Presuppositional Apologetics: Q and A With An Apologist Who Has No A…

Posted on January 19, 2011. Filed under: Apologetics, Atheism, Atheist Ethics, Religion, Science, TAG-Pressupposational Theology, Trolls |

In the hopes of having Peter clarify his opinions and commit to his own logic, I will answer several questions he asked in his newest post.  I will intersperse his post with my replies, Peter in red, myself in blue.  I will also not cherrypick his questions or commentary, because I am just that kind of guy.  Peter, for those who are joining midstream, is not.

Clarification Needed

Hi George. I want to give you an adequate reply to your post here, but I need some further clarification from you before I do that.

I still argue that your whole argument rests on not clarifying your position or your interpretation of my position, so let’s be honest about why you are responding.  You are hoping that you can force me to contradict myself.  You won’t answer questions because you know that answering them shows you contradicting yourself.  I’ll play the game, if only to show you that, unlike you, I have taken the time to think out my positions.  You know which questions you continue to avoid.  If you don’t then I can assume you uninformed based on reading comprehension alone.  Let’s begin, shall we?

You wrote: “You will notice that I include objective morality as a possible option for the atheist.”

You also wrote: “Morality is objective in the sense that rules, whether understood by convention or natural order, are the basis for the definition of a species and how it interacts with the world.”

And also: “Morality is subjective in the sense that our choices impact our ability to survive; so the best solution is not always clear, or do not impact our survival, so that reason can transcend a rule that has outlived its merit.”

My question for you is this: is being self-contradictory objectively wrong? Or is the claim, “being self-contradictory is wrong,” a matter of personal opinion, i.e., subjectively wrong? The reason I ask is because you accused the Bible of being self-contradictory. Then later you wrote: “Are you morally obligated to follow the laws of logic? Nope. You have every right to be wrong.”

George:  First, do you believe it self-contradictory to believe that morality has both subjective and objective elements?  Only you have argued that morality is purely one or the other.  That said,  is being self-contradictory objectively wrong? By almost any metric the answer would be yes.  To clarify, it might be possible for your opinion to be self-contradictory and still get the right answer, but that would be unlikely.  I really cannot clarify this for you enough Peter; you have no obligation to accept truth.  It really helps, but you are not forced by anyone to have an opinion.  You are obliged by reality and society to accept the consequences of your actions.  If you can show me where your opinion on X is more important than the nature of  X, then I’m willing to listen.  Being wrong and thinking something is wrong are two different things.  You have always attempted to conflate the two, but you thinking it doesn’t make it so.  Here’s your false dichotomy. Something can be both thought wrong and objectively wrong, you can be objectively wrong but not be thought wrong,  you can be thought wrong but not be objectively wrong.   Your opinion, my opinion, it doesn’t matter.  That is not what someone who uses the word “subjective” when talking about morality means.  You can insist that it is, but it doesn’t make it so.  If your opinion does change the meaning of how someone communicates an idea, then you are a “subjectivist” yourself.  The word “subjective” you use, as well as the word “objective” you use, have very different meanings for you then they do for someone who argues the subjective nature of morality.  Maybe you are correct to assume that they are using the wrong word, perhaps “contextual” is a better one.   Morals are both objective, in that there are some opinions that are wrong regardless of any persons opinion, or subjective in that they are not objectively wrong but moral/immoral/neutral by the metric of the person who judges it.  Is capital punishment wrong?  By my metric, yes.  Can I see why it is a contentious issue?  Sure.  Do I consider people who support capital punishment immoral? Yes.  That is my opinion, and it is shared by many people.  Would I consider that opinion to be an objective moral truth?  Not really.  Does that analogy help at all?

I have another question that concerns what you wrote here: “In order for the premise that subjective morality is self-contradictory to be true, man must be unable to refuse an objective moral truth by fiat.”

Whose fiat are you talking about? And so I’m clear, are you saying that the ability to disobey a law shows that morality is not objective? Or have I misunderstood you? Also, do you make a distinction between, on the one hand, whether one is able to or can break a law, and on the other hand, whether one is permitted or allowed to break a law?

You wrote: “In order for your premise to stand you must prove that man is solitary by nature, that nothing in reality transcends his personal opinion of what is moral or immoral.”

To which premise were you referring? Also, so you’re clear, I do not believe that there is nothing in reality that transcends man’s personal opinion. God is transcendent.

