Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"Talking plants"

Before plunging into the latest round of controversy, I’d like to make a general observation. The psychology of the militant atheist is very odd. You’d think from his vehemence that a militant atheist had a personal stake in the outcome.

Yet a militant atheist is like a volunteer at Auschwitz. He volunteers to build the death camp. Volunteers to string the barbed wire. Volunteers to patrol the fence. Volunteers to stand in line for the gas chambers. Snitches on prisoners who try to stage an escape.

Because, when you get right down to it, secularism, naturalism, materialism, humanism, atheism, &c. are just different labels for a concentration camp. The militant atheist is filling time and killing time while he’s waiting to die. Every militant atheist is a death row inmate. And he defends the system to the death.

Oh, yes, he may play little games to make life “meaningful” in the death camp. Put on vaudeville shows to entertain the captives.

The devil is the commandant of the secular death camp, and he has an easy assignment. His prisoners are so loyal to him—it’s touching, really. He needs no bullets to keep them in check. The prisoners are the prison guards. They police themselves.

Such camaraderie! So dutiful to their suicide pact: “I’ll shoot you in the back of the head if you shoot me in the back of the head!”


“I’ve noticed that whenever you are in a debate and you don’t feel like answering a question, you assign people a reading assignment.”

Rintintin didn’t ask a question. He made an ignorant assertion. Pity you can’t read.

In addition, I already racked up quite a page count in response to him. So, yes, sometimes I save time by referring my opponent to preexisting literature. I don’t have to repeat myself every time or prove everything from scratch.

“Nor should anybody be expected to keep up with the writings of obscure apologists.”

If they’re going to post comments at a Christian blog and make sweeping, public assertions about Christian metaphysics, then, yes, they should acquaint themselves with the relevant literature.

“The fact that in place of providing a rationally sound, self-supporting counterargument in your reply, you give your opponent a reading assignment, seems to suggest that there is no such sound counterargument in existence.”

I see. Do you apply that to Richard Dawkins’ reading assignment?

Or Christopher Hitchens’ reading assignment?

“If you were really interested in truth, perhaps you would try to be a bit more helpful in your reply – maybe showing your opponent where he had gone wrong, maybe calmly and politely guiding him to some sources that you found informative.”

Since you’ve already said that “theology generally does not correspond to reality,” and since you also said that a reading assignment is a substitute for a sound counterargument, your solicitations are obviously insincere.

But because you ask, however disingenuously, here are some resources to guide you through the field of modal metaphysics (with special reference to theism):

A. Pruss, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment

R. Davis, The Metaphysics of Theism & Modality

Now that I’ve called your bluff, what’s your next move?

“So what? One can’t observe an algorithm, either, and yet it is perfectly consistent with metaphysical naturalism to affirm that things like that exist.”

Whether or not it’s “consistent with metaphysical naturalism” is irrelevant to rintintin’s original statement. He was appealing to pure empiricism.

“We use abstract concepts to describe material processes or epiphenomenal aspects of the material world.”

Epiphenomenalism is an unstable, compromise position—one of the many failed attempts to make materialism do the work of dualism:

Moreover, I’m not talking about abstract “concepts,” but abstract “objects.”

“That is another thing entirely from belief in supernatural entities.”

It’s not “another thing entirely” with reference to empiricism. Moreover, there’s a relationship between abstract objects and the supernatural mind of God (back to modal metaphysics).

“Again, this is an arrogant assumption that rintintin hasn’t heard theists recite their apologetic claims.”

If rintintin knows his way around the standard apologetic literature, then he does a wonderful impersonation of someone who’s never read it.

“Sure, but the processes of the mind are governed by physical laws.”

It is? That merely begs the question in favor of physicalism.

“The physical components of those processes can be taken apart and investigated, if one chose to do so.”

Really? I had a dream last night. Dissect my brain and describe what I dreamt.

“Yeah, I guess it would simply be a ‘jejune interpretation’ to read this as a conversation with a serpent.”

Actually, it would be a “jejune interpretation.” For one thing, you’re using an English translation. Gen 3 was written in Hebrew, not English. While the semantic domain of each word overlaps, they don’t coincide. As Hamilton points out in his standard commentary on Genesis (1:187), the Hebrew word is associated another Hebrew word for divination. For casting spells.

So the narrator doesn’t call the tempter a “snake.” He calls it a nahas—using a polysemantic Hebrew word. Moreover, the text needs to be read intertextually. The Pentateuch is a literary unit, and this scene will foreshadow other themes and events, such as the Balaam cycle (the imprecatory motif) as well as Moses’ confrontation with Pharaoh and the Egyptian magicians (the ophiomantic motif).

