“Mission Accomplished”

(Text: “Debating an Atheist — Round Three“, Soli Deo Gloria, July 8, 2012)

We are roughly half-way through Pastor Feinstein’s 5-post series (not counting his unscheduled addendum after the official debate was over), and it’s time for him to begin taking bows and acknowledging the cheers of thousands before whom he believes he has made atheism look untenable.

I think I made a strong logical argument based on transcendental logic that the Biblical God is the necessary precondition of the uniformity of nature, which in turn is one of the necessary preconditions of intelligibility. This is simple logic, it is easy to follow, and you will not be able to casually dismiss it without looking ridiculous to the thousands that are now reading this.

At the top of the third post, as with the previous two, Pastor Feinstein notes that comments on the post have been turned off, and he promises that they will be enabled when “Russell and I agree that the debate is done.” Well, the debate has been done a good few months now, but comments on this post, like those on the first two, have not been re-enabled. That in itself, I think, suggests what the real verdict was from the thousands that have read it, even from where Pastor Feinstein is sitting.

At this point in the mental script Pastor Feinstein seems to be following, the debate is essentially over. The atheist has had his rhetorical legs chopped out from under him, and there’s nowhere for him to run, even if he were able to do so. All the believer has left to do is to gloat and rub the atheist’s nose in it.

Your random materialism, if it were true, would render the uniformity of nature impossible, and therefore destroy intelligibility. Thus, with this one argument, I did exactly what I said I was going to do in that thesis. And truly, I am just getting started.

I think a big source of confusion in Pastor Feinstein’s mind is his failure to distinguish between order and intention. Look at the argument he’s offering. If superstition is not the ultimate truth—if it’s not the case that everything is deliberately and magically caused by some invisible, magical person—then there can be no order in the universe. He’s assuming that the absence of intention is exactly equal to an absence of order. Order and intention, in his mind, have become the same thing. In other words, he has fallen into animistic superstition. Everything that happens is the result, not of undirected cause-and-effect, but of intention. There is no order (Pastor Feinstein assumes) other than intention. Consequently, a universe in which there was no divine intention would be a universe in which there was no order.

It goes without saying, I would hope, that this kind of equivalency is utterly fallacious. Intention itself cannot exist apart from a number of ordered preconditions, such as the existence of the properties of identity and non-contradiction. To intend something means to perceive a difference between conditions as they exist right now, and conditions as you wish for them to exist in the future. It also means that predictable cause-and-effect relationships exist, such that you can propose a chain of events leading from present conditions to the conditions you desire. Both of these require the presence and operation of the dimension of time, which is one of the dimensions of the material universe. Intention lies at the end of a significant chain of preconditions, of which intelligibility is one of the earlier links. To try and claim that intention is the source of intelligibility is nonsense.

Truly, Pastor Feinstein has not even gotten started, because he has only followed his superstitions back as far as his idea of God, and has failed to progress past that to the preconditions that are necessary in order for a God Himself to exist as a person with intelligible intentions. But let’s not interrupt Pastor Feinstein, because he’s got his script out, and is going to give us his version of the battle between King Arthur (himself) and the Black Knight (the scripted atheist).

You might try to recover from the problem of induction by saying the future “probably” will be like the past, since at all times in the past it always happened this way… If you said the future would probably be like the past, you are assuming past information… It does not matter how many times something occurred in the past if nature is not uniform. However, since nature is uniform, we can project past experiences into the future. So either way, this typical atheist attempt to squeeze out of this problem still presupposes the uniformity of nature; something a random universe could never account for.

I’ve shortened it a bit, since a lot of it is just what actors call “stage business.” There’s no real argument here. His scripted atheist never points out the fact that Pastor Feinstein is confusing order and intention in order to reach the conclusion that a universe without intention would be a universe without order. The poor Black Knight isn’t even allowed to spit out, “Come on, have at you!” Arthur gets the last word, and we’re done. Let’s see what the next bit of script has for us.

So yes, you do need my God to have relative certainty that the marker will fall to the ground in the future. Of course, I doubt you would ever admit this because as Romans 1:18-19 says, you in “unrighteousness suppress the truth, for what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” The text goes on to say that it is obvious in creation that God is the creator. In this post, I have shown that something as simple, yet necessary, as the uniformity of nature transcendentally depends on the God of the Bible.

It’s interesting that he quotes no less authority than the Bible itself as justification for embracing the Prime Superstition: that everything we see ought to be attributed to the magical actions of invisible spirits. And if you’re not superstitious, then you’re unrighteous, and are trying to suppress the truth, so nyah. Again, not really an argument here so much as it’s just a bit of stage business, with the Black Knight framed so as to appear legless, and Arthur easily circling him shouting that his battle is now futile. Cue the travelling music, cut to next scene.

You have to depend on my worldview to even be able to do science in the first place. It doesn’t mean you have to believe in my worldview. It is perfectly possible for someone to be convinced that air does not exist, and yet at the same time breathe it in to form the very words of their argument to claim that air doesn’t exist. I see the atheist being in a similar position – an utterly irrational position.

