Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The sense of wonder vs presuppositionalism

Hello everyone. I'm giddy at having "acquired" (I actually stole it from Paul Manata, but don't tell him) a copy of the Presuppositionalist Arbitrary Rant Generator. It's what they use to fill their Usenet posts and blog entries. Here, I'll have it generate a couple sentences :

"Materialism/reductionism/science is the enemy of love and wonder. It is a cruel/cold/unfeeling ideology. We need to leave nature alone and appreciate its mystery. Only God can give us proper knowledge."

That's a common one. You can also get it in New Age circles, and pretty much anyone who has a vested interest in hating materialism, reductionism or science. Christians certainly have a not-so-vested interest in hating at least two of these - science, because it destroys the "specialness" that they impute to human beings, and materialism, because it denies the existence of transcendence by definition.

They, I think, are particularly attracted by the assumed antagonism between materialism and the human condition, not by the mystery aspect. New Agers, on the other hand, tend to be more attracted by the mystery aspect. They're both subjectivists anyway, but I have to give Christians points for not being so arrogant as to think that the universe is subjective to themselves.

Ah, the only problem is that this claim is bullshit. Mystery is shallow and destructive. By maintaining the mystery, we refuse to acquire knowledge, and by doing so we doom ourselves and society to misery. Or to religion, which is just a more roundabout way of saying that we're doomed to misery.

Science, reductionism, materialism, on the other hand, has a triune depth of wonder :

1. The sense of wonder at the object itself. This is a superficial reaction to the observed facts. Not that this makes it bad : it may be superficial, but it's very spiritual nevertheless. Christians also have this kind of wonder.

Well, just because we can explain something doesn't mean the initial reason for our wonder is gone. Science does not dissipate, it reveals more (contrarily to religion, which narrows, twists and attacks man's moral will instead of broadening it). The object, and its complexity and subtelty, is still there. To take the classical example of the rainbow, the fact that we know how rainbows arise does not make them dissapear. Rainbows are still wonderful in themselves (in fact, I would go so far as to say that they "rock").

2. The sense of wonder at the reductionist explanation. Reductionism in itself is incredible. The fact that all the structures of matter that we see around us arise from the interaction of microscopic particles is amazing. To take our rainbow example again, the interaction of light with rain drops produces a perfectly ordered colour gradient. From simplicity, arises complexity.

Compare to the idea that an infinite being created everything. How exactly am I supposed to be impressed by that ? Christians believe that the universe is nothing but a brain fart. It means nothing and is completely arbitrary. In this case, God created rainbows so he would be reminded not to wipe out all life on Earth. How wonderful.

3. The sense of wonder at what we can do with it. For one thing, we can reproduce it ourselves. We can experiment with chemicals, prisms, and all sorts of things, to observe in our own little worlds what happens in the greater universe. We also use the results of science to cure people, help us communicate around the world, make the fruits of technology available to the masses, and generally making human life easier, better, more free.

Christianity is not loving or wonderful. It is full of hatred for human values and human life. It centers itself on God, on the Bible, everything not to acknowledge man's obvious moral will. It rejects the obvious truths of science, and fawns at the meaningless brain farts of a meaningless being.

Presuppositionalism in particular stands squarely against man's moral will and moral autonomy, and tries to substitute it with an impossible dependence on God, desperately jamming a square peg in a round hole. Christians do indeed "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel", like the Bible says.

That's all I have to say about that. Let me give the Presuppositionalist Arbitrary Rant Generator another spin :

"So, I have the concept of oneness, twoness, threeness... and fifty-one billionness. That is, 100 billion divided in half. It gets worse, though. I also have concepts of dogs, cats, elephants, trucks, tables, chairs, televisions, computers, etc. Put differently, I've shown that you don't have enough neurons for the concepts!"

So that's where Paul got that. Oh Paul, you're not stupid after all ! You just selected the "high school debate" setting on the Generator. I'm sorry for laughing at your complete ignorance of mathematics.

Wait, I'm not.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Shadow of Presuppositionalism

Presuppositionalism, as a systematic method of Christian apologetics, is a relatively novel phenomenon (so much for the "new is better" fallacy). But presuppositionalist premises and assumptions cast a long shadow on most of the common arguments for Christianity. The errors of Plantinga, Bahnsen and Van Til are not new but in fact derive from very old errors which are easily observed.

1. Some cosmological arguments - such as the Argument from Change or the Argument from Contingency - assume that a self-contained universe is incapable of effecting a system in a state of change or contingency. More simply, that the existence of the material alone cannot account in some way for its own properties, and that the materialist cannot justify the existence of change or contingency.

