The Discussion (Part II) - The Refutation

Continuing on with the conversation I documented below ... here is the refutation I provided:


I want to answer two points in your testimonial - your pragmatic approach to belief in the reliability of senses, and the question of measuring leaps of faith. I will respond to these in reverse order, because you clearly appeal to the former in supporting the latter.

On measuring “leaps”:

In your testimonial you make the claim “your leap however is considerably wider than mine.” There are two points worth mentioning here. First, such a claim implies a standard by which you are evaluating our leaps; a ruler, if you will, by which you measure my leap and your leap, and come to the conclusion that mine is wider. Your appeal to this ruler also shows up in your criticisms of my beliefs - criticisms such as “I am not forced to accept things like virgin birth, miracle performance, raising the dead and resurrection from the dead ...”, implying that it is somehow unreasonable for me to hold to such beliefs.

Second - and this is crucial to understand - your claim implies that the ruler that you are using is the ruler both you and I should be using. The implication of your claim therefore moves from descriptive to prescriptive, which immediately changes the nature of our discussion. No longer are we merely making opposing claims about simple facts; we are now debating the nature of reality itself; what is real, what counts as evidence, how we know things, etc.

Let me pause here for a moment because I suspect you might be tempted to say that you and I (and everyone else) are in fact all using the same ruler. I sense a hint of this in your claim that “we all, whether we will admit it or not, arrange our perceptions in like manner”. You seem to feel that everyone has the same toolkit, and that we all rely upon it in exactly the same way. Whether true or not, we must not lose sight of the distinction between merely trusting one’s senses, and appealing to that trust as the ruler by which we measure everything else. Let me make it clear that while you may do the latter, and while you may feel that others do, we don’t all do the same thing.

Back to the ruler. The prescriptive nature of implying that we should all be using the same ruler presents us with a real problem that needs solving. Why should we all measure our leaps against your ruler? What’s wrong with my ruler? What makes your more fit to the task? Are you able to demonstrate that your ruler is more appropriate?

After all, if there is no reason to choose your ruler over mine, then any claim that my leap is wider than yours is totally meaningless in an objective sense. What you are left with in the end is mere opinion.

So let’s see what you have offered by way of reason ...

On pragmatism as justification:

Before digging into your reason for trusting your senses, I think it is worthwhile to point out the circular nature of that justification, if for no other reason than to head off any future complaints against me when I appeal to the Bible as a reason for believing what I do.

In answering my question as to why you trust your senses, you appeal to your own experiences, as well as reports of others’ experiences. You no doubt would agree that it is through your senses that you experience things, including those “reports of others’ experiences”. You are therefore making use of the very thing under suspicion in order to allay that suspicion. Now, if it were the case that the general reliability of our senses is “fundamentally true”, then obviously we would all have to assume their reliability in order to test their reliability. That is the nature of arguing for one’s ultimate philosophical commitments; one must employ them while arguing for them. If one was able to argue without employing them, then they aren’t ultimate (or “fundamental”) at all. So despite the circular nature of this appeal to your senses, it is reasonable if and only if it is true.

So what is the reason you appeal to your senses? In short, your reply boils down to pragmatism. You give a number of different examples, and then summarize as follows:

“The point here is obvious; If we are to survive, we must trust and pay attention to our senses and what they have to say.”

Why do you trust that your senses are reliable? Survival. Now at face value, that certainly seems like an admirable goal to pursue. I think it is fair to say that most of us pursue that goal every day, and I also think it is safe to say that trusting our senses helps us achieve that goal. But what if your goal is something else? What if your goal is to become a popular author, and a belief in Extraterrestrials allows you to accomplish that? Or what if your goal is to eliminate anyone different than you, and a belief that they aren’t human beings allows you to accomplish that goal? Does that mean that any of the aforementioned beliefs are true? Not necessarily. There is no logical correlation between a belief providing you the means to accomplish a goal, and that belief being true. Add to this the fact that there are often multiple beliefs that allow us to achieve the same goal, and those beliefs can actually contradict one another, it should be obvious that pragmatism isn’t a valid arbiter of truth.

See, when I asked you for a reason as to why you trusted your senses, I wasn’t asking for a reason in the sense of a motivation; I was asking for a logical justification. If mere motivation were all that was required as a reason, then I wouldn’t expect to hear any complaints against those who believe in God and the Bible (or prayer, which was the original topic), as belief in these things no doubt gives people the wherewithal to accomplish a variety of goals (whether we agree with them or not).

Pragmatism is not logical justification, and so no reason has been given as to why we should all adopt your ruler (a trust in empiricism via our senses in combination with analytical constructs such as mathematics and logic) as a foundational test for reality and truth. Instead what we are left with is ... you guessed it ... opinion. Merely a belief that has yet to be justified.

