Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Goodnight to Nihilism

In response to this post...the JN and John Morales apparently want me to write my positions in my own words, make a big deal out of it. I understand, but at the same time, I'm parroting and expounding on Bahnsen's ideas. You may consider his words mine in this case (it’s not imitation, it’s emulation ;-) ). Not everyone has time like apparently the JN has to type stuff. Though I could wish I did.

Unfortunately, the conversation has degenerated into a Who's Begging the Question Worst? match. Consider this most recent offering from the JN.

-You asked that I provide evidence that could substantiate the value of evidence. I did precisely that. My first principle, as I repeatedly have said, can be summarized as “The road to truth is paved with evidence.” That is, in order for human primates to happen upon truth (or its close approximation), the most reliable route is that of evidence (or, alternately phrased, “the relevant facts”).

Of course, what's the predictable response from me? Yep - Fine, evidence is the evidence for the idea that the best way to discover truth is to examine evidence. What is your evidence for that, since we want to discover the truth about that idea?

And on and on. This may get tiresome for you the reader, but just imagine how it is for me! I have to keep repeating the same thing over and over again while getting roasted by the JN's sycophants in his comboxes and my own.

The very next sentence is classic:

-My first principle only would be self-defeating if it, itself, could not be substantiated through evidence.

He then attempts to substantiate his principle by appealing to it. Which is, of course, circular.

Then, we hear:

-Perhaps your questions are “easy” for the theist because they are designed presupposing the theistic worldview.


Not really, though one only wishes that the JN would then follow that line of reasoning.
The questions I've asked are not all that "specialised", when you think about it. I'm not asking "How do you think the Eucharist is best celebrated?" or "What do you think about the baptism in the Holy Spirit?" Far from it. Rather, the questions are designed to show that an atheistic worldview can't make sense of such important questions, whereas the biblical worldview can (as the JN has just admitted here).

This may be my favorite admission from the JN:

-This question is fallacious because it presupposes that communication, reasoning and logic require “grounds”

For someone who purports to be after the "truth", one really has to wonder what this could mean. So perhaps he means they don't require grounds - they just ARE. And God isn't. Which brings up a whole host of problems, not least of which is how the universe (ie, matter and energy) could arise out of non-personal abstract concepts. They are immaterial - where is material from?

But of course, if he can presuppose that logic just IS, then I can presuppose that God just IS. We are at an impasse now until each of us takes on the other's worldview to see which one comports to reality.

So, let’s do so. We will see that the JN or any atheist, by engaging the topic, has conceded the issue. The reason for that is that their presuppositions do not allow for the coming-forth of beliefs that are reliably believed to be true. This is the point of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) (see Plantinga’s statement here), and I’d state it two ways.

1) The way Darwin himself stated it:

“With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? (Darwin 1887)”

Related specifically to evolution.

Or,

2) Why would I believe that my own or anyone’s cognitive faculties are reliably geared to producing true beliefs when they are nothing more than neurochemical reactions? They are atoms banging around. As I’ve said, I don’t argue with my bottle of lotion, nor do I ask a fizzing can of Dr. Pepper who has the upper hand in the debate between the JN and me. Doing such would make as much sense, after all, as asking who is winning the debate on the other side of the room between the fizzing can of Coke and the fizzing can of Mountain Dew. The liver secretes bile; the brain secretes thoughts. How can we have confidence in these thoughts, these secretions of the brain?

This is what results when I take on the atheist’s worldview. Can we presuppose reason and not God? Sure, let’s see what happens when we do. We have several problems now:

1) The question of the origin of the universe. Since there is no personal First Cause, there is no answer to how matter and energy came into existence.

2) The question of why we should trust reason in the 1st place, as stated in the above 2 arguments.

3) Just b/c we presuppose reason does not mean that we presuppose logic.

4) If we presuppose logic and reason, that means we have presupposed the existence of immaterial entities. If immaterial entities exist, materialism is defeated. I’m not sure whether the JN is a materialist, but if he presupposes logic and reason as brute facts, he can’t be a consistent materialist.


So I’m not feeling too comfortable now as far as this goes. OTOH, the God of the Bible fulfills the role as grounder of intelligibility b/c these things flow out of His character, how and who He is. He is logical. He is reasonable. Our thinking processes and trust that our cognitive faculties can be relied upon to produce true beliefs in many instances reflect the fact that His cognitive faculties, if you will, are that way. How do we know this? Remember, now we are presupposing the Christian worldview and testing how far it comports with reality. A criticism of the Christian worldview, therefore, would need to presuppose it and then try to show how it is internally inconsistent on its own grounds, not on the grounds of some other worldview like naturalism.

