bookmark_borderThe Intellectual Poverty of Ken Ham’s Presuppositionalist Meme

I recently saw a Twitter meme of Ken Ham making a crude appeal to a presuppositionalist type of argument against all non-Christians, not just atheists. I don’t want to deal with any potential licensing issues with the image, so rather than display the image on my blog instead I’ll quote the words below.

Non-Christian scientists are really borrowing from the Christian worldview to carry out their observational science. Think about it. When they are doing observational science, using the scientific method, they have to assume the laws of nature, they have to assume the uniformity of nature. If the universe came about by natural processes, where did the laws of logic come from? Did they just pop into existence? Are in a stage now where we only have half logic? How do you account for the laws of logic and the laws of nature from a naturalistic worldview?

There’s an expression, “target-rich environment.” Well, what we have here is a fallacy-rich quotation. In fact, this is so confused it’s hard to know where to begin, although it was tempting to begin by writing, “Actually, no, Mr. Ham, ‘we’ do not have half logic, but maybe you do.” But let’s get serious.
First, I don’t know if Ken Ham is a presuppositionalist or simply using an argument popular among presuppositionalists, but, like them, he is confusing naturalists with non-Christians. At the risk of stating the obvious, a non-Christian doesn’t have to be a naturalist. Even if, for the sake of argument, it were the case that naturalism could not account for the laws of logic and the laws of nature, it wouldn’t follow that other worldviews–worldviews which are incompatible with both naturalism and Christian theism–could not account for the laws of logic or the laws of nature. What we need is an argument which shows why these other non-Christian, non-naturalistic worldviews cannot account for them. His meme does not provide such an argument.
Second, there is something odd about Ham’s first two questions, especially from a Christian perspective. The questions seem to assume that “the laws of logic” are material objects like rocks and trees. Surely Ken Ham doesn’t think of “the laws of logic” that way because he is a Christian theist. So why does he ask his first two questions? The most charitable interpretation of his meme is that he treats “naturalism” and “materialism” — i.e., the belief that matter is all that exists — as synonyms. If one believes that matter is all that exists and one believes that “the laws of logic” exist, then asking “where did the laws of logic come from” is no different than asking “where did galaxies come from?”
I’m not going to fault him for that, since the word “naturalism” is notorious for having so many different definitions. But, speaking as a self-identified naturalist, that’s not how I define the word “naturalism.” Following Purdue University philosopher Paul Draper, I define the word naturalism to mean “the hypothesis that the universe is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it.” So defined, “naturalism” is logically compatible with the existence of abstract objects. So one option for a “naturalist” (in my sense) is to simply adopt some sort of Platonism about “the laws of logic” and, accordingly, deny that the laws of logic ‘came from’ anywhere.
But, just to be extra charitable to Mr. Ham, let’s assume that his intended target is materialism, which is logically incompatible with abstract objects. This leads to the third problem for this type of argument. Raising questions about how naturalism can account for X does not, by itself, show that theism can account for X. It is one thing to wax eloquently about the horrible implications of denying X and to ask how H1 account for X. It is quite another thing to provide an argument for the claim that H1 cannot account for X. Merely asking questions about X on H1 is not an argument for the claim that H1 cannot account for X.  And it is yet another thing to provide an argument for the claim that H2 does account for X.  Simply asserting that H2 accounts for X is not an argument for the claim that H2 accounts for X. In short, what’s needed is an actual argument, not a series of questions. Like much of the presuppositionalist literature, I do not find such an argument in Ham’s meme.
Fourth, I assume that the laws of nature is Ham’s way of referring to Hume’s problem of induction. If so, then, again following Paul Draper, I think the answer is that, God or no God, induction is justified because uniformity is intrinsically more probable than variety. And notice that this answer does not depend upon induction, so it avoids circularity.
Finally, what about “the laws of logic?” Again, Ham hasn’t spelled out an argument. Instead, I’ll just close with this. If we’re allowed to start outside of what can be justified by reason alone (and instead go with presuppositions), then it’s far from obvious why the belief, “the laws of logic are justified,” is any less worthy of being presupposed than, say, the belief “God exists,”[1] much less the belief, “Christian theism is true.”All of these claims entail that the laws of logic are justified, but the latter two statements entail extra claims about what exists and so on parsimony grounds –and if everything else is held equal — the former is to be preferred over the latter.
[1] D. Gene Witmer, “Atheism, Reason, and Morality: Responding to Some Popular Christian Apologetics,” talk given to the Atheist, Agnostic, and Freethinker Student Association, University of Florida, September 26, 2006.

