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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Is the "Argument from Filibuster" a thing?

Again, mad props to Russell Glasser at the Atheist Experience for having the patience and perseverance to engage in a debate with Pastor Stephen Feinstein , and to deliver calm, mature and rational responses. His final post is worthy of framing.

Second, it would be presumptuous of me to pick up the commentary of Pastor Stephen Feinstein's delightful brand of presuppositional apologetics without a disclaimer and a tip of the hat to Deacon Duncan at Evangelical Realism. The disclaimer is that I'm not as smart, insightful or as good a writer as Deacon, so I don't presume to replace or even supplement him in any way. The tip of the hat is that, if you're interested in examples of fine counter-apologetics, you must visit his blog. Even though he's on indefinite hiatus, the place is full of treasure - much of which I'm still mining.

Although I've made the odd comment on Evangelical Realism, and published the odd post here regarding this extraordinarily weird display of apologetics, I decided to reboot in order to bring the series to a close. Thus, a second installment.

Today's business:

With three full rounds and the opening paragraphs of the fourth round under my belt, it was apparent that I could say a slight bit more about the first half of the debate than I did last time.

Pastor Stephen Feinstein started his debate with Russell Glasser by stating

“I will give a general opening that will describe ... why I believe atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible.“ and “I argue from the outset for the Christian position only, and I affirm that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility.“
These two statements serve, as well as any he made, as his main arguments.

It’s apparent that the pastor is attempting to follow the presuppositionalist program of apologetics, what with the focus on epistemology, worldviews and the copious use of, and wrangling over the implications of the word ”presupposition”.

Additionally, some "themes" seem to have emerged from the pastor’s excessive verbiage, whether by accident or on purpose. I’ll label them as follows:

Theme #1: The discussion of and arguments about science belong in the realm of philosophy, especially epistemology.

Theme #2: The atheistic random-chance universe makes the uniformity of nature impossible.

Theme #3: The problem of induction renders science impossible.

Theme #4: Atheistic preconditions cannot be justified, rendering knowledge built on them invalid.

Theme #5: The Christian God and a worldview built on him renders science and knowledge rational and valid.

There may be more themes, or I may have partitioned these incorrectly, but I’m comfortable in using them to describe where the pastor has been in the debate so far.

For a rational empiricist like myself - the pastor insists on labeling people, so I’m going down that rat hole as well - for the rational empiricist, we find characteristics in the real world that demonstrate that the pastor's themes are evidentially or rationally unsupported, or that contradict those themes in part or in whole. Let me label them as follows:

CounterTheme #1: The discussion of and arguments about science may be exercised in the realm of philosophy, but the practice and products of science are in the real world, and deal with real things. They are in the physical realm, in spite of the pastor’s claims to the contrary.

CounterTheme #2: Atheists individually have worldviews, but a unified “atheist worldview” held by the majority of atheists is a fabrication. Atheists only share a position about one topic - the existence of God. Consequently, a “random-chance universe” - a hypothetical construct fabricated by apologists for just these kinds of arguments - is erroneously attributed to atheists as a group. Neither the “atheist worldview” generalization nor the ascribed belief in the “random-chance universe“ has anything to do with reality.

CounterTheme #3: Induction is a way that we reason from particulars to generalities, but it's not the only way that people learn. Karl Popper would argue induction is a myth altogether, and that science relies on criticism and correction.

Personally, the philosophical “problem of induction” only seems troublesome if someone is attempting to arrive at “absolute truth” solely by inductive inference - without sense experience, trial-and-error, deduction, or any other means of gaining knowledge. So on that point alone, the pastor's criticism misses badly. Additionally, since absolutes are so rarely encountered in real life, the problem of induction, even if it's the sole means used to gain knowledge, rarely presents an impediment to acquiring reasonably practical, imperfect knowledge.

CounterTheme #4: Everyone makes unsupported assumptions. If naturalistic preconditions cannot be said to be axiomatic, then neither can supernaturalistic ones. It's extraordinarily unlikely that some compelling case can be made for unwarranted supernaturalistic presuppositions - and yet the Pastor's whole case rests on it.

