head-desk apologetics

Last night on the Dogma Debate podcast, I had to endure another tedious round of verbal tennis with Sye Ten Bruggencate. His sole notoriety is that he actually endorses what has to be the least logical of all possible positions with regard to truth and knowledge. It is the fallacy of the circular argument routing back to the assumed conclusion: He is convinced that he is right because he assumes that he is right, and he refuses to admit that he could be wrong, because he says he’s right, simply because he says he is. Assume your conclusion -> Affirm your conviction -> repeat.

His many erroneous assumptions begin with the assertion that anyone who does not believe in God actually does believe in God, and that non-believers don’t just believe, we know.

Now I say that if you can’t show it, you don’t know it; regardless how strongly you might believe it. Pig-headed unreasonable obstinance does not imply a truthful position, and usually indicates the opposite. But Sye Ten seems to think that if you can’t disprove an unwarranted assertion, that is the same thing as proving it to be true. So that all of us who -for good reason- are unconvinced of God’s existence, are really convinced that he is there, and that we are all convinced by the least compelling evidence in existence. Bare in mind the most popular reason given by former Christians for why they became atheist is reading the Bible.

According to what Sye Ten said last night, whether we read the Bible or not, the Bible still forms the basis for all our knowledge claims; we merely deny God’s existence because we love our sin. Of course if we really believed in the Christian god and knew the associated mythos, we would know that that the only thing that he really damns anyone for is disbelief. So if you love sin, believe in God, and all your sins will be forgiven. It is only when we love truth that belief in God becomes a problem.

If truth is paramount, then it doesn’t matter how convinced you are; all that matters is whether you can prove that your conviction is justified, and how accurate you can show your conclusions to be. You can’t just make up shit and call it truth; there has to be a degree of accountability. That’s why scientists cannot make a positive claim that is not already implied by evidence. They can’t even say that something is ‘probably’ true unless they have the data indicating that probability. They can’t say that “anything is possible” either, because some things are impossible according to physical laws. So before we can even say whether something is possible we have to have a precedent or parallel to show how it is, or we would have to verify that a particular phenomenon actually happens anyway, regardless whether we can yet explain it. Gravity is a good example of this, because we still don’t know how it works.

Sye Ten disregards all of this, and every other element of relevant logic, claiming that all atheists secretly know that God exists. He labels his lies as truth on the assumed ‘authority’ of a man-made compilation of factless folklore which he thinks is the “word of God”, -although it clearly cannot be. Even if God exists, the Bible still could not be ‘his word’. There is just too much wrong with it.

Amusingly however, while many creationists worship the BIble *as* God, (being unable to distinguish doctrine from deity) Sye Ten admitted yesterday that he takes the Bible *over* God! He says that any revelation that comes directly from God can be ignored and dismissed, if it was not already in the Bible. So God himself could not reveal to Sye Ten any new thing that wasn’t already in the Bible 1800 years ago, because Sye Ten would dismiss God’s own voice as being “extra-Biblical”. If God wants to talk to Sye Ten Bruggencate, God had better limit his comments to citations from the Bible.

Sye Ten was unable to address the fact that [he says] the Bible was composed by revelation from a god that existed before the Bible, and that the Bible itself is ‘extra-Biblical’ in its own origin.

The question put to Sye Ten was this: Sir Isaac Newton, (arguably one of the most brilliant men who ever lived) was -embarrassingly enough- a deeply religious Christian and a creationist, even by the modern definition. Newton declared that he had been specially chosen by God to have a personal divine revelation leading to a greater understanding of the scriptures than that of any other man. Sye Ten claims much the same thing, albeit not quite so lofty, and without near as much credence. Both men said that their beliefs were revealed by God in such a way that they could each know it for certain. Of course there’s no way to show that, and thus no way either man can honestly claim to actually ‘know’ that, but that’s only part of the problem. The trouble is, these men disagree on a critical tenet of their shared religion.

