Picture of Sye Ted Bruggencate, infamous presuppositionalist who’s been making a fool of himself lately on many atheist podcasts and vidcasts.
Presuppositional apologists have been making the rounds in the atheist community for decades now, and it’s now become very obvious that they work on a script which only works if the atheist goes along with it. The problem with that is, it’s ridiculously easy for an unsuspecting atheist to derail the script simply by answering honestly. So presups generally don’t get anywhere, fast.
Karen S. made a step-by-step analysis of the presuppositionalist script in this entry. I thought this was a very interesting tool to look at and analyze. I am not going to go through every single step, but I do want to take a closer look at the general flow that the presuppositionist is trying to establish through his script and why it’s profoundly irrational.
Karen starts by pointing out that the whole process starts from the presupposition that God exists. I would further add that it also assumes that the concept of God is meaningful at all. I think that point does get lost in the discussion, insofar as the atheist starts the conversation letting the apologist make his case (actually, going down his script). This is probably the right thing to do in this circumstance, but it does give the presup a huge argumentative lead, not that they can exploit it to any advantage.
So the first question proper is, “Is it impossible for the god of the Bible to exist?” This seems to me to be an incredibly unwise question, as it brings up, quite directly, the issue of the meaninglessness of the concept of God.
Anyway, the obvious reply here is “yes.” Christian apologetics assumes that anything is possible if you can imagine it, but that’s not a view grounded in reality. In order to state that anything is possible, you have to show, at least, that the concept is consistent with itself and the basic facts of reality. This is Mission Impossible for theologians, the failure of centuries of theology, useless and irrelevant to human life.
At this point I think the presup would skip to question 11 and ask how I can rely on my own judgment, and so on. I will address that when we get there.
Step 2 is “Is it impossible for the Bible to be what it claims to be?” This is pretty similar to the previous question, so I won’t get into it further.
Step 3 is “Could you be wrong about everything you claim to know?” The answer they’re going for is “yes.” Here, Karen brings up an extremely clever answer, which is “No, because I am 100% certain that I am not the god you worship.” This is extremely clever and I don’t see how an apologist could possibly answer that.
The problem here is that step 3 is essential to the whole script. If you derail it, you’ve basically overturned the whole thing. So this would seem to be a rather major flaw. But the funny thing is that there’s no reason at all for the presup to rely on this step. All they really need to do is cast some doubt on the atheist’s ability to understand reality, not total doubt. It doesn’t really matter if the atheist can be 100% certain about anything or not. It just goes to show you how presuppositionalism is really based on nihilism and cannot be dissociated from it.
Step 5 is about “absolute truth.” Christians are obsessed about “absolute truth” because they believe they have it and others don’t. Christians operate under the delusion that the Bible provides them with absolute morality, absolute truth, absolute love. Absoluteness is their Holy Grail, their salvation, but they can never have it.
By discussing whether “absolute truth” exists or not, we’re really feeding their obsession about it. So there’s really no point in answering. Their trick of course is that if you say “no,” they can then come back and ask “do you know that absolutely?” It’s a parlor trick.
Step 7 is “Out of all the knowledge in the universe, how much do you have?” The answer they’re hoping to get is perhaps 1% or 0.1% or some even lower number. The interesting thing about this question is that it’s another trap: there is no knowledge “in the universe.” Knowledge is a human construct contained in our minds and in the objects in which we conserve data. This implies that, while an individual may only know a tiny sliver of all knowledge, humanity as a whole possesses 100% of all knowledge by definition (and any other sentient species in the universe may also say the same thing).
This answer defeats step 8, which is “Is there something in the 99% that could contradict the 1%?” What this is about is, could proof of God be contained in the 99% of knowledge that we don’t have, out there? But again, we have 100% of the knowledge that exists, there’s no knowledge “out there.” Objects are not knowledge.
So somewhere around this point the presup will either be asked how he knows anything, or will try to present his own “thesis.” This is displayed in point 9: “God has revealed things to me in a way that I can be certain.”
The obvious counter is, how the hell can you be certain of that? Remember that he’s already rejected the certainty of any of the atheist’s knowledge, which is gained through the senses. But presumably he’s aware of these revelations through his own senses, which you’ve already established cannot be certain. This is where the apologist’s nihilistic “cutting off one’s head” strategy falls on its face.
Karen’s comment on this point illustrates the problem. If the atheist could be wrong about the source of his percepts, then the apologist could be wrong about the source of his “revelations.” If the atheist could be deceived about anything, then the apologist could also be deceived. If the apologist can assert arbitrarily that some of his sensory input can be pinned down with certainty, then so can the atheist.
There is no way for the apologist to get out of this deadlock. If he argued from the Bible, as he inevitably will, then we must demand that the apologist admit that his perception of the Bible could be as flawed as any other perception. Whatever evidence, whatever means of knowledge presented by the apologist must at some point go through human senses and be processed by a human mind.
Skipping ahead to the next presup parlor trick, the next magician’s misdirection, which starts on step 11: “How do you know that your reasoning is valid?” Unless you’ve thought about epistemic issues, you’re unlikely to have a good answer. The presup is hoping to get a “soft” answer in order to set up the next step: “Are there people whose reasoning isn’t valid? How do you know that you’re not one of those people?”
