Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Discussion with a PhD Philosopher (An Informal Debate)

This is the latter stages of a discussion I've been having with Kris Rhodes, who has a PhD in Philosophy and teaches Philosophy at Martin University. Our discussion has been going back and forth over the last few days on my 'God or Absurdity' Facebook page, but it got too long to post it all on Facebook, and I felt that the discussion would be helpful for others, so I've decided to post it here. His responses are bracketed by //  // and in bold and my responses follow. Bold italics within quotation marks is where Kris has re-posted something I've said previously in our discussion.

Hi Kris,

Thanks for discussing these things with me. You've been respectful, civil, and patient throughout, and I greatly appreciate that. I've posted the above meme, because I think it's relevant. I hope you don't misunderstand it or take offense from it. I can see that you are a very intelligent person, however from a biblical perspective you've chosen a foolish worldview by denying God. Because of that you're left without any real foundation for knowledge or truth, and have no way of really knowing anything, despite your many years of study in order to acquire your PhD. You may feel that you're not deny God. When I say that I mean that you are trying to build your worldview without acknowledging God as the necessary presupposition for knowledge. And from a biblical perspective there is no neutral ground - you are either for God or against him, gathering or scattering, God's friend or God's enemy.

//You’ve been very generous with your replies and I appreciate that. I’ll answer each of your questions. Here at the top, I want to make sure certain points don’t get lost. You’ve gotten caught up in two crucial problems here and it will help you out enormously to think them through. I’m here to help you with that. (And BTW if there are any readers following this conversation, I’m here to help _you_ with that as well. I am up for any number of conversations about these and any other philosophical matters any time. I want to help you think things through. All friend invites will be accepted.)//

Thanks. Helping people is a biblical concept, so you’re once again showing that in your heart of hearts you do know God. Your actions and desires in many areas do not line up with what you profess to believe. Why help anyone if we are ultimately just evolved pond scum and it’s all going to end in heat death anyway? I’m assuming you believe those things right? Or at the very least, based on what you've said so far you're skeptical that the biblical God is true.

// So, first the problems, then me answering each of your questions. First problem concerns axioms. In fact, I did not think that God’s existence is axiomatic for you when I first asked if you’d deny there are axioms in your own thinking. Exactly as you say, you have a proof for that claim. What I thought (and still do) is axiomatic for you is one of the premises in that proof: the claim “Without God it’s impossible to prove anything.”//

I think you’ve misunderstood the full argument. God is not merely the conclusion of the presuppositional argument. He’s the necessary starting point to even BEGIN arguing about anything. So by arguing against my position you’re proving it to be true by assuming knowledge logic and truth which you can’t account for in your worldview (despite trying). I’ve also realised that you’ve got a double standard by retreating to ‘it’s axiomatic’ in your previous answer relating to objective morality and human dignity. I’m pretty sure you’d be calling me out if I just said ‘it’s axiomatic’ with any claims relating to God.

// As far as I can tell, this claim functions axiomatically for you. It is something you currently have no proof for, but assert confidently nevertheless.//

I’ve given proof previously but you don’t accept it. Proof does not equal persuasion. As I said before, the proof that God exists is that without him you can’t prove anything. And you’re answers have confirmed this to be the case. Even the concept of proof presupposes God because proof presupposes logic, knowledge, truth, and the reliability of our minds – and you can’t account for any of those without God.

// Again, there’s nothing wrong with this—everyone has to start somewhere. The question is how you will respond when you are pushed on this axiom.//

As I said, God isn’t an axiom. But yes, everyone has to start somewhere. I start with God. You start with your own independent reasoning, which you’ve yet to show is in any way reliable or valid to any degree. What is more, my worldview is internally consistent, whereas yours is not, and falls apart on closer inspection, as you can't account for anything you claim to know. It turns out that the very things that unbelievers take for granted (the reliability of their senses, morality, human dignity etc) are the very things they can't account for without God.

// I may be wrong and you may have a proof for that claim. But of course, that proof will rest on premises.//

As above. Proof presupposes truth and truth presupposes God.

