Sunday, July 24, 2005


I'm still debating the Christian presuppositionalists over at Keith Devens' blog.

They're a rather strange lot. The central tenet of their ideology is that logic, intelligibility, and the meaning of evil presuppose the existence of their god. That is, that without their god, one cannot define these terms.

Wikipedia has an entry for presuppositionalism that says this:
The key discriminator of this school is that it maintains that the Christian apologist must assume the truth of the supernatural revelation contained in the Bible (that is, the Christian worldview) because there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian. In other words, presuppositionalists say that a Christian cannot consistently declare his belief in the necessary existence of the God of the Bible and simultaneously argue on the basis of a different set of assumptions (presumably those of the non-Christian) in which God may or may not exist.

By way of contrast, the other schools of Christian apologetics assume the world is intelligible apart from belief in the existence of God and argue exclusively on (purportedly) neutral grounds to support trusting the Christian Scriptures.

As far as I can tell, the presuppositionalists just want to build a wall around their beliefs that will isolate them from argumentation. Still, I have been having fun in the debate, despite my frustration with their inability to formulate an argument that makes any sense to me.

I enjoyed writing my last response so much that I've decided to post it here. Um, also, I haven't had time to write any real posts recently. :)

To a presuppositionalist:

Suppose we're playing Blackjack at Honest Joe's casino. No cheating has ever been recorded at Honest Joe's.

The dealer has 10 showing. Both of us have a 7 and a 2. Should you and I take another card?

We cannot prove that our next card will be sufficient to beat the dealer. That's fair, this is a game of chance, after all.

However, we also cannot prove that the deck is not stacked against us (e.g., a casino employee has manually selected our upcoming cards to be deuces and 3's). Though no cheating has ever been recorded in this casino, this fact does not constitute total proof that no cheating will ever occur.

Yet, we both know that if we don't take a card, we are guaranteed to lose.

I don't need absolute certainty that the dealer has not stacked the deck against me. No faith is required. Simply put, I have no chance of winning if I don't take a card, and at least some chance otherwise. Logically, I should take a card. I ask the dealer for another card.

In contrast, you demand absolute certainty that the game isn't rigged. No person at the table, including casino security, can tell you with total, unerring certainty that the game is fair (hey, it could be an inside job).

Since no measurable entity can guarantee fairness, you invent an unmeasurable one. You theorize that there is an invisible Inspector who guarantees the fairness of the game. Though the Inspector is totally invisible, you claim that he must exist if for no other reason than to guarantee fairness of the Blackjack table. Furthermore, you claim that it would be impossible to even play Blackjack without the existence of the Inspector.

Finally, with your self-assured certainty in the existence of the Inspector, you tell the dealer that you want another card.

We're both dealt 10's and we both beat the dealer.

This is a good analogy for our debate so far. As this analogy shows, there is no need whatsoever for the Inspector to exist at all.

You may argue that the risk of fraud is too high at the casino, but I would answer that it's the only game in town, so we have to live with it, fair or not.

When asked how we might otherwise know of the Inspector's existence, you answer by saying that he will reveal himself in rare, miraculous cases of... cheating! Indeed, some players have reported cheating in the past (e.g., they claimed to have seen the dealer's up card change during a hand), but whenever the casino security tapes are reviewed, no evidence of cheating can be found.

Of course, the premise about the Inspector guaranteeing fairness of the game is really just a smokescreen. The real reason that the Inspector was invented was to guarantee that players can win when they leave the casino. It is said that those who leave a tip for the Inspector are guaranteed a net payoff on their way out of the casino. Curiously, no one ever gets out of the casino alive, and the Inspector never collects his tips.


Nevin ":-)" said...

Your Blackjack argument is flawed.

If you have stand on nine against a dealer's ten, you still win if the dealer busts.

Because you can absorb another card without the risk of busting, it is suspicious to stand on nine, because the only logical reason for doing so is because you know something about the remaining cards in the deck.

Doctor Logic said...

You are correct, my friend.

My argument also doesn't work if the dealer has an Ace. The dealer can always bust as long as his cards total 12-16.

My argument does work if the dealer shows both his cards, reveals he has 17 and the dealer stands on 17.

Nevin ":-)" said...

Um, once the dealer reveals his hole card, the other players no longer have any choices to make, so the argument doesn't really hold.

Plus, in some Blackjack games, the dealer may take a card while he has 17 in one circumstance: where it is a "soft 17" (Ace + 6).

Nevin ":-)" said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Doctor Logic said...

Sure, they have choices.

The players can choose to stand and guarantee a loss, or hit in the hope that they can win.

I agree with you that it would be illogical to stand if you can't beat what's showing. However, this is precisely the choice my opponents are speaking of. They dither about whether it is reasonable to hit if we can't have absolute certainty that the game isn't rigged. Yet, we both know that the probability of rigging just gets factored into the odds of being dealt the cards we need to win. It doesn't really affect our decision to hit at all.

Peg said...

I have no idea what you are talking about thus far but I just wanted to throw this in. Even Stephen Hawkings believes, in all his endless studies, that the world is entirely "too perfect" to have been created upon chance. And he does believe that there is a supreme creator namely, God. But he does not believe that such a creator has dealings in the day to day life of his creations.
And as I have stated in another comment to a similar situation, that right, after you give birth to your child, you just walk away and never look back!

Doctor Logic said...

Hi Peg,

Here are Stephen Hawking's quotes about God.

WEBER: In the sense that you're using God, it's rather like a principle that's synonymous with the laws of the universe. It doesn't imply a moral being.


I was going to quote Einstein, but I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. :) Instead, I'll quote Penn Jillette:

[...]being pro-science is one of the oddest things you can do in show business. Which is very strange, because it was science that, oh, cured polio. I could list others--isn't that enough? [Laughs.] Oh, Western medicine doesn't work; I'm sorry, we cured polio. What more do you want? Your herbalism has done jack; we cured polio. And guess what? It cures polio even if you don't believe in it. We don't have it on Earth anymore. And then there's also small pox, and then there's mostly dysentery, and we haven't even gotten into the stuff we're good at, which is physics. We're not good at medicine; we're good at physics. We were good at physics in the 20th century; in the 21st century, one would hope, we'll be good at medicine. But we [Penn & Teller] are pro-science, and when you're pro-science, that means you're an atheist, by definition, because religion... No matter how much they put "10 Top Scientists Talk About Why They Believe In God" on the cover of TIME magazine, you kind of have to look and go, "How come these 10 top scientists are all teaching at community colleges?"

Anonymous said...

Your last defense makes no sense, "docotor logic." You are making the logical fallacy of appeal to authority, and not very well at that.

Is that the best you can do? The fact that the community of the "best scientists" by your definition are atheists, and that therefore makes it so? The fact that polio was eradicated (which, in fact, is not true)?

As a self-professed authority on logic, you do not seem to be a seasoned practitioner of same.