My final word on Sye Ten Bruggencate’s Transcendental argument for the existence of God

Alex has recorded a one-on-one mini-podcast with Sye Ten Bruggencate, to give him a chance to reply to some of the things which were raised on the previous podcast, after the point in the conversation with Dustin Segers where Sye got himself kicked off air, for talking absolute incoherent nonsense — and wasn’t, therefore, able to reply to a few things he felt entitled to come back to. Can I get a ‘fair and balanced’? Hmm, thought not.

Listen here

A quick summary of how the conversation went should hopefully help a few other podcasters and bloggers out there, who have yet to encounter Sye, avoid a few of the carefully crafted pitfalls which are built into the particular kind of TAG apologetics he employs. In other words, don’t worry; he really is that transparent.

Sye: How do you avoid being viciously circular if you judge the reliability of your senses and your reasoning against your senses and your reasoning?

Alex: Because senses are an emergent property of physical phenomena. We have multiple, self-correcting means by which we independently adjudicate the difference between something which is imagined and something which is objectively real — which includes, but is by no means limited to, whether or not certain experiences and phenomena are described by other human beings in the same way we also happen to subjectively described those same phenomena.

Sye: How is that not viciously circular?

Alex: Because [as has been explained to Sye many MANY times already (not least being in the previous answer to which he did not actually listen)] the difference between something which is viciously circular and something which is objectively verifiable is as well defined as the difference between something which exists and something which does not exist.

Sye: How do you know your senses are not lying to you?

Alex: I don't. But if they are, then everyone else's senses are also lying to them in exactly the same way as mine are lying to me.

Sye: That's not what I'm saying [even though he is]. You're assuming that your senses are valid. How is that not viciously circular?

Repeat ad nausea.

Sye is no-doubt extremely sincere in his beliefs, and I celebrate his right to ask these questions in a free exchange of ideas despite that I completely disagree with his assumption that, merely because they require some degree of intellectual honesty, they must therefore represent the sort of “evidence for the existence of Yahweh and the non-existence of every other god” which Sye and others have repeatedly asserted they do.

Where I feel genuinely bad for Sye, is that he seems to legitimately believe this is the sort gap into which his particular version of the Yahweh myth fits so completely, that he is utterly incapable of realising how small the argument actually is. To him, it’s important; therefore it has to be important to everyone else — and if they don’t like it, that’s only because they don’t want to get it. To Sye, the TAG is giving voice to what everyone secretly knows to be true, but don’t want to admit to themselves or anyone else.

The supreme irony of this kind of apologetics, is that it correctly identifies the very game of semantics upon which it is itself based. Moreover, it is proof positive that you can dress up any half baked, pseudo-philosophical ideas in whatever outfit you like, and expect them to be taken seriously so long as you nod in the general direction of biblical scripture.

As far as it goes, what’s particularly neat about this approach, is that exactly the same thing could be said of some of the most important ideas in science — and since a scientific understanding of the universe is advocated by the vast majority of atheists, TAG apologetics rises and falls on the appearance of their being an element of guilt by association between scientific axioms and positive atheism.

But what Sye, Dustin, Eric, Rhology and their mentor William Lane Craig COMPLETELY FAIL TO UNDERSTAND about how deeply flawed this non-sequitur actually is, is that the scientific method is not about establishing absolutes. It is about establishing a framework of understanding, which has yet to be proven false. It does this within margins of error, and on the explicit understanding that in order to prove something false, certain well established criteria must be met.

So to use the analogy of the scientific method, as if it is also an analogy for the unreliability of our senses, is to completely fail to take into account that our inner knowing of the difference between right and wrong, is an emergent property of our evolutionary heritage, as opposed to being the result of supernatural intervention. And if that sounds like anything less than a proof, that the TAG is based upon false notions about where ethics in fact originate, one need only glance at the sorts of ideas TAG adherents also have about evolutionary biology, and hence how easily confused they are about the inherent value of scientific evidence.

