Monday, October 25, 2010

Ne'er shaw yir teeth unless ye can bite!”

i) For a couple of reasons, this will probably be my final reply to Ben. For one thing, he’s a one-trick pony with a busted leg. His objection to Christianity always circles back to the oft-refuted OTF. It’s an exercise in diminishing returns for me to keeping responding to the same lame argument.

ii) In addition, he intercalates newer responses within older responses. It’s not worth my while to pick out newer responses embedded in the older responses.

iii) I’d also like to make a general point before delving in. Ben keeps acting as if my critique of TCD is inadequate because I responded to TCD on its own terms. He faults me because I didn’t respond to objections which the contributors never made. Because I didn’t make a positive case, over and above what was necessary to rebut TCD.

But his complaint is plainly illogical. I can’t miss a target I didn’t aim for in the first place. That’s not a failure on my part. And there’s no reason I should make their arguments for them, then refute the arguments I put in their mouth.

If there’s some adequacy afoot, that’s the inadequacy of TCD, and not the inadequacy of my response. They need to pull their own load.

But Hays wants to drag us back into the gutter still! He says:

Needless to say, the goal of TCD is clearly to knock down the Christian faith. His chapter on the OTF plays a strategic role in his effort to achieve that goal.

Ben then says:

Duh! Loftus' mission in life is well known.

So Ben backhandedly admits that I was right. Yet somehow it’s dragging us back into the “gutter” to correct Loftus’ disingenuous disclaimer.

However the OTF can't respectably do the job unless it is first and foremost a fair standard. Conflating the fairness of the standard, the application of the standard, and Loftus' motives doesn't get us anywhere with the OTF. Yet the Triabloggers seem desperate to do that (rather than just move on to application mode).

There’s nothing desperate about challenging Loftus when he makes a false statement. That’s called answering your opponent. I’m not responsible for the many deficiencies of John Loftus and his cohorts. If that’s a problem, that’s a problem for Ben, not for me.

Hence Hays complains:

No, the goal is to reduce Christianity to a mere hypothesis.

To which Ben replies:

Aww...the bride of Christ's husband is reduced to mere bachelor status...and that just doesn't feel right, does it, Steve? [*eyeroll*] Down with objectivity, I say!

Needless to say, that doesn’t even attempt to be responsive to what I actually said. And that’s another reason why there’s no point in my continuing to engage him.

Hays says:

[Loftus is] not exactly an impartial judge or umpire.

To which Ben replies:

And Steve Hays is?

Once again, Ben can never figure out what it means to answer an opponent on his own grounds. Whether or not I’m an impartial judge is a red herring. The question at issue is how Loftus chose to frame the argument. Loftus poses as the umpire, with the OTF.

Isn't anyone even trying to have a conversation here?

Ben is the one who refuses to stick with the actual state of the argument.

Just because some aspects are asymmetrical doesn't mean all of them are. Duh. Loftus appeals to a point of more substance, since if demons inspired Christianity or Islam, then they can make up any further "tests" or asymmetries that they like which will be superfluous.

No, that’s not how Loftus framed the argument. Loftus said: “Muslims claim the same exact thing. They say the reason Christians believe is because demons are deceiving them.

Muslims are in no position to say that, for that would be self-refuting. The Koran claims to be a confirmation of Biblical revelation. If, however, Christians are demonically inspired rather than divinely inspired, then that undercuts the ostensible foundation for the Koran.

Ben can’t stand it when I hold Loftus to his own words. He always wants to change the subject.

The natural world (or creation, as Christians would refer to it) is common ground. Miracles, gods, angels, demons, and other supernatural phenomena are not common ground.

Two basic problems:

i) From a Christian standpoint, the only categorical, metaphysical distinction lies between the Creator and the creature. In that respect, angels and demons belong to the natural world. All creatures belong to the natural world.

ii) An atheist has no right to unilaterally dictate common ground. Common ground appeals need to be justified, not unilaterally postulated–especially when the boundaries are drawn at the very point in dispute.

Christians have to admit that genuine sightings of these beings are at the very least exceptionally rare.

Rarity is irrelevant to whether or not something is natural or supernatural. Are four-leaf clovers supernatural?

They also have to admit that naturalistic explanations do work a whole lot more of the time than supernatural ones.

More problems:

i) From a Christian standpoint, natural forces and natural mechanisms are contingent on God’s creative fiat of the natural world, with its internal causality. So that’s not an alternative to divine agency.

