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.

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6 thoughts on “A Case Study in Christian Illogic

  1. James Mavis says:

    This is soo bad. It is as abusive as it is insulting. This post is so filled with pejorative language that it’s hard to understand what argument is actually being made. This will be the last time I use my time trying to take you seriously.

    • You never did, James. Nor could you. You worship a god for whom you would drive a sword into the belly of an infant. What power could logic have against such devotion?
      But, fortunately, your foolishness is not shared my thousands of young people who are abandoning the bankrupt ideology of Christianity due to precisely the arrogance, irrationality and mendacity you and others exhibit. Shame on you.

  2. Joseph Pinner says:

    I’m very interested to see what Stilwell’s readers have to say about this piece. If you’ve read this post, and you have a moment, please share your thoughts on Stilwell’s assessment here.

  3. Reigh Harrison says:

    Phil,
    I have been reading your discussion with Joseph Pinner periodically over the past month or so and I have noted how your visceral disdain for God and His followers truly shines through in your writing. At one point I was going to respond to you but a sweet woman by the name of Anita Hill replied to you and said everything I felt compelled to say to you. You of course proceeded to mock her for her belief.

    What I find truly ridiculous is how you try to paint Joseph Pinner as nothing more than a sword wielding baby slayer, and yourself as the champion of innocent children. Where is your “not unremarkable” wrath when it comes to the innocent children that have been slaughtered by the millions in the United States since Roe v. Wade? Where are your efforts to save these innocent children, whose deaths are even more violent than the sword to the belly?

    Joseph Pinner fights tirelessly for the rights of the innocent unborn children. The fact that you would take his response, which was a declaration of unwavering faith to God almighty, as a statement supporting the killing of children is the height of absurdity.

    My goal here is not to try and change your mind to believe in Jesus Christ, the one true Son of the living God. I know from your polemic rants that nothing I or Joseph could ever say would change your mind. My goal is to point out that there is a God in Heaven that loves you, along with a couple of Apologists here on earth and we are praying that you will come to a relationship with the One True God. He will not be mocked. One day you will meet Him. I pray that you will have had a change of heart, before then. Feel free to mock me all you want, I count it a blessing. May God bless you.

    • Reigh, I do have disdain for those who would drive a sword into the stomachs of infants. I’m surprised you don’t since you condemn abortion. I condemn abortion to the degree that women and unborn infants suffer. But your religion does not allow this nuanced position. You will inflict pain if your god commands it, and you’ll then call it “just”. Shame on you.

      In addition, you completely ignore the fact that my disdain for those who would slaughter infants comes fully accompanied with arguments, arguments which you could attempt to respond to, but instead are choosing to attack my tone. Do you see any problem with this? If you had an argument, why not employ that instead? Do you see the problem with feeling warm and fuzzy when your position is attacked with arguments you have not answered because you feel “persecuted”?

      But I too was such a fool. Come to reason.
      http://philstilwell.wordpress.com/2008/12/07/reasons-for-my-deconversion/

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