A Case Study in Christian Illogic

Christian apologists just can’t understand why, in spite of their best efforts, young people are abandoning Christianity. The answer is simple. The tactics of the apologists are dishonest, irrational, and arrogant. And in this age of the internet in which no idea and the accompanying tactics are insulated from scrutiny, young people, brighter than the apologists imagine, are discarding foolish notions of superstition, and are embracing scientific methodology, standards of evidence and the tools of rationality.

In this post I’ll be demonstrating, with the unwitting assistance of an apologist named Joseph Pinner, the inherent dishonesty and irrationality of Christian apologists.

Let’s begin.

Consider the following syllogism offered by Apologist Joseph Pinner in the context of a discussion about objective morality. In this discussion I made it very clear that I do not believe in a moral realm, and I made it clear that it was his responsibility to demonstrate, since it was his positive claim, that such a realm existed.

1. If justice is not obligatory, then references to injustice are no more remarkable than any other descriptor, like the color of the puppy’s fur.”
2. References to justice are more remarkable than other descriptors.
3. Therefore, justice is obligatory.

The argument structure is clearly valid.

And the first premise is clearly unsound.

Let’s examine this more closely.

In another blog post, I included this syllogism, and demonstrated that Joseph was intentionally equivocating on the word “remarkable”. Here I am going to spell it out with even greater resolution than I did in that post.

The term “remarkable” is a vague term. It conventionally refers to something of emotional significance. Joseph knows this. Yet, the following are the actual words of Joseph.

So, we may now ask ourselves, what are the two or more senses of the word that I leveraged in my argument about the remarkability of injustice? Perhaps Mr. Stilwell knows, but I must point out, he has not shared them with us.

If Joseph wishes to say something significant, it is up to him to define his terms, not up to his audience to correctly guess what he means. He knows this. He is playing a game invoked frequently among the apologists; when dealing with a topic on which they sense/know they are wrong, they will employ vague terms, then pretend the burden is on you to distill the meaning. If you assume one meaning, they feign offense, and claim they meant the other meaning. When you address that other meaning, they attempt to evade with other possible vague definitions of the terms. They avoid like the plague the rigor that will expose their position for the absurdity it is.

The majority of young people easily detect this evasion, and understand the vacuous position of Christian apologists. But let’s not allow Joseph get away with this tactic here. We are going to force him to sit on one of the uncomfortable horns logically emergent of his claims.

Either Joseph is 1) using “remarkable” with its conventional meaning of emotionally significant and is simply saying that injustice is emotionally unremarkable, or he 2) using “remarkable” to somehow mean “morally significant”.

So we have two choices. Joseph is either saying injustice, were justice not obligatory, is either emotionally significant or morally significant.

But Joseph does not qualify the word “remarkable” to resolve the term into one of these two very different meanings. Why not? What would prevent him from doing so other than the conscious intention to equivocate on the term later? Why not clearly qualify the term? 20130912-182654.jpgBecause Joseph consciously intends to equivocate later. He knows he has no coherent argument.

This is illustrated by the graphic on the right.

Joseph knows he must choose a horn.

Is Joseph saying non-obligatory justice is EMOTIONALLY insignificant by virtue of its non-obligation?

Does Joseph think there is some causal connection between obligation and emotions? This is so demonstrably untrue, it boggles the mind how anyone could make this cognitive error.

Yet Christians do all the time in other domains.

I constantly hear the question “If god does not exist, what makes life worth living?”

Really. Christians suggest that, if there were no god, we would not have emotions.

Is Joseph suggesting that, were there no objective morality, we would have no emotions?

Let’s hope not. To suggest this, one must be entirely out of touch with reality.

If there is no such thing as romantic destiny, does the emotion of love magically evaporate?

If a cañon is carved out merely through erosion, does this dissipate the sense of awe it would otherwise evoke.

If injustice is merely inequity produced by others’ choices rather than based on something handed down by some god, what would make the indignation aroused such injustice disappear? What a silly notion. Other primates become indignant at any inequity they perceive in the way they are treated. We certainly need no god to validate this indignation arising from perceived inequity. To suggest a god is necessary is both dishonest and foolish.

