Saturday, October 23, 2010

Firing into the bushes

Over at his surrendering to error blog, Ben has offered a scattershot reply to my recent response.

“If Hays is appealing to natural theology, then why not appeal to the actual arguments from natural theology?”

i) I’m not appealing to natural theology. I’m appealing to natural revelation. Although natural revelation forms the basis of natural theology, the two are not synonymous.

ii) As far as natural theology is concerned, if Ben is curious about the arguments for natural theology, why doesn’t he read The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology?

I have 24 hours in a day, just like Ben. It’s hardly incumbent on me to do for him what he can do for himself.

iii) In addition, Ben isn’t paying attention to the nature of the argument. TCD alleges that Christian faith is delusional. So that goes to the issue of defensive apologetics, not offensive apologetics. I don’t need to make a positive case for Christian theism to rebut TCD. For that’s not how the argument was framed.

This is not about convincing unbelievers to become believers. Rather, this is about whether or not Christians are justified in what they believe. At that level, the argument from religious experience would suffice–although other arguments are certainly available.

“And if those arguments actually work, he has the means to pass Loftus' OTF.”

Why should I play with the casino’s loaded dice? That would be a pretty dumb thing to do.

The OTF is just a juvenile dare, the way adolescent boys taunt each other to perform dangerous stunts. To cave into that type of peer pressure is a mark of emotional weakness. I don’t live for Ben’s approval.

“In addition, it seems Hays is saying that natural theology (in the form of the natural world) innately stimulates the human mind to theological intuitions…”

Once again, Ben is too ignorant to know the difference between natural revelation and natural theology. Natural revelation doesn’t entail innate knowledge, although that’s one model of natural revelation. But it could be inferential knowledge.

“…then he has to deal with the fact that it's not going to seem that way to everyone.”

That’s hardly incompatible with natural revelation. A universal revelation doesn’t imply universal belief. For the mind must be predisposed to believe revealed truth.

“Notice his flagrant hypocrisy in his post, ‘Surrender to error:’"

Even if I were a hypocrite, the charge of hypocrisy, from the lips of an atheist, has no sting. Since atheism can’t underwrite moral realism, there’s nothing wrong with being hypocritical–from a secular standpoint.

Ben resorts to moral disapprobation despite a worldview in which there is nothing to back that up.

“That's in the very same tiny little paragraph! How is it not equally irresponsible to indulge in the premise that Hays knows unbelievers are suppressing their theological tacit knowledge? In the same post, Hays knows all about the mental states of every human ever born.”

i) Once more, even if my objection were hypocritical, that does nothing to salvage Ben’s argument. How would Ben be in any position to posit that all Christians are Christian because they inherited their faith? He doesn’t offer polling data. And even if he did, that would just be a miniscule sampling.

ii) I’m in a position to say what I did because I have a different source of information than Ben does: divine revelation.

“How do we know that Hays isn't suppressing his tacit knowledge that Christianity is intellectually indefensible?”

How does Ben know he’s not a brain-in-a-vat?

“Last time I checked, the future keeps becoming the present.”

Which is how you can verify or falsify a prediction: in retrospect.

“Anyway, the scenario I had in mind was from my own experience. Years ago I actually had a couple dreams that seemed to correspond to the events of the following day. Should I believe that I was really dreaming about the future or that those dreams just so happened to correlate?”

Why not?

“If it happened every night for a month and was rather specific, I think I'd have a case.”

That’s rather arbitrary.

“I'm sure a dream about the future could come in the form of many literary genres. However the more obscure and representational, the more difficult to peg down as ‘real.’

Take Joseph’s dream about the famine.

“When did I appeal to my explicitly atheist experiences and/or atheist intuitions to justify atheism in this post (or anywhere else for that matter)?”

That’s unresponsive to what I wrote. And, needless to say, there’s no such thing as an “explicit atheist experience”–as analogous to religious experience.

“I don't have a problem using Hays' version of ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ since I'm not trying to win an argument with overly simplistic semantics. Even from our subjective frame of reference that we cannot escape, there is still a spectrum of more objective than not. If we are fair and we treat the experiences of others as just as legitimate as our own...”

Let’s see. Ben uses the bathroom. That’s just as “legitimate” as my experience of eating a cheeseburger. See how fair I am?

“…and attempt to sort out the world from that vantage point…”

Raw experience doesn’t enable us to “sort out the world.” You also need some criteria.

“…it should be clear that using ‘tacit knowledge’ of the natural theology variety is a dirty OVERLY subjective way to establish credibility in the world just like I said.”

That’s just a question-begging denial.

“The fruit of this is evident in a heavily confused religious world forever struggling to get along with reality.”

Needless to say, the phenomenon of religious confusion is hardly an undercutter or defeater for Biblical theism, for the Bible has an explanation for that phenomenon.

“Does Hays honestly believe there are no superstitious people in the world even if Christianity is true?”

