September 28, 2009

Answering “Who Cares” on Biblical Reliability, Authenticity, and Veracity

Posted in Answering "Who Cares", Atheism, The Bible tagged , , , , , at 11:40 am by Andrew

In the comments section, “Who Cares” raises a number of issues related to the basic notion of whether we can “trust” the Bible. I think it’s worth unpacking some of those assumptions:

But, just touching on your point a) About the no agreement on any singular form of the bible. I mean, first, many people have many translations of works of Shakespeare, the Odyssey and the Iliad, and any non-english originated text we have, and the translations of those text into english, or some other language. And you assume we cannot agree on any of those text?

Here, “Who Cares” is eliding together three common atheist arguments that are, in fact, logically distinct. The first is the question of reliability; that is, how confident are we that what appears in our Bibles is a reliable transmission of what appeared in the original manuscripts. If the Gospel According to Mark we use today differs materially from the earliest circulating Gospel of Mark, for example, we would have questions about the reliability of our copy of Mark.

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May 4, 2009

The Ontological Argument for the Non-Existence of God

Posted in Atheism tagged , , , , at 10:07 am by Andrew


1. g=Df (the x such that Px)

  • God is defined as a perfect being. (premise)

2. N(Eg->Pg)

  • We reformulate (1) by saying that God’s existence necessarily entails its perfection. All we did here was explain in terms of existence what (1) means. (from 1)

3. N(x)(Px->NEx)

  • Let us assume, as the Ontological arguments do, that the perfection of x necessarily implies the existence of x, for all x. (premise)

4. N(Pg->NEg)

  • Instantiating the principle in (3) for God. (from 3)

5. N(Eg->NEg)

  • We now see that (2) and (4) can be combined into one proposition. If Eg implies Pg, and Pg implies NEg, then Eg implies NEg – the existence of God implies the necessary existence of God. (from 2 and 4)

We have to take a break here. As Pollock explains in his development, this is the furthest that we can take (1) by logical means. Even assuming the truth of the premise of the ontological arguments in (3), it is impossible to arrive at Eg, the proposition that God exists.

Rather, the best we can do is the proposition that IF God exists, then NEg necessarily obtains. This is important for two reasons: one because it shows that we cannot arrive at Eg, and two because we will use this conclusion again at the end of our argument.

6. (g=Df the x such that Px) -> N(Eg->NEg)

  • Here we simplify the first half of our argument in one proposition. (from 1 to 5)

7. ~ [(g=Df the x such that Px) -> Eg]

  • We can explain this proposition in two ways. The first is to remember, as I discussed before, that a definition cannot entail actual existence. The other is to point out that we already showed that we cannot logically obtain Eg from (1). Either way, it is a fact that Eg is unattainable from the definition alone. (premise)

8. NEg iif [(g=Df the x such that Px) -> Eg]

  • This is obtained from the definition of logical necessity. Something is logically necessary iif it follows logically from its definition. (premise)

9. ~NEg

  • If something is only logically necessary iif it follows logically from its definition, and God’s existence does not follow logically from its definition, then God’s existence is not logically necessary. (from 7 and 8 )

10. N(~Eg)

  • But we saw in (5) that it is necessary that if God exists, he exists necessarily: N(Eg->NEg). Since it is not the case that NEg, it is logically necessary that God does not exist. (from 5 and 9)

Our conclusion in (10) proves the strongest form of strong-atheism (“God cannot exist”), but also implies the weaker claim that ~Eg (“God does not exist”).

It seems to me that the only avenue open to the theist is to dispute (7), but perhaps some of the theists on this site can chip in with responses I haven’t seen.

February 24, 2009

Presuppositionalism, part 2 (or: The Great Matt Dillahunty vs. Matt Slick Debate)

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, Worldview tagged , , , , at 11:37 am by Andrew

One of the most important things I’m trying to do here on Evaluating Christianity is to engage in an honest dialogue with believers over what we believe and why. I’m not out to win “converts” to atheism; at most, I’m out to win converts to the notion that atheism is reasonable. At the end of the day, I’m not Christopher Hitchens — I don’t need to see theism obliterated from the face of the planet. I’d just like for the theist (and in particular, the Christian) to concede that atheism is a rational response to the world we live in.

That’s why I’ve tried to structure my Summary Case for Atheism as the kind of response I would give you if we were having a beer and a friendly chat. I don’t think the case I present is air-tight; in fact, I hope that it encourages people to raise criticisms and questions.

Now I understand that other people — both theists and atheists — have different objectives. At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from this blog is presuppositionalism, a school of apologetics built on definitional wordplay, strategic argumentation and deliberate obfuscation. It’s a polysyllabic version of what Greta Christina calls the “Shut Up, That’s Why” school of apologetics. At the end of the day, the presuppositionalist’s goal is to “win” his debate, not listen to what you have to say. (If you don’t believe me, check out this handbook from one particularly obnoxious presuppositionalist.)

So that’s the context for this week’s episode of The Atheist Experience, which featured a continuation of the discussion/debate on presuppositionalism that I talked about last week. I have to say that Matt Dillahunty (the regular host of the Atheist Experience) gave perhaps the most interesting refutation of TAG I have ever heard. It’s pretty much the exact opposite of how I would have approached it, which I think turned out to be the near-optimal strategy. The unorthodox nature of Matt D.’s responses clearly threw Matt Slick (the presuppositionalist apologist) off of his game such that by the end of the 48-minute exchange, Slick was left with nothing more than belligerently repeating a nonsense question. Here’s my take:

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February 20, 2009


Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism, The Bible, Worldview tagged , , , , , , at 2:20 pm by Andrew

During the last 20 minutes of last week’s episode of The Atheist Experience — a consistently outstanding show, if you haven’t seen it — a fellow named Matt Slick from CARM (a Christian apologetics website) called in to the show armed with his presuppositional Transcendental Argument for God (“TAG”).

Let’s take a look at the underlying arguments.
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