This is the penultimate installment of this series on presuppositional apologetics. In this post I shall be dealing a little more with the erstwhile atheist “expert” appealed to by FF and company and demonstrating his ignorance. I shall also engage more comments by FF etc., and show how presuppositionalism overturns them.
The Facts of External Existence
What shall I call the individual whose video snippet attacking Jason Lisle and presuppositional apologetics was relied upon by FF? As he poses as someone who has put his finger on “the fundamental flaw” of presuppositional apologetics, I shall dub him “Flaw.”
You will recall that Flaw presented presuppositionalists as mistaking the “distinction between the laws of logic and what these laws refer to.” He then went on to misrepresent Lisle by showing an abbreviated clip of a longer presentation, which it seems he had not watched. On the basis of the abbreviated clip he branded Lisle a liar, as well as slinging some other choice epithets his way, none of which I shall reproduce here. One should note in passing that Flaw assumes a moral ground upon which to stand in order to malign Lisle.
Now, as I showed last time, Lisle in fact does make the very distinction he was supposed not to make. As a matter of fact, this distinction between logic and the objects it describes is so basic that one has to wonder at the effrontery of Flaw in thinking we had missed it (ditto FF and his buddies). But then again, arrogance is blind.
Within his short critique, Flaw quips about “the facts of existence” and “the relationship between those entities.” He speaks about “the fact of identity, [which] depends on the existence of anything at all.”
Now, any reader of Cornelius Van Til will instantly note that the notion of “fact” in unbelieving worldviews is the very thing he trains his guns on. The fundamental difference between the Christian philosophy of fact from the non-Christian view, is that for the Christian the facts are all preinterpreted by God, and are thus part of an integrated whole. When our interpretation of any fact corresponds to God’s interpretation (though not exhaustively), we can claim true knowledge, and that knowledge is connectible to other knowledge.
But in the non-Christian approach to facts, it is not the mind of the infinite God who makes the facts what they are, and connects them up, but rather the minds of finite men. So when the unsaved person comes across a fact, he or she must have another system in which to place it. It will not be God’s system (though it will often of necessity overlap with it), so it must be one of their own making. It is this new system; this alternative worldview, which the presuppositional apologist will go after. Atheism in its guises is one of these systems. Others are represented by the non-Christian religions and cults.
Turning to Flaw’s statements one can easily see that he assumes “the facts of existence” and their necessary connections without giving any basis for his assumption. Remember that the transcendental argument for God’s existence (or TAG) asks the unbeliever to quit using the worldview he says he rejects (the biblical one), and contrive another worldview in which his assertions make any sense. Flaw has to tell us how he knows “the facts of external existence” lie outside of his mind, that is, are actually external, and how he knows they are what he says they are. This is no small feat. In fact, it has eluded the greatest philosophers from Plato to Bertrand Russell. Plato couldn’t prove that his realm of static forms existed, nor could he say how they related to a world of constant change. Russell tried to tie the “facts” to a language of logic and ended up dismissing every vestige of knowledge into the empty void of Hume’s skepticism. Readers who followed my correspondence with “Dormant Dragon” a few years back, or who read my interactions with FF will know that they were both presented with this problem. Dormant Dragon, to her credit, at least admitted she did not possess the philosophical nous to respond. FF simply ignored the point like it was never put to him.
Without the biblical God to assure him that his mind is not inventing reality, and the connections he is assuming, on what basis can the atheist talk about “the facts of [external] existence.”? Can he do it empirically? He runs smack into Hume’s critique of induction and causation. That is, Hume (and Russell) said that we cannot empirically prove cause and effect. Can he do it via logical deduction? Then he must tell us how he knows the objects and class concepts he wishes to make inferences about actually exist beyond his brain. Berkeley, along with many Hindus, say they didn’t exist. Kant said they didn’t exist as we perceive them.
“Of course they exist” is not an answer. We know they do – on the Christian worldview, but FF rejects that worldview! If he cannot prove that anything exists beyond himself, how is he to use the laws of identity or non-contradiction? The world out there may only exist like dreams “exist.”
A Deistic God
“a deistic god can be defined as possessing all the necessary characteristics; after all, that’s what you are doing with Yahweh.”
Then he defines a deistic god this way:
“A deistic god is any god which while responsible for one or more aspects of the natural world, does not directly interact with its creation. That’s it.”
Ooookay. If any more validation needs to be given for my terminating the discussion with FF, this is it. According to FF’s own definition, a deistic god does not have any interaction with its creation. Now aside from the begged question of how one could possibly know whether this god created anything, let’s just focus for a moment on this position. This definition rules out any revelation; verbal or natural; any miracle, any incarnation, any providence, any communicated attributes like love, mercy, justice, wisdom, truth, and logic. But nevermind these incidentals, FF has told us, “a deistic god can be defined as possessing all the necessary characteristics.”!!!