Sure. Some of the most superstitious people I know are atheists.

“If Hays doesn't want to take responsibility for all the superstitions and barbarisms in the Bible he probably doesn't apply, so be it. That certainly doesn't hurt Loftus' argument.”

i) Of course, that’s a loaded question.

ii) It’s also equivocal. The fact that Scripture records cases of barbarism and superstitious doesn’t make the Scriptural record barbarous or superstitious.

iii) No, I don’t take responsibility for the Bible. I didn’t write it.

iv) I do take responsibility for my faith in Scripture.

v) ”Barbarism” is a moral value-judgment. But Loftus and other contributors to TCD are moral relativists.

So, yes, it hurts his argument to use a self-contradictory argument.

“I don't think I automatically discounted the appeal, but I did point out each party needs to raise their standards accordingly since mutually exclusive propositions are getting in via similar means. There's plenty of research that strongly suggest we should be distrusting of our memories.”

That’s ironic considering Ben’s subsequent appeal to his “deconversion story.” Now he’s given me permission to discount his deconversion story, since that is only as good as Ben’s untrustworthy memory of his deconversion process.

“This just begs the question of whether or not it really is true that a ‘self-authenticating’ inner feeling associated with a religion actually has been instigated by a supernatural agent.”

Once again, Ben can’t follow the argument. I was responding to Loftus’ blanket rejection of self-authenticating experience. It’s sufficient for me to point out that Loftus fails to draw an elementary distinction between true and false claims about one’s experience.

“Hays isn't saying anything that helpful here. Loftus' basic point remains that Christians should just as readily dismiss their own subjective feelings as compelling evidence since it is obviously so ubiquitous to many conflicting religious positions.“

This assumes that most religionists even claim to have a distinctive religious experience. But take Islam. It’s all about external conformity to sharia law. You don’t have to believe it. You only have to keep up appearances.

“Confronting others challenges our untested assumptions. Religious people apparently need their assumptions to remain untested, because their God apparently has only provided them subjective means of persuasion.”

Once again, Ben is unable to follow the argument. I’m responding to TCD on its own terms. A subjective experience can be a perfectly valid reason to believe something. I remember some of the dreams I had. The fact that I remember those dreams is sufficient reason to believe I had them. Yes, it’s possible that I misremembered a dream, but it would be irrational for me to automatically doubt my memory. If I memories were systematically unreliable, then we could never test them against some external check, since we couldn’t trust our recollection of the external check.

“Nevermind that people can have conflicting ‘self-authenticating’ mental experiences or that many forms of delusion (even of the non-religious varieties) are quite self-authenticating.”

True to his philosophical naïveté, Ben fails to distinguish between a self-authenticating experience, and the interpretation of a self-authenticating experience. Needless to say, one can’t have contradictory self-authenticating experiences. But that’s way too subtle for Ben.

“The irony is that if Hays manages to give good reasons to not take what he thinks is the OTF, he's necessarily passed the actual OTF. The only other option is for Hays to be continually hammered on his solipsistic standards. And I am eager to oblige. :)”

Among other problems, the OTF poses trick questions–questions which presuppose methodological atheism.

“If atheism is the only credible deal available, you take the deal. If you want to be a cry-baby about reality, that's your problem. And you are entitled. No one is stopping you from checking out.”

i) Here Ben must resort to the language of shame. He’s trying to shame the Christian into performing the OTF stunt.

But the problem with that tactic is that atheism is a shameless position. Since atheism fails to underwrite moral realism, there’s nothing that anyone anywhere should ever feel ashamed of. So his schoolyard taunt falls flat under its own dead weight.

ii) In addition, Ben resorts to bullying rhetoric because he has no counterargument. Since atheism is unable to warrant epistemic duties, we have no obligation to give atheism the time of day. Atheism disqualifies itself from the competition of ideas.

“Hays seems to have confused atheism with Biblical Christianity, since the idea of most of my friends and family and most humans ever born would burn in hell for all eternity doesn't strike me as the Disney ending Hays claims he needs to be motivated in life.”

Aside from the fact that Scripture doesn’t assign percentiles to the saints and the damned, that does nothing to counter my point. If you had every conceivable pleasure in this life, but knew you’d wind up in hell when you die, that would constantly gnaw away at your capacity for enjoyment. So Ben’s counterexample unwittingly confirms my original point.

“If I had to randomly choose for everyone which worldview was true, I'd pick atheism. At least people would have a decent chance at a decent life that doesn't have a high probability of being absolutely horrible for all eternity.”

That’s like a serial killer who murders all his friends, then complains about how lonely he is.

Atheists go to hell while Christians go to heaven. So how does the existence of hell tip the scales in favor of atheism? How do you avoid going to hell by becoming an atheist? You don’t. Just the opposite.