You might as well say the cue ball does more work than the pool player.

ii) I have no way to quantify the percentiles. As I pointed out in a recent discussion with somebody else, if answered prayer is a factor in historical causation, the effect of answered prayer would be indetectible further down the line. Same thing with coincidence miracles (e.g. miracles of timing). Except for observers close enough to the situation to rightly attribute the outcome to prayer or special providence, such miraculous factors can’t be ruled in or ruled out by distant third-parties.

That establishes a probability spectrum and hence is prescriptive with the input of a very few common ground facts.

i) ”Probability” is bound up with the presumptive uniformity of nature and the problem of induction. How does Ben get started?

ii) There is more than one type of probability. There is psychological probability as well as physical probability–such as the psychological probability (or not) that all Christians who ever said they witnessed a miracle are delusional.

Hence, not only does methodological naturalism more properly represent an agnostic research program, it also represents the most responsible way to establish supernatural facts by eliminating the more probable naturalistic alternatives.

The most responsible way to establish if something happens (e.g. miracles) is to wait and see if it happens, not to lay down man-made rules that prescribe in advance of the fact what can or can’t happen.

This is especially pertinent since there are many competing supernatural worldviews and a wide spectrum of disagreement even in the conservative Christian worldview.

There are many competing natural worldviews.

Naturalistic explanations would need to be eliminated first…

No. We need to go with the best explanation in any given case, given the available evidence.

Ben quotes me saying:

I find it more than plausible that a man who was dabbling in the occult (Taoism) would leave himself wide open to the demonic—especially in the case of an apostate like [Richard] Carrier. Those that pray to false gods become the devil’s prey.

To which he replies:

*shrug* It's not like Hays isn't known for the accusation (or the overt suggestion, in the case of Carrier).

Since Carrier is one of Ben’s “heroes” (along with other luminaries like Barack Obama, Jon Stewart, Al Franken, Anthony Weiner), I understand why his feelings are hurt when I slight his idol. However, I simply drew an inference from autobiographical material which Carrier publicly volunteered about himself. Since Taoism is an occultic tradition, and Carrier also admits to having undergone an episode of Old-Hag syndrome as a practicing Taoist, there’s nothing untoward about my suggestion.

I think this is the "everyone is doing it" fallacy of justification. Some of us actually do make every effort to apply the OTB (and other relevant standards) to every contentious issue that we have time to think about and research.

Ben doesn’t apply the Outsider Test of Belief to methodological atheism. Rather, that’s his unquestionable axiom.

Is Hays really going to waste so much time and effort writing lengthy responses (and presumably spending the time to think about why he doesn't have to think about it) and disown a critical check on his most important beliefs because of just one other man's supposed inconsistency (that Hays never bothered to demonstrate, btw).

i) Pointing out inconsistencies in your opponent’s argument is a basic element of refutation.

ii) I did demonstrate the inconsistency.

iii) I reject methodological atheism as a “critical check” because methodological atheism is tendentious–for reasons I’ve often stated.

Should McGrath be taking sides with the writers of the Bible or should he be taking sides with modern humanity who has to investigate a world of conflicting claims as responsible epistemologists? Does Steve Hays take sides with Muhammad? Joseph Smith? What if we applied every defensive apologetic gimmick to every other fantastic story and religion in history? Where would that leave us?

i) If methodological atheism represents an outsider perspective in relation to Islam or Mormonism, then Islam or Mormonism represent an outsider perspective in relation to McGrath. So, yes, if you’re sincere about assuming an “outsider’s viewpoint, then that cuts both ways.

ii) To ask if I side with Muhammad or Joseph Smith is stupid since I’m not the one who’s touting the OTF.

I’m just applying the outsider rubric consistently, unlike Loftus, to answer Loftus on his own term. But Ben is too dim to ever figure out the nature of a tu quoque argument.

iii) Moreover, Ben’s objection isn’t even responsive to what I actually said. I was explicitly referring to McGrath’s adoption of methodological historiography. I’ve debated that with McGrath on my own blog.

Methodological atheism hardly represents the golden rule, for it lacks the essential reciprocity of the golden rule. Although atheists wish to be treated as atheists, theists don’t wish to be treated as atheists.

All Hays has done has inverted the OTF so that he doesn't have to pass it.

Because I don’t have to. I’m not a signatory to that charade. Loftus has no right to impose on me a test I’m supposed to pass.

If Hays thinks he can show that methodological naturalism is irresponsible (because of all the magic in the world skeptics are ignoring), then please, hop to it.

An illustration of Ben’s perennial ignorance–as if I hadn’t given my reasons on multiple occasions.

