Reasonable Doubts About Non-Christian Excuses

The most recent podcasts, and hence comments, at Reasonable Doubts are focused upon presuppositional apologetics. The gentlemen at the aforementioned site are apparently impressed by the comment of one Andrew EC:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/2012/02/09/episode-97-presuppositional-apologetics-part-1/#comment-7000

  • Andrew EC says:

February 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm

It seems to me that the fundamental weaknesses of the presuppositionalist position are as follows:

1. There’s no analysis as to what it means to give “an account” of something. Philosophically, something only counts as an explanation if it is what Kant would call an analytic statement; that is, a proposition whose conclusion is not contained within its predicate.

So if I say: “this grass is green because it has a green-producing nature,” that’s not an explanation, because the conclusion (“a green-producing nature”) is contained entirely within the predicate of the statement (“this grass is green”). On the other hand, saying “this grass is green because it contains chlorophyll” IS an explanation — even if it’s an incomplete one — because it tells us something about green grass we didn’t know at the start of the sentence.

Saying “the laws of logic exist because they reflect the mind of God” or “because they’re ordained and sustained by God” or “because God wills them” isn’t an explanation any more than the green-producing nature of grass. It doesn’t tell us how God ordains or reflects or wills the laws of logic; it’s not an analytic proposition.

2. The Christian worldview most certainly can not account for things like the solution to the problem of induction; after all, Christianity explicitly describes a God who contravenes the laws of nature by working miracles — creating ex nihilo, holding the sun in sky, generating fish out of nothing at all, turning water in to wine, and so forth. In the Christian worldview, then, there is no regularity that one can expect and hence therefrom draw inductive inferences, because God could intervene and work a miracle at any time and simply be done with it.

There are other problems — for example, Sye’s hyper-belligerent approach proves only that humans agree on the concept of logic as a prerequisite to rational debate, not that it exists transcendently; the Christian worldview contains a fundamentally incoherent and illogical proposition in the form of the Trinity; and others. But ultimately the entire exercise is just a cute debating trick. It can catch atheists unprepared — heck, Dan Barker got pretty much destroyed by Paul Manata in their debate when Manata took the presupper tactic — but at its core, it’s not really an argument.

1. Setting aside Andrew’s confusion regarding analytic statements, Andrew is simply mistaken that there is “no analysis as to what it means to give ‘an account’ of something.” He has not done his homework. So much for his first objection.

Andrew writes out a few alleged quotes from presuppositionalists concerning the so-called laws of logic and then claims that they are not explanations. But he is not clear about where these alleged quotes came from, their original contexts, what they are supposed to explain, or why he has suddenly shifted from claiming that there is no analysis of what it means to give an account of something to, presumably, equating ‘account’ with ‘explanation.’

2. Remember that Andrew was complaining that there is no analysis of ‘account,’ but that does not prevent him from making the claim that the, “Christian worldview most certainly can not account for things” in his very next breath. That is, Andrew admits that he does not really know what the presuppositionalist means by ‘account,’ but whatever an account is, the presuppositionalist does not have it. I should not have to tell you that Andrew does not know what he is talking about. He has already done it for me.

Concerning the problem of induction Andrew claims, “The Christian worldview most certainly can not account for things like the solution to the problem of induction; after all, Christianity explicitly describes a God who contravenes the laws of nature by working miracles — creating ex nihilo, holding the sun in sky, generating fish out of nothing at all, turning water in to wine, and so forth.” Well, first, Andrew has a funny notion of what it means to contravene the laws of nature. Creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) does not involve a God who contravenes the laws of nature, namely because there are no such laws…there is no nature…we are talking about creation out of nothing. God’s “holding the sun in sky” is not, so far as I know, an instance of a God who contravenes the laws of nature by working miracles, because the sun’s position in the atmosphere is not a miracle. (Perhaps Andrew thinks that the sun being in the sky is a miracle? I do not know how that fits with, say, atheism, but atheists do not seem overly concerned about the internal consistency of their position.) Generating fish “out of nothing at all” (I am not sure what Andrew has in mind here) is not an instance of a God who contravenes the laws of nature anymore than the example of creation ex nihilo, and for the same reason. Finally, Andrew provides the example of Jesus turning water to wine. Andrew finally has his miracle. But does it do the job Andrew believes it does?

Well, no. Not even close. You see, the very fact that Jesus turning water to wine is considered a miracle already assumes that there is uniformity; there are regularities, perhaps even laws of nature at work in the background. Andrew is much too presumptuous in his proclamation that, “In the Christian worldview, then, there is no regularity that one can expect.” That does not follow at all. In fact, the opposite is true. Miracles presuppose regularity. If there is no regularity, then there is no miracle. The very fact that anything is considered miraculous at all testifies to the reality of regularities in nature. If one is to expect miracles, as one does in the Christian worldview, then one must also expect regularity.

