Friday, June 13, 2008

Van Helsing v. Funkenstein

“Dr Funkenstein” has decided to reply:

“Obviously I'm not familiar with every pro (or anti-) theistic argument ever made, so if Steve had pointed me in the direction of some links or given me a brief outline I would happily have read them.”

Here’s your reading assignment for today:

“Contrary to what he suggested I did in fact read the psychology journal he posted - possession is not recognised as a valid psychiatric illness by the 2 major psychiatric boards in the US.”

Notice that “Funkenstein” dodges the concrete evidence presented in the article by retreating into a tendentious appeal to human authority.

“It is curious that he would present a (fairly obscure) peer reviewed journal on the subject as evidence, when he would no doubt dismiss one on common descent, natural selection and the like as being scientific dogma.”

As usual, Funkenstein is either too dim or too dishonest to follow his own argument. This was his original claim: ““Can I shout 'viewpoint discrimination' if psychiatric journals won't allow me to publish my demonic theory of mental illness?”

So I cited a counterexample. When, however, I answer him on his own grounds, he changes the subject. This is typical of the way in which Rintintin-cum- Funkenstein behaves. When you meet him on his own turf, he shifts ground.

“Some of the points I responded to where Steve mocked my biblical exegesis - these are genuine views of Christians I have spoken to or who put forward ideas in the public domain (eg talking snake, global flood etc). A reading of the English version of Genesis makes me consider these to be fairly reasonable representations, but obviously I don't speak ancient Hebrew and not every Christian denomination interprets these the same way. I am not a mind reader, so being unaware of Steve's specific beliefs my statements might not be applicable to him personally.”

Funkenstein is debating me, not Ken Ham.

More to the point, it’s irrelevant how some Christians interpret Genesis. Funkenstein is attacking Genesis. So his attack depends on his interpretation, not theirs. As such, it’s incumbent on his to justify his interpretation, using grammatico-historical exegesis, and interacting with alternative interpretations in the standard exegetical literature.

For example, if Mary Baker Eddy took Gen 1 a certain way, and Funkenstein demonstrated that her position was scientifically untenable, that wouldn’t prove that Gen 1 is scientifically untenable—but only that her position on Gen 1 was scientifically untenable.

“On the subject of the serpent, my statement that it seems ludicrous was met with a reply that Bronze age people wouldn't have had access to it either. But this doesn't really hold up - they were apparently privileged with an abundance of miracles of equivalent impressiveness for a period of several thousand years. Jesus performs a veritable plethora of miracles throughout the Gospels for example.”

Here he betrays his self-reinforcing ignorance of Scripture. Miracles aren’t commonplace in Bible history. They cluster around major redemptive events. Because the Bible, like any historical work, is selective, and because it’s primarily concerned with the history of redemption, miraculous events are disproportionately represented. But in other historical books of scripture which narrate less epochal periods, miracles are few and far between.

“As far as I can tell, those of us in the modern age have not been given the same benefit.”

This is yet another example of his self-reinforcing ignorance. If you go out of your way to avoid religious experience, you will likely succeed. But miracles didn’t end with the death of the Apostles.

“Seeing as the basic argument is that God, and specifically the Christian God for presuppositonal apologists, is self-evident, this should be as true for me, some guy in an isolated tribe in the Amazon, someone in ancient China or the ancient Aborigines as it was for the people in the ancient Near/Middle East (and apparently van Til et al). Speaking personally, I had no awareness of God until someone told me about the idea when I was a child.”

Presuppositional apologetics doesn’t content that God is self-evident. Rather, the basic argument in presuppositional apologetics is that God supplies the necessary truth-conditions for anything to be true, provable, probable, or knowable.

That’s not the same thing as claiming that God’s existence is self-evident. That’s not a psychological claim, but a metaphysical claim.

Presuppositional apologetics also stresses the noetic effects of sin. Even if God were self-evident, an unwelcome truth will be suppressed.

“Van Til states that ‘God must always remain mysterious to man.’ But obviously not to him and various theologians past and present it would seem. Curiously these theologians with access to knowledge of God don't all agree with each other.”

i) Don’t all agree with each other about what? The doctrine of God? Traditionally, there’s a fair amount of agreement among Christian theologians about the divine attributes.

