Friday, September 28, 2007

If you can't beat 'em, malign 'em

Such is the modus operandi of not a few Internet atheists these days. Case in point - Frank Walton, who dares upset the "Rational" Response Squad's plans for world domination.

Another is ERV where, after I spent some time mixing it up about evolution and having a good time, the author Abbie has accused me of using 3 different handles after I denied doing so in response to another commenter's implication that I do. I wasn't sure he was accusing me, so I left it open for correction, but instead of doing the honorable thing, simply saying, "No, you misunderstood me; I wasn't accusing you of using multiple handles", he let it go and ERV stepped in.

So, mindful of the fact that the Internet is a place of anonymity where an accusation like this can almost certainly neither be 100% confirmed nor 100% denied, I'd at least like to know which handles ERV refers to. I'd like to warn them.
Super-secret link tag thing

Sunday, September 23, 2007 swings and misses

Hi all,

There is remaining to me a little more patience (just a little, though - I'm much more willing and comfy defending the Christian worldview, not ID) to deal with evolution before moving on to much more interesting topics such as the origin of life and the universe.

At some interlocutors' request, I have looked at a few articles at and found some interesting things.
I will make sthg clear, though. I expect to find relevant articles to which I'm referred to have a lot of explanatory value. I expect them to bludgeon me with the overwhelming evidence that is supposedly on the evolution side. So if I read three articles and each one has a variety of problems, what's to push me to keep reading? Have these articles not been peer-reviewed? Have they not been selected for extinction? Is just a bad place to look? If so, why refer me to it? (Unless you're falling prey to the common self-defeating arguments I sometimes hear, like "well, motorcycles evolved!")

OK, so I took a look at the monkeys that ChooseDoubt mentioned.
I note a few things about this.
1) The duplication occurred about four million years ago, after colobines split off from the other Old World monkeys
This is just begging the question - they don't really have any solid way of knowing when that happened. If any reader would like to disagree, make sure to explain how you can know.

2) “Our results suggest that this is an adaptation to the more acidic environment of the small intestine in colobine monkeys,”
They suggest it, do they? That's solid.

3) RNASE1B has become super-efficient at the first job, but has lost the ability to do the second
Though this is an enzyme, not an organism, this seems to violate #3 of my 5 questions.
This statement would seem to militate against #3's being a good criterion, however: After duplication, you have two enzymes, each doing just one job, but doing it better than the other.” (See, I'm doing the evolutionists' job for them. ;-) )
To be fair, I'll say that at this time I don't know quite what I'd say to respond to this. Remind me to ask Dembski the next time I'm palming him a couple of $100 bills.

4) Zhang’s analysis shows that the duplication occurred some six million years after colobines began eating leaves. “So leaf-eating did not depend on the new gene, but the new gene apparently improved the efficiency,” he concludes.
Again, this is begging the question. To be fair, that's probably not the point of this article, so I won't fault the author for this, but still I would like to know how one might propose a non-question-begging method of discovering when a gene duplication like this might have occurred.

5) Finally, I'd like assurance that this experimentation did not inject intelligence into the equation, per #s 1 and 4 and that this has been observed repeatedly per #5.
Remember, my questions are an attempt on my part to make sure these highly important experiments don't cross the line into junk science that are targeted to produce a desired result rather than pure science, where the experimenters are working in good faith to change their minds to fit the evidence, rather than the converse. I'm trying to be a purist.

As for a 2nd article I looked at, I found
1) In experiments with bacteria, variation (including beneficial mutations) arises in populations that are grown from a single individual...

This violates my questions #1 and #4 and is possibly in violation of #3 and #5.

2) pests have developed resistance to a variety of antibiotics and pesticides, many of them artificial and unlike anything in nature

Which are developed by intelligence.
Nothing is mentioned about whether this answers question #3.

