The thing about presuppositional apologetics…

I’ve said this about presuppositional apologetics before. But it’s sometimes hard to keep it in mind in the middle of actually talking to a practitioner, like Seth on yesterday’s show. So I’m writing it again just to remind myself.

The thing about presuppositional apologetics is that it’s not convincing to anyone who isn’t already looking for an excuse to continue believing in God. I’ve never in my life heard anyone say “I used to be an atheist, but then I realized that there is no basis for believing things based on logic and evidence, so I decided to believe in God.” That would be an embarrassing and transparent reason to explain a conversion moment. So presuppositionalism is absolutely about shoring up the morale of the troops, not changing anyone’s mind.

When I’m talking to a presup, there’s always a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I’m doing it wrong in some way, and that the show comments are going to get flooded with criticisms about how we could have handled it better. Then I read the comments and they not only aren’t bothered, but deride the presuppositionalist as in way over his head. Sample from yesterday:

“Tonight’s show’s Theme did seem to be ‘lie to the faces of the hosts about what the hosts are saying'” –Jasper of Maine

“From the perspective of the show, if the whole point is ‘what do you believe and why’ and the person can’t or won’t get to a ‘why’ and refuses to even consider evidence, then (ahem) why are they calling?” –Aaroninmelbourne

“Part of the problem I see with many callers is that they don’t listen to what is actually being said to them.” –Ethan Myerson

“Tracie and Russell got to most of my points. Good job!” –EnlightenmentLiberal

Granted, these are all show fans, with a big bias towards agreeing with us. But we get critical emails all the time telling us when we screwed up, and I never, ever heard anyone refer back to a presup caller and say “Now that guy made a lot of sense.”

This is presuppositionalism boiled down to its essential components: You can’t prove logic using logic. Therefore you can’t justify that logic exists. Therefore if I say “God created logic,” you must either present an alternative “explanation” for logic, or just believe me and accept that God exists. That’s pretty much the whole ball of wax, the rest is window dressing.

But there’s a lot of window dressing involved, because showmanship is also a totally indispensable component of presup. Every presup I’ve ever met has filled his own conversation with a huge amount of smug self-congratulation. Seth had the line about how atheists are stabbing themselves and shooting themselves in the foot and so on. Stephen Feinstein, over the course of his five posts, kept telling everyone over and over again how he was “winning,” and what a crushing victory it was and how stupid I was being. But in the hundreds of comments that followed, either on our blog or his, I never saw one that said “This debate has swayed me to take Stephen’s side.”

I’ll be honest here… having a conversation where the other guy is trash talking and ridiculing you most of the time isn’t very much fun. Conversations with rude, angry people isn’t enjoyable, and rude comes with the territory. That’s why people who talk to presups often feel like they’ve said something wrong, even though presuppositionalism completely fails to make a positive case for God of any kind, any more than it makes the case for Pikachu or the Great Pumpkin or a time traveling Lynnea. Being verbally abused is all they’ve got, and that generally only works on the person you’re abusing, not on the listeners.

Presuppositionalism Redux with Deacon Duncan

Over at the “Evangelical Realism blog”, Deacon Duncan has been going back through all of Stephen Feinstein’s posts and discussing the presuppositionalist arguments from another angle.  If you just couldn’t get enough of this discussion while it was happening, here’s more of it!

Seriously though, DD is doing a great job and writing some interesting posts, so you should check out what he’s written so far with Fallacies of a contingent God and The Christian metaphysical understanding of God.

Open thread: In which Stephen Feinstein talks to himself

Stephen wrote a post entitled “Debating the Atheist — My Closing Comments.”  Of course, he previously agreed that his closing comments would be the fifth post, but that doesn’t matter, because Stephen had to award himself the final word.  Besides, he doesn’t expect you to read it.  He drew this to my attention in a brief message saying, “I know you will not link this, but just in case you wanted to read it, here are my closing remarks regarding your final response. Thanks for taking the time to debate me. ”

So anyway, as a brief summary: I’m a liar, because I kept harping on the fact that Stephen said that God creates logic.  That’s not right at all.  No, instead, God thinks about logic, and that causes logic to exist.  That is, of course, entirely different from the other thing.  Which makes me not only a liar, but also still a Nazi.  And finally: Bible quotes!

My last post remains my last post. However, I’d recommend that all you sinners go over there and give feedback, since there’s a comment box open, but I’ve heard from commenters on the previous thread that the comments are moderated and none are getting published.  So feel free to try, but if you can get through, then just go ahead and give your reactions on this open thread.