And how do we sort out substantive and contentious claims about the actual state of the evidence? Hays calls Loftus and me cheaters, but it's pretty clear who is doing the epistemic cheating.

To the contrary, methodological naturalism is only justified if metaphysical naturalism is justified. A mere methodology is not entitled to make substantive prejudgments about can happen or can’t happen or what is likely or unlikely to happen. Those are metaphysical claims.

On the contrary, hypocrisy is a word that is associated with a pattern of behavior. That association maps onto that behavior regardless of whether or not there is anything "wrong" with hypocrisy apart from the Christian worldview. This can then channel into an internal critique of Hays' Christian worldview and would result in the conclusion that one has to be a hypocrite in order to be a Christian like Hays. Obviously that would be an unlivable Christian lifestyle, since you'd necessarily be a fake Christian.

As usual, Ben still misses the conundrum of the consistent atheist. Yes, hypocrisy is wrong given Christianity. But by the same token, Christian faith can’t be inherently hypocritical, for (ad arguendo), it’s only within the Christian framework that hypocrisy is wrong. Therefore, one could never mount an internal critique of Christianity on the grounds of hypocrisy, since such a critique must simultaneously affirm and deny the Christian grounding of the vice. To cease to be a Christian because Christianity is inherently hypocritical is to move outside the framework wherein hypocrisy had moral significance.

I never said I knew they did. I'm defending the premise of Loftus' OTF that they probably did. There are plenty of intellectual Christians that will complain about the vast intellectual lethargy in their ranks and everyone knows most people don't think things through or develop a rigorously justified worldview. It's an open door that Hays simply refuses to walk through.

i) It’s true that I don’t walk through every door someone opens–especially when the porter doesn’t have my best interests at heart. Some open doors lead into torture chambers. Some open doors lead into thin air. There’s something to be said for knowing what’s on the other side of the door before you step through the door.

ii) One doesn’t need to have a rigorously justified worldview to have justified beliefs. A child can have a natural fear of heights. He’s in no position to explain why falling from a height is dangerous, yet his instinctual fear is amply warranted. A child may instinctively fear a snarling dog. Even though he can’t rigorously justify his fear, his fear is well-grounded.

I can recognize my father’s handwriting even though I’m not a handwriting expert. I can recognize a friend’s voice on the phone even thought I don’t have voice recognition technology to prove it.

And where did Hays demonstrate that his divine source of information is legitimate?

I’ve been defending the Bible for years on end. Check the archives.

I know I don't know that God exists and Hays claims his divine source says otherwise. Case closed.

Really? Somehow I don’t think that’s the standard homicide detectives apply in a murder investigation. If the suspect denies the crime, does that mean the case is closed? Both the innocent and the guilty routinely deny their guilt. So that’s neither here nor there.

At the very least (if Hays misspoke) it does imply that everyone is in a position to know theism is true and I know I'm not in that position and I don't know of anyone who is. Further, the behavior of most other nonbelievers (and even many believers) is most explicable given the explanation that they have not been given a jump start in the theological knowledge department if theists like Hays would ever bother to try out the hypothesis. It would be extremely difficult if not impossible for a nonbeliever to live like a nonbeliever if they really did have no excuse in regards to knowing that God exists and that they are morally accountable to him (and Hays even seems to agree this state of affairs would gnaw away at them) as the apostle Paul claims at the beginning of Romans.

i) It’s a commonplace of human experience to see people who live in denial. Indeed, Ben’s response is counterproductive, for that’s exactly what the contributors to TCD say about Christians. We are delusional. We persist in our faith despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That’s the allegation. If Ben now rejects that type of argument, then he has burned a key plank of TCD.

ii) Unbelievers act just like the Bible predicts. They behve like rebels. They try hard to silence their guilty conscience. And they create like-minded communities that mtually vouch for each other’s alibi.

Take contributors to TCD like Loftus, Ellis, and Avalos. Although they deny moral realism, they exert tremendous time and effort in trying to make everyone agree with them. But if you’re a moral relativist, why does it mean so much to you to disprove Christianity?

The obvious reason for their inconsistency is that, deep down, they are trying to evade an unwelcome truth.

This also does not explain the behaviors of believers who have genuine fundamental epistemological struggles with their faith, even though they have every reason to simply know the obvious as we are told they should know.

Natural revelation doesn’t have to explain that. Our fallen condition explains that.

I don't suddenly confuse myself into not knowing my car exists or that my family and friends exist. But apparently people can do that with God.

That’s a poor analogy. God is not a visible, tangible object–like a sports car.