CounterTheme #5: God is an obsolete hypothetical explanation for aspects of reality that have been explained better in other ways. He/she/it/they do not appear in the world, and exert no effect on physical reality that cannot be explained equally or better by natural means.

Let me point out again, Russell and Deacon both made most, if not more counterpoints than I just listed. I didn't cheat by referring back to them - so forgive me wherever I missed a point that you thought was prominent.

Face it, the pastor is not good at this presupp shtick. He didn't make concise persuasive arguments. What he did was more akin to a filibuster - that's why I use the term "theme" in favor of the expected concept "argument". At the very least, he could have been more persuasive by stating Themes 1 through 4 as premises, with Theme 5 as the conclusion. He would have had to add supporting warrants and subtract much of his unfocused filibuster in order to clearly make his case, but it was possible. Instead, his unwillingness or inability to get to the point really cost him readers, respect from his atheist antagonists and souls for Jesus.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


After watching my first debate featuring William Lane Craig - the 2011 affair with Sam Harris, I came away impressed with Craig's organization and preparation, ability to speak clearly, and his apparent skill at addressing objections and more-or-less controlling the flow of a debate. Although I thought - and still think - Harris did well, and made many good points, Craig appeared to "win" the debate.

Other bloggers and commenters were not so impressed, and pointed out the dishonesty that Craig exhibits in apparently all of his debates. I've since come to recognize this.

A prime example of Craig's dishonesty is on display in a 6 minute video snippet at
The A-Unicornist blog. The topic of the video is "Objections So Bad I Couldn't Have Made Them Up - The World's Ten Worst Objections To The Kalam Cosmological Argument" - a talk Craig gave to Biola University students. The full talk can be seen on Dr. Craig's website Reasonable Faith.

The snippet at A-Unicornist tells us all we need to know. Since Craig is citing "infidel websites" and YouTube as the folks making the criticisms, I'll grant that he's not just attacking a straw man. After all, any nut with a blog can make any insane claim they want - present company included.

The problems arise early:

At 2:20, he is defending the soundness of Kalam by saying that the argument was being defended 1000 years ago by Al-Ghazali - as if that makes it sound because Al-Ghazali said it. Classic argument from authority.

At 2:50 he starts arguing that what he believes makes a good argument is that the argument's negation is not true. He ignores all other possible arguments. Classic False Choice.

It is just not believable that a Doctor of Philosophy, such as Craig, is not aware of the fallacious arguments he's making. He's speaking from prepared notes, for dog's sake.

It's probably just Craig being dishonest - for Christ.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Pastor bores another interested party to tears

In my late twenties, I read Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Number of the Beast” - a science fiction novel that explored travel through extra dimensions. It held my interest through about 80% of the book, but I couldn’t finish it. As much as I liked Heinlein, the last 75-100 pages were excruciating. They droned on and on. Pastor Stephen Feinstein is like that in his debate with Russell Glasser .

I started reading the individual debate posts during the first week of November of last year, and soon discovered that Deacon Duncan was doing a much more thorough job at Evangelical Realism than I ever would, so I dropped an attempt at writing this up. Then, a few weeks ago, Deacon burned out after reviewing the Pastor’s 4th post, and kinda left me feeling unfulfilled. So here I am, looking to get closure.

So, what's left me feeling so empty? Wellllll... It’s like this, doc:

Round One Recap

The Pastor’s first post throws down the gauntlet, somewhat, by exclaiming

“I believe atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible" [and] "I affirm that the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility."
The Christian Worldview includes, of course, belief in a triune God. Stephen professes his belief in this, so we have his position clearly stated, and we expect his arguments to launch from there. He doesn’t launch them in this post, however.

Russell’s first post counters with a rejection of the Pastor’s claim that “Atheism possesses a distinct view of reality (materialism)” etc ... but he admits that “I personally do lean towards materialism, humanism, and a scientific approach to learning about the world” ... he describes himself as an “atheist humanist scientific skeptic”

He goes on to contrast his position in comparison to Stephen’s as

“All else being equal, it’s better not to assume that something is true without good reasons.”

Russell then closes with what he feels the pastor needs to do to win the debate, specifically:

“Give me some good reasons why I should view God, as you define him, as a being that exists; OR, Make me understand that it is foolish to seek reasons for anything, and it’s a good idea to just believe something like your god for no reason.”