On the next step:

The problem with simply sharing opinions is that one never moves from belief to knowledge; one never moves from claiming something is so to being able to demonstrate that what one says is actually true. So I will ask again only worded a bit differently this time around - what is it about your foundational presuppositions that gives you the warrant to speak with such force about your beliefs when, if your foundational presuppositions are truly representative of all that is available, your beliefs are nothing more than mere opinion?

From a "Sunday School" lesson...

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly [deserves], That he not be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26.4-5 NASB)

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him.

Every unbelieving objection to faith stems from a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the teachings of Christianity. To illustrate this point, think of driving on the left hand side of the road. Most of you all would think that it is absurd to drive on the left hand side of the road, but that is only because you do not live somewhere like England, where driving on the left hand side of the road is the norm. When things are pulled out of their context they cease to make sense. The same is true for claims meant to be understood in terms of the Christian worldview which supports them. Objections are often a result of attempting to make the Bible say something that it is not saying to begin with.

Answer a fool as his folly [deserves], That he not be wise in his own eyes.

Also, unbelieving objections to Christianity are possible only when elements necessary to make them are borrowed from Christianity. When non-Christians make arguments against Christianity they appeal to things that can only make sense if Christianity is true. If someone argues against Christianity while assuming that it is true then that person is refuting his or herself. We will turn now to some specific objections to see these two principles in play.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him.

Unbelievers often object to miracles in a mocking tone. They will say that miracles are not possible, so things like the virgin birth and the resurrection could never have happened. Let’s place miracle claims in their context. God created the entire universe and sustains it every moment of every day. He is the ultimate cause behind every secondary cause we see in the universe. Cannot a God like this work to have a woman give birth to a child without sexual intercourse? Can He not raise someone from the dead? Given that the God of Christian Scripture exists there is no reason to think that these things never could or never did happen and every reason to think that they have.

Answer a fool as his folly [deserves], That he not be wise in his own eyes.

I said that unbelievers have to assume Christianity true to even make these sorts of objections though. How is the unbeliever doing that in this case? Usually, when pressed to provide an explanation for why miracles cannot happen, the unbeliever responds by saying that miracles violate the laws of nature. The very simple response to this is that without God there are no laws of nature. God orders the universe the way that it is so that typically women do not have babies without having sexual intercourse and men are not raised from the dead. We observe things like this over and over and over again and formulate general principles to describe them. If there is no God back of everything to bring it about that things continue to happen in an orderly fashion then there is no reason to think that any future experience of like events will ever result in the same effects.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him.

Often science is set over against religion as though the two are completely at odds with one another. This fails to take into account that God has created us with senses and reasoning abilities so that we might come to know God, the world, and ourselves; the three being tied up in one another. Scripture gives place to science. We do not merely jump about from conclusion to conclusion without observation and inferences and experimentation. Scripture does not have every answer to every scientific question and it does not ever state that it does. Insofar as Scripture does take a position on a scientific view however, the view expressed in Scripture is the true one. We must not misrepresent Scripture as being somehow opposed to science when it is not.

Answer a fool as his folly [deserves], That he not be wise in his own eyes.

Again, science is only possible because Christianity is true. There is no reason to think that our inward thoughts correspond to the outward world unless God made them do so and then told us that He did (which, He did). Science cannot support itself; the scientific method cannot be tested using the scientific method. Science is not the only way of knowing, it is based upon a supporting structure that includes principles like regularities in nature. The only way we can know that there are regularities in nature and that things will tend to be the same in future experience as they have been in past experience is if Christianity is true and God is governing this world. Otherwise, everything is random and subject to unpredictable and radical change which would completely undermine the scientific endeavor.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him.

If we define evolution as an inherently naturalistic process then it cannot be reconciled with the Christian faith. If we speak of evolution as being merely change over time involving observable mutations, gene drift and natural selection then we can of course accept it with no problems as we understand that this is God’s world and He is behind everything which occurs in it. The occurrences we have in view here are those which are a second layer of explanation in the realm of biology. If we ask how a car was started we can give many different types of answers which are all correct. For example, an electric system fired a spark which lit gas mixed with air to get the engine running. We might also say that Susie turned the key. We might say that God brought it about that the car should start. All of these are non-contradictory explanations on different levels and of different types of how the car was started. The same is the case in explanations of all of the different life we see all around us. (Please do not misunderstand me here; I am in no way arguing for “theistic evolution” as traditionally understood. The careful reader will note that I am making most of the point turn on how we even define “evolution”, which I think is correct. I do not mean to argue with respect to specific biological categories and do not pretend to be knowledgeable enough in that area to be able to do so.)

Answer a fool as his folly [deserves], That he not be wise in his own eyes.