Unfortunately Andrew’s mistakes do not end here. As mentioned above, Andrew writes, “In the Christian worldview, then, there is no regularity that one can expect.” We have seen that this claim is false. He then continues, “and hence therefrom draw inductive inferences, because God could intervene and work a miracle at any time and simply be done with it.” Andrew is attempting to argue that since there are miracles, there is no regularity in nature, and since there is no regularity in nature, one cannot make inductive inferences. We have already dealt with the first part of this argument above, and so there is no need to address the remainder. Inductive inferences are possible because there is regularity in nature as presupposed by miracles. Now, could God, “intervene and work a miracle at any time”? Yes, God could, in theory, do exactly that. God is omnipotent. But as I have repeated several times now, miracles already assume regularity; else there is no reason to consider them miracles. Instances of irregularities do nothing to overturn the existence of regularity in nature. It is that regularity in nature which allows one to make inductive inferences. So Andrew’s objection does not carry any weight. Further, just because God could do something does not mean that God would do it. Finally, the Christian understanding of miracles is not as wild as Andrew makes it out to be. Miracles are a part of the category of God’s special revelation. Miracles are really signs (there is a linguistic argument to be made here, but I will leave that to the readers to study on their own). They come about as a part of God’s special revelation and are coupled with His interpretation. They are not, in other words, random, purposeless, meaningless magic tricks performed by a whimsical deity, and even if they were, Andrew’s objection fails in virtue of the previous points.

Andrew is not done just yet. He says, “There are other problems — for example, Sye’s hyper-belligerent approach proves only that humans agree on the concept of logic as a prerequisite to rational debate, not that it exists transcendently.” First, it is not the alleged belligerence of Sye’s approach that proves much of anything, but rather Sye’s argument, if something is proven. Andrew is attempting to call attention to Sye as the man rather than Sye’s argumentation, which is not only fallacious, but rather telling. It is much easier to attack a person than it is to deal with his arguments, especially when he uses them forcefully against your position and you do not know how to answer. Second, that humans necessarily agree upon logic as a prerequisite to rational debate is what it means for logic to be ‘transcendental.’ Andrew was citing Kant earlier, but perhaps he did not read Kant deeply enough.

In typical atheistic fashion Andrew boldly asserts that, “the Christian worldview contains a fundamentally incoherent and illogical proposition in the form of the Trinity.” The highly complex reply to this objection is, “No it doesn’t Andrew.” Or to put it more clearly, the Christian worldview does not contain a fundamentally incoherent and illogical proposition in the form of the Trinity. Anyone can make assertions. Indeed Andrew makes another when he writes, “But ultimately the entire exercise is just a cute debating trick.” Again, ultimately, the entire exercise is not just a cute debating trick, though I can see why someone who does not know how to answer the difficulties posed to one’s position might want to assert, without any support at all, that presuppositionalism is ultimately, “just a cute debating trick.”

Andrew concludes, “It can catch atheists unprepared — heck, Dan Barker got pretty much destroyed by Paul Manata in their debate when Manata took the presupper tactic — but at its core, it’s not really an argument.” Let me address Andrew’s final statement in reverse. First, transcendental arguments, if that is the argument type that Andrew is referring to, are in fact arguments. Andrew’s admission that Barker was slaughtered by Manata takes it for granted that Manata used an argument. So not only is Andrew making some empty rhetorical remarks here, he is making them inconsistently. Second, Dan Barker did not just get “pretty much destroyed by Paul Manata in their debate,” but rather Barker did, in fact, get destroyed by Manata in their debate. I am glad to see Andrew admit Barker’s defeat. Third, Andrew should have taken the defeat as evidence of something other than Barker being unprepared. It is widely known that atheists who engage presuppositionalists in debate are routinely defeated. We could cite examples all day long. There are very few exceptions. The atheist response is to make excuses like the one Andrew just made. Rather than just admitting their defeat and taking it as evidence that something much more detrimental to their position is going on, atheists make excuses about how unprepared they were for their exchanges with presuppositionalists. I could provide a long list of examples and write several more pages about the aforementioned excuses, but in short atheists really need to man up or give up.

Dan Barker is no exception. According to Andrew, presuppositionalism can, “catch atheists unprepared,” and presumably Barker, who, “got pretty much destroyed by Paul Manata in their debate when Manata took the presupper tactic” is one such atheist who was caught “unprepared.” That may sound fair to atheist ears, but not if their owners have done a little research. Not only is Barker something of a spokesperson for atheism and an active debater, but he had absolutely no excuse to be “unprepared” for his debate with Manata (or any other presuppositionalist at the time for that matter). Barker debated Manata in 2006, but Manata was hardly the first presuppositionalist Barker had debated. Barker crossed swords with presuppositionalist Doug Wilson – standing in for Greg Bahnsen – in a debate that took place in 1997! Not only did Barker get crushed by Manata, but Barker had no excuse for getting crushed by Manata. Barker had encountered presuppositional argumentation almost ten years earlier and had all of that time to prepare! I would argue that Barker lost badly to Wilson as well. It gets better. Barker also debated Michael Butler long before Barker met Manata. Manata studied under Butler. Butler studied under Bahnsen. Bahnsen had his famous debate with Gordon Stein in 1985. Atheists seriously need to update their material. Barker had no excuse. Andrew does not either. I appreciate that people care enough about an apologetic method to comment on it, but those who object to or reject the method do not further their cause by providing so much evidence of their ignorance concerning the subject matter.

There is a reason I don’t write about anime.

One thought on “Reasonable Doubts About Non-Christian Excuses

  1. I was at the debate between Mike and Mr. Barker. I recall that even before their debate Mr. Barker was talking to someone and said, “These are different kinds of debates. These guys [presumably referring to the then SCCCS - AR] are presuppositionalists, which means they follow the approach of Van Til and Bahnsen.” (rough paraphrase)

    So as you already more than capably pointed out, Mr. Barker had no excuse for getting trounced so badly by Manata.

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