The proper materialist answer is to point out that the universe, as the First Cause, does not require justification for its own nature, any more than God as the First Cause could justify its own nature. The Kalâm Argument, on the other hand, presupposes that the universe is not suitable as a First Cause because the material cannot be uncaused. Quantum mechanics has disproven this presupposition, making the point invalid.

2. Arguments from Design are pretty straightforward presuppositionalism, applied to nature. We cannot account for the "design" in nature - usually simple-mindedly expressed as "complexity" - therefore materialism is bankrupt.

Of course, they have no idea how actual scientists and detectives determine design, but they think there is design in the universe's complexity because "random processes" cannot create complexity. There is no such thing as "random processes" in science, but that doesn't stop Christans, who can't think beyond first-level order.

3. Some other arguments, like the Argument from Consciousness or the Moral Argument, are direct presuppositionalist arguments. Materialism cannot account for consciousness or morality, therefore God exists.

Same for many arguments based on emotionalism. The most common of these is the idea that God exists because of life-changing experiences - based on the implicit premise that material facts cannot produce life-changing experiences. And so on.

4. Arguments from the Bible also sometimes use presuppositionalist premises, especially when they point out features of the Bible. "Look how many books it has ! Look how consistent it is ! Well, forget about the contradictions and the different topics of different books... it's consistent ! Trust me ! And its words have been preserved throughout the centuries. Only God could write this book !"

Funnily enough, man assembled the book, according to his own doctrine. It makes you wonder how much worse it was BEFORE they took out the worst parts !

Is the Bible, the best-selling book in the world, also the most anti-scientific, immoral, ignorant book ever written ? Perhaps there is a god after all : by all standards of reason, it should have been thrown away to the dustbin of history a long time ago. But mythology dies hard...

Monday, March 28, 2005

To Believe Means Feeling Special

Since my last post was more technical, I thought I would get into a "lighter" area today... suicide !

Yesterday night, I stayed up to help a friend in need over the Internet. The girl in question was cutting herself extensively and said she had the intention of committing suicide. I'm not sure if the latter was true, but she was certainly depressed. Without the knowledge of whether this depression was a mental imbalance or not, I decided, after much deliberation, to call the police in her city so she would at least go to the hospital to have her wounds checked. It worked, and she's feeling better now.

Did I do the right thing ? Should I have let her kill herself ? My first impression is that my actions were irresponsible. It is not my business to decide whether a girl should be permitted to kill herself or not. On the other hand, it was unclear to me whether she had all her faculties about her at that moment. If I knew for a fact that she did, I wouldn't have called.

Whether I was right or not, is not my point. My point is that I looked at the facts of reality, my values, and considered my alternatives. Ask a Christian what he would do and he would almost certainly answer "the Bible says suicide is evil !". No thinking, no values, just indoctrination.

That is why all religions are a social danger - they short-circuit people's moral faculties. They demand the submission of man's moral will to the nipping of the flames of Hell, the priest's collar, and the threat of social ostracism. "Religious morality" is no more possible than "communist freedom". "We're perfectly free to leave Christianity if we want to, we just don't want to ! This whole religion business really makes us feel special and wanted ! Uh, can you stop pointing that gun at my temple now ?"

Is human life "special" ? Religions say that we are a special creation with a privileged place in the universe. The sum total of our accumulated scientific knowledge points dramatically in the opposite direction :

* Our beliefs, whims, desires, etc... do not change reality. The human mind is not sovereign, neither is any other mind - including "God", as demonstrated by TANG and materialist apologetics.
* The Earth is not the center of the universe, but one planet orbiting an unimportant star.
* The human race was not specially created, but evolved naturally, along with all the other forms of life on this planet. What's more, humans are not the end goal of evolution.
* There is no "special race" or "superior race". In fact, there is far more genetic difference between individuals of a given "race" than between different "races".
* There is no special frame of reference in the universe.
* The human mind is wholly dependent on/equivalent to the human brain.

But that doesn't feel good, it goes against the "lowest common denominator" of religion. So they have to hate the above answers. Granted, religionists concentrate on some (soul, Creationism) and other kinds of crackpots tend to concentrate on others (Einstein's Relativity, racism, subjectivism).

Of course, interesting theological questions arise, such as :

1. Since evolution is true, and Original Sin is a myth, what did "Jesus" come to Earth to save us from ?
2. Since there is no soul (or as I call it, "monster in the brain"), what goes to Heaven ?

I know there must be a Bible verse about this. There has to be ! The Bible is our God-given textbook for life, right ? Hey Paul, did you find that verse about the definition of "value" yet ? Just joshing ya.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

"Good" Friday?