A better analogy would be something like the past. You can’t see the past or touch the past. All you have are traces of the past. But we don’t ordinarily doubt the past on that account–even though, by Ben’s criterion, we ought to.

On any other topic with a similar level of "confusion" these people would be considered insane.

Unbelievers often act crazy. Take the antinatalist movement.

The ‘revelation’ part is an interpretation based on concluding the arguments from natural theology actually work.

To the contrary, it may be a subliminal inference. The inference can also be formalized. But that’s a separate step.

Every Christian has their own spin on things and I'm not psychic.

But that’s the point. The contributors to TCD are in no position to apply a cookie-cutter to the faith of each and every Christian.

Different Christians can have different reasons for why they believe, and they can also be justified in what they believe for different reasons. We don’t need formal arguments to justify our faith–any more than we need formal arguments to justify many of our instinctual or empirical beliefs–most of which are either innate or formed by a subliminal process.

In offensive apologetics, Christian philosophers and scholars make an effort to unpack some of the evidence, and marshal arguments. But that’s not a prerequisite for knowing something. Rather, that’s a type of second-order knowledge.

Why does Hays assume I'm not reading that book?

I didn’t. And if he’s read the book, then he can answer his own question.

It really doesn't matter how Hays cuts the cake here.

It matters when Ben doesn’t know enough to correctly state the opposing view.

I don't see how asking a person to be consistent with their standards is playing with "loaded dice."

Consistent with whose standards? Methodological atheism is not my standard.

I don't see how it is a "juvenile dare" to demand arguments that actually surpass the explanatory power of contrary arguments in a contentious context. And I don't see how "caving in" to intellectual integrity is "weak." Quite the contrary. If we have to "go there" it is emotionally weak to not be able to challenge your most fundamental beliefs.

Which is just his question-begging way of rephrasing the issue.

Further, making an argument like Hays' "atheism would make me sad" is in the same genre of emotional weakness, imo.

Which wasn’t my argument. That is Ben’s substitute for my actual argument. I presented a twofold argument:

i) If atheism is true, then it makes no ultimate difference who believes what.

ii) If atheism is true, then we have no epistemic duties.

If Ben is too slow on the uptake to follow a fairly straightforward argument, then he needs to find a new hobby–like collecting bottle caps.

I also don't see what any of this has to do with my approval.

When someone like Ben invokes the rhetoric ruse of shaming his opponent into agreeing with him, it takes for granted that we should value his opinion of how wonderful or terrible we are.

He can pretend not to care about that, but he is responding to my arguments as though it matters.

Responding to Ben’s arguments (such as they are) is quite different from seeking his esteem.

Hays can stop making this personal any time he wants to.

Ben can stop making this personal by dropping the rhetorical ploy of shaming his opponent.

Being defensive in this context just means that Hays and company are backing up to the wall and complaining that perhaps elements of the OTF do not apply to them.

To the contrary, it means holding the contributors to TCD to the their very own words. The question is whether Loftus et al. can pass their own test by meeting the terms of their argument.

What they don't appear to appreciate is that in light of the actual nature of the OTF, that actually puts them in a position to pass the OTF if that defensive position is legitimate.

Putting me in a position to pass a bogus test is a harlequinade I can do without.

I would then proceed to use Loftus' several examples (that he unfortunately does not spend enough time elaborating on himself) to one up Loftus…

I agree with Ben that it’s easy to one up Loftus. And I agree with Ben that Loftus failed to discharge the burden of proof which he assigned himself.

Needless to say, to refute TCD, all I need to do is refute TCD. I don’t need to refute Ben’s promissory improvement on TCD.

… and demonstrate how in fact the correct way for an intellectually respectable Christian to not assert the conclusion or resort to special pleading. I would also point to any literature elaborating on the evidence and best arguments for those claims. That is the appropriate respectable form of response to Loftus' chapter from an intellectual Christian point of view. It is not the nitpickstravaganza that we got from Hays and Manata that merely exposes how willing they are to avoid taking their religious convictions to a sufficient level of critical scrutiny and many, many other intellectual blunders typical of their brand of thinking (as I've rigorously shown here in my review of everything they said).

i) What’s special pleading is for Loftus et al. to deny moral realism, then turn around and act as if Christians have a moral obligation to renounce their faith and embrace atheism. It’s highly appropriate to point out a fundamental contradiction in their argument.

ii) I’m not going to let the contributors to TCD off the hook. They are in a quandary of their own devising. There’s no reason to move on when their vehicle has square wheels.

Constructing an argument that ideally should convince a hypothetical unbeliever to become a believer and demonstrating that actual Christians are not delusional has considerable (if not complete) overlap.

