On March 3rd, “Street Epistemologist” Anthony Magnabosco invited me to join him at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to see a debate between one of their apologists and the editor of Skeptic Magazine. Turns out this was the start of an apologetics conference called “Stand Firm”. Which of course, I interpret as “be unreasonable”. Because that’s what apologetics is, making up excuses to defend the faith against all reason: to rationalize or justify a faith-based position while systematically dismissing any and all evidence against it.
Since my friend Anthony would be there the next day too, I decided to come back and see how bad this can get. At one of these presentations, one of the Christians in the audience declared that “atheist” countries teach Social Darwinism in state-funded public schools. I had to correct that nonsense right away. So I caught up with him in the hall to explain that no government outside of Nazi Germany ever taught anything like Social Darwinism, and that no government-funded education program anywhere in the world is doing that now. He was an immigrant from China who imagined that teaching students to be commercially or academically competitive was somehow the same thing as promoting a callous inconsideration for other people’s humanity, and that such selfishness was promoted because [he thinks] “atheist countries” teach that other people are “just” animals, and therefore deserve no human consideration. There wasn’t just a language barrier between us. The greater barrier was his deep-seated prejudice against those he perceived as non-Christians or at least unbelievers.
Our conversation quickly attracted an audience of onlookers. I shifted from one contestant to the next until I found myself arguing with the PhD Philosophy professor and professional apologist who was in the debate the night before. Once he and I started talking, someone dug out their cell phone to record it. They missed the very beginning though. I was talking about evidence of evolution when he interrupted the first of many times to ask “How do you reconcile materialism with idealism?”
Whenever I hear a philosophical question like that, I think “Here we go. We’re going to use smoke and mirrors to change the subject and thus avoid it.” Because as I understand it, he’s asking me how I know whether reality is really real, which is materialism: in which case my evidence is valid. And he’s asking how I account for the “possibility” [as if there is one] that everything I perceive to be real might be just a product of my own imagination, which is idealism. I consider this solipsism, a philosophical escape-clause allowing one to deny any and all evidence ever presented against one’s position on the excuse that you and everything else, including your evidence might only be imaginary. So the video begins with this professor of philosophy ignoring my evidence to instead question whether we can really be sure we’re real or not really.
Some people criticize philosophy as pointless navel-gazing. But there is a lot more to it than just that. There’s also a lot of beard-stroking: and to my experience, quite a lot of arrogant condescension too. I know this discussion was mostly over semantics. Most of these type discussions are, because believers live by different rules and use a different lexicon for what would otherwise have been mutually-understood common language. So I’ll share some comments and time-stamps below.
1:50-2:10 “Theism cannot be called irrational”. Theism is irrational by definition, because it is not based on reason and is not reasonable. There was no evidence indicating this conclusion, yet it is a firm conviction anyway, and believers are determined not to let any evidence change their minds either. The very purpose and existence of apologetics all by itself demonstrates how theism is irrational.
2:10-2:22 “To pick between materialism …and idealism …will never have anything to do with science.” Except that given a choice between philisophical Materialism vs Idealism, science can only work through methodological naturalism, and works perfectly well with philosophical naturalism too, and cannot work exclusively through idealism at all. That’s why it is irrelevant to even bring up Idealism.
2:22-2:33 “No no. It’s not irrelevent in this way…” Yes, it is irrelevant. Both the preceding and following paragraphs in this post prove it.
2:33-3:00 “Daniel Dennett says he has to assume that mind doesn’t exist, and neither does he.” Quite the opposite, Dennett himself explains that the mind very definitely DOES exist, and that we know that we exist also. Dennett’s “Cartesian theater” merely explains that although consciousness is composed of a mass of neurons, it is not confined to a single location within the brain, but is distributed both spatially and temporally throughout the brain at different stages.
3:00-3:46 There are not two worlds, one in which Dennett doesn’t exist. All science can tell is that there is one world in which Dennett does exist. And Dennett himself seems to agree with this, regardless how uncertain some other philosophers are about that.
This particular philosopher had previously accused me of insulting him, by saying that I might recognize something he said that contradicted something else he said, but that he obviously wouldn’t remember it as a contradiction. From 4:48-5:11, I explain to him how I was not insulting him. But he still didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to tell him.
5:22-5:52 Despite my habit of strict adherence to rigid and defensibly precise definitions, my interlocutor accused me of using loose and imprecise terms: a failure I am never guilty of, but which he then began to demonstrate himself.
6:25-8:20 “In fact what you just described isn’t a fact even in your view of facts; it’s a definition.” Wrong. My view of “fact” is pretty standard. I say that a fact is a point of objectively verifiable data, because “The definition of a fact is something that is true or something that has occurred or has been proven correct“, “a piece of information presented as having objective reality“, “a statement or assertion of verified information about something that is the case or has happened, a concept whose truth can be proved.”
It is a fact that humans are multicellular eukaryotes with an internal digestive tract. It is also a fact that these criteria match the biological definition of an animal. But because I’m talking to a philosopher, we even have to argue the definition of “definition”. “A good definition explains concisely what something means“, “a statement expressing the essential nature of something“, “a statement of what a thing is“. So any multicellular eukaryote with an internal digestive tract is in fact an animal by definition. Once we determine that the criteria apply, we have no choice to deny the definition connected with that, especially not when the definition is deliberately well-established by expertise as this one is, rather than being an “accident of language” such as the apologist asserted.
12:14-12:21 “You’re using words in ways that philosophers would not use them”. Yeah, because I want to be clearly understood rather than impractically vague, confusing, and unnecessarily ambiguous. So I use the mainstream definitive sources for common-language words, scientific sources for technical jargon, and theological sources for religious terms.
12:49-13:06 “What career field deals with the definitions of terms in languages?” I’m embarrassed that I was once a fan of Marina Orlova, the internet philologist better known on YouTube as “Hot for Words“. Yet I could not at that moment remember the word, philology. Doesn’t matter, because the philosopher got it wrong and confused philology with philosophy.
13:10-14:05 He alludes to a separate lexicon where apparently philosophers really do have different meanings for common words than common people do. And I’d like to get my hands on one of those secret philosophical dictionaries. But when pressed for his definition of fact, he made one up on the spot. Seriously, watch the expression of the guy standing behind him. All through the video, he seems to be disappointed in his champion. But especially if you pause the video at 14:05. Look at his face there. He can tell as well as I can, the philosopher just made that up. And the way to know that is to follow the conversation from there to see that there’s no way any body of scholars put any thought into that definition. Because it only takes a moment to see that it doesn’t work.
14:05-14:58 “You’ve gone from using the word fact to the word, data, and the word fact and data aren’t the same thing.” Yes, they are in this context. “Data is information such as facts and numbers“, “facts or figures to be processed; evidence, records, statistics, etc. from which conclusions can be inferred“; “factual information (as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation“. Apparently philosophers have their own secret thesaurus too.
14:58-15:21 Already we see that his definition of fact doesn’t work, both because the information must be verifiable (as I said) and because it doesn’t have anything to do with his stipulation that it may or may not be known by him.
15:22-16:10 He asked me a question and interrupts my answer with a nonsense question. That’s when he thought that “Richard” Dennett didn’t agree that we have a mind. But (if you clicked the previous link or this one, you’ll see that the philosophy professor read it wrong, and Daniel Dennett actually does think we have a mind.
16:10-17:43 The apologist had already accused me of insulting him, and of accusing him of “being naughty” somehow. Now he is accusing me of practicing street epistemology on him. I tried learning street epistemology once. But that’s not what I did this time. Here I was only trying to reason with someone determined to sound reasonable without actually being reasonable. However even though this was yet another of his false assumptions, it was still cute hearing him warn me not to try Socratic dialogue on him.
17:44-18:30 He accuses me of shifting terms when I didn’t. And he says that it is not “intellectually dishonest” to assert mere speculation as if it were knowledge of actual fact. However, the definition of intellectual dishonesty is “a failure to apply standards of rational evaluation that one is aware of, usually in a self-serving fashion”. So intellectual dishonesty still applies, just as I said, even without an intent to deceive.
At 23:50, he asks me again what he asked me at 16:00. And he criticized me for not answering him before, even though he interrupted my attempted answer to ask me a rude and stupid question. This time he interrupted me too, answering his question for me incorrectly. Then he interrupted my attempt to correct his false assumption.
24:17-24:36 He said he’s a Young-Earth Creationist, but he’s not a fundamentalist. That’s odd since a fundamentalist is “a person who believes in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture in a religion”, and that definition includes Young-Earth Creationists. But remember, he thinks you can deny definitions even when he meets all the criteria. This is why I say he doesn’t live by the same rules I do.
24:37- 24:50 He says that given an apparent contradiction, he doesn’t have to doubt that the Bible is the word of God; he can “suspend judgement”. But if that were true, then he wouldn’t BELIEVE that the Bible is the word of God. Because suspending judgement means you wouldn’t hold any conviction. You would therefore have to doubt whether the Bible was the word of God.
25:46-26:00 “We already moved through the fact that objective facts don’t exist”. No, we didn’t. That was never even mentioned. Objective facts DO exist. Merriam-Webster is probably the most mainstream common-usage resource I could cite for this, and it defines a fact as “a piece of information presented as having objective reality“. Of course he rejects that definition as “no good”, but he has no grounds to dismiss it.
He also argued with me later on that it is not possible to have objectively verifiable facts. He has issues with anything being factual or verifiable, but his biggest issue was with anything being objective. Because again, the confusion comes from him using the secret philosopher’s lexicon instead common usage dictionaries, which say that “objective” (in this context) means “looking at things in a detached, impartial, fact-based way”, “in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind“, “having to do with a known or perceived object as distinguished from something existing only in the mind regarded as being independent of the mind; real; actual, determined by and emphasizing the features and characteristics of the object, or thing dealt with, rather than the thoughts and feelings of the artist, writer, or speaker“, just as I said.
26:01-26:20 “Two plus two is four is known to be true without any fact as you define it.” No, because the way I define it, and in fact the way every source I’ve ever seen defines it, two plus two being four is a point of data that can be objectively verified. That is “a piece of information presented as having objective reality“. “a statement or assertion of verified information about something that is the case, a concept whose truth can be proved.” Since it “has been proven correct“, it is an objective fact.
26:22-27:07 “You couldn’t possibly know that math is going to work through empiricism.” Although other philosophers disagree, (because that’s what philosophers do) 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill held that mathematical truths were discovered through empirical research. The concept of the number one may not exist in a physical sense, but distinguishable single items and entities within many types of multiplicity exist everywhere.
27:08-28:08 He misunderstood me again. He may assert “to the best of his knowledge” according to his research and hermeneutics that X is true. That’s fine, as I said. But what I said he should not do is to assert as FACT that X is true when he does NOT have indicative evidence to back him up. Which he doesn’t, but we have yet to have that conversation.
28:09-28:30 “That has nothing to do with what I just said.” Yes it does.
40:45-41:05 He considers its insulting and false to say that gods are magical anthropomorphic immortals. But however insensitive that may seem, we cannot fairly dismiss all the hundreds of gods who were worshiped by millions of people for thousands of years. However we define what a god is, that definition must include every entity already universally accepted as a deity by those who worship it. My research in this area would have me submit that all gods are magical anthropomorphic immortals, because that description does seem to apply to all of them. They all have miraculous powers and human characteristics, and even if you can kill the body, they still exist and can still return in some other form, or the same form, or be literally born again as it was with Dionysus II. Even on the rare occasion that gods can be killed, none of them die from cancer or old age, and all of them survive for centuries. Even the immortals in the movie, the Highlander could be killed–one particular way only. Otherwise, they’re immortal with human characteristics. Give them magic powers and they’d be gods.
41:06-41:22 “Go read Richard Swinburne’s book on miracles. He defines miracles. He doesn’t define it as magic.” Richard Swinburne defines miracles as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” He doesn’t use the word, magic. But he does use the same definition, just like I said. If you look up the words “miracle” and “magic” and compare them in a handful of different dictionaries, you’ll see that they share much the same definition; they are the same thing.
Miracle: 1. Literally, a wonder or wonderful thing; but appropriately, 2. In theology, an event or effect contrary to the established constitution and course of things, or a deviation from the known laws of nature; a supernatural event. Miracles can be wrought only by almighty power.
Magic: 1. The art or science of putting into action the power of spirits; or the science of producing wonderful effects by the aid of superhuman beings, or of departed spirits; sorcery; enchantment. [This science or art is now discarded.]
—Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
Miracle: An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.
Magic: a. The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural. The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or control events in nature. b. The charms, spells, and rituals so used.
Miracle: an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human and natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
Magic: the art of producing a desired effect or result through the use of incantation or various other techniques that presumably assures human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature.
The only difference between miracles and magic is who does it. A boat may be considered a ship if it’s big enough. When a rich man is neurotic, we call him eccentric. When a V.I.P. is murdered, it’s an assassination. When a god performs magic, he’s working miracles. If Moses or the Pharaoh turned a staff into a snake, that’s magic. If God does the exact same trick, that’s a miracle.
Again, if you look at a consensus of sources, citing only those definitions in the relevant context, then magical miracles or miraculous magic is defined the same; both are an evocation of supernatural forces—be it by charms, spells, incantations, or prayers, all of which are found in the Bible—to effect control of nature in ways that are inexplicable by science because they defy the laws of physics. It would also be fair to say that anything that the laws of physics cannot account for or permit is physically impossible. Therefore miracles are impossible by definition. And that is how Swinburne defines miracles too.
43:54-44:24 The Professor says he doesn’t believe in the type of faith that isn’t dependent on evidence. Earlier he said that he has good reasons for his belief. But he’d already said he was a Young-Earth Creationist, which means he denies evidence of evolution and he has to deny all the evidence of a universe older than 10,000 years. Not only is there no good reason to believe as he does, but he has to deny a huge amount of really solid indications otherwise. Barring a level of ignorance that no PhD professor in any scholarship can claim, it is not possible to believe in Young-Earth Creationism without holding to the sort of faith that is not only assumed without evidence but requires an overt denial of volumes of evidence–in favor of a compilation of man-made mythology with no basis in nor relationship to fact.
Many Christians deny what faith means, at least initially. Some try to equivocate. Some resort to the logical fallacy of false equivalence, insinuating that science depends on faith too, or that their religion has evidence. Some Christians even try to reverse the definition of faith into a belief that is based on evidence. But that’s not what it is. Faith is not simply “trust” either, as some allege. That is the wrong context. Faith in the context of religion is a form of trust, but with a prefix and suffix required to turn mere trust into faith. It must be a [complete] trust [that is not based on evidence]. This is according a consensus of mainstream authoritative religious and other definitive sources, not just within Abrahamic religions in the Bible and Qur’an, but also in other religions like the Hindu’s Bhagavad-Gita.
Rather than quote all those definitive citations again, as I have so many times before, I will only explain that whenever believers claim that their faith isn’t assumed or maintained independent of evidence, they typically contradict themselves one of two ways. First they have no evidence they can cite which lead to their belief. Such is completely impossible for the Young-Earth believers. Second, they very often project their faults onto the unbeliever by pretending there is no evidence of evolution and then asserting that because of that, atheism needs more faith than their religion. This is a Freudian slip that they knew what the real definition of faith is, that it isn’t dependent on evidence, and that I had that right all along.
44:33-44:46 “Now let’s deal with serious theism”. That just makes me laugh. Theism is nothing more than a bunch of fables made up by superstitious primitives. Having a doctorate in theology is consequently not significantly different than having a PhD in Mother Goose. And it doesn’t get any better when your citation is Justin Martyr. Because, as I started to point out there, he’s the guy who said that Jesus was no different than the half-human god-men sons of Jupiter, and that the devil went back in time to erect all these elder mythos just to try and make it look like Christianity was ripping off the older religions. These insane ravings are exactly opposite of what the professor tells me is the “true” meaning of living by faith. Sorry, no, Justin Martyr’s irrational rationalizations adhere to MY definition of faith, (which is the dominant and common one) rather than one the professor is professing.