Craig Sowder's blog raised an interesting question- does the supposed crucifixion of Jesus make the Friday before Easter "good" for Christians, or for Jesus as well?

Craig gives a couple proof-texts to support his claim that the crucifixion was actually a good thing from Jesus' perspective, and I'm going to assume that they do so, for argument's sake- because I find the implication of that idea very strange.

Jesus, as the Nicene Creed describes him, is "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made." In other words, there is no coherent disctinction between the qualities ascribed to God the Father and God the Son- allowing us the convenience of ascribing all of God's characteristics to Jesus. Therefore, Jesus, among other things, can be described as omniscient. But this provides a problem when facing the claim posed by Hebrews 12, that Jesus endured crucifixion "for the joy that was set before him." Now, what does it mean for an omniscient deity to experience joy? The emotion of joy confers the idea of receiving pleasure of something hoped-for. But pleasure confers the idea of transitioning from a state of lesser to greater perfection, and hope confers the idea of doubt for the outcome of future events. Given the context of the passage in Hebrews (the metaphor of a race), the idea of joy at winning or completing the race seems completely reasonable from the human perspective, but it is completely unintelligible from the omniscient perspective, from which Jesus, being divine, must necessarily stand. To put it simply, a perfect and omniscient being cannot experience joy, for he cannot experience pleasure nor can he doubt the future.

But there's another concept that's raised by the Good Friday discussion- that of Jesus' suffering. Certainly, the backwash of cultural detritus left over from the "Passion of the Christ" has kept that same issue in the forefront, though not as much as one year prior. Still, the promotion of the idea of Jesus' suffering during his supposed crucifixion leads me to wonder: how much of a sacrifice was it, really? Keep in mind- Jesus, despite being incarnate, did not give up his divine nature- he was still of the same essence as God. That being the case, what small effort is it for a divine being to hang suspended on a piece of wood for a few hours? Even "death", and the supposed separation from the Father (I'll leave the logical implications of that to others) were completed in no more than three days. For an infinite divine being, what small sacrifice is three days? I'd say it's no great accomplishment, especially since Christianity purports to send unbelievers to that same location for an eternity. In the end, who is really the bravest- Jesus, or the infidel?

It seems that, despite arguments to the contrary, Jesus' supposed sacrifice was neither joyful, nor of any significance. So why then did he go to the trouble?

If Knowledge Then No God

On my web site, I have an article called "Why Presuppositionalism is Wrong". This article discusses, predictably, why presuppositionalism is wrong. In it, I discuss three arguments that presuppositionalists regularly use to try to justify the impossibility of the contrary - that is, materialism (never mind that not all atheists are materialists). These arguments can be expressed simply as :

(2a) "matter does not contain property X, therefore structures of matter cannot contain property X"
(2b) "your brain came about by an unguided process, therefore you cannot guarantee the truth of X"
(2c) "scientific laws are impossible to prove because they do not attain certainty, therefore they do not justify X"

I address all three types of arguments in the article. However, I recently found a presuppositionalist article by James Anderson called "If Knowledge Then God". I was very delighted to find it, since it is a study of presuppositionalist arguments against the contrary. Seven arguments are presented, three from Plantinga and four from Van Til. I will go through each of these here.

PLANTINGA ARGUMENT #1 : The Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism

This is a variant of (2b) above. I also address the argument specifically in my article "Cutting Off One's Head : The Theological Attack Against Cognition".

PLANTINGA ARGUMENT #2 : The Argument from Proper Function

This is a variant of (2b), clarified by the term "proper function". Basically, Plantinga argues that we can only have knowledge if our cognitive faculties have "a good design plan aimed at true-belief production". It therefore can also be seen as a plain argument from design (pointing out "design" in the human brain and concluding God), and falls under the same problem, including the impossibility to prove that design is specifically needed.

The equivocation between evolved instincts and individual epistemic methods that I discuss in my article can be seen easily here, if you read carefully. Plantinga is quoted saying as a requirement for warrant : "(4) the design plan is a good one: that is, there is a high statistical or objective probability that the belief produced in accordance with the relevant segment of the design plan in that sort of environment is true". But this assumes the absence of moral will, specifically of epistemic methods, hence the equivocation. This is a completely inadequate, invalid way of describing knowledge-acquisition.

PLANTINGA ARGUMENT #3 : The Argument from Anti-Realism

This argument addresses epistemic anti-realism, entailing that reality is somehow subjective, a view which Plantinga rejects as absurd. I agree with him, but I am not an anti-realist.