And of course, Christians (including Stephen) are welcome to join in.

Reply to Stephen Feinstein, final round

This post is part of an ongoing discussion between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen Feinstein. Here are all the previous posts in the series.

This is the end of the Stephen Feinstein series.  Comments will be open at the end of this post, so please feel free to provide your thoughts and feedback on this post and the entire series.

“If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, ‘How about the tortoise?’ the Indian said, ‘Suppose we change the subject.'” –Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian

“Wherever I traveled and met believers, I heard the same responses to my simple question of how they knew that their god or gods existed. The faces, dress, accents, and temples varied greatly, but the reasons for belief did not. The fact that all these people around the world believe in contradictory gods and conflicting religions means that some of them must be wrong. They cannot all be correct. And if some people can be sincerely mistaken on this, all can be.” –Guy P. Harrison, author of 50 Reasons People Give for Believing In a God and other skeptic-themed books

Since this post serves as my closing statement, I’m going to take this opportunity to offer a bird’s eye view of the whole conversation, and the concept of presuppositional apologetics in general, before I get into the  details of Stephen’s final post.

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Reply to Stephen Feinstein, round four

This post is part of an ongoing discussion between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen Feinstein. Here are all the previous posts in the series.

I’ll be disabling comments one more time in this post, as per Stephen’s initial request. However, since we have agreed that the fifth round will be the last, I’ll be opening up a post-mortem open thread with comments enabled after my next post. At that point, I’ll add links to the open thread from all of the previous posts.


I can’t help noticing that in your last post, you seem to have reimagined your role in this debate.  Here I thought that you were simply a collegial fellow participant, but you have decided to award yourself the position of judge and arbiter.  After all, you did apparently award yourself the victory about a dozen times — rather cockily, I must say — and we haven’t even finished yet.  That shift in tone will be taken into account in this response.

Of course, this change of roles shouldn’t come as any surprise to the readers of our exchange.  It was obvious from the beginning that you would have awarded yourself the victory without exchanging a word if you could have.  When you said that you wanted to have a battle of epistemology, clearly what you really meant is that you wish there were no demands of support and evidence for your belief in God.  Instead, it would be so much easier if we’d both come around to accepting your God as “necessary,” irrespective of any observations we might make that confirm that the God actually exists.

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Reply to Stephen Feinstein, round three

This post is part of an ongoing discussion between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen Feinstein. Here are all the previous posts in the series.

As before, I’ll be disabling comments in this post, as it is supposed to be a conversation only between the two of us.


I hope you’ll excuse the amount of time it took to complete this post; your last post was about twice as long as the one before it.  Also, you appear to be getting frustrated by the conversation, and I think I’ve identified a significant source of miscommunication between us. It seems to me that your continued efforts to prove God are based on a serious double standard, and in this post I intend to point out where this lies.

Before I get to that though, I’d like to invoke a rule that we discussed before we started.  Since I don’t intend to continue this conversation indefinitely, I propose that we wrap it up after a total of five rounds.  That means after this, you and I will each write two more posts, with the last ones being dedicated to closing statements.  Is that acceptable to you?  I could see reducing it to one more, or extending it to three, but I really don’t want to go much longer than that, so it’s your call from there.

With that bit of bookkeeping out of the way, I’ll begin.

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Reply to Stephen Feinstein, round two

This post is part of an ongoing discussion between Russell Glasser and Pastor Stephen Feinstein. Here are all the previous posts in the series.

As before, I’ll be disabling comments in this post, as it is supposed to be a conversation only between the two of us.


I want to take a moment to remind our readers again of the first thing that you said in this discussion.  You promised to make the case that “atheism is untenable, irrational, and ultimately impossible.”  That was a pretty bold acceptance of the burden of proof that you took on.  In fact, I’d venture to say that if you don’t start clearly progressing towards making this case, it will be as good as a concession that you’ve lost the debate.


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Reply to Stephen Feinstein, round one


Hi folks,

I’ve been asked by a third party to get involved in a discussion with a Christian named Stephen Feinstein. Stephen has created his own blog for the occasion, and his very first post is here:

In order to keep this as a one-on-one discussion, I’ll be disabling comments on my posts and so will he. Hope you enjoy the discussion, which I imagine will probably last several weeks. When we both agree that we’re finished, I’ll probably open up a big post-mortem comment thread. Until then, enjoy and be patient.

"Is this the right room for an argument?" "I told you once." "No you haven't." "Yes I have."

Post-debate update: For convenience, I am linking all 10 posts from here.


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