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Jul 19 2013

A post-mortem on presuppositionalism

On Sye’s own website, ‘Proof that God exists‘, you follow a trail of questions set as dominoes erected to direct you to the desired conclusion:

1. Absolute Truth Exists: I chose yes, ignoring that knowledge will never be perfect or complete. It turns out that when presups ask this question, they’re only talking about whether we can determine whether a claim is true or not; that’s it. Well of course we can. But a statement isn’t “truth” just because you assert it or believe it is true; we can’t call it ‘truth’ until you can SHOW that it is true. This undermines the whole of theology. The faithful say they’re gonna believe what they wanna believe regardless what the facts are, but ‘what the facts are’ is what the truth is, and if it isn’t factual, then it isn’t correct.
2. I Know Something to be True: Actual knowledge is demonstrable with measurable accuracy. This does not apply to anything Sye claims to ‘know’. So he cannot honestly claim that he actually knows anything he brags about knowing. These are only his beliefs, and they are non-sequitors based only on faith. All *my* knowledge is verifiably accurate, but Sye says it isn’t, because he says that I can’t be sure whether I might be insane, or [he says] it might that reality isn’t reliably real, and might become a different reality in the future. Not kidding! he actually asked me how I know that the laws of physics won’t change five seconds from now! My answer? Because reality is really real, unlike the alternative he’s trying to promote.
3. Logic Exists: Yes, multiple modes of reasoning do exist, and the sensible ones all stand against faith-based beliefs.
4. Logic Does Not Change: It does actually, that’s why there are multiple modes under study. However I only consider one sort of logic as being valid, so I discard unreasonable alternatives.
5. Logic is Not Made of Matter: While all thoughts are generated by physical minds using chemical processes, I will still concede that logic is an intangible abstract concept.
6. Logic is Universal: Obviously this is not the case, Sye uses a different ‘logic’ than sane or honest people would. But I still argue that everyone should use the same logic that I do, ignoring invalid alternatives. So I answered yes again.

The next line reads:

“To reach this page you have admitted that absolute truth exists, that you can know things to be true, that logic exists, that it is unchanging, that it is not made of matter, and that it is universal.”

Thus the ‘proof of God’ is:

“Truth, knowledge, and logic are necessary to prove ANYTHING and cannot be made sense of apart from God.”

Wait, what? Wrong! The universe only makes sense when we stop trying to incorporate gods, ghosts, and magic into it. Nothing can either be explained or accounted for if we try to involve an imaginary overlord.
Because knowledge is demonstrable with measurable accuracy, and because truth is whatever we can SHOW to be actually factually true, then according to the only logic that makes sense, all the claims of religion are unsupported faith-based assertions of blind belief with no truth in them.

Sye repeats his assertion thus:

“Therefore…

The Proof that God exists is that without Him you couldn’t prove anything.”

Wow, is that wrong! Proof -in this context- is defined as an overwhelming preponderance of evidence. Sye offers no evidence whatsoever; only the logical fallacy of a non-sequitur.

But he [relentlessly, obstinately] continues:

“While this proof is valid”,

No it isn’t.

…”no one needs this proof.”

Everyone needs better proof than that. We need something which at least meets the minimum criteria for the least that ‘proof’ can be. What Sye has provided doesn’t even count as evidence because it’s not even factual.

The Bible teaches us that there are 2 types of people in this world,

…those who’s sins will be forgiven if they profess a belief in impossible nonsense, and those who’s ‘good works will be likely filthy rags’ if they’re not gullible enough to be saved.

those who profess the truth of God’s existence

the truth being that he evidently doesn’t exist

and those who suppress the truth of God’s existence.

that would be those who ignore the evidence and claim continued belief on faith

The options of ‘seeking’ God, or not believing in God are unavailable.

Wrong. Sye wants a false dichotomy, eliminating the overwhelming majority by definitional fiat.

The Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God as it declares that the existence of God is so obvious that we are without excuse for not believing in Him.

That’s just one more thing the Bible is wrong about.

To reach this page you have admitted that absolute truth exists, that you can know things to be true, that logic exists, that it is unchanging, that it is not made of matter, and that it is universal.

Truth, knowledge, and logic are necessary to prove ANYTHING and cannot be made sense of apart from God.

Wrong, unsupported non-sequitur, and demonstrably false.

Therefore…

The Proof that God exists is that without Him you couldn’t prove anything.

As Sye himself demonstrated, both on his website, and with me on Dogma Debate, he couldn’t prove anything *WITH* God. The only way you can prove anything is by abandoning inherently auto-deceptive faith, and turning to objective confirmation and rational evaluation of factual evidence instead.

26 comments

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  1. 1
    Mike Haynes

    Looks like another attempt at TAG.

  2. 2
    Holms

    It gets worse – if you deviate from the expected ‘script’, you start getting a little lecture, followed by the question being asked again; this time with only the ‘right’ answer available. Pure dishonesty.

  3. 3
    monkboon

    Given that according to the Bible, salvation comes through faith and faith alone, and that faith is by definition belief without proof, I would argue that the supposed existence of proof of God is itself a contradiction, and thus God cannot exist.