This is a fairly uncontroversial beginning.

Round Two

In his second post, the pastor gives more of “I’m gonna do this”, but no actual doing of the “this”. There are several thousand words in this post, but no detectable argument supporting his round one claims that “atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible" and "the Christian worldview is the only worldview that is possible given the preconditions of intelligibility”.

Russell detects this, and calls him out:

“if you have any interest whatsoever in definitively showing me and other atheists that we hold an untenable position, then you’re going to have to give me some motivation to accept your assumptions over mine. If you can’t do that, then by your own prior promises, you will have lost.”

This apparently hurts the pastor’s feelings.

Round Three Recap

It gets weird in Round Three.

In a lot of formal debate settings, the opponents go out of their way to be polite and respectful. I believe that politeness pays dividends, because the word “atheist” is usually painted as all sorts of bad: baby-eating, church-burning, religious rights-oppressing atheists. Face it, a calm explanation that there is nothing supernatural going on in the world may convince a believer, or it may not. Yelling at them or ridiculing them beyond their tolerance for ridicule probably makes them more entrenched in their belief, so Russell's being fairly restrained so far.

In this debate, however, the pastor just starts spewing unfocused nonsense. It ramps up significantly in this third post, and then gets worse in following posts. It makes it hard to be respectful of the pastor from here on out. He just really sucks at this. On to the recap:

The pastor immediately whines:

"I am disappointed in your response [...] your condescending remark about me spending many paragraphs on something trivial was unwarranted and unnecessary."
It would be difficult to be won over by this display of thin skin.

Then there’s more emotional gnashing of teeth:

you are doing exactly what I feared you would do“ [...followed by an accusation that Russell is...] “putting forth smoke and mirrors to try to get out of the trap that your position puts you in”
This was said in spite of the fact that he makes no effort to illustrate what the smoke and mirrors are, nor what the trap is that Russell is allegedly in. Thus we have the beginnings of the pattern that will reappear through the rest of the debate. Whine, accuse, claim victory, interject incomplete philosophical claims - and do it in a haphazard order that makes it difficult to understand what he’s getting at. He went on like this for about 30 more paragraphs. If you didn't know better, you'd suspect he was being purposely obtuse.

To give you an idea of how verbose this is: In a “normal” debate, opening statements might be the longest of all spoken segments. The subsequent rebuttal, objection, and closing segments tend to get shorter as the debate progresses. The opposite is true here. The pastor expends about 5500 words (not counting his salutation) - or about 60% more than William Lane Craig might use in his entire opening - and longest - statement.

The pastor also trotted out some other themes that would reoccur:

“atheistic universe where the governing principle is random chance” ... “transcendental logic” ... “ducking the issue of presuppositions"

Notable crazy rantlet:

"if your presuppositions can be shown to be impossible, then does not your entire position come tumbling down? The answer is yes, whether you like it or not."
Tellingly, he doesn't recognize that he hasn't demonstrated that Russell's presuppositions are impossible, and he never presents a plausible alternative. It's as if he has an imaginary debate going on in his head, and we don't get to see his best work.

... "inductive inference / uniformity of nature" ... "transcendental precondition” ... On and on and on these buzz-phrases roll - a few wrapped in intelligible sentences, but few in intelligible paragraphs.

What he appears to be doing is saying that inductive and deductive inferences are unreliable because they rely on presuppositions, and that presuppositions must be explained. He conveniently forgets that his whole “God” alternative is an unwarranted presupposition.

In his half of the round Russell calls him out, on his presupposition of God, his misuse of the word “random” and his erroneous “atheism implies a random universe“ attack.

Finally, Russell summarizes the Round Three exchange nicely:

1. Both Stephen and Russell should agree that some concepts are axiomatic, requiring no explanation. For Stephen, the axiom is God. For Russell, reality and logic are axiomatic, and God is a needless insertion.

2. Stephen cannot assert that the existence of logic requires justification, unless he also attempts to offer a justification of God. If he believes that this is unnecessary, then he should grant point.