The contributors to TCD determined the conditions under which TCD succeeds or fails by how they chose to cast the argument. Why should I judge them by a higher standard? Just look at where Michael Martin set the bar:

John Loftus and his distinguished colleagues have certainly produced one of the best and arguably the best critique of the Christian faith the world has ever known. Using sociological, biblical, scientific, historical, philosophical, theological and ethical criticisms, this book completely destroys Christianity. All but the most fanatical believers who read it should be moved to have profound doubt.

So the contributors to TID rose to the challenge.

Hays demonstrates that when it comes to evaluating the legitimacy of religious experiences, he takes them as a given and does not even appear to comprehend scrutiny of them.

No, I never legitimated religious experience in general. That is more of Ben’s sloppy reading comprehension.

Hence, the argument from his religious experiences (assuming he's even had any) does not suffice, since he has not demonstrated a reasonable degree of competency in evaluating some very mundane relevant things here [see the section on evaluating prophetic dreams below].

Why does Ben assume that predictive dreams must be intrinsically religious?

Because of that thing known as a "dumb luck."

Whether or not an ostensibly predictive dream is dumb luck depends on how close and "naturally" inexplicable the parallels are. Some things are too coincidental to be coincidental. So that depends on the details of the dream, as well as the details of the extramental event to which it ostensibly refers.

No...just believing it because it vaguely worked out once or twice is what is arbitrary.

But that isn’t what Ben originally said. He said “Years ago I actually had a couple dreams that seemed to correspond to the events of the following day.

Now he’s suggesting they were “vague.”

That's an unverifiable story in an ancient book.

As usual, Ben misses the point. I didn’t cite Joseph’s dream as a truly prophetic dream. I, of course, regard his dream as a truly prophetic dream, but that’s not the context in which I mentioned it.

Rather, I cited it as an example of an allegorical rather than rigorous presentiment of the future. But even though the imagery is allegorical, it’s not hard to discern the terms of fulfillment–assuming (ad arguendo) that Joseph really dreamt it.

Even if based on some real history, we can't be sure that Joseph didn't get the interpretations of many other dreams wrong and that the Bible only records his success stories.

That doesn’t explain the success stories. There’s a reason that fanatical unbelievers like Dawkins are so adamantly opposed to the very possibility of precognition. They realize what a threat that would pose to their scientific paradigm. So they can’t allow any success stories.

We could subject a modern interpreter to the same tests of rigor I've advocated for more straight forward supposedly prophetic dreams.

Ben doesn’t say what that amounts to. One obvious way to test a predictive dream is for the dreamer to tell one or more people about the dream before the event transpires. But that test doesn’t turn on a distinguishing between modernity and antiquity.

I don't know why we are arguing over just what kind of dream it has to be or whether or not there is a middle man interpreter in the scenario. Hays just won't cut the crap. That's on him. If Hays really wants to fight over this, that's a little crazy, like he's never just plain asked himself an honest question about anything: "How do I know this is actually true?"

One of Ben’s revealing habits is getting ticked off when a Christian apologists holds an atheist to the terms of his own argument. But Ben was the one who introduced the qualification of rigor: rigorous correspondence.

I’m just answering him on his own grounds. He likes to bandy words about “honesty” and “intellectual integrity,” but it’s a mark of his dishonesty that when I beat him at his own game, or John Loftus, he wants to change the rules.

The analogy of dreams is a case in point. Obviously our brains are capable of creating all sorts of experiences that have nothing to do with the rest of reality. Why are theists like Hays so trusting of whatever mental experiences they believe correlate with a real God entity?

Which, once again, is Ben’s polemical substitution for what I really wrote.

And it’s also ironic that Ben is so fond of throwing the “solipsistic” epithet around. For if you’re so distrusting of whether mental experiences map onto extramental realities, then that’s a recipe for solipsism.

It’s not as if Ben can step outside of his mental experience and compare the real world with his mental experience. If he thinks our brains are that unreliable, then he’s in quite a pickle.

We're just on the topic of experiences and so that was what was emphasized. There is also mental architecture in the brain that is already processing experiences through the filters of coherency and relevancy, etc. We can then take those basic mental facets and tune them up even more, pool our resources, and engage in the project of accountable collectivistic science to do even better than evolution ever "imagined."

Ben acts as if he can bypass mental experience by appealing directly to the physical structure of the brain. But that’s an illusion. For what we think we know about the brain boils down to our mental experience of brains. We use brains to study brains.