You have most certainly misunderstood me if you think that the statement “In order for the premise that subjective morality is self-contradictory to be true, man must be unable to refuse an objective moral truth by fiat.” has anything to do with whether morality is objective or subjective or both.  It is a statement about your belief that subjective morality is self-contradictory.  It is a statement that shows you are wrong.  That doesn’t mean subjective morality is right, or that objective morality is wrong.  It doesn’t mean the opposite of that either.  It means that the opinion that subjective morality is self-contradictory is wrong.   I say that because your premise for proving self-contradiction is that someone’s (in this case your) ability to refuse to accept truth makes that truth worthless.  You have every right to disagree with Jason, I have every right to break God’s Law, neither of these fact make either premise self-contradictory.  If you disagree with Jason and he is right, there are consequences, the first being that you are wrong.  His opinion of whether you are wrong or not has no bearing here.  Nor does your opinion that you are right.  When I talk about what transcends your opinion, I refer to facts, consequences, reality, logic, human nature, and human constructs.  Your opinion of whether Jason is right or wrong has no bearing on any of these things.  A subjective moralist would say that his opinion of your moral obligations is beside the point, that your wages are due to those things that transcend his opinion.  That sounds familiar to your presuppositional opinion that your moral obligation is owed to God.  Where the subjective moralist differs is that he understands morality to be logically contingent to its variables as opposed to the commandment of some (possibly non-existent) higher power.  You essentially end up saying the same thing in different language, you just presuppose that if there is a God, he is infallible, and therefor must be consistent with at least the first five of the six transcendent variables I listed above.  You presuppose.  Not me.

You wrote: “By picking and choosing what you want the definitions to be, you create black and white pronouncements from a million shades of gray.”

I was operating according to the dictionary definitions of objective and subjective. There are free dictionaries online for you to look up the meanings. Should I assume from your comment here that we should go by your definition of objective and subjective instead of the dictionary definitions of these words? If so, then I refuse. There’s no reason we can’t use the dictionary definitions of these words.

I’m not asking you to accept my definitions of those words.  I’m asking you to accept the definition of a word in the context it is being used, as opposed to the context you want to apply to it.  The funny thing about the English language is that words have multiple meanings, some of them with only subtle differences.  “Subjective”, as I mentioned in an earlier response, has different uses with subtle differences.  You insist on using it as an admission that atheists believe morality is a personal opinion, because you use this definition:

The Free Online Dictionary provides the following as the primary definition of subjective:
a. Proceeding from or taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world: a subjective decision.
b. Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.

When just a few mouseclicks down from that definition you get this one:

1. belonging to, proceeding from, or relating to the mind of the thinking subject and not the nature of the object being considered
2. of, relating to, or emanating from a person’s emotions, prejudices, etc. subjective views
3. relating to the inherent nature of a person or thing; essential
4. (Philosophy) existing only as perceived and not as a thing in itself

This gives us a better look at what a subjectivist would define as subjective.   Replace “person” in the singular with human nature, social constructs, facts, context, etc. and you start to see what they are saying.  They are using “subjective” as the opposite of your warped definition of “objective”; where “subjective” implies morality has context and variables, as opposed to being so because God says so.    You offer only two possibilities:  God is the objective source of all morality or it’s all just personal opinion.  Do you honestly believe those are the only two possibilities?  There are really no other options?  Is your mind really that limited?   That something transcends the nature of the act, emanating from our emotions or prejudices; this consensus as essential to our nature,  morality existing because we perceive it and not necessarily because it is so.  Murder is wrong if we define the limits of what murder is.  If killing another living thing is murder, and murder is objectively wrong, then our survival is objectively wrong.  The subjectivist says that by defining the parameters of what constitutes right or wrong, we project our own prejudices upon it.  This is why there are vegans.  You define subjectivity as anarchy when a subjectivist would call it contingent.
There is no reason to believe that morality is purely subjective, even in this sense.  There is good reason to believe that morality is not purely objective, commanded and not reasoned, in the sense that you use the definition.  You can use whatever definitions you like, it doesn’t change the fact that your conclusions will be based on false assumptions made by using improper definitions.  I can’t say it enough, you have every right to be wrong.  It’s up to you to decide that you value truth.

Also, you wrote: “Logic does not transcend reality, it is a slave to it. Logic is objective. ………. What transcends logic to make it objective? Reality.”

Are you saying that logic is not part of reality? If reality transcends logic, then is it impossible for logic to be part of reality?

Looking forward to your clarification so that I might give you a proper reply.

