Presuppositional apologetics: still intellectually bereft

Our ally on the other side of the Atlantic, Paul Baird of Patient and Persistant, took on countryman Christian Sye Tenbruggencate (I’m sure you know him — he made this site!) on Premier Christian Radio a few months ago, and has returned for another joust. Having had a chance to take on Tenbruggencate once in the past, it’s obvious that this time around Paul is much better prepared for the line of nonsensical argumentation Tenbruggencate evidently specializes in. One imagines that evidence is the best way to determine whether something is true or not, but evidently (heh, evidence!), the presuppositionalist must first accept that attempting to prove God exists, undercuts God directly. It’s almost like one has to take seriously the Douglas Adams passage: “I refuse to prove that I exist, says God, for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”

Part of the way I argue against presuppositionalism, is thus. When the presuppositionalist suggests that the very existence of evidence proves God, one cannot assume that evidence itself is evidence for anything, but for one specific thing. The existence of evidence is a happenstance, resultant from the cause-and-effect of this universe, and evidence is actually evidence that all events are causally related to their antecedent events. To put it simply: Stuff happens. Evidence of this stuff happening, proves it happened, because the stuff that happened caused the evidence. It’s all cause and effect.

Logic is an abstraction of this reality. It is created by humans to interpret reality and make decisions in the best possible way; however, it’s not the only way someone can make those decisions or abstract that reality. The “existence” of logic, though it does not exist without humans, does not prove a higher power any more than the existence of a muffin proves a specific personal deity from whom all muffins spring (and who would smite you for believing in the local baker, or in your own abilities in muffin-creation). I argue however that laws of physics may not actually be “invariant” as posited. We don’t know enough of this universe to know the things we believe to be constants, are actually constants. We have some evidence that they’re not constant, in fact. So one cannot assume, a priori, that anything is “hard-coded” into the universe, much less “fine-tuned”. The very word “absolute” is a definitional quagmire upon which every presuppositionalist hangs his entire argument, because they generally mean “uniform throughout the universe” and “invariant” and “imposed by an outside force”. It’s that last chunk of it that implies God — by saying ANYTHING is absolute, they hear as “imposed by something” and “therefore God”.

There is a real truth to the universe. There is a real way the universe came into being, there is a real way the universe has become populated with matter, and there is a real way that humans have come into being. It happened exactly one way, though that way may be different in different parts, in toto, it happened only one way. That there is this truth, does not mean that “truth itself” necessitates a “truth-giver” deity. That’s nonsensical, no matter how often Tenbruggencate suggests that the counterarguments are nonsense. When something is “wrong”, that means it does not conform to reality. That there is a reality, does not presuppose anything but that there is a reality.

Do listen, if you have an hour and twenty to spare. I mean, if you really want to watch someone entrenched in their dogmatic position chasing their tail, and an intelligent rational actor watching and frowning.

Frankly, I don’t blame Paul for taking a break from arguing against circular logic after this particular debate. And I only wish Paul had much more time to flesh out his arguments than I felt he had, especially that presuppositionalism is not a proof for the specific Christian dogma, where all Sye had to offer was “scripture sez so, so we have to presuppose it”. It honestly felt as though Sye got the bigger platform by far on both debates, but I’m glad Paul got the better of him in a very specific way: he had to claim that there is nothing wrong with circular reasoning.

It's settled! Napkinism is the one true religion!

I fully expect Sye Tenbruggencate to convert to napkinism as soon as humanly possible.

Presuppositional apologetics: still intellectually bereft

16 thoughts on “Presuppositional apologetics: still intellectually bereft

  1. 1

    Take the science guy’s books away from him, and the religion guy’s books away from him. Then tell them they have one week to gather empirical evidence for their beliefs. Neither may make use of any previously published resource. 😉

  2. 2

    Heh, that’s a good one-shot “win” for science! The scientist will win. There are at least some principles that every scientist will remember that can be proved with simple experiments. I dare any religion to prove the foundational documents empirically without referring to them.

  3. 3

    Ahh, good old Sye Tenb. I tangled with him for a short week or two at Bananaman Comfort’s blog a couple of years ago. It looks like he hasn’t changed a bit! The only things I can really remember from our discussion was Sye insisting that Truth (with a capital “T”, of course) cannot exist without his specific version of God. When I replied that I could insist the same thing about Truth being created by Odin, he said that he would only argue against a position that I actually held. After that, Sye kept asking me why rationality and mathematics could be used to explain reality and wouldn’t accept my answer that humans had spent hundreds (if not thousands) of years trying to develop the rules of math and rationality so that it DID assist with our understanding of reality. However, Sye was never able to give me any reason to believe otherwise, except for his insistence that everything has to come from something (with the one standard caveat: God doesn’t have to come from something).
    Bear in mind that I’ve never actually taken any philosophy courses or anything, so I was just happy that I was able to frustrate him as much as I did, considering he was my first introduction to the world of presuppositional emptiness.