But the other horn offers Joseph no more comfort.

Is Joseph saying that non-obligatory justice is MORALLY insignificant? Does he actually think he is going to demonstrate objective morality by assuming morality as if we wouldn’t notice?

Well, he is either 1) exhibiting irrationality so deep as to suppose obligation is causally connected to the existence of emotions, or 2) exhibiting dishonesty so deep as to think he can pull the circular wool over our eyes.

Is there another type of “unremarkable” I’ve failed to address? I think not. Joseph is either clearly irrational or dishonest. He knew the vagueness of the term “unremarkable” when he employed it in his argument, and he is intentionally attempting to equivocate on its meaning. Unfortunately for Joseph, neither horn available offers any comfort for him.

As you recall, Joseph actually writes…

So, we may now ask ourselves, what are the two or more senses of the word that I leveraged in my argument about the remarkability of injustice? Perhaps Mr. Stilwell knows, but I must point out, he has not shared them with us.

And this demonstrates the dishonesty of apologists. Apologists claim to be representatives of truth, then use the vaguest terms available to make their points, so that, when criticized, they can pretend it is the burden of their opponents to figure out what they have said.

But in this case, we have examined the 2 horns available for Joseph’s ideological impaling. He has either 1) offered a falsehood by absurdly suggesting a notion of justice untied to morality would evaporate any relevant remarkable emotions, or he has merely 2) offered a silly circular argument in which he asserts moral significant to establish moral obligation when he has yet to offer a single coherent defense of a moral realm.

So it is both humorous and pathetic that Joseph writes…

Curiously, for all Stilwell’s push-back, he has not presented any valid reason to doubt my conclusion. Perhaps my syllogism really is fallacious or deficient in some way, but we haven’t yet learned from my critic how.

If Joseph can not now clearly see the reason to doubt his position, it is willful blindness; a blindness not shared my thousands of young people abandoning Christianity due to the foolishness of its arguments, as well as the intentional deceit in their vague statement.

Another tactic of the apologist is to suggest their opponent is abandoning the argument. Consider the following claim by Joseph.

Another logical error I detect in Stilwell’s assessment of my argument is found in this paragraph:

“…Joseph Pinner is actually saying that, wherever you find a thing ‘remarkable’ to a degree above the color of a puppy’s fur, there that thing is ‘obligatory’. This is the depth of the nonsense.

This is subtle. In this version, notice that Stilwell has removed the word ‘justice’ completely. Not surprisingly, this distortion has the effect of changing the meaning of my argument.

Wrong, Joseph. I am still talking about justice. And this is crystal clear in my conclusion of that post in which I state…

So, emotions are the substrate of human behavior. To the degree that they converge, to that degree we can collectively codify behaviors and laws that are not objectively obligatory, but ensure that the bulk of humans operate within their framework by rewarding behavior consistent with collective emotions, and punishing behavior inconsistent with collective emotions. An objectively moral realm that is obligatory remains unsubstantiated, and is most certainly not found in a god who claims to be just while looking on as persons like Joseph slaughter infants upon his command. My emotional condemnation of Joseph’s willingness to slaughter children upon the word of his god carries no objective obligation to restrain himself. It only carries the warning that, should he chose to slaughter children in my presence, he will face my not unremarkable wrath.

Just another example of the inherent mendaciousness of the apologist.

Joseph also writes…

I regret to report that for the remaining text of his blog, Stilwell avoids addressing my objective claims about injustice entirely, and instead writes extensively about subjective human emotion.

Joseph is lying. His claims about an objective justice were dealt with head-on. And he knows this. I will retract this statement if he can cite one claim he made that is not addressed in either this or the previous post. I contend he has nothing more to offer. His position is an absurd bankrupt notion for which he has no coherent argument.

And if he does want to engage in this dialog further, he’ll need to stop playing the games of the apologists, and start defining his terms with rigor so they can be rigorously assessed. Hitherto, his suggestion that we need to divine his meaning of “remarkable” does not give us much to hope for.

Joseph also suggest that the following statement I made in the conclusion of the previous post is a red herring.

