Recently, there has been an apologetics turn away from the traditional positive apologetics towards a negative defense of Christianity in which confidence in reason is claimed to be just as unwarranted as belief in god and every other belief. The bulk of the comments below from a christian named Nick Kiefer are a good example of this, and are very instructive as a reflection of the christian mindset. These comment were originally posted in response to my Reasons For My Deconversion post. I am adding my own in-line comments I’ll mark in [ green ]. If you’d like to contact Nick, he can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The interesting, and possibly intellectually dishonest aspect of Phil’s posture toward “religious” faith is his unwillingness to acknowledge that the faith he has in human intellect is just as much of a choice as faith in God or Santa. [ Some obvious misconceptions on choice and belief are found here. While a choice that requires action is bivalent (either do this or don’t do this), the degree of confidence in that choice is not bivalent, or at least should not be. I may choose in the same moment to both call my wife “Mary” and ask her to change the television channel. However, my confidence that her name is indeed “Mary” and my confidence that she will do as I ask have very different levels of confidence, based on my experience. If you choose to use an ATM, and choose to buy a lottery ticket, your expectation of receiving what you’re hoping for is much higher in the first case. Is this higher expectation unfounded? No. Your experience should inform the degree of confidence you have in the outcome of your choice. Belief is not bivalent. Belief should very rarely be held with absolute confidence. The degree of confidence should follow the degree of evidence available. If there is a 10% chance that we will win a lottery prize, then our confidence should properly be at 10%. To do otherwise is human, but improper, and certainly not virtuous. ] In fact, his belief that the human mind is actually THE authority within existence for judging existence (ie. able to achieve actual existential objectivity) requires MORE faith than my faith in God, since my subjective faith is actually bolstered by tangible, experiential interaction with God through my reception of personal God-to-me revelation (yes, God “talks” to me in my spirit). [ My confidence is not in the human mind. It is in rational thought, something that the human mind can acquire only after setting aside our natural tendency to give preference to our emotions. This confidence is based on the successes of rational thought throughout history, especially recent history in which rational thought, abstracted into a set of general heuristics for the practice of science (within a community of scientists that further removes science from subjective emotions) has produced explanations of our world that even the most staunch christians accept (such as the concept of black holes). From this web of material explanations has emerged innumerable technological advances unimagined in the days when superstition reigned. ]
I’m still not sure (after multiple email exchanges with Phil) whether he is in denial about this truth, or whether he just does not understand the concept of “backing up” from the intellect and viewing it as a paradigm (or subset of existence) as opposed to always having it “turned on” as a filter for perception. [ Rational thought works in respect to predictive power, the expansion of the web of material explanations, and in technological successes, and is therefore superior to things that do not work in this respect. Confidence in rational thought should only extend as far as its successes, which happens to be a great deal further than the predictive power of the many immaterial paradigms introduced over history. You’ll note in subsequent comments that, in spite of this clear statement, someone suggesting that rational thought is my “god”. I use my cell phone here in Japan, not because I worship it, but because it works much better than trying to yell across the ocean to my family. ] He claims that “successes” (based on his own subjective criteria for “success”) [ Diseases might be caused by germs as germ theory suggests, or by the wrath of god as many christians used to suggest. If the immunizations that arise from germ theory prevent diseases, then we can place an appropriate degree of confidence in germ theory. If pandemics map onto regions with more iniquity, then this lends credence to wrath-of-god theorists. There is no subjectivity in this. ] of the intellect to assess and predict within the material realm “proves” [ I’m not sure whether Nick realized that, placing something in quotes implies that it was actually said or written. It is inappropriate to use “prove” outside of mathematics and logic. Feel free to explore my posts to find whether I’ve ever done so. If Nick blatantly misquotes anyone again, he will not be allowed to post on my blog. ] the intellect’s superiority to any other method of assessment of existence (including my personal revelation, which I freely admit I cannot prove scientifically). [ It is not difficult to demonstrate that you actually have personal revelation. Simply make a series of predictions based on your personal revelation about the world that can be tested. If constructed properly, the success of these predictions will not be subjective, and I would be forced to concede that your personal revelation is not an impotent claim if your predictions more closely matched the future events than the predictions of science. ]