// And if none of those are axioms, there will be proofs for them. And so on. Because you cannot have thought about this for an infinite amount of time, it follows that somewhere down the chain is a claim which you have asserted but which you have not proved for yourself. That’s an axiom.//

You’re arguing against a straw man. God isn’t the mere conclusion to the argument but then necessary starting point and foundation for all knowledge. God is the only solution to the problem of the infinite regression related to how we know things.

// You said axioms can’t be proven, but that is false. Axioms can be proven, it is just that they typically aren’t. They are statements one is licensed to make without having offered a proof, but this does not mean they can’t be proven.//

My understanding is that by definition axioms can’t be proven – they are ultimate standards that are assumed to be true. If you have to go outside of an ultimate standard to prove it then it's not an ultimate standard - that other outside thing would be. Axioms are assumed to be true as they are self-evident. The problem is self-evident to whom? The existence of logic is a good example. Try proving that logic exists without using logic – it can’t be done.

// A final confusion regarding axioms—from what you’ve said it appears you think what a person treats as axiomatic is permanent. But this also isn’t so. As I’ve tried to intimate in my own posts, there are claims that people treat as axiomatic, but those claims can be questioned, and when they are questioned, a person has the ability to go beyond the axiomaticity of the statement and evaluate it according to some standard or other. This is part of what it means to revise beliefs based on evidence.//

You’ve gone from axioms, to beliefs. There is a big difference. But I don't want to get bogged down on this. The issue is - is God necessary for knowledge? I say yes. You say no. But by abandoning God and arguing God isn't necessary for knowledge you're abandoning the necessary starting point in order to know anything. Saying that God isn't necessary for knowledge is akin to saying that words don't exist and aren't necessary for communication.

// That’s the axiom problem. Next the knowledge problem. You’ve defined knowledge previously as justified true belief. I have made remarks about whether this is or is not the “standard definition” but that’s presently beside the point—you’ve offered the definition, and by offering it, endorsed it. It’s what you think knowledge is. Yet in this last post you said “If you say you’re not certain of something, then you don’t really know it.” That claim is incompatible with your definition.//

If you’d like to bring a different definition of knowledge to the table that you ACTUALLY believe, then we can examine that. I’m not interested though in discussing things that neither of us believe. It'd be like discussing whether the moon is made of green cheese. Neither of us believe it so there isn't any point in discussing it. Justified true belief seems to be the most commonly accepted theory of knowledge, and it’s the one that makes the most sense from a biblical perspective.

// It seems, instead, to rely on a definition of knowledge as certainty.//

If you aren’t certain of something then it’s probably because you can’t justify it. But I still want to know how you know anything at all to any degree.

// It would appear, then, that you’re not sure what knowledge is.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." 
(Proverbs 1:7).

//You sometimes think it is justified true belief (a definition which implies that you can know things without being certain of them, since you can believe a truth justifiedly without being certain of it), and you sometimes think that knowledge requires certainty. It will be very helpful to you to think through this and decide which (if either!) understanding of knowledge really is your understanding of knowledge. As I said above, I’m here to help with this in any way you’re willing to let me help you.//

Forget certainty – I want to know how you know anything to ANY degree? You’ve yet to justify how you know even ONE thing to even ONE degree. And we’ve yet to determine how you know you aren’t insane.

// Finally, a problem concerning certainty. It is clear you believe you have certainty about some things. I think (though here I could easily be wrong in which case you’ll want to ignore this paragraph) what you think is that you have what I call “absolute certainty.” This means you don’t just feel like you can’t be wrong, but rather, you feel like you can’t be wrong _because_ you actually can’t be wrong, about certain things.//

Yes, it’s impossible for me to be wrong about some things such as the existence of God, because if you abandon it you can’t make sense of ANYTHING, as your answers have made clear. I know that God exists by revelation from God, AND by the impossibility of the contrary - you can't get knowledge and truth without God.

// But the problem is, this kind of certainty is impossible,//

Are you absolutely certain of that? You’ve made a knowledge claim that is an absolute statement – ‘this kind of certainty is impossible’ – that’s an absolute knowledge statement and by saying it’s impossible you’re saying you’re certain of it – so it’s self-refuting – are you certain that we can’t have certain knowledge?