However, I also reject the claim that a standard of verifiability somehow entails metaphysical subjectivity. Science clearly does not entail metaphysical subjectivity despite its standards of falsifiability. Rather, it acknowledges the objectivity of reality, by demanding that our hypotheses be tested as to whether it conforms to the present or future evidence.

VAN TIL ARGUMENT #1 : The One-Many Argument

The way Anderson presents this is extremely muddled. Basically, he seems to be asking how we account for concept-formation, but with long rambling paragraphs about "unity" and "plurality", and how only Christianity posits that "unity" and "plurality" are "co-ultimate".

Objectivist concept-formation neatly destroys this argument (as far as there is one). To our senses, the existants we perceive exhibit both "unity" and "plurality" - they are all different but they all share basic material properties. Once again, the key here is materialism. The desk in front of me may be different from the pitcher of water, but they both have a shape, dimensions, colour, density, and so on.

The process of measurement-omission consists of realizing, for instance, that there are a number of existants that have a flat surface and drawers, and that they are made to write on, or to support equipment. They may have different sizes, shapes, colours, number of drawers, and so on, but by "omitting" these "measurements", I can integrate all these percepts into the concept "desk". No nonsense about "unity" or "plurality" needed here.

VAN TIL ARGUMENT #2 : The Argument from the Unity of Knowledge

I don't really need to get into the whole argument on this one, since the first premise is bad enough : "(20) If no one has comprehensive knowledge of the universe, then no one can have any knowledge of the universe". Anderson justifies this premise by saying that, without comprehensive knowledge of the universe, a fact could come to light in the future to undermine any of our present knowledge. This is, therefore, a variant of (2c), and just as question-begging - in that atheism or knowledge does not imply belief in certainty at all.

VAN TIL ARGUMENT #3 : The Argument from the Uniformity of Nature

Basically, the so-called "problem of induction". I do intend to write a specific post on this topic eventually, but it looks like I should give the general lines of it now. Basically, it is the theist who has a "problem of induction". Induction is based on the premise that our previous experiences are indicative of future ones. As I said in a previous post, if we accept the existence of miracles, then we must distrust our past experiences, and induction is impossible.

The materialist, on the other hand, has no problem with induction. We know that we can trust our past experiences because we live in a self-contained (i.e. material) universe. There is nothing that can come and muddle the action of natural law on myself or my environment. I am perfectly comfortable knowing that the Sun will rise tomorrow, because the law of gravity will never be suspended. I have no epistemic anxiety whatsoever - but only because I am a materialist.

VAN TIL ARGUMENT #4 : The Argument from Conceptual Schemes

In this argument, it is pointed out that human judgment is shaped by a number of presuppositions such as "logical principles, causal relations, metaphysical necessities, notions of self". Anderson then asks whether 1. we can prove that the universe has such a relational structure and 2. how do we know that we understand the structure of the universe and 3. how do we know that everyone shares this knowledge.

I can start with question 3, since it is ridiculously easy to answer : most of us share the same absolutes because they are part of the structure of our brain, and they are part of the structure of our brain because we could not reason or communicate without them. This is a straightforward consequence of evolutionary adaptation. Even the presuppositionalist shares the same absolutes we do, even if he denies some of them (such as materialism).

How do we know the universe has this relational structure, and how do we know it ? I don't want to take too much space by justifying materialist metaphysics, although if there is any interest, I could address that at another time. All I'll say is that the example of logic is particularly interesting, since Michael Martin has proven with TANG that Christianity is incompatible with any justification for logic. Therefore the presuppositionalist is left empty-handed yet again.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Paulie Want a Cracker?

Source Article

Paul Manata just can't help projecting himself. Upon discovery of this blog and my response to his attack on my moral system, he's posted another supposed refutation on his own blog. I really don't need to or intend to address the bulk of it, since Paul hasn't added anything new to his criticism. Even if Paul has, as he claims, left my moral system "lying on the floor bleeding," he still has advanced no arguments for Christian morality, and has in fact wiggled away from my critique of DCT by insisting that I only directed my criticism there to make up for the 'obvious' deficiencies in my own moral system. But even if objective secular morality is wrong (which it isn't), Christian morality doesn't win by default. So I think readers of both blogs would be fascinated to hear how Paul justifies Christian morality, when he has already admitted that he has willingly given up moral autonomy.