And before any accusations of copping out start flying around, please note that with some degree of certainty I can say, that the only quote from this essay Sye and others will pay any real attention to, is the above paragraph in which, for purposes of brevity, I accepted that science makes assumptions based upon previous observations. The following paragraphs, which qualify this statement, however, stand an extremely low chance of surviving the cut and paste. This too is a tactic of Christian apologetics, on-line and elsewhere, which has become so familiar, one could almost be tempted to say it speaks more of their true desire to understand the flaws in their own argument, than could ever be said with mere words.

Moreover, note that no such criteria for establishing the falsity of the TAG have ever been defined. Indeed, in Sye’s own words, there would be no way for that criteria to be defined, even if TAG apologists wanted to do so, because, quote, “God will not be put on trial”.

By way of analogy, consider the following statement:

Cheese comes in many different shapes and sizes.
The moon is a sphere.
One of the shapes in which cheese is available, is spherical.
Therefore the moon is made of cheese.

You can describe why the logical validity of the above statement is false in myriad different ways. But what TAG apologists are doing – whether they like being reminded of it or not – is confusing the very tautology of their argument in favour of the statement, for proof that the statement is valid. The very size and weight which they themselves place upon their own argument, is mistaken for proof that their argument is true; when, in reality, it is multi-self-refuting.

You cannot explain the importance of reason, to someone who doesn’t understand the value of evidence. However, the best that can emerge from nevertheless trying to do so, is an even clearer picture of how utterly convinced fundamentalist Christians are, that their subjective opinion is one and the same as the will of a god only they believe exists in the first place.

So I am genuinely pleased to have been given a greater understanding of the TAG by the very people who espouse it, despite that those making the argument would have preferred it if I had arrived at exactly the opposite view of it, than I actually have.

Q.E.D., the modus operandi of TAG apologetics, is an appeal to the externalised ego of its individual adherents. When codified into a pseudoscientific set of self-corroborating, theologically based confirmation biases, which demonstrably fail to meet their own burden of proof, the TAG hence represents the very definition of the circular reasoning it falsly claims to have circumvented.

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” – Matt 7:5


31 comments on “My final word on Sye Ten Bruggencate’s Transcendental argument for the existence of God

  1. Good post, Jim.
    I have had brief brushes with Sye, but very quickly realised how futile they were. For me, Sye is a very forgettable character.
    Strangely I agree with almost everything you say in your post. You are very coherent and…reasonable.
    I will admit to being a little nervous about the word “emergent” though I do recognise that it is very fashionable. However, I so appreciate most of the rest that I will not go on about it.
    I am reading a fascinating book by Michel Onfray in which he totally demolishes Freud and psychoanalysis. (I don’t know if it’s available in English.) His “Atheist Manifesto” was widely recognised as one of the best “New Atheist” publications – though he is far from being a “New” Atheist.
    Onfray demonstrates how the psychoanalysis he invented was totally autobiographical – he was just talking about himself, and projecting his hang-ups onto the entire human race. Remind you of anyone?
    Keep posting, pal, but don’t give Sye too much attention. Like me, he thrives on, it.

  2. Allow me to summarize the exchange.

    Me: “Is it viciously circular to employ your reasoning to justify your reasoning?”

    Alex: “No.”

    That’s all that needs to be said, and until you and Alex see the foolishness of your “reasoning,” the presuppositionalist (of which Craig is not one by the way), will reluctantly be your Jack Kevorkian whenever you seek us out.

  3. Thanks, Richard. I tend to back away from Freudian psychoanalysis for same reason I back away from Nietzsche. It sometimes seems like the only reason their names keep cropping up, in various context, is because whoever is writing about them thinks it gives their opinion more gravitas than it actually deserves, if they can appear to have drawn it from more established, scholarly works. I should also say I find myself doing exactly the same thing, when I cite Harris or Hitchens, so I’m not unaware of the temptation to do it; but I always feel better about having written something if I’ve worked it out for myself, than when I do by mere paraphrasing something I’ve read elsewhere — even if it later transpires the ideas I’m trying to express have been said much more succinctly by a writer with whom I was previously unfamiliar. But that’s the joy of it as well. Knowledge is it’s own reward.

