Rhetorical questions, weaker arguments

A propos of nothing in particular, I’ve noticed something lately that rather surprises me. Rhetorical questions make arguments weaker. That’s an over-generalization, of course, but time and again I’ve found that any time I find myself about to ask a rhetorical question, I can usually make a much stronger statement by making it a direct affirmation. Not only does it typically produce a result that’s harder to refute, but it also tends to sharpen my own understanding of the argument I’m trying to make. Instead of leaving an open-ended absence of information, I’m forced to dig in to my own argument and understand better why I think it’s true.

[Read more…]

Free will in heaven

One religious answer to the problem of evil is the idea that sin is necessary in order to allow people to exercise their free will. Apparently, if God had created a perfect world, we would all be robots with no free will, and that would be a terrible thing.

But wait a minute. Heaven is supposed to be a perfect world. God, the angels, and all the saints are supposed to live in heaven forever. If free will requires sin in order to be free will, then the sinlessness of heaven means God, the angels, and all the saints are going to spend eternity not having any free will.

That means that for us to have free will right now is a complete waste. The only thing it contributes is to send most of God’s “beloved” children to the eternal torments of Hell. Only the elect few will make it to the realm where their free will no longer exists, and the Bible says that the saved were foreordained before the foundation of the world, so in a sense their “free” will was illusory even while they had it. That’s not much of a justification for sin, is it?

[Read more…]

Hustling the Gospel

Writing for the Huffington Post, Pastor Rick Henderson explains Why There Is No Such Thing as a Good Atheist.

While it is true that there is no definitive atheistic worldview, all atheists share the same fundamental beliefs as core to their personal worldviews. While some want to state that atheism is simply a disbelief in the existence of a god, there really is more to it. Every expression of atheism necessitates at least three additional affirmations…

What follows is another one of those arguments where morality is supposed to come from God, and therefore without God there can be no good or evil, and therefore atheists can’t be “good” because they’ve denied the existence of good and evil. What’s interesting is the way Pastor Rick introduces this particular scam.

For those of you who are eager to pierce me with your wit and crush my pre-modern mind, allow me to issue a challenge. I contend that any response you make will only prove my case. Like encountering a hustler on the streets of Vegas, the deck is stacked, and the odds are not in your favor.

The atheist is talking with the pastor, but he’s being hustled, because the pastor has stacked the deck. I’ve seen believers pull this particular hustle before, but Pastor Rick is the first one to openly admit he’s using dishonest tactics to achieve his goal. But let’s lay all our cards on the table and check out his “three additional affirmations” and then see who deserves to win this particular hand.

[Read more…]

Why revelation fails

One of the dogmas underlying Murk’s belief system is the idea that divine revelation is required in order for us to have any knowledge of the truth, as he himself has recently shared.

I have written that to know anything a person must either know everything or someone who does who is good and shares. I cannot make this any simpler.
You cannot have any knowledge unless you are God or trust what He has revealed.

This is a false statement, since I can and do know that I exist, and I cannot be mistaken in this knowledge—if I did not exist there would be no one to make the mistake. Every one of us possesses the ability to know at least some material truth, without any need for divine revelation. But more than this, there are at least three good reasons to conclude that divine revelation is not, in fact, a reliable means of knowing the truth about the real world.

[Read more…]

Ultimate authority

Whatever it may sell itself as to believers, presuppositionalism in practice usually boils down to a loose collection of contrived and superficial “gotcha” dialogs in which the entire skeptical worldview ends up “exposed” as self-contradictory and invalid. The catch is that creating this illusion requires that the unbeliever stick to some rigid and narrow constraints on what they’re supposed to say. It’s a schtick that works best with 1-dimensional bad guys, who oppose the hero only to make the hero look good.

Real skeptics don’t talk or think like cartoons, however, so when the presuppositionalist tries to interact with a real live skeptic, they end up floundering around trying to force the conversation back into the canned script. Sometimes they meet unbelievers who haven’t thought much about the topic, and are easily steered, but if the skeptic knows anything at all about philosophy, epistemology, and phenomenology, the result can be a series of exchanges so disjointed they border on the surreal. For example, here’s Murk trying to respond to my observation that religious beliefs are necessarily subjective perceptions rather than verifiable objective fact.