3) In particular, reducing populations to a single pair of individuals, as Noah's Flood requires

For all the talk about how creationists misunderstand evolution, it would be nice to see hypocrisy like this be avoided.
Noah's Ark is not the only element in a Christian understanding. The Bible says nothing about whether God intervened temporarily in another creative act to either increase variation or to create some more animals in other places. On a Christian worldview, there would be nothing to demand that didn't happen.
That's not the only possibility, but it is one.

4) if the selection is maintained, change should continue, albeit at a much slower rate
An assumption. I catch flak for allegedly making assumptions all the time; why not hold the same standard up to these guys?

Another article I looked at seems to be a classic example of navel-gazing simplicity; one might label it "promissory materialism" or "science of the gaps". It's on the question of junk DNA.
Looks like current research is overturning these ideas. Again, this article seems not to have been selected for extinction yet, but there's still time - apparently scientists can know with certainty that this planet will exist for further millions of years.

OK, that should suffice for now in my analysis of articles. Color me less than impressed.

Now then, CD said:
No one expects to see the same mutation occurring repeatedly.

But science is purported to be based on repeatable, testable results. This supports my contention that this is not science. It's going to be tough to do repeatable experimentation on that. Why doesn't that put a crimp in your confidence?

I get the impression that the only information you receive regarding evolution is from creationists.

You know, I actually don't read creationist stuff much. I get more of it from ID theorists. And I get some from interaction with evolutionists. And some I get from reading evolution people, like or R Dawkins and his buds online. But it's always easier to demonise the fundy blogger...

This is confusing abiogenesis

Dang, it's hard not to do that! You may be right...I want to talk about it but we shouldn't now.

As for a common ancestor you have to define common to whom?

Every living thing. I thought that was the neo-Darwinian stock position. But let me clarify - do you believe that there was more than one common ancestor, and I'm talking at the VERY beginning?

it’s very likely that the average person’s idea of the complexity of processes going on in their entire body is radically less complicated than what is actually going on within any single cell in their body.

Which is one reason why it seems so very improbable that nat sel acting on mutations could be responsible for it.

the answer to that is evolution. It’s not faith. It’s a theory supported by absolutely all evidence we have and contradicted by none of it.

Now you've got me laughing.

god magically created everything as it is

Strawman - nobody claims God "magically" created anything, nor that He created it all as it is. Do have the courtesy to acknowledge when you caricature my position?

What studies have been undertaken and what evidence has been presented

I don't appeal to "studies" to support my ideas of the origin of life or the complexity thereof.

It doesn’t matter that most mutations will be detrimental to the resultant organism. Evolution has no problem with this.

It doesn't have a problem when the requisite mutations are highly improbable? OK.

Ignoring drug resistance is ruling a priori that important evidence must be ignored.

But it violates several of my questions, so I don't "ignore" it; it disqualifies itself.

Bird’s beaks have provided another form of first hand study and again you have arbitrarily ruled the evidence out.

I already explained why and you apparently didn't listen. One wonders why I'm wasting my time on THIS post, but I press on...

Are you are really saying that there is no way natural selection can operate on single celled organisms?

Nowhere have I denied that the evolutionary mechanism operates in the real world (ie, microevolution). I deny that it was responsible for getting from one simply common ancestor to today's diversity. And I don't see how nat sel operating on mutations could produce the enormous diversity of complex and specified genetic information present in today's organisms.

Now, Billy said:
Evolution's answer is natural selection.

Yes, yes, acting on mutations.

Mutation is one of the mechanisms which natural selection acts upon to produce evolutionary change.

What would be another?

Where do you think Darwin got the idea from in the first place?

From flawed examples such as his finches.

This is possibly the stupidest thing that you've ever written.

Well, since my last post anyway. ;-)

While the environment in which the processes takes place will be designed, the processes themselves are not "designed".

I'm sure you'd agree that a natural environment brings into acct many factors that a controlled environment does not and cannot admit. What we have here is artificial selection acting on mutations. That's not your theory.
And if it'd be really really hard to get any experimentation done in organisms' natural environment, I say tough cookies - real data obtained at great difficulty is far better than contrived data.

