Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics

If you’ve participated in the so-called Great Debate in the West, wading through chat rooms and discussion forums hosting smug, sanctimonious Christians, on the one hand, and smug, chauvinistic new atheists on the other, you may have encountered the Christian ploy of arguing that Christianity, or at least theism, is the only viable worldview, all others being incoherent. Reason and morality presuppose God, and science, naturalism, and the secular way of life endure only by borrowing principles from the Christian’s worldview. This transcendental argument for Christian theism, called presuppositionalism, is comically misplaced. But it can spur the secularist to realize that the popular, exoteric formulation of the naturalist’s worldview, called liberal secular humanism, is indeed incoherent. If Christianity were to fall, it would likely take optimistic, progressive humanism down with it. The hunt should be on, then, for the content of the enlightened humanist’s esoteric beliefs.

The Paper Tiger of Presuppositionalism

Presuppositional apologetics is a totalitarian defense of Christianity which denies that there’s a neutral starting point of inquiry which could allow for Christians and non-Christians to build their opposing cases from the same pool of evidence and to evaluate their arguments without decisive bias. According to an evidentialist, by contrast, Christians and atheists can both turn with sufficient neutrality to the same world for evidence to support their respective positions, and the winning argument can be decided on empirical grounds. The rules of inference and evidence would be settled prior to evaluating the first-order arguments, so that Christians and atheistic naturalists will have agreed on what counts epistemically as a superior argument. But according to the presuppositionalist, we’re all locked within our presuppositions and so we can’t reason empathically or philosophically, by imagining an alternative viewpoint or improving your opponent’s counterargument in a cooperative effort to discover the truth in good-faith dialogue. Instead, according to Cornelius Van Til, the founder of this ruse, the Christian presupposes the Bible as a set of axioms, whereas the non-Christian presupposes some other grounds for first-order beliefs, such as scientific theories and the laws of logic, and the only question is which self-contained belief system is more coherent. Of course, Van Til says that Christianity is the only coherent belief system, and all others fall apart. The presuppositionalist, therefore, deconstructs, say, philosophical naturalism, showing its presuppositions are no threat to Christianity because those presuppositions serve as no preconditions for any coherent non-Christian belief system. Christianity triumphs by default, because there is no coherent alternative. As Van Til said, “the only proof for the existence of God is that without God you couldn't prove anything.” The non-Christian only appears to have an alternative, because she borrows principles from Christianity.

I call presuppositionalism “totalitarian” because it projects onto the non-Christian the Christian’s cultist mindset, according to which Christianity is effectively a self-reinforcing delusion. Van Til goes as far as to remind the flock of the alleged “noetic effects of sin,” which are that the non-Christian is in no position to recognize the truth, because she’s blinded by satanic pride. Thus, the Christian’s duty isn’t to persuade non-Christians of the truth, but only to prove Christianity in a way that will likely satisfy only Christians, because Christians alone have been liberated and mentally reconfigured by their faith in Christ. Psychologically, non-Christians are supposed to be lost in a fog of arrogance and ignorance, as though a sovereign God, whose control over his creation is absolute, would allow for even a speck of godless life, that is, for life that could proceed without divine sustenance at every level, including the epistemic one. Thus, the Christian god’s absolute control over every particle in the universe transfers to the presuppositional Christian’s smugness in presuming, in effect, that if the Christian is forced, by secular progress in the Age of Reason, to think like a terrified cultist, locked in her self-reinforcing delusion, so must everyone else. That is, God reigns over Creation and since we’re supposedly made in God’s image, we reign over our belief systems. But since God reigns over us too (instead of supplying us with freewill), God ensures that the only viable belief system is Christian theism, the self-sustainability of all others being illusory.

I say that presuppositional Christianity amounts to a ruse and a presumption rather than a respectable defense of the religion, because it’s a howler and an embarrassing excuse for the underlying cultist thought-mechanisms needed to protect what is now the stark anachronism of Christianity. To begin with, notice that the presuppositionalist is forced to turn to Christian scripture as her starting point, to avoid the familiar parody of her defense, which would allow members of other religions to reason in the same fashion, in which case presuppositionalism would entail theism, at best, or else would implode from the contradictions of entailing dozens of religions, all of which would be incompatible with each other. Far from being a shining advantage, though, the Bible is an albatross around the presuppositionalist’s neck. The Bible was written and edited by many human authors over a period of centuries, and each of those individuals had different interests to suit his peculiar historical circumstances. Thus, the Bible naturally contains hundreds of contradictions. (See McKinsey’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy.) Therefore, the Christian should be the last one to appeal to a coherence theory of truth. Any belief system built on the Bible, taken as an axiom set, will obviously be incoherent if the Bible itself is rife with contradictions. 

