical attributes of an object. I meandered through my thoughts in these previous posts:
As I’d mentioned a while back, looking at the object from design and intentional stances (after Dennett) makes the state of “objectivity” much harder to achieve.

If I know the designer of an object, I can query her and discover what the object is designed to do. That can also uncover its purpose, because the designer, or the party that commissioned the design, will know what the object “intends to do”.

If the object is a living being, design and intent are truly difficult to be objective about, because we can only rely on our assessment of what the entity looks like it can do, and we can never be sure what the entity intends to do, in spite of what it might say or physically signal.

This all leads me back to my original seed: “can there be objective moral values?”

Final thoughts soon.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Objectivity and Design

I have a shaggy dog story about objectivity that goes a little something like this:

Devil’s PostpileIf I see a bright object in the distance, I might only be able to discern that it’s bright and it’s distant. I might not know if it’s real or a mirage. As I approach it, its outlines become clearer, its color becomes clearer, and I can estimate its size in relationship to its surroundings.

Even closer now, I see that the object is white, nearly a cube, rests on the ground, is about a foot-and-a-half in each dimension. But that’s all I know.

When I’m close enough to touch it, I can feel how rough or smooth it is, whether there are seams or cracks, I can even attempt to lift it to estimate its weight. I now know a lot more than I did several hundred yards ago. But I still don’t know what itis, only what it's description is.

I don’t know what the object is for ... What it's purpose is. I have no idea whether it is natural or manufactured, designed or undesigned, whether the hypothetical manufacturer was fulfilling an intention via the manufacture and placement of the object.

Devil’s PostpileThe object I’m using in this example is a salt lick - it has a designer, manufacturer and a purpose, but I only know that from hearsay, and my experience with other simple objects.

What if I had been approaching the Devil’s Postpile (image above)? Had I not known in advance that this structure is a natural cleavage occurring in the type of rock at that location in Yosemite, I might have inferred a designer and manufacturer and purpose for these objects.

And I would have been wrong. Without prior knowledge from which I could make an inference, I couldn’t have made an accurate judgement on the Postpile, whereas I could infer what the salt lick was. But I could have incorrectly inferred a design to the Postpile, based on my understanding of a salt lick.

I’d still have been wrong.

Without physical evidence of a designer and manufacturer, I cannot be objective or certain as to what the Postpile is.

This is where evidence is essential. And this implies to me that objectivity requires evidence - somewhere in our chain of reason - to be meaningful.

Pure reason can fail me, as it would have at Yosemite.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Is God necessary?

Is God necessary?

Bradley Bowen has a multi-part series (part 1, part 2 and part 3 so far) on this at The Secular Outpost - which I’ve just started to read.

Some preliminary thoughts:

merrily skippyYou hear the general argument that God is the “necessary” being without which the universe, or logic, or reason, or life (etc.) couldn’t exist. But this seems to be a bare assertion used by presuppositionalists and other apologist to skip merrily past the problem of not having an actual God in existence that might be capable of having these capabilities. It is a philosophical exercise. Nothing more.

1. First, to claim that “God is the necessary being for X to exist” requires that God, as I just mentioned, has to have a separate existence prior to associating him with the existence of something in the universe. This, of course, no one ever provides evidence for.

2. Second, no chain of logic or causality is demonstrated to establish that a God is “necessary” for these things. Natural explanations, although incomplete on the more fundamental topics of the universe and life, are not explained by asserting that they can’t exist without God. There’s no reason to believe a putative “being” is necessary for anything.

3. Third, assuming that God exists, how would one ascribe characteristics to God such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, externality (etc.) without sound argument or evidence? This is never done either.

4. Fourth, these characteristics of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, externality (etc.) are not such that we can prove that they exist. We have no examples of such things, and trying to bootstrap them into existence simultaneously with the assertion of God’s existence (the thing you’re trying to prove by ascribing these characteristics to) is not plausible, and undoubtedly not proven nor in evidence. We don’t even have coherent descriptions of them when they are considered simultaneously.

5. Fifth, there appear to be better alternative explanations for the phenomena that apologists believe that God is necessary for, even if he (it?) did exist.

So why is this train of thought considered worthwhile? If you’re a non-philosopher as I am, or a non-apologist as I am, it just seems stupid. It sounds harsh, dismissive, strident, whatever - it just seems stupid.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trayvon Martin

After the George Zimmerman acquittal in the Trayvon Martin 2nd degree murder trial, I figured that a 24-hour cooling off period would be needed before I commented - as if my comments are needed.