“Of course, Christians will be dishonest and just ignore the horrible parts of their own worldview. I think Jesus had something to say about that though.”

i) Since I’ve discussed hell on multiple occasions, Ben will need to try that line on somebody else.

ii) Likewise, the charge of “dishonesty” is toothless on the lips of an atheist. If there are no objective moral norms, then why be honest?

Ben isn’t sincere about his atheism. He wants the moral license that comes with atheism, but he also wants to moralize about others.

“Let's assume Hays means more than an appeal to his subjective preferences though. Erroneously presuming there is an objective basis for epistemic duties that doesn't actually exist doesn't do much for supporting epistemic duties either. Hence, if I take Christianity seriously, I'd presumably be obligated to be intellectually honest with what I know and what I can prove. If I know I don't know that God exists and Biblical Christianity requires that I do know (despite Hays' ignorant assertions to the contrary), obviously I can't be a Christian even if epistemic duties cannot be justified outside of that context.”

Ben misses the dilemma of atheism. If Christianity can ground epistemic duties, while atheism cannot, then there can be no epistemic duty to even consider atheism. If God didn’t exist, there would be no obligation to deny his existence.

“Meanwhile, as an atheist, I take epistemic responsibilities seriously because I will be living in the meantime and error can lead to much unnecessary suffering.”

Actually, believing that life is meaningless (a la atheism) is a recipe for much gratuitous suffering.

“If I care about virtually any problem in life at any level, getting epistemology right is the right tool for the job. This is obvious even if it doesn't happen to cure Hays' subjective depression. In the case of my blog here, taking the time to do something like a comprehensive review of TCD is my contribution of good will to everyone else who may be currently struggling through difficult epistemic problems brought on by living in this religious culture. I don't expect Christians necessarily to sympathize.”

His contribution is foolish on secular grounds as well as Christian grounds.

“However, I'm not the one at every turn here making excuses for why I don't take my beliefs to a sufficient level of critical thinking to justify them them against the beliefs of others.“

That’s just a throwaway line. Ben pays lipservice to scepticism, but then he acts as if he can rise above it. But if he’s going to invoke undercutters like social conditioning, then any effort on his part to distance himself from social conditioning would, itself, be a socially conditioned maneuver. So he isn’t really escaping his social conditioning. Rather, he’s taking a socially conditioned exit which circles back into social conditioning.

“Hays points out that Loftus slightly misrepresents what he said turning his ‘good reason’ into ‘assumption,’ but it seems Hays is just assuming he doesn't need to defend his tacit knowledge…”

I don’t owe Loftus a spiritual autobiography. The onus is not on me. Loftus is the one who presumes to make sweeping claims about the psychotic mindset of each and every Christian. He doesn’t share the first-person perspective of perfect strangers to offer an informed opinion about their mental state.

“When Hays meets someone with different intuitions he apparently has no argument. He doesn't have the tools to take his beliefs to the next level of credibility.”

i) I don’t have to take it to the next level since that’s not the level at which TCD is pitched.

ii) And at this risk of stating the obvious, it’s not as if I don’t defend Christianity on a regular basis.

“So should we start suspecting that the lack of interest in applying actual arguments to pass the OTF is really just an offensive apologetic farce not to validate Loftus' OTF? Is Hays really saying he's keeping all the good arguments for the Christians? haha Suit yourself. That's your own intellectual integrity on the line there and it just makes it look like you really, really, really, really just want to assert your conclusion and not have to present any defensible reasons for someone to take Christianity seriously beyond being inundated by all the subjective things talked about in part 1 of TCD. Good luck with that strategy.”

i) Ben keeps treating the OTF as a given, even though I and others (e.g. Reppert, Manata) have executed the OTF six different ways. How many times to do we have to kill it before it’s good and dead? One coup de grâce will do.

ii) Likewise, the line about “intellectual integrity” is just more of his hollow, bullying rhetoric. But intellectual integrity is only an intellectual virtue in a world with virtues. If there are no duties in general, then there are no epistemic duties in particular.

Ben acts as if I should let him skip over this step so that he can proceed to the next step. But there’s no reason to go to the next step unless and until he can justify epistemic duties.

iii) On a related note is his egotistic conceit in imagining that I need Ben to affirm me. As if I can’t survive his disesteem. But I was doing just fine before he was ever born.

iv) And, once again, he’s too wrapped up in his own little world to remember the nature of the argument in the TCD. That’s not about persuading atheists to embrace Christianity. Rather, that’s a question of whether Christians are warranted (rather than delusional) in their Christian faith. I don’t have to marshal all of the good arguments for Christianity to rebut that type of allegation. Rather, it’s a question of whether the contributors to the TCD are in a position to say my Christian faith is delusional. Since, however, they don’t have access to my life experience, their allegation is grossly underdetermined by the evidence.

v) Keep in mind, too, that I’ve presented specific, detailed responses to TCD. It’s not as if the current issue that Ben is obsessing over is the only arrow in my quiver. We’re discussing a narrow issue because Ben is fixated on a narrow issue.


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