Rather than admitting any of this, the presuppositionalist will subscribe to inerrantism, to the view that, appearances notwithstanding, the Bible has no factual errors, atrocious moral principles, or contradictions. The inerrantist preserves the fragile illusion that her belief isn’t preposterous, by appealing to hermeneutic strategies which treat the Bible as a work of poetic literature, thus authorizing potentially an infinite variety of interpretations of her axioms. Any apparent contradiction can be reconciled by citing passages from other parts of the Bible as so-called “contexts,” which can soften the literal meaning of the statements in question, thus allowing for a harmonious interpretation of them. The stretch of asserting that a New Testament text, for example, can provide context for anything said in the Pentateuch, given that the former was written centuries after the latter is relaxed by the assumptions that God is the Bible’s sole author and the human writers and editors were only God’s mouthpieces and puppets. The inerrantist thus mistakes the creative freedom of writing or interpreting counterfactual or subjective poetry, for the miracle of having a perfectly-complete life manual. Thus, the inerrantist doesn’t understand that the price of rendering the Bible unfalsifiable, by permitting infinite interpretations of the text’s meanings, is that doing so turns the Bible into a work of fiction comparable to any other poetic epic. The cost of ensuring the Bible’s coherence, by enabling any interpretation that can appear to preserve the text’s harmony is that the inerrantist surrenders the likelihood of there being an objective correspondence between the text and outer reality. The Bible becomes a security blanket; its job is just to reassure the believer, making her feel better in any conceivable situation because the passages of any large, complex text can be infinitely rearranged to provide just the life lesson the reader would want.

Another problem with presuppositionalism derives from a discovery made by philosophers of religion: the Christian’s general conception of God is self-contradictory. The Problem of Evil, for example, shows that theism makes no sense. If God is supposed to be all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, there should be no evil in the world, so one of those divine attributes must go. The theist then says God has an unknown reason for allowing evil, or for creating freewill which creates evil, but this retreat to mystery doesn’t resolve the problem, because a mystical, incomprehensible god isn’t the same as the god conceived of as having those three attributes. The exoteric idea of the deity we do understand, because we’ve childishly personified the unknown origin of the universe, is still self-contradictory, a matter which is easily explained by the naturalist. That trio of personal attributes, knowledge, power, and morality originally evolved to solve different problems for imperfect organisms. The evolution was largely accidental, which means there are bound to be conflicts between the faculties responsible for learning or remembering, for exercising power, and for fulfilling moral imperatives. For example, one obvious conflict is between accumulating power and fulfilling morality, since as has been clear since at least Machiavelli, acting morally requires a conscience which restrains the exercise of power. Pursuing power for itself must be amoral, which is why the political realist assumes national leaders are interested in empowering their societies and therefore lay aside moral principles. Thus, if we ramp these three attributes up to the limit case, in considering the so-called perfect person, God, we merely imagine a figure in whom the internal, psychological conflicts become all the more glaring.

Yet another source of the ironic incoherence of this defense of Christianity is that the presuppositionalist shows she can be neutral enough, after all, when she attempts to deconstruct the non-Christian’s belief system. That deconstruction must be shown to be internal to the rival set of beliefs. That is, the presuppositionalist’s point can’t be that naturalism conflicts merely with Christianity, since everyone already acknowledges as much. No, the presuppositionalist must set aside Christianity and examine the interrelations of naturalistic beliefs, to show that they contradict each other. For the sake of argument, she lays aside Christianity and of course she doesn’t end up agreeing with naturalism while she’s attempting to deconstruct it. So what ideology is explicit in her mindset at that time? None, because she’s attempting to be neutral and objective. Of course, her exercise is flawed, because she presupposes Christianity in the back of her mind, so she’s looking for contradictions in the non-Christian worldview and expecting to find them. Nonetheless, she’s transported her mind from Christianity to naturalism without embracing the latter, which shows that cognitive neutrality is possible. All that genuine objectivity would require is indifference to the subject matter, in which case the critic could be open-minded in examining whether a belief system can withstand scrutiny. To say that such open-mindedness is impossible is to deny an obvious part of human experience. In any case, the more the presuppositionalist immerses herself in an opposing worldview without assenting to it, the more neutral she herself must be in practice as she attempts to demonstrate its incoherence. She thereby demonstrates instead the incoherence of presuppositional apologetics, since she approximates the very mindset of relative neutrality that’s supposed to be impossible.