TrayvonI was immediately furious, but here, 72 hours later, I think I understand better what happened. Chris Hallquist has a good summary of what can be said about “our typical liberal reaction” to the wrongful death of an unarmed black teenager. Read the comments - they're also mostly insightful.

Here’s how it boils down:
  1. Zimmerman was charged with Second Degree Murder
  2. The judge also offered a lesser ruling of Manslaughter
  3. there was reasonable doubt as to both charges, so that either ruling could not be obtained
  4. the “reasonable doubt” criteria is what keeps our judicial system one of the more liberal ones in the world - racial bias notwithstanding
  5. no one disputes that Zimmerman shot Martin
  6. a negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter verdict might have been attainable, but was not charged

I’m still angry, sad and frustrated over the killing of Trayvon Martin, and Saturday’s acquittal of George Zimmerman, but I understand why it resolved itself that way.

Rest in Peace Trayvon.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Objectivity and Bayes Theorem


I'm still pondering objectivity - so I have to at least skirt the topic of how I’d arrive at a “most likely explanation” using a “thinking tool” like the abbreviated version of Bayes Theorem above. This formula (often referred to as “BT”) represents

“the probability (P) that a hypothesis (h) is true given all the available evidence (e) and all our background knowledge (b)”

Ptolemy got it wrong That’s actually a pretty simple way to choose between alternatives. Many of us apply this instinctively every day, although we don’t think about it in such formal terms. However, when we start to examine things from a more objective, less emotional point of view, we must be more honest and rigorous. How might we then use this formula for assessing the likelihood that causes of phenomena in the real world are what we think they are? I won't explain BT here, because I’m not an expert, but I can still use it as a pattern to help me assess whether something is more or less likely to be true.

Imagine that I’m an ancient human observing that the sun moves across the sky once a day. What are the possible reasons this happens? It could be any of the deities Ra, Surya, Freyr - or several others. It could be that the sun circles the earth on its own - as Ptolemy thought.There could be some other plausible explanations entirely. Since I assume that shit doesn’t just happen for no reason, I feel there is a explanation for the sun crossing the sky. Now, being honest and rigorous, I have to admit that, in this example, although the sun-god Ra is my choice as the real explanation for why the sun moves across the sky once a day, alternative explanations for this phenomena exist. Some alternatives I’m aware of, some, I’m not. Seeing as how I haven’t done a legitimate investigation into why the sun moves across the sky once a day, I probably need to assign each alternative an equal probability of being true, and then do some testing to raise or lower their individual probabilities based on the outcome of each test.

In probability speak, the sum of all probabilities for an explanatory hypothesis is 1 (or in gambler-speak: 100%). And since there is always more than one plausible explanation, then each alternative has a non-zero, non-one probability.

At this point, I can also say that, of the tens, or hundreds or thousands of plausible explanations, there may be millions or billions of implausible explanations that, although easy to dismiss, are not logically impossible, so they also have a non-zero probability. And they all contribute to that total of exactly 1.

Therefore, with the limited set of proposed explanations for the sun traversing the sky, my initial calculation ought to be:

  1. Ra did it = .2
  2. Surya did it = .2
  3. Freyr did it = .2
  4. Ptolemy was right = .2
  5. All other explanations = .2
... so that we then have a total probability of 1 - a 100% chance that our 5 hypotheses cover all possible explanations.

This is a key point - that every possible alternative that is not impossible should be considered to have a non-zero probability before you start gathering evidence. And that there are explanations that we don’t know about that we must acknowledge - here I group them as “All other explanations”.

When all of the hard work of investigating is done, it turns out that Ra and the gang were not the cause for the sun traversing the sky. It was the earth turning on it’s axis that made it appear the way it did.

We can approach the question of whether God exists the same way. We might even arrive at a similar conclusion.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Blogging from iPad just got harder

The title of this post sounds a bit dramatic, but when Blogger for iPad came out, it made my world better. Then a few weeks ago, I bought Blogsy because **it** seemed to be well-respected as an even more productive tool.

Well, the Blogger app doesn't seem to work any more, and Blogsy never allowed me to directly edit HTML, which I'm fond of doing. These problems may be related to a Google API problem, or not. I lost hours and hours wrestling with this. As a developer, this frustrates me no end.

So... I reverted to an old practice of writing drafts in IA Writer, formatting them in Koder, then just pasting them into the Blogger web UI.

Primitive, but it works.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Evil anyone?

Just wondering: 

If there's evil in the world, then gawd knew it was possible before gawd created the world. And he let it happen.