Biological evolutionary theory starts with the existence of the universe and life to begin with but has no really satisfactory answer as to where any of it came from. The same is not true in the Christian worldview. God created the world and created all of the flora and fauna we see around us. God created humans in His image or likeness with higher faculties than all of the rest of creation that we might come to know Him. Our senses are designed to give us true information when they are functioning properly in a cognitive environment for which they are designed. If naturalistic evolution is true then we have no reason to think that it is true as our faculties may not be such that their activities result in the acquisition of true beliefs.

The Discussion (Part I) - The Testimonial

It has been awhile since I have had a chance to post, and so I thought I would take this opportunity to share a portion of a conversation I have been having on a discussion board. Although the discussion has gone on for awhile, and (I hope) will continue to progress, I thought I would post just a portion of my exchange, including my opponent's "testimonial".

To give some context to what you are about to read, the testimonial my opponent shares is in response to a challenge by me stated as follows:

Forgive me for rewording your assertions. I believe I have been true to the spirit of what you are saying, but please correct me if I have altered the essence of what you are saying:

1. Empirical events that trigger highly correlated brain states among most individuals are more than mere opinion.
2. Analytical constructs such as mathematics and logic that are defined by non-contradicting laws and exist primarily in the mind are more than mere opinion.

Tell me what now separates these assertions from your prior assertion that essentially nobody can be sure of anything. How is it you are sure that *these* assertions are “true”?

The assertions I mention above were derived from the ongoing conversation. What follows is my opponent's response:


Well, its like this. When you cross a street and you see a speeding pickup truck heading forcefully in your direction, you step out of the way. Why? Because you trusted your senses and memories of past similar experiences. When you are faced with investing capital in some subset of stocks, you make a choice that reflects an expectation of success. Why? Because you expect your investment to behave in certain ways due to your understanding of the stock market and the underlying principles of economics. You make it a point to report to work exactly on time. Why? Because you've seen first hand or otherwise discovered about what can happen to one's job when they disregard company rules. The point here is obvious; If we are to survive, we must trust and pay attention to our senses and what they have to say. It fuels, or should fuel any world-view because if it does not, the individual will soon find himself on the short end of the survival stick. To deny this simple fact is to sail on the river of denile. No one would take seriously any world view where this is not fundamentally true. It is based on repeated experiences of similar theme. We begin to learn these themes as we age, and the better we get at it, the stronger our chances to stay alive and thrive. It is all based on empirical events available to our senses.

My senses and my experience of others' reports of their sensual experiences merge into my psychologically subjective experience that I use to understand and attempt to predict my world. And we all, whether we will admit it or not, arrange our perceptions in like manner (otherwise we would not last long). My 'faith' is built up from many related experiences that in certain ways are correlated, and reports from others that are not wildly divergent from my overall weltanschuang. I cannot therefore understand nor condone any apparent spurious decision to suddenly dismiss this function. I have no need to invent a construct that has no apparent manifestation or meaning in my own experience. I have never had anyone else demonstrate solid evidence to the contrary. If I had other experiences that DID in some way resemble some proposed abstract construct (like God), that could be a different story. But I haven't. I build my world view on an on-going conversation with myself, the topic of which is always rooted in either what I'm encountering now, what I've encountered in the past, and possibly what I expect in the future. Its true I have faith in the continuity of my perceptions and concomitant world view, but so far my leap is kept at a minimum.

Your leap however is considerably wider than mine. I am not forced to accept things like virgin birth, miracle performance, raising the dead and resurrection from the dead when I have no experience of them, or any memory thread of something remotely related. There is no empirical experience with which to justify such claims outside their initial and singular claim. You are forced to justify a world view which accepts such outrageous claims by the only avenue available, that of large-leap faith. The problem however is that to justify a philosophy, based on large-leap faith, which denies the validity of any other - on faith alone - is a self-refuting system, given that another competing philosophy ALSO justifies their beliefs on some length of leap faith. To deny the validity of another religion, which justifies ITSELF by means of faith, is to refute its own basic foundation, which also happens to be faith. If you go before a judge for careless driving and you get off because your medication made you drowsy, you'd be a fool to turn around and tell the judge to throw me in jail for careless driving when I had been impaired from medication as well.

It is the sum total of our individual perceptions, based on a history of empirical experience and our brains evolved capacity to arrange these perceptions into related categories, and to cross-reference those perceptions to 'go beyond' the immediate. One is not required to understand oneself as something inherently evil or 'sinful' where the gory death of a deity is the only way to appease that same deity's intolerance of our inherent badness. These concepts, while in no way exclusive to any given philosophical system or religion, require one to relinquish one's fundamental orientation towards reason, based on learning and maturation of the brain in concert with empirical experience. That is where your world view fails. It fails because it requires your surrender of all of the things that you otherwise rely on to effectually manage your engagement with reality.

That is why I am not a Christian.


I will share my response in a future post. For now, read through what is said above, and see if you can find the problems inherent in this worldview.