Knowledge, Morality, and the Incoherence of Secular Humanism

So while presuppositional apologetics should be dismissed as a clumsy rationalization of Christian thought control, I do think it’s worthwhile to conduct a transcendental exploration of the primary atheistic worldview, to see whether the exoteric understanding of it is indeed incoherent. I’ve already shown elsewhere that this is so in the case of naturalism, because the science contradicts the optimistic philosophical view of the upshot of empirical discoveries. But let’s consider the specifics of naturalism that are supposed to entail Christian theism, to see whether they instead have some other surprising implications. These specifics include deductive logic, induction, and morality.

The presuppositionalist’s point about deductive logic is that this logic presupposes absolute, necessary connections between thoughts which are useful only if there’s a personal guarantor of them in nature, a guarantor who presumably loves humans and equips us with the ability to reason, which thus puts us in touch with reality, helping us survive. No such theology need be assumed, though, for us to profit from logic. Instead, rationality in general can be understood on pragmatic, methodologically naturalistic grounds. Like math, deductive logic abstracts from all particulars, distilling only the most general patterns we’ve encountered. Thus, we can justify logical thinking on experiential grounds. Granted, the laws of deductive logic are defined as being necessary rather than probabilistic, but they’re only logically necessary, not metaphysically so, and thus we needn’t assume the metaphysical potential of being is limited by what we can conceive. Deduction is assumed to be necessary for the purposes of human thought, but that means only that we can’t conceive of contrary rules of inference. (At least, we can conceive of none that would make any sense to us, since we can easily conceive of or at least state the negations of deductive laws, for example.) And just because our inferences are deductively valid, meaning they’re reliable and they conform to the laws that set out the limits of what we can conceive to be useful ways of thinking, doesn’t mean the argument is sound. The premises must still be true, which is a matter of empirical chance or choice of definitions. In any case, it turns out that some ways of thinking are more useful than others. By trial and error, which in this case consists of millions of years of natural selection, the genes “learned” to compel their hosts to assume, for example, that something is what it is and that it can’t be both itself and something else. There’s no need to assume that human logic is absolutely supreme for us to be justified in thinking logically for our limited purposes.

The same holds for induction. The presuppositionalist will say there’s no reason to assume effects will always follow their causes unless God holds the world together. Once again, though, we can posit causes and effects pragmatically, in this case holding natural laws to be probabilistic, not absolutely necessary in all possible universes. The pragmatic aspect of deduction is that we assume all things are what they are, because that concept of the persistence of properties has proven useful in the past, and we expect the future will operate like the past. Thus, deduction rests on induction, because we define the key terms of the elementary laws of deductive logic with reference to our experience: we understand “being,” “is,” and “not” in terms of the most general patterns of things we’ve actually encountered. In any case, appealing to a deity as the guarantor of logic and causality hardly helps, since however loyal that deity may be to us, he still has the power to change his mind, whereas if mindless natural forces and developments are responsible for logic and induction, they become all the more trustworthy for there being no chance of a nonexistent deity’s having a second thought on the matter.

But let’s consider the potential for esoteric and exoteric aspects of rationality. So we have the most general rules for thinking (deduction) and reliable ways of sorting experience (induction, which posits causal relations). The result, we expect, is knowledge, but what is the purpose of knowledge? If you read a critical thinking or logic textbook, you’ll likely find reference there to reliability, utility, power, and so forth, these being advantages of knowledge. We think logically, because doing so is the best way to understand reality, and understanding will in turn empower us to take control of our life, to improve our situation and our environment. Capitalism and democracy are enterprises which put this humanistic faith into practice, on the assumption that two heads are better than one (when each head is sane and logical). Democracy thus maximizes the chance of making wise decisions as to who is to represent the population in political matters, by giving each member of society the right to decide issues indirectly by voting. The democratically elected leaders are then expected to wisely manage the nation’s affairs and improve the people’s quality of life. Likewise, capitalism maximizes the chance of making mutually beneficial business deals, by allowing private interests to compete, which assumes that each individual is motivated to calculate what’s in her best interest. The result is that producers earn profit, thus incentivizing more production, while consumers can buy what they want at a fair price.

