Friday, April 28, 2017

Sye's Fixation with "Insane" People

I’ve been asked to comment on a common tactic used by Sye Ten Bruggencate and those who copy his apologetic strategies. (See the comments section here for the original request.) The tactic is an interrogative maneuver by which the apologist seeks to commandeer the conversation and steer it in a direction intended to lead to a ‘gotcha’ moment, its goal being to trip up the non-Christian rather than to actually validate the position which the apologist should be defending.

The tactic consists of the following formula:
Sye: Do you agree that there are insane people whose senses and reasoning are not valid?
Sye's oppoenent: Yes  
Sye: Then how do you know you're not one of those people?
The obvious goal of this tactic is to trap the opponent in a death spiral of his own making. But the success of this tactic clearly depends on accepting the premises embedded in the leading question, as the opponent’s answer demonstrates.

However, in response to the leading question, I would have to answer: No, I do not agree that there are insane people whose senses and reasoning are not valid.

There are a number of reasons why I would not agree with Sye’s suggestion right off, so I ask readers to consider the following points. (Warning: These points are for authentic thinkers – i.e., persons who are first honest and second conscientious in managing their considerations of such matters that involve evaluations of others.)

First of all, I do not accept the premise that the senses can be invalid. The activity of sense organs is an autonomic biological function. The senses react to stimuli, just as the stomach reacts to the contents that are introduced to it. We do not say when we have a tummy ache that our digestion is “invalid.” In fact, it’s neither valid nor invalid – the concept of validity simply does not apply. Like the stomach and other biological functions, the function of the senses is involuntarily causal in nature. Similarly, if a weed grows beside a park bench, we do not call the weed’s growing either “valid” or “invalid.” So why would we call the activity of the senses either valid or invalid? Entities act according to their nature.

Often thinkers will respond to these points by saying something like, “But the senses err all the time! Notice how the stick looks bent when it’s dunked in a glass of water, when in fact it’s not bent!” So, how does the person know in such a case that the stick is not bent? Did he see that the stick is not bent? But wait, “the senses err all the time,” he claims. Are the senses choosy about when they’re “valid” and when they’re “invalid”? Do they choose to be valid when we see that the stick is straight, but then choose to render an invalid perception such that a straight stick appears to be bent when it’s dunked into a glass of water? No, not at all. The senses deliver a huge context of data, and those data along with the conditions in play (e.g., perspective, lighting, distance, motion, etc.) all factor into the causality of perceptual awareness. Light travels faster through air than it does through water (as well as glass), and this is one of the factors which contribute to the causal outcome of perception. So how is the stick appearing to be bent when it’s dunked in a glass of water “invalid”? Blank out.

If in spite of these points thinkers still insist that the concept of validity does in fact apply to the operation of the senses, then I would say that if one has any sense awareness whatsoever, then his senses are valid, for that is the function of the senses: they give us awareness of things.

What (oh so) typically happens is that thinkers fail to distinguish between perception and identification. We see this failure involved in the case of the stick dunked in a glass of water. We perceive the stick – that’s the function of the senses; we say the stick is straight or bent – that’s an act of identification. We are not “wrong” to perceive the stick, but we can be wrong when we attempt to identify what we’re perceiving. Failure to distinguish between perception and identification constitutes a failure to distinguish between involuntary and voluntary actions performed by a thinker and can lead to any number of subsequent philosophical errors (including a series of stolen concepts). Looking back through the history of philosophy, and even at positions that many philosophers today hold, we can find this error lurking behind the scenes as invidiously as a Bernie Madoff relieving thousands of unsuspecting investors of billions in net worth.

So this correction needs to be made before entertaining Sye’s question any further, and the fact that this correction needs to be made only raises the suspicion (already prompted as it is by Sye’s relentlessly aggressive interrogative tactics and refusal to dialogue with his interlocutors in an adult manner) that the motivation here is strictly predatory in nature. In true secondhander fashion, Sye wants to come across to his audience as having all the answers, for he views genuine humility as a vulnerability, akin to the scent of blood in shark-infested waters. Spurred on by an insatiable appetite for whatever dopamine-nourished pleasure centers are being stimulated by the semblance of achievement or victory he thinks he’s earning through such skirmishes, he wants to circle his prey and go in for the kill.

