Friday, December 27, 2019

WSIBC: Divine Voices and Failed Arguments

I am continuing to work through James Anderson’s book Why Should I Believe Christianity (WSIBC) and now have well over a hundred pages of handwritten notes that I’ll need to edit and transcribe at some point, so that I can share the results of my examination with you, my readers. I expect that before my next installment in this series, after this present one, I’ll have over two hundred pages of notes! There’s so much to interact with and so many opportunities for interaction that I suspect this project might occupy me for some time. This undertaking is deliciously rewarding for me, and I hope that readers get at least some value from what I produce here on this.

In the present entry, I want to revisit an issue which came up in my previous entry, namely Anderson’s stipulations about how we do not gain awareness of the Christian god. This is a critical matter since the question of how one has awareness of the object of his worship strikes me as having central importance, both philosophically as well as devotionally, especially if one is attempting to attract newcomers to Christianity as a worldview which is supposed to be true and also solve philosophical problems better than other worldviews. And yet this area seems to get little direct attention. All too often, for instance, we’re told – as Anderson himself tells us – how one does not have awareness of the Christian god, leaving insufficiently unattended the question of how one does have awareness of the Christian god. When the latter is discussed, as we shall find, it is often layered in metaphor, which is hardly conducive to investigation and confidence and suggestive of speculation and concealment.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

WSIBC: “Competing Worldviews”

In setting the stage for making his case for Christianity, Christian apologist James Anderson makes it clear that he’s talking about Christianity as a “worldview.” On pages 32-33 of his book Why Should I Believe Christianity? (WSIBC), Anderson explains:
a worldview is a comprehensive view of the world. I don’t mean a physical view of the world, like the sight of planet earth you might get from an orbiting space station. A worldview is a philosophical view of the world – and not just of our planet, but of the entire universe, indeed all of reality. A worldview is an all-encompassing perspective on ourselves and everything else that exists, especially those things that matter most to us and have the greatest influence on our lives.
Since a worldview is “a philosophical view of the world… indeed all of reality” that is “all-encompassing,” a worldview should be expected to help us understand “things we take for granted in our everyday lives, such as the orderliness of the universe, the meaningfulness of human existence, and our ability to use reason to extend our knowledge of the world” (p. 45). Thus, if “Christianity is an all-compassing worldview" (p. 25), then I would expect Christianity to have something informative to say about some fundamental matters, such as the proper starting point of human cognition, the relationship between consciousness and its objects, the nature of concepts and how we form them, etc. For whether one realizes it or not, these are fundamental matters which “have the greatest influence on our lives.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Preliminary Worldview Considerations before Anderson’s WSIBC

In my previous entry, I announced my recent purchase of James Anderson’s book Why Should I Believe Christianity? (WSIBC) – which as of this writing has a rank of 133 in the category Presbyterian Christianity, so get your copy while supplies last – and my intention to explore the case he presents in that book for, well, believing Christianity.

Also in my previous entry I provided a list of 25 worldview-oriented questions that I would keep by my side as I read through Anderson’s book, to see if finally I can get some answers on some pressing issues that apologists before him seem reluctant to address.

In the present entry I want to provide a few high-level observations before diving into the first chapter of Anderson’s book, and really all the chapters which follow. I expect that the following points, which are by no means exhaustive, will come in handy when examining any case for theism in particular and any endorsement of mysticism (of which Christianity is a category) in general.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Initial Questions for James Anderson's "Why Should I Believe Christianity"

I recently ordered Dr. James N. Anderson’s book Why Should I Believe Christianity?. With much anticipation, it has finally arrived and I am ready to start devouring it. Before I go and read it though, I wanted to set before myself a number of questions to keep by my side as I go through Anderson’s book, questions I’ve always wanted to see answered from a religious perspective. I figure, if I define before reading a book what I want to get out of it, I’ll be that much more positioned to have a personally rewarding experience when I do read it, and that’s important to me. Also, my exploration of Anderson’s book might make for some exciting content for my blog. I’ve seen a few reviews of the book posted online, but none by anyone who’s not a professed believer that I could find. So perhaps I’ll be the first!