Yet is this humanistic faith in the proliferation of knowledge wise? Conservatives from Plato to Leo Strauss thought not. They argue that it’s in the social interest to guard against the democratization of knowledge, because rationality is dangerous. Thus, women and minorities (slaves) should be kept ignorant, they imply, while only an aristocratic class of powerful males should be entrusted with high education that teaches them what reality is like. There is, though, just as little reason to credit the myth of the philosopher-king as there is to credit the central myth of theism. Both myths are undermined by the palpable fact that power corrupts. If knowledge empowers, and only a minority is permitted to learn the truth, that minority will become corrupt and decadent, which will destabilize society instead of safeguarding it; so much for any pragmatic merit of conservatism. Nevertheless, there is reason to fear modern individualism, the faith that all individuals deserve equal rights because each is inherently capable of being rational and thus of acquiring happiness through knowledge.

The downfall of this secular faith is precisely in that last step: “happiness through knowledge.” Humanism thus presumes that the real world is a pleasant place in which to live, since rationality is, at best, only the messenger; reliable ways of thinking will merely present us with reality, allowing us to predict what will happen and to understand what’s really going on. Yet if the real universe is horrifically inhuman, as it is in fact, our alleged right to know the truth amounts to a curse, not a blessing. The rise of mental disorders in postindustrial societies, like depression and anxiety attests to the fact that to be worthy vessels of naturalistic knowledge, we must prove our existential mettle; we must become authentic persons who have the humility and the stomach to resign ourselves to a cruel fate. Happiness isn’t on the cards for enlightened animals. To think rationally is of course to become incredulous towards any mere myth, such as the myths of deities, divine revelation, personal immortality, justice in the afterlife, an objective purpose of life, and so on. Apathy and jadedness, nihilism and terror are thus more likely ours to inherit, not anything like contentedness with our fate.

Far from being self-sustaining, democracy and capitalism collapse unless those systems are externally regulated, as we’ve witnessed. Democracy allows demagogues to exploit our irrational tendencies and thereby to enthrall large portions of the population, creating a tyranny of the brainwashed majority. Standards of education erode, especially when democracy is combined with capitalism, until eventually the voters prove themselves unworthy of the right to self-determination or to vote. Capitalism in turn tends to concentrate power, minimizing competition in the creation of monopolies or oligopolies, which are inevitably run by relatively sociopathic oligarchs who abuse their power, capturing the democratic and legislative processes to codify their privileges. Thus, the promises of democracy and of capitalism are betrayed by internal conflicts within each of those systems. The right to vote makes sense for a person, when “person” is defined according to the unrealistic ideal of a rational agent, because in that case a demagogue could gain no foothold. Likewise, capitalistic competition makes sense if the race is fair and meritocratic, but because the race’s winner gains the power to distort all future races, to rig the whole society in favour of the upper class, it turns out that unleashing individual selfishness may not improve the general welfare, after all. Instead, we’re left with the boom-and-bust cycle; the outsourcing of costs to neo-colonies such as in South America, Africa, and the Middle East, which eventually blows back to the richer countries; and the dysfunction of democracy.

But the main point here is that these internal contradictions reflect a larger one within the humanistic faith in happiness through knowledge. If naturalism assumes that faith, this non-Christian belief system is indeed incoherent. And again, this is no mere academic issue, because the incoherence shows up in practice as the self-destructive trajectories of democracy and capitalism. The key internal conflict is between the exoteric and esoteric ideas of humanism. The former is optimistic and certain to disappoint, since knowledge sustains not happiness but horror, while the latter entails the sobering doctrines of existentialism and cosmicism.

Shall we turn to morality? The presuppositionalist’s point about morality would be that naturalistic morality is illusory, as is the normativity needed for naturalistic knowledge. There are no objective facts of right or wrong, for the naturalist who assumes that everything is ultimately material and physical. Instead, there are really just a series of meaningless events, made up of brute particles combined by impersonal forces. Thus, there’s no objective reason to be moral, for the naturalist, and the epistemic standards of rationality are likewise illusory. So morality and normativity require a deity, a personal foundation of being, and the nature of that deity determines the proper content of moral principles.