Again, Pastor Feinstein’s problem (and I think this is a key problem with presuppositionalism in general) is that he is confusing two different things. Just because you have a superstitious opinion about the origin of real things, and just because the skeptic refers to real things, does not mean that the skeptic is relying on your superstitious opinions being true. You can make a completely fallacious argument about a true conclusion, but that does not mean that your argument is vindicated when someone else reaches a true conclusion by means of different, valid logic.

Yes, skeptics can make rational arguments, but that’s because material reality itself has the proper preconditions for intelligibility, such as the properties of identity and of non-contradiction. And these are the preconditions that would be necessary in order for God Himself to exist as a person who could know things and who could have intentions regarding conditions in the future. The skeptic’s ability to do science owes nothing whatsoever to anyone’s superstitious beliefs in a living, thinking “First Cause.”

It’s a bit perplexing to know how to argue with “logic” like Pastor Feinstein’s. It’s not that he can’t recognize a simple converse fallacy when he sees one, it’s that the Prime Superstition takes precedence over the application of logic. Try to take him past that wall of superstition, and he just stares at you blankly, as though he can’t follow the implications of “necessary being” past the point where they can be used to derive a divine, personal First Cause.

What is your escape? Will you take the arbitrary route of the atheist Gordon Stein in his debate against the Christian Greg Bahnsen? Stein was so bewildered by the nature of this argument, that in an attempt to save face he asserted that the inherent properties of matter caused it to behave in a uniform way. What kind of answer is that? How does Stein know what the inherent properties of matter are, and even if he did, how does that allow for randomness to account for uniformity? In effect, all he did was use academic language to say, “That’s just the way it is.” What if I said, “The inherent properties of creation cause matter to behave in a uniform way?” Would the atheist accept that? No! By the way, I have not done that here. Instead, I argued that the absolute person, that is distinct from creation, who is sovereign and triune created the universe and sustains it in a uniform way, and I logically showed how He is the necessary precondition of the uniformity of nature.

When Stein points out that you can derive the necessary properties of material reality using evidence and reason, Pastor Feinstein objects, “What kind of an answer is that?” Well, Pastor, it’s a lot like the answer you give when you try to use similar arguments to get to the conclusion that an “absolute person” is “the necessary precondition of the uniformity of nature.” The only difference is that we continue applying the same principles consistently, and are thus able to see past the wall of superstition to the actual properties that must be inherent in reality itself, with or without any real God. But Pastor Feinstein can’t take it that far. He needs some kind of absolute person at the end of his chain of superstitions, so for him “inherent properties” are perfectly satisfactory when applied to a hypothetical person, and absurd when derived for anything more fundamental than that.

Pastor Feinstein’s confusion even takes him to the point of embracing outright pantheism (which is where all “necessary being” arguments eventually lead, if you’re consistent).

Nature’s contingent uniformity depends upon it being designed this way by the necessary being. And just to note, Hume’s critiques against the teleological (i.e. design) argument is irrelevant here since I have cut to the chase and am talking about “ultimate reality,” rather than contingent reality (e.g. watches and landscapes). The whole contingent universe is grounded in some sort of ultimate reality. You believe that the ultimate reality is impersonal random chance. Well, it is impossible for that to be the necessary precondition of uniformity. Yet, the Biblical God as the ultimate reality totally and certainly accounts for the uniformity of nature since He is the ground of the entire contingent creation and designed it in a uniform way.

The problem with reality is that there can be only one. If you have two realities, then either one isn’t really the real reality, or else they are both part of some larger, ultimate reality. If there is a God who is the ultimate reality, then ultimately either you and I are part of God, or else we are not real. A Creator God, whose creations are both real and not-gods, can only be a part of that ultimate reality whose inherent properties give us the uniformity and intelligibility required in order for us (and any gods) to exist. And that means that God’s own properties are derived and contingent, thus refuting the core premise upon which Pastor Feinstein’s whole argument is based.

We’ll close this week’s review with one last snippet from the end of his script.

Atheists cannot function without the uniformity of nature, but the truth of it actually contradicts their worldview, thus demonstrating their position to be hopelessly inconsistent.

That may be what it looks like when seen through Pastor Feinstein’s confused and superstitious presuppositions, but in fact the only thing atheists are demonstrating—and demonstrating very well in fact—is that the universe, and science, both get along just fine without the need for any superstitious presuppositions. The real world is full of non-intentional order, and also of human beings who perceive intentions where there are none. Even in our own interpersonal relationships, we are frequently misled and deceived by this habit of assuming intentions whenever we see a chain of events (e.g. road rage). How much more, then, should scientists and philosophers work to rid themselves of this pernicious superstitious tendency? It’s a human weakness, not a source of infallible insights into the fundamental nature of the universe. We may find it satisfying, because we love to be superstitious, but when it comes right down to it, it’s just not truth.