3. If the assumptions for all parties are arbitrary then Russell should win this debate, since Stephen failed to meet the burden of proof that he implied when stating that atheism is impossible. If the belief in God is merely Stephen’s preferred assumption, then it is not necessary, and may be discarded due to Occam’s Razor.

4. Stephen’s claim that a godless universe must be a random universe (where “random” is used to mean “inconsistent,” “illogical,” or “haphazard,” as opposed to merely “undirected”) requires justification, otherwise I reject the premise.

5. Stephen should justify how a God would go about “creating” the laws of logic, without himself being subject to logic.

Next time, I’ll break out Round Four separately, and attempt to pick up where Deacon left off.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The foundation of intelligibility

I remarked on this paragraph by Dr. Greg Bahnsen last week . It's worth closer examination.

The issue is not what the unbeliever can do intellectually, but whether he can give an account of it (epistemologically) within the worldview he has advocated or espoused. Because all autonomous perspectives take man’s interpretation of the world to be “original”-to be the primary ordering of particulars or “rationalizing” (making systematic sense out of) the brute facts, it puts man at the center of the knowing process-and pays the price for doing so by slipping in subjectivism and skepticism ultimately (when consistent and driven to the logical outcome of his presuppositions

Bahnsen’s implication that “... man at the center of the knowing process...” is somehow inadequate or erroneous is a strange perspective. Here’s why I think so:

“Brute facts”. Without man around to perceive, interpret and have discourse on his perceptions and interpretations of those perceptions, brute facts are all there is. There may be animals capable of forming primitive interpretations of how and why what they perceive is as they perceive it, but we don’t know that today, and we can't have discourse with them on these subjects today. Consequently, we appear to be justified in asserting that we humans are the only ones that can reason. If we’re not around to reason - to know about things - then what you are left with is spacetime, matter, energy and the forces that act on them. You are left with brute facts. At time T=x, the observable universe of spacetime, matter, energy and the forces that act on them are arranged in a certain way - a “state”. At time T=x+1, that state has changed. There's no rational discussion to have about the first state, the second state, or how and why the two states are different, or how and why they came to be different. There are no rational beings to have the discussion.

As beings that have arisen in this universe, and have (arguably) minds that are capable of perceiving, interpreting and reasoning, what we humans can do is wonder about how we came to having those capabilities. This is where Dr. Bahnsen commits some egregious errors. He assumes that because he has no physical explanation for human reasoning, that a non-physical, supernatural explanation is adequate. He doesn’t have an explanation for that non-physical, supernatural explanation, he just asserts that it is the explanation. There is no good reason to accept this assertion - none. Depending on where and how you analyze an assertion like this, Dr. Bahnsen can be shown to commit a bare assertion fallacy, an argument from ignorance, special pleading, and probably others.

I'm beginning to think presuppositional apologetics is indicative of a personality flaw as much as it is an indication of a flaw in reason.

That’s as snarky as I need to get today.

Fare well Deacon Duncan

Deacon Duncan of Evangelical Realism and Alethian Worldview is one of my favorite bloggers - his attention to details and his perseverance in unearthing apologist foolishness have been fascinating and inspiring to me. Over the last year and a half, I've happily followed his careful deconstruction of William Lane Craig's book "On Guard", a series on presumably the first apologist - Justin Martyr, and finally a detailed examination of Pastor Stephen Feinstein's rather inane and irritating “arguments” against atheism in his on-line debate with Russell Glasser.

His prior efforts on Evangelical Realism and Alethian Worldview were also worthy reads - I especially appreciate his Gospel Hypothesis series.

Deacon is now burned out by all this.

I understand the burnout. There is no physical evidence for a supernatural scheme of any sort, let alone God. The classic arguments for the existence of God are shot through with logical fallacies - they fail without exception. Current attempts by modern apologists are mostly awful, and occasionally bizarrely foolish. No wonder Deacon is burned out. I believe that the best counter-apologists (like Duncan) reach the limit of knowledge on the subject of theism and apologia, because it is not a real science. It is an attempt to make excuses for a superstitious mode of thinking that should have been dead millennia ago. New “arguments” are just reformulations of old arguments that were never any good to begin with.

There's no “there” there.

Here’s to Deacon - may he fare well. And may we see him down the road.