Clearly the ambitions here are not philosophical in nature.

But so far, the point should be clear: I do NOT agree that there are people whose senses are not valid. If they are aware of anything, their senses are functioning. Moving on… The concept of validity does in fact apply to specific instances of reasoning.

In fact, the very concept of validity presupposes at the very least the rudimentary foundations of reason as such. Reason is the faculty which identifies and integrates the objects of awareness, and it is a volitional process: man chooses to identify those things he perceives – he does not do this automatically, he does not “have to” do it, and he can make mistakes. Because reason is volitional and also because man is fallible, he needs an objective standard to guide his reasoning. This begins with the axioms and the primacy of existence; without these, man has no objective starting point and no standard according to which he can distinguish fact from fantasy, truth from error, reason from mysticism.

Moreover, reason is a conceptual process – we identify and integrate the objects of awareness by means of concepts, and because of this our reasoning must be in keeping with the manner in which concepts are formed. Consequently, a good understanding of concepts is vital to a theory of knowledge. It is one of the tasks of philosophy to provide a good understanding of the nature of concepts.

Of course, if one’s worldview is premised on the primacy of consciousness (as Christianity is), then he has no consistent recourse to an objective standard. So it is most ironic that Sye would pretend as he does that reasoning requires his god-belief somehow. What objective standard can Christianity provide when it holds: (a) the universe was created by an act of consciousness; (b) conscious beings can alter things that exist (including things we perceive and interact with right here on earth) by an act of will; (c) things that can only be imagined must be treated not only as though they were real, but also that they were controlling reality; (d) man cannot consistently rely on reason as his means of knowledge; (e) the believer “receives” his knowledge from supernatural beings by means of looking inward and consulting his own subjective indulgences, and (f) man has a duty to subjugate his own judgments and convictions to the fiat of those who claim to have a direct pipeline to an invisible omniscient being?

Again, blank out.

Moreover, since Christianity has no theory of concepts to begin with, it cannot as a worldview inform a philosophical understanding of epistemology. At best, it can only provide a storybook understanding of knowledge given the superficial folklore of its narrative basis. Thus, contrary to what presuppositionalists so belovedly repeat, given their worldview’s lack of a theory of concepts, Christianity can in no way “account for” the preconditions of intelligibility, for the basis of knowledge, the nature of logic, etc.

Also, regarding the reference to “insanity” in Sye’s question, it should be noted that mental illness comes in many different forms and degrees of intensity, and in many cases it may only be temporary. One of the many issues facing mental health professionals is the difficulty involved in making a diagnosis. This is often complicated by the fact that people with mental deficiencies may seem perfectly fine in many areas of life, clearly able to reason validly on a wide variety of issues, while suffering the hazards of mental illness in other spheres. So while I understand that there are people with mental illness, I would be wrong to dismiss every instance of reasoning those individuals perform as “invalid” simply because they suffer from some form of mental illness. That would be a hasty generalization, a fallacy the last I checked. Again, a case-by-case analysis is needed in evaluating a person’s reasoning; the persistent desire for shortcuts here seems rather shortsighted.

But Sye’s question is posed in such a way that it does not allow for these distinctions; in fact, he does not really want to discuss validity, the nature of the senses, mental illness, or any other serious topic. Rather, he simply wants to corner his opponents by sealing off any path to a rational discussion of important worldview issues.