You're wrong about the finches

OK, from the article you pointed me to:

If each island had its own birds, as Gould suggested, and the archipelago as a whole had its own roster of genera, his shipboard speculations about the instability of species were more accurate than he had thought"

Begging the question. What if God put them there?
That's just stupid, you stupid fundy!
If your response amounts to that, sounds like I can prophesy as well. Or at least extrapolate from pre-existing data.

But Wells fails to discuss the evidence of the climate in the past.

But no solution to the inherent problem for the evolutionist is provided. How do you observe that the finch beaks ACTUALLY DID change? The article implicitly admits this is speculation:

that there was more than enough time for significant directional change to occur.

Pitiful performance. I'm done here. And I don't feel like going over to the peppered moths example - is batting 0 for 4 today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On increasing information in the genome

Here's something about which I'm fairly curious. I am very skeptical (no, really?) but really would like to know if anyone reading this can furnish an example of a mutation that:
  1. has been observed in an organism NOT IN A LAB (b/c that would inject intelligence into the equation, and I'm after full nature here),
  2. has increased the USEFUL information in the genome,
  3. has been BENEFICIAL for survival in the organism's natural habitat,
  4. which occurred without ANY human intervention whatsoever,
  5. and which has been observed repeatedly.

That's just science. I want to see if evolution fits the bill.
Just to forestall answers I've gotten in the past, I don't want to hear about your bacteria who grew resistant to antibiotics developed by humans, introduced by humans in a petri dish in a lab and who, upon reintroduction into a petri dish full of the original kind of bacteria, died en masse (though no one ever mentions that part). I don't want to hear about peppered moths or finch beaks. The item in question must fit all 5 criteria.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The First Coming of William Dembski

Last night William Dembski came to the Univ of Okla to speak on a topic close to "Is Atheism Still A Fulfilling Option?" in specific (and Intelligent Design in general) at a large auditorium on campus. My wife Aubrey and I went to see the goings-on, but by the time we got there, they were turning people away. Too bad for us. Outside the doors in the hallway, the cacophony was a bit disorienting. Many of my friends were present as were many people arguing. I caught sight of a Professor Emeritus of Zoo arguing in a circle of younger people. And I met two young women who were representing the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which I recognised as a rhetorical device often used by Internet atheists, and which my friend Kyle recognised as equivalent to the Invisible Space Monkey illustration he used to employ during his atheist days.
Having been asked to move out of the hallway, we adjourned to the outside staircase. The FSM twosome began to read from their Gospel of the FSM book, which was a new one on me.
It was really cute, actually - the Pastafarians (their word) would say things like this:

  • "The FSM has revealed to us that he created the universe, in 3 slightly hungover days."

  • "The FSM touched me with his noodly appendage."

  • "Ramen!" (as opposed to "Amen" - this one had me laughing)

  • "The FSM has appeared multiple times in history."

Etc. It was actually pretty funny - I have to commend Kacy and Lindsey for staying in character for much of their presentation. I began to press them for more details, recalling well a recent conversation on the same subject.
You see, this whole FSM thing starts off well, has some promise, but once the Pastafarian must answer questions about her "deity", the position starts to crumble. Go figure. Anyway, once I began to ask them about whether the FSM grounds reality and logic, their position began to disintegrate into just another flavor of Postmodernism. As if I haven't seen that 1000 times before. So I was a little disappointed but we gamely continued and I pointed out at least 3 self-refuting statements that they made, such as "there is no objective truth" (which is about as obvious as they come), "we can be sure of no history whatsoever", and "we can have no confidence that our words match reality".
The convo was sidetracked when a very courteous African-American gentleman who was himself probably a Christian began to press them about their tangential statement on slavery and oppression. It was kind of cool actually to see him examining these white girls on their bad politics, but I was a little agitated b/c I wanted to get back to the yet more central issue, that of the Gospel. I eventually got my chance and asked them what their problem with Jesus Christ was. After some wrangling, they threw out counterexamples of Gandhi (sacrifice for his people) and jihadists (who go willingly to death for their people). The Gandhi example is fraught with problems, but even more so the jihadist example. Almost incredulous, I said, "Does it not stick in your heart that you equate Jesus Christ, Who left heaven behind to come be unjustly executed at the hands of evil people, all of whom He wanted to save, Who did so without killing anyone but by sacrificing Himself, with jihadists who killed 1000s of innocent people to serve a dubious cause?"
Apparently it did not. They soon after, however, departed the premises, looking none too pleased. Hopefully their displeasure had to do with their inability to answer any fundamental questions well.