But I think the more interesting part of his post is the beginning, where he's addressing this blog for the first time. Paul says, "Zachary Moore (and Franscois Trembley) have started a blog in response to my blog. They call my arguments ridiculous and say that I have horrible arguments for the Christian faith and just as bad of ones against secularists. Why start the blog, then? Cannot your average man see through my deceit? Isn't it far more important to take on those who have the good arguments?" Although it's a minor point, I think it reflects poorly on Paul to butcher Franc's name as he has. It's right at the top of the page, for crying out loud! Secondly, the same question could be posed to Paul himself. If I (and Franc) are so obviously unreasonable and illogical, why has Paul gone to the trouble of "refuting" my arguments at length for two installments of his own weblog? Paul just can't help projecting his own psychology, it would seem. Paul claims about this blog that "I think the type of "reasoning" laid out above would barely get a response, let alone an entire blog devoted to refuting the idiotic ravings of a lunatic." So why go to the trouble of writing lengthy "refutations" of a lunatic? Wouldn't someone who put serious effort into doing so only show himself to be insane? Would such a person be likely to provide boastful false accounts to cover up his fears? "One must remember that I debated Moore before and as a result he had to drop his original theories on epistemology, truth, and ethics. So I'm not that worried by the newer, more confident, Moore." Whatever you say, Paul. Here, have a cracker.

Values and materialism

I want to address the specific issue of values and how they arise in the materialistic perspective, versus the presuppositionalist perspective. Now before I start, I know this is a chafing issue, and I want to make it clear that I am a moral individualist of the Objectivist kind (although I don't call myself an Objectivist anymore, I still think the moral system is extremely sound). That being said, I don't want to address SPECIFIC values in this post. I want to address what gives rise to values and why Christians cannot have values.

Now, there are two fundamental aspects of cognition that give rise to values. They are :

1. The necessity of value assignment, what John Dill calls a Category 1 presupposition.
2. Causality applied to human action. Every action has consequences that can be deduced and measured.

The first may need to be defined. I got it from John Dill's appearance on the Infidel Guy show, where he talks about Category 1 presuppositions. John Dill, by the way, is an Objectivist, and his approach to refuting presuppositionalism is pretty original. He defines the necessity of value assignment as such :

Because individual human existence is finite, (humans are mortal creatures), [whose] existence depends on choices and actions geared towards both continued existence and quality of existence, assigning value to our choices and actions, as well as the potential benefits or harm brought about by those choices and actions, necessitates the prioritization of humanities endeavors on the basis of preservation and quality of life. On this basis regulation of human behavior has resulted in the emergence of politics, laws, rules, ethics, morals and cultural norms. Value assignment is an axiomatic and inescapable necessity of the mortal human condition.
Basically, what this means is : we have to take actions in order to live and to flourish. At the very minimum, we have to fulfill biological functions such as eating, breathing and sleeping. Because of this, we also need to hold some things as true and some things as false. All of these facts means that we have necessary decision-making principles - necessary values. All of us shares those values, since we are all alive and flourishing (I hope, for the latter anyway).

Okay, now to the second point. Causality gives rise to the whole of value-systems. We can see this easily by re-expressing what a value is : a value is an X that we need to seek or keep, which is to say that seeking or keeping X fulfills a need. This fulfillment can be evaluted by science. If I eat, I will fuel my metabolism. If I use reason, I will tend to be right more often, and act more efficiently. If I'm nice to other people, they will be nice to me. This is causality applied to human action.

Or to put this more simply : a value is good because its application entails favourable consequences (however you want to apply values in your system). And I measure those consequences by looking at cause and effect.

So my first conclusion is that values are possible only because of two things : induction and causality. We need induction to be able to assign survival values, and we need causality to establish the consequence of our actions.

But Christians cannot have either. Because of the possibility of miracles, induction is out of the question. If God can bring into effect anything in the future, then relying on our past experience is folly. And causality is also right out in a subjective universe, because it is based on the uniformity of nature, which is only possible if the universe is self-contained - which is to say, material. And our friend materialism enters the scene, sweeping all the dust the presuppositionalist left in his hurry to get out of there.

From values, where do we go ? Well, there's plenty of places to go, but I'm thinking about two in particular. How about purpose ? Purpose is the application of man's moral will (I'm going to use that expression from now on) to long-term values. No values, no purpose. How about the use and love of rationality ? Rationality is only fundamental in an objective universe, and our moral desire to use reason only makes sense if we can value rationality and its benefits. Therefore a Christian cannot love reason (not that they would be awful unhappy about that).