“Therefore, your imputation of ignorance to your opponent makes little sense, as it is okay to be ‘ignorant’ of a [expletive deleted] discipline like theology.”

It’s not okay to be ignorant of an [expletive deleted] discipline like theology if you’re going to post comments about Christian theology at a Christian blog. When you do that you assume the burden of knowing what you’re talking about.

“In any case, merely pointing out the existence of these three categories does nothing to answer rintintin’s question. If your sink needs fixing, you could theoretically construct a coherent supernatural explanation as to why that is the case.”

Christian theology doesn’t require a supernatural explanation for a clogged sink. Providential processes will suffice.

“Only if by ‘self-reinforcing ignorance’ you mean ‘accurate truth.’ There is no place in the synoptic gospels where there is presented a handy rule of thumb for distinguishing between natural illnesses and demonic illness. If there is one, present it. Moreover, there is no place where an illness presented that is explicitly described as having non-demonic causes (of course, in the absence of such a statement, the first-century reader’s imagination would naturally gravitate towards the demonic-possession theory of illness).”

This is a fallacy of question-framing. LYOSHA07 tries to rig the issue by insisting on a criterion to distinguish demonic illness from natural illness. But rintintin was claiming that Bible writers indiscriminately attribute illness to possession. That’s demonstrably false. And we don’t have to show *how* they distinguished one from the other to show *that* they did.

“The demonic possession theory of mental illness is not a good theory because it has been shown to be lacking such evidence and has had virtually no explanatory power in the history of modern science.”

All you’ve done here is to assert your personal opinion.

“If you can provide evidence of such a phenomenon.”

I did.

“I won’t comment on the claims of this person, but I do find it amusing that a creationist like yourself would make common cause with advocates of the paranormal in order to prove the innate bias of the scientific establishment.”

You find it “amusing” because you can’t refute it. So you can only fall back on this lame dismissal.

The existence of various paranormal phenomena is consistent with the Christian worldview. Nothing incongruous in my citation.

“Your second link is difficult to access, btw.”

Works fine for me. But if your having difficulties, Google the citation for yourself:

“The Possession Syndrome in Hong Kong and Catholic Cultures,” P. M. Yap.

“What is your point here – is it to say that abstract objects cannot be falsified, or to make an analogy between god and a possible world? I must confess I don’t understand your objection at all.”

Pretty obvious. Rintintin said, “Do you know of any observation that would prove God wrong? ie falsify him?”

Abstract objects can’t be falsified by observation since abstract objects are unobservable. That’s one of the properties of being an abstract object. They subsist outside of time and space. Hence, they’re supersensible.

And, yes, there’s an analogy between God and abstract objects. Abstract objects are constituted by the divine mind.

“(But I am also pretty confident that whatever it is, it is probably a stupid red herring, given the author). Some abstract objects are potentially falsifiable. For example, the general theory of relativity could be theoretically falsified if we observed an object moving faster than the speed of light. Of course, it is true that there is little that could theoretically falsify a God – just as there is almost nothing we can do to falsify the existence of a celestial teapot orbiting the sun between the Earth and Mars.”

For someone who attributes stupidity to your opponents, you don’t help yourself with these grossly ignorant statements. The theory of relativity is not an abstract object. It’s a falsifiable theory about a contingent state of affairs.

Like rintintin, you suffer from self-reinforcing ignorance. Because you’ve already decided, absent study, that modal metaphysics deals with an “imaginary subject,” you proceed to make grossly ignorant statements about abstract objects—since you can’t be bothered to acquaint yourself with the subject you presume to dismiss. A vicious circle of prejudice.

“The Bible does deny second causes for the creation of man, especially evolution by natural selection.”

Now you’re substituting your own claim for rintintin’s claim. In fact, you do this throughout your response to me. You defend rintintin by improving on his original answers. And you improve on his original answers by simply swapping out his answers and swapping in your own. Of course, that’s a backdoor admission that he lost the original argument, so you need to roll out a whole new battery of arguments.

The question at issue is not whether the Bible attributes some events to primary causality. That’s your bait-and-switch.

The question, rather, is whether Bible writers assumed that God was the direct cause of everything that happens, such that, as soon as we discover a natural mechanism, that’s one less thing for God to do. This is a popular, atheological caricature of Christian theism which bears no resemblance to the Bible itself.

“The entire thesis of the ‘intelligent design’ movement is that at some point God must have stepped in and instantaneously provided the necessary design.”

Feel free to produce some verbatim quotes from Behe or Dembski to document that claim.

“In that sense, you do indeed adhere to a ‘God of the gaps’ theory, because you insist that some things cannot be explained by natural processes and require supernatural assistance. It is not ‘self-reinforcing ignorance of Christian theology’ to point this out this, Steve. Control your mouth and actually try to think before you ramble.”