And where there’s disagreement, it’s generally due to the attempt to reconcile the divine attributes, which they agree upon, with some extraneous precommitment regarding the nature of human freedom.

ii) Of course, scientists don’t all agree with each other. Therefore, by Funkenstein’s criterion, scientists don’t have access to knowledge of the natural world.

“I believe Greg Bahnsen attempted to provide a way of 'knowing the supernatural' while he was alive - yet from reading his words, they gave no real indication of how one would do this or separate it from one's own imagination.”

This is so vague that there’s nothing to respond to. Bahnsen believed in divine revelation. That was the primary way of “knowing the supernatural.” And Bahnsen presented a transcendental argument for the existence of God. What Funkenstein thinks any of this has to do with “imagination,” he doesn’t explain—probably because his knowledge of Bahnsen is so cursory and second-hand that he can’t say anything specific.

“Furthermore, as Frame explains how he knows God illumines the human mind: 'we know without knowing how we know', and also that 'we know that Scripture is God’s Word, but we know very little about the process by which God inspires the biblical writers and texts'. For all the criticism my views have received, these don't exactly seem like rock-solid foundations either.”

i) Frame is simply drawing a distinction between preanalytical knowledge and analytical knowledge. There are many things we know at the level of tacit knowledge that we haven’t bothered to prove. And, in some cases, we couldn’t prove it even though we know it. How does Funkenstein recognize the voice of a friend on the phone?

ii) In addition, Frame doesn’t leave it at that. He marshals arguments for the existence of God. Read the AGG.

“We're also always expected to make concessions for God that would never be made by theists for the alternative - God can 'just exist', yet the universe for some reason cannot (I think Hume pointed this out). The universe needs a cause, since things that exist are caused - yet God does not. I don't see any reason we should agree to these concessions just to suit theists.”

As usual, Funkenstein betrays his self-reinforcing ignorance of Christian theology. The cosmological argument was never that every *existent* is caused, but that every *event* is caused. Everything that comes into being (or goes out of existence) requires a cause. Since God is timeless, he has no temporal origin: hence, no cause.

“A common PA argument for Christianity (often used by Rhology, which is taken from Bahnsen as far as I remember) against atheism is 'the impossibility of the contrary'. But how exactly would someone prove that we couldn't be sitting here having this conversation without a deity of some description?”

Well, if Funkenstein actually bothered to read Bahnsen or Frame for himself, he might be able to answer his own question.

“More to the point how would someone prove that we do indeed need the Christian God - after all Frame's piece simply claims knowledge of the existence and attributes of said God despite there being no way to separate it from pure imagination, then ironically critiques a worldview where an assumption is made then everything shoehorned around it.”

That’s hardly an accurate description of Frame’s position. Read the AGG.

“I've yet to talk to an apologist who doesn't assume everything presented to them that offers a contradiction to their beliefs must be wrong by default (perhaps they might say that of me of course) or can be explained away by ad-hoc miracles.”

Once again, this is too vague to merit a response. What contradictions in particular? What ad-hoc miracles?

“A perfect example is the harmonisation of Genesis 2 with Genesis 1.”

It doesn’t require any ad hoc miracles to harmonize. Just basic reading ability. Gen 1 is a global creation account while Gen 2 is a local creation account. Gen 2 is concerned with the creation of man and his immediate habitant (the Garden of Eden and its “furnishings”). It corresponds to Day 6 on Gen 1.

If this is his “perfect example,” then it shows you what a pitifully weak case he has against the Bible.

“I see a few problems with this. Why so vague that we need to make speculations?”

No speculations needed.

“Why should I assume this attempt at harmonisation to be true unless I have a prior commitment to Christianity being true?”

Why should I assume this attempt at harmonization to be false unless I have a prior commitment to Christianity being false?

Anyway, a Christian could have good reason for his prior commitment to the truth of Christianity.

“Why did God not know Adam would be alone and need companions, and thus make his initial creation right on Adam's doorstep?”