// because you can be wrong about everything (with the possible exception I alluded to earlier along the lines of ‘this experience has a subject’). //

That’s absurd. If you could be wrong about everything then you could be wrong about being wrong, and it follows that you don't know anything. You’ve also not yet shown how you know even that one thing you claim to know.

//Here is why that kind of certainty is impossible. Not God, but a very powerful evil scientist, could bring it about that you have all and exactly the very same impressions you currently have, and yet be wrong about all those impressions. God would never lie to you, but your belief in God is unfortunately compatible with the possibility that it wasn’t God who put the belief in you but a very powerful evil scientist.//

That's a variation on the evil demon argument, or the brain in a vat argument, but neither are possible. How do I know? By revelation from God such that I’m certain. To deny that you’d have to argue that God is not all powerful, which would not be God. It would be intellectually dishonest to argue that an all powerful God could not reveal some things to me such that I can know them for certain, and God has revealed to me for certain that I'm not a brain in a vat and that I'm not being deceived about the existence of the biblical God.

The other thing is that my argument is not based on my own subjective revelation - it's objective and available to everyone in the Bible. So even if you could somehow prove that I'm insane or a brain in a vat (which you can't) it would not disprove the existence of God. The lying God argument is another variation on this, but that's self-refuting because of God could lie you couldn't make sense of anything. (See my other blog post - The Deceptive God Argument Refuted).

// No one thinks this is true, but that your experience is _compatible_ with it means that, however certain you are that it’s not true, you are not _absolutely_ certain of it. To be absolutely certain (in the sense I just defined) it would have to be the case that the scenario is impossible. And it’s not.//

I know the scenario is false by revelation from God.

// Those are the problems. Now to answer your questions. “You’re satisfied with truth being a characteristic that we use. Where did you get that idea from?” When doing logic, truth is a characteristic we assign to elements. I’m satisfied with that.//
It doesn’t make any sense. What does that actually mean? Is truth that which corresponds to reality – yes or no? Why or why not?

// I got the idea from the study of logic in pursuit of my MA several years ago.//

Is it your own idea or do other philosophers believe such vague and absurd definitions of truth?

// “Is logic man-made?”  Yes. //

If logic is just man-made then would it be possible for the earth to exist and not exist at the same time before people existed? By denying the transcendent God, and the laws of logic which are absolute because they are a reflection of the thinking and unchanging character of God, you've put yourself into an absurd position where illogical things could happen if minds didn't exist.

//You said I denied that there are absolute laws of logic, but I actually affirmed that any statement that is necessarily true in a logical system is necessarily true in that logical system.// "Why is it necessarily true that logic always applies?” I don’t think I said that, but I’d affirm it in a sense, which I’d explicate as follows. A logic is a method of evaluating reasoning.//

But it doesn’t necessarily have to be used or need to apply at all times because you’ve said logic is man-made. More and more you’re showing your worldview is built on sand. You’re stealing from my worldview to even have this discussion in a logical fashion. Why MUST I be logical in my answers if logic is just man-made? Why do logical laws always apply? Because everyone agrees on them? (The bandwagon fallacy).

// Any time we reason about something, we are using a method. Hence any time we reason about something, we’re using a logic. So then—whatever the situation we’re reasoning about, by virtue of our reasoning about it, a logic applies.//

Not according to your worldview. There is no reason why logic should always apply if it’s just man-made.

I think you’ve missed one of my questions. I asked you previously how you know your reasoning is valid, and you gave me a non-answer that said something along the lines of you believe it’s valid because it works most of the time for you.

But that answer presupposes and assumes a priori that your reasoning is valid. Did you use your reasoning when you checked to see if your reasoning is valid? That’s the folly of denying God – you have no way out of using your reasoning to validate your reasoning. You reason that your reasoning is valid, sense that your senses are valid, and remember that your memory is reliable.

Also to say that you assume your reasoning is reliable because it works is fallacious too. Just because something works doesn’t make it right or true. If I had noisy neighbors I could shoot them dead – that would “work” to get silence – but clearly it wouldn’t be right and clearly it wouldn’t mean that my reasoning was valid – in that case my insanity would actually be working at achieving the desired outcomes so I could conclude that my reasoning was valid, when actually I’d just killed people!