And it came to pass that gawd brought the shit-hammer down on those who did evil but doesn't bring it down on himself because he let it happen.

And gawd wants us to be gawdly, so should we let evil happen?

I don't think so.

I think we're better than that. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Why is InfiniTwinkie unbelievable?

I can make the claim that the world was created in 7 days by an infinite, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent being named InfiniTwinkie that wants you to follow his law and believe in him and avoid eternal refrigeration. And you will scoff at me or ignore me. And it will make no physical difference to anyone that has not heard my story.

But I can change the name “InfiniTwinkie” to “God”, and the word ”refrigeration” to “damnation”, and then billions of people will believe you.

Why is that?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Objectivity about physical things

I said previously:
“When I think of objectivity, I think of ... The dictionary sense - “of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers“ ... It's real for you, me and the next person, and is not subject to different interpretations.”
... But I let my mouth out-pace my mind. Upon further review, there's a better dictionary definition right there on the same page :
3a : expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations <objective art> <an objective history of the war> <an objective judgment>
I think THAT is a more accurate description of what I think about the adjective "objective".

Still, when we talk about a "fact or condition", there are some aspects of that fact or condition that we have to be very careful about while claiming to be objective about it.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett speaks of physical, design and intentional stances as the levels of abstraction at which we view the properties and behaviors of a thing.

Wikipedia sez:
"when explaining and predicting the behavior of an object, we can choose to view it at varying levels of abstraction. The more concrete the level, the more accurate in principle our predictions are."
Notice that this refers to a real entity, not a conceptual one.

This indicates that claims made about physical attributes such as height, width, depth, weight, color and composition, for instance, can be made accurately and repeated by all potential observers accurately, and are subject to little or no misinterpretation of the meaning and value of the attributes used to describe it. It really is just a description of what the thing is, without imbuing it with deeper meaning. It doesn't require judgement to apprehend these values because those values will be the same no matter who measures them.

We can describe what the universe is, when we stick to these physical attributes.

What we don't have to do, if we exercise some self-control, is make further claims about what those values were prior to today, or what they will be after today, nor what they mean. I might bring those aspects up later, but it's not central to my train of thought in this post.

All of this is to say that we can describe our world as it is here and now, and be correct about it. Taken one moment at a time, we can probably claim to be objective about the physical description of the world, to within a reasonable doubt.

When we start looking at meaning and purpose is where the fun really starts. I'll give THAT a go next time.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Handy reference: Evidence for atheism

I don't generally care to think about organized arguments for non-belief because I don't think non-belief bears a burden of proof, but David Neff's Argument for Atheism at Infidels is a keeper!

Concise. Organized.



Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars relates a Ray Comfort proselytizing story worth having a giggle at.

It reminds me of the ever-diminishing stream of proselytizers that have accosted me on the street or at my door over the years. The most memorable - and scary - was when I was 17 and mowing my Dad's front lawn. Two old, I mean OLD men in black suits and armed with bibles stopped me in mid-mow. That's a gardening term - "mid-mow". They asked me if I thought it would be wonderful when the lion lies down with the lamb, yada, blah, yada. I was weirded out. I think my dad looked out the window, called me inside as if he had another chore for me, and rescued my shiftless ass.

Fast forward twenty years. I'm pretty hard boiled about it now. People attempting to witness to me at the front door get a curt "No thanks - 'preciate it!" from me before I firmly close the door. Not quite a slam - a firm closing.

I just really don't care what people think about their religion.

I don't care if people are concerned about my "soul", although, if they'd expressed concern about my soles, I might be interested.

It would be fun to converse with Ray Comfort, though. When he gets to his "do you think you're a good person" shtick, I'd answer with an unequivocal "no" and proceed with a totally fabricated rap about how I like to use Black & Decker power tools on people to see whether they find it pleasurable or painful, and how I like Black & Decker better than Stanley or Craftsman, and why. I could have a lot of fun with that!


Five weeks ago, I resumed musing about the term "objective moral values", especially as they are used as an argument for the existence of God. The weeks go by, my focus fuzzes and then sharpens, and we are here.

My problem with the term "objective" is that it assumes there is some way of stepping outside your subjective self to see or experience the thing you are considering to be objective. This is always a problem.

When I think of objectivity, I think of entities, behaviors or events that are verifiably the same for all people. The dictionary sense - “of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers“ - is what I'm referring to. It's real for you, me and the next person, and is not subject to different interpretations. Seems like a good definition.