bookmark_borderLINK: The Jones-Parsons-Martin Exchange (1991)

Douglas Jones opens the interchange by sketching the argument for the Christian critique of non-Christian thought. Douglas Jones, an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is the editor of Antithesis and a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College.

Keith Parsons offers the first of two atheistic responses to Jones’s essay. Keith Parsons, Ph.D., (Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada) is the founder of Georgia Skeptics and teaches philosophy at Berry College (Rome, Georgia). He is the author of God and the Burden of Proof (Prometheus), and Science, Confirmation, and the Theistic Hypothesis (Peter Lang).

Michael Martin presents the second atheistic critique of Jones’s essay. Michael Martin is Professor of Philosphy, Boston University, Ph.D. (Harvard University), author of The Case Against Christianity (Temple University Press, 1991) and Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple University Press, 1990).

To close out the interchange, Jones responds to the essays of Parsons and Martin.


bookmark_borderAnother Presuppositionalist Fails

The following appeared in my Twitter feed:

I decided to follow the link to see if anything has changed since the last time I read a presuppositionalist apologist.

Atheists get very angry at God and His followers but they have no proof

I am an atheist. I am not angry at God or any other non-existent being. So much for that universal generalization. Next:

If there were no God there would be no atheists (G. K. Chesterton).

Chesterton presents a non sequitur. If there is no God, it doesn’t follow that there is or would be no atheists. Next:

The Confused Worldview of Atheism

Some questions for atheists:
Is the atheist worldview as aimless, confused, ad hoc, and faux-intellectual as it appears?

This question commits a fallacy of interrogation, namely, the fallacy of the loaded question. The presuppositionalist is asking a question whose answer would require accepting a presupposition (“the atheist worldview appears aimless, confused, ad hoc, and faux-intellectual”), one which atheists deny.

Are the New Atheist leaders beginning to fear, in their minds and hearts, that maybe there is a hell?

This question doesn’t expose the allegedly ‘confused worldview of atheism.’ It exposes the confusion of this particular presuppositionalist. News flash: atheists don’t believe there is a hell.

The problem is not just that atheists do not have a coherent worldview.

Notice what he is saying. He’s not just saying that atheism is false because God exists. He’s saying that atheism is incoherent. The author gives no reason to believe that an atheist worldview is incoherent, however.

It is that they deny God, not deep down, because they know He exists.

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Sort of like how Christian presuppositionalists ‘deny Islam, not deep down, because they know that Islam, not Christianity, is the true Abrahamic religion.” Or not. Two can play this game. Or we could stop pretending to read other people’s minds.

The anti-religious rants of atheistic leaders tend to be pretty emotional. Worldview reflection is not a practice regularly employed by the superstars of New Atheism, who might be terrified of looking exposed and defenseless. And to be sure, if someone has spent a career telling tall-tales, who can be surprised if unscrupulous words flow from their nefarious hearts. …

Even if these statements about the “Four Horsemen” of the ‘New Atheists” were true, it doesn’t follow that other atheists also offer emotional, anti-religious rants instead of sober “worldview reflection.”
Let’s skip down just a bit to where the author finally gets around to offering a presuppositional apologetic.