Finally, when I say that the JN borrows capital from the Xtian worldview to attack the Xtian worldview, I mean this. He presupposes the worldview that includes the 4 major problems I listed above, which cast serious, serious doubt on the reliability of his or anyone’s cognitive faculties to produce true beliefs. He needs to deal with those problems and then we can talk. Otherwise, his worldview precludes him from having any confidence in intelligibility or rational thought, which means that he has to implicitly stand on the platform of a worldview where intelligibility and rational thought ARE supportable. That worldview is the Xtian one. So he stands on Xtianity in order to use its framework for rationality and intelligibility (b/c those things reflect how God is and how He has revealed Himself to be) and then employs intelligible, rational arguments to assert that this God does not in fact exist. He stands on my stage and denies my stage exists.

I have recently taken up a contributing role to the Beggars All Reformation blog, and so my time at that blog is going to cut into my time here and in this discussion with the JN. Please note therefore that my substantive responses, if any are necessary, on this subject may be slower in coming than before. Patience is appreciated, and I commend the JN, John Morales, Tommy, and the other commenters (Lucian excepted) for not busting my chops for running away just b/c I haven’t said anythg in a while. Peace to all of you,

Rhology

7 comments:

The Jolly Nihilist said...

Interesting post....

You've been answered.

Billy said...

"Since there is no personal First Cause, there is no answer to how matter and energy came into existence."

The lack of an answer is largely irrelevant to these discussions. You are also assuming that matter and energy require a first cause, which is not the case.

"The question of why we should trust reason in the 1st place, as stated in the above 2 arguments."

The first argument is a creationist nonsense that is taken out of context and not really worth responding to. So I won't.

The second argument is "Why would I believe that my own or anyone’s cognitive faculties are reliably geared to producing true beliefs when they are nothing more than neurochemical reactions?" The answer's pretty simple - because your experience tells you that those cognitive faculties do produce beliefs that are broadly true. This seems so blindingly obvious to me that it bothers me, but perhaps I am missing something. Perhaps your experience has been that these cognitive faculties do no such thing, but that raises the interesting question of how you ever manage to have a conversation with anybody.

"Doing such would make as much sense, after all, as asking who is winning the debate on the other side of the room between the fizzing can of Coke and the fizzing can of Mountain Dew."

If you genuinely can't see the difference between a can of soda and a human being, then I understand why you might be having difficulties with this line of thought. Yet you do see a difference, as do I, independent of our belief systems; which leads me to believe that you are simply parroting Bahnsen again without really thinking about the real world.

"Just b/c we presuppose reason does not mean that we presuppose logic."

Irrelevant.

"If we presuppose logic and reason, that means we have presupposed the existence of immaterial entities."

No we don't. Logic and reason are not "entities" except in Bahnsen's exciting new world of ideas. Logic is just a scientific discipline; reason is a type of thought. What do you (or rather Bahnsen) mean by "entities"?

John Morales said...

But of course, if he can presuppose that logic just IS, then I can presuppose that God just IS. We are at an impasse now until each of us takes on the other's worldview to see which one comports to reality.

Really?

Well, I graciously concede.

It has become evident your logic and rhetoric is vastly more lucid and cogent than mine, to the extent that my crass opinion that having assumed God, one then merely arrives at the point where the logician starts is shown for the facile pabulum that it truly is.

You have, in fact, bested me soundly, Sir Rhology.

Surely Christianity is in good hands with logician-warriors of your caliber to beat back the militant atheist hordes with God-given logic.

I shall henceforth humbly hold to my place, and desist from more punishment from your self-deprecating, witty bon-mots and devastating reasoning by not directly engaging you in further argumentation.

Rhology said...

Hi Billy,

Do you believe that things don't require a cause, then?
Is the universe self-existent? Has it always existed or did it begin?

You appeal to experience to know that my cognitive faculties are reliable...I should hardly have to point out that your experiences are made sense of by your cognitive faculties, and we're back in the problem.

This seems so blindingly obvious to me that it bothers me, but perhaps I am missing something.

Yes, the whole point, unfortunately.
If your cognitive faculties are not reliable for producing true beliefs, and you try to convince me that you are communicating truth to me, well...

Perhaps your experience has been that these cognitive faculties do no such thing

1) It isn't, which implies that this defeater is not in place. Which would imply that evolution is wrong.
2) Why would experience matter if our cognitive faculties are worthless for figuring it?

how you ever manage to have a conversation with anybody.

Yes, how DO evolutionists do so? By assuming that evolution is NOT true.