Later we talked with a "Discordist," who believes that all is chaos besides the order we impose. Kyle began to break his position down (with ease) but we started to see people leaving the auditorium so we went to sit in the balcony, after about 10 minutes had elapsed in the Q&A session.
Dembski was alone at a podium stage right with a laptop and a bottle of water, taking questions from the long line of hostile askers.
The questions were all challenges with one exception, a guy who (rightly, and unpopularly) questioned the open-mindedness of the majority of the students present. His question was met with jeers and a "Shut up!" from the middle of the auditorium. Exactly.
In general, Dembski controlled the exchanges well. He is not an imposing figure but definitely has a steely composure, difficult to ruffle even when the crowd thought a good point had been made. He made lots of jabs at the establishment, sardonically exhorting his questioners to go write up their findings and get NSF funding to do so, they'd have no problem, they are headed for a great career to be sure. I thought those were funny.
One of my favorite moments occurred when a questioner brought up the example of a motorcycle: "We know that this is designed, and yet it evolved!" At this point, a murmur ran thru the crowd and my friends and I in the back began to call out, "Intelligence! Design!" The irony was probably lost on the questioner, but that sort of stuff cracks me up.
The most difficult moment was when a biology prof specifically challenged the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum example. Dembski and he had a long argument over the value of the example, and the prof insisted that he knew 4 intermediate evolutionary steps off the top of his head. Dembski apparently saw little reason to go back and rework his math after this challenge, and the question of "numbers" and genetics was a little lost on me. To me, the larger point is that such intermediate steps are improbable and dumb to think about; a "just-so story", as Dembski put it. These 2ndary structures are not geared towards anythg close to a flagellum, but evolutionists insist they evolve into such a useful structure as that. And during the steps in between THOSE steps, what would be the pathway? At what point is the acid motor that does the one function "unplugged" from the one function to be "plugged" into the flagellar motor? At what point does the cilium become elongated enough to qualify as a flagellum? What happened in between?

The Q&A session was probably 110 minutes or so, and was mostly interesting, though many of the questions were silly. One grad student complained of being mistreated on Dembski's blog. Welcome to the blogosphere, I'd say. Why not put your paper in a peer-reviewed journal and cry into your NSF-funded beer? The motorcycle example. Questions about Dembski's faith and therefore-obvious ulterior motive (which he candidly admitted and dealt with well).

Afterwards, I talked to a college student who was claiming he was Jesus Christ, come again. I lost patience with him when he refused to do any exegesis of the Bible and when he kept saying "No, I'm just deluding you to THINK that with my supernatural power" when challenged about the fact that not every knee had bowed, that there had been no judgment, that people were not yet in heaven or hell, that the world was not changed, that no one had observed him return, etc, clearly differentiating himself from the Jesus of the NT. But later he identified himself (no longer in character) as an empiricist. With a couple of my new friends present, I TAG-ed him, asking to provide evidence for his view that evidence is the best way to discover truth. I don't think he followed me b/c he kept accusing ME of being circular in demanding evidence; I kept telling him, "No, it's YOU who are circular; I'm acting as an empiricist right now and seeing the flaws!" His name is Forest - I'll be praying for him, Kacy, and Lindsey.

