“This is What You Believe Whether You Admit It or Not”
The line above is not a quote, but represents an accurate paraphrase of the atheist [FF – who just showed up one day dissing presuppositional apologetics], whom I have been debating on the TELOS Facebook page and here. It is because of this attitude that I have called a halt to the proceedings. It is also the attitude of the individual who FF is relying on to guide him through the VanTillian methodology. Unfortunately for him this “guide” is completely inept and misunderstands presuppositionism as much as FF does.
In the first part of this series I wrote this:
The assertion of PA is not that unbelievers do not know things. It is that they are unable to account for what they know using their unbelieving outlooks. And if they cannot account for the their arguments from within their own outlook, they should give it up and find one that does account for it. And Christian presuppositionalists claim that the only outlook or worldview which accounts for facts, values, logic, justice, beauty, etc. is the Christian worldview of the Bible.
THAT is what we were supposed to be discussing. What the presuppositional argument seeks for is a comparison of philosophies of life. So naturally, PA presses the challenger to articulate their worldview. In philosophical terms, we need their theory of reality (what constitutes the world), their epistemology (how do they know what they claim to know?), and their ethics (what constitutes the good and why?). In the case of Biblical Christianity that information is to be drawn from the Bible: it is what we call Christian Theology.
Without the conversation being centered on that ground the TAG argument cannot really begin. The Christian who is obeying 2 Corinthians 10:5 is not going to surrender his position before the discussion has got off the ground. And we do not expect the non-Christian to capitulate so easily either.
Although it was clear to me immediately that FF did not know whereof he was speaking, I hoped he would come around by paying attention to what I said. He continued to plow a furrow miles away from the right field, so the conversation stopped. From the very outset FF was told he had mischaracterized TAG (the transcendental argument for God’s existence), and was given a true definition and example. But he and one or two others, is convinced that I am using the charge of misrepresentation as a feint to excuse myself from an embarrassing defeat at his hands.
He was quick – very quick – to react the instant he thought he was being misrepresented. But was as slow as a tortoise in correcting himself on the many occasions the boot was on the other foot. If he had paid attention he would have started setting out and discussing his worldview; perhaps with a justification of logic? But he did not. And when, at the close of the discussion, he blithely stated that we “created logic” and that “the laws of logic DON’T work in the extended world”, and that “If we die, the laws of logic die with us”, well, I haven’t got the time to mess around with “reasoning” like that.
Yes, I know. That position on logic alone destroys itself and all rational discourse about the world, but FF doesn’t see it, and I cannot get him to. He remains ignorant both of his own presuppositions, of Christian theology, and the presuppositional argument which he sallied forth to attack. Since this ignorance is irresistible (meaning he will not be corrected) the discussion was called off.
The mentality involved here is, from one angle, hard to fathom. If an atheist who had been teaching his arguments for years at grad level told me I was not understanding him and was caricaturing his reasoning, I would, out of fairness and respect, try harder to reach agreement on what he was saying. For me to arrogantly claim I understood him and had refuted him (in ten minutes no less!), while my opponent was calmly telling me I had completely missed the thrust of his argument, would be the height of pseudo-intellectual hubris. FF plays this part, and so I decided that to proceed with him would be pointless and a waste of everybody’s time.
But the issues raised do provide me with a chance at demonstrating presuppositionalism again. Since FF never really interacted with TAG (despite his conviction otherwise), there is not much in his writing which is very helpful as an attempted rebuttal of it. But I shall be able to utilize it all the same as a foil for PA. I shall also examine some other miscues from other atheists who agreed with him (as well as the ridiculous video clip he depends on). I shall take my time doing this. Perhaps I shall use another four or five posts. This will, I hope, help believers for whom this kind of apologetic is new.
Atheists Are Unbiased – Really!
The default position of nearly every atheist you will come up against will be that they are neutral. They just want the facts. They are patiently waiting to be convinced that Christianity is not a bunch of illogical hokum. That entirely naive stance is the whole basis for their argument against Christianity, and they will try to stick to it like super-glue. It is the thickest stump on their argumentative stool. Knock it away and watch the whole thing fall. Atheists must tenaciously believe in the phantom of neutrality. To change the metaphor, it is the curtain behind which their prejudicial opinions and raw emotions conceal themselves. When you point out to them that no one is without bias they will very often ignore the comment. That is precisely what FF did. He is a naturalist (probably a philosophical materialist, although he never got round to declaring himself). As a naturalist he will only accept naturalistic explanations of things. Supernaturalism is out. Hence, the Christian worldview is out: not (please note) at the end of the discussion, but before we even start! And that’s what being unbiased looks like. 😉
The Christian should expect this, although it takes very little effort to see where his bias lies. As for me, I owned up to my Christian bias right off the bat. The transcendental argument (TAG) requires the believer to do just that, and it is only honest to do it. I am not neutral. Before I became a Christian I thought I was – but I was not. I was anti-Christian! I refused to accept the Bible as God’s Word without even reading it and considering its worldview. Also, I had my own ideas about what “faith” was (something like believing in what you know isn’t true), and I wasn’t going to allow a person of faith to correct me. Now, long after I recommended he peruse my Statement of Faith so he would know what I believed, FF blurted out on Facebook that he had no respect for anyone who had a Statement of Faith. He thought a Christian having such a thing was “intellectually dishonest!” In his book declaring what one believes is intellectually dishonest. Ummm….??? Right.
If Atheism is True, How Does One Explain the Existence of Logic, etc?