If you genuinely can't see the difference between a can of soda and a human being

Not on naturalism, I can't. What is the qualitative difference?

which leads me to believe that you are simply parroting Bahnsen again without really thinking about the real world.

Unashamedly parroting Bahnsen, yes, and others.
I think it's a good point, though, and I *did* put it in my own words. ;-)

Logic is just a scientific discipline; reason is a type of thought. What do you (or rather Bahnsen) mean by "entities"?

Cool, thanks for letting me know this - it does further the convo I believe.
By "entity," I'd mean (and "entity" might have been a clumsy use of the word, I admit): Is logic a universal constant? Is it the way the universe works? Or is it a human convention of thought? A useful sidenote question - if there were no minds to think logically, is logic still the way the universe works?
The Christian says logic holds if there are no human minds around to think logically, but God Himself is the supreme Mind and logic is the way He thinks. I'd like to know the naturalistic way of considering this question. I mean, your own way... "naturalism" is not monolithic.

Peace,
Rhology

Rhology said...

John,

No offense intended, I'm sure.

Peace,
Rhology

Billy said...

"Do you believe that things don't require a cause, then? Is the universe self-existent? Has it always existed or did it begin?"

a. Broadly speaking, I do expect that "things require a cause". I put quote marks around that phrase because I find it too vague to be useful, and I'm unwilling to extrapolate from my experience (i.e. human experience) to every level (for example, causality is much more ambiguous at the quantum level. Cause and effect is a scientific principle that seems to hold according to our experience - but we have no basis for believing that it holds outside that part of the universe that we can see, either through time or through space (think light cone).

b. I think combining my answers to a and b should answer this, but I must point out that the phrase "self-existent" is fairly meaningless.

c. I am sufficiently uncertain about this to answer that I don't know. Again, think light cone - there are some things that we can't know, simply through the nature of the physical universe that we're in. You should also bear in mind that time (as far as we can tell) is a property of that physical universe, and as a result the words "always" and "begin" in this context don't mean the same as they do in our everyday life.

"You appeal to experience to know that my cognitive faculties are reliable...I should hardly have to point out that your experiences are made sense of by your cognitive faculties, and we're back in the problem."

No, we're not. Are you talking about our senses (which provide us with data) as being separate from our "cognitive faculties" (where the data is processed and made sense of)? I agree that there is an element of circularity in this argument, but you simply have to accept that - after all, that problem doesn't go away even if God exists.

I'm not sure where you're going with this argument, and I really hope you're not going to argue that your cognitive faculties are 100% reliable if God exists, because they're clearly not. We only need to be relatively sure that our cognitive faculties are reliable - not absolutely sure - in order to make our way through life.

I should also point out that I'm not looking for 100% certainty in life. Perhaps that's the real difference between us - you crave certainty, while I don't?

"Not on naturalism, I can't. What is the qualitative difference?"

I wasn't talking about naturalism. I was asking about your personal experience.

"By "entity," I'd mean (and "entity" might have been a clumsy use of the word, I admit): Is logic a universal constant? Is it the way the universe works? Or is it a human convention of thought? A useful sidenote question - if there were no minds to think logically, is logic still the way the universe works?"

I think Bahnsen is taking deliberate advantage of a category error that he himself created by using the word "entity" in the first place. As I pointed out, logic is just a philosophical / scientific discipline, and thus not an "entity" in the way that "God" is an entity.

However if by "logic" you mean logical principles (which Bahnsen never actually identifies in that talk, but I take to include laws such as the excluded middle), then it seems reasonable to expect that these would still apply even if nobody was around - including God.

The principles of logic seem to be part of the way that the universe works, rather than a "convention of thought" (a phrase I dislike intensely). However I fail to see how such principles can be classed as an "entity" in the same way that God is an entity - this is something that Bahnsen continually asserts without explaining.

In addition, the principles of logic and logic as scientific disciple are two distinct things, in the same way as (for example) God and Theology are distinct things - one is an entity, the other is a way of analysing that entity. So your use of the word "entity" really fails on all counts, as far as I can tell.

Perhaps you could start by defining what an "entity" is?

"The Christian says logic holds if there are no human minds around to think logically, but God Himself is the supreme Mind and logic is the way He thinks. I'd like to know the naturalistic way of considering this question. I mean, your own way... "naturalism" is not monolithic."

That isn't what the "Christian" says - it's what some Christians say, specifically since (Bishop) Berkeley first argued it. Not all Christians are familiar with this argument, not all Christians subscribe to this argument and not all Christians propose this argument. So I disagree with you straight off the bat on that one.