“In conclusion, if you fail to have the emotions that would prevent you from torturing puppies and thrusting swords into the bellies of children, you have no obligation to refrain from doing so. You’ll simply face the full emotional force of the society you live in. This backlash will not be ‘unremarkable.’”

Wrong. And this is important. When asked whether he would thrust a sword into the belly of an infant were he to think his god was asking him to, Joseph actually responded…

In a heartbeat.

This discussion is about morality! It is about justice! What you consider moral and just is no red herring! It directly informs us about your notion of morality and justice. How absurd and dishonest to suggest otherwise! And how absurd to suggest there is objective morality when you can not refuse any requested act from your god based on your determination that such an act was objectively immoral.

But Joseph persists in misrepresenting my position. He writes…

What’s so bizarre about these statements is that they come from a person who believes emphatically that these emotions tell us nothing about the way the world actually is. Mr. Stilwell has been as clear as he can that he denies the existence of real moral prohibition. Rather, according to his view, bare irrational emotion is all that exists to guide human behavior.

So wrong. And Joseph knows this since, presumably, he’s been paying attention to what I’ve been writing for month in our dialogs.

Emotions determines our values. But there is no fulfillment of those values without rationality. Emotions coupled with rationality determine my behavior. Joseph knows this. He is intentionally attempting to distort my position to an absurdity in which we only have our emotions to govern our behavior. How dishonest of Joseph. But this tactic is endemic among apologists.

And to top it all off, we have Joseph’s shameless assertion…

What, then, are we to make of Stilwell’s resolution to punish those who’s emotions differ from his? It would seem that Stilwell has gotten rid of God as the ground for moral obligation, and replaced him with Phil Stilwell.

…and…

When a man must borrow something from someone else, it is only because he does not have that something of his own. When I suggest to Mr. Stilwell that he’s borrowing from my worldview, it is only because he has told me his does not contain the thing he is now using: moral obligation.

If I say I don’t believe in objective morality time after time for months, then you come asserting that I have replaced your god with Phil Stilwell as the ground for moral obligation, and that I need to borrow from your morality to demonstrate the lack of a moral realm, then you are a liar trying to defend a god of honesty. Do you see the problem?

But this is merely yet another dishonest tactic, one that is deployed in desperation when the apologist knows deep down that he has no tenable position. If you simply affirm that your opponent requires your nonsensical dogma to dismantle your dogma, you’ve won the argument, right?

Well, not in the minds of hordes of young people who, after scrutinizing the dishonesty, irrationality and arrogance of the apologists, are finding something better to do with their lives rather than devoting themselves to a god of “morality” who may, as he has done in the past, ask them to drive a sword into the belly of a child (Numbers 31:17).


Postscript: I received a significant amount of whining about my uncompromising tone in this post…but no counter-arguments. Shame on those who demand respect for promoting claims they know they can not substantiate.

The Drifting Argument from Design

Imagine the following 3 beaches.

  1. A beach on which there are a billion stacks of clams, all stacked 4-high.
  2. A beach on which there are only 4 clams, stacked 4-high.
  3. A beach on which there are 4 clams stacked 4-high, plus a billion other unstacked clams.

On which beach has an intelligence likely visited?

Most rational persons would say beach #1 since it is highly unlikely that what is perceived as of human design (a stack of 4 clams) would have been duplicated a billion times. Beach #2 would be second since it would be unlikely that, if there were 4 clams on the beach, those 4 clams would be stacked on top of each other.

However, most humans would concede that, with a billion clams on an ocean beach, it is quite likely that what would be unlikely on the uncluttered beach #2 would exist naturally on busy beach #3.

Now consider which hypothetical universe below would offer greatest evidence of intelligent design.

  1. A universe in which there are a billion planets, all populated by intelligence.20130908-205116.jpg
  2. A universe in which there is only one planet, populated by intelligence.
  3. A universe in which there is only one planet, populated by intelligence, plus a billion other unpopulated planets.

I think you get the picture.