What’s most ironic is the fact that many tactics used by Sye and other apologists consist in rapid-fire succession of “How do you know?” questions. As vocal proponents of a “worldview,” presuppositionalists style themselves as well-versed in epistemological matters, and so questions of this sort are commonplace in their conversation. But in fact this is all part of the pretense of presuppositionalism: there really is no such thing as “Christian epistemology.” True, many apologists and theologians have spilled much ink on the topic of epistemology, but in the final analysis this is empty lip service: they never do come around to explaining just how a human being, given the nature of his conscious faculties, can discover and validate knowledge of “the supernatural.” Indeed, the problem is even worse than merely a failure to provide epistemological guidelines on how such alleged “knowledge” is supposedly acquired; rather, advocates of religious belief cannot even explain how one can reliably distinguish what they call “the supernatural” from what they are merely imagining. And yet, in spite of these glaring deficiencies, religious apologists carry on as though their position had something of value to offer in the field of epistemology.

But the purpose of Sye’s line of questioning should be clear: by means of such strategies, the apologist seeks to undermine any confidence the non-believer may have in his own rational faculties, thus leaving him vulnerable to fundamental uncertainties which in turn can be used against his mind. But if the believer’s god-belief were in fact true, if they were rationally defensible, why would the apologist find it necessary to resort to strategies which seek first to undermine confidence in a person’s ability to reason and then move in predatory manner to overtake his mind by mutilating his ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy? The answer here is given in the very asking.

If one wants to take a playful approach to Sye’s tactics, the following would effectively turn the tables on the apologist:
Sye: Do you agree that there are insane people whose senses and reasoning are not valid?
Sye's oppoenent: Yes  
Sye: Then how do you know you're not one of those people?  
Sye’s opponent: I know this by virtue of the fact that I don’t believe in invisible magic beings.
I mean, why not?

Now this repartee is not intended to inform an epistemological treatise in response to Sye’s questions. Of course! Rather, it serves to bring the issues raised by those questions in line with their proper perspective. After all, if there is such a thing as insanity or mental illness, how could delusions which blur the distinction between reality and imagination not qualify as such? And if belief in invisible magic beings is not sufficient to indicate the presence of such delusions, what would?

Now the Reformed view which generally undergirds presuppositionalism holds that all people already know that the Christian god exists, and that people are actually suppressing such knowledge “in unrighteousness.” Presumably we non-Christians are doing this on purpose whether we realize it or not. Given this, since presuppositionalists have frequently accepted the notion that knowledge is a species of belief (specifically as “justified true belief”), Sye might very well not accept the reply that one does not believe in invisible magic beings, since Rom. 1 asserts that everyone believes in at least one invisible magic being, namely the Christian god. Of course, citing Rom. 1 is not an argument, and repeating an assertion does nothing to lift the assertion out of the “mere assertion” bucket. Furthermore, one could make the argument that taking Rom. 1 as seriously as presuppositionalists do is itself delusional.

Now given his commitment to Christian mysticism, Sye necessarily rejects Objectivism. Objectivism is atheistic, non-supernaturalist, a-mystical; it is a pro-reality, pro-reason, pro-human worldview, and a committed Christian will have none of that. And in rejecting Objectivism, he necessarily rejects the truth of the axioms, the primacy of existence, the objective theory of concepts, the role of reason as the only proper source of knowledge, standard of judgment and guide to action, etc.

So this raises a question: since Sye asserts a number of claims, he clearly assumes that his own consciousness is valid. But how does he know his consciousness is valid? How did he validate his consciousness to begin with? Or did he? Sye’s presuppositionalism does not address this very basic issue, and yet he blathers on and on as though his “worldview” were some kind of “full-orbed” comprehensively developed philosophy that covers these and other fundamental issues in a coherent matter.

But of course, it’s not difficult to see that he does not. But this problem can inform a question for Sye and other apologists such as the following:
Atheist: Can you validate your consciousness without using your consciousness?  
Sye: No.  
Atheist: Then how do you know your consciousness is valid?
How can the apologist reply to this question? We can expect him to make some reference to his god-belief to solve the problem here, e.g., “God validates my consciousness.” But he would be making use of his consciousness in doing so and thus beg the question – he would be assuming precisely what has been brought into question. If he says he validated his own consciousness himself, how did he do this without making use of his consciousness and thereby assuming its validity from the start? No viable option seems very promising here for, if one accepts the premise that his consciousness needs to be validated somehow, he’ll be stuck in the vicious circle of a fallacious pickle.