Taken on its own terms, I simply can't subscribe to this argument - it has too many flaws. The first flaw is the most obvious one - if logic is the way God thinks, then God can't act illogically. If that's the case, then logic is a constraint on God's actions - and that doesn't square with the claim of omnipotence.

For example, miracles are essentially occasions at which cause and effect ceases to operate. But if cause and effect is the way God thinks, then miracles can't happen, because God is logical. If we then try to get out of this trap by saying that the cause of a miracle is God, then God is trapped with us in the grip of cause and effect.

I'd be interested to know whether you see a way out of this, because as far as I can tell, your argument leads to the conclusion that the entity "logic" is a higher power than the entity "God".

Rhology said...

Billy,

Sorry it's taken weeks for me to get back to you on this. If you see this, I'll be impressed by your tenacity.

Cause and effect is a scientific principle that seems to hold according to our experience - but we have no basis for believing that it holds outside that part of the universe that we can see, either through time or through space (think light cone).

But that could be said about ANYthing, and it's a point I've made before.
You have no idea whether light travels in a (generally) straight line beyond where we can observe. It might travel in curly-Qs. It's just assumption that it travels there like it travels here.
So the answer is that you don't know. Cool.
See, I know, and that's nice. But we can just chalk that one up to an unanswerable question for you.
That should make you uncomfortable.

I must point out that the phrase "self-existent" is fairly meaningless.

Why? It describes God, for one thing.
And it describes one option available to you for the universe if you deny the Uncaused Personal First Cause.

time (as far as we can tell) is a property of that physical universe, and as a result the words "always" and "begin" in this context don't mean the same as they do in our everyday life.

Clearly, but I'm asking you about the origin of time and the physical universe.

I agree that there is an element of circularity in this argument, but you simply have to accept that - after all, that problem doesn't go away even if God exists.

But you have no reason to assume that these cognitive faculties are reliably aimed at producing true beliefs.
If TGOTB exists, then He has created us with cognitive faculties that ARE reliably aimed at producing true beliefs, b/c He is like that.
Once again, you don't know.
One would think that one would choose a worldview that provides MORE and BETTER answers to the tough questions rather than a bunch of I-dunnos.

I really hope you're not going to argue that your cognitive faculties are 100% reliable if God exists, because they're clearly not.

Not 100% reliable, but far better than just assuming that they are generally reliable but having no idea why I'm assuming such, which is what you have to do.

We only need to be relatively sure that our cognitive faculties are reliable - not absolutely sure - in order to make our way through life.

But you have no reason to be.

you crave certainty, while I don't?

I desire to live a life based in sthg solid, not a bunch of assumptions that have no basis and force me to say I dunno all the time when pressed for detail.

I was asking about your personal experience.

If my personal experience is in a naturalistic universe, a can of soda is atoms banging around. A human being is atoms banging around. What's the difference? That humans are made in the image of... oops.

logic is just a philosophical / scientific discipline, and thus not an "entity" in the way that "God" is an entity.

Yes, but it's a constant of the universe. Not a human convention. You'd agree, right?

it seems reasonable to expect that these would still apply even if nobody was around

On what basis?

Perhaps you could start by defining what an "entity" is?

Nah, I don't think it's relevant. Just forget I said "entity" and we'll go with...maybe, "constant" or "abstraction" or something. I'm just interested if laws of logic are human conventions or not. You seem to think they're not. Good.

Not all Christians are familiar with this argument

Irrelevant.

not all Christians subscribe to this argument, and not all Christians propose this argument.

They may not USE it, but do they think it's invalid? It's part of the Christian worldview.

The first flaw is the most obvious one - if logic is the way God thinks, then God can't act illogically. If that's the case, then logic is a constraint on God's actions - and that doesn't square with the claim of omnipotence.

Not at all. Omnipotence = the ability to do anythg possible. God can't cease to exist. God can't create a square circle. God can't microwave a burrito so hot He can't eat it.
Besides, God constrains Himself all the time. He didn't destroy me when I was a sinner, but had mercy. He doesn't destroy you either. Yet.

miracles are essentially occasions at which cause and effect ceases to operate

That's totally wrong. A miracle is a supernatural intervention by God in the natural world. He is the cause.

If we then try to get out of this trap by saying that the cause of a miracle is God, then God is trapped with us in the grip of cause and effect.

He's not trapped, cause and effect flows out of Who He is. It's how He is.

your argument leads to the conclusion that the entity "logic" is a higher power than the entity "God".

THink of it this way - since logic is the way God IS, it's a self-limitation. But it's foundational, so talking about it like that doesn't make a lot of sense.

Peace,
Rhology