Thursday, March 07, 2013

Fire ecology

I’m reposting some comments I left over at Parchment & Pen in response to a militant apostate:

Ryan says:

“It’s fine if you want to accept the contents of the bible at face value. But you can’t ask the rest of us to.”

You don’t represent “the rest of us.” You simply represent people who agree with you.

“Most importantly, I think a good intellectual practice is to expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.”

So what conservative Christian philosophers, theologians, Bible scholars, and apologists have you exposed yourself to?

“I still think the onus of proof is on the person claiming to believe in a supernatural deity for which there is little evidence.”

The onus is now you to establish your claim that there is little evidence for God’s existence.

“Okay, first, there are no surviving eyewitness accounts to Jesus life, miracles, death and resurrection.”

That begs the question.

“The gospel we have was written well after his death, plenty of time for exaggerations to make their way in.”

A non sequitur, inasmuch as gospels written well after his death can easily be written by eyewitnesses.

“The fawn in a forest fire and many other examples of senseless suffering sure seem to be pointless and the product of impersonal forces that sometimes make biological life experience pain.”

You need to bone up on fire ecology. Far from being pointless, forest fires are beneficial to the ecosystem.

You ought to stop mindlessly parroting the atheists you read and begin subjecting their claims to rational scrutiny.

“I hate how many of the religious have hijacked and watered down analytical philosophy in order to promulgate a message of faith. You’ve made it into a joke in the eyes of many I know.”

Since according to you, we’re all just a bunch of apes, why should your apish opinions matter to me?

“There’s something you’re missing here. Rowe doesn’t claim the fawn dying in a forest fire is an example of evil. It’s an example of suffering.”

Unless suffering is evil, you can’t mount an argument from evil based on suffering.

“All of us have first-hand experience with the impersonal forces that sometimes kill, maim or inflict with disease the just and the unjust alike.”

Time-travel stories, where the protagonist tries to improve the future by changing the past, illustrate the law of unintended consequences.

“…they describe and when they were actually written down. Some of these books were written over 40 years after Jesus’ life.”

That’s just your tendentious assertion. And even if it were true, folks in their 60s and 70s often have clear memories of things they experienced in their teens and 20s.

You need to stop regurgitating thoughtless objections.

C. S. Lewis was a popularizer. You only mention one living Christian philosopher/apologist. Yet you told us that “Most importantly, I think a good intellectual practice is to expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.”

On the face of it, you’re not holding yourself to your own standards. Just among Christian philosophers, what books and articles have you read by Ed Feser, Win Corduan, Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, Michael Rea, Paul Helm, Paul Moser, Greg Welty, James Anderson, Bill Aston, Bill Vallicella, Stephen Davis, Alexander Pruss, Victor Reppert, Tim & Lydia McGrew, Oliver Crisp, John Warwick Montgomery, J. J. Haldane, Stephen Evans, &c.?

I also notice the conspicuous absence of conservative Bible scholars on your list.

“And I’m sorry to have to inform you of something you should already know, but burdens of proof aren’t on those who doubt a claim.”

I regret to inform you that by your own admission, you’ve been making assertions. You’ve been asserting various things to be the case or not be the case. Therefore, you assume a burden of proof to justify your assertions. A denial is still a truth-claim.

“This is one reason the burden of proof can’t be on folks who deny claims.”

Fine. I deny the existence of animal suffering. I deny that animals ever die in forest fires. I deny the operating premise of Rowe’s argument. And since I’m merely denying your claim, the onus is not on me to justify my denial. That was quick and easy.

“You act as though my inability to disprove God’s existence with certainty amounts to a default victory for you.”

No, I’ve said you need to argue for your assertions.

“You need to look up what ‘begging the question’ means.”

Begging the premise means taking for granted a disputable contention not conceded by the opposing side. That’s what you’ve been doing here.

 “There is no possible way I can show you why it’s generally not accepted that the gospels were written by eyewitnesses. The best I can do is cite an expert source. Would you like me to?… Do you honestly not know that historians don’t accept many portions of the gospels to be historically accurate, mainly the resurrection, crucifixion and birth aspects.”