One of the biggest problems with what I would call his narrow-minded view of existence, is that the intellect has no way to prove or disprove VALUES. [ This is a very strange statement. Values are by definition subjective. How do you prove a feeling? If you have a feeling, who am I to argue that you do not? But make no mistake; it is only a feeling. ] Phil claims that it doesn’t matter because values are subjective. Correct. The big problem with that assertion is that there is no way to prove it without the intellect-as-judge-of-existence filter I mentioned earlier. You can’t “prove” (not my word) a definition. Since there is no truly objective (by an all-knowing outside observer of our existence) way to prove superiority of the human intellect, [ How about “Whatever make superior predictions”? ] Phil’s assertion is equal to his saying, “Because I said so.” That is his faith. [ And this is the goal of the negative apologist. To make science just as much a “faith” as is “faith” itself. If you can only buy into this, you can comfortably go on accepting and living under any one of a myriad of irrational and/or unsubstantiated ideologies. The trick is to ignore what rational thinkers are actually saying about their commitment to rational thought. ] It is much more of a blind faith choice than my faith in God, in my opinion. [ Once again, the test is the predictive power of the belief. ] And its consequences are actually more dire, [ Consequences do not correlate to truth. The belief of Thanksgiving turkeys that farmer Bob has their best interests in mind does not change their reality. ] because of the obviousness that human VALUES drive human society and culture. [ No argument there. ] Yet Phil has no answer for that because his view that values are subjective means that the human “condition” (of depravity) cannot be solved, since its all a matter of each person’s opinion. [ You are starting with the assumption that all problems can be solved. What warrants this assumption? ] To Phil, there are no objective values within our existence, [ Correct. Values are subjective by definition. ] so oh well, see ya in hell. [ ? ] (I’m sure he’s formulated some sort of intellect-enhanced set of “subjective” values that he feels would work if everybody would just agree on them. :-) [ Well…rational thought seems to have been more successful than the notions of god-sanctioned crusades and jihads. Just a (rational) thought. ] ;)
The bottom line is that Phil’s chosen belief system necessitates the use of circular logic. He starts with an unprovable assumption [But having superior justification due to the successes of rational thought. ] that the human intellect [ Let’s stick with rational thinking since human intellect may imply the mind that has not been trained to set aside subjectivity. ] is the closest thing to a basis for ultimate objectivity within our existence (I say “ultimate” because I’m not talking about objectivity from the point of view of what is intellectually possible (via science), but from the point of view of an all-knowing outside observer of our existence; such an observer would also be able to know if/what values exist within our existence and how they work), — oops that was a long paren — ok, so he starts with this unprovable assumption, then he uses the human intellect’s own methodology (critical thinking) to “prove” that it is superior to any other assessor of existence. Oops! Circular! Even the criteria for determination of superiority is based upon a subjective choice of the human intellect! [ Criteria -> predictive successes. Why do I feel like I’m being ignored? ] If Phil is willing to admit circular logic, then he’s willing to admit human intellect is his god and that his belief is a choice. My bet is that he’ll admit neither. [ Let’s recap: Rational thinking is superior due to its the objective successes of its predictive power. Nick and I exchanged many e-mails where I stated this very clearly. Ignoring my words to arrive at his desired conclusion is dishonest, and if he persists, he is not welcome on this site. You can state your own arguments, but you cannot misstate the arguments of others. ]
Nick, please excuse my comment on your comment — I don’t know if it complies to this blog’s etiquette.
Phil says that ration has visible and repeatable results, as opposed to religion, so the claim of superiority is valid, even if reason fails occasionally. (So does intuition, but I’m a fan of it, for me it works just fine.) My opinion is that circular logic is specific to reason, and it cannot be avoided due to the fatal subjectivity of assessing truth. But also other ways of assessing truth have its flaw. That is why we need to choose, knowing our limits in epistemology.