Taking objects, for example, if I have a party, and twenty people come over, we can all observe that my coffee table is in my family room. It is objectively there, in spite of any claims otherwise. Anyone that ignores the simple fact of my coffee table being in my family room could end up with bloody shins if they think they can navigate through a crowd of 20 in the family room containing the coffee table. When someone makes a claim like "my coffee table is in my family room", anyone can verify that the claim is true. We can say that we have identified an objective fact.

Now this objective fact will remain a fact for only a limited time. As long as I want the table in the family room, or as long as I own the house (and want the table in the family room), or as long as someone else wants to maintain the table in the family room after I die, it is a fact, but not forever. For a long time, in human terms, the coffee table being in my family room will be a fact, but the world will change, and someday vanish as a recognizable entity. So, there are limits on what we can consider an objective fact when discussing objects and their existence. The status of their existence, or their relationship to other objects in existence, change over time. In this sense, objectivity is limited to some period of time. We can be objective about my coffee table in my family room from the time both are in existence and the table is within the boundaries of the room, but not before and after.

So ... What is objective again?

(to be continued)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Something versus Nothing

Somewhere, I thought that I had made the statement that the answer to the question "Why is there something rather than nothing" was "because there are more ways for something to exist". An example would be that the number of elementary particles in the universe could be more than they are in our universe, or less, or configured differently, etc. But I can't find the actual post. Regardless, Richard Carrier makes the same case in more detail at his FTB blog from March 2011 - somehow I missed this.

Scroll to the section "Getting Everything from Nothing".



Saturday, April 20, 2013

I'm a Skeptic

I've been toying around with writing a few paragraphs on what I believe - a position paper on life, if you will. While procrastinating on this, I ran across Brent Rasmussen's post on Vox Day's e-Book "The Irrational Atheist". It's about 4 & 1/2 years old, so it's not breaking news, but it's mildly interesting. My main impression was his mini-rant at the beginning, having nothing to do with the book review. He strongly criticized the "atheist movement" as
... a big, fat exercise in futility. Atheists are not, in any way, shape, or form, a "group" in the same sense that Methodists, Shriners, or Republicans are a group.
He went on to describe his atheism as just a single feature of his overall world view - a description that I think most non-believers would agree fits them as well.

In trying to describe myself, the word "atheist" absolutely describes me. But that's just an outcome of my more general skepticism. I'm going through life trying to fine-tune my scam filter, and I stop every so often to look at what that filter screened out. I'm having a good time doing it.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Final Reflections

Some final thought on presuppositionalism and the Pastor Stephen Feinstein - Russell Glasser debate.

First, I wasn’t trying to be intelleckshul or address the pastor’s points by raising objections or refutations - Russell’s original responses were all that was necessary. I was just trying to become familiar with the general concepts, and actual implementation of presuppositional apologetics. It was the pursuit of a personal interest. Reading a proponent’s actual words seemed to be the most direct way of doing this, and Feinstein was the most convenient example at the time. That I spent way too much time on this is the result of several things. Mostly, I was morbidly obsessed with the super-slow-mo train wreck that was Pastor Stephen. He fretted and strutted upon the stage for two rounds, then, when pressed by Russell to start making an argument, sprang into a manic blaze of volubility and circumlocution. He set two contentions for himself: “atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible" and "the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility“, and he didn’t make a case for either. Along the way, he claimed loudly and often that he was winning, that Russell was ducking the issues or smuggling in assertions or using smoke and mirrors, and that logic savages the “atheist position”. Never mind that outside the belief that there is no god, there is no such thing as an “atheist position”.

Secondly, I’m interested in stuff - and presupp qualifies as stuff. I usually think that I can figure stuff out, so the pastor’s opaque writing represented a challenge. I presumed there was something redeeming in the pastor’s words, but, sadly, I’ll admit that I didn’t find it.

Regarding Stephen’s first contention, he appeared to speak many of the words that could be used to make an argument that “some world view is impossible”, but he chose an atheist worldview as the target. Since such a world view exists only in the minds of presuppositionalists, further development of this contention was irrelevant. So most of his lengthy, circuitous, opaque rhetoric was wasted.

Stephen’s second contention was that the “Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility”. Here again, it’s based on a presupposition that god exists. Stephen and Russell argued back and forth about this, with the pastor claiming that god is necessary, and Russell claiming that it’s a needless insertion. The pastor backed up his claim that god is necessary with a claim that “a necessary being is necessarily necessary!“ - thus sending me into fits of laughter. That’s the single most memorable quote of this whole debate.