When one attempts to construct a worldview based on anything but the true God, one will find, under rational scrutiny, he cannot justify or account for anything in the cosmos. The person who denies the existence of God uses the laws of reason (A = A; A~~A) to articulate his disbelief. Yet he cannot justify the use of the necessary, immaterial, and universal laws of logic. The laws of logic must be used in the knowledge quest inasmuch as they are transcendent, universal, unchanging, and immaterial. Only a being that is also transcendent, universal, unchanging, and immaterial has the required ontic stature to account for the laws of logic. Van Til informs us, “The law of contradiction [a law of logic also known as the law of non-contradiction], to operate at all, must have its foundation in God.”1

1. In this paragraph, the author commits another logical fallacy typical of presuppositional apologists: falsely equating atheism with materialism. I am an atheist. I am not a materialist. The existence of impersonal, immaterial entities–such as abstract objects or the laws of logic–fit just fine in my worldview.
2. A much more interesting question is whether the laws of logic need a foundation. In theological terms, why can’t the laws of logic exist a se? The assertion  that the laws of logic require an ontological foundation is just that: an assertion. I do not find an argument for that assertion in the apologist’s article.

One may try to flee from the true and living God, but everyone who attempts to avoid the truth that God exists, falls into a trap he cannot escape. This is true because he must use the laws of logic. This point is well made in Van Til’s illustration of a man made of water, who is trying to climb out of the ocean by means of a ladder that is made of water. He cannot get out of the water for he has nothing to stand on. And without God, one cannot make sense of anything. The non-Christian has nothing to stand upon, and nothing to grip or climb. God is necessary, unavoidable, and certain because He provides the pre-essentials for the laws of reason that must be used in understanding and in knowledge attainment.

In my experience, this paragraph is very typical of presuppositional apologists, who excel at offering various analogies to paint a picture of what incoherence looks like. They do not excel, however, at offering arguments to support their claim that the the laws of logic require an ontological foundation, much less that they presuppose Christian theism. (Why not Jewish theism? Islamic theism? Or just ‘mere’ theism, aka “the god of the philosophers”?)

The necessary truths of logic … are representations of the way God’s mind essentially thinks. Theologically, such a doctrine ties in beautifully with the prologue to John’s Gospel on Christ’s being the Logos of God (William Lane Craig).

As a side note, it’s interesting to note that William Lane Craig rejects presuppositionalism.

The ultimate norms for human knowledge are found not in any human mind or minds, or anywhere else in creation, but in the mind of God (James Anderson).
The laws of reason are transcendent and universal. Only a foundation that is transcendent and has universal reach can provide the necessary rational pre-environment to account for fixed logical-norms since they are transcendent, fixed, and immaterial. When anyone attempts to escape the truth that God is alive, he’s trapped in a divine snare because he must utilize the laws of logic. Atheistic philosophies fail to justify continuously enduring logical-norms and can only be asserted at the pain of contradiction. Van Til went on to summarize that “unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else.” This is undeniably correct because Christianity is “shown to be the position which alone does not annihilate intelligent human experience.”2

If atheism is self-contradictory, then presuppositionalists should be able to start with the definition of atheism, substitute synonyms for synonyms, and derive a statement which contradicts itself. No one has ever been able to do that because it doesn’t do that. Atheism is coherent.

Sin is a plague, yea, the greatest and most infectious plague in the world; and yet, ah! How few are there that tremble at it, that keep it at a distance! (Thomas Brooks).
To make sense out of our world an atheist, implicitly, presupposes Christian theism. This is spot-on because Christianity supplies the required pre-essentials for the laws of thought. These laws are necessary for communication and for the intelligibility of human experience. The confrontational New Atheist has a hollow philosophy that works on the assumption that sweeping assertions made with nasty, vicious, and bitter force are settled facts—this is so because they are made with doctrinaire stridency. Insults and unsighted conviction, flowing from a sinful heart, do not just make for bad arguments; they are shameful and embarrassing. Only Christian theism alone can supply the pre-essentials needed for debate, evidence, and knowledge.