  4. 4

    I’m wondering if this post was intelligently designed to find out if I was still paying attention. Every good blogger knows that my opinion of presuppositional apologetics is only slightly higher than that of stabbing myself repeatedly with sharp objects.
    I’ll definitely give the spot a listen when I have time this evening to ruminate on it. Thanks for pointing it out.
    I still need to flesh out my final (maybe?)post in my presuppositional morality series, which I want to use to tie together a general argument against it. That will have to wait, though, as I am still trying to make it so easy- even a presuppositionalist can understand it.

  5. 5

    Sinned: well done! Too bad he seems to be a floater — no matter how much you flush, he keeps popping up. I really don’t think I could stand the self-congratulatory environment of Comfort’s misleadingly titled blog though. You get the feeling he really just wants people to come to him to show him how atheists think, so he can study you in his little bell jar.

    George: Yeah, I was kinda wondering when the last part would come along. Since Peter’s basically given up on talking to any of us, you included, I thought the issue was dead, but figured you’d throw the last piece of red meat out for our consumption regardless.

  6. 6

    I keep thinking Peter is going to respond any day now. I should really let that idea go. He either just gave up when he realized he was outmatched, or he was told to cease and desist by his wife. Either way I do plan to bring all my arguments together into a more general attack on presuppositionalism.
    I’ve been really busy lately, and I wanted to really write something substantial, so I need more time to ruminate. It will be done, just not tomorrow or anything.

  7. 9

    Hello Sye,

    As much as I might relish a live debate, I’m more than well aware that one does not win people to one’s side in a debate — it becomes simply a popularity contest wherein those people who side with someone will think that side won regardless of any sort of moderation, rules, scoring, et cetera. It behooves neither of us to frame such matters as a “debate”, especially where such format always benefits the person claiming to have all the answers over the person claiming humans don’t know everything about this universe, much less how it came to be. People who demand evidence for claims are always disadvantaged in that arguments can’t be sourced or countered on-the-fly unless you have an absolutely encyclopaedic knowledge of human history.

    Beyond that, I’m not keen on meeting people face to face that disagree with my viewpoints to the point that they feel I should be punished eternally (or rather that their deity believes such, which is saying the exact same thing, if you believe in Self Projection As God). People that think people like me deserve eternal torture for disagreeing with them, frankly, scare me a little.

    Besides, I’ve poisoned the well by calling you a “floater”. I’m obviously uncivil about these things and therefore I’m sure (given how your debate against Paul Baird went) that you would not hesitate in bringing up such character assassination as early and as often as possible.

    I’m open to exploring the idea of discussion between us further, though. If you’d like to have a discussion instead, e.g. via a broadcasted Skype call and/or something that would get posted in unedited form to my blog, or something along those lines, that may work. You and I might get along. I get on generally very well with theists, so long as they don’t consider me some sort of demonic influence or otherwise-entrenched evil.

  8. 12

    Oh, Jason,
    Sye doesn’t really want to debate. He wants to make it look like he wants to talk and you avoid discussion. He wants to type “check this out” on several blogs so that he can look like the voice of reason to his presuppositionalist friends.
    He wasn’t expecting the curve ball you threw, and like all presuppositionalists (*cough*Peter*cough*), he just continued on with his routine like it never happened.

    Check out his website, he doesn’t endeavor to prove presuppositionalism, because it can’t be done, he just tells you it’s so and if you don’t like it, too bad.
    Intellectually bereft. That’s a polite way to describe it. I can’t say I’d be so charitable.

  9. 14

    Understandable assumption but flawed nonetheless.

    It is ironic to note that those that decry belief that the Bible is the Word of God as being ‘circular reasoning’ are guilty of the same.

    That is, attempting to employ logic to prove logic. The very same principle is used when Christians prove a theological point by quoting scripture.

    So in short, if someone states that you can’t use the Bible, to prove that the Bible is true, then to be consistent no one can use reason to prove that reason is true and valid either.

    Some things are simply axiomatic, that is, self-proving. For example, the thousands of prophecies in scripture, including the 300+ concerning the coming of Christ fulfilled to minute detail is proof in itself.

    All humans, being finite have an axiomatic starting point for their worldviews. For the ‘atheist’ it is unbelief, for the Christian, it is belief. The real question is: where do the facts lead?

  10. 16

    I heard Sye once say that Islam can be disproven because they accept that allah word is incorruptable and the fact that they believe the Bible was corrupted (it being a previous word ) made no sense. By his theological beliefs we just have to accept that the Koran is the basis of truth. Then accept that allah is all powerful and can break his own absolute laws. Makes more sense in my opinion than the crack-job beliefs he currently holds. This is meant no way as a defence of Islam. Sye just pisses me off. His Matt Dillahunty debate tried my patience.

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