  4. Sye. You’re the only one saying we justify our reasoning, by our reasoning.

    So you don’t use your reasoning? Wow! Of course I would prefer that you repent, but unless and until you do, just keep saying that please. You make my argument for me.


  5. And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have your proof: The only point Sye is actually interested in making, is if you answer one way you’re wrong and if you answer the other way he’s right. Say goodnight Gracie.

  6. And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have your proof: The only point Sye is actually interested in making,

    Read: “The only point I need to make.” Alex and Jim do not employ their reasoning to justify their reasoning (despite what they said in the podcasts :-)

    “The fool has said in his heart: ‘There is no God'” ~ Psalm 14:1


  7. Sye said ““The fool has said in his heart: ‘There is no God’” ~ Psalm 14:1”

    Jesus said “but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22)

  8. What Sye wants to say: AHHH SO YOU ADMIT IT!! The bible is true!!!!!! Christians 1 Atheists 0
    What he’ll probably say: Alex and Jim employ their reasoning to justify their reasoning
    What he just said: Alex and Jim do not employ their reasoning to justify their reasoning

    Gentleman, this conversation is over. Sye, if you want to believe the world rests on the back of a giant tortoise, and someone tries to stop you doing it, give me a shout. I’ll jump to your defence quicker than you can snap your fingers. It’s a free world and knowing how people like you think makes me all the happier for not being superstitious than I already was. But if I catch you teaching this shit to people who don’t know better, and threatening them with the fires of hell unless they believe it’s true, don’t hold your breath waiting for me to go as easy on you next time.

    Read more non-fiction. Comments closed.

  9. EDIT: Sye is currently spamming the blog comments with passive aggressive threats. I’ve had to ban his IP address. He also started posting in other unlocked comment threads. My final reply to him was also removed when I disabled comments on those other threads. I’ll post it here instead, in the interest of clarity:

    Sye: You’ve had three podcasts, three comment threads and numerous private emails in which to make a point which presents a reasonable argument and you’ve ended up resorting to what can only be described as passive aggressive harassment. You’re an embarrassment. IP address blocked and reported for spam. Now go tell your small minded, anti-reality, dimwitted shite to someone who cares.

    To be clear, comments and legitimate constructive criticism is warmly welcomed. But I’m not interested in talking to people who don’t want to listen — and I think any fair minded person, be they Christian or otherwise, would agree that I’ve given Sye more than enough space to make his point already. He’s completely failed to do this and is now resorting to childish nonsense exactly as he did when Alex had no choice but to kick him from the podcast.

    I genuinely look forward to talking with Dustin and Eric again. They made their case calmly and respectfully. Despite that I disagree with them, their attitude alone makes them welcome both here and on the podcast again any time they wish. But Sye simply isn’t interested in adult conversation. Assuming the IP blocker is now working, I’ve re-enabled the comments. But if he figures out a way around it, I’ll have no choice but to delete his comments and close the thread again.

  10. Jim- my opinion fwiw on Nietsche and Freud, is that they were (and still are in some circles) influential, not so much because of what they were right about, but because of what they justifiably pointed out as being wrong in classical thought- they stirred the waters. It also doesn’t hurt that they were (like Ayn Rand) egomaniacal geniuses.

  11. I find Ayn Rand fascinating, because despite being a strong atheist her ideas ended up influencing the sort of right wing politics advocated by the evangelical vote. It would be interesting to find out how many neoconservatives realise the connection between her and Alan Greenspan, for example.

  12. Yeah, Ayn Rand was not stupid, but was just as much an ideologue as her hated Soviet oppressors. I found her stuff pretty heady when I was sixteen. It wasn’t until later that I figured out that the world was more complicated than that.