There are numerous problems with that argument, which I’ll run through briefly before turning to the deeper questions about natural right and wrong. First, it doesn’t matter if everything is “ultimately” material and meaningless, because other properties can emerge from the physical interaction of particles, and those properties needn’t be illusory. For example, just because everything in nature is ultimately made of very small things, doesn’t mean everything that exists is very small. Instead, many small things get together to create large things, such as organisms and planets, and their larger sizes aren’t illusory—unless everything in human experience is illusory, compared to what exists at the microphysical level, which turns “illusory” into a weasel word. That’s the fallacy of composition. So if relations between small things can create largeness, perhaps certain meaningless facts can combine to create right and wrong, among other meanings and values. Second, there’s no need for morality or for normativity to be objective rather than subjective. Again, we can be pragmatic instead of absolutist about values. Just because the Christian has fallen victim to a totalitarian cult and to a self-reinforcing delusion, doesn’t mean she should succeed in projecting that ugliness onto the non-Christian world; just because she wants values to be absolute and eternal and to be grounded in a sovereign tyrant who reigns over the entire universe, doesn’t mean the rest of us should want the meaning of our life dictated as though we were machines in need of an instruction manual. We decide what’s right and wrong, because we’re clearly the only people around. Third, monotheism doesn’t entail the rosy, family-values morality with which the compromised Christian is typically taken. This is because God’s extreme concentration of power would inevitably corrupt him, and so the deity should be the last person to whom we should listen when attempting to figure out how we ought to live.

But how ought naturalists to live? What is the meaning of life if there is no God or if sentient, clever animals are the only real gods? Here again, exoteric and esoteric solutions differ, and the former indeed have only the superficial appearance of being coherent. The exoteric answer is trumpeted by the mass media: Be happy! Do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else! Consume to please yourself, start a family, go on vacation, work hard, be vigilant liberals and rapacious capitalists. So humanistic morality once again touts hedonism or utilitarianism as the best answer to the question of what we should ultimately value. We ought to be happy in the sense of being content and satisfied, according to this popular version of secular wisdom. And once again, this answer is fatally flawed. We can be happy in the secular world only if we attend to the illusions and distractions featured in the pop cultural infotainments. If instead we reflect on natural reality, we’re bound to be depressed or anxious; hence there’s a need for an esoteric, underground solution to the problem. If the herd of unenlightened humans is to be written off, their delusion-dependent happiness turning them into the equivalent of pliable cattle to be exploited by the predatorial upper class, that leaves the enlightened few with a special problem of what to do with themselves. What is the meaning of life for those too disgusted to be content, who know too much to be at ease with themselves or with our collective reversions to bestial blundering?

I’ve addressed that question elsewhere, but the point I want to make here is that while the presuppositionalist ends up being wrong about the incoherence of non-Christian worldviews, she’s not entirely wrong. The popular form of naturalism, for example, does indeed implode upon examination, as the early existentialist and postmodern philosophers have been pointing out for the minority that’s bothered to read them. Defective answers to life’s deepest questions have been proffered to the bulk of secularists, rather like how revolting scraps are offered up to dogs as dog food. Dogs and the vulgar masses can’t tell the difference; at least, they’re forced to settle for scraps because they see no need and haven’t the wherewithal to hunt for anything else. Presuppositionalism is a defect within a defect, a hopelessly flawed argument befitting a sadly-deranged mindset. But in so far as this defense of Christianity prompts us to examine the preconditions of knowledge and morality, we’re led along a dangerous path to questioning the conventions that establish the acclaimed way of life of the liberal secular humanist.


  1. This is because God’s extreme concentration of power would inevitably corrupt him//

    I'm not sure it follows at all. The reason why power corrupts is because man is a fallen creature, wicked by nature, but God being perfectly good cannot be corrupted. Also, the manner in which God posses power is very different, God is in a way what he has, as Augustine put it, where as power or justice, or goodness is something a man posses, God is his goodness, power etc

  2. Right, so we oscillate between the mystical and literalistic views of God, depending on whether we're taking the anthropocentric metaphors seriously. Is God meaningfully a king, father, law-giver, judge, etc? Is God literally a personal being? If so, and he's supremely powerful, there's no way around applying all of our human-centered knowledge that supplies meaning to the divine attributes. In that case, there's no way to believe responsibly that this almighty person is also perfectly good. God would have to be corrupted by his power; otherwise, the claim that God is the most powerful person loses its literal meaning, and we're left with the mystical conception, according to which God doesn't possess power and morality, like a limited creature, but _is_ the essence of power and goodness.

    Unfortunately, as all mystics attest, the mystical conception is meaningless in its own right, since it uses language in a way that has no bearing on familiar experience which gives the relevant words their everyday meaning. How can a person be identical to power and goodness in general? What would power and goodness be in that case? There's no answer at all, since mysticism is properly about attaining religious experience, not about philosophically understanding reality. The point of mystical language isn't to take it literally, but to use the paradoxes to see beyond reason and everyday experience, to a mind-shattering transcendent reality. From the authentic mystical point of view, God isn't powerful or good, because God isn't much like a mere person in the first place.