You originally said: 

“Most importantly, I think a good intellectual practice is to expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.”

So what commentaries, NT introductions, and monographs on the authorship, dating, and historicity of the Gospels by conservative scholars have you exposed yourself to? Likewise, what conservative scholars have you exposed to on the historical Jesus? Remember, I’m just holding you to your own standards.

“The point I was attempting to make with saying the gospels were written well after the events in question is to say that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. 40-50 years is a long time for exaggerations and fictions to make their way in. Second, who is to say we should take their testimony at face value?”

I see. So when you say “During my undergraduate years in philosophy, I started out as a Christian apologist and very gradually became a religious skeptic,” I shouldn’t take your testimony at face value.

If fact, given how “notoriously unreliable eyewitness testimony is,” you should systematically distrust your own recollection of your undergraduate studies. You think you remember who your philosophy profs. were, but your firsthand observations are notoriously unreliable. Maybe you really majored in ballet, and just forgot.

BTW, if testimonial evidence is notoriously unreliable, then that sinks Hume’s appeal to uniform experience against the occurrence of miracles.

“The gospels being penned well after the events they describe leaves room for fictions to creep in…”

All you’ve done is to repeat the same non sequitur.

“While the scant evidence…”

Which begs the question.

“And the supernatural claims require all the more evidence before warranting any degree of belief, especially strong belief.”

Once again, you’re assuming what you need to prove.

“All ribbing aside, you stink at this analytic argumentation thing.”

Considering the fact that you don’t argue for your ambitious claims, that’s unintentionally comical.

“The fawn is just one example among countless others of senseless suffering that doesn’t discriminate.”

I just demonstrated that it’s not a case of “senseless suffering.” You need to keep up with the actual state of the argument, rather than just repeating your refuted assertions.

“Is it not clear that God – if he is infinitely powerful – could have initiated a forest fire while clearing out the life within it?”

Now you’re changing the subject. You originally alleged gratuitous animal suffering. But if, according to fire ecology, forest fires contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem, then that’s not gratuitous, but functional.

BTW, some animals benefit from the death of other animals. So divinely protecting animals from forest fires would harm other animals. It’s called the balance of nature.

“We’re not apes. We’re primates.”

Primates include homo sapiens. You need to brush up on the taxonomic classification of Hominidae.

“If there’s an all-good, all-powerful God, then he would be compelled to prevent any evil/suffering he could unless he couldn’t without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil equally bad or worse. Do you agree with this?”

Unless suffering is evil, suffering doesn’t even pose prima facie evidence against the existence of a good God.

“In the context of philosophy or logical argument, assertion means just what I said it does. Go look it up.”

It means you’re begging key questions every step of the way.

“What is the criteria for establishing which books belong in the bible and which don’t. It was arbitrary”

Your fact free assertion.

“Is it more likely that they developed this religion during a time when superstitious belief systems were commonly employed as a means to explain your world, provide comfort and hope to fearful, ignorant people, to establish a cultural identity?”

Since you furnish no supporting argument, why is that more likely?

“For example, the divine sanctioning of slavery, genocide, rape, the subordination of women – which one would expect in the highly patriarchal, violent societies that existed during biblical times…all of these attributes of the bible bear the stamp of the culture in which the bible was created. If God really inspired men to write a book, you would expect it to not be so subject to cultural forces and biases. The better explanation, given the small scope, the biases, the seemingly evil divine commands…”

i) You haven’t bothered to exegete the texts you’re alluding to.

ii) You can only classify the commands as evil if you can justify objective moral norms on secular grounds. But many atheist philosophers admit to being moral relativists or nihilists.

iii) From your naturalistic evolutionary standpoint, why is simian patriarchy wrong? Likewise, why is it wrong for primates to rape, kill, or enslave other primates? Doesn’t that sort of thing happen in the wild on a regular basis?

“My list wasn’t exhaustive. I’ve read some others, Platinga included, Zagzebski, N.T. Wright, and others, enough that I’ve got a decent grasp on some of the best arguments/perspectives each side has to offer.”