For centuries, the argument for design was promoted under the assumption of universe #2; that there were no other planets. Now that we have indeed ascertained that there are billions of potential worlds out there, theists have exchanged the old argument for a new argument. Why would this planet, of all the billions of planets, be the only one known to be populated by intelligence?

They have forgotten their previous argument, and fail to consider that, on a beach with a billion clams, it is far from unlikely that you would find 4 clams stacked 4-high, and in a universe with a billion planets, it is far from unlikely that you would find a single planet with some sort of complexity.

The argument from design remains a possibly valid argument if it can be shown that nature can not by itself generate complexity to the point of intelligence, but to suggest that this argument is now now significantly weaker than in centuries past in which we accepted #2 is dishonest. And the question of why an actual intelligent designer would not have created universe #1 or #2 warrants doubt about the existence of any proposed intelligent designer.

I remain open-minded but unconvinced that the universe required an intelligent designer, especially since there has been no substantiated case of an intelligence existing apart from a material substrate.

The Absurdity of Christian Morality

The tactic of the average apologist today is to equivocate. He will equivocate on “knowledge” by employing the term in what seems to be a conventional context, only to inform you he meant 100% certainty all along. He will equivocate on the notion of morality by asking you whether some abhorrent act is “OK”, hoping you will respond negatively, then accuse you of holding to some objective morality above your emotional abhorrence.

And now I’ve encounter yet another equivocation made by apologists. The word “remarkable”.

I recently and emphatically explained to a Christian apologist that I did not hold that justice was an obligatory moral term since morality was an unsubstantiated domain.

Instead of listening to what I said, he responded with the common apologist script, asserting I had “borrowed” from his worldview, and that I held (“maybe without realizing it”) that justice was an obligatory concept.

This arrogance in telling me what I believe after I clearly stated the opposite is common among apologists. They have canned scripts they must follow, and if you introduce anything they have not encountered, they claim that you must be mistaken since their scripts don’t have you saying that.

It would be nice to live in a world in which I present my own beliefs/arguments, and have them acknowledged rather than have my interlocutor tell me what he thinks I believe since he has a prepared defeater for the belief he wants to hand me.

Now, examine the following syllogism proffered by this apologist attempting to defend obligatory morality.

1. If justice is not obligatory, then references to injustice are no more remarkable than any other descriptor, like the color of the puppy’s fur.”
2. References to justice are more remarkable than other descriptors.
3. Therefore, justice is obligatory.

Really. He believes that injustice can not be remarkable if not tied to obligation.

The fact is, things that are not morally significant remain emotionally significant.

If there is no magic involved in the creation of the universe, the universe remain remarkable.
If there is nothing more to love than chemicals, the experience of love remains remarkable.
If there is no obligation to do what is equitable, there are still the very remarkable reactionary emotions of your community you’ll have to contend with should you behave in inequity.

Chimps presumably do not have the moral obligation to be just and equitable, but they will respond emotionally negatively if they or others are treated unjustly. And you certainly don’t need to conjure up a moral domain on top of the demonstrable emotional domain for injustice to be remarkable among humans.

The term “remarkable” is an emotional term, not a moral term. Joseph Pinner is actually saying that, wherever you find a thing “remarkable” to a degree above the color of a puppy’s fur, there that thing is “obligatory”. This is the depth of the nonsense.

“Remarkable”, as it is conventionally used, refers simply to a degree of emotion. Nothing else. No connection to morality. No connection to obligation. Zilch.

Here the apologist can retreat to his mendacious tactic of equivocation and claim that his use of the term “remarkable” means “morally significant”. But the moment he does so, he knows he has blundered since he clearly understands that you can’t substantiate morality by invoking morality. Nonetheless, many apologists try, hoping you won’t catch their slight-of-tongue.

Take the example of a man who tortures his puppies. The typical Christian believes that is wrong only if their god says it is wrong. The man who tortures puppies will experience my quite significant wrath since I have an emotional fondness for puppies, and hate to see them suffer.

The Christian god actually commanded humans to drive swords into the bellies of infants. According to the Bible, your own emotions and sense of justice are not important. You’ll have to set aside all behaviors you previously found emotionally distasteful, and follow through on what your god says. And these very same Christians will claim they have an “objective” morality that is “self-authenticating” to quote Joseph Pinner. “Self-authenticating”? Are you kidding?