Ben keeps reminding the reader of his philosophical naïveté. Like the average rationalist, his intellectual rhetoric overshoots his intellectual performance.

Having "an" explanation does not mean it is the best explanation. Hays actually needs to provide an argument that God's communication skills don't suck when the evidence of the world at face value clearly strongly implies that they would (if in fact God existed).

That begs the question of whether divine communication was ever meant to foster unanimity. But that’s certainly not how divine communication is presented in Scripture. The intent of divine revelation is divisive as well as unitive.

Loftus and company are referring to official cases of "apparent" barbarism and superstition that the Bible endorses in addition to pointing out how the Bible let's us know about similar barbarism and superstitions in the surrounding culture. That was obvious. Hays is avoiding the issue.

Ben keeps raising these empty-headed objections as if I hadn’t ever dealt with that objection before. Not only do I address cases of “official” barbarism and superstition in Scripture in the course of my response to TCD, but I’ve also been doing that for years at Triablogue.

For Ben to say I’m “avoiding” the issue when I’ve confronted the issue head-on multiple times just makes Ben look like a lazy, willful ignoramus.

The difference in relevancy here is nonexistent. Any Christian has to take responsibility for any and all official superstitions and barbarisms advocated in Scripture in order to have a coherent moral paradigm. Again, Hays is avoiding the issue and not taking responsibility for his faith in Scripture.

i) Notice the loaded terminology.

ii) And, of course, I’ve been over that ground many a time.

Loftus inserts a footnote in Eller's chapter that points to moral realist positions that Hays does not address.

I address that on 92 and 163n100 of TID. Yet another reminder that literacy isn’t Ben’s strong suit.

I am not a moral relativist.

Which simply means that Ben is not a consistent atheist. Ben isn't exactly the standard-bearer. But a number of prominent secular thinkers have presented persuasive arguments to show the incompatibility of atheism with moral realism.

Regardless, even moral relativists can show the internal incoherency of other moral belief systems as Richard Carrier has pointed out.

I already dealt with that objection in a subsequent response to Avalos:

As usual, Ben is way behind the curve.

Loftus said:

"Just think how it would sound to evangelical Christians if Mormons claimed their faith was 'properly basic,' or that the inner witness of the Spirit self-authenticates their faith" (87).

To which I replied:

For all I know, Plantinga might concede that Mormon faith is properly basic. Proper basically simply means a belief enjoys prima facie warrant. It doesn't mean the belief in question is either true or unfalsifiable.

The Ben says:

It is certainly warranted to consider what your faith related feelings mean, but in practice religious people do use them as defeaters for contrary evidence and difficult issues. So no matter how much lip service a religious person may pay to technicalities, the ball of subjective probability is already rolling in their minds in favor of their religious convictions.

i) Yet another example, as if it’s needed, of Ben’s chronic reading incomprehension. I didn’t indicate that I was endorsing Plantinga’s category, much less applying that to Mormonism. I simply noted that Loftus acts as though Mormonism is a counterexample to Plantinga’s category, whereas I have no reason to think Plantinga would take exception to that.

ii) Speaking for myself, I happen to agree with Plantinga’s general category. However, I wouldn’t apply proper basicality to Mormonism. Mormons do not enjoy prima facie justification for their faith.

And rather than taking all the easily verifiable earthly evidence at face value and coming to the best straight forward conclusion (that religious people are merely rationalizing their subjective investment in their particular brand of religion), they grant the things unseen way too much credit.

Unseen things like human minds. Or the past. Or possible worlds. Or numbers. Or morals.

No, Loftus is saying the same thing I am.

And two wrongs don’t make a right.

He agrees they probably had their subjective experiences. And he also agrees that they fail to take their arguments based on those experiences to a sufficient degree of critical justification. Hays refuses to step up to where the argument actually is. 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.

i) The question at issue wasn’t subjective experiences in general, but self-authenticating experiences in particular. That’s the context.

ii) In addition, the adjective is superfluous. By definition, every experience is subjective. To experience something requires a conscious, individual percipient.

There’s a distinction between a purely mental experience and a mental experience of an extramental object. But the later is mentally apprehended.

There is more than one level to this argument since not only do religious people not subject their experiences to enough scrutiny to sort out the supernatural world, but in addition, they don't sufficiently subject their interpretation of their subjective experiences to the competing naturalistic hypothesis which says it's probably all in their heads (or that at least we don't know that it isn't just all in their heads).

An all-too-typical instance of the type of overstatement which passes for “rigor” in village atheism. Yet you clearly can’t say that about religious people, per se. For instance, that’s not something you can say about Christian philosophers or philosophical theologians.