  13. She didn’t respond well to legitimate criticism, either. She was known to throw heavy objects at people and abandon lifelong friends over minor disagreements. Very odd character.

  14. I just found this blog today and have been fascinated – especially with the whole presup/ Sye issue. I had only been vaguely informed about it before and am still probably inadequate. But to my mind, it seems the entire presup enterprise is very close to Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN).

    The problem with it and it seems presuppositionalism in general is that it rests on the false dichotomy of 100% reliable/ 100% unreliable senses. Anyone with even passing familiarity with psychology in the last 50 years knows that is a major theme–how unreliable our perception and by extension, knowledge is. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is completely unreliable in a naturalistic scheme – as it seems presuppers would claim.

    Indeed, their claims are incoherent if I am correct since they say knowledge is untethered in a godless universe. Knowledge in an evolutionary scheme has to have at least some connection to reality for organisms to survive. Their scheme posits an impossible scenario. Perhaps they draw a distinction between bare facts that would impact survival and higher, abstract things such as metaphysics, but I would argue that these are all on a continuum. If it is a continuum, their argument fails.

  15. Adam. Myself and Alex have just spent two hours trying to make that very point to Eric Hovind and Dustin Segers. I’ll post a link to the podcast when it goes live.

  16. Adam Lewis – nice post. You said some things that always need saying to players on both sides of the theist/atheist debate. You reminded us, ” how unreliable our perception and by extension, knowledge is. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is completely unreliable in a naturalistic scheme.”
    Evolutionary mechanisms have given us the means to be right about things sufficiently often in order for our species to survive or adapt to new environments.
    Belief in being 100% right about something might be important to an individual in certain circumstances, but the survival of the species does not depend upon it.
    Are schizophrenics right when they believe in their hallucinations? Probably not. Cross-cultural studies have revealed that 1% of any given population is schizophrenic. What? Why hasn’t natural selection weeded them out a long time ago? Simple – schizophrenia does not undermine the survival capacity of the species.
    More important than belief is behavior. My belief in my rightness may only be 80% valid, but many times I will behave AS IF it were 100% accurate. We survive pretty well in the absence of 100% certainties. Heck, I even take a plane, drive a car and do stuff like get remarried.
    I am a Christian. Am I 100% certain about my beliefs? Do I KNOW that God exists? Heck, no. And for that, I thank God. I have seen enough of the behavior of religious extremists of all colors, mentally disadvantaged people who use their 100% certainties to wreak havoc, to realize the wisdom of Voltaire’s words :”Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” I would add that often certainty is highly dangerous.
    I think.

  17. Adam- yep. In fact, the problem is that fundies take the Word over the World.

    Richard- also yep. Absolute certainty that one has the “truth” too often leads to nastiness. Doesn’t matter if the truthmonger believes in God or not- theists have no monopoly on bad behavior. The important thing is, imho, how one behaves. Whether ones model is some sort of holy scripture, which is irrational in my eyes, or some sort of humanist doctrine, which is equally irrational but purged from superstition, we must somehow come to agreements about what is good.

    Luckily, most people agree, to a great extent, about what is good: that people should live in peace and free from unnecessary pain and deprivation. Unfortunately, there are always zealots who are convinced that their vision is the only true vision, and thereby ensure that there is unnecessary pain and deprivation.

  18. Zilch – I think you raise issues that are worthy of being examined a little more closely.
    You say, “we must somehow come to agreements about what is good.”
    Why must we come to agreements? (That’s worth expanding.)
    When you say good, I am forced to ask you – good for whom? You or me? (cf Evolution and Game Theory) What is good for the leopard is not so good for the antelope.
    I am fully in favour of eliminating ALL pain and deprivation – even the necessary variety, since you only refer to the unnecessary varieties. In fact I am so opposed to pain and deprivation (especially as far as I am concerned) you could almost call me a zealot of pain avoidance.
    Do you have any suggestions for bringing the human race to the point of agreement that you advocate? I’m not accusing you of being utopian, and I am sure we agree about the evils of fanaticism, but…
    Difficult questions I know, but you started.

