A Rational Dialogue

I’ve recently been engaged several debates on heated topics in which most participants consider themselves to be rational. Yet, many of these discussions end up with insults being thrown around.

I’d like to offer a few tips, based on my failures and successes, to keep the conversation civil.

Let me first list, from least civil to more civil, statements of disagreement. Let’s use the notion of “rationality/irrationality” as the concept we want to convey.

1. You are a f****** irrational fool!
(Expletives only evoke undesirable emotions.)

2. You are an irrational fool!
(Stay away from nouns of insult.)

3. You are irrational!
(This is stated as a permanent characteristic. Not good.)

4. You are acting/commenting irrationally!
(Better, but why not eliminate the “you”?)

5. Your position is irrational!
(Better yet, but stop yelling.)

6. Your position is irrational.
(Closer to civility, but you’ll need to add reasons.)

7. Your position is irrational as demonstrated by Y and Z.
(Good, but we can make this softer.)

8. It seems irrational to hold X as demonstrated by Y and Z.
(Fine, but “demonstrated” is merely how you perceive it.)

9. It seems irrational to hold X after considering Y and Z.
(Great! But can we now use a more Socratic method?)

10. Isn’t it irrational to hold X after considering Y and Z?
(Great progress, but I think we can do more.)

11. Wouldn’t some consider X to be irrational after considering Y and Z?
(Now we’ve allowed our interlocutors to address the argument without feeling the need to defend their identity. And we’ve innocuously invited them to look at the issue from outside their perspective. Now let’s just add a final few softeners.)

12. Is it possible that some might consider X to be a bit irrational after considering Y and Z?
(Excellent! The apex of civility!)

I’ve written this primarily as a reminder to myself to stay civil and rational.

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.


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.

Debate: Jason Roberts vs Phil Stilwell – Absolute Certainty


  • Jason is rational in his 100% certainty he has a relationship with his god.


  • Pro: Jason Roberts
  • Con: Phil Stilwell


  • Jason | Pro | 500 words

    My contention and my belief is that I have a personal relationship with God the Father through God the Son by the witness of the Holy Spirit. I am 100% certain of this belief.
    (Jason was reminded that he had been allotted 500 words, but gave assurances he was satisfied with his statement.)

  • Phil | Con | 500 words
    Jason has made the same blunder millions of theists have made over the centuries. He has confused the feeling of certainty with the objectively certain existence of the referent. This is a trivial mistake, but a mistake that serves as the foundation of faith the world over. I wish to dismantle this foolish notion comprehensively. Let’s first consider the following rigorous syllogism that contains the essence of my argument.

    Definition: Rational certainty is the degree of certainty commensurate to the degree of the available evidence.

    P1. All humans acquire knowledge through a medium/mechanism.

    P2. Knowledge that is acquired through a medium/mechanism is only as rationally certain as the reliability of the medium/mechanism.

    P3. The reliability of any medium/mechanism must be assessed inductively.

    P4. Any inductive assessment is, by definition, less than 100% rationally certain.

    P5. Jason is human.

    Conclusion. Jason does not have 100% rational certainty. (P1-P5)

    The syllogism is valid. All that remains is for Jason to logically dismiss any one of the assumptions. He won’t. He can’t. With the exception of P5, all these assumptions have endured the test of time.

    Jason has warm and fuzzy feeling about his god. Fuzzy feelings contribute not an iota to the substantiation his god-claim. Yet, as demonstrated above, emotional absolute certainty is the only type of absolute certainty Jason can possess. He possesses no rationally-obtained epistemic certainty that is commensurate to the degree of the inductively-derived evidential justification for that epistemic certainty. His entire worldview is based on wishes that have evolved into an emotional feeling of certainty. This is clear from the logical syllogism above. To the degree that Jason has confidence in the reliability of logic, to this degree he now understands his logical blunder in imagining he, as a human, has absolute knowledge in anything. The impossible infinite chain of mediums/mechanisms necessary to substantiate his claim will be forever missing.

    Jason claims the Holy Spirit is the medium of his 100% certainty that he has a relationship with his god. The next obvious question is, through what medium/mechanism did he assess the reliability (not to mention the existence) of the Holy Spirit? This is required for him to substantiate his claim that his epistemic certainty is rationally positioned at 100%. Any medium/mechanism Jason will employ to establish as 100% the reliability of the Holy Spirit will itself need to be assessed for reliability by yet another medium/mechanism such as his (fallible) mind which itself must be assess by yet another medium/mechanism…ad infinitum. Human knowledge is constrained to sub-absolute-certainty by this infinite regress of inductive assessment.

