How to argue a presuppositional religious apologist

Monty Python demonstrates:

The only quibble I have with their tutorial is that I’ve never had to pay for one of these arguments — the disagreeable chap as portrayed by John Cleese tends to show up at your door unbidden, calling you by the wrong name and ignoring your wife entirely, completely fail to make any sort of point, then scuttle off and claim victory behind your back just when you were starting to get warmed up. Thankfully, at least, he didn’t charge me a pound each for the combination of argument and abuse I got. That’s like four bucks! And the bugger owes me a coffee, now, too. Doubt I’ll ever collect. Lousy welcher.

How to argue a presuppositional religious apologist

12 thoughts on “How to argue a presuppositional religious apologist

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    Hi – I’ve debated Sye Tenbruggencate on PA – details on my blog. I’ll be debating him again on Premier Christian Radio in February (dates to be confirmed).

  2. 3

    Yes, I am that Paul and you can claim your $10 🙂

    The first debate is already online and worth a listen to, although some people have said that they were tearing their hair out during parts of it. the debate is number 9 in their top ten (downloads prompted by several unflattering mentions on, otherwise it was broadcast on 31st July.

    Have you seen the UNCG debate on Youtube ? See Sye in action.

    I’m sincerely hoping that the second round will also get in the top ten.

    Did you ever debate Sye ?

  3. 4

    For some reason I had a brainfart in commenting here, thinking my recent apologist’s name was Paul — it’s Peter. I don’t generally go in for structured debates so much as dusting my knuckles on blogs and web forums, so I’ve never had the pleasure uh, distinction, of debating with Sye, though he’s a countryman. I can’t say that I’d find it a particularly enjoyable experience, to be in such a debate myself, but I’m going to enjoy listening to this debate nonetheless. The direct link, if others are interested, is here. I’ve just started it myself now.

  4. 5

    I’m not sure if I’m jumping into the argument here but often PAs cite particularly nasty moral issues as examples of something that is absolutely morally wrong, and where do we get that notion of absolute morality from – the big guy upstairs.

    Unfortunately, this misuses the concept of absoluteness.

    We can view the particularly nasty moral issue, and we can make a moral judgement based on our values as they exist now, within our society, our nation and also our timeframe. Nothing wrong with that. However, to then extend that moral judgement across all time (and all places) begs a question – are all of the other factors in the moral issue unchanged in those circumstances ?

    Thus the moral issue – sexually molesting babies for fun is absolutely morally wrong begs the question – will a human baby as defined in our timescale remain unchanged throughout all time ?

    If the PA is going to assert ‘yes’ then they need to do some serious justifying of that assertion given the changes in human physiology within recorded history.

    The point being that can a PA be certain that human development over the next say 1 billion years will not lead to human baby being born fully mature in all appropriate respects ?

    The obvious rebuttal to that line of argument is for the PA to state “No, that’s irrelevant, I’m talking about babies as they are now not at some wishy-washy hypotheical future time.”

    In which case they lose – an absolute is without condition or exception, and they’ve just applied a condition.

    I think that that is much better way of dealing with arguments about absolute morality.

    Just my tuppenceworth.

  5. 6

    My comment over on his blog:

    You should really consider taking a class in elementary logic Peter. One of your biggest errors is in assuming that because an argument presupposes some aspect of the premise it is deconstructing, such a presupposition means that the arguer actually accepts that premise. The problem with that…logic…is that it is simply not possible to expose the internal inconsistencies of a given construct without presupposing some aspect or another of that construct.

    The other glaring and fatal flaw in your argument, is the asinine notion that because a person accepts that morality is subjective, they must therefore accept anyone and everyone’s moral frame. Forgive the discourtesy, but that’s just stupid. There are, for example, a hell of a lot of Christians who believe that women should be subservient to their man – that this is in fact moral and good. There is no question that in their moral frame this is absolutely correct. I believe this is immoral because it is psychologically damaging both to women and men. I absolutely do not accept that moral framing as the least bit valid – all that I am accepting is that it is part of a moral framework that is completely contrary to my own.

    The subjectivity of morality is a demonstrable fact. This doesn’t mean that anyone has to accept anyone else’s moral frame as valid, it just means that one recognizes that other people have different moral frameworks.