  19. Richard- thanks for the thoughtful reply. You ask:

    Zilch – I think you raise issues that are worthy of being examined a little more closely.
    You say, “we must somehow come to agreements about what is good.”
    Why must we come to agreements? (That’s worth expanding.)

    I’m speaking in shorthand here. By “must”, I mean “must” in the sense of “that’s what we have to do if we want to reap the benefits of living in society”.

    Do you have any suggestions for bringing the human race to the point of agreement that you advocate?

    Sure, but they’re not original: find out what works, and do it. That’s what religions and governments try to do anyway, at least to some extent. The Golden Rule is a good place to start.

    cheers from autumny Vienna, zilch

  20. Poor ol’ SyeTenB continues to fail to see his misuse of language.
    “Is it viciously circular to employ your reasoning to justify your reasoning?”
    I’m amazed that he still believes it works as an argument. However, I will make one concession to him – his silliness is rooted in a form of speech that we use in everyday language, as in for example : “I really hate myself.” This implies that there is a subject – I really hating an object – myself as if they were two different entities. In reality of course, “I”‘ and “myself” are one and the same entity, but this form of locution is accepted as a sort of shorthand for things like “I hate and regret the way I treated you when you beat me at chess. I am ashamed of myself (my behaviour in that situation).”
    I do hope Sye doesn’t go around asking people, How can your “self” be ashamed of your “self”?
    It is NOT viciously circular to use my faculties for reasoning to justify my reasoning on subject X
    SyeTenB’s trick is to suggest that the word “reasoning” has identical uses in both of its occurrences in the question. Then when people are stymied by the nonsensical wording of the question, he’s standing ready with his “Gotcha!” pistol.

  21. I’ve tussled with Sye in the past and chased him out of at least two blog threads.

    In my experience, the stopper with a presup is to recognize that the critical presupposition is not the one they lead with. It’s not the whole “senses are unreliable and cannot result in true conclusions” schtick. Instead, by the time they type that, they’ve already smuggled in a whole raft of prior assumptions and then blame you for not being able to meet their standards.

    * They don’t have a formal theory of truth and can’t tell you explicitly what “Truth” means
    * They will try to argue that knowledge is true if it is justified true belief
    * They insist that laws of logic are universal and unchanging

    So I’ve found it effective to turn the argument around on them. When they ask for certainty (“how do you know you know that”) ask them do define certainty and then ask for their formal theory of truth and how their theory of knowledge handles the Gettier Problem.

    When they mention logic, ask them for their full, formal exposition, including rules of inference.

    Sye’s been running away from these questions since I first asked them 3 years ago on Daylight Atheism.

  22. It’s probably worth reiterating that Sye cannot himself reply to any discussion threads on this blog, because I had to ban his IP address for spamming the place up with passive aggressive threats. Nothing direct and personal, just the usual “I’m right and if you don’t like it you’ll burn in hell forever” nonsense, but insulting and persistent nonetheless.

    Heliobates: thanks for the links. I like a good read.

  23. When he says his definition of truth is “justified true belief”. How does one know if his or her belief is justified and true? I mean first one would have to define when belief is true, before one can justify it. Well, definition of truth is justified true beli… Wait, wait…What?

  24. Sye, your arguments remind me of a lawyer defending a criminal who is clearly guilty, but uses semantic arguments to attempt to trip up the proscution- such as questioning the definition of common words. You’ve got nothin’ and are attempting to deflect the conversation away from the heart of it.
    Here is my view: man evolved with a need to explain the world around him. Since most of what he observed had no explanation, he invented the concept of magic, which is personified as a god or gods. For a variety of reasons, some people such as yourself continue to cling to this belief in magic, even though many of us have seen the futility of trying to find rationality in a 2000 year old book written by sheepherders and translated countless times.
    That is the heart of what the debate should be- why cling to primitive beliefs instead of more rational explanations that are based on observations and logic.

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