Published in 2016, Why Should I Believe Christianity? comes with some very enthusiastic acclaim, albeit from other Christians. Just inside the book’s jacket on the front end sheet, we find a number of plugs for the book. For example, apologetic heavyweight John M. Frame writes that “James Anderson is one of the best writers in contemporary Reformed theology and apologetics,” adding that “he has a wonderful gift for anticipating the questions in readers’ minds” and states that his book “is one of the best sources available for presenting the rationale of the Christian faith to an unbelieving reader.” K. Scott Oliphant calls Anderson’s work in the book “a masterful job” and says that his book “will be a necessary tool for anyone interested in addressing arguments against Christian truth.” Michael J. Kruger calls it a “fantastic book” and that in it “James Anderson offers one of the clearest and most compelling explanations for the truth of Christianity that I have ever read.” “Read it multiple times,” urges Kruger, “then give it to a friend.” “In this book,” writes R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “believers will find a compelling defense of the Christian worldview and the resources necessary to stand firm in a faithless age,” even though a five-star review on the Amazon.com page for the book states that Anderson’s book is “written to and for unbelievers.” 

Friday, November 08, 2019

"He is found in our hearts"

Christian apologists often carry on as if they’re know-it-alls when it comes to arguments. It’s possible that some might even know what an argument is. Many will spend hours if not years in the effort to master formal argumentation, fallacy detection, rhetorical devices, and of course, expressions in Latin. Their hope is apparently to ensure that they be “always ready” for any skirmish with a non-believer, for defending the faith from the offense of non-belief is of paramount importance to preserving loyalty to the confession.

And over the millennia theologians and apologists have been very inventive, devising numerous arguments for theism from a variety of angles, such as that the universe needed a cause, that the design we find in the world indicates the existence of a designer, that moral norms necessarily imply a moral law-giver, etc. Once belief in theism has been accepted, there’s an argument to defeat every possible criticism of god-belief that naysayers and spoilsports might raise. And the motivation for devising such arguments should not be too difficult to understand: once belief in the supernatural has been accepted as a true account of reality, one will need to protect his pride from the baddies of the world who scoff at such beliefs.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Hallomeanie!

I have a young neighbor who on a typical day is rather kind and bright. He is also very religious, duly full of zeal for The Lord©. The son of immigrant parents, he often remarks to me how glad he is that I am his neighbor. And frankly he should be – I’m a good man and I don’t cause my neighbors any problems. They can come to me any time and I will kindly receive them and listen to their concerns for the neighborhood. He could have much worse neighbors than my family, to say the least! 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Shrugging off Mysticism

Mysticism is like an odorless toxic gas, and just as dangerous. It often goes undetected precisely because people generally have not learned to recognize consistently the distinction and proper relationship between consciousness and its objects and understand the profound implications of this distinction for their view of reality, of life, and of themselves. Sadly, the distinction between reality and imagination is therefore blurred, often beyond recognition. A thinker who fails to grasp the proper relationship between consciousness and its objects and the fundamentality of this relationship to the entire sphere of thought and action, is thus vulnerable to a wide assortment of cognitive hazards, whether in the form of gratuitous suggestibility or gullibility, of overwriting the things one perceives with fantasy, categorical subjugation to other minds, and so on.

Given its departure from reality and its opposition to objectivity and rationality, it may very well be fruitful to ask whether or not the love for mysticism is in fact the root of all evil. Mysticism lies at the heart of injustice in its two most insidious forms: the pursuit of the unearned and intellectual default. In its essence mysticism involves, however implicitly, a claim to knowledge that one does not have and has not earned. Knowledge is the product of more or less systematic effort conducted within the constraints of reason and guided by objective principles. Intellectual default is essentially the failure to govern one’s mind rationally and act accordingly. Injustice results from efforts to seek the unearned, including resources, power, influence, approval, etc., and is made possible to proceed when people who know better or should know better fail to act to oppose such efforts. Mysticism encourages a willful blindness which dares not call out its root error or its complicity in injustice. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Pardon My Skepticism...

We’re all familiar with the story:
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[a] of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.  
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. (Mt. 27:62 – 28:4)
A bit later we’re told that that the guards bribed the authorities to believe the report that they had fallen asleep while guarding Jesus’ tomb, making it possible for his disciples to steal his dead body while they slept (Mt. 28:11-14). That was what allegedly happened, nearly two thousand years ago.