Sir Isaac Newton said that Jesus is *not* the same person as God, and that this was revealed to him in divine revelation of scripture. Sye Ten believes that Jesus *is* God, and that this was revealed to him in divine revelation of scripture too. So the issue is, how could we determine which of these two men is correct, (assuming either one even could be). Sye Ten said he determines that the same way in which [he says] atheists do -according to scripture. He will not admit that we DON’T do that, nor can he admit that Newton DID. Newton uses the same book Sye Ten does -even though both men use the same scriptures to prove opposite points -which cannot both be true at the same time.

The real way to settle the disputes of two men arguing the contradictions of two mutually-exclusive conclusions is with evidence. In this case, since both conclusions are baseless assertions, the only evidence is the context of the man-made mythologies they’re based on, and which both men revere. It *could* come down to the fact that Newton was WAY smarter than Sye Ten is, but even if that were not the case, I have already seen scriptural citations to support Newton’s point, and that does seem to be the correct interpretation, showing that Sye Ten is wrong again -even according to his own source. But it still comes down to interpretation and the assertion of conviction -which are both frankly meaningless -as any deity worth his frankincense could tell you.

So how does Sye Ten determine which of them is right? By simply refusing to admit that he can be wrong.  Like many apologists, Sye Ten’s belief is so unjustified, so indefensible that it requires an evocation of complete insanity to argue for it at all. He says  that we can’t know who is right or wrong, because we can’t even know whether we ourselves are sane enough to make such judgements.

Sye Ten likes to say that rational people use their reason to justify their reasoning. He uses that phrase to pretend that we rely on circular arguments, and that this should indicate that we’re crazy. However he openly admits that his is a circular argument, and that it is bolstered by confirmation bias, prohibiting him from admitting that he could be crazy.

Obviously we don’t rely on our reasoning to justify our reasoning; Instead we rely on a consensus of independent observers analyzing measurable evidence and well-defined criteria, people who consistently demonstrate the ability to communicate rationally and evaluate objectively, things which Sye Ten refuses to do.

At a minimum, a ‘sane’ person is rational, meaning that he has reason, can reason, is amenable to reason, is reasonable, and can be reasoned with. None of this applies to Sye Ten Bruggencate. To the arm-chair psychiatrist relying only on the dictionary for diagnostic traits, Sye Ten is insane by [colloquial] definition.

Worse still, in an actual demonstration of their own insanity, these apologists would sooner assume that reality itself is wrong rather than admit that their assertions could be. For example, Sye Ten’s first attack is to challenge whether reality is reliably real. I confirmed that it must be, and that to imagine otherwise would reduce everything we do, think, or believe to foolish nonsense. So he concluded that I don’t know whether anything is real, or whether I myself am sane enough to acknowledge my own existence. He repeated this despite many corrections over the last couple years, but finally conceded this one error last night, though he would not also accept the implication.

Then (as if to prove his own insanity) he asked me, “how do you know the laws of physics won’t change five seconds from now?” That question can be effectively paraphrased to inquire how we can know that reality is really real, and will remain so. Again, the answer is that reality is real by definition, and that to imagine otherwise is foolish nonsense. But foolish nonsense is what presuppositional apologetics depends on, and foolish nonsense is what it is.



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  • Monocle Smile

    Nothing makes my urge to kill rise more than an apologist accusing me of actually knowing their god exists and just being in denial…and then refusing to consider anything else regardless of any evidence. It’s at this point where repeated punches to the face seem more rational than any other course of action, which means it’s time to just walk away.

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  • No One

    …Sye Ten’s first attack is to challenge whether reality is reliably real.

    A two by four to the face dispels this type of notion.

  • arensb

    A slight quibble: isn’t his family name Ten Bruggencate? I’m under the impression that “ten” is Dutch for “of the”, like “du” in French. RationalWiki seems to back me up.

    But I could be wrong.