    That’s about as reasonable as Sye’s proof, no?

    1. 3.1
      M can help you with that.

      according to the Bible, salvation comes through faith and faith alone

      …while also according to the Bible, everyone will be judged by their works. Which one takes precedence depends on what denomination you’re discussing at the moment (or what point a particular Christian is trying to make). Since this is considered completely acceptable theological reasoning, maybe Sye is trying to seem rational by comparison? Still not doing a very good job of it…

      1. monkboon

        In the finest tradition of contemporary amateur apologetics, I choose those parts of the Bible that support my argument. Those parts that contradict are irrelevant… until I need them for some other argument.

  4. 4
    Mobius

    headdesk

    (ouch)

    headdesk
    headdesk
    headdesk

    (wobble)

    Maybe if I continue this long enough Sye will appear to be making sense.

  5. 5
    badgersdaughter

    If you choose “I don’t know whether absolute truth exists”, you are presented with the choice between telling him, in essence, “My assertion is absolutely true”, or “My assertion is false”. Forced choice, common to sleight-of-hand con men everywhere.

  6. 6
    Justin Rivers

    As it turns out “presuppositional apologetics” is just a dumber and less honest restatement of Munchhausen’s Trilemma, with Sye claiming a victory over anyone who lands on any of the prongs (or fails to resolve the possibly-unresolvable conundrum according to his own unreachable standards). He’s also got a bit of the Problem Of Induction mixed in there too, wherever it suits him.

    In any case, while he may be semi-successful in showing that a rational worldview cannot 100% logically consistent 100% of the time, he’s completely wrong in assuming that this makes the plausibility of a magical worldview any greater than “none”.

  7. 7
    Owlmirror

    Actually, I think the sleight-of-hand here is in a Stupid Fucking Word Game™, just like lots of theology relies on some Stupid Fucking Word Game™ or other.

    Are you ready?

    Logic == Logos. Logos == God.
    ∴ Logic == God.

    There you go.

    You just say that the system of combining truth values and the negations of truth values [laws of logic] is exactly the same thing as God. Logic justifies calling some conclusion true, and therefore known? That’s actually justification from “God”. You can’t know anything without logic, but logic is God, so you can’t know anything without God.

    Stupid Fucking Word Game™ is declared “won” by default.

    Ta-da.

  8. 8
    dthunt

    Wow.

    I never understood the sheer depth of human dishonesty until I heard a presuppositionalist argument. These are arguments no honest person can construct.

    I’m really struck by this obsession with using absolutes like ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ in broad strokes to drive sweeping conclusions. People generally aren’t very good about talking about ‘theory of knowledge’ type-stuff, so I think it’s a little creepy to try and set up all these word games. If you know the word epistemological, you really shouldn’t need someone to tell you why it’s important to be very clear about the meaning of words and how reasoning works. And you certainly shouldn’t be spending a significant portion of your time constructing circular arguments.

    My feeling is that when most people are talking about ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowing’ things, what they mean is that they have some set of statements of fact that that believe (on balance of evidence) are most probably true to the point that they would rely on those things being true unless presented with evidence to the contrary. In that sense, I think that knowledge is a probabilistic phenomenon; while those statements are individually often strictly true or false (in fact), the closest humans practically get to that absolute truth value when we aren’t dealing with statements about really easy math is that a ‘practically true’ statement is really, really unlikely to be false given all the evidence that’s been provided those statements are true. (And we say ‘X given Y’ here because it’s important to justify WHY we think X is true).

    The analogy I prefer these days is that knowledge is a map, and that reality is the territory that map attempts to describe. The map is a practical guide for getting around, but there may be things it doesn’t describe, and it may be incorrect about various things. When you discover your map is probably wrong about something, you correct your map. But you would never act like because your map has errors in it that you don’t have a map at all.

    Making big sweeping statements about the absolute truth value of that map (or all maps) does you very little good at understanding the territory.

  9. 9
    montrealvengeance

    youtube.com/user/AmazingMeeting2013?feature=watch

    TAMPOSTASY 2013

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    The Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God as it declares that the existence of God is so obvious that we are without excuse for not believing in Him

    Clearly, there are no atheists!
    Wait: there are atheists. Therefore the existence of god is not as obvious as certain people might think.

    1. 10.1
      dthunt

      Clearly all those atheists are LYING. It’s a giant conspiracy!

      1. Marcus Ranum

        No, that doesn’t work because to engage in presuppositional apologetics you must assume you’re arguing with an atheist. Otherwise what’s the point?

  11. 11
    Marcus Ranum

    The other problem with presuppositionalism is that – even if you accepted all its arguments – it doesn’t prove the christian god. It can ‘prove’ Cthulhu just as well.

    1. 11.1
      Monocle Smile

      One of my favorite games to play with an apologetic is to grant as true one point at a time and see how many you have to grant before it becomes even remotely cohesive and convincing.