Then today we read this:
Corrections officers at a New York prison where Jeffrey Epstein was being held are accused of falling asleep on the job and falsifying logs to make it appear as if they checked on the billionaire pedophile on the night of his apparent suicide. (Source)
Whether the family resemblance between these accounts is intentional or not, I don’t think either one is all that believable. It almost seems like a case of art imitating art, or rather, spin imitating spin.

Looks like tangled webs are nothing new after all.

by Dawson Bethrick

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Agony of Agnosticism or: Why Not Mature Thoughtfulness?

It’s common for apologists to market their theism in terms of dichotomies between two self-servingly construed hypotheticals, branding the undesired horn as degrading and deplorable and the option they prefer as though it were unquestionably virtuous and in touch with the secret answers to all of life’s mysteries, available just by signing on. 

This is the same kind of tactic a snake oil salesman would use: why suffer in your inevitable demise when, for the cost of a few pennies, you can unlock the powers of health by buying a bottle of this special elixir, a concoction whose ingredients could only be discovered after making the purchase and taking the substance to a lab (a la “we have to pass the bill in order to find out what’s in it”). 

With religious induction, it’s a never-ending booby-trap-laden spiral of “but wait, there’s more” as the initiate is led down the granddaddy of all rabbit trails, traveling the labyrinth of self-delusion managed by way of myriad distractions such that he is deliberately kept unaware of just how far he has been led from where it all started out. By the time he’s a mile in, he doesn’t realize how deep he’s sunk in his descent into the depths of what is the essentially a mind game.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Does Objectivism Deny the Reality of Change?

Most readers here have probably heard the charge that on “the atheist worldview” everything is “matter in motion,” that everything is “in flux,” and that the resulting constant change can only mean a persistence of chaos and absence of constancy. Such an assumption about reality supposedly follows as a result of not believing that an invisible magic being created the universe and calls all the shots. If apologists don’t actually believe this about non-believers and their outlook on reality, many nevertheless want to use such charges to put them on the defensive, regardless of what they in fact do say on behalf of their view on such matters.

Well, some time back, I had an exchange with a presuppositionalist who took a different approach. This individual actually argued precisely the opposite, namely that because of Objectivism’s conception of causality as identity applied to action, there’s no room for change in Objectivism. (I kid you not!)

Monday, May 27, 2019

More on Wilson's Fizzing about Fizzing

In last month’s entry I examined a couple paragraphs from Douglas Wilson’s opening statement in his debate with Theodore Drange in which Wilson attributes to atheism the view that thinking is essentially a type of chemical reaction and is therefore indistinguishable from the fizzing of an agitated soft drink.

A reader sent me an email asking if I had any thoughts on the paragraph in Wilson’s opening statement that came after the two that I have already examined. I did indicate in my post that if readers express interest in exploring Wilson’s debating strategy any further, I’d be willing to do so. So, let’s dive in! 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Wilson's Fixation on Fizzing

In my post celebrating the Fourteenth Anniversary of Incinerating Presuppositionalism, I mentioned that I’d be willing to entertain requests from readers if they’d like to see a certain topic or argument addressed here. One reader named Joe (thank you, Joe!) suggested that I interact with Douglas Wilson’s “fizzing” gambit, the notion that, as Joe puts it, “if we are just chemicals ‘fizzing’ then how can one claim truth over another.” Joe stated that Wilson “brings this up in almost every debate” and noted that other apologists have employed it as well.

While I am aware of Wilson using the “fizzing” stratagem only in his debate with Theodore Drange, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s been deployed elsewhere. For those who are bent on vindicating theistic belief, I suspect that the “fizzing” motif holds substantial persuasive traction, sort of like calling Obamacare “the Affordable Care Act.” (A former colleague of mine went from paying $150.00/month to over $1600.00/month for his medical premium, with considerable increase in deductible as well… And he’s been fizzing about that ever since!) Putting lipstick on a pig won’t fool everyone, but apparently there are some who are susceptible of falling in love with swine so decorated. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Incinerating Presuppositionalism: Year Fourteen

And now we come to yet another milestone for this blog, Incinerating Presuppositionalism, as we reach the 14th anniversary since its inception. As I always do on IP’s birthday, I have listed the entries that I published over the past year below. All for your convenience, my dear readers!

I mentioned last year that I have numerous, mounting constraints on my time and energy, thus limited the forces that I can bring to blogging. We all have only 24 hours in a day, and with a demanding career in coordinating covert halo drops over doily-refurbishing plants in far away countries while trying to keep up with the exhausting schedule of a gymnastics-loving tween, I’m sure you can appreciate I’m one busy dude.