Part 2  

“Can a system of beliefs that has contradictions be true?”

“I feel like you're back peddling and avoiding my questions. Is the law of non-contradiction a universal law that always applies? You've called it a principle. Is it a principle that usually applies, or is it a law that always applies? I'm not sure exactly what you mean here. If any two beliefs are contradictory then they can't both be true.”

//Good questions. If we model the way humans actually think, knowing that humans often contradict themselves, we’re going to have to have an element in our model that reflects affirmation, an element that reflects implication, and either an element or a function on the affirmation element that reflects denial. The affirmation element is what it would be most natural to call the “truth predicate” in this system. But you’re hitting on a good point—what’s being modeled there isn’t “truth” in the sense in which we use the term in natural language. It’s more like (as I said) “affirmation.”//

Sorry but it sounds like philosophical mumbo jumbo to me. Things are either true or false. None of this affirmation nonsense. If you believe something that is false then you don’t actually know it. For example “I know that Elvis Presley is the current president of the USA”. Clearly I couldn’t know that because it’s false. Do you agree with that? 
//The logic of how human beings affirm and deny things doesn’t follow a law of non-contradiction. //

Again I'm sorry but that sounds like more nonsense to me.

//But it would be misleading to imply that there’s a sense in which contradictory statements can be true based on this fact about how human beings think. If I implied that, I should take it back.//

I agree but it’s got nothing to do with feelings as you seem to be suggesting.

// But here’s the important meat of what I’ve been saying. In the logic of how humans actually think, statements of the form “P & not-P” can appear in proofs without causing a problem, so long as you build the logic right.//

I’m not sure what you’re saying here. The law of non-contradiction is an absolute law that can’t be violated.

// And this logic will be useful for modeling how humans think, while standard predicate logic (in which contradictions can’t be true) will _not_ be useful for modeling how humans think.//

So some “logic” can be non-standard and allow for contradictions? That’s what you seem to be implying but that’s nonsense.

// So to reiterate what I’ve been saying—in standard predicate logic (and several other logics) you will never see a true contradiction.//

In NO kind of logic can you see true contradictions.

// And these logics are useful for modeling all sorts of things. (Practically everything you’d need to reason about in an everyday context.) But they’re not useful for modeling everything. That I will never affirm a contradiction is just a result of the fact that the tool I use for thinking things through and affirming and denying things has non-contradiction built in.//

Built in? By whom? It’s amazing to see the mental gymnastics you’re doing to avoid the obvious conclusion that God exists and is necessary to account for things like laws of logic. Yes, we’re all hardwired by God to know that the law of non-contradiction can’t be violated. We all use it every day without thinking about it.

//You asked whether I know things. The answer is yes, I know things. As I've said before, my current working theory of knowledge is that to know something is to believe something that is true, for good reasons, using faculties which can be used systematically to track truths.//
“How do you know that?”
//How do I know that’s what knowledge is? Well, as I said, it’s a working theory of mine. What makes me think it’s true is the fact that it seems to track how we use the word “knowledge.” When we say people know things, we seem to be saying they believe something that is true, for good reasons, using faculties which can be used systematically to track truths.//

The problem you’ve got and the reason you’re sounding so tentative is because without God you’ve got no way of knowing that (or anything). You’ve yet to show how you know that you aren’t insane or a brain in a vat.

//Or did you mean how do I know I know things? More specifically, how do I know I’m talking to a person right now for example? Because the responses I’m getting back are the kinds of responses that people give.//

I meant both things. And your answers are still begging the question. An insane person could say the same things, and you could in fact be saying all of these things to your psychiatrist right now, and you’d have no way of knowing it.

“Does this truth you talk about have any grounding in objective reality? Why don't you use the more common theory that truth is what conforms to reality? Is this because you don't believe external reality exists? Are you a solipsist?”

//Not a solipsist, do think external reality exists.//

You think reality exists, but you don’t know it and have yet to justify how you could know it or anything.

// I think truth as conformation to reality is a subset of the things we call true.//

Just a subset? You’re putting the cart before the horse. The logic that we use is a subset of ultimate reality.