  3. Metaphors can only take us so far. Both on Scotus' view (doctrine of univocity) and Aquinas (doctrine of analogy) we can see why they fall short, God either has the very same attributes we have, ie, knowledge, power, goodness, but to an infinite degree, or he has it only in an analogous way (as per Aquinas) something that in us we would call "power, goodness, etc" but that in God there is something similar but in him these are also one and the same reality.

    //How can a person be identical to power and goodness in general?//

    This sounds almost like the Plantinga-type response to the doctrine of divine simplicity, if you will forgive the copy paste:

    "Think of first-level properties as David Lewis (1986, 50 ff.) does: as sets of actual and possible individuals. Then the property of being red will be the set of all actual and possible red individuals and the property of being perfectly powerful will be the set consisting of all actual and possible perfectly powerful individuals. But there is only one such individual, God. Only God is perfectly powerful and only God can be perfectly powerful. So perfect power = {God}. As Hughes (1989, 65) notes, Quine holds that a singleton and its member are identical. If so, then perfect power = {God} = God. It should be added if we have already abandoned nonconstituent ontology with its rigid bifurcation of the concrete and the abstract according to which the two realms are disjoint, then we no longer have a reason to argue that a concrete individual and its singleton must be distinct because the former is concrete while the latter is abstract. Constituent ontology allows for a sort of ‘coalescence’ of the concrete and the abstract, the particular and the universal. Indeed, such a coalescence is what we find in the simple God who is in some sense both concrete and abstract in that he is a nature that is his own suppositum."


    1. Well, in my view, metaphors of course wouldn't increase our understanding of God, because the exoteric idea of God is incoherent in the first place. But even from a theist's viewpoint, I don't think it's an objection to say that "metaphors can only take us so far," because there's no reason to think we should be able to perfectly understand God.

      The notion that God is both personal and metaphysically simple is incoherent on its face. For example, a person is something that changes, as does love, power, knowledge, and so forth. But a metaphysically simple thing couldn't change, because it has no parts. Also, if God doesn't possess his properties but is identical with them in a metaphysically simple way, God becomes as impossible as something that's red and green all over. God would have to be only one property, not multiple properties, since that differentiation would make him complex rather than simple.

      This incoherence is only transferred in the use of "set" to speak of God as being a set with only one member. A set is a collection or a series, and so equivocation is involved in speaking of a set with only one member. You can define" set" in some artificial way to allow for singletons, but then we've entered mystical territory where we don't really know what we're talking about. Scientists are free to use artificially-defined terms, because they test their statements against the evidence. There's no such check against obfuscation in non-naturalistic metaphysics, let alone in theology.

    2. I was trying to make the point that we cannot put too much weight on metaphors as they can be quite misleading. We speak of God as a "he" for convenience sake, but we should not try to draw any philosophical conclusions about God from such habits.

      I agree that God being metaphysically simple, would lack temporal parts, but could God not also play the role of a person? (as Godel believed) and add temporal parts as an -add-on by entering our temporal realm?

      Classical theists hold that God is personal as a matter of deduction following the attributes that are classically ascribed to God, if God has will, intellect etc, it follows that such an entity would have to be personal, as wouldn't make sense for an impersonal being to posses such attributes.

      //God would have to be only one property, not multiple properties//

      According to the doctrine of the convertibility of the transcendentals these are not really different, but simply different manifestations of the same underlying reality (Alexander of Hales, Bona,venture, .Albert the Great, Aquinas) for instance all held that Being and Goodness were interchangeable.

    3. Metaphors must be especially misleading when theists use them to try to understand a being that they themselves take also to transcend their comprehension. That's what mystics would say.

      Presumably, an omnipotent being could do whatever he wants, including incarnating himself in natural form. That form would be an avatar, not God himself, contrary to the Trinity dogma, according to which Jesus is equal to the Father. Hinduism is much clear on that point than is Christianity.

      I hardly think theists "deduce" that God is personal, given his (personal) attributes, since that deduction would be circular. Rather, they desperately want ultimate reality to be personal so they can feel at home in the world instead of fearing they're outsiders, horrified by the fact that they're headed for oblivion in an impersonal universe. The desire for there to be a personal deity is quite nonrational. It's a gut yearning, so it's actually ludicrous to think that theistic belief begins purely with a logical calculation. Even Pascal's crass wager was goal-oriented rather than objective.

      To say that God's attributes are ultimately one is to fall back on mysticism, since there's no way to know what we're talking about when we think of them being combined. As I said at the outset, it's a pendulum swing between the literal and the mystical standpoints.