Overall, a fun time was had. Even though I'm really sleepy today.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

So many implications, so little time

I can't even begin to count how crazy and informative this little article is. North Korean weaponry? Syrian weaponry? Saddam's Iraq WMD?

Also, the Israeli military seems to be quite powerful. Sometimes it makes me wish their handlers had a little more guts.

Friday, September 14, 2007

My 2nd-favorite pastor is blogging!

I knew it was only a matter of time before Joel Osteen launched his blogging career. The wait is over. This will only make my Best Life better.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I'm noticing a pattern here

Two days ago I drank only green tea. I felt terrible all day.
Yesterday I had two cups of coffee in the morning at Men's Fraternity at church. Then I had two glasses of the nectar of God, I mean, Dr. Pepper, at lunch. Felt GREAT, if a bit jumpy, all day.
Today I had a cup of coffee, mostly decaf, and a caff-free Dr. Pepper for lunch. I feel about 40% as great as I did yesterday.
A pattern is emerging.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lauding the Bible ('cause that's what I do)

Chris Severn has challenged my belief in the Bible as Word of God. Here's an answer.

The intention of my fake book was of course to infer you shouldn't go around believing everything written in a book of unknown authorship just because you think the book is right on a few things.

Yes, and I wouldn't recommend that either. Didn't you see me rip the Qur'an? ;-)

The bible is sometimes set in real places, sometimes not.

I don't accept that an atheistic worldview provides the preconditions for intelligibility; as such no book is understandable.
On the Xtian worldview where intelligibility is possible, I'd like to know what you refer to here.

Sure you don't (eat your young) :)

[burp]... What, you don't trust me?

The claim that atheists supress the truth is one such claim.

But the Bible is much more trustworthy than an atheist's word; why wouldn't it be rational to trust the more reliable source?

The bible claims a lot of things. Many of them are false.

Like what?

No. The bible just claims to.

1) Borrowing from the biblical worldview again.
2) Indeed, every sentence you write does so.
3) How doesn't it? You can start by interacting with the post linked-to above.

There isn't much useful difference between the Book of Mormon, Bhagavad Gita, Qur'an or the Bible as concerns their claims of reality.

1) Internal consistency.
2) Fulfilled prophecy.
3) Accurate descriptions of reality.
4) For the BG and the BoM, neither provide preconditions for intelligibility, being polytheistic.

The Humanist Manifesto doesn't claim as reality things that can't be demonstrated.

I found a few. Did you even read it before you said that?

-THIRD: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.
-FIFTH: Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values.
(CD and I have been talking about this. He has far to go to prove it.)
-it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relations to human needs.
(See my recent discussion with the Jolly Nihilist.)
-SEVENTH: Religion consists of those actions, purposes, and experiences which are humanly significant.
(Begging the question - certainly I don't agree with this.)
-We assume that humanism will take the path of social and mental hygiene and discourage sentimental and unreal hopes and wishful thinking. (emph. added)
-the quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind.
(What is "good" is taken on faith.)

I didn't go thru the whole thing but those examples should suffice.

But, why do you believe all of it, without question, to the exclusion of all other evidence ?

This is a diff question than "Prove it", so I'll answer the exact question.
The God of the Bible has mercifully saved me even though He didn't have to. He changed my life and gave my heart and mind peace and purpose. Every question I'd been asking while I felt so lost and in turmoil, He has answered in a rationally- and spiritually-satisfying way. Finally, I have never encountered a purported contradiction in the Bible that held any water (and I've encountered a LOT of attempts).

What makes you think that the god you believe in had anything to do with the Christian bible?

There is a great deal of internal and external evidence.

What is it about a collection of stories written largely by ignorant goat herders more than 1500 years ago that impresses you so much ?