If pastors would take this into account, perhaps they would have fewer blog posts with disabled comments.

15 Responses to ““Mission Accomplished””

  1. Skepticali Says:

    It’s taken me this long to grok that Pastor Feinstein is most likely reading from a script – an idea you’ve promoted all along. It is the simplest way to explain the chaotic jumble that he presents. 

    The first snippet you quote pretty much embodies what I find so irritating in this style of apologetics: “I can assert anything, it doesn’t have to make sense. You haven’t addressed my nonsense, therefore you are a fool. The masses agree with my wisdom. Gotcha!”

    I’m sure there must be better examples of presuppositional apologists out there – mustn’t there? I’d like to see you decompose one someday, if this experienced hasn’t ruined it for you.

  2. promethics Says:

    There really really aren’t. Feinstien is usng the script written by Bahnsen, and all the rest do too,pretty much. There are one or two other scripts, but they’re even more laughable.

  3. Skepticali Says:

    Bunny & Promethics:
    Wow! So, we’re seeing a style of apologetics that theists take seriously? I thought the Pastor was just bad at it. Well, I’ll go get some more popcorn, relax, and enjoy the show.

    • promethics Says:

      Well, he is really, really bad at it. It’s just that no-one is actually any good at it, because it’s basically a collection of logical fallacies wrapped ’round a delusion. There’s nothing there to be good at.

    • Duke of Omnium Says:

      I wouldn’t say that theists take the style seriously. Pre-sups are out in the fringes, both philosophically and theologically. Mostly Dutch Reformed or other Calvinists. I suppose there are some Arminian pre-sups, but I don’t recall ever seeing any.

  4. Wanderin' Weeta Says:

    You believe that the ultimate reality is impersonal random chance.

    He keeps saying that. Each time, I want to stop him right there, and say, “No, we don’t!” Everything that rests on that statement is a waste of words.

    • hankstar Says:

      That’s an important pillar of the pre-sup argument (almost as important as claiming victory early and often): repeatedly present a false version of the atheist/skeptic position. Additionally, frequently employ either pointed & accusatory or subtly dehumanising language, e.g. “you believe” or “the atheist believes” as opposed to just “atheists”. Don’t ask “do you believe X?” or “What is your belief regarding X?” and then tackle it as answered, simply declare to them what they believe; pin it straight to them like the tail on the donkey and fight that instead. Much time and writing space can be taken up by an atheist first rejecting, then correcting, the pre-supper’s misrepresentations.

      Half the time I hear a pre-sup arguing with an atheist, it’s like they’re trying with every sentence to goad their opponent into losing their patience so they can grin smugly and claim moral high ground. However, Feinstein’s incompetence and incoherence left me exasperated more than irritated.

  5. hankstar Says:

    Yep – sorry to say that when it comes to presup, being “better at it” doesn’t mean making better arguments or presenting them with more clarity than Pr Feinstein; it simply means taking longer and using more words to get to the heart of the argument: a declaration that God (not just *a* god but their specific sectarian version) is a necessary precondition for a universe intelligible to conscious beings. Sye Ten Bruggencate (the most irritating and smug of them all) and William Lane Craig (the most unashamedly morally bankrupt of them all) are the big names in presup, but their used-god salesman smarm is the only difference between them and Pr Feinstein. All of their arguments are equally vapid and embarrassing to more moderate Christians.

    • Wanderin' Weeta Says:

      “. . . used-god salesman smarm . . .”
      Love it! 🙂

    • Brian M Says:

      You bring up the most irritating aspect of these apologists…even if one acknowledges all of their points (u nlikely) about necessity and all that…why is YAHWEH specifically and in detail; the God in question? They totally ignore this question, which is as based on a superstitious presupposition.

  6. Michael Buchheim Says:

    I find myself musing on the illogical nature of omnipotence. Feinstein says that our reality demands and informs us on the nature of god. And I find myself answering back: but god could have made reality out of phlegm. As an omnipotent being he could have made a universe inconsistent with logic just as easily as one which is consistent. He could have made humans that would be able to breath in snuff or Christians who deny Jesus’ existence. You are saying that god could only create a universe in the specific way our universe is built. Therefor you are limiting his abilities, rendering him non-omnipotent, and therefor not-god. Most of the religious people I know would sooner admit to an illogical universe then to a non-omnipotent god.
    This is the dead end I find myself at every time I try to entertain the notion of god on a philosophical level. The same is true (I think) of the whole “contingency” argument. It limits god to a being who can only support our specific reality rather then an unlimited being that can support any reality. And then our reality can tell us nothing of this being, or else god is no different then a materialistic force of nature. Unable to do anything other, then to create the universe we inhabit.

  7. 36thoughtless Says:

    DD, I’d really love to see you and Sye Ten Bruggencate debate. Granted, he’d probably pull the same old song and dance routine that he usually does, but I still think it would be fun to watch.

  8. Dave B Says:

    My one year old listens to music that explains reality better than Pastor Feinstein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vs_D8dC0uwc

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