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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Worldviews in the balance

The observation is often made (and often by religious people) that each of us has our own worldview, by which we understand and interpret things in the world around us. When this observation is made during a debate over religion and/or science, it is often claimed that your conclusions owe as much to your worldview as my conclusions do to mine, and therefore I have just as much right to my conclusions as you do to yours.

This argument overlooks the fact that not all worldviews are created equal. There are two kinds of worldview, rational worldviews, and rationalizing worldviews, and they differ by the degree to which they accurately reflect the world they’re supposed to be viewing. In general, we want to avoid the rationalizing worldview because it tends to isolate us from the truth and leads us to make mistakes that are both painful and avoidable. But how do we know which kind of worldview our worldview is?

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Ockham and Twain

One of the things that used to bother me about Ockham’s Razor was the almost coincidental way it “just so happens” that the simplest solution is most likely to be correct. Oh really? How convenient for us simple-minded investigators! Are you sure there isn’t some kind of scam going on here?

As it turns out, there isn’t. In a world where “true” and “false” are consistently meaningful terms, the law of parsimony will always apply. The correct explanation will be the simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts.

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Defining superstition

One of the problems we frequently encounter when discussing religion (especially in the context of science) is that a lot of people have a hazy understanding of what superstition is. They think superstition means “silly things other people believe,” and if we describe any of their beliefs as superstition, they think we’re merely insulting their beliefs without making any substantive criticism. This in turn allows them to get away with a lot of superstitious thinking, at least in their own estimation.

For that reason, I’m always on the lookout for a nice concise, comprehensive definition of what superstition actually is, so that we can share it with people and say, “This is why I describe your belief as a superstition.” So far, the definition I like best is this one:

Superstition is when you arbitrarily associate some particular effect with some particular cause in the absence of any plausible or verifiable, non-magical connection between them.

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