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Jan 23 2013

The presuppositional proof of atheism

I was thinking this morning about the presuppositionalist’s argument for God, and it occurred to me that in fact, presuppositionalism is really rather an effective disproof of theism in general and Christianity in particular. Consider this snippet from Pastor Stephen Feinstein’s third post in his debate with Russell Glasser.

I am not sure how familiar you are with Thomas Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument… Have you studied the 10-step argument as outlined in Summa Theologica I, Question 2, Article 3? Just for the purpose of classical education, I recommend it. Although I reject the semi-pelagian presuppositions of the classical argumentation for the existence of God, Aquinas actually gets somewhere good between the 5th and 6th step.

The Gospel tells us that God is a loving heavenly Father, more so than any earthly father. And yet, how many children do you know, who have loving earthly fathers actively and personally involved in their daily lives, who need to resort to an advanced study of medieval philosophy, ontology, and epistemology, just to find a line of reasoning abstruse and convoluted enough to persuade them that their father necessarily even exists?

The same could be said even of other religions whose gods are less chummy. Vulcanologists don’t need medieval philosophy to justify their conclusion that magma is real. Doctors don’t need it to believe that disease and suffering are real. In fact, even when the Bible itself makes claims about God being real, it does so without resorting to any kind of ontological rationalizations.

Believers resort to philosophy because it is a world of ideas, especially of abstract and complicated ideas where the unwary and inexperienced can easily be led astray. And the world of men’s ideas is the only place God actually shows up—He’s in their stories and their speculations and their superstitions and their rationalizations. But the other world, the world of actual material reality? No, we don’t ever see him there.

And that’s why elaborate and obfuscated superstitions like presuppositionalism become popular Christian apologetics. If there were a God who loved His children enough to interact with them in person, the way real fathers do, nobody but a few academics would be interested in any medieval 10-step argument as outlined in Summa Theologica I, Question 2, Article 3. Aquinas himself wouldn’t even have needed to bother inventing a cosmological argument for God’s existence, since who would bother to do so for a father who was already visibly, audibly, and tangibly present and involved in their life? The reason philosophy makes good apologetics is because God only exists in the ideas of men.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    jacobletoile

    Yes. yes yes yes. In a TED lecture I heard someone say, ‘if it cannot be measured it does not exist.’ I am not yet willing to fully get behind that statement, but it is certainly my starting point in these kinds of discussions

  2. 2
    sqlrob

    Couldn’t this simply be summarized as “Null hypothesis holds in absence of evidence”?

    1. 2.1
      sqlrob

      Or the way I prefer to phrase it to most theists that continue to use debunked arguments like the cosmological or ontological: “Put up or shut up”

  3. 3
    Brian M

    I would argue that the real underlying problem is the basic supposition, that “God” is a personal deity that cares about us and interacts with us as we do with our children, family, and friends. If God is in fact not this type of entity, which we have created in our own image, but is some unfathomable entity beyond our understanding, then convoluted intellectual machinations are the only way limited human intelligences can approach the Deity.

    So…they are trying to have it both ways.

  4. 4
    Russell Glasser

    I think you’ll find that this was the main point of my fifth and final post in the series. All these abstract, theoretical, philosophical, and mathematical proofs of God make no reference to the real world and scorn evidence. This is necessary, because the whole point is to whitewash the glaringly obvious fact that there are no good, reality-based reasons for believing in God, so “baffle ‘em with bullshit” is the only technique that can get a foothold.

    BTW, yesterday on Facebook I posted a neologism that I came up with to describe Feinstein’s style: “Socrateasing. This is what you do when you want to present an argument that you think will amaze your audience, but you won’t say what it is because you are coyly (but ineptly) trying to ask leading questions in order to make the other guy say it.”

    Feinstein relies on it, which comes across especially badly in a written discussion. If you can’t get real time responses to your questions then you must either post annoyingly vague points, or go on to assume the answer that the other guy will give.

    1. 4.1
      Sines

      Furthermore, these arguments would still need to lead into real world arguments. Even if you could argue for a neccesary being, you can’t get into details like “Likes the smell of burning blood” or “Prefers to make Noah, his one loyal servant, do a lot of work, rather than just using all those miracles to vanish all the humans but Noah and his family.”

      No amount of armchair philosophizing can get you those aspects as necessary. So even if you prove a triune, all-powerful creator ground of reality with a mind, then you have to specify the details. Sure, Yahweh fits those characteristics, but so do a million other gods I could dream up. Yahweh may start as a front runner while still in the armchair, due to having already been believed in and worshiped, but once compared against reality and evidence, the non-’necessary’ parts of his nature just don’t fit with what we see.