Joseph Pinner is not. In fact, when asked whether he would drive a sword into the belly of an infant if he thought his god was commanding him to, he incredibly responded “In a heart-beat”. This is Christian morality. Compassion must be violated since it is merely an “unremarkable” emotion that does not count in their convoluted moral scheme of blind obedience to their god. “Self-authenticating” evidently means whatever you imagine your god wants. Christians have no standard by which to test whether their god is “just” other than what that god says is just. This bankrupt ideology needs to be exposed for the nonsense and foolishness it is.

In conclusion, if you fail to have the emotions that would prevent you from torturing puppies and thrusting swords into the bellies of children, you have no obligation to refrain from doing so. You’ll simply face the full emotional force of the society you live in. This backlash will not be “unremarkable”.

I have deep compassion for sentient creatures, and a quite hefty degree of “remarkable” wrath reserved for those who would torture puppies or slay children. Most other humans also do. Keep your child-slaying god with his “self-authenticating” morality out of my neighborhood, or reap the consequences.

I believe in emotions. Joseph Pinner takes those emotions that I believe in, emotions that offer a fully predictive explanation of the contours of human behavior, and then pretends those remarkable emotions are evidence of an entirely new realm he would call “objective” morality that is based on the whims of his god, whims that have demonstrably run directly counter to the emotional substrate I hold to and that he has absurdly invoked. Who is borrowing from whose worldview?

So, emotions are the substrate of human behavior. To the degree that they converge, to that degree we can collectively codify behaviors and laws that are not objectively obligatory, but ensure that the bulk of humans operate within their framework by rewarding behavior consistent with collective emotions, and punishing behavior inconsistent with collective emotions. An objectively moral realm that is obligatory remains unsubstantiated, and is most certainly not found in a god who claims to be just while looking on as persons like Joseph slaughter infants upon his command. My emotional condemnation of Joseph’s willingness to slaughter children upon the word of his god carries no objective obligation to restrain himself. It only carries the warning that, should he chose to slaughter children in my presence, he will face my not unremarkable wrath.

And a hint: If you will slay infants upon the word of your alleged god, you might not want to claim to be in possession of some objective morality that is obvious to the rest of humanity.


Update based on Joseph’s comment below: http://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/a-case-study-in-christian-illogic/

“What is wrong with lying if it is not morally wrong?”

I have yet to encounter a coherent argument for a foundation for obligatory morality.

At the same time, I have accused people of intentionally lying or misrepresenting my position.

Amazingly, many of the people I accuse of mendacity will counter by saying their lies should mean nothing to me since I do not believe in obligatory morality.

It is a shame I would have to address this, but this sort of nonsensical defense of lying has seemed to be increasing recently, and most incredibly, primarily among the very theists who claim a single lie is worthy of eternal damnation.

Lying is not “morally” wrong since there is no domain of “morality” in which something can be “morally” wrong. But emotions do exist. Here are a couple of the emotional and practical consequences of lying, both of which are a sufficient reason to limit lying to those cases in which it would preserve the greater good.

1. If you care for others you’ll do your utmost to make sure they have as much access to the truth as possible since goals are best accomplished through rational decisions based on accurate information. Happiness is accomplished through wise decisions enabled by accurate information. If you care for others, you won’t make it a practice to lie. This appeal to your humanity does not require an obligatory morality.

2. If you care about yourself, you’ll build a reputation for truth-telling. People do not like liars. This quite universal distaste for liars does not require that we have some type of obligatory moral standard saying lying is morally wrong. lies cause emotional and sometimes physical injury. This is very commonsensical. Others will distrust you when you lie, and your social options will decrease. If you care about yourself, you’ll not lie.

So, while you can not say “Lying is morally wrong”, you can most certainly say “Lying is wrong if you don’t want to hurt yourself and others.” There is no obligation in this; only unhappiness for yourself and others if you choose to make lying a habit. And I’m most certainly not “borrowing” from your unsubstantiated obligatory morality in my emotional distaste for lying due to the pain it causes.