The atheist wants to start with reason. BUT – only if he can keep it’s use within his own atheistic worldview! He must set the rules of the game. He is unbiased you see! Now, the Christian certainly wants to reason too. But will he reason from an atheistic position? How preposterous! No, he will reason from a Christian position. That is his bias. The atheist must be intellectually honest enough to admit that he too has a bias. As I pointed out before, being biased in the direction of the truth is a good thing. But the question now arises, which bias – that of the atheist (in this case) or the Christian – leads to the truth?
For that question to be answered, we must explore the foundational set of presuppositions which lead us to argue the way we do. We must explore and critique each others worldviews. The atheist can ask me how I account for logic and its comportment with the world beyond ourselves (i.e. in analysis of things in the world or with discussions with other people)? I will ask him the same question, and we will see which one makes sense of experience and which one doesn’t.It is my contention that my Statement of Faith, to the degree that it correctly mirrors the Bible, does provide the necessary preconditions for logic (it reflects the mind of God), justice and ethics (which reflect the holy character of God), history (grounded in the creation and providence of God), science (grounded in creation and our imaging God and our God given ability to explore the world, and God’s promise in the Noahic covenant), love (the character of God), and on and on. In the Christian outlook then, we must pursue the knowledge of God through His Self-revelation in order to know about ourselves and the world. And the Biblical Worldview informs us how we can do that.
What about the atheist? How does he fare?
FF thinks he has answered this problem by asserting “we created logic.” I already replied that if this is so logic is not eternal since we are not eternal, and there is no reason to believe it corresponds to anything beyond our brains. If logic is an “accident” dependent upon human minds, we must ask two follow up questions: 1. how does the atheist account for the fact that logic connects with the world outside? (I’m going to ignore FF’s ridiculous view that it doesn’t, since if that were true he couldn’t reason with or about anything but himself. And he couldn’t even do that since logic requires classes of things beyond us to function), 2. if all reality comes from chaos, like atheists believe, how does physical chaos produce non-physical laws of thought?
The standard reply is that, as I have already said, the atheist declares “logic is just there.” Is that giving a pre-condition for logic? Suppose I visit San Francisco with a friend and we gaze at the Golden Gate Bridge, and my friend asks me how it got there. I respond, “It’s just there!” Would anyone think I had answered my friend’s question? No, they would think I was a bit dense for answering that way. In effect, a “how did that get there?” question is a precondition question; an inquiry seeking an account of something. The presuppositionalist wants the atheist to answer the “how did it get there?” questions about logic, beauty, love, induction and deduction, history, justice, goodness, evil, and the rest. He wants the atheist to stop muttering “can’t we agree that it’s just there” and begin making sense of it using only his atheist beliefs. When the atheist finally comes down off his high-horse and begins providing a philosophy of atheism which can explain all this, something interesting will happen. He will get confused and tongue-tied. He will try to base rationality upon original irrationality; ethical norms on revolving door of Darwinian blind contingency; and he will back away from explaining the reliability of our senses faster than you can say “don’t say it’s just there.”
No, We Can’t Just Agree
We see then that the Christian is not to allow the atheist to pretend he can use terms like “rational”, “logical”, “wrong”, “true”, until he has supplied us a workable definition of those words which comport with the way he claims the world really is. According to FF, the precondition (the precondition, mind) of logic is “we created them.” The precondition for normative ethics is, “the desire not to harm or be harmed.”
Just think about this a second. If we created the laws of logic they would really only be rules of logic akin to rules of a game. But, of course, they are not like that. Logic is law-like whether we are rational (i.e. following the laws of logic) or not. They therefore, do not depend on us. If they do not depend on us, how can we create them? If I say, “my birthplace is in Manchester, England”, and “my birthplace is not in Manchester, England”, I am contradicting myself. I am contradicting myself about a place outside of myself (Manchester exists whether or not I was born there). Does that fact depend on whether or not I believe it? No. Does the fact that there is a contradiction depend on whether I see one or not? No again. And what applies to me applies equally to every person ever born. These laws (like the laws of science) exist independently of our minds. We did not “create them.” How will the atheist account for this obvious fact? If they say logic evolved with the cosmos then logic (and math) cannot be law-like or necessary. And perhaps the laws of logic will alter as we evolve further, so that what is illogical now will become somehow logical in the future? Of course, such a view of logic as mutable makes all reason relative.
What about ethics? Does the view of ethics as “the desire that we not harm or be harmed” sound more like an opinion to you? Do you know of any human beings who desire to harm others? If they have that desire via evolution, how can it be “wrong”? Ever heard of the Spartans? or the Mayans? Who is FF to say those who differ from him are unethical? Where is their authority for this declaration? Why would such desires (more like instincts) be considered in terms of right and wrong anyway? You see, FF has not given a foundation for morality at all. He has given his opinion. In fact, even one of his fellow atheists on FB rejected such a view in favor of a pragmatic personal agenda. In his case, having more than two kids was unethical in today’s crowded world. Right and wrong is relative depending on the assumed needs of the moment. Here are some more differing opinions:
Rape is “a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage,” akin to “the leopard’s spots and the giraffe’s elongated neck.” — Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, “Why Men Rape,” 2000
“As evolutionists, we see that no [ethical] justification of the traditional kind is possible. Morality, or more strictly our belief in morality, is merely an adaptation put in place to further our reproductive ends. Hence the basis of ethics does not lie in God’s will…. In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. It is without external grounding.” — E. O. Wilson and Michael Ruse, “The Evolution of Ethics,” 1991
You see, in the atheist worldview there is no normative ethics. There is just opinion. As Nietzsche rightly said, all that is left is a “will to power,” and whoever has the power can determine what is ethical. Atheism cannot produce an “ought” from a naturalistic “is.”
More next time…