He did. Where does the account say that God didn’t know? It doesn’t. Rather, it says that Adam didn’t know. And there’s a difference between abstract knowledge and existential knowledge. What does it *feel* like to be alone? That’s knowledge by acquaintance. You can only acquire that kind of knowledge through personal experience.

“For a book that is supposed to be the inerrant word of God, having all these vagaries in the first 2 pages doesn't exactly inspire confidence for me.”

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Funkenstein’s competence when he commits so many elementary blunders.

“A lot of the argument on Steve's post centres around Alvin Plantinga's EAAN - some of his work seems like a kind of 'presuppositional apologetics lite' from what I can gather, since it posits a deity as opposed to the Christian God specifically.”

Plantinga doesn’t “posit” a God. He argues for God’s existence.

And he attacks naturalism on its own grounds. His argument against naturalism isn’t predicated on the existence of God. Rather, Plantinga is mounting an internal critique of naturalism. God would be the alternative.

“As one of the commenters defending my posting said, Plantinga's argument was simply presented as a factual statement, despite there being a lot of critiques of it.”

And Plantinga responds to his critics on a regular basis. Funkenstein is trapped in his self-reinforcing ignorance.

“Henry pointed out that legs didn't initially evolve in tetrapods for walking in land, nor did feathers evolve for birds flying - but would anyone say that they aren't useful for those functions? “

“Useful for x” is a teleological evaluation. Methodological naturalism forbids that.

Moreover, this fails to salvage your claim about the reliability of the senses. Reliability is a teleological concept. As an atheist, you can’t apply teleological explanations to the natural world.

“For example, if someone can assume God as a basic belief/first principle when it isn't a conceptually irreducible idea, what's stopping me from doing the same with Rationality + Naturalism? Plantinga's view suffers as much from circularity as the one I've just presented.”

No, these are obviously asymmetrical propositions. Naturalism undercuts its own claims by raising a presumption against the reliability of the brain or the senses. That hardly presents a parallel to divine creation.

In naturalism, a mindless process produces the brain. Moreover, true beliefs are inessential to survival. Hence, there’s no reason for natural selection to select for true beliefs.

In Christian theism, an infallible mind (God’s) produces the human mind and senses. And God puts man in an environment to which his mind and senses are preadapted. These are not comparable scenarios.

“The pro-deity argument surely relies on assuming a working brain/senses prior to assuming God, since without these the 'self-evident' knowledge of God might just be the workings of a defective brain etc. After all, Frame does say 'we know we know' - yet how does he know this isn't just a defective brain telling him nonsense?”

Funkenstein is merely reiterating his previous missteps.

“From what I gather, naturalism only suffers when the naturalist takes a Cartesian view of the mind (which I believe Plantinga does) rather than a pragmatic one (which I believe eg Daniel Dennett does).”

What makes him think Cartesian dualism is relevant? I’d add that pragmatism doesn’t select for true beliefs. Many mindless things work perfectly well. My lawnmower does a fine job of mowing the lawn without exhibiting any cognitive ability. So the pragmatic criterion is irrelevant.

“I'm genuinely curious to know how theologians know so much about God outside of what is in the bible (or in fact how the original writers were able to communicate God's thoughts onto paper (papyrus?) - after all Moses wasn't around to see the creation or the flood and so on) - a lot of what they say seems a little 'emperor's new clothes' to me, but maybe that's just my ignorance.”

Yeah, that’s just your ignorance, all right. Try brushing on up on natural theology.

Likewise, Moses didn’t need to be an eyewitness to creation or the flood to know about it if he was a recipient of divine revelation.

If knowledge of the world is dependent on direct observation, then Funkenstein doesn’t believe that cosmology or evolutionary biology or historical geology can tell us anything about the prehistoric past.

“This is interesting for 1 reason. Science can investigate these gaps by hypothesising, collecting data, analysing it and drawing conclusions. The same cannot be said of blanks looking to be filled by supernaturalism, which is basically guesswork.”

What’s the difference between “hypothesizing,” and “guesswork”? Isn’t the former just a euphemism for the latter?

“I also responded to this before by pointing out Newton's reference to angels pushing planets, which was later supplanted by Laplace's work.”

Why not stick with biblical theism?