Some were ignorant.
Others wrote eloquent poetry and were peerless military leaders (David). Others were kings, celebrated worldwide for their wisdom (Solomon). Others were highly-educated Pharisees (Paul). Others were sophisticated advisors to kings (Isaiah and Daniel). Some were brought up as the prince of the most powerful and learned nation on earth (Moses).
Yet others were simple fishermen (Peter and John). Others were indeed goatherders from Nowhere, Israel (Amos). Others were probably-disobedient Jews (author of Esther). Some exposed ruthlessly the flaws of their nation and leaders (the author of Kings and Samuel). Others were more cheerful (the author of Chronicles). Some were traitors to the Jewish nation, converted (Matthew).
It is the variety of authorship and yet the beauty of the consistency of thought that serve also to impress me of this.


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.


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,


Saturday, September 08, 2007

An admission and an indication of circularity

Continued from this thread, where John Morales has been very kindly and gently pointing out that he sees "no evidence that (I) understand logic".

So, John, ISTM you are implying that my accusation of the JN's reasoning as question-begging is funny b/c my own reasoning also begs the question.
If that's the case, then you are partly right and partly wrong. I *am* begging a similar question, true, but in questions of ultimates like this one, everyone has to appeal to faith at some point. That is what my questioning of the JN has been designed to reveal. I have faith in the God of the Bible. The JN has faith that "the road to truth is paved with evidence."

So, what's going on here? I will come right out and say that I have this faith. I will defend it as rational and as in full comport with reality. However, the JN denies that he appeals to faith. That has been my central criticism of his position so far. The problem is, these faith positions must undergo examination. My lines of questioning just also happen to demonstrate that his faith does not comport with reality, because it is self-defeating in its circularity.
My own faith position is circular in the same sense as his, and it is a presupposition as his is. But mine is not self-defeating, which is the beauty of the thing.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Authority to teach infallibly

While interacting here (and I would encourage anyone to read it b/c it's interesting on its own merits), a comment related to the Roman Catholic claim to infallible teaching and interpreting authority came up.
For background, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says this in section 841:

-The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

But a probably Sedevacantist commenter said:

Pope Leo X, Fifth Lateran Council, Session 12, March 16, 1517: “Our aim is to crush the Turks and other infidels standing firm in the eastern and southern regions. They treat the way of true light and salvation with complete contempt and totally unyielding blindness; they attack the life-giving cross on which our Saviour willed to accept death so that by dying He might destroy death, and by the ineffable mystery of His most holy life He might restore life; and they make themselves hateful enemies of God and most bitter persecutors of the Christian religion.”

So I fretted - what is a Protestant to do? Two Roman Catholic statements, coming from the Magisterial, authoritative RC teaching authority, but two different sets of doctrine. What's a guy to do?
The very civil and polite Theo responded, saying that

-Unless the statements you ask about were made "ex cathedra" it is possible that neither statement is totally correct.

This of course is a very unsatisfying answer for our critics who are already convinced that our teachings regarding the Church leading in all truth and our simultaneous teachings that even the most high official can make errors demonstrates mere sophistry. Add to that that even in cases of dogmatic statements, we do not rule out that their understanding can be clarified and corrected as we continue to learn more about God's infinite kingdom, and I can see how critics must simply want to jump all over it.

The bottom line is that what you seem to demand that we should mean by infallible pronouncements of the Magesterium is something like "everything every church council or official ever says is infallible and must be taken by Catholics as the absolute truth, or they are being false to their teaching. Whereas we understand such pronouncements to be very limited in occurrence, and even then not subject to private interpretation, just as Scripture itself is not subject to private interpretation.

I respond:

...this whole "I want infallible statements!" is not coming from ME. It's the standard laid down by RC apologists, who criticise Sola Scriptura by saying that it does not solve the problem of fallible individual interpretation.