But don’t let that for a moment give you the impression that a dent has been made in my passion for writing and contra-apologetics. This is my version of a blood sport, and it’s every bit as brutal as anything that you’ll see on the gridiron or 1950s gladiator movies. At the very minimum, it requires a willingness to enter the ring and hone a wide range of intellectual skills. That’s one of the prime draws for me in maintaining IP: like composing a six-voice fugue or untangling a knotted slinky, it takes great patience, focus and discipline. And who couldn’t use a little more of either of these? I know I can!

At any rate, here’s the list of entries I crafted over the past year, all in one handy source in case you’ve missed any of them:

446. Incinerating Presuppositionalism: Year Thirteen - March 26, 2018

447. Existence and Perception - April 28, 2018

448. Edward Feser on Ayn Rand - May 27, 2018

449. The Futility of Theodicy - June 28, 2018

450. The Disgruntled Apologist - July 28, 2018

451. The Burden of Proof - August 29, 2018

452. Parsing the Haysian Square-Circle - September 26, 2018

453. Is Human life really “futile” without a god? - October 29, 2018

454. Faith and Imagining - November 26, 2018

455. Are the Gospel Crucifixion Scenes Eyewitness Accounts? - December 16, 2018

456. The Metaphysics of Wishing - January 5, 2019

457. Steve Hays’ Invisible Friend - February 20, 2019

458. The Speeches in Acts: History or Legend? - March 10, 2019

From the standpoint of specifically Christian apologetics, I’d say that the most damning post in this past year’s batch of entries is probably December 2018’s Are the Gospel Crucifixion Scenes Eyewitness Accounts? But I must say, I’m quite satisfied with the rest as well. So, go figure!

Now, while I do have a backlog of entries in various stages of progress, I am open to taking “requests” if readers encounter arguments or topics that I haven’t addressed already. Of course, they should be relevant to apologetics, but not necessarily presuppositionalism specifically. That said, this does not necessarily mean that I’ll take the request. No request can so easily be expected to translate into a guarantee. But don’t let that discourage you if you think you have some good suggestions.

by Dawson Bethrick

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Speeches in Acts: History or Legend?

Apologists routinely point to the Book of Acts as reliable history. Well, they sort of have to, given their dogmatic determination to protect their confessional investment in Christian literalism. Though while the proclamation that Acts records accurate history seems redundant in the case of the choir, it is perhaps more than a stretch for those outside the holy tent.

Its formal title is The Acts of the Apostles, though curiously it focuses primarily on two apostles (Peter and Paul), makes some references to a third (Stephen) and says very little about any of the others (it gives their names, and that’s about it!). In fact, all apostles other than Peter and Paul are completely dropped midway through the book without explanation, and the New Testament gives no indication of their fate. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Steve Hays' Invisible Friend

Steve Hays of Triablogue is frustrated. He's upset because atheists liken Jesus or Yahweh to an invisible friend. In spite of his hurt feelings, his attempts to recover his worldview from this comparison are pretty flimsy. In fact, instead of serving to advance his position, Hays’ points only tend to backfire.

As is his customary procedure, Hays seeks to turn the tables on those dastardly atheists he has in mind by pointing to a series of would-be foils which, on a good day with ample hallucinogens, might suggest that the atheist’s “mocking” is out of line. On a more sober reading, however, Hays’ whole post comes across as a rather juvenile “I’ll show you!” outburst which quickly collapses under its own weight. It’s nothing epic, unless of course we consider the fail factor.

Before going any further (full disclosure alert), I’ll point out for readers that this is not the first time the notion of imaginary friends has come up on Incinerating Presuppositionalism. Back in the summer of 2006, I posted an entry titled Christianity: The Imaginary Friend’s Network, which readers are invited to read at their leisure. 

Saturday, January 05, 2019

The Metaphysics of Wishing

If religious apologists deny that their worldview finds its basis in the metaphysics of wishing makes it so, it is incumbent upon them to articulate what a worldview that is based on the metaphysics of wishing would look like and how their religious beliefs can be reliably differentiated from such a worldview.

This would be particularly difficult (I would say impossible) for those who believe that a supernatural consciousness created the universe by an act of consciousness –  an entity available to us only by means of imagination which essentially wished the universe into being.