Rounds four and five didn’t produce any new argument from the pastor - although he threw out the word “deduction” several times. Again, he follows a pattern of putting vaguely relevant words in proximity to each other, and calls it an argument. I can't say that anything meaningful registered. Yes, yes, the presuppositional argument has gone over my head. I get it.

The pastor wrote a sixth, post-debate “Final Reflections” piece, which I read before the end of last year, but I won’t mention it further here, other than to steal its title for this post. His post struck me as a display of poor sportsmanship at best. I don’t recall it clarifying what the pastor had already spent 20,000 words trying to say.

When Russell invoked a five round limit in round three, it raised the idea that some debate rules should have been agreed to and published before the debate started. The Carrier-O’Connell on-line debate might me used as a example. That debate contained a Joint Statement that described what each party was asserting, and a set of rules that would be followed once the debate commenced:
  1. There were four rounds: an opening statement defending their respective sides of the debated proposition, one rebuttal, one counter-rebuttal, then a closing statement.

  2. For each round, both participants submittals would be published simultaneously.

  3. There was a two week maximum duration between rounds.

  4. There was a 3000 word limit per submittal.

  5. There were to be no ad-hominem attacks.

  6. They agreed to a moderator and four judges.

  7. They agreed to adhere to the rulings of the moderator while the debate is in progress.

  8. They agreed to a scoring system.
I think that some or all of the Carrier-O’Connell rules would have resulted in a far cleaner, more enjoyable debate here.

What did I learn from Feinstein-Glasser?

I learned that presupp is based on bare assertion. It assumes a god. You don’t get to question that, because God is “necessary”. In the pastor’s particular implementation of the argument, the overarching goal was to paint a conjectural “atheist world view” as unintelligible, while presenting a Christian world view as intelligible. In neither case was it successful, as both contentions are based on fallacious arguments (a straw man, and the afore-mentioned bare assertion). The pastor wasted about 20,000 words on this endeavor.

In conclusion, I learned that a presupposition of any substantial scope should probably be rejected outright. Presupposing a god is of a scope of the greatest magnitude possible, and requires subjecting it to the greatest skepticism possible.

Whew! Glad that's over!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pastor Feinstein's Last Gasp

Back in December, I originally imagined that I wouldn’t go through each post of the Feinstein-Glasser Debate point by point ... but I couldn’t help making another flyby over the last few weeks.

I’ve already spent a post on the first half of Pastor Stephen Feinstein’s fifth essay, and hope to put the remainder of this sordid episode to rest here.

a sordid episode

Remember, Stephen’s original contentions are "atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible" and "the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility", while Russell Glasser’s is “All else being equal, it’s better not to assume that something is true without good reasons“. If either interlocutor has chosen to change their contention(s) mid-debate, I’m having none of it.

The pastor’s fifth post does not improve the likelihood that anyone will be persuaded by his style of argument. He delivered a lot of words in such a disorganized, argumentative, unappealing and unpersuasive manner that it was nearly impossible to pick out the simple “what” and “why” that we'd normally expect in a debate.

I’ll skip straight to his summary and make snide remarks as appropriate. Trust me - they’re appropriate.

The pastor:
1. From the opening statement I made it clear that this is a battle of worldviews and that our presuppositions would be tested by transcendental logic to see if our worldviews are even possible. Russell has ducked this responsibility by openly admitting that he can take his worldview for granted and therefore does not have to put it to the test.
He sums up his overall strategy, and ironically exposes its weaknesses in the same paragraph. Case in point: he’s constructed this straw world view - the “atheist world view” - that immediately renders arguments built upon it fallacious. One demerit for the pastor.

He says “our presuppositions would be tested by transcendental logic to see if our worldviews are even possible”. This is unclear in several ways. First, his reference to transcendental logic is obscure. If he’s referring to Kant, fine, but we laymen largely don’t (and won’t) care about what philosophers think. If you’re a philosophy student, it’s crucial, but for everyone else, it’s a diversion from practical matters. Another demerit. He gives no hint how testing of presuppositions using transcendental logic would be performed, or how we'd draw a conclusion. One more demerit. And I defy him to restate this thesis in 500 words, and more importantly, to make me care.
2. Atheism is a philosophy like any other, even if Russell does not want to admit it. As a philosophy it is totally inadequate. Two arguments were used (though I hoped to use four): inductive inference and deductive inference. Both shattered Russell’s worldview.
Get a dictionary!
From Merriam-Webster:
Definition of ATHEISM

