“So, those with depression and schizophrenia can just choose to not be depressed and schizophrenic?”
— Me, debating freewill
I suffer from depression. All my life. Actually, it’s more than depression. Recently, I was re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder because the older you get, the faster your body breaks down. And that means there are times I’m not completely in charge of my brain. (Actually, nobody is really in charge of their brain, but I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole. Let’s just say that once you discover you have something wrong in your head, you start studying how the brain actually works, and you never like what you find out.) When a bout of depression hits, it doesn’t wear boxing gloves. Or, maybe it does, because you can actually hit people harder with boxing gloves, you know. Which is one of the reasons why MMA is safer than boxing. And…
…yeah. Brains. Funny things.
When I get hit with a bout of depression, I stop doing the things I love. I stop eating. I stop showering. I stop getting out of bed. I stop reading. I stop writing. And I become fixated on stupid things. I start to clean. A lot. I re-organize my comic collection. I move around the book shelves and the books on them. Then, I do those things all over again. You just can’t tell what I’ll obsess over when depression comes a’calling with its haunting siren song.
This time, it was weird. This time, it was presuppositional apologetics. From Wikipedia:
Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian. Presuppositionalists claim that a Christian cannot consistently declare his belief in the necessary existence of the God of the Bible and simultaneously argue on the basis of a different set of assumptions that God may not exist and Biblical revelation may not be true.
So yeah. I got caught up in that. In fact, I watched hours of Youtube videos. And a couple people really caught my attention. Caught it and wouldn’t let go.
I watched people like Matt Slick go on and on about his version of the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God and watched even more hours of people dissecting it and demonstrating its mistakes. And it has huge mistakes. Like, right in the first premise argument killing mistakes. As someone who studied philosophy in college, declared philosophy as a major, tutored philosophy and did student teaching, I took one look at Slick’s TAG and shook my head. If he had turned it in while I was a student teacher, I would have returned it with an “Incomplete” grade. It’s so wrong, it isn’t even wrong. It demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how to build a disjunctive syllogism. What is a disjunctive syllogism, you may ask? I’m happy to answer!
A disjunctive syllogism (modus tollendo ponens) is a valid argument form which is a syllogism having a disjunctive statement for one of its premises. It usually looks like this:
P versus Q.
A real example for illustration:
This die either has 10 sides or 20 sides
The die has 10 sides
Therefore, it does not have 20 sides
In other words, by affirming the P, you disconfirm the Q.
However, Matt’s lists his syllogism like this:
Either God, or not-God.
Not-God cannot account for the laws of logic.
Therefore God can account for the laws of logic.
Now, there are so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start by stripping away the text and go for the way he structures the argument, which may help us see the most basic problem.
In short, Slick’s argument attempts to use the following form:
P or —P
The basic problem here is Slick’s formulation is essentially just begging the question. And no, “begging the question” doesn’t mean “raising the question.” It means that you include your conclusion in one of your premises.
He’s also created a false dichotomy, which undermines his disjunctive syllogism. (He also likes to move away from evaluating the form of his argument and get to “the facts,” which demonstrates he knows there’s a problem here.) When I say “This die has 10 sides or 20 sides,” I offer two choices. There are no other choices available in the argument. But by presenting “God” and “not God,” he has not presented a dichotomy. (He likes to say “true dichotomy,” which is a lot like saying “code of bushido” or “ATM machine” or “PIN number.”) He also ignores the fact that “not-God” (which he calls atheism) also includes all world views that do not include the Christian God. That includes Buddism, Hinduism, Platonism, and any other world views we haven’t discovered yet. It also makes a category error of defining “atheism” as a world view, which it clearly is not.
This brief video covers some of the basics here as well as some other really fun objections. There are other videos, but because Rationality Rules invokes Odin and Valhalla, it’s my favorite. Take a peek.
Darth Dawkins, aka Darwin’s Deity, aka Evolution False, aka a dozen other pseudonyms is the presupper that I could not stop watching. Not because I found any of his arguments intriguing or compelling, but because he really is a train wreck. I mean, a train wreck of highly combustable, radioactive material. Watching a video with “DD” is like watching Godzilla plow his way through a city. And not fun, cool, anti-hero Godzilla…wait. No, not like Godzilla at all. Godzilla is fun. Comparing this guy to Godzilla is an insult to Godzilla, and I must now apologize.
DD’s chief argument works like this:
Because atheists cannot justify their presuppositions, their entire world view is irrational. Therefore, they can’t even justify they exist.
This is the kind of shit philosophy professors pull on freshmen. It’s invoking the problem of hard solipsism, that nobody can be sure that anything outside their own mind is real. It’s something you learn in Philosophy 101, it freaks you out, you try to find ways around it, discover you can’t, and then, you either live with it and get on with your life, or you have an emotional breakdown and turn to magical thinking to save you. DD believes this little problem—which has been around for centuries—is “news to atheists.” The problem of solipsism has been around since before Socrates and Plato and has been addressed by philosophers ever since. Renee Decarte’s famous “I think therefore I am” directly addresses it. But for some reason, DD thinks it’s some kind of magic trick to convince people to turn to his god.