You continue to display your self-reinforcing ignorance of Christian theology. God doesn’t perform miracles because it’s “required.” God didn’t make man in a single day because it’s “required.”

What you’re doing is to superimpose a mechanistic framework on the Bible which the Bible would reject out of hand, then claim that God’s only role is to putty the gaps in the machinery. That doesn’t reflect the viewpoint of Scripture. That’s a semi-deistic, Newtonian, clockwork universe. LYOSHA07, Control your mouth and actually try to think before you ramble.

“Is this supposed to be a reply to Rintintin’s statement? What part of the text of the flood story in Genesis has he not interpreted correctly? The fact that the flood was worldwide?”

He made no attempt to show that the flood was global according to Genesis. And there are commentators like Walton and Youngblood who favor the local interpretation. Before he attacks the flood account as unscientific, he needs to exegete the flood account.

“So it would be false to say that biological speciation hasn’t occurred within human memory.”

I didn’t say if it was or wasn’t. Try to pay attention. Rather, I pointed out that the definition is equivocal, and, furthermore, that Scripture doesn’t use that category in the first place.

“Are we supposed to take your last assertion as truth just because Alvin Plantinga said so?…Your point is by no means proved just because one philosopher says so.”

A straw man argument. I didn’t appeal to Plantinga’s say-so. This wasn’t an appeal to authority. Rather, I referred to his argumentation. Here’s some “helpful guidance” for you:

Warrant and Proper Function (1993)

“Reply to Beilby’s Cohorts,” Naturalism Defeated? (2002)

Knowledge of God (2008)

“I’m dying to see where in the God Delusion Dawkins makes these “skeptical claims” (whatever that means).”

If you’re “dying to see” where he says it, then what’s keeping you? His book isn’t classified, is it? Here’s a novel idea: why don’t you trying reading it? The pages in question are: 88-90,369-73.

“Dawkins, and most evolutionary biologists, would say that reason oriented towards the truth would be a reproductively successful adaptation.”

What makes you think that reason confers a survival advantage? Cockroaches seem to reproduce pretty successfully without any marked ability in chess or quantum geometry. Are cockroaches an endangered species?

“The senses enhance an individual’s likelihood to reproduce successfully, and generally speaking, the better they are, the more the chance of successful reproduction.”

That’s irrelevant to rintintin’s original claim that the senses are “trustworthy.”

“Why can’t the Christian God be eliminated by a process of elimination, while others can?”

As if Christian apologetics has never dealt with that challenge.

“The burden of proof is on you to show that the Christian god is any less ridiculous than anything else.”

The burden of proof is on you to show that atheism is any less ridiculous than anything else.

“Moreover, your proposed methodology assumes that the human imagination is capable of understanding every possible supernatural state of affairs.”

Actually, it doesn’t—but even if it did, you’re blanket denial is the logical converse of that assumption, so you’re in the same boat.

“And where is your evidence for your beliefs, Steve? The resurrection, presumably?”

My evidence is far broader than the Resurrection.

“However, for you to ask the question, ‘where is your evidence’, is to demand an evidentialist apologetic approach – which you deny for your own theology (probably because the evidence is too weak to justify an evidentialist approach). Why the double standard, Steve?”

Now you’re committing a klutzy blunder by confusing “evidence” with a particular school of apologetics that happens to label itself by using that word.

“Why can’t you just take it as a presupposition that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, and argue between competing worldviews?”

Comparing God to the Flying Spaghetti Monster is an argument from analogy minus the argument. Where’s your supporting argument?

You’re also advertising your ignorance of presuppositional apologetics. Try reading the standard expositions by Bahnsen and Frame.

“Gen 3 does refer to a talking snake. The story purportedly explains why snakes slither on their bellies. Hence the snake in the Genesis story is best understood as being the ancestor of all living snakes.”

I assume you’re alluding to Gen 3:14. However, as Walton explains in his commentary, that’s not what’s in view. It’s a formulaic curse. The distinction is between a snake, like a cobra, which is positioned to strike, and a snake which is crawling on the ground. So, no, this is not an etiological fable about how snakes lost their legs.

And I’d add that this combines the ophiomantic motif with the imprecatory motif. These are Pentateuchal themes, and you need to interpret any particular verse with its intertextual parallels in mind.

“If there is a difference of testimony between modern observers and Bronze Age observers, then the best course to take it to believe the course of events that is most likely, given what we can observe about natural laws.”

Ancient peoples were very observant of natural cycles. Their lives were regulated by the rhythms of nature—far more so than modern urbanites, who are insulated from the natural world by their artificial habitats.

“In that case, the chances that the author in Genesis was repeating a myth is much more likely than the chances that snakes actually were able to speak in the past.”