So then I mention the difference that is obvious between 5th Lateran Council and the CCC. Anyone can see the difference.
And now I'm getting "well, it's not clear which one is infallible". How then does that help the person who takes the claims of these RC apologists seriously? If RCC can provide infallible interpretations, why don't you ever know if it did or not?
That alone is enough to disqualify such statements as special pleading and silly, to say nothing of the fact that an infallible teaching authority simply pushes the fallibility question back one step.

Though this is not on a subject crucial to individuals' salvation, it is very illustrative of the modus operandi of RC apologists.

What I'm not asking you to do

HT: Extreme Theology
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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The God of the Bible lives

I have been asked for evidence for the existence of the God of the Bible, Who alone is God and Creator. My favorite three lines of argumentation are the Cosmological (aka Kalam) argument, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in real space and time, and the Transcendental argument. Perhaps the former 2 I might deal w/ later, but the latter gets to the heart of the issue when an atheist questions God's very existence.

Strangely relevant to my discussion w/ the Jolly Nihilist is the famous Bahnsen-Stein debate from several years ago. I say "strangely relevant" b/c it seems to me that the JN takes virtually the same position as Stein in the debate, and so Bahnsen's points strike directly at the heart of the JN's position.
Below I have pasted the relevant portion from Greg Bahnsen's opening statement. The unfairly short answer to "How do you know God exists?" is "The impossibility of the contrary." I expect to refer back to this post a few times in the future.
In your mind, just replace every occurrence relevant to "Dr. Stein" (Bahnsen's opponent in the debate) w/ a more general wording, and you'll get the idea.

--Transcript begins--

The assumption that all existence claims are questions about matters of fact, the assumption that all of these are answered in the very same way is not only over simplified and misleading, it is simply mistaken. The existence, factuality or reality of different kinds of things is not established or disconfirmed in the same way in every case.

We might ask , "Is there a box of crackers in the pantry?" And we know how we would go about answering that question. But that is a far, far cry from the way we go about answering questions determining the reality of say, barometric pressure, quasars, gravitational attraction, elasticity, radio activity, natural laws, names, grammar, numbers, the university itself that you're now at, past events, categories, future contingencies, laws of thought, political obligations, individual identity over time, causation, memories, dreams, or even love or beauty. In such cases, one does not do anything like walk to the pantry and look inside for the crackers. There are thousands of existence or factual questions, and they are not at all answered in the same way in each case.

Just think of the differences in argumentation and the types of evidences used by biologists, grammarians, physicists, mathematicians, lawyers, magicians, mechanics, merchants, and artists. It should be obvious from this that the types of evidence one looks for in existence or factual claims will be determined by the field of discussion and especially by the metaphysical nature of the entity mentioned in the claim under question. Dr. Stein's remark that the question of the existence of God is answered in the same way as any other factual question, mistakenly reduces the theistic question to the same level as the box of crackers in the pantry, which we will hereafter call the crackers in the pantry fallacy.

I take it he wishes to judge hypotheses in the common sense - by tests of logical coherence and empirical observation. The problem arises when Dr. Stein elsewhere insists that every claim that someone makes must be treated as a hypothesis which must be tested by such evidence before accepting it. "There is to be nothing," he says, "which smacks of begging the question or circular reasoning." This, I think, is oversimplified thinking and again misleading, what we might call the Pretended Neutrality fallacy. One can see this by considering the following quotation from Dr. Stein: "The use of logic or reason is the only valid way to examine the truth or falsity of any statement which claims to be factual." One must eventually ask Dr. Stein, then, how he proves this statement itself. That is, how does he prove that logic or reason is the only way to prove factual statements? If by logic or reason, then he is engaging in circular reasoning; and he's begging the question which he [supposedly] forbids. If he says that the statement is proven in some other fashion, then he refutes the statement itself, that logic or reason is the only way to prove things.