Results that are repeatable and visible can be shown within the PHYSICAL realm of our existence, and even those are based upon the intellect’s subjective choice of criteria for success. [ If one person predicts that the orbit of a planet will be in line with the theory of Einsteinian physics, and another person predicts that Newtonian physics will most accurately explain the planet’s orbit, and yet another individual suggests that divine revelation will yield an orbit that will most precisely map onto the planet’s actual orbit, the success is not subjective. ] The irony, imo, is that the most important parts of our existence fall in the non-material realm. [ Is an immaterial realm being introduced here without substantiation? The most parsimonious solution is that the subjective realm functions upon a material substrate. ] The intellect has no basis for determining whether or not values exist objectively within our existence [ Values are wholly subjective. The notion of an objective values is as incoherent as is a married bachelor. ] (again, remember that my definition of an objective view is the perspective of an all-knowing observer of our existence, not the limited assessment ability of human intellect; the only way true objectivity within ALL of existence could be ascribed to human intellect is if human intellect were our ONLY means of perception, and this cannot be proven). [ This definition presupposes god. You don’t demand that others accept your definitions based on your own assumptions so as to demonstrate that they are wrong or circular within the parameters of your assumptions. ]
Revelation bypasses intellect (and therefore rationality and reason). It is discerned by a functionality of human beings called a spirit (don’t ask too many details; I don’t know!). [ Does it make testable predictions that can be scrutinized by science? If not, what is the difference between it and an assertion that Santa is real? You’re walking away from your responsibility to back up your claims. ] Revelation “percolates” to the brain and is sometimes even misunderstood by the brain, in my experience. [ Is this testable? ] Real revelation produces a “knowing” that cannot be achieved by the brain. [ Testable? ] If the brain can be talked into something (via rationality), it can also be talked out of it (via the same rationality, but with a different assumptive starting point). That is why it is impossible to prove God rationally; one’s unprovable assumptive starting point is always just a belief! [ Beliefs come in 2 varieties; substantiated and unsubstantiated. Substantiation comes in degrees. To the degree that something has been substantiated, that is the degree that belief is warranted. ] There is no such thing as true objectivity from a human point of view. [ Are you suggesting that there must be “true objectivity”, and therefore a god? ] The only real self-evident truth is “I think therefore I am.” Beyond that, assumptions always play a role [ Assumptions fall along a continuum of substantiation. The degree of belief must conform to the degree of substantiation. It is not an either/or. ] , meaning the “I think” part of it carries no authority beyond confirmation of existence. [ There is a continuum of the degree of success, and the strength of our beliefs are warranted only to the degree of the successes. ] It answers a yes/no question. [ It is a question of degree. ]
The discernment of values that are part of our existence is also a subjective endeavor. [ Completely. ] However, the ability to receive revelation allows one the ability to understand (in a “seeing through a glass darkly” sort of way) that they do exist [ subjectively ] , and to know [ “Knowing” is dependent of objective facts and is inappropriate here. ] some of what they are and how they function. Of course there is a level of mystery and ambiguity to that realm, as well there should be or else we would be God. [ “Mystery and ambiguity” are often used as synonyms for “unsubstantiation and fabrication”. ] The only truly objective perspective of existence is held by the Creator of it, if one exists. He gave [ “…if one exists” and “He gave…” are incompatible. ] us an intellect in order to figure out the material realm, but He also gave us a spirit to discern the immaterial realm. The most important stuff exists in the immaterial realm. [ “Immaterial realm” and “subjective realm” are being confused here. ] It goes hand in hand with what we learn of the material realm, but imo it’s more important because it involves how we should live (our priorities) [ A priority is not a “should”. It is a subjective value judgment. ] and relate to one another… how we should view what our intellects have understood and made possible in the material realm. It’s not very difficult to see how screwed up human beings are and that human culture and society is a whirling cauldron of problems that science has been unable to figure out. [ Are we perhaps asking questions that do not have answers? I suggest