- Religion and Philosophy
The Fool Says in His Heart - Presuppositional Apologetics
There are many honest theists out there in the world, after all the majority of human beings living on this planet practice some form of religion or hold to some sort of belief in deities. However there are some apologists - and believers who follow after them - who are less than honest with whom discussion is pointless. Often times religious folks are accused of being closed-minded but none can be more closed-minded than those that not only attempt to shift the burden of proof onto the unbelievers but actually have the preset assumption that God exists as the STARTING point.
This is known as a presupposition but in some cases it is stated EXPLICITLY instead of IMPLICITLY. There are many apologists who attempt to shift burden of proof in this way and I hope to address why this dishonest tactic makes any meaningful discussion impossible and makes theists who think this way look like arrogant clowns.
One of the proponents of presuppositional apologetics is one Sye Ten Bruggencate though the art of this intellectually broken tactic goes back a lot farther. Sye is the runner of a website called proofthatgodexists.org which, as of my searching to date, contains no proof of anything natural or supernatural. It begins by setting up a false dichotomy between the existence of absolute truth and the non-existence of absolute truth. If you choose that absolute truth does not exist you are asked if your choice is absolutely true – cute, a paradox. Hey Sye I can do that too. THIS SENTENCE IS FALSE.
Sye's question about absolute truth, of course, has absolutely no bearing on the existence of deities. His 'proof' goes on for page after page establishing the supposed 'existence' of absolute morals, logic, mathematics, etc and proving that these things are immaterial. God is some ultimate framework holding up these Universal absolutes... the idea being that this REQUIRES a mind (though Sye never gets so far as to make an actual argument regarding these absolutes, he just skips from 'you admit they exist' to 'somehow therefore so does god'). The problem with this is that it assumes that logic, math, and the laws of nature exist OUTSIDE the human mind in the mind of a God. Rather than prove God Sye has revealed his hand as a presuppositional apologist and once that's been done no more meaningful discussion can be had.
The main problem is that Sye is putting the cart before the horse. The mind cannot create logical absolutes, it merely observes or deduces them from reality. The same can be said about natural laws/ the laws of physics. These aren't laws written down by some grand heavenly legislature, these are descriptions of how the Universe is observed to work. When we look at something like the logical Law of Identity, which simply states that A=A, an object is itself ,we can see how this is just an observation of things we can, well, observe. We assume that this is Universal, that it applies everywhere, but do we actually KNOW that?
Why the Universe works the way it works is debatable (and might even be the wrong question ask) but saying that it's because of a God is a fallacious argument from Ignorance. God cannot be proved by the fact that we LACK an answer for something.
The Moral Landscape
The issue is more obvious when we look at morals. Sye asks us a real puzzler on his website, about whether child molestation is ever morally acceptable or if it is absolutely wrong. This ignores the reasons why child molestation is wrong and instead seems to support a "it's wrong because it's wrong" approach. Sye seems to forget that the veracity of a moral claim is often debatable and can be reasoned out. It's fairly obvious to reach a conclusion as to why child molestation is wrong but not all morality is clear cut or absolute. Applying empathy and reason together can determine if something is moral. immoral or exists in a gray area.
In fact all Sye needs to do is read the Bible to learn this. Shellfish are an abomination and shouldn't be consumed according to scripture, yet these rules are applied to the Israelites by God, God does not hand down the Shellfish ruling to the rest of the world, merely to his chosen people. Sye's own God SELECTIVELY gives out specific rules to specific cultures. Working on the Sabbath would get you killed, this was God's DIRECT COMMAND, it literally flowed from the mouth of God into Moses' waiting ears - yet today I work on Saturday nights every week without any fear that my co-workers and neighbors will start casting stones my way. Could it be that not all morals are absolute?
This, of course, all leads back into the Euthyphro Dilemma. Is something moral because God commands it or is it already moral and THEREFORE God commands it. If it's the first choice than anything can be moral and moral absolutes cannot exist if it is the latter choice than moral absolutes exist outside of God's control – thus Sye cannot use morals to prove his God.
Furthermore God has no reason to declare that murder is wrong. Human beings on the other hand have every reason to declare that murder is wrong because we are the ones suffering when someone is murdered. We are the ones interacting with each other, we are the ones with emotion, empathy and a sense of justice and God has these qualities because he is built on our anthropocentric world-view. Think about it for a moment, what reason could a being of infinite power have to declare that murder is forbidden but that slavery is okay? Would God's moral guidance seem just to us mortals? Is it moral for God to impose a system of absolute morals on creature's that he supposedly has given free will? Why would a God's morality even be relevant to us? And most importantly who is God interacting with to come up with these rules? There are no equals to the Christian God, no others like him to have social interaction with, and the basis of most morals seems to be social interaction. No matter where you turn the idea of absolute morals supported or imposed by a deity makes no sense whatsoever.
According to the fourteenth Pslam “The Fool says in his heart there is no God”. This verse has formed the scriptural foundation for apologists who presuppose the existence of God from the beginning of a discussion. Not only does this violate basic burden of proof but it also immediately implies that everyone who has some doubt about the existence of God is actually being dishonest when they express that doubt. Sye, and others like him, will often be so arrogant as to claim that everyone KNOWS that their specific God exists and if everyone knows than those that don't believe in God are actually LYING.
Even worse those theists who struggle with the question of whether their God is real or not are also lying, since they already KNOW. This presupposition makes the very act of doubting or disbelief impossible.
Essentially the issue with this is that it can be used to prove literally ANYTHING imaginable. If I say that Bigfoot exists and that everyone already KNOWS for a fact that he does and disbelievers are just dishonest or in denial than I have essentially admitted that I have no good reason to believe in Bigfoot. It's like walking into a debate and saying the words, “I'm right, therefore I win!” with a big self-satisfied grin and walking right back out again believing you've won. From Sye's website (with emphasis added):
“The Bible teaches us that there are 2 types of people in this world, those who profess the truth of God's existence and those who suppress the truth of God's existence. The options of 'seeking' God, or not believing in God are unavailable. The Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God as it declares that the existence of God is so obvious that we are without excuse for not believing in Him.”
You haven't won, you've just made an ass of yourself and your entire belief system. You've just done the intellectual equivalent of internet trolling. How can we have a meaningful dialogue if you will not admit that you might be wrong? If I am willing to be proven wrong shouldn't you also be? And if you hope to prove an atheist wrong it might help to have a little more evidence than 'God's real cause he is, a derp tee derp'. This is why Sye's website contains arguments (pathetic as they are), because the presupposition that God exists is not an argument in and of itself, it's a discussion ending admission that the theist has absolutely nothing to present as evidence.
There can be few things more arrogant than starting with the assumption that not only is your position absolutely correct but that your opponent already knows this. In declaring your victory without proving your case you inherently show the weakness of your position and unintentionally make a mockery of the very thing you are trying to demonstrate. You alienate not only the unbeliever you are presumably attempting to convert but you also alienate believers who aren't total asshats like you are.
Theists please do your beliefs a favor, don't be a presuppositionalist.