The problem with this argument is not just that it assumes, without justification, that the laws of logic need an ontological foundation. The argument has another, deeper problem: the gratuitous assumption that Christianity “supplies the required pre-essentials for the laws of thought.” The many denominations of Christianity do not all agree with the theology which underlies presuppositional apologetics; it takes hubris for the presuppositionalist to arrogantly assume that Christian theism is identical with his version of Christianity. To cite just one example, Richard Swinburne, arguably the leading Christian philosopher of religion in the world and (I think) a Greek Orthodox Christian, would reject the presuppositionalists’ claim that the laws of logic presuppose theism.

bookmark_borderExtreme Unfriendly Theism or Abusive Theism

(This is another item in the “not new, but new for me” category. I was familiar with presuppositionalism, but not this particular presuppositionalist. Based on how radical Cheung’s position is, I guess you could also place this in the “you can’t make this stuff up” category.)
Vincent Cheung is a Christian apologist of the presuppositionalist variety. His website includes two articles which defend his calling all non-Christians “morons”:

In this post, I am simply going to quote some excepts from these articles:

According to Scripture, all non-Christians are morons.

It is important for us to realize that non-Christians are morons and that I am right in stating this as an integral part of the biblical approach to apologetics. This is because if we are going to face our intellectual enemies with Scripture as our weapon, then we better first accept Scripture’s own description of the unbelievers, that they are stupid and depraved. No wonder many Christians are such feeble apologists! They have rejected Scripture’s own description about the situation from the start.

Cheung then turns to philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong to provide an example of what he calls a professional moron. But first Cheung takes issue with William Craig’s performance against Craig:

Then, one day my wife came home and said that she heard William Lane Craig in an interview on a Christian radio program. The interview was mainly to promote this book, and the host of the program asked Craig about several of the issues that were discussed in the debate. My wife thought that Craig’s responses were too uncertain, too tentative, and she wondered whether such weak answers do more damage rather than good for the Christian cause.

Turning to Sinnott-Armstrong, after criticizing various statements and arguments by Sinnott-Armstrong, Cheung offers this assessment:

Look how far the human race has fallen, that someone can be this stupid! Like all other non-Christian scholars, Sinnott-Armstrong is an intellectual fraud. He passes himself off as a professional philosopher, and claims to be one who examines the assumptions behind people’s beliefs. Yet, at essential points in his arguments, he resorts to subjective intuition, common sense, and popular opinion. Professor of philosophy? I would not trust him to teach even elementary school debate. He is better off roaming the streets and picking up soda cans – at least then he would be making an honest living. Where are the scholars? Where are the philosophers? Where are the professors of this world? Has not God made intellectual mincemeat out of them?

You might exclaim, “What?! He calls himself a philosopher, and this is how he argues? What’s wrong with him?!” I already told you – he is a moron.

And elsewhere we get this generalization:

You might exclaim, “What?! Are they stupid or something?” Yes, they are stupid, and these are the same morons who attack your faith and call you irrational. They are desperate and dishonest. They are finding it impossible to remain rational apart from reliance on God’s revelation, but they refuse to admit it.

Cheung makes it absolutely clear the same conclusion holds for any other non-Christian professional philosopher:

I have used Sinnott-Armstrong and Zarefsky only as examples, but all other non- Christian thinkers are just as mentally feeble. Whether it is Michael Martin, Kai Nielsen, or some other non-Christian in the past or present, it makes no difference.

Furthermore, not only are non-Christian philosophers “mentally feeble,” but even small children are intellectually superior to non-Christian professional philosophers:

This brings us to an important point mentioned earlier. Can even children defeat these non-Christian professors in debate? They certainly can, if they are properly trained by their parents and their pastors. God has already made the unbelievers foolish (1 Corinthians 1:20), and he delights in using the lowly things to humiliate the proud (v. 28). Although we should all participate, who better to embarrass non-Christian scholars than the children, the mentally disabled, and the uneducated?

And elsewhere, Cheung writes:

According to Scripture, unbelievers are nothing but spiritual and intellectual fecal matter. Otherwise, why in the world do you think they need to convert? Why do you think that they are helpless apart from God’s sovereign grace?

He concludes:

Under biblically-approved conditions, we are permitted, and at times even duty-bound, to use biblical invectives against unbelievers and heretics. We do not call them “morons” or “feces” out of personal vindictiveness, but to proclaim what Scripture says about them, and to declare to them that they are not the rational and decent people that they imagine themselves to be.

Let us hope that Cheung’s apologetics is as fringe to Christian apologetics, as Westboro Baptist Church is to Christian churches.