You can’t know the best arguments you never bothered to read.

“I don’t consult conservative biblical scholars often.”

So by your own admission, you have a double standard. You don’t “expose yourself to and deal with the strongest arguments on the other side of your position.” In fact, you avoid it. Classic duplicity. You never had the good faith intention of honoring the principle you urge on others.

“They’re biased and will of course interpret evidence through the a priori belief that scriptures are divinely inspired and the traditional views of biblical authorship are true, and therefore we must cherry-pick evidence that confirms our unalterable beliefs.”

Unbelievers are biased and will of course interpret evidence through their a priori commitment to methodological naturalism, and therefore preemptively exclude any and all evidence that conflicts with their unalterable adherence to atheism.

“Why not respond to those reasons instead of childishly insisting I’ve provided no reason for doubting the bible’s authority?”

You haven’t given reasons–you’ve given assertions. Why should I respond to your nonexistent arguments?

“Please look up why you can’t prove a universal negative. It’s impossible!”

Since I haven’t used that argument, your complaint is confused.

“The whole point about eyewitness testimony is to say that 40 years later, I bet I wouldn’t accurately recall details from college very well.”

What makes you think we can remember something 20 years later, but not 40 years later? For instance, Bart Ehrman talks about his religious upbringing. He’s 57. He’s referring to things that happened when he was a teenager. Should we automatically discount his testimony?

“You don’t know what I have or haven’t read. This is a babyish inference that has nothing to do with our devolved discussion.”

I haven’t inferred anything. I asked you. You admit that you’ve only read a few current Christian philosophers, and that you rarely read conservative Bible scholars. Try to keep track of your own concessions.

“Conservative biblical scholars don’t offer the strongest, most objective or impartial arguments for Christianity.”

Since, by your own admission, you rarely read them, your prejudgment is, by definition, ignorant.

“I and many others don’t take their analyses seriously because they’ve committed themselves to a particular worldview regardless of what the evidence suggests.”

And unbelievers use their precommitment to methodological naturalism to screen out the counterevidence.

“Saying that since I won’t entertain many of their positions that I’m unwilling to consider the strongest positions is like saying that my unwillingness to entertain astrology or flat
earth theories (yes, there is a flat earth society still in existence thanks to religious extremism detached from reality) means that I’m unwilling to entertain the possibility that they’re right.”

Since you deliberately insulate yourself from the best opposing arguments, your unwillingness reflects self-reinforcing ignorance.

“By the way, methodological naturalism is where one assumes for practical purposes that only natural causes exist for natural events. It’s how we do science.”

No, that’s how atheists do science.

“It doesn’t mean one is philosophically committed to the metaphysical claim that only the material/natural universe exists. I believe the phrase you’re looking for is philosophical naturalism. Seriously, pick up a book on this.”

You have a habit of attacking arguments I didn’t use. This reflects an inability to put your cue cards down and think through objections on your own.

 “Every time you post you betray more of your ignorance on philosophy, philosophy of science, informal logic, anthropology, history, and most other forms of systematic inquiry. Yours is a pseudointellectualism common among the uneducated faithful, where dogmatic beliefs are dressed up in inaccurately employed terms and concepts borrowed from analytic philosophy and conservative biblical scholars.”

And you constantly resort to vacuous rhetorical bravado to fill the gaps for your lack of reason and evidence.

“I recommend Eugenie Scott’s: Evolution vs Creationism. She goes over philosophy of science in a way accessible to laymen.”

Well, that certainly reveals the level at which you operate.


  1. Ryan said:

    "burdens of proof aren't on those who doubt a claim."

    I doubt Ryan is a real human. It's possible he's a sort of ELIZA running the RYAN script to simulate human interaction online. Hence the burden of proof is not on me but on Ryan to prove he's not a strange loop.

  2. I briefly skimmed the thread. I give him a little bit of credit for reading William Lane Craig. I also give you credit for enduring his insults.

    Real life is funny: According to Ryan, he started out wanting to be a Christian apologist, and now he's ended up being an atheist apologist.

  3. I'm sure he was just as awful at the former as he is at the latter.