I found a folder on a back-up drive with links to articles marked “reply to these” from several months ago. This one jumped out at me.
My reply is included here, since comments are held for moderation on the originating blog, although I have no doubt Ryft will approve them when he gets around to it. He was a good guest on the podcast and seems like a nice enough chap.
In what has to be the longest gap between receiving an invitation to comment and the actual posting of that comment, a subtle combination of my recently finding a back-up of a Documents folder from my old machine, which had a text file simply marked, “Reply to these” with a link to here, and my renewed determination to tell anyone who will listen just how much of a massive liar Sye ten Bruggencate really is, has finally allowed me to respond to this very well written reply to our original conversation. So, better late then never, I shall proceed.
I am struck by the irony of saying “A person cannot be expected to defend a position they do not hold.” in an article which expects me to defend a position I do not hold. In your case, however, I am prepared to accept this is more likely down to my simply failing to explain myself more clearly than it is your unwillingness to actually listen to what I’m saying. We had a good chat when you spoke with us for the Fundamentally Flawed podcast, and you certainly helped us clear up a few things. You’re part of a refreshing if all too rare breed of apologist who are genuinely confused, as opposed to deliberately manipulative.
In a way the passage of time between your first posting this and my finally responding to it, does give me something of an unfair advantage, in that I do understand a fair bit more about the differences, for example, between the cosmological argument and the transcendental argument, than I did at the time you wrote it. Poor word choice on my part perhaps made it seem as if I lumped them both in together, when clearly there are subtle differences between the two, in some key areas — although I have to admit I still don’t see how you get from a problem which essentially belongs to philosophy, to a truth claim about theology, without resolving the original problem first. There still seems to be a fair amount of ‘cart before the horse’ going on, in simply saying “abracadabra, it’s in the bible.”
Having said that, and despite you being quite right to point out that I wasn’t fully familiar with what I was objecting to at the time, I think it’s a little unfair to suggest I was simply wrong. You have to remember, the subtle differences between this argument and that argument, don’t really add up to much in the grand scheme of things, from my point of view, because for all one apologists might make a better turn of phrase than another, or present more interesting interpretations of scripture than his or her predecessors did, in this book or that, the only thing which really matters as far as I am concerned, is whether or not they’re honest about their actual starting point — that is, do they claim to have objectively verifiable evidence of Yahweh’s basic existence, or is their worldview based upon faith alone.
I’ve gone to great lengths in the past to explain that I depart somewhat from other activist anti-theists, in on-line debate, in that I have zero problem with people who adopt a faith-based argument, so long as they’re honest about it. You can, as far as I am concerned, believe whatever you like. It is literally no skin off my nose, and indeed I would defend any religious person to live their life as they see fit, so long as they don’t insist I am somehow morally inferior, or incapable of knowing right from wrong, simply because I don’t believe what they believe.
But the original draw towards debating the particular kind presuppositionalism you’ve identified here, as avowed by messieurs ten Bruggencate and Hovind for example, is that they use it to justify going beyond personal beliefs for personal reasons. They use it to instruct people, at some considerable financial gain to themselves, to believe in things which simply are not true about people like me, and actively preach against the scientific methods which we believe offer a truer picture of the universe, than one which presupposes the existence of a god they already just so happen to believe in, without ever seeming to understand why this shouldn’t go unchallenged.
But where I would have once said that this makes all presuppositional arguments “fair game”, I now realise that these methods are as odious to the vast majority of Christians, as they are to everyone else. So I apologies if my eagerness to point and laugh at the provable liars in our midst, gave anyone the wrong impression about my actual motivation — which is to engage with and understand as many different legitimately held points of view as possible.
Now, to your actual article. You said, “There is one thing I would like to know. Gardner said quite frankly, “There is no God to deny or accept.” That is a very interesting truth claim, and I would really like to see the argument which produces it. I challenge Gardner to provide the premises which lead to that conclusion.”
The premise which led to that conclusion is that you claim the specific god of your specific religion provably exists, but you have yet to present any evidence of it. In the absence of that evidence, one can only conclude that this is either a faith-based position — which I’ve already said you’re fully entitled to hold — or it is a claim for which you have objectively valid evidence, but for some reason choose not to share with anyone who doesn’t already believe in His basic existence.
It is, in short, your claim to demonstrate, not mine. Insisting that I lower my standard of proof, merely to encompass that which it is yours to establish, isn’t the gold standard against atheism far too many are keen to insist it is, and I’m somewhat surprised this is something you appear to endorse.
My statement to this affect, “…who are so clearly capable of researching and understanding all of this for themselves still somehow manage to come to such obviously flawed assumptions about the validity [or even] the intellectual honesty of their own position”, therefore still stands. I am simply amazed that anyone who exposes themselves to both sides of the argument, fails to see the weakness of their own position, versus the strength of the alternative.
Again, I probably have something of an unfair advantage in this regard, as I do have the benefit of having seen things from both sides of the fence. I’ve been hearing the faith-based argument since I was born, and up until the age of 17 or 18 it worked well enough for me, that I would happily identify myself as an evangelical Christian. The rational explanations for some of the things I experienced when praying, or attending church, or performing praise music, and so on, took the best part of the next 10 years to truly make sense to me. I brushed them aside for a very long time, until I simply realised one day that I no longer needed to believe a word of it, in order to continue being the same good person that I always was.
Most people who are still inside Christianity, see this as a process of stripping away, and they lament our loss. But when you actually go through it, it is quite the opposite. I didn’t lose my faith, I gained reason. That is the number one thing which I find Christians are most reluctant to take on-board about atheists who were once Christian — beyond, of course, simply saying we never truly believed.
It is this which, in the past, I’ve been far too quick to interpret as being a wilful delusion on their part, simply because I know how deluded I was when I believed it too. But I now accept that some people really do believe it, and simply can’t understand how anyone could not.
However, this doesn’t need to be the insurmountable problem some might want to make it out to be. All we have to do is be honest about the true motivations of those who nevertheless assert it is a far bigger bone of contention than it actually is. When we do this, we quickly identify the liars, profiteers and the thieves in the temple. When seen for what they actually are, their claim that this merely proves even the non-religious know there is a God, reveals its own circularity with such efficiency, there is no need to address it further.
Suffice to say, this doesn’t dissuade the terminally obnoxious. But it goes a long way towards highlighting their eagerness to stay on the topics where they feel the most comfortable, so as to avoid the ones they don’t like to talk about.
Those in this remaining group, who think that spreading provable lies are permissible tactics, and give each other a pass to get away with using the threat of hell’s fire, to indoctrinate the emotionally vulnerable into their cause, are the real enemies within. These are the people both true Christians and atheists should be fighting against together. After all, these are the very people who the parables and mythology commonly attributed to Jesus of Nazareth are warning us all against, and on which we can agree, without having to additionally claim they are therefore divinely inspired.
Whether you believe the latter or not, it doesn’t stop it from being the perfect argument in favour of both humanism and Christianity. It is this which comprises the common ground they would prefer we didn’t have — hence their insistence it is exclusive to the religious, when in reality it is an inherently human trait, and an emergent property of our evolutionary heritage, as opposed to a magic trick breathed into us by a composite character from bronze-age folklore.
Is it so difficult to accept, that this universality is the real reason the bible stories have stood the test of time? And how does believing the contrary carry any weight, when by definition this also requires believing in things which are provably false? How, exactly, are these self-evident facts contingent upon that which is self-refuting? Why the massive non sequitur between this universal message of peace and love, and an obligation to believe in the supernatural? And is Ryft up to the challenge of explaining this, without drawing a conclusion from his own proposition?