      We’d end up having to conclude that the triune creator was some never before imagined being. One that could be good and evil (perhaps the third personality works as the ego in this freudian comparison), if he is particularly concerned with humans at all. Or perhaps something closer to Gnosticism, where the ground of reality god made the god that created our universe, who is an idiot bumbler.

      I’ve heard these arguments called “Hijacked Deism” and I think it’s a great name. Make an argument for deism, and then after all your careful handwaving and confusing philosophical talk, just jump to Yahweh specifically without any further justification. If I’m ever approached by one of these arguments, I’m just going to give them the victory for proving the “deism” part for the sake of argument, and then ask where they go from there. I am genuinely curious as to what the reaction would be.

  5. 5
    Kevin

    I actually worked my way through a goodly part of the Summa. I don’t get why theologians think it’s “all that”.

    The vast majority of it is simple apologetics. Like in Section 6 (I think – not going to search for it), where Aquinas lists the logical reasons why Yahweh had to make Adam first out of mud (and not via thin air like he did all the other beasts), and then make Eve out of Adam’s rib.

    It all has to do with man being the superior to woman, of course.

    The vast majority of the Summa is stuff like that. Quite simple assertions that “because the bible says it happened, it must be so”.

  6. 6
    busterggi

    “Believers resort to philosophy because it is a world of ideas, especially of abstract and complicated ideas where the unwary and inexperienced can easily be led astray.”

    Sometimes saying, “because” just isn’t sufficient.

  7. 7
    Sines

    The argument from apologetics is a favored one of mine, that you got close to. Here it is, in a neat ordered format popular with apologists.

    1. Apologists have been attempting to prove their god exists for thousands of years.
    2. Apologists proof are either false, or wouldn’t prove their god even if true, proving only a deist god at best.
    3. Since apologists have been trying to prove god exists for thousands of years, the field of apologetics has had much time to refine itself, and have accrued the best arguments.
    4. The best arguments are insufficient.
    Conclusion: No person has a good proof of god.

    In short, while proving there is no god, the existence of presuppositionalism and ontological arguments proves that there exists no good evidence for a theistic god, since those arguments are shockingly inadequate. If there existed a sufficient proof for the existence of god, that proof (or proofs) would have risen to the top of apologetics, and we would only ever hear arguments like ontological or presuppositional from scholars and philosophers who are just engaging in mental exercise.

    Because of apologists, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no-one willing to share it, has good evidence of the existence of god. I can rule out the existence of an argument I have never heard, because I would never hear arguments as bad as I do, if such a convincing argument existed.

  8. 8
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I’ve been told that, if we knew for sure God exists, we would lose free will. But I haven’t heard what free will we’d lose, exactly. Didn’t seem to affect all those people in the Bible who got to talk to the guy.

    1. 8.1
      Sines

      If they say that, ask them if they believe in Satan.

      Y’know, the angel who knew for a fact that god exists, having personally talked to and served him before, and who has greater mental capacity than any human. If “Trying to lead humans into eternal damnation against gods will” doesn’t cover the extremes of what humans can use free will for, I don’t know what can.

      Not to mention, free will is a post hoc justification anyway. It takes such a central role of importance in apologetics, with god finding it worth allowing billions to be tortured for all eternity, rather than violate their free will.

      But it never is mentioned once in the Bible. Well, unless you count all those times Yahweh violated someones free will in order to make them do evil, thus allowing Yahweh to punish them. Looking at “God hardened his heart so that he would not let them go,” and saying god values free will is like looking at “Stone the gays” and saying that god loves gay people just the way they are. It is Grade A cognitive dissonance, the very pinnacle of Orwellian Double Think.

    2. 8.2
      Janney

      While you’re at it, remind them that God knows everything they will ever do for their whole lives. And He knows when and how they will die. And He knows where they will spend eternity afterwards.

      If they’re still listening, remind them that they believe He engineered the initial conditions of the universe, with complete authority over every detail, and with complete knowledge of everything that would follow.

      Christians are hard determinists with a capital “hard.”

      1. Jer

        Christians are hard determinists with a capital “hard.”

        Ah but they’ll respond that even though God knows everything that you will do because of his omniscience, you still have free will because it’s your choice to do it. Because it’s a “mystery”. And because God transcends all limitations, so your definitions of free will don’t matter. And because the have a long list of authorities that they can cite to support themselves. And also because shut up that’s why.

  9. 9
    Ed

    Presupositional apologetics is simply the demand for concessions for your beliefs that you would never grant to another.

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