“you’d be walking by proof, not walking by faith.” not true- boils down to ultimate authority – we all have one – what is yours again?

His response seems only tangentially related, if not completely disconnected, from the observation he’s trying to respond to. But that’s because he’s trying to get back to a script in which rationalism is really the vain assumptions of a conceited heart. I didn’t say anything that would support such a conclusion, but that’s beside the point. He’s here to have the scripted conversation from his apologetics texts, no matter how the real-world conversation may be proceeding. [Read more…]

Trust vs trust

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I think it’s also worth mentioning that their are two kinds of trust. Our friend murk seems to think that only believers acknowledge that their beliefs are based on trust, and that skeptics are mistakenly assuming they don’t need to trust. He seems to think that this is because only God is trustworthy, and skeptics don’t want to trust God.

What he’s overlooking is the fact that there are two kinds of trust: there’s reality-based trust, which skeptics have, and then there’s the kind of trust where you believe what someone tells you, even though it isn’t really consistent with what we find in material reality. That latter form of trust has acquired a bad name: gullibility. But why is gullibility a bad thing? Because we’ve learned through experience that gullibility deceives you and makes you more likely to be wrong. Yet among believers, believing what you’re told, despite the evidence, is considered a spiritual virtue. It’s called “faith,” and it’s seen as a sign of closeness to God and as a source of spiritual insights. Small wonder, then, that this kind of “faith” leads to so many different kinds of belief.

[Read more…]

Superstition and necessity

One of the things I’ve been observing during my interactions with presuppositionalists is that at least some of them seem to have a strange view of what “necessary” means. The presuppositional argument declares that there are two types of entities: necessary things and contingent things. A contingent thing depends on something else for its existence and characteristics, whereas a necessary thing exists because it must necessarily be real. There follows a certain amount of philosophical discussion (and/or hand-waving, and/or smoke and mirrors) gradually working its way to the conclusion that everything depends on God being real, and therefore God must be real. And not just any God, but a specifically Christian, Trinitarian God to boot.

The obvious flaw in this argument is that, even if we accept the existence of a necessary being, there’s no reason why it should have to be any sort of god, or even any sort of person. God might arguably be a conceptually possible being, but if He’s only a possible being, then by definition He’s not the necessary being. Yet presuppositionalists (or at least some of them) clearly believe that God is not just a possible being, but a literally necessary one. And I think I might have some understanding as to why and how they think that.

[Read more…]

Honest inquiry vs. rationalization

One of the reasons why so many people believe wrong things is because it is so easy to rationalize things to make them sound true when they’re not. What’s worse, it’s very difficult to recognize rationalization when we’re the ones doing it. And that goes double when it’s someone else trying to convince us that we’re rationalizing. But there is at least one significant difference between rationalization and honest inquiry that helps clarify which one we’re actually employing.

[Read more…]

Gospel Hypothesis 1: The nature of revelation

[This is the first post in a series comparing the Gospel Hypothesis with the Myth Hypothesis in the light of Occam’s Razor.]

One of the reasons apologetics does so well with a lot of people is because skeptics try to prove that religion is wrong. In other words, the issue focuses on a binary question regarding religion: is it true or is it false? So long as believers can come up with an answer—any answer—to skeptical objections, they will feel justified in continuing to believe regardless of the evidence. And because humans are so good at rationalization, there will always be some answer.

Instead of focusing on the question of whether religion is flat out wrong, we want to take a comparative approach, demonstrating that, even if someone thinks they have good reasons for believing in religion, there are even better reasons for believing that religion is a myth. This makes the apologist’s job more difficult, because then it’s not enough to think up some random, unverifiable rationalization. In fact, random, unverifiable rationalizations may even begin to hurt the case for religion, by highlighting the fact that skepticism doesn’t need them.

[Read more…]