that some such questions exist, and that the religionists have difficulty accepting ans so default to a package of fabricated answers. ] So why should I lay hold of an unprovable assumptive [ But clearly superior due to its objective successes. ] starting point in order to achieve faith in a subset of existence (human intellect) that only has the ability to assess existence with its own capacity and methodologies, when I’m already exercising an EXPERIENTIALLY-founded faith [ A hallucination is also an experience. ] in the Creator of existence who has made Himself known [ How about the possibility that you are conjuring god up in your subconscious? ] to my spirit via revelation? Both faiths require unprovable assumptions [ Once again, we are much more warranted in our confidence in rational thought due to its successes than we are in any supernatural paradigm posited to date. ] , and both are bottom-line subjective [ The success of predictions is in no way subjective. ] . Since at that point it is nothing more than an informed choice [ Is Nick here admitting some ways of knowing are clearly superior as his use of “informed” might success? ] , I will choose to believe that the revelation I receive is in fact coming from a real God who really does communicate with me about aspects of the immaterial realm, including valuation. [ This is an unnecessary default to a warm and fuzzy solution to a problem that should be examined with rational thought. ] Don’t be fooled by Phil’s assertion that fundamental human needs (for purpose, etc) dictate the fabrication of spirituality [ Review these here. ] , nor buy into his if/then apologetics using varying religious points of view as evidence of anything. [ If you can dismiss the superiority of rational thought, you too can believe in square triangles. ] I’m not even bringing religion into it; the intellect as a subset of existence is a philosophical point of view that should be easily acknowledged by someone seeking to be intellectually honest and sincerely grappling with agnosticism. [ There are ideologies that have demonstrated their worth with objective successes, and those ideologies that have failed. They do not once again start on equal footing for every new question. Christianity for years affirmed the notion that abnormal behavior was due to demon possession. Now that it has been demonstrated that this is due to materially caused mental illness, christians claim that they can start over without considering this and other failures, and have their new predictions taken seriously. ]
Hi Nick, thanks for the dialogue.
When discussing between opposite parties, we should negotiate our terms and notions in a way that make them acceptable to everybody, otherwise there is no common ground. I suspect that Revelation, and Spirit shall consume some precious time just to be discarded by Phil.
“…Both faiths require unprovable assumptions, and both are bottom-line subjective. Since at that point it is nothing more than an informed choice, I will choose to believe that the revelation I receive is in fact coming from a real God who really does communicate with me about aspects of the immaterial realm, including valuation.”
So you also admit the OPTION.
“…the most important parts of our existence fall in the non-material realm”
This is a little bit too subjective, this is what you (and I, for that matter) FEEL.
NOTE: I’m on your side, Nick… But I can understand Phil’s position also.
Yes, I suppose that I could decide that I’m experiencing some sort of delusion, decide to talk a blind leap of faith to trust “critical thinking,” [ It would be blind only if you cannot see any successes of scientific methodology and the rational thought is is based on. ] and change my existential viewpoint to line up with its bleak conclusions [ And this is crucial to note: The motivation is a conclusion that feels good. ] . What I have a hard time with is Phil’s seeming lack of open-mindedness. He seems to be seeking to prove from an intellectual standpoint things that require so many assumptions as to require more faith than I need to believe in my own interactions with God. Yet he seems to explain it in such as way (and he’s said it point blank to me) as to assert as indisputable his claims regarding intellect as superior assessor of the universe. [ Yes. They are successful. I am very open-minded about anyone offering clear evidence of christianity’s successes. If christianity is more successful than rational thought, then I can’t very well argue with that. Until then, it would be best to cease making assertions and work on providing some evidence to back claims of success. I am a skeptic. Evidence is the only thing that moves me. Provide evidence. ] When I question him about this, he APPEARS to not understand what I’m talking about. [ If anyone out there understands what Nick is trying to say, feel free to explain. I’ll let Nick himself tell you how many christians are also too blind or arrogant to understand him and agree