The truth of Gen 3 isn’t predicated on whether something is likely to happen. We're not talking about a naturally occurring event—like the transit of Venus.

“It is pretty clear that the snake/serpent (it makes no difference what term you use in English because they are synonyms in our language) in Genesis was understood as being the ancestor of all biological snakes/serpents in existence.”

Only on your misinterpretation of 3:14.

“The fact that the Hebrew word for snake/serpent has some connotations does not imply that the Hebrews distinguished between mere biological snakes and “numinous beings like snake-gods”, but that the Hebrews viewed snakes as having certain supernatural powers (the same goes for medieval Europe; most pre-scientific societies attributed supernatural powers to animals, and many animals were deified).”

Ancient idolatry, ophiolatry, ophiomancy, and demonology were subtler than that. Take the Egyptian snake-cult. The uraeus in Pharaoh’s crown was an emblem of an Egyptian deity. An Egyptian wouldn’t equate the emblem with the deity itself. And an Egyptian wouldn’t equate a cobra with the deity itself. Rather, it involves the principle of representation and sympathetic magic—where one thing stands for another, and can act through another.

“What you mean by ‘Christian theology’, of course, is nothing more than the speculations, elaborations, harmonies, and interpretations of people centuries or millennia removed from the Biblical texts.”

The doctrine of providence comes straight from the Bible.

“Of course, these ‘elementary distinctions’ that you propose Rintintin acquaint himself with has nothing directly to do with his simple observation and is an irrelevant red herring.”

To the contrary, they’re directly germane to the point at issue. In his ignorance of Scripture and Christian theology, rintintin acts as if the extraordinary were the norm in the Biblical outlook. But Bible writers expected a measure of predictability and uniformity (e.g. Gen 8:22; Eccl 1:1-10).

At the same time, it’s absurd to speak of God “breaking physical laws.” God is the homeowner, not the house burglar. He isn’t breaking into his own home when he comes in through the front door (or the back door). He made the house. The doors. The windows. He has the key to every room.

“The ‘doctrine of providence’ has no power to provide such a ‘principled basis’, since it is faith-based.”

All you’ve done here is to tacitly and tendentiously oppose faith to reason.

“If atheists cannot presume anything at the future, then theists can only presume to offer an answer once they have some proof.”

Like rintintin, you speak in a vacuum, as if Christianity hasn’t been making a case for itself for centuries, marshalling arguments from many lines of evidence.

“Of course, Steve! All things being equal, if an event can be explained by a supernatural phenomenon or a natural phenomenon, it is much more probably that the natural explanation is true.”

You equivocate by committing a level-confusion. There’s a difference between a natural cause for x and naturalism as a worldview.

On a final note, if you plan to reply, I’d advise you to drop the obscenities: otherwise, you will be deleted.


“That same serpent was cursed to ‘go on its belly and eat dust all the days of its life’."

I already addressed that verse in my response to LYOSHA07.

“The context in Genesis is that all the ‘beasts of the field were created in a single 24-hour earth-day and they were all called GOOD,’ and just two chapters later the serpent is called a ‘beast of the field’ as well, so I assume it was created GOOD with all the other beasts of the field. __The verse in which the serpent is called a beast of the field states that the serpent was ‘the wisest (or shrewdest) beast of the field that the Lord God had created’…The context in Genesis is of the ‘wisest beast of the field’ that was also ‘created GOOD’ along with all the other ‘beasts of the field’."

i) As Sailhamer points out in his commentary, the syntactical construction can either be comparative (which would identify the serpent among the beasts of the field), or partitive (which would differentiate the serpent from the beasts of the field). Sailhamer favors the partitive rendering.

ii) And as a matter of narrative theology, the fact that the “Serpent” tempts Eve to disobey the divine prohibition, and is subsequently cursed by God for tempting her to disobey his prohibition, clearly indicates that the “Serpent” (whatever his true identity) isn’t morally good at the time of the temptation.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Steve.

    That was an excellent post! I like the way you rebut poor arguments and substandard reasoning skills.

    What gets me, however, is that when the opponents lose (and they know they did, but their pride won't allow them to admit it), they invariably resort to whining and complaining about how arrogant, mean-spirited, harsh, unloving, un-Christ-like, etc.... you were in exposing their fallacies and uncovering their faulty assumptions.

    I mean, it's just like the whining that Loftus made a week or two ago. Just stop with the name-calling when you lose. Just man up, own up when you've been outreasoned, be teachable, and change course, and even reverse 180 if need be.

    Since I'm like 5 months new to this blog, I wonder how many atheists, arminians, Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxers have switched over to conservative Protestant Calvinism since inception of triablogue.