“Theists also have a very selective application of supernaturalism - I see no reason it should be any less applicable to computer science or engineering than it should be to biology, geology or cosmology.”

There are specific reasons for miracles in Scripture. Ordinary providence does just fine most of the time. Funkenstein takes a simple-minded, all-or-nothing approach.

Most of the time I don’t fight gravity. Gravity is useful. But sometimes, like when I want to travel a great distance, that it’s useful to fight gravity. I’d rather take a plane than walk three thousand miles or swim the Atlantic.

Funkenstein is also fixated on Tiktaalik. But he never answered my question about how he distinguishes between an evolutionary intermediate and an ecological intermediate. If, for example, an organism occupies an ecological zone that has a mixed habit, it’s not surprising if the organism is designed to function on land and water (to take one example) or air and water (to take another example), or land and air (to take another example). This is perfectly consistent with special creation.

Moreover, special creation doesn’t exclude adaptive variation.

“Yes, I have - it wasn't exactly supportive of an anti-evolutionary view despite the claims made on its behalf.”

No one said that Gee is antievolution. But he undermines the evidence for common descent. It you can’t establish lineal descent, how do you establish common descent? Here are some examples from his own book:

“Furthermore, it was pretty clearly against a biblical literalist view and typological thinking. Interesting how that was never pointed out when Gee's name was touted as proof 'Darwinism' was in disarray.”

No one ever said that he was a young-earth creationist, or any sort of creationist. Once again, we have to explain to you what an internal critique is. Gee’s argument is predicated on geological time-scales. A young-earth creationist would reject that.

But if we accept that for the sake of argument, then the extant fossils are so isolated in time that you can’t properly sequence them.

How many times do we need to walk you through the basic principles of logical argumentation before the point sinks in? Has atheism left your faculties so atrophied that you can’t follow a simple explanation—or even follow your own argument?

“Why does my lack of ability mean that other design is not poorly done?”

You’re in no position to say that a design is defective unless you—or someone else—can design a superior alternative. Unless you experiment with the alternatives, you don’t know if there are any viable alternatives, much less superior alternatives.

“Note the assumption here - the 'establishment' must be the ones who are wrong. This is a common refrain amongst supernaturalists - if their supernatural views aren't accepted, then they are being discriminated against in some way, or the 'establishment' are running scared of some groundbreaking challenge to accepted reality. It couldn't just be that Sheldrake's methods are deficient, or he's cherry picking data or offering up subtle coercions to direct the study in the direction he wants? This seems like a totally uncritical acceptance of a fairly questionable research program on Steve's part.”

i) As usual, Funkenstein isn’t responding to what I actually wrote. I didn’t say that I agreed with Sheldrake. I merely pointed out that he studies natural phenomena that the scientific establishment routinely ignores since such phenomena constitute an embarrassment to the dominant paradigm.

ii) Sheldrake isn’t investigating the “supernatural.” He’s investigating the paranormal.

iii) And, as a matter of fact, members of the scientific establishment, like Richard Dawkins, do indeed act as if they’re running scared:

“Although not directly related to Sheldrake's work, this is another good explanation of reasons for skepticism when someone claims that natural laws can just break down at the drop of a hat. It amazes me that people (not just Steve) will unhesitatingly accept such supernatural claims purely on the basis of the word of the person making the claim, and because it's the sort of thing they like to believe in rather than anything that stands up to critical scrutiny, yet no amount of objective evidence will convince them of things they don't want to be true.”

Sheldrake isn’t making “supernatural” claims. He’s pointing to evidence for phenomena like animal psi. And I never took a position on his claims. I merely pointed out that he’s investigating natural phenomena which the scientific establishment dismisses out of hand.

Why does Funkenstein keep aiming at specious targets? Is he too dim to follow the actual argument? Or is his problem that he has no counterargument, so he simply “responds” to an argument his opponent never made in the first place?


  1. Just a note, and I'm kind of chuckling here...
    "Henry Gee" has stopped by my blog to correct us on our using his book to support ID and creationist ideas. I don't suppose there's any way to ascertain whether it's really him, but it's funny. He hasn't gotten our point correct yet.