  4. We cannot fully understand God of course, but it doesn't follow from this that we cannot know anything about God, this is actually self-refuting, we would first need to know a whole lot about God in order to know that we can know nothing about him as Chesterton noted.

    I think one can conclude that God has will and intellect from observations of patterns in the universe (taking for instance seriously the appearance of design at the biological and cosmological levels), or we seem to be creatures that possess this really weird property: freedom of the will. None of which would require an appeal to revelation.

    Everyone wants reality to be a certain way, Nagel, Hitchens are prime examples of people who suffered from the cosmic authority problem, for them, the existence of a personal God would be a depressing state of affairs. Kahane has devoted an entire paper to the thesis that we should not want God to exist (see "Should We Want God to Exist?"(2011))

    But none of this actually settles anything. Most theists want God to exist, granted, but this is balanced by the fact that most atheists would prefer God's non-existence. Most atheists affirm the ultimacy and satisfactoriness of this life as the end-all and be-all.

    1. We do know lots of negative things about God, as Maimonides said. Unless you're a pantheist, we know that God wouldn't be anything in the universe (including his avatars), which means he wouldn't be anything we experience. Theists say, on the contrary, that God is like us, that he has a mind, a will, a design, a language, and so on. That's where metaphors would come in. But the point is that the theistic idea of God is incoherent. God is supposed to be personal and thus positively knowable (similar to us rather than being out of the realm of our experience), but also supernatural, transcendent, and infinite. The exoteric, vulgar, literalist conception of God conflicts with the esoteric, intellectual, mystical one.

      The Design Argument wouldn't have to be circular, but as David Hume began to show, the argument is a weak analogy. But yes, this analogy wouldn't require revelation, although theists almost always begin with revelation and indoctrination, and turn to reason to rationalize the memes and fantasies they've absorbed at the gut level. So I agree with the existentialists about the nonrational source of our deepest beliefs.

      I'd agree, therefore, that we all have our preferences for reality. But it's not the case that atheists and theists go with their gut to the same extent. Atheists are much better critical thinkers than theists; moreover, atheists are better informed about religion than are theists.

      I can see how an evil atheist wouldn't want God to exist, since this atheist wouldn't want to be punished in the afterlife. But it's also an empirical fact that atheists are generally quite scrupulous, contrary to the theistic slander that you can’t trust atheists because belief in God is a prerequisite for moral behaviour.

      It's also quite easy to see how moral atheists would prefer for there to be a deity, because they don't want to die and they'd love to learn the ultimate truth with God for ever in paradise. These atheists obviously go with reason and the evidence rather than with their childish preferences, because they're critical-thinking adults.

      Theists can't say the same, regardless of their theological rationalizations. Theists believe there's a God not because of arguments, but because they were indoctrinated as children and theism satisfies our longings and makes us happy. It's no coincidence that children are generally happier than adults. As informed, free-thinkers, we're supposed to grow out of the expectation that we should be happy in life. Happiness (contentment) is for sheep; anxiety is for the reality-based community.

      By the way, I wonder what you think of the presuppositional argument, since that's what the above article is about.

  5. I'm not saying we cannot know negatives about God, I was saying the claim that "God is so transcendent that we cannot know anything about him/her" is self-refuting because only someone with positive knowledge about God could make such a claim.

    There is nothing contradictory in the statement that God's essence is beyond our comprehension + we can know something about God, this was my point.

    Hume basically said we cannot tell something is designed unless we have prior experience of directly perceiving the intelligence in action, but as his contemporary Thomas Reid showed. This is not how we know other minds exist, no one has ever seen human intelligence, we only infer that humans are intelligent based on their physical action and behavior. Hume's design inference leads to solipsism.

    Again, i'm not so sure that atheists are better all-around critical thinkers. There is a blog run by an atheist called "historyforatheists" in which he debunks common myths about history and science that are still promoted and recycled by atheists because these myths serve an ideological craving. Ideology blinds, and atheists fall victim to this as everyone else does.

    I thought this was a good post, I think you did a good job at deconstructing it.

    I loved your posts on Tyson and Hawking, I have shared quite a few of your posts on my page "Philosophical theist" :)

    1. Hume showed the analogy is weak by his parodies of it. If you take the watch-maker analogy seriously, you're led to polytheism, for example, since watches are designed by teams.

      I don't think your point about the inference to other human minds helps you. We posit other minds to explain behaviour, but we don't leave other minds as being themselves inexplicable. That's not the case with God, so theism isn't the same sort of inference after all. The only reason that positing other human minds to explain certain behaviour increases our understanding is because those minds aren't themselves taken to be miraculous and impossible to explain. Positing God to help us understand natural order doesn't work, because God is himself supposed to be a mysterious uncaused cause.