    Logic shows that Jason is wrong in his claim he has 100% certainty that he has a relationship with some god. Prior to this explanation, Jason might have been simply misguided. Assuming Jason does subscribe to logic, and is intellectually competent to follow the arguments, if he now persists in his claim, he is lying.

  • Well, it appears that we have misunderstood Jason’s position.
    After much evasion from Jason, the following exchange took place.

    Phil: Can you answer affirmatively any of the following questions?
    1. Are you 100% certain you have an actual relationship with your god?

    2. Are you 100% certain you have an imaginary relationship with your god?

    3. Are you 100% certain you think you have an actual relationship with your god?

    Jason: 3

    Jason’s position is much more profound than I imagined. He makes it clear that he was only talking about his 100% certainty that he thinks he has an actual relationship with his god. I completely concede this point. What profundity. I guess I lost this debate.

  • Jason | Pro | 300 words
  • Phil | Con | 300 words

  • Jason | Pro | 100 words
  • Phil | Con | 100 words


  • Comments will be allowed only after the debate has been completed.

Sye Ten Bruggencate and His Mendacious Pals

A case study in the inherent dishonesty of presuppositional tactics

(More about Sye now at http://syetenbruggencate.wordpress.com.)

Sye Ten Bruggencate is a Christian presuppositionalist. He does not think you have any basis for rationality other than his choice of a god. After centuries of emphasizing faith, Christianity was forced by the success of science to focus on its “evidences”, and having manifestly failed there, is now justifiably cowering in the face of scientific scrutiny, and is desperately employing increasingly absurd tactics in an attempt to destroy the utility of rationality in order to salvage a god who, most Christians admit, would eternally torture all those who follow a nature they neither requested nor can avoid. Sye is a prominent promoter of a new tactic that attempts to wrest the right to rationality away from those rational enough to reject the bible myth by irrationally suggesting that, in the very use of rationality, those promoting rationality must acknowledge the god of the bible as the author of rationality.

Continue reading

Jehovah’s Hell Is Logically Incoherent

This debate is between Phil Stilwell who is arguing for the proposition, and Cody Austin Pemberton who is arguing against the proposition. This debate will have the following structure.

1/6 Phil: Pro -> 700 words
2/6 Cody: Con -> 700 words
3/6 Phil: Pro -> 300 words
4/6 Cody: Con -> 300 words
5/6 Phil: Pro -> 100 words
6/6 Cody: Con -> 100 words

Proposition: Jehovah’s Hell Is Logically Incoherent

(1/6) Phil -> Pro -> 700 words

Argument #1

P1: Jehovah created Hell.
P2: Jehovah is just.
P3: Humans have a sin nature.
P4: Humans did not choose their sin nature.
P5: Humans can’t avoid sinning due to their sin nature.
P6: What cannot be avoided cannot be justly considered culpable.
P7: Jehovah deems every human who unavoidably sins culpable.
P8: Jehovah is not just. (P6 & P7)
P9: Jehovah cannot be both just and not just.
P10: Jehovah does not exist. (P2, P8 & P9)
CONCLUSION: Jehovah’s Hell does not exist. (P1 & P10)

We do not deem puppies who bark due to their “bark nature” culpable, much less deem them worthy of eternally torture as Jehovah does of every human upon that human’s very 1st sin. Why? Because we know that any creature acting according to their nature incurs no blame for acting consistent with that nature. We might deem them culpable after they have received training, but this is not what Continue reading

X-ray Vision and God Detection

Theists believe they have a sixth sense that brings them to knowledge of their particular god. One Christian Apologist attempts to defend this notion with the following statement.

We form foundational beliefs on the basis of subjective personal experiences. If I perceive a tree [through the sense of vision which has a history of reliability], then I can rationally conclude that there is a tree. If I have a felt experience of God [presumably through the magical powers of a sixth sense with an absent or dismal track record] then I can rationally conclude that God exists.

Lamentably, this illogicality actually seems to be a fairly average example of the current level of discourse among theists. Let’s looks at an analogous scenario.

Imagine an airport security officer named Bruno who checks luggage for weapons with an sophisticated x-ray machine going home and, donning $1 x-ray glasses ordered from the back of a comic book, claims he can see ghosts wandering the hallways. Now imagine him attempting to give legitimacy to the x-ray glasses by invoking the success of the x-ray machine. This is what is being attempted in the theist’s statement above. He starts with the sense of sight which has been demonstrated to possess a high degree of reliability, then attempts to sneak one by us by first assuming the existence of a spiritual sense, then by rubbing, in equivocation, this mythical spiritual sense up against the earned respected reputation of the sense of sight in the hope that we will then irrationally grant both existence and efficacy to his imagined spiritual sense. Is this intentional deceit, or mere ineptitude? Continue reading