As simple as all this is, I have actually heard at least 5 times within the last year the statement that, because I find no justification for obligatory morality, I can take no offense to lying. It is almost as if they claim we must give up our emotions (which clearly do exist) if we deny them their obligatory morality (which clearly does not exist).

Those theists who make this claim after lying do so in violation of a) the standards of their god, b) rationality, and c) the emotional distaste for lying found the world over.

Makes one wonder whether they are intentionally attempting to undermine their position.

Bloating ontology with “moral facts”

J. Warner Wallace writes in his post Confusing Moral Utility With Moral Creation

“While I did not believe [as a non-Christian] moral truths were an expression of our genetic coding, I did believe we evolved as a species to embrace and use certain moral principles because they benefited our survival.”

This is misguided. Humans do not need the goal of human survival to adopt principles of behavior; we merely need emotional dispositions and the values that emerge from those dispositions. We don’t embrace moral principles to ensure our survival of our species any more than chimps enforce fairness within their communities to ensure the survival of their species. Just as from the emotions of chimps emerges the sense of fairness, so also do similar ethical standards emerge from human emotions.

In support of his claim that objective morality exists, J. Warner Wallace writes…

Continue reading

On the Quantification of Rationality

Recently, Christian apologists have been informing me that, since I can not clearly quantify rationality/irrationality, rationality/irrationality does not exist.

This short essay will demonstrate what most of you already know; the inability to rigorously track the variables of a concept does not invalidate the concept.

Imagine you have a fair coin, flip it 10 times, and come up with 10 “heads”. What is the probability the next flip will be a “head”. It is 50%. In spite of the common misconception that a tails is long overdue, the probability of another “heads” remains exactly at 50%. If you think the probability of the next throw being a “tails” is now 75%, you are irrational since your degree of belief is no commensurate to the degree of the evidence.

Coin flips are highly tractable. Other phenomena are not. But rationality/irrationality do not dissipate into oblivion as the complexity of assessment increases. And the apologists are disingenuous when they suggest as much. It is still irrational to drive drunk though the odds of jail/injury/death are not easily calculated. The degree of evidence you have informs a corresponding degree of belief (if you are rational) in the fact that driving drunk decreases the probability of a prosperous life.

So, the apologists who suggest that, since I can not say a belief is 30 percentage points shy of the evidence, I therefore can not identify something is irrational, commit the perfect standard fallacy.

But they know this. They themselves regularly identify and call out irrationality in others. Their argument is disingenuous. They are compelled by the incompatibility between their position and the reality of the concept to claim I can not do what they regularly do. They are reduced to hypocrisy.

These apologists believe in irrationality, and they regularly practice the assessment of irrationality. For them to claim I have no basis for suggesting there exists irrationality that we can all identify is absurd.


Note: Some of the apologists may claim that they never said rationality/irrationality do not exist. That would make no sense. They know that, all that my argument required was the existence of rationality/irrationality, and an inability to assess the concept with the resolution of precise percentages in no way impinges on my argument. The argument in question is encapsulated in the following graphic.

20130630-201647.jpg

On Arguing without Arguments

I recently had one Christian apologist respond to my arguments, not with counter-arguments, by saying…

“I don’t know of a single position that doesn’t have able defenders to the contrary….In any case, there are plenty of philosophers who would tear your position to pieces and plenty who would swear it is true.”

When I take the time to lay out an argument, I most certainly don’t need to be told that not everyone agrees with me. I need to be told why you disagree. That’s all. I present an argument. You present a counter-argument.

Rational discourse is not about seeing who can cite the most or loftiest thinkers on their side. It is presenting the arguments. If you don’t understand the arguments enough to present them yourself, don’t throw out appeals to authority. If you find someone else who disagrees with me, and you think their argument has merit,20130630-193135.jpg distill their argument and present it. If you don’t understand their argument, don’t declare that you have companions on your side of the issue, then think you’ve said anything important or have contributed anything other than fluff to the dialog.

The only thing that matters in rational discourse are the arguments. Have some or sit down.