      1. Marcus Ranum

        The same “reasoning” as these guys are engaging with in this example, could be used to argue that logic comes out of my dog’s ass. I know it’s a gross idea but it makes just the same amount of sense.

  12. 12
    TheJaytheist

    I have heard several of Sye’s debates with atheists and have yet to hear an atheist answer one particular question correctly. If anyone actually reads this please PLEASE spread the word that if you are ever asked if you could be wrong about everything you know the correct answer is “NO, I can’t be wrong about everything because I am self aware and the knowledge of my own existence has to be correct, because if i didn’t exist I couldn’t be self aware.” Or, as Decartes put it “Cogito ergo sum” which translates to “I think therefore I am.”

    1. 12.1
      Corvus illustris

      If one is debating viva voce with these guys, there are ways to tie them into knots before things ever get going. One possibility (worked for me but only with a biblethumping amateur) is the old mathematical-intuitionists’ question: are we doing the kind of logic in which we can infer the existence of something because its non-existence seems to lead to contradictions? (Sometimes callled “you’ve got to show it to me”; application to deities obvs. Usually there are unstated hypotheses, as in the case of Descartes.) As far as the Cartesian argument goes, there are many counterarguments, some summarized in the link below; so unless–as in the Sye case–you’re forced to make choices on a binary tree that your opponent planted, you can bring these up and not be forced into NO.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogito_ergo_sum

  13. 13
    Al Dente

    TheJaytheist @12

    …if you are ever asked if you could be wrong about everything you know the correct answer is “NO, I can’t be wrong about everything because I am self aware and the knowledge of my own existence has to be correct, because if i didn’t exist I couldn’t be self aware.”

    While I can’t be wrong about everything I can be wrong about certain specific things. I think (believe) that my mother who I spoke to on the phone last night is still alive but it’s hardly impossible that my 92 year old mother died in her sleep early this morning. While the “I can’t be wrong” argument can be used against the presuppositionalist argument that Ten Bruggencate is so fond of, it’s not actually true.

    Sye TenB’s argument is based on making a claim and then announcing that any statements to the contrary are logically impossible. He ignores all refutations and continues to give his assertions until his opponents give up in disgust. He then claims victory.

    1. 13.1
      TheJaytheist

      I think you misunderstood the point. I didn’t attempt to say that the correct answer was “I cant be wrong about ANYTHING”…it was that I can’t be wrong about “EVERYTHING”…as in…every single thing.(Pardon, please, the all caps) There is something that I cannot be wrong about, and that “something” is my own existence. I have spent the day searching for some clarification of my point(s) and discovered a really goo youtube video series: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL515BB2B62E8AAAE3

      1. TheJaytheist

        *good

        1. dthunt

          I don’t see any particular problem with acknowledging that all units of knowledge (known by a person) have the potential to be incorrect; i.e. things that we believe to be true may not actually be true. Logic, as it is currently practiced, could have fundamental flaws that somehow escaped the notice of 2500 years of logicians.

          If Sye has an actual problem with logic, though, that takes priority over the God question, since you can’t talk rationally without a common understanding of logic between you. If he has Logic’, which is superior to Logic, it is his duty to show it.

          And if he can’t, really, that’s the end of the discussion, because the disconnect runs so deep that you really can’t talk to someone like that and expect anything productive to happen.

  14. 14
    dekomitri

    This is a pretty good summary of presuppositional apologetics:
    http://thecripplegate.com/presuppositional-apologetics-a-summary/

    “…because (a) God is the Creator and Lord of the universe, and (b) in reality, the truth revealed in the Bible is actually true and not just potentially true, and (c) the unbeliever sinfully evaluates evidence from his own presuppositions and not neutrally, therefore (d) the apologist should not surrender the presuppositions which underlie the Christian faith.”

    The key weakness in PA’s argument is this:

    “…we should make clear that the truths claimed in the Bible are absolutely true, but that our certainty comes not from our own knowledge or capabilities, but from God’s knowledge clearly and graciously revealed to us.”

    The weakness being: how does the apologist know this is true without appealing to circular reasoning? They can’t. Sye admits this.

    However, Sye’s shtick and “success” doesn’t result from the strength of his argument but from this statement:

    “Atheists cannot account for their reason” – an individual can only use their own reason to validate reason. An individual’s reason may be flawed thus making them incapable of detecting their invalid reasoning. Sye claims atheists must resort to circular reasoning to account for their reason, e.i. “my reason is valid because I reason it’s valid”.

    1. 14.1
      Monocle Smile

      And this is why Aron’s fourth-to-last paragraph is so important. Sye’s statement is an outright lie, and it’s extremely easy to expose it as such. Just point to anything modern science has achieved as a result of reasoning by consensus, although I suspect Sye’s followers include a number of conspiracy theorists who deny everything.

  15. 15
    sinned34

    I recall arguing with Sye on Ray Comfort’s blog four or five years ago. I see nothing’s changed whatsoever in his presuppositional approach since then. And if you need to know exactly what kind of debater Sye is, all you need to know is he’s the type of person Ray Comfort admires.

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