// Truth in general is simply a characteristic assigned to elements in a logic. But if we’re trying to model reality (there are other things we might try to model than reality!) the most typical way to go is to intend the truth-characteristic in our logic to map to facts in the part of reality we’re modeling.//

Can you see that this just sounds like mumbo jumbo? Truth is truth. If it doesn’t conform to reality then it’s not really true.

//Which leads (as you ask next) to the question of what facts are.//

“Do those "facts" correspond to objective reality?”

//Facts don’t correspond to reality,//

Woah. Then they’re not really facts, and are merely false opinions that people are calling facts.

// facts are what is out there in reality.//

What does that even mean? You seem to be contradicting yourself. I think it's because you're using two different meanings for facts - one being things that people call facts but may or may not be true, and the other being facts that corresponds to objective reality. Either way, you've got no way of knowing for sure how any facts correspond to objective reality.

// I think I’m making a technical distinction here which isn’t always reflected in natural language,//

Agreed. You’re speaking philosophese, and to anyone else reading it I think they'll see it as nonsense.

// so let me be clear: Facts aren’t true statements, rather, facts are what true statements are true statements _of_. A statement isn’t (in this technical sense) a fact, rather, a true statement is a statement “of fact.”//

My head is starting to spin from the spin doctoring you’re doing as you desperately try to explain things that you've got no real way of knowing. 

//So when we’re using a logic to model some aspect of the world, the usual way of doing things is to intend the logic’s truth-characteristic to map to facts. In other words, each time an element in the logic has “true” assigned to it, there should be a part of the world that element maps to and that part of the world should be a fact. This is where the idea comes from that truth is correspondence to reality.//

I really am not sure exactly what you’re talking about and I get the feeling that you don’t really know if what you’re saying is true or not but you’re just taking stabs in the dark based on the majority opinion of others in the dark with you. This is because you’ve got no ultimate “map” to actually guide you as to what truth and reality really look like. As Christians we’ve got a map to refer to that helps guide our thinking – the Bible which is God’s true revelation. 

“How do you know that your thoughts aren't just floating through the ether?”

//Because nothing in my experience has ever suggested it to be so.//

Question begging fallacy yet again.

Part 3

//Something should be said here about contextualism concerning knowledge. Think for a moment about round things. I draw you a circle, ask you “is it round?” and you reply in the affirmative. Then I look at you significantly, and ask you with raised eyebrows, “is it _really_ round?” Now you start looking for imperfections and realize that there’s a standard for roundness which the figure doesn’t meet, and you say “no.”//

That would be fine if you had a worldview that could account for the concept of roundness and the concept of perfection. Perfection presupposes truth, and truth presupposes God.

//By asking you the question “is it really round?” I changed the standard by which we, together, were judging roundness.

Now back to knowledge. I would generally say I know that today is Tuesday. But if someone asks me “are you sure it’s Tuesday?” it will be easy to get me to doubt it. I’ll go check my calendar. Someone who I trust very much to be reliable about dates could even then say with a certain tone, even after I checked my own calendar, “Really? Are you absolutely sure it’s Tuesday?” and I may go double check!//

Your worldview can’t account for knowing anything, let alone knowing what day it is.

//None of this means I was wrong to say I knew it was Tuesday the first time. It’s just that as the conversation progressed, the standard for knowledge got tighter and tighter.

When getting into philosophical questions about knowledge, that standard can go nuts.//

Being "Nuts" presupposes a standard of truth to deviate from, and you can’t get truth without God. So of the two of us I'm the only one who can know I'm not nuts.

//I would generally say I know I’m not a brain in a vat. And I’m right to do so.//

Without revelation from God that’s the kind of absurd thing that you can’t know.