1 archaic : ungodliness, wickedness
2 a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
b : the doctrine that there is no deity
Two demerits for making shit up.
3. In my second response, I countered Russell’s statement about it being better not to assume things without good reasons. I said it is better not to assume the universe made itself through random processes. Notice that Russell did not object to my use of the word “random” at this point. Like every other atheist, he seemed fine with assuming chance-based origins.
Russell repeatedly corrected him on his misuse of the word "random" (random processes, random chance), but the pastor seems incapable of making the necessary adjustment. This “random process” dodge is just one component of his straw-atheist-world-view, so he probably can’t back off this ridiculous claim without watching his whole argument go up in smoke.
4. Once my third response refuted the possibility of a universe being grounded on chance, only then did Russell try to distance himself from the typical atheistic usage of the word "chance." Readers, this is a very telling point. Russell’s only recourse was to ignore syntax and say I misused the word, when in fact I did not.
See my notes on his point 3, above.

The pastor is trying to excuse or obscure his use of the word "random" by accusing Russell of running away from it, and by blaming Russell for incorrectly claiming that he (Stephen) misused the word. He doesn't address the larger point that his claim of "atheist world view" is bunk. All of this focus on trivia belies the larger point that has no basis in reality.
5. On more than one occasion, I brought up problems based on observation (farmers producing farms, workers making tractors, persons come from persons), which is contrary to everything Russell's position assumes.
He’s getting even more vague here. By making this oblique reference - "Problems based on observations" - he makes it ever more difficult to understand what he's talking about. We're left to either guess at it, to ignore it, or to go back and make a good faith attempt to dig out yet another argument. If he seriously wanted to make his arguments accessible to the public, he could have restated it here in a concise, direct and unambiguous form. Instead, he’s back to trying to get us to (as Russell has said) “mine out arguments that aren’t there”. Another reason that no sane person should spend more that a brief read-through of the pastor’s chaotic blather.

That puts me in the insane category.

6. Russell’s attempt to accuse me of circular reasoning was debunked in my third response as I demonstrated his position to be guilty of narrow circularity, whereas mine only had broad circularity (which is impossible for any position to avoid).
I took a look back at his third response. He does not mention “broad” at all, so where he dug that up from, I don't know. If you inter the googlenets, the only obvious reference to "narrow" and "broad" circularity is by theologian John Frame. He appears to be introducing "degrees" of circularity that might be used to make it appear that an apologist's Argument "A" seem more plausible than a counter-apologist's Argument "B", if it can be shown that B is narrowly circular in comparison to A's broad circularity. This is theological wordplay at its most desperate.

Face it, Stephen asserts that God exists. Russell asserts that nature exists and that God is a needless insertion. Both participants require some bedrock principle from which to build a world view. Russell pointed this out many times, but Stephen claims only God can be used as an axiom, and Russell doesn't get to play by those rules. The pastor still refuses to recognize that this is perfect example of special pleading.

One demerit.
7. Russell on more than one occasion attempted to get out of his dilemma by appealing to a magical tiara in such way as to say that is what my position amounts to. This demonstrated a great lack of philosophical precision on his part and that the presuppositional argument from the uniformity of nature was not understood by him. I believe even now, at this point of the debate, he still has not really attempted to refute it. A God that is an absolute person, that is distinct from creation, and sovereign over it, and triune indeed does meet the necessary preconditions for the uniformity of nature. Think on each of the four points, and it does not take a rocket scientist to see how these can account for uniformity. Russell's response? A magical tiara.
The pastor tends to “loop” back on every real or imagined attack, and attempts to clarify and/or defend his position from these attacks. He wastes a lot of words on trivia, while reminding us of some of his more absurd presuppositions. Here he tries to cast Russell’s “magical tiara” as philosophically imprecise. Russell was ridiculing him - plain and simple. The pastor makes it worse by reiterating his own worst assertions: “A God that is an absolute person, that is distinct from creation, and sovereign over it, and triune indeed does meet the necessary preconditions for the uniformity of nature.“

Three demerits for transcendentally bad reasoning.
8.Throughout Russell’s third and fourth response it is clear that he did not understand the necessary vs. contingent argument.
Holy crap.

holy crap

The pastor thinks his claim that “a necessary being is necessarily necessary!“ is sufficient to overcome all objections. I wonder if he ever proof-read this. He’s gotta be embarrassed.

I’m sure he feels the “necessary vs. contingent argument“ is a knockout winner, but he ignores the bare assertion inherent in it.