  • Andrew j

    I think you did better with Sye’s argument than most(& Sye’s is the most simplistic form).But you did fail because when you appeal to definitions,you are employing your reasoning to even make sense of the definition.So you are using your reasoning to validate your reasoning & thus are viciously circular at the foundational level.Atheism will always fail as a worldview because it starts with human autonomy.The TAG stands & has yet to even be seriously challenged.

    • Monocle Smile

      1) You apparently ignored the fourth-to-last paragraph

      2) Atheism isn’t a worldview.

      3) Your worldview solves none of the problems you claim others have

      4) It’s amazing how you both ridicule and praise circular reasoning in the same comment without your head exploding

  • Andrew J


    It never ceases to amaze me just how much time,effort & money is spent making sure that everyone knows that the uiverse created & governs itself & everything is meaningless.I think there is something a little more theologically significant going on there.I pray that God will grant you repentace leading to a knowledge of the truth.

    • Monocle Smile

      I’m struggling to find more things you could have gotten wrong in that word salad you call a comment.

    • Det

      Knowledge can be demonstrated. Knowledge is verifiably accurate. It is justified in its acceptance.

      Demonstrate the truth you say I can learn and then I will have knowledge of its existence.

      Without demonstration I cannot have knowledge of said truth.

      I await your demonstration along with a detailed description of the truth that is attempting to be demonstrated.

      Good luck sir

    • David C

      It never ceases to amaze me just how much time,effort and money is spent making sure that everyone knows that the universe was created and is governed by a supernatural entity that no longer performs miracles so we must rely on accounts written over a millennium ago which therefore cannot be tested in any meaningful way and everything is meaningless if we believe otherwise. There fixed.

    • Matthew Visnevskianov

      Good work, your just posted a lot of words and conveyed no real meaning

      • Matthew Visnevskianov

        oops..you not your

        sorry about that

      • David C

        Dude the idea was to mock the irony and ridiculousness of the earlier statement. I must admit it did come out a bit garbled.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=611455454 David Hart

      The fact that you personally are unable to imagine anyone being able to find their existence meaningful unless they believe in a supernatural creator, does not make it so. In fact, lots of atheists who were brought up religious (and who used to think that meaningfulness could only come from their god or gods) find that life continues to be just as meaningful after they leave their religion behind.

      That you are unable to see any meaning that is not imposed supernaturally on the universe from outside, represents a failure of your imagination, not a true fact about the universe. For the rest of us, we’ll continue to find our own lives meaningful, and the lives of those we love, with or without you, thanks very much. Though you are, of course, welcome to join us :-)

  • Andrew J

    That is where we disagree.Atheism is a worldview & cannot account for the preconditions of intelligibility thus fails to be a viable option.Sye did a good job(even with 3 people interrupting everything he said)of showing the difference between a vicious & virtuous circle.I would love to see Sye and those me more mild mannered host discus these issues.I think it would be a good,respectful interchange.

    • Monocle Smile

      Nothing Ten Bruggencate claims can ever be classified as “respectful.” His assumptions and assertions range from brazenly arrogant to supremely hubristic.

      Presuppositional apologetics basically claims that nothing means anything, then applies a special pleading fallacy. It’s lazy, poorly thought-out, and impossible to defend honestly.

    • Andrew Jennings

      Wow…just wow. There is so much wrong with that you just said that it isn’t even funny. First of all, atheism is no more a worldview than theism is, it is simply a single position on a single issue, namely the lack of belief that a god exists. Anything that comes after that is NOT atheism. Secondly, Christianity does NOT account for the preconditions of intelligibility, and in fact it is one of the biggest non sequiturs I have ever seen. Even IF Sye was right that we needed a god to have truth and reason, a claim which is patently absurd, at absolute best that would get us to deism or pantheism, it could not get you anywhere near Christianity.