This is the same person who couldn’t get the Trinity right; who thinks Mark’s Gospel says Jesus wasn’t called Jesus till after the crucifixion; thinks Jesus never existed anyway; and who thinks his ridiculous version of presuppositional apologetics correctly represents the real one – even when he is given samples proving his straw man fallacies. All this from a supposedly unbiased position!
I shall not spend long over this one. The God of the Bible, whether you trust Him or not, IS the God of the Bible! If you are going to try to refute Him, you cannot do it by disproving a god who is NOT of the Bible! A god of this variety is, by the way, often aimed at by proponents of evidential apologetics, which assumes neutral common ground with the unbeliever. These are the very things presuppositionalism is dead against, which is why it rejects evidentialism (though not evidences).
Being a “grad student in biology”, and a self-styled “autodidact” in debating theists has nothing to do with whether he is talking nonsense or not. This is the fallacy of appeal to authority. In this case his own. It is a great help in these cases when the autodidact (i.e. he’s self-taught) gets to debate both sides. If he decides the theist needs a well deserved clobbering, he can dish it out with alacrity.
Now please don’t think I am picking on an isolated instance. This is an exemplar of the sort of thing one encounters from atheists. Some of them will not be so ignorant of Christian Theology (though most will), and some will at least have enough about them to try to listen to the argument you present rather the invent one for you, but well nigh all will simply assume they are looking at the arguments neutrally – even the professional ones like Richard Carrier or Michael Martin. One of these recent antagonists on FB tried to attack Stephen Meyer’s latest book without having read it or its predecessor. When I wouldn’t give his “scientific” arguments the time of day he said it was I was avoiding the evidence! What counts as evidence for an atheist is not always evidence for a Christian. This is because, as I have already said, facts must be interpreted. Under certain interpretations they become evidence, but under other interpretations they are not.
How Ought We To Live?
Perhaps my favorite part of our exchange came when FF tried to clear up a few problems I had with atheist ethics. I had asked:
“Why should not harming others be deemed ethical and doing harm to others ethical [too]?”
“Because I don’t know about you,…but I and the overwhelming majority of human beings, as well as all other animals that have a nervous system, instinctually seek pleasure and avoid pain. It is our nature.”
In the first instance, this appeal to “the majority” is a logical fallacy known as ad populum. C. S. Lewis once quipped that counting noses might be a great method of running a government, but it is no necessary criterion for truth.” And Immanuel Kant advised, “don’t count voices, weigh them.”
Be that as it may, it ought to be clear that FF has not given an answer to my question (this is the fallacy of irrelevant thesis), he has given us his opinion (as well as the opinion of nature’s critters it seems). Moreover, he has done what atheists generally end up doing and reduced morality to the level of animal instinct, which, of course, is amoral. But I haven’t yet gotten to the good bit:
I asked him: “Why are your ethics better than a sociopath’s?”
FF’s answer was,
“They aren’t any ‘better’ in any kind of objective sense, because ‘better’ is by definition wholly dependent on the goal, which is by definition subjective…From the sociopath’s thankfully extreme minority position, their views of morality are true, however the overwhelming majority of people in civilized countries disagree and thus we lock them up.”
Having then deprived us of the ethical measurement of “better” (along with good, bad, best, worse), we are told that sociopaths (and no doubt rapists, murderers, warlords, etc), have a form of morality that is true, albeit we lock them up since their true position clashes with that of the majority! What happens when the majority decides that genocide of another people group is moral? Again, it seems FF wants to come to moral conclusions by counting noses.
Chiming in to help matters was another chap named “Brit Free Thinker.” This person disagreed with FF’s output on this subject and substituted it for a pot pourri of Gene Roddenberry ethics thus,
“Objectivity is always deterministic based on the given time frame.” He gives the example of saying “the earth is a sphere” and me saying “that could change someday” because an asteroid might take a chunk out of it in the future. In the same way, he says, morality may change depending on time and circumstances. He then opines, “I cannot decide what is moral or immoral based on my own desire any more than you or [FF] can.”
Then he goes on to give his opinion on child-bearing:
“Having ten kids is actually wrong morally in today’s day and age. No argument can be made against this.”
How about nine? But really, is this anything more than amateur moralizing? What standard above his own noggin is he using to make such pronouncements? And given the fact that materialistic Europeans and Americans have failed to have enough children to guarantee the survival of their races for many generations to come, how would Brit Free Thinker respond? Relativistically no doubt.
As instinctual biological machines, human beings (in the atheistic outlook) are not in control of their instincts; they just act and think according to their wiring. This means, of course, that atheists ought to be like Sam Harris, who has just written a book (Free Will) in which he denies free thinking to anyone – atheists included (recall the two quotes at the end of Part Three). But then Harris’s thesis applies to Harris himself; in which case Harris’s argument is not a description of truth for us all, but simply a setting down of the output of his brain chemistry, with no essential connection to anything beyond that chemistry at all.
We’ll finish this up next time…