If you’re really curious, I can explain the problem. If you’re not, skip this paragraph and move on. See, when you ask someone, “How do you know that?” and keep asking them, eventually, they have to say, “That’s what I see and what I think.” Eventually, everyone hits epistemological bottom. You can’t prove Aristotle’s three logical principles (presups like to call these “logical absolutes,” but in no Philosophy class in the world will you hear a professor use this term): the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of the excluded middle. We cannot prove these to be true other than experiencing them, and since our senses can deceive us, being 100% certain about anything is impossible. That’s the problem.
Presups like DD like to use the solipsism problem in extremis. In other words, if you can’t be 100% certain about something, YOU CAN’T KNOW ANYTHING!!!11!!!!!! Which is false. While our senses can fool us, that doesn’t mean they always fool us. In fact, we can attribute degrees of certainty to propositions. If I take my glasses off, is my eyesight better or worse? Clearly it is worse, therefore, my eyesight has degrees of certainty. I can still see the eye chart, but not the lower letters. DD also uses the old Sye Ten Bruggencate trick of asking, “How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?” Well, to begin with, proving a negative is almost impossible, and it’s shifting the burden of proof. It’s also a disingenuous question. That is, asking someone to prove something that you don’t believe. Do you believe we’re all brains in vats? No? Then don’t ask me to prove something neither of us believes. And until you can prove I’m a brain in a vat, I’ll keep believing I’m not.
Presuppositions cannot be proven. They’re an accepted part of philosophy. If you walk into any philosophy department in the world and start making claims such as “You can’t know you’re a brain in a vat!” and “You can’t justify your presuppositions!”, you’ll get laughed out of the building. In philosophy, we all agree presuppositions cannot be justified. That’s what makes them presuppositions.
And so, with that in mind, if a presuppositional apologist uses God as a presupposition, doesn’t that mean they can’t justify the existence of G—
SHUT YOUR DIRTY MOUTH, ATHEIST! YOU CAN’T EVEN KNOW YOU’RE NOT A BRAIN IN A VAT!
I DON’T NEED TO TALK TO YOU!
And yes, that’s the typical rhetoric tactic of presups. Screaming insults at anyone who tries to ask them questions. But there’s another tactic presups use. And it’s essentially asking you the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?”
The Presup Red Herring
See, when I was in college, in debate club, we had a rule: no red herrings. A red herring is “a seemingly plausible, though ultimately irrelevant, diversionary tactic” (wikipedia) designed to avoid answering questions. It goes like this:
Me: “If God is one of your presuppositions, how do justify it?”
Presup: “How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?”
Me: “Sorry, that doesn’t answer my question.”
Presup: “I asked you a question. How do you know you’re not a brain in a vat?”
Me: “Excuse me, I…”
Presup: “If you’re not going to answer my question, we can just stop talking. See, this is a typical tactic for atheists. They refuse to answer questions.”
If you think I’m making this shit up, just watch the following video. I assure you, I am not making this shit up.
Standard tactic. Institute a tone of interrogation with you asking all the questions. Then, when someone asks you a question, ask them a diversionary question in return and get upset when they don’t answer. There are hundreds of hours of this.
And I’ve. Watched. All of it.
This morning, an old friend of mine posted something on Facebook. And like an incantation, it broke my spell.
“The primary problem faced by those attempting civil debate is that moral, rational, and scientific arguments don’t work on those with immoral, irrational, and unscientific mindsets.”
— my friend Greg
I sincerely believe both Matt Slick and DD are trolls. They’re not trolls like my friend Ken—who may be a curmudgeon, but he’s a sweet and generous curmudgeon who looks out for other people—but people who aren’t interested in having honest debate.
I debate to learn. Slick and DD debate to win. They aren’t interested in truth or convincing others. They just want to score points.
For those two weeks of depression, I wanted to find out how to contact these people and engage with them. But engaging with them won’t do anyone any good. And if I ever did engage them, I wouldn’t engage their arguments. Instead, I ask the following questions:
- Can you please show me a Youtube video or podcast where these arguments convinced someone to give up atheism and begin believing in your God?
- Have you ever submitted your arguments to a logic or philosophy journal?
- Do you agree using rhetorical techniques such as red herrings and other distractions do not benefit a discussion but only cause confusion and frustration?
That’s how I’d engage with them. Fortunately, I don’t have to because I don’t want to. Not anymore. Greg’s words lifted the haze off my head. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. A friend giving you a smack in the face (metaphorically, of course) that wakes you up.
And if you ever wanted to know how far my head can go down a rabbit hole, now you know. Sorry about that.