// But this doesn’t mean it’s not possible to make the conversation such that my state of certainty no longer meets the knowledge standard of that conversation. We may move the standard to something so high as to equate to absolute certainty. And in that case, I’d have to go ahead and say, well, no, if that’s what you mean, then I don’t know that or anything else. (Because, as I showed above, this kind of absolute certainty is impossible with that one possible exception.)//

And as I said before – forget about certainty – how do you know anything to ANY degree?
//Long story short—any time we talk about knowledge, we’ve got some standard lower than absolute certainty in mind, and it is possible to change the standard we’re using by making certain moves in the conversation. And if we shift that standard all the way up to absolute certainty, then we’re left unable to say we know anything. This is not a problem for our previous knowledge claims—they were claims made according to a standard lower than absolute certainty.//

I understand what you mean, but you can’t know any of that without God. How do you even know that your brain has evolved properly to enable correct thinking for you or for anyone on the planet? How do you know we aren’t ALL insane? In my worldview I can know what sanity and insanity look like, because I accept revelation from God. You know this is the case too but can’t justify it because of your suppression of God’s existence.

//So for example:

“…people who are so insane they don't know they are insane. Do you accept that some people are like that? How do you know you aren't one of them?"

//If you’re shifting the standard of knowledge such that we are keeping in mind this possibility, then I have to say that on that standard, I don’t know it. But this is no problem for my previous knowledge claim, which was made according to a more useful everyday standard.//

The everyday standard presupposes God, and you can’t account for any standard without God, as your answers have made clear.

//If you want to maintain that you’re not shifting standards, and that instead this standard of certainty is required for any knowledge claim to be true at all, then as I said before: this is in tension with your definition of knowledge as justified true belief, and also, it sets an impossible standard not only for me, but for you as well, since by the standard of certainty, no one can know anything.//

No one can know anything without God.

“Have you watched any of Greg Bahnsen's videos? He passed away and went to be with the Lord Jesus a few years ago, but had a PhD in philosophy. I've learned a lot from him. Have you seen the famous debate he had?

//I’ll try to watch it.//
I hope you can. Anything by Bahnsen is great stuff. He’s written a number of books and there are quite a few of his videos on YouTube.

//Here’s a story:


A man was clinging to the mast of a sinking ship. People on a nearby rescue ship were throwing him life preservers, holding out their hands, encouraging him to come over.

But to each offer of rescue, the man exclaimed that his ship was floating, and that theirs was sinking. The man was not insane. But he believed that to say his ship was sinking would be shameful.

He took his last drowning breath declaring victory and cursing reality.//

Interesting story, but without revelation from God you’ve got no way to know who is correct in their beliefs and you are that sinking man.

//If you’re going to listen, listen. As I said above (to you and anyone else reading), I’m here to help.//

Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." (Mark 4:9)

"He also told them this parable: "Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?" (Luke 6:39)

A blind man is unable to help show the way to someone who can already see. One thing you've helped me to see even more clearly is the folly of denying God. One question I do have though is whether or not most philosophy classes are teaching the kind of things that you’ve been saying. I’m guessing that all secular universities are as lost as you are. Brilliant minds wasted in a sea of relative truth and uncertainty. Blind guides leading the blind.

// I said earlier it’s axiomatic for me that you (and other people) are worth caring for.//

And I’ve replied that you’ve got a massive double standard, and if I gave answers like that I’m pretty sure you’d be pointing out my arbitrariness.

// I see you and I care for you, not because it’s my duty or because it’s according to some principle of utility or because I know someone else values you. You’re worth caring for (everyone is) and it is strange to question this.//

Again – totally begging the question. Why according to your worldview should anyone care for anyone else if we are just animals and bunches of chemicals? In my worldview caring for people makes sense – we are valuable because we’re made in God’s image. But without God you’ve got no reason to care. And are you sure that you really care and aren’t just wanting to suppress the truth about God? To me that seems to be your real motivation – trying to justify your reasons for not believing in God and putting your trust in Jesus Christ. I pray that you’d repent and submit to the God you know exists.

//So please know that I’ll always available to you.//

Thanks. I appreciate that.

I have asked you a few times what you actually believe in terms of your faith position. I’ve assumed that you’re a professed atheist. If that's not your actual position then I apologise. I've based my answers as best I could on what I perceive to be your position based on what you've said. 

Don’t worry about answering all of the questions I’ve asked – the main one I’d like you to answer is this:

Given that you’ve said the laws of logic are man-made, would it be possible for the earth to have existed and not existed at the same time and in the same way BEFORE people existed? If no, then why not?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. I'm composing a reply, just letting you know I haven't forgotten about it.