This is a red herring on Hays' part since obviously we're only referring to the religions and the sects of various religions who do actually appeal to the argument from experiences. Again, Hays isn't saying anything helpful.

Well, to say Islam is a red herring cuts a very big piece of territory from the religious map.

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, that’s not an intellectually earnest claim. It is clearly false to make that claim about religious people in general. They range along a continuum.

But Ben can’t afford to concede that, for the same reason the contributors can’t afford to concede that, since their objective is to discredit religion in toto.

That's not responding to TCD on its own terms. Loftus would agree that subjective experiences can be a valid reason to believe something and was never advocating automatically doubting every memory (any more than I was). In context, the argument is still on the table and unaddressed that religious people who make an appeal to their subjective religious experiences are not providing a verifiable means of telling that it's not all in their heads, or that their version (if it has mutually exclusive contents against other religions) is more legitimate.

I remember things my grandmother said and did when she was alive. Many of those things are unverifiable. Private conversations. Things the two of us did. Should I doubt every memory that I can’t independently corroborate? But that’s plainly unreasonable. The average atheist doesn’t live that way. And he couldn’t if he tried.

The religious epistemology is failing at more than one level. Hays still isn't saying anything to salvage that situation and isn't taking responsibility for the part of the debate that is not common ground.

What does it mean to “take responsibility” for something that’s not common ground? When I was a boy, I had a dog. We’d sometimes go for walks. I’d walk through the woods to park nearby. Usually it was just the two of us. There were no eyewitnesses. No security cameras. So the walks with my dog weren’t “common ground.”

Should I therefore “take responsibility” for the non-common ground of walking my dog by myself? Should I subject my remembered walks to competing hypotheses? Maybe I hallucinated taking my dog for a walk? Maybe that’s an alien simulation.

Hays is too eager to jump on his "Ben is naive" narrative and simply has misread my response. I've added the word "different" to be more clear in the sentence above that Hays is responding to. The issue on the table was always the interpretations of the "self-authenticating" experiences and Hays still fails to say anything helpful to distinguish what the proper interpretation is.

He rewrites what he said, then blames me because I didn’t respond to his backdated revision.

All self-authenticating religious experiences (and non-religious self-authenticating delusions) could easily correlate to no genuine spiritual reality and we have no way to verify any differently. Hays' job would be to show that we do have a way. He consistently refuses to do that.

As usual, Ben doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A “self-authenticating delusion” is oxymoronic. By definition, a self-authenticating experience is a veridical experience. By the same token, you can’t have two or more veridical experiences which contradict each other.

If I feel pain, that’s a self-authenticating experience. If you feel pain, that can't conflict with my experience.

Hays is taking us in circles.

That’s because Ben’s evasive maneuvers are circular. I follow the spinning target.

The original issue was that atheism couldn't justify the value of epistemic duties. Hays attempted to show this by saying he'd be too sad to take truth seriously if atheism were true.

That’s a demonstrable misrepresentation of what I said. Is Ben just playing dumb, or is he really that thick?

Nevermind that Hays did actually appeal to being a proverbial cry-baby in order to dismiss atheism and continues to do so. If Hays feels "bullied" by me turning the force of his subjective appeal around on him, again, that's his problem. Grow up.

i) To begin with, the fact that someone acts like a verbal bully doesn’t mean his readers “feel” bullied. If Ben isn’t smart enough to know the difference, then he should avoid venues that expose his intellectual deficiencies.

ii) It’s also amusing to see a twenty-something whose favorite TV shows include Superman and Batman tell someone else it’s time to “grow up.”

iii) The fact is, moreover, that a twenty-something hasn’t “grown up.” Growing up encompasses the entire lifecycle. Ben lacks the life-experience to know what it’s like to suffer certain losses.

iv) Finally, when I point out that he resorts to the rhetoric of shame, he responds to me by resorting to the rhetoric of shame! Needless to say, that’s not an intellectual response. It’s just emotive, tuff-guy bloviating.

Round and round we go. Hypothetically being "able" to ground epistemic duties is not the same thing as actually grounding epistemic duties.

If you want concrete examples, Robert Adams has written two monographs on the subject: Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics and A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good.

Moving along:

Considering Christianity would mean taking seriously that we don't know the Christian basis is correct.

Nice job of begging a key question.

Hence, Hays has not pulled out of his own Christian dilemma nor established that atheists have no motivation to tend to epistemic duties. If we are that "mythical" agnostic (if you ask Hays) who is searching for the correct worldview, obviously we already have the motivation to tend to our epistemic duties.