There are a lot of other things, but those are the most important. I think this clearly settles the presuppositionalist's case as regards to values and their derivates.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Paul Manata's Failed Attempt At Refuting Objective Morality

Source Article

Right off the bat, Paul tries to mischaracterize both myself and my actions. In an effort to add more weight to his supposed ‘refutation’ of my position, he describes me as a “Ph.D. candidate.” While this is true, he neglects to mention that my doctoral studies have been in molecular biology, not philosophy, and thus are irrelevant to the discussion at hand. He also claims me to be an “intellectual hero” at ExChristian.Net, something that I have never claimed for myself and has never been claimed for me. He also claims that in my spare time I try to “convert Christians.” This also could be no further from the truth- neither have I ever claimed to be interested in ‘converting’ Christians, but if he’d listened to my conversation with his good friend Gene Cook on the Internet radio show The Narrow Mind, he would know that.

Unfortunately for Paul, he refutes himself with his definition of “objective morality.” Paul claims that “we can all agree that in order to establish a case for objective morality one should not present a case which rests on subjectivism or arbitrariness.” Whether or not I have been successful in doing so by arguing my position, Paul claims for himself an objective moral system. However, Paul’s moral system derives totally from the will of the Christian god- which grinds to a halt in the face of the obvious dilemma- Are God’s commands good because God is good, or does God command them because they are themselves good? We can all see how this shows Christian morality to be completely subjective, not only by its very definition, but also in their application- there are many moral issues on which Bible-believing Christians contradict each other on. If the moral system espoused by the Bible was so clear-cut and objective, we would expect there to be a moral consensus within the Body of Christ, but this is obviously not the case. Therefore, since Paul rejects any subjective moral system, he must also reject Christianity.

Paul’s first objection to my position is to say that I can’t “know” that humanity is the only objective moral system we have available. This is obviously wrong. Within secular epistemology, the only standard that is knowable to humans through observation is, in fact, our own humanity. Any number of other objective theories may be valid, but we can’t know them to be true. There is no way to verify the truth of an “Ideal Observer”, for example, but it is a simple matter to observe and verify the aspects of humanity.

Paul them claims that I flip-flopped my position when I revised my objection to include only DCT moral theories. This is also incorrect. Paul has become infamous for posing tangential questions and objections, neither of which stem from his own beliefs or ideologies. This seems to be a way to deflect others’ arguments away from his own soft underbelly, and so in the interest of cutting straight to the quick, I focused on DCT. Although Paul claims that I cannot show how DCT is not objective, I have already shown this above. In addition, James Rachels’ argument from moral autonomy shows that any relationship between a deity and human forces the human to abandon any moral autonomy. Therefore, if Paul claims to follow the Christian god’s will for morality, then Paul himself cannot know what is moral or not. Thus, Paul has no foundation to even critique my position on morality, and he has refuted himself for a second time.

Despite his now-obvious lack of moral judgment, Paul then examines the ethical application of my moral system. His only objection to my argument that human needs are the standard for ethical application of secular morality is to argue for rape as a human need. This is an obvious betrayal of Paul’s own ignorance of what constitutes a need, something that I attempted to rectify at length on Paul’s weblog, before he deleted all my comments. Obviously since rape does not provide for any material need, and can only (by definition) severely abridge another human’s social or political needs, rape is not a moral action. This is also true for Paul’s other objection, murder. But this is not a closed commandment placed in a vacuum, as Paul is used to as a Christian, but can only be interpreted in context. As a slight concession to Paul, I’ll postulate a situation where murder may, in fact, be moral- if a criminal is holding your family hostage with intent to do harm to them or kill them, and you find yourself presented with an opportunity to kill him, then doing so is completely moral.

Paul then attempts to poke holes in my position by arguing against the Terri Schiavo case. His claim is that, since we make subjective decisions on what a human is, that the moral system that uses humanity as a foundation is subjective. This is also untrue. If I were to construct a proscriptive system that judges things to be good or bad based on their “redness,” then just because individuals may disagree on what makes something red does not make “redness” any less objective as a concept. Likewise, although we may disagree on what constitutes a human being, that does not make “humanity” any less objective. Paul claims that I would not have anything to say to Hitler because of my moral position- as I told Gene Cook, I would argue, not primarily for my moral system, but for the humanity of the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and mentally handicapped that Hitler perceived as inhuman.

Paul then argues that because of the heterogeneity of the ethical proclivities of other humans, again the objectivity of humanity is called into question. I won’t address this argument at length, since it does nothing more than to show again that Paul misses the point I’ve made before. Not only is this moral system not voted on, but the individual ethical proclivities of humans are not its foundation. However, if Paul wishes to argue that disagreements on moral issues invalidate a moral theory, then he has invalidated Christian morality also, and thus refuted himself a third time.

