Saturday, December 5, 2015

Unconvincing Apologetics: Created or Not?

So, over on FB, a dude calling himself Tony Terrana showed up on Bruce Gerencser's page. He opened by posting a bunch of scriptures (which, y'know, is always a winsome way to approach a bunch of atheists -- seriously, there's nothing we love more than having someone quote from the Bible to rebuke us for not accepting the authority of the Bible.) When Bruce pointed out the, um, minor flaw in that approach, he decided to go all Deep and Philosophical instead:
Subjectively speaking - either some higher-level creative Intelligence is responsible for our existence or not. There is currently no publicly-known, objectively-verifiable, scientifically-reproducible, peer-reviewed evidence sufficiently leading to proof that either is the objective truth. It is a choice to believe one or the other is the truth. Whichever you choose - you are using the concept of faith. Faith is belief without proof. Objectively speaking - only one is the truth and our subjectively formulated opinions or lack thereof have no effect on that objective truth. Such is the nature, beauty, and glory of The Truth - He is perfect and unbreakable.
Now, I have a number of issues with this bit of misguided semi-philosophical rhetoric. I settled on the one I felt was most relevant, and responded:
But you aren't interested in us acknowledging some esoteric, imperceptible "higher-level creative intelligence", are you? I mean, if you want to talk about that, sure: could be. But if there is such a thing, it's effectively indistinguishable from impersonal natural processes. It makes no difference.

No, what you want us to agree to is the existence of the God described (in many and varied ways) by Christianity. And that's something else altogether. That's an entity that, its followers claim, actively intervenes in our world and our lives; that's a being with firm opinions on how we should live and what we should value. That's not "Oh, there might or might not be extra-Universal power/intelligence/principle which created everything." It's a different sort of claim entirely. And it's a bit disingenuous to conflate the two.
Apparently deciding to stick to his guns, Tony answered:
Michael Mock I'll simplify for you.
Do you perceive the following statement to be true or false?
1. From our subjective perspective either some higher-level creative Intelligence is responsible for our existence or not.

How about this one?
2. Of the two subjective possibilities mentioned in the preceding statement - only one of them is the objective truth.

And just so I know who I'm talking to?
3. Boots exist now - at least conceptually.
At this point, I went off to have brunch; while I was away from the computer, he went back and forth with Bruce for a while. I'm not going to reproduce all that here, but I think I can fairly summarize it by saying that Tony kept trying to get Bruce to answer this set of questions, and Bruce kept responding that he had no interest in playing the Meaningless Philosophical Bullshit game. I, on the other hand, sometimes enjoy meaningless philosophical bullshit, so when I came back I answered Tony's questions, like so:
Tony, you aren't simplifying anything. You're just repeating yourself -- and the assertions (or propositions) that you're repeating aren't relevant to the argument that you eventually want to get to, which is whether or not Christianity accurately describes the world in which we live.

So, to answer your questions:
1. You're overlooking the possibility that it might be more complicated or less clear than the either/or scenario you offer... but let's assume, for the sake of argument, that everything more complicated falls into the second category, "or not". So, sure: either our Universe was created, or it just happened.

2. Unless the nature of ultimate reality is a lot stranger than any of us realize, only one or the other of those possibilities can be true.

3. What the hell are you talking about? Is "Boots" the name of your cat or something? Or are you trying to establish some philosophical point about the nature of reality by asking whether or not a perfectly mundane material object actually exists? And if so, why?

Look, you've already said that "there is currently no publicly-known, objectively-verifiable, scientifically-reproducible, peer-reviewed evidence sufficiently leading to proof that either is the objective truth." So at best, you can argue from there that some sort of Deism isn't an unreasonable view -- and I think Bruce and I would both agree with that. That being the probable extent of your argument, let me ask you a couple of questions:

1. Is there any meaningful difference between a Deistic Universe (one which was created by an entity that no longer interacts with it, and which cannot be perceived with any degree of certainty) and an atheistic/materialistic Universe?

2. Given that you've already admitted that there's no functional proof of a creator, are you angling towards some version of Pascal's Wager?
Bruce, at this point, had had enough of the esoteric mumbo jumbo and verbal dancing around, and banned Tony. Frankly, I have no problem with this; for starters, it's Bruce's page and he gets to decide what he's willing to put up with there; also, and perhaps more to the point, I agree that Tony wasn't interested in having any sort of honest discussion of views -- he was trying, fairly obviously, to trap us into some sort of philosophical argument that he thought we wouldn't be able to refute. (I'm guessing it was either #17, or #32, though there are a couple of other possibilities. If you've been an unbeliever for any length of time, you've probably run into some variation of "Let's look at this logically!" many times before.)

The argument itself isn't the only problem, either. This entire approach, this "Let's have a structured, logical argument between our views" schtick, isn't really designed to compare views. It's designed to let the person laying out the argument set the ground rules, and (ideally) lead the listeners along to his* conclusion. It's a rhetorical trick as much as, or more than, it's an actual philosophical position. I don't mind playing along sometimes, but as a general thing it comes off less as someone trying to share their faith, and more as them trying to control the conversation. And that gets tiresome very quickly.

* It's usually a "his" rather than a "her".

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice summation, Michael. For me, I've had to deal with the Tony's of the world over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and...o-v-e-r again. I spend time trying to dig through what I call word masturbation, only to find out that they are a Christian. And if they are a Christian, then the only question is whether the Christian Bible and that person's interpretation of it, accurately reflects what we know about our universe.The answer, if you accept science as the way we best study, explain and understand the universe, is no.

    That said, in the future, I will message you and ask if you want to play before banning someone. No need to ruin your fun just because I won't play. :)


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