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.

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