Paul’s only argument against the concept of “human needs” seems to be that it is too inclusive. He seems to sense the weakness of this argument, so he goes on to attack some of the examples that I provided him previously. Paul cites hunger strikes as an example of cause being more important that survival. But the point of a hunger strike is meaningless without the fundamental understanding of survival being the most important material need that a human can have. But of course all actions take place within a context- in the case of a hunger strike, the political needs have provided the context within which material needs are displayed.

Paul then thinks to refute my moral position by appealing to Muslim terrorists. According to Paul, "The Muslim terrorist will tell us that the materialism of the west results in unnecessary human suffering!" This may in fact be true! Paul has done my work for me! If it can be shown that Western policies cause unnecessary human suffering within Muslim countries, then those actions can be judged to be immoral. But the complementary action of the terrorist can also be judged to be immoral, since it carries out the same ends. Ironically, the moral system that the terrorist follows is the same that Paul follows- the will of God, who tells humans to take “an eye for an eye.” For Paul to hold up the moral foundation of the terrorist as immoral is to also hold up the moral foundation of Christianity as immoral, and Paul has refuted himself for a fourth time.

Paul then attacks my moral position as one that appeals to Utilitarianism. But he knows that, given the contextual analysis of moral actions that I argue for, this is not true. Thus, he attacks the ability to determine context, and says that “how could finite man ever know if an action is immoral or moral?” But this is a false dilemma, since infinite knowledge of context is not required for the objective standard of humanity to be utilized, and neither is it necessary for ethical application of that standard. For example, if a criminal is holding your family hostage with intent to do harm to them or kill them, and you kill him only to find that the gun he was threatening you with was fake or unloaded, your action cannot be construed as immoral given your knowledge of the context. Paul may again appeal to the Nazis, as those with weak arguments are wont to do, and say that the Nazis had a limited knowledge of the context, making their actions moral. But the air comes right out of that argument, for I think there were undoubtedly Nazis whose knowledge of the context of their actions was severely limited, and who believed that they were doing a very moral thing. The only remedy for this deficiency is to increase one’s knowledge of moral context, which is something that I’ve attempted to do all my life.

In closing we can see that Paul has shown himself to be completely ignorant of objective secular morality. While advancing his own Christian morality as objective, Paul has contradicted himself four times, and has actually made more of a case for my position. We have seen that on his theory he can never tell us which actions are bad or good. And any moral theory that cannot tell us that is not a moral theory. Therefore we can see that the Bible is true when it says that “everything is meaningless.”

Man's Moral Will vs God's Nilly-Will

I am a compatibilist - that is to say, my position is that "free will" and "determinism" are both true because they co-exist in different respects. As you know, a contradiction exists when A and not-A are said to co-exist in the same time and in the same respect. It is that latter condition that does not obtain.

I think the debate is greatly muddled by religious assumptions. "Free will" has come to be associated with the contracausal will of the religionists, the "soul", supernatural monster in the head. That much is obvious nonsense : everything is material and causal.

What I propose, therefore, is the expression "moral will" instead of "free will". The reason why I chose this particular expression is because it is routinely used to talk about God's will, in a way parallel to what I wish to point out in man's will. For instance :
"God's moral will (God's moral commands which are revealed in the Bible)"
"This verse is saying that if you trust in God and follow His ways (God's moral will), He will make you successful."

"By God's "moral will," we mean the moral commands revealed in the Bible which teach men how they ought to believe and live. The Bible is God's revelation in which He unfolds His moral will -- the principles by which we are to live our lives."

"Moral Will -- this is God's will for human conduct, as expressed in the Bible."
For Christians, the moral will of God gives us our own sense of morality - which implies by extension our love of rationality and truth, and our purpose in his Divine Plan. Since it is in fact human will which is the only possible agent in determining and using all these things, it is only proper to give the name back where it belongs : to the human will.

It is more than values and purpose that the human will finds and uses, of course. It is all of knowledge. The human will, not God, is sovereign over itself.

Basically, man's will is "moral" because it is squarely within the realm of morality : it is a capacity for mental and physical acts. This also touches epistemology and knowledge : our use and love of rationality is moral. So is the Christian's hatred of rationality.

How does that relate to presuppositionalism, you might ask. Well, presuppositionalists assume that the human will is impotent in some way, and that the only possible source of knowledge is God. On his laughable blog (which I linked before), presuppositionalist Paul Manata gave some materialist quotes he finds "amusing", including this one :
"A revised and modernized materialism concludes from all this that human thought and feeling is the product of a series of unthinking and unfeeling processes originated in the big bang." (Richard C. Vitzthum, "Materialism: An Afiirmative History and Definition," Prometheus Books, 1995, pp.218-219,)
As a presuppositionalist, why he finds this quote "amusing" is no mystery. He thinks it's absurd to support human will while also supporting that it came from an unthinking and unfeeling process.