Now my point is not to fault Dr. Stein's commitment to logic or reason, but to observe that it actually has the nature of a pre commitment or a presupposition. It is not something that he has proven by empirical experience or logic, but it is rather that by which he proceeds to prove everything else. He is not presuppositionally neutral in his approach to factual questions and disputes. He does not avoid begging crucial questions, rather than proving them in what we might call the garden variety, ordinary way. Now this tendency to beg crucial questions is openly exposed by Dr. Stein when the issue becomes the existence of God; because he demands that the theist present him with the evidence for the existence of God. Well, theists like myself would gladly and readily do so. There is the evidence of the created order itself testifying to the wisdom. power, plan, and glory of God. One should not miss the testimony of the solar system, the persuasion of the sea, the amazing intricacies of the human body. There's the evidence of history: God's deliverance of His people, the miracles on Passover night and [at] the Red Sea, the visions in Isaiah, the Shekinah Glory that filled the Temple, the Virgin Birth of Jesus, His mighty miracles, His resurrection from the dead.

There's the evidence of Special Revelation, the wonder of the Bible as God's Word, unsurpassed in its coherence over time, in its historical accuracy and its life-renewing power. In short, there is no shortage of empirical indicators or evidences of God's existence - from the thousand stars of the heavens to the 500 witnesses of Christ's resurrection. But, Dr. Stein precludes the very possibility of any of this empirical evidence counting as proof for God's existence. He writes, " Supernatural explanations are not allowed in science. The theist is hard put to document his claims for the existence of the supernatural if he is in effect forbidden from evoking the supernatural as a part of his explanation. Of course, this is entirely fair; as it would be begging the question to use what has to be proved as a part of the explanation." In advance, you see, Dr. Stein is committed to disallowing any theistic interpretation of nature, history or experience. What he seems to overlook is that this is just as much begging the question on his own part as it is on the part of the theist. who appeal to such evidence. He has not at all proven by empirical observation and logic his pre commitment to Naturalism. He has assumed it in advance, accepting and rejecting all further factual claims in terms of that controlling and unproved assumption. Now the theist does the very same thing, don't get me wrong. When certain empirical evidences are put forth as likely disproving the existence of God, the theist regiments his commitments in terms of his presuppositions, as well. Just as the Naturalist would insist that Christ could not have risen from the dead, or that there is a natural explanation yet to be found of how he did rise from the dead, so the supernaturalist will insist that the alleged discrepancies in the Bible have an explanation - some yet to be found, perhaps - and that the evil of this world has a sufficient reason behind it, known at least to God. They both have their governing presuppositions by which the facts of experience are interpreted, even as all philosophical systems, all world views do. At the most fundamental level of everyone's thinking and beliefs there are primary convictions about reality, man, the world, knowledge, truth, behavior, and such things. Convictions about which all other experience is organized, interpreted, and applied. Dr. Stein has such presuppositions, so do I, and so do all of you. And it is these presuppositions which determine what we accept by ordinary reasoning and evidence, for they are assumed in all of our reasoning - even about reasoning itself.

How should the difference of opinion between the atheist and the theist be rationally resolved? That was my opening question. We've seen two of Dr. Stein's errors regarding it: the crackers in the pantry fallacy and the pretended neutrality fallacy. In the process of discussing them we've observed that belief in the existence of God is not tested in any ordinary way like other factual claims. And the reason for that is metaphysically because of the non-natural character of God, and epistemologically, because of the presuppositional character of commitment for or against His existence. Arguments over conflicting presuppositions between world views, therefore, must be resolved somewhat differently, and yet still rationally, from conflicts over factual existence claims within a world view or system of thought. When we go to look at the different world views that atheists and theists have, I suggest we can prove the existence of God from the impossibility of the contrary. The transcendental proof for God's existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything. The atheist world view is irrational and cannot consistently provide the preconditions of intelligible experience, science, logic, or morality. The atheist world view cannot allow for laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, the ability for the mind to understand the world, and moral absolutes. In that sense the atheist world view cannot account for our debate tonight.