      Studies show atheists are more intelligent: "Religious people are less intelligent on average than atheists because faith is an instinct and clever people are better at rising above their instincts, researchers have claimed."



      From Wikipiedia: "A meta-analysis found a negative correlation between intelligence quotient (IQ) and religiosity for western societies."

      Atheists know more about religions than religious people: "Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions."


      Thanks for sharing my articles! I plan to write another one soon on Tyson's view of science's role in society.

    2. And the defenders of the design argument who came after Hume were no longer arguing from analogy, such as Paley, he made the case for design by arguing that how come to know man made structure have a purpose and natural structures have a purpose was identical not analogical.

      Reid refuted Hume's other point about human intelligence, that is, we do not perceive intelligence by observing a man chopping stones, there is noting in the observation of this action that indicates an arrow is being made here, only after we see the finished product, can we infer intelligent design. Similarly, we do not infer intelligence by observing human bodies (zombies would also have modies), rather it is the physical effects induced by human bodies that tell us whether there is intelligence at work. The logic by which we would infer a transcendent intelligence, from physical patterns in the natural world is again, identical.

      "No man ever saw wisdom, and if he does not [infer wisdom, intelligence] from the marks of it, he can form no conclusions respecting anything of his fellow creature" ~ Thomas Reid

      Finally, Hume's real beef was with organized religion, miracles etc, and allowed as a warranted conclusion from natural theology: “the cause or causes of order in the universe probably bear some remote analogy to human intelligence”

      Studies show that atheists are more intelligent?

      Again, I point you to https://historyforatheists.com/

      Atheists continue to promote nonsense when it comes to history or science because these myths or ideologically correct.

      Same with the BLM myths, and other lefty myths, these are overwhelmingly believed by lefty atheists. Where is the critical thinking?

      Some of the greatest thinkers throughout the ages (from Aristotle to Leibniz) were theists. Me thinks the question of God is a bit more complicated than say measuring the shape of the earth.

      Looking forward to another Tyson post :)

    3. I agree that many of the world's greatest thinkers were theists, but this isn't relevant to the point about intelligence, because the claim is only that atheists now (after the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment) are on average more intelligent than theists. Obviously, in the Middle Ages, prior to the predominance of philosophical naturalism in the West and after the loss of ancient pagan naturalism, theism was taken for granted in Europe by the intelligent and the unintelligent alike. We can reason only with the thinkable possibilities we have on hand. Moreover, we can't test the intelligence of those long dead.

      How about we have a longer-form discussion of philosophical theism by email so I can post it on my blog? If you like, you can set out what you think are the best two or three arguments for theism in, say, three pages, and we can go back and forth on those arguments. Alternatively, we can open by each addressing the same proposition such as that philosophical theism is tenable in modernity. You'd argue in favour of it and I'd argue against it, and then we could go back and forth regarding our opening statements.

  6. Again, I'm not sure how much these studies prove. It seems there are conflicting studies also, these researchers conclude:

    "In summary, the relation between intelligence and religiosity has been examined repeatedly, but so far there is no clear consensus on the direction and/or the magnitude of this association."[1]

    Atheists have always been around though, much of what Aristotle wrote was a response to the materialists (who tended to be atheists), also the idea that Europe was a religion of the lower classes has been challenged by recent scholarship, it appears more as if Christianity was for most of its history, a religion of the elites. (church fathers were usually highly educated!)

    Again, I'm not so sure that atheism was just taken for granted even in the 17th century, when religious belief in Europe reached it's peak, people like Newton and Boyle found it necessary to mount arguments against atheism. If everyone were theists, this seems redundant and out of place.

    Sure, sounds like it could be fun.


    1. http://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/wp-content/uploads/The-Relation-Between-Intelligence-and-Religiosity-A-Meta-Analysis-and-Some-Proposed-Explanations.pdf

    1. Theism was taken for granted in Europe in the Middle Ages, because ancient pagan naturalism was forgotten and naturalistic investigations were forbidden by the Church. Thus, comparing the intelligence of theists and atheists during and after the Middle Ages is a different matter. The naturalistic alternative, which might have attracted the more intelligent people, on average, became a real option in Europe only in the Age of Reason.

      I emailed you some preliminary questions for our long-form discussion of philosophical theism, using the email address on your Facebook page. I'm not sure if you got the email or if that's the address I should use.