See Peter, this is where all our trouble starts.  You really need to read beyond the first line of a definition.  If you bother to use your favorite Free Online Dictionary, and move down to the other two definitions of “transcend” you will find that transcendent has the following definition:

2. To be greater than, as in intensity or power; surpass: love that transcends infatuation. See Synonyms at excel.

3. To exist above and independent of (material experience or the universe)

The definition you want to use is #3 from the second definition:

1. to go above or beyond (a limit, expectation, etc.), as in degree or excellence
2. (tr) to be superior to

3. (Philosophy) Philosophy Theol (esp of the Deity) to exist beyond (the material world)

You can ruminate for hours about how I am wrong by subtly changing the meaning of my words out of their context.  You have done it before, you’ll do it again I’m sure.  When I say that logic is a slave to reality, I am obviously making a distinction between the two, but saying that one (logic) is dependent on the other (reality).  Logic is objective in that its very definition means that it comports with reality.  If it does not, it is not logic, it is imagination.  Reality happens whether you are willing to make sense of it or not.  Logic is constructed to reveal truths about reality.  Can we, by consensus, change the rules of logic?  Semantically, yes.  We can’t, however, change reality so any change we agreed to would have to comport with reality or else it wouldn’t be logic.  We could call it logic, but that would redefine the word, and seems rather pointless.

Your trick here is to make someone agree with the fact that the laws of logic are man made constructs, which in one sense they are, then argue that they are then a matter of opinion.  By this metric, gravity is a man made construct, so do you propose that I might deny the laws of gravity and levitate around?

You want to play semantic games, because that is the entire point of presuppositional apologetics, to play with meanings and extrapolate consequences based on your interpretations.  You do not get to decide what I must believe.  I should be able to explain it, if asked, but just because you don’t want to listen doesn’t make you right.

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6 Responses to “Presuppositional Apologetics: Q and A With An Apologist Who Has No A…”

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Have I said that I’ve been enjoying this series of posts?

Well, I am. Keep it up.

I like to think that theism encourages atheism.

The construction of logic is an entirely human invention. However, it was invented as an approximation of reality, in that the rules within logic appear to be accurate and correct at the very least in our corner of space-time. That Peter (and other apologists) believe that logic itself is some concept that has its own existence divorced from humans is interesting, but it is decidedly not in keeping with reality.

What they generally refer to when they say “what accounts for logic, if not God?”, they are referring to the laws of nature. You can pretty well distill every apologist’s claim to the laws of nature, only they call those laws “God” and they attribute to those laws all the attributes they wish their deity to have.

Interestingly, Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design makes a very strong case for the laws of nature being as they are in this universe in a version of the anthropic principle known as the “Strong Anthropic Principle”, wherein M-theory suggests the laws of nature are a direct product of the folding of the “dimensions” of this universe into one of a hundred billion different possibilities. Each of these possibilities is a set of laws, and the Big Bang caused all of them to happen at once — that’s a side-effect of quantum fluctuations and string theory. Those laws that allow life to occur, may or may not allow life to occur. Those that don’t, definitely don’t, so nobody’s around to notice.

To complicate matters even further, this universe’s total energy state is entirely self-negating. The sum total of energy in the universe is exactly zero, when you combine all the positive energy with the negative energy. Whatever caused the Big Bang may have been entirely an attempt at bringing DISorder to a perfectly ordered state, the quantum foam being a perfect distribution of all the matter in as little space as possible.

I’ll probably be cross-posting this as a post at my place, because it’s fascinating stuff, and it would serve as a good book review for The Grand Design. People will probably visit just to try to poke holes in Hawking’s favorite theories (note he didn’t come up with M-Theory himself). I’m guessing they’ll all be theists.

This post was so well thought out that I have a logic head-ache, now. Why are you guys arguing something that can’t be argued? There are two “forms” of morality which exist within our day to day “reality,” the Theistic one which has two commands only: 1. love Jesus. 2. Prosecute not ANYONE for having failed to practice the very Golden Rule which you, yourself, have proven incompetent in practicing.

And the Atheistic Morality, which is a “reasoning” morality which, in fact DOES employ a certain form of logic–namely, the logic of humans.

Are you guys trying to argue which is “better?” Again, this is a stalemate argument, as how do you define “better” when one “form” of morality claims to be “subjective?”

Anyway, I’m trying to keep up here, but it’s really going deep into the p’s and q’s… wouldn’t you agree? And for what purpose?

Anyhow, just curious.


If Peter replies to my post you’ll see exactly where I’m going with this.
Every singular distinction I have made is fundamentally important to this conversation. At one point I was sure that he was wise to his own game, now I’m not so sure. Whether he answers or not, I will clarify everything in an ultimate post that will bring all these things together so that everyone with an open mind will see his arguments for what they really are.

[…] where he fired the first salvo in the wrong direction, and called me Justin to boot? George is still waging it, though Peter’s end of the argument has gotten stale rather quickly — and not just […]

[…] for Moral Presup will be the subject of it’s own post, though I have argued against it in the past. Argument From Incredulity:  The assertion that a premise is true or false based on insufficient […]

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