Ironically, this quote neatly shows the absurdity and contradiction in presuppositionalism itself : they want to have their cake (a subjective universe impregnated with feeling) and eat it too (an objective human will). Without uniform "unthinking and unfeeling processes" - without laws of nature - there could be no wil whatsoever. The human will evolved and functions as a very complex organic system : without objective and uniform laws, it could never have evolved, let alone function.

We should be highly grateful that the universe is "unthinking and unfeeling". A subjective universe - that is to say, a universe with God - would be wholly unknowable. Knowledge is based on induction, and subjectivity destroys its very possibility.

What about God's will ? More like God's Nilly-Will. Without any interior motivations (such as desires, needs or emotions) or exterior motivations (since it existed before anything else), God has no motivation whatsoever except chance. Ironically, it is the Christian who believes in chance ! This God of theirs is really a Nilly-Will God.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Three Types of Order

On his blog Pressing the Antithesis, Christian presuppositionalist Paul Manata asked me :

Franscois says, "all that exist is material."

Paul concludes, "suffering is material."

How much does it weigh, Franc? Does the "concept exist?" Well then it's material. Is the concept of suffering 3 cenimeters long, Franc? Franc, does the concept of suffering weigh more than the concept of pleasure? Where is it in the brain? Have you seen it?
Since concepts are networks of neurons, their spaciotemporal dimensions are dependent on those of neurons. It doesn't take a neuroscientist to figure that out.
(ultimately, the only conceptual existants are psychological, but I didn't want to complicate this even more for the sake of Manata's overtaxed reasoning abilities)

The fact is that Christians are utterly unable to understand materialism or scientific laws. I have observed this again and again and again when discussing or debating Christians, even theologians, who ask such inane questions as "did it come by design or chance ?" (as if there was such a causal agent as chance). I think the direct problem is that their mind cannot assimilate as many levels of order.

The first level of order is collectivism - the primitive idea of one powerful transcendent being or system at the top, which imposes order from on high (outside-in). Christian thought relies almost exclusively on collectivism. Some examples :

* Creationism (God imposing orders of existence, life and adaptation from the outside)
* Divine Command Theory (God imposing morality, pseudo-values and anti-values from the outside)
* Political authority (Government imposing social and economic order from the outside)
* Interventionism and imperialism (Government imposing order on other countries as a destructive Other)
* The concept of God in general, which the presuppositionalist sees as the transcendent source of all that is material. God is the ultimate collectivist.

The second level is chaos - the belief that there is no "inherent meaning", all is undifferentiated existence, and that within this chaos the individual must find his own meaning, imposing order by himself and for himself only (inside-in). This is the mentality of the Existentialist, the subjectivist and the anarchist. They will especially deny that objective values and knowledge exist, even though they routinely use both. It is also the logical consequence of presuppositionalism, in that the assumption that God is necessary entails that all material facts are subjective to God's will.

The third and last level is emergentism - the scientific and rational conclusion that order arises and evolves from the free causal interaction of parts, imposing order by emergence (from the inside-out). In counterpart to the above points, we get :

* Evolution (units of heredity interact with their environment and each other, bringing about adaptation and diversity of life)
* Moral principles (individuals grasping the laws of causality and how they apply to their own lives, bringing about moral principles)
* Libertarianism and capitalism (individuals interacting peacefully with each other to fulfill their self-interest and bring about social and economic progress)
* Free trade (individuals within various countries trading peacefully with each other, raising the global standard of life)
* Material entities and natural laws acting on each other, and the human mind that perceives them (always within the materialist context), bringing about material and cognitive facts. This is what we find through science and reason.

One answer that may appear obvious is that we could express scientific facts in a first-level metaphorical language - such as we do when we say things like "DNA seeks to survive and reproduce". But then the Christian would simply ask "where did that intentionality comes from ?". All this would do is push the incomprehension further.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Introduction and Answers

Hello, all. This humble blog will bring you commentary and critique on the most ridiculous arguments that theism has to offer. In anticipation of your questions, here are a few answers and explanations:

Why does this blog exist? To counter and critique some of the most ridiculous arguments that theists advance to further their own goals.

Isn't there a more productive use of your time? Undoubtedly. But while I don't intend for this to be updated on a daily basis, I do think that leaving bad arguments unchallenged is a travesty, especially when it takes so little effort to use a keyboard.

This is just to mock Paul Manata's weblog, isn't it? Certainly his weblog was the catalyst for the founding of this one, but there is a greater goal in mind. Although for now, comments will focus on that source material, there is plenty more out there to address than just him.