Fortunately the Objectivist does not have this problem. Given the axiom of consciousness, the Objectivist can readily recognize that the premise that consciousness needs to be validated somehow, commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. Indeed, the very premise “consciousness needs to be validated” itself assumes the reality of consciousness, so there’s nothing to validate in such a case: one would have to be conscious just to consider the premise, let alone assert it and insist that thinkers take it seriously. The axiom of consciousness affirms the reality and efficacy of consciousness as an explicit fundamental, thus peforming a controlled detonation on the very notion that consciousness needs to be validated somehow before the question can even come up.

But if a worldview, such as Sye’s, rejects the axioms, even implicitly, then its adherents have no rational defense against such trickery. Certainly Sye cannot appeal to the axiom of consciousness, for that would violate his commitment to Christianity. So he has no authentically Christian means of dispelling the question.

by Dawson Bethrick


Ydemoc said...


Thank Blarko you're back with another entry!

All kidding and fantasy aside, thanks for taking time to respond to Principle Centered's inquiry.


praestans said...

The pepl whus sensis arn't valid ar I think ded pepl.
uhm I suppos Jesus makes wun aliv the xtian wud argu.
But I don't see eny jesusist at arlingtun, duing gratr wurks than jesus.


Reading your writings refuting this stuff never gets old. Ever.

samonedo said...

Every defense of irrationality througn reason sounds like desperation, and it is funny in a way after you learn what is going on. This blog is perfect to teach you this. I am so glad I found it years ago and read it entirely, entry by entry. You've built a real intellectual treasure on the internet all these years. What a unique and marvellous piece of work!

Reynold said...

My response would have been to say: "I suspect I'm talking to one right now"

Reynold said...

I'd go on to say: "Why do I think that"? I'm not the one who claims to have had any revelation from "god" which allows me to justify my senses and reasoning, yet refuses to describe this "revelation" so others can see if it matches with what we were supposed to have experienced.

Sye and his clones claim that we've all had this revelation from god, do they not?

Principle Centered said...


Fantastic - thanks for such a detailed response! Very timely seeing as how I recently finished reading "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" as inspired by the the content of the PDF files you posted in the comments of the 3/26/2017 post.

95BSharpshooter said...

Reynold said...

+10 (both times)

Unknown said...

Hello Dawson and readers including Ydemoc and others with whom I've interacted in past times.

Thanks for taking time to write another good blog, and I'm pleased you're using your free time to think and write.

Dawson wrote // First of all, I do not accept the premise that the senses can be invalid. The activity of sense organs is an autonomic biological function. The senses react to stimuli, just as the stomach reacts to the contents that are introduced to it. We do not say when we have a tummy ache that our digestion is “invalid.” In fact, it’s neither valid nor invalid – the concept of validity simply does not apply. Like the stomach and other biological functions, the function of the senses is involuntarily causal in nature. //

Indeed Sir. The action of an organism's senses is neither valid nor invalid. The concept does not apply to autonomically causal systems; rather validity in context of STB's hateful apologetic maneuvers rightly applies to logical arguments. As such STB's rhetorical trick is invalid because he used the fallacy of context dropping.

Good catch Dawson.

Many Thanks

Robert Bumbalough

Unknown said...

Hello All

In a 2009 podcast Dr Peikoff discussed why he thought religion more dangerous than forms of collectivism including socialism or Nazism (National Socialism).

This is interesting because he notes that large groups of religious believers have a cultural acceptance by diffusion of ideas that members accept as granted without critical thinking that entail their rejection of capitalism as a social system or set of accepted rules of relational conduct excluding violent coercion. He mentions his book "The Dim Hypothesis" where he presents detailed arguments.

Dawson, Sir, have you read TDH? If so, perhaps it'd be an interesting exercise to write an interaction review for your readers.

Once again, many thanks.

Robert Bumbalough

Truth said...

My response would be

1. Insanity doesn't equal a loss of reliable senses nor makes their sense invalid

2. just to be snarky i point out only one of us believes they receive magic transmissions .