Bonus criticism: he jumped the rails at the outset when he declared all of science to be in the realm of philosophy. As if the idea that something is philosophically true has any bearing on the real world. Maybe his mom wouldn't let him play outside with the other kids when he was little. There has to be an explanation.

9. My fourth response was a refutation of everything Russell said in his third response, which was the closest thing he gave in terms of counterarguments. However, his argument was that he is permitted to take his assumptions for granted as long as he hides behind the concept of axioms. He then went back to the tiara again. I removed this misguided attempt throughout the fourth response.
We see a couple of things here:
1. He’s obsessed with every point (see my comments on his note 7)
2. He assumes that his fourth post was immune from objection, refutation and ridicule.

I’ll assume that the pastor would respond to my comment above with a hearty “Oh yeah? Prove it!”. But I won’t let him <snark>smuggle in his smoke and mirrors</snark>. Russell did a fine job in his fourth post. Nuff said.
10.Finally, this last response of mine demonstrated how the laws of logic savage the materialist’s worldview, and I forever buried Russell’s straw man argument against the Christian view of logic.
More delusions of grandeur. How does he think his fifth post savaged anything? I just read it for the umpteenth time, and it was as vacuous and convoluted as anything he’s written so far. And longer. And more tedious.

The pastor may be doing this on purpose - stringing together sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph of loosely related terms in order to insure that no rational human being would have the interest or stamina to decipher and address the points that he believes he’s made. Thus - says he - he wins. Is anyone persuaded by this in the least? I don’t think so.
11. Truly, Russell’s last response was nothing more than bravado. Serious arguments damaged his position, and his best defense was to play it off as though it did not affect him. My hope is that the readers look with keen eye and mind and see that he did not nullify a single argument made by me. They all still loom over him.
Bravado. Hmmm. Could the pastor be “projecting”?
12. I responded to his attempted arguments and I feel they were soundly silenced.
Okay, now I’m absolutely sure he hasn’t proof-read this. Does he mean that he feels his responses were soundly silenced? See how unclear even a single sentence of his can be? Multiply that to arrive at 7800 words. Commence serious drinking immediately.

Bonus criticism: Why should we accept that his feeling that “they were soundly silenced“ relevant? Opinion is cheap - evidence and rational justification should be at a premium.
13. Finally, it only took Russell four days to respond to my opening statement. No argument was made, and so no pressure was placed on him. I responded to him within two days, where I only slightly began to introduce the way the argument was going to go, and it took Russell eight days to respond. I then responded in two days again, and this time I advanced the first argument (inductive inference). In this case, now that the argument was coming against Russell, it took him nearly two weeks to respond. Since I was driving across the country at that time, it took me four days to respond to his eventual post, but then after that it took nearly five weeks to get a response from Russell. I am sorry, but for all of the bravado, why is it taking so long? If these arguments of mine are so easy to dismiss and counter then we shouldn’t be seeing this kind of delayed time. We’re both busy men. The time it takes to receive responses betrays the confidence and bravado in Russell’s responses.
You can see how peevish the pastor comes across in this final point - he picks on the duration between responses as if it impugns his opponent. Good Dog, I could give a shit.

It’s taken me five months to accept the fact that presuppositionalism in general, and Pastor Stephen Feinstein specifically, delight in the “impenetrable quasi-philosophical wankery” that Russell first characterized back in October.

It was a learning experience, but not very uplifting. It’s sobering, even slightly depressing, to see that people that have influence over other people, can be so deluded and so aggressively defensive of their delusion. I suspect that the world is not a better place with people like this in it. We can only know that they walk among us, and that we can cross the street and avoid them if we encounter them. As the centuries pass, my fervent hope is that his brand of wackiness is rarer and rarer, until there are so few exponents of it that they don’t dare poke their flat little heads out of their caves, for fear of being carted off to a hospital for round-the-clock care.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Necessary Being is Necessarily Necessary!

The pastor’s Round Five claim that “a necessary being is necessarily necessary!“ sums up the whole presupp project. It’s circular, because it’s circularly circular. And it’s a bare assertion, because, well, he said so.

In this debate, Round Three is where the pastor stopped making sense. As Russell points out, Rounds One and Two were spent rope-a-doping. When Russell presses him to make an argument or concede the debate, the pastor responds as if it’s a personal affront, and discards any pretense of making a sensible argument. He instead tries to throw every sciencey, philosophy-ey, theology-ey word or phrase he can muster at Russell.

Round Four was worse.