      But what is most amusing about presuppositionalists is that they are all complete hypocrites. They try to fault naturalists for not being able to account for why reality is the way it is, and then turn right around and propose an ad hoc deity who they also are completely unable to account for. Tell me, Andrew, why does god exist instead of not existing and why does it have the nature it does instead of something else?

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    UGH… I saw your first paragraph and knew it was presuppositional apologetics. What a waste of time. The only thing that could add to that waste of time? Arguing with “Andrew J”… lots of praying, zero demonstration of the existence of anything, let alone a god.

    • Monocle Smile

      Not to mention tenuous literacy.

  • L.Long

    The deeply religious CANNOT believe and leave others well enough along. Although Sye’s delusion is very deep it is still very tenuous, so he and his type MUST believe that atheist believe in gawd because if they do not accept this then they are seeing people live happy full lives while not punishing themselves or being terrified by HELL, and that gives them nightmares that there may be something in atheism and that they could be wrong, which is even more terrifying.

    But Aron’s/Hitch’s/Matt’s/etc arguments are important as they help others see the light…

    or as religidiots would say ‘…helps others see Lucifer.’

    Your arguments were very good and thoughtful, too bad they ran into a titanium coated brick wall.

  • Andrew J

    The titanium coated brick wall of not being able to account for the validity of one’s own reason,laws of logic or unoformity(& that was just in this podcast).Then they the girl under the bus and never engaged the accounting for knowledge.

    I think the presup understanding that we all interpret evidence according to our worldview is clearly seen if you think the atheists won this discussion.

    • Monocle Smile

      You AGAIN ignored that essential fourth-to-last paragraph. When it comes to knowledge about nature, we clearly don’t rely solely on our own reasoning and understanding. We use a consensus of independent observers. And if you think THAT isn’t valid, then explain how we got human beings on the moon.

      *braces for incoherent conspiracy theories*

    • theignored

      Andrew, what makes you think that biblegod accounts for things like “reason” or “the laws of logic”? His holy book can’t even consistently get basic math right!

  • aziraphale

    Then (as if to prove his own insanity) he asked me, “how do you know the laws of physics won’t change five seconds from now?”

    The answer is, we don’t know. We assume they won’t, because that’s the only way we can plan for the future. We are the more confident in that assumption because it has been true on every previous occasion it has been tested. Also a world in which the laws change arbitrarily is more complex, and harder to explain, than one in which they don’t.

  • smrnda

    It seems like the basis of presuppositional apologetics is that *everybody operates using assumptions* and then the sleight of hand is making all assumptions equally reasonable. I’m quite happy to start with the assumption that an external universe exists, and that it’s possible to investigate it to see if it obeys any kind of laws. Everybody does this every day in a kind of crude form. However, assuming that some particular book contains transmissions from gods seems like a much bigger assumption, also since it cannot be tested.

    I also don’t see any connection between god and ‘intelligibility’ – which I guess is supposed to imply that without gods, the universe would be impossible to understand or make sense of. I don’t see any reason to assume that – if the universe contained powerful supernatural beings, there would be no such thing as ‘natural laws’ since gods could just start levitating rocks in defiance of the laws of gravity whenever they felt like it. The fact that the universe tends to behave according to laws seems to suggest there are no powers of that sort at work anywhere.

    Yes, we all start with some assumptions or a ‘worldview’ but when contrasting these, it’s better to start with fewer, more modest assumptions.

    • Monocle Smile

      It’s even more banal than that. The basis of presuppositional apologetics is “this discussion would be impossible without god.” Everything after that is either incoherent screaming or the juvenile parroting of “I’m right, you’re wrong.”

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Let’s walk through this. When I say that someone believes X, I mean that the person accepts proposition X as true. A justification is an argument. It is an association between one or more premise beliefs, and a conclusion belief.

    We can thus model beliefs and justifications with a graph (see: math). The beliefs make up the nodes, and the justifications form a kind of edges or something like edges.