with him. ] Yet, how could a person come up with his theory and articulate it so well if he were unable to understand my point of view? It SEEMS like he may not be able to abstract the idea of “backing up” from the intellect and viewing it as a paradigm. [ Rational thinking works. It is a successful paradigm (whatever that might mean to Nick) as opposed to unsuccessful paradigms. ] That’s partly why I’m pleased with your presence here, because if YOU understand what I’m saying, then maybe it will help him. I don’t care if he doesn’t agree with me or not regarding my viewpoint (well, I care on the level that I care about him as a human being, of course), but I do care whether he’s actually OPEN as an agnostic, or he’s already set his theory in stone [ Demonstrate how something has more predictive power than science and its underlying rational thinking, and I’ll convert in a moment. Until then, keep your emotionally-based affirmations to yourself. This blog is for coherent arguments. ] and is now feverishly trying to defend it. As sincere seekers, I think it is important that we remain curious and teachable, and that includes articulate philosophers like Phil. I guess if he honestly doesn’t understand what i’m saying and he decides I’m a kook, then maybe he’d just act dismissively toward me. [ Those who have read Reasons For My Deconversion understand that I admit to being as deluded and intellectually dishonest as Nick is now. I completely understand Nick’s arrogance and need to conjure up purpose and meaning for his life. I’ve been deeply on both sides. ] But if YOU understand what I’m saying too, then maybe it will get him to stop and think about it.
The main point I’m making that I don’t think Phil likes is this: the validity of each of our assumptive foundations are EQUAL; they are both FAITHS — nothing more than subjective choices founded upon what each of us consider to be the most valid criteria. [ Nope. The validity of any assumptive foundation is its predictive power. Those with superior predictive power are superior. Those that provide no or little predictive power are inferior. It does not get much easier to understand than that. Does anyone care to speculate why Nick might be ignoring the implications of this fact? Will Nick admit that his absurd notion of truth necessarily grants his Jehovah and Thor the same validity? It god-choosing a matter of playing dice? No. Belief lies on a continuum based on the evidence available, and this evidence is objective predictive power. ]
Regarding “most important,” yes this is subjectivity on my part, but I think that a solid case could be made for universal acceptance of the idea that VALUES drive our existence, [ Agreed. Emotions drive our existence. ] not our ability to “successfully” assess, predict within, and harness the physical universe [ Agreed. The objective truths of the universe offer no meaning. Meaning is subjectively constructed. ] . How many innocent human beings were slaughtered in the name of ideological divergence in the last century alone? Oh, yeah, but hey we can see our own house from space! Human intellect cannot take a walk outside its assessible domain. [ Imagine a world where people are not walking around claiming to “know” objective truth due to their direct connection to their favorite deity. Imagine we all had to use rational thought to devise a way to get along, rather than devaluing others due to their belief in the wrong god or no god. ] It has a “success” rate of ZERO [ Medicine, for example, has advanced exponentially ever since we dismissed the idea of a “life force” and employed rational thinking. ] , since it doesn’t have the capacity to do it! For Phil, values have to be subjective, because his god (intellect) cannot determine whether or not values exist objectively. [ That’s the second time Nick has intentionally distorted my words. Nick, you are not welcome on this site any longer but to comment on this one posting. I’ll send you an e-mail to confirm this. ] Yet an understanding of and adherence to values that may exist and WORK within our universe could solve the problems that plague humanity! But for Phil, the success the intellect’s ability within the material realm translates to its superiority in assessing ALL of existence. [ And you’ve done it again. Do not distort my words. You shame yourself and your ideology when you do, and for that reason, your comments will not be deleted. ] This seems illogical and narrow-minded to me. [ Requiring arguments to be coherent is perhaps too narrow-minded for Nick as is accurately representing a persons arguments. It does take work and a proper degree of humility. ]
Let me know your thoughts and thoughts on how to stay on a common ground acceptable to Phil. Maybe we just need to see how he responds, since this is his blog. :-)
Nick can post comments to this post alone. They will be deleted if it is apparent that he has not carefully read my comments above. Should I decide to allow them, I will not respond.