It doesn’t surprise me that his Round Five effort bounces, skids and rolls along the bottom of the Grand Canyon of bad thinking.
the Grand Canyon of bad thinking

I’m going to occasionally make some disrespectful comments about PSF in this post, so tune out now, if that offends you. I’m several degrees removed from the debate, don’t have a requirement to maintain collegiality, and I feel like venting.

The pastor’s words come off as so aggressively stupid - it pisses me off that a human being with this avowed frame of mind has influence over other human beings. Can you imagine being this guy’s kid??? You’d be screwed up for decades.

Pastor Stephen comes off like an apologetics trash-picker. He’s rummaged through the waste of Van Til, Bahnsen, and probably others. He picked out shiny things that he thinks might be nice to have, and he throws them in his presuppositional shopping cart. When confronted with a counter-apologist, he starts throwing them. At first he exercises care, then he becomes frenzied and empties the cart of all of shiny presuppositional things - picking up others that have fallen nearby to throw over and over again.

Now, on a calmer note, I can still make observations about the pastor’s style with fractionally less vitriol. He comes off as someone that really, REALLY wants to be important. He wants you to nod your head and accept his idea(s) without him having to do the hard work of thinking rationally and organizing the words and phrases in a persuasive manner. I’ll admit, both debaters seemed irritated, but the pastor’s words were often outright peevish, as if something RG said was a personal slight that must be avenged. Such quirks help paint a picture of a human being that is thin-skinned, ill-tempered, argumentative, with a tendency towards not thinking clearly.

I won’t go into a deep philosophical analysis of his points, because by this time in the debate, the pastors’s words are a jumbled mess. But there IS some fun to be had here. Some of his individual phrases or sentences are complete nonsense, and depending on your sense of humor, downright funny.

Let’s have a look:
I thank you for your response, and given its length, I may not be able to be as brief as I would have liked.
Russell spent about 4956 words responding to Stephens 5455 word fourth round post (discarding the administrivia at the outset of each post). What is he complaining about? This very first sentence gives us an indication of how close these guys are to crapping all over each other. Complaining about the length of each other’s posts - they both did it - is the least of their problems. The pastor has two points to justify, Russell has one. It shouldn’t take that long. Instead, Stephen will spend around 7800 words on this lengthy reply, and won’t move the ball forward an inch.
I did prove that atheism was impossible, and therefore by your own statement in your second response, I claimed victory.
That's delusional. The pastor proved nothing, so his claim of victory is based on ... nothing. We see this a lot in rounds four and five. He thinks he’s made an argument, but darned if I can detect it. (Remember Russell in round four? “’ve spent your most recent post trying to get people to reread the third post to mine out arguments that aren’t there.“) the pastor says argument-y sounding things, but they don't reach a conclusion based on rational or evidential support. For instance, he went on and on about induction in round three, but the closest he gets to developing a case that it renders lack of belief in the supernatural impossible, is to say that it renders lack of belief in the supernatural impossible. He doesn’t do the hard work of showing how the claim is believable.
I am starting to think that the presuppositional argument is going over your head
This is a riot.

Russell’s response: “A scientific paper that bragged that its readers are too dumb to comprehend the author’s wisdom would fail to advance its subject.“

I noticed that this prior quote of Stephen’s, and several others, specifically caught Russell’s eye as well as mine, so I won’t repeat the others. I do want to quote a couple of different gems, however. committed the red herring fallacy by putting the same argument you made in your second post, namely that I need to demonstrate that the existence of the Biblical God avoids the “so-called” arbitrariness.
This one pretty much confirms just how self-unaware the pastor is. It is not a red herring to request that Stephen demonstrate the existence of the biblical God. It is at the very core of Stephen’s argument, that this God exists. He doesn’t seem to recognize that we (everyone, theist and atheist alike) need to have good reasons for believing something is true. He hasn’t provided it. The core of his whole argument is still, due to his inaction, mere conjecture.
By definition, the universe cannot be self-existent
I picked out this snippet because of the modifier “by definition”. People like to say “by definition” without any idea of what the definition is or how it can be associated with the word that they’re claiming the definition applies to. It appears that the pastor wants us to believe that the universe cannot be self-existent, so that he can use that in building a case for some mysterious “other” that can swoop in out of the timeless, spaceless void and create it. So, the phrase “by definition” acts as a magic get-out-of-jail-free card that protects him from having to actually prove what he claims. Crafty!
...a necessary being is necessarily necessary!
This is now my favorite apologetics saying of all time! Do I need to explain this? Didn't think so