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.

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