Notice the bait-and-switch. To say some atheists are “motivated” to take epistemic duties seriously doesn’t mean they have a principled motivation. People can be motivated in very unscrupulous ways for whatevever they do.

So why are all atheists not gratuitously suffering?

Because they blink. They live a lie. They distract themselves.

Ultimately life may be meaningless, but that doesn't have to cancel out a meaningful life in the meantime before you die.

Sure, you can turn life into a game of croquette. Invent artificial rules. Erect artificial obstacles. Dictate artificial goals. Award artificial prizes. Then you die, and the next generation fills the time playing croquette.

I expect to be able to rigorously show that Hays is incorrect for everyone else to see and to provide leverage in the debate which often resembles a game of whack a mole.

Ben has rigorously shown his lack of rigor. But for the sake of argument, suppose our debate resembles a game of whack a mole. Playing whack a mole is how we give meaning to our meaningless lives.

Hays continues to assume some absolute status of "social conditioning" that I never argued as though he is talking to Loftus, David Eller, and Jason Long. There is some overstated rhetoric on the issue in TCD, which I have blasted in this very post.

Notice how often Ben faults TID, not because it failed to rebut the TCD, but because it succeeded in rebutting the TCD!

Loftus did not call each and every Christian "psychotic." In fact he went out of his way to say the opposite in TCD.

TCD alleges that Christian faith is delusional. That attributes a psychotic state to Christians. And TCD makes no exceptions. Takes no prisoners.

Admittedly, one of the basic problems with TCD is its failure to define a “delusion.” Let’s rectify that strategic omission:

“A delusion is a fixed, idiosyncratic belief, unusual in the culture to which the person belongs. Unlike normal beliefs, which are subject to amendment or correction, a delusion is held to, despite evidence or arguments brought against it. Delusions are usually taken to indicate mental illness, but something akin to them is occasionally to be observed, at a meeting of scientists, for instance, when a person insists on the correctness of an idea he overvalues, and denies any significance to evidence appearing to refute it. There is a difference: usually he gets angry, whereas in mental illness the patient’s emotional response when a delusion is challenged tends to be bland or otherwise inappropriate,” The Oxford Companion to the Mind, 184.

(BTW, notice how this standard definition directly contravenes a central plank of TCD. Christian faith can’t simultaneously be culturally conditioned and countercultural. It can’t be both abnormal and culturally inherited.)

i) It’s not enough for contributors to TCD to say Christians are mistaken. They don’t content themselves with documenting the allegedly objective errors of the Christian faith. No, Christians aren’t merely wrong. There is something wrong with Christians. It’s not just that their beliefs are wrong. There’s something deeply defective with the very way they think–or refuse to think.

ii) Now perhaps we could chalk up the “delusional” meme to polemical overkill. A way to sell books. Rally the base.

However, unless and until the contributors are prepared to retract the “delusional” meme, there’s no reason I should gloss over their emphatic charge and give them a pass. This is not an incidental feature of TCD. Rather, that’s a core allegation.

iii) And there’s no prima facie presumption that my Christian faith flies in the face of the evidence when I have subjected the TCD to a sustained reply–not only in TID, but in many follow-up replies.

Hays does not owe anyone a spiritual biography unless he actually wants us to take his worldview seriously or give other Christians the defenses they need to confront the nonbelieving world. F: On Christian terms (1 Peter 3:15), it would seem Hays is basically obligated to do this.

Ben acts like a Borg baby that just popped out of the incubation chamber. I’ve been prolifically defending the faith since 2004. Where has he been?

When Hays meets someone with different natural intuitions and inferences he apparently has no argument.

I don’t take it to the next level when I’m responding to TCD on its own level. I’m not going to give the contributors an easy out. If they wish to retreat, they must do so in plain view. Not under cover of darkness.

All kidding aside, I've agreed in other parts of my review of TCD that there are aspects of it that aim low (even though there are other chapters in the anthology that aim appropriately higher). I don't consider that an excuse to do the same in my own review, and I even allienated Loftus in the process.

Of course a refutation is aimed at the same level as the target. What do you expect?

Reading Ben, I’m reminded of what my Scottish forebears used to say: “Ne'er shaw yir teeth unless ye can bite!”


  1. Thanks for the posts.

    Would you at least say that in responding to me that it has forced you to be much more clear with your perspective? Seems that way to me at least in comparison to your responses to others.

    I'm glad you're done, since I'm almost finished with my comprehensive review of TID's response to Babinski's chapter in addition to the 23 or so posts here.