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!

No comments:

Post a Comment