    Take pedophilia for example. There are Christian sects that have, throughout history, engaged in what we would consider pedophilia today. They aren’t alone by any means, but are certainly included in the myriad cultures that would marry young girls off before they were actually sexually mature and begin breeding with them as soon as they began menstruating. In some cultures is was even acceptable not to wait until that precise moment.

    There are even some few cultural groups that believe this is moral today.

    The god of your bible not only accepted, but demanded that his people engage in genocide, rape and murder. At several points in history, this has been taken to mean that there is nothing inherently immoral about rape in warfare – even if that rape is of children.

    Seriously Peter, you should enroll in a intro logic class at your local community college. The very title of your blog presupposes that rational debate is an impossibility. I could just as easily say that creationist apologetics presupposes evolution. While there is no question that creationism is patently absurd, arguing that it presupposes evolution would be just as absurd.

    Your commentary reminds me of someone else who plagued both Jason and myself for quite some time, actually earning himself a ban on both our blogs. Only he actually openly admitted that his entire logical frame was predicated on biblical truth. While his claims about logic were just as absurd as yours, at least he didn’t try to pretend that his logic was externally valid (ie. valid outside the context of biblical inerrancy).

    Ok, George. Now I have a question for you. Given your acceptance of evolution and atheism, what’s the difference between a human killing a human, and a lion killing a zebra?

    That’s easy. Unless the human is a cannibal, the human killing a human has some abstract purpose – of which there are many to choose from. The lion on the other hand, is very likely killing for food. The only other reasons it might do so are because it has become rabid, or because it is “playing.” But even in the latter context, the zebra will still become a food source.

    Peter, you are out of your league here. If you continue to argue with Justin and his friends, you are going to continue to embarrass yourself and at least appear to be rather dishonest. Whether you actually are dishonest, or are just not particularly clever, most people who read your commentary are going to assume the former – or both the former and the latter.

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    I think Paul’s making a lot of sense, actually. He’s trying to explain one of the ridiculous mid-debate redefinitions of terms that presuppositional apologists tend to do. And man, do they ever love to redefine “absolute” and “subjective” mid-stream. They’ll get you to admit that something might be true, then assume that means you’re saying it must absolutely be true, then when you object to their added “absolutely”, they’ll complain.

    Peter did something even less sensical — he waited til we said it was not morally imperative to accept a fact as a fact, then claimed that meant he could deny the fact and therefore my entire argument was self-defeating. Never mind that I define fact as “objectively true no matter how people might wish it to be otherwise”, and therefore his refusing to believe it is equivalent to plugging his ears, closing his eyes and going “LA LA LA” in the face of anything that doesn’t fit his presupposed worldview. That doesn’t speak well to his ability to presuppose anything.

    DuWayne, I notice your comment didn’t make it through either. Comments by myself and George have failed to show up, and Peter even had the temerity of posting a “rebuttal” to George without letting George get a reply in — it was giving him errors earlier, so I suspect he may be blocked outright. I wouldn’t be surprised. He may be internalizing the idea that since he is not objectively bound to keep his word when he says he has an open commenting policy, he is free to claim he has one and subsequently moderate all to hell so that it looks like his paeans to ignorance are totally unopposed.

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    Sye Tenb! Yeah, that’s the guy I had something of a debate with on Ray Comfort’s blog a couple of years ago. I think he that was before he renamed it from “Comfort Food” to “Atheist Central.” That debate eventually ground to a halt because he kept on trying to claim reason, logic, and science for Jesus, and I wouldn’t let him steal three of humanity’s greatest inventions to support his assertion that God must exist because he supposedly “created” them. I mean, for crying out loud, humans took literally thousands of years to formulate the rules of logic, reason, and science. There’s no way I’m going to let some Christian pretend the scientific method is outlined in Deuteronomy, alongside the scriptures that teach lepers to cure their leprosy by sacrificing a couple of birds to Yahweh!

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    My guess was that he didn’t feel objectively obligated to be a repository for “falsehoods”. In other words, he’s not required to present a dissenting opinion if one is offered. He’s absolutely right, he’s not obligated: It is his blog. That doesn’t make it any less dishonest.

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    I don’t envy Paul’s encounters with those guys. Peter and his ilk engage in acts of mental masturbation that would put Van Til to shame. I don’t give a shit whether or not they believe logic and reason can only be granted by their god. They can sod off and STFU as far as I’m concerned.

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