On this week’s The Thinking Atheist podcast, Seth Andrews provided an apt description of presuppositional apologetics. He likened presups to buzzing insects whose threat is inconsequential beside the unbridled irritation they cause.
Most of us don’t know how to deal with presups. If you march against them armed with the toolbox of logical arguments one typically deploys against apologists, you’ll find yourself startlingly ill-equipped for the word games and circular drivel that form the backbone of presuppositionalist arguments. They’ll talk concentric circles around you and you’ll stand there fuming, knowing they are wrong without being able to verbalize a coherent justification for it.
Quite literally, presuppositionalism is the theological application of Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch:
It’s a surprisingly accurate analogy, really, as the presuppositionalist argument is largely hinged on gainsaying the skeptic’s every position.
SKEPTIC: “I don’t believe in God.”
PRESUP: “Yes you do. Everyone believes in God.”
SKEPTIC: “Why would you say that?”
PRESUP: “It says so in the Bible. Romans 1:19. ‘Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.'”
SKEPTIC: ” ‘Shewed’? What the fuck is a ‘shewed’? Whatever, man. I reject the authority of the Bible.”
SKEPTIC: “Because the Bible is rife with contradictions.”
PRESUP: “How do you know that?”
PRESUP: “How do you know your reasoning isn’t faulty?”
SKEPTIC: “What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Talking. About.”
PRESUP: “The only reason you know anything is because of God. You can’t therefore reason that God does not exist.”
SKEPTIC: “But I don’t believe in God.”
PRESUP: “Yes, you do. Romans 1:19. QED.”
And so the argument becomes not about God or the reasonableness of his existence, but about “your” logic, and whether or not it can be trusted. A solid background in philosophy is helpful here, skill in debate moreso. Luckily, Matt Dillahunty has both, and he has argued against presuppositionalism so you don’t have to.
Refining Reason Because God and Stuff
Most are already passingly familiar with Sye Ten Bruggencate (which makes him more famous than he rightly deserves) but for those who don’t know, Sye is the preeminent English-and-Dutch-speaking presuppositionalist this side of the Atlantic. Don’t let that confuse you; Presuppositionalism has largely been abandoned by professional theologians. The only reason Sye is the biggest name in presuppositionalism is because he is not a professional theologian. If there’s anything to be gleamed from the Refining Reason Debate, it is that Sye ten Bruggencate is most certainly an amateur. A poseur, even. A fucking hack.
It’s tempting to credit Matt with defeating Sye, but that would be a bit like congratulating The Incredible Hulk for winning a fight against a quadriplegic. The two simply aren’t on the same level, intellectually or professionally. But Sye wanted a debate with Matt Dillahunty. Sye made enough noise until he got a debate with Matt Dillahunty. Now that Sye has lost a debate with Matt Dillahunty, he can retreat to the pit from whence he came. There’s no reason to give this assclown another moment’s consideration. He has nothing to say.
But there’s another reason not to give him the time of day: as fellow psych grad Godless in Dixie has noted, there’s something wrong with Sye Ten Bruggencate.
Something about Sye makes the hair on my neck stand up on end. Godless in Dixie thinks it is his seemingly pathological need for attention. That’s certainly a matter for concern, but I find his personality — or lack thereof — much more distressing to behold.
Sye’s behavior at the Refining Reason Debate, both on and off the stage, was nothing short of deplorable. In his rebuttal, he called out Sarah Morehead (who was seated in the front row) for not giving him the debate format he wanted, implying some nefarious intent behind the debate organizer’s decision to stick to a formal debate rather than the back-and-forth fuckfest Sye obviously prefers. His displeasure is understandable: the traditional debate format, two ten-minute speaking sessions per debater, requires him to stay on topic for a solid twenty minutes. When your argument is “It is reasonable to believe in God because God is real”, this is a tricky proposition. Nevertheless, bitching about it like a kid with a skinned knee rather than using your time to make your fucking argument is somewhat unprofessional, and wholly narcissistic.
And it didn’t stop there. He reportedly declined an invitation to a casual meal with the debate’s organizers (insisting instead the whole affair be recorded), and to be photographed or share the stage with Sarah Morehead during the post-debate photo session.
The worrying part about that is Sye angry doesn’t seem altogether different from Sye under any other circumstance. He presents the same flat emotionless affect, the same negligence towards the niceties of polite conversation, the same uncaring regard for his fellow human beings, professing his “concern” for the temporal salvation of the audience with the same atonal nonchalance as when he casually professed his sincere belief that they would all spend eternity suffering in hell.
The man, at least in his public persona, displays the hallmark traits of a social maladjust. He’s Calvinism’s answer to Colonel Fitts: an uncaring, unsympathetic, impersonal ideologue whose dedication to his preferred system outstrips by far any regard for his neighbors. By any objective measure, he’s a fucking douchebag. But there’s no telling him that. Because he’s going to heaven. And that’s the truth.
Good Riddance to Bad Company
Instant access to the ever-vigilant eyes of mass media has made the world a funny place. It has been rightfully argued, for instance, that the obviously cynical Westboro Baptist Church should be flatly ignored. Deny them the attention they crave, it is said, and they will go away. Ostensibly, this makes sense, but in practice it is a tricky proposition because the Phelps clan has already reached a kind of critical mass. Everyone knows who they are and what they stand for. The cat’s out of the bag, so to speak, and no media outlet would do itself or its sponsors the disservice of not giving these idiots headline booking.
The same arguments were made about Ken Ham when Bill Nye agreed to debate the young earth creationist, and the Westboro principal largely applied there, as well. Ham, while not Westboro famous, is famous enough with the evangelical Christian community to make ignoring him an untenable proposition. Nye, I feel, did the right thing. Simply sitting back, refusing to acknowledge him would only have reinforced his claims of a close-minded scientific community, too afraid to expose the shortcomings of their findings by engaging creationists. The fundies might not have learned anything from Nye’s presentation, but he sure as shit made it clear he wouldn’t sit around idly while Ham sniped at him, and, more importantly, that even someone with an amateur understanding of the biological and earth sciences could fuck them stupid in a debate.
Ultimately, I think it was the right decision. Ham’s people will be Ham’s people, but to the neutral observer, Nye kicked ass and took names. Ken Ham was, therefore, introduced to the general public on our terms, and he walked away looking like a fucking idiot.
But Sye Ten Bruggencate isn’t Westboro famous or Ken Ham famous. He’s the troll who lives under Eric Hovind’s bridge. Now that he’s had his two hours on the atheist stage, and that we have safely and accurately concluded he 1) has got nothing, and 2) is a total prick, we can safely say goodbye to him forever. There’s no need to waste our time refuting an argument that is so fucking formulaic it can be effectively disarmed with a pre-written rebuttal, or with a guy who’s so fucking creepy he makes Frankenstein’s Monster look sociable by comparison.
This fucker’s done. Let’s stick a fork in it and move on to more productive pursuits.