Well obviously there are people whose reasoning isn’t valid. Presuppositionalists, for example. We know their reasoning is not valid because they’re making basic logic errors and are caught in their own reasoning traps.
We have no “absolute” way of knowing that we’re not irrational. But we can gradually improve through two methods: gathering more and better data, and improving our reasoning methods. I know I’m not one of those people because I can see the difference in reasoning abilities and scope of data between myself and a person who is outright irrational.
Do some people reason better than me? Certainly. So what? The quality of one’s reasoning is not an on-off switch, you’re not either a lunatic or a genius. There’s no such thing as a “person whose reasoning isn’t valid.” Our reasoning is always at least sometimes valid, and sometimes invalid.
The snapping of the trap is supposed to be that the atheist is using reason to figure out if ey’re being rational, and that therefore eir reasoning is inherently circular. Even if that was the case, the apologist’s reasoning would be equally circular, because relying on revelation still implies using one’s capacity to reason, which falls under the same problem.
The answer is that the kind of reasoning we use to determine, say, whether angels exist is not the same kind of reasoning we use to introspect on our own reasoning abilities and that of others. One should, ideally, be a process turned outwards, at understanding reality, while the other should be a process turned inwards. Calling all of it “reasoning” is to muddle the issue; one can be particularly good at one and not the other.
Step 13 is an extension of this: “What are you using to justify senses and reasoning?” This is another example of cutting one’s own head. If the atheist cannot trust the senses, then neither can the apologist when he reads the Bible or claims revelation. I’m sorry if this seems somewhat repetitious, but the presup script is repetitious.
The saddest fact is that they do not, and cannot, understand this, because doing so would make presuppositionalism untenable to them. They must believe that revelation is a sure foundation to a “stable epistemology,” because otherwise they have no “out” to the trap they’ve set on human epistemology. But whatever they do, they cannot escape the fact that they are human like the rest of us. That’s something Christians have major problems with, so it’s not surprising that presups do too.
At this point in time, most atheist outlets have given up trying to have reasonable debates with presups because its scripted nature and delusional assumptions are just too obvious to ignore.
On step 15, we enter the beginning of the conclusion of the script: ” The Christian worldview is the only consistent/plausible one because of the impossibility of the contrary!” You probably know that all theological arguments are rationalizations for some pre-established conclusion. Step 15 is that conclusion.
It’s also, as pretty much everyone who’s been confronted with it has figured out, an argument from ignorance and a circular argument. It’s really as simple as this:
1. Only an ideology founded on the Christian God could be consistent.
2. Therefore I can’t imagine that any other worldview could be consistent.
3. Therefore only Christianity can be consistent.
This is where the whole script was leading (consider steps 9, 11 and 13 especially). It’s about hammering home the point that your (atheistic) worldview cannot be consistent (because of the Christian’s profound nihilism), and that the Christian worldview is consistent (somehow, despite that profound nihilism). And now, this is supposed to be the final blow.
Unfortunately, it’s nonsensical. It’s an argument from ignorance because the apologist has absolutely no way to survey all possible atheistic worldviews and declare them all fraudulent, unless he can show that there’s something inherent about atheism which makes it automatically inconsistent with reality. The script fails to establish this.
It’s also a circular argument, like all theology, because it assumes the conclusion it seeks to establish. The apologist uses his assumption that God is necessary for a “stable epistemology” to “prove” that Christianity is the only consistent worldview. We’re not going anywhere except in a circle here.
Step 16 is more or less a reiteration of the first proposition of the last argument: “The laws of logic, science, morality which we use everyday are universal, immaterial and unchanging. How does a strictly natural world account for such unchanging laws?” A lot can be said about this rather quixotic question. What about naturalism prevents the existence of “unchanging laws”? Again, this is little more than an argument from ignorance (also, there is nothing universal, immaterial or unchanging about these laws: for instance, the laws of nature break down at the Big Bang).
Further, as Karen points out, how does Christianity account for the existence of these laws? A world where God exists is an inherently subjective world where universality cannot logically exist. I’ve written about this as a form of atheist apologetics called materialist apologetics.
Either way, looking out at the world for an explanation of the existence of natural laws is the wrong tack: we must look at the human mind instead. Laws are the way we articulate the ways in which objects in the universe interact with each other, the ways in which the concepts in our head interact with each other. How we formulate knowledge is the result of the way our brain works. But this is way beyond what the script can handle.
And we end with step 17, which just hammers in the same conclusion: “The only thing that can make sense of the immaterial, unchanging, universal laws of logic, science and morality is an immaterial, unchanging, universal god–the god of the bible and of scripture.” No point in rehashing the same counters I’ve already made. This is, again, an argument from ignorance and a circular argument.
I’ve previously shown the manipulative nature of Christian evangelism with Norman Geisler’s shady tactics. The presuppositionalist script is no different, with one exception: it’s so easily defeated that atheists routinely do it on accident, which is just pathetic.