    We can then ask ourselves whether the graph is acyclic or contains cycles. I hope that we can all reject circular justifications out of hand, for if we allow such reasoning, then we can prove anything, and equivalently we prove nothing. Allowing circular justifications results in an inconsistent belief system.

    So, the justification graph is acyclic. Next, let’s think about what happens if we pick a belief, and start walking up the chain of justifications, go from a belief, to one of the beliefs which justifies that belief, and so on. When you apply this process to every node, either the walk terminates in finite steps for every node, or there is a node for which this walk never terminates. I hope we can reject endless regresses of justifications like this out of hand. An endless regress of justifications cannot be known by a finite human mind.

    So, we’re left with an acyclic graph, where every justification walk is finite. This necessarily entails that there will be beliefs which lack justification. We call these beliefs “axioms”. These beliefs do not have justifications (at least not in the current belief framework at any rate). It can be said that we take these axioms “on faith”. As far as I can tell, that is an honest and accurate description using the well accepted meaning of the words.

    I see no purpose to have a conversation with anyone who does not agree with me thus far. Circular reasoning, endless regresses of justifications, and not accepting basic logic and math, are just complete non-starters.

    So, all of us have unjustified beliefs, (or are insane). Some of my unjustified beliefs are: We should employ basic logic to inform our beliefs. We should avoid logically inconsistent beliefs. We should use evidence, evidence-based reasoning, and the scientific method to inform our beliefs. We should not have a belief which lacks a justification except for starting axioms (and this is otherwise known as skepticism). We should not have any starting axioms that directly relate to knowledge of our material experience-able shared reality except via the scientific method and evidence-based reasoning (and this is sometimes incorrectly called “scientism”).

    Most religious people do have those beliefs. They just happen to have one more, that the bible is something other than a fiction book written by humans.

    Perhaps they think they can justify the belief that the bible is something other than human fiction from other beliefs which we happen to share. Seems unlikely. We can have a serious coherent discussion about this though.

    Perhaps they take the belief that the bible is something other than human fiction as axiomatic, e.g. “on faith”. At this point, I have no recourse. I have my own axioms, my own beliefs taken on faith. They have theirs. My beliefs are wrong in their framework, and their beliefs are wrong in my framework. The situation is symmetric. Again, I have no possible logical argument I can apply in such a situation, because logical arguments in this sense only apply when both people share enough common beliefs that you can find premises to which both parties agree.

    I have no recourse except ridicule and other kinds of persuasion. I arrogantly and proudly assert that my axioms are right, that we should be skeptics and use evidence-based reasoning, and that their axioms are humbug, and we should not take the bible on faith, should not take it axiomatically.

    I would even say that I know the religious person is lying to me or themselves if they ever say that no evidence can change their mind about the bible. If they really believed that, then even future direct revelation from the purported christian god would not change their mind.

    And yet, Sye Ten explicitly adopts that position. He explicitly says that no future revelation, no future evidence, can change his mind about the bible.

    I find it immensely ironic and amusing that I just used the exact same tactics as Sye Ten. I just said that Sye actually agrees with me axioms, and he is lying – just like Sye says that I actually agree with his axioms, and I am lying. It’s a perfectly symmetric situation. I throw my hands up with frustration and desperation.

  • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

    So if I argue that deep down inside, all christians know there is no god and are living a lie, and I say it with absolute certainty, what separates my argument from Sye Ten Bruggencate? I mean, not believing in the christian god had existed in humanity since the start of humanity, while belief in christ has existed only 2000 years in a subset of humanity. Further, there are no known instances of any religion occurring spontaneously in two separate, unconnected human societies at any time. Each society has their own mythology and only when one group imposes its mythology on another, does overlap occur.

    I’m just wondering how Bruggencate’s argument accounts for lots of people being certain if all he has is certainty to bolster his argument.

  • Tony Jiang “Kyonsenkoku”

    Hey Aron Ra then what about that part with the